Saturday, 30 May 2009

Jeonju Nature Ecological Museum

On the banks of the stream that runs through Jeonju is the Museum, that states the fact that humankind has caused so much trouble in the natural environment. There are exhibits of live fish that live in the stream and photos of those that no longer exist.

The top photo shows the river activity in 1970 when people used the waters of the stream to wash their clothes and their bodies, and how hundreds of families would be there at any time doing what they had to do.

Even in 1999 the people still congregated at the river (the black and white photo to the right) and where they sat and had meals.

Today the river is cleaner, and the locals don't seem to spend much time close to the river. Fishing is not allowed, and thought they enjoy the beauty of the river and walk the many paths along the river, it certainly is not like "the olden days."

The Museum is worth visiting - there is a little English there - to help you understand the displays.

Korean Culture

I could write heaps about the way Koreans live their lives, and about their culture. There are a few things that annoy me. Taking one's shoes off all the time is an irritation. Some places I go I know I have to take my shoes off and wear little slip-ons (which are provided), so as I go up in the lift I undo my sneakers. Some small stores it is the same - put your shoes on the line of other shoes and go inside in just your socks. (No holes please!)

In any traditional Korean restaurants they have an area for people who prefer to sit at the table with shoes on, but mostly Koreans will take their shoes off, climb onto a platform and sit on a flat cushion with their legs under the small table to eat. I've done it. I don't enjoy it. For a start I have a knee that doesn't like being bent very much. It is happy for me to walk long distances, climb stairs way to the top of a mountain, but fold it up and it is not happy. It pains me.

My long legs struggle to find a comfy place under the table. My bum does not like sitting on the floor even with the little useless cushion.

If my friends take me to a restaurant where one has to take shoes off and sit on the floor, I choose to complain. I want a seat.

One issue for me is that I think that leaving my shoes at the door is asking for trouble. What a great souvenir they would be! Fortunately Koreans are very honest and stealing is not common, so there is an even chance my big shoes will be still there in the racks, but knowing I can't buy shoes for big feet here in Korea, I'm pretty protective about my footwear.

Along the river near the Hanok village is a restaurant and they have a long platform with a shelter, and everyone dining there, must take their shoes off, and sit on the platform. A great view of the river to be sure, though inches from passing traffic on the other side does not impress, but still, as popular as it is, it will not be on my "Must Eat There" list.

One thing that does fascinate me is the bowing. Age = wisdom, respect here. So the younger people bow to me quite a bit. Not the children I note. I don't know if this is something in their culture that is being bypassed by the younger generation, but I note that it is more common with adults.

But I like it. I like it that every time, yes every time you enter a store of any size, there is someone there to meet and greet you with a phrase of welcome and a respectful bow. Even in the little street shops, the bakery. Everywhere. Nice touch.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Former President Laid to Rest

Former South Korean President who jumped to his death last Saturday was laid to rest today after an emotial service in Seoul. Clearly it is an emotional time for South Koreans with some one million people turning up at the funeral, and many more following his cortege from his home town to Seoul.

The emotion has been likened to the emotion at the time of the funeral of Princess Dianna, Princess of Wales.

It is an extraordinary service. And the city of Jeonju is strangely quiet at the moment. I think people are glued to their television screens watching the service.

A cement mixer?

Along the river there were a lot of workers creating a new path along the side of the river. These type of walkways are along both sides of the rivers around these parts. I had not seen them under construction until yesterday.

It sounded like a cement mixer, but nothing like any that I had seen in Australia. There were piles of bags (looked like cement), and tins of some other ingredient that was used to make the paths. Down on the path there were workers spreading the stuff around and smoothing it out with a heated roller.

The paths look fabulous and the workmanship appears to be very good. I have spent a lot of time walking along these riverside paths.

Down by the river

Platforms for eating. Bamboo "cushions" are provided, people take their shoes off and sit and the staff bring out their food on a small table, and a BBQ is on top with gas to heat/cook the food.

I had been up on the mountain overlooking this area of the river, but until yesterday I had never walked there. It is on the far end of the Hanok Village, and easy to walk to, though I could have made it easier if I had gone directly through the village, but I had looked on the map and thought the easier way was along the highway.

In any case, I found it without difficulty. It was very hot - and probably not the best time to go for a long walk, but it was picture perfect weather.

There are restaurants and several Jeonju Cultural places, but I did not see much inside. I think they were performance centres. Very attractive place overlooking the river. Along the edge of the river there were a number of restaurants and they had a large outdoor covered area for eating. Many folk were sitting there eating on the platforms.

It was quite a peaceful place, and I walked under the bridge tothe Jeonju Nature Ecological Museum.

This was very interesting as it showed the damage humans have done to the ecology. There are two floors - the lower one tells the story of the river/stream, and showed photos of the river in the past which was full of fish and other native species. People used to sit on the edge of the river, and use the water to help cook their meals on fires which they lit. Hundreds of people would be there. There would have been no running water in their little houses. In due course though the river was polluted and with bridge building and roadways the ecology was damaged.

However, it is thought that the river is almost back to normal - there are some fish called shiries that only live in pristine waters, and they are alive and well in the river. I did notice as I walked along the river that the water was crystal clear.

In the upper level of the museum there were many examples of alternative power - wind power, sun energy and so forth. It is a place where students visit to study the environment.

The Hanok Village - another visit

I visited the Hanok Village yesterday - it is always changing with new buildings opening, new shops and businesses and of course right now the spring flowers were in bloom.

This photo is in the main street of the Hanok Village near the Tourist Information Centre. There were several paper sculptures doted amongst the flowers.

I had caught a taxi there (an experience as the driver could not understand my instructions), but he did take me there. I had wanted to walk down to the river where there were some other museums.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Garlic Anyone?

Two truckloads of garlic were stopped at the roadhouse where we stopped for coffee. I've never seen so much garlic in one place. The farmers obviously don't box them before they go to market - and the two vehicles were parked side by side.

Garlic anyone?

The English Village

I must say that when I heard I was going to an "English Village" I had conjured up thoughts of a village in the UK - but I should have guessed. When folk think about "English" in Korea, they tend to think "American English".

This little village was full of small buildings - each the size of a classroom and each with its own name and designation. For example there was a jewelry shop, where the students are taught, in English, to make simple jewelry. There is the hospital where the English teachers are dressed as doctors and nurses and the student learn about hospitals, and body parts. "Hands, knees, etc." songs are sung.

Another shop is the "Book Shop" where they sit and hear stories read from the books. There is a bicycle shop where you can hire bicycles, an Icecream shop, an Airport complete with customs. There's a fire station where the children get to dress as firemen and so forth.

There are several dormitories - with bunk beds packed in. They can cater for 300 students at a time.

The dining room is great, and there are green fields to run around in, and good clean air(at least cleaner than the cities) for the children to run around in.

It was a good day out - but very tiring.

Baby Rice

I had always wondered about how the rice plants get started. Around this time of year the rice is being planted out. As one drives past (always a passenger!) one can see the little tractors planting the seedlings, but until yesterday I had never seen the seedlings.

I was invited to see an "English Village" which is used as a holiday camp for school children - normally primary schools. My two Korean hosts own a Hagwon or private school, and were looking to see if they could hold a school camp there. It was quite interesting and I'll post some photos of it later.

But while they were talking in Korean, I wandered off to see the rice fields and it was there that I saw rows and rows of rice seedlings.

I had never been up close and personal with a new rice crop before, and so found this fascinating. We had travelled about 80 kms from Jeonju - through delightful countryside with rice paddies on both sides of the road, as well as farms with many other crops. Hundreds and hundreds of plastic domed "hot houses" with a wide variety of crops that I could not identify. I did see some with orchids which is interesting.

Out in the fields the worders are in full swing. Many many Korean women work in the fields and in the rice paddies they wear boots often, though some look like they might just have small shoes on. I didn't get up that close.

Along the way there were may cattle pens too. I always feel sorry for the cattle. All they do is sit and eat. There is no where to go - as they are confined to small pens. There is so little land around Korea for farming, so that sadly is the life of these animals.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

More photos from my walk

Wild irises in flower near the river.

The changes

This was taken yesterday (May 25th)

Same area, a few weeks ago.

Yesterday I went for a long walk - probably five or six kms - from my apartment to the river and along the river. I took a lot of photos - some are here. The first time I walked along the river it was just at the end of winter, there was little grass around the river. A bit sad looking really.

Quite a difference now. There are great tall grasses on either side of the river and there seems to be much more river life. I saw ducks, tortioses, heron and other birds and the river seemed to be full of life. For a long time I stood on a bridge and watched huge fish in the water below facing upstream waiting for food in the current.

The grass was very tall, even hiding the stone bridges that traverse the river here and there. My walk was much longer as I found it difficult to find a path or steps up to the roadway and I had to keep going andin the end braved the stone bridge to get to the other side and an easy exit back to the road.

It was quite hot in the sun and I'd gone without my hat and a drink, so the long walk was rather exhausting, but I managed to get back to the road, and walked home via a supermarket where I stocked up on more food and drink.

One of the things that I hear frequently are planes overhead. Some I am sure are commercial planes, but others I think are military. I've never seen them. Even though yesterday the sky was blue, and every so slightly cloudy and I was in the open area of the river bank, I could not see any plane in the sky. Of course they may well be very high up and the sound is exaggerated as Jeonju is surrounded by mountains, and the sound seems to be amplified.

Still, with the strange goings on here with the death of the former president, and the North Koreans playing games with nuclear tests, it is a bit strange.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Strange traffic

Not the red car, but the other one - completely blocking the laneway.

Well, it is better than in Shaoxing, but the traffic here in Jeonju can be a little hard to fathom. It appears taxis and the little motor bikes that deliver food from almost every restaurant do not need to stop at stop lights, or bother with traffic. They clearly have their own rules.

Cars rule too. Pedestrians give way to cars - even if you have the green man telling you that it is safe for pedestrians to cross the road, and some cars have stopped, don't think that you the pedestrian always have the right of way. Traffic can come from any direction. Just look out. Look left, look right, look behind, look ahead, and walk with caution!

The main roads have footpaths, which resemble obstacle courses. The pavements aren't necessarily level and sometimes the pavement is built around a rock, so the chances of tripping are very high. Look up, look ahead, look down as you walk. Beware. Some of the undulating roadway is almost invisible - watch out at all times.

Yesterday I was waiting for my pick-up and a car pulled up at the corner. (See above). Four young men got out, and left the car - one door was still open, while they went into the shop right near where they parked their car. As I knew my friends would come that way to collect me for class, I watched and wondered what was going to happen. Cars passed by in the other direction, but clearly no one wanted to drive down the little laneway while they were there. Minutes later, armed with soft drink and food, the four boys got back into their car and drove on down past me.

It's funny - almost everyone who has driven me complains about the other drivers, but I see that they too do not stick to the road rules. Not that I have felt unsafe, as for the most part they do not drive fast. The police, if they bothered, would have a field day with drivers using their mobile phones while driving. One must wear seat belts - but only if you see a policeman. And children often go unrestrained in the front seat of a vehicle.

It's different.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sound of Music

Someone sent me the link to this Youtube footage. I've played it over and over. I love it.

I hope you enjoy it too.

The Death of the former President

Yesterday it was my big Saturday in class. Seven hours of teaching with a one hour break in the middle. It was at that lunch break that we sat in a Chinese restaurant eating Korean food, that we saw on the television the news of the suspected suicide of the former President.

It appears that earlier that morning former President of South Korea Roh Moo-Hyun, had jumped to his death from near his home on the east coast of South Korea. My Korean companions were upset about this event as, despite the fact that this man and his family were embroiled in a scandal about bribery and corruption, he was a much loved former President.

Later I felt that things were rather solemn, sort of eerie in a way.

I did some research on suicide to find that South Korea has a very high suicide rate these days. There has always been pressure on folks to succeed and students at high school and university are under great pressure to do well. As well, with the Internet, they are able to read about suicde and I even saw a message from a Korean student willing to pay for a drug to help end his life, as he could not cope.

"Suicide is the fourth cause of death in South Korea. A government report released at the end of 2006 stated that South Korea's suicide rate was the highest among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2005. The report highlighted that the high suicide rate is a reflection of changing and conflicting gender roles, economic hardship and domestic violence. In 2005, 26.1 out of every 100,000 South Koreans committed suicide, a dramatic increase from 11.8 people in 1995."

(Source - Accessed May 243th, 2009)

There is certainly a lot of pressure on folk to succeed, and they donot like "losing face", so the former president's suicide is not surprising when you see how much pressure he was under with the investigations about his family and the money.

It was an eerie feeling last night. I hada feeling that people were sitting at home considerin the ramefications of the news. Even though there was suspicion of corruption with his family he was much loved by the people of Korea. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few days.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Around my house

There are many hagwons (private schools) around Jeonju, which is known as "education city". There are two within "spitting" distance of my apartment. The yellow bus is one of a fleet that transports the students to and from school each day, to the school closest to my door.

The buses are extra ordinary. The competition between the hagwons is immense, so you see some pretty smart buses. The yellow line means that there can be no parking there, and the police do come around and issue fines for offenders.

The roses are on the fences along from the hagwon and the elementary school, which is opposite the hagwon. The roses are spectacular. Only a few weeks ago when I arrived they were brown sticks, that have burst into leaf and then the flowers came.

These wonderful leaves are part of a display covering a wall near the big golf driving range. I thought they made a lovely picture.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Flowers for the Teacher

I love fresh flowers, and while I had the opportunity to admire wonderful flowers in the florists around Jeonju but I'd never bought any.

On the night out with the students, two of them bought me flowers as it was "Teachers Day" the following day.

Howwonderful they are. Still blooming and sitting in water in the bamboo cup that I receive at the Bamboo Tea Restaurant a few weeks before.

Monday, 18 May 2009


At last I've found a name for these interesting fungi - that seem to appear in many dishes here. I've just cooked and eaten some here in my "house" along with a tomato and some bacon just moments ago. Yum!

They are called Japanese Mushrooms, Enoki or Entokitake, though probably have a few other names as well. According to Wikepedia they grow in the wild on trees, but the ones in the supermarket are cultivated and look quite different to their wild ancestors.

Purchased in clumps, they break easily and cook quickly - can be added to vegetable dishes or soups. The Internet says they are available in Australia - so I will have to look for them when I get back.

You can find more information here.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Dining at the Bar and then Karaoke

I've no idea what the Bar was called, but it too was not far from "my house" and we all arrived and took our place in a small room. One of our group went to get the beer. He returned with a basket full of bottles. I had some sort of wine cooler which was OK, and then some chocolate drink that had more vodka than chocolate. Hopefully they were all low alcohol, as I was not tipsy in any way. Didn't feel a thing. Then the food arrived. It is always non stop eating with the Koreans. They ordered peanuts and they were wonderful. Coated in a crispy sesame seed crust. Yum. After an hour or so at the Bar, it was time to leave and go to the Karaoke Bar. So the party continued.

The group sang a lot of Korean songs, and every now and then found an Abba song for me, so I managed to "sing" and dance along with the music.
It was not long after midnight that we found our way out onto the pavement again, and I was ready to head "home". One of the English Teachers who was with us, who lives near me, walked me back to my apartment. I was glad to get to sleep.

A night on the Makgeolli

As it turns out I had had a drink of Makgeolli the day I went to Namwon. The lady in the restaurant gave me some Makgeolli to drink. Traditional rice wine. A specialty of Namwon I was told. But it seems that everyone has their local Makgeolli.

On Thursday a group of students decided to meet at the local Makgeolli restaurant. It was not far from "my house" as they call it - house is probably not a word I'd use to describe my small room, but it was not far away.

It is a popular restuarant and was packed and very noisy. Mostly men were there as the Korean men meet and dine with their male friends on a regular basis. The ladies will be at home with the children!

We had 15 students in the end, but at first there were just 6, and the bowls for the Makgeolli were put in front of us, and some plates with snacks. Kimchi, boiled quail eggs, and various picked vegetables. The Makgeolli came to the table in a battered kettle, and someone would pour it into the little bowls to drink from.

I chose (wisely) to not fill up my bowl, and sipped quietly. Every time someone joined the group, the bowls were topped up, we'd stand up and "clink" bowls before shouting cheers and for some taking a big swig of the milky creamy liquid. It is made of steamed rice, and is quite pleasant, but I'm unlikely to become addicted to it!

By the time we had finished one or two of the group were a bit tipsy - but we went on to another place, where we continued with the party.

Back to O's House.

When someone suggested that we go to O's House, there was no deliberation. "Yes" came quickly and off we were to this wonderful place overlooking the lake.

Again we experienced the fusion food of this modern restaurant, this time in a private room overlooking the lake, and again we visited the huge apartment above the restaurant. This time there were no other people there, so we were able to look in doors and poke around a little more and I felt more comfortable taking photos.

I'd love to live there. I'd love to model my dream home on O's House.

Untidy Neighbour

This is a land of contrasts, and a country where space is at a premium, but this unusual (for me) sight in Jeonju always has me smiling as I walk past. The whole corner block is filled with junk. There is a bouse of sorts on it, but I doubt anyone can get into it now, and the rubbish seems to remain the same. It has become a sort of dump.

Who knows if anything is being done about it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Looking over Jeonju

Yesterday, along with some American visitors to Jeonju I was taken to a Buddhist temple in the mountains overlooking the city. The temple has been there since about 865 AD. We could hear a monk inside chanting but did not see him. There are several temple buildings high on the hill overlooking the city.

Behind the temple are steps leading high up, where I took this photograph. Others in our group climbed higher over rocks to get a better view - but I was happy with my view! The air was a bit smokey/dusty - there has been no rain for several weeks.