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dpshakyamuni

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Zoomed into Blackness [Jan. 8th, 2011|11:58 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |exhaustedexhausted]
[Current Music |The Incredible Hulk]

Christmas Eve at the school wasn't as big a day as we thought it'd be. For Halloween we had a full day of events. For Christmas we just had one teacher dress up as Santa and visit the classes one at a time throughout the day. That was it. And guess who got to play Santa?

That evening we had a nice combination of American and Korean cuisine. Nothing like Carlo Rossi with a side of kimchi.

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On Saturday we went upstairs to the Napoli's apartment. They were having a Christmas party and invited a lot of their friends from cities all around our area. It's nice living downstairs since we could pop down to get something if we needed to. For instance, I helped Tommy carry two of my couches upstairs for extra seating!

The food was good and the people were nice but the best part was the present! For the party they had organized a game of White Elephant. Just wrap something from your apartment that you don't use anymore, bring it to the party, and swap it for something else. We gave away a tripod that was in our apartment and some books we had. In return, we got a box full of about 30 used books. Our library was desperately in need of some new literature, so it was a great gift to get.

That evening was also the biggest snowfall of the season. It really came down. Our friends going to the Philippines missed their flight because of it and had to buy new tickets for the next day. We stayed in for the evening and the whole next day so we wouldn't have to be bothered by it. We were tidying up the apartment and packing. Kelly our co-worker was coming to our apartment to babysit the cats, so we wanted it to be clean for her.

Monday the 27th: Hong Kong

We got up super early to drive to the airport. We left the apartment around 7:45 and made excellent time. Even though we got to the airport a few hours early it was good we left when we did. Just as I hit the island the airport is on it started snowing rather heavily. When I left the car in long term parking the snow had already started accumulating on the roads. Walking from long-term parking to the airport we got to go through a building we'd never been in before. It wasn't part of the terminal and didn't really have much in it, although it was nice walking through a building rather than having walk outside in the snow. Plus, there was a giant "Stargarden" inside.

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We got our boarding passes and checked our bags in about two minutes, so it was nice not having to stress over that. Our bag was being checked straight through to Hong Kong so we didn't even have to pick it up again during our Shanghai connection. Before heading to the gate we decided to sit and have lunch since we had so much time before the flight. We opted for a restaurant that you can't eat in back in the States. It's called "Bennigan's". Quite the fancy restaurant here, as the chandeliers in the dining rooms show.

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The flight to Shanghai wasn't bad, but immigration there was a bit much. We had to have a landing card, get stamped coming into the airport, have our picture taken, go through security, fill out a departure card, and get checked on the way out. When we were getting stamped coming into the country they needed a special one for us since we were American citizens and just transferring. I didn't know what was happening but the guy made me wait at the counter and there was some yelling between him and another guy for a bit. My palms got a bit sweaty as I begin imagining what Chinese prisons were like, knowing everything about them that I do from the movie Batman Begins.

It was while we were waiting for our connecting flight that Annie's day started getting bad. Tom and Danielle had both had a one-day stomach flu over the weekend. I got it a little bit on Sunday, but it was as we were waiting in China it finally hit Annie. The rest of the day traveling became a bit more difficult for her.

We got to Hong Kong and tried to get through immigration as quickly as possible so Annie could lay down in the hostel. We chose to get a taxi figuring it'd be the fastest and most direct route to our place. It was when we started driving that we began to notice the differences between Hong Kong and other places we'd been. For starters, due to it's history of being under British rule, they drive on the Brit side of the street. My first sight of buildings was a huge tower block of an apartment complex near the airport. It was lit up in such a way that it looked like a Borg Cube had landed, which was neat.

As we got from the island our airport was on to the island our hostel was (since the city is made up of a series of islands) we saw that the streets were pretty lit up. ALL of them. There were neon lights covering everything, everywhere. Our hostel was located directly in the middle of the city at the heart of the subway system. People were everywhere. Lights were everywhere. All of the sensory overload was quite overwhelming.

We got out of the cab and found the entry to our building. We were staying in the Chugqing Mansions which is basically a giant apartment block. There were a number of different elevators that connected to different parts of the building. Each elevator block serviced 17 floors and each floor had either a number of apartments, a number of guesthouses, restaurants, or a combination of the three. The ground floor was just a teeming mass of cell-phone shops and foreign movie dealers. We were in an area of the city that housed mostly immigrants, which is why we got such a cheap price for the hostel. As we entered the building, we were accosted by a horde of Indian guys, each peddling their restaurant in the building or trying to get us to stay in their guest house. We walked right through them and up to the first security guard we saw. We showed him our reservation and he directed us to the correct elevator bank.

On our floor we got to our hostel and at the front table was a note for us next to a phone. The note gave us Simon's number, the proprietor of two of the hostels on the floor. I called him and he came out to greet us. He was a very pleasant man who spoke English well. He gave us a tour of the room and showed us how to use everything. He also showed us his DVD collection and said we could use it if we wanted.

After he left, Annie immediately changed and laid down. The room was quite small, but perfect for us since we don't need a lot of space. Here's Annie taking a much deserved rest after the traveling.

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This is the rest of the room, shot from on the bed.

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And the bathroom.

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While Annie rested I went out to find an ATM. I wanted to get cash for the next day and Simon needed to be paid for the hostel. On my way out of the hostel I noticed that besides Indians there was also a large number of people from Pakistan, some other random southeast Asian countries, and Africa. Hong Kong is significantly more multi-cultural than Korea. Within five seconds of walking out of the building one of the guys called me 'rock star' to try and grab my attention for whatever it was he was selling. It made me feel good that English was so prevalent people on the street could bother me with it.

I didn't walk too far. Annie and I were definitely in the middle of everything and with all the lights plus jet lag I figured it'd be too easy to get lost. I went to a 7-11 (the one store that they have in every country I've ever been to) for money, noodles, and water for Annie.

The hostel itself is clean and comfortable. The one downside was getting to the hostel. Everytime you came in the building you were approached by the peddlers. That wasn't so bad. It was waiting for the elevator that wasn't fun. I don't know how many people lived in these buildings, but it was a lot. At each elevator bank you formed two lines, even floors on the left and odd on the right. You waited your turn while watching the people in the elevators get on and off (each elevator had a camera inside with the monitors down in the lobby to give you an idea of how many people were getting on/off and for security). On the elevator ride before I got on a guy piled four huge bales of something shipped from India on which took up most of the elevator. I watched on the monitor as it got to a floor and a few guys were waiting to unload it. Apparently people elevators were also service and cargo elevators.

I made it back to the room to take care of Annie, have the noodles for dinner, pay Simon, and get some sleep.

Tuesday the 28th:

We slept in a little bit to let Annie feel better, which she did. Luckily the bug only lasted a night. We left the hostel and crossed the street to find this.

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We also saw this painted on the road at every intersection. Annie thought it'd be a good idea to take a picture for my mom, since she loved these so much in England.

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We walked down a street from our hostel to find Kowloon Park, a park in the middle of the town that had things like a hedge maze, a mosque, statue garden. There was even an area we found where people were practicing martial arts.

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Right outside the park there was a bus stop with the best advertisement ever. Annie was very interested in it.

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After walking around the park we headed down to the water for the first time. We got to see the skyline of Hong Kong for the first time there and it was gorgeous. Easily the best skyline I've seen in my travels. Quite an amazing spectacle. Along the waterfront they have an "Avenue of the Stars". It's like the Hollywood star walk where they have famous people's names and hand prints. This one focused solely on people from Hong Kong who were in the film industry.

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They had a neat statue of Bruce Lee. Annie thinks she could've taken him.

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They also had some random statues along the avenue. Some were related to film while others were international presents. We really liked the one from Germany. The country had given Hong Kong some of the bear statues that we saw throughout Berlin. Here's Annie doing her bear impression.

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We set up the tripod to take some couple shots along the waterfront. I like this one the best. I think I'm going to start submitting my work to galleries. I call it "Accidental Art".

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We then hopped on a ferry to cross the water to the other island. For less than a dollar we both got seats on the upper deck. On the other side the boat drops you off quite close to an uber-expensive name brand mall. There was a lot of designer shopping throughout the city, focusing mostly on western brands. We're talking a store that had $75,000 Rolexes on display. Needless to say, we didn't shop much. However, the mall had a grocery store in it that we took advantage of to get a nice picnic lunch. After buying our snacks we headed out to eat, but not before getting a shot of this awesome store.

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We got some fresh made sandwiches for lunch. Annie had a salmon bagel and I had roast beef, which is hard to find in Korea so it was great. We also got fresh squeezed juice which was delicious. Annie had watermelon juice. Ingredients: Watermelon. We also got some snacks for the side, like Asian Doritos.

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We went from the little park we picnicked in past the cathedral on the island up the hill to find a tram to the top of the mountain called "The Peak". Along the way we saw a great Chinese Tron poster.

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The tram to the top of the mountain was pretty neat. You go up at a 45 degree angle that once you get used to makes it look like the rest of the city is really on a diagonal. With so many skyscrapers it really warps your sense of reality seeing them at an angle. The tram drops you off in one of two malls at the top of the mountain. Everywhere you go you can shop! We got some nice pics of the city and since it was close to sunset decided to stay on top of the mountain for a while. I found a great throne-looking photo opportunity in one of the malls.

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We walked down a nature trail to get a little couple shot over the city.

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We also found out that Hong Kong is a bit of a racist country in some ways.

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From the top of the mountain you can see over the city on one side and over the port on the other. Since the sun was setting on the water side we decided to stay there to watch the sky change color.

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Once the sun was down we went to the other side to see how the city had changed color.

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We took the tram back down after the sunset and caught another ferry back to our side of the water. Total day's travel expense: $1.50. From that side of the water we saw the skyline for the first time in full effect at night.

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We walked through our neighborhood for a bit and had dinner at a place called Tsi Wah restaurant. It looked kind of like a Chinese diner. They had a big menu that was really varied and lots of people were there. After that we stopped at 7-11 to stock our fridge with beverages and walked home. We took this picture on the way though for Dana.

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Wednesday the 29th:

We got up early and hit the subway by 9:30. We wanted to make sure we had a lot of time because we were going to Disneyland! After transferring at two stations we made it to the line dedicated solely to going to the park. Even before you got there you knew you were getting the full experience since the subway was full of mickeys and statues of characters.

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We got out and saw that it was a gorgeous day. Lots of sunshine, no clouds, nice temperature. The gate to the park looked quite inviting.

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Going up Main Street you could see that the park was decked out for the Christmas season.

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At the end of Main Street in the castle courtyard there was a giant Christmas gingerbread village set up. There were fake stores inside that had scenes in the windows of the different characters shopping.

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The castle had a very different look than the other ones I'd seen, but was shorter compared to the one in Florida.

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The people in the park were super nice, like at all the other parks. Very helpful, all fluent in English. We had our picture taken in front of the castle by one of the photographers in the park (which we bought a shot of with us holding Tinkerbell later) but he also took our picture using our camera which I thought was really nice.

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The park itself only had three lands, compared to the five at the other parks. We went to Adventureland first to see how it was different. Instead of the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse they had a Tarzan themed one. You had to take a small raft ride to get there, which they probably did to make sure not too many people were going through the house at one time. The park wasn't really crowded at this point though, so we pretty much walked onto all the rides in the beginning.

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We did the Jungle Cruise next. It was mostly the same as the other one's. Gorillas destroying the explorers camps, elephants shooting water at you. The biggest difference was at the end when the boat driver took us through a volcanic region and the fire god erupted into flames, filling the boat with smoke for the trip back to the dock. It was an interesting difference that was really exciting.

After that we were in time for one of the show's. It was based on the Lion King. They had a performance in the middle of a circular amphitheater. Performers came in the middle and told the story of the Lion King with acting, songs, and dancers. The whole show was in English with two characters dressed as monkeys who translated quickly after large parts of dialogue. On the outskirts of the performance area giant floats with animatronic animals came out that interacted with the characters and sang songs. Here's Annie with the elephant float after the performance.

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The shops in the park had a lot of the stuff you'd expect them to have but there were some shirts and stuff that were obviously geared towards just this park. This was my favorite shirt that I saw.

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We went to Mickey's Philharmagic next which was fun since Annie had never seen it. It was closed when we went together to Florida. It was the exact same ride done entirely in English, so I felt bad for the Chinese people in the park but had a good time watching the shows. The parade was coming at that time so we got front row seats to see all the floats go by. About what you'd expect for a Disney parade. The best part was a contingent of performers dressed as the army men from Toy Story. They moved pretty cohesively as a group and were fun to watch. Plus their outfits were spot on, down to the extra "plastic" around the feet.

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We stopped for lunch after that at the Plaza Inn. It was a Mulan themed restaurant, which I thought was appropriate since we were in China. Annie had a lovely noodle dish.

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At the end we got a dim sum set since it was supposed to be a specialty there. All the different components were shaped into animals. There was an octopus dim sum with octopus inside, a fluffy marshmallow bunny dim sum, etc.

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Annie in Disney Hong Kong!

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The rest of the day was spent trying to get on as many rides as possible. We hit mostly everything. The only ride that needed to be Fast Passed was the Winnie the Pooh ride, which had a consistent one hour line. Everything else was a minimal wait and we generally lucked out and got the front car in most things. Space Mountain was the same with just the line getting on it being a little different. The Buzz Lightyear ride was different in that instead of having a mounted gun on your car you had a pistol in your hand, making it easier to hit different targets. There was a show at this Dinseyland they didn't have at the other parks called "The Golden Mickeys". It was a faux-Oscar type show that had live performances by different characters in costumes. It basically centered around singing songs from some of the newer Disney movies inter-cut with different "awards" that were being presented (best hero, villain, etc.) The best part was that it was all in Chinese with English translation on screens on the side of the stage. Mickey speaking in Chinese was amazing.

The biggest difference in the park was It's A Small World. It was redecorated for Christmas which was really fun. Throughout the ride there were characters and decorations to make it very Christmas themed.

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Annie riding one of the teacups!

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After a full day we left just before the park closed to avoid the post-fireworks rush we knew would inundate the subway. We had a great time, got dinner at a place near our hostel, and went home to rest.

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Thursday the 30th:

We got out by 11 for our last day of heading around the town outside of our area. We took a subway to the outlying island the airport is on. From there we took a cable car to the top of a mountain. The car ride itself was thrilling. For twenty five minutes we went over water and mountains at quite steep heights.

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The cars had some weird rules to ride them though.

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Despite my fear of heights, the car ride was worth it for it's stunning views, particularly when we were approaching our destination, the giant Buddha that had been constructed on the top of the mountain.

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The car let you out in a little village leading up to the temple and the Buddha. Annie wanted to get a shot of me with the scenery.

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We had a nice kebab lunch and then ascended the stairs to the statue, which numbered in the hundreds. The statue was nice. A bit bigger than the one we have in town back at Cheonan. And it had a lot of ancillary statues around it. Worshippers, Bodhisattvas, etc.

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About a twenty minute walk away from the Buddha there was something called the wisdom path. It's a series of stone pillars with a Buddhist text written on them. They were very pretty on top of the mountain and there weren't a lot people around to make it feel crowded.

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We stopped by the monastery briefly on the way out. There were lots of incense sticks burning all over the place. Some of them were as big as your leg.

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We took a subway back to near our district. We sat in a Starbucks for a while waiting for the sun to set. When it did, we headed over to the night market the area was famous for. It was huge, covered dozens of streets, and sold all kinds of everything. Batteries, vegetables, animals, sex toys, blankets, clothes, etc. We decided to get a tea set and some bowls since Annie had wanted them for a long time. She was even able to successfully haggle with the vendor, so it was a fun experience.

We dropped the purchases and our bags off at the hostel and then went out for a nice dinner. We opted to go to a fancy-pants Japanese restaurant. We got a multi-course sushi, sashimi, and cooked meat dinner which was delicious.

Friday the 31st:

We slept in pretty late figuring it would be a long day. When we finally got out of the hostel we didn't really have an agenda. We headed down to the pier again to scout where the New Year's festivities would be. We opted not to stay for the ceremony though. 400,000 people were expected to be in the area and Annie and I aren't crowd loving people. She did manage to get a good shot of the sun setting behind a skyscraper though.

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We mostly just checked out a mall in our area, had some food, and ended up back at our hostel with some wine. We got washed and packed up and then waited for the New Year.

Saturday the 1st:

We got out of the hostel with no problems but ran into an issue when we tried taking the subway to the airport. It's all connected through stations but the airport has its own track that costs extra when you transfer to it. We're pretty good about spending all the money we take out of ATM's in foreign countries so by the time we found out about this last expense we didn't have enough cash left. Luckily there was a nice customer service rep. at the station who helped us buy tickets with a credit card.

There were no issues on the flights home. Same as coming in reverse. Lots of immigration in Shanghai, checked in no problems, etc. The only snafu was that when we got the car in Korea we got a bit turned around getting home and were lost, driving around Seoul and Incheon for a while. We finally found a normal road though and made it back to the apartment. Kelly had a good time and the place was clean, but she did take the cat to the vet for us when she saw he was getting an eye infection, which was nice.
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You can temperature at a bank too [Dec. 19th, 2010|06:51 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[Current Music |Pirates of the Caribbean]

December 4th:

We went out to dinner that evening in the alleyways by Yawoori. We opted for Riposso, the pizza place we'd been to before. If we go enough, we get a free pie! After that we grabbed Baskin Robbins for take-home dessert. Since we were taking it back home, they packed it in dry ice to keep it cool for the trip. I love that they do that.

The next day we headed down to Lotte Mart for the first time. It's a giant store in a different part of town than we'd been to. We parked the car and walked around the area, which turned out to be the sleaziest place in Cheonan. Everything was closed since we were there during the day. At night it must be a hedonist's dreamland. It was nothing but clubs, crappy bars, and cheap sextels. We didn't spend that long walking around before we went right to the store. We just walked through the building to see what they had. It was a pretty normal department store, with clothes, furniture, and groceries. We bought some Christmas decorations for the apartment, ate lunch, and went back to the car.

On our way home we drove past the hospital near our apartment to see where the road would take us. Apparently, Cheonan is surrounded by farms and so driving through them in December isn't the best time to see what they can do. It looked like a town had died. There was no life anywhere, barren fields. Really, quite a depressing sight. We went home to decorate the tree and try to cheer up.

Monday was a normal day. Finished paperwork, went food shopping, had Lotteria (Korean fast food) for dinner.

Tuesday was great because we received our first Christmas package from home. That night we celebrated with a Mexican dinner and then decorated the apartment with some of the goods my parents sent.

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Wednesday we woke up to the first snowfall we've seen this winter. It was beautiful the way it covered the mountain but wasn't that bad to drive on. By the afternoon it was all melted so I didn't have any difficulty driving to the other school or home after. Annie celebrated the middle of the week by trying out the bathtub for the first time. She downloaded Pretty in Pink and had a nice soak.

Thursday was fun since we received another package. Since we use the photo web-site Snapfish so much, we received a deal with our latest order that gave us 365 free prints. I've been decorating the apartment with the shots ever since.

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Now with that wall done I've gone across the archway and am trying to finish coating the cabinets. It's nice to see our friends, family and where we've visited over the last six years around everywhere. We've also got a mix of older photos from our families, including grandparents weddings and the like. Makes the apartment seem a lot more homey.

Saturday we drove downtown. We walked through the new mall that opened over the bus terminal. It's huge and beautiful, but quite expensive. I felt under-dressed just walking through it, with suited guards at the top of all the escalators and by the elevators. We met up with Thom, Danielle, and their kids for dinner at a buffet following the mall. It was nice to just sit around and talk over a dinner since we don't go out very often. The funniest part was at the end as we were leaving. Xavier met up with a few Korean kids his age and they started interacting. It's fun to see the little ones talk to each other, realizing they're the same age but without any language skills amongst them.

Sunday we went down to Paris Baguette, the local bakery, in the afternoon. While walking I also saw this. It's a leveled-up parking space.

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A car can park there and then get ferris wheeled up to the next spot. It holds up to eight I think. Genius. We spent the rest of the day in the apartment, just watching TV and relaxing.

Monday the 13th was a regular day but Tuesday was fun since we had a field trip. The kids were loaded onto the buses and we went to a milk factory. After an initial presentation where they discussed how the milk was made, the kids got to walk through corridors overlooking the factory floor.

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I tried to get a shot of my class reflected in the company's name, which was on the wall over a number of milk cartons.

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Annie opted to try her hand at jumping pictures with her class.

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When we got back to the school I took a quick shot of my class so people could see what an 11 student strong kindergarten class looks like.

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Nothing happened Wednesday but Jaqueline came over to our house that Thursday. She wanted to see our new cats, pick up the cage we'd had since babysitting her dogs last, and just to talk for a bit. We might be taking her dogs again in January and she let us know about a recruiter in the area that she used for her job we might get in touch with. We'll see. It was just nice of her to offer to help us out in exchange for our watching the dogs all the time.

Friday was a birthday party at school, so the kids were all excited. That night we went up to the Napoli's after the kids went to sleep for some talking. It was a nice few hours letting Annie catch up with Danielle while Tommy and I just talked about movies and such.

Saturday the 18th we went out to celebrate our anniversary. We got all cleaned up and caught a cab for downtown by five. We got out at the new mall, noticing a new sculpture in front of it for the first time. Nuclear bomb Korean pots.

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We went up tot he movie theatre and saw Harry Potter was starting soon. We grabbed a number to get tickets and waited nervously to be called. We were 568 and they were only on 440 when we got there. I don't know why, but it was a very nail-biting experience, waiting for our turn. At the end, when we ordered, the ticket lady held up her computer and we were allowed to manually pick our seats by touching the screen. I love assigned seating in theatres. We got some sweet popcorn and a water for five bucks and went inside.

After the movie we went for Outback, since we went there for Christmas last time in Korea but had plans that evening this year. We went all out with steaks and dessert, then went home.

Today on our actual anniversary we just stayed in with each other and did things around the house. It's been a relaxing day and we're getting a lot done. One more week before the holiday break!
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You took away my reflection [Dec. 4th, 2010|03:28 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |awakeawake]
[Current Music |Starcraft Channel]

November 6: (Saturday)

After we dropped Pete off at the station we went to the phone shop to pay our bills (my phone was broken and they said they could fix it rather than making me buy a new one, but I had to find the service center). We then stopped by Burger King and got a disgusting amount of food to spend the rest of the day at home. We had two weeks of laundry, photo uploading, and knitting to catch up on (Annie's mom had sent yarn and such so Annie could make booties for the new baby upstairs, among other things).

Sunday I spent the whole day inside. Finishing laundry and such. We wanted to do all the sheets and towels in the house as they hadn't had a good scrubbing in a few weeks. Annie went to the jim jil bong while I caught up on the journal later that evening. The only other event of note was when our doorbell went off at 9 that evening. I answered the door and a woman started speaking Korean very quickly before noticing me. She then loudly said "Waygukin!" (foreigner) and motioned for the college student with her to come forward and explain. They were census takers! We got to fill out a form and weren't evicted or shot or anything! It was great.

Monday was our first day back at work since Pete left. The day seemed less hectic since we stayed in for lunch and had no plans for the evening. We went shopping at Homeplus that evening and got a little treat for Annie and the kids. Peppero day was coming up this week, so we got a little box.

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That evening was exciting because Annie made Tuna melts for dinner, which were amazing.

Tuesday was cooking day in school. We made peppero in class. The students all got cookie sticks and could dip them in different flavor chocolates and add sprinkles. It was also the first day that Ryan didn't come drive with me to the other school. He was staying at the morning campus since one of the teacher's was leaving to see how she taught her classes. I got to the other school quicker since I didn't have to wait for him, but it was sad driving alone. That night we went up to Thom and Danielle's house for chili, which was amazing. We also showed their son the peppero box.

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Nothing else happened until Thursday. All the teachers went out to dinner at the local galbi place, Suwon, to say goodbye to Lauren since she was leaving the next week. We had a few steaks, a couple drinks, and wished her well. They were going out drinking after dinner, while Annie and I decided to head home. We don't really like going out on school nights since we have to be on our game the next day!

Friday night we stayed in after work. Annie made some nice mac n' cheese dinner with hot dogs and then we spent the rest of the night tidying up. We had to get the house ready for guests the next day.

Saturday morning we were at the train station by 10:15 to get tickets for Seoul. We had lunch waiting for the next departure and then got onto a standing room only train. Even the norebongs (karaoke rooms) on the train were full, with the good news being at least people were using them for the trip. We got to Seoul, bought return tickets to Cheonan to save time later and went to an apartment in the middle of the city. There we met a nice guy from Florida who had been in Korea for eighteen of the last twenty years working for the military. His daughters had just recently moved back to the states but had left their cats. As his wife didn't like cats, he was looking to adopt them to nice people, like us!

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He gave us nice cages that could be used if we ever take them on planes, a litterbox, food, litter, toys, a cat bed, etc. Carrying everything back to the subway on then on the train was difficult, but it was worth it since we were not only getting all this stuff, but the cats were well cared for, came with complete medical records, had been fixed, and are even micro-chipped in case they ever run away. When we finally got back to Cheonan and loaded up the car, we were exhausted. To make matters worse, the tiny back alley I'd parked the van on was undergoing construction, so I had to go down roads that were about one car width wide going the wrong way. After almost killing a bunch of people, we made it home safely. Even though the cats were scared for a while and hid, it was still a better place for them since at the man's house they were locked in one room all the time due to the wife's hatred.

Sunday we tried to stay around the house all day. We did some paperwork and wanted to see if the cats would come out. We had changed their names from Cookie and Mocha to Lewis and Clark. Lewis is the black cat who is friendlier. He's quite needy and came out a lot earlier than the other one. Clark still has issues.

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Monday was difficult for me since this was the first day Lauren was gone. my class combined with hers for a grand total of 12 Kindergarten kids in one room. It was manageable, but definitely tiring. The good news was that leaving the afternoon school I no longer had to drive Ryan home, so I got back to the apartment about twenty minutes quicker than I normally would, which was nice.

Tuesday was fun since we went on our monthly field trip. It was a close one. The buses only took us up the road to Taejosan park, which is at the base of the mountain our apartment is built on. The point of the field trip was to have the students run around and play in leaves while we took pictures for the parents. I think it was a success.

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The kids spent most of the time throwing leaves at each other and us, which turned us into this.

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So I accessed my nature fury and hit Tim in the face with a leaf burst from my chest.

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Then we did class pictures. Here's Annie with her manageable class.

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And me with the new ridiculousness. Plus a tank.

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At one point I looked at my student Sunny and said how tired I was from running around and playing. She then told me that was "..because you're old".

The rest of the week was basically resting at home, eating in, and taking care of paperwork and such. On Friday we waited until midnight and then let Annie open her birthday presents. We also got a chance to Skype with her dad and Mary, so it was a fun beginning to the birthday weekend.

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Saturday we got up early so we could Skype with the rest of Annie's family, and we even caught my parents for a little chat. Then we took a well-deserved afternoon nap before heading downtown for dinner. We were meeting our co-workers at an Indian restaurant, which was amazing. After that we stopped at a shoe store heading back to the car for some impulse purchases. Annie got some flats she'd been wanting for a long time. Happy birthday!

Sunday we decided to go back to the park the field trip went to that week. We'd never been ourselves and wanted to check it out. In the back of the park was a trail leading up the mountain, which we decided to try and hike. On the way up, Annie wanted to get in touch with her spirit.

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There were lots of people walking along the trails since it was such a beautiful Sunday. My favorite were the dad and daughter in matching video game shirts.

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The trail was very well marked and well trodden at times, while at others it was quite perilous. You can't really tell in this picture, but this part of the trail that we hiked down almost killed us due to how steep and slippery it was.

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Still, it was all worth it. At the summit you got a beautiful view over the whole mountain chain on one side and Cheonan on the other.

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The whole trail took about two hours, but that was only because we went the long way around. Next time we try it, we know the short cut up to the view. On our way back to the car a cute kid ran up to us, asked us our names and ages, and then ran away to his smiling parents. Since we were so beat from the day's walking, we got some take-out food on the way home.

Monday we went food shopping to prepare for Thanksgiving and I made an appointment to visit the embassy in Seoul. I'd never been there, so it was fun to go through the process.

Tuesday was good because we ordered more water for our cooler in the apartment. We'd been running low and wanted enough for all our guests for the weekend's festivities. It was also nice because one of my students gave me a present for no reason, which I thought was adorable. Matching cupcake mugs!

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The only noteworthy thing to happen Wednesday was my realization after five months of driving in Korea that I never know how fast I'm going. Besides the fact that the speedometer is in Kilometers rather than miles per hour, it rarely works anyway. I'm never flying down the highway passing cars, it was just interesting for me since that's one of the things I'm OCD about when driving at home.

Thursday was Thanksgiving in America so work tried to do something for the holiday. Rather than talk to any of the American teachers about what should go down, they decided to do it themselves. That's why for lunch, we had at Thanksgiving feast, consisting of food from "five different countries". I was Italy, meaning I served the students pizza and spaghetti. Annie was Japan, serving sushi and different dishes. Ryan was China, Kelly was America (consisting of sandwiches and more pizza) and Erin was Korea with various Korean dishes. And that was Thanksgiving at school. That evening we went out to the local pub for some drinks to celebrate the holiday.

Friday after work Annie and I spent the evening prepping food and cleaning the apartment since we were hosting a real Thanksgiving meal that weekend. Over the course of the evening and the next day we would vacuum the apartment, finish the laundry, do all the dishes, and clean the bathroom.

Saturday we got up to finish the food prepping. I ran to the store to pick up some last minute ingredients while Annie started the cooking. Around one Soonyi and her sister stopped by. We invited them to the dinner, but Soonyi had been sick the past few days, so she just wanted to pop by to say thank you and drop off some kimchi. After saying goodbye we rested for the next few hours before we had to start our hosting duties. Luckily, Air Force One was on to help us relax. We then set up the apartment to accommodate our party guests.

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Around five people started showing up. Over the course of the evening I think we had about fifteen people come through the apartment, including a couple kids. There was tons of food, including a turkey, ham, two types of gravy, potatoes, stuffing, roast, veggies, broccoli casserole, deviled eggs, and sweet potatoes.

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The kids left around seven with their parents, so it was only our coworkers left. We taught them sevens and just sat around talking the rest of the evening. Annie had a rough time at the game.

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While I had my own problems.

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There was more than enough food that everyone was stuffed and we had plenty of leftovers since no one took anything. That worked for us! It was a good Thanksgiving.

Sunday we just slept in and then cleaned up after the previous days festivities. We also got to decorate our Christmas tree!

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For dinner we took the leftovers upstairs to the Napoli's and shared, leaving behind some for them to have since they did a lot of the cooking (the turkey, stuffing, and gravy).

Monday I had to get up at five in the morning. I had to catch a train to Seoul by 6:21 so I could make an early embassy appointment. After five hours of traveling and about sixty bucks in fees and transportation I got the one stamp I needed to mail something back to the states. The embassy itself was nice. They had CNN in the lobby, I was surrounded by Americans, etc. It was almost like being in an office at home. Except everyone who worked there was Korean with English as a notable second language. I made it back to the school in time for the third class, which wasn't too bad since the first class I don't teach on Mondays, so I only missed one period.

That afternoon one of my students came to class in a Spider-Man costume. No reason.

On Tuesday I was pleasantly surprised to see them putting a Christmas tree up in town. It's on my way to work, so that should make the afternoon drive more cheerful for me. That night Annie took the leftover turkey bones to make stock with. Suffice it to say, we got a little bit of broth from the meal.

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The rest of the week was spent lounging around the apartment. It's Saturday the fourth now. We're just lounging around, watchin' some TV. I think we might head downtown later to walk around a new area. The tree is up, the cats are coming out more now, and the floor is heated. Things are going well. Time to sign off now and let the cat check his e-mail.

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Beef Level [Nov. 20th, 2010|02:44 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |dirtydirty]
[Current Music |Ann and Danielle chatting]

Sunday the 24th of October began with us cleaning the house one last time. We wanted to make sure everything was neat and tidy for our international guest. Around six we hopped in the car and took the drive to the airport. We only got turned around once and figured it out pretty quickly. It's not a bad drive to get to the airport, just a tad long. The best part of the drive was the party bus. We passed a huge bus that had disco lights flashing inside. People were in the aisles dancing and drinking. We were jealous. When we got to the airport, we parked in the short term lot so we could meet Pete when he came out of the gate.

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Annie was there to meet him while I was searching for snacks. It worked out because then we both got to greet him for the first time separately.

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After such a long flight I don't think he was too excited about getting in a car for two hours. However, the drive back to our house was quicker than going to the airport since we knew the way and it was later by that point, so less traffic. We chatted it up along the way and then helped him in with his luggage when we hit the apartment complex. Did Pete like his accommodations?

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Since we hadn't eaten dinner by this point after a long day of cleaning and driving, Annie whipped up some ramen for Pete's first meal in Korea.

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The next day we let Pete sleep in. His normal routine over the next two weeks would be to have a slow, relaxing morning and then walk to the school to meet us for lunch. For his first time eating out we got him something simple, chomchi bokumbop (tuna and fried rice).

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Since it was his first day in the country he went home after that for rest. We didn't do anything too crazy that night. After work I picked up Pete and Annie to go to Homeplus. We had dinner there, which was easy for Pete since the food court has everything on display so you could just point to what looked good. We got some supplies for the next two weeks since we were having a guest in the apartment. After shopping we just went home and checked out Korean TV, particularly the Starcraft channel.

Tuesday we had pumpkin carving at school in preparation for Halloween that Friday. Instead of carving knives, we were given butcher knives to cut open the pumpkins that had maggots inside of them. Not the best planned event, but it turned out alright at the end.

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For my pumpkin I opted for a different style. In the school there's a story about one-eye, the ghost pirate who lives above the library and eats children. A teacher made it up before we got there to keep the students from climbing the stairs in the library. I approve of instilling complexes in children to make them follow the rules. Personally, I added to the story by saying the ghost only eats children's eyes. This way they stay alive and serve as a warning to others. With that in mind, this is the pumpkin my class made.

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The best part of the carving was that Pete had come early that day to see the classes. He engaged in some fun conversations with the kids.

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For lunch that day we took Pete out for Dongass, which is a fried pork cutlet. We prefer ours with curry on top, but Pete opted for a cheese filled one.

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He also like the little bit of Konglish on the side dish serving platter.

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Couple shot!

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When we went back to work Pete walked up the mountain near our apartment to check out the giant Buddha and temple complex. He also got a cool shot of the harvested rice paddies near our house. This is what it looks like when they're drying them out.

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When we finished for the day we took Pete out to his first galbi restaurant in Korea (meat cooked over a grill in the middle of the table). We went to Suwon, the place close to our school. They have the best cuts of meat plus endless self-service side dishes. Here's another picture of Pete eating.

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And me amazed with Annie's cooking ability.

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Pete liked to take pics without us really knowing they were coming.

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After dinner we went to the bar close to our apartment. This meant we could walk home afterwards and it gave Pete a chance to try soju cocktail. We got the cherry flavored kind and a few small glasses of beer.

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Annie only had water though since she hates drinking on school nights. She left after a bit while Pete and I stayed behind to talk. We had a few more libations and then headed on home.

The next day I was hurting a bit, so when Pete came down for lunch we went to a kimbop house for jjigae. This is a spicy soup you mix with rice. It's great for if you've had a rough evening. Since we did a bar the previous night we wanted something a little more relaxing, so we went to the jim jil bong. While changing Pete grabbed a quick shot of me in the sauna pj's, but we quickly decided to put the camera away lest the elder gentlemen beat us for thinking we are taking nude photos of them.

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We spent a few hours wandering around the saunas and then an hour or so in the whirlpools. The evening was going well until we got home and found out that even though we live in a college town, food delivery stops around 9. Luckily, we live close to a fried chicken place that has amazing boneless chicken called Zec's. We drove down to pick some up and finished the evening at home.

On Thursday we took Pete to get jja-jjong for lunch, the noodle dish with black bean paste. That night we took him downtown for the first time to show him the back alleys. He was quite inundated by all the sights, sounds, and smells in the area. For dinner we went into a basement restaurant for shabu-shabu. This is the meal with a heated cauldron in the middle of the table that you throw food into to cook. We got a mix of shaved meat and seafood. Pete really enjoyed the Konglish on the table menu.

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While walking back to the car following dinner we heard someone shout our names. Ryan and Erin were having a beer in a small cafe and saw us walking by. We joined them for a drink and were happy to see we were the only ones in the store. The owner was very nice to us. The store had strange decorations all over it, including a urinal art piece in the front. The owner was delighted whenever anyone asked where the bathroom was since she would take you there first, point and laugh. Every time.

The reason she had to inject such levity in people asking to go to the bathroom is because there wasn't one in the store. You had to go into one that opened onto an adjoining alleyway. This was the scariest toilet I've ever been in. It was pretty small and had a door that opened into what was either a closet or where they store people before killing them. The door to the closet/kill-room wouldn't close, so I could see the dungeonesque atmosphere inside, complete with the old and dirty play tricycle in the corner, which increased the terror.

Friday was a really busy day. It started with Halloween festivities at school. These were the two best costumes, and they are brothers.

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The teachers had a chest full of costumes to check out so we could join in the fun with the students. Annie was a witch and I was the scariest thing imaginable.

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In my class the costumes were a little all over the place (one kid was a ninja with a spider-man mask), but Sunny was put together pretty well.

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There were no classes the whole day. Teachers were responsible for different rooms where they hosted Halloween activities. Annie and I did bobbing for apples in the gym. After that we got a couple shot with pumpkins.

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There was one more student who had a great costume we got to see near the end of the day.

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For lunch that day we ran home to get a break from the kids and Annie fried up some leftover tofu for the three of us. After we ate we quickly packed our bags to throw in the car since we were going right from work to Seoul that evening. In the afternoon the kindergartners trick or treated from classroom to classroom. At the other school I teach at we didn't really do lessons either. We had pumpkin carving and I did some Halloween activities with the kids, like teaching them traditional American songs.

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They didn't come fully decked out in costume like the morning, but some of them had cute little accessories.

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I drove right from school to the train station to meet Pete and Annie.

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We made it to Seoul and had a fun time finding our hostel. The directions weren't quite clear, the hostel wasn't on a main street, and when I called the guy on desk didn't speak English as his first language (or Korean. It was a hostel that allowed you to stay there for free if you worked there, so the employees were from all over). Once we got there though everything was fine. We had our own private room (you just had to walk through a small dormitory to get to it, but that wasn't our problem) and a shared bathroom with about five other people. It was a very hippie-dippie, European style place. Cheap, great location, no complaints.

We walked around for a bit. The hostel was right by a university so there were restaurants and shops everywhere. We ate at a pork restaurant we just wandered into while trying to find a place and blind-ordered something from the menu. They came out with a bunch of kimchi and small pork cutlets that were a little too fatty for Annie's taste. As we headed home, Annie pointed out a norebong to Pete and he suggested we go in. As the voice of reason, I told everyone if we go in it's not going to be for just a little while and we'd be really tired the next day. After a short discussion, the correct decision was made.

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Fast-forward to three AM, us stumbling home, and passing out.

Instead of waking up early to get the most out of the day we rolled out of bed around noon. On our way to the subway we saw some amazing things like:

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Or a giant Gandalf the white in front of a movie theater:

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Our first stop of the day was Insadong, the antique tourist street. We made Pete take the requisite shot in front of the radiator-robot.

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And then we went in search of somewhere to eat. Using my mutant ability to harness the power of a homing pigeon, I located the restaurant Annie and I had eaten in two years before. It was down one of the side alleys of Insadong.

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We ordered the lunch special which consisted of about eight courses. Every time I thought I was full they would bring over a bigger dish of stuff to eat. This is what it looked like at the end.

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And that was with them taking plates away periodically. Couple shot!

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Following lunch we dove back into the street. Pete and Ann got caught up in a presentation on how to make candy from 16,000 strings of sugar.

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I walked along for bit to watch a traditional Korean wife-beating performance.

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Following Insadong we went back to the subway. I like this picture because 'guk' means person. So this subway stop is Ann-person!

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Family shot!

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We got off at the stop by the main palace, Gyeongbokgung. In the subway there's a gate that if you walk through you "won't grow old". Whether that means you live forever or are going to die soon, Pete will find out.

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The palace was fun to see. When we were here last time they were rebuilding the main gate. Since it was completed now, we had new things to see in addition to showing Pete the palace.

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We took a bad-ass shot in the main courtyard.

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This is Pete and Annie looking into the main throne room.

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Then Annie got a nice walking shot of me and Pete.

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We walked around the grounds. The palace is a pretty big area encompassing many different buildings and moats and temples and such. We also got to show Pete some amazing Konglish.

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This is one of my favorite areas of the palace.

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We of course got tired walking around, so we sat down at one point and just started taking random timed shots.

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Pete and Annie were really captivated by the pond in the back of the palace with a temple on an island in the middle.

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While walking around the grounds, a nice man came up to us and started a little conversation. He just asked us where we were from, what we're doing tonight, etc. It was fun showing Pete how some people randomly come up just to try an practice their English.

Following the palace, we went to the folk museum next door. The museum itself isn't the most exciting thing, but the ring of stone statues of Chinese zodiac animals is awesome.

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From the palace we walked down the main street of Seoul. It leads past the National Theater and statues of Korean heroes. Here's Pete and and Annie in front of King Sejong.

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I really liked the staircase leading up to the theater since it had recently been painted.

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In the middle of the street we went down a staircase into an underground mall. This in turn connected to a series of tunnels I like to refer to as the "maze of death". After walking around for an indeterminate amount of time we finally found a staircase. When we came out, we discovered all that walking merely allowed us to cross the street from where we were. After all that walking we decided to sit down for a refresher. We found a Tom n Tom's coffee and ordered some honey cheese bread, a parmesan pretzel, and some caffeinated drinks.

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Pete was excited since this was the first time he was allowed to smoke in a coffee house in a long time. He just had to go to the bad by part of the cafe on the other side of a glass wall.

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We left the cafe and went to the creek that runs through the middle of Seoul.

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At the mouth of the creek a charity had set up shop. I didn't really understand what the charity was trying to accomplish, but shoes were involved.

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We also found the mascot for Seoul in that area. Every city in the country has a mascot for some reason. Some are human, others are humanoid.

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The best part of the mascot was his explanation.

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After walking along the creek for a while we turned down a road to head towards Jogye-sa, one of the main Buddhist temples in the city. On our way there, we ran into the guy from the palace who talked to us again. He had changed his shirt since he was headed to Itaewon (the bar area of Seoul) for a Halloween party. He was wearing mostly green and a big puffy hat. I think he was supposed to be from Ireland or something. It was just kind of surreal running into him hours later a mile or two from where we last saw him.

We got tot he temple and it was pretty dark. They were showing a movie outside on a giant screen. It was Korean, so we had no idea what the movie was about or why they were showing it. Pete had a good time with happy Buddha though.

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Annie took a few shots of a candle ceremony happening on one side of the temple.

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Following the temple we went back to Insadong since it was walking distance away so Pete could get some souvenirs. I liked the face masks in fruit-shaped jars.

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We found an amazing store I had never noticed before on the second floor of a building. It was full of vintage toys and games and such, mostly American. This little display should give you an idea of what they had.

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Pete and I really liked this system.

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To continue our shopping bonanza we took the train to Dongdaemun, the biggest outdoor market in the city. It was bigger than I remembered. Pete and Annie had a nice time sifting through the stands, picking up some good deals. I think Annie got socks and shirts while Pete got some nice hats and such.

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We caught a subway back to our hostel's area, ate at a noddle restaurant, and took a picture of Lush on the way home.

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On Sunday we checked out of the hostel and went to the subway. While getting our tickets, a Korean lady from California asked us for help. She spoke Korean, but didn't really know how the subway worked and we think she felt more comfortable asking us for help then a Korean. While helping her, the guy we met at the palace and on the street walked up to us to say hi. A bunch of ridiculously surreal things were all happening at once. He helped us help the lady then went on his way. The lady came with us since we were heading the same way and we showed her how to reach her destination.

We went to Yongsan that morning to show Pete the main electronics area of Seoul. We walked through the video game alley, showed him how to get an R4 chip, and met some nice Koreans dressed as video game characters promoting the new video game Fable 3.

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They gave us keychains. We then went to try and find lunch, which turned into a harrowing ordeal. First we couldn't decide what to get. When we decided on Angel-in-us cafe, they told us they had no sandwiches. When we went to get Lotteria (fast food) we followed signs to a wall that said it was coming soon. We found a buffet but saw it was expensive. We eventually just went to Dunkin' Donuts and got some bagels. The one good thing is that while looking for food we found a weird courtyard that looked set up to have a fun kid-Halloween themed party, but was deserted except for Sponge Bob.

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After that we got a nice comfy train with big seats for the ride home that only cost eight dollars. Amazing. Here's Pete saying goodbye to the Han river in Seoul.

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We got back home and spent the night in ordering pizza and letting Pete play with his new toy.

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The next day started Pete's second week in Korea. We kind of slowed down a bit at this point, trying to catch up on all the relaxing we hadn't been doing since he arrived. On Monday we went to a kimbop house for lunch and then watched the Walking Dead that night over some delicious fried chicken.

Tuesday Annie whipped up some ramen at home for lunch. Pete went downtown on his own after that to do some exploring. The big news in school that day was one of the teacher's was leaving unexpectedly, but we couldn't care about work drama that much since Pete was in town. For dinner we went to my favorite galbi restaurant downtown. The meat isn't as finely cut as at Suwon, but it's marinated in a sauce I like. They also have a much larger selection of side dishes including my favorite, Kyaran-jim (an egg dish). After dinner we went back to the apartment and prepared some homemade soju cocktails to wind the evening down.

On Wednesday I was told that I'd be taking over Laura's class while keeping my own. Again, with Pete in town that didn't really faze me. We had jjigae for lunch again (because of the previous night's soju) and then had dinner with Tom and Danielle. We really wanted Pete to meet our friends here and we had a good time hanging out. Annie prepared spaghetti and tofu-balls, which were delicious. We ended the night at our place with some beer and From Dusk Till Dawn.

Thursday we had Dongass for lunch again. I was really excited for dinner that night though. We took Pete out for dalkgalbi, which is a chicken dish cooked in the middle of the table. For an extra few bucks, we got nackchi on top. That means the waiter comes over with an octopus in his hand and cuts it into pieces over the cooking food for you. Delicious.

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Following dinner I introduced Pete to a pitcher of Cass red, the beer with the 6.9% alcohol content.

Friday was Pete's last full day before leaving. He wanted to end it like he began, so we took him back to the kimbop house for tuna and fried rice.

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That night we met at the bus station to buy him a ticket to the airport and dove into the alleys one last time. We were happy since all the stores were starting to get ready for the upcoming Peppero day and Pete got to see all the decorations and love shaped candies.

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We went to Cave Bar for our last meal. It's the themed bar that has faux-rocks and snakes all over the walls. We ordered a bunch of fried food, kimchi, tofu, beer, and soju for the last meal. Good times were had by all.

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I never really noticed it before, but Pete pointed out an alcoholic drink he thought was funny being advertised on the wall of the building.

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After a while we went back to the apartment for some last conversations over a bottle or two of soju.

Saturday morning we slept in as late as we could, then loaded Pete into the van and headed to the bus station. I had difficulty parking and didn't get to say good-bye, but Annie took him to the bus herself and waved him off as he drove away. It was the end of two great weeks.
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You feel electric [Nov. 7th, 2010|06:01 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |recumbentrecumbent]
[Current Music |Video game channel]

Monday October 4th was a pretty nice day. Work wasn't too difficult, we hit the bank for some cash, Annie picked up mussels on the way home and steamed them for dinner. It was delicious. :)

Tuesday I got pretty sick. Nothing hurt but the sinuses were full and my voice changed from the stress of coughing. We went to Soonyi's for dinner that night. Her sister had made tofu kimchi, grilled tuna, and prepared some flower tea for me to help with my throat.

Wednesday was a special day at school. All the classes got to go outside for bug hunting. We went two classes at a time and the kids were given nets and bug holding cages (or bags if there weren't enough). It was pretty fun watching them run around and chase stuff.

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Everyone got at least a dragonfly. Some kids got praying mantises. One student found a lizard somewhere. My student Julie wasn't the best at catching bugs, so I let her catch me.

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For lunch Annie and I walked downtown to hit the local kimbop restaurant. This is what happens when Annie doesn't cross the street fast enough.

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After work I met Annie in the main downtown area. There was a dance festival in Cheonan for the week and performances were supposed to be held in different parts of the city. We ran into Annie's Korean teacher outside of the main shopping center Yawoori and she told us the downtown performances were only held during the day. Everything else was in a park in a different area. We decided to just stay downtown for dinner and hit the festival another evening. We found a nice Italian place called Riposso. It was amazing since the chef had learned how to cook in Italy. The pasta was delicious and we got an amazing personal pizza that was chewy but still had a thin crust. Definitely the best pizza I've had in Korea. It also came with salad and soup all for only about twenty bucks. Excellent.

Thursday we tried the dance festival thing again. I picked Annie up close to our coworkers house after work and we went directly to the park. It was a GIANT area that had a plethora of things to see. We started at the main stage and watched a Ukranian dance troop followed by one from Kygrzstan. We then proceeded to look through all the tents set up throughout the park, along with the other stages. My favorite tent was one of the first ones we saw. Ho Du Gwa Ja is a Korean treat that is basically a small cake shaped like a walnut with bean paste and a walnut inside. They are very popular in our area, but I'd never seen how they were made. Now I know.

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After that we went to another section of the park dedicated to farming in the area around the city. Cow!

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We found one booth that had tons of different produce on display. Some of them had won awards, but we couldn't tell for what. Chicks!

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One entire area was dedicated to local restaurants. We stopped at one that was selling home-made jja-jjong. The owner was literally rolling out the noodles in the open air and would cook them to order. We ordered two helpings and a bottle of makali (Korean wine).

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The waiter was amused that we ordered the wine since it's not the most popular drink here (like beer or soju). He laughed a bit and then opened it and poured it for us. We kept the bottle since it had the dance festival on the label. I think it was all specially made for the festival, so it was fresh.

We walked around some more. One tent was giving out samples of Korean wine, which is VERY sweet. It's like they just crushed some grapes and added the alcohol to the juice. Very potent as well. Another tent was giving out full free glasses of beer, so I helped myself to one of those. Besides what was set up for the festival, the park itself was quite beautiful. Tons of trees around, a small lake, pagodas.

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There was even an area where people were allowed to bring instruments and have a free-form Korean traditional jam. Much dancing ensued.

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The last area we walked through before heading home was a flower exhibition tent. They had neat stuff from all over Korea and a few other species from different countries. I liked Annie next to the sunflowers.

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Before we got to the car, the last tent we saw had a huge crowd around it. They were dipping people's hands in wax and then letting them dry. The wax mold was taken off and put on a small platform for a souvenir. It was mostly children getting their hands dipped, but Annie and I thought we'd give it a go. We got in line and when we made it to the front the hand dipper was a little taken aback. He was a bit flustered trying to tell us how much since we wanted to get our hands done together, not solo. Couple hands were pictured in the tent but no one had done it yet, and only children had been getting their hands dipped the whole time we were watching. When we figured everything out, we rolled up our sleeves and he began dipping our hands together. It was at this moment the crowd which had been chattering the whole time during everyone else's turn went dead silent through the whole process. That was a bit unnerving. In the end though, we got our souvenir.

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Friday was another special day at the school. We were going on a field trip to Daejon, the city Costco is in about an hour away. There was a science theme park there for the kids to see. Two buses picked us up at the school at 9:40. Annie got one bus and the rest of the foreign teachers got on the other. When I got on the four other teachers had already chosen seats next to each other. So, not only was on a different bus than me, neither of us had anyone to sit with. Not the best way to start the day, but things got better once we hit the park. We went directly to a giant IMAX theater in the middle of the park with all the students. Here's my and Annie's class.

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The movie was a cute animation about aliens coming to Earth, but it was all in Korean. The students were captivated by the huge screen, but Annie and I couldn't really understand what was happening. After that we headed down a street with tons of figures of famous scientists. There was one of Einstein rocking a nice coat, Archimedes running out of a bath with a towel on, Marie Curie, etc. I of course took a picture of my kids with Edison.

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We had a huge lunch that was all made by the parents of the students. They knew they had to make a bit extra to feed the teachers, but I think they were just trying to outdo each other. We were stuffed by the end.

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Annie and I went for a small walk after eating while the kids were occupied. That's when we found this amazing guy.

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We were also constantly shouted at (Hello! How are you? I love you!) by the tons of older Korean students who were obviously there for a school field trip as well. When we got back to the lunch area, the students were lined up and brought to a building with different interactive science exhibits. The bottom floor had giant body parts you could walk through to see how the body works (the eye was a giant camera, the ear had a drum in it, the mouth had a slide to go down, etc.) It was utter pandemonium as every kid wanted to see everything at once. We managed to have a good time ourselves while they were running around.

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My favorite exhibit was the giant skull. I know it's supposed to be educational, but really it's just freaky. This is me eating Julie's foot in it, followed by Annie and her whole class shoved inside.

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The second floor of the building had a giant tube system like you would let hamsters play in, only it was big enough for kids to crawl around. Some of the teachers got yelled at when they went down one of the slides. I think the people who worked there thought they might be too heavy for the playset. I, however, did not hear any of that go down as I was really far into the tube system by the time the other teachers got yelled at.

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We got on the buses after that. I told my Korean teacher I was getting on the bus with Annie. Nobody had a problem with that, which was good, and we had a pleasant ride home. After work we picked up Jackie since we were babysitting her dogs that weekend and went back to the dance festival for another walk around. Quite a full and busy day.

We slept in on Saturday a bit, then did the laundry and dishes. We caught a bus around three to head to Seoul. (While on the bus it pulled over to get gas. That happens sometimes here and I always think it's funny.) It was our first time being in Seoul since coming back to Korea. We hit the subway and headed over to Insadong (the antique shop, tourist area in the middle of the city). A number of things had changed since our last time in the city. They had revamped the ticketing system for the subway. Now, every time you bought a ticket for a single journey you also had to pay a 500 won (fifty cent) deposit for the electronic card the machine dispensed. After you get off the subway, every station had machines you put the electronic card into in order to get the refund.

The subway cars on some of the lines were newer too. They were a bit wider and had brand new TV systems put in place. I watched one that showed a terrible accident happen in the subway. A bomb went off or a fire happened, I couldn't really tell. People were lying around in the cars and the stations, blood everywhere, a real mess. It turned out to be a safety video and what to do next if something bad happens, but it still bothered me a bit.

We made it to the area and started walking around, trying to remember where things were. Here's me in a park with some Korean stuff behind me.

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While walking we also spotted a huge row of tarot readers. I know it's a big thing here (you're supposed to see them for the big decisions in your life like naming your kid and stuff) but how many can the economy really support?

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We bought some incense while walking around the area. Then we stopped for lunch at an Indian place which was pretty terrible. We also spotted random bear costume.

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Annie was rocking her new shirt that she had purchased while in Taiwan. I was a huge supporter of the shirt purchase.

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The reason we were in Seoul was because they were holding a fireworks festival in the middle of the city. We got on the subway to go there and quickly realized our mistake. Never use mass transit to go to a festival. Every human in Korea was on our train. Getting out of the station took thirty minutes because it was so packed. I'm not a fan of crowds, so it wasn't the best experience. While going up the escalator it just stopped at one point, throwing everyone on it forward. Quite a shocking experience. There was also a good twenty or thirty degree difference from the base of the subway to the outside air. Since we had coats on for the cool day, we were pouring sweat making our way out of the station.

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We stayed at the festival for a little bit. The fireworks were nice. Then we decided to bail early. We wanted to not have to take the subway when the festival was over and everyone had to get on at the same time. We went directly to the train station (which was fun since the subway car went over the river at one point where the festival was and we got to see the fireworks pretty up close and the boat they were fired from) to catch a ride home. On the subway a guy had a laptop next to me and was playing Super Mario Brothers 3, so that was fun to watch after we passed the fireworks. We bought tickets to Cheonan at a machine in the station but we had some time to kill before the next train left, so we walked around the area. Right across from the station was a building that had giant animations broadcast on the front of it. I'm sure they were ads, but they could have been anything for all I know.

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The train was very full so we could only purchases tickets for standing room. We were on the train early enough to grab space on the floor of the cafeteria car, which quickly filled up before the train left. We made it home with no problems but when we got there, the power cord to my computer broke. I was unable to use my computer for the next few weeks until I could get a replacement. :(

Sunday was an errand day. We drove down to Daejon to hit up the Costco again. My favorite part of the trip was the pizza lunch we had after. Costco pizza tastes the same her as at home and is really salty. We went to Tom and Danielle's when we got back since we picked up a few things for them and to see the babies. Xavier came downstairs when we left so he could play with the dogs and the hamsters for a spell. When he left, Annie and I took a walk through the complex looking for furniture since some people were moving in and out of the apartments. We scored pieces to finish making a bed so our spare room is now fully functional. We also got some pretty nice wooden chairs at one of the buildings (the security guard helped us load them into the car) and a vacuum. One chair didn't fit some Annie drove the van with everything in it home while I carried it down the mountain (the building it was at is above ours). It was exceptionally heavy, but well worth the effort.

I cleaned the hamster cage after we loaded the furniture into the apartment. The one in the infirmary hadn't been getting any better, so I set him free in the forest behind our house. I like to imagine that he made a number of animal friends and they are having crazy adventures in the Korean woods (although he probably just got eaten within the hour).

That evening we used Annie's computer to plan our trip for the Christmas break. We booked a flight and a hostel in Hong Kong, where we'll be spending New Year's. We also booked a hostel in Seoul to sleep at for the weekend Pete was going to be here.

Nothing happened Monday since we were so tired from the weekends journey to Seoul and furniture carrying. On Tuesday I finished constructing the bed and we got a small table for the room to make it more comfortable for guests. I also rigged up a coat rack in our hallway closet to make it more functional. Jaqueline came that evening to pick up the dogs, so we saw her for a little bit but then just stayed at home for food and TV.

Wednesday we cooked up a glorious American meal, franks and beans. We had bought hot dogs at Costco and wanted some home comfort food. Tastes just as good here as it does at home.

Thursday was great. There's a guy who drives around town in a truck. He parks at different locations every evening and sets up shop. The back of his truck converts into a rotisserie and for ten bucks you can buy three roasted chickens from him. They're always delicious. Annie served us two of them and then dismantled the third to use for chicken stock.

Friday was fun at the school since it was birthday party day. Once a month our school has a party for everyone who has a birthday that month. Tons of food is prepared, which is always great.

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The students are supposed to line up on the floor to sing happy birthday, but my class always tries to sit on my lap. All of them. (And yes, the kids behind me ARE repeatedly punching me in the back).

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After work I picked Annie up and drove across the city to the sports complex. We were going to a free game to see FC Cheonan versus Suwon. Along the way we saw a restaurant with the creepiest advertising figures in front of it.

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Parking at the stadium was pretty crazy and poorly labeled. I parked right next to one of the gates that's on the field for ambulances to use. When we got inside, we were surprised at the number of people in attendance.

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I particularly like the cheering section at the game.

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While we were watching the game a guy in a suit came up to us at one point and said hello. He looked really happy. I think he might have had something to do with the management of the team or stadium and was happy to see people there (or just foreigners in general as we were the only ones there). The funniest part of the game was when a kid hopped the rail and started running for the field. His mom chasing him was great.

On Saturday we stayed inside all day. Shark week was on TV (yes, we get the Discovery channel). That evening around six we walked up the mountain behind our apartment. At the top is a Buddhist temple. They were having a concert and we wanted to go. The whole trail to the summit was lined with lanterns.

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When we made it to the top we joined everyone sitting outside. The concert was kind of all over the place. It started with traditional Korean drumming and two guys doing a dance with things attached to their heads in front of the stage.

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This next shot shows the whole stage area including the lit pagoda on the side of the stage. You can also see some of the audience, every member of which had a glow stick for a neat effect.
This group was all saxophone players.

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The rest of the concert went from two women singing Korean songs acapella while wearing hanbok to a rap duo to a guy with a guitar. During his set bubbles came out and he had the crowd clapping. After him was a monk who gave a speech followed by a whole chorus of devotees from the temple. We left after that but there were still two more acts, both of whom were K-pop singers. It was an interesting array of music.

Sunday Annie finally prepared chicken soup using the stock she made and a bunch of veggies we got from the store. It was beyond tasty. We also cleaned the whole apartment pretty hardcore in preparation for Pete's visit the following weekend.

Not much happened Monday but Annie had to head home early Tuesday. We had ordered a water cooler for the apartment. Now we have water delivered once a month that's fresh and we don't have to buy it at Homeplus anymore and carry it home. It's quite convenient.

Thursday continued my belief that the best things in Korea are purchased on the side of the street. While walking to lunch from work we saw a guy setting up a stand. We purchased home made grape juice and wine from him for ten dollars. We also got apples from a stand on the side of the road. The apples were juicy, the grape juice was fresh, and the wine was super-sweet and potent. Street stuff rules.

Saturday we finished cleaning the whole house (vacuuming cushions, sweeping out all the rooms, etc.) and then spent the evening getting ready for a dinner party. Annie made chicken parmegian and tofu parmegian for the vegetarians coming. She also set everything up to look nice.

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The food came out wonderfully and our guests stayed until quite late in the evening just talking. We were able to call them a cab to pick them up at our door also which made the evening better for them. Then we went to bed. Pete was coming tomorrow!
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He's half part Jesus [Oct. 4th, 2010|12:58 am]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |okayokay]
[Current Music |But I'm a cheerleader]

Monday the 27th was a normal day back at school. We went grocery shopping afterwards to replenish our stocks sine we'd been out of the country for a little while. We had dinner at Homeplus at their foodcourt. We enjoyed it since it allowed us to go shopping on full stomachs rather than empty one, which spur you on to buy more random garbage than you really need (although we did take advantage of a sale on marshmallow choco-pies, which rule!)

We unpacked at our place and then went up to see Tom and Danielle for some chattin'. She hadn't had the baby while we were gone, so that was one of the major conversation points. Her due date had been while we were gone, so she was a bit antsy.

The only other thing to take care of while we were home was the hamsters. Since we'd been gone, one had been injured. When we came home from school that day he was backed into a corner with two of the other ones staring him down. We took him out of the house and set up an impromptu infirmary for him.

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Tuesday was normal except for the fact we didn't have our dinner with Soon Yi. She was super busy following the Chuseok holiday and called to cancel. We'll be seeing her next week at the normal time for dinner.

Wednesday we just cleaned the house. That saves us time on the weekend, getting some stuff done throughout the work week.

Thursday was fun since we had a chance to skype in the morning before work. We caught Amy at her house while Dana was over. We even had a chance to see Tara K. stop by quickly before we had to get ready for school. Nice way to start the day. We ended by ordering pizza that night (Annie called!) to celebrate our 2 year legal-versary!

Friday was a normal day at school, but after that I met Annie downtown for dinner. We walked around and I found a random galbi restaurant in the area behind the main downtown drag. It was amazing. The side dishes were plentiful and reminiscent of some of our old galbi restaurants in Ilsan. We got tofu, two kinds of sprouts, kimchi, the egg dish we liked so much, and a bunch of others I can't remember. We had a nice long dinner together and then headed into the alleyways to meet our co-workers in the park. It was Erin's birthday so we were having a drink in the park to celebrate. Lauren and Kelly even brought a cake for her.

When we got home that night, we chatted with Pete on facebook. He booked his ticket and he's coming to visit us at the end of October! He'll be spending two weeks, so we talked for a bit and started making some plans.

Saturday was mostly a rainy errand day. We went out and paid our cell-phone bills. We also got shoes for Annie at Homeplus. While there we finally got a point card which will give us access to different coupons and specials they have throughout the year. For signing up, we got six free rolls of toilet paper! Woot! On the way home we didn't feel like cooking so we picked up some chicken from the local restaurant named Zec's. It was boneless and quite well prepared, so we enjoyed it. We spent the rest of the evening just relaxing.

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Sunday was another lazy day. We just stayed in and cleaned. Caught up on financial paperwork, checked our bank accounts (both foreign and domestic) and downloaded a bunch of stuff. Nice to have a full day at home before having to face a whole week of work. After we were finished, we figured we should do an updated apartment walk through since so much had changed in three months.

http://www.vimeo.com/15501809
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Hey, that's heart function [Sep. 27th, 2010|12:21 am]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |tiredtired]
[Current Music |Hamsters fighting]

Monday the 20th had a sad beginning since we called Thom and Jess a cab and sent them on their way. However, the day brightened up once we got to school since it was Chuseok and the kids all had their cute little traditional outfits on. Here's who showed up in my class and Annie with her class.

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The day went rather normally even though it was a holiday. I followed the same lessons and the kids did work. If I had to be there working on a holiday Monday, so did they. When we got home Annie looked up information about Taipei and I did the packing. We went to bed early so as to be rested for the following day.

Tuesday the 21st:

For our first vacation day, we woke up really early since we had a lot of traveling to do. Annie called a taxi to take us to the bus station at 7:30. Our bus to the airport left at 8 and it was a two hour drive. Annie slept the whole time and I watched the giant TV they have in the front of all the express buses here. Since it was officially Chuseok, all the TV reporters were wearing hanboks, which was fun to see. After the news there was traditional Chuseok programming. This consisted of a stage with a number of people dressed in hanbok doing karaoke. For hours. It was amazing.

We hit the airport around 10 and checked ourselves in. It took less than three minutes, giving us two hours to kill before the flight. We had breakfast in the airport and just chatted to pass the time. The plane ride itself was uneventful, as we flew over the ocean most of the time and didn't see much. However, we did fly directly over Jeju, so it was fun to see the island with its huge city in the north and the volcano mountain in the middle. We're still working out when we'll be able to get down there.

Landing was fun since most airports have quarantine areas now. They make you walk past a thermal camera to see if anyone's body temperature is high so they can pick out anyone who is sick. Guess who got tagged? (It wasn't me.)

They made Annie come to the side and two girls with surgeon face masks checked Annie's temperature. Lucky for her, it was normal, so they just let us go. Apparently Annie's skin just runs hot.

In the airport we ran into the first (and only really) major problem we faced while in Taiwan. We had planned on using our Korean debit cards to pull cash out of their ATMs. Unfortunately, the machine couldn't register our cards for some reason. I wonder what happens when Koreans visit Taiwan, do they have the same problem? Luckily, Annie had thought to bring a bunch of cash with us, so we just exchanged our won for new Taiwanese dollars and used them to get our bus tickets downtown. I showed the guy at the bus kiosk the map our hostel sent us that was written in Chinese and English and he showed us which bus to grab. We were fortunate in that it was leaving in two minutes and dropped us off three blocks from where we wanted to be.

When we disembarked from the bus, we were greeted by the Taiwanese summer which was apparently still in full swing. When we left Korea we enjoyed the fact that the temperature had been slowly dipping, and we were getting used to it. Getting off the bus was like stepping back two months as far as heat goes. It made me immediately regret bringing a long sleeve shirt and hoodie with me (which weren't to be used the whole trip).

We made it the few blocks from the bus stop to the hostel and found a note for us taped to the door. Doris, the owner/operator (a Taiwanese girl of about 30), gave us instructions on how to get in touch with her through the intercom. Both the doors to the hostel were locked, which made us feel a lot safer in such a foreign city. The hostel itself isn't very big, having only six guest rooms. Doris showed us to our room and gave us keys to our room and the outside door so we could come and go at our leisure. She also gave us a map of the area she made with the local street names, subway stops, sights, and restaurants around the hostel. We went to our room and unpacked/relaxed after such a long journey (from taxi to bus to plane to bus to walking). We loved the room.

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We particularly liked the shower since it looked like an old-timey bronze telephone.

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It was like our shower in Greece, where you had to hold it in one hand the whole time while showering. Still, the room was very nicely decorated, had internet, a large tv, and air conditioning, so we couldn't really complain. We put our clothes away and headed out into the city.

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We had no real agenda that first evening since we had pretty much set the day aside as a travel day. We just wanted to see what the area around us looked like, and find funny things to take pictures of.

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At the first corner we got to we noticed that cars weren't really the norm in the city. Everyone seemed to have motorbikes. It reminded us of Vietnam, only the bikes here were newer and nicer.

http://www.vimeo.com/15279425

We headed down to the river at one point, hoping to see what the waterway looked like running through the city. Unfortunately when we got there we found that in our area of the city there was a giant wall blocking the river from the streets. We decided not to walk down the freeway next to the river-wall and went meandering through the side streets. When we left the hostel, Doris had mentioned that the next day was a harvest festival. We ran into a street performance in front of a temple that we think was in celebration of the upcoming holiday. There were people playing drums on the side, people dressed as dragons dancing in the street, people praying in the temple, and hundreds of spent fireworks lining the sides of the road. The weirdest/most dangerous thing though was that the performance took place in a street that was not closed down, so motorcycles and cars continually came through the mass of people.

http://www.vimeo.com/15280454

After watching the performance for a little bit we were hungry, so we headed back to the area around our hostel. On the street directly adjacent to our hostel there was a night market that specialized in food. Delicious smells came from every store and stall all along the street. We chose one stall at random, pointed to a couple things, and sat down to eat at a table on the sidewalk. Buying the food was fun since we didn't know any of the numbers, but a guy standing on the street helped us and everyone was all smiles once our fare was paid for.

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After dinner we started to head home. It had been a long day and we wanted a full night's rest before the vacation started in earnest the next day. But we made a stop somewhere first. There is one thing that Taipei has just as many of as it does motorcycles. And that is 7-11. They are EVERYWHERE. There are literally three on the street our hostel was on. Since it was so hot and Annie wanted some sugar, we stopped to get her a treat.

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Once back at the hostel we just showered and relaxed with some TV. There were about ten channels in English and a bunch of other random channels, including an infomercial channel where a girl dressed as Mario was trying to sell Wii's.

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We went to sleep after that in preparation for the following day.

Wednesday the 22nd:

Woke up early enough to get downstairs in time for breakfast. Doris' Aunt is the chef in the hostel. We got to sit at a nice table in their lovely kitchen while she cooked for us.

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She made a crepe-type pastry and inside was eggs, chicken, and cheese. It was quite tasty and very filling. We had that, pineapple, bananas, and tea. It was a nice way to start the day. After getting ready in our room, we went for our first real walk to try and see some sights in the area. It was super hot though, so we had to keep stopping whenever we hit shade or saw somewhere to get water. We finally made it the couple blocks away from the hostel though and found the Baoan Temple.

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Even though it was early people were there praying at the various shrines inside. Tons of incense and lit candles everywhere.

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Right across the street there is a Confucian Temple.

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Annie and I really liked the architecture of the temples in Taipei. Plus as a bonus there was a martial arts performance at the same time we were there that morning. I think it's Thai Chi (think more meditative martial arts as opposed to fighting).

http://www.vimeo.com/15281605

We continued walking through the neighborhood looking to enter a giant park at the north end of the city. However, the entire area was shut down in preparation for a floral expo that is opening in November. We went to one more temple that was in the area but then decided to grab a taxi back to the hostel for some A/C and rest. We stopped at 7-11 to pick up some snacks and had a little siesta through the hottest part of the day in our room.

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We got up and left the hostel around 3 to head for the subway. On the way we passed a number of giant pictures depicting dangers you might face while driving in the city. This one was my favorite.

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I also noticed a number of parking spaces designated for motorcycles along the road, which I thought was quite interesting.

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We made it to the subway which we found quite easy to use. besides everything being in English, the system was also quite user-friendly. Color-coded subway lines, touch screens to purchase rides, clearly labeled prices. An excellent metro system. Instead of tickets, you get issued small plastic coins that can be recycled later. The system scans them on the way in and then you put them in the machine on the way out.

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While riding the subway to our destination, we saw a pretty interesting girl/guy (I'm not sure which). She-he had a doll on the subway that she-he pet like a dog. When seats opened up, the person sat down and put the doll on the next seat. To exit the train, she-he put the doll in a pillow carrying case. It was weird.

We left the subway at the Sun Yat-Sen memorial hall. It was a gigantic building dedicated to his memory that included personal effects, paintings, an art exhibit, etc. Here's us in front with Taipei 101 (the second tallest building in the world) in the background.

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And this is Annie contemplating a historical figure.

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I like this last shot outside the hall because you can see the whole building behind us and some kids flying kites in the courtyard.

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Since it was so close, we decided to spend the rest of the day at Taipei 101. We left the hall and hopped over to the skyscraper.

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Annie stopped along the way to play a nice game of chess.

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The skyscraper is attached to a giant mall. We walked through the first few floors and then went to buy tickets to head to the observation deck. The first building we noticed from up top was the memorial hall we had just visited.

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Throughout the observation deck was an exhibit by a famous local painter. Annie was really excited, but not because of the art.

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The neatest thing about the skyscraper was that it breaks a number of records. It was the tallest building for a few years and is now number two, it has the fastest elevators in the world, and it is the world's largest sundial. You can actually follow the shadow as it goes around the building. People who work there use it to know when it's lunchtime and quittin' time.

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The mascots of the building are called 'damper babies'. The skyscraper has a number of large engineering marvels called dampers which help stabilize the building. They protect against typhoon winds, seismic activity, etc. Annie thought this particular damper baby would be appreciated by some people back home.

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Sunset over Taipei.

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Moonrise over Taipei.

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The last gallery you walk through on the way out of the observatory is a number of jade and coral art pieces and jewelry. Some of them were pretty amazing, but nothing beats the lobster made out of coral.

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Once we got down to the base of the tower we started looking around for food. We learned that there were restaurants near the top, but had trouble locating their entrances. Annie found the help desk for the eateries and we lucked out by finding immediate seating in "Diamond Tony's" restaurant. Here's our room.

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This was our view.

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The meal here was the exact opposite of what we had for lunch (7-11 snacks). We enjoyed a six course dinner with a bottle of wine. Courses: (Doug/Annie)

1. Fresh baked garlic bread with crab dip
2. White birds nest soup / Lobster bisque
3. Sashimi platter / Oysters with sashimi
4. Lamb chop / Fish wrapped in prosciutto
5. Steak and lobster / Steak with salt seasoning and dipping sauce
6. Cheese plate

Since this evening was the holiday Doris mentioned, there were fireworks sporadically going off throughout the city. We'd occasionally see blue or red blasts over buildings which made for interesting entertainment. The bathroom was amazing as well since the walls were all made of glass so you could see the city in multiple directions.

After dinner we went through the mall at the base of the tower once but didn't buy anything. We then left and ran into a pretty famous art piece that I've seen in other cities around the world.

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To finish the evening we walked a few blocks over to one of Taipei's famous night markets. On the way we saw this place but since we'd already eaten we decided not to stop.

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The market was very colorful. Tons of people, stands, lights, colors, noises. We bought Annie some new clothes. A good ending to the day.

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Thursday the 23rd:

We slept in since we were out until around midnight the evening before. We then got up and headed back to the subway. Along the way we stopped at an ATM because we loved the warning they give you.

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We took the subway downtown to the other big memorial in Taipei in memory of Chiang Kai-Shek. here's Annie hiding along the way.

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The area around the memorial was beautiful. In one giant plaza there is the memorial, the national concert hall, and the national theatre. The hall and theater were both designed based on the temples found throughout the city.

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I like this one because it reminds me of an optical illusion, with all the lines looking like they're moving or something.

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We got a drink before walking through the grounds because it was hot again, but we did NOT get either of these drinks.

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The smoking area was amusing as I don't think the artist accurately depicted the size of a cigarette versus the size of a person.

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Annie liked this picture because she says it looks like my hair is attacking me with the memorial in the background.

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We took a nice couple shot at the main gate to the courtyard.

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And then I took one of Annie in front of the memorial proper. It was a bit bright though so she couldn't keep her eyes open.

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The memorial was pretty neat. It had a giant statue of the man in the main hallway with armed guards posted nearby watching it. In the base they had a few art galleries. The main exhibition hall was the best though. it took you through his life chronologically and showed many pictures of him while also displaying some of his personal effects. My favorite things were the bullet proof cars on display he used to ride around in.

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We took a few last pictures of the courtyard again before heading off.

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On the way out we noticed a pay phone. In England the phone's are rather iconic in how they're housed in the streets. In Taipei, phone booths have a slightly different flavor.

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The agenda for the rest of the day was pretty laid back. We were just going to walk around the downtown area and go shopping. So we left the memorial complex and headed into town. We passed the presidential building along the way and then stopped for lunch. Most restaurants were closed since we were there at the time between lunch and dinner so we went to a Taiwanese fast food place. Annie got a salad while I got a rice-chicken burger (the bun was rice with chicken in the middle).

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We went to a nearby bookstore after that to look around. I got a pocket calendar with lots of weird English sayings in it. However, we opted not to get the Harry Potter series in Chinese.

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Man, I would love to see how those translate. After looking through some back alley shopping markets we came upon the main downtown "Times Square" pedestrian area. Tons of stores and things to look at, like the Santa Claus chicken restaurant.

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Or the Coca-Cola display for some reason.

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Or the scariest mannequins in Taipei.

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Or Annie's favorite new toy.

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It was a nice evening for a walk since the area was cooling down for the night. After going up and down a few of the main walkways, we headed back for the subway. Here's just a regular shot of what a downtown Taipei street looks like.

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We took the subway all the way up past our hostel to go to Shilin, the largest night market in the city. This one was a couple city blocks big, so there was way more to see, do, and buy there. Including mannequins from horror movies about to attack Annie.

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In Korea one of my favorite street foods is chicken on a stick. In this night market, you could get anything on a stick.

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After checking out some of the stands, I chose this on a stick because a lot of people were buying it, so I thought that must mean it's good.

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The spices and texture were a little weird, but definitely worth the dollar. After getting a few more shirts for Annie, we went back to the subway to go home.

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While walking back to the hostel, we decided we were still a bit hungry and thirsty. Annie stopped for juice and I got a bubble tea.

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We picked up some snacks from 7-11 and went to bed.

Friday the 24th:

We left early to catch a subway to the end of the line. We were headed to the Taipei zoo. Unlike the previous days which were all sun, today was cloudy and a bit sprinkly. When we passed Taipei 101 it looked like the top was on fire or something.

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I really liked this temple near the end of the subway line by the zoo. It amazed me how many temples they had throughout the city and in the outskirts. Almost every street you walked down had an amazingly ornate temple on it.

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The zoo was pretty good. Not the best one I've ever been to, but you couldn't beat the $2 ticket price. Plus, it was the first time I'd ever seen pandas before, so that was fun. Some highlights included Annie hugging a bear.

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Then jumping for joy in the zoo.

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Amazing translations near the monkeys.

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Art made from butterfly wings.

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Annie getting eaten by a giant beetle.

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Then getting ready to fight back by channeling her inner-panda.

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Anti-American beef demonstrations in the lunchroom.

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Judgmental panda not allowing card games in the lunchroom.

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Doug enjoying his panda lollipop and watermelon drink in the lunchroom.

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And a ridiculous Irish-themed restaurant for no reason.

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Throughout the zoo there was one theme that was constantly being displayed. Poo.

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Every bathroom had a sign like that with different sayings. In the men's room over every urinal there were different poo-related questions and their scientific answers (why study it, how do we get it, etc.)

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There were even a few art pieces dedicated to the subject in the park.

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Otherwise it was a pretty normal place. it was gigantic as far as how much land was used. None of the animals were really in cages but rather big parcels of land so they could walk around. This meant that it took us a few hours to really get around the whole place. The neatest thing we saw was the hippo tank being cleaned. They herded all the animals into one corner of the tank to eat and then drained the whole area to hose it down. It was interesting seeing all the hippos out of the water and eating at the same time in one group.

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On the way out we noticed hundreds and hundreds of school children. It was either a field trip day or that's what kids liked to do after school since the place is so big and the tickets are so cheap.

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We got on the subway and headed to our last temple, Longshan Temple. It's supposedly one of the most important ones in the city and the only thing Soonyi recommended we go visit. It's main figures are a dragon and a phoenix. It was definitely one of the biggest temples I'd seen. And since it's so popular, there were many people there chanting and singing when we arrived.

http://www.vimeo.com/15281369

Annie in the temple!

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Again, there were tons of incense burners, incense sticks, people praying, meditating, reading books, lighting candles. It was a temple in full use.

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We left and walked through an underground market near the temple. The stores weren't very impressive, but I loved the fountain at one end of the mall with a dragon spraying water at a giant round stone that spun due to the pressure.

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Since we had seen and done so much during our time in the city, we decided to just head back to the main downtown area for dinner (we got sushi) and a bit more shopping around. However, I would not recommend going here. If they can't even get their sign right, would you trust their products?

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While walking to the main department store I saw this billboard and thought it looked neat. Plus it was huge!

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After days traveling we caught a subway home to rest and pack for the next day's return trip. We got some snacks and a few beers at the local 7-11. If the name of the beer isn't anything flashy, at least it tells you what you're getting quite directly.

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Saturday the 25th:

Doris' aunt walked us down the street when we left to the bus stop. She showed us which one to get on and helped flag it down when it came. We checked in with no problems at the airport and caught a girl either doing an advertisement shoot or being very inappropriately dressed for travel.

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I got some dumplings in the airport to spend the last of our foreign currency and then we were on our way back to Korea. We took a bus from the airport back to Cheonan, bought some street food, and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing from our trip.

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Happiness Time [Sep. 23rd, 2010|11:04 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Taiwan]
[Current Mood |peacefulpeaceful]
[Current Music |Forgetting Sarah Marshall]

On Sunday the 12th we slept in and had a nice lazy day. Danielle called in the afternoon to see if we wanted to join them for a walk around the lake with their kid. It was nice having a relaxing evening out for walk. They drove us down and we had a nice conversation while going down a few roads we hadn't been down yet. The evening ended with a nice sunset over the mountains on the other side of the lake.

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Nothing really happened Monday, but Tuesday was exciting because it was cooking day for the students. They all put on their little aprons and we help them prepare a dish in the library. Annie's students are first and then mine go in the afternoon.

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That evening we went out to dinner with Soonyi again. She took us to a vegetarian buffet at the base of the mountain we live on. It was quite delicious, and healthy. We had a fun conversation and she gave us some tips for our trip to Taiwan the following week. She said when she goes to see her family for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving, the reason we're having a vacation this month) she'll tell her mom how much we enjoy her kimchi and veggies. We're hoping maybe she'll pack up some stuff to bring us! Soonyi's family lives on the coast on the bottom of Korea and grow a lot of their own fresh veggies and make their own kimchi, so it's all delicious.

On Wednesday Annie brought the camera to school to show the progress she was making with her afternoon students. When she first met them, they had never studied English before and had zero foreign language skills. Now...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqvrljIUAis

That evening Annie got to practice her own language skills. She picked up the phone and after a quick back and forth, she managed to produce this:

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We went up to Tom and Danielle's for a bit after that and had some wine. Nice easy evening with no cooking or dishes to wash.

On Thursday the 16th we hurried home because Jackie was dropping off her dogs again. Her mom and sister were coming in from Canada, so she wanted to be able to travel around with them without having to worry about her pets. We like having them around since they bring energy to the apartment.

The only thing noteworthy on Friday was Annie made Mac n' Cheese. I love Mac n' Cheese.

Saturday was exciting. We got up early and cleaned the apartment because we were having guests. Thom and Jess were coming up to spend the weekend since they were on their way home. They were going to stay with us till Monday and then another friend in Seoul until their flight Thursday. When they got in, we let them rest up a bit and then took them downtown. We showed them some new art pieces on the street we hadn't seen before, including a London cab and a giant purse Annie wanted.

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After buying bus tickets for them to Seoul and us to the airport for the following week, we dove into the alleys looking for a restaurant. We decided on a kimbop house for enough choices for the group at a cheap price. The interesting thing about the restaurant was you had to use a machine to order, so we got to stand in front of it for a few minutes figuring out menus and such. It was fun. However, we couldn't finish all the food we ordered so some of it had to be saved in the only receptacle we had on hand. A plastic pooper scooper glove (unused).

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After dinner we headed over to Cave Bar one last time together for drinks and conversation. And pictures with gigantic bears.

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The next day we wanted to show Thom and Jess how much we had learned about living in Cheonan. We hopped in the car and took them to the traditional market we like to go to. Home of fresh veggies, kimchi pots, and whole chickens tied up.

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It was unbelievably crowded that day as it was the Sunday before Chuseok. Lucky for me, Annie sticks out in a crowd.

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Jess enjoyed the fish counters.

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While I enjoyed tiny dogs wearing Hanbok, traditional Korean clothes.

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We ended the excursion stopping for some street food. I love that you can get just about anything from a stall and sit right there and eat it. Thom and I got amazing chicken from a vendor for a couple bucks while Annie opted for more traditional fare with Jess.

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We drove around town for a bit after that, stopping in random places to check things out (side markets, underground shopping mall, etc.) The only thing we really saw that we wanted to buy was a shirt for all of our engineer friends and family out there.

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That evening was amusing. We wanted to just stay in and relax so we decided to try Annie's ordering skills at the phone again. She ordered a pizza set, but the people on the other end of the line messed something up and only sent us one pizza. When we housed that, Annie called again for another. She said the exact same things and this time they asked if it was for the two pizza set, but she told them just to bring one this time. The same guy delivered the pie. We contemplated ordering again for the humor of it, but since everyone was full we decided against it. For the rest of the night Jess packed while Thom helped me with a small project I had been putting off.

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He helped clean the lens on my hand-me-down PS2 for us to play. He successfully put it back together and while we tried it out, Annie amused herself by straightening my hair.

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After some drinks, pizza, TV, skyping with England, and packing we ended the night by taking about 30 timer shots of the group. This is one of my faves, as we all look so contemplative.

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We went to bed happy but sad, as the day was so enjoyable but we'd be shipping them off in the morning before we went to work.
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Shed your head [Sep. 12th, 2010|05:19 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]
[Current Music |Project Runway - Season 1]

On the third of September we had a dinner with the company to say goodbye to the teacher that was heading back to America. We had time before it began, so Erin and Ryan joined us for a beer near their place. I got a bottle of Bud from a 7-11 and paid $1.60 for it. Then I got to sit in front of the 7-11 and consume it. This country rules sometimes.

The dinner was nice. I got to sit in the corner away from everyone except Erin, Ryan, and Annie, so I didn't have to talk at all. It was great. The restaurant was a buffet and we each got a bottomless glass of beer you could refill throughout the dinner. I ate too much to really take advantage of it, but it was still nice to know I had the option.

The next day we took a drive downtown for some errands and then went to a dinner party at Tom and Danielle's house upstairs. They know way more people than we do just because they work at a university and have been in this city for more than a year straight now. Their place was jam-packed, but we arrived as people were leaving, so we could move around easily. Sangria and pasta were on the menu and we got to meet some new people, so it was a nice evening.

Sunday was torrential downpours all day, so we just stayed inside and watched Mad Men the whole time. It was a nice relaxing day.

We walked into work on the sixth and were promptly informed (by one of the students) that it was field trip day. It was funny, as that is something you think we should know of ahead of time, or be informed of by our bosses. But, such is the job. We all got to our classes and piled the kids onto the buses. Some were more excited than others. Here's my kid Danny showing me how excited he is.

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We drove for about twenty minutes doing 90 MPH and making hairpin turns. I was launched out of my seat a few times (the kids all had seat belts, but there wasn't one on my seat), but the kids seemed to really enjoy it. We made it to a building just outside of Cheonan. All the kids were lined up by group outside and were told they were going to be taken on a tour throughout the building. Before entering though, you had to bow respectfully to your tour guides.

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The main theme of the places was civics. It covered everything including how to cross the street, home safety, news programs, etc. Here, Annie tries to be a news anchor.

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It was a cute little mock-newsroom where the kids had to read from monitors and the cameras really worked to put them on TV's around the room.

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They also got to dress up and go on a blue screen to see how television is made. Annie took advantage of no one watching the dressing room.

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The kids also had a chance to walk through a corridor looking at the different crops made in the surrounding area. They were shown how to plant rice, how traditional farmers dressed, etc. I particularly liked the giant walnut they had to walk through.

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While the kids were watching a movie, I had a chance to walk around the grounds. Outside they had the most amazing playset. I want one now. Not for my future kids or students, but for me.

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The last room of the center was a mock apartment with different safety lessons throughout. For example, they had a sink with warnings about burning yourself if you leave the hot water running. One of the lessons was not to lock yourself in the fridge. This was the display, which could either be inviting (which would defeat the purpose) or nightmare inducing.

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My favorite was the "don't drink bleach" center.

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They also had a faux-veranda to teach kids if you're on a high level apartment, don't jump. The Korean teachers made me stand in it for a picture, which confused Annie since she didn't go in that room and had no idea what was happening behind me.

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Afterwards we got all the teachers and students together with the tour guides for a group picture.

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I then made sure to get a picture of Annie with just her kids, Strawberry class.

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That basically killed most of the morning with the kids but since I had the camera I took it to my afternoon classes at the other school. These are the older kids I teach (first or second grade).

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They're rather fluent and easy to teach. After them my last class is an afternoon kindergarten lesson. These kids are super tiny.

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On the seventh we had dinner at Soon Yi's place. Her sister made an amazing curry rice dish with the usual mix of side dishes on the table (small fish, kimchi, kim). We told her about our upcoming trip to Taiwan and they both got excited, pulling out maps and books. They had lived in Taiwan for two years so Soon Yi could study Chinese to pursue her eventual doctorate in painting in China. We talked about where we were staying and they said they'd give us some tips before we left.

When we were leaving her place, Annie noticed some nice couches that were being set out for special pick-up. We went to get our van and after three trips, we had a new seating area in our living room along with a new kitchen table with chairs!

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Annie brought the camera back to work the next day to take some more pictures of her room and her class. Here is Annie in front of her kids.

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This is what the rest of her room looks like and how her kids are set up.

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In the afternoon Annie also gets a different set of kids while I go to the other school. here's her tiniest one, Nancy.

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It's tough to tell you how these kids really are since pictures don't do them justice. They are super cute and much brighter than you would suspect considering their age. However, any preconceived notions you want to have on this kid are probably true.

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The last thing Annie got a shot of was the bathroom. Guess which one we use?

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We had burritos for dinner that night, which were amazing. The trip to Costco is definitely paying for itself. Burritos, sour cream, real cheese, etc. And after dinner, a six pound bag of pretzels.

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On the ninth the only picture we took was what our school lunches look like. Every day we get rice, a soup, kimchi, and a main dish with a side dish. Today we had an egg dish for the main course and small fish for the side. It was good, as usual.

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September 10th was a pretty busy day. After school we went out for date night at Suwon, the local galbi place. This time we were joined by Erin and Ryan. We all met up because tonight was the big sleepover at Kid's College. About 30 or so Kid's were going to be spending the night, so after dinner we swung by the place to visit. Two of our co-teachers were there as chaperones and were quite happy when we showed up to give them a break with the kids. It was pretty much chaos as there weren't really a lot of planned activities or anything.

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After visiting for about a half hour we went to a local bar called 'Adonis' right down the street. Five bux for a small pictures of Korean cocktail to end the evening ain't bad.

For September 11th Annie and I finally got out of the house and took a drive to a local attraction. We had been mostly cooped up every weekend due to the heat and rain. It was a bit misty but much cooler than previous days so we drove to the Independence Hall of Korea. It's a huge complex focusing on the history of Korea and it's occupation/liberation from Japan. Couple shot on the front walkway!

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Here's Annie looking at one of the massive outdoor sculptures on the outskirts of the main exhibition halls.

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Couple love shot in front of a bell!

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We started heading up the main walkway to the exhibition halls and thought the lake surrounding the complex was beautiful. However, once Annie saw what was in the lake she became overly-excited.

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The lake was full of four ducks, a couple turtles, and a plethora of coy fish. Each one was at least a foot long and had to weight between 6 - 10 pounds, minimum.

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After finally prying Annie away from the fish, we ran into the mascot of Cheonan, which was a perfect photo-op for Annie.

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Of course, there's only one punishment for ridiculing a Korean mascot.

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Luckily, after some quick talking I managed to have the sentence reduced.

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Couple shot in front of giant symbolic Korean statue!

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After the giant statue there was a big circular courtyard with six or seven buildings each housing different exhibits. The courtyard was pretty, particularly the pinwheel circle that made the Korean flag.

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The first building we went into after entering the complex was the "Dynamic 4F theater". It was a Korean movie in 3D that occasionally had rumbling seats and air blown at the audience. We got looks as we went in since we were the only westerners there and we were pretty sure the movie was only in Korean. However, sine it was so dynamic, we decided to give it a go. We noticed that there were tons of children in the theater. Since the movie was animated and starred a child, we thought it would be a cute, funny movie. It started with the child's grandpa going down and getting rushed to surgery. That was the first minute. The next thing that happened was the kid was sent back in time to when his grandpa was a fighter during the Japanese occupation. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, more people were shot and killed than in Saving Private Ryan. The culminating scene involved a guy grabbing a lit TNT package and running towards a machine gun that had mowed down most of his troop. He got shot as he got closer to the machine gun but then gloriously took it out with his suicide explosion. All animated.

The rest of the buildings were all focused on different parts of Korea's history. And of course they were all very protective of the people who came inside.

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The exhibits were interesting to look through, and had a number of cute photo opportunities. Here's Annie getting a rickshaw ride.

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However, she was having difficulty with her binoculars looking at a miniature city in one of the buildings.

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This is what she was trying to look at.

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These are two of the more fun visuals I took pictures of. One was a neat display that I had no idea what it was trying to say and the other is a funny piece of Konglish.

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One of the exhibits in the building was Korean technology at the turn of the century, so Annie stopped to have her picture taken.

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As we were leaving I had to take a picture of the grounds. Behind the last building there was a mountain whose top you could not see because of all the clouds that were coming down from the top. It made the whole complex look like it was on fire.

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After five hours of walking around we decided to hit the road.

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We didn't go straight home from the Hall though. While driving I missed the turn that would've taken us back to our neighborhood so I took Annie on a tour of the part of town I drive to everyday from work. She finally got to see other building I've been going to for the past two months. She also finally got to take a picture of the sign I've wanted for a long time that warns you not to honk your horn, regardless of what language you speak.

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It was quite a trafficky day while driving around, so Annie took a picture of what driving in Korea feels like.

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Finally, I got to show her a building I passed everyday on the way home. On the top is Spider-Man. In the middle is a car coming through the wall. And I have no idea why either one is there.

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We finally made it through the traffic, dropped Ryan's computer off at his house since he left it in our car the night before, and went home to make Macaroni and Cheese. We ended the evening by Skyping my parents. A nice, busy day.
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Landblasted [Sep. 2nd, 2010|11:43 pm]
dpshakyamuni
[Current Location |Living Room]
[Current Mood |drunkdrunk]
[Current Music |Hamster talk]

We've been here over two months now and things are settling into a routine pretty well. Even though things at work have been switching up, we've figured out the job well enough to roll with the punches and are now beginning to look at the bigger picture. Whereas we don't want to use the children we're teaching, the main reason we're here is to experience the culture and utilize our free time for traveling.

On the 22nd of August we had another jjim-jil-bong visit. The more I go, the more comfortable I am. The next time we go we want to spend an extended time in the facilities. Exercise in the room with all the machines, eat dinner in the cafeteria, sauna, baths, etc. We keep going for only a few hours at a time. We really want to make an evening or a full afternoon of it. Someday soon we hope...

On the 23rd we had our weekly dinner with Soon Yi. The dinners are always great as they're home-cooked Korean fare. This time we had rice balls with meat inside. To make the rice-balls correctly, you need to blend two different types of rice together. They were amazing, and we were told you can easily make them and take them on picnics. We spent our time doing small talking and asking the correct way to call for a cab with out phones, so that should be helpful in the long run. When we left, they gave us an extra rice-ball to try and cook ourselves or eat cold for breakfast (Annie eventually just heated it up and had it for dinner one day.)

On the 24th I got gas for the third time. It went well. I found the cheapest place in Cheonan. While getting gas the guy asked me a bunch of questions. Some I answered, some I couldn't. The gist of some of them was whether or not we wanted some coffee or coke. We politely declined this free offer (beat that Jersey gas stations!) and paid for the gas with our debit card on the way to Homeplus for our bi-weekly groceries.

The only thing of note that happened on the 25th was that Annie decided to walk home rather than wait for me to pick her up on the way from my other school. A downpour five minutes after she left the school taught her the error of her ways.

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We went out on the 26th during lunchtime to try and pay some bills at the bank. While out, we ate at a local restaurant and discovered the beauty of curry-dongass. It's basically a fried pork-cutlet (the type we've had a hundred times before in Korea) only smothered in a curry sauce. Even though we were full, I was very tempted to order another one. It was that good. We talked about it a lot the rest of the day (and went back again next week). One of the things that made it good was it wasn't a chain Korean restaurant we went to, but rather an independent place that specialized in pork cutlets. Delicious.

On the 27th we had ourselves a date night. We went to "Suwon", the galbi restaurant in our neighborhood. Everyone there is so nice and speaks English quite well. They checked on our table just enough and even the owner came over at one point to make sure we were ok.

On the 28th we had a nice lazy day consisting of sleeping in, eating lunch, and napping. We broke it up at one point by taking a picture of all the hamsters sleeping in their running wheel (although as you can see one of them tried to make a break for it).

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We went up to dinner at Tom and Danielle's that night. They had some people over for a dinner party and Annie got to play with their kid, Xavier.

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He had some very definite ideas about where he wanted to go throughout the evening, despite being eighteen months old.

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We made plans to meet up the next day and drive to Daejeon, a town about an hour away. I ended up driving the van with Annie, a baby, Tom, and a pregnant woman inside. It turned out well, despite my tiredness.

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We had planned to just jump on their membership to Costco, but when we found out how cheap it was ($35 dollars!) we got a membership for ourselves. $200 dollars later and we had enough cheese and American products to last a month!

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We spent the rest of Sunday cleaning, leaving Annie free to hang out with the hamsters.

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I made sure when the day was done the entertainment system looked amazing with its new guitar and kimchi pot accessories.

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The week after that was pretty normal. Dinner at Soonyi's on Tuesday. The only new blip on the radar was that a teacher left the school on Wednesday to head back to America so we had different class loads, but other than new students, it was pretty much just more of the same.
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