Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ping Pong and Me World

First, let me apologize for not posting in such a long while! As many of you know, I started a new blog to document the next chapter of our lives. The new blog is called LIVE TEACH ALASKA and will be all about living and teaching in rural Alaska. We will be in Alaska in early August and can't wait! 
In the meantime, we're still in Korea. The weather's been sunny and warm for most of the month, but we are now entering into monsoon season, meaning rain and humidity. Between speaking tests at school, planning for the end of the school year, and spending time with friends, we've kept ourselves busy. Two noteworthy events that took place these past few weeks were Tyler's first ping pong tournament and going to Me World. 
A couple weekends ago, Tyler played in his first ping pong tournament at a local university. Tyler has been playing ping pong and taking ping pong lessons at a local ping pong club for many months now. What first started as a fun pastime has turned into a serious hobby. Despite his flaming red uniform, '80s sweatband, and super short shorts, Tyler has actually turned into an incredibly skilled player. He attended the tournament with other ping pong players from his facility and started competing at noon. 

Before the tournament began, Tyler had a minor emergency just as the players were called to the courts. The rubber on Tyler's paddle was peeling off. Luckily, a member of Tyler's club (and a very skilled player who ended up ranking highly in the competition) pulled out glue and strategically attached the rubber back onto the wood. There's certainly a lot about ping pong I don't know. 

Before the players started their games, all competitors were called to the gym floor for the opening ceremony. As you might have realized from my Sports Day post, opening ceremonies are extremely important in Korea. During this ceremony, the organizers were introduced, gave lengthy speeches, and then randomly gave away ping pong prizes in a raffle. Tyler unfortunately didn't win anything. In the photo above, Tyler is talking to a good friend he made at his club named Seheon Jeong. 



Unfortunately, Tyler didn't get very far in the tournament. Ping pong players in Korea are very talented and take the sport very seriously. The fact that Tyler was able to compete was impressive enough to me since he just started playing last year. To put it in perspective, no one from Tyler's club advanced on to the final rounds (except for the player who helped Tyler mentioned above). Overall, Ty had a great time. 

The next weekend, we went to a small theme park next to Gwangalli Beach called Me World. Me World reminded me of a larger version of a traveling fair, rusty rides and all. We went with another couple originally from the East Coast whom we recently met, Dan and Rachel. 


The park was filled with lots of surprisingly fun rides. We went on a giant swinging pirate ship, a river raft ride, and a really tall ride that zipped us up and dropped us down. In the pictures above, Tyler and Dan are riding an octopus ride that Rachel and I refused to go on. They ended up going twice! I think I would have puked. 

In the evening, Tyler and Dan hit some balls in the batting cages. Tyler hadn't played baseball in years and years, but ended up hitting every ball in the fast-pitch box! Another confirmation that this boy is a natural-born athlete. 

At the end of the night, we all took a ride in the giant ferris wheel overlooking the ocean. The park and the beachfront at night were truly beautiful to survey from such a high altitude. You can see the lights of the Gwangalli Beach Bridge behind my head in the photo. 

Our chapter in Busan is beginning to draw to a close. I have 37 more days left in Korea before I return to Seattle for a week to visit friends and family. After that, I'll be off to my training in King Salmon, Alaska, to prepare for out next big adventure. We'll post a few more updates on Brittons Abroad before we move on, but don't forget to stay updated with LIVE TEACH ALASKA during the next year! 

Thank you all for following along throughout our travels. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Seoul

Over the holiday that marked Buddha's Birthday, Tyler and I decided to visit Seoul for the first time. We had an absolute blast and are already planning our second Seoul excursion. 

The first thing we had to do upon arrival was to figure out the complicated subway system. If you've ever seen a picture of Seoul's underground, it looks like a convoluted spiderweb. Luckily, Tyler is a human compass and was able to successfully navigate us wherever we needed to go. As you can see in the picture below, the subways are wide and long... much wider and longer than the subways in Busan. It was nice to have some leg room! 

Our first stop in Seoul was the popular shopping district named Myung-Dong. We both agreed that Myung-Dong was the most crowded place we'd ever been. There were literally stop-and-go human traffic jams in the shopping alleys. However, the shopping was fantastic! This was a fashionista's paradise. Tyler was so patient waiting for me outside of the boutiques. 


In Myung-Dong, Tyler found a super-size ice cream that drew a huge line of customers. He was in heaven. 

Soon after, we came upon signs on the street advertising a Cat Cafe. We'd heard of Cat Cafes in Busan, but had never managed to go to one. We followed the signs, went up a few flights of stairs, and then found a cafe full of crowded people drinking coffee with cats in every nook and cranny. I captured a gem of a photo below. Thirsty anymore? 

The next day, we traveled to a different shopping district called Insadong. The shops here all sold traditional Korean items and clothing. We were able to buy some really unique souvenirs. 


Just a short walk away from Insadong is the Bukchon Hanok Village. This traditional village is home to many Korean traditional houses called hanok that date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Now, the narrow streets of Bukchon are filled with adorable shops and interesting street vendors.  One of the most fun experiences we had was getting our 1-minute portraits drawn by a quirky Korean man sitting next to a cafe. For ₩1,000, which is a little less than a dollar, he sketches your picture in roughly 60 seconds. As you can see by the long line, his drawings were fantastic and full of personality. Tyler and I plan on framing our sketches for display in our future home. 

That evening, we went to NANTA, a cooking theater performance. From the description online we were slightly skeptical about attending. However, we've relied heavily on Trip Advisor for trustworthy recommendations throughout our travels, and the NANTA reviews were unsurpassed. Actually, as you can see here, the show is currently ranked as the #1 thing to do in Seoul. We were not disappointed. The show was hilarious and the actors were extremely skilled. To top it off, I was chosen as one of the guests to appear on stage in the performance! The actors made me drink soup, dress up as a Korean bride, and feign getting married in front of a large audience. It was a blast. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed during the performance, so you'll just have to go see the show for yourself! 

After the performance, we ended our evening by going to Sanchon, a vegetarian restaurant serving temple food. This dining experience is definitely in the top 5 best dinners we've ever eaten. Buddhist monks escorted us to our table and immediately served us a wide spread of appetizers. Soon after, we got our "main course" spread which contained more food than our stomachs could handle. Also during our dinner, we watched traditional Korean dancing. Overall, this event was one of the most authentic Korean experiences we've had and we would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Seoul. 



On our last day, we woke up early to go on a DMZ Tour. Unfortunately, because it was Sunday, we could not visit Panmunjon which is the joint security area between North and South Korea. However, we were still able to visit Imjingak Park, the Freedom Bridge, the Third Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station. I think the highlights of the tour included venturing into the Third Infiltration Tunnel and visiting the Dora Observatory where we caught glimpses of North Korea. Photo taking was very limited on this tour, but in the photo below, you can see the mountains of North Korea in the distance. 

Last, we attended the long awaited Sigur Ros concert. Sigur Ros is one of Tyler's favorite bands. Although the stadium was old, the music far made up for the setting. The music, video projections, and the light design made the show a one-of-a-kind experience. Tyler said it was the best concert he's ever been to. 

All in all, our trip to Seoul was incredible. When comparing Seoul to Busan, we found Seoul much more international and much more abundant in shopping, food, and opportunities to experience Korean culture. If you ever plan to travel to East Asia, you absolutely must visit Seoul. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sports Day

In Korea, most schools host one or two Sports Days each year. Sports Day is considered extremely important; students and teachers spend weeks preparing. Everyone spends a great deal of time assembling their costumes, making signs and posters, team bonding, and strategizing. What exactly is sports day, you ask? It is a day to stop schoolwork and testing for relay races, tug-of-war, and the limbo. 

Below is a picture of the students at my middle school at the "opening ceremony" of Sports Day. For roughly one hour, class presidents, head teachers, and the principal make speeches following vigorous group warm-ups. Yes... all for relay races, tug-of-war, and the limbo.  

All sorts of pubescent adolescents show up to sports day. I will now list the different kinds I spotted. 

There are those who are happy to be at Sports Day (minus the fellow on the right). 

There are those who are too cool to be at Sports Day. 

There are girls who hide from pictures. Notice the back row as well. 

There are superstars. 

And then there are the classic Korean posers. 

And then there are more classic Korean posers. 

There are those who fashion towels into hats and dress up as Princess Leia the Cat. 

There are boys who think they are girls. 

And the teachers who wear big, floppy hats and a team banner to shield themselves from sunlight. 

And last, there are those who would rather be somewhere else. 

Finally, I have a 2-minute video providing a glimpse into this riot of a day. Please enjoy. And oh, yes, at the end of the video, those are two students doing a suggestive dance in front of the entire middle school. 
video
(for a clearer version, see the Youtube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQOt3S1oLGw)

Enjoy

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Vaginas, Fruit, and Volleyball

It's hard to believe that it's been over 8 months since we first stepped foot on Korean soil. It's even harder to believe that we'll be leaving in just under 3 months and starting a new adventure in rural Alaska. Now is the time for us to savor every detail of life in Korea, from the absence of a dryer and shoving ajummas to the rolling, green mountains and the freedom of having no responsibilities. 

I have several pictures to share today including snapshots from The Vagina Monologues, Bujeon Market, and a beach volleyball tournament. 

Since March, I have been involved in the performance of The Vagina Monologues here in Busan. For those of you who don't know, The Vagina Monologues is a play written by Eve Ensler for the purpose of raising awareness and money to stop violence against women. The play inspired V-Day, a national movement, which you can read more about here: http://www.vday.org/about

Practicing and performing in The Vagina Monologues was one of the most influential and transformational experiences of my life. This experience helped me to better comprehend the hardships that millions of women around the world are forced to face on a daily basis. Did you know that one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime? One in three. Think of three women you know right now. Statistically, that fact is horrifying. Through this experience, I realized how fortunate I am to be born to opportunity, to a family who loves and cares for me, and to have married a phenomenal husband. With such favorable circumstances, however, comes responsibility to help those who cannot fight for themselves. I am so proud to have been a part of this extraordinary movement. 
Below is a video that was shown at The 2013 Vagina Monologues. Please be aware that the video contains disturbing images and has a trigger warning for those who have experienced violence in the past. 

I performed a monologue called "I Was There in the Room." I was so fortunate to have been supported by an amazing husband and an amazing cast of women! 


I encourage you all to see a performance of The Vagina Monologues next time it comes to your city. Please do not turn an ignorant shoulder to the acts of violence and abuse against women. Even if it means merely donating $5 to the V-Day Organization, every act of kindness helps: https://secure3.convio.net/vday/site/Donation2?df_id=1325&1325.donation=form1

Okay, moving on. 
Tyler and I have been frequenting a local market called Bujeon Market. Bujeon Market is the largest outdoor market in Busan selling everything from produce to pigs feet. I have been on a juice and raw foods cleanse for the past 40 days meaning I have been buying pounds and pounds of fruits and veggies. 




And last, Tyler and I got to participate in a volleyball tournament on Haeundae Beach this past weekend with our friends Bobby, Jestine, Eric, and Scottie. We proudly sported ajumma pants, as you can see below. Overall, I think we placed fifth or sixth out of twenty-four. We had a blast and successfully walked away with our first sunburns of the season. Thanks for the photos, Kalie and Jestine! 

Three more months. Three more months, and then annyeonghi-gaseyo, Korea. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shopping in Nampo-Dong

One of the great things about living in Busan is bearing witness to Korean fashion. Koreans are, stereotypically, very concerned about their appearance and take great measures to present themselves attractively. Being from Seattle where grunge originated, this change was quite refreshing. Everyday apparel in Seattle includes T-shirts, yoga pants, and the occasional candy-cane patterned pajama bottom. Here, Koreans sport everything from bows and brooches to cufflinks and cashmere as a part of their casual attire. 
This evening, my (amazing) friend Bonnie and I went thrifting in Nampo. Nampo is a popular district known to be a shopping paradise. If you have something in mind, chances are that you'll be able to find it in the myriad of shops and stalls that line dozens of streets and alleyways that wind through the area. Bonnie and I walked away successfully with tops, rings, bracelets, buttons, and patches. I had a fantastic time browsing the cute, kitschy items offered at the thrift boutiques and know that I will definitely be visiting the neighborhood again soon. 


 
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