Friday, March 27, 2009

One down Eleven to go

I can’t believe I have already been here for a month and away from home for 9 weeks! I feel like I just stepped off the plane and only my first day in the classroom. After a month I feel obligated to do some reflecting on my new life in Korea. Overall, if you couldn’t already tell I am having a blast. My life is busier then I had imagined, less lonely then I had anticipated and definitely not as scary as I had feared. One of my biggest hesitations before signing a years teaching contract was the forty hour workweek. I wasn’t looking forward to joining the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday crowd, that I had been avoiding ever since graduation but I have to say, it’s not that bad. Maybe it’s my light workload or my early bedtime but I wake up on time, for the most part and the weekdays seem to fly by.
Day to day life in Korea is going smoothly, I finally started running into some of the other English teachers that live in or near my building. I am excited to have some contacts in my area but worried in might interfere with my new 10:30 bedtime. I haven’t really ventured out too much in my neighborhood due to the lack of my Korean language skills and the frigid temperatures. I have yet to even master Hello, you would think after four weeks and hundreds of encounters I would be able to say “Annyeong haseyo” but it’s about three syllables to long. This was especially annoying when the phone in my classroom would not stop ringing yesterday. I picked up the first five times only to realize it was going to be a very short conversation, seeing how I didn’t understand a single word they were saying or vice versa. It felt very rude hanging up on someone after about 3 seconds but we were clearly not getting anywhere. Then I had to uncomfortably spend the rest of the afternoon pretending that my phone wasn’t ringing. So my Korean is a work in progress and one of the many goals I’ve set for myself in the next year.
I hate that I like Korean food so much. I was under the impression I would come to Asia and lose weight. I guess I am still in that “I’m on vacation” mode and “I’ve never had that, I have to try it!” So I have been trying every fried pastry waffle street food thing I see and I have fallen in love with several sweet snacks from the convenience stores (Korea loves 7-11 just as much as Thailand). I eat lunch at school everyday, which is hit or miss. Sometimes there are plenty of veggies dishes and other days its just rice and kimchi for me, which is fine by me when the main meat dish is DOG (no joke!) or chewy octopus! I mostly cook dinner at home, the grocery store is at the bottom of my building and I buy my fruits and veggies at the little street stands. It’s hard to go out to eat when you cant read Hongul (Korean) or verbally express anything. I have a hard enough time at the grocery store trying to play pictionary with every product, hoping I am buying what looks like soy sauce but not sure because they have an entire isle dedicated to bottles that all look like soy sauce.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I spy with my little eye...

In order to register as an alien of Korea there a few hoops you have to jump through. One being the invasive medical check that requires a veil of blood (my arm still looks like I’m a IV user), a cup of urine, HIV test, drug screening, chest x-ray, color blind test, eye exam and a measurement of my bust line (not quite sure about this one). I picked up my results a few days later from the hospital and I was relieved to find I passed! I don’t what any of these tests have to do with my teaching abilities, seeing how they are almost exclusively required for foreign English teachers, it seems to be Korea’s safeguard against disabled drug using westerners teaching their children.
I had to take my medical report directly to the immigration office in order to apply for my residency so I can obtain important things like a cell phone and Internet service in my apartment. I’ve been in no rush to accomplish either of these things seeing how it is much cheaper to steal Internet from my neighbors and I am enjoying the flashback to life before cell phones. I can honestly count the times I have touched a phone in the past 9 weeks and I am coping quite well. It’s amazing when you actually have to pick a place and time to meet someone and then follow through! You can’t call and cancel or shoot a text that you’re running late; I think it is improving my character.
With all my recent travels to and from the hospital and immigration. I’ve had some time to do some quality people watching. I have been making some interesting and very general observations about my fellow Seoulites. I first have to mention the fashion, before I came I had no idea what to expect. Would it be like the funky style of Tokyo or would be an out-dated version of America?
I quickly learned Korean have a style all their own. It might just be the city thing but I never feel shame walking home wearing my clothes from the night before because everyone is else is dressed up too! The color palate is mostly mute tones and hair colors range from black to dark brown. There is either a serious eye sight epidemic or glasses are the newest fashion accessory because I say about 60% of people here wear glasses. They are mostly funky thick Ray Ban frames that may or may not have actual prescription lens in them. So here are some general ideas for those of you that are curious what is gonna on in the fashion realm over here:
Women: Black tights and super cute high heels are a must, along with a sport leather jacket. An expensive bag, preferably Gucci, Louis Vuitton or Coach, are essential. A clean classy look, oversized sweaters and blouses but still feminine. Think New York City minus the crazy funk.
Men: I find the men’s fashion way more fascinating. They defiantly take their clothes just as serious as the women, designer jeans and the latest tennies. Preppy sweaters under fitted blazers and a baseball hat (usually Yankee’s and I can’t tell if Koreans love NY or they have no clue what their wearing). But my favorite thing about the men has to be the man purse also referred to as a man bag. Since I am going through ladyboy withdrawals man bags are the closest thing I get to androgynous behavior. Man purses came in various shapes and styles and are carried by the young, old, student and professional. There is the over the shoulder bag, hang at the side bag, the clutch and it might be a women’s purse being carried by a man but the same designer rules apply to men as to women, so Gucci and Louis are the most desirable.
Okay that’s enough about clothes (that ones just for my fashion divas) another thing I’ve noticed about Koreans is that they are absolutely obsessed with their cell phones. I mean people in So-cal are too but this takes it to a new level. It is completely appropriate to pick up your cell phone at anytime, i.e. staff meetings, while your teaching, mid conversation and any other time it rings. If their not directly talking to someone, they are texting, and if their not texting, their checking their phone to make sure their not receiving any incoming messages. If communication isn’t possible then they have their headphones in, antenna up and are watching TV on their 2in cell phone screens, which is probably one of the reasons they are all wearing glasses. But what cracks me up the most is the cell phone jewelry. Every single phone no matter if you’re a grandma, serious CEO, or a fifteen year old boy you have shit hanging from your cell phone. I really can’t even tell you what it is, sometime their pointless key chains, mirrors, USB cards, good luck charms, screen cleaners or subway cards. As much as I would like to say I wont join this group of idiots with bedazzled phones. I think it is almost inevitable that I will. I am sure I will find some charm that I just cant live without it hanging from my phone.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Erin go' Korea

Saturday was another eventful outing in Seoul. It started with a little St. Patrick's day festival and parade in the center of town. It was pretty much a meet up of the foreigners in the metropolitan area looking for an excuse to wear ridiculous green outfits. There was some traditional Irish music and not much else... besides the free Guinness!!!! (which was almost identifiably watered down). Brittany and I tried to gulp down as much free beer as we could before our poor limbs couldn't take the cold anymore. We continued our festivities indoors at some of the local pubs running into a few friends. I am always shocked every time I run into someone I know here. In a city of 10 million and out the thousands of bars, what are the chances I see the handful people I know every time I am out. Later on we headed out in Hondgea to get the dance party started. We did some major bar hopping adding and losing some friends along the way, and finally finding the anticipated dance floor around 2am. The club was playing some quality techno house tunes, just my style and one of the many reasons I know I am going to have an amazing year in Seoul. But once again we found ourselves in the 4am how do we get home predicament? And there are really only a few options, pay for the expensive cab ride all the way home, keep dancing till they kick us out of the club or go eat somewhere until the metro starts running. Of course we chose to have our favorite fourth meal of the day. Thanks goodness we were with one meat eater, otherwise they refuse to serve two vegetarians because to Koreans that qualifies as not eating. After a very filling Korean spread it was finally time to call it wrap and catch the train home and I think I can proudly say I celebrated my heritage in true Irish fashion, with a marathon binge!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nights out in Seoul

Last weekend I had my first experience out on the town in Seoul and... I couldn't be happier. I was able reunite with the whole ATI crew at a nice Mexican style restaurant in Iteawon (foreigners central) last Saturday. After warning my fellow English teachers about their upcoming orientation and listening to their helpful advice about their first week of teaching, we hit the town. The Koh Chang girls were back in action! We meet up with new friends I meet at the SMOE orientation and danced the night away! We went to a sweet underground bar in the Hongdea area. Hondgea is over flowing with bar, clubs, restaurants and loads of young people. Its right by the University so the drinks are pretty economical and everything stays open 24-7. The unfortunate thing about Seoul is that the metro closes at 11:30 and doesn't open up until 6am so this makes it pretty difficult to get home. There are tons of cabs but they can get pretty expensive. So at 2am when we couldn't dance anymore we decided to kill some time till the subway were back and running. First we tried to get some late night vegetarian food, which apparently is a four-letter word in Korea because we got refused service at about 10 restaurants. We finally had to give in and order so some seafood dishes! After a filling Korean meal we still had 3 hours to kill and that when we had the brill ant idea to hit up the all night sauna. For $8 bucks we got to chill out in hot bath and sauna room with a handle full of naked elderly Korean and matching issued uniforms. The best part is the nap room, where you can sleep on the ground with about 40 other people until they kick you out at 8am. It was kinda of like a homeless shelter/ spa treatment so after a nice shower and a little sleep we got to hop on train back home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

N. Seoul Tower

Forgot to mention, last Friday we took a little field trip to the Seoul Tower. Its kinda of like the Seattle space needle. Its right in the center of Seoul on top of this mountain. The view from the top was incrediable and unlike anything I've ever seen. I mean I've been to the top of the Effile Tower and the Empire State building but this blows them out of the water. From the top you get a complete 360 view of Seoul, which is like looking at the sky scrapers of downtown Manhattan, only times it by 100 ! There must be thousands and thousands of high raises and they go on for as far as you could see. Every building in Seoul is like 20 stories high but I guess thats how you fit 10 million people into one city. We also got to catch a traditional Korean fighting preformance. I added some pictures to my album so you can get the full affect.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teacher Maddy!

Wow! So many beginnings all at once. New neighborhood, new house, new job, new boss, new coworkers!
but I'll start with the last day of orientation. We had a farewell lunch with all the native English teachers and once again I found myself parting ways with new friends but at least this time we will all be somewhere in the same city. After lunch we took buses to our new schools. My two co-teachers were waiting there to greet me and take me to my new home!
They were so sweet and even carried my enormous luggage. Both of them speak pretty good English, which is such a relief! They helped me move in to my new studio apartment on the 10th floor, there are so many high raises I still forget which building I living in. My co-teachers handed everything with my landlord, they were very concerned about me being in a new place all myself, the school accountant even came to make sure everything in my apartment was suitable. My place is cute, I have a queen bed which is surprise. Lots of storage, a small kitchen (no oven), a washer and a toilet/shower( literally I almost have to sit on my toilet to take a shower). The location is very convient, even though its about a 45 min subway ride from the center of Seoul everything I need is in close by and my school is just a 2min walk.
On my first day of work the Principal introduced me over the morning video announcements and I had to make a little speech about myself, it was a little awkward because everything was in Korean and I had no clue what to do but I suppose this is a feeling I will get very use to. At the staff meeting after school, i just sat quietly not knowing the they were talking about me for 5mins and they all laughed at how surprised I looked when they presented me with a bouquet of flowers.
After my first day of work my co-teachers took me to dinner and to the E-mart to get all the essentials for my new place, the school even insisted on buying me a rice cooker, a staple of a Korean kitchen. They have all been very helpful and generous!
Today was my first day of actual teaching. There were a few hiccups but the kids were so excited and their English is so good that we blew through two lessons in one day! The Seoul education system is very organized especially the English program. I have a textbook for each grade with the lesson place explicitly written out and CD-Rom that basically teaches the class for me. I pretty much teach the same lesson 5 times a day. I really only have to plan four- 40min lesson a week and since there already written for me I just need to come up with my own games for each unit. So after I teach I have alot of free time. This job is sweet!
My school is really nice, way better then any school I've seen in America. Every classroom has a huge 50 inch flat screen TV, a projector that hooks right up to the computer and the bathrooms are straight out of Star-trek. They have automatic doors and the toilets have 10 different buttons and I have no I idea what any of them do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Let me out!

I haven't been outside in probably four days and I think we are all starting to go a little stir crazy. The coordinators try and plan activities for us at night like traditional Korea dance, which was interesting and B-boy lessons, which sounds funner then it is.
I've been able to hit the gym a couple times but I am still confused by the whole kgs thing. I have no idea what wieghts I am lifting and it just makes me angry that America has to run on a completely different system then the rest of the world. Especially when your trying to talk about the weather with anyone from Europe, the UK, South Africa or Canada and you dont know how to convert celcius. It snowed on Tuesday which was neat but its been mostly cloudy and cold the rest of the time.
This week has been long, but informative. We've had some really good speakers: Korean teachers, experienced ESL teachers, Seoul tourist reps and a bunch of training lectures. I got a lot of tips and some new ideas for teaching but I feel like I've been preparing to teach for the past 6 weeks and I am ready to dive in.
Orientation has been a good place to formilarize myself with Korean food, seeing how we have to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is rarely vegatearian options so I mostly end up eating rice and lettuce three times a day. There is usually a couple unidentifiable veggie side dishes that aren't to bad and of course kimchi, the official food of Korea. Its a fermented spicy cabbage, I am not quite sold on it yet but its suppose to be good for digestion. I better get use to it because its defently a staple of their diet and I will be eating lunch at my school everyday. I am hoping I will at least get a little tofu now and then. Other then that I think I'll be able to manage Korean food, its generally spicy, fresh and really colorful! The flavors are different from other asian food but I like it, even though half the time I have no idea what it is, let alone what its called.
Tomorrow we are observing some classrooms in Seoul and then taking a bus tour of the city. I am excited to get out and do something!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I arrived on Saturday for my week long orientation for the native english teachers of the Seoul public schools. They put us up at this really nice facuility: gym, pool tables, fosball, soccer field and speedy internet. The downside is that its two hours outside of Seoul and we are on serious lockdown. There is about 200 of us and no one is allowed to leave and no alcohol! but a small group of us managed to escape into Seoul or a few hours, which was sweet! I got to see my friend Zane, who has been working here for the past year. My first impression of Seoul was good, everything was super clean, the metro is easy and fast, and overall it seems to be very technically advanced.
Both my roommates taught in Korea last year, one is from Canada and the other from Ohio. They are a fountain of information and they give tons of tips for surviving my first year. About half the people here have already taught in Korea before so that a good sign that I'll like it! The orientation is long, we have breakfast at 7am and go to till 9pm! They really try to keep us busy so we dont get into trouble. Other then that it has been very informative and Im getting really excited to start teaching on Monday. They aren't really giving us any specific information about where we will be teaching or living. All I know so far it that I will be teaching elementary somewhere on the west side of Seoul. On Saturday my co-teacher will pick me up and take me to my new school and home! I cant wait to unpack, settle in and finally stop living out of a suitcase.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Closing remarks on Thailand

Ok I know I have already updated my blog like 3 times but I am just so happy to have a speedy Internet connection. Before I start on Korea, I have to share some thoughts about Thailand before I forget.
Let me start with motorbikes, everyone rides them. It not uncommon to see a whole family on one bike, the dad driving, the mom behind him holding an infant, and maybe a couple kids hanging off the back. In Chaing Mai one of my friends got in 3 accidents in one week!! The drivers and traffic are crazy but they all so use to it, its no sweat for them. In Koh Chang another one of my friends got in a really bad accident, went off the road almost lost his toe, his arms and legs were covered in scraps. It looked super painful. The roads were extremely steep, windy and slippery from the daily dose of rain. In just one day they said there was 20 bike accidents on the island. But it was pretty convenient that the boys got motorbikes so they could take us to the store or to the next beach whenever we wanted and we didn’t have to pay for the overpriced taxi. They were more experienced but still liked to act like daredevils ever chance they got. It was defiantly scary but I’d never been on a motorbike before, kinda of thrilling.
Another unique thing about Thailand and my favorite topic Ladyboys! also known as Kathoeys. They are everywhere, especially the bars and nightclubs. Bangkok has the largest population of transgenders in the world. I believe it is so popular because there are an abundance of surgeons and the operations are significantly cheaper then in anywhere else in the world. It’s even common for Americans to come to Thailand to receive gender re-assignment surgeries. There is a high tolerance and wide acceptance of Ladyboys throughout Thailand, even though a lot of them are prostitutes that prey on unsuspecting foreigner men. The whole concept totally fascinated me, I couldn’t get enough and I am still not sure I really understand.
Music in Thailand was just my style, reggae during the day and sweet dance electro music at night. They loved Jason Mraz and of course Bob Marley. Koh Chang was all about the house music but I suspect that has to do with all the European tourist. Food was amazing! I am addicted to spicy food now; if my eyes didn’t water at every meal it wasn’t hot enough. I love to put chili sauce all over everything and lots of peppers, so good! I am really gonna miss the food but I look forward to having more then 3 kinda of beers to chose from.
Ok I think I am ready to say goodbye to Thailand. I find myself always bringing it up in conversation but it time to adjust to a more conservative and appearance driven life in Korea.


It was a bittersweet moment to arrive in Bangkok. The bus took us to the wrong station so we had to cab it across town in rush hour traffic to pick up our stored luggage. Then after an hour of searching for a vacant hotel, we finally found a guesthouse with actual aircon! Not to mention we had to carry our huge suitcases and backpacks down these super narrow and crowded alleys that barely fit us, or the motor bikes that’s were trying to squeeze by. We stayed off Khao Saun road, backpacker’s central of Bangkok. Tons of bars and young people walking the streets, not the best place to stay after two hours of sleep and 10 hours of traveling but exciting.
It so embarrassing traveling around with so much STUFF and having to explain to every person who gives us that “what the hell are you doing with all that” stare, that we are moving to Korea for a year. It was even worse when there was 5 of us girls, with all our luggage, trying to take a shuttle to the airport and they basically laughed at us and had to call us a special cab. We all were on the same flight to Seoul, which was a blessing and curse. Nice that we got some extra time together but bad that all of us were trying to beg the airline to wave the over weight charges on our bags. Mine alone was over by 16kg but somehow she let me slide without paying a single thing.
We all arrived in Korea safely and found our drivers right away, it was sad to say goodbye to all my new friends, once again. It sucks meeting all these new people, spending so much time together and then being separated. All the other girls were placed just outside Seoul, so I am sure I will be central meeting point for all our reunions.