Saturday, April 26, 2003

We've been relishing in hot weather all week long. Temperatures have been up in the high 20s everyday with clear blue skies overhead. If this is any indication of what summer will be like, then it will be very good indeed. Everyone keeps warning us however - that the heat becomes oppressive. But, in the meantime, I've been enjoying just sitting up on my roof and reading the newspaper.

With the nice weather, I've been spending lots of time outdoors - hashing, playing ultimate frisbee or soccer. I've just joined Ulsan's expat soccer team (the Won Shot Wanderers FC) and last weekend we had a round-robin tournament on the pitches down by the Taewha River. We played 5-aside games for about 4 hours until we were all exhausted. Next week, we have a match against Real Busan (Busan's expat team) and we have a couple matches lined up against groups of Korean soldiers and police officers.

Unfortunately, with the heat also comes the bugs. With the blooming flowers and budding trees, we're starting to see the first mosquitos - an unwelcome sight. Amy and I have spent much of the week bug-proofing all of our windows with mosquito netting in an attempt to try and cut down on the number of little buggers that try to sneak inside.

As spring has arrived and summer approaches, we are starting to give thought to our upcoming vacations. But this year, any travel is complicated by this whole SARS thing. I'm not going to be traveling to Hong Kong anytime soon, nor to China. In fact, I'm not sure I want to come back to Canada! I think I'm safer in Korea (where there haven't been any confirmed cases yet, knock on wood)!

We've got a couple long weekends coming up in the next couple of months so we're trying to organize all of the logistics for travel. Our original plan to go and visit some of the islands (Jeju-do, Ullung-do) that surround the pennisula has fallen through, due primarily to SARS. Not because of any outbreak, rather since May and June are traditionally the months most Koreans go on their honeymoons, most have opted to stay local instead of travelling to previously popular destinations like Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. It's made it virtually impossible to make reservations to get to any of the destinations in Korea, meanwhile prices on flights outside of the country within Asia have been dropping steadily.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Well the last few weekends have been busy and I must continue to apologize for the lack of updates, but it seems difficult to sit down and compose my thoughts. Especially now the weather has gotten remarkably warmer and the sun is shining.

Last weekend, I had the dubious pleasure of judging a speaking contest for many Korean kids. If I hear about “Mike’s Messy Bedroom” one more time, I’m gonna do some serious damage. All kidding aside, it was an interesting experience… there were about 65 kids all aged from 8 to 12 – and each had to memorize a short passage and were judged on factors like pronunciation, fluency and intonation. The top four students would then move onto a regional competition and then to national championships. The kids were all very nervous and overall I found it rather difficult to rate their performances… I was also hoping for some bribes beforehand too from the parents, but no such luck.

That evening a big group of us travelled up the coast from Ulsan to the Jujeon shore to go and enjoy a large crab dinner. We travelled through several small fishing villages, past fleets of small fishing crafts bobbing silently in the bays, till we found a restaurant that we decided served crab (the flashing neon crab on the roof did help). Outside were great tanks of small, medium and large sized crabs along with live squid, octopus and countless numbers of different fish. We managed to convey that it was crab we were after – and we were able to pick out the unlucky victims that would be our meal. We were served heaping plates of fresh oysters and mussels as appetizers before the main course. Then came the real feast as trays of freshly steamed crabs were placed on our table. We all ate heartily and as a group of eight foreigners we were a source of great amusement to the children that were eating in the restaurant.

The next day, John and I took the inaugural ride of our newly formed scooter gang – the Hell’s Ajummas (old married women). We motored up the coast again and stopped along the way to explore the beaches as well as to check out some old Korean War-era gun emplacements that we found built into the rocks. We also took great pleasure in buzzing the Korean army checkpoints along the road, honking and waving at the confused soldiers. It was a beautiful sunny day and we rode for more than 3 hours.

In the past week, spring has arrived in Korea with a vengeance. This weekend Amy, Leigh, Megan and I went up to Gyeongju to go and see the cherry blossoms that are in full bloom now. We stopped first at the Royal Tumuli park, where several royal figures are buried in these massive mounds – much like smaller scale earthen pyramids. You can actually go inside one of the tombs and see a recreation of what was inside (the original artefacts are stored in the National Museum). From there, we rented mountain bikes and rode about 10km from downtown Gyeongju to the Bomun lake resort, which is a beautiful man-made lake ringed with cherry trees. This weekend was also the annual Cherry Blossom marathon, which saw 15,000 runners descend on the city. It was complete madness, the traffic was abysmal and stretched for miles, and there were literally thousands of people streaming around the lake. Most were on bikes and few actually knew how to ride them. Nevertheless, we had an excellent day and enjoyed the beautiful views and sunny day.

Saturday evening, we made our way up to Munsu Soccer stadium in Ulsan which is a massive facility built to host the recent World Cup. The Korean National squad was squaring off against Costa Rica in an international friendly to gear up for the upcoming Olympics in Athens. We had pretty decent seats (free too, compliments of Hyundai through our Exxon friends) but arrived late into the first half. It was an excellent game and we all had a good time. The Korean fans (the “Red Devils”) put on an excellent show, as there was a lot a chanting, singing and dancing. The atmosphere was all very exciting; especially when Korea went on to thrash the Costa Rican side 4-1!

Sunday saw Will, John and I meet up with some other foreigners for a game of ultimate Frisbee. We had an excellent turnout, with about 20 people showing up. We played well past dusk as we watched a brilliant red sunset. This was our third such outing and we’re all now getting pretty good at the game. Supposedly there is a team in Pusan and one is Seoul, so we’ll have to organize some intercity matches at some point.

That’s all for now. Hope all’s well with everyone.