Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's beginning to feel a lot like christmas

It is a snowy monday after an incredibly warm week and weekend and i know it has been a long time since i wrote. But i have been a busy girl or at least it feels like i have been busy, perhaps it is just the laziness that the cold weather and dark days have brought on. Life has been good and it is slowly starting to feel more and more like christmas. Shortly after halloween the big chain stores all decked their halls with christmas bobbles and slowly the smaller korean stores started to decorate, especially the coffee shops and restaurants. I suppose after about dec 1st things really went crazy, christmas carols in store, people caroling in the streets or main square got all lit up. It was a little shocking at first that people were so into christmas here, but when you think that it has the largest growing population of christians and the three largest churches in the world, i guess it makes sense. Even the word for merry christmas in korean actually translates to christ's birth.

But despite all this it feels sort of surreal, as it is not the usual christmas that i have. No trip to calgary, no family, no real christmas shopping (except for myself :) Fortunately i do have some good friends here and we have been making some effort to keep the yuletide spirit alive. Last week or actually two weeks ago we went to our favourite little tea house and watched It's a wonderful life. I don't really need to emphasize what a great movie that is, although very depressing when you really think about it.

Then this week i began teaching christmas lessonsto my students. We watched mickey's christmas carol and the grinch. I taught them christmas vocab and we played bingo and made christmas cards. All the schools are also preparing their year end concerts and so in the halls of the school you can hear kids playing We wish you a mery christmas and rudolph on their recorders. My main schools concert was this past wednesday and it was awesome. Each grade presented something different. Some kids danced and others sang, there were a few role plays and fun was had by all. It took me down memory lane and i remember singing songs at coronation wearing sunglasses with kitten whiskers painted on my cheeks. The best part of it was that my school afterwards took out all the teachers for dinner and drinking. It was insane, a mad gluttonous feast. My principal went around to all 40+ teachers giving them shots of soju from his own glass. After that the younger teachers all went to another restaurant and at snack food and drank more and finally us really crazy teachers went to the Noraebang and sang until after midnight. It was good times, but as i'm sure you can imagine the teachers were all moving slowly the next day ;)

These riotous shinanigans were followed by the xmas jumper pub crawl this weekend. Which as i'm sure the title indicates we ran around in hideous christmas sweaters convincing the Koreans that yes indeed weiguks are insane. Actually we didn't last with the crawl very long as they were shockingly tame. So we took our jumpers and ran off to the Dome nightclub and started a shoe fire in the midde of the dance floor and then built a six person pyramid. It was very fantastic, especially when the koreans joined us, preventing the bar from kicking us out ;)

I hope you all have a merry christmas and in the words of one of my gr. 5 boys "Jesus I love you!!!"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Changing of the times

It is funny i have had a very eventful last little while and yet i am not sure what to write about. It is really beginning to feel like home here now. I still feel like a foreigner but i know the island and feel it is a part of me and i a part of it. Last week i lucked out and had a super slack week. Tuesday i called in sick and took the day off to relax and get some stuff done that really needed doing. I wondered about town, bought a jacket, did my banking, sat at a coffee shop and indulged in a mocha and a fashion magazine. It was awesome and it was well deserved. Then wed, we had to go to this conference which ended up being incredibly boring but it was a day of not teaching and my co-teacher and i think alike so we spent the whole time reading books and drawing. Then on thursday, the gr.5's were writing exams so i only had to teach one class and the rest of the time i hung out in the library and read and worked on the computer. In fact when i finally had to teach on friday, i almost forgot what teaching was all about. God knows what will happen after my winter vacation.

My weekend was very nice and relaxing, well sort of. It began after school on friday when i went to kuk sool won for my belt. YES, i am now officially a yellow belt. The test went well but was very nerve racking. My master who is usually so laid back spent the whole time sitting and staring at us as we each stood in front of the class with our fellow belt members and performed the forms and techniques for our belt. Fortunately it went by really well and afterwards we went out for dinner for Galbi (bbq). I got to eat rice and onion and garlic wrapped in a lettuce leaf, it was actually quite delicious. After watching others eat we all left and after being such a good girl the weekend before i was craving some fun. So we tracked down Graeme who was out with his school at our local nightclub called Roma. They were a riot, they kept on feeding us beer and pulling each other out to the dance floor. Slowly more of us foreigners showed up attempting to get in on the table that they had paid for. By the time there were seven of us the school decided to take of and we stayed until the bar as sick of our antics and the fact we had not paid for a table and tod us we could not longer dance. That marked the long line of random bars, noraebangs and hostess bars we went to or tried to get into. At the end of the night we ended up drinking on the roof in the freezing cold at 5am. It was a well-earned night.

The next day i woke up late and laid around until the beckoning sun pulled me out of my bed and i called up Caitriona. We ended up having a delightfully girly day. We went out for sushi for lunch and then wondered aimlessly going into random shops and cafes buying a few things, including some sweet red converse and drinking hot chocolate. The day was completed with a visit from our friends laurie and landis and laurie's sister who was visiting from the states. We all went to Kwanghee's tea house which he has recently enhanced by adding a wood burning stove and so we all curled up with a cup of tea and talked about life on jeju and obama's recent victory (laurie's sister lives in DC). Mmmmm and we ate delicious seafood porridge, which the island is reknowned for. The porridge is sort of like rice pudding but not sweet and with vegetables and seafood in it. It is delicious.

Sunday was equally as blissful. I awoke early and bellydanced in my room for an hour. Then i met up with graeme and caitriona and we hoped on our scooters and went to Jungmun, the tourist resort town about 20 mins from Seogwipo. First we went to Cheonjeyeon falls, which are spectacular and are actually apart of a myth where it is written that fairies from heaven descend to these falls to wash and sing music. They were spectacular, i can understand why fairies would choose to spend time there. After that we went to the botanical gardens which were quite interesting, rather small compared to some gardens i have been to but interesting. The cactus garden was really well done and so was the flower garden. Finally we went to the most amazing little tea and meditation house. I love kwanghee's but this is unbelieveable. It looks like a house from latin america or the mediterannean with a square white washed structure, but the edges and corners being curved. The inside has curved frames on all the doors and windows. There is a big wood burning stove and they only serve traditional tea and veg sandwiches. It is like heaven to me.

That is all i have to say about that right now. It was a very good week. Only three more weeks until winter vacation and only five until i am on a sunny beach in vietnam :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shaking to keep warm in the snow

Well there has ben a serious turn in the weather here on my little sub-tropical island. Makes one wonder what exactly the definition of subtropical is. I definitely did not expect it to mean snow in mid november. Granted this is better than back in Canada but that is not why i moved here. Fortunately being on the south side of the island means it didn't actually snow here but on mt Halla and the north side of the island. It even came as a suprise to the locals, all of my co-teachers say that it usually doesn't snow until december or january. It would be a nice little treat to have it snow and be refreshingly cold, if there was central heating. But as it stands very few places have this. At the schools only the classrooms are heated so the rest of the building is freezing and as i do not have a classroom this means i am freezing most of the time, huddled in a ball in the computer lab. Fortunately my apartment is well insulated so it isn't too bad. But when it is cold the floor heating only actually seems to help if you are on the floor. So i wrap myslef in warm blankets and jump around my apartment when it does get really cold.

This week has not been all bad though, in fact it has been quite spectacular. I got an awesome opportunity to dance in a huge auditorium for the 2nd annual jeju foreign language festival. It was held on friday and was a pretty good little festival. Granted geting a day off teaching is always really nice. On top of that we also got to represent the countries we come from and teach the kids about them. There were booths for Canada, the US, Australia and new zealand. Each exhibited stuff about that country, trivia, games, food, etc. The kids loved it and it seemed like there was always a huge line up outside each tent. I was lucky enough to not have to be outside at a booth though as i vounteered to perform. The auditorium is really nice and probably fits 500 to 1000 people. All through out the day foreign teachers were performing their various talents and in between korean students performed different english plays they had produced.

I got to perform in the afternoon at 3:10pm. Despite having a few weeks to prepare a routine i decided to go for a more spur of the moment dance. I chose one song for my belly dance and then my friend Jason so graciously played a traditional korean buddhist drum for a hula hoop dance. It went so well, i was a little nervous but not too bad. It is amazing how teaching has helped me release alot of my fears of standing up on front of people. As far as i could tell the Korean students took it well and the govt officials loved it. I think it was a real treat for them as it is not everyday they get to see a scantily clad white girl shake it in front of them. In fact i am sure it was a first for many of them. I can't wait to get the video. I will post it as soon as i get it. The whole experience has reminded me how much i love dance and how i am really missing it here.

My mission this week is to find an outlet for this desire.
And on a very happy note there are only 4 weeks left until winter break and i am buying my ticket to vietnam this week. HOORAY WARM WEATHER!!!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Couchsurfing and mainlanders continued

If you can believe it i actually have more to talk about. In a mere three days of visitors i did more than i have in the past month. But don't fear it is only one more day i shall tell you about. After our wet and wild day, Karen and i were pleased to arise to a slightly less wet day. After all we were supposed to go horseback riding and Master Oh said no riding if it was raining. So we tried to convince him it wasn't "really" raining out, but you can not fool a master and he said "no, but he would take us to the mongolian horse show". Naturally this does sound possibly way cooler than going on horseback, well at least if you are going to a place that is going to let you walk around in circles and so after a little debating we decided to go. Now a day with Master Oh is not a normal day we soon found out.

We met him and rob at the dojang to find out that master oh had to go to a funeral and rob was going to go and get taped by a woman in jeju-si and in there somewhere we were going to the horse show. So we piled into the van and set off on a very round about way to the show. We arrived just in time for the 10:50 show and we hurried in as master oh took off to his funeral. The show was friggin wicked. It is quite a large troupe of mongolian gypsys. There must of been about 15-20 of them, ranging from teenage boys to young men to young women and one middle aged man. The proceed to dazzle us with their horse controlling powers and incredible balance. The best part would probably be the horse acrobatics done to really insanely fast techno music from the 90's or perhaps the radical hairdos worn by the young men (imagine a mullet with bangs, except the part where the hair was supposed to be short was completely shaved off, i know WOW). We left the arena just as Master Oh was pulling up. He had been to the funeral said hi given some money and come to meet us. He informed us at this time that the woman who does the injury taping was busy and so we began to drive around randomly to different ranches saying hello to Master Oh's friends. This turned out to be to our advantage as we got to go horseback riding after all. Of course as previously mentioned it was a beginners place with very lazy horses that only went in a circle but it was still a hoot and probably nice for Karen's first time riding.

After our random visits Master Oh said he would be going to the archery club. What good luck Karen has, literally all of the things she wanted to do which you would think would not happen in the rain did happen; go-karting, horseback riding, archery. So we were taken to the kuk sool archery club and we got to play with the bows and not shoot any arrows. Well we got to shoot one it was attached to a rope so you could pull it back in. Now this kind of archery is not like any other i have ever done. The asian arrows are far longer than the ones we use, therefore it takes way more strength to pull this massive bow string back. It is an incredible arm work out.

Now our day did not end here. We returned home and got dressed and i took Karen to the big city. We went to Bagdad and ate delicious (as always) indian food and then we met up with some friends and went to the dome. Neither karen or annie had ever been to such a place as the dome. It really is unlike any other bar i have been in (outside of korea) and this time the roof opened. Despite the generally terrible music this place is just awesome. The people are hilarious, Koreans love to drink and dance (when they have been drinking). The bar that night was filled with Ajummas (middle aged women) and boy did they enjoy us they were trying to grind with us and i had one woman who kept on trying to hump my leg like a dog. It was a riot. There was even an old man, i'm talking 70 something, on the dance floor dancing with us. Oh i am never disappointed when i go to the dome.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Couchsurfing and mainlanders

I was blessed recently with a week filled with visitors from the mainland. Some of you may not like sharing your space, even your bed with other people, let alone perfect strangers. But i find it a great way to learn about other people and yourself. Now i am not talking about sleeping around here for all of you who have their minds in the gutters. My visitors of late were amusingly both Canadian one being from Calgary, even.

Lisa, from Calgary, is living on the mainland volunteering at a alternative school. Now if they paid for this position i would be leaving jeju immediately. This is the coolest school i have ever heard of. The kids run themselves, they get to decide what they want to do and what they want to learn. It is all based on Buddhist principles, there is even a temple at the school and they spend thursdays with the head monk. I am definitely jealous. My second visitor was Karen, from Toronto, who i had met at the EPIK orientation in Seoul. We are planning a trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos together.

So what is it that i did with these ladies you ask? Well where to begin, Lisa seems a good place as she came first. We awoke late to the rain pouring down and realized the scooter we had rented her would not be used. After some breakfast of coffee and sandwiches, we decided to do the most lgical rain day thing, go to museums. So we hoped on a bus to jungmun and wandered into the Sound island museum. This museum would be better referred to as a music museum, but as James poited out this morning that is a very broad category. The museum consited of three main sections. The first being mainly about Edison and his musically related inventions like the gramophone, but it also hada section on pianos. The second part was about by far the best, it consisted of a hallway and a large room filled with instruments just waitin to be played. They was most definitely well used as you could tell by the sagging skins on the drums and the chipped paint. The last part was a series of large scale diarammas, beginning with music from around the world and leading into a bizarre wonderland of little statues on turning platforms surrounded by shimmering fabric and artificial vegetation.

After the sound island museum we grabbed a cab to the African museum to vsit my Sengalese friends who perform tradtional music there. We made it just in time to catch their second perfrmance of the day which was entracing as always. After we went and explored the museum which is a very iteresting collection. I did not realize but it is actually an Art museum specifically. The first floor was filed with incredible photography taken around Africa. The second floor had various artifacts from masks and head pieces to chairs and sculptures. I think my favourites were the incredibly voluptous female scultures, so strong and yet so soft. The final floor is entirely devoted to the museum store where they sell statues, masks, furniture, jewellery and even some stuffed scotty dogs and mexican dishes (interesting blend i know). By this time we had to head to Jeju-si so i could pick up Karen from the airport and Lisa could continue her adventure with Anj in the big city.

We woke the next morning to more rain and had to adjust our plans slightly. But luckily even though it was raining it was still warm out. So we put on some suitable rain gear and hoped on the bus, venturing out to the eastern part of the island. Our first stop was go-kartingm, a rather interesting request on Karen's behalf but boy was it fun. They dressed us in bright yellow rain suits and cute pastel helmets with stars on them. We sped around the track getting splashed everytime we went flying over a puddle ad as we raced i kept on thinking the track was getting wetter and could not quite understand how our driving around was doing this? Were we spreading the water out? When we finally were flagged down to stop i realized it had actually begun to rain again but i could not tell the difference between being splashed from below or from above. After we dried off, we hoped on the bus again and continued east to the Hanyeo museum. This was another museum filled with little diarammas this time depicting the life of a Hanyeo (woman diver). These women are amazing and you can see why the women on this island are so strong and respected. The Hanyeo dress in dive suits (in the past only thick cotton shorts and tops) and they dive into the ocean to with only a net and spear to collect seaweed and abalone (clam like shellfish that contains pearls). Some women can go down 20 metres and hold their breath for over 2 mins. Alas not many women want to do this today and Hanyeo now are very old. By this time we were getting hungry and a little sick of the rain, so we hoped on yet another bus and continued on to Manjangul caves. I knew they were a way from the highway, but i was not sure how far. So for safe sake we went to the nearest townand stopped at a gas station and wasked them to call a cab. But as we waited for our cab a middle aged man (the owner i believe) offered us a ride "servicus su" (on the house). It was the sweetest thing. Strangely we both had to sit in the back as if we were small children, but we did not mind. Sometimes Koreans can be the sweetest people ever.

We reached the caves just as the rain was starting again. Perfect timing to go underground and explore. As we were buying tickets i think i saw the greatest sign i have seen yet in korea. It was a picture of a huge high heel show with a slash through it. Now you would think it would seem obvious to not wear high heels while walking through lava tubes, but alas Korean women love their fashion and i was quite suprised to see so many women wearing heels down there. The caves themselves were spectacular, they are some of the largest in the world and the way lava solidifies it seems as if it was still liquid. You can see every little detail in it. The caves were very cold and damp with random droplets of water falling from the roof. It was a truly magical place. After the caves we were finally dry again but it was cold and dark, so we hoped on the bus. Which we cut literally as it was about to drive by the turn off for the caves. The journey home was close to 2 hrs and when we finally arrived we were so pleased to be back. We didn't even make it out that night. We just watched a movie and took it easy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Samhain in Korea

Halloween began for me on the friday two weeks before halloween, when i taught my gr. 6s at Seogwi Jungang their first halloween lesson. It was so much fun and far more related to english culture than language. I showed them the nightmare before christmas intro and then went over monster vocab and then we created monsters. It was awesome to see what some of the kids came up with. Some of them were so bloody and evil. As the lessons progressed i started to gear them towards the units they were working on. The gr. 5s built haunted houses as they were working on a chapter on rooms in the house. The gr. 6s started studyiong what do you want to do? so we went over action verbs related to halloween and created a comic strip. The piece de resistance was the haunted house i made in what is supposed to be my classromm but has ben under renos since i started. It was so sweet. I built some tunnels they had to climb through and a graveyard and had a dead body (well half a dead body). I also did the good old peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains. The final touch was covering the windows in the monsters haunted houses and comics the kids had created, in order to darken the room.

I dressed up for both my schools, on tuesday for my rural school and on halloween for my main school. I created an awesome zombie biker costume with a bit of pirate and a hint of tank girl in it. It was of course inspired by THE SEOGI PIRATES. My kids loved it. They were totally freaked out and thought it was hilarious. I even made one of my gr. 6 boys cry. I did not actually witness it but when i heard i had to laugh. Of course things got a little nuts when the kids realized i had candy and was giving it to them freely, well if they said trick or treat. By the end of the day almost everything was trashed and i was exhausted but boy was it good.

After school i went home and cooked and got ready while watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It revived my spirits and i was looking forward to going and scring random Koreans on the street. The Koreans had an interesting reaction to us. The adults would mainly look once and then ignore us, barely showing the slightest sign of shock. I was very impressed with how good they were. The children were either scared or stared and point or asked for candy. Once we made it to city hall in jeju-si we got many more amusing reactions from the drunken Koreans wondering the streets. They all accepted the candy i offered them without even thinking about it. Which i thought was an interesting example of how trusting Koreans can be. They don't seem to have that same ingrained fear that consumes us in the West. I do wonder what gees through their minds as those crazy weiguks wander past dressed in slutty, bloody, grotesque, mutant robotic costumes.

The party at Blue Agave was kicking once we finally found it, which took quite a while. There were some wicked costumes; graeme dressed as a robot and one first prize, another guy dressed as a transformer and got second prize. Myself, autumn girl, the paper bag princess all tied for third place and received a bottle of cass beer. There were also some really good couple costumes; mummies, bottles of soju. I dont even know what time i ended up leaving after drinking a whole lot. But i ended up going to a Genny and Jeff's house (who i hadn't met yet) with Jason who is an a musician who has been teaching here for three years. We attempted to watch halloween but i don't remember any of it. In fact i don't remember anything until Jeff informed us it was after 1 in the afternoon and we should probably get up. Genny made us delicious pancakes and foul korean flavoured coffee. That and a few ibuprofens helped take the edge off of my aching head. It was an awesome halloween.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A day in the big city

Everyone needs a day out in the city every once and a while and boy did i have an awesome day in the city on saturday. Jeju-si isn't the biggest city about 300 000 i think, but compared to seogwipo it seems huge. Our day began with the good luck of a ride to jeju-si thanks to Chantale who was off to play ultimate with Caleb. So Graeme, Caitriona and i piled into her car and we set off over the volcano to experience the wonders of jeju-si. The ride over halla in a car is far superior to the bus as you can see everything much better and it was a clear day, so we could see all the details of the peak. It would have been a beautiful day to climb, as was obvious from the jam packed parking lot at the entrance of one of the paths.

When we finally reached jeju-si we ventured into tom n toms coffee to drink tea and eat delicious home made pretzels stuffed with delicious ingredients like apple cinnamon and ham, cheese and mustard. After waiting for Katiria for over an hour we decided to go outside and wait near the statue outside city hall where we met a most inebriated fellow with lips covered in crumbs and a bag full of empty makkoli (rice wine) bottles. He of course was immediately attracted to the opportunity to practice his english and harass the weiguks (foreigners). This consisted of saying hello, pointing at mine and caitriona's crouches (well maybe our stomaches but i doubt it) and attempting to grab onto graeme's hands. He returned three times until finally Katiria appeared and we hopped into a cab and went to the underground.

Now the underground is an endless maze of small little shops underneath the streets on jeju-si. It is a shoppers dream, though not that cheap. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of clothing, make-up, sport, toy and household stores. The fashions are amazing, Koreans are definitely a stylish bunch. Though they are very very tiny and only about a 1/4 of the stuff fits me. After almost four hours in the underground, with one short break for lunch above the surface, I made it out with two pairs of jeans (my first pairs of skinny legged jeans since i was a kid), two sweater dresses (one purple and one black), one pair of awesome white crocheted leg warmers, some fake eyelashes and glue and one pair of wicked white men's hightops (which i have since painted). All in all it was quite successful i think and not to ridiculously expensive, probably $150.

After our escapades underground Caitriona went to salsa class while graeme and i wondered the bar filled streets around city hall with a bottle of whiskey and some oj and coke. I must say i was completely enthralled with watching the young people go about there lives, as seogwipo is sadly lacking in people between the ages of 18-30 who are not married with children and careers. After our aimless drinking we went to catch the end of salsa class and i got to dance with two korean salsa dancer and do the coolest line dance i have ever been in. koreans make up great line dances.

When salsa started to get a little much we wondered into Led zepellin to have a drink and find out where the Dome was. Once we had directions we were off to experience one of the most ridiculous clubs i have ever entered. It is friggin huge and charges 50 000 won ($50) per table. Which was only like $13 per person for a fruit platter and beer. As we sat munching on fruit, listening to really bad korean pop music played by a dj at an elevating golden eagle dj booth. We were very happy when he finally disappeared into the ceiling. To our suprise the walls began to open and a full stage lowered from the ceiling to reveal a 7 or 8 piece korean band. As i stood in awe taking pictures i was swept on to the dance floor by a group of korean uni students who proceeded to teach me some of the most ridiculous dance moves i have ver seen a group of twenty something men perform. I had a great time dancing with them, especially when the hip hop group came out and actually started playing some decent music. The last group was a group of big bang wanna-be's (korean version of the backstreet boys) we decided it was time to go home and after an hour cab ride we found ourselves back in seogwipo at about 4am. Oh i love a day in the city.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Getting into Korean Culture

So it has finally happened. I was beginning to wonder if it ever was but alas all good things must come to an end. (just teasing). I finally got the opportunity to spend some time with Koreans doing korean things outside of school. It was really quite marvelous. I guess the first incident was about two weeks ago when one of the gr 6 teachers went away for a week long course and the gym teacher replaced her. The other gr 6 teachers were so excited, that they decided to go out and celebrate. Now she isn't the worst woman, but compared to the other gr6 teachers she is much older, much more strict and not really into partying i would imagine. Luckily for me, I was invited.

We began at 3pm by going to a presentation for teachers at the local cultural center, which was most entertaining. We saw students playing music, singing and even rapping and one of our very own teachers performed a few dances with his dance sport team (competition ballroom dancing). After that we recieved soybean cooking oil just for being such great teachers and then we took off to find somewhere to eat. After much debate we went to a lovely japanese restaurant which was an interesting mix of japanese food and korean side dishes. It was a insane amount of food and i am amazed we managed to finish off 3/4 of it, along with 6 or 7 bottles of soju (korean alcohol) and 5 or 6 litre bottles of beer. Slowly my co-teachers began to show signs of "alcoholic english speaking" as they refer to it and even the 6-2 teacher talked to me with more than one word answers. This lead us to deciding to find a new place to go and drink and we ended up at kwanghee's tea house which is a place i adore and was so pleased to find myself there. I am not sure how many drinks we consumed there, but i didn't notice my main co-teacher leave to go home and by the time i made it home it was 11pm. All in all it was an awesome experience. I got to laugh and visit with my co-teachers. Got to see how much Koreans can drink and boy can they drink and it made me feel really apart of the team.

My second major incident occured this weekend after much planning by Caitriona and i, we found ourselves at Yakchunsa temple to stay for the night. This temple is exquisite. It has the largest Buddha hall in the Orient and had three other smaller halls with different Buddhas in them. We arrived at around 5pm, greeted by Dokwan a very interesting character. He was originally an investment bank manager in Seoul with a wife and two daughters, but after his divorce he decided to become a monk. With his wife and kids settled in North vancouver, he has now been a monk for two years. As he had spent time in canada,as well,he spoke excellent english and we spent the weekend with him as our host serving us tea and talking to us about buddhism, canada, finance and many other topics. We got to participate in the three ceremonies they hold each day, at 4:30am, 10:30am and 6:30pm. The ceremonies consisted of a number of different mantras and prayers with the customary genuflection to Buddha and completed with silent meditation. After each ceremony we would eat lunch made from the rice donated to Buddha during the time since the last ceremony. The food was delicious and 100% vegetarian which i can not tell you how happy that made me. I was actually quite suprised to eat so much, thinking we would only eat one meal a day.

The whole experience was so peaceful and the 4 am wake up was actually quite pleasant. It was the perfect weekend with gorgeous weather and i am so happy to have some new friends who love to share about their culture. All are welcome and invited to come and have a tea ceremony says Do-Kwan.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

And The Seogi Pirates were formed

It was a beautiful day and after a pleasant ride threw the ambling side streets of jeju-do, four foreigners find themselves at the ocean. Filled with life, teaming with fish, flowing back and forth. The four climb off their bikes and sun themselves on the concrete peer. As the sun warms there skin and they wonder in thought, an idea beings to grow in their helmeted heads. What could we do, where could we go if we were to join together. And thus the Seogi Porates were born. On their trusted, though perhaps slightly decrepid, scooters and motorcycles they will wonder this island striking fear into those who get in their way and lust into the hearts of those who are crazy enough to romanticize about a band of bike pirates.

This formation has guided me toward finding a name for my beautiful pink scooter, who will from this day forth be known as ISIS (after the egyptian goddess). Isis was seen as a great mother and wife, patron of nature and magic; friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden, listener of prayers, and as the goddess of simplicity, from whom all beginnings arose. I chose this name as Isis will be my vessel for venturing out into nature, performing magical rites and, of course, helping those sinners, slaves and artisans out there.

As for my own pirate name it shall be "lysistrata (which means liberation army in latin) of the low". For my task shall be to befriend and liberate the lowly of the world. Through nature and the magic it gives me i will help break the shackles that bind people to their oppressors and prevent them from being free.

I promise to uphold this noble mission and serve my fellow pirates. All ye who stand in our way will perish by our hands.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sacred Spaces

You know those little places where one goes to find refuge from the drown and monotiny or the madness and confusion of everyday life. Well i have found two of mine. The first is a lovely little indian restaurant called Bagdad Cafe (after the movie). I believe i may have already spoken about it but it deserves more attention. It is owned by a lovely Korean woman by the name of Chu Young who speaks great english and has a very warm and inviting nature and a nepalese man whose name i do not know, but he is very good looking and says namaste in the most sincere and natural way as you enter this little sanctuary. The restaurant itself is set up like any lovely indian restaurant with warm colour and cushions, candles and incense. The food and drink are prepared by three indian men, who always greet with a smile. My favourite thing to eat is the Aloo Gobi with garlic naan and chai. It is all made to perfection with the right amount of spice and garlic. I find myself going there once a week and lounging about for hours wipping my chai and reading or writing in my journal. No one bothers me or stares at me. I am free to wonder of into my own little world and reconnect with the inner consciousness.

My second little haven is at a little pension near the sea which is only a 10 min scooter drive from my house. It is called Caffe Mokambo and is managed by a funky chick by the name of jenny. She has two staff, Johnny and New girl who both have an air of welcoming funkiness about them. The cafe is in a beautiful building with wood accents and cozy velvet couches. There is an amazing balcony that looks out on lush vegetation that meets the sea and makes you feel like you are out in the bush while still in a comfortable chair. The food is italian and quite authentically so (it actually has pepper and garlic and is not sweetened like most other versions of western food here). Even the cheesecake is real made with real creamcheese and not some strange mix of cake dough and gelatinous cheese stuff. I can easily find myself whiling away the hours eating delicious food, reading, writing and doing yoga on the beautiful balcony.

I must admit this is starting to sound like a review for a magazine. But if it was i would definitely give these amazing restaurants top marks. The real love i have for these sanctuaries ishe way they allow me to relax and forget about whatever maybe worrying me. I can sit there for hours and no one says a word, they allow me to enjoy and take in a little peace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

And the rain clouds and cold weather roll in

After a little over a month in this fine nation of Korea, i am shocked to find i am already feeling a little culture shock and rather home sick. I must admit things are not quite what i thought they would be like. Well i guess i had no idea what things would be like and find myself comparing life here to europe and africa. Not that i never got homesick there, but for whatever reason i am seeing it or choosing to see it as different this time. I have been trying to let go and not let my ego have such control over me, but i find my fears mounting and crumble at there feet.

I guess my main things aremy usual things in life, that i am still not fully able to let go over or control? Korea being such a homogenous and reserved country it is easier for my fears of my own inadequecies to mount, as i am daily stared at by people but never spoken to. I have never experienced such a thing on my travels and i am not used to it. Granted many a person would be thankful to not have a milion randoms talking to them everyday, but i personally like it.

Also the language has been a real barrier. Unlike in tanzania i did not get training in the language and now find little time to work on it. Which makes things much harder, especially whenyou are really hungry and the woman in the restaurant can not understand you when you ask for duk bokk gi. But as there is only one way to correct this i have begun working on my korean when i have spare time at school and i can already see a difference. Today in class i could pick up a few of the things the students or teacher were talking about.

Thank god for my students though, no matter how depressed i feel at night and choose to stay in all by myself. I am always happy after a class with them (well most of them). They are so cute and so full of energy. I especially like the ones at my rural school. There are fewer of them and therefore they seem to be more comfortable with me. One of them is sitting next to me right now, attempting to read this as i type.

Well i know it will pass but i felt it is something i must speak of to truly tell my tale.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scooter Adventures

So i bought a cute pink scooter on saturday. She is a feisty thing with 125cc, easily capable of going 100km/hr. I haven't made it past 80 yet though that is scary enough with the insane drivers and curvy roads that exist on this little island. She is a real awesome ride. She has more of a vespa styling to her and i am planning on painting something on her front (maybe a lotus flower). After that i will give her an official name but i am waiting till i have decked her out and i can see her full personality.

After i bought her on saturday we went on a cruise down the 1136 which is a beautiful windy road around mt. halla with lots of farms and forested areas. I can not say how enjoyable it was to cruise down the highway with my hair blowing madly in the wind under my pretty pink helmet. I screamed for awhile and then sang and then just listened to the wind whip by. As a person who has never actually owned her own vehicle, this is truly an awesome pleasure. Then somewhere along the way i ended up on the 1115, i think, which unto my knowledge was the horse district and i got to see the magnificient horses that live on the island. I have been hoping to go on a horse tour around the island and now i know where to go :) This road was even more rural and was a real treat. I have a feeling it will be my mission to keep away from all the main roads as much as i possibly can. Not just because people are crazy drunken tv watching drivers here, but because it is so much prettier on the side roads. I eventually came up a great big satellite dish which peaked my interest and i had to check it out and it ended up being the astronomy centre. So i hopped off my little bike and went inside. To my delight it cost me only 50 cents to explore the centre with use of telescopes and a planetarium show included. It was awesome and so random.

The following day i decided to try and take some of the water front roads. So i went down to Oedalgae, a park with these incredible lava rock formations and i climbed out on to one peak and listened to the waves crash against the shore and spent some serious time feeling truly connected with the earth. Which i must admit, it has been awhile. After my fill of sun and wind, I hoped back on my scooter and she took me off to Yakcheunsa, which is the most beautiful buddhist temple. It is supposedly one of the largest in Korea with four stories and possibly one of the biggest buddha statue collections in the world. I am talking thousands and thousands and thousands, it is really quite something. The piece de resistance is of course the three golden buddhas in the main room which tower above you and for a mere 10 000 won you can give them each a bag of rice. I probably spent at least 2 hours there and it has inspired me to begin doing a temple stay a month at a different temple each month. Between that and kuk sool won i think i will be set for physical/mental/spiritual exercise.

But for now my little scooter is parked for the week, except to take me to kuk sool won. I hope everyone is well out there. I love you all!!!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The first days of school

Well all in all i really can not say that i have had a horrible first week. I didn;t have to begin teaching until thurs and my first two days went well. I have decided that i think gr. 5 is possibly the worst grade there is to teach. They have so much energy and don't yet have the self restraint the sixth graders have, but are bigger and are willing to challenge authority a little harder than younger kids are. Even that being said though, they are nothing compared to some of the middle school stories i have heard.

My main school, Seogwi Jungang Elementary, is a large school of about 330 located right next to my flat. Most of the teachers speak english and i never see the principal (which i see as a good thing). I am teaching one gr.2 class, four gr.4 classes, four gr.5 classes and five gr. 6 classes. I am also doing four hours of afterschool programs, which makes my thursdays and fridays rather long with seven classes all day, but i am beginning to think it will be better than sitting around doing nothing. As the schools won't allow us to leave before our contract hours are finished. The afterschool programs were quite a challenge. I was not prepared to be thrown in on the first day and had nothing to do with the kids. My first class was chaos with 12 gr.1&2s running around like little devils. The second consisted of three gr.3 girls who sang songs for the 40 mins. But with the afterschool program paying me an extra $20/student instead of the usual $20/hr, i definitely can not complain.

My second school, Dae jeong Seo elemetary which i just started at yesterday is very different. It is a very rural school, right on the sea about 90 mins away from Seogwipo, which makes for a very long commute. But it is a very small school with only 90 kids which is very pleasant after my other classes of 35+. The only strange thing is the very small body of teachers and administration. The principal and vice principal seem to be continuously watching me which is probably all in my head since it is such a very small school and there isn't anywhere for them to hide either. I love being greeted by the kids though and they seem much more eager to get to know me then the kids at my big school. I also get to teach all grades here which is nice, as the little ones are so cute.

I think once i get a hang of all of this madness i will kick some ass and have a blast with these crazy kids. Hopefully their little germy bodies won't make me too ill. I have been feeling a little under the weather with my immune system being attacked by all sorts of new bugs. But thank god i have lots of immune and ginger and ginseng tea. Well it is 4:35 and i can finally leave. Hooray!!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Seogwipo: little city by the sea

So i have arrived in Seogwipo and after two days of sharing caitriona's bed i have my very own place to live, hooray. It is a very cute studio apartment in the metro building which the jeju education board rents out for all us weiguks (foreigners). I am in number 1003 and it is well hooked up. My bathroom actually has a divider on one side of the shower (most don't there is just a shower head above the sink), but i can still reach the shower head to all areas for easy cleaning. Although the pooled water seems to be producing a perfect fresh water source for mosquitoes to breed in, as i keep on waking up with bites all over me. I bet i am up to about 20 after three days now. My room also comes with the usual stove and fridge, but lucky me (well most of us on the island) i also have a clothes washer, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, some dishes and other random things and a computer with a lcd flat screen. I feel very spoiled indeed. The building is right in the heart of town, by the bus terminal. So there are lots of markets, shopping, banks and even some very nice bakery/cafes. It could be trouble for me though, far too many baked goods. Also my main school i teach at wed, thur and fri is literally a block away.

Speaking of schools. I got to meet my two main co-teachers on the night that i arrived on Jeju. They are both very sweet and speaking quite good english. One of them even wants me to call her Heidi, so cute. I got to talk to them both briefly and talk about my schools and my classes. I am teaching 8 classes on mon and tues at my satellite school Dajeong Seo Elementary, grades 1-6 and i am teaching 14 classes on wed, thurs and fri at my main school Seogwi Jungang elementary, grades 2,4,5,6. I am also teaching an after school program at jungang for kids who are especially interested in english and get an extra $700/mth. Daejong seo has only 90 students in the whole school which is awesome, my largest class will be only 19. But Jungang is a big school and most of my classes will be 30ish.

I am presently at school actually after a four day week because Daejong Seo is under renovations, so i don't start until the 8th. I figure this makes up for having to wait two days to get my apartment. Also today i am not even teaching, i am just hanging out in the teachers lounge and playing on the internet, as i have already finished my intro lesson plan. Unfortunately i must stay at the school from 8:30-4:30 because that is what the contract states. So i must fill my time some how (i have a feeling there is going to be a lot of blog writing).

As for Seogwipo itself, it is quite a nice little city. It is between mt halla (the extinct volcano) and the sea. It is very hot and humid and the air is delicious. It is quite hilly and is spread out with only a few buildings over 4 stories, of which one is our apartment building. The people seem much friendlier than in Seoul and some wish to chat with us and others pay us little attention. There are a million restaurants and i have found many cute little shops, including a ridiculous number of golf shops, as it turns out there are like 50+ golf courses on the island. There are not any actual beaches near the city but it is still lovely near the water and on saturday we went and saw some lovely waterfalls which are a 15 min walk from my flat. All in all it is a dope little place i have found myself.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The last few days in Seoul

I am sitting here in my little apartment in Seogwipo enjoying the early morning light and attempting to remember what i did in my last few days in Seoul. They seem to be blending together as they were all quite similiar during the day, but i must have done something at night.

Ah yes, so we went to a bath house in Myeong Dong which little did we know was a very wealthy and insanely busy shopping district. Everywhere we went there were small little streets packed with people and bright bright lights. As kim said it could probably induce an epileptic fit. It was really quite cool and i can see how it draws people in to shop. Thank god i had two people with me who didn't want to shop or might have spent all my money. So i am sure it is not a shock when i say that it took us a really long time to find the jimjilbang(sauna) and i still don't know whether it was the one that i read about or not. We finally found it and entered into a room that was an entrance to a restaurant and the jimjilbang. Of course as it is a very expensive shopping district it turned out to be a little more than expected, $15 for entrance to use the sauna and baths and another $60 for a scrub. So we decided to stick to just the sauna and baths, which were divine. The traditional sauna looks sort of like a huge oven with a tiny little door to crawl into and boy is it hot. I think we made it for about 25 mins split between two sessions. Wow there really is nothing so good as a good sweat. Afterwards kim and i went into the women only zone and lounged in the hot tub and then in the cool tub and then we went and sat in the coolest steam room i have ever seen. It was covered in crystals, mainly amethyst, and we got to sit on jade stool, talk about energy, incredible. I can't wait to go to the one here in seogwipo which isn't obscenely expensive.

I aslo went to Insa dong which is another popular tourist shopping area. Karen and i skipped out of our last (mandatory) class meeting to go and check it out. It is the supposed to be the art district and we saw lots of cool art galleries, although only from the outside as they were all closed. But we did get to see some great paper and ceramic artisan shops which were really spectacular. I have never seen so much incredible paper in my life, the prints and colours and textures were amazing. And to finish it all off we went to a beautiful buddhist temple called Jogyesa which had these three awesome statues of buddha. They were like 20 feet high and appeared to be made of solid gold. It was so incredible to meditate in front of them and here the monks and all the people chanting to them. I have decided that one of my goals in learning hangul is to be able to read the prayer books and chant along with the others.

The following day was a day long awaited by everyone, so we could finally discover where exactly we will be going and what schools we will be teaching at. And i thank god/allah/shiva/krishna..... that i got pretty much exactly what i wanted. I am living in Seogwipo which is the smaller city in the southern part of the island and i am teaching elementary at two different schools. This means i get a little extra money (100000 won or $100/mth) but am not at three different schools like some others. One of my schools is right near my apartment in the city and i am here three days a week teaching gr.2-6 and the other is in Daejong in the western part of the island teaching gr.1-6. I am very very pleased with my placements and so were most others except the couples who were supposed to get apartments near each other (jeju won't house couples) but they found out that they would be getting a monthly allowance instead and they have to find their own accomodations. It is really quite ridiculous and pretty much comes down to laziness on the part of the organizers, as they house us all in the same apartment blocks which are only tiny studio rooms.

But we still went out to celebrate and had an awesome time at this hilarious "flair bar" where the drinks were way too expensive but the show was pretty good. The three bartenders put on a cocktail show with strob lights and a fog machine and cheezy music and some awesome drink mixing moves. Evidently they had won a bunch of different bartending championships and they had it down. It was definitley a bizarre and entertaining thing to do on our last night in town.

The next morning was filled with lots of hugs, email exchanges and well wishing. When we finally hoped on our bus it took us about 8 hours to finally get to our homes. We had to take the bus to the airport then wait for our flight and then fly and then take another bus to seogwipo. But we arrived.........

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Annyoeng Haseyo (hello) from Seoul

I arrived in Seoul on thursday afternoon and have been insanely busy with my orientation since. The EPIK (english program in Korea) appears to be extremely well run and organized to the extent that we must sign attendance for every class (including movies). But then i am sure those of you who have travelled outside of the west know that this is often just a sham and it is really insanely chaotic and makes one feel a little like a child (organizing 400 people does that though i suppose). Our schedule goes something like this breakfast 7:30-8:30 consisting of some very strange korean version of american food) like the burger that was served this morning) or a Korean breakfast with soup, rice, kimchi, veg and some meat. The we have class from 9-10:30 and again from 11-12:30 with a break inbetween where we are given water flavoured coffee and white bread. After that we get lunch from 12:30-1:30 which is Korean only fortunately and is awfully similar to breakfast. On saturday we got kimbop which was really good and actually vegetarian. It consists of rice, veg, an egg and lots of hot sauce. After lunch we have two more classes with a break, where they feed us another snack. Then we have dinner from 6:30-7:30, I have actually only been to one dinner so far and it was our welcoming party in the high school gym (of course with all this food they are feeding us you don't really need dinner). In fact it is funny for a culture that is quite obsessed with being thin that they are feeding us like this. Then after dinner we have some other mandatory thing like a movie or a class meeting. This obviously does not give us much time to go and explore Seoul unfortunately.

So far on the first day we had at least three orientations to become oriented before the orientation, which made for a very long first day especially when jetlagged. Fortunately saturday was a far greater success we had four classes taught by experienced EPIK teachers or local korean teachers, of which three were exceptional and one slightly depressing and perhaps even a little frightening (I'm glad i am not one of this man's students). Then on saturday night I got to get out of the movie and out of our cage and check out Seoul. A bunch of us who used the same recruiter went out for korean bbq and met up with other teachers who are in the country. Dinner was interesting, definitely not veg friendly but i ate the side dishes and had lots of soju, the korean version of sake, which our recruiter dave paid for. Then we went to the Wolfhound, as we were in Itaewon, the expat area. It was so surreal i walked in the door to some scene out of good morning vietnam with american military and koreans in short skirts, of course the fact that wonderwall by oasis was playing and there were tons of english teachers and some jamaicans and nigerians in the back playing pool through this image of a little. It was almost like being home but you could just tell something was off. I had an awesome time and did not want to leave when we were informed the last train was approaching, which we missed anyways and then caught a cab to the wrong university. Thanks to a wonderful stranger driving along we returned safely and cheaply to the school. Finally today we got to go to the Korean folk village which was a nice break from being stuck inside a classroom. Infact it was really cool and huge, every time we turned a corner there seemed to be more. There were houses from every part of the country from farmers, to commoners to the rich and of course a palace. There was also a government office, trade workshops for silk weaving, paper making, farming, a haunted house, amusement park and my personal favourite a beautiful buddhist temple a top a large hill. We got a tour which was very informative and got to see presentations of traditional male musicians and dancers with the craziest hats you have ever seen and a tight rope walker who puts the people form cirque to shame. This man could literally bounce up and down on his rope dropping down to sitting and back up to standing and with no safety at all. It was a really cool trip.

Tonight we actually got time off and i was going to go to a korean bath but i am far too tired after last night, but tommorow night i will go for a sauna, scrub, massage and bath. We are in class all week and then get to meet our provincial supervisors on thursday and fly off to Jeju on friday. I am getting very excited and have some awesome people coming with me to Jeju. But now i am tired so i am going to sleep, as some of you prepare to rise.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mtwara and the Return Home Sept 07

Wow, i can't believe this journey has truly come to an end. It feels like it has gone by so quickly and yet so slowly. When i think of what i have learned and done it seems like ages ago, but i am sad to see it over so soon. My last week in Tanzania was truly fantastic. Abdallah and i left for Mtwara on saturday morning and spent another lovely 10 hours seated on a bus. The drive was very beautiful. It followed the coast for a good chunk of the drive and most of the road was my favourite color of dust, richly tinted with red iron. When we finally arrived two of Abdallah's uncles were waiting for us and after we crossed the ocean to the peninsula where his family lives, there must have been another five uncles at least waiting with bicycles to deliver us to the village.

The ride to the village was a good 12 kilometers and unfortunately it was very dark, so i couldn't see much. But we did pass through a few very traditional villages. When we finally arrived in the village, Abdallah's mother and sisters were waiting for us with a steaming hot pot of ugali and some fish. We ate speedily as we were both ravenous and than tried to commence with conversation. But with my accent and their accents very little was understood with out the help of Abdallah and my part in the conversation quickly drifted. Fortunately it was quite late and we went to bed not to long after.

When i woke i finally got to see the true beauty of this amazing place i had arrived in. The buildings were all traditional mud buildings, some with thatch roofing and others with metal. The front room was usually white washed and used for guests with all the bedrooms in the back. The kitchen and toilet/shower were located in the back yard which was usually enclosed using palm leaves. Surrounding the village for as far as the eye can see were coconut and cashew trees, which provide the main source of industry to the people (other than fishing). Surounding all of this is the ocean which is the most beautiful colours of blue and green, changing with the depths of the water to make an incredible pattern in the ocean.

I got to explore most of this area going to Abdallah's mother's and uncle's farms; where Abdallah climbed the coconut tree in the most incredible manner trying to hunt down defu (young cocuonut) to drink the milk from. I also tried pepu, which is a delicious fruit that grows on cashew trees, which tastes something like plums, passion fruit and soursop all mixxed together. My explorations also lead into the ocean, which was the most pleasant temperature and incredibly salty.

Of course, i did not only wonder through the landscape, but met Abdallah's never-ending family. I have no idea of how many aunts, uncles, bibis (grandmothers) and babus (grandfathers) i met, it was truly astonishing. I do however know that i met four of Abdallah's six sisters and some of their children. Turns out Abdallah's grandfather who had recently died was the cheif of the village which helped explain the incredible number of family members in the village. His grandfather had been quite prosperous which a huge minazi (coconut) farm of at least 2000 trees and even had two wives. They were the most amusing women, one being older and much more serene and the younger women being very large and could not stop laughing. She thought i was the most amusiong thing ever and wanted my hair. So i took a picture of us and put my hair on top of her head (she would have made a great blond (picture to come)). Everyone treated me so nicely, though conversation was at a minimum. Luckily after a day or two Abdallah's sisters could understand my accent and i could converse with them relatively easily.

On top of visiting the village we went and checked out some of the surrounding areas. Msimbati, which was surrounded by a marine reserve that recently had gained a gas well and pipeline. Turns out the company that was incharge of the project was from alberta. Most people seemed relatively happy about the situation and there was no sense that anyone was worried about polluting the marine park. But then people have much larger worries and the gas was bringing jobs and electricity. We ended up hitching a ride back to Mtwara with an old man from alberta who was there training locals. It was quite a suprise to see another albertan and it was very nice to speak english again for an hour. We also went to Mkindani, which was used by the germans as an administrative site for southern Tanzania. There were many old ruins of colonial era buildings including the fourth Boma i saw during my trip. I could see why the germans had chose this spot, as it was directly on the water and was surrounded by coconut trees.

When we finally left Abdallah's sister was so sweet and insisted i needed a present. So i took a cute little woven basket that she offered me. Abdallah's mother insisted i write to her and his uncles all wanted my number in canada. It was a very cool experience.

We arrived back in Dar on friday night, with just enough time for me to arrange my stuff to leave on sunday. So i spent my last two days packing, giving away things and playing with the kiddies. The goodbye fortunately wasn't that bad as that day for some strange reason which i couldn't get out of anyone, there was a drag race through town which took everyone's attention away from us. Unfortunately, it wasn't all good excitement and a man ended up getting hit and killed by one of the cars. I saw my first dead body directly in front of me, as some men were carrying the body to the police station. It was very creepy and i felt rather sick afterwards. The strangest thing i found was that the race continued, no one stopped what they were doing except to try and get a peek at the body. Of course, it makes sense why would these people shut down everything for one dead man amongst 100's that died that day in other parts of the country. But i couldn't help thinking it seemed strange. And that was the end of my trip to Tanzania.

Our flights were all good and after 37 hours i found myself back in canada wishing i was still in Tanzania. How different and strange things are here. Everything is so sterile and devoid of life, without smells, sounds, or sights. Everything is so drab. Anyways canada is good, i have fast internet and a consistent power supply and hot showers.

Kondoa, Kolo and Arusha Aug 07

So sadly my trip is coming to an end but definitely with a splash. I think I last left off on a bus to Kondoa, which any one who has been to a place with shitty roads and shitty buses they won?t have any trouble imagining what happened. The road to Kondoa was dirt of course and had lovely divits dug into it by the continual traffic of cars along it. On top of this the bus company decided to make a little extra money and sell the seats twice sometimes even three times. Therefor the bus was packed with people standing like sardines in the walk way. Fortunately we were there relatively early so we got a seat, not our originally assigned seat of course. Sometimes I feel bad about this because we most likely got the seats because we are wazungus but what can you do I definitely wouldn?t have wanted to stand. We finally arrived after 6 hours of being bumped up and down giving our internall organs, a gentle squeezing which we paid fpr late.

Kondoa is a lovely little town, again seeming a bit like a ghost town. As it is very dry and dusty with few people about except in the main market area. We stayed in a rather nice hotel, once again with squatting toilets which helped our squashed internal organs greatly. Poor matt was constipated for close to five days and thought he would die. Fortunately with a little ingenuity he finally built a toilet out of a bucket, so he could sit and fully relax. But not after having a hell of a night.

Now this lovely night actually happened after two days. The day after we arrived we planned to go to Kolo by bus. But when we bought our tickets they said 6:30am boarding. But when we should up in the morning the bus had already gone (it actually boarded at 5:30am). So we ended up having to pay to take a cab which in comparison to Canada was not that exensive but for here it was. When we finally found kolo. It was a very pleasant town up in the hills and was the most pleasant cool nice, like the early morning when your camping in the summer in the mountains. We sat in a cute little kitchen house and we had chai and chapattis while we waited for the guide to come.

The walk to the rock paintings was very pleasant and definitely not as gruelin as the hike to the waterfalls. The rock paintings were very neat. There are three main sites up some large hills in a perfect place to live, with a large over hang above to protect you from the elements and a perfect view of the valley and animals below. There are two sets of paintings, one which they estimate to be about 5000 yrs old and another about 800. We made it back to town in time for the bus and got to add a third bumpy ride to our list of bus rides. And of course this topped the cake and lead to a night of horrific pain and vomiting for matt.

We stayed in Kondoa another day as matt was unable to travel and on the following day we went to arusha, making it to the bus at the proper time and adding a nother bumpy bus ride to the list. In arusha we met Joseph who had gone to Mwanza with Robert. Arusha was a strange sort of a city. Seeming very much like a western city with wide streets and many wazungus. This of course meant that we got haggled a lot to buy things which of course were far to expensive. But it is a nice to town all the same with cool weather and a much more peaceful feel compared to dar. We went and saw the natural history museum and got to see a court case for the Rwanda genocide tribunal.

We returned to Dar the next day as we had little time and joseph had to catch a plane to return home. So now it is just me and matt and I have just left him in the hands of the residence of mbande and gone to Mtwara with abdalah. But that story aill have to wait.

Adventures throughout the country with Matt aug 07

So it has been a long time since my last email and I have been up to many terrific Tanzanian things. I guess my last adventure began two or three weeks ago, when matt and I decided it was time to go on safari. So we bought a train ticket and headed west to Udzungwa mountain park and after to mikumi national park.

The train ride was delightful with all the cabins divided by gender, I got to spend 7 hours in a cabin with three nuns. Which was actually quite enjoyable, as on the large part they left me alone to read and when we finally did chat we discussed Malaria and the difference between malaria in the west and in Africa. They were quite surprised to find out that we had no malaria and couldn?t accept that we just had no malaria and that we hadn?t eradictatd it some how. It is curious how so many people have views similar to this about the west. I can?t count how many times people have insisted that all poor people in Canada get money and don?t live on the streets and my particular favourite, that all white people are smart. God knows where these people are getting there info, well I guess I do American television.

Back to Safari, we arrived in Man?gula at 11pm and of course got suckered into paying to much for a cab and got taken to the most expensive hotel in town. But the king size bed I got to myself and the amazing breakfast in the morning made it almost worth while. Man?gula is a very quite little town in the mountains surrounded by lush forest and many rice and canola fields. The only tourists who come through are hikers who have come to climb the mountains and rarely go into town as everyone was excited to see us, but not in a jaded way like in Zanzibar.

We spent one day hiking up one of the mountains. We climbed five kms up to an amazing waterfall called Sanje falls which is actually divided into three sections and is the highest in Tanzania possibly Africa? It measures 280m in total and was breathtaking. We ate our luch on some rocks in the middle of the falls overlooking the valley, which made the very grueling climb all worth it. We had hoped to see monkeys and other primates but unfortunately it was wood collecting day, when all the locals are allowed to go into the park and collect fire wood. It is simply remarkable how these young women go up and down this mountain collecting huge bundles of firewood and carrying them back down on their heads. I wish I could do such a thing, although I can carry a bucket of water on my head, I am quite pleased to say.

After Man?gula we caught a bus to Mikumi, which is a peculiar little truck stop of a town again with hardly any tourists except the few who come to see the park. The park is rather small and inexpensive which is why we chose it and we ended up seeing all the animals it had to offer except for hyenas. We saw tons of elephants, giraffes, impala, zebra, water buffalo, duiker and hippos. We also got to see crocodiles, one warthog and a group of lions, mainly female with one juvenile male, at dusk hunting a herd of impala. It was pretty amazing. The park itself was very beautiful and very different from Udzungwa. The landscape was very dry and open but surrounded by mountains in the distance on all but three sides. There are beautiful trees through scattered randomly through out the park including some insanely massive baobabs.

We returned to Dar after five days of adventures to send off nearly everyone we know who decided to return to Canada early. Vinay left for India on the 11th to see his family, Melissa left on the 13th, Sze left on the 15th, Rachel on the 16th and Alex on the 17th. So now we are only three Matt, joseph and myself. After everyone left we returned to our little house in Mbande and played with the kids for a few days and then went on another adventure which I am currently on.

Matt and I went to Dodoma, kondoa and kolo, while joseph went with Roberti to Mwanza (robert?s home town). Dodoma, the nations capital (though it doesn?t seem it) is a strange little city that reminded me of a ghost town from some old wildwest movie. It is very dry and barren with low sand beaten buildings and very few people. Fortunately we were only there for a day and continued onto Kondoa the next day.

That story will have to wait till I get back to dar though as I don?t have enough time to type much more and this is a mighty long email.


Zanzibar- an Island of Contrasts July 07

Well i didn't go as long as i thought i would as i couldn't handle all the Wazungus (white people) and the inflated price of everything because of their presence. But it was still fabulous. I ended up going with Abdalla, who is the electrician at the Jeshi and has done a bunch of work for us at the house in Mbande. Maybe you were all right and i will come back with an African Husband. (Don't worry mom i will try to restrain myself) We went to Zanzibar on the slow ferry and saw whales. I think they were false killers.

When we arrived in stone town Abdalla seemed to know every other person, so we got a nice hotel right away for a decent price ($14 each). The hotel had beautiful carved Zanzibar beds and looked out on to the crumbling roof tops of Stone town. That evening one of his buddies took us for a walk and then we went to a sweet club. I am embarrassed to say that this was my first real party night in Tanzania and boy did i need it. We danced all night long outside at this roof top club, that played all sorts of amazing music from Bongo flavour to Hip hop, reggae to taarab. It was truly fantastic.

The next day we went up to the North beachs to a little fishing village called Nungwi. What a strange place it was. One half is a very poor, very muslim village which seems very jaded by the tourists who come strutting through town wearing bikinis and spend loads of money but not on local goods. On the other side are these huge hotels stretching down the beach as far as the eye can see, with Wazungus everywhere as well as Maasai and Rastas trying to make a few bucks of them. The hotel was definitely pricier ($35 US for both of us) but the beautiful beach and decent room made up for it. The water was crystal clear unlike near Dar and you can see everything.

That night we went to a neighbouring town called Kendwa for the big monthly full moon party (the main reason we journeyed into this tourist trap). But it was well worth it. We decided to walk along the beach to get there and it was quite an adventure. First we tried to negotiate our way through all the hotels and ended up in this area where new hotels were being developed. The ground was extremely treaterous as it was on the side of a cliff and consisted of crumbling rocks and weeds overgrowing them so you couldn't tell where the holes were or not. We finally foud a spot to jump down onto the beach and had a lovely walk in the moon light. Of course we ended up walking right past Kendwa thinking it must be farther and had to back track for nearly 20 mins. It was quite an adventure. The party was awesome with all sorts of debachery going on. Crazy white kids doing things they would never do except in a country far, far away. Tanzanians trying to get into the pants and pockets of every other tourist in sight. Oh and there was an amazing acrobatics troupe. At the end of it all we caught a Dhow (boat) back to the hotel which ended up costing $5 each.

The next day as you can imagine after two days of partying we were exhausted and it was not pleasant trying to squish onto a packed truck to return to stone town. The one saviour of the day was the amazing meal we had at one of the hotel restaurants. I ate octopus and Abdala had Tuna, it was so good and despite the fact it seemed expensive it was $8 each for a meal you'd pay $50 for in Canada.

After a good sleep, we spent the day wondering around stone town with one of Abdalla's friends who showed us around. Stone town is truly magnificient. Beautiful stone buildings with intricate doors and windows made of hand carved wood slowly crumbling with the very evident poverty of the people who live in them. Such a contrast between rich and poor, new and old on this island. It is a shame there are some many tourists. But i am super glad i had Abdalla and Sabit so i could go into the less touristy areas and not get lost, as it is a most confusing city.

We returned on the night ferry which left at 9pm and arrived at 6am. It was quite the crazy ride as the full moon caused the ocean to be incredibly rocky. Also unfortunately late that afternoon Abdalla got word tht his brother had died that day. Which made for a very long and sad journey home. Life is like that here though, i don't think i have met a single person who hasn't had a brother and sister die, not that that makes it any less sad.

So now i'm at the jeshi trying to decide what to do, travel some more or go back to Mbande and continue my research. Sijui.

Village Life

The real Tanzanian adventure has truly begun. I moved into the village almost two weeks ago now and am loving it. Mbande, is located just north east of dar es salamm and takes about 1 1/2 hrs to get there by daladala. The ;ast town census showed the population to be 5000 including the surrounding hamlets. It is quite peaceful and very typical of a coastal Zaramo village with the majority of the population being muslim but still maintaining some of there traditional practices.

The first few days were tense and i was ready to pack up and leave, but i resisted the urge and i'm glad i did. The major concerns at first were of course not being able to understand anyone, as they don't speak as clearly as language instructors and the communal living. Being a person who likes my own space alot it was really hard with people continually coming into my house and staring at me or taking things. But i quickly learned to tell them i needed to work and they will leave me alone. (Of course i have become less of a curiousity as well)

The children are amazing they helped me through the first few days, which i mainly spent playing with them or drwing pictures of them playing. The adults are alittle harder to get along with as they are very stuck in their ways and like things just so. But a few of them partidularly Baba Maje (one of my "guards") and mama afidhi were exceptionally helpful.

Life is very slow and chill here. I usually wake up at about 6am and have some chai and read. After i play with kids, do my dishes and possibly wash some clothes. I read alot (Finished three books) and draw and write poetry (which i haven't done in years). On days when other students come to visit usually i help prepare a big meal with the women and we go for a nice long walk. The area is incredibly beautiful bordered by two valleys which are amazing, I would love to have a house in one of them. I definitely find myself getting bored some times but now that i understand everyone i can start my research comfortably.

Yesterday was Mama afidhi's sherehe for her marriage (althopugh she actually got married last summer) In preperation her and i went and got our hair done (I got braids and she got her hair straightened and styled) We also got our arms, hands, legs and feet painted with henna. Here they call it Chola (Literally to draw) and they call the ink piko. I am enjoying it very much as i'm sure you can all imagine and people are know calling me a Tanzaian or Zaramo (depending on where i am).

I also got some clothes made, called Kitamba, and i am going to pick it up this afternoon. I am very excited. This weekend i'm off to Zanzibar for the full moon.

Bagamoyo July 07

HOORAY! I finished classes on Tuesday and am very glad. To celebrate Matt and I went to Kipepeo beach and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing. Then we went to Bagamoyo on Thursday.

Bagamoyo is a beautiful little fishing town with a rather dark history. The name literally means “Where I lay my heart down” which is suiting as Bagamoyo was the centre of the slave industry for centuries. It was along the old caravan routes that stretched across Africa and all the slaves from the interior were brought here to be examined before being shipped off to the Arab world or later to Europe. There is amazing and haunting buildings all along an old stone road near the ocean. Some of them are very old from when the Arabs ruled and others are very typical colonial era buildings from the German colonialists and later taken over by the British. Most of the buildings have deteriorated greatly like the old customs house which is merely fragments of walls being held up by the vegetation that has grown up around it. Other buildings like the Caravan Serai and the Fort are still in good order and are used for meetings or private offices.

Despite this dark past Bagamoyo has an incredibly relaxed vibe which I needed so badly. Everyone saunters along the road holding hands and chatting with friends and loved ones. Many art shops play Bob Marley and it caught my ears floating through the air every time and gave me many opportunities for an impromptu sing along with matt. We stayed in an adorable little Banda. Traditional buildings built of clay and thatched roofs. Which are ideal for this climate and much more pleasant than my cement home at the Jeshi.

In the morning I walk at 6 and went for a walk down the beach to the mangrove swamps. What spectacular trees these are. The only trees that are able to survive in salt water, there roots grow up into the air and look like thousands of little spikes rising up from the sand. On my walk I bumped into many fishermen who were preparing to go out for the day. All of them cheerily and perhaps curiously responded to my greeting of “Habari za Asabuhi?” (News of the morning) and continued along their way. After my walk I sat on the beach and read and then did some yoga. I can’t say I have felt that revitalized in a long time. I could have stayed there forever but we decided to return to Dar in order to catch Saba/Saba (the national holiday of Tanzania).

It was quite a change from sleepy little Bagamoyo with thousands of people all converging on one spot, A large trade fair that really felt like I was back in Canada or another western country. There were massive coca-cola, Heineken, Vodacom, celtel, and other major corporations Pavilions where they were trying to sell their goods and convince people they were the best. Fortunately there were also many buildings that housed groups like WIPE (Women in Poverty Eradication) which provide micro financing and training for women and children in poverty to make their own businesses. This totally saved the event for me; it would have been far too much after Bagamoyo otherwise. It was definitely a very interesting experience and gave me a great view of the globalization of Africa and how people here have been swept into the madness of Capitalism.

Between Saba/ Saba and Bagamoyo, it was definitely enough to confirm the fact that I want to go and live in Mbande and I am happy to say that I will be moving their tomorrow for about two weeks. I am leaving all my electronics and other distractions behind and am going with only a backpack and a few books. I CAN’T WAIT.

KiPepeo June 07

We have officially found paradise here. Yesterday we decided to go and track down a beach, so we asked our mwalimu (teacher) Mama Jengo which was the best and she told us to go to Kupepeo. After doing some errands we started our journey, which was rather long and amusing. First, we took the daladala to the ferry which took about 30 mins and involved me being hit on by one of the bus employees for the millionth time. It is funny at first I really loved the attention but now it is just becoming annoying and creepy. What really topped the pile is once we got to the ferry a random very poor guy came up and sat beside me saying “because I, because I” and started kissing my shoulder and tried to kiss me. Fortunately I found out what to say next time from Mama Jengo. The ferry ride continued to be crazy as our boat slowly pooled out did a full circle and then pulled up to the beach, at which point everyone jumped off and went running to the next ferry which had just pulled up. Fortunately we just made that ferry and had a uneventful ride to the other side of the harbour. Once we got there we got a cab to the beach and the mad journey was immediately forgotten. The sand was so fine and soft, almost like sugar and the water was so warm. The beach is lined with palm trees and certain sections have fancy huts from hotels. It was definitely a different vibe though with lots of white people and everything was calm and clean. But it was so worth it we swam around in the water for over an hour amongst tiny little jellyfish and then we dried off for a while before the sun went down. I can’t wait to return on the weekend and spend a whole day there.

First Adventures june 07

WOW, a lot has happened since I first got here. We have been to Mbande twice now and it is a really cool place. The people are incredibly friendly and fascinated by us, especially the children. It is very draining going there as no one speaks English and it takes a lot of work to try and speak Kiswahili with them. The children are definitely the best part. This past Sunday I took all of my hoola hoops (which I finally finished) and I spent all day playing with them with the children The little girls and a few boys just loved it and were so good by the end of the day. I can’t wait till we actually get to go and stay there.

I have been downtown a couple of times now and am getting very comfortable with it. I found a great little French patisserie and had a cappuccino and pain au chocolat on Wednesday and I can’t tell you how exciting that was. I can also converse well with the people at the market and the food here is amazing. I love being able to go to the market every couple of days and get fresh fruits and vegetables (I don’t know how I will ever be able to go back to shopping in Canada) I have also been to the Khanga market twice now and bought myself six Khangas. Khangas are the traditional dress of women here, they are beautiful pieces of patterned cloth with Kiswahili proverbs written on them and they are less than four dollars a piece for like 6 yards. I haven’t found much jewellery yet but I think Zanzibar will be the place for that.

Yesterday I went to Kariakoo market with a meteorologist named Kurwa from Tabora who is taking a course at the airport. Kariakoo is the biggest and craziest market in Dar and it really is big and crazy. There is a huge section that is actually underground and everywhere there are little shops selling all sorts of things from traditional medicine, electronics, clothes and the coolest men’s shoes I have ever seen. (All the men here dress really well) After wondering around the market we went for lunch at a little restaurant on the main road. I had some really good samaki (fish) and mchele (rice). The fish here is sort of weird and creepy though as it is always whole with the head and eyes and fins all still attached. It definitely makes it harder to disassociate it from being a real animal. After lunch we walked back to the Jeshi, which is a really nice walk especially in the early evening when it is a little cooler. Along the way we crossed one major road that was lined with Mganga selling traditional medicine, which was a cool site to see. Being in a major city there is such a struggle between using traditional healers and modern medicine. Many traditional medicine shops are right beside pharmacies.

Today we had Kiswahili class, which is going very well. We have classes Monday to Friday from 8am until 1pm. It is a lot in one day but it is good. I am definitely feeling more confident in speaking the language. Later I think we are going to go into the city and check out the local Hookah bar and maybe go dancing (which I am craving immensely despite my hoola hooping everyday) Speaking of which I think it is time for my daily hoola.

Arrival May 07

Even Salama?

After 34 hours of travel (22 on planes), three security checks, four airports, two hours in London and many (surprisingly not bad) airplane meals, I have finally come home to Africa. It is so amazing here, it is hard to express in words but I will try. The journey here was relatively uneventful, as one would assume of sitting on a plane.

Doha, however, was pretty cool, the capital of Qatar, a tiny middle eastern country. It was quite a different world, everything was desert and it seemed to go on forever except for the few small buildings at the airport. Evidently it is an American military base, which might explain them not letting us take pictures and the blood that was splattered on one of the posts inside the airport. It was pretty incredible to see all the people; the women all wrapped up and the Bedouin men in their white robes. Unfortunately we were only there for a few minutes and didn’t get much time to look around.

By the time we made it to Dar es salaam I was exhausted after having slept maybe four hours and the humidity was quite a shock. But it was just as spectacular as I thought it was going to be. The airport was full of people, many of whom were trying to help you by carrying your bags or getting you a taxi to get a little money. Outside tons of people were waiting because some sort of famous person was arriving and there was dancers and drummers and the energy was electric. When we had gotten all of our bags and found a good deal on a taxi we went to the Jeshi la Wokovu (Army of the saved/ Salvation Army). It was originally a base during WWII that was built to house and care for the sick. There are about 30 or so small buildings that have a bed and some other furniture and a sink, shower and toilet (it really is quite the exceptional place to live, at less than $7/day for your own room). There is also an orphanage, primary school, language school (where we are attending) and many other buildings which I don’t know yet.

After getting settled and having a good meal we crashed and had to get up early to go to school in the morning. Definitely intense right of the bat and I am very thankful we did some preliminary lessons. Our teacher Musa is very good. He is probably 30 and well educated with three wives and ten kids. We have now done two classes and it is a lot of information, but it is good. We are going to be doing classes five days a week, five hours a day for six weeks. I can’t wait to be able to speak more with people. There are many other people about who are very friendly and helpful including two research assistants who Vinay has hired Grates and Joli and Vinay’s long term friend and helper Robert.

We went into town yesterday with Robert to buy supplies and it was intense. I don’t know how anyone could possibly drive here, it is shear chaos. I have never seen anything like it. We spent the afternoon going to markets and stores and ate some amazing Indian food. Tommorow we are going to Mbande village, where we will be going to do our research, to see it and meet some of the people. But for now I must sign off because there is the most amazing music coming from somewhere and It is calling.