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.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I was on the plane for roughly nine hours by the time I allowed myself to look at the map of where we were and how much longer I would have to wait. The flight path showed that we were over Russia. Russia?! I think this is when it hit me... that I was actually flying to South Korea. I looked over the window and we were close to a city at night where lights were sparkling below...

A friend of mine visiting Italy told me before I left: "Prepare to fall in love with this world." And I think it was Thanksgiving day on the plane to South Korea is when I realized what a beautiful world we live in.

I landed at Icheon airport in Seoul around 4:30am November 27th (South Korean time of course) and spent a few hours in the airport waiting for my next flight to take off at 8:15am for Daegu, another hour flight after getting off the fourteen and a half hour flight. I spoke with a girl who had been visiting Vietnam for a few months... we found each other easily in the sea of shiny black-haired people and being the only blondes :-) She was waiting for her brother to meet her there since he has been at some University in Seoul for a while. Most of the time we just kept each other company for a bit until I had to check in.

I got to Daegu at 10am, and someone was at the airport waiting for me. I was taken to what they call a "love hotel".. and despite the name it was very clean. I was told I would be picked up at 4pm for training, and then I was left there. I cried... no, I wept... It was like over-dramatic soap opera crying. Then I fell asleep until 3, got ready for training and was brought to the school. After meeting some of the teachers in Daegu and watching them teach (and how adorable the students were) I felt a lot better. But I won't lie, the first 24 hours were rough just knowing that I had already made a commitment to stay here for a year. The only time I ate was when I was with someone for the first 4 days in Daegu... but I'm pretty sure my first Saturday night made up for the four days I was there. We went out for three dinners, which I learned is typical in Korea. First I went for Korean barbecue and failed miserably with chopsticks (and burned my finger... which blistered instantly... ow) Second was boiled beef, and last was chicken. To work it all off we went to a Noribong (a singing room... or rather karaoke room you rent with friends to use for singing and drinking... a wonderful combo)

Sunday I was taken out for Sushi (which was amazing, AND cheap compared to home) and dessert was a waffle with chocolate and whipped cream on top, quite filling. Monday through Wednesday I observed teaching more and went through a little training. Wednesday night I moved into my apartment here in Busan. My apartment is one big room with a kitchen, table, bed, a couple closets and a separate bathroom. The heat comes from the floor and it's been a little cool lately, but I rather be a little cool than too hot in the summer.

As for the teaching: I've been in the classroom for a little over a week now, and am really loving it. I'm still getting used to all the classes and what level they're at, but we're getting better at charades :-) A lot of the kids I teach already have quite a bit of vocabulary down and all the students have already learned how to read and write English from their Korean school. The school I teach at is a separate academy that is in session from 3:30pm-9:05pm... so some of these kids are in school from 8am-9 or 10pm. They go to a Korean school, then maybe a flute/piano academy, then some sports related academy, maybe another language academy, and last, English Academy. I don't know what these kids eat for breakfast... but I think I need some.

Busan continues to be beautiful, and I'm exploring it one block at a time. With roughly 3.6 million people I'm still taking baby steps... You can't expect much more from a girl from Temple, Maine... or can you? :-)