Archive for category Korea

Wrap-Up

This blog should have been written months ago, but maybe I’ve needed some time to process…

Traveling in South East Asia was amazing.  Words do not capture the beauty I have seen in Thailand and Cambodia.  I never imagined myself going to either of these countries, or even Korea for that matter, but I am very glad I got to experience them with Seth.  I am forever changed.

One year in Korea and it feels like a dream.  That’s the only way to describe my time there.  I have been home for several months now and when I speak of Korea, it feels like some wild amusement park ride.  That “thing” I did last year.  It doesn’t feel like real life to me for some reason.

Here in the States there are responsibilities and commitments.  I have to pay soo much money to have a phone, computer access and gas for my car.  The few responsibilities I had in Korea were minor and without serious consequences.  That was a major change from my life prior to moving to Korea.  I learned how to relax and chill out, finally.

I am happy to be able to shop for clothes and shoes again.  That part is nice.  I also enjoy having a full kitchen again with the ability to cook just about anything I want to eat.  Most of all, I’m happy that I get to see my nephew and the rest of my family.  It’s difficult to be away from the people I love.

People ask me if I would recommend moving to Korea and teaching for a year… I say, Go for it!  The money is great and you might get lucky to meet some fantastic people in the process.  Just keep an open mind and be willing to try new things.  Before Korea I had never eaten fish with the head and tail still attached, I had never eaten soo much cabbage in my life (and if I ever eat cabbage again, it’ll be too soon), and I had never seen soo many men wearing pink sparkle ties.

The world is a giant place and I think it’s wonderful to experience as much as possible.

Peace

I will be teaching Science at my Alma Mater!  Life goes on and I’m excited about my next adventure.  I’m also working on a food blog.  Since I won’t be traveling the globe eating exotic cuisine, I decided to write about my own culinary masterpieces.

Thanks for following along on my journey.  It’s been a wild and wonderful ride.

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Leaving Korea

Things you should know when leaving Korea after a year of teaching…

I did alot of research about leaving Korea and things that needed to be taken care of or completed before making the final plane voyage out of Kimchistan.  Most of what I found was conflicting information or outdated.

I can tell you that the date on your Alien Registration Card (ARC) is very important.

We were told that we had a week or so after our final working day to leave Korea without a penalty.  This is wrong!  You must be at the airport by midnight of the ending date on your ARC.  This date will vary from your actual Visa dates, but they will go by the date on your ARC.  Things I read online were that the dates aren’t important and that it is up to the airport staff as to whether you pay a fine or if they let you pass through.  Most things I read told me not to worry, told me to leave whenever.

If your current employer in Korea does not renew your ARC, then you are overstaying your visa even if it’s only by 1 day.  Our employer told us that things would be fine.  He either lied or didn’t know.  I suspect that he did know, but wanted us to continue working that final day.

At the airport, it took us almost three hours to go through security because of the stupid one day over on our ARC.  We were shuffled to various offices, filled out various documents, and received a nasty stamp in our passport that says we overstayed our visa.  They were going to make us pay $150 each, but they would have had to hold the plane for us to have enough time to give them money.  So, instead of holding the plane they made us run to our terminal.  We actually had to RUN through the airport to make our flight.  It was awful.  We were the last people on the plane and everyone was upset with us.

Keep in mind that we each had a carry on bag, laptop bag AND guitar case!  Seth had his original acoustic and I had his newly acquired Korean Bass guitar.

All of this just made me happy that I was leaving Korea.  I was no longer sad.

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Goodbye Sanbon

One year has come and gone.

I can’t believe how quickly time passes!  Time really does fly when you’re having fun.  :mrgreen:

The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions.  I’m thrilled to be that much closer to getting back home, sad to be leaving my Korea friends, will miss the yummy food, but super excited to be traveling for a while.   Other than friends and family nothing makes me more happy than seeing new places and experiencing different cultures.

Packing our belongings up has been a draining task.  I’m still not sure I have everything I need… and have probably forgotten something seriously important.  But, there’s no time to dwell.  The plane leaves in about 10 hours.

Thai food here I come!

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Seoul Museum of Art

The Seoul Museum of Art has an Andy Warhol exhibit. On Saturday, my friends and I decided to play culture vultures for the day and check it out.

Warhol was a print maker, filmmaker, producer and author.  He created beauty out of everyday iconic American products, claiming he liked boring things.  Some say that he even took common products and turned them into the iconic products we have in our minds today.

Andy Warhol coined the phrase “fifteen minutes of fame” because he thought even the smallest or most common things would all find their way into the spotlight at one point or another.

We waited in line for twenty minutes just to get a ticket, then waited another 20 minutes to enter the special exhibit area.  It was worth braving the cold to get a glimpse of this extraordinary collection.

To see the artwork, everyone had to stand in crowded lines.  Circling the rooms, we stayed three feet from the walls, looking at images of soup cans, Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvester Stallone and other famous faces.

My friend Asten and I pose with The Banana.  :mrgreen:

Directions:  City Hall Station.  Take exit 1 from Dark Blue Line 1.  Directly out of the subway you’ll turn left and walk along a palace wall until you see the sign for Seoul Museum of Art.

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2009 Comes to an End

2009 will always be my “Year in Korea.”  What a ride…

As much as I miss home, leaving will be difficult.  We have less than a month left in Korea. This year has flown by at race car speed,  the world just a blur of light whizzing around me.  So many amazing memories, so many amazing sights, so many amazing people.  I am truly blessed.

This New Year, we’ll miss the the iconic Times Square ball of light and various over-the-top musical performances.

Instead, we’ll ring in the New Year Korean-style and watch (on television) the striking of the Boshingak Bell.  This massive bell is struck 33 times by 16 different people (the # of people changes from year to year).  The bell ringers are members of a diverse, ever-changing group comprised of celebrities, dignitaries and common citizens.  As in New York, the ceremony will include over-the-top performances by today’s “It” K-Pop bands.

The traditional ringing of the bell originated in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). In the early Joseon period, bells at Seoul’s four main entrances and four small entrances were rung every morning and evening to notify the opening and closing of the gates. The bells sounded 33 times in the morning to start the day and 28 times in the evening to announce the curfew.

I put together a slide show of my favorite 2009 memories:

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my New Year’s resolutions with you. Sharing them makes it hard to break them.
Resolutions:
  1. Write letters/ post cards more often
  2. Be more patient with myself
  3. Seek out more live music
  4. Teach my dad how to use a computer
  5. Continue painting
  6. ?????  taking suggestions…

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year! Goodbye ’00s, hello ’10s.

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Christmas in Korea

Christmas in Korea is like any other day.

E-mart, along with every other store and shop in Sanbon, remained open.  Unsurprisingly, Koreans celebrate holidays quite differently than we do in the States.  There is a large Christian population (along with the Buddhists), but people don’t go wild with store closings or gift-buying. In America, Christmas is a huge commercial holiday with families spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on gifts.

When talking to my students, very few of them had Christmas trees. Even fewer said that they will get presents. Christmas is not a gift-giving holiday in Korea.

I also wasn’t bombarded with Christmas songs non-stop since the day after Halloween.  When I did hear the random Christmas song, I was surprisingly happy to hear it. Sometimes I sang along.   Back home, I get soo sick of Christmas music, hearing all the remakes of the same stupid songs, over and over again.

I did buy a tree.  Albeit a small tacky tree, but perfect in every way.  :razz:

Our director at work gave all the teachers cakes.  Seth got a bigger and different cake than the rest of the office.   His had a huge cookie on top. Mine was a cheesecake.  In the few days before Christmas, all the store windows were lined with red, green and blue boxes of cakes.  Everyone we passed on the street seemed to be carrying a cake too.  Instead of giving presents, I suppose giving cakes is an appropriate way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas lights make me happy, but finding them in Seoul was a rarity.  When we did see twinkling lights, they were beautiful and reminded me of home.  Sanbon had no decorations of any kind.  These two pictures are from Itaewon and around City Hall.  Areas where foreigners frequent were the only areas decorated with Christmas cheer.

Hanging out with some friends of mine.  Just thought it was a cute pic.  It was a Christmas Eve Eve get-together.  :mrgreen:

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DMZ – Part 3 (last one)

On top of buildings, fences, and lining the river, I’ve never seen soo much barbed wire in my entire life.  Maybe even if I combined all the previous barbed wire I have ever seen, it might equal what I saw during the few hours in and around the DMZ.

This is obviously a fake fence and mannequin, but I couldn’t get close enough to get the real thing.  All along the Joint Security Area (JSA) were these fences with white rocks and red tags.  If someone tampers with the fence, the rocks fall out and one of the South Korean or U.S. soldiers will notice.  It’s the most simple design, but completely effective.

The JSA is closest to the DMZ border.  It’s better known as  Panmunjom, a village destroyed in the war.  Today you have to have a passport and an escort to even enter this area.

Surrounding the JSA are land mines left over from the 1950’s, but still very dangerous.

<– weapons from the war

One last thing that was interesting to see was the underground tunnel.  No photography was allowed.  North Korea has dug 4 tunnels and at least 6 more are suspected.  They all lead towards Seoul and were intended for surprise attack purposes.  It was said that 30,000 North Korean troops could have made it to Seoul in an hour.

We were permitted to go into Tunnel #3, discovered in 1978 and biggest in terms of height.  There was a 300m tunnel leading underground at a 13% incline.  At the bottom was a natural spring.   Helmets were provided in case we bumped our heads, which came in handy.  The actual tunnel is around a mile long but only 265m are open to the public.

When the tunnel was discovered, North Korea said it was being used to excavate coal.  The mountains of Korea do not contain coal, and so this was obviously a lie.  To carry on with their lie, North Korea had painted the tunnel black to make it look like coal.  I found this quite funny.  Those silly North Koreans.

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DMZ – Part 2

Even though the weather was -18C we enjoyed our tour to the DMZ with the USO.  Getting an up-close glimpse of the insanity and weirdness that goes on in North Korea made the cold tolerable.

To actually get to the border, like we did, you have to go with the USO.  None of the other tour groups are permitted this far into the DMZ.  They hold them most Saturdays and some Wednesdays. Tours need to be booked 3-4 weeks in advance.  We tried to come here many times, but they were always booked solid.  Glad it finally worked out.

Blue buildings are South Korean and the grey building is North Korean.  The actual border runs directly through these buildings.  They are used for conference talks between the two sides.  The big grey building in the back is the North Korean ‘Welcome Center’.  Ha, like they actually welcome people or anyone would want to be welcomed.

So this was the only North Korean we saw, he’s way up on the stairs in the back.  I can only imagine what he must think of us.   He kept watching the group through binoculars.  He stood alone and remained at the door to the Welcoming Center the entire time.

We were told that if we communicated with the North Koreans in any way that we would be escorted off premise immediately.   No waving, pointing, shouting or light shining of any kind was permitted.

We were escorted by a US soldier (funny guy) into one of the blue barracks.  The table is on top of the SK/NK border.  24 hours a day microphones record and there is a soldier that stands on the line.  As I took the pictures, I was standing on North Korean soil.  Weird.

The soldiers all wear Ray Bans and stand at Tae Kwon Do-Ready at all times.  This is to intimidate the North Korean soldiers.  Also, to be chosen as a soldier on the DMZ border you have to meet certain height requirements.

They call the South Korean soldiers ROKs (like rocks).

We had to remain behind a big yellow line to take pictures at the observatory.  It was 20+ feet behind the binocular stands.  This is about as good as we could get, especially with the fog.  That’s Propaganda City in the background.  We saw no movement at all.

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DMZ – Part 1

A country divided.

Republic of Korea – South

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North

Going to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was an amazing experience.  Making me feel lucky to have been born in the safe mountains of West Virginia and also showing me the insanity that can happen in your own backyard.

Starting our tour with the USO, we were told a story from our tour guide about her parents.  They had escaped North Korea as a young couple in their twenties.   It was winter and the Han river was slushie with ice.  Armed with only the clothes on their back and a make-shift boat that kept teetering back and forth, dunking one of them into the water up to their neck.  All while holding a baby high into the air.

I just about cried.

That’s the really sad part about this nasty battle between North and South.  Families were separated.  Still today people have family they aren’t allowed to see or even have any type of communication.  In the 1970’s there were talks of having family reunions in the DMZ.  But even as talks of peace were taking place above ground, the North was digging tunnels for attack purposes, underground.  The family reunions never took place.

What you see here is North Korea.  Propaganda City is the name because it’s only a show town, not where actual people live.  There used to be a very loud speaker that could be heard even where I stood, but today it is silent.  Quite creepy indeed.  Most of the houses and buildings are empty.  They are mere shells of buildings, with no windows or doors.

The North Korean flag stands a whopping 160 meters high.  When the South Korean flag went up to 100 meters, this is how the North responded.  On days of bad weather, it is lowered to around 120 meters.  The flag itself weighs 600 lbs when it’s dry!

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Fun and Games

If you’re looking for good drinks, music upon request, darts, jenga and a fire show… I have the place for you.

R & C West

Tucked down a side street in Sanbon, on the second floor we find the most amazing bar.   It is not considered a Western Bar (meaning foreigners, not country western).  I enjoy hanging out in this place.

<– he’s really good

There is a fire show nightly.  This guy spits fire, twirls flaming bottles in the air and creates a cascade of fire on the bar.  Music blares and lights flash.

For bar patrons, there are also a bunch of silly little games.  My favorite is the Pirate in a barrel.  You punch in swords, one at a time, and eventually the pirate will jump out of the barrel.  Simple but soo fun.  Jenga, cards and some sort of dog biting game can also be found.  The dog game is similar to the pirate game in that you punch down teeth and eventually the dog bites you.

Cheap drinks are a bonus here.

It’s fun to let loose after a greuling week of teaching English.

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