dmz.1, originally uploaded by ekissam.

inside the conference room in panmunjoem. our jsa office explained the taekwondo ready stance of the rok soldier next to him. he also pointed out the size of the flag on the table. the size was set during a meeting after flags of larger and larger sizes were brought into meetings by each side until people couldn't fit in the room.


dmz.2, originally uploaded by ekissam.

some of the group seemed a little surprised when the jsa officer told them that if they were standing past the table they were in north korea. the mics on the table are an 'extension' of the military line of demarcation.


dmz.3, originally uploaded by ekissam.

this is panmunjoem, and conference row. in the distance is the north korean building. the blue huts belong to the jsa. . . there are two silver hut on the outside that belong to north korea. the jsa soldier is talking to us and you can see one rok soldier walking about, and another standing in ready stance, half behind the building- to create a smaller target in case he is fired at.


dmz.5, originally uploaded by ekissam.

it was so cool that jess came along. it had been so long since we saw each other last. i sent her the invite on facebook not knowing if she'd reply. we had a great time, and i hope we get to hang out more often. . . oh yea, and that's north korea behind us.


dmz.6, originally uploaded by ekissam.

this was my guest pass while at the jsa.

DMZ: the 38th parallel

one of those ‘things to do’

north korea has been closed down to visitors. so the dmz is as close as you can get, safely, for the time being. we’ve heard recently that north korea might open up again in a couple of months. but one of our teachers is leaving in a couple of weeks. . . so i kinda organized for a group of us to go with the USO tour. is was recommended by another teacher who went with them a couple years ago. i would recommend it as well. i’m not sure what the other dmz tours do, but this one was really informative. i sort of expected it to be a little boring, but i was pleasantly surprised at how much i liked it.

i made reservations a couple of weeks ago for three of my coworkers, my friend jess, and myself. jess came up friday night from jeoun-ju and stayed with me.

side note- i was supposed to have a couch by this time. i could use somewhere to sit, but i also wanted it for would be couch surfers. it hasn’t worked out for me just yet, so this week i picked up an air mattress. so, for those would be couch surfers. . .i don’t have a couch yet, but i think i can make your sleep somewhat comfortable.

the one real catch of the tour was that we needed to be at camp kim to catch the bus by 7am. that meant a pretty early morning train for us. jess and i tried to get to sleep at ten, but we ended up talking and catching up till about 11:30. so then we tried to sleep. . . but it just wasn’t happening for me. i think i finally fell asleep around 12:30. i had several nightmares about missing the train, missing the bus, and one violent dream about beating someone up in order to get to take a shower on time. guess there was a little anxiety kicking around in my brain.

we caught the 5:17 train to seoul. the trains move a little faster in the morning, so we probably could’ve gotten the 5:30 one, but we had a decent amount of time to grab a coffee and such before we signed in at the USO.

camp kim-
there were tons of posters announcing the rent tour that trevor will be coming through with in the next couple of weeks. i don’t care much to see the show, but some of my friends are really excited about it. i think it’ll be cool to see trevor.

we signed in sometime around 7:30 with a group of about 90 other people.

the bus ride was about an hour and a half. we were told that due to construction we wouldn’t be able to see check point 3. at check point three there had been an axe murder incident and it’s the site of ‘the bridge of no return’. gotta say, that was a bit of a bummer. .. . but we heard the story and saw pictures of the axe murder incident. ‘the bridge of no return’- which is the only bridge between north and south korea, would’ve made for a good picture. . . but not this time around.

our tour guide made things interesting. her english was really good, but she had an interesting way of saying things every once in a while that left us in stitches.

she talked about a lot of the propaganda that the north koreans used and would come to an ending point by saying, “and that’s how you know, communists are liars!”

she went on to explain some of the controversies and incidents that have taken place. the russian defector that ran across the sunken garden. ‘it’s a real hot topic, hot potato.’

there was a tree that was cut down (part of the axe murder incident) that the north koreans tried to say had special significance to their heritage, something about how it had been planted by a past ruler. after cutting it down the rings showed that it wasn’t the right age to have been planted by that ruler and therefore, “communists are liars!”

the original attempt to cut down the tree ended up in the axe murders. the north korean soldiers (kpa- korean people’s army) used the jsa’s (joint security area) own axes to attack and kill a couple of jsa officers. after that the both sides were ready for retaliation and the jsa launched operation paul bunyan to successfully cut down the tree.

camp bonifas-
anyway- our first stop was camp bonifas. this is the base camp for the united nations command security force- joint security area. 400 meters south of the southern boundary of the dmz. we are swtiched to different buses and our new ‘tour guides’ are officers of the jsa. we had a debriefing slide show, signed waivers, and received ID tags. basically we were under their care/ protection, and we were asked not to engage in any communication with the kpa soldiers. it had been a fairly light affair till we were ordered to pass our waivers and pens to the middle. it was the first harsh tone we heard all day and i saw a lot of people sit up straighter in their chairs. it was jarring, and rightly so. later, our jsa officer guides were more congenial with us, but there was always an air of tension.

from camp bonifas we bused into the dmz which is just 2 km north and south of the military demarcation line. . then into panmunjeom. we were quickly walked through the freedom house before lining up to visit conference row. there are a series of small bunkers that actually cross the line of demarcation and host talks between the north and south. between the buildings are slabs of concrete that mark the line between north and south, and inside that line is continued with two microphones on the conference table.

inside the bunker we got a good idea of the rok soldier. i didn’t see exactly what happened, but as we filed in a girl toward the front moved a little too close to the rok soldier and the door. i heard a small scream and saw people moving back from the rok soldier. i guess the rok soldier made an intimidating move to hold the crowd back. that’s when the jsa soldier said, ‘oh yeah, forgot to tell you. don’t get too close to them. trust me, he was being just being polite.’

the jsa soldiers work alongside the south korean (rok- republic of korea) soldiers. while the jsa soldiers talked to us and relayed stories and answered questions. . . the rok soldiers on duty moved around us or stood in tae kwon do ready stance (1. Chest facing forward. 2. Tight fists at belt level, about two fist-widths away from your abdomen, and one fist-width apart from each other. 3. Feet one shoulder-width apart lined up parallel to the target. 4. Toes on both feet pointed forward toward the target. 5. Knees straight (but not locked). 6. Back straight, shoulders back, head up, and eyes looking straight ahead. in fight ready position.)

the jsa soldier told us that in addition to their stance, their sunglasses were worn for intimidation. i heard a small voice from the crowd say, ‘it’s working.’

there was a rattling noise that also accompanied the rok soldiers. apparently it is a historic bit where something in their pants? rattles as they move so possibly, it sounds like there are many more of them approaching.

while in the conference room the jsa guy pointed out that half of us were standing in south korea and half in north korea. later we all had a chance to mill about, and yeah, i stood in north korea for a while. the whole group of us walked about on the north korean side and the jsa officer said it was the first time the whole group walked into north korea. there were some small flags represented. the jsa guy said that they had been encased in plastic because they had seen the kpa soldiers wiping their boots and blowing their nose with the south korean and american flags.

later we waited on the stairs of the freedom house while the other half of the group went into the conference room. we could see kpa soldiers at a distance watching us with a telescope from their building.

we went back to camp bonifas to get back into our buses. the jsa guy pointed to a sculpture that was supposed to depict two hands holding one another, and then threw in a shrug and said, ‘i don’t see it.’

once entering the dmz we couldn’t take pictures, until we were at the freedom house. i don’t totally understand why, but i think it might be that on the off chance we were undercover, working for north korea, we could send this pictures back and they could see how the southern side was fortified. there were fields of land mines and walls erected on roads to stop tanks. it definitely added to the gravity.

it was such a bizarre feeling. there were ridiculous stories and congenial soldiers. it’s an amazing opportunity to stand between two countries that are technically still at war. . . and yet, i kinda wondered if we should be allowed to do so. . . or if the healthiest thing is to stand there and feel how silly and scary the whole thing is.

we had a korean lunch before continuing. our tour guide announced that ‘pleasure comes to you after you eat, . . . if you are hungry. so enjoy your lunch.’ choice of bulgogi, or bimbimbap. we walked through a tourist shop and mingled about. a former co-worker and friend of jess’s from jeon-ju was also on the tour which seemed a pleasant surprise. he brought a big bag of chocolate on the bus and shared with a handful of us, so he seems to me to be a decent guy. :)

obervation tower-
our second major stop was an observation tower. at a distance we could see kijong-dong, a north korean town located inside the dmz. it’s mostly known as ‘propaganda village’ due to the extensive loud speaker system that blasts the praises of north korea and it’s leader. a closer look shows that the building aren’t inhabited. . . they are just shells and some people are sent around to keep up the appearance of the town. what’s interesting about it is it’s flag.

there’s a south korean town in the dmz as well. taesong-dong is a farming village also known as ‘freedom village’, that we passed. the people that live there are able to make a lot of money because they have access to a large amount of farming land and they aren’t taxed. . . but they are constantly under guard and have very strict curfews to ensure their safety. they have a large south korean flag flying high over the town.

not to be outdone, the north korean ‘propaganda village’ flies a 600 pound flag on the worlds tallest flagpole.

it’s kinda funny, and kinda sad, how all these incredibly complex international disputes emerge and play out in childish pissing contests.

we could only take pictures from the observation deck from behind a yellow line that would ensure a poor view. people tried to get around it a bit by standing on stools and climbing onto each other’s shoulders. the rok soldiers that were a little more laid back here just instructed the people to stop and said, ‘yeah, nice try. that’s not allowed either.’

tunnel #3-
our last stop was to tunnel #3. south korea has found 4 tunnels that north korea has tried to dig, supposedly on their way to seoul. tunnel three is about 490 feet below ground and about 5,200 feet long. the slope down to see the tunnel is rough. . . and long. it was so nice and cool inside though. i think i might have been the only person that could walk through the tunnel without ducking at all. (correction, the only adult foreigner.) we all wore hard hats, and i didn’t scrape rock once with mine. with bruce bent over in front of me, and natalie ducking behind me, i skipped through the tunnel. it was also nice and cool down there. i don’t agree with these north koreans.. . . but their deep short tunnels made me feel pretty much on top of the world.

the ride back was mostly about napping.

we were back in camp kim by 2:30. (i’m not usually heading into seoul until that time of day!) so we did some shopping in itaewon. we showed jessica, the new teacher, the foreign food marts, the english book store, i bought some more dvd’s from my ‘dvd boyfriend’. natalie and bruce had to skip away, but camille joined jess, jessica, and me for dinner. we finished off with coldstone, since it wasn’t blistering hot, i could handle the rich ice cream. mmmm, chocolate and peanut butter shake.

home by 7:30pm. . . . for an early bedtime. :)


a busy august

august kinda snuck up on me. we all had a week break the last week of july and then jumped into august not exactly realizing what that entailed.

like all months as a part of this school, we had a birthday party and a field trip with our students.

however, this was also the end of a semester. so, like every third month, we had finals and report cards for both elementary and kindy students. ok. . . busy, but still doing ok.

i went back to trivia night for two weeks. . . won the first week, so returned to help host the next week.

there was an added all day class, for the elementary students who are off on summer break. so a new teacher arrived. someone new to welcome and show around.

add in another work dinner to welcome the new teacher. . . and a thank you for the hard work done for open class.

oh right. open class. open class, where parents get to come in and watch their child and you. . . or me. not only is it just any old class, it needs to be this well rehearsed little play where i have to be at the top of my game and so do my students.

i immediately thought of this little joke among theatre technicians about avoiding shows with kids and animals.

guess if all my 3 and 4 year olds acted accordingly. . . just guess.

overall it went pretty well. . . not terrific, but one student refused to participate- as he always does when he’s in a strange place or when strange people are present. . . and my 3 year old student had a burst of toddler syndrome. he acted like a 3 year old and his mother is upset and wants to watch back cctv to see if her son always acts that way or if he ever behaves. he’s a smart 3 year old. ahead of several other students in that class. . . but for the love! he’s fucking 3! he spent the first 3 weeks of class crying for his mom and had to be held to calm down. maybe that’s when you should’ve wondered if he was ready for school.

one of our teachers will be leaving at the beginning of september, so there’s been a push to hang out and get some last things done while he’s here. we worked in the nine inch nails concert, an evening in itaewon (complete with a beach party themed bar, and another bar hosting a zombie costume contest), and a trip to the dmz just yesterday.

in the midst of all this, our school also decided to change the internet and cable company in our apartments. so we had to finangle time to be home and allow mechanics to set us up.

one student in my 5 year old class is leaving, so hazel and i threw together a snack party on friday, her last day.

the swine flu scare has returned. parents are calling and asking what we are doing to keep their kids safe. there are a couple of cases in ansan public schools. the parents are putting a lot of pressure on the school and so the school is asking the teachers to adjust our habits. . . yet parents send their kids to school sick and some refuse to retrieve their kid even when they are coughing and have a high fever. let’s be honest. most likely, the swine flu will enter our school through a kid. my students lick tables, pick their nose, cough with open mouths, sneeze on their friends’ lunches. they are walking biohazards. . . but the solution is to ask me to avoid public places when they are busy. awesome. brilliant. strong work there parents.

oh, and about a week ago i had another small cold. . . or maybe it’s just hay fever or something since i still am blowing my nose a lot.

looking back, there was my trip to the hospital for these bizarre joint pains, possibly brought on by the extended and extreme heat and humidity. as it was explained to me, the sheath that holds the tendons in my wrist was swollen. i couldn’t bend my wrist without pain, and i couldn’t flex or grip my fingers at all. they immobilized my wrist for a couple of days and gave me some pain killers. it seemed to do the trick on my left wrist, but while it was immobile, my right wrist got sore. so i switched wrapping each wrist and for a couple days, both wrists were wrapped.

both wrists seem to be fine now, but i’m wrapping them while i sleep for good measure. randomly at the same time my knee would lock up, my ankles got sore, and even my elbows, which is what made me think it was the humidity. i’ve never had that, but it all disappeared with the anti-inflammatories i was given. it made the first two weeks of august more interesting than i would’ve liked. i’d really like to avoid that in the future.

there’s been a general fatigue running through most of the teachers. we all seem a little dead on our feet and ready for august to be over. realistically, this busy august won’t pass till the end of the first week in september. . . after we have our new schedules, new books, new students, and have written syllabuses.

it’s hard to believe all this has been only august.

it’s finally starting to cool off. . . even just a little. i was still baking a little during the dmz tour. the skies have been gray pretty often (which may be adding to the dismalness) but i can feel a coolness as evening turns. i’m looking forward to the fall.



ansan.rainbow.1, originally uploaded by ekissam.

it was the kind of day when you expected to see a rainbow.


ansan.rainbow.2, originally uploaded by ekissam.

it had been raining. the sky was really dark on one side, and the side was bright from the other side.


ansan.rainbow.3, originally uploaded by ekissam.

hmm, is that a hint of a rainbow there?


ansan.rainbow.4, originally uploaded by ekissam.

aha! there it is.


ansan.rainbow.5, originally uploaded by ekissam.

up and over. . . . stopping people in their tracks.


ansan.rainbow.6, originally uploaded by ekissam.

to the other side of the block. would've been nice to see it from a rooftop. a pretty good double.


motor.show.1, originally uploaded by ekissam.

the motor show field trip. sponsored by some car manufacturer. there was a bit of information about cars, and car structure and how wheels work. . . but no one was really paying attention to that. they all wanted to get to the bouncy castle and atv's.


motor.show.2, originally uploaded by ekissam.

ahhh, the water ride. the ride everyone wants to be on. it ends up being a little more than floating about, or spinning about and bumping into fellow riders.


motor.show.3, originally uploaded by ekissam.

a little time on some small wriggly riders.


motor.show.4, originally uploaded by ekissam.

. . . and some more time on the little bumper cars. mercury class was a little too small to run around on the small atv's. and all the other lines were ridiculously long. by the looks here though, they don't seem to be bothered.


rooftop.bbq.1, originally uploaded by ekissam.

prepping the corn- i had to get 'imported sweet corn'. corn here is rather different. only lame part, it came precooked, so it didn't cook as well on the grill.


rooftop.bbq.2, originally uploaded by ekissam.

i didn't even bring the carnivore smores this time. awesome!


rooftop.bbq.3, originally uploaded by ekissam.

the spread (not all shown): plenty of beverage, dogs, pasta salad, grilled marinated zucchini, grilled corn with lime juice and cayenne pepper, grilled marinated chicken, grilled marinated carrots, carnivore smores. . . and later, some very messy regular smores. the whole marshmallows on the grill thing- not such a good idea. sticks would've been nice. . . but no trees on the rooftop.



wavegoodbye.asia.1.jpg, originally uploaded by ekissam.

bruce and i didn't want to risk bringing our own cameras. . . but this is a shot of the concert we saw from the nin website. we are a couple of lights somewhere on the left of reznor.

wave goodbye

so a couple of weeks ago one of my friends asked me if i liked nine inch nails.

i started shaking a little bit. yeah, i like nine inch nails.

he said they were playing a concert in a couple of weeks in seoul and would i like to go.

yeah. . . hell yeah.

i’ve missed them any other time the opportunity arose. . . i’ve been busy, been broke. . . never got to see them and only heard from others about how amazing the shows are.

it was a festival, so the tickets were ridiculously priced. . . but bruce (the friend) and i started looking into it, and realized that they were planning on not touring much anymore. . . this may be their last tour for a while.

neither of us had seen them live, so we buckled down and forked over the cash.

during the few weeks in between bruce helped me get up to date on their albums. . . seems i was lacking a few. i do like them, but i really hadn’t listened to them much since college, when i listened almost non stop (downward spiral and pretty hate machine was so great to work to on late night work calls. . . or just on paperwork when i needed to stay awake). . . but that was 10 years ago. . . there has been a lot of music in the meantime.

now that i’ve listened to a bunch of it, i’m not sure how i survived without ‘the fragile’ in my life. i’m still catching up, and really enjoying getting back into them.

so saturday rolled around. i thought maybe a month ago that the hottest part of summer would be over by mid august. i was wrong. it wasn’t terribly humid- good news-. . . but it was the hottest day so far. at least that’s what my teaching partner told me today at work when i talked to her about the concert. maybe in the mid to high 90’s.

the numbers don’t matter at a certain point. . . all you need to know is. . . it was fuckity fucking hot.

sweat was pouring from my head. . .but i wasn’t alone. . . everyone there was soaked. it started at 11am. . . since we didn’t know the earlier bands, we decided to go a little later in the day. so we rolled in around 1:30pm. we got to walk through the olympic stadium on the way to the festival field. kinda cool.

the tunnels between the olympic stadium and the field were mobbed with people trying to stay out of the heat. everyone went there for cover in between sets. luckily cold drinks weren’t overpriced, like i remember in the US. and there was lots of little carts with water, beer, kimbap. . . etc. they even set up a couple of water spray areas where people could douse themselves with water whenever. smart. i walked through about 3 times. i don’t think my sunscreen stayed on long. . . luckily i didn’t burn too much.

limp bizkit went on before nine inch nails, which you may find surprising and odd if you know anything about their past feud. both bruce and i were worried that durst might say something stupid and insight sometime further. but we lucked out. . . both kept their mouths shut. we really were only checking out limp bizkit to see wes borland’s get up. he didn’t disappoint. painted black and red chest with a mexican ‘day of the dead’ type skull painted on his face, and a wild red and black mohawk.

we both expected to see some more foreigners- like maybe the army base would unload to see limp bizkit.- not so much i guess. there were a couple of guys who i pinned as limp bizkit fans before i even saw their fan shirts. later bruce and i saw them up on stage when fred durst brought a number of fans up- pretty cool. in between sets we saw them and asked how they felt. limp bizkit was their favorite band, they were over the moon about it. way amusing.

we took regular water/ beer breaks in the tunnel. . . but came out early to scope a spot for nine inch nails. we didn’t get all the way to the front, but it wouldn’t have been too hard. where we were we had a good view of the stage and the video screens.

two problems with festival concerts. . . sometimes the sun isn’t down when you’d really like it to be, and sometimes your favorite band doesn’t get to play their encore. it didn’t get dark till half way through nine inch nails’ set. . . and they didn’t get to play their encore, since a korean band was actually the headliner.

however, all that aside. i am in awe. bruce told me that live they really ramp up the guitar. i thought that it sounded amazing, and that it sounded fuller. . .it wasn’t till after i came home and started listening to a live album vs. a studio that i realized how different. man, i thought the studio albums were edgy. . . . the live stuff blows it away.

they played 18 songs:
1-somewhat damaged
2-terrible lies
3- heresy
4- march of the pigs
5- reptile
6- I’m afraid of americans (david bowie cover)
7- the becoming
8- burn
9- gave up
10- la mer
11- the fragile
12- non-entity
13- the downward spiral
14- wish
15- survivalism
16- the hand that feeds
17- head like a hole
18- hurt

reznor didn’t say much, in fact, he just walked up to the mike and started to sing which almost caught the crowd off guard. the whole band was amazing. . . . and all of them were pouring sweat. it was a little before the last song that reznor thanked the crowd and announced that that would be their last concert as nine inch nails in asia.

my heart sank. to finally get to see them live, and then find out it would be the last time most likely. then they played hurt. . . and i started crying enough to match the sweat pouring off me.

i really didn’t expect them to sound better live. . . i was blown away. now i’m a little depressed. but man, i was lucky to get it in.

the korean guy who i guess is really big here had a whole lot more pyro and bells and whistles going on. we really only stayed to see, if by some chance, nine inch nails would play an encore. no such luck. both of us really only missed hearing ‘closer’ and ‘starfucker’. . . other than that. . . i can’t complain. . . and even with that, i’m not complaining.

if they really are calling it quits, i’m sad to see them go. . .



7.31.vaca.1, originally uploaded by ekissam.

so we hung out in hongdae last night.

i've been reluctant to leave my AC cooled apartment with this heat. . . but an ice bar sounded promising.

oh. . . it was nice. it's something every town should have.

it would've been nice if there was a little more to do, but we were soon entertained by a group of korean college students who came in and started to play a form of strip rock/ scissors/ paper. first they lost the parka, then the shoes, then the socks. . .


7.31.vaca.2, originally uploaded by ekissam.

not exactly a place to warm your hands.


7.31.vaca.3, originally uploaded by ekissam.

i didn't get to see the rodin sculptures the other day. . . so i guess this will do for now.


7.31.vaca.4, originally uploaded by ekissam.

here's a shot of my ice/glass drink at the bar.


7.31.vaca.5, originally uploaded by ekissam.

i'm enjoying the drink. . . and the cold.

i would've liked to have kept the parka as well.


7.31.vaca.6, originally uploaded by ekissam.

there's always something about an interesting bathroom.

this is at castle praha, a prague inspired restaurant and microbrew.

nifty looking. . . but not my fav as far as functionality goes.


7.31.vaca.7, originally uploaded by ekissam.

looking up the stairs of castle praha. i had no idea from the churchy/ castley exterior that this place was so huge. two basements. . . a couple of floors up. . . very cool place to grab a bite and a drink.