Snow snow snow and more snow

18 02 2010

Its olympics time and surprise surprise, Vancouver is struggling for snow. I’ve heard they are having to truck it in from miles away. Athletes are struggling and even getting injured. I heard that the young Australian snowboarder fractured his wrist on a soggy slushy halfpipe. Terrible.

For those not aware, the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang has been bidding on the winter olympics for the past, well, forever. When we arrived in Korea there were still stickers for Pyeongchang 2010 on cars and billboards. They came a close 2nd, but lost out partly due to the fear of a lack of snow. Since then they’ve bid on 2014, 2018 and likely will continue until they get tired of it.

However, the whole lack of snow argument is quite amusing. Most of this winter season we’ve had little natural snow. A few good dumps early on, one big dumping early January but it has been a bit brown and meh. Until last week that is. 3 days of solid snow last week gave us about 50cm of the fluffy white stuff. The skiing was fantastic. Since then we’ve had more. Not quite as much, but at least another 20cm. I woke up this morning and its at it again. Another few cm and its still going.

Of course unlike certain European countries (yes, I’m looking at you England) things don’t shut down here when there is a pile of fresh snow. Daily life goes on, just with more car accidents. I think this late winter snow actually caught the local city government by surprise. It took a day or 2 to get the snow ploughs, gritting trucks and associated infrastructure into gear. Since then, all is mostly fine. The roads are still narrower and more slippery, but other than a few obvious spots, back alleys, car parks and big hills there are no problems.

Our apartment (not for much longer) sits on a hill, overlooking the valley of Taebaek. We can look down and see a road that climbs a hill just outside out place. Its always quite amusing sitting on the balcony watching cars on the hill when there is snow and ice around. Usually its worst first thing in the morning and around 6 or 7pm when the water/sludge starts freezing again. Cars start driving up, get about halfway and then start to struggle. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they slide back down. Only the persistent (and taxi drivers) give it a second shot. Some smart people have snow chains, no worries. Those with snow tyres of the studded kind, usually ok. Normal snow tyres? if you are lucky. The stupid few with summer tyres? Ha ha ha.

What does surprise me, actually it doesn’t surprise me, is how badly the school buses drive. Most Hakwons (private study academies) have their own private shuttle busses to get the kids to and from home. These minibuses are driven terribly in the best of weather, but the snow brings out the worst. Driving way to fast, stopping with no indication in the middle busy roads, cutting traffic off in icy conditions. All crazy.

Oh well. Back to my boredom. This so called “vacation” time between graduation (last week) and the new school year (beginning of march) is boring. Very boring. I’m supposed to come to school. Sit here and do nothing. As I’ve already quit I have nothing at school to do other than movies, web surfing and computer games. For a day or 2 its ok. For 2 weeks its awful. Especially as I have so much to be done at home. We have about 8 days left in Taebaek before we leave for good and our apartment is nowhere near clean. Its going to be a busy week.


New Years Skiing

16 02 2010

Wow, time flies. The countdown continues its counting down. 14 days left in Korea. Wow.

Anyhow, this past weekend was one of the most important holidays in Korea, Solnal. What is Solnal? Basically its the lunar new year holiday. The day all people get a year older, the day you give thanks to your ancestors, and the day you visit your families wherever they may be. Basically its the same as Chinese New Year, except not in China.

For us foreigners however, its a long weekend. No families to visit, no ancestors to thank, nobody giving us money. Booo.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week we had snow. Lots of snow. Maybe 50cm or so of it. It fell consistently for 3 days straight. Roads were chaos, our apartment parking was worse still. But the skiing. Oh the skiing. It was fantastic.

High1 resort has been struggling for a few weeks with lack of natural snow and rising daytime temps. What snow they had was icy and meh. But with this dumping, coupled with the holiday it was fantastic.

Zeus, the easy run

Usually this run is heaving with people. Snowboards faceplanting left, right and center. But today…. GLORIOUS EMPTINESS. Everyone was at home with their families. The buses full of tourists stayed at home, and there were more Americans there than Koreans.

Susie and Mike
Ski's at High1
Snow Trees
Snowed in Fence
Sporty Susie

Taebaek Snow Festival. Been and Gone.

4 02 2010

Each and every year our sleepy little town of Taebaek explodes with visitors. Actually we have a few different festivals that draw the crowds, but the biggest of the lot is the annual snow festival.


This year is the 14th (or 14st if you believe the advertising) year they have run this and year year gets larger than the last.

From the 22nd until the 31st of January 2010, Taebaek strained under the thousands of tourists that were shipped in for the event. The whole town was a venue for festivities, but the major draw card was the snow sculptures and festivities in and around Taebaek-san, our famous mountain. The area is called Dangol Square after the famous guy who proclaimed the nationality of Korea from atop the mountain. There are snow carvings, food stalls, thousands of people, a stage with musicians and thousands of people just having a good time.

Taebaek Snow Festival.

Various huge snow carvings are dotted around the area, some are interactive, some just for looks. All tell a story.

Pumpkin Princess
Snow Monsters
Ddong Chim
Cinderella's Castle
Taebaek Snoju
Ice Slipper
The Little Prince

You must excuse Theresa Teacher in some of the pictures. She really gets into the occasion 🙂

Typically for Korea, the event was sponsored by Hyundai, with the sonata as their newest model.

Ice Sonata

Some of the sculptures were designed for people to fit themselves into, giving great photo-ops.

Running Man
2d snow cube?
Surprise Snow

One of the most popular attractions is the ice cafe, a cafe contained within an igloo or ice cave. They serve hot drinks, while you sit as tables made of ice. Very cold but rather unique.

The Ice Café
Ice Cold Cards

Downtown Taebaek isn’t spared the festivities either, with lights adorning the main streets and ice carvings around the Hwangji Pond area.

Lights of the Festival
Hwangji Pond Bridge
Melting Ice Rat
Ice Tiger
Ice Tiger

Unfortunately we seemed to have missed out on the snow festival parade this year. Not having a timetable of events hurt our chances at catching things. Oh well. We saw it a few years back. Not like we will be around next year.

Yes, I’ve been lazy. Sorry.

28 01 2010

Wow, what a month. Its been busy, crazily busy actually.

And yes, I’ve been lax in writing. Sorry. My bad.

Why have I been busy? Simple. Vacation. Woot!!!

Lets do this chronologically.

December 24th. Teaching at school. Luckily they let us go an hour early so we could jump the bus from Taebaek to Incheon Airport. Of course, being the day before xmas the roads were crazy. What is usually a 4 and a half hour bus trip turned into 6 hours, but thats why we usually travel the day before flying. Our wonderful hotel managed to screw up our bookings so we ended up staying at a much more expensive (and nice) hotel next to the airport.

December 25th. Christmas. Didn’t feel like it. Checked in, had coffee, jumped our plane to Beijing. 6 hours layover in Beijing? Check. 6 hours of boredom in Beijing airport? Check. Beijing airport is huge, empty and extremely disappointing? Check. We actually wanted to have some decent food, being xmas and all, and were prepared with a large wad of Chinese cash. Could we spend it? Nope. Ended up eating in a crappy takeaway style restaurant that was reminiscent of bad australian food court chinese. Not Ideal. Still, onward onto the next leg of the trip, Beijing to Sydney. The flight was pretty uneventful, so not much to say.

December 26th – January 10th. Australia. Sure it was 2 weeks, but it didn’t feel like it. Lots of stuff to do, people to see, things to eat, places to visit.

Susie and Mike Silhouette

We visited Susie’s Mum in Wodonga (6 hours from Sydney), Susie’s Sis in Ulladulla (3 hours from Sydney), people all over Sydney and around. We had birthday parties, christmas parties, New Years parties. You name it, we did it.

Light after the storm

Still, 2 weeks was not long enough and far too long at the same time. Its difficult. Its not really a vacation as its kinda home, but its not home as we are visitors. Very awkward, but fun.

January 10th – January 16th. Beijing. The real vacation within the vacation. No commitments, no family or friends to visit, no guilt. What did we do? Well, 3 days was a “tour” with Fernando the guide, and Mr Grumpy the driver. 3 day tour is what we paid for, however the grumpy driver, in a fit of grumpiness decided that 2 days was all we would get. Something to do with us not spending money in the enforced shopping spots, meaning he didn’t get his kickbacks. Meh, we were up front about it from the beginning, no shopping. Still, Beijing is great. Big, big and enormous. I think we covered most of the usual sights.

The Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

Olympic Sights

The Birds Nest

Kool stuff in and around town and much much more.

National Theater of Beijing

Yes, even Jeombagee came along for a vacation.

Snow Leopard

Back in Korea, after the coldest bus ride ever (no heating on our bus) we managed to arrive back in Taebaek.

Susie’s Dad and Brother beat us to Korea by over a week and they met up with us a few days later.

Susie and her Brother

Lots of doing the things of Taebaek and around. We had our snow festival (still ongoing) so there is plenty going on.

Mike and Ron left a few days ago, now back safe in Aus. Us? I’ve got over my cold, Susie’s come down with her own.

We drove down to Daegu (3 hours) just to go to the movies. Sherlock Holmes is brilliant.

Now? I’m drooling over the iPad,


and cleaning up in preparation of rebuilding my laptop (again).

Still, big things are afoot, plans are being made, Jeombagee is getting excited.

More to come soon. Really. I promise. For real this time. Truly. I mean it. I think. I hope. Fun fun fun.

New Favourite, “I do all my own Porn Stunts”

20 12 2009

I’ve got a new favourite. We were working a camp for a few days at one of our local high schools. About 30 1st and 2nd grade kids, meaning they are probably around 17ish years old.

This girl stood up and both Theresa and I caught sight of her hoodie at the same time. It can’t be beat 🙂

Porn Stunts

It seems she bought it online with no clue what the english meant. Thats usually how it happens here. English is cool and fun, the meaning isn’t important. You do get some wonderful examples. We did try to explain just what it meant to her, she was obviously mortified.

Here’s another recent find, this time from Rachel Teacher.

Pee all that you can Pee

Day of Dentists and Drivers Licences

16 12 2009

Not the best day of all time. Clearly not, however I can’t go into details.

For me, it was my third and (hopefully) final dentist visit within the last 10 days. Why did I go in the first place? A friend got her wisdom teeth out, and that kinda jolted me into going for a checkup.

Seems last year when I went in with a sore tooth, they addressed the sore tooth and only the sore tooth. Looks like he forgot to have a look around while given the chance. Oops. This time I made it clear I wanted a full checkup. Heading back to Australia in a few weeks for vacation and I don’t want to run the risk of needing a dentist in Australia ($$$$) or China (um, say what).

Different dentist this time round. This guy spoke perfect English. He gave me the full instant panoramic x-ray and found a few points of “interest”

$200 and 3 visits later I have a few fillings more and the least painful dentistry experience ever. Fingers crossed that what he did does the job. I don’t want to go back anytime soon.

Drivers licences. Australia vs Korea. Leaving the whole “Koreans can’t/won’t obey their own traffic laws” argument aside, it is interesting to contrast the 2 countries.

Australia. $151 for a 5 year full licence. Korea. $6 for a 10 year licence.

Australia. $45 for an international licence permit from NRMA. Korea. $7.

Australia. Thousands for insurance and registration. Korea. $70 per year tax and $340 for insurance.

Australia. $1.15ish per litre for petrol. Korea. $1.65ish per litre.

I’m going to have to unlearn my Korean driving when anywhere else on earth. Its just so, um, relaxed (and random) here.

Honoured Veterans? EPIK reunion says so.

14 12 2009

That was a nice weekend. 3 days in Seoul. Can’t complain about that at all.

Why did we get a bonus long weekend? Why did we spend it all in Seoul? What is this EPIK thing of which I speak? Lets go backwards.

EPIK Logo.png EPIK is the name for the “English Program in Korea”, similar to Japan’s JET program. Basically they bring foreigners in to teach english to kids within the Korean school system. Here in Korea it gets a bit confusing. While it all sounds like we work for EPIK, we don’t. EPIK acts as a kind of umbrella, bringing us in, training us then passing us out to the provinces. Once out of their hands, we have very little to do with EPIK at a national level, its all provincial. Some provinces are good, some so-so and some pretty terrible. Gangwon-Do where I am? For the most part its good. Like most things it has issues, but what place doesn’t?

Back to the weekend. Having not heard a single thing out of the national EPIK crowd in a few years, it was a surprise to get invited to a reunion for honoured teachers. Seems we’ve been here quite a while and are now classified as veterans, and national EPIK wanted to do something nice. Even nicer was finding out that the reunion was a Friday/Saturday and in Seoul, meaning a bonus long weekend.

Honestly we didn’t expect much. Usually in Korea things get done with the best of intentions but the minimal of organisation. What a surprise we had. They put us up in a reasonable hotel (sure it was a bit 1980’s but it was ok), gave us steak and wine for dinner and then took us out to see a show. The show was a comic martial arts performance called Jump. Mostly non-verbal, it was great until I got dragged on stage to be part of the performance. I’m thinking I was picked because I was sitting on the aisle and had slightly “odd” hair. Oh well, nothing can prepare you for being on stage in front of a few hundred people better than a classroom of crazy students.

We had the obligatory presentation and handshake ceremony, but this time it wasn’t for certificates but for a plaque!

EPIK Award.jpg

Very nice of them to do something like this. Shame its soooo heavy. Lugging 2 of them through Seoul was a bit of hard work 🙂

The Saturday was a small amount of formalities and then back into tourist mode. We had lunch at a fantastic traditional restaurant, then up to Seoul tower for some more touristing. Fun fun fun.

Leaving the EPIK crowd, we had Saturday afternoon and then Sunday morning shopping in Seoul, then back to Taebaek and some sleep.

Overall, really nice to see that the national EPIK people are serious. They tried really really hard to make a great weekend and succeeded. They also spent a huge amount of cash on us. Can’t complain there. Just a shame as it really contrasts the differences between our local education office who really don’t seem interested in us, and the national people who really have put in the effort.

Short version : Went to Seoul, got award, came home.