Friday, June 30, 2006

Done and Done

Well, c'est tout. Life in Korea is officially over and out. Though usually a sensitive kind of girl, I said goodbye to my kindergarteners dry eyed (unlike D'Arcy). They have, or perhaps I should say this job, has frustrated me to no end and I'm really very happy to be done with the teaching.

As for the living part of it all, I leave with mixed emotions but for the most part I'm happy to be moving on. I have done some great things and life without assignments and school deadlines hanging over my head has been swell. I have met some great people that hopefully I will call my friends for a long time. But in the end prefer my people and things at home. I would never want to stay here for longer than a year.

On the other hand I don't at all regret this experience and I would even recommend it. I feel like I've seen things and done things I never otherwise would have the opportunity to do. I have lived well and saved lots of money over the year while traveling and spending relatively freely.

It's strange to think that life here will go on the same way it always does without D'Arcy and I. The office will be more or less the same, the kids will be the same, teachers will come and go, and we will hardly be missed. It's so easy to get over the departure of a teacher. The kids will love my replacement and though they may remember me, they'll hardly miss me come Thursday of next week. Weird.

I am for the most part all packed up and I guess I should go to bed sooner or later so I can wake up in time to catch the 7am airport shuttle with D'Arcy, my mom, and my dad. We are heading to Hong Kong tomorrow. From there I'm moving on to Bangkok, Hanoi, south through Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore before returning to Canada on the 20th of August. Is that even for real?

To all those who have been reading this blog, I hope you have gained some insight into my life in Korea and that you got what you came for. I'll continue updating, though less often, to keep anyone who wants to know informed on the travel adventures.

So long, Korea! It's been a slice.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Last Day

It's Friday June 30th. A year ago I stepped off the plane exhausted and expectant. Today I sit in my cluttered little apartment with my parents sleeping, squished, on my slightly larger-than-normal single bed. Poor them.

Yesterday seemed to go from bad to worse after my mom spent the morning at school. She thought the school was beautiful but the kids were out of control. She agreed that at least one of my kids is abnormally badly behaved so at least I have that to help explain the last few rough months I've had in the classroom.

We returned to the apartment where my dad had been doing this and that on the computer in the morning and we went to Lottemart's TGIF's for lunch. I figured the bulgogi and duck from the previous day warranted some good ol' food they could recognize. Little do they know that I hardly go out for Korean food. School lunches are enough.

We returned home and did some laundry and some Hong Kong hotel booking (my parents decided a hostel with shared bathrooms wouldn't do) before heading out to catch the Hangang Pleasure Boat cruise. This is when the bad to worse part came in.

The traffic was horrific. The weather report was correct and a monsoon hit (hard!) and the fog was so thick we opted out of the last boat. Then the rain slowed and the sky cleared but we were too late.

We took the first taxi we could hail (a black deluxe one - damn!) and went to Itaewon for dinner. I figured my dad would like Ho Lee Chow, a chinese restaurant I'd never been to, but it was overpriced and my parents weren't so impressed. Booo. Bad.

Then we began walking towards the Hannam bus stop where one must go to catch a bus home to Suji. We were going to walk down the dark alley but just as we started to the rain began again and we jumped into another cab to the bus stop. The rain came down even harder then before.

We watched one packed and standing room only 5500 bus speed by and then waited for about 25 or 30 minutes until the 5500-2 came and took us home. Again, standing room only. My poor parents. Luckily some Korean fellows decided now would be a good time to start chatting with us, despite close to NO English skill at all. This added some amusement to our otherwise unlucky, rainy day.

Ah well.

In eight minutes I will leave for my very last day at Kid's College. My very last day in Korea. I don't even have anything I can say about that.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Parents in Seoul

Yesterday we took the Seoul City Bus Tour and it was really great! I would recommend it to anyone who only has a little bit of time in Seoul, or even any of you old timers just for kicks.

We got on in Itaewon but you can get on anywhere. The cost is 10,000 won. There are 27 stops throughout downtown Seoul that I would list if I wasn't so lazy. All the major places plus some not so major ones too. It really makes a difference to see all these places above ground instead of just popping up from the subway each time. You can jump on and off at any stop - the bus comes every thirty minutes. Wow, what a deal! Do it, do it now!

We got off at Myeongdong, Namsangol Traditional Korean Village, Dongdaemun Market, Insadong, and Namdaemun. I wanted to take them to Gyeongbokgung but they were too tired.

In the evening we went to this crazy duck restaurant where we ate lots of crazy amounts of duck. My parents were given forks by the onni. They were skeptical and not quite sure whether it was good but nevertheless enjoyed the "experience".

Today I'm bringing my mom with me to school to check out the kids and the things. Then I have the afternoon off. What shall we do? I'm not quite sure.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The day

As I mentioned, my parents arrived in great spirits. In fact, I couldn't believe their energy considering the fact that I felt like dying when I arrived a year ago. Then again I hadn't been able to sleep the night before or on the plane ride so I was really hurting.

It's really funny to have my family here with me in my life in Korea. Then again, thanks to web cam and this blog and other things we have been able to keep in very good contact this year and it hardly feels like I've missed them.

While I was at work this morning they were real adventurers, walking all around Suji and checking things out, and exploring all of Lottemart. Good for them! Too bad my mother has a sore knee and it's already flaring up. I hope it doesn't get perpetually worse because there's not much else to do but walk. Oh me, oh my.

I took them to my mandu place this afternoon and they quite liked gogi (meat) mandu but thought kimchi mandu was too spicy. They also tried kim bap and thought it was good. Then we went to Gangnam and walked around and they were excited by the people and the goods for sale along the road. We sat at a coffee shop and talked then went for dinner which was all really nice.

It's good to see my parents and to see Seoul through their eyes. I kind of feel like a tourist again and I'm amazing at my killer Korean skills.

Tomorrow we're going to try to take a tourist bus though I don't know any information about that. I've got a gimpy mother on my hands.

That's all I've got.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Arrived alive

I met my parents at the airport at about half past eight last night and they were in fine spirits - much, much more energetic than when I arrived a year ago.

It's crazy to see them sitting in my little apartment. Crazy!

I just had my open class five mintues ago and it was only alright, but now it's over so that's good.

I'll meet my mom and dad at 2:30 to take 'em out for a night on the town.

Peace out.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In progress

It's almost one o'clock and they're still on a plane. What a long flight!

I have a nervous feeling in my stomach. I feel like I'm about to meet an internet boyfriend after a year of webcamming it up.

Seven more hours until they arrive.

I have open class tomorrow and my kids are so bad. Should be a dream.

On their way

My mom and dad are currently in the air somewhere over the Pacific ocean. They have been flying since 11pm yesterday (my time) and will not arrive in Korea until 8pm today. Poor parents.

Here is the itinerary for their visit:

Mom and Dad’s Korea Adventure Itinerary

Monday June 26th

8:10pm – pick up at Incheon airport with hugs, smiles, and happiness. Bus transport (or perhaps car courtesy of boss) to the lovely town of Suji.

9:00 pm – arrival in Suji accommodations and get settled. Catch up on lost times, relax, get over jet lag. Eat if necessary.

Anytime – sleep

Tuesday June 27th

9:00 – Jessica leaves for Work. Parents relax, take it easy, chat on the internet, watch television, get used to the time zone, take walking tour of Suji, etc.

Amazing Race Challenge: Mom and Dad will walk to Lottemart on their own and experience Korean super-super-market as Jess did her first weekend here. Jess was scared like anything mostly. How will Mom and Dad feel? Mom and Dad will eat a small snack in Lottemart which will be an experience in itself. Remember to check out the second floor.

2:45 – Jess will leave work early and meet the parents at this time. Mom and Dad will be ready to hit the town despite jet lag. They will have a light lunch of mandu (dumplings) and bibimbap at the local Suji shop.

3:30 – Head to Seoul towards Gangnam area for walking around in a busy Korean neighbourhood and eating at Pasha, the Turkish restaurant.

Nighttime – head back to Suji.

Wednesday June 28th

Wake up – anytime – Jessica will take the day off!!!

Today’s agenda includes: Gyeongbokgung palace, Insadong, a Korean dinner in Jonggak area, and if we’re lucky, an evening river cruise along the Han.

Return to Suji in the evening.

Thursday June 28

Wake up – anytime – Jessica or D’Arcy will take the day off!!!

Today’s agenda includes: Namdaemun market and the South Gate (national treasure number 1), Dongdaemun market area, and Nepalese food at Everest.

Friday June 30th

8:15 – wake up

9:05 – walk to school

Mom and Dad will come and spend the morning with Jessica and her little kids on Jess’ last day of work! They will be attacked by cute little children.

12:00 – Mom and Dad will go somewhere of their choice: Sinchon/Jamsil area and Technomart, Suwon Fortress, Suwon Folk Village, Itaewon, etc.

7:00 – Parent’s will meet Jessica back at her house and they will all go out for Galbi or Shabu Shabu and Karoke on Jessica’s last night in Korea.

Saturday July 1st

Jessica, D’Arcy, Mom and Dad will depart Suji on the airport shuttle at 7:00am bound for Hong Kong and a huge adventure!!!

*** Itinerary is subject to change based on the mood and desire of the travelers***

I slept like a baby last night.

On with the day!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I left my heart in Itaewon

The sun rises at 5am these days in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. I don't like that I know this, and know this for two days running. But I had a great time last night so I suppose I can't complain about a total of eight hours of sleep over two nights.

Last night we went to Itaewon for what was to be a quiet-ish night of dinner and perhaps a few drinks. Instead we went from bar to bar meeting different characters and dancing and singing and drinking the night away. It was a very nice cap to a year where dancing, singing, and drinking were priority during some particularly bleak months (okay, from July until January).

I think my hair was a smashing success.

I do-see-doed with this sweet Tennessee army gentleman named Tom at the Grand Ol' Oprey.

I fended off Brazilian Fabio (who is in Korea playing soccer with his Brazilian soccer teammates) despite his aggressive tactics which included neck licking.

I tried playing my "the next guy/girl to walk into this bar is your boy/girlfriend" with this Interior Desiger/MA in financing to be Korean guy whose name I forgot as soon as I heard it. He didn't really care for the game, but I did.

But the hardest of all to shake was this crazy beautiful Canadian girl who just wouldn't get her hands off me! I liked it, too. (Contrary to popular belief D'Arcy and I have not become lovers this year - though I may have promised to be her life partner last night but who can remember these things.)

Bubble, bubble

Well, the bad news is that Korea is out of World Cup. Poor Korea. Korea is sad today. A bunch of us stayed up all night to watch the four o'clock am game against Switzerland only to have all of our hopes and dreams crushed because our team sucked. So much for "do it again 2006". Let's do it again in 2010 instead. I will always cheer for Korea! Taehanminguk!!!

The neither good nor bad news is I spent my last Saturday in Korea at the hair salon getting my magic straight perm retouched. I was going to cut off my hair but the hair dresser told me my hair is like silk and looks so nice long so I figured what the hell. I'll cut it all off some other time when I'm going through an awkward regrowth period anyway. Might as well.

The good news is that I have all my plane tickets booked for my parents and myself, even my ticket home. And the big day of return is... Sunday August 20th! I hope I'm not cutting it too close to school starting and whatever but while I'm over here I figure I should stick around a bit. You only live once.

I'm flying out of Bangkok on the 20th and have three hours to say goodbye to my temporary home (the interior of Incheon airport) before jumping on a direct flight to Toronto. I leave at 7:35pm on the 20th and arrive ten minutes later - 7:45pm on the 20th. So much for watching some good movies... I'm getting back my day!!!

I've been having problems falling asleep lately because of all the things that are occupying my thoughts. With the end of an era (where has the time gone??), my parents' visit (in two sleeps!), my upcoming travels (for which D'Arcy and I have very little planned), and the next year of school (I have no idea what I'll be doing), I don't even know where to focus my mind and I'm left a sleepless fool who can only just repeat over and over "where has the time gone?"

I will be gone from Korea in one week.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

She's doing alright

Some of you may remember the story of Wendy, a little girl both D'Arcy and I taught who was diagnosed with leukemia sometime around April. We visited her in the hospital and we were shocked at what we saw. The once rambunctious five year old had been reduced to a wheel-chair bound, energyless little thing who could hardly smile or lift her head. It was heart breaking.

Since then we'd sent pictures and cards back and forth a bit and heard second-handedly that she was living at home but not doing so great. We asked her mother last week if we could come for a visit before we go back to Canada, and set up a date to meet today.

Heading to her house I felt nervous and unsteady, afraid that we would be met with the same lifelessness we had seen in the hospital. I wasn't sure I could take that kind of sadness. What's worse than a sick child, really?

Instead, Wendy was a bouncing, bubbly, and happy girl - happier than I ever remember her back in them Happy Class days. She has gained weight so that she's heavier than she was before, and aside from losing her hair and wearing a mask you would never guess that she's ill.

According to her mother, not all's fine on the health front. Wendy has to eat only boiled foods and everybody has to be very clean and healthy when people come to visit. She can't go to school or interact too much with people. There is a point system that determines her condition (it considers different kinds of blood level counts, etc.) Healthy people have one million points and Wendy has 900. Can this be true? That seems quite discrepant. Maybe her mother meant that healthy people have one thousand points but I can't be sure.

In any case, it was a happy visit for everyone and I'm sorry we didn't come sooner. It looks to me like Wendy will be just fine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

So anyway

We had music, computers, and cooking all in one day. That only left one period for real work and I ran through what I think I might do for my impending open class. I'm hoping that my class is so bad they will somehow forget to schedule this aforementioned open class before I skip on outta here. On the other hand, wouldn't it be swell if my mommy could sit in with all the other mommies during my open class? I'll hope for the former.

I'm getting a magic straight touch up and haircut on Saturday morn. My hair is so damn long right now, and straight. I do miss my curls a little bit but having straight hair is a million times easier, particularly while traveling in the heat and near the sea. It's going to be an awkward thing when I let the straight grow out, that's for sure. Maybe I'll have to go buzz for a while. Anyway, I know you're dying to see how it all turns out but you'll have to wait until at least Saturday.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Starting to bid goodbye

I just ate salmon and stir-fried green pepper so delicious it brought a tear to my eye. It was the first fish I made in my apartment. If only I had put this year to better use.

I made this dinner after waking up from a three hour nap this afternoon. I'll never get to sleep now.

As my time in Korea comes to a close I am trying to capture the photographs of the people and places that meant something to me over the year. I'm shy to take people's pictures but I'm going to face that and take them anyway because I want to. Today I shot the post office ladies. They didn't seem to mind at all.

For the past year I have frequented this office probably the most regularly of all the places I frequent. These ladies are always here, working away, happy to help me out. They speak no English but have some scripts prepared for common questions they might need to ask. They are always happy and friendly and I appreciate them for that. Not to mention the fact that I associate them with keeping in touch with all my people at home. Thanks, post office ladies.

I have a list of other people to photograph so hopefully I can get to them all. They are: the toast lady, the mandu man, the DVD bang guy, the Galbi guy, the school cook, and the extra cute Paris Baguette boy. I've never really been a regular anywhere in Canada and I find it rather nice to be one here in Suji. So long, post office ladies.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Game two

I couldn't understand what was happening at 5:30 when I woke up to screaming and yelling. I could have sworn the big game was tonight but I was mistaken. Korea and France tied 1-1 which means that Korea is definitely moving out of its group. Go Korea, Go!

You may think I'm becoming some kind of "sports fan" but fear not. There will be no 4am soccer watching for me. I hope there is an earlier game sometime next week so my parents can experience the excitement when they arrive.

They'll be here next week at this time.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Row, row, row

From disappointed in people and conversation to an honest goodbye with a guy who meant something since one year ago when we met. Meant something but not enough to make it back home, as (sadly) it will be for most relationships forged here. There's no need pretending. "So long, partner," I said. "Ciao, chica," he said. We laughed and bid each other goodbye. I felt sad.

It's been an interesting day.

White water rafting somewhere two hours away was beautiful but, as warned, hardly white watered. My arms are sunburnt. We swam in the Kang river and flipped our raft to use it as a water slide. Our guide was a cute 21 year old student who spoke pretty good English. Other rafts loved us and treated us like celebrities as usual. We were a group of five. We came from different countries but bridged the gap with Fresh Prince of Bel Air rapping. We slept on paper thin yos (floor mattresses commonly used in Korea)and my body hurt no matter how much I turned. I recommend the rafting to anyone looking for some fun outdoors.

My limbs and hands have been falling asleep on me too much lately.

About the disappointment in people: Far too often, it seems, I meet people who might as well be talking to their own big toe. Three hours later they couldn't tell a single thing about me but I could tell you the path of their lives for the last five years. I shouldn't have to feel like I'm forcing in a story of myself to balance things out. How do these people make it this far without realizing how terrible that is? I can't figure it out. I'm interested in the lives of others but I expect a balance of interest in me, as should we all.

There I go feeling disappointed again just when I was preoccupied with my falling asleep limbs and hands.

I miss my people. People, you know who you are.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Waiting list woes

In a matter of two days I jumped from number 310 to number 192 on the waiting list to get into the grad house. In half an hour I have a date to call my friend at home and discuss living arrangements for next year. She's going to U of T too and has been offered a spot in the res through her department but doesn't want to take it, and instead wants to live with me off campus. I was ready to give up on the res because of my lousy number. Now who knows.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Flights, flights, flights

Ahhh, so many flights to think about!!! I have never been in such regular contact with a travel agent in all my days. Luckily the one I'm using is a gem and has been responding to everything so quickly. If anyone needs a good agent in the Seoul area I recommend Hee-Sang Chung at Sunland Travel Korea (

Today I received my ticket for the summertime traveling plans. A ticket with my name on it is flying from Seoul to Hong Kong to Bangkok. This still gives me a thrill.

I just got off the phone with an airasia representative, rescheduling D'Arcy and my one way ticket from Bangkok to Hanoi. We will be flying to Hanoi and making our way down the length of Vietnam, into Cambodia, and then back into Thailand. From there D'Arcy will head home and I will continue on, potentially (and hopefully!) meeting up with long lost Wendy. Hopefully I'll recognize her after all this time. ;)

I'm still in the process of working out my mother's flight from Korea to HK to Bangkok. She'll be coming along with us all the way to Hanoi so she'll have to book a return flight on her own for that. My dad (he's coming too, whoohee!) is only making it as far as Hong Kong so I've got that flight reserved now. Phewf.

And my director was just talking to us about booking the final flight home. This has been a year of flying. Let's see the list.

1. Toronto - Vancouver - South Korea. One Way. (July)
2. South Korea to Osaka, Japan. Return. (July)
3. Seoul to Jeju-do, South Korea. Return. (October)
4. South Korea - Hong Kong to Bangkok. Return. (December)
5. Bangkok - Phuket. Return. (December)
6. South Korea to Beijing China. Return. (January)
7. South Korea to Tokyo, Japan. Return. (May)
8. South Korea to Hong Kong, China. One Way. (Impending)
9. Hong Kong to Bangkok. Return. (Impending)
10. Bangkok to Hanoi. One Way. (Impending)
11. Bangkok to South Korea. (Impending)
12. South Korea to Canada. One Way. (Impending)

That is a total of 18 take offs and landings, about 60 hours in the air, about 20 bad meals, and around ten in-flight movies.

Oh, guess what day it is today? The 15th of June! Which means I can write about how excited I am to leave in fifteen days. Fifteen days! Unfortunately I have little to write because it doesn't seem real anymore. I'm on overload what with my parents visit, my upcoming travel plans, and all the other things going on these days - like Cajun Chicken Salad at TGI Friday's in twenty five minutes!

Update on big, huge news

My dad is coming too!!!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Big, huge news confirmed!!!!!

My mom is coming to visit!!!!!!!

Really, really, it's true! She's just given over her credit card number to her travel agent and booked her ticket to Seoul, arriving on Monday June 26th at 8:10pm. That's a week and four days away.

I haven't seen my mom in eleven and a half months!

She's going to see my life here: my apartment, my school and kids, my friends, my places. And then she's going to come to Hong Kong and Bangkok and Vietnam with us for ten days of our trip. She's going to be a hip backpacker (with a rolling suitcase).

Yay! My Mom!!!

(Too bad my dad can't come too - someone's gotta watch the dogs.)

Random Wednesday Things

Before I get on with it here is a video from last night to get you into the swing of things. All of you Canadians out there with no one to cheer for are now official Korea fans. Until they go out and you need to become some other team's fan.

Alright, there's really not all that much to get on with. This week is going along finely. There's some bad smell in my nose right now and I'm not sure where it's coming from. I should really cleam my apartment once in a while.

I have potentially big, huge news but I'm going to hold off on revealing it until it's definite. Like Dr. Laura says, "until there's a ring and a date..."

Here is a picture of Korea's number 4,506,304 fan. Ain't she a doll?

While we're at it, here is my class. They're such monsters most of the time but sometimes I love them a lot and feel happy. The last few days have been good so I'm feeling the love. Today Yoon cried and I picked him up - he's grown so much in a year! He used to be a featherweight. Insane. I now have five boys and three girls, and 3.5 of my boys are the uncontrollable variety (I mean worse than typical).

This weekend I'm probably going white water rafting. And maybe on a long walk. Oh, but monsoon season seems to have arrived and the rain has been hitting us hard every three or so days. It's a pain.

Scrubs doesn't seem to be on tonight like it's supposed to be so I guess I'll go read the book I'm reading which is "Power of One," the favourite childhood movie of my coworker.

I taught the concept of syllables to my oldest, smartest kids today. How many syllables is Merry Christmas? Korean syllables: me-lli-cuh-liss-uh-muss-uh. That's seven. No, no, no. Use English syllables: Merr-y Christ-mas. That's four, got it?

Oh, and it just hit me today that I'm going to Hong Kong in just over two weeks. Any advice about Hong Kong? (I'm lookin' at you, Seadragon.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Go Korea! Win a Victory!

I just got home from watching Korea's first World Cup game in downtown Seoul. Me and a million or two other people, all wearing red. TAEHANMINGUK!!!!

It was so busy and alive and patriotic. And fantastic! Everyone sat on the pavement cheering hopefully (and proudly). It was calm and felt safe despite the awesome numbers.

Best of all, Korea won!!! Even better, we left early and caught the empty bus home to Suji, arriving in only half an hour!

Many pictures of crowds in red can be found here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Ahh, the fun of living in Korea...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Seodaemun Prison

In 1908 the Japanese began to build this prison. In 1910 they took control of South Korea. Throughout the rule of Japan (from 1910 until 1945) South Koreans who fought against Japanese colonization were sent here and to other prisons throughout the country where they faced brutal torture and confinement.

Now a museum (right next to Independence Park), we were able to walk through the prison halls, check out the execution building, and see the different ways the prisoners were tortured - complete with blood curdling scream sound effects.

A few things were particularly interesting here. First, there was a relatively fair display of women being tortured, which felt funny to us considering the very subservient nature of women raised in the Confucian way of life. It surprises me a little that Korean women would be involed in fighting for Korea's independence.

Second, the portrayal of the prisoners was quite dramatic. The museum placards used adjectives like "righteous martyrs" far too often. Check out this blurb from the pamphlet:

A living education site for Korean history where visitors can pay a high tribute to the patriotic ancestors who valiantly fought against the Japanese invation for sovereign independence, and renew the determination of the spirit of independence.

Was it a biased portrayal? Who knows, though I did find myself cursing the Japanese. These kinds of things are nasty and difficult to portray.

Third, the buildings were all made of brick. I wondered why I was so aesthetically pleased by the prison and then I realized that it reminds me of home. I remember lamenting that the architecture in Canada is all so new and lacking is historical significance. In Seoul (and the rest of Korea really) save for a few very old temples and gates, everything has been built with a material more modern than brick. I don't even know what it is, but it's ugly and nasty and I liked the brick prison.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Home Early

It's a day early but we thought we'd seen what we wanted to and rain was closing in.

We left after school on Friday and took a bus from Yatap station which is closer to Suji than the other bus terminals we've used lately. It took a little over 3 hours to get to Geonju, a small (and rundown) city in the Southwest province of Jeollabuk. The love hotels around the station were shining brightly, and we selected a tall, neon-lit one with a window between the shower and the bedroom. That's hot. Too bad we've never again encountered a circular bed and mechanical sex chair since Busan in November.

I hate a terrible sleep for some reason. I think maybe the mattress was too hard but my limbs kept falling asleep or stiffening up no matter what angle I chose. I woke up too many times in the night. I hated it, even with the shower window.

In the morning we took a bus to an even smaller and more rundown town called Jinan where an unfriendly, unsmiling man in a shack sold us a bus ticket to Maisan park, our final destination.

We arrived hungry and for lack of any other options chose to try the "famous" Geonju Bibimbap. I used to love bibimbap and couldn't understand people who said they can't stomach it anymore. I can't stomach it anymore. It was a big waste but at least the white rice was hotter than it is at school.
Soon we hit the trail heading for our destination - the cool picture in the Lonely Planet guide of the piles of rock. To get there we had to climb a million stairs (okay, 600 to be precise) then detour to a cave that wasn't worth the climb, and then down another long set of stairs. I felt so out of shape and bad. What's up with that? These Koreans are running around with no problem and I'm huffing and puffing away. Luckily a Pocari Sweat picked me right up.

We finally reached the magically stable towers of rock erected by a famous guy a long time ago. They were worth the stairs, I guess, especially with the shining sun on our faces.

Innocently we sat watching nothing in particular when a smiling man dressed in a red cap, buttoned short sleeve shirt, fancy pants, and shiny black shoes came along and starting chatting. Not so unusual, really. He was friendly and perhaps a bit clingy, and we ended up spending some time walking and talking with he and his friend. His friend really liked striking that huge drum.
They were old military cronies reuniting for a visit and both sported their service rings. It was touching. And the ice cream they bought for us was so worth it. He took a number of pictures of us and promised to mail them "after three days". I'll be checking the mail, buddy.

We saw everything there was to see at the park and took all those buses back to Geonju. Oh wait, that's not true - we got picked up by a police cruiser and the friendly cops struggled to speak English while they drove us to the bus station in Jinan. We were going to stay another night and see an apparently famous and interesting area of preserved and still-used old style buildings but the bus to Seoul was more tempting and we were on the road at 4:20. A big, bad rain storm complete with thunder and lightning started at 5:00.

Now I'm home and still have a whole Sunday ahead of me. Excellent.

This kid has a long way to go.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

So close to the weekend

Nothing's changed... I'm still number 325 on the waiting list, but they haven't updated since Tuesday. What's that about? I always waste time on Thursdays. Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Geonju immediately after work so I'll be out of reach until Sunday. Maybe I'll have more than two junk emails waiting for me when I get back.

Last night I couldn't sleep so I went around my apartment finding more things to throw into what I hope wil be my last box. I was really into the idea of leaving it all behind in Korea and starting fresh back in Toronto but it seems like that idea has taken a turn. Now I'm not sure if it'll all fit.

I even went so far as to pack up my mouse before realizing how annoying it is to use the little mouse mechanism thing on my laptop. I plugged it back in after ten minutes. Though annoying, I did improve.

Why do I insist on torturing myself this way? The word of the week in Smile class is "relax."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Waiting and waiting

Is it not June 15th yet?

Yesterday I was number 327 and today I'm 325 on the waiting list to get a spot in the Graduate House. What are my odds, would you say? The list is 620 applicants long.

"What, you want to live in residence again, you crazy fool?!?!" Yes, yes I do. It's easy, well-located, pretty cheap with utilities included, and I don't need a 12 month lease when I only have an 8th month program. That's good isn't it? Plus there are concrete walls and who doesn't like a bit of concrete to spice up one's living quarters.

I had a bad day full of hate for my job and staring at the calendar, wishing for time to hustles its bustle.

Some good things to report: D'Arcy is leaving a bit earlier than me from our travels. She'll be heading home sometime during the first week of August where I'll be leaving a few weeks later. She's been wondering and thinking about how to get her two large suitcases home and in the end has decided that it makes the most sense to store them with a friend here in Korea and then pick them up between returning from Southeast Asia and heading home. That means she can easily take home my laptop and photo album (two things I don't feel comfortable sending by slow boat mail.) This settles my mind on that matter.

I will send everything home and travel right there without hanging around at all in Korea. My boss is currently waiting for prices to become available.

This weekend we're going to Geonju to see a park and some rock piles that are a "must see" in Korea.

On Monday I was frustrated at belly dancing and couldn't get a couple of steps down. Today they magically came to me and I was rockin' it. Our teacher says that foreigners learn faster than her Korean students. Why do you think that is?

C'est tout.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Happy Memorial Day

Today was a day off! I love days off and they love me! D'Arcy and I started off the day with a trip to our favourite little Mexican place in Itaewon. The food is so delicious and fantastic. We'll definitely be returning another time before it's too late so it wasn't an emotional experience.

From there we took the subway to the National Museum of Korea at Ichon station. One of the great things about Korea is the price for certain things. A subway ride is less than one dollar. A four hour bus ride to another city has been (for me) between 15 and 20. And the entrance fee to this huge and modern museum is two dollars. I can't forget the fact that you never ever tip. I'll certainly miss that. Anyway, this museum is full of all kinds of things Korean from the different dynasties of the past. There are prints, ceramics, paintings, sculptures, etc. etc. etc.

We were lucky enough to encounter this jolly chap, a retired English teacher who took us under his wing and taught of very important things about Korea and Confucionism (but not how to spell confucionsim). There are five elements of Confuscionism that he forced us to memorize. Let's see if I can: Trust, Benevolence, Wisdom, Hope (I think) and I can't remember the fifth. Each of these correspond to a direction - North, East, West, South, and center. Along with these five principles are five colors (red, black, white, blue, and yellow) that all have special significance and directional relation, four animals (Black Turtle, White Tiger, some colored dragon, and Red Pheonix). Then there are the four seasons that correspond to all the directions except the center. I am doing pretty well here after all... I didn't do so well when he put us to the test on the spot after throwing all this stuff at us at once. He told me he thought I was clever but after my poor performance on his test he changed his mind. Damn.

By the way, he is a volunteer at the museum, not just some strange-o there to quiz English speakers. We appreciated his lesson even if it didn't all make perfect sense to us. It's nice to see the pieces slowly fitting together in my head about the history, the culture, and the geography of this country thanks to traveling, reading, watching, and talking.

After exhausting our historic interests for one day we headed north towards the prison museum at Independence Park. Okay, I guess we were looking for a different kind of history; the gory Japanese rule torture methods kind of history. To bad we got there just as it closed down. It'll have to be another day and hopefully that other day comes. We did stroll around Independence Park, built to commemorate Korea's Independence from Japan. For those who don't know, Japan occupied Korea from 1910 until 1945 when Korea was liberated. Hey, was Korea liberated by the UN or the USA? Our tourguide today confused us. In any case, during the occupation Japan destroyed many important historical sites in Korea (they used a temple as a zoo for example) and many Korean people still harbor ill will for Japan. What I can't understand is why there isn't the same kind of animosity for China who assisted North Korea in attacking the South. Anyone?

Wow... too much rambling is going on here. Here is a lovely "waterfall" as labeled on the map at Independence Park. Too bad the water was all dried up and only this crusty puddle in a painted bottom pond remains.

After walking around some more in the bustling Jongno-sam-ga we ended up in Dongdaemun at another favourite - the Nepalese restaurant called Everest. Ahhh.. it's so delicious. This time we knew it would be our last time and sighed inwardly as we gorged ourselves on nan and dal and chicken masala. Mmm.

Happy Anniversary to my brother and sister-in-law. Two years! Here's a picture of them when they first met. Brian has sweet hair and how is Shanna standing up at that angle? Scratch that, it's a jolly jumper.

While I'm at it, here is a picture of my family minus my dad (sorry pops). We all look well coordinated and suave here. This was actually about four years ago when we were all youthful and we wore black. Look at my hair!

Monday, June 05, 2006

I can't stop thinking about Shawn's suicide. Suicide. I don't even know the guy and I feel angered disbelief and betrayal. I can't imagine how it would feel if someone I really cared about took their life.

About the betrayal. His posts were almost always glowingly optimistic. The only complaints he ever made were about rude people on the internet who sometimes left disparaging comments, or every once in a while he'd wonder whether blogging was worth it anymore. When I say glowingly optimistic I mean glowingly. He raved about the life choice he made to leave his dissatisfying job in the states and take charge. He seemed to love everything about Asia; his income, the food, the women, his current job.

I feel lied to.

This makes me think about two things.

First, blogging isn't what it appears to be. His readers felt like they were hearing the whole story (did they??). It's easy to forget that bloggers hide bad stuff a lot of the time, or at least things that portray them negatiely. Of course. We do that in our day to day lives but online and as readers we can forget. Why? Maybe because it's written and therefore somehow legitimate. Maybe because we just have nothing else to go by. We really feel connected to strangers as though we know them. At least I do, and he managed to deceive me.

Secondly, since the deception was so successful I have questions about his decision. Was it even a decision? Was it pre-meditated or did the drunken stupor he wallowed induring his last few days lead him to the ledge. Did he stand there and think about it or just leap? Didn't he think about the people he was leaving behind? Did he wonder about the reaction of his family and friends and the huge online community that followed him?

I can't imagine making that jump. It must have been so bad and he seemed so good that it doesn't add up in my mind. The two images that I conjure up in my mind of Shawn Matthews the English teacher and Shawn Matthews the depressed suicide victim don't match.

I won't lose any more sleep over it. It's just sad.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Very shocking and sad news has shaken me up, along with pretty much the entire ex-pat community in Korea. The author of Korea Life Blog, probably the most famous blog about teaching in Korea, has taken his life. I read his entire archives one weekend before coming to Korea and have been reading his newest blog about teaching in China ever since. I know he has been a source of many good things for everyone who is here, has been here, or thinks about coming here.

It's unbelievable.

Read this.

Saturday night and the air is getting hot

What an emotional moment I just had at the DVD bang. Now I know all about the 1950 war in Korea thanks to that cute actor whats-his-name.

Speaking of bugs, one of my unfortunate coworkers has contracted head lice. What's in store for me? Vomiting or lice?!?! Let's hope that it doesn't hit up everybody at my school. Unless it would result in a weeklong school closure...

Today I went to What the Book in Itaewon to sell off all my books. I wanted to lighten my load. Usually I hate to see books go but this is no time for pack-rattiness. So long to my phrasebook, Korean langague book, Korean-English dictionary, and Beijing guidebook, not to mention a bunch of fiction I brought or bought over the year. To my dismay, What the Book has a terrible used-book policy! With the forty dollar "value" of my used books I was only given a store credit to be used solely on used books in the store. What's the difference if I buy new with my credit? I was ticked but didn't feel like carting them all back to Suji. I chose some books that look interesting but I'll have to send them home and read them later because there's no time now. No time!

A woman was smiling strangely at us and we wondered why. Perhaps she is a secret reader of my blog, I thought. So? Are you? Or did I have something in my teeth.

It's been nice spending a weekend at home for a change.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Moving along

Take a look at that datestamp. That says June 1st. When I saw June written on the whiteboard in my classroom it reminded me very much of July. I once had July written on my whiteboard, and that was a year ago. Okay, eleven months. Eleven months!!!

In one month to the day I will be leaving Korea, probably never to return though I can't guarantee that. I have big travel plans that I'm itching to get to.

Today at school I felt like quitting. My kids really drove me nuts doing everything they know is wrong to do. I can't tell you how happy I'll be outside of the classroom forever. Sure, kids are cute and fun to play with once in a while, but teaching them? And controlling the ones who live to screw with you? I'll pass.

June will likely speed by. We have enough things we want to do in the country to keep us busy every weekend but have decided to take this weekend easy and stay home. I'm really glad I went to Seoraksan, Gyeongju, and Ganghwa of late because now I feel like I have a good idea of what Korea's countryside is like and can say that I've seen more than just Seoul. I've actually seen quite a bit of the country, what with my Fall trips to Jeju and Busan, my two mountain retreats, and the trips I just mentioned from the last month.

In my opinion the country is beautiful. There are mountains everywhere and the land is lush and green. The disappointing thing is how ugly the cities and towns are. Everything looks very much the same; towering apartment buildings, crumbling little buildings with blue or orange roofs, construction everywhere that doesn't seem to improve anything, half-dry creeks that smell like sewage, Paris Baguettes, Dunkin Donuts, and KFC's on every block... If people never touched the land it would be beautiful.

Anyway, as for June there are a few things to look forward to. Two of my kids have birthday parties which is always exciting. Next Tuesday is another holiday (you can't go wrong with holidays) and I have no particular plans. Then I will be very busy counting down the weeks, and then days until I leave. No more of these crazy months to count.

I'm also looking forward to school in the fall and wonder about who I'll meet in my program and out of it. I hope there will be some people to connect with after a year of little variety. A year! I can't get over it. I haven't been able to get over it all this time. Each month goes by and still I can't get over it.

I wonder if I can go until June 15th without talking about how excited I am to be moving along.