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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lantern Festival

Saturday night was my first trip into Seoul and I think I might've fell in love a little! I am on the subway line to get into Seoul but it is a long trip in. It took about an hour or so to get to the area where the Lantern Festival was (don't ask me what it was called). But as soon as I stepped out of the train and into the chaos that was Seoul on a Saturday night I was buzzing with excitement.

The Lantern Festival was a collection of huge lanterns, made in different shapes and sizes, dotted along a man made stream just below street level, called the Cheonggyecheon. There were 1000's and 1000's of people there, and the lineup just to take a peak at the collection of lights was enormous. My friend Lana grabbed us a few coffees and the lineup was a great opportunity for people watching and soaking up everything going on around me.

I checked the website out before I went and a little guy called HAECHI caught my eye. He is Seoul's mascot and the cutest thing ever (he kind of reminds me of Pokemon!). So my hidden agenda was to find him and strike a pose, and my mission was accomplished. Aside from Haechi though, all the lanterns were intricately detailed and beautiful to look at. Not even all the pushing and shoving, especially from old Korean ladies, took away from it.

We spent most of the evening wandering around where the lanterns were and then made a quick pitstop at Kyobo, Korea's version of Indigo. There was a massive english section and I think I found a little slice of heaven right there. I have been reading my small stash of books from home one word at a time, at a turtles pace, in fear of finishing them without having any backup. So Lana brought me a few, and I picked up a few more at Kyobo and though my purse was a few pounds heavier my conscious was a LOT lighter knowing I could go home and guilt free plow through some new books, oh the excitement!!!

From Kyobo, I went out for my first Korean meal. I have been eating Korean cafeteria food everyday at school and am so impressed that I've loved almost every bite so far. Our meal out was simple but great. We had the typical slew of a million side dishes with soups, tofu, kimchi and an assortment of other unidentifiable things. As our main we split a tuna bimbimbop and some dumplings. Bimbimbop is a popular dish made in many variations. Ours came in a pot with rice, tuna and a huge selection of greens and other veggies all mixed up. It was yum yum pop! After a quick bite and another short wander around we slowly headed back to the subway for the packed (think rush hour packed) train ride home. Lana left me a little before my stop cause she isn't from Osan and I was pretty confident making my way back. My train stopped way before it was supposed to everyone got out and the train went lights out. After a brief moment of panic I managed to piece together the subway had closed for the night and get myself into a taxi and back to my place. A 25 minute taxi ride cost me less than $10 (the subway ride into Seoul was $1). Oh, and dinner was $12- FOR BOTH OF US!!!! The cost of living is definitely dirt cheap in Korea!

So even though it was a brief outing, it felt great. Seoul was buzzing in that big city way that I love. I can't wait to get back and start exploring (and shopping!) As each day passes I am feeling better and better about my decision to come here. I am so happy and excited at everything going on around me. Once Garry shows up I think my world will be complete!

Friday, November 12, 2010

2 Weeks In

Today is my 2 week anniversary in Korea. Though it is lacking in romance, as I sit solo on a Friday night in my local coffee shop HARU, I couldn't be more pleased. I have a bit of school work to do over the weekend but I am also making my first trip to Seoul. There is a big Lantern Festival on a manmade stream in the city. I've checked out the website and to be honest Im most excited because I read that Haechi is going to be there. Haechi is this big yellow cartoon character that is Seoul's mascot, I LOVE ASIA!!!!!

My first week of full on teaching was successful. It definitely had its ups and downs, but I made it. I was left today with no Korean teacher in the room with a 40 minute grade 5 class and 40 minute grade 6 class- and I was totally fine, didn't even break a sweat. With a sore throat and the inability to speak very loudly I still managed to teach a lesson coherently and play a game the kids could understand. On Wednesday however, I tried a simple variation of broken telephone and it was an EPIC FAILURE. Lesson one: students need to play games from their seats or it'll turn into a circus affair and all hell breaks loose. I can see a pattern forming of highs and lows, matching the unique make up of really good attentive kids and little trouble makers, and I'm okay with it. I think this is going to be as much a learning experience for me as it will be for them.

I am learning the art of lesson plans and slowly wading through the pages and pages and pages of online ESL teaching aids and games and ideas. The network of teachers here is amazing and already I have had so much help from people I barely even know and as someone put it so aptly, why reinvent the wheel? So many people have done this before me and so many are in the thick of it right now, that pooling resources is the way to go.

On Thursday November 11th, Remembrance Day in our part of the world, the Koreans celebrate a very different kind of day. PEPERO DAY. What is Pepero you ask? My sentiments precisely. Some of you might now what POCKY is? Those Japanese long finger stick biscuits dipped in chocolate? Ring a bell? I don't really think Jessie reads my blog but is she does, she'll know exactly what I referring to, most die hard candy addicts would. Pepero is Korea's version of Pocky sticks. It is a little like Valentine's Day here. The kids were really hyper all day and all of them carried around a stash of Pepero's ranging from the size of a small sharpened pencil, to about 3 ft long! Apparently it's on the date 11/11 because it resembles 4 Pepero sticks, so clever. I thoroughly enjoyed it cause by the end of the day I had a nice stash of treats to take home from the students. Just like V-Day at home, it seems mostly like a marketing ploy. The displays in the grocery store were ridiculous, worthy of FAO Schwartz, or the Candy World Hall of Fame!

Outside of school is just as exciting and interesting. It seems everywhere I turn there is a new foreign english teacher to meet and offering to show me the ropes. Osan is really small so I love the community feel so far. I hear the nightlife is pretty booming (not in Osan, but more in Korea in general), and I haven't really been up for that quite yet, but I feel totally reassured that I won't be in short supply of things to amuse myself with.

I have a few pics up from my school, Osan Elementary School and my class room in the ENGLISH ZONE. I am not brave enough yet to bring the camera out in my room with kids running amok, but I don't think my Dad will let me come home without evidence of me, at the head of the class, actually teaching- so it will happen soon.

Oh, and of course there are feet pictures up too.......I bought new shoes for my shoe closet. Purple Converse. Knock off's of course, I'm in Asia!!! They're still pretty awesome though :) They cost me $8 at the market, and they make my feet hurt but I don't care cause they also make me very happy!

Happy 2 Week Anniversary To Me!