Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Just popping in to say I haven't forgotten this blog! I'm still planning to write a top 10 things I miss (and don't miss) about Korea list, and put a comprehensive photo slide show on here (as soon as I figure out how to make one).

Enjoy your holiday season, and have a happy new year!



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Going Home Early

...but this time not because I'm sick! Not that I wound up going home from that, after all, but that's another story.

Turns out, the school doesn't want to file for visa extensions so that we native English teachers can finish out our contracts. So they're sending us home about five days early. Now, some schools do this with the express intent of shafting their teachers out of severance pay due to a legal loophole that lets them say, "YOU DIDN'T FINISH YOUR CONTRACT SO NOW WE KEEP YOUR MONEY HAHAHAHA SUCKERS!" But as we've been told, expressly, that we WILL be getting severance along with our last month's pay, and the school has mostly operated in good faith with us up to this point, I have confidence they will follow through.

If not, I know some numbers and people to call that will get them in a lot of trouble with the Labor Board. :|

We'll also be filing for our pension refunds, which is another nice chunk of change, so I'll be coming home with a decent cushion of money even though I was unable to save much. Between living expenses and paying off debts at home, I have managed to save... essentially nothing. But, hey! I was paying off student loans that were otherwise going into default, so that's something. Also I paid off the computer that I'm currently using to blog, so that's another tick off the to-do list. It's progress. I'm not complaining.

If all goes as planned, I should be getting a flight home on September 24th, which is on a Saturday. Meaning my boyfriend Chris won't have to take time off work to get me from the airport and spend some quality snuggle time with me. Bonus!

As promised, I will continue to update this blog with photos and whatnot from Korea even after I return home, until I run out of things to post. And then it will sit here, gathering dust, an archive to a time in my life when I lived all by myself on the other side of the planet for a year, teaching English to children in a country where I am a minority and my language is not the most commonly spoken. I've learned as much (if not more) than I've taught in my time here. I've learned about myself. I've learned about dealing with people I wouldn't necessarily choose to associate with, given a choice. I've learned some perspective. I've learned a little bit about being a functional adult with a steady job. I've learned so much, and yet so distressingly little, about this fascinating country and its language and people and culture. I've learned how hard it is to be away from the people and places and things that I love from home, and how surprisingly (and simultaneously) strong and weak I can be when it comes to homesickness.

I have learned that I still have a lot to learn.

But it's a good start.

See you soon,


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oh, hello, what's this? A blog? MY blog?!

*trips over blog*

Oh! There you are. I was wondering where I'd left you. Seems I've gone and... not posted in you for a few months. Again. Sorry about that.

*dusts off the layer of neglect*

Right. So, stuff has been happening. A lot of stuff. Let me break it down in little bite-sized portions.

First off, I have WAY too many photographs to post here, and it's not an easy thing to do, so I'm going to have to find a better alternative than uploading to my Photobucket and linking here. Something a little easier to navigate and not so hard on those of you with ancient computron machines. Thus why you haven't been getting my massively picspammy posts since... well, that last one. With all the cherry blossoms. Sorry, guys. I promise, photos will be up somehow, someday, just not now or here. I'll for sure do some slideshow stuff at my welcome-back party or whatever winds up happening upon my return.

Next, a shout-out to my new friends here in Korea.
-Kevan, who has excellent taste in restaurants and beer, and who is happy to provide an extra stomach to feed when I feel like cooking. Thank you for introducing me to Frypan and that shabu-shabu place. You are a godsend.
-Jonna, Ben, Wally, Raph, Tim, Scott, and Julio of my D&D/Savage Worlds gaming group, you guys are great, I don't think I would have made it through the past few months without your wonderful company. What an incredibly satisfying game of 4e D&D we played! I am sad to see it end so soon. Also, you guys have the best snacks of any gaming group I've ever played with. THE BEST SNACKS. :|
-Michele and Sam, who have adopted me (along with their mad dog Choco) and fed me and kept me sane here in Korealand. You two are the best. So much love and kisses. XOXOXOXOXO <3
I'm going to miss you all when I go home!

So, Chris was here back at the end of April/first bit of May, and that was wonderful. Three weeks didn't seem like any time at all, though, and before I knew it I was alone in my apartment (with Gus the rabbit, but he's not really much company), missing him all over again. We spent some time with Michele and Sam, including Passover dinner on Chris' first full day in Korea, and had a bit of a jaunt in Busan (which is GORGEOUS and I wish I'd been stationed there instead), and did the touristy thing in Seoul. TONS OF PHOTOS WERE TAKEN. Not posting them here, though. Like I said, later and elsewhere. Be patient!

More recently, my good friends Hayden and Monica came to visit as well, just at the end of third semester. It was great to see them, and we did YET MORE touristy things on a budget, including visits to such must-see attractions as the Seoul Chicken Art Museum. I'm not even joking. There is photographic evidence. Their visit was more brief but nearly as action-packed as Chris'! An exhausting but wonderful time.

Regarding that fainting issue I was mentioning before, right now the best guess anyone has (including the doctors) is "it's stress-related". Awesome. Anyway, after getting on some low-dose medication to help me sleep better and reduce my stress/anxiety levels overall, the fainting seems to be under control. Hooray! Good thing such prescriptions are cheap in Korea!

(I dread returning to my lack of health insurance options in Minnesota... I'd better find a job fast, I guess.)

On the topic of jobs, I've already started applying for a few. Updated my resume and everything, even if it is a bit spartan. Hopefully, I can at the very least sniff up a few leads before I set foot on American soil once again. I'm considering applying to be a substitute teacher, since that's the only kind of teaching I'm actually qualified for in the US, and maybe working my student loans off until I can go back to school again for a proper teaching degree of some sort.

I currently have about five weeks left on my contract. Blimey, where did the time go? Feels like I just started this blog. Also feels like I just stepped off the plane, and yet at the same time, it feels I've been here far too long. I'm so very ready to come home.

Does anybody want a rabbit? Sadly, I cannot bring Gus home with me. Rabbits don't do so well on airplanes, according to my research, and that's IF I could find an airline that would allow me to take him on an international flight in-cabin with me. But since I don't have control over my flight booking, that's out of the question. It's either re-home my fuzzy little friend, or off to a shelter, and the latter idea breaks my heart.

Going to start selling off some of my things here, mostly the appliances that the school didn't provide for me. Clothes are being sorted into Keep, Ship Home, and Donate to Clothing Swap piles. Last month of classes are being planned and prepped, and I am gearing up for Mid-Terms and Evaluations which will be happening during my final week of work. It'll be jolly good fun, I'm sure.

Right before I leave, however, I get a mini-holiday. Chuseok is a major Korean holiday, and my school has decided to take that entire week off because they're awesome like that. So, I've got September 10-18th off, which is incredible. I fully intend to use that time to catch up on my sight-seeing, photography, souvenir buying, and maybe do a temple stay. I'll also probably be cleaning out the apartment as much as I can so I don't have as much to do during my final week of work.

Not sure of the exact day they'll be shipping me home, but be assured, you folks on the internets will be the first to know. And don't worry: I will continue to update this blog even after I return home, especially regarding all those photographs I'm not posting right now, and lists of things I will/won't miss about Korea. So stay tuned!



Monday, June 13, 2011

A Belated Cherry Blossom Post

All right, so I've decided, since I have about three metric tons of photographs (which is quite a feat, as digital files don't weigh very much) that I will just start posting short, image-heavy entries in this blog until I get caught up. So, have some cherry blossoms!

You can see cherry trees blooming all over Korea from early April to about the first week or so of May. The trees themselves only bloom for a couple weeks each before all the flowers fall off, but different trees in different regions bloom at different times, stretching the cherry blossom season out to about a month. Or at least, that's how it was this year. And man, it was gorgeous.

Cherry blossoms have a very delicate, sweet scent, and in such high concentrations it was like a soft perfume hanging in the air all the time. When the flowers fell to the ground at season's end, they created an even stronger but not unpleasant aroma as they rapidly decomposed.

Walking down the street, it was as though the trees were supporting great, sweet-smelling clouds of pinkish white. Absolutely breathtaking.

Anyway, on to the photos. Some of these I took with my iPod, most with the good camera.

Taken with iPod near my school and apartment:

Night time:

View from my apartment roof:

Down my alley/street:

That's my apartment building there.

Sick of these yet?

Have some close-ups!

The local park puts up lanterns around this time of year to decorate for Festival Season (which is, apparently, every weekend between April once the cherry blossoms come out and whenever it gets cold again).

And that's pretty much it. Next post, I'll start in on Chris' visit. There will be a few more cherry blossom pics, I'm sure, but Chris will be in some of them this time.

Enjoy your mountain of picspam. Hopefully it won't crash the blog (or your computer).



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Still Alive

Not quite a Portal reference (okay, it was), but just a quick post here to let you all know I'm still alive. It's just been a bit hectic lately. Every time I've sat down to write a new blog post, I've either been stumped as to where I should begin, or just so cripplingly homesick and stressed that everything comes out as a long-winded whinefest. So, now I've put off posting for about two months.

I'm not sure I'm up for writing a full post even now, but I figured I should give you guys a preview of what I'm meant to be writing.

So, in our next episode(s?) of Hold the Kimchee:

-I will post about the cherry blossoms, pictures included!
-I will post an outline and photos of my boyfriend Chris' visit to Korea.
-I will post various other random photos I've taken lately and the stories that go with them. I don't even remember everything that's happened lately offhand, but the pictures and videos will jog my memory.
-I will discuss fainting and associated problems.
-I will give a shout out to my new friends.

And that should get me caught up. I intend to get this blog post up by next weekend. Because other stuff will be happening next weekend, so I'll want to blog about that as well.

All right, I think that's all I've got steam to write for now, so signing off.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Q&A Session #1, Jimjilbang, Spring Update

Lots to cover this time around, guys. I slacked off on the blog way longer than I planned, mostly due to being INSANELY busy and stressed with work. Writing was too much like a chore with everything else going on, so I put it off. But! I am caught up on household chores and I no longer want to break down and sob every time something new lands on my plate at work, so I'd better get this taken care of before life gets crazy again.

FIRST THE QUESTIONS! These are YOUR questions, dear readers! If you didn't get around to asking me a question about Korea last time, you can go ahead and post new ones in the comments, and I'll answer them in my next Q&A.

Q: What do you like most about South Korea?

A: That's a tough one. I like a lot of the food (fried chicken and Korean BBQ are AMAZING), the heated floors, the transit system, the insanely inexpensive medical care (USA YOU COULD LEARN A THING OR TWO YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU). I've had mostly positive interactions with the Korean people, and the language is beautiful even if I am struggling to learn more than a handful of phrases. I love the little shops and the weird socks and the cute clothes you can buy in the endless warrens of underground subway station malls.

Q: What will you miss most when/if you come back?

A: Okay, first of all, I AM coming back. In late September/early October, most likely. I am not staying for more than the one year my contract outlines, but barring any mishaps, I shouldn't be returning earlier than that. But just to make that clear.

As for what I'll miss, I'm probably going to have a list. Mostly the aforementioned stuff I like about South Korea. I think I'll compile such a list right before I leave the country as part of my final post in this blog.

Q: How many people are bilingual over there?
A: A lot of Koreans speak English to some degree of proficiency or another, though not as many as I had expected. Koreans also commonly learn Chinese, and sometimes Japanese, as second languages. I'd have to say that overall, they are more likely to speak a second language than Americans, though I don't know if I'd go so far as to say bilingual. A few of my students were raised at some point in the US or Canada, however, so they might count, as their English was learned from a very young age, even if they aren't quite fluent.

Q: What are the public bathrooms like? what are public spaces like in general? tidy? littered? gummy sidewalks? well-kept greenery? a little wild? in good repair?

A: Ok, that's actually a lot of questions, but I'll address it as though it were one.
The city I live in, Anyang, and the city where I work, Uiwang, are both fairly clean. You get your share of nasty smells from sewers and garbage in spots, but that's how it is in any large metropolitan area in the world. Some parts of Seoul are less clean *coughcoughItaewoncough*, but Korea has definitely moved into the modern era in terms of maintaining their cities, and they are comparable if not cleaner than most cities I've seen in America or even Spain. Not a ton of litter or gum on the sidewalks. Trees and so forth are maintained. The pollution is pretty bad, though.

Public restrooms are another matter. They can really vary from place to place, and while most of the ones I've been in are all right, I've run into a few really nasty restrooms here. It's a mixed bag, like anywhere you go in the US. You'll generally find cleaner restrooms in/near chain restaurants, and some of the major subway stations have well-maintained restrooms, but the ones near bars are pretty scummy. Also, you need to make sure you bring your own tissues, because not all restrooms will provide you with toilet paper. I've found the ones that do, as a rule of thumb, are usually cleaner and in better repair than the ones that do not. Also, some of the restrooms have Eastern-style toilets only, which means you have to squat over a trench in the floor. It was awkward, as a Westerner, to use this style of toilet at first, but I've gotten pretty good at not pissing on my own shoes.

ALL RIGHT. So, that covers that. End of the first Hold the Kimchee Q&A session.

Now on to my comprehensive jimjilbang report!

A jimjilbang, for the uninitiated, literally means "sauna room" in Korean. It's a bath house, basically. First, you check in at the counter. You pay the entry fee, which covers access to the facilities, a locker key, towels, and pajamas.

The jimjilbang my friend Michele and I went to was pretty nice, 8,000 won per person on a Sunday afternoon. We got our towels and headed downstairs to the shoe lockers. Leaving our shoes in the little lockers there, we continued on to the bathing area, which is separated by gender. After collecting a set of simple pajamas each, we headed to more lockers to strip and stow the rest of our belongings. There's a concessions counter in the bathing area where you can buy toiletries if you didn't bring your own, but we did, so once we were naked we headed into the baths.

First, we showered. There's an option of getting scrubbed down really thoroughly with exfoliating towels, but it costs extra, so we decided to wait until next time to try that. Once we were all clean, we headed to one of the hot pools. The hot pools are just how I like a good, hot bath. After a relaxing soak, we took a dip in the cold pool, then tried one of the sauna rooms. I endured the sauna for a few minutes before breathing the hot air started to bother me, and moved back to the hot pool.

Meanwhile, all the other women and girls around us are naked. No bathing suits. The towels are small, what we would call "hand towels", so no real chance at covering up. And nobody cares. Nobody's really looking at you, and if they are, it's the sort of open, casual curiosity you get from people who like to sit on park benches and "people watch". It's surprisingly not at all uncomfortable, or at least it wasn't for me. Of course, I'd left my glasses in my locker so everything was a bit blurry, and I didn't have to really notice if someone was looking at me.

Obviously, I don't have pictures, because... well, that's not allowed. Not in the bathing area, anyway.

After the dipping and soaking, we toweled off and put on the provided pajamas, which are just simple cotton shorts and t-shirts. Very comfortable, one-size-fits-all things. We headed upstairs where we had the option of getting massages, foot soaks, and various other services. The foot soak was another 3,000 won and came with scented salts. I got lavender. As we were soaking our feet, a girl from Michele's school, Sejin, came by to visit with us. She didn't speak much English, but she was adorable and very sweet, bringing us water to drink while we sat with our feet in brightly colored, scented, bubbling hot water.

After the soak, we tried to curl up in one of the "cooler" saunas, which was still too warm for me to feel comfortable sleeping in. So, that idea abandoned, we sat for awhile in the Cold Room, which had ice on the walls and was pretty much like walking into a giant refrigerator. Sejin was so excited to hang out with us, and eventually brought us upstairs to another lounge area to meet her family.

The lounge areas were mixed-gender, had mats on the floor for napping or just relaxing, televisions, and snack bars for refreshments. It was very low-key and pleasant, with an overall sense of comfort and community. Probably the most "cultural" experience I've had since I arrived in Korea. We hung out on mats, snacked, and chatted with Sejin's mom and sister and grandmother. I DID get some pictures of that.

Michele and Sejin, who is showing off her "handeu-pon" (cellphone).

Me with my towel turban.

Group shots!

I felt amazingly relaxed and at peace with the world after this experience. I want to do a jimjilbang trip every month! It's incredible, recharges the body and the spirit, and is just a wonderful way to spend time and bond with friends. Not to mention making new friends!


One of our Korean teachers, Amy, had to leave due to her baby being in the hospital. We were all very sad to see her go. Amy is a wonderful, sweet lady, and I hope that her baby gets better. The school hired on a new teacher to take her classes: Lynn. Lynn is very friendly and cute, and we get along quite well.

Look at her. Don't you just want to put her in your pocket? =^3^=

The new kindergarten class, despite a few last-minute changes and some stress, is going pretty well. The kids are all very young, and thus sometimes difficult to keep focused, but they're super cute and most of them seem enthusiastic about the classes. I took a few photos as my seven-year-old class left for the day. Aren't they adorable?

Today, I saw the first cherry blossoms on the trees as I walked to the Lotte Mart for groceries. Spring is finally here. I expect I'll be seeing a lot more of them in the next week or so, and I promise to get out the good camera for some better photos. In the meantime, here are a few iPod photos:

Before I hit the grocery shopping, I broke down and went into a Dunkin' Donuts for the first time since arriving in Korea, which is quite a feat considering you can't throw a stone without hitting a Dunkin' Donuts or Paris Baguette here. I had a green tea latte iced bubble tea, which was fabulous, and picked out a selection of donuts including a glutinous rice cake custard-filled donut and a red bean/walnut filled donut, which I ate in the shop with my bubble tea. The other donuts I brought home, and... I'm not sure if I really want to eat them, but the novelty was too much to resist.

Here they are:

Top left is a raspberry donut. So far, so good. Below that is a fried tofu donut, which I did eat after taking this photo, and it was pretty tasty. Not sure what made it a tofu donut, but I guess tofu is a pretty mild flavor when it's buried in sugar glazing. To the right of that we have a carrot donut. Not... TOO weird, I guess. I mean, we have carrot cake, right?

Then the pièce de résistance, a spinach donut. Yes, spinach. I'm a little afraid to eat that one, really. I mean, I like spinach, and I like donuts, but this seems like an unholy union of wrongness to me.

On a final note, Chris will be here for his visit in slightly less than two weeks. I am steadily growing more giddy with every passing day. I still need to plan how I'm getting to the airport and getting us back home to my apartment. Then I need to figure out how we're getting to Busan and/or Jeju during my vacation week. Not to mention where we'll be staying. *flails*


Okay. I'd best get ready for bed. Good night, world, and I will have an update again... probably when Chris gets here, or maybe slightly before that if I get some good cherry blossom photos to share.