Soju Fest + DJ DOC

Ulsan University’s spring festival – nicknamed “soju fest” for obvious reasons – mostly caught my attention when I heard DJ DOC was playing. I haven’t particularly taken to K-pop in my time in Korea, although it’s always fun to dance to in the clubs, especially in comparison to techno. But there are a couple K-pop songs that I’ve really come to like, mostly because they are absolutely inescapable every time I leave my apartment. One of these songs – the most omnipresent song in the entire country for the past 8 months – is by DJ DOC. It seemed only fitting that this would be my first K-Pop concert.

The festival was mostly tents sponsored by different university groups, serving food and alcohol, crammed with as many plastic tables and chairs as could fit without entirely obstructing the walkways. By the time I got there late Friday evening, every single chair was taken – the campus was swarming with young people there to see DJ DOC (or maybe just looking to drink outside on a nice spring evening).

Maybe it’s my American background, but I would assume crowded mess of drinking college students + no open-containers-in-public laws = mass chaos, riots, fights, etc etc etc. Yet everything was completely civil and orderly. Why?? Koreans certainly know how to party – I’ve learned that from going out with my co-workers, and seeing many a Korean black-out drunk after a night at the bar. And University is the time they can finally let loose after 18 years of non-stop cramming through high school. Ulsan University also isn’t the most prestigious of universities, so I’m sure the students there are partying. And they can all legally drink, anything, where ever they please. In my mind, all of these things should add up to mass chaos. But the worst I saw was a few people who had had too much drink stumbling out with the help of some friends after the concert. Which is nothing, really. I was impressed.

As for DJ DOC – they were great fun, and I very much enjoyed boogieing to some KPop in a giant crowd of university students. The stage was set up on a big astroturf soccer field, which had been filled with plastic lawn chairs. I was stuck behind the people standing on their lawn chairs. Which was a bit unfortunate, as I couldn’t see, but DJ DOC didn’t seem like much to see – they don’t really impress me with their style or anything.

Here is the DJ DOC song. It’s pretty catchy – watch out!

Weird Korean Eats, part 1

Last weekend I went to a bar in my neighborhood for chicken and beer, only to be served some of these as an appetizer:


Beondegi (silk worm larvae) are a very popular street-food snack in Korea. The smell that accosts you when walking past a beondegi street vendor is absolutely awful, and difficult to describe except it’s exactly what you’d imagine drifting out of a bubbling, steaming vat of silk worm larvae.

Needless to say, they didn’t exactly whet my appetite. But I knew before I left Korea, I would have to try them, and finding them right in front of me – sans the smell of a freshly-boiled batch – I figured it was as good a time as any. It was a bit soft and chewy, although I must admit I didn’t take much time to chew it before swallowing. My friend’s bite popped and spurted goo into his mouth, so I guess I was lucky. The taste was bitter and very unpleasant, although entirely familiar from the number of times it had already filled my nose and mouth walking past them on the street. It was almost as if I had eaten them before.

The final verdict: not something I need to try again. But I’m glad I did once!

bon appetit!

What’s a ‘descending life line’?

Seen on an otherwise empty wall in a hallway of my favorite downtown Daegu love motel:

What exactly is a 'descending lifeline'?

According to my phone the Korean translates to “stubbornness”. hmmmm.

If anyone knows, I’m very curious.

I <3 Chungcheongbuk-do


Chungcheongbuk-do is a province a ways north of Ulsan and a bit south of Seoul, the only land-locked province in the country. And it is absolutely wonderful for anyone who loves to be outside: full of rolling green hills (for hiking or paragliding), a giant river for rafting, caves for exploring, beautiful temples, and a beautiful lake.

Here’s the details…


After months of thinking about going along to one of their events, I finally signed up for Adventure Korea‘s “Caveing and Ferry riding” trip. The thought of crawling through a small space deep underground that at any moment might collapse on me sounds absolutely terrifying to me, which was exactly why I thought I should do it. As it turned out, the ‘caveing’ was a bit less spelunking, a bit more “cave touring.” But more on that later.

Meeting up with the tour group in Chungju, I was surprised to find we would be traveling with two full buses – about 80 waygookens in total. I kind of feel that traveling with 80 people isn’t really the best way to see anything, especially when you’re all foreigners attracting tons of stares from the locals everywhere. But it was still fun. It was strange to meet people new to Korea from the west, as it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was the one telling everyone “I’ve only been here three weeks.” I also met someone who grew up just a few miles away from where I grew up. Crazy!

The tour group was really well organized, the guides seemed friendly, the schedule was well-planned and it was convenient to have a bus there to take us everywhere we were going, sure – but ultimately I don’t think I’m one for big tour groups.

Anyways, here are all the wonderful things I saw over the weekend:

Chungjuho Lake, from a ferry–



I want to move to this house. Also, the farm land looks really funny from far away.




The weekend was really yellow dust-y. This stuff blows over from China all the time in the spring apparently, and while I can never tell it’s happening when it’s happening, it sure shows up in the pictures. All of my pictures looked like they were taken in a yellow fog (I tried to clean them up a bit in Photoshop). But that’s why the water looks so yellow – it’s quite prettier in real life.

Gosu Cave

The cave is a huge tourist destination, and was packed when we arrived. We were standing in line through the entire cave. Laaame.

The lameness was a bit made up for by the really cool rock formations, though. Which were conveniently lit up for prime picture taking. In same ways, having the cave set up for tourism was rather nice.




Dodamsambong Rocks


Here’s the story, from the tourism website: “According to the legend there lived a couple who loved each other, but had no child. They found a mistress because they wanted to have a baby, but once she had the baby, she began to mistreat and taunt the wife. The heavens saw them, and turned all of them into stones. The way the rocks stand next to one another is very interesting. ”

I read elsewhere about how the middle rock is the man, who is looking towards the ‘pregnant rock’ (the mistress) and turning his back to his wife. Hm.

Near the rocks, a beautiful “stone gate”. Reminds me a bit of Mackinac Island.


After the tour ended, I headed to Danyang with a couple of friends to do some more exploring.

The characters from the rock story are the symbols of Danyang. Is that the mistress or the wife?

These guys are everywhere.

Really, everywhere.

Ah, Danyang. What a beautiful little city. I’m ready to move there, right now.


Arriving at the bus terminal, we quickly found a cheap pension overlooking the river and headed out for a walk. The entire town is set on this river, facing some giant green hills. The river was really flooded, which we realized when we noticed that only the tops of these trees were sticking out:


There was a boardwalk built into the side of the hill facing the river, and it seemed to stretch for miles and miles. We walked for a while, through a rose tunnel (that didn’t have any roses yet) and eventually stopped to watch the sun set behind some hills.


Did I mention it’s pretty in Danyang?


This was a rather intriguing find on our walk…
…that came out of a giant tree. Strange…


For dinner we ate at a little handmade mandu restaurant, where the owner seemed rather surprised to see foreigners – he was hesitant to give us our kimchi, gave us a free dropwort pancake, and wanted to know what we thought of everything. It was excellent. And it was nice to be somewhere that felt so small town-y.

This was supposed to be a better view of the flood, but didn’t come out quite right. Look to the right, and you can kind of see how the bicycle path and parking lot are completely under water.

There’s a road to the left in this picture that disappears into the river. This is why we couldn’t go to the waterfall.

Even the bugs there are beautiful!

And a bit random, but – a strange sign seen in the city. Maybe the bird levitating above the rocks is supposed to look more …appetizing?

Guinsa Temple

A 30 minute bus ride from Danyang is the beautiful Guinsa Temple, set in a valley between two mountains. We were there just after Buddha’s Birthday, so they still had some giant lanterns set-up.


Another beautiful ceiling

A nice dragon detail that caught my attention.

These four guys guard the entrance of every Buddhist temple.

This is a sculpture of all the zodiac signs. I thought the elephant butts were funny.


The main temple building.

In the main temple:
This guy apparently founded a special sect of Buddhism in this temple. It seemed weird to see him there and not Buddha though.


Cleaning up the party from Buddha’s birthday.



Ondalsanseong Fortress

Our final stop for the weekend was a fortress just down the street from the temple. It was of course pretty as well…


Apparently it’s also been used in some K-drama.

The fortress walls were surrounded by a moat, teeming with tadpoles.

Inside we found some torture equipment.



In a park around the fortress we found another cave. We had to put on hard hats to enter, so I had some higher expectations for adventure, and I wasn’t disppointed!

The cave was still set up for tourism, with a built-up path that you had to follow. But the cave was far less crowded, and the path went through some rather tight squeezes.




This rock looks exactly like an elephant!!

Just when Danyang couldn’t get any better, we came across a GIANT DRAGON.


Unfortunately, it attacked Caitlyn…

…and killed her.

We also found a giant thumb!

And a giant swing!
Apparently this is normal in Korea, and is traditional, or something. It is way less fun than a normal-sized swing, so I’m glad they eventually came around.

Danyang is awesome. I don’t know who gets to live there to teach English, but I wish it were me.

The Changhaejin Back in Time Tour

In Korea, I try to be open-minded. Really, I do. But on this one point, I can not be swayed: having public holidays on a Thursday and the following Tuesday, without giving the Friday and Monday off, is just wrong. Yet this is what happened in early May with Childrens’ Day (May 5) and Buddha’s Birthday (May 10). Some people managed to get the Friday and/or Monday off, but I unfortunately was not one of them. And I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because two holiday days are nice, but come onnnnnnn!

I, however, was not going to let this whole not-having-vacation-days-when-all-of-my-friends-do business deter me from making a rather long cross-country trek to Wando, an island in the southwest of Korea.

This picture was actually taken on Sinji, which is a smaller island connected to Wando by a bridge, but we didn’t figure that out until after this picture was taken.

Wando was a bit of a hike from Ulsan – a three hour bus ride to Gwangju, and then another 2 hour bus ride south, after which we found ourselves in a tiny dumpy bus station, full of old people eating ice creams.. We stared at the tourist map for a while, which unfortunately didn’t seem to mark the bus stop and so was entirely useless. Luckily, we were able to attract the attention of a nearby policeman and communicate through miming that we were looking for a place to sleep by the water. He then got us a taxi driver, who seemed insistent on letting us know that it would be a 12,000 won cab ride. Fine. All five of us piled into the taxi and went way out of town, over a bridge, and down to a beachy area full of pensions. It was the off season, so he had to go around a bit to find us a place that was open. We ended up at quiet pension just across the street from the beach, where an older ajumma showed us to our room and told us many things in Korean that we didn’t understand (something about eating? eating rice? and bringing us more pillows? right?).

Not quite beach season

After unwinding for a moment in our pension room (which consisted of an open floor, TV stand, and basic kitchen) we headed to the beach. The weather was nice, but as it was still early May most everything was deserted. There’s something about empty beaches I kind of like though – they’re much more interesting when they’re all deserted and run down than when they’re just all full of people.

Wando has some strange fog:

The strange mists of Wando, part 1

The strange mists of Wando, part 2
It’s a fog bubble!

The strange mists of Wando, part 3

Walking down the beach, we came across a sign for a different area of another island that we clearly weren’t on. Of interest though was a distinction in the campgrounds: one plain old “tent ground” and one “love tent ground.” Oooooooooh.

We also came across another waygooken, carrying some wood to down to a campfire at a rather well established camp on the beach. We asked her what was up in Wando, to which she replied with a northern European accent that she didn’t spend much time in town but there was some sort of festival for a sailor or something that weekend. It’s always interesting to find non-English teaching foreigners around. Especially ones that seem to be living on beaches.

After a bit of wandering, we needed to get back to Wando to pick up a friend at the bus terminal. Having to communicate this to our pension owner so we could get a taxi proved a bit tricky. While some of my friends can actually speak a good deal of Korean, the Jeolla province has a completely different dialect than we’re used to in the Gyeongsan province, which meant we understood even less than usual. The woman wanted to know what we were going to be doing, and then seemed to make us a schedule, pointing to a big clock hanging on the wall. Thus satisfied, she called us a taxi and told the driver to take us somewhere ‘fun.’ We ended up here:

The fair looked a bit run down

Right next to a mini fair happening on a tiny street. It was a bit rundown, but seemed to have attracted the whole town anyways.

This was the Chango Pog festival, honoring a sailor of some sort, who maybe became a sea God? And the guardian of Wando. Anyways, according to the festival brochure:

“After 1200 years in the Ocean, ChangoPoGo’s Time Capsule emerged in Cheonghaejin!”

So I guess that’s what we were celebrating. The town had a few rows of tents full of cultural activities like Korean cartoon making, pony riding, kiddie archery, and my personal favorite: triangle kimbap making. They also had all the usual Korean festival food tents serving pork BBQ (from an entire half of a pig on the spit), whale meat, double-fried hot dogs, dried squid, bondegi (silk worm larvae) – the usual. This was all mixed in with a market selling anything else you could need – kitchen appliances, a magic veggie chopping device, tons and tons of seaweed, funny hats…pretty much everything. It was all a bit chaotic.

Upon our arrival, a few friends wanted to grab some fried hot dogs. While they were waiting, we were swarmed by a group of middle school girls, who warmly welcomed us to Wando.

More weird mists
Paddle boats row into some more weird fog.

Making triangle kimbap
Caitlyn makes some triangle kimbap.

As the sun set, a musician took to the stage to play some acoustic folksy stuff. It was fine and rather unexciting, until she decided to do a cover of “My Heart Will Go On.” I’m not sure which was more surprising – that she had actually chosen to perform the song, or that the crowd seemed to be totally into it.


The festivities ended with a big fireworks show over the water, after which we had some super over-priced festival food before heading back to our island to turn in for the night.

Wando's Waterfalls
These weird waterfalls were full of mini animal statues, and also timed to start and stop at the most inopportune for picture-taking moments. Wando is a bit strange.

A tiny island of evergreens

The next day the plan was to take a ferry to another island, Cheongsan-do, famous for being pretty and for being in some popular K-dramas. The group was a bit slow moving in the morning however, and missed the ferries that would be early enough for me to get back in time to catch the bus home. So I spent the afternoon doing some solo wandering around the island.

overlooking Wando

It was a bit foggy, but I decided it’d still be nice to do a bit of hiking. Unfortunately it was too foggy to go all the way to the top of Wando in their tower, as it was completely consumed by fog:

The Wando Tower

With no plan and a few hours to fill, I figured I’d see if I could follow the signs point to the intriguing-sounding “drama set”. Taking a taxi was out of the question, as it’d be expensive, and I didn’t see much in the way of buses. So I started walking. I walked clear through town, past rows and rows of little old houses and a newer looking high school. Eventually the buildings thinned out and I was on a two-lane road, surrounded by hills and farmland.

Things were still a bit misty…

More mistiness in Wando

…and after about an hour and a half of walking, things were so misty I could barely make out anything beyond the road. Except that it was mostly deserted and farmland. Unable to stop thinking about Deliverance due to a conversation earlier that morning, I decided it was about time to give up and head back.

Lost amidst the mists in the Wando countryside

On my way back, I came across two adorable, fluffy puppies. Which made the trip very much worth it!

Puppy #2!

After a little bit of walking back, I figured I’d try to hail down a taxi. Stopping any random car didn’t seem like the safest bet, as I couldn’t see who was inside and was kind of in the middle of nowhere. But before I could stop a cab, a young couple pulled over in a mini-van and offered me a ride to the bus terminal. Tthe people in the Jeolla province seem to be incredibly nice and friendly. While we couldn’t communicate a whole lot, I was able to tell them what I was doing, and they seemed incredulous that I was walking to the “drama set.” Which I think they told me was another 2 hours away!

The moral of the story is: Don’t try to walk across Wando. Or at least if you do, bring a map!

And just a leftover picture:

The dolphins in Wando enjoy listening to the radio on headsets
As seen in Wando: apparently the dolphins there listen to radio headsets?

Cheers to Buddha, Children and Days Off

Tongdosa, nestled in the Yangsan mountains.

When we were little, my sister and I used to ask our mom why there wasn’t a “Children’s Day.” Mothers and fathers and grandparents all had their own holiday; it only seemed fair that children should get one as well. But (being lucky enough kids) Mom would always reply, “Every day is Children’s Day.” Little did I know, Children’s Day is actually celebrated in many countries in the world, including South Korea.

The way it’s celebrated in Korea is parents give their kids a present, and the government gives everyone a day off of work. Woo! A few friends and I decided to spend the responsibility-free, beautiful spring day at the the nearby Tongdosa for some hiking, exploring, and good beer drinking.


Children’s Day also happened to be five days before Buddha’s Birthday, and Tongdosa – being a Buddhist temple – was all decked out in paper lanterns in celebration.


Pretty pink lotus lanterns.

Some special Buddha’s Birthday lanterns. Buddha’s never looked so cute.

A lot of the lanterns had pictures on them. This guy seems to have a question.

Of the many temples I’ve visited in Korea, Tongdosa is one of my favorites. There’s something about the dustiness and wooden buildings that reminds me of an American western. Maybe that’s just me…but I like it.


The ceiling of the main gates is particularly impressive:
An elephant and tiger! There should be more ceilings like this.


A bunch of onggi pots. Do you think they’re all full of kimchi?

The area around Tongdosa is rather pretty.

We decided to hike up around the hills around the temple.

And so we embarked on a bit of an adventure:

This is a bridge. It’s the coolest. Our adventure started here.

The last time we were at Tongdosa, we remembered taking a very step and precarious route up this hill, after which we discovered a set up steps leading up. This time, we opted for the stairs.

Not long into our hike we stopped for lunch: two triangle kimbaps (sweet minced beef and tuna kimchi) and a free Pepsi next, which I discovered tastes like bubbly Splenda-water.

We hiked for quite a while – up a hill overlooking Tongdosa, down the hill and onto a road. Across the road, up another hill, and back down onto the road. Then up one more hill in what we deemed was the most interesting direction…

…where we decided we had reached the end of our hike:


Those white buildings in the distance is Tongdo, where we started. They looked quite far away and made us feel rather accomplished, so we decided it was about time to turn back and find that microbrewery.

But taking a different route down from the mountain, we came across more paper lanterns…
(According to my limited Korean ability, this rock says “death people rock.” Hmmm.)

…that led us to another temple.

Nestled quietly into the hillside behind a small pond, surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees, it was like we had stumbled onto Narnia. Or at least, it was a nice contrast to the crowds at Tongdosa.



Imagine: no sound except a small breeze gently passing through some wind chimes overhead, the hat swaying back and forth with the wind. So peaceful. I felt I could’ve have stood there for hours.



Getting back to Tongdosa turned out to be just a quick walk down the road back towards town, making our hike seem entirely un-epic. But it’s good to know that just down the road past Tongdosa are some quieter, less crowded temples – I’m sure I’ll be back for another visit.

Back at Tongdosa, we bought some ice cream, were given paper lanterns from some monks, and saw an ajumma in a sparkly dress performing some disco-y old Korean pop.

And finally, it was time for beer!

The last time I was in Tongdo, back in October, I was taken to a microbrewery way back in the hills somewhere, and was pretty determined to find it again. Luckily, there isn’t a whole lot out in Tongdo and between the memory of me and one of my friends we were able to find our way there pretty easily. The place seemed to have changed ownership, as their giant red light-up sign had been replaced by this little ginger guy. Apparently this restaurant has some very fancy ginger, which was offered on the menu, fried, for a pricey 100,000 won. 진짜??


A quick note about this microbrewery: It’s mostly a Korean restaurant, that happens to brew its own beer. And it certainly has a different vibe than what I’d expect a “microbrewery” back home to be like. While we were there, another couple of foreigners came by and seemed incredibly disappointed by the lack of microbrewery-ness. So just thought I’d clarify.

The women working there seemed very accustomed to foreigners coming by looking for beer, and quickly seated us outside with a beer for each of us before we could even get out our elementary Korean. They only brew one kind of beer: it’s on the light side, and I’m no connoisseur but to me it’s like the bitterness of a pilsner meets a bit of the fruitiness of a heffeweisen. Not usually my favorite kind of beer (I generally prefer the stouts or the reds) but after 8 months of nothing but Hite/Cass/Max/the occasional Budweiser, it tastes nothing short of absolutely wonderful.

In addition to serving this oh-so-hard-to-come-by-in-Korea delicious beer, the place has some nice outdoor picnic table seating in a beautiful garden full of flowers. And a tree swing! The inside decor reminds me a bit of a northern Michigan ski-lodge meets 70’s cruise ship. Which is a bit odd, but irrelevant because the outside is so nice.


Should anyone stumble across this post in trying to find the microbrewry in Tongdosa, and/or so I can find it again in the future, this is how to get to the brewery from the temple:

Come out of the temple and make a left, cross the gravel parking lot, and pass Tongdo Fantasia. Keep walking past some farm fields, towards the houses in the distance.

(What an odd place for an amusement park, in the middle of all these fields…)

Once you’re on the other side of the fields, make a right on the next street.


Follow the street alllll the way up the hill, and take a right at the dead-end. You’ll start to see signs for a ginger restaurant. This is the “microbrewery”.


I’m glad Tongdosa is so easy to get to from Ulsan, it’s a nice place to escape the crowdedness of the city for some peace and quiet. The microbrewery, beautiful temples and hiking make Tongdo one of my favorite spots in Ulsan.


Or Eh-boh-laen-duh as it’s known in Korean, is the Disney World of Korea. If you wanted to get specific, I’d say Everland is more of a Disney-Epcot-state fair-zoo mix. On one particularly yellow dust-y Sunday afternoon, a group of 10 or so of us (mostly) waygookens headed to Everland in honor of my friend Ellen’s birthday.

Tickets were pretty cheap – 35,000 for the day. Passing through some rather epic entrance gates, I found myself surrounded by souvenir stands and that perky Disney-esque music playing out of strategically placed speakers. It was everything you’d expect, yet I couldn’t help but feel excited.

I was surprised to see many familiar buildings:

A little bit of Russia in the global village
A little something from Russia…

and a bit of Italy...
…and Italy…

and the Middle East...
…and a little bit of Turkey.

This “Global Fair” was really just a bunch of dressed-up souvenir shops selling the same amusement park nonsense you’d find most anywhere, with a couple things of note: stuffed animal bananas, and animal ears of all different kinds of animals that were worn by Korean women of all ages throughout the park. I was tempted to buy a set of giraffe ears/horns, but managed to resist.

In place of the Magic Kingdom, Everland has this giant sparkling tree:

Welcome to Everland!

Tulip Festival

It was rather pretty. Lucky for us, we happened to be at Everland during their Tulip Festival.

Everland's Tulip Festival
“European Adventure” was all decked out in tulips.

The food on offer at the park was an interesting mix of west meets Korean: ice cream, cotton candy, slushies, hot dogs (Korean style), dried fish, and peanut butter squid. There were also a bunch of Burger Cafes:

American themed restaurant at Everland

The “American Adventure” part of the park was mostly ’50s themed, with a Western-themed ‘rodeo’ ride thrown in for good measure. Considering the American culture most of my co-workers tend to like, I was expecting more disco and ABBA, and was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise.

In the "American Adventure" part of the park

In the "American Adventure" part of the park

I’m pretty sure that cart is selling peanut butter squid. Yum!

In the "American Adventure" part of the park

“Magic Land” seemed to be mostly the usual carnival rides and kiddie rides – the log splash ride, a mini-roller coaster, some bumper cars. Of note: the people running the rides have to do a little dance while the ride is going. And I thought being a carnie in the US couldn’t be any worse.

Also, everyone working the food/souvenir booths at Everland has to wave at passersby constantly with two hands. Really. Non-stop waving. How they avoid carpal tunnel, I have no idea.

This giraffe has a ridiculous tongue

My favorite part of the park was “Zoo-topia”. The biggest attraction was a Safari “ride” featuring some rare white tigers and a liger! After waiting in a line that passed through an elaborately decorated African hut sort of theme, we boarded a big tour bus that looked like this:

Safari World tour bus

On the safari, we passed some of these:

and these!
Ostriches! and more giraffes!

There were also some tigers, elephants, and bears, the last of which the driver had balancing on his hind legs next to the bus windows for treats. Really though, I felt kind of bad for the animals. Some of them seemed to spend all day sitting by the side of the road, doing tricks every five minutes for the next tour bus. The bear we saw looked a bit weary, its mouth entirely caked over in treat flakes. You could also pay a ridiculous amount of money to get a private car and a guide, who’d supposedly lure the animals onto the roof of your car. It felt a big more imposing than a regular zoo with the buses passing through so frequently. The animals had a bit of space to move around, but didn’t really have anywhere to get away.

I’ve never been to a zoo outside the US, so it was fun to see some unfamiliar animals in Zoo-topia:

In Zoo-topia, with some Fennec foxes
Fennec Foxes! I didn’t realize they existed outside of The Little Prince.

Coati, the acrobat
This is a coati.

Kangaroo, chewin on some stuff
These guys were familiar, but fun to watch hop and box and eat stuff.

An awesome owl
And an owl! Which is also familiar, but posing quite nicely.

There was also the “Friendly Monkey Valley” attraction, which claimed 12 different kinds of apes and 145 monkeys.
A red-faced monkey

How many monkeys can you fit in a hammock?

My favorite was this mandrill, who seemed more than obliging to pose for the camera:
Mandrill yawn

Weird note: mandrills have some oddly human proportions. Watching this one sit there gave me an odd sense of looking at a person. It was a bit unsettling.

There was also a petting zoo, with some giant rabbits and wandering sheep. You are not allowed to hug the sheep at Everland, in case you were wondering.

Because it took longer than we expected to get there from Seoul, we ran out of time to check out the on-site Art Museum, which sounded a bit intriguing. It was also too early in the season for the ‘Carribean Bay’ water park to be open, which boasts “the world’s longest lazy river,” among other things. Which all means this was probably not my last trip to Everland! Although I still haven’t been to Lotte World…

Sports Day!

The scoreboard - it's a tie!

The best day of the year in school is most certainly Sports Day. Fierce competition, free food, happy students, silly dances, and zero responsibility. What could be better?

Sports Day is serious business. The day before Sports Day was ‘Sports Day Practice Day,’ where the students rehearsed running relays and stretching. It’s not just a day of fun and games: it’s a day of fun and games in a specific, controlled way that’s impressive to parents (and also a day to imbue a bit of propaganda, as I later discovered).

Sports Day preparation

Watching Sports Day Practice Day from the window of the English room on the fourth floor gave me a good preview of the events to come. Groups of students were rehearsing dance numbers all afternoon, making me anticipate what I would see the next day.

Sports Days preparation - with umbrellas!

But the next day, I came to school to find Sports Day had been canceled due to ‘yellow dust.’ I didn’t see any dust, but apparently it was so bad that exercising outside would be ‘dangerous’. Of course, I didn’t find out about the cancellation until 5 minutes before the start of my until-that-moment-canceled first hour class. Surprise! While this holds true to anywhere you are, I think it is particularly important to anyone working in a Korean elementary school: always be prepared for everything.

The following day, it was on. The schoolyard was all done up for the big day.

Sports Day

I was impressed by the number of parents able to come out, considering it was a Tuesday morning. It seemed a good number of the students had parents present.

The activities started with some stretching:

…which was accompanied by a song so great I had to capture it on video:

Isn’t it wonderful?

The principal looks over the events

The Principal, administration and head of the Parents’ Committee sat above the events, lording over the proceedings behind a table set with fresh fruit and rice cakes like the Roman Emperor observing the Gladiator Games. Ok, it wasn’t all that much, but the grandeur of their set-up did seem a bit silly.

Some sixth grade students in charge of broadcasting

Some of my favorite sixth grade girls (not that I choose favorites…) were in charge of ‘broadcasting.’ Please note that the shirt on the right: “CASHED / i’m cashed, brah.” Awesome.

Free from responsibilities other than being present (and doing a tiny bit of relay running), I spent the day mostly observing and hanging out with students and other teachers. And being waved at repeatedly by waiting fourth-graders:

Cute fourth grade students, waiting

I think they're cheering for the white team

Fourth Grade cheer section

Team Blue fourth graders

They look so cute and sweet here. In class, some of them tend to be more of the opposite. Hard to imagine…

Each grade had one or more events. There were many races and relay races, along with a few adorable dances. But by far the most interesting event was #3:

3. Dokdo is ours!

which was “Dokdo island is ours!” (as expressed by my co-teacher)

Dokdo is a hotly-disputed tiny island / cluster of rocks in the sea between Korea and Japan. Both countries claim ownership, although they are currently patrolled by Korean coastguard and both of the two permanent island residents are Korean. Things recently got really heated when Japan released new school geography books that stated Dokdo belonged to them. Propaganda about these rocks is all over the place in Korea.

A third grader claiming Dokdo for Korea

The event was essentially a relay, in which the teams competed to cover all of Korea’s territory with little orange flowers. Dokdo featured rather prominently on the map, considering its relative size.

Dokdo is ours!

The final step was to put together a sign that read: Daemado Island is Japan’s land. Dokdo Island is Korea’s land.

It all seems rather silly to me, as there don’t seem to be any resources or anything actually worth disputing over on the islands. But it is definitely not silly to the Korean people. Or to my school, apparently.

Fifth Grade's Umbrella Dance

My second favorite event was the much-anticipated umbrella dance routine. It was super cool, and kind of reminded me of high school marching band days…

More cute outfits from the dances:

Adorable Kindergarten dance

First Grade's Twister-inspired costmes
First grade, wearing a bunch of Twister boards and towels on their heads and no pants!

Probably second grade? Diggin the doo-rags, and the GODSEND t-shirt.

My favorite non-dance outfit:

Kids wear these hoodies all the time. They seem to be gaining popularity with the older ones too. It can be very frightening to be teaching and turn around to see a small skeleton or monkey has suddenly appeared in class.

Two other rather interesting events featured parent – teacher race competitions. The dads against the male teachers was an intensely competitive match, although the teachers easily won. Go teachers!

Sports Day culminated in a giant relay race of the entire fourth grade, with the top sixth grade runners as ringers at the end. It was a vicious race: first the blue team had a giant lead, then the white team pulled way ahead. The entire school watched from the sidelines, screaming wildly for their team. Coming into the final lap, it was neck-and-neck, the blue team finally closing the gap. And then – the unthinkable! – the white team dropped the baton on the final hand-off. The blue team pulled way ahead and won by a mile, winning the day.

The rather unfortunate relics of Park Je Sang, and a German-Korean temple

I haven’t posted about teaching for a long time, and in that time an entire new school year started, way back in March! This ‘year’ I’m counted as a sixth grade teacher, which means I get to accompany the sixth graders on all their field trips.

The entrance to the "Relics of Park Je Sang"

Last week was our first field trip: the class picnic. It was out in the countryside, near the ‘Relics of Park Jesang.’ A 40 minute bus-ride from Samil Elementary took us well out of the city and into the boonies of Ulsan.

Overlooking a traditional Korean village

This is the story of Park JeSang:

Park was a loyal officer of the Silla dynasty, sometime around 417~458. The King’s two brothers had been taken hostage by the Japanese, and Park was sent to retrieve them. He managed to rescue the two princes, but was captured himself.

Life at a traditional Korean village

The Japanese tried to get him to switch sides, but Park’s loyalty could not be swayed, and eventually they burned him alive. Back in Korea, Park’s wife waited and waited for her husband to return, grieving so much she apparently “wailed herself to death” and turned into a stone. After her body became a stone, her and her daughters’ spirits turned into birds and flew away and hid behind a rock.

A stone monument of the wife that turned to stone
Looking through the memorial at a stone statue of the wife that turned to stone.

…I wasn’t a big fan of the story. A wife’s devotion to her husband, so strong that she can’t live her own life, do anything herself without him…blah! Perhaps you’re thinking it’s more ‘Romeo and Juliet’ than that, and she just couldn’t imagine a life without her soul mate. But considering the legend later inspired an on-site Confucian academy, and every year the town throws a Park JeSang festival to “develop the mind of loyal, justice, devotion and chastity to the local residents,” I really don’t see the romance. To me it’s rather insulting that this woman had two daughters, yet couldn’t stop weeping and would rather petrify away than raise them. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s just a story, but I really don’t like the way her inability to do anything after the death of her husband is celebrated like some great act of devotion. Boo!

I was very interested to get my co-teacher’s opinion on the matter, but didn’t want to come across as outright insulting this Ulsan legend. Such subtlety is difficult to communicate across language barriers, and eventually it got kind of confusing and I just kind of dropped it. Ah, well.

The entrance of the sixth graders

But anyways, my sixth graders are awesome this year. Which is great, because last year’s sixth graders were absolute hellions that I absolutely dreaded teaching every week. I guess it’s still the start of the school year, so there’s plenty of time for them to turn into little monsters. But look at how cute they are now!

I liked this girl's shirt
I wanted to get a picture of this girl’s shirt. “I guess it’s better to be who you are.”

The Vice Principal shows off his jaegi skills
This is the new vice principal, showing off his ‘jaegi’ skills. The students made these little hackey-sack type things, and spent half the day just running around playing with them. Someone planned that brilliantly. They’re just tissue paper and washers, but the materials balance each other out so they kind of float in the air a bit and they’re really fun to try to kick around.

I completely lack any jaegi skills
Unfortunately my jaegi skills are rather non-existent. I did manage to make off with one of my own though, and am planning to practice and redeem myself at the next sixth grade outing.

Taking out the tour guide
Some of my faves (not that I choose favorites…), ‘listening’ to the tour guide.

Sixth graders


The best thing about these field trips is that I have absolutely no responsibilities while I’m there: the homeroom teachers have to look after all their kids, so I’m just kind of along for the ride. Which meant my co-teacher and I got to go off and do some exploring on our own, and we found our way to a small Buddhist temple.

Soo owang Temple

We were the only people around, except for a woman tending to the grounds. Who seemed rather pleased to see me, because apparently the temple had a German monk. She invited us into the temple, which was more like a house inside. She sat us around a table on the floor and introduced us to monk Klaus Gerd Kamps. He had moved to Korea several years before, after studying Buddhism in Seoul and later marrying a Korean woman. He and his wife – also a monk – had built the temple themselves, after tons of grief from immigration (who didn’t take to a foreigner being a monk, or wanting to open his own business in Korea). I haven’t been able to actually really talk to any monks here due to language barriers, and I was really excited to get to ask questions about monk life and the temple and everything. Things I learned: monks can drink, and smoke, and go to pubs or whatever they please. They can also eat meat, or not (“how can I survive without my meat?”). And have to get a special certification to be considered a monk by the government. Which certainly isn’t special in Korea, because it seems everyone needs a certification to do anything here. But it’s kind of comforting to know they won’t let just anyone open a temple.

The temple itself was small but very beautiful, and unique for a Korean temple.

Soo owang Temple
This Buddha statue faces all four directions.

Soo owang Temple
Apparently these guys are in their winter ‘seasonal wear’ with the beanies. Ha.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree
Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

A Chinese Dragon
Do you know how to tell a Chinese dragon from a Korean dragon? Chinese dragons have four talons; Korean dragons only have three. Now you know.

Apparently temples in Korea are painted with a special stone paint, which is a process very, very few people can do. So there’s a long wait to get any temple painting done, and then the painters can take as long as they want, because they’re the only ones who can do the job. The paint is supposed to last for hundreds of years!

It was so nice and peaceful to hear nothing but the small fountain and wind through the trees for a while – a nice break from 130 screaming 6th graders!

My co-teacher and I ended the day at a nearby ‘fermented foods’ eatery, sharing a bottle of makkoli (Korean rice wine) and seasoned dropwort, just out of view of the students. I know, some days I have it ridiculously good over here.

Chisan Seowon


A note to anyone who stumbles across this page from Ulsan, and/or to myself at a future date should I try to return:

The Relics of Park Jesang are located in Ulju-gun, accessible by the 318 bus from Eonyang, or 802 bus from Seongnam-dong. Ride the bus for approximately forever, and hop out at 박제상유적지. Soo Owang Temple is just down the road from the memorial.

Vote for me! I have the best dancers!

Last week were the Ulsan Jung-gu district officer elections. If this sounds boring, you obviously aren’t familiar with the way politicians campaign in Korea. Here’s an idea:

Politicians in Korea seem to have found the best way to get their message to the people is through unnecessarily loud music and choreographed dances. Every politician has at least one of these trucks plastered top to bottom with their image, which they drive around the city while wielding megaphones to inundate the populace with their message.

Moving advertisement, part 2

I’m not sure why that’s more effective than, say, a TV advertisement. But that seems to be the way to do it.

When the trucks weren’t driving around, they’d park at street corners and blast music for large groups of supporters to dance to. In the US, I feel like there’d be some laws to limit the loudness or at least how close they could be to residential areas. This did not seem to be the case in Korea. I’m not sure how blasting music so loud it causes everyone to cover their ears as they walk past gets you any votes, but that’s the universally-accepted strategy. I would imagine the purpose was to attract the attention of passing motorists and pedestrians to hand them fliers, but I feel like they were so loud it would keep anyone from getting close enough. Sometimes two trucks would park across the street from each other, fighting with their sound systems to create an ear-splitting cacophony. And this was right next to apartment complexes!

Honestly, how is this effective?? You know who I’m not going to vote for? The guy who’s on his megaphone at 7 in the morning, waking up every dog and rooster in a mile radius (which happened the four days leading up the elections, and was wonderful to wake up to). That certainly doesn’t make me want to do anything for you!

Beyond the sound complaint, I have to wonder a bit about the point of the choreographed dances. American politicians have some ridiculous campaign tactics, sure, but are any of them as politically irrelevant as dance routines? Well, maybe

American campaigns are usually pretty ridiculous, so maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental…

Here’s some more pictures of Korean campaigns, gathered from around the internet:

Face off
A face-off across the street.

Supporters hustle on street corners

I tried to talk to my co-teachers about the issues at stake in the election, just out of curiosity, but no one I talked to lived in the district. Although I did hear that the last guy in office was booted out after doing something corrupt. Drama!

…And, one last thing! These campaign conversations with co-workers were never dull, as Koreans tend to mix up r and l sounds, since they’re interchangeable in Korean. Which means I heard a lot about ‘our erections’. …teehee. As my friend Mark would say, ‘it’s funny because I’m 12.’