Thursday, October 29, 2009

And the leaves that are green...

This weekend I will have a few more extensive updates for you, but for now I wanted to show how rapidly the colors are changing here in Korea. This is the view from my classroom windows last week.
And this week.You can click the images for more detail. Fall is certainly beautiful when you're surrounded by mountains of trees!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Visiting the Capital of the Silla Kingdom

Long before there was Korea there were three different kingdoms in the region that the North and South Koreans now call home: The Goguryeo to the north, the Baekje to the southwest, and the Silla (pronounced she-lah), which existed from 57 BC - 935 AD, in the middle. Lucky for us, the capital of the Silla, Gyeongju, is a thriving city about 2 hours away from Andong. Even luckier, Sara and I were sent there for a conference on co-teaching last weekend. And I will never turn down a some-expenses-paid vacation.

The conference was fun, but nothing special. It was very similar to orientation in many ways, except that I was able to be there with my co-teacher, which was more fun than helpful. It's good to teach with someone you can call your friend, and not just a colleague. For more details on the conference itself, see Sara's blog ( The conference itself lasted a mere day and a half until Friday afternoon, so Sara and I, along with our good friend Katie, decided to stay in Gyeongju for the remainder of the weekend.

Everything in Korea is old, but Gyeongju is really old. And it's obvious. But it certainly hasn't escaped modernization. For example, outside of our conference hotel room was a view of the stunning Gyeongju Tower, an observation tower in the middle of the Gyeongju Cultural Expo Center.

Though we didn't get to go up in it this time around, it was still cool to see.

While downtown Gyeongju looks basically like every other city in Korea, the one thing that is stunningly unique about this place is the mounds. Oh boy do they have mounds.And mounds.Mounds and mounds of mounds.

What are these oddly shaped hills you say? They are the tombs of literally hundreds of Silla Kingdom kings, queens, and dignitaries. And they were EVERYWHERE. You could not turn a corner in Gyeongju without stumbling head over heals into a giant heap of tombs. Some are more culturally important than others, but they are all equally impressive. What's more, it was all me, Sara, and our friend Katie (pictured above) could do to not run up them and roll down like giddy 4th graders.

Aside from the mounds of kings, there were also mounds with trees.Mounds you could go in.
And mounds you couldn't.
The ones above are the tombs of the founder and first king of the Silla Kingdom as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th kings of the Silla Kingdom. No word on where the 4th king ended up, but in Korea, if they don't talk about it, it can't be pretty.

After Sara, Katie and I were finished investigating all of the tombs, our friend Andrew showed up and we all rented bikes, a popular way to travel around Gyeongju.Our first stop was to Gyeongju's national museum, which was small and unimpressive, but entrance was free so I can't complain. The buildings were certainly cool.
It was also fully equipped for the handicapped, old, and WEAK. I was pretty tired from all that biking. Does that count?After that we stopped off at Anapji pond, which is a man made pond formerly used as a leisure spot by the Silla royalty. Like nearly every important, historical, and beautiful building in Korea, most of the buildings there were destroyed long ago by numerous invasions by the Japanese.
After a long day of biking, we sampled one of the other fine things Gyeongju has going for it.You can sit at home and talk about how you could live without McDonald's all you want, but spend 7 months of your life without a hint of authentic western food, let alone a decent cheeseburger, and then we'll talk. I had McDonald's 3 times in the span of two days, and I don't regret it one bit. My only regret is that we didn't get to visit the Gyeongju KFC.

On our last day in town, Andrew, Katie, Sara and I decided to trek out to the must-not-miss Bulkuksa Temple and Seokguram. The former is considered the No. 1 historical and scenic site in Korea by the Korean government. It was certainly beautiful and scenic, but it was also marred by more tourists than I've seen anywhere in Korea.
The temple wasn't terribly different from many others I've seen before, including in Andong, but it was nestled nicely into a mountain, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And while there were a lot of people (including screaming children) it was still a peaceful and beautiful place to spend the afternoon.
It was especially nice to see it in the fall, since all of the leaves in Korea are now bursting into full color.
Our last stop, Seokguram, is a very old Buddhist grotto which contains an enormous statue of Buddha built into the mountain. Built in the 8th century, it has stood the test of time and now stands as a great monument to Buddhist culture in Korea and around the world. Since we aren't allowed to take pictures of the actual Buddha, I am borrowing this picture from Wikipedia to give you a good view.

Upon leaving the grotto, visitors are met with a spectacular view of the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which was a great site to see right before leaving Gyeongju. It is a good reminder for me that I need to return to this beautiful city.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When's the Made for TV Movie?

I was recently asked some questions by a reporter named Lynn Dill back home to have a story put in the local Crete newspaper about coming to Korea. Now I'm front page news on the news group's website! Big money!!! Check out Russell Publication's to read the story.

Many thanks to Lynn, who wrote a fantastic article!

UPDATE Oct 10th: I fixed the link. You should be able to read the article now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Kid

We got a new student in 6th grade a few weeks ago who is absolutely stellar in English. He attended the Daegu English Village, a very good English program in nearby Daegu, before coming to Andong. But whenever you get a new student, you worry about them fitting in. So I was naturally concerned when we did the comparisons lesson and our new student, Minho, at barely 4 feet tall and maybe 65 pounds dripping wet, was paired with our sumo-wrestler 6th grader, Taeyong, to write 3 comparisons sentences about each other. At the end of class, each pair was instructed to come and read me their three sentences.

"I am taller than Minho. I am bigger than Minho. I am stronger than Minho."

Minho (slightly bored with the remedial-for-him activity):
"I am shorter than Taeyong. I am weaker than Taeyong. I am smarter than my whole class."

I think he'll be OK.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tacos and Wii with my favorite Koreans!

Last week, Sara and I invited two of my coworkers over for some Wii and to introduce them to the wonderful world of Mexican food. Choi Hyeon-beom, who've I've spoken about before, is my main co-teacher and the 6th grade teacher. Park Nam-yeon teaches 5th grade at Dongbu, and while I don't teach with her, she is the closest in age to me and Sara at my school, so we hit it off well.

Everyone adored the tacos...I mean how can anyone not? They were quite delicious, and thank to mom for bringing me the tortillas and taco seasoning, without which we would have been sunk. It was quite an adventure explaining everything from the name to the preparation and just exactly how to eat something that I've been enjoying since my youth.

Afterward, we introduced them to the Nintendo Wii. Koreans know all about the Wii, but few people own one because of the focus on PC-based games instead of console games (Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox) here. While it's always fun having new people over to play the Wii, it was somehow even more fun to watch uber-athletic Koreans take on the system.
Even ping-pong was a serious matter.

And of course, as beginner's luck runs rampant on Wii, Nam-yeon beat the tar out of Sara...and all of us.