Saturday, August 31, 2013


Today was quite an adventure. After hearing that the typhoon had diverted to hit Japan and not Mokpo, Chris and I decided to head out to Yudalsan Mountain and check out the rock climbing opportunities. I don't think Chris properly estimated my ability to wander around.

We left our apartment at about 1030 A.M. and hopped in a cab. The cab driver was a rather talkative person (in Korean) and from what I could understand and Chris later filled in was that he has been a world traveler his whole life. He went to places like Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillipines, heck, he's even been to Europe. His one regret he said was that he never made it to America or Canada once (the plane ticket was too expensive for a cab driver). He was also nice enough to drop us off at the uphill end of Yudalsan (so an easy ascent and a long downhill off it). We thanked him and started our hike. Well, I guess it's called a hike... mostly paved with stairs and stores and restaurants at either end...

First thing we passed was the enormous statue of General Lee Sun-Sin, watching over Korea's naval academy and the port of Mokpo, one of Korea's most venerated heroes. His naval accomplishments earned him honor in all of Asia, and most of the western world, as one of the greatest naval commanders of all time. During his entire career he remained undefeated during 23 naval campaigns, one of which included a victory against a Japanese Armada in which he was outnumbered 133 ships to his own 13.

We then passed concession stands (I bought an overpriced bandanna with the map of the mountain printed on it) and then headed up the historical path. Passing beautiful pagodas and shrines established to the Japanese invasion as well as the North Korean invasion (both of which occurred in Mokpo), we finally made it to the top area. From up there, the view was startling. In three directions the ocean spanned forever, only interrupted by the hundreds of tropical islands poking through the low clouds and marine layer. And behind, thousands of small, green peaks and valleys as far as the landscape would allow sight. There were also large numbers of Japanese maple trees planted at the top, I will be sure to return in fall when the crest of Yudalsan is said to burst into shades of red and yellow.

As we walked we noticed a few bolted routes along the more featured rock faces and in our search we stumbled upon two rather large carvings of the Buddha. They were at least 10 feet tall and carved rather high up on large cliff faces. One of them was even painted. On our descent (which I lead, as I had been all day, wandering on every non-paved and deserted-looking path I could find) Chris and I stumbled into an amazing sight. A Buddhist temple amidst the trees. It was quite small, only having three buildings, but it was exquisitely built. All three buildings were hand carved with intricate weaving patterns. The three tiered roof was built in interlocking patterns of large logs connected at their ends and carved in the shape of dragons. Every inch of the building painted in detail with flowers, dragons, prayers, and depictions of the Buddha. We had just walked around the main entrance when a tiny figure appeared from within a small side building. She walked out of her door and immediately it was obvious that she was a nun in charge of living in and caring for the facility. She was incredibly nice, forcing us into her tiny stools on the porch of the temple (we weren't allowed inside) while she sat on the dirty steps. Chris talked to her for a bit and then she disappeared into her house to bring us back cold instant coffee. As we sat and sipped our coffee while chatting with her, she asked if either of us were Buddhist. Chris replied that he was so she disappeared inside her house again and returned with a string of prayer beads. She blessed the beads and put them around Chris's neck and then gave us large handfuls of candy (yes, in Korea it's ok to take candy from strangers). After what seemed a short while (actually closer to an hour) of us sitting and enjoying the massive tree in the middle of the courtyard (which is one of the biggest trees around, meaning that it survived the bombings by both the Japanese and the North Koreans which is NOT common at all around here) we decided that we would be on our way. We thanked the kind lady and donated money to the temple on our way out. This wasn't expected of us in any way, but it is the only way that beautiful pieces of art like this temple remain in the care of Buddhists.

On our way off the hill we quickly walked through a sculpture garden. The pieces there ranged from "yeah that's neat" to "dafuq is that?!?" eventually we wandered into Old Mokpo and made our way to the avenue of lights (not too great in broad daylight) to do some window shopping and explore what the city bustle is really like (since we live on the outskirts in New Mokpo). After a bit of wandering around we made it to a taxi and headed home.

Oh, and here's a picture of my Korean roommate Seung-Man who was shy of my camera as he was getting ready for a date. He is by far the coolest person I have met in Korea so far and I'm glad he helps Chris and I out

This was his pose after I told him I was gonna use his picture to get him a date in America.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Beginning of typhoon season!!!

So today I got a glimpse of what typhoon season is going to be like. As I'm writing this, it's pouring outside, there's AMAZING lightning and thunder, pretty high winds, and some relative flooding of the city; And I'm told that this is a tiny storm. Chris showed me pictures today of the typhoon season last year. People were walking around in waist deep water when Mokpo flooded. The torrential downpours were too much for the city gutters to hold, which seems easy as tonight we got over three inches in an hour and already they are backed up. It's going to be a strange season to say the least!

Oh, and I found a bunch of candles so now I'm spending my evenings in candlelight like a classy M*#&$%# F&^$%#*

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Touch your elbow... dumbass

So, two weeks in and I'm starting to learn more and more about the culture. Things like nodding and saying annyeonghaseyo ("how do you do?") whenever I pass people in the street that make eye contact with me or whenever I walk into a store, especially a small store with only a few people. Also, I didn't know it until yesterday but there is even a polite way to pay for things that make Koreans happy to see foreigners do: you hand them the money with your right hand while the left one touches the inside of your right elbow; and make sure that you get your change with both hands together. It seems small, but it really does improve our image here and that is a huge deal. The more polite, mature, and accepting of the culture, the more people are inclined to help you, deal with you, and give you something extra. This is especially true in restaurants. Smaller restaurants like people who are polite, follow custom, and order a lot. If you do this you are greeted warmly, given GREAT food and very often are given something extra as a sign that they want you to return (free beer, soda, rice, extra meat).

Now comes the tough part: the language. I have been studying and can almost read without stuttering too much, but actually trying to put together a sentence is insanely hard. Even basic ones, there's just so many damn syllables and honorific conjugations that it's going to be quite a while before I'm able to say more than a few words with a horrible accent. So for now I've taken to what most foreigners do here when they don't speak the language: mutter some incomprehensible jibberish under your breath followed by "haseyo" (an honorific). This seems to work well as the locals take it that you are trying and just have horrible pronunciation (to which they politely giggle and then try to help you in an extremely kind way). To be honest, so far Korea has been the most peaceful and polite place that I have ever seen. I have yet to see anybody fight, shout, or even look angry (besides my principal, she lays the law down on our students). Even when a foreigner makes an idiot mistake (like beckoning a child with their finger, the equivalent of calling a dog, always tell them to come to you with your palm down and all fingers moving towards you) they just politely smile at your uncultured mistakes and later they politely and discreetly tell you what you did wrong. So far the harshest people on mistakes has been the other foreigners. Like I said: we take our image seriously around here. We work for private schools with parents paying small fortunes to have their kids learn from us. We can't afford to look like idiots in our day to day lives.

But anyways, today I was lazy and decided to make fried tofu and spam for dinner... worst mistake of my life...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rainy day walkin', taxi cab hailin',California dressin', Moe's tavern drinkin'.... UFC fightin?

So yesterday Superman, Chris and I had planned on hiking some new areas to show me some bouldering areas around Mokpo. Unfortunately it was raining so we decided to hit the rock gym for some good fitness time. Andrew walked to our apartments in the pouring rain and was just soaked by the time he got here. So we thought it'd be a good idea to get a taxi for the two mile walk to the gym. As luck would have it, as soon as we walked outside it began to pour on us so that by the time we got into a taxi we were soaked anyways... it didn't help that the gym was so hot and humid that we never really dried off. It was like a perma-soak for our clothes, just muggy and clammy the whole workout...During the workout we met one of the guys who runs the gym, Chris told him that I was a good climber and the man looked at me and said I was way too heavy to be a good climber (I'M A DELICATE FLOWER DAMN IT!!!!!!!), he then went and nailed what was probably a 5.13+ sport route, but what does he know about climbers.... After about an hour we called a taxi and headed home.

Changed, dried, and warm Chris and I left our apartments and headed to the fish market to do some grocery shopping for lunch. I got another look at the buckets of squid and octopus swimming around all weird like. Filling up their balloon heads and then expelling the water out to jet around the tank until they hit a wall, only to turn around and do it again. Pretty neat creatures. Once we got home (once again wet from the rain) Chris made up a huge pot of ramen with eggs, tofu, squash, and rice. It was phenomenal, really makes regular ramen look like garbage when compared. So a good lunch with a rather terrible movie (percy jackson and the lightning thief). I mean, seriously, the "son of poseidon" is that much of a b*^#& that he can barely do anything right? How much of a screw-up could a demi-god actually be?!? Anyways, that's just maybe 8.63% of the rant that I threw while watching this movie, which for some ridiculously stupid reason Chris likes....

So, it being Saturday night here, at 9:30 we left our apartment, looking all snazzy ( and by snazzy I mean being dressed the way I always do, cause I'm just that damn snazzy) in my khaki shorts, long black socks, black T-shirt, and my trusty black Dropkick Murphy's hat (thanks mom and dad!). Chris thought the California style on T.V. was just stereotyped, but no, we ALL dress exactly like this... So, heading outside we snagged a taxi (again, it was raining) and headed down to Moe's Tavern! (It's an expat bar that two Korean girls run with the help of their boyfriends) Not a bad place, but lots of really weird westerners here... It was Open Mic night, so of course, there were two really good acts and a couple just terrible ones (Including a super tall dude who sucked at dancing and dancing to terrible dubstep, and a stand up comic who only told jokes about Canada which only 3 people in the bar found funny.) So most of the night was spent meeting new people to distract myself from the circus show on stage. I met all of Chris's friends and then went off on my own. Met a couple of dudes from Wisconsin, one of whom told some great stories about when he worked for a construction company up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Then a (severely) drunken Australian walked up to me and started shouting "I've found Chris Camozzi!!!!" to all his friends (apparently I look like a UFC fighter...) but he was wearing a Queenstown Rugby shirt so we started up a pretty decent conversation until he spotted a new girl at the bar he hadn't hit on yet and excused himself to go do so.  After a few more random and awkward encounters I ran into Chris and an older Korean lady talking and joined in the conversation. She turned out to be a nice lady and we talked about Seoul (her hometown) for quite a bit and then talked about stuff to do in Mokpo (by her Metropolitan standards, she thought Mokpo was boring and tiny).

Around 1am we left Moe's and headed to Texas Bar! An American themed bar with no Americans in it! We watched some premiership football on the big screen and then decided it was time for some late night McDonalds and headed home. Now, McDonalds is about three blocks away from our apartments, and it was barely drizzling, so we decided to walk home even though neither of us had umbrellas or rain coats... That was just stupid because we got no farther than fifteen feet before it began to just POUR on us, but we were just too cheap to pay for a taxi to take us three blocks... So, just imagine the sight of two big white dudes, with no rainjackets or umbrellas, laughing hysterically at their own stupidity, walking down the street at almost 3 in the morning, in the pouring rain.... We passed a hospital care center and the old Korean guys sitting in their gowns and wheelchairs out front looked so amused at the sight that I couldn't help but laugh more. All in all a good night.

But, today is sunday and the climbing gym is closed... what to do? what to do?...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Free bouldering and cheese cake bread with a bit of humiliation

So Chris and I made plans to go to the Mokpo International Sport Climbing Gym this morning. Unfortunately, last night I decided to watch a little T.V. before bed. I figured I'd watch one episode and then call it a night. Well, I didn't realize that the episode was on repeat. So after repeatedly dozing and not realizing that an hour or more was passing between me opening my eyes, and not the thirty seconds like I thought, I didn't fall asleep until past 4 A.M. So yeah, I was rather tired when I got up this morning to get ready.

I got my gear together and Chris and I walked out of our refrigerated AC rooms down to what felt like a steamer outside. Immediately we started sweating, but today we were biking across town, not walking. Chris jumped onto his incredibly nice mountain bike and I.... slowly and cautiously sat onto the (20 years? 30 years?) old, lady-framed, tiny, rusty beach cruiser that Kim was nice enough to let me borrow while she's out of the country. Now this bike only had one gear so getting around town wasn't bad. But near the gym it's incredibly steep so the last few hills I had to get off and push the damn thing. But oh, was it worth it. As we rounded the last downhill corner I got my first glimpse of it. A tiny square of red next to two cold-shuts bolted into a wall floated between tree tops off in the distance, the backs of stadium bleachers and awnings flashed between branches. Chris had brought me to a dream-like area within our metropolitan city.

Now what I saw from afar was actually only one route of 7 on an outside sport-competition wall put up for the international sport climbing competition held here in Mokpo a few years ago. The real treasure was the free indoor climbing walls and bouldering area. Once inside the three story gym, you are confronted with a square room with bouldering routes going around it in a circle as well as sport routes ranging from verticle to over-vert to overhanging slabs. Everything was shiny and well maintained and there were even free weights to use in a connected weight room! All of this was free to use provided you signed in at the front desk. Once we started climbing, a married couple and their daughter showed up to climb, they immediately came over and handed us a package of cheesecake bread from a chain cafe called Paris Baguette (equivalent of starbucks here, one on every corner). I was glad that even here the activity of climbing could press through barriers. When we did a difficult bouldering problem they were happy and when the dad put up a particularly impressive dihedral sport route he was happy to see us watching and clapping. I think I'll be spending a lot of time here. Chris took a TON of pictures and some time lapse shots too, so as soon as those are ready I'll put them up.

On the way back, Chris's pedal broke off his bike, the second time since I've been here. When he pulled off the new pedal, the inside of the arm was just stripped bare. We took it back to the same bike place as last time but the dude wanted to charge Chris for labor and the arms he tried to sell were over $200! So we said f^%* it and left, I think Chris is gonna buy a replacement part online (already saw a few for less than $40) and get it put on at a different bike shop.

On an unrelated note, after four days of horrible constipation I got my first experience with foreign-exposure diarrhea... not a pleasant part of my morning...

Monday, August 19, 2013

nudeu kimbap

Alright, so last night I was feeling adventurous for work and I took a huge trip (across the street) ON MY OWN!!!! Shocked? Awed? You should be ;) I went to this Kimbap restaurant that Kim and Chris recommended to me saying that it was cheap, good, and the employees are incredibly nice. And they were right! I was greeted at the door by two older korean ladies who smiled at me and said hello. They even went to the menu with me to help me order. I did my best korean and they laughed loudly when they heard me speaking korean! (I was there a few days ago with Chris and our roommate and I couldn't say anything or read or even know what anything was that they set in front of me. So last night I ordered nudeu kimbap, a delicious type of sushi with crab meat, carrots, kimchi, and mayo wrapped in seaweed and rice! It was phenomenal and only cost me $2.30 for an entire roll (about 10 slices)!

Oh, and I also got a drink called Sunny 10 Blast that tasted kind of like a fizzy lemon water. It was pretty good. But all in all, I got a delicious and filling meal for about $3.20!!!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Found my new hiking grounds!

So I got up at 4:30 this morning for some ungodly reason and could barely go back to sleep. Finally it was light enough to wake up properly outside at 6 so I ate my bowl of knock-off frosted flakes (No Tony the Tiger here, un-uh, I got that Flion the Lion) and watched a dvd of Django Unchained (Thanks Matt) and waited until 11 when Chris and I planned to go hiking.

Got suited up and left at 11, walked to the local 7-11 and got a donut (only 80 calories!) and a "Hot 6!" energy drink and headed down the street to the trailhead. OK, so, a few things you need to know about koreans and hiking: 1) They're F*%^$*ng insanely good hikers. I'm talking 80 year old ladies powering up hills that would make most regular people stop wheezing, especially in the 90 degree and 100% humidity. 2) They take this stuff seriously. I'm talking manicured trails, solar powered lights, pagodas to rest in, wooden recliners and dais set-ups for public use. Also, free fitness equipment along all the trails!

So I can't really explain the wildlife around here. It's almost like the tropical greenhouses at the zoo. It's muggy, hot, there's butterflies and giant moths EVERYWHERE and the tree growth is so thick and so GREEN that it's impossible to fathom the fact that it's not pristine. All of this growth is new since the Korean war almost devastated this city and since then the locals have manicured all the wilderness around here.
The hiking trails are a bit strange as they have a lot of steps in them (I assume to stop land erosion of the trails during monsoon and typhoon season, not to mention winter) but they are so well maintained that it almost makes up for it.

I have promised Chris I wouldn't blow this spot up, so all I can say about it is that it's in Mokpo, and it has an amazing view of Mokpo city from the top.
And you can see my house from the top of the mountain!
So yeah, all in all a great day for my first hike! There's even plans of a backpacking trip to beautiful Wolchulsan when the weather starts letting up! Can't wait! Also, I plan on taking a taxi next week to the local mountain Yudalsan to check out the local climbing crag! I've heard it's mostly sport bolted, but if it's good enough I might buy a rope and get climbing. From what I've been told, it won't be hard to find a partner (looking at you Chris, get over that height fear!)

Later in the day we went to the fish market and checked out all the local sea fares. There's a lot of crazy stuff you don't normally see in the states. Like clams the size of you forearm, baby octopus, huge squid, sea urchins, TONS of fresh fish, and all sorts of vegetables all in the same place. I think I might buy a stew-turtle and make it my pet... feed it cabbage or something... maybe just return it to the wild... I don't know yet.

Oh, and I got saluted by six teenage boys on my way to eMart (like walmart, only better).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kimchi and Hite


Now that the excitement is gone, I can commence the raconteuring.

So today was my first day of teaching and oh boy it was strange. My biggest class has 7 kids in it, and almost all the kids speak great(ish) english! My only concern is making class last as long as it can. I didn't really get any class training because we only have an hour prep-time, so Kim spent the entire time helping me just to find all the right books and materials. I pretty much taught 6 classes blind on my first day. The first 2 were pretty bad, but by my third class (social studies! we learned about thanksgiving and Marting Luther King, Jr. Oh, and I had to explain racism to the class who had never even heard about this idea... oh you innocent koreans...) I was on a roll with a smooth system going and kids that were interested in my subjects!!! YAY!!! I did have one strange class that I'm gonna have to work hard on. This class only has one girl in it named Minji, she's incredibly quick to learn and I'm teaching her phonics. The problem is that she's so damn quick to learn that we BLASTED through about 2 hours worth of teaching material in 30 minutes... Luckily I had an ace up my sleeve and played a phonics board game with her on the board that she liked, but it'll be hard to make more games up since she barely speaks english. Eh, I'll work on more material and see if I can't get Sue to help me get a korean direction sheet made up for some games...

I also guess this would be a good time to talk about who I live with here. So across the hall from me, being one of my tour guides, is Chris. He works at a different location in a different city. Next door to me is Kim, my other tour guide, she teaches math(?) at Kim's academy with me, but right now she's trying to leave Korea to get back home and take care of some things. She wants to leave by next week, but it's cool to have met her as she's pretty knowledgeable about the area. Down the hall is a Korean dude who's name I can't spell who drives the buses for our school. I haven't met him yet, but Chris says he's pretty chill. So next up is Sue, our Korean teacher. She doesn't live here with us because (duh) she's Korean and lives in her own apartment. She has an incredible obsession with food and knows pretty much every restaurant around town it seems like. She's also incredibly nice and everyone has told me to go to her if I have a problem or need something translated. Also not living with us is a married couple Jenna and Superman (dude looks EXACTLY like Clark Kent, I'm not joking, so everyone calls him this). They're a very interesting couple, Jenna being a seminary student and Superman being a (from what I'm told) pretty amazing musician. They've lived all over from what it sounds like, most recently being New Zealand and Kansas.

So after work I went out and had my first real Korean meal. Unfortunately I can't read Korean yet so I can't actually tell you the name of it. But it was a cook-your-own meat dish (Sue did all the cooking like a crazy BBQ master) that you wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with roasted garlic, red bean paste, kimchi, peppers, and rice. OH MY GOD it was amazing. It was such a quick meal that it almost felt like a feeding frenzy with everyone eating as fast as Sue could cook it on the tiny 6" grill that we had.

After dinner we split up with Jenna, Superman, and Sue and walked a few blocks down to Emart. This is like the Korean version of Target, only its more bad-ass-er. It had pretty much everything you could need. I got me some frosted flakes, milk (no idea what the milk fat is, but I'm guessing less than 2%) and some instant coffee. Oh, yeah, that reminds me, Koreans don't really use drip coffee at all apparently. It's almost all instant and its almost all WAY too sugary from what I'm told. Knowing this I got some caramel macchiato instant coffee to try and hide the sugary taste and it actually turned out not too bad.

On the way home we tried one more time to win this damn RC car from a vending machine game and Chris just BARELY missed the damn thing by less than half a centimeter... But we got some snacks from the corner store (Fanta apple fizzy smoothies are the shiznit, yo!) and went back upstairs to crash. Plans for tomorrow? Go check out a bike store with Chris, a supermarket/hardware store with Kim, and then wander around in the evening as I'll be on my own!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why did you just put a hot towel in my hand?...

So I got on this plane and it started this crazy adventure (so far).

At about 5 P.M. California time I got into my mom's car in Escondido, CA with my parents and my girlfriend. I had two suitcases, a laptop bag, and a backpack into which I CRAMMED enough S*%$ to last me an entire year in a country that considers me a giant and unworthy of making clothes in my size. We drove up to L.A. and hit almost NO TRAFFIC. After what seemed like an eternity of my dad driving in circles around the airport (yeah, we got lost instantly while looking for a mysterious Ruby's Diner) we finally found parking. Got inside, got my ticket, got my bags checked, and got McDonalds. It was a strange last meal in America, but kind of fitting. After many topics of discussion and a speech from my dad about why I'm going to Korea (I'm getting paid an enormous amount to teach kids) and what I shouldn't be doing in Korea (partying, fighting, being a failure and a slacker at work), we finished up our meal and got to the sappy stuff... I know my mom's a sweetheart and she burst into tears immediately and it hit me... my choices in this affected others. My family is going to miss me. I wont be there to laugh at Nick's climbing songs, I wont be there to throw chalk on Matt at the start of a route, I wont be there to get punched by my dad, I wont be there to impress my mom with my incredible college education ;) and I wont be there to hug my sisters when they come visit. And then I looked at Lynzy, she was trying to be strong but a few tears leaked. She said she was excited for me and proud of me, but I couldn't help but think about how much I'm going to miss hugging her and just being able to see her while we talk. Then I said goodbye to my dad in typical male fashion: firm handshake, solid eye contact, explosions in the background while we both punch bears in the face and then proceed to make winter coats out of their fur.

The plane ride was cool. Sat next to a marine from Puerto Rico named Pedro who gave me advice on Korea: Get custom suits made, go to the beach, and wear knitted wool sweaters in winter time... wow, thanks Pedro... But he did help me out while going through immigration for the first time and helped me explain what a survival knife is for when I got my luggage picked through in  customs (apparently koreans are so peaceful that the concept of a knife not used in military practice is strange to them).

Now I played the waiting game. Incheon airport at 4 A.M. is quite the slow place. I got some Korean McDonalds breakfast (WAY BETTER than American) and watched a live Chicago cubs VS. Cincinnati Reds game (Koreans love baseball... and the Dodgers for some weird reason... seriously, there's T.V. ads for them everywhere)

At 8 A.M. I met this dude named Mr. Kim who got me on a bus down to Mokpo. This was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Apparently bus drivers have the right of way in Korea, not by law, but by the fact that they're all crazy M*^&$# F*@$#@^*s who just swerve randomly, never signal, drive way too fast, and will shove any car off the side of the road to make it to their destination on time. But after 5 hours and about a bazillion near accidents we arrived in the beautiful city of Mokpo!

At the station my fellow teacher Chris and Kim picked me up and bought me my first Korean meal: Spicy Chicken in a Cup. I'm not kidding. It's a tiny dixie cup filled with looks like Panda Express orange chicken that you stab with a toothpick and eat. It only cost two dollars and it was phenomenal! I'm gonna fall in love with this place I can tell. After dropping off my luggage in my new apartment we went to the corner store, got some Korean beers, and sat in what looked like one of those tiny plastic picnic tables that little kids use in America. We sat outside and watched delivery mopeds do some really crazy driving with no shoes or helmets, running red lights, popping up onto the side walk, swerving around cars, almost hitting pedestrians, all while steering one handed... These guys are f*$&%#ing insane.

Then I went to dinner but don't remember much because I was so jet-lagged at this point (only 3 hours of sleep in the last 36, and a time change of 16 hours) but I met three more teachers. Got home around and fell asleep instantly at 9:30 knowing I'd have to be ready to teach the next day at 2 P.M. Wonder how that will go?