Monday, March 29, 2010

Travels: Chiang Mai

We rolled into Chiang Mai early on Sunday morning after a cramped and uncomfortable 12 hours on a sleeper bus.

The entire bus load of people was taken directly to a guesthouse, given coffee and forced to listen to a pitch from the tour company that ran out of that guesthouse. As soon as it finished we left to find other accommodations, but probably should have stayed at the first place, as it had a swimming pool! I think we'll check back in tomorrow and spend the day lounging by the pool.

We found a room for about $7/night and after catching up on some sleep decided to check out the Sunday market and the Sunday market street. We bought a few things but had to walk away from some really cool stuff. You could spend a lot of money in Chiang Mai!

In the evening we walked a few kms to the Night Market to see the goods. We also discovered a Subway restaurant ... I might have to go there before we leave for Laos.

We also went to the office of Elephant Nature Park to book our visits. Unfortunately they are very busy so we aren't able to visit the park until Wednesday, meaning more time here than we'd initially planned. However this is something we'd both been dreaming of since university, so well worth the wait! We'll be going for an overnight visit on Wednesday.
Today, with time to spare we decided to visit Tiger Kingdom. Like Tiger Temple near Bangkok there is controversy surrounding the park, because it seems unbelievable that tigers would allow people to touch them, lay on them etc. We were torn between our desire to see tigers, and our ethical concerns. After visiting the park I feel a bit better. The tigers that you can visit have all been bred in captivity, and are used to handling by humans from birth. They are mostly uninterested, and just lay there, panting because it is so hot. Whether they are drugged or not, I can't say, however, as we walked around and saw all of the tigers who were not "visiting" that day, we saw the majority asleep anyways. Also, the tigers we were in the cage with proceeded to get up and change positions while we were there, and to go for a dip in their pool shortly after we left. Either way, I believe that although captivity isn't ideal for any animal, that it's the lesser of 2 evils. Tigers are still hunted illegally in Thailand, and here they are safe, healthy, and able to reproduce. So although its sad to see them caged, they are not chained, have large, clean enclosures, lots of shade, pools, and staff that seems to enjoy working with them. We spent 15 minutes with the newborns (2 months) and 15 minutes with the adults (1.5 years) and then were free to walk around the park and look at all of the other tigers. Overall I was happy with the experience, and was glad to see that the park was large, clean, and that the tigers appeared to be very healthy and well cared for!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Travels - Bangkok & Ayuthaya

We managed to get everything in Korea packed up and left Busan on Thursday night. Even though I've been ready to leave for awhile, I really realized how great of a year it had been, and how thankful I am for the whole experience.
After taking the KTX to Seoul on Thursday, we spent the night at Quan's house, then caught an early flight to Bangkok. The flight was terrible - turbulence the whole time, and a huge amount on the landing. However, we flew Jin Aur, Korea's new budget airline and it was pretty entertaining. There were party beats playing when we got on the plane, and the flight attendants were wearing brightly coloured polo shirts, jeans, ball caps and converse sneakers!
When we landed after 6 hours we were tired but ready to explore. We took a taxi to meet Nick, George's high school friend who has been travelling for about 6.5 months (On a side note - check out his amazing website - Nick's uncle has an apartment in Bangkok, so we were lucky enough to stay there. We ventured out to eat some street food for lunch ($1 each and delicious) and then took a water taxi towards the Grand Palace. The boat ride was pretty wild. We took a tuk-tuk ride to the Grand Palce, only to find out that it was closed for the night. We were lucky that next door was Wat Pho, which was still open. We explored the grounds and saw the main attraction, a giant reclining Buddah.
After Wat Pho, we walked to nearby Khao San Road, a famous backpackers street. On the way there we walked through the main protest area, and found ourselves surrounded by red-shirted protesters. Luckily the mood was quite festive, and many people were just relaxing, selling goods and giving massages.
Khao San Road was overwhelming. The most foreigners I've seen since leaving for Korea a year ago. There is incredible shopping, and tons of nightlife, but it isn't somewhere I'd want to spend much time.
This morning we woke up and took a van to Ayuthaya. We've spent the last 4 hours biking around to all of the temple ruins on the island. It is hot here today - in the low 30's, so we're taking a break in a nice air conditioned internet cafe. The sights here are amazing ... red-ish brick temples and ruins set in large parks ... it's really spectacular. I spent the first hour running around like a kid in a candy shop, but was soon too hot to express how excited I was! It finally hit me how awesome it is to be here, and how many amazing things I'll see in the coming weeks.

This evening we're going to watch the sunset over an off-island temple, and then boarding a bus to Chiang Mai at 8pm. We'll arrive tomorrow morning at 7am ... that's right, 11 hours on a bus!
Luckily it has big reclining seats, a/c and a bathroom, so we should be pretty comfortable.
More updates and pictures to come tomorrow once we're settled in Chaing Mai!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It was a sad day, bad day, sad day, bad day

This is my last post from school ... sad, sad day.

I just taught my last class, said all my goodbyes, and probably terrified the students and staff with my splotchy-faced crying!

Some days it was hard to realize, but I was really lucky this past year. The staff and students here are wonderful and treated me with a lot of kindness.

I will miss Jangan Elementary School :(

Friday, March 19, 2010

Leaving town, leaving town.

Less than a week left in Korea!

This is my last weekend, I have 3 days of teaching left, and only 7 sleeps until Bangkok.
Where did the time go?!

I am so excited to do some travelling and then return to Canada, but I am really going to miss certain aspects of Korea.

Oo Mi has arrived home safely!!!!!!!!
I highly recommend The representative did an excellent job, and patiently answered my millions of questions, and saved us the stress of having to navigate customs by ourselves.

Speaking of recommendations, here are mine:

Bocky's Best of Busan

Non-Korean Food: Blowfish in Songjeong makes the best burgers in the city hands down and there are 2 adorable pet cats to play with; Sunset Lounge in Mipo has a wide selection, and specials each day; For Vietnamese food, Pho Mien in the Benecity building in Dongbaek is phenomenal; for amazing Japanese BBQ go to Jangsan station, exit 4, walk straight to Hinomura (S set is great for 2 people); Mexican food - Taco Senora, Haeundae.

Korean food: well, aside from the classics at o-shops (orange signed Kimbap shops, otherwise known as 김밥충국) such as kimchi jiggae, cheomchi dapbap and kimchi bokk eum bap there are some excellent Korean foods to be found. In Jangsan I like mix things up between bbq, sundubu and shabu shabu and George swears by Geomjatong.
For navigating O-shops, check out this awesome blog post:

Sights around Busan:
Haedongyounggungsa temple, Songjeong
UN Cemetery
Beomeosa temple and hiking
Oncheonjang cable car
Seokbulsa temple
Busan tower
Botanical gardens, Oncheonjang
Igidae Park

Blowfish, Songjeong - great summertime beach bar, awesome staff
Thursday party, Gwangalli - can't beat the view
Rock and Roll House, Haeundae - again, great view

Nampodong outdoor and underground
Seomyeon underground

And there you have my favourite places in Busan!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Everything is changing. Changing really fast.

The beginning of a new school year in March has brought many changes for my final month of teaching.

The grade 6 students have graduated and moved on to middle school, and we have many new kindergarten and grade 1 students. I'll really miss the grade 6 class, they were a great group to work with.
My co teacher, principal and vice principal all transferred to other schools, so all of the people that I deal with have changed. Luckily this change has been positive, as my new co teacher is very nice, and my principal actually speaks English!
In Korea, teachers are expected to change schools every 3 years, which makes for an ever changing staff. Very unfortunate in my opinion, as I have fond memories of the community-feel of my elementary school. Many of the teachers remained at the same school for the entire time that I was a student (gr. 1-8), which provided a really nice, stable atmosphere.

You'd think that with the frequent moves, teachers here would be good at packing up and moving on with minimal fuss, but there were so many ceremonies, dinners, tearful speeches and sobbing students that it must get exhausting to go through each year as the school's staff suffers major turnovers.

A positive aspect is that there are lots of social events at this time of year. So even though all of my EPIK friends have left Korea, I have plenty to keep me busy. I've had a number of dinners with last year's staff, and last night had the first social event with the new group of teachers. I got dragged to Noraebang (kareoke) and was forced to sing. For anyone who doesn't know, I have the worst voice! I'm not tone deaf and I know I'm not hitting the notes, I just cannot do anything about it! So of course, singing in front of the entire staff of my school is mildly embarrassing. Luckily most of them had consumed too much soju and beer to comprehend how terrible I was, or to remember it today (I hope).

These days George and I are focusing on selling the many things we've acquired over the year, and getting our lives in Korea wrapped up.
Still to do: applying for a pension refund, sending more clothing and our computers home, sending our final pay cheque to our Canadian bank accounts and finally, sending our cat home.

We adopted Oo Mi in August from the parking lot behind our favourite bar, and we're happy to say that she' coming home to Canada with us. Well, not with us, as we'll be travelling around for a while before heading to Canada, but she'll be flying herself, and living with George's mom until we return (thanks Peggy!!!) Luckily there is a service in Korea that specializes in sending pets, called Pet Airline Korea. It's not cheap, but we've heard great friends, and we're hoping Oo Mi gets home safe and sound without too much stress!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

With glowing hearts!

The Olympic spirit found me, even in Korea.

I can't believe my terrible luck though ... the Olympics were on Canadian soil ... in the one year that I was not!

Watching the games in Korea was a totally different experience. Overall it was extremely frustrating. The English speeches were dubbed out during the opening ceremonies, the only events shown were Korean-dominated events like speed skating and figure skating, and the coverage only lasted a few hours a day.

Coming from a home where the Olympics are watched religiously, this was a major disappointment.

However, in my year in Korea, I was the most proud of my roots during the Vancouver games. It was amazing to see Canada's pride and victories, and even just watching the athletes enter the stadium during opening ceremonies brought tears to my eyes.

One extremely positive thing that I gained from the games (and the awful coverage in Korea) was an intense pride in Canada, and an appreciation for the Olympic culture, interest and obsession at home!

Check out this incredible video:
Stephen Brunt Video Essay