Sunday, 18 October 2009

EPIK In-Service Training, TEMF Hotel and Our Weekend in Gyeongju City

It was a reunion for all of the EPIK teachers and for many, it was the perfect opportunity to share lesson plans, lesson ideas, their newfound experiences and the numerous comments (both praising and negative) that they all had about their Korean co-teachers.

It was saddening to hear that some native English teachers couldn’t bear to be at the schools chosen for them, and it was even further disheartening hearing that some had such a horrible relationship with their Korean co-teachers. I guess Ken and I lucked-out, big-time. Our co-teachers were humble angels, and we both couldn’t have had a better teaching situation thrown at us.

What was fantastic about this conference was that the representatives from the Gyeongbuk Province of Education (Gyeongbuk POE) were able to hear the comments and complaints from both the native English teachers and Korean co-teachers (separately, of course). Possible solutions were also drawn up from all of the teachers alike.


The accommodations that were provided for all of us 300 English and Korean teachers were absolutely spectacular. We were set up in a beautiful hotel (dedicated towards hosting educational conferences) and it was mind-blowing. Gyeongju is a beautiful city, and Ken and I had a breathtaking view from our room: the famous man-made, crystal-clear lake, the city’s towering roller coaster theme park, and the outstanding expo structures that were all around the city. I felt privileged to be treated to one night at such a well-established hotel. The two-day conference was well worth our time (not just because of the buffet lunch and dinner), and I hope that they’ll host another one in the near future.


We were in Gyeongju. It was one of the most recommended cities to visit in Korea. With its unforgettable history in the Silla Dynasty and its beautiful garden city-like landscape, we couldn’t just leave after only one night. We had to stay for the weekend.

Thank-goodness Corey and Illana (once again, the two bestest teachers in the world!) decided to stay in Gyeongju as well, which led to double-biking around the man-made lake, paddle-boating in a lily-white swan, a bus tour of all of the major sightseeing areas in Gyeongju, and finally a chilly outdoor concert in the black inky night, filled with tons of traditional dance and music (no tempting, mouth-watering, tantalizing octopus this time!).

On our first real day in Gyeongju, Corey, Illana, Ken, and I decided to go double-seated biking around the man-made lake (the ATVs caught the boys’ attention, but the double-seated bikes won out in the end…yeah girl power!). The first place we went to was right around the corner from the hotel, and as pushy as the lady was, we decided not to rent bikes from her. Plus, Ken must’ve been put off by the baseball-sized, black dinosaur poop that he his shoe smushed. All of us didn’t know that it was mutated dog feces until the ajumma yelled, “Eee…dohng!” (“Eww…poo!) in Korean, of course.

We walked closer and closer to the lake, until we reached a tourist area filled with small, desolate family restaurants, convenience stores, and a number of bike- and ATV-rental shops. An ajushee pulled us in with his bright and cheery smile, and “I give you good price!” He actually gave us a good price. 6,000 won per double-seated bicycle for an hour-and-a-half. Ken picked out a red-hot double-bike, and Corey’s was slick in silver and chrome-red. They tested their bikes out for their ladies (it almost looked like they were trying to escape from us…) and we were off. Aside from the bruises I got from my knees constantly hitting my handlebars (Ken was peddling so fast…which meant I was peddling fast too…), the scenic ride was quite energizing and enjoyable (especially when I would rest my feet up on the metal bar…it made for some smoother video shots…well, not really). We probably weren’t supposed to go off-trail, but the walking paths just didn’t’ seem to line up.

Just when we were at the highest point around the top of the mountain, and the furthest point we could get from the bike-rental, Ken and I looked back to see Corey and Ilana disappearing into the distance. They were stalled right on the empty crimson-brown sidewalk.

Turns out the rusty chain handling their back wheel snapped, making the bike almost unable to be ridden…almost. With Ilana comfortably sitting on the back seat, Corey powerfully scootered the bike relatively quickly, all the way back to the bike-rental shop, with Ken and I following closely behind.


After returning our one-and-a-half bikes, we watched the radiant scarlet sunset from the side of the lake, with a three-manned band, playing traditional “Tibetan” music. It was beautiful to drown in the music while the sun set, but unfortunately, I don’t think popular 80’s American hits (with bells and chimes played during the songs) exactly captured Tibet’s culture.

Next, we decided upon the swan paddleboat. With the temperature dipping below my comfort level (my fingers were already purple), we set off on the water, the boys with their frosty Hite beer, and Illana and I shivering frostily inside our lifejackets. The sounds of only the cool water gently sweeping passed our boat and the light paddling underneath it, were enough to keep us appreciative and loving of this beautiful area.

Soon, we were getting pretty hungry. We headed back in the direction of the hotel in search of some savoury food. One strip in particular caught our eyes (really, it was closest, most colourful strip of vibrant signs we had encountered in on our walk). We decided to check it out, and took favour upon two fried chicken restaurants. The boys were insistent on having fried chicken with the sauces on the side, so we went back and forth, between the two restaurants, trying to explain that we wanted the sauce ‘on the side or…separate from the chicken’. After some confused words passed back and forth between me and the managers, our final decision came out to the little chicken restaurant on the ground floor, with only the two managers (an ajumma and her husband) dining on an elevated part of the floor beside us, eating supper and watching their television (the restaurant was almost full with all six of us).

Korean Fried Chicken is amazing. Did you know that? It is so light and perfectly crispy, that Ken and I go crazy for it every time it is ordered.

With a full day over and all four of us, exhausted from actively making something of our day, we retired in our ondol room, deeply asleep on the heated floor.


The next day, we waited anxiously for the bus, which would guide us on our tour of Gyeongju City. Unfortunately, the entire tour was in Korean and the tour guide only spoke Korean (fortunately, the intro CDs provided some info on the sights in English).  Looking to me, she dubbed me the Korean-to-English translator-for-the-day, which was less-than-fantastic, because she kept on using ridiculous terms for which I didn’t know the meaning.

We visited many, many sites, and for a few of them: the Gyeongju Ancient Royal Tombs, the Seokguram Grotto, and the Bulguksa Temple, the most famous in the city, we wouldn’t have been able to see in one single day. The tour was definitely worth it. Before departing from the tour, we made sure to buy Gyeonju’s famous bread (there were these bbang ‘bread’ stores all over Gyeongju), which tasted like sweet cinnamon pancakes sandwiching sugared red-bean paste on the inside. The reason for the bread was that in Gyeongju’s history, there wasn’t very much in terms of meat and produce to make many other foods, so this bread was made in such quantity, and is today, the prized traditional product of Gyeongju.

Our last major event of the night was right in the tourist area beside the lake (where we rented our double-seated bikes). We had heard from some of the other English teachers that there was a show with many traditional Korean performances. We were lucky enough to see traditional dances with large feathery fans, dances with standing drums (reminding me of my lovely mother), music with traditional drums and cymbals, and the shrill sounds of the music sung by young Korean ladies. They were all wearing silky rainbow-coloured hanboks (traditional Korean wear), and we were glad to have caught the show.

Our final supper in Gyeongju was right above the stage, in a restaurant teeming with people who had probably watched the show. The warm, bustling atmosphere was something completely different compared to our supper the night before. It took us about an hour to order, because the waitress/manager kept changing her mind as to what the cooks could make for us that evening, and to what spiciness us Waegooks (Westerners) could possibly handle. Our options were limited and kept on changing, so we made a spur of the moment group decision and ordered one of the spiciest dishes on the menu – yookgaejang (spicy beef stew with hot peppers). Corey asked his to be so spicy that he’d cry, so the ajumma laughed as she carried away our order.

The soups came out nice and steamy, and the meal was quite enjoyable (the ladies were shocked to see Corey enjoying his stew that was so-spicy-that-he-could-cry). Fully satisfied, we walked out into the icy night and back to the TEMP hotel.


The next day, we said our goodbyes (a special thanks to Mr. Lim, who tried to figure out how Ken and I could get back to Andeok). We ended up taking a bus to Pohang (which was in the northeast direction) and then taking a bus to Andeok (which was back in the northwest direction). We thought it would amount to a shorter time than making two or three more stops. A little over an hour later, however, we received a text message from Corey and Ilana (who took a direct bus northward to Andong) that they had stopped briefly in Andeok…sheesh. Thanks Mr. Lim for trying. It must’ve been difficult… Yes, Andeok is just that small.

What a lovely weekend in Gyeongju, the garden city. Ken and I (and the other EPIK teachers) were treated to luxury at the TEMF Hotel, and we couldn’t have made our trip more fulfilling (I got to see Ken step in dinosaur poop…that was the cherry on top of our marvelous weekend).

- Jess


  1. christine(jess' mom)12 November 2009 at 19:48

    you had lots of fun... good... a very long writing... take a break, Jessica!

  2. Beautifully written...Thanks Jess. It's always nice to recapture the highlights of your trip in words...then you can always go back in time and re-live the moments by reading it again.