Monday, November 28, 2011

G'Bye Osan.... Hello Anyang!


After 12 really happy and eventful months, I have left Osan. It seems like only yesterday I arrived in Korea and felt overwhelmed, a little anxious and nervous. I remember the first weekend of awful jet lag and knowing no one and being afraid to wander too far from my apartment. I remember the first time I had to stand up in front of my kids at school and the fear that accompanied it. So much has changed in 12 months.

I finished my contract with Osan Elementary School on November 1st and have signed on a new short contract with a new school in Anyang. Although technically Osan was on the Seoul subway line, it was the far, far outskirts. It suited me so well and I had little to no complaints for 12 months in my new home. But now I feel like I am living the high life.

Anyang is Seoul proper. As cliche as it is, as soon as I arrived here I felt electric. The area of Seoul is a buzz with people. I am not in the central area of Seoul and when I look out my 16th storey window I see a perfect mixture of high rise buildings and mountains in the back ground. It is amazing.

My new school is very different from my first school. The students here are known for their english proficiency and the levels are way beyond what I was teaching before. On my first day of class, I had students in full blown conversations with me and some even (successfully!) cracked a few jokes. Without Mrs.Kim translating, this never would've happened with my Osan kids.

I used to teach grades 3 through 6, where as here, I only have to worry about grade 5 and 6, a welcome change. Less lesson plans, and a higher level of english. It is actually much easier to teach high level english because the students here actually understand what I am teaching them, instead of the need for a coteacher to be continually translating into Korean. A-sa! Everything is such a welcome change! As I said, my year in Osan was amazing, I just feel like this is a great change of pace for me.

Being in Seoul now offers so many benefits as well. We are so much closer to anywhere and everywhere we go. If we need to grab a taxi home, it's so much cheaper... and the food! On our first day of exploring I had lunch with Garry and we stopped into a cafe and had a sandwich. Nothing too special you may be thinking? In Osan, we would NEVER find a sandwich. And this wasn't just a boring sandwich, it was a toasted double decker club sandwich, possibly my first in Korea. Osan was a tiny little place and now we have just stepped into the cosmopolitan world of Seoul! Happiness.

My contract at Pyeongchon Elementary School is just 4 months long. There are major budget cutbacks going on in Korea right now and a lot of "restructuring".  March 1st will most likely be the start of the new 12 month contract and who knows where I will be then. The plan is to come home after this gig is up, but I am so happy in Korea and feel so pleased with the new change, who knows what will happen. Only time can tell. But for now, I plan on sucking out every last bit of enjoyment and experience Korea to its fullest in the next few months.  

Babies & Wedding Bells

A few weekends ago was a special one in Korea for me. It was more typical of life back in Toronto than my usual weekend shananigans here. I got to hang out with a 2 week old baby boy and attend a Korean wedding.

Baby Anthony,  2 weeks old.

My friend Natalia just gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy, Anthony. I loved seeing her go through her 9 months of pregnancy just because it reminded me so much of all my missed girlfriends at home. Natalia and her husband Denis lived very close to me in Osan and I saw her all the time. Unfortunately with the move to Anyang I won't get to see Natalia and her family as much but Saturday was a great little dose of baby for me!

A Best Friends Korean Wedding

One of my coworkers invited us to her best friends wedding. It was such a nice opportunity and another part of Korean culture I was fascinated to be part of. Korean wedding are celebrated very differently than the way we do it at home. I am not sure how typical this wedding was but here is how it all went down.

We arrived with my Juwon just after 1:00 to the wedding hall in Seoul. Wedding halls in Korea go through a similar process to cattle being herded. There were 5 floors to this hall and each wedding lasted less than an hour so people were being shipped in and out constantly. There were 3 main parts of the whole ordeal. Part one was the food. Garry and I got meal tickets and before really seeing the bride and groom we were ushered to a room laid out with table after table of prepared food, all mixed and mingled with guests from weddings throughout the building. The hall was overlooking the Han River so we had a great view to look out on. The food was Korean banquet style. We had soup, rice, kimchi, sushi, seafood, salad, meat and fruits. Juwon was busy helping out the bride so Garry and I made our own way through the meal.

The wedding meal.

After a quick chowdown, we were back upstairs and seated by 2pm for the second part of the afternoon to commence. This was the main part of the wedding. It was done in front of all the family and friends. They walked down the isle, brides family on the right, grooms on the left. Someone sang to the bride and groom, they exchanged vows, said a few words. It was quite short and sweet. And to be honest, judging by the guests preoccupation with phones, kids, and cameras, it looked like no one was paying close attention to what was actually happening. Once the actual ceremony was finished and they walked back down the isle, as husband and wife it was picture time. Pictures with friends, pictures with family, there were lots of flashes going off. The closest family members, as you can see in the picture, are wearing hanbok, traditional Korean clothing. Although not a lot of people still wear it, it is quite common to see during festivals, ceremonies and celebrations.

Father & the Bride.

The venue.

Husband & wife.

The family. 

My coworker from Osan, Juwon and I.

Once all the cameras were put to rest, the majority of guests left. It is tradition that only the family stays for the last part (if it even occurs at all- not all couples choose to do this part). We were lucky enough to be invited to watch the traditional Korean wedding ceremony, by far the most fascinating bit. I had seen this performed at The Korean Folk Village and was impressed that the rituals were almost identical at a real ceremony.

The bride and groom changed out of their western wedding wear and donned the ornate and beautiful wedding hanbok, similar to that worn by royalty in the past . Because it is so detailed and requires so many different pieces, I was told people rarely buy their own wedding hanbok, it is usually just rented because it costs so much, and will obviously never be worn again. After seeing the outfits, I can see why. We were brought to a small room with a low table all set up for the proceedings. First the grooms parents sit down with the couple. A few words are exchanged and dates are thrown at the couple and caught in a table cloth. The more the dates are caught the more prosperous they are, something along those lines. The parents switch and it's the brides parents turn to take part. I was told this doesn't always happen because the grooms family is more important in the ceremony as the bride gets married off and sent to his side. The couple themselves then do a few rituals like drinking from the same cup and sharing some of the food. Lastly, and ever so slightly entertaining to the onlookers, the groom must piggy back the bride (in their lavish costumes, not an easy feat) and circle the table once. By the looks of things, from then, it was a done deal, introducing Mr. & Mrs.

All in all, it was a great afternoon. I really enjoyed the Korean wedding part. Here are a few snaps to check out how details the garbs are to set the scene. Thanks Juwon, for including Garry and I in the festivities!

The setting

The grooms parents taking part. 

                                             Parents throwing dates at the newly weds.

Piggybacking the bride.

Introducing the newlyweds!!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jeju - Day Three

For continuity this post is entitled Jeju - Day Three. But other than waking up in Jeju, that part of the trip was winding down. Sunday was all about Seoul. With an early morning meeting time, we had a bite at the hotel buffet and headed straight for the airport to catch our flight back to Seoul. The flight was as quick and easy going home as it was getting there. Less than hour till touch down back on terra firma.

We strayed from the schedule a little bit and it seemed like we were just winging it on Sunday for the most part. After a coffee stop to kill some time we headed to a nice restaurant near Gimpo Airport called Mad For Garlic. I am not the hugest fan of garlic (as anyone who knows me even remotely knows), so inwardly I was a little skeptical of my meal. I was deliciously surprised though. We pulled out all the stops for lunch and there was an array of starters passed around and people ordered some pretty impressive dishes. As did I. Once we heard there was no price cap on what we were ordering my eyes went straight to the lobster dishes. The surf and turf looked a little too big for that early in the day so I opted for a king crab and lobster pasta plate. I do love my seafood and this dish did NOT disappoint. My meal arrived with half a lobster sitting on top and although the environment was not so conducive to rolling up your sleeves and throwing on a bib to attack a lobster, I got the job done. And on the garlic front,  it merely had a hint of it, just how I like it. Until dessert of course where things took a turn for the worse. I came back from a trip to the bathroom and everyone had a small dish of ice cream. I was so full and couldn't really fit much more in but everyone was teasing that one of the ice cream flavours was garlic and we had to find out who had it. I was sure it was just a joke (who eats garlic flavoured ice cream?) until I spooned into my dessert. Disgusted, I got the garlic flavoured ice cream. I am sure to some people it wasn't that bad, and I admit it was an interesting concept, but since I am little weary on garlic in the first place, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Next stop on our agenda was to burn off some lunch and indulge in a good dose of K-Pop. Truth be told I don't like K-pop (for those who don't know K-pop music is basically the Korean version of cookie cutter type boy bands and girl bands, complete with matching skimpy outfits, silly routines and a general lack of sincere talent. Ouch!) Saying that, Sunday afternoon was a blast. I think I may have even turned over a new leaf and developed a new taste for a VERY little dose of K-pop. Especially live, cause it was hard NOT to get into the swing of things. Okay, Im jumping ahead. Where were we?

BEAST fans :)

Inky Gayo, SBS Studios

Packed streets lined up to see the show.

We were invited to SBS Studios (I am pretty sure they're the big guys here in Korea) to attend the filming of Inky Gayo, a weekly talent show of the latest and greatest K-pop stars. Another fun side of Korea I never would have experienced on my own. Most of the people around us were young teenaged girls holding signs and waving fans with their heart throbs faces on them. We watched about a dozen different performances, and though I couldn't tell you who most of them were, I had fun. This is one the groups, Orange Caramel. This song plays everywhere and it is a pretty typical representation (in my opinion) of most of the K-pop out there. Watch it till at least the first chorus "Baby sha, sha, sha..." and I guarantee it'll be stuck in your head for days. Quality stuff.

After an entertaining afternoon at Inky Gayo we headed to the Han River for some fresh air. I love being by the Han. It is always buzzing with people doing an array of different things, biking, running, walking, blading, picnicing, jamming, playing with kids, here, there and everywhere. We strolled for a while and then rented out bikes for a while. On a Sunday afternoon, with a nice breeze and the sun shining, everyone was out and about doing their thing. We hung out by the river for the rest of the afternoon. People were generally getting into end of the weekend wind down mode (read this also as completely and totally exhausted!).

Our dinner 'pod'.

A light meal to take a break from all the weekends indulgences.

We strolled a little further down the river till we got to Dongjakdaegyo Bridge. Dinner was waiting for us at the coolest cafe! It was perched high up above the river in a pod shaped building taking in all the view. After a weekend of eating out on heavy meals, I opted for a salad for dinner.  The meal was a really nice way to end the weekend. Before our food came, the amazing girls at KOCIS presented each one of us with a gift bag. Inside the bag was an awesome little selection of goodies. To elevate them from amazing to basically unbeatable, the piece de resistance was a personalized stamp for each of the bloggers. 'Sae Gim So Ri' seals or stamps are hand crafted and carved out of stone. My stamp is Alexandra written in hangeul and on the side of the stone is a carved picture of me and my full name Alexandra Louise DeMaria written out in. Unbelievably beautiful. Not only did they pick out a beautiful gift to award all of the bloggers with, but this is something I will keep forever and look back so fondly over from my days living in Korea.

It was a little sad to collect all my belongings and start the farewell process but I just couldn't get over how happy I was to be part of this whole weekend and all my involvement with The Korea Blog. Thanks KOCIS for an awesome weekend to everyone who was there and for all the hard work it must've taken to put it all together, nothing went unnoticed!

And that's it.

Jeju - More of Day Two

View of Seongsan Ichulbong from the ferry to Udo Island

With a scrumptious lunch under our belts we made our way to the east side of Jeju to hop on a ferry to Udo Island. Udu is no more than a stones throw off the coast of Jeju and on a sunny afternoon, it was a really enjoyable ferry ride over. I had been there before, but I saw it from a different perspective and did different things, so it was yet another new and unique experience.
The highlight of Udo Island was definitely the Haenyeo Divers. I learned all about these women on my last trip to Jeju but we only caught a quick glimpse of them then. This time we saw them bobbing in ocean, in the midst of a days work, hauling in the days catch and also selling their wares. I was awe struck yet again, as a dying breed, to be in their presence felt really special. Here is a link to a past blog that goes into a lot more detail on the Female Haenyeo Divers of Jeju-do.

Haenyeo Diver

One of the thrills from Udo was hopping in a speed boat and getting zipped up and down the coast. We all piled on to a small little zodiac and were brought up close to the cliffs and had a quick tour of one of the caves in the rock. The water was a beautiful shade of blue and with my love of the water, I was happy to get to see Udo from yet another perspective.

Crystal blue waters.

The cave we ventured into.

On the ferry headed back to Jeju-do.

We were on a bit of a timeline to catch the ferry back to Jeju so off we went. Next stop was a bit peculiar but interesting none the less. We arrived at Phoenix Island with no real idea of what it was or what we were doing there. Phoenix Island is an exclusive very high end resort/time share/housing rental type of property. It was massive and had a few varieties of accommodation but pretty much everything luxurious and lush. We got a tour of the grounds and were shown some of the amazing facilities there and what it had to offer. A strange item to be on our itinerary, but I suppose it just another side of Jeju, not so Korean or traditional, but it definitely opened itself up to a specific clientele. Here are some of the aesthetic highlights from our tour of the grounds.

Last stop, dinner. On an island with hundreds and hundreds of restaurants, we went to the exact same one at the base of Songsan Ichulbong that I had been to with my boyfriend on my trip over Chuseok. How ironic. Luckily it was a good restaurant so I didn't mind. The first time I was there I had just a simple bibimbop but this time I had the grilled mackerel. It was a great choice and tasted amazing. They prepare that dish to perfection. I had it last time I was in Jeju at a different restaurant and it was just as good. Grilled to perfection, nicely salted, plain and simple.

We were all secretly so excited to check out Saturday evenings accommodation. After the plush pad from the night before I figured it would be tough to beat. We were staying at a place in Seogwipo, called Shineville. It was a shame we arrived late in the evening and had to leave so early on Sunday morning. What I saw of the resort looked beautiful. Our rooms were actually suites with 2 beds and a small kitchenette. I opened the curtains in the morning and woke up to a gorgeous sunrise looking over perfectly manicured grounds, an infinity pool off in the distance and the ocean, sigh. A few of us grabbed some drinks and spent a few hours chatting and getting better aquainted. For the most part, it was a really solid group we were stuck with for the weekend. I love hearing other peoples stories and learning why they are where they are and how they got there. I also kept reminding myself how lucky I was to get an opportunity like this and be part of the group.

The view from my balcony at Shineville.

Just one day to go..... click here to check out how we spent our SUNDAY. The last day of our Bloggers Weekend Away.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jeju - Lunch Spot - Day Two

The well selected lunch stop.

Traditional healing herbs in their kitchen.

The kitchen, looks like home.

The Lovely Annie.

Preparing to feast!

The small restaurant we stopped at for lunch looked like it was set down in the middle of nowhere, and it pretty much was. It was family run and had space to seat maybe a few other people besides us. It was Korean food with a delicious twist. Some stuff looked like traditional fare but other dishes had a nice Asian fusion, and every bite was better than the next. Banchan (Korean side dishes) at its best. I wish I knew the correct names for each dish, but disappointingly, I don't. I lost count at some point but there were at least 20 dishes served to us. Feast your eyes.

Pumkin Soup


The circular dish is to assemble a do-it-yourself wrap.
This mini wrap is made from all the ingredients in the circular dish above.
Delicately delicious.

Kimchi sushi with roe.

I believe this was fermented fish. Pungent.


Creamy Salad.


Green salad.


Seafood Soup.

Duck with veggies & sauce.


Deep fried potato, leaf, and sweet potato (I think).


This deep fried leaf had honey drizzled over and was out of this world!


Seafood medley.



Shikeh. Sweet rice drink.

(I am sooooo hungry now!)

And, I swear, this was all in ONE MEAL!