Aug 26, 2013

Goodbye, Korea

I'm sitting at the airport, waiting to board my flight. I've said all my goodbyes, checked my bags, and am currently coping with the traumatizing loss of my Alien Registration Card. They took it away at immigration. I'm a little bit devastated.

I'm starting to gain some perspective on all that has happened this year. A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my experience here (actually, he was interviewing me for a project). I told him I've been thinking a lot about what I'll say when people ask me, "So, how was Korea?" How do I begin to answer that? It's impossible to sum up what this year has meant to me. It's been the most amazing year of my life. I've done things I would never dreamed of and seen things I could have only imagined. I've visited nine foreign countries, including Korea. I've met people I will never forget. I have had the opportunity to have an impact on a child's life, even for a brief span of time.

It's still difficult to say how much I've changed as a person. I know I have, but trying to pinpoint it is like trying to figure out what you look like without a mirror. I think I'll need the mirror of my former life and people who knew me Before in order to see how I've changed.

Yes, Before is capitalized. There will always be the time Before Korea, and now the time After Korea. 

This isn't my last post on this blog. My journey isn't over yet. It is, however, coming to a close sooner rather than later. I'd like to take this moment to thank everybody who has joined me on this adventure, whether you're a personal friend or you found my blog through various internet means.  Writing this blog has been a way not only for me to share my stories with you, but to keep them for myself to look back on in the times to come.

Ok, this is starting to feel final, so I'll stop  there. It's not final. That time is coming soon, but it's not here yet.

So until then: So long, Korea. Catch you on the flip side.

Asiapalooza Photos!

As promised, here are the photos from Asiapalooza

Things I Will Miss About Korea

-3G on the subway
-being able to charge my phone literally anywhere, including bars
-elevator buttons that cancel if you press them again 
-key codes to apartments
-dweigi galbi
-dalk galbi
-all the galbis, really
-being invisible to sidewalk solicitors
-cheap contacts and glasses
-national health insurance
-drinking in public
-만원 ($10) shoes
-5천원 ($5) clothes
-천원 ($1) socks
-$16 salon haircuts 
-no tipping
-busses that are timed to the second
-no last call
-McDonald's delivery
-feeling safe walking around at 2am
-this view

-a lot of other things that won't occur to me until I'm home

Aug 24, 2013

Smile Because It Happened


Oh god, I'm so relieved. Talk about stress.

Now I'm just cleaning my apartment and watching Doctor Who to avoid confronting my emotions. NBD.

Friday night was the big farewell tour. It was just about perfect. We started at a bar that we found our first weekend in Hongdae, when we were just wee K-babies. Then we went to a music lounge that has become a favorite haunt of the Seoulmates, followed by a stop at my favorite rock club and ending at The Park. It was Hongdae in a nutshell. The only thing missing was noraebang and the makgeolli man.

Last night I met some friends up and we watched the water show at Banpo bridge, almost exactly a year after I saw it the first time.

 (Top: last year. Bottom: Saturday night. What a difference a year makes. For starters, this time we knew what side of the river to be on. )

I've had to say goodbye to a lot of wonderful people in the last few days. Each one has been riddled with promises of messages and future visits, but we all know the odds are slim. I do know that I've met people here whom I will never forget, and I can enjoy knowing that I have friends in cities and countries around the world. I'm already planning my grand couchsurfing tour of the UK in two years, which will consist largely of going to various cities and calling up my friends saying, "I'm in town. Come pick me up."

But I digress. I only have a handful of goodbyes left, but they will be some of the hardest. I don't think it's really hit me that I'm leaving for good. My brain can't quite process anything that comes after the hug I will give my mom when I land in LAX.

When I was growing up, I was a ballet dancer. I was in The Nutcracker every year for nine years running (I know). Every year after the show ended, I would get really sad for a couple days. My mom called them post-performance blues. She would always tell me, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

My Korean post-performance blues are still to come. I can feel them lurking, like a dark, scary thing hiding around a corner. But when they come (and I have a nasty feeling it'll be sometime around when my plane takes off), my mom's voice will ring in my head, reminding me, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

Aug 22, 2013

The Beginning of the End

The time has come, the walrus said...

Today is my last day of school. I just said goodbye to my students for the last time. Each of my classes today made me a farewell poster.


I gave a 3-sentence speech in Korean to the teaching staff during a meeting this morning (nailed it, by the way). I told them how much I love the school and the students and thanked them for everything this year.

 Yesterday the younger teachers surprised me with a cake.

Tonight I have a farewell tour of Hongdae with the Seoulmates.

I'm sorry my writing is so bland and stilted. I'm just feeling really drained. It's possible all of this hasn't hit me yet. It also doesn't help that I've been up late almost every night packing and meeting people up to say goodbye.

I'm sure I'll be incredibly retrospective and long winded once I'm back in America and have hours and hours of downtime at my parent's house, so sit tight.

In the meantime, 화이팅!

Aug 21, 2013

T-Minus 1 Week

One week from today, I will be in America.

It's funny how time seems to speed up when you least want it to. My week has been so chock-a-block full of dinner dates, errands, and packing that as soon as I get out of school I'm going nonstop until about now... which is 1am. I do have downtime in school, but that only serves to heighten my anxiety. There's not a lot of things that are worse for moving-related stress than having to sit idly in an office and think about all the things you could be doing. I'll try to write more once things calm down a bit (i.e. once I move out of my apartment on Sunday and into Coworker's house, where she graciously invited me to stay for the 2 days I'm homeless). But for now, just know that I'm stressed, excited, sad, happy, overwhelmed, and anxious. So, just all of the feelings, really.

More soon.

Aug 19, 2013

Notes from Asiapalooza

I'm back! I'll post a full Flickr set of my pictures soon, but first, here are some notes from my trip.

I have:
-taken 10 flights in 9 days
-set foot in 5 countries
-visited major world heritage sites like Angkor Wat and the beach where The Beach was filmed
-watched a 6-year old boy dance on a beach with a flaming baton
-gotten rather excessively intoxicated on Koh Phi Phi
-possibly been (but almost definitely was) peed on by a monkey in an overhead tree
-been invited to a party by a Thai masseuse
-listened to a soft-rock rendition of "Oh Holy Night" in a Thai cab at 4:30am
-flown to the wrong Cambodian city and had to purchase last minute flights to the one that really is next to Angkor Wat
-waited out a monsoon holed up in a tuktuk with our driver
-witnessed the abrupt end to a Khmer cultural show when Chinese tourists leapt onstage to pose for pictures 
-watched more American TV than I had in the past year in a Cambodian hotel room
-decided that Singapore looks more like the CGI mockup of a city than an actual city
-become bunk bed buddies with an elderly Pakistani man
-successfully crossed the street in Hanoi without being hit by a motorcycle
-made an unplanned overnight visit to China when my flight from Hanoi was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight to Seoul and forcing the airline to get me a 72-hour visa and put me up in a 5-star hotel
-cried my way into getting a free half-hour of computer use in the hotel's business center because I had no money and no way to contact anybody to tell them where I was
-traveled to places I would have never dreamed I'd see
-had, overall, a most excellent adventure.

Aug 9, 2013

Adventure time!

I'm going on an adventure!!!
Ok, fine, I know I'm reusing this gif from a couple weeks ago, but I don't care because it's accurate. Also I love it.

I'm leaving today for Asiapalooza. With two of my friends, we'll be hitting up 4 countries in 9 days: Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam.

I was up most of the night packing, so I'm ready to go.

-sunscreen? check
-spare contacts? check
-lots of tank tops? check
-binder full of every itinerary, resesrvation confirmation, and visa document? check.
-3 new books? check. check. check. (While nothing beats the smell of a real book, I really love my Nook Simple Touch for travel.)

I'm ready!

I'll try to write a blog post or two while I'm there, but no promises. Vacations are kind of like a busman's holiday for travel bloggers.

So until then... catch you on the flip side!

Aug 7, 2013

Yay Korea! Table Buttons

One of the (in my opinion) great things about Korea is that it's a no-tipping culture. This affects your experience in ways that I didn't really think about before I came here.

My personal favorite is that when you're eating, your waiter or waitress leaves you alone. No awkward interruptions every five minutes to ask if you need anything. Instead, if you want something, you just push a button! It sets off a little tone (and sometimes a light) to alert the staff that you want something.

These little buttons are at the end of the table in almost every restaurant. It's so simple! No awkwardly flagging down a passing waiter or having him interrupt your meal. Push a button and your waiter/waitress comes right over! It's genius.


Aug 6, 2013

A Week of School Lunches

I decided to document every lunch I ate for a week. Korean school lunches are profoundly different from American school lunches, and I am convinced they play a vital role in why Korea doesn't have the obesity epidemic currently facing America.

Monday: Stir-fry noodles, pork ribs, seafood soup with bean sprouts and octopus tentacles, rice, and kimchi. 
Tuesday: stir-fried mystery meat, a roll of rice dough, spam soup with other mystery meat, rice, and kimchi.

Wednesday:  Special food day!
This was a disappointing special food day. Some days we have 'spaghetti" or "pizza." This week it was bibimbap, friend octopus bits, pineapple(!!!), seaweed soup, and kimchi. 

Thursday:  Sesame spinach(?) Donkasu (fried pork cutlet with gravy-ish stuff), tofu soup with peppers, rice and kimchi

Friday: Dalk Galbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), corn on the cob, kimchi, seaweed soup, and rice. Friday was special because we got lettuce to make little wraps with our chicken and rice.

So this is a typical week of lunches for Korean students. I'm no expert, but if I had to go out on a limb and say why Korea has a vastly lower obesity rate than America, I'd say this has something to do with it.

Looking and Seeing

A while ago, I submitted an essay for a contest hosted by EPIK about challenges we've faced in our school.

I'm excited to say that mine was one of the ones they selected!

It's about making sure you really see your students as individuals, instead of just a mass of faces.

Sorry about the PDF. It's on the EPIK website like this, too.

If you click the little < on the top left corner of the frame below, you can minimize the annoying sidebar.

Aug 5, 2013

K-Fail: The bicycle incident--Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Last we left our increasingly unfortunate tale, N and I were holed up in a remote trail-side cafe trying to stave off dehydration as we planned our next move.

We'd just about had our fill of the "scenic trail," so we decided to hit the road to the beach. It seemed pretty straightforward.

After doing our best to refresh ourselves, we headed back out into the brutal heat to look for the road. We had to navigate the bumpy, unpaved, uphill cafe driveway before emerging onto pavement.

Once we made it to the main road, all seemed well. The road was nice and straight and sloped gently downhill. But during our periodic Google Map checks, we noticed that we didn't seem to be moving as quickly as we thought we would. We realized that, once again, we had been duped. The beach was a solid 15km away, and we were getting increasingly sunburned.

Screw it, we decided, Let's get a cab.

We pulled over in front of an E-Mart and accosted the cab drivers waiting at the taxi stand. They recoiled as we approached, filthy, smelly, and walking our bikes beside us. All might have been lost had it not been for a friendly passer-by. A Korean man dressed in fancy bike gear noticed our plight and stopped to help. After several minutes of intense negotiation, he managed to persuade two cabbies to take us and our bikes to the beach for a flat rate.

We were more than ready to lay out and have a relaxing afternoon on the beach. Unfortunately, the beach had other plans.

Upon arrival, we locked up our bikes and sprinted into the water, eager to wash away the sweat and grime.  We were immediately knocked off our feet by some of the most powerful waves I've ever experienced at a beach. They flipped us over and over, dragging us through the sand along the bottom. When we finally extricated ourselves, we were covered in sand. It crusted our hair and lined our swimsuits. We ran for the showers... only to find them out of order.

We had no choice but to go back into the water for what we called the "dunk and scrub." We would wait for a big wave to crash, run out, dunk and try to scrub the sand out, then run back out before the wave retreated and dragged us with it. It was only mildly successful.

Too uncomfortable to enjoy laying out on the sand, we finally decided to admit defeat. We got back on our bikes and rode to a nearby convention center, hoping to pick up another cab or two. All the cabbies waved us off. One told us to catch a bus and pointed us towards a small, isolated bus shelter.

The view from near our bus shelter

We had no way of figuring out if or when a bus was coming. The schedule posted on the shelter wall was unintelligible, even with N's superior Korean skills. So we waited. And waited. By now, it was about 4 in the afternoon: 90 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. The sun beat down on our little shelter as we huddled in the shade, nursing our increasingly fierce sunburns and raw, sand-worn skin.

Then, our angel arrived. He took the form of a little old Korean man driving a black cab. He pulled over and asked where we were going. We said the name of our town. He told us to get in. "With bikes?" we said. "Yes. With bikes."

We were saved.  He dismembered our bikes and shoved them into his cab. He had to tie the trunk down with string because it wouldn't close. We piled in and headed home.

As we approached the hostel, N and I decided that despite all our troubles, we didn't want to admit defeat. We didn't want the hostel manager to know how sorely we'd been beaten.

So obviously, we couldn't pull up in front of the hostel in a cab. We had our cabbie/angel pull over about a block away. We got out, reassembled our bikes, and rode into the hostel courtyard in a blaze of pride and glory.

Then we both took 2-hour naps.

K-fail: The ATM Incident

23 days left in country and I still manage to pull stuff like this. It's a wonder I've even survived this year. 

Today I was out shopping for a new external hard drive. I'd just struck a bargain at Yongsan Electronics market, but I had to go get cash from the slightly-sketchy ATM on the ground level. I had to get a weird amount out, so I put the number in manually instead of just hitting a button.

Well, I must have miscounted the 0's... because all of a sudden I was holding my entire bank account in my hands. Hands. Plural.

Internet, I freaked out. 

I stood there trying to keep 10,000won notes from falling on the ground and trying to shield the whole debacle with my body, lest any of the middle-aged Korean men waiting to use the ATM suddenly decide to seize an opportunity. 

Just then, I remembered that this particular ATM was run by my bank. You have to understand, I almost never find ATMs with my bank. They're just not common. So to be standing at one in this building, at this moment, was nothing short of a minor miracle. 

I would like to take this opportunity to bestow my eternal love and devotion to the person who invented the "deposit" button. You, madame or sir, are my personal hero. 

I frantically stuck my card back in the machine and jabbed the "deposit" button, certain that it wasn't going to work. My relief when that little metal door slid open was visceral.  Without stopping to count my money, I shoved it all in and greedily accepted my receipt with my newly restored balance. 

When it was all over, I still had to get money to buy my hard drive. 

This time, I got one of the preset amounts.

Aug 1, 2013

Bread Cake

Sometimes, when teaching in a foreign county, you have to fudge the details a little bit.

I'm in the middle of English summer camp at the moment. Today was "cooking day." At the request of Coteacher, I had to come up with something "western" for the kids to "cook" that didn't require cooking equipment or expensive western ingredients. 

My first instinct was to make sandwiches, but deli meat is nonexistent. I gave Coteacher PB&J as an option, but she said peanut butter was too expensive (nut allergies seem to be less of an issue here).

So I thought fine, lets just have them pile a bunch of random stuff on top of bread.

 Behold, the invention of "bread cake."

Some of the students got very artistic with it. 

Others, less so...

At the end of the lesson, I had convinced them (and my Coteacher) that "bread cake" was a staple of the American diet. 

I might be going to ESL teacher hell.