Fall in Jeollanam-do

I love fall in Korea. It is warmer, sunnier, and drier than fall in MN. It is also beautiful.  We are also 12° south of MN , and in dry season so, unfortunately, we don’t have all the amazing leaf colors MN does.  But we have lots of other colors. It is beautiful here.  You probably remember my posting about how I (Akasha) walk past a fig orchard on the way to work?  Well, they are beautiful in fall.  Green, purple, brown, they literally burst open on the trees. It is so cool.  I’ve been learning to cook with them, making fig liquor, jam, figs and pork, fig muffins, fig bread…

fig brusting in the sun

There are beautiful flowers late into the fall/ early winter.  Roses and Camillas are still blooming.  There are lots of pretty white, purple, and pink flowers. I really love the orange flowers, they kind of look like California Poppies. Another fruit all over Korea that we don’t see in MN is persimmon.  I don’t think they taste like much, but they are beautiful. We had a few typhoons late in the year and they knocked the fruit off of most of the trees along our coast, but we saw some big trees full of fruit on our road trip.  Many farmers planted them along side the orange flowers.  They are so beautiful.  I wish I could bring this scene back home. If you look carefully at the pic on the left you can see the juice running down underneath the orange persimmon.

persimmon dripping with juice

Persimmons on the river bank

Chestnuts are everywhere too. They are falling off of the trees.  Vendors roast them on the street with what looks like chickory.  It smells great, but I’m not much for the taste.  Maybe if they were salted…

Chestnuts

The markets are full of all sorts of great stuff this time of year. It is a great time to go shopping. Since you cant be here to see it, I thought I’d share some of our pictures.

A few more blogs coming up will talk about our favorite fall foods, weekend road trips, and more school stuff. We miss you guys.  We love it when you comment, it is like keeping in touch and motivates us to write more.

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The Monsoons

It’s officially monsoon season here in Jeolla. When we got here we thought a monsoon was a big storm.  Turns out, we were wrong.  A monsoon is a season with a fairly specific, Wiki-accessible definition. Sometimes there are amazing storms (Typhoons) with 90mph winds and torrential downpours that knock out our neighbors windows and push me down.  Some times there are bright, hot, clear, sunny days where there is no escape from the sun.  Many days there is a constant foggy drizzle that saturates everything, bloats your books and frizzes your hair.  It is 100% humid all the time.

100% humidity, isn’t that rain? you ask.  Or fog? Not necessarily.  100% humidity is washing the dishes at night, sleeping 8 hours, and waking up to wet dishes.  100% humidity is having the dog nap on your bed while you’re at work and drool on your bedding.

2 Day old doggie drool

Then, the drool spot is still there when you get home, still there when you go to bed, still there when you go to work the next day (I’m calling Guiness soon.)  100% humidity means never straightening your hair, cause it will be a spring factory an hour later.

Generally speaking, Monsoon season is a soggy mess of heat and wet. The air stays misty and damp, the mist slowly getting heavier until you’re walking through huge mist droplets that begin slowly settling to the ground, then growing bigger until you realize they’re raindrops, which continue to get bigger, and heavier, until you’re trapped in a steady rain that will last all day. Or it will build into a huge gully-washer with thunder that makes the kids (and some teachers) scream in the halls of school.

It also has interesting side effects re: sweating. I (Mike) wore a nice orange shirt in to work the other day. By some miscommunication, my co-teacher had to leave a class unattended, and I was forced to fill in. This nervousness, combined with the humidity, left me with definite sweat-rings about the size of dinner plates under both arms. I was doing pretty well until I had to raise my arms to point at things, and noticed the kids were pointing at their armpits and laughing. They were also pointing at me. And laughing.

Here’s one lesson to take from this: if you ever want to amuse a room full of Korean third graders, try some sweaty armpits. Endlessly entertaining. It made discipline a challenge, though. I had to turn mean for a minute, giving them the meanest face I have, and when they’d settled down and when I resumed teaching I had to do it T-Rex style, elbows pinned to my waist. And nothing’s cooler, or classier, than that. And no, there are no photos.

Short haircut Remi

How does Remi like the monsoon season?  Well, last year we learned the hard way that heavy fur six inches long can carry an extra five pounds of monsoon water after a decent walk in the rain.  So this year, we’ve shaved him nearly bald.  He HATES gettting shaved, in fact when we approach the groomers he tries hard to go the other way. But he’s much more comfortable now, though he looks a bit like a pointer/dalmation.

When the monsoons end we will be enjoy the ripe juicy figs, pods bursting with sesame seeds, persimmons, pumpkins, rice, and gourds galore, and it will be good.

sesame plants growing crazy in the rain

There will be cool breezes and drier air, though we know the ‘death heat’ is also just around the corner.  But until then, bring on the moisture.

We don’t have air-conditioning, just 3 fans that push the air around and two awesome doors to create a pretty decent cross breeze.  Sometimes we go hide in air–conditioned restaurants, but mostly we just suck it up.  Put on a pair of galoshes, grab an umbrella, and go for a hike.

A bamboo grove on a stormy day
(between storms)

There is are two  summer foods that we just LOVE to beat the humidity.  Mul Neng Mien (ice water soup) and Pat Bing Su.  Mul Neneg Mien is the best cold soup ever! It is made

Mul Neng Mien (with green tea noodles and ham)

with soba noodles, juilianed cucumbers, Asian pears, and white radish.  The broth is made of kimchi juice.  It is frozen and half defrosted, then  the boiling hot soba noodles are tossed in, leaving little chopped icebergs floating.  It is served with half a hard boiled egg, mustard, and rice vinegar.  It is crisp, tart, filling, and refreshing.  Oh, and it is served in a metal bowl, so it cools your hands too.!  My other big favorite is Pat Bing Su.

Traditional Pat Bing Su is a big bowl filled with shaved ice, sweet red beans, little rice cakes, gummy candies, and a scoop of ice cream. Umm, yeah.  I’m not a big fan of the original.  But there are a million varieties. Choco banana Pat Bing Su has chocolate shaved ice, banana slices, chocolate ice cream and syrup, oreos, and fancy rolly cookies.

Chocobanana patbingsu

Most of your fruits have a Pat Bing Su. Blueberry Pat Bing Su, Mango Pat Bing Su and the mother of all Pat Bing Su: Mixed fruit Pat Bing Su has juice shaved ice, a medley of fresh and canned fruits, gummies, sweet rice cakes, berry syrup, and berry ice cream.  So good.  It’s like diabetes in a bowl!  If that doesn’t beat the heat it is time to move home.

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Cool stuff

So much is happening and it is all so lovely.

Thing 1:

The Rambergs are getting published.  As you all know, Mike is a writer and works diligently at living on his writing.  Back in February he self published a great novella about our stay here in Mokpo.  Just kidding, MZD, a novella of undead horror is a zombie novella that takes place in our host city.

Well, he is at it again.  Friday he was published in Cal Morgan’s Forty Stories, by Harper Perennial.  It is a great short story about  a ball of twine we all know and love, and its untimely demise.  (it’s on pages 17-28.) Love you, Smoochie. For far more information, check out Mike’s writing website: http://www.grebmar.net.

Update: I posted this on Monday, but today (Thursday) Mike was published again! Way to go baby! My man is on a roll. This time a rock n’ roll piece. Read it for free online, or download the kindle edition of Prick of the Spindle for $1.75 at Amazon. I’m so proud of you, honey!

Remi reading “The Farm at Pony Gulch”

His mom, PTZ, has been editing her father’s memoirs for some time.  In April she published them with NDSU.  The Farm at Pony Gulch is a great read about the family’s emigration to North Dakota, her father’s life as a prairie school teacher, and the community of Germans from Russia which makes up the bulk of ND. Since publication she has been giving readings, gone on a book tour, and had a guest appearance on Prairie Public Radio.  Way to go, Patsy!

Thing 2:

Back in February, I found an amazing project to let the survivors of the Fukishma Tsunami/Reactor tragedy know we that are still thinking of them. A blogger in Japan, named Jojoebi,  started the Little Houses Project, which challenged makers around the world to make little houses for those still in temporary housing.  I made a little house as part of my Thing A Day 2012, but kept in contact with Jo after mailing mine in.

Now Jojoebi is at it again.  She has gotten bloggers from around the world to contribute to a blog series and picture book about neighborhoods around the world.  The series goes live today, starting with Jo’s neighborhood in Saitama, Japan.  We’ll be visiting neighborhoods in Korea, Slovenia, the States – oh, everywhere!  Take a look.  Our page will go up on the 1st of July!  Clock the “badge” to see today’s post.

Please take a peek at the other bloggers.

June 25 — Japan – www.jojoebi-designs.com
26 – California, USA http://akatsukira.com/
28 –  Canary islands, jeveuxunetitesoeurfille.over-blog.com
29 – East Devon, UK, www.knittylorn.blogspot.co.uk
30 – Michigan,  U.S.A. www.godwhohasnohands.blogspot.com
July 1 – Mokpo, S0uth Korea, http://jeollanamdosalad.wordpress.com/
3 – Falkirk in Scotland,  www.kidscraftandchaos.com
4 – Washington,  U.S.A. – http://www.zonnah.com
6 – South Africa – http://www.se7en.org.za/
7 – New York City, USA – http://taliastravelblog.wordpress.com/
9 – Wellington, NZ –  http://thepukekopatch.com/
10 – Berlin, Germany – http://camidaily.tumblr.com
11 – UK (cambridge) – http://crazycambridgemum.blogspot.co.uk/

FYI: International Drivers Permits

We were once told you can only get your American issued International Driver’s License (IDL) in the States, and can’t renew it if you’re already here. Like many things people say without proof, ‘they’ were wrong.  Here’s how we (legally) drive cars here in Korea without going home for the IDL:

Background information:
International Drivers Permits (IDP) are certificates of your holding a driver’s license in your home country. They are recognized by 70 countries worldwide, and provide you with the equivalent of that country’s license without the need to surrender yours or take tests to acquire a license in that country. This allows you to rent cars, buy cars, and take out insurance. More information on the treaty that created this recognition can be found at this Wikipedia page.

How to get one:

In the USA:
First, you need a driver’s license from your home state. If you’re in the US planning to move to or visit Korea, or any other member nation, you can get an IDP from any American Automobile Association (AAA) location. The cost is about 15 dollars, and all you need is your license and a couple of passport pictures. It took us 15 minutes to get ours.

Outside the USA:
If you’ve been living abroad for more than a year (as we have), your IDP has expired. How to get a new one without a long plane ride? Internet to the rescue! I renewed my permit using a form downloaded from the National Automobile Club, at this website: http://www.thenac.com/idp_faqs.htm I downloaded the form, filled it out, and sent it back with passport pictures. They charge a large fee (70 dollars US) to ship it overseas, so to avoid this, put a friend’s name on the application and have them ship it to you.

You need to send a signed photocopy of your US license, two passport photos, and payment information (Check or credit card). To protect against fraud, they do not provide online applications. The envelope left Korea, was processed, the license was sent to my (Mike’s) dad’s house, he sent it to Korea regular shipping, and we had the license in hand 3 weeks later. Easy-peasy.

It was a really simple form that took a minute to fill out, and we had it back in 3 weeks.  It is really easy to get around in Korea with the bus/train service, but we can’t bring the dog on buses and it is a pain to bring him on the trains.  It is so much easier to go camping with a large dog when we rent a car.

Warning:
There are other websites online that will provide IDP’s, as a simple Google search will return. However, there are only two organizations endorsed by the US Department of state to issue the IDP: AAA and the National Auto Club. Beware imitations.

Other options:
You can also get a Korean driver’s license.  You need to go to the embassy in Seoul or Busan in person and have your US issued license verified.  Then you can take the document and the license to a Korean DMV and take the driver’s exam. That would have required several days off of work for us to go to Seoul  for document A and to Naju for the test.  All in all, the IDL was faster and has the same effect. Plus, we’re not sure what effect that has on getting your driver’s license back when you return to the states. You’d probably need to call your home state’s DMV for that information.

Whichever license you choose, there are some major differences in driving here. The DMV has a list of road signs that will make it easier to get where you’re going. Many destinations are written in Korean and English, but a lot of the signs are just in Korean. Drivers are a bit insane. And there are also numerous camera speed traps, so keep your foot light on the pedal, Speed Racer!

side note: we live in a port town and it is really easy to bring Remi on the ferry and go camping on the islands. Oh, and since we aren’t gonna put up a pic of our license, enjoy a pic of Remi on the ferry. Can’t go wrong with a dog picture!

Update! Looks like the government will be issuing IDLs at police stations now.

One year in! So many changes…

We’ve been in Korea for a year now, and I’d say we’re settled in, but Korea doesn’t like to keep things settled. Things change a lot here, and pretty fast. So to commemorate our one year anniversary, I thought I’d go through a list, in no particular order, of a bunch of things that have changed around us as we’ve remained steadfastly (ha ha) the same. They are mostly little things, but put together they give you a sense of what goes on around us all the time.

The new paint scheme - very smart!

Our apartment complex got a paint job. They went from a dingy, faded beige and pastel to a crisp white and brown. Well, except for our building and the one next to it, and I’m sure Korea’s getting to us soon.

My (Mike’s) Principal, Vice Principal, and school Administrator have all been replaced. In fact, Korean public schools have a policy that no staff member can stay in a school more than four years. A typical teacher can expect to teach in four or five different cities, in six to eight schools, over the course of their career. So, in fact, about a quarter of the teachers at school have left for other schools, and been replaced. Most of the other teachers have been reassigned. Fourth grade teachers now teach sixth grade. The gym teacher now teaches sixth grade. They seem to like the change, but it would probably be a “challenge” for American teachers to put up with so much change.

My (Mike’s) main co-teacher remains the same. However, I am now on my third and fourth secondary co-teachers. One left to spend more time with her children. Her replacement was at Seohae for six months, and then moved to a middle school. One of my current co-teachers taught fifth grade last year, and she plans to move to Seoul in a few months. My other co-teacher, who deserves a blog entry all to himself, is also the head teacher at Seohae, so he’s very busy and often does not show up to class at all.

Likewise, the foreigners come and go. The main ‘intakes’ are April and August. No sooner had we settled in last year than a bunch of friends left. A similar exodus is taking place at the end of the month, and we will miss our friends a lot. But they’re moving on to bigger things – hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, for instance. I’m sure some nice people will come in and take their teaching posts, but they can’t be replaced.

The gap closing...

The big bridge that’s been under construction is nearly done. When we arrived, there was a gap of a few hundred feet in the suspension itself, and the decking leading to the far shore was completely absent. Now when we look out, the span is complete, and we expect traffic to be flowing on it any day now. In preparation for the extra traffic they’ve been digging up the parkway by the beach, adding strange underground tunnels that I can’t quite figure out the purpose of.

The building next to us got renovated over the winter. One day the Jugong Mart, the tiny market with the orange sign, where we bought our juice and beer and other daily needs, shut down. We were heartbroken because the family that ran it was so sweet to us. During our early months when we didn’t know how Korea worked, they were patient, showing us where things like light bulbs and band-aids were. They had let us borrow a truck to pick up some furniture last summer. (We also got a new couch and chair. Very pleathery.) So we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Then, the Jugong Mart shop was shut down. The worn floors and homely shelving were gutted for a bright, florescent space. We wondered what would go there, but construction started right away, and eventually a new green sign went up, a new floor went down, and it’s still the Jugong Mart, but it’s pretty much all new. It’s bright and shiny, and the new people are nice but they haven’t warmed up to us quite the same way.

Other stores open and close quickly. In the same building as Jugong Mart, a store that specialized in ginseng products – pickled ginseng, ginseng candy, ginseng by the pound, you get the idea – shut down and was replaced by a honey chicken stand. A ladies clothing store next to the 7-Eleven also shut down one day and three days later was another honey chicken place. Our favorite hamburger place – one of the only hamburger places – Kraze Burger – shut down without warning one day, promising to re-open in the neighbor city of Namak, though this has not happened yet. However, a new place opened last month on Rose Street, and they have some decent burgers on the menu, one of which, the Volcano Burger, is spicy and tasty; a new favorite. But there’s still nothing to compare to a good Jucy Lucy from Matt’s on Cedar.

Well there are other changes as well, but that should give you an idea of what it’s like here. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss something.

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Day trip: Seawater Spa

Last weekend, we hooked up with Pedro Kim of Lonely Korea for a trip up the western coast that involved a buddhist temple, a drive along the sea, and a stop in a traditional Korean sauna.

We arrived in Gwangju just after ten a.m. to meet up with Pedro and the rest of the travelers. There were nine guests total, from places as varied as Missouri, Nova Scotia, and North Carolina. We left Gwangju and headed west, towards the coastal region of Yeongwang-eup and Bepseongpo temple. This is where Buddhism was introduced from India to the ancient Baekje kingdom, in the 6th century. The area is secluded and remote; Pedro parked the van in an empty lot, and we walked past a modest house where dogs were play-fighting over a chunk of squid near the shore. Fish had been tied up in yellow twine and hung to dry in large masses, mouths gaping, eyes staring at the sea from where they’d been taken.

A wave of fish

The view from the temple

The temple was up and over a low rise, standing on a hill overlooking a bowl of smaller structures, facing a wide estuary and mountains in the distance. Truly a spot to sit and contemplate history, and the future. The architecture is notably Indian, and not very similar to the Korean temples we’ve been at except for the elaborately painted pagodas in bright colors.

We took a drive along the coast, and though it was foggy the coastline was lovely, and wavey, which we haven’t seen in Mokpo, where the thousand islands dampen waves long before they reach our shores. Pedro took us to a secluded spot, where we had a waffle and coffee in a cafe that was done up in Korean Christmas style. Then, we headed down to the spa.

The sauna wasn't much from the outside.

Korean seawater spas are different from what we’ve experience before in what are called Jimjaebangs. Those are more like standard hot-tubs and saunas, but the sewater spa is a different experience entirely. Here, we changed into spa clothes in a small room with cedar lockers, then walked into a small room with two cut-out holes in the floors where the water was kept. There was barely enough room between the walls and the holes for one person to sit comfortably, but all ten of us managed to squeeze in.

On top of the water was a bag of fragrant sticks, and a jute mat. We were warned – don’t go in the water; it’s an extremely hot 80 c. The room itself was not much warmer than the outside temperature, which was in the low sixties. And, unfortunately, it was too humid and wet for us to bring in any cameras, so my description will have to do.

As soon as we’d settled in, an attendant brought in a shovel loaded with white-hot stones. He carried them carefully across our outstretched legs, then dropped them into the pools. The white-hot rocks hit the seawater in a spray of steam that immediately gathered in the room, a dense fog that blocked our vision completely. Then they brought in more hot rocks; four shovels full for each tub, and we sat in the dense fog as the room heated up.

Eventually, the water cooled to below boiling, and it was at this point that the magic of the spa experience began. Pedro showed us the way: Dip a towel into the incredibly hot water, squeeze it out, and when you can stand to touch it, wrap it over a partner’s shoulders. The heat, barely where you can stand it, immediately sinks into your muscles, loosening your muscles and relaxing them at the same time as the steam is cleansing your lungs. It was very calming, especially with the herbs that had been put in the water beforehand.

We stayed in the sauna for about two hours, repeatedly applying the hot water towels to ourselves, and as time passed the water cooled, lessening the need to cool off the towels before wrapping our legs, or arms, or heads, in the salty water. Eventually, we soaked our feet in the water, and then, pruny and satisfied, and feeling a bit like salted dried fish, we changed back into street clothes and went back into the cool, cloudy day.

School Festival!

The stage, and the camera-boy.

(Mike )

When October comes to Korea, elementary school students all over the country start practicing their special skills. Homeroom teachers become variety show producers, thinking of new skits and songs and dance routines for their students to produce. The halls are filled with the sounds of recorders playing folk songs ranging from old Korean standby Arirang to the more modern Edelweiss, from the Sound of Music.

My school, Soehae, was no exception. I’d heard the rumors from other schools whose festivals had gone before, but nothing could quite prepare me for the over-arching three-hour bacchanalia of cute and clever talents of kids aged five to thirteen performing on a gymnasium stage.

Kids in Hanbok

I went down to the gym around nine-fifteen, a few minutes before the festival was due to begin. The gymnasium had been converted to a theater, with folding chairs down both sides of a central aisle, and in the middle towards the back a platform held a camera on a tripod, and a fifth grade camera-boy, to record the whole show.

The parents were just starting to file in. As is the custom, you are not supposed to wear shoes inside a school, even if it is a gymnasium that has been worn smooth by thousands of sneakers. The parents hadn’t brought the indoor shoes, so they did the alternative: The stuck their feet in plastic baggies and tied them shut at the ankles. Imagine if you will a room full of parents shuffling around with their feet in plastic baggies. It was even odder than you’re imagining.

The show started, as it must, with a cute couple of kids welcoming the parents to the show. Then, a group of school-kids came out to play arirang on the recorder. Then, first-graders in traditional Korean outfits called Hanboks came out. They danced, and lip-synced to a Korean popular song whose lyrics were a complete mystery to me. Then, every five minutes, there was another show: third graders sat on the stage holding soda bottles containing beads; they shook them and pounded the floor in a percussion show. Then came some more third graders, all in yellow shirts and wearing faux American Indian headbands. They knocked together wooden sticks to the beat of a song I can’t remember.

Parents' row

For many acts, the parents moved up front, crowding the pit in front of the stage, and thrusting their cameras up to film the action. I though at some point there were more photographers than performers. I suspect the scene is familiar to anyone with kids in America.

There were no solo or duet acts. Korea isn’t big on the idea of individuals showing off, at least not at the public school level. The smallest group of kids was about six, who came out in berets and played their accordions in unison.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the classes lined up for their turn on the stage and frazzled teachers tried to keep the show together. It went on for about four hours, until finally, the crowd thinned out to the final sets of parents, the show closed and we all returned to our classrooms exhausted and ready to go home.

(Akasha )
School festivals are awesome, so different from MN school festivals.  (One day I’ll do a US/ ROK elementary compare and contrast entry) My schedule was rearranged for a month as each class rehearsed during 6th period for the month.)  Classes were cancelled the day before the big show for dress rehearsal.  All students sat in the gym and watched the dress rehearsal.  It was the noisiest, most rambunctious “watching” I’ve ever seen.  During the actual production the teachers were busy watching/ helping the show.  Classes that weren’t on stage or in que were supervised by one teacher per floor,  a 1/120 adult/ student ratio!

Kindergartners exiting performance #2

Most of the performances were very similar to Mike’s school festival.  The big difference and most memorable was the “play” the 6th graders performed.  It went from birth to death.  It covered being born, first day of school, first day of middle school, studying for national exams, graduations, fun with friends, going to college (Harvard), compulsory military service, falling in love, graduation,  getting married, having babies, a soju rage (professional men binge drinking and questioning the life, very existential and ugly, usually around age 60) getting old, and dying.  It was awesome and the one the kids really paid attention to.  Super fun, if not a little depressing.

soju stupor

The performances were spotless.  The parents seemed pleased, and the kids had fun.  None of this would have happened back home, it was strange and wonderful.