Saturday, May 29, 2010

More HK

Today and yesterday have been full of seeing parts of the city and running errands. Yesterday my mom and I tried to find a Fossil store (one of my favorites) with no luck, but we did go to the phone store, the chiropractors, and IKEA. I bought a decent-sized mug at IKEA. I really hate tiny mugs unless I can actually drink from a pot. I don't mind refilling my cup from a teapot, but it's annoying when I make the tea in the mug. We also went to a very sweet lifestyle store called Franc Franc where we purchased a clothing hamper of gray cloth with a wooden frame.

Today we went to a market that a lot of ex-pats live around. The nice thing about that is that a lot of the workers speak English, and the signs generally have English and the dollar amount or items. I bought a small watercolor painting to brighten up my dull walls. I mean to buy several more pictures, but the rest will have to wait until I return. I also bought a beautiful, carved wooden necklace rack. At least I thought it was a necklace rack, until one of Mom's friends informed us that it is actually a rack to hang calligraphy brushes on. Oh well. It works just fine as a necklace rack.

Tonight was the night of my parents' Bible study, so I tagged along as well. Dinner was included (we brought fruit salad). Their apartment was absolutely beautiful. We spent most of the night just talking since they have already finished their study and not that many people were able to come. The people were quite interesting. The host couple are Malaysians, the man a doctor. One lady is a Philippino who has lived most of her life in Hong Kong. Another lady is Korean but is married to a German man. She's lived in Germany for ten years and Hong Kong for fourteen. Yet another lady is Korean but has lived in the States, the UK, Australia, Singapore, and now Hong Kong.

It's interesting to me that most of them have "helpers" a.k.a. maids. Having a maid isn't a terribly common practice in the States. That, coupled with the size of their houses, makes me wonder why they need maids for such a small space. Dad told me that one couple he knows has four helpers. FOUR. And they live in an apartment. Won't the helpers just bump into each other? How much work is there to do anyway? But I digress.

I leave for Thailand on Sunday. I've been a little nervous about the actual arrival (finding my way to the apartment and to the school the next morning). God is pretty awesome! When I went to Dad's work on Tuesday so we could go out for lunch, he introduced me to three of his coworkers who are from Thailand. They jumped into overdrive helping me get ready to leave. They called a friend to pick me up from the airport and take me to my apartment. They read the directions to my school and tried to figure out how I would get there from my apartment. They even wrote out directions to my apartment in Thai that I could give a taxi driver if I get lost (since most Thais don't speak or read English). I have been amazed at how much work they are doing for me.

Amazed and grateful.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Home

A lot has happened since I last wrote. I'm in Hong Kong now!

My last couple of days in Korea were pretty great. We went to Seoul on Friday which happened to be Buddha's birthday. Bad idea. It was so crowded! We paid for this tour bus that runs by thirty different famous places. We could jump off at any of the places and get back on another bus whenever we're done. The buses were supposed to run every twenty minutes, but the least we ever waited was forty minutes. The most was an hour and twenty.
Besides the waiting and massive crowds, it was a lovely day. We saw the national museum, the war monument museum, a historic village (which had a rice cake cook-off going on), a shopping place where we ate lunch, and a market where I bought some scarves, coin purses, and custard bites. After that we caught the train back to Chuncheon. It was a good and tiring day.

Sunday was my real last day. We went to church, and I just read my Bible most of the time. That afternoon I went shopping with Sarah, and it was actually fairly successful! The thing I hate about shopping in Korea is that most stores don't let you try things on. I'm not going to pay forty dollars for a dress that I don't even know will fit me! Seriously!

That night some family friends took us out to this super nice Korean restaurant. The entire table was absolutely covered with little bowls of food. While Americans tend to have one main dish and a couple side dishes, Koreans love to have five or six side dishes. Well this meal probably had thirty different things, including grilled meat. egg soup, shrimp with onions, squid legs, crab innards (that you mix with rice), tiny fish with walnuts, and fish organs. It was very exciting.

The next morning I got on a bus and headed to the airport. The day didn't go too badly, except I was afraid they weren't going to let me leave in Shanghai. When I had my layover in Japan on the way in, they just checked my passport, and I went to my gate. In Shanghai, they probably checked my at least eight times, and I went through several different security points. I kept thinking I was going the wrong way because I didn't think they'd have so much security for a layover. But they did. I got very thoroughly patted down, and I was taken to the special security offices twice. But I finally got through, thank goodness.

So I'm in Hong Kong now! I'm mostly moved into my new room, which is defintitely smaller than anything I've ever lived in before, but I like it. I walked to my dad's work on my first day being there and didn't get lost! I was very proud of myself. That night we walked around some downtown areas and rode a ferry around. The skyline is simply gorgeous.

My mom got in last night, so we fetched her from the airport. Today and tomorrow I think we'll be shopping for some things I need/want for my room. Exciting times!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

JWs and Hitchhiking

Well, before I actually talk about JWs and hitchhiking, I want to say something about the food. I like most Korean food a lot. It's quite tasty. But I don't really like it for breakfast. Think about eating garlic, chili sauce, fish soup, tofu, and fried zuccini at seven in the morning. I don't eat very much for breakfast anyway; generally a granola bar or a small bowl of cereal is enough. The other day Mrs. Kim was making me breakfast and Sarah wasn't around. First she gave me cereal, which was good, except that the milk had somehow gotten a garlicky taste to it. Then she kept making me more and more food! I kept hoping that the stuff she was making wasn't for me, but then another dish would appear. On top of my cereal, I ate fried fake crab meat, kim-chi, tofu soup, some kind of green stuff, and rice cakes in chili sauce. I was so full! And everywhere you go here, people give you food. Sarah and I went down to the church office to tell them something, and she breaks out chips, fruit, and yogurt cups. There's so much food! I guess I just don't eat enough.

Anyway, yesterday was interesting. Since Sarah and I are both interested in education, we wanted to visit an international school and learn about its system and how it runs. We were going to go to one school, but it was four hours away, which is a little far. Instead, her dad recommended that we visit a Jehovah Witness school that was only two hours away. I called, hoping that my Westernness would soften them to us, and asked them if we could come by sometime that day and visit the school. The lady I talked to said yes, come. So Sarah and I took a train to one city in order to hop a bus to the city where the school was. We missed the bus we were trying to catch because it wasn't marked correctly. Then an old man told us we needed to get on a bus that was leaving. We ran after it and got on, but then Sarah found out that it wasn't the right bus after all. She asked the driver to let us out, but he wouldn't stop until she started yelling at him. She went back inside to ask at the counter. The lady there said she'd look for it and then began making phone calls. Finally we saw the right bus which was also pulling away. We ran after it and made it. The school site said that the bus would stop right in front of the school, so we kept waiting until then. Sarah also asked the driver, and he said that we should wait until the very last stop. The last stop turned out to be a hospital at the top of a very tall hill. Sarah was pissed. One of the men on the bus told us that we should walk down the hill, which we started to do, but a man we ran across told us that the school was too far to walk to, but there was a shuttle we could take. When we looked at the sign, the shuttle didn't arrive for two hours. We finally broke and got a taxi.

When were driving down the hill, we saw a huge white building with a giant dome on top, sitting way up the mountain. We thought that must be the school, but the taxi driver told us no, it was the house of the founder of the JWs. It's crazy to think that that humongous house was for one man. The school ended up being just below the white house, and it was crazy as well.

When we were dropped off, we were a bit awed by the building. This was just a high school, but it had marble-like steps and huge pillars. It was four or five stories tall. Flowers were everywhere. There wasn't an office like most schools. We followed the directions that the lady had given me, climbing up to the fourth floor and going to an office at the end of the hall. The man there, Steve, was the director of study abroad trips. He told us that it was highly irregular to have visitors like us who hadn't gotten written permission from the principal, but since we'd come that far and the person told us wrong on the phone, he'd show us around.

That school is the scariest thing ever! The kids are like super robot kids. It has six hundred kids and is a 7-12. All of the kids have to speak at least conversational English, be musical (they have to take one kind of instrument while at school), take a third language, and achieve a black-belt in Tai-kwon-do before graduating. Between eight and three they have seven classes. From three until six they take electives like music, horse-riding, SAT prep, broadcasting, or research projects. From seven-thirty until nine they have a school-wide study hall (with a special study room with desks), but they can opt to take more night classes if they want to. Middle school students must be in bed by twelve, and high school students must be in bed by two. Oh, and they get up at six-fifteen to have (what we're guessing is) group devotion times. Besides all this, most students travel to conferences, debate tournaments, research councils, mock UNs or congresses, etc. And there are fifty clubs that they participate in.

I just don't understand how they can do it. How can they do all of that? How can they get the homework done for the million classes they take? How can they survive off of such little sleep? That can't be healthy for growing high schoolers. But oh well.

After the tour, Steve told Sarah and I that we could catch a shuttle back to the hospital where we could get another bus. Surprise, surprise, the shuttle didn't get there until five-thirty. It was three-fifteen. We started walking down the mountain, and then Sarah decided we should try hitch-hiking. A car did stop for us. It was one of the staff members at the school. He told Sarah that he was going through the town where we got off the train anyway, so he took us the whole way! My first real time hitch-hiking. Although Sarah's mom wasn't too thrilled when she found out about it later.

Well, tomorrow we go to Seoul. Should be tiring, but fun.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Picnics and Railbikes

So much has happened since I last wrote! I guess I'll just focus on the main things.

On Sunday, we went to church. It's not terribly exciting for me, since I don't understand anything, so I took my Greek bible and tried translating some verses. After church, we all drove to a treeful park for a picnic. They set up picnic mats with small grills (think lidless, round George Foremans) all over. Four to six people would sit around each grill. Older people and families would have thier own mats, but the thirty or so college students all sat together with lots of grills. They would grill this meat that looks like really thick, really fatty bacon that doesn't crisp. When it was cooked, we'd dip it in a red sauce, put it on a leaf, add some rice, and shove it in our mouth. It was pretty tasty.

After eating, they had a bunch of games! I participated in a sack race relay where we had to eat flour-dipped candies at the end! My team lost every game we played until the tug-of-war at the end. We were the smaller team but somehow managed to win! They gave away prizes like tea-pots, kleenex boxes, and giant packages of toilet paper. I won a lunch box.

Then it was time for the married men to play the college guys in "soccer volleyball." It looks really fun! I would like to do that instead of volleyball at my next picnic. I talked to a guy named Sang-no for a long time, which was nice. His English was very good! He wants to be a doctor and maybe go to America, since doctors aren't as respected in Korea. Most of the people don't know very much English. They'll say "hi" and "nice to meet you" and that's about it. A couple of them can say a little more than that, but they're pronunciation is very interesting. I'm not always sure if they're speaking Korean or English, and I have to concentrate very hard.

I'm very impressed with the way the church interacts here. The building seems to be open most of the time, and there's always people running around doing things. A bunch of guys are working on building up the front railing and walkway, and they work all day! We (me, Sarah, and her dad) ate lunch with all the workers one day. They also have a dorm for college guys on the third floor. It's a very active church.

Yesterday (Monday) was a very active day. Sunday night after the picnic we drove two hours to the coast. We went out on the beach that night to take pictures and run around in the sand. A bunch of people were setting off fireworks, and there were several fortune teller booths. We spent the night at Sarah's aunt's house. They are very nice people. For breakfast, they tried to make me special food so they gave me sweet potatoes, apples, milk, and grape juice. I like Korean food, but I don't especially like eating it for breakfast, so I was happy to eat the other stuff.

We first visited a fish market. They have a lot of fish, of course, but my favorites were the octopuses! They have buckets and buckets of octopuses around, ready for sale. I tried to take a picture of one, but the lady stopped me. Sarah didn't know why she wouldn't let me, but another lady did the same thing. Finally, one lady explained that there's a superstition that if someone takes a picture of your products that the store will do badly. She didn't believe in it, so she let me take a picture of her octopi.

After that we drove a couple more hours to this little mountain town. Korea is extremely hilly/mountainy. It reminds me of Colorado sometimes. I haven't seen a single flat place since we've been here. Anyway, a couple that lives there is a friend of Mr. Kim's. They got us a reservation on the Railbike. Apparently you usually have to reserve at least three days in advance, since it's so popular, but the couple called for us and got us tickets.

The railbike was really fun. It runs on an old rail line, and we have to peddle to make the little car go. It winds through the mountains and is pretty great. Just wait for the pictures.

Afterwards we went to a restaurants with the couple and ate some mixed rice wich is a specialty of the region. Mr. Kim and the couple got in a fight over who paid. The old man grabbed Mr. Kim's foot while the old lady ran up to the front to pay. We went down the street to get coffee, and Mr. Kim won that time. Sarah told me that the old lady told her husband that he wasn't being polite because he let Mr. Kim win.

Then it was market time. We drove another forty-five minutes to go to another town where they have a traditional market. Stuff was crammed everywhere, and there were all sorts of interesting things. Dried squid, all sorts of roots, leaves, beans, mandrake roots, fish, etc. We bought some fry-dough with brown sugar in the middle.

After that we went to a free performance. It was a drama about three sisters, and it used the traditional songs to sing a lot of it. The songs are really minor and wailing, and Sarah said that the purpose of them was to help the people forget their sadness or their hunger. Sarah would translate a bit of what was said so I would know what was going on. It was so sad! The main actress was so good that she made me want to cry even though I didn't really know what she was saying. In the end, the two younger sisters were on different sides, North and South Korea. They were fighting each other, and the oldest sister stepped in between them, getting killed in the process. The two sisters hugged each other, and the whole cast sang a song about their longing for reunification. Lots of people were weeping at the end.

Well, that was really long. If you get through all of that, I congratulate you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kim-Baps and More

After taking a six hour nap, I was awoken for dinner! Dinner was very delicious. I'm fairly decent with chopsticks, but I definitely could use more practice.

At seven thirty there was a Wednesday night service at the church. I didn't undersatnd any of it, so I just read my Bible mainly. Afterwards, I met a lot of people. The word that I use the most is "anyang ha-se-yo", which means "hello" in a respectful way. Most of them either don't speak any English or are too shy to really talk to me. I understand. I know I'm always a bit shy to try to speak Spanish to someone I don't know.

Yesterday was "explore Chuncheon" day. For a breakfast/morning snack, I got a sweet potato and rice cake croissant at a bakery. Their bakeries are very great. We went to the university, walked around the streets, and went shopping. I didn't by much except for a couple of nail polishes and sweet Nightmare Before Christmas hand mirror.

For lunch, we stopped at a kim-bap (Korean-style sushi) place that was owned by church people. We ordered kim-chi and beef kim-baps, and they were served with yellow radishes and bean paste soup. Very delicious.

That night we went to a musical. I couldn't understand anything, but they were pretty expressive, so it was still interesting. Afterwards, Sarah and I went to a cafe and got shaved ice with fruit, honey, sweet bean sauce, and whipped cream, which was also wonderful. They should seriously sell those in the States. They beat the socks off of snowcones.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So I'm in Korea now.
I spent Sunday hanging out with family and friends, and packing and getting ready to leave. I didn't get to bed until two and then got up by four so that I could make my six o'clock flight.
I somehow developed a killer cold, which is unfortunate, but I took several rounds of Airborne that helped me a bit.

The flights were generally pretty uneventful. I did run into my friend Ian's parents in the Chicago airport! They were heading back to Malaysia and were on my flight to Japan. I was pretty tired and had been worried about sleeping through the boarding of my flight, but they told me that they would wake me up if I didn't show up in time. I found a lovely piece of sun-warmed tile in a slightly more quiet and less crowded part of the airport, and partook in a two hour nap. That was nice, considering I wasn't able to sleep on the airplanes.

My long flight, the one to Japan, went well, but I was in one of the chairs that couldn't go back at all. Every time I started to fall asleep my head would just flop around, promptly waking me. I had no problems getting my baggage or going through customs (immigration), but after that I got a little confused about where to go. I asked a couple of people and finally found my way to the open area where I could change a little money. I watched some Korean history films (or something like that). I amused myself by making up dialogue for the characters. "I'm jealous of you because you look so much cooler than me in your mickey mouse hat." "Well, I stole it from a kindergartener, so that also shows that I'm tougher than you." "I will kill you for those words." Etc.

Around eleven, I went to the "sownuh" to sleep until Sarah's plane got in at five the next morning. It turned out to be a very ritzy place. They stored my bags for me and gave me a locker for my shoes. I had a small private room with glass doors and bench-like bed to sleep on. There were really nice showers with no doors, which I used, and bubbling pools and saunas, which I didn't use. I was very tempted by the pool, but I decided against it. I'm pretty sure that they would go in naked, but I wasn't quite sure and didn't feel like messing that one up.

In the morning I checked out and walked back to the arrival gate to wait for Sarah. It turns out that Sarah got in a little earlier than I had thought she would. She had been running all over the airport trying to find me! She paged me, and even went to the sownuh to ask if I were there. The lady told her that she didn't know! Oh well, at least we eventually found each other.

We took a bus to her town and were picked up by her dad. Before heading home, we went by the school where her mom teaches third grade. As soon as we walked into the classroom, this little girl came running at me waving her arms! I wasn't quite sure if she wanted a hug or a high five or what, so I ended up giving her double high five/hand shakes. I asked her what her name was and talked to her a little. The other kids were not nearly so precocious. After Sarah told her that I was from America, another little girl ran to a globe and tried to find America on it. I helped her find it and then showed her Colorado. :)

After seeing the school, we went home. Sarah's dad is a pastor, and they live on the top floor of their church building. Some people guys were working on the balcony out front, and they ran over and carried our bags upstairs. That's nice, since there's no elevator. We ate a great lunch, and now I'm tired.

So I think I'll take a nap now. Signing off for now.