Last morning in the Land of the Morning Calm

Monday, February 27th, 2012

It only seems appropriate to make one final post from inside Korea. What better time than the morning I leave? I’ve said my goodbyes, closed my accounts, drank plenty of Soju and Maekju and Makgeolli and packed my bags!

In a few short hours I fly to Beijing and start Phase One of my super ultra mega giga plan. I’m really sad to leave Korea. Working here for one year is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (which is an easy accomplishment in a life where my previous best decision was NOT to drink that ‘one more beer’). I can easily see why people spend years and years here. Unfortunately I am being called home, not only by a job and further education opportunities but by my friends and family who I miss considerably after one year and 10 days abroad.

Right now I’m looking ahead to my adventure around the world, and getting pretty darn excited too! Watch for more blog posts from Beijing then Siberia!

Thats all for my final post in Korea!

It’s been good!

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Arrival + 372

February 24th, 2012

The other day I was looking at some of my past entries (mostly the ones from the start of the year) to remind myself of how I felt and what I thought while I first got settled in Korea. Now that I am leaving in three days I thought it was time to write a departure preparation blog to close out the year in Korea.

I leave Korea on Monday morning (it is now Friday morning). I’m getting pretty nervous about my travels, but my nervousness is outweighed by my excitment. Looking back at my Arrival + 6 entry from February 23rd, 2011 (One year ago yesterday) I see that time had seemed to slow down for me in the first few days following my arrival. I couldn’t believe I had only been here for 6 days as it seemed much longer. These days I find that time also seems to be slowing down as I savor every moment left to me in Korea.

Another similarity is how one year ago today I was in the process of connecting myself to Korean society. I was opening accounts, trying to get a cellphone, trying to get internet access. These days I’m spending my time unhooking myself from Korean society. Two days ago I closed my Korean bank accounts and set up one remittance account that will forward all my funds to Canada. Today I am going to cancel my cell phone. I’m spending every night having goodbye dinners with friends of mine – which has been greatly entertaining but not so good for my liver. I also mailed home a box of clothes and sports equipment (stuff that I don’t need on my super mega giga ultra plan).

I can’t deny that unplugging myself from Korea makes me feel a little sad. This is truly a great country and an amazing place to live. A couple of friends who read my last post said I came across as pretty Korea=Awesome Canada=Sucks. That wasn’t my intention, in fact if I hadn’t been in a caffeine addled good humor I could just as easily have written a post on things I will not miss about Korea, and that list would be too long for one blog entry. That doesn’t change the fact that Korea is an awesome place to live (at least for one year) and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Leaving Korea is also making me think about the future of this blog. I’m certainly not going to stop writing when I leave Korea, afterall you need to hear all about the exciting around the world adventure that will take place in the next month or so. But when I return to Canadian life I think I will have to finish the blog and call it quits. I have greatly enjoyed writing this thing – even those times I wasn’t in a writing mood and produced massive yawners. I just can’t see any reason (other than guilt) that my friends and family would want to read about my day to day life in Canada. Plus for about 2 months after I get home I am going to drown myself in so much Playstation 3 and Lays Salt and Vinegar chips (two of the things I miss the most about Canadian life) that I really can’t imagine you getting any entertainment out of reading about it. Unless you are into reading about how my level 27 warrior elf lost a fight against a pack of violent mudcrabs because my fingers were too slick from all the Salt and Vinegar oil to operate the controller. If that does sound appealing to you you should seek help, and I’ll thank you to stay away from me and my family.

Well that is all for now. There is a good chance that this will be the final post from in Korea (I’m still here for three days, but I might be shipping my computer home tomorrow and will then be more or less internet-less). I will try to write an update from Beijing before I hop aboard the ‘Train of Destiny’ as I have taken to calling it. If you don’t hear from me in Beijing don’t be afraid – I’m probably still alive. Definitely look for an update on or around March 2nd which will cover (hopefully) all the amazingly exciting things that happened on my 3 day train journey.

That’s all for now!

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8 Things I will miss about Korea

Thursday, February 16th, 2012.

Since I am leaving in 11 days, I thought this would be a good time to write a post on the things I will miss about Korea.

I’ve lived in this beautiful country for 364 days. In that amount of time I have made my way through the major stages of culture shock and have emerged out the other end. Even though I am still linguistically and culturally isolated, I have been able to observe and experience many things in Korea that simply will not be there in Canada. Some of these things I will happily leave behind me (Ajummas and Ajushis that bump into me on the sidewalks and those damn scooters can kiss my ass), but others I fear I will miss sorely. So without further ado here are some of the things I will miss about Korea, and possible solutions I can use in Canada to get over this sense of loss:

Numer One: Kimchi

Kimchi is a staple of the Korean diet. It is made by mixing cabbage leaves, red pepper paste, fish paste/oil and other spices and fermenting it in jars. The result is a delicious cabbagey goop that looks extremely unappatizing (unless you’ve eaten alot of it). When I first came to Korea I didn’t like kimchi very much, but I knew how important it was culturally (and that it would likely be a side dish on every meal I would ever eat in this country) so every mealtime I forced myself to eat one or two pieces. After a week or so I was totally hooked.

How I will rectify the situation in Canada:

Kimchi is a tough one because it is wicked hard to make (I rarely cook myself mashed potatoes because they take roughly 20 minutes longer than rice – so can you imagine me fermenting something?!). My only solution will be to head to a Korean restaurant ever few weeks/months, or as my addiction demands.

Number Two: The weather

The weather in Busan has been nothing short of amazing. The summer (from my Canadian perspective) has lasted roughly 9 of the 12 months I’ve been here. March was 10-15 degree days, April was even better and by May Busan was already experiencing what I would call summer. That lasted until about mid-november, when the temperature finally started routinely dropping below 20 degrees. Even in the dead of winter, on some of the coldest days of the year it was only minus 5 degrees or so.

How I will rectify the situation in Canada:

I won’t. Canada is a desolate wasteland of ice and misery 7 months of the year. There is nothing I can do about that except retreat into a shell of my summer time self and whittle away the hours with video games and quiet tears.

Number Three: Small children in my neighborhood recognizing me.

I live very close to my school, so wherever I go in my neighborhood it is not uncommon for young children to recognize me. Hearing a child yell out: Oh! Tom! Tom teacher! As I walk to my local liquor shop is a heart warming experience. I have to admit, it feels good to turn and wave and give them a “Hi There!” or “Hi! How are you?” Usually they beam with happiness and if their parents are with them they usually excitedly turn to explain that I’m their English teacher and that I like them best of all. Just today as I walked home from school (for the last time, sniffle) a little boy getting out of a car near a convenience store spotted me and gave an enthusiastic “Hi Tom teacher!”

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Unfortunately in Canada there are not many ways to make small children in your neighborhood recognize you, and even fewer ways that don’t involve prison sentences. Actually I think this is one aspect of Korean life that I will have to let go of – even if I do become a teacher in Canada; living in the same neighborhood as any of my students is like an invitation to have my house egged. Korean kids are all smiles and pride, Canadian kids are pure evil and malice.

Number Four: High Speed Internet

You may think to yourself: “He’s going to miss high speed internet? Why, will he not just get it here? I have ‘Roger’s High Speed DSL’ and it works just fine.” Well…. I’m sorry to bust your bubble, but when Rogers or Bell claims to offer high speed internet that is a blatant lie. You have never known fast until you know Korea fast. Let me give you an example: One day my friend Ryan (living in Canada) and I were chatting on facebook. I asked him what his plans for the day were. He said he was going to start downloading an episode of his favorite tv show, hit the gym, grab a shower and then make supper. He was hoping by the time his supper was ready his show would be downloaded and he could watch and eat. Well, that show sounded pretty cool to me (though I had never seen it). I decided to download the entire first season. My Korean internet finished downloading all 24 episodes of the season within the hour. My friend had about a four hour wait for ONE episode. That’s Korean Fast.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I actually have two good ideas about how I can take care of the slow internet problem in Canada. The first is that I can pay $150 a month for the fastest possible internet you can get in Canada (it would probably be a little over half as fast as my free internet here). The other option I’m considering is running head first into a brick wall hard enough that I forget all about living in Korea. If I don’t know what I’m missing, how can I miss it, right? Ignorance is bliss sorta thing?

Number Five: Cheap food and beer

In Korea, as I’ve mentioned many times before, food is extremely cheap. If I feel extravagant I will go out to a nice, pricey restaurant and expect to pay about $20 per person. In Canada, $20 per person, even at the cheapest restaurant, will barely buy you a salad and beer. I can walk 7 mins from my apartment and have a delicious, healthy meal that will fill me up for $4.50. I rarely pay more than 10 dollars a meal while eating out. I can go to a bar stone cold sober and drink all night and still only wake up with a $40 bar tab (I know guys in Canada who have woken up hundreds of dollars poorer – you know who you are). Best of all? No tip. I can buy a $2.50 beer without having to leave any change (meaning I can get two beers for every five dollar bill, thus maximizing my drinking to cash ratio).

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Again, this is something that I really can’t duplicate in Canada. The ability to walk down the street and stop at any restaurant for dinner knowing with total confidence that you can eat for under $10 is just not possible. The only way I can get the same feeling of eating well for cheap will be to start visiting friends and family unannounced right around lunch and dinner times. This, of course, is a quick fix and will not sustain me in the long run (eventually my mooching ways will alienate all my friends and I will have to turn to soup kitchens and the like). Hopefully I can keep it going long enough to get over the worst of the Korea withdrawal symptoms – just until I get used to paying $33.95 for an average meal, two warm beers and shitty service (not including tip). Ugh a part of my soul just died writing that sentence.

Number Six: Instant friendships with any white person.

Have any of you ever lived as a minority? I know some of you have – but many of you have not. In Korea I’m known as a waygook, or foreigner, and I am an outsider. I do not speak the language or understand most of their culture and etiquette. Now don’t get me wrong – I can’t claim that I know exactly what it is like to be a minority, because minorities are treated much better in Korea than Canada (probably because one aspect of Western culture that hasn’t made it’s way over here is the redneck phenomenon). Anyway, even though I can’t claim to know exactly what a minority feels, I do have some idea. Part of what I feel as a foreigner in Korea is an automatic kinship with any other foreigner I meet. Usually it isn’t just that we both speak English –  it is also safe to assume that I have alot in common with waygooks (normally they will be a traveller or English teacher, just like me). With so many conversation starters you don’t even have to be an extroverted or outgoing person to make friends with strangers.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I have made a pact with myself to try and keep my spirit of adventure and outgoing attitude alive as long as possible once I return to my Canadian lifestyle. Part of this plan is to be more open minded about meeting new people. I will try my best to meet new people and try to find some common ground. The problem that I foresee is this: Even in Korea, the most boring waygook you can imagine has still, at least, travelled halfway around the world and lived in a foreign culture. It is almost impossible for that person not to have at least something interesting to say. Now imagine the most boring person possible in Canada. You can see the problem right?

Number Seven: Cleanliness.

Korean cities are fairly comparable to Canadian cities in terms of cleanliness. Walking down any given road you can expect to find roughly the same amount of garbage in Korea as in Canada (give or take, and this is based on my observations). The place where Korea shines is in its graffiti-less walls and vandalism free public spaces. The only explanation I can offer as to why there is so little graffiti and vandalism here is that young boys, while at the height of their adolescent stupidity, are locked safely away inside their highschools 14 hours a day. Young people in Korea don’t have the same kind of time on their hands that young people in Canada do – and the cities are better for it. One other part of Korean cleanliness that I can’t fail to mention is the subways and public transport which, unlike any other transit system I’ve ever been on – outside of asia – are clean enough to perform surgery in.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I have no complaints about cities in Canada. Vandalism and graffiti, though often unsightly, doesn’t bother me. So, in order to avoid longing for the cleanliness of the Korean public transportation system, I will simply have to resume my boycott of Canadian public transit. Switching back to my bicycle (which I had to abandon in Korea as I would have survived about 14 seconds in Korean traffic on a bike) should allow me to get around in Canada without the constant reminders of how much respect Koreans have for public spaces, and how pleasant these areas are as a result.

Number Eight: Cheap travel to exotic places.

There is one advantage to living in Korea (and many other parts of the world) that Canada just doesn’t have: Being able to easily and cheaply visit other cultures. I’ll give you two examples: First, in the summer my friend Tyler visited me from Canada. We went on a day trip to the DMZ where we met a girl from England. We got onto the topic of travel and she confessed that she had not done much travelling yet. She did however say that she had had a few vacations in Spain, and that she went to Italy for a weekend once. Obviously to me and my Canadian brethren we were floored! Spain and Italy?! That sounds awesome! The thing is that to a European, those places are extremely cheap and easy to get to – they think nothing about hoping a plane to Paris for a weekend or something like that. A Canadian, of course, would be looking at $600 airfare and an 11 hour flight. The second example is from my own life here in Korea. As you know, I just returned from a trip to Thailand. I don’t want to say I went to Thailand on a whim – but I did. I shot over to Thailand for a weekend and thought nothing of it, just threw some clothes in a bag (even forgot a towel) and off I went.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Unlike the examples above, you just can’t travel like that from Canada. You can go to the States easily enough, but our cultures are basically identical. In fact, it is hard for many Canadians to ever see their whole country. I’ve still never been to Vancouver, and it is one of our biggest and most culturally diverse cities! Its a 4 hour plane ride away! The closest you can get to an exotic country from Canada is Mexico, but that is still extremely expensive and a long flight. My solution will be to carry this sense of wonder and adventure that I have cultivated in Korea back home with me to Canada. I may not be able to easily travel to another country, but with the right frame of mind I can easily find just as much adventure and interest by taking a trip to a new city or even an unexplored lake. Or so I hope.

Well this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it is all I can think of in my current caffeine addled, just finished my last day at work in Korea, state.

Stay tuned for another update on the planning progress of my Ultra Mega Giga Plan and, in a few short days, an update from Beijing!

That’s all for now!

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An amazing weekend in Thailand

Hello everyone!

Recently my adventures in Asia have taken me to Bangkok, Thailand. I left last Wednesday night and returned to Busan yesterday, Sunday the 12th of February.

I’m going to write a long and winding narrative of the events that took place between Wednesday the 8th of February and Sunday, February 12th. Those of you who have read my previous entries will now be bracing yourselves for a long winded and often convoluted 20 minute anecdote that will most likely leave you feeling used and empty inside. If you would rather skip all that I’ll just write a quick summary of the trip so you can get all my impressions and feelings towards Bankok without having to read my long blog entry. To summarize the whole trip in one sentence I would say that I left Bangkok in much the same way I entered the world; kicking and screaming and awfully sticky.

I had a total blast and three days was absolutely not enough! I could go the rest of my life without ever seeing China or Japan again (don’t get me wrong, those countries were amazing) but if I go to my grave without at some point returning to Thailand and spending an appropriate amount of time there it will certainly be with a few regrets alongside me in my extravagantly adorned (fingers corssed!) coffin.

I left the -3 degrees of Busan behind around 8pm on Wednesday night. Five and a half hours later I left the airport into the sweltering 33 degree Bangkok night. Even though I arrived in a foreign country at nearly 2am, I still had no problem finding my way to my hostel, thanks to the English speaking cab driver (who I thought was just a myth, even in western countries). It turns out that alot of people in Bangkok speak excellent English, to my surprise.

The next day I woke up early and spent my whole first day exploring on foot. I walked to what is mostly considered downtown Bangkok, an area of town known as Siam. The walk there took me past a few shopping malls and over a canal – which was filled with boats ferrying people to and from their destinations (this is foreshadowing – I would take one of these water taxis the next day). After the downtown area I made my way towards Lumphini Park. On the way I stopped at a snake farm (because why not?). The snake farm is an institute where they breed snakes for anti-venoms and medical research, but two floors of the complex are set aside for a venomous snake exhibit and zoo. Thanks to incredible good luck I arrived at the snake farm around 11am, just in time for a snake milking demonstration. Before you google ‘snake nipples’ I should tell you that it isn’t that kind of milk. Snake milking involves a cup with a leather lid – handlers press the snakes’ fangs against the leather and it spits it’s venom into the cup. Watching two guy holding a 10 foot long King Cobra while a third pressed a cup to its mouth was a  singular experience.

After a quick lunch I finished my trek to Lumphini Park. The park was nice, green grass, palm trees and ponds/streams. It couldn’t compare to the pure beauty of Japanese parks of the size of Chinese parks, but it did have one thing going for it – wildlife. As I strolled along a path I glanced over and noticed a turtle sunning itself on a stone beside a pond. I took out my camera because I was so thrilled to see a turtle in a public park in the middle of such a huge city! As I’m snapping away I spot some movement in the corner of my eye. I turn to look and there, not 10 feet from me is a 4 foot long lizard. I literally did a comical double take. Here I am admiring a little turtle thinking its so cool to see a turtle in a park, only to be surprised by a mother-fing komodo dragon looking SOB sneaking up on me. I felt like that badass australian guy in Jurrassic Park who has just enough time to admire the ‘clever girl’ before she velociraptors the shit out of him. Turns out the park is full of these lizards and apparently well known for them. Did I mention I earned an A+ in not researching things before I do them class?

Next I walked down to Silom road which is a well known business/red-light district. It was a really interesting walk and I entertained myself by trying to pick out the genuine massage parlors from the prostitution fronts. There were lots of cool restaurants and bars in this area too, but I was eager to return to the hostel by that point as the heat was seriously getting to me.

That night I went for Malaysian food with some people from my hostel. I had ‘Matabe’ which is beef (or pork or chicken) fried in an eggy-pancakey batter with vegetables. After the amazingly cheap dinner I went for some amazingly cheap beers at a bar near the hostel and on the walk back we bought yet more beers and carried on drinking into the wee hours in the hostel’s common room. A note on prices in Bangkok – everything is amazingly cheap. 1000 baht is roughly $30 Canadian. 100 baht is 3 dollars. Dinner at the Malaysian restaurant was 80 baht. Beer at the bar was 80 baht (it was an upscale place) beer in the convenience store was 25 baht.

The next day I was determined to do a few more touristy things (instead of my usual aimless wanderings). I started the day with a two hour traditional thai massage. I have heard good things about these massages and it certainly met all my expectations. I went to a high end fancy spa/resort that was recommended to me by the hostel owner, but even so a two hour massage only cost 450 baht (a little under 15 dollars). A full out Thai massage will cover basically every inch of your body and involves several really vigorous maneouvres. At one point I had a 60 year old Thai woman standing on my hamstrings and pulling both my ankles towards the ceiling. I took a step back from myself and wondered what someone who just walked into that room, with no context of what was happening would think about the strange sight before them. My one regret about the massage is that I planned it for the start of the day – leaving the spa knowing full well I’d be walking around for the next 5 hours really sucked. Ideally I should have saved the massage for last because afterwards all you want to do is relax.

Next I walked to the Central Pier and took a 15 baht water taxi up to Wat Pho temple. The water taxi was a long boat (longer than a city bus, but otherwise identical in terms of seating arrangements and hand rails) that moved surprisingly quickly. I got off near Wat Pho temple (which is in a popular tourist district). I walked around the area of Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha, but I didn’t go into either place, mainly because I was getting tired (the heat really wears you out). I got some video of the temples from the road though. Walking a little further north I investigated the (in)famous Khaosan Road, which is a really popular backpackers area. It is loaded with bars, scam artists and massage parlors as well as hostels and cheap accomodation). It was a neat area to walk around, but better to visit than to stay in my oppinion, as it isn’t all that close to the metro or sky trains.

To get back to my hostel I did something that, in retrospect, wasn’t a very smart thing to do. Luckily I didn’t live to regret it, but when I climbed onto the back of that motorcycle taxi I was seriously questioning my judgment and wondering if my friends and family would know what to do with my Playstation if I was rendered a vegetable in a horrific accident. The main advantage of the motorcycle taxi is that every single law of the road does not seem to apply to them, which means you get where you are going pretty quickly. The main disadvantage is that when you arrive you need to quickly find a defibrillator to get your heart beating again. The taxi weaved in and out of traffic and when the congestion became too thick it would thread the needle between the stationary cars on either side of the yellow line. I managed to get a video of the experience which hopefully you will enjoy.

That night I had dinner with some hostel folks (Thai street food, which was delicious and cheap, but you had to really, really work hard at not thinking about where it came from). The pad thai I had cost 35 baht and made a good base for the alcohol I’d be ingesting later that evening. I am positive that the night that followed from these humble beginnings will prove to be one of the most memorable nights of my life (and that’s not necessarily meant as a good thing). First we went to the Banyan Tree hotel which is famous in Bangkok for its 62nd floor bar. The rooftop bar was absolutely unbelievable and it put all the other beers I’ve had in beautiful scenery (at the top of mountains, in Algonquin park, even the quiet beers while I gaze at myself in a mirror) utterly to shame. The rooftop wasn’t like a balcony or a penthouse, it was full out the roof of the building. Nothing was higher than us as far as the eye could see except the sky itself. The city lights stretched away in the distance literally to the horizon (apparently Bangkok is a big city). The railings around the edges were about 4 feet high – there were no nets or walls to block the view and if you went over the edge it was a sheer 60 story drop in some places. Drinks were pretty expensive (250 baht for a beer) but of course the alcohol took a distant back seat the spectacular views and atmosphere.

After the Banyan Tree I set off to meet a friend of mine from Busan at Asok station. We went to a red-light district known as Soi Cowboy street. Many of you probably know that Thailand is famous for its sex tourism. Every year thousands of people come from all over the world to enjoy Bangkok’s prostitution industries. With that in mind I offer the justification that I only ventured into so disreputable an area for the experience of seeing a huge thriving red-light district in a country famous for its red-light districts and not to actually partake in any of the services offered there. The street that we walked down was really crazy. It was lined with massage parlors (this time there was no doubt that they were not legitimate massage parlors), strip clubs and outright brothels. The sidewalks were lined with prostitutes and lady-boys (the nickname for Thai transvestites). Many of the women wore necklaces with numbers hanging from them so you could easily enter the massage parlor and say I want number 23 (which, if nothing else, has to be complimented for its simplicity and convenience). The most unnerving thing about walking down the street is how the women yell at you to have sex with them.

I felt a bit like the kid who brings chewing gum to class: I know if I give a piece to my friend everyone is going to want some, but that I can’t possibly have enough to give to everyone. It is for that same reason that I didn’t consent to the ladies’ demands for sex – if I decided to favor one of them with my love making abilities surely all the rest would demand equal treatment. I did a quick count of all the women in range and came up with over fifty, which is just a little over the number times I believe myself capable in a single evening, so I knew I must abstain.

Of course I joke.

My friends and I decided we wanted to see a ‘ping pong show’. If you know what that is: congratulations! You are a pervert. If you aren’t sure whatever you do DO NOT GOOGLE IT. Some things cannot be unseen. Ping Pong shows are infamous in Thailand and you can hear stories about them from any traveller that has been there. In sort of the same way you want to look at a car wreck we decided we needed to see one of these shows for ourselves. I’m not going to go into any details in this blog, so ask me in person sometime. All I will say here is this: The female genitalia is capable of more than I ever knew. Much more.

I worry that one day my children will ask me what Bangkok was like and I, remembering the things I saw in that strip-club, will suddenly grow very quiet. My eyes will adopt a far away stare and my children will feel as though I am looking right through them. In fact, I will be looking through them. I will be looking right into their souls. I will see innocence there and I will feel envy, and shame.

The next day was Saturday and I made my way to the Army Stadium where the 2012 Bangkok Hat tournament was underway. The hat tournament is a frisbee tournament that was my initial motivation for going to Thailand. I heard about the tournament, and asked for the time off work from my co-teachers and Vice-Principal. By the time I got the go-ahead to take two days off for the trip, the tournament registration was closed. Rather than go back to my VP and say I no longer needed that four day long weekend I just campaigned for, I decided to just go to Thailand anyway. Even though I wasn’t playing in the tournament I did have some friends who were playing, and I would never pass up an opportunity for some disc time, so I made my way to the field on Saturday morning.

There were over 300 players at the tournament, all of them from different parts of Asia. There were players from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Korea to name a few. I bought a disc (a great addition to my growing collection) and had a few beers while tossing around in the 30+ degree heat. My entire Saturday was spent in this manner and I don’t consider a moment of it wasted.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with the same hostel group and had a marinated beef and rice Thai dish. Afterwards we stopped at a bar and had a few drinks, and I left around 10pm to make my way back to the airport, thoroughly upset that I did not have more time in that amazing place (I could spend 3 weeks there easily, I am sure of it). I was extremely reluctant to head back to my 9-5 job in the cold winter deadness of February Korea. I was also extremely sweaty. And that’s how I ended up leaving Bangkok – kicking and screaming a awfully sticky.

That’s all for now.

Post-script:

Last entry I mentioned my camera was broken in Japan and that I would be unable to provide any more videos of my adventures. And yet, in this entry I mention several times that I have video of things I saw and did. How can this be? While I am known as a malicious liar to most of my friends and family, I swear that when I said I could take no more videos I believed it to be the truth. Luckily, days later, I found myself in Nampo Dong (a shopping district in Busan) and found a cheap video camera that is very similar to my old one. So the pictures and videos are back in action and I will have my Thailand videos posted in a few days. Stay tuned.

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Short update on the antics of yours truly

Hi everyone. It is Saturday, February 4th, 2012 here in beautiful Busan, South Korea. I thought I would type up a quick update from the comfort of my favorite coffee shop this afternoon.

Groundhog’s day was two days ago (or one day for people on western time). The groundhog defintely saw his shadow here in Busan – the weather has been sunny with clear sky for days. The temperature is another matter. Groundhog’s day was one of the coldest days in decades here in Busan. The temperature reached like -8 or so. Even one sentence later most of the people reading this are probably still scoffing at how incredibly not cold that is compared to Canada (reports from my parents indicate the weather has been pretty cool in Ontario). I have to admit I’m a little worried about my cold resistance. If you asked me a year ago what I thought about the cold I would have boasted that I’m an extremely cold tolerant person. I would routinely walk over an hour to school in the dead of winter (uphill both ways!) just because I prefered the fresh air to the city bus (and because public transport in Ottawa is a joke). After 11 months of living in Asia, however, I’m not so confident. Maybe it was the blazingly hot summer (easily over 28 degrees everyday for two months, with wicked humidity), or maybe its the fact that I’ve lived near a beach on the pacific ocean for so long, but I am honestly losing my tolerance for the cold.

Minus 8 degrees feels cold to me. I mean… what the heck!? Minus 8? Last year I’d be considering busting out the shorts in minus 8 degree weather. Normally I’d just shrug and not worry about it, but in less than a month I’m going to be on a train heading north from Beijing. What’s north of Beijing you ask? NOTHING. Siberia. That’s what’s north of Beijing. I guess if I don’t get over this body temperature crisis (I use the term crisis extremely loosely) before I leave I sure as hell will have to get my act together pretty fast when I hop off that train for my first rest stop in Irkutsk.

Speaking of the trans-siberian railway I have just started the process of booking my tickets. The whole trip from Beijing to Moscow will cost about 765 euros, or $1,100. The entire trip home is certainly going to cost a pretty penny, but I have savings from this year in Korea and you only live once (or twice if you are James Bond).

One other thing I have to mention before I sign off for the day: While I was in Japan both my e-reader and camera managed to find a way to stop working. I don’t know if they were just overwhelmed by the superior electronics in Japan and took their own lives out of shame or what, but both devices crapped out on me within the same 6 days. You might be asking yourself why you should care, and that is a good question. The reason you should care (or not care) is because I may not be able to make any more videos for the rest of my time in Asia. This means that I can’t take video on the trans-siberian, Europe, or my upcoming trip to Thailand (next week baby!). I’m going to do my best to buy a new camera, but I can’t guarantee I can find a cheap, hardy video camera to replace my (not-so-trusty) Kodak. You and I may have to make do with still shots. Sorry.

Well as usual I have to choose between buying one more coffee (which will certainly put me in a caffeine addled state of hysterical hyperness) or risk out staying my welcome here at Ediya Coffee. I’m off to make the next decision in my life. That’s all for now.

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Japan thoughts and the Super ultra mega-giga plan

Today is Monday January 30th, 2012

This morning I find myself back behind my desk after 3 weeks vacation. Thinking about my time in Japan and the 9 days of blissful relaxation that followed is like a real physical pain, deep down in my gut, now that I’m facing two days of 8 hour desk warming sessions. The kids are back in class on Wednesday but until then you bet I’m stuck here with nothing to do but blog and surf the net.

Japan was, all in all, an awesome experience. I got to see three different versions of Japanese cities; the industrial Osaka, ultra modern Tokyo and traditional Kyoto. One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet in my ramblings on Japan, and that I keep getting asked here in Korea, is whether or not Japan is expensive. The answer is yes. Extremely. 100 Japanese yen is equal to about $1.30 Canadian, and it is impossible to find anything for less than 100 yen. Cokes out of vending machines were 120 yen (about $1.70, though if anyone wants to bother with a calculator I may be a little off). Coffee was 3-400 yen and it was hard to find a meal for less than 1000 Y ($13 CDN). I suppose this might not seem all that expensive to some people, but bear in mind I’ve been living in Korea, the land where a 2 liter bottle of water costs .50$ and I can have a hearty meal for $4. In that way I guess visiting Japan was like a preview of what life will be like when I return home, where everything is expensive and eating out is a treat, not an everyday occurrence.

Not only did I find Japan more expensive than Korea, but it was different in other, more subtle ways as well. One of the key differences I noticed was how Japanese people walk. They walk a lot like westerners; they follow straight lines along the sidewalk and tend to stay on the same side as other people moving in the same direction. Korea, on the other hand, is a comparatively chaotic place to walk. Koreans move in odd numbered groups, totally oblivious to the speed and direction of other walkers. I think I’ve talked about this before, but it seems like Koreans intentionally pretend not to notice each other, and I’ve even had my shoulder brushed or even bumped by Korean walkers when the sidewalk is totally empty and my other shoulder is brushing the building. As I wandered through Tokyo I found I barely knew where to stand or how to walk, I’ve unlearned the orderly western style of sidewalk etiquette. Maybe you think I’m joking, but I’m not.

Another difference between Japan and Korea is the cleanliness. Neither country is dirty, and both Japan and Korea have amazingly clean cities compared to Canada, but even so Japan puts Korea to shame. For one thing, Japan has conveniently placed trash bins all over the place. In Korea there are very, very few public trash bins. Most people just throw their trash on the ground where is it soon picked up by one of the army of ajummas (old ladies) employed by the city to pick up litter. The ajumma collection system is extremely effective, although sometimes as you walk down a Korean street you will pass a little pile of garbage that hasn’t been discovered and removed yet. Not so in Japan. Everywhere I looked expecting to see garbage, and this is especially true in Kyoto, I would instead see pottted plants, small bushes, trees or just clean, swept concrete. In Korea I can very rarely bring myself to litter (even though I know it is socially acceptable and that it will be picked up shortly), my Canadian instincts to preserve nature are too strong. The result, however, is that I often walk around with pockets full of receipts, wrappers and assorted other garbage until I find one of the rare public trash bins. In Japan I’d spot a trash bin and excitedly run over to empty my pockets only to discover them garbage free, as I’d already emptied them moment before at the trash 50 yards behind me.

I find it strange to be talking about how I was culture shocked in Japan, but I’m using Korean culture as a comparison rather than my native culture. Its not unusual, because I have lived in Korea for very close to a year now, but still: being shocked by an alien culture and then feeling at home when you arrive in a different strange culture takes some getting used to.

One final word of advice for anyone who may stumble upon this blog while living in Korea: Don’t believe a word any Korean says about Japan. Koreans and Japanese don’t get along. Before going to Japan I heard that no one in Japan speaks English (not true; most Japanese I interacted with in the subways, bus stations, airports and restaurants all spoke excellent English), that Japanese people are rude, especially to foreigners (a blatant fabrication, I found the Japanese, at least in the big cities I visited, to be perfectly polite) and that Japanese are all sex crazed (true, but no more so than westerners – strip clubs and adult theaters were prevalent, but no more so than you’d find in say, Montreal. I actually found Japan refreshing after spending so long in sexually repressed Korea).

Okay, let me move along to the big moment: I’m going to reveal my super-ultra-giga-mega plan. I have alluded to this grand scheme several times in previous entries, always with instructions to stay tuned for more info soon. Well the time has come for me to reveal some of the details of my plan. My contract and time in Korea finishes at the end of February. At this time I will fly to Beijing. From Beijing, using only my wits, willpower and a massive infrastructure of railways and roads, I will attempt to travel – by land – to London. The route will take me through 9 or so countries and cross over 8100 km. I will start on the trans-siberian railway leaving from Beijing. My three day train ride to Irkutsk, Russia, will take me through northern China and across Mongolia. I will take a two day rest stop in Irkutsk, which is situated on the shore of lake Baikal, one of the deepest lakes in the world. Next I will board the train once more and start on a 4 day journey that will take me across siberia, through the northern parts of the Gobi desert and finally to Moscow. From Moscow I will travel my way across Europe (this part of the super mega giga plan is not entirely fleshed out yet, so I can’t say exactly what countries I will visit) and finally fly home from London or Paris.

So there you have it, my final thoughts on Japan and the outline of my mega super ultra giga plan. Next week I will be going to Thailand for a few days, so stay tuned for an update on that.

That’s all for now.

 

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Castles and Temples in Kyoto

Today is January 20th, 2012

I am in Kyoto this evening, having just wrapped up my second day in this fair city. My camera has not managed to recharge itself, so unfortunately there will be no proof I was ever here. It looks like all I will take away from Japan are my memories, and it is disheartening to think how I’ll probably forget I was ever in Japan once senility sets in. That’s a few years away yet though so I won’t spend much energy worrying about it.

Kyoto is an absolutely amazing city. To me Kyoto seems like what you would get from a natural modernization of the Japan we see in historical films and books. That old style Japan with clean streets, orderly paper houses and beautiful ponds and gardens arranged just so. If you took that romanticized version of feudal Japan and let it age naturally into the modern area, Kyoto is what you would get. The houses and architecture are hard to describe. They have an angular-ness to them. They have sliding wooden doors. They have shades on the outside of the windows that blow in the breeze. The most striking thing about walking around Kyoto is the orderliness. On any given street where you would find trash bags or litter in most cities you find potted plants instead. Where there would be a rusted out bicycle next to some trash bins in an average city’s alley you find a small garden in Kyoto.

Yesterday I arrived around 3pm. It was a crummy, rainy day so it was difficult to summon the energy to head back outside after navigating my way to the hostel. I did manage a walk around the immediate area and I found lots of small shops mixed about with old buildings. Right near my hostel is the Minamiza Theatre, one ofthe oldest theatres in Kyoto. I also found the Yasaka shrine which sat on a small hill at the end of a road. During this walk I found another small shrine with a sign saying the name of the god the shrine represents, and that people come to the shrine to pray to the god for traffic safety and amicable divorce

I definitely understand praying for traffic safety, and I shrugged to myself and figured if you are going to pray for divorce you might as well pray for an amicable one, before continuing my walk.

Today the weather was better, though still overcast. I strolled north from my hostel along the Kamo river, before striking off west in the direction of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Now – I know what you are thinking, and the answer is yes; I have been to two Imperial Palaces in the last 3 days. I just can’t help myself. Any rational person knows that one Imperial Palace ought to be enough. They say you learn about yourself when you travel, and I have learned that I am oddly fixated on Imperial Palaces. It is a part of who I am that will take some time to come to terms with.

Anyway the palace wasn’t particularly impressive, mainly because everything was walled in and all the gates were closed. The gravel paths were nice enough, but judging by the maps I saw the interior of the palace grounds looked really nice, but all I could see were the 20 foot high outer walls.

Afterwards I went south to Nijo Castle. Nijo castle was really quite spectacular. I had to pay an entrance of 600 yen – around 8 bucks – which I thought was a little pricey. The castle ended up being worth it, however. First of all let me try to describe the layout to you. The entire compound was surrounded by a moat, out of which rose the 30 foot high outer wall. The outer wall was rectangular in shape with raised platforms on the corners. When the castle was built back in 1603 by the Tokugawa Shogun it would have been quite an ordeal to storm those walls and gain entrance to the inner grounds. In 2012 it only cost me 600 yen. Inside the walls were paths weaving through trees and grassy fields. There was a main path that you could follow along the inside of the outer wall around the compound. Inside the outer wall were two palaces. Each palace was surrounded by its own moat and its own 20-30 foot walls. One of the castles was open to the public, so I took off my shoes, threw on the conveniently provided slippers and took a walk through it. One of the coolest features of that castle was the ‘nightingale floors.’ The wooden floor boards that made up the hallways between rooms were designed to squeak under the slightest pressure, to warn of intruders. But since the shogun and his family didn’t want to hear squeaking every time someone moved, the sound the floorboards made was designed to mimic a birdcall. As you walk down the hallway it sounds as if you are walking through a forest with birds singing all around you, until you stop moving and don’t disturb the floor boards.

Another part of Nijo castle worth mentioning was a pond in the northern part of the inner court. The pond had three tiny islands with peach trees growing on each one. Each island was accessible via tiny stone bridges. Surrounding the pond were beautiful moss covered boulders, arranged painstakingly to evoke the greatest tranquility and beauty. The serenity, beauty and sense of calm that permeated this place is absolutely impossible to describe. I could have spent all day sitting on one of the tiny islands composing haikus about the joy of life. If this place could invoke such feelings in someone like me, imagine how it would make a non-23 year old man feel. The place was so beautiful I think I almost stopped thinking about sex for a few moments. Almost.

I spent the rest of the day wandering up and down small streets and alleyways, taking in the feel of the city. As I suspected before arriving here, Kyoto is my favorite of the cities I have visited over the last 5 days. Tomorrow I will spend part of the morning seeking out one or two more elusive temples, then will be making my way back to Osaka for my flight home to Busan.

Stay tuned for a final thoughts style post about Japan soon after I arrive home.

That’s all for now.

 

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Tom Teacher in Tokyo

It is January 18th, 2012 and tonight I find myself in Tokyo.

I arrived yesterday afternoon with surprisingly little fanfare. No reporters? No cameras? Strange. I guess I haven`t caught on in Japan yet – they don`t know how big of a deal I am. My hostel is in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, which is an older area and home to many cool alleys, small shops and not so small temples. Across the river from my hostel is the Asahi Breweries headquarters. I came out of the subway when I first arrived, saw the building, noted its strange architecture and checked my map/guidebook to see what it was. When I found out it was a brewery I was pleased.

After settling into my room I promptly investigated Asahi HQ. To my disapointment, it is merely the headquarters, and not an actual brewery (darn). I did see some nice restaurants in the plaza though and a cool 1000 yen barber shop, which I promptly took advantage of. The Asahi brewery fiasco, as I`ve taken to calling it, will no doubt have its own chapter in my auto-biography (a work in progress) that will certainly be titled; Tom goes to worldwide brewery headquarters – ends up getting haircut.

The rest of yesterday was spent exploring the Asakusa district surrounding my hostel. Particularly of note is the Nakamise shopping street – a cobblestone street lined on either side with shops selling everything from tourist souvenirs to kimonos to swords. At the end of the street is Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Tourist brochures claim it dates back to 628 AD. There is a massive gate at the entrance and the huge temple itself, a very impressive sight. On the grounds surrounding the temple there is a five story pagoda, a pond, multiple Japanese style gardens, statues, small shrines and a massive old tree that must be a couple of hundred years old.

It is an amazing place and I wish I had video to show you, but my camera has run out of batteries and I cannot seem to charge it anywhere (all the outlets are western style, and the voltage seems to be 125v. Even though my camera is designed to be charged by voltages between 100v and 220v, it does not seem to be getting any juice from Japanese outlets). Needless to say this is extremely frustrating because A) I love taking video of things to show you and B) because its impossible to describe this stuff with words.

Today I had all day to explore Tokyo. I started out by taking the subway to Kyobashi, and from there it was a short walk west to the Imperial Palace. Most of the palace grounds are closed to the public, but there is an outer area open for tourism. The place I saw was pretty impressive, it was a huge, flat, open space – dotted with trees and bushes. There is something impressive about seeing huge amount of open terrain in the very center of a city. Its a really effective display of wealth and power, in my oppinion to use up so much real estate just for your own front lawn. It reminded my of the forbidden city in Beijing. The palace itself is located in a fortress with stone walls that drop straight into moats on all sides. I saw one of the main entrances – the Nijubashi Bridge. I could also glimpse the palace itself and several other building on the inner grounds. The whole place was impressive and beautiful, and you can bet I kicked myself constantly for not having my camera.

After the Imperial Palace I turned south and explored Hibiya Park. Hibiya is just a small park space near the palace, but it dates back to 1908 (when it officially became a city park) and even early when you take into acount its former use as the southern most fortification of the Imperial Palace. It even had a pond at the base of a hill, which turns out to be the remnants of the moat which used to be at the base of a wall. Today the park has tennis courts, gardens, trees and statues. It was peaceful and full of cats.

After the park came the Sony building. Remember who you are dealing with here –> you didn`t think I`d go to Tokyo and only see shrines and temples did you?! What drew me to the Sony building is their showroom, a 6 story display of corporate dominance showing off the company`s latest and greatest products, ranging from laptops and mp3 players to big screen TVs and (of course) Playstation. There were even two floor devoted to up and coming technology and the latest products Sony is developing. Most of them were typical science fiction stuff, like a virtual reality system where you lay face down on a chair and watch a 3D video of a person paragliding (been there, done that). There were a few other interesting things that I thought had potential though. For example, there was an exercise bike hooked up to a 3D tv. The tv showed a first person perspective of a cycler in a park. As you cycled the video progressed based on how fast you were going – if you peddled slower, the video slowed down, faster and it sped up. The future of home exercise?

There were also a pair of binoculars that digitally zoomed and sharpened whatever you were looking at, which would be perfect for my voyeurism – I mean….. bird watching.

After the Sony center I continued east and found the Tsukiji fish market. As you know, I`m no stranger to fish markets – I`m still trying to get the smell of Jagalchi Market in Busan out of my clothes. This market was way, way more industrial however. It was more of a warehouse than a market. Most of the buying and selling was done by auction and the fish were sold in bulk. I toured around for a while but felt a little out of place and was unnerved by the signs that asked tourists not to get in the way of the people trying to buy and sell.

I rounded out the day sitting on a bench near a river reading my book. I am on vacation afterall, and I see no point in stressing myself out trying to squeeze in too many sights. In fact I`ve found during this trip that one of my favorite things to do in a new city is just walk until I am really tired, then just sit with a Pepsi or coffee and watch and listen for a while.

I am going to take one last crack at charging my phone tonight. If it works I will spend a few hours tomorrow getting video of the Asakusa area. If not, then I will spend the morning in transit to my next destination – Kyoto. I am pretty sure I will not have an internet connection in my Kyoto hostel, so this may be the last update until I get back to Busan on Saturday night. Otherwise I will be sure to update you on the happenings in Kyoto. One thing you should be aware of (just so you can be as excited to read about Kyoto as I am to visit) – my Kyoto hostel is in the Gion district of the city, which is  apparently an area known for its Geishas. I have seen a few Geisha in Tokyo already and let me tell you, they are pretty darn cute!

Thats all for now.

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Osaka; blowfish and more!

Its January 17th, 2012

I woke up this morning in Osaka, Japan. At the moment I am in a hostel in the Tennoji ward of Osaka city. Osaka is an interesting place. I expected an ultra modern megatropolis like Shanghai or Hong Kong, afterall, it is the second biggest city in Japan. Instead its more like 1,000 small towns all stuck together. There are not very many super skyscrapers and the city skyline is not that impressive. As for the ultra modern thing…. well at least the area I have seen is not all that modern. Most of the building have a definite 50-70s vibe in both architecture and state of repair.

One thing that surprised me about Osaka, especially after living in Korea, is how flat the city is. I understand that Japan is supposed to be a mountainous country, but its not nearly as hilly as Korea. The flat landscape, combined with the absence of tall buildings makes for a view I am not used to. This morning when I stood on the ninth floor balcony of my hostel I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the middle of an ocean. As far as I could see there was just city, endless, flat, city. I guess it wouldn’t be that strange to most people, but for the last 11 months I’ve lived in a city where ANY view of the city, no matter what part of town or how high or low you are, is cut off within 1 mile by a mountain range.

The area Im staying in is a well known market district. Yesterday I went to the top of Osaka tower and took a stroll through a park. I saw an old temple with a huge burial mound. There must have been 1000 – plus tombstones in an area smaller than a city block. It was impressive and I got some video as I wandered around. Last night I went to a blowfish restaurant and had blowfish in udong noodles. It was delicious. The blowfish meat was surprisingly tasty – as with most delicacies, I expected it to taste like crap.

After the blowfish, I had two fried meat skewers, which are extremely popular in this area of Osaka. I cannot remember what they are called, but they came to Osaka some years ago and the city fell in love with them. At least, thats what a tourist pamphlet told me. Anyway the fried skewer idea really took off and the restaurant I went to had almost anything you can think of skewered and fried up. I saw garlic, asparagus, spicy sausage, chicken stomach and more. I played it safe and went with beef and chicken breast.

Today I am heading to Tokyo for the second leg of my trip. This morning I have been taking advantage of the hostels free coffee policy. FREE COFFEE?!?! DO THEY KNOW WHO I AM?! Earlier I was pretending to look at a map in the common room as a decoy so I could drink more coffee, when I noticed that there are two ways to reach my first destination of the day. In order to go to Tokyo, I have to get to Shin-Osaka station. There are two ways to get there: The first is a simple subway ride, I can take the red, Midusoji, line from in front of my hostel all the way up to Shin-Osaka. The second option is to take the JR loop line to Osaka station and then transfer for Shin-Osaka station. The second option is about 3x more complicated, but since I have a JR Railpass I can take that option for free. The subway option is simpler, but I would have to pay whatever the subway fare is. Decision? The free route, of course.

Well, I have had just about as much free coffee as one person can reasonably drink, so its time to get this journey underway. I hope to do another update from Tokyo, but I know at least one of my intended hostels on this trip does not have free computer use, so I cannot guarantee anything.

Either way, stay tuned for another update soon. Wish me luck finding my way to Tokyo today.

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Happy Friday the 13th!

Well the date is January 13th and it is a Friday.

Have I had terrible, terrible luck today? No. But I have basically had a terrible day anyway.

Today was the last day of the Winter English Camp I have been teaching for the past three weeks. The camp, in my opinion, went really, really well. Having just twenty students in the class, and having that class for 3 hours a day for 3 weeks has given me time to bond with the students in a way I have not been able to in my regular teaching semesters (where I would see roughly 600 students per week – around 120 per day for 40 minutes each). I know my students names (well, their English names at least –> Gal Do Hee and Kwan Min Seok and Park Eun Ju just DO NOT stay in my head, no matter how many times I repeat them) and I know their individual English levels and confidence and jeez, did you know? These little kids have actual personalities when you have time to get to know them!? Shocker.

Anyway I really enjoyed the first week of camp, and busted my butt to keep the camp enjoyable for week two and three. After classes I would work hard on preparing power points and games and activities and I would come in early in the mornings to put finishing touches on my plans (I know its hard to imagine me coming in early for work, but it happened). My friends have commented that I seem to have dropped out of touch. Why? I’m not on facebook all afternoon, I’m actually working at my desk instead of just warming it. Week one went well (except the day I missed due to food poisoning) and week two went even better! The momentum was on my side and I was an unstoppable teaching machine! The students were behaving perfectly, even when I was teaching with the new Korean co-teacher who is notoriously lacking in class disciplining ability. They were all participating in the games and doing the worksheets (in regular classes and even during my summer camp last July there would always be a few students who were not interested or did not want to participate) and they even seemed to be getting more comfortable around each other (the boys and girls were actually speaking to each other, which is rare in 4th and 5th graders).

Then week three rolled around.

In week three I was co-teaching with another Korean co-teacher, and this weeks co-teacher is the one who I really don’t see eye to eye with. Her teaching style and mine do not mesh very well and she is almost impossible to communicate with. I could easily fill seven or eight paragraphs with all the reasons this co-teacher is not fit to chew bubble gum unsupervised, much less put in charge of 20+ students, but you don’t want to hear about that. Suffice it to say each day fewer and fewer of my ideas were being implemented and more and more time was spent with her yelling at the entire class over something they did or said for minutes at a time.

Each day it became worse and worse until yesterday, Thursday, when we were supposed to do Sports Day. The students had been looking forward to sports day all week (we told them we’d be going outside to play soccer, dodgeball, ringtoss and more). Wednesday was movie day and we ran out of time (because a student was late getting back to class after the break and my co-teacher yelled at her for 10 minutes in front of the entire class). I wanted to give the little girl a high five for just taking it like a champ and not crying (often the co-teacher doesn’t stop until they cry) but I didn’t think that would be appropriate. So, because we lost some movie watching time the co-teacher decided we should finish the movie on Thursday. I worried about it cutting into sports day, but I wasn’t about to say anything.

On the average day we have 4 periods of 40 minutes each, with a 10 minute break in between. Usually the first period is a group meeting where we all sit together in a circle and introduce ourselves and then play some group games etc.. (refer to the video to see the class introducing themselves). Second period is usually the ‘work period’ I lead the class through a power point with that days key vocabulary (food, animals, classroom and jobs are a few of the topics we covered) we play a short game involving the vocab, then fill out a worksheet. Period 3 and 4 are reserved for games or arts and crafts. For example, when we learned about the body I had each team roll a dice once for each major body part – eye, mouth, nose, arm, leg, ear etc… Then the groups had to draw a picture of a monster with each number of body parts -> 1 leg, 6 eyes, 3 mouths, etc…

The plan for sports day was originally to do the morning meeting, then a sports related power point and worksheet in period 2 then outdoor games for period 3 and 4. The co-teacher decided that period two would be used for finishing the movie instead. I assumed we would either cut the power point and worksheet entirely, or just do a quick version and get out to play halfway through period 3. Turns out after the movie the co-teacher wanted to take up the movie question sheet (which ended up taking 30 minutes  out of period 3: the co-teacher had to stop to dish some discipline on the class). Period four rolls around and the kids are starting to wonder when the games begin. The co-teacher looks at the clock and says to me: “*gasp* (as if she just noticed the time) Tom! No time! Maybe, we can’t do sports. So just power point and worksheet. Ok?”

I stare at her blankly. My policy when dealing with this co-teacher is to accept anything she wants to do and try not to think about the time and effort I put into whatever I had planned for the lesson. Starting an argument with her about the lesson plan halfway through the lesson in front of the class (and taking into account the language barrier) could not ever end up in a win, or even a compromise for me or her, so i just let stuff slide. I told her if she wants to do the power point and worksheet that is fine with me, but I was not going to be the one to tell the class that they weren’t going to have sports time.

Anyway things got messy after that and a lot of discipline was required. So much, in fact, that we never even got around to the worksheets OR power point.

Today the co-teacher’s mood hadn’t improved and I’d say it was an even worse class than yesterday, mostly because at least yesterday they got to watch some movie.

When classes go badly like this I usually just let it roll off me. Its rarely my fault and I almost always had a better plan or activity ready that got sidelined because of a new idea that popped into co-teacher’s head. I don’t let it bother me because I’m just here as an assistant to the Korean co-teachers (afterall, I have absolutely no formal training as a teacher, yet). But during summer camp these teaching disaster have really irked me, and the reason is because I can feel all that hard work and bonding slipping away. Who cares if the first and second week were totally awesome – these kids are 10 years old, all they are going to remember is getting cheated out of sports day and getting yelled out for basically a week straight. This third week is going to stand out in their heads and I’m worried it will overshadow the good times we had at the start of camps.

I guess this is what I get for caring about something. God, I’m 23 years old, I should know better by now!

Anyway the camp is over now and it’s time to look ahead. I’m chilling in Busan this weekend and will be leaving for a 6 days vacation in Japan on Monday morning. I’m going to stay one night in Osaka and then two nights each in Tokyo and Kyoto. It will be a short trip, because Japan is expensive and I will be going solo. I’m thinking of this trip as a warm up/trial run before I implement my awesome super mega giga plan at the end of February (stay tuned for more details on this plan in the coming weeks).

My time in Korea is really melting away quickly. I find myself enjoying little things more, taking more time to watch and listen to the sights and sounds and thinking about what I will miss and what I will not miss. It feels a bit like another does of culture shock, to be honest. I’m not complaining though, that first stage of culture shock is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Anyway that enough for now. It’s time to get this vacation started! Stay tuned for updates from Japan!

Ps. Check out this link for a video of my students and school during the Winter Camp. Tip: turn the volume up when they are introducing themselves, their names are hilarious! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUA9Ji8CyWo

 

 

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