A Travellerspoint blog

"Not for us but for the next generations."

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb


I was able to find an English speaking church in Seoul and I communicated via e-mail with the preacher and he was super nice and came to pick me up from Ilsan last Sunday. It isn't too far because thankfully the church is in the northern tip of Seoul, pretty near Ilsan, so I didn't feel too bad for him having to drive forever. Just slightly bad. But he was really nice and it worked out because he stopped and bought a couple Costco pizza's before picking me up. I had had a very late night before because I was stressing over lesson planning so I was tired Sunday morning but it was definitely an experience.

The preacher's name is Sang and he is one year younger than my dad and he totally took the role of surrogate father. He is super nice, and common to my experience with Korean people in general, very hospitable and accommodating. He kept making sure I knew that there was wifi I could connect to and he offered me his phone so I could skype my family back home if I wanted to. It was a nice gesture but I would have felt really weird talking on the phone while everyone was just standing around so I had to decline. It's a small church, I think there were maybe 12 people in all but they were mostly foreigners. There were a few from Nepal, some from South Africa, Koreans, me, and some that I don't remember were, but the common language was English and Korean. So Sang was switching from English to Korean. It was pretty fascinating actually because the songs were sung as one but some of us were using English and others Korean. It will definitely help me learn Korean faster. And throughout his talk he would stop every so often and say "ok, now I will say this in Korean" or "Now I explain in English." I'm sure it was not meant to be amusing but I found it so. Afterwards we ate a lunch of pizza, spaghetti, some traditional Korean meat/crab/vegetable/egg things (that I cannot even begin to explain but are delicious) as well as a lot of fruit. While we were all eating Sang wanted to show us pictures he had taken of Korea. He fancies himself an amateur photographer, I say there is nothing amateur about his photos at all, but I digress. As I was delving into my lunch (I skipped breakfast don't judge me) my eyes were astounded at the beautiful pictures of Korea.

Sang had hundreds of shots of different sunsets, quite a few aerial views of the coast and where he grew up. It pretty much solidified my need to see these places up close and personal. He then started showing us photos he had from just after the Korean war. Those were pretty horrific actually. It wasn't like he was showing up dead bodies or anything but you could see the people's faces as they walked around and looked for food and all the destruction. He had pictures of downtown Seoul and it is amazing what time has done to the place. He was a wealth of information from the past.

After the meal and everyone was dispersing he asked me if I had to go home or if I had time to see a little of Korea before he took me back home. Despite the mountain of lesson planning I had back home I took him up on his offer because really it was one I couldn't refuse. He asked me where I wanted to go. I said I could make it to the city by myself and asked if he wouldn't mind showing me a bit of the country. He was really excited about that. He said he would take me to the DMZ and a special military camp. During his military service he was in the special forces so he could get special permission to go into one of the military camps near the border and we could look over into one of the many propaganda villages. The drive there was beautiful and he kept pointing out all the different things we were passing. The crops, rivers, towns, cattle farms... he is a great tour guide.

It was definitely worth every minute of lost planning time.

We drove into this camp and up a little bit to a little convenience store to park the car. To make it up to the observation point we had to walk. Mind you I was not dressed in the best shoes for this but I did it nonetheless. After walking up a gazillion stairs we made it to where all the binoculars are. Sang, of course, had his trusty camera out and was snapping away. He then put 500 won in the binoculars so I could look over into the village. This is when his amazing wealth of knowledge and history totally made my day.

He started telling me about how when he was in the special forces his job was a spy, or messenger, but really spy sounds so much cooler. He would take messages to North Korea and back. He said he had crossed the borders too many times to count. "Each time was life and death" he said. He had that job because his parents were from North Korea and so he was fluent in the North Korean dialect so he could pass fairly easily. I'm sure I lost him for a few minutes as he stared over into the North Korea because he kept shaking his head and saying how sad it was and how he hoped it wasn't reality. You could feel his despair over how North Koreans were treated. He told me about the industry that South Korea has in North Korea. They built factories just beyond one of the hills near the DMZ and use North Korean labor. It's part of a unification effort. I don't know how helpful it is going to be though. He wanted me to guess how much the workers got paid and I couldn't even begin to tell him. He said the average worker in the factory is paid sixty dollars a month. Sixty dollars. For one month. He then made the story even worse, yes it's possible, he said the South Korean government wanted to pay the employees directly but the North Korean government said no they would pay them the money South Korea just had to send it to them, so they did, and they later found out the government was only giving the employees 20%. Twenty percent of $60?? I don't even know what that is but it is beyond ridiculous. He didn't tell me what happened after and I don't really know if I want to know.

While we were looking out over the river that divides the two countries Sang pointed out how different the two landscapes are, the south side has a plethora of trees whereas the north side is pretty barren. He said right after the war there was a huge push among the civilians to replant all the trees. He said it was a lot of work, hard work, but it was worth it. They just kept telling themselves it was not for us but for all the next generations. It was for all the generations to come. He got emotional again when he looked at the barren landscape of the north and at all the propaganda skeleton buildings. Look closely and you cannot see any power lines. There are no power lines. That is what he told me and it is true. He kept repeating. They don't need those buildings. If the government wanted to help its people they wouldn't have built those building. They would have built farms. Oh how right you are Sang... how unfortunately right you are.

We walked around the hill a little bit and went inside the building set up with chairs and pictures. When we went back outside he pointed to a large stone with Chinese characters on it and said "this is her mountain" and told me the name written on it but I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. Anyways, you'll just have to be forever in the dark, sorry. Back to the story. He said around 600 years ago when the Chinese were invading a man and a woman were fleeing and they needed to cross the river. The man was captured but he yelled to his wife to keep going and he would meet her on the other side of the river. She made it safely across and waited for her husband to come find her. She waited day and night but he never came. Years later she died but she would always wait for her husband on the mountain so the people buried her there so she could keep waiting. They then named the mountain after her and put up a little shrine/memorial for her.

It was just a day full of heartbreaking stories that you wish had better endings. But, really, is there any other kind of story I like more? In case you are wondering- the answer is no.

It wasn't all depressing though. He was full of little jokes (my favorite being that his wife calls speed bumps 'sleeping policemen') and he kept pointing out all the great "honeymoon" spots I can go with my future husband. Yeah, in case you didn't know, Koreans are obsessed with getting married. If they find out you are not married they kind of make it their mission to find you a husband.

It was definitely a day to remember.

But then the weekend ended and I had to go back to work. Monday was not a good day. Let's just leave it with a few bullet points to some up the day.

~ My co-teacher was very tired and getting sick so she was very irritable.
~ Midterms are coming up and my managing teacher is a bit of a Nazi when it comes to the perfection level of the tests (case and point my poor co-teacher had to rewrite her last midterm four times).
~ It was Monday. Really, need I elaborate?
~ Communication barriers are really annoying when you co-teacher says one thing but really wanted you to do something completely different.
~ All the printers decided they were going to take a sick day.
~ There was a massive teaching competition (I'm assuming the point was recognition and money) so everyone was really stressed about that.
~ Open classes are starting. (Ok this one needs a bit more elaboration if you are unfamiliar with the concept. So open classes are when teachers literally have open classes. Parents, principals, members of the board of education, and other teachers from the same subject come into your classroom and watch you teach in order to gain insight, pointers, see how others teach, see what you are teaching the kids, how, how well the students are learning etc. It is crazy. The stress put on teachers to make a good impression is a lot. *side note* I was informed our open class will be next Tuesday. Yay...I'm so excited...)

So yeah... Monday sucked. Thankfully Tuesday wasn't too bad. Actually it was pretty good considering. But now I am finishing laundry and trying to load some videos off the internet before I head back upstairs. I cannot wait until I finally get Internet in my apartment! People on the outside may not see me for a few days when that happens... haha well.

Until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 02:21 Archived in South Korea Tagged church teaching dmz rant overwhelmed n.korea Comments (0)

To Teach English

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson


Alas the time always comes when vacations end and the job beckons you to return to the mundane and sometimes superfluous day in and day out. At least, that is what my jobs used to entail... I could do with a little mundane at the moment.

I have never fancied myself a real teacher in all my years of “teaching” experience. I “taught” DeCals at Berkeley (but really that was more like sitting around and talking about books with a few discussions and power points scattered around) and I can count on one hand how many times I actually taught the students anything while I was substitute teaching. I guess I did a small amount of teaching while I was editing papers, at least, I hope the people I edited papers for learned something from my plethora of comments. But nothing has quite prepared me for actually being a teacher and just how much work that entails. Kudos to all my past teachers in school and all my friends and family who are teachers now, I tip my hat to thee.

During all my research and looking into the prospect of teaching English abroad the past three years it seemed like all the first hand accounts said basically the same thing. My lesson plans come from a book. We play games. We sing songs. We have fun. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly sound like work to me. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the entire reason I am here is to teach these kids English, and my school pays me a lot and pays for a lot of things so I can understand the amount of work they want me to do. That does not change the fact I want to vent about it for a brief moment. I do a lot more work than I thought I would be doing. Schedules and types of teaching change from school to school here in Korea so no two foreign teachers really have the same type of schedule. In talking to other teachers though I find I have a lot more work (minus some people who work at the Hagwans). I work a normal 22 hours of classes each week. That is the standard full time schedule for foreign teachers. That is 22 classes a week of third through sixth graders and I have at least 8 hours of extra after school classes that I teach a week. So that brings the total up to 30 teaching hours a week. I also do not have lunches free because my school does a lunch buddy program so I sit and eat and talk with three to four students in English. That leaves 5 hours of “free” time during the week to do my lesson plans and prep for classes as well as get any kind of paperwork done or work around the classroom. Five hours to prep and plan for all those classes? Yeah... needless to say I do a lot of planning outside of school. Thankfully some of the classes are the same but they usually don’t happen on the same day or they need to be slightly different. My brain hurts from trying to keep the students learning and having fun at the same time.

I am sure all of you have known people or friends or bosses who were never satisfied? Well that is pretty much all principals or directors in Korea. You will get told time after time, play more games, make sure the kids are having fun and then when you add more games you will get told do more work, make sure the kids are learning. It makes you want to throw your hands up in the air and walk around banging your head into walls. A happy medium you will not find. At least I haven’t yet. I’m sure I will eventually but that medium sure is taking its sweet time to get here. And I’m running out of fun games to play. Mix it up, keep it fresh, I swear they want an entertainer not a teacher. But the kids have to be able to pass their exams too. Ay yi yi. No pressure, right? Wrong.

I really like most of my classes but I cannot get into a good swing with my phonics 1 and 2 classes. They are the classes who are really young and don’t take English in the normal week just as an after school class. They barely speak Korean let alone English. I can barely get through one activity just because the kids don’t understand me and I don’t understand them. People say use a lot of songs and hand motions and become a great actor. I have no acting skills. I am not an actor. I am a teacher. And it’s hard to get any outside help with songs and videos when I have a book I am supposed to be following and said book really doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. I had just about as much as I could handle today. I am going to have to really lower my bar for these classes because I cannot even do some of the activities in the book because the kids just don’t understand and I don’t know enough Korean to help them make the connection.

And just to make life more interesting my school is building a new English center and so we are moving all of our things into a not yet finished room with no Internet connection and only one functioning computer. That shouldn’t be too bad right? Wrong. Half our lessons have accompanying videos that play off the Internet... so that’s fun. And when there are two teachers and one is gone (like me for half of last week because of orientation) staying on top of where each class is and what they’ve done is really difficult. I had finally gotten into a good swing of things and then bam that was destroyed because I was gone at orientation.

Now if you are contemplating teaching English abroad I hope my ranting doesn’t discourage you. There are good days and bad days, good things and bad things, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times... you get the drift. I am having an incredible time and I wouldn’t trade it for anything but there are some aspects of this job that are tough, really tough. You just have to grin and bear it, albeit not always silently, as per this blog post. I love my students and my co-teacher is really great. I love living in Korea and meeting all the different people (native and foreign). I love finally learning about a side of my culture that I have never known before. And I even love my job- heavy workload and all.

I will regret the lack of sleep later but I am off to go enjoy of free concert in Seoul plaza listening to my new obsession PSY (and no it is not just because of Gangman Style) his other stuff is great too, especially his collaborations with other k-pop artists. Yay culture. (alright edit because I didn't get this posted last night like I wanted to. The concert was awesome, totally worth it, I will probably never attempt another concert here again, 80,000 people in a tiny little area all trying to push their way towards the stage... yeah... I have video and I will post later.)

Until the next time!s

Posted by cstravelsabroad 02:37 Archived in South Korea Tagged teaching rant overwhelmed psy kudos Comments (3)

Korean Style

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson


Chuseok! Also known as my first official holiday in Korea. Chuseok (추석) is the equivalent of our Thanksgiving and some Christmas combined. It is traditionally a time to celebrate the harvest and is a three-day long "holiday" where people give gifts to their family, friends, co-workers, etc. There is special food you eat, songpyeon (송편), it's basically a glutenous rice cake filled with sweet things (like honey, roasted chestnuts, sesame seeds, red bean paste) and it is delicious.

My holiday was pretty good. I spent the first day of vacation in Seoul shopping in Itaewon and Myeongdong, aka the foreign melting pot and the busiest shopping district in Seoul, it was definitely an experience. We didn't spend much time in Itaewon. KB had an appointment at a salon and we had lunch, walked around a bit and were thoroughly annoyed with the immature army guys everywhere. Seriously they were talking really loud and throwing out inappropriate words all over the place. I can see why the Korean people don't like the US military especially if that is the impression they get of it. Myeongdong doesn't cover that much ground but there are so many people... it was ridiculous having to fight people to get into stores and walk around outside just because no one has a sense of direction nor can they successfully walk without a ton of people trying to crowd into every open nook and cranny. But I had fun despite that. I was super tired after but it was worth the experience.

Next I went on an overnight trip with Hands Korea people. I am still not completely comfortable with the subway system in Seoul and I still do not own a cell phone that works so I had an interesting experience on my way to meet everyone at the bus depot. I was going fine except that I got confused during my transfer from one subway line to the next and wasted about 10 minutes going in the wrong direction, which made me late, which meant that the group got on the bus and left without me. I got to the bus station fifteen minutes after I was supposed to and I had no way of connecting to Internet so I could at least let people know via Facebook that I was on my way so I just decided to wing it. There were directions on my trip information sheet from Hands Korea just in case you were late and missed the group so I just purchased a ticket for the next bus going the right direction and hoped for the best. Thankfully, as fate would have it, another girl was late and she sat next to me on the bus going towards the town of destination. I would not have known she was going to the same place if it weren’t for the fact she was calling my recruiter and verifying she was on the right bus and the fact that I am an eavesdropper and couldn’t help but hear she was asking about the same place I was going. Yay for random strangers and winging it. There was major traffic so we were only about ten minutes behind everyone else.

We went to Pocheon/Ildong to a pension by a lake. Basically it's like a bed and breakfast, but instead of having rooms for rent in a house you rent full service rooms (kitchens, bathrooms etc) like a bed and breakfast meets a hotel... that’s a really bad description but it’s the only way I can think to describe it. There were quite a few people from all around that were also recruited by Hands Korea. It was nice to meet and talk to all the different individuals. There were various activities we could participate in: hiking around the lake, badminton, paddle boats, sitting and enjoying the beautiful views, relaxing, enjoying the moment, all sorts of things. I basically took in the view of the lake and the mountains while talking to different people. At one point a group of us went out on the lake in paddleboats in the shape of swan. That was very interesting. Have you ever tried chasing people and playing bumper-boats? I highly recommend it if you have not. If nothing else it’s a great workout. We had a massive barbecue and spent way too long out in front of a fire laughing and getting to know the locals. Sleep was not really part of the plan for the trip. It wasn’t long but it was totally worth it. The next morning we packed up and headed back into Seoul.

A small group of us stayed in Seoul to grab lunch but did not anticipate the lack of open places due to the holiday so it took us quite a while to find somewhere to eat. We finally found a little Vietnamese place and ate. I didn’t make it home until close to five so I was exhausted when I dragged my butt and suitcase back into my apartment. I grabbed a sandwich from the little cafe downstairs and watched TV via iTunes downloads for the rest of my night. Perfect ending to a very long weekend.

Even though Chuseok doesn’t last more than 3 days I had 5 days (including the weekend) off work because there is another national holiday the Wednesday after Chuseok so most places give you the sandwich day off as well (which was Tuesday) but even though I didn’t have to work but most businesses were open because it wasn’t technically a holiday so I was able to take care of some business. Most importantly was opening a bank account, finally, in Korea. Which means that I now have a way to pay for phone and Internet services! So as soon as I find someone who speaks Korean and will come into the shop with me I will set up my communication sources! No more having to trek all the way to the lobby or cafe to get the free wifi I find. I also went to Costco and bought a few things, like bread and cheese and lunch meat, the things that are really hard to find in a normal grocery store. I am so happy at the moment. It’s the little things haha.

My last day of vacation is not going to be very vacation-y because I have to do my lesson planning but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.

On a completely different note I am not sure if I said or went into detail about my introduction to Korean dramas at the GEPIK orientation but I am having way too much fun with it. I can buffer the videos completely and then watch them up in my apartment without having to have an Internet connection. It takes quite a few windows but is totally worth it.

And I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the song “Gangnam Style” that has become really popular lately, mostly for the way PSY dances, but it is everywhere in Korea right now. You can’t really go anywhere without hearing it once and I have witnessed first hand how doing the dance will you get you free stuff. I am not proud to say I have actually done the dance, at the orientation nonetheless, it was for a game, but still... it’s embarrassing. I have been hearing another song while out all the time and I fell in love with it but because it’s in Korean I had absolutely no idea who the artist was or what the song was called. I enlisted the k-pop expertise of KL but she was unable to find the song anywhere. I actually started to ask random people what the song was called everywhere I heard it. I meant business with this song. I was in a face soap store when I heard the song and I am pretty sure the girls working there had absolutely no idea what to think of me. I asked them to write down the song title but they either didn’t know or didn’t understand because what she wrote down was nothing like the song I am obsessed with at the moment. Bust. Walking down the street tonight I heard the song again coming from a cell phone store. I kind of freaked the workers out going over to ask what the song was called. Now I have been searching for this song for about two and a half weeks constantly hearing it but having no idea how to get it. Well I finally found it. Thankfully the guy working was using his iPod to play music and he told me what the song was! If I didn’t love PSY already for Gangnam Style I love him now because the song I was searching for is also by PSY. It’s weird because back home if a song by a certain person is really famous that is the only song you hear by the artist, at least they add a little variety here, even if it took me almost three weeks to discover the song.

One more day of vacation and then back to the grind... I am not really looking forward to having to wake up early again.

Until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 09:46 Archived in South Korea Tagged vacation adventure friends subway seasons chuseok Comments (2)

GEPIK Orientation

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson


I had a 3 day orientation with GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea) that I just got back from. I met a lot of different people and gladly a lot of people from my area. I am loving that I am starting to meet new people and actually hanging out with people after work and weekends rather than just sitting by myself like I was for the first few weeks. Not exactly the dream of experiencing new culture when you are mindlessly walking around an unknown city with absolutely no idea of what to do. But add friends and BAM everything changes.

I am experiencing more foods and more places as well as getting much needed advice and information on how things work. Like doctors and medication. I got a cold the second week I was here and the cough has just not gone away so I am going to break down and find an English speaking doctor here and hopefully he can give me some magic pill to make this stupid cough go away. Alas this is not the reason for this post. The reason for this post is ORIENTATION.

Yes. Four weeks into my stay in Korea I finally had an orientation for teaching English as a foreign native speaker. This totally would have been more helpful four weeks ago but I am super glad for the information now. It was three days of lectures ranging from how to use PowerPoint effectively in the classroom and effective co-teaching to Korean food and Tae Kwon Do lessons. The speakers were awesome, well, mostly awesome. They were all former or current GEPIK teachers and they are really good at public speaking. I was thoroughly entertained and I got a TON of useful information. Now I actually feel a lot more ready to teach than I did for the past month and I feel like my school and my students will greatly appreciate that.

Let's see... highlights of the trip. 1. I got hooked on Korean dramas. 2. I met a lot of awesome people. 3. I made Korean food with a New Zealand born Korean. 4. I met a lot of awesome people. 5. I learned about teaching finally! 6. I met a lot of awesome people. 7. I learned some Korean phrases. and 8. I met a lot of awesome people.

Clearly I'm missing human contact and speaking to people in English and having them understand everything I say! It's the small things that people take for granted...

Alright so this is a really small post but I don't really have anything else to add... OH WAIT!! I finally got my ARC today!!! DUHN DUH DUH DUHN!!! I CAN FINALLY GET A BANK ACCOUNT!!... which means.... INTERNET AND A PHONE!!! Yes. I will rejoin the ranks of the technologically non-impaired.

With that I shall leave you... until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 04:04 Archived in South Korea Tagged friends arc gepik Comments (0)

Field Trips and Festivals

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes


I had my first field trip experience Friday. It was definitely interesting. My co-teacher and I went with the fifth graders and we saw three tombs, one shrine, and we went to the Korean Unification Observation Tower. I think I was more interested than a lot of the students. I mean, honestly, they grew up with these things and this isn’t the first time they’ve gone and I am a tourist first and foremost while I’m here so I was fascinated. Even with the fact I couldn’t understand anything the tour guides were saying.

The first place we ventured to was the historical site 205, also known as, the royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. I don’t know anything about who was buried there or why the Joseon Dynasty was important (but that shall all be remedied soon because I bought a Korean history book) but I can say that the site was gorgeous. It was big and green and full of these beautiful trees and a lot of stony streams and brooks. I loved just walking around inside. There were hundreds of birds and you could hear them all making their nests and singing. My co-teacher commented that all the birds were very busy. I kept thinking how much the place reminded me of a Miyazaki movie. That made me happier than it should have I think.

The second burial site we visited was for General Yun Gwan. He was atop this huge hill and he had a very ornate gate around his hill. It was painted red because it was believed that ghosts were afraid of the color red so they wouldn’t venture out and the fact that he had such a large gate meant the site was holy. He also had two pillars that sat atop two turtles. Turtles are supposed to indicate a long life, I thought that a little ironic since they were in front of his tomb... We all climbed up these stairs and could see the top of the tomb and all the statues guarding it. I really really really wanted to roll down the hill. It looked like it would have been so much fun but I think it would have been frowned upon... yeah... not the best idea ever. So I refrained and did not insult everyone I was with and did not roll down the most wonderful looking hill. This hill was also home to hundred of dragonflies! So many everywhere it was pretty cool. As we were leaving this place a group of boys starts running down the sidewalk screaming “This is Sparta!!” It totally made my day and I laughed a lot.

We drove through a lot of Paju while on this field trip and passing through everything I am really glad that my school chose to house me in Ilsan. I will never complain about the bus ride again. It was a small small small town type place and it is rundown and no where near as nice and modern as Ilsan. Yes. I am very happy with where I live after driving around there all day. It was also a very interesting bus ride because the charter bus driver has been driving for 42 years and he has amassed quite the collection of DVD entertainment for all ages and all types of programming. We started off with a cartoon called “The Legend of Valhalla and Thor” in Korean, obviously, and then we watched Home Alone, dubbed in Korean, and then we watched some Korean drama about the Korean War. Definitely an eclectic movie watching experience.

We then went to another burial site, this one for a teacher named Yi I, he revolutionized a lot of the ways education worked in Korea, and him and his family were all buried at this place. It was really big and again on top of this huge hill. It was 75 steep steps not including the spacers and the climb up the hill. It at least made up for it with amazing views and really pretty trees. We ate lunch at this site and some of the parents made lunch for the teachers. I want to find out who these parents were and live with them just so I can eat at their house everyday. I don’t know what it was and I am kicking myself for not taking a picture but it was all delicious! It was so good that a lot of bees tried to steal it, which was not fun, but we managed to dissuade them with the tops of the containers. I also had fresh fruit for the first time in a long time (those grapes don’t count because there were gross) but I had oranges and kiwi and normal grapes! So good... and really generous because fruit is ridiculously expensive here.

We then made our way to a shrine for Hwang Hui and I discovered we were literally on the border of North and South Korea. A barbed wire fence and a river was all that was between the two places. I didn’t even realize it until my co-teacher came over as I was taking pictures and sitting on a bench while the kids were listening to their tour guide and she asked me “Do you know North Korea?” and I said of course and she then pointed across the river and said “that’s it.” I was a little shocked. I did not realize we were that close. It was definitely cool to say I’ve looked into North Korea though. She then pointed out the barbed wire fence and all the military guard posts. It kind of ruined the serene ambiance of the shrine after that.

Days like these are why this job is awesome. I got paid to tour a small part of the country and learn and see all these amazing things. Definitely exactly what I signed up for.

After our excursion at the shrine we headed to the Korean Unification Observation Tower. It was all about how the North and South are working together and also a history of the issues they have had with each other. There was a gift shop where you could buy things from North Korea and see typical homes or classrooms. We watched a video about life in North Korea and I didn’t have any idea what it was saying but I could tell it was brutal from the pictures. I couldn’t help but feel that something like that would not be allowed to be shown to children in the states unless the parents gave special permission. Afterwards one of my students came up to me and said “teacher, you watch movie?” And I said yes it was really sad and she just takes her hands and puts them on her head and said “it was terrible” as she walks off. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. My co-teacher said the title was something about how a mother sold her daughter for 100 won so they could buy food. That’s about 10 cents.

We went on top of the building and you could put 500 won in those big metal binoculars and look into North Korea. They had a map that pointed out certain things. Naturally I had to look so I popped in my coin and spied on the other side of the river. It was eerie. There were buildings and apartments and you could see how they tried to make it look like a city but there were absolutely no people and no cars and no movement. They put a dummy village up to make it seem like that is how life is in their Korea. I really hope they don’t think the people in the South are that stupid.

After that it was finally time to go back to school and head home. It was a great day but super tiring. I had plans to meet up with KL and KB after school and I was so ready to be done with work. We met up and KL and I got our hair done at this place called Juno Hair. I love Juno Hair. There should be songs and poems and odes to Juno Hair. This place is fantastic.

They greet you outside in this Zen like garden, sit you down in a chair and offer you tea or coffee. They introduce you to your stylist and then sit and talk about what you want done with your hair. Then they put a robe on you and walk you to get your hair washed. They sit you down and put a blanket on you then wash your hair. And it is not just a wash it is a massage of epic proportions. I was in heaven. We both got our hair permed (I know such weird thing but the weather here reeks havoc on my hair and I needed something that would make dealing with it easier). And it looks good in my opinion as does KL’s hair. It took a really long time but they were super nice and super helpful the entire time. You usually have at least two people working on your hair too. And during each wash they massage your head and neck. If I had the money I would have them do my hair everyday.
After that amazing experience we went and had dinner at this restaurant called Mad for Garlic. Garlic lovers paradise. Delicious but expensive so that probably won’t happen that often. At our next stop I got to experience Korean guys and their epic dancing. I love it. It is something you would not see in the state but I was so entertained by all these guys dancing and their crazy moves.

Saturday I went to Seoul with KL and KB again. We went to another part of town and walked a street fair/festival. I loved seeing all the different trinkets and eating all the different food. We were exhausted though so it wasn’t as amazing as it could have been. I did experience Kyobo though. Kyobo is Barnes and Noble on steroids. It is was Barnes and Noble could be if it also sold jewelry, electronics, clothes, accessories, amazingness. It was a huge bookstore that also sold all this other stuff. I bought a History book as well as a traditional Korean cookbook. But the highlight purchase was a “How to learn Korean” with a CD voiced by a famous actor in Korea. KL loves him and was not having it when there was only one English version and I had it, haha, she made a point of getting another one from one of the workers. She is also going to introduce me to her favorite K-Pop songs. I will be a true Korean in no time.

Next week is going to be amazing. I will be going to an orientation for most of next week and I am looking forward to it. It should be really helpful for work. So for three days I’ll be doing that, then I can finally get my ARC card and a bank account and internet and a phone! And then Thursday my school is having a sports day so I only have to teach one day next week! And then it is Chuseok so no school again! I am going to get spoiled with these upcoming weeks and then a full week is going to feel very long... ah well... such is life.

Until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 22:24 Archived in South Korea Tagged culture adventure teaching n.korea Comments (0)

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