Wednesday, April 27, 2011


(ba-ppas so-yo = I've been busy)

It daunts me to know that I have not given my blog the attention it and my readers deserve. This new semester has brought many new responsibilities my way and I have found myself drowning in lesson planning, paper work and mini art projects for class. I have also picked up a few extra activities outside of school that keep me busy after my work day has ended. My extra involvement in the community comes as both a curse and a blessing to me as it leaves me feeling like an adequate member of the Korean society as well as a successful ex-pat but it also leaves me feeling exhausted and at times depleted. This semester, I have been teaching 28 classes a week, which is 6 more than last semester. On top of that, my regular classes that I teach (grade 5) have been given an English boost and now I see each class 3 times a week as opposed to the outdated 2 times a week. This means that the lessons move much quicker and keeping up is at times a true difficulty. My weekly schedule also includes teaching a teacher's class, a parent's class, an after school class, and a science class. Yes. That's right. I'm teaching a science class to elementary age Korean English.

After school, I have a pretty regular schedule. Mondays, I attend Korean class in the next town over. Tuesday-Friday I go to Muay Thai class at a hole-in-the-wall-Rocky-look-alike-boxying-gym in my hometown. Wednesdays, I go to a conversation class in my hometown that allows Koreans and foreigners to meet, chat and study language together. Weekends, I'm traveling or taking part in one of the many festivals that are constantly going on.

In the midst of all of this, I managed to hurt my ankle recently. I let it go untreated for a week but after it was so swollen that I appeared to have no ankle bone (I already had cankles so that wasn't an issue but a swollen cankle is never desired...then again neither is a cankle...)and hurt so much to the point where I was hopping from place to place, I decided it was time to get it checked out. I went to doctor's office(made possible via city bus)--yes A doctor's office, not MY doctor's office because I don't have a doctor that I call my own; it's not like that in Korea. So I went to the doctor's office and in the time span of 45 minutes, I saw the doctor, got an X Ray, saw the doctor again, got a cast on, paid and left. Korea is incredibly efficient when it comes to any process such as going to the doctor's office, the license bureau, etc. Oh, and the cost? The cost of EVERYTHING (yes, X Ray, cast, doctor's visit) put me back $35. IN-CRED-IBLE!!

There is more to come soon in regards to some events I've recently done and some volunteering experiences I've encountered but for now, It's back to work!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In one moment...

I was sitting at the bus stop in my hometown of Icheon two days ago and realized that I have found true happiness. I have successfully entered into a career that has been a long-time goal of mine, I have fatefully found an incredible support system of friends, both foreign and native, that make some of the memories I am sure to miss the most, I have passed through the 3-month long threshold that was America at my back and Korea at my front to now be in full existence as a resident of Korea. I am well on my way to becoming a Korean speaker and have worked so hard to become accustomed to what was once a completely foreign place. I have gained an incredible amount of respect for everyday comfort, something that has left me since I left the western world, and have a newly heightened sense of awareness about how easy Americans have it. Though it has been a struggle for me and a genuine emotional strain at times, I would not have it any other way than how I have it now....well....I would chose to have my friends and family readily available at a snap of a finger but that's all. I have the best support team back at home that keeps me going more than they realize. Their love and encouragement transcends through the lands and oceans and is delivered directly to me everyday. How did I get so lucky? How did everything fall into place so magically? I enjoy being challenged and pushed daily and find thrill in the fact that I constantly experience so many unknowns. There are moments in my life when there is such a rush and happiness that I can't help but shine a huge smile. This was one of those moments. And it was incredible.

I love and miss you all dearly but please find comfort in the fact that my heart is happy, my mind is content, and my soul is at peace.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Delicious is subjective...

Food in Korea is an experience all of its own. I have personally become accustomed to the food here and actually crave kimchi if it is not in my daily diet. There is quite an array of choices when it comes to traditional Korean food and I have only found one that I don't like....the live octopus. Well, I guess anything that's still alive is still problematic for me. Most things are spicy and all are uniquely delicious. I hope to post more pictures of the food that I eat on a daily basis because food is such a big part of any culture so I would love to share it with those that are unfamiliar to it. Also, Korean food is so different from Western food so it's difficult to describe the looks and taste of it. I think it is all delicious but then again, delicious is subjective...

This past weekend, I met up with a Korean friend of mine to have lunch. We planned on going out for our meal but decided to change things up a bit; we decided to cook! This was really exciting to me because whenever I meet Koreans, they commonly ask me 1-if I have a boyfriend and 2- if I am a good cook. I tell them that "good" is subjective because I think I make a mean kimchi pancake but apparently, that's not up to everyone's standards. So, anyway, I have been wanting to learn how to cook more Korean food and here was my opportunity! So we decided to cook 떡볶이 (ttuk-bogg-ki) for our meal. Well... he cooked, I learned. The recipe calls for rice cakes, fish, traditional spicy Korean red pepper sauce, sugar, water, chili powder and garlic then other things are optional; boiled eggs, noodles and cheese are a popular addition. We added the ladder two items. It was fairly simple and sssooo delicious! I wish I would have taken a picture of the final product but was so hungry and excited to eat that I didn't think about it. Dang. I must get better at that.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Photo Essay.

For some reason, I'm really tired lately but felt the urge to update by blog despite the fact that my brain doesn't feel like creating a narrative composition. So, I thought I'd change things up and use more pictures than words to share what I've been up to lately. Enjoy!

I tried eel for the first time with some friends. SSSOOOOO delicious. If you ever have a chance to eat eel, go for it!!! It has a very unique taste to it. It's not too fishy but if one were to eat it under a blinded taste test, one would know it lives in the water. Simply delicious. At this restaurant, they cover two eels with a semi-sweet sauce and the third is sprinkled with sea salt. Simply Divine.

Over my winter vacation, I spent a few days in Seoul with my Koren friends that I met at my university. We had originally planned to take a trip out to the East Sea but quickly realized that it was way too cold for such an excursion. (At that time, the temperatures were about -15 degrees C.) We thought about going ice skating but realized that that idea was much worse than the primary one. So the 5 of us gathered in Seoul together and huddled together on the sidewalk of Seoul without any plan. We decided to walk around the open market. (?!) I think we've made better decisions.... It. Was. FRREEEEZZIINNGG!!!! Seoul has 2 open markets and this is the smaller of the two. Venders are selling all sorts of things ranging from underwear to veggie pancakes. Most of the open market has food for sale; some is meant to be eaten then and there while some other is produce for you to take home. Here is where the food culture of Korea comes alive. You can find any part of a pig possible, chopped up and made edible...well....I suppose edible is subjective...

And now!...For the weather!....

It's been cold here. Average temperatures are about 15-20 degrees F. Not as much snow as the States have gotten but enough to make it glisten! ^.^

A random find in Seoul that made me really happy


These types of machines are everywhere around Korea. This one was one that I spotted in Icheon, my hometown. They start the kids young, huh? Wow...

I celebrated a friend's birthday with the same group of friends that accompanied me at the open market in Seoul--Korean style. It is a Korean birthday tradition to drink a one-of-a-kind birthday concoction. The process of this is quite grotesque but a lot of fun. The birthday boy/girl must drink the beverage that their friends have made for them but this birthday drink is not comprised of just alcohol like you may find in the states but rather it's more like a double-dog-dare from a teenage girl sleepover party. The drink is made up of whatever is available and whatever the friends decide to use. The one we gave to my friend, Mun, followed this recipe: beer, birthday cake, kimchi, chicken skin, chicken bone, mustard, pickles, pickle juice, ketchup and rice. I think that's all...might have been more. The guest of honor then has to drink the entire thing. However, we decided to do things a little differently. There is a popular drinking game in Korea where two teams go head to head (using Rock, Paper, Scissors, of course) to decide who will be the "it" team. The "it" team then must do RPS amongst themselves to decide who is "the looser". Then the "it" team drinks beer from a large bowl and leaves "the looser" to drink last. Each team member can drink as little or as much as they choose to--it's basically a test of friendship, or so they say, because if you are really good friends with "the looser" then you will drink a fair share of the beer along with everyone else. However, if you don't feel that close to "the looser" than you will take a mere sip, leaving others with the beer burden. This would never work in America because "the looser" would always be left with nothing to drink because their "friends" drank it all! We incorporated this game into the birthday drink. We passed the cup around the table, giving each person a chance to show our love for Mun. We each took a drink of the birthday delight and left her with a mere gulp. ^.^ Happy Birthday, Mun!!!

I went for a second ski trip in late January. I actually spent some time with my foreign friends (non-Koreans). Myself and 5 guy friends left from Seoul on a Saturday morning on a tour bus full of foreigners. I felt very out of my element. Too...many...foreigners....

We drove northeast and hour and a half before landing at our destination. We skied all day and all night. It was freezing but incredible. The slopes are armature compared to Colorado but I'm not picky; I'm just happy to be able to ski in Korea! Get this: the cost for day and night ski lift, transportation to and from, lodging, one meal, and drinks was 100 bucks. Incredible. We topped off our day with a raging bonfire.

The Lunar New Year came on Feb 2,3,4 and it wasn't at all what I was expecting. There was no festival, parade or free candy. Dang it. The Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is celebrated in full force by Korea but not in the same force Americans celebrate the calendar new year. Koreans take this holiday time to go back home and spend time with their family. The country basically shuts down with the exception of the all means of transportation, which make the roads a REAL Charlie Foxtrot this time of year. A voyage to a destination doubles in time if not triples due to traffic. People are not out in the streets celebrating but rather they are in their homes with their family having a modest meal together. Children receive money from their grandparents to wish them good fortune in the future and everyone eats Duk Guk soup, the traditional soup for New Years. I finally got to eat some at school on Tuesday. It's made with eggs, beef, and rice cakes. It's very delicious!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Like a Small Child

This past weekend was one that was filled with new discoveries and small moments that made me feel like a small child, discovering the world for the first time. Saturday morning, I was awakened by one of my Yeoju friends calling to see if I wanted to join him and another friend on a trip to Seoul. I was excited to join and asked what they might be doing. Some ideas were thrown around such as going to the art museum or going to see the Discovery of the Human Body Exhibit. I questioned my friend, asking if the latter of the two could be found in Seoul because I thought that it was in my hometown of Icheon. He assured me that it's location is in Seoul and so we enthusiastically agreed to go explore the human body.

I got ready then made my way to the bus stop to wait for the Seoul-bound bus that comes every 30 minutes. As I was waiting at the stop, my friend calls me to check on the name of the exhibit. "It's called the Discovery of [the] Human Body," I informed him. "Really? I'm having some trouble finding it; nothing's coming up when I search for it," he said. I let him know that I would call a Korean from Icheon and inquire about it with them then get back to him. I called my boss and asked her. "What?! What's wrong with your body??" She asked me. I laughed and said, "No, no. I'm ok. Do you know about the Discovery of the Human Body Exhibit? Is it in Icheon?" After a few more minutes of pure confusion, she finally figured out what I was talking about. "Oooohhh! The exhibit! ok! right! Ah yes, it's in Icheon! It's at the Art Museum." I laughed again. Here I was on a bus to go see something that is located right in my home town! Wow. At this point, I decided to ask the guy next to me if he knew anything about it. (Side note: this guy next to my was around me age, I was guessing, and as soon as I got on the bus and sat down next to him, he took his headphones out--I took that as an indication that he wanted to talk to me. He had made some sighs that a person does before they start to say something like, "aaahhh ssooo... how are you?" but the 'so how are you part' never came out. I could tell he wanted to talk to me, as this was not my fist time to be around someone that is just itching to show off their English. Plus, before I had gotten on the phone to call my boss, he reached across me to adjust the window blind but when it didn't fully extend across the window he explained to me, "oh, I guess it's too short." I decided to take the opportunity to possibly meet another Korean friend and talk to him.) Out of politeness, I initiated the conversation by asking if he speaks English. In true modest, Korean style he shrugged and said, a little. (turns out his English is near to perfect) I then asked if he knew anything about this Human Body Exhibit and he did not because he's not from Icheon but rather from Seoul. We continued to chat the rest of the ride to Seoul and then exchanged numbers and names before parting. We made plans to meet up later that night but when he discovered I was with two American guy friends, he got shy and backed out. Perhaps we can hang out another time; another connection made.

When I arrived in Seoul and met up with my two friends we were without a plan. We stopped in at a coffee shop and explored our options. We decided to go check out the National Museum of Art in Seoul to see the Picasso exhibit.
We arrived at the museum (very easily by subway), paid $10 for admission, and entered. We first walked through an area that has traditional Korean palaces before arriving at the museum. We put our things in the lockers (cost 50 cents to store but then you get that money back when you leave) and entered the museum. The artwork was beautiful. The artists varied along with the style of art work. It was surreal to me to see a real, live Monet. I had never seen a Monet in person and as I stood there in the museum, in Seoul Korea, staring at a real-life Claude Monet hanging on the wall in front of me, all I could say was, Together the 3 of us browsed around the 4 different rooms and examined the art work. We saved the Picasso room for last. Again, as I stood looking at an original Picasso, I just had a moment of near denial; I took a moment to appreciate that time in my life--where I was, what I was doing, the people that love and support me--and I was filled with happiness.

We successfully completed the tour of the museum around 6:30 and by then, it was time for dinner. We stopped in at a cafe to get some coffee, sandwiches, and wireless internet. We did some web-searching to figure out where the rest of the night would take us. We finally decided to go to Gongnam, a young-people hot spot area of Seoul. The first stop of the night was classy named bar, Ho Bar. There are 10 of these all in the Gongnam area and they logically been named Ho Bar I, Ho Bar II, Ho Bar III... well, you get the point. We landed ourselves at Ho Bar IV. The mood was young, fun, and adventurous. It was dark in the bar with only red lights and candles providing light. The music was high, as were the prices. We decided to go with Miller High Life drafts; I never thought Miller would ever taste so good. I had no idea exactly how weak Korean beer is until I tasted how strong it made Miller taste. wow. Sitting next to us were 2 men that had ordered a whole bottle of Absolute Vodka Peach and were half way finished with the mission set before them. Long story short, we ended up with the remaining half bottle of vodka on our table. Score. We found others to share it with and the night was off to a great start. (on a slight digression, I love the sense of community that is always in the air in Korea. People are always so excited to meet others, drink with others, hang out with others, etc. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a movie where everyone just joins in together--honestly. It's sometimes unbelievable how big Koreans are on community and all being together in bars such as this. It's just a great environment to be in.) After that, we headed to a place call FF Club which is a hole-in-the-wall venue that showcases local Korean bands on their basement-size stage. The bar was far from classy but reminded me of local venues back in KC. We listened to the rock music, lost ourselves in the semi-moshing crowd, and let loose. So freeing. We were soon ready to go and headed out to find a cheap motel where I spent yet another night on the floor. Maybe I'll get used to this sleeping on the floor thing one day....maybe...

Sunday I met up with one of my Korean friends in Seoul to hang out. We decided to go see a movie. I was so excited because this would be my first time to experience a movie in Korea. My Korean friend poked fun at me for a little bit because he said that I was like a small child: eyes opened wide, head tilted up to the ceiling, jaw dropped so to let the "WWWOOOWWW" out in just the right tone, that sort of thing. I told him I just try to take it all in and savor each moment because it is so new and different to me. So, in Korean theaters, there are two basic types of movies to choose from: American and Korean. From those two categories, you can then choose the genre of movie. Many, many American movies are shown in Korea--all types of American movies at that but mostly the action ones. The movies are exactly the same as they would be in the States but they have Korean subtitles. Koreans say that they hate it when a movie is dubbed because it takes so much away from the movie. Plus many Koreans find movies to be a great way to pick up a few more English terms. So we knew we were going to see an American movie but neither one of us were up-to-date on which ones were out. We both dislike scary movies and decided to stay away from those. We decided to see a movie called The Season of the Witch. The flyer made it look like a good historical-fiction movie with a lot action. However, we had some time to kill before the movie and decided to grab a quick bite to eat. Somehow, we ended up eating at Burger King. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. ..... my burger was spicy.... are you kidding me?? What's funny is that I had joked to my friend about it being spicy and it was! A mixture of garlic and red pepper paste type of spicy. Unbelievable. It was still good, though. We went into the theater (same as a small theater room at AMC) and watched the commercials as we waiting for the movie to start--some things are universal, huh?
The review: don't go see it! Maybe rent it....maybe. It was scary (yeah, the irony of that made the both of us laugh), predictable, weird, and just all around not good. The acting was good but the story line was lame.
We then headed out to get some chicken and beer for dinner before I headed back home to Icheon.

Overall a fantastic weekend with fantastic friends. This week is my last week of English camp then next weekend I'm heading out with friends to go skiing. Hopefully I don't get caught in a jim-ja-bong again!

Until next time!~~

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's a girl to do with a 2 week break?

Ah yes, the time of year when gifts are exchanged, lights are hung, resolutions are made, schools are empty, and Bailey's mysteriously and routinely finds its way into my evening coffee. Though 4/5 of these listed events are expired (you be the judge on which ones) tis still the winter season and... well... I still have to blog about my holiday excursions. So back through time we go.

From December 25 to Jan 10, I was on a 2 week vacation from school. Korean school semesters are much different from American school semesters. The school year is divided up into two semesters but they begin and end much differently from American semesters. The students get 4 weeks worth of break for their winter break. However, break in Korea is not that same as break in America. So many of the students still go to their academy over break where they are studying English or math or science or even all subjects. Many are studying hard for big exams that they know they will have in the next few months. So as far as the students go, they are out of their regular school from December 25 to Feb 7. Well, most of them are. During this break time, there are many camps that are going on. Math camps, Science camps and of course, English camp! These camps are purely voluntary and students sign up for these (or their parents forcefully tell them that they will go to camp and they will study and they will have fun! dang it! or else!) Not to mention, the Lunar New Year is also during that time (this year it's Feb 2-4), which is like the U.S. calendar new year times 100. That post will be a good one. So after the students come back from their 4 week break, it's not a new semester yet. Yes, that's right. I started a lesson before the 4 week break and am required to pick up that same lesson again and finish it after they have been gone for such an amount of time. Tricky, tricky. The students will come back for one week. They then have their Spring Break. (yes, we all think this is a bit bizarre as well.) Their Spring Break gives them 2 weeks off from school. (I will get one week off and 1 week will be desk warming.) So that takes us to Monday Feb 28. However, the official start of the new semester is March 1 so they won't start school on Monday Feb 28....nor will they start on March 1; March 1 is a national holiday: Independence Movement Day. On this day back in 1919, independence fighters announced Korea's independence from Japanese colonialism. Thousands of Korean protesters were killed by Japanese soldiers and it was an unsuccessful attempt for Korea to gain sovereignty. This is not equivalent to America's 4th of July but rather Korea's Liberation Day is celebrated on August 15, which is the date that Korea broke free from Japan in 1945 and on the same day in 1948 became the Republic of Korea. So, the kiddos don't actually come back to the start of a new semester until March 2. For me, it means new text books, new students, and a new Korean co-teacher. My 6th graders will have moved on to 7th grade and I will have a whole new batch of students. Big changes are a-happenin'

I didn't intend on digressing in such a way but I think that the provided information is beneficial to extending your Korean knowledge.

Now then, on to what I did for my 2 week vacation. I had wanted to travel but the first three months in Korea are financially known to be the red months in that we have no money. Between getting yourself established with house supplies, buying groceries, paying for a new cell phone, and forking over the multitude of fees that the school takes from you in those first 3 months, we're left with slim to nothing. So. I stayed in the beautiful land of Korea for my break. For Christmas, I took the 40 minute bus ride up to Yeoju to see my band of friends out there. The host had declared the Christmas Party themed and required all to wear an ugly sweater. Classic. Prior to the Christmas party, I lacked a real sweater and an ugly one at that. So, upon going to get one, I made up my mind that if I was going to buy a new sweater, it was going to be one that I would wear again. I found one in the first store I went to, paid $30 for it (I would have put it to be around $70 back at home) and headed to the bus terminal. I did a quick change in the bathroom (probably the only time I was actually thankful for a non-western toilet because they make changing much more convenient) and headed to Yeoju. The night consisted of dancing, singing, drinking and eating. The menu was impressive: vegetarian chili, little smokies, cake, a ginger bread house, homemade pie, salad, hummus, veggies, and other various snacks. Christmas went from day to night and it was time for me to return back to Icheon so that I could meet my beautiful family on skype. We had planned to meet at 10 pm my time and 7 am their time to open gifts together. This was our best attempt to keep a long-time tradition alive.
Aside from knocking skype off line a few times with my over excitement, skyping with the family on Christmas brought me so much bliss. It was a fantastic Christmas, despite the fact that I'm on the other side of the world in a country that treats Christmas like Valentines Day. (Seriously. Not kidding. Christmas in Korea is really only celebrated by couples. Literally.) I feel so lucky to have found friends that I love and will eternally cherish. I'm so fortunate to have such a loving, supportive, caring, understanding family that has given me the best gift I could ever ask for: love (which is a verb, not a noun ^.^). Though I sometimes feel lonely and distant from those that know me and love me the most, at the end of the day, it's incredible to have a family that is always there for me and friends that love me. This time of year is, I think, perhaps the most difficult to be away from home. There's an inconsistency in tradition, culture and all around mood. Christmas in Korea is much different. People don't get excited for it; they don't have large holiday plans with their families. When I ask a Korean, in my most excited voice that displays way too much enthusiasm, "What are you doing for Christmas?!?!" then wait for their reply with my eye brows raised high and my eyes opened wide, they typically respond with a modest giggle and say, "oh...nothing". The look that follows from them is one that suggests, 'why are you so excited?' or rather 'I'm totally confused...what's going on?'. See, in America we all exchange our holiday plans and it's a legit water cooler topic but in Korea, unless you have a romantic partner, forget it! It's "just another day"-typical Korean.

The days between Christmas and New Years were only semi-productive. I caught some sort of nasty illness that should have landed me at the doctor's office, had I had someone to take me. I was too ill to want to leave my apartment and spent those days resting. The illnesses that foreigners get in Korea are unlike the ones we get at home. Makes sense but it makes it difficult to fix. I'll spare you the details. I did some cleaning but mostly rested. I did make a trip or two out to Seoul to just walk around during the day, which was probably not the smartest thing to do but I fell victim to restlessness and didn't want my sanity being attacked along with my immune system. Plus I justified it as well-needed exercise.

Then came New Years. Thank. Goodness. Not because it's 2011 but because of what I had planned for New Years. Being a person that has a respectable amount of skiing skills, it was my goal to hit the slopes of Korea as soon as possible. I talked to some of my Korean friends about going on a ski trip and in true Korean style, they were down to go. One of my friends took the liberty of planning the entire thing and was more than happy to do so. We ended up going to Muju Resort to ski. I left December 31 on a bus to Seoul. In Seoul, I met two of my Korean guy friends. Together, we took KTX (the high-speed Korean train) to Daejeon where I met two more Korean friends: one guy and one girl. We grabbed some dinner in Daejeon then headed to Muju via car. We arrived in Muju around 10 that night. We stopped by the rental store to grab our gear. Amongst the 5 of us, I was the only skier--everyone else snowboards. So we picked up my skies, my boots, their boots and some ski clothes for them and then drove just a couple minutes to our lodge. (Pictures are being held captive by my computer, which has recently passed away.) The lodge was beautiful; it appeared to be brand new with beautiful wood floors, stairs, and walls. Inside there was a main living room with a TV (no couch or anything because Koreans sit on the floor) and a coffee table. On the same floor as the living room there was bedroom that had a queen size bed in it. This is where my other female friend and I slept. Then there was an upstairs that had a club-house feeling, complete with the low triangle roof. Just darling. We walked to the nearby store and got some food for snacks. We stayed up and watched a Korean Drama award show (similar to the Emmys) until 11:59, which was when we fell asleep. Ha! Just kidding. We then turned the TV to a New Years count down and together we counted in the New Year. In Korea, the calendar New Year is nothing really (except a day when everybody becomes one year older by law) because they celebrate the Chinese New Year with such enthusiasm. Once again, I found myself displaying excessive excitement only to be surrounded by Korean faces that express bewilderment as they look to me in a way that says, 'whaaattt??' Thankfully, these are Koreans that understand American culture and know what a big deal it is to us so they laughed at my over-excitement, we did a cheers and went to bed shortly there after.

AAAAHHH!! 01/01/2011. I was in Muju, South Korea. Who would have thought? I hoped to be but it was incredible to bring in the New Year in South Korea. We woke up early that morning, got ready and headed out. We stopped in for some breakfast (I MISS AMERICAN BREAKFAST SSOOOO MUCH) and then drove to the slopes....until we hit traffic. Traffic stole an hour and a half of our day but we managed to have fun while waiting. We finally made it to the slopes, parked the car, and walked two parking lots over so the others could get their snowboards. With skis/boards in hand and boots laced up we were all ready to hit the slopes of Korea!! Except for one thing...the guys had only been boarding once and the gal had never been in her life. So, to the bunny slopes it was! Koreans are all about the group and it's important to support the group so I stayed with them for the first bit of the day. After that, I went off to what I thought would be one slope alone but evidently took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on the other side of the mountain.
At that point, I didn't realize it until it was lunch time. I called the others to meet up with them and that's when I realized that I had no idea where I was. After trying to coordinate locations, I said forget it, pulled out my can of tuna from my pocket, munched down, and went back to the slopes. I spent the next 3 hours on the slopes alone. It was beautiful. I skied blacks all day but the black slopes in Korea are like the blue/blue-blacks of Colorado. I didn't care; I was elated to be skiing again and to be skiing in Korea. Wow. After about 3 hours I decided that I missed my friends a lot and started to figure out how to get back to the other side of the mountain. I asked some Koreans but was unsuccessful due to the language barrier. I manged to find some nice Austrians that were familiar with the mountain and they directed me back to the other side. An hour later, I ran into everyone else. The timing could not have been more perfect (5:40 pm) because at 6 pm, everyone must clear the slopes so that they can reorganize for night skiing. Reorganizing the mountain takes roughly and hour and a half. Because of Muju's geographical location (southern part of Korea) it rarely receives a respectful amount of snow let alone enough to supply an entire snow resort and thus, fake snow is constantly being made and sprayed onto the slopes. The reorganizing time gives the employees a chance to shovel the snow onto the slopes, pack it in, and probably get a little ski time in for never know what really goes on during reorganizing time...right? So after the mountain has been reorganized, we are allowed back on. Oh, and you might be curious as to how 4 Koreans and 1 American killed an hour and a half? Easy. With 1 van, 4 cans of tuna, 5 fast food burgers, 2 bottles of beer. The beer wasn't optional. Really! We had no water and we were thirsty. Oh well!... (tehehe) So an hour and a half later the sun had gone down and the metro dome lights had come on and it was time for some night skiing! I had never been skiing at night before and I couldn't wait to get back to the slopes. The other female in our party was too exhausted to return to the slopes, which is understandable seeing how it was her first time ever snowboarding. The 3 guys and I returned back to the slopes together in full force. We conquered a few runs together, reflecting upon our day on the ski lift up and weaving paths on the way down. Pure. Bliss. After a few runs two more were down for the count. And then there were 2. My very good friend Ethan and I went to the very top a few times and came down together. It was about 10:00 at that point and we decided that we could both continue skiing/boarding all night but out of respect for the others, who were patiently waiting in the mess hall, we decided to call it a night and headed back. Overall, night skiing was a blast and I throughly enjoyed it. We managed to avoid the traffic with night skiing and drove our way out of the resort and headed back to Daejeon. The drive took us about an hour and a half. We found a diner-like place to eat dinner then walked around until we found a jim-ja-bong. These are Korean....spas. I hesitate to use the word spa because spa in Korean is not spa in English. Jim-ja-bongs are extremely unique to Korea and are probably THE MOST bitter sweet thing I've ever come across. First off, they only set my account back 8 bucks, which is worthy of praise. Second of all, they provide a variety of hot tubs to relax in. However, with the amazings come the challenges and in this case, the challenge is purely mental--nudity. Yes, that's right, full on, public nudity. The sexes are separated, of course, but that still leaves you with a room full of woman (of aaallll ages) that are fully nude. This happens in the spa area. So the entire experience of a jim-ja-bong basically goes like this: 1. Walk in the front door of the building, pay 8 bucks, get a key for a locker, part ways with your friends of the opposite sex, enter your designated area. 2- Find the locker number that matches the number on your key. This first locker is for your outdoor shoes. 3- Enter the spa area (and don't stare even though it comes as quite a culture shock) and find the second locker with your key number on it. This locker is to store your belongings in over night. 4- strip down to your birthday suite. 5- walk to the bathing area and either get scrubbed down or scrub yourself down; it depends on the system of the jim-ja-bong. This is where it can either get extremely awkward (if an old, naked woman is vigorously scrubbing your ENTIRE body down) or not too awkward if you are at your own bathing station, showering and scrubbing yourself. 6- soak in the hot tubs if you so desire. They have different sizes of tubs, temperatures of water, variations of bubbles, etc. This also varies from jim-ja-bong to jim-ja-bong. 7- get dressed in the none-too attractive or appealing clothes the spa has provided for you (elastic band shorts and over-sized t-shirt). 8- go to the "sleeping" area and try your best to find a floor mat, pillow, and place on the floor for "sleeping". I put "sleeping" in quotations because in a room full of people, even at 4 am (which was what time it was when I made it to step 8 of my first jim-ja-bong experience), only about 3/4 of the people are sleeping. The other quarter of the crowd are talking, crying, playing, walking, pacing, tapping, etc and of those that 1/4 of them are snoring. So this means that half of the "sleeping" room is adequate for sleeping! There are different rooms to choose from when looking for a spot on the floor to claim. I have given them my own name, the following names are far from technical and farther from Korean. You have the puddle room, which is so hot you're bound to wake up in a puddle of sweat. You have the glowing room, which is just warm enough to keep a nice glow of sweat over your whole body the entire night. You have the THANK GOD room, which is an ice box room and a shining beacon of light for people like me that HATE hot areas in general, better yet for sleeping. I seriously considered sleeping in the THANK GOD room but seeing how it's clearly not meant for sleeping but rather for a quick cool down, I decided not to. Then there's the No Boys Allowed/No Girls Allowed rooms where the air is so thick I though I had escaped to the Amazon. There is also the computer room which is full of middle school boys playing World of Warcraft. Then you have the We're Just One Big Happy Family room, which is the main big sleeping area; it's about 8 degrees warmer that it should be to be comfortable. uugghh.... After skiing all day long, being naked in front of many different woman, putting on annoyingly bad clothes, having no make up to at least try to make myself feel better about myself, walking around at 4:30 in the morning in an over-heated room trying to find flimsy mat and stiff pillow for 45 minutes sure is an excellent test of patience. I finally managed to find a spot at 5:15 in the morning, it goes without saying that all the good spots are taken and this left me sleeping in an area that was right next to the designated walking aisle. Thus, each time a person walked by, I felt the rhythmic pounding of their feet as their steps approached then trailed off. Often times I would receive a nice little kick from the small child next to me or from the careless passer-byer. I don't think I could have been any more exhausted and was still unable to sleep. By the time 8:30 rolled around and the big over head lights were turned on, my patience was expired, my body was sore, my hair was a mess, my face was un-made, my eyes were puffy, and my friends were no where to be found. I walked around trying to find them for quite some time but trying to find one sleeping Korean amongst 300 sleeping Koreans can really feel simply impossible--especially given the condition I was in. I managed to find one of my friends and we decided to all meet down in the lobby at 10 am. That seemed like an hour too much but at least the ball had been put in motion. We left the jim-ja-bong and drove to the bus terminal where I laughed off my night with my friends (to the point of crying...I think the tears were half and half: good and bad) then hopped on a bus back to Icheon. By the time I got home it was around 2 pm and I don't think my bed had ever felt so good. I stayed there until 11 am the next morning.

After my ski trip, I still had another whole week to get myself into trouble. I sewed some shorts, colored my hair (don't worry,'s just lighter blonde), conquered the entire subway system in Seoul, climbed a mountain, got lost on a mountain, studied Korean, and gave myself a manicure. (The last on that list is a REALLY good indicator as to how much time I had on my hands.) One night, I called up my Korean friend, Noah, and asked if would like to join me for dinner. We decided to go to his all time favorite restaurant. It's a place that serves soup with pork in it...however, I do live in Korea and pork as Americans know it is not pork as Koreans know it. Let's just say, I have a few more items to add to my 'Wow! I can't believe I ate that!' list including raw pig intestine, pig ear, and pig kidney. (Meanwhile, in the news: Foot in Mouth disease sweeps over Korea! oops...) During dinner I was telling Noah how much I missed hiking and how badly I wanted to return to the mountains of Korea for a good hike. He let me know that Icheon, my hometown, has a good mountain for hiking. After dinner, he kindly led me to the point of entrance for the trail. The next day, I geared up with my North Face armor, equipped my backpack with appropriate items and headed out! I boldly stepped on the bus ready to conquer this mountain! Then!... I missed the bus stop the first time around and had to loop back. But! I found it on the way back and I was off! I started my hike with full enthusiasm and it felt so good to just be back on the side of a mountain again. (Again, my pictures are being held hostage by my deceased computer)
It took me about 2 hours to summit the mountain and when I did, it was in incredible to overlook my home town of Icheon from the mountain top. I took a few moments to take it all in then started to go back down. I thought I could just backtrack and go the same way I came. It's never that easy, is it? An hour later, I realized that I had no idea where I was and had no idea where to go. Using my limited Korean reading skills, I read the signs as best I could to try to figure out how to get out of there. A bit later, I realized it was time to ask for help. It was just about dark and the water in my water bottle was only half water--the rest was frozen into ice. It was about this time that I decided to call one of my Korean friends and read him the signs and ask for a more practical translation. At his discretion, I went left at the fork in the trail and head back down the mountain. After about 20 minutes I landed myself in a parking lot. I looked up and around and to my amazement, I was on the opposite side of town. It was actually a part that I had wanted to go to but had yet to make it...until now. I was in the parking lot of the Icheon Art Gallery, which will be hosting the Discover of the Human Body exhibit in 3 days. I wanted to go in and explore for a minute but I was already behind schedule for my dinner date with friends in Yeoju and decided to take a rain check. I kept walking until I found a cute coffee shop. There I ordered an Americano and a taxi.

The rest of the vacation was spent with friends in Yeoju or with my books studying Korean. The break was nice but I'm ready for English Camp. I will be teaching 17 students from Jan 17-Jan 28 for 80 minutes a day and I. can't. wait. It's a chance for me to teach anything I want to, however I want to. This shall be the topic of the next entry.

Until next time, Happy Belated Holidays from Korea!!