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Snowboarding in Korea

This weekend, Nicole and I went snowboarding in Muju, South Korea. It’s about two hours away from Gwangju by bus. Nicole found a coupon online to rent gear, get a bus to the mountain, get a lift pass, and lessons all for about $100. I asked one of my Korean coworkers, Lizzy, to help me book the trip. After a lot of back and forth between the company, Lizzy, and myself, the plans were made.

One does not simply walk into Muju

Nicole and I woke up at 4:30am, had a small breakfast and headed out the door. We walked to the Emart near my school to wait for the bus. The bus arrived shortly after we did, sometime around 5:40am. There were a few other Koreans who joined us on the bus as well. When we boarded, Nicole and I walked to the back and sat down. The bus was about half full when we departed. What a bus though! There were all kinds of crazy lights on it.

Once the bus got going, Nicole quickly fell asleep while I busied myself with a game called Kingdom Rush. With the bus’ lights on, it was hard to fall asleep so, it was nice to have something to occupy my time. The trip in total took about 2 hours. Eventually, the bus driver turned off the lights on the ceiling so, I was able to get a little bit of sleep.

Arriving at Muju

When we arrived at Muju, Nicole and I were really hungry, but what does one eat at a Korean ski resort? If you guessed American Southern Fried Chicken, then you’re right! Directly adjacent to the slopes is a Popeye’s Chicken. Nicole and I got some delicious fried chicken and fries before we hit the slopes. Nothing to get you going like some fast food.

 

After “breakfast” we got in line to rent ski pants, pick up our ski passes, and get our tags for ski school. I’ve snowboarded maybe 3 times in my life and by no means am I good, so, ski school was a nice refresher for me. For Nicole, it was necessary as she’d never been snowboarding before and this was maybe the 5th time she’d seen snow in her life.

Ski School

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Ski school was a mix of many different ages and there were as many adults as there were kids, so we didn’t feel too out-of-place, age wise that is. Everyone else in our ski school was Korean, of course, since we’re in Korea. The instructor knew a little bit of English, but it didn’t really matter if you understood what he said since all we needed to do was copy whatever he did. I felt like one of my low-level students with the teacher saying something incomprehensible and me just copying what he did.

I picked up everything that we covered pretty quickly. I can do all the basic things like skate, glide, and J-turns. I was hoping this class would get into carving which would help me, but it was too basic. Instead, I just helped Nicole out. Since this was her first time, she needed a lot of help. In her words, she was the bottom of the ski school class, but I think she did well for her first time. [divider_flat]

Graduating from Ski School

After our two-hour ski school, Nicole and I got some food inside at the absurdly crowded food court. The dining area was divided into several very long tables with maybe a few hundred people at each long table. Almost every single seat in the crowded dining hall was full. With the long tables, it was like dining at Hogwarts, except everyone was Korean and, as far as I know, there were no wizards present.

Snowboarding in Korea

bunny hill snowboarding skiing muju korea

Snowboarding seems to be a relatively recent trend in Korea. People have been skiing for decades, but it seems that snowboarding has only recently become popular. I can only speak for what I saw, but it seems that almost no one in Korea is good at snowboarding, which was fantastic for the Nicole and I because it set the bar nice and low and we felt right at home with our lack of skill.

snowboarding conveyor belt moving sidewalk skiing mujuAfter lunch, we started slow. Nicole and I took a little conveyor belt up to the halfway mark on one of the smaller bunny hills. I went down with Nicole a few times and just made sure to go slow so she could keep up. We had a great time and I practiced my steering, dodging the many “starfish” stopped on the slope with their arms out (see above).

Later in the day, Nicole and I went up to the top of one of the beginner slopes and made our way down. By this time, Nicole had mastered slowly moving sideways down the mountain and I was almost to the point I could connect a few S-turns.

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At the end of the day, Nicole and I returned our gear and headed back to Gwangju on the bus. We had a great day snowboarding and I think we both made a lot of progress. Based on how inexpensive it is here, at least compared to snowboarding in the states, Nicole and I plan to go back several times before the season ends in March.

10 Things I’ve learned about Korea Part I

1.  Koreans Love Soju and they drink it like water

DSC_0061I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to dinner with Nicole or various friends in Korea and at the next table sat a group of older Korean men getting sauced on Soju. I’ve had the drink, I don’t mind the drink, but to me it’s not particularly flavorful. I’d never willingly drink it straight, but like I said, I see Koreans slamming it back at restaurants with a table covered in empty bottles of it and hardly any room for actual food.

It’s also worth noting its the world’s best-selling alcohol.

2.  There are no trash cans

Korea does have trash cans, but they’re few and far between. I can count on one hand the number of trash cans that I’ve seen since arriving in Korea six months ago. So what do Korean’s do with their trash? As far as I can figure out they just litter. I’ve seen numerous Koreans chuck their can of Gatorade or Chilsing Cider onto the ground as they stroll about downtown.

Occasionally I’ll see a few coffee cups or soda cans on a ledge or a window sill of a building. Clearly earlier in the day one person put their garbage there and the collection slowly snowballed until that particular site became an unwritten-yet-still-official garbage site.

3.  It gets hot, real hot

beach facesSummer in Korea is scorching, like surface of the sun, gates to hell, hot. I say this as someone who is from Florida. I am familiar with hot. I’ve also had experience with welding, pottery, and glass blowing, so I’m familiar with furnaces and  kilns. Korea is hot. I spent almost all of my non-work hours wearing a bathing suit and sandals. The humidity doesn’t help either. Nicole’s apartment seems to have negative insulation so whatever temperature it is outside it’s a slightly more extreme temperature inside. 100 degrees outside? Its 110 in Nicole’s apartment. I have no idea how that’s possible, but perhaps one day science can answer that question for us.

4.  It gets cold, real cold

winter in Gwangju

As hot as Korea gets, it also gets that cold. The winters here are comparable to my time in Wisconsin. It’s early January here and it’s already snowed several times. I feel like what really separates Korea from say the northern US is insulation. In the US when you go inside its warmer than outside. I can honestly say that isn’t the case in Korea. It’s very warm in department stores and offices, but apartments are another story. My apartment stays nice and toasty, I imagine largely thanks to some very warm Koreans downstairs, but Nicole’s apartment is freezing. I mentioned her negative insulation (above). In winter its cold enough to see your breath in her apartment.

5.  Koreans love Gear

koreans love gear

Korea is an absolutely perfect market for outdoor apparel. Koreans love all manner of outdoor gear. Whenever I find myself hiking a mountain or walking about town, I always see some group of elderly Koreans wearing head to toe Korean hiking gear.

6.  If you go out to eat be prepared to work

Most Korean restaurants, will involve some manner of working or food preparation such as cooking meats or boiling vegetables.

Shabu Shabu

shabu shabu

Shabu Shabu restaurants are both fun to eat at and fun to say. They are also one of the most traditional dining experiences you can have in Korea. When you enter the restaurant, you’ll take off your shoes and keep them on a shelf, like at a bowling alley. After depositing your shoes, you’ll step up onto a raised wooden floor with several low tables for sitting at. There are no chairs. Instead everyone sits cross-legged and pretends their ankles don’t hurt, or at least thats what I do.

The food is brought out raw on small plates and you put it into a large bowl in the center of the table where it boils and becomes increasingly more delicious as it cooks.

Samgyeopsal

2013-09-29 19.21.59Ahh samgyeopsal so delicious and so prevalent in Korea. Walking down any road in Korea you will quickly discover that there are more samgyeopsal restaurants than any other kind of restaurant in Korea and rightly so. Its delicious. Samgyeopsal is basically quadruple thick bacon cooked over a grill in the center of the table.

Koreans love it, to the point that 70% of Koreans eat it weekly. Its so popular in Korea that the country must import it wholesale from Europe to keep up with demand. In the second half of 2011 alone, Korea imported 70,000 tons of it.

7.  The Coffee is weak

Korean coffee is really weak. You can drink 8 cups a day and never get the jitters. The downside is each cup costs the same as in the states, if not slightly more so you’ll need to drink a lot more to get your caffeine fix. That being said coffee shops are on every block and sometimes more frequent than that. There are two Angel-In-Us coffee shops on the street my school is on and I wouldn’t be surprised if they opened up a third one.

8.  The phones are huge

Phone screens have been increasing in size worldwide and no more is that more evident than in Korea. Everyone here seems to have a phablet, that’s phone/tablet for the tech illiterate. I have the new Nexus 5 and its the largest phone I would ever buy. However in Korea, a 5″ phone is commonplace. Many people have larger phones than that. I suspect that years from now large phones and phablets will be the norm and Korea will be having the last laugh.

9.  Love Motels are the best places to stay

In Korea there are 4 main options of places to stay:  Minboks, Hostels, western hotels, and love motels. Minbok’s are traditional Korean “hotels”. They’re usually just one room in an old Korean house, often in more rural areas. Usually they don’t have any furniture, just blankets and a floor. We stayed in one at Oedaldo.

Hostels are hostels. They’re more common in Europe than Korea. For $20/bed you can sleep in a dorm. Most big cities in Korea have at least a few of them.

Western hotels are really expensive here in Korea. Anything with an English name is often $100 more expensive than all of your other options. That’s where Love Motels come in.

Love motel

I’ve heard rumors that love motels are used for adultery and promiscuity and I suspect that in some places they are, but for the most part they are now just an inexpensive option for accommodations while traveling especially for foreigners that ignore any sort of stigma attached to the hotels. Nicole and I have stayed in several. They are rather nice boutique hotels with large comfortable beds and giant bathrooms. In Seoul people rent them out for a few hours at a time and have parties. Some rooms even come with pools and bowling alleys. Nicole and I have never spent more than $80 on a room but $60-70 a night is average.

10. Korean internet speeds are comparable to Google fiber

Korean Internet SpeedsKorean internet speeds are insanely fast. In fact, on average they are the fastest in the world. Downloading movies and streaming YouTube videos has never been easier. Its one thing I’ll definitely miss when I return to the states.

New Years in Gwangju, South Korea

I feel like every year I skid over the finish line of the last year battered and bruised but eager for more. That statement was never more true than this year. Nicole and I found ourselves at First Alleyway, a foreigner bar downtown exhausted and worn out. Nicole couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, but how did this happen? Let’s Tarantino it…

It all began one week before…

I had a mandatory New Years party on Saturday for my work. I love New Years parties, but I like them because they’re fun and low stress. This New Years party was a bit different. No guests allowed, attendance is mandatory for the entire party (approx. 4 hours), we had to perform a skit, and assigned seating.

The party was at a local hotel ballroom and it was held by the owner of our school and several other schools. Each of the different schools put on a skit that we practiced for several weeks leading up to the party. My school did a parody of Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen about getting detention. It was pretty funny, although I must admit our dancing was terrible, mine especially.

Highlights from the party

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  • Choi made a Christmas card advertising himself and looking for a girlfriend, awesome if you ask me
  • There was lots of seafood and delicious Korean food, it was some of the best food I’ve had here so far
  • The skits were hilarious, my school was horribly out of sync, but we’re teachers not performers so I’m not too beat up over it
  • All of the Koreans went all out with their outfits and many of them got fancy haircuts or extensions for the occasion

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The After Party

After the New Years party, my coworkers and I met up with Nicole and her coworker, Will, at a foreigner bar downtown for drinks and dancing. Nicole and her friend Audrey were dancing on a little stage at the front having a good time, celebrating, and doing the running man.

[box type=”alert”]This is foreshadowing, remember these details.[/box]

The After After Party

Just kidding, Nicole and I aren’t that crazy. We came back home to the apartment and went to bed…when suddenly tragedy struck, or rather very gradually tragedy struck. Around 4am Nicole wakes up crying and in intense pain. I have no idea what’s happening and it takes me a second to figure out what’s happening, but Nicole suspects that she hurt her leg somehow doing the running man (remember that foreshadowing? I told you I would Tarantino it).

xray hospital gwangju snow

The cold weather and the snow must have numbed her leg long enough for us to get home and fall asleep, but after being asleep for a while her leg started to hurt. So here we are Saturday night, Nicole in pain and its well before dawn. Nicole and I get bundled up because its snowing outside. I carry Nicole down the 4 flights of stairs and help her limp around the corner to the main road to catch a cab. [divider_flat]

xray hospital leg midnight gwangju sprain

We take a cab to the hospital and bring Nicole inside. We have no idea where we’re going but a nice old lady who knows no English helps Nicole find a wheelchair and we navigate through the labyrinth of hallways and elevators until we get to the emergency room. In the ER we get a leg x-ray, see a doctor, get her a splint (her leg was sprained, but not broken), and several antibiotics, all without insurance mind you, for $170.

Say what you will about Korea’s often bizarre day-to-day happenings, but they sure know how to manage healthcare costs. Nicole, being the accident-prone lady that she is, has had several run-ins with Korean healthcare and it’s always been incredibly affordable and efficient. [divider_flat]

How did I lose my voice

So how did I end up losing my voice? I’ve only lost my voice a handful of times in my life, probably fewer than three times, but something about the dry winter air and having to teach for hours on end really takes it out of you. The day of New Years Eve, I lost my voice at the end of the day and could not talk at all. Even without my voice though New Years was fun. I got really good at miming and spent the evening basically playing one-man charades or typing things into my phone and Nicole explaining what I typed.

My first 6 months

My first 6 months in Korea have flown by. I moved here at the end of June and started my first week of school in July. I’ve been to baseball games, sunflower festivals, camped on the beach, and visited Japan. I’m looking forward to another exciting 6 months here and I can’t wait to see what the rest of Winter and Spring hold in store for me.