Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Korea

During our last week in Korea, we finally got out to see the Busan Lotte Giants, the baseball team.

During the game, we were given the team colour orange to wear on our heads.

Saying goodbye to our students was really sad. Many of the students cried. We showed our students slideshows of Canada to remind them of where we are from. Many of them asked questions like, "Why are you going back to Canada?" and "When are you coming back to Korea?"

Here is a picture of some of my students trying to taking one last picture (yes, they all have cell phones):

Anyong-hee-gaeseyo, Daehan Minguk!!

Haeundae Beach

Going to the beach in Asia is a unique experience. During July and August, Koreans flock to the beach because this is the fashionable time to go. As soon as September 1st, the beach is completely abandoned because the belief is that the water temperature turns cold right away. It is also just seen as uncool.

Eric and I decided to check out Haeundae beach at the tail-end of August. It was almost the end of fashionable beach time, but it was still (just a little bit) busy.

English Camps

During August 2010, Eric and I each taught a few weeks of "English camp" to the students who were interested. In our experience, the number of kids who signed up for the camps did not match the number who actually participated. We were also not given any guidelines for what to teach or do. It was our impression that English camp was similar to babysitting - except with English games.

In any case, Eric and I both had a great time with our English camps. It was a great opportunity be creative and do things the kids enjoyed, like playing games, making crafts, playing around with fake American money, and watching English movies (Toy Story was a huge hit).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

China Day 6: Shanghai

At the end of our trip we spent 3 days in Shanghai (the first day with the tour group and then Eric and I stayed an extra 2 days).

The first thing I noticed upon arrival in Shanghai was how much more developed this city seemed than Xi'an and even Beijing. Since it is one of the main financial centres of Asia, this is not surprising.

Our first morning in Shanghai began with a stroll along "the Bund", a walkway along the river in the middle of the city. One side of the bund (where we walked) is called the Pudong area, where all of the huge towers, skyscrapers and financial buildings are located. For example, this is the Pearl Tower, one of the more unique buildings on the Shanghai skyline.

The other side of the Bund is all European style buildings. From the Pudong area, we could see across to this area.

After this we wandered to the "old town" Shanghai. I guess it was technically where the old town used to be, but the old Chinese style buildings were renovated to look new, and the whole area was pretty much souvenir shops, tourist trap restaurants and teahouses, and even McDonalds and Starbucks. Despite this, the area was nice to walk around in.

In the old town, we went to the Yuyuan garden. It was made in the 1500s and is a really neat maze of buildings, temples, walkways, ponds with giant goldfish, statues, etc. Very peaceful.

After lunch we broke away from the rest of the tour group, who were going to a pottery/bronze museum (I know, fascinating right? *wink*) and decided to explore downtown Shanghai on our own. On the street Eric is standing on below, we managed to get a seat on a tour trolley that drove us down the street. Eric and I used our "ajumma skills" from Korea to get the seats. (As you may remember, ajummas are the aggressive old ladies in Korea that push and shove to get what they want, and can carry large loads of vegetables on their heads and backs).

After dinner we went to an acrobatic show, which was easily the most impressive acrobatic performance I have ever seen. There were many times where I looked over at my parents and the looks of shock and concern on their faces was hilarious.

- Kirsten

Sunday, August 15, 2010

China Day 4: Xi'an - Terracotta Army

Our first day in Xi'an we headed to one of China's most famous and interesting sites - the Terracotta Army.

The first emperor of China (Qin - pronounced "Chin") created a giant mausoleum where he would be buried, with thousands of life-size warriors and chariots to protect him in the afterlife, and even "rivers of mercury" flowing around. He used 700 000 workers to build the tomb.

Huge pits have been exacavated with thousands of clay warriors. However, the Emperor's tomb has not been excavated. Why? First of all, they have found some mercury in the soil, so it may be unsafe to do so; also, the tomb may be protected by Indiana Jones style "booby traps", so it may destroy the tomb or be too dangerous.

Interestingly, this giant archaeological site was not discovered until 1974, when a local farmer was digging for a well! Actually this same farmer was present at the museum when we were there, and was signing his autograph in some souvenir books.

The museum that contains these warriors is larger than a football field. The amount of warriors is breathtaking.

When the warriors were first unearthed, they were painted colorfully, but the ancient paint quickly flaked off with the exposure to oxygen. However, you can still see the details on the faces and arms of the soldiers, many of which show protruding veins or other unique characteristics; like real people, no terracotta warrior looks the same.

After a quick trip to an art gallery, we went to visit the Xi'an city wall. Now, I know a lot of cities have walls in them, and this wall does not sound as interesting as the Great Wall of China, but it was actually very impressive. The wall is about 700 years old and is 12 metres high, 17 metres wide, and 14 kilometres long! You can walk or bicycle along the top of the wall as a way of touring Xi'an city. (We didn't have time to do that, but took a good saunter along part of the wall). Here is a picture of Eric below part of the wall.

My parents descending from Xi'an city wall.

After dinner we went to a dance show.

All in all, a day well spent. Note to self, keep an eye out for artifacts when digging for wells...

- Kirsten

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

China Day 3: Beijing – Xi’an

Our final day in Beijing included one of the most famous man-made objects on the planet: the Great Wall of China. In the morning, we all piled into the familiar tour van that we had grown to love over the past couple days for its air conditioning and headed toward the outskirts of the city. A half hour later, we were outside the city on the highway surrounded by mountains. As the smog became less dense, the scenery got better and better. Around twenty minutes away from where we were going to climb, we got our first glance of the wall winding its way across the mountainous ridges. It looked pretty mystical and appeared much steeper in certain spots than I had imagined.

Along the final stretch of road before the entrance to climb the wall, there were buses and cars parked for many kilometres. There were many people walking up the road, which would have been quite a hike itself just to arrive at the base of the wall. Lucky for us, our guide was well connected with one of the attendants in the closest parking lot to the wall. After getting our tickets, we had around two hours to climb the wall. The first choice we had to make was whether to go left or right at the entrance. As the vast majority of Chinese people chose to go right because that's where Mao Zedong climbed the wall, we went left where the climb was much the same but where there was a little more air to go around.

The hike to the top of the peak we were climbing provided some spectacular views of the surrounding valley and the wall itself. It was quite a sight to look across the valley and see the huge crowd ascending the section of the wall that went to the right from the entrance. We set a pretty steady pace on our way up, and found somewhat surprisingly that we had energy to spare at the top. We took many pictures as we climbed up, and they seemed to get better the further we went. After about an hour, we came to a tower where you were not permitted to go any further. Looking out at the wall beyond the fence, you could see that sections of it were gradually getting worn down by nature's work.

After descending the steep slope of the Great Wall, we made our way to a restaurant before heading to an area known as the "Spirit Way" near the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The area consisted of a walkway between two sets of very massive statues that had been converted into a park. It was a pleasant break from the crowds that were scattered everywhere around the major sights in Beijing. The Sprit Way was very pleasant and quiet. We took a nice walk down the length of the entire walk way, ending at a giant red gate. It was a nice ending to our time in Beijing. From there, we went directly to the airport and boarded a plane to Xi'an shortly thereafter. After a relatively short delay on the tarmac, we made it to our destination rather painlessly. We felt bad for the rest of the tour group who were on a different flight; unfortunately for them, their plane was delayed much longer and did not arrive into Xi'an until 12:30 am. We felt lucky to have been well-rested for the next day's trip to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

- Eric

Monday, August 9, 2010

China Day 2: Beijing

Our second full day in Beijing began with a trip to the Olympic Park from the 2008 Summer Olympics. I remember watching the Olympics that summer and wondering, "What is this bird's nest the announcers keep talking about?" It probably took me several days to realize it was the Olympic stadium in Beijing, which resembles a bird's nest. A fun fact about the Bird's Nest is that it was able to seat 91 000 people during the Olympics. ...and here is the building where Michael Phelps from the U.S. had so much success! Almost more striking than the buildings in the park was the smog. It was a sunny, cloudless day, but the sky was sure not blue! Walking around the Olympic Park in the brutally humid and windless Beijing heat made me feel very bad for the athletes 2 years ago who actually had to exert themselves at this temperature. I said to my Dad, "I can't imagine running a marathon in this heat!", and he replied, "I can't imagine running to that fence!" (about 30 metres away). I totally agreed! At the Olympic park Eric and I were constantly approached by shy Chinese tourists wanting family pictures with us giants. Next we headed to the Summer Palace, where the emperors, other royalty, and maybe a few lucky eunuchs got to hang out. It was basically a massive complex including a huge man-made lake, gardens, trees, and nice buildings. I also wanted to include this picture of one of the many dishes we had for lunch that day. I didn't take many food pictures on the trip but glad I took this one because this ended up being my favourite dish of the trip. A little bit spicy, chicken, peanuts, green onions, some kind of sauce......it is actually making me hungry right now. After lunch we visited the extremely beautiful Temple of Heaven. In Korea, all of the temples are green and not too big, because Koreans don't like to make temple buildings larger than nature (i.e. larger than the trees). In China, the main belief seems to be that everything should be made as big as possible, so I was quite impressed with this temple compared to the small Korean ones we've seen. The blue color was also just really beautiful. This is a smaller temple in the complex. An interesting fact is that the Temple of Heaven is not held together with any nails - all of the wooden pieces interlock like a big 3D puzzle. You may wonder - if it's wood and it got hit by lightning, wouldn't it burn down? Well, they've thought of that - the Temple of Heaven and all of the buildings in the complex had thick wires running up the sides of the buildings to the top so that if lightning hit, the electriticy would go down the wires to the ground and not touch the wood.

After dinner, we went to the Peking Opera. (By the way, "Peking" is the Cantonese pronunciation of "Beijing"). To be honest, the opera was pretty weird, but certainly entertaining and hilarious. You'll know what I mean when you see this video I took; the person featured is actually a man.

- Kirsten