Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fishy Fun, a Super Seollal, and Goodbye Graduates!

Well my lunar new year's resolution (what...that could be a thing) is to not let more than a week pass between blog entries (provided I am in the country with ample access to internet) and I've already failed!  Oh well...it is the thought that counts, right?

Carin and I got back from Taiwan on Saturday, January 29, and I finally got home around 6:30pm.  After catching up on some shows and doing the tiniest bit of unpacking, I hit the sheets in preparation for my big day that was beginning early the next morning.

Last year I had found out a bunch of information about various ice fishing/winter festivals occurring through-out Korea, but it always seemed that my info came too late, or the festival was at a time when no one else could go. This year I looked early and was dismayed to find that many of them took place the EXACT week Carin and I were in Taiwan.  Finally I found the Inje Ice Fishing Festival, which was still happening on Sunday, and invited a bunch of people to join me.  Sadly, the Inje festival was cancelled due to a major outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease that Korea is currently trying to keep under wraps.  Its kind of a mess...they won't vaccinate animals because they would then lose their FMD-Free status (which apparently does not actually mean FMD-Free...) which would have a major negative impact on trade.  Instead they are culling (read: slaughtering) hundreds of thousands of animals on the peninsula.  Including burying large quantities of pigs alive.  Its pretty horrific. Anyway, a large number of festivals (especially those in predominantly agricultural southern Korea) have been cancelled since January.  The Inje Ice Fishing Festival was simply one more.  Thankfully, Shannon found an organized trip out to PyeongChang to their Ice Fishing/Trout Festival.

Our bus left Gangbyeon Station around 7:30am, and after doing some catching up with Diana and Shannon on the ride, we were out to PyeongChang lickety split.  The day was organized by Warren Kim, a super fun Korean guy who is in charge of the Seoul Hiking Group.  Jamie and Shannon have done two hikes with him and had really good experiences.  It was easy to see why! He was energetic, organized and just a really good guy.  Check out future trips Seoul Hiking Group is planning! It took right about two hours for us to arrive, and then it was only a few minutes walk to the festival grounds. Our band of merry travelers (Carin, Jamie, Shannon, Diana D., Diana C., Amanda, and Tom) grabbed our special ice fishing poles and headed down to the river.

Let me paint a mental picture for you first.  The river cuts through PyeongChang, a city about 1/3 of the country in-land from the east coast.  PyeongChang also happens to be in the running for the 2018 winter Olympics, and has a fair chance of beating Munich, Germany and Annecy, France when the votes are cast in 147 days. This city was the first place salmon trout were farmed in Korea, and now descendants of those first fish are released each year into the river for people to catch. On the day we went, it was a bright, sunny, COLD and windy day, with a wind chill of -33*C (-27*F).  I was wearing tights, leggings, corduroy pants, a tank top, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, coat, giant scarf, and gloves with hand warmers and I was STILL frozen.  The festival covers a fair amount of ground on and beside the frozen river.  The ice is roughly 30cm (11.8 inches) thick, providing a great surface for ice fishing, ATV riding, icycle riding, skating, and a host of other winter sports.

Map of the festival.

Beautiful day for freezing your ass off.

Being the eager ice fishermen we are, our crew headed directly down to the ice fishing holes.  Right as we got onto the ice we came upon a drilling machine that was putting roughly 6inch diameter holes into the ice.  Diana D. claimed that the noise would scare all the fish away, so we had to go to the other side of the river.  Most of the holes on the opposite side had already frozen back over.  Did we try extra hard to find an open hole? No. Did we wait for the electric drilling machine?  No. We picked up a giant, heavy, metal ice pick and went to work.  Uh...it wasn't the most successful thing I've ever done, but it kept us warm and got the job done.  After we'd been working nearly a half hour Carin walked by and we gave her a chance to try.  Damn if she didn't break through to the water within a few hits...some people have all the luck, haha.  Once we finally made it through the ice we tried our hand at fishing...and failed.  Nary a fish was pole caught by our intrepid team. After a (very) short time, we decided to go see what else was available at the festival and regain feeling in our extremities.

Frozen solid.

The little wind-protecting tents were only for families.  Those of us not toting children or the elderly were forced to brave the elements.

That metal ice pick thing was really heavy!

Shannon was the most energetic ice picker.

Teamwork? Haha.

No closer to water.

It's like a crazy ice pogo stick, haha.

Finally, we struck water!

Carin wins! 
(And looks pretty darn happy about it.)

Heeeere fishy fishy fishy.

We found our way into the massive food tent and they were serving (surprise!) salmon trout!  You could get it raw, grilled, baked, fried, in a soup, etc.  We ended up getting one large baked fish and a plate of fried fish.  It was pretty tasty, I must admit.  The meat of the salmon trout (also known as coastal rainbow trout) is pink and both dishes were very good.  It was during this time that I also discovered that the ladies at the hot chocolate tent were brewing Swiss Miss...basically my favorite hot chocolate ever (I am easy to please).  Throughout the frigid day I consumed 3 or 4 cups.

Food tent!

Fresh out of the oven.

Getting ready to dig in to our fishy dishes.

Apparently Diana didn't get enough to eat at lunch.

Hangin' out to dry.

Here's a frozen face only a mom could love.

After eating we headed back out to brave the cold.  After finding our way through a little snow tunnel we discovered an ice slide.  This was a slide, literally built completely of ice blocks, that went down a hill towards the river.  Jamie, Shannon and Diana D. headed up to the top to try it out.  As they waited for a young girl to finish her run, Jamie slipped on the ice at the top and started to barrel down the slide...heading directly for the small child.  Her dad ran up and ripped her off the slide, just as Jamie skidded to a stop about a foot away from her.  I was laughing to hard I was crying, which was bad since there was a very real danger of my tears freezing to my face!  They did a few more (uneventful) runs before we headed off to meet everyone else for snow tubing. I had a good time taking pictures of everyone sledding in tubes down a big man-made hill.

Shannon (in penguin mode) and Jamie hanging out in the snow tunnel.

Diana, Jamie and Shannon (top to bottom) taking on the ice slide...and getting stuck.

Snow tubing!  Ignore the shadow spots added by my camera.

Check us out! We have tubes!

The rest of our crew.

Then it was time for the main event...bare handed fishing.  There is a small, man-made pool on the festival grounds, that they stock with a bunch of salmon trout.  You can sign up (free if you're a foreigner) to don festival provided t-shirts and shorts before jumping in the water and wrassling some salmon trout into submission.  Keep in mind that its FREEZING outside.  Who in their right mind would do that?!  Jamie, Shannon, a hand full of other foreigners, and a troupe of Korean high school boys, of course!  It was insane.  Everyone walks out shivering in their inadequate clothing, and then when they're given the signal, they all jump into the pool.  It was probably less than two feet deep, but with crazy teens running around splashing and having to reach in and out of the water, I'm sure it was very very cold.  Future reference, the most effective strategy seems to not be swiping at the water like a bear (as Jamie tried) or walking around in the middle of the pool (as Shannon did).  The best strategy is to force the fish to the sides of the pool, beat them against the rocks, and when they're incapacitated throw them out of the water.  Lovely, huh?  Once all the crazies had secured their two-fish-per-person, they headed back into the tent to chance into their dry, warm clothes, and get toasty next to an electric heater.  Finally our group was victorious!

Pond stocked with salmon trout...peacefully unaware of what was coming.

The pond.

Jamie and Shannon already freezing...and they aren't even in the water yet!

Sadly they couldn't keep these adorable shirts.

On the prowl.

This kid was almost killed for sprinting through the freezing water and spraying it on everyone.  Every face in this photo is hilarious.

Jamie decides to test his theory that "bear hands" would be better than "bare hands" by swiping at the fish.  Result: still no fish, and he gets in trouble, haha.

Everybody grabbing for fish.

Whaaat?  Some boys started whipping off their shirts, presumably to use them as nets.  Or perhaps just to show off.

Hahahahahahahah.  This little girl was so unimpressed.

One of the coolest people I've ever met.

After the bare handed fishing and warming up a bit inside, we decided to check out the rest of the offerings at the festival.  First came the crazy rides where they hooked a giant tube up to a crane or tractor and flung you around, then a little more tubing.  We had been really interested in doing the ATV riding...until we found out that 1. it was literally just on straight ice so everyone was fishtailing all over the place and 2. it was dominated by children who were obviously not following any type of safety rules. Having my ATV run into by an out of control twelve year old without a helmet didn't sound fun to me, so I passed. So did everyone else. Right next to the ATV area was a big section of river where people were riding around on single and tandem ice bicycles (icycles if you will), as well as a bunch of little kids tooling around on ice cars.  I don't even like standing on ice, let alone purposely heading out to slip around on it, so I found a nice spot to take pictures and laugh at people.

Diana, Shannon and Jamie being flung around.

The crew: Jamie, Diana D., Diana C., Amanda, Tom, Carin, Me, Shannon

Carin and Diana C. on an icycle built for two. 

Various ice bikes.

Diana D. tooling around on her solo icycle.

After everyone was done riding around, most of the group headed off to skate/push each other around on ice sleds, but Carin and I opted to go into a food tent and warm up.  While there we were exposed to some of the most heinous karaoke I've heard in a long time. Our last group stop was another food tent where they grilled up two of Jamie and Shannon's freshly caught salmon trout. Holy crap, so delicious.  They were so fresh and perfectly cooked...we absolutely decimated them.  Great ending to a great day.

How awkward does that girl look as she shares the ice couch with Shannon?

Diana D., Carin and I lose feeling in our butts in exchange for a cute photo.
Verdict: Worth it.

Jamie and Shannon's fish!

Steamy and amazing!

I was not kidding when I said we DEVOURED the two fish.

Warren, Jamie, Diana D., Shannon, Me, Carin, Diana C.

I slept the entire ride home, and the bus dropped us back in Seoul and we took a taxi home where I headed to bed since I knew I had to work the next day. It should be clear that I use the word "work" in only the vaguest sense.  For a reason that is absolutely unknown to me, we had a five week winter break, followed by TWO DAYS OF SCHOOL, before a five-day national holiday weekend.  Why, why, WHY did we have to come to school those two days?!  I didn't teach at all, I'll tell you that much.

We were off Wednesday-Sunday for Seollal, or the Korean lunar new year celebration.  Seollal (new years) and Chuseok (thanksgiving) are the two biggest holidays in Korea.  It is serious business to travel back to your ancestral home, pay homage to your ancestors, and spend time with family.  The stores are flooded with gift sets (mmm SPAM) and the city pretty much empties out for the holiday.  It is really the only time of year that everywhere, even the 24-hour gimbap places, is closed.

Last year I was in Cambodia for lunar new year, so this year I wanted to do something special.  After sleeping late on Wednesday and generally bumming around, I got my act together and went over to Jamie and Shannon's for dinner.  We made delicious ddeok-mandu-guk, or rice cake and dumpling soup, which is the traditional meal for Seollal.  So tasty!  We also made it a multi-cultural affair with the addition of potato latkes made by Shannon's mom and pumpkin muffins made by me.  It was a fun, chill night.

Shannon becomes one with the DHC book.

Dave and Jamie show off the delicious spread we had!

I found a fun new years event being held at a traditional folk village in Suwon, about an hour south of Seoul, on Thursday, the actual day of Seollal.  I convinced Jamie, Shannon, Shannon's mom who is visiting, Carin, and Christina to join me.  Armed with the directions provided by the Korean Tourism Website, we took a bus to Jamsil and prepared to head out.  That is where the first problem arose. After walking around for a while and looking for it, and finally calling the tourism line, we found out that the bus that was supposed to come to Jamsil did not. We were given alternate directions that also happened to be messed up.  Long story short, it took us almost four hours, three buses and a taxi to get to the Folk Village.  AAAGH.  We could have driven the entire length of Korea in that time!  It was ridiculous.  What especially sucked was that Shannon's mom has bursitis in her hip and wasn't able to keep walking around and waiting so they didn't even make it to the folk village, but rather headed home around the half way point.  It was pretty crazy.

Once we FINALLY arrived, we ate some delicious lunch and headed into the folk village.  That thing is MASSIVE and really cool.  It shows examples of traditional houses from various time periods and regions in Korea, and provides opportunities to do some traditional activities including games, a tight-rope show, musical performances, watching traditional wedding, etc.  There were a few special events for Seollal, and some little displays.  This was the first time I saw a traditional Korean tight-rope show, so that was really cool.  I also LOVED the exorcism ritual that they do in order to ensure good luck in the new year.  They build a gigantic bonfire around freshly cut bamboo.  After first producing a ton of smoke, the fire heats up the bamboo to the point where all of the sections explode, one at a time.  The loud bangs created are said to scare off the bad spirits that would bring you bad luck in the new year.  It was very cool.

Wanted poster on the gates to the village.

Traditional snowman?

One new year's tradition is to write a wish or resolution on a piece of paper and tie it to the ropes.

This was a huge mill grindstone.  All of us agree that this would be great (useful) corporal punishment.  "Oh, really, Tae Kyung? You don't want to listen in class? 15 MINUTES ON THE MILL!"

Carin hard at work collecting water.

Christina snapping some photos.

Jamie crushing up...something, haha.

We all know I can't say no to arts and crafts!  First the stamp is painted with ink.

Then a paper gets placed on top and you tap the whole thing with a rag ball.

Make sure you get all the sections covered!

Viola!

Clang clang clang parade!

Very peaceful and pretty.

They had all different types of architecture from various periods in history and locations in Korea.

"Oh! Look, a petting zoo!" I think foolishly.  Then Carin sets me straight.  This was an enclosure where bunnies were being shown in honor of it being year of the rabbit.  Some idiotic parent released their toddler into the enclosure to reek havoc.  I mean come ON.

Tightrope walker.

One foot!

He only used his legs and body to propel him, never his hands.  He'd stand, drop down to a sit, then pop back up to stand on the rope. It was pretty impressive.

Hopping along cross legged!

Jaeggi Chaggi is like traditional Korean hacky sack.

Got into the groove.

You pass the frilly thing around with your feet, attempting to bounce it a certain number of times per person.

Drying some herbs.

 If it weren't freezing this would be a lovely place for a picnic along the river.

WHOA! Something is on fire!

Plenty of smoke.

I love me some fire.

Carin and her friend playing an over-sized version of the traditional Korean game, yutnori. (With an audience, of course.)

Carin's turn to throw the yut sticks. 

Little to no safety...awesome. Keep in mind that the bamboo sections were EXPLODING.


While we were at the folk village, Carin's Korean friend who lives in Suwon met up with us. Thankfully he was able to provide us with a MUCH faster way home, which consisted of a single bus that took us back to Jamsil in only 40 minutes.  Argh.  When we got back we gorged on a delicious, huge, expensive meal from TGIFridays and all was right with the world.  The rest of the weekend was spent firming up some plans for Bali and Kuala Lumpur with Lee-Rae, Laura and Diana C, relaxing, and working on grad school crap.

Oh, yeah, so I guess none of you out there in the blog world know the good news yet...so far I've been accepted to two grad schools!  George Washington University in DC and University of Pennsylvania in Philly both said they wanted me, so that is pretty exciting.  Especially since they're both in my top four.  I am still waiting to hear back from six programs, and in the mean time I am absolutely out of my mind worrying about how I'm going to pay for whatever program I end up attending!  My life is pretty much consumed by searching for scholarships and fellowships and applying for them at a feverish pace.  It is tiring and extremely stressful.  My right eye twitches when I get stressed and it has been going non-stop recently!  Hopefully it will all work out somehow.  I am just psyched that I definitely have a place to go...that is for sure a load off my shoulders.  In other exciting news, it appears that I won an iPad in a raffle that was held for people who signed up for www.buzz-korea.com.  I have gotten little information from them, but I'll keep you posted on when I get it, what I think of it, etc.

Last summer when I was home I lost my camera and had to buy a new one.  In December, my parents found it and they sent it to me in January.  Here are a few choice pictures from my last few days at home.

Erin, Liz and I in the bird's nest at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore.  Hands down my favorite art museum ever.

We finally made it to Great Blacks in Wax! I've always wanted to go!
Verdict: Their wax sculptures are not so great. I don't know that I could have identified the above as Obama.

No idea. but I love it.

I only taught a few classes last week and none this week.  Last Thursday the whole school went out to dinner in honor of the teachers who are leaving our school next year.  We had a great dinner made up of a billion little dishes.  They have this big wooden thing that has all the food on it and it just slides onto the table.  SO SMART.  My picture is terrible, but it was very cool, and (as my student would say) very genius.

This saves so much time that you would have spent laying out all the food and the cleaning up all the plates.

Yesterday was sixth grade graduation, and it was sad to say goodbye to kids I've had since I started here a year and a half ago.  Granted, it would have been sadder if they hadn't been so hormone-y and annoying lately, but still sad.

Class 6-2 (part 1).

Class 6-2 (part 2).

Class 6-3 (part 1).

Class 6-3 (part 2).
Please note the grim reaper next to me.  Those zip-to-the-top hoods drive me crazy!

Class 6-4 (half).

Graduation ceremony with our (now ex-) Vice Principal speaking.

Awards being given out to high performing students by our Principal.

Kids trying to stay awake, haha. No parents are allowed at the graduation ceremony, which I think is really strange and a little sad.

Ga Young being the "maestro" (her word) as the kids sang the national anthem.

Tomorrow morning I board a plane for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I will stay until Monday.  Then it's off to Bali, Indonesia for a week.  I am very excited and totally looking forward to baking on a beach, eating a ton of amazing food, and checking out the rice paddies and cultural scene.  In Bali we'll be staying in Sanur for 4 nights (with day trips out to Ubud) and in Kuta for 2 nights.  I am really excited to do a fireflies boat tour in Kuala Lumpur and a cooking class in Bali.  Oh, and hitting a spa for some ultimate relaxation!

Kuala Lumpur!

Bali!

See you in March!

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