A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nothingness


Awareness unfolds like petals and I climb slowly out of my sleep, emerging reluctantly from my subconscious. I crawl through that first instant of awareness, the moment when neither time or space or self exist, until I find myself tangled in bed sheets, face down on my pillow. Peering out of the haze filling my mind, I recognize the edges of sensation - softness, dimness, silence. I am anywhere in the world, or I am nowhere, for nowhere exists to me yet. In this moment before I recognize my existence, I am without place or time and I am no one. Standing on the peripheral of consciousness, it always feels the same.


The daylight melts away outside my window, casting shadows in orange and blue on my walls. I emerge on the other side and as far as I know I have awoken the same person who fell asleep an hour ago in her quiet apartment in Korea. I have woven this life, this person, from dreams however, just as surely as if I'd been the creation of an hour's sleep. I think about this moment for a long time, where everything and nothing are exactly the same, and I imagine there is some great truth lying in its shadow. I am drawn to that instant because deep down I seek nothing. There are things I want, surely, but I have no idea what they are. When waking I find contentment in the idea that seeking nothing will bring me everything, because in the end, it's all the same. And, if I don't know what I want for the future, my everything is after all, nothing to me yet.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One Month Mark

Another week has gone by, which means I have now been in Seoul for one month. One month in! It can't be right. Last Friday there was a meeting for all the public school teachers in my city. I was able to meet the teachers who I haven't run into yet and we discussed this year's summer camp. I am desperately trying to organize my summer break at the end of august, and school gets out in mid July, so my camp schedule is of the utmost importance. In Gunpo, all the teachers participate in an overnight camp for one week from Monday to Friday. We drew our assigned weeks from a hat, and lucky me! I drew the first week! I also found out that I'll be teaching cooking, which is going to be a blast. The other teachers tell me that the camp is really fun, plus, we get paid extra for it. I also found out there is a large possibility that I will have more than two weeks off this summer, depending on the day camp schedule. Bali here I come!!!

I spent the weekend in Seoul as usual, only this time Maddy and I met up with a friend of hers who works at the U.S. Embassy. We got to see his house on the military base (the U.S. has a massive active base in the center of Seoul) and it was just like being back in the states. Maddy and I now refer to last weekend as "our weekend in America." We got to bake brownies in an actual oven, and hang out in an American style restaurant eating real chips and salsa and paying in dollars!! Even better, we got to drive in a car. It was definitely a trip, but it made me realize I'm just not homesick yet.

On Wednesday I only had to work a half day. Once a month we get to leave early on Wednesday to do an activity with the other teachers like hiking or watching a movie. Everyone was exhausted because its the first month of the school year, so we got to just go home this time. I spent the afternoon reading in bed with a cup of coffee. Heaven!!

Then yesterday we had a dinner for all the new teachers at my school. We went to a Korean restaurant after our classes and sat at two big long tables (Korean style, on the floor of course). They served us plates of kimchi, rice cakes, and cabbage salad and then set huge bowls of broth onto burners that were built into the tables. The bowls were filled with every kind of mushroom known to man, and they slowly cooked before us. After eating the mushrooms, they brought out beef (I obviously declined in favor of more mushrooms). Then, just when I thought we couldn't eat any more they brought out bowls of rice and vegetables, which they poured into the broth and we cooked until it formed a porridge. Think of it as Asian risotto. To finish we drank bowls of a cold sweet liquid that tasted very strongly of cinnamon.

It's always strange being the only foreigner among a huge group of Koreans, mostly because of the language barrier. Many of them tried to speak English to me, but still, I spent most of the time lost amidst a hum of sound I could not recognize. It didn't feel awkward at all this time, however. I felt like being the only non-Korean there made me privy to a secret world. I watched the way they ate their food and listened to the way they pronounced their words. It's amazing how much you can learn in this way.

There were definitely some memorable interactions, however. First, the school receptionist (the saucy secretary mentioned earlier) announced to everyone that she was afraid of me because she couldn't speak English. Later, when they handed out roses to the new teachers, she gave me mine, saying, "This is for you" in English. I was sure to respond "komapsumnida" (thank you). Later, the head teacher, one of two male teachers present, came over to me and said very loudly, "I want you." For several seconds I was mortified thinking that he had hit the soju too hard. It turned out he was trying to say "I want you to teach me English." and everyone had a good laugh because "I want you" has the same meaning in Korean as it does in English.

I also had the chance to speak with another teacher, who is young and is in the small group I have tea and lunch with once in a while at school. It turns out he took a course on teaching Korean to foreigners. He really wants help with his English, so maybe we can work out a language exchange. He is immediately on my good side because he said to me, "You are very skilled with chopsticks, did you learn when you were a baby?" That's really the key to my heart, my chopstick skills are a matter of personal pride.

I have to teach this stuff


Can you please just look at #18 in relation to the rest of the page...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Window to my Life

My name in Korean - apparently it's not an easy translation
Street fish: pancake outside, red bean inside... so good!


A note left for me after English Club from Kelly(her "English Club name")


Late night in Seoul with my left arm and my right arm


Seoul Tower


A view of the city from Seoul Tower - high rises stretch to the horizon in every direction.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It Came From Outer Space


After nearly a month in Korea I am finally a legal and registered resident (for one year). My Alien Registration Card arrived a timely one day before pay day so that I could open a bank account and actually get some cash tomorrow. More importantly, I can finally get a cell phone! No more, "Meet me at Exit 3 of Itaewon Station at 10:30..." and stressing out about getting there on time.

I am pretty psyched about becoming an alien. It helps to explain a lot of the strange stares I get on the subway. I can also now blame all my eccentricities and mistakes on being an alien.


No, no it's not weird. Let me explain. You see, I'm an alien...

I even have the card to prove it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Yellow Dust Cometh


Spring has arrived in Seoul. The roaring winds have softened into gentle breezes and the air has lost it's hostile bite. Sun rays permeate the city, adding warmth and sparkle to an urban landscape refreshed by intermittent rain showers. Flower buds peak out from glistening blades of grass and birds return to trees still bare but humming with the energy of transformation. In the coming weeks the famous cherry blossoms will bloom emitting their fragrant colorful magic into the air. Restaurants will spill over into the streets and parks will swell with activity as all of Seoul enjoys the contentment of Springtime.

Not everything that Springtime brings is pleasant, however. The warm breeze carries with it what is called the "Yellow Dust." This phenomenon occurs when sand from the deserts in Mongolia is disturbed by storms and carried across China, Korea, and Japan by the winds. The dust collects pollutants during its journey across industrialized China and then hangs over Korea in a hazy yellow cloud. The dust can cause respiratory and eye problems in addition to being a general nuisance. Outdoor activity is not advised and many Koreans wear masks to protect their throats and lungs.

The Yellow Dust arrived last week, and so far I haven't noticed any symptoms other than minor eye irritation. I also haven't really noticed huge changes in visibility. The dust arrives sporadically throughout the Spring, however, so it might be that the worst days have not yet occurred. I'm not too excited to find out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm a Barbie Girl in a Korean World

I'm just starting to settle into my new life. I've bought a toothbrush to keep at work so I can join in on the after lunch tooth brushing ritual, which, I must say, is heavenly. I've found the world's spiciest green onion kimchi at the supermarket and learned to cook some damn good tofu/seaweed/lettuce wraps. I've begun to pick out personality types at school even without language. I know the "saucy secretary", the "popular girls", and the "vice principal who actually runs the world" among many others. I have my T Money card for the subway and plenty of cutesy animal key chains on my key ring. I have even started to approve of the whole indoor shoe thing.

Tomorrow is Friday again and I'm not sure where the week has gone. Wednesday was Parents Day, so the school was flooded with proud mamas and papas and the teachers were on full alert. Luckily for me no parents observed English class. In fact, I only had my first two classes because the kids had to be elsewhere. My only duty was to appear on the school broadcast and smile then bow when the principal introduced me. At the time, I had no idea what he was saying, but I later found out that I am "Brittany, our very beautiful teacher." It turns out, in Korea this is the number one qualification for an English teacher. Nobody wants to talk about your resume, you are really just for show and tell (except maybe the school handyman who has apparently read through all my application materials). My friends and I spent our first days at school being gushed over, and I can't say that I minded. I especially like the fourth grade boys who call me "pretty teacher." I am totally not above being flattered by nine year olds.

In the afternoon I was really cranky because it was an hour past the normal lunch period and no one had told me when I was going to eat. Normally there is delicious Korean food waiting for me at noon, but the teacher's room was locked. Then my co-teacher came and informed me I had to fork over 20,000 won for a mysterious "first period teachers meeting". After some hard core questioning I found out that it's a community pot used for special lunches and tea between some of the teachers on my floor.

We headed to one of the other classrooms and there was a really nice lunch waiting that had been specially ordered. I ate with three other female teachers and one male teacher. I didn't understand a word they said, which was much more awkward in such a small group. I definitely knew when they were talking about me though, because they would all turn and look at me with amused expressions. The male teacher was impressed with my eating. He said, "You like Korean food! You have been to Korea before!" Koreans love it when you eat, especially if you are eating kimchi. There are always several community plates to eat off of in addition to your actual meal, and I've noticed that they eat a lot here. They also eat extremely quickly. I am definitely what people at home consider a fast eater, but I can barely keep up here. Lunch is a ten minute affair.

After finishing I sat awkwardly during more Korean talk and had a cup of coffee and something they were very eager for me to try which they called a "flour cake." They passed me a tray of small round cookies in different colors and I chose a green one hoping it would be green tea flavored. It tasted like crumbly sugar cookie dough. Desserts are always just sickeningly sweet sugar bombs in Asia. Luckily they are also tiny.

Later I learned that English Club would be starting up next week so my afternoons were about to get busier. I had to choose my own textbook at the bookstore and come up with a curriculum for the Spring semester. I'm going to have two classes with four students in each, and then one combined class every week. The small size means we can do a lot of fun activities, so I'm really excited. It's also nice to be able to plan my own lessons instead of using the boring national curriculum and it will be good experience. This year the club is for low income students who can't afford English tutors. In Korea, it is very competitive and standardized tests basically determine your entire future. Families with money spend a lot of it getting their children extra classes and the other kids unfortunately get left in the dust. Korean kids work hard! They are in some type of class from morning to night.

All in all, it's been a good week. One of the highlights was overhearing an extra class my co-teacher was teaching this afternoon. She taught the kids the song "Barbie Girl," which, if you've heard the lyrics, is completely inappropriate for sixth graders... "I'm a blonde bimbo.... kiss me here touch me there hanky panky..." She definitely had no idea what she was teaching them and those sixth grade boys certainly go into it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Whole World is the Same

My second week at school went a lot better once I started drinking coffee again. The past month I got by fine with just tea, but that was only because I had absolutely nothing to do with my life. I need a lot of energy to keep up with the kids every morning, so caffeine is a must. Koreans mostly drink nasty instant coffee with creamer and sugar already mixed in. I was not having that, so I managed to find black instant coffee, which while still kind of gross, does the trick. I have to put at least two packets in each cup to make it even resemble real coffee, however.

Friday was class election day, so all the kids were ridiculously roudy. I teach 5th and 6th grades on Fridays and I nearly lost my voice by the end of the day from yelling over them. Luckily we were only doing fun things like a Little Mermaid role play and a country game, so I managed to keep their attention. I was a little sad because I didn't get any candy for White Day. White Day was on Saturday and it is a lot like Valentine's Day, only bigger. In Korea, on V-day women buy candy for the men they like and on White Day the men have to reciprocate. Apparently nobody loves me. Oh well.

Friday night I went out with some people who live in my neighborhood. It was great to finally meet other teachers in Sanbon. A lot of them live in my building and have been in Korea for at least a year. They had a lot of good advice for me, the best one being an introduction to yogurt soju, which, if you know my yogurt loving ways, I obviously am obsessed with. It's clear, comes in a pitcher, contains two bottles of soju, and tastes exactly like a drinkable yogurt. Oh heavenly! They also showed me the elusive Pirate Bar that I had read all about before I came here but couldn't find. It wasn't as exciting as I imagined, but they serve beer in ice glasses which you then throw at a target on the wall. The ice smashes and if you hit the target you win free drinks. I'm all for smashing things and free stuff so I'm a fan.

On Saturday afternoon there was a huge St. Paddy's Day celebration in Seoul. I met Maddy and we spent the afternoon enjoying Irish music, free Guinness, and a whole bunch of cool Westerners. We had a really great time - a great time that extended from noon until 6 am the next morning. I ended up falling asleep on the subway ride home and waking up every so often because I hit my head on the metal pole behind me. Luckily I didn't miss my stop and managed to climb into bed by 7:30.

I slept it all off this afternoon and now its back to work for another week. I'm crossing my fingers that my alien registration card comes in the mail this week so that I can open a bank account and get a cell phone. I managed to pass my medical exam even with my hearing impairment, and I made it to the dreaded immigration office, so once my card arrives I will officially be a resident of South Korea for the next year. I've got absolutely no problem with a year of this...

Konglish of the Week



They gave us these drinks for dessert at school. Drinking it brought me back to my childhood on the farm...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

FYI


I am starting a new support group called "I didn't know I was disabled until I took my Korean Medical Exam"

If you or a loved one can relate to this experience, please contact me. So far, we are a two person group...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let's Talk About Kimchi, Baby


















While the number one question students ask me is undoubtedly, "Do you have a boyfriend?", "Do you like kimchi?" runs a close second. Korea loves its kimchi and its fairly easy to see why.

Kimchi is made from mixing and fermenting vegetables with garlic, red pepper, vinegar and salt. The most common version is made with cabbage, but kimchi can be made with many other ingredients such as radishes or green onions. The result is a spicy super food regularly named as one of the healthiest foods in the world.

Koreans eat kimchi at nearly every meal, and it has been a staple of their diet for centuries. It is believed that the consumption of this food aids digestion and boosts immunity. Indeed, studies have shown lowered cholesterol, improved intestinal health, essential vitamins and minerals, and live probiotics are just a few of kimchi's considerable charms.

If you are going to enjoy kimchi, you better like your food with a lot of garlic and a lot of spice. Luckily for me, I can never have enough of either, so naturally, kimchi and I get along perfectly. Plus, the Polish side of me is all about anything pickled/fermented and anything with cabbage. At every Korean meal you'll be served kimchi and I for one would never turn it down. I think my students and my body will approve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Livin the Dream




















































It's five o'clock on Friday afternoon, and after a long hard day of facebook, it's time to let loose. I pack a bag and head to the subway station to catch the train to Bucheon to visit Lacy. I haven't seen Lacy in a whole week, which after being glued at the hip in Thailand feels like an eternity. I can't wait to talk about our week, but mostly I'm just excited to see her new Asian haircut.

This is my first time using the subway, so I'm really hoping I won't get lost. It turns out the Seoul Subway System is awesome. All of the signs and announcements are in both Korean and English and everything is set up pretty logically. Plus, my stop is on a really convenient line. The language thing is pretty huge, because unlike Thailand nobody in Korea seems to speak any English. They also cannot comprehend that someone could be unable to speak Korean, so even after you try to explain that you can't understand them, a Korean will continue on with an enthusiastic five minute monologue while you smile and nod helplessly.

After a seamless one hour ride, I arrive at Bucheon Station and meet Lacy. When we get to her apartment we proceed to drink two bottles of red wine and chatter incessantly. I haven't spoken to a native English speaker all week, so “I have too many words in my head.” Lacy has no cups, so we drink our wine out of plastic Popsicle makers (yes, the girl doesn't own a single cup, yet managed to buy Popsicle makers...). We also make some really delicious curried tofu and rice.

All of a sudden, we look up and realize it is now 1:30 am and we haven't even left the apartment. Should we go to sleep? Never! It's off to the expat bar we go! After wandering around lost in the cold for ten minutes we hop a cab and make it to Rhythm and Blues bar, only its in Konglish and says something like, Rhythm and Rooz...ah Korea. I meet some of Lacy's friends, and friends of friends and we play some darts. Everyone is talking and laughing and suddenly I am starving. Lacy's eyes are half closed and I ask her if she wants to get something to eat. I'm wondering why I'm hungry until I realize that its about 5:30 am. We head to a Korean restaurant for some bibimbap (Korean rice with veggies...so good!) and manage to order some food with the help of a new friend. By the end of the meal Lacy is trying to use the table as a pillow, so I figure its time to take her home. The sun is on its way up as we enter her apartment.

We did have plans to meet some friends in Seoul at 2 pm the next day to have lunch and explore, but we wake up at 1:30 and immediately discard such a crazy idea. Instead we lay around until 4, get ready to go out, and then head back to the subway. Tonight at 7 we are meeting everyone from our group in Thailand for Mexican food in Itaewon. I tried several times to get my beloved chips and salsa in Thailand, but always ended up with some sort of wonton chips and chili sauce (gross!) so I'm really hoping for better luck in Seoul. Lucky me, the food is yummy and they have actual corn tortilla chips and guacamole. It's really fun to see everyone again, and also strange because we are all fully clothed (and grumbling about the cold). I also enjoy seeing cheese again for the first time in six weeks. I learned a really fun fact at dinner (thanks Kel!) - salsa is actually the Korean word for throw up. You'd think that would put a damper on my salsa feast, but you'd be wrong.

After dinner some Soju (Korean alcoholic beverage of choice) juice boxes are broken out and we head to a bar for a drink before hopping the subway to meet some of Maddy's friends in Hongdae. Lucky us, drinks are 2000 won off until midnight! Better drink two... We manage to make it in time to meet her friends and then we head to a club for some dancing. I order another drink and magically, I get two! Lucky me, its two for one! I think you can see a pattern developing here (I officially love Seoul). Did I mention what I paid for my two drinks? Three bucks. We spend the night dancing, taking pictures of ourselves (of course) and randomly yelling out “I love my life!” Then of course when it is a suitably early hour we go in search of Korean food. This time we literally scour the city for vegetarian food. Everyone tells us no, but I think they are just misunderstanding us on purpose. The 50th restaurant finally has something we can eat and we order up a small feast. After, we are exhausted by eating and faced with a predicament... the subway doesn't open until 6 am, we have a few hours to kill. And that is where the Korean sauna rears its magical head.

For the equivalent of 6 bucks we gain entrance into a 24 hour sauna complete with hot tubs, showers, saunas, and... A NAP ROOM! We put on the hilarious sauna outfits, have some good naked fun in the hot tub (why there are middle aged Korean women at the sauna at 4 am I just don't get...) then grab a mat, stretch out on the heated floor and pass out. At 8 am, a very adamant Korean woman wakes us up and we head out the door with our first weekend in Seoul behind us. It's official: we are living the dream.

A Typical Day

Let's go through my extremely strenuous work schedule:

8:25 - roll out of my apartment

8:40 - arrive at school

9:00 - 12:00 - teach 3 or 4 forty minute classes to 3rd-6th graders

12:00 - 1:00 - eat delicious Korean lunch in the teacher's lounge

1:00 - 4:40 - spend about ten minutes on lesson plans then sit in front of space heater, drink green tea, and play on the Internet until its time to go home

go to gym, read/watch TV shows on Internet, cook dinner

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Highlights/Lowlights: First Week of Work


Highlights



  • Moving in to my first real apartment and the first place that has been my very own. Also, finding it fully stocked thanks to the previous teacher (alarm clock, hair dryer, toiletries, cleaning supplies, kitchen supplies, books, DVDs, etc.) I really love being up on the 15th floor, the view from my window, and the cozy size which is perfect for me.

  • Meeting my co-teacher, who could not be sweeter. She has been so helpful while I adjust to my new life, bringing me to the hospital for my medical exam (this was a low light) and even insisting that I walk home with her after the first day so she could give me some traditional medicine her brother (who's a doctor) gave her to help cure my cold. The poor thing often struggles to understand me when I forget to speak slowly, but she is so patient and its so easy to work with her.
  • Starting to teach on my second day. The kids in Korea are so well behaved and so intelligent. The mornings fly by because all I really have to do is act out/draw vocab, play games, and play videos. When I walk to school in the mornings I don't have that, "ugh, I have to work" feeling. My days are so laid back. Teach in the morning, have a delicious Korean lunch with the other teachers, then relax/plan lessons all afternoon.
  • Being able to walk anywhere in ten minutes or less. The grocery store/department store is next door (EMart, another highlight... they have EVERYTHING). My apartment is over a mall. Subway stop, five minutes away. Gym five minutes away. All the restaurants, coffee shops, and bars are just across the street and there is a nice park on the other side. No getting lost for me! And no expensive transportation costs

  • Playing hangman with my sixth graders. They just adore the game and its so fun to see them so excited. There is nothing like a little competition and the promise of a sticker to get kids going.

  • Walking through the hallways and having all the kids yelling, "Hi!", "Hello, teacher!", "Brittany!" in their adorable accents. I don't know if its just in Korea or everywhere in general, but when did kids become so outgoing?

  • The principal taking the teachers out for a really nice traditional Korean lunch on the first day. We sat on heated floors and ate sticky rice wrapped up in these huge brown leaves, a spicy stew, and loads of side dishes. I sat between my co-teacher and the principal, and everyone tried out their English (they're good!) and worried about whether I'd be able to eat with chopsticks.

  • The space heater sitting directly next to my chair in my classroom... also buying a big thick sweater, which I basically wear everyday. Oh yeah, and being able to wear whatever I want to work, even jeans.

  • My cost of living... which is basically nothing. No rent, no bills and everything is really cheap. Some examples of things I've bought. Korean lunch at an average restaurant: $3, Double package of tofu: $1, really nice new yoga mat $7, 3 month gym membership: $66

  • Speaking of the gym... the fact that Korean gyms provide you with gym clothes (hilarious t-shirts and giant shorts) and towels which they wash for you!!! No need to own any work out clothes, and no need to wash them all the time.

Low lights

  • The taxi driver who picked us up at the airport in a huge hurry and all annoyed because we didn't magically appear at the gate as soon as the flight landed (its called baggage and immigration!!). He played Mariah Carey music videos the whole way to my apartment and we couldn't figure out if they were for him or us. Apparently they were for me because once I got out he turned them off (or so I was told). I guess the videos were kind of a highlight...

  • Arriving to work on my first day wearing my "teacher flats" and no socks only to discover all about "indoor shoes". In Korea you need to wear special shoes that have never been worn outside in schools and many other places. One of the teachers graciously gave me a pair of open toe indoor shoes to borrow, not noticing my bare feet. The hallways are not heated so within two minutes I had icicle feet. To make matters worse, at lunch time when we all went to get our shoes before going out, all of the teachers and my principal suddenly noticed my feet and thought it was hilarious. "Feet cold!" My principal was particularly amused. All I could do was shamefully explain that I had no idea about changing your shoes. Let's just say I'll never forget socks again, and I bought myself some comfy indoor shoes.

  • Making the exact same mistake when I joined a gym and wore my gym shoes there. The owner wasn't quite as amused as my co-teachers were. You also need "indoor gym shoes" which you leave in the locker room. At first I was annoyed that I had to buy new shoes, but once I saw how cheap they were I was psyched, no need to go home and change before the gym, because everything you need is already there.

  • Sitting through the first day teacher's meeting... in Korean. It went on for about a half an hour. I basically stared into space and tried not to look too awkward. When they all started joking and laughing towards the end, I couldn't even do the "join in and pretend you get it" because they all know I can't understand a word.

  • Korean medical exams. You have to be examined to get your alien registration card, which you need to open a bank account and get a cell phone. It was very well organized and very fast but shuffling from room to room having blood drawn and x-rays taken is never a fun way to spend an afternoon. Also, I think I failed the hearing test... I sat in a booth and they said to press a button when I heard a noise. The beginning and end were fine but there was a long pause in the middle where I heard absolutely nothing. I don't think that's right...

  • Remarking to my co-teacher, "Tomorrow is friday, the week is over!" and then having her explain to me that in Korea there is school on most Saturdays. Foreign teachers are the only ones who get every Saturday off. She didn't seem to mind, but I felt like a jerk. Obviously, they wouldn't attract many Western teachers with a six day work week (especially not me!) but it is pretty unfair.

  • Missing my Thai peeps terribly... We spent every minute together for 5 weeks and now I have so much time to myself. At least I get to see them this weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fun Asian Fact Time


There are a lot of black beans (and red beans) in Asian cooking. Beans and rice? Rarely. Black beans are used in Asian desserts. Steamed buns with black bean filling...mmmm And, I couldn't leave out my favorite ice cream flavor in Thailand... you guessed it, black bean. If that's hard to imagine, keep in mind these are not your Mexican beans. When sweetened, they taste completely different, and in my opinion, completely delicious.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gratuitous


Photos: Gunpo City










































































































Some pictures of the city, my place, cooking my first meal, and my classroom.

Monday, March 2, 2009

For Your Information

Just so you know, you can comment on this blog. Actually, I'd really enjoy some comments if you feel compelled.... I'm compelling you.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Koh Chang














































Thailand is just brimming with small island paradises, but somehow I ended up on Koh Chang (elephant island) and it couldn't have been better. We stayed on Lonely Beach, a backpacker's haven full of palm trees, white sand, and parties. Every night one bar in the area throws "the party" so everyone staying in Lonely Beach ends up in the same place and you never go to the same bar two nights in a row. The best part is if you meet people at the beach or out one night you don't have to exchange any information because you know you'll always run into your new friends at night! We made loads of friends due to this arrangement and there was always something fun to do. Staying in just wasn't really an option, unless sitting in a dark bungalow is your kind of thing. It wasn't ours, plus there was always free barbecue to be had. Pineapple and tofu kabobs? Yes please! The parties were always fun, but nothing could beat our favorite local hangout... drinking bottles of sam song outside the mini mart. There were a lot of good times there and I think we successfully passed the tradition on to new travelers.

During the day there is jungle trekking, snorkeling, boat trips, waterfalls, and of course the beach. It was brutally hot during the day so we preferred sleeping in, eating breakfast in hammocks by the water, laying on the beach, playing frisbee, having a nap, going to dinner, then getting ready for the night. I did manage to get in some snorkeling, a boat trip, and a nice long open ocean swim. But really, it's an island and on a budget trip in between class and a new job, there is really little motivation to do anything other than chill. By the end of ten days I was about fifty shades darker, infinitely more relaxed, and in possession of a new perspective on life: what it can be and the work that must be done to make it that way.


















Moving Backwards in Time

I have so many thoughts that I think they need to come out in list form. Be prepared for a few of these...

Reasons Thailand Changed My Life:

* Learning that life doesn't have to be a certain way, you can live it however you choose. Most travelers here work 6-8 months of the year and backpack the rest. You'll never have a lot of money or own many things, but its hard to wish for a mortgage or even a new pair of shoes when you are lying in paradise or hiking in northern Thailand.

* On a similar note, spending about $300 in over a month in Thailand, including ten days on a tropical island, all food/drink, travel costs, accommodations a boat trip/hike here and there... this may make the first part more clear. And I didn't even put myself on a hardcore budget... imagine the possibilities...

* Happy go lucky, laid back, smiling Thai people

* Eating the best food of my life, making it to the gym maybe four times, and losing weight. Spring rolls, pad thai, mango sticky rice, coconut juice, green tea, seaweed chips, wasabi peas, glass noodles, papaya salad, red/yellow/green curry... I'm making myself hungry. Oh, and when found on street carts you've hit the jackpot.

* Street dogs lounging on floor pillows, street cats sunning on your deck (and friends who wear them as scarves...), monkeys grooming cats, puppies everywhere, elephants in the street, cows at your bungalow, tropical fish nibbling on your legs

* Swimming to uninhabited islands and drinking fresh coconut juice by smashing fallen coconuts on beach rocks.

* Sam song. I wish I could describe it accurately. Often found in a bucket with coca cola, tasteless when mixed with coke even in huge quantities, zero. hangovers. ever., dirt cheap.

* Becoming so one with nature while staying in a bungalow made of bamboo that even a giant cockroach riding on my back can't scare me enough to keep me up at night. Yes, that's correct I had a giant cockroach on me and no one would get it off. I am becoming really rugged lately.

* Meeting and bonding with more people in a month than I often do in a few years. Yes you become close and then you disperse and maybe never meet again, but that's what is facebook is for! I am so inspired by/in love with/thankful for all the wonderful people I have been spending time with.

* Learning what it is to be a teacher and having the chance to practice with Thai children. What a fun job and how lucky I am to be able to play games all day and call it work!

* Finding out what the "big deal is about Thailand" after wondering for so long. I've been clued into the secret and I'm glad I found out at 22 because I am most definitely going back. I can feel a backpacking trip coming on at the end of this year...

Home Sweet Home!

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