Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

So, the Sanghado Island trip ... what a weekend!
The entire group!

George and I found out about a tour group called Lovable Busan through my friend Juliet and signed up for a trip - a weekend of water sporting activities on Sanghado Island.

We woke up bright and early to be at the meeting place (almost an hour away) by 6:30am. From there we boarded a bus, stopping only at a rest stop and a grocery store (booze and snack run). We arrived at the Goseong Dinosaur Musuem shortly after 10am and spent 2 hours in the museum and hiking the trails on the grounds. My first shock of the trip came when, after arriving at the museum, our guide said, "Ok, we're here. Please leave your things on the bus. Just bring your camera and your beer".

From the museum in was only minutes to the ferry that would take us to the island. The ride was beautiful, but uneventful. Another memorable moment occurred shortly after arriving. We were supposed to be taking a bus to the opposite side of the island to the village where we were staying. Unfortunately our guide had to deliver the following bad news, "The bus driver is drunk", (insert miming of sleeping), "We must wait 30 minutes". We were all a little confused ... 30 minutes until he was safe to drive, or 30 minutes until alternate transportation arrived? Hmmmm....

Luckily alternate transportation was the answer. The girls were transported on a boat, while the guys got to ride in the back of an old truck. Our destination was a tiny village which has a dive/water sport shop, 1 restaurant, a tiny convenience store and a school. We stayed in a Min Bak ( 민 박 ), which is basically an open room where you sleep Korean style on the floor. Blankets and pillows were provided and there was an attached bathroom, but it was not the most comfortable of accommodations.

Our sweet ride!

Activities for the weekend included a rafting trip in the ocean (paddling a dingy about 500m in unimpressive waves), swimming at a pebble beach, drinking around the campfire with the scuba shop staff and an incredibly difficult hike.
Rafting excursion

The facebook invite promised water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing and banana boating, but none of those materialized, I think because everyone drank too much and the dive shop didn't want to risk it. Whatever the reason, I was very disappointed, I was really looking forward to skiing!

Here are some pictures from our hike - it was WIIIIIIILD!

Can't wait for our next trip with Lovable Busan!!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Look out helter skelter helter skelter

Cases of Swine Flu have started to show up in Korea, the most publicized ones being among a group of foreign teachers who attended an orientation together after arriving in Korea last week. You can check out their situation here:

My co teacher informed me this morning that as a foreigner I will most likely be tested. The Busan Office of Education apparently feels the need to test all of the foreign teachers working in the area. Even though we've been here over 2 months, have shown no signs of illness, and have not been in contact with any of the infected teachers.... hmmm, doesn't seem quite right does it? Upon doing some informal research on foreigner message boards it appears as though the only confirmed cases in Korea include 3 Koreans, 1 Vietnamese and 1 Foreign teacher.
I will keep you updated on the situation as it develops!

This weekend George and I went on a trip with a our group called Lovable Busan. It's run by an awesome Korean guy, Charles, with the purpose of showing foreigners places in Korea that are a little off the beaten path, but incredible to visit.

Our trip included a trip to a dinosaur museum and an overnight stay on an island off the coast. We had an incredible time, but I'll have to save that for another blog entry ... I have some major prep to do before afternoon classes today!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Alouette, gentille Alouette

No, this post has nothing to do with plucking birds! The title lyric? I'll get to it.

George and I had 2 Korean classes this week at Haeundae beach. On Mondays there are 4 of us, but Wednesdays are a private lesson. I may be totally overwhelmed by the amount we covered, but I think I am going to be able to make basic conversation within a month. We have learned 20 basic verbs in the present tense and are able to change the endings to ask a question. We've also learned who, what, why, where, when, how, always, never, sometimes, often, usually, and rarely. With these and the verbs we can ask and answer basic questions. "When do you go to the beach?", "What do you drink?", "Who do you meet". Pretty impressive stuff!

Today one of my students didn't have his notebook, so I said "oh, 없 어 요 ?", which basically means, "oh, you don't have it/ it is not here" and all the kids around him oooh'd and aww'd. I also found that today I could pick out more words as my Korean co teacher was speaking o the students. I'm still a long way off, but its encouraging to be able to understand even a little of what is said. It's also really nice to use my brain again ... I feel like the hours spent speaking the most basic of English to elementary school kids is turning my brain to mush.

So why the French title? I've found that whenever I'm wracking my brain for a Korean word the first thing that pops to mind is the French equivalent of that word. Weird, right? I've haven't studied French since grade 10, and thought it was all forgotten, so where is this coming from!? Since I've been studying Korean so much this week I've also been reviewing French, and "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi" (the only other French lyric I know) just didn't seem appropriate, hence the Alouette lyric as my blog title. Consider yourself informed.

Last night George and I decided to spend some time at the beach since the waves were significantly bigger then usual because of a storm that had passed though. After a relaxing coffee we decided to take a few pictures. Jumping pictures. It turned into a 45 minute marathon photoshoot. I'm sore today from the jumping ... and cartwheels. The 50 or so Koreans hanging out on the beach probably thought we were crazy. Oh well, it was a great workout and so much fun!

I also summoned the nerve to approach the large group of people I see doing open-water swims on any morning that I run along the beach. I figured I'd finally found a triathlon group, but apparently they just like open water swimming, or that's what I gathered from the conversation with a man who only knew a few word in English, but was great at interpreting my charades. They swim from Haeundae beach every morning of the week at 6am, using flippers and snorkels. I'm not sure if I'll be joining them. I need to get in better shape before I attempt my first ever open water swim. In an ocean. More than a km out from shore. In an ocean. For some undetermined distance. In an ocean with seaweed. And sharks.. And crazy marine life that I see in tanks everywhere I walk in this city. Hmmm... doesn't sound like I'm quite ready for it yet!

Plans for this weekend: travelling to an island a few hours away for water sports, hiking and a dinosaur expo! I can't wait :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Girl, you look like a movie star

In my last post I mentioned that a news network had visited my school because it won a "beautiful school" contest - check out the video below:

My weekend turned into yet another Korean party weekend - we sure did a lot more sightseeing when we didn't have any friends here!

On Friday George and I went out for dinner with friends at a burger place on Gwangalli beach. Finding a good burger here is quite the challenge, so I really enjoy Breeze Burns. The burgers are comparable to those at home, and you can't beat the view of Gwangalli bridge at night. It's all lit up and is absolutely gorgeous. After dinner we had a few drinks at Thursday Party and then continued drinking on the beach for a few hours. The carnival in the area was closed, so we bought fireworks from the ajumma who walks the beach at night for that purpose. Fireworks and drinking, sounds very intelligent, right? Don't worry, they're little hand-held ones ... and everyone is doing it hahaha.

Saturday was a rainy day ... perfect for sleeping in. Around 7pm I headed to Erin's for girl's night - what a blast! We all brought bottles of wine and snacks and spent hours eating, drinking and gossiping. Around 2 we made the trek to McDonalds, and then instead of going home decided to go to Noraebang until 5am. You'll remember that my last Noraebang experience was hell for me. I really can't sing, and was forced to perform solo, infront of coworkers and strangers - awful! Saturday night was not like that. The majority of it was spent singing girly songs, with all 6 of us dancing around at the front ... that's my kind of Noraebang! I am shocked to admit it, but I had a lot of fun.
Yesterday was another lazy day, but I decided to try something new, and went to my local Jimjilbang 찜 질 방 (Korean bath house)!!! It was quite the experience. I've been told by so many people how great it is, that its something you must try while in Korea, that its relaxing and fun - I just didn't believe them! I mean, how can being naked around a bunch of size 0 Korean ladies be fun??
Well, I actually enjoyed myself. I was really nervous, because as I checked in at the counter the Korean ladies working started gigging uncontrollably at me. I hoped that wasn't how everyone would react. I was given 2 little towels (hand towel size) and a locker key. You then strip down and carry your towels into the main spa area. They weren't big enough to cover ANYTHING so I didn't bother trying. It was definitely awkward at first, but everyone ignored me and I felt comfortable enough to enjoy myself. There were 3 different cold pool, 3 hot tubs, saunas and steam room, and I basically spent an hour rotating between them. There are also massages and body scrubs available from a Korean lady in her bra and underwear, but I wasn't up for that on my first visit. I could have spent longer but it was late and I was tired. I think that this week George and I will check out the spa at Shinsegae, the largest mall in Korea, with the largest spa in Asia (I think?). It's supposed to be incredible, and I think now that I've experienced a smaller neighbourhood jimjilbang I'm ready for the big leagues!
Aside from that, not much is new here. My charades skills are improving by the day since I rely on them for most of my communications with kids at school, Korean teachers, shopkeepers, waitresses etc.

My chopstick skills have also improved drastically. I think that this is due to the fact that there are onions in EVERYTHING and I am still not enough of a "grown up" to eat onions - I really hate them. I have to pick tiny pieces of onion out of the majority of the dishes I eat.

Tonight George and I went to Korean class in Haeundae beach. Finally! I'm frustrated by not being able to communicate with people here and I think these classes will help me to improve quickly. Tonight we learned who, what, why, where, when and how as well as the verbs to go, to buy and to meet. By combining these we are able to ask some basic questions and respond. We also covered how to ask how someone is feeling, and how to answer that we're good, okay, not well or tired. I am excited to try out some of these new phrases tomorrow at school :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hallelujah Hallelujah

Last night George and I made the trek to Seomyeong, and area of Busan that apparently has a bookstore with a great selection of English books.
We weren't disappointed!

I was so spoiled at home ... able to read a few new books a week, and had a steady steam from the library and Pam. I haven't been able to do much reading in Korea so far and it's been killing me! I brought 4 books with me but they are all long finished, so this bookstore was soooo exciting.

Seomyeon is about a 25 minute subway ride away, and the bookstore was literally steps from one of the exits and clearly marked. The selection of English books was great considering we are in a foreign country, and I managed to cut my selections down to 4, but I'm sure I'll be back soon enough.
I'm happy to have reading material again, especially since I am on the bus for half an hour each morning and night and can only play so many games of sudoku on my cell phone!

Today my school played host to a national news network. Apparently our school was chosen most beautiful in Busan. They seem to spend a lot of money of plants and flowers, which have taken over the entrance ways, hallways and every spare corner, so I'm sure this honour was well deserved. The took a quick video of my afternoon English class, as well as a few other classes that were going on at that time - I'm a celebrity!

I also made headlines last week - in my school's newsletter. The picture of my staff room birthday party made the newsletter, a picture in which I was forced to wear a birthday hat- super attractive! I'm not sure what it said. Again, I need to learn some Korean.

Teaching is going well, I now teach on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons without a co-teacher. For the older students I actually prefer it, but grade 1 can be a little difficult! Their vocabulary doesn't extend much past numbers, letters and very basic words. I often ask, "How are you" and get answers ranging from, "My name is...", to "It is rainy today". Luckily they understand the commands "Be quiet" and "Sit down".
My co teacher brought name tags to class this week and I think I know most of the names of the Grade 1, 3, 5 and 6 students. I'm getting there!

I did some nice intervals on the beach with Erin on Tuesday morning and plan on doing a longer run tomorrow morning and a swim on Friday before work. Add that to the 100000's of stairs I climb daily and I'm staying pretty active!

The stairs here really are wild. To get in or out of any subway station there are at least 4 flights of stairs. And if you have to transfer between lines there are even more ... so a minimum of 16 flights per subway expedition! We usually take the subway about 5 days a week. And I figure that at school I go up and down the 2 flights about 10 times a day between trips to and from classes and the water cooler. My calves are getting huge!

Tonight the teachers from my school are going out for dinner, and if i have time afterwards (and am not dragged to noraebang) I might check out a Korean language class in Haeundae.

Thanks for reading! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I like the sound of the ocean crashing, Waves making their way to the beach

Remember those big plans of mine for the weekend?
They didn't happen.

Instead I spent my time alternating between beach bum and geek. Overall a great weekend!

George and I decided to check out a Korean movie theatre on Friday night and see Star Trek. The Korean theatre experience was pretty similar to the movies back home. The most exciting difference is that you choose your exact seat in the theatre when you buy your tickets, but this was totally unnecessary since there were less then 10 other people in the theatre! The big Hollywood blockbusters are shown in English with Korean subtitles, so understanding was not an issue. There were your regular movie theatre snacks ... popcorn, nachos etc, but also some dried squid, and $2 beer for sale at the concession stand. The movie itself was great, I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much. Maybe because my favourite tv bad guy Sylar (aka Zachary Quinto) was Spock?

Saturday I woke up to perfect beach conditions so decided that a beach day was in order. I was also anxious to test out my new bikinis. When I'd had all the sun I could handle I walked the short distance to the Grand Hotel for another swim. Again, only did about 1.5km, but I'm blaming the sun exposure!

Instead of the wild partying of last weekend we decided to have a low-key Saturday night and bought a puzzle from E-Mart ... so nerdy. I don't think I've ever done a full 1000 piece puzzle before, should be interesting to see if we ever get it finished, or if it remains on our coffee table forever.

My race on Sunday didn't happen, after all the confusion I didn't get registered before the deadline - boooo. Need to find another race and get signed up immediately. The one I tried t sign up for in June has been cancelled due to lack of participation so I'll keep looking.

Erin and I went for a run on Sunday morning anyways, then hit the beach again. When it's sunny and 22 what else is there to do?! My 2nd beach day was followed by yet another trip to the movies. This time to see Wolverine ... mainly because the love of my life, Taylor Kitsch is in it. Overall, kind of a lame movie, but I love TK!

And that my friends was my weekend.

Plans for this week include a trip to the English bookstore in Busan, teachers volleyball followed by staff dinner, and possibly checking out a Korean language class.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Where my party, pa-party, party, pa-party people at?

How does so much time pass between blog entries?

Sorry to anyone who is actually trying to follow this thing - I had a busy week!

There were major 2 holidays in Korea this past week - Buddha's birthday on May 2nd and Children's Day on May 5th. It was also my school's birthday on the 4th so I was lucky enough to have a 4 day weekend.

George's friend Quan was visiting from Seoul so we took him out to Haeundae beach on Saturday. It wasn't exactly sunbathing weather but we had a nice walk, and checked out APEC house on Dongbaek Island.

I had a joint birthday party with my friend Erin on Saturday night which was alot of fun ... maybe even too much fun? Sunday was spent in bed, watching season 1 of Friday Night Lights - best show EVER. My only time leaving the apartment was at 6pm to get more aloe water and bi bim bap takeout from downstairs.

Monday involved some sunbathing during the day, and Monday night involved some serious drinking. We decided to really embrace the Korean bar experience and stay out until 5am when the subway re-opens and it's starting to get light - again, why am I so stupid? I'm still exhausted. The fact that the bars here serve you a steady stream of free snacks as part of the Korean service gift phenomena is great - I love the popcorn and salty spaghetti-like sticks at Thursday party! Anyways, I can now say I've stayed up all night in Korea, congratulations to me.

This is going to be a one-time thing, we have barely gone out since we've arrived, choosing instead to hike, explore and avoid nasty hangovers. I blame Quan's influence.

Tuesday was perfect beach weather - hot and sunny, and we managed to get to Haeundae around noon, even though we'd been out until 6:30 am the night before (a Mcdonald's stop was necessary on the way home). I got a lot of sun and even swam in the ocean for the first time since being here. It was freezing, but after an hour of toasting in the sun, necessary. I must say, my tan is the best it's ever been in early May!

In other news I haven't managed to do too much running ... a 6.5 on friday, 5ish on Monday and 9 on Thursday morning. The long weekend, and subsequent exhastion has made it difficult! I have however singed up with a brand new foreigners running club in Busan, I'll keep you posted on how that goes, we're supposed to be meeting this weekend.

Also on the schedule, a 10km race Sunday morning (maybe). Some confusion over the all- Korean website and registration ... I'm currently not registered (whoops!). Hoping to get some help with that tonight.

Planning on a quiet weekend, probably hitting up the movies tonight to see Wolverine (and more importantly, my favourite, Taylor Kitsch). George has found a baseball team and is going to a practice tomorrow. I'll probably head to the beach (weather permitting) or a public bath house, aka Korean Spa - nudity galore .... hmmmmm.... People I've met say it's an incredible experience once you get over being embarassed, but I have been putting it off.

Check back Monday to see if I ran the race or braved the bath house!!!

Miss you all at home xoxoxox.