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There : KyungJu World Culture Expo

September 29, 2007 Leave a comment

Today my friend Grace and I went to the KyungJu World Culture Expo. That should be read as Kyungju, Expo (of) World culture, and not the World Culture Expo (in KyungJu). That aside, it was great. I met her at 9 at the train station. I rode a train! For a one hour trip, for both of us, it was $3. It was fun enough to ride a train, and it was a much better way to see the country side than a bus.

We went and immediately watched some Korean drum deal. It was impressive as all get-out. Girls danced and played drums, all the while smiling really big (which I think is just as hard as playing the drums, to begin with). Then 3 women came out and sang in really traditional, piercing tones while some people played some sort of zither. At least I think it was some kind of zither. Then everybody in the free world began to drum. There were about 20 drummers on stage. It was pretty awesome. They played big drums and small drums and they drummed like drumming maniacs. It was a great start.

Then we went and looked at things in 3D (as in stereoscopic glasses). Some of it just gave us headaches, but there were a few VERY cool things, like looking down a chasm, or my personal favorite, being in some kind of castle siege. There were arrows flying everywhere and it was convincing enough that the arrows were going to hit you that even after several minutes of it, I still flinched. And the flaming boulders were fun.

Then we went up in some tower 85 Meters high, made mostly of glass. We looked out at the tiny people. We learned about the temple it was modeled after (actually, the tower is a normal rectangular tower with the temple shape cut out of the middle, as in a negative shape). We even got to try and use some cool interface that tried to read your hand position with two cameras and move a cursor on the screen. It didn’t really work, but it was fun to try.

Then we went and watched some Ballet. It wasn’t boring ballet, though. There were clowns and Chinese people spinning plates and hula hoops and women acting like mannequins and ribbon dancing and some kind of aerial ribbon dance thing done on a crane. It was pretty impressive. Less like ballet and more like a circus with a lot of dancing.

Then we watched B-Boys, which is Korean for break dancing, and its popular here. They were very impressive. They had a guy who could contort as good as me on my best day, but fast and to the beat. They did flying flips over people. They did the worm. Then the TaeKwanDo people came out, did some Katas, some high kicks and some flips. As much as I disagree with the principle of flipping around as a form of effective martial arts, it’s fun to watch. Then the Break dancers came out again. Then the TaeKwans came back and did weapons Katas. Then they flew around and broke balsa wood boards. Then the BBs came back and spun and balanced on one hand and had fun. Then the TKs did some fake fighting. In the middle of a fake fight, one of the stage lights exploded and began smoking, making it seems 3,000 times more awesome. Then the BBs and the TKs had a fake fight, like West Side Story without the hair grease and leather jackets. Then they had a dance off, like Grease without the leather jackets and…well, you get the point. Then they did some combined stuff some more and were done. It was really fun.

Then we went to eat. They had food from all over the world, even Mexico. I got Indian food, and it was good (though similar to Greek food). Grace got some Spanish food that took too long to get done and had no taste at all. I expected Spanish food to have some spice. I don’t know what was wrong. Then she got bit/stung on the finger by some kind of bee/wasp we didn’t see while I was up getting water. It hurt pretty bad, so I got her some ice for it. But after a few minutes, her finger was red and swollen and her arm was getting red. Then her tonsils started to itch and under her chin turned red, so we walked across the park to the nurse’s station. So we got there, they put a drawing salve on it and gave her an oral Benedryl like thing and she was good to go, but the Benedryl made sleepy later.

So we walked around, looked at stuff, talked about plants and flowers and frogs. Then we looked at the many things for sale around the world and we looked at the products of this Province of Korea. There were even giant grubs you could buy. I kind of wanted to buy a bug from the bug booth, but what would I do with it? And why would I pay for a bug? Because. The lady at the Kenyan booth talked to me in English. Grace couldn’t understand her accent.

We went and sat and looked at a pond and walked through a small sculpture and hedge maze type deal. Then Grace started getting sleepy. So we went and watched them make pottery and got free (wet) clay pots, which we carried like babies the rest of the trip. And we got coffee. Real coffee, not Korean coffee. Then we went and bought donuts.

Then we went and looked at some art. They had lots of prints of famous stuff, so I was able to seem somewhat knowledgeable about the stuff. I even got to explain the picture of Marat’s assassination, which was the first time I had a use for anything I learned in World History. Then we got to see a Korean guy’s work. Some of it was really awesome, like giant statues of Robots made of TVs and old radios, with some of the TVs working. They had a really neat style. Kind of an Iron Giant look. There was some other stuff I didn’t really “get”, but it was an art display, and if I “got” half of it, I’m happy.

Then we walked around a bit more and got some dinner. I got toast, which actually means I got a toasted sandwich. Some Korean lady called me handsome. Then we went back by train to Pohang. The Korean lady that called me handsome sat next to us.

It was great fun.

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Categories: Being There

There : Chusok Part 3

September 27, 2007 Leave a comment

Well, I was wrong to think that Chusok would be over without a fight. The day I posted that I didn’t think anything else would happen, plenty of stuff happened. There are very few days where nothing happens here. This is both good and bad. And in this case, it was good.

OhMa, from the trip to the mountains, called my room and invited me to have some apples and Korean pears. Korean pears are HUGE, and tasty. Fruit is a common gift item during Chusok, and I got some from the Pastor’s family, but it was nice to have more. After that, we went on a walk. OhMa is an older lady, but spry. She caught dragon flies by the tail and did sweeping roundhouse kicks over some wheat. Literally, on both counts. She’s an interesting lady, and fun to hangout with.

After I got back, the Chinese students invited me to eat with them. They were so nice. It was probably more difficult to communicate with them than with the Koreans, but they were just as, if not more, generous. The food was good. It was brought up by a friend that China has a holiday this week, and it’s likely that the meal pulled double duty as a Korean and Chinese holiday.

Either way, it was a fun day, and it was great to spend time with both the Chinese and the Koreans.

Categories: Being There

There: Don’t Drink the Water

September 27, 2007 Leave a comment

First Fan Death, now Water is bad, too.

I don’t think this is an entirely Korean deal, as I’ve seen it espoused on a few English speaking sites, but it seems to be supported by some Koreans, if for no other reason than it validates their cultural practices. When Koreans eat, they don’t drink (or drink very little), and typically only drink after the meal (immediately after). Even then, they typically drink much less than Americans. I’m talking water, not pop and not alcohol.
Some reasons stated that it is bad to drink water while taking a meal include: It harms digestion by diluting stomach acid, it speeds digestion, making you not absorb enough food, or that immature water nymphs accidentally ingested with your drinking water do battle with the food particles causing your Karma to take a hit.

Ok, I made up the last part, but the ideas are almost as laughable as Fan Death. Thank goodness for Google Answers:
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=549283

Many, many sources stating that it’s not bad to drink water with meals. And I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of news articles about how everyone should drink more water, so I think you’re safe as long as you don’t go absolutely crazy and start losing electrolytes or some-such.

This is also another example of my “American” mindset. I have had it pointed out (with observations based almost entirely on me) that Americans have to know something. That we don’t accept what other people say. This is partly true. If someone tells me something scientific, historical or factual that doesn’t make sense, I’ll look it up, rather than accept it on faith. I’ve been given contradictory information on enough things, both from Americans and Koreans, to feel justified in a healthy dose of skepticism. This is regarded by some as a mildly bad trait here. Much like parents angry that their teenager is “raging against the machine”, it’s bad form (to some, not all) to not accept what is presented to you as fact. Furthermore, if the Korean news said it, it must be true, and thus, if you disagree, you’re not just arrogant, you’re also wrong.

This is not true of all Koreans. I should make that very clear. Maybe only a vocal 1/8th of Koreans espouse this stuff. But there is a healthy 3/4ths that go along with it. Like Fan Death, many take a “better safe than sorry” approach instead of a “does that even make sense” approach. And while only the 1/8th with call you on your skepticism, the others will likely not care much that you’re right (if you are right, which I am not always).

Categories: Being There

There : Chusok Part 2

September 25, 2007 Leave a comment

Chusok has come and gone. I had a good time. I’m sure it’s much different for native Koreans, who have family to get together with, but most of the foreigners here just floated around. The Chinese are the most popular group here, and most of them seemed to stay here and play on the computers the whole time. More power to them. The Cambodians, of whom there are two, went to other cities. One of the visiting American Professors went to Seoul and hung out with other foreigners he met. Jared went to Inchon and hung out with other foreigners he met.

I spent the day before Chusok hanging out with my friend Grace. This is extra special because she brought me food, so that I did not starve. During the Chusok holiday, Sunlin closed down their stores and cafeteria. I could have eaten Ramen and survived, but instead Grace brought Kimbap, which is much tastier than Ramen.
Then Jared came back from Inchon, and he two of his friends and I went to a park by the beach and then ate seafood. It was also better than Ramen.

On Chusok day, the pastor of my church invited Jared and I to eat lunch with them. It was a really good meal. It was also a lot of fun. The daughter in the family is also a student in Jared’s class, and the daughter, son and mother speak excellent English, so we had good conversation.
After dinner we played a Korean game which sounds like it had a similar function to lots (IE: Casting Lots). Basically there is a board, 2 teams of 4 “horses” each, and 4 long wooden sticks that act as dice. You throw the sticks, and how they land decides how far you can move a horse in your turn. If the sticks land face up, it means one thing, face down it means another, and the combination there-of determines your moves. You move all of your little horses around the board until they are all safe and you win. It was a good time. We played in teams, with the parents, kids, the Americans and even their grandmother playing. It was a lot of fun.
After that we went and watched “Invasion” with the kids while the adults prepared for their family supper. Invasion was ok, but the fact was, it was just fun to be with friends. After the show we bought some weird lollipop type things on the street. They were big disks of burnt sugar that smelled and tasted just like roast marshmallow (but harder), and they had little designs pressed into them. They were too sugary, but fun.

Then Jared, another American professor and I got some food downtown and went home.

There is still another day of vacation, today, but I don’t know that anything exciting is going to happen, so I’ll end my Chusok coverage here.

There : Church in Depth

September 23, 2007 Leave a comment

Excuse me while I wax religious for a bit.
The whole reason I felt compelled to come to Korea was a matter of faith. It was not intellectual at all, though with the benefit of my since-gained knowledge, it makes sense for me to come here. But I didn’t know anything about Korea two years ago, when this all started, and it all seemed like a very abstract idea; to say that I wanted to go to Korea was kind of like a kid saying he wanted to be an astronaut. Sure, the kid means it, but does that mean it will happen? That’s how I felt, for the most part. But, as an adult, I could work towards it. Which I did. Slowly. And now I’m here. It’s amazing. It points out the valid but seemingly illogical approach that you can have faith in something, work for it, believe in it, but have no justification for those actions. That’s just a preface to this entry.

Today was another Sunday. I’ve been consistently going to a small Korean church. There are 14-20 people in the church, which is small by any standard, but particularly by Korean church standard, where mega-churches seem to be the ideal. It’s actually not that much smaller than my Kansas church, where churches of 40 people are common. It feels very homey. It also hearkens back fond memories of the Korean church I attended in Kansas, though this one is much more balanced (whereas the other was in a college town and was almost entirely 20-somethings). It’s in a small, unadorned building wedged in between some apartment buildings. Instead of pews they have normal, slightly padded folding chairs and tables.

The service begins with singing, usually more contemporary songs, led by a singer, a piano player, a keyboard player and usually a guitar player. Sometimes they add another singer, making about 1/3rd of the church involved in song leading. The songs are sung in Korean, and many of them are Korean written songs.

When the service proper begins, the pastor starts by calling for prayer. In Korea, it is common for prayer to begin by the pastor and congregation yelling “Joo-Yo”. JooNim is analogous to Lord, so it is, I gather, a calling to the Lord. Then everyone begins praying at full volume. At first this was startling. The whole church is praying, as fast as they can, at normal speaking level. It’s noisy. But I find myself liking it more over time. There are times when only the pastor, or another member of the church prays, but these community prayers also have spiritual value. I smile when I imagine all our prayers (and languages, since my church has Koreans, and American and a Cambodian) mixing together. As Protestant Christians we must believe The Holy Spirit interprets our prayers, anyway, so why should a moment of silence and a moment of loud communal murmuring be any different?

After that, the Pastor leads the congregation in singing hymns (which are all based on English Hymns, so I can often sing along in English, even though they sing in Korean). Then he begins his message, which is much like an American Pastor’s message (in style, the content, of course, is different). His daughter, one of my students from Sunlin, translates for me (or, occasionally, his son). It’s nice to know what the pastor is saying, and helps me learn Korean a bit better than an English service here would.

Then, we eat. Every week. As a group. It always reminds me that Communion was originally a meal. Rather than a solemn sacrament, though, this is everyone getting together, praying and eating a full meal. It seems very common in Korean churches, and doesn’t necessarily take the place of Communion. But at the very least it’s a Fellowship dinner that seems more like fellowship and less like a special event.

After dinner we have a time where we eat snacks (Koreans eat a lot more than Americans, in general), talk about our week, what we are thankful for, what we need prayer for, and have a Bible study time. The whole deal runs from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM or so. There are many similarities and many differences to American churches, and I won’t try to cover them all here.

I should stress that through all of this, the people in the church are supremely nice. They pick me up at college, take me there, feed me and take me back. They always smile, shake my hand and say hello. The ones that can’t speak English are just as nice as the ones who can. They are truly being kind to the stranger in a strange land, and they are working out what we so often say we should do. I know that our family and church in Kansas opened up to foreigners, too, so it is all the more satisfying to be here. It gives me a better appreciation for what we have done and a stronger drive for what more I can do when I see someone back in Kansas who feels out of place.

Even more, the Pastor’s family has invited me to spend some time on Chusok (추석) with them.

Categories: Being There

There : MT and Questions

September 21, 2007 Leave a comment

MT

Today we had MT. I’ve heard that MT stands for Mountain Training, Membership Training, or a few other things. Membership Training is the most common usage.

Basically, a large group of people (in this case the teachers, staff and students of the Business Majors classes I help teach) go somewhere, hang out, optionally get drunk, eat, play games and be good-naturedly abusive to each other.

I missed the first half, due to meetings. Instead, I got there on day two, ate, and went with them to a Nuclear Power plant. No joke. It was a plant south of Pohang in a city named Uljin. Having grown up with family in the nuke business and Wolf Creek Power Plant one county away, I was both interested, and slightly less excited than the others. The tour was inside a separate building, conducted entirely in Korean. If I didn’t already know a lot about nuclear power, it would have been dirt boring. Instead, it was just fairly boring. Exciting in theory, boring in practice. And, of course, we weren’t allowed to see anything real, only models. I really wish I could have learned some stuff, but it is neat to say that I went.

Questions

It’s neat to see what search strings people use to find my journal. I’ll attempt to address some of them more specifically:

The most common was easily strings for “Sunlin College” because there isn’t much information in English. Sunlin is the college I go to. It’s just a bit outside of Pohang, South Korea. The college has around 3,000 people. It is a Christian college, most classes are in Korean, but a few are in English. The most common major here is Nursing. The best thing about being here is the staff, who are all very nice and helpful.

“What kind of gifts Koreans accept?”

Almost any. Fruit is very common, especially around Chusok. Another common one is health and skin care stuff. When someone gets a new place, toiletpaper, towels and such are common. The only gift I’ve heard NOT to bring is a white carnation, a flower used for funerals.

“Plane ticket going to Korea”

My ticket, round trip, was around $2,000. I purchased it in conjunction with another teacher, through a travel agency, and it was probably more expensive than it needed to be. I was reimbursed, so I didn’t sweat it, but I hear people can get them for somewhere around $1500-$1700. The stretch from LA to Korea was on Korean Air.

“Things you can’t get in Korea“

Deodorant, Tortillas, Dr. Pepper, good steak, cheap body and skin care products and foreign cars.

“How do you get through your long flights?”

I spent a huge amount of time messing with the display in front of me. It played, music, movies, TV, showed the path and stats on the plane itself, as well as ETA, it had little games, and you could read about where you were going. I also slept, ate and read a book. I brought a laptop, but didn’t really get it out to do much with it.

Categories: Being There

There : Chusok Part 1

September 20, 2007 Leave a comment

Jared and I went to eat downtown tonight. When we got to the restaurant, there were a bunch of women, including a woman in a Hanbok (Traditional Korean Clothes) and a bunch of kids there. The kids smiled and a few talked to about us (in Korean) to their (presumably) mothers. This is pretty common. Kids seem really interested to see foreigners, and it’s pretty normal to get stopped on the street by someone who wants to say “Hi. Where are you from? Bye!” or just wave at someone different than themselves. In a place like Pohang, where there are significantly fewer foreigners than Seoul, we stick out and for the most part, we’re received with a smile. I couldn’t ask for more.

Anyway, at the restaurant, the group of women and children were getting ready to leave, so the women put bright orange aprons and orange triangular cloth hats on the kids (For anyone who has played Ragnarök Online, the hats were orange versions of the Ghost Headband). Anyway, it was cute. They left, we ate, and nothing much more happened (except that when we went to the salad bar two school girls took our table, much to our amusement).

When we left and were heading back to Jared’s car, we saw the group again, this time at a booth on the main walking street downtown. There were a bunch of kids and the Hanbok lady sitting on a mat, doing something, and a bunch of other people standing around. They were making Korean Cake, a small, dumpling sized ball, filled with some kind of nut. The ball itself is made of rice flour and very chewy. They had different colored dough and the kids were playing around in it. Very cute. There was also a TV camera.

When they saw us, they called to us and asked us to come over. We stood and watched for a bit, until it was clear that they were asking us to join. Jared agreed and we took off our shoes and sat beside the kids. The Hanbok woman showed us how to make the little cakes, and the TV camera guy taped us. When we were done, they even gave us each a set of cakes that they had prepared. We thanked them, they thanked us, we got up. The camera guy talked to Jared (with surprisingly good English), and explained that it was Korean cake, and that it was for Chusok. We said the cakes were delicious, in Korean, to the camera, and went on our way.

Chusok is Korean Thanksgiving, but “SuperThanksgiving with Christmas jr” would be more correct. They give gifts, they get 3 days to weeks off work, and pay bonuses, they have ceremonies; it’s a bit more than we’d consider standard Thanksgiving. I will likely spend my Chusok in Sunlin campus, doing not much. It’s a very family oriented holiday, and I wasn’t invited to join anyone, nor did I try to invite myself. But it will be interesting to see how things play out. This is, along with Lunar New Years, the country’s biggest holiday. There hasn’t been much lead up to it on Campus (except that everyone gets 3 days off and there was a singing competition), but it was really fun to get a taste (ouch, terrible pun) of it downtown.

Categories: Being There