Thursday, August 30, 2012

Learning Korean

Next week are the final exams for my Korean class at Sookmyung University (숙명여자대학교).   There are lots of places offering Korean classes in Seoul, some for free and some not.  I started in free classes here and in addition took classes on Saturday morning at a church on the east side of Seoul.  While the obvious FREE-part was pretty sweet, the downside was that teachers and students changed often and it felt like there was little continuation from week to week.  I decided to look into paying courses, and in the end, signed up for Sookmyung's Summer Evening Program because of the price (it is one of the cheapest university programs at 450,000 won).  The class meetings are 3x a week (MWF) and books are included in the price.  I lucked out and the teacher was fantastic.  Even though my level is still beginner (1.2), I feel much more confident about my Korean studies.

There are a lot of good reasons to study Korean if you're a foreign teacher in Korea (even though many decide not to), but besides the obvious ones,  I have to say studying Korean has given me a much greater appreciation for my students and my co-teachers.  The two languages are SO different! When learning a Germanic or Romance language, there are a lot of similarities to build off of, but with Asian languages, you literally are starting from scratch again. As an English speaker, learning Korean is an option, but for Koreans, the pressure to learn English is intense and constantly there.  

Again, there are lots of options, so if you don't want to pay for classes, there are courses for free at lots of locations throughout Seoul (this link lists many of them) , and if you're not in Seoul or don't want to attend regular classes, there is also the online option.  Yonsei offers an online course for 100,000 won per level and of course, there is always the ever-popular Talk to Me in Korean website.

행운을 빌어요!

"I am learning Korean!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

태풍 볼라벤

Typhoon Bolaven is making its way up the coast to Seoul.

Supposedly the size of France to Poland in land mass--the typhoon is scheduled to hit Seoul tonight and tomorrow morning.  School is cancelled--for the kids--but teachers have to come in.  Not sure the logic behind that decision, but in any case, my commute is only a short walk.  I hope for the teachers who have to drive or take the bus that they make it in safely.  

Weather forecasters predict it to be the worst storm to hit Seoul since 1965--but you'd never guess it from the weather this morning;  totally blue, cloudless skies.  Guess we'll see how bad this really is tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Day two of desk warming*.

It's hard being back but even harder being back to do nothing.  I've tried the best I can to come up with ideas and things for upcoming classes, but there is only so much you can prepare for.  (I had two days of deskwarming on Monday and Tuesday as well, before the semester even started).  I've studied Korean, tried reading, writing a bit, but there's a limit to that too.


Tomorrow will likely be the last day of this until the end of this semester, so I guess enjoy it while it lasts.

* * *

*Desk warming is the term coined by foreign teachers in Korean public schools who sit at their desks for hours upon hours (sometimes entire work days) without classes to teach or prepare for. Their only function is  keeping their desk warm.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Round 2: Back to School

Today begins the winter semester for the Korean elementary school kiddies.  Half the school year is behind us and the next half is now officially under way.  It's raining today--although the kids don't seem to mind,  and honestly, I'm just relieved the weather is finally cooling down. 

It is also six months today since I landed in Korea.  Six months of experiences and six more still to experience.  My best advice for all future EPIKers out there, whatever expectations/worries you have, try hard to rid yourself of them.  Then when you think you're expectation-less, do it one more time.  Korea will not be how you picture it, the good parts nor the not-so-good parts.

A little tiny part of me was dreading back to school because vacation and the last couple of weeks have been so nice, so relaxing.  But as a wise person once told me, fear and worry is always a result of thinking about something in the future. When the moment comes, those fears and worries are gone.  And it's true--as I'm sitting here at my desk, co-teachers across from me, students running in the halls--that dread is gone.   Second semester will be as the first, happening one day at a time.

There seem to be no English classes today or, I've heard, for the rest of the week.  So next week will be full force back to the grind.  As for now I'll just sit here and enjoy the cool breeze coming through the windows and get myself ready for round two. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Drinking Coffee in Seoul

Seoul has got a crazy cafe scene. In addition to the chain cafes and the mom and pop shops found just about everywhere, there are loads of theme cafes like dog and cat cafes, cafes with sheep, cafes with birds flying around, Hello Kitty or Charlie Brown themed cafes and the list goes on and on.  If you're looking for unique places to sip your coffee, Hongdae Three Hundred has reviewed loads of places in the Hongik University area.    

During our vacation, we hit up Tom's Cat Cafe in Hongdae and the Board Game Cafe in Gangnam.  Both relatively 'easy' to find once you know where they are, but seem like you're searching for a needle in a haystack when you're wandering around with instructions like "its not far from the station", as so many kind bloggers have posted. Some photos for your viewing pleasure along with my attempt at directions, but my best advice to you is to just call 1330, Seoul's 24 hour (English) Tourist Information Hotline when you're not sure.  They are so helpful!

Tom's Cat Cafe, Hongdae

He was my absolute favorite one!

As the pictures suggest, you drink coffee, pet cats and take pictures.  I'm not much of a cat person, but for the experience I would suggest it at least once for anyone looking to change it up a bit from their regular cafe scene.  For Tom's Cat Cafe, take exit 9 at Hongik University... and... actually, I forget exactly, but you need to find the Lush and turn left there.  It's directly across from the Artbox, on the 3rd floor.   You order a drink and admission is included in the price.  I had the Red Velvet Latte for 8,000 won--it was really good!

The Board Game Cafe, Gangnam

We were disappointed to find out the board game cafe we were looking for in Hongdae had been closed for over a year, so we headed to Gangnam station where we heard there were lots.  1330 gave us instructions to this place, as it was the closest one to the station.  To get to The Board Game Cafe (the sign is in Hangeul) take exit 11 and walk straight until you see the Lotte Cinema.  Turn right and walk one block.  Turn right again, and you'll see it on the 3rd floor of the Mini-Stop building.  You pay 3,000 won per person per hour plus drinks, for two people we paid 16,000 won for an hour of playing various games (Jenga, Battleship and a German game called Geister).  Normally, the people working there explain the rules of the games, but our attendants that day didn't seem too confident in explaining the rules to us in English, so she asked us to pick a game we already knew.  Geister had instructions in German and English, so we could figure it out on our own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Morning, Seoul!

Sunrise over Seoul at Gaewah Mountain

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gwangju, Joa & Damyang

Day two of our trip took us to Gwangju where we met with my awesome friend and colleague who drove us to try some good food and to explore some of the more picturesque areas of the region.  

산재 비빔밥 or mountain vegetables bibimbap!  It was delicious!

It's kind of like a DIY type meal, you choose the veg and fill your plate.
This is DH's before he mixed it all together.

At the Eco Lake Park.

Korea is just full of mountains.  They are everywhere!  This park was huge and really beautiful, but it was just too hot to be outdoors.

In Damyang, at the bamboo forest.  Bamboo is really hard to photograph well, but you can get an idea of the size here.  Lucky for us bamboo plants, like most trees are really good insulators from the heat.  It was much cooler inside the forest.

Our gracious and beautiful host, baby bump, DH and me at the falls.
 We spent the whole day there before taking the bus back to Seoul around 7:30pm.  We were a little worried that we wouldn't make the last Subway to get us back to Banghwa once we arrived in Seoul, but everything worked out fine.  Destination Jeolla Province was a success, even without extensive planning.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Travel in Korea and Green Tea

So vacation 2012 has finally arrived and week one was fantastic.  We spent some time meeting with friends and exploring Seoul and yesterday evening, DH and I arrived back from a weekend in Jeolla province.  The weather was gorgeous and we even had plenty of cool breezes to boot.   시원하다!!!  

First stop on the list, 보성/Boseong. Famous for one thing and one thing only: green tea.  Trekking down from Seoul was a bit of a journey, but was worth the trip.

I like having a good idea of where I'm going and where I'm staying before heading out the door, but when trying to figure out this trip to Jeolla, it was quite the challenge finding recent detailed information from previous travelers in English.  I found myself getting frustrated because I couldn't find bus information, I couldn't find information about rooms and even after asking two different tourist information centers in Seoul, they didn't know anything about the Express bus to Boseong that I'd read about online. (1330 confirmed this fact for me, and the two express buses to Boseong leave Seoul Express Bus Terminal at 8:10 and 3:10 every day.) So in the end, we decided to just go and take it as part of the adventure. Korea isn't the kind of country that 'does planning' and reservations are not common for buses, nor for motels.  That bit of unknown is part of travel in Korea.

We arrived at the bus terminal in Seoul at around 7:00am on Saturday morning, hoping to get tickets for the express bus to Boseong, but the bus was already filled up.  Instead we had to take a bus to Gwangju and make a transfer. The buses in Seoul to other larger metropolitan areas literally run in five minute intervals.  We had bought our tickets and like most people would do, headed to the platform five minutes earlier.  When we got there, there was a bus standing there so we got on thinking it was ours, but the driver shooed us off again after checking our tickets.  We were supposed to be on the 7:40, not the 7:35.

For those who might be intimidated travelling by bus through Korea, it is super convenient.  The seats are enormous with a reclining seat and foot rest that comes out, and you are guaranteed a seat when you book a ticket (unlike local buses).  No reservations are necessary because the buses leave often, so you can just show up and you're bound to get on one within 30 minutes.  Also economical too: a single ticket from Seoul to Gwangju was 25,000 won (about $25) and then the ticket to Boseong was another 6,000-7,500 depending on if you take the direct bus or the bus with stops in between.  So just a little over 30,000 won to get from Seoul to the southern most part of Korea.   

We arrived here, at a rundown old bus terminal around 1:00pm and decided to grab a taxi to the fields instead of waiting for the public local bus.  Bus tickets run around 1,100 won, our taxi cost around 8,000 --but was direct and comfortable.   10-15 minutes later, we arrived at the fields.  We spent a good five hours there enjoying the colors, the nature, the green tea (! green tea ice cream, lattes, noodles galore!) and the beautiful weather.  

We also had our first glimpse of a bamboo forest.  It left quite an impression on us both.  Bamboo stalks are SO HUGE!!

As dusk began to set, we decided to slowly make our way back to the motel.  We ended up getting a room in Boseong at the Boseong Tourist Motel.  It was clean, easy to find and kept our afternoon stress-free since we didn't have to worry about going to Yulpo or back to Gwangju and finding a place.  I definitely recommend it to foreign travelers.  It cost us 50,000 won for a room, although it was a Saturday/high season, so if you go during the week, you'll probably get a room for less.  It's a five minute walk from the station and you can see it easily as it's the tallest building in lil' ol' Boseong.  Again, they don't take reservations, but when you arrive at the terminal, just go over and get a room before the crowds come later in the evening.

Korea is really a very beautiful place once you start getting outside of Seoul and into the countryside.  And I would definitely recommend Boseong to the nature-lover/green tea fanatic and for anyone who wants to see something a little bit different.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A new perspective on Seoul

This past Saturday began my unofficial vacation from school.  I say unofficial because although classes are finished for the semester, I still have two more days of school/deskwarming before my real vacation starts on Wednesday.  Nevertheless, I was super excited when school let out last Friday.  

To start off my summer holidays, DH and I decided to trek up Bukhansan, the "mountain north of the Han River".  The mountain is visible from many a districts in Seoul and is considered a pretty important landmark of the city.  Despite the 36 C (96.8 F) degrees weather at 66% humidity, we hit the trails at around 7:30am and managed to reach the top by around 10:30, with generous breaks.

There are a lot of good blogs out there with information about hiking up to Jaunbong (the peak of Bukhansan) like this onethis one or even this one.  If you want more specifics, those would be good places to look.  There doesn't seem much sense in repeating what is out there dozens and dozens of times already, but what I would add is that our experience differed from those previous hikers/bloggers due mostly to the time period we chose to hike it.  The insane Korean summers seem to keep hikers to a low so the climb up was relatively empty.

While the temperature was high, we found the hike totally manageable for two reasons 1) we started early (7:30) (we left Bangwha at 5:30) and 2) the mountain trail is almost entirely shaded by trees.  Ironically, the heat became unbearable only when we had to walk from the foot of the mountain through the city back to the subway station.

Overall an amazing hike with incredible views of the city and its surrounding area.  It is an experience I definitely recommend to all Seoul-dwellers who have the time to get there.

At Dongbongsan Station around 7am, our 'we're ready to take on this mountain' picture.

A view from the bottom.

About 2/3 up the mountain, an amazing viewing point where lots of hikers could rest and take in the sights of Seoul and the surrounding mountains. 

Our sights on the goal, Jaunbong peak.
Towards the end, we were climbing pretty steep inclines, we were literally climbing with our hands to keep our balance.

Heed the warnings of the bears.  Signs like these told us what to look out for.
You can't tell from this picture, but the only way to reach the peak is to pull yourself up on railings and ropes.  There are no stairs there and the incline was steeper than it appears.

But the view was worth it,  Seoul from the top.
A proud David with an incredible backdrop.

Who would have guessed that this is still Seoul?
Proof we made it !

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What two days can bring...

Last Friday, DH and I turned in the petition at the US Embassy here in Seoul.  When we did, we were told it would be about a month until we hear the results of that petition.  Well, two (business) days later and Tuesday evening, DH already had an e-mail in his inbox with Packet 3 information.  The petition was accepted and now he can start planning for the Interview!  Talk about efficient.  Even though we don't want things to move too fast, (otherwise his visa could expire before my contract in Korea is up) we both agree that we're off to a good start.

Two days is also the amount of time it took for our baby basil to sprout from the ground.  DH and I have started our own little indoor garden here and after our spring onion's took off, we tried something new.  From what we'd read on the internet, the plant should have taken about 8-9 days to sprout, but we got the little greens already poking through after 48 hours!  Something about Korea seems to get things done.

The basil is coming! The basil is coming!
And what's more, is that in two more days... in two more glorious days, my summer camps will be finished!!!!! Next week I have two days of deskwarming and then, my vacation will finally begin!  Oh, summer, how I've been waiting for you!

Two days. Two more days.