Let's call it a wrap.

Trip Start Jun 29, 2006
Trip End Jun 26, 2007

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

I apologize for the delay in updating. Life has kept me pretty busy and I wouldn't wish it any other way. Earlier concerns I had about having time to catch up after New Year's are gone since our school cancelled the extra morning classes (a relief, although the extra money would have been a plus).
Last I posted, I had caught everyone up through the beginning of November. The weather was still relatively mild and life was calm. Youngwoo got married, our school had a new Korean teacher...
The next weekend (November 11/12), Stephen and I were treated to something really special. Our director took us way up North to Seoraksan (Mount Seorak National Park, which is north of the 38th parallel) for a weekend of sightseeing and hiking. It was really cold but we hiked and hiked. It was quite a long and crowded trip as well. Altogether there were 11 people in one van (but two condos!!). Stephen, me, our director Mr. Park, one of his sister's and her husband, their two children, two of his another sister's children, and another two of another sister's children (these last two are students of ours). We met up very, very early on Saturday morning and piled into the van for the six hour drive North. When we finally arrived in the afternoon we tried to go hiking on the West side of the mountain but found that the trail had been closed due to heavy rains. We had a big lunch and then took a ride up a different part of the West side. It was a scary bus ride up a very narrow road! Reminded me very much of my ride up to the old minining town of San Rocco in Italy last year. We walked for a while, looking at a temple (Buddhist) and began to hike. It didn't last long though because we wanted to make it over to the other side of the mountain in time for the cable car.  By this time, Stephen and I had gotten pretty comfortable with the kids. The girls were going back and forth between calling Stephen "chicken" and "Beckham" and they were always yelling at us to go slower (even though we were just trying to keep up with Mr. Park)! We drove to the other side of the mountain (which really means the other side of the National Park) and ended up sitting in traffic forever trying to get to the cable car. By the time we reached the ticket gate we were turned around because all the rest of the day's cable car rides were sold out. We proceeded to drive all around Sokcho (the nearby city) looking for our condo and a place to eat. It was a LONG evening. Finally we found our condo and stretched our legs before eating a hearty Korean dinner. I studied my Korean with some help from one of the kids(I had less than a week before I was supposed to be caught up with the first 10 lessons) then it was bed by 10. 

The next morning we took our time heading out and headed straight for the cable car. We bought our tickets for a 3:00 ride up and started hiking up a different part to Ulsanbawi, aka Ulsan Rock. Ulsanbawi is six granite peaks over 4km wide. It's also about 4km up to the top and it takes around two hours. Part way up at an area called Gyejoam there is a giant rock (16feet) known as Heundeulbawi that can be rocked back and forth by just one person. People try to push it down but it just rocks. There is also a Buddhist temple in the cave there. I have seen reports that list Ulsanbawi as the largest single rock in the Orient. At over 950m high, cliffs on all sides, and a 808-step metal bridge to get up the steep sides it was quite impressive. Not to mention that Seoraksan is usually considered the most beautiful place in all of Korea.
We also learned the legend of the rock that shares our city's name. As Kumgansan (the second highest mountain in North Korea) was being formed by the Gods, the biggest and best rocks from all of Korea were requested to come. Ulsanbawi walked north to represent Ulsan, but it was so big and the trek was so long that it arrived too late and there was no more room. As the ashamed Ulsanbawi began to head back south, it came across Seorak and decided that it was so beautiful there that it would settle there instead.
After reaching the peak of Ulsanbawi it was time to run (quite literally) down the mountain in order to catch our cable car. Mr. Park, his brother-in-law, and Stephen ran down, while Jacky (one of our academy students), his two boy cousins, Mr. Park's sister, and I jogged down. The two younger boys were pretty wiped out from the trek up. We had already left the three girls at the rolling rock! We got back down just in time for our cable car's arrival. After a short and very beautiful ride up, all the kids opted to stay at the viewing platform while the adults made the short trip up to the nearest peak. I was tired, cold, and my legs were literally shaking from all the work but I wasn't about to let down my director. The very last part of the climb was freaky (literally scaling a rock with rock chunks cemented on for foot/hand holds). If I had fallen, and I did slip once there was nothing but other people to slow me down. It was worth it though, despite the strong winds. The view was amazing and I felt so good to be so high. We headed back down the mountain and made the long walk back to the car. We had Chinese food for dinner and then around 6pm headed home. Did you catch that time? Do you remember that the trip up took six hours? Yeah. Stephen and I were dropped off on the side of the highway outside of Cheonsang at 11:55pm with Jacky and Kimberly. Their mom gave us a ride to our apartment and we both showered and crashed.
That next week (November 15) I started my Korean conversation class at Ulsan University. Technically the class didn't start till the next week but there were enough newcomers that the professor wanted to meet with us and try to get us caught up on 10 weeks of material. Those first two classes went alright because everyone was at a pretty low level. Starting the next week it got tough because the other/regular/previous students understood a lot more! Most of the students have more motivation and time because they are students, married to Koreans, or wanting to move to Korea! I met Mark, an Alabamian studying for the semester at the University. Stephen and I went about an hour north to Daegu for a Costco trip that weekend in search of a turkey. No such luck but we got some other cool American things like Martinelli's sparkling cider and a brick of cheddar cheese! We celebrated Sunjoong's birthday and I met Insuk's sister River (who owns an English academy in Okdong).
Then suddenly it was Thanksgiving! Stephen and I had the oven on from 8pm-2am Friday night, and 8am-2pm Saturday cooking!! We had a great, cozy little Thanksgiving party. Brandon and Melissa came of course, as well as Kang, Suok, Yuran, Youngin, Insuk, and an American professor who lives in Ulsan named Richard. We had mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, squash, sweet potato pie, wonderful rolls (little crescents that Amber's mom makes), creamed onions, apple pie, banana bread, and chocolate chip cookies (homemade by Richard, yay!). That night Melissa, Brandon, Stephen, and I went out in Cheonsang and had a good time. A couple of places and noraebang!
One day we were told at work that we would be going to dinner. Stephen and I didn't really know what the occasion was but we think it was to celebrate Rachel's upcoming wedding and say goodbye to her. The first week of December a new teacher, Praise arrived to shadow Rachel and prepare to take over (Stephen and I had no idea Rachel was leaving until we met Praise). Later that week the entire Elite staff went way out into the outskirts of Ulsan for a big brunch. This was after Mr. Park took me downtown to try to transfer money at Citibank, which ended up being a bust. We picked up all the other teachers, including Praise and another new teacher Derek! Stephen and I kept looking at each other wondering what was going on. The brunch was at a quaint little place up in the mountains. It was a traditional Korean winter vegetarian meal. Some really fabulous food. There was only one thing I didn't like, and it was just too starchy and salty.
Mr. Park took me to a closer Korean bank in Beomseo the next day to transfer money. There were some kinks but nothing on my part (until I realized later there was confusion about the account number so they charged me a fee and had to try again). That weekend we went dancing at S2 again. Brandon and I spent a lovely seven hours with Youngwoo and his wife Juhyeon in Mugeodong. Since they wouldn't accept a wedding gift from us, the whole day was our treat.
Korean class continued on. I like the dynamic in the class, it's a good mix of students. Mark (the Alabamian) was in the class through December. There's a woman from the Phillipines and a woman from Japan that are married to Korean men. There is a woman from Sri Lanka and a woman from Romania (though I get the impression she lived in Canada or the US) who's husbands work in Korea. There is a woman from Thailand. There are twin gals from Taiwan who want to study in Korea. There is a fellow from Pakistan who is a graduate student. There's a professional fellow from China who's here on an exchange through city hall. And there's me!
Stephen and I went to Rachel's wedding. It was probably the last time we'll see her. She moved way out across town to their new home and is now a housewife. She looked so lovely at her wedding and it was fun to go to another one. Most of the teachers were there, as well as some of my students that Rachel taught. Brandon, Melissa, and I rode the Lotte wheel at night and saw a late showing of "The Holiday." It was perhaps a bit overdone cheesy and idealized ending but it was kind of just the type of perfect happy holiday movie I was in the mood for.
Brandon and I went on a very late night shopping adventure on the Friday before Christmas. The next day I went shopping again with Stephen. He made kimchi. We had dinner with Kang and Melissa and a Christmas eve gathering at Brandon's with Yuran, Suok, and Hyunjin (Suok's friend). We played games, talked, drank, played more games, and left Kang sleeping in Brandon's bed and Stephen and Brandon going to noraebang. On Christmas day, Stephen, Melissa, and I met up with Yuran and Youngin for a Christmas lunch at Richard's (remember the American professor from Thanksgiving?). Two other fellas came, one Korean and one Japanese. The Korean fellow is going to Cairo in January, along with Youngin, Yuran, and a dozen other students for a month-long exchange program. Richard cooked some chickens, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and vegetables. Not to mention he made his own Eggnog!! I don't think I had ever had homemade nog before... certainly not with half a bottle of Jack in it! The raw egg idea made me hesitant but it was delicious and nobody got sick. Brandon and I met up with Youngwoo and his wife for a drive to the seashore and dinner with a view of the beach. Afterwards Brandon and I walked around Samsandong and Daldong for quite some time.
A quiet and peaceful sort of Christmas weekend. Stephen and I returned to work for a three day work week that we knew wouldn't be too serious (interviews take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays and since there would be no classes on Friday we had a laidback attitude all week).
And that was the end of my 2006!


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