December 26, 2006

Christmas Dinner

As you can see Christmas dinner was at our house this year. Trevor, Les, Beth, myself, and Maureen all crammed around our tiny table to appreciate being with friends over the holidays. It was a nice evening, nothing like either of our Moms' Christmas dinners but I figure that they have had a lot more experience than I have and more than two gas range burners to cook on. Microwaves and ovens are but a dream here in Korea. However, I count this meal a feat when you consider that it was complete with chicken, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, julienned carrots and onions, dinner rolls, and even Real Superstore Christmas crackers (hence the ravishing hats).

Gingerbread House

Well there is nothing more 'Chirstmassy' than a gingerbread house. Especially when you are in a country that does not believe in Christmas, sweets, or ovens to bake cookies in! My very smart brother had the great idea to send us over a gingerbread package complete with all of the trimmings, as you can see. Fortunately for us and his pocketbook, Beth was coming over just before Christmas and could manage to fit it into her suitcase along with the other hoards of presents that were sent by loving people back in Canada. So Christmas day eve we sat down and created what is, in my opinion, the most stunning Christmas gingerbread house that I have ever seen. Take a look.
Thanks to Mom for teaching me how to make the icicles which complete the magical feeling of this candy wonderland.

When I took it to school the next day to be on display I was stared at in the streets like I was the Emperor in his new robes. If I would not have known better I would have thought that I was walking around naked with no shame. I suppose that when you have lived for 40 or 50 years in Korea extremely isolated from outside influence and surrounded by a thick, homogeneous culture that a white person and a candy house may look a little out of place. As you can guess the house did not last long at school as my students had never seen, heard of, or tasted gingerbread before. They were boondoggled and far from speechless. They ran around the lobby of the school going, "woo" and, "AHHH" and, "look-at-it-look-at-it-look-at-it" until the Korean teachers decided that it was not allowed to be on display any longer. At that point I brought it into my classroom and let the kids break it up and eat it (I was smart about it though for I did not teach that class in the next block!!) Once again thanks Dave and everyone else who made this great sugar-high possible.

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas from the Olson gang!

Merry Christmas!
And so this was Christmas... but not yet a happy New Year (But that's only because it is only December 25th here). As you can see the Maley's gift to Kimchi was an instant hit, but who should know better about small terriers than Tanya. He also enjoys his new Kong and actually gets upset when you attempt to play fetch with it (this is new as previously he would love to play fetch with anything and everything).
Admittedly, Christmas was different this year; no family, no snow, +10 degrees outside with some leaves still on the trees, only three people and a dog around the not-so-traditional Christmas tree, and I don't think we have ever been so excited to get regular clothing, socks and underwear!

Here is a sensational collage of Trevor (please note that he protested the use of these pictures, however he refused to let me take more pictures of him, so here they are). Becki sent him two of his new favorites: his pajama pants and some little brain tickling puzzles. I gave up on the puzzles before I even started but Trevor had them all figured out in about 45 minutes!
Thank you to all of you who helped to make our first Christmas away from home a memorable one: Mom and Dad Olson; Joline, Raith, Zane, and baby; Tanya, Anthony, Imo, baby, and Roxy; Mom and Dad Andrus; Dave, Karalee and Dawson; Becki and Ryan; Kirstin and Brent Bouwsema; Beth Colborne; Troy Cairns; Nicki Bushman (thanks for holding up the traditions even though we both live worlds away); Les Timmermans (and his random doorbell ringing accompanied by his can of beans); And Maureen Cahoon (with the fruit and the yogurt!).

A Climbers Christmas

It seems that every Christmas someone realizes that I can still be a kid at heart. This morning I opened a present of a couple magnet climbers from a good friend Troy.

Thanks Troy and have a Merry Christmas.

Through The Eyes Of Beth

Since I've been in Korea - for 3 days now - I've discovered that eating is a huge part of life here. With street vendors every two feet with a wide variety of yummy (and some not so yummy) treats you can never go hungry! My favorite thing about restaurants here is that they have burners or grills in the middle so you can either keep your food piping hot or cook it yourself - how cool is that?!
YUMMY! Dak Galbi - spicy! Rachel had been telling me about Dak Galbi for the last two days - how good it is! So, tonight after the Christmas Eve service (and the massive crowd you can witness in the video clip) we stopped for supper. Have you ever tried eating coleslaw with chopsticks? Tricky. In Dak Galbi there is chicken, cabbage, rice cakes (solid, chewy things), onion, garlic, and thick red spice sauce (just so you know, Rachel picks out all the cabbage and rice cakes to eat - she avoids the best part - the chicken). It's spicy, but not nearly as spicy as I expected. It makes your nose runny though - and that's tough considering you are not suppose to touch your nose or blow your nose in public (which also means you hear a lot of people noisily clearing phlegm from their throats and spitting all over the ground - which sounds more rude to you, spitting, or using a kleenex?!)
Just so you all know, I'm going to dog-nap Kimchi when I leave. He's so cute and playful! He climbed the mountain with us this morning and just ran the whole time! He made many friends on the climb.
The Koreans know how to put on a light show! This particular display is at the head of the Cheonggyecheon (pronounced: chung-gee-chun) , a man-made river through the city of Seoul using the old highway route. It was made to beautify the city. It worked. There are lights in the water, pathways all along it, beautiful bridges, and even a niche with a bunch of pictures of Korea's past.
Bulam-San. All you have to do is walk one block and go across the street from Trevor and Rachel's apartment and you are at the base of a beautiful mountain. I must say, it's the easiest mountain I've climbed and a short hike, but it provides a great view of the city. This picture is just the half way mark.

Christmas Eve in Korea

* See disclaimer at the end of the following message.

This is a Christmas Eve commentary direct from Seoul, hosted by Rachel with our friend Beth just behind her. After our Christmas Eve church service, we decided to check out one of Seoul's most famous shopping sites called Myong-Dong. The chaos that you are about to witness is no measure of the true Korea however it does justify all of our preconceptions of an Asian country. If you are afraid of crowds of this magnitude and would rather stay in your comfortable surroundings please remember that us country hicks have made a nice living in this urban machine.

* The parties responsible for the shooting, posting and editing of this short film are in no ways to held liable for the many stereo-types that can and will be proven true through the following footage. Please be mindful that viewer discretion is advised, and any such viewing is done so at your own risk and at the expense of you and your internet provider exclusively.

December 17, 2006

Winter Has Arrived

Well the myth was proved late last night as it finally snowed. When we were told to buckle down for a cold, cold winter weekend we did not imagine that we would wake warm in our little thirteenth story apartment to look out at a fresh, clean winter covered world. The snow brought with it many a beautiful sight that we have been looking forward to. When you tell Canadians to prepare for cold weather we usually think of something more frigid than -2 degrees Celsius. However the snow was a welcome guest, unfortunately it will be a guest that will not stay for long. The snowmen that the neighborhood children where building this morning, as we were heading off to find my Christmas present, were already missing in action when we returned later this afternoon. For those of you who wonder about our little Kimchi, he is still doing well. He is growing everyday and getting better at learning and remembering his tricks. He is without a doubt a loyal and friendly little guy. He did not get a chance to see the snow but he had better get used to it if he is going to be living in Canada for the rest of his years.

December 10, 2006


On Saturday the 9th Jang-Ki, Ji-Hyun, Les, Maureen and ourselves went to a non-verbal comic martial arts performance appropriately titled 'Jump'. The best way to describe it is like Jackie Chan meets Chaplin. The story revolves around a not-so-typical Korean family who are martial arts experts, but when two unsuspecting robbers enter the house, accompanied by their own burglar theme music, they soon find out what awaits them on the inside.

Les was pulled onto the stage to perform for the audience and engage in one-on-one combat with one of the actors. To ensure that Les was not packing, they first frisked him to confirm there were no concealed weapons on him. To our amazement, the cast managed to uncover an axe, chains, daggers and a sword all concealed somewhere on Les' person. As you can see from the picture, this superior Korean family was slightly intimidated by our eminently dangerous Canadian friend. Much to Les' relief they awarded him victorious without a fight.
We all agreed that this was one of the most brilliant comedies that we have ever seen. 'Jump' has been and will be touring the globe and if you or your family ever get the chance to see this productions we greatly recommend going. We highly, highly endorse this genius slapstick Korean accomplishment.

December 9, 2006

A Little Korean Christmas Tree

December 1st was the official launch of the first ever Rachel and Trevor Christmas tree. Thus far 100% of all public viewings have ended positively (thanks Les and Maureen). Rachel wanted some authentic Korean ornaments so she went to Insadong (a traditional Korean market) and bought Korean-looking bookmarks, paper fans and antique brass bells and coins (the coin bin also had an antique Canadian toonie, which gives you an idea of how antique all this really was). Then on the 6th, we received Christmas presents from the Olson family. So now our tree is complete with beautifully wrapped gifts under it to make it feel more like Christmas is upon us.
Other Christmas festivities include adding in bits and pieces of the folklore and more importantly the truths that we both learned when we were young into the strict curriculum's at both of our schools. Rachel is organizing letters to Santa and Kinder field trips to the post office, as well as indoctrinating her children with the many Christmas songs that make the season a little more colorful as a child. She has also been teaching them the fine art of counting down to Christmas using a homemade advent calendar. On another note, we also attended a wonderful Christmas Choir performance at our English church tonight and walked around downtown Seoul admiring the many extravagant lights.

Christmas will be very different without family but we are going to try to make the best of it... and merry Christmas to you all.

November 24, 2006

Dawson Andrus

Announcing a new family...
On November the 11th (my Grandfathers 80th birthday) at 4:04 pm, Dawson Andrus arrived. He was two weeks early, yet managed to hold down a healthy weight of 7lbs. and 2 oz. It was, from what we heard, a very quick birth. We were obviously not present but we have been sent so many pictures that it does not feel like we are half a world away. I can't tell who he looks more like at this point, all I know is that those two make cute kids. Congratulations, Dave and Karalee!!

November 23, 2006


On the bright and cheerful day of November 18th, Les, Justin, Sara, Rachel and I went down to the quaint city of Suwon to visit Hwaseong ("Brilliant Fortress"). The trip was long and grueling but for a measly 1,500 Won ($1.50) it was well worth the congested hour and a half on the stuffy Korean subway. Upon arrival in the city we wound our way around the cramped and bustling streets of this small town (population 1 million). It was fantastic to escape the busy city life and relax in a more cleanly and brisk environment (I can hear you all snickering back home).
The wall and palace themselves, making up the entirety of the fortress were built from 1794 to 1796. King Jeongjo (who is featured as the sculpted bronze man to the right) constructed the fortress complex to honor and house the remains of his father. Visiting ones father after they have deceased was and still remains an important tradition in Korean culture. The wall that encloses the fortress is 5.74 kilometers in length and four to six meters high. Although we did not manage to walk to entire way around we did get the just of it on our self-guided, what-do-you-think-that-thing-is tour. Our day away included learning to master archery, Korean traditional style, a ride on a fierce dragon train, a sour pomegranate and a bean paste fish, and male dancers performing under the straining weight of a pound of make-up. (Don't worry Dave if you come we won't make you try on the men's winter line of cosmetics). Just as a point of interest the fortress is the main attraction for the city so it is very well kept up and was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1997.
Rachel actually paid money to strike this bell below... and she wonders why the Korean people love her!

November 19, 2006

A Day On Bukhansan

Last week Mike (left), Les (right), Rachel and I went out to a national park call Bukhansan on a beautiful fall day. We decided to take the less direct way to the top which involved a lot of scrambling and steep slab walking. As we made our way to the main peak (Insabong), we saw the rock cover speckled with literally dozens of rock climbers ascending a multi-pitch climb to the top. We soon found out that the only way to the top was with an extensive amount of climbing gear which we had only a little of. But we were content to sit back and watch.

If you look closely, you might be able to pick out some of the myriads of climbers on the rock face. (They look like ants from this distance.) After our long day of hiking, we were invited to join some local climbers (The Alpinist Club of Corea) at a restaurant where they feed and entertained us with a Korean pizza, kimchi (not the dog) and dong-dong-ju (rice wine). They were all celebrating the wedding of one of their colleagues and in true Korean style the bill was all his.

November 17, 2006

Tiananmen Square

This was yet another one of those cultural experiences that I think everyone should experience at some point in their life. The Tiananmen Square had such a different feel to it than any other place that I have ever visited. Just looking around at the hoards of Chinese citizens paying their homage to their country on what would be equivalent to their Thanksgiving gave me a sense of the power that this massive country holds. Not only over their peoples actions but also over their every thought and spoken word. If there is anywhere in Asia that feels foreboding it is here. Standing in the middle looking at the literally hundreds of communist flags and the many tributes to Mao was a new and ethno-centrically unbalancing experience. Here I was surrounded by ideals so different from the ones that I had always embodied as a Canadian and I could not help but be reminded of the hundreds of people who had risked and lost their lives to try to pronounce just a shred of what I stand for. While at the square, or better yet, while in China it is greatly frowned upon to speak of the two massacres that had happened here.

Above is a picture of the main government building which essentially controls the dealings and forward movements of the Chinese Government. It was in front of this building in 1989 that thousands of peaceful protesters questioned the governments actions regarding the Chinese economic reform. It was also in front of this building that close to 4,000 students, intellectuals, soldiers, and Red Cross workers died as well as where 30,000 more were injured. This event in history is widely rejected by the current Chinese Government and banned from the memories of the citizens. The Tiananmen Square massacre is something that we all learn of in the pursuit to further democracy but actually being there and understanding the power of this government to overthrow actions and thoughts that they do not support was mind boggling.

November 5, 2006

Fall is Still Going On

On November 5th, Rachel, myself and Les (from Rachel's school) went on a hike to find some rock climbing on Bulam Mt. Les and I went one direction while Rachel and Kimchi took the camera and went off in another. The colors of the fall leaves are beautiful as the pictures show. We find that there are a lot more reds in amongst the seasons colors.

November 4, 2006


The Forbidden City (紫禁城), which is located at the exact center of the Imperial City, was the main residency of the royal ancestry and ultimately the noble Emperors of China. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 6 meter deep moat and a 10 meter high wall.
It is divided into two parts, the Outer Court and Inner Court. The Outer Court was mainly used for ceremonies, weddings and investitures. This area had no trees for two reasons; first, so no one could hide in them to try and assassinate the Emperor and second, so that an arsonous act could not be committed which would threaten to burn down the adjacent buildings. Another notable fact is that the paving stones are 1 meter deep to ensure that no one could tunnel under the city. The Inner Court included living quarters and a garden where the Emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.
This picture was taken in the Inner Court, more specifically in the Emperors gardens. This tree was thought to be over 400 years old and is not unique in its age as it is surrounded by many trees and buildings of the same stature.

October 31, 2006

The Great Wall of China

"He Who Does Not Reach The Great Wall Is Not A True Man"
When we were in China, the Great Wall was our favorite place that we visited. As it is a structure that has helped to define China for hundreds of years, we had greatly anticipated seeing it. We were excited to walk it at last. As with anything that one waits for in anticipation we expected to arrive and find all of the hype to be nothing more than wives tales or tales of grandure. On the contrary we were not disappointed.
The Great Wall streaches from east to west over mountains, grasslands and deserts for a total length of 5600 km. Its structure is still as sound as when it was first constructed and the crudeness of the construction and lack of government spending on facelifts only added to the experience. It was the one thing in China that we would both recommend that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime and I think someday we would like to venture back.