Friday, February 26, 2010

These are a few of my favourite things...

So, I've officially passed the 11-month mark. It's crazy how time flies.

With less than 4 weeks left in Korea I'm starting to think about the things that I'll miss, the things I won't and the things at home that I'm the most excited for.

Things I'll miss about Korea:
- the wonderful friends I've made here
- my students ... they are just so cute
- Korean food ... especially kimchi jiggae and korean bbq
- our amazing apartment
- running along Haeundae beach, eating at Haeundae beach restaurants, Haeundae beach in the summer, coffee dates on Haeundae beach ... getting the point?
- the gorgeous Busan scenery
- hiking
- Blowfish
- being treated like a celebrity/ movie star ... great for the self-confidence!
- random acts of kindness by Koreans ... too many to count, but they have all been appreciated
- my easy, easy job
- every day being a new adventure
- the amazing home delivery system

Things in Canada that I'm excited for:
- seeing friends and family again - it's been too long!
- dexter, my puppy
- wide open spaces (oooh selwyn, how I've missed you)
- driving a car
- food, food and more food ... Wendy's, Pizza Villa in Bridgenorth, Frosted mini wheats, Greek food, ketchup chips, veggies and dip, Starbucks chocolate chip banana bread, pitas, deli sandwiches, good salads, salt & vinegar crispers ... the list goes on and on. Clearly I'm not a healthy eater, and I foresee a massive weight gain in my first month home!
- summer in the Kawarthas
- going to a real gym and getting reacquainted with a Bosu ball
- living in a familiar culture. As interesting and educational as life in Korea is, it can also be difficult and frustrating at times, and I'm excited for things to be familiar again. Not having to worry about the language barrier, social customs and constant staring will be a welcome (and relaxing) change.

Now ... things I will not miss about Korea:
- the lack of personal space, and disregard for the personal space of others. In my time here I have been shoved, pushed and bumped into more times than I can count. It can get very frustrating. I understand that Korea is incredibly crowded compared to Canada, so it just isn't practical to say "excuse me" to everyone in your way, or "sorry" to people you have sent flying, but it's still something that bothers me.
- the smells! Kimchi, fish paste, garlic, old man kimchi-burps, sewage ... Korea can be a smelly place at times, and I don't see myself missing this assault on my senses!
- not understanding what the #*&% is going on. Yes, it's an adventure everyday here, but it can be tiring to never know where you're supposed to be, what you're supposed to be doing, or the proper way to do things. I've definitely developed a new-found respect for immigrants to Canada who face a language barrier. I can only hope that Canadians are as helpful to these people as Koreans have been to me, because it really is tough at times.

Overall it's been an incredible year, and I've learned about myself, met some incredible people, gained a better understanding of another culture, and seen some beautiful places. I am so happy that George decided to come to Korea with me, that we adopted OoMi and that we've been able to share this amazing, stressful, crazy, beautiful experience. I have no regrets about this year. Korea is a great country to live and work, and I'd recommend the experience to anyone who is willing to be open minded, and has a sense of humour.
The next month will involve a lot of goodbyes, packing and some trips to sights around Korea that we haven't seen yet.
I am so excited to return to Canada ... there really is no place like home!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's the final countdown!

I forgot to mention in my last post ...


After that, Southeast-Asian adventures, then back to Canada-land :)

One love, One heart

From January 29th - February 7th George and I were on vacation.
Our destination: Boracay, Philippines!

The journey there was torture: 4:20pm caught airport shuttle near our apartment; 7:30pm flight to Hong Kong; overnight in Hong Kong airport; 8am flight to Manilla; transfer terminals and wait; 2pm flight to Kalibo; 1.5 hour bus ride to Caticlan; 10 minute boat trip to Boracay. Total travel time = 26hours.

The time spent in Boracay was amazing. We met up with George's high school friend Nick, and his girlfrined Lianna. It was so nice to vacation with people, as opposed to by ourselves. Not that we don't enjoy each others company, but it was nice to have a larger group, especially with what Boracay had to offer.

The weather was near perfect, only 1 rainy afternoon, and only for a brief time.

The food was spectacular. Keep in mind that after 10 months of Korean food I'd find any decent western food great, but regardless, the options in Boracay are amazing. Our dinners included Indian food, Greek food, Pizza, Pasta, Italian and Fish and Chips. Lunch was at the Heidiland deli. Every. single. day. And it was amazing! Korea does not do good sandwiches, so being able to choose bread, meat and cheese from a nicely stocked deli was incredible. My #1 Boracay food recommendation for sure.

Beer in Boracay was cheap, cheap, cheap. Cheaper than water, in fact! Needless to say we drank quite a few. We had 3 nights out ... involving San Miguel, sitting on the beach, listening to awesome live music, and making our own music at a Karaoke bar!

We've already covered the good company, weather and food ... but the best part of Boracay is the beach.
White Beach has made many lists of top beaches in the world, and it was not hard to understand why. The sand is clean, fine and sparkling white. The water is clear, blue, and just cool enough to be perfectly refreshing. Although there were many people on the beach, its huge, so everyone is spread out and there are always umbrellas and beach chairs to be had, and enough space to not feel crowded.
I also managed to be motivated enough to run most mornings, and white beach was the perfect place to do so!

Although we spent the majority of our time on the beach, we also explored the island a bit. We walked the 10 minutes across the island to Bulabog Beach, a famous kiteboarding and windsurfing destination. Since we only wanted to sunbathe, swim and "mask" (snorkelling without a snorkel ... duhhh), we didn't stay long on this beach.

We also made a trip to Puka Beach at the northern end of Boracay. It's famous for its coarse sand and sea shells. The day we went to Puka beach was the only overcast day of our trip. The beach was near deserted, which was pretty cool, but a storm started to blow in so we left after about an hour.

Another afternoon was spent on a sailing trip around the island. We stopped at the southern end for some snorkelling, which was amazing, but after seeing some jellyfish, and recieving a weird tingling sensation from being in the water, we made a hasty retreat to our boat. Half of our sailing trip was on the windy side of the island and it was WILD! We were caught completely by surprise, as all we'd ever seen was the calm and serene water off of white beach. 50% of the trip involved being soaked by waves and clinging onto the netting that was our seats, afraid that we'd be washed overboard. Overall, an exhilarating afternoon!

The people of Boracay were also extremely friendly. Our hotel staff, restaurant staff, really everyone we met. Even the men who constantly harassed tourist to buy sunglasses, boat trips and atv rides were polite and didn't go too far. I felt much less harassed and less uncomforable than I did in Thailand.

The only downside of the trip was my extreme allergic reaction to Boracay's mosquitoes. I've never had a problem in Canada, and the bugs in Korea and Thailand do cause me to have bigger than normal bumps after being bitten, but I've never experienced anything like I did in Boracay. My lower legs were covered in swollen, painful and agonizingly itchy, puss-filling bites. I was even limping for about a day. After antihistamines and after-bite failed to help, I went to the medical clinic on Boracay. After a steroid shot, and prescriptions for antihistamines, cream, and something to fight the infection I was on my way to recovery. After 24 hours the bites had stopped being freakish and disgusting - thank god!
Now I just need to figure out how to avoid this next time I head out on vacation, because I wore bug spray but still got eaten alive.

On the way home, George and I had an even longer journey. We left Boracay around 3pm, took the ferry to Caticlan, and then a terrifying van ride to Kalibo. We boarded a 7:30pm flight to Manilla. We decided to go to a hostel instead of sleeping in the Manilla airport, but I'm not sure how good of a decision that was. The lonely planet- recommended hostel was full, so we were taken to another nearby hostel but a tricycle-taxi. Not sure what made us agree to that, but we failed to realize that this open aired trike that was moving slowly against traffic in a somewhat more dangerous city than we're used to wasn't the smartest option - until we were in motion. We laughed it off and arrived a the hostel in one piece. However, it was the grossest, smelliest, most disgusting place I have ever seen. We were both so tired, and wanted to shower and sleep before our 5am wake-up, so we stayed there anyways. The next morning we flew Manilla-Hong Kong, and then Hong-Kong-Busan. Finally, 30-ish hours after leaving the beach we were home.
The travel was such a hassle, but Boracay was definitely worth it!

So that was my Boracay vacation ... it was an amazing time, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. Since there was so much western food, and everyone spoke English, it was an easy and relaxing week. It's not one of the great "cultural" destinations of Southeast Asia, but it is a superb beach destination!

(pictures to come soon!)