A good start for the new year

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

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hey readers!
I thought I would take a moment to actually catch up to the present.
Our school took a five-day holiday over New Year's weekend. We had Friday-Tuesday off, which was quite excellent.
My roommate went to Seoul to visit a Korean friend that went to University of Chicago with him. I headed East with Melissa and Brandon for an adventure in Japan!
It was a real spur-of-the-moment decision for me to go. I hadn't had any time to plan so I just figured I would stay home and catch up on things and enjoy the roommate free holiday. On December 26th I got a phone call from Melissa saying that there were still tickets available to Japan and the hostel had beds left. I took care of things the next day and was so excited. Early Friday morning I met up with Melissa to catch the bus to Busan. Brandon was supposed to meet us... but he had a very late night with my roommate and didn't make it. We rode a very empty bus (it was 6:30 in the morning), hopped on the subway, and walked in the freezing cold (it was ridiculous) to the ferry terminal in Busan. We're in a very convenient location becuase there is a hyrofoil ferry from Busan to Fukuoka (on the island of Kyushu) that takes less than three hours! We got on the ferry, still trying to get in touch with Brandon. By the early afternoon we had arrived in the land of the rising sun - where is was snowing! Just a light flurry that didn't stick. Melissa and I met a lovely Canadian lady who's been teaching in Korea for 10 years on the boat. She reminded me a lot of my mom, if she was the type to just pick up and move to Korea! She managed to freak us out when she told us that New Year's was a very big holiday in Japan and it would be difficult if not impossible to exchange our won (apparently we missed the advice to exchange money before you leave Korea!). Fortunately there was an exchange office at the ferry terminal in Japan. I also had the sense to call my credit card company and tell them I would be on vacation.
We made our way to our hostel and then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around. Initially we were trying to find lunch. Perhaps the Japanese have their own version of a siesta, because places were closed between 3 and 5 or 6! We ended up staying in, talking with other hostellers and getting a good night's sleep. The next morning we took our time and then ventured out into the city. We went to Fukuoka tower in order to take in the sights - it was such a beautiful, bright, clear day. The view was gorgeous. We went to the beach. We went to the hip, youthful part of town to check out the shopping. We had our first real Japanese dining experience. We ended up out until almost 11pm! Needless to say we stayed in again. The next morning we were treated to a real surprise... Brandon knocked on our door! He had caught a ferry on Saturday and ended up having to spend the night wandering town because he couldn't get in touch with us and he had no Yen or credit card!!  Oh he always makes for such a colorful story. We met up with him later and then left him to sleep while we went to Canal City - the shopping mall to visit in Fukuoka. It was huge and beautiful and amazing. It was also material good overload (Japan in general was kind of like that). I bought some good things, including Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" in Japanese, a purse, and some clothes from Gap - such as a much needed sweater. We met back up with Brandon and headed out for New Year's!!
We opted for club Happy Cock based on paperwork and recommendations from foreigners and their Japanese friends. We bought our all-you-could-drink passes and went to grab some dinner. New Year's eve was pretty fun... the club ended up being much smaller than we expected, but it was absolutely packed! I thought it the size/crowd worked to our advantage because Melissa, Brandon, and I didn't have to bother keeping track of each other because we couldn't actually lose anyone and we would bump into one another on the way to the bar/dancefloor/or toilet! At first I wasn't all that into the mood (the music wasn't the best mix, but it definitely wasn't bad). Sometime after midnight I started really dancing and enjoying myself. I met a nice Brazilian guy, two fabulous Japanese guys, and joined some random Japanese groups for dancing. Sometime after 3, we headed out. We didn't get all that far, and a long story made short, we ended up going to Karaoke with some other folks from the club. There was a Canadian from Quebec, an American from Ohio who speaks Japanese fluently, his Japanese friend Yuki, two army guys from Texas and California, and then the three of us. It was quite fun, but horribly expensive. For just over an hour, with some food and drinks, it cost each of us about $20!! Hoi, not like Korea at all.
Brandon, Melissa, and I stayed out late enough to hop the subway home in the morning when it started running. We slept for a while and then wandered around town again, using our all-day passes for the subway to the extreme. At one point we hopped on a different track and ended up at a stop where middle-schoolers were swarming to go home!! It was such a perfect, unplanned thing.
We went out, trying to find a Japanese bar to spend our last night at. We ended up running into the American from Ohio and he showed us a cool little place that he was going to. We had two kinds of sake, quite a bit of food, and it was a lovely, cozy environment. The next morning I had to head out before the other two, but the trip alone was just fine with me. It took a long time... I left the hostel at 8 and arrived back at my apartment in Cheonsang about 6. All that travel switches... walking, bus, ferry, walking, subway, bus, another bus, and walking takes a long time! The trip was so great though.
Japan was so very different from Korea. Not so much as a European country, but I was really glad to get the opportunity to compare it to another Asian country that I actually live in. I don't want to say that Japan is better, but it is no less cool. I love what I saw and experienced of Japan. Enough to really make me want to go and teach. But that's a ways out in the future!
It was tough to go back to work on Wednesday. The relief was that it would be a three day week, which meant interviews, more interviews, and game day! Funny though how by Friday it felt like such a long week!  On Saturday, Stephen and I were invited for a day trip to Gayasan and Haeinsa temple with our director, his wife, and daughter. It was about a two hour drive NW of Ulsan. When we got out of the van it was SO cold. We bundled up and went up to the temple. Haeinsa is very cool, considered a Dharma center. It houses over 80,000 Triptaka Koreana wood blocks, considered to be the best collection in the world. It's a UNESCO item even. It was lightly snowing while we were there, but we started to hike up Gayasan. We were about 1.5km away from the peak when our director decided we had better turn back, otherwise the increasinly heavy snowfall might prevent us from getting our car off the mountain! We hiked back down and it was really snowing. Amazingly beautiful but a little bit treacherous! We had a delicious, large lunch/dinner of samgyupsal off the mountain and then headed back to Ulsan. That night we actually caught a bit of snow in Ulsan. It stuck for about an hour and then disappeared. On Sunday, Melissa, Stephen, Brandon, and I caught a late showing of Casino Royale downtown. For about four hours before the movie, Stephen, Melissa, and I wandered around Samsandong, went shopping, and played UNO at a coffee shop. A nice Sunday afternoon.
This past week was a nice change. It felt like forever (almost a month really!) since we had a normal schedule at work. I've opted for a new year-new teacher attitude and am cracking down! It works relatively well, but this week was still frustrating. Why can't they listen?! I got some great pictures and even a couple videos during game day on Friday. My Korean class at the university had a birthday party for our Japanese student as well, which was nice. Last night I went into Mugeodong with Brandon and Melissa for some dinner and drinks with Yoonsoo (who has only been back in Korea  from Alabama for a few weeks), John, and John's friend Snow. Sangjae made his typical 5 minute appearance! It was nice to see people, it feels like a lot of the Koreans have dropped out of existence. Some are in Cairo for a month, some are in Seoul for jobs, some are busy with family and vacations, some are studying/trying to get jobs. Today is Youngwoo's birthday and that means he'll be spending all weekend attending drinking appointments with his seniors (people he works with, people in his engineering club, old friends, etc, etc) so perhaps we'll get to see him next weekend.
I've caught you up. It's strange, I know! My Korean class only lasts two more weeks and I'm pretty sure I'm not taking the next level. The time for class isn't a problem but I'm not sure I want to devote the time necessary to succeed for outside studying. No point in squandering my money and time if I won't give it my all. I'm not positive though. As my contract's end date nears though I have more and more things I want to get taken care of and not having an obligation like class would be freeing. We'll see. I still love Korea. It hasn't been too awfully cold. I have settled into my few winter wear items and am determined to survive the chill with what I have. I'm also taking it easy, spending more nights in and not staying out as late. Not hard with the Koreans so busy. I'm trying to catch up with people and stay on top of things. So far this Saturday has been uber lazy, but I've gotten to chat with my parents, a couple of friends, and update my blog!
I hope everyone is having a good 2007 so far and I'd love to hear from you!
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