January 5th- 18th 2016
Hello dearest family and friends!
Can you believe it has been 20 days since I last checked in? It feels like so much and so little has happened since then. We have been in our intensive period at work (more on what that is later) so I’ve been exhausted! It has been an anxiety-filled three weeks with constant worry about my director lashing out at us. In the end though, work is just work and I’ve had a great month in spite of it. Let me tell you about my life these past weeks…
The weekend of Jan 8-10 was awesome. It started off with my favourite meal here in Korea, dak galbi! This was an extra special feasting as I got to share it with Rees; he came to my hood in Cheonho this time. I’m not 100% sure that he enjoyed it, but there was a lot of drama with North Korea at the time (that h-bomb situation) so it may have just been that. Regardless, he got to enjoy watching me eat about 2/3 of it and polish off a bottle of soju and a bottle of beer. It was my first payday after all so I had to celebrate! The next day I journeyed to Costco with my friends Sam, Nicole and Sabrina. The high feeling of payday may have influenced me to go a little overboard buying groceries but I did resist the nutella, so I feel that I deserve kudos for that. We enjoyed some pizza post-shopping and it was delicious. As Sam says, it tastes just like in America and that is a wonderful thing when you are missing home. That night I took the metro to the airbase. Rees and I went bowling where he efficiently destroyed me. Seriously, not even the granny throw could help me. We had some dinner at Chili’s before I headed back into Seoul. It was around 11pm when I finally made it into Itaewon to meet my friend from Brock, and the man who essentially put the idea of South Korea in my head, Brett! We met in front of a place called the Hamilton Hotel which was just perfect (we attended school in Hamilton ON together). I met his girlfriend Jinny and fellow foreign teacher friend Shawn. We started out at a hookah bar but quickly moved to a pub called Sam Ryans. We drank and danced until finally we moved the party up “hooker hill”. This is literally a hill where on either side neon doors flash and prostitutes sit in store windows beckoning you in. Halfway up the hill was Shawn’s favorite bar called Min where they specialized in playing 70s/80s/90s music. We had a great time playing beer pong and dancing to anything from 80s rock to Beyonce (requested by me) to country songs. Around 4am we decided to head out and get some food at Mr. Kebab. Brett doesn’t live in Seoul anymore, he lives in Daejeon now which is much less metropolitan. Thus, he has really been missing delicious kebabs. Around 5am I took a taxi to Gangnam with Shawn and then hopped on the first train of the day back to Gangdong. Needless to say, not much happened that Sunday! Nicole and I did have some tteokbokki (dak in a spicy sauce) and soondae sausage (blood sausage) as a hangover cure. My birthday present from the so wonderful Nilabjo also arrived! Isn’t he the greatest?
The first week of intensives was just as stressful as I thought it was going to be. Maybe even a bit more… Intensives are a time period when the students have holidays from their public education which means that they have more time to study at their hagwon! Thus we work longer hours and take on more classes with no extra pay, if you were wondering. On top of these additional responsibilities we also had to do something called ‘Dream Letter’ with the students. The topic of the letter this year was “How can I help children in Africa to make the world a better place?” This sounds very sweet but the children here in Seoul have had little to no experience of diversity. Trying to teach this dream letter was painful. Anyways with all of this anxiety at work, Sabrina and I decided it was finally time to find a yoga studio. We feel that finding “With Yoga” was a harrowing adventure but after telling the story a few times, I think it was only interesting to us. We set out on Jan 12th in our yoga gear with our mats on our backs ready to try a class. The first studio we tried turned out to be a total dud. The prices were outrageous! Feeling very disappointed we decided to try the studio down the street, about a 15 minute walk from home toward work. The atmosphere of With Yoga was different right away. We were greeted by an instructor, Sally, who really did her best to help us in English. We got to tour the studio and luckily, were approached by a lady named Marianne. She is this super cool 48 year old Korean lady who knows English and French! She says we reminded her of herself when she was 24 and studying abroad in Bordeaux. After talking to her for an hour we made the plan to come back the next day and try a class. So on Jan 13th we attended a Vinyasa class with Sally! We had so much fun and following the class we signed up for 6 months of classes. We paid a little extra so that we could attend flying yoga, which we did the next day! Taking a yoga class in another language is confusing but combining that with hanging in a sling is a whole new level of challenging. One of the aspects of this studio that we love so much is how nice everyone is! Our fellow yogis helped us often and the instructor was incredibly patient. My verdict on flying yoga is that it is hard and quite painful when the sling is around your legs. I had a few bruises after that first time.
Sally, Sabrina, Marianne and I!
The weekend of Jan 15-17 can only be described as bittersweet; it was Rees’s last weekend in Korea! Friday night we stayed in and made tacos and grilled cheese. By “we made” I mean he made it and I just handed him stuff. We had a bottle of wine and had a good netflix and chill (am I using that phrase correctly?). On Saturday morning we journeyed to Insa-dong before meeting Nicole and her friend Isabella for lunch. Insa-dong is an artsy neighborhood located between two palaces. We strolled through a few tiny alleyways and up and down the main strip. This area is also known for great streetfood and the enticing smells were making us sad we didn’t bring any cash. On a whim, we went into a gallery where there were some beautifully striking paintings. Thanks to Rees we even got a picture with the artist, Mi Han. Finally we rushed off to our lunch date, which was delicious, and then to Isabella’s apartment. Isabella is at the end of her contract so she sold me some of the items I’ve been sorely missing since being here. That night, Rees and I headed back to the base. Riding the subway with another foreigner is always a funny experience- the stares increase twofold. Sunday morning was just glorious; Rees took me to an American style brunch buffet! The prospect of all-you-can-eat was very exciting for me and let’s just say the amount of food I ate kept me full even past dinner time. The conversation was great too as two of Rees’s friends joined us. Following breakfast we prepared for the 3 hour trek to meet Nicole, Sam and her boyfriend at Cheongpyeong station. From there we took a bus to a place called Garden of the Morning Calm. This garden was made by Professor Han Sang-kyung who wanted to create a famous area that showcased Korea’s natural beauty. He definitely succeeded! My heart felt a little lighter as soon as we stepped off the bus and I saw the mountains surrounding us. You don’t realize how thick the air is in Seoul until you leave. The garden looked majestic and we couldn’t help thinking about how beautiful it must look in spring. During the winter months they also decorate the garden with lights in different shapes and arrangements so when the sky finally became dark enough and the lights were turned on, the garden was transformed. Although it was quite cold we really enjoyed strolling through the trails, admiring the nature, and being dazzled by a sky of twinkling lights. After some yummy street food outside of the garden gates we headed back into Seoul. The ride back was quiet, both Rees and I thinking about our eventual goodbye. It wasn’t overly emotional or even romantic as we said our farewells in the subway station. Making a production of it probably would have tainted the whole experience in sadness and anyways, I have a good feeling that I’ll be seeing him again.
This month has taught me a lot. It’s taught me about resilience, about not needing someone’s approval to feel accomplished (my director) and about worrying less (no idea when I’m moving still). I am continually finding ways to smile in a place that is challenging and for that I feel grateful.
At 1600 words, I think I’d better stop, but I will continue next time with the last week of intensives, my first big hoeshik, my first time to a jjimjilbang, and noraebong part two.
As always, I hope you are enjoying your own adventures!