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Leaving, Arriving

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s also quite a hassle. Packing for a three-week vacation is troublesome. Should I bring my swimming pants that are three sizes too small? How about my sunglasses? I’ve never worn them before, but maybe it’ll be really, really bright this time and my retinas might get burned out. There’s this outside chance that I might get asked to do a bit of juggling, so I’d better bring those yellow tennis balls that I “found” at the court. Right? So many non life-threatening decisions to make.

Moving permanently is a different beast altogether. In a way, it’s easier. After you’ve packed everything, you just look around your abysmally small apartment to see if anything you’ve accumulated over the past five years, including dust, food droppings, sticky notes with meaningless phone numbers written on them and your passport are still lying in hidden corners of your room. If they are, pick them up and either toss them in the garbage or keep them. There should be nothing remaining. Everything important should be in your 1995 vintage Kelty backpack or your hand-me-down suitcase, given to you by Rob, a Scottish colleague who returned home six months ago.

But, before packing, I have to decide “Do I keep it or haul it out to the trash bin?” That old, moldy coffee maker has to go of course, as do all the condiments in the ‘fridge, including the five year old jar of what used to be pickles. Incense? Gone. All that old scratch paper? Gone. Garish polyester shirts that I bought in the Dominican Republic? Hmmm, they sure pack nice (wrinkle-free) and they kind of make a statement and I sure like the day-glo colors. Keep ’em.

It was problematic, but I finally packed everything that I thought I needed to have for a permanent change of location and life. I finished all the obligations to the university, like paying my final utility bill and cleaning my apartment, and I left. For good. Never to return to South Korea, I waved it a more or less fond farewell. I hopped on the overnight bus from Yeosu to Incheon Airport with no regrets, no tears of farewell and no looking back.

The bus departs Yeosu at 11:10 pm and arrives at the airport at 4 am. Usually, I can intermittently doze off, but I never arrive at Incheon refreshed. As a matter of fact, I always need a transfusion of caffeine. You really have to experience the vast emptiness of Incheon Airport at 4 in the morning. It’s like the Sahara of Korea. Dry. Unoccupied. Trackless. Except for KFC and McDonalds restaurants. They’re open at that ungodly hour. I don’t care for fried chicken for breakfast, so I always order a McDonalds Big Breakfast. I hate McDonalds. Really, I can’t stand it. I live for Burger King, but the BK at Incheon doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. So, the Mac breakfast has to tide me over. Especially the Huge Cup of coffee. I embrace it.

So it was, then, that I checked in at China Eastern Airline, and left Korea for Bangkok, with a brief stop at Shanghai. Four thirty in the morning is dark, of course, but the sun eventually rose on a smoggy, hazy, foggy, misty morning. What was it? Smog, haze, fog, mist. Seoul, and nearby Incheon, had been experiencing a lot of smog and dust blown over, I suspect, from China. The morning was not illuminating. Here’s a shot of the airport.

Incheon Airport smog

It’s a hazy, misty, smoggy morning at Incheon International Airport.

The plane ride to Shanghai, the only stop, was uneventful, but the view from Pudong airport wasn’t any different from Incheon. Indeed, smog seems to be taking over all of east Asia. The atmosphere seemed to be a mix of fog, mist and smog, but the rising Sun couldn’t dissipate the smog.

Smoggy Pudong Airport in Shanghai

It’s quite smoggy at Pudong Airport in Shanghai around 10 a.m. local time.

I had about a two hour layover at Pudong Airport, so, as I always do in an airport that I’ve never been to before, I walked around the concourse. It’s a stunning-looking area, but the main concourse goes on forever. I would guess the straight-line walk from end to end is at least a kilometer long and maybe closer to two. Lining almost the entire length are duty free shops, where you can buy Chinese-themed items. Stuffed panda bears? Check. Chinese tassels? Check. Chinese tea? Check. Restaurants? Not many. I didn’t go into any of the restaurants or coffee shops, mainly because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have any Chinese yuan on me. The businesses will exchange dollars, but the exchange rate is cruel.

Pudong Airport Concourse

The main, very long concourse at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Walking up and down this duty-free lined passage will give you plenty of exercise.

Stuffed panda bears

Cute cuddly pandas on sale in the Panda Store at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.

Stuffed panda bears

More pandas at the panda “hangout” in Pudong Airport, Shanghai.

Chinese tassels

Chinese tassels, thousands of them, can be found at the duty free shops at Pudong.

Chinese tea

Chinese tea for sale at the duty free shops. All kinds, all tastes.

From Shanghai, it was a four-and-a-half hour flight to Bangkok. China Eastern definitely isn’t the greatest airline in the world. No in-flight movie that I could hear or understand even if I could hear it, and no great food, but the service wasn’t bad, and I had a window seat, which I always enjoy in the daytime. And the flight was on time–extra points for that.

When I stepped out of the climate-controlled, stale, dry air of the plane cabin, I knew that I was in Bangkok when the heat and humidity enclosed me in a suffocating cocoon, but I loved it after the winter temperatures of South Korea. Welcome to Thailand! More on Bangkok later.

Farewell to Yeosu

I’m leaving Yeosu and Korea. I’ve sent out dozens of applications for jobs around the country, but it seems that Korea is so insanely paranoid about hiring older teachers that I’ve received only a couple of interview offers out of the nearly 100 applications I’ve sent, and more than one promise of a contract or interview has been broken; so much for obligations on the part of certain Korean educators. If you ever come here to teach, don’t depend on the Koreans to fulfill their obligations or promises. Even though you think their words are written in stone, everything can and just might fall apart.

I had an interview from a school in Vietnam last night, and the interviewer told me, upon hearing  my gripe about the ageist Korean system, that there was no such limit in Vietnam and that older teachers were well respected there. Some countries, it seems, have more common sense than Korea. (And, by the way, I think I did pretty well on the interview, so I hope to have some posts from Vietnam in the next few months.) So be it; I’m leaving, and good riddance to me, I suppose, and to Korea from my life.

Despite the age problem, it’s been an interesting experience here in Yeosu (the city, not the university), so here is my farewell to this beautiful location on the south coast of the Republic of Korea.

Farewell to Yeosu

Yeosu, it’s time to say goodbye. I’ll be leaving you tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed my five-year sojourn in your beautiful and, by Korean standards, pocket-sized nook nestled between the mountains and the ocean, but I’ve got to move on.

I won’t forget the food, especially the raw-fish restaurants, pricey, but delicious, and the cozy little mom-and-pop diners specializing in crab, eel, squid and octopus dishes. The aroma of beef and pork grilled over glowing charcoal in small, crowded barbecue joints will linger with me wherever I go, and the spicy heat of your renowned Dolsan gat kimchi, green mustard-plant leaves smothered in deep red chili pepper sauce, will always bring sharp memories.

Korean Seafood Stew–Photo by Ron Anderson

 

I’ll miss the warm, friendly people, the ajummas and ajossies, those weather-worn old ladies and men, backs permanently hunched from doing years of stoop labor in the fields. Their occasionally dour and taciturn faces, etched by sun and wind with crevasses and fissures, are nearly always ready to return a friendly smile or a hello with one of their own. Ahn-young-hahshim-nika, “Hello,” I say, and their return smiles imply that they are surprised, but delighted, that I speak their language, even though they don’t know that that is about all I can say even after five years here.

I’ll always remember the fascinating architecture, especially the structures that house your churches. Unforgettable is the one that has an exterior shaped as a bishop’s miter and another that resembles the prow of a boat. Most remarkable, though, is one of the oddest sights in Yeosu, or in all of Korea, for that matter, the “White Whale” church, a testament to the Biblical Jonah and to the local fishing culture. It’s Moby Dick, land-locked and immortalized in concrete and plaster.

The White Whale Church-Photo by Ron Anderson

Then there was the Expo, that glorious World Exposition of 2012. Though it was only a Minor World Expo, unlike the Major Expo of Shanghai in 2010, I’ll never forget it. The excitement that accompanied it woke up your sleepy summer harbor and brought you great pride. Exotic wayfarers embraced you. Middle-Easterners in indigo and maroon turbans, Africans in yellow, green and red dress, and Latin Americans with brilliant white smiles thrilled and delighted you.

Gone for more than a year and a half are the hordes of visitors, the busy pavilions of the exhibiting countries, and the fantastic displays of light, all of it now mere scattered fragments of memory, whisps of a dream. The acres of the grounds stand empty except for small, forlorn clusters of leaves of the past autumn and black plastic bags dancing in the dark corners to the music of the winter winds whistling through the rafters.

Yeosu Expo 2012-Photo by Ron Anderson

Yes, Yeosu, I’ll miss your aromas, tastes, sights and sounds. I won’t forget your friendly, welcoming inhabitants. I’ll cherish the memories wherever I go. Farewell, Yeosu. Ahnyounghi-kahsay-yo. Goodbye.

That’s my paean to Yeosu. I leave tomorrow for Bangkok, Vientiane, Haiphong, ???. Who knows? The future lies before me. Whatever it holds, I’m gonna post it here. Stay tuned, because I have a lot more coming later.

Snow in Yeosu

Yeosu rarely gets any snow. It snows about once a season, and it hadn’t snowed yet this winter until this morning. I woke up at my usual early hour, 5:30, looked out my bedroom window and saw quite a few large flakes coming down. Because it was still dark, I couldn’t see how deep it was until I went to work, when I had to slog through about two inches of soft, wet snow. One of my colleagues, who has been here about as long as I, said that she thought this was the most snow we’ve received in at least five years, and I agreed.

I don’t really care for the stuff, after living through 40 years’ worth of Montana winters, but this snowfall, our first and probably only one this winter, was kind of entertaining. I saw a few people slipping and sliding on the sidewalks and a few cars weren’t being very careful on the somewhat icy road. I almost went down a few times myself.

So, here are a few snapshots I took while I walked to work. At first sight, I thought the fellow in one of the photos below was using a snow shovel to clear the road, but another teacher told me later that he was using a sign! Other people were using brooms. Like I said, we’re not used to snow.

Motorbikes in snow

Right outside the front door of the dormitory, two lonely motorbikes.

Benches in snow

Nobody’s gonna be sitting here for a while.

Footprints in the snow

Looks like I’m not the first one to go up the steps this morning.

Steps covered in snow

Careful walking up the steps or you might find yourself going back down

Shoveling snow

This guy’s using a sign to shovel the snow. Are there any snow shovels in Yeosu?

Tire tracks in the snow

A few cars have been by already.

Camellias in the snow

The camellias probably aren’t enjoying this.

Lunar New Year, Numbers

Lunar New Year

It’s going to be a short work week here due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, the big Chinese holiday that is also celebrated in Korea, Viet Nam and a few other Asian countries. The three-day holiday is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year, so it’s a mini-vacation of four days, though my classes are from nine to noon everyday; that gives me an extra half day off on Wednesday. The weather forecast is predicting quite a nice week, with temperatures mostly in the fifties and approaching sixty degrees on Saturday. Time to get out and do some walking around.

Numbers

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy sending out job applications to various institutions here in South Korea and in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. So far, no luck. My age is the biggest barrier to getting a position. Many countries, apparently, have visa laws that restrict foreigners over a certain age from working in those countries.  Korea has no such law. In Korea, the number four is considered bad luck, but 65 must be even worse. It’s as if the hiring committees see that number and their minds become extremely boggled. They can’t get beyond the number to look at my credentials and experience. That number is the only thing that matters.

Early on in the process, I was offered a face-to-face interview by one university (which shall remain nameless). I went to the interview, did good on it and was offered a contract, which I accepted. I was thoroughly relieved to get a job that easily. The night before the contracts were to be mailed out for signatures, I received an email from the university stating that they were withdrawing the contract offer. It seems that the administration staff had just noticed that my age exceeded their maximum age for hiring new teachers. They’d had my documents for two or three weeks and they just noticed my age? Unbelievable! They must have needed to find an elementary school student to do the math for them.

I had another offer a few weeks ago to do an interview via Skype. I wrote back to the university and gave them my preferred times to do the interview. I never received a confirmation email, so I wrote them an email asking for confirmation. They didn’t respond. I sent another email and they finally wrote back telling me that their “personnel committee” didn’t think that I should get an interview, so they cancelled me. Hmmm, I wonder why they didn’t want me to do the interview. Couldn’t be age related, could it?

So, it’s been thoroughly frustrating trying to find another position, so far. But, all I can do is keep sending out the applications and hope that somewhere a university or academy is interested in quality, rather than in a single number. But, that’s the reality in Korea. If you’re young and handsome, you’ve got a job, even though you have absolutely no experience in teaching English and no degree related to the field. If you hit that “magic” age, though, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are. They usually don’t even get looked at. I’ve talked to foreign teachers who have worked in the hiring process. They told me that the Korean managers first look at the photos and the age, toss out the ones they don’t like and then, and only then, do they look at credentials. So, in many cases, if you’re not young, white and good-looking, you’re probably out of luck.

At times I feel that I’m beating my head against a brick wall and I get discouraged, which I shouldn’t do. I’ll keep cranking out the applications, though, and hope for the best.

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, again.

Happy New Year!

Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and prosperous 2014. It’s only 11 hours until midnight in Korea, so we get to start celebrating a bit earlier than most of the rest of the world. Me, old fuddy-duddy that I am (NOT), I’ll get to bed early. New Year’s Eve just doesn’t excite me like it used to. I suppose the bars in Yeosu will be packed with celebrants, and the police will be out in force. In Korea, unlike in the U.S., it’s legal for police to set up checkpoints and randomly pull drivers over without due cause to give them a breath-a-lyzer test. My guess is that it cuts down on drunk driving, but I don’t have any official stats to back that assumption up. In about 30 minutes I’m going to take a walk to E-mart, a national Walmart-like super store, a couple miles from the uni. I’ll keep an eye out for any checkpoints and take some photos if I can.

Again, Happy New Year to all!

Fighter Jets

I was jogging on the university soccer field yesterday around noon when a couple of fighter jets came shrieking by at a relatively low altitude right overhead. There are no military air bases near Yeosu, so I don’t know where they’re stationed; it’s a small enough country that they could have been from anywhere. We don’t see too many of these guys buzzing us, but when they do come around I always wonder–is this the big one? Have the neighbors up north finally decided to go nuts? So, after they zoomed by, I listened for civil defense sirens. Nothing, naturally. I probably would have heard explosions going off in the petro-chemical industrial park just over the mountains from the university. No, I’m not that paranoid. Most of us expats and most South Koreans don’t take the North’s blustering very seriously. Just occasionally, though, my imagination takes off.

Final Day of Finals Weeks

At last, today marks the end of the semester, the end of assessments, the end of all the paperwork involved that’s been required for the past couple of weeks. I have one more class at 2 o’clock (just 30 minutes from now), a short class in which I’ll show the students their final scores for the class and have them sign off that everything is correct. Then, it’s the start of a three-week vacation for the English teachers!

I’m not going anywhere; just gonna hang out in Yeosu, try to stay warm (i.e., stay in my apartment). It wouldn’t be so bad, but the wind seems to always be a bit more than a stiff breeze. We had a few lonely flakes of snow earlier today, but a friend in Seoul reported that they had 8 inches up there overnight. Better them than us.

I don’t usually take many photos this time of year, so maybe I’ll go back and sift through some that I took earlier this summer and spring and maybe post them here. Stay tuned.

Autumn in Yeosu

Autumn in Yeosu is, in my opinion, not as outstanding as in some other areas of South Korea, such as Mt. Seorak or Jiri Mountain. In no way is it anywhere near as spectacular as in the northeastern part of the United States, with its glorious maples, or in the western part of the nation, with aspen groves golden against the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies. Still, there are some very nice areas, especially around the university campus.

The season is almost over now, but there are a few groves of resistance to the inevitable. Like dowagers in tattered gowns, a few trees still stand out against the greenery of the pines, gradually shedding their rust-colored leaves, hurried along by the brisk breezes that we seem to get everyday. But, the glory days have fled in advance of the approaching winter, my least favorite season.

So, in memory of the fine autumn days that we had, here are a few snippets for your enjoyment. More later.

Here are several from around campus.

Students enjoying a walk

Students enjoying a walk

Looking toward Horang Mountain

Looking Toward Horang Mountain

Campus Autumn 2

Campus Autumn 2

Campus Autumn 3

Campus Autumn 3

Campus fall 1

Campus Autumn 1

Campus Autumn 4

Campus Autumn 4

And a few from Odongdo (Odong Island) and Jasan Park, near the Expo site.

Bamboo Grove on Odongdo

Bamboo Grove on Odongdo

Odongdo from near Jasan Park

Odongdo from near Jasan Park

Flowers in Jasan Park

Flowers in Jasan Park

Admiral Yi Sun-shin monument at Jasan Park

Admiral Yi Sun-shin Monument at Jasan Park

Enjoying the Autumn Colors at Jasan Park

Enjoying the Autumn Colors at Jasan Park

Autumn at Jasan Park

Autumn at Jasan Park

Autumn at Jasan Park

Anti-aircraft Replica at UN Memorial at Jasan Park

A Hike Above the Expo

I’d been wanting to hike up the mountain just behind the Expo for quite some time, so a few weekends ago I finally decided to give it a go. Maraesan (Marae mountain) stands at 385 meters high (1263 feet), but it isn’t that steep of a hike to the top, as I was to find out. First, though, I had to find a trail. Just about every hill and mountain around here has numerous paths going to the top, so it wasn’t too difficult to find one to Marae. I assumed I could stumble across one if I went behind the traditional Korean hotel just up the hill from the Expo. Sure enough, I found one, so up I went. Here’s a shot of the mountain, and the traditional hotel, which was under construction when I took this photo, is almost smack dab in the middle of the scene, just up and to the left of the Big O. (Click on the photo a couple of times to enlarge it.)

Expo Overview from Jasan Park

Expo Overview from Jasan Park

Here’s the present-day hotel from a short way up the trail.

Traditional Korean hotel

Traditional Korean Hotel

The trail forked into three just a short way from the start, and the first two I tried seemed to be dead ends just a short way along, so I finally opted for the third one, which took off to the right, the direction I needed to go. Not too far along, it started to dwindle and it eventually came out into a large field of quite old burial mounds and wandered into smaller ones. Eventually, it petered out altogether, but I decided to bushwhack towards the bulk of the mountain; I assumed I would eventually stumble onto another trail. Well, after hacking my way through copious amounts of thick spider webs and bleeding slightly from a razor-like thorn bush, I began to think that this wasn’t such a hot idea.

Tomb_MG_7652

Here’s a close-up of one of the tomb guardians. There was no one else around and all was silent. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit, I could imagine being in the Barrow Downs, hoping not to awaken any tomb wights.

Guardian_7653

I could almost see the top of the small hill that I was on, so I thrashed my way up, thinking that I could probably spot a better route at the top. I broke through the brush and, surprise, came out to a broad, well-used trail! It must have been one of the supposed dead ends that I didn’t use. (On the way back, I found out that it was.)

The rest of the hike to the top of Marae was pretty ho-hum with but a few steep stretches, but with plenty of clearings to catch the increasingly beautiful views of Yeosu and the harbor. Here are several more photos I took as I made my way higher.

Harbor_7651

ExpoHike_7666

Expo 2012 site from Mt. Marae

Expo Overview

Yeosu from Mt. Marae

Yeosu

Yeosu from Mt. Marae

Yeosu

Yeosu Harbor

Yeosu Harbor

Expo site from Mt. Marae

Expo from Mt. Marae

Yeosu Harbor

Yeosu Harbor

Expo Overview

Expo overview

Once you reach the ridgeline, awesome views of Manseongni Beach, north of the Expo site, open up.

Manseongni Beach

Manseongni Beach

So, it was a nice hike on a beautiful fall day. If you’re ever in Yeosu, give Mt. Marae a shot.

New at the Expo

Slowly, but surely, new recreation venues are being added to the Expo grounds. I was out there during the Chuseok holiday during the day and again a few Saturdays ago. As I’ve mentioned before, the Big O show goes off nightly, and I was surprised at the long line of people who had bought tickets to watch it and were waiting to enter the amphitheater. On that evening, at least, there were some large crowds taking advantage of the site.

In addition to a few outdoor food vendors who’ve set up shop on the long Ocean Plaza walkway, there are a few indoor restaurants that have opened at the Expo Digital Gallery. There’s a mini-mart, a small Japanese noodle shop, a coffee shop, and two Korean food restaurants. You can also get international fare at the food court in the aquarium. For some reason it was closed the night we were there, so it may have some odd operating hours.

Other new additions include a small pirate-themed children’s play area and a rather tacky (in my opinion) putting green. I think a decent mini-golf course would be a much nicer addition, if the powers-that-be are thinking of adding more areas of that type.

Pirate playground

Pirate Playground

Putting Green

Putting Green

There’s also a small area near the Big O where you can rent a kayak, and, in that same area, you can ride a zip line, as evidenced by the poster below. It wasn’t operating the first day I noticed the poster, but a few weeks later it was being used quite a bit. It’s only about a very slow 25-30 second ride from one side of the small lagoon to the other, near the aquarium. It didn’t look all that exciting, but I would guess people are paying a hefty price to ride it. I’ll have to try to find out what the going rate is; anything more than $5 would, in my opinion, be a ripoff.

Zip line poster

Zip Line Poster

Kayaking center

Kayaking Center

Zip lining at the Expo

Zip lining Above the Kayakers

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking Near Big-O

I wouldn’t recommend this (being a former Montana outdoor guy), but, in another new addition, you can set up “camp” near the MVL Hotel. This is “camping” Korean style–densely packed tents set up in a gravel parking lot. No trees, but I guess you’re right on the ocean, if that’s any advantage. This is more like apartment living, except there’s no one above you. In this highly urbanized country, this is about as close to the “great outdoors” as many Koreans will get. I think I’ll pass on this one.

Camping at the Expo

Camping at the Expo

Although the area is, usually, attracting large numbers of people, the crowd is nowhere near what it was for the Expo. Because of that, it’s easy to get some photos that would have been difficult to get last summer. Here are a couple of the Theme Pavilion, sans people.

Theme pavilion entrance

Theme Pavilion Entrance

I can’t make up my mind which of these two I like better.

Theme pavilion detail

Theme Pavilion Detail

Theme Pavilion detail

Theme Pavilion Detail 2

Here’s another area that was empty on this particular day, which was one of the Chuseok celebration days.

Quiet Expo

A Quiet Expo

Empty roads, too, on that day.

Empty Expo road

Empty Expo Road

There are still a couple of boats docked near the MVL Hotel. During the Expo, tours were held on both of them. One of the boats is just a regular large ship (I guess), while the other is a Maritime Police boat. I haven’t noticed any tours going on at either of them, but perhaps my timing has been bad. Here’s a close-up of the anchor on the regular boat, and the second is of the Maritime Police boat.

Anchor on Expo tour boat

Anchor on Expo Tour Boat

Maritime Police boat

Maritime Police Boat

The Big-O is starting to show some signs of wear at its base, but it’s still standing tall.

Base of the Big-O

Base of the Big-O

The Big-O

The Big-O

There have also been several concerts held at the site, so I’m very happy to see that this marvelous (for Yeosu) area is getting used (except for the putting green and the camp area). I’ll keep checking it out every so often and keep you posted about anything new and exciting or new and not-so-exciting.

Also, a fitting end to the day, from my dorm apartment. More later.

Sunset in Yeosu

Sunset in Yeosu

P.S. – Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that my apartment didn’t get “flooded” from the typhoon. I don’t think the wind was blowing from the wrong direction, the rain wasn’t as heavy as forecast, and the storm raced through the area, its peak lasting only a few hours. Lucky me!