Sunday, January 31, 2010

ski bums

I pictured skiing in Korea to be a lot like skiing in New Jersey, and it is. Lots of people. Lots of ice. But, the mountain (Phoenix Mountain at least) is wayyy bigger. There were some really excellent runs and I would imagine it would be the perfect environment the day after a huge snow fall. Call me spoiled, but I hate skiing on man-made snow! It's too icy. Day one Susan, Liz and I started easy on the greens, but quickly grew tired of the ridiculous lines at the bottom of the mountain. So we moved on up to some blues and blacks. Not bad for not skiing the past 2 years! I didn't fall once the entire weekend! Although I did spend most of my time on the panoramic trails (green).

I was definitely expecting a lot from the Korean style stand point. I guess I should know better by now. This is not Japan. There were some cool hats and fluorescent outfits, but for the most part it was all pretty standard. After an exhausting first afternoon out, Liz Susan and I head out to find some legit Korean style dinner. Back in the US, and Europe I would imagine, ski resorts are just that, resorts. Tons of restaurants, bars, entertainment for all ages. Not so here. There is a mountain and you ski. And that's it. There was a waterpark too from what I hear, but we weren't in the mood for that. Anyway, went out in search of a restaurant. We had a choice of two. One bulgogi restaurant or the other bulgogi (Korean BBQ) restaurant. So we went to #2 and each ordered fermented soy bean soup, beer and soju of course. Yum. Korean food is so good. As you've probably seen in my pictures, food here never comes in one dish. All meals are accompanied with banchan, side dishes. Kimchi, seaweed, sprouts, odeng, radish, etc.
It's definitely the best part of going out to eat. I think I have a full blown obsession with kimchi at this point. I need to start making it.

Anyway, after dinner we went in search of a bar. Nope no bar. And no one out. Where is everyone??? Apparently everyone goes back to their rooms and just booze it there. We decide that there must be stuff going on in the hotels. We go into the nicest looking one and hear some noise from a convention room upstairs. We meander up and find out what's going on, a ski club meeting. We ask if we can go in, and Koreans being so hospitable, of course led us right in. They served us beer and whiskey and put on great shows. "How many coats can you wear?" "The cow and the chef dance." And other weird prize games. It was awesome!!! it was all Korean people 27 and above who ski together every week. New bffs.
We recruit our new friend and decide to norabong (Korean karaoke). In Korea you pay by the hour and get your own private room to rock out in. We got one hour and quickly decided that would not be long enough. Some REM, Green Day, Blondie, Ace of Base, Under the Sea, and many more songs later, we were hoarse and exhausted. I love the norabong. Definitely need to keep going!

Day 2 skiing and I'm tired, hungover, and cranky. Susan encourages me with some Delimangu (wafflebits with vanilla cream, yum) and we head up the mountain. After a few runs Im totally not feeling it. So we stop...for some sake. Take a run, take a sake. haha Is there a better way to ski? We had such a blast trying to make it down the mountain weaving through the crowds while slightly intoxicated. And at the sake rest area, there was all you can eat kimchi and radishes. Best day of skiing ever. A quick 3 hours bus ride (and Avatar!) and we're back in Seoul. Lovely weekend out in the country!! Hopefully Suzi can make it next time!

School update:

I get a phone call Sunday evening from Jasmine teacher. She was supposed to be paid the 16th, Jan 31st and she still hadn't (me too for that matter!) so she decided she would stop going to work until she got paid. Me too. I'm not doing this out of the kindness of my hearts kids. I'm here for the bank. So I went in this AM, informed my boss I will not come back until I see the money I am owed hit my bank account and also told her I filed a complaint against the school on Friday. "Today Today. So sorry, we pay you today." Yeah sure, Ive heard that before. If they do I will go to school tomorrow, if not, see you in court Christine!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


ughhhh I hate looking for work. Why can't the perfect job just find me? Ive been on several interviews and nothing seems too exciting. The one last night was OK, but seems like it will be the same crap that I'm dealing with here. At least they'll probably pay me over there!!!

Another interview tonight. Keep your fingers crossed for me :)

New plan: No job. Meet rich English/Australian/Italian doctor. Move to a vineyard. The end.

Friday, January 22, 2010

life plan

After scurrying around all week trying to figure out what to do next, I think I have a plan. Ideally I'd like to get a job teaching a kindy for 2 hours a day. I have an interview at one where it's M-F 10:30-12:30. Then if I picked up 11 privates (that's 21 hours a week total) I could be making 3.4 million won. That's 1.2 million more than now with half the hours! And if the private student sucks, I could always drop them. I just run the risk of them cancelling on what! haha and I would have to leave the country every 3 months because I would technically be a tourist. Sweet, forced vacation! This is seeming too good to be true...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

trials and tribulations of working at a hagwan

Today in class Tina, 7, says teacher's Korean name is chae san hee. I ask her what it means. She says chae is teacher, san is beautiful, and hee is girl. Teacher beautiful girl. Awww. Candy and a sticker for you! Maria and Chetta, the kids LOVE gummy anything, and everyone, teachers included, were blown away by Peeps. They have never seen such things here. I for one loved the Milanos the best!!! Love you guys!

So now with the drama. In the past week it has come to light that my school owes be roughly 700,000 won ($600+) and on top of this it's Jan 21st and I haven't been paid this month's salary. Theyre supposed to pay me on the 14th. I haven't gotten a pay stub since September, so since i moved this month and things were kind of weird with my salary that I should get them. Ohhh man did they mess this up. My school Director, Christine, is a totaly crazy woman. To illustrate this note the following:

I have 7 co-teachers, 6 Korean and Joel. 4 of them are leaving at the end of February, and Joel is thinking of leaving as well. They hate Christine!!!

So I run into Brad teacher at the bar Sunday night. I tell him I've been trying to get health insurance for 4 months now (which they deduct 56,000 won a month from my paycheck since September when I started) and he said ohh yeah same thing happened to me. He had to threaten them with a lawyer before he got the 400,000 won in back payments. But he DID get it. So that's 200,000 won I am owed in deductions for something I dont have. My head teacher has asked Christine everyday for the past 3 months if she filed for our health insurance, and Christine keeps saying yes. I call on Monday to the Korean Health Insurance Center and they say they have never heard of a Lauren McPhate. I call back on Tuesday because my head teacher told me to, and they say "Oh yes we have a record of you, your boss filed all of the paperwork yesterday." January 19th. She said she did it in November. Christine had been lying to me and to everyone. Right to our faces!!! On top of this she's trying to screw me over on my rent money. I was promised a certain amount and she gave me a third of it and deducted internet for an apartment I dont live in anymore! Ughhh.

NEWS FLASH. My head teacher just came in. She said she talked to Christine today and I will get the money in next month's paycheck (ha if I ever see that) and that my last day is February 14th!!!!!!!!!!!! Happy Valentine's Day to me!!!! Unemployed again! Woohoo.

In employment news:

Today I picked up one of Susan's old privates. An older woman who pays 50,000 won an hour. Sweet. First session next Monday.

I have an interview tonight at Emily's (from home) school. It would be awesome to work with her, but it's all the way in Jamsil which is kind of far from where I live.

And the best news. I have an interview this Tuesday for a school near the Express Bus Terminal (Seocho). That's a 20 minute bus ride from my house, great shopping in the terminal, and best of all 7, yes 7! foreign teachers. Bigger schools tend not to rip off their teachers like the smaller hagwans *cough cough BITS*.

It's amazing how fast stuff happens over here. MOving for example, I decided to move, found a place and moved all in a week. I decided to quit yesterday, did, and now have 3 interviews. Sweet.

So this means another year in Seoulland. It also means I need a new visa which means I have to flee the country. Japan visa run!!!!!!! Woohoo. I love quitting jobs. This seems to be a new hobby of mine. 3 in the past 3 years....

In other maybe not-so-interesting-to-anyone-but-me news, Saturday I am going skiing with Susan and Suzi. Just heading up for the day, but it should be quite the scene. Koreans don't do anything half-assed. And I also signed up for a 10k with Susan on Feb 6th. Ive been running 8ks at the gym so I think I'll be in fine shape. We decided if we do ok in this one we'll do a 20 k before she leaves for Canada. How are things at home?

Friday, January 15, 2010


if you haven't been to Cambodia, go! It is a great vacation (Siem Reap) for anyone. There's something there for everyone and you don't even need to be particularly adventurous. I didn't see dog on the menu once! Although I did eat cow tongue off a street vendor for my last meal of 2009- delicious! and so tender.

Brian and I arrive via boat at 2 in the afternoon in Phnom Phen. We had been anxious to see what it was all about. Meh is my only word. It was like Saigon but dirtier and more sketchy if you will. There was tons of motorbike traffic, as in Saigon, but there was no identifiable system of how to cross the street. In Saigon as long as you walk in a straight line at a consistent speed they will get out of you way. The mentality in PP seemed to be, I'm bigger, I can kill you, get out my way! We took a tuk tuk (motorbike pulling a cart of sorts) and got a hotel and exchanged some money for Riel, which turned out to be stupid because everywhere preferred American dollars. Prices were listed in dollars and the ATMs would only give you $$. It was odd. Then when our driver asked if he could take us around the city we gave him a dollar, said nah we're hungry and went on our way. I guess he expected to be our tour guide for the day because he snatched the dollar and said "you just wasted a lot of my time," and rode away. haha Score one for us. It's usually us that's being taken for a ride (ha Im funny) by the drivers.

Anyway, we go to a market and get an OK lunch ($3 for both of us and we're feeling ripped off after Vietnam, ohhh how your perspective changes), then decide to go out to the killing fields. We didn't know what they were bu they came highly recommended by my friend Liz who had been to Cambodia a few years back. She also suggested the pumpkin curry which is to die for!!! We took probably the slowest tuk tuk in PP and finally made our way out there. Wow! For someone who knows NOTHING about Asian history, or even contemporary history, this was eye opening. In the 1970s-80s Pol Pot came into power and basically had his troops go around Cambodia killing all of his opposition. He killed millions of people. At this particular field, located close to the biggest prison, they killed 8,000+ people in cold blood. They didn't shoot the people. They bashed their heads in with sticks, on trees, using hoes, and all sorts of other torturous devices. Truly disgusting that this kind of genocide went on in my lifetime!!

After we went and showered up back at our $12/night hotel (it's getting pricey! this ain't no $9 joint!) we went out in search of pumpkin curry. PP by night is a different beast. It's shady. There are lots of middle aged white men with teen aged Cambodian girls. Gross. There are "hostess bars" where you go to pick out your escort for the evening. Brian and I accidentally went into one of these joints for a drink. I was sitting there wondering why there were no men only women sitting around. On the way out it clicked. We found dinner and then decided in order to save money we would go to the liquor store get some local rice wine and drink while we sought out a new bar. We're taking swigs in the street when some nice woman just off work approached us. She told us we shouldn't just be hanging out in the streets, we should get to where we're going, it was dangerous here at night as a foreigner. Oh good. I have NEVER felt afraid to be alone (and I wasn't, I was with Brian) anywhere in my Asian travels, and the fact that a local woman was telling us to watch out kind of freaked me out. Not a fan PP. Not a fan.

The weirdest thing was walking by the market outside our hotel. During the day it was bustling. In all of the markets I have seen throughout Asia, they're always open late into the night. Ive actually never seen one closed. Until now. The market come 8pm was shut down. I'm talking not a soul in sight. There were metal doors pulled over all of the booths and all of the garbage, all of it, was pushed into the middle of the street. It was gross. Brian and I looked around and said to each other, what a shit hole!

So basically that was my last impression of PP. We left early the next morning for another 5+ hour bus ride (AC this time woohoo!!!) up to Siem Reap, the best little city ever.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

my eyes have gone black

After class this morning Jay teacher comes into my room and asks if Lily cries for me anymore. I tell him no, she's actually quite affectionate toward me now. He says he asked her why she's not scared of me anymore and her answer was because I don't have blue eyes anymore. News to me!! I've been in Korea too long....

stop. look around.

sometimes I totally forget that I am on the other side of the world from my "normal" life. Once and a while (usually while waiting for my morning bus) I'll stop and just look around me. I'm the only non-Korean for as far as thee eye can see. 90% of this time this goes unnoticed or I am totally unfazed by it. It's weird how quickly and easily it is to just sink into your surroundings. I do not, however, forget that I am in Korea while getting elbowed on the subway! This is one thing I will NEVER get used to. Sometimes I even think I'm Korean. I find when I go to other countries I seek out the Koreans. If I hear someone speaking Korean I will approach and say I live there too! Hi Brother! Hi Sister! They don't tend to have the same attitude. I usually get blank stares and a "so what" kind of reply. Can we help you crazy blonde girl?

My new co-teacher Jennifer is going to help me with my Korean. She's from Korea but lived in Queens the past 3 years. She went to NYC with not a word of English and was so impressed and grateful for all of the help she had in learning that she wants to return the favor and help me. I'll take it! She even made me kimchi jjigae the other day (kimchi soup- a new fav!) The first Korean book I bought, I was assured by the sales woman, would be in English (the CD). It wasn't. How am I supposed to learn Korean if all of the instructions are in Korean!? I ordered another book off Amazon (Jan 8th and it should arrive here Feb 12!!! outrageous!) that should be of more help. So far I have learned, beautiful, hansom, where is the..., how much, counting, I don't know. Outside of those and a few other random words and phrases, I'm at a loss. Hopefully by March I'll have a bit more of a base.

It's snowing again! I guess it's better than the negative 17 we've had all week. Happy Friday!

Monday, January 11, 2010

sorry for the delay

Between moving and the snow I have seriously been slacking on getting stuff written. I suppose I could have yesterday as I laid around watching movies all day, but it didn't happen. So with no further ado...

Nghia picked us up and we were on tour! I think having a personal tour guide is the way to travel. You're not waiting around while the 20 other people take pictures and ask their questions; everything we did was catered to exactly what Brian and I wanted to do. We left Saigon, hit a market, a rubber tree farm, lounged in hammocks, stopped to see some water buffalo, all before we even hit our first destination; the Tunnels. What a trip they were. I had no idea that they even existed. For those of you like me, here's a brief background. During the "American" war the Vietnamese citizens not at war took cover. They dug tunnels and created an underground city 250 km long! There were thousands of people down there and they would pop up here and there to kill American soldiers. They built tons of homemade traps and basically did whatever they could to protect their families in the middle of the jungle...underground. So that was a really interesting experience.

Another 3 hours back on the bike (my butt has never been so sore, nor my body so dirty and covered in dust!) and we're down in the Mekong River Delta. Nghia hooks Brian and I up with some dog soup and retires for the evening. Dog is good. Tastes like beef but more tender and it just slides off the bone. Brian and I wandered the streets (we still don't know what town we were in) and when we came back to our hotel, which was more of a compound, there was an anniversary party going on. This family of 10+ people invited us to join. One young guy could speak a bit of English, but you could tell 90% of what we said was lost. We ate some of their duck soup, had some cake, and they poured beers down our throats. I think come 10 pm everyone was tanked! It was such a riot and we learned some Vietnamese while we were at it (Vo!).

Next day we hit up some more markets, a French war history museum, and took a boat trip down the Mekong. The best part of the boat trip was definitely fishing for alligators. Nghia said something along the lines, "want to fish for alligators," me thinking there's something lost in translation assumes he's taking us to see fish and alligators. No he meant want to fish FOR alligators. We get to a pit of 10 alligators and Nghia hands both Brian and I a bamboo pole with a string and some raw meat hanging from the end! You then have to dangle the meat above the alligators to make them jump out of the water. It was hilarious!!!! I was really good too and kept the alligators going without losing my meat. I finally felt bad and fed one because I had been stringing him along for some time. We probably fished for alligators for a solid 30 minutes!

After a mani/pedi for me, and haircut/shave for Brian we head back to the hotel for some relax time. Next AM we're up and out again. This time to see a GIANT happy Buddha and a snake farm! The snake farm wasn't as scary as I thought it would be and there were tons of other animals there too. Porcupines, monkeys, peacocks, turtles etc. Then it was time to bid Nghia farewell :( We didn't know where we were, he could have just left us there in the jungle. (Not even a clue if we were East or West side of Southern Vietnam). But he didn't. Nghia put us on a (nightmare) bus to Chu Doc which is where we could catch the boat up to Cambodia.

The bus was packed. No A/C. Nowhere to store our backpacks except on our laps. And they kept picking up more people! Little kids were jumping onto strangers laps and people were sitting in the aisles. A short (right) 6 hours later and we were in Chu Doc. We learned that we could not catch a boat until the next day so we would have to spend the night. I was totally bummed by the prospect of missing a night in Phnom Phen (later learn this is certainly no tragedy) but we had no choice.

After showering up Brian and I head out to explore. We stop for a cold beer and meet Kavi, a Ecuadorian world traveller. He currently lives in Nepal, and seems to be the happiest most enlightened person I have ever met. We end up going out with him at night and he takes us to his favorite street cart (he's been in Chu Doc for a few days at this point.) We enjoy grilled dried fish and fresh herbs and sauce while sitting 6" off the ground on little stools. We had such a blast chillin with the family who owned the cart! They were our adopted Vietnamese family! I think they really enjoyed the fact we wanted to know about them and what they did and weren't the typical party time tourists. Not that you could really have party time in Chu Doc!

Next AM at 7 and Brian and I head out on a pedicab for a 5 hour boat ride into Phnom Phen, Cambodia....

Sunday, January 3, 2010

i <3 vietnam.

What a beautiful country. I have never been somewhere where the people are so welcoming and just overall pleasant. I think the Vietnamese are the happiest people on earth.

After a long flight, slight detention in China, flight delay in China, Brian and I finally make it to Ho Chi Min. Brian and I used to work together at Gannett. He has racked up thousands of airline and hotel points so he decided to take a month off work to travel Asia. Good Call. We get off the plane look at each other and say "what now?" We have absolutely nothing planned for this trip except to fly into Saigon and out of (well me) Bangkok. We step outside and are abruptly ushered into a cab with another American. Turns out he's a pilot and has been to Saigon often and is heading to a great area where there are lots of hotels and things to do. Sold. We end up finding a random hotel (second floor of a clothing store; same owners) and put our stuff down. At this point it's pretty late but we're excited so we head out for some drinks. At 12 we cheers to Christmas in Vietnam!

The next day; It's Christmas! Again we have no plans although we do have a Lonely Planet book. We see we're close to a market so we head in that direction. On the way we see people setting up tents in a park. We go to check it out. And who approaches us? Nghia!!! [pronounced if the answer is no; would you like another? "neeeeehhhh"] He asks what we're doing, where we want to go and tells us he will take us for one day to the tunnels and one day to the Mekong River delta where we can catch a bus to Cambodia. ughh ok, sold. So on Christmas day to prove he's a good driver and trustworthy guy he takes us on a tour of Saigon. We go to a market, where we see cockfighting in the middle of the afternoon, out to lunch for yummy pig tripe pho, and to the American War Museum, which was actually really interesting and somewhere we would have never gone on our own. We decide Nghia seems like a nice guy, give him $50, and cross our fingers he shows up the next day to take us on our adventure.

Christmas night. We go out for some drinks, then see a sign at a bar for 2 free chocolate drinks and free snacks. We walk in and order a fishbowl for the two of us. It's basically 2 liters of vodka pineapple. After this we head out to see some more pho. For those of you unfamiliar, pho is a soup with the yummiest broth. There are usually fresh herbs on top of rice noodles and random meat. Most have chicken, duck, dried fish or pork, or some combination of all of those things. It's delicious. The we head to another bar and discover the best drink known to man. Galliano (vanilla liqueur), vodka, orange juice and controiux (orange liqueur). It was soooo good. Tasted just like an orangcicle.

Anyway, next morning and guess whos outside our door. Good old Nghia! He and his buddy are there on two bikes and they take Brian and I and we're headed out. After a stop at a market (you'll notice this is popular with Ngia), a rubber tree plantation, and a hammock stop for coconut and sugar cane juice, we're at the the Tunnels. (3 hours later!)

PAUSE. It's a snow day here in Korea (most snow in 100 years) so Krissy and I are going out for some wine. I will finish Vietnam later...keep posted.