Monday, 26 December 2011

Frances' Visit

Frances and I traveled together down the coast of Queensland for two or three weeks in 2009. We also lived together in Melbourne for four months that same year. And by that I mean she took me in when I ran out of money...she let me live with her for free! If it wasn't for her I would've had to leave Australia early. We shared her room and even though we were always hanging out we never got tired of each other or got into any arguments. She is probably the most easygoing person I know. So when she said she was flying to Korea to stay with me from November 15th to December 8th I knew that I didn't have to be worried about us sharing a small space once again. Funny enough, my whole apartment is probably the size of her room that we shared in Melbourne.

She is now living in London and I am so happy for her! But also jealous because Sam is moving to Paris very soon and they will be so close to each other. And because I want to live in London!! The grass is always greener I guess...

Anyway, having Frances here made me appreciate all of my best friends so much more. It's so nice to have that person who you don't have to ask if they want to hang out on the weekend because it's assumed that you will be. Ah, two more months in Korea.

I miss you guys.

Frances, Sam and I at the Seoul Lantern Festival
Vegetarian Korean
Should've bought the jacket





Tuesday, 29 November 2011

For Dad

This post and video are both for you dad...my number 1 blog fan. If it wasn't for you, I probably would've given up on this blog months ago. But you called me out on being a slacker...I was guilted into updating it even when I didn't feel like it. And I'm glad I stuck with it!!

Also, if it wasn't for you, who knows what kind of food I would be cooking here?? As I have said many times before, being a vegetarian in Korea is not easy. I've learned a great deal from watching you cook and eating your amazing food (note - my dad is not at all a vegetarian). So thanks dad!!!! I Love you!!

video

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Faking It

Here is a video that Frances made of me teaching. She spent a day with me and filmed my kindergarten classes. When I first watched it all I could think was, 'does my voice really sound like that? So fake and annoying and such a weak attempt at enthusiasm!' Anyway, then we made another video (which will soon be posted) outside of school and I thought my voice sounded normal. Haha. So anyway, here is a bit of insight into how I spend my weekdays.

video

Monday, 21 November 2011

Halloween

This post is a bit overdue but here are some photos from Halloween. It's not a huge holiday in Korea, but some people celebrate it... mostly foreigners. English private schools usually have special Halloween events and the kids get dressed up.

Sam and I went out with a couple of her friends and I was a biker/tattooed badass. She was Lara Croft. We felt a bit like celebrities being out in Itaewon, with how many people wanted to take pictures with us. Well, at least reality show celebrities. It was a decent night out but it definitely doesn't compare to a Halloween night in Canada (or America I am sure). All of the bars in Itaewon had generic Halloween themed parties, but something was missing. Maybe it was the authenticity.

The highlight of the day was definitely seeing the kids dressed up. I don't bring my camera to school often but I knew this would be worth it. All of the girls in my class dressed up as princesses...as did the majority of the girls in the other classes. The boys were a little bit more creative. Check them out below! ^^

Sam and I

xTuffx
Mickey (who in the meantime quit the school), Caleb and Bosco

Annie and Sean the Knight
Jerry
Singing Halloween tunes
Boys being cuties
Pooh Class

Monday, 7 November 2011

Plastic

Here is an article that will give you some insight on the plastic surgery craze that is occurring in Korea. The more I read about it, the more fascinated I become...I can't help it!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Thick Thighs

"Asian girls are so tiny" is a generalization that I have heard many times and thought to be true myself. And yeah, maybe they are, but it doesn't always come naturally. The rest of what I have to say is in reference to Korean girls because I am not sure of others, but it likely applies.

Korean girls are generally small. They have a small frame and are fairly short. But if they are skinny it is usually due to a conscious effort on their part. It is in terms of what they eat and drink more than how often they work out. I am not completely criticizing this because I am attracted to slim and toned healthy bodies. Also, I am a small girl myself and I work for it - at the gym and I watch what I eat. I haven't always been in the shape I am in now, so I know it takes a lot of effort. But the difference is that I like that my body is toned, and I think girls with muscle look great. That doesn't seem to be the case with most Koreans.

So if you see skinny and small Korean or Asian girls don't think that it comes super easy to them. There is sooo much pressure in this part of the world, even more than in the west, I think. At least it's a lot more forward and accepted here. From bleaching skin, to plastic surgery, to other crazy beauty solutions (that I might do a blog post on), Korea's got it all!

Anyway, this post was inspired by this video that was brought to my attention. I find it completely ridiculous and offensive! And sad, really. I am not too familiar with many aspects of Korean media - I don't watch TV or read magazines or anything - but I think this is a pretty good representation because Arirang is a major TV network. Enjoy!

Friday, 28 October 2011

The 10 Worst Things About Teaching in Korea

This isn't meant to be a big rant or complaint, just my honest feelings about teaching English in Korea. I have been here for 8 months and I think I have a pretty decent understanding of what life is like for teachers on a one year contract. This list is specific to my lifestyle, which maybe differs from yours. Oh, and these are listed in no particular order.

1. Korean parents: Korean parents who have the money to send their kids to a private school spend a lot of money for their kids to be there. It can cost $1000/month, give or take. Also, signing up is done on a month by month basis. This means two things: the parents can be very, very demanding; and they will need to have their asses kissed constantly by the Korean staff (and sometimes us) so they don't quit the school. Also the parents are so incredibly worried about their kids getting hurt. And by getting hurt I mean getting a scratch or bump from playing. If the kids have even a tiny scratch on their face, the parents will freak out! Kids gets hurt!! They are kids!! Why is it such a huge deal if it's on their faces? AAAH.

2. Being a vegetarian: This is huge for me because at home I am a strict vegetarian and I don't eat fish or seafood. Here, I still don't eat fish or seafood but I make many exceptions for other things. I eat kimchi even though it has fish oil, I pick meat out of things, etc. There are many vegetarian restaurants, mainly in Seoul, but they are generally much more expensive than Korean restaurants. Also, to get things like beans, chickpeas, tahini (I make my own hummus, can't buy it in stores), you have to go to an international food store in Itaewon. Maybe this is close to where you live but I live an hour and a half away.

3. Working with kids: Alright so this might come as a surprise because I chose to work with kids so therefore I must really like them, right? Well I was never sure before, but now I am, and I don't! Haha, at least not working with them. They are super cute and sometimes really funny and entertaining. But a lot of the time I am really frustrated and annoyed and I rarely enjoy the interaction between me and them. Especially not the kindergarten kids. I feel like I am always faking it. I don't like reading story books and singing songs and doing all of that. But I guess I had to experience it to know. And my class is really small now and the kids are really good and easy to teach. So it's not all bad, I just wouldn't do it again.

4. Not living in Seoul: If there was only one thing I could change about living in Korea it would be my location. I really, really dislike living in Suji. It doesn't matter that I am 40 minutes (to an hour and a half) away from Seoul, I am not in Seoul. I never go there during the week because it's not worth the trip and it's really inconvenient on weekends. I can take the bus or subway when I go out and my options for coming home are waiting until 5:30am until the buses/subway start running again or taking a $25-$40 taxi home, depending where I am coming from. And there is nothing to do in Suji except for drink, which I don't do during the week...or on the weekends in this city.

5. The landscape: I really don't mean to offend any Koreans reading this but the Korean landscape - natural and architectural - is not aesthetically pleasing. All of the cities are made up of cookie-cutter high rise apartments, Family Marts, Paris Baguettes, E-marts and Lotte Marts. The beaches are okay (to be fair, I haven't been to Busan), and the mountains (that I've seen) are okay also. I will sound condescending saying it, but if you've never traveled anywhere else then maybe you will be impressed with the Korean landscape, but I find it pretty dull. 

6. Lack of good cheese: On a lighter, but still serious note, I have been living without cheese for the past 8 months. You cannot get good cheese here. Not at your local grocery store at least. You can get blocks of cheddar and those standards at the international food store but its just from Costco and really expensive. I miss cheese!!!! 

7. Price of fruit: I love fruit. A lot. And I honestly think a fair portion of my paycheck goes to buying fruit. It can be really expensive. Watermelon is $15! Okay that is an extreme example but I am not exaggerating. Grapes, kiwis, grapefruit, peaches, all can be really expensive. Even apples. I definitely frequent the fruit sale section at the grocery stores I shop at. And there are fruit stands around too, but they are usually overpriced. Sometimes I find pretty good deals, especially when things are in season.

8. Rainy summers: It must've rained for 75% of the summer. Grey skies and rain that went on for weeks. Not constantly throughout the entire day, but yeah, it was not an ideal summer. And this is typical Korean climate.

9. Plastic surgery: So this obviously has nothing with teaching English...but this country's obsession with plastic surgery is disgusting, terrifying and pretty sad. It is the least taboo subject imaginable. Subway stations, bus stops, university hallways, magazines, and many other places are covered in ads for plastic surgery. It is very common for women (and some men) to get surgery to change the shape of their eyes, to have a nose with a bridge, a small chin, smaller cheekbones and just a smaller face in general! The end goal is to resemble a Korean as little as possible. I know that people get plastic surgery all over the world but I haven't heard of any other country where the obsession is so big.

10. Homogeneity:  At first, it seems like there is so much going on here. So many bright lights, so many shops, so many bars, sooo many restaurants, so much street food, so many clothes and accessories being sold everywhere! But then you sort of realize that it's kind of all the same stuff.

The 10 Best Things About Teaching in Korea

There are many things that I really like about living and working here. It's definitely an easy life.

1. Free rent and flight: This has to be the best thing about teaching in Korea...at least for me...it's what brought me here. That and the fact that you can teach here without any kind of certification (you just need a Bachelors degree in anything). Every school will pay for your return flight, give you a furnished apartment and pay for half of your health insurance (which is mandatory).

2. Finishing bonus: All schools (I believe) give you a month's worth of pay upon completing your one year contract. Also, all schools are meant to take out close to $100 of every paycheck and then double it at the end and give it back to you...something to do with a pension plan.

3. Minimal work: The job itself isn't hard. Yes, it is often very exhausting because you are working with children and they require a lot of energy...but if you work in a private school the curriculum is laid out for you and you don't need to create lesson plans. This means you don't have to come into work early, stay late, or take your work home with you. 

4. Living in Asia: I went to China over my summer vacation and I am going to the Philippines for a week over Christmas. There are so many interesting places within reach that I would love to travel to. Unfortunately, I was pretty stupid with my money within the first few months of living in Korea so I don't get to travel as much as others. However, I hope to teach in Shanghai next year and travel around South East Asia during that time.

5. Alcohol availability: I am referring to the convenience. Being from Canada - a country where you can only purchase alcohol between the hours of 10AM and 10PM from a government owned establishment - I have really enjoyed being able to buy alcohol at 7 elevens anywhere and at any time. You can't buy hard liquor there. But they've got all the Soju, beer, rice wine and coolers you want. I guess nothing is perfect.

6. Seoul: I have to admit it is a good city! There are some really cool areas to explore that I wish I could have gotten to know better by living there. And because its population is so big there are always people out doing things, which I really like. From what I've seen, the city doesn't really sleep. And it's a great place for people watching. Oh, and you can drink in public.

7. Bibimbap: It's by far my favourite Korean dish. It's vegetarian, really cheap and available everywhere! It's made up of rice topped with some seasoned veggies, an egg and a chilli pepper paste. It costs between $3-$5.  Oh and like most other Korean meals, it comes with unlimited sides!

8. Super Color Super: An amazing production company that puts on a lot of live shows here. They get a fair amount of indie bands from North America and other parts of the world. I went to see Toro y Moi a few months ago and it has been my favourite show in Korea!

9. Staying fit:
This is really easy to do in Korea because people are quite health conscious. There is an abundance of gyms and memberships are decently priced. I go to the gym and yoga everyday and love both. A lot of teachers get into taekwondo while they are here. Also, there are a few hiking groups, and plenty of places to go hiking.

10. Transit:
Although it's super inconvenient that the public transit stops running so early, Seoul still has a great transit system. It extends out really far and connects the city really well. It's quite cheap, very reliable and clean.

If you stumbled upon this blog because you are considering teaching in Korea or have already signed a contract and have any questions for whatever reason, feel free to send me a message.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sam is Here

Life is good! Sam has been here for 3 weeks and it's been amazing having her around. My life really feels more complete. It's also been fun to hang out with her friends from Hanyang University. They are all international students from Europe, which is a nice change because I feel like everyone I know in Korea is American. Nothing against Americans of course, but change is always refreshing. Sam spent the first weekend at my place and I spent the next at hers. The first weekend we went to Club Volume to see a Japanese DJ . We met up with my friend Songjae and some of his friends. It was a really great night, Sam made it pretty late considering she was really jet lagged!

Bus stop photoshoots, of course :)
Predrinks
www.sjnr.co.kr
Last weekend was a 4 day long weekend for Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving. I was planning on staying in Friday night but I called Sam and she was going out for someone's birthday to Club Ellui so I decided to meet up with her and her friends there. Again, it was such a fun night! I don't know why I was so opposed to going to clubs when I first got to Korea. They're actually a lot of fun. Especially when you don't need to pay cover, heh :) I don't have many pictures from this night, except for these of us in the bathroom, entertaining ourselves with the Gargle Dispenser.





Saturday night we met up with some friends of mine from Australia who are visiting Korea for a few weeks. We met up in Hongdae, ate some Korean food, and went to a concert...which we all left early for different reasons. It was good to see them and I hope to catch up with them when they're back from their trip to Jeju Island.




Having Sam here has been great on so many levels. It's way more than having someone to go out with. It's having someone here who I really love and who really cares about me and understands me. It's been very comforting. And Sam is really into healthy eating and she is almost a vegetarian and she loves to work out and be active -- all things that are really important to me. Although we've been friends for 10 years (!!!) we haven't lived in the same city for 6 of those years. And as much as we've always been able to tell each other everything it's so different to be living so close and be around each other more often. I think we are both realizing we have so much more in common than we thought. And we both really needed each other in ways that we didn't know. So, yeah, I am happy :)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Shanghai

Ohhhhh Shanghai. What a great way to spend half of my summer vacation. Both Bill and I agreed that it was perfect because we had done so much sight-seeing in Beijing that all we wanted was to relax and eat good food and party and check out markets. And we did all of those things.

Probably one of the reasons I loved Shanghai so much is because I had no specific expectations. I didn't know what the city would be like. I had learned about it in one of my planning classes but I had forgotten how much European influence its architecture had. It was such a beautiful city, especially at night.

The Bund
Captain's Hostel rooftop bar
Oh you know, just posing

The next day we checked out the urban planning exhibition hall. I have never seen a model anywhere close to the size of the model of Shanghai. The pictures don't really show its scale. It was pretty easy to get lost in it.



Walking around the city, I was impressed with how much green space there is. Not in comparison to Canada of course, but definitely in comparison to Korea. The French Concession was probably my favourite part, and I really felt like I was walking around a European city.


One of my favourite things about Shanghai was how affordable everything is. I've described the city to some people as LA in Europe in Asia. There are so many really classy and new and well decorated and designed bars. And rooftop bars! I love them! And really great restaurants. Pretty much, you could afford to live a really good lifestyle there. It wasn't super cheap but it was justifiable. Maybe it was because we were on vacation? I'm not sure.

I also celebrated my 23rd birthday in Shanghai. It's definitely one of the most fun birthdays I've had. It kind of sucks being away on your birthday because strangers can only care so much but I had a great time! Bill look me out for lunch at a really nice rooftop restaurant. At night we went out for dinner with our new Spanish friends from our hostel. We had great Spanish food and wine and mojitos, then danced for most of the night. It really was great time! 

O'Malleys
Chinese food is great, very vegetarian friendly!
So overall, a perfect vacation. Everything went right. I really loved China and would definitely go back. It's such a huge country and we saw such a small part of it. I know the rest would be completely different, but it seems very interesting. I would love to live in Shanghai for a year, so if anyone knows of any jobs there, send them my way ;)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)

I'm at the halfway point of my year in Korea and, well, like the title of this post states, the honeymoon (phase) is over. I am no longer happy to just be here because it is new and exciting and I am living abroad. I am starting to get really annoyed with many aspects about Korea and my job, and about what I will do next. So this will probably a rant, maybe a bit negative, but I need to get it out.

It makes me feel so miserable to be constantly yelling at kids, very small kids. They are 4 and 5 and 6 and I am yelling at them because they cannot 'sit nicely' and because they shouldn't speak Korean and because they just want to talk to their friends and be kids. But at the same time, I see how they act in my Korean co-teachers' classes and it angers me that I get much less respect than they do. And I am so tired of our 10 minute morning meetings where we are told the exact same thing everyday, in broken English 'care your kids but have fun with them too'; Tuesday is PE Day (we love gym day); Wednesday is theme park day (a deceiving name); blah blah blah Pooh class parents are very sensitive; did you know that Daniel bit through Andy's T-shirt at jungle gym? His parents are very worried.....

I'm sick of where I live, Suji. I seriously traded Waterloo for a significantly less exciting place in Korea! Ah Seoul, so close yet so far away. Convenient but so inconvenient. Sure, the bus costs $1.50 but it doesn't help that it stops running at midnight and doesn't start again until 5:30am. At least I've got the gym and yoga here. Those keep me occupied throughout the week!

I think I went from not having a clue how to teach, to getting the hang of it, to getting over it in too short of a time span. Working with kids is just not for me. At all. And I guess I expected after half a year of living here to have friends that I am closer with than I do. And maybe I thought that the Seoul situation would somehow sort itself out. I'm even getting fed up with the lack of food options as a vegetarian here. I want cheese!! Haha...

Okay, okay I think that's enough of me feeling sorry for myself. I am still glad to be here, really, but mainly due to my financial situation. And wait, there's more! There's a light at the end of the tunnel! My very good (and beautiful and amazing and fun) friend Samantha is moving to Seoul for the next 5 months! And she will be here next Friday.  And I know things will change for the better! I will have someone I love close to me. Someone to be girly with, and get ready with, and go out with, and someone with who it is just assumed that I have plans with every single weekend (because we will). No need to even ask. I miss that. I miss those people....they know who they are <3

So yes, I should end on a positive note because really, when it comes down to it, life is great!! And if I am still dissatisfied with Korea in the end I don't have to come back... and who knows where I will end up next??!!!!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Home in March

Soooo coming to Korea I thought that I would teach here for two years and not go home in between. And although I might still teach here another year, I have decided to come home at the end of my contract. Two reasons: first, Korea didn't magically change my spending habits and I am not even close to saving as much as I should be; and second, I must admit that I miss everyone back home in crummy old KW.

I will be back in the beginning of March for about a month or so. Then off to California and Coachella with my lovely Roxy in April and then I am not sure what after. I will have to stat figuring it out by the end of the year. Maybe I will come back to Korea to teach (adults though, no more kids). Maybe I will get lucky and find a job in Shanghai, my most recent fixation. I have no idea where I will end up really, but I am excited about that!

So it may be seven months away but mark your calendars! March 2012 I will be back in Southwestern Ontario.

Do you miss me? Cause I miss you!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Beijing

Last week was my summer vacation so my friend (and coworker) Bill and I went to China. It was such an amazing trip that really exceeded my expectations. I think that may have been because I didn't really know much about China before going, so I didn't know what to expect. We flew into Beijing and spent 4 nights there and then took the new high speed train to Shanghai, where we spent another 4 nights. The two cities couldn't be more different, so I will write two separate posts about my experiences in each.

Beijing is definitely a reflection of old China. Not only is there so much history there, but the people seem to be a few years behind in terms of fashion and other things. Beijing felt very crowded and the people there were pretty pushy. There were so many tourists, and a lot were Chinese. We got many stares but they seemed more curious than judgmental. It was very hot and humid (mid to high 40's with the humidity....I think that's about 110+ in Fahrenheit) and it rained a lot. Incredible amounts of rain that I don't think I've ever experienced elsewhere.

Just walking through the food market from the subway to our hostel, both Bill and I felt that we had seem more culture than in the 5 months we've been in Korea. Beijing is so interesting and unique and different to what we're used to in the west. After the food market, where Bill ate a scorpion, we visited Tienanmen Square. At night we took a rickshaw-type taxi to go out but nightlife in Beijing wasn't too appealing. But we still had fun adventuring around the city.


Food Market
Bill eating a scorpion!!
Breathe in that fresh air!
"Taxi"

The next day we walked around the Forbidden City which was enormous and beautiful. Afterwards, we decided to check out the Summer Palace and as soon as we got there the rain started. It was raining so hard that the water managed to reach ankle level in some places. We waited it out and when it stopped we walked around the Palace. It's easy to get overwhelmed in these type of places. And because of their scale, it's difficult to really capture what's there with a simple point and shoot digital camera.

Forbidden City
Check out that rain!!
Summer Palace

The next day was more relaxing, we walked around the 798 Art District which was really interesting, especially in comparison to what the rest of the city was like. It covered a really big area and was made up of old warehouses that had been converted into art studios and spaces. Unfortunately, all of the major galleries are closed on Mondays so we didn't get to see any of them, but there was still plenty to see. Later on we went to a clothing market where we haggled till we dropped, I guess you could say...


Our last full day we did a trip to The Great Wall, which was definitely the highlight of the first half of the vacation for me. The bus drove us three hours away to a less touristy part of the wall and we had 4 hours to hike once we were there. I don't think my vocabulary has enough words that could do the scale of the Wall any justice. It's something you have to see for yourself. 

 

Beijing was a good city to visit but I wouldn't go back. I think I've seen all that I need to see there. Shanghai on the other hand...