Friday, 29 February 2008


It seems that Korea is a bit exited about the new Rambo film. I see ads for it every day. For the next few month I will get to see "Lembo Won, Too, Sree" as part of the festival on TV.

Did you know that the first three were never called Rambo and that Rambo 4 is just plain Rambo? It goes like this:
First Blood
First Blood 2
First Blood 3

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Some more BS

I am yet to visit this place. I just always forget about it and since I am not a big drinker it seems it will be a while still.

I asked quite a few Koreans and non of them seem to know that BS is also short for Bull Shit.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ensuring the future.

This is one of the signs against the buildings here in Icheon. I rotated the picture so that it looks more readable.

The photo is a bit small for you to read the words, but this is it: "smex is the code which create new future"

Just in case you do not think it is strange...
smex, maybe sex,
code, maybe DNA,
new future, maybe new baby.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Monday, 25 February 2008


I have no idea why it took me so long to take a photo of this poster. It is a huge poster against a building wall, and when I wait for people at our standard meeting point, them I get to stare at this the whole time.

The sexy poster A closer look

I am fairly sure, and surely you will agree with me that there is not a right thinking male in this town that does not know the poster.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

News of the week

Korea Plans Centre for Neuroscience
Maybe now we will be able to find out who is crazier. Korean, Japanese, Chinese or South Africans.

Where's the Sense in South Africa?
A bit of news from my "lovely" country.

`Italy Towel’ Enjoys Decades of Boom
The story of a Korean product.

Lee Cleared of Fraud Allegations
Even if he was guilty, would it be admitted? It might do more damage to the country if they did then if they denied everything, I would think.

Koreans Account for 23.7% of Total Inbound Tourist Traffic to RP in January
At least now we know where they all disappear to every now and then.

Man Caught for Attempt to Eat Landlady's Dog
This will put a dent in Korea's Dog-Eating image. Also of note, it's another drunk Ajushi.

Lastly, a bit of cute Engrish

Friday, 22 February 2008

Doesn't make me want Ice Cream, but...

I have seen this advert on TV only a few times, but I like it every time I see it. I am sure they intended it to be so bad, because the visuals are just too polished. It is so bad that it is good.

Apparently, this girl is a well-known actress. I would not know, but she is cute enough to be a Korean actress.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

B-Boy Action

A few days back I stumbled on to this silly little clip in the Internet. I have no idea where the person is from, but I would not be surprised if it was Korea, it seems like something a bored Middle Schooler would do.

This clip got me thinking about Korea’s B-Boys. Because it is not really something I care much about, I used to think they are just a bunch of wannabes. Turns out that the B-Boys over here might just be the best in the world.

I only saw one contest on television and it was a final between two Koreans and two Japanese. I cannot say that I have really investigated this yet, but somehow I feel Japan has something to say about who is the best.

In the end, it does not matter. The Korean boys are good. Here is a clip with B-Boys performing to a traditional Easter instrument.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Year Book Photos

We received a kind of a yearbook last week. I'm not sure if it is a complete one, but it is still nice to have. In it head shots of every teacher and a collection of photos of the students. I suspect there is a more complete version that this somewhere in circulation.

I thought it might be nice you show you people what the staff on our English Department look like.

The English Department

Don't you just love the blond idiot at the bottom? He looks like he has not seen the inside of the hair salon since forever and that expression on his face looks like he is hyped up on adrenalin from scoring the winning goal in a wind-disrupted match outside. (I don' really care that much, but I didn't know we were having our photos taken)

I also thought I would include this beautiful crop of the group photographs. We just have the best students at my school, wouldn't you agree? (That boy is not representative of the school though. I have many students who will greet me politely when they see me, say thank you for every little thing and are always smiling. Also, they will never show that, not after I thought EVERYONE what it actually means)

Our Well mannered Students

It turns out Boy Genius watches to many films and learned most of his English from that. I rest my case. He made my jaw drop by watching movies, not by attending a hagwan. I have a similar girl in with the first years.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008


This post is late, but I wanted to post the Geumgang posts first and it falls in with yesterday’s post.

My Valentine’s Day was spent doing very little for the most part. There were no classes and the 3rd year’s graduation ceremony would be happening. This ceremony is what I want to talk about today.

I have never been fan of ceremonies like this, as many people already know. Just give me the certificate that I worked for and let me go on my way. Unfortunately we have to do it everywhere we go these days.

The one I attended here was mostly torture, interspersed with oddities and one or two amusing moments. I was told the ceremony would happen, but I didn’t have any idea when. I suppose I should have asked, but I was still disappointed when, about 10 minutes after the start, I realised that everyone had quietly disappeared and were not coming back. Considering that I normally have no idea what is going on here in school, would it have been so difficult to just tell me that everyone is leaving to go upstairs? The same things happened the next day, but this time I was ready for being ignored.

I arrived at the ceremony late and unable to get a good spot for photographs. Luckily the photo opportunities were scares. Upon entering I was greeted by a rendition of Old Ang Sine by the music teacher and a few students. Still have no idea why. They played something else as well, but I can’t remember what.

Apparently I missed a good video that was show at the very start of the ceremony. All that was left to me was the torture. Why, you might ask, do I keep on calling it torture?

The whole ceremony was us looking at students waking on to stage, turning their backs on us and facing the school principle. He would then read their names and achievements and they would prance of the stage. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in seeing the principal, or any of the other people sitting on the stage for 30 minutes.

Sure, he is important to the school, but think of this. If he was sick this particular day, if all of them we sick, would the ceremony still go on? Yes! We would just get someone else to do his job. If all the students were sick, would we go on then? No, because it is all about them. So I don’t want to look at their backs the whole time. I want to see a bit more of them.

I have seen some bad ceremonies back in SA as well, and even there I was sometimes astounded my how little thought people put in to something that is supposed to be important.

Other things that annoyed me were the people who just can’t sit still for one bloody minute. They are supposed to be adults, for heavens sake. Then there was that song from the Hollywood movies that played the whole time. You know the graduation song, right? I wonder if that is a US invention or a carry over from the UK. We never had it when I was growing up.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Is this even a school week?

The week just past must have been one of the most useless in my career here in Korea. After the long winter holiday, we came back to school for just one week before going starting another two week holiday. Even worse, this week was still part of the previous academic year.

I was expected to give class, but there was no way I would be able to do that. Anything I did would go in one ear and straight out the other. That I was if I could even get it in to the one ear in the first place. I ended up having class on just two of the five days and showed a DVD.

“Why have this week then”, you might ask. I would love to know the same thing. Apparently, some schools do not have it anymore and there are rumours that it will soon disappear completely.

The only almost useful thing that happened was the graduation ceremony for the third years, but I will go in to that tomorrow. I tried to do a bit of work for next year, but there isn’t much I can do. My schedule will be changing and I need to speak with the teachers to figure out what they want from me.

Next year I will be teaching all three years, plus two levels of adults and one group of second year extra class students. The number of classes is not what worries me though. It is the number of individual lessons I have to prepare. Consider this. One lesson a week per group, that is three lessons right there. Add two sessions for the adult classes and one for the students’ extra class and I will be expected to prepare six individual lessons per week.

That is not really a problem when you have a definite syllabus to work with, but I do not. For the normal classes I only have the dialogue that is already in the textbook. Going thought that would take about 10 minutes if I stretch it. Working with each group in each class will take about 2 hours though. I can try to break the lesson up in to two, but how do I keep it interesting? I will have to create almost everything from scratch.

The Extra classes are easier. With these I can follow any syllabus. For the parents I will likely be using the same book we used last year and because I do everything in the lesson, not just part like with the students, it will be easy to just follow that and prepare quickly for each week.

The students’ extra class is fine as well. I will be using the lessons I tested during the Winter School. All I need to do is expand it and work out assignments.

Even though three of the six are not that difficult, it will still be a lot to contend with, considering I’m still relatively new to this. The more I learn about teaching, the more I learn about improving my lessons and see how my lessons are lacking. Of course, I can use what I learn, but the better I want to make the lessons, the more time I will need.

I hope I will be able to handle this satisfactorily. We will just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

The canal Story

The new president of the Republic of Korea, Lee something, used to be the mayor of Seoul. While occupying that position he built the now famous Cheonggye stream, the stream that runs through the centre of Seoul.

This story has actually been around for a while, but has been pushed to the back by other things I wanted to write about. It seems he wants to cement his position in Korean history by building a larger version through Korea.

The long and short of it seems that he wants to build a canal from the North-West point of the republic to all the way down to Busan. His reasoning is that it will make transport of goods easier and act as a tourist attraction by offering rides.

As soon as the idea got out people started saying how stupid it is. Korea had mountains, and lots of it. How the hell are you going to get this canal through here? Either you blow up the mountains to get through, and destroy another part of nature, or you build those things that raise and lower the ships and barges. What are they called again?

Let’s not forget the big canal that runs right from the North-West point all the way to Busan already. It is a little something called the sea. The builder of that was way ahead of his time, I tell you.

The story even made it on to the BBC web site.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

In the News this Week

There was normal of amount news this week, but it's all been dwarfed by the arson that almost completely destroyed Namdaemun.

Numdaemun(Great South Gate), officially known as Sungnyemun (Gate of Exalted Ceremonies) is a gate that used to be part of the original wall which surrounded Seoul. It was used for greeting foreign emissaries, controlling access to the capital city and amusingly, to keep tigers out. This structure was finished in 1398 and up to now had been the oldest wood structure in Seoul. It is/was considered National Treasure No. 1.

The fire was started by a stupid Ajushi who is protesting the compensation he received for his land. Two years back he tried to set fire to Changgyeong Palace in Seoul but only received a 2 year suspended sentence. I can understand his grievance, but destroying something that is of value to the whole world, not just Korea? Moron!

Pretty much every foreigner that I spoke to so far, or read of on the Internet, is not just sad about this, but down right upset. It is possibly the best know landmark in Korea and rightfully so. Is’s beautiful in it's setting, between all the modern buildings, and at night it is just spectacular. Many of us who come here want to experience Korean culture, and this structure is so a part of the image of Korea that even we feel the loss.

Credit to Wikipedia and it’s users. They have already updated the page and seems to be kept up to date with the whole case.

I was planning on going there today to take photographs, but needless to say, there is no point now. Therefore I’m using photographs fro the Internet that shows the gate before the destruction.

Here is a story about Korean food going to space. I found the art of the possibility of the kimchi exploding and bacteria getting out interesting. I am sure they have thought of this, but how are they going to keep the bacteria from escaping from a normal opening?

On a lighter note I include this clip from It is of two Korean high school girls just being amusing.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Mount Geumgang - Part Net

Not only have we reached the last day of the trip, but also the last post about it. As before, we started the day waking up before sunrise, eating dinner for breakfast and heading to our buses. We also had the normal little stop in “town” before heading off to our chosen activities.

On the way to “town”, we were asked if we would like to go up the seriously steep mountain, or if we would like to take the easy trip to the yesterday’s lake with a trip to the beach included. Because I had already been to the lake, and the climb sounded more exiting and challenging than a sub zero winders day at the beach, I chose the difficult option.

When we stopped in “town”, people were shuffled to make sure everyone went to their chosen locations. It seemed like most of the Westerners preferred the easier day out. Everything was set to go and we were getting ready for some action. Just before the buses started moving, our guide asked us to fasten our seatbelts. This was the first time she had asked us to do this, and we should have known something rough was coming our way.

After the normal morning send-off by the staff, the busses headed in to the mountains. This time we reeeally headed in to the mountains. We kept on winding up a little road with cliffs on the one side. It had obviously snowed the evening before, because the roads we freshly scraped. These people do this every day, so I sat back and started staring at the beauty, and odd cute statues of bears, passing us. There is nothing to worry about here.

At the top we all boiled out of the busses, just to be greeted by the coldest temperatures I have ever felt in my life. Luckily we had all our baggage with us, we weren’t going back to the hotel, so everyone scrambled to get extra clothing, scarves, hats or anything warm. It is too bad I did not have anything to keep the snow out of my eyes. At this point the Koreans with all their hiking kit stopped being funny and started being objects of envy.

The trip to the summit was not as beautiful as the previous day, but it had its moments. For me it was more about the challenge of getting up the obviously steep climb. From the get go we were on an incline and just to make everything a little bit more fun everything was covered in snow.

It is not easy to describe the feeling when you stand with everyone for a breather, wondering how far you have to go, just to look up and see that way op there in the distance is a yellow clothed guide checking the paths. You hart just sink to the bottom of the climb. We were all swearing profusely, as freezing as it was, but it was to cold to remove hoods or scarves, just in case skin is exposed.

To make along story short, we soldiered on because were not going to look bad in front of all the eager Korean. We reached the top, put up with all the photo taking and people getting in your way when you want to take a photo, then headed down.

Heading down was great fun. Just after we started down, we hit a part that was so snowed over that the guides had to shovel steps for us. One part was straight enough that they just clear all debris and had us slide down on our arses. This was to be technique I would use a few times going whilst down. I include a photo of someone sliding. If you look closely, you will see the red railing on the side. That is supposed to be about hip height.

Because I did not have hooks on my shoes, I was able to hunch down a few times and just push myself down the snow-covered path. It was either that or break my neck, so I chose the fun way.

Because of the need to keep moving and the snow falling, I was unable to take many photographs. You would be surprised by how fast your battery registers empty at such low temperatures. I have never had to worry about that before, so I was caught a bit off guard.

After we slip sided out way to the bottom, we went back to “town” for a quick lunch before heading back over the border. My lunch was just a pot of instant noodles and a view of the people scrambling to buy things from duty free.

When the shopping and eating had finished, we hoped on our busses, did a head count and started making our way back to the border. Needless to say, the staff from all the shops and restaurants came out in the freezing cold to wave us in our way. It was so sweet of them!

The trip back seemed a lot quicker than when we came in. In addition, when we arrived in the North side, there was a person in a bear costume waving at us. There was nothing like that this time. I wonder why? We went past immigration where I managed to get a smile from my guide, but not from the Oh-So-Friendly North Koreans. We passed through both North and South border controls with no incidents and were on our way back to Seoul.

There were only two things of note on the way back home. The first wes the rows and rows of fish drying in the cold winter air. We were driving along the coast at that time, so we can only assume that it was all sea fish. If it came from the river then there would be nothing left.

The second thing was the huge man-made ice cliff where people were busy climbing. That people are climbing it is not that surprising, but that someone had made that by continuously pouring water over it astounded me.

Despite the traffic, we managed to get to Seoul in time to catch out busses to wherever we all came from. It was an exulting three days, but I am considering doing it again, maybe during autumn. I include photos in a slide show format of this, the last day.

Before I log off I will leave you with a few links to documentaries on North Korea that you might find interesting:

Welcome to North Korea
North Korea - A Day in the Life
Undercover In North Korea

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Saint Valentine's Day

Valentines Day is commonly celebrated but the giving of Cards, sweets and flower for the girl or guy you fancy. In recent years it had become one of the biggest marketing days in the world and in many countries is second only to Christmas. The exact reason for celebrating this day and for the traditions associated with it are unclear, but it is speculated that it started as a festival for various saints of that name and the romantic practices started in the age of chivalry with men writing sweet notes to their women on this day.

In South Korea there is a little bit of a twist. Here February the 14th is all about the guy in the relationship. To make up for that, and to make a bit more money, we also have a White Day and a Black Day, on 14 March and 14 April respectively. I will say more about this when those come up.

I’m going to stay with Western habits and make it all about the girl. In celebration of that I have this amazing snack…


Note the singular and not only is this a simple Sesame Stick, but TASTE as well. I just found it amusing because it was sold with all the chocolates on display in the shop where I bought it. I was very disappointed to find that it was filled with long pretzel sticks. They didn’t even taste good. I ate one and threw the rest away

I would like spread some love to a few people for helping me with the blog:

My parent, because they are the real reason I write all this.
Ida, for picking up what seems to be every single spelling mistake.
Sue and Christopher, for proof reading it when they are bored.
Queenie, for reading it annoying me while I'm trying to write posts.
Pauline, for reading it regularly and commenting via email.
Aska, for apparently reading it more often than I thought.
Ditto for Ee Su Jang
Dian, for trying to read it often.
June and Dezzie, for at least looking at it when I ask them.
Unknown People who seem to read bits of it while surfing the web.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Mount Geumgang - Part Set

After coming down from the mountain and having lunch at the restaurant, we came back to the “town”. There was not that much time before we were to go on the second walk of the day, a relatively relaxing walk and climb along the banks of a lake called Samilpo.

We actually had the option of taking the time off. One or two people went to the spa, which is supposed to be very good. The one Canadian girl who went there said she drew many stares, but she was also able to see something most people never get to see. She saw the living quarters of the South Korean staff. She said it was uniform to the point of being freaky. Every section looked exactly like the next, right down to the kettle. For the most part, they are only allowed to have items provided by Hyundai Company. I wonder if the South and North Koreans are allowed to visit each other’s quarters.

I could do with a nice day at a spa myself, but I had to squeeze in more walking, as if walking is the only reason we exist on this earth. I can say little about the lake itself other than that it would make a great place for a picnic. The one picture that I include in this post shows the basic view of it. The lake is almost completely frozen over. Two people even thought it a good idea to take a walk across while every one else took the “safe” walk and climbed along the banks.

This part of the day was actually very short and almost unremarkable, but still worth a visit for someone who has never seen a frozen lake. I doubt I will go there again if I have a chance though. Apart from the Lake Crossers, the only interesting thing was the huge rock carvings. Each character must be about 20 meters, maybe more.

The tour guide for our bus had the habit of singing for us. I have no idea what she was singing about, but I assume that it had some relevance to that part of the trip on which we found ourselves. She had a nice voice and treated us to its sound on the way back to the “town”. Somehow, I do not think the other guides sing for their people.

As soon as we got back to the “town”, we had to go get ready for the Moranbong Acrobatic Troup. Apparently it is the pride of this part of Korea and I will admit, they are fantastic

Think of something like Curc du Sole, without all the pomp and glamour and more of the amazing stuff. That is what we saw here. A few times during the show, I caught myself staring open mouthed at the stage. I am just glad nothing flowed out of my mouth. If only they would get rid of the irritating women who did the “This is the greatest thing to happen in the world”-voided announcements, then it would be perfect. I suppose it goes well with the claim at the beginning that we were to be treated to the greatest show ever, even better than the night before, and the night before that and…

After the show, we had Chinese food, which turned out to be Korean style all the way. The North Korean waitress was quite charming and threw in her English vocabulary at us. When I said “Thank you” she answered with “Yes”, a direct translation from Korean. I am normally blind when it comes to things like this, but the girl was really smiling at me a lot. I am going to take June next time and see if she will scratch her eyes out.

An amusing thing was that the Canadian with us was from Korean decent and could speak Korean, so they assumed he was our guide. They kept on referring to him in the honorific that you use for teachers, professors and doctors.

We finished the day off with a trip to the pub to try the beer. The beer had an interesting fruity taste unlike any beer I have tasted before. We also bought bottles of North Korean soju as souvenirs. I forgot to take a photo of it to add to the slide show. Bummer.

At about nine o’clock, we caught a bus back to the hotel. After a full day of climbing and walking, the bed was a welcome sight. I think I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.


Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Mount Geumgang - Part Dul

The trip to get to the north was over and we were taken to check in to the strange “boat”-shaped hotel that float on a lake lake. The hotel wasn’t bad at all. My only complaint would be that there was no English TV at all. At least I learned something interesting which I will touch on in a moment

After everyone had checked in we went downstairs and got on our designated buses. We were only going for a short trip in to “town” for dinner and a drink or two. As I already mentioned, the prices are reasonable here. The food is a little expensive, but not that bad, considering most of it is brought over from the South. Things in the convenience store are the same price as in the South and the exchange bank gives the same rate that it would on the other side. Beer and soju are about the same price and the Duty Free shops are expensive, as they are everywhere.

In all the shops and restaurants there are both North and South Koreans. The North’s employees are recognized by the pin they wear featuring the face of Uncle Kim (Kim Jeong Il , normally written as Kim Jong Il). I was unable to find an image of this pin, but it is normally a red flag with his face in the middle. They are forced, but “law”, to wear these pins, but I suspect they will wear them even if they don’t have to. They see him almost as a god over there. Big brother would be proud. I don’t see him as such and can’t use his special title because he is a dictator who is letting his people starve. Mugabe of Baboon can learn a few things from this guy.

Here is a picture of him and the puppet they used in the silly film called "Team America". An impressive match, don't you think?

Uncle Kim
We ended our evening with a tasty dinner and then headed off to bed. As I said, there was no English TV, or even Korean TV with subtitles. I did stumble on a show that I will call the Talking with Manly Beauties. There is a show on TV called, translated, Talking with Beauties. They get a bunch of foreign girl on a stage and speak Korean to them. Some, apparently, are very good. Now I know there is a version with men as well.

The men all looked gay, seriously. What is it with Korea? Why can’t they make men look like men? They all had these model hairstyles and sissy boy outfits. Even the ones who were dressed a bit manlier still looked gay. Anyway…

The women in the audience were actually funnier to watch than the men. At one point it seemed like one woman wanted the guy to say “Oppa”. It is actually, “Obba”, but doesn’t sound like it. Girls call their boy friends this but it actually means Older Brother. Strange. A few days ago I was reading one of my regular blogs. The woman from the blog was trying to say this to her Korean boyfriend in the same way Korean girls do. I didn’t really understand what she was talking about until I heard this.

The woman from the TV asked the guy to say “obba”, but he obviously didn’t do it right, so she demonstrated. It is a very short “O” and the “A” is delivered in a long, whining tone as only Koreans can. “Oppaaaaaaaa”. As if on queue, all the other girls did the same thing in EXACTLY the same tone. Do they teach them this in school? Even funnier than this is that in Afrikaans “Oupa”, meaning Grandfather, sound almost exactly the same. I hope June doesn't start calling me that any time soon.

Now, on to the first day’s climbing. All in all it is something to be experienced and my words will not do the beauty justice. I hope my photographs make up for it in a small way.

We had to be up for breakfast before sunrise. In Korea a breakfast is just a scaled down version of dinner, or lunch for that matter. There was kimchi, rice and soup, salad, dumplings and other normal Korean foods. No bacon and eggs. They did have a section with bread and a toaster and a bowl of cornflakes.

After breakfast we headed off to our militarily parked buses and then in to “town”. We were allowed to grab drink or any supplies we needed before we headed off to the first climb.

Every day, for every group of tourist who depart for the day, there is a full farewell by the staff. They all come out, line up next to the road and wave us off. I am not sure if I liked it or if it creeped me out. None the less, it is an interesting sight. We were in “town” one day when another group was sent off. As soon as the buses are out of sight, the people make a B-line for the warm interiors of the shops and restaurant. It was quite amusing to see.

You guys really need to see Koreans who go hiking or climbing. They don’t do it half way. They have special clothing, shoes, spikes for the shoes, backpacks and walking sticks. They love kitting themselves out over here. Then there were us foreigners with our sneakers/trainer/tekkies, jeans and casual warm jackets. Quite the contrast.

Eventually we were allowed to go, after a brief speech of what we were allowed do on the climb. There are little stalls at the bottom of every climb. They sell some food stuff drinks and soju. Apparently it is a tradition here to drink soju at the top of a climb. That was the actual start of the climb.

I will let a few photos speak for the scenes that unfolded as we were moving up the mountain. Right at the top they have a platform where you can rest and take photographs of the frozen waterfall. In the collection there is a photograph of rock carvings. Some of them are enormous. I estimate one character to be about 10 meter in size. I have no idea what they said and why exactly they are there. I’m sure it will be interesting to see for people 1000 years from now.

I’d like to apologize for the quality of the photos. I wasn’t allowed to take my normal camera because the zoom is to strong. I had to make do with my 2.4 zoom, 5 megapixel compact camera.

Of course, they sold coffee and more snacks at the top. East Asians and snacks, Sheez! Interestingly, almost all the women who worked at these snack tables were reeeeeealy pretty. They had their own uniform, as everyone working here has. Their shoes, strangely enough, are those thick soled Spice Girls type shoes. I can only wonder how you get up a mountain in that.

The trip down was interesting. I didn’t rent spikes to strap to my shoes and nearly took a tumble down the mountain because of it. When we got back to the bottom we had lunch at the restaurant there before heading back to the “town”.

The next instalment will be about the second part of this day and the trip to the frozen lake. If you haven’t noticed yet, then I’m telling you now. It was cold, things were frozen and there was thick snow everywhere.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Mount Geumgang - Part One

I had some money to spend on a trip to another country after my trip to Hong Kong fell through. This was entirely not due to anyone else’s stupidity, but mine. The backup plan turned out to be a trip to North Korea and more specifically, the Geumgang Mountains.

I am going to divide these posts up and spread them over the whole week because there is just so much to say and so little space to say it. I will try to keep it as brief as is comfortable. On that note, let me start…

First of, I somehow managed to get the day of the week wrong. I suppose it is a symptom of not having to worry about it while not working. I had the same problem while flying because we would work any day of the week. Luckily, I realised my fault at midnight, not exactly great for getting enough sleep.

I managed to get up at 5 am on the correct day and headed of to Seoul to the appointed meeting place. It really is no fun to have to wake up that early in the cold of winter. There are no buses running and all the taxi drivers are either asleep or not driving around the outskirts of town. At least my suitcase has wheels and using leg power, I arrived, 20 minutes after leaving the house, at the ticket booth, ready to buy my ticket to Seoul and start the adventure to the other party of this long running, no violent war of the Far East.

The bus was empty, very empty. I think we were about seven people on the bus. I will not bore you with the trip to the meeting place from this point. All you need to know is that I bought a Cream Cheese Bagel at Dunking Doughnuts along the way and munched on it while staring at the almost empty train. It is a strange thing to see so few people about in Seoul.

Following the directions mailed to me, I found the meeting spot easily and found that I was to ride on the bus without all the foreigners on it. There were only four non-Koreans on my bus. I suppose that is because we were the only Outlanders who did not book as part of the group.

After sitting listening to an audio book for a while the driver told me to go sit with the other three Weagoogins. Can’t have a foreigner sitting with the Koreans now, can we? That was also the end of my nice window seat. Ah well.

The trip to the border was not all that exiting because I could not really look out the window, you see. We did stop at a few resting areas along the way, all next to a Hyundai Oilbanks (Petrol Station). This was not surprising, seeing how Hyundai has a virtual monopoly on tours to this location.

A disappointing thing about the trip was catching glimpses of things through the window that I would have loved to have had a better look at. This would have been easy if I had my original seat. Luckily, the scenes that would unfold in the mountains would surpass all the little things that passed us. It is too bad the scenes in the mountains came with the culture that I was missing outside, but I am already making devious plans to get back to this area. Mua-ha-ha-ha.

It took us about 4 hours to get the final stop before crossing the border. It is an official stop where we picked up our guides and handed in all the banned electronics for safe keeping. We had an opportunity to get lunch and buy a few snacks, not that snacks were needed. You just need to spend five minutes with people from China, Japan or Korea to know they do not travel without enough snack to feed a small country.

We four outsiders had the option of changing over to the bus with all “our kind”, so to speak.

I am only joking about the foreigner thing. I think they were keeping us together because we do not understand Korean. The guide for that bus was able to speak more English than any of the other. I am just making the situation look worse. It was mostly funny.

The best part about leaving the South was that the Soldiers at the border were just too eager too wave us on our way. They must be very bored there. The one soldier actually came running out of one of the buildings, without his helmet, to wave at the whole bus full of foreigners. We were all having a good giggle about this.

Before you can go in to the North, you have to cross the DMZ, the Demilitarised Zone. Everyone calls it DMZ-ee. The British form just does not sound that good. You also have to pass through the border control on both sides. The Control in the South side is a nice, new, large building where they scan us and smile as we go through.

The North is a tent playing the same friendly Korean song repeatedly. Here strange officials with up-turned pots on their heads look at you with suspicion. I suspect they will get thrown in a labour camp if they smile at us. Why did this little South African ever do to them? The 37 or so soldiers were forced by the Evil English to fight in the Korean War.

From this point, you can feel the tension. You are always afraid of doing something wrong and getting in trouble. It reminded me of the good old days working for Qatar Airways. On the North side you are only allowed to take photographs in certain directions and at certain locations. It’s a pity because we were not allowed to take photos of the soldiers at any time. They look so much like Communist Russians it is not even funny. It would have made a great photo with one or two of them standing there at attention all day long, holding a red flag just in case you do something wrong.

On the way to the village where we stayed, the Unification Village, we passed through mostly abandoned villages the official explanation is that the people don’t like the tourists passing them every day.

The Unification Village is a village that was build by the Hyundai Company. The companies owner had great hopes of using it to improve conditions in the North and helping unification, but all they have done so far is make money out of tourism and built a railway that can’t be used yet. I’m not shooting down their intentions; it just didn’t seem to happen the way they expected it to. I must admit that the expected rip-off on prices doesn’t exist here. Everything is very reasonably priced.

Funny really strange thing about this village is that it is basically a little bit of South Korea in the North. For all practical reasons I have not been to North Korea yet. My passport certainly doesn’t show it. Some of the workers there are supposedly North Korean, but I have my doubts. How are they going to explain to these people that the South has food and brand new everything while their families don’t have anything and are dying of hunger?

Tomorrow it will be on to our first meal inside the “camp” and then the first part of our first full day in the “North”.

Saturday, 09 February 2008

A Foot in the Northern Lands

I posted three days worth of posts on one day because I am not at home. I am in North Korea on a trip to Kumgang Mountain.

For your entertainment, I post this Acrobat file with the detailed itinerary. I have to say right away that as funny as the English is, it is 1000 timed better than my Korean and it is perfectly understandable, which is more than I can say about my Korean. Just click here to download the file. Click on the little notes to see my thoughts while reading this.

Don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader? Download it here.

Friday, 08 February 2008

Year of the Rat

We have entered the Year of the Rat, as mentioned in yesterday’s post. Happy New Year! Squeak, Squeak!

I have no interest in giving you all the detail of this Sign, but I will give the most basic details. In Eastern Astrology, the Rat is associated with aggression, wealth, charm and order. It is also associated with war, death, occult, atrocities and pestilence.

If you were born on these dates then you are a rat. I left out the Elemental aspects here. If you would like to know more, feel free to read a book on it or have a look at the internet:

31 January 1900 - 18 February 1901
18 February 1912 - 5 February 1913
5 February 1924 - 24 January 1925
24 January 1936 - 10 February 1937
10 February 1948 - 28 January 1949
28 January 1960 - 14 February 1961
15 February 1972 - 2 February 1973
2 February 1984 - 19 February 1985
19 February 1996 - 6 February 1997
7 February 2008 - 25 January 2009

If you were not born in one of these dates, then you might be too old to use the internet.

Thursday, 07 February 2008

Happy New Year again, Again!


I managed to bugger up the New Year’s date last month. The eastern New Year actually starts in February, not January. Idiot! When I find the person who caused me to make this mistake there will be hell to play.

I’m sure you will not mind ignoring this tiny mistake and with that behind us, I would like to announce the start of the year of the Rat.

The New Year referred to in this post is that of the Chinese calendar. I prefer to call it the Eastern calendar, because china was not the only country using it. The Eastern calendar is a Lunisolar calendar with a sixty year cycle. It consists of two separate cycles interacting with each other.

The first cycle refers to the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) and their Yin and yang parts. That gives Ten Heavenly Stems.

The second cycle, better known in the West as the Chinese Zodiac, is the cycle of the twelve Zodiac animals, also known as the Earthly Branches. These animals are the Rat (Mouse), Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (Ram or Goat), Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar.

Based on this, every year get named according to its animal. I have only every heard people refer to is without the Ten Heavenly Stems and even then out of interest. Look at it as how people in the West tend to know their star signs. Some people take is seriously, but for the most part people see it as noting more than entertainment.

It seems that people in the modern world use the Western Gregorian calendar for every day life and the Eastern calendar only for the calculation of festival dates and for astrological purposes.

Something that I fond interesting is that Koreans are all telling me that you Korean (Eastern) Age is calculated using the Gregorian start of the year and not the Eastern.

Wednesday, 06 February 2008

Hi-Mart Advertising Continued

Quite some time ago I showed the YouTube clip of a Korean advert that I like, but I never followed it up with more. I think it is about time that I showed a few more. I’ll try to do at least one a week.

Here goes with another one of the Hi-Mart ads. AS in the previous one, the girls is doing it for me again...

Tuesday, 05 February 2008



On Saturday we went to watch a performance Jump. This show has been running in Seoul for almost 4 years now and I can see why. Since I don’t feel like writing to much today, I’ll be quoting Tour2Korea’s description of the story.

“This musical tells about an eccentric family who brags about their amazing martial art skills. The story begins with a man who’s in love with the daughter of this family and visits their home in which the lady’s grandfather, father, mother and uncle, all live together and are all masters of martial arts. Since her grandfather loves to practice martial arts with all the family members every day, the man has no choice but to join them.”

“However, contrary to his weak appearance, he discovers that he is actually good at martial arts and the daughter begins to fall in love with him. One day, two thieves break into their house, but there is nothing for them to steal. All they could do is just run away before they get caught.”

There are a few things I liked more than others in the show. Firstly, the girl who played the daughter had a nice butt. Sure, this doesn’t sound important, but this is me, I can’t help looking! It was VERY nice. She also looks more like she does Fung Fu than Taekwondo. The mother is much better looking than the make-up suggests and the drunken son fits well in to his role.

I loved the scene during the burglary when the lights went out. I also liked the scene where the grandfather flies through the air, Hong Kong style, being carried by the other actors. Thinking back, that was the end of the burglary. Yes, yes, I think I just loved the whole burglary, period.

All in all I would recommend this to anyone. It is a bit silly at times, but it's the kind of show that will give everyone a laugh.

Monday, 04 February 2008

Hey, June

I have never been in to this cute little shop in Icheon, but I have sat eating frozen yogurt across the street, reading the text many times.


Just in case you can't read that, here is what it says:

Hey, June!! Didn’t you see my panty and brassiere?
well…. Is that yours? NO!
How about this one?
It’s mine!! My underwear!!
why don’t go to yes'? yes'? yes!! yes’
Let’s go to yes!!!!

Saturday, 02 February 2008

News of the week

Saturdays are not always the days when I want to be posting something, so I’ve decided to make a short list of stories I found on the internet. I picked them up during the weeks and saved them just for today.

This first story is really sad. This is one of the reasons why westerns don’t like strangers around their children. The story started on Dave’s ESL Café and went public, in a sense, through Brian in Jeollanam-do.

After that the Korean Media picked it up and apparently OhMyNews was first. The TV news claimed that photo was copywrited by THEM and that THEY broke the story. Like so many things in East Asia, they steal the story and claim it for themselves. It is a nice place to be, but plagiarism is rampant here.

I know this is more of a political point, but this is why not only Foreign Teachers are to be mistrusted and criminally checked up. Oh brother!

Here is an article about changing the way English words are written in Korean Hangeul to help with pronunciation. Most people would agree that it does need to be changed, some more drastically than others. The fun in this story is in the comments people made about the article. I suspect it is funnier because I live here, but it should still be good for you.

This article says that the President would like to get more Ethnic Korean from English speaking countries to come teach here. It makes sense because they already speak Korean AND perfect English. But wait! Some of them are already here! The ones who are not here have, like the non ethnic Koreans, have normal jobs in their own countries. Do they really think it anything will change in this regard?

I agree with this article. This country is small enough already, so get that water line back where it belongs.

Apparently Daejeon is the Environmental Capital of Asia and Chile is in the top ten list for economic freedom. WOW!

Friday, 01 February 2008

Food Fight.

Today was my 100th post. Dont know what to say. I would like to thank my parents for feeding me, the airline for flying here, the school for employing me and the internet for ...

Before I get in to the story of the food fight, I need to explain what Ddakpokki is. Ddakpokki, better written ad Dakpokki, and if you hear it you will swear you are hearing them say Takpokki, is a very popular street food sold here in Korea. Street food means it is sold by little shops and vendors, a bit like the hotdog stands in New York set films.

Ddakpokki is made from rice cakes and cooked with a spicy sauce to which one or two other things might be added. Before you start vomiting at the thought of cooking rice cakes with a sauce, let me explain the concept of rice cakes.

I don’t think that I have seen the “Western” rice cakes in the shops yet, but I haven’t been looking, so I’m sure it exists somewhere. What is being referred to here is a very dense and chewy thingy made from rice flower or something of that nature. It’s about the same size and thickness as normal Penne Pasta, but solid. You get it in other varieties as well, but those aren’t normally used for this purpose.

I have to admit that I love the stuff. It is cheap and it tastes little different at every place that sells it. The snack that I want to talk about in this post, however, is something like dried ddakpokki. It looks more like red macaroni, but I suspect this is made from deep fried rice cake tubes and then coated in flavouring. It has a crap load of sugar as well. This is Korea, after all. The snack is nice, but that is not what I found most interesting

I include in this post photographs of the packaging. The front of the pack is noting to special. Turn it over though, and the fun starts.

First off there is the Ddakpokki character with the fork sticking out his bum. I love the expression on his face. You can just hear him say: “I hate it when that happens”. You can’t see it though because I didn’t enlarge that part enough.

I did enlarge for you the better part. Have a look at this scene. There is a boy sitting in a pot with a lid on hid head and utensils in his hand. Oooooo- K. As if that isn’t weird enough, all the ddakpokkis are looking at him as if he is their god. It makes me think of Men in Black with the creepy creatures in the locker.

As if this isn’t enough, there is a fight happening in the foreground. A FIST fight, between ddakpokki! But we have to go even further. There is one character as if he is the promoter for the fight and another character cheering them on.

What it this all about. How does this have anything to do with the snack? What am I missing here?