Thursday, October 29, 2009

Update and the 'H1NI Flu Panic'

It's been ages since I last posted anytrhing. My apologies: When our travel-adventure becomes day-to-day school and not much happnes I feel like there's not much to post about. But of course there always is. And my day-to-day life may have become a bit mundane to me but every now and again I have a wake-up call and realise that this is not quite your average 25-year-old South African's experience!

For example, for the last 4 days I have been teaching with a face mask on. Seems almost normal by now but pretty much unheard of where I come from! This is because the number of swine flu cases in Korea has risen sharply over the last few days and the government is trying to prevent a pandemic. The media is full of speculation about how the pandemic could affect the economy, education etc. At the moment, doctors have recomended that high-risk schools be closed down.

Teachers are to send students home who have a fever over 37.8 degrees (yes, all schools have digital thermometers, of course! and we all have teh machines stuck into our ears once a day) and everyone has been told to wear masks and use alcohol-based hand cleansers and wash their hands with soap and water freuqnetly to protect themselevs from infection. There does seem to be something bordering mass-panic going on. Today the number of deaths dues to swine flu in Korea stands at 33 and it has risen rapidly since Monday. This includes a few low risk, young and healthy people which is probably why there is particular worry about it at the moment. I guess because it is so densely populated, Korea is at a higher risk of H1N1 becoming a pandemic than many other countries. It is also getting colder and people's immune systems are lower.

I think the fact that there have been a lot of exams, and still quite a few coming up, students have been studying very hard and not sleeping enough and not eating well, means that their immune systems are down. A lot of my classes at the high school have almost half the students absent.

So trying to teach English with a mask on is pretty tough: pronouncing words clearly becomes obsolete...I do often pull it down to say a word that they don't understand. It also gets kinda hot in here, my own breath warms my face up alot. And the peanut butter-and-toast-breakfast is only a breath away! After eating an apple I ended up with a thin, slightly sticky layer over my face as I breathed the sweet juices in and out of my mouth!

Anyway, I think it's good that Korea is being so careful about swine flu: some measures do seem a bit extreme but when one lives so on top of one another it's probably better to be safe than sorry.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Out and about in Mungyeong

We've just returned from a lovely day-and-a-bit in nearby Mungyeong. It's only about 40 minutes from here by bus and what a lovely place! It seems like Mungyeong City is really pushing tourism - local Korean tourism that is - as there are a lot of things to see and do around the area, even though the town itself is not much to write home about.

The main attraction is a mountain pass that has three large, historical gateways along it. The mountain pass goes up Joryeong Mountain, and was the main connection between the historically significant city of Gyeongju in the South-East and Seoul in the North-west. Most tourists take the direct path up the pass, which is a pretty easy walk and takes three-hours to the top - via three beuatiful, ancient (in varying degrees) gates.

Giovanni, a friend of ours who lives near Mungyeong, suggested we take an alternative route up, via a pretty waterfall and a temple, and which would probably also have less people-traffic and be prettier. Jules and I were keen and so we headed up there yesterday morning, in the calm, confident hands of dear Giovanni. Not knowing that he had NO clue how long or steep the alternative path was, and hadn't brought a map along either...needless to say the alternative route to the easy 3 hour walk took us about 7 hours (of course a lots of steep up and down involved)...and that was only to the 2nd of the three gates as we ran out of daylight and leg-power to reach the 3rd. But we walked through such beautiful forests, with far-reaching and wide views from the tops of peaks and we got to experience the beginning of the leaves changing colours, so gorgeous! Since it was Chuseok, most people were spending the weekend with their families and the paths were lovely and quiet. We almost had the mountains to ourselves - a treat in Korea!

We had hoped to at least reach at the third gate by late lunchtime for the famous Korean-pancakes served there (a kind of pancake with green onion and sometiems potato, kimchi and squid added to it =
파전 = pajeon) and so we had only packed some pears, apples and water for the walk. Oh, how dare I forget, Giovanni had also packed Makgeoli and Bamboo wine!! In true korean hiking-style we had our first pitstop after about 30 minutes of walking - around 10:30am and Giovanni insisted we crack the Makgeoli and bamboo wine. So we were well-oiled for those steep inclines and declines! (Although Julian's empty stomach didn't appreciate the early=morning treat that much and he had to take it easy on the pink brew!)

Now, what is Makgeoli (막걸리)? Good question! Makgeoli is a traditional Korean drink made from fermented rice and sometimes has some other stuff added to it: herbs, fruit juice, ginseng, whatever the local product is. In Mungyeong, the Makgeoli is flavoured with Omija juice, a kind of red grape/berry grown there - nice and sweet! So, Julian and I have not taken much to Makgeoli in the past, which tastes very 'wholesome' as alcohol goes, but also kind of sour and just not that easy-drinking. (A bit like the Zulu 'Amahewu'). But when you add becomes so much more palatable! And so it was that on Makgeoli, water and fruit we survived from 10am until 6pm when we finally reached not the 3rd but the 2nd gate and could have our long-awaited pancakes!

That was the start of the next stage of our adventure - we were rather weary and very hungry by this time, and as we sat down to order pajeon and...well, of course, some more makgeoli, we were invited to join a group of Koreans who were just doing the same. It was soon apparent that they had also been digging into the Makgeoli, but since they had taken the 'easy' path up, it had already had much more effect on them - -they were very merry and very friendly! We had a lovely time with them, laughing and drinking and communicating according to an equation something like this: one-quarter Korean + one-quarter English + one-quarter makgeoli = we got along!

They then insisted we went down the hill with them to the town of Mungyeong Saejae and joined them them for real dinner (As if we hadn't just flattened three huge Korean pancakes...) of bibimbap - a mixed rice, egg and veggie dish which is very popular hiking food here. We were a little wary as this could only be a front for the next stage of drinking...which would mean lots of soju...but we were given very little choice in the matter! And so, we weaved our way down the hill, one of them fetched a car and then we had dinner. By this stage I became aware of the fact that the ladies in the party were not having as much of a ripper of an evening as the gents, and when I hinted that Jules and I would like to head over to the 'Pension' we had booked for the night, because we loooved each other (lots of gestures) and wante to stay in the beautiful "honeymoon pension, so romantic"... the ladies agreed and we called it a night. It was great fun- - and a lovely way to celebrate Chuseok as foreigners: with a bunch of very friendly and generous Koreans!

Enjoy the pics, I will write about the lovely 'pension' (guesthouse) we stayed at in the next post.

You can see the rest of the pics of our on the Picasa Web Album here:
'Mungyeong Hiking Weekend'

Beautiful Forests...I'm glad this section of the path had so many young saplings along which one could hold onto, it was steep and Giovanni even went for a bit of a roll-down at one point...

One of the peaks we reached along the path. At this stage we were still oblivious to the fact that we were still sooo far from our destination...

Giovanni showing off with his Bamboo wine on the EDGE of a cliff with a beautiful view of the valley below.

The Korean Crew! The little white bowls were what we drank the Makgeoli out of!