An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Month: May 2010

Happy Birthday, Buddha

Yesterday was a national holiday in Korea and in some other Asian countries, the celebration of the birth of Buddha. It’s actually a week-long celebration in the temples here, with brightly colored paper lanterns decorating the various temple grounds and other areas around the city. I haven’t seen or heard of any large-scale festivities taking place, but I’m sure there must be some events occurring in conjunction with the holiday.

Yes, we had the day off, but some institutions just can’t wrap their collective heads around the concept of a holiday. When we had holidays at the University of Montana, teachers and students never had to make up classes; here, we do. That’s what a holiday is–you don’t have to work, it’s a free day, so to speak. We have 4 holidays this semester and we have to come in and add extra time to our already-busy schedules to make up for the time lost. Ridiculous. If businesses in the U.S., at least, told their workers they had to come in at another time to make up for having July 4th off, for example, they’d have to pay time-and-a-half or double time. No such thing here. I don’t know about other educational institutions in Korea, but in this university, holidays are certainly not free time. Oh, well, grin and bear it, I guess.(My memory just got jogged–at Andong National University, there were 10 or so days set aside at the end of the semester to make up for holiday classes, but to my knowledge, no one ever actually made them up. Here, the powers-that-be would probably find out if we skipped out on make ups.)

At least yesterday was gorgeous, with lots of sun and warm temperatures. Today, however, is a different story, with rain forecast for the entire weekend. I walked down to the local market to buy some groceries and got caught in some fairly heavy rain. Luckily, I’d taken my umbrella, what’s left of it. The wind here at the campus on the side of a hill, whirls around, hitting you from all directions at once, it seems. I’ve had to buy 3 or 4 umbrellas since I got here, because they get turned inside out and the stretchers that support the ribs (check out this website for the parts of an umbrella) snap off, eventually making the whole thing about as effective as using a newspaper for cover.

More later.

Drops of Rain and Tears

We’ve been getting a lot of rain today, about two inches since midnight according to the Korean Meteorological Administration. I wish I could send some of that to Laos, which is still in a drought, although Nai tells me that they’ve finally been getting a bit of rain lately. Unfortunately, teardrops are more prevalent in his household today.

His mother, aged 72 or so, has been quite ill for the last 3 months, sometimes in a hospital in Vientiane, but more often bedridden at home. I phoned Nai last night and, in between sobs, he told me that he took her back to see the doctor yesterday and the doc told Nai that there was nothing more that could be done for her and that she had only a few months left to live. From what Nai is able to tell me, I can only surmise that she has some form of cancer or perhaps emphysema. Quite a shock to the family, of course, and Nai’s taking it pretty hard. About all they can do is keep giving her the relevant medicine at home and try to make her passing as comfortable as possible. It sorrows me, too, to hear this, and my heart goes out to Nai and all his family. She’ll be terribly missed–she’s the glue of the family, the mediator, disciplinarian and comforter. Hopefully, she’ll not suffer in her final days and weeks.

Out and About in Yeosu

I haven’t been out and about lately on my bicycle on Saturdays because I’ve been doing some long runs in the morning, (well, long runs for me, anyway–see my post of last Saturday), so sacrificing my legs for the morning run kind of cancels out any trips over the ubiquitous steep hills of Yeosu later in the day. 🙄 I don’t know which I prefer doing more–jogging for an hour-and-a-half or riding my bicycle all over the place. Anyway, I HAVE done some rides on Sunday, so here are a few photos from some of those trips.

First up is a visit to the west side of the Yeosu peninsula. This is about 5 miles from the university, and it looks like a beautiful area to take a motorbike ride some weekend. The road snakes its way up and down the coast, but it’s far too distant too enjoy on a bicycle (not to mention steep.) Unfortunately, my motorbike has a flat tire right now, but I hope to spend some more time in this area later in the summer.


Yeosu is famous (or infamous, depending on your economic or environmental leanings) for it’s gargantuan petro-chemical industrial area on the north coast of the peninsula. Taking the bus out of town, heading toward Seoul, this area is spectacular at night, with all of the lighting and steam and what-not. That’s not necessarily a good thing, of course, but it would make for some great photo ops. I hope to get out there some summer evening (not all that far on the bicycle) and get some shots. Here’s a couple of daytime photos of a VERY small part of the area; believe me, it’s huge.



Korea’s “bullet” train, the KTX, is being extended to Yeosu in time for the 2012 Expo. Right now, the journey to Seoul by bus takes about 5 hours, but the KTX line should cut the trip time in half. Here’s a look at how the construction’s going so far (not too far from the petro-chem area).


I’ve got a few more shots of my bicycle trips out and about in Yeosu, so I’ll post more of them later.

. . . Crazy Too Much

My Lao friend Nai, whose mother was born in Thailand and who dearly loves the country, comments on the latest turmoil there by saying “some Thai people crazy too much.” Indeed. The Land of Smiles (what a misnomer these days) seems to be on the verge of all-out civil war, at least in Bangkok, though the strife could easily spread to some of the other provinces. I watch the updates on CNN and see lots of videos and photos of places that I’m familiar with in the Big Mango. I dearly love the country and the people, but it appears that there are few options remaining that will keep total chaos and anarchy from descending.

Two possibilities that might end the current fighting, at least temporarily, are kind of like good news-bad news or good cop-bad cop scenarios. The positive situation would be that Thailand’s revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, would give some advice about what should be done. He’s considered to be almost like a deity to most Thai people, but his word is not law. Instead, it is above the law, so to speak. He intervenes very rarely in these types of situations, but when he does, everyone listens and takes heed. All he would have to say, in so many words, is “cool it,” and things would probably settle down.

The other possibility, a more likely scenario, perhaps, is a military coup, nothing unusual for Thailand. The last one, a precursor to current events, was in 2006. Including that one, there have been eighteen of them since 1932, when the country became a constitutional monarchy. I don’t think that’s desirable, but maybe it’s what is needed, for now, since cooler heads seem to be in short supply.

Nai and I have several good Thai friends who live in the area where the violence is occurring, so I just pray that they are safe and sound. (Hmmm, knowing those guys, they could be right in the middle of things.) My former supervisor in Morocco, John, is also in Bangkok, working at the U.S. Embassy, which is currently shut down. He told me that he and his wife are scheduled to depart the country on June 1st for a new assignment, which, as of yet, hasn’t been determined. He said that the reassignment couldn’t come too soon. The area of the city in which they live seems to be far enough away from the trouble spots, but if all hell breaks loose . . . ? I’m sure they’re out of harm’s way, but since I haven’t emailed him in a few weeks, I’m going to drop him a line to see how he’s doing.

I have an airplane ticket to Bangkok in the middle of June, and I’m not canceling unless things go completely south. The airport and large parts of the city aren’t caught up in the craziness so far, and my original plans were to just spend one night there and then take the train to Nong Khai in northern Thailand, across the Mekong from Laos; hopefully, I’ll be able to stick to that plan. Until then, I’ll be saying some prayers, burning incense to Buddha and keeping my fingers crossed that the people of Thailand can get out of this crisis without further bloodshed. More later.

At Last–MontanaRon Succeeds

Well, nothing earth-shattering, really. But, I finally achieved my long-time goal of jogging for an hour-and-a-half, non-stop–91 minutes, to be exact. That works out to about 8 3/4 miles, 35 times around the soccer field not far from my dorm apartment. If you compute my average speed, you’ll find I’m not that fast, and the time is nothing compared to marathoners or those guys and gals who run those long endurance competitions of 50 or 100 miles. Still, not bad for an old guy. 🙂

As so often happens when I start my jog, I think about how far or how many minutes I want to go that day and then end up doing more that I had anticipated. This morning, I thought I’d go about 20 laps or perhaps a few more to get in an hour. I got to 20 and felt like doing 5 more. I didn’t feel bad after 25, and that’s when I began to think I could do the 90 minutes. It kinda just happened–nothing previously planned. I felt I could’ve gone another 5 minutes or so, but I gotta have something to shoot for next time. My next long-range goal is to go for 2 hours. Hopefully, I can do that sooner, rather than later.

As I mentioned previously, I canceled my MLB.TV subscription, and I was sent an email that stated that, indeed, my subscription had been canceled. I was still able to access games through a few days ago, so I thought that the end of my month must be around May 4th or 5th, since I subscribed on April 5th. Now, I hadn’t reckoned on the high-flying Yanks meeting the suddenly-hot Red Sox in a 3 game series starting today, so I thought, what the heck–maybe I’ll sign up for another month. But first, I thought I’d try to log on to the game, and, lo and behold, I’m still able to watch it. Right now, it’s the top of the 3rd in a scoreless battle. More later.

Children’s Day and Turtle Ship Festival

Yesterday, Wednesday, was Children’s Day, a national holiday in Korea. (Though I find that there are no real holidays working for the university–we have to make up all classes that are cancelled due to any “holidays.”) It’s kind of like Christmas for the kids, with gifts and time off from school for fun. It’s a day out at the amusement park, the zoo, the movies or just an afternoon playing games with mom and dad.

Celebrated each year in conjunction with the holiday is the Yeosu Turtle Ship Festival a.k.a. Yeosu Jinnam Geobukseon Festival. I’ve posted a few times previously about Admiral Yi Sun-shin and his invention of the turtle ship, and Yeosu has a four-day festival to celebrate his achievements. Usually, there is an International Tall Ship Festival held near this time also, but it was cancelled this year due to the construction of the Expo 2012 grounds at the harbor.

I took a bus to the Ocean Park Walkway (see a previous post about the walkway here) and spent about 3 hours walking around the various exhibits and watching some of the local talent performing on the main stage. Here’s the main area before the talent show began. Later, the place was packed, not half-empty as it appears here.


Here are a few shots of some of the performances; much of the local talent was quite good.




Many of the older folks were wearing traditional Korean clothing that is considered their national dress– the hanbok. I persuaded this gentleman to pose for me. I assume the cap and sunglasses aren’t standard, but I thought he looked pretty cool.


There was an international fireworks festival later that evening, but, having jogged for 80 minutes in the morning (almost a record for me), I was pooped and decided to call it a day around 4 in the afternoon. In addition the forecast had called for rain in the evening (which we got), and I had a couple of early morning classes today, so, early to bed. More later.

Why I’m Slow Posting to the Blog, I Think

Once again, I find myself apologizing for the length of time between posts. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting bored with keeping up with this blog, or perhaps I’m too lazy, or maybe there’s just nothing to post about right now. However, I’ve pinned down one good reason–I’m spending too much time watching the Yankee games on MLB TV. I find myself using my spare time to watch the games to the exclusion of other personal responsibilities, like posting to the blog, cleaning my apartment, eating, sleeping . . .

Ok, it’s not that bad, but I do find myself using valuable time off to watch the games. My weekday schedule gives me several free hours in the middle of the day. My easiest days are Tuesday and Thursday, when I’m free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Monday, Wednesday and Friday slack time is from 2 to 6. Also, I have two early morning classes, from 8 to 10, every day but Friday. Evening classes are from 6 to 8 every day, and I go to bed about 10 every night, since I get up at 4:30 every morning (yeah, I’m quite the early bird) and go into the office around 6:30 or 7 to prepare my lessons for the day. I also spend a bit of time on Saturday mornings preparing for the upcoming week.

So, a lot of my valuable free time is spent watching the Yanks roll over the rest of the league. They’re off to a great start this season and it’s a thrill to watch them. But, since it’s the early part of the season and because I’m using too much time engrossed in the games AND because I can’t really afford the $24.95 a month for accessing the games on MLB TV (yes, I have money issues–but don’t we all?), I’ve canceled my subscription. When the dog days of summer start in August, I’ll probably renew it to catch the pennant race at the end of the season and to watch the team defend their World Series Championship. Until then, I’ll have to be content with posting here about how great this current Yankee dynasty is. 🙂

Therefore, I hope to be posting more content here in the days, weeks and months ahead. More later.

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