Mom and Dad in Asia – Part 1

Hi everyone, how’s it going? Sorry for not posting for so long, but life has been busy busy busy. Hoping to make more posts this year.

My mom and dad came to Korea in March of last year (2017). They stayed in a hotel in Insadong, Seoul for the first few days, then we took an epic road trip around the country during my spring break. As usual, I kept a travel journal of our adventures. What follows is that journal, slightly edited. Of note, my mom’s knees were acting up a bit in January and February, so we were worried how the trip would go for her. My mom is a friggin champ, and she had no trouble getting around with her trusty walking sticks for a bit of help.

Tuesday 3/21 – THEY’RE HERE OMG! YAAAAAY! Got them to Insadong, settled in the hotel, then took the bus home. Why is there so much traffic at 10 pm uggggh.

Wednesday 3/22 – Met up with Mom and Dad for dinner at a great temple food restaurant in Insadong. Dinner comes with a traditional show of temple dances. Most hilarious part of my week was watching them have to sit down to put their shoes on post-meal.

Friday 3/24 – Met up with some of my best friends at a restaurant in Seoul. Lovely evening hanging out together, but in Korea instead of the USA.

Sunday 3/26– mom and dad taxi from Seoul to my apartment, load car, set out. Visited my coworkers on our way to the highway south. Road trip to Jeonju.

Arrive in Jeonju; eat dinner at a little hole in the wall I saw on Seonkyeong longest’s YouTube Channel. Fantastic for 21,000 (about $20) total! Still one of my favorite meals for that price point that I’ve had in Korea so far.

Monday 3/27: Jeonju exploring day. Moseyed our way to the traditional Hanok village, saw dozens of hanbok shops (Korean traditional clothing), had a tour of the shrine to the royal portraits, where we… saw a bunch of portraits. Ate lunch at a Korean beef restaurant which was delicious. Relaxed at hotel, then went to the Nambu market via taxi. Monday night- completely dead. Walked a bit, went back to the hanok village and had bibimbap.

Tuesday 3/28– set out for Gyeongju with a detour to Jirisan park to see a temple because we saw a sign on the highway for it (note: I thought it was Ssangyesa temple. It isn’t. My bad!). Very simple temple. Very few people around.  The temple had one large courtyard. There was a family in mourning of some sort, which we didn’t want to interrupt. Everyone we encountered there asked us to join them for lunch. We declined until a monk came to our car as we were leaving and asked us in simple English to join them. Okay- we went back in. Temple “cafeteria” consisted of a self serve counter with bibimbap type veggies and rice. Everyone was super nice to us. Mom and dad sat on the floor! This small group of Korean women were very interested to talk to us, but with my limited Korean we mostly just nodded and smiled.

After lunch we drove to Gyeongju. Uneventful 3 hours, rest stops, moving traffic. Checked into our motel- not as nice as their hotel in Seoul, but it works just fine for the price and location. Ate dinner at a small restaurant in an alley way behind the motel at the manager’s suggestion; amazing meal. We had this dish with steamed pumpkin and beef. I’ve never seen or tasted anything like it.

Wednesday 3/29: Shilla dynasty day! We went to Bulguksa temple (a World Heritage Site) in the morning. Wandered around for a few hours. Gorgeous morning. Ate lunch at the mom and pop restaurant down the hill from the temple. Went to the Seokgoram grotto afterwards. Very windy road. Nice information lady gave us a private 30 minute lecture in great English about the history of the grotto and the mythologies/stories behind it. The guy who built both Bulguksa and Seokgoram did so for his parents in this life (Bulguksa) and his parents in the past life (Seokgoram). Lots of stairs up and down. Mom was a champ. Saw huge groups of school kids on their 6th grade field trip to Gyeongju, which is a trip that every kid in the country takes with their class.

Back to hotel to chill out a bit. Did laundry and the owner was very nice to let me hang it on the roof where she sets her hotel laundry out to dry. Mom and dad wanted a non-Korean meal, so we went to the Ashley buffet at the Kensington resort. Small for an Ashley, but served its purpose well. Nothing amazing… but western was good. Ashley buffets come in various sizes and qualities.

Thursday 3/30: more Shilla! Went into town and to the Gyeongju National Museum. Spent a few hours with audio guides. Great history lesson! Drove into town, parked and had a pork ssam lunch (dwaejiggogi)… good god, that restaurant. Amazing dwaenjang jjigae with homemade dwaenjang paste.  We then walked through Tumuli park, looking at all of the ancient burial mounds. We also walked over to see saw the Cheomseongdae astronomy tower. This tower is the oldest surviving astronomy tower in Asia. One of the most hilarious moments of the entire trip had to be mom and dad making friends with this huge group of university students, who were also on a trip to Cheomseongdae, and all dressed in matching pink shirts. So, obviously, they wanted to take a big group photo with us. We stopped by the remains of the old Donggung palace and Anapji pond around 5 pm; I’ve been to this place two times before, once during peak cherry blossom season with my friend Victoria. Unfortunately, we were about a week early for cherry blossoms. I knew this place would look spectacular after the sun went down, but we were pooped and sunset wasn’t for another hour, so we went back to the hotel to rest, then found a Korean restaurant in the neighborhood of the hotel. Again, we sat on floor, had samgyetang (Korean chicken ginseng soup) and just another great meal.

Friday 3/31– drove from Gyeongju to Busan. We stopped at the Haedong Yonggunsa temple on the cliffs overlooking the ocean north of Busan, but it was super cold and rainy, and there a zillion steps, so we went down most but not all of the way to the temple. Great views from the side, though. There were dozens of street food stalls near the exit to this temple, most featuring grilled fish and squid on a stick, but we decided to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant – Korea’s Chinese food is very different than America’s Chinese food. Finally we made it to Busan and headed straight to Haeundae Beach where it proceeded to rain and be cold and miserable. We checked into our hotel really close to the Jagalchi fish market. We wandered around the area outside the fish market and found a really small fish restaurant to eat at, with decent prices. Had a few pieces of fresh fish, grilled.

And I may or may not have tricked my dad into eating seaweed… “I don’t.eat.seaweed.” He says. “Or raw fish!” (Note – he now does both after his epic Asia tour. The sushi, willingly; the seaweed, less so.)

After dinner, dad called it a night, but mom and I wandered into the nightfood market close to the hotel. Because when you’re stuffed full of food, the only choice, of course, is to eat more food!

Saturday 4/1– Busan- took the hop on hop off “jumbo city tour” and went to Taejongdae park. We saw the cliffs, ocean, and dozens of ships waiting to get into the ports in Busan (5th busiest container port in the world). Had a great scenic stroll along this new walkway over the ocean, featuring a few ladies who wanted us to join them in their church and wouldn’t take “please go away” easily, and a paraglider jumping off a mountain in the distance and landing on the beach nearby. Dinner at Jackys seafood in the Jagalchi fish market, which my sister and her boyfriend recommended from their trip a few months previously- then street food with mom and dad to top it all off.

Sunday 4/2 – drove from Busan to back to Seoul. Mom and her bad puns – we almost kicked her out and made her walk. Also, is there a universal rule that rest stops have to sell complete and utter junk that is sure to make a kid say “but I NEEEEEED it!”?

Mom and dad stayed in a hotel near me which looked very fancy, but we soon realized the drawers in the furniture didn’t open – at all! Oh, Korea. We met up for dinner at a restaurant nearby owned by some Americans – not Korean food- and a few of my friends joined us.

Monday 4/3– My parents came to my school, which was great. They’ve seen it on our social media sites, and when they FaceTime me, but seeing it in person was really nice. We went to my favorite restaurant in my neighborhood with my friends, and the next morning they departed for Tokyo.

Stay tuned for Part 2! – where mom and dad take on Japan and China.

Advertisements

My Life, in 2 Acts – Act 2

Act 2: Doctors and Pharmacies

The medical system here is a bit different than back home. Of important note, I am not on the Korean national health insurance plan (like everyone else living here); I am on a private international health plan that my school provides for the teachers. Most of the foreigners who are teachers in Korea are on the Korean health national plan. If you teach in an after-school academy (Hagwon), or a Korean public school, that’s your plan. Because I’m at an international school things are a bit different. For my insurance, I see the doctor, pay up front, collect a detailed receipt, and have to file it with my insurance company for reimbursement. No biggie.

Scene 1: The big university hospital.

I have a life-long thyroid issue – it’s really not a big deal at all, millions of people worldwide have the same issue – but it means I need to see an endocrinologist regularly for checkups and to adjust the dose of medication I take for this condition. When I first arrived here I started asking around at work to see if there were any personal recommendations for a good doctor. On the advice of a few coworkers, I called up the international health clinic at a huge hospital in Seoul to make an appointment.

The doctor can only see patients before 4 pm? Okay, fine. I’ll take a taxi from my school as soon as it lets out at 3, and hope I get there before my 3:45 pm appointment.

My health insurance is already accepted at this hospital, and they will pay for everything straight from the hospital billing department, I only have to pay a small co-pay? Awesome. Here’s my info.

Day of the appointment, I get the taxi from school to the hospital. Y’all, this campus is HUGE. There are multiple buildings. The taxi drops me off at the front entrance, I go inside, and… it’s like Union Station. People *everywhere* Umm… Oh! An information desk! Let’s try there. The nice people show me the way to the annex, where the international clinic is located. It’s a long, winding path that involves escalators and elevators.

I go to the international clinic, fill out a basic “why are you here today?” questionnaire, and the doc sees me 5 minutes later. This doctor is AWESOME. She’s an American raised in California, went to a great medical school, married a Korean man, and moved to Korea. She took the single best medical history of any doctor I have ever met; we talked for about 45 minutes and not once did I feel rushed. Of course she orders my typical blood tests to check my thyroid levels, and tells me to come back to the international clinic afterwards.

Well, thankfully there’s another foreigner in the waiting room area who was heading to the phlebotomy lab and has done it dozens of times, and takes me with her. (I later learned that if I had made an earlier appointment, a member of the hospital staff could escort me there, but since it’s later in the day they’ve gone home.) We make small talk as we wind our way back to the lab, and as we’re walking I notice some noise coming from the ceiling. Looks like there is a track for those fake-large room partitions – you know, the ones that look like this?

Movable partition for conference rooms

But they’re in odd locations and go around corners, and clearly not meant for partitions.

We turn the final corner and… oh my god, I’m at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Well, it looks that way to me. Probably around 80-100 people waiting around. People of all ages, and clearly they have come to a hospital with a family member or close friend or two. I’m instructed to give my paper (with a number on it from the international clinic) to the main desk, and the lady issues me a slip of paper with a number on it and tells me to go sit down. I’m facing a wall of phlebotomists sitting in a row, just like the DMV, but with lower counter tops and chairs in front of them. I have the passing thought that if my mother were here, she’d be freaking out over the lack of privacy and HIPAA laws.

201601568aefa1596e7

Virginia DMV – the happiest place on Earth! … said nobody, ever.

I wait for the number over the phlebotomists head to match my slip, then go to that station. I sit down, the woman types something onto the screen and… cccccchhhhzzzzzzt! a little trolley, on a track, zips up to her station with a basket holding a few glass blood tubes.

She reaches down. “Is your name [blah blah]? For [Dr. Awesome]?”

Me – stunned at this system. “Yes.”

Her: “Okay, hold out your arm.”

I do what I’m told. Best stick ever – no pain at all, couldn’t even detect it! – and 60 seconds later I’m done. She puts the tubes back into the basket and ccchhhhhzzzzt! They roll on down the track into a small opening in the wall and out of sight.

Her: “Okay, go back to [Dr. Awesome]. Next!”

Me: Stunned still. I turn around, with my classy band-aid on my elbow, and weave through the dozens of people standing and sitting. I make it back to the international clinic and wait a bit for the doctor. She confirms my medication dosage, gives me the prescription, and instructs me to go to the main lobby of the hospital to get my prescription filled.

I go back to the main lobby – Union Station – and see more DMV-esque counters and waiting chairs. Creep on the Korean people all around me; they’ve got “take a number” slips, so I go to the machine and get one. Get up to the counter, the nice woman helping me tries to explain something to me in Korean, and I just don’t understand any of it. Google Translate isn’t helping. She calls the international clinic and hands me the phone. “Oh, you don’t need to wait in this line. Go to the machines over to your right, and you’ll get your Rx in a few moments.” OKAY then. Makes total sense. I was supposed to infer this all on my own, obviously. (I was overwhelmed and exhausted at the time. Too many people, too many new sights and experiences. I’ve gone back since, and noticed the sign “Prescription pick-up” in tiny English lettering at the top of the machines.)

I get my 3-month prescription for the big price of… $5. Then I make my way to the nearest subway station and go home.

~~~~~

Scene 2: The Gynecologist’s office.

I know there’s a gyno somewhere on this floor of this building. I get off the elevator and see two doctors offices’ waiting rooms with the doors propped open: one left and one right. The one on the right has bunches of men and women, young and old, all sniffling and coughing. Hmm, let’s check the other office. I turn around and poke my head in the other office.

I am greeted with a 1-meter high advert: It is an image of the insides of a woman’s hoo-ha, with enough English to convey that they can do surgery to make you “like new” again.

Yep, this is the right office.

~~~~~

Scene 3: The Pharmacy

I imagine it’s different in different parts of Korea, but there are pharmacies everywhere in my Seoul suburb. Like, within a 5 minute walk/ 1 city block radius of my apartment I know of 4 of them. And the pharmacies tend to carry whatever medications are frequently prescribed by the doctor offices in that particular building/ city block. And perhaps the best part: there is usually at least one pharmacist who speaks enough English that you can communicate rather easily. Or if the language is a barrier, you can bring in a box of some medicine with the chemical names in English/ Google it and they’ll recognize it. Yay for science being a universal language!

I see an allergy and asthma doctor on the regular, and the pharmacists in the pharmacy are lovely people. The man speaks really good English, and the woman understands more English than she speaks. I just learned that they are a married couple, with two daughters aged 9 and 15.

The first time I went to this pharmacy was after meeting my asthma doc and getting multiple months worth of my asthma inhalers. Our interaction:

Man, typing on computer: Oh, I see you are not on the Korean health plan. This will be expensive.

Me: It’s okay, I have foreign health insurance. I pay for the medicine now, and they will pay me back.

Him, skeptically: Hmm… Are you sure? This is really expensive?

Me: I promise. How much is the total for 3 months’ medications?

Him: About $90.

Me: *Laughs* That’s not expensive at all! [Explain what “expensive medicine” means to an American.]

He and his wife have been awesome. I practice my Korean with them, and if it’s not busy we talk about current events, like President Park and Donald Trump. Since that first meeting they always worry about me paying too much for the medicines. I recently showed them the insurance app I use, and it shows how much I was reimbursed, and they were very relieved. It’s nice to know that there are people here who care about us foreigners, and making sure we’re not spending too much money unnecessarily.

~~~~~~

Random tidbits:

1) Band aids: Korean band aids for fingertips and knuckles come in designs that *actually* make sense with the motion of those parts of the body.

2) Marketing on many Korean products features a lot of Western people.

3) If you’re sick, or have a cold, or don’t want to catch one, you wear a face mask. They come in different sizes for adults and kids, and in various qualities, materials, and prices. You can often find them at 7-11 type convenience stores, too.

4) Koreans care about their skin – a lot. In smaller pharmacies, I think about 1/3 of the shelves are filled with skin care products meant to reduce acne and scars, and band-aids.

5) Medications from pharmacies come in these little prepackaged squares. The pharmacist explains how many times a day to take them, and you simply tear open and consume the pills in that packet for that dose. No futzing with multiple bottles, and really easy to take with you on the go in your purse or backpack. My students even bring these to school and take them after lunch sometimes. (Side note: they do NOT get suspended/ expelled for this. It’s totally normal.)

6) I’m so happy the internet exists. I can type the name of the medications I’ve been prescribed in Korean into Google, and websites will pop up listing the active and inactive ingredients, as well as the shape, color, and markings on each pill.

7) Korean doctors, when you’re sick or have a cold, will usually include a bunch of pills for things you don’t need. Like the “poop pill,” as I call it. I don’t know what it is with the prevalence of this pill here, but this pill encourages bowel movements, and every doctor wants to prescribe it anytime they prescribe another pill. I’ve since learned the name of the pill and will actively tell the doctor “Don’t prescribe me that. I don’t need it, and I only throw it out.” This completely bewilders them. Had an in-depth conversation about my bowel movements while sick with the local ENT about this after multiple trips. Apparently it’s common practice in Korea to discuss your bowel movements with your mom (as a child, at least) and your physicians. And many people feel constipated after taking any sort of a pill. Just a different way of looking at the health of the human body, and differences in their medical training.

8) You can get the same 8-pack of family-sized Kleenex at Costco here in Korea as you can in the USA, for about the same price.

9) What I eat when I’m sick: samgyetang (Korean ginseng chicken soup) and juk (or jook, a plain porridge made of rice and other ingredients).

This weekend, while sick, I made samgyetang according to this recipe… sort of. I altered the recipe to make chicken noodle soup because I was sick of rice. Here’s what I did: I followed the recipe, except I didn’t stuff any rice into the chicken, only garlic.

After cooking the chicken I took the entire chicken and other solids out of the broth, let the chicken cool, then pulled it apart. I then got my trusty Korean stone pot, filled it about half way with broth, and brought it to a simmer. I added some fresh noodles, cooked them, and added some chicken back in. I topped it with chopped scallions. It was delicious, and only slightly more effort than the original recipe.

soup

My Korean Ginseng Chicken Noodle Soup. Om nom nom!

As for juk: You could easily make juk from the leftover samgyetang recipe. Or, if you’re like me and live around the corner from a juk restaurant that makes 20 different varieties of juk, simply go around the corner and pick up a container or two.

bonjuk-gangnamyeok

Juk restaurant menu. I get the veggie juk, because it’s plain but delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

My life, in 2 Acts – Act 1

Act 1: Socks (and Shorts)

Generally speaking, clothing is relatively cheap here. There are dozens of clothing shops in various areas of Seoul where you can find anything you need for a great price. There can be a trade-off in quality (I’m looking at you, Uniqulo undershirt that developed a hole in the armpit after three days.) but generally, it’s cheap to shop for basic things like socks. So cheap, in fact, that it’s not unusual to run into a person selling socks out of a small truck/ street stall/ bongo truck flatbed.

socks-vendor-seoul-south-korea-sign-reads-sports-socks-hiking-socks-dm0d1x(Not my photo, but it’s identical to what I’ve seen in my neighborhood.)

Now, a bit of background about my sock preferences: I love me a good trouser sock. Not those part-nylon atrocities that make a droplet of sweat feel like you’re ice skating; or the ones where the top part gives out after a few washes and your socks are continually falling down your ankles. And I don’t know why, but I love argyle patterns on trouser socks. I found a few that I loved probably 7-8 years ago at a Gap Outlet store; they cost something like a 3-pack for $7. Over the course of a few months I stocked up on these socks. I wore these socks almost every day while teaching and doing my weekend routine.

Imagine my horror, then, when 6 pairs of my favorite socks gave way within two months of each other.

So I set out to find a few good pairs of argyle trouser socks that met my requirements. “It’s Korea,” I thought to myself. “Surely socks will be cheap and bountiful; and those trucks have so many different varieties! This will be easy!”

First, I went to Namdaemun Market in Seoul with my good friends. Alas, I went on a Sunday, so most of the stalls and stores were closed. We encountered one lady selling socks that looked good, and she had a great deal on the price (1 pair was about $1.50; 4 pairs for about $5). I go up to the stall and start silently perusing the socks. The following discussion takes place in my crappy but improving Korean:

Me: [eying the men’s socks section]. How much are these?

Vendor: Oh, those are men’s socks. Over here are the women’s socks.

Me: I have size 270 feet. [That’s a size 10 shoes in the USA.]

Vendor: [look of shock, and perhaps a bit of horror. “ooooOOOOOooo” noise follows.] Well, these women’s socks should fit. They stretch.

Me: [Completely unconvinced that this is true, thinking I’m going to end up ripping them the first time I wear them.] Hmm. Okay.

I wasn’t sure they would meet my standards, and they were slightly shorter than my standard pair of socks, so I only bought 1 pair that day. I took them home, washed, them and – amazing! They fit!

I recently returned to Namdaemun to try and find the same sock lady, but alas – it was a Saturday and the place was packed with people and vendors. Found a different sock kiosk and picked up a bunch of men’s socks.

From left to right: the last good pair of my pink argyle socks from the USA; the grey and white argyle from the first vendor; and the 5 pairs of men’s socks from my last trip.

socks

 

Other gems I discovered: These fantastic shorts. They look like boxers, but there isn’t any hole in them – just shorts. Bought them in the 10,000 won bank note and Korean flag varieties. Perfect for sleeping or lazing around the house!

shorts-1shorts-2

 

 

 

These are a few of my Favorite Things

 

Adorable Korean babies.

The teacher across the hall who rocks out to some excellent music every day. (Side note: he does this while grading math papers. How the heck does he concentrate on grading?!?)

The various Hokkaido Brown Bear tourist tchotchkies all over the island. (Of course, all I’m thinking of is “which bear is best?“)

Poking my head into kitchens at restaurants. (The kitchen is so easy to see! Not hidden in the back like American restaurants.)

http://imgur.com/kq2zAb4

Window washers that make my 21st floor window all shiny and clean.

Costco and their cheeses and frozen broccoli florets. (5 lbs of broccoli for about $10! A steal!) Bless you, Costco.

How little kids in Korea (and Japan) are taught to raise their hand up while using a crosswalk so cars can see them better. Keep in mind that it’s typical for me to see kids at young ages (5-ish) running a quick errand to the 7-11 next door, or walking to/ from school or academies unaccompanied by an adult.

The sights and smells of Yangjae Flower Market. (Not sure what Shalom Flowers are, exactly.)

Koreans who carry their dogs around in backpacks. YES, this is a REAL THING here.

Red onions for a great price! (That’s 4 onions for about $3!)

Having a great in-service session on the basic techniques students learn in Art classes, and the hilarious/ awesome pieces I produced in 45 minutes.

Drivers Ed cars that go so slooooowly and cautiously around my neighborhood on weekend mornings.

Random huge Korean BBQ parties with my coworkers.

When my mom FaceTime’s me out of the blue, and all I see and hear is “MA! The meatloaf!”

The ridiculous Amazing Race style scavenger hunt my school puts on every year. This year we ran all over Suwon finding clues and doing challenges.

Discovering gorgeous places in Seoul.

 

Having visitors from home!!! (Hint. Hint. Everyone is welcome to visit. I’m here for at least two more years.)

Shopping centers made out of shipping containers.

… with ridiculously large signs in the ladies’ bathroom. (Is this a big problem that I’ve never heard about?)

The Ferrier Rocher chocolates someone put in Buddha’s hands at the Jogyesa temple in Insadong.

A Korean chain that makes passable Reuben sandwiches, right in my building (with proper pickles!!!)

When getting up at 4:30 a.m. pays off.

Western songs that show up randomly in Korea. (Side note: I’m pretttttty sure I still have the piano music to the entire Titanic soundtrack in my parents’ house somewhere.)

The way foods such as seaweed and peppers are air and sun dried in Korea and Japan (on blue tarps, on any open piece of land that’s nearby).

The advertisements in Korean grocery stores. I think this is for “Korean drinking vinegar” but I could be wrong.

My coworkers. And letting loose a bit when the kids aren’t around.

Running into the Portmeirion dishware that my mom loves so much all.over.Korea.  (And, not going to lie, sometimes I randomly tear up because it makes me homesick.)

FaceTime with Nana Blanche from halfway around the world.

 

Suwon Lantern Festival.

Getting to see some gorgeous fall foliage in Korea.

This famous nine-story pagoda at Woljeongsa temple.

Everything about this Korean couple taking a break from hiking for a bit of a picnic.

Birding in Taean, and unexpectedly seeing three (3!) Oriental Storks in one day. For those of you who aren’t birders, these are endangered birds with only ~2000 adults remaining in the wild. One of the best birding days of my life; I’ll have another post about birding sometime in the coming months.

Toilets that come with instructions.

These kids at a park in Sapporo, Japan, who were giddy as they repeatedly went down this “slide.”

The random shirts that have nonsense English phrases on them. What does this even mean?

 

This little kid getting ramen on a flight between Japan and Korea.

The shoes outside a doorway indicating there’s a party going on inside.

Christmas decorations on the big department stores in downtown Seoul.

Exploring a traditional village.

Martial Arts/ Choreographed show at a traditional village.

 

What sort of great things have you seen lately?

International Flights

I kept a log of my thoughts while I was traveling from the USA back to Korea this past July. I have edited the log a smidge, but most of this is my jet lagged brain’s thoughts. Enjoy.

A word to the wise: NEVER EVER EVER take 3 flights over the course of 32 hours to go across the globe. Don’t do it. It’s horrible. Before you ask: I was trying to use the money my school gives us to book our own flights in the best possible way. Since I’m a Star Alliance member this means I flew Asiana and United. I found 5 flights getting me to the USA and back to Korea for about $900 (multi-city ticket). Then, I used the extra money leftover to bump myself up from Sardine class (economy) to Sardine Plus (economy plus). I have to say, the $200-250 for each of the long-haul flights was totally worth it. Hardly anyone pays that extra amount, so the economy plus section is almost always empty and every person in it gets and entire row to themselves. Pull up the armrests, lay down… its amazing. And so much cheaper than the business class tickets!

My first flight departed Providence, Rhode Island at 5:50 am. I booked a hotel next to the airport for the night before, got up at 3:30, and got to the airport before the security line had really opened. First flight PVD-> Dulles. Arrived at Dulles about 7:00 am. Flight for Beijing left at 12:30. Walked every single inch of the airport, got about 12,000 steps and flights of stairs in too. Did I mention that I had my fully overstuffed backpack and laptop bag with me, and there aren’t lockers to store your stuff in during a long layover? Hey, I figured the next flight was about 14 hours, so what. Saw the new Airbus A380, aka the largest passenger plane in the world – Yep, it’s HUGE.

 

Ate some Chipotle as my last USA meal, then got on the plane. An entire row to myself! Lay down and sleep time!

… except I don’t feel so good. Between the getting less than 4 hours of sleep the night before and the Chipotle, something isn’t right. Yikes. Instead of sleeping, spend the first 5-6 hours of the plane eating crackers and sipping ginger ale while watching some Star Wars.

Finally feel good enough to sleep for most of the rest of the trip to Beijing.

Beijing Airport – eFFFFFFFF why isn’t the Air Conditioning on!?!? Oh, it is, but it’s set at about 80 F/ 26C. I’m already miserably jet lagged and exhausted, let’s add sweaty mess. Great.

Beijing Airport Transfer checkpoint – eFFFFFF you are the worst!!! I will spend the rest of my time in Asia trying to avoid you. I could write an entire post about experience (went thru it 2x this summer) but I will refrain.

Well I’m already sweaty, might as well walk the entire terminal here too. Hey, this is the terminal I layover’d in at the start of the summer. Oh… what’s that? That looks like a pagoda or temple roof sticking out from the duty free shops. An urban oasis? (I was so out of it by this point that I almost believed this was a figment of my imagination.)

 

I sat by the gurgling water and fake mist on the pagoda. I don’t even care that kids were totally staring at me. Set my alarm, laid down on the railing, and dozed.

Ooooh, the bathroom next to the pagoda is the most air conditioned place in the airport! SCORE! Spend about 10 minutes in there unpacking and repacking my bags, just to make it look like I was doing something useful. Attendants are staring at me the entire time. Actually, not sure if they’re bathroom attendants or airport shop workers who are in there sitting in chairs to cool off. Anything is possible.

 

Get to gate about 15 minutes before boarding. Apparently the flight has been delayed for 45 minutes, and I figure this out not by the electronic screens telling me the flight is delayed; no no, that would be too easy. Instead there is a large piece of paper stuck to the check in stand, with Chinese and Korean on it. All I can make out of the Korean is the words for “military” and “airplane.” Turns out the Chinese military decided to hold air force practice maneuvers in the airport’s airspace, so the entire airport is on a temporary delay. SURE. WHY NOT. One of the biggest hubs in Asia. No problem there.

Finally board, we get onto the tarmac and just sit. Huge queue to get off the ground. No… really?!?! Who would have guessed. [Aside: my sister and I had a ton of “sit in the queue and wait” flights this summer. It’s a family curse!] Get off the ground almost 2 hours after our expected departure time. I start doing math in my head, trying to figure out when the last bus to my suburb of Seoul departs the airport. Eeeeek… not looking good. If we don’t leave soon, I’m going to miss the last bus home in Korea!

Get to Incheon, get to customs, and … wait. Tons of people. Look up the timetable for bus. Start mentally cursing every person in front of me in line. Start bashing self for not getting the Quick ID thing back in the USA this summer.

Get thru security, bags are already here, race outsi– HOLY HELL WHAT IS THIS, SATAN’S ARMPIT?!?!?! whyyyyyyy. Why Korea? Whyyyyyy? (Temperature around 90F and humidity at 90%. I wish I could make this up.)

Now, for those of you not familiar with Incheon airport, there is an entire 300 meter stretch with various inter-city buses. I purchased my ticket at the machine (about $12) then had to find the correct bus line to wait in. It’s 10:06, and I read that the last bus leaves at 10:15 PM. Finally find the right line, turns out the bus leaves at 10:40. YES. Excellent! I have made it! Don’t have to take a $100+ taxi home! Proceed to spend the rest of the time literally dripping sweat. (Side note: Americans dripping sweat from their nose and earlobes after 10 PM in line for the bus draw stares. Then I started using my shirt to wipe it off, and the stares turned to horror/ grimaces. The power of my sweat is amazing!)

Ride the bus – my favorite bus in the world, with air conditioning that actually works – about an hour home, then have to walk another kilometer from the bus stop to my apartment with two heavy huge suitcases over laid-brick sidewalks. Totally made that bud-ah-bud-ah-bud-ah sound with the suitcase rolling wheels all the way from the bus stop. And the sidewalk is uneven, so lots of snags. My favorite!

Get into apartment at about midnight. Don’t know whether I want to shower or eat first. Decide to shower – I’m so gross – then order food. Because even at 1 am on a weeknight you can get everything and anything delivered. Thank you, Korean food delivery services!

And then it took me about a week to get over the jet lag, even with melatonin.

 

 

Never again! I consider it a hilarious trip now, but believe me: I’ve learned my lesson. Never traveling for more than 24 hours total to save some money; never starting out a long trip like this with a 3:30 a.m. wake up call. Nope nope nope.

 

My excellent Summer

Hi all,

Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. Life has been incredibly busy the last few months. A quick recap, month by month:

The end of May and beginning of June was nutso. My coworker, who has been at this school over a decade, warned me in the fall “oh yeah… life gets hectic around the end of the school year here” and I thought she was exaggerating. She was not. Between the typical end-of-school crazy work schedule I was taking 5 hours of Korean classes a week and trying to spend as much time (i.e., evenings and weekends) with my coworkers who were leaving Korea for new adventures in other locales. It really surprised me just how close I felt to a number of them by the end of the school year, and I didn’t realize it until I arrived back here a few weeks ago and they aren’t here.

But I digress. A typical conversation the first few weeks I was back:

“Sharon, how was your summer?”

“Busy. Not nearly as relaxing as I had hoped, but still excellent. I had a party the first weekend I was back and saw tons of friends, then I spent the next two weeks eating almost every meal out with friends while catching up [and gaining 7 lbs in two weeks. seriously.] and I barely saw my family. My sister moved to DC and I got to spend a day with her in her new neighborhood, which was really wonderful; she’s usually busy so we don’t get to catch up as often as we would like. One of my closest friends went through an absolutely horrendous life event, and my 91 year old Nana was in the hospital with gallstones [edit: she’s okay now, no worries], so that really sucked.

After about 2.5 weeks in Virginia I went to Cape Cod with my mom and dad, which was great. I mean, living with them for about 6 weeks this summer maaaaaay have pushed it a bit far, but overall it was great to see them and spend time doing our typical summer vacation together. And I got to see my Nana  and my other family members in the Boston area, too, and some of our family friends. I love my aunts, uncle, and cousins, and our friends, but really, it’s all about my Nana. She got out of the hospital and was able to rest and recuperate at home.

I also flew down to Raleigh, N.C. to see my oldest and bestest friend Courtney get married, and my other bestest friend Allison was there too, from Louisiana. When I left for Korea last summer my biggest concern was ‘will I be able to stay in touch with and stay friends with my closest friends?’ and the answer is YES. It was a lovely weekend filled with laughs and cupcakes. Soooo many cupcakes.

Then I spent one more week on Cape Cod, then headed back to Korea.”

So, here for your entertainment are a list of random things that made me really appreciate my summer:

  1. My mom and dad learning how to use new technology (Slingbox and Roku). So many misconceptions as to how they work, but eventually they learned!
  2. My sister. She has needle-sharp wit and wields it in the blink of an eye.
  3. The incredible Crystal, and all of the other strong women I am lucky enough to have in my life.
  4. Courtney and Allison, for all of the laughs we inevitably have whenever the three of us get together.
  5. Guacamole, prepackaged and ready to eat, for a reasonable price.
  6. La Union and Pupatella restaurants. If you could go ahead and open branches in Seoul, that’d be great…
  7. Dad and his ever-lasting battle against the bamboo in our backyard; Mom and her battle with the Virginia Creeper vine in the front garden.
  8. The ferry ride from Orient Point, NY to New London, CT.
  9. The view of our little slice of paradise from the deck on Cape Cod.
  10. The C-K family down the street from my parents, and their welcoming smiles and hugs every time I see them.
  11. Good bagel bakeries and deli counters in NY. Bless you, every last one.
  12. HALF SOUR AND GARLIC DILL BA-TAMTE PICKLES. Seriously Korea, not all pickles need to be full of sugar. Ick.
  13. Deli meats from animals other than pig. And 100-calorie wheat thins instead of full bread slices.
  14. Going to the same places and seeing how they haven’t really changed, even though *you* have changed.
  15. Cars in colors other than black, white, or grey.
  16. Catching up with my old coworkers. Damn, I miss them like crazy.
  17. Going places where you can read every word (pharmacy, restaurant, driving on the highway), because the writing is in English.
  18. Radio stations that play music while you’re in a car on a road trip, and don’t randomly break into 10-20 minutes of talk show, and then go back to a completely different genre after.
  19. Cape Cod sunsets.
  20. My extended family. We have our tough moments and occasional miscommunication, but we all love each other fiercely.
  21. Finding osprey nests and watching them for hours.
  22. The ridiculous number of cupcakes Courtney and Matt purchased for their wedding. But they were delicious!
  23. Road trips with my mom and sister, which include trying to teach my mom about Instagram and Snapchat.
  24. Stopping by my grandmother’s old house and visiting her neighbor/ peeking in the front window by night. So strange.
  25. My Nana’s laugh.

 

 

How was your summer?

 

Spring Break 2016 Part 2

(See Part 1 below for days 1-4)

Day 5: YEOSU
I had a lazy start today, which was fine by me. Been “go go go!” the past 4 days, definitely earned it. After a lovely GS25 – a type of convenience store, like 7-11 – breakfast (hardboiled/ smoked Korean eggs and a piece of fruit) and a skype date with my best friends, I set off south to find some birds.

My GPS showed an area that was potentially great for birding, and is a known area where migrating swans hang out. Alas, it was high tide, almost noon, and no birds were to be found. The entire peninsula is covered by these small fishing villages, complete with piles of mussels shells and fishing nets out in the sun drying. It reminded me of Cape Cod a lot in the smell and sounds, especially the car tires making that ‘crushing shell’ noise in the local parking lots and small roads that were laid with crushed shell.

I decided to take the windy coastal road south to the Hyangiram Hermitage site at the tip of the peninsula (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264598). What amazing views! Found a lookout point with a platform and set up my birding scope. Atop the clamming/ oyster operations’ buoys sat about a hundred seagulls. Now, normally I don’t give a friggity frack about gulls. They’re just so boring. They poop everywhere. They all look so similar, and trying to figure out the exact species you’re looking at is just not for me. They squawk and steal your food out of your hand at the beaches they frequent. (Ahem. Speaking from experience- Old Silver beach on Cape Cod. They are vicious and ruthless towards food.)  But today I decided to give it a go. Yep, just what I suspected- all the same, Common Gulls. Ugh. I’m sure I’d care more if there were different types of gulls, but generally where I am is too warm for the arctic gulls. Maybe a trip to coastal Russia or northern Japan for my May holiday?

Back in the car, kept going south. Got to the area near the Hyangiram Hermitage temple, found a parking garage- free and unexpected- and started my journey up. And when I say “up” I mean UP. Very steep inclines everywhere. Definitely not wheelchair friendly.

The initial viewpoint is pretty great, apparently people come to the plaza atop the garage to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day; it means new beginnings or good luck or some such. After the plaza this little road with open air shops line the street for about a quarter mile up to the temple ticket office. I saw things I’d never seen before: seaweed drying in the sun; old ladies pulling whole clam/ mussel bellies out and drying them in the sun; different types of kimchi local to the area (“gat kimchi” which is very salty and made from fermented anchovies); and a local fermented alcohol drink (동동주).

Stopped to look at one of the stalls, this nice Korean lady offered me to try a piece of the kimchi. Sure!… She then proceeded to cut the bottom end off a squid, used the hole as a little cup, put the kimchi in her makeshift cup, and promptly shoved it into my mouth. “Mmmmmm” I said. “Wtf did I just eat?!?” I thought. But it was pretty good, same texture as un-breaded calamari but with the salt and garlic and spices from the kimchi. I loved the kimchi taste, but I didn’t ask for seconds – maybe again another time.

Again, I was the only westerner around all day. Bought my ticket and wandered towards the entrance. Watched a few older Korean ladies walk down the steps after their visit. One looked at me and pointed to a road and said “There! Go there!” but I saw 4 flights of steps and the gate to the temple. “That doesn’t look so bad” I thought, and I figured I’m a lot younger than these old ladies, so I started up the stairs.

Got through the gate, the path curved and… Holy crap that’s a lot of stairs. Like, a LOT of stairs. Oh well, let’s do this!

I took a break after about 10 minutes to catch my breath and take a swig of water. Only now I realize I’ve made a huge mistake; I left the water bottle in the car. %*&@*!!!*#%! Oh well, not going back now, not going to die from heat or dehydration for an hour or two. Onward!

On some of my “catch my breath/ rest” stops I grabbed my binoculars and looked at some birds. Same old, same old. Nothing new or special that I could see from there. Some Koreans said hello to me, a small group of ladies on their way down spoke good English and we chatted for a minute.

Aside: People are genuinely surprised to see a foreigner sometimes, it’s kind of hilarious. I think that because it was the middle of a weekday threw them off more than usual, expats tend to work during the week and go sightseeing on the weekends more (as do most working people in general). Americans make up about 3.5% of the overall population in Korea these days, and most of us live in the larger cities or on/ near military bases. I was far away from both.

Finally made it to the top! Success! Views for days! The entrance to the temple is this little fissure between two massive boulders. The temple had been build right on top of/ into the rock formations here. Different style lanterns lined the whole pathway up and were all over the temple as well. This temple is known as one of four Korean Hermitage temples where people actively come and pray. The four hermitage sites are where Buddhist monks come to relax, I think. An internet search wasn’t very clear on why these 4 sites are special. All I know is that the climb was worth it. Cue Miley Cyrus song here.

Explored the temple a bit then sat at a picnic table to admire the view among the tree canopies. A Japanese pygmy woodpecker landed about 15 feet in front of me and hung out for a few minutes. Totally made my day!

Left the temple and ate at a seafood and kimchi restaurant on the way down. Had a seafood pancake and the local kimchi while overlooking the ocean. Bought some kimchi for my friend Victoria, who I will visit in two days, as a “thank you for hosting me” gift.

In the car again, headed back to the apartment in Yeosu. Passed a marine fisheries and science museum, sure, why not. Free admission for “sunsingnim” [teacher]! Inside was smaller aquarium/ all size tanks and fish. Everything in Korean except scientific names. Some random animals that were stuffed/ taxidermied, like penguins and seals. Sea turtles in too small tanks, which made me sad, boo. Left and came home for a shower and rest.

My AirBnB host and her boyfriend picked me up, took me to dinner in Yeosu’s main drag area with some other friends of theirs. Great people, conversation, laughs, and food. Yay for making new friends! (Note: AirBnB hosts don’t normally interact with guests this much, but she and her BF are fellow international school teachers, so we had been texting for a few weeks before my arrival.)

Home and sleep. Big day at Suncheon Bay birding tomorrow… I hope.

DAY 6: SUNCHEON BAY
Got up early-ish, got to Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve at 9 am. Empty in the A.M. except for old people and workers. Entire place is a wildlife (birds are their focus) sanctuary and protected bay/ estuary. I spent the next 5 hours walking all over the boardwalks, hiking up the mountain to the overlook, and generally nerding it up. Non-bird Highlights included:
On the hike up the mountain, at a rest point, some little old ajummas (older Korean ladies) gave me some peanuts and part of an orange. In return I passed around my binoculars. Bird watching isn’t really a thing here, even though Koreans go out and hike more than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Had fun miming and using my basic Korean to explain what I was doing.

A group of students from a major university came along on the marsh Boardwalk. They all said hello. Some struck up a conversation; this was the Tourism Management majors, and they were visiting various tourist sites in Korea as part of a 3 day trip. I talked to them about how I am a science teacher and amateur birder; they didn’t know it was a thing! I encouraged a bunch to look through the bird scope and they all did the Korean “oooOOOOooo” noise. I encouraged them to look into ecotourism in general, and that there are many foreigners who like to travel abroad from North America and Europe especially to go on birdwatching trips, but there aren’t a lot of options in Korea yet. Some of them tried to figure out which bird they were looking at with my Birds of East Asia book, they thought it was hard and I must be some sort of expert. Nice kids, hopefully they’ll help bring English-speaking birding trips to South Korea in the future.

I spent the entire day at Suncheon Bay then headed to my Guesthouse in Suncheon for the evening.

Stayed in downtown Suncheon near the river at a guesthouse I found on Airbnb. Great spot, cozy bed on the floor under a homemade bunk. Girl running the place is in her 20s, used to live on Seoul. Studying to be a lawyer now, runs this guesthouse. Has had 3000 guests over the past two years. Not too shabby!

Got settled in and then went for a quick walk along the river with the cherry blossoms. Found a small restaurant not far from my accommodations, and as I was walking back to the guesthouse I saw the most random thing: A woman who works at the restaurant went to the restaurant across the street, came back with a large stein full of beer. Saw her walking on the sidewalk between the restaurants with the beer. Only in Korea!

Days 5 and 6 video:

 

DAY 7: SUNCHEON AND DAEGU
Slept soundly at the guesthouse. Got up and out by 9, stashed stuff in car and went in search of breakfast. Planned on having a breakfast picnic near the river, some reading, relaxing, birdwatching, etc. because the temperature was heading into the upper 70s F. Stumbled upon a beautiful local produce market while trying to find a coffee shop/ bakery with breakfast foods. Successful, I headed back to the river for a breakfast picnic under the cherry blossoms along the river. 5 minutes later a ton of Korean school kids came streaming out of their school in groups with the teachers. A bunch crossed the river stones in front of me. Live FaceTime’d my mom and family to show them the epic cuteness. The kids set up shop right next to me near some benches, so I decided to move.

Packed it up and headed to the Suncheon Gardens, which span both banks of the river for acres an acres. Very nice, but kind of grey/ brown and dreary this time of year. Lots of cute tulips and early spring transplants. Some geese, swans, and flamingos in the ponds, all tagged and probably clipped. The entire Gardens has sections, almost like Disney World’s Epcot. There were Korean, Japanese, Chinese, American, French, Netherlands gardens (and more). Each had a theme and architecture to go with it.

Spent a long while there, then drove about 3 hours to Daegu to see Victoria. Yay! Got to Daegu around 5:45. Shower, rest, catch up, then out for some Korean BBQ for dinner! Victoria and I love to eat, and we can put quite a bit of food away between the both of us. So delicious!  After dinner we stopped by her school so she could show me around. Very small, very Korean private Christian boarding and day school. The kids love Victoria, or “teacher!” as they call her. Home for some ice cream and YouTube 영어 남자 Korean Englishman videos and then bed!

DAY 8: Victoria and I had a lazy Saturday morning, which included FaceTime with my family and introducing her to the joy that is scrambled eggs with cheese on toast sandwich. She didn’t have a spatula, so we used the metal Korean spoon instead.

We then headed out to Gyeongju to see the old stuff and the epic cherry blossom trees there. I visited Gyeongju 3 years ago with the FCPS-Korean exchange teacher program, so I had seen some of it, but not with the cherry blossoms because it was still very wintery that year. This time it was a partly cloudy, 70 degree Saturday, perfect for seeing the cherry blossoms. Apparently thousands of other people agreed. It took us a very long time to go from the highway exit to the Bomun Danji area, where there is a huge pond, resorts, conference center, and amusement park (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264264). After sitting in Super Bowl arena type traffic we found a spot and set out. Victoria and I had a freaking blast taking selfies and people watching and imitating Korean couples taking cutesy photos together.

We headed next towards a traditional Korean village in the center of town but there was so much traffic and it was already 4 pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we stopped for a lunch/ dinner along the road for a great meal of spicy kalbijjim (갈비찜). We also ordered 떡갈비 which is a beef pancake. It sounds better than the name, trust me. At the end of the meal the manager gave us a can of orange Fanta for free. Turns out, when you eat like a pig, they love it and give you free sodas! And, fun fact: Fanta is spelled and pronounced “hwuan-ta” in Korea. Makes singing the Fanta song hilarious.

We then headed to Anapji pond in downtown Gyeongju (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264367). Again, we sat in traffic for a little while and struggled to find one of the last spots in the lot. After some drama with toilets, or a lack of toilets, we finally headed into the pond area. This was a palace in the 7th through 10th centuries. The palace was destroyed but rediscovered when they dredged the lake in the 1970s. Now it is a big tourist attraction and known for the beauty during the cherry blossom season especially. Judging from the number of people taking photos, I’d say that’s an accurate statement.

After, we hit up some street food carts because that’s what you do in Korea when large groups of people gather. It was delicious. And on the way back to the car we saw about 200 people in line for the ticket office outside the gate to the pond. A well timed successful evening!

We are now sitting in the car in the traffic trying to get back to Daegu for the evening. Tomorrow I head back to Seoul for my last day of vacation. Boo.

DAY 9: I got up and out by 7:10 to try and beat the traffic on Sunday AM. Got home at 10:45 am, which was great, because I definitely needed the rest of the day to relax, unpack, grocery shop, watch the newest Star Wars movie (finally released online!), and get back into a work mentality.

Days 7 and 8 video:

 

~~~

Some reflections a week later:

Korea is an absolutely gorgeous country. Even though it’s only about the size of Kentucky, there is TONS to see and do here. Not all sights are always tourist friendly (I’m looking at you, places where none of the descriptions on plaques or guide brochures are in English), but they sure are beautiful and filled with history.

Korean people are very kind and helpful if you approach them politely. Also, learning even a bit of the language has helped me immensely in getting people to help me.

So many people speak English, and not all of them young people. Still amazed when older people have made an effort to learn English.

LPG cars are wonderful, and a lot cheaper than traditional gas cars.

Korean radio stations – Why are you so strange? Exhibit A: the USA oldies stations that played this slightly creepy hit by The Brothers Four: Green Leaves of Summer. I encountered 2 stations about 4 hours apart playing this song in the middle of the day. Whyyyyy? Are they Amish? Is this about the Bible? Or dating? I’m so confused and kinda weirded out by it. “… and to stand by your wife at the moment of birth.” whaaaat even is this??? Also enjoyed the random Korean-English lessons out in the middle of nowhere on the radio. They were teaching useful phrases such as “I just bought this car last week, and now it is making a strange noise. It should not do that. Please look at the car and tell me what is wrong, and how much it will cost to fix it.” There was an entire scenario taking place at an auto shop! It was very advanced. Also came across a Cuban Hour at some English language radio station out of Seoul and listened to Cuban music while driving through Korean farmland. A strange, but beautiful, juxtaposition.

Korean Rest Stops – Slightly better than those in the USA, in my opinion. Generally the food is much better/ less gross, there are more relevant shopping stalls, and the ladies bathrooms tend to be nicer. Oh! there’s also a separate area with a little kid bathroom inside the ladies room, with little sized toilets and urinals for the kiddies to use. Great idea! And the Korean “fast food” stands have things like chicken or fish on a stick, so you can stand around and eat it quick before jumping back into your car.  I maaaay have accidentally gotten chicken on a stick because I didn’t know what it was and just pointed to it. Not too bad, actually, but I also didn’t let the person behind the counter cover it in dubious red and yellow sauces.

I can’t wait to do another Korean road trip! (Hint hint: that means come visit so I have a good excuse!)

 

Spring Break 2016: Korea Road Trip Part 1

During my Spring Break this year I borrowed my friends’ car and drove all around the Southern part of South Korea. My goals were pretty simple: birdwatching, temples/ historic sites, and getting to see something other than the city life in my Seoul suburb. The following is a travel log I kept on my phone during the week, edited only slightly, with photos and videos for you to enjoy. Definitely click on the links to the temples and historic sites, because they’ve got great summaries in English of when these places were founded. Most of them were founded before the year 1000. Very cool. Got questions? Let me know!

Day 1: I got up at 5 am to use the restroom and stayed up because I was so excited. Traveled a metro stop away to meet my friends at the airport bus shuttle stop; they hopped out with their luggage and kids, I drove home with the car. Packed up, grabbed a bite, and off I went at 9 am: excitement! Adventure!

… Traffic.

Not an unbearable amount, but enough to go “ugh. Really?” after a few slow downs for no good reason. Also? I won’t ever complain about Maryland drivers again. (Okay, that’s a lie. But they’re on par with some of these Korean drivers.) Took me about an hour to really hit open road, then relatively smooth sailing from there.

Highlight: the on-ramp to the expressway in my area was so darn close to the toll booth, and there was so much city traffic, and the entire interchange was under construction, that I was so flustered that I went through the “High Pass” (automatic transponder/ EZ Pass) lane while getting onto the highway and set off the alarm bells. Whoooopsie. Traci (car owner) says “oh no big deal, they send you a bill for the same amount, we’ve all done it.” But then when I wanted to exit the highway I had to provide my ticket so they could charge me for how far I traveled (just like the NJ Turnpike!). The exchange between me and the toll attendant went something like this:

(Pull up to tollbooth)
Lady: ticket?
Me: anio (“no”)
Lady: anio?
Me: ticket… Ob-sigh-o (ticket… Lost)
Lady: rapid fire Korean, only word I can understand is Ticket
Me: (dumb look on face and universal sign for “I don’t know” a la Jerry Seinfield)
Lady: Seoul eh-so? (From Seoul?)
Me: (oh! She wants to know where I’m coming from!) Bundang-Gu eh-so.
Lady: ne ne (yes yes)

Then she took my money and fixed the problem. The whole encounter took 60 seconds, but let me tell you, it’s very easy to get flustered when there’s a line of cars behind you and you have no idea what to do. It was like a very quick five act play, complete with a cathartic denouement.

First up for the day: Byeonsan Beach ( http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264287 ) Note: all of the pages I link to here have wonderful professional photos you can scroll through, as well as descriptions about the history of the site.

The GPS had me all confused at the end, but the area is under a big reconstruction/ public works project. I had seen on the map, and heard from friends, about this roadway project that blocked off a natural harbor and marshland area. Google Map search for Sinsido, South Korea. It’s an island attached to the mainland by a north-south roadway/ causeway/ bridge thing. This thing is HUGE. I started on the southern side, driving northbound. There were two wind turbines and a recreational area under them. Totally random, and deserted on a Saturday before lunch. Turned back southbound about 1/3 of the way over, because I saw my first gulls of the day. A U-turn later, I parked and peeked over the concrete railing: gulls and Korean people clamming!

I’m happy to report that the gulls on Cape Cod and the gulls in southwestern Korea both use the same technique to liberate their food from the shell: dropping them on the rocks from a height of about 30 feet. Om nom nom!

Gulls don’t really do it for me, and it was crazy windy on the Seawall (glad I packed my ski pants. No, really, it was a bit chilly and insanely windy).  I was hungry for lunch, so onward (southward) I went. I could see my destination from the seawall, a few more kilometers south. Found a local seafood restaurant for lunch on a bluff overlooking the water, had a nice seafood juk (porridge) for lunch. Trust me, it’s better than it sounds.

Then, back in the car for more. Went to the beach in Buan (Byeonsan beach). There is a camping area just above the sand line in the pine trees, and some buildings for beach stuff behind that. A popular destination in the summer I’m told. But today it was sunny, windy, cool, and pretty much empty. The tide was coming up but still there was a large sand flat exposed with a bunch of birds and some Korean folks clamming. A small paved jetty was a perfect place to set up shop.

There were a bunch of gulls (I just don’t care, and it was too cold to bother trying to ID them.) Saw a good bunch of Eurasian Oystercatchers hard at work (about 60 of them), and a few Scaup (couldn’t tell if they were lesser or greater, have never seen one before). Also saw a family of Eastern Spot-Tailed Ducks. After about an hour freezing, and the tide quickly coming in, I packed it back up and moved on.

Visited the cliffs and the overlook above them, amazing scenic views. Hilarious food stalls. I was the only Westerner around.

Getting hungry and tired, so I made my way to Iksan for my first Airbnb of the trip. Stayed in a 2nd flood apartment of a nice family. Dinner, some unwinding, then BED. I slept like the dead on that heated floor; between the day’s events, the warmth of the floor, and the magic of the “yo” I slept for almost 10 hours uninterrupted. Huzzah! (Note: Korean houses traditionally have heated floor systems called Ondol. It’s amazing when you sleep on the floor on a mat, called a “yo”.)

Day 2:

Car trip- Korean radio stations and lots of tunnels. Looks a bit like 81-south in VA, and by that I mean that there’s farmland all over.

The GPS that I loved so much yesterday is getting on my nerves. Anytime I go even 1 km/hr over the limit, an annoying bell alarm goes off. Wouldn’t be so annoying, except everyone else is doing 20 over the limit and I’m in the right lane going slooooow.

Seonunsa Temple- spent a long time there. Lots to see. Beautiful early Spring day. See the information on this page for some information, history, and professional photos of the place. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264129

Lunch at the national park around the temple. I dined next to some Sisters taking elderly women out for lunch. Wished them a “happy easter” in Korean, they were very happy to talk to me briefly. No, they did not break out into song a la Sister Act.

Coastal road tour- omg amazing. Beautiful. Wish I were a passenger! Kept trying to sneak glances out the passenger window but had to focus on the windy road instead. Thankfully there were lots of pull-off points for scenic views.

No time for birdwatching proper along that road, on to Jindo island for the night.

I stayed at tiny, old historic Korean house in the middle of nowhere. Adorable. Cold. No restaurants open here, went to the large town a 20 minute drive away. Yay for night driving in an area you don’t know without any streetlights! On the plus side, when I got out of the car I could see tons of stars, which I haven’t seen in months thanks to the light pollution. I settled in, FaceTime’d with my aunt, wrote this travel diary, then crashed hard.

Video of Days 1 and 2:

Day 3: survived the cold room for the night with help from the electric heating pad and some good blankets. Surprisingly comfy and well-rested. Had to get my host, Edward, to turn on the hot water boiler to take a “shower” i.e., a quick rinse off, because it was something like 2 degrees C out and I wasn’t going to get my hair wet.

Dressed, asked Edward his recommendations for the day, then headed out. He keeps a wonderful binder of suggested tourism sites and things to do on Jindo Island in Korean and English for his guests. Phenomenal host!

First I went to to Ssanggyesa temple ( http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264535) and the Ullimsanbang property (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264536) next to each other. Edward warned me the temple was under construction; he was right. Still pretty beautiful. Got there at 9:15 on a Monday, I was the only one aside from the construction workers and a monk. Went to Ullimsanbang next door, but unfortunately it’s closed on Monday. Or it just didn’t open until 10. I tried to ask a man who looked like he ran a coffee shop across the street, but he made it seem like it was closed on Monday. Who knows.

Decided to drive up the road Ullimsanbang is on, ended up going up this crazy steep road/ mountain. Great (but windy) view at the top. I don’t know if I was actually allowed to drive my car up there, but a few bongo trucks passed, and I didn’t get a ticket/ arrested, so I guess it was fine. To be honest, I was the only Westerner I saw almost all week, and the areas I traveled in were devoid of tourists. Jindo was a lovely get away from the city life.

Decided to drive along the coast until I found some birds. En route to the first beach that Edward recommended I stumbled across some lovely marsh areas/ low tide inlets. So many ducks! Spent a good 90 minutes near the bridge between Mankil-ri (만길리) and Yeonju-ri (연주리).

Kept driving the coast south towards Geumgap Beach, took a quick detour over to Jeopdo but no birds. Edward suggested I try his friend’s restaurant near the beach for lunch, but unfortunately they were closed and renovating. Drove along the Yeoguisan Stone Pagoda Passage road: gorgeous views, random bunch of pagodas for a few hundred meters. Very cool works of art (I assume. Maybe they’re religious?)

Passed the Pierre Landy monument, to the French ambassador who wrote about the “miracle of the sea” tidal land bridge. Then headed to the Namdo stone fortress. Was pretty much a bunch of stone wall, plus a few buildings. Very random, and not very pretty this time of year. I was the only one there besides the young guy in the info booth who didn’t speak English (and no info in English anywhere nearby, no surprise).

Was getting hungry so I set out to find some food. The guy at the fortress recommended I go to Seomang Fishing port nearby, so I found it (yay!) and found a restaurant that was actually open (yay!) then decided to have eel stew (uh… ). It was good, but a pain to pick all the bony spine bits out before eating. The eel meet was pretty mushy and tasteless. I’m just glad I could even eat the thing, and it didn’t make me sick. Expanding boundaries! They served this banchan (side dish) that was a bunch of seaweed with a bit of cucumber and onion. I expected it to be salty, but it was that exact same taste as my grandma’s cucumber-vinegar salad, just a bit more slimy texture.

It was only 1:30 so I went into Jindo town for a hot chocolate and bit of book reading. The owner of the cafe was a nice lady who engaged me in a conversation; I told her all about my adventurous morning. She recommended I head north to the Yongjang temple and fortress and also the Jindo Tower. Sure, why not?

GREAT advice, the temple and fortress were empty and beautiful. And there were tons of little birds that I got to watch unexpectedly. Then I went to the Jindo Tower for a bit – yes, great views- then down to the Statue of General Lee near the bridge.

I really wanted to see the gorgeous views from the Sebang Sunset area (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=1131487), but I had some time to kill so I took the scenic route over. Wow, there sure are a lot of small farms in this area. And a whole lot of nothing else. Passed a bunch of tiny villages with 10-20 houses all together, then more fields. Lots of young-pa (Korean scallions) growing, lots of fields being turned over and planted for spring. I can’t tell you how many stooped over old Korean ladies I saw. And when I say stooped over, I mean they’ve clearly spent their lives working bent over in the fields because I’m pretty sure they can’t stand up straight anymore. Ouch. Also noticed a number of farmers setting fire to parts of their fields as part of the farming process. And also small garbage piles burning near the road, a la southern Maryland (this comment is for the Lillers and friends who have been to the beach house!).

Made it to the Sebang Sunset area about an hour before sunset, so I took the stairs down to the beach and stuck my hand in the ocean. Yep, cold. Hid in the car for awhile where it was warmer and less windy; wind was roaring outside. Beautiful views. Glad I came in the offseason when nobody is here, I imagine quite the traffic jam here during high tourist season. Only a few other cars pulled up for some quick photos then they drove away.

Drove back to the village where I’m staying for dinner and some R & R before bed. A great day in Jindo!

… And Syracuse beat UVA while I was out and about. A great day for the Surette household!

Day 4: left Jindo and traveled east towards Haenam. Saw a park north of Haenam on the water, thought it might be good for birdwatching. I was right, but it was also a dinosaur themed park (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=1934446). Thank goodness it wasn’t a weekend or Korean school vacation, or else I wouldn’t have been the only person there. Spent about 3 hours birdwatching and wandering the park. I went to the “bird museum/ observatory” and the dinosaur tracks/ geologic excavation site along the water (coincidentally along the boardwalk where I did some great birdwatching).

Then I journeyed onward to Haenam and the Gosan Yoon sun-do historic site. I was the only one there, as usual. Paid 2000 won to get in. This dude, in the 13-1700s, (later part) moved out of Seoul to this property. His is known as a renaissance man, poet, artist, recorder of daily life. This compound was HUGE and beautiful, but everything was locked up. I was pretty bored. On my way out, this Korean couple and another man greeted me and asked where I was from. The man is the assistant director of the place, said I should follow him. He yelled through a locked gate in loud Korean, and all of a sudden this old Korean lady comes and opens the door gate. Success! Got a tour of the inside courtyard area of the place, it’s huge, and beautiful. A lot of people must have lived here at one point.

Then I traveled south to the other side of Haenam to the Daeheungsa (대흥사) temple area. Had lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. Delicious bibimbap, but then again anything tastes fantastic when you skip breakfast. I went up to the Daeheungsa temple and… Oh my god. Completely amazing and gorgeous. The photos and videos don’t do it justice at all. The walk up to the temple was pleasant, surrounded by full woods/ forest/ streams. The entry gate to the temple led to this magnificent courtyard and open area. The temple sits in a bit of a geologic valley or bowl, it’s surrounded 360 degrees by a few mountains. Just stunning. The temple has multiple courtyards and probably 25 buildings that are on display and some private for the monks who live and work there. There are also some smaller temples/ structures littered along the pathways up the mountains. I’d love to return here when everything is in bloom and hike up to one of the peaks. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264584

Then it was time to drive another 2 hours or so to Yeosu for the night. I went through so many tunnels, I lost track after 15. Some crazy beautiful vistas along the way. Found my Airbnb place for the night- a nice girl from Utah teaches here and rents out her tiny apartment while staying with her boyfriend- right in the heart of the residential area of Yeosu city. Her Korean “balcony” overlooks a small stream and a school across the way, surrounded by blooming fruit trees of some type. Dinner and then bed, crashed hard because I was exhausted from so many things today!

Days 3 & 4 video:

Stay tuned for Part 2 in another post!

 

 

Home Cooking in Korea

Note: Click on any photo to view it larger.

I’ve been having some awesome cooking adventures since I arrived in Korea 8 months ago. (Has it really been that long? Wow.)

First meal I cooked: My school supplied us with some staples to get us started the first day we arrived: frosted flakes, milk, peanut butter and jelly sandwich supplies, and spam. You know, the usual. However, the first meal where I actually used a pan and the stove was breakfast. I LOVE breakfast. People who don’t eat breakfast astound me. It’s the most delicious part of the day! And luckily, I found recognizable ingredients at the small grocery store next door.

Cooking in Korea - 2 of 68

No, seriously, I love breakfast.

Here’s some of the things I’ve made for breakfast since arriving:

Crock-pot breakfast “bake” before I got my oven and bake ware;

Home-made breakfast sausage because I can’t find it anywhere in this country, but there’s tons of pork and a nice butcher shop nearby where I can get it ground up for cheap. I use this recipe, minus the MSG because really, whyyyy would you add it? Note: I’ve only made the Hot Sausage version, not the Sage or Maple. http://www.food.com/recipe/tsr-version-of-jimmy-dean-pork-breakfast-sausage-by-todd-wilbur-250325

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Leftover rice to make a hot-pot/ crispy rice, egg, sausage, hot sauce, avocado. Heat up Korean earthenware pot on the stove. Add some oil, spread it up the sides. Crumble the rice in, press it to the sides with a wooden spoon. Add pre-made breakfast sausage to top of rice.  Throw some cheese in there if you like it. In a separate fry pan, fry up an egg or two. Add that to the top of the hot pot things. Dump some hot sauce in, and some avocado if you have some. Let the rice get crispy, like paella. (Add “Baby, you got a stew going” joke here) Yum yums!

Making faces out of my food. Because you’re never too old, and making a plate look Food Network worthy isn’t for lazy people like me.

Got some cast iron about skillets 2 weeks ago. I am stoked. I don’t care if they are Lodge brand, or that I paid double what I would have in the USA.  They were on sale here, no regrets. I have cast iron now! *happy dance*

Cooking in Korea - 17 of 68

Discovered the joy that is “paleo pancakes” at the Thanksgiving trip with my roommates back in November. Take a medium to ripe banana, put it in a bowl, mash it up thoroughly with a fork. Add 2 eggs to it, one at a time; incorporate the egg into the banana. Add a few drops of vanilla and some cinnamon to the bowl. In a fry pan add some mild oil over a medium-low heat; coconut oil works great for this. Scoop the batter in and fry for a few minutes on each side until done. Eat as-is, they are already quite sweet. You could add syrup or other toppings, but I just eat them as they are. OM NOM NOM. (Note: it took me awhile to figure out how ripe was too ripe for the bananas in this recipe. Wait too long and the whole mixture gets too runny.)

 

On to the non-Korean entrees:

The first dinner I tried to cook was a chicken + spaghetti and veggies/ sauce dish my sister taught me. Oh, how naive I was, trying to use both burners at once! (I got there… eventually. What a pain in the tuchus that first meal was!)

Then I learned to use the crock pot more often, and just make a smaller veggie side dish to go with it. (Cabbage. Cabbage everywhere.)

Cooking in Korea - 24 of 68

As the summer progressed into fall and I purchased more equipment, like a priceless immersion blender, I made my annual batch of apple sauce. It came out wonderfully, and I learned that my Korean not-really-heavy-sauce-pot didn’t burn the bottom. Success! Recipe is easy: get a bunch of apples, peel, core, 1-inch or so cubes. Put in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add some lemon juice (always) and cinnamon (optional/ to taste). Add a small bit of water, about 1/4 cup. Put lid on, put on medium heat (or whatever doesn’t burn the bottom), bring to a “simmer” then reduce to low. You can stir it occasionally, won’t hurt it. Keep cooking until a fork pierces an apple easily. You could put it into a food processor, use an immersion blender, or just eat it as-is.

 

Then I got an oven and it was a game changer.

Roast and bake all the things!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

On second thought, trying to make my annual Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake recipe in an un-tested oven wasn’t the brightest idea. Burned the bottom of this, my first baking attempt in the oven. Oh well, live and learn. Lesson: when the heating element is so close to the bottom of the item, reduce the temperature by 25-ish degrees F and check sooner. Oops!

 

I made my Aunt and Uncle’s favorite rum-glazed chicken wings recipe (from the Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook) using an entire chicken. I’ve had this recipe a few times at her house, only ever using chicken wings. The local market had a whole chicken, chopped up, on sale so I used that. BIG mistake. First off, Korean butchers chop chickens way differently than in the USA. Second, the recipe is really meant for wings, and wings only. The wings tasted great; the rest, not nearly as much (still edible, just not as good). Since chicken wings are tiny and expensive here, the next time I make this I will get a bag from Costco. Third, and perhaps most importantly, cleaning that pan in my tiny sink was a horrendous affair. If I make this again, I will go to a coworker’s apartment where a larger sink resides and make it there.

Cooking in Korea - 36 of 68

Random dinners I’ve made, featuring chicken, fish, and steak. No, it’s not a wedding, it’s leftovers!

I really wanted tacos in late January/ early February. What is it about the dead of winter that makes warm-weather food so enticing? I decided to remedy the situation. I sought out avocados, lime, cilantro, and tortillas for an ungodly price. I made carnitas from scratch (crock pot – I love you), used Korean dried red chilies in the guacamole. I found un-sweetened plain yogurt! Finally! and used it in lieu of sour cream. *”Plain” yogurt here usually still has sugar in it. **I found sour cream, it just comes in a massive quantity and it’s just not worth it. I was very happy at the final product. I mean, back in the US I probably would have said “meh” at it, but here… I was so happy I almost cried. (By the way, C-K family, if you’re reading this – I need some cooking lessons while I’m home, please?)

 

And last but not least: the Korean Food that I’ve cooked. Warning: if you don’t like spicy food – like, anything beyond garlic is spicy – then Korean food probably isn’t the best choice for you. Red pepper flakes and red sauces feature prominently. (Spicy beef soup pre-made at the grocery store in the pot; cucumber kimchi on the plate with the red pepper flakes.)

Cooking in Korea - 68 of 68

I will say right now that most of the recipes I’ve used have come from Maangchi‘s website or the CrazyKoreanCooking website. Anytime I try a new recipe I look for videos of it on YouTube: there are TONS of instructional cooking videos out there by professional and amateurs alike. I like Seonkyoung Longest’s YouTube channel, she does other cuisines besides Korean too. I compare recipes, then usually use one of the recipes as a rough guide to what I should do. But, I don’t hold myself to sticking to any recipe word-for-word. That’s why I love cooking as opposed to baking; you get to improvise and being imprecise is usually okay.

I’m just going to link to Maangchi’s recipes in this post because I’m lazy, but you can Google search and find variations aplenty.

Kimchi Sundubu Jjigae – Spicy tofu stew with kimchi and pork belly. Cooking in Korea - 45 of 68

Bokkeumbap – Fried rice (great way to use up leftovers!)

 

Pajeon or Pa jeon – green onion pancakes. I make a variation the Korean Intern/ Exchange teachers taught me a few years back. If I have leftover kimchi or onions or scallions or anything in that family that needs to be used up, this is my go-to. Technically they’re meant to be made with Asian chives, but whatever. I think Maangchi has a good video to show you how to make Kimchi jeon, but you can add anything to it really (and – note – I make mine tiny pancake size because I ain’t flipping that entire pan of jeon!).  I like to chop all the stuff into bite-size bits, because I don’t like flossing with the chives/ onions… which makes it more of a “veggie jeon” and not a green onion pancake, but again – I’m not being picky.

Oi muchim – spicy cucumber side dish. This is the one thing that I’ve made so far that I really didn’t like. I thought I was making cucumber kimchi, not this dish. This dish is great for some people, but it’s too sesame oil-heavy for me. Maybe I’ll try it again in the future with less sesame oil. Live and learn!

Cooking in Korea - 54 of 68

Dakgalbi – spicy stir-fried chicken with vegetables. I actually found that I like the EatYourKimchi recipe better than Maangchi‘s, but you can mess with either recipe to meet your tastes. Korea’s version of a 1-pot wonder!

Cooking in Korea - 56 of 68

Korean Curry – just what it says. Korea has it’s own version of curry, and it is delicious! Nothing like an Indian curry.

Cooking in Korea - 57 of 68

Soegogi jeon – Beef pancakes. Might sound weird, but one of my new favorite dishes from Korean cuisine. Definitely worth watching this video because Maangchi also makes this great lightly-stir-fried-cucumber recipe at the end. Who knew?

Dosirak – Korean lunchboxes. So many variations, so little time. I’ve made the lunchbox Maangchi made in the Soegogi jeon video (item above this entry). I’ve also made them with the seasoned dried shredded squid, and the rolled egg. Great for lunch on the go, i.e., when you’re birdwatching or hiking and need to bring a meal with you.

Cooking in Korea - 61 of 68Cooking in Korea - 62 of 68Cooking in Korea - 63 of 68

Ojingeochae-muchim – Seasoned dried shredded squid. It sounds icky and weird, but it’s grown to be one of my favorite side dishes since I started eating Korean food regularly a few years ago. (See the two Dosirak/ lunchbox photo above; it’s the red squiggly line looking stuff.)

Zucchini side dish – I know I found this as a side dish in one of Maangchi’s Entree videos awhile back, can’t remember. Super simple, involves salting the zucchini and letting it sit for a few minutes, then sauteeing it lightly in some garlic and with red Korean pepper flakes.

Cooking in Korea - 50 of 68

Japchae – sweet potato glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables. Epic. Amazing. A bit time consuming the first time, and I made waaaaay too much, ate leftovers for days.

 

And, when all is said and done… there’s the process of cooking and cleaning in a teeny tiny kitchen. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

It finally happened!/ Random things

I was in one of the large grocery stores this Saturday (post on this shopping and cooking coming soon, I promise) and was perusing the imported coffee aisle (i.e., land of the decaf coffee) when it finally happened:

A Korean woman, probably in her early 20s, approached me with a serious look on her face. “Do you know the time?” she asked in very slow, clear English.

“Yes.” I grabbed my phone. “It is 4:35 PM” I enunciated carefully and slowly.

“Thank you very much. Have a nice day”she said slowly.

“You too.”

As she turned away, I saw the phone clutched in her hands… But it finally happened: I was finally approached by a random Korean person who wanted to practice their English with me! Huzzah!

This sort of happened once before. I was in a big history museum with my friend Lindsey, and we were approached by a young Korean woman with a few kids and some older Korean ladies with her. Turns out they were an English tutoring group, and she was their leader; the kids’ mom and grandma were with them as well. She asked if her students could “interview” us: What is your name? Where are you from? Do you like Korea? The kids were pretty shy, but they were all very grateful to us for helping them practice their English, and it was a fun interlude on our day’s adventures.

But that didn’t feel like the lady in the grocery store; the museum was crawling with Korean school kids during one of their winter breaks and they all had worksheets and assignments with them, and most groups seemed to have some sort of teacher or tutor involved in leading them around.

I wish more Korean people would feel comfortable approaching us foreigners to practice their English skills. I’m learning that many Koreans think that if they aren’t native-level fluent in English, that they don’t speak English at all. This is most definitely not the case. I’ve had tons of encounters where this happens:

Me, in Korean: Do you speak English?

Korean Person: Sorry, just a small amount.

Me: [asking a question using rather advanced English, because I’m trying to find something or figure out when something opens/ closes, where a bus goes, which way to the xyz, etc.]?

KP, in English: Oh yes, you just blah blah blah (in almost perfect but shyly spoken English).

I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s Korea’s obsession with being perfect about everything, or that they know the English when reading/ writing, but speaking is more difficult? Either way, I always compliment them on their English skills when they have clearly gone out of their comfort zone to help me.

~~~~~~

To all my friends and students who have tried to learn English: I’m sorry. English is the worst. THE WORST. My students here continually have trouble using the words “use” and “take” as in “The time the ball uses to move 5 meters” instead of “The time the ball takes to move 5 meters” and I can’t explain to them why takes is better than uses. Or how they always forget to capitalize the start of a new sentence (Korean doesn’t have upper/ lower case letters, it’s all the same). Or why words have a silent “ough” – that’s because of those silly words from the UK, I can blame them a bit sometimes. But more often than not, I have to google the answer as to why we use this rule in a certain setting, but not others. Like “ensue” – when was the last time you used it? Did you use it correctly? Could you explain to an almost-but-not-quite fluent 14-year-old when and how to use it?

~~~~~~

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Went to a professional ice hockey game with 60 of my coworkers. It was a hoot. The home-team lost horrendously at the end, when we pulled our goalie for a 6th man, and the away team launched the puck from across the arena and it went into the goal. But it was a great fun outing anyways!

Your hockey games don’t include a coordinated dance routine between both teams’ mascots before the zamobni comes out?

  • Played tourist with my friends when they were in town for a few days from Japan. We did the hop-on/ hop-off bus tour for a day. Lots of laughs and good times with them, as always.
  • Babysat/ kid-watched my coworkers’ kids while they went out of town for a conference. Kindergarten and 4th grade. Wonderful kids. Was thrilled to give them back to mom and dad on Sunday, went home, and promptly took a nap. To all the parents (especially single parents/ spouses who are gone for deployments, etc.) – how do you do this?!?! It’s exhausting.
  • Getting to know more of my coworkers and their neighborhoods. For the northern VA people: I live in the Clarendon-ish part of my area; for everyone else, I live in a very new neighborhood right along the subway line. Full of huge buildings 30 stories tall with companies and apartments in the buildings. All of my coworkers with spouses and kids live further out from the subway stations, many in neighborhoods with stand-alone houses among smaller 2-4 story apartment buildings.
  • Dealing with the passing of my grandmother while being half a world away from my family. Even though she was almost 92, sick for the last few years, and I knew before I left for Korea that she probably wouldn’t make it to the summer when I come home, it sucked. Getting old and dying sucks. Second guessing yourself “should I jump on the next plane to NY and be there?” sucks.  Tons of people here who have been through the same thing, but it doesn’t make it easier.
  • Grading papers. Lesson planning. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, going to the gym, reading. Waiting for spring to finally show up. Typical February routine stuff, which is nice to finally have again.

What have YOU been up to lately?