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.........