Discovery Sunday: Greenie-green in my Backyard

After my first week in Concrete-Land, aka Korea, I mentioned that I needed some nature, stat.  Come to find out?  Easy to do in Ulsan.

I am able to walk to Mt. Munsu from my front door, which is pretty dagnab nice.  It's a definite hike once you get all up in its face - steep at a lot of points.  I also probably should have made it more clear to my group that I enjoy mini-explorations during hikes.  I kept sneaking off down hidden trails to take a look at things and then would have to run up the steep-as-hell hill to catch the marathon hikers.  My lungs hated me and I missed out on a lot of views and secret spots that I would have explored otherwise.  But here's the beauty:  it's so accessible that I can go back and explore at an explorer's pace any time I want.  And I will.

I also made a discovery today just outside my window.  First, allow me to introduce my window:

It is super bright in my apartment at all times.  Unbearably bright.  I'm a big fan of natural light and will soak it up until I'm essentially sitting in a cave before I'll turn on a light, so it's hard for me to admit that I can't handle this.  But.  My eyes scream at me every morning at 5am.  I think the fogged window screen adds an absurd amount of super glow.  Or something.  My solution to dim the super glow resulted in the above picture.  It's still bright at 5am, but the happy paper helps.

Outside the now happy paper'ed window are these:

Where do they go???

The mystery has nagged me since Day 1.  Today I found out:

At the top is what is now known as Kate's Zen Pad.  I can see myself using this a lot: for lunch, with my laptop, with a book, with my ipod.  This = incredible discovery.

And there's my apartment building from the tippy top.  I thought that this was it, a perfectly placed Zen Pad behind my apartment for my convenience.  Until I noticed more steps going down the other side.  Whaaaat??  Don't mind if I do:

What could be at the bottom?

A rock'ish garden with strategically placed work out equipment, of course! 

Even more steps led me to...

...An adorable bench-laden trail!

Then I took a wrong turn and landed here and got mad at myself.

But I promptly righted that wrong and found this garden and loved myself again.
Then, I thought I was home and taking a picture of my cute street.

But, turns out hills go both ways, I was on the wrong side, and this is my cute street.

In any case, Discovery Sunday = success.

Also, HAPPY HAPPY Father's Day to the one and only Old Man Pops.  Me and M'bro are basically spectacular because of you.  Miss you so, so muchly on this side of the pond, OMP.


Gym and eyeballs.

My apartment is right next to a gym.  This is obviously a great thing, minus the crazy monthly fee.  I figure it's really the only thing I'm paying for in Korea besides traveling, so I'm sucking it up for the sake of fitness.

Things I have learned about the gym:

1) There is a personal trainer who wears the tightest biker shorts I've ever seen.
1A)  This personal trainer has a reputation for loving foreign women.
1AA)  This personal trainer stares at me.

2)  This gym provides neon pink gym shirts and shorts for female customers to wear.
2A)  I opt to wear my own non-neon pink gym garb.
2AA)  Everyone stares because of this.

So, already I'm in an awkward position here.  No matter what, someone's eyeballs on me, usually in the least discreet manner possible.

First thing every day, I head straight for the treadmill.  I have yet to actually see any Ulsan'ian running on the treadmill on their own accord; they are always walking.  Until I arrive.  I hop on, warm up, and start my run.  Within 3 minutes, the whole row next to me begins to run as well.  Just a daily dose of 'Follow the Blondie,' I guess.  I always wonder, Should I applaud?  But then they quickly slow down and return to their walking.  And stare at me.  I hear that running isn't this culture's 'thing' so it is apparently sort of mind blowing and necessary to watch.  When this happens, I just turn up my music and look at the river outside the window and ignore everyone.

Doing exactly this made for an awkward moment yesterday.

I was jamming so hard at the end of mile 1 and I stupidly closed my eyes to feel the music when I was suddenly jolted off the treadmill.  There was total chaos and confusion in my head as I came out of my music coma.  I yelled.  Loudly...a big fat HO SHIA (LeBeouf?  I don't know)Complete with the 'I don't want to die' arm flail and teeter-totter wobble.  I'd skipped my foot on the side of the belt, throwing myself off balance.  BUT I DID NOT FALL OFF.

Victoriously and a little panicked, I went back to my running, fairly aware of how absurd I just looked.  That kind of 'almost fall' dance usually gets a laugh, so I looked around for that knowing smile, or the wink and nod.  Some kind of acknowledgement.  Everyone just stared at me, as usual, with no additional reaction.  I almost just died and nothing.  Total zombies.  So I got all twerpy, doing the nervous did you all just see that? so hilarious, right? laugh that happens to me when I don't know what else to do.

Take 2:  Today when I walked in, there was a big yellow sign in Korean.  I can't read Korean yet.  So, like a typical foreigner, I ignored it, hopped over it, and be-bopped upstairs to jump on a treadmill.  Not a soul in sight, I could work out eyeball free.  What a day this would be!

Five minutes into my run it occurred to me that the lights were off.  I pulled off my headphones and realized there was also no rockin' K-Pop music blaring.  Whatup, gym.

I turned around and nearly fell off the treadmill again.  Standing RIGHT behind me, seriously 1 foot away, staring, was a cleaning lady.  I don't know how long she was standing there or why was she just watching me run.  Something tells me I probably could have gotten my whole run in had I not turned around, while she watched the entire time.  She just wagged her finger at me and said "closed."

That's what the yellow sign was.

Apparently they close on the third Wednesday of every month to clean everything out.  Totally weird to close for a whole day just to clean, right?  I thought so too, until I learned that the whole appeal and point of this particular gym is their Spa and Sauna.  It is supposedly super fancy and luxurious and everyone is naked and leaves their nakedness all over everything.  Which is why they say the third Thursday of each month is the best day to go, after ol' Squeaky Clean Wednesday.

I have to admit, I am intrigued.  It sounds nice and when in Rome and all....maybe I'll try it out in a few weeks after I brace myself for more staring:  not only would I be a naked foreigner, which is clearly enough of a reason to stare, but I also have a tattoo, and I hear those garner even more attention.  I also currently look like I'm wearing a perma-bikini thanks to the remnants from my recent Mexican sunburn.  I would probably stare at me for that, too.

Gym stares and eyeballs, check.  Naked Sauna and Spa stares and eyeballs...maybe. Stay tuned.


Japan has bikes, I teach funny kids, Seoul saves dogs, new friends, and an upcoming vacation

First week in Korea = torpedo Kate.  I've been debating on whether to write one giant and chaotic post or to split my weeks adventures into several specific posts.  Laziness wins, so here goes one beast of an update:

I went to Fukuoka, Japan last week to get my visa on what's called a visa run.  It literally started out with a run.  My boss got the times for my ferry mixed up and we ran our faces off through the terminals.  What did I learn from this?  1) I hate running with a backpack and 2) my boss is incredibly fast and agile.  He didn't drop a ounce of his coffee during his sprints.

Fukuoka is super nice and I actually questioned whether I picked the wrong country.  So clean and friendly.  And they love bikes.  I've been talking about getting a bike while I'm here, but I keep hearing that Ulsan is not so bike friendly.  Fukouoka made me jealous and I'm pretty sure my current stance is: to hell with the nay-sayers! I'm bikin' it.

Fukuokan bike envy

After Japan, I came back to Ulsan and taught for three days.  I like it a lot here at Omni Learning Center.  I have really hit the jackpot with a rockin' boss.  The kids are also dang great and I'm particularly drawn to the older classes.  They have such advanced English language skills and it's fun to joke around with them.  I have a favorite class:

This past weekend I went to Seoul.  It was Memorial Day weekend here, so I took advantage to go and meet with some people at CARE (Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth).  I'd link their site, but it's in Korean.  Have I mentioned that while I'm here I'll be working as the South Korea National Liaison for the great Animal Rescue Corps?   Well, while I'm here I'll be working as the South Korea National Liaison for the great Animal Rescue Corps.  So, I've been emailing and talking on the phone with the people at CARE from the moment I arrived in Korea and needed to meet with them immediately.  They run an incredible organization here and I'm hoping ARC can partner up and do some good things with dog farming and puppy mills.  I think that with these two powers combined a real change can be made.

One of the members, Kenneth Lee, arranges protests in Insadong every Sunday to raise awareness and petition dog farming.  He has an incredible site, www.stopeatingdogs.com.  It should be enlightening for anyone who is unaware of the hell on earth that is the life for dogs here.  I dare anyone to watch the videos and sit back and just accept it.  I had lunch with the CARE members on Sunday and then headed over to the protest.  I was lucky enough to be able to help out for a few hours:

Believe it or not, people actually stop and argue, like this woman in the blue hat:

Stay tuned for many, many updates in this department.

While in Seoul, I was pretty insanely lucky to connect and crash with new friends.  The incredible Jason Mehl and Craig MackIntosh played super hosts and gave me the best introduction to Korea in the history of introductions to Korea.  A weekend with these two involves a lot of art all up in your face/climbing and bouldering chatter that sounds confusing yet awesome/foam dust/Korean lingo/giant City Hall enemas/fat kids with mullets/futile alphabet lessons/delicious vegetarian quests/accidental palace circling/canals and face plants/i be die/radiation allergies and so much more.  Click on their names, check out their sites, buy their stuff.  They melted my brain with their creativity.  This picture explains everything and nothing about them:

We also saw these things in Seoul together:


 faceplant on video =  sweet victory for Jason

a random and fantastic soundtrack

My boss and his wife went to Seoul this weekend as well, so we explored Itaewon and Myung Dong before heading back to Ulsan together last night:

I will survive very happily if I never have to visit either of these two places again.  I am loving Korea, but the cities and 'hot spots' like Itaewon and Myung Dong are all the same:  crowded, pushy, concrete, and smelly.  I seriously need some nature, ASAP, so I'm hiking Mt. Munsu this weekend.

What else is glorious?  We get a summer vacation off the first week in August.  Whatatata! Time to plan my first trip.  I'm thinking Jeju Island.  I need to find some people to join me in order to cut costs on accommodations, etc.  Or maybe it will turn out that I know someone with a tent and that's all we'd need...

Is anyone still reading? The end.