A week in the Life (Part 1)

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November 20th 2012
Published: November 20th 2012
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I've been putting this one off for a long time but I suppose now that I'm in the last week of my twenties I might as well get this one out there. It has nothing at all to do with changing a 2 for a 3 but rather daily life in Korea. I think because I've been hear for almost four years that I've become numb to some of the things that would be really interesting or tough to deal with for somebody entering this place for the first time. So this entry will be about what a normal week is like in Yeosu for us. I'm going to be splitting it up in parts because We're away this weekend for my 30th and I want to use this week as my subject.

Last year after my 29th birthday I put up a list inside of our wardrobe of things I wanted to accomplish before I hit 30. Some of them have been crossed off, others haven't. Some are going to have top spot on the "Things to do before I'm 31" list and others might never get done. As the days until the 30th are rolling past I looked into the wardrobe to see what I could reasonably do. Some of the list is a farewell tour to Korea since we have no plans to come back here anytime in the near future, maybe we'll feel nostalgic in our old age and come back to see how much it's changed and to re-live old memories but I kind of doubt it.

So as I stood looking at the list in our cold apartment one morning I came to the entry "Hike in Jirisan."
Jirisan is one of the National Parks in Korea and home to 19 moon bears. We'd visited before but left unsatisfied when the fog and rains started in and we saw nothing of the park. Well with just under a week left of my 20's we were on our way.

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

We woke relatively early and ate breakfast. The clouds outside shuffled back and forth and seemed to be confused about what the weather was going to be for the day. Sunny? Nope, rainy? Maybe not. Packing away our food and extra jackets we made for the train station and headed 40 minutes to the north to Guryegu. Had I known that the park was so close I probably would have went back in the summer but I thought the only way to get there was on multiple buses, live and learn I guess. We made it to Hwaeomsa, a temple near the base of the hiking trail we picked for the day. The temple was very picturesqe with painted wood buildings and persimmons drying in the air. Korea is crazy about persimmons, I'm not sure why, maybe just because they grow everywhere. I dont think I'd ever had one before here or even really knew what they were. If you haven't seen one they kind of look like unrippned tomatoes. I thought they were, and that's how I made one really disgusting BLT early in my Korean tenure.

Anyway, we stayed at the temple for about an hour, me taking photo's of the trees, a big part of this trip was that I wanted to see the park during the fall, one of the tolerable times in the Korean weather cycle. Jen, still on a rabid quest for totem pole statues came away empty handed again.

With the temple behind us we made the 7km hike up to our chosen peak, Nagodan peak in about four hours. As we climbed higher and higher up the steep trail we noticed that the wind was really picking up. The tree's were barren now and little dust specks of snow started to fall. Still we climbed on.

One thing that was nice about the hike is that it wasn't as crowded as a hike usually is. Hiking in Korea seems to be the national hobby and on a Saturday or Sunday it seems like everybody and there grandma, literally, are up on the mountain either nipping at your heels with their portable radio playing karoake greatest hits or pulling off of the trail for a mid hike break of pickled vegetables and rice wine.

Also there is this almost fever like passion to throw yourself completely into your hobby here. If you're going to be a hiker then you have to have name brand gear. You're shoes, pants, shirt, jacket, hat, bee-keeper mask, bag and anything else you need have to be the same. Jen and I look like riff raff in off brand hiking pants, five year old hiking boots, Columbia fleeces and softshell jackets and beanies. Nothing matching but everything functioning as it should. There are times on the trail where you feel like you're in a fashion show. Pinks, purples, yellows, oranges, and couples, sometimes, entire families in completely matching gear. It's strange to our western eyes but I don't notice it as much now as I used to.

We finally made it to the top, the hill and peaks of the park frosted over with fresh snow. Jen and I picked out a spot and started in on our lunch of hot tea, brown bread, mackerel, whole grain cookies and tofu pumpkin chips. Things you might not eat at home on a hike but have found a place in our bags here when we head for the hills.

On top of any mountain you can catch what is probably the second biggest hobby in Korea, and I'm not counting singing as a hobby because that just seems to be essential for everyday life here, photography. I myself like to dabble in some photo's here and there. I have a Nikon D40 that I bought a few years ago and I use the standard 55mm lens that I bought it with. I also have a Canon A-1 35mm film camera that I left at home for the day. But I am nothing when it comes to the amateur photographers you see here lenses the size of rockets seem to take the place of the sports car for the nuber one male mid-life crisis accessory. Everywhere, photographers compensating with their camera's instead of a shiny new Porsche.

Around a quarter to 5:00 we were back on level ground and headed for the train station. Limbs sore, bones cold, eyes heavy we made it back to Yeosu and stopped off for some Juk ( pronounced juke) for dinner. Its a warm rice porridge with various meats or vegetables of your choosing. Jen had the samkaejuk, a chicken and rice porridge that's basically a chicken and rice soup but with less broth that we would be used to back in the States. I had the crab meat and cheese porridge.

Warmed up after our meal I decided to spend an hour or so in the jjimjilbang, yep that's how you spell it. I've written about them before but for basically $5 you get access to the public baths. You put your shoes in a locker on the ground floor. Get your locker key from the lady at the front desk, pay and head up to the floor of your sex. Being a man, I headed to the 4th.

Funny thing about the 4th floor. When you get in any elevator in Korea with the intention of heading to the 4th floor you won't find a button with the number 4 on it. The elevator will go 1, 2, 3, F, 5, and so on. The reason for this is that the number four resembles a Chinese character that means death. Since the Chinese language and Chinese culture still have a big part in Korean life if you want to get to the fourth floor just press the F. With the F glowing brightly I was deposited on the fourth floor and headed to the locker room.

This routine comes naturally to me now but I remember the first time I had to strip down in a busy mens locker room and make my way for the sauna, steamroom, or hot tubs. Now I don't even notice the eyes that dart over to look at the guy who stands out with his shaved head and beard. Some kind of lost monk.

I usually try to avoid going on the weekends. They're incredibly crowded with people since most Korean people still use these places to bring the families. Men in their spa section, women in another one on the a different floor and a communal room where you put on the house digs to head up and socialize in front of the t.v., at the restaurant, or in the various hot and cold rooms that they have for clothed coeds.

But there was no avoiding it this time. My bones were tired, my muscles sore, I had to jump in, weave through the crowds and seek solace in the hot and cold waters.

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Sunday we woke heavily and sore. Finally creaking and cracking my way out of bed and into the bathroom I searched the fridge for ingrediants for breakfast. Using up the leftover Jalfrezzi curry with butternut squash we made some Indian curry style breakfast burritos. This day was all about recovery. We made it our about noon. Jen wanted to go to the main downtown area that we have to look for some sweaters. We caught the bus, thankfully not crowded this time and made our way to Shinae.

The main shopping district in our town is basically laid out in three parallel streets, the main one for pedestrian traffic, although the scooters and small trucks that like to use it as a short cut would dispute this little fact. It's always best to keep your head up when walking anywere here. You're never too far from a speeding 125cc delivery scooter.

For about an hour I followed Jen around the shops, with a coffee in my hand gave my yay or nay opinion on various wool garments. After that, Jen went off to meet a friend and to get help on the hat she's knitting me. It's important to keep yourself busy here with hobbies otherwise you'll go mad. Give yourself too much free time and the negetive aspects of living abroad start to surface. With that in mind I headed home for my chosen hobby of the day, the Blazer game.

I found it online, the cat found his place on the ottoman where my legs were up and a nice glass of scotch found its way into my hand. The cat napped, the Blazers won and the scotch went down smooth. Soon it was time to start dinner.

My co-teachers always ask me about the food I eat at home. They see me eating Korean food at school and always ask excitedly if I keep Kimchi at home for a snack or if I what do I eat with my rice at home. I have to break there hearts and tell them that I don't cook Korean food at home. I only eat rice occasionally, mostly with Thai, Mexica, or Indian food and that I've never had Kimchi in my fridge and don't plan to anytime soon. I like it okay, and I'll eat it if it's around but I don't seek it out I tell them. If i want to eat Korean food then I'll go to a restaurant, but at home, when I'm cooking it's usually, Italian, Mexican, Indian, German, Greek, American, or something else I've grown up loving. The point is that on each given night I'll have something from a different cuisine of the world. It's best to keep somethings familar in your life here, it helps to make it your own

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Mondays are getting rougher and rougher as the school year goes on. The 5th graders that were so well behaved at the beginning of the year are starting to edge towards sixth grade and loosing interest in anything school related. Next year they'll enter sixth grade and awkwardly flirt with one another infront of their new English teacher, whoever he or she may be.

The third graders are still as wild as ever. Shouting and screaming whenever I show up for class. The routine of having class every Monday at the same time has been lost on them. It's a madhouse.

I made my way to lunch, jacket on tight because they don't like to use the heaters here. Also, there is this belief that cold winter air is good and cleansing so while everyone is wrapped up in down jackets and the students bring blankets to each classroom and the cafeteria, the windows are wide open as gusty fall wind makes it's way down the corridors.

Lunch on Monday was as follows:

Rice (It's there eveyday, no exceptions. I at mine.)

Seaweed soup (Can't stand it, didn't eat it.)

Sweet and Sourish Pork (Had some of it. It was a bit cold, a lot of things are actually served cold that you wouldn't think of. Fried Potatoes, bacon, fish, etc.

Gelatinous soy and chicory covered in kimchi paste ( I've tried this before and that was enough. It also was not eaten.)

Black beans covered in soy sauce and seasame seeds. (These again aren't a favorite. I had a few but ultimately left most.)

Half a Persimmon ( I told you, they're huge over here. I find these to be pretty bland as far as a fruit goes. In fact if I had a persimmon tree growing in my yard I'd probably chop it down and plant a pear or apple tree. Still they're much better than Gelatinous soy and chickory salad.)

Luckily I had some trail mix in my desk when I made it back to the classroom. I've been noticing lately that the quality of the lunches I get, which is pretty poor, is making me like Korean food less and less. It's a shame because there are some foods here that I really like but after eating well below average Korean food everyday for lunch I just don't have the taste for it as much in my free time. I gues it would be like having American school lunches everyday but only being able to eat the foods that are thought of as American, hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, fries, sloppy Joes and chili fritos. After two years of that you probably wouldn't eat too many hamburgers or a lot of chili on your free time, opting instead for something different.

The rest of the day past by and afterwork I met Jen and the gym, where we workout every Monday before heading home to have dinner and relax for the night. Oh, dinner on Monday, Carbonara, no rice to be seen.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I'm writing this on the today. It's actually been a pretty easy day. My late after noon class was bumped up to second period which means I spent the first two classes today doing listen and repeat exercises with 4th grade. This is basically how it goes:

Me: What are you doing now?

Class: What are you doing now?

Me: I'm playing the violin.

Class: I'm playing the violin.

Me: You play the violin very well.

Class: You play the violin very well.

Everything has to be read from a script which makes it easy but I find myselft daydreaming a lot in class. I could do it on autopilot and in fact have.

The sixth graders were decent today. Flirtatious as ever with one another but seemed to be in lively spirits which is always a big win compared to the morose Zombie phase that they are usually in. Just as a contrast here is how sixth grade usually goes.

Me: Alright class let's read this part together. Ready go.


Me: Listen please. We are doing our reading now. Let's read this part together out loud. Ready go.

Class: Monotone response..blah, blah, blah.

Me: Alright who can tell me what Karen did in the story? Be quiet. YA! ( The Korean equivalent to shouting Hey! in the U.S. or Oi! in England) Group 3 you're staying after today to clean the classroom. The rest of you listen up and tell me what did Karen do in the story!!

Now I'm spending my last half hour writing on this blog listening to the sixth grade class next door play "You are my sunshine" on recorders repeatedly. The day is almost done and I'll soon head off to the gym. We don't usually go on Tuesdays but tomorrow we're heading grocery shopping so we can have as much of a Thanksgiving as we can on Thursday. No turkeys this year, they're foriegn to this land so we'll have to use a chicken. It'll have to do and I'm sure it will. I'll just make for the rest with sides.


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