Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A little piece of America

So I went to the US Embassy to get some documents notarized today. I was amazed at the security and location. When I got off the subway the signs in both English and Korean pointed out the exit that led right to it. The amazing part is its location, right in the heart of Seoul. All around there were statutes, concert halls, and even tourist attractions.
In my opinion, the US Embassy was located in a very convenient location but all of the security took away from the surrounding scenery. There were Korean police buses with officers all around. Then when we entered the guard house we had to empty our pockets, show our passports, leave all electronics, and get I.D badges. I even got a pat down because of my belt. Every door that we had to go through could only be opened after it was bused open by a guard.

By far the highlight of the visit occurred after we left the Embassy. There was beautiful and historic statues as well as magnificent buildings surrounding the embassy . There was even an ice skating rink that was temporary built across from the embassy.  Two statues are located right outside the embassy, King Saejong and General Yi SunShin. 

No visit to the US or even US embassy can be complete without a stop at McDonalds. Yes , there is one conveniently located within walking distance of the Embassy. While you can find one throughout Korea, my little visit to America would not have been complete without my egg McMuffin. Let it be known of all the American restaurants I have visited in Korea, McDonalds is the only one whose food tastes just like back in the states.

So if you visit the US Embassy, make sure to enjoy all the surrounding sites, bring your passport, and stop at McDonalds to make it complete.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The world from 18 stories up

I must admit that I have lived a sheltered but low life. Looking back I have never lived in any home, apartment or even dorm that was higher than the second floor. That being said I now live on the 18th floor and I have yet to get a nose bleed.

So what is an apartment in Korea like? If I was limited to one word, I would have to say comfortable. We moved in with my mother-in-law and father-in-law. They have 3 bedrooms and two full bathrooms . One interesting fact about Korean homes is that they are heated through the floor. Yes, the floor is heated and the air above it warms up. There are many large windows which make the need for lights in the day very limited. ***IMPORTANT*** Just make sure that you take off your shoes before you enter. Most homes have a sort of walk-in room as you enter that you need to leave your shoes at.(So please do not wear old, worn out socks to a Korean home.

All the normal appliances can be found here. Form the TV to the toaster. However, you will see a few new ones like the kimchi refrigerator, rice maker, and kitchen radio that also says announcements from the apartment community and rings when someone is at the door.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the door. It has a lock that has a mind of its own. The key is just a watch battery shaped object and it also takes a password. The main problem is once you are inside. I believe that any foreigner should be made to take a class about how to lock the door. There are buttons, levers and even green and red indicators. I can say that I feel safe.

Just make sure that you know when, where and which container the garbage goes. There is a couple of different kinds of recycling and other places for different kinds of trash. To be honest I really am not quite sure what to do and still need to ask where each item goes. I will report back when I have mastered taking out the trash.

So how is the world from 18 stories up? The view is great and life is good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life Without a Car?

Ok, I must admit I heard so much about how great public transportation in Korea was, but I still had my doubts. In fact, as we sold both of our cars before moving here I had to hold back a little tear. How was I, who had owned car since college, going to get around without my own keys? Well, as hard as it is to say, "everyone told me so".
I have experienced the wonders and ease of life without a car. I have yet to be late anywhere, wait more than 5 minutes, nor get a speeding ticket since I have been here. By the way you will be amazed when I explain the cost. Bye, bye gas prices.

The buses are clean and run on time. I have witnessed up to five different buses at one stop all going the same way. There was one time after a big snow storm that I found out what a sardine feels like. I just made it on the bus before it was full. For your information, that means there was not an inch to spare in any direction. And there is the occasional old Korean lady that throws her purse across the bus to get a recently vacant seat. Even having experienced all that I am a proud daily Seoul bus commuter.

Here is a great interactive bus map in English.  If you prefer to read and see the routes yourself, here is a  bus guide in English.

Now that I have spoken about the bus system let me talk about the subway. I guess they go togther like peanut butter and jelly. Both are good apart but they are more delicious togther. When you use the bus and subway back to back you get a discount and an easy path anywhere in Seoul. The subways are extremely busy but very orderly. Now you might see a sign that says stay on the right. Don't believe it. I think that it is a national sport to walk on the left side of the subway. More people do that than walk on the right. The subway runs on time, quiet, and even the seats are warm. That is important in December and January. While there can be some tight times, I have seen many situations when a young man or woman gladly get up to give their seats to an elderly person. Once again I am a proud Seoul subway commuter.

Now for the icing on the cake.  The bus/subway fee is only 900 won or about $.80 with the use of T-money.  T-money is type of currency to pay for buses, subway, and some other items.  You can buy a card in the subway and refill it anytime you want.  The card machine has an English language feature.  I will go in detail later about the use of phones, small items, and credit cards with T-money.  The card makes life much easier and  even saves you money.  When swiping the card as you exit you can save money on the transfer between buses and even the subway.  Here is the details about the cost.

The conclusion is I like to let someone else drive, save money and still get everywhere I need using the bus and subway system of Seoul South Korea.  If I decide to buy a car later, it will definitely spend more time in the parking garage than the road.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A session at a Korean herbal clinic(acupuncture)

On my first trip to see the Dr, I was greeted by warm smiles and a look of surprise. Not only was the office warm and inviting but it held a sense of modernity that surprised me. The Dr took me back to his room and examined me to find out what kind of treatment would be best for me. This was like most doctor visits in America with looking in my ear, looking up my nose, getting my temperature taken and a lot of poking.
I was told that the trip had lowered my immune system and he would begin by strengthening it back up. Now it was time for my treatment.

Step (1)
I was taken back to a hard bed with a pillow and heating pad for my back.

Two large inflatable leggings were zipped around each of my legs up to my mid thigh. Then the machine started to pump air into different compartments to mimic a sense of massage. This was very relaxing. In fact, it was like having someone continuously massaging both legs at once.
Step (3)
Like a piece of steak on a barbecue I was then flipped over on to my back for the suction cups and electro stimulus on my back. Actually I am not sure what to call the devise that was hooked up to my back but it activated the muscles of my back causing them to tighten and pulse. The suction cups were strategically positioned around the back.

Steps(4) and (5)
Now I was ready. The Dr came in and pushed on my head, stomach, legs and arms then it began. He put two to three inch needles in different parts of my body while I was face up and then flipped me again to do the same thing to the back of my body. For the most part I could not even feel the needles going in. And in between rotations one of the nurses came by and took out the needles from the prior time. However, the needles were put all over including the top of my head and even face.

I was done. The entire process took about one hour and I was ready to go. You are probably wondering about the cost. I paid 4750 won or about $4.10. I wish I could get a doctors visit for that back in the States. One of the nurses,Sunghye(pictured below), spoke English and kept track of me. But it was made very easy by my wonderful wife who is fluent in Korean and was with me the entire time. Thanks.
If you get a chance make sure you go and try it out for yourself. I am going to go 2 to 3 times each week.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Welcome all visitors

Hello, I just want to begin this by inviting all to share with me my trek into the Korean culture. I have lived and worked in Irvine, California for the last 10 years. Prior to that I grew up, went to college, and worked 20 some years in Ohio.

I will share my daily experiences in both words and pictures. I hope everyone enjoys the fun, excitement and pains of living and teaching English in a land that holds so much more richness than just the wonderful food it has shared with the world, kimchi.

Feel free to share and/or ask questions.