Monday, January 28, 2008

Skiing! Adventure Korea Style

If you are in Korea and don't know about the travel group Adventure Korea, you should. They put together travel services geared towards foreigners all around Korea based out of Seoul. This past weekend 8 of my friends and I participated in their trip to PyeongChang/Phoenix Park in Gangwon-Do in the Bangdong Valley, about 241km (3 hours) due east of Seoul. It was absolutely gorgeous, and we couldn't have asked for better conditions.

After you signed up through their website and wired money from your ATM, 112,000W (~$120) bought you transportation to and from, ski rentals, ski lift pass for 4 hours, and a night in a hostel at the base of the mountain. If you needed to rent any extras like goggles it was only 3,000W, or snow pants/jackets for 10,000W each. The only thing you couldn't rent were gloves, but the AK Staff warned us about this beforehand, and I bought a nice pair of ski gloves at a rest stop on the way for 10,000W.

Everything worked like clockwork - we were on the bus by 8am, and were on the road and in PyeongChang getting our rental equipment by 11:30 and were on the mountain skiing by 12:30pm. The mountain had two peaks and a number of challenging runs. I was a bit cocky at first and attempted the intermediate hill even though I haven't set foot on a mountain in 6 years. It took many, many, many falls before I got my ski legs, but it eventually came back to me, and was a great time.

(The view from our room)

If we had wanted to purchase a night ticket or a morning ticket we could have easily done so for 40,000, but we all opted for a night of relaxing pool/sauna, dinner, and drunken debauchery. The interesting thing was the entire little resort town basically closes down at 2am, with the exception of the mountain. There were hundreds of people still skiing at 2, 3, 4am which was something I had never seen before.

However with it only being 2am, we were left to entertain ourselves. If you're ever found in this situation, I whole heartedly recommend talking a walk over to the Bleu hotel and taking an elevator up to the 26th floor. Walk up 3 flights of stairs past the penthouse and you'll find a door that opens up to the roof which gives you the highest view of the entire area - and its breathtaking. I'm sure its against the rules, but eh, everything fun usually is.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and I recommend using Adventure Korea for any of their services. - trips include DMZ, temple stays, hiking, skiing, and various other activities - all of which I hope to abuse.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January Field Trip... ZZzZzzzz

Well they can't all be gems...

Thursday, January 17th we gathered up the kiddies and trudged them out into the cold for yet another classic SLP Field Trip. I'm in the minority at my school because I actually like field trips. I use it as time to enjoy being in Korea doing things I wouldn't normally do, and also to learn a bit of Korean from my kids without feeling guilty. This time I learned "What?" "What are you doing" and "How?" (phonetically: Ma, Mo Hey, and Oh-toe-kay).

This month we took them to Korea Land Corporation's Land Museum. Now, the last time we took the kids to a museum, there was a guide there to tell them all about what they were about to see (in Korean) and to take them around to see all that there was to offer. This time, not so much.

First off, museum is a bit of a strong word here. We were taken to the Land Corporation Office Building in Migeum and their bottom floor happens to have a rather large 3D model of a new city that is being built and a small circular room consisting of some old pottery and rocks. It took a solid 30 minutes to really see what there was to see, and the rest of the time was spent playing photo shoot.

Overall, I was looking forward to learning more about how Korea builds what they build (they do it at an alarming rate), maybe a bit more about Korean architecture (which is lacking) and watching my kids have some fun. None of that really happened, and everyone kind of agreed that this one was a bust. Oh well- can't win 'em all. But at least we entertained ourselves somehow:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vote From Abroad! (on line!!)

As we all know, it is a presidential election year back in the good ol' US of A and we are knee deep in the primaries that occur all throughout the country. We will FINALLY be able to be rid of that bumbling buffoon 'dubya', and either be confronted with yet another failure, or maybe, just maybe, someone who knows what they're doing. One can only hope.

Either way, I will be the first one to tell you that being thousands of miles away from it all has been kind of nice. I don't have to watch the empty rhetorical debates unless I want to, I am not subject to the onslaught of character discussions on public radio, and I can choose not to click on the links of the news sites I read everyday.

While this may sound like the endless drivel of a jaded former New Yorker who has spent 1/3 of her life with W. as the president, I am here to forward on valuable information. Voting is an important right as an American, and as traditional as apple pie and baseball. It is something people before us fought so hard to get and the least we can do now is take a minute to register and then cast our ballots for whoever the lesser of all evils turns out to be.

Just because someone is abroad does not mean they give up their right to vote. In fact, it is quite the opposite. We all know that we can send in an Absentee Ballot, but we also all know that the odds of that ballot being counted for something is slim to none. However, technology has come to our aid. This morning My Way News reported that you can now vote on line while living abroad. The group, 'Democrats Abroad' have conjured up a way to register with their site, and then send in all votes via internet through a website called

For the first time, on line ballots will be cast. Sure there are probably a million bugs within the system, but hey, at least its a turn in the right direction. Happy Voting!

Tricky Thermostat

Of all the things I could write about Korea, this was not something I imagined being a topic, but yet something that confuses me daily; how to work the thermostat.

At home you can turn the dial and just put a pointer on your desired temperature on an old style thermostat or punch in the numbers of the degree you want on a new fangled digital thermostat. If its fancy you can maybe even set it to kick on and off at various times of the day knowing that you're at work or sleeping, right? But overall, keeping a place warm/cold is pretty simple.

Here I'm finding its a bit of a daily adventure. First, the little box on the wall is in Korean. Luckily I'm one of the few I know that have it also in English. Second, it's in Celsius, which for an American always provides a bit of a problem. Third, there are quite a few buttons on it.

This box contains your heat and your hot water and both cannot be on at the same time. The red button in my case is the hot water, and I must turn the dial all the way to 45 degrees celsius, and wait 10 minutes in hopes of having a hot shower - which proves difficult in the winter time. I must also remember when I leave the shower to turn the heat back on by pressing the "thermo" button. If I leave the apartment I must hit the Outing Button, and if I'm sleeping obviously hit the sleep button. I think the only difference is the Sleep option will turn the heat back on after 8 hours. But all of these become null and void if the temperature is above room temperature.

Basically there are days I have woken up to sweltering heat/freezing cold and come home to the same thing. While heated floors are kind of nice, sometimes I miss the good ol'steam heat from the archaic radiators in those tiny New York apartments...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Some Fun English Reading...

I was told about this book earlier last summer, but recently found it here in Korea and decided to give it a shot. "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" by Lynne Truss is a book about punctuation and grammatical correctness. WAIT! Before you stop reading this post, and this blog, I swear to you its a funny book. If you're going to come here and teach English you will surely develop a great sense of humor about the English language and subsequently feel bad for any that have to learn it.

It's a short book of about 200 pages that takes a look at how punctuation can change the meaning of any written statement/passage. It pokes fun at misplaced commas and apostrophes and does so with a sarcastic humor that you can't help but love.

It starts off with the joke about the Panda who comes into a restaurant, eats some food, takes out a gun and shoots two shots into the air, and walks out. As he walks out he throws a badly punctuated wildlife book at the waiter and says, "I'm a Panda, look it up." The waiter reads the book and sees, "Panda. Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots, and leaves."

Which, if you're good, you should know that the statement should read something like, "Panda. Large black and white bear like mammal. Native to China, eats shoots and leaves."

Regardless, I find this kind of stuff amusing and it is a pretty quick read. The book points out everyday misuses of punctuation that will make you realize that you don't even notice this stuff half the time, but maybe you should be more careful. I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh Yea, We Teach Too...

I was running a little low on the ideas for this blog, when it dawned on me. I've been in this country now for I think a little over 5 months and have not once talked about the act of teaching itself, and its the whole reason (or excuse) for coming here.

However, maybe having a bit of perspective on it all makes it better. If I had posted my original thoughts in my first month of teaching, it would have been pretty negative. I also had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I have a pretty decent schedule, MWF 10-7 with some decent breaks in there, and then TT from 10-12:40 and 3:20-5. The most draining part of the day are my IP classes (Intensive Preschool) as I have 2 in the morning. I'm the reigning queen of the 6 year olds (5 western age), and I am bound and determined to mold them into my own little personal army. So far so good, as two of them were taken away from my class this month and now scream my name anytime I'm in their line of vision and come running with hugs. It also breaks my heart to see any of them cry, which is an effect I did NOT expect to happen prior to coming here (if you knew me, I really wasn't a fan of children in the least).

We foreigners head to a little gimbap shop we lovingly call Sharon's for our 40 minute lunch break everyday to enjoy some hearty and cheap Korean food to refuel before heading back to teach various activities to the little kiddies. If you're lucky enough not to do this like me, you get some free time to do some lesson planning or worksheet making. Which, I have now gotten into the art of lesson planning on one day for an entire month, therefore actually limiting the amount of work I have to do.

The afternoon classes are the kindergarten/elementary school kids that come after they've finished their regular school. Korean children can attend like 6 schools in a week between Elementary School, English School, Music School, Math School, and whatever else their parents decide to send them to. I will be at my gym at 9pm and see kids in some sort of class studying right across the street at some random school. I have no idea how they do it.

Teaching basically involves no thought. I let the kids entertain me, and in return I try and fix their broken English. Some of them want to learn, and some don't, but it really isn't a bad way to spend a work week. The problem is constantly being creative, which can be a chore. I always think back to the boring classes I had as a child and try and liven it up, but sometimes you just can't. How does one make learning English grammar fun in a class of 1 or 2 kids? Lots of general conversation I suppose. And of course, the classes where the kids speak absolutely NO English is very tough as well. Basically you become a walking thesaurus trying to find any English word that they will understand for the concept you're trying to convey. It's a lot of, "What is it? It is a pencil. What is it? It is an eraser" for weeks on end. It's always a work in progress, and the whole year is definitely a learning curve.

All in all I get paid to do this. And if you have no idea what you wanna do with your life like I do at this current moment, you might as well get some entertainment out of something for the time being. Would it help if I knew Korean? Sure. But not knowing enables me to make funny faces at them when they talk and that makes them laugh. And they're so impressed when I bust out a Korean word or two. Can't really complain about that, now can I?

*(this post will mark the beginning of the 'Carefree Korea' label, which follows Young Korea and Intermediate Korea. It will be a period of roughly 6 months of knowing the country and having fun, but without making any big life decisions)*

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Holy China! Part 2 of 2: Beijing & The Great Wall

After 4 really incredible days in Shanghai, it was time to leave it all behind and head onto Beijing by way of the rail. Our tour guide brought us to the station, and right up to the waiting room where after a bit of waiting we eventually boarded the 12 hour overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a 4 person soft sleeper car to ourselves (there were 3 of us) and after we ran around a bit in utter excitement we got down to business: charging up all of our electronics and playing some cards. I'd love to say that we did something wild and crazy but realistically we were all getting pretty sick so we called it a "night" and I for one had an amazing night's sleep in a warm train car regardless of how incredibly awful I felt. We were then woken up to a pretty awful "western" breakfast around 6:30am, and then after all of the announcements were in Chinese and the train stopped and everyone got off, we realized we were the last ones ON the train when they turned off all the lights. Ah well, these things happen.

We waited in the coldest weather I have felt in years in front of the railway station for our 2 other friends to get off of their train and head to the hostel. They found a pretty great hostel in the 365 Inn near Tianneman Square that had separate rooms with bunk beds in them, and private bathrooms - all for a hefty $6 a night. Not to mention the downstairs had a full service restaurant/bar that was pretty amazing. It comes HIGHLY recommended.

After settling in we didn't waste a minute of our short time in Beijing together. First was our official Chinese meal at some hole in the wall place that was pretty damn good, and then doing a bit of haggling for some Chinese schwag. We headed to Tianneman Square where we effectively froze our asses off, onto to the Forbidden City (officially sponsored by American Express now) where we made one to many 'it's Forbidden!' jokes, walked a bit to the hutongs (the oldest neighborhoods of the city that are so close together cars and just barely fit down the streets), and off to some frozen lake that people were stupidly running around on. After attempting to be one of those idiots and feeling one step away from frostbite, we decided to regroup back at the hostel to wait for our last friend to arrive. Hot Chocolate and cakes all around.

Once our final friend showed up, we spent some quality time drinking in the hostel with random old and new friends - an Israeli (friend of the group) and some random Parisians. That's what hostels are for right? We all parted ways and the core group went onto meet another friend from college at a really nice dinner of traditional Peking Duck. It might be good to say here at this point we are officially on New Year's Eve Day/Evening time. The dinner was incredible, and the duck was delicious, but not something I'd ever crave again I suppose.

Our group once again, now full, and one or two of us being just this side of death, and another one or two of us feeling especially drunk from Chinese Bai Jiu, cabbed it back to the hostel at 11:30pm to ring in the New Year with water and promptly be in bed by 12:30am awaiting what will go down as one of the absolutely monumental days of my life.

A quick 5am rolls around and all but 1 of us spring into action. A 3 hour bus ride to the wall for a 6 mile (10km) hike along the Great Wall of China from JinShanLing to Simatai. The most touristy area is Badaling and while I did not see it, I would NOT recommend it. Too many people and the wall is entirely rebuilt. The trek we did was not only beautiful, but physically challenging, and unbelieveably rewarding, and completely devoid of people. The whole thing cost 270RMB (~$39) and it included 2 portions of the wall, the toll on the bridge at the end, transportation to and from our hostel, breakfast and lunch.

At 1pm Beijing Time, 12am midnight New York time, 5 New Yorkers popped open a bottle of champagne and toasted to it officially being 2008 on the Great Wall after 3 hours of grueling hiking with a good ways still to go. Don't let me fool you, we bitched and complained every step of the way - but it was all for comedic purposes. At one point I considered not going to the wall because I was feeling so horrible from being sick, but I powered through and do not regret that decision in the least.

I cut it pretty close in time as we returned from the Wall at 6:45pm and I had a 9:15pm flight back to Seoul to catch. However, I made it with plenty of time to spare and I wouldn't have changed a thing. One of the best trips I've ever taken, hands down.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Holy China! Part 1 of 2: Shanghai

I spent one whole week in China after Christmas, over New Year's and what a vastly different world from anywhere else I have been (which, to be fair, hasn't been too many places yet). BUT with that being said, I fell head over heels in love with Shanghai. Started off the trip completely solo and then added more people as the days went on.

I flew in on a Thursday afternoon after a nice little 2 hour flight on Korean Air (perfect experience there too, btw), and followed the directions my hostel had given me to The Bund area (the skyline part of the city). It was all relatively painless - 16 RMB (about 2 bucks) on a bus, and then another 2 bucks for a cab. The only bad part was that it was pouring and just mud was everywhere. I stayed at the UCool International Youth Hostel for about $5 a night and it was a pretty, uh, cool place in all of the senses of the word. It was very big and spacious, the staff was incredibly friendly and English fluent, and the location really was minutes from everything. The travelers that came through were respectful and awesome, but the only downside was the fact that the place is FREEZING. There's a small heater in the room, and big blankets, but it just was NOT warm enough. Bring extra clothing should have been written all over the site. BUT anyway...

Day 1 was kind of a wash... it was pouring and muddy and i was tired so I napped a bit, and then went for a nighttime stroll to see the skyline. However, Clouds were ridiculously low and heavy so there wasn't much to see. I ventured a little bit away and found a nice shopping center for all intents and purposes - the Yu Gardens. I didn't buy anything as much as I just walked around to get the lay of the land...

Day 2 was much better. Woke up late... attempted to go find the Shanghai Museum. However, due to my own miscalculations on a map, I wound up at the Shanghai Natural History Museum instead and was thoroughly disappointed. One of the worst museum experiences ever because the whole place was falling apart, all in chinese, and nothing interesting. It was like walking into a 7th grade science class. So after a disheartening experience I went back to the hostel to regroup, go on line, and reattack the city. Wound up getting an email from a friend from home who lives in Shanghai and we made plans, and I re-ventured out into the unknown. Went to People's Square (Shanghai's version of say, Union Square in New York City, or even Tienneman Square in Beijing). I was approached by some really nice college students from Qing Dao and after some nice conversation they offered to take me to a Tea Festival.

Now, rumor has it that this is a very very popular scam in Shanghai where people take you to some tea, and make you pay an absurd amount. However, I refuse to believe that this is what happened to me, as it was all in my own volition AND there has been email communication since then. Also, authentic Chinese tea and its customs were always something I was particularly interested in. I had everything translated for me, and had 6 amazing kinds of tea, I took home 2 of my favorites, and even got a really nice tea set that changes color and has special meaning behind it. Yes, I may have spent more than I had planned or even wanted to, but the experience was worth it, and I didn't have to buy what I bought. I walked around a bit with my new Chinese friends, wandered around a mall, and then we parted ways.

That evening in Shanghai was my favorite night as I went to Xian Tin Dei to meet my friend for Thai Food, and then headed to 3G (I think that was the name) for some authentic Jazz music - hell the singer was from Harlem, and we chatted her up a bit. We then left, attempted a club, but eventually wound up at the City Diner which happens to have a Blues club underneath it. The best part about the bar? $3 Brooklyn Lagers. Two kids who spent a fair amount of time in Brooklyn took a moment to truly appreciate the good beer fortune.

Day 3 was pretty interesting as I did the Oriental Pearl TV Tower - the biggest tower in Asia, and 3rd largest in the world behind towers in Toronto and Moscow. I've done Canada, now asia, and next up will be moscow, hopefully. After taking the ferry over (I paid 2 RMB so if you go do NOT take the commercial ferries for 30-80RMB). The packages were pretty expensive for the Pearl, but worth it in some cases. I paid 85 RMB (about 11 bucks) to go up to the 2nd highest part of the tower - 269 meters up (About 883 feet) and saw an incredible view of the Huang Po river and the city itself. It also included a History of Shanghai Museum which to me was one of the most interesting things I had done all week. Such a fascinating history as it's a town that was closed off to the world until the late 1800's/early 1900s when the entire western world converged on it and just changed it completely. After watching the sunset over the Shanghai skyline, I called it a night.

Day 4 saw the epic meeting of two friends from college who had flown in from Hong Kong. We saw more Bund walking around, an excellent chinese food lunch, a tour of the Yu Gardens, a Pearl Factory, Jade Buddha Temple, and Nanjing Road. Our tour guide was very entertaining and knowledgeable and taught me a thing or two about Chinese culture. We used Dragon Delights Tour Company, and I thoroughly recommend using them if you EVER go to china. No complaints whatsoever.

And that basically concludes Shanghai... a top notch world city, that is for sure. The three of us got to the train station that evening, and boarded a 12 hour overnight train to Beijing - which will be written about in the next post. Til then... happy travels. ;)