Archive | May, 2011

Disregard the “12 Rules for Expat Life in Korea”

31 May

On May 25, some guy (Kyle Burton) posted an article on The article can be found here. The article is about twelve things expats should do when living in Korea. The article was reblogged and posted on Facebook and probably tweeted (but not by me). I hope everyone was only sending it around because it was incredibly stupid.

Here are some highlights.

1. Learn to drink like a fish

Your work contract might say 9-5 but you forgot to read the fine print. Birthday parties, staff dinners and other work functions will keep you going late into the night. Just remember that in the South Korean workplace, an invitation is an obligation.

Some of this is true. An invitation is an obligation but that’s not all you should take away. At my school dinners people drink casually. Some of the men get drunk. It’s awkward.  Barely any of the female teachers do.  Some foreign teachers get drunk too, so they say.  But really. You’re at work.

Furthermore, this gives the impression that all Koreans just get drunk all the time. The drinking culture here is strong, but this gives the wrong impression.

Next up…

2. Try not to get ‘celebrified’

Just because you get cat calls on the street from students who are surprised to see a foreigner does not mean you are famous. There might be a certain novelty to being a visible minority here, but try not to let it get to your head.

No one thinks they’re a celebrity here. Sometimes we joke about getting a discount or getting something free because we’re foreigners but more often and not being a celebrity here is the last thing on your mind. You are more like a zoo animal. People stare at you and talk about you like you’re not there. They assume you can’t understand (or don’t think it matters) but the first word we learn after annyong haseyo is “waygookin” (foreigner). So when I’m the only foreigner on the subway and the couple next to me is dropping “waygookin” every 2 words, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about me.

5. Put the gay away

 Korea has its own “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, and although gay rights have come a long way in the last 10 years, there remains a strong prejudice in this uber-conservative society. So, if you are one of the many queer expats in South Korea, keep your homo on the hill.

Wonderful advice! You’ve probably been out of the closet for awhile, but you should probably get back in. No. Rude. Maybe it’s not the wisest thing in the world to come out to your students,  but that’s at everyone’s own discretion. This suggestion is pretty offensive and just unnecessary. Korean culture is extremely touchy. If two women or two men were touching each other affectionately, I doubt anyone would bat an eye. Yes, some people are homophobes here. There are homophobes in lots of places. Sometimes I think this place needs to be shaken up, anyway.

6. Buy good face cream

 I’m not sure if it’s the pollution, the stress, or the water, but living in Korea will age you, and your pimples and wrinkles will battle it out to see who can destroy your face the quickest. No wonder there’s a cosmetic surgery shop on every corner.

This is on the top 10 list? Ridiculous. I have nothing else to say. Except that the cosmetics here are fantastic.

This article was on a CNN affiliated website. It’s ridiculous. Sure, it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s mostly just dumb and not actually helpful. If someone wrote this on a blog then no one would care, but this is a CNN journalist. Emabarrassing.

K-blogger Roboseyo wrote his alternative top 12, and I think it’s pretty good.

Here are the ones I like.

1. Get online.

He recommends checking out the NUMEROUS amazing websites that have tonnes of information for you. I like Korea4Expats and 10Magazine.

2. Learn Korean.

Definitely! As I am only here for a year (2.5 months to go!) I learned the basics. How to read and write, basic communication. And it has helped me massively! Simply learning to read and write will help you out a lot. Do it!

3. Get out of the city.

I haven’t done this as much as I’d have liked to, but leaving Seoul is wonderful. I’m heading to Jeju Island this weekend and can’t wait!

4. Learn to use the transportation infrastructure.

Yes! I’ve extolled the virtues of the subway before, but the buses, oh the buses. They can be great if you want to go somewhere that’s not directly on the subway line. But watch out, they sometimes can take a lot longer due to traffic, so budget time wisely!

You can read his full list here.

Anyway, that’s all I got.







Just some quick thoughts.

27 May

Today I wore a scarf to school. I suppose it looks a bit ‘tribal’ and has fringe.

Two unrelated incidents:
“You look like a cowboy, teacher.” -student

“Howw?!” – me

“The scarf! It is like cowboy.”


“You look like Indian, teacher.” -student

“I’m sure you mean like a Native American.”



I am the only person in the office of 5 people who ever goes to the bathroom at school.  How is this, you ask? Well, no one drinks anything except for instant coffee. But they still don’t pee. I have no answers. I pee about 3-4 times a day. I know they think I have a problem.

Also, I might have strep throat.

But the real good news is I am flying out of here on August 18th to San Francisco for three days! There I will stay with my cousin Lisa and her family and my Aunt Diane will be coming to visit. I have never been to northern California and I am extremely excited. I will be home to Toronto on August 21st at 7:00 am (sorry parents)! Only 82 days.

Lunch time!

6 May

I talk a bit about food on here, but not a whole lot.

On the whole my school lunches are pretty great. Apparently we got a new cook before I got here and it’s been much better. We usually have: rice, kimchi, some soup (sometimes it’s really fishy and terrible or really bland), a meat dish and some other side dish. I always eat some of everything or else I get strange looks. One day we had ddokguk (rice cake soup) so I didn’t have any rice. My co-teacher asked me why I wasn’t taking rice. I explained that the soup was already ricey enough for me so I didn’t need more rice. She looked confused.  I looked at everyone else’s lunch trays…full of rice and rice soup.Once I went for lunch with co-workers and we had bulgogi (a beef dish). It came with individual rice bowls for everyone. I ate a little of the rice but not much. I stuffed my face with every other item on the table.  My co-workers asked me why I wasn’t eating the meal.  Another time when we had pasta for lunch and everyone was perplexed where the rice was.  You must have rice AND pasta. And rice soup. The biggest rice crisis, however, was when the electricity went out and THERE WAS NO RICE. It was upsetting. You must eat your rice or else. Note, rice and meal are the same word in Korean (밥). Fitting.

The following video was made by a foreign teacher and details a typical conversation with a co-teacher. Really. It’s scarily accurate and eerie how similar these conversations are across the board. Check it out! I hope it’s funny to you because it’s certainly funny to me.

Fire safety.

4 May

Just a quick post about what happened today.

Yesterday my co-teacher told me that we’d have a fire drill or something like that from 11:00-11:50 am, so I’d have to heard my grade 3s outside. I was uneasy about this but said ok. Today I was told that I just had to end the class at 11:00 and the homeroom teacher would come and take the kids outside. Good.

At around 10:00 am I looked out the window and noticed that the custodial staff had built a fairly large bonfire in the middle of the “field.” The “field” is just a sand/dirt covered area. Clearly this fire drill was serious.

At 11:00 am an announcement went over the PA (which lasted for about 30 minutes) which was about the drill and asking us to pretend it was real. I waited in the English office with my co-teachers for a few minutes before we headed out. All of the students were sitting about 50 feet away from the fire. They were talking and chatting, standing up etc. Their homeroom teachers were trying to control them, but how could they, when there was a raging bonfire in front of them?

Eventually, two grade 5 students walked up to the fire and were given fire extinguishers. After some sort of conversation, they eventually began to spray the bonfire with the extinguishers. The fire didn’t go out completely, and after a few minutes started to get bigger again.

I looked at my co-teachers. They smiled back and said “It didn’t seem to work, did it?” No, it didn’t.

Then we went back inside and taught fourth period.

Yay to Busan!

2 May

On a sunny weekend in April, Jacob and I headed down to Busan for the weekend. Busan is known as Korea’s “Miami” because there are some lovely beaches. As far as I know, there isn’t a lot of cocaine like the real Miami.

Friday evening we raced down to Seoul Station from my work to make the 5:50 KTX. I finished work at 4:40, but sneaked out early and caught a 4:30something subway there. The ride to Seoul Station would take 50 minutes, plus an approximately 10 minute walk to the KTX station. We also needed to get our tickets, as we only had an internet reservation. So in total, that takes at least 70 minutes, and we had about 80. We were just a bit rushed. I was only a BIT cranky due to this, but with some speedy footwork (literally RUNNING through the subway station and to the KTX station) and made it on the train with 10 minutes to spare. Note to self, give yourself at least 1.5 hours before heading to the KTX! Oh, also here’s some info on the KTX. Pretty cool stuff.

The ride to Busan was really nice. Jacob had packed us some food for the ride (2+ hours) and we watched Dawson’s Creek on my laptop.

Jacob and I.

We arrived at Busan station around 8:30 pm or so and made the subway ride trek to Haeundae station, which is where our love motel was. Oh yes, did I mention we stayed in a lovely love motel called Santa Fe Motel? We did. Love motels are great, really, but they sound kind of strange and/or gross. They are cheap (around $40 a night) and come with lots of little freebies.  However, here’s the story. In Korea people usually live at home until they get married. This means that there isn’t a lot of uh…private time for young couples. So they will often stay in love motels for the night (or a few hours). Of course, lots of sleazier people stay in them too, but tonnes of frugal tourists use them all over the country. The one we stayed at was cheap, clean, nice, quiet, and about 4 minutes from Haeundae station.

Santa Fe Motel

We stayed in that night, but woke up bright and early (8:30!) on Saturday morning. I was desperate to find somewhere to eat a western style breakfast, so after some quick Googling we headed down towards the beach to a restaurant that claimed to serve just that. It wasn’t open until 10 am so we walked along the beach and had some coffee. It was beautiful.

Haeundae Beach

After a satisfying breakfast at Breeze Burn’s, we decided to go to the Busan Aquarium. It was pricey compared to the regular price for attractions in Korea (usually around $4) as it was about $15, but worth it for sure. It was quite large and had TONNES of fish. The coolest part was the tanks that you arched over the walkway, so the fish were surrounding you. There was also an opportunity for a shark dive (eep) that Jacob tried to persuade me to do (I’m not sure he was even convinced) but we left that out.

A blurry photo of the massive tanks.

After that we wandered around to the APEC house. It’s the house built for the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation which was hosted in Busan. Jacob put it best when he said they built a house for a luncheon. Anyway, the house was beautiful and on a great plot of land. We walked up a winding path surrounded by trees and flowers and wandered up to the house which was on the water. It was free to wander around there and was pretty cool to see.

Jacob and the APEC house.

After lunch we headed to the Busan Art Gallery. It WOULD have been nice, but instead was pretty unpleasant due to a children’s event which was being held there. Basically there were people screaming in Korean over a mic and dozens of children shouting non-stop. This was all reverberating off the marble walls of the building. Just what I like to hear when I’m perusing art.

In the evening, after some deliberation, we made the decision to head to Ulsan to meet Jacob’s friend Laura who has lived there for a couple of years. We took the Saemaul train there and in an hour arrived in the small (2 million people) town of Ulsan. Laura met us at the train station and we headed to a fish market to eat some sashimi andddd sannakji. What’s that you say? Live octopus. Yes. We ate it. I have a video to prove it.

It's sticking because it's "alive."

The octopus was (unfortunately) cut up while it was alive and then it’s served to us on a plate, wriggling, with a sesame oil sauce. Ours stayed moving for a good hour. It really tasted like nothing, but was tough to chew. You have to chew pretty hard to make sure it’s done wriggling, or else it can potentially stick to your esophagus, and that’s a bad thing.  After we finished up our deliciously fresh meal we headed to a makgeolli (rice wine) bar and then headed home pretty late. It was a great time and Jacob’s friend was a lovely host.

The next morning we headed to OPS Bakery, which looked and smelled as close to a real bakery as I’d found. We ate some fresh baked goods and coffee and almost forgot where we were.

That's my coffee he's drinking.

We decided to head back to Busan station for the rest of the day and our first stop was the Noryangjin Fish market. It was a massive complex full of writhing, live fish, octopus, small sharks, snails, clams, etc. etc. We wandered around but since we’d had our fill of fresh fish the night before we didn’t partake in the possible feast, but it was still interesting to see.


We were leaving that afternoon so we didn’t have a lot of time. We headed up to Busan Tower to finish up the afternoon and have a view of the city. It was a nice walk up a path and we paid the entrance fee to get some great pictures.


We decided to take the bus back because it was cheaper and we weren’t in a rush, so we took the hour long subway ride to the bus terminal. We were actually early this time, so we wanted something to eat. Unfortunately, all that was available was Lotteria, which is a Korean fast food chain that I happen to dislike. I’d promised Jacob we’d go there eventually, as it’s too gross to pass up, so we did. I had a (not terrible) shrimp burger but he had this nasty Hanoo Burger which made me feel sick to just look at (although he claims it wasn’t bad.  We were then ready for our five hour bus ride home. We spent that time sleeping and watching…Dawson’s Creek.

Overall, a lovely and refreshing weekend.