Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Calm. Cold. Cloudy…
Unfortunately, today was not the most pristine day to test out my new Nikon D90 DSLR camera, the camera which I searched for extensively and which arrived safely yesterday afternoon; although, it was indeed the perfect day to stay indoors and catch up on some rest, relaxation, and of course, writing. However, immediately upon my blog-thought commencement, I was startled by a surreptitious tap on my door. Who could it be?!? I was not expecting anyone at this hour…
Whew! That was a close one! It was just Larissa, my next door neighbor and friend, coming by to alert me that it was time to join her and Sariska for an early lunch.
Today our conversations were riddled with awe, amazement, and astonishment, as just a few days ago it was Larissa’s first time watching CONAIR – one of the best movies made in last 20 years and probably Nicolas Cage’s best movie yet. “You just saw it for the FIRST time?!?” Sariska & I exclaimed. We all couldn’t help but chuckle several times talking about the interesting and intriguing characters that makes the movie memorable and still fun to watch. Anyways…
During our lunch, I pondered the last time we hung out together in Insadong during my first visit to Seoul. It was surely fun acting like goofballs.
Despite it being a relatively chilly Sunday afternoon, the Insadong outdoor market was bustling. In addition, this was my first time visiting Seoul and I quickly realized how crowded Seoul really is. However, in spite the crowds, which were really not a big deal, I was happy to ascertain that the market fashioned a large variety of stores that catered to the avid gift shopper. There were so many awesome and authenic cultural items that I can see myself purchasing and gifting to my friends and family around the world. Anyone want anything specific? No, I cannot send ninja stars, brass knuckles, swords, etc…lol.
These red vases caught my eye and I almost purchased them for my apartment… in due time I suppose.
I walked away from Insadong market with a few items to put up on my undecorated walls in addition to having an opportunity to surprise the girls. On our way back through the market I managed to step away from them for a few moments and stealthily venture to a dealer that sold these beautiful and colorful beaded necklaces that the girls were relishing during our first few minutes there. I quickly picked out two and as the dealer was wrapping them in a bag which what seemingly felt like an eternity, Larissa & Sariska were slowly approaching. Viewing them in the corner of my eye, I nervously watched the dealer take her time carefully wrapping each one. “C’mon already,” I said under my breath. “Hurry, hurry.” With the girls just a few steps away, I handed the dealer the money and stuffed the necklaces in my jacket pocket opposite the girls’ view. I then faced the girls, offered a cunning smile, and extended my hand as a gesture for them to lead the way as I continued to furtively place the bag of necklaces in my jacket pocket to not make it look obvious that I was carrying, as they say, hot items. Close to ten minutes later as we were waiting patiently for our subway to arrive, I told the girls to close their eyes. I then surprised them with necklaces around their necks… their smiles were unforgettable…
My only regret was not trying Turkish ice cream, anyone up for it?
While Insadong market contains a variety of cultural-related stores, there are many other markets throughout Seoul that cater to specific needs and I had a chance to visit a few of them during my next adventure: camera shopping. Nearly two weeks ago my fairly pricey Canon camera decided not to function all the sudden, and after piddling with it for sometime, I tossed it with the intention of purchasing a new, serious DSLR. I had an opportunity to use a DSLR while working as a newspaper journalist in southeast Texas, and during that time I discovered that I wanted one, but needed a large impetus to provide the reason to spend the sizable amount of cash. Thus, when my Canon took a dive for the worst, my reason materialized. However, before my new Nikon D90 DSLR landed in my hands, I experienced a few minor unsavory moments perusing through camera outlets throughout the Namdaemun & Yongsan markets.
Yongsan market is known as the electronics empire of Seoul as one can find almost anything electronically-related for somewhat reasonable prices. However, in my case, prices were not reasonable. Even with my experienced diplomatic negotiating skills, I was unable to talk down prices. When dealers would say that they are offering the best price in town, I would then take out a printout of the cameras I was looking for with reasonable prices from other korean camera outlets on the internet. This of course upset many of the dealers who would not budge one cent, and one dealer even told me to leave his store. When I located a large camera mall, I walked in and was immediately ambushed by hoard of dealers intent on giving me a deal. I found a dealer who sold a variety of Nikon DSLR cameras, including the Nikon D90. I asked to see the Nikon D90 and when I was fondling some of the camera’s gadgets, I asked him the price. I found the price to be very reasonable, right around how much I wanted to spend. However, I soon realized that there were no boxes of new, unused cameras behind the counter. I then asked if he had any “new” Nikon D90s in stock. Apparently, he pointed to the camera I was holding and said “yes.” After examining the camera a bit further, I realized the lens was scratched and that there were a few nicks on the LCD screen. I put the camera back on the counter, said goodbye to Yongsan market, and headed to Namdaemun – a 10 minute subway ride across the city.
When I reached Namdaemun market, I was swiftly hit with the aroma of freshly cut fish. I was duly tempted to try some fried fish, but I held onto my composure and my goal to find the camera my mouth was watering over. After walking through the center of the market, I discovered that each dealer had piles of what was apparently knockoff material. Belts, purses, wallets, perfume, and clothes – almost all knockoff. In spite of this, it didn’t bother the majority of foreigners and locals looking to score some cheap-o jeans being pawned off as Levis for a low, reasonable price. Namdaemun is indeed a friendly, knockoff enterprise.
Once I located several camera outlets on the outside of the market, I took a quick peek inside one of them and couldn’t help but chuckle at what I saw: antique cameras. The highlight of many of the camera outlets in Namdaemun are the antique cameras they sell. At first I was a little perturbed because I was looking for a new camera, but I then realized how unique the place was. I located some authenic antique Leica cameras that still work and would be awesome to shoot with. I laughed imagining walking around town sporting an old Leica, ha ha. To all the camera buffs out there, you know what I am talking about. There were several camera outlets that primarily sold new cameras, but I couldn’t score a deal; maybe it just wasn’t my day. Thus, I left for home failing to score the camera I was eagerly looking for. However, a few days later with the help of my co-teacher, we found a legitimate internet dealer and purchased the Nikon D90 for a very reasonable price. To my surprise, it arrived the very next day. Koreans don’t mess around when shipping orders.
This morning I received a call from my co-teacher informing me that my principal’s mother, who lived in Australia, past away during the night due to a serious illness; she was 86 years old. My principal spoke to me about her mother’s sickness earlier in the week and she was concerned about purchasing and getting on a flight to Australia because there were none available from Seoul. However, I encouraged her that there should be flights that she could board to Tokyo or Manila, and then connect to a flight to Australia from there. Unfortunately, the unexpected happened last night as my principal’s mother’s sickness became too much to bear. I hope her travels go well and that she is able to spend quality time with her family mourning their loss. My principal is a very kind-hearted woman, and although I have only known her for one month, there is a sound sense of friendship despite the fact that she is my boss. I felt sorrow finding out about her mother’s death and our school staff is prepared to offer assistance and encouragement upon her return. I pray that she will hold on to her zest and zeal through this tough time.
While it is sad to hear about a death, I am also extremely elated to find out that I am now a proud uncle. Yesterday my sister gave birth to Sawyer, a healthy beautiful boy. I truly cannot express in words the feeling of jubilation I have towards becoming an uncle; it’s utterly surreal. It is truly a special moment for our family and I am delighted to hear that there were no complications. I look forward to spending time with Sawyer when I visit the US sometime in the future. As for now, way to go sister! Welcome to our family Sawyer!
A few days ago my fellow teachers and I played in another volleyball tournament that included 9 other schools from around the area. When I arrived, I was surprised by how many people were packed into this gym and all the volleyball teams that were ready to spike a few. After scrutinizing some of the other teams, my heart began to race, somewhat nervously. My hand began to shake, however, I was intent on attempting to squash the other team’s efforts in order to win. My fellow teachers apparently carried the same sentiment as we started talking to one another about specific players on specific teams that were considered to be a threat, but before we could make a thorough examination, our team was called to the court. Our principal and almost all of our staff were present and enthusiastically cheered us on, which made it a little more fun, but also a little nerve-racking because there was added pressure to win. Especially my principal, who said she would buy all of us dinner if we won. She and I seem to have the same sentiment when it comes to competitive tournaments – go in it to win it!
The ball was served and immediately my heart began to pound as I felt sweat began to drip down the back of my neck. The opponent opposite me looked up to find my eyes staring right at him; there was no way we were going to lose the first game and be out of the tournament, I thought. After a quick volley, the ball was hit back over to our side and our setter floated it up into my direction and I jumped to hammerfist it over the net for our first point. At this very instance, I knew the rest of this match would be a piece of cake; and consequently, we won our first game 25-12 to knock out a portentous opponent.
The second game had me fairly worried because I quickly realized that I was not the tallest person playing in the tournament after all. Our next opponent had two players taller than me and they were both stationed at the front line parallel with the net. I pointed to both players and winced to my teammates. Soon after, the ball was served over and because of the high velocity of the serve, our center had a hard time trying to control the ball when it ricocheted off his hands. The ball was surging downward in an area where no one was standing, but was close enough to were I could possibly reach it. I immediately took one step, leaped with one hand out, and hit the ball straight up in the air. I felt like I was actually flying for a moment, but that foolish instantaneous daydream soon came to a crashing end as I landed hard on the floor and heard a loud BOOM! After a brief floor slide, I looked up to find that my teammate had hit the ball over for a point. YEAH! Our “cheerleaders” on the sidelined jumped up and down as I quickly felt surges of pain run down my leg. I walked it off for a moment, high-fived my teammates, and immediately jumped back into action without pretense. We inevitably concluded the game with a win, 25-19.
We played a few more games and won, but when it came to the final game of the tournament, we seemed to have lost our rhythm and regretfully lost the match by a 6 or 7 point margin. The final team was very skilled and were keen on subliminally intimidating their opponent through loud cheers, stares, and tough play. To my surprise, they were able to continuously dig my high-velocity spikes, and by this point, my team, including myself, were a little fatigued. However, we managed to put up a good fight. I vow to be ready for them next year, no doubt!
Additional highlights included that I was named the MVP of the tournament for my “sacrifices” and tough play, and I was given our 2nd place team prize: a super large box of spicy ramen that will take me 5 years to get through. What I also quickly found out is that the next best thing from getting 1st place in something, is getting 2nd. My principal took us out for dinner anyway…
I was asked if I like seafood, and I said “sure.” Briefly after making that comment, I had regret because I honestly tend not to like seafood very much. My hands began to sweat when we arrived at a seafood place in the middle of a town called Tongjin. However, I was in for more than a surprise when the main dish was plopped on our table’s grill.
“OCTOPUS!” I exclaimed.”But wait… it is still… ALIVE!”
The octopus was still squirming and moving around in the large bowl as the contents were cooking infront of us. There’s a first time for everything, I thought. I’ve never had fresh octopus before and I was a little apprehensive to try it. However, that apprehension was super futile, as the cooked octopus combined with vegetables, noodles, spices, and other seafood, was one the best dishes I have ever eaten. Included with the octopus were also the largest and tastiest clams I’ve ever had. Tasty indeed!
After one shot of Soju (Korean rice liquor) with everyone to finish off the meal, I was full and fatigued. When I thought it was time to depart, my principal offered the idea for everyone to go to the “singing room.” “Singing room?” I questioned. After a brief explanation, it dawned on me. “Oh, karaoke!” Man, I was already pretty tired at this point from having taught all day on 5 hours of intermittent sleep, playing an intense volleyball tournament, and having just ate a huge, delightful dinner. However, I took a deep breath and then followed everyone out the door towards a random karaoke bar in town.
When we reached the karaoke bar, it was not what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be a large stage with a big audience, bar etc, but that was not the case here. We ended up in our own rented karaoke room, which had it’s own bathroom, large tv, and comfortable couches, in addition to the fact that if you wanted a drink, you only just had to conveniently ring the buzzer.
I must say, if you want to see one of the most hilarious things in your life, just rent a karaoke room with your Korean co-workers, order a beer or two, and let the night roll. Our principal began the night with the first song; it was great! This would never happen in the States! Soon after my principal sang, I was slightly coerced to sing a song, so I quickly picked out “Beat it” by Michael Jackson. It was a perfect selection as my co-workers sang along with me. Later in the night I sang “Eye of the Tiger” and my co-workers had fun pretending to spar with me while I was singing. It was truly a night to remember, and when I arrived home, I literally never slept so hard in my entirely life. Five hours later I was surged back to life by my alarm clock to start another day relishing my next South Korean adventure…
On our way to the Independence Hall of Korea which is outside a town called Cheonan, many parents, Mr. Chong (James), and myself, escorted our 6th grade class into locally-famous restaurant that serves “soon-dae.” On the way, Mr. Chong mentioned that we were getting as he said “sun-dae”, and I immediately questioned under my breath, “Ice cream for lunch?” However, when we arrived to the restaurant, it was clearly not an ice cream parlor, but in fact a restaurant that specialized in blood sausage. I cringed when I found out what they were going to serve as I had several bad experiences eating blood sauage while living in Spain and never developed a penchant for it.
All the students sat down at separate tables, and the parent chaperons, James, and I sat down at our own table, and very soon, the “soon-dae” arrived.
Oh man, I thought. I was about ready to heave reminiscing my bad experiences eating blood sausage in Spain, but I held on to my composure with a stable countenance and waited for everyone to dig in with their chopsticks. Normally I dive right in and have a bite of whatever is put infront of me without hesitation, but any type of blood sausage literally scares me.
I slowly picked up the chopsticks and tightly grasped them in my hands with a blank stare on face trying to psyche myself out while peering down on the soon to be eaten “soon-dae.” I felt my palms begin to sweat as I gulped down a large mass of saliva. I double-checked that my glass of water was filled for the unfortunate occurrence that I would not be able to handle the taste, which would be furtively and thoroughly watered down.
All eyes were on me as I slowly reached in with my chopsticks and took hold of a solitary piece. I then carried it to my mouth and hesitated slightly before I let loose the fury. As soon as I bit down, a powerhouse of piquant flavor blitzed my senses that I could not recognize. I did not squirm. I did not wince. I smiled… damn that was good!
When we reached our destination I was immediately given a spectacular view of the Independence Hall & Tower.
When we reached the Independence Hall, I had never been rushed so fast through an exhibit such as this, but I was able to get a variety of shots that I wish to dedicate more research to when I have the time.
James insisted that I stand infront of the large Korean Flag.
When we all entered the Independence Hall I was able to quickly dabble in some of the information that was available on each of the items that were being presented, but not enough to give a substantial report. Being a history major, I am fairly familiar with Asian history, but I was a little surprised to ascertain that Japan was more than savagely brutal towards the Korean people during their almost 40 year occupation of the country from approximately 1905-1945. Many exhibits were available for viewing to portray how brutal the Japanese really were. Below are two examples of torture methods used by the Japanese against non-compliant Koreans during their occupation. These exhibits had moving models in addition to the sounds of women screaming, bones cracking, and soldier yells in order to give a more realistic portrayal of the type of torture that was utilized, not to mention the blood-stained victims.
I think these are pretty hardcore exhibits, but it surely fosters the impression of how brutal the Japanese really were, in addition to the fact that it is extremely horrible to do this to someone, especially someone who is innocent and seen as a thought criminal of somekind.
Other things I thought were fascinating…
After visiting this museum, it raised my awareness and sparked an interest on several pieces of Korean history that I would love to learn more about. I can see myself catching up on some Korean history in the near future and perhaps sharing some interesting tidbits with you all. Before we left for the day, I spent some quality time with the 6th graders and had some good laughs.
In addition, I had a few minutes to take a few shots when the sun finally appeared…
Upon our departure, I already had yearnings to return as an entire day could be spent here relishing the beautiful surroundings and learning quantities about Korean history.
Well, as I mentioned in a previous blog about promising my co-workers a house party/get-together with American inspired cuisine, I am happy say that I was able to fulfill my promise with a great home-cooked meal: Paul’s Sweet & Spicy Chicken Quesadillas. Luckily I was able to find all the ingredients I needed to make them, but some items were rare and therefore cost quite a bit more; such as avocados, sour cream, and Monterey Jack cheese. For example, the other day I happened to be in Itaewon (many American items can be found here) and I had a random craving for some Chef Boyardee (don’t ask me why), but when I saw the 4000 won (+/-$4) price tag for only one can, I immediately lost interest. These cans cost $0.89 cents in the States!
Thus, I spent a pretty penny getting all the ingredients I needed to make these tasty quesadillas, which in fact are my specialty and one of my favorite things to cook. When my co-workers and neighbors arrived, to my surprise, they came bearing house-warming gifts. I now have enough toilet paper and detergent to last me more than a year, maybe longer.
I was also told that receiving these types of gifts is a sure sign that you are in good-standing with those who gave them to you; it’s not just a gift, but also actual gesture of true comradery. Therefore, I am pleased to ascertain that all my co-workers appreciate that I am teaching at their school; it means a lot to me to know that. However, I haven’t got to the best part about the house-warming party: the quesadillas. When I arrived home, I hardly had anytime to prepare any of the ingredients. The jalapenos, avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, pineapples, chicken, and 3 different types of cheeses had to be cut and prepared. In addition, the chicken had to be cooked in a concoction of teriyaki sauce, chili sauce, spices, and olive oil before the actual creation of each quesadilla could begin. Thus, when each person arrived, I had them sit down infront of a cutting board with a sharp knife and had them chop into small pieces what ever I handed them. My chopping assembly line was pristine and efficient; I had no complaints. When everyone arrived, I was just about ready to begin cooking. At the inception of creating individual quesadillas for everyone with the many large bowls of all the ingredients by my side, everyone was amazed and interested in my cooking as many, or I believe everyone, had never had a quesadilla like this before. After each quesadilla went out, I heard sounds of likeness and agreement. I was continuously complimented on how they tasted, as well as my cooking. It was surely a pleasure cooking something that is rather unique for someone to try. After I was done cooking for everyone, I sat down to join the festivities as well as taste my own meal. Wow! It was so good! Never had I made quesadillas quite this good before!
After we were all satisfied with our fill of quesadillas, a beer, and/or mulled wine thanks to Zsa Zsa, it was time for the gift giving.
I must also mention, that nearly 15 people packed into my studio apartment and thoroughly enjoyed themselves sitting on the floor eating quesadillas, drinking a beer or two, and joyfully laughing the night away. It was truly a house-warming party to remember!