Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shanghai, China

Shanghai has a population of around twenty million people, making it the largest city in China. Before going to Shanghai I had no idea what to expect cultural wise, but I was extremely pleased with my experience there. My friend Ryan, whom is interning at China Economic Review, has really become immersed in the Chinese city lifestyle and was the perfect host/tour guide. His Chinese, Mandarin, is at a very impressive level and was very useful in getting around the city. One of the major initial differences between Seoul and Shanghai is that China is still a developing country, but things are rapidly changing in Shanghai as there are numerous construction projects almost every where you look. Also there is a much more apparent wealth gap in Shanghai, but this made the traveling experience even more interesting. Cost of living in Shanghai can be about as low cost or expensive as you can imagine, really it can go both extremes. Your basic necessities all cost well under a dollar, for example: a bottle of water cost about 14 US cents, or one Chinese yuan, and a plate of dumplings can cost around 73 cents, or 5 yuan. While on the other hand Shanghai has many of the Western franchises and luxuries which can seem very expensive when compared to the low domestic cost of living, but many of the people in Shanghai seem to embrace the international culture. While Ryan and I were sitting down some people would discreetly, and non-discreetly, take a picture with us. Ryan informed me that these people were most likely from the country where seeing a foreigner is much more rare. But being a foreigner in Shanghai also is also an indicator that you probably have money, and there are a few common scams that people in Shanghai try and pull on the unsuspecting tourist, other than that though Shanghai is supposed to be a rather safe city. When some sketchy looking person would come up trying to talk to us in English, Ryan would say a seemingly magical phrase with a small hand gesture sending the other person quietly and quickly walking away. This 'magical phrase' was just "I'm not interested" in Mandarin, which was a quick indicator that he was no tourist.

While in China I was able to experience a wide diversity of food. My two favorites being a dumpling that had a small soupy substance in it (fourth picture) and a giant breakfast egg roll with pickled ginger (second picture). Although not all food was pleasurable for me, I had a minor allergic reaction, that being my lip slightly swelling, to traditional Uighur food, a Chinese ethnic minority. The second to last picture on the bottom is the view from Ryan's apartment, and shows how quickly Shanghai is developing, small apartment buildings were in the desolate lot just a few days prior to my arrival.

I was happy I was able to experience a bit of China before leaving Korea, it helps put my Korean experience into greater context. Both China and Korea have many shared cultural norms, but both are also extremely distinguishable from each other. Although just being able to get out and see another city with an old friend really was great, and Shanghai was a really cool place to do that.

On a similar note, Shanghai's subway system is great and growing fast. While not quite as nice as Seoul's, it's still probably one of the nicer ones in the world and the subway system is going to have a number of additional lines added very shortly. So one is able to get around the city very easily, and taxis in Shanghai are another experience all together, which are another affordable option of getting around, as a typical fare would just be a few dollars or less.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seoul in Summer, Schools Out

Watering flower pots around the city on a hot summer day.

World Cup Stadium, Seoul

Botanical Gardens

So I went on a trip with all of the teachers to the botanical gardens somewhere north of Seoul. Don't really know where I was, but it took almost two hours to get there. It was nice to be able to get out of the city and relax while exploring the gardens. The bottom five pictures are from that trip.

Regular classes were finished last week and it was interesting and sometimes sad to say goodbye to all of the students. I will miss teaching all of the students. Each class gave a unique expression when finding out that I would not be returning next semester. The third graders were the most upset with my leaving, with supposedly one student broke into tears after the co-teacher and I left, other classes would attempt to not let me leave the class by trying to hold me back. Many of the sixth graders were very nonchalant yet polite about my leaving. It's nice to know that the students seemed to like English class.

I will start teaching an English summer camp later this week, and I'll be visiting Shanghai, China for a quick visit this weekend. Also tomorrow I'll be able to see one of the longest eclipses in modern history, only visible in Asia. Look for photos of the eclipse later this week. Here is an animation of what the eclipse will look like from Seoul. It's not a 100% coverage of the Sun, but close. http://www.eclipse.org.uk/eclipse/0412009/Seoul_South_Korea_2009Jul21_anim.gif

It's monsoon season currently, and it rains extremely hard when it rains.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer in the City and the Foreigner District

It's starting to get much hotter and humid here in Seoul, but the humidity is not that much different than Atlanta, so I'm quite used to this weather. The hot summer is a much more welcome experience than the frigid cold of the winter.

This school year is coming to an end and I'm staying busy by having to plan a summer English camp. Most of the lesson plans I created for the last camp will have to be reworked since many of the students will be returning to the program.

While I'm continuing to enjoy my stay here in the ROK, I'm starting to miss my home a bit. Which is why I've started eating more western food again. A couple times a week I'll meet some friends up for some western style food, possibly in the foreigner district. The foreigner district has a bad reputation for being a dirty place compared to the rest of Seoul, but in the day time it's quite nice and there are extensive affordable western style restaurants to choose from. One small place, called Smokey's Saloon, is a regional favorite. The restaurant can maybe only fit about 15 customers and a long line can almost always be seen outside its doors, sometimes as many as 25 people. Koreans and foreigners alike enjoy the wide selection of interesting burgers that they have to offer, many of the burgers at Smokeys rival those of any steak house that I've ever been to in America.