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대한민국! Day-han-min-guk! Go Korea!

“So scared of getting older- I’m only good at being young” – John Mayer

World Cup fever hit Korea!! Being an American, I’ve never followed soccer at all, but I love being a bandwagon fan of anything with an exciting and energetic atmosphere. Koreans could NOT have been more excited about the World Cup, especially after hosting it recently and doing so well in 2002. You couldn’t turn around without seeing Korea jerseys, headbands, temp tattoos, dresses, flags, banners, etc.

This picture is of City Hall, one of many places around the city where people could gather to party and watch the games on giant screens. This was the size of the crowd for the game that was on a weekday at 3:30 AM. The strangest, most Korean moment I had was when I went to watch one outside the giant mall by my house and all the Koreans were SITTING DOWN on mats with their shoes off. It was odd to see such a massive group deciding collectively to sit on the street and watch a game. Unfortunately, Korea lost eventually and the amazing, exciting spirit and sea of “Fighting” red jerseys and devil horns died down. But it was a blast while it lasted!

As the weather began to grow warmer… no wait, I live in Asia so the seasons are only “Hotter than Hell” and “Terrible Snowstorm.” Okay, well as the heat and humidity began to hit, we could no longer continue the amazing Hot Yoga classes we’d been throwing money at. I’d looved taking classes in 100%Korean by a bendy woman who made the language so beautiful. I’d enjoyed the frog humdifiers, sweating more than I knew was humanly possible, and hearing the subway beneath us in quiet moments, but it was no longer bearable. Time to move on to… Korean Aerobics! This might be the funniest experience I’ve had here. Imagine me and Sara dancing around a room with 40 old Korean women dressed in shiny leggings, short skirts, cropped tube tops, and fancy hair to K Pop songs. For a taste of it (and actual song and dance!) check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8hoAX_4Lc4

Picked yourself off the floor? Yeah, well it’s random, hilarious, and awkward, but I am loving every minute of it!

With Annie gone, Brandon and I had to make sure we were still friends without her, so he came into town for a visit. Among the crazy things and awesome hiking we did that weekend, the best part was when we stumbled upon some Koreans having a bunch of games in the Childrens’ Park. They invited Brandon to whoop their butts in a jump roping competition, and me to win a gift certificate to Lotte in the hula hooping competition.

The Wangshimni crowd and I hit up a Busan Giant’s/LG Twins game where we decided to buy Giants Jerseys to wear at games back in SF. About the 7th inning, though, they decided there was a better way to show team spirit and passed around a bunch of orange trash bags which everyone then did this with:

To take advantage of the summer weather, a few friends and I decided to hike the most grueling mountain in Korea, Seoraksan. It was rumored to be nothing but deadly stairs straight up, and a hike lasting anywhere from 10-16 hours. After an “overnight” bus to the east coast, we arrived and began hiking on Saturday morning at 2am. They weren’t kidding about the stairs, but luckily that part was all in the early morning hours before the sun had come up, or we’d realized we were awake. We were up pretty high when we watched the sun rise, and we able to enjoy a few more hours of beautiful views before the rain came. Opps- forgot that summer here means monsoon season! It was still a surprisingly wonderful hike even underneath our ponchos, despite the fact that we had to take the 12 trail rather than the 16 hour one we’d been planning on.
As July approached, the anticipation grew for a festival I’d been looking forward to since before I even came to Korea- MUDFEST! This is one of Korea’s biggest, most famous, and most invaded by foreigners like me. A coastal town called Boryeong is famous for its good-for-your-skin mud so the gorgeous beach town of Daejeon trucks the mud in and has activities ranging from mud wrestling, Mud Prison, colored mud painting, mud-covered dance offs, mud sculptures, and of course concerts by Korea’s top K-Pop stars along with fireworks. Deciding that one weekend wouldn’t be enough, I booked trips to go both weekends. The first weekend was with 5 party buses and my girl, Sara, and the second was Christy, me, and a whole crew of new & amazing friends. Both weekends were some of the best weekends in Korea- drinking and being muddy all day, then running to jump in the ocean and wash it off to start all over again. The best part was probably the fact that every single one of my friends I’ve met since being here was there the first weekend and it felt like I was back in Chico surrounded by people I know & love all over again. Hurray for debauchery!
Sorry to have been so terrible with updates this summer! I’m doing my best to play catch-up now that the end is in sight. Love and Miss you all.
xoxo
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“In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly, that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the 1st place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.”

This quote seemed perfect in light of the recent stuff going on between the North and South, the fact that I am enjoying every minute of my time spent here, incredible friends, the World Cup hitting of soccer balls, and the time I’m spending bouncing other people’s babies in the name of  “work.” Here’s a rundown of the latest- and it might be long since it’s been a while.

In April the whole school (inc a few Korean teachers) and some friends headed down to the beach town of Busan, the 2nd largest city in Korea, for Annie’s birthday. This was made even better because my best buddy from college, Jeff was visiting for 2 weeks from SF. Being Korean American, he’d been wanting to come back and see the family but I provided added incentive. This trip was excellent bonding for everyone. Highlights included eating bugs, hiking to a lighthouse, eating the most amazing seafood lunch ever on the beach, dancing on stage at a club, and later- a random Korean tag-a-long lighting off our bottle rockets inside a bar before a sunrise heart to heart on the beach with Annie and Brandon. Note: The bottle rocket incident proved to us there is NOTHING you can do to get kicked out of a bar in Korea.

Later that month (April), Annie, Caitlin, Christy, Becky and I all ran a 1/2 marathon outside of Seoul. It was hot, hilly and miserable-but we were super proud of ourselves. This also began the first of the Sunday Fundays at the rooftop bar, Nashvilles.

May brought all kinds of random fun! First there was the Scavenger Hunt for foreigners with Caitlin, Brandon, and some other friends. We did everything from swim in the Han River to this:

Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in Korea by calling it Children’s Day. On this holiday, the children of Korea are given the day off from Korean school, homework, private tutors, Taekwondo, piano, English school, and everything else they go through. But only for the one day every year. Then it’s BACK TO WORK!

As Annie’s days in Korea were dwindling down, her “bucket list” became more urgent so we decided to hit the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. This is the line between North and South, where it is actually more of a buffer zone with a cease fire agreement than it is an actual border. We were able to see an area where the people of the South can go to pray for their loved ones in the North, who they are not allowed to be in contact with. It’s sad to hear about how families were literally torn apart and aren’t able to be together, like our tour guide whose Uncle lived in the North during the treaty and hasn’t been heard from since. We wandered tunnels the North had been making headed toward Seoul for a future invasion (there are 4 tunnels that we know of and a reward of several million dollars if you find another one). It was also pretty chilling seeing how serious the North was about privacy- no cameras at ALL allowed anywhere near the boarder, and a city built in view from binoculars to make it look like they were prosperous, but in reality no one lives or works there. Heartbreaking stuff that made me learn a lot about the situation here and finally explained why South Koreans don’t view the North and South as 2 separate countries.

Buddha had his birthday in the 4th month of the Lunar New Year so we got a 3 day weekend. The whole country celebrated all month long by hanging millions of lanterns along the streets, and having a major blow out festival the weekend before his birthday. This was my favorite festival so far (since Mudfest hasn’t happened yet) because we got to make paper lotus flowers, write wishes on paper tied to a balloon that was released, wander the streets with fire hazard candle lanterns, eat awesome food, take amazing pictures, see the biggest, longest, and most amazing parade, and walk along the Cheonggyecheon River surrounded by giant lanterns of all kinds of animals. I liked to call this the “Thanksgivings Day Parade with Lanterns.”

For the 3 day weekend, a few of us headed to the east coast to a small town called Samcheok for some exploring and beach time. Samcheok is known for it’s massive old caves, hiking, and Haeshindang Park, which I will let you google on your own. More interested in the beach and caves than the latter, it turned out the most fun was with the people we met- which is no surprise since I love people, travel, and people who travel.  Here’s the best picture of the cave:

When I spoke to my mom on Skype this morning, she told me I tell her that EVERY weekend was the best weekend yet. It made me laugh because it’s true! The last weekend of May was one I thought would be hard to beat. My new partner in crime, Sara, and I hit up a group trip to the south west to Seounyudo, where there was a series of beautiful, tiny islands connected only by foot and bike bridges. The group we hung out with was awesome. It boiled down to only a few who rented bikes and hiked the islands, played on the beach, combed it for shells, ran into the warm water with our clothes on, and met back up with the group in time for dinner and a sunset on the beach. That night we headed back to the beach for a bit and drank beer with a huge group of South Africans. The next day we hiked to the highest point with an incredible view of the blue waters, then headed down to wander the part of the ocean that had parted, Moses style, in the low tide. It was a beautiful thing to see and made better only by the funky shellfish we collected and BBQed before heading to the ferry again.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Annie really did have to leave. We stayed up all night long at one last Wing Night before sending her off to catch her 8am flight back to NC. We pinky-swore we’d see each other again and got matching necklaces with our names in Korean on them.

The weather is changing and the days are now perfect. After seeing Koreans carrying umbrellas 24/7  during all the snowy months, I found Koreans don’t actually care what the weather is like, they just carry umbrellas 365 days because they are equally annoyed by sun as they are by rain. I walked to work this morning and everyone had umbrellas at only 9 in the morning. What I took away from this is that strange events happen to me on a regular basis and they no longer register as odd. This story is about those things that have become normal for me but months ago would have been deemed peculiar.

  • Trash- The garbage removal situation is extremely complicated and also messy. Koreans are doing a wonderful job on the “Green” thing- they sort garbage into so many different categories, I can’t even really figure them out. From what I’ve figured out, there is a compost bin for food, a green net thingy for recyclables, one for trash, and a few more that don’t make sense. It also appears there are no official government workers for removal, but instead random old people must get paid by weight somewhere for what they’ve collected. It seems to work but there is never a regular trash day or the promise there wont be piles of trash left around randomly.
  • Hand Holding- Men hold hands with men, and women with women all the time. I’ve noticed it a little more in the older generation, but it definitely happens all the time:

  • What is “Slutty?”- Now that it’s nice weather, the girls are starting to show their true colors. I’ll admit that Korean women are gorgeous, but Korea has very different views than us on what is considered “slutty.” To them, wearing the shortest skirts in the world matched with the tallest high heels is an average Wednesday, but if a Westerner wears a tank top to show her shoulders she would be considered “slutty.” Yikes. I’m fearing the humid months more now!
  • Red Names- Thankfully, I was warned by the outgoing teacher that I wasn’t supposed to write anyones names in red pen because back in the day, Koreans used to write the name of their dead in red ink. I’ve been very mindful of it when writing the kids’ names on the board or homework sheets, but I have no problem doing it with my own name since it has no history to my knowledge of meaning dead Americans. When signing my paycheck last week, I was haded a pen and signed my name to which the Korean admin was horrified and embarrassed to have given me a red pen. She promised to white it out and give me a blue pen but I told her not to worry about it. This seemed to bum her out.
  • Gift Giving- Gifts are given for occasions and reasons that we would never dream of. When a kid has a birthday party here, they are the ones who bring gifts for their friends and teachers as a thank you for being involved in their life. Also when a large or important personal purchase is made- AKA a friend of mine was given yogurt and rice cakes when his boss bought a new, expensive car. The most unusual for me was yesterday when the morning snack  was given to everyone including teachers. It was ddak, a pounded rice ball, brought in by a former Korean staff member who is off on her whole year of maternity leave. Apparently the baby celebrated his 100 day birthday, and ddak is eaten by all loved ones to promote health for the baby.
  • Adjimaas- This word loosly means “Mrs” but you can refer to it in name when speaking to any older woman. We foreigners use it to refer to the women who are about 55+ because Korean girls are the most beautiful in the world with tall heels, long hair, and cute clothes but for some reason the day they turn 55 they automatically cute their hair short, get it permed, and wear giant sun visors and neon colors. These women are amazing though! They can be found lapping foreigners on hiking trails while looking like a North Face catalog. They also carry heavy grocery bags but have found that everything is better with a friend:

  • Soju- This is a traditional Korean rice drink which can be about 45% alcohol. Needless to say, its quite dangerous, made even more so because its never more than  $1.50 for a bottle. In combination with the bars staying open all night and the fact that Koreans seem to either be working or drinking, the results tend to look something like this:

  • Sales- Koreans usually dress a cute girl up and make her blab away on a microphone to sell anything from laundry detergent in the middle of a store to face cream while standing outside:

Stay tuned for the next edition of, “Unusually Usual” including things like:

Bathrooms- tp in toilet, squatters, bidets

Trucks that Sell Everything- socks to octopus

Manpurses/man capris/skinnyjeans, etc

Hypochondria

Election time Mayhem- Dancing in public places

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

It’s been a while. Sorry! Lemme tell you why…

The weekend of my birthday in February my beloved Canadians, Art & Kat, were traded in for new models from the US. Luckily the newbies are an awesome couple from Chico, Brook & Michael, a friend from Chico, Kristen, and a new girl from Arizona, Kelly. All are really fun and I am glad to have a new crowd even if it meant my favorite Wangsimni peeps had to leave. The following weekend my Chico buddy, Mopar, came out because he is a baller and works as a contractor doing whatever mechtronic engineering is. Luckily they required his expertise in Korea so he could expense account all the fun stuff we did for a weekend!

The Korean school year began at the beginning of March and I now have 5 little rugrats running around the school. They are all Korean 5 year olds which means they will have their 4th western birthdays this year. I was excited to get to name a few of them! We have already bonded and enjoy cooking classes on Tuesdays, hugs and kisses, crying for no reason, winning the cutest class contest, random doggy piles, sucking thumbs, covering the teacher in stickers, and terrorizing the playroom. This is my life.

L-R: Ace, Ashley, Isaac, Jordan, Ella

St. Patty’s day snuck up on us and we had to run to the underground subway malls to try to find enough green outfits for 3 days of celebrating. No one was sure how Korea would celebrate the fact that there are no snakes in Ireland, but it ended up being an amazing event! The night of the 17th, a few of us headed to the Irish pubs around the city. We had to go to several before deciding all of them would be packed to 150% capacity. We did a jig with a few Irish teachers we met and had an unofficial graffiti party. That weekend was the actual festival in Cheonggyecheon along the river. It was almost entirely foreign teachers and a few military, but Guinness sponsored free give-aways like t-shirts, pints of Guinness, piggy banks, face painting, and Polaroid pictures. There was even a parade, green balloons, and green beer. I had a great day from the very early morning breakfast party at my place until late night with all the girls from school. St. Patty’s in Korea- Who knew?

Around St. Patty’s day, my afternoon kids who are about 10 started talking about how the “yellow dust” would be coming soon. WTF is that?  Turns out, 2 days later we found out. Yellow dust is when the sand from the desert on the coast of China blows across the Yellow Sea (now we know where it got its name) and clouds the air over Korea. It was pretty much the grossest and ugliest day ever, but so far there has only been the one day.

In March I discovered I love paintball. Except when you get hit in the face. Don’t worry, I still finished the game 🙂

I spent a weekend down south at Soryoungdo Island off Tong Young hiking UP and down and UP and down across the whole island and hours of jagged rocks. There were many parts where we had to use ropes to walk up the steep parts or scale down the rough ones. I was pretty sure if the steep cliffs and rocks didn’t kill me, my sore muscles would. The question of the day was, “Is THIS the last peak??” The trip was organized by a hiking group but my group of friends for the weekend was Me, Annie, Caitlin (yes, another), Kerri, Tad, and Matt. We stuck together and stopped for beautiful pictures and makkoli along the way.

Finally after about 6 hours we found the town at the end where we were supposed to catch the ferry. Turned out it wasn’t the right town and we learned the hard way that it’s not possible to hitchhike in Korea. When we got to the right town, the group was waiting for us and one of the Korean girls had just bought some live octopus. Of course I tried it, even though the little legs were still wiggling around. With the sauce it tasted pretty good but the leg stuck on my cheek and the top of my tooth for a bit before I had to force it down. It wasn’t bad but was till probably a one time deal…

The bus stopped at a Jimjibang on the way back to the pension so we could all relax and clean up. I’d been meaning to get to one since I discovered the hot springs in Japan. A Jimjibang is the modern day version of what I imagine the Roman bath houses were like. You pay $4- $15 for entrance, a towel, and a comfy rented uniform and then you have full access to a giant room full of different temperature large bath pools. Of course there are different sections for men and women since everyone wanders around naked, but there is a common room full of giant, comfy couches and TVs that you wear the uniform in. Since Jimjibangs are open 24/7, lots of people use them as places to crash when they are out of town since no one cares if you sleep in the common rooms. Back in the giant hot tub room, you can pay a scary old Korean woman about $7 to scrub your entire body free of dead skin. And I mean entire body. This was my first, but definitely not last Jimjibang since I hear there is a really nice one down the street from my house.

The weekend after we almost died on the Jagged Ridge Hike, Annie, Brandon, Hannah and I decided to head back down south to Golgosa because Annie had randomly stumbled on the best temple in the world to do our Buddhist Temple Stay at. Temple Stays are really common in Korea and almost every foreigner tries it at least one weekend. It is a way for the temples to make some money and let others experience their faith, and we get to learn about other cultures, religions, and cool stuff like bowing and making prayer beads. We decided we also wanted to learn some martial arts and Annie found the only temple in the world that practices an ancient art called Sunmudo. It’s pretty badass, check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Bqz4hUdSU&feature=related

Our host monk for the weekend was actually a cute French guy who left France 8 years ago to come practice Sunmudo here, and he was awesome. The whole experience was pretty wild. We weren’t supposed to speak to anyone or acknowledge Brandon (or males in general) the whole time. When you eat at a temple, you take only the food your body needs for nourishment- no more or less- and you are to eat every grain of rice. During our traditional meal with the monks, there were bowls for rice, veggies, soup, water, and we were forced to eat kimchi. At the end, the monk came through to fill your bowl with water for cleaning so if you had any uneaten food or dirty parts left and they made you drink it!

Another interesting part was being woken up by the monks with their cowbell and chants at 4am so we wouldn’t be late for our 108 bows and hours of meditation. Meditation is an interesting experience. It gets a lot of hype for being glamorous, but it’s actually pretty difficult to be alone with your thoughts in an uncomfortable sitting position trying to clear your head. You find your thoughts turning to anything from to-do lists to, “crap, I’m supposed to be not thinking about anything, but this is a thought right now!”  After an intense morning where I made sure to throw in a few words to JC, we had a little free time to explore the temple before more Sunmudo training that continued to kick out butts and impress us. The small temple was home to a several hundred year old Buddha carved into the stone on the side of a hill. It was Easter Sunday and we thought it was awesome that the protective roof shone a cross onto Buddha’s chest.

There are many more tales to tell, so I promise another update very soon! I miss you all like crazy! ❤

“To learn and never be filled, is wisdom; to teach and never be weary, is love.”

After having spent the past 2 years working in Construction Management, I can’t believe what they are paying me to do now. I used to dread Sunday nights knowing I would have to start over a whole new week of dirt, guys, heavy machinery, boring data entry, and being bossed around. I loved my old job a lot, but it was definitely a job.  I lived with Lindsey, a 2nd grade teacher, the whole two years and never stopped telling her I admired her work but could never be a teacher. I guess this is why my mom always tells me, “life is what happens to you while you are planning something else.”

I can’t believe how much I love my “job.” When Sunday nights roll around I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to see my kiddos!” I was completely in love with them after my first week of teaching. As you remember, I only had about 3 days of shadowing the old teacher before being thrown in. My kids spent the first 2 weeks telling ME what to do. They never complained or questioned me though, and I couldn’t believe how amazingly understanding they were. I can’t believe how much I love them. They each have their own awesome things they do or say and I absolutely adore seeing them trying to figure everything out. They really encourage us to show affection and give them hugs and kisses and it’s a good thing because I would have a hard time not giving them noogies and piggy back rides. Especially this little gremlin:

The Korean school year just ended and graduation was last Friday for my kids and 4 other classes. Just so you know, everything here is simply a photo-op and things tend to feel a bit like a parade. The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes and photos afterward for about 45 minutes. Either way, I cried and so did most of my kids. My co-teacher, Crystal, told me last week that I’ve been chosen to teach the baby class next year. I consider this a huge honor because Crystal said it was given to me because of my patience, the fact that I’m always smiling, and am “easy to look at.” lol. Anyways, this means that this Tuesday (tomorrow is a holiday) I will have 4 adorable (Korean) five year old babies. Let me specify: Korean 5 years old means they will be TURNING American 4 this year. So unless their birthday was in January or February, I have a bunch of 3 year old toddlers showing up to hang out with a girl they can’t understand who looks like someone they’ve never seen before. I’m expecting lots of tears.

Festival was last Thursday, and “parade” doesn’t begin to explain it. Festival is basically a class talent show Korean schools do and they make a huge deal about it. We’ve been cancelling playtime and all kinds of other stuff to allow practice time each day for the past 2 months. They even rent these ridiculous “traditional” costumes to trot them out in. I chose to have B Class sing “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles, memorize 2 poems about “My Mom” and “My Dad,” and then they each wrote why they love their moms and dads. This was interesting since most Korean fathers spend 12 hours in the office then go to the bar so my kids’ rough drafts weren’t pretty. We ended up with a lot of “my dad loves golf,” and “he gives me money,” but it was a learning experience for me.

Hanbok Day was the Tuesday before Lunar New Year and the kids brought their Hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) to school to learn how to bow to their elders for Lunar NY. They definitely couldn’t have a good photo-op unless their teachers sported them, too, but I really loved it. They even made the kids bow to me and say, “bless you” and I gave them words of wisdom and junkfood (supposed to be money), per tradition.

Also worth noting: there is a weird obsession with poo here. Yeah… poo. Can’t figure it out, but there are funny childrens books and plays about it that go beyond, “Everybody Poops.” They even made us go to a ridiculous play in English called, “Doggy Poo.” It was about a dog’s poo that feels it has no meaning or purpose in life until a “beautiful dandelion” (weed?) asks the doggy poo to fertilize it. The moral of the story is “all God’s things have a purpose.” Really? Doggy Poo? I still can’t believe they made us take a picture with it:

Anyways, that’s all for now. Please look for, “LCI D Class” coming soon. My friend Annie who had the baby class last year was peed on a few times, but was only thrown up on once. Yayyy.

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -JRR Tolkien

…Well, with very little planning, another foreign teacher and I were swept off to Taiwan for Lunar New Year. Christy teaches the class next door to mine and arrived in Korea around the same time. A few weeks ago at lunch she asked me randomly, “so where are we going for our 4 day weekend?” The next thing I knew, we were trying to learn Mandarin and had nothing booked but the flight home. I have to say this method of travelling is very stressful in Europe, but on such a short trip to a small, island country with amazing things to see everywhere and great public transportation it works beautifully as long as you have an open mind. Luckily Christy and I both did and it was an awesome trip!

We headed straight for the train station to get tickets to Hualien, a small beach town about 45 minutes away from the Toroko Gorge. We had about 3 hours to kill so we hit the streets in Taipei. We were very fortunate to be right next to a beautiful peace park with pagodas, shrines, ponds, fountains, and all that gorgeous Asian park stuff.

We kept walking to discover the presidential palace and a traditional Asian market before heading back to catch our train.

Our hostel in Hualien was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. The checkin desk was actually a bar and the place was busy with lots of people our age. Christy headed to bed early, but I decided to stay up at least till midnight since it was New Years Eve. Good thing I did! I met a bunch of people who were renting scooters and heading out in the morning to see the Gorge, which had been our plan too.  Midnight came and the whole town set off all their fireworks.

The next day 6 of us set out on our scooters: Kelly & Marie (dude), a couple who met teaching in Korea and are now teaching in Taiwan, Attila the totally Euro guy in tight pants from Holland, Ben the white skater guy with a fro from Louisiana, Christy, and myself. First off let me say that I was terrified of these scooters, but my favorite travel quote I accidentally made up once is, “I’m  not without fear, but conquering that fear is fun!” Turns out they are soo fun and now I want one if/when I ever move back SF.

This day made my top 10 travel days ever! Not only was the weather perfect (as it snowed in Seoul), but the group dynamic was perfect, the scooters so fun, the gorge unbelievable, and everything came together perfectly. There are no words to explain the beauty of this place.

We drove all up and down the gorge and on the way back stopped for some hiking. I think we did about 3-4 hikes and they ranged from “old ladies are doing this” to “I hope I’m climbing straight up this rock for a reason.” There was even a really rickety, scary foot bridge we had to cross at one point.

We only decided to head out when the sky got dark and we got hungry. We all ended the day with an amazing Chinese food dinner and a Betel Nut (which I highly discourage you from trying- google it).

The next morning Christy, who is from Oregon, and I decided we wanted to watch the sun RISE over the Pacific Ocean so we took our scooters out to find a good spot on the beach. We almost got eaten by guard dogs on the way, but it was worth it.

We did some exploring in Hualien and headed back to see more of Taipei. A friend from the hostel, Chris (who’d hiked the whole gorge rather than joining us because he’s a hippy) met up with us in Taipei for dinner, a night market, and a bar. We did some more exploring of Taipei and hit up the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. Well, if I’d gone about 2 months ago it would have been the tallest. Stupid Dubai. It was still pretty cool…

We decided to end our trip by continuing to almost miss our train, bus, and flight. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to travel without that happening, but we made all of them (miraculously). Yes, a lot of things were closed because of the holiday and it may not have been the best time to go but we were able to see tons of cool stuff on our 4 day weekend in Taiwan. There’d been lanterns and festivals everywhere we went and I’m glad to have spent Chinese New Year in a Chinese… sect? It was definitely not as well kept as Korea (few are), but Taiwan had an awesome feel to it. The weather reminded me of Mexico and the people were hands down the friendliest people ever. They practically fell over themselves trying to help us even when we didn’t look lost. I really enjoyed Taiwan and found out I’d missed out on some awesome scuba diving in the south and great hiking in bamboo forests, so I think I might have to try and go back sometime! But then again, I say that everywhere I go.

“Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” 

Just a hopefully quick update.  A much longer and better one will come next time.

My beloved (brand new) Dell notebook thought it would be fun to kill its harddrive last night for no reason. Sofar 2010 has gone like this:

1. Heater in apartment breaks in the Cali girls apartment right when snow comes

2. Camera breaks when City of Seoul is covered in beautiful snow

3. Computer dies while I’m 6,000 miles from home and it is my only means of communication.

Anyways, So last weekend Annie, Army officer friend Brandon, and I headed 3 hours NE by bus to the Trout/ Icefest in Hwacheon where the river froze over and they put EVERYTHING on ice:  soccer, skating, sledding, slides, fishing, zamboni rides, go carting, ATVs, bicycles, etc etc.

We tried ice fishing for 1.5 hours to no avail. After wandering a bit we discovered you can dive into the coldest pool on Earth and catch them by hand if you arebrave enough. We were… and it turns out I have a hidden talent!

I’ve never been colder in my whole life! Annie found out she’s terrified of fish. Not the best time to find something like that out…. haha. Anyways once you catch it, you are supposed to stick it down your shirt and keep going. I caught several but a few got away. Here’s our poor guys afterward. Yummy trout sashimi! It only cost us $2 for someone else to cut the guts out and hook us up with the side dishes:

The place was beautiful and there were fish everything all over. Here’s the ice fishing holes and lanterns at night:

That’s all for now. This weekend is Lunar New Year (AKA Chinese New Year). Koreans celebrate it by going to their hometowns andbowing to their elders while wearing Hanboks (more on this later) so we get a 4 day weekend so, taking full advantage of the situation….

I AM OFF TO TAIWAN!!!!!!

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

Sooo it’s been a few weeks. I guess I will blame the nightlife culture here. Seoul is the craziest nightlife I’ve seen since Vegas, and I think it’s even more intense. Everything is open 24 hours- restaurants, bars, grocery stores, etc. No one leaves their house until 11pm (ish) unless it’s to go somewhere to play foozball or hookah. I guess since everyone gets started later it gives them permission to stay out until anywhere from 5am-8am. I think my record was 6:30 or 7 so far but we have a friend who stayed out until NOON one night because he met a girl and they stayed out till the morning having a snowball fight and getting breakfast, haha. Here’s a few highlights from the past few weeks:

  • I went to a concert in Hongdae (a district in Seoul) where there are bands set up all along the perimeter of the bar and the crowd is in the middle while the bands take turns playing 1 song at a time. It was suuper cool and they even handed out really fun stickers:

  • I actually went out and bought a cell phone. I even put one of those lame-o phone charms on it that I got at a vending machine in Japan. I feel like a local now
  • Somehow the stars aligned one night and we managed to get 5/10 foreign teachers out together. For whatever reason, it’s pretty hard since everyone has their own things going on. We found the most American bar ever after some Mexican food and I convinced 2 guys I was a semi-pro dart player back home. They must have been really drunk because I was missing the dart board a lot. It was good bonding for the teachers though.
  • I finally found someone who was willing to leave their house on a Saturday for some city exploration! We hit up the War Memorial and Museum last Saturday and then went to explore the “Little America” part of town, Itaewon. It’s pretty sad how little I knew/ remembered about the Korean war, but they managed to make a museum interesting and really cool (a rare thing). I’m excited to get out and see more of the city though. It’s about time!
  • Kat’s birthday was last Wednesday and we went to a casino in Walker Hill. I guess Gambling is illegal for Koreans so it was only foreigners, mostly Japanese and Indian. We played like $40 at roulette all night and the best part was they hook you up with anything you want. We ordered Shrimp Fried Rice and chocolate ice cream!
  • My favorite foreign teacher, Annie (from the ski trip) has introduced me to Tuesday Wing nights at Rocky Mountain Tavern, the Canadian bar. This may be the best thing ever. Very cheap wings, Hockey or American Football, and random stuff with new Canadian friends like a big group of people playing invisible double dutch jump rope… who knew Canadians were so cool?!? Art and Kat have opened my eyes.
  • An extremely nice Korean who spoke perfect English helped me get the equivalent of a Safeway Club Card at my local grocer. I’m officially the only foreign teacher lucky enough to be getting a 2% discount.
  • The Wangsimni crew has discovered a new club they think is worthy of spending every Saturday and most Friday nights at because the owner knows them, there is no cover, and there are plenty of Koreans to mingle with. Jason has actually started dating a Korean, Yura, who may be the coolest chick ever and is very handy to have around. These Saturdays have been leading to yummy Sunday breakfasts cooked by the Canadians. Here’s Yura, Jason’s sister/my friend Amanda who visited, and me:

One of the crappy parts of the last few weeks was that my brand new, beloved Canon camera decided to die. This couldn’t have come at a worse time between it being Art & Kat’s last month in Korea, the beautiful snow all over the city, my kids’ last month in kindergarten, Lunar New Year coming up, Joon’s Birthday, and 2 big events at school where my kids will be all dressed up: Festival and Graduation. I’m glad to have such an exciting month ahead but in the mean time, my wonderful mom and I are shipping the camera all over the US.

Teaching is going well. I finally understand what my parents meant when they said they loved my sister and I the same amount, but in different ways. I’ve totally fallen for my kiddos. Festival, basically a pageant for the parents, is coming up and we’re in charge of coming up with something worth video taping. I lucked out and convinced my co-teacher to do a Beatles song, but only because she recognized it from a movie. Yikes.

Soo I’ve decided to head to CHINA for the Lunar New Year/ Chinese New Year. Not only is the flight under $300 to Beijing or Shanghai, but when would I ever get to celebrate Chinese New Year in China? The school is giving us a 4 day weekend, probably because Koreans usually travel back to their hometowns and everyone celebrates turning one year older (remember how all Koreans are born 1 year old?).

I had a really weird moment yesterday: since Seoul has been snowy and insanely cold for the past month, I’ve become used to wearing tights under my pants at all times and gone out to buy some warm clothes. I usually check the temperature gadget on my desktop in the morning and I’ve become “used to” seeing it in the single digits. When I woke up yesterday and it said 34 degrees I actually thought to myself, “wow it’s warm out.” California has officially disowned me.

One more picture, and it may be the best of all time:

That’s all for now. Sorry to be a very socially centered posting, but it’s bound to happen every once in a while. I promise to be more tantalizing next time : )

“A frog in a well does not know the great sea.”
“Stumble seven times but recover eight.”
“After the rain, earth hardens.”
-Japanese Proverbs that apply perfectly to this trip

Sorry for the long delay in getting a Japan update on here. The past week I was in serious recovery mode. Lets start at the beginning:

I was invited to tag along with Art & Kat, a couple from Canada who are the coolest people ever, and Sarah, a very opinionated Texan. I met them all because they work with Nolan and Jason and they were kind enough to let me tag along after only knowing me for like a week. For some reason we let Sarah who, until coming to Korea had never left Texas, take over on all the planning. I was just along for the ride.

We arrived in Tokyo and spent our first 3 days in an awesome Hostel on the river in Asakusa. We spent a lot of time hanging out on the rooftop there with other travelers and enjoying a view of “The Golden Turd.” No joke, check it out:

Our first night we found an awesome restaurant, discovered a yummy Japanese beer, and learned our first Japanese words, “Ebe Chow Hung,” or shrimp fried rice. We also thought it would be a good idea to do Karaoke, cuz, when in Rome… Clearly this was a drunk mess and we ended up coming home with one more tambourine than we’d gone out with. Whoops? We woke up at 2pm the next day and did very little at all. The rest of the time in Tokyo we spent shopping, eating yummy stuff (did you Ramen is a traditional Japanese food?!), seeing Ueno Park and the general Ueno area. Sarah and I also had a very random and super awesome night out when Kat & Art were too tired to do anything. We went out in downtown, by the Sony building, seeking out a bar called 300 Bar where everything is 300Yen. After a super nice and very pretty Japanese girl walked around in the rain with us for 20 minutes we finally found the place and it was 100% Japanese people. I personally think one of the best ways to get to know a country is to experience nightlife with the locals. 900 Yen into the night and we make 2 Japanese guy friends who are seriously funny. 300 Yen later we made 2 German guy friends. Sarah and I enjoyed watching the power struggle and then voted for Kareoke with the Germans. We picked up 2 Japanese girls on the way and it ended up being one of the funniest and most random nights of my life.

Anyways, off to Nagano- site of the 1998 winter Olympics for 3 days of beautiful skiing. A crazy expensive and totally gorgeous train ride, another train ride after that, a short bus ride, and a long hike up a big hill later and we had arrived at our blue lodge. This place was freaking amazing. It was run by an Aussie who sat us down to tell all about the little village. They have these real Onsens (natural hot springs) that they have made little houses around and there is a side for men and one for women. The people of this village pay into like an HOA fund for maintenance and they all take turns cleaning it. They actually use these places as their real baths. You have to go in and undress in a dressing room, then take your bucket with soap, shampoo, etc and scrub yourself down/rinse off on the side before you get in. Then it’s a game of chicken to see how long you can sit and boil your blood before you get out. Of course we had to go, so us 3 white girls in a bath house with a bunch of Japanese women of all ages are giggling nervously and trying not to do something wrong as they laugh at us for turning bright red in the water. These things were awesome. People just get out, put on a robe, and wander off through the snow to the next one and do it all over again. Its amazing how good it feels afterward.

Anyways, the village was also full of amazing restaurants and great bars. We spent the first day exploring and hitting a few restaurants and Onsens. The next day we hit the slopes pretty early. Sarah decided not to enroll in skiing lessons, since she’d never gone before, and just force the 3 of us to spend our morning on the bunny slopes going down an inch at a time as we give her pointers. We took a break for lunch and for some odd reason, we all convinced Sarah to do 1 more run before heading back in. Of course this was the very run that she got a little too confident and fast and therefore not only broke her leg in 2 places but also tore her ACL in half. Yikes. So Kat went to the hospital with her (actually walked all the way across the village carrying her board to meet Sarah there) while they did X-Rays and put her in a mini cast. Art and I finished out the day and did our best to assume everything was fine and enjoy the gorgeous views. Back at the resort later, we had a few beers before the girls got home and gave us the bad news.

Out of all of  this, there was one miracle that happened. For the record, it is little things like this that make me believe in God. At the very same time Sarah was breaking her leg, another woman was breaking the very same leg in the very same way on the very next slope. She and her bf also happened to be staying at our very same lodge. I’ll come back to this in a second.

We set Sarah up for the night and went out with a huge crew of people who were all staying at the same resort. We hit up some of these wonderful little bars we’d heard all about, made lots of new friends, and I even caught Kat jamming Bob Marley on some random Japanese guys’ guitar. Awesome moment! GREAT night out.

Next day… not so much. The other broken leg girl was a Brit/Aussie named Helen and her awesome bf’s name was Bill. They had canceled the rest of their trip to get Helen home on a flight the next day and were headed back to Tokyo ASAP. Bill, the guardian angel, offered to take Sarah (“What’s one more gimpy person??”) and even carry her stuff. Only problem was, there was no way in hell Art, Kat, and I could let one random, amazing, stranger carry like 5 bags all the way back to Tokyo and put two gimps on a bus, 2 trains, a subway, and an airplane. They needed a donkey. Guess who…. I don’t think it would have been that bad if I wasn’t carrying my backpack on my back, her backpack on my front, and pulling her rollie bag.

To sum up- it took 9 hours to get them back to Tokyo on what is normally a 4 hour trip. It was not a pleasant 9 hours either because not only was I fronting all of the money for Sarah since she’d overdrawn her account and being told what to do, but she was….  Not the most pleasant and/or grateful person. The 4 of us got a room next to the airport and Bill and I went to grab a few beers before sleeping on the floor so the gimps could have beds. Thankfully I was able to get Sarah off safely before 11am the next day and had to say a sad goodbye to the Brit/Aussies.

Bill and Helen were the only saving grace and bright side to the whole ordeal. Not only did Bill front Sarah the $600 for her cast at the hospital, but he totally took care of us, kept us from killing each other or melting down, and ended up becoming a friend. Helen was awesome too. She actually shattered her leg but was significantly less whiney and almost always had a smile. The most amazing part was when they gave me Helen’s Japan Rail pass(like the EuRail pass) that they hadn’t used at ALL and had cost them an arm and… well, y’know. We both cried cuz I was so sad her next 9 days were cut off and it was such a kind gesture.

This day also happened to be New Years Eve. I decided to turn a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day(s) into a next few days that would be worth it. I spend every second of that day running all over Tokyo and seeing everything from the Empirial Palace to having coffee overlooking the busiest intersection in the whole world. By the end of it though, I was ready to meet up with Kat and Art for a bunch of yummy Japanese hard lemonades and hit the bars for NYE.

The next few days in Tokyo were great and the 3 of us not only saw a ton of awesome stuff but we totally bonded over our misery and turned it into a pretty rad friendship.

It’s soo cheesy but I learned a lot about myself and the world in general from this trip. There were so many random Japanese people who would offer to help me carry one of Sarah’s 2 bags or something and it turns out sharing a hotel with 2 random strangers is not always dangerous. It really renewed my faith in the goodness of people and in my own ability to make light of terrible situations. I am smart enough to know when I’ve given too much, though. Lets just say I don’t feel too guilty about letting other people take care of Sarah now that we’re back home. Oh yeah, and when we finally got back, we’d missed/been missed by Nolan and Jason so much that they took us out for the most awesome night in Korea I’d had until last weekend. But that’s another story 😉

“Sleeping people can’t fall down.”

-Japanese Proverb

We made it to JAPAN! I’m here in the hostel with Art, Kat, and Sarah after our first day and night out. The reason I chose that quote was because we found a Kareoke bar last night… enough said. It’s only $30 for 1.5 hours and unlimited drinks in your little room.

We’ve made a few Japanese friends who have helped us find cool places and the best dinner ever last night. I think the language is much easier than Korean. Plus when you say Sianara it actually means Goodbye. 🙂

Quick side note: It’s impossible to find the AT symbol in foreign countries on the keyboards. I just google searched one to copy and paste to get into my email. No idea where it is in Japan.

Our hostel is awesome, the location is great and Japan in general is fantastic! It feels very western…. it’s hard to pin point why but it’s very cool. I gotta run because we have many adventures. We dont have everything planned out so no details yet but I will definitely update later!

Hope everyone had/is having a WONDERFUL Christmas and has a great New Years! I miss you all!