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

Category: Korea (page 1 of 2)

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.

Yeosu Expo 2012-A Few More Pre-Rehearsal Photos

Tomorrow, May 5th, is the biggest rehearsal prior to the official opening of the Yeosu Expo 2012 next Saturday. I’ve got my ticket, so I’ll be there, finally being able to take some photos from inside the site (yes, yes, yes, YES!!!). Tickets for this rehearsal cost 3,000 won, about two and a half American dollars, compared to the standard daily pass price of 35,000 won ($31) after the Expo opens. There have been a few smaller-scale rehearsals over the past few weeks, the largest topping out at about 60,000 people. Tomorrow, however, more than 100,000 tickets have been sold, which is about the expected daily total for the duration of the three-month event. I’m really excited about wandering around the site tomorrow, exploring all the nooks and crannies I can find, as well as the main areas, and I’ll post my photos on Sunday. The area is so large, that I’ll be able to take photos all summer and not repeat myself. (A season pass costs 200,000 won, and I might buy one.)

Meanwhile, as I mentioned in my last post, I went on a field trip to the Expo (as well as to beautiful Heunguk temple) last Saturday. There was a rehearsal in progress, and I took a few shots of the area. So, here are a few of what are the probably the last long-range photos of the site that I’ll take. These pretty much show that every thing is in place, except for, perhaps, a few minor landscaping details. First up is the Expo Theme Pavilion.

Expo Theme

Expo Theme Pavilion

This is part of the area around the centerpiece Big O.

Expo 2012 Big O

The area around the Big O

Clockwise from the lower right is the Marine City and Civilization Pavilion, a white tent-like structure which I have no information about, the Theme Pavilion and behind it, the Sky Tower, the Corporate Pavilions area, and the cruise ship dock area.

Expo Overview

Expo View

Finally, an overview of the area (except for the MVL Hotel). If I weren’t so lazy, I’d put up some side-by-side photos of the area from before construction started and up to today, but maybe I’ll do that later.

Expo Overview from Jasan Park

Expo Overview from Jasan Park

Stay tuned for some Big Rehearsal Day photos on Sunday and, later in the week ahead, some photos of lovely Heunguk temple.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Nong Khai

So, if you read my previous posts about Wat Traimit and Bangkok, you probably know that I took the overnight train to Nong Khai, in northeast Thailand, just across the Mekong River from Laos. If I recall, this train used to run, more or less, on time; perhaps it was late, but usually no more than 30 minutes or so. However, the last couple of times I’ve taken it, it’s been 2 HOURS late pulling into Nong Khai. It departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station at 8:30 p.m., but this trip, it didn’t pull into Nong Khai until 10:30 a.m. Hmmm, don’t know why it was so late, but perhaps the railway authorities were being cautious and slowed the train down because of possible damage done to the tracks due to the widespread flooding a few weeks before.

Anyway, I made it to Nong Khai OK and was met at the station by Nai. We checked into the Pantawee Hotel and stayed a few days there. The Pantawee had hung some new, attractive lanterns in the trees at the hotel since I’d last been there. I don’t know if they’ll be permanent decorations or if they were only seasonal, but they added a nice ambience to the property.

Pantawee Hotel Lantersn, Nong Khai, Thailand

Christmas Lanterns at Pantawee Hotel

Detracting from the usual peaceful ambience, however, was street construction going on right in front of the hotel. I usually like to sit at the outdoor patio in the morning to eat breakfast or just have a cup of coffee or two. The extreme noise and dust made it impossible to enjoy a quiet morning outside; sitting inside wasn’t too bad, though, and, occasionally work would halt for a short while, with the temporary silence standing in sharp contrast to the noise.

Nong Khai Street Construction

Street construction in front of the Pantawee Hotel

Another peaceful spot in Nong Khai is the promenade along the Mekong River. It’s quite pleasant to take a stroll, to sit in the shade of one of the gazebos, or to eat in one of the many restaurants. We usually have lunch and/or supper along here. Below are a few food photos of tom yam (tohm yahm), a spicy and sour soup, with fish, and fried rice with chicken. Nai and I shared the tom yam, and I had the fried rice. Both were delicious and cheap.

Tom Yam Thai Soup

Tom yam with fish

Thai Fried Rice with Chicken

Thai fried rice with chicken

You could also take a short excursion on the Mekong. Below are a couple of photos of boating leisure. The first was taken in Nong Khai and the second was taken last summer in Yeosu, looking down from the Dolsan Bridge. Which one would you prefer? I like both of them.

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Probably the biggest highlight of the whole vacation was the chance to attend a live concert of Isaan music. Nai and I did just that on the evening of December 23rd. We enjoyed a 3 to 3 1/2 hour concert featuring traditional and modern Isaan music. Isaan is a region of northeast Thailand that features various aspects of Lao and Thai culture, including language, music and cuisine. I didn’t take any photos, but I did take about 50 minutes of video with my point-and-shoot camera. (I didn’t take the big DSLR with me on this trip.) The area in front of the stage was too crowded to get close, and I was handholding the camera in low light, so the videos aren’t all that great. But, I’m going to try to piece together the best bits into one video and get it posted here eventually. So, tune in for that and for a few photos of my visit to Laos. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Incheon Airport

The weather here in Yeosu has been great lately, with abundant sunshine and temperatures around 6 or 8 C (mid-forties fahrenheit); however, the big factor is that the wind hasn’t been howling, like it usually does this time of year. I even managed to get a few jogging sessions in this past weekend. If it would stay this way the rest of the winter, I’d be quite content. It ain’t gonna happen, I’m sure.

No winter in Thailand and Laos, though. This is the best time of year to visit that area of the world, with temperatures in the 80s (30 C), low humidity and clear skies. It was wonderful when I went there in December and early this month, and it was tough coming back to what I expected to be cold, windy Yeosu. (Like I wrote, though, it’s not that bad right now).

I flew out of Incheon about 1 p.m. on December 19th, after taking the 11 p.m. bus from Yeosu on the 18th and then hanging out at the airport from 4:30 a.m. until the flight departed. Incheon Airport, Korea’s award-winning facility, isn’t all that bad to kill time in–lots of restaurants, internet access and other niceties in this state-of-the-art site.

At the main foyer on the first floor, there is usually some kind of Korean cultural theme or event. Featured this season was a traditional Korean winter scene. At 4:30 in the morning, there are hardly any other people around, and I usually head into McDonald’s for a large coffee. The fast-food joint is situated on one side of the foyer, so this was a very tranquil area at that time of day, especially with the winter scene just outside the boundary of the restaurant. So, here are a few photos of the setup.

Very nice, and, like most other things at the airport, a first-class effort.

I’ll get some more photos of the trip posted when I can, but don’t expect something every day–I have one more week of long work days to go before the schedule settles down. Stay tuned.

Seoul Photos

Here are a few shots from my recent trip to Seoul. I only had my pocket camera, not the DSLR, so the quality isn’t the best, plus for some reason, my memory card got corrupted and I lost many of the better ones. All of these were taken in the Gwanghwamun area, near the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. This is the cultural heart of Seoul, a very high rent district, which has many theaters, concert halls and other venues. I was a bit pressed for time when I went the week before last, but I hope to get back up there in December and spend more time walking around the area.

I went to Seoul to get some more pages added to my passport. Here’s where I had to go–the U.S. Embassy. The last time I was up here, in 2005, believe it or not, the building was ringed with Korean riot police, acting as security, but nowadays you only see a few yellow-garbed security police.

I was standing in a central plaza of sorts when I took the embassy photo. In the plaza are a couple of large statues, one of King Sejong the Great and one of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who used Yeosu as his headquarters in his battles with the Japanese. Unfortunately, the photos I took of the King Sejong statue were some of those that were lost on my memory card, but here’s one of Admiral Yi. You can see way off in the background the golden-colored Sejong statue.

Walking down the road a bit, you can see this odd Christmas-tree like structure, which marks an open space for street performances.

On this particular day, there was an exhibition of wheel chair skills, including basketball shooting and ballroom dancing, as this photo shows.

Just down from the performance space is a very lovely walking area below street level alongside a stream. It’s a great place for an afternoon stroll, and this day it was filled with office workers on lunch break, families and tourists.

Of course, the area is filled with upscale bars and restaurants. Here’s one that I thought was interesting, JS Texas Bar, complete with Elvis statue. It also had a classic Marilyn Monroe on the other side of Elvis, the iconic shot of her billowing skirt from the movie “The Seven Year Itch.” Unfortunately, it was one of the photos that the memory card ate.

Like I said, I hope to go back to Seoul in December and get some more photos. This time I’ll take the DSLR with me and a new memory card. 🙂

P.S. I took a walk down to the Expo site this past Saturday and got quite a few shots of the construction progress in that area. Things are moving along quite nicely, it appears, and I’ll try to get those photos posted sometime this week.

Vision English Class Photo

Oops, almost forgot to put up this photo I took last night of one of my Vision English classes.

VE students–click on the photo a couple of times to get a large version, then right click and save image. I hope all of you have a GREAT summer vacation and I hope I see you next semester.

Korean Seafood Soup

One of the highlights of our annual Vision English class field trip is the awesome lunch that we’ve always had. This year was no different, and, as a matter of fact, we ate at the same restaurant that we patronized last year. Again, we had a marvelous seafood soup–haemul tang (haymool tahng). It’s more like a stew, however, with all the seafood basking in a thicker liquid than you’d find in a soup.

As with any Korean meal, there is a large selection of side dishes, of which everyone partakes and if you run out, just ask for more at usually no extra charge.

Here’s the stew, chock full of clams, shrimp, crab and veggies, cooking at the table. Dig in!

Here’s my first bowl of this delicious bounty from the sea. I hate to admit that I pigged out and had four, ummmm, maybe five?, bowls. Well, SOMEBODY had to finish it off. (One of the other teachers helped me out, downing about the same amount. It’s hard to stop once you get started, eh Cathy?)

In just a couple of days, I’ll be chowing down on Thai food. More later.

Another Yellow Dust Photo

I had about an hour until my next class, so I walked to a vantage point and took a photo of one of the downtown areas of Yeosu. Contrast it with the same view I took yesterday afternoon. Of course, the angle of the sunlight emphasizes the dust in this photo, but it’s still pretty bad.

Also, to give some perspective to the roundabout photo I posted yesterday, here’s a shot from a further distance.

OK, that’s probably it for the dust photos, unless it gets a whole lot worse. Hopefully, it’ll start to clear up as the day goes along.

Out of the Cave

We’ve been experiencing some glorious spring-like weather lately, so I decided to step out of my cave a few days ago and head on down to the Expo 2012 site to see what kind of progress is being made in preparation for next summer’s big event. The day started out overcast, but ended in some nice sunshine, so the earlier photos I took that day are a bit drab.

First, here’s a look at what the site is supposed to look like when it’s finished. As always, click on the images to get a larger version, especially this one in order to be able to read the map legend.

So, let’s start walking down the hill toward the site, near Odong Island. The first photo looks down on the site from just below the bizarre “whale” church. You remember the whale church, don’t you? Here’s a shot of it I took last year, in case you forgot what it looks like.

Here’s a photo of the area showing where we’re at in relation to the site.

We’re way up in the left corner, near the white structure with the thumb-like appendage sticking up. So, what does the site look like from there?

You can see Odong Island in the background with all the construction cranes working on the site. I counted a total of 18 cranes in operation, so work is proceeding apace, although only a few buildings are going up right now. The new hotel is at the far right and the green construction area just to the hotel’s left must be the aquarium, according to the map. If you enlarged the map, were standing a ways above number 9. So, let’s walk down to the site and go out to the island, just for the heck of it. We’ll climb up Jasan Park later and get some better shots of the site.

A new extension onto the jetty, with lighthouse, has been constructed, but it’s still being worked on and not yet open to the public. Here’s a couple of shots of it.

The airplane propellers at the top of the poles are wind-driven generators that provide electricity for the lighting. Here’s a closer view of the lighthouse.

Okay, let’s walk back and climb the steps to Jasan Park. On the way, from the causeway, we can see the new hotel going up (number 19 on the map).

Halfway up the steps, we get a better view of the site.

Now at the top of Jasan, here’s another view. Compare it to one taken last year, which follows the first one below.

There are a few noticeable differences–the new road snaking its way farther toward the site, a new building in the foreground, and other spot-the-difference details.

Well, now, as long as we’re here, let’s hike over to the other side of the park and see if the new bridge has been completed. Here’s a map of the park, by the way.

The previous two photos were taken from the path above number 12 on the map, the statue of the legendary Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin.

Let’s continue along the path . . . whoa, what the heck’s that?

Ahhh, it’s one of the several monuments to Korean and international military veterans of the Korean War. This particular one, seen in silhouette against the sun, is number 5 on the map.

Alright, here’s a somewhat clear shot of the new bridge from Dolsan Island to the mainland. Hurray, it’s finished and the engineers got the two extensions to meet up in the middle! 🙂 It’s not open yet, since there’s no sign of a road going anywhere on this side.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our little walk. I’ll continue to post more photos of the ongoing construction of the Expo 2012 site, so stayed tuned for more later.

One more shot, though, to show the potential of HDR photos, about which I posted here. You can get some pretty surreal effects from HDR photography, but the photo below shows a more normal use. It’s of the hotel taken from inside the pagoda, number 13 on the Jasan Park map. If I had exposed optimally for the interior details, the background highlights would have been “blown out (overexposed);” if I had exposed for the highlights, the interior details wouldn’t have been visible (underexposed). My camera’s dynamic range could not take in both the shadow details and the background sky details in the same shot, though my eyes could easily see both. HDR (high dynamic range) to the rescue.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

This is the final week of the Kids’ Camp for this session. No more kids until Summer Camp. Yippee! Ok, let me say that I don’t hate kids. They’re usually cute and adorable. But, put 15 of them, between the ages of 8 and 11, in a classroom and chaos ensues. They know that a foreign teacher is going to go easy on them, as far as discipline goes (by nature, I’m certainly NOT a disciplinarian), so they’ll get away with whatever they can. A couple of the boys were fighting as I walked into one of the classes last week, so I got between them and hauled them both down to the main office. It’s best to let the Korean admin people take care of something like that. They’ve been very well behaved since then. Here’s a few shots from a couple of my three classes.

The first one is from the youngest class. Wow, look how diligently they’re working. What could possibly hold their attention like that?

Let’s look at their work, shall we?

Ahh, budding Picassos. They’re supposed to be working on English activities, but I give them some free time near the end of class. It keeps them busy and out of trouble.

Here’s a girl from one of the other classes showing off the latest gizmo, which doubles as a ball point pen.

Hey, what are the boys up to? Looking up words in their electronic English dictionaries? Hahahahahah. Very funny. They’re playing games on their cell phones with the five or so minutes of free time I gave them.

We actually do get some English work done, believe it or not, and they’re pretty cool kids for the most part. Anyway, Friday is the final day of fun and games. I just hope that light ain’t a train. More later. (If I survive.)

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