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Yesterday was my sixth birthday in Korea–wow.  Actually, my 2008 birthday I spent with Julianne in Atlanta, USA (which was quite the experience, lol), so I guess I’ve technically had five birthdays in Korea.

Anyways, I went to work and taught my classes for the day.  To be honest I began the day at work with one wish, and one wish only: that I wouldn’t have to deal with any issues or problems while co-teaching on my birthday.  Unfortunately, this was not the case . . . I’m not going to tell the story of what happened just before 11am but suffice it to say that it involved a complete and utter lack of consideration for myself as a teacher, and completely disregarded an agreement I had made with a co-teacher to do something he asked me to do that didn’t need to be done but that I did so he could save face . . . after sacrificing my own time and energy and doing extra work because of this co-teacher’s bad planning he then came to me Friday morning to ask me to do something else as a result of his own errors in judgment and planning . . . anyways, I said I wouldn’t get into the details so I should shut-up and talk about the more positive stuff that happened on my birthday.

For the first grade classes I planned and designed a final exam game review lesson using a power point Jeopardy template.  I used candy as prizes and the guys loved it.  They especially loved that I’d take back candies when they got a question wrong because to them it was like gambling–a VERY popular past time for many high school boys in Korea.  They guys totally went bonkers over the “Daily Double” squares I had liberally spread all over the Jeopardy board (I think I put something like one in every four squares as a daily double).

I had the guys divided into teams of 5-6, and made sure to break up the clustering of students by levels (friends usually sit together, and they often have very closely matched language learner levels) so that I wouldn’t have just one team dominating the game thereby guaranteeing the majority of the class giving up and disconnecting from the review lesson game.  Another reason I put so many daily doubles into the game board was because it helped level the playing field.  If a team with a slightly lower overall level of language ability got a daily double it could help them catch up in points with other teams that might be doing better getting answers right.

Anyways, it was really fun to see which teams and students would go ‘all in,’ an expression I didn’t know they knew and one that they LOVE to say, and whenever a team would balk at going all in I’d start making chicken sounds (which they thought was quite funny, especially my co-teachers, lol), and try to get them to go all in so I could recoup some of the candy I’d given out . . . one kid, in particular, wanted to go all in for every daily double his team got (about 4 I think), and I told him that he should avoid poker and Las Vegas in the future cause otherwise he’d come back to Korea to find his wife and kids waiting for him with shotguns–at which point I mimed loading a shotgun and made the sound–and again, the guys thought this was very funny.

After my review classes I ran into the co-teacher that put a damper on my birthday, and then it was lunch.  After lunch my day suddenly did a radical turnabout as ‘someone’ knocked on my classroom door, handed me an envelope with a note wishing me a happy birthday AND five bills . . . NICE!!!  It’s always nice when the ‘powers that be’ at your school do something to show they appreciate the work  you do, and are happy that you’re a teacher at their school.

After school I jumped in a taxi and headed to Yongsan to run some errands.  While driving past Gyeongbuk Palace I saw a Korean woman driving a hog–nice!  There are a small number of Koreans who drive around Seoul on Harleys but I have yet to see a female Korean rider . . . very cool.

Later, while stopped for a red light I was looking around trying to amuse myself and saw the “Essential Slim Suit”–something I’ll likely never be able to wear, but which I find to be a mildly amusing piece of Konglish.

Arriving at Yongsan I walked around running my errands, and took a shot of the train yard . . . the day was pretty hazy, hot, and humid.

At this point I decided a snack was in order.  I really like the Korean summer snack stand culture because you can get ‘fruit on a stick’ that’s kept on ice.

After running my errands I went to Itaewon to meet Julianne for dinner.  We decided to go to Sorrento’s and get some pasta.  I ordered their lasagna which is absolutely AWESOME!

Julianne linguine with four kinds of cheese sauce . . . also VERY good.

When we got home Julianne surprised me with my presents and some cupcakes that she picked up at the Lotte department store in central Seoul.  They were pretty good.  Two of them were chocolate, one was mint, and the red one was ‘red velvet’ which apparently tastes . . . well, I don’t know cause I stuck with the chocolate and mint.

You’re probably wondering what my gifts were . . . I got Calvin Klein “Eternity” cologne, a jar of dill pickles (yes, they make an AWESOME present if you’re living in Korea!), and A&W Rootbeer (also an awesome gift if you’ve been living in Korea for a while).

The first couple of years I was in Korea I’d go out for an all-nighter in Hongdae’s clubbing and bar area, or Itaewon, and have drinks and dance and hangout with my friends till 2 or 3 am in the clubs and then hit a nore bang (karaoke room) for a couple hours of singing after which we’d get some food and then call it a night around 5 or 6am . . .

The past couple years, though, I’ve toned things down partly due to the fact that the four most awesome people I had met in Korea and gotten really close to all left Korea at the end of my second year/beginning of the third . . . and well, frankly, I wasn’t able to meet anyone else like them in the years after that (friendship and the constant coming and going of native teachers is something I think I might blog about in the near future).

Anyways, an evening of good food, some drinks, gifts, and spending quality time with my beautiful girlfriend–who needs to go out when what makes you happy can be found in one place.

All in all it was a pretty good last birthday in Korea.  I wonder what my first birthday in China will entail?

As long as Julianne’s with me I know it’ll be good.


Last night Julianne and I headed over to Jogye Temple to watch the evening mini-concert and to see a preview of some of the lotus lantern parade floats that were out on the street.  It was awesome.  I also wanted to do some night shots with my Sigma 120-400mm telephoto lens to see if it’d be a good idea to bring it tonight to the actual parade .  .  . based on the shots I got I think I’m going to use it a lot.  Here’s an example.

The lanterns at the temple looked great.

After the mini-concert, which seemed like a kind of dress rehearsal for the parade, the performers posed with people on the street for pictures.

And then the floats were moved off into their storage locations to wait for Sunday night.

This was one of the nicest floats I saw . . .

One of the coolest, and surreal, things you’ll see is the main streets of downtown Seoul shut down for the parade.

Well, it’s time to get ready to go check out the street festival that goes on from 12 to 6pm or so today . . .

See you there . . .


Last weekend I picked up a Canon EOS 1V film camera in the Chungmuro area of Seoul where there are several used camera equipment shops.  I put my Canon ES-71II 50mm lens on it (because it’s one of only two full frame lenses I have) and Julianne and I headed to Gyeongbok Palace to take some pictures.

It was a very unusual experience to be out taking pictures with a film camera because with digital you get so used to looking at the screen to check after each shot whereas with film you can’t do that.  It definitely forced me to THINK about what settings I was using, frame my subject fully and deliberately, and consider what flash settings I might want to use BEFORE I took the shot.  With digital SLR’s you can just snap away without worrying too much because you can just delete the shot and reset for another no problem . . .

I was pretty nervous to go pick up the film after it had been developed.  Images of overexposed blurry crappy shots kept running through my head, so I was extremely pleased to see the following pictures turn out so well for my first time out with a pro-level film camera.

It was a gorgeous day outside, and the green colors of spring were very powerful.  I’m VERY impressed with the vivid colors that the KODAK Ultramax 400 ISO and Gold 400 ISO film produced.

Julianne had her Nikon D50 with Nikon 600 flash (which she’d just gotten) and was playing with . . . I like this particular shot cause I’ve never taken one like it with the natural light and shadows behind a person with a hallway receding into the distance on F/5.0 . . . I think it turned out pretty well.  I was really worried about how I was using my flash to emphasize Julianne in the shot, but that worked out well too.

Again, I’m amazed at how vivid the colors are from film versus digital.

Here you can see Gyeonghoeru (Royal Banquet Hall)

The moat, trees, and mountains in the background make this one of the most picturesque parts of the palace in my mind.

In this shot I wanted to use my flash to eliminate some of the shadows from the tree above Julianne and yet at the same time not overexpose the picture–looks like it worked cause Julianne looks great here.

If I remember correctly this shot of a ceiling (below) was taken in Gangnyeongjeon (King’s Quarters).  There was no lighting inside, just natural light coming in from outside, so I used my flash on its lowest setting and got this . . .

This is a shot of Geunjeongmun (Gate) and Yeongjegyo (Bridge).

Julianne and I both found the sculptures (totems?) sitting on different parts of the palace grounds interesting . . .

Here you can see Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall)

This is a shot I took earlier at the entrance area of the palace . . . I like the rich hues of the costumes.

Some more sculpture shots .  .  .

Interior shot of the ceiling in Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall).

I put my camera on F/22 because I wanted to see how much detail it would produce–amazing.

I think this is one of my favorite sculptures .  .  .

Another interior shot of a ceiling mosaic–now THIS is what I expect to see when going inside a HISTORICAL building/temple/palace in Korea.  All too often, though, the paint job is fresh.

After finishing walking around the palace Julianne and I headed to the National Folk Museum of Korea which sits directly behind the palace.

During the summer you can see performances of different Korean cultural acts.  We were just in time to see a martial arts performance.  I put my EOS 1V on high speed (10 frames per second), and went through film like there was a mini-Niagara Falls inside my camera.  It was SOOOOOOOOOO FAST!

If I had just been using my Canon 400D that takes 4.5 frames per second I don’t know if I’d have been able to get the shot above, or the ones below, because the guys move so fast.

The streamers of hay flying after the passage of the sword made for some very cool shots.

I like this one in particular because you can see the sword movement is BLURRED!  And I’m using a high speed camera!

A lot of fun to watch and take pictures of .  .  .

A friend of mine who also is into photography said he’s never been to Gyeongbok Palace or National Folk Museum of Korea and he’s been in Korea for 3 years . . . these two places are definitely ones I’d say you ‘must’ visit if you’re in Korea and have the time.

And on that note: FOUR DAYS till the lotus lantern parade.  Click here, 2010 Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade to see what I’m talking about.

Click on this link to find more info about the festival and parade.  Click here for more info and a map of the parade route.

It’s gonna be awesome.


You can also see more pictures and read about the festival and parade in these posts.

Daily pictures of life in Korea #21: Lotus Lantern Festival Parade 2006, Fire Breathing Dragon

2010 Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade for Buddha’s Birthday coming soon — preview of the lanterns at Jogye Temple, Seoul

2009 Buddhist Lotus Lantern Festival — Preview of the lanterns at Jogye Temple, Seoul

2009 Buddhist Lotus Lantern Festival — Cheonggyecheon stream lantern sculptures at night

Yesterday afternoon Julianne and I went for a walk in the Jongno area of Seoul.  We headed down to Cheonggye stream because I wanted to see if I could spot some cranes and take pictures of them with my Sigma 120-400mm lens.  I’ve been trying to get a good shot of these birds for years and now that I have a telephoto lens I think I have a good chance of finally getting some good pictures of them.

When we got to the stream we saw one section had these mist fountain things and there were tons of people taking their picture with the mist in the background.  Unfortunately there were no cranes to be seen anywhere . . . I think I’ll have to make a trip into the more rural areas to get my shot.

After taking a few shots with my Sigma 120-400mm I changed lenses and put on my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens because Julianne and I were heading towards Jogye Temple.  I also put on my Speedlite 580EXII flash.  I’ve been trying to practice takings shots more with the flash in daylight conditions.  I really like how the colors are so vibrant in the pictures I took of paper lanterns sitting in front of the shops leading up to the temple.

Julianne really wants to make a paper lantern at the Lotus lantern street festival this year.  You can also buy them ready made at the shops near the temple.  (Oh yeah, you gotta love the ajumma hiking crew, lol.)

Julianne thought this lantern was very cute . . .

Arriving at the main gate of Jogye Temple we could see that nearly all the lanterns had been hung.

I always try to go to the temple and get my lantern shots with blue sky before the actual festival because the temple grounds are packed with people once the festival begins.

Each year they do a different pattern picture with the lanterns . . .

Here are the guys putting up the last few strings . . .

I love the very old gigantic tree that sits in the courtyard of the temple.

This area right in front of the main temple building, with the giant tree, is absolutely stunning at night.

Further at the back of the temple grounds you can see white lanterns too.

There’s also this cool pagoda just across the courtyard.

And the ginormous awesome tree . . .

The temple itself has some really nice murals and the color patterns are neat too.

I can’t wait for the street festival to begin, and in particular the lantern parade which is on Sunday May 16th.  Click on this link, 2010 Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade, to find out out more info.


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