On the Home Front

We had big plans this weekend to head off to Andong and the traditional Korean folk villiages there but when our alarm rang at 6:30 in the morning getting up didn't seem like such a good idea. So we slept in and stayed in Ulsan for the weekend... and it was really good.

Saturday we went for a nice hike in Ulsan Grand Park. It's a gorgeous park right next to us, we love going there but we haven't done any of the hiking there so we decided to. It was kinda like home, up in the hills with trees all around. Except when you came to a clearing you saw this slightly odd sight:

Even though you were in the middle of the hills surrounded by the wonderful nature, city life was just a skip and a hop away. Kinda an odd sight and feeling. Also, we were reminded that this was indeed Korea and not Canada by the graves sprinkled throughout the hills.Just small graves with a small stone marker in a clearing or on the hillside. Not something you normally see in Canada. Near the top we also happened onto another sight you don't normally see in the Canadian forests or hilltops. A gym. Of sorts.Spots for stretching, decline sit up benches, weight benches, skip ropes, massive hula hoops and a bunch of ajummas (means married woman but is mostly used for older women) doing their exercises. So Nolana decided to join them.Kinda crazy but we hear they're pretty common. Dar's.... gyms.... in 'dem hills.

On Sunday we went to church and then went out to lunch with the couple we had met the last time and some other people. It was so good to just hang out with friends, laugh and joke and enjoy other people's company. A Kiwi girl who's almost done her term of duty here, a super cool black dude (it's NOT offensive to call them black!) from South Carolina with the slow drawl and dreams of catfish and deep fried food, and another Canadian fresh off the boat. Good times.

After lunch we hit a board games room. I had heard of them but had never visited. You pay for your time there and can pick from a wide variety of games to play. So we played Settlers of Catan. Who knew we could feed our fix even in Korea!! It was just like old times and Nolana even won. Some things don't change. A neat idea minus the noisy hammers that most tables were using to "bonk" the loser of the game, especially when it is the funny thing to get the foreigners to bonk the loser. We bonked at least a half dozen kids.

Another good weekend... and the next one is our first Costco trip. Oh yeah, Costco is in Korea and it has all sorts of amazing things like cheese and hamburger and tortilla shells.... oh man, so good!


Something's Fishy

I have been converted... at least partially.

In Korea, a favorite snack/dessert is.... red beans. In summer red bean paste goes on ice shavings, it it the filling for most pastries and donuts, you can get stewed red beans from the roadside vendors as a snack and now (because it is fall) you can bean filled fish cakes. Not real fish cakes, but a deep-fried snack shaped like a fish.
I used to disdain biting into a pastry only to find it was filled with bean paste. "Bean is NOT a dessert," said I while chucking my pastry in the trash. After many a mistaken bite, the bean has got ahold of me. I quite enjoy the fish. Some are filled with bean, some with a lemony cream filling which I still admit is better but I now enjoy munching on a bean filled fish. And I don't mind it in a sugary donut. I buy the little fish for a snack every now and again when I walk by. I'm hooked.


Happy Birthday Baby!

It's my baby's birthday. This cute little gaffer made it all the way to 24! And as you can see she never lost her sweet tooth.

Even here in Korea, the land where rice cakes are considered sweet she manages to keep her stock of "treats". I love you baby.

I am glad to have married the most organized, hottest woman in the world. Oh yeah, and I guess she's pretty funny too. And generous. And thoughtlful. And did I mention beautiful ( she likes that word better than hot). Who else could put up with me every day and still smile. She makes my life a heck of alot better and continues to motivate me to better myself ( I call it nagging but she calls it bettering :) Happy birthday and I love you baby, let's do this again.


Extra pictures

Picture #1 blogger wouldn't let me upload. The view up to Seokgulam grotto.
Picture #2 Blogger wouldn't let me upload. Anapji Pond.A third picture. Nolana took a good photo of the flowers and there is even a bee in the center of the one flower.

Gyeongju, Again

We headed off for a weekend away to nearby Gyeongju, a weekend to get away and tear up the town... so when we arrived at 9pm Friday night we called it a night. We're pretty much ready for dentures and All Bran too.

Saturday morning, after a stop at Paris Baguette for a pastry breakfast, we headed off to Bulguska, the crown jewel of Gyeongju. It's a temple set into the mountains and at first glimpse is unique from many other temples, with a impressive fortress style wall and mountains all around.
We toured around, saw what there was to see and concluded it was pretty neat. Most of it was rebuilt in the past 4o years or so because, as the majority of all things Korean were, it was destroyed my the marauding Japanese. Those blasted Japanese!

Still alot of the stone work is the original from the Shilla empire circa. 700 AD. Then we took the bus to Seokgulam grotto which is famed for its large buddha which stands in a hall cut into the cliff and looking out on the East Sea. Didn't see the sea, can't take pictures of the Buddha, but still a nice setting and worth a peek.

The shrine/grotto is cut into the mountain, up a little bit. (Insert 1st picture blogger wouldn't let me upload). And it really does have a pretty impressive view.

Out over the valley and maybe on a clear day you could indeed see the East Sea.Just clouds on this day. We headed 'er back and on the way stopped at a folkcraft villiage where the houses were old school and lots of shops selling pottery, etc... We really like alot of the Korean pottery but unfortunately it would be a headache to get back. Still, so styling. We caught the sunset there...... and then went back to the hotel. Vegged, treated ourselves to KFC (the first American fast food we've had since we've been here), and watched Lost. What IS up with Locke... and now Desmond?

The next morning we decided to hoof it around to see some things in town. Walked through a nice forest/park where some odd fall flower was just starting to bloom.

Then we hit up Anapji Pond where the ancient palace/banquet hall sat on the man-made lake. (Insert Picture #2 Blogger wouldn't let me upload). It was relaly quite nice and we strolled around the pond. Then headed back to Ulsan. Got on the right bus this time. Rain again, like last time. And now we're tuckered and sequestered at home listening to the pouring rain. I'll try and repost the missing pics in a new post and you'll have to piece it together. I know you're bright like that.


Get me Away from Here!!

We're off! Just for the weekend but we'll take what we can get. After a "slightly" difficult week where we chose to "decline" to attend some unpaid wekend events, got insulted by our boss 'cause we are so young and just felt like nothing was going right, we have decided to head to Gyeongju to get away, enjoy the fall and celebrate Nolana's impending birthday. Ah, to head to a place where school doesn't matter. Catcha on the flip side.


A Chilly 20 Degrees

I went for a nice walk/jog in Grand Park this evening. Normally the park is packed with people but now that it is autumn there are less people. And the people that are there were in their sweaters and track suits. All because it is a chilly 20 degrees. At 6pm it was 22 degrees outside and when I went at 7 the park was bare. Koreans take their seasons very seriously (not a t-shirt to be found in the stores now) and this fall weather calls for sweaters. And indoor activities. For me it's finally cool enough to do anything strenuous outdoors. Crazy Koreans.


A Couple Couples, the Iron Chef, Seafood and the Green Grass that Grows All Around

After a week of recovery from our trip we decided to take 'er easy here in Ulsan and it turned out to be quite the weekend.

We were set and determined to cook ourselves some Korean food. We have previously attempted to cook bibimbap and a cold cucumber-seaweed soup and both failed quite miserably. Korean food is not that easy to cook, especially with vague verbal instructions as your only guide. So this weekend we decided to attempt two dishes that we both like: a gal kuk su (of sorts) and pa'jon.

Friday night was gal kuk su night, which is simply noodles in a seafood broth with some veggies, etc... We had bought a package of seafood complete with octopus, prawns, mussels, etc... and then a sepereate batch of shellfish to add. Cooked it all up... and whadaya know it was great!Lots of seafood (which is cheap here) and great taste. We'll definately do this one again.

Saturday evening we had a dinner date with a teacher from the school and her boyfriend. She is not one of the English teachers that we work closely with but she assists in our kindy classes. We haven't hung out with any couples yet, infact I have yet to hang out with any other guys as I am the only male teacher on staff (oh for boy's night!) It was a neat evening. They are both quite nice and his English is quite good as he lived in Winnipeg for a year (of all places!). They took us out to a couple beaches including one of Ulsan's 12 scenic sights and then out for seafood soup. Which is a PILE of huge shells, a crab, small shells, etc... all stewing with veggies and spicy broth which is brought to your table all heaping huge. Yummy. Here are Bora and Min with whom we had a grand time.

Sunday we got our butts in gear and went to church, a first for us here in Ulsan. There is a church that had been reccomended to us because they had an English service. Pretty small service (about 35 or so this Sunday) and a little underwhelming (I am picky!). But some really friendly people. And church is all about people so we enjoyed ourselves. Nice to hear some worship songs (even butchered) and to hear the familiar lines of scripture being read, sent chills down my spine. We will probably be back sometime... and they do a Costco run to Daegu so we will definately be there for that to get us some good back home goodies!!

The best part of it all was meeting another great couple there. In their second year in Ulsan, both grads of the oh so familiar (at least to me) CBC in Regina and even had lived in the sketchy apartments behind the Jolly Roger as I had done with my family. Super nice and recently praying they would also meet a couple to hang out with. We had lunch with them and exchanged numbers and now we have friends!! And because he has a scooter and talked up how great they are Nolana is somehow contemplating letting me get one (miracles DO happen!).

This evening (Sunday) we tried our hand at pa'jon which is a Korean pancake of sorts that involved me gutting whole squid.

They are an ingredient in the pancake and are so cheap here, 2$ for 2 squid. So I got the job of cleaning (didn't hit the ink sac) and preparing the suckers into clean little bits.This we added to the pancake mix along with onion, carrot and what Nolana describes as "grass" which is apparently some kind of Chinese chive. Fried up, this makes pa'jon, which you dip in a little soy sauce mixed with vinegar, or in Nolana's case ALOT of soy sauce...It turned out great!! So now we know how to make 2 korean dishes and had the immense satisfaction of making our own korean food. Our confidence is restored.

So a really great weekend. Made some friends, cooked some good food, went to church and generally had a good time with each other. Who knew Ulsan could be so cool.


Philippino Conclusions

So we made it safely back! Though I am not sure that it is all that exciting... right back into the routine of things. Our trip was a long haul, we really didn't have a nice itenerary because we were desperate for flights and grasped at whatever. It was tiring, we left Boracay at 12 noon and didn't arrive back in Ulsan until 9am to start work at 9:30. All in all our trip (there and back) involved 4 taxi/tricycle rides, 3 bus/van rides, 5 plane rides and 2 ferry rides. Encompassing layovers we had about 20 hours of travel each way. But all said and done... it was totally worth it to get away and experience something new. We're already looking forward to the next trip, likely in January.

As for the rest of our time in Boracay. We loved sailing and snorkelling so much we deicided to do it again the next day, new beach, some snorkelling, some sailing. Amazing. We took an underwater camera with us so maybe we got some cool pics of all the amzing underwater things we saw. The next day we just relaxed, swam, did some shopping, ate, etc... It was lovely to have some time to just relax and enjoy the beauty around us.

The last evening there we caught an amazing sunset which Boracay is famed for. It wasn't quite the quality of the pictures we had seen but we got some pretty good shots of our own we would love to share with you (in all their unaltered beauty).

The next morning we woke up to the first non-windy day where the water was still and beautiful. We stole the time for a quick dip before we headed off.We had to take a tricycle back to the departure beach and this pic gives a little glimpse to the craziness of driving in the Philippines, even on a small island like Boracay. Tricycles and motorbikes all over the place: weaving, honking, braking and driving like mad.Then our mammoth trip back which was no aided by a seriously sketchy hamburger in Manila airport. Ranked as quite potentially the worst tasting hamburger I have ever eaten and it gave Nolana some sickness. Which was just great for flying. So she felt crappy, we were seriously tired... and then we arrived back in Ulsan just in time to teach for the day! Those kids had no forewarning on what hit them! No, it was ok.

So great times, great memories. We would go back to the Philippines again as it looks like there are so many great places to explore there, I mean 7000 islands. Who knows, maybe some time in the future. Hope you enjoyed the pictures and thanks to those who keep checking this blog so faithfully and even more kudos to those of you that comment... we love hearing from everyone as it feels like a connection to back home. Kinda like we're at our kitchen table, playing Settlers, drinking the latest, greatest microbrew and chatting about what a great trip we had. Or sitting across the dinner table chowing on enchiladas. Or sitting on the deck enjoying BBQ. Or playing poker. Well, not really but the best we have. So thanks.


Sun and surf

So I finally got this finicky internet to work for me again....

Nolana is off getting a massage and I am here sipping a beer on the balcony and updating you.

Our 2nd day in Boracay we decided to rent a sailboat and do some sailing and snorkelling. 20$ for 3 hours of a personal guide and boat... this cheap thing is real nice.

The boats are so darn cool and we had such a great time sitting over the waves as we sailed along. First stop was a small island with some really cool caves carved out by the water. Steep stairs down...

But the view was well worth it.The second cave you got to by crawling through a tunnel (carved out by water) which had us bent over double at times... Once there I played the part of the macho male and clambered my way over some dubious territory to the very end which was a small hole which looked out on the crystal blue ocean... really wish I had thought to bring the camera. Nolana and the guide just sat in safety and watched... secretly hoping I would fall in the water no doubt!All the islands around here are gorgeous, with jungled interior and palm fringed beaches of glistening white sand. And being on the boat you get to see them all.

Then we stopped for a bit to snorkel in the amazing coral. Tons of tropical fish, crazy coral formations. Really made me wish I had my dive certification so I could take it a step forward... I am talking maybe after our contract when we travel somewhere I will take the time and do it... it would be so cool.

While sailing the water here is so blue and really quite shallow in most places, even though you are way out from shore....

This picture either proves the blue of the ocean.... or the whiteness of Nolana's legs!!

Our last stop was a much more secluded beach (the one we are staying on is pretty touristy and tons of people). A handful of people, towering palms and miles of white sand. We walked the beach looking for shells and taking pictures and then went for a swim.

It was absolutely incredible. Open sea, blue water, white sand. The perfect tropical day.

Also we have thuroughly enjoyed the feast here. In Korea we have good food but it is all the same... Korean. Here we got to enjoy our first hamburger in months, Italian food, Mexican, etc... what a treat! The things we take for granted at home. I've been enjoying steak and eggs for breakfast, mango smoothies... so great. We will be spolied when we go back.

Well, that's an update on us. I will probably post one more on the Philippines as we got some good pics... and who knows how this will end!


Philippino Beginnings

Hey all, they DO have internet here! So an update on how we're faring on the island.

We took the red-eye bus and arrived in Seoul about 6:00 in the morning (5 hrs or so). Our flight departed Seoul at 8:10 to arrive in Manila 3 1/2 hours later... no flight sickness this time! Manila (or the really little part we saw of it lived up to its billing of dirty and worth skipping. We had about a 3 hr wait in the airport for our flight and it ended up being a 4 hour wait. Thank goodness for the laptop. We arrived an hour later in Kalibo to a very tiny airport.Hooked on to a "vacation planner" type and got us our van ride to Caticlan which is a solid 1 and half hour ride up windy jungle roads... and by this time it is dark. Which actually didn't bother us much because by this time we had been travelling for about 16 hours. We arrived and had to take a boat out to the boat to take us to the island. Now it is dark, quite windy and we are shuffled into a sketchy little wooden skiff with all our bags. It kinda felt like a boat person being smuggled into a country... except a little less serious.

Nolana described it as terrifying but I might add might opinion that she is rather wantonly bandying that word... I found it rather exciting! So under the cover of dark we made it to Boracay, found a dingy little room for the night, ate dinner and crashed.

The next morning we had a rough start. A horrible breakfast served by little people and us not really being happy with the rooms we were seeing... just not quite what we expected. But then it all turned for us. We found this sweet little cottage for $40 a night.

A great big balcony for sitting (which I am doing now). A few short steps from the beach, just what I was imagining when I saw myself here.

Now this whole time it has been quite stormy and windy (it IS the tail end of their rainy season) so the beach has been less beautiful than normal.. but, it's still not shabby!

We spent the day swimming a bit, listening to Bob Marley and Jack Johnson on our porch, sipping fruit drinks and thoroughly enjoying ourselves by relaxing. Took a long evening walk on the beach, stopped on the way back for crepes and listened to Jack Johnson covers with a distinct reggae flavor. Loving the island, laid back vibe.

So we drifted off to sleep.... and early morning were awoken by rolling thunder. It was raining. By the time we awoke it was all done and we were ready for a day of sun and water... but, that's for another time!!


Chuseok Wishes

We are off for holidays, woot woot!!! Thanksgiving is upon us (well, not really until next weekend) and we are thankful for warm beaches and (hopefully) good weather.

Chuseok (Thanksgiving) is one of the two biggest holidays here in Korea (along with New Years) and everyone is rushing around buying gifts and preparing food. In the stores there are gift sets abounding... from Spam sets to lotion sets to vegetable oil sets to wine sets to sock sets. As teachers we've gotten a couple gifts: a box of pears, gift sets of socks, a bottle of wine, and china from our bosses (do they expect us to cart it back?). It's been kinda fun.

Also people get all dressed up in their hanbok (traditional wear) when they go home to their families. At school we had a traditional Korean manners day where the kids came in their hanbok and did the proper traditional tea. It's pretty proper. A full, down to the ground bow followed by tea, holding the cup just so. But it was cute to see them so we though we'd share some pics.

We hope your week back home is great and we are very thankful for you all. I will try and post in the Philippines but if not... lots of pics when we come back!