Category Archives: Life in Korea

Warm Desks

It’s one of those weeks. One that baffles most and provokes teachers in America to an irate frenzy. This week I am desk warming. It’s 95 degrees outside, 83 in my classroom (with the AC at full), and I’m keeping my warm desk company.

The kids are all gone on summer vacation. I have summer camp until I leave, but for some reason there is no class this week. So I will sit at my desk and get paid to watch YouTube videos. “Why?” you may ask. “Why is Korea paying you to literally do nothing? Why can’t you go on vacation, or at least stay home? Why are you coming in to work for no reason instead?”

Rule #1 of Life in Korea: Don’t ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.

Alright, so I’m not just watching YouTube videos.  I’m trying to be productive and forward-looking. I’m leaving Korea in a couple weeks, and I’ll be landing back in Chicago (jobless as yet) within a month. So this week I’m focusing on applying for jobs. I’ve got a dozen apps out, a few solid leads, and even an interview later this week. Hopefully that goes well. I’ve been looking mostly at web development jobs. We’ll see where I land.

YouTube: Check. Job applications: Check. Next on the docket: Prepping to leave. This includes auctioning off all of our stuff that we’re not bringing home with us. Anyone need a blender? Mattress topper? Dehumidifier? Going once. Going twice. Then there are the goodbyes. Last weekend we made our last trip down to Busan to say goodbye. This coming weekend we’ll be heading to Seoul for the last time. We’re also taking a quick and long-overdue tour to the DMZ. In two weekends will be our going away party.

Overall I’m pretty excited about going home. I will certainly miss certain aspects about life in Korea. Free time is abundant, booze and cabs are cheap, and money is bountiful. It’s a carefree lifestyle that is simply impossible to maintain in Chicago. That said, there is plenty to look forward to in Chicago: our church, good friends, the cats, our neighborhood, and our house.

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Flushinator 3000

Korean bathrooms. Who knew they could be so entertaining? I’ve regaled many a’folk with tales of our shower. The shower is connected to the sink, so if you forget to turn the knob to disable the shower, you get a refreshing surprise next time you turn on the sink. Inevitably, this always happens when you’re fully clothed. I’ve learned the skillful art of dodging, and can even do it while holding a toothbrush.

Today brought another such adventure.

Let me first offer a bit of back-story. Last week, my sister and her husband visited us. On their last day here, they went on a morning hike up the mountain behind our house. When they returned home, they found the apartment locked. Sara came home for lunch, but had lost her key several months ago. The landlord and I are the only two people who have that key, which means he must have come into our apartment at some point during the day and locked the door on his way out. Sara had to call her coteacher, who called the landlord, who wasn’t home, who had to come home and let them in. Her coteacher also asked if the landlord had entered our apartment when we weren’t there.

The landlord denied doing any such thing.

So this afternoon, I come home from work. I walk into the bathroom and am greeted with this:

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The Flushinator 3000

Now, I’m not the most observant person in the world, but I think I would have noticed all those buttons on the toilet this morning. I was shocked and amazed. Not by all of the incredible features on the Flushinator 3000, but by the fact that the contraption had teleported into my apartment and installed itself. (After all, our landlord would certainly not enter our apartment without our permission).

After I regained composure, I took a seat on the new Flushinator 3000. As soon as I sat, I immediately stood back up. The Flushinator has a heated seat, and the heat was cranked up to 11. As my backside recovered from its singeing, I attempted to turn off the heater. Since the Flushinator is only in Korean, I resorted to randomly pushing buttons.

If in doubt, push buttons at random.

If in doubt, push buttons at random.

I was standing directly in front of the toilet, when this happened (it must be Karma)…

These days.

What have we been doing “these days?” (These days is an expression that English speaking Koreans say ALL THE TIME, usually incorrectly.) These days, we have been gallivanting around South East Korea, seeing what it has to offer, and secretly (or not so secretly) counting down the days until we are home. In 13 weeks we will be leaving, but until then we have been trying our best to live in the moment and enjoy our time here. Here are some pictures of life’s recent shenanigans.

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IMG_1268A few weeks ago we went to a wedding for one of the teachers at my school.  As soon as we arrived at the wedding, I was very aware that we had no idea what we were doing.  The wedding was at the fanciest and most prestigious place in Ulsan, Lotte Hotel, and we were told that because of this we needed to give the couple $70 upon arrival as a gift to pay for our food (don’t ask questions in Korea).   We followed the signs to the wedding, and when we arrived at the top of the escalator a line of people were staring at us, and we had no idea what to do.  I panicked and called my co-teacher to come out and get us.  She obliged, laughed with us and then told us exactly what to do, god bless that women.  We then sat down at the lunch table which was in the same room that the wedding took take place.  You could eat and watch the couple get married at the same time.

This event was a clear depiction of just how different Korean culture can be.  As you can see, being at the wedding felt more like being at a show.  The couple was broadcasted over two huge screens while they were getting married on a stage and we were eating.  Also, the person who “presided” over the wedding was a high up person from the cell phone company the groom worked for.  All in all, a very interesting endeavor that included wonderful food, so we were happy.  The whole thing was very precisely timed and lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, in and out.  Totally Korean style.

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This is the Jinhae cherry blossom festival.  Every spring for about two weeks, the tree bust to life with beautiful blossoms that cover the country.  We signed up in advance to go to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, the supposed best place to see cherry blossoms.  We were set to go on a Sunday and the Saturday before we had a massive downpour.  Needless to say, when we got to Jinhae most of the flowers were now covering the earth instead of in the trees.  There were some trees that were salvaged though and we were grateful to see those.

This week Lacey and Matt (Davo’s sister and brother-in-law) are coming to visit us all the way from New Jersey.  We are very excited to see them and we have some fun things planed including a trip to Seoul and seeing Sigur Ros! We cannot wait! Stay tuned for our latest adventures and blog post about that!

Spring is here!

Spring is here in Ulsan, and so is our old roommate, Corrinn!

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Spring is here!

The weather has been pretty consistently in the 60s, occasionally dipping below into the 50s or reaching up into the 70s. It even got up to 76 a few weekends back. Trees are beginning to bloom. In a few weeks, cities all over Korea will start hosting their annual cherry blossom festivals. Sara and I are signed up to go!

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Flowers blooming

We were both stoked when Corrinn emailed us and said she wanted to come visit. She flew in on Wednesday, and is staying for a week. On Saturday, we decided to trek up to Gyeongju. Located 45 minutes north of Ulsan, Gyeongju was the capital of Korea until the 900s. Seolwi (Bella), one of Sara’s friends, was an excellent tour guide. We visited Yangdong, a traditional Korean village, and Bulguksa. Yangdong was fascinating. The village looks like one would image Korea looked like 500 years ago. Despite its antiquated look, it’s entirely populated by normal Koreans living normal lives. Sure, there’s a satellite dish here and a parked car there. Otherwise, it looks like medieval Korea. Constructed in 528 Bulkguksa is a temple that was the seat of Korean Buddhism. Of all of the temples we’ve visited here in Korea, I would say it is the most beautiful. After a day of touring, Seolwi took us to her mom’s Korean restaurant for some delicious authentic food.

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Me, Sara, Seolwi and Corrinn at Bulguksa

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Lots of details on the temple roof

Saturday morning I woke up feeling a little achy and tired. It only got worse that night, so yesterday I went to the doctor. He informed me that I have the flu. Booooo! He loaded me up with drugs and told me to take it easy the next couple days. I stayed home and rested while Sara and Corrinn went on an adventure to Busan.

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Beatiful woodwork everywhere

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Bulguksa Temple

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Yeonam-dong 연암동

Since I have become a runner, I have run in every country we have visited.  I have found it is a very efficient way to explore a new area.  Running gives you the feel of being a local, while also affording you an opportunity to see much of the terrain in a short amount of time. While living in Korea and in Yeonam (our neighborhood) in particular, I have run the same streets many, many times and therefore have been able to get to know the area on a more personal level.

Yeonam-dong has been with me on beautiful runs in fantastic weather when I am elated and having the run of my life.  Yeonam-dong has been with me in the winter when I drag myself out to run, and 10 minutes feels like an eternity as I am craping up and trying to remember why I would ever do a crazy thing like run.  Where my students run after me yelling “Saera teacha” and adjuma’s (old women) look at me like I am completely insane and laugh when I pass them multiple times during a run.  Through thick and thin in my running career almost all of these moments have taken place running up and down through the grid of my neighborhood.  So, I thought it was high time that Yeonam-dong got a little blog action.   Here is the neighborhood I live, work and run in.  (Usually I play down town 😉

As you can tell people’s front doors/gates are my favorite and usually what I look at on my runs.

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My school 연암 초등학교.

My school 연암 초등학교.

Merry Koristmas

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With friends for a special Christmas Eve dinner

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Stockings stuffed with goodies

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Sara looking through her stocking

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Sara’s Christmas present. Our favorite wine from home.

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Opening presents.

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What’s it gonna be?

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Sara opening presents

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Me with the brand new Smitten Kitchen cookbook! Freaking out, of course.

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Sara made some scrumptious blueberry pancakes for breakfast.

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Blueberry pancakes, pre-flop.

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Blueberry pancakes are ready!

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I made some homemade herb bread for cheese fondue later in the evening.

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Getting ready to go on a Christmas run!

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Making cheese fondue with Mancheggo, Gruyere, Blue and Mozzarella.

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Cheese fondue with our super-fancy fondue pot.

Skyping with the Hynds family

Skyping with the Hynds family

Skyping with the Peards

Skyping with the Peards

 

Christmas.

The Christmas season is upon us here in Korea. From what I can tell, Christmas in Korea is more of a “couple’s holiday” where couples give each other gifts, and cute Christmas stuff is abundant on the streets, in stores, and even in school. Although Koreans definitely celebrate Christmas, I still feel there is a certain lacking of “Christmas spirit.” I think this is mainly because Christmas is not completely embedded into every aspect of culture like it is at home. Christmas has not had time to be a historical tradition here. Families have not passed Christmas traditions down from generation to generation. We only get one day off of school (no, not even Christmas eve), and the students are not running around school with that magical Christmas sugar cookie high and thinking about all the loot they are about to receive. It is just certain lack of excitement that makes it different here.

Despite all of this I was able to make it to Lotte World a few weekends ago to get a little Christmas spirit. Lotte, from what I can tell, essentially owns Korea, and they have an amusement park that they deck out for Christmas in December. When I heard about this I was sold! So it is off to Seoul we went to go to Christmas Land (aka Lotte World)! I went with a girl friend because I knew that Davo and Christmas themed amusement parks did not seem to go together.

So, some of you have been asking how we are doing with the holidays and being so far away from family and friends, and I would say I am doing better than I expected I would be. I got to see my family over Thanksgiving, and that was wonderful. We have lots of friends over here to spend the next week with. Davo and I are actually looking forward to spending Christmas day with just the two of us and our virtual families via skype. When are we ever going to be able to pull off spending Christmas with just us two again? There will always be family, friends, and maybe even children in the future so there is no better time than now to spend Christmas with only my wonderful and loving life partner.

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Confession.

For those of you who have been asking for more pictures. We lost our camera a couple weeks back and thus no pictures :(.  However, we are going to buy one before this weekend so we can take pictures in China! So more pictures will be up soon! 🙂

Bored.

Today I was bored. Normally bored is not an option for me. In fact, when I tried to recount the last time I was allowed to be truly bored, I thought all the way back to summers in elementary school. Since moving into adulthood there has been no opportunity to be bored. If I have a free day (which is extremely rare), I habitually start to go through the running list of things that need to be done: change the car insurance, make a dentist appointment, fix something in the house, get the oil changed, dry clean the down comforter, clean out the fridge, ect. The list is always endless.

Yesterday and today we experienced our second typhoon in Korea. This meant that Davo and I were stuck in the apartment with no internet and Korean TV all day. If I were at home, there would have been a list of house projects that I would have felt obligated to complete. Or I would have needed to call my grandma and send a thank you note. But yesterday there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t run, or sit on the computer, no house project, no bills to figure out, no car issue, nada, zilch, nothing. Just as I was starting to get irritated with my current situation, I realized that this was an opportunity that I have not had in YEARS. I have NOTHING to do.

So, Davo and I turned the lights on our artsy tree that the previous tenants left us, lit some candles, poured some beers and played cards and were bored. I hope these moments will continue as we settled into this country, and I hope I can continue to embrace boredom because lord knows I have no time to be bored at home.

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Summer Camp

Remember going to camp when you were a kid? Boys weren’t allowed in the girls’ cabins, and vice versa. Everyone snuck out past curfew to meet up with their crushes or had to sneak them into their room without getting caught. Life feels about like that right now.

We’re at Ulsan’s new teacher orientation, and they don’t have couple housing. So Sara’s in a dorm room with a bunch of other women, and I’m in my dorm room with a bunch of guys. On the upside, we’ve made a lot of friends with all the other teachers, which is great! There’s some pretty cool folks here that we’ve enjoyed getting to know. While the majority are from USA and Canada, there are also a number of Brits, Aussies and South Africans. It makes for a fun mix. On the downside, having a summer camp girl friend has been pretty obnoxious. Oh well. We’ll be in our new home by the end of the week.

Which, by the way, we’re excited about! We’re going to be in 연암동 YeonAm Dong (literally, ‘soft rock neighborhood’), which is northeast of the city, right beside the airport. I’ve marked our schools on a Google Map. I will be teaching middle school, and Sara will teach elementary school.

Orientation so far has been primarily a crash course in Korean and an introduction to 울산 Ulsan. We’ve explored the three major expat hangout spots already. Last night we went out with some other new teachers and made friends with several other teacher who have been here for a while. We also had some delicious, late-night, street-food momos! Mmmmm. I could get used to that.

Today was our day off, so we tried to go see the new Batman movie, but it was sold out when we arrived. Instead, we spent our time exploring the grocery store and taking an inventory on the food situation. As it turns out, it looks like we’ll probably be able find a lot more of the food we’re used to cooking than we initially supposed. Some items were very expensive, like olive oil. We even found cheese, although the prices for it were listed in body parts rather than Korean Won.

We’re hoping to get our cell phones by Tuesday. We should also be in our new apartment by Friday. Classes start Monday. Woohoo!

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