December 7

Tomorrow I leave - wow. Don't all these place names give you a shiver of recognition: Hanoi, Da Nang, Halong Bay, Hai Phong, the Mekong Delta, Hue, Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, and so many more. And then the amazing Angkor Wat, which has a magic sound, and Phnom Penh. For so many years I've not wanted to think about Phnom Penh.

I'm so looking forward to having a new experience of these places and even the most casual chance to greet the folks who live there. From what I've been hearing for ages now, it's gon'na be good!
December 8

This morning I went over to visit with the Vietnamese ladies who run the nail salon around the corner. While getting my feet buffed out for the upcoming adventure, and a perky color for my toes, I practiced the Vietnamese expressions that I have been working on for several weeks. For example 'sin loi chee, chee cau hoi, toilette o-dau.' Excuse me, may I ask, where is the toilet?

They laughed their heads off. Then they taught me dirty words. Oh boy!

My plane leaves in about 5 hours, then I've got, what, 82 hours in the air, just me and all my new best friends in fully booked coach tasting each other's breath, hoping to gut it out.

Next to come: young Jonathan Pomerantz in Korea!
December 10

My flight was perfectly uneventful despite the threatened pilot's strike at Korean Air. The bus to Jonathan's town, Suwon, was a cinch to find and a total pleasure to ride. It was huge and high and the firm leather seats were arranged two by one instead of two by two so they were extra wide and such a welcome change from 13 hours on a coach flight.

Jonathan was right there as arranged to meet me. We hopped a taxi to his part of the world and had a great first meal.
On our way to 'walk the wall' we passed through a local neighborhood full of exotica including a medicinal shop selling these babies. They are indeed just what they look like they are. Whooo.
The city wall and fortress in Suwon is a designated Unesco World Heritage site and well worth the three hours we took to casually stroll the entire length.

There were a few of these guys hanging around for a photo-op. Unlike everywhere else I've been lately there was absolutely no sense that you were supposed to give them money.

It was literally Freezing cold and FREEeeezzzing cold when the wind kicked in.
Jonathan said take this picture and you'll have a picture of every temple in Korea.
Kids, the same the world over. Hellooo! Heeelllllooooo! the first brave one calls out. Then if you say Hellooo back the next one gets up the nerve and then the next and before you know it you've got yourself a crowd of giggling kids so full of their success at communicating Hellooo.
Here is text copied from the Hwaseong Fortress brochure:

"Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon City was begun by King Jeongjo, 1776-1800, the 22nd king of the Joseon Dynasty, in honor of his deceased father, Sado Deja.

Sado Seja had been designated as Crown Prince, but became the victim of a court conspiracy and was unjustly condemned by his father... be sealed in a rice chest and left to die.

To appease the soul of his father, King Jeongjo moved Sado Seja's tomb from Mt Baebongsan in the Yangju area to Mt Hwasan in Suwon. He also moved the town at the foot of Mt Hwasan to Mt Paldalsan and started the construction of this magnificent fortress."
A view from the wall.

Notice that cathedral in the distance. Korea is actually a pretty Christian country, most of the rest being Buddhist and unaffiliated, and many churches dominate the skyline. At night red and white neon crosses are very much in evidence.
We enjoyed a friendly long late lunch with Jonathan's friends Phil and Kate.

We had more fun with more friends later in the evening and then we spent the night at a jim-jill-bang.

A jim-jill-bang is a spa-like place where no photos are allowed since most of the time everyone is mostly stark n*k*d.

I'll tell the rest of the story tomorrow, which should be easy enough to do as I'll be moving in there for the rest of my stay in Korea!
December 11

From last night when we hooked up with the gang for dinner - more of the English teaching crowd including Phil and Kate, Baylan who kindly loaned me his plug converter every afternoon, and Garrett who is leaving soon.
...and a few more of them already deep into the Saturday night poker game. They usually play in a neighborhood bar but this night the owner of one of the schools hosted in one of his classrooms. Now that's funny.
It's an adventure every day to find an internet connection. This place is on the fourth floor above a McDonald's. Four is an unlucky number in Korea so the elevator is marked 1-2-3-F-5. It was the most comfortably appointed internet cafe I've ever been in.

So far they all have slightly different ways to bill and different sign-on screens and drive structures which makes getting going a communications triumph.
We took the subway into Seoul to check out a possible DMZ tour for the future and to see a renowned palace. This girl and her brother wanted to Play.
Cell phones RULE.
This building is the tallest in Korea at 63 stories. They call it Sixty-Three.
Here is our guide for the Changdeokgung Temple complex tour and a descriptive paragraph. Then I'll tell about the jim-jill-bang!

"Changdeokgung was constructed in 1405 as a secondary palace of the Joseon Dynasty. After the Japanese invasion in 1592 it was rebuilt and served as the main palace for about 270 years. Especially the Rear, or Secert, Garden was loved by many kings because of its natural beauty. As the most well preserved palace of the Joseon Period and its perfect harmony with nature, it was registered with the Unesco World Cultural Heritage in 1997.
Jonathan lookin' cool despite that we were Freezing.

I'm at the jim-jill-bang now having enjoyed another perfect night and will try and give you a flavor of these places even though I don't have pictures.

A jim-jill-bang is basically a series of baths. From this basic concept gets added on a major spa experience with floors of amusements including this internet cafe where I am sitting now, nintendo rooms, tricked out saunas of every decoration, soaking and bubble baths, cafes, a gym, massage chairs, movies, a hair salon, what else... it goes on and on.
But the coolest thing is the sleeping. Giant comfy rooms with mats on the heated floor, nice asian style pillows, some blankets. Not every jim-jill-bang has all these features or even mats and blankets but they all have places to sleep.

The price? SEVEN DOLLARS. It's so dang cool I can hardly stand it.

Why, you ask, don't backpackers just Move In. I asked myself the same question. I am sort of moving in but there is no storage for even a small sized backpack. That's the rub. So I've been leaving my main bag at Jonathan's and when I go into Seoul I'll leave my bag at the train station.
Unlike dorm accommodation in a hostel everyone here is by definition very very clean having just washed and steamed and soaked and no liquor is available so the sleeping rooms are just exactly to my taste with a really nice 'just catching some zzzs' feeling.

Local families are the target audience and they come like they would to a spa/arcade. There are tons of kids, and of course the teenagers are in heaven because as well as the men's and women's sleeping room around mid-night you can bed down right where you stand. Just lay down, and they do!
The spa areas are all uni-sex and n*k*d but the rest of the activities are in common rooms.

You get a nice tee-shirt and pants when you check-in, pink for girls and blue for boys. And early in the morning you'll see plenty of blue and pink draped over each other in chaste embrace.
December 12

Jonathan's school is in the middle building towards the top - you can see the sign in English 'Washington Kids'.

This neighborhood is a seven minute walk from his apartment and has everything you'd need in daily life. There is another area of low-rise shops and restaurants even closer so it's easy to get by without a car.

In the several blocks that look just like this one there are maybe half a dozen other hagwon's like his. A hagwon is an after school academy for extra study and every child attends at least one. Jonathan's school also runs a kindergarten with a focus on English.
For the younger kids each class lasts 30 minutes and the students move from room to room getting a new teacher for each session. I watched their lesson today on rhyming words.
Because of all the hagwons in the area and because there's a big push to get extra help with English there are probably 30 or so young short-timer English teachers like Jonathan right in his neighborhood.

It does remind me a little of ship life in that they all live in close proximity, they are transient, they share an intimate social life, and they seem to genuinely care about each other.
Many more pictures of these children follow. It was all I could do to choose!
In the last few weeks Tim got married to a Korean woman with a couple of kids and their plan is to go back to Canada as soon her paperwork comes through. Tim has been here for about four years and when he leaves Jonathan will be the patriarch among the teachers.

The silver-backed alpha male. He will wear the title and the responsibility well I'm sure.
Me me me me take Myyyy picture.
Play time!
Man at work. Jonathan has decided that teaching English without teaching The Rules is just plain stupid so you can bet his students are getting their phonics Down.
The entrance to the hagwon, shoes off of course.
December 13

I spent the night last night at the home of Jonathan's boss Joyce. This is a photo of a photo on their wall - Joyce and Jason and the three kids. They have real names of course which I will have to learn tomorrow!

They live in an apartment tower near the school with gorgeous big rooms and a panoramic view of the city. What a treat!
Here are the two youngest, now very grown-up from the picture above.
And speaking of Treats. Joyce took us for lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant out of town a bit beside a lovely lake.

This is a collage of the first two courses, if you can believe it...
...and this is the third course. This is lunch. Some of the dishes were familiar and some I got to try for the first time. WOW about says it.
This is the second floor of the restaurant, where we ate with the view overlooking the lake.

Notice the large groups of well dressed women. Joyce says they are ladies of a generation that did not take jobs and so now that the kids are gone they mostly join clubs and go out for lunch.
After lunch I took the subway into Seoul for an outing at the National Museum. It had just relocated in October to a large new site and they were giving free admission until the end of the year.

The displays were mostly historical artifacts and they were organized as a history lesson. There was little text in English but you could rent an audio mp3 that was very informative.

The speaker gave the feeling that primarily the Japanese, and the Chinese too, have invaded and then occupied Korea so many times and so severely that it was like the last time was yesterday, they've just been expelled and they could be back again tomorrow so watch out.
Joyce and Jason suggested this as a good outing for a FREEZING day and they were right.
December 14

We ate a minimum of twice a day, often more, and never twice the same. Here are a few more examples. This is kim chee soup. Unfortunately I took the picture before the dozen side dishes appeared. Tim and Julie got married recently. Poor Julie. She was totally sick the whole time I was there.
...and this was a bbq chicken place where you eat with two forks. Every other meal came with these utensils - a long handled stainless spoon and stainless chopsticks of the same length. I got to liking it!

A partial list of the meals we enjoyed in relative chronological order complements of Jonathan: mandu ramyeon; bi bim bap; sam gyop sal; cham-chi; jug; jim-dak; han jong-shi; kim chee jeong geol.
I spent the last night with Joyce and the gang getting up at dawn to get to the airport for a long almost 6 hour flight to HCMC.

Joyce took me shopping this afternoon. We ate snacks and wondered around. This was my favorite thing. Heated marble beds.

And I'm off at dawn for a travel day to Vietnam!

This chapter featured Jonathan Pomerants, Washington Kids in Korea, Hwaseong Fortress, Changdeokgung Temple. Click here for the Suwan and Seoul in Korea story and photos.
HomeAsia • Korea • '05 Dec: Suwon and Seoul in Korea

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