Friday, August 27, 2010

This one goes out to the tweens in Morning Mart who helped me get here.

I'm writing to you all from a PC pong (much like an internet cafe' but filled with teenage boys playing Starcraft), so I'll try to keep this short.

I'm settling down in Ulsan nicely. It's good to finally be here, and despite the immense language barrier, it already feels like home a little. Here are some highlights:


I had my first day at Yaksa yesterday and really believe it is the perfect place for me (although I haven't started teaching yet, so we'll see if my opinion changes!). It's a nice facility with an English lab, friendly staff, and a sense of togetherness I already enjoy. The staff even has weekly PE, playing volleyball and badmitton-- my personal faves. To celebrate my arrival yesterday, the principal and staff took me out for lunch. Listening to them speak was a major incentive to learn more Korean and practice it with them, but for now I'm content with being a little more subdued. It's probably for the best, anyway. I will be teaching classes with 2 different co-teachers and working with a third teacher occasionally (in the English department) so I have lots of support here. From what I can tell so far my co-teachers seem very nice and are invested in making sure I have a smooth transition here. Instead of teaching children in afterschool classes, I will be teaching teachers, which is something I hadn't even considered. All in all, I'm looking forward to starting school next week.


My apartment couldn't be more perfect for me. It's brand new, with a tv, air conditioner, washing machine, sliding doors, and adorable sparkly wallpaper. It has a kitchen, bathroom, living/bed room and laundry room. I couldn't be more pleased. The only hitch is that there isn't any furniture yet, so I've been sleeping on the floor for the past few nights (those of you who remember the airport incident a couple weeks ago are probably laughing now). It's ironic, but at this point I don't even mind, and when the principal found out he became so worried for me that he let me leave early with the English teacher to go shopping for more house supplies and had the admin staff from Yaksa bring me a comforter that afternoon. This is definitely the very caring culture I have learned about.


From just a few walks, I can tell there's good food right by my house, a major department store, and many other accessible things like this PC pong and karaeoke. My mind is truly still in a whirlwind right now, but overall I'm happy and excited to learn more about life in Korea. In fact, I have to go now. It's time to explore.

Be well, and be loved-
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

What happens when you take a vegetarian to Korean barbeque?

Okay, so I know this sounds like the opening line to a joke.

And those awaiting a punchline will not be disappointed... because what happened last night was definitely comical, if not utterly embarrassing.
After a class field trip (Cheen-gu came along, of course) to Jeongju Hanok Village and Geumsan Temple (my elementary school-self was happy about this... we even got snacks on the bus!), a small group of us decided to ditch the cafeteria and go out to dinner. Aside from our bus trip, this outing is the first time most of us had really stepped off campus to do anything fun... orientation alone has been keeping us pretty busy!

We arrived at the restaurant two of our friends had seen a couple days before and suggested, only to find that it was Korean barbeque. This brought one of my personal dillemmas to the forefront, because I had been wondering this whole time if I, being a vegetarian, would be able to eat anything at a place like this. This was actually one of the most commonly-asked questions I got before leaving: "Will you be trying Korean barbeque?"

So this issue was bound to come up sooner or later.We decided to go inside, understanding that I might be swiping pieces of lettuce off people's plates for my main course. Of course, we were also banking on the fact that the menu might have some pictures on it. No such luck. Stuck in a Korean barbeque with virtually no knowledge of the Korean language, no readable menu, and me with my special needs... we defaulted to the foreigners we saw in the restaurant, and enlisted their help.

This resulted in one of the most awkward experiences I've had to date.

Emily approached the table of foreigners, asking them for help in ordering a 'no meat' or 'fish' option (yes; I did shamefully sit at our table and watch from a distance). This resulted in some weird expressions, and soon the servers approached the table.

Soon our fellow foreigners and the Korean servers were in what appeared to be a discussion over why someone would willingly come to a barbeque when they don't even eat meat. If that wasn't enough, they all began pointing at me from across the restaurant so we could clear up this debacle. It was hard not to sink in my chair from this point on, especially when they came over and laughed at me when I verified that, no, I didn't eat meat but was willing to eat anything else. That fact in itself scared be because I had no idea what they would bring out.

In the end, I ended up with a cold noodle dish (which looks really strange but actually tasted quite good):

While my friends cooked their dinner:

So what happens when you take a vegetarian to Korean barbeque?

I don't know, exactly. But put out a video camera.
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Notes from 40,000 feet.

I finally made it to Korea, after many trials and challenges (and blessings). Here is a note from the very sleep-deprived me, writing on the flight to Seoul:

The last 48 hours have been full of every kind of emotion and as I sit on the plane I still can’t wrap my mind around what I am about to do. It’s too big to handle, and every time I think about the realities of my life now-- the biggest, most life-changing decision I’ve made for myself in a long time-- overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe it. So let’s stick with the present. Here’s a blow-by-blow of the amazing(ly horrendous) schedule Emily and I have been keeping lately… not because you NEED to know all the detail, but because this is pretty hilarious, and in some ways: kind of impressive.

Tuesday, August 17th

- Met at SeaTac airport. The plan at that point was to fly to San Francisco and catch the international flight to Seoul (capitol of South Korea) that night.

- Goodbyes to the parents and security lines later, we were on our way to the N gates.

- All hell broke loose. Due to the
President’s visit to Washington that day, no planes were allowed to fly between 9:30am and 11:30am. Our plane was scheduled to leave SeaTac in this time, of course, which also meant we would miss our connection to South Korea that day. Shoot.
- Panic ensued as Emily and I rearranged our flights, ran through our terminal with jumbled bags, and listened to about 135098 people give their best performances to those poor customer service agents. Not that we were all that happy, either. But seeing other people get in a huff reminded us to be nice… or, nicer.

- With our flight rescheduled, Emily and I made the decision to just stay in the airport and rough it.
11:45am- Rode the inter-airport tram a few times around, just because we were sleep deprived and needed something to cheer us up. In retrospect this doesn’t sound like much, but I remember us laughing. A lot. Met a sassy older woman coming back from Palm Springs look pretty fashionable, so we had a chat. I love seeing elderly women in little
black dresses.
- I napped on a table in the food court. The sonic booms from the President’s fighter jets woke me up. I have to say I’m thankful nobody in the airport wanted to know what I thought of the President that day.

1pm- We made camp in the C gates. Two guys with their police dogs were waiting to go to Alaska. These huge, beautiful dogs ride on the flight and-- get this-- the police officers have to try to keep them sitting on the floor in between their legs on the flight over. In case you’re wondering, it’s basically impossible. I got a good laugh out of this.
- We scored a spot on the floor underneath some phone booths. Good news: 2 outlets. Bad news: Dorito crumbs everywhere. We took the prime location over the mess.

Between 2pm and 2am everything is kind of a blur and can only recount the cheese-pesto pizza I had for dinner, my Skype sessions, a little Hulu-ing, and the 20 minute nap I took on the floor. We figured after everyone cleared out of the airport it would get quieter, but it did just the opposite.
The quietest part of our terminal was this mother and daughter (2 years old, I later found) who were flying to Arizona in the morning. They’re originally from Thailand so this was definitely a point of interest in my travel book, as I‘m still enamored by that country. We made friends with them which allowed all of us to watch one another’s bags when needed. I still don’t know how that little girl slept through industrial-sized vaccuums, MSNBC blasting, and other random inexplicable airport noise. I know I couldn’t.

Wednesday, August 18th

2am- Emily and I took a stroll to go get some coffee. As in both of us drank some. For those of you who know me well, you know I do NOT drink coffee under virtually any circumstance. But with our vow to stay up all night to help adjust us to Korean time, it was definitely necessary. This was, of course, followed by a photo shoot in the airport. Because we were feeling pretty insane by that point.
3am- A small boy threw a temper tantrum in our terminal. For about an hour. It became upsetting to listen to, mostly because the mom didn’t know what to do, was obviously at her wit’s end, and was obviously tempted to become aggressive with her child. Oh, and she wouldn’t move to another, less-populated area. So that in itself was disturbing.
4:15am- Finally, the little girl sleeping next to us with her mom decided to befriend Emily and I through a dance party. Tumbling, twirling, and Emily’s rad DJ’ing skills included.
5:30am- Waited for our flight to San Fran. I had personally hit the 24-hours-without-sleep mark at this point.
6:30-8:30am- The biggest fog of a flight I had ever been on. Asleep before everyone was even seated.

Fast forward to 1pm, and we finally ran into some other EPIK teachers, many of whom are on the flight I’m writing this blog on. It was nice to relate to other people’s stress about getting over to Korea, especially the paperwork. It’s pretty clear that everyone is confused about something, but we’re all just going for it. I knew the first month adjusting to Korean life would probably be the hardest, but now I’m beginning to define why. At least it’s nice to know that none of us are alone.

In case anyone is trying to figure out just HOW LONG we’ll have been traveling to get to our orientation, we’ll get to our orientation around 8am PST on August 19th (midnight in Korea, August 20th). The 48-straight hours of travel time is well worth it.

Our orientation, at Jeong-ju University (view from my window, above), will be last until the 26th of August. Between lectures, Korean movies, and meeting new people, I will have internet access and would love to talk to any of you! Please hit me up on Skype or Facebook anytime.

Sending love,
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Midnight musings.

Two hours from now, Emily and I had planned to be in Korea, but hit an unforeseeable detour .

We will be arriving in Korea 1 day late, with many adventures we can already see in order to make our way to orientation, including (but not limited to) arranging our own van ride, potentially attempting to speak Korean with limited knowledge, a phrasebook, and jet-lag, and meeting the 4+ other teachers who are in the same boat as us.

In the meantime, we're stranded at the airport... it's like a sleepover in Seattle.
With hard airport floor. Chairs. Carpet.

We're even staying up all night to adjust to South Korean time.

Emily and I are becoming delirious and have grand plans of cartwheel races down the empty terminals, riding the inter-airport tram for fun, and whatever else we can think of.

One thing's for sure: we won't be sleeping. Even in an empty terminal it's terribly loud.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Go on reassured," he says.

While packing last week I found something I hadn't thought about in a while, but was completely necessary to my trip overseas. In the bottom of my bathroom drawer, my St. Christopher necklace laid in wait for our next big adventure.
For those of you unfamiliar with St. Christopher, he is the saint of safe travels, and has been with me on many many trips. So far, this necklace has been
  • Jumping waves in the Pacific Ocean (United States)
  • Swimming in the Sea of Cortez (Mexico)
  • Sea kayaking in Phang Nga Bay (Thailand)
  • Monsooned on in the hills of Chiang Rai (Thailand)
  • Bathing elephants in the MeKong River (Thailand)
So I'm looking forward to adding more experiences to this seasoned medallion.

It's getting incredibly close to takeoff time. I'm thinking a bagel is in order.
Love from the SeaTac airport, in the air, and across the globe.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'코끼리', 'ko-gee-ree', or 'elephant': it's all the same.

I've been spending so much time and energy into getting ready (both mental and physical preparation) to leave that this evening I really just needed a break (from more of the former than from the latter).

So I got a new buddy to take with me traveling. It eased some of the stress.

This is Cheen-gu. Also written in Korean as 친구, meaning friend. Look for pictures of Cheen-gu on these postings as we travel (yes; he'll be stowing away in my backpack wherever adventure takes me), just to liven things up.

As if moving to Korea wasn't exciting enough. I'm really beginning to go crazy from all this anticipation.

5 days and counting!
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

I love making lists.

So naturally the biggest high is making a list of things to pack when you're moving half-way around the world.

This is a massive, comprehensive list, with colors and quantities and labels (yes; I'm aware I'm totally geeking out and no; this is not a problem to me). Here are a few of my favorites/ most notable items:

1. My Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Korea. Lonely Planet is one of the best sources for travlers to know anything they would want to about a foreign country, and the authors are pretty hilarious (because who wants to read dry paragraphs when they're stoked to travel?!). I loved this book so much I bought the Korean Phrasebook to go along with it; score!

2. A quick-drying travel towel (REI). It's space-friendly for suitcases and dries like THAT, so I never worry about it being damp when I need it. This is perfect for backpacking (which I'll definitely be doing when I'm not at work!).

3. A travel journal. Because you'll want to remember how you felt when you first arrived, and see how much you've been able to accomplish (or simply survive!). Don't forget extra pens!

4. Clif bars. Not because I'll be running a marathon during my first weeks in Korea or anything, but sometimes it's nice to have a little taste of something familiar. I invested in some of these babies on my last trip abroad and am glad I did! Not only did I use them on a couple of occasions when food was scarce or questionable, but bringing enough to share can make you an extra friend or two along your journey. Well worth the extra bit of weight.

That's all for now! I'm going to ride this list-making high and see how much stuff I can get organized.
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