Sunday, February 12, 2006

Spam and a ten dollar pear

It's been a couple weeks since Lunar New Year, but I wanted to write an entry on it anyway. It's a really big holiday here, probably one of the most important. Everywhere you go shopping, there are massive and expensive gift sets for sale, and some of them I found quite amusing. Our school gave a gift set to each teacher, and the foreign teachers got different ones than the Korean teachers. Thank god. The Dove gift set is what the foreign teachers got, and the spam/olive oil set was what the Korean teachers got. Koreans LOVE their spam. Seriously. It's sooooo funny. Also, they have pears here that are the size of softballs. I got one of those. I took a picture of it next to the wine bottle to show it's size, but it still doesn't do it justice. It was huge. Then I saw them in a gift set at the supermarket. There were 9 pears (of that size) wrapped in a pretty box, and the price was 90,000 won. That is $90. No shit. I didn't even like it, it tasted watery and no normal person could possibly finish it by themself, it would take me days to eat it. I took a couple of bites and threw it away. A $10 pear. Some of the parents gave the teachers gifts...I got a case of seaweed. 12 packages. WHAT? I guess the Koreans use it a lot in their cooking and they make sushi-like rolls at home. Except here there isn't raw fish inside, it's called gimbap. I really like it actually. Instead of raw fish they put radish, spam, carrots, cooked tuna, and some other unidentifiable things inside the roll. It's really good. I eat it several times a week, and it's only $2 for one whole roll.
One more thing--one of the mothers gave all the female teachers a face exerciser. It looks like a cell phone (that's what I thought it was at first) but you charge it and use it on your face. I guess it's supposed to keep you looking young. I haven't used it yet because the instruction manual (and DVD) are in Korean. Crazy high-tech. Here are some pictures of the gift sets, pear and face exerciser...

Ski trip

Last weekend I went on a ski trip with 10 people (from school and some friends of the Korean teachers). 2 of the Korean teachers (Jay and Julie) are big snowboarders and go quite often, so they invited some of the foreign teachers to go skiing/boarding with them at a resort 2 hours outside of Seoul. Both of them have cars. Korea is a very mountainous country, so there are ski resorts everywhere. Skiing is also very cheap (by Western standards) so our lift ticket and rental for the full day was $50. We also rented a condo to stay the night. It was only 2 rooms (with 2 bathrooms), and there was no furniture in it other than a TV, computer (only in Korea) and an armoire with a lot of blankets and sleeping pads. We were sleeping Korean style, on the warm floor.
I haven't been skiing in a really long time (college), so I was a little shaky at first. I did the bunny hill quite a few times before switching to a more difficult run (which still wasn't bad). It was beautiful in the mountains. We went out for dinner that night for galbi (which you make at your table and share) and then we went back to the condo where we proceeded to play some Korean drinking games. It was awesome. First things first--rock, paper, scissors is really popular here. But they call it gawi, bawi, bow (obviously the korean words for the aforementioned objects). So the drinking game involved beating members of a team in gawi, bawi, actually is pretty complex, but really FUN! The losing team has to share drinking (chugging rather) the cup of beer in the middle (but instead of a cup we used a soup bowl cause it was bigger). We ran out of beer towards the end of the night but were having such a good time that we used COKE in the bowl, which is actually WORSE to chug than beer because it's so carbonated and thick. YUCK!
But anyway, it was a great trip. Here are some pictures....the ski group, beautiful mountains, playing gawi, bawi, bow, and eating galbi for dinner.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

HOW much??!!!

I'm pissed. I got my heat bill for the month of December and it was $400. WHAT?????? That can't be right. I figure it must be for 2 or 3 months. So I take it into school (our bills are in Korean, so the school takes care of them--they just tell us what we owe) and they said it was right. Well I talked to the other foreign teachers and they don't pay nearly as much in heat, so something must be wrong with mine. I live in a fricking 2 room apartment so it's not like they're heating a palace or something. They sent the heat guy out to check it and he says everything is ok.

Here's the deal---in addition to my thermostat on the wall, which I figured controlled the heat (which I turned to zero everyday before leaving the house)---evidently there is a covered HOLE IN THE WALL that I was supposed to uncover and reach into and turn off these faucet-like things everyday before going to school. WHAT???????????
#1: how the HELL was I supposed to know that?????
#2: heating my 2 ROOM house at a mere 68 degrees constantly for one month is $400????!!!!!!!
#3: what else am I doing wrong??? Am I also supposed to turn my refrigerator off during the day as to save electricity?
#4: Since I didn't get the December bill until the end of January, I did the same exact thing last month, so my January bill will be just as much, if not more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here are some pictures to let you know that I am really not a moron. My thermostat, and then the hole in the wall that I was supposed to be tampering with.....

Note to self: If I ever live in another country, please check with heating company for correct control-operation. This was an expensive mistake.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Vietnam trip

Hi all-
Sorry I haven't written in so long. I was in Vietnam for the Lunar New Year. It was awesome. Photos are below. The pretty water ones are of Ha Long Bay, which is just gorgeous. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are over 3000 of those islets. We took a 2-day ferry trip to see the Bay. It was insanely cheap--only $30 including our transporation (2.5 hour drive) to and from Ha Long Bay, 4 meals (seafood), the boat trip, a cave tour, and our hotel at night. Unbelievable. It was a great excursion--many people from all over the world who were traveling Vietnam were on the boat. Norwegians, Germans, Koreans (and I thought I'd escape them), Vietnamese, South name it. The crazy thing was that the common language was English. We are SO lucky to be from an English speaking country. I felt very privileged to be speaking my first language while everyone else there (including the Vietnamese tour guides) had to speak their second language, English. Unreal. It made me really see how wide open the world is to English speakers. We are very lucky and should take advantage of it.

The capital city of Hanoi was very interesting. Not only was it very poor, crowded, and dirty, but it was very also touristy, which I didn't expect. So many people trying to sell us things, even little children. Things were also incredibly cheap. DVD's for $1, one hour full body massage for $6 (I took advantage of that), a full seafood meal for $3, beautiful silk scarves and dresses for $3-$10, an HOUR long ride in a bicycle rickshaw for $ was incredible. It's funny because a lot of those prices are are expected to bargain. I felt "Westerner guilt" quite a bit of the trip because I know people look at us "white folk" differently because of the position of wealth we are in. Able to travel the world, have luxuries surround us...I didn't like the way that made me feel in a country such as this one. These people are just as "good" as we are, but because of where they were born, they are not afforded the same luxuries we are. Ample health care, nice houses, extravagant food and drink, cars,'s really quite depressing.
Another interesting thing--as you can see in one of my pictures, motorbikes are everywhere. It's like Milwaukee during Harley fest (but no one had Harleys). People squeeze families of 4 on them!! So there are motorbikes zipping around everywhere, and there are virtually no traffic laws. Riding around in a cab is scary. People honk every 2 seconds (literally, I counted). Cars and the bikes weave in and out of traffic, and turn into oncoming traffic. Another scary experience was crossing the street. Since there are few crosswalks and rarely any breaks in traffic, the way to do it (we observed the locals to figure out how the heck to get across) is to walk INTO oncoming traffic. Yup. Even our guidebook on Vietnam said so. It's wild. And you can't run- you'll get hit. Just walk slowly across the street and the vehicles will swerve around you. It worked!
The food there was great. Of course a lot of spring rolls, noodles, and rice, but also a lot of seafood. Yum. And like I said before, it was CHEAP! Most of my meals, complete with a Vietnamese beer (Tiger or Ha noi beer) were under $3. We saw a couple of very strange things, like the skinned chicken (photo below). We actually saw 2 of those, I think they were special treats for the Lunar New Year (the holiday is called Tet in Vietnam). We also saw many bottles of liquid with snakes is snake wine...for strength. The last restaurant we ate at in the city (a very nice floating restaurant on a Lake in Hanoi) had a very extensive menu. Underneath their "Wild Animal" portion on the menu were "Cat", "Snake" ,"Porcupine" and what looks like mis-spelled "penguin" for market price. Yikes! Don't worry, I didn't try it. I am still trying to decide whether or not I want to eat dog in Korea...
All in all, it was a great trip--nice weather (in the 70's), beautiful scenery, and lots of learning about a new place. I can't wait for my next trip! Let me know if you want to see all the pictures, I can email you the shutterfly link.

Vietnam photos