Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Korea the keyless country

I am absolutely loving the fact that I don't have keys for my apartment. I think it's a fairly standard practice in Korea (although I could be wrong)but instead of having locks on your door you have a special security box with a code. So on the outside door to my building there is a secret little box attached to the door. I lift up the flap and it lights up to reveal a keypad on which I type in the secret code. It then makes some funky noise and the door unlocks. When I go upstairs to my apartment I have a similar keypad on my door and I have to type in another secret code. It's so much fun that I sometimes leave my apartment for a few minutes just so that I can come back and play with it. I never have to worry about losing my keys but I better not forget that code!!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Taxi's, Friend or foe

So... I have come to the conclusion that I shouldn't rely on taxi's as a means of transportation in this city. Although they are cheap, they are scary and unreliable. Not only do the drivers watch TV, while zipping in and out of crazy Korean traffic, but they won't always take you to the right destination.

Yesterday I set out determined to go to Homeplus (a giant department store). I walk from my house up to the main street, take a deep breath and flag down a taxi. I get to Homeplus no prolems and I think this is easy. Coming home with all my purchases I hand the driver the piece of paper my co teacher gave me with my address on it. Off we go. Suddenly the driver starts gesturing to me asking which way to turn. I shake my head because I have no idea. Next thing I know he pulls over and tells me to get out. I'm left standing on the side of the road with all my packages and no clue where I am. After a brief moment of panic I flag another taxi, he types my address in his GPS and takes me home - a mere 2 blocks away.

Last night I meet up with some friends and this time I write my street name on this paper thinking that might help. Once again the driver starts gesturing to me and again I shake my head. Suddenly he starts driving up and down these back alleys asking if I live here. I try to explain that I have been here 1 day and don't know where I live. Finally we get to a busy intersection so I tell him to let me out - it's obvious he doesn't know where to go and he's not going to turn off his tv to use his GPS. I flag down another taxi who uses her GPS and gets me home.

Today I am going to learn the bus routes.

Hong Do Dong, my home away from home

Finally ... I am in Daejeon.

I arrived yesterday after a 2 hour bus ride from Seongnam. All the Daejeon teachers rode together on two buses, everyone dressed to the nines, afterall first impressions count and we were about to meet our co-teachers for the first time. We were taken to the Daejeon Expo site where we were all paraded into this big auditorium filled with our co teachers. Then one by one they called our names and our co teachers came over to meet us.

My co teacher is a woman named Jo Ji-Yeon. Her job is to help me with any problems I have in Korea, helping me set up my apartment, telephone as well as be my liason with the other teachers who I will be working with at the school. Ji-Yeon (as I am to call her) was very nice but quiet and I had trouble understanding what she said sometimes. By the end of the day she was a little more relaxed and easier to understand though. After we gathered my luggage, which we somehow managed to cram into the back of her Smartcar she drove me to my school Wadong Elementary. It's an older school but I liked it and she showed me the new "Wadong English Village" Basically it's just a classroom devoted to teaching english and it's full of english books, posters etc. It was obvious they had put alot of time into it. I was introduced to some of the other teachers and the principal and vice-principal. They were all very friendly and welcoming.

After leaving the school we went to a store called HomePlus. It's a huge, multi leveled store with everything from food, to clothing to electronics. We picked up a few items for my apartment along with some food and then we went to my new home. At my apartment building we were met by Mr. Kim who is another teacher at my school and who was responsible for setting up my apartment. Ji- Yeon told me that it's very difficult to find housing in Daejeon right now, other people were told that by their teachers as well, but they found me a room in the University area. My place is very tiny, more like a dorm room but I like it. When you walk in the door there's a little kitchen with one burner, sink and cupboards. Off the kitchen is a tiny bathroom and then through the sliding doors is my bedroom / living quarters. Basically it's one room with my bed, desk, washing machine, fridge, closet etc. It's not big, but everything is clean and it's brand new. They had obviously put a lot of effort into making it nice for me and they seemed very concerned that I like it. Mr. Kim was especially proud of the pink and purple bedspread he had bought to match the wallpaper. They also bought me a new rice cooker - which is sweet. I haven't used it yet but I plan to soon. All the furniture including the washing machine, fridge and tv still had packing tape on them. As well the room comes with free internet so that's a bonus. After talking to some of the other teachers it seems their places are similar.

The neighbourhood I am in is called Hong Do Dong and so far it looks great. I am on a side alley so it's quiet but if I walk 2 minutes up the road I come out onto a main street filled with coffee shops, stores, resturants etc. It's all very handy and fortunatly taxi's are cheap and abundant here so I can easily go to other parts of Daejeon. The only downfall is that my school is in a different neighbourhood so I have to take a bus to work. It's supposed to be only a 15min bus ride so that's not bad and this way I'll be forced to learn the bus system rather than rely on taxi's all the time.

Tonight I am meeting with all the other Daejeon teachers so that we can compare notes and see who lives near who.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

EPIK Orientation Part 2 - SOJU

I am more than half way through my orientation and in 2 short days I will be travelling to the city that will be my home for the next year. Yesterday I was given the names and brief synopsis on the schools where I will be teaching - yes I said schools. It turns out that I will be teaching in 2 elementary schools (grades 1 - 6). I will be teaching at Wadong Elementary School and Hoedeok Elementary School. I am hoping that they aren't too far apart, although I will probably spend 3 days a week at one and 2 days at another, so the distance won't matter. They are both smaller schools, each with a student body of about 600 so hopefully that will mean smaller class sizes. They seem to be located on the outskirts of Daejeon city, which means I will probably be living on the edge of the city. This will be much nicer than being right in the middle of the hustle of a busy city and the city center will only be a bus ride away.

Last night a group of us Daejeonites all went out to celebrate our postings. We had a lot to celebrate as we were given our schools 3 days earlier than the teachers going to other cities - and we couldn't help but rub it in. We went to a local bar where I had a chance to try SOJU. Soju is a korean drink, similar to vodka, only stronger. It tastes a little like paint thinner and Korean's drink it in copious amounts. It's very strong and rather dangerous . I only did one shot and then sat back and watched my fellow teachers get very drunk. It was great fun and a chance for all of us to bond. Later a group headed to Norabang (Korean kareoke bar). Korean people love kareoke and there are kareoke bars everywhere.

Today at dinner a group of us decided that we had hit a "rice wall" meaning that we needed something familiar from home. Basically we were all sick of eating rice and kimchi for every meal and craved something more familiar, so we went up the road to Pizza Do. I have to say, it was the best pizza that I have ever tasted but it could have tasted like cardboard and I would have still have loved it (it wasn't rice). I have been practicing using my chopsticks and am getting much better (I only drop half my food now).

One more day of lectures and then it is off to Daejeon!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Korean Folk Museum

EPIK Orientation - Field Trip

Today EPIK origanized a field trip - a chance to get away from the campus and see some of Korea. It was an exhausting but marvelous day. First we drove by bus to Yong-in City (about 1 hour away) to visit the Korean Folk Village. Basically it was a museum with replica houses depicting how Korean's lived in the past. It was very interesting and it felt great to be out in the fresh air. As well as having replica houses they also had stands selling various types of Korean foods and trinkets. All you could smell in the air was fresh wood burning and spices simmering in the teas they were making. At the center of the village they had a sqaure where Korean dancers performed and a man wowed the audience on the tight rope.

After a great lunch we travelled on to the city of Icheon, to the ceramic village, where we were given a presentation on Korean ceramics. We were then taken to a workshop where we got to paint our own ceramics (either a plate or a cup). We were shown how to make a design and how to mix the paints properly. I choose to paint a plate and I am anxious to see how it turned out.

We also visited the Woljeon Museum of Art which was located on the same property as the ceramic center. This was an art museum that was built as memorial to Wolijeon Chang Woo-Soung, who was renowned Korean painter. The museum housed his art along with his collection of other artists that he donated upon his death.

The best part of the day, however, was the dinner. We were taken to a restaurant in Icheon called Taepyeong sungdae Restaaurant, where we got to try authentic Korean food. This restaurtant is renowned for it's rice and we were each given a steaming bowl of white rice. Then there were about 25 different side dishes that you can pick and choose from to mix in with the rice. The dishes range from types of fish, meats, vegetables, spices and sauces. It was unbelievably delicious. Along with the dinner we were given an ample supply of rice wine, which was also very good.

It was an exhausting but fun day!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


So after a slightly anxious journey I have arrived in Korea. My flights went with only a few minor glitches. I had some anxious moments at Toronto Pearson when they were weighing my luggage. I packed and repacked numerous times trying to keep my two bags under the 50lb limit and when I placed them on the airport scales they were were both 49.8 (I just squeaked by) and managed to avoid the $50 penalty.

I had some frustrating moments at LAX when I couldn't find the Korean Airlines check in counter (turns out I was in the wrong terminal). The travel agent that I used failed to book my flights properly so they were unable to check me in for the second part of my flight in Toronto. My luggage went directly through to Korea but for some reason when I arrived in Los Angelas I had to leave the arrivals area go back to departures and recheck in - meaning I also had to go back through security. I teamed up with another girl looking for the same place and we spent half an hour running around the airport until we found it. All ended well though and I made my flight with lots of time to spare.

The flight between LA and Korea was 13 hours and felt like 24. Fortunatly the seat beside me was empty so I was able to stretch out and get some sleep. The food they served was interesting. For dinner it was a Korean rice dish and they gave you a pamphlet telling you how to prepare it. Bascially it was steamed rice which you put over some vegetables, then you mix in this tube of spicy paste and some seaseme oil. It was good but different. For breakfast they gave us green tea porridge ( a rice porridge dish that you mix with a package of green tea leaves). It wasn't as good and actually tasted kind of fishy. I waited and grabbed a muffin when I got into the airport.

I arrived in Seoul at 6am and already there were about 20 other teachers waiting for the EPIK desk to open to register for the bus. Within about half an hour they came to check us on and we boarded a bus for Eulgi University and our orientation. The drive to the University took about 2 hours and all you could hear were excited voices asking where people came from and what city they were teaching in. When we arrived at the University it was chaos with everyone trying to get room assignments, name tags etc but it was organized well and in a few short moments I had my key in hand, dragging all my suitcases and the bag of goodies they had given me up to my dorm room. My roomate arrived at the same time, another Canadian, and we dropped our bags, brushed our teeth and headed out to explore.

The University we are at is situated right in the center of Seongnam City so it was a short walk from the campus to all the stores. We wandered around the streets where there seemed to be a 7 Eleven on every corner and every other business was a restaurant. After buying some water and other goodies we headed back to the campus for lunch. I had my first taste of Kimchi (a cabbage dish served with every meal in Korea). It was ok but very spicy. Apparently it grows on you.

So far things are going good and I have already met some wonderful people. I will keep you posted as the orientation starts tomorrow.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Well ... this is it! Am I ready?

Hello friends, family and random strangers who stumbled upon my blog. I created this blog as a venue to record my adventures and to share my experiences with all of you.

With much excitement and some trepidation I will be heading to South Korea to teach for a year. I leave in exactly 12 days and I can hardly believe it's so soon. The last few months have been a whirlwind with people to see, things to buy and visas and flights to arrange. Just today I went down to the Korean Consulate in Toronto to pick up my passport with my E2 visa, so now I can officially work in Korea.

I will be leaving Canada on February 16, flying American Airlines to Los Angelas and then Korean Airlines on to Korea. I was supposed to be flying direct but my flight was cancelled so I had no choice but to take this route. At least it's cheaper. I'll be arriving at Incheon airport at 6am and then, after all the rigmarole of customs, I will be boarding a shuttle bus to Eulgi University in Seongnam for a 10 day orientation. After 10 days I will boarding yet another bus and I will head to a final stop at my new home in the city of Daejeon.

I can't help but wonder what will happen. Will I like my apartment? Will I get on with my co-teachers and like my school? I guess I'll find out soon and promise to let you know in future blogs.