Beautiful Taiwan

February 6th- 10th 2016

Hello lovelies!

This post is all about my travels to beautiful Taiwan! I traveled there during my Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year) holidays. I was accompanied by the wonderful Nicole and her friends Bethany and Ayrton. We spent the majority of our time in Taipei, the capital, but also made our way out of the city. Here’s what we got up to…

Saturday: Day 1

We all started bright and early on Saturday to make it to the airport for 6am. Our flight was only at 9am but we wanted to give some extra time given that it was such a big holiday. Surprisingly, it was a lot more tame than we thought. With only a few minor hitches, we were off to Taipei! I enjoyed the movie The Martian, luckily just finishing it in the short 2 hour flight. Taoyuan International Airport was very nice but so tiny; it might even be smaller than Vancouver! Anyways, we whizzed through immigration, picked up our wifi egg at a convenience store, and jumped on a bus to take us into the city.

Jinji Yuan- After dropping off our bags and picking up another traveler named Adiel, also a teacher in Korea, at our hostel we headed out to Jinji Yuan restaurant to try the famed soup dumplings and fried chicken. The soup dumplings were absolutely delicious but the fried chicken was just okay. Needless to say, we were ready to try more of what Taipei had to offer!

*sorry about no pictures… we were very hungry!**

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall- This was our first big tourist spot and it did not disappoint. The memorial hall is an imposing white building with a beautiful octagonal blue roof. There are supposedly 89 steps (representing Chiang’s age at the time of his death) but Adiel only counted 87. There was a cute little museum on the inside and a National Theater and National Concert Hall in the square around it.

Peace Park- This park was a beautiful little area of green space in the middle of the city. We enjoyed walking through it just as the sun was setting. It has a long history but more recently commemorates the massacre of Taiwanese protesters. It is definitely an important historical and cultural spot.

Longshan Temple- This is a very famous Buddhist Temple in Taipei. Despite the sun having set, the temple was very busy and we got to enjoy observing the traditions involved in Lunar New Year. It was a colourful and exciting temple with so much to look at!

NingXia Night Market- I had the joy of meeting my Wynchemna students at NingXia Night Market! The incredible Ken, Gene, Howard, Jack, and Jessie joined our group to show us around the market and help us try all the food. I feel so blessed to have been able to share in their culture with them and I had so much fun! These people totally rock. The foods we tried included: duck tongue, fried fish balls, jelly drink, stinky tofu, pepper bun, oyster omelette, bubble tea, duck head (had by Ayrton and Adiel) and pig’s blood cake (had by me). Notable conversations: the 8 degree weather being cold for them, comparing the Taipei and Seoul subway maps, and laughing at me unknowingly gnawing on duck tongue bones.

Sunday: Day 2

National Palace Museum-We started our day nice and early heading to the National Palace Museum. It is an expansive building located a little outside of the city and nestled into the side of a mountain. We enjoyed the sunshine for a while before checking out some of Taiwan’s rich history. Personally, I find museums quite boring EXCEPT when they have some sort of interactive component. Luckily I found Adiel walking around who took me to the media center! See below the Canadian horse I coloured 🙂 After about 2 hours I had about enough jade, pottery and scrolls that I could handle; thankfully everyone else felt the same.

Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple- Adiel decided to head off on his own, so we said goodbye and traveled across the city to check out some temples. We had some lunch (still unidentified) and accidentally wandered into this cool garden that we thought was a temple. It’s probably ignorant of me to say this, but the Baoan Temple looked remarkably similar to the Buddhist temple. The Confucius Temple was very plain and empty. I took a moment here to sit in the sun and be grateful for my wonderful life.

Taipei 101- Attempt #1 Following the temples we decided to try the Taipei 101.  As silly foreigners we weren’t thinking about it being a holiday! The wait was over 3 hours so we decided to postpone until our last day. Seeing the building up close was awesome though!

Elephant Mountain- We got some coffee and walked to the bottom of Elephant Mountain. It was a totally worthwhile and short 20 minute hike up steps to the top. We found a good spot to watch the sunset and perched ourselves there. From this perspective it is so clear that the cityscape is dominated by the Taipei 101; no wonder my student Tina was so in love with it! It was peaceful and awe-inspiring watching the sun disappear behind the mountains and the city turn on.

Raohe Night Market- From the mountain we made our way to the best night market- Raohe! We walked for hours here and had so much delicious food. Some notable foods included: fried corn, sweet potato balls, fried chicken balls, chocolate bubble tea, baked potato with ham, and garlic pizza.  I also had an egg tart I thought would taste like pasteis natas, but it did not.

Shilin Night Market- Nicole and I dropped Bethany and Ayrton off at the hostel and hit the streets again! We picked up some beer at the 711 and made our way down the street to Shilin night Market- the most famous market in Taipei. To our dismay, a huge part of the market was closed! We still got our hands on fried chicken the size of my face, which was okay. Nicole bought herself an awesome mustard yellow scarf (pictured below) and I got two pairs of earrings… made in Korea! Ironic, eh? All in all, Shilin didn’t wow us.

Monday: Day 3

Hualien- What we expected to be a stressful journey out of the city to Hualien turned out to be a breeze! Our wonderful airbnb host picked us up at the train station and after dropping our stuff and breathing in the fresh air, we immediately made our way to the big attraction: Taroko National Park.

Taroko National Park- This park was without a doubt my favourite part of our trip. We did about 5km of easy hiking along the mountainside through the famous Taroko Gorge. The combination of breathing in the mountain air, feeling my muscles work and the sun on my back was absolute bliss. In Seoul you don’t get a lot of chances to connect with nature this way (or at least I haven’t yet). We walked up until the trail ended at some small stands selling fruit and jewelry. These were run but the Taroko natives that continue to live and thrive in the park. We ate the fruit by the water and just laughed taking silly photos. The water was a little cold, otherwise I would have dipped my feet in. That night we bought some wine and snacks from the 711 preparing for a quaint evening in. To our surprise, we had a knock on our door from our lovely airbnb host. Using her iPad to translate, she invited us for “Bobby Q”, which when I said it aloud realized was a barbecue. We graciously accepted and enjoyed meat, whisky, wine and interesting conversation with her family and two other guests. I say interesting because they would talk to us mostly in Chinese and we would find some way to respond. The night ended in one of our hosts singing us a New Years song and us singing Oh, Canada! Yay for cultural exchange 🙂

Tuesday: Day 4

Shun-an Beach- After a beautiful and delicious breakfast, pictured below, we felt ready for the day! While at breakfast we met the cutest little girls who were staying in the room next door with their mom. They spoke a little bit of English and my heart melted. We didn’t have enough time to go back to the park but we did take a short walk down to Shun-an beach. The weather was perfect and the water warm. I wished we had more time so I could have gone swimming! On our way back we bought some wine and candy for our host and the little girls, respectively. We said our goodbyes and hitched a ride back to the train station.

Fancy last dinner- Our last hostel was located centrally beside Taipei Main Station. After dropping our stuff we tried going up the Makong Gondola to see the tea fields, but yet again were thwarted by long lines. Instead we freshened up at the hostel and made ourselves pretty for our last dinner in Taipei! We found a fancy place with a cool ambiance. We shared well-made food and laughed over glasses of sangria.

Wednesday: Day 5

Taipei 101- Attempt #2 Our second attempt at the Taipei 101 was successful! We waited only 5 minutes and had ample time to walk around floor 89 and the outdoor floor 91. It was cool but after a while, monotonous. It’s really just looking out at buildings, buildings, and more buildings. It was a nice last touristy thing to do though.

 

Following the Taipei 101 we got some lunch, picked up our bags, and reluctantly left for the airport. It was a nice flight back although sad; Nicole and I watched Room. Overall I was happy with our trip and would love to return to Taiwan! Next time I will plan my holiday not on a holiday (as Bethany puts it) and will see more of the country outside of Taipei.

 

Hope you all enjoyed my travels and maybe even feel inspired to visit Taiwan too! I never learned how to say goodbye in Chinese (only hello, thank you, and leg) so I will stick with the usual.

Annyeong!

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Getting settled…. again!

January 19th-February 5th

Hello loved ones!

So I wanted to post this before I left for Taiwan, but you know, life.  So THE BIG MOVE has finally happened and I was able to get settled… again! I’m reaching back almost a month ago now, but here’s what I got up to.

The week of Jan 19th-22nd was the last of our intensive period. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel and even though we were exhausted, counting down the days to it being over was getting us through. The week passed quickly, although things at work were a little tense. I think I have referenced Korean work culture before and how different it is from our Western ways. The issue this week was the foreign teachers leaving on time- we should be staying even longer hours and working even harder during this time. The fact is that most of us have been taking work home or prepared ourselves before intensives started. Regardless, we got some dirty looks leaving every night. By the time Friday hit, we were all ecstatic. We also had a big hoeshik that night which is a company dinner with all of the staff that the company pays for. We stuffed ourselves with Korean BBQ, soju and beer. Later that night Charlie, Sabrina, Andrew and I headed over to Nicole’s with more soju in hand and just had a chill night talking. Having good co-workers is so important here and I’m always feeling so grateful that I get along with mine so well.

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Despite talking until late hours of the night, Nicole and I were up bright and early to meet the Seoul Flyers running crew. Somehow we managed to do 5k in freezing-down-to-your-bones negative 19 weather! After that kind of commitment we decided to treat ourselves and went to a jjimjilbang called Siolam. A jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse where you can enjoy a variety of bathes and hot rooms that use natural remedies to keep you healthy. Just to give you full picture I will mention that the bath area is clothing NOT optional; you are completely naked. We started out by going for a full body scrub. The body scrub took place on these pink plastic covered tables. The lady threw a bucket of hot water on the table and  motioned for me to climb up. She then mimed the position she wanted me to pose in. I will tell you, there is no being shy when you are getting a scrub from an ajumma. We probably should have waited until our bodies acclimatized to the indoors because my skin was still cold when this process all started and it hurt! My ajumma was also mad at me because I didn’t want her to wash my hair and she became just a little more aggressive. It certainly was an interesting experience, but I was promised by Nicole that other scrubs are much nicer. Leaving the scrub area with our skin wonderfully soft, we headed to the hot baths. Each had a different temperature and a different natural material that gave the water its healing properties. One had charcoal, another had mudweed, and another had jade. There was also a cold pool (reminding me of the Scandinavian Spa in Collingwood) and some saunas. The bulk of the bath area was taken up by low showers and stools where you can bring your own materials and have a solo scrub party! I’ve been asked if all the staring we got as foreigners was uncomfortable but honestly, I’ve never been in a room full of naked Korean women either, so the staring may have been mutual! After leaving the bath area we put on these cute and tight (one-size-fits-all) t-shirt and shorts that Siolam supplied. We then made our way upstairs to explore the many floors. The floors included: computers, TVs, game rooms, hot jade stones to put your feet on, sleeping areas and finally my two favourite places, the restaurant and the hot rooms. We sat and had some ramen, braised eggs and a special rice drink called sikhye at the restaurant. after lunch we looked into each hot room which again had a specific temperature and some natural material to provide various healing properties.  Nicole left shortly after but I stayed for another 3 hours! It was so incredibly relaxing. The rooms I liked the best were the hot jade room and the hot loess room. After each room I just stepped outside and fell asleep on floor mats with a wooden block as my pillow. I feel bad because my explanation is so shameful and doesn’t even come close to explaining how good this place made me feel. If you come to Korea, I promise to take you!

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After a solo-ride home to Gangdong, I had a surprise invite from Amanda and Greg to have dinner and head to noraebong! Of course, I accepted and thus noraebong part two happened. This time we were in HBC and the vibes we a little different. The place was less fancy, there were less people in the building, and there were only four of us singing: Amanda, Greg, Beejay and I. Of course, amazing singing ensued and Greg and I did some of our favourites, including Changes. By about 1 am we were pretty spent and headed back to Cheonho. Being easily influenced after such a great time, I agreed to continue the party at a place called Ryan Bar with the boys. About 2 and half hours and too much money later, we left the bar. We had some good laughs, but let’s just say what happens at Ryan bar can stay there. Before going my separate way, I joined them for delicious street food. As is becoming my pattern, Sunday was super fun recovery day!

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Jan 25th-29th flew by, thankfully, as the kids started preparing for their term tests! Sadly on that Saturday, we poor Avalon and Langcon folk had to haul our bums to a work event from 1-5pm. I’m not going to talk about it except to say that it was cool meeting other teachers (I didn’t get to make friends at other campuses because I skipped training) and that Amanda’s presentation was the best. It really threw me back to the student leader presentations I used to do at UTM. That night I had dinner with my Taiwan crew: Nicole, Bethany and Aryton. It was so nice to finally have everyone together to talk over the details. We met at a chicken place and can I just say, Korea, you do fried chicken so well! I had a restful Saturday night because on Sunday I FINALLY MOVED! I was told Friday that this was happening but as it goes in Korea, I wasn’t told where to (fun right?)! The move ran mostly smoothly… there was a bit of a miscommunication and my bed got left behind. By miscommunication I mean the guy wouldn’t listen to me when I told him in English and then the guy yelled at me in Korean when we got to the new place and he realized. Did I mention the fun? Anyways, I’m loving my new place; it has a better layout, is cleaner and is only a floor away from Sabrina!!!

February 1st-5th was another speedy week in anticipation of the Lunar New Year holiday and my trip to Taiwan! I tried to squeeze in as much yoga as I could before leaving and of course one last Seoul night on Thursday. What started as a few drinks over dak galbi turned into one for the books! It was one of those nights that weeks down the road I am still going to be remembering all the shenanigans we got up to at God bar (the stinky fart bar I went to on my birthday). Let’s just say Friday was a new kind of challenge for me and I hope to never have a Friday like it again!  That night I wished all of my friends jet-setting off on their own holiday trips and those having stay-cations a lovely Lunar New Year and hurried home to clean and pack!

Next post will be all about the amazing trip to Taiwan. Here are some more random pictures I took over this time period… enjoy and annyoeng!

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 🙂

 

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! 🙂

Merry Christmas!

December 16th- December 25th

Merry Christmas friends and familia! This was the second consecutive Christmas that I have missed being at home for, as last year I was in Dubai! What a hard life, right? Actually though, being away from the people you love in any situation is hard and being away over the holidays is that much harder. So to combat my loneliness I will recap the last 10 days here in Seoul!

On Wednesday, December 16th I headed out early in the morning to visit the immigration office. It is a ~hour long subway ride into the core of Seoul so I brought my Kobo (currently reading A Fine Balance) and my tunes along to keep me busy. What I should have anticipated was how busy this train was, given that it was going downtown and I was riding it in rush hour to boot! I experienced what it was like to be a sardine squished into a tiny box, with no personal space and feeling like I was slowly roasting alive inside of my heavy winter jacket. I witnessed first hand the “Koreans do not sweat” generalization; I ripped my layers off the first chance I got while the strangers around me looked perfectly cool and relaxed. Anyways, enough about sweaty train rides. There was no line when I arrived at immigration, and was able to zip through the process. I looked around enviously though, at the foreign teachers that had a Korean co-teachers to help them. I guess it’s a confidence boost to me that I was able to get by on my own. I rushed off to work elated with the prospect of finally having my coveted ARC (Alien Registration Card). The rest of the work week went by quickly and without any issues. A highlight was seeing Star Wars on Thursday night. We ate grilled squid legs and some caramel and cheese popcorn. The food was delicious and the movie was so good!IMG_6857.JPGThat Friday night I decided to take things much easier! After work I headed to get some dinner with Nicole and tasted my favourite food so far here in Korea: Dak galbi. It was a mouth-watering meal of chicken and vegetables cooked in front of us and surrounded by a moat of melted cheese. As with the usual Korean fashion, we also got a variety of side dishes. My description does not convey its deliciousness. Really though, I cannot shut up about it and suggest eating it every time I’m out to dinner with friends. Nicole and I toasted to the end of the work week with some soju and sprite, had some great conversation and then headed home around midnight. IMG_6861.JPGSaturday was a more relaxed day. I lazied around the apartment in the morning watching netflix (currently catching up on Orange is the New Black). Around dinner time I met up with Sabrina and we set out for an area called HBC. It is another foreigner heavy area right beside the famous Itaewon. For dinner we had Moroccan sandwiches and beer at a great place called Casablanca Sandwicherie. Eating a proper sandwich with crunchy bread was a welcome treat! With full bellies we traveled a few minutes down the street to The Hidden Cellar. The Hidden Cellar is a little dive place under a restaurant. The atmosphere is very relaxed and the wine is well-priced. Perhaps there is a correlation there… Anyways we walked in, got some wine and lucked out snagging two seats. As we spent more time there chatting and enjoying the live music (random renditions of Christmas songs and 80s hits) we realized that there was some sort of party going on and we may have crashed it. We stayed anyways. Later on in the night we were joined by two of Sabrina’s friends and our friend Charlie (our awesome head teacher). Soon enough there was more live music; it was Charlie’s Irish friend who was giving his last performance before heading home. It was so much fun singing along to Irish folk songs and beloved American tunes from the past. I just love live music and was sad to leave before his set was over. However, I had many plans for the next day!IMG_6866Sunday was my Skype day! It was so lovely to talk with my family and to see how big baby Phillip is getting.  I also talked with Gabriella, which just warmed my heart; I miss that girl so much! After I said goodnight to Canada, I went on a shopping spree as I needed a secret Santa gift and a white elephant gift for work. I went back to Lotte Mall to finally check out what the ‘mainstream’ stores were like in Seoul. I found a really cool bookstore, akin to Chapters, and bought the best secret Santa present! It was a poster of a blank map of Korea with small cultural/historical/famous cutouts of landmarks that you could add to the map. Andrew, the person I was buying for, recently made a bucket list for the remainder of his contract here in Korea, so I figured it would be a great way to see all the amazing places he has been and where he was going. I also got him candy and Oreos! I got those for a very good price in the underground market inside Jamsil station.Dec 20.1.pngThis past week at work flew by! Maybe it was because of the Christmas cheer, or maybe the short work week but either way I am not complaining. Nicole and I have started to make our running a weekly habit; we go every Tuesday/Thursday morning and on Tuesday’s we treat ourselves to bubble tea! At work we made Christmas wishes with the kids and gave them cards and candy. It was so sweet to hear the kids I like wish me a Merry Christmas. They are adorable! We exchanged gifts at work which was a lot of fun. I won a tumbler off of my K-co-teacher Sarah in a “rock, scissors, paper” fight. I also received a great scarf and chocolates from my secret Santa Charlie! I had an unexpected gift from immigration too; my ARC arrived a week early (yay)! To celebrate Christmas Eve and a great week, Nicole, Sabrina, Sam and I had some delicious BBQ in Cheonho (our neighbourhood). We toasted with grapefruit-flavoured soju and beer. Afterward, Nicole and I polished off a bottle of sangria. It may have been excessive but whatever, it’s Christmas! As I walked back to my apartment around 1:30am, I got such a happy feeling thinking about how it was day 19 and Christmas and I was really here in Seoul.

I’m heading out soon to Amanda and Greg’s house with Sabrina and Nicole to have a Christmas feast! *Just a side note: I have such good luck with people named Amanda! All the Amanda’s I meet are so wonderful, and this one is no different. She is the head teacher on the Avalon side and has been such a help during my hectic transition!* Anyways, to this feast I am contributing a bottle of white wine and a bucket of KFC chicken… yum! I’m sure it will be a wonderful day filled with laughter (there is wine involved) and good conversation. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! Give your loved ones an extra hug because you can and enjoy the heart-warming feels.
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Merry Christmas!

Annyeong 🙂

Living for the weekend…

December 11th-15th, 2015

Hello my lovely friends and family!

I hope you are all doing splendidly! I apologize for the length of this post, apparently a lot happened since Thursday!

My Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday teaching involves back-to-back lessons. This really helped me get over my nerves on my first day of teaching on Friday. I ran out of time for two of my classes but overall I think I did pretty well. With a sense of accomplishment, and a bag full of my books from work, I set out for Korean BBQ with my friends Nicole, Sabrina, Sam, Charlie and Andrew from work. The food was so delicious! We had 4 orders of meat along with the side dishes of kimchi, cabbage, onions and sauces. The complimentary steamed egg dish called “Ttukbaegi gyeranjjim” was just amazing. We also ordered some soju and beer; when you put those two together you get somIMG_6813.JPGaek. All of this yummy-ness was only $11 per person! We then met up with the teachers from the other side of our building and went to a bar. There we were joined by friends of friends and soon enough it was a (mostly) Canadian party! I had far too many shots but it was a great night with a lot of laughter.

Waking up Saturday was not the easiest task but I promised myself that I would go for a run. So run I did! It was rough for two reasons: 1. Friday night’s fun 2. the air is more polluted here. I ran for only 7 minutes and then proceeded to dance walk for another 15. As a white female living in Seoul I get stared at A LOT. So I figured, if I’m being looked at anyways I might as well have some fun! I rushed home to get ready for Langcon Festival, an acting competition that kids from all HQ campuses have been working on for months. This was a mandatory work event that no one was particularly thrilled about going to as it took up our entire Saturday. We didn’t win first or even second but our kids were so cute and made us proud! We each split off on our way home but the night was not over for me.

I quickly ate some dinner and jazzed myself up for another night out. A few friends met up at Sabrina’s house and relaxed sipping on somaek. First we went to Konkuk, a cool neighbourhood with a university nearby. We walked down the busy streets and even met 2 Canadians! We got some more soju from the 711 and ate this awesome popsicle that tasted like melon. Then we took a cab to Hongdae, another foreigner-heavy and party-central neighbourhood. The aim was to dance our buts off and that is just what we did! We ended up at a ho-bar which is just a dark club with tables set up around the room and blaring dance beats. We stayed their until 3:30am and then headed for pizza. I met this cool foreigner couple in line who were drunkenly explaining their love story to me. Four of us split a cab home and I got into bed at the respectable hour of 4:30am!

Sunday was yet another struggle to awaken. Sabrina and her friend Rose invited me to Jasmil and Gangnam with them which thankfully gave me a reason to get out of bed. Jasmil station had this really cool underground market with mostly inexpensive clothing. The station was also attached to a very futuristic mall called Lotte World. We only went to the mall to have some fast food at Lotteria but I’d like to go back. Gangnam was very cool and obviously more affluent than other parts of the city. We tried finding some good books to help us to learn Korean but were sadly ovIMG_6846.JPGerwhelmed and vowed to do some more research before buying. We headed home early so I could skype my mama and sister. Missing those two beautiful ladies is going to be one of the hardest parts about living away from home but speaking to them for 2 hours definitely helped!

 

Yesterday and today passed so quickly! I am feeling much more confident about my work life and am taking less work home with me. I am liking my Tuesday/Thursday classes a little better but I’m sure that will fluctuate with time. This morning Nicole and I did go for a short run and she showed me how to get to the river. The running paths there are well laid out and much easier to run on as you don’t have to dodge people, bikes and cars!

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Finally saw some mountains!

Is there anything that you are wondering about my life here? Let me know and don’t forget to add me Kakaotalk- Ashann3!

Annyeong!

One Week?

December 7th-10th, 2015

Hello my lovely family and friends!

I truly cannot believe that I have only been in this new and exciting city for less than one week! I feel as though I have been here a lifetime while also feeling like a lifetime would not be enough to see, do and learn everything I want to.

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The Hagwon where I work!

Picking up where I left off, I experienced my first day of work on Monday! A spectacular co-worker, Sabrina, met me outside my apartment where I was looking like a sad and lost puppy. She pointed out landmarks and restaurants as we walked to the bus stop. After about a 15 minute ride, we were there! My school is located in front of Olympic Park (which I have yet to explore). It is a tall, skinny building that is perpetually cold. Luckily the people are very warm and were extremely welcoming!

I quickly fell into a routine of observing classes at work, taking transit home with co-workers, falling into bed exhausted, and then waking up ~8am to do it all again. I met up with Nicole to go to e-mart, the closest grocery store, one night and finally
prepblog 2ared my own food! Of course I had to figure out the gas stove-top first which I’m sad to say was a struggle. I reached out to my friends via Kakaotalk (a messaging and calling app that you should all get and add me- Ashann3) and googled the heck out of “expat how Korea gas range”. On the topic of struggles in my apartment, I have been at war with the heating system called ondol all week. Ondol heating works by heating water in pipes under my floor. It also heats the running water. All I can say is thank goodness for expat blogs!

Other notable events this week were:

  1. Finding out that I will be moving apartments.(Where you ask! I have no idea. When you ask! I have no idea).
  2. Taking the subway for the first time*.
  3. Getting my Health Examination done for immigration**.
  4. Being told Tuesday that I will be mock teaching for my director on Wednesday.
  5. Realizing that kids are so similar no matter what country you are in***.
  6. Being told Wednesday by my director that I will be teaching Friday!

I am quickly learning that to be happy in this job (and any job?) I just have to keeping swimming and keep smiling. Also, to say “yes please”. On a side note, you should all listen to Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but it has been my inspiration and comfort during this transition.

Coming up next will be my first day of teaching, a trip to the bank, Langcon festival, my first weekend in Seoul and an adventure to the immigration office. Comment if you would like to see some more photos of my apartment.

🙂 Annyeong!

 

This is Home!

December 5th-6th, 2015

Well, the day finally arrived! It felt like getting to the moment when I stepped onto the plane was both painstakingly slow and terrifyingly fast. I did the research, I read the blogs, and I talked with friends and acquaintances about their experiences with moving one’s life across the world so, I felt (mostly) ready!

Before I talk about getting to my new home, I just want to give a shout-out to all of the lovely friends and family members that made last minute plans to see me before I left. Thank you, thank you, thank you/ gomawo, gomawo, gomawo. Your kind wishes, high hopes and concerned looks mean more to me than you know. They are my courage as I currently sit in my tiny apartment 10,594 km away from you all beginning my life’s biggest adventure (so far).

Special thanks to two of my best friends who dropped me off at the airport; my mother and sister. Mom, I cannot believe you sobbed at the gate and Katherine, thank you for keeping your shit together.

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I was met by a Mr. Kang at Incheon Airport. He was very polite and I can’t lie, it was nice to have a friendly smile from someone who recognized me. I thought Mr. Kang would be taking me to my apartment but alas, he rushed me out the door and into a taxi he called. He wished me luck, handed the driver an envelope with my address, and left in a hurry. My driver was a sweet man who knew very little English but still tried to convey information about Incheon and Seoul. He also called me a beautiful teacher so heyyyy confidence boost! Our mostly quiet drive on the highway through heavy traffic gave me a lot of time to think and observe the huge city emerging outside my window.

I was trying to smile and enjoy my surroundings but important questions such as: how will I pay the driver? and How will I get into the apartment building? plagued my mind. As we drove, I determined quickly that the address I had for the apartment didn’t match what he was given by Mr. Kang. I decided not to panic, but just see what happened. When we arrived at the destination, the driver pointed out the window and said “your home”. He helped me with my luggage and then proceeded to help me into the building, all the way up to my apartment. He kindly showed me how to use the door key code and then wish me luck in life.

The apartment is underwhelming. It reminds me of a dirty residence unit that I would have failed on checkout when I was a Don. I’m just thankful that there were cleaning supplies left behind! I cleaned until 8pm when I ventured out to meet one of my co-workers, Nicole. She took me down the busy but very cool street called Cheonho-daero that my street, Seongan-ro, is just off of. We had Korean BBQ for dinner and toasted to my arrival with soju and beer. We walked to the supermarket after and she very kindly bought me yogurt that I could eat for breakfast.

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Tomorrow is going to be another long day with cleaning, unpacking, and of course orientation!

Next update will be the end of the week! Keep those fingers and toes crossed for me back home that everything goes well!

Annyeong!