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!