Saturday, August 29, 2009

My love for mountains


I grew up on a mountain. A shattered abused insignificant mountain amidst a thousand equally insignificant others in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania but it was my mountain or in all likelihood I was its person. Whatever the trials I faced and regardless of how uncertain I was the mountain was present. It represented constancy for me. I loved that mountain simply because it was there.

I have an inexplicable need to see mountains. In DC I regularly drag friends and Michael into the country or back up to Pennsylvania and in truth there is an element of pilgrimage in those trips. My greatest joy is to give gifts to people and I suppose forcing my loved ones to wander up hillsides is one of my many attempts at sharing.

It's nice to be able to see mountains outside my window and to be among a people who obviously hold this landscape in deep veneration. It's customary in Korea to build these small cairns of flat stones along rivers to mark particularly beautiful spots. When placing a stone one is supposed to make a prayer or wish.
So I happily spent my afternoon clambering up riverbeds in search of cairns in Korea. It is wonderful to be back in the mountains. Now if only I could right poem about my heart being in the highlands and not have the Scots place a bounty on my head ...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Elias my escape artist




So Elias can operate Korean sliding windows. Two of them. And screens are no barrier to him. So I'm leaving the window open. Observe the technique

E-Mart in Suncheon







Today I went to Suncheon in search of booze and butter. Suncheon is the closest city to my town which is not large enough to have it's own department stores. Apparently E-mart is the more expensive of the two and I definatly approached the 200000 won mark.

My biggest complaint about Korea is that the booze is terrible. Not just bad but downright terrible. Everything is either incredibly sweet , mind you I love sweet liqueurs and sherries, or just inexplicably foul; yes I'm talking about Soju.

And I got up off my snooty ass and went into the big city in search of alcahol and behold I found a wine section. The selection was suprisingly thorough though there were no champagnes; it was about as good as you might find in a liquor store in a grocery store that targeted middle class Americans. Lots of penguins and kangaroos on bottles. I picked up two malbecs and then spotted the hard liqor shelf.

Koreans for whatever reason love scotch. I think it is in keeping with their general love of booze that tastes like it has been drug through the fens of England. There were two types of vodka and I gladly shelled out 25 dollars to be able to make a screwdriver. I had no idea what the "commander vodka" was but at 8000 won a bottle it must make the angels in heaven weep. Maybe I can use it for limoncello.

my second realization about Koreans today was that they really like fatty meat. Even more than Ukrainians. I invite you to take a good look at this bacon. First the sheer amount and then the artery clogging potential.

Gimbap Wikipedia article

I went out to eat in my town after getting back from the market and taking li for his evening walk and found a cute little Kimbap place. Kimbap is like sushi but without raw fish.
I had no idea what most of the words on the menu were and so got some very spicy pork and rice, a bowl of udon soup, and a ton of mandu, for seven dollars. I heart Korea even if it has terrible booze and will give me a heart attack.

Semojin River


My valley here is dominated by Jirisan Mountain and the Semojin River. Yesterday Elias and I wandered in the general direction of the river to find somewhere for him to run.

About a twenty five minute walk from the house we found a nice set of soccer fields right along the river that tapered off into some dense underbrush. Just the sort of thing Elias loves to lope through.

Elias went for a quick swim and I noticed two umbrellas a bit up the river bank and decided to go be nosey.
There was quite the set up. Net, coolers, two umbrellas one chair.

And Five Fishing lines. But no little old man to mind them. What's more we didn't see anyone in the whole two hours we were there. I thought it was a little odd personally.
Elias seemed unconcerned with this mystery and was content to just lie in the grass attempting to catch bugs in his mouth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Reality of North Korea. Even China has more lights.


Why I'm not worried about the North Koreans

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My apartment in G U R Y E

So I have arrived in my little town which is in fact quite a bit bigger than many of the small places that I could have gone. I think the population is somewhere around ten thousand upwards to 15000. My apartment is about a kilometer from my school and is in a building with seven other units. The building like most korean buildings is ugly as sin but the apartment is amazingly large for here and relatively well furnished.

Most enjoyably I have a small tub. I would live in a closet with a tub : ) Korean tubs are rather small ; my best guess is that you are meant to sit with your knees raised rather than stretching out. The building is long and narrow so my apartment has windows on both the east and western sides of the building.

I also have two long narrow porches that run the length of the apartment. My unit is on the ground floor So Eli's barkin will only bother one person.

The front porch hold the washer and dryer while the back porch is empty and just begging to be filled with herbs.

The doors onto the porches are complicated affairs comprised of three pairs of sliding panels that meet in the center of the door. If all the windows are open in the apartment there is a really nice breeze but it is terribly humid here in the summer and so I am utilizing the enormous air conditioner.

The living room has a small couch, dinetter set, giant tower air conditioner, and a tv that I have no intention of using. Elias seems to approve of the set up.

The bedroom is probably 10 by 12 and comes with a queen size bed and two scary space heaters. I have a creeping suspicion that the house leaks heat like a sieve.

The kitchen has a full sized freezer and fridge, a rice maker that sings at you ( every electronic device sings in korea ) and two little burners on which I made dinner for my coteacher last night after wandering around Jeollanamdo filling out paperwork. My first big purchase here will be an oven large enough to roast a turkey.

After the tub I wasn't expecting any more suprises but the kitchen closet turned out to be a very small bedroom with enough clothes storage for me and my camping gear. It is of course in complete disarray.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More Mittens


I am making these mittens for Michael and finally finished one of them while in quarantine for swine flu here on Southern South Korea.
They are 64 Stitches across and somewhat blocky looking but I think design wise they will keep his hands pretty warm. The simple cross pattern is actually difficult knit because half of it involves carrying and twisting the yarn behind the showing color. This has resulted in the mittens taking longer than usual though I think the second one will be finished in a few weeks.
I used Elsabet Lavold's "Silky Wool" which while not a warm as solid wool is not a horror to knit with in the summer and comes in some really wonderful colors.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hwaeomsa Temple


We all got in two buses and went to Hwaeomsa Temple this morning for about three hours. This is pretty ironic because it is the temple that I was accidentally taken to by the overzealous bus driver two days ago.

The temple is high up a side valley and is made up of three large courtyards separated by gates in a long rectangle with the buildings being ordered from least to greatest importance by their position. The more important the more gates there are and the more stairs you have to climb to get to it.

The monks who live in the temple live in the second courtyard. to get to their quarters on the main path you pass through the second gate house which has four giant figures staring down at you.
Each monk has a sliding door and a small room to call his own.

All the stairs are divided into three sections and apparantley the middle portion is reserved for the King or a god. Needless to say a few of the Canadians walked up the middle stair
Inside the third courtyard are about eight temples with the main one directly in front of you but interestingly obscured from sight by the lesson hall. I am not certain what the symbolism of this might be but considering how intricate everything elese is I am sure the placement of the building is pertinent.
The main temple was placed length wise towards people coming up the main stairs and while we were there a fairly intricate service was going on with seven or eight monks leading the chanting congregation.

It seemed to be a feast day of some sort or perhaps the temple is just a very liturgically active place but all three of the main temples had monks conducting services.

There were half a dozen of these stone pagodas which are the oldest buildings in the monastery; everything else was burnt to the ground by the japanese in the late 1500's. Each temple had a few giant gold Buddhas and like every other religous site I have ever been to a few old ladies paying their respects.

My favourite aspect of the temple was their method of roof upkeep. All the buildings are covered with tiles and those tiles are rather heavy, expensive, and numerous. So to cover the costs there is a tradition of donating a tile to the temple. You write your "best wishes" on the convex surface of the tile which is the placed facing th inside of the temple or building. I found it very charming and a nice way for the people to participate in the temple's fundament.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My First Korean Misadventure: A Fishy Bus Journey


Yesterday I had my first korean mishap in trying to get to this fish market in the town that I will be posted in. Fr whatever reason the market occurs on every day ending in the numbers three or eight and as you all know I am a sucker for markets and so I hoped on the bus and wandered down the valley a half an hour from the hotel.

The Market itself was actually fairly big taking up 3 or 4 small city blocks and having maybe a hundred stalls. There was an enire row devoted to fish. Some of those fish were more than slightly questionable considering that the temperature was well over 75 degrees and there was no ice on them. Even the fish that had ice were forlornly lying on top of bags of ice and not the ice itself. I think if I were to buy fish here it would be from the giant tupperware bins that still had live fish in them. I watched three octopus trying to escape into a sewer grate only to be apprehended by a 13 year old stall attendent on the last tentacle of their journey to freedom.

I then wandered uphill in the general direction of my school complex and found it after badly asking for directions from another middle school girl using my dictionary and a lot of pointing. All schools in Korea seem to have a courtyard filled with sand about the size of a football field. Behind the school are some ungodly ugly residential towers that look like one of Stalin's wet dreams where I fear my apartment will be.

Of greater interest was the fact that the Catholic Church in town is half a block from my school. It was really easy to find because every other church in town has the same hideous steeple which is usually attached to an old factory building. The catholic church on the other hand was acceptable even if it did have hideous windows.

The inside was pretty standard Asian Catholic. So I may be a good boy and drop in once in awhile and at the very least will have a place for high holy days albeit in Korean.

I went back to the bus station and was promptly directed to the wrong bus by a very helpful bus driver. I knew something was wrong when instead of going up the left side of the valley we went right and came upon this. There were definately no three story gates over the highway on the way from the hotel. So I got out of the bus and wandered around the statue garden. Apparently there is a temple at the top of the mountain but I had a three hour walk back to the hotel and figured I could do the temple some other day. Amusingly I walked in just in time for orientation icebreakers games providing further evidence that in a past life I killed many many kittens.