Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Le Japon!

I'm leaving for Nagoya!! Four days in Japan. I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Exquisite Busan !

In Korea the four seasons are 100% enjoyable – you can ski in beautiful mountains during winter, admire the leaves changing colors in breathtaking mountains such as Seoraksan during fall.

In spring, anywhere smells and feels good. As for summer, you can lie on several beaches and gaze at palm trees while swimming in the ocean.

There’s a gorgeous island about 2 hours from Seoul (subway and ferry ride), Deokjeokdo. You can also go to what foreigners refer to as a “honeymoon island” south of Korea, Jejudo. The east coast is filled with crowded beaches in the summer, like in Sokcho. A little South East is Pusan, my greatest experience with nature so far in Korea!

The school gave us a 4-day week-end for Lunar New Year. Since my Vietnam plans weren’t going to happen, Erika and I decided to go to Busan. We flew in on Saturday morning and came back with KTX (Korean version of the French TGV) on Tuesday night.

You wouldn’t believe the awesome time we had there!

I slept about 2 hours on Friday night and we took a shuttle to the airport at 6am. We met Twyla, who was going to Vietnam, for breakfast before going through security. The flight took an hour and we were in Busan!

Our hotel, Novotel, is heavenly! Our room was on the 14th floor with FULL ocean view! In the morning, the sun would rise over the sea and wake us up.

The beds are as comfortable as a cloud! Usually a “suite” like this is 495$ in the summer, but we go it for 150$/night… and a 3rd night for free! Lunar special!

We were both really tired, so we had coffee and then spent the afternoon at the swimming pool. Oh! The swimming pool! Indoor, of course, but with glazed ceiling and walls. And again, ocean view included! We also had a relaxing time in the sauna.

At night we rode the bus for about an hour and got off at one of Korea’s largest fish market: Jagalchi. Very similar to Seoul’s Noryangjin fish market. In a way, it was shocking to see all those fish tanks filled with variety of fish you’ve never ever seen.

Countless little restaurants were open to the public, offering sashimi and soju for your pleasure. Also available were oysters, steamed crab, fried fish, scallops, and so.

Ajashis and ajummas, old men and old women, dressed in plastic aprons and wearing yellow rain boots yelled their “special” prices to the crowd. To us, foreigners, they would say “come in! very good fishi! Good prrrrrrrice!”

We walked around for a while and finally set our mind on a small place where we got sashimi and scallops.

At a fish market you get countless side dishes and the service is never-ending! Salad, marinated mussels, chickpeas, fried vegetables, kimchi, tiny snail-shaped shellfish that you suck at the end and some chewy little creature comes out… and of course, assorted sauces.

Erika took a video of the murder. I had already seen it happen at Noryangjin and couldn’t handle it twice. She picked the fish; they took it out of the aquarium and killed it with a spear. Then, while it was still moving (nerves I guess?), they cut it open, took off the flesh and tiny bones and cut off the head. Funny how there’s only blood in a fish’s head, not in its body…

We had a delicious dinner! But I mentioned that society isn’t logical; if we’re going to do this with fish, why not do it with every single animal?! Go to a steak restaurant, order beef and have it slaughtered in front of you!!! Want bacon for breakfast? Let’s see how they get the fat and meat out of its back!!

We headed back to the hotel, where we watched for a good two hours a live jazz performance at the lounge downstairs. It was quite enjoyable! And the pina coladas too!

On Sunday morning we had a delightful breakfast downstairs while gazing at the ocean. It was a beautiful sunny day and the buffet was the most attractive one I’ve ever seen! We ate like you wouldn’t believe, just because every single food that we like was displayed there.

We walked towards the port and hopped on a boat to Oryukdo, a rocky island about half an hour from Haeundae, our beach.

The boat ride was fantastic! The soothing feeling of floating on the waves, the sparking reflection of the sun on the water, the salty smell of the ocean breeze, and the birds flying high in the sky.

Luckily, the boat was almost empty so we fully enjoyed it. At first a crowd of seagulls harassed us because people were feeding them chips. They followed us for a while.

Back on solid ground, we ran into Lilly and Matt and we all decided to visit a Buddhist temple set by the ocean. The cab ride was quick; until we reached the entrance… we were stuck in the taxi for a good 20 minutes – lunar New Year traffic jam! Everyone single Buddhist was going to the temple to bow and celebrate. Ouh!

There was a huge crowd of course, but the view was totally worth it. Of course, I feel like if you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all – and it is partly true. But this one, right on a creek, was spectacular!

Obviously getting a ride out of the temple would be an impossible task. We still tried because of Erika’s leg (she got in a massive accident in Thailand a few years ago) and Matt and Lily’s baby James. But we gave up.

That night Erika and I had a delectable steak at the famous “Outback” restaurant. We ate every Korean woman’s sinful fantasy: huge piece of meat, potato with sour cream, and a beer! It was so wonderful that, back at the hotel, we passed out on the bed!!!

Seriously, we still wonder what was in that food. We literally fell on the bed, to wake up only an hour later. By then, our tickets to a Korean traditional drumming show were expired. And we were still tired and confused.

Nonetheless, went for a walk and had a drink before finally calling it a night.

As for Monday, that was our big fat “doing nothing” day!!! As so we did!

We woke up early, went for a walk on the beach and lied there for a while. The sun was so warm, it felt like summer. I actually got tanned a little ;)

Since Erika’s leg was painful, I went alone for a great walk up to the lighthouse. The view was as gorgeous as in Jejudo. But it was full of Koreans. In Korea, you can enjoy beautiful sceneries but you have to do so with countless human beings surrounding you. No peace here.

Back at the beach I took a nap and read. We then headed back to our hotel for a swim. It truly was as if we were lying on a summery beach! With the sun coming in through the ceiling windows, the magnificent ocean view and, of course, the swimming pool.

Around 5pm we had the BEST full-body massage I’ve ever had! Over an hour and a half of heavenly movements on my body… I still can’t believe those hands!

It was Korean-style, but not as brutal as they usually are. Instead of having me lie on my stomach and slapping my back, the woman let me on my back and slid her hand between the table and my back – thus using the pressure of my body to fully massage. That’s totally the way everyone should do it!

Of course she mixed all my vital organs together when she sat on my hips and started rubbing my stomach, but it wasn’t as bad as the masseuse in Seoul who was apparently trying to perforate my liver!

It was heaven. Erika and I were both really high when we got out of there.

We changed and headed to the hotel’s restaurant. Oh my! They so got ripped off!

The buffet was 40$ and included wine. We drank a lot, but we mostly ate every single thing on the table! They had king crab, roast beef, curry, sushi, shrimps, salami, shabu shabu, cheese, stroganoff beef, and so on.

As for desserts, aaaaaaaaah! It was the best! Tons of fruits, cheese cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream and berries. And to top it all – a French dessert (it’s a French hotel): la crepe flambée! Fruits flambes in orange juice, sugar and alcohol, then served on a crepe with whipped cream and chocolate. Like summer in your mouth!

We needed a very long walk after such a heavy meal. The ocean was so nice. There were many people but it wasn’t too crowded. We ended up going on those creepy little bumper cars!

Those things are much more dangerous than back home!! Moreover, you get your own little speaker in the car so you hear all sorts of different music playing at the same time. At that time of the night, it felt as if we were in Chucky or something.

An hilarious video (you had to be there though....) is on youtube for more live performance ;) Right here

Afterwards we sat on the beach and lit a few firecrackers. Koreans go insane with those – they love them! So we figured we might as well do it too. It was cool.

The next day we spent the morning at the swimming pool and the headed for Kimchi jiggae (the most delicious one I’ve had so far). I got on the 1pm ferry ride to enjoy for one last time the beautiful ocean. Erika stayed on the beach.

The boat was late, I got back late to the hotel and there was a huge traffic jam downtown. Maybe we would have made it if we had taken a cab, but we didn’t; we missed our train! ... for this breathtaking view!

The train station was as crowded as it would be on Christmas. We finally got “standing” tickets for 6pm. “Standing” means that you sit on the floor near the bathroom. And it costs the same price.

So we ended up spending the afternoon at a café, playing guitar outside in the sun, and going for a walk on hookers hill.

I never ever thought I’d see this in Korea: it’s like Chinatown back in Montreal, but for Russians!

A huge street where everything is written in Chinese and Russian. Blue-eyed, blond hair people on the streets. Russian women sitting outside shops and just waiting for men. Very sad.

Back in Seoul, if you’re blond with blue eyes you often get asked if you’re Russian. I was quite confused the first time it happened. Do I look Russian??

Erika has been asked that very question far more often. “Are you Russian” means “are you a hooker”? Taxi drivers ask. Married men ask. Total strangers will stop you on the street. Sometimes they chase you. They’re horny. It’s pathetic.

The KTX ride turned out to be fun. We got folding seats next to a vending machine (not a bathroom) and ended up reading and chatting for the 3 hours. I also took a nap and woke up with Koreans staring at me. Always nice.

I had fun pretending to be this French girl in Paris coming out of the train at the last minute to say goodbye to a loved one hehe

Back in Seoul it was insanely crowded. At the train station I got 5 DVDs (movies) for 10$! That’s the beauty of Asian countries!! And the quality is quite good. I don’t mind Korean subtitles.

I was only teaching 3 days this week, then I’m going to Japan (Nagoya) for 4 days! I’m thinking about taking a week off in April and get some rest on a beach before leaving Korea at the end of May. But I’ll be back before long.

I’m totally in love with this country and its people.

Saehaebong mani paduseyo!

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Monday, February 26, 2007

basil childers

Meeting an artist is always exciting. But there are no words for how I felt when I first met Basil Childers, an actual famous American photographer. We had dinner, drinks and the greatest evening ever.

He had somehow found my blog, contacted me and we met at the Ritz hotel in Seoul. The man, as well as the artist, is simply amazing! From Posco, one of the leading steel companies in the world, to a wrinkled woman smoking a giant cigar in Myanmar, he truly captures the essence of this world through photographs of dance, landscapes, everyday scenes, bigshot CEOs......


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dog cafe, birthday and fiestas

Apparently there IS such a thing as a "dogs cafe" - a cafe where you can bring your dog and the owner's dogs are walking around, pooping on the floor and jumping all over the place. They're barking at ya as you walk in. You pet them as you're sipping tea. Original idea, for sure.

That's Shane, cool guy from South Africa, former Navy officer. And those are the dogs. Plenty of 'em.

Tonight we were celebrating Pam and Rachelle's birthday. Kelly and I met everyone in Hongdae at that cafe, where the birthday girls put on the hats we'd bought them. See that dog by the window? That's what it's like there. I wonder if we have those kinda places back home?

We then headed to a cool Soju place where we had a few drinks and fruit. I love that about Korea: you can order fruit at basically any bar. Healthy eh.

Then we headed for a really creepy walk in dark alleys, up to a Salsa club that was so crowded, we couldn't even get in. There was 10 of us so we didn't want to insist ;)

The girls stopped for sundubu on the street. I love that about Korea too. Even at one in the morning, the old lady is there, selling you typically Korean food from a tired "boui-boui". Given, we were at the heart of Seoul's nightlife. Here's beautiful Jin, having some.

At the back you can see Young, Jeesoo (my school VP)'s sister and the nicest Korean girl you'll ever met! Kevin popped the question about a month ago and they're getting married in the US really soon!!

Afterwards we headed back to the Barbanana, a bar we thought would be more entertaining. Nonetheless, we ended up having drinks, fun and sharing great memories. Pam (left, Californian girl totally awesome whose full name is Pam Cash... totally artistic!!, Ben, and Catherine) just bought a Polaroid and it is the coolest thing ever!

There, you have it. A Saturday night in Seoul. No Tinpan. Still a lot of fun.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sorry baby!

How would you react if a 7-year-old Korean kid told you "sorry baby!" with a big smile after he accidently knocked some books off the table? I couldn't stop laughing!

Earlier Jason had handed me over a note written by his mom:
Teacher. I am he's mom. He lose his taste. Pleas help he find his taste.
Pleas dont punch him.

I assume "taste" means "test"..
Once again we laughed our heads off in the teachers' room.

This "ABC" class is really great. I love those kids so much and they always surprise me. They've learned so much in 3 months!! Their spontaneity is a delight.

The girls follow me everywhere I go during breaktime. They wait for me on the other side of the door. They try to teach me to count in Korean - which is funny because today they said
Teacher! Big big big test!!

They were refering to my "big big test" when I told them about the final exam. But now, they want to test ME because they've taught me how to count from one to ten!!! They're adorable!

As for Sally and Katie, i've told Ashley to call the moms. You're right mama, they oughta suffer the consequences of their actions. And anonymous's post also convinced me. Thanks ;)

On another topic, Lunar New Year's coming and Erika, Matt, Lilly, James and I are flying to Busan on Saturday! I'm really excited to get out of the city, enjoy the (cold) ocean and taking delight in eating tons of seafood!!

Moreover, we found plane tickets for Japan (Nagoya) for that 4-day week-end we get at the beginning of March! It'll feel great to travel around a little, even though I'm pissed that i'm not going to Vietnam with Twyla as originally planned (the school saw my going to Quebec for my grandma's funeral as a "vacation"............... don't get me started!)

Now i'd like to share something Eric and Danny taught me tonight about the Valentine's day in South Korea. It's really interesting.

--- February 14th is indeed Valentine's day, but GIRLS must give a gift to BOYS that they like. NOT the other way around!!

--- Then on March 14th, it's White day (which I see as Valentine's day 2 but whatever). On this day, MEN return the favor to WOMEN. In other words if a girl gave you chocolate in February, you should give her chocolate in March.

--- Finally comes the big fat (and depressing) Black Day on April 14th. On this day, people who did NOT get chocolates at all get together in Chinese restaurants and order Jajangmyun (noodles with black beans sauce). Isn't that funny?!

Of course there's also Pepero Day on November 11th - when people give peperos (candy stick dipped in chocolate) to each other. Apparently that's a big commercial scam started by Lotte company. But you can see that those Koreans are true givers!!!

And I guess we all know where i'll be on April 14th........

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love, cheating and politics

First of all, happy valentine's day.... NOT! :p Ok, i'm glad for all you lovebirds out there and I truly enjoy being single. Honnest. But when I saw Christal's boyfriend bringing her flowers and a teddy bear, I did want to join them hehe although it would have been weird!

John, one of my students, got me chocolate. Sally, an old student, also came to see me with a box of chocolates. I got a lovely "you hit the jackpot at the casino of love! Je t'aime!" apparently from James, a one-year-old kid of my co-worker.

The school gave us four bottles (each!) of rasberry wine. How generous!!!!! And I got an anonymous "be my valentine" card in my classroom.

Kyungah and I ended up having delicious Seolnong Tang (soup with meat, green onion, rice and radish kimchi)... my new obsession. It was freezing cold outside as it has been raining a lot yesterday.

Not a special day in itself. Although I did put on my pink shirt for the occasion (actually I had no idea it was Valentine's day until I saw the card!)

I spent the day grading final tests and giving speaking tests. Some were totally awful, others were just amazing (especially Sally - she's 10 and speaks English like a native!)

I was really pissed when I handed back some 59% to kids that didn't even review their tests even though I told them to. But I guess i'm mainly frustrated at myself for having been like this as a kid...............................................................!!

And then it happened. I knew it would happen some day. I just wasn't prepared.

Some people enjoy this. I really don't. REALLY don't.

I was grading tests in class during the break. I looked up and saw Sally and Katie writing answers on the table.

I laughed. "Are you writing down answers?"

Sally stared at me. She was scared. She silently shook her head. "Are you????"


I went over. "I'm sure you're telling the truth, but I just need to check. You know... in case... " I said with a big smile.

There it was. Korean and English written down on the table. "Are you kidding???" I was really upset. No, not upset. Disappointed. She erased it. I told her to erase harder.

I looked over on Katie's side. Katie is the nicest (and tiniest) girl in the whole world. She's the smartest kid i've ever had. That's not like her to do that. I saw "optimistic" written down on the table. I guess she asked the others how to spell it. No big deal...?

"I'm taking 10% off your grade."

They looked like they were at a funeral. Lisa, the other student, didn't say a word. When the bell rang they left without saying a word.

Ashley, the sweetest staff at school talked to them. Apparently Katie was crying.

And now, it's up to me to decide if the school should call the parents. What a dilemma.

Of course they should. But Korea is not like America. Parents are a lot more strict than back home. You may recall my post about corporal punishment. I know that parents might hit their kids if they hear that they cheated. And I don't want that to happen.

On the other hand, if I don't do anything about it, I'll look like a very weak teacher and they may not respect my authority afterwards. What should I do?

I guess I'll talk to them on Friday and see how it goes. I told them that their homework is to write an essay - "what is wrong with cheating?"

Yes, I know. I should be a hard ass and not care so much. But... they're just kids!

You know, in Shining Star classes we discuss really grown-up topics like the Civil Rights Movement (Luther King and Park), World War I, the Balkans, etc. You can't blame me for seeing them as adults sometimes. They know about "balance of power"... which is something I learned during my last year at McGill!

They're about 10 years old. And today, Jenny bit on something and her tooth fell off. She went to the bathroom, put the tooth in her pochet and came back with a piece of tissue in her mouth. She sat down and wrote the test.

That's when it hit me: those students are still just... kids!!!!

It was weird. As I was walking down the stairs I looked at the younger ones, lining up, following each other. They're in school. They listen to us. They do their homework. They study. They go to regular school. Then academies at night.

They're so excited when they can play outside. And when you hear them laughing, it's priceless! It's so innocent. Liberating. For both them, and you because you realize they're still kids. But for how long...?

Education is necessary, I agree. I'm a teacher. But do we do it in an healthy way? Seems like the more we learn, the more we innovate and "progress", the worst off the earth is. I don't know. Being a teacher is such a HUGE responsibility! And some teachers are just on a power trip.

When I was looking at the kids, their tiny legs going down one step at a time, they looked like conditionned little beings. For a second, I couldn't see the difference between this and a dictatorship. People are free, yes. But to what extent?

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Zen Buddha

A lot of people share a growing interest in Buddhism – as a religion, a lifestyle or even home deco. I recently started reading “Being zen” and, after spending last week-end homesick, I decided to go on a templestay.

Meet Cheong Ah Sumin 청아 스님, one of the two monks at Jakwangsa temple.

The temple is located in the mountains around Daejeong – a two-hour bus ride from Seoul.

After a 15-minute cab ride from the bus station, I was greeted by a lady wearing what appear to be the most comfortable clothes on earth. She showed me the way to a typically Asian looking door (thin white paper and wooden sticks).

As I walked in, I was greeted by Cedric, a really cool Australian guy who’s in charge of the foreigners on templestays. He also speaks French.

There were 3 other people there – a Korean girl from Daejeong, Mark, a Canadian living in Seoul, and Kelly, a Korean girl living in Seoul. It was probably the first time in my life I was so quiet. I just didn’t feel like talking. And it was ok.

Here's a quick peek of the temple.

We all went for a walk for about an hour around the mountains. The temple is surrounded by what looks like slums or abandoned villages; small alleys filled with all kinds of trash – from refrigerators sitting between two trees, to crates of beer bottles, couches, rusted bicycles, shoes, tiles, flat tires and so on.

The low houses had metal bars or broken windows and often smashed in roofs. They all had half-destroyed metal fences of stakes and some abandoned car sitting in the doorway.

I was told farmers live there, but I couldn’t seem to find any field where someone could grow crops. Only hens trapped in tiny cages, a duck flapping its wing on a front yard, and countless dogs barking at us.

Nonetheless, the surrounding mountains were pretty nice and it felt wonderful to breathe in fresh air far away from the big metropolis.

Back at the temple Cedric gave us a tour. The temple has 3 stories; ceremonies and meditation take place on the second one.

That’s where three enormous golden statues of Buddha are sitting up front, surrounded by three hundred something lit candles, a flat screen TV, a piano and Buddhist paintings. There are three portable radiators because the place isn’t heated and it gets chilly in winter.

As y’all probably already know, upon entering a temple one must take off his/her shoes and bow to the statues. Same when leaving, except that you put your shoes back on!

The 4 noble truths in Buddhism go as follows:
1. Life is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by craving and aversion
3. We can overcome suffering and attain true happiness
4. To end suffering one must follow the 8-fold path

Basically we must detach ourselves from the material world and stop craving for never-ending material needs. We suffer because we always feel like something is missing and/so we’re not happy. If we stop desiring, we’ll be much happier.

The 8-fold path is:
-- Right understanding
-- Right intention
-- Right speech
-- Right action
-- Right livelihood
-- Right effort
-- Right mindfulness
-- Right concentration

Buddhists believe that if one follows those, personal suffering will come to an end.

After the tour we went to a ceremony. It was nice. A woman was hitting the gong and singing. Well, not really singing as much as making sounds. But I enjoyed it. It’s called chanting.

There's a really cool guy who's hitting the giant gong outside every time there's a special occasion - ceremony, waking up, meals, etc. The gongs are in a seperate place, in the outdoor. They are huge and I'm thinking all this stuff (including the giant gold statues) must be worth quite a lot of money...

We bowed to the statues. You should know that Buddha is NOT a God in this religion. He simply symbolizes the possible achievement of attaining enlightenment.

Then we meditated.

At 6pm we had dinner and it was quite good. Everyone ate in the same room, sitting on the floor. Buddhists are vegetarians so we had tofu, delicious mushrooms and other vegetables, kimchi, curry, lots of salad and a really good seaweed/tofu soup.

We had to wait for everyone to be seated before we bowed and started eating. We mustn’t leave food in our plates because waste is not tolerated. And I understand.

We finished dinner with a barley infusion and a really good dessert. I can’t remember the Korean name, but it’s like fried dough with nuts and sugar inside. Yummy!

We all washed the dishes together and the Korean girl from Daejeong told me her life-story. Cedric and I spoke French. It was nice. It had been a while since I had washed dishes with other people. I really think it’s a great moment to bond. Dishwashers are so anti-social!

After dinner I went for a walk alone. I saw another temple.

At 8pm we had a Dharma talk with the monk I mentioned earlier. This was really special.

We sat on the floor and drank lotus flowers tea. He even gave me a bag because I obviously loved it.

This Dharma talk is basically your chance to ask a monk anything you wonder about. And he supposedly gives you enlightened answers.

So we all introduced ourselves and asked questions. The Canadian guy wanted to know what’s real and what really matters.

The Korean girl from Seoul asked about finding your true self. She said she sees two very opposite personalities within her soul and she doesn’t know which one is hers. The monk insisted that she observes herself and then she’ll know. He said what others think doesn’t matter because they don’t know you “inside”.

The Korean girl from Daejeong asked about Buddhism in general. And I asked about mediation and the meaning of life.

The monk was funny and he loved using metaphors. He would make big long pauses before he spoke. He pointed at the teapot and stirred it. The water inside was moving. He said that’s like humans.

Tea is your soul. You move all day long and you soul picks up many different things – some are dirty, some are good. When you meditate, you stand still and it allows your soul to settle down. Then you observe yourself, your thoughts, and you “see” clearly.

As for my very general wondering about life, he laughed.
“What are we doing here?” I asked
“We are making tea.”

He smiled and turned to somebody else. I guess it meant that only the present moment matters.
I learned about the Buddhist precepts.

a) not to take the life of any living thing
b) not to take anything not freely given
c) abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence
d) refrain from untrue speech
e) avoid intoxication (loosing mindfulness)

Cedric asked about cloning, which led to a very strange conversation. Overall, we talked for over 2 hours and my legs were killing me.

When I inquired about kids dying at an early age, I think he didn’t really know. I started from the premise that we are reincarnated until we reach enlightenment. Basically your karma must be flawless and then you can break your cycle of reincarnation and stop suffering.

But then, I wondered, what can a child accomplish or how can he improve his karma if he was born with AIDS and dies at an early age. Or if he was a child soldier and got shot. Or whatever.

The monk looked at me, paused a minute, and said “this just shouldn’t happen. Nothing is perfect and so isn’t life. Sometimes there are flaws and that’s on of them.”

I slept on the floor with Kelly. We read for a bit (she also had the “Being Zen” book! I was into Malcom X…) and went to bed, knowing we’d have to get up at 5am. I didn’t go for a shower because they were outside and the idea of my wet body walking through the dark night at minus 5 didn’t enthuse me too much.

When I heard the gong I wasn’t really tired. It started with the sound of a wooden stick bouncing off an empty wooden ball. Like a woodpecker.

I totally hit my head on the doorway but it was ok. Waking up at 5am is definitely not my cup of tea, but it was nice to see the moon and the stars. I could hear the birds singing and a couple of hens too.

We went to the temple and meditated. Then we had breakfast – rice, kimchi, tofu and the same stuff from the previous night. I noticed the giant tigers on the temple. Temples are beautiful - they are quite colorful, with lotus flowers painted on the ceiling. The shapes are very interesting too.

For about 2 hours we could do anything we wanted so I went for another walk. Then I meditated again and finally met the other guys to set up the place for English classes. Yes, English teachers volunteer every Sunday for 4 hours to teach to Korean kids at the temple.

Between 10 and 12 there was the noon ceremony at the main Buddha hall. Chanting and meditation of course, but mainly we did the 108 bows.

108 bows is simple. You are standing up in front of your cushion. Put your hands together. Bow. Then get on your knees, put your hands on the ground and touch the cushion with your forehead. Get up and do it again. 108 times.

For some reason my feet hurt the most. It took about 20 minutes. Afterwards Kelly and I had a good laugh when going down the stairs and realizing how painful our thighs felt!

The lady asked if we wanted to meditate or watch a video. This weird-looking dude and his wife immediately said “VIDEO!!” so I had to sit, crossed-legs on the floor, for an hour, watching a monk talk in Korean. I didn’t understand a single word and was quite bored. But I figured it was the polite thing to do to stay.

After the projection we were told it’d be lunch in about 15 minutes. As I was about to get up, this Korean woman slid her cushion up to me and started speaking to me. Ah. I needed the peace, but she needed to talk I guess. So I listened to her life story and her compliments about me.

We went for lunch, same thing as the night before. After washing dishes I went for a walk. It was such a bright day.

I sat on a pile of abandoned wooden planks between old junk and a deserted building and I read for a while. Even though it was cold outside, the sunlight kept me warm and I stared at the mountains for a moment. “Nothing but blue skies, do I see”…

I went back to meditate in the temple, and then Cedric, Mark and I took a bus back to Daejeong. We caught the 4 o’clock one to Seoul and I pretty much slept the whole time. I was really tired from a wild Friday night party with Woo Kyung and her friends at a karaoke bar. I had slept about 4 hours that night.

Back in Seoul there was hell of traffic. The subway was crowded. Back to reality I guess. I got home, ate dinner and went straight to bed for a good 12-hour sleep.

Now it’s Monday and I would need the day off to cool off and have a little personal introspective but I gotta go to work. Gotta give my students their final test. Gotta. Gotta.

I’m definitely going back to that temple. Meanwhile I’ll beware of my karma and try to practice wisdom and compassion.

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Is Bush an idiot?

The whole thing is just blow-minding, but you can fwd to about 5:27, when he talks about the pig while having a press conference with the German Chancellor. Priceless

Thursday, February 08, 2007

At the post office

As you walk in the small office located on a corner of two alleys in a poor neighborhood, the smell of gas immediately reaches your nostrils (and brain?)

Two ladies dressed in dark and sobre clothes are busy behind the counter. It's hot in there and the only thing decorating the immaculate walls is a framed Korean flag.

The place is tiny, filled with boxes and packages all over the place.

Suddenly, I don't feel like i'm in the wealthiest part of Seoul anymore - it looks like i'm in some developing country, at a post office temporarily opened as a result of a flood or civil war that has destroyed the entire country, or something.

It's like we're 50 year ago.
Like I said, it's so hot in there. I'm sweating like you wouldn't believe just as i'm filling out the address on my package. I can't write in English; it has to be Korean characters. I do my best. The lady smiles and nods, thinking "they should be able to understand this"
Just as i'm about to pay, an ajashi (old dude) cuts me off and starts talking to the employee. They both forget that I even exist. He seems confused and he smells like alcohol and cigarettes. It's 11am.
That adds up to the gas smell. I notice the heating device on the floor. It feels as if the whole place could blow up any minute now.
Mailing stuff from Korea is cheap. A letter to Canada is a dollar and fifty cents. A package to Madrid, about 6 bucks. Soju, sake, tea and other silly things to France cost maybe 10 dollars to the most.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

North Korean Mass Games - Finale

Would you part two

This time i’m not asking about buying a dog. This was a stupid idea, I know. I’m leaving in four months and the poor thing would be miserable. So would I.

I have a crazier idea: visiting North Korea!

Going to one of the very last bastions of communism.

Crossing the border that so many North Koreans have died trying to escape through.

Pyongyang, the capital of a cold country full of unsolved mysteries.

The tiny Kim Jong-Il – as ugly as a hamster and yet most likely the mastermind of general paranoia as well as brainwashing.

Why not?

US citizens are not allowed there. Neither are Israelis. But I’m Canadian.

It would be in April, during the mass game and the big festivities (can “fun” and North Korea be in the same sentence?) for Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebration.

Damn Youtube ain't working on my blog but check out this video, it's impressive . There's the actual mass games video divided in over 10 parts too... unbelievable!

We’d visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone) from within North Korea. We’d bow at Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues.

We’d stay in a huge hotel where there are maybe 10 guests. Go through empty streets, riding far away from the local population.

I'd see some starving and pennyless people from afar who think they were lucky to have been born in NK. They wouldn't dare waving at me because, well of course i'm white, and they'd be shot or sent to prison right away.

We’d be followed by at least one guide everywhere we’d go. Our phones would probably tap.

Apparently the kimchi over there tastes incredibly good. And the anti-american propaganda is delirious.

The flight is from Beijing so I need to pay extra money to get there from Seoul. We’d fly in on a Saturday morning, and then take the train back.

Can you imagine? One day and a night on the train from Pyongyang to Beijing, looking through my window and catching a tiny glimpse of this secluded world.

Sounds interesting, right? Plus I’m a sociology/polisci major so of course this stuff interests me a lot.

Should I do it?

Oh, one more thing. It would cost 3000$ for 5 days.

Yes. Really.

Here are a few facts about North Korea:

1. Ironically called Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
2. Military expenses account for almost a quarter of the gross domestic product.
3. Population: 22.9 million
4. Language: Korean (slightly different from South Korea)

5. Life expectancy: 60 (men) and 66 (women)
6. Literacy rate: 99%
7. Eternal president: Kim Il Sung
8. Communism introduced in: 1945 (after WWII and independence from Japan)
9. Main ally for trade: China
10. Annual growth rate: 0.98%
11. Infant mortality: 24.84 deaths per 1000 live births
12. Exports: $1.044 billion
13. Imports: $2.042 billion

14. Natural resources: coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
15. Agriculture: rice; corn; potatoes; soybeans; pulses; cattle; pigs; pork; eggs
16. Industry: military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles; food processing; tourism
17. Deaths attributed to famine between 1995-98: South Korean and U.S. estimates of deaths range from 270,000 to 2 million
18. Percentage of the population with access to safe drinking water: fell from 86 percent in 1994 to just 53 percent two years later (The current economic situation is so bad that there are areas of North Korea where there is neither electricity nor sufficient chlorine to run water treatment plants)
19. Vaccination coverage for diseases such as polio and measles: fell from 90 percent of children in 1990 to just 50 percent in 1997

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Friday, February 02, 2007


Well intensive is over so I can sleep in the morning BUT i've been sick as hell the whole week so... so far I ain't enjoying this. Last night I was shivering so hard I was afraid my temp fillings would break!

The funny thing (if you will) is that whenever I have the flu I feel like i'm the only one on earth to experience those symptoms. "There's gotta be something wrong with me! Am I going to die?!"

On Tuesday Pam made me laugh harcore when she showed me this:

Yup! That's what we teach young Korean kids at my school hehe

It's a page from our little story books that we read in PhonicsA. Read it carefully. It's both hilarious and quite disturbing.

"No, no, no, no, no!"
said the big monster.

"Come on, open your mouth and close your eyes."
"I'm going to give you a big surprise."

First of all, it doesn't just say "No, no!"; to the contrary, it's a big fat pervert "no, no, no, no, no!"

Moreover, you can hear the dude saying "come on...." as you read the words and, well, no comment on the rest of the sentence...

Finally, why on heck did they highlight the word "big"?!

Needless to say we were all laughing our heads off in the teachers room.

In a nutshell here are some news: got our plane tickets to Busan and booked a hotel by the beach! I really need to get out of this city.

I got several postcards, a book about Andalucia and a really cool Japanese movie delivered to school this week! It's from Hye Jeong, the sister of a private I used to teach last summer (remember when she showed up with her whole family in the car and they showed me around Seoul all Sunday long?!) She just got back from Spain! How sweet is she?!

It's February so this means I've only got 4 months left here! I don't know if i'm sad or excited, but i'm definitely stressed out browsing job openings all over the world.

I'm learning the Korean alphabet. I really feel like a child, copying each character at leat 30 times and trying to stay BETWEEN THE LINES!

Am reading Malcom X's biography and it's pretty good!

Got no money but before I leave Korea I want to
- get my teeth crowns (so much cheaper here than back home! Here it's 400$, in Montreal it's 900$!),
- buy a better digital camera,
- go to Vietnam, Fiji, Japan, maybe the Philippines?
- North Korea is definitely a must too.
- spend a week-end at a Buddhist temple
- And of course I need to visit historical places around Seoul like fortresses, a few more palaces, the DMZ, museums, tombs. Also want to see musicals, traditional Korean dancing and plays.

Yeah right. All this in four months. By the way, i'm superwoman!

Oh, here's a picture of my adorable ABC kids. We're working on "X" now. Every class we list words starting with every letter of the alphabet and last class we counted them: they know over 180 words!

You should have seen them, they were clapping and smiling like crazy! I'm so proud of them!

Thank God It's Friday!
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