Friday, October 14, 2011

Sokcho Serenity

This post is a bit overdue...

The first weekend of October (October 1-3) ended up being a national holiday here in Korea. The 3rd is known as Foundation Day and is celebrated as the day that South Korea was founded. Basically, one of my co-teachers explained it this way:

"The heavens opened up and there was Korea."
Simple. Well put. No questions needed.

So Sam, Rachel, Andy, Emma, Katie, and I decided to take advantage of this new found freedom and get out of Seoul.

Destination: Sokcho City
Location: East coast of South Korea
Highlights: seeing nature again, hiking Mt. Seorkasan, being on a beach in October

We left Seoul Saturday morning by bus. The 2 1/2 hour ride ended up taking 5 due to the large amounts of traffic also fleeing the city for the break. We ended up in Sokcho around 2 pm, hailed a taxi, and headed off to our resort. The place that we stayed at was a little ways outside of town and very nice. It was basically the size of an apartment back in the states (a small, efficiency size apartment), but we all agreed that we would take this place over our own apartments in Seoul. There were four different rooms, but no beds. We soon discovered that we would all be sleeping on the floor on sleeping mats. This definitely made the decision of who would be gettting the floor TONS easier!

After checking in, we went in search of food and ended up back in town on a street that was lined with food options. As we got out of the cab, we all noticed the same phenomenon: silence. We were standing in the middle of a city and there was not a living soul in sight. No cars. No dogs. No people. Just us, the buildings around us, and silence. It was really nice. I hadn't really noticed how immune I have become to the noise in Seoul until this trip. Makes me appreciate growing up on a farm in Iowa a bit more.

Lunch! Delicious combination of chicken, rice cakes, and veggies! Yum!
Lunch was fantastic! Once we had all gorged on the delicious concoction pictured above, we headed back to our hostel to nap, regroup, and figure out our plan of action for the rest of the weekend. We ended up staying in the resort until about 7:30/8:00 pm, and then headed back down to the city center to grab some food and social time. The two places that we ended up wining and dining at were a lot of fun and we had a really good time just sitting around talking and chatting it up. Upon our arrival back to the resort, we discovered that there was a bowling alley. So of course, what else are you going to do at 1 am but bowl a few games! I ended up winning both games (there must be something about South Korea because I never bowl very well in the United States).

On Sunday, we headed to Mt. Seorkasan. This mountain is one of the largest in all of South Korea and is home to one of the best national parks as well. The bus ride there took F-O-R-E-V-E-R!!!! There was so much traffic and construction that a 20 minute bus ride ended up being about 1 hour 15 minute bus ride. Once we got to the mountain we figured out where all of the people in town were at: they were all on the mountain! We decided that we wanted to do a bit of hiking, along with the cable car to the top of one of the peaks. We ended up getting tickets for 5:45 pm. We got our tickets at 1:30 pm, so we had plenty of time to do some exploring and hiking. See the below pictures for what we saw:

View of Mt. Seorkasan before we started hiking

Big Buddha statue...what national park is complete without it?

Temple along the way to the below rock

Giant rock formation at the top that people were repelling down
Sunset with Sokcho in the distance
Following our hike/cable car ride, we headed back into town, grabbed some food and then headed back to our resort. The next morning, before heading home, we decided to check out the beach. Now there was a beach nearby our resort that thought we were headed to. However, our cab driver decided to take us like 15 minutes away instead. We really couldn't communicate, which always makes things more difficult. We ended up a really nice beach along the coast. The sun was out, the weather was gorgeous, and the sand felt amazing in between my toes.

Namsan Beach, on the East Sea

Standing on a beach in it!
We ended up making it back to the bus terminal in plenty of time to catch our bus home. The bus ride home took about as long as it did to get to Sokcho due to the insane amounts of traffic we encountered. We arrived back to Seoul around 5:30. I then met up with my friend Steve and his friend from Canada visiting him for the next month, Jay. We grabbed some food and I headed home, crashing as soon as my head hit the pillow.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Getting out of Seoul for some time was needed and it was great to see nature and green again. The concrete jungle of the city can be a bit suffocating at times. This weekend I am joining about 20 other people as we are going to get together to celebrate 4 birthdays by taking a river cruise on the Han River, then heading to Itaewon for some grub and drinks. It shall be an eventful and fun night!

Until next time...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

So you think I play SOCCER?

The high school that I'm working at here in Seoul is big into sports. They take their sporting events very seriously, even letting the students play competitively during the school day. There have been a number of times that you will hear the clanging of metal bats coming from the baseball diamond during the school day. No, it's not just the gym class having a good time. It's the acutul high school team, competing against another school. So when I found out that I had been picked to play in a soccer game, you can guess how excited I was.

Let's do a quick recap...I, Michael Owen, do not play sports. The last time I played anything competitive would've been during junior high (7th grade to be exact) and that was it. I got out of gym all 4 years of high school. I haven't even played an organized game of soccer since I was like 9, maybe 10. Needless to say, I was a bit out of my comfort zone.

This "opportunity" came about one day at lunch, about 3 weeks ago. I walked into the cafeteria (or "sikdong" as it's called in Korean) with some of my co-teachers and got in line for food. One of my other co-teachers was sitting down, enjoying his lunch with the gym teacher, when he started wildly pointing in my direction and saying my name. Not good. My lead teacher went over to talk to this excited men and came back to deliver the good news. Here's how the conversation went:

Mrs. Kim (lead teacher): Congratulations! You've been chosen!
Me: Ummm...chosen for what exactly?
Mrs. Kim: Chosen to play in a soccer game next Wednesday!
Me: A what? Soccer?
Mrs. Kim: Yes! We are counting on you to help us win the game!
Me: Oh really?? Great!

You can imagine the amount of joy and excitement that I was exuding over this news. As we sat down to eat, I explained to my co-teachers why this was such a bad idea. As I went on, their faces slowly started to drop and my lead teacher even went so far as to suggest that "they needed to find me a sub." Well, that's what I ended up being...

The day of the big game arrived and i was trying to pysche myself up for this "opportunity." I was given a jersey of sorts to play in and then headed out to the field. The field that we played on was dirt, not grass. So the grains got lodged in your shoes and socks and it was fantastic! We did some warm-up drills, during which it was painfully obvious that I was not a soccer player. The other teachers were extremely supportive and every time that I would attempt to kick to ball into the goal, they would all cheer, despite the fact that they were some of the weakest kicks ever. When it came to passing drills, I wasn't much better. I became very good at running down the loose balls and getting them back to the other teachers. That I felt comfortable doing.

As the other set of teachers arrived from the other school, I was informed that I would start the game as a sub. Phew. Fine with me. I handed over my red jersey and took a seat on the stone steps where about 25 other teachers from my school sat, ready for the action to begin. My lead teacher informed me that I would play in the second half. No complaints here.

Well that didn't quite go according to plan. About 10 minutes into the game, one of our players got tripped and skinned up both knees and elbows. Guess who got to take his place? That's right, this guy. Awesome. I donned the red jersey that I had given up earlier and proceeded onto the field. I had to be directed around the field and was put the furthest away from the ball. If the ball came towards me, I was told to switch with another teacher. It was a bit embarassing and I felt bad, but was glad that they understood my lack of talent. After about 2 minutes of this, I was pulled out of the game for another teacher that was sitting in the stands. He had warmed up with us and why he wasn't the first sub, I don't know. I left the field to a resounding round of applause from the other teachers and took my seat on the stone steps. But not for long...

With about 10 minutes left in the first half, another one of our players got kicked in the face, splitting open his lip. As he trudged off the field, blood pouring from his open wound, I got another chance to get back into the game. This time, I actually touched the ball two times, quickly passing it to a teammate. I also managed to back pedal into a member of the opposite team. Mercifully, the whistle blew, signaling halftime. We were tied 1-1.

I was all prepared to go back in after half and play as best as I could. So just as the 2nd half was about to get started,i was told mby the captain that I would be a subsitute again. They ended up having the referee take my place and recruited one of the line judges to be the head ref! Yeah, my pride was hurt just a little bit. Then I quickly remembeed that I don't play soccer and resumed my place on the stone steps in the cheering section. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and was very exciting. It was interesting how into the game the teachers got. They were screaming when the other team got close to our goal and howled with delight when we scored. All in all it was a very entertaining time.

AFter the match, I was treated to a Korean BBQ dinner at the school and ended up rubbing elbows with the head of the Seoul High School Alumni Association. He was a very nice man and we chatted a bit about my lack of soccer ability and his lack of English skills. He was a very nice and fun man to converse with. He even tried to hook me up with his granddaughter. I politely turned him down.

I'm pretty sure that I won't be getting any invites to play soccer anytime in the near future...

(I will write another post updating my weekend in Sokcho City soon...stay tuned!)