Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Korea!

This was inevitable - holidays away from the family. When leaving for a country for a year you know you're going to miss some very important things. While being in that country for the actual holidays it is important to remember that you chose to do this and that these same holidays will be there next year waiting for you to celebrate them the way that you've always done and to embrace this year as different.

SO that is exactly what we foreigners did. If you're lucky enough you come to Korea and you fall into a group as great as mine. These people have become like family over the past few months so spending it together just was the natural way of it. One of us made a nice Christmas Eve dinner in his apartment before we all headed out to the bar we always go to, where we waited for the clock to strike 12 and make it officially Christmas Day. I was playing foosball at that exact moment, by the way. Due to the fact that I was getting over being very, very sick I called it an early night at 2am.

Christmas day couldn't have gone any better either. I had people over to my apartment where I made everyone french toast for breakfast, and we then had a large Polyanna gift exchange wherein the spirit of Christmas we open presents and then steal what we want from those that we love. I wound up with a nice Guinness set, so I can't complain. There was an intermission in the day for people to go clean themselves up, and we headed into Seoul for a nice, traditional, Moroccan Style Dinner. Wait, what? Moroccan? Yes. We tried for the Irish Pub BUT it was all booked up and this was the next best thing. Honestly - it was a perfect random fit to our day in my mind, and it was actually pretty tasty too (Marakech Night, in Itaewon).

So now, after a successful Christmas comes to a close, I would like to thank all those that were apart of it, and wish all those that weren't a very, very Happy Christmas. I'm really missing friends and family, but I will home in less than a year now, and that's kind of a crazy thought.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ice Skating at Lotte World!

Lotte World is Korea's own mini indoor version of Disney World. It has an amusement park, a bowling alley, an ice rink, a shooting range, a food area, and I don't even know what else.

Sunday night since most of us had at least a few days off we took a little trip out to Jamsil to go to the ice rink at Lotte World. It is an indoor rink that's pretty large, and surrounded by parts of the amusement park including fake hot air balloons that take people on a tour throughout the place.

We all laced up our skates after spending 8,000Won to get in and 4,000Won on the rentals and hit the ice. Some of us were better than others as is to be expected in any group, but all of us had a lot of fun. There's a light show to music and fake snow that falls from the ceiling but overall it was an excellent time. The only weird thing I still don't understand is one of the rules - All Skaters Must Wear Gloves at All Times. You could go out onto that ice wearing a speedo and goggles, but as long as you're wearing gloves they don't care. The second you take your gloves off you'll hear a whistle come from any direction and the Korean skate guards will come over and nicely ask you to put the gloves back on. My only explanation is that they don't want you hurting your hands if you fall, but why should they care? It remains a mystery to me...

OH, and if anyone sees this guy walking around - give him a high five for effort:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's an SLP Christmas!

Christmas time at SLP was an interesting time. There was definitely more of an effort put into Halloween than Christmas, but I guess that makes sense? Korea is only 25% Christian, afterall.

Friday morning the two guys on our staff took turns acting as Santa for the children. The parents sent presents in earlier in the week and then Santa has them sit and hands them out. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves...

We spent the morning making Christmas cards which was kind of hilarious. They gave us all these materials - felt, construction paper, ribbon, stickers, little fuzzy balls, and of course directions. Now, half of the staff is foreign, and none of us speak any Korean, but take a look at the directions, notice anything:

exactly. It's all in Hangul. So we improvised and I made a completely different card. Yes, I made, not the kids, because they're six and do not have the dexterity to cut through felt with plastic scissors. I hope their parents appreciate my hard work.

Then after arts and crafts time, there was story time which was such a joke. Like the first half where we were given materials, I assumed we would be given stories. And you do know what they say when you assume. We were supposed to either make up our own stories to tell the children OR take them to the library and have them find christmasy stories. Yea... that never happened luckily, because Santa came and all was forgotten. But I love the ill preparation from those above me. One of those, "Ohhh Korea" moments I suppose.

After the kids got all their presents and went home, the afternoon classes continued as normal. I brought in candy for the kids, and that was as festive as the day got. The one thing I felt bad about was I had planned on giving all of my kids no homework over the break, but through no choice of my own I was forced to give them 5 days worth of homework. Asian children get worked harder than I ever did as a child, that is definitely for sure. Oh well, I guess they're used to it and have no idea what they're missing. Kinda sad really. But hey, at least I get a vacation out of the whole deal...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Basement Jaxx in Gangnam

It is no secret that I spent 3 years working in the Music Industry, and that I saw and did some stuff that people usually only dream about doing. I came to Korea to kind of get away from all that to see if by getting away would I miss it and go back, or would I leave it in my past forever? After all, it is a very superficial world, its a stressful world, and it's a hard world to make a life in. However - while I'm figuring that all out that does NOT mean I don't miss its perks.

I was going to roughly 3 shows a week on the average at home and since coming here in August I have seen a whopping zero. However, through word of mouth I was informed that the Basement Jaxx would be playing a very small club in Gangnam. Since I had seen no posters around for this and wasn't sure, I did a bit of research and emailed the old company to see if it was legit (Basement Jaxx are represented by WMA) and indeed it was.

After spending 40,000 hard earned Won, we all danced like we had never danced before to the sweet sweet sounds of electronic music. Club Mass was a 1000+ person venue that had a terrible barstaff, but an excellent environment and it was one of the best nights I have had in Korea so far.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

International Travel Planning

Part of the reason for moving halfway around the world was to travel - obviously. I lived in NYC for 3 solid years, and I didn't leave the Northeast part of the US once. Money was mostly the reason for that, but I also was just complacent with being in the supposed "greatest city in the world."

With Christmas upcoming, what better time to do some Asian traveling? SLP has been so generous to give us December 22nd until January 2nd off, which is a nice 11 children free days away from school. From what I hear it is only one of two or three schools that has this kind of extended break. I know some teachers here that only have Christmas Day off and then it is right back to work (I also met some that get 2 weeks, but that is RARE). I got lucky with this, but if you're considering coming to Korea - this is one of the things I would suggesting asking about in your interview.

When we realized we had this break a few months ago the first thing we thought of was Thailand. Warm beaches, interesting cities that seem to cause people across the board a wide range of opinions (awesome/beautiful place vs. dirty/disgusting). However as time went on interest seemed to wane and prices on airfare seemed to skyrocket.

Then, almost like magic came my friends with the idea of meeting up in Beijing for New Year's Eve. And then I realized we could meet up in Shanghai first so that is exactly what is happening. I could have gone through a travel agent for this, but I'm a big fan of doing things myself. I surveyed some friends and found that and were two very efficient international websites with cheaper than most flights. Sprice is a site that actually searches the Asian discount airlines (along the lines of Southwest or TWA at home) but be careful about what airports they fly you into.

After the tickets were booked I then realized I would be in need of a Visa to get into China. Luckily for me I'm American, so this means you must pay more than anyone else in the world just to see what this place has to offer. It's $100 for a single entry visa, OR $100 for a multiple entry visa up to one year. HOWEVER being an American, IN Korea, I apparently cannot just walk up to the Chinese embassy here and request a visa (which btw, the visa offices at the Chinese Consulate is only open from 9am-11am M-F and takes 4 days to process). BEING that I am an American I must go through a travel Agent and spend an extra $50 to make this all happen AND it is only good for 30 days, single entry. The travel agent was right next door to school so it was actually more convenient this way, but spending $150 for a 6 day trip to China wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Ah well.

Next was the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. One of my travel companions found an excellent tour company which has been absolutely amazing as far as speed and communication: Dragon Delight, China. They put together my friends entire tour from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Beijing, and are only doing 1 out of my 3 days in Shanghai, and they took care of booking the train tickets as well.

Lastly was the accommodation for the trip. I'm taking a chance and staying at a hostel. At $5 a night I will be staying right in the heart of Shanghai at the UCool International Hostel, and then will be staying at the 365 Inn (hostel) in Beijing with friends for New Year's Eve. Both of these places were found either by word of mouth, or from various hostel websites just by using Google and reading a number of reviews.

SO we shall see how well prepared I am once I actually get to China... wish me luck!

Mass Exodus

Ah, coming and going - the nature of the beast. You come to Korea and you've got your year contract and this huge open mind about what you're doing to do and who you're going to meet and how everything is just unknown and exciting.

What you don't think of is how insanely fast you'll become close to the people you're around, and how unprepared you'll be for when they leave. You're thrown into this pressure cooker of a situation, in a job you've probably never done before, surrounded by nothing but Asian people and their different customs and you find solace in these people that have been here longer than you, have gotten used to the ropes, and are actually showing you how to stand on your own two feet.

When you meet someone new the first question is almost always, "So how long have you been in Korea?" and everyone responds in one of five ways:

1) The Newbie: "I've been here ___ days/weeks!!! It's so great/overwhelming/amazing!"
2) The 'I've Got This' Guy: "Ah yea a few months in, it's not so bad. I'm really enjoying it so far"
3) The Mid-Grade Person: "Yep. I'm halfway through. Can't believe time's gone this fast."
4) The Counter: "Oh Man, time's almost up. I've got ____ months/weeks/days left - going home is gonna be sad, but great!"
5) The Lifer: "Ah a few years... just don't feel like goin home"

And you can't really avoid it, its just what happens. When I first got here I met dozens of people, all in various stages of their Korean stint and it was fascinating to hear the difference in opinion based on time spent here alone. However, I had the chance to meet 4 really great guys that were apart of this little Suji contingent we got goin on here. One was on my staff from Newfoundland, two at a school down the street from Minnesota and Ireland, and the other at a school across the street who was from the UK. All of them basically introduced themselves to me as #4 - The Counter. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, on my first night I was told by one of them that getting to know them wouldn't be great because they were going to get up and leave in November anyway.

But, I've never been one to listen to what I'm told, and wound up becoming pretty good friends with them - some more than others of course, but I'll miss them all equally as much. They have each left on a different day in the past two weeks and it's almost hard to imagine life being the same afterwards. BUT, with every door closing another opens, and someone else shows up, and #1s - The Newbies are pretty great too. It's fun to watch someone else struggle with what you once struggled with! (and it's good to help them out too, I suppose)

The great thing about all of this, is that your friendships get fast tracked. So you're either friends, or you're not. And they're the kind of relationships that you know are gonna be around until the end of time because honestly, who else will ever be able to understand what you went through for a year? And so, what you have are people planted all over the world in English speaking countries that you can literally go and visit whenever you want and take advantage of their hospitality and reminisce about times gone by.

So - to Michael, Robbie, Eamon, and Ben - if you ever find yourselves reading this (and I doubt you will) life is Suji will surely be different with you guys gone, but we'll keep Exit open late and the bottles of Soju flowing for ya. Here's to crazy times, and eventually hanging out in our respective places of origin!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Occult Star Bar in Sinchon

Life in Korea is pretty much like life anywhere else. You wake up, you go to work for 8 hours, you entertain yourself somehow afterwards with things like dinners and the gym and maybe some errands or seeing some friends. Then you wake up and do it all over again. However, every now and again you have a night out that really lets you know you're in Asia and that life really is just radically different here.

On Saturday about 15 of us did the usual trek into Seoul - did various activities first and then met up at Seoul Pub in Itaewon. Twelve of us then continued on to do a supposed bar crawl in Sinchon which turned out to be the most convuluted evening ever. We got off at the wrong subway stop, ended up walking through very very deserted areas, and kind of got to the area we wanted to be in, but no one was sure and it was cold and taking forever. Eventually after about an hour of being lost, we find the bar that others are in and it was well worth the wait.

Occult Star, which has apparently only been open for the past 2 weeks was this deserted little place that you had to take your shoes off in order to enter. It was a gorgeous multi level place that had a very Moroccan like theme, comfortable couches, chairs, and bed type mats all over the place. The amazing feature of this place was this pool in the center that you could sit around and put your feet in and have these "Doctor Fish" come over and bite your feet. Sounds unpleasant right? Well, once you past the fact that you've got hundreds of fish sucking on your feet you get used to the mini shocking feeling of each little bite. What they're doing is just cleaning off the dead skin, and what you get is incredibly soft skin afterwards. Nature's natural pedicure if you will?

Sitting around this pool, with a couple of drinks, great friends, and a hookah was nothing short of incredible. A great place to spend the last remaining hours of your night - especially if its a cold one. I couldn't probably ever tell ya how to get there, but I will attempt to find this diamond in the rough again...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SLP Science Fair Day!

Once a month we take the little kiddies in the IP classes (Intensive Preschool) on a field trip. Instead of doing a field trip in November, the school decided it'd be a great idea to let the kids have a science fair day at the school instead.

I usually love field trips - get on a bus, see something new, the kids have a great time, they're generally on their best behavior it's a great day and a good memory for the teachers and for the kids.

Science Fair Day might have been the exact opposite of that. The teachers came in 30 minutes early to learn how to DO all of the science experiment. In one room it was explained to us that one experiment was going to be using Nickel, Cobalt, and ACID in water that was made of glass? And that if the children consumed it, they'd die. It was a very stressful day of stuff I've already seen before, and there was a LOT of yelling to get them to listen to directions and pay attention. There were also a lot of tears when whatever it is they were attempting to make broke, or didn't work, or eventually just fell apart.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the death juice, making bouncy balls, playing with little balancing bird things, and the kids using their newly made flying rockets (SERIOUSLY who thought this was a great idea?!?!)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving - Korean Style

The fall is easily my favorite time of year. Leaves start falling, the weather gets colder, fashion gets interesting, and you start gearing up for the onslaught of holidays that come with the times. First you've got Halloween, then 3 weeks later follows a nicely timed Thanksgiving which is usually 3 days off, and then another 3 or so weeks and you've got xmas - which all really makes the end of the year fly right by.

Well not in Korea. Thanksgiving obviously doesn't exist here since this country didn't just pop up a few hundred years ago and decide to be thankful that someone taught the people how to farm their land and then kill the natural inhabitants.

It was a little weird this year not having this holiday to break things up. Having four full weeks of work just didn't seem right. And not to mention the thought of not going home and fully living it up on Thanksgiving Eve with all the home friends, was just odd too. No Macy's Day Parade, no Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, no Pumpkin Pie. It was rough.

Although, the Friday after proved to be its own little mini Thanksgiving here. One of the girls on my staff had gone into Seoul to have dinner on an army base and stole a bunch of goods to bring back to us that were less fortunate. She brought leftover Turkey (the best part of the holiday anyway), bread and butter, and an apple pie. It was all mouth watering deliciousness. It also happened to be the monthly birthday celebration at school, and Robbie's last day at SLP so I probably had more food than on any other Thanksgiving before it. Well, that is if only fried chicken were a traditional Thanksgiving fixin'.

December is just around the corner, and luckily, my school gets a very sizable vacation compared to others so hopefully that'll make up for it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Yongsan (my Mecca)

This weekend I took a trip to the Yongsan Electronic Markets in Seoul with a group of foreigners to spend our hard earned cash on many, many electronics. Collectively we spent roughly 3.5 Million Won (About $3,800) on our gadgetry. Two laptops, two external 500gb hard drives, a digital camera, an iPod classic, a high speed memory card, and some beer (it was a long day for some). If we were home, that number should have been closer to $5,000.

Yongsan is possibly one of the most amazing concepts for shopping that I've ever seen - and there is truth behind their proclamation that its the greatest technological town in the Far East. The area is comprised of 20 buildings and something like 5,000 stores specifically geared towards computers, computer accessories, video games, televisions, music players, cameras, and almost everything your little technological mind could ever dare to imagine. Think of Best Buy on steroids.

We took the subway into Yongsan, and entered through the KTX train terminal into the first building. Everything in these buildings looks like the bottom floor of a department store - with kiosks everywhere. And they all have the same products for the most part, but they could be extremely different prices. Case in point - my friend bought a new Sony Cybershot DSC-W80 - small, sleek, 7.2 mp, 3x zoom, not a bad little digital camera. One booth told her it was 250,000W and the next booth down said 290,000W. They weren't even 10 feet apart and charging a 40 dollar difference.

We then walked out of the first building and through a long airport like tunnel to the next few buildings:

This is where my friends bought their two laptops - two brand new Sony Vaios, which at home should have cost them around $1,200 at least, but after a few stops negotiating at a few booths they bought two for 960,000W each ($1000). While they were doing that, I decided to take a walk around and try my hand at low balling some shopkeepers for a new memory card.

I found some store that didn't have anyone milling about towards the back end of a building (you know they're hurting for business if they're not in a prime location). I walked over, asked how much for a 1gb basic speed card, and the guy told me 25,000. Then said he'd give me a 2gig card for 30,000. After going back and forth, and asking "CahCah Chuseyo" (I spelled it wrong, but it means Give me a discount) I eventually got a high speed, 1gb Samsung memory card for 15,000 (~$16) which probably would have cost me about $25 at home. Not bad.

I have yet to even break the surface of Yongsan, but I will be going back to buy a new external hard drive in January. The area is 98% geared towards PC users, but there are a few licensed Apple Retailers, and a mock Apple Store that's just a rather large kiosk in the first building.

If only I was independently wealthy, and actually had a need to use half the stuff this place offers...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cuse Basketball! in Korea?

This will be a short but sweet post, as I can't help but rave about modern technology and my love of college basketball.

It is no secret that I have nothing but love for my alma matter - Syracuse University. Best four years of my life, easily - even if this current year in Korea is rivaling that. My junior year the Syracuse Basketball team won the NCAA Championship which will forever go down as one of the most incredible nights of my life. This was also the year that I started working security at the Carrier Dome where I was paid to see every sporting event.

When I moved to NYC I went to every SU game at Madison Square Garden, and watched every game that was aired on the local NY network, ESPN, or other sporting stations. So naturally one of my big concerns with moving to Asia was how to assuage my addiction to watching college ball.

Well, technology to the rescue. The SU Athletics website offers a thing called the Orange Access Package. For $9.95 a month I can listen* to live radio broadcasts of the games, and 30 minutes after the completion of the game I can watch the game in its entirety. They've paired with a company called Internet Consulting Services, Inc. which has created the site and its features.

And for once, the 14 hour time difference works in my favor. A 7pm game on Monday means that its 9am Tuesday here for me. So I listen to the first half before I go to work, and then come home to watch the 2nd half. It really is excellent. The trick is not reading SU news, or ESPN, or talking to anyone throughout the day.

I'm sure that if you're from a Division I school they also offer this type of package on your athletic website. If not, well then, 'Cuse really is superior ;)

*Take note, that if you are a 'Cuse fan reading this and are also the proud owner of a shiny Mac computer, you will need to download Flip4Mac. A program that converts all Windows Media Player content into a Quicktime file for your easy viewing pleasure. You have to do nothing except open whatever file you're trying to watch and the program will take care of the rest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

But Skyping sounds Dirty!

It dawned on me that I have mastered the art of communication in my few months of being here. I think of myself as extremely tech savvy, and I can peruse the internet with the best of 'em to find what I need, or see what exists to make everything easier. I've been in Korea for 13 weeks now, and one of the first things I did and continue to do is abuse my Skype account. My friends and I use the phrases, "Hey, wanna Skype later?" and "Do you ever think that Skyping sounds dirty?" constantly.

Skype offers a lot of extremely useful services as a VoiP (Voice over Internet Protocol) - Skype Out, Skype In, Skype To Go, Skype Pro, etc etc etc. and its hard to navigate. I'll be honest, it took me months to really figure out what everything was because I don't think Skype's website is entirely helpful at the start. So here I am to spell it all out for you.

First things first - create a free Skype account to start using your computer as your phone. Download the service, create a username, and it'll set up a Buddy List (a la, AIM, MSN, g-chat, etc). Calling from computer to computer is free - so urge your friends just to download the service and use their microphones/webcams.

Second, figure out your needs. If you plan on making a lot of international phone calls, Skype Out is probably the only thing you need. Just buy Skype Out Credit (usually about $10 worth) and then you can make outgoing phone calls to anywhere in the world for a really cheap rate as a declining balance (as close to being like a phone card as you can get).

However, if you're like me, and will talk to a lot of friends and family at home, that becomes a bit costly after awhile. The next best thing to do is get Skype In. Skype In is this amazing feature that allows you to get a local phone number back home, from any area that you wish, and therefore anyone can call that number at no charge to them. It's safe to say that 100% of my friends have cell phones with national calling plans so I personally picked an area code that my older family members could call for free from their landlines. I believe it is roughly $18 for 3 months or $60 for a year to purchase a number. I do not believe that this feature is available in Canada or Europe yet, unfortunately.

Then there's Skype Pro - for the avid user. Basically this is a service that is just adding perks to the two basic programs (Skype In/Out). If you're going to shell out the money and make the commitment for Skype In, there's no real reason not to by Skype Pro. It is $3 a month taken directly out of your Skype Out credit, and for that monthly fee you will receive free voice mail, discounts on all Skype products, and your Skype In service will be given to you at a reduced rate of $12 for 3 months or $24 for 12 months.

Skype also offers a Skype To Go feature, which will allow you to create another phone number for where you currently are (i.e. I could get a Korean phone number) and have that be directed to a phone number you call most at home (i.e. your parents, or a significant other) from your cell phone here. It is only available in specific countries though - the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan for example, and I don't think of it as a necessary feature anyway.

Having all of this basically should take care of all your phoning needs. I have a cell phone here, but I barely use it other than to make the occasional, "Hey, what's the plan for tonight" phone call so it only costs me $10 a month. Skype is definitely my preferred talking plan, and seems to be the consensus amongst all foreigners I've come in contact with. People do use other services, Yahoo Messenger, for example, I hear is pretty reliable. It is a bit cheaper to make international calls, but Skype has the best all around package and the most options. It even lets you send some text messages which is a neat little feature.

Hope this helps - and have a good time Skyping ;)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

SLP Open Class/Open House

There are ups and downs with any job. If there was such a thing as a perfect job no one would even bother attempting to work for all the imperfect ones. So when I told people that I would be going to teach English in South Korea people automatically thought that I was taking the easy road. I mean, how hard can teaching be? Especially teaching a subject you were born into knowing. Think about it, you've studied nothing else longer than you have English if it is your first language except maybe the art of walking.

And for the most part - those people were right. It is easy. I work in a school where the curriculum is pretty set across the board, I can just come in and make a billion photocopies of something to keep the kids busy, and at the end of the day I've worked a pretty gratifying 8 or so hours. Sometimes if I feel like entertaining myself I'll put more effort into a game or something. And really its just using some creativity to get the kids to speak up. I use stickers or candy as bribery, for example, and it works better than you'd think.

But make no mistake, there are some really horrible parts of the job. Amongst the common complaints - misbehaving children, kids that have no desire to be learning what they're learning, the amount of germs that are floating around a school because kids are just insanely messy and care little for their hygiene, annoying school policies that don't seem to make any sense, micromanaging parents, etc etc.

But possibly one of the worst aspects of this job I'm currently in is the Open Class that occurs 2-3 times in a year. SLP is the only school that does this (and it is a trend that is catching onto other schools/chains). My school has a camera/microphone in every classroom so if the parents come they can sit in the lobby area and just watch the goings on in the classroom. The kids usually don't know they're there, the teacher doesn't know, and everyone's happy. However, in an Open Class, the parents come directly into the classroom. So you're already small room becomes 10x smaller as there is now a row of adults sitting in the back staring at you menacingly making sure that they are getting exactly what they pay for.

I've spoken in front of thousands before. I've been public speaking since I was 15 years old, and I've spoken pretty confidently on a number of topics. I've conducted seminars at national leadership conferences, I once gave a condom demonstration in front of 1600 college students during a drag show that I organized, and I've taught classes to juvenile delinquents in detention facilities that at any moment probably could have stabbed me with a shiv. But sitting in a room with 10 mothers who barely speak English, critiquing my every move, and my decisions, will probably go down as one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life.

I've had two of these so far, and 8 to go. The first two were for my preschool kids and the first one went great. Just make sure the kids speak a lot more than usual. These kids were trying to show off (they're my smart ones). BUT my second one was a crash and burn (the kids clammed up, and they're my not-so-bright ones). Luckily I only had two criticisms from these parents - something about bigger flashcards and yelling at them more to sit down. Meh. I should have had a 3rd but the parents didn't show up. Darn.

It really isn't anywhere near as bad as I make it out to be, but it is a completely unnecessary distraction being that there are cameras in the classroom. If you're really concerned about your child's behavior/development you should watch him in a natural state - not in a fake one where they are trying to impress you OR they're too shy to do anything because they don't want to disappoint you.

However, as I work for a business that prioritizes money before education, I will do as I'm told and teach like the paid monkey teacher that I am ;)

Sunday Night Movies

Some of the people around here have come up with a great little tradition of seeing a new movie on Sunday nights at the theater in Shinsaegae (department store/mall in Suji). I went for the first time this past Sunday and we ended up seeing The Kingdom - a movie with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Chris Cooper that came out in the states a few months ago, but had just recently made its way over to Korea. They don't seem to have many English speaking movies here, but the Korean movies aren't that bad. I recently watched one about a Korean serial killer true life story that was very well done. And more often than not the movies that are in English here, are generally months after they came out at home - case in point - Black Dahlia was playing here last week and that came out a year ago at home.

It was your average movie going experience - except better. When you buy your tickets (for 7 or 8,000W) you pick your seats, almost as if you were buying tickets to a concert or a sporting event. They even come out looking like event type tickets too:

(on top is a ticket I had randomly in my wallet from when I saw Harry Potter in New York, and the bottom is from Shinsaegae)

So a big group of westerners walk up to the counter and just kind of point to what seats they want. They print out a ticket with your seat number and you can be on your way. The concession stands seem to be exactly the same - big sizes, semi-expensive prices, sodas and candies and nachos.

The theater itself was pretty cool... big stadium style chairs that are absurdly comfortable with big arm rests and the screens are as big as the ones I used to watch in Times Square - and excellent quality surround sound too. I'm sure there are some smaller theaters and some run down ones too, but the one I saw was a pleasant experience. I opted out of going to see something tonight, but I'll be back.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Pepero Day!

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about some of the candy I've been addicted to? Well, shortly afterwards I learned of what has become my new favorite holiday - Pepero Day. I've never seen anything like it... sure at home we have Valentine's Day (a day made up by the greeting card companies to sell more cards and chocolate while discriminating against half the population) but I've never seen a day dedicated to one brand of candy. It'd be like having a day dedicated to Twix bars at home or something.

Anyway, every November 11th while America is celebrating its fallen heroes on Veteran's Day, South Korea is celebrating it's love for chocolate covered cookie sticks on Pepero Day. Why November 11th? Well, quite easily because Pepero are long sticks of chocolate - so 11/11 looks like the chocolate. Everything is decorated kind of like Valentine's Day - red, pink, white, and the boxes are arranged in hearts and the packaging all says "We Love You on Pepero Day!"

Friday was a fun day because all of the kids came into school with all type of Pepero - and some were tiny and I even got one that was a foot long from one of my favorite students.

As I was walking around Suji and even Seoul on Thursday/Friday/Saturday there were HUGE displays outside of most convenience stores and even in Lotte Mart there was a gigantic area dedicated to it. This is an example outside of the GS25 that I go to everyday on my lunch break:

Either way, it was a very odd random little holiday and it was a pretty big deal to the kids. Either way, I definitely had my fair share of the stuff, and do not look forward to the day when I can't walk into any convenience store and buy it for 70 cents.

Monday, November 05, 2007


In New York I was apart of a gym that was $70 for the year. It had an indoor track, brand new(ish) equipment, a pool, basketball courts, locker rooms, very clean, and never busy. They were all over the city as part of the City Parks Foundation Recreation Centers. It had crappy hours 6am-9:30pm M-F and then 12-4 on Saturday, closed on Sunday. However, it was a block away from my apartment and I swore I would never find as good a deal on a gym ever again.

After I got my first paycheck in October, the first thing I did was to go sign up for the gym that every foreigner here seemed to belong to. Prime Fitness - a gym on the top floor (7th) of a building that also houses one of our local bars. It's a gorgeous gym... big windows that overlook the main downtown area of Suji, and treadmills that line the whole front part of the building. It's very bright, dark wood floors, and red accents everywhere so its looks state of the art. It's not very big, but it gets the job done. Free weights are in the back in a room that when it rains, it actually rains in the gym itself, and nautlius machines are in the main room. The locker rooms are really nice (at least the women's are) with big individual showers behind thick frosted glass (that I'll probably never use). You walk in, and the really nice guy at the counter who's pretty fluent in English hands you a key for a locker and you take your paper stub out of a list on the wall and put it into a machine so it can punch the fact that you've been there - it reminds me of an old factory clocking in and clocking out or something.

All in all, its a great way to spend an hour or two after work at the low, low, price of 70,000W for 3 months (or 280,000 fo the year). And it's basically social hour in there, and if you don't go on a Friday night, you may not know what the plan is for the rest of the evening. So if you're in or around Suji - I recommend it.

Scary Kids Scaring Kids (Halloween)

Yes, I stole that from a horrible New York Indie Band name, but its oddly appropriate. Last week saw a two parter in the way of Halloween - asian style. First up was the adult version... (no not THAT kind of adult). Saturday night, October 26th a few of us went over to Lotte Mart and bought ourselves the cheapest easiest costumes we could find. I personally spent 11,000W (or rather $13 b/c i used my credit card) to purchase a pair of blinking red devil horns, some batteries, and a pitchfork. I always like a costume that stands out, and even if I wasn't the least bit creative this year at least I had something people would see in a crowd.

The evening started off early with a house party somewhere near Itaewon that I can neither remember nor pronounce. It wasn't so bad - great place - interesting people. Two random guys were dressed up as a "Good Ajima" and a "Bad Ajima" (ajima meaning very old korean woman) which was kind of hilarious. Stayed there for a few hours and headed towards Hongdae to go to a club called Funky Funky. Well after the world's longest car ride sandwiched between a drunk brit and a mermaid I had not known before this experience we found ourselves in one of my favorite areas of Seou only it was being ravaged by drunk westernizers in insane costumes and the bar we wanted to go to cost 25,000W to get in and have an open bar. I just wasn't up for it so my friends, as great as they are decided to go with me to find another bar, Tin Pan, even though I just really wanted to walk around. So we go to a bar that was free to get into, but it was insanely hot and crowded, and the complete antithesis of my kind of place. Wasn't exactly my favorite Halloween, that's for sure.

However that was all made up for by celebrating with my kids on the 31st. The teachers at SLP spend most of Tuesday evening decorating our school almost beyond recognition. We each had our respective rooms - Tarot Card, Story Telling, Crafts, and the Haunted House (which yours truly was co-incharge of). It was very much a success considering we made 5 kids cry, and about 10-15 not even want to attempt to stay in there longer than a minute or two. I even reused my makeshift devil's costume and found some fake hands to make it more authentic.

All in all it was an entertaining day. Did it feel like Halloween? Oddly no. BUT I believe that to be because outside of entertaining the children at work the outside world didn't really seem to notice. There's no trick or treaters at night, no big parade like in New York, not many decorations up in public, and the stores don't have big displays of Halloween candy to be given out. The real weird thing was on November 1st, there was no thought that there was only 3 weeks until Thanksgiving as it doesn't exist here. I'll just have to make it to Christmas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coex Aquarium

Anyone who knows me knows what a sucker I am for a good aquarium. I practically become a 6 year old around fish. SO when we weren't able to go to our Korean Play-Off baseball game due to its sold-outness we decided to fill the time going into Gongnam to the Coex Aquarium and in some respects I think it was the better decision.

It was unlike any aquarium I've been in, solely for the exhibit that featured fish in various aquariums that weren't exactly aquariums as much as they were modern art or random appliances or well, toilets.

Yes, there is a fish in there.

It was 15,500W to get in, and took about 2-3 hours to get all the way through. There are various themed areas of the whole place consisting of the random art/aquarium section, the Rainforest, and my personal favorite - the gigantic shark tank which had a walk through overhead tunnel that they would swim over you as you stood on a very slow moving sidewalk.

One of the most interesting things I saw there was a tank in the ceiling where you would have to lay down on a circular bench in order to see it:

Also, let's not forget about the area of the rainforest that featured a two-headed turtle:

And it of course had its Asian flair:

Overall I was really impressed and would actually go back there eventually. At some point I'll edit this blog and stick the video I have up with the sharks, but now you'll have to settle for pictures of fish in refridgerators, showers, and computers:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Awesome Asian Cell Phone Technology? Not Quite.

I've been here for two months and successfully lived without a cell phone.

That is a statement I never expected to utter. One of the things I couldn't wait to get when I came to Korea was a cool new tricked out Asian phone. I expected to have to pay like 40 or 50 bucks to buy a phone and be on my way. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that my school offered free phones to the staff, and all we had to do was put $10 worth of minutes on a phone per month in order to use it.

Perhaps 'pleasantly' is a word that shouldn't be used so liberally here. The phone that I received was a Samsung AnyCall something or other:

I say something or other, because I spent a good 15-20 minutes today trying to find any type of specs on line, but to no avail. Anycall is the brand of Samsung for its Chinese, Korean, and Russian phones. Some of their products look pretty snazzy but I believe my phone to be easily 5 years old (which is a dinosaur for how far cell phone technology has come in the last few years) so its got no flair.

The screen has color, but very basic graphics, and its menu is not user friendly. It takes the phone 3-4 minutes to even turn on, and when it does some stupid dancing fairy has to go through its routine before you can get to the main menu. The phone is set to English, yet whenever I attempt to add in a contact or write a text message, the script will still come out in Hangul (Korean writing). Also, to get to the phonebook you have to go through 4 different menu options to even get there. There is no scrolling option to be found anywhere. Not to mention the battery doesn't last longer than 10-12 hours and takes about 10-15 to charge on its base. Yes, it has a base, not just a plug in option.

As far as the $10 a month option, it operates as almost a pay as you go. You're not on a contract once you register the phone but you have to put a minimum of 10,000W down. I have no idea how many minutes this gets you, but incoming calls are free. Supposedly if you do not use all of your minutes, by the end of the month you lose whatever money you have left, as it will not carry over to the next month. This is still up for debate. The Koreans are an extremely helpful people, but they also like to leave out a lot of important details on purpose if they think you won't be happy with it.

I could just go out and buy a phone and get on a contract somehow (apparently its pretty difficult for foreigners to get a contract in Korea), but since I barely use this thing as it is, paying $10 a month when I need to use it isn't a bad option. We'll see how it goes...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Field Trip: Speed Demons on Bikes

It was a pretty exciting week around SLP. Full of fun activities for all the kiddies, and lots of work for the English Teachers. A 5 day week full of the usual teaching funness, but Thursday was a special treat for the kids. Field trip!

We took the kids to Yuldong Park near Bundang for some Bike Riding and outdoor fun. The park even had a fully functional Bungee Jumping Tower over this gorgeous little lake, that at some point I will take advantage of. However we went past this tower and onto the park. We got there, let the kids have snack time - which is my favorite time because they share all of their goodies with each other and with us. And the parents usually give all sorts of things to the kids to give to us. One parent made hot dogs soaked in ketchup, mustard, and the most amazing sweet pickle relish I've ever had, and another parent cut up Korean Pears (much different than pears at home) and peaches:

I also got cookies and Krispy Creme donuts from another parent. But after snacktime we had 30 minutes of play in the field time where we were given a ball and told "Be Creative", and then 30 minutes of bike riding. I consider the day a success because the weather was absolutely beautiful, my kids only cried maybe 3-4 times, and only 1 of them wound up bleeding. Victory! Anyway, I'll let you get the idea through pictures:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Candy Candy Candy Candy"

"Halloween is not like those other stupid holidays.... ... there's just candy. Boom, you go out and you get candy. Simple. That's me" - Garfield's Halloween special.

October is the month of Ghosts, Goblins, My Birthday, Garfield and candy. I recently downloaded Garfield's 1985 Halloween Special - one of my all time favorite cartoons. It made me think about the random stuff I've been eating here as far as sweets are concerned. Now while I AM trying to be a bit more mindful of my health here, there are just something things a girl cannot say no to - one of those things being chocolate. My first week I happened to find a treat that I used to have as a kid, but they were really hard to come by: pepero

They're about 700W usually ($.50) and are bread sticks covered in chocolate and almond. So small, and yet so addictive - I get them at least 3-4 times a week.

The next thing that I have every now and again also remind me of a type of deliciousness I had as a child - moonpies:

Now these aren't actually moonpies, but they're the next closest thing, and in some cases I think these are better. Not as dry. But for 1,850W (About $1.50) you can get a box of 6 like this.

There's one type of candy bar that I've only had once, but I only picked it up because of the name:

Crunky Chocolate! Ha. It's basically just Korea's version of a Nestle Crunch bar, but I don't find it to be as good. Although you can get it for about 500W (like 35 cents).

Next are the sodas. You can find Pepsi/Coke here pretty easily but that's about it. They have a version of 7up/Sprite called Chilsing Cider which tastes exactly the same and I'm a pretty big fan of that:

The one thing I love about the sodas and juices here are the portion sizes. They come in these 250ml cans which is the perfect amount of liquid. They're half the size of the cans at home, and I never finished them as it was.

So those are just some of the things I have come to enjoy around here. I've seen random things at festivals like Fried Silk Worms, and they give off a smell that is so putrid I have yet to get near one of the little stands to see what it even looks like. The odds of me actually trying these things are slim to none, but the Koreans seem to enjoy them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Meet the [Korean] Parents

Remember that funny movie a few years ago? Meet the Parents? And then the follow up Meet the Fockers that in my opinion was a better movie than the original? Those were good movies, weren't they?

Well this post's subject matter isn't as entertaining as those movies were, and it doesn't involve meeting a significant other's parents - it's worse. I had to meet with the parents of one of my classes on Thursday afternoon and it was nothing short of nerve wracking.

I have a class - Frog SR-3 (I'll explain the levels in another post)- every Tuesday/Thursday from 3:20-4pm. It consists of 6 kids - Sally, Dabin, Elmo, Jennifer, Alice, Will, Harry. They're good kids overall, but they're also a handful. I think they're all about 8 or 9 (about 7 or 8 normal age) and have been coming to SLP for quite some time now. They speak pretty fluenty, but definitely need some help in the grammar areas and their writing isn't where it should be really. Our focus for this class is public speaking, and story reading. Dabin's the trouble maker... this round little kid who's got the sweetest face, but has the worst case of ADD I've ever seen. The kid cannot sit still and disrupts everyone else.

Anyway, everyone's parents show up except for Dabin's. I'm in the classroom next to my head teacher, and in front of all these moms... and to be honest, this school isn't cheap, so these are some pretty rich, well put together, gorgeous Korean women, and they all care about their children's education very intently. The entire 40 minutes is in Korean. They ask a question (in Korean) and Sally (my boss) translates and vice versa. I'm terrified to say something negative, because as this isn't a school that prioritizes education over the business revenue it gets from these kids, I want to make sure what I say will benefit the kid as well as not anger the mom and make them take their child to another Hagwon (Korean private school).

Now I've been here for two months officially, and I've picked up a fair amount of Korean. Can I make sentences? absolutely not. But I know some words, and I heard them ask where I was from, and it sounded like they were starting to criticize me - "ah stupid new yorker, how does she know how to teach kids??" Afterall, this class is easily one of my least favorite, and I don't find it very fun so how could the kids? Turns out it was quite the opposite. The parents loved me. They said my class was very fun and the kids were learning a lot and to keep it up.

Since I'm working on a staff where they will fire a teacher at random and for no apparent reason, getting a good review like that from parents is a way to stay useful and keep your job for another day. Beyond stressful though, that's for sure.

Now, next month we have open classes where the parents come in and watch us teach their pre-school kids for an hour. Man I can't wait... I think I'd rather cut off an appendage than go through this, and I have to go through it twice! yay!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Age is Just a Number - Until it Involves Math.

Well I turned 25. It was inevitable really... it does come after 24 and it had no where else to go. Usually I just use my birthday as an excuse to get everyone I know together for some randomness. BUT this year being in a brand new country with brand new friends I did it a bit differently. Not to mention the math is just all screwy.

Being on the otherside of the International Date Line has its pros & cons. This year, when the clock struck 12 on October 8, I became 25 years of age. However, instead of 24 hours of birthday fun, this year I wound up with 37. Why? Because being 13 hours ahead, they got tacked on for the people at home to send their wishes. If only that could have been the case for my 21st birthday...

Ah, and the math fun doesn't end there. There's always a korean twist to things these days... Koreans do age differently. They count the first 9 months you spend in the womb as your first year. So the day you're born you're 1, and then the following year everyone turns another year older on the same day in January (or maybe February, I'm a little fuzzy on that detail). So in essence, I am now 26, and will turn 27 in January. So at this point I never know what to answer as far as age goes.

Other than that it was a good way to spend a crazy amount of time. Amazing birthday cake from the people at work:

And then a really great dinner at the Patio Place for some Korean BBQ with 12 or so other English Teachers from our little nook of Suji:

So here's to another quarter century... may it be as entertaining and story ridden as the first one was.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hitman & Mafia

It's been an interesting week around SoKo. The last few days have been shrouded in secrecy, paranoia, guns, lies, & death. What am I talking about? I'm talking about English teachers that generally have too much time on their hands and have figured out ways to entertain ourselves.

First things first. Mafia just got us all hyped up for the start of hitman. It's a card game where each person takes a card, gets assigned the position of Mafia, Sherriff, Doctor, or Townsperson. And each round someone dies, and each round the town has to figure out who dunnit. We've played multiple times, and it never loses its fun. There's nothing better than trying to figure out who's the best liar in a group. OR who's after you for no reason.

Mafia was completely a random thing that demonstrated who has the ability to be sneaky, and who knows how to play others against themselves - which is exactly what Hitman is all about. A few weeks ago, one of us came up with the idea to play Hitman - a game where a number of people buy toy guns (pellet, airsoft, bb - which ever you'd like to call it), draw names, aim for their target, and try to be the last one standing. On Wednesday night at our weekly BBQ 10 of us drew chips out of a bag with names on it and the games began.

Day 1 - Thursday - two casualties. Everyone was extremely paranoid... finding alternate ways to leave their apartment, traveling in packs, watching their backs, finding safe havens. It was exciting.

Day 2 - Friday - three casualties. We were safe at Family Mart, but the second people dispersed it was fair game. People hid, people came out of no where, people were shot in the back. Truces were made. And then a 5am shootout happened at exit amongst the 9 people that were left in the bar - korean - british - american - it was one of the most fun events at a late night bar outing in a really long time.

Day 3 - Saturday - five people left standing - I'm one of them. We meet at family mart to rendevous for an all night bonfire in the woods on a mountain... as soon as we disperse - the first kill of the night is made. Now there's 4. I'm one of them still. I know who has me as their target so I have my gun ready - I see him reach for his, I cock mine - and at the exact same moment he shoots his gun, I pulled my trigger. There was a split second difference, but in the end, I was out. My death was swift, and I made a stand for it, but that's how the game rolls. I did receive vindication though... 10 minutes later as we were walking, the person who had made the initial kill of the evening had become a rogue agent (ability to kill anyone) and killed my hitman in the back.

So now, there are two people left standing, and I'm personally voting for the rogue agent. Until the next round that is...

A Shave & A Haircut...

...two bits.

Well, maybe not so much the shave, but I definitely got a haircut today and was terrified of the idea going in. The last one I got was in early August, and it wasn't what I wanted, but it was a cut nonetheless. SO I figured if I couldn't get what I wanted to an english speaking stylist in New York, how in the world was I going to get what I wanted from a Korean Salon?

Getting my haircut here was nothing short of amazing. I walked into Lotte Mart as I had been told there was a salon there, and the english speaking manager asked if it was my first time there, I said yes, and she took care of me the whole time - and basically had a team of stylists working on me. She led me over to the chair, then a woman washed my hair as traditionally expected, and I was brought back to the chair, had a rather large block put on my lap, and given a Korean issue of Cosmo. The manager came back, asked what I wanted to have done. I tried to explain the type of layers I wanted, but as it wasn't even really making sense to me, I just asked if she had a picture book. Of course it was all asian, but honestly, looking through the book I found about 8 different styles I wanted. They were young, and trendy, and as the kids say - hip. All of the books at home are for children's haircuts OR for moms. So I picked one out and we were on our way.

I was offered coffee, tea, or water while I waited for my stylist to come over. The manager explained in korean to the man that was going to cut my hair, and for the next 15 minutes he just went to town. And all of the things I usually have to ask for (a razor, thinning shears) he just automatically used. When it was over, the same woman from earlier washed my hair again which surprised me. A second hair washing?? wow.

Then I came back to the chair, and my guy started blow drying my hair. Then another woman came over to help. Two blow dryers? Either my hair is extremely tough to do, or I was being treated like a princess (I prefer the latter).

When it was over the manager gave me my bag back (they took it to put away for me in the beginning), and gave me the card of my guy. I was expecting to pay about what I would pay at home... anywhere from $25-$40 depending on what I have done. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me it was 16,000W, AND on top of that there's a 30% discount for being a foreigner! So 11,000W later, I walked out of the salon feeling pretty darn good.

So if you're in Suji, and you're looking for a great hair-cutting experience - go to Lotte.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chusok Pt III: Backpacking-ish

For a 3 day trip I sure did have a lot to say. Getting out of Suji made me appreciate it much more than I had been and the first significant trip definitely deserves some attention.

Once we got there we tried a few motels & a hostel we knew about, but we got two rooms at the 3rd motel, and wound up playing cards all night on Sunday and 4 of us crashed in one room and 1 of us in the other room. Eh, it's all part of the fun. The second night we stayed at a Hostel which is run by an awesome guy who's fluent in Korean (obviously), English, & Japanese. We paid 50,000 Won to have his master guest room, which had 3 rooms, 4 big beds, and a common room. It was really spacious, very clean, had a big bathroom, free coffee, and for 5 of us to pay 10,000W each? I won't complain. We called him Willie because he only has one eye (a little insensitive on our parts, but we didn't disrepect him). If anyone sees this and is interested in going, it's the Seo-Cheon Guest House and his email address is if you'd like to tell him you're coming. We just walked in and he said to come back the next day and all was well. I have his card and phone number, so if you'd like more information, just email me.

The nice thing about the hostel the second night was the random people we met. Hostels are the poor man's way to travel, but they provide the most entertainment, and a certain amount of ease. Four of us sat around the table in the common area late monday night and two guys knocked on our door wanting to know if they could have a cup of coffee with us. So we invited them in - they taught directly in Seoul and were from Florida & Montreal if I can remember correctly... had excellent conversation about teaching in general, and we suggested some places for them to see. About an hour after they left, one of my crew was having a smoke out back and I heard an extra voice. So we invite the extra voice in, and play a round of cards, but more importantly talked about his bike trip that day fro Seoul to Gyeongu (keep in mind it took us 4 hours on a bus), and about his years of experience teaching in Korea & Hong Kong, and we all talked a bit about our experiences, and just had a really sweet night. In fact, I have added his blog to the right side of my blog, so make sure you check it out - he had some kind words to say about his occurence with us!

Due to the rain I feel we didn't get to do as much as I had hoped, but I enjoyed it all nonetheless. We took a bus out to the Sea of Japan when we got there on Sunday to see the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu. After an hour and fifteen minutes on the bus through the windy mountains we finally saw the ocean - the angry angry ocean. The sky was dark, the sea was loud, and full of deep blues and greens, and waves taller than me. However, we weren't sure of the stop and once the ocean became a distant memory we got off in a random rural town. Everything kind of looked run down and there was no sign of anything really. A korean man with decent english walked over and asked of us if he could help, but he pointed to an area on the map and said that we were there, but we all knew we weren't. So we thanked him anyway, walked on to show him we appreciated his help, but once we were out of sight we took the map back out. That's when another korean guy about our age got out of his car and asked us if he could help. He then told us in really good english that this was his home town, and we stuck out like sore thumbs. He even walked us to our bus stop and told us what time it would come by, and I was seriously impressed by his generosity. So awhile later, we got to where we were going... to see some rocks:

I expected this tomb to be much more grandiose, as it is billed as the world's only underwater tomb. King Munmu in the 1300's believe that he would come back as a dragon to protect Korea against invasions from the Japanese if he were to be buried in the sea. So his ashes are placed in the center of that rock formation in a pool underneath rocks. It was still a cool place to see though, and the waves were pretty intense.

Monday wasn't any drier... we went to the Korean Folk Village which was primarily closed due to Chusok & the rain:

And then we moved onto the Bulguksa Temple, which was the highlight of the trip for me. A temple that had been burnt down by the japanese was rebuilt 50 or so years ago, and has a number of pagodas housing shrines to various types of Buddha's. I managed to take a few illegal pictures:

Overall an excellent trip, and a very beautiful part of the country. I recommend it :)

(mounds that are traditional korean tombs for royals)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chusok Pt II: Gyeongu To & From

Spending 3 days away from Suji was exactly what the Doctor ordered. However, the doctor did not order more rain, and insane traffic but we got it anyway.

Five of us trekked out of Suji at 5am on a grey Sunday morning. The bus systems start here at 5am so we waited to take the 1550 bus to Yangdae for the subway, and then the subway to the bus stop. Well, we got a little scared about waiting for and maybe missing the bus, so we hopped in some cabs and were at the bus station in central city Seoul by 6am for a 715am bus. We bought our tickets on line at & paid extra for the tickets on the "Excellent" bus... a steep 26,000W and within four hours we were in Gyeongu, on the South Eastern side of the country, pretty close to Busan. The trip itself was great on the way down... we had four seats directly across the back, the windows on the bus open unlike at home so there was a nice breeze, and the view was incredible:

Nothing but farms and mountains as far as the eye could see.

We stopped at a rest top halfway through, and it was along side a rather large mountain and a river:

It was all wood, like a pier, and restaurants, and of course bathrooms, and it put rest stops at home to shame. Not just McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Subway like on the thruway, but you could get full on meals here. There was even carnival food all along the outside and I found something I never thought I would find here - Syracuse Salt Potatoes. Syracuse hasn't cornered the market on these, but very very few people know what these are even though the name says it all. Tiny boiled potatoes drenched in salt and butter. The koreans put their little spin on it though... they added sugar... and it was heavenly.

We had only bought our tickets one way. We were testing out the bus since many people told us it wouldn't be a good way to go, and the that train would be better. Well, since the trip down had been so nice and we realized everyone was completely wrong, the second we got to the station we bought our return tickets. It was 17,500W on the "Normal" bus, and we were scheduled to leave on Tuesday.

It rained constantly on Sunday & Monday and of course, on Tuesday it was beautiful. We kept close to the station and got on our bus at 1:40pm. Our bus had an indian theme to it, and was no where near as spacious and nice as the "Excellent" bus we had on the way down but it worked.

Unfortunately we were not home at 6pm like we thought, but rather 2am. We all went a little stir crazy around hour 8 and we had to coax each other back on the bus when we made rest stop #3. Apparently traveling on Chusock Day is 10x as bad as traveling in the US on the Tues/Wed before Thanksgiving. The rest stops which I had thought were beautiful on the way down were hell holes on the way back - swarming with thousands of people, dirty, & everyone was angry - and rightfully so. There was a TV on the bus which was cute in the beginning but 13 hours straight of korean television would be enough to make anyone go mad. You ever try watching a gameshow in another language where they have to learn Old MacDonald for an hour? I didn't think so. Also, we watched an inflight movie where a teenage Korean boy comes to terms with himself and his desire to be a woman by becoming a pro wrestler. He wins the championship, and everyone loves him at the end when he dressed up like madonna and sings Like a Virgin in drag. I kid you not. Well, 13 hours later we were at Seoul and had cabs back to Suji. I love traveling.