Today (Friday) was the first day of my first Chuseok holiday. Last Thursday, some members of the English club (henceforth to be referred to as MEC) had decided to meet today for some fun and adventure. Being a lover of fun and adventure myself, I accepted the invitation to come along.
(Our group [left to right, back to front]: Grace, Sally, Tom, Hyenii, Vanilla (yes, that's her real [English] name), Ricky, I can't remember the name of the next woman with the green hoody even though I asked her twice [this is the look of letters when they are typed in shame], and finally some guy who isn't actually part of MEC and doesn't speak English either.)
Originally I had thought we were going to some mountain near the 38th parallel to peer into North Korea using high powered binoculars. However, I guess plans had changed, because when the car stopped we were at the English Village in Paju.
English Villages first came to Korea in 2004 from Spain and Italy. The goal of an English Village is to help give Korean children a chance to improve their English language skills through month long, live-in immersion camps, without having to leave Korea (thus keeping more money in Korea). Over 100 foreign teachers are employed to give the camp an authentic feel, and the "town" also has many post office, hospital, city hall, etc. type buildings to give a more authentic role playing opportunity for the children.
When we went to the English Village there wasn't much to see, as the teachers had all been given a week long holiday, and so many of them had gone to Bali or Thailand. Oddly enough, of the five or so teachers who had stayed one of them was Tom. Tom is a teacher from New Zealand that I had met at Ace Climbing Gym last week. I had remembered he told me about his job at the English Village in Paju, so I was wondering if I would see him. However, given the circumstances it was a pretty big coincidence that we ran into each other.
MEC is led by Tom (the Korean Tom in the photo above). And while we were walking through the streets of the English Village, Tom asked me if the houses reminded me of Canadian houses. To be honest, the houses and "stores" looked like something I might see in Disneyland, but even so they did not look Canadian. I told Tom that if anything the houses and street were modelled upon a town in Great Britain, as I had seen very similar lamp posts and street clocks in Edinburgh during my trip there in 2008.
About the only thing worth seeing at the English Village (on this day) was this amphitheatre that overlooked an artificial pond. The weather was as nice as it looks in this picture, and the pond was home to many "water skaters" that I happily watched for some minutes.
After we had seen all of the buildings in the town we went back to have some truly mediocre pizza and spaghetti at the town Pizza and Spaghetti Shop. Then after lunch, Tom broke out the Uno package he had bought, and I prepared to do battle in the most intense game of Uno ever.
While the game was friendly enough, and no one tried to cheat, per se, some of the Koreans' interpretations of appropriate protocol were different than what I'm used to. Grace, who was sitting next to me, was constantly trying to peer over my shoulder to see what cards I had, and every time Tom tried to "help out" by handing out 2 or 4 cards to an opponent who had just received a "Pick up Two" or "Pick up Four" card, he would look at the cards he had just picked up. I learned quite early to "help" myself whenever I needed more cards.
After Ricky won the hard fought Uno game, we moved over to the nearby HEYRI Art Valley. HEYRI Art Valley was was built in 1997, with the goal of creating a place where artists of different genres can gather to communicate with each other and the public. All I saw though, were a bunch of over-priced art stores and cafes that sold $5 2-inch by 2-inch squares of cake.
The one bright spot at the HYERI Art Valley was the toy museum. For the price of a piece of HYERI Art Valley cake I was able to explore 2 of the 3 floors (I had to pay an extra $2 to see Sponge Bob on the third floor), filled with quite probably thousands of toys of all sorts and sizes. Below are some pictures of my favourites.
(It's the underwater Lotus Elise from "The Spy Who Loved Me.")
("Marty, you're not thinking fourth-dimensionally.")
(I suggest clicking on the picture to zoom in and get a clearer view. Bonus points if you can guess the yellow toy to the left, just barely in the shot. Check the last picture for the answer.)
(The Nike Free shoe in front actually turns into the Transformer behind it. Zoom in on the image and look at the robot's wings. They're in the shape of a shoe and you can see the laces hanging down.)
("Go, go Gadget Pop Pen!")
(Long time readers will already know about my love for Astro Boy - I've already taken out a membership in NAMBLA - but I was overwhelmingly over joyed by this find. What's hilarious, is that it looks like Atom - his name in Korea - is making a rude gesture. However, the hours I spent watching Sasuke have not been wasted, and I think that in Japan this is considered a sign of self congratulations - like pumping one's fist in the air - since I have seen many competitors on that show use this same action when they have completed a stage in an impressive fashion.)
(The life-sized robots were a hit with everyone.)
(What toy museum worth its robots would be caught dead without a 1/24 scale Hyundai Pony model car tucked away behind a glass pane and some other boxes?)
(Do you remember my question at the top, about what the toy beside the T-1000 skull? If you said "Ripley's exo-skeleton from Alien," then congratulations, because you're the biggest nerd in the world.)
For supper we all went out for duck. It was my first time having duck and I was curious about how it would taste. Duck tastes a lot like really tender chicken actually, and was by no means anything less than delicious. However, I found that I preferred the pork dishes at our meal to the duck, perhaps because of the thicker and firmer texture.
After dinner, we were treated to an impromptu swing dance lesson by a friend of Vanilla's. Apparently she takes swing dance lessons and had invited the instructor to our meal. The instructor said I was a good dancer, but I was more pleased that I could understand enough of the words in his Korean directions to figure out what he was telling me.