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.

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.

Winter is completely here, at last.

7 12 2009

Not much to write really, I’ll just let the photo’s do most of the talking.

-5 and snowing.

Yup, its -5. And that was the warm day 🙂 Winter is finally and completely here. In and around Hwangji Pond, the snow really makes it beautiful. Not quite spring but just as nice to look at.

Wintery Wonderland

Welcome to Taebaek ......

Snowy Bridge

An ex-student of mine.

Orange Umbrella

The roads are all icy and snowy, creates all sorts of entertainment watching people try to drive around. Snow brings out the worst in drivers.

First Big Snow of the Season

And finally, our local water monument. This was erected a few months back to commemorate the drought we had. 3 months or so of water rationing. Hope this year things are more sorted out, but I don’t want to hold my breath 😦 Its made up of a great number of plastic water bottles and is supposed to remind us to save water. Its not working very well.

Taebaek Water Monument

Taebaek Water Monument

November keeps getting stranger

2 11 2009

Wow, its only the 2nd and odd things keep happening.

Firstly, and most amazingly,



Its been snowing since about 9am, so about 4 hours so far. It’s not really settling yet, but it is damn cold and the kids hare having fun being idiots (as usual).

The other unusual thing was lunch. Having been here for over 3 years I thought I’d seen all of the various lunch options. Today was a surprise. Not sure if its because its a new month and the budget has reset, or if its a special welcome back lunch for the VP, but it was special. An absolute mountain of mussels. I don’t even like the things but everyone got a heaping serving of them to go with the rice, kimchee, mini hotdogs in sauce and the miscellaneous stewed fish (yurgh). I think I was given about 15 mussels. Pretty impressive for a school lunch.

November starts with a bang

2 11 2009

While not technically the first day of November, its the first school day and surprises all round.

1. First snow of the season. Well, not quite snow in the town, more rain/drizzle but up at the O2 ski resort there was a light dusting. Hopefully this bodes well for the season ahead. Also the coldest morning to date, being about 1 degree when I left home. We’ve had colder nights but usually its been warming up during the days.

2. I arrive at school at my normal time, about 8.45. Usually Mondays my first class is 3rd period, so about 10.50. This gives me time to get organised, have a cup of tea, do my photocopying and catch up on whatever I need to catch up on. Today? Nooooooo. Nothing of the sort. I walk into panic stations. Seems one of the English teachers has got the dreaded swine flu. Not my main co-teacher but the other English teacher. This obviously means bulk changes to the timetable, giving me some extra classes and moving them forward. No big deal. Then as the bell rings, 9am, start of classes, the timetable changes again. I’m up first class, with one of my worst behaved classes, with nothing prepared. Oh well, 5 mins at the photocopier with a convenient “Reading Builder” book and I’ve got material. Luckily my main Co-teacher, Mrs Kim, helped me out. I’ve never walked into that class to silence before. Throughout the whole class the kids were well behaved, no swearing, no hitting, even no sleeping. Unbelievabubble. Whatever she did to them was magic. They were back to the fun they were last year. Hope it stays that way.

3. Swine flu. We’ve got teachers sick, we’ve got students sick, I feel sick, many people have a standard seasonal cold/flu. Whats going on? What will it take for the government here to do something about it all? Swine Flu is here, now and spreading. We’ve had the local elementary school closed for a week or so after over 300 kids were absent (out of 1600). Schools in other cities are starting to close. Its not just the kids mingling at school thats the problem. After school they all go to private academies and PCBang (Internet Cafe) where they mingle with kids from all the other schools in the area. It doesn’t help either that now its cold everyone is staying in their sealed warm classrooms. Every class has a few kids off sick. Swine flu or otherwise. I’ve heard stories of kids having Swine Flu but their parents not wanting to look after them at home so sending them to school, sick, so the school can look after them. Can we say “Crazy”?

4. Finally, after 8 weeks or so, the school has a Vice Principal again. He’s been away for 2 months on a Principal training course at one of the Education Universities. Good for him. It means he should become a full principal soon. Now that he’s back, a few of the odder things that have been going on here should get back to normal.

5. Procrastination. I have a uni assignment due on Wednesday. Nothing like putting off uni work to make you do other things 🙂

I’m sure there are other things that will only be revealed as the day goes on. Oh well, as the Koreans say, “Fighting!!!”

Mountain Climbing Day (or ouch, my legs hurt)

21 10 2009

October, oh October. Month of limited classes, ridiculous numbers of exams and those strange, odd and crazy days. Days like “sports day” and school “climb a mountain day”. Last week was very much a standard October week.

Monday? Completely normal. I taught 2 classes, both 2nd grade, both EVIL. Noisy, sleepy and downright annoying.

Tuesday? Exams for 3rd grade. Exams again? Didn’t they have exams 2 weeks ago? Yup, more exams. And more to come in another 2 weeks. Guess which grade I teach on Tuesdays? Yup, right again. 3rd grade. No classes.

Wednesday? Still 3rd grade exams. So just one class for me. Another bunch of evil evil 2nd grade students. How can 2nd grade contain both the best kids in the school, and be on average the worst to teach?

Thursday? Sports Day! No classes for me. Just sadness and depression, RIP canon 40D, I loved thee well. My camera decided to not love me any more. Yup, it broke, and with it my enthusiasm for the day.

Friday, oh Friday. TGIF, or not. Climbing a bloody mountain. Yeouch.

1st and 2nd grade got to climb Taebaek-san, our local famous spot. But 3rd grade? No, they need something different, something more challenging, something more fitting for their growing bodies and emotional requirements. We went into Cheoram (another of the Taebaekian towns) and climbed there.


Thanks to GoogleEarth and my GPS, I managed to map where we went. All up the blue line you can see is about 9.3km, starting with a brutal uphill section to the lunch spot.

9km to go

I saw, for the first time in this region, some ruins that might be Korean war related. Most of the war bypassed this area because of its mountainous nature. Not to say the locals didn’t fight, they did.

War Bunker?

From the lunch spot, 4km into the hike, you are confonted by this depressing sign. Either way and you know it’ll hurt, but we went left.

Painful Decisions

Being on top of the ridge line gave some fantastic views of the mountains and the results of Autumn. The golden foliage was in full colour, and the light was stunning.

Autumn Valley Views

Autumn Light

The new camera even gave me a few surprised. I’m used to the lens flare from my DSLR and its lenses, but this was something completely new and unexpected. I actually like the effect it gives.

Crazy Flare

The 2nd half of the hike was the worst. Mostly downhill on dry, dusty trails that were both narrow and covered in dry leaves. It was difficult wearing decent shoes to get grip, so I don’t know how the kids and their “fashion” shoes managed to survive with no broken bones.

On the way down we passed a traditional tomb. These “body bumps” are the tombs of a families ancestors and are lovingly tended during varions holidays and festivals throughout the year. Tombs like this can be found all over Korea in the most unlikely places. This one is about 4km from the nearest road, up a mountain.

Korean Tomb

Upon finishing, the kids all left to walk home, or at least walk to the bus stop, another 1km or so. Teachers? We piled into cars and just drove home. The legs really were a bit sore for the next few days.

Fun? Yes. Something I want to do again? Not soon.

Back into it again, finally

8 09 2009

Finally, I’m back into it. After soooooo long of no classes I’m back into my normal schedule again.

I looked it up, my last normal classes were July 16th. Since then I’ve had my 4 weeks vacation (woo hoo), 1 week of swine flu quarantine, and then it was into school exam periods, meaning most of my classes were cancelled so the teachers can concentrate on improving the marks.

What made this exam session worse than most is it was a provincial wide set of Middle School exams. Translated, a competition between schools, with the Principals jostling to be the best in town. Unfortunately this meant ridiculous numbers of extra classes, weekend classes, night classes, extra study etc for the kids. And all so the principals can show off to their principal mates. I don’t even know how much the results actually matter to the students.

Even crazier is the kids have school mid term exams at the end of this month for a few days, then 3rd grade have an important set of exams mid October, followed by another set of 3rd grade exams at the start of November. This is all finished up with school exams for all in December followed by High School entrance exams a week later and then a national testing day just before christmas.

And this is for Middle School. Its much much worse for High School. No wonder these kids are going crazy.

Maybe things have changed in Australia since I was at school, but I remember starting school about 8.30, finishing about 3.30pm. Maybe some after school sport or cadets or something and then home again. Monday to Friday. Sometimes sport on Saturday, but never classes. Exams were once a term, with very occasional state wide or national tests.

Here my poor students rock up about 7.30am, go home about 6pm, Monday thru Friday. Then go straight to private study academies for a few hours, then maybe a study room, then home and to bed maybe 12 or 1am if they are lucky. Saturday school happens every 2nd Saturday and is a day full of exams. Again, these are Middle School kids. Academic High School kids rarely leave school before 10pm, 7 days a week.

I blame the mothers here for all the pressure. They are the ones forcing the kids to study so much, pushing the schools to provide extra classes for their sons or daughters, so they can sleep less and study more in order to get into a good high school so they can hopefully go to a good university.

Oh well. Its their system. I just try to fit around it as best as possible. We can’t change it, but the best we can do is at least make English conversation classes more fun and relaxing, allow the kids to be kids and have a laugh. If they enjoy it, I enjoy it. And they are such a nice bunch of Kids too.


This is Nadia. One of the best and funniest girls. She’s going to kill me.

PS, end of rant.

Total eclipse of the heart

22 07 2009

Actually a partial eclipse of the sun.

What a perfect start to a vacation. This evening we head to Seoul and on to Turkey, and this morning is a partial 85% complete eclipse. And I didn’t even know about it until yesterday.

More messing around with the camera to get these shots. Thank you very much Mr ND400 9 stop filter. Shot at ISO100, f25, 1/125sec with stacked ND400 and CPL.

Korean Eclipse

Partial Eclipse

More on Turkey when we get there 🙂

The Airforce over Taebaek

1 07 2009

Here in Taebaek we are blessed with an Airforce bombing range just down the road next to our famous Taebaek-san.

What does this mean? Regular low, fast flights screaming down the valleys here heading west to the bombing range for practice.

This time I was lucky enough to catch them with my camera as they flew lower than usual right over our apartment.

Airforce over Taebaek

Airforce over Taebaek

What are they? No idea. If you know please let me know in the comments.

Amazing Storm

26 05 2009

What an afternoon. Wonderful warm sunny day this morning with the most amazing storm in the afternoon/evening.

We had it all. Thunder, lightning, hail, torrential rain. The works. Our first really proper storm since we’ve been here. Reminds me of home 🙂

Unfortunately I only thought about the camera towards the end, so missed many potentially good shots. Not to mention the whole process of HOW to take pics of lightning.

Still, these are the best I’ve got so far.

Lightning over Taebaek

Lightning over Taebaek

Lightning over Taebaek

Lightning over Taebaek