Thursday, December 30, 2010

T'was Just Before New Year....

I am in the last hour of work before my 9 day vacation starts and the school is pretty much deserted. I should just go home but am hanging on for just a little bit longer. It's 1:50 p.m. Less than 12 hours to go till 2011. My plan is a little vague as usual, but it will definitely include a late night in Seoul waiting for the trains to open back up early in the morning. I'm sure it'll consist of food at some point, then heading to Seoul Plaza, which is like a big open square in front of City Hall. There is skating there and probably food stalls and drink and thousands of people and a big countdown till the ball drops at 12. I am prepared for mayhem, and expect nothing less.

When things die down in Seoul Plaza we're moving to Hongdae, for night of dancing till dawn. I haven't been out dancing in Korea yet and although I am prepared for horrendous cheesy music, I am also really looking forward to it.

Strange Korean Fact: Delivery Food.
On countless occasions outside doors in my building and sometimes even outside stores in the streets are stacks of dirty dishes and even silverware. I had been totally perplexed as to what the deal was. This week, because the 1000 or so students have been off on holidays and the winter camp kids are only here in the morning, there are no school lunches made. I guess no one here packs a lunch so we have ordered everyday for lunch. Slowly the pieces fit together.

Delivery food arrives in ceramic soup bowls and glass plates with silverware (chopsticks and spoons, knives don't really fit into Korean cuisine), and the odd time a huge pot full of soup WITH a gas burner to keep it warm. Delivery food is such an art here. Koreans love their side dishes, banchan, so there are dozens of little tin dishes or big tupperwares of mushrooms, kimchi, fishy bits, veggies, pickled pieces and other unrecognizable things. Everything is consumed and as easy as 1-2-3 the dishes just sit outside and later in the afternoon the delivery dude (always on a motorcycle with huge bins tied to the back) comes back to collect his wares. Almost no waste. Great system.

Just to add to the fast food topic. I can't possibly go without explaining what is sitting on my desk as I type. It took me an hour to attack it and eventually figure out what it even was. After I ate my massive lunch (I think the teachers at my school have a secret plot to make me fat because food is ALWAYS appearing on my desk), a take out pop cup appeared. The straw was bent and crumpled and somewhat poking out of it, but it contained, at least on the top layer, small irregular shaped battered balls, with a thick red syrup drizzled on top. I picked it up and the bottom 3/4's was definitely liquid but the top was food, in a drink. (Picture the little yoghurt containers with a clear lid full of granola) But I wasn't sure what it all was? Gravy? Cola? Something sweet? Savory? I am soooo sad I dont have my camera today and will make it my mission to find this again somewhere. I eventually built up the nerve to sip it and it's coke, and on top is popcorn chicken with a spicy sauce. Weirdest combo ever.

Okay, it's just before 3. I've clocked my hours. I'm done, I'm out of here! Vacation I come!

Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!!!!!

P.S. One more thing I have to include. I got on an empty bus to school this morning. Two stops in the driver pulled over and in Korean and sign language said he'd be back in 5 minutes, he was just going to grab a coffee. I was early, no problem. Then he popped back on the bus and proceeded to gesture and ask if I wanted one too. Amazing. I love Korea. Oh ya, and I bought new ear muffs yesterday at the market for a dollar. It's like having 2 kittens curled up on my ears they are so warm.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keeping Busy Before Christmas

Last weekend ended up being great. It didn't go exactly to plan, but that was probably for the best. I was humming and hawing about staying in Friday night since I had a lot lined up for the rest of the weekend, but I forced myself to be social. I met up with some other teachers to go to a "house party", here in Osan. Since houses in this country are hard to come by and english teachers are usually shacked up in the ghetto, the party resembled the kind we used to throw in our dorm rooms at uni.
The Korean wine was freely flowing. I wish I had a photo, speaking of university days, my wine was poured to me in a plastic freakin' measuring cup! I guess desperate times, call for desperate measures (pardon the pun!) It was a Christmas potluck party, not quite like the ones we throw at home, our hostess was in her PJ's with reindeer antlers on and the only seating area was sitting cross legged on the floor or cheek to cheek on the bed. Classy, n'est pas? Not that I'm complaining, it was fun. But, there are definitely some odd folks in the small circuit of teachers here, it made for a fun and colorful evening.
When I got home I had a post party skype date (which I heard was pretty amusing for Garry considering the shape I was in), so when my alarm rang Saturday morning I was feeling a little worse for wares. I had a Christmas lunch in Suwon with Gezina and her friends and a splitting headache from the Korean poison I was drinking last night, that was begging me to go back to bed. I think this may be my first hangover in Korea. Not bad considering I live in a country that would give England a run for their money on alcohol consumption and public drunkeness.
I made it to lunch and luckily the Korean BBQ re-energized me back to my normal self. I was included in a Secret Santa with a bunch of relative strangers and we had SUCH a lovely afternoon. It was a beautiful mix of people from Korea, S.A, Oz and North America. Lunch turned into coffee and then strolling and a little shopping. My original plan was to venture back to Seoul for a big night out but luckily one of the girls bailed and we decided to postpone till January.
I was so pleased that I was able to fully enjoy my Saturday, wear myself out, and have the guilty pleasure of heading home around dusk and crawling back into my PJ's and having an early night in. SUCH a better option in the state I was in, rather than traipsing around Seoul on another drinking binge unaware of where I would eventually lay my head to sleep (IF I lay my head to sleep) until the subway opens up again in the morning to take me back home.
Sunday was another great day. I took the bus for the first time into Seoul and though a little steeper in price (a whopping $3, as opposed to the usual $1 on the subway), it was worth its weight in gold for the comfort of sitting the whole way, no stops and a door to door trip time of about 45 minutes to Nambu Station, in somewhat central Seoul. Costco was the main purpose of heading into Seoul. It 's supposed to be a foreigners delight because there is a lot of western brands there, for a little taste of home. But......not sure it was quite worth it. I got peanut butter and cheese, my 2 objectives, but like most costco trips, I walked out with WAY more than I needed. And UNLIKE most Costco trips, I didn't have a car to walk to in the parking lot. And if you think Costco's at home is busy......this one was insane. As much as I love Korea and it's inhabitants, common courtesies of letting people get past you, or saying excusing me when they almost knock you over, are unheard of, (old grandmothers, called Ajumma's here, are the WORST culprits of this, they're ruthless). Add shopping carts, whole family shopping expeditions, 3 floors of stuff to buy, 10 minute cues for the escalator to get from one floor to the next and you have the perfect recipe for a shopping trip from hell. I think that may have been my first and last trip to Costco in Korea.
Our next destination in Seoul was a much more pleasant one. I went to Itaewon, another westernized part of Seoul, for the afternoon with Gezina. Itaewon is a city district, catering to foreigners, packed with bars and restaurant and shops advertising "big sizes". We shopped the dozens of market stalls and just wandered around until we pitstopped at an Irish Pub for a lunch of bangers and mash. I love exploring new parts of Seoul. It seems every weekend offers something new to do. As I've said before, this experience in Korea is amazing. Not only do I work and get a paycheck, and have a wonderful little place to call home, but I also still feel like I am travelling. Everyday and every place opens up new adventures to have and new people to meet. Happiness.
This week I have something going on pretty much every night leading up to Christmas. It's a defence tactic to keep me from getting homesick at the holidays, but also it seems like fun things to do keep popping up around all me!
Only a few more days till Christmas!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just a Blog

It's Thursday, I'm home, I'm bored and I'm blogging.

The school year here is set up really differently compared to at home. Next week we finish for winter vacation (I run english camps, I don't get all the vacation time the kiddies do). Then there is almost 2 months off, the students come back for a week to finish their academic year, have about a week off for Spring Break and March 2nd a fresh new year begins. They took their "final exams" about 2 weeks ago, so pretty much everything from now until March is pointless, especially with the grade six's because they graduate to middle school, leaving elementary behind. They are already too big for their britches. I had a day of grade six's today, and wow, what a handful. It is so tough not to take it personal when I am standing in front of 35 kids and only a small selection are paying attention. Sometime I wish I could strangle some of the kids. I think the system is somewhat to blame though because classes are so broken up from here till the end of the school year and in fact, who cares if they pay attention because marks are in. I don't blame them but it still makes it difficult to run a class.

Saying that, I've been trying to do some Christmas fun stuff with them. At the beginning of each of my 22 classes I have shown them a video of my getting "Elfed", and it's been such a hit. I hope this link works:

and this one:

At first they don't really know what to make of it and then questions start coming out, "Is this Alex Teacher?" When I answer yes, it's Alex Teacher, they start convulsing in fits of giggles. Some of the kids believe it's me, but some just think we all look the same, so it can't possibly be me! I love it.

I brought my camera into school today and started taking a few pictures of some of my students. It was only grade five & six today so next week I will take some of the little guys. During winter camp I am teaching grade one & two and I think I will be doing daily photos shoots these kids are going to be so damn cute :)

One more work day till the weekend. Tomorrow should be a pretty easy day. I have a few options for plans tomorrow night, but I haven't decided what to do yet. Saturday afternoon I have a Christmas lunch and Secret Santa with Gezina's friends in Suwon. Then I am off to Seoul on another evening adventure with a different group. I am somehow spending the night in Seoul, but NOT in a DVD bang the way I did last weekend. Worst case scenario I am staying in a jimjilbang, but I will be with Lana, a friend from Toronto who has lived here for over a year, so I am not worried. Sundays' big event is CostCo. I haven't been yet, but it seems like a pretty big event for foreigners here to stock up on delicacies from home. My list consists of cheese and crackers and nutella. Such an easy girl to please.

That's it for today. I'm off to work on more lesson plans for winter camp.

DAD: Hope this post straightened out the time line a little. It was written & posted on thursday evening, my time. And all the plans I am talking about are for this coming wknd, the 18th & 19th. Love ya!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hwaseong Fortress & Other Stuff

Random Korean Fact (the rest of the world should pay attention to this because it's a GREAT system): Parking (and driving for that matter) is a little haphazard in Korea. So, on the bottom corner of the wind shield, all cars have their mobile numbers posted. If they park their car and end up blocking someone, they just give you a quick call and you come move your car, done deal. So simple, yet so effective.

Almost 2 weeks ago I spent both Saturday and Sunday visiting the city of Suwon, the capital of Gyeonggi-do, the province I live in. It is just a few subway stops away from me, and has a LOT more to offer than little Osan. The main goal was to see the Hwaseong Palace & Fortress. I met JiHye, the music teacher from my school for a great sushi lunch and then we headed to the palace. I took my first solo subway ride because JiHye lives closer than me to Suwon and felt very accomplished to have hopped on and off the right train without complications. The palace was built in the late 18th century and stretched over a large area in the middle of central Suwon. It is surrounded by a fortress wall that looks exactly like a mini version of the Great Wall of China. We walked all around the palace grounds, took pictures (JiHye brought her Polaroid again!) and spent a lot of time dodging groups of school children. In Korea, students go to school on Saturdays, its awful, but luckily it's not part of my contract. I love JiHye, she is really shy with very broken english but she gives off great vibes. She is just comfortable to be around and has the sweetest, most gentle face. After our walk we headed for a quick coffee and then back home.

The next day I went back to Suwon with Gezina, and walked the wall. It is about 6 kilometers and starts off up a mountain and has spectacular views. It was a really sunny day and Koreans love to hike, so it was bustling with families and foreigners alike. After a long afternoon of walking around Gezina and I headed to grab some eats and then back to Osan.

This past weekend I was somewhat grounded to my apartment. There were some fun things going on (like a French wine and cheese market in Seoul), but I had work to do. In what I am learning is typical Korean fashion, my co-teacher sprung on me Thursday, that I had to hand in 23 lesson plans for Winter Camp by Monday morning. The school lets out for winter holidays at the end of the month. Aside from my 4 wks vacation, I am contracted to be at school everyday. So when regular classes aren't in session I run winter/spring/summer english camps for students. They sound pretty breezy, the only challenge is I am teaching grades 1 & 2 (I teach 3 - 6 usually) who don't start learning english in regular school till grade 3. I have no Korean teacher in the class with me during camp and am teaching kids with little to no english comprehension. It's going to be interesting. All those endless nights of charades back home are finally going to pay off!

So I spent most of the weekend writing lesson plans. I have no clue whether they will work or not, trial and error. I managed to slip out for dinner on Saturday night with a few people to an Indian restaurant. The decor was great and so was the company, the food was good, but not so much Indian. More of a quasi Korean Indian. I was expecting kimchi, because it seems sacrilegious not to eat it at each meal, but it surprisingly never appeared. We did have a bizarre assortment of meats on our table and the tandoori was pretty much teriyaki sauce. A, for effort though.

On Sunday I was getting cabin fever and met up with Gezina for a nice exploration adventure of Osan. There is a small river that winds through the city and we followed that for a while, found a beautiful park with amazing statues and art pieces scattered through it, and then eventually moseyed back to the core. It was the perfect breath of fresh air that I needed.

This week has been a quiet one. I hooked up my MagicJack and spoke to a few people from home which lit up my nights, but I have been a little worse for wares in the morning, so I need to cut these calls short and target more sleeping hours.

Wednesday I was back near Suwon for a (useless! pointless! waste of time!) english teacher's meeting and Gezina and I ended up just browsing around the shopping wall and going out for dinner. She is not a huge fan of Korean so we went for Kitalian, Korea's version of Italian food. Again, no kimchi, but not quite up to the calibre of Italian food I am used to eating.

It's the weekend again and I'm really looking forward to it. Friday I am meeting some people locally and heading to Wa Bar, which I haven't been to yet, but seems like the main foreigner's watering hole. Saturday I am headed into Seoul for an amazing looking event called SuperSketch. An artists collaboration with visual art and live music, in Hongdae, a part of Seoul haven't been to yet. I am a little apprehensive about plans cause I am just tagging on with others, but the subway closes at midnight and I have no way to get home. It seems there are a few options, partying all night till the subway opens at 6 again, sleeping at a jimjilbang, or crashing in a DVD bang (literally rooms you can rent to watch movies in). None of these seem really appealing after a night out of drinking, but I am trying to go with the flow and see where I end up. So hopefully in the next blog I will have some great stories about my night out in Seoul.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's Official, Im an ALIEN!

This week has been pretty busy so I don't even know where to begin. So I'll start with just a random Korean fact. Koreans have a totally different method of counting how old they are. The day a baby is born here, it is considered one. So if I were born in Korea, I would have turned 33 this week instead of 32.

Last weekend was really eventful! I started my weekend at EVERLAND. We met at the station at 7:45am , which for a day at an amusement park, was pretty dedicated I thought. Everland met all my expectations. There weren't too many rides but the main one t-Express, was amazing. It was a wooden roller coaster that was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO long and went 200km/hr. I sat in the front car and wow, it was amazing! We spent the morning on rides and the afternoon just walking around and soaking in all the fantastically tacky stuff going on. Lucian and Laila are Korea's version of Mickey and Minnie. We tracked down Santa and Lucian and Laila for some sweet photo ops, mosied around in fake snow with Christmas carols blaring, and generally enjoyed all the over the top Christmas kitsch. It was a jam packed day of cheesy Christmas carols and seasonal stuff that was the perfect way to get in the holiday spririt.

Sunday I made another trip back to Seoul. It was another early start morning. I went shopping to an area called Insadong. It is a traditional shopping street combined with food stalls and markets and tea houses. We got there early and it was deserted and then by noon it was chalk a block, asian style, bursting with people. I love Seoul. The people watching is so captivating, I could stand in one spot for hours on end and be completely entertained. Again, the journey home kind of sucked. Thankfully we scored seats on the subway, but it took over an hour to make it back to Osan. Apparently the bus is quicker, I have to investigate this option.

Monday morning I took off to a 3 day teacher training course by GEPIK, which is the organization I work for. There were 150 other foreign english teachers. It was located about 30mins away from me, out in the sticks at a conference centre. It was a pretty full on few days. part of the workshops were really informative and helpful, while others were so boring and useless. I think it would have been way more effective in 2 days rather than spread over 3, but who am I to complain since I got 3 days off school AND was home by noon on Wednesday and had the rest of the afternoon off to muck about is Osan.

My actual birthday went by pretty much unnoticed here (if you don't count all the fire works North Korea sent to South Korea on the 23rd). It wasn't until I came home and checked all my emails and messages that I was feeling the long distance love. Then Thursday I arrived at work to the most BEAUTIFUL bouquet of flowers sitting on my desk waiting for me. A certain secret admirer, all the way from Canada, got MAJOR brownie points!!!! I spent half an hour at home trying to get them all into a vase and ended up settling for 2- there were that many flowers!
I made myself a nice little home cooked birthday meal, opened up a bottle of Californian vino (it wasn't my pinot, but it still did the trick), and unwrapped a few presents sent from home. It was by far the quietest birthday for someone who is used to doing somersaults on a pedastal at this time of year. I am managing to extend my birthday in the usual style, cause Im still waiting for a VIP package to show up in the post :) I wish I had some more exciting stories dripping with soju and noriebangs on my birthday but because of the training, it was really tame and uneventful. Oh actually, on Sunday evening, I did go out for dinner and got a slice of cheesecake with a candle and our table was surrounded by Korean waitresses singing happy birthday in a Jack Astor-esque style. Highly humiliating but still appreciated.

Yesterday was a monumental day in respects to my life in Korea. I OFFICIALLY became an alien. After a months wait, I received my highly anticipated ARC (Alien Registration Card). I couldn't really care less about the actual card, but it is my ticket to everything here. As soon as I got it, I went with my coworker to the bank and opened an account, so now I can finally get paid and have access to money. Then with a bank account I was able to get a mobile, and HOPEFULLY by next week I should have internet up and running at home. Can't wait for it!!!

Its the weekend again, and I have a handful of fun plans. Tomorrow I am meeting my adorable coworker Jihye, the music teacher, for a sushi lunch date in Suwon and we are off to explore some some palace. When I get back to Osan I am headed for a home cooked American Thanksgiving dinner (turkey a-la-toaster over!!!) Sunday I have a date to go for a 2 hr walk around some old fortress thats supposed to be a nice way to kill an afternoon. Oh, and more cleaning. My floors are a mess. It seems I have cleaned more in Korea than I have in my whole life. Thankfully my apartment is shoebox size so its not too much of a shock to my system to be on my hands and knees cleaning.

On that note, off I go. Happy Thankgiving to anyone south of my old border!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just Another Day

I got on to an almost empty bus this morning. There was a really cute little old Korean lady who pulled out a thermos and at a red light she poured herself a little mug full of piping hot, delicious smelling coffee. About 2 stops later she changed seats and sat as close to the driver as she could get. Two stops later she was yammering on to him and he pulled over, dug a little travel mug out of his bag and accepted some coffee from her. It was so sweet. I just kept thinking you would NEVER in a million years see something like that on the TTC at home. I love Korea. As everyday passes I am happier and happier with how my life is unfolding.

HARU is my second home. I have actually found a cuter little coffee shop, much more quaint and much more Korean than Haru, and even closer to my house. Unfortunately it doesn't have WiFi so until I get internet at home, Haru it is.

I am going on a month of no internet and I'm honestly starting to twitch. My principal asks every day if its hooked up yet, but nope, not yet. I am waiting for my ARC (alien registration card) to be legitimate. Then I get a bank account, then a PAYCHEQUE, then a phone and internet. Step by step. And Haru makes amazing americanos, and it gets me out of my apartment, so I guess I can't complain.

Last night I went out for my second dinner out and it was great. I went to a Korean BBQ place with about a dozen other foreign english teachers. There was beef and pork cooking on 3 separate grills on the table and then all the little sides littered all over our tables. Good eats and new friends. I think I might've made Christmas plans to go off skiing for the weekend which suits me just fine! It'll be fun and keep me from missing home at the holidays.

Also made plans for tomorrow night, my first trip to a jimjibang, a Korean bath house (apparently they're really popular here). YEAH!! A little nervous to shed all my gitch since Koreans aren't too cool with tattoos, but I'll see how it goes.

I'm loving all the networking, it almost seems too easy. The photos are of my 2 Korean coworkers. Juwon is one of my english co-teachers, and JiHye is the music teacher at my school. These girls are awesome! They are my lifeline at school and my weekly coffee dates after work. This week we are sacrificing coffee for um, I can't remember, some spicy Korean food they want me to try. Fingers crossed it doesn't blow my head off, cause Koreans eat SPICY STUFF! Random fact, Koreans are reported to have the highest percentage of people with stomach issues (I fit right in), they have the spiciest food in the world.

I am really looking forward to the next few days, I'm booked right up! Date with the girls after work, then a jimjibang. Saturday morning I am off to EVERLAND, the Korean Disney World.

Then Saturday I am going with a few other teachers to Seoul. The area we are going to is called Insadong and apparently its full of artsy places and teahouses! Can't wait for my next trip back to Seoul.

Monday to Wednesday of next week I am off for an overnight teacher training course. It is done by area, with about 150 people attending, so I think I am about to meet another slew of teachers in my area. Bring it on!

A few americano's in, but unfortunately it's time for bed, Haru is closing. I had a late start this morning, but tomorrow is back to the regular schedule of 8:30 starts. Another random fact. Today's late start was because the middle school kids have their HUGE exam to determine what high school they get into. Education determines everything in Korea, this examination is life or death. So all the schools started later than normal to reduce traffic congestion so no one was late, or stressed out. I think that is very courteous. Plus I got to sleep in, a win/win situation.

Ok, lights out for now. Anyoung Haseo.