Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Trip to the DMZ

Living in South Korea has this cool perk whereby it's attached to a totalitarian country run by 'The Dear Leader.' As such, visiting the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea was more exciting than any palace tour!

First, we went to the Military Armistace Commission Building. This is the little blue negotiating room through which the military demarcation line passes. On one side of the table lies South Korea; on the other, North. We could walk around the table to the other side of the room, but were warned not to pass this guy guarding the door to North Korea:

Here's an arial view of the same building I grabbed from Google Earth. It's the blue building in the centre. The big building to the north is North Korea's Panmungak, and to the south is South Korea's Freedom Building. The tension is definitely palpable in this area. Many areas where gunfire or death occured were pointed out.

Both our US Military tourguide and Korean tourguide regaled us with stories to highlight the stupidity, disrespect or brutality of the North. Stupidity: N. Korea dug many tunnels in the 70's towards S. Korea, 10 of which S. Korea discovered. N. Korea then said they were to mine gold or coal, though everyone knows the rock in the area is pure granite. Disrespect: When U.S. dignitaries visited the Military Armistace Commission Building, N. Korean guards took down the US flag and polished their boots with it. As such the flags no longer exist in the building. Brutality: The 1976 Axe Murder. During a routine tree-trimming, N. Korean soldiers grabbed the axe and killed two U.S. soldiers.

Next, we went up to Checkpoint #3. From this elevated area, we could see a heckuvalot: Propaganda village with the 160 M flagpole (built so that it would be 60 M taller than S. Korea's), the Bridge of No Return, radio towers designed to jam signals to keep the minds of N. Korean's as innocent as babies', many watchtowers (no doubt filled with North Koreans watching our every move) and a lush green strip of no-man's land that, due to being untouched for 50 years, has some of the most diverse wildlife in Korea.

Here is Propaganda Village. If you squint, you can see the large flagpole in the haze. You can also see the lush foliage of no-man's land that exists between the north and south:

Next, we passed by the site of the 1976 axe murder, which bore this memoir (click to read):

Next to this lay the only bridge connecting the north and south. It is called the Bridge of No Return because after the war, prisoners were given the choice to go back to their country, but could never return. During this part of the trip, we were obviously not allowed out of the bus, to prevent the hassle of a shootout lest someone decide to defect.

After a surprisingly simple yet good lunch of bimbimbap or bulgogi..

..we drove for an extended time, bordered on both sides by forests filled with landmines, until we reached the Dora Observatory, a big building on a very high hill overlooking North Korea. We arrived at the same time as a group of war veterans, some of whom hailed from the U.S. and spoke fluent English (shocking!).

Dropping a 500 won coin into the binoculars at this observatory allows one to zoom in on Propaganda Village, surrounding farmland, and an industrial area in North Korea. We were able to see farmers or soldiers walking around on the dirt roads. After being rendered giddy by the joys of spying on North Korean laypeople, we were whisked over to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, one of the many tunnels N. Korea dug in hopes of springing a surprise attack on the south.

I love tunnels and mines, so this was a definite highlight. This particular tunnel has been turned into a full tourist attraction, with a modern building leading into a long cement-lined shaft with seats for resting weary limbs. After walking for 5 or 10 minutes, you arrive at an intersection, and then continue walking down the actual tunnel dug by the N. Koreans. This tunnel is darker, narrower, about 2m x 2m. It requires walking like a hunched over jinja harmony (great grandmother) to prevent hitting your head on the rock. The tunnel is cold, dripping wet, and lined with dark soot. I didn't really understand through the guide's thick accent, but from what I gathered, the N. Koreans painted it with soot to create the facade that they were mining coal.

Next, we arrived at Dorasan Station, which connects the north to the south by rail. S. Korea built it in hopes of reunification. The N. Korean portion of the line exists, but they have yet to officially open their tracks for use.

While standing inside, we noticed a bunch of schoolkids clamber through the gates in the arrival area. We thought perhaps they had gone to North Korea, but perhaps they just saw the train and tracks that lead there. One of them yelled something and grabbed the white-gloved hands of one of the normally stoic guards, who cracked a smile.

We then toured a giftshop, where one can by pieces of fence that were taken down between the two Koreas. Brent bought some tea made in North Korea. And before we knew it, we were driving back through the various checkpoints, past the intricate roadblock artforms, back to Seoul.

Upon returning home.. err, 'home' to Daegu, I've been once again obsessed with reading up on North Korea. I'd hate to write a blog entry that leaves one with the biased idea that North Korea is the 'axis of evil.' In fact, despite the obvious sins like starving people, North Korea does seem to have a lot of positive virtues, especially after reading this Russian's account of his trip there: Click Here..

The people seem to support themselves well and live humble lives in a land that resembles eastern Europe. The streets are kept immaculately clean, and people share a sense of responsibility to keep their city looking pristine. Corporate advertising exists nowhere. There is little crime. They live like South Koreans did many years ago.. for example, heating their houses by an underground tunnel attached to a burning pit. Fields are plowed by oxen, profit is split by cooperatives, and the scenery is actually quite beautiful, lacking the highways, cement and neon lights of South Korea. Rather than playing computer games, kids spend their time honing their music and dance abilities. In a way, The Dear Leader has reached the utopian goals he set out to achieve.

Donald Trump Won't Touch Teachers!

...because they have 17,000 germs per square inch on their desk. Those in other professions have only 1700 per square inch.

Click Here.


Monday, June 19, 2006

You love pics, I love pics, we all love pics!

Uploaded a bunch of pics from the past month or so. They include a trip to Pusan, Un-Birthday, and two separate incidents where inadvertent partying until the sun rose, occurred. :P

"Where shall we dine? Everything's closed!"

A lighthouse on a rocky island in the Korean Straight.

Teaching English has permanently disfigured our hands from constantly lunging to wring our students' necks..

Sorry, this pic surpasses my captioning abilities.

Intrigued? All this and more! Click here:

Pics pics pics pics pics pics!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dae Han Min Geuk!

The world cup in Korea has proven to be a very educational experience!

So far, here are the players whom I know about:

Back row, second from left: Ahn Jung Hwan. Handsome, has crazy perm hair, married to former Ms. Korea, scored the second goal against Togo.

Front row, left: Park Ji Sung: The favorite of most of my students. Born 1981, hails from Suwon, south of Seoul.

Front row, second from left: Li Chun Soo: Has a big mouth and dramatic past; also has crazy hair (usually a bright colour). Scored the first goal against Togo.

We ended up going to Beomeo Negori (closed off intersection) to watch the game on large screens. Seeing the nationalism of Korea all condensed in one spot brought a tear to the eye and sprinkling of goosebumps to the arms. A giant sea of lit red horns.. it looked like Asian hell! Despite the fact that several thousand people were crammed into an intersection, everyone sat down politely, sharing their mats.

It's amazing to see how united a nation can be, thanks to a shared hard past, appearance, culture and goals. Canada's multiculturalism is one of it's best traits, but the tradeoff is that it's cultural diversity will never allow it to unite in the same way as Korea for any national event.

Anyway, here are a few vids I took:

Chanting Dae Ha Min Gook! (Go Republic of Korea)
Fireworks at the end of the Game

And some pics..

Sea of red horns..

Baby devil

Korea Won! Some people in front of us shook up a whole case of beer, bottle by bottle, and sprayed it on the crowd..

Showing devilish spirit..

Some crazy fans..

We remained crazy right up until we were apprehended and carted away for civil disobedience..

Discussing soccer with my classes is now one of my favorite pastimes.. their ears perk up and their eyes become shiny. I think my preschool class is the most hardcore.. when the Korean teacher was gone, I threw away the lesson plan and took a survey.. about 7 out of 9 students went to Beomeo Negori! They're only 5 & 6 years old, barely speak any English, but they know enough to discuss favorite players. Asah!


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Google Map of My House!

Hey, check it out! Google Maps improved it's zoom-in capabilities within Korea! Here is where I currently call home. Downtown is 15 minutes to the west by subway. As you can see, the school is a 2 minute walk away, close to the intersection. During the air raid drills, the siren sounds from the Korean army base across the road from the school. Click on the image to view the detail and labelling:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Boo Urns.

Dear Ms Shi,

Thank you for inquiry about bringing your pet goldfish home to Canada from South Korea. Canada does not require any import permit in order to import live ornamental fish that will be maintained in aquariums.

Since the importation of ornamental fishes for hobby aquariums or the pet trade is considered to pose a negligible risk to native aquatic fish species, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has no act or regulation to licence the importation of live fish for ornamental use. No official documentation is necessary to clear Canada Customs and the importation of ornamental/hobby
fish is not restricted. You may wish to bring a copy of this email with you in the unlikely event you are challenged by Customs.

Please be advised, however, that if you are returning to British Columbia, this province does maintain a list of prohibited species of live fish which are not permitted entry into the province. Carp, which includes goldfish, is on the list.

Please be advised that in Canada, you are prohibited from releasing or disposing of aquarium fish into wild fish habitat.

Nancy House
National Registry of Aquatic Animal Health
Registre national de la sante des animaux aquatiques
Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Peches et Oceans Canada
200, rue Kent St.
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0E6

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Chamchi Kimbap, Doogay Juseyo!

Here's a more positive post to balance things out a little. CHAMCHI (TUNA) KIMBAP IS SO FREAKING DELICIOUS! I never get tired of that mix of sweet tuna, egg and mayo, sour radish, hot kimchi and salty seaweed. I recently found a new kimbap place that does it even better than the 'green restaurant' near our school.

(Pic courtesy of Fatman Seoul)


RIP Shawn. Shawn was a former English teacher in Korea who committed suicide not long ago. Some friends mentioned recently his death, and how they were going to participate in a charity fundraising to send his ashes home. I didn't realize who it was until tonight.. I've often come across his thoughtful and articulate posts on Dave's ESL Cafe. He kept blogs and even published a few books about living in Korea. I remember replying to his last thread on Dave's ESL, about how he was really happy in China.

I remember this thread in particular, because people seemed to mistake his happiness for gloating, and seemed intent on proving him wrong. He seemed really easy going about it, apologized, and changed the thread title from 'I'm in China now. It's better than Korea' to 'I'm in China now. It's different than Korea.' He had real-life problems, but it's sad to think that maybe some of the online bullying contributed to his mental state. I suppose it serves a good lesson to err on the side of being nice to everyone, even through the internet, as you never know how your words could influence someone. Here's a great example of his writing. I know some people who could definitely use an alternative garlic mincing solution!

The Subway Salesman

November 22, 2002
by Shawn Matthews

I was riding the subway in Busan reading the Korean Herald when I heard someone make an announcement. I glanced up. It was a Subway Salesman. I have always found these people rather entertaining. They are usually lively, animated middle aged men that deliver their sales pitch with such gusto that you suddenly find yourself needing their wares, even if you can not understand Korean.

On this particular afternoon, the Subway Salesman appeared to be selling some sort of ring. He held it up and showed it around. Many people watched, whether because they were genuinely interested or because there is not a lot else do on a subway I am not sure, but they followed his hand intently with their eyes. He spoke at length about this apparently amazing ring, his voice rolling on, slowly getting louder, faster, rising higher and higher until it reached an almost feverish pitch. Then suddenly he stopped. All was quiet save the sound of the subway rocking down the tracks. He paused a moment for effect. Then, to my bewilderment, he put the ring on his thumb. Several people began to murmur. An Ajuma gasped and covered her mouth. The Subway Salesman held his thumb out and slowly showed it around drawing the close attention of every passenger in the car at this point. Next he reached down into a black bag and dramatically whipped out a clove of garlic. This is getting pretty bizarre, I thought. But then I finally figured it out. It was not just an ordinary ring. In fact it was a garlic cutting thumb ring! There was a blade on it! Within a few seconds the Subway Salesman had diced the garlic into a small pile in the palm of his hand. He held out his hand showing each passenger. As the strong odor filled the air, he continued on with his sales pitch. I wondered what he could possibly be saying for so long and so ravenously about it.

When at last he ended his spiel several men and women held out 1000 Won bills and purchased the extraordinary garlic cutting thumb ring. As he passed me, he gave me a look as if to say, "You must be crazy. You will rue the day you passed up this great bargain." The subway squealed to a stop and the Subway Salesman moved on to the next car.

He was right. Even to this day, whenever I slice garlic with an ordinary knife, I wish I had purchased that ring.