A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here I Stand

I had a few reservations regarding our end of the semester teacher's trip. After all, I'm the only foreign, non-Korean speaking teacher at the school, so these gatherings require some effort. This time around, my co teacher would not be attending because she had to take care of her children. She gave me the option to attend the trip or remain at school for the day - anti-social and alone. Despite my slight fear of the prospect of 12 hours of incomprehension, I refused to peg myself as the outsider and decided to attend.

For no apparent reason except bad luck, I couldn't sleep at all the night before the trip. I arrived at school hot, sweaty, tired, and unenthused. Nevertheless I was early and my poor start to the day declined further when I turned my key in the classroom door and it snapped off in the lock. Great...

At 10 am I boarded the bus and sat next to one of the teachers on my floor who speaks English very well. Song Hwa is a kind and very beautiful wife and mother in her thirties and I enjoy speaking with her, but I was mainly happy that the teachers didn't just avoid me so they wouldn't have to speak in English the whole ride. When the bus set off, bottles of Korean wine were immediately opened. Korean adults can be a bit like high school students - Summer vacation wooo!

Two hours later we arrived at the ferry which would take us across the Han River to Nami Island. Ropes swung high atop a bungee tower and motorboats skimmed across the river towing massive yellow inflatables which flapped like kites in the breeze. Mountains rolled on the horizon like waves of soft green forest beneath the afternoon sun as the ferry made the short crossing.

Sunshine and a soft breeze graced us with their presence as I explored the island with Song Hwa and Jong Hwi, a tall and lovely teacher who strikes me as regal but always entertains me with the latest gossip. There were footpaths lined with tall pines snaking all over the small island and we followed them leisurely until it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland.

The next stop was the somewhat random "Le Petit France" - a small group of buildings built to look like French villas and housing tributes to various aspects of french culture. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on or why the melodies to Beatles songs were playing on all the speakers but we were atop a hill and there was a lovely view of the river and mountains. Unfortunately I had forgotten to charge my camera and only managed to take a few photos. I did however pose in countless pictures with the other teachers, most in front of a statue of the storybook character "Le Petit Prince" and they've assured me they will email me copies.
At this point I was near exhaustion and we headed to a restaurant for what would be one of the best meals I have ever had the fortune of eating. After discovering that the restaurant we were supposed to go to was closed, we walked towards the shore and stopped at a small outdoor patio to enjoy a dinner of fresh eel.

The sun sunk low against the sky and the air grew thick with mist as plates of salmon sashimi arrived at the tables. We ate the fish slices wrapped in lettuce leaves with fresh ginger and an array of vegetables. Next came the eel. It was grilled in brown sugar and melted as soon as it reached your mouth, every bite tasting better than the last. I thought I couldn't eat anymore but steaming pots of spicy soup arrived brimming with shellfish and vegetables. My skin flushed as I ate spoonfuls of the spicy liquid, warming me as the air cooled and the night mist rolled in over the moonstone river.

Finally there were slices of fresh watermelon and small cups of coffee to go around. We finished our meal and were drawn silently to the shore of the river. The mountains were layers of tissue in cerulean, cobalt, slate and steel. They melted into the soft night air and multiplied to infinity in the glassy river surface. I stood silently a long while and remembered what it is so easy to forget in the city, that I am here, in the land of the morning calm, experiencing life and beauty as I have never known it before. And though the mist obscured my vision, turning the world to watercolor, I felt I could see clearer than I've been able to in a while. I remembered why I came here and what I've been missing and made a silent promise to return.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Listen and Repeat.... Cuuuuuuute

Some photos from the last day of my extra classes with the first graders. Sadly, they didn't give me one as a consolation prize. Enjoy the pure cuteness below...

I have no problem choosing favorites and "Tiger" was definitely it. He was possibly crazy, loved to dance, and sometimes hit me... aaah kids.

More Tiger. Look at that face!

Surprise! A camera!

It wouldn't be Korea without a peace sign!

And again... what a munchkin!

the boys eating pizza slices bigger than their faces and drowning it with coca cola. Korean kids always share with Teacher though, wish I had a photo of the kid who came up to me with a giant slice hanging way above his head...precious.

This never gets old for them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I live in Korea and this is what I do...

I act Korean while riding carnival rides at Mud Festival
I hang with the locals

I make new friends

I drink and bike.
I eat lunch on the floor and drink Cass-uh after a long bike ride with the girls

I dominate wheelbarrow races... okay so maybe I lose them
I put the A in Athlete (along with the rest of the A Team)

I Tug-o-War
I haven't updated in a while... I like to think this is because I am busy and not because I am lazy... or because I have become obsessed with watching episodes of The Tudors and True Blood online...

In any case, I still love my life. I even still sometimes randomly yell out "I love my life!" when the mood strikes me. Even the torrential downpours that have begun this week can't dampen my spirits. The school semester is over and I'm spending the week watching Harry Potter over and over and over while preparing for summer camp. Not exactly ingredients for stress. I'll only be working half days during the summer and then I get two weeks vacation in August, so yes, life is good.

The warm, and up until recently, reasonably dry weather has made my friends and I more determined to get out and have fun. It seems like most expats around here have the same idea. Two weekends ago, on the fourth of July, a friend of ours threw a sports day. We made teams and competed in some ridiculous relay races. My team, the A team, performed pretty badly aside from a few glorious victories. We did have the best outfits though, which I think is more important.
This past weekend was the Boryeong Mud Festival. Picture this: a huge crowd of foreigners, a beach, mud pits, mud slides and booze... I think you get the picture. It was tons of fun, but unfortunately due to the aforementioned mud I was too afraid to bring my camera out... sad. Rest assured I did end up muddied from head to toe and I did beat up some people.

There are more exciting things to come... a Manchester United vs Seoul football game... river rafting and bungee jumping (finally)... a music festival... and just general madness in the city. Whoever said "the real world" is no fun was obviously living in the wrong one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Miguk / Hanguk

So today is the first day of month 5 in Korea which is the ending of my first semester as a teacher. I never imagined that life would turn out so well, but so far its been five months of easy going contentment spiked with moments of hilarity and excitement. I've traveled to a few places in Korea (including the beautiful Honeymoon Island), been to Taipei and am currently planning my summer vacation in Thailand. I've been hiking, biking, bar hopping, sight seeing, festival going and just generally having a laugh with the girls (sometimes we let the boys come too). Unfortunately I have not yet been bungee jumping because after biking 40 km there weren't enough spots open so I have to wait. We were bitter enough about it to bike the 20 km home with more than a few Cass under our belts but it was a gorgeous day and I can't complain. On a side note it looks like a ridiculous amount of fun and I am going back as soon as possible.

I have been enjoying some great perks at my job such as half-day Wednesdays which will soon turn into "half-day every days" during summer vacation (and the even longer winter vacay!). Other perks include surprise watermelon eating fests, field trips and guaranteed hilarious englishee mishaps at least twice a week. The work weeks just seems to fly by and there is always something fun to look forward to on the weekend (for example, this week its a group adventure south to have a beach bbq for the 4th of july).

I've also begun to get serious about learning Korean. It no longer sounds so scary and foreign and now that I have learned to read and write speaking is getting easier. I have a class in my city once a week and my coteacher has been helping me as well. It is definitely slow going, but I feel like much less of a failure now that I am learning the basics.

So, yes, life is good and I am happy, but it's important to realize how fleeting this all is. Maybe in a way that's a part of why it feels so good. This is not a life I'll have forever and even while I'm here it is continually changing. This August a lot of close friends of mine will end their contracts and head home. The same will happen again in February while I am making some tough decisions of my own. For now I plan on enjoying every moment of this ridiculous journey. Korea has it's flaws and sometimes it is down right odd, but I've always had an affinity for the quirky so I'm fitting in just fine!

I recently came a across a list of "You know you've been in Korea too long when...." In honor of month 5 I'll share a few of my favorites. Also, for a glimpse of life in Seoul (a hilarious one at that) check out this video: "Kicking it in Geumchon" It is so accurate it scares me a little.

So finally the list (with a few additions of my own)...

You know you've been in Korea too long when...

...you don't mind paying more for coffee than for dinner.

... a roll of toilet paper at the dinner table doesn't bother you.

... you like to cut your food with scissors.

... you don't event nottice the misspelled signs in Englishee

... you know the name of at least five Korean celebrities and have downloaded at least 10 Kpop songs

... you hate Japan for no apparent reason.

... you bow to all your white friends

...you enjoy bad tasting instant coffee in luxury settings (or anywhere really).

... you wouldn't dream of wearing shoes in your house (gross!) and you find it perfectly acceptable to wear slippers at work.

... you've bought everything they sell on the subway.

... you can pronounce "hyundai" correctly

... you start using Konglish in general conversation

... you think any apartment bigger than 10 square feet is HUGE!

... you stop being surprised after laboring up a mountain for two hours and running into a young woman all dressed up in heals and a young man in a suit and tie.

... you're used to getting shoved out of the way by frail looking old ladies.

... you don't bother lining up for anything.

Thanks to whoever wrote these!!!