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...