Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Laptop and Damyang Bamboo Festival

This past weekend I got a new laptop. It's a Samsung Ative Book 2 and generally I'm happy with it. Windows 8 is taking some time to get used to, and it mainly frustrates me that I can't use the "esc" button to minimize screens. Or maybe I can but I need to enable that or something.

 Jaeyun came to visit me and was extremely helpful with laptop shopping. What's more, he seemed to genuinely enjoy it himself. Guys are weird. This is the first time I've ever had to go laptop shopping myself (my last laptop was a gracious gift from my brother), and I sincerely hope I don't have to do it again for several years. On the fun scale of things to shop for, such as books, music, clothes, pets, even food, electronics definitely falls dead last for me. Furniture shopping is also super monotonous to me. A chair is a chair is a chair. Same with a sofa. A mattress deserves a bit more thought and personal preference, but that's about the only thing I can think of. I just don't place value in things like that at all. All of my current furniture here is second hand. My computer chair I use at home here actually came from the trash dump. One day I went downstairs to throw away trash and there was this computer chair. It's broken in that it doesn't go up or down, but it's magically the perfect height for me. So I took it. My current mattress here I got off the Gwangju flea market site. This Korean couple posted that they had a used mattress they were giving away for free, so I enlisted Jesse (right after we broke up when we were still talking a bit) into helping me go over there and carry it. Anywho.

At one point in the laptop shopping process once we had narrowed down the choices to a few laptops, we went to a PC Bang to do some laptop research. Bang means room, so a PC Bang is a PC Room, also called an internet cafe, though not in the sense we would think of it back in the states. I had never been to a PC Room before, but they are ubiquitous in Korea, and like a Norebang, something I knew I had to experience at one point before leaving Korea. So we went to a PC Room.

We went to two PC Rooms, but the first was absolutely jam packed and they didn't have two available computers together, so we went to a different one. It was in the basement of a prominent building in my neighborhood. Basically it was absolutely full of male teenagers playing computer games. The computers were all very high tech and large and very, very fast. The chairs were all ergonomic comfortable computer chairs. I just couldn't believe there were rows and rows and rows of guys all playing computer games like World of Warcraft or Starcraft or games like that. I mean, this was a beautiful Saturday afternoon! And they were all sitting in this basement (it was a nice basement though). Now I will say that all middle and high school Korean students are preparing for their final exams for the first semester of the school year. Most of their finals will be next week. Most students start preparing and studying for their finals about a month in advance, and it's a rare students in my classes now who, when I ask what they did for the weekend, don't sigh dejectedly and say "I studied at home for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday each". So I actually was happy to see these students getting some free time during the weekend and de-stressing.

We stayed at the PC Bang for about 30 minutes looking at laptop reviews. In order to use a computer, we got these cards with a code on them. We typed the code into the computer and were able to use the computer. Afterwards, we turned our cards in and only had to pay about $1 each.

Sunday evening my friend Ana invited me to go to the Damyang Bamboo Festival with her. Damyang is about an hour away by city bus. It's basically a rural suburb of Gwangju. It's famous because of a bamboo forest that is there. I'd been to the forest before but never to the annual festival. We met around 6pm, and walked around the festival some. Ana introduced me to an elderly Korean woman she knew who made beeswax candles in handmade bamboo candle holders. She was very sweet and spoke English well, because she was married to a German man. She gave us each a bamboo candle for free. At 7pm the vice principal of Ana's school was playing the bamboo pipe in a traditional Korean musical group, so we sat at the stage area and listened to them. They played for about an hour and were fantastic. Afterwards, we listened to another musical group for about 30 minutes, and then left to find some dinner. We ate outside this little restaurant by the river and had some great traditional Korean food. By the time we finished it was almost 10pm and I had missed the last bus from Damyang back to Gwangju. I ended up having to take a cab back to Gwangju, which was $35. That kind of sucked, but the evening had been so nice I didn't mind that much.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jusanji (주산지)

A few weeks ago, one of my Korean coworkers, who knew that I often went to Pohang to visit Jaeyun, recommend I go to Jusanji. She said it was a beautiful man-made reservoir made hundreds of years ago, and that it was in a remote area in the mountains somewhere in the general vicinity of Pohang. She herself had never been there, but she said it was the location of a Korean movie called Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, and Jusanji had become famous after this movie. My coworker said she really wanted to go to this place, but as it was quite far from Gwangju she never had.

I had seen this movie Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring maybe a year and a half ago. It's an older movie- maybe a decade old at this point. It's a very well made movie and won many awards when it came out. It's basically about the life of this Buddhist monk who lives on a floating home temple in the middle of this secluded but gorgeous lake. The name of the movie corresponds to the monk's life- spring for when he was a baby, summer for when he was in adolescence, fall when he was older, etc. I was pretty excited when my coworker told me you can visit the lake in this movie, and I told Jaeyun about it. He was very interested in going as well. Friday June 6th was a Korean national holiday, so I had a three day weekend. We planned for me to come to Pohang Friday evening, and Saturday we would get up early and go to Jusanji.

Going to Jusanji is much easier said than done. Jaeyun had figured out that we needed to get a bus from Pohang to a small town about northwest of Pohang called Jinbo. We were on the 9:15am bus to Jinbo, which was fine, but the ride was much longer than I anticipated. The ride took almost 2 hours. We got to Jinbo around 11:00am. I will say the ride had wonderful scenery- we were on small country roads that meandered by the ocean at times and by small tiny traditional farming villages at other times. We passed hundreds of rice paddies and could occasionally see the farmers out in the fields. Once in Jinbo, we had to wait for thirty minutes until the 11:30am bus to go to Ijeon, an even tinier town about an hour away. Again, the scenery was so quaint and rustic and charming. Once at Ijeon, a woman in a roadside store instructed us on how to walk to Jusanji, telling us it was about a half hour walk away.

We set off down the road walking, and I was just in love with the scenery. At one point we passed some elderly farming women who were taking a rest under a pavilion by the road. They called out to us and gave us two bottles of this kind of tangy drink in a small brown bottle. Jaeyun said it was a famous drink that had been around for decades, and was marketed as a drink to help give one energy and such. But it didn't taste like energy drinks like red bull or anything like that. I tried to get several pictures, as I realized I don't really have a lot of pictures of Korean farms or the countryside.

A close up on rice plants- can you see the little frog?

Jaeyun and I wondered how the farmers keep the water in the rice paddies from drying up, or from sinking into the soil. Neither of us know.

I really like the Korean countryside because there are always mountains in the distance. The land is never flat, unlike in farming areas in the States. According to Jaeyun, only about 30% of Korean land is habitable because of the mountains.

Jusanji is located in the mountains Juwangsan National Park, which I had never heard of before-probably because it's so far from Gwangju- but which seemed very serene and lovely. After arriving in the parking lot for Jusanji, we had a fairly steep 15 minute or so walk up the mountain to get to the actual reservoir.

Jusanji was dug out in 1720 and completed in 1721. The water has been used for drinking water and for agricultural use, and in almost 300 years the reservoir has never dried up. There are 30 willow trees in and around the pond that are around 150 years old. According to what I read online, the spring and fall are the best times to visit. In the summer a lot of water is drained for agricultural uses, so it's not as large and as deep. Because of this, in the summer the water recedes from some of these old willow trees so they are just growing out of the sand. Even though summer is not the optimal time to go to this place, we both really enjoyed it.

Jusanji was really nice, and it was especially cool seeing the site of that movie. Eventually we walked back to Ijeon, where we got some ice cream from the little store and sat outside eating it waiting for the bus back to Jinbo. A woman who had been resting at a pavilion on the other side of the road with her family came over to us, and said that she had seen us up at Jusanji. She gave us some little rice cake type things. The bus came at 2:45, and about an hour later we were in Jinbo, where we got a late lunch before getting the 4:50 bus back to Pohang. We arrived back in Pohang close to 7. In all we spent about 6 hours during the day on buses just getting to and from Jusanji, which neither of us were expecting. We were both fine with it because we enjoyed the ride and looking out the windows, but if I were to do this trip again I would probably plan it for 2 days and stay in a minbak (a small basic room for rent usually in someone's house or business) for a night in the national park and do some hiking as well as see the reservoir.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May 17th & 18th weekend in Gwangju: Chosun Uni Rose Garden and Kia Tigers Baseball Game

On the weekend of May 17th and 18th Elsepth and I stayed in Gwangju. On Saturday we got up and headed downtown, expecting to be there all day. We first spent about an hour at the cat cafe, which I had been to once before.

At the cat cafe we were both absolutely fascinated with and intrigued by this one cat, which we immediately nicknamed "ugly cat". This cat was the most pathetic looking feline I've ever seen. To start with, this cat is supposed to be a very thick, long-haired cat, but most of its fur had been shaved off. It looked like there was some small rash or skin issue on its side, so the fur had probably been shaved off to help it heal or whatever. That's fine. What was so awful was whoever had shaved the cat had done a terrible job, and it was shaved in uneven lengths. The cat had patches of longer hair and patches of very short hair. The second terrible thing about this cat was its actual face. Its nose was so snubbed and turned up into its face that its cheeks and mouth and basically every other part of its face stuck out more than its nose. I have no idea how this cat managed to smell anything. It was so odd looking. We basically just sat by this cat almost the whole time- completely mesmerized.

You can see just how awfully this cat was shaved:

There was another quite unusual cat that also occupied our attention for a bit. This cat looked fine initially. It had a nice, thick coat and was quite long and large. It was a big cat. It first caught our attention because when it walked on the ground it was abnormally close to the ground and looked like a fat long hot dog cat with no legs. Upon further inspecting this cat, we realized its two front paws/legs were somehow deformed in that they were shorter than the back legs, and also the front paws turned out. This cat seemed to get along just fine, but it definitely sat differently than normal cats because its front legs were so short. And when it walked its hindquarters were higher up than its head. We wondered if it had any back issues or pain due to having uneven leg lengths.

 After leaving the cat cafe and getting some Indian food for lunch and some bubble tea, we went to the orphanage for the weekly English lesson/session. Instead of staying indoors, the organizers decided to take all the kids to the Chosun University Rose Garden.

Chosun University is a large, private, fairly prestigious university near downtown Gwangju. It's just about a ten minute walk away from Sungbin Orphanage. I had often heard about its Rose Garden but never really been there during the spring/summer to see it. It was a very hot day, but there were hundreds of people at the Rose Garden strolling around and taking pictures. The roses were spectacular. There were hundreds of different varieties- most of them hybrid roses. The plaques for each kind listed what country they were from and, if they were a hybrid, what year they were "made".

With one of the Sungbin Orphanage girls:

Doing our "Korean pose".

After leaving the orphanage we did some shopping downtown for a bit, and got some bingsoo (a Korean ice desert). We met up with Sarah for dinner and then went to some foreigner bars downtown at night.

The next day we woke up and went to Liberty Park. Because it was May 18th, many places in the city were doing things in remembrance of the May 18th 1980 Gwangju massacre. We toured the Liberty Park area which has the old prison and guard buildings that were used during the time of the massacre. If you're more interested about this, you can read my blog post I wrote about this park two years ago when I first went there.

After leaving the park and getting some lunch, we set off walking to the baseball stadium. We had discussed before how fun it would be to go to a baseball game, and had tentatively planned to do that Sunday, depending on how we felt after drinking the night before. We both felt reasonably fine, so we decided to go. The baseball stadium is quite new- it was built less than a year ago I think. It's just about a 2.5 mile walk from my apartment along the river. It was a very hot day, and by the time we got there for the 2pm game we were both sweating and a bit dehydrated, but we were very excited. Baseball in Korea is HUGE. The Gwangju team, called the Kia Tigers, has won the most championships out of any team in the whole country. I think they have won 10 total since major league baseball started in Korea in the 80s. However, the last time they won a championship was in 2009, and they have kind of sucked ever since then. There are 9 major league Korean teams and when we went to the game the Kia Tigers were ranked 6th. In the game we saw they played the Samsung Lions of Daegu, which (at the time of the game two weeks ago) was ranked number 1.

The stadium was really quite nice. We very eagerly purchased two pairs of inflatable stick things that you hit together to make noise during a good play and some beer and snacks. We were really happy with our seats- they were in the shade and had a great view of the field. We both really liked the layout of the stadium. Instead of having seats all the way around, about 1/3 of the side was open and you could see the city buildings with the mountains behind them. Also, there was a grass area there for people to just sit on the grass and watch the game.

With our noisemaker sticks:

We're both really terrible at looking into the camera. We used our smartphones to take all of these pictures and consequently never really knew where to look when taking selfies.

The game was a lot of fun. The Kia Tigers were absolutely miserable and lost something like 2-8. The catcher was especially awful and sometimes couldn't catch the ball when it was thrown to him from 3 feet away. However, we thoroughly enjoyed bashing our inflatable sticks together and cheering on the team. Koreans really get into baseball, and the whole atmosphere and vibe of the stadium was great. The attendance for this game was over 17,000 people, and everyone was very vocal about cheering on their favorite players. I'm glad my apartment is within walking distance of the stadium- with so many people it would have been awful trying to catch a cab or a bus after the game. The game lasted about two hours, and when it was over we walked home and showered before heading out to dinner.