Yet another reason I love Seoul.

September 5, 2010

Living in the city it is easy to suffer from concrete overload. It seems everything is paved over, and choked with car exhaust and pollution.  And there are so many people, all over, all.the.time.

So it is nice to get away and back to nature. Here in Seoul, you don’t even have to leave the city.  Seoul is surrounded by mountains, and even in Incheon and Suwon, there are many places that are green and beautiful, and you can walk trails surrounded by trees and fresh air.

Saturday I went on a meet-up in Incheon. I took a friend and we went to Jung-dong station in Incheon, near Bucheon.  The station is small, but they had a cool display of insects, and some were quite humorous. My favorite was the battle of beatles in front of a castle. I also liked the butterflies.

At 9 am we all met up, and started for the hills.  It was an easy climb, and it was early enough, but the heat really took it out of everyone. I started getting out of breath and sweaty fairly early.  But I persevered and was rewarded with a gorgeous view of Incheon from the top of the hills, and although this is Korea so even the mountains are fairly crowded, there still were places of quiet and green beauty.

After climbing, we went out to eat, then I bought a sewing machine from a girl who is leaving this week. I also snagged a bunch of spices, unfortunately they are all jumbled up, and I don’t have any labels. I think dinner is going to be interesting for the next few weeks.

I felt virtuous enough today to only take a quick bike ride, and after I had a pretty good lunch. I liked the name of the restaurant (noodles in the kitchen) and had a chicken and peanut fettuccine.  It was an interesting combination that worked very well.  I didn’t expect to go there, I was originally going to get bosam ( boiled pork that is wrapped in sour kimchi – it tastes way better than it sounds) – but the place I thought was bosam was really just  an army ji gae –  or spam with noodles in hot sauce – not exactly what I was looking for. Anyway I didn’t bring my camera, so no pictures of the chicken and peanut fettuccine, but it was awesome. Then a thunderstorm came up just in time for me to be able to watch “inside man” without too much guilt.

Sometimes life is good.

Some more pictures for your enjoyment – because I love you.


An easy going person always smiles.

September 2, 2010

So this is the second week of the semester.  The first week back I thought my students had used all of their summer break forgetting everything I taught them last semester. But this week they were back in the swing of things.

I have one student I quite like, even though she is a bit prickly and stubborn.  She has made it clear, I am not a good teacher. The story:  Last semester we had a speaking test. It really wasn’t a speaking test, more like a test for memorization.  The students were given 5 dialogs to memorize, and were graded on a point system 1-10, with 10  a perfect score.   This is the only test I actually administer.  This student did pretty good on the test. I gave her a 9.  I wanted to give her the 10 she asked for, but she made several mistakes in the beginning.  I let her start over, and she did excellent, hence the 9. I couldn’t give her a 10 because that is the perfect score, and she did have to restart the test.  ( She is one of the lower level students, and although I don’t like grading on a curve, I am a bit more lenient for the lower level students than I am for the upper level students).  Anyway, I digress. She was most unhappy with the result.  She did make a valiant attempt to sway me, but I was unconvinced. I was then informed that I was a very bad teacher. She wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the semester (she did do all the classwork I asked for).  This semester, she decided to forgive me. Until today.

This week we are discussing personality adjectives.  The worksheet has two parts: The first part is a finish the sentence exercise, and the second part is opposites.  The first one is: Kind is the opposite of__________.  I let her group use “unkind”.  10 minutes later I hear “Teacher, finishee”  I know, I am trying to get them to pronounce the final d, but I think it is a losing battle.  Anyway, I digress. I  thought it was rather quick, especially since the lab (upper level) students took much longer.  Well, they used the rule “un” = not, but I had to break it to them that unstingy, unhonest, unrude, unlazy, and unshy were not real words, and they couldn’t use them.  She was most upset.  I am back to being a bad teacher.  I met her in the halls between classes and she turned her face away from me so hard she almost hit the wall.  I am a bad teacher, I did laugh. She tried really hard to not laugh then decided to be angry with my laughter.  I don’t think she is going to talk to me the rest of the new semester.

I do love the way my students use the language though. Sometimes even though it isn’t “correct” it is still pretty cool.  I usually put them in groups and have them struggle with the words and their meanings, or the sentence structures. I want them to own the language, not just get the right answer.  In English, there is more than one way to express something, and I want them to have that power.

So some of the sentences my students have come up with:

A stingy person has a selfish mind.

A lazy person doesn’t like to wake up in the morning/ doesn’t like to endeavor.

An honest person  speaks only truths and does good things

An impatient person tells everyone to hurry up

An ambitious person only wants passion for work, not to be happy. ( I like this explanation, even if it would never show up in the dictionary)

An arrogant person is not modest

A shy person doesn’t like dangerous things. (maybe not, but it is close enough)

An easy-going person is a cool guy /doesn’t like to be upset.

My favorite opposites are:

Kind is the opposite of bad

Stingy is the opposite of shopping/ helping people.

Honest is the opposite of tricky/ illegal action/ hypocrisy

Rude is the opposite of courtesy/decorum

Lazy is the opposite of industry/liveliness/ diligent


Shy is the opposite of friendly/stately

I know they are using their dictionaries so some of them don’t really understand the nuances of their word choice. I also know “that’s very creative” is high praise in my upper level classes, so I am getting through to some of them.  My goal is to make English something they can use to express themselves, and of course, have fun. Plus it makes me smile when I grade their papers.

A Critical Mass that never was, and a hop on an island

August 23, 2010

It has not been a relaxing quiet weekend. However, it has been a lot of fun, and a pretty nice adventure.

Friday night was bitter-sweet, in that two very cool ladies are leaving Korea.  They want to get “real” teaching certificates, and to be honest, I think they both will make awesome teachers. I am sad they are leaving, proud of them for their ambitions, and I am optimistic that I will see them again as we travel through life. You never really know how the road will twist and turn.

Saturday was supposed to be a Critical Mass. Critical Mass started as a protest in some cities, to gently let cars and buses and trucks and motorcycles that there are bicycles as well that would like to share the road.

I was excited, and hoped to meet some other cyclist that were like me.  I know I do take some long bike trips, so a lot of people think I am fit and athletic. This is not really true. I am old and fat, and I prefer a more leisurely pace. I’m really not that fit.  A friend from a smaller town also wanted to go. So I borrowed a bike from my co-teacher, and off we went to find critical mass.  Now, we could have cycled there, but she arrived a bit late for that, plus we wanted to save our energy for the event. So we took the subway.  Last year it was illegal to take a bicycle on the subway, but now it is OK on Sundays and Holidays. Fortunately this means it is also OK on Saturday.  I know this, because the subway agent/ helper/ officer type people watched us and said nothing. Plus the first and last cars all have the international bicycle sign.

Taking a bike on the subway is usually pretty easy, but my friend wanted to take the elevators the whole time, so sometimes it got to be rather maze like in the station looking for an elevator to the correct subway platform. Fortunately we are intrepid. So finally we get to Gwanghwamun, where the mass was supposed to start. We wandered around, only 5 minutes late (and really for an event like that, it shouldn’t be a big problem) we couldn’t find it. We met two other cyclist, and they were looking for the event as well. So we wandered around some more but couldn’t find anything remotely like a mass group of cyclists getting ready to share the road with a bunch of cars.  So we had to make a decision.

We decided to cycle along the Cheonggyecheon, until it goes into the Han. It was beautiful, and for the most part very easy with little traffic.  Only one area, near Dongdaemun, had a lot of traffic. One of the things I love about cycling in Seoul is that cars here give cyclists a lot of room, and tend to slow down when they pass you. They don’t seem particularly upset that you are there sharing the road with them.  In the U.S. some drivers seem downright offended that a bicycle is on the same road as they are.  So it was a really nice ride, and we made it home in time to shower and get dinner before we were off to Incheon.  We met some friends at the Seoul train station and then took the bus into Incheon.

The next morning we were up early and off to go to Sin, Si and Mo islands.  We took the subway to the end of the line, near the airport. Then hopped into a taxi, that actually cost less per person than the bus would have ( there were six of us total).   We then got to the ferry right on time and made it within a minute of it leaving.  Once we got on the island we rented some bikes and went to the set of two Korean TV shows, a beautiful beach, and a beach with one of the more interesting sculpture parks around.

When we got hungry we went in search of a meal, but the one restaurant we thought would be good was closed, so we asked around and found another. It was well worth the wait. We had a kind of noodle soup that included clams and they had one of the best potato salads I’ve ever had. ( it included corn and raisins, a combination I wouldn’t have thought could taste so good)– after our repast we cycled some more, then turned in our bikes. We caught the next to last ferry, and headed home.

I arrived back at my house quite late and very tired, but in a good way.  I was even able to wake up in time for our first day of the semester.

To celebrate my most excellent weekend, I decided to skip Korean class, and eat chocolate cookies for dinner. (don’t worry, I’ll eat something healthy tomorrow– maybe)

Happy whatever it is

August 20, 2010

Today marks one year. I have had this blog for exactly one year to the day.

Whoo whooo

I’ve had a lot of adventures, and learned a lot, lived a lot, and tried to share that with you.  At first this was only for friends and family, but I’ve noticed comments from people I’ve never met, and been asked to contribute to another website.

It has been fun. So I will continue.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in living and learning.

Well, I’m glad that is done.

August 13, 2010

I’ve decided to stay another year, so of course I have to renew my visa.  Here in Korea for teachers it isn’t that big a deal. It is actually pretty simple.   Although it is a bit time-consuming. Mostly it is waiting for one piece of paper, so that you can get another piece of paper.

First you have to get your new contract. Now through SMOE, it is a bit more complicated, because they are a huge organization.  I had to go to the SMOE office for a re-interview.  I was a bit confused on why I needed to go and re-interview, because my school liked me and I liked my school.  But when you work for the government of any country there are going to be lots and lots of hoops you have to go through, just so that things are consistent.  After the interview I had to wait for the contract to be sent to my school. So I got the contract, signed the contract and then had to send it back to the SMOE office.  Then I had to wait some more,while they did whatever secret ceremonies and processes that they do, and then go back to the SMOE office to get the contract.

Once the contract was in my greedy little hands, I then had to go to immigration. The immigration office in Seoul is really quite efficient.  But if you are renewing, you should go to their website and make an appointment.  The website is somewhat less efficient, but if you follow directions, and sacrifice the right small tokens to the right small gods, then you should have your appointment set up.  Actually I had to get one  of my co-teachers to help me navigate the site, as I’m still quite tech un-savvy

Once at the immigration office, the whole thing would have taken 5 or 1o minutes. But. I forgot the schools licence. Every school that sponsors a visa needs a special licence from the government. Even the public schools.  I brought everything else on the list, but not that one piece of paper.  Fortunately the immigration office in Seoul is pretty nice. They let me call one of my co-teachers who then called the school, and they faxed the licence.  The immigration office accepted the fax, and I was done.  Even with a major mistake on my part, the whole operation took only 25 minutes.  And that should have been the last of it.

But.  I work for SMOE, and they require an additional piece of paper.  I had to get a second health check ( the way I understand it, if you work for a private academy you don’t need to do this) – SMOE mostly wanted the AIDS test and a drug test, but they required the whole series of tests.

I was surprised at how simple the whole thing was.  I went to the hospital, told them what I wanted, and they had me fill out one form, then everyone there seemed to know what they were doing much more than I did.  I got precious bodily fluids extracted, an X-ray taken, and a hearing and eye test.  The whole thing from entering the hospital to leaving the hospital took all of 45 minutes. Pretty good if you ask me.

But. Then I was told to pick up the health check results on Monday.  I went to the hospital after my classes, but made the unfortunate decision to run a few errands on the way.  This was a mistake. When I got to the hospital, the international clinic was closed.  One of the administrators for another section did try very hard to find someone who could help me, but in vain.  I had to return.  So I did, and apparently I have passed all the tests. I will live on for yet another year.

I then had to take the form with the results of my tests to SMOE office.

Now I am done.  Whew!  And I really do think the immigration process for teachers here is awesomely  efficient.

Plus on the other bright side, my summer camp is almost finished!  So now I’m off to take a nap, and then head out for some much-needed R& R.  I think salsa dancing is the right venue for celebration.

On saying good-bye

August 10, 2010

Almost all of the foreign teachers here are on one year contracts. Many of the people I came here with are not renewing their contracts so they will be leaving this week and next week for home or other adventures.

Some of the people I met in orientation became very good friends, some only bright spots in the periphery of my life.  My life is richer for having met them, and even though some I only saw a few times, I will treasure the memories I have of them.

This is one of the downsides to a life of travel and adventure. You meet some wonderful people, share wonderful times with them, and always, eventually, you have to let them go as you and they part ways on your own adventures elsewhere.

I have always been very good about staying in touch with most people. Facebook and e-mail has made it easier to stay in contact with people through time and space, no matter how many times they change their physical address.  Even knowing this though, it is sad to say good-bye.

I’m always a bit surprised when it is time to say good-bye, even though with everyone I meet, foreign or native, the good-bye is eventual. It is part of the price paid for this life, these adventures.

I pay it willingly, yet the sadness doesn’t abate.

I wish all those I will not see again for a long while a safe journey to their destination, much love, laughter and happiness wherever they may find themselves and I hope that we may meet again, to recount our tales of the trail.

Good-bye my new friends, and may you be counted as my old friends as the years go by.


August 4, 2010

It was supposed to start on Thursday night.   But after getting home from work, and getting something to eat, and then it started to get dark, and I thought I could start on Friday.  I woke up late on Friday morning feeling extremely  totally completely unambitious.   In my defense, I did just finish writing a workbook for the entire year, plus two weeks of summer camp materials, plus teaching summer camp. Plus I’m semi-pathetic.

Saturday I woke up feeling full of vim and vigor, or as my dad would say, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I took my bike on the subway, but decided at Kongik university station, that I really didn’t want to transfer, and rode my bike to DongSeoul station.  I got a ticket to Asan, where my journey began.

Part of me felt is was cheating to take a bus to Asan, but then getting in or out of a major city like Seoul on a bike can be a bit, shall we say, interesting.  I chose Asan because it was right on the road I wanted to get on.  So when I arrived in Asan, I started on the road. I felt pretty good. Until the first hill.

I ran into a small little town called Sillyeon. Yes. That was the name, and I wanted to stay in a town with silly in its name, but unfortunately there wasn’t a hotel or motel, and the one yagkwaon looked a bit more than just dicey.  So I continued to Yesan.

I thought getting to Yesan by 4 was pretty good considering it was my first day on the bike. I got a little hotel that had some pretty Bates-ish tendencies, as well as a whole lot of mirrors and  a mural of a naked woman in the shower.  I didn’t sleep well at all.

The road to Hongseong was mostly flat, although there wasn’t any water to be seen yet.  I stopped at a rather nice little rest stop and met up with a group of Korean cyclists going in the opposite direction. They were on their way back to Seoul and I stopped for a bit longer than I had originally planned (not that I had much of a plan) and shared  a brunch like repast and some tales of the road.

Just out of Hongseong I met up with 4 young Korean guys who were headed to Boreyeong as well as I was.  They kidnapped me in a really sweet and adorable way.  I told them they didn’t have to slow down for me, because I was after all, old and out of shape.  They assured me, quite often that they wanted to go very slow as well.  So slow and steady we went up hills and down hills.  They nagged me to put on more sunscreen, and they stopped very often and went very slow.  I felt kind of bad, but they assured me that they weren’t going slow for me, but instead, because their bikes weren’t good quality and one of them had a sore leg.  They worried I was working to hard, and in general took very good care of me all the way to Boreyeong.

It was really beautiful. But. The sun was brutal.  I mean brutal. The road was up hill, both ways and I realized that I really was out of shape. I was so unprepared. The 4 young men were taking a trip before going into the army. They wanted to make sure I knew they were not high school students, and to be honest, they were very kind and so good to me.  It was kind of fun to be kidnapped by such nice young men.   When we got to Boreyong, I wanted to get a room and stop for the day, even though it was still kind of early. As I said, the sun was brutal and I was out of shape. They wanted to go to Dacheon beach and I assume whoop it up before going into the army next week. At the cross roads they shook my hand and. Zoom. They were off.

The hotel I got was a bit more expensive than I wanted but was very nice. There was a view of the river and an absence of naked women murals in the shower.  Once I checked in, I took a short walk. The downtown area was empty in the heat, so I bought some bread and a couple of cold drinks and headed back to the hotel. I was only going to lie down for a couple of hours, until the worst of the heat had passed.  I woke up at 1:30 am.  I decided that even though I was a bit peckish, I could wait until morning.

By 7 am, I was ready to go.  I thought for a few minutes about staying in Boreyong for the day, but since I had some vim and a little a bit of vigor, I decide to make a go of it.

It was misty and almost rainy, and a few times on the down hill it was cold. The road was winding and mostly flat, at least for the first little bit.  There were trees and lakes, and lots and lots of green fields and beautiful little farms, and some of my favorite roadside flowers.   I made really good time, without a relentless sun hounding me or the draining heat ( a few time I even felt almost cold going down hill).  At first I wanted to go to Janghang, but when I got there, I realized that Gunsan was only 10 more kilometers away.  The road there was beautiful, with a sea wall that came almost up to the road itself. There were some interesting restaurant/bar/hotels up near the ocean, and the bridge was fantastic. The tide was out, so I saw ghostly ships stranded in the mudflats.  The road from Boreyeong to Gunsan was the best part of the trip.

In Gunsan, the hotel I stopped at was apparently not in the cool, interesting part of town. It was directly on the road I wanted to go on in the morning, but there was a dearth of restaurants, or small shops.  I did find a place that had galbi  with a sweet mustard sauce and some of the best kimchi I’ve had in Korea (and that is saying something).    I walked around a little, but there really wasn’t much to see in that part of the city.  I have a feeling the central part would be quite interesting.  I found a 7-11 and got a coffee and read my book.

From Gunsan I went to Ilksan. At first I was going to stop in Ilksan, but since it was only 9am, I thought maybe I should keep going. The only problem was, as I was eating some noodles for breakfast, was that I was tired. And my shoulders hurt from my back pack. And my face was starting to get burned (despite using lots and lots of sunscreen – I’ve decided that Neutrogena Ultra Sheer sunblock is almost useless).  So from Ilksan I went down south to Gimje, and then to Buan.  In Buan I really wanted to quit. I know that I had originally decided to go until Wednesday, and it was only Tuesday afternoon, but…. sometimes it is best to quit while you are ahead. (hence the semi- part of semi-epic).  Buan was a nice little town. It even had a whale fountain.  But it was still a bit to early and the road to Jeong eup was calling me.  I am really glad I did.

On the road I passed one of the nicest very small town. It had tree and flower lined streets from the start of the town to the highway.  And on the way to Jeong eup I ran into a couple who were biking to the bus station there too. We met up a few times and passed each other a few times, then at the end of the road we rode together to the bus terminal. I was kind of glad they took me along, because I would have gotten very lost.

Between their poor English and my worse Korean we did manage to communicate a bit, and I learned that they often took days off, and would take a bus to one town, then ride their bikes to another town, then take a bus back home.  It gave me ideas.

Here are some more photos of the road:

I wanted to get some pictures of the cranes and egrets that hung out in the rice paddies, but they were not co-operative. As soon as I stopped to take a photo they would swoop up and gracefully fly away before I could get my camera out.  They were kind of cool.

I got into Seoul at 10pm on Tuesday, and I’m going to call it a great trip.