Monday, December 21, 2009

it's that time of year...

...and I have been reflecting over my past year. Passed the CFA, quit my job, left DC, had the best stress-free summer at home, and moved to Asia to become a teacher. And that was only the last 6 months of the year!

New Year's Resolutions thus far:

1. Learn Korean!!
2. Update resume and weigh my career options in Seoul
3. Become a bboy


Today we had a special theme activity at school; "At the Post Office." Claire and I had the kids write letters to Santa then we pretended to be mail clerks and sold the kids stamps and had them mail the letters off. We had all of the kids in school before lunch then I had my normal Monday classes after, including Oak. I walk into my classroom and there are four pairs of eyes staring, tear free, up at me. No crying!! I inch my way to my chair, try not to make too much eye contact, and we start singing Christmas carols. Well I sang and they kind of hummed or talked over me. Then we colored. 35 minutes, alone with Lily, and NO TEARS. Knock on wood, I think the days of me horrifying this 3 year old are over.

Wednesday is cookie day!! We have our Christmas potluck (kids not teachers) and I'm leading a cookie decorating class. That's my last day living in Bongcheon and then I'm off to Vietnam for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, I'll see ya in 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

networking fun

Thursday evening after a week of apartment stress, Susan takes me to a COEX convention center exhibition dinner. It's for industry only people, but according to my back story, I used to work in marketing back in Manhattan and am looking to get back into it now that I live in Seoul. We first arrive and head up for cocktail hour where we speak with these fun Brits about putting on your own convention. These guys seemed to be selling themselves more than we were. After I collect a bunch of business cards its time to go in for dinner.

Susan works as a Marketing Manager for COEX and gets to do these kinds of events every few months. How fun! Did I mention she's leaving in February and they're going to be looking to fill her position? She informs me that these events usually have some pretty crappy food. I take a look at the menu and it sounds good! Started with a delicious tuna dish, great mushroom soup, followed by sable fish with a cream sauce, and finished with a yummy pear mousse. I was impressed. Half way through dinner the lights go out. BBOYS enter the stage!!!! They put on a break dancing shoe in the middle of dinner. It must be a sign. I am meant to be a Bboy!!

After dinner there's an awards ceremony. At this point we've had quite a few glasses of wine, and I'm not that interested in who won "Exhibit of the Year." Then they make an announcement that one of the tables will win a prize. We were kind of far from stage, so I'm not really sure why they were doing this, but I knew that our table was going to win. 18!! 18!! 18!! I guess I was louder than I thought because they heard me and table 18 won!!! We went up to stage, probably in front of a few hundred people, and the MC asks if anyone has anything to say. Well you know I do. I gave a nice little speech and then she asked if there was anything I wanted to add. I kid you not, my exact words, "I'd like the thank the little people." Did that really come out of my mouth?? haha good thing most people there didn't speak great English. We go back to our table and open our gifts. It's a glass frame with a $2 (American) bill in it. Apparently it's lucky. The explanation was all in Korean, but I thought it was odd to give American money.

Afterward we head over to Blush which is a lounge in the Intercontinental Hotel the next building over. I had received an invitation for a free glass of champagne and Susan had a couple of free drink tickets from a friend. This place was nice, had a nice cocktail list, but no wine!? A few glasses of champagne (out of glass Loubiton shoes) and we head home. What a lovely little Thursday evening.

Now it's Saturday and I have to pack up my apartment. I'm going to move my crap over to Dave's then Krissy, Susan and I are heading out to Incheon (an hour away where the airport is) to see where Susan used to live. We're going to shop and eat then head home for a martini party. I love weekends in Korea!

apartment hunting sucks....

...when you've been looking for a two bedroom and your roommate bails last minute. Ahh. I have spent the past four days calling, touring, stalking craigslist, for a two bedroom only to get a phone call Thursday at eleven thirty from my supposed roommate. "Yeah I can't afford this now....I don't know how long I'll be in Korea." Um you didn't know this FOUR freakin days ago? I could have moved already!!! Back to square one. Oh and did I mention it's negative 6 out every night!?? Perfect weather to be apartment hunting in.

Anyway, I think I have a plan. My friend Tayler is moving to Taiwan in January with his girlfriend Paula. Tayler lives with Courtney who I know, and someone else, not sure who, and they need a new roommate come January 7th. They live in a great area right off the main street next to my favorite restaurant Indigos (3,000 won for glass of wine! and the best pesto sandwich!). The rent is super cheap, and let's be honest, anything is better than my current closet. So I will move my stuff into Dave's apartment tomorrow, go to Vietnam for a week, spend the Saturday I get back at the Mate Hotel (Susan's hosting another party), spend Monday on Krissy's couch and Tuesday through Thursday at Susan's. and January 7th I will be housed! Woohoo. I don't ever do things the easy way. I'm starting to think there is no easy way.

Off to the gym (I think i had 3+ pieces of chocolate cake at school today :) ) then to pack. Yey Friday night. Going to be a wild one. At least tomorrow there's a martini party!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

apartment hunting sucks... December. It's 20 degrees out and I have to run around Haebongchon and Kyungridon looking at garbage apartments. This was fun in DC in May when I had a month to figure out where to move. Not so much when it's freezing and I need to make a decision within 3 days.

So here's the story. My head teacher Hanna informs me on Friday that our new foreign teacher, Michael from Cali, will be joining us at the end of December. And I thinks to myself, where will Mike live??? I HAVES AN IDEA! Why doesn't Mike take my place, this will save BITS the hassle of finding a new place and putting down more key money, and I'll take one for the team and move out. Hanna says she'll run this by Christine, the school Director, and get back to me.

Monday, December 14th, I'm in class and Hanna comes in and tells me I have 350,000 won allowance a month for rent and I need to be out by Dec. 27th. I leave the 24th for a week for Christmas vacation. This gives me exactly 10 days to find a place, pack, and move out.

So I immediately begin searching places and calling realtors. Monday evening I go and check out a place with Simon realty. It was kind of smelly and had waaaay too much lace going on. It was ok but Liz and I decided we could do better. Then after Alejandra (craigslist) shows up an hour and half to meet me [she was at the police station getting finger printed for punching her boyfriend...yeah] she shows me her place. Cheap, good area, fully furnished. Definitely an option.

Tuesday. I have appointments with two more realtors. The first lady shows me a super cheap eh-apartment. It's in the basement and doesn't really have too many redeeming qualities. Apartment 2 is a three bedroom (I'm looking for a two) and it's pretty nice with fridge and washer, but no furniture. Eh pass. I text to see if Alejandra's place is still available. Response: GONE. crap.

Realtor dos. This dude picks me up and says he only has one place in my budget (actually a lot cheaper than my budget) so we're off to go check it out. He drives around. Parks. Runs around looking at numbers. Gets back in the car and drives. We repeat this a few times and he finally gives up and says he can't find the place. ugh seriously?

I'm feeling beat down, stressed, and COLD, so I head for the metro. As I'm walking I notice Itaewon Realty Consulting. I stop in. The woman speaks no English but gets a translator on the phone to find out what I'm looking for. We head out in the cold and she shows me the best place!!!! 3rd floor Kyundridon, roofdeck, wrap around balcony, 2 good sized bedrooms with beds!, cute blue kitchen, cute blue bathroom, and some storage. PERFECT. I totally love it, so now it's up to Liz to check one more place tomorrow (cheaper and fully furnished) and this place and we'll make a decision. Yey to getting out of boring-Bongcheon. Hanna and I were laughing at how lame Bongcheon is today at work.

Now I won't have to move out on the weekends, just commute 40 minutes back and forth all week :) I'd rather commute to work than to the bars...

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I did everything (except ice skating bc the line was 3 hours long) I set out to do this weekend. And I didn't even go to Sam Ryan's once!

Fri- play (which was awesome and now makes me think i can be a bboy. i just need to add 4" of muscle to each arm and learn how o spin on my head)
Sat- gym, clean, laundry, shopping, krissy's and hongdae
Sun- (slept til 2 but...) gwanghwuman snow competition, emart, home early

Aza. I win.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Today at school was one of those days that reminds you that you are amongst five year olds; in a good way. Firstly in my Willow class, Erika wrote her journal about a vacation to the ocean. After they write a few sentences they draw a picture. Her picture consisted of two people swimming, naked, with full on penises. haha i guess that's ok. Made me laugh certainly and they're not as prude as us Americans anyway, huh?

Then I was teaching my Juniper class and handed out stickers for doing a good job on their journals. I explained my mom mailed these stickers, from America, just for them. Tina (6) goes, "Your mom is the coolest. And so is teacher. And teacher is beautiful today. Teacher is beautiful everyday." Tina A+ and an extra sticker for that comment. I <3 her.

At lunch Henry (5) looks at me and in perfect English says, "and how are you today teacher?" Who knew they could be so thoughtful!? These are they kids who call me Piggy Teacher because I eat all of the kimchi at lunch. The same class later on comes into my room and ask if it's game day. It is. I tell them no, we're not playing games anymore, only taking tests (I don't give tests). They all put their heads down and refuse to talk to me. I tried to explain it was a joke; just pulling their chain; sure we'll play games. It was just way beyond them. I don't know if they'll ever trust me again. haha.

Kids are funny.


But yey it's Friday. After a lovely evening of red wine and friends last night, tonight's chill night at the play should be a good change of scenery. "The Ballerina and the B Boy." Bring it.


Last night, after 3 months of searching, I found a pair of men's shoes that actually fit. They were narrow. Fit in the toe. Blue. Not totally ugly. And not some no name company (Adidas!) Tomorrow the running begins again. Screw you toe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

10ks are killing me

Roughly 2 weeks ago I awoke to a swollen and most painful toe. It's the one next to the pinkie on the left foot, and no other toes appear irritated. I let it go for a few days and then it started peeling off. Then the nail started falling off. I even wore my school slippers out to the bar Friday (which was a poor choice because it ended up down pouring!! soft slippers soak that freezing rain up!) and it was no better for the lack of shoes. After about a month of "Yeah your health insurance card is on it's way" I decide my toe is looking grosser than ever, although less painful, and I can't take it anymore. I have Jasmine teacher hook me up with a dermatologist.

I am literally in there 10 minutes. The Dr. takes one look says it's irritated (oh yeah, good call buddy) but it isn't a fungus like I was afraid. NOTE: Last week I had my best week of Korean running. I ran a 10k (hasn't been done since August) and the next day ran a 5k. I think I ran 4 times that week. Well, apparently that has caused me to lose my toe...well the nail and the skin on top. Doc says no running for 7-10 days. It's already been 7!!!!! Ahhh. No running. Has he ever met me!? At least my biggest fear wasn't realized; amputation....this time around. Pray for my poor toe.

This is what happens when you wear the same shoes for 6 months too long. But KOREANS don't make shoes bigger than 250. I wear a 260. Mens shoes are too wide. If anyone has some new shoes they'd like to send me for Christmas, I would greatly appreciate it (9 1/2 American) I like Mizunos, Saucony, Brooks, and anything by Gucci.

Today at school we FINALLY have mac and cheese day! The whole reason I wanted to do this at school was because a) cheese is expensive here and b) you can't find mac and cheese anywhere. So as I'm looking through the ingredients this morning and I realize we're missing some. I tell Claire teacher and she runs out to get them....Singles (like Kraft but some Korean version) and the most Philadelphia cream cheese I have ever seen!! I think she missed the point here.

Anyway, I decide to make due. The recipe I had was from Jessica Seinfeld and was all about sneaking veggies into kids' favorites. Because the don't have butternut squash here I decided to use pumpkin. Class 1 I make it with the kids and it's surprisingly good by my standards, just more pumpkiny than cheesy. The kids were disgusted. They thought I was crazy. They're like "THIS is your favorite food." Well some variation of THIS. Class 2- same grossed out reaction. Class 3- Cedar my homeroom- ate it up! They thought it was delish!!

Lesson learned. Mac and Cheese doesn't appeal to the Korean palate. I suppose good luck trying to get an American kid to eat kimchi or dried squid....

Christmas we're making cookies. You can't mess that up right? Kids love cookies! Have you ever tried a Korean cookie....?? :(


Tomorrow it's off to a going away party, then Friday I'm headed to a play with my co-teachers Jay and Joel. Jay is leaving BITS shortly so it's probably our last (well and first) hurrah. The play is roughly translated to "The Ballerina and the B-boy." haha should be interesting. 2 plays in one week!!! Saturday- back to the wine tasting and out for some going away/birthday/DJ parties. And Sunday, I am sooo pumped, I'm going up to Gwanghummuan (totally spelled wrong) for ice skating and a snowboarding contest. How you have a snowboarding contest in the middle of a city I don't know, but if anyone can pull it off, it's those crazy Koreans. Love em.

Monday, December 7, 2009

i spoke too soon

Lily cried the entire class today. She eventually fell asleep from crying so hard.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

no more tears

It's official, Lily has stopped crying at the sight of me! And now, with the prompt from the Korean teachers, she will even approach me on her own. Today at school we had a special; Cookie House Day! I read Hansel and Gretel to all of the kids and then we made cookie houses. The cookies houses (I guess they don't have gingerbread here) were cardboard boxes covered in Saran wrap. Jasmine teacher informed me they didn't use Saran wrap last year and when they went to eat the cookies off the houses, the box would stick and the kids would eat it anyway. Good to see we're making improvements. Anyway, so all of the teachers got one house, one class and a bowl of corn syrup and a paint brush. As we painted the house the kids stuck either wafers, crackers (I'm talking saltines), fruit loops, chocolate cereal, chocolates and pepero to the houses. None of these things, except the chocolate bits, held any appeal to me. Next time I'd like to be consulted about the cookie selection.

After lunch (which sucked today, fried crap, potato soup, and dried fish with peanuts- I ate the kimchi!) the kids were let loose to eat the houses. Holy god. You would think these kids hadn't eaten in months. They demolished the houses and were licking the corn syrup off of them. Ew. A few minutes into this and Lily walks across the room to me, looks up at me, and hands me a saltine dripping with syrup. It just about melted my heart. Then I see Sienna and Amy teachers (who I'm pretty sure don't like me) clapping and cheering Lily on. Even though she had some coaxing, she still delivered, and most importantly, didn't cry.

It was a good day at school. Tonight I am going to an event at Vino Vin, a new wine and tapas bar in Itaewon, for a diplomat event. I am not, believe it or not, a diplomat, but I know one. And I guess for 10,000 won that's good enough to go network, sip wine and snack on tapas. Afterward I'm off to Haebongcheon for a birthday celebration for Jo. I think this is her 31st and she's trying to play it low key. Whatever. More wine I'm sure.

Tomorrow= mac and cheese cooking class! Nice way to end the week :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Apparently I'm a Hooker

I take my first bus ride alone last night to the I Park mall to go to a movie. I usually take the subway because I know where I'm going, but I was feeling adventurous. I get off the bus in Sinyongsan and I can see the mall a few blocks over. Instead of walking a block or so out of my way to the major intersection I deem it a good idea to go down a side alley. There are these curtainy things (kind of looks like you're at the car wash) blocking the alley, but I figured there was a Love Motel and that's why it was there (the curtains block the license plate numbers so spouses driving by won't recognize cars). No, not a love motel. I have entered (one of) the Red Light District of Seoul. I didn't even know they existed here!! There are ladies in lingerie in all of the windows and it's pretty well lit for such a place. I am one of the only people there, and certainly the only woman walking down the street. I am stopped by a well dressed 50-something man. He asks, in broken Korean, something about the next show. I tell him I'm not interested, just going to the mall. He keeps talking. He then pulls out a wad of cash and starts counting. "For me?" I ask. "Yes." I got propositioned to be a hooker!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Should I be flattered or offended???? I'm wearing a fleece and jeans!! I don't look like a hooker do it? Ahh. To make matters worse, after I get out of there over to the mall some sketch little old Middle Eastern man asks where I'm going. Then asks if I like beer. Then continues to follow me. I pretend to get on my phone and think I have lost him. As soon as I hang up, there he is. I tell him to get lost and he says he just wants to get a beer with me. NOOOOO and I run inside. Ugh what the hell Seoul, I thought I was pretty safe from harassment here on account that I can't understand anyone and they can't understand me. Not so in Yongsan, not so.

Paradise Lost

Day three consists of more beach chillin, a few long swims, some nice walks on the beach, and a sunset-ocean-side massage ($7 one hour, full body, yeahhhhh). After changing and getting ready for the night {im rocking my awesome DC original Adidas-Madonna-wannabe in the 80s dress} I head back to the Blue Mango for a beach bbq. Tom's scuba class just finished their certification, and since they're cool, he's hosting a bbq. We have chicken, fish, the biggest shrimp I have ever seen, a salad, ribs, and this creepy dude Dean from across the way even brought us his left over birthday cake. What a feast! There were three girls there who just finished their year long contracts in Degu, South Korea! Small world! They were all travelling together and were headed back to the UK. They had absolutley nothing but great things to say about Korea and they even found some soju in Boracay to bring back memories. Or perhaps erase some new ones. Then there was a German couple. Both super attractive but they mostly kept to themselves, and another couple from Northern England. Their accents were so thick you couldn't really understand them. So all in all there were 11 of us with plenty o tequila and beer!

After dinner we played some soju drinking games and headed down the beach to the Jungle Bar. This is a cool bar!!! Tree houses and bamboo everywhere! We were the only ones there- Thursday night in November isn't big I guess- and we ordered the flaming volcanos. This was the most impressive drink I have ever seen. Henry take note. It starts with a martini glass on the bottom filled with god knows what, then a normal glass sitting in it and a normal glass stacked upside down on top of that one. So it's basically a huge tower of 3 glasses. Then they stack a shot glass of blue booze (blue curaco?) on top. The final step. The namesake; the volcano pour. The bartender takes a second shot of something, lights it on fire, and pours it into the blue one. It pours fire down the glasses into the martini glass where you are sucking the shot out with a straw. It's quite the show!

The next morning and it's time to pack and go. I have a final lunch with Danny and he walks me (through the most ghetto round about way ever; we got so lost and basically climbed a mountain) to the road to catch a trike. Trike->ferry->trike->bus->plane and I'm back in Manilla. Yuck. Manilla sucks. It's smelly, congested, and just has an overall rankness about it. And the people are ugly and fat. I had 3 or so hours to kill before my flight so I decide to hop on a Jeepny and head to the Mall of Asia for dinner. I get into the Jeepny and ride it to the end and some guy tells me to get out. He offers to take me to dinner. Wow everyone's so nice here. So we take a cab the rest of the distance to the Mall and I pay. Not even splitting it? This dude's sketch. So he procedes to tell me he's not hungry and is looking for restaurants. You know what, I'll take it from here! And I sent him packing. I have no idea what he wanted, but I didn't want to find out either.

I get some food and check the internet for the first time in a week. "lauren, this is your mother, hope you're having fun." Few days later. "Lauren i know youre on vacation but if you could send an email it would be nice to know you're ok." Finally, "Lauren, where are you!!!??" Ooops!!! Not much internet (or time) while on the beach in Boracay. Mom, I promise during Christmas I will check in more often!!!

I get back to Seoul (after a whole ordeal with a lack of cash and paying terminal fees in the Philippines- Im a fugative. Perhaps that story another day) and the puddles are frozen and it's -1degree C. Awesome. Stupid Korea. haha no it's good to be back but I definitely miss the 30 degree weather!

Next; Vietnam->Cambodia->Thailand.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


After a quick 45 minute flight to Kalibo I step off the plane into 90 degree humid weather :) Outside what has to be the smallest airport I have ever seen, there are a line of buses and a heard of tricycles. The tricycles are motorcycles with a cart for passengers attached at the side. They're funny to look at yet seem to be the number one mode of transport here. A woman approaches me and asks if I have a place to stay; nope. I tell her I'm looking for something in a central location for cheap and she tells me no problem I will have someone meet you in Caticlan to bring me to the Sanders White hotel (1,100 pesos a night = $22). Ok. I am then told to get on the Philippine Air shuttle for a 2 hour bus ride to Caticlan. The bus has AC and is crowded, yet I get 2 seats to myself (thank you backpack for taking 1!). The ride is slow but it gives me a chance to see the countryside. It reminds me tremendously of Costa Rica; palm trees, mountains, shacks and people out walking everywhere. I get to Caticlan and there's a woman standing holding a sign "Loren Sanders White." She's rushing around like a maniac and I'm literally chasing her around the ferry port. We have to buy a ticket for the ferry, an environmental ticket and a terminal ticket. I get these and continue chasing her onto the boat.

Oh my god. It's absolutely gorgeous. The boat pulls up through crystal clear blue waters to a beautiful green mountainous area with white sand beaches. We get off and have to get on a tricycle to Station 2 where the hotel is located. We get on the tricycle which is probably supposed to carry 3 people, with 4 others. That makes 7 of us including the driver. We crawl up hills but man did we fly down em. We get off and again I chase the woman to the hotel. We have to walk down the beach then down a cute little sand alleyway to the Sanders White. It's sooooo cute!!! I have a room with two beds and a nice sized shower/bathroom. By the time I get into the hotel and changed into my bathing suit and onto the beach it's only 1. I walk out to the beach (1 min walk) and all you hear is "pearls" "boat ride" "atv" "massage" "buffet" etc. There are people peddling stuff everywhere; especially in Station 2 as it's the area of the beach with the most happening.

I have a full day to sit and relax on the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen. I don't know what you all know about the Philippines, but I knew nothing. It's literally paradise. I can't believe I am sitting here in the Kalibo airport again about to leave. Words can't describe the perfection of this place!!!

So I'm laying on the beach and I'm approached by Roli. He wants me to go on a boat ride that includes snorkeling, lunch and drinks for 600 pesos ($12). I agree I'll go the next day. This isn't enough to get him to leave. He continues to sit next to me and ask me all about my life. "Where's your boyfriend?" Not this again. I go on to tell him no bf and he asks if I want a Filipino boyfriend. No, Roli, I do not, I am content being alone this week, it's not that kind of trip. Then he tells me he can show me where to get dinner on the cheap. Like Manila, there's a fish market where you pick what you want and bring it to the restaurant to cook. I agree to go with him just so he'll leave me alone so I can lay on the beach, and we meet at 6. I got a squid and 5 scallops and got them all cooked up. Yum! Roli didn't eat but he bought the beer. San Miguel is an excellent beer by the way. So he's kind of getting annoying but says he wants to buy me a beer and go to the beach. I tell him I'm tired but go for the beer. We sit on the beach and somehow he got on the subject of my Filipino boyfriend again. He tells me he wants to be mine, I say sorry, and then he says "If I see with with boyfriend I cry." haha ok I've had enough and tell him I'm beat and need to go home.

I go back to my room and can't help noticing all of my neighbors have these sweet hammocks on their balconies. I'm jealous. I still have some beer left so I sit out on my porch. I look at the railing. I'm an idiot. I have a hammock I just need to hang it up. This is the fanciest $20 a night place I've ever stayed in! I swing and enjoy my Super Strong San Miguel while watching a lizard run around the bamboo on my porch. Life is hard. After I deem it's safe I won't run into Roli again (he lives in Caticlan and has to take a ferry back before the stop for the night) I head out. I start walking toward Station 1. 1 and 2 are party time and 3 is a little quieter. I walk a ways up and stop at a fun, crowded bar, and sit next to two gentlemen. We get to talking and I find out these two guys met this afternoon because they're both staying at the same hotel. Kobi, Italian, is here for a quick trip as he lives in Manila, and Danny is here for a month as an I'm-out-of-the-air force celebration from Hawaii. So they're both here alone too! Instant best friend. We take shots, a million photos (I thought I was bad about making people take 3000 million pictures, but Kobi takes it to a new level. When he asks you to take his picture he wants one from every angle. It's pretty hilarious), we leave and get beers so we can go sit on the beach and listen to some live music. All of the big hotels have nightly buffets on the beach and some of the bigger ones have bands. We went and saw the Regency's show. It was pretty good, or maybe we were just that drunk.

After we have all had enough we decide to meet them tomorrow for breakfast and beach chillin. They have free breakfast, tiki tents, and lounge chairs at their hotel. Done and done.


After banana pancakes at their Blue Mango hotel the three of us walk out the door to the beach. I can't get over the beauty of this place! Here I am under a tiki tent, on a bamboo lounge chair, on the whitest sand I have ever seen, looking into the turquoise-iest ocean I have ever seen, and all I can think "suckers back in Korea!" I literally spent the entire day going from laying on my lawn chair to floating in the ocean. Back and forth all day. Nothing else. No swimming, no beach games, just straight chillin from am to sunset. And everything we need, drinks, food, water can all be ordered right from our hotel and delivered out to the beach. Perfect!

Kobi is a crack up. This dude is in his 40s, had long curly black hair, and loves to rock his speedo. He is European after all. He's been to almost every country in the world and seems to me that he works for a week then travels for 3 months. I don't remember what he did, but sign me up. He currently lives in Manila and loves to frequent Boracay, and who can blame him. He is just the happiest, most talkative, funny person I have met. He spent the entire day harassing the vendors. They walk by trying to peddle sunglasses or pearls and he calls them over, makes them show him all the goods, says "no thanks but she's interested" and points to me. Then I have to spend the next 5 minutes trying to get the dudes to leave. Too funny.

Danny at one point is telling me about the best sandwich at the Blue Mango, the Freddie White. Bread, bacon and mayo, bread, peanut butter and jelly, bread. Sounds disgusting. I try it and it's heavenly. I guess you can't really mess up with bacon eh? Then Danny starts telling me about some of the nasty Filipino food. Then he makes a mistake and tells me about balot (ball-oh). It's a 14 day old duck embryo (still in the egg) that you eat for strength. Apparently alll of the Filipinos love these things, but Danny informs me he would rather die then try it. You know me, as soon as he tells me this I have to have it. A few hours later the balot man comes walking down the beach with his heater/cooler thing of eggs. I buy one, 50 pesos ($1), and Danny runs into the dive shop attached to the Mango to get Tom, the dive master, to show me how to eat it. Tom eats one everyday (and he's English!) and tells me the yellow part (goodness that forms into the duck) has all of the vitamins and minerals one needs for the day. The egg is hot. Like burn your hands hot. I let it cool a bit, then crack the top open and drink the juice. Tastes like chicken broth. Then Tom peels the shell off. There's a little, maybe 2", duck fetus. It has eyes and a beak and legs etc. It's def a duck. Then under the fetus is a glob of yellow and under the yellow is a white hardish part. Yellow eventually becomes duck, and white helps facilitate the process apparently. It's like soju. One shot. I've eaten some gross things but even this was hard for me to put in my mouth. It was looking back at me. Danny can't even watch. He's jumping around 10 feet away freaking out that I would even consider doing this. I tell myself people eat this everyday and throw it in my mouth. Not bad. Actually quite good. It tastes just like an egg yoke, just a little crunch in the beginning when you get the bird :) Apparently now I have HUGE street cred in the Philippines, Tom's impressed and Danny's disgusted and impressed and Kobi's still harassing vendors.

It's time to go shower and relax. It's rough laying on the beach all day being catered to. Danny and I agree to meet for dinner later on although we're both pretty exhausted. The night before totally took it out of all of us. Danny and I meet and go to this Spanish Tapas book that Tom recommended. It's even said in Lonely Planet to be a place often frequented (is that redundant?) by locals. A good Tempranillo, Miss Earth contestants sightings, and tapas later and we're beat. I go home to get some sleep so I can be ready for another day of beach chillin!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Swine Flu 09

After a long and loud (you should never, under any circumstances, be able to bring an infant on board) flight I arrive in Manila! The sun is just setting and as I step onto the tarmac I can feel the tropical weather. Ah 80 degrees how I have missed you! The first thing they say to me in customs is

"Oh you're by yourself, do you have a friend contact?"
me: No, here alone.
customs: Oh (with a look of pity and bewilderment)

This exact conversation happens again when I try to book my flight to Boracay. Do people not travel alone to the Philippines ever? This can't be that uncommon, right?

I know that I want to go to Boracay. I know Boracay is a flight away. I did not know the closest airport to Boracay, in Caticlan, is closed until December. So I go to the ticket booking office, wait forever, and get tickets to the second closest airport....for tomorrow. Last flight out was 4:45 and it's now 6. First flight in the am is at 8:35 so I book it and figure I'll check out Manila for the night.

Trying to get a taxi is a pain in the ass. This is a small airport, everyone thankfully speaks English, but everyone also knows I'm a tourist. I was definitely the only non-Filipino/Japanese person on my flight and let's face it, tall, with blonde hair sticks out everywhere in Asia. So everyone's trying to scam me into something, I finally see a dude who seems nice enough and tell him to take me to the Mall of Asia. This was recommended to me by a woman in the Hotel booking lounge. Cab driver tells me this is no good because it closes at 8 and he'll take me to a legit Filipino dinner. Alright. He then informs me that he will be my tour guide for the night. For $20 he'll take me around for the next 4 hours. Sure why not.

We get to a little fish market on the bay and as we pull into the parking lot all of the attendants/waiters? are waving and saving hi to me through the window. Everyone's so nice! No not nice, looking to take my money. We walk down the market looking for shrimp and every single person is harassing and trying to get you to buy their fish. I know this happens a lot in markets, but this was especially bad. My favorite were the ladyboys though. They are just that. Men with long hair and makeup and booty shorts trying to sell something to you. They're amazing! I get some live shrimp and a crab and Ray, my tour guide, takes me to this really cute restaurant behind the market. There are rows and rows of tables, lights, disco bally things and color! There's a live band at the next restaurant and ours is blasting Christmas music. Apparently Christmas starts in October here.

The restaurant cooks up my food; crab in an oyster sauce and the shrimp in a spicy red pepper butter. So good!!! I was licking the oyster sauce out of the bowl. Ray had some but I think I scared him with how much I could put away. By the end of the meal I was a total mess from crab picking and de-shelling the shrimp. All in all the meal, with beer and rice, was less than $12, with leftovers. Fresh crab and fresh shrimp for $12. And I bet that will be my most expensive meal here.

Next Ray takes me to the bay which is behind the Mall of Asia. He plays guide and tells me about all of the Embassies and government buildings etc. and informs me the MOA is the largest mall in all of Asia. Makes sense as it's huuuuge. We walk along the bay and check out the scene; lots of kids, palm trees, dates, and rando carnival games including one where children get into large blow up balls on a swimming pool and try to take each other out. I wanted to play. Ray decides he wants to show me a good live band and we're off again.

This time he takes me to Cowboy Cafe. It's a huuge restaurant where they have a really impressive stage. Then the band comes on.

Song 1: some REM song
Song 2 (Suzi this will always remind me of you) Run away Train!
Song 3 Losing My Religion
Song 4 Sanatana with Rob Thomas

Then he busts out a ton of J-Pop (japanese pop) and ends the set with a Korean song!!! It was awesome and a legit concert. And the best part was that I was just chillin there drinking with Ray, my driver.

It's 11 and I don't want to get a hotel because I'm nervous I will sleep through my early flight, so I have Ray take me back to the airport. He offers to take me out after his shift on a jeepny (I'll have to get pics bc they re awesome) but I'm beat, haven't slept much in the past 3 days and just want to chill. So I park it on a bench outside, turn on my ipod and put a shirt over my face and join the 100 or so other homeless (not really) people on the airport outdoor benches. I honestly slept pretty well and the best part was at 4:45 the security guy came and tapped me and told me I could go inside! He was looking out. Now it's 7am I am in the actual terminal, which they make you pay $4 to enter???, and I'm on my way to the beach!!!

Going through the security this morning:

Officer: You're alone?
Me: Yes
O: Where's your boyfriend?
M: I don't have one
O: Why not?

How do I answer that? Because I've been waiting for you baby.

An hour flight. A 2 hour bus ride. Beach. :) Thank you H1N1.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My trip to America

Friday after work Jo, Krissy, Susan and I met and took an express bus to Gunsan. Gunsan is roughly 3 hours south by bus, 2 by train, and directly on the Yellow Sea. We went down for a "Save Your Bacon" party on the US Air force base. Jo had been before, but the rest of us were newbies. So we take a cab from the bus station to base and we are left to stand out in the cold by some sketchy looking fence. After waiting what seemed to be forever (it was cold!) Spence greets us at the door. He has to sign us in, they check our passports (we're and American, Canadian, German and English woman) and we're in! I'm back in America!!

Base is super funny. It reminds me a lot of college with crappier cars and camo. Since we didn't get in until late Friday and we had an all day party to look forward to Saturday, we thought we would take it easy. So we all, including the airmen, head to the Panton (the squadron of the guys we were staying with) bar. The bar is the diviest bar I have ever seen, but there's music and free beer, so who's complaining.

After the worst night's sleep on Shag's cold hard floor, we wake up, get ready, and start to Save our Bacon. I wasn't really listening when Spence was giving the history of the party, but there were BLTs and an eventual pig roast involved. We're broken into teams, the ladies were all on Team Canada which properly offends me. I make a smartass comment and the Juvet team quickly takes me as one of their own. Jo can't believe that I would bail so fast and easily, but I do and we're off for our first clue!

To me a scavenger hunt seems kind of cheesy. Running around finding clues performing stupid tasks. But this is just the opposite. It was sooo much fun and there were obviously copious amounts of alcohol involved. First we have a golf challenge. It's me and 6 boys and we suck. This was our worst event and I'm sad to say I had absolutely nothing to contribute. You had to hit a nerf ball from one hoop to the next through the wind. We literally pushed a car out of our way, moved a bench, and it still took us close to 10 mins (fastest team did it in 1) to complete the challenge! Then station 2. At this station we decide that the team is renamed; Team Jersey Girl. Yey I'm the team mascot! haha. We found the "highest point" on base and the clue is to look for a sketchy vehicle. The car we spot is an old school RV with "Free Candy" written on the side. I think we found it. Inside they're hot boxing the van with a hookah and our task is to name airmen by their real names. Everyone has a call name and that's what they go by, so this actually more difficult than it sounds. I obviously don't know anything so I sit and watch. Did I mention there are drinks and shots at every station?

Station 3. Casino room! I dominated this challenge. We played 21 and got chips from the dealer for various other things. Chips for shots, chips for good attitude, etc. I racked them up! Next was the Price is Right. We had to take a shot and ID what liquor it was. If you got it correct the team takes a shot together. Then the random part of the challenge. There was a laundry basket filled with colored rice puff balls. I volunteer to take one for the team and I have to, with my mouth, pick up, chew and spit out as many balls as I can in a minute. I KILLED IT. At the awards ceremony at the end I got a shout out for my outstanding ball chomping performance. haha too much fun.

At the end of the day everyone's pretty beat and drunk so me and the Juvet boys decide to take a van ride over to the commissary. This is the greatest place Ive been since Ive been in Asia. Not really, but it was a nice break from Korea. There's a grocery store with all American goods, a Popeyes, BK, Startbucks, and best of all TACO BELL. We all get taco bell and head back to Spence's to chill. Then it's back to the sketch dive bar for the awards ceremony, pig roast, and band. We came in 3rd, but only because the Panton's hosted the event, so obviously a Panton team had to win. We know we won in our hearts. No one even knows that the prize was. haha. I have a billion pics (of course) up on facebook if you care to check them out.

Sunday morning and Shag took us to a hanger and showed us one of the jets he flies. It's amazing how small the room inside is and how fast they can go (twice the speed of sound). The airmen usually fly 3-4 times a week for an hour or so at a time, but Shag said when they just went to Alaska they had to fly one of these jets home....9 hours!!! I can't imagine, no bathroom, no moving around, no nothing. It was a cool thing to see though. The greatest thing about base is being able to shop in the American grocery store. We all loaded up on cheese!!! avocados, granola bars, cereal, apple sauce, etc. and Jo even got a turkey!!! We looked like big idiots on the bus ride home with 1000 bags of groceries. It was so worth it though!

Now I'm sitting at the airport. It's 11:30 and my flight isn't for another hour. I take a bus to the airport this morning and am checking in. I tell the woman I'm flying to Manila. Then I tell her my flight number. She informs me my flight is going to Japan. AHHHH what did I do??? She gets me all worried and flustered I booked the wrong flight and then realizes that's where my connection to Manila is. Whew. So now I'm sitting in a lovely airport lounge waiting to board in an hour.

I have gotten some recommendations about what to do. Must go to Boracay. This would involve another flight so hopefully i can catch one when I get in at 6 tonight. If not I guess I'll spend the night in Manila and head that way tomorrow. Ahhh I plan on straight beach chillin all week!! And according to my friend Justin there are ladyboys!!! haha I thought they were only in Thailand. I think I'm going to like the South Pacific!

Swine Flu Rules.

Sorry to all of you who have had the swine flu, but for those of us who haven't, we're loving it! My school announced that they will be closed all week!!!! Best news ever!!!!!!!!

I wasn't sure what to do with all of this free time. Should I go to Hong Kong, or Malaysia, or Indonesia? Hmm. Last min flights are expensive and Malaysia's not as close as I thought it would be (not with the flights I found), so it's off to the Philippines!!! I leave tomorrow at 1, get in at 6, and have zero plans!! I packed a backpack and haven't done any research as I've been on an airforce base all weekend and have been busy adding facebook pictures since I have been home. I suppose I'll bring my laptop and figure it out when I get there. The only thing I know is Boracay is great, the weather's in the 90s, and I have shit to do until Saturday. Yeaaaahhhh.

Tomorrow I will update about my weekend in "America."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

swine flu hits korea. hard.

The swine flu, affectionately referred to as the new flu in Korea so as not to hurt pork sales, is taking off. From what I understand it's already hit the states hard, and now equally so here. Almost every teacher I know has had classes cancelled or school closed. [Please keep your fingers crossed for me!] Some teachers get full weeks off, some get time off unpaid, some have to go in half days, some have to go in one day. I'm hoping for a paid week off. Good luck, right?

Here are my school's current precautions:

1. Students must wear their masks at all times. I was told (after I asked of course, they don't tell us anything) that this is the case throughout the winter. Probably until April. Let me tell you it's a bit difficult having an English class in which the children speak and present when they have something over their mouths. Some of them are shy enough to speak up as it is, much less with a piece of cloth covering their voices..ugh.

2. Children must wash their hands after every class. This is disgusting because I constantly have little wet hands all over everything. Let's stick to the spray!

3. Every child must bring in their own colored pencils, scissors, pencils, erasers and glue. There will be no sharing of any kind.

That's it so far but I'm curious to see how far they will take it before shutting her down. Already a few kids have been out for weeks because of "car accidents" and many a brother and sister are in the hospital (they don't go to the doctor here, it's always the hospital). So hopefully there will be a minor breakout and we'll shutdown. How selfish am I?

In nicer news the wine buffet was awesome. We had 8 girls show up and we have decided to make it a monthly girl appreciation night. 3 kinds of red, 3 whites, champagne, raspberry magkali and all the kimchi you can eat. Heaven.

Tonight is movie night at Susan's. After our challenge at the wine buffet (you gotta see how much wine it's possible to drink in 3 hours when it's unlimited!) we decided we need a quiet night in and I don't feel like sitting in my apartment drinking wine by myself. So we're going to make salads, have hummus and cheese, drink wine, and watch a scary movie. Tomorrow it's off the base!

Rando note:
Many of you are probably wondering why I update this so frequently and am on facebook so often. I am finished with class on T/T at 3. They make me sit here until 6 to "lesson plan." This usually takes me all of an hour, and that's if I'm going all out. So play on the internet I will!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

my new korean gym

It's day two of my new gym membership and I'm already loving it. Koreans crack me up especially when it comes to exercise.

First off you have to take off your shoes to go into the locker room. It's a locker room!!! And on top of that there's no bathroom in it. It's a room with lockers and an open communal shower. The bathrooms are located down the once you change, walk out of the locker room and put your shoes on, you have to walk up a flight of stairs to the gym. I am the only non-Korean in this gym. oh and did I mention everyone in the gym except myself pays to "rent" gym clothes. They're long black shorts with a big black tshirt. So not am I the only blonde, I'm the only one not rocking some washed out black gym gear. I wear my spandex and wife beaters thank you.

Once you get into the gym it's hard not to laugh. There are a few guys lifting but mostly it's people walking (and when I say walking I mean strolling) on the treadmills, people hoola hooping, jump roping, and just doing other bizarre things you don't usually see in a gym. As I have mentioned before Koreans aren't huge on physical activity except hiking, which is weird because they're pretty obsessed with being skinny. Skinny in Korea is a weird concept. You NEVER see anyone obese like in America, yet if you're not 90 lbs people think they're over weight. Most people don't exercise, eat donuts, rice and noodles all day and expect to be models, yet won't work out. There are also "nutrition" shops allllll over that sell diet drinks and they appear to be quite popular. Two of my Korean co-workers are on one of the plans.

People also don't go to the gym because all of the playgrounds around Seoul offer up exercise stations. They are often times frequented by ajuma. They consist of a machine that swings your legs (butt workout) and the best one, you stand on a disc, hold your top half still and rotate your hips from left to right. It's super fun but I'm sure does absolutely nothing for you. And my gym has one!!!! Other funny equpiment: one of those 1980s belt looking things you put around your back or butt and let shake. And the machine where you lay down and then hang upside down. I'm not sure what that does for you either. But my favorite, and I'm totally obsessed with it, is the shaky nuts fun machine. I have no idea what purpose it serves but it's totally fun. You stand on a plank that goes left to right like a mini-seesaw. It goes for 5 minutes and it shakes every ounce of fat on your body. I'm almost uncomfortable feeling my butt and thighs jiggle on it but kind of in a good way :)

Today I was a little tired at work with a headache and wasn't super pumped about working out. Susan had told me that when it's cold out she likes to go in the sauna before her workout to warm up and stretch. So I figured I'd give it a try. It's a co-ed dry sauna. There are wooden blocks for pillows and you just lay on the hard floor. I walked in and within 3 minutes I was out cold. I've never been a napper and now I know why! I need a wooden pillow and 100 degree floor! I know where I'm living this winter.

So the gym has been an experience. I definitely get looks the entire time I'm in there because there are no Westerners in Bongcheon. Nah it's just cause I look good ;) ha right I'll keep telling myself that.

Tomorrow is Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero are like the Japanese Poky sticks (long cookie stick dipped in chocolate). Back a few years ago some schools girls started a tradition of giving each other Pepero on 11/11 and they would say "I hope you stay skinny like the # 1" Which doesn't make sense because these are cookies....Pepero insists they didn't invent this holiday. And Hallmark didn't invent Valentine's Day. Right.

Apparently all of the kids bring in a ton of this stuff and we eat it all day. Sweet. Then I'm meeting some of the ladies for for a wine buffet. Unlimited wine, champagne, beer and food. Woohoo.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

korean mountain climbing

Saturday Krissy, Susan, Liz and myself meet up at 10 30 in Itaewon. This has got to be the earliest I have gotten up on a weekend here! We take an hour long subway ride out to the country and then check our directions:

Exit 3 at the subway and walk 10 minutes.

Walk 10 minutes where? We aimlessly wander for 30 minutes and stumble across some cool street markets. Krissy finds a denim skirt for 3,000 won ($3) and I found a real beaver stole for 6,000 won. We get antsy to hike so we go into a Family Mart and ask directions. Had I been alone I would have been screwed. Luckily Krissy's been here 2+ years and Susan's been here 6 years, so their Korean is good to get by on. We get the Family Mart owner to flag down a bus for us, he tells the driver where we're going, and he's off. Such a sweet ajusi ('ah-jew-she'- old Korean man. usually can be found drinking soju, spitting in the streets, or passed out somewhere in public).

We finally get to the base of the mountain (not Buhkhusan like we had planned, but a mountain is a mountain right?) and it's like you're preparing to hike Everest. There are gear stores everywhere!!! On the weekends in Korea if you're on the subway during the day every person you see over the age of 50 is decked out in hiking gear. Koreans may not be into fitness and sports, but do they love their hiking! And boy do they take it seriously. All of the ajuma (old korean woman) rock fluorescent colors, shirts and pants, backpacks, visors and poles. The men carry the radios because you obviously can't go hiking without bringing your own tunes. I, on the other hand, am wearing jeans and a tee carrying my giant purse as it is packed for the weekend at Susan's.

So we head up the mountain. There are people everywhere. The 50+ crowd leaves Seoul on the weekends and this is where they are! We found this awesome Temple at the bottom of the mountain then proceed to hike up. The comments in the beginning are "this is nothing." "so much easier than i thought it would be." All the while I'm thinking, this is Korea, not exactly the Alps. An hour later and it;s a different story. It gets steep and intermixed with the rocks are blocks that act as stairs. Then steeper. Now there are full out staircases. Steeper. Staircases with railings. haha it's totally hooked up for the ajuma hikers!

We FINALLY, 2 1/2 hours later, make it to the top. At this point it's 3 none of us had eaten more than an apple that day and we're starving and I'm getting cranky. Hard to believe I know. So we book it down the mountain. We're throwin bows and pushing ajuma out of the way left and right. We made it back to town in 25 minutes :)

All we want to do is sit outside and enjoy a nice Korean meal. We stop by a seafood place, order soju and "fish soup" and start eating kimchi. The woman sees the tenacity I go at the kimchi with so she keeps it coming. I think I ate 3 bowls. Then we get our soup. It's pregnant fish soup! So not only is it chock full of tofu, radish, spice and fish, but there are many, many, many fish sacks. I'm usually all about the weird food, but these cooked up tough and just got in the way. We ate around it as much as we could. I thought it was still good although I think everyone else was pretty disappointed.

This was my first soju encounter since my Monday night black eye and guess what! No new bruises this time!!

A shower and a Kahlua coffee later and we're back on the town. Next weekend I'm headed two hours south for a pilot party. There's some scavenger hunt on an airforce base or something. I'm just going because we can shop on base at the American post!!!

self set up blind date

So I'm standing outside exit 1 at the Seodamun station and I get a "hungry for dinner?" It's Matt. Hm yup definitely not who I thought he was. He's cute seems pleasant and outgoing, so at least safe and out of danger of being chopped up into a million pieces and thrown into a dumpster.

We got up to his apartment and he starts "cooking" dinner. Dinner consists of gouda, camembert, tomatoes, peppers, olives, bread olive oil and balsamic, and crackers. It was good, but definitely not a fancy cooked dinner. He makes a big point to tell me about the 7.000 won ($7) wine he found and we're drinking. Shouldn't he be trying to impress me? Cheap is not attractive.

He's from San Diego, we played foozball together at Phillies apparently, hes 30 and a teacher. So after ok conversation, he doesn't strike me as exciting or anyone I would ever be interested in and I decide to head home. He walks me to the subway which was nice, and we agree that I will cook him dinner on Monday. Yeah def coming down with the swine flu tomorrow :)

Saturday AM. 4 blondes wake up and go hiking! I call Susan at 9:22:

susan: "good morning. what are you doing?"

me: "just woke up"

susan: "where are you?"

haha screw you Zuzan, I'm in my own bed at my own apartment, thanks!! She was sad bc it was the first Friday I have been here and not stayed at her place. I miss Haebongcheon already. haha. Hiking was amazing, hot, crowded, and totally rewarding. We should do this every weekend. Ugh and soju and hot fish baby soup after hit the spot. AND we still went out Saturday night.

Again, another great weekend in Korea. Next weekend; pilot party!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

best. dinner. ever.

I know I make these claims a lot, but really this is true:

I had the best dinner ever last night.

My friend Darren decided to throw his girlfriend Krissy, one of my closest friends here, a surprise dinner for her birthday. She thought she was just going out with him, little did she know 20+ of her friends would be there to celebrate with her. Her favorite restaurant is Zelen. It's Bulgarian and, where else, in Itaewon. I had previously been here with Susan and her husband Martin and the food was excellent. I had a squid stuffed with a seafood rice; mussels, shrimp, octopus, yum. It was good but not life shattering.

Anyway, last night since there were so many of us, Darren hooked up a prefixed "buffet" with a set price so we wouldn't have to mess with splitting up the tab and all of that annoying nonsense. Krissy shows up, is completely shocked and moved, and then the food comes.

side note: for anyone that's ever been to Korea you would know that cheese is a hot commodity. You can't find a wide selection and if you want just a chunk of cheddar it will cost you dearly. I'm talking $15 for a little thing of cheese, so no one eats it :(

broiled cheese covered eggplant (my favorite part of the whole meal)
salad of cucumber, parsley, tomato and roasted red pepper covered in a finely shredded cheese
bacon cheese stuffed mushrooms

huge loin of lamb (soo good) with a delicious rice accompaniment served with gravy

cheese and spinach stuffed chicken with broccoli and carrots topped in a dill yogurt sauce (I licked it off the plate)

honeycomb and fig ice cream cake. ahhhhhh best ice cream i have ever had, and you know they made fresh it there. I had 3 pieces :)

All of this will some red wine and sangria. ahhhhh Bulgarian paradise...

Then I come to school today resolute on eating healthier. Nope. It's Henry's birthday so we have pizza and more cake. I love jobs with cake.

Tonight I'm off to dinner at Matt's. I have "set myself up on a blind date" as Emily puts it. I received a text message this week from "matt phillies" (phillies is a bar) asking if I still wanted my fancy dinner. Sure do, but who the hell is Matt. I guess I'll find out tonight when he cooks me dinner. Hey a free meal is a free meal. Then it's off to hike some Korean mountains tomorrow AM. We're right in the middle of peak week so I'm hoping to get some good mountain pictures. Keep a look out.

Happy Friday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

i'm a korean now!

I finally have my apartment, job, ARC, cell phone, and now bank account set up!!! I've even rocked the leggings and a flannel in the past few weeks. Except my oval eyes, blonde hair, height, common sense, and lack of Korean speaking skills, I'm as Korean as they get.

Now that it's hit 1 degree C, terrible, I have decided to join the gym. I went to Jamaican Fitness today and took a tour and it's actually decent. People aren't super into fitness here so even at 18:30 when I went it was pretty empty, which is a big change from DC where it's packed before and after work. And there's yoga everyday. Yey.

This morning at 1030 my head teacher, Hanna, comes into my classroom and tells me she needs my help with a phone interview. Ok. She makes my class get up and stare at the wall (which was hilarious) and I went upstairs to call Michael. I'm wondering at this point if I'm interviewing someone to fill my job. Maybe they don't like me. I know I'm no superstar in the classroom. No apparently we're hiring a new teacher for a new class. I guess even with the economic situation in the world, BITS is doing great and taking on more students. I've learned how to talk to Joel so as not to want to take my own life, but I've heard waaaaay more about Canada in the past 2 months than I ever needed to know. Bring on more Americans! Mike seemed nice, born in 86, and just graduated from a UC school. I have a suspicion he's gay which could be super fun too! After a 25 minute phone conversation I go back down to my class and the students are still standing in the hall facing the wall. hahahahhaha. So they do listen to's just not me :( At least there was no crying today because of me and my scary blue eyes!

Monday, November 2, 2009

howlin' weenie

Halloween in Korea.

one would think because it's an American holiday it wouldn't be a big deal, or even recognized in the slightest, here. wrong. south Americans, Germans, Africans, Canadians, LOVE the Halloween. we all dress (or undress as it may be) and celebrate the fact we're in a foreign country with foreign people celebrating foreign nonsensical holidays. not only that, but we celebrate in school too! we had a huge Halloween party complete with candy, games, cooking, and crafts. i made pumpkin pancakes, phenomenal if i may say so myself, and we all dressed up, even the Korean teachers. apparently the Korean teachers ended it there. not the expats. see facebook.


i had my 3 year old oak class again today. lily is still crying. today i scared her with my blue eyes. at the end of class i got a tearful hug and a "thank you teacher." progress.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I may not get Thanksgiving....

....but for Christmas I'm going to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand!!

I just booked my flights. I'm meeting my friend Brian in Seoul (he's on a month long excursion through asia) and we'll fly out together to Ho Chi Min on the 24th. We'll stay in Vietnam for a few days then take a 6 hour boat ride over to Cambodia. The details still need to be ironed out, but we plan to spend new year's there and then take a train over to Bangkok on the 1st. I'll stay for the night, see the town quickly, and fly back (red eye) to Seoul just in time to get unpacked and ready for work on Monday.

Ahhh 3 countries, 10 days, in the South Pacific!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

mexican in korea

Where I live in Bongcheon there is Korean food and more Korean food. There is no McDonald's, no Starbucks, no nothing except Korean, which is fine but I have it every day at school for lunch and sometimes a girl just wants a sandwich! So tonight I went out with my new friend Trista who I met in my hostel in Taipei. We took the bus together to the airport in Taiwan and bonded over teaching stories. So we met tonight for dinner in Gangnum (a 15 minute subway ride) and decided on Dos Tacos. I read everyday to find out what's good in Seoul and they hands down say that Dos Tacos is the only legit Mexican in Korea.

YUMMMM. Hard taco with cheese, olives, re fried beans, jalapenos, cilantro! and sour cream with chips and yummy guac and an awesome margarita.

I've never craved Mexican food more than when I was told it was impossible to find here. And after an interesting (see: my new black eye) Monday night with soju and new friends from Ohio, it was much needed to have a chill night on the town.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

hair cut part deux

Not even a month after my first half-assed hair cut I decide I can't take it anymore and I need another one. My ends are a nightmare and I can't stand to see it in the mirror.

I went out for a run, and 6 minutes later I decided I had enough and wanted to be pampered and have my hair cut. I saw this cute little place within walking distance from my house so I checked it out. It had a french name (Le Chat somethingrather) and was a bright pink building with black accents. How could I go wrong? I walk in and ask (using sign language) for a haircut. They say sure "washey?" YES- washey! (with the accent here everything ends in ey- switchey, orangey, etc).

Step one wash the hair. Then the dude starts to comb it out and barely can because it's so damaged. He calls in reinforcements. He and this woman are going to town trying to get all of the knots out. Finally they do and what do they do next?? Pull out blow dryers of course! They went to all of the trouble of washing and brushing my hair just so they can dry it to cut it. Whatever. After they're done tag-team drying it, the dude puts on a sling (I'm not even joking) of scissors apologizes for "no English" and starts going nuts on my hair. He must have used 7 pairs of scissors. One to cut, one to thin, one to fringe and four others for god knows what reason. I think I lost half a head of hair and he only cut off 2" in length.

So after all this I'm getting nervous wondering how much this will cost me. 10,000 won. That's 2,000 less than last time, and yes, less than $10 and I got it washed, healthy again, and didn't have to talk to the guy for the hour I was there. According to Liz I was brave to trust rando-Koreans with my hair, but I am sure glad I did!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Last night Susan invited me to join her for a party hosted by Maker's Mark whiskey for PR magazine. PR magazine is a free publication centered around what's going on in Itaewon. For you DCers it's the equivalent of On Tap. There are quite a few of these magazines I have come to realize, and it's making me love Seoul even more. There's nothing I like better than being plugged into the happy hour and live music scenes in a city!

The party was awesome and I felt like I was back in DC albeit with a slightly older more international crowd. There were tons of people enjoying their free whiskey drinks, live music, and best of all party favors. At 10 they let you dip your own bottle into wax to seal it! I was tired so I didn't stay to wait in line, but it was nice to have a little feeling of home after all of these weeks away.

Monday, October 19, 2009

weekends in ktown

Friday we had an insanely fun, and colorful, pool party at the Mate Hotel in Mok-dong. It was Susan and David's birthdays so we all brought funny wigs, games and outfits to wear and then proceeded to break out the body paint. I think people are still finding paint in their hair. But the hotel was sick and we had our own personal pool and hot tub which was awesome because it's October and the Hamilton is closed :(

The weather is definitely getting cooler here which in turn is making me less and less inclined to go out during the afternoon. Saturday I eventually ventured out and went out and did some brief shopping and finally got a pedicure. So you know how I mentioned I got a dry haircut? Well I guess the same is true of pedicures. Didn't Koreans invent the pedicure? Here all they do is file and paint you nails. No foot soat. No pumice. No massage. Total BS. Another lesson learned.

Then on Saturday I met up with Emily for tacos and Mexican music. Ahhh it was great to have some cheese! Then we went over to Praha to meet up with Suzi. It still cracks me up that the three of us from middle-of-nowhere NJ all ended up in Seoul at the same time. I decided that next weekend I will go out to visit Suzi in Chuncheon. They have great hiking, are famous for their pork spine soup, and there's a big Buy The Way crawl on Friday which I have heard nothing but great things about from Suz.

Sundays here are all about brunch and hearing about every one's weekend. We had a great brunch (crappy bloody mary) at Berlin for Taylor's birthday, then went out to the Hound for some afternoon relaxation. The scene in Itaewon is funny. It's the same group of people that travel between the same group of bars. It's nice to have a tight knit group in all the same place; you dont have to chase people all over town!

Now it's back to teaching which I am enjoying it more daily. I'm getting a hang of how to deal with this kids, what they do and don't respond to, and how long it will take them to finish certain activities. And I think they're liking me. Although I now teach the little kids (3 years old) and each time I have had them Lily cries when she's left alone with me. Her mother came in last week to speak with me. She spoke great English and told me that Lily is very shy and gets embarassed easily. So when I asked her to ID some letters, she got flustered and cried. I felt so bad so today didn't put her on the spot at all. She stil cried. I'm the scary waegukin (foreigner).

Tomorrow film crews are coming in to film us teaching. They're filming it for the BITS commercial!! I'm going to be on TV! haha my 15 minutes of fame in Korea....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BITS English School

This is our website. Check it out for pictures of school activities and, oddly, lunches. I just found out I can check in the morning and see what we're having for lunch.

username: mcphatlc
password: lauren

Look in a couple of days when pictures from Olympics Day are up. There will be plenty of gun shots.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A good week

So far this week has been fantastic work wise! First off, for those of you (Mom) who don't think I actually have a job, I do!! I am here everyday, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 6 pm. I just take more pictures when I go out AFTER work and on the weekends than I do here.

Regardless, Tuesday I finally got my immigration status taken care of and will get my ARC (alien resident card) next Friday. Yey, I can now open a bank account, get internet at Starbucks, and get a real cell phone! I get home from the immigration center and guess what! The internet in my room has started working! Yey. Given it's kind of in and out, but I was able to Skype from my room last night and this morning. Today, October 14th (I'm exactly 25 1/4 today...I hang out with kids too much) I get paid for the first time in 4 months!!! And I don't have a bank account so it's all in cash. I had to put up a fight for this one. The school director only wanted to pay me 1 million won now and the other 1.2 when I get a bank account in a week or two. The logic behind this is unclear to me. I worked for one month, it's my money, thanks. So I made up a receipt, which I learned how to do from selling my car, and demanded all my cash today. I won. 2.2 million won is a stack of money that makes it look like I robbed a bank. The largest denomination is 50,000, but 10,000 are more common.

The most important thing about this week though is that today I have learned the secret to teaching. Scissors. Give kids something to cut and glue and they're quiet. And actually cute for once. We made cut out bats that I am hanging from my ceiling. Tomorrow is BITS Olympics Day. Of course no one tells Joel and I think until today at lunch, but it's good news because it means I won't have to teach. Lesson plans cancelled! If you had a gun like this in school at home you'd be expelled...just another part of Olympic day....

This is my name in Korean: 러란

Day 5- Last day in Taipei

After a wonderful night's sleep post-earthquake, I head out for my last day on the town. The typhoon had begun and it was rainy, windy and pretty miserable. I head back to the Shinda area for a wonderful panini and wine brunch and stop back into the Chocolate Box Backpackers hostel again to use their Internet to figure out the days' plan. I'm locked out because I'm not staying there, so I get some boys who are walking up to let me in. They're wasted [it's 12 in the afternoon] about to head out to the airport. Turns out the four of them are also teachers in Seoul and are in town for Chuseok. On their way into Taipei they had bought a giant bottle (perhaps 3 liter) of whiskey and were really close to finishing it. Between Ting Ting karaoke and dancing, we take some shots. They leave and I'm left to figure out what to do with my last remaining day.

I decide to take the subway to the end of the line, Danshui. It's a cute town on the river with lots of shopping and street markets, but the wind is really starting to pick up, my umbrella has flipped inside out so many times it's now rendered useless, so I go back to Taipei city. I find a hostel in Shina, Eight Elephants, where they don't have any room available but say they can hook me up with a spot on the couch. I have to get up for the airport pretty early so I agree.

Neel and I meet up on our last night in the middle of the typhoon at Gordon Biersch of all places. Yum real pizza and good beers! Who knew they had them out in Asia!? Then we go to find Brown Sugar (the place we looked for a few days earlier). We know it's a jazz club but apparently Sundays are Latin night! There are a bunch of Taiwanese (one Western looking dude) guys up on stage salsa-ing and singing Latin music. It was hilarious and amazing at the same time. We call it a night and it's back to the hostel to prepare to leave...

I meet this great girl Trista who has a flight back to Seoul 30 minutes before me so we decide to take the bus together to the airport. She's fun and has been in Seoul for 2 years so has a lot to tell me. We're going to start taking Korean classes (me beginner her not so much) next weekend. anyway, she turned out to be an awesome person to travel and hang with for the hours before the flight back.

Thai Airlines is amazing. It's a 2 1/2 hour flight where I got my own row each way, English newspapers, an MJ documentary, special veggie meals each way, and wine! Perfect.

Now it's back to the grind in Seoul. Upon coming back I finally feel that Seoul is home. I don't feel like a tourist, this is my hood now. It just takes leaving and coming back to finally feel at home; and I have learned that this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Taipei Day 4- Beitou Hot Springs

[I realize this is getting long and irrelevant at this point, but these postings are more for my memory than your enjoyment. Sorry and I'll be out of Taipei stories soon :)]

I wake up early, as always, and it's looking grey so I decide to head out of the city to hot springs. It was only a 30 minute subway ride out to Beitou, and once I got outside the city a little I realized it was so worth it. There were trees and greenery everywhere! I haven't been outside of a city since I left NJ a month ago. I start exploring the town and run into two girls from Indianapolis who are teaching in Danshui, Taiwan. We chat for a long time and compare teaching stories and eventually part ways because they're off to go hike the national forest.

Beitou is absolutely gorgeous and there's nothing there except hotels, trees, and hot springs. All of the hotels have their own private hot spring access, but are considerably more expensive than the public hot springs. So I decide to go to the public hot springs (40NT= $1.50), strip down, pull out my camera and start taking pictures. It's really cool how it's set up. The hot spring flows in through a pipe (it's unfiltered) at the top pool and then each pool pours into the one below. I go to the top and start photographing. I notice this old guy waving in my pictures and just think he's doing it for the pictures. Then he tells me to "Stop taking pictures!!!!" Apparently it's illegal to take photos of Chinese people when they're not decent (we were all in bathing suits mind you). I apologize and go sit between two other old men in the spring with my tail between my legs. Ahhh it's sooo relaxing after all of the walking and traveling to sit in super hot water and just soak. You could feel yourself detoxifying. Ahh. Then the man who was yelling at me begins to tell me more about the hot spring. He gives me a run down of how to get the most of it and the history etc...Apparently the public hot spring is a lot nicer than all of the hotel springs because the water isn't filtered, it's pure from the source. And super hot! Vino, the old guy, informs me he lives in DC, is lawyer who travels the world teaching judges about American law, has two sons and is "55." More like 70. Anyway, we are chatting and he basically becomes my Taiwan tour guide and offers to take me out to lunch. I'm not one to turn down free food, so we're off. We go to this super nice hotel and I get a traditional Japanese eel lunch. yum! Over lunch Vino starts telling me random stories. Here's one:

In 1996 his wife was doing a charity event she does every year in Arizona. She and 17 other people raise money for cancer by jumping out of a plane and make formations in the sky. That was odd enough. Then the kicker. There was a freak wind tunnel (which I assume is a tornado) that rose out of the dessert and sucked her and the 17 other people straight to the Earth where they plummeted to their deaths. That really happens!? And there were thousands of people there watching including Vino and his two young sons! Needless to say he hasn't remarried since. Which is also probably due to the fact that he travels 40 days straight, gets 20 off, then does it all over again. And not only travels, travels all over Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Norway and the Balkans, all over South America etc. Sounds a little like Gannett only cooler. I mention to Vino I don't have a hostel booked for the night and I need to get back to Taipei to find one. He says he has to get back too so we take a bus together. Then he offers for me to stay at his hotel with no thanks I think I'll get my own hotel. So I go and book a hotel, the only room they have available is at 10:30 pm. haha great another Love Motel. Whatever, it's my own room and it's cheap. Vino offers to take me out to dinner to kill time. Ok more free food, fine. We go to the ex-Hilton, now called Cesar's, for a buffet dinner. Oh my word. It was massive.

Round 1: sushi
Round 2: Chinese
Round 3: ice cream and coffee
round 4: fruit and cheese
round 5: dessert

Ahh it was so good and I was stuffed. Vino was super interesting and told me very interesting things about his family, Gambinos, from Sicily where they make their own wine and grow their own olives. That would be the life. We also get to talking about relationships and I mention I came here single. His exact comment; "You don't bring a sandwich to the restaurant." ahhh haha He also let me know his feelings on age; it's just a number. It shouldn't matter how old you are if you really connect with someone...yeah it does matter when you're old enough to be my grandfather. Ew. He's becoming a little more persistent about me staying at his friend's apartment or in his hotel room. I decide it's enough and we should part ways so I'm off to the night market.

Shihlin, where my hotel is located, has the largest night market in Taipei (or the world?). There is more shopping, food, and entertainment than you could ever fully experience. There was even a whole road dedicated to selling animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, a goat! and more. It was nuts. I spent hours walking around taking in the sights. I eventually bought a watch, which stopped working 3 hours later, 4 scarves and some ice cream because I obviously didn't get enough at the buffet. And there were no snakes! At 12 I head back to my hotel, and settle in for the night. I put on TV and lounge. Somewhere in between sleep and awake, I feel my bed start shaking. Given the nature of my hotel I figured it must be the bed vibrating although I couldn't figure out what I did to turn it on. Then it doesn't stop. I get out of bed. I'm still shaking. I am fully aware that 2 typhoons are on their way to Taipei so I begin to think that my hotel on the 8th floor is starting to blow over in the wind. I look outside and no wind and no rain. What is going on....?? EARTHQUAKE!! I start freaking out making exit plans in my head (alright if the ceiling starts collapsing jump out the window. Lara does this sound familiar?) When it finally stops after a minute, I go out to the office. No one there speaks English so I start reenacting the shaking and the desk clerk just nods and says "Go back to bed." uhhhh how do I sleep after I thought I was about to die in a Taiwanese Love Motel? Eventually I fell asleep and forgot about until I read it in the headlines on Day 5.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taipei Day 3- new bffs

So after sleeping on the most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on (the hardwood floor would have been softer) I wake up ridiculously early for vacation and got ready to go. I decided since I didn't have plans for the day that it would be a good idea to walk to my next hostel and drop off things before i head out for the day. The walk was 30+ minutes and I passed through botanical gardens so I got to see something, although carrying 20kilos on my back was pretty taxing. There was no answer at the new hostel so the woman who owned the ceramic store downstairs (again super safe right!?) let me in and told me to wait..,I waited...and waited. 20 mins and I decided I was wasting my time. I left my bag and a note saying I'd be back and was on my way. The picture is of the room I actually got hours later. There was no one at this hostel and they wouldn't let me stay in the 300NT room because it was for four I had to get a single which was fine by me!!

I make my way over to Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. First off, their entire marketing strategy is that it's the tallest building blah blah we have all sorts of records. So what are they going to do when this is no longer true in a couple months (Dubai is opening the world's two tallest buildings)? I'm thinking they'll play ignorant so they won't have to change all of their signs and verbiage. Anyway, outside this Western dude stops me and asks me to take his photo in front of the building. I say sure and ask for the same favor in return. We get to chatting and I find out Neel's been living in Seoul the past month and is here for long weekend alone as well! Perfect! We go out to lunch and end up touring all day together. He's really funny and easy to get along with and totally has yellow fever which keeps me laughing all day. He has yet to act on it and is getting frustrated. haha oh Neel. Meeting people in a foreign country seems to solidify a bond quickly. Where else can you meet some totally random stranger and have something to talk about all day? I remember asking Emily before I moved to Seoul how the people were and she had the best reply "It's like summer camp." You forge friendships fast. I suppose it's the common ground; you're all in the same boat going through similar experiences away from home and the known. Anyway, Neel's cool and I hope we hang out in Seoul soon.

Neel and I parted for a few hours to do separate sightseeing and to get ready for the night and I stumbled up the CKS memorial. Ahh it's so beautiful. There's a huge open courtyard where at one end is a beautiful blue gate and at the opposing end is the CKS memorial. Then on each side there is the National Theater and the National Hall which are both striking red and yellow. I think it was my favorite thing I saw all day. Although the Longshan temple was pretty cool too (better by night). I could have stayed there all night but it was getting late and my legs were about to give, so I went across the street and had the best latte I have ever had. ahh I could go for one now.

Neel and I meet by the Longshan Temple (my hostel was right there), take a few pics and head off for snake alley!!! This is what I have been waiting for. It's a tourist night market complete with shopping, tons of street food, massages, performers, and of course, cobras!! I totally went for the tourist trap and took a shot of snake's blood (Neel wouldn't) and then Neel and I got cobra soup. Basically a few chunks of snake meat in broth. It looked like snake, it tasted like chicken, and had more bones than frogs' legs. Needless to say, neither of us finished our soup. We stroll around, meet a few more ex-pats living in Korea traveling to Taipei, and decide we want to go to a nightclub. We take a cab back to the 101 area and find an expat bar. Giant Belgian Beers. I had a Delirium and it was like heaven. Then we tried to go find a bar that was recommended to me, Brown Sugar (more on this in day 4). Instead we see a place called Barcode that looked cool and walked in. There was a line and probably a cover, but for those of you who know me well, I don't do lines. So we walked by and played ignorant. No one said anything, so we went and sat at a reserved table. Someone came up and tried to tell us the table was reserved, but we told him we would move when they came, and they let us stay. The English in Taiwan is 500% better than that in Korea. People actually speak it here. Anyway, after a round of drinks Neel heads to the bathroom and gives me a challenge while he's gone. He tells me to see if I could hook us up with a group of people who already have a's like he knows me. This is my favorite thing to do. So he comes back and I'm surrounded by 7 Chinese businessmen and a bottle of 12 year old Dewers. Nicely done Lauren. These guys are great. They're drunk, in suits and totally ready to party. After a few hours of straight whiskey, dancing, rockpaperscissors, and Russian girls, I decided I had enough and cabbed it back. It's a little fuzzy but I remember getting into my hostel and not being able to get into my room. I go and tell the front desk guy that he has obviously given me the wrong key or it's broken and he comes to take a look. He puts the key in on the first try, opens the door and says "You drunk." Fair enough.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Taipei Day 1

after a quick 2 1/2 hour flight, 1+ hour bus ride from the airport, and a short metro ride, i arrive at my hostel. taped to the door is a note saying "Lauren" along with 2 others for other travelers (I missed check in) . I open it and there are the keys to my room and combo to the key pad. wow that's safe. only later do i find out that Taipei is probably the safest city in the world. and the people are uber friendly to boot. anyway, i drop by stuff and decide to venture out to a night market i see on the map. within a minute i see a guy that looks Western so I stop him and ask which direction the market is. He informs me he and his wife are heading in that direction and they'll walk me there. We chat and I find out that Bob and Nicole met in Canada and moved back to her native Taiwan 3 years earlier. They are also both teachers and totally love living in Asia. "We're actually on our way to dinner, care to join?" Wow, I'm in this country for like 5 minutes and I already have my first dinner invite. Dinner was typical Chinese (read: greasy) and then Nicole gave me a walking tour of the market and gave me both their email addresses and phone numbers and told me to contact them if i have an emergency or something. People are sooo over the top nice here. I must look like a lonely helpless foreigner!! She had to go as they both have work the next day, but it was early so I continued to walk and shop. 30 minutes later Canadian Bill stops me and asks if I would join him for a beer in the park. Hey why not, I'm on vacation. He was a little off. Within a few minutes of talking he was trying to see if I had hash and he was telling me he was off to Thailand the next day, which to me means he;'s out of hash and is looking for more. haha. Anyway, he was interesting to talk to, as are all ex-pats who have lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time. He had some interesting ideas on Asia and where I should travel, and if nothing else he further proved my theory that Canadians are taking over Asia. I don't think there are any left in Canada.

By this time it's 1:30 and I've been traveling all day, so I head back to the hostel to call it a night. I get back and there's a group of 6 guys sitting around the living room. They're waiting for some girls because they are all getting up early to go mopeding through the mountains. These guys are all 20 and living in Hong Kong taking classes. We have a few beers and they invite me to go moped with them, but they;re leaving at 5:30am so I decide to pass for sightseeing instead. Finally at 3:30 we decide to call it a night...ahh I love Taipei already!