Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine

It's been exactly 3 months that I've been in Korea ... the time seems to have flown by, but at the same time it feels like I've been here forever ... hard to explain!

I feel like some kind of reflection is necessary - I'm 1/4 of the way done my year in Korea.

I'm loving being here, and although I had some homesickness a few weeks ago, I've bounced back am ready to have 9 more amazing months here.

What do I miss most about home?
- friends & family
- dexter!!
- driving
- open space, lack of crowds, being able to walk down my road and not see a single person
- summer sunsets on Chemong Lake, boat rides, skiing etc
- cheese curds, pizza villa, Wendy's spicy chicken combo, limes, the chocolate chip banana bread at Starbucks

What do I love about Korea?
- the wonderful people I've met here
- living near the beach, morning runs on the beach, tanning etc
- George and I finally live in the same city again!
- my apartment ... it's amazing
- Korean food (minus school lunches), lime draft, aloe water
- Korean babies
- experiencing a completely foreign culture
- the convenience of city living
- the adorable kids that I teach
- all of the funny things I see on a daily basis
- cheap makeup
- being able to see mountains from anywhere in Busan

Some highlights?
- visits to the orphanage
- seaside temple
- hiking
- taking Korean lessons twice a week
- Spaland, jimjilbangs
- staying out all night
- eating live octopus

It's been quite an adventure so far and I look forward to exploring Busan and the rest of Korea in the coming months.

I still don't like Kimchi.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Welcome to my life

I had a demonstration class on Monday. It was not one of the Busan Board of Education open classes that all teachers are forced to endure (that's next week), but instead was organized by my school so that parents could observe a class. Luckily it was planned on the one day of the week that I teach with Jeremy, the other Canadian teacher at my school. We did some planning last week but decided not to get too worked up over it. I think the most stressful part for me was deciding what to wear. Have to impress those impossibly stylish Koreans!
About 10 mothers showed up for the class of 13 Grade 1's ... enough to ensure that the students (who are usually adorable, but wild) behaved like perfect little angels for the entire 40 minutes. I just tried to smile as much as possible, and I think it worked. Things went really well and my principal, who doesn't speak English even approached me afterwards and managed to say "You did GREAT job". What a relief!

Yesterday I was informed that the Grade 2 classroom was not available for the class I was supposed to be teaching in 5 minutes time. Our English office does not have nearly enough space for a whole class so it was decided that I'd teach outside, on the picnic tables near the animal cages. Can you tell already that it was a recipe for disaster?
The grade 2's already seem to find my class hilarious. Not sure if it's my broken Korean or terrible charades skills (there's no Korean co-teacher so I have to improvise a lot), but they seem to think I'm there for 40 minutes of comedic relief every Wednesday.
So, the outdoors class ... ughhhhh. It's hard enough to control this class inside, but the distractions of the great outdoors were just too much. They ignored my animal flashcards and insisted on pointing out the animals in the cage behind them, which they found to be hilarious. An ajumma from the village wandered up and sat 2 tables away watching me attempt to teach, and laughing at the goofy kids, further encouraging their bad behaviour. Then, each time I'd wrestled back their attention from the bunnies or the chicks and opened my mouth to speak, the rooster (yes, we have a rooster), would start to crow. This in turn prompted hysterical laughter from the kids and the ajumma. This happened about 5 times ... and was so frustrating. I can see the comedy in it now, but yesterday, outside in 27 degree heat, with a rowdy bunch of kids, and someones grandma watching and probably judging my every move - not so funny!!

We were in another area of town last night and found the following coffee shop - nice-uh!

I was supposed to be teaching right now, but I went upstairs to find an empty classroom and still have no idea where anyone is. Oh well, more time to blog. This is life in Korea.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday morning rain is falling

I found a triathlon club ... I think.

I was swimming at the Grand Hotel on Friday and I guy hopped into my lane wearing an ironman bathing cap, so I pointed to the cap and gave him a thumbs up. Luckily he spoke a bit of English and proceeded to invite me to do an ironman distance triathlon with him and his club - in 2 weeks hahahahaha. That's clearly not happening, but it was a nice offer ;)

I continued on with my workout and as I finished my last length I sat up to about 15 Koreans standing around in their lanes looking at me. It was awkward enough that I tacked an extra 100m onto my cooldown! As I was getting out of the pool my ironman friend called me over and started explaining their groups training schedule to me. He also offered to loan me a bike, and once again asked if I wanted to do an ironman triathlon in 2 weeks. I really am sill not sure what the actual training schedule is, or if I'm being asked to join the group or not, but they swim daily, so I'm going to go back and try to get some more info this week.

I've finally gotten back into the groove with working out. Last week I ran 3 times, swam once and made it to the gym twice. The week before I ran 5 mornings. I think I am finally on "Korea time"!

Running in Korea is wildly entertaining. It doesn't quite beat running with 3 goofy labs in Selwyn, but it comes close in the comedy department. Each morning I can be guaranteed to see at least one of the following (usually more): little dogs wearing costumes, jewellery or dyed in pastel colours; people doing weird interpretive dance at the end of the water; people just leaving the bar and doing all kinds of crazy things; elderly Koreans doing the national stretch (it contains alot of hip rolling!); and lots of other random sights. For example, last week I saw the entire bar staff of a popular place in Haeundae on the beach at 6:30am, in staff uniform, practicing bar tending tricks!

This weekend George and I decided that we weren't going to drink or go to the bars because we wanted to actually do things, and not waste our days being hungover. What a good call - we had an amazing weekend!

On Saturday I went to the gym beside my building and then decided to treat myself and ordered McDonalds delivery for breakfast for the first time. I managed t get to the post office and send some packages and letters home. We then went to a temple by the sea, visited the orphanage, walked through a botanical garden and spent 2 hours at a coffee shop overlooking the beach, studying Korean!

On Sunday we had another gym date then went to Shinsaegae department store. We had an awesome meal in the food court, then checked out the attached skating rink and browsed through some stores. Back in Jangsan we tried to go to the movies, but although movies like Terminator, Star Trek and Wolverine come out in Korea on the same dates as back home we couldn't find The Hangover anywhere. Very disappointing!

Rainy season is apparently here ... we had a downpour for the majority of yesterday, some rain on Saturday night/Sunday morning but sunshine today. The nice weather is supposed to last until the weekend, then the rain will carry through into next week. The humidity is crazy - my hair has some curls for the first time ever! Other then that rainy season is not so fun. I need to invest in a pair of rain boots.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 15, 2009

And it burns, burns, burns, The ring of fire, The ring of fire.

Last week I experienced a fire drill at my school.

We had been informed that it was happening so I was not surprised when a fire truck pulled up and a campfire was lit in the middle of the dirt playing field in front of the school. OK, maybe I was a little surprised at the actual fire ... we tend to just pretend in Canada, not light actual fires!

The bells went off and the kids ran out of their classrooms in orderly lines, all bent over almost 90 degrees, with cloths covering their noses and mouths. It was a contrast to the fire drills that I remember when we walked slowly out of the building, laughing and joking, knowing that it was just a drill.

Once everyone was outside and lined up, the designated first aid teachers brought out a student on a stretcher and she was forced to lay on it for the remainder of the drill.

The fire fighters then unhooked the hose from the firetruck and proceeded to blast the tiny campfire and to put on a little show with the water. Once that was finished they re-lit the fire using a can of gas and let a grade 6 students demonstrate how to use a fire extinguisher.

I'm pretty sure I was open-mouthed in shock for the duration of the drill because the grade 1 and 2 teachers got a good laugh every time they looked my way.

Only in Korea!

This weekend I was able to visit the orphanage for the second time. The kids were playing outside because the weather was beautiful, and it was a nice change to see them so happy and preoccupied. I don't think they even noticed we were there!

I also managed to spend a few hours on the beach on both Saturday and Sunday and think that my tan is coming along quite nicely. Haeundae is starting to get a lot busier so we checked out Songjeong on Saturday which was a nice change.

George and I are starting to plan our summer vacation trip. There are just so many destinations in Southeast Asia that I'm anxious to visit. It's going to be hard to narrow it down! We're both off for the last 2 weeks of August and are excited to take a break from Busan and see some more of the world.

Some homesickness set in last week, definitely the worst since I've been here. It seems I've come to the end of the "honeymoon phase" of culture shock. The rainy and dull weather, having been sick on Monday, a less then stellar week of teaching and finally settling in to a less exciting routine here combined to make me feel pretty down. I realized just how far away from home I am, and how much of my contract is left and it scared me. Luckily I have some great friends here to cheer me up, and George of course always does a great job at making me smile, and am feeling SO much better this week. I think I need to shake things up and visit some more of the sights that made my first month here so exciting. George and I are thinking of taking a day trip somewhere this weekend, destination to be determined!

In some very exciting news - my mom and Pam are going to be here in under a month!! I am so excited to see them and to show them my new home :) :) :)

Missing everyone at home,

Monday, June 8, 2009

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

This weekend I visited a Korean orphanage with Laura and Caitlin.

It's something we'd been talking about doing for weeks, and we finally managed to find an orphanage in Busan that would allow us to visit. The kids ranged in age from babies to 7 year olds. We spent the entire hour and a half of our visit with one group of kids, who muct have been about 2 or 3. They were absolutely adorable! And really just wanted to be hugged.
We gave about a million piggyback rides, which were a huge hit, and just sat and played with the kids for the rest of the time. I wish a few more people had been able to come with us, because between the 3 of us we just didn't have enough hands to be hugging or picking up enough kids at a time. They were just so happy to see us, and excited to get some attention, it was really touching. It was hard to leave after such a short visit, but it was lunch time so we were given the boot. We're hoping to go back on a weekly basis, and with more people next time.
For anyone is Busan who is looking to go, let me know and I'll get you the details!

The North Korean situation remains unchanged here, people are still largely unconcerned. Here's an interesting documentary if you have an hour or so to spare:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Under the boardwalk, Down by the sea, Yeahhhh!

What else is new in Korea-land??

North Korea is in the news worldwide, making threats, causing my poor mom to worry about me ... what jerks!

Very fitting sand sculpture at the Haeundae Sand Festival

The general consensus of the Koreans that I've asked is that yes, North Korea is scary, but they make these kinds of threats very often, and we should go about our lives and try not to worry too much. For now I'm keeping up with the news and have registered with the Canadian embassy in Korea and will heed any warning that they issue.
That being said, I hope this conflict can be resolved quickly, I am loving my experience here and don't want to be forced to leave prematurely. There is still so much of Korea left to see!
In other news, I bought a pretty new camera and can finally stop stealing George's. I'm sure he's almost as excited as I am. Not to mention that I'll be able to post more, and better quality pictures on here!

I had another good weekend, a trip to Nampo-dong for some shopping on Friday, followed by In-n-out style burgers in Mipo.

On Saturday I spent some time at the beach, checking out the Sand Festival, and discovering a new restaurant with an amazing fruit platter - very exciting stuff! We had another successful girl's night, starting things off by having some soju and diet coke outside my neighbourhood convenience store. This is perfectly acceptable here - yo're given paper cups when you buy alcohol, and there are chairs and tables set up outside most convenience stores. It almost makes up for not having a balcony on our apartment!

Sunday was PERFECT weather for the beach. I spent hours lounging in the sun and even swam a few times.

Korean class is still going well, although the amount of material we've covered is completely overwhelming!

Teaching is also still great. I love my school, the students and the workload (which is very light)!
I've been informed that during the summer break I'll be working 3 weeks at a camp held by a local university which will be a nice change of pace. Although schools have a 6 week summer vacation here most kids still attend these summer camps to further their learning. Our contract stipulates that we only have 10 vacation days (and that includes weekends, so really only a week), but as of right now my coteacher thinks I'll have 2 weeks off after I've worked 3 weeks of camp - sweeeet! Now I just need to plan where I'm going to travel during this time off!