Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Can’t say there is a good reason for my hiatus on blogging, guess my life no longer feels as adventurous and odd as it once did. After 10 months I am feeling pretty comfortable in my day to day and I have made the final decision to not re-sign my teaching contract. Not that I don’t love Seoul and I think it would be impossible to find better friends than the ones I’ve made here. But my little nieces aren’t staying babies and I’ve got a wedding to take part in this summer. Although, I am not quite ready to give up my travels just yet so hopefully I will only be back in the states for about 6 months before I head down to South America or maybe Thailand.
Instead of talking about the pending future I think it might be necessary to recap the last two months.
First there was Halloween. That week at school I had prepared a special Halloween lesson. I taught my students a little bit about the history and traditions and I mistakenly promised them candy. They just had to find me on Friday and say “trick or treat.” This ended up being a very ambitious promise seeing how I have almost 600 students, who easily cornered me in my classroom turning my “trick or treat” activity into complete mayhem. Needless to say they didn’t quite understand the one piece of candy each rule.
I decided this year to dress up as Minnie Mouse, seeing how there were only a handful of costumes at E-mart to choose from. The girls on the other hand got a little more creative and made very cute shark costumes. The festivities in Seoul were pretty good for a country that doesn’t actually celebrate the holiday.
After Halloween was my mom’s arrival, which I was really looking forward to not only was I going to show my mom my life here but also, I was getting a whole suitcase of Trader Joe’s goodies. My mom brought more chocolate, sweets and candy then I knew what do with.

I took my mom to all the standard Seoul sights. The palaces, the museums, the tower and of course the foreigners bars. She had a great time meeting all my friends, having a few beers, playing darts and sharing some embarrassing stories.
During the week my mom came to school everyday to get a taste of my daily Korean lunch. All the teachers were so excited to meet her and the vice principal couldn’t stop taking pictures of us. My mom made such a good impression on my principal during their teatime visit, that he let me leave school early everyday. I was so overwhelmed by schools respect for family and the kind words they offered my mom about my performance.
That weekend my mom and I got a little adventurous and took a trip to Beijing. It’s just a short 2-hour plane ride away but a world away from the modern comforts of Korea. Not wanting to shock my mom with my whimsical and budget travel techniques, I agreed to get a tour guide. Probably one of the best decisions ever, with only three days in the thousand-year-old city of Beijing we needed an experts help to cover all that ground.
As soon as we stepped off the plane our tour guide “Tommy” was there to greet us. He was a young slender and pretty much all around cheerful Chinese guy who spoke really good English. We also had our own personal driver for the weekend, Mr. Boa. He was very professional and even drives some heads of states around when he's not toting tourist all over Beijing.
On our first day Tommy took us to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and to the top of a park that overlooked both places. Unfortunately the weather was about -5 degrees Celsius all day but we did a fair amount of walking so we didn’t really get a chance to cool down much.

After lunch we took a rickshaw ride through the Hutong streets of Beijing. They are the traditional small alleys ways and housing that surround the ancient capital. We even had a chance to sit down and speak with an interesting local Chinese woman who shared some life stories with us. After our muddy rickshaw ride Tommy took us to the home of the 2008 summer Olympics. I got to see the famous bird’s nest of the opening ceremony and the ice cube where Michael Phelps won his seven gold medals. Guess we were about a year shy of all the real action.
Day two we had another full day. We took a two-hour drive outside of Beijing to the Great Wall. To reach the top of the wall we took cable cars up and then hiked along the wall for a few hours. The great wall was really breath taking and it was great Tommy was there to give us lots of history and knowledge about the wall. The best part was taking the single rider toboggans down the hill. I was a little less adventurous then my mom who came speeding down the hill almost catching my tail on the way down.

Next up we went to a Chinese fish restaurant, where you can actually catch your lunch. I don’t how but I managed to catch my very own trout in 5 minutes. Apparently I was the only guest Tommy had even seen catch one. But as soon as I pulled the fish out the water and saw him gasping for air and flopping around I wanted to throw back in. It was a little too late for that and he did make for a tasty lunch.
After lunch we drove out to the Summer Palace. An extensive piece of real estate, complete with lake and marble boat, where the Emperor and Empress use to spend their summer days.

My favorite part of Beijing had to have been the Silk Street market Tommy turned us on to. Not only did I get to exercise my professional bargaining skills, I got to school my mom a little bit too. My poor mom is just too kind and too friendly for the haggling markets, I swear every time I turned around she was being hustled into making an outrageously overpriced purchase. But in the end our good cop bad cop routine got us some pretty sweet deals on some black markets goods. We did so well I am even considering taking orders from overseas to fund my next trip.
In the end we had a great time in Beijing and our tour guide made for an extremely easy and carefree trip. I am glad my mom got to experience and compare the two Asian countries. Beijing was an amazing city with history so old it’s hard for our young American country to really grasp.
I felt so grateful to have my mom come all this way to spend time with me. It will really make my last three months here that much easier. I know I was the envy of all my friends who were eating my mom up. It’s only going to get harder as the holidays start approaching and the long absences from our families start to sink in.
Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving this year was fairly traditional. Well, by traditional I mean I worked all day and celebrated with a buffet style Turkey dinner at a South African Sports bar with only 5 other Americans. The real celebration was on Friday night at a friend’s house in my neighborhood. Thanks to my mom’s care package I was able to make the stuffing and the classic green bean casserole complete with fried onions. Our dinner had all the fixin’s except the pumpkin pie and my tofurkey but still delicious and filling. So, really this year I got two days of Thanksgiving dinner, what’s not to be thankful for?

And speaking of gratitude, I recently had a humble experience. The girls and I signed up to do a temple stay in the countryside of Korea two weeks ago. We had a pleasant time drinking tea with the monks, doing a silent meditation walk in the forest, making prayer beads and lotus lanterns, waking up at 3am to chant and do 108 bows. Wish I had some pictures to share but to me it never really felt appropriate to snap shots when trying to achieve enlightenment. I just wished my fellow temple stayers had felt the same way, instead the peaceful retreat was more like the paparazzi at the red carpet. Either way its has been nice to get away from the crazy nightlife scene of Seoul for the past few weeks but I think that means trouble is a brewing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Konichiwa Japanland

Ok so I am about two weeks behind on keeping up with things. For Chesok (Korean Thanksgiving) we went on a little trip overseas. I signed up for a biking trip to the Japanese island Tsushima for three days. I guess I didn’t read the small print but I figured biking meant a leisurely stroll around the island. Well, I guessed wrong.
I should start with the beginning of our trip. After work on Thursday we meet up our group and took an overnight bus to the southern city of Busan, from there we hoped a two hour ferry to the Tsushima. This is where my reality came crashing down, not only would I be biking for the next 6 hours after awkwardly sleeping on a bus I would be carrying all of my belongs (a thirty pound backpack). After hours of rolling hills, reminders of how out shape I might be and some help of a friend who spoke Japanese we made our campground just before sunset.

That night we enjoyed fresh sushi from the supermarket and delicious Japanese beer around the campfire. I was so sore from that day’s excursion I could barely sit down and I was not looking forward to another full day of bike riding but I did get to take our rental car for a little joy ride. I don't know what was weirder that fact that I was driving which I haven't done in 10 months or that I was on the left hand side.
After some moaning and groaning we convinced our group leader to carry our bags in the car to our next destinations. This made the 8-hour day of biking through the rural island with the occasional stop for water and ice cream, way more bearable. As we climbed the last hill to our motel destination the full moon hung low in sky against a breath taking view, almost making the journey worth it. I was so exhausted I think I went to bed at 9pm on Saturday!! But not before prancing around in our complimentary kimonos and sipping on the best green tea ever.

The next morning we woke up early to watch the sunrise over the water and then enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing at a near by beach. I was trying to even out the horrible tan lines I had acquired from riding in the sun all weekend. When the trip was all said and done we had biked over 75km in two days!

That evening we took the ferry back to Busan but the girls and I decided we didn’t want to end our fun. We got the name of a cheap motel and a fun area to go out and extending our vacation for one more day. Probably one of the best decisions ever. Our cheap little love motel room had a gorgeous view of the Busan Bridge, apparently how the city got the name “San Francisco of Korea”. I could see some of similarities. The people were a little more kick back and casual then the fast paced sophisticated Seoulites.

We ended up having one of the best nights ever. We meet some crazy English boys (surprise surprise) and a generous Korean named Kevin who took us to a private Norebong (Korean karaoke). It’s a miracle I have lasted this long not ever going to one, it was only a matter of time. Kevin really pulled out all the stops buying us bottles of wine, beer, cheese and fruit plates.
I have to say Norebongs are a ton fun banging on tambourines and friends singing out of tune, what not to love? Not that I actually sang a single note but I would definitely go again just for the joy of watching everyone else embarrass themselves.

The next day, we spent the day on the beautiful sandy beach soaking up the last rays of sunshine. I am still in complete denial about this real winter thing with freezing temperatures and snow that is approaching shortly.
Final verdict: Busan was awesome. I feel guilty it took me so long to get down, even made me question why I hadn’t considered living there before. Japan was even cooler. The people were extremely friendly and I felt I learned more Japanese in two days then I have learned Korean. But biggest discovery Japan beer is yummy and way better then Korean!! Next I got to get over to Tokyo better it is even better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chug Chug....

Things are just chugging along here. Not much is new so updating seems a little mundane. It's actually quite frightening how much I have adjusted to my life in Korea.
Last week we celebrated Brittany's birthday in true Korean androgyny style. Everyone showed up, almost half of our friends we meet in Thailand we there! We had a blast kickin it in the park for 6 hours before making it to our favorite messy western bars where we stayed till morning.
The week before that we had another killer weekend at Global Gathering, an international festival that brought in some world-class bands and DJ's. Not to mention, two of my favorite Korean pop groups also made an appearance. Which always makes me feel like a ten year old teeny bop at a an NSYNC concert
In other recent news I was selected as one of the Native English teachers to teach other Korean teachers from my school district. It means 6 hours more a week of teaching and working till 7 most nights. But it’s a great way to get some more Adult ESL teaching experience and the pay is pretty sweet too!
After almost 8 months away from home, I feel like I have lost touch with what all the cool kids are doing. I have totally forgotten that is not normal for men to carry a purse have way more stylish haircuts or wear tighter pants then me or that staying out till 7am is crazy! I can't even remember what is like to go the grocery store and be able to read all the labels, or have a conversation with a cab drive or let alone understand what anyone is saying anywhere! I have come accustom to the daily challenges of living in Korea, which has in no way encouraged me to learn Korean. Still really sad I only know 7 words, oh well.
The time is almost approaching where I will need to make the fatal decision to resign my contract for another year or pack my bags. My head has been spinning in circles, if feels like the hell of graduating college and not having a clue what to do with your life. My train of thought is going something like this 1. Stay in Korea another year (or 6 months) continue living my amazing life with the greatest friends I could've ever asked for and even save a little bit more money. 2. Go back America, probably just for the summer, visit my family and friends before jetting off to another country (which is a whole another decision) to teach English. 3. Use my free flight home to go to India or Thailand and live as cheap for long as possible...

What is making this so hard? It's relationships! Thank god I don’t have a boyfriend to worry about because parting ways with my buddies here will be hard enough and not seeing my nieces for another 6 months might kill me!! The life of a nomad is not easy but there are so many countries and places to see and my free spirited 20's will only last for so long . . . (approx 6.5 years before society really expects me to be reproducing and such)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thailand Love

I learned how to use iMovie and I made this rad video of my latest trip to Thailand. Its a walk through my 16 days in paradise, so sit back and take look!

Friday, September 4, 2009

I love my life ! (Thailand Edition)

I have a lot updating to do for the last four weeks and so much has happened. Andrew (my completely platonic counterpart from SD) arrived the first week of August. We only had a few days to check out Seoul before your trip abroad. So naturally we put on our matching outfits (it wasn’t entirely on purpose but we fit right in with all the other young twin outfit wearing couples). We took the cable cars up to the top of Seoul Tower on probably one of the most humid days.
Just imagine shoving 20 people into a glass box with no air in direct sunlight for 10 minutes. Seoul Tower is the tallest point in the city and the only way to really grasp the magnitude of 18 million plus people all living together.
I could hardly wait for Friday to arrive. I had pretty much been taking about summer vacation since the first day of school and for even longer then that I had been anticipating my return to Thailand. With our backpacks packed and only 20 minutes till we left for the airport, a representative form the airline called my cell phone to inform me that all their flight for the evening had been cancelled. She tried to politely explain to me that there was a natural disaster in Taipei (where all their flights connected) and there was no way I was getting to Thailand in the next 24 hours. With only one flight serviced to Bangkok my chances for getting a seat on the next flight were looking slim. To make a boring story short I cancelled my flight with the airline called a friend’s Korean travel agent and booked two direct tickets to BKK airport for first thing in the morning for only about $80 bucks more then my original flight. In my moment of stress and self-absorption that my holiday was totally being interrupted I barely even acknowledged the seriousness of the disaster in Taipei. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how grave the situation was and regret being uncooperative with the airline. Having just been to Taipei in May I hope they are able to mend and recover quickly.
In the end everything worked out for the better. Once the wheels of the plane touched down in Thailand I wanted to jump out the window. I was so anxious to be there; the food, the people, the smells, the sights and the SangSom! What would I do first? Well there is really only one place on the agenda of a backpacker passing through Bangkok, Kho Saun Road. Without any preparation or explanation I was rushing Andrew and I into the nearest cab straight into Bangkok chaos. I guess I can understand why his first reaction was “Did you really just make me travel half way around the world to visit another Tijuana?” He soon would understand that although Bangkok might not be glamorous it is a place unlike another and can hardly be compared to Mexico.
First on my list of things to do was track down my Brummies mates. I hadn’t seen them in almost six months ago since our course ended. As soon as we were reunited we fell right back into our old banter, or I should better said they starting taking a piss at me with in the first 5 minutes. It was great to catch up with them and learn about how their teaching experience was going in Bangkok.
One can really only spend some much time in BKK before the constant heat and smell of your own sweat gets to you. We spent Sunday checking out the Grand Palace, eating great street food and getting lost walking around. I discovered why you can get some pretty heavy duty sleeping aids over the counter in Thailand. How else could you spend 14 hours on a night train and another 2 on ferry and not even realized it happened? It was the easiest 18 hours of traveling I’ve ever had.

So when we arrived in Ko Toa early Monday afternoon and within 20 minutes of docking the boats we had ran into Andrew’s old roommate and found you a place to stay for the next week, I knew this trip was going to be epic. The boys decided to sign up for an open water dive course, which is the main attraction on Ko Toa. It is fairly inexpensive and one of the best spots to dive.I had to pass up the opportunity because the thought of setting an alarm and following a schedule while on vacation made me cringe. So I got to spend the next 7 days hanging out solo in our beachfront bungalow catching up with the sun.

Ko Toa was a chill island with lots of backpackers who had just come from the crazy full moon party and were now taking it easy. I enjoyed the vibe, meet some nice people and saw some amazing sunsets. Only drawback was losing my camera, which was totally my fault for leaving it with the passed out guy while a group of us went for a late night ocean dip. When I came back from the water my small purse with my camera inside was gone and the cushions had been collected, leading me to believe that someone behind the bar probably nicked it. I didn’t have too many pictures but it was a new camera and my third one this year. Around day 8 on Ko Toa, after Brittany had joined us, we realized it was time to move on a see some more islands. It’s just so hard when your in a place that doesn’t seem like it could get any more beautiful to pack up your bags and spend the day on a ferry.

Once we reached Ko Phangan we were exhausted and could hardly be bothered to wonder around the island looking for the cheapest accommodations. Thank God we didn’t settle for our first stop, a hotel that was charging $60 bucks a night, an absolute outrageous price for anywhere in Thailand. We set our sights on Mellow Mountain not really sure what we were expecting. After a small trek up the mountain, which was only accessible by beach, we had found our paradise. A prefect bungalow tucked away from the heat up in the jungle hills of Ko Phangan for only $10 a night. I thought I was going to cry when he showed use our place, a wraparound porch with a hammock, a king size bed, a fan, bathroom (no hot water or flush toilet) overlooking the entire peninsula including views of sunrise and sunset.

Ko Phangan is notoriously know as the party island, hosting the world famous Full Moon party that can attract 30,000 in peak season. We unfortunately were about 1 week two late or 3 weeks to early till the next big beach bash. So the crowd wasn’t too big during our visit but enough to keep our interest for 5 days. The oddest thing about being on Ko Phangan was how messed up my sense of direction got. It took be a minute to get use the sun rising on the water and the coast being on the opposite side. The sun was so intense in the mornings we could barely stand to lay on the sand or swim in the too hot ocean.
On one day in particular we decided to beat the heat in the tattoo parlor. Brittany and I had been talking about getting traditional Thai bamboo tattoos since our last trip. We had looked at a few shops before and I was starting to have second guesses about the whole thing. Brittany was pretty gun-ho about getting hers and once we got into this shop and starting talking to the guys she was all in. We sat and talked to the artist for a while flipping through the ancient Buddhist protection book, of Sak Yant. Which are sacred geometric shapes that were tattooed to soldiers by Thai Buddhist monks before they went to battle. Only monks can actually read their text. As soon as Om (our tattoo artist) showed me the picture I knew I wanted it. It’s meaning is to bring love to myself those around me, for wellness and peace.

I watched Brittany go first, once the bamboo started hitting her skin I was waiting for her reaction but it never came. I was worried she was in shock but she just said it didn’t hurt and could barely feel it. Hers took a little less then an hour and before I knew it I lying on by side with a needle to my skin. Mine was not as painless as Brittany’s. There were a few spots I thought I might start crying but I held it back and within 40 minutes it was complete. The great thing about bamboo tattoos is there is no bleeding; you can go in the sun and swimming right after. I honestly would never get a tattoo with a gun ever again.
I now have a lasting token of Thailand and how much the country has changed me. It truly is a place that I can’t describe. All I know is when I am there I am so content in the deepest part of my heart. I have nothing more then a backpack and could never imagine having anymore. I do not worry about things, people, places, time or dates. I never had a watch, checked my email once and never really knew what day it was. It just brings you back down to earth and into the present, no future, no past.
I really feel in love with our place and I even made great friends with the magic shake bartender Max. He had some great words of wisdom and was cool enough to invite us to his small birthday party at the bar. I would honestly live up on that mountain for the rest of time, well minus the fact that the beach bars played their music loud enough for space to hear every night from 10pm till 6am in the morning. I mean the beach is pretty much a ghost town until noon and no once even thinks about going out until 11.

When our stay at mellow mountain had to come to an end we signed up to take the overnight ferry to Ko Phi Phi. Again, I can’t stress the importance of sleeping aids when dealing with an 8-hour sleeper boat that was turbulently rocking, a bus ride and another long ferry ride. Making for another 14 hour trip but as soon as we could see where we were headed, we understood why everyone calls this the best places in Thailand.

Ko Phi Phi was breathtaking, a huge beach, clear water as far out as you could swim and rocks protruding out of the water like a small Yosemite. We had planned to take a boat taxi over to see “the Beach” where the movie was filmed but weather and a little bit too much partying got in the way of it this time. I have a feeling I keep leaving out important things to do and see in Thailand because I have to leave something to do when I come back next time (which might be as early as December).
As you are island hopping you meet people from all over the world Ireland, Finland, Israel, Italy and of course the English. They all come for different reasons, holiday from Uni or celebrating release from the military but everyone measures their trip the same way, the day they have to snap back into reality and find their way back to Bangkok to go home.

After Ko Phi Phi it was all the way back up to BKK and almost 48 hours of straight travel but seriously sleep aids are the best. I felt like I floated up the coast. I did some last minute gift shopping and got my hair re-straightened (I am obsessed with magic straight). We were on the red-eye flight back to Seoul so we only had the afternoon is BKK.

Our flight was now getting in about an hour before the first day of class. Fortunately Korea’s government is super paranoid about swine flu and has ordered all teachers that leave the country to self-quarantine for 7 days after reentering. This basically meant I got some real time to recover from my vacation, readjust and show Andrew around the city some more. I guess it wasn’t all paranoia because one of my co-teachers actually caught H1N1. She thinks she got it while vacationing in Thailand but she said it was really no big deal, went to the doctor, felt sick for a few days and has now fully recovered.
During my second little vacation in Seoul I took Andrew to a few palaces and museums, but most importantly I showed him how we party on the weekends here. This also meant we spent a lot of time in recover mode in my small studio apartment that somehow began growing mold while I was away. Who knew your suppose to crack the windows in humid climates so your apartment does turn into a Petri dish.
When Tuesday rolled around it was back to reality. I sent Andrew on his way and I headed back to school. I forgot how much I love living with other people and not being alone so much. It was good to get back into the groove and see all my students again especially when most of them keep pointing to my skin with very concerned looks. Like teacher why are you so dark? I am still trying to work on my explanation, that’s it’s ok I want to be this color. It’s a good thing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I did it!! I bungeed off a 52 meter bridge by my ankles (opposed to the less adventures waist option) For this trip Brittany and I tried a different travel group called Adventure Korea. We have had such good luck with these groups. All we do it wire a little chunk of change in exchange for a hassle-free and action packed day. The trips have also been a great way to meet other out going English teachers from all over Korea.
Two charter buses full of foreigners departed the station at 8am. We arrived at our scenic location just two and half-hours after leaving Seoul. First on the agenda was some white water rafting (or more like clam river cruising). Our boat of 9 was lead by a little energetic Korean, who named us “A-team”. I don’t know how he knew the title of Brittany’s and I running joke but I knew it meant today was going to be epic.
The rafting ride was 7km of gentle rapids and lots of Korean chanting. I think I even picked up a few new Korean phrases. The river was lined with a dozen or so beautiful waterfalls and some very interesting rocks that were supposedly formed by volcanic lava.

After our rafting and lunch break we made our way to the bridge of doom. Not wanting to hesitate (or miss my opportunity like last time). I rushed to the font of the bungee line. After signing my initials and jumping on the scale I was on the ledge with straps around my ankles with only 3 people in front of me. I was so nervous to jump I couldn’t bear watching the jumpers in front of me. I was mostly trying to concentrate on which diving technique I would use. Before I knew it, the bungee cord was attached to my legs and I was being given the clear to jump.

As soon as I put my toes on the edge I freaked out. I looked down and thought no way can I just dive off this bridge. I knew it was too late to turn around now and the longer I waited the worst it would get. So I had to did and quick.
I shut my eyes for one second, gave out a yell and dove off the ledge. Taking that step was probably the scariest moment in my life.
Once I opened my eyen I was falling head first towards the water. I actually went so far down my hands touched the water. Then I immediately shot all the way back up, almost to my original jump off spot. At this point I was still screaming at the top of my lungs and was not looking forward to falling straight back down, but I did. This repeated it self about 3 times before I eventually lost momentum and started spinning in circles by ankles until the man in the rowboat came to my rescue and unhooked my legs. Once I was safely in the boot, I realized my entire body was shaking and that my blood-curdling scream had caught the attention of every person in the surrounding 5km. Thank god my friend on land captured the whole thing. Check it out! You can hear me scream!
From Maddy in the East

Looking back I wouldn’t say bungee jumping was “fun”. It was just down right terrifying. I was scared the entire time. Your body doesn’t react well to free falling for that long. I think it was defiantly scarier then sky diving but I am glad I did.
Once I got home I noticed my ankles were a little larger then normal. I figured they just weren’t use to carrying my entire body weight upside down by a bungee cord. Well two days later my right foot (the one that ruined my summer last year) was really bothering me. I taking my mothers advice and advantage of my free health coverage and popped over to the clinic. With some pointing and a couple broken English sentences the doctors decided I needed acupuncture. I have never had oriental medicine but I figured why not. They took me to the back and stuck six needles in my legs for about 20 minutes. It was painful at all but I am not sure what it is suppose to do. My foot still hurts but maybe its one of those things that takes awhile to set in. I will let you know how it turns out. I am off to the airport to pick up Andrew!! Then we are off to magical Thailand on Friday.