Category: leisure

Ulsan Language Exchange Table’s 2nd Meeting

By , October 18, 2012 3:07 pm


Turnabout is Fair Play

Forty people – a healthy mix of foreigners and Koreans, including people from America, Canada, and England, sat around a number of tables at Mellocup across from the University.  Organized by a tall, handsome go-getter 22-year-old of a Korean studying at Ulsan University, the Ulsan Language Exchange Table had its second meeting last Saturday evening.

For ten thousand won, we had lemonade, snacks, and the opportunity to chat with fun, open-minded Korean students.  Ages ranged from 17 to 50+, with most being students.  It seemed, based on this writer’s experience, like the Koreans were most interested in practicing English.  We all had a great time, and many of us foreigners learned a thing or two.

At the beginning, our host called up any English speakers who knew “a little Korean” to introduce themselves for two minutes.  Your intrepid writer hastily prepared a script, and read it aloud.  While some more self-conscious might have felt that this was a little like being a circus act, the mood of the crowd did everything to alleviate that.  The whole group was encouraging and genuine – even when one at the front accidentally said “I am bulgogi” instead of “I like bulgogi”.

For the first half, from six until seven o’clock, the host demanded we all talk in English – and ONLY in English.  This went very well.  The cafe was full of cheerful, upbeat conversation, and encouragement all around for those people who were less well-versed in English.  Even when mistakes were made, the most important thing was communication.

Then, in the second half, from seven until eight, the host demanded we all talk in Korean – and ONLY in Korean.  You could feel the mood in the room change – all the Koreans present became a lot more confident, and all the foreigners equally less confident.  The native speakers returned the same cheerful encouragement and enthusiasm they’d received in the previous hour.

There were no structured activities, and I got the feeling anything like that would be entirely out of place.  After all, this wasn’t a classroom, and it definitely wasn’t a lecture.

After the second hour, the host called ALL the foreigners up to give an introduction of themselves – not just those who had stood up before.  I read the same script again, with added lines about where I work, where I live, and my family in Canada.  There were some small prizes – “best Korean teacher”, “most improved in Korean”, “best in Korean”.

If you missed this event, don’t worry!   There’s another scheduled for November 3rd at 7pm – at Alan’s place, Cima Bar.  Here’s the link – 18,000 won gets you unlimited barbeque, salad and rice, and one drink.  If Kim Yongsoo puts as much effort into it as he did the last one, it should be a great time for everyone! Here’s the link – clicky clicky

Weekly News – 06/14/12

By , June 14, 2012 11:12 am


As usual, there are several items of note from around the Korean peninsula this week:

  • I’ve been posting all spring about the US attempts to rein in Iranian attempts to build a nuclear weapon. The US asked all countries to join in sanctions against the middle eastern country and would sanction those countries that did not play along.  And all spring Korea has been wandering the globe looking for a replacement to the Iranian oil they currently purchase. At 10% of the national oil imports, Iranian oil would be hard to replace yet officials went from country to country asking to buy additional oil. In each case, they were told no.
    For those not watching the looming energy crisis, there just isn’t any oil to spare. The entire world’s oil production peaked around 2006 and despite growing demand oil producers just cannot produce more. We’re on the downside of world oil production and the world is  only going to produce less and less as time goes on.
    Anyway, back to Korea:  the USA finally relented and gave South Korea a waiver to continue buying Iranian oil.  Of course, they also gave waivers to ten other countries who wanted to reduce Iranian oil purchases but who also wanted to maintain their economies.  A fairly clear indication that there is no spare capacity in world oil production is 11 countries can’t find a replacement for Iranian oil.
    And if you’re wondering why gasoline (or petrol, if you prefer) prices have dropped recently, it’s because while Korea was searching for replacement oil in the spring they were buying far above their usual amount in anticipation of a shortage later. Instead, they’ve ended up with a glut and refiners have had to drop prices.  Sound odd? Perhaps, but the fact that South Korea is for the first time being an exporter of diesel fuel might offer some evidence of having a bit too much on hand.  Don’t expect the prices to stay low for long, however, as recent European financial problems in Spain and possibly Italy have put pressure on oil prices.
  • And just like you can’t have a meal without rice in Korea, you can’t have news without some mention of those fun-loving guys in the North, led by recently crowned king, Fat Boy Kim.  My favorite line of all time (so far, anyway) is that South Korea is trying to provoke North Korea into conducting a nuclear test. Wait! What?  Did they just make a threat to conduct a scientific experiment?    The Foreign Ministry of North Korea was quoted as saying regarding the South Korean government:

    “in a bid to cause it to conduct a nuclear test, though such a thing is not under plan at present, and take such strong retaliatory measures as a Yeonpyeong Island shelling incident, and hype its ‘belligerent nature.’ ”

    The rhetoric is really getting racheted up these days. So much so, in fact, that the USA’s military is asking for additional equipment, specifically a reconnaissance attack helicopter squadron.  That should make the North Koreans feel more at peace. And if it doesn’t, US Sen. Carl Levin might. Although he has no authority in the matter, Levin said he’d have no problem with South Korea increasing the range of ballastic missiles, a clear violation of 2001 agreement.

  • Meanwhile, North Korea slammed South Korea for it’s “fascist crackdown” and said that GPS jamming and other cyber-warfare dirty tricks were pure fabrication.
  • Business is booming with South Korea with the unemployment rate dropping to a low of 3.2%.  Exports are doing well, including military exports of warships to India.
  • And, if you have two wheels and haven’t planned anything yet this weekend, there’s still time to get in on the best event in Ulsan – the Ulsan Inferno.  The Inferno rides this Saturday with proceeds from the event going to Ulsan Motorbike whose shop and home burned down last month.

Sick of Hite? Brew your own!

By , March 19, 2012 1:06 pm


By Derrick Langeneckert

Are you sick of drinking Hite, Cass or OB?  Do you spend the 12,000W on a six pack of Heineken?  Are you tired of seeing your friends on Facebook drinking real beer at bars back in the US or Canada?  Has it been 3 years since you had your favorite IPA, Stout, Porter, Pale Ale, Belgium style?

Fret no more.  Make your own beer!

How do you make beer you ask?  Is it hard?  No, if you can make soup, you can make beer in your own home with minimal start up cost.

Making beer is not very difficult.  The ingredients required are barley, hops, yeast and water.  In the US and Canada, homebrewers typically make a 5 gallon batch.  This will give you about 2 cases of homebrew.  Depending on the style, you will need about 10lbs (5kg) of barley, and a few ounces of hops to make your beer.

Equipment you need:

1)   5 gallon pot

2)   sieve

3)   6 gallon bucket/fermenting vessel with a lid

4)   air lock

Steps in making beer:

1)   Put your 10lbs of grain in a bucket and add 170F water.  This water will activate the amylase enzyme in the barley to convert the starch in the grain into sugar to feed the yeast.  Yeast converts sugar into ethanol (alcohol) and CO2, which bubbles off.  This part is called “the mash” and will last 1 hour.  During the mash you should stir your barley soup as often as necessary, most people stir their mash every 15 minutes.

2)    Next, pour your barley soup through the sieve to remove all the sugary tasting water.  This should give you about 2-3 gallons of wort.  Wort is the sugar water that you add the yeast to.

3)   Put the spent grain back into the bucket and cover the grain with hot water.  This is called the spardge.  You want to rise all of the grain to remove all the sugars possible.   Spardging should give you another 2-3 gallons for a grand total of 4-6 gallons.

4)   Next, pour the wort into your 5-6 gallon pot and get it up to a boil.  When your wort us up to a boil it is time to add the hops.  Generally brewers add hops at three different times during the 1 hour boil.  The first addition is usually about an ounce.  This will give your beer its bitterness.  This bittering hops will boil for the entire hour.  Next, when there are 15 minutes left in the boil you should add flavor hops.  These hops will give you a fruity or citrus flavor.  Finally, where there are 5 minutes left in the hour long boil add your aroma hops.  This will give your beer its smell.

5)   When the hour long boil is finished you must cool the wort to below 80F to add the yeast.  Adding yeast to wort is called “pitching”.  I suggest, put a lid on your pot and wait over night for the beer to cool.

6)   In the morning, pour the wort into a sterilized bucket, pitch the yeast, put the lid and the airlock on the bucket and wait 2 weeks.  You will notice bubbles coming out of the airlock after 24 hours.  This means the yeast is actively making alcohol.

7)   After two weeks it is time to bottle your beer.

Being an avid home brewery myself and contemplating coming back to Korea, I worry about the availability of beer and beer making supplies in Korea.  I did my research and found a Korean Homebrew club that sells ingredients and offers advice on a forum specific for Korean homebrewers.  Don’t worry, the website is in English.  From the looks of it, its full of expats sick and tired of Soju and Cass.

www.homebrewkorea.com  Check it out and get to brewing.

A Whale of a Time

By , March 6, 2012 12:14 pm


(Updated Summer 2013 for bus routes and cruise times)

With warmer weather just around the corner, it’s time to think about outdoor activities again that don’t involve bundling layers of clothes and early morning bus rides.  Whale migration season will soon be upon us and with it the opportunity to see these graceful animals up close.  At Jangsaengpo, in addition to the Whale Museum, the Goleh Bada Yeo Haeng Seon Seon Chak Jeong (고래바다여행선선착장)  offers whale watching tours off the coast of Ulsan.

This week, Ulsanonline visited with volunteer “Anne” 보경. Anne was a volunteer at the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum and spent many hours helping English-speaking guests at the museum understand the many exhibits and answer questions.   These days, Anne volunteers in other places such as the Ulsan Museum but she remembers her days at Jangsaengpo well.

Anne has been on a few of the whale watching tours and shared her experiences.  On one memorable trip the cruise boat followed a pod of dolphins as they jumped and splashed ahead of the boat.

“It was like a dance! They were so graceful” Anne says of the pod of dolphins. “It was beautiful.”

The Whale Watching tours are a fine example of ecologically sound tourism that can be exciting and invigorating. My own experiences with whale watching was quite a fluke (pardon the pun) as we sailed 50 meters behind a group of 3 gray whales as they made their way northward, blowing air through their blowholes and then showing their enormous tails on the next downward dive. It was thrilling to be near these enormous animals in their natural environment.

The Whale Watching tour boat, adjacent to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum

Off the Korean coast, Minke whales are frequently spotted, although seeing dolphins is another possibility on the tour.  Some excursions, however, are not so lucky. Not all trips result in sightings of whales or dolphins, but such is the way of things when dealing with nature’s unpredictability.  Your best chance for whale sighting are between July and October when migration peaks. Dolphin migration is less well understood and spottings are  even more rare. Anne says that only 0.1% of the trips get to see a pod of dolphins.

However, if just getting out on the water is enough, then there are evening cruises on Saturday nights around the bay area to see Ulsan city at night. (See bottom of article for sailing times and ticket prices.)

The Whale Watching tours leave from the next to the whale museum on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, April through October, for a 3-hour tour.

Typical routes of the Ulsan Whale watching tour as well as from Goryeongpo near Pohang.

Before we finished our interview, Anne made sure  to point out that many Koreans understand that killing and eating whales seems barbarian to many foreigners.  She says to please be understanding of Koreans in that it is part of their heritage and culture. And although other countries have banned whaling, it was only after many years of relentlessly hunting whales to near extinction that they banned it. So don’t be so judgmental of Koreans when most of your own countries have engaged in similar behavior, and sometimes even more barbaric behavior. Anne points out that in the later part of the 19th century, American whalers killed Sperm whales by the 1000s and took only their tongues and the oil, discarding the rest. Koreans, meanwhile, killed them for food to sustain themselves and used as much of the whale as possible.

Prices for the tour are 20,000 per adult, 15,000 for seniors (65+) and 10,000 won per child (4 – 12, under 4’s are free). However, if you organize a group of 20 or more people, prices go down to 15,000 and 7,000.  Cameras are fine, but when the dolphins and whales are around, please be sure to stow your flash so you don’t freak the animals out.

If you’re on a cruise that doesn’t happen to come across any whales or dolphins, you can get a stamp on your ticket that will entitle you to either free entry to the Whale Museum, or 40% of the Dolphin Experience Aquarium (valid for 1 month after your trip).

To get to Jangsaengpo, take bus # 406, 246 or 256 to the Whale Museum. Whale watching tours are immediately adjacent to the museum. Tickets can be purchased on site, but can also be purchased online, via the city’s Ulsan Namgu site, http://whale.ulsannamgu.go.kr/ . You need to bring your passport and alien registration card, address and phone number to register with the Coast Guard when buying your ticket. Call 052-226-3406/7 for more information. The Whale Museum is pinned on the Interactive Map.

Sailing Schedule:

The boats sail April – October, on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Saturday – 13:00 – 16:00 – 3 hour whale watching tour   /  19:00 – 21:00 – 2 hour night view cruise

Sunday – 10:00 – 13:00  /  14:30 – 17:30 – 3 hour whale watching tours

Wednesday/Thursday – 10:00 – 13:00 – 3 hour whale watching tours

Whale Watching Tickets: Adults 20,000, Seniors (65+) 15,000, Children (4-12) 10,000, Under 4 years old – free

Night View Cruise Tickets: Adults 15,000, Seniors (65+) 11,250, Children (4-12) 7,000, Under 4 years old – free

 

 

News Briefs 2/28/12

By , February 28, 2012 11:10 am


Just a few bits of news from around Korea:

  • North Korea, having spent the entire weekend and several days prior claiming the now ongoing US/S.Korean military drills of Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are declarations of war now claims to have something even better.

     “We have war means more powerful than the U.S. nukes and ultra-modern striking equipment which no one has ever possessed,”

    the North’s National Defense Commission (NDC) said in a statement.  Now I’m curious.  More powerful than nuclear weapons?  Ultra modern equipment heretofore unseen?  This is better than watching the latest Batman, Mission Impossible and G.I Joe movies all together.  I hope they start something just so we can see what kind of cool hi-tech gadgets they have.

  • Still trying to please the USA that Korea is doing it’s part to punish and isolate Iran for attempting to make Nuclear weapons, Korea has declared it is willing to cut crude oil  imports from Iran by 20%.  That sounds like a lot, but in reality it’s a pittance. A token gesture meant to appease, for it surely won’t hurt the Iranians to lose that mush business.  How much are we talking about then?  Korea’s total imports now of Iranian oil is only 10% of it’s total usage. So, to cut just 20% of that means that Korea will buy replace 2% of all oil they currently buy and buy that 2% somewhere else. If, that is, the US Government agrees to Korea’s cuts, grants a waiver and let’s them avoid penalties. Ho hum.
  • Electronics discount chain Hi-Mart is under the microscope with Korean authorities for some executive shenanigans. Look for Hi-Mart to change names, strategy or possible close due to possible “internal corruption.”   Local discount stores like Lotte and HomePlus do not appear interested in taking over Hi Mart, which is in the midst of selling off the company.
  • And finally, if you’re one of those dads who now must deal with children every Saturday because of the school schedule change, the Dong-A Ilbo has the most ridiculous op-ed ever on how to entertain said children. Among the gems the Dong tosses out:

    If a man can explain the difference between a beaver and otter at the Seoul Zoo, he can be a perfect dad.

    and this one:

    Watching an animated film is also a good idea for daughters, who can be emotionally sensitive.

    Good thing they told me. But I wish I had known all these things before my own kids were grown. I could have been the perfect dad.

Hyoso Enzyme Jjimjil Bang 효소찜질방

By , February 7, 2012 12:39 pm


Depending on your digs and your penchant for long underwear, you might find it impossible to shake off that freezing cold feeling all winter, especially since this has apparently been the coldest winter in Ulsan in the past 15 years. 

If you’re finding that with the colder weather, that you just can’t stay warm, a visit to an Enzyme Jjimjil bang 효소찜질방 is the perfect remedy. Located in many places around the city, Hyoso 효소 is the new spa trend. It’s a tub, filled with traditionally prepared, Korean medicinal enzymes. It looks like a mud bath but it feels more like spongy sawdust.

 

 

Luckily I found a half price coupon on an internet coupon site, so if you have Korean friends who would be interested in going with you, it would be worth it to search for Ulsan Hyoso 울산효소 on a site like Coupang 쿠팡. A regular one-time visit is usually 35,000 won, but thanks to internet coupons you might be able to find a discount of half price. If you really like the treatment, it’s possible to buy a package of ten visits for a discount. Since 효소 is a popular new trend, with different locations quickly saturating neighborhoods, competing spas sometimes have lower package prices.

 

 

Both men and women are welcome to visit the spa, which has separate facilities for both sexes.  The location that I visited only had a total of 5 tubs, 2 for men and 3 for women, so it might be a good idea to make an advanced reservation if you’re planning on going with a group.

 

The first spa treatment may be one that you wish to cut short, or forgo completely. I had seen this contraption before and was willing to try it once.  I can say for sure that once was enough. The only way I can think of to describe it is as a medicinal barbecue of the lady parts. After disrobing, you will be given a plastic sheet with only an opening for your head. You don the plastic tarp and are then seated on a box with a hole in the middle. You are supposed to centre yourself over the hole in the middle, under which is a very warm machine that emits heat and cooks your most sensitive body parts. When you complain that it is too hot, the attendant will turn it down reluctantly, because in her opinion, it’s not really that hot. You sit naked under your tarp, cooking for 15 minutes, and then a timer will go off indicating that it’s time for you to proceed to the enzyme therapy tub. I’m sure it’s possible to skip this barbecue, repeating bulpyeonhaeyo 불편해요, “It’s uncomfortable”. Supposedly it’s good for your derriere, although I didn’t feel a difference.

 

 

You will be given a pair of disposable undies and shower cap before sitting in the enzyme tub.  The attendant will have hollowed out a space for you to lie down in, and you should do so slowly because it’s hot. Once you lie down and have adjusted to the temperature, the attendants will cover your body with more of the enzyme treatment. Let them do the covering because if you move around at all, it gets hotter and hotter. Then you lie still for 15 minutes and soak up the heat and enzyme benefits. The temperature is kept at 35 degrees. If you find it too hot, you are advised to first uncover your arms and then your legs. My feet were absolutely loving it. I don’t think I will have warm feet again until summer, unless I go back for another treatment. The rest of me didn’t mind it either. It was hot, but since I didn’t wiggle around and once I took my arms out, it was definitely bearable and kinda nice. I’m usually always hot and rarely turn the heat up high at home, so I was very surprised to be able to tolerate it so well. My Korean friend felt awful when she got out of the treatment tub. She had to sit down because she felt dizzy. I was very surprised at this because she often goes to jjimjil bangs with her family for fun. The attendant explained that people with lots of stress and/or bad liver conditions can be affected this way. I was worried about myself before we went, so I made sure to drink lots of water and eat fruit beforehand. I don’t think this treatment would be a good idea after a night of drinking because as relaxing as it is, we all know that excessive alcohol consumption leads to dehydration and can be hard on your liver.

 

 

After the 15 minutes in the enzyme treatment, we were sent off to shower. We were told to use warm water and to scrub the remaining enzyme mud/흑/soil/stuff into our skin to exfoliate before washing it off completely. Soap, shampoo, conditioner and towels were provided.

 

 

Once showered and dried, you will be provided with a shorts and t-shirt set and led to a room for a facial treatment mask. The room was warm and relaxing and after lying down on the stone floor, I was given a heavy, warm stone-filled cushion to place on my abdomen. According to traditional Korean medicine, keeping the abdomen warm is good for digestion. However, since it is apparently impossible to reap the benefit of anything unless you do it at full tilt, my comfortably warm cushion was soon replaced by a painfully hot one. Ouch. Naturally, my complaints were met with surprise. By that point I was well relaxed to the point of being antsy and looking forward to getting dressed and leaving.

I was happy to try the 효소 Hyoso enzyme treatment once, but unfortunately for my poor cold feet, they will have to make do with extra socks for the remainder of the winter.  Hyoso Jjimjil Bang are located all over the city, you should be able to find one in just about any neighborhood if you look for the sign, written in Korean. 

Is this your first real winter?

By , November 21, 2011 10:51 pm


Every winter, as I loudly proclaim how much I hate the cold, people inevitably say, “But you’re Canadian!” as though that somehow makes me naturally invulnerable to sub-zero temperatures. While the nature part is not necessarily true, there are some things I learned that helped me deal with growing up in a country that can see below freezing temperatures for 6 months of the year. Seeing as a large number of new teachers in Ulsan are about to weather their first real winter (I’m looking at you, Southern Hemisphere peeps), I thought I’d pass along some of this knowledge to keep those of you unused to cold from becoming hermits for the next few months.

Snow day in Ulsan, Winter 2011

Dressing for the Cold:

One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself comfortable is to learn to dress properly. The key to this is layering. You need three basic layers: a wicking layer (more on that to come), an insulating layer and a protective layer.

First and foremost, you should know that cotton is not your friend in cold weather. Winter sports enthusiasts will know, cotton can actually kill you (or lead to toes being cut off). The problem is, it isn’t a “wicking” fabric. See, when cotton gets wet (melted snow, rain, your own sweat), it stays wet, holding the dampness against your skin. Wet and cold are a bad combination, as it can drop your core body temperature, which can lead to hypothermia (in extreme conditions, this can lead to death). What you need to do is choose an under layer that is either silk or a poly-blend. These will wick, or pull, the sweat and moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry – the key to staying warm. This goes for socks, long-johns, and undershirts. You want this layer to fit you, but not be tight against you. If it’s too tight, it can affect your circulation, which will contribute to your feeling cold, but also, the way you stay warm is by heating little pockets of air and keeping them trapped next to your body – if the clothes are skin-tight, you don’t get the benefit of those air pockets.

Enough snow to cancel schools and hogwans across the city (Winter 2011)

The second layer, insulation, is also important. Wool and fleece are good choices here. Wool is an excellent, natural fabric for keeping you warm. It does the whole wicking thing, but it also will keep you warm even if you fall in the ocean. It’s one of the best insulators out there.  Fleece is a pretty good synthetic counterpart. If you’re staying inside, this is as far as you need to go (though you may choose to wear more than one insulating layer).

When you venture outside, you need to add the protective layer. This is to keep out the rain, snow and wind. Just as the level of humidity makes us feel hotter in the summer, the wind can make it feel a lot colder in the winter. This is known as the Wind Chill Factor, and if you’re ever in Canada during winter, you will hear a steady stream of complaint about this weather phenomenon. Check out the Environment Canada website if you want to calculate how much colder the wind makes things.

Down, real or synthetic, makes for a warm jacket with both insulation and an outer protective shell.

Hats, scarves, gloves, mittens and socks should also be woolen or synthetic, never cotton. Mittens keep your hands warmer by keeping your fingers all together where they can share body heat. If you’re participating in snow sports, or are likely to get wet, get mitts or gloves with a nylon shell. Resist the urge to put on multiple layers of socks or gloves. Instead of keeping you warmer, this restricts your circulation, and actually makes you colder. Instead, buy thick, fuzzy  socks or mitts, and a pair of warm boots.

Keeping active:

Ulsan doesn’t see a lot of snow, rain or ice most winters, though last year saw a few snow-days. This generally means that the roads and trails are dry and safe for biking or running. When exercising in the winter, dress to protect yourself from the wind, more than from the cold. You’ll generate plenty of body heat, but because you’ll be sweating, it’s easy to get a bad chill if the wind gets you. Keep your ears covered, too. For whatever reason, they don’t get much blood flow, even when you’re exercising, and are susceptible to frost bite. Always dress in layers so that you can add or subtract to keep your body temperature more or less consistent.

Playing in the record heavy snowfalls in Gangwondo last winter. If you’re dressed for it, this is fun!

There’s also the indoor option. Ulsan has tons of health clubs scattered around the city, as well as some indoor rock climbing gyms.

And while there’s not much snow down here in the south, there is usually a decent snowfall farther north. Korea currently has about 13 ski resorts, most of which are close to Seoul or in Gangwando (the northeastern province that borders North Korea). The best ski hills are in the Taebaek Mountain area, as they get the most natural snowfall each year. Taehwa tours runs buses to High 1 from Ulsan (see  for more details).

Learning to snowboard at High 1 Resort

Hiking is another great way to get out and enjoy the winter. Again, dressing in warm layers is important, but the trails are less crowded than during the peak Autumn colours season. Keep in mind that weather can change suddenly on a mountain, and sunny and warm below doesn’t mean it’s not snowing at the peak.

As tempting as it is to shut yourself up in your cosy apartment, it can be important for your mental health to absorb some vitamin D, so wrap yourself up, and get out there. The colder you get, the better the hot chocolate tastes when you get back inside!

Bundled up and enjoying the sunshine on the slopes.

Saunas:

Public baths are a big part of Korean culture. Families bond over bathing. And while public nudity may be a bit daunting for a Westerner, it’s one of the best ways to warm yourself up in the winter. There’s always the jimjilbang (hot room) option, where you put on shorts and t-shirts and lie around in hot rooms, but soaking in hot tubs or sweating in steam rooms can help you forget winter even exists.  (Read this article on how to use the bath house.)

Ondol Floors:

Traditional Korean heating is one of my favourite things in the history of the world. Nowadays, hot water pipes run under the floors to heat each room (except the bathroom – where you spend a good portion of your time naked and wet. Why would you bother heating the bathroom?). In case you haven’t discovered it yet, the control panel for your hot water also turns on your floor heat. Don’t leave it on for long periods, as it doesn’t really stop heating while it’s on, and you can turn your apartment into a sauna. More than once I’ve forgotten to turn my heat off before work and been unable to walk on my floors when I got home… But when you’re home, ondol is wonderful. It feels great to lie on the warm patches and feel the heat soaking into your skin. Just remember to keep your doors and windows shut when the heat is on, or you’ll run up huge gas bills.

Winter doesn’t have to be a huge drag. Take advantage of the opportunities it offers; skiing or snowboarding, basking in the heat of saunas, and drinking limitless hot chocolate.

Wintery sun, as seen from the KTX

 

Go Karting in Gyeongju

By , October 11, 2011 12:29 am


Looking to do something a bit different this weekend? Round up some friends and try the go-kart track in Gyeongju. Each race costs 12,000 won and lasts for ten minutes. They allow only about ten people on the track at a time, which means there’s plenty of space, and the mix of turns and straight-aways makes for some fun driving. There are even a few double-seater karts so kids can come, too. Keep in mind that places are always busiest on Sundays, so you may have to wait a while for your turn.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

While there are guys monitoring the track who will tell you to corner more slowly, in general you can go full out with these karts. Some of them are better to drive than others, but you’ll have to watch a few races to figure out which ones are the fastest or handle the best. It’s not unusual to watch people spin out or crash into the tire-and-hay-bale barriers.

 

The track apparently also has mini-bikes and racing go-karts, but in order to drive those you need to have full-on racing gear, and a racing license. The fee for this is 100,000 won (as of Oct. 2011).

 

After racing, you can head up the hill to check out Bulguk Temple, which is Korea’s Historic and Scenic Site No. 1. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with Seokguram Grotto at the top of the mountain. Bulguksa is home to the Dabotap pagoda, which is featured on the 10 won coin.

Bulguksa

 

If you get hungry, grab a meal at one of the many restaurants between Bulguksa and the go-kart track. There are also plenty of little souvenir shops in this area.

 

The train from Taehwagang Station to Bulguksa Station is only 2,500 won, but it’s a bit of a hike from there. Try telling a taxi “Gyeongju Kart Baelli” (경주 캍 밸리).

 

By car/motorcycle/scooter: Take highway 7 north towards Gyeongju. Take the first exit towards Bulguksa. There’s a long, straight stretch without much on it. You’ll see the signs and the kart track on your left hand side, before you hit the cluster of restaurants and shops below the Temple complex. Turn left at the intersection with the SK gas station, and then turn almost immediately left again for the go-kart parking.

Festival Filled Weekend Ahead!

By , October 6, 2011 10:40 pm


Music

  • This weekend is the Ulsan International Music Festival, taking place at the Ulsan Culture Arts Center in Daldong. Marty already wrote an article about it here: http://ulsanonline.com/nightlife/?p=390

Cultural

  • The Jinju Lantern Festival is also taking place this weekend. Commemorating the 70,000 Korean soldiers who held Jinju Fortress against impossible odds during the two Japanese invasions of the Imjin War (1592-1598), the city fills its river with silk lanterns. During the invasions, the Korean army floated lanterns in the river to prevent the Japanese from surprise night attacks. Today the lanterns are huge and colourful, and depict fantastic creatures, warriors, and scenes of traditional life. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_2_1.jsp?cid=697197

Jinju Lantern Festival

Maskdance at Hahoe Traditional Village, near Andong

 

This is a great site to find out what festivals are taking place all around Korea (and there are a LOT of them!) http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_2_2.jsp

Coming to Korea? Getting Aquainted

By , August 17, 2011 4:51 pm


(Updated August 2013)

It’s that time of year again. Every weekend there’s another leaving party, and soon there will be a new crop of fresh English teachers, engineers, and students ready to explore all that Korea has to offer. Some who arrive will be eager to experience the inherent contradictions that make this country such an interesting and challenging place to live. Others will balk at the differences from home, choosing either to make a midnight run, or bitterly complain for the rest of their year abroad.

We all complain from time to time, but here are some tips from someone (me!) that’s lived here a while now (8 years!) that will hopefully help you minimize the negative experiences and make the most of your time here, whether you stay for a few months, or a few years.

The most important thing to remember is that for the duration of our time here, we are members of Korean society. This is sometimes forgotten, and some people treat their time here as an extended vacation, with little regard for the permanent residents. Because Korea has a history of being a hermit kingdom, and until recently was a poor country, it is only within the last 20 years that there has been much interaction with foreigners. (This is why people will often seem surprised to see you, or openly point at you and exclaim, “Waygookeen! {foreigner!}”).

Many of the restrictions we face, from tighter rules for work visas, to difficulty getting cell phone plans, are directly linked to previous foreign workers behaving badly. Why should a cell phone company trust you when their last non-Korean customers ran up huge phone bills, and then left the country without paying?

The impressions you leave here as a foreigner are lasting ones. Consider yourself an ambassador of your country, and of Western culture in general; if you are polite and respectful of Koreans,  their culture and property, you will leave a favourable opinion of foreigners behind. Act like a hooligan, and we all bear the brunt of the repercussions.

On a lighter note, one of the best ways to not just survive here, but to thrive, is to make friends. This may sound basic and simple, but I don’t mean just people you can go out drinking with. It’s important to find people who do things that you enjoy doing, be that spending a weekend shopping in Busan, playing Ultimate Frisbee, biking, photography, or whatever it is that floats your boat. Look for groups on Facebook (compiled in a handy article), or put a posting on Ulsan Online Facebook group, if needs be.

It’s easy at first to just hang out with coworkers, or the first people you meet at a bar, but just like at home, it’s important to have good friends as well as acquaintances. Ulsan has always been known for having a vibrant, active foreign community. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have the outlets available to foreigners in Seoul or Busan, but it’s always meant that there are groups of people getting together to do things. If the thing you want to do isn’t on offer, consider creating the event. There are probably others interested in joining in. The foreign bars are good places to start asking around, so check out Cima, JJ’s, Sticky Fingers and Royal Anchor.

If you want to immerse yourself more in Korean culture, join a Korean club. This is the way most of my fluent friends learned to speak Korean so well, and they have become part of the family, whether in a martial arts group, a cycling club or a rock-climbing gym. Everyone I know who has attempted this has always had a fantastic time and made great friends. Just be prepared for a lot of Makkoli (a rice alcohol) at the end of the activity. There’s also the Language Exchange Table group, which gets together in a social atmosphere, for Koreans to practice their English, and non-Koreans to practice their Korean.

Life in Korea gets easier for expats every year. When I first arrived it was pretty much impossible to find Western food outside of the main city centres, very few Koreans spoke any English (including my coworkers and bosses), coffee shops were all frilly and pink and only served the pre-mixed packet stuff, and the Taehwa river was polluted, with undeveloped land on either side.

Now, there are coffee shops on every corner (between the SK Telecom shops), there are numerous non-Korean restaurants, bakeries that have a basic understanding of non-sneaky-bean-filled breads, and the Taehwa has become a sparkling ribbon of parkland through the heart of the city. There are also plenty of Western groceries to be found in the bigger department store grocery sections, a Costco, and places like the Bakery Supply shop and Foreigner Town to find basic ingredients for non-Korean meals. And chocolate! There’s real chocolate here now, not just stuff that tastes like melted brown crayons mixed with sand!

If you arrive in Korea with an open mind, knowing you are literally on the other side of the planet from home, and that things here are going to be different from what you’re used to, you’ll be more able to handle the challenges that are inherent to living in a foreign country.

For practical information on things to bring when you come, check out previous articles on Ulsan Online, back issues of the Ulsan Pear (available on Ulsan Online under the City Information section ), and Go East Recruiting‘s info page. For information on where to buy things that are difficult to find, the “Where to Find…” database is useful. And if you find something yourself, you can plug it in for others to easily find, too.

Another thing that will make your life here easier is to learn to read Hangul (written Korean). It’s surprisingly easy to learn, as it’s phonetically based, unlike Chinese, in which you have to memorize everything. Each letter in Hangul makes a sound, and they are put together to form syllables and words. For example, makes a sound similar to “g” or a soft “k”, sounds like “ee” and sounds like “m”. Put them together, and you have , or “kim”.

The easiest way to practice is to write out the Hangul alphabet (or print out the chart below) with the equivalent English sounds, and then go to McDonalds to read the menu. It’s easy to puzzle out the phonetics when you know what the word is supposed to sound like. For example, 함버거 is ham baw gaw (hamburger).

Knowing how to read, even if you don’t know what all the words mean, will be endlessly helpful. You’ll feel more confident getting around, and it will even help you be a better teacher, if that’s why you’re here. By knowing how Korean and English sounds don’t match up, you can address your kids’ pronunciation difficulties more easily.

Korean is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn (only Chinese and Japanese are harder), but if you put in a little effort, you can learn enough to get by. These days, many Koreans speak a little English, at least in the bigger cities, but as with traveling anywhere, making an effort to speak their language will help people be more receptive to assisting you.

 

Reading Hangul – a beginner’s guide:

Consonant sounds

- a soft “b/p” sound like a cross between “bubble” and “puppy”

ㅃ – “P” pronounced strongly

ㅈ – “j” as in “jump”

ㅉ – “tch” as in “watch”

- “d” as in “delicious”

ㄸ – “D” pronounced strongly

ㄱ – a hard“g” or soft “k” as in “gum”

ㄲ – a hard “K” sound

ㅅ – “s” as in “sand”, sometimes “sh” (when next to )

ㅆ – “ss” as in “hiss”

- “m” as in “mom”

- “n” as in “no”

- “ng” as in “song”, unless before a vowel (see below). Then it’s silent.

ㄹ – “l/r” – almost impossible to pronounce properly in English. It has more of an “r” or “l” sound depending on where it is in the word, and is the cause of the students’ confusion with “l” and “r” sounds.

ㅎ – “h” like in “hat”

ㅋ – “K” as in “Kite”

ㅌ – “t” as in “top”

ㅊ – “ch” as in “church”

ㅍ – “p” as in “pop”

 

Vowel sounds

- “aw” as in “awful” (anglicized as eo, like Mugeodong)

- “yaw” as in “yawn” (anglicized as yeo)

- “ah” as in “apple” (anglicized as a)

- “yah” as in “yah, I like pie!) (anglicized as ya)

- “ay” as in “day” (anglicized as ae)

ㅒ – “yay” as in “yay!” (anglicized as yae)

- “eh” as in “I know, eh?” (anglicized as e)

- “yeh” as in “yet” (anglicized as ye)

- between the “ee” and short “i” sound (anglicized as i)

ㅗ – “oh” as in “oh my goodness” (anglicized as o)

ㅛ – “yoh” as in “yo, dawg, wassup!” (anglicized as yo)

ㅜ – “oo” as in a long “u” sound – “fruit” “tune” (anglicized as u)

ㅠ – “yoo” as in “you” (anglicized as yu)

ㅡ – “euh”, more like the short “u” sound, like “under” (anglicized as eu)

When you combine vowels, you get the “w” sound:

ㅘ – “wa” as in “water”

ㅙ – “wae” as in “way”

ㅚ – “we” as in “we”

ㅝ – “wah” as in “wander”

ㅞ – “weh” as in “wet”

ㅟ – “ wi” as in “will”

ㅢ – “ooih” as in “wit” *

Some of the sounds are so similar, that it’s difficult for non-native speakers to hear the difference.

So, can you read this?

울산 언라인

(hint, it’s the website you’re on)