Beautiful Korea

Beautiful Korea

Monday, April 27, 2009

Playing catch-up from early April!

On the week of March 30th, I didn't have any classes on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, because the students were doing testing. (Testing is a big feature of Korean schools.) Although I had to come to work, and did in fact get quite a bit of work done planning for future lessons, I was allowed to leave early on Thursday and Friday. So Thursday I left early to hike up Gwanaksan, the mountain directly behind the school.

Last time I was here, another teacher at ENI and I hiked to the top of Gwanaksan from Anyang. From that side, parts of it were steep, but most were not too bad (until we went down a different, and steeper, path!). From this face, though, the trail is quite steep. It reminded me of Hallasan in Jeju-do, where the trail was almost all stairs. Here is Hallasan:

And these are the stairs on Gwanaksan, going down on my way back. Most of it was stone stairs like these:

And part was wooden stairs like these:

but almost all of it was stairs of some kind! Koreans hikers are in good shape, believe me. I hiked for about 40 minutes, but then something was making me sneeze and making my nose run, so I turned around before it got worse and headed back down. Regardless of that, it was a nice hike and a lot of exercise.

On Friday I left work early and went into Seoul. First I went to the Kyobo bookstore to look for books for learning Korean. I wanted to look for English translations of Korean literature as well, but the frequent fate of foreigners in the English section of Kyobo befell me -- a Korean came up and wanted to practice his English with me. I don't mind that when I have time to spare, but this day I was planning to go to Changdeokgung, a palace which has English language tours, and I needed to get there before the last tour of the day started. So I didn't have enough time to find the books I wanted, and had to hurry off to the subway toward Changdeokgung.

Fortunately, I arrived with ten minutes to spare before the 3:30 tour started, so I bought a ticket and sat down for a bit. It was sunny when I left Gwacheon, but now it had clouded over, and was getting cooler, with a chilly wind. Unfortunately, I had not brought a warmer jacket than the blazer I wore to work, so I started to get kind of chilly. I was hoping the tour would warm me up, as it involved walking 2.7 kilometers altogether, but it moved too slowly to keep me warm, so I was rather cold the whole time. One other difficulty was that I had forgotten to change the battery on my camera, and now it was a bit low, so I had to be sparing with taking pictures. Those of you who have seen the full extent of my Korean pictures know how much I love the Korean ornamentation and decorative brickwork, so you know how disappointed I was to have to limit my picture taking. Still, I did get many lovely pictures of Changdeokgung and its "secret garden".

Here are a sample:
This is the main palace gate, taken from the side. Check out the little forked prongs standing up from the figures on top. I haven't seen those on any other palace.

This is the throne room:

Changdeokgung was the last palace in use in Korea, lived in by the Joseon monarchs into the 20th century. As such, it was modernized to include a driveway for the king's motorcars.

This one is my favorite building at the palace.

I have nothing special to say about this building, but I love this picture:

As you can see from the bare trees in the background, spring had not yet sprung, but the garden behind the palace was still lovely. This is a pond, symbolizing the earth, and the circular island symbolizes heaven.

There are a few more pictures of Changdeokgung at my Flickr page if you want to see them.

Things I love about Korea: heated floors

Please send: Western sheets


Around Pyeongchon

Back in March, I took a walk in my neighborhood to a local park. It was long before the trees started turning green, so it will probably be prettier now, and I'll go back and take some pictures soon. But despite the bare trees, empty waterways, and not-yet-green grass, the park still had plenty of interest to offer.

A chance to exercise, without paying gym membership fees:

A playground for the little tykes:

A place to skateboard and rollerskate:

A large open area where kids rode bikes:

And a place to play a game something like croquet (although not croquet, based on the layout of the hoops and the fact that the stake is in the center):

There were also places where water flows in warmer seasons, that will probably be quite lovely once they're filled:

There were also a few in-the-ground kinds of fountains for kids to play in, once they turn them on.

Although not as pretty as it will be when all green and blooming, there were still lovely spots in the park, like this walkway lined with sculpted trees and planters of flowers:

But the most notable feature of the park during winter is all the sculptures scattered around the park. Here is just a sample:

Besides the park, here are a couple of other images from near my apartment.

An odd something (ornament? antenna? something else?) on top of a building:

And a picture of part of Pyeongchon Junction at night:

Things I love about Korea: Insadong

Please send: comfortable shoes


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Now you've seen the school, my office, and my classroom, so here's a few pictures around Gwacheon (the city where the school is located).

First, on my walk to work, about half of it (the last half) is on a pedestrian walkway that goes past the school building. Here's what that looks like:

Not bad, huh? Of course, a few weeks ago when the trees were bare, it didn't look nearly so nice.

Along that path, there's a house with a really cool door:

And there are also several bird cages like this one:

This one has three birds in it, they're green with yellow and red/orange heads. (You can see two of them if you look closely in the picture, near the top of the cage on the left and near the center. The one on the left is behind the white strings.)

I tried to get pictures of the birds, but my camera insisted on focusing on the netting the cage is made from. Other cages contain cockatiels, and one has a parrot with a gray body and a red head.

Elsewhere in Gwacheon there is a pedestrian walkway lined with cherry trees that were all blooming a couple of weeks ago, so I went for a walk there one day and took some pictures:

Things I love about Korea: sweet potato pastry filling

Please send: Trader Joe's


Monday, April 20, 2009

Finally, a new post!

I apologize for not blogging more. I have been very busy and out having fun, leaving little time for writing up posts and editing and uploading photos. I am trying to do a little at a time, though, to get caught up.

First I will post some pictures of my apartment building and the school.

You've seen the inside of my apartment, but here is a picture of the front of the building.

You don't have to count windows, I'll tell you: it's 20 storys tall. I'm lucky, there's a balcony with trees and bamboo planted in it on the floor below, so I can see them when I look out my window. A funny story about being on the fourth floor: I take the stairs rather than the elevator most of the time, and as I'm usually thinking about something else, I just go around and around until the sign tells me I'm at the fourth floor, without really paying much attention to the stairs. But I was really surprised how tired I was when I got to the top. I thought, "Wow, I'm in worse shape than I thought if I can't climb three flights of stairs without being tired!" Then, one day I actually paid attention to the stairs, and I discovered that the first two floors are double height, so it isn't three flights of stairs, it's five flights of stairs. Then I felt a little better about being tired at the top. Though of course I'm getting in better shape now, anyway!

This one is a picture of the front of the school building where I teach:

There is a "sister school" next to it, the Gwacheon Foreign Language High School. Here it is:

And there's an administration building that I haven't been in, next to the FLHS:

You can see the sports field where the students have PE in front of the FLSH. Both schools share it. The cafeteria is actually located in the FLHS, so I go there for lunch nearly every day, and some dinners, too. The lunch is inexpensive, healthy, and usually delicious. There is always a soup, some sort of fish or seafood, kimchee, and rice. There are always two other dishes, which vary daily, but usually one or both are mostly vegetables, and the other dishes, except the rice, usually contain vegetables also. So it's a lot better than school cafeterias in the US usually are! Lunch is inexpensive, under 3,000 won (around $2.50), and dinner is free. Here is an example of one of the lunches:

Gwanaksan is directly behind the school. Here is the view out my office window:

And here's the view from street level behind the school. It's much greener now, this is from a few weeks ago, but with leaves on the trees you can't see the mountain as well, so I'm using the older picture.

And here's what my office itself looks like:
That's my desk on the left, my coworker's on the right. The tall white and gray thing behind my desk is the heater/air conditioner.

Here's the front of the office (the view from my desk):

And here's my classroom:
This looks from the door at the back that leads to my office, toward the front.

The center section of the board slides open to reveal a big touchscreen computer monitor:

Here's the teacher's desk in the classroom:

Here's the room looking from the front toward the back:

And finally, at the back of the classroom, there are six computers:

So now you know what it looks like where I work!

I love: green tea yogurt

Please send: a translator to explain how to use my gadgets