Monday, February 27, 2006

A scary story...not for those with weak stomaches

Although I try hard to keep an open mind when it comes to living in Korea, some things just make me cringe from a deep place and want to scream as I run the other way.

Let me explain....

Normally when I walk to work, I tend to take a short cut through a parking lot that is adjacent to some small restaurants. At the back of the parking lot there is a small shed that may or may not be someone’s place of business. I am not exactly sure what this shed is, but on most days there is an older Korean man kind of meandering around...I think he may fix motorbikes, but I am not sure. The man has a few dogs that I can only assume are around to keep trespassers away from his shed and whatever it is that he does there.

A coworker of mine has affectionately named one of the dogs “scraggles” and the other is known only as “scraggles’ friend”. Scraggles and his friend are light-brown haired dogs of some unknown breed. The dogs are mangy and quite dirty, but as dogs go, they are pretty cute and generally friendly to me as I make my way through their parking lot.

At the end of the parking lot there is a restaurant with it’s name curiously translated in English to read “Korean food similar to sausage”. Now as previously mentioned, I always try to keep an open mind, and although I found this translation to be nothing short of humorous, I haven’t given it much thought (after all, many Korean signs translated into English are pretty humorous...I once saw a bakery called ‘the Backery” and a funny little restaurant called “the meat bank”).

I must interject that I have not ever eaten at this place, nor am I exactly sure what ‘similar to sausage’ implies. Nonetheless, I have passed this restaurant with little but passing interest ...that is until a few weeks ago.

It was on this morning, as I passed through the parking lot, I saw Scraggles standing near the back of the restaurant near some garbage that had been piled near the back door. He had obviously worked his way into one of the garbage bags and was engrossed in whatever it was he was trying to eat.

Now, I should have known better then to walk over and take a look at what it was that had this little puppy so busy, but being the curious sort, I caught a glimpse as I walked past.

To my horror, Scraggles was chewing on the face of some unrecognizable animal.

As I looked around, I could see a few other chewed skulls lying on the ground, in addition to the one he had in his mouth.

Now, I don’t actually know what this animal was. Upon closer examination it appeared that it couldn’t be a cow...too small. It couldn’t be a pig...again not the right size and too many teeth. As my mind raced to figure out what other animal it could be it hit me.....this skull came from the restaurant’s garbage!!!

I shouted at “Scraggles” to get away from the skull, but it was no use. I quickly ran to work. When I got to work that day, I asked my Korean coworkers and they were just as shocked as I was.

Now I have no idea what this was, or why Scraggles was eating what appeared to be another dog’s face. Nor do I know why after two weeks, more skulls keep appearing in the parking lot. All I am sure about is that I will never eat at that restaurant and I have been keeping my head down as I walk through the parking lot....don’t want to give the puppy any more ideas.

Some of the skulls that Scraggles was chewing on.

More of the 'tasty' treats

Korean food similar to sausage...yeah right.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Palaces and Parades

In my attempt to get out of my apartment this weekend and perhaps get a little culture into my day, I spent the afternoon in of Seoul’s most traditional shopping areas.

I first went to Changdeokgung Palace and took a not so little tour around the palace grounds. It was very beautiful ...but.... the that it was freezing, and the tour was a lot longer then I anticipated...ok...let me explain.

I bought what I though was an entrance ticket to the Palace and anticipated taking a quick wander through and then I would be on my way.

With my ticket in hand, I walked around to the main entrance where there was a small gate that was closed. It had a little handle, so I figured I would just let myself in (I had just seen someone come out of the same gate). Apparently, or shall I say, predictably, I was wrong. A Korean Palace guard quickly came out and in very broken English told me that I would have to wait for the tour to begin before I could enter. He pointed to a sign that said the next English tour starts at 3:30pm was currently 2:00pm.

Then, in my broken Korean, I attempted to explain to him that I didn’t want to take a tour; I just wanted to go by myself and take some photos. He said I could not.

I opted to take the Korean tour that started in 15 minutes (the guard looked even more confused, but agreed that I could take the Korean tour - those crazy foreigners)...and I was still planning to be on my way within the hour. Wrong again.

Since I speak very little Korean, I didn't get much out of the tour (thankfully the guard gave me an English pamphlet), but after the first 30 minutes of standing in approximately the same damn spot, I quickly translated that this wasn’t going to be a short tour.

I once took a tour when I was living in Ulsan, which was also entirely in Korean. Funny enough, the tour guide was a comedian and had everyone laughing throughout the half day tour. I of course could only laugh along, as if I had a clue what was going on. Again, on this tour today, my guide had everyone laughing but’s kind of funny, now that I think about it.///good incentive to learn seems as though they are a damn funny group of people!!

After an hour and a half, I was thoroughly frozen and the tour was finally over.
It was pretty interesting, but likely a lot more enjoyable when one's hands aren't freezing off.

After the palace, I walked around the main strip of shops in Insadong (post warming up with some much needed hot coffee). The streets are lined with hundreds of shops, brimming with traditional ink paintings, calligraphy, antiques, ceramics and souvenirs. Down every alley way there are tiny cafes and traditional-Korean restaurants. I saw quite a few vegetarian restaurants and one shop called Temple cooking...looked pretty good. I bought some ceramic mugs and watched a couple live performances.

All in all, a great Sunday!!

Insadong main street

Some performers in a parade I saw

A young girl from Mongolia...she was singing to promote vegetarianism...the guy behind her i think was drunk...he had been playing a guitar down the street and then I guess couldn't resist dancing....he was pretty funny to watch

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lessons from an electrician extrordinaire

So I don't normally consider myself very 'handy' know, the type of person that can fix just about anything. I am usually the person that will either throw something that isn't working properly out, or simply live with the defect until it begins to bother me so much that I eventually discard it.

I have to admit, that I am generally intimidated by anything electrical or mechanical.
This likely comes from a healthy fear of electricity... (I got a big shock from an incompetent hairdryer one trip to the UK).

Maybe it's some sort of genetic defect. One of my sisters once told me how she re-wired a lamp. I remember listening in awe as she explained how simple it was.

Maybe it's the frustration of trying to figure out how all those little pieces fit together to make something.
One time my previous roommate and I spent a lengthy, hot afternoon trying to assemble a bbq - it was only after several frustrating hours and a six pack of beer that we eventually got the bbq standing and operating - there were plenty of pieces left over...but we could cook our burgers and that's all that mattered.

Although to be fair to myself, I once replaced a phone jack (yes there were instructions on the box...but I still had to cut the wires) in my old apartment and did so quite successfully.

Ok, so my 'fix-it' gene is obviously a little dormant, but every now and then, it wakes up from its long years of hibernation and lets me do something that I deemed impossible.

For the last several months (holy $*&@ has it been that long?) one of the lights in my apartment has been ...well...on the fritz. It began kind of making a humming sound one day and then it eventually progressed into a rhythmic blinking each time I turned it on. Since it was the best light in my tiny apartment I was pretty annoyed. But not annoyed enough that I did anything about it.

So, one dreary winter day, desperate for some proper lighting, I attempted to take the light cover off to get a closer look. As it turns out, one of the light bulbs appeared to be the culprit and as far as I can tell (being the whiz-kid that I am) if I replaced the bulb then the problem would be fixed. Ok...easy right? Not exactly.

Now, you are likely thinking...oh my god, she can't even change a light bulb. Not true. I have changed plenty of light bulbs in my life. However, this light bulb seemed to be somehow attached (maybe hot glued. I don't know) onto light fixture. Let's just say, it wasn't your typical light bulb.
It consisted of two long fluorescent bulbs that were attached to each other and then to the light fixture.

So, after my so-called thorough inspection, and not wanting to break the bulb if I pulled to hard (or dare I say, somehow electrocute myself) I replaced the light cover and for the next several months didn't use it. I had mentioned to my director the problem, and he said something about having to get an electrician to come and fix it seemed really technical and beyond my abilities. But no electrician has ever come and I haven't exactly pushed the issue.

Then, this I was lying in bed wishing it was the weekend, I had an. epiphany.
Perhaps, it was inspiration from reading "The little engine that could" with my kindergarten class yesterday, I am not sure.
I guess I just figured I would have one more go at it.
I got up onto my bed and pulled the light cover off. After double checking the light switch was off and reassuring myself that electrocution was unlikely, I pulled the light bulb and with one snap, it was off.
It was surprisingly easy.
No need for an electrician, no need for all the fuss....just needed to pull a little harder.
Now, I will go pick up a new bulb and 'install' it (yes...I like to use the proper lingo now). dear readers....lesson for today: never think anything is impossible...don't say you can't do something. Today I changed a light bulb...anything is possible!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

This photo has been taken from my friend Helen's blog - but it seriously made me laugh!
I guess in this picture ...'the end' is near...ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Solo for Valentines it’s back....Valentines Day - the day we ‘singletons’ dread throughout the year.

For those of you the least bit interested, I am still single (as if there really has been anything in-between) and as I write this sitting in my freshly cleaned apartment ( was a fun few hours trying to get my mind off this Hallmark holiday), listening to some David Gray and feeling (only what I can best describe as) melancholy.

Not that I ever really bought the whole ‘if I travel, they will come’ scenario, but I think for a while there was some hope.

There were plenty of chances, but somehow it seems I missed the boat....the love boat that is, incase there was any confusion.

I have reached the time in my life when most of my close mates have somehow ‘paired up’, and although they are not perfect relationships (what is?) I am a tad jealous.

Everyone seems to remind me of how exciting my life is and that they wish they had the nerve to do whatever it is I am doing that seems so exciting. But I must admit, the majority of the time things are a little lonely here out in the big world.

Not that I would prefer to be back home (don’t mistake this for regret), just that I had someone to share this with.

It seems that even the dependable package of cinnamon hearts and a sappy card from my mother declined to appear on my door step this year. (Yep....pathetic when you are wishing on Valentine’s Day that your own mother had the foresight to send something...although to be fair, I did receive a lovely e-card...thanks Mom).

Ok...wallowing aside for now...

I am having a fabulous time here and enjoying new and old friendships (however platonic they may be) and the freedom of not having anyone to care about but myself. It really isn’t all bad. Hip-hip for independence.


Actually, this past weekend I retuned to Ulsan for an impromptu re-union with some mates I missed on my previous trip. Had another great weekend with a tad too much to drink...(see below photos).

Last week, my director asked me (casually) is I would stay on as head teacher for 2 more years. Although I wasn’t completely surprised, I need to do some serious thinking before I make any know weigh out the pros and cons.

Money does have its way with words and I can admit I would be easily persuaded if the price was right. I will be sure to keep you up to date.

So, Happy Valentine’s day to you all.

Me looking a little intoxicated, but I figure the glasses give me that 'sexy librarian look'.

Julie...on our way home ( was 10am)...I figure this could work for a Hite ad...Korea's favorite brand of beer!!