This is my attempt to record my visit to Korea, May 17-24, 2011. I am the world’s worst photographer, and I can’t remember to take pictures even when I do bring a camera, but on this trip, thankfully, I did. I also include some observations about South Korea in general in a separate post. Enjoy!

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Arrival: A Fast Train; the Room

I arrived at about 6:30 pm at Incheon Airport, about 45 minutes or so from Seoul. Took the train to Seoul, which was fast, immaculate, on time and not crowded at all. Cost about 13.00 US. Nice. This would be echoed throughout the trip: everything was organized, clean and efficient. Along the way, I viewed lots of massive high rise apartment complexes and some industrial facilities. I was supposed to meet up with Austin at the train station in Seoul and we would take the train to Daejeon together. I had a few anxious moments when Austin wasn’t there right away, and I walked up and down the terminal until he appeared. The train to Daejeon took a little over an hour, and didn’t seem like it was going very fast, but apparently (there was a speed indicator) it was traveling about 180 mph at times! Arrived in Daejon and walked to hotel, checked in without incident. The room was very nice, and had some of the cultural quirks peculiar to this country: shoes off at the door, sandals provided (1 pair for shower/bath, 2 for rest of room), a huge hi-def TV, computer, very advanced lighting system with halogen spotlights, and a hot/cold water dispenser.There was no shower curtain which was clearly intentional, and a handheld shower head; shower clogs are provided to prevent you from slipping on the marble floor.

view of tv and desk in my room

View of bed in room

Austin’s Place and a Strange Pizza for Dinner

Following check-in, we went back to Austin and Emily’s apartment. It was a short walk from the hotel, and Austin tried teaching me some Korean phrases along the way. The apartment was brand new, spartan and well-organized. Not much room for extraneous stuff.

view of the bedroom/living room

We had a most unusual seafood pizza, which contained a kind of sweet potato. After a quick bite, Austin walked me back to the hotel, and I stayed up for awhile, but then fell asleep without much trouble, especially since the room was almost completely silent; no noise at all.

view of the bathroom

scrambled eggs, tomatoes, Korean hot sauce

The next morning I was up around 5:00. Spent some time on the computer and practiced some yoga, then headed down to breakfast in the hotel lobby. There were a couple of instant coffee sticks in the room, but they turned out to have sugar and cream mixed in. Gross! I can’t believe people drink this stuff. There was a pot of something that I thought might be coffee in the breakfast area (breakfast was included in the room price), but it was so pale I decided it must be hot tea. Turned out I was wrong. The rest of breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, juice, white bread toast (I passed), and lettuce and tomatoes with salad dressing (ditto). I took a couple of tomatoes, cut them up and put them in the eggs, along with some Korean hot sauce that I got on the plane, and made an informal huevos rancheros.  After breakfast, it was time to go meet Austin.

Ready for School

After a short walk, we arrived at one of the schools where Austin teaches English.

Austin teaches English here

After taking off our shoes at the door and donning slides, we went up a couple of flights of stairs and entered the classroom. I was struck by the amount of technology in the room: a huge touchscreen tv, computer connections everywhere, and more. Several of the students were cleaning up the room: sweeping, picking up trash. Austin explained that there were no janitors to perform this duty. When the students started arriving, they immediately noticed me in the back of the room and started talking about me among themselves.

cleaning up

Classroom with students

I should mention that as we passed through the school, Austin was frequently hailed in English by some of the students; this was apparently typical and continued all week. The way class worked out with me present was Austin would greet the students in English, ask them how they were, the weather, and other subjects;the students would answer in English. He would then introduce me and I would answer questions. The students were particularly curious about my hair, eyes, age, job, hobbies, tastes in food, sports and other subjects. They would come up to me after class, touch the hair on my arms, say goodbye or ask more questions. Their enthusiasm and energy was touching and inspiring. After a few classes and a break, it was time for lunch. I went through the lunch line with Austin and his co-teacher. It was a fascinating menu: rice, cooked vegetables, kimchee, seafood egg squares, beef soup, and rice soup. Most of it was spicy and flavorful, except for the rice soup, which tasted like warm dishwater. The food was served on metal trays, bowls and chopsticks, and the kids bussed their own dishes, taking care to throw all the food out before dumping the metal stuff. There were no napkins or drinks of any kind; there was a water machine at the doorway for those wanting liquid refreshment. No dessert either.

Korean School Lunch

After lunch, we went back to class, but after a short time Austin’s co-teachers generously allowed him to leave early to spend more time with me. From there, it was back to the room and later meet Austin and Emily for a hike up a mountain with a temple on top.

We walked up to the bottom of Bomunsan mountain directly from Austin’s apartment.

during mountain hike.

It was probably a couple of miles, and the climb itself was at least 900 meters or a half mile up a steep, well, I guess Bomunsan is a big hill or a small mountain. There were lots of trees, and the greenery was pretty lush. Another feature was the presence of sets of exercise equipment along the trail, so you could get a complete workout, I suppose. I noticed quite a few older people hiking up the mountain. It was warm and humid along the way, but gradually got cooler and breezier as we went up. Eventually we reached the top.

near the top of Bomunsan

another vista from top of Bomunsan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin took some pictures of me performing yoga poses, which turned out well.

Vira A at top of Bomunsan

Half Moon Pose on top of Bomunsan

Headstand at temple at Bomunsan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temple at top of mountain

The view was spectacular; you could see the entire city of Daejeon, along with the mountains in the distance. Austin said the haziness of the sky was due to “yellow dust” from China.

yellow dust from China

Sad to see that kind of thing, but inevitable, I guess. On the walk back, I noticed that there were mostly older people in this area of town; very few young people. Lots of shops looked shut down or closed.  Some kind of aquarium was being constructed close to the bottom of the hill.

For dinner, we had planned to go somewhere Austin knew about for a specific kind of Korean dish Austin liked, with tofu, noodles, and bean sauce, but the place was closed, so we went to a restaurant next to Austin’s apartment instead. The portions of spicy noodles, spicy veggies and other spicy things were enormous; none of us could finish. Did I mention the food was spicy? Austin ordered me a beer that turned out to be something called soju, a really inexpensive Korean alcohol similar to vodka. I thought it was sake at first. Oh, and about the beer: they have several varieties, all of which are completely alike—light and low alcohol. Not what I prefer, but not surprising either. It seems like most of the beer in foreign countries I’ve been to has this same quality. Of course, I haven’t been to Germany, the UK, or Belgium either, so I guess this generalization is limited. Dinner turned out to be the end of the evening, and just as well—my sleep schedule was still a bit off.

The next day, I was up at 5:00 again, with more yoga, computer time and breakfast. I discovered on this morning that the hot liquid in the hotel cafe that I thought was tea was actually coffee, since it was a little darker, so I had some. Still pretty undrinkable, though. The rest of breakfast was the same; thought that I may have to try something else for the rest of the trip. After breaky, it was time to go visit Austin’s second school. The school was a bit closer to Austin’s place than the first, and the facility was a little nicer, but somehow, the technology in the classroom was a little bit older (no touchscreen tv, for example). Austin taught about 4 classes in a row and for each one, I went up to the front to be introduced, spoke to the students and answered questions.

Austin's second school

before class at second school

rear of room second school

They were much like the students at the first school and once again I felt like an exotic animal from the zoo. There was always a question about my hobbies, so I would demonstrate a yoga pose to show them, which elicited many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. Austin’s co-teacher, Ms. Lee, was new to teaching, but was polite and helpful. She bore a striking resemblance to the Chinese-American actress Lucy Liu, and had some of the most delicate table manners I’ve ever seen. This school lunch was similar to the first, differing only in details. At the end of my time there, I met the assistant principal, who spoke English well. His son was in dental school in California and he had been there to visit. He was gracious and friendly. That evening we went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in an area filled with bars, restaurants and other shops. After that, we strolled over to a bohemian coffee bookstore, along the way looking at several pet shops. It seems like there are a lot of streets in Daejon which have one kind of shop or another, and the street names reflect this, e.g., Car Street, Food Street, Pet Street. Kind of like calling the cat “kitty.” At the coffee shop, we got into a fine conversation over the drawbacks/advantages of the internet, among other things.