Monday, June 27, 2005

Ne Hau - Back from the Heart of the World!

Home at last. Home? Who are we kidding, I still live in Korea. This isn't home, well, I guess it has to be...for now. Anyway, I'm back from China. I spent nine days chillin between the cities of Beijing and Xi'an (pronounced Shi Ann).

Warning, this might be a long blog ;)

Our trip began in Beijing, not before a really weird morning in trying to get to the airport.
Ok, so we left a few minutes late and caught a cab from the subway station. I hand him a piece of paper with Korean writing on it (supposedly it should tell him where to go). He has no idea where this place is, we're trying to get to a bus stop that has a shuttle to the airport. So he starts driving and eventually pulls over to ask a random person for directions. As it turns out, we know the guy he's asking, he is the ex-vice president of our academy. So the guy (Mr.Yu is his name) walks us to the bus stop and chats with us along the way. He leaves and we're waiting for the bus. A cab driver (different one) pulls over and stares at us, then gives us candy...SIMULTANEOUSLY Rob gets crapped on by a bird.

Finally, the bus comes, we get on and start our trip to the airport. The bus driver appeared to be pretty dang angry at a cab driver and he was throwing around Korean profanities like nobody's business. He's pretty angry, so he busts down a small alleyway (in a huge bus) and almost clips a car. He's attempting to lose the cab driver. He comes out the other side of the alley at the next bus stop, and the cab driver is waiting for him. Wonderful. They both exit their vehicles and I kid you not, Mortal Combat ensues. They are beating the crap out of eachother. If I was still new to Korea I would think this weird, but seriously men do it all the time here. It was just annoying cause we had a flight to catch. Crazy Koreans and their Taekwondo.

Day 1
When we finally arrived in Beijing we started off seeing the Summer palace. We went right there without checking into our hotel. We decided that since we only had a few days that it would be best to book a tour for at least 3 days so that we could see everything that we needed to see. The summer palace was pretty cool, it was located on a lake and it would be a cool to live there...if you were an emperor.

Day 2
We saw Tian'anmen Square, which is the largest public square in the world, and very much designed in communist fashion. They had the big sign as a countdown to the 2008 Olympics as well, they get it just before we do! From there we saw Mao Zedong's Mausoleum. Basically this dude was a huge communist leader in China and they loved him so much that they have frozen his body and put it on display for people to "pay their respects" aka have a little look see. It looked like he was made of wax and sort of like he had a lightbulb inside his head because it was glowing when we walked in.
After that wonderful experience, we headed to the Forbidden City. This was another place the emperor liked to hang out. It had 9,990 rooms in this place, so they like to think of it as a city within the city of Beijing.
At the end of the day we were pretty tired, but we still had tickets to the Acrobatic show. This stuff was crazy. Girls were balancing on wires by their teeth and holding hundreds of glasses on their feet and other appendages. We were both quite amazed.

Day 3
The day finally came for us to climb the Great Wall. Rob and I were both pretty excited to get out there. The drive took a while, because clearly that thing is massive and it's not running through the city. There were quite a few tourists at the area of the wall that we were taken to and it was a billion degrees outside. Anyway, it took about an hour to climb up about 1,550 stairs to the highest point of the entire wall. It was pretty amazing to look back at some of the other sections of the wall and imagine what it would have been like a long time ago.
After this excursion, we had tickets to the Beijing Opera. I wasn't too sure what I'd be getting myself into, but it turned out to be pretty fun. There was a screen on the side of the stage that translated what the singers were saying into English.

Day 4
We were finished our tour and decided to hop on a night train to Xi'an to see if we could check out the Terracotta Warriors. The train ride was pretty good, we had soft sleeper seats, which is basically in a room of four bunks with tv's and air con. We arrived in Xi'an at around 7am pretty tired and were approached by a couple of people who had a hostel, so we decided to go there. We signed up right away for another tour (we were trying so hard to get everything in so hiring a driver seemed to be the way to go). We were able to see the Hot Springs, a Museum of Relics and Artifacts, and the Terracotta Warriors. I was pretty impressed by them. Basically there is a huge excavation site where these clay life size warriors were found. There intention was to guard a tomb that is nearby. There are thousands of clay soldiers and horses who came complete with real weaponry. They weren't discovered until the 1970's when a farmer attempting to dig a well realized that there was something more underneath the soil.

Day 5
We hopped back on the train to Beijing after checking out the Drum Tower and Bell Tower in Xi'an and headed back for another couple nights in Beijing. The train ride wasn't bad and I met some dude from the Netherlands who had been travelling for a about 7 months. I'm jealous.

Day 6
We arrived SUPER early back to the city and tried to find somewhere to stay. I had a 2002 Lonely Planet book, so it was a little outdated. The first place I tried had moved, so we walked for a while to try and find it with no luck. The second place we tried was no longer a hostel and had transformed into a full fledged hotel. So, third time's a charm right? Got in a cab toward place number three, but the cab driver didn't know where to go (it figures) but he actually stopped to ask for directions. We finally got there and it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. We checked in and went shopping!

Day 7
Woo hoo, June 25th, my birthday. Nothing happened for my birthday, no partying, no celebration. So don't worry, I was a good girl. I spent the entire day shopping for stupidly cheap stuff. I ended up with about 40 DVD's ($1 ea), a snowboard jacket ($20), North Face pants that zip off into shorts ($7), and a purse with Mao Zedong's head on it and some Chinese lettering ($7). So as you can see shopping in China is pretty dang cheap. I guess in a way I bought myself birthday presents.

Day 8
Woke up at 5am, caught a cab to the airport, caught a plane to Korea, took a bus into Seoul, took a subway ride to my part of the city, then walked the rest of the way home. I was exhausted to say the least and kinda sad that my trip had to end so quickly.

I saw a ton of stuff, but there's still more in China that I could have seen. It's very different than Korea. The food, the language, the people, the landscape. In the end, I was glad to be vacationing in China and living in Korea.

My favorite part of the trip was probably the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, which are the two biggest tourist attraction sites, but I can see why. They're both pretty incredible.

I'm back to work now and it's two more months until my next trip. How will I survive? ;). Things here are still really good. It's been four months now and I'm still going strong. I miss you all lots, thank you to those of you who sent me birthday emails!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Kevin's here! Weird eh? You're tellin me. This is him, totally dazed on his first night here. Posted by Hello

What the Dueck?

Well, as many of you may have heard, Kevin Dueck has joined us out here to chill, work, and play for a year in Korea. He's actually really close, only two subway stops away, which works out to about 10 minutes or less. Anyway, it's working out well so far, we've taken him to see a few things, maybe even more than we should at this point, being that he's so tired and all.

Well, Saturday started after we found Kevin and took him to Itaewon to attempt to pick up our China tickets (by the way, I'm going to China in T minus three days!). Sadly, our tickets were not ready for pick up, but we were able to show Kevin the "western area" of Korea right off the bat. Not an area that I particularly like to frequent, but it's definitely useful for speaking English and such.

After Itaewon, we headed to Yeoido park. Yeoido is a small island located in the middle of the Han River. It's really kinda cool. We found the park that we were looking for which was bascially greenery surrounding a giant plaza. They had a huge blood drive going on, so there was a pretty big concert going on as well. Kevin was pretty overwhelmed and partly bored I think, as Matt, Rob, and I proceeded to discuss season one of Lost (greatest show ever!).

Sunday we headed to World Cup Stadium for a soccer game between FC Seoul and Suwon. It was pretty awesome. The stadium itself was a sight to see. It was built for the 2002 World Cup hosted by Korea and Japan. I most definitely watched a few games on TV from home, and the idea of Korea and Japan "co hosting" the biggest World Soccer tournament didn't seem like a big deal. Until I began work in Korea. The two countries don't get along. I mean, even from the age of about 6 kids in Korea are bred to hate the Japanese. The hatred goes way back, so attempting to get along for a month or two for the sake of soccer must have been difficult.

Anyway, back to my weekend. So we went to the stadium with a bunch of English teachers and caught what turned out to be a tie game. Suwon scored their only goal in the last few minutes of the game, and really, who likes a tie in soccer? Not me. But, I'm definitely going to be checking out a couple more games in the future. Being there with the crazy fans singing soccer songs and all dressed in team colours while shooting off loads of fireworks was something I need to do more of.

That aside. China happens in 3 days. What the...? It's kinda strange, but I'm totally excited for what's coming, and that's partly because I don't really know what it is. We have three days planned, and after that it's all up in the air. So it should be fun. As far as I know, we're covering the basics: The Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, The Temple of Heaven, The Chinese Circus (supposed to be amazing), and not to be left out a dinner of Peking Duck (I'm actually really looking forward to that one!). It should make for a good time. There should be some great stories when I get back so I'll be sure to give you all an update filled with pictures!

Talk to you soon!

Matt with cute kid at Yeoido park.  Posted by Hello

World Cup Staduim, built for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. After living here I realize what an awkward time that must have been for hosting countries. Posted by Hello

Dan, Sarah, and Me just before game time. Posted by Hello

FC Seoul vs Suwon at World Cup Stadium. Posted by Hello

Sarah and Rob swing fighting on the subway. The verdict: Sarah wins 1-0! Posted by Hello

Monday, June 06, 2005

Although neither Rob or I took this picture, this is basically what the beach we were at looked like...only a few less people.  Posted by Hello

SPF 30...What a Crock!

Ahh the beach. I haven't been in over three months.
Until this weekend...

So we went four hours east of Seoul to a small city called Gangneung. Erin and Sarah knew a couple of people who were working at a Hagwon out there, so we all decided that it was time on this long Memorial Day weekend to hit up a place that we'd never been before. It seemed perfect.

I was pretty tired the day we left, not just because I got up at 6:20am, but also because I had one of the worst sleeps of my life. You know those nights when you keep waking up, but you think you've never actually been to sleep in the first place? Yeah, well that was my night. I'm not sure if it was because I had some sort of Christmas syndrome, where you're so excited that you can't sleep, or if I thought I would sleep through my alarm, but it sucked none the less.

Well we arrived on Saturday afternoon and headed straight for the beach. It was incredible. A sight that I had most definitely missed. It was some sort of a cross between a California beach and something that you'd find driving down the coast on the Baja. It was awesome.

Rob and I were planning on staying in what is called a Yeogwan. Basically a cheap room, I won't even call it a motel, it's somewhere to sleep that's cheap. So it was about $15 each for the night and we didn't just stay anywhere, nope. We most definitely stayed on the beach. The door to our building lead right to sand, no crossing the street, no walking super far. Open the door...beach. It was great. The sleep, however, was not. I had the second straight night of terrible sleeps, but this was for different reasons. The hallways echo BIG time in this place and people seemed to be coming in to rent rooms at all hours of the night. Every time someone came in, I woke up. It was frustrating to say the least. Not to mention the man in the truck driving around with his loudspeaker at 6am, I swear that guy followed me from Chang-Dong. Frick he won't leave me alone. No sir, I don't want to buy a pineapple...or a computer monitor, or whatever the heck you're selling this week!!

Anyway, when I got up in the morning the memory of my failed sleep attempts faded as soon as I walked out the back door to the beach. It was such an awesome thing to wake up to. So, Rob and I sat on the beach literally all day long. Till we both realized that we were burned to a crisp. Now, I realize that sometimes people say that they're burned really bad, but aren't, but really, the both of us...Him with red hair, and Me with a red haired mother who oh so generously passed her fair skin down to me...we are actually can't go in the sun and have to take advil while spreading copious amounts of Aloe on our burned arms and legs.

Now, might I add that I'm not totally dense and I DID put SPF 30 on THREE TIMES! I don't know what else I could have done aside from watching the beach from inside, but how much fun is that really?

But, in the end, it was all worthwhile. Although, at this point I'm unable to share photos with you because the camera Rob brought with him had dead batteries, and I still haven't invested in a digital camera as of yet. Pictures are to come though, cause Rob purchased a disposable, we'll just have to wait for the cd.

For now, it's cold showers and Aloe while the Koreans stare at me like I'm some kind of freak (and more than they usually do...). Cause sunburns are some sort of phenomenon that they don't understand, but I guess they wouldn't really get why you'd go to the beach in less clothing than you'd wear snowboarding in January.