Thursday, August 31, 2006

Korean in Toronto and the end of the blog

Yesterday I took a few friends to a Korean restaurant for lunch.

"Annyonghi shipsheyo!!"

I really wanted to get galbi but it was so expensive I couldn't believe it. In Suji we paid 8,000 won I liked to think of as about 8 dollars and in Toronto the same thing would cost TWENTY. Forget that.

Instead three of us chose to have bulgogi and one chose to have dolsot bibimbap. I ordered in Korean and wowed the waitress who turned out to be from Bundang. My neighbour!

My friends were all duly impressed until the bill came and it turned out I ordered the more expensive bulgogi by mistake. Oops. Fifteen bucks for some bulgogi? What a lip off. Oh well, they gave us some service-uh mandu and the side dishes were well enjoyed and just like 'home' so I was forgiven.

I am moving today (and Saturday) to an apartment downtown in preparation for school which starts on the 11th. I think I'll buy some yo's for overnight guests to sleep on.

People ask me if I miss Korea. I say no, I do not exactly miss it. I'm very happy to be home in Canada where things are nice and easy and logical. Where salespeople speak English and so do health professionals and bankers. I Love my shower that's behind a curtain and subsequently my dry bathroom floor, and it's still taking some time to get used to not having to ask whether a public bathroom is disgusting before using it. They are heated, smell fresh, and usually have both toilet paper AND hand towels. It's like a dream.

I do still think very fondly of Korea and Koreans, am so happy that I had the opportunity to go there and do the things that I did, meet the people that I met and have the experience that I experienced. And this is where the blog ends.

Thanks to all my readers and commenters for making my blog experience an extra-positive one. Particularly those like Blake, Margie, Rob, Kiran, Shelly, and Seadragon (as well as a few others I'm missing I'm sure) who created the bulk of my comments when they didn't/don't even know me.

I guess having this blog was not only a way of keeping my friends and family up to date on my abroad life but also to keep me sane. Living in the 'burbs of Korea with not much social stimulation, my blog was like a friend to come home to. My friend here at home told me she's sad I'm not continuing because she feels like she's losing a friend. But I'm here in the flesh! Maybe she prefers me in written form. Ooh hoo hoo.

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

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Weight loss or gain in Korea

For the curious, while in Korea I lost 14 pounds while eating all the white rice and Mexican food I could take. Fancy that.

I guess I should mention that a few months before Korea I randomly gained about 14 pounds.

Still it's interesting.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Behaviour management

Twice this has happened. I want my dog Kwinter to move from the kitchen to the family room and so I call her name. She doesn't listen. Immediately I threaten her with a backwards count from five...

What am I thinking?? She's not a five year old Korean kid.

Tasot... net... set...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Note to self: stick to the right!

It took me ten months to get used to walking on the left side of the sidewalk in Korea. I'm all messed up! At least no one drives a motorcycle straight at me in these parts.

There are so many cultures all together in this one city. It's a beautiful thing. Despite that and for some reason I felt unusually nervous on the subway this morning. Until I was standing on the platform at Bloor heading West with Koreans on either side of me. I badly wanted to say something but couldn't think of anything that wouldn't be lame.

Speaking of Koreans, they're everywhere! I saw a girl on the subway wearing a "Come, Let's Walk With Vigorous Strides!" t-shirt. Do you think they sold that one in Canada too? I somehow doubt it. I hope I didn't throw mine out during my closet purge. I also saw a guy wearing a red soccer bracelet and I wanted to cheer at him. And then there was a guy wearing the Korean team jersey.

I went to check out my department and meet with a professor who reminded me of what school is like and made me almost miss teaching five year olds. Then I chatted with a current grad student (who is Korean) and she made me excited, despite her warnings of how hard it will be. I still feel like I've managed to slip in. Hopefully I don't slip out.

We had a welcome home barbecue last night and my mother and I did a lot of preparation for it. She laughed when I couldn't remember where the saran wrap was stored in our kitchen. I laughed when I easily remembered where other things are stored. You should see the collection of postcards on my parents' fridge.

I saw some friends last night that I haven't seen, including one who also spent a year abroad and who also came home with a piercing. Another friend of ours did the same. I am unoriginal. What makes people go abroad and come back pierced? Maybe so we can say "Thailand" or something when someone asks where we got it done. Maybe to reflect the internal changes we felt, or wanted to feel.

I had a crush on the salesman who sold me my guitar (I got a guitar) and the salesman who sold me my cell phone (I got a cellphone). They both spoke English flawlessly.

I saw my apartment that my friend found for us. We're moving in next week. My attic room is big enough for a game of ball hockey, if only I played ball hockey.

I went to a bar the other day and saw half my highschool, it seemed. Including one who was close at one point and then not anymore. He introduced me to his girlfriend. "We were friends in highschool," I said. "This was THE friend in highschool," he corrected me, and I was flattered. We made plans for today that I broke. I felt smug and cool with my year, my Thai tan, and my pierce. Unoriginal.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


That was the longest period of non-posting since I started this blog over a year and a half ago.

I'm home. I'm back in Toronto, Canada where the air is breezy, the vegetables fresh, and the English welcome.

The reason I haven't written is because I came home three days earlier than I told my family in order to get them with the always popular 'surprise return' that I had been plotting since about December. Imagining, if not plotting.

So here's a quick synopsis of the journey home.

I left Koh Pha Ngan (and Wendy) on Wednesday the 16th, taking a ferry to Koh Samui and then an airplane from Koh Samui to Bangkok. I arrived in Bangkok at about 10:30 after another lovely flight on Bangkok Airways (who ever heard of a meal on a one hour flight??) and checked into a hotel only a few minutes from the airport. My ol' Korea pal Dan happened to be in town so we hung out most of the night.

I didn't get any sleep at all that Wednesday night, mostly on purpose. When I came to Korea I hadn't been able to sleep at all the night before I left and then I found jetlag not such a problem. I thought I might be able to beat it early. Here I am writing this at 6am and I've been up for two hours cleaning, but I digress.

I caught a plane from Bangkok to Korea at 7am on Thursday. Halfway through the flight we stopped in Taipei and I had my very own celebrity sighting right there in the terminal. The Korean soccer team! Wahh! Girls were taking pictures and getting autographs but I didn't see blondie so I didn't bother. I did chat to a hot gyopo, however. The team was even sitting on my fright.

I arrived in Korea at 5pm Korean time (3pm Bangkok time), had three hours to kill in the airport, and got on my final flight home direct to Toronto at 8:00pm.

I must say here that sitting in Incheon airport after a month and a half of being away from Korea really drove home how much I care for this country and these people. So many teachers come here and hate it. They complain and complain about the food, the customs, the habits, the kids, and whatever else they can find to complain about. I, however, feel very connected and fond of Koreans (in fact I feel they're a lot friendlier than Southeast Asians generally speaking) and I felt more emotional than I expected as the plane pulled away from my home for the last year. I'd like to go back to Korea someday, and I'd like to hold onto the little Korean I have. Maybe I'll email that gyopo...

The flight was thirteen hours long in the air which sounds pretty bad, particularly after an eight hour flight just before it, but it went quickly. For the previous two or three days I was in a constant state of over-excitability and couldn't believe a person could feel so much excitement hour after hour. Finally somewhere around hour ten the excitability subsided a little bit.

Until Toronto approached. I looked at the land below me as we cruised down through the clouds. All of this well-organized farm land streched out with curly-roaded suburbs and large flat factories surrounding Pearson airport. There are no mountains in sight. I'll miss the mountains. There are no rice paddies or towering apartment buildings or strange bodies of water that welcome you into the city. I caught a glimpse of the city-city in the distance and the excitement returned.

Something that occupied D'Arcy and my thoughts near the end of our year was what kinds of reactions we'd have to life back in Canada upon our return; what kind of reverse culture shock might we experience. I couldn't picture what might strike me. As soon as I got on the plane it really felt strange to have white, English speaking stewardesses who spoke to each other in English. I heard one say to the other, "It's really bumpy today." What?!? Also, I was reading this Canadian Living magazine provided by Air Canada and was so aware of the page after page of advertisments and the magazine's focus on encouraging you to buy different things they highlight as in style or whatever. I took for granted my ability to ignore all forms of advertising in Korea thanks to lack of understanding. I didn't have to buy anything (except for that damn pomegranate juice with the 'sexy boy' and catchy jingle), I didn't care which brand of cleaning detergent I used, I was free from all of that. Don't tell me what to buy. Don't put ideas in my head. Don't make me aware of brands. I don't like that.

My flight was late but my friend Jordana was waiting for me which was really great. Thanks, friend. I called my brother on the way home to tell him I was coming and he was an exceptional actor, pretending I was his friend even though I acted silly on the phone and for sure would have made myself laugh had I been on the other end of the line. Way to go, brother. There was no particular plan for the moment of surprise. My mother would be surprised that day (Thursday night) and my dad the following because he was away on business - hence the delayed post.

When I got to my house (my house!!) Rick and Carina ushered me inside. "Quick," they whispered, "mom's in the bathroom!" I came in, made myself comfortable at the kitchen table, and when my mom came in she nearly died. She stopped in her tracks, a few seconds passed before her jaw dropped, then another few seconds and she screamed and hugged me, shaking like a leaf. It was priceless.

My dad's surprise wasn't nearly as good. He's not so excitable.

So, here I am back at home. It feels great, really it does. My shower was never particularly noteworthy but now it really feels like the greatest shower I've ever used. My bed is not hard as a rock and not soft like playdough. My duvet makes my heart swell. My dogs never looked so cute. My, my, my.

Here's an interesting development: As soon as I got into my room I looked around and saw something I hadn't seen before. Garbage. I have so much shit everywhere; clothes, books, dolls, knick knacks, soccer trophies, hats, shoes, pictures, junk. And I have an overwhelming need to get rid of it all. Today, though not even unpacked, I took out all the clothes from my closet and piled them up, ready to give it away to some organization or another. I think I have about thirty sweatshirts that probably all still fit but I need to just get them out. If I have two or three sweatshirts in my life that's likely too much.

I'm not sure if it was living in a shoebox sized apartment for a year, or traveling through countries where kids are lucky if they have shoes. I think probably the former. All I know is that I want to simplify everything, clean out everything, and have little stuff. Screw stuff.

This has been a long enough post for now. I'm going to be uploading pictures of my trip over the next couple of days so be sure to check in if you're interested. I'll also be noting any other reverse culture shock things down here. Might as well.

Monday, August 14, 2006

rain, rain, go away

it's been raining all damn day. mostly pouring with a bit of drizzle and some brief moments of mist to tempt us out of our bungalow only to regret it later. the beach still looks blue from the balcony, at least.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

At a loss for a title

Yesterday morning we left our over-priced/not-so-nice bungalow on Sairee Beach and started the hunt for a cheaper one. We didn't realize it would really be a hunt. We looked from 9 o'clock until 12:00, even moving to a quiter beach on the South side of the island before giving up and sitting down to breakfast/lunch. Everything was full!!! (I am providing some photos for you anxious people out there!)

We were making plans on catching the 3 o'clock ferry to Koh Pha Ngan (something we didn't want to do so soon after only one night on Koh Tao) when Wendy went to ask the guy at the desk some question or other. He offered her a fancy shmancy room for 3000 baht with the promise of a 400 baht room the following day. She said 2000. He agreed.

This 2000 baht room (equivalent to approx. 53 CAD) was the most beautiful place I've ever stayed in my life! It reminded me of the reward challenge rewards on Survivor and it lifted our spirits in the same way.

Picture this: A bungalow directly on the white sands of a crystal blue bay lined with curvy boulders on either side. Immediately upon entry there is a small private swimming pool, a coffee table and chairs, and two lounge chairs facing the water(s). A few steps into the open-faced bungalow is a wicker couch with soft cushions before a big screen TV equipped with satellite and DVD player. (Having a TV is luxury, believe you me.) There is a small pond next to this entertainment area and lovely deocrations and lighting throughout. Through a set of French/Thai/Carribean style doors is a king size bed draped in Thai silk and clean, fresh-smelling sheets. A mosquito net hangs exotically above.

Here I am standing on our front porch. There is our private pool before me and the ocean behind me. Wendy is taking the picture from a lovely lounge chair. Ahh.

Then we have the bathroom. Oh, the bathroom! It is so beautiful! The bathroom, off the enclosed bedroom area, is all made from stone with a large sink, a flushable toilet, and an open-to-the sun and stars shower. You know the kind of shower with a wide circular head that you'd picture on Gilligan's island or something. The pressure was strong and the fresh air on my skin was incredible.

Here is our living room. Note the pond in the back. What can one do with a pond? Who knows but it's much appreciated.

We couldn't believe our good fortune. That kind of room would probably go for 2000 dollars at home. Ay ya yaiy.

So we're still in Koh Tao, sorry to have said goodbye to our suite but satisfied with the time we spent reading, lounging while looking at the ocean, and watching MTV with the waves crashing just outside our open front bungalow.

Here are some semi-old pictures for you to enjoy.

I am standing in the mountains which I climbed in Pai. I was really tired.

Here I am along the road in Pai, taking an early morning walk and loving the beauty.

We're going to take it easy in Koh Tao until we get bored. One week until I'm home!!! I can't believe it and am very excited about heading home and seeing my dogs (oh, and my family and friends too, bien sur.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Koh Tao

We were in Koh Samui but it could have been anywhere in the world with a beach. Now we're in Koh Tao and I guess it could be anywhere in the world with a beach but at least it's hip and cool, man.

I had a Thai massage today. Tomorrow I might go for oil. The sunset was obstructed by some clouds. Oh, woe is me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

We didn't die in Pai

Nothing has been going right for us!!!

Yesterday we went to the hot springs and they were really neat. They were steaming hot - the hottest ones were 80 degrees celcius and we boiled eggs for half an hour. They were runny and unedible but our moto taxis were waiting. The scenery along the ride to and from the springs was so stunning. I can't even believe it.

When we got back to Pai we went to check in on Thom's Elephant camp where we had made a booking in the morning to go on an elephant ride that afternoon. They didn't take our names in the morning. "Do you want our names?" I asked. They didn't. When we got back to them in the afternoon they had no room for us. I hate that bullshit.

We ate a big lunch and relaxed.

Later that night we were lamenting how we never met anyone and then met three pretty cool Israelis and shared a nice international Jew moment, singing songs we all know and talking about commonalities and differences. This place is teaming with Israelis and they have a terrible traveling reputation.

We were checking in repeatedly with a rafting company hoping more people would sign up so we could go rafting. All we needed was ONE more person to sign up. But nada. Not even at other agencies in the city. Blasted.

Instead we booked a one day trekking trip which we just got back from now. We nearly died climbing up a mountain for two hours but we made it and walked through corn fields, rice fields, streams, bush, and other loveliness. It was fantastic. Then we rode home through the mountains with the sun setting behind them. In the back of a pickup truck. No benches even.

Tomorrow morning we're heading back to Chiang Mai to catch a 2:30 flight to Bangkok and then an evening flight to Samui. Hopefully we can find a place to sleep considering the full moon party is tomorrow as well.

Don't worry Maurice, Wendy's A OK! :)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pai in your eye

Yesterday morn we took a packed air-con minivan (there are no goverment run buses) to Pai. To get there we had to go through a mountain range which meant a hell of a windy road. We held on tight.

We strolled into Pai around noon and it was like a ghost town. A few tourists here and there, a few Thai's here and there, a bunch of businesses along two main roads. Not much on the go, and we kind of liked it that way. After the obligatory half hour investigation of guesthouses that look all the same we settled on one called Mr. Jan's, which happens to be Lonely Planet. Not too shabby, not too hot. A lovely garden.

Wendy wanted to relax so I took a stroll. When I returned to the room her previous nagging headache had blossomed to full fledged badness.

Thanks to Wendy I've had the pleasure of checking out the Tel Aviv and the Pai hospital facilities. In Tel Aviv the hospital was sparkly and modern. She received an IV to treat her dehydration and throat infection and was feeling good as new. In Pai the hospital was run down and unprofessional looking. The bathroom had neither soap nor toilet paper. She was given a handful of different meds to treat her dehydration and stomach bacteria. Now she's doing better.

Last night there was a collosal thunder storm that took out the power, knocked down a bamboo tree, and put us to bed at 8:30. Man, am I ever rested.

This morning we took a walk through the foggy rice paddies surrounded by mountains and made a dog friend who came along the whole way.

Now there's a screaming baby in the next room boiling my blood. Quit it, you damn crybaby.

After this we're going to hire motos to take us to the hot springs, then we'll ride a couple of elephants, and tomorrow we're going white water rafting. The day after we fly to Koh Samui.

It can't get any better than this. Minus the baby.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Heavenly Goodness

I have been to paradise and back...

Just joking, just joking. But I did do a full day Thai cooking course and man, am I ever a rocking cook.

On the menu today was:

Pad Thai
Spring Rolls
Coconut Soup with Prawns
Green Curry
Chicken with Cashew Nuts
Sticky Rice With Mango

I can now officially whip up any of these fine dishes to perfection, as long as I have all the quantities pre-measured and laid out for me. And I've discovered my inner love of cooking, as long as the mess is whisked away by some too young Thai worker who is probably getting paid in peanuts.

It was the greatest day of my life! And now I can't move or fit into any of my non elastic or fisherman pant-esque clothing.

We didn't get to Pai tonight and instead will be leaving first thing tomorrow.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Chiang Mai

The lobby of my guest house is comfortable and friendly. The only trouble now are the two only a little annoying people sitting behind me talking about this n' that travel story.

I'm in Chiang Mai, the big city in the North of Thailand. On the bus ride in from Sukothai (this town made for a nice bike ride around some ancient ruins and some good live music courtesy of a Thai cover band, not to mention bad pad thai and incredibly apologetic service) we passed by a shopping mall, a Carrefour, and a bunch of big box stores. These are things I do not miss from home, unless you count the fact that you know what you're getting and know what the price is.

Today we allowed ourselves a day of rest and relaxation. I just got up from a late afternoon nap and Wendy is nowhere to be seen. Hmm.

Tomorrow we've enrolled in a Thai cooking course, after which I will be prepared to whip up all my favourite dishes: spring rolls, green curry, chicken and cashew nuts. The only thing missing is sticky rice and mango but alas, that seems to be a desert rarely found in this country.

We spent some time today looking into flights from Chiang Mai to Samui on the 9th and ended up getting a ticket through our hostel. It's printed on old-school printer paper.

Okay, I have to give you some quotes of the annoying girl behind me:

"Singapore is more American than America. I really feel that."

"I spend a lot of time in the Botanical Gardens and little India."

"So you're from Munich? I haven't seen that movie."

"I'm going to this meditation retreat." "That's what I'm doing!"

"I just finished that book 100 years of Solitude, have you read that??"

Is she really that bad? I don't know.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Black Eyed Peas live in Bangkok

What a great show and what a great surprise!!!

I don't remember the last time I blogged.

I think that since then D'Arcy has gone home to arrive at her father's surprise sixtieth birthday party (she reports that all's well and her dad cried like a baby) and Wendy arrived to join me as we do a little exploring in Thailand.

Wendy is my age-old friend from the elementary school days and also my first ever traveling partner. We matured from Superclubs Puntarena in Cuba, to a month spent in Israel, and now a little less than a month in Thailand. She arrived the other day and I told her that we had to stay in Bangkok until the evening of the 31st because I really badly wanted to watch this Thai cultural show. Instead we went to the Black Eyed Peas concert. And it was a great show.

We have begun to craft a tentative plan and if anyone has any input please input away. Right now we're in Ayuthuya and tomorrow we'll probably take off for who knows where. We have a little over a week to head North towards Chiang Mai and Pei. Then we'll fly South to the islands from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. Mind the spelling, if you please.

Today we made the mistake of booking a tourist bus from Bangkok to where we are now. We ended up in a small van with not enough seats per passenger and no room for our backpacks. I hate it! From now on we'll stick to government operated buses and trains.