WTF: Ulsan Amethyst Cave World

The Amethyst Cave wasn’t my original destination when I set off for Eonyang, the western outskirts of Ulsan, at 8:30am one Saturday morning. My friend Paul and I were in search of Paraeso Waterfall, but after a 2+ hour trek out to Eonyang, we missed the only bus. We tried a taxi, but the driver claimed it would take 50,000 won or something ridiculous to get us all the way there. Not wanting to waste our time in Eonyang, we asked him to take us to another one of the city’s 12 “scenic locations”, Jakgaecheon, a stream. The driver said that would only be 7,000 won so away we went. But once we made it to the stream, the taxi driver mumbled something about wanting to take us to a “cave” and took us there instead.

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I was quite surprised to find we were in the middle of a tiny amusement park, overrun with groups of small children. I had heard of the Amethyst Cave before, but nothing had quite prepared me for their quirkiness. The Cave seemed a good alternative to our failed attempt to get to the waterfall, so we got our tickets and made our way inside.

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The cave is divided into several sections, featuring exhibitions that seemed to have been selected using the random button on Wikipedia, or some other such nonsense method.

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Egyptian hall

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Forever preserved in Child’s Pose.

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A Buddha statue and mats for praying.

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The exotic Papa New Guinea tribal section.

And of course, there was a hall claiming Dokdo:

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There was also a little bit of Amethyst…

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…but it was mostly in fogged-up glass boxes, and sometimes rather difficult to see. There were also little holes in the cave walls, where you could see “real” un-mined amethyst, but it wasn’t all that much to see.

By far the best part of the caves was an acrobatic/contortionist performance, performed by a group of kids from a SE Asian country that may have been the Philippines. They were amazing.

As is commonly found in Korea, these anatomically-detailed statues marked the entrance:
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Amethyst Cave World also has a giant indoor ice sculpture section:

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But we decided to skip it. I hear it has a nice toboggan run.

Down below the caves was a kids-size mini go-karting area, with some very loud cars that sounded in desperate need of mechanical repair. This was positioned right next to a nice little temple, with a big pond full of lily pads.

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Up above the cave was a tiny zoo, with an excellent “Chickens of World” exhibition:

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This French chicken was my favorite. His style seems a bit reminiscent of Bowie.

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These floppy-mopped Polish chickens were a close second.

The rest of the zoo had some really awful cages for its animals, without any attempt to recreate a habitat. I would really like to find a way to write City Hall or someone to complain…these conditions were just awful.

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Bear cage.

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Monkey cage.

The Amethyst cave world is definitely a quirky place, and certainly worth the visit for anyone with a prolonged visit to Ulsan. I think the easiest way out there is a taxi from Eonyang, as I didn’t really see any buses.

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—————–

We had finished our tour of the cave by mid-afternoon, and decided to see if we couldn’t walk to the waterfall. We easily found our way back down to Jakgaecheon, and walked along the stream for a couple hours until we were blocked by Sinbulsan, one of Eonyang’s biggest mountains.

Signs near the entrance to the mountain told us that another, smaller waterfall was an easy 15-20 minute hike up.

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There were some rock climbers descending and taking video. They looked pretty badass.

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And so we found a waterfall after all! It made a very decent substitute for Paraeso.

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The day ended with some delicious mountain vegetable bibimbap down at a tiny restaurant at the base of Sinbulsan, as every hike should.

While it would’ve been nice to have found Paraeso, stumbling onto the Amethyst Cave definitely made for an interesting day of exploring.

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A Tale of Two Summer Camps

Summer “vacation” in Korea isn’t quite the same as most students and teachers have it back in the US – for most Korean students, it means just as much studying at private schools, and for me and other EPIK teachers it means extra teaching at special English camps. So while Korean schools don’t officially run year-round, students never really get a break from studying – ever (at least until they graduate high school).

Over July and August, I spent three weeks at a school in a remote location in Ulsan and 1 week at my school. Teaching for 6-10 hours a day can be quite stressful, but it’s not all bad. Really, it can be quite a bit better than regular school teaching. At camps, I’ve gotten to plan and teach a lot of my own lessons, and the students are generally much more motivated to learn English. After my overnight 5th grade English camp last winter, I saw my students’ levels transform, as well as their enthusiasm for learning which they still have months later. So when the option came up to teach another three-week overnight camp for summer, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Although I did try my best not to get assigned teaching grammar this time…which I found to be a rather unfortunate subject to be stuck with for 7 hours a day last camp.

A bit of background on these English camps – 5th and 6th grade students are shipped off to a secluded campus for three weeks (with breaks on the weekends) of intensive English studying with lots of foreign teachers. The camps are organized by the public system, and in Ulsan it’s done by the MOE (Metropolitan Office of Education). They have classes from 9 in the morning to 9 at night or later, only breaking for meals and perhaps a bit of PE time. To me it seems a bit ridiculous to have 10 and 11 year-olds in classes for 10 hours a day, but that’s just because I’m not Korean.

For summer camp, I was working with all 6th grade students off in the very southern corner of Ulsan at Seosaeng Middle School, on a tiny peninsula sticking out into the East Sea. Based on my two camp experiences and anecdotal evidence, the first day of camp generally goes like this: get picked up by a bus carrying a bunch of students. Meet the frazzled Korean teacher in charge of your bus. Make the ~1 hour drive to camp, receive some vague instructions about what to do upon arrival. Arrive at camp, find your room, try to follow vague instructions previously given. Receive different instructions several times while students and teachers wander aimlessly. Wait. Be prepared to be in a classroom of 16-60 tired, shy students eager to be entertained with no planned activities or help from a Korean co-teacher for 1-4 hours. Stay positive! After the first day, everything should settle down into a relatively set schedule.

Our dorm situation at camp brought with it some more interesting problems the first day: all of the foreign teachers were in one wing of the building, with one bathroom to share and no where to shower. Eventually, they told us there was one shower room for boys and one for girls, which was an open room to be shared with all of the students! The school dorm management didn’t seem to understand that this was not “OK.” But by the end of the day, they had it sorted out so we wouldn’t have to shower with the students, and we had a “sink shower” room for female staff with some semi-private shower curtains. Having living in Korea for a while and beet to the jimjilbang/public spas has made me a bit more immune to nudity, but I’m not quite ready to shower with all of my students…

Living in a dirty middle school dorm room for 3 weeks was a bit less than ideal, but it did have a very nice view:

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Every day the class schedule was two hours of grammar, reading and vocabulary, an hour of speaking and an hour of “song”. That left two hours for “special activities”. I lucked out in getting a pretty laid back arts & crafts activity.

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Little paper dragonflies that balance on their nose. It was a pretty simple idea suggested by my co-teacher, and the kids were totally into it! 아싸!!

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The biggest obstacle of camp was preparing a song and dance for the Song Festival. Aiiigo, aiiiiiigo. I felt like it was a bit much to expect us to choreograph a dance and teach it and a song to our students within the little spare time afforded by the camp schedule, but the results were actually pretty great. Upon arriving to camp, we were told that the song we selected to teach each night would be our song for the festival. I had “Another Brick in the Wall,” which was quickly vetoed by my class as too slow and boring. They instead chose a song by some awful British pop act McFly, which had been in some Korean drama. It was beyond awful, but absolutely adored by the students. And it’s all for them anyway.

Teaching “Another Brick in the Wall” was an interesting failure… I thought something in it might resonate with the students, who are studying all day and at 12 are starting to feel the seeds of rebellious teenage angst. But it didn’t quite work out. Most students couldn’t have cared less, no matter what I tried. I think I reached about 10 students out of the 100-200 I had, and only had a couple of classes that I felt good about. Eventually I gave up and switched to James Brown “I Feel Good,” because at least it would make me happy and let me get totally goofy. And it actually got an entire class up and dancing! My best 20 minutes of camp.

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One of the highlights was “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles. So cute! Next time, I’m choosing a song with an animal theme.

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The boys from my homeroom class.

So camp was a big difficult, particularly aapting to the schedule hearing “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” “Teacher! Teacher!” non-stop all day, every day except for the hours you’re sleeping. But then after 3 weeks, it’s over!! And you get all these letters:

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And they overwhelm all of the bad memories of camp and you wonder…maybe I could do it again next time!

But apparently that won’t be a question to consider because the camps are no more! Or so I heard. I guess they’re too expensive. Ah well. They were …interesting while they lasted.

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A week later, I had my school’s camp. Which was 6 hours a day of whatever I wanted to do with a group of 4th-6th graders. I was pretty excited about this never-before-had freedom, and got to work in a lot of group projects and non-English subjects. Each day had a theme: The World, Animals, Science, Fairy Tales, and Superheroes.

Animal Day:

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I ripped off this mask design from something I found online but thought it looked pretty cool.

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This is from “Oktapodi: the sequel” inspired from this great animated short.

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There’s an alien fishing with a big worm. She sees the octopi and says, “Lets go with the cosmos.”

I also redid my dragonfly craft, which was great once again!

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And I was really excited to do a reading and writing activity based around superhero comics. First we read a bunch of comics that I had made. Then we discussed how to make a comic, and the students had to make their own…

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It looks like there’s something inappropriate happening between Superman and Wonder Woman. And perhaps Catwoman is having a wardrobe malfunction?

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I like this a lot.

The comic book activity ended up being a bit too much about coloring, and a bit too little about English. But I think it could be modified into something really great. I was quite pleased with the results.

Looking back on summer camps after having started regular classes again, they look good. Even with all the work. And I’m happy that the last thing I do before I leave Korea for good in February will be my school’s winter camp. Oh, the possibilities…

Remon, anyone?

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The second thing I spotted in my School’s “Engish” Center was this little tray. After the “ENGISH” sign on the entryway. aiiiiigo…

Culture Shock of the Week: Korea and Butts and Lawsuits, oh my!

Sticker prominently displayed on the bus to English Camp...

This is a bit of a blurry picture, but what you may or may not be able to see is a woman from behind, wearing nothing but a thong and high heels and a dragon back-tattoo. This big decal was very prominently decorating the interior of the bus I rode back from English Camp with my sixth grade students. It seems like a bit of an odd choice of decor for your very public bus, but to each their own…I guess. You’d think having this in view of a bunch of 12-13 year old boys would cause quite a commotion, but none of them seemed to pay it any attention. Maybe they didn’t see it? That seems highly unlikely, as they’re 13-year-old boys and it’s a picture of a mostly naked woman…

But butts are really not a big deal in this country. Maybe it’s because everyone goes to the jimjilbang together (well, boys with other boys and girls with other girls) so nudity isn’t really a big deal. In the hospital, there’s hemorrhoid removal posters featuring big extreme close-ups of the point of surgery, and no one pays them any mind. Plastic surgery is advertised with really smooth and firm-looking bottoms. A nurse will give you a shot in the but without any concern for who else may be within view, because no one really cares.

Really though, it’s better that way, right? It’s just a butt. We’ve all got one. We’re so uptight about that stuff in the US. Can you imagine if a bus driver that worked for public elementary schools had that sticker on his bus in the US? I’m sure there’d be a lawsuit in no time. Or at least he’d be fired, immediately. Probably before he even got the chance to pick up any kids.

Today I was thinking about some of the differences between teaching in Korea and the US, at least what I know about teaching in the US based on growing up in the school system. In Korea, I can hug my students or give them a pat on the back and it’s no big deal. I can give students my cell phone number, although that’s not really something I’d want to do (many other teachers do though). I can “threaten” my students when they’re being bad..not that that happens a lot…but if I were to, say, mime kneeing a student in the face, I wouldn’t have to worry about repercussions. Not that that’s a mature way to approach classroom discipline… But the Korean teachers often discipline the students by having them hold their hands above their heads or stay in push-up position for a prolonged period of time.

In the school bathrooms, there’s often no soap at the sinks. I have my own antibacterial hand stuff, but I don’t know what the students do. Yesterday there was a bee hive/bee infestation situation in several classrooms, which still hadn’t been resolved today. Earlier this week the fire alarm went off in the middle of class, but we just waited for it to stop so we could continue. After class, the fire alarm light was still flashing in the hallway, and no one was paying any attention…

I’m pretty sure all of these things could be potential lawsuits in the US. In Korea, it’s no big deal. I was aware, but never really realized how much our sue-anyone-for-anything culture really influences life in America. Actually, I think that’s probably a big reason behind the differences in driving in the US and Korea…but that’s a topic for another post.

Gettin dirty at the Boryeong Mud Festival

Boryeong Mud Festival

Of all of Korea’s festivals, the most infamously famous is the Boryeong Mud Festival. For the past fourteen years on a weekend in July, foreigners from all over the country have converged in the small town of Boryeong to play in their famous skin-healing mud. But a bunch of mud + the beach + summer + cheap alcohol + no open container laws = one out-of-hand party. From what I heard, last year’s mud festival saw people getting covered in mud and drunk and deciding to rinse off in the fish tanks outside seafood restaurants. Nice. Needless to say, the festival has a certain notoriety in Korea for drunken foreigner shenanigans that generally leave the locals with a distaste for the waygook population.

Hearing all of this in the months leading up to the festival, I wasn’t really sure it was something I wanted to be a part of. But as it is the biggest festival in Korea, and an opportunity to play in the mud, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign up with a group of foreigners traveling there from Ulsan.

We departed Ulsan at 11pm the evening before the festivities, packed onto our private tour bus of 40-some (mostly) foreigners. It seemed to be the general consensus of those on the bus that the mudfest party started right then and there: everyone had boarded with an evening’s supply of alcohol and no plan to sleep. Luckily, the bus was equipped with a karaoke machine, complete with two microphones and a tambourine. Our poor, poor bus driver…

As I found out the next day, our journey was being paralleled by many other buses full of jovial foreigners making their way to mudfest from all across the country.

Arriving in Boryeong at 5am, we all promptly passed out into our motel rooms to catch a few hours of sleep before hitting the festival. By 11, we were out on the Daecheon beach boardwalk, and were greeted with a ridiculous rain storm! Within mere seconds, everyone was completely soaked. But playing in the rain is almost as much fun as playing in the mud, so the rain was a good warm-up to the day’s festivities.

5,000 won bought us a wrist band into the “mud experience area”, a fenced off part of the beach filled with mud-themed activities including a wrestling pit, giant slide, big inflatable tug-of-war, a mud “jail” and little mud painting stations. One trip to the mud wrestling pit was all it took to be covered in mud!

Boryeong Mud Festival!
The mud festival area was guarded by security and these gates.

With all that I had heard going into the festival, I was expecting something like this:
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But what I found was a lot of this:
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which is a lot of people waiting in line. The mud area was a bit …tame. It was waiting in line for 45 minutes to go on a big inflatable slide where someone splashed you with a bucket of muddy water at the end. I was hoping for a bit more getting buried in mud, being able to pick up big glops and drop them on people… but alas, there was none of that.

After playing in the mud for a bit, we headed to the beach.

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Party on the beach!

It was great to jump into the ocean and rinse off all the mud. At one point, a truck pulled into the crowd to spray everyone with mud and water. Another truck discretely pulled up with big buckets of mud-filled balloons, leading to a giant mud-balloon fight. This was by far the best muddiness of the day.

After a final rinse off in the ocean, we traded our wristbands in for some Boryeong mud soap, which was awesome and smelled great and worth the trek out to Boryeong alone. In the evening, we headed to a beach-side restaurant for some seafood. A couple of my friends had the most expensive sam gyup sal in Korean history, being charged 24,000 won for three strips. Which must be 4-5x the normal price. After trying to argue in Korean and English and sign language, we managed to knock a couple thousand won off the price, which didn’t do a whole lot but was something. It was unfortunate, but nothing could damper our mud festival spirits!

In the evening, as they do at Korean festivals, there were fireworks on the beach. Most people were still hanging around the beach, despite many local clubs efforts to lure them away with their trucks-blasting-music advertisements. Being on the beach was almost like being back in the US, it was so full of foreigners. My friends and I found some people playing music out of a tent and joined them. They were US military. People passing by stopped to dance for awhile, and it was nice to be on the beach, in the open air, dancing under the stars for a while. Well, it was nice despite the not infrequent streakers streaking past… I guess mudfest isn’t mudfest without some drunken shenanigans.

The next morning, our bus left early to get back to Ulsan. It was a very quiet bus ride back, which I hope made up for the way there with our bus driver.

While it was a bit tame, and didn’t have nearly enough mud considering it was the “mud festival”, Mudfest was a pretty amazing weekend. I don’t think I’d go back, but I’m certainly glad to have had the experience. Next year, I’m already planning a mud festival comparison back in Michigan

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Woooo! Mudfest!