Monday, August 29, 2011

The Han River Treats Me Well

Yes, you are probably looking at one of the most spunkified pet dogs on the planet. The dyeing is one thing, but then the braided tail and ears is another. After I took these photos the owner told us, "Copyrighted!". It was a laugh.

These shots were taken in the early summer time during one of our trips to the Han river. Sometimes when JH and I are heading back from some place in Gangnam I beg him to make a stop at one of the parks along the river. Usually, we park and take a nice stroll around and then head home.

I wonder if will continue to make stops here when the weather turns to ice. Until then I hope to enjoy it as much as I can.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fall Semester Comes

As I woke up semi-late this morning (7:45 AM) I knew tomorrow was going to be a work day. Usually I am woken by Tom nudging me or climbing on top of me to get a good petting in before the day starts. On work days I can only give him that good petting for a short little time. But I am not here to complain, just saying my lovely two weeks of vacation are quickly ending.

I feel this vacation was especially good for me because I feel balanced out. The free time allowed me to understand what transpired during the last semester and what I need to focus on for the next. I feel mentally ready to take on the challenges.

Of course, I am feeling nervous about going back to work. This is because I mostly want to find out if they will keep me for another year or not. I'm hoping I will get the casual email that asks if you want to stay or not and that will be that. I heard from a colleague this is what usually happens in November. But then I am wondering if I should start the FBI fingerprinting process just in case things don't turn out how I would expect.

What will be interesting for the start of this coming Fall semester is that the afternoon kids are switching with the morning kids. We have our theories, but we are hoping the afternoon kids (notorious for being rambunctious) will some how be more mellow in the morning. However, I have realized that kids are kids no matter what time of the day. So we will see. The Fall semester also has some twists in it like a Drama festival and no open classes.

With the new semester approaching already I know summer is on it's way out. The air is starting to get cooler (slightly) and I can tell the summer sunshine is changing.

In the end, I am grateful for this vacation and the many more I will have.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jeju Naval Base Controversy

Since I recently spent some time on Jeju the news of a military base being built on the island perked my interest. However, I am not to sure what is happening so I took the time to read up on the issue. From the gist of it I believe that the South Korean Navy has been building a naval base on Jeju within the city of Gangjeong. The function of such a site is summed up clearly in a New York Times article:

Once completed in 2014, it will be home to 20 warships, including submarines, that the navy says will protect shipping lanes for South Korea’s export-driven economy, which is dependent on imported oil. It will also enable South Korea to respond quickly to a brewing territorial dispute with China over Socotra Rock, a submerged reef south of Jeju that the Koreans call Ieodo. Both sides believe it is surrounded by oil and mineral deposits.
What has ended up happening is the people of this "village", about 1,000, are divided over whether it should be there or not. So much so that heated protesting has occurred and people are starting to avoid each other, some not even shopping at the same stores. What impacts me the most is hearing that those against the naval base say it will endanger the natural environment. To me that is very important and most land in Jeju and on the peninsula is constantly being taken up by new cities of concrete.

However, what is most heartening is hearing about the varied protests and arrests occurring. When I turn on my TV the news channel shows people lying on the streets or chained to each other. The newspaper "Jeju Weekly" highlights recent protests with photos and stories. But if you really want to get the full scale ideal of the protestors than the site "Save Jeju" serves up a mouth full.

Maybe the whole idea is that people just don't want symbols of war on their island, because of such a terrible past. Save Jeju:
Jeju was the site of a 1948 massacre in which more than 30,000 civilians were estimated to have been slaughtered during a democratic uprising
 New York Times:
“I don’t understand why we’re trying so hard to accommodate something people in Okinawa tried so hard to resist,” said Kim Jong-hwan, 55, a tangerine farmer, referring to the Japanese islanders’ struggle against the American military base there. “When I think how the Americans go around the world starting wars, I can only expect the worst.”

Perhaps the other aspect, of this being a China and America thing, that tilts the scales of peace too far.

New York Times:
Song Kang-ho, an activist against the base, disagreed. “With the U.S. economy in a mess, it’s just a matter of time before China dominates Northeast Asia,” Mr. Song said. “We should keep neutral between the rising and declining superpowers.”  

In the end, I just hope people don't get hurt or killed trying to protect the land and that a resolution comes that respects both sides. However, this sentiment encapsulates what just might sway the vote:

"Speaking about the opponents of the base, Koh Jong-pyo, 47, an abalone fisherman, said: “They worry too much. Think what it could do for the local economy whenever an American aircraft carrier arrives with thousands of sailors and their cash.”
Definitely, keep your eye on this news and maybe even discuss it with some Korean people you know. I have yet to talk about it with JH but hope to do so in order to get a better understanding.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Joy in Jeju: Waterfalls

The sky opened up over the clouds when we caught our ferry back to Jeju from Udo. It was such a peaceful and eye catching sight that it made the day complete. Amongst the crowd I felt like the only one understanding the beauty before us.

The next day was the last full one before my trip back to Seoul. When we woke up in the morning the weather was lovely with an overcast of clouds. I knew Jeju was famous for waterfalls and so I figured why not make the trek out to one or two. Through my research prior to the trip I found one such waterfall area known as "Donnaeko Resort", which boasted dense forests and lovely streams. I packed a towel just in case and we were on our way.

 To get there we had to take a two hour long bus ride from our pension to the city of Seogwipo, where we transferred buses and were taken up the mountain.
The waterfall we were looking for is called, Wonang Pokpo Waterfall, and it wasn't too hard to find.

All one needed to do was follow this wooden path and soon enough you could hear the rushing of the water.

Although you could go swimming in the small pool I didn't opt for this as the water was kind of chilly. Even wading was a little difficult as there was no real flat area. But the spectacular view was satisfying enough, with the water rushing down, the shade of the trees and the sounds of nature.

While we were there an ahjusshi passed us buy, who spoke English, and remarked on how out of all the waterfalls on Jeju this one is the most quiet. What he meant was that it lacked the bunches of tourists. Since it was my first waterfall visit on Jeju I took his word for it because there were about a few people there. Most folks didn't even meander down to the pool and just stopped at the stairs, took a picture and went back.

If I lived on Jeju I would consider this as a beautiful local spot to go to if wanting to stay clear of the tourists. Below the waterfall were other pools where it sounded like families were having a good time.

On our way back to the bus stop we noticed a snake making its way up the mountain.

We made our way back to Seogwipo and were hungry for lunch. Not really knowing the area we rode the bus back a little longer to see what was around. We came to a "downtown" area and found a Mr. Pizza, which was satisfying.

After lunch we headed to another waterfall called, Cheonjiyeon. I am glad we made this as our last stop and not the first waterfall. Mostly because it was packed with tourists who were brought in by bus. In my opinion, avoid this during the peak season and head to the more secluded waterfalls.

As you travel around Jeju you will notice the following signs here and there, which are marking the Olleh trail.

This waterfall viewing wasn't free and we had to purchase tickets before entering. After you do so you cross a bridge and take the path up to the falls.

Yes this waterfall was beautiful but I couldn't really get a good clear look at it, nor enjoy the setting with all the hoards of people around.

After viewing the waterfall we headed back, meanwhile picking up some souvenirs at a few tourist shops. We then headed to the bus terminal and managed to get our way back to the pension.

The next day was rainy and cloudy so I didn't do anything before heading to the airport, except lounge with my friends in the pension cafe. So it is that we come to the end of my Jeju trip. I hope you enjoyed my photos and stories. I think if I am ever feeling a need to get away, but don't want to go too far, I feel I can come back to Jeju.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dentist in Seoul? Try Tufts

For me vacation time doesn't just mean to relax and unwind it also means to get some things done that would otherwise be difficult. For instance, going to the dentist during my work schedule means going during the evening or go on the weekend. I figured why not get this done while on my time off.

After some inquires at work I found out that a good place to go is called, "Tufts Dental" located in Gangnam. Checking the website I could tell they looked like a good place. The last time I got my teeth cleaned was in Bundang, and they did an okay job except wanted me to come back for something I felt unnecessary. Well over a year has passed since then and I knew it was time for a check up.

Experience: The office wasn't busy for a Wednesday afternoon and I was taken care of right away. After filling out two papers with some information I was seated for a consultation. I was asked if I would like to have xrays done since it was my first time there. Turned out the xrays were partially covered by the country's National Health Insurance. So why not! After the xrays were taken the official "dentist" came in and went over what she saw. Since the xrays were taken digitally there was no time to wait for the processing. Turns out I have a small cavity growing but it won't be of concern for a while. She left and then the assistant gave me my cleaning.

The cleaning was very thorough, gentle and well done. She made sure to update me on what tools she was using during the procedure. Most dentists in Korea put a cloth over your face (with a hole for the mouth) so to protect your face from getting splattered. This caused me to become slightly sleepy as I usually sleep with a face mask. Anyways, it was altogether a good experience. Made even better since everyone from the front desk to the assistant spoke English.

Cost and Location: The cost for a consultation, xrays and a cleaning was 65,000 won, which I felt was pretty good. You can make appointments for throughout the week or on Saturdays, except they are closed Thursdays.

The location is near Samseong and Seolleung stations, kind of in between. The directions are on their website but I would definitely say to keep an eye on the building numbers, which are visible.

Tufts Source:

There are practically a gazillion dentists around Seoul, and you can try your luck at a local one. But from my understanding and experience most aren't very clean or know English. Plus I appreciate that this place offered to take my xrays as previous places just went straight for the cleaning. 

So, if you are looking for a dentist to go to that speaks English and is clean then head to Tufts Dental, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Joy in Jeju: A Day at the Beach

One of the major reasons I wanted to go to Jeju was to spend a day at the beach. It's summer and I for one enjoy the hot weather because it pushes you to want to jump into a cool pool of water. However, Seoul seems to lack in this concept of public places to swim. Sure there are several along the Han river, but just a simple local place to go take a dive is out of the question.

Deciding which beach to visit on Jeju presents itself as quite a task. According to there are about 13 to choose from, some of which being secluded, others with different color sand and some that are near local attractions. However, since we were close to Udo island I decided to head over there and enjoy the white sand it had to offer.

A closer look at Udo:
Our destination was to go from the Cheonjinhang port on the south side of the island up to the Hagosudong Beach on the North side of the island. But first one needed to make sure they had a good start to their day and we did that by making pancakes for breakfast.

The pancakes came out really good and were accompanied by some Agave syrup, which was all right. 

We packed up our beach gear and headed towards the island, which is done by walking down to the ferry at Seongsan Port. The walk over provided an interesting view of large sea-side equipment.

You might be looking at those clouds and thinking it is going to rain on our beach day, but don't worry they cleared out practically at the same time we arrived on Udo.

The ferry terminal was buzzing with people buying tickets and lounging around waiting for their boat to arrive. Odd thing is we arrived just five minutes before our boat sailed off and so got our tickets and immediately got in line.

The ferry ride takes you out past Ilchulbong, which gives you a nice side view of it's rocky outcroppings. Udo is named as such because it resembles the shape of a cow when it is lying down. In other words, we were heading to "cow island"! 

Arriving on the island, one feels a little woozy and spaced out, but then quickly lightens up to figure out how to get across to the beach side. There were several options one could have chosen, such as renting a scooter, golf cart or taking a bus. We opted for none of those things and instead went by foot. Again, using my GPS naver map system on my Android phone, getting there was a breeze.

The walk across Udo was greeted by a lot of sunshine and farmland, all of which was a perfect set up for taking a dip in the sea.

Some farmer and a scene with actual cows on a "cow island"...

One knew they were getting closer to the beach when you could see the water on the horizon. Indeed, I couldn't wait to get in the water. 
It seemed we had gotten there early enough as the beach was still not very crowded and you could rent a platform tent without any troubles. The platform tent cost 30,000 won for the whole day and was made of a flat large bottom, with a canopy roof.
At first I wanted to run and dive into the water, but as soon as my feet touched it I realized this was going to take some time. The water was a bit cool and so I waded around a while till my body got acclimated and then took the dive.

You really could walk out that far and even further if you wanted to. Looking back now, as I sit at my desk here, diving into that water couldn't have been more perfect. I always love that first feeling of going under a pool of water and right now wish I could be transported back there.

The rest of the day we spent under our tent enjoying snacks, a book to read and I did some sketching. When we went shopping we found this bag of chips labeled as "Tacos" and with the word "Mexico" labeled on the front.
I had never seen this in Korea before and thought they would make for a great beach snack. The picture on the front is pretty accurate, but the taste just passed as a regular nacho chip. I am not sure what they seasoned it with to make it like a taco, but it didn't really taste that much different.

My friend caught some "zzzz" and I enjoyed walking along the beach admiring how the tide went really far out.

More people came at this part of the day and had fun on the beach.
Nearby were some statues of the famous woman divers known for Udo and Jeju island. Some of the beach folk would stop and get their picture taken. We decided to do the same.

Although Udo has a lot more to offer than just beaches, we didn't see any of it. My goal was to come and enjoy the beach for a day and we accomplished that. The ferry schedule has it's last drop off at 6pm and so it was time to head out. 

I do hope to get back to Udo some day and see it's lighthouse and geological features, so who knows maybe I will! If you are heading to Jeju I recommend exploring this island as it has some nice beaches and great scenery to check out. Plus the ferry ride wasn't too expensive and there was even fried chicken on the island which can be delivered to you for 18,000 won.

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