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.