Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Round 1

Last weekend was the perfect kickoff to the Christmas season as I celebrated the holiday with my first family of the year.  Saturday the 15th was the holiday party at Samsungwon, the orphanage i've been volunteering at for the last 8 months.  Volunteers from across Korea came to play with the kids and of course bring presents.  I was a bit surprised that I was one of two volunteers from the Gumi area, I really thought there were more people visiting the orphanage on a regular basis so i'm not sure why they didn't show up on Saturday, oh well, only makes me look that much more awesome.  Each volunteer was asked to raise 75,000 won which would be used for purchasing gifts for three of the children at the orphanage.  I was able to be matched with the three boys i've been working with and although they don't know the gifts came from me I had great pleasure in watching them open their gifts Saturday night.  

철수, I still might sneak him home ;)

Friday, December 14, 2012

5, 4, 3, 2...

One more year!

Much to the disappointment of some and the excitement of others, it's official - I've agreed to renew my contract and sign on for a second year of teaching.  You can't please everyone

Friday, December 7, 2012

No Really, He's My OLDER Brother

And so the whirlwind tour of Korea continues.  After our adventure through Busan I thought i'd let Beau take it easy and give him another day to lounge around - although I did provide instructions and recommendations for him to do the hike conveniently located behind my apartment. I also told him that he should join me at school by 3pm for one of my favorite and highest level classes - but that never happened.... As it turns out I returned from school around 5 to find my brother lounging on his makeshift bed - mattress on the floor (which he hated by the way) explaining that after hiking and showering he just kind of crashed, therefor never making it to school. I wasn't too upset but I couldn't say the same for the students of class 1-1 who were expecting him.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

OMG it's snowing!

It might be rare that I praise Wisconsin weather but I must say I can appreciate being raised in a state that knows how to deal with snow.  I'm not even talking about blizzards or big snow storms, I mean like a dusting of snow.  I thought the winter weather in Korea would be similar to that back home, and so far it hasn't been too far off. That was until last night when Korea got it's first snow of the year.

As I sit here writing this there's about 15 people missing from my office, including the vice principal. I can only venture to guess that the fresh snow has delayed their arrival to school.  Now most of you might suspect we had a pretty big storm here last night, right?  Well you'd be wrong in that assumption, to my estimate there might be 2 inches of the fluffy white stuff out there. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  I have a feeling i'm going to be continually entertained as winter progresses in this country.

Here's a few more amusing moments from the last 24 hours:

1. On my walk to school this morning saw a few cars spinning their wheels as they tried to drive down the road, clearly they never learned the "slow accelerate after a stop" rule.

2. This excerpt from an article in the Korean Herald: "Heavy snow blanketed central regions of the country.  About 8 centimeters of snow fell in the capital."  Yes, they did use the words heavy snow  and 8cm in the same breath (that's like 3 inches).

3. Just got a message that classes will be pushed back this morning due to "teacher and student delays in arrival" - okay this one is not amusing, i'm supposed to have a half day and because of this stupid white stuff and the countries inability to deal with it i'll likely have to stay longer. Not laughing anymore

4. At the gym yesterday I was watching the news as they showed the storm in Seoul - people were using umbrellas...

5. This news headline: Heavy snow disrupts air traffic in Korea  (Again the max. snowfall was about 8cm)

This is from my walk to school this morning, looks pretty treacherous right?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beau in Korea

Now that it's been almost a month since his visit I guess I can relive it all by sharing with you how I entertained my brother for a week in Korea.  The visit started with lots of waiting (for me) while Beau made his way from Incheon airport to Hongdae (where our hostel was).  Thankfully my brother was a big boy and caught the subway on his own - saving me close to 2 hours of subway riding and a few extra dollars.  Finally he arrived and we were ready to set out in Seoul.  My friend Sara was in town that weekend as well and already out grabbing dinner and drinks with our friend Daniel.  Beau and I wanted to check out the lanter festival on the Choeonggyecheon and get dinner but told them we'd meet up later.  I had no idea how crowded this festival would be, but I definitely underestimated it.  There was a line wrapping up and down the block that seemed to have no end - all just to walk down to the water and see some lanterns, we were satisfied with the view from above so we walked along eventually ending at a busy street where we decided to find dinner. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Well it's been a while since I've been here. I'd like to blame google for telling me i'm out of storage space for pictures on here, but in all honesty I've just been lazy.  I tried to upload pictures from my brothers visit a few times but apparently I need to pay for more storage on my account before I can do that - my exciting life has exceeded their 1GB allowance ;) In all honestly I've gone into winter hibernation mode where curling up with a book, blanket and tea or coffee often sounds like the best option available, so here's some random updates

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Was I Waiting For?

For close to the last year I've had an on and off ache in my right neck and shoulder, i'm fairly certain it started and stems from sitting at a desk all day.  Usually a few stretches or days away from the computer would help but over the last few months it only got worse. In the states my go to would be a full body massage (using my shoulder as an excuse for full body indulgence) but I wanted to try something new.  After hearing some mixed opinions but overall positive reviews I decided it was time to give oriental medicine a try.   

pen pals

I started this post a few weeks ago and then put it aside, and now i'm lazy so it'll probably be a short one.  Just another opportunity to gloat about how awesome my students are.  An old friend from high school contacted me about doing a pen pal activity with some of her students she is currently teaching in Milwaukee,   I immediately thought of my grade 1 advanced level class and knew they would love the activity. The letters finally arrived and the students were pretty excited, especially since they were accompanied by pictures of the students.  My friend Jess's students are only in sixth grade so they, of course, still have some errors in their writing.  It was funny as my Korean kids were picking out spelling and grammar errors as they read through the letters, but believe me this does not mean theirs were perfect.

I'm hoping we continue the pen pal project however some of my students may do so regardless as they were giving out their email, Kakoa ID and even phone numbers to their new best friends.  Here's a few excerpts from some of my favorite letters:

"Did you eat rice?? It is very very delicious, if you eat rice you never regret about rice."

"Very important sentence! --> Dokdo is the republic of Korea's island AND NOT Japan sea but East Sea"

"My mother is 40 but she looks like 23 years old"

And this one just continued to make me laugh:
"School is very terrible...I'm sure Korean students are the most unhappy people in the world. School starts at 8:30am and ends at 10:00pm. It's not over. We study myself until 1AM. but, don't worry. Except that Korea is the best country in the world...I like E-sport, Korean students spend their spare time playing e-sport (online game). If there aren't e-sports in the world, life will be like hell"

"Korean mothers are very zealous for the education of their children"

oh yeah, and my all star student that introduced himself as "The Korean Justin Beiber - please don't fall in love with me"

These kids are awesome, how will I ever say goodbye?

Friday, November 9, 2012

D-Day 2012

I wanted to write about this last spring but thought i'd wait until a more pertinent time.  The clock in our office included a row marked "D-Day" and finally yesterday it reached 0. I'm sure most of you are confused and curious as to what i'm referring to.  Yesterday was THE day, at least for the third grade high school students (seniors), it was the day that would decide their fate.  You think i'm kidding? It may sound a bit extreme but trust me...

Yesterday, 660,000 students sat down to take the 9 hour college entrance exam (think ACT/SAT), hoping their years of arduous study would finally pay off.  The results of the exam significantly impact the students future, commonly used as the determining factor for college admissions, thus affecting their future jobs, it's a big deal.  Don't believe me?
"The most crucial test seen as a deciding factor in an applicant's choice of college and subsequent career"  ~The Korean Herald  ]

Monday, November 5, 2012

The good the bad and the ugly

things i'll miss about Korea
1. The food - cheap, delicious, variety
2. Rice and Kimchi (you think i'm kidding)
3. Transportation
4. Red bean donuts
5. Call buttons at restaurants
6. My shoe-box of an apartment
7. The fruit guys on the corner
8. Being told i'm beautiful 230948 times per day
9. Kimbap and Mandu / any and all street food
Okay well that list makes me look like a fatty...

and the things I won't
1. The noises - spiting, clearing throat, roosters at 3am, dogs
2. random text messages that I can't understand
3. Ajumas shoving me (bus, train, subway)
4. Transportation
5. Being treated like a small child
6. The lack of good beer / wine
7. Not having a car
8. $5 apples (okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration)

Korea, You are Beautiful

Close to a year ago, when I started telling people that I might be moving to Korea I got tons of varied reactions, but among one of the most often heard phrases was "oh my god, it's such a beautiful country". Fast forward a few months and there I was arriving to a cold, brown, dirty town. Umm where is this beauty you speak of?  Just be patient said the little voice in my head, after all it was the dead of winter.  I was soon rewarded with the blossoms of spring, cherry blossoms and sunshine galore.  Then came summer with it's lush green forests, everywhere, literraly my dad was blown away by how green the country was, and we're from Greendale!  I quickly understood what all the fuss was bout and low and behold the country continues to amaze me.  Exhibit A:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Celebrate We Will

The temperatures are slowly dropping, thankfully a bit slower than back home, crisp fall mornings have begun.  The frigid air has added a new twist to my morning runs, although I do enjoy the head nods, thumbs up of approval and "초워요!!" coming from the soccer players.  I must admit I love the change of seasons: changing of the leaves, cute layers and snuggly sweaters, fall treats (okay this are kind of missing in Korea - pumpkin spice latte please?), and most importantly - the holiday season! To kick off the season we have nothing better than, my birthday of course! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Colors, Caves and a Whole Lot More

After a few failed attempts at hanging out Caitlin and I were finally able to coordinate a weekend with no plans.  Unlike the last few weekends there were no notable festivals happening this weekend so we had an open slate of destinations to chose from.  Wanting to take advantage of the fall colors and having never been there, I suggested traveling up to Gangwon-do, the northeastern province in Korea.  Caitlin had been a few times before but said that it was pretty and worth the drive (yes drive, Caitlin's fiance has a car so there was no bus necessary this weekend, thank god!) 
Quick side story - not sure if I ever explained how I came to know Caitlin and her fiance, 존우 (Joonwoo):  About two years before I came to Korea my friend Tami (from UW-La Crosse) was teaching at Samsung electronics in Gumi. When she left in June of 2011 she was replaced by Caitlin, who just happened to be another UW-La Crosse graduate (small world).  Fast forward 8 months and there I am getting the news that I would be teaching at Buksam HS, just outside of Gumi.   I later contacted Tami to let her know I was in her town at which time she told me about Caitlin and forward me her contact information. So, within a 2.5 year time span there were three UW-La Crosse graduates placed in Gumi South Korea, none of whom knew each other before coming here, small world indeed.  Then to make the story even more exciting, after living here for shortly over a year Caitlin got engaged to one of the sweetest, nicest guys I've ever met - and even luckier for her, he's willing to move back to Wisconsin with her! 
So back to the weekend, Saturday morning we met in Gumi and packed up the car to start our adventure to Gangwon-do. While waiting for Joonwoos cousin 세운, to join us, we began brainstorming a plan for our trip.  Finally around 1 o'clock 세운 arrived and we were on our way.  We drove for a few hours, stopping at the Gunwi reststop for lunch and eventually found ourselves at Guinsa temple in North Chungcheong province.  The temple is uniquely located among a narrow valley with mountains surrounding it on all sides, making for a spectacular view. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Not Quite London 2012

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, many times, my school is awesome. Last week Friday we had the long awaited for sports day.  Some of my friends had this at their school last spring so I've been looking forward to the day for a while, I figured if it was anything like the school festival it'd for sure be a good day.  The students have been talking about the day for the last few weeks as each lunch period consisted of a soccer game between various homeroom classes, ultimately determining who would be playing in the final match at the festival.  As I arrived to school on Friday I could sense a bit of a buzz in the air, not the normal slow paced grumble of student but instead enthusiasm to get the events started.  The students were soon gathered on the soccer field for a brief speech from the principal followed by a yoga/warm-up routine.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lanterns, Eel, Art, and More!

To continue on our festival roll Sara, Amanda and I made the trip to Jinju last weekend.  If you recall the three of us made this trip one before, but for a a very different reason.  Reminiscing about our [attempted] hike of Jirisan made for some good jokes this weekend.  I was lucky enough to have a half day on Friday due to midterm exams so I decided to catch a mid-afternoon bus despite the fact that the other two would not be arriving until much later in the evening.  I'm not sure what I did wrong but I've had some stinky luck with buses recently, literally.  This time it was a man who though bathing in cologne would be a good idea before a 2.5 hour bus ride with 20 other strangers, thank you kind sir.  My bus pulled into town just after 5pm so after checking into our motel, conveniently located right across and down the river from the festival, I decided to go explore - as luck would have it I was just in time for the sunset. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mask Dance

After a short stint in Japan, Korea wanted to welcome me back with open arms. How, you may ask?  By giving me some beautiful fall weather chock full of festivals, that's how. To kick it off I ventured up to Andong with Sara and Amanda for the second (and final) weekend of the International Maskdance Festival.  Andong is just over an hour north of my town but I've yet to travel there, I guess part of me was intentionally saving the visit for this festival. Having just gotten back into the country the Wednesday before the three of us opted for a Saturday departure, arriving in Andong around lunchtime.  We found our hostel (The Peter Pan Guesthouse)  with ease and then made our way towards the festival, which was conveniently only a short walk away. The walk was made even shorter thanks to a shouting Ajumma who, we thought, was trying to shoo us away, when in reality she was leading us down a great shortcut. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

After my final bus ride I found myself back in Fukuoka, the underrated and overlooked city where I first started my travels.  It was another early morning as I brushed my teeth in the bus station bathroom debating what I should do with the next few hours.  I had already seen most of the city and lets face it, I was tired, so I decided that a relaxed morning at a coffee shop is what I needed.  I made my way out of the station, greeted with a gorgeous sunny day and headed towards Tenjin, the center of town.  I was a bit stubborn as I wandered the streets looking for the perfect spot.  I wanted good coffee and fresh bakery, no chains stores, starbucks, or day old oversized, overpriced muffins.  I guess I forgot I was in Asia and not Rome or Greece, as what I really wanted was an outdoor cafe along the river, eh no such luck.  After walking in a few circles I was able to find a small bakery where I bought some treats and then settled on "Seattle's Best" outdoor patio - with great views of the "Starbucks" across the street, it'd have to do.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Bit of History

After a morning filled with the beauty and calmness of nature it was time for me to get a bit of a history lesson.  I took the streetcar back into town which took a good 45 minutes, but not quite peaceful enough for me to sneak a nap.  Conveniently, the A-bomb dome has it's own stop along the streetcar route so it was extremely easy to find.  This was likely the most tourist trap portion of my trip, I felt like I was in Europe with the number of foreigners soon surrounding me. I'm sure everyone reading this knows the history here so I'll just let the pictures explain what I saw that day.
A-Bomb Dome
Memorial Cenotaph
Peace Gates "Peace" in 49 languages
Children's Peace Monument - Sasaki Sadako a HS junior who died after radiactive effects from the bomb.
Paintings created by survivors, most touching part of the museum
After spending hours in and around the park, including a lengthy visit to the  museum I was famished. Both tired and hungry I was ready to find what I came for - Okonomiyaki.  To be fair my brother raved about this dish after he came home from Japan and argued that it was much better than the Kansai style, so after having and enjoying that I figured this one must be good.  I received a few different recommendations but the closest, and what I expected to be easiest to find, was Okonomi-mura, an area with roughly 25 vendors selling the same thing. It took a little while roaming the streets but soon I was there and selected a booth with two nice women, to be honest none of them were busy as it was only 5pm, but I was hungry. Apparently I picked the right place because soon after being seating a large group of Japanese workers came in along with a few other solo diners, soon all the seats were full. 
Tastes better than it looks, it was amazing
Although I still had hours before my bus was due to leave I thought i'd walk back to the station where I stowed my bag earlier that morning.  I wasn't entirely sure where I'd be catching the bus that night so I also wanted to figure that out before the information booths closed.  Turns out it's a good thing I decided to head back when I did, my bus was in fact leaving from the bus terminal, not the train station.  Wouldn't luck have it that the bus terminal was only steps away from where I had just been.  Not wanting to change the walking theme of the trip, and having plenty of time to spare, I decided to trek back to the terminal on foot.  I suppose I could've explored more of the city before grabbing my bag but to be honest I was dead tired and all I wanted to do was sit down and relax.

Clearly I didn't really piece together the amount of time i'd have in Hiroshima - arrive at 6:30 and then depart later that night at 11:30, it was a long day. This was obviously not my favorite part of the trip, bus stations aren't really the ideal place to hang out at 11 o'clock at night, but I made sure to stay close to the ticket counter.  I did make one friend at the terminal though, an older Japanese man who was keen to practice English and learn about why I was traveling Japan.  At one point he handed me his cell phone because his friend that "could speak really good English" wanted to talk to me - turns out his daughter lives in Chicago and he's traveled around the US a few times.  Oh the random meetings while traveling.  Finally the bus came and thus started my near 24 hour trek home. 

The Sacred Island, Peace and Serenity

The above quote was after returning from my trip to Japan and honestly, Brad could not have said it better, doing the low budget route through Japan made for some interesting nights and mornings on buses and in train station bathrooms.  Tuesday morning I arrived bright and early to a still sleeping Hiroshima. The station was more like a ghost town with few people coming and going on their early morning commute, not even the information booth was open.  With little to no luck in finding a map in the station I wandered to a nearby hotel lobby and took full advantage of the resources at the concierge desk.  Seeing as I had an early start to the day I decided to make my way to Miyajima island, hoping to beat the crowds.  I bought my train/ferry combination ticket and about an hour later was arriving on the island. It was still only about 8:30 so with the high tide predicted for 10:45 I decided to explore the rest of the island before heading for Itsukushima Shinto Shrine.  

I started with a walk through Momiji-dani Park which sits at the base of Mt. Misen and is well known for it's beautiful fall colors.  I was a bit early for the changing of the leaves but the park was still gorgeous and provided a nice backdrop for a morning stroll.  Also popular on Miyajima island is the large number of deer roaming the streets, not that dear are something new for me but i'm definitely not used to them coming right up to you. There's a rope way which will take you to the top of Mt. Misen or you can chose from three different hiking courses.  I was considering testing out one of the trails but I wasn't really sure how long it would take and I wasn't really hiking prepared so I decided to stick to the park.  I made my way up and around then headed east to check out Daisho-in temple.

The park was super peaceful and almost deserted until I got closer to the temple.  First there was the group of men trying to get their car back on track after they almost drove it into a ditch. Really guys? I'm pretty sure that's a sign that maybe you shouldn't be driving on these paths.... Just ahead of that there was a staircase leading up to what I assumed to be a restaurant (beer advertisements were one clue), at first I wasn't going to head up there but then I realized it would provide an awesome view so I made the trek up.  As I reached the top of the stairs there were numerous picnic tables and one old man sitting among them. He quickly shoed me away yelling "no back, down, private property - my house", umm really? Yeah, I guess I have beer advertisements and picnic tables in my front yard too...

Just before leaving for Japan I was looking through my brothers pictures from his trip to Hiroshima and so I was educated on some of the random facts of this temple.  I'm not sure if it was the temple itself , the peaceful island setting or the extremely detailed brochure but this was one of my favorite temples I've visited (Korea included).  I think the temple brochure says it best "Simply standing here and being exposed to the serene atmosphere may enhance your peace of mind." 

1000 Fudo Images

Dai-hannyakyo Sutra - six hundred volumes of scripture
"It is believe that touching these sutras will bring you enormous fortune."
you better believe I touched them all
After getting my fill of peace and serenity I realized that it was already 10:30 so I made my way to the shrine, just in time for high tide.  The shrine was originally built in A.D. 593 and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.  The shrine is best known for the main entrance gate, torii, which appears to be floating during high tide.  Miyajima has been considered sacred so no commoners were allowed to set foot on the island throughout much of history. The temple was built this way so that commoners would have to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine.

Fun fact - in order to retain the purity of the shine no deaths or births are permitted near the shrine. To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as delivery approaches, as are the ill or very elderly whose passing has become imminent. 

Of course by this time I had to battle more crowds as I navigated my way through the shrine, I guess most tourist don't get the same 6am start I had.  After the shrine it was time for a snack so I sampled what the island is known for, Momiji-Manju which literally means maple-shaped cake. I'd previously sampled some when my brother brought them home after his trip, but I must say they were much better hot out of the oven. To follow it up, and continue with a healthy diet, I opted for some soft-serve ice cream, not a big surprise to those that know me well enough. As the afternoon drew closer and crowds became thicker I decided to make my way back to the mainland and continue with my tour of Hiroshima. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Torii torii torii

The next morning as I showered I heard pots and pans clattering in the kitchen and was a bit surprised when I came out to a full spread for breakfast which Haruka had prepared. Such a fantastic host - and did I mention she insisted I take the bed while she slept on the floor mat? Too nice. I was soon out the door and on my way back to Kyoto station via bus (which yes, to the dismay of my Korean co-workers, I was able to navigate by myself). Today's main objective was to make it to the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, so I set this as my first destination.  The shrine is one of the most visited in Japan and notably so as it contains over 5000 orange torri gates, winding through the hills behind the shrine. 
Entrance gate to the shrine

After wandering the hills for a few hours I decided I should probably try to make my way back to town, there was still plenty to see in Kyoto! I strolled back through the shops outside the shrine and was sure to buy some green tea ice cream, which was delicious, before finding the bus home.  It was still another 20 minutes before the bus came so I decided to wander a bit, eventually making my way to the next stop down the street, thankfully I'm easily entertained and my camera provided me with entertainment in the interim.

I got back to Kyoto station around 3:30 which left me plenty of time to visit one more temple (as most of them close by 5pm).  Due to numerous suggestions from friends I set me sights on Rokuon-ji temple, which is home to the famous Kinkaku (Golden pavilion), named a World Heritage site in 1994. The temple is a zen Buddhist temple and the garden and buildings are said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha. To be honestly I was considering passing this stop but boy am I glad I didn't, the temple really was a sight to see.

I was planning to meet Haruka for dinner at 7:30 so I still had some time to kill before heading back to the station.  Although the Imperial Palace closes at 5pm I decided that it would still be worth it to take a walk around the palace gardens, plus it was free! The garden was HUGE and actually a bit eerie as the sun began to set.  There were still many people walking, running and biking around the park, but as it got dark I decided to make my way to the well lit streets of the city. 

Although the sun had set, I saw my fill of Kyoto and had been walking all day, I decided to continue with my marathon tour of Japan and walk back to the station.  I had time before my planned meeting with Haruka, so why not? It was a straight shot to the city so I had no fears of getting lost along the way, plus it gave me a chance to experience the city away from all of the tourists.  I arrived just in time to meet Haruka and we then proceed to find a sushi restaurant for dinner.  YUM I'd go back to Japan tomorrow just to eat some fresh, delicious, non-Korean style sushi.  Although it was short trip, accompanied by a typhoon, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kyoto. I said goodbye to Haruka and made my way to yet another overnight bus, this time en route for Hiroshima. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Typhoon Schmyphoon

After an enjoyable overnight bus ride I found myself in the city of Kyoto. As I entered the station I felt like my sleeping pill from the night before was still in effect, it seemed like I was wandering around in a cloud not really comprehending what was in front of me. After a quick change, brushing my teeth and washing my face I emerged back into the station like a new person.  I soon met up with Haruka, a girl I met through Couchsurfing , who agreed to show me around Kyoto for the day and provide me with a place to stay for the night.  After organizing our plan over a coffee we set out for the Higashiyama part of town, starting with the Kiyomizu-dera temple.  This temple was high on my list of must sees so I wanted to head there before the typhoon hit Kyoto.  The temple is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and the name  comes from a waterfall that runs through the complex meaning "clear water". The temple is known for the main hall and large veranda that juts out of the hillside offering impressive views of the city.  
famous view of Kiyomizu-dera

Oh, I Would Walk 500 Miles

After my enjoyable ferry experience I arrived in the land of Fukuoka at a cheery 7:30am.  My first destination was the bus terminal where I planned to store my bag until my departure later that night. I also took the opportunity to change, brush my teeth and wash my face in the bathroom classy, I know. I grabbed a city map and decided since I had a large amount of time to kill that day i'd cover the city on foot.  I decided to start with the nearby Gion district which held many temples and shrines, plus it was only a short distance from the terminal, perfect!  My first stop was Tochoji Temple, which is the head temple of the Shingon Buddhism Kyushu sect, and promised the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan. I wandered around the outside and was greeted by a friendly old man inquiring as to where I was from, it was pretty but I wanted to find the Buddha. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Long Weekend Travels

One of the down sides to living in a foreign country for a year is obviously missing out on things back home, notably the holiday season will be one of the hardest. Last week I gave a "Thanksgiving vs. Chuseok" lesson and I was quickly dreaming of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie - but then my focus shifted back to the present, the fact that I was leaving for Japan in two days! [the pie can wait]

Chuseok is simplified version, the Korean Thanksgiving, many go to their hometowns to visit and spend time with family and remember their ancestors, for me it only meant a 5 day weekend! And with 5 days off of school what better idea could I have then to venture to Japan.  As Friday afternoon came to an end I prepared my escape , left school a bit early and was soon on a bus to Waegwan where I would pack into the train with dozens of other travelers on my way to Busan, where I would then hop on the ferry. Oh transportation, the love hate relationship I have with you is unreal.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Oh Shit, They're Good"

About two weeks ago there was some talk around school about a staff volleyball team.  Not being very gifted in the volleyball department I didn't pay much attention to it.  I translated one office message that there would be practice on Friday for all interested in joining, again I let this go. The next week there was another message about a "friendly competition" taking place Thursday afternoon versus Impyeong Middle school.  This one I was a bit interested in, my friend Loudine is the English teacher there and so we thought maybe we should go as cheerleaders for our respective schools, if nothing else I knew that would earn me brownie points with the principal! 

I want to...

I've written before about my students creativity and uniqueness and once again they have entertained me.  Last week I decided to teach the "Bucket List" lesson, first explaining to kids what it is and then giving them some time to write their own. Obviously some of my students took it much more serious than others but all of their answers were enjoyable to read.  I gave the students about 10 minutes and asked them to try and make a list of at least 10 things they want to do before they die, some kids were writing before I said go while others stared blankly into oblivion.

I want to...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Koreans Aren't Friendly?

Okay so this is something that's been bothering me for a while so I figure I should finally sit down and write about it.  One of the most interesting things about going abroad are is of the opinions, tips and precautions people feel the need to share with you before you go, suddenly everyone you know becomes an expert on your next destination.   Before coming to Korea and over the past 7 months living here I've heard plenty of suggestions, warnings and comments about the people, food, driving, weather, you name it.  One common utterance I've heard, on multiple occasions is "Oh Korean's, they're not very friendly", this has come from people in the US, Taiwan, and even others living in Korea  (by both foreigners and Koreans, speaking of those from different provinces/cities). Well, after living here for 7 months I'm finally going to call BS.  Like many generalizations and stereotypes, this may have been true for some people, but so far, in my experience, it's been quite the opposite.  Even this morning during the last part of my run, the man riding on the back of the garbage truck turned to smile, wave and say hello - maybe he's the one that prompted this blog post.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Seoul Surprises

This past weekend I had plans to travel to Seoul with Sara so she could scope out the location of where she'll be taking the GRE next month.  I knew that I didn't have classes on Friday and found out Thursday night (from one of my students, 이장희) it was because my second graders were going to Seoul for the day to tour Seoul National University. As I approached school Friday morning it dawned on me that I should have asked to go with, scoring myself a free ride since I was already planning to be there for the weekend, oh well too late.  Or was it?

I sat down at my desk and seconds later my phone was ringing, it was the principal telling me I should come with "hurry, we're going to Seoul now".  I tried explaining that I needed my backpack since I wanted to stay for the weekend, but there was some info. lost in translation.  With the help of one of the English teachers it was arranged that I could run home, grab my stuff and they would wait for me to leave. Score! This is where my planning ahead totally pays off, I had thankfully laid out what I planned to pack for the weekend so I was able to throw it all together fairly quickly.  10 minutes later instead of sitting at my desk drinking coffee and catching up on emails I was on my way to Seoul.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Geumosan on Crack

After a few weekends of adventure I decided it was time for me to stay closer to home for once. Originally I was hoping to catch some of my students playing soccer but their game turned into practice so that was no longer the plan. Friday night was spent at Loudine's house watching "What to Expect when you're expecting" eating pizza and drinking wine, i'm beginning to really enjoy these movie nights.  I had been texting Shaun (the newbie in town) about the Packer vs Bears game - yeah he's from Chicago and of course, a Bears fan.  At some point during our conversation we decided we were going hiking the next morning, always up for a challenge I decided we'd try the hike behind my house annnnd take it all the way to Gumi.

Map of our route - bottom right corner to the biggest peak (red rectangle)

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Next Einstein

Two weeks ago I was struggling to come up with what to teach for my next lesson, but with the help of my friend Charles that problem was quickly solved. He sent me an "inventions" lesson which was a big hit with his class so I thought i'd give it a try. There really isn't much explanation needed; I just wanted to share with you some of the weird, wonderful and wacky inventions my students created.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Last weekend Sara and I decided that it was time to take off and explore another city of Korea.  After minimal research I discovered there was an International music festival taking place in Gwangju, with the promise of live music we were sold.  Our friend Charles was also feeling the travel itch and decided to join us on our adventure across the country.  Gwangju is the SW province of Jeonnam-do, and thanks to a big mountiain smack dab in the middle of the country it took our bus about three and a half hours to get there.  Charles had a bit further to travel but thanks to some generous co-workers he was able to get out early so we all met at the bus terminal around 10pm.  Our first  task was to locate a place to stay for the night, we going to head downtown but after the help of a few friendly locals we were directed just a few blocks away from the terminal.  Between the rain, cars and overtired silliness that came upon us, we had quite the laugh trying to find a place to stay - but eventually settled on a motel just a few blocks from the station.  It wasn't the most beautiful place i'd ever seen but you couldn't really beat the price (25,000 per night).  Not really feeling up to making the trek downtown we decided to see what was nearby offering food and drinks.  We found a small bar/restaurant with an extremely friendly waiter, who spoke near perfect English. We caught up while sharing stories and laughs over a pitcher of beer and snacks, but soon decided to call it a night as we all had long days. I think getting back to the motel was among our biggest challenge of the weekend. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

So Many Naked People

It's crazy how fast my time in Korea has been flying by, I remember last spring talking to friends about wanting to go to the Daegu International Bodypainting festival and now it's been over a week since I've been there done that.  The festival took place the first weekend of September and was held at Duryu park in Daegu.  Caitlin and Joonwoo picked me up around 10am and we made our way into Daegu (woo hoo for not having to take the train) arriving just in time for what was supposed to be the opening ceremony. Turns out there wasn't any type of actual ceremony, 11 o'clock was rather just the time all the painting started.  The park was pretty empty but it was cool to see all of the models and artists getting ready. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A New Semester

Start of the new semester means only one thing - more staff dinners and lots of soju.  I knew there would be changes at school, my main co-teacher taking off to have a baby being one of them, but I did realize there were a few other teachers that were also leaving. One of the teachers that sat kiddy corner to met in the office was offered a promotion to VP at another school, I found this out the day before he left as we all gathered for dinner. I hadn't really talked to him much but he would always greet me with a warm smile and friendly "안녕하세요" (hello) when I walked in the door every morning. Of course, after a few soju's at dinner he expressed to me (with help from my co-teacher) how much he wished we could talk more and that he's sorry he doesn't know more English.  I was near speechless trying to convey to him that he made me feel welcome no matter how many words we shared. During dinner one of my co-teachers asked me if i'd be joining for 노래방 (karaoke) after dinner. To be honest I barely wanted to join for dinner so I was not to excited about the prospect of signing and drinking afterwards.  My new co-teacher and I had plans to escape (which a few others had already done) but one of the other women said to wait, that she would drive us.  We were getting ready to leave but upon entering the parking lot were met by most of the male staff who pointed to the 노래방(conveniently located right next door - there would be no escape).  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Back to the Swing of Things

Since returning from my summer vacation in Taiwan I seem to have adopted a new weekend habit. (okay it's only been two weeks, but still).  The last two weekends have been filled with good friends, good food, lots of dancing and of course a few drinks.  Then by Sunday I try to restore some of the damage i've done to myself by exploring my city by bike.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Everyone told me that I would change during my year living abroad, and i'm sure they're right, but then again who doesn't change over the span of a year?  Add to it the fact that i'm 23, still trying to figure out what i'm doing with my life, and living in a foreign country - yeah changes will be inevitable.  Maybe it's that I've hit the 6 month mark, or maybe it was traveling alone, to another country (as if living alone in one isn't enough), but more than likely I think it was the long hours of hiking that led to these realizations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Good Thing I Hiked a lot...

.....or I would've gained an easy 10 pounds on this trip.

I was trying to decide how on earth to organize and write about my time in Taiwan and upon looking through my pictures decided that the food would need it's own posts. So here it is - from night markets, the 7/11 snacks to sit down restaurants, the [documented part] of my diet in Taiwan.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spontaneous Decisions

I think I like punishing myself - but it's all for a good reason, right? Another early morning wake up call and rush to the train station - that seems to be a theme of this trip, no?  Anyway we got lucky with train times and caught the 7:10 train to Hualien, we even got seats (unlike our first trip to Alishan where we spent half the ride in the cargo car).  I feel like i'm about to sound like a broken record but this trip was much like the beginning of Alishan, we rearranged some luggage, stored my large backpack in the baggage room and ventured out for a scooter and lunch. The woman we rented the scooter from was extremely friendly (even if we couldn't communicate much past body language and smiles). While Grant ran back to get his ID from our bag at the station she showed off her pet pig and even tried sharing her lunch with me.  Lunch was a not so glamorous lunch box from the shop next door but cheap and filling - just what we needed.  A few more stops for necessities like money, gas and a knee brace (finally, after 5 years of talking about it I bought one for my Grandma knees) we were on our way to Taroko National Park

The ride through town was a bit frightening at parts - I realized this when I released my death grip from the back of the seat at the gas station. I'm not sure exactly what my problem was, maybe I had some residual fears from our fall a few days. About 5 minutes after stopping at a gas station to use the bathroom and fill the tire with air we both looked up and saw a "Welcome to Taroko" sign which we weren't yet expecting, but at the same time glad to see.  We stopped at the visitor center which confirmed what was already expected - most of the major hiking trails were closed due to typhoon damage a few weeks before.  I knew that by the time we left the office Grant would be asking me if I wanted to hike the trails, regardless of the closures - and sure enough those were some of the first words out of his mouth.  Feeling like a mom responding to a kid's plea I answered with a we'll see.  

After a bit of disappointment about not being able to hike we continued on our way and soon came upon the Eternal Spring Shrine, complete with hoards of tourists and buses. There was a short hike walk which was open, leading closer to the shrine however the longer trail was, you guessed it, closed.

We drove on for a little while longer and took a turn off the main road to go check out a temple and escape the tour buses.  The temple wasn't far off the main road but thankfully it was nearly deserted, except for two men drinking tea.  We walked their way as Grant practiced his Chinese ability (much higher than he lets on) and before we knew it we were sitting enjoying traditional tea and snacks (sweet potato chips = yum) with them.  I of course, couldn't add much to the conversation but it was still awesome to sit there and relax and I managed to understand snippets of their conversation.  One of the men was a local police officer and super friendly - I really wish I could have said more!

Changguang Temple
We continued on our way along the winding roads of Taroko, taking in the views and trying to avoid head on collisions with over-sized tour buses.  Seriously this place was not built for these behemoths, get off the road and leave it for the rest of us to enjoy! The weather was less than optimal with small bursts or rain coming and going throughout the day, but we weren't going to let that affect us.  The next stop was Buluowan which promised multiple hiking trails as well as a hotel serving aboriginal food.  We pulled into the area around 5pm and found it to be somewhat of a ghost town, kind of the way we preferred it. There were four different trails starting in the area so we started with the Buluowan-Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) trail.  After hiking  I summarized the trail as: "That was the universe telling me I sat on my ass too much today".  Basically the trail was about 500 stairs leading down to the road, after which the only option was to go back up.  It was nice to get off the road and move a little but the trail didn't offer much in the way of sightseeing - we did spot a frog though!  After that we tried to Buluowan Lower Terrance - Meander Core Trail, our map clearly had a typo as it stated the trail would take 50minutes and we were easily finished within 10. Highlight of this trail? I saw a monkey! (but he was too fast for a picture).  Finally there was the Bulowan Upper Terrace - Bamboo Groves Trail, we had to do this one twice because we thought we missed something - like a turnoff to a real trail, but no. The trail was clearly made for tourists who didn't want to actually venture into the wild - a wooden boardwalk circling around the back of the hotel area, I wasn't impressed.  After the mild disappointment we decided to try dinner - the hotel offered a buffet style meal featuring traditional aborigine dishes, it had a steep price of nearly $20 but there weren't many other options so we went for it. The food was okay but my sweet tooth was definitely satisfied with the array of desserts available - I think we collectively ate 4+ piece of chocolate cake, oops. 

MASSIVE snails we almost stepped on along the trail 
After dinner we still had a good 20 minutes to drive until Tianxiang which is where we were hoping to find accommodation for the night. I guess we spent more time eating than we realized because it was already past  8 o'clock and we found ourselves in the dark. There was a bit of a scare when we thought the scooters headlight didn't work but thanks to the light from my cellphone and pushing all the buttons I could find, we figured it out.  John Mayer serenaded me (about all my cellphone was useful for in this trip) as we made our way through the dark and winding roads.  We negotiated a bit of a deal at the Tianxiang Youth Hostel and were soon relaxing in our room, showered and watching Definitely, Maybe. Apparently Taroko felt it didn't give me enough of an adventure that day and sent me one more visitor.... 

Grant was showering when I spotted this little creature and as much as I hid it for the majority of the trip, the little girl inside of me emerged.  I stood on the bed staring this thing down for maybe 10 minutes until Grant came out and managed to guide it out the patio door.  We decided squishing it would've been a bit messy.  The next morning we woke at 7, made our way down for the included breakfast and were soon on our way to find some open hiking trails.  The first stop was at the Baiyan Waterfal Trail which began in the middle of a tunnel on the side of the road, this one looked promising.  

The first half of the trail offered beautiful views but were somewhat disrupted when a scooter and then a SUV came barreling down the road - umm I thought I was in nature? The trail wound around the top of a ledge with views of the water below, led through a few dark tunnels and came out to a suspension bridge ending at a lookout platform.  After the platform the trail continues through another tunnel and gets a bit more serene - no SUV's allowed!  The trail comes to an end at Shuiliandong (the water curtain), basically a long porous tunnel that allows the water to come through at different points, pretty cool. I'm not sure why but multiple times during this hike I felt like I was in line for a ride at Disney or Six Flags (i.e. the buildup to the Batman ride), don't ask why.  

Back to our scooter and on to the next destination, from here we began making our way back towards the entrance to the park, stopping along the way for a few more sights. The final trail we decided to attempt was the Lushui Trail which according to our map, should take about an hour and offer forest views, a suspension bridge, running water and cliffs.  

View from Lushui Trail

After this trail we were about ready to call it quits, there weren't many other options as far as hiking goes but i'm not so sure I could've handled it anyway.  I think the travel and lack of sleep was starting to get the better of me and I was just ready to be settled somewhere, plus I was hungry and there was no food in sight.  We made our way back through the park with one last stop at an awesome suspension bridge. 

Once back into town we returned the scooter (thankfully didn't have to pay any extra for going over our one day time limit) and tried to figure out a time to catch the train.  There was one leaving at 2:30 giving us only a half hour to grab some food, our bags and buy tickets.  Of course, the station was packed leaving us scrambling to try and get tickets before the train left as we didn't' really want to wait for a later one, kind of made me feel like I was on the Amazing race (I totally want to do that by the way).  Grant tried to use the old school ticket vending machine and successfully bought tickets, but as we tried to enter the platform we were told they were no good for that train and ushered to the information desk.  Thankfully we were able to use them on a later train, leaving at 2:50 so we joined the crowds, waiting for a bit and were soon on our way back to Taipei.  

For not having planned too much ahead of time, except a rough itinerary taking me from Taipei to Alishan, down to Kaohsiung and back to Taipei I'd say I lucked out.  I was fortunate enough to make it around the entire Island (literally look at a map - I made a full loop) seeing both Alishan and Taroko, which was awesome as I thought i'd have to decide between the two.