Work is just work

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.

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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!

Anneyong!

Ash 🙂

 

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Happy 2016!

December 25th 2015- January 4th 2016

Happiest of New Years to all of my wonderful friends and family! I hope that you celebrated with the people you love and took in the new year with laughter and joy! 🙂 Now for what I’ve been up to this past week…

In my last post, I left off talking about the Christmas party I would be attending at Amanda and Greg’s house. The party was just as fun and cozy as I thought it would be! The KFC + wine combination I brought was a hit although I enjoyed everyone else’s delicious eats much more: Sabrina brought some salsa and chips, Trevor brought a lentil salad, Nicole brought cookies, Ashley, Sam S. and Iqra brought cake,  and Andrew brought many shooters of alcohol + his Costco sized sangria jug that he won during our work secret Santa. Needless to say, I ate like I think everyone should on Christmas- endlessly. My favorites had to be this delectable garlic butter spread that Amanda purchased at Costco and the lasagna that Greg made in the toaster oven! Besides eating, out time was spent playing cards against humanity, UNO, watching Elf and chatting about life.

Nicole and I called Christmas an early night as we had to wake up at 6:30am to meet up with the running crew I am joining, the Seoul Flyers. We arrived at Ichon station around 7:50am and it was a crisp morning beside the Han River. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed and introduced ourselves to the group. We were the only two running in the 5k group that day while everyone else ran 10. After the run Nicole and I joined the group for breakfast. It was really pleasant getting to know people that live permanently in Seoul and just discussing topics other than work. After such a lovely start to my morning I decided I was definitely joining this crew and have set the goal of a 10k race on March 20th (at the 2016 Seoul International Marathon) and a half marathon by November.

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I rushed home after breakfast to shower and get ready for my first date here in Seoul! His name is Rees and I was meeting him at the National Seoul Museum. We ended up having a great time walking around the museum although the items on showcase were a little dull for my liking; they had a lot of pottery and rocks going on. I did enjoy seeing the amazing statues in the Buddhism section and learning more about how this religion has traveled from India to be incorporated  in such a large way here in Korea. Thankfully the museum was free so when we finished exploring after about an hour and a half, neither of us were too bummed. We decided to take a walk into HBC (foreigner area) to get a late lunch. We had delicious “American” burgers and great conversation.

Later that night, after bidding goodbye to Rees, I met with with Nicole, her friend Bella, Amanda and Greg to grab drinks and head to Noraebong! Noraebong is an establishment where you rent private rooms to sing karaoke, drink, and eat with friends. I think karaoke is a way that Koreans can release some of the stress that is piled on them from their intense work life. I can safely say that it works; between the five of us, we sang for about 2 and half hours! Some highlight moments were playing the tambourine while we all sang Baby Got Back, belting out Under Pressure  with Greg, and getting my Canadian on by rapping Hotline Bling with Bella. After we left Noraebong Nicole, Bella and I headed to a bar down the street to keep the party going. Now I’ve had a lot of spicy food since being here in Korea and during the time I lived with Ayana, but I can safely say the meal we had was the spiciest I’ve ever tasted. Me being in love with food, still ate about half of it. To continue the randomness of this day we were joined by 3 Korean gentleman who helped us finished the soju and beer. Even with me stuffing my face and chugging back water to stifle the flames, I was having eyes made at me by one of the guys.

Yeah, I still got it 😉

Since I finally got to bed at about 6am on Saturday night, my Sunday was spent recovering. I *watched (*fell asleep during) a movie with Nicole and Bella and binged on some McDonalds. Did you know that in Korea, you can have your McDonalds delivered? According to Rees, Korea has “out-Americaned” the US with this service. The 28th and 29th passed without anything too noteworthy happening except that I got a terrible cold and almost lost my voice. Noraebong will do that to you.

Then it was my birthday! I was awakened at 7am by a Kakao call from my mother. She had the phone so close to her face and was so excited to talk to me, it was wonderful. I chatted with her and my brother for a while and then skyped the beautiful Marinna! It is always nice to catch up with great friends and hear how well life is going. At work I was surprised by three lovely cards: one from Amanda, one from Charlie and one from Sabrina. I shamelessly told every class that it was my birthday in hopes that they would behave just a bit better, and hey, it worked! My favourite class actually sang me happy birthday but they forgot the words half way through; it was adorable. They also drew me birthday cakes and presents on the back of their tests *heart melted*. After we finished work, my bosses brought out two cakes and I got to make some wishes! We all inhaled the delicious cake and ran out of there to enjoy my favoutite food: dak galbi. After the feast all but Sam headed to a dive bar down the street. It may have smelled like farts but it was well-priced and they brought us candy for free! At midnight we headed home.

Finally it was new years eve! I walked with Sabrina to work as it was a beautiful day and it’s only about a 30 minute trek. Work passed quickly and soon enough, I was getting my party dress on! I met up with Sabrina and her friend Rose in Itaewon. We searched for a half an hour to find decently priced food but finally settled on some street meat. I was a little skeeva about the guy cooking it as he was coughing all over the place but, what do you want to 3,000 won? We made it to a bar called Rooftop at 11:30 and celebrated the new year with some Americans we met. We also met some guys from Azerbaijan who tried to convince me that the Rufat I know from Azerbaijan was the same guy with them. We left Rooftop around 1am and headed out to a  hookah bar called Bedlam. It was there that I spent the next 3 hours dancing my booty off. I danced with some guys we met walking into the bar, with this adorable Korean couple and anyone else out on that dance floor. If you know me, you know how much I love dancing. At almost 4am we cabbed home and agreed that 2016 was off to a great start.

I relaxed on the 1st and headed out for another Flyers run on the 2nd. I met even more great people and had a delicous breakfast. After the run one of the guys, Soncheol (손철), decided to join me on a visit to a Buddhist temple called Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam. He had visited this temple two years before and guided me as best he could. His mother was Buddhist and he described some of the religion and any signs written in Korean. It was absolutely beautiful there and it amazes me how quiet the area was considering there is the Seoul World Trade buildings and a giant mall just outside its gates. After we strolled around for an hour, we went inside the famous COEX mall. Honestly, it wasn’t much to see; once you’ve been in one mall, you’ve been in them all. That night I had another lovely date with Rees. We had dinner at Brazlian churrascaria in “the SED” (the strip in front of the base with something like 95 bars) and I got to see one of the American military bases here in Seoul. It was very odd, like a college campus that has identical buildings and is gated. They have everything from a bowling alley to a movie theater and taxis to take you around the base because it is that big. All in all it is a fairly cushy life on base and I get the feeling that most people living there don’t get a chance to experience Korean culture unless they really seek it out.

The next day Sabrina and I checked out a local market and I got some great deals. One was this delicious beaver-tail-esque dessert called hotteok for only 500 won (50 cents), YUM!

Wow, at 1500 words you are now caught-up. I promise my life will start to be less interesting now that the holidays are over and we are heading into our intensive period at work. Hope you enjoyed my adventures!

Annyeong! 🙂