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WanderLang http://wanderlang.com Travel & Teaching, Language & Learning Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:02:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.6 http://wanderlang.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-2000px-Fleur-de-lis-fill.svg_-32x32.png WanderLang http://wanderlang.com 32 32 Christmas in Vietnam – Our Holiday in DaNang http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/20/christmas-in-vietnam-our-holiday-in-danang/ http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/20/christmas-in-vietnam-our-holiday-in-danang/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 03:43:57 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1193 20161225_08544020161228_12565120161228_11405720161229_113621Hoi An Old Town20161229_11445620161229_11453920161229_15252720161229_18213920161228_12281720161229_11403020161229_11360420161228_17043120161228_16545020161228_16531820161228_16170720161229_19570420161228_16334920161228_16523420161228_15134320161228_125607My Khe Beach Da Nang20161228_12552920161228_12544420161228_12384620161228_12282820161228_12355020161229_18213720161228_12362020161228_12364320161228_12275820161228_12273120161228_12181620161228_11584220161225_08160820161228_11422620161228_11410920161228_11014620161229_19235820161227_15294320161227_15290220161227_15281520161227_15272120161227_15225520161229_11455220161227_14185720161227_15223220161227_14183820161227_15172320161227_15160620161227_14045920161227_13543620161227_14344320161227_14265420161227_12513520161227_11352820161227_11384920161227_11411320161227_11545620161227_12024320161227_12294720161227_09073120161227_11293420161227_08575820161227_08554120161227_11240120161227_08553520161225_11112620161227_08532820161227_11231320161227_09085620161227_08484720161227_08442120161225_14365520161226_13331520161226_12071520161226_11145520161226_11144020161226_11133320161225_14265720161225_14255820161225_14264220161225_14402420161225_20232220161226_09093420161225_12273820161225_11572520161225_08552920161227_11241520161225_085449

 

For our Winter holiday, Sara and I, along with our friends Eva and Justyn flew to Da Nang, Vietnam to spend our Christmas on the beach.
In a sentence, we were far from disappointed. The food, the sights, the food….did I mention the food? Here’s a peek at our trip to third largest city in Vietnam.

Our journey began, actually, several months prior to take-off, as Vietnam is a nation that you cannot visit without a visa as a United States citizen (or some other countries too). Upon learning this, we discovered there are 2 methods to receiving your visa. You can either visit a Vietnamese embassy / consulate and have them handle it directly (which is rather time consuming and costly), OR the more popular method, which is to apply for a Visa Approval Letter, for a visa-on-arrival.  I would definitely suggest the latter, as it’s much easier and can be pretty inexpensive depending what service you use. A quick web search will yield dozens of companies who will handle it for you, with pretty quick turnaround in most cases.

Basically, the visa approval letter, is your ticket into the country. They come in many different lengths of stay, but the one we chose (after the Vietnamese immigration made it available) was the 1-month, Single-entry visa. After you pay for the letter and submit your information, your company will send you back an email with a PDF with your approval letter (and probably with the names of a whole bunch of other people on it as well). Print that off, and bring it with you to the airport. When you land, you’ll go to a window for an office to pay the visa fee, hand them your money – Which MUST be in US Dollars – and your letter, and you’ll be on your way in no time.

The company we used was Vietnam Visa Easy – they were inexpensive and quite helpful.

After making it through immigration, we caught a taxi to our hotel on the beach – the Chu Hotel. 
We chose the Chu Hotel because it was right near the beach, and for just $52 USD per night we got a huge room that could see the ocean from the window. There were other rooms for even cheaper, but given this suite was even cheaper than the least expensive motel I’ve ever stayed in, we decided to “splurge”.

If you’re a beach person like I am, I would recommend this hotel. There are even surfboards if you’re into that. Even if you’re NOT a beach person I would recommend this hotel, for the food.  In my experience, it’s pretty rare that the food at a hotel is even considered edible, much less to be considered desirable. But take it from me, the food at the Chu hotel is amazing.

Our first night eating there – on Christmas – I accidentally ordered 4 whole meals for myself, believing 3 of them were going to be small appetizers given how inexpensive they were. Vietnamese-style Mahi Mahi. Squid. Noodles. Spring Rolls. Chili-sauce and pork ribs. My mouth is watering just remembering it. The menu is vast and it’s ALL delicious.  Equally delicious are the breakfasts they serve. Sara and I made it our mission to try as much of the menu as possible.

The following day we decided we were going to dedicate to time on the beach. Time you will want to spend I assure you. We spent the equivalent of $4 to rent a pair of beach lounges under a thatched roof umbrella to watch the massive waves roll in from the typhoon that was hitting the Philippines at the time. Naturally you can’t have beach time without something to drink, so we brought along some beers from the mini-bar in our room (which was actually just as cheap as getting them from a store) and some rum that we had procured the day prior.

Cuban Rum tastes really good with Sprite if you didn’t know already. We found that out, and ran out of Sprite too quickly. No worries however, as the attendant who rented us our chairs, called someone to personally deliver us some fresh mixers on his moped. Everything was perfect. Not that we would have gone dry anyway, there was a bar located on the beach just a few feet away.

We were glad however to have someone with a moped to run these crucial errands for us, because as first-time visitors to Vietnam, the traffic is….overwhelming. Dozens upon dozens of scooters roam the busy streets like schools of fish, in what would look to outsiders like absolute chaos. Walking is nearly impossible if you’re trying to navigate the city, as most of the sidewalks were either under construction, or covered in parked mopeds.

It’s best to leave transportation to the professionals, which is why we booked a private car day tour to take us to the historic city of Hue to the North. Another jaunt that was worth every penny we spent on it and then some (as we honestly didn’t spend that many pennies to begin with, thanks to Hue Private Cars).

For $54 per person, a driver picked us up at our hotel with a van, and took us through the scenic winding Hai Van pass. Along the way we stopped to see some breathtaking views of the country side, and to sample tea made in what barely qualifies as a tin-roof shack. Also sometimes we had to stop just because there was a stray cow wandering the narrow mountain road.

The locals were so kind and cheerful and were constantly giving us things to try, and showing us the wild flora and fauna that dot the mountainside. Banana trees and papayas growing alongside the shack, ripe for the picking. We also stopped to see an old bombed-out (literally) building that we never quite understood its purpose, despite our driver’s attempts to explain to us.

Arriving in Hue around 2 hours later, we were taken to the ancient Imperial City. There we picked up our personal tour guide who spoke great English and explained the history of every building and area we visited. There’s so many things to see in the Imperial City that we never were able to finish our tour of the grounds before we were whisked away for lunch.

Now, I’ve been on tours before. Anytime the tour company has said “lunch is provided” they mean the bare minimum; chips and salsa when I was in Mexico, A brown paper bag with a sandwich and chips some places in America, you know the drill. Never would I have been prepared for what this tour had in-store. The driver took us to a beautiful, picturesque garden restaurant, for what would prove to be the greatest meal I’ve had in years.

They handed us a menu that only had drinks on it, and a small card with 7 items listed on it. At first we believed that we were to pick one of the items from the list and a drink to accompany it. No. This was the list they were going to bringing us….in order. Springrolls presented on a flaming peacock carved from a pineapple. Savory egetable soup. A sweet tangy dish of fish and peanuts. Huge pastries stuffed with chicken and vegetables in a peanut sauce. Some sort of sweet rice dish cooked in a basket of fruit leaves. Salads and candied fruits stuffed with bean pastes. We literally lost track of every delicacy they brought us, including things they didn’t even put on the list. All included in our tour package. The meal alone would have been worth the price we paid.

When we finally finished our onslaught of fine dining, the tour took us to see the Thien Mu Pagoda and Khai Dinh tomb before ultimately returning us to our hotel at the end of the day. If there is a single daytour to go on while you’re in Da Nang, I would say this is it. Everything we saw was incredible.

Now, for Hue, I would definitely advise getting a personal tour or private car, because all the sights are so spread-out that you cannot feasibly travel between them without transportation. Especially given that it is a journey of several hours each direction by car, you don’t want to rack up that kind of time in a taxi. For our next daytrip however, you definitely don’t need any assistance.

Hoi An is a smaller city about 30 mins drive south of Da Nang. We simply grabbed a metered taxi and had them take us right to the entrance of the “Ancient Town” district, which was really not very expensive. When there you pay an admission fee and receive a book of tickets with which you can enter a limited number of the historic sites within the town’s boundaries. Among these are a Japanese covered bridge, several museums and cultural performances, and places with interesting architecture. It’s fun to walk around and see what the various shops have to offer. Sara and Eva purchased some genuine silk scarves for a criminally low cost (about $15 USD). As with any tourist-trap, some merchants can be quite aggressive; but this can be to your advantage, if you know how to haggle. I am writing this while wearing a souvenir tshirt that cost me $3 USD to buy (half what the merchant wanted).

Our last day in Vietnam, Sara and I decided to check out the Military history museum that we spotted. It turned out to be located on the same property as an active military base, which made for some entertaining moments. It was also very interesting to see the history Vietnam conflict as it is viewed by the Vietnamese.  While there we got to see dozens of armored vehicles, artillery, tanks, guns, planes, helicopters, and even explosives, that played roles in the war.

There were so many things that we didn’t even have time to experience, such as the Marble Mountains just a few minutes to the south.
If you ever have the opportunity, Da Nang is a great travel destination to experience, and while you’re there you won’t break the bank. There’s something there for everybody.

Parting advice: Avoid riding scooters, taxis are the way to go.
Movies are really cheap to attend there too.
Get a wifi egg, because service is otherwise spotty.
When eating in an open-air tropical environment, check your chair before you sit down, or else you might be sharing a seat with a lizard.
Winter is the rainy season.
PACK A SMALL UMBRELLA

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PyeongChang Preview – 2018 Olympic Test Events http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/13/pyeongchang-preview-2018-olympic-test-events/ http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/13/pyeongchang-preview-2018-olympic-test-events/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:29:07 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1178 2018 PyeongChang Olympics Snowboarding Ski Jump

As many of you know, Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics in their North-Eastern city of PyeongChang in 2018 What you may NOT know, is that you don’t need to wait to see Olympic events here in Korea, as official Olympic Test Events are well underway!

A few weeks ago, we had the chance to visit PyeongChang for one of such events; the FIS Big Air World Cup for Snowboarding. It was quite the journey.

IF you plan to attend one of these events, we advise that you take a long weekend. There is currently no direct train or airports near the host city. According to news outlets, they’re working to remedy that. From Seoul, it can be several hours by bus, and there’s only a few that run there directly. We travelled with PurpleSkiBus which picks up and drops off at several locations in Seoul and drops off at either the YongPyong resort (where we stayed) or the Alpensia resort.

If you attend one of these events, transportation is key to your enjoyment. While at the event, it appeared that most people spectating were part of tour groups who came to the Ski Jump on tour buses. We wished that we had found one of these groups, as taxis were not permitted to enter the zone, and we had to walk over a mountain to get to it, and again to return. The HelloPyeongChang website has links to travel packages that should streamline the entire process.  IF you arrive in Pyeongchang WITHOUT a tourbus, taxis are pretty much the only option for moving between the resorts and the other locations. The traffic patrol was very helpful in showing us an app called “KakaoTaxi”, which can send a taxi to your location using your smartphone’s GPS. This is essential, because PyeongChang isn’t like the major cities and there aren’t always taxis standing and waiting.

The event itself was amazing. We were privileged to see real Olympians from around the world compete and hone their skills, right from where the real events will be held in 1 short year.

Korea knows how to put on a show as well. Not only were the snowboarders flying through the air and doing tricks, but right next to the ski-jump was a stage where Hip Hop and Kpop performances were held. The organizers handed out the national flags of all the participants and it was great to mingle with the athletic teams from around the world.
It was also quite entertaining to see the Olympic facilities in their various stages of completion. PyeongChang is working hard to make sure everything is prepared for the events to kick off.

The YongPyong resort was a great hotel for a pretty low cost, and has a bowling alley, arcade, video golf range, bar, restaraunts, cafes, and of course ski slopes, to make your long trip more worth the time.

Overall it was a great experience that I would recommend, IF you have the time and live closer than we did (coming from Busan was quite tiresome). I would also recommend dressing warm, as it does snow up in PyeongChang.

I covered the event for a newspaper back in Michigan, I will include the coverage of the competition results below.


The Following originally appeared in the Erie Square Gazette:

 

Michigan athletes make powder fly in PyeongChang

The Rio Olympics are over, but the global athletic contests are anything but. This weekend, dozens of men and women from more than 20 nations, including 3 athletes from Michigan, competed in the FIS Big Air World Cup for snowboarding in the future home of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The event showcased “Big Air” snowboarding for spectators at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center in PyeongChang, South Korea.

PyeongChang – whose population is less than 44,000 – will be hosting the Winter games in 2018, and will be debuting the “Big Air” event for the first time in Olympic history.

“In Big Air, a competitor snowboards down the slope and performs a series of tricks after launching off massive jumps” the HelloPyeongChang website reads. “Big Air has been added as a new event to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.”

For 2 days, athletes from around the world demonstrated their tricks and skills to a crowd of hundreds of locals. Among the US athletes was Jamie Anderson, 26, who won the gold medal in the Women’s Slopestyle event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. 3 Michigan natives also competed in PyeongChang for the test event. Karly Shorr, 22, of Milford, Eric Beauchemin, 25, of Grand Blanc, and Kyle Mack, 19, of West Bloomfield, each performed in the qualifying rounds but did not advance to the finals. Shorr placed sixth at Sochi in 2014.
Among the US finalists were Julia Marino, 19, and Ryan Stassel, 24. Marino placed second for the Ladies with a score of 157.00. She took silver. Stassel placed third for the Men’s with a score of 177.25, taking bronze.

Big Air winner Anna Gasser of Austria said, “I’m really happy that everything worked out as I planned. The ramp was really cool, everything worked out great. The speed was easy and the snow was really nice. I hope I can perform as well as I did at the PyeongChang Olympic Games.” Gasser took gold with a score of 180.75.

The first place finisher from Canada, Mark McMorris said, “It feels good to land like that. That was the trick I broke my femur on and I haven’t done that trick since. It was a big mental thing to overcome that and being on first place is icing on the cake.” McMorris’ score of 184.75 earned him gold.

The test event provided a look at not only the sport and prospective athletes, but the location itself. Visitors could see the Olympic facilities in various stages of completion, including the Olympic village which will be home to the competitors in 2018. Spectators traveling from long distances utilized cars and buses to reach the event, a trip that takes between 2 and 4 hours from Seoul to complete. According to the PyeongChang website, a high-speed rail line will be completed in 2017 that connects Seoul to the event location, reducing the transit time. Korean pop and hip hop artists performed on a stage next to the ski jump, providing a soundtrack to the snowboarders’ aerial stunts.

The PyeongChang Olympics will be held February 9th to 25th in 2018. It will be the second Olympics held in Korea. Seoul held the Summer games in 1988.

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Are You a Mac or a PC? In Korea, It Makes a Difference. http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/09/mac-vs-pc-in-korea/ http://wanderlang.com/2017/01/09/mac-vs-pc-in-korea/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 10:40:51 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1015 Hello, friends!

Today I want to talk about COMPUTERS! Those wonderful devices that most of us simply can’t function without. We use them for getting work done, watching TV and movies, playing games, and keeping in touch with people. Computers (and tablets and smartphones) are how we do our banking, buy concert tickets, do online shopping, and get a lot of our basic needs met. In 2017, our technology is our lifeline.

When you get ready to come to Korea, you are probably taking a good look at everything you’re thinking of bringing. You might be like me and decide to treat yourself to a new laptop. Or maybe you’re already in Korea and you need to buy a new computer because your old one finally gave out.

Story Time: As I was getting ready to move abroad, I started worrying about if my MacBook (that I bought in 2010) would be smart to bring with me. It had started acting up in numerous ways and even Apple basically told me that there was nothing they could do (read: were willing to do for such and “old” device) to make it more reliable. I got the gut feeling that Murphy’s Law was about to come into play: if I stayed in America, my computer would probably run just fine for another few years until I decided to replace it with a faster machine; but if I took it to Korea, I would get the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” within a few months and be stuck trying to buy a computer in a foreign land.

So I did what I felt was the most sensible thing: I started shopping for a new computer. I decided to go with a Chromebook (rather than another Mac or picking a PC) because I basically just needed a glorified tablet with a keyboard and a trackpad. I don’t make videos or edit pictures. I don’t play games (beyond the occasional flash game online). I don’t need any Office-type software beyond whats available though Google Docs. I basically just needed an internet machine. And that is exactly what a Chromebook is. And for me, it was the right thing to buy.

However, in Korea, there are times I wish I had a “real” computer.

You see, Korea has some of the world’s fastest internet. This country has their shit together when it comes to devices being connected to the world wide web. I can even connect to the internet while riding the subway! Hooray for fast internet! But for as ahead of the times as the connectivity is, there are some aspects of Korean “internet culture” that are sorely behind the times.

In order to do any sort of financial interaction online (online banking, buying something off of Gmarket, buying movie or concert tickets) you need to be able to download certain “security certificates.” These are very old kinds of programming that basically are designed to secure the financial transaction that is taking place. But they seem to be based off of Windows 98 type programming, and they are not compatible with every device.

You can’t really do online banking on your phone (unless you’re a native Korean typically). If you have a Mac, forget about it. The security certificates only work on Windows based computers. And if you have a Chromebook like me, a lot of sites view it as a “mobile device” since there’s no real operating system, so I can’t download them either.

Basically, if you don’t use Internet Explorer, you won’t be able to do any financial transactions. Just about every site will direct you to use IE to complete the transaction, because it’s part of Korean national security policies. Check out this article to see how this annoys Koreans as well.

I’m very fortunate that Cody has a PC and let me set up my Korean Citibank online banking on his computer. I’m thankfully able to do pretty much everything I could want to do on an ATM (Korean ATMs kick serious ass), but if I *needed* to do something online, I can use his computer.

Moral of the Story: If you are in the market for a new computer before you come to teach in Korea, research your options. There are probably thousands of very happy Mac users here in Korea, they just probably find workarounds for the types of issues I’ve mentioned here. Apple products seem to be growing in popularity here, so hopefully the security programs will catch up. If you’re already a PC kind of guy or gal (or however you self-identify, no judgement here), then keep rolling with your Windows-based style. Fellow Chromebook user? Maaaaaaybe find a buddy who will let you borrow their PC every now and again…

Regardless of the machine that you buy or how long you plan on staying in Korea, there are plenty of ways to make things work for you. It’s 2017, technology is your friend. (Or, if you’re like me, it’s your boyfriend’s friend and you just smile and ask him to help fix whatever you messed up.)

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Lost and Found in Korea: How I got my phone back in a city of 3 Million people http://wanderlang.com/2016/11/14/lost-and-found-in-korea-how-i-got-my-phone-back-in-a-city-of-3-million-people/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/11/14/lost-and-found-in-korea-how-i-got-my-phone-back-in-a-city-of-3-million-people/#respond Mon, 14 Nov 2016 11:51:52 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1167 geumjeongsanseong fortress

 

It’s one of the worst feelings you can have in the pit of your stomach. You wake up one morning, reach for your phone, only to find it’s not there. After tearing apart your modest officetel in search of it, you face the facts: your cell phone is gone.
What’s worse? You don’t know when it went missing, after a long day of moving about your city…of over 3 million people.

I can now say I’ve been there. And I can also say: don’t panic, because you CAN get your phone back.

For me, it was Saturday Morning in Busan. Sara and I decided to head to Geumgang Park to ride the cable car to Geumjeongsanseong Fortress and see the Fall colors. On the way up the mountain, my main phone battery died (I have 2, one that I use for taking photos mostly). I took the SD card out of it, put it in the other phone, and carried on with our afternoon. Which was fun, walking around the mountain top, seeing all of Busan from high above, exploring the trails and the fortress’ South Gate. At dusk we decided to return home. Along the way we hiked miles of mountain trail, back alleys, took a cable car, 3 subway lines, and finally a taxi.

Sometime during all of that, my phone, was no longer in my pocket. Did I lose it in the subway? Did I drop it on the trail? Was I pickpocketed? Did it fall out of the cable car? Did it drop out as I was leaving the taxi?

I had no idea.
But here’s where I started:

In Busan we headed to the Subway station where we got off.
The Subway office has a lost and found system, and the office workers were so unbelievably helpful. They did everything in their power to find my phone. They called up every transfer hub on the metro lines we took. They searched a database of their lost-and-found, where valuable items are photographed and logged in hope that their owners come looking. They even tried calling and texting my phone number. But no luck.
They gave us a phone number to call on Monday morning between 9am and 6pm for their main lost and found office.

Busan Subway Lost and Found: 051-640-7339

I asked my Korean boss to call that number, and unfortunately, it wasn’t there.

I received a suggestion to contact the police, because people in Korea are usually very good about turning in lost-valuables.
What I found, is that there is an entire Police website dedicated to lost-and-found, with its own listings for found phones.

Korean Police Lost and Found Phone Listings: https://www.lost112.go.kr/phone/phoneList.do

The website also allows you to search by area where items were found, and where they are currently being held, and you can post your own listings for lost items. Additionally there is a number to call.

That website was very helpful, but my phone (which is pretty unique in Korea) was not on the list of found phones.

Korea Post actually has a service for finding lost cell phones as well:  http://www.handphone.or.kr/ph1_search_grobal.php

On to plan C.
I thought it might be in the cable car I rode on the mountain, or maybe that one of the many hikers could have found it on the trail. I found the number for Geumgang Park , and while they did not have my phone in their possession, they apparently sent someone out to LOOK for my phone! I was really touched to see the lengths that strangers would go to help me out. I never heard back from them, because it wasn’t there.

Where it was, was in the Taxi. And here’s how we found it.
If there is one lesson to take away from my plight, it’s that you should always pay for taxis with your credit/debit cards in Korea.
By sheer luck, I had used my Korean bank card to pay for our lift back home on the last leg of our trip. My coworker took my card, and called the number on the back of it. She explained in Korean what had happened. Again, I was amazed at the lengths to which people would go on my behalf. The card company found the transaction and found the cab company I used. Then, they took it upon themselves, to track down the specific cab, and the specific driver, and find HIS cellphone number, and relayed all that information back to us within the hour.

2 phonecalls and a $30 bribe later (because he denied having the phone at all until we offered cash for it) and the cab driver delivered my phone to me, at my house, with a half-charged battery.

There was another number we tried, for the Busan Independent Taxi Association: 051-500-8500 but it was ultimately no use to us.

Now I’ve seen miracles happen. I lost a cellphone in a massive city for over a day, and managed to get it back safe and sound.

Before this happens to you, I suggest installing one of the numerous “where’s my phone” apps on your device, it could prevent a lot of heartache (but of course it only works if your phone is ON in the first place). I also suggest keeping records of your phone serial numbers, and putting an “if found” contact sticker on it, to help out the honest folks who may find your stuff.

I also suggest, in the event your phone is lost or stolen, to revoke access to any accounts that you may be logged into on your device. Emails, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, ect. all have options to remotely shut down access to all devices currently signed in.

For more suggestions start here: http://www.korea4expats.com/article-busan-lost-and-found-.html

Don’t panic!

 

I was quite fortunate in the end, as many Taxi drivers sell lost phones at a profit, oftentimes to buyers in China who wipe them and resell them. You can read more about that here:

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2013/08/123_108050.html

http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2012/12/01/2012120100390.html

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5 Indie Films You Should Check Out in 2016 – BIFF Wrap-up http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/15/5-indie-films-2016/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/15/5-indie-films-2016/#respond Sat, 15 Oct 2016 12:59:32 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1127 So the 21st Busan International Film Festival just wrapped up this weekend. It was a fun experience, and Cody and I had the chance to see several fantastic films (and even meet the director of one!).

Independent films sometimes get a bad rep: people often assume that what makes a film “indie” is that its just weird, artsy stuff (like a film that’s just a camera recording the Empire State Building in real-time for 8 hours). But basically an indie film is just a film that isn’t made by one of the big Hollywood studios. And man, are there some amazing indie films that have been released this year.

I thought that today I would share a few of my recommendations for some independent films that you should check out this year. Each one is unique and has something amazing to offer, fulfilling a variety of entertainment needs. So whether you like fairy tales/romances, suspenseful thrillers, or monster movies, check out my list below (in no particular order) of indie films to check out in 2016!


Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence)

shingodzillaposter

This is a reboot of the Godzilla franchise, and it is sooooo much better than the 2014 US reboot. Hollywood seems to struggle with just letting a film be about a central idea (Giant monsters attacking Tokyo!) and always has to force in other story lines to “keep the audience interested” (I can only think of a handful of major Hollywood films that don’t somehow involve a love story).

Directed by the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, this film seems to truly capture the “reality” of modern Japan being attacked/invaded by a giant monster. Thoroughly modern while keeping the important elements of the original films (like how Godzilla actually moves), Shin Godzilla is an interesting look at the behind the scenes workings of Japan during a monster attack.

My hope is that it will eventually be dubbed into English, but even with the subtitles, it’s still a fun watch.


Tam Cam: The Untold Story

tamcamposter

This was a super fun one! The first of many examples of indie films being completely different from what you are expecting them to be.

Tam Cam: The Untold Story is a 21st century retelling of Vietnam’s answer to Cinderella. It’s based on the Vietnamese fairy tale, with some interesting plot twists thrown in. There are crazy old-kung-fu-movie style fight scenes, amazing views of Vietnam’s forests and mountains, and an extremely enjoyable cast of secondary characters.

I will say though, if you are unfamiliar with this story (like I was) I recommend that you read a summary of the basic fairy tale, just to help you understand the backbone of the story. There are so many other story elements going on, that the movie won’t be ruined by the fact that you know whether or not the girl marries the prince.


Headshot

headshotposter

Headshot is an Indonesian film that is one beautifully choreographed fight scene after another. The plot is lacking and the acting is pretty wooden, but honestly you watch this movie for the fights not for the story. It features a variety of fight styles/types (guns, knives, office supplies, etc.) and a good part of the movie takes place in the beautiful jungles of Indonesia.

WARNING: This is NOT the movie for you if you get easily upset/sick when you see blood on screen. Because holy shit is this a violent movie. Like, it makes Quentin Tarantino look tame. You’ve been warned, but you should still give it a watch.


Bad Girl

badgirlposter

I’ll be honest, I walked into this film assuming it would just be an Australian version of Blue is the Warmest Color. Just another tragic lesbian story, that just leaves you feeling kind of hopeless about love and the world. Boy was I glad to be so incredibly wrong!

Bad Girl is probably one of the best suspense thrillers I’ve seen in several years. You start the film thinking it’s going to follow a certain, cliched path but then it just keeps twisting and turning. I’m afraid to even try and tell you more about the plot, because I’d hate to spoil it for you. If you can get your hands on a showing of this film, you simply must watch it!

The cool part about this film for me was the fact that the BIFF showing had a Q&A with the director and producer after the movie. They said that the film will hopefully be released in Korea in March of 2017, so fingers crossed for that.


Daguerrotype

Daguerrotype Poster

Daguerrotype is a joint French-Japanese suspense/horror film. Which was a really surprising combination when I first heard about it, but honestly it worked out amazingly. This film combines the best of French cinematography (I seriously love what French directors do with their blocking and camera angles) and Japanese horror (think of the original Ring and Ju-On: The Grudge, rather than their American remakes).

French movies, in my opinion, like to make (read: force) you to think while you watch them. So, unlike most American horror films, don’t expect the music in this movie to let you know when something is about to happen. The director just leaves you in silence, constantly wondering what will happen next to break the tension and what is real or imagined within the film.

The great part about indie films is they usually break free from the established patterns that Hollywood can’t seem to get away from, and Daguerrotype certainly leaves you guessing right up to when the credits start rolling. So sit back with a glass of wine and watch as the story unfolds.


So there you have it! My 2016 indie film recommendations from this year’s BIFF film selection. I know that indie films aren’t for everyone, but it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Who knows, you could discover a new passion or find a new favorite director.

Do you enjoy watching indie films? Have you seen any of the films on this list? Do you have any other films that you think the world should know about? Let me know in the comments section!

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Red Carpet Event – 2016 Busan International Film Festival http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/11/busan-international-film-festival/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/11/busan-international-film-festival/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 13:41:18 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1124 This past week I got to experience what most people only get to dream of: I attended the red carpet opening ceremony for an international film festival. The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) is the biggest film festival in Asia and pulls in films from around the globe. And it’s being hosted only 5 subway stops away from where we live in Busan, so we obviously had to try and go.

We *barely* managed to get tickets. Because this is such a highly desired event, the website kept semi-crashing due to the high volume of people that were trying to buy tickets. Cody and I practically danced around our apartment when we managed to secure some!

All Dressed Up

When it came to the actual night of the event, we got all gussied up. I’m talking fancy dress, high heels, suit jacket, and tie. We wanted to make sure that we were dressed appropriately for such a big event. Once we arrived at the Busan Cinema Center (which happens to have the world’s longest cantilever roof) the home of BIFF, we were surprised to see that the majority of the audience chose to dress extremely casually. Regardless, Cody and I wanted this to be a special event, and we’re still glad we dressed the part.

The ceremony was outdoors, in the outdoor movie auditorium that BIFF is famous for. Around the red carpet there were hundreds of chairs set up for all of the actors and “important people” set up by where all the celebrities would be walking. The event staff had some free-form jazz playing, which to me felt very “Old Hollywood” and is the exact kind of music I expect to hear when I think of a movie premier. As the celebrities walked down the carpet, there were announcers in both Korean and English to tell the audience who had just arrived. From our seats we couldn’t really see the start of the carpet very well, but thankfully there were tons of cameras that projected the directors, producers, and actors up onto the giant screens.

Case in point.
Case in point.

This truly was an international event. There were three ambassadors to Korea that attended, from the United Kingdom (or maybe Great Britain…I won’t pretend to be an expert on the UK political structure), the United States, and Spain. It was sometimes hard to hear the announcers, but I recall hearing the names of several countries being named off as different actors and directors arrived: China, Korea, Japan, France, Iran, Hong Kong, USA, the Philippines, Vietnam, Germany, India, and probably several others that I just missed in the noise of it all.

But you can’t have an event this big without at least a little bit of scandal. I had heard reports of several people calling for a boycott due to several reasons. There were several people on the red carpet that held up signs saying “I support BIFF.” I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the issues, but you can read more about that here.

After the Red Carpet, there was a traditional Korean music performance. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it sounded really cool. Next up was the actual Opening Ceremony, with two Korean actors as the MCs. The nice part was that on the big screens they had English subtitles while they were talking. There were two awards for film, with some really impressive live translating going on. (Hey, I’m a language nerd, and skills like that impress the hell out of me.)

A Quiet Dream

The opening film of the festival was a Korean production called A Quiet Dream (춘몽). We ended up not staying to watch it for two reasons:
1) The film did not have English subtitles (pretty much every other film featured during the festival does, except for the Korean films) and we didn’t feel like trying to figure out what was happening during the course of a 2 hour film in Korea.
2) We had skipped dinner in order to make it to the event on time, so we were starving and ready to go get some food.

We have tickets to several films during the course of the festival, so stay tuned to hear about some fantastic new films to check out!

Have you ever attended an event like this? Are you a big fan of film festivals like I am? Let me know in the comments below!

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Super Typhoon Chaba – Korea Aftermath http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/05/super-typhoon-chaba-korea-aftermath/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/10/05/super-typhoon-chaba-korea-aftermath/#respond Wed, 05 Oct 2016 10:15:28 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1114 Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 a massive super typhoon hit South Korea. There were 100 mph winds, 20+ft waves, and so much rain that there was flooding issues in all of the low lying areas of the coastline. Busan got hit hard, but it seems like the neighboring city of Ulsan might have gotten hit even harder (based on the pictures we’ve seen).

Cody and I thankfully did not have to go to work today due to the storm. I am especially thankful for that fact because my school is located only about a block from the ocean, and the area where it’s located saw massive waves that flooded the roadways and physically moved cars around like they were toys.

I wanted to share the pictures that we took after the storm finally cleared up this afternoon. We wandered over to Haeundae Beach and the damage was astounding.

Boardwalk 1

Haeundae Beach Map
This was the big map that showed you the entire Haeundae area.
Waves 1
The water was still crashing up onto the sidewalk when we were down there.
Waves 2
The water actually managed to move the massive stone blocks that made up this part of the boardwalk!
Boardwalk 1
A pile-up of Styrofoam that washed up onto the boardwalk.

Beach Debris 1

Beach Debris 2

Boardwalk 2

Boardwalk 3

Broken Boardwalk

Beach Debris 3

Boardwalk 5

Beach Debris 4

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) also had a bunch of buildings set up down on the beach for the film festival that starts on October 6th. They did not survive very well in the middle of the storm.

BIFF Sign
The sign marking the area where the BIFF beach events were going to be held.
BIFF 1
The buildings for the event (which seemed to all have been made from old shipping containers) were scattered all over the beach.

BIFF 2

BIFF 3

BIFF 4

 

I also found this video that is a compilation of a bunch of cellphone footage from the storm. It’s kind of long, but you’ll be stunned at what you see.


Super Typhoon Chaba – Korean Damage by h1972818

Were you in an area hit by the storm? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Queen’s Banquet http://wanderlang.com/2016/09/26/the-queens-banquet/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/09/26/the-queens-banquet/#respond Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:10:21 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1056 Hello world! Yeah, yeah, I’ve been not posting for a while again. Cody’s parents were just here in Korea for a visit during the Chuseok holiday, so we were a little busy. And today, I want to share with you one of my favorite moments from their visit: The Queen’s Banquet.

The Queen’s Banquet is a Korean cultural performance that incorporates Korean court dances and local fold dances, as well as songs and other performances. And it is seriously one of the most beautiful stage shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. It has five acts that tell the evolving story of the king and queen of Korea, from the queen’s coronation to the feast held in her honor in the mountain villages that now make up Busan.

Throughout the performance, there are TV screens off to the side to let the audience know what is happening, and the cultural significance behind all of the dances. They show the information in four different languages: Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. That way, audience members from many different cultures can enjoy the show, which I think is just amazing and very inclusive.

The show is less than 90 minutes long, which seems to be the perfect length to give the audience a fantastic show and a great primer on Korean culture through music and dance. I do recommend that you dress up a little bit if you decide to attend, since the performance is housed in one of the nicer hotels on Haeundae Beach. Also, make sure you phone or camera is fully charged, because they allow you to take pictures during the performance (just no flash, please). The current season runs from through December 25, 2016 and you can check out their website for showtimes. It’s their second season, so hopefully there will be another next year.

I’m going to keep this post super short, so that I can bombard you with pictures of how amazingly beautiful this show is. Seriously, if you are living in or coming to Korea, it is work every penny (or Korean won as it were) to see this show.

Opening Screen
The screen projection that they displayed before the show started.
Pre-performance Game
Before the show started, the performers invited the audience up onto the stage to play traditional Korean games.
Court Dance 1
The first of the Royal Court Dances that we saw. It had dancers representing the different cardinal directions and several other important cultural elements.
Crane Dance
The Court Crane Dance, which included 2 giant crane costumes and introduced the characters of the King and Queen.
Fan Dance 1
The incredibly beautiful and fascinating Fan Dance.

Fan Dance 2

Fan Dance 3

Coronation Dressing 1
This was so interesting to watch. They put on a “dance” of dressing the Queen for her coronation.
Coronation Dance 2
The maids helped put on 16 layers of elaborate ceremonial dress robes, called Hanbeok.
Coronation Dressing 3
Seriously! There are 16 layers to make up that outfit! I just wish the camera had captured how beautiful and shiny the silk was.
King and Queen
The King and Queen in full coronation dress.
Queen's Coronation Ceremony
A dance representing the coronation of the Queen.
Peony Dance 1
The Peony Dance.

Peony Dance 2

Folk Banquet 1
In the story of the show, the Queen ordered that the leftover food from the royal banquet would be shared with the common people. Here is a dance representing a village in the area of modern-day Busan getting ready for the feast.
Folk Banquet 2
The King and Queen come to join the fest. (You can see them about to sit down in the front row.)
Women's Drum Dance
A folk dance that is meant to be performed by a group of women and a big drum.
Twirling Hat Ribbon Dance
These guys are playing instruments and dancing around with these really cool hats. They had long ribbons attached to spinning rod things, and danced and twirled while they played.

Final bow 1

Final bow 2

Final Bow 3
The final bow of the entire cast.
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My First Korean Class: A Review http://wanderlang.com/2016/09/04/first-korean-class-review/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/09/04/first-korean-class-review/#respond Sun, 04 Sep 2016 12:28:22 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1019 Back in February, I signed up for my first Korean class. Cody had found out about it in one of the expat Facebook groups, and suggested that I try it out. It was a course designed for foreigners living in Busan to learn the local language, hosted by the Busan Foundation for International Cooperation. The center offers three semesters a year, and you can find the specific times and dates here.

I was nervous at first. What level would they put me in? Would the class be in English at all, or just Korean? Would I even know enough to get into the class?

At the time of writing, I’m currently at the end of what should be my second semester (I ended up dropping out, but Ill explain later on). I’m so glad I took the plunge and signed up for that first class. And today, I’m going to share with you my official review of the first two semesters of the BFIC Korean classes.

Price: First things first, lets talk price. This class is super affordable! The class itself only costs 10,000₩ (about $10 USD), which is a steal compared to most other options (like a college course or paying for a private tutor). You do have to purchase the textbook for the class, which at the time of writing cost about 20,000₩ (about $20) depending on which level you get put in. The textbooks are, in my opinion, amazing and worth every penny. (I’ll be writing a review of them soon.)

The only other price factor to consider is your commute. The classes are held in the National Pension building, which is at the City Hall (시청) subway stop. If you live in that neighborhood, great! You have immediate access to the class. But if you’re like I was, you might have a serious commute to consider. The class is 2 times a week, so you will have bus or subway fair each way. Not to mention the price you pay in your own precious time. It was 40 minutes each way for me, and for the first semester, it was totally worth it. The commute time wasn’t a deterrent for me, because I was learning so much. YMMV.

Time: The classes meet twice a week for two hours each class. They currently offer both morning and evening classes, depending on which works better for your schedule. I took the evening one, which ran from 6:30-8:30. There was very little, if any, homework ever assigned so the amount of time you put in outside of class would be entirely up to you.

Class Structure: There are currently 5 levels offered through BFIC. I have completed Level 1 and like 90% of Level 2. You can check out their website to see exactly whats on the syllabus for every level, but basically Level 1 starts off teaching you how to read and write Hangeul (한글) while also teaching tons of vocabulary and some basic grammar type stuff. Then Levels 2 and beyond teach you more and more complex grammar and vocabulary topics.

During the class, the teacher would typically lecture/teach for a while on whatever topic we were covering, with the students getting in some “repeat after me” type speaking practice. After each topic was introduced, we would then do the related pages in the textbook (usually a listening, conversation, writing, or reading exercise).

I have two very different opinions about each of the classes that I took, so I’m going to divide the next part so I can talk about each of them separately.

Level 1 Textbook
The textbook for Level 1. It’s a fantastic source for learning Hanguel

Level 1
This class was fantastic! I already knew how to read Hangeul when I signed up, but I wanted to start at the beginning of the program. I figured at the very least it would be lots of listening practice while the teacher taught stuff I already knew. I’m honestly really glad I did because I got tons of pronunciation tips and practice as the teacher introduced all the characters.

Once we finished the Hangeul textbook, she had us purchase the Level 2 textbook and we slowly started going through the first few chapters.

I seriously cannot express how much I enjoyed learning with this teacher (I am withholding her name, and the name of the other teacher, for privacy reasons). She spoke at a speed that matched the learners in the room (as in, if the struggling student happened to be absent then she would speak faster, but when he returned she would slow back down so he could follow); she would demonstrate the sound shifts that are so prevalent in Korean; and she just always made sure that all the students were up to speed and understood what we had learned. This woman made me so excited to learn to speak Korean!

Level 2 Textbook
The textbook for the Level 2 class. It’s a fantastic beginner’s textbook, and I’ll be posting a review soon.

Level 2
But all good things must come to an end. Once Level 1 was done, I was so pumped to start Level 2. I had heard some whispers about the class being hard to keep up with, but I still went in with an open mind.

The point of Level 2 is to develop a bigger understanding of Korean grammar. You will learn present, past, and future tenses; several important particles; dates and telling time; and a fair bit more. There is a ton of insanely useful stuff covered in this class.

But, the class was insanely fast paced. Unlike Level 1, this class moved on regardless of whether the students understood or not. It seemed like the class structure was designed to cover a set number of pages in each class, rather than be designed to actually make sure the students were understanding the material covered. I constantly struggled to understand what was being said, and I always felt extremely lost and confused.

Long story short, I felt like I was back in my high school calculus class, sitting there not understanding a damn thing that was going on no matter how hard I tried. I was putting in numerous hours outside of class to try and teach myself the material as best I could. But the class was going so fast, I felt like I wasn’t actually learning anything. I was just always behind the ball.

The stress of feeling that way 2 hours a day, twice a week was just too much. I reached the point where I could not learn more from that particular class style, so it was time for me to move on. I dropped out of the class, and have been continuing to study on my own. For me, it just wasn’t worth the effort to work uphill against a class whose style didn’t jive with mine.

——————-
At the end of the day, I think this is a really good program. It is an incredibly affordable way to get a structured start in Korean if you love in Busan.

I HIGHLY recommend that pretty much everyone who is interested in this program start in Level 1. You end up with a much more detailed knowledge of Korean pronunciation that just is never properly explained anywhere else. Even if you can already read Hangeul, I personally feel that its a great primer for the language. As for Level 2, I think you should give it a shot, it just really didn’t work for me.

Have you taken any language classes before? How did your experience go? Let me know in the comments below!

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Namhae Village Tour http://wanderlang.com/2016/08/28/namhae-village-tour/ http://wanderlang.com/2016/08/28/namhae-village-tour/#respond Sun, 28 Aug 2016 14:40:55 +0000 http://wanderlang.com/?p=1021 Hello World!

So, yeah, it’s been a super long time since I last posted. Life got kinda crazy: we had to deal with finding a new apartment, moving into said apartment, going on a few vacations, server problems, and tons of other little everyday things that make time pass way too quickly. Next thing I knew, here we sit at the end of freaking August!

So, to get back into the swing of things, let’s start out nice and easy.

Namhae Village View
A shot of the beautiful Namhae fishing village.

Cody and I recently went on this really cool tour offered by Explore Rural Korea, which is partially run by the Korean government’s agricultural department. You can check out their official website here. The best place to get up to date information is their Facebook page, where you can also see pictures of their recent tours. They offer a couple of different tours that let foreigners come see various parts of rural Korea. The tour we went took us to Namhae Island, so that we could see a small fishing village and a temple.

After a 3 hour bus ride (during which I was extremely car sick. I just cannot seem to do motor vehicles any more) we arrived at Namhae Island. And let me tell you, it is so beautiful! All the roofs had beautiful flower murals painted on them. The streets twisted and turned all down the side of the mountain. It is easily the most beautiful town I’ve seen in Korea.

Beach View
The view from the beach that we hiked down to for the water activities.

The tour provided us with lunch, bulgogi duck and cold seaweed soup. The meat was so amazingly delicious!
After lunch, we all got ready to head out for the water portion of the tour. We went on a half hour hike to get to the beach were we would be doing the activities. And holy crap, was it intense. Fun, beautiful, but intense. We had to walk down crazy steep dirt stairs, and in several places the stairs were half washed out, so we had to be really careful. There was even a spot with old razor wire on either side of the path! (The both cool and dangerous part about the Korean War artifacts that dot the countryside.)

Sara on Death Stairs
Me attempting to not die as I climbed down these stairs cut into the mountain on our way down to the beach.

For the water portion of the day there were three parts, fishing, rafting, and boating. The fishing was really fun to watch: they gave us cups and a piece of sea snail to bait the little gobi fish. Cody did all the work, but I had the ever important job of holding the cup to put the fish in! After the fishing they took us out on a traditional style bamboo raft and then a paddle boat. We got to go swimming and enjoy the beautiful day down on the rocky shore. Then we hiked back up the mountain to get ready for the rest of the tour. It was rather nice to hike back up the mountain in our wet clothes, because it was hot as hell that day and the wet clothes were a life saver.

There was also a temple portion of the tour, but Cody and I decided to pass on that and stay on the bus. This past Spring I had hurt my knee and we figured one mountain hike was enough for one day. I wish we could have finished the tour, but injuries are never worth it.

The company also offers other tours around the country. Check out the website or Facebook page to see all your options, since they seem to update their schedule pretty often. Cody and I are hoping to go on the bamboo forest tour later this Fall (once it’s a hell of a lot cooler).

Sara and Fish
Me holding up the fish that I helped catch. And by “helped” I mean I held the cup while Cody did all the work 🙂

I highly recommenced you check out this company’s tours, whether you live in Korea or are just here for a visit. It’s a great way to see a part of the country that you probably wouldn’t get to when you live in a big city.

Have you gone on any unique tours in your area? Would you want to check out a rural Korea tour? Let me know in the comments below!

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