Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gimme them bright lights, long nights

It’s been a busy few days, sorry to go so long without an update!
Let’s start with Saturday. We had a busy day at orientation, with six lectures, each an hour long, on a variety of topics related to teaching in Korea. I was dreading it, thinking it would be a long and boring day, but the lecturers were suprisingly good. I learned some useful information about co-teaching, the curriculum, activity-based learning and classroom management. After hours upon hours of lectures we went out in Seoul and met up with a bunch of friends from Laurier at a foriegners bar called the Wolfhound. It was so strange to be surrounded by friends from WLU, and it was easy to forget that we were in the middle of Seoul!

Sunday was by far the best day I’ve had in Korea so far! The orientation leaders took us on a full day of tourist activities around Seoul. We started at the National Museum of Korea. I was exhausted from the previous day, all of the lecture time followed by drinking took it’s toll on me, so I didn’t enjoy the Museum as much as I should have. Maybe I’ll go back sometime soon.
The second stop of the day was at Gyeongbok Palace, built in 1935 as the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. It was a massive complex, with intricately carved wooden structures and bright colours, all framed by nearby hills and mountains. It was incredible, and the 2 hours we had there were not enough to explore the entire grounds. Looking back at my pictures now I cannot believe how incredible of a place it is. The fact that it exists in the middle of Seoul, a huge metropolis, is mind-blowing. A must-see site!
The third activity on our schedule was a NANTA performance. It’s hard to explain what it was, but I’ll try my best. First, think of Stomp, you know the group that makes music with garbage cans etc? NANTA is a similar concept, but the stage has been designed as a giant industrial kitchen, and the percussion is done with knives on cutting boards, with wooden spoons on pots and pans, and in a variety of other way, but all involving some kind of kitchen materials. There were 5 actors total, and their drumming ability was incredible. They had scenes where they actually prepared food, and the slicing of vegetables, the sounds of water being poured, and the sizzling of cooking oil were used to make music. This alone would have been amazing, but the show also included sections with singing, dancing, and juggling, AND the entire thing was a comedy. The actors were incredibly talented. I spent the entire show either laughing hysterically, or with my mouth wide open in shock at the seemingly impossible precision of drumming and tricks! I am not doing it justice, maybe trying googling NANTA and see if there are any videos! Another must-see.
Our day finished with a farewell dinner with our orientation group at a nearby seafood buffet .. mmmmmm. I’ve never seen so many types of sushi, there had to be at least 100 varieties, from tex -mex to dessert type ones, with sweet sauces on top. It was wild. Definitely the best meal I’d had in Korea up to that point. We stayed for a few hours, talking to some new friends we’d made – 2 of the orientation leaders who were especially nice.
Monday was the closing ceremonies of our orientation, there was a slideshows, a short lecture on travel opportunities within Korea and we recieved our certificates of completion. Then we said some quick good-byes and boarded the bus to Busan with 10 others from our group. The ride took just under 5 hours and we passed through some amazing countyside. A quick note on the buses here – they don’t have washrooms! However, they only have 3 seats in a row, instead of the 4 you’d expect on a greyhound, so they are alot more comfortable.
We arrived in Busan around 5:30 pm and 2 of George’s colleagues picked us up from the bus station and drove us to Haeundae to look at apartments. It was a great time to arrive, there was enough light to see the city, but it was dark enough that all of the bright lights were on. Wow, Busan is gorgeous! Ocean, mountains, and tons of neon, so pretty. We met one of my coteachers as well as the foreign teachers that are at both of our schools, and went out for a Korean style bbq dinner after seeing 2 apartments. Korean BBQ is delicious – there is a grill set into the middle of the table and you cook your own meat. There are a variety of side dishes served, and you place you cooked beef into a lettuce leaf, roll it up with sauces, side dishes, whatever you want really, then you chow down! It was the best meal of Korea so far.
Since there was not an apartment ready for us, we were put up in a hotel for the night. Both of our schools are in rural areas north of the Haeundae area of Busan. My school is called Jang-An Elementary and has a grand total of 59 students! George works less than 10 minutes away at Wollae Elementary, a school with 360 students. His school is involved in a program where they teach everything in English, so he has to teach 2 math classes! I’m lucky enough to be doing strictly English from kindergarten to grade 6. We are both lucky enough to have another English teacher at our schools. They came for dinner last night, and have been helping our coteachers look for apartments. I haven’t had any teaching yet today, so I’ve met staff members, sat in on 1 class, and spent alot of time online!
Top: My co-teacher Mr. Jeon and I on my first day. Bottom: My school!
It's official - we have an apartment! We just finished moving our stuff in, and have to buy some more major items tomorrow, including a bed and couch. Let me just say, I'm absolutely in love with our apartment. The building is only 3 years old so everything is nice and new and open. Our bedroom has floor to ceiling windows and an ocean view! Anyways, I have to be up early tomorrow for the bus ride to school. Should be an interesting sleep on the hardwood floor tonight - the traditional korean way! At least they're heated! Top: Right outside my front door, on the way to work (and Starbucks) in the morning. Bottom: My apartment building.
More pictures available on facebook, and an apartment video will be posted within 24 hours!


  1. Welcome to Korea Maddie!

    I've been enjoying reading about your first few days in this fascinating country. I've been here over four years now and it is good to be reminded of how everything around me seemed strange and exciting. Actually, I still kinda feel that way.

    Anyway, good luck to you! Feel free to visit me at my blog www.mccrarey.com


  2. Hi Maddie, My friends and I are thinking about an overnight trip in Wollae because we thought the name sounded cool. We also passed the train station on our way back from Gyeongju and it looked like an interesting place. Was is there to do there, any places to sleep and did I see a beach wiz past my window as I rode past?