Thursday, April 30, 2009
This week I managed to run 8km on Tuesday and 6.5 km this morning. George came along for the 8km run, and we managed to run up every hill in Haeundae ... it was tough! I forgot to wear a watch but I don't think our pace was anything impressive.
This morning I didn't have company, but I managed to maintain a 5:30 min/km pace for my 6.5km run, and it felt good. Nice and relaxed, not too hard ... I'm on the right track.
I've never raced 10km before so I'm just hoping to do it in under an hour. I don't want to make any specific goals until I see how this next (and last) week of training goes, and until I see what kind of crowds are out on the course. For all I know it could be a family walk/run, so I may be trapped behind thousands of people walking with children and strollers, not exactly ideal conditions for making a great time!
In other news, I had a great birthday yesterday. My morning started with a Skype call home, and I got to watch my family eat a birthday cake with my name on it! At school I received little gifts from a bunch of students, had a surprise cake in the teachers room, and was treated to 2 renditions of Happy Birthday. George got my some wonderful presents (including goldfish crackers - my faves, and another pair of sweet sneakers), and took me out for dinner at TGI Fridays on the beach. Overall a wonderful day, even if Koreans insist on calling it my 25th birthday ... I'll stick with my Canadian age, THANK YOU!
On Saturday George and I ventured to Nampo-dong market with our friend Erin. It's a huge network of streets and alleyways filled with vendors selling a wide range of merchandise. Since Erin and I were only there to find cheap imitation purses I can't really tell you what kinds of things were for sale, but I know there was a lot! I had my first experience with bartering for a better price - and was successful both times. My Korean vocabulary has expanded to include "how much does it cost" and "expensive", both of which are necessary to bargain with vendors.
Yesterday I had to leave school at 1:30pm ( a full 3+ hours early) to go to the bank. I ended up being home by 3:30, which was a 2 hours ahead of schedule. After an apartment cleaning frenzy I decided to make the trip to the Grand hotel in Haeundae to check out their 50 m pool. It's been a full month since my last swim, and almost a year since I last swam long course, so it was tough, but I just went slow and focused on form. The pool itself was old, but the view was AMAZING! It's on the 6th floor of a hotel that's right on the beach, so that alone made me want to go back. I did 1500 m .... decent, but nowhere near what I was doing at home before I left, I need to swim more often!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Well, here are 25 things about life in Korea (this may be a long one!):
1. The driving here is WILD. Roads are too narrow, parking spots seem big enough for only smart cars, and traffic signs appear to be considered suggestions, not the law. Many people treat red lights as 4 way stops, pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way and riding in vehicles can be terrifying. That being said, Koreans are spectacular driers for being able to navigate these conditions. To make matters worse - I've yet to see a kid in a car seat here. They're usually sitting on parents laps or hanging out the windows in the back seat - scary.
2. Everyone is polite, even the construction workers! Each morning I walk by a huge construction site and have yet to be whistled at, hollered at, or felt uncomfortable at all. When I walk by each morning and night the guy at the gate bows and say hello, good-morning or good-evening- so nice! This morning he very apologetically told me I was beautiful and gave me a thumbs up and a smile.
3. My newest food obsessions are this incredible aloe water (basically just bottled water with aloe chunks floating in it) and these chocolate filled cereal snacks. Both available 24 hours a day at the convenience store in my building. And he also stocks diet coke, which I've had a hard time finding elsewhere ... sweeet!! My go-to post bar snack seems to be these "drumstick"-like ice cream cones ... I guess its better then poutine and deep fried pickles from city lights!
4. Koreans are obsessed with their cell phones. From grade 1's to elderly people you see Koreans talking, texting or playing games all the time. The phones here are also incredible. They have translators, subway maps, some even have free tv connection. That being said, its SO hard for foreigners to get phones which is frustrating. It's not like at home where you can go into a convenience store and buy a prepaid phone.
5. The public transportation here is great. The subway is minutes from our door, and takes us anywhere in the city. There are also buses that are very convenient. Another note on the subway - it's incredibly clean. The floor actually sparkles! A major contrast from public transportation in any city I've ever been to.
6. Korean women are all about the high heels, at work, out on the town, hiking, on the beach (seriously). When they're not wearing heels (rare), they have on sweet sneakers, preferably Converse. Since I don't do heels, I picked myself up a pair of sneakers after being here a week, but they don't look as adorable on my big feet! Why am I so anti-heel? First of all I'm already towering over alot of people, but most importantly the streets here are dangerous - uneven, broken sidewalks that I roll my ankle on when I'm in flats. I don't need the added risk of heels!
7. Corporal punishment is technically illegal here but it still goes on. I've seen my co-teachers smack a few kids. It's not so much to hurt them, but to get their attention and remind them who's boss, but it still really bugs me. The most common is a flick to the ear, but I have seen a few open handed slaps to the back of the head, although I've yet to see anyone cry, so it must not be that hard (I hope).
8. Eating out is cheap here. The most expensive dinner we've had is a grand total of $15 each, and that's piles of food, beer and unlimited sides. Most nights I'll pay around $5. So far it's been cheaper then cooking at home because Western style groceries are pricey. Also - you don't tip, it's amazing how much money is saved that way!
9. People don't have dryers here. You hang clothes to dry. I'm annoyed with this already, since most of my stuff needs a good shrinking after being worn. I've also had to actually iron - booo!
10. Shopping here is amazing, especially if you're a size 0-2. I've done alot of browsing, and have determined that they do have my size in Korea, it's just one of the biggest, and not as common in the cute little boutiques that surround my apartment. This is probably a positive thing for my savings! Did I mention that Koreans are super stylish? I constantly feel under dressed, but hope to build my wardrobe bit by bit.
11. Squat toilets are quite common here. At subways stations, rest stops, tourist attractions they are the most prevalent, but most of these places have at least 1 Western style toilet. Schools and restaurants have Western style toilets (from what I've seen so far!)
12. There are no smoking bylaws in Korea. This is definitely my biggest issue with life here! People smoke in restaurants, bars, public washrooms - and I hate smoke ... ewww!
13. Cabs are so cheap here. Again no tipping, and a 20 minute ride will cost about $8.
14. Koreans like to drink. A LOT. I constantly see Korean business men stumbling home drunk, carrying each other in the early hours of the morning. Bars are also open all night here - no 2am last call! For example, this morning at 7:40am on my way to the bus I saw 2 men carrying a third down the street after leaving the singing room across from my apartment.
15. There seems to be a serious shortage of garbage cans on the streets. You can go for kms and not see one. Maybe adding some more would cut down on littering? Just a thought.
16. There are water coolers everywhere. In every store, restaurant, school, and even on some buses. This is great since I replaced my diet coke obsession with a water obsession. My favourite is when instead of little paper cone shaped cups there are mini paper bags ... bags of water - genius!
17. Dogs in Korea are funny. Most are little purse sized dogs, I think I've only seen about 5 big dogs in the last month. They're usually tiny and dressed up in some ridiculous outfit consisting of coats, skirts, shoes, sweaters, ribbons, hair clips, or have been died blue or pink. Poor little things! They are also allowed to wander off-leash and hang out on the beach so I guess life is not all bad.
18. Every car I've been in (cabs included) has a sweet GPS. Waaay better then anything I've seen at home, and so much more widespread. Maybe because there are no street names, all directions are given based on landmarks. Street signs have recently gone up, but noone learns them or uses them
19. Korea has a great home delivery system. We've had furniture and plants delivered free of charge, but have yet to venture into the food delivery, mainly because we don't know enough Korean to order over the phone or make them understand where our apartment is. But once we get that under control I'm sure we'll take full advantage. McDonalds even has McDelivery scooters that operate 24hrs a day!
20. From what I've seen and heard, Korean are very image conscious. Everyone is super well-dressed, even the little kids. The is also not a lot of variations on the popular style, for example, the whole emo-teen look that is so huge at home seems to be non-existent here.
21. There are so many sweets here. On the main street near my house there are 3 bakeries within a block. The stuff is amazing in small doses, but when I get sugary toast or hot-dog buns it's a bit much!
22. It can be hard to get the point across to cab drivers here, especially when trying to get to the beach. If you say beach correctly they will not understand, but if you say beechIE, no problem! Same goes for shopping for Coach bags, they are coachIE.
23. How am I managing to fulfill my need to be insanely competitive without tri class or a gym membership? I like to run up all the stairs at the subway station, racing the 95% of passengers who chose to take the escalator (I always win). George and I also stay entertained by calling both elevators to our floor and racing downstairs - the epitome of maturity, I know!
24. Sunbathing is not done here. Everyone is all about the long sleeves and umbrellas on the beach- so very healthy. I prefer to bake in the sun ... which is why 40 year old Korean women have nicer skin then me!
25. To further build on the last point, workout and hiking gear is full coverage. Even in 25 degree weather everyone seems to be in long-sleeves, or even coats, while I'm sweating in a tank-top. I ran last week in my long bike shorts and got chirped by an old lady hahah.
26. I love Korean pop music, K-pop for a true fan like me! Get yourself over to youtube and check out "Gee" by Girls Generation (a 9 member girl group!), "Nobody", "So Hot" and "Irony" by the Wonder Girls and "One more time" by Jewelry ... so catchy! And since the chorusus are in English I can guarentee that if I say any of those words in class students will break out in song!
Alright, that's the end of this novel ... stay tuned for updates on teacher's volleyball, shopping at nampo-dong market and my 2nd giants game.
Monday, April 20, 2009
The first few weeks here it was close to impossible with all the trips to various offices and stores to set up bank accounts, get medical checks, alien registration cards, and set up our lovely apartment. Even if I had the energy, I would have been hard pressed to find any time!
However, I've finally recovered from the jet-lag and am settling into a routine. I've also adjusted to the cuisine and am now consuming enough calories to actually sustain me in a workout!
Not that I've been inactive, I've climbed mountains, walked the coast, the beach, everywhere! I'd just let my triathlon training slide completely which is disappointing, but a change is underway.
Last Wednesday I ran with a new friend Erin, and on Friday I went with George. There are an extensive network of running paths around my apartment. The paths are tar and rubber, so nice and cushiony, and bordered by tress and flowers, so are visually pleasing. I plan on spending alot of time on them.
This morning I ran to the beach with Erin. We ran the length of the beach then back home, overall a nice 6.3 km jog with some breathtaking scenery. Going before work was a nice start to my day and I hope to do this a few times a week.
As we were heading out on our ferry tour on Saturday I saw a group of people heading into the oean for an open water swim ... I'm assuming some triathletes. I plan on staking out the beach next Saturday in hopes of seeing them again. I'm also going to ask my coteacher to help me contact the lists of triathlon clubs in Busan area since the websites are all in Korean.
I've also found 2 pools nearby and plan on swimming later this week. It will be the first time since leaving home so I'm sure I'll feel like I'm drowning ... great.
Wish me luck!
George and I also took a ferry ride from Haeundae beach on Saturday after spending way too many hours in the sun. It took us along Haeundae and then Gwangali beach, past Leegidae and finally around Oryukodo before returning the same way. It was neat to see Busan from the water. I could really appreciate how gorgeous it is, with huge mountains framing the city. The hour-ish ride cost 15 000 won, and was definitely worth it.
On Sunday we decided to hike Jangsan, the mountain that's visable from our living room window. Some quick google searches described it as an easy mountain, with lots of flat pathways for those not looking for a huge workout.
At one of the many fitness parks on the way up the mountain
Ya, we clearly did not find those paths!!!!
We started out around 11:15am, and were immediately amazed by the sheer number of people, most of them decked out head to toe in fancy hiking gear, looking like a North Face ad. We began our climb following the crowd and motoring past as many slow-walking people as possible. And believe me, there are varying paces, especially since there are thousands of people climbing the mountain at any time. We'd pass big groups of laughing, talking people, and then be hesitant to stop for water or photo breaks because we didn't want those same people to pass us. Things might have gotten a little competitive, anyone surprised!? We arrived at a picnic location after about 35 or 40 minutes, sweating and out of breath, but excited to continue on to the peak. It was at this point that things went downhill.
There were 2 pathways leading from this point, but the hikers definitely thinned out. I think many chose to end their climb at the picnic area, and since there were all kinds of alcohol being sold there I certainly hope so! We took the path that appeared to be leading uphill, but soon found ourselves doing more descending then anything, and turned around. The other path led to a fork in the road. One direction read "peak", yet seemed to also go downhill, the other had land-mine warning signs but went straight uphill. I convinced George to take the first option. It was going well for about 5 minutes when we reached yet another branch, with 2 paths clearly heading down hill, and another that snaked towards the land-mine zone, but promised to take us to the peak. This was my first climbing experience but I really thought it would be easier to find the peak of a mountain! We chose to take it but after about 10 minutes found ourselves walking alongside barbed wire fence with land-mine warnings every 20 feet. There seemed to be hikers ahead of us so we continued, staying safely on the path. After another 5 minutes I was nearing a breakdown, not sure if I should walk back through land-mine territory or continue to the peak and find another way down. A kind old Korean man saw our distress and convinced us to follow him to safety. Apparently the warnings are there because on the other side of the fence is a military base that is still active today. Either way I was terrified, and angry that we had been stupid enough to wander into an area that could have land-mines. There are no pictures of this section because we were terrified. But before you freak out Mom, I spoke to my co-worker today, he said that's the path everyone takes, it's safe, no ones ever been blown up, the signs are remnants from the Korean war. Either way - scary stuff, I'm taking another route next time!
We made it to the top safe and sound, and WOW! What a view.
We could see for miles, and even picked our apartment out. We could walk around the peak and get multiple viewpoints, and really see alot of the city.
After about half an hour of amazed staring we decided to make our way back down, which was also an ordeal. Again, one would think that getting down a mountain would be straightforward, but apparently it isn't! We must have chose the expert path, because it was wild. I spent alot of time grasping onto tree trunks and ropes strung along the route, hoping I wouldn't wipe out. We walked through almost a kilometer of what must have been a very recent forest fire. Trees blackened, ash covering the ground, and the smell of charred wood. It was enough to make me nervous - again!
After almost an hour we reach a fitness park where 5 trails branched off, and I managed to find an English speaker to direct us to the right one, which happened to start with a 500m climb ... so we definitely would not have chosen it ourselves! Even along this path there were numerous branches and we spent most of the descent wondering if we were ever going to make it off the mountain!
Overall my first mountain climbing experience was interesting. It was an incredible workout, but I could have done without the stress of feeling lost and passing through the land-mine zone. Also, I've decided I like climbing, it was great fun, but the way down kind of sucked!
Will we climb another mountain anytime soon? Stay tuned to find out!
Friday, April 17, 2009
This week saw some firsts for me.
On Monday I had my first Noraebang (Korean karaoke) experience. A teacher from my school invited us out to dinner because her niece's Canadian husband needed someone to speak English to. Tired from the weekend, we were hoping to have dinner then get home early. That obviously didn't happen. We were dragged to do some noraebang. Here's how it works: You go with a group to people to one of the many karaoke rooms that are on each block, and get a private room for your group. There are 1000's of songs to pick from, lighting controls, mics and a disco ball. Everyone must sing. This goes on for hours. Now for those of you who have been subjected to the horror of my singing you're probably already cringing. To make matters worse I had an incredibly sore throat, further increasing my singing disability. And yes, it was that bad ... but surprisingly I actually had fun. I did 1 solo and 2 duets with George. This year is all about getting out of my comfort zone, and if I can get up and sing in front of my friends and coworkers then I can do anything! I'm just chalking it up as the most embarrassing situation I've ever encountered, laughing about it, and moving on.
Another first this week - a Lotte Giants baseball game. I don't even like baseball, but it was the most fun I've had in Korea so far. We went with a group of EPIK teachers and had an incredible time. I can't even describe what a great atmosphere it is ... everyone is SO excited to be in the crowd. There are songs for every player, all of the fans make newspaper pom poms and use them to chant throughout the game. Food and drinks at the stadium are cheap, but you're also allowed to bring in outside food or drink. Walking in, you have to go through a tunnel formed by vendors, all trying to get you to buy their spicy chicken, kimbap, beer or soju ... it's like a mob! The drunkenness inside the stadium is widespread. A friendly Korean man came over and did a number of soju shots with one of the guys in our group. When 4 of the girls went to the bathroom we got so many high-fives from teenage Korean boys. When a ball is hit into the crowd everyone immediately point to whoever caught it, and in Korean chants, "Give it to the baby". Without fail the ball is handed to a baby or toddler nearby. The lucky kid is then hoisted up by their parents and everyone cheers. In the eighth inning orange plastic bags are handed out to the crowd and everyone inflates the bags and puts them on their heads. We all went for the basic style but there were people who had fashioned them into devil horns or even giant bows. Once this happened we were on our feet for the rest of the game, singing along to all of the songs and having a great time. It was hilarious to see 1000's of people with plastics bags tied to their heads. Korea's wild! Then, when the game ends, the bags are taken off and used to clean up all the litter that's accumulated - genius idea! I'll definitely be going back to many games, probably as early as next week.
And the best part? My ticket, 3 beers, shared spicy chicken, caramel corn and hot dog: less then $20!! I love the Lotte Giants!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Today George and I decided to hit Haeundae beach for coffee and breakfast, and then set out walking around 11.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Once again we've been incredibly busy.
On Sunday we checked out another of Busan's famous beaches - Gwangali beach. The views were amazing. We got some great pictures of the bridge and the windsurfing lessons going on. Definitely something I want to try once the weather warms up. My brothers are avid windsurfers, and I've tried at home, but always just seem to get blown down the lake!
On Monday I started teaching. English class at my school is conducted in Korean for a large portion of the time. Every so often I'm required to read a sentence from the textbook for the students to repeat. After they marvel at my wonderful pronunciation, (and sometimes even clap) then repeat a few times and promptly switch back to Korean! Hopefully as my Korean co-teachers get used to working with me this will change. For now it's a nice way to ease into teaching, learn about the curriculum and gauge the student's English ability.
Also on Monday - a forest fire! There is a mountain within a kilometre of my school. The fire was on the far side of the mountain, so it seemed close enough that we should evacuate, especially since the school was filling with smoke and there were chunks of ash falling from the sky. However, I obviously know nothing about how schools in Korea are run. We closed the windows and continued our afternoon. At one point I looked out the window and saw the grade 1 girls prancing around the front yard of the school through the thick smoke in their belly dancing costumes - bizarre! Luckily the fire was brought under control and the school was fine, as were all of the houses of our students.
We also applied for our alien registration cards this week. We need this card to stay in Korea. Its our approved form of identification here, is needed to sign up for cell or internet service, and is required to return to Korea after travelling out of the country. Getting that done was a huge relief!
I have had some great dinners this week - Wood roasted chicken on Monday with George, Kimbap on Tuesday with the other foreign teacher from my school, Mexican food on Tuesday with a friend from orientation, and kimbap and soup again last night with a fellow Laurier alum. FYI: Kimbap is kind of Korea's version of sushi. It's the same format - rice rolled in seaweed, but instead of raw fish it is stuffed with a variety of veggies and/or cooked meats, cucumber and picked radish. It goes for approximately $2-3 for a 6-8 inch roll, and kimbap restaurants can be found on every block. I can see this becoming one of the staples of my diet!
I also got my first good bout of physical activity last night in the form of a 2+ hour walk/hike to Haeundae beach and along a mountainous lookout trail nearby. It felt good to get some physical activity in, even though the air quality leaves much to be desired. We haven't been able to see the beach from our apartment at all this week - which means SERIOUS smog - my poor lungs hurt! Below are photos from my walk on Thursday night.
Haeundae beach and Gangali bridge at night
I think that's it for now - I hope to post again tomorrow. I'm going on a trip with the teachers from my school tonight to a town that is famed for it's cherry blossoms. I am excited, but also nervous about how I'm going to spend 6ish hours speaking to my co-workers! I've been spoiled so far, the other foreign teacher at my school can speak Korean so he does alot of translating for me. I really don't think anyone but my Korean co-teacher and one other teacher speak any English!
Wish me luck :)
Saturday, April 4, 2009
After a weekend of rest I'm feeling a bit more alive, and the incredible dark circles under my eyes require a bit less cover up. I think maybe I'm finally on Korea-time...?
The past week has been crazy - we've been busy setting up our apartment, bank accounts, getting medical checks and applying for Korean credit cards so that we can get cell phones sooner. Our free time has been limited so far, but I can't complain, our coteachers have been incredible! They've spent hours after school each day helping us with all of the things we need to do, and we really would not have managed without their help.
We got a real taste of just how spoiled we'd been when we went out for dinner alone last night. We were just hoping that the restaurant had pictures on the menu, or that a server had some english, or that we'd be able to translate a menu item using my Korean phrase book - we were wrong on all counts! It was the first time since we've been here that we'd been on our own for anything. We were taken care of by the orientation leaders and then our coteachers, and finally were in a situation where the language barrier was insurmountable. Somehow George got the point across to our server that we would like her recommendation, so she pointed to something and said beef, and we agreed. What followed was one of the better meals we've had so far. Some kind of soup with mushrooms and beef that you simmer on a burner at your table - delicious! We'll definitely be going back there.
An update on work - I haven't really started yet. I go to school each morning, and sit in my office, but my teaching duties won't begin until tomorrow morning. Also on the schedule for tomorrow, my official introduction to the students and staff. I'll be giving a powerpoint presentation to the entire school tomorrow morning to show them some pictures of who I am, where I come from, and what my interests are. There are only 59 students, and and no more than 15 staff members, but I'm still a little nervous. So far my only real contact with the students was on Wednesday when we went on a field trip to a nearby farm to pick Sok (wormwood) to make a special soup. Mostly the students just ran up to me, screamed hello, then ran away laughing hysterically, but I did manage a few conversations. At my school the students don't have English names, so learning the Korean names is definitely more challenging. I leaned 5 that day, and I think once I'm in the classrooms, seeing these kids a few times a week the names will come more quickly (I hope). It was a really nice morning, enjoying the sunshine out in the country, and I really enjoyed myself.
On Friday I was allowed to sit in on the classes of my afternoon coteacher, and chaos ensued! The kids refused to focus on the lesson with this stranger at the back of the room. Linda, my coteacher was very gracious about the interruption, and let the kids ask me questions, then incorporated me into the lessons, which thrilled the kids. I'm sure in a week the novelty will wear off, but for now, they're pretty excited. From what I understand, they've had 2 foreign teachers before, both male, so I think I may be the first female foreign teacher that many of them have dealt with. Also, these are rural kids, so in their small town they aren't exposed to foreigners like the kids in the cities are.
I think I'm really going to enjoy working at this school :)
After our accidental early bedtime on Friday we were both wide awake by 5am on Saturday and decided it was the perfect opportunity to walk to the beach to see the sunrise. About 15 minutes later we got our first view of the famous Haeundae beach - gorgeous, but I can't even imagine how millions of people can fit on it. The morning was completely overcast so we didn't see much of a sunrise, but being near the water was nice just the same. As we were leaving the beach I saw a woman down at the water running along the beach in a wetsuit and bathing cap, appearing to have just finished an ocean swim - I'm thinking a triathlete! She was headed in the opposite direction, and was too far away to catch up to, but it gives me hope that I'll find a club to train with here.
Just some other points of interest:
- More examples of Korean kindness: we went to check out the gym next door, and were having troubles communicating with the receptionist, so a random guy came over and spent 5 minutes translating for us; last night we needed a break from Korean food and decided to hit up McDonalds (gross, I know). We asked a women on the street, and she let us follow her there, then gave us a coupon for a free big mac!; We were looking at plants and the storekeeper gave me a free small potted cactus because I admired it!
- Korean food: so far, so good! I still don't think I've acquired the taste for kimchi, but since it's served at every meal I think I'll get there. Our school lunch are great - my favourites items this week: picked quail eggs and salty dried seaweed to wrap rice in.
- Our apartment is almost fully furnished. We have a living room chair, tv stand, a sweet tv (just delivered 5 minutes ago) and are just waiting on our futon to be delivered tomorrow. Yesterday George's coteachers took us to an area with rows upon rows of plant shops (nurseries, greenhouses ... what's the correct term?), and we picked out a tree for the living room, and 3 smaller plants for the bedroom.
I think that's it for now, we're heading out to do some exploring .. if I can ever drag George away from our new tv!
Miss you all
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I think you can still get an idea of how great our apartment is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Znbj7XA9-5M&feature=channel_page
If that doesn't work search IMGP0611 on youtube (and let me know so I can fix it)!