Teacher Trips are par for the course here in Korea, as are teacher dinners. Some people HATE these events and are always whining about them on waygook.org , trying to find new excuses to avoid attending. LOL. These guys don’t realize that Koreans become waaay more confident in their English skills after a few drinks. It’s the BEST time to talk to other teachers who are usually very shy and reserved. You have to realize that they are curious about you and the country you are from, they’re dying to ask your opinion of Korea and the rest of the world but they’re usually too shy to speak English in front of everyone else, should they make a mistake. Going out with your Korean co-teachers is a great privilege- I can’t stress the importance of attending enough. It’s like mainlining Korean culture.
Yesterday we went on an afternoon trip to Pohang’s Botanical Gardens aka Arboretum. The gardens opened up in 2001 and feature 24 sections separated by theme and season. The iris garden looked a bit rubbish because it’s not quite the right season yet but it’s full of tadpoles! A section near the top is dedicated to the foliage of Ulleungdo island.
There is a pond which features some pretty big carp and a mini replica of Dokdo island in the centre (Dokdo is a disputed island territory between Korea and Japan, who call it “Takeshima island”). Many foreigners find Korea’s Dokdo propaganda excessive but it has very rich fishing grounds so you can see why they are fighting for it (nevermind historical proof of ownership).
My teachers told me about Jangseung, the Korean totem poles we saw in the gardens. Traditionally a male and female wooden totem pole were erected on either side of the road at village boundaries to scare ghosts away and to keep the villagers safe.
I also learnt about Dooly the dinosaur, the “famous” Korean animation series (another statue on the grounds). Gotta say, I’d never heard of it but here it is:
There was also a moon bear statue. One of my teachers explained to me that the bears, Asiatic Black Bears, are used in Chinese traditional medicine. “Medicine for what?” you might ask. According to wikipedia “It is purchased and consumed to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, reduce fever, improve eye-sight, break down gall stones, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce the effects of over-consumption of alcohol, and to ‘clear’ the liver”. Sore throats and hangovers. Awesome. The Korean government recently elevated the bears’status to protected level to ensure their survival however illegal farms still exist and there is a big bile tourist trade in China. Read more about moon bears here and here.
The gardens were pretty but not exactly Kew (wink wink!). HOWEVER, the drive that leads there is probably the best I’ve done in Korea so far. The road winds slowly up the mountain and the views on the way up are incredible! I kept on thinking “This would be awful to cycle!!!”and then “This would be amazing to cycle!!!!” So, I’m well keen to cycle this baby once I have a lighter bike that can handle gear changes 😉
If you don’t own a car or don’t fancy a killer bike ride, you can take the bus there too. From Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus 500 bound for Cheongha (청하). From Cheongha, transfer to a local bus bound for Sangok/Haok (상옥/하옥). By car the journey takes around 40 minutes from downtown Pohang.