Thailand Part 2–Tonsai

Hey everyone.  Sorry it takes me soooo long to update….I’m busy being bored by myself without Josh and watching all the TV shows he hates while I can.  (Just kidding, he’s actually become super patient with the trashy TV I watch. xoxo!)  After this post I’ll have another post to tell you what I’ve been up to in Korea lately!

 

After our northwestern Thailand portion of the trip in Chiang Mai, we were ready for the beach!  We took a flight to Krabi province so we could get to a beach called Hat Tonsai.  Finding our way at night was a little confusing but we figured it out.  Once we got into Krabi Town, we took a songthaew (pickup truck group taxi…sit on seats in the back) to go to another town called Ao Nang.  It’s mostly a beach/tourist/vacation area.  We walked around trying to find a place and got a little shack where we found lizards in the bathroom and had a crappy meal.  We slept soundly and the next day caught one of the first boat taxis out to Tonsai!

 

Tonsai is not an island, but it is only reachable by boat due to its isolation.  It’s mainly a vacation spot and any Thais that live there have a restaurant or hotel/beach bungalow businesses.  Next to Tonsai is another vacation spot called Railay.  Railay is a nicer, more family-friendly area but still fun.  Tonsai on the other hand is a little more youth and/or party oriented, a lot of what I guess you’d call stereotypical “hippies” there.  Railay definitely  had the better beach and we spent many days either swimming over during low tide or doing a short hike to get there via land.  Tonsai is known wordlwide for its great rock climbing, which is what brought us there.  It has a lot of great deep water soloing.   For my non-climbing family and friends, deep water solo is when you rock climb over water without protection.  If you fall, you fall into the water.  Not really my thing (I don’t like jumping into unknown water off of cliffs, bridges, rocks….etc.) but I was so happy Josh was able to cross it off of his bucket list🙂

 

Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures from Tonsai because we spent so much time on the beach while wearing the bare minimum and relaxing that to keep track of our awesome camera would have been more trouble than it was worth.  We spent our days drinking fresh fruit smoothies, chilling on the beach, kayaking, and hiking through some woods and adventurous paths to get to the nicer beaches.  At night, the bars lit up (no electricity in Tonsai during the day!) and we drank a few drinks and met some people, watched fire shows, etc.  Tonsai was full of relaxing, laid back vibes.  However, Tonsai wasn’t all party as I ended up getting pretty sick.  It started out that my back was really aching and then two days later I had pink eye…Just my luck..I spent a good few days not leaving the bed in our little mountain shack…So it was a trip back to Ao Nang for the travel clinic.  Josh took great care of me, I got a $10 massage, and after taking my meds I felt awesome.  It sucked to be stuck in my glasses for the rest of the trip but I can’t complain.  Here are some pics!!

 

A shot coming to Tonsai from Ao Nang via boat taxi.

A shot coming to Tonsai from Ao Nang via boat taxi.

Beautiful rock formations in blue clear water.  Wish I had more beach pictures, the water was beautiful.  And super warm! I hardly got cold once, which is more than what I can say for swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.

Beautiful rock formations in blue clear water. Wish I had more beach pictures, the water was beautiful. And super warm! I hardly got cold once, which is more than what I can say for swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.

Our makeshift speakers.  I swear it actually works pretty well!

Our makeshift speakers. I swear it actually works pretty well!

Love this shot on the porch of our bungalow. :)

Love this shot on the porch of our bungalow.🙂

Just to show you what our bungalow looked like.  Inside were two single beds (of course we cuddled on one bed...It's the same size as our bed in Korea haha) with mosquito nets draped over.

Just to show you what our bungalow looked like. Inside were two single beds (of course we cuddled on one bed…It’s the same size as our bed in Korea haha) with mosquito nets draped over.

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Monkeys...monkeys everywhere!

Monkeys…monkeys everywhere!

Probably scoping out his next meal.

Probably scoping out his next meal.

Taking a snooze on our shady little porch with one of the stray beach cats.

Taking a snooze on our shady little porch with one of the stray beach cats.

Close-up of our beach kitty.  Looks like Oliver, right?  This is probably the nicest looking cat there.  The rest are pretty rough looking.  This cat loved to come lay on our porch and nap while we were home.

Close-up of our beach kitty. Looks like Oliver, right? This is probably the nicest looking cat there. The rest are pretty rough looking. This cat loved to come lay on our porch and nap while we were home.

Handsome bloke I picked up in Thailand.

Handsome bloke I picked up in Thailand.

Rockin' the pink eye.

Rockin’ the pink eye.

Enjoying happy hour.  Nothing rivals how fresh the fruit drinks were in Thailand.  Just add rum!

Enjoying happy hour. Nothing rivals how fresh the fruit drinks were in Thailand. Just add rum!

Few things Josh loves more than a good margarita.

Few things Josh loves more than a good margarita.

Ready to get this stupid backpack off!

Our last day, walking to get some food before heading back toward Bangkok.  Ready to get this stupid backpack off already!  Haha

Another monkey on the lookout.

Another monkey on the lookout.

Monkeying around.

Monkeying around.

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<3

 

 

 

The monkeys were cute but honestly scared me so much!  They would gang up and steal food from some of the food stalls and they were definitely NOT afraid of people.  Sometimes when I got takeout to walk back to the bungalow with I was afraid of them coming after me.  Kinda funny in retrospect.  They would all surround the walking path together and you never knew what could happen!   One morning Josh and I got breakfast at a restaurant on the beach and watched as a monkey played in the tree near our table.  Next thing we knew, the monkey climbed down onto the deck railing by our table.  Fortunately we hadn’t gotten our food so the monkey continued past our table only to steal a cup of orange juice from the poor girl sitting behind us.  It was pretty funny but I felt so bad for her.  Cue the Thai business owners running out with their slingshots.

 

Anyway, hope you enjoyed our Thailand pictures half as much as we enjoyed taking them!  It was an unforgettable trip and if we can figure out a way we’d love to spend more time in Thailand one day.  Unfortunately it took me forever to get them up, but tonight I’ll be looking at and editing pictures from Philippines so I should have those up tomorrow or the day after.  I have tons of free time now that Josh has gone but I’ve spent it all cooking and cleaning by myself while watching true crime shows and Real Housewives.  Time to get to buckle down and finish documenting my experiences, especially since I only have two and a half months left…Does not feel real!  I will be returning to the US at the end of August to start the next chapter.  Though we originally planned to stay in Korea longer, once we spent more time here we felt like we could find somewhere that suited our tastes and lifestyle better.  Back to square one until we plan the next adventure!  Hopefully Thailand or somewhere Spanish speaking😉  Until then, I’m enjoying the last few months I have with my friends and students here, whom I will miss dearly!

 

Until next time, precious readers.

Thailand part 1–Chiang Mai

Hello precious readers!  Sorry it took so long but I’m finally writing about our trip to Thailand!  I have lots of great pictures to share so I’m going to do two parts–Chiang Mai, the beginning of our trip, and Tonsai, the end of our trip!

 

Chiang Mai is located in northwestern Thailand but we landed in Bangkok.  We stayed one night in Bangkok in a random guesthouse that picked us up from the airport and then we waited around all day to take the night train to Chiang Mai.  We ate at some street stalls, explored a middle eastern market, and then ate/drank some more.

One of many street food vendors in Bangkok.  We didn't eat at this man's stall but we were watching him as we ate at another and wanted to take some photos.

One of many street food vendors in Bangkok. We didn’t eat at this man’s stall but we were watching him as we ate at another and wanted to take some photos.

Digging in to my first authentic Pad Thai.  Only cost about $2.

Digging in to my first authentic Pad Thai. Only cost about $2.

Usually Josh and I order different dishes so we can try each other's but this time we had to get our own Pad Thais!

Usually Josh and I order different dishes so we can try each other’s but this time we had to get our own Pad Thais!

Many waiting areas (here at the train station) have separate sections for monks.  As a matter of fact, women have to be very careful how they interact with monks--women should never touch them or hand them anything directly.  A few people on one of our flights had to change seats so that a monk didn't have to sit next to a woman.  If contact is made there are some types of cleansing rituals or fasting that the monk has to perform.  I'm no expert though so google for more info :)

Many waiting areas (here at the train station) have separate sections for monks. As a matter of fact, women have to be very careful how they interact with monks–women should never touch them or hand them anything directly. A few people on one of our flights had to change seats so that a monk didn’t have to sit next to a woman. If contact is made there are some types of cleansing rituals or fasting that the monk has to perform. I’m no expert though so google for more info🙂

Our first tuk tuk ride.  I was scared but it was definitely a thrill!  Tuk tuks are like motorcycles with a little carriage attached at the back and they really whip through traffic.  A picture of one is later to come in this post.

Our first tuk tuk ride. I was scared but it was definitely a thrill! Tuk tuks are like motorcycles with a little carriage attached at the back and they really whip through traffic. A picture of one is later to come in this post.

Little kids riding on motorbikes.  Sometimes you see whole families on these things!  Scary but just a different way of life.

Little kids riding on motorbikes. Sometimes you see whole families on these things! Scary but just a different way of life.

Fresh fruit stands...Miss it every day!

Fresh fruit stands…Miss it every day!

The night train was fun.  You sit in regular seats and then attendants come around to unfold the seats into beds–top bunk and bottom bunk.  Josh and I each had top bunks, as these are a little cheaper than the bottom bunks.  We shared with the cutest little old Thai lady and her daughter.  The train was complete with a restaurant car, which by a certain time of night was overrun by people drinking, mostly other travelers.  Josh made some friends but I was pretty tired and opted to stay in my little bed with my book.

Josh cuddling up on the sleeper train.  I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable it was.  Josh was too, until he woke up hungover the next morning. Haha!

Josh cuddling up on the sleeper train. I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable it was. Josh was too, until he woke up hungover the next morning. Haha!

 

Chiang Mai was just…awesome!  This is a city I could really picture myself living in.  It has everything you would want in a city–lots to do, shopping, great food (and so so so so cheap!), transportation (love those tuk tuks!).  However, it also has a really laid back vibe and beautiful sites that take away from the ugliness of so much traffic.  There are temples at every turn and a moat with water, benches, flowers, and little plazas surrounding what is known as “old city”.  Not to mention really great weather while we were there–sunny with a light breeze and cool enough for a hoodie and pants at night.  There are guided tours at every corner to the mountains, trekking, elephants, and rock climbing as well.  Maybe there is a future in Chiang Mai for Josh and I!

 

We stayed in a guesthouse called Lai Thai–they had a pool, decently priced restaurant and the rooms were simple and clean, and only cost us $20/night.  I would definitely stay there again!  We spent most of our days sleeping in, relaxing at the pool, then going out to explore, eat some deliciously cheap and fresh food, and sometimes shop at night.  It was such a relief to eat fresh food, especially vegetables.  Korea doesn’t exactly have fresh vegetables during the winter and vegetarian cooking is not as popular here so I really ate my heart out.  All of the fruit in Thailand tasted great as well.  I still find myself craving fruit smoothies all the time.  The smoothies and fruit juices in Thailand were ten times better than even what we got in the Philippines.  Thankfully, during our whole trip to Thailand we only experienced one bout of food poisoning.  Josh was out of commission for a few days in Chiang Mai, missing a day of climbing and spending it in the guesthouse instead.  Besides needing lots of rest it wasn’t too bad.  I got sick in Tonsai but it wasn’t food poisoning.  More on that in the next post!

 

As for shopping, the night bazaar was incredible!  Seriously, if you ever go to Thailand and plan to be in Chiang Mai, do all of your shopping there!  It is much cheaper than down in southern Thailand (at the beaches, etc.) and there is so much to see, it’s really easy to buy a gift for everyone on your list including a ton of stuff for yourself.  We both had to hold ourselves back from buying a lot for ourselves, haha!  Here are some of our Chiang Mai pictures…

Me checking out a guidebook by some of the water around old city.  I don't always like to depend on guides, it's much more fun to be spontaneous, but I like knowing what to expect in terms of restaurants, places to see and prices so we don't get TOO ripped off. :)

Me checking out a guidebook by some of the water around old city. I don’t always like to depend on guides, it’s much more fun to be spontaneous, but I like knowing what to expect in terms of restaurants, places to see and prices so we don’t get TOO ripped off.🙂

My favorite Thai food, vegetarian pineapple fried rice!  We ate at this restaurant, called AUM, probably five times while we were in Chiang Mai.   Great food, fresh, along with smoothies and juices.

My favorite Thai food, vegetarian pineapple fried rice! We ate at this restaurant, called AUM, probably five times while we were in Chiang Mai. Great food, fresh, along with smoothies and juices.

Josh's usual...Pad Thai!

Josh’s usual…Pad Thai!

Out in front of our guesthouse.

Out in front of our guesthouse.

Another Thai favorite of mine--mango with sweet sticky rice!

Another Thai favorite of mine–mango with sweet sticky rice!

Enjoying some mojitos in the sunshine :)

Enjoying some mojitos in the sunshine🙂

Playing Connect 4 with a friend.  Love that bars set out these games for people to play!

Playing Connect 4 with a friend. Love that bars set out these games for people to play!

Another bar for mojitos.  70 baht=about $2.30.

Another bar for mojitos. 70 baht=about $2.30.

You can't really tell in this shot, but this mom is rubbing dirt from a nearby flowerpot onto her daughter's face.  I think this is so people think her daughter is homeless and give her money/buy her bracelets out of pity.  Many children came up to us while we were at this particular bar to sell us things or talk in general.  What seemed like innocent conversation came across as scam-ish to me and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw this happening.

You can’t really tell in this shot, but this mom is rubbing dirt from a nearby flowerpot onto her daughter’s face. I think this is so people think her daughter is homeless and give her money/buy her bracelets out of pity. Many children came up to us while we were at this particular bar to sell us things or talk in general. What seemed like innocent conversation came across as scam-ish to me and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw this happening.

Some gongs outside one of many temples.

Some gongs outside one of many temples.

This guy is offering free hugs, in any language.

This guy is offering free hugs, in any language.

Visiting ruins at Wiang Kum Kam, 20 minute tuktuk ride outside of Chiang Mai.  It was an interesting day trip to say the least.  While it should have only cost us 100 baht according to others who had done it before, our tuktuk driver pretended to know where it was and charged us 80.  Then he pulled over and asked another driver where it was and made another deal that we did not understand.  When he drops us off he gets in a fight with us claiming we agree to pay 250 baht or something along those lines.  When we left on our tour he was STILL complaining to the staff at the ruins.  Thankfully, our horse carriage came and took us away before things escalated.  We were supposed to be able to rent bikes to ride around the rural area to see the ruins but for some reason bikes weren't available that day.  One of those travel adventures to look back and have a good laugh at.

Visiting ruins at Wiang Kum Kam, 20 minute tuktuk ride outside of Chiang Mai. It was an interesting day trip to say the least. While it should have only cost us 100 baht according to others who had done it before, our tuktuk driver pretended to know where it was and charged us 80. Then he pulled over and asked another driver where it was and made another deal that we did not understand. When he drops us off he gets in a fight with us claiming we agree to pay 250 baht or something along those lines. When we left on our tour he was STILL complaining to the staff at the ruins. Thankfully, our horse carriage came and took us away before things escalated. We were supposed to be able to rent bikes to ride around the rural area to see the ruins but for some reason bikes weren’t available that day. One of those travel adventures to look back and have a good laugh at.

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A temple at the starting point of the ruins.  Obviously this one is a little more current.

A temple at the starting point of the ruins. Obviously this one is a little more current.

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Golden dragons everywhere!

Golden dragons everywhere!

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I love the light coming in on this picture.

I love the light coming in on this picture.

Looking down the side of a temple near the ruins.  One of my very favorite pictures from our trip to Thailand.

Looking down the side of a temple near the ruins. One of my very favorite pictures from our trip to Thailand.

Just some guys with a playing a drum set of buckets.  It was pretty legit.

Just some guys with a playing a drum set of buckets. It was pretty legit.

Fresh summer rolls complete with one of my favorite Thai sauces.  I wish I remembered what it was called...Has a sweet, spicy, cilantro flavor.

Fresh summer rolls complete with one of my favorite Thai sauces. I wish I remembered what it was called…Has a sweet, spicy, cilantro flavor.

Exploring one of the bigger temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Pra Singh, which is where the rest of the temple pictures were taken.

Exploring one of the bigger temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Pra Singh, which is where the rest of these temple pictures were taken.

Buddha kitty.  There was a group of cats playing around the temples.

Buddha kitty. There was a group of cats playing around the temples.

Buddha kitty.

Buddha kitty.

I love this shot.  It was taken looking through some of the trees from a patio at one of the main temples.

I love this shot. It was taken looking through some of the trees from a patio at one of the main temples.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

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Around the temple grounds there were various plaques like this with words of wisdom.  I probably took a hundred picture sod them all but I had to choose some of my favorites and narrow them down for this post!

Around the temple grounds there were various plaques like this with words of wisdom. I probably took a hundred picture sod them all but I had to choose some of my favorites and narrow them down for this post!

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Roof of a temple.  Everything was so beautiful! I could have taken pictures all day.

Roof of a temple. Everything was so beautiful! I could have taken pictures all day.

I'm hoping it's not too disrespectful to have captured this picture, but I wanted some photos of the inside of the temple and this monk happened to be there.

I’m hoping it’s not too disrespectful to have captured this picture, but I wanted some photos of the inside of the temple and this monk happened to be there.

Lanterns blowing in the wind.

Lanterns blowing in the wind.

A tuktuk driver waiting for his next customer.

A tuktuk driver waiting for his next customer.

A stray dog sitting under some flags on a sidewalk outside of Wat Pra Singh.  Thailand has many stray dogs out and about.

A stray dog sitting under some flags on a sidewalk outside of Wat Pra Singh. Thailand has many stray dogs out and about.

Our rock climbing excursion in Chiang Mai!  Got a ride out to the area along with lunch provided from Chiang Mai Rock Climbing.

Our rock climbing excursion in Chiang Mai! Got a ride out to the area along with lunch provided from Chiang Mai Rock Climbing.

A little chill area for yours truly while Josh does his thing!

A little chill area for yours truly while Josh does his thing!

Someone in our group had these.  Cigarette companies here have to put pictures on the wrapper of what smoking does to you.  Ick!

Someone in our group had these. Cigarette companies here have to put pictures on the wrapper of what smoking does to you. Ick!

In his element :)

In his element🙂

Bamboo...bamboo everywhere.

Bamboo…bamboo everywhere.

 

Next this week I’ll post the second half of our trip in Tonsai and after that, our Philippines pictures!  Just to warn  you though, we don’t have as many of those places as we do of Chiang Mai.  When you are visiting the beach and going on lots of beach and kayaking adventures, it’s hard to justify toting the camera everywhere!  But we do have a few good ones.  I hope you’ve enjoyed what I posted so far.  Nothing but good memories looking at these pictures!

“Long time no see”

As my students and other teachers love to say to me when we see each other intermittently during vacation, “long time no see!”.  I haven’t blogged since New Year’s because we have been so incredibly busy!  Planning and going on two vacations and taking care of our new cat, Oliver, has been super time consuming but this week I’m getting back into the swing of things.  We took a two week trip to Thailand and another shorter trip to the Philippines which was rather spur of the moment, but still great as we got to celebrate our anniversary on an island.  I will be posting about these two trips soon as we are sorting through tons of photos and it takes time, but I wanted to write a short post now and share some winter pictures I have handy from Yeongwol.

During the winter, many towns hold a winter festival and Yeongwol is no different.  This year, the winter festival lasted a few weeks long, at least.  Yeongwol is perfect for the winter festival because the Donggang River goes right through town, allowing for the water to be dammed for ice fishing and sliding around on ice on these little sled things.  Not sure what they are called or how to explain it really, but it’s like a mini sled with blades on the ice and you use sticks to push yourself around.  When Dannie and I went with her students for winter camp we tried it and it was actually super fun!  There’s also a big hill leading down to the river on which they built up snow for children to snow tube down.  Besides all this, there are snow statues, food stands, and other random activities to participate in.  Josh and I enjoyed walking around for a day soaking in this part of Korean culture and then I returned for the middle school winter camp.  Here are some pictures for you to enjoy:

 

Ice fishing on the Donggang River.

Ice fishing on the Donggang River.

Cute dog we saw everywhere!  Parents encouraged their children to pet him but most were a little scared.  Not many people own bigger dogs like this in Korea.

Cute dog we saw everywhere! Parents encouraged their children to pet him but most were a little scared. Not many people own bigger dogs like this in Korea.

There was an arm wrestling contest that Josh joined!  They gave us some coupons for food from the vendors.  We got some spicy fried chicken!

There was an arm wrestling contest that Josh joined! They gave us some coupons for food from the vendors. We got some spicy fried chicken!

Some kind of game for children--they have to hold these pads together, throw them in the air, and depending on what side they land on, it means something or gives a certain amount of points?  Not too sure, and it was hard to pick up what it all meant from watching.  But super cute!

Some kind of game for children–they have to hold these pads together, throw them in the air, and depending on what side they land on, it means something or gives a certain amount of points? Not too sure, and it was hard to pick up what it all meant from watching. But super cute!

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You can leave notes at this little hut.

You can leave notes at this little hut.

Made this bridge from mud and branches...Felt a little weak at some points but it stood the test of time, for the duration of the festival at least.

Made this bridge from mud and branches…Felt a little weak at some points but it stood the test of time, for the duration of the festival at least.

Ride a tube attached to a snowmobile in circles a few times!

Ride a tube attached to a snowmobile in circles a few times!

This little girl needed a lot of encouragement to ride her snow tube down the hill.

This little girl needed a lot of encouragement to ride her snow tube down the hill.

Ready...set...

Ready…set…

Go!!!

Go!!!

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Holding on for dear life.

Holding on for dear life.

Even the adults were having fun!

Even the adults were having fun!

Some older men who wanted their pictures taken.  They were funny!

Some older men who wanted their pictures taken. They were funny!

View of ice fishing and one of the bridges over the river.

View of ice fishing and one of the bridges over the river.

Parasailers landing near the river!

Parasailers landing near the river!

Choo chooooo!!

Choo chooooo!!

Icefishing.  Doesn't look like he's having fun...

Icefishing. Doesn’t look like he’s having fun…

Catch a fish with your bare hands!

Catch a fish with your bare hands!

Woo!! Caught one!

Woo!! Caught one!

Ice fishing.  Lots of sitting and waiting.

Ice fishing. Lots of sitting and waiting.

Creepy snow sculpture.

Creepy snow sculpture.

 

I promise that I will have pictures posted on Facebook and in a blog this coming week of our Thailand and Philippines trip!  I just really wanted to post these before winter was over, and we have so many pictures to go through from our trips!  But they will be worth the wait🙂

Happy 2014 from South Korea!

Hello world….It’s been awhile since I’ve written!  Nothing too crazy has been happening, we’ve been staying in town to save money for our vacation, and it’s been cold so I have been hibernating.  But we did get a cat!  His name is Oliver, rescued from the streets of Incheon (near Seoul) by our friend Adrian.  The poor thing has been sick, can’t seem to get a break between adjusting to being brought in and now having an allergic reaction to his food, but hopefully we are just about over the hump!  We will for sure be bringing him home with us and to wherever else the wind blows us the next few years.  He is super loving and cuddly.  Oliver and Josh definitely have a bromance going on.

Keeping clean!

Keeping clean!

Oliver had to get a cone.  He fought and took it off quite a few times but once we enforced it he just kept it on and sulked in the corner.

Oliver had to get a cone. He fought and took it off quite a few times but once we enforced it he just kept it on and sulked in the corner.

One of our favorite pictures of him.  Looks so regal!

One of our favorite pictures of him. Looks so regal!

Bros for life.

Bros for life.

Although we’ve been staying at home, we did go somewhere new for New Year’s Eve.  Apparently in Korea, it is a thing to watch the first sunrise of the new year.  Koreans and foreigners alike flock to beaches and mountains to see it.  After watching the first sunrise of 2014 myself, I’ve decided I would love to make this a tradition of my own for the future.  Josh and I joined a few friends from orientation in Gangneung, a beach city on the east coast of Korea but still in our province of Gangwon-do, for their sunrise festival.

After a train and taxi ride, we arrived in Gangneung in time for a late dinner and purchasing our drinks for the night.   We headed to the beach where there were some night festivities going on.  Music, food stands, fires, fireworks, and paper lanterns were all present.  Anyone who wanted could purchase Roman candles to set off, which scared me quite a bit to be honest.  But of course we did a few of those too.  Josh and I also set off our own paper lantern, which was so cool!  I’ve always wanted to make one and what better time.  We were able to write or draw something on it as well.  I don’t remember what we wrote but on one side I drew a cat.  The first time we tried to launch it was a disaster…The people working the stand fired it up for us and tried to help hold it to catch the hot air, but it was sooo windy so the fire ended up burning holes in it!  They gladly gave us a second one and shared in our joy when we finally got it off.  I wish we had pictures, not that they would do it justice, of everyone’s paper lanterns launching off into the night sky.  It was so beautiful.

Soon after, the countdown to the new year began with cheers all around.  We popped a bottle of champagne and watched the firework show.  It was pretty impressive, especially because they were going off very close to us and therefore appeared huge in the sky.   The rest of the night was uneventful; we unsuccessfully searched for a place to stay and then got some food, during which some of us fell asleep in the restaurant.  I would have gladly slept on the beach had it not been so cold.  Eventually, after a long night, the time came to watch the sunset.  Now, I have attempted to watch the sunrise from a beach many times at the Jersey shore, but every time I tried I either couldn’t get up early enough or I got up and it was cloudy.  Something always went wrong.  So technically, this was my first time watching a sunrise from a beach and it was great!

It was still somewhat dark but crowds were already accumulating on the beach.  Soon the first light in the sky came, then it turned all sorts of beautiful colors.  After waiting a little longer, the oooohs and aaaahs from the crowd revealed that the sun was beginning to peek out from the sea.  The sunrise was beautiful!  All of the Koreans were taking selfies with it and Josh was trying to get some good shots (thankfully, because now I have a picture or two to share with you all) but I was perfectly content to just stand and watch, taking the moment in.

Right at the start of the sunrise.  If you look closely,  you can see some paper lanterns floating about.

Right at the start of the sunrise. If you look closely, you can see some paper lanterns floating about.

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Looks pretty, but if you've seen a sunrise before you know that pictures don't do it justice!

Looks pretty, but if you’ve seen a sunrise before you know that pictures don’t do it justice!

I couldn’t stop thinking how incredible it was that I was here, in Korea, watching the first sunrise of 2014 and being some of the first people in the world to see said sunrise.  I am living a life experience many people only dream about.  Working and living in Asia, watching the new sunrise, setting off paper lanterns with wishes and hopes for the new year…These are the moments and memories I imagined myself making when I applied for this job.  And here I am!  I’m pretty young and therefore I’ve spent most of my life in school without the freedom to go off and complete everything on my bucket list, but now that I’m in the real world and I’ve already achieved one of my goals it feels pretty good.  It also makes doing it again, in another country, seem that much easier.  At this time in 2013, I was still deciding on this seemingly far off idea of living in Korea that I had had in my head since the beginning of 2012.  Josh and I were still discussing it at length, researching, daydreaming, talking about getting married (and then getting married).  And now here we are, happily married and living in Korea, albeit in the smallest living space we’ll probably EVER share, but we’ve had a lot of laughs because of it. (One positive to a small place means easy cleaning.  I can clean the whole floor in our apartment with just a dustpan and brush!)  I even have my first “official” teaching job (though it is a walk in the park compared to a “real” teaching job at home!).  All in all, I’m very happy and thankful for where I have taken myself so far in life.  I’m not sure what 2014 has in store for me, or whether we’ll even stay in Korea.  But I know 2014 will be a continuation of new and fun experiences together and what more could I ask for?

So with that, I thought maybe I’d share some of my resolutions with you all.  Mostly things I’m working on with myself all of the time, but why not make them resolutions at the beginning of a new year.

1. Facebook less.  I’ve wanted to get rid of Facebook for a while now, but being away from home, friends, and family with whom I communicate via Facebook on a daily basis makes it difficult.  As much as Facebook helps me keep in touch, sometimes I just get tired of the BS, hearing too many people’s opinions, or maybe I get depressed because I actually realize how stupid the human race is.  Haha.  I also think Facebook is, like most of today’s technology, part of a technological compulsion that we all have.  Always wanting to check it, etc. similar to having a smart phone.  I think causes stress that we don’t even know we have.

And so, this new year I will (try to) Facebook less and read more, and take more of my online-time to improve my Spanish and take some online courses (though not for credit, just to give myself something to do, plus they are relevant to my field).

2. Eat less candy. I’ve always had a sweet tooth.  It’s improved through self discipline but sometimes I still make some impulsive runs to the gas station for candy.  When summer’s here hopefully I can substitute more fruit!

3. Take better advantage of my location–travel and experience more. (And in turn, blog more!)

4. Continue to be more physically active (does not mean going to the gym) I hate going to the gym, and I hate the cold so my physical activity suffers during the winter.  But once spring comes around I’ll be back to hiking, dabbling in rock climbing, hopefully doing some yoga independently, and just being outside in general.

Thanks for reading….stay tuned!  I have another entry to write this week with pictures of a small winter festival in Yeongwol.  Then, my next entry will likely be a review of our trip to Thailand!  We leave the 18th and come back February 4th.  We’ve already made some solid plans and couldn’t be more excited!  Besides a lovely vacation, we are also using the opportunity to scope the place out as our next destination🙂

Getting Ready for Winter!

Alas, winter is just about here and I’m whining about it already.  I hate the cold and we aren’t even feeling it full force!  But hopefully in the next few months I can get some snowboarding and ice skating in!

At school I have been doing a few holiday lessons with my classes.  I began with Thanksgiving and showing them clips of other Thanksgiving traditions they may not know about–Thanksgiving day parade, Black Friday shopping, lighting of the NYC Christmas tree, and so on.  My co-teachers hadn’t known about Black Friday and some of them even went online shopping after I told them about it!  It’s common here to buy things online from America already and Black Friday/Cyber Monday gave them a good excuse.  (Of course, one of my CTs just realized that Black Friday can be a bit of a scam–she was disappointed when she saw Amazon offer a lower price for her item a few days later.) We’ve gone over some Christmas songs too, and since some of them know common songs such as All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey, they actually sing along!  I was surprised at how little my classes sang songs that I taught them throughout this semester but fortunately they seem to love singing the songs that they already know.

This past weekend, I mostly spent in Yeongwol to help one of my co-teachers at her church.  She teaches a class of five-year-olds (in western age, three and four-year-olds) at her church.  I’m not sure what she’s usually supposed to teach them exactly but I think it’s to get them knowing some basic English and singing some songs.  At school when we talk about her teaching this class she seems worried and a little self-conscious as she is used to teaching high schoolers and not such small children.  This weekend she was teaching them some English Christmas songs and wondered if I’d come to help her.  At first I said yes to be nice but when the day came it was actually really fun and a different experience for me.  Until then I hadn’t had a chance to interact with any young Korean children, and they are SO cute!  When I got there some of the children were really shy.  Actually, I think this was their first time meeting a westerner and a few of them kept pointing or laughing or just being bashful in general if I spoke to them.  We sang some Christmas songs that my co-teacher selected (one of which was Feliz Navidad–not sure why she chose this one but okay!) and then ate some tteokbokki which is a stir fry with rice cakes.  It was pretty yummy but also had fish cakes in which I kind of forced down but I do love rice cakes!  The awesome thing about rice cakes is that they can take on any flavor.  You can eat them as a snack, in a dish, or as something sweet.  My favorite way to eat rice cakes is in dakgalbi, one of my favorite Korean foods.  I’ll have to do an entry with some pictures next time we eat it🙂

I know from my time here and my research before hand that Korea was known as the “hermit kingdom” and historically has not had much exposure to foreigners.  Sometimes in my day-to-day life this is hard to keep in mind and consider, because as far as I’m concerned I come from the land of diversity and can’t imagine living otherwise.  Every time I travel abroad I realize how much I treasure and adore the diversity of the United States.  I love having different foods to try, meeting people from various backgrounds, and seeing so many diverse appearances on the streets of America.  When I experience the reactions of my students or other Koreans to foreigners such as myself, I especially value the open-mindedness that results from being raised in a multicultural country .  Seeing how shocked some children are at my appearance, to the point where some don’t even want to sit next to me, almost blows my mind.  I say almost because I already knew that small Korean children might react like this if they’ve never seen a westerner, but still.  It’s as if I am a different species to some people!  A friend of mine even told me this weekend that one of his elementary school students told his mother he was afraid of his English teacher.  When asked why, the child said, “because he has blue eyes.”  I couldn’t believe that these children have such little exposure to different looks or ethnicities!  Some of my high school students (who have had English teachers such as myself in the past) still giggle and turn away nervously as if they don’t know how to react to me.

How odd it must be to spend your whole life living with and looking at people who all look the same as you, only to grow up and get plastic surgery to look alike even more.   I’m sure you can imagine the type of mindset that comes along with the lack of diversity as well.   Despite how strange these looks and treatments can be, I don’t feel negatively or take it personally.  That being said, I’ve never experienced a Korean being particularly cruel to me.  I mostly embrace being so different as a wonderful opportunity to expose my students to different ways of thinking and open their minds.  I really enjoy being a “cultural ambassador”.

This weekend and next weekend will be my winter English camp.  During the winter and summer breaks, schools hold an English camp to give students an opportunity at extra English instruction, especially for those students whose parents maybe can’t afford sending them to hagwon, or private after school academies.  Typically they are offered during the break but this year mine will be two full days, this Saturday and the next.  It’s a little stressful to plan for two 7 hour days of English instruction but I think I have a pretty good general schedule going.  I will break the days up with some arts and crafts and cooking–making dream catchers, quesadillas, watching a Christmas movie, etc.  Still no definite count on how many students will be joining me for it but I do get to have some other EPIK teachers in town help me so that’s a plus🙂

Keep warm everybody!

Student Work and Other Updates

I’ve decided to share some work from my students this week!  A month ago, I did a lesson with my academic (higher-level) students about crazy inventions.  I showed them some of these good ones:

Cool off your ramyeon :)  Ramen noodles (or ramyeon like they say here) are very popular here!

Cool off your ramyeon🙂 Ramen noodles (or ramyeon like they say here) are very popular here!

Need a tissue?

Need a tissue?

I also showed them some Snuggies.  Really made me wish I had brought mine with me to show off!

I then put the students into groups to make their own inventions complete with a poster to advertise.  I intended for my students to take the rest of class to brain storm and make a poster, and then present said posters and invention ideas the following week.  Almost immediately after work time began, my co-teacher started rushing the students to finish, which I didn’t agree with.  In the States, most teachers prefer that students take their time (as long as they are actually working) so that the piece of work they complete is done nicely.  Also, if they need more time they would be given more time.  Instead, my co-teacher was constantly hurrying them and changing my timeline for project completion.  My co-teacher wanted them to present them that day.  So she continued pressuring them and clapping her hands to hurry them, counting down the time and then they did a rushed, harried presentation.  Which I guess hardly matters because most students are so shy that the “presentations” I try to get out of them are pretty short.  Just another example of how difficult and frustrating it can be to, number 1, work with someone always having to approve of your lessons (might not be difficult for all of the NETs (Native English Teacher) in Korea as most don’t have teacher training or experience, but for others with teaching experience it can be pretty frustrating) and number 2, have to work with said person being from another culture who sees education and educational processes as totally different from how I see them.  Usually it’s not too bad and easy to deal with but I do miss the independence.

Well, back to my wonderful students’ work!  I had three classes, so each class voted on the best invention of their class (winners got a candy prize of Choco Pie, which is like cookies with marshmallow covered in chocolate) and then the students voted for their favorite out of the three class winners.  The winning group got some nut dessert bread from a local bakery to share along with some hot chocolate from one of the machines we have in school.  (Schools and businesses usually have a machine that gives coffee and sometimes hot chocolate in small cups–think the paper cups you might drink water out of in the bathroom).  Some were more original than others and some seemed to be copies of other weird inventions out there.  Here are the winners from each class:

Eye Pop--a phonecase with a cartoon character on the back. The eyes pop out and turn into ear buds!

Eye Pop–a phonecase with a cartoon character on the back. The eyes pop out and turn into ear buds!

Bag Umbrella--Keeps your backpack or other bags from getting wet in the rain.

Bag Umbrella–Keeps your backpack or other bags from getting wet in the rain.

Face Dye--change the color of your face! To me, just seems like makeup or the same old skin-bleaching cosmetics they have here. Koreans are very concerned with their appearances and prefer to have pale skin.

Face Dye–change the color of your face! To me, just seems like makeup or the same old skin-bleaching cosmetics they have here. Koreans are very concerned with their appearances and prefer to have pale skin.

I was kind of sad that Face Dye won for a class.  It’s not very creative or original and it was only chosen because of how appearance-minded my high school girls are which is a direct reflection of Korean culture.  Some of my students have already had plastic surgery!

In the end, Eye Pop was the winner!  Their class cheered so enthusiastically for their class’s group to have won.  It was pretty exciting!  Also, on the day I presented the winner we watched videos of a skit the students had made, which I recorded and edited (along with a skit on the same topic that I recorded with Josh for their entertainment–he’d kill me if I posted it on here haha) so it was a fun, relaxing day they had been looking forward to for some time.

Here are some of my favorite inventions that didn’t make it to the final round:

Dry Me--This invention dries your hair and body after a shower.  You can choose hot air or cold air!

Dry Me–This invention dries your hair and body after a shower. You can choose hot air or cold air!

Mixing Handle Cup--Detach the handle to mix your coffee, tea, or hot cocoa!

Mixing Handle Cup–Detach the handle to mix your coffee, tea, or hot cocoa!

One of my favorites.  Wake Up! has an audible alarm to wake you up and then pops you up in bed so you are up and at 'em!

One of my favorites. Wake Up! has an audible alarm to wake you up and then pops you up in bed so you are up and at ’em!

Banana Wheel--Multi-purpose shoes.  Version 1 has wheels, Version 2 has a shoe umbrella, and Version 3 lights up for a party.

Banana Wheel–Multi-purpose shoes. Version 1 has wheels, Version 2 has a shoe umbrella, and Version 3 lights up for a party.

I loved giving my students a chance to be creative as they usually don’t get such an opportunity in school.  The longer I’m here, the better my lessons become as I get to know their skill levels and what interests them.  My co-teachers have told me that students often ask them what I have planned next because they’ve enjoyed my lessons so much.  The other day, my third class came in excited for a lesson that they heard from my earlier two classes was fun and interesting.  I even have a group of girls who prepare songs to sing to me and pull me out of my office for small talk every few days.  So despite whatever small frustrations I have from working with others or learning the work culture here, it feels great to hear that my students enjoy having me because I certainly enjoy having fun teaching and learning with them.

I’ll leave you with some cute Halloween pictures drawn during a game by my students:

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

I also wanted to post the following picture sometime but it hasn’t fit with any posts I’ve done.  Josh and I saw this car parked on our way to eat one night and I had to snap this example of Korean driving.  Korean drivers are notorious for parking anywhere and everywhere that they can.  Their actual driving skills are just as crazy and indiscriminate as their parking skills.

In case you can't tell, the sidewalk comes to a street crossing and this car is just pulled completely onto the sidewalk to park.  Could never happen like this at home!

In case you can’t tell, the sidewalk comes to a street crossing and this car is just pulled completely onto the sidewalk to park.

수능 (Sooneung), the Korean College Entrance Exam

Two or three weeks ago, my CT (co-teacher) excitedly told me that this week, I would have a half-day Wednesday (which they almost changed their minds on?  Korean logic…long story) and no school on Thursday.  I was pretty pumped but I hadn’t heard of any national holidays this week and thought my school must be doing something special.  Actually, my school was doing something huge:  3rd grade high school students (seniors in high school) would be taking the Sooneung at my school on Thursday, and Wednesday was needed to clean the whole school, which is done by the students.  No school janitors in Korea!  Satisfied with her answer, we moved on in conversation and I looked forward to sleeping in and spending an extra day off with Josh.

Fast forward to this week…  Almost every day I return from a class with one of these on my desk:

Rice cakes and chocolate.

Rice cakes and chocolate.

Assorted rice cakes with flakes of coconut!

Assorted rice cakes with flakes of coconut!

Apparently these treats are gifts to the teachers from parents to cheer on the students for Sooneung.  Rice cakes are common gifts or food for before taking an exam or studying, following the superstition that eating these sticky rice cakes will help information “stick” to the students’ minds, or help students “stick” to the university they want to attend.

Up until this week I accepted that the Sooneung was just like our SAT at home and I didn’t think much of it.  In the States, we can take the SAT as many times as we are willing to pay for it, and it is offered multiple times throughout the year at multiple locations.  Some students stress out, take SAT prep classes and study the guides, but some students (like me) don’t study for it at all.  As a high school student I accepted the SAT for what it was:  a standardized test that can’t exactly be studied for.  At that point, I felt like I either I know it or I don’t!  And you know, I got some of the same math scores as friends of mine in much more advanced math classes who spent time studying, so my theory was kind of proven.  I did pretty well and got into the school that I wanted, though admittedly it wasn’t a very competitive school.

Very different from Sooneung.  Remember way back when, a few posts ago, when I talked about Korean students and how long they stay in school (until 10 PM) and how tired they are (since they usually take classes or study after they leave school)?  The reason they spend their whole student career in this manner comes down to one day, and one day only, and that is the day that they take the Sooneung.  It is offered once a year, on a Thursday in November.  And you know how the SAT is only 3 or so hours long?  Yeah, Sooneung is about 8 hours long.  Subjects include Korean, Math, English (yes, a foreign language is on their college entrance exam) and might also include science/social science or a test relevant to the student’s intended major.  Foreign language is also offered for other languages studied.  My town is not a large city so I didn’t notice a lot going on (I also slept in, heh heh) but in Seoul and other bigger cities schedules are adjusted for public transportation and police escorts are sometimes provided to make sure that students make it to the testing sites on time.  Traffic is restricted, flights are rescheduled to happen only during certain times, and even stock trading is delayed to make sure students get there on time and are not disturbed during their test-taking.

As far as the students and their families are concerned, the Sooneung is a few hours in one day that you prepare for your whole life and that also decides the rest of your life: which university you attend and in turn what type of job you will one day have.  Students spend their whole lives and families spend all of their money on tutoring, private learning academies (hagwons) and even private study spaces all with the Sooneung and university acceptance in mind.  Parents and siblings pray fiercely for their loved one’s success.  Morning of, a group of  younger students and mothers/families will be standing at the school gates to cheer the students on while they enter.  Overall, it seems all of the community and Korea come out to support the soon-to-be graduating students on this day, which is a nice show of community support to me.

The video below is a really great example of a day in the life of a Korean student preparing for the exam.  It’s only 20 minutes and gives a great insight into what these students are going through.

Hopefully now that the testing is over that the students feel relieved.  After today, no more after school classes and students are allowed to leave school after lunch.  I will have a somewhat lighter class load, but only because of my vocational 3rd graders getting to leave early as well.  I haven’t had any of the academic 3rd grade classes because they spend all of their time studying.  Unfortunately that means that next year (school year ends in January and begins in Feb/March) I won’t have some of my 2nd grade academic students, who I really enjoy teaching and talking with.

Thanks for reading.  Sometime this week I’ll be posting some pictures of what I’ve been doing with my students!  We’ve been having a lot of fun and some students even ask my co-teacher what I am planning next because they’ve enjoyed my classes so much🙂

Ganhyeon (간현)-Camping, Climbing, and Music

So this is actually a trip we took one of our first few weekends here before I had started my blog, but I wanted to include it since it was our first trip somewhere and we had so much fun!

Josh really wanted to go on a climbing trip and I decided to come with since the area would also be a place we could camp and such.  He made some friends in the Korea climbing facebook group and we met up with them at the bus station in Wonju, which is about an hour and a half to two hours by bus from Yeongwol.  From Wonju, Ganhyeon (간현) is about 20 minutes by car and since there were a few of us we opted for a taxi and split the fare.  Taxis in Korea are pretty cheap too!

When we arrived at the gate to Ganhyeon, which ended up being a big, beautiful park with a creek running through, Josh and I prepared to pay the 2,000 won (about $2 or a little less) to camp.  The person at the gate taking payment then told us it would be 20,000.  We were pretty confused but through some translation from our friend (who has been here for quite a few years and speaks pretty good Korean) we found out that there was going to be a music festival complete with overnight camping in Ganhyeon that weekend.  Awesome!  We got our tickets and headed through the park to find a place to set up our tent in order to reserve our spot.  The park was super busy.  Ganhyeon is pretty big with hiking trails, camping, restaurants, eating and washing areas, a creek with a small beach, and a crag for climbing.  There were Koreans everywhere setting up their own tents and enjoying meals together.  Josh and I headed to where our friends recommended we camp to set up our tent and it ended up being right by the stage for the festival.  We had no idea what the festival was going to be like but we were happy that we stumbled upon the chance to attend.  Some pictures from the first day there:

Our tent set up early in the day...Gotta beat the crowds

Our tent set up early in the day…Gotta beat the crowds

One of Josh's first climbs.

One of Josh’s first climbs.

Ganhyeon

One of many bridges connecting the two sides of Ganhyeon.

One of many bridges connecting the two sides of Ganhyeon.

<3

View of the crag with the creek.

View of the crag with the creek.

Hanging out at Ganhyeon...

Hanging out at Ganhyeon…

After a day of climbing and hanging out we went back to our tent and music festival preparations were in full swing.  Stage set up, food tents, and other campers (including a lot of motorcyclists?) were gathering in our camping area.  With our tickets we got a wristband and found out (thanks to the very kind ticket taker that spoke English!) that the price of our tickets included some barbecue.  We got some grilled meat and sat down to enjoy ourselves….before we knew it the man in charge of the food operations (or at least, this little food booth) was offering us beer, soju, and more meat.  We gratefully accepted.  As we were drinking, we noticed a lot of people eating some kind of soup that looked delicious, but we did not know if it was included with the “barbecue” in the ticket or if it was separate.  When you live in a country where you don’t speak the language, trying to figure out such matters transforms from a small, menial task into a much bigger, daunting task.  Eventually Josh went up and figured things out for us and we were served a huge bowl of soup to share.  It was red (usually means spicy!) and had potatoes, onions, and some kind of…meat..?  To this day we have no idea what it was, but after learning some more Korean foods we both think it was pig/pork spine/bone soup (Gamjatang?).  Regardless it was delicious!

Korean food!  Pork bone/spine soup, a plate of onion and peppers in a spicy sauce, and in the bowl that you can't see is kimbap (Korean version of sushi).

Korean food! Pork bone/spine soup, a plate of onion and peppers in a spicy sauce, and in the bowl that you can’t see is kimbap (Korean version of sushi). Also in the photo is Cider (in the cans) which is Korean sprite.  The green bottle is soju, Korean rice liquor.  One of these bottles costs about $2 depending where you get it.  Unless you try to drink the same liquors you drink at home, alcohol is very cheap here!

After the food manager brought us a second bowl of soup, some other Koreans came over to talk to the foreigners (us).  They brought food with them from their own stand for us to try, all of which was delicious.  With their broken Korean they tried to have a conversation with us and soon invited us to their food stand and would not take no for an answer!  When I motioned to them that I wanted to at least finish our soup (as not to be rude to the other guy) or clean it up I was told that they would “show me how it works in Korea” and that someone else would take care of it and I was not to worry.  The two men brought us over to their stand and served us fruit salad with another soup that tasted very much like chicken vegetable or something along those lines.  It was great.  The two men ended up being brothers and the directors of the whole music festival.  It made sense why they were so passionate about showing us a good time!  Then the directors introduced us to the “vice president” of Wonju, but I really don’t think he is the vice president of Wonju.  Most likely he has some government position but I think the phrase “vice president” was a result of poor translation.  They eventually just left us to go about their business, but we didn’t mind because we were enjoying what seemed like VIP seating–a table and chairs right near one of two bonfires to keep warm with a great view of the stage.  We finished our evening enjoying the music and people watching (which is extremely entertaining in Korea/a foreign country–just wait until I write a post about our Chuseok camping trip!)  The festival was to feature indie music, and there was a very wide variety of indie music.  Bands, rock, pop, and a cappella are just a few of the genres we heard.  All of the artists were very talented.

Music.  Lots of peace signs and candles...very cool atmosphere.

Music. Lots of peace signs and candles…very cool atmosphere.

Out of focus, but nonetheless a picture of yours truly :)

Out of focus, but nonetheless a picture of yours truly🙂

More music

More music.  Behind the stage and all around the venue  there were paintings and other pieces of art hanging which I think were for sale.  We even met one of the artists.

Hahaha, they had a few of these around so we had to take some pictures!

Hahaha, they had a few of these around so we had to take some pictures!

DSC_0424

Eventually we went to bed and rested up for the next morning.  We hung out and Josh did some more climbing.  We ended the day getting THAI FOOD!!!! with some of our new friends.  Josh and I both have been so homesick for some Thai food.  Of course there is plenty of Thai food in Korea but none in or very near our town.  Here are some pictures from the last day climbing:

Josh and a few of our friends on a multi-pitch climb.  He's the highest up with no shirt.

Josh and a few of our friends on a multi-pitch climb. He’s the highest up with no shirt.

Shot of the same climb but a little zoomed out!

Shot of the same climb but a little zoomed out!

Almost to the top!

Almost to the top!

A very zoomed out shot of Josh climbing---gives you some perspective on how high he is!

A very zoomed out shot of Josh climbing—gives you some perspective on how high he is!

FInally reached the top! :)

FInally reached the top!🙂

Picture taken the last time Josh visited Ganhyeon, by a Korean photographer who kindly emailed him the pictures a few days ago.

Picture taken the last time Josh visited Ganhyeon, by a Korean photographer who kindly emailed him the pictures a few days ago.

Midterms Week and Fun School Activities

So last week my students were taking mid-terms, which meant half-days for me and some other school festivities!  Not to mention teaching next to no classes the week before (students have to study/review/prepare) and absolutely none the week of, and we also had a national holiday on Thursday so there was no school!

 

Monday and Tuesday were half-days and I got to go home at 12:30 after a morning of “desk warming”, or just plain downtime at my computer.  I try to lesson plan but sometimes looking at powerpoint or googling ideas for that long makes my eyes bleed so I just read the news, take Korean lessons online, or work on other things.  On Monday my main co-teacher took me out to lunch which was really nice of her.  We went for Chinese food, or at least the Korean-ized Chinese food.  According to my CT (co-teacher) there are two main noodle dishes that Koreans order when they get Chinese.  After doing some google-work to remember the names, they are called 자장면, or jajangmyeon, and 짬뽕, or jjamppong.  I don’t really know any Korean swear words yet but I was warned that sometimes these words, when said with an incorrect accent, can come out as bad words.  Better be careful!

Jajangmyeon is a noodle dish with a black bean sauce and seafood (sometimes switched out or in addition to pork or chicken).  Usually includes zucchini or a similar vegetable as well.  Its flavor is pretty light.

Korean_black_bean_noodle_dish-Jaengban_Jajangmyeon-01

Jajangmyeon. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

My CT suggested, or pretty much told me, that I have the jajangmyeon noodles because they are “bland” and she thinks the other noodles would be too spicy for me.  Of course I said yes and went along with it.  It was pretty good, except I don’t like much seafood but the plate was so huge that it wasn’t very noticeable that I didn’t eat most of the seafood.  

Jjamppong , which my CT got for herself, is a spicy noodle soup with onion and certainly some chili or chili oil judging on the color and spice level.  Thinking back, I should have asked her to try some!

JJamppong.  The red color shows that this noodle dish is spicy!  Photo from www.yelp.com.

JJamppong. The red color shows that this noodle dish is spicy! Photo from http://www.yelp.com.

 

Anyway, our lunch together was nice.  My CT seems to genuinely enjoy talking to me about everything, from daily life to dreams for the future to our cultural differences.  I usually feel I can be pretty open and honest with her as well, but I always try to make it clear that anything I find difficult here (life-wise and teaching-wise especially) I recognize as being a cultural difference that I accept.  She helps give me some insight on life and culture here, and she just eats up everything I tell her about American and western life!

 

The rest of midterms week was full of other activities–teacher sports day and a school hiking day!  Wednesday after our half day the teachers met in the gym and we were put on teams to compete in 3 games:

  • shoe-throwing (or what I would call shoe-flinging).  You have to put a rubber shoe on your foot, which is apparently what all of the shoes were made of after the Korean war when Korea’s economy was still on the road to improving, and throw it with your foot to make it inside of a circle about half a basketball court away.  Hilarity ensued.  Some teachers really got them all over the place but it was really fun.  I made one out of two in the circle.
  • jump-rope– not just any old jumping rope here.  Nope.  We used one giant rope and had ten people (five rows of two) jump the rope at the same time.  After a few practice rounds my team took second place (4 jumps? or 5?) out of three teams.
  • volleyball mostly the male teachers did the work and the female teachers stood in the back as each time was required to have 2 to 3 females playing at any given time. Reminded me of a high school gym class!

And this whole time they had snacks: grapes (which are different in Korea, and the Koreans LOVE LOVE LOVE THEM!), trail mix, water, soda, and beer.  Yes, beer. The teaching and drinking culture is pretty different here.  You wouldn’t dream of seeing alcohol at a school function in the States!

 

On Thursday we had off of school and on Friday instead of having classes we did a school hike in the morning which was over pretty early as well.  We set off with the students for about an hour or so long hike, pretty easy, but unfortunately didn’t give us any nice views.  As we came back down the students and teachers spread out in a park at the bottom with platforms and seats and had a little picnic lunch.  I’m not sure what the students had but the teachers were provided with kimbap, which is like sushi but the fish isn’t raw.  The other teachers I sat with (all women–usually it seems that men sit with men and women sit with women for lunch)  also brought coffee, apples, nuts, and some other fruit that I don’t even know how to describe and I had never seen before.  But it was all delicious and really enjoyable even though I just sat there and ate while everyone spoke to each other in Korean.  None of the teachers speak much English with the exception of my co-teachers and the Japanese teacher, who each time we speak says a little more in English and surprises me.  She often takes me under her wing when my co-teachers aren’t with me.

 

Overall, the activities that went along with midterms week were really fun cultural experiences for me.  The teachers help me feel welcome, even those who can’t verbally communicate with me very well.  Plus it was really fun to participate in teachers sports day and see some of the teachers let loose, laugh, and have a good time.  I’m very fortunate to have been placed in a school with friendly teachers and students that help make me feel like part of the community here.🙂

Schools in South Korea and My First Week

So now that I told you all about finally getting here I thought I’d talk about my first week living and teaching in Yeongwol, South Korea.

First some general/background info on my school and schools in Korea in general….

For my first few days at school, I just sat at my desk to “plan” and get ready.  In Korea, instead of teachers having their own classrooms they work and prepare for class in an office.  Some schools have a few offices full of teachers.  My school has one really big room with a bunch of little desk/cubicles that we work at, each with a computer and some drawers.  The vice principal also has a nice big desk in this room.  However, the principal gets his own cushy office that he rarely leaves, complete with leather chairs and couches, etc.  Anyway, when class time comes, the teacher goes to the students’ classroom.  Each student has a homeroom and they have every class with this homeroom.  They have their own classroom and this is where the teacher comes to teach, except for special classes like art and English.  My school has an “English lab” where English class is held at the far end of the building because apparently class gets loud.  So it’s technically like I have my own classroom, but I usually spend my free time at my desk in the office.  I was supposed to have a few days before I started teaching to hang out in the office, but one of my co-teachers asked me to start a day early.  I said yes because I didn’t want them to think I was unprepared or didn’t want to work.

I have four co-teachers that I work with, one of them being my main co-teacher who helps me with any problems I have in getting settled (help set up bank account, register for Alien Registration Card, or ARC, which is my Korean ID, etc.).  Each class I have only sees me once a week and spends the rest of the week in English class with only their co-teacher.  Each co-teacher is different and gives me different degrees of independence in regards to planning and teaching the class.  For the most part, co-teachers are responsible for discipline and some of them ask to see or approve my lesson plans ahead of time.  Although I’ve only been teaching here a short time I do feel that it’s a little overbearing having someone looking over my shoulder to approve things, especially while I’m still trying to find my groove and figure out what exactly to do with my students (there is no curriculum or textbook for me).  I know that it just takes some time to figure out but sometimes with someone looking over my shoulder it feels like I don’t really have the space to figure things out.  But then again, some of the teachers tell me to just play games!  So if they don’t take it seriously, I shouldn’t stress out or take it too seriously either.  The classes are split into two categories, vocational and academic.  Vocational classes are students that (most likely) won’t be attending university but instead will take up a trade or already have a job out of high school.  Vocational classes are less motivated and have less English knowledge.  The academic classes know more English and are more motivated, as they are headed to university and need to know English for an entrance exam.    The students work very hard in their classes, or at the very least they put in a lot of time at school.  The day starts at 8:30 AM and most students usually stay in school until 10 or 11 PM.  AFTER leaving school that late, some go to private academies, called hagwons, until 12 AM or later.  Maybe they even study more at home once they leave the hagwon, or even wake up early before school to study.  Let’s just say that students sleeping in class is extremely common here and students often say that their schools are like prisons!

So there’s some general background info.  Now to my actual teaching experience that first week!

For my first week of classes, I did a self-introduction powerpoint for my students with pictures of me, where I live, my family, and my hobbies along with some information about the United States.  After I let them ask me anything and everything.  Most of the questions were focused on beauty and physical appearance, which are big things here in Korea.  Combine that with an all-girls school and you’ll get some crazy questions!  Such as…

  • Do you have a boyfriend?
  • How old are you?
  • Is your hair real?
  • How much do you weigh/how tall are you?
  • What are your beauty secrets?  What skin products do you use? (Makes me giggle…I feel like I’ve always had issues with my skin and now these kids are asking my advice haha!)
  • When did you get married?  How did your husband propose? (Another LOL moment–Josh and I didn’t exactly do things the traditional route, and all of these girls have a fairy tale image of what these experiences are like in the western world!)
  • Have you had plastic surgery?  (Korea is the number one country for plastic surgery–some of my students have already had it on their eyes to give them a double-eyelid! Most common are eye surgeries and nose jobs to make the nose longer and thinner.  Business Insider did a good article on this topic–find it here!)

The students all ranted and raved (and continue to do so) about my looks–they love my big eyes, my “small face” (another common compliment here), and my thin body and they let me know it all the time.  They even tell me, “Teacher, so pretty!” on days that I feel pretty crappy.  So it’s nice to be worshipped like a celebrity! haha.  It was a long week of answering questions, some pretty personal but I didn’t mind because I appreciate their curiosity plus their questions and reactions were pretty entertaining for me.  The last two EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers they had were males, so it must be exciting to have  a Western girl around.

Sometimes I am surprised by my students and how different they are from American high school students.  I hate to use this expression, and wish I could find another word, but sometimes they seem more immature here.  I think some of that has to do with the lack of independence they have–spending all day every day in school, can’t get their drivers license until 19 years old, etc. These high school girls often giggle with shyness the way a middle schooler in the States would, even when it comes to speaking out loud in class with the classmates they spend all day every day with. When they see me in the hallway or walking around town, they say hi, giggle, and run away.  It’s quite comical.

With my first week of introductions behind me, I then started planning for some actual classes.  This is somewhat challenging for the vocational classes between figuring out their skill level and finding what will motivate them.  However, I enjoy preparing and teaching the academic classes because the material can be more challenging and open-ended, where we have some real life discussions and creativity going on.  Overall, I’m enjoying the job and it’s pretty easy.

Not much happened our first week outside of class–mostly getting settled in our cute little apartment and buying things that we needed.  Here are some pictures of our first week and our town, Yeongwol:

 

Our first home-cooked meal in our new apartment :)

Our first home-cooked meal in our new apartment🙂

Some small mountains and the Donggang River (동강) going through Yeongwol.

Some small mountains and the Donggang River (동강) going through Yeongwol.

A bridge connecting the two sides of town split up by the Donggang River.

A bridge connecting the two sides of town split up by the Donggang River.

Action shot of Josh skipping some stones!

Action shot of Josh skipping some stones!

Beautiful clouds and scenery!

Beautiful clouds and scenery!

Some boys (maybe around 9 or 10 years old) came down next to me to play in the river.  One gave me an enthusiastic "Hello!  My name is (insert Korean name here that I can't remember)!"  But the others kind of ignored me. haha

Some boys (maybe around 9 or 10 years old) came down next to me to play in the river. One gave me an enthusiastic “Hello! My name is (insert Korean name here that I can’t remember)!” But the others kind of ignored me. haha

A collection of their shoes and bags of snacks from the convenience store while the boys splashed around!

A collection of their shoes and bags of snacks from the convenience store while the boys splashed around!

Nice views all around.

Nice views all around.

Sky and clouds are beautiful!  I love the fresh air that we have in Gangwon-do compared to the rest of Korea.

Sky and clouds are beautiful! I love the fresh air that we have in Gangwon-do compared to the rest of Korea.

A few of the bridges in town.

A few of the bridges in town.

People going about their business with a nice natural background.

People going about their business with a nice natural background.

A part of Yeongwol on the other side of the river from me, nestled between hills and small mountains.

A part of Yeongwol on the other side of the river from me, nestled between hills and small mountains.

 

Thanks for tuning in everyone🙂  This coming week I’ll blog some about a few of the trips we have taken–climbing/surprise music festival and spending our Chuseok vacation time hiking and climbing in Seoraksan National Park.