Nose Change?

On Friday I got asked for the first and probably not the last time if I have had plastic surgery on my nose.  This question was posed to me in the form of “Nose change?”  In America, I feel as though plastic surgery has very negative connotations unless you are getting it for reconstructive reasons.  In Korea, however, plastic surgery is much more common place and it is more normal to be asked by a random, mischievous 12 year-old boy if you have had some work done.  Although, I doubt David will ever be asked these types of questions (Editors note: David wants me to mention that he has been asked if his hair is “original” aka dyed).

This past week was quite long and straining.  David and I had a high school camp (well mostly David) that called for an almost completely different curriculum than anything we have done so far.  We also only had 1 and half days to plan for it because we have been booked up with other camps pretty much everyday.  Luckily, David didn’t mind putting in a little weekend work and I had time to finish up the things David couldn’t get to while he was teaching.  Luck was also on our side because the kids were pretty well behaved.  We were all pretty worried about the situation because we had heard their English level was very low (which it was), we had to teach them business English (which David tried), and they were all boys.  They were coming from an “engineering” school, which in Korea, seems to be on par with military schools or alternative schools in the U.S.  These boys futures are already decided.  None of them will be attending college and all will be working in factories or joining the military.  So we were afraid they would be crazy, out of control, hoodlums.  In reality though, they were pretty normal, everyday high school kids.  Making foolish decisions but still fun to hang out with.

Like most other countries in the world besides the U.S., drinking and smoking is a lot more lax here.  Although the high schoolers were all under age, their teachers allowed them to drink and smoke in their rooms.  This may have resulted in one group of them punching and breaking a very expensive Samsung T.V.  How or why this happened is very unclear to all of us not involved, but the students who did the punching seemed quite proud of themselves…  I hope they have to work it off doing hard labor or something.

This week also marked the first time that we got to go to the Aquapia (massive water park).  They just finished remodeling it and…. dang.  First things first though.  In Korea, whenever you go swimming, you must wear a cap or head covering of some sort.  So I bought a baseball cap and David bought a swim cap.  Then you head for the locker room and are given a magnetized bracelet that is the key to your locker.  It is pretty snazzy and high tech.  The water park itself was really fun.  It has a lazy river, about 4 water slides, a wave pool, two hot tubs, a play structure, and the Flowrider, “surfing” ramp thing (and that is only the indoor part)!   My goal in life is to master the Flowrider before I return to the U.S. but right now I can not do anything on it.  In fact, at one point I got pushed over the edge by the current and was stuck against the edge because the water was crazy strong (don’t worry mom, my head was above water I just couldn’t stand up!) and the lifeguard had to pull me upright.  Flowrider 2, Tara 0  That will change soon enough though.

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Random Flowrider picture from the internet!

Also the outside part of Aquapia has a slide called the X-Wave… It is probably the biggest and scariest waterslide I have ever seen in my life.  I WILL DOMINATE IT!

Well that’s about all I’ve got for today.  We are sitting bored at work waiting for our boss to come in so we can start planning our vacation to Jeju in February!  We get about 9 days! Woohoo!

Gakwonsa Temple and Mt. Taejo

It’s not all work work work here in Korea for Tara and me.  Today we had an adventure of another sort, a little old-fashioned sightseeing.  To get a look at Korea’s spiritual heritage, we decided to visit the Gakwonsa Temple, home of a certain spectacular giant statue of the Buddha.

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A small shrine near the temple complex. This is not the giant Buddha.

We took two buses to get there, for a journey that was probably about an hour and a half in duration.  The temple is nestled up against some mountains, in a village area that has the feel of a skiing town.  There didn’t seem to be a huge permanent population, but it was definitely primed for tourists.

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Tourists who clearly know how to have a good time.

Korea is a mostly mountainous country, so it comes as no surprise that most of its holy places are associated with mountains.  It’s a very natural and appealing setting for a sanctuary.  It also entails a great deal of climbing.  We ascended an incredible series of stairs and had to pass a lovely island of trees before we finally caught a glimpse of Gakwonsa’s star attraction.

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Behold the stairway, destroyer of legs.

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This is the giant Buddha.

The giant Buddha of Gakwonsa is about 15 meters tall.  As you can see from this long-distance shot, 15 is quite a lot of meters.  It translates to about 50 feet, if you like your units traditional, and along from being very very big, it’s quite beautiful.  The craftsmanship needed to create a work like this should be applauded forever.

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A closer look at the Buddha, the second largest in South Korea.

To the Buddha’s left lies the temple complex itself, brightly painted  and chiming with bells in the brisk wind.  We came as tourists, but it is a very spiritual place, and we saw many people going about the act of worship.  There were places where one could write prayers (for the price of a donation), either on paper or on larger, shingle-like tiles.  And of course, many people would go inside the various temple buildings for prayer or meditation.

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No large crowds, thankfully.

Tara and I proceeded cautiously, wishing to respect the temple and the people to whom it belongs.  But we did go inside one briefly, to look at the golden statues inside and do a little quiet sitting.  We took no pictures of the interior, of course, but to anyone willing to make the trip, I’d highly recommend a look.  There are wonderful paintings of Buddhist history and myth, and the chamber is very peaceful.

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The swastika seen on the side of the main building here is a very ancient symbol associated with many cultures, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. It represents eternity, as well as being a traditional sign of good fortune.

There’s a hiking trail behind the temples, which we decided to try out.  Without really meaning to, we found ourselves climbing very near to the summit of Mt. Taejo.  We were pretty high up the mountain to begin with, and our path was only about 800 meters to the rest spot just below the peak.  But it was a steep trail, and somewhat perilous with ice and loose rock.  We each managed to slip and fall once, though I probably had the more hilarious landing.

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Glad we wore some decent shoes.

The path split in three directions, two of which appeared to go in an upwards direction (though we were clearly near the top).  Tired from the rugged climb, we decided to come back another day, perhaps when camp had made us a little fitter, and explore for more shrines or spots of significance.

It was cold and cloudy, but still a beautiful day.  I’m glad we took this opportunity look upon something exceptional, exhausting as it may have been.  We’re both looking forward to coming back, and seeing more such wonderful places.

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Love the Buddha’s dance moves.

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Candles at the site of the Buddha, bearing images and writing in both Hangul and Hanja (Chinese characters).

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I found myself wondering how many of the Koreans who visit these temples are still literate in the Hanja characters that adorn many of the sculptures and buildings here.

Christmas and New Years

Christmas is an interesting time in Korea.  From what I have heard, it is mostly a couples holiday, that and small children.  Children sometimes get presents from Santa (snacks, chocolate, gift cards) but when they are older and discover Santa is a myth, they stop getting presents.  As for the couples part, there is something called “solo Christmas” that is a interesting concept.  It means exactly what you think, alone on Christmas.  Christmas is actually one of the loneliest days of the year for Koreans when the fact that they don’t have a significant other gets thrown in their face (kinda like Valentine’s Day).

This boy made his snowman about "Solo Christmas". :(

This boy made his snowman about “Solo Christmas”. 😦

When I was having a conversation with the kids about the differences of Christmas in America and Korea, one of the boys seemed to get fairly upset and talked about solo Christmas.  If I understood it correctly, he was actually alone on Christmas, not just sad about having a breakup as the term usually implies.

Luckily, David and I did not have a solo Christmas but we didn’t really do much.  We hunkered down, watched a Muppet Christmas Carol, made a Christmas breakfast (potatoes and eggs) and dinner (pork, MASHED POTATOES, and broccoli), and skyped with my family.  Even though it was so low key, it was nice to have a day off work!

New Years was much the same.  We had New Years Day off work and I wanted to go out and party but unfortunately David was sick.  So we stayed in once more and watched Buffy.  We did go to Byeon-Cheon for dinner, American style.  We had a delicious pizza from this place called 59 Pizza.  And it was a lot cheaper than our adventure to Pizza Hut.

Shrimp and ham pizza! Yum!

Shrimp and ham pizza! Yum!

David enjoying delicious Korean Pizza!

David enjoying delicious Korean Pizza!

We also stumbled upon a little market where we bought some Korean “treats” (we thought they would be sweet but… they were not) for 5,000 won.

The one on the left tastes vaguely of peanut butter which is weird because I think it is covered in seaweed.

The one on the left tastes vaguely of peanut butter which is weird because I think it is covered in seaweed.

We thought these would be sweet but they were filled with sesame seed oil!

We thought these would be sweet but they were filled with sesame seed oil!

Saturday Adventure in Cheonan

I meant to post about this a while ago… but it never happened.

We went into Cheonan for the day a couple weekends ago.  It was great fun.  We went to see

.  Buying our tickets was a little interesting but luckily we found a foreigner to help us.  The process, at least a Yawoori Theater, is to take a number (like at the DMV or something).  Then you get called to the counter and pay for your tickets and pick your seats. Picking your seats beforehand is actually really nice because you don’t have to go super early to the theater to get prime seats.  The movie we went to see didn’t start until 3:00 and it was only about 1.  So we walked around the mall and went to eat lunch.   We decided to eat here:

Pizza Hut!

Pizza Hut!

It is funny because even though we are not tired of eating Korean food, seeing this Pizza Hut made us so happy that we had to eat there.  I couldn’t help being excited for “American” food.  The same goes for when we see American/ English brands.  The unfortunate part is that these brands are pretty expensive.  David and I enjoyed a smallish pepperoni pizza for 25,000 won!  We probably won’t be going back there anytime soon, especially when we found a much cheaper pizza place near our house that tastes better.

I also spent the 5000 won that my roommate Joann gave me for Christmas at a Starbucks!  I bought a Christmas Cookie Latte for 6,000 won…  It had tiny pieces of cookie in it and was definitely not worth $6ish but at least I got to go to Starbucks!

Me and my Christmas Cookie Latte!

Me and my Christmas Cookie Latte!

David and I saw our movie, then did some Christmas shopping (including buying lights for our room) and headed home.  It was a fun day and we saw a lot of different sites!

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