Archive | December, 2010

teacher’s weekend, a wedding and impending doom.

20 Dec

excuses aside, i’ve had some pretty interesting experiences these past two weekends.

#1: teacher’s weekend.

about two months ago my co-teachers asked me if i wanted to go to an overnight trip with the teachers. my initial reaction was of course no, i don’t want to go but i said “oh  yeah! of course!” and thus was signed up for the overnight trip which took place on december 10. i don’t think it was REALLY optional. some teachers didn’t go, but it would have looked really badly on me. not to mention it was FREE to go to seorak mountain, eat some food and be around koreans, since i never am (hah!).

so we left around 1 pm on a friday and took a bus ride to seoraksan (san means mountain in korean). the ride itself was about  four hours long. the bus was decorated like a 19th century train, which i enjoyed. like the rest of korea, it was freezing. the upside was that they gave us a snack pack full of deliciousness. i actually kept some of the wrappers so i’d be able to buy the things myself. we stopped a few times to take pictures of things. mostly just i took pictures. there were i think 50 teachers there.

me standing awkwardly in front of an important passage.

eventually we got to our destination and stopped to eat at a sashimi restaurant. it was just raw fish, which was really delicious. it’s a good thing i can eat all this stuff they put in front of me, because many people would not be so easy going. i got some brownie points with my principal when i properly administered a soju shot to him (handing him the shot glass with two hands, pouring with two hands), as well as when i took the one he gave to me by looking away and covering my mouth. you’re not supposed to let your elders see you drink. the principal has previously complimented my eating skills, so this was another thing that impressed him. he gave a nice speech about how he likes that i am basically a korean now (all my co-teachers think this too) and that i try to learn about korea and being korean, which is true. so that was good.

some scenery of the east sea.

after that we got back on the bus, where there were about 10 massive boxes of fried chicken, which we ate some of. fried chicken here is actually amazing. it’s much better than back home. if i ever wanted to open a chain or something, i’d do it with korean fried chicken in canada. why wouldn’t we eat fried chicken after a massive meal? so we went back to the hotel room to get ready to go to the noraebang (karaoke). the room had one bed and padding for the floor. my 4 co-workers said that i should have the bed and that they’d sleep on the floor. i politely protested but was very happy i didn’t have to sleep with a bean filled pillow.

we went to the basement of the hotel where about 25 teachers had mingled to start singing karaoke. everyone had to sing. i sang “o-bla-di, o-bla-da” by the beatles. i had to quickly search for a song that would be appropriate and SLIGHTLY recognizable. my co-teachers were super sweet and all came up to clap along with me while i performed.

aren't we happy?

that went on for about 1.5 hours, where i got to listen to everyone in the room sing. however, they were handing out 10,000 won bills ($9) to each performer, so it was worth it. after we went up to our room, my tiny co-teacher, mia, called down for our fried chicken box. then me and four stick figure koreans ate almost an entire box of fried chicken. i mean it was probably over 5 lbs. i only ate about 2 pieces since it was after 11 pm at that time and i was really tired. they all urged me to go to sleep and not to let them bother me. so i got ready for bed, amid surprised comments at  my make-upless face and how young i looked and got under the covers awkwardly while they sat on the floor and ate fried chicken. it was only awkward because i was sleeping in a brightly lit room in a bed while 4 koreans ate around me and then talked for two hours into the night. i was pretty annoyed that they did that, but really there was nothing i could do about it, so i just lay there and waited for them to get under their bed pads.

the next morning we got up around 7:30 and got dressed for breakfast. breakfast consisted of tofu soup, which you spooned some spicy chili stuff on, rice and the regular side dishes. there was nothing that made it breakfast for me, but i ate it all and didn’t die, so there you go. it was quite delicious of course, but something about eating boiled tofu with pepper sauce at 8 am made me a bit queasy.

we got back on the bus to head to seoraksan. we were supposed to go up the cable car to the top but it was so windy they had cancelled it. instead we just walked around and looked at the buddha statue and went to the temple.

buddha.

many of my co-workers are buddhist, so it’s kind of nice to see them go into the temple and do the whole bowing ritual. however, i did get the impression that they didn’t go out of their way to do this and only prayed when the opportunity presented itself. either way, they got to do it three times in two days.

after this we went to another temple where THE buddha’s teeth were supposedly housed.

they're in there somewhere.

after this we went for lunch at some sort of dried fish restaurant which wasn’t bad, but not that great either. every woman teacher bought like $50 of dried fish at the store after and then we headed on our way back home.

overall it was a good experience, although i wish it had been on a thursday or something. i rely on my weekends to be with my friends and get a break from being the only english speaker around koreans. of course i didn’t get that at the time, but it was only one night.

#2: a wedding

this past weekend i got to go to my co-teacher’s wedding. i had heard that korean weddings are nothing to write home about, but here i am doing just that. that’s not to say it was great or anything.

i met my co-teachers back at school on saturday and we went to the wedding hall/business meeting building. after we arrived we gave envelopes with our money (gift) to some attendant who then handed us our meal ticket. then we wandered into another room where julia was perched on a bench waiting for her guests to arrive and say hello. i took a picture with her.

as you can see, i’m fairly casually dressed. this is normal. when i asked sophie what i should wear, she told me i could wear what i was wearing at the time (jeans, a sweater and uggs). i said “am i going to  be the only person dressed like this?” and she said “well yes.” so of course when the day came i slightly dressed up, but not really. after we took pictures with the bride we headed into the hall which was actually not usually used for weddings but for business presentations.

note the theatre seating.

the ceremony itself was about 25 minutes, which everyone talked through. i had already heard about this beforehand, so was not shocked. some  man came onstage and said a speech for about 15 minutes, then there were two songs sung by family members and it was over. i don’t even think they kissed. before the ceremony had started sophie had told me that we might not even stay the whole time and might just leave to go eat. it seemed like lots of people didn’t even bother to go into the wedding at all, but went straight to the buffet. so we wandered into the buffet where we ate a whole lot of korean food. there was a wedding cake but i believe it was just for show.

some background info on korean weddings: usually you pick a hall and the wedding is basically done. you rent your wedding dress, the hall does the food and decor and you pick your invitations online and send them out. they usually invite around 400 people with no RSVP necessary. they don’t really know who is going to come or not. i received the invitation about 2 weeks before the wedding. julia’s wedding photos were taken before the wedding in a studio and i saw them a week before her ceremony. there is no explicit dress code. the hall usually is rented out for one hour, although julia had it for two. i was in and out in two hours, but at least i can say i’ve been to a korean wedding.

#3: impending doom.

this could be referring to a few things and i haven’t chosen what it is about yet. but i’ll have you know that i’m still alive. you might have heard that s.korea did some drills near n.korea today starting at 1pm KST. all over facebook people were posting fearful messages asking for their friends to pray for them. in my office, business was going on as usual. i didn’t even know anything was happening. it’s now  8:30 pm KST and nothing has changed in my life, so everything seems to be going fine. i always know that i have a flight booked home for january 15 in case anything goes terribly wrong in the next few weeks.

the other impending doom i’m referring to is of course, christmas. i’ve been pretty melancholy about the whole thing as the date draws nearer. christmas in korea is interesting. it’s for couples and most families don’t really celebrate it even if they do celebrate it. non-christians just spend it with their families, watching movies or something. christians go to church and then probably have a meal and hang out. the city is COVERED in lights and is quite beautiful, but the whole christmas present buying thing isn’t the same here and the christmas spirit is basically absent. most foreigners just do something with friends like go skiing for the weekend or something. i was going to do just that, but have decided instead to go out for dinner on the eve with a couple of my closest friends from home and then saturday to go skating. it’s really not christmas here for me, so there’s no use in pretending in my opinion. i’ll celebrate at home in 25 days. so basically my christmas countdown starts today! as well, korea celebrates holidays on the day and on that day only. this means that i get no time off for christmas since it lands on a saturday and the same stands for new year’s.

of course, after christmas i have winter camp, which means for 3 weeks i teach only until 12:00 pm, which is amazing. then i can go home. for 2 weeks i teach at a different school with other foreign teachers, and then one at my own school for one week. i hardly can be bothered with either of them. i’ve planned my lessons mostly for both so i just want to get them over with so i can get on with my holidays! of course, i’ve been lucky once again. i know MANY english teachers who are STRUGGLING to come up with lesson plans. one of my friends actually has to plan twenty 40 minute lessons for one week. i had to plan 1 lesson for 2 weeks, and then only really 2 lessons for my last week. it should be 5 lessons for the final week, but i am re-using my lesson from the previous camp, sophie has a lesson for us to do and i’m making pancakes for one of them. i’m really, really lucky and i shouldn’t forget that. other foreign teachers receive NO help from their co-workers and are expected to plan the entire thing themselves, despite needing help desperately. not to mention the co-teachers SHOULD be helping them by contract. so once again, i’ve lucked out in this department.

anyway, that was certainly long and thanks for sticking with me if you’re reading this line! i wish you all a merry christmas and happy new year and i’ll see you soon.

cravings.

6 Dec

as i’ve almost been here 4 months (well in 10 days), i’ve really started to notice things that i’m craving or just downright missing.

1. bagels. they exist here but they are nothing like ones from back home.

2. good chinese/japanese food. does this exist here? i have yet to find it.

3. shopper’s drug mart. yes, it’s annoyingly huge chain but it was always there when i needed something quickly.

4. tim horton’s. i don’t even like tim horton’s particularly, but it’s pretty comforting. also i hear there are boston cream timbits now.

5. home cooking (especially when it’s cooked for me). yes, mother (and father)! your cooking!

6. my bed. the one here is large but pretty much rock solid. it squeaks.

7. driving.  the public transportation system here is wonderful and super cheap, but sometimes a nice drive in the car is just real enjoyable. especially down the 407 to hamilton.

8. my friends and family. of course i’ve met some lovely and wonderful people here, but sometimes you want people who know you like the back of their own hands (and probably know mine too).

9. a dryer. my washing machine leaves something to be desired, meaning hot and dry clothes in a machine that can fit more than 9 items.

10. whole grains. white rice in various forms is just not the most healthy or satiating thing out there. i never thought i’d long for 12 grain bread or brown rice, but here we are.

what have i grown to love/rely upon?

1. korean food. it’s (for the most part) delicious. the galbi (bbq) will be greatly missed when i go home. it’s just not the same there. i will definitely have to venture down to korea town to see what i can munch on there.

2. the transportation system! like i said, it’s amazing. i can get ANYWHERE very easily. the subway costs a basic fee of 900 won (under 90 cents) and charges you by distance. i’ve never paid more than perhaps 1300 won to go on the train for over an hour. downside: i closes at 12:30 on friday and 12 on saturday.

3. cabs. korean cabs are dirt cheap. a 45 minute cab usually costs around 25,000 won. ridiculous.

4. everything being open all the time. there are numerous 24 hour restaurants and most stores stay open until at least 10 pm for unknown reasons.

5. cute things. korea is full of cute things. whether it’s someone dressed up in a cat suit dancing outside the subway, to strange advertisements with bokchoi that has a face on it or just the 100% adorable children (under 6), this country loves cute stuff.

7. hangul. by that i mean JUST the symbols of the korean language. they really are quite easy to learn and read. i can easily read and write by now. i just don’t know what any of it means.

8. korean people. for the most part i have had only positive experiences with koreans, in general. of course there are some bad ones which can leave a bad taste in your mouth, but most koreans treat foreigners with courtesy and curiosity. if they can speak english they will probably try to use it on you. if they can’t, they will try to talk to you in korean.  if you can answer, they will undoubtedly love you (if they can understand what you’re saying).  the one exception to this is cab drivers. they are usually quite grumpy and rude. they often ask me how to get where i want to go. firstly, i’m in a cab, so i don’t know. secondly, you’re korean. thirdly, you’re a cab driver. fourthly, look at the GPS that will 195% be sitting beside you, not in use.

9. cell phone cheapness. i know there are problems with foreigners not being allowed to get iphone contracts (ahem discriminatory), but i just have a regular flip phone with no real capabilities (except i can watch tv, but it’s in korean and this is totally normal for all phones). my basic plan is 13,000 won per month (which is including caller id, voice mail, call waiting etc. etc. and 100 text messages). that might not seem like a lot, but all incoming calls and texts are free, and calling out is like 18 (or is it 180? oh well) won  every 10 seconds and each text is under 2 cents to send. international texts and calls are also dirt cheap. i think it’s about 13 cents to send a text to canada. note: i can use my phone in the subway, and like everywhere else.

10. korean culture. YES i have had problems coming to terms with a lot of korean culture. must i bow to everyone all the time? must i say hello to everyone i pass? yes. i must. why is there a hierarchy? blame Confucius. either way, there is a lot to admire. the culture is very generous and giving. this might belong under the korean people category, but i am constantly receiving little presents from my co-workers and even landlady (apples on my doorstep? yes, please!). they love sharing food, which although isn’t that sanitary, really shows how CLOSE they are in general.  when i share food with my co-workers (sometimes even off my plate), i know it shows that i am comfortable with them and that they feel the same with me. of course, i am now completely used to linking arms with my co-workers, and feel a bit slighted if they don’t do it for some reason. i’ll probably do this to all my female friends back home.

i probably have more i could say but i am going to get ready for bed!

more later.

yes, i’m alive.

2 Dec

hello!

so i’m awfully sorry i haven’t posted. it’s just with the war here and everything…it’s been an upheaval. really. well no. not at all. for anyone living in north america, your lives probably changed more than mine did during this tense period between north and south korea (which one is the good one anyway, palin?). my life did not change whatsoever. well, i was supposed to have a half day off once and then they said all the teachers had to stay at school because of the conflict. i have no idea what that had to do with anything. i was just robbed of a half day off for nothing.

that’s probably the most exciting thing that’s happened here. was i scared when i heard about the north attacking the south? not really. life in general did not change, so there was no reason for me to be frightened. after talking to my co-teachers i realized that while it was a serious attack, it was probably not a real reason to worry. i also am signed up with the canadian consulate, who got in touch with all canadians the night of the attack to tell us not to worry and that they would let us know about further developments. their lack of information up until this point, i assume, only means positive things. from what i understand things are really just winding down and there isn’t much of a worry anymore. yes, many foreigners were quite scared, which is understandable. i just wasn’t really one of them.

so currently i have 3 weeks left of regular school before winter camp begins. winter camp means i teach english camp for 15 days from 8:40-12:30 and then i get to go home! i will teach the same two lessons every day for 2 weeks at a district camp. at the camp there are 6 foreign teachers and 6 korean co-teachers, which is actually a nice change.  i might die of boredom due to teaching the same lessons so many times  but then again i teach the same lesson 9 times a week regularly, so maybe it won’t be that terrible. from what i hear, winter camp is quite enjoyable because you see the same students every day and actually get to know them. after that i have one week of winter camp at my own school. i have received just about no information about that. i have no idea how much i have to plan for it or what i have to do, but i’m sure they will help me when the time comes.

after winter camp i am returning to canada for three glorious weeks. i leave january 15 and return to seoul february 4. i am extremely excited to see my friends, family and boyfriend again. it will have been just almost 5 months at that point, which is long enough to be away from anyone you love, in my opinion.

in terms of homesickness, i have definitely been feeling it with the upcoming holiday season. seoul isn’t really that cozy or anything like that. it’s certainly not full of my home friends and family which you want to be around at this time. however, christmas is just one day, and my family and i are going to celebrate when i return, which is going to be very lovely and i can’t wait. however. the country is full of christmas lights everywhere, so i’ll hopefully take some photos of that to get up here. there is no snow though. today was quite mild. around 15 degrees celsius. it has snowed apparently, but i have yet to see it from my windowless cavern.

well, anyway i’m off now. 42 days until i’m back on canadian soil!