Monday, October 4, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things....

Okay, so..... I thought I would write some random wonderful things about Korea. As most people know, I have decided to sign another year contract with MoonKkang and I will be moving to Daegu at the beginning of December. So I thought I’d share what’s so great (and unique) about Korea. Aaaaaannnnd why certain people living at home should come to visit and check out a new view:

First, for those of you who may find yourselves wasting time on the computer, Korea is a great place to surf the web and update your blog with high speed internet in most cafes and restaurants you go to... sometimes even local parks have a wifi zone that my ipod picks up. Fast internet is always awesome when you’re far away from family and friends.

Next, public transportation is easy to come by, and it’s quite affordable. A bus will cost you roughly a dollar to get you from one side of the city to the other, as well as the subway. Also, taxis start at about two dollars and climb up ten cents every so many seconds or meters. Bicycles and mopeds are quite common modes of transportation as well, however, due to the way Korean drivers drive... you’d never catch me on either.

Also, Korean is the easiest Asian language to read. I didn’t say understand... I said read. You can learn the symbols and sounds of the Korean alphabet in roughly two hours and have it down. Once you can sound out each syllable, sometimes you even get lucky with a Konglish spelling like so: KO-KAH-KOL-LAH :-) 코카콜라

In addition, English t-shirts with random prints are quite popular here. You just never know what you’re going to find on a t-shirt, and most likely 90% of these t-shirt wearers don’t realize what is exactly on their t-shirts.
Food. The food here in general is so different from most things I ate at home. If you knew me at home, I was one of those “play it safe people” who ate toast or cereal for most meals and grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, however, I have tried so many wild meat soups, spicy kimchis, and fried street foods... those of you at home would never recognize me by what’s been on my plate.

People you meet in Korea are kind, helpful, and always more than happy to help out a confused looking face. As in any country, be weary of sketchy dudes chasing you down a dark alley... (but do yourself a favor and avoid dark alleys...) I’ve gotta say that I feel just as safe as I ever did in Farmington, Maine... if not, safer. Everyone here just wants to know where you’re from and if you’re enjoying Korea.

There are certain things here that are just different from anything you’d see back home in the states... for instance: DVD 방 this is a room you can watch a movie in. It’s like a movie rental place, except you stay there. After you choose you’re movie, you’re led to a room where you’ve got your own personal movie showing. They always have some older movies hangin’ around... but they also always seem to carry those movies that are fresh out of theaters and not yet out on DVD ;-)
"we love DVD bangs!"

Do you like Karaoke? Well you can also rent a singing room too! These nifty rooms are called 노레방= no lai bahng (but they spell it like so: nori bang) It’s karaoke in a room with you and your friends only. Drinks, snacks, and sometimes a dinner menu is offered... and then of course there's lots and lots of singing.

Another unique thing about Korea are the street vendors and markets. Like you saw before, during my mention of food... a lot of street vendors sell different kinds of fried foods which are always fun to try. I prefer 튀김 (pronounced twee-gim) which is deep fried veggies. In relation to these street vendors there are also many market places where you can get better deals on fish, produce, and even meat (which I prefer to buy in the supermarket) In many markets you’ll see many little 아주마 (ah-ju-mah... or old women) sitting on short stools or just crouching near the ground with their sell of the day spread out in front of them. It’s always a cool place to visit, especially when a new fruit is in season so you can save some money (once you’ve learned money talk!)

찜질방 said: jim jeel bahng is a new thing I’ve come to love. It’s not necessarily a new discovery... but more like I became brave enough to dive in. A jimjeelbahng is kind of like a spa that you sleep at. First, you put your shoes in a locker, then you have the option to change into the stylish (usually creamy-orange) t-shirt and shorts they provide for you and go straight into the sleeping room OOOORRR you can put on your birthday suit, purchase some shampoo, soap, body wash etc. and find your way to the shower room where you’ll find showers, a hot tub, a warm tub, a cold tub and a sauna... and you can spend as much time as you please soaking or scrubba dub dubbin’! I went to a jimjeelbang and a spa in one week. The difference with a spa is you pay a bit more sometimes and they also offer massages or other special treatments like foot scrubs or exfoliating back scrubs. Oooooo! Ahhhhh! Anyways.... I’m a fan.

Next up: Temples. The wood carvings and hand-paintings in Korean-Buddhist temples never cease to amaze me. This past weekend I got to visit 해인사 (Hay in sah) temple which is located outside of Daegu. The road on the way there goes over a mountain or two with twisty turvy curvy swirly roads and it was well worth the drive. Every temple is. There is something wonderfully peaceful about the sound of a monk chanting and playing the moktak (see below) It has this lovely wooden hollow sound that could just lull me to sleep or put me in a trance.
I’ve never felt any kind of spiritual connection in any church I’ve visited... but there’s definitely something special about the temples. It’s just something you’ve got to experience to know.
It also must be said that the night life is quite exciting here considering places don’t close at 2am like they do at home. A normal night with your friends usually starts to fade out around 6am or later/earlier... however you want to look at it.
There are so many places to choose from due to the fact that businesses seem to open up overnight here in Korea. They start building a place on a Monday and by the time you walk by it on Friday they have welcome signs in front with hired Korean dancing girls to lure you in to try a new noodle shop or have your prescriptions filled at a new pharmacy. no joke.

Finally, at the end of the day in Korea, you can always visit the comfort of the 24/7 EMART and kick back in the comfy chair section (there are also massage chairs that are quite powerful on the achin’ back.)
So, for those of you who have been debating whether or not to visit me, I hope I’ve convinced you to come :-) I know I will always miss my lovely family and friends at home, but for now, Korea just seems like a fit. Sending my love (and invitations to visit anytime!!!)
-Angie... and Ben xoxo

Monday, July 5, 2010

... july.. yeah, it's been a while

Once upon a time I though keeping a blog would be a piece of pie, but I just can't seem to take the time to write about what I've been up to... so I thought perhaps sharing a few pictures could catch you all up on what's been happening here in South Korea!

Mike and I went to Jalgachi Market in Nampodong and had some awesome red snapper as sushi and some cooked. Last was a bit of seaweed soup cooked with our fish bones. It was awesome! I'm hoping to go back again and try the lobster (which was at least three times the size of the ones I see back home in Maine!) Monster Lobsters!

Went on a little adventure to Cheongdo to see the famous bull fighting with Jaime and met up with some other people. It wasn't very eventful, but it's cool to say I went to one... and getting there was half the fun. We took a train, walked for a while and then caught a taxi, but were quite proud of ourselves to find a bus to take us back to the train instead of paying a $18 taxi again.

Jaime and I also went to Jeju Island with a group called Adventure Korea and got to see a bunch of sights. Jeju is South Korea's sub tropical island... but it was in April so the weather wasn't it's warmest, but nonetheless, we had a pretty awesome time with the group of people we were with. Met a few girls we shared a room with... all teachers from Seoul and it was nice just to share some Korea stories with each other.

Went to Youngongsa Temple again (I've now been three times? four times?) I'm quite addicted to that coin throwing deal... I really plan on getting one in before I leave! Some of Mike's Korean friends came for a visit and we enjoyed some picture-taking and coin-tossing together.

Also had the chance to spend a weekend in Seoul and went to a music festival near a college area. They had the music outside and inside a condemned building, which the college students seem to be protecting for their own festivities. It was really cool to see so many different music groups, but I think the best part was outside the building near the end a bunch of people had their own instruments and sat down to have a little jam session. Mike had brought his ukulele and joined the little jam as well. Fantastic night!

My dear friend Rachel came to visit me all the way from Portland Maine in May. This was our first meal at a samgepsal restaurant near Sungjeon beach. I recently got a lomography camera and I've been taking a few pictures here and there with it. It can do double exposure which is really fun to play with and I'm hoping to learn more about my Diana Mini! As for Rachel and I, we had a beach day, checked out the Busan Aquarium, ate a few Korean meals, and a couple nights out with friends and saw what there is to see here in Busan. I was so happy to have her visit me here!

The most recent news here in Korea has been the soccer world cup. This was Koreas last game. Mike and I went to a huge soccer stadium to watch the game on the pig screens and it was so cool to be around a huge crowd dressed in red wearing devil horns. Unfortunately, Korean lost this one but it was still a really exciting game to go to. I've never been in a stadium where everyone is rooting for one team!

Well, I suppose, that's a quick update on what's been going on. I hope to update again soon... but I won't make any promises. Perhaps some of my lomography photos will come next! All my best, ang <3

Sunday, March 14, 2010

i know i know i know i know.... i’m terrible.

I started writing this in February:

So, once again.... it’s been a while. I’m at my computer every night e-mailing, skyping, or facebooking but I can never seem to make myself really sit down and write about my experiences. But I’d say it’s about time for an update.

School is going well, and I was recently observed by my branch manager this past week and I got some helpful feedback. I’m still having a bit of a hard time training myself NOT to give students individual attention. I often stop at a students desk and spend 45 seconds or so explaining how to construct a certain sentence but the curriculum here prefers me to teach to the whole class at all times. I’m suppose to have each student answer a question or two, and then have the entire class repeat after him or her... but it’s still a routine I need to get used to. I guess it’s one thing I miss about the education system back home. I feel like the students here don’t get as much individual attention as they do at home, so it’s tough to help a student catch up if he’s falling behind the rest of the class.

Despite the new ESL teaching techniques I need to get used to, my students are great. I teach levels I3, I4, I5, I7, A5, A6, A7, and A10. the “I” levels are elementary students (I3s being around second grade up to I7s being around 5th or 6th grade.) Don’t tell, but my I4 and I7 classes are my favorite :-) I also recently started the A10 class which is a one-on-one class with a middle school girl. She’s really warming up to me, and I’m always impressed with her willingness to learn--- considering most of the other middle school students’ attitudes. “A” level students are in middle school level students and lots of them usually have plenty of energy.... they just don’t like to direct it towards learning. Typical. I can honestly say I never have a dull day at school though and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and teach.

playing with photobooth in class :-)

The past few weekends, I’ve spend with Jaime which is always fun. We had the opportunity to go skiing at High 1 Mountain, which was absolutely breathtaking. It was the first weekend I was able to fall asleep before 10pm. All that fresh air and boarding was tough :-) I’d be there every weekend if I could.

Just a little view from the top...

And now for March:

Last weekend Jaime and I went to the Busan Museum of Modern Art. It was featuring Japanese art which was really interesting. I’ve only been to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC once about five years ago and I love taking pictures in Museums... I always leave feeling inspired :-) Plus it’s not often that you get to see a whole Museum focussed on Asian art.

rub my tummy for good luck :-)

This weekend Mike and I went to Yonggung Temple here in Haeundae. I still hadn’t been to a temple thinking it might be kind of touristy to visit... but I found it quite the opposite. We were maybe two of the five foreigners there. Before we went, Mike and I scrounged up a couple handfuls of coins for wishing on (why we were wasting decent cab money on wishes... I didn’t really understand until we got there...) It’s like a game. Everyone stands on this stone bridge before walking up to the temple and aims his/her coins at one of two stone bowls of water thirty yards or so away. One stone bowl is held by a Buddha-like statue, and the other bowl is placed on the back of a turtle. I got so addicted to tossing coins and came sooo close to getting a few in. I even had a couple Korean girls standing beside me making the “awww!” noise every time I came close and didn’t make it in.

After my pockets were empty we made our way up towards the temple. I was so impressed with the vibrant colors on the outside and all the intricate wood carvings decorating the buildings. After taking our shoes off, we stepped inside and settled on the floor. The doors are left open so a breeze can come in and the walls are lit with what looked like rows upon rows of candles... I was sold until a woman near the door “turned up” the candle light. However, despite the cheesy fake lighting, the inside of the temple was even more detailed than the outside. A dozen people or so (adults and children) had taken a pillow from the front of the room and started their own rhythm of prayer. Beginning in tall standing position to kneeling on the pillow and finally fully bowing until their heads met their knees. The room smelled of pine and I couldn’t help but stare at the ceiling decorated with dragons, fairies, and other mystical creatures.

We made our way all over the temple grounds and while staring out into the ocean (the Korean Strait to be exact) I felt like I was really on the other side of the world... The culture here is so different, and it was so refreshing to get out of the city where I walk past Starbucks everyday and actually remember where I am.

All the zodiac symbols lined up

My zodiac for '86: The Tiger

On our way out we looked more closely at the zodiac statues which I've always been fascinated by. In the Asian culture your zodiac symbol is suppose to tell a lot about you. Not only does it help affirm one's character but your zodiac is a guardian deity that stays close to you and is suppose to prevent evil spirits and pray for the good fortune of human beings. So all over these statues you notice offerings (money) placed on the body of the statues as a wish or prayer from a person to his/her zodiac symbol.

My dear friend Rachel from home will be joining me for a week in May and I’m so excited to show her what I’ve discovered so far. I WILL be writing again... sooner than later. promise.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ten strings and a dance club.. under water

So, just about two months, huh? I really can’t believe where the time has gone.

I’m always discussing with friends or other bloggers how I want to make this interesting to read... but then I remember... who other than my friends and family is really going to check this out? I know I haven’t been taking the time to read any other blogs... I’m living life, not reading about it. So since Christmas, I received my first pay check, I bought a violin and a guitar, I’ve recorded a couple songs using garage band with a co-worker, and Jaime has come to visit me twice.

Getting a pay check was really nice after being a bit frugal for a couple weeks. Even though I don’t have to worry about putting gas in a car anymore, it’s surprising how much public transportation, food, an start-up fees for life can add up to. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about rent every month. Just utilities, and my cellphone bill... (and food and all that jazz of course.) So I celebrated with the cash in my pocket when I went on a day excursion to a couple music shops. I went with Mike and Travis (Mike another teacher I work with, and Travis is one of my co-worker's significant other..) Anyway, my goal was to find a violin for a reasonable price... the one I have at home was about $600 and that was a steal, but I was hoping for something much cheaper... and then we walked into a store where I saw this:

Yes. fiddles hanging from the wall, just waiting to be played :-)

I pointed to one and made a 'bow on strings' motion to figure out whether I was allowed to play them or not and a man nodded at me while pointing to take it down. After spending a little time with tuning, I sawed away at the strings for a bit and was quite satisfied even to hear the tinny sound the "made in china" violin sang. Granted, it wasn't even close to the deep resonant tone my fiddle at home makes, but it would do. The man showed me his calculator: 150,000 won... which is roughly $150 in US dollars... case, rosin, bow, and fiddle. I was ecstatic. I swung my case around proudly while walking towards the door only to notice the guitars waving at me on the way out... so I went back the next day and bought a guitar for the same price as the violin: case, capo, extra pair of stings, and a strap. $150. again: ecstatic.

So currently I've been looking up the tabs to every song I've ever loved, and my fingers on my left hand are a bit raw :-) It's fabulous.

Before Jaime came to visit last weekend, I went out with my co-workers to a dance club called Maktum. You pay $15 at the door, you're given a beverage ticket, and you get to watch some super popular DJ do his "thang." Note: I've obviously never heard of any of these DJs... but the Koreans eat it up. It's entertaining just to people-watch. You notice quickly that everyone faces the DJ like it's a concert or something, so I like to shake things up occasionally and catch people off-guard by dancing "the wrong way." It's entertaining enough, but I prefer StarFace (a chill bar owned by a British man who makes a pretty mean fish n' chips.... his fries are simply fantastic.) Mike, Shannon, and I are regulars now (thanks to Shannon for finding this gem of a place back in May.) (see Shannon, Jaime, and I chillin' at the top of the page)

This past Sunday, Jaime and I went to the Aquarium here at Haeundae which was really nice actually. I'm not sure if I've ever been to an aquarium before, so I had a good time taking pictures and pointing at everything "look at that! Ooo! Look at that!... what IS that?" Here are a few of my favorites:

This guy was massive... and beautiful.

The Jellies doin' a little dance :-)

Now... You can't tell very well with the glare... but this dude has chicklet teeth. Cute, huh?

So that was my little adventure undah dah sea... a nice way to end the weekend. I'll try to post again soon (maybe in another month? haha... hopefully before then.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Korean Christmas

So my Christmas started on a train to Daegu with a super cool co-worker from the Busan branch. I learned a few more Korean words (like left, right, how to ask for a number of something, like: can I get 2 coffees, please?, as well as “please take me...”) I was also introduced to the Korean alphabet which I'm very anxious to learn. I got to Daegu fifteen minutes to Christmas and Jaime was at the station waiting for me.

We ventured out in her neighborhood after dropping my bags off and were in the mood for pork and fried chicken. Thanks to my handy dandy Korean phrase book, we got pork and fried chicken.... which was probably the next best Christmas present (after the plant that Jaime got me for my humble abode.) We stayed out until about 2am and talked a bit into the night and slept in until around 10:30.. just in time to talk with our family's for their Christmas Eve :-)

Tonight there was a MoonKkang gathering at Hof and Joy so Jaime and I made our way there with another MoonKkanger. We cut through the Chilseong Market which included a variety of fresh fish, dry fish, fruits and vegis, and even a monster bunny on a dog chain... just chillin’ out. I always enjoy walking through a more rural area with lots of Korean people because the reaction of fair skinned people is kind of amusing. Especially from kids. They like to point. I always smile and try to whisper “Ahng yawng!”... “hello!” The kids are so beautiful :-) I actually had a couple little girls jump out of their seats across from me on the subway tonight and kind of push each other to see who would sit next to me. You can’t help but laugh when something like this happens, because usually they’re super shy.

During our walk three people said “Merry Christmas” to us... which made it feel a little more like Christmas, despite the lack of snow and decorations. (The Christmas tree in the subway station-- which Jaime and I took pictures in front of-- was actually the first one I’ve seen.)

We got to have turkey tonight, which was a big treat since I missed Thanksgiving at home this year as well. Jaime and I enjoyed sharing a pitcher of soju and cranberry juice. Again... soju is like rubbing alcohol (or the cheapest vodka you can find at home... but you can’t really tell when it’s mixed with cranberry juice.) The glasses are also half the size of glasses at home so I never really feel like I’m drinking much. But be warned. Soju is potent. One pitcher was enough. The beer here (either Hite or Cass) however is like drinking watered down budweiser.... mmm. Not really.

(More bars....... more beer....)

After the yankee swap (or what they called “Bad Santa”) we headed out a bit early, ventured to Home Plus for Bailey’s for tomorrow night. I also still can never help but take pictures of the food I see in all the glass cases that you wouldn’t normally see back at home. Like itty bitty crabs mixed in some kind of kimchi-looking salad deal.(see below) I always feel like a tourist taking pictures, but I never get a disgusted look for doing it (like you may get if you were doing the same thing back home.) They just stare and smile at me from behind the counter.

We ended our night with some skype calls... and later on a bit of an emotional moment.. that was totally needed. I’m now feeling ready for a new adventure tomorrow. Miss you family. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tomorrow Tomorrow

I asked my students when Christmas was today. They said, “Tomorrow tomorrow!” I laughed and said, “Sure. We’ll call it Christmas Eve Eve.” Today was the last day for my Monday, Wednesday, Friday students, so we sang some Christmas carols and learned Christmas vocabulary. Christmas isn’t a big deal here in Korea, but the kids really get into it when they know that their teacher is excited about it. I explained how much snow there is in New England and I’m not sure they really believe me... so tomorrow I’ll bring pictures that my aunt and uncle sent from Connecticut... then maybe they’ll understand what it means to “clear off the snow from my car” which was a phrase used in one of our stories today.

Tomorrow after work I’ll be leaving for Daegu to celebrate Christmas with a bunch of people who work for all the different MoonKkang branches. I’m sure it’ll be a fun time, but it definitely won’t feel anything like Christmas. Nothing can top family and a home-cooked meal... but I’m really thankful to have Jaime here... another Mainer. Maybe we’ll make pancakes and maple syrup to make it a Maine Christmas! (If only we could get some needhams and moxie over here!)

Last weekend I actually got a chance to catch the later train up to Daegu to spend time with Jaime (for her first weekend in Korea!) We had a good time roaming the downtown streets of Daegu (I actually found a pair of skinny jeans that I fit into...) and we pretty much fell in love with every pair of shoes we saw in all the little shoe shops. We also had a subway adventure, ate some Korean food and Italian food, went to E-Mart (which is like Wal Mart at home.) We got a lot of walking in and were exhausted by the end of every night.

On my way home early Monday morning, I took the Mugungwah train back to Gupo station, and took the subway home rather than taking a taxi... so I feel like a native to the country while sitting amongst everyone on the train and subway... I mean despite the fact all I can say is “hello, thank you, and -- can I have a beer, please” ... and I suppose I don’t really look like I fit in either. But Korea is feeling homier than I expected it to be. I might even miss kimchi when I leave :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How is it already December 17th?! Tomorrow is my third week here in Korea already and it doesn’t seem possible. I got a call from my dear friend Jaime who arrived in Daegu today, so I will be taking my first big adventure on the train to Daegu Friday to spend the weekend with her. We’re hoping to explore the downtown area of Daegu a bit and just get to know the area she’s in... so I’m definitely looking forward to it.

My goal now is to feel better so I’ll have energy for the weekend. I caught my first cold (everyone I’m teaching with has been sick this past week... and now it’s my turn.) So I’m super thankful that my Aunt Sarah gave me her super amazing tea concoctions before I left because they’re saving me right now. I think it’s been a mix between everyone else being sick, my body adjusting to a new sleep pattern, and the fact that I pulled an all-nighter this past Saturday night (which was totally worth this cold by the way.) I got to see the sunrise at Haeundae beach, which I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to do during my first three weeks here.

This weekend was a last farewell get-together for one of the girls at our branch who leaves tomorrow morning, so we went all out and did dinner together, and then there was a dance club called Maktum, then I hung out at a casino for a bit (which is nothing like I know American casinos to be... here they’re quiet like a library and you aren’t suppose to shout when you win.. odd, but relaxing) After leaving the casino I spent three hours walking around the beach area and discovered that people are up at the crack of dawn to sell the fresh catch of the day... there were big plastic buckets filled with octopus (yes they eat it, and yes it’s still moving when they eat it... no thanks) as well as crabs, some ugly looking fish with an under bite, and these squirmy slimy eel-looking things. Very interesting.

So anyways, I slept all day Sunday in time to eat dinner and then go back to bed until Monday morning... but I still haven’t quite recovered.

sooo... I’ve been living off of peanut butter, apples, bananas, apple-pears (it’s a Korean thing), eggs and toast. Well, these are the things I have in my apartment as of right now... but I have been able to go out to eat quite a bit. A place called Starface owned by an Aussie who likes to chat it up with the foreigners who come through. Another place is called Sunset Lounge which is described as a Western style bar (yes that means North America) which plays any football or hockey game you want to watch from back home, and the last popular place I’ve been is Korean Barbeque also known as “galbie” I know the spelling is wrong, but that’s how it sounds. I’ve eaten galbie at a few different places and it’s always great. Usually pork.. it’s like the Korean version of bacon, but thicker... and it comes with sides like garlic, kimchi, green onions, soy bean paste (my fav), and salad leaves (that you use to wrap up your ingredients of choice) When I come home, I will miss this food.

Teaching is still going well, but I think the kids are beginning to see me as a softy. (There just so cute... it’s hard not to give in!) I still haven’t given anyone “Jeshi” (pronounced: Jay- shee) which is like detention. But tomorrow I buckle down... or that’s the plan anyway. If I’m still sick enough maybe I’ll be grumpy enough to show no mercy...

So far my favorite class is an I7 class with three girls and one boy. They’re around 11 or 12 I’d guess, but they’re always asking questions and interested in learning other words/ phrases related to the lessons... or just during warm ups and review at the beginning of class, they have questions about how America is different and if I have learned any Korean words. We’re not allowed to speak any Korean in the classroom, but it’s always fun to sneak in a few words. (You become a cool teacher when you do this... but shhh... I never told you this.)

Oh! Also, new news! I got my alien card today, so tomorrow I’ll have a bank account... which means soon I can have a cellphone and wireless at my apartment!!! Whoo Hoo! To be connected with the world once again! In Temple, Maine I didn’t really have a problem being disconnected for a while.. but in a different country... well... it’s nice to have the option to communicate.