Farewell to Korea

There’s something about living in a foreign country that changes a person.  It could be being taken out of their comfort zone and not knowing anybody, or not knowing the language of the country they are living in. Maybe it’s being exposed to an entire new culture or being constantly reminded of the things that were taken for granted at home. Whatever it is, the experience of being abroad, away from family, away from old friends and starting a new life from scratch definitely changes a person and puts their life into a new perspective.  The changes that happen are extremely subtle, however.  I didn’t realize I was changing as I was taking everything in from being abroad. I only started realizing a few months ago when I was reflecting on myself and my experiences abroad, that so many things have changed about me. It’s strange, because I feel like I’m still the exact same person who packed up her life into two suitcases two years ago and moved across the Pacific.

I landed in Korea in August 2013 and for about six months, I was so overwhelmed with everything that I just took it all in–there was so, so much to take in. The Korean culture is pretty opposite of the American culture, but has a lot of similarities to my own culture.  Even with the similarities, some aspects of their culture was extremely difficult to adjust to, but life here isn’t only about that. It’s about teaching English in a classroom at a school in a country in which you’ve never attended–things work so differently.  It’s about learning the ways of the Korean life and trying to immerse yourself into it.  It’s about trying to survive in a foreign country without knowing how to speak the national language.  It’s about depending on someone else to help you translate so you can take care of important things, things you could easily do if you’re home–the most difficult, in my opinion.  It’s also about making new friends from all across the globe, learning their cultures, tip-toeing around them in the beginning and learning their boundaries.  It’s a hard life.  It’s very challenging and it’s definitely not for everyone, especially if you were dropped off in rural Korea like I was where English is non-existent.  I would never have chosen the area where I was placed, but I’m so glad that I was able to spend two years there. It gave me the opportunity to both learn about the traditional Korean culture, as well as appreciate the city life of Korea.  I’m glad to have been able to experience the best of both worlds.

Things I Won’t Miss

*Korean internet security. I hate the ten million security steps it takes to make an online purchase.  And most of the time, it doesn’t work on the first try, or the second, or ever.  I usually have to get a Korean person to help me after about one or two hours of trying to figure it out myself.  It’s so frustrating and you can’t really get used to it because every website is different!  And on most of them, you have to use Internet Explorer. WHO USES INTERNET EXPLORER ANYMORE???

*Lack of proper communication.  I am so excited to go home and speak English (at a normal pace!) and not have to explain myself over and over again. I’ve learned to speak so slowly and have had to simplify my English so much. It’s so hard sometimes because if you’re already speaking to someone in the most simple sentence you can come up with, you can’t make it any simpler.

*Being yelled at by Ahjusshis (older men) and Ahjummas (older women). The older generation Korean men and women aren’t the most patient of people, so if you’re doing something that they’re not happy about, they will yell at you. I normally ignore them since I don’t understand, but I know they’ve yelled at me a couple of times and for who knows what for?

*Being coughed on or sneezed on by an Ahjusshi and Ahjumma.  Yeah, they do that here. It’s pretty disgusting.

*Hearing people hock a loggie and spit it on the ground. Or seeing it on the ground. SO GROSS!

*Seeing my life flash before my eyes when a car almost runs me over. The pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way in Korea, at least not in my rural town. I can not tell you how many times I was almost run over because the cars just don’t care that there’s someone walking. The drivers think that the person walking, who is a lot slower than their car, will move for them. What kind of logic is that?

*Last minute things. Everything in this country seems to be last minute, specifically dinners and projects.  I will not miss being bombarded with a project and being expected to finish it in a day, or being told an hour before I’m off that there is a teacher dinner. It’s mostly because the boss has decided this, which brings me to the next thing I won’t miss.

*Honorifics.  The Korean culture is very honorific.  I shouldn’t have to immediately respect someone because of their title or because they are older than me. I should give them respect because they deserve it or earned it.  Obviously, I’m not going to be rude, but respect from me is gained.

Things I’ll Miss About Korea

*Life in Korea. Life in Korea is so easy. It’s so cheap. It’s so convenient. It’s so nice to be able to just up and leave the country for a long weekend or have friends over at the last minute for food because during the week, we basically have no lives. We don’t make a lot of money, but housing is taken care of (or you pay a pretty low price if you have to), so bills are very few. Things here are just so much easier. My life is so routine and slow-paced during the week, it’s strange to think that I’ll probably go back to a crazy and hectic lifestyle.

* Food.  So many people associate Korea with their food, and I don’t blame them.  The food is so good!

*Public transportation. I frequently complain about public transportation and all of the walking I have to do, but I really do like it because it forces me to get off my ass.  The most difficult thing is having to work my schedule around the bus and train schedule, but it’s so cheap to get around in Korea that it balances out. I’ve walked so much since I’ve been in Korea, I’m sure I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.  I do look forward to driving again, though.

*Being a celebrity.  We are celebrities in the rural towns.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see my students when I step out of my apartment and they are never fail to say “hello” to me.  Even their parents, whom I never can recognize, say “hello” to me and often share food with me.

*Safety.  Korea is so safe. I can leave my bags and come back to it hours later (I’ve never tried that, only limited it to about an hour, but this country is that safe!). I can walk home at 2am and see a group of people and know that they won’t harm me.  They might yell, but they aren’t harmful.

*Supportive community. Korean people always look out for each other. There has been so many times where I asked for help and someone would go out of their way to help me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given candy or snacks from a Korean person. The whole “don’t take candy from a stranger” thing doesn’t exist because the Koreans like to share food their food. Generally, they’re really nice, but don’t think that they won’t push you out of the way when they’re trying to get somewhere and don’t expect them to hold the door for you.

*Convenience. The convenience of a convenient store in almost every corner. The convenience of getting ramen (or any food) at the store and getting silverware to eat it with. The convenience of going to a bakery to purchase a cake, and having the option of getting complimentary candles, matches, a knife and poppers to accompany the cake. The convenience of free delivery from restaurants and they even come back for the dishes. So convenient.

*Cheap piano lessons. I was able to learn the piano for $100/month, 5 days a week. If only I started lessons sooner, I would be better.

*Cheap snowboarding lift tickets and rentals.  I live 10 minutes from a ski resort, so I get half off season lift tickets.  Last year, I managed to score tickets that were 60% off on a special sale, so I spent less than $200 for my season pass. The rental shops are only $20 for rentals and they drop you off and pick you up.

*Hiking. The mountains in my backyard is something I’ll miss a lot.  There are two trails that are only a 10 minute walk from my apartment.

*Teacher dinners. There are so many reasons for teacher dinners: someone is leaving, someone just arrived, we had an event, we took a field trip and the list goes on.  As hard as it was for me to get used to drinking with the principal and vice principal, I will miss it.  Normally after a few drinks, everyone loosens up and tries to talk to me in English or in Korean in hopes that I would understand. I usually don’t.  I’ll miss the after dinner places we go to continue drinking and the norebang (karaoke room) where we usually end the night. I might even miss the times where someone has taken my hand and kissed it or has tried to feed me. Eh, maybe not.

My students: I will miss them so much. They made my life so hard and at the same time, we were able to share so many laughs.  They made my job so fun and it was so rewarding to watch them grow over the last two years. I truly feel like I’ve made a difference in quite a few of their lives and I hope that they can take what they’ve learned from me and apply it somehow to their lives.

The Fun Had to End Eventually….

Living and teaching in rural South Korea has been the best thing that has happened to me.  I’ve learned so much about myself.  I’ve learned so much about different cultures from traveling to so many other countries while living in Korea.  Although I have missed a lot from leaving my life at home behind, I would not change a thing.

Korea, it’s been a pleasure.  Thank you to my school and my amazing students for making my life here a lot better than most. Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for the delicious food. Thank you for the great friends I’ve gained here.  Thank you to the Korean people who have made such an impact in my life.  And thank you for all of the wonderful experiences.

Now, onto the next chapter of my life.  Whatever, wherever that is.

Some highlights of Korea:

Hanging out at the top of Seorak Mountain

Hanging out at the top of Seorak Mountain

Haesindang Park (Penis Park)

Haesindang Park (Penis Park)

First sunrise of 2014 at Gyeongpo Beach, Gangneung

First sunrise of 2014 at Gyeongpo Beach, Gangneung

The beach and the snow in one spot!

The beach and the snow in one spot!

Cheonjeyeon Waterfall in Jeju Island

Cheonjeyeon Waterfall in Jeju Island

A very wet KPOP concert

Can’t be in Korea and not experience a jimjilbang (bath house)

Snowboarding at High 1 Ski Resort

Snowboarding at High 1 Ski Resort


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Eating in Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore

We didn’t do much in these two countries.  We visited both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a total of 5 days, and we mostly ate.  We saw some things, did some exploring and booked a couple of tours, but food was basically a summary of both countries. After we arrived to Singapore, we took a shuttle to our hostel, checked in, found a map and asked about the nearest place to eat. The nearest place happened to be a 2 minute walk from us, so that was exciting.  First stop, Chinatown. We ate. A lot.

Chinatown Food Court view from the front

Carrot cake

The hot weather called for an ice cold lychee drink to accompany my meal.

After we ate, we walked around and explored a bit, then ended our night. Our hostel was absolutely spacious and really nice, even with 16 people sleeping in one room. Adler Hostel is, hands down, the best hostel I have ever stayed at. If ever in Singapore, check this place out. They offer free breakfast, and it’s actually breakfast. The people are so nice and they really care about what their guests have to say. After we left, I rated them on tripadvisor and one of the concerns I had about the hostel, they emailed me to tell me that it’s been taken care of.

Adler Hostel women’s dorm. The beds were so comfortable and huge!!!

I have no idea what this is called, but it was for breakfast one of the days. Yummy!

The next day, we did a city highlights tour.  We literally saw about half of Singapore since the country is so small. I think the tour guide said that it’s about 45 minutes to drive across the country.

First stop was Marina Bay. We saw the Merlion.

We went to the Botanic Gardens

We went to a temple, but I can’t remember the name of it now.

And we went to some sort of gem store where everything was hand crafted and extremely pricey. If my memory serves me correctly (it probably doesn’t), this castle was about $130,000 US Dollars.

That ended our City Highlights Tour.  After we were dropped off, we got food. Of course we did. We found this random place with a food court and had lunch there. It was yummy.

Of course, we needed dessert.

After our tour, I was extremely tired from running around in Thailand and not getting any sleep, so I was lame and went back to the hostel.  I slept while Liz and Sandra did a little bit of exploring. That evening, we went back to the Marina Bay area for dinner and enjoyed the view.

Marina Bay Sands

We had an amazing, and very large, dinner at Makansutra Gluttons Bay. This place had a a variety of food with a lot of different vendors, so there’s something for everyone. It was the place to be for dinner! There was so many people, we had to walk around and look for people who were getting up and waited by the tables for the busboys to come clear off the table.

Dinner was amazing and we were facing the Marina Bay Sands building, so that was nice.

SOO GOOD!

After all of that food, we clearly needed dessert again.

         

That basically summed up our trip in Singapore for the next couple of days. We ate, saw some of the city and ate again and again.  We did a trishaw tour on our last night and took a boat ride on the bay, but that was the most exciting thing that happened, aside from the food that is.  I absolutely loved the food in Singapore and would go back just for that.

A few pictures from the last couple of days in Singapore:

       

     

       

      

Malaysia

The flight to Malaysia was about an hour, so it felt like we literally took off only to land. It was also the emptiest flight I have ever been on.

There wasn’t too much about Kuala Lumpur that I absolutely loved. We were only there for only 1.5 days, so we didn’t get to do too much exploring and it was SO HOT and humid. Kuala Lumpur is really cheap compared to Singapore. It’s also not a great country to visit after Singapore since it’s a lot more dirty.  Considering how short we were there, I learned a lot about the country.  Their official language is Malay and their official religion is Islam.  There is a total of 23 million people in the country and roughly 6.5 in Kuala Lumpur alone. The population consists of mosly Chinese, Indian and Malay. We didn’t have much trouble getting around with English. It’s a tropical country, so it’s hot and wet there ALL THE TIME–not my kind of weather. We saw quite a few things on one of the tours that we took.

We visited the King’s home.

If the yellow flag is raised, the king is home.

We visited Independence Square.

The first Malaysian flag was raised here in when they gained independence back in 1957.

Prayers are done five times a day at the National Mosque.  We went during a time where they were having prayers, so we couldn’t go inside.

The tour ended with the Petronas Twin Towers. Kuala Lumpur would have been incomplete if we didn’t see them.

The rest of the trip was just us exploring the area we were at. We stayed near Chinatown, so we explored that.  We went to Central Market, which is an indoor shopping area, so there was that.

Obviously, we ate a lot.  Here are some food pictures:

 

 

I can’t remember why, but our hostel gave us a free meal. No arguments here.

The trip to both countries was really quick and hot. By the time we left Kuala Lumpur, we were exhausted from country hopping. We were exhausted from going to so many airports and sleeping in so many different beds.  I started feeling like crap from eating so much crap, but no matter how tired I was from traveling, I was so excited to go onto the next country. Hong Kong and Macau is next.

A Beautiful Week in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

Bangkok

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Let's go to Thailand!!!!

Let’s go to Thailand!!!!

Thailand was an amazing country to explore, and what made it even more amazing was the people I was exploring it with.  My sister and one of my best friends met up with me and a few teacher friends from Korea, making it a total of seven of us.  The trip consisted of exploring Bangkok and Chiang Mai with a whole lot of eating.  We arrived pretty late the first night and I was pretty tired from traveling.  After eating and walking down a part of Khao San Road, I wanted a bed.

Papaya salad, curry and a refreshing coconut drink to end a long day of traveling.

Papaya salad, curry and a refreshing coconut drink to end a long day of traveling.

We started the next day at Chatuchak Weekend Market.  It was huge! We weren’t there for too long, as Poppy was ill so couldn’t move around too much. After a couple of hours, we decided to go back to our hotel.  During our stay in Bangkok, we did a mixture of subway and taxis to get around. The cab drivers tried multiple times to charge a flat rate and not run the meters so they can make more money off of the foreigners.  It’s unfortunate, but even with the flat rate that they charged us, the price is still pretty reasonable. After the weekend market, the fun was about to begin. My sister and friend Naidee were expected to arrive to Bangkok in the afternoon.  I haven’t seen the two of them in almost a year, so it was a nice treat.  A long week of eating and exploring awaits.

Reunited! It was great seeing these two in Asia.

Reunited! It was great seeing these two in Asia.

The next day, we went to explore a couple of temples and saw the Reclining Buddha.  Some of the temples, we had to wear robes or a skirt to cover our legs.  We also had to take off our shoes before entering the temples.

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

After walking and palace exploring, we ate. A lot. Now that I think back, I can’t think of a time where I felt hunger while I was in Thailand, especially in Bangkok. There were food stands everywhere so it was hard to avoid eating….not that I was trying. IMG_3602

I wasn’t brave enough to try these guys, but my sister, Liz and Brian were.

Silk worms

Silk worms

Red ants

Red ants

We got massages.

A 30 minute massage cost us 100 Baht, about 3 US dollars. What a deal!

A 30 minute massage cost us 100 Baht, about 3 US dollars. What a deal!

We ate.  This was probably the tenth time we ate that day. I think I had a total of 10 coconut drinks in the week we were in Thailand.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

This thing cost a little over a dollar. I couldn't resist.

This thing cost a little over a dollar. Who could resist?

That evening, we took a night boat ride on Chao Praya River.  Naidee got sick, so instead of taking the boat back to our hotel, we took a cab. For once, it wasn’t me holding people back because of my motion sickness. It was a nice change. IMG_3608 The next day was our last day in Bangkok.  We booked a tour for the Floating Market. It was really neat to sit on the boats and shop.  If we wanted to buy something, the people manning the stand would use a hook to drag us to their stand. It was cool!IMG_3623After the Floating Market, we walked around Khao San Road.  Some of us got henna tattoos, we had food (obviously) and a few drinks.  It was a nice way to end our stay there.

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Khao San Road!!!

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No carding and strong drinks? I’m there!

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

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The BEST papaya salad I had in Thailand, as stinky and spicy as can be!

Oh, some of these are just inappropriate.

Some of these were so inappropriate.

Can't go wrong with bacon wrapped anything!

Can’t go wrong with bacon wrapped anything!

Until next time, Bangkok.

Drinks before leaving Bangkok.

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Waiting for the overnight train. See you later, Bangkok!

That night, we set off at 8 on an overnight train to Chiang Mai.  We arrived in Chiang Mai at 10 the next morning. I think it cost us about $30, so it wasn’t too bad considering we didn’t have to pay a night of sleeping in a hotel.  Also, I’ve never taken an overnight train before, so it was good to experience that.

At this point, I’ve been in Thailand for a few days, but Bangkok is so developed that I forgot that Thailand isn’t a fully developed country. I was so shocked when I used the bathroom in the train and saw that it went straight onto the tracks. Yeah, there was a hole in the toilet that dropped our business onto the tracks. Definitely not something that I’m used to. On the bright side, the chairs we sat on turned into beds, completely transforming the area we were at. That was really neat.

14 hours! Let’s do this!

I'm more excited than the others about the overnight train. :-)

Everyone was bleh about the train, but I was totally excited about it! You can see it in my face.

Chiang Mai

After Thailand, we visited three more countries, but Chiang Mai was my favorite part of our four-country tour. We didn’t do too much exploring on our own because we were booked with tours the entire time we were there, but it was still so fun there.  The first day we arrived, we walked around and got a feel of the area around our hostel.

Jumping at Tha Pae Gate.

Jumping at Tha Pae Gate.

That evening, we had a dinner and show booked at Kantoke Palace.  We saw a variety of different traditional dances from all around Thailand.

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The sheet of paper behind the picture describes each dance and which tribe the dance comes from.

The next morning, we did a ziplining tour called the Flight of the Gibbon.  I loved that tour.  I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Chiang Mai.  We learned about some of the plants in the area and saw gibbons on the trees.  I learned that for the gibbons’ entire lives, they don’t set foot on the ground, but swing from tree to tree.  If my memory serves me correctly, there were a total of 17 zip wires that we did over a span of 2 hours.  We walked to some of them, but most of them were connected to each other, so for a lot of the tour, we were off the ground.  Just like the gibbons.  It was SO COOL and a great adrenaline rush!  One of the zip wires, we jumped face first like superman and at the end of it, we were supposed to grab onto the net.  I didn’t, so I fell back into the middle of the wire and had to be saved by the instructor. I don’t think he was very happy.

Terrible picture, but this is the instructor coming to save me as I was stuck in the middle of the wire. It took about 10 minutes to get me out of there.

Terrible picture, but this is one of the tour leaders coming to save me as I was stuck in the middle of the wire. It was about 10 minutes before I was out of there.

They took the pictures for us and gave us the option to purchase them at the end of the tour.  A meal and a shirt was included in the tour package. My sister also rented a GoPro that they attached to her helmet, so the entire tour was documented.  It was an awesome day.

A few pictures from the Flight of the Gibbon:

Flying!

Flying!

Gibbon Pic

Setting off. A couple hours of AWESOMENESS lies ahead.

A picture with our Flight of the Gibbon leaders.

A picture with our Flight of the Gibbon leaders.

After the tour, we had delicious lunch with live traditional music.

One of the best meals I had in Thailand.

One of the best meals I had in Thailand.

After lunch, we went for a walk in the village and had the chance to hike along a waterfall.  It was really neat to see the locals at work. The waterfall and walk in the village ended our Flight of the Gibbon tour.

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One of the locals at work.

Beautiful hike. I forget the name of this waterfall.

Beautiful hike. I forget the name of this waterfall.

That evening, we booked a cooking class with Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. One thing I do love about the tours in Thailand is that they are very well organized, so they run smoothly.  They also pick you up and drop you off when the tour is finished.

The cooking class was DELICIOUS! We made multiple dishes, so we sat down a couple of times to eat, then got up again to cook. You get to choose what dishes you want to make and the teacher walks you through cutting it and cooking it. So many dishes and for such a cheap price–I think it was about $25 for the cooking class.   After the class, we were awarded a completion certificate and a recipe book to take home from the school.   These are the dishes I made:

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Paneng curry from scratch.

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Paneng Curry

Paneng Curry

Making drunken noodles (pad-kee-mow)

Making drunken noodles (pad-kee-mow) is really dangerous.

Outcome of my drunken noodles

Outcome of my drunken noodles

Mango and coconut sticky rice.

Mango and coconut sticky rice.

Creamy tom yum soup

Creamy tom yum soup

Sitting down to enjoy our first meal, I think.

Sitting down to enjoy our first meal.

After cooking class, we Anusarn Night Market and did a little shopping before we ended our night.  The next day was mine, Liz and Sandra’s last day in Thailand before we set off to Singapore. We ended our day with the best tour (and most expensive tour, about $160) that I’ve ever been on in my life.  We visited Patara Elephant Farm to be an elephant owner for the day.  This farm focuses on breeding the elephants and saving them from extinction, so they weren’t treated harshly, which is comforting.  Being so close to an elephant (or even having the opportunity to bathe/ride one) was something that I never imagined doing, but thanks to Poppy, 5 of us were lucky enough gain this wonderful experience.  When we first arrived, we were schooled us with the do’s and don’ts with the elephants, given a shirt that the trainers have to wear, and they told us the layout of our day.  Once we were done with our mini orientation about the elephants, we were taken to the farm and assigned an elephant and a trainer.  My elephant was named Mati, and she had a one-year-old son.  He was absolutely adorable and acted exactly like a toddler would.  We fed our elephant, daily the health of the elephants are checked by doing a few tests (checking their bowels, whether if they’ve slept, if they’re sweating, etc.), so we performed those tests, we cleaned the top of our elephant so we can ride them, we rode our elephant for about an hour to a small river, at the river we bathed them, then ended our day with lunch. Throughout the day, pictures and videos were constantly being taken of us. They told us that since we would be getting our hands dirty, as a part of the tour package, they would document this experience and copy the pictures and videos onto a CD for us.  It was absolutely amazing and I am so glad that I was able to gain this wonderful experience. I have never had a favorite animal, but after this tour, I will not hesitate to say that elephants are my favorite animal.

Pictures from Patara Elephant Farm:

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This farm had acres and acres of land for the elephants to roam around freely. It was home to over 60 elephants.

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Mati and her baby. They're so cute!!

Mati and her baby. They’re so cute!!

Cleaning Mati before riding her.

Cleaning Mati before riding her.

Woohoo! Let's ride them!

Success! Let’s ride them!

Riding the elephants.  The trainers walked alongside us to make sure the elephants were doing what they should.

Riding the elephants. The trainers walked alongside us to make sure the elephants didn’t act out.

They were so relaxed when we were bathing them.

They were so relaxed when we were bathing them.

The elephants shot water at us while we were taking this picture. They're so smart!!!

The elephants shot water at us while we were taking this picture. They’re so smart!!!

An amazing lunch to end an amazing tour.

An amazing lunch to end an amazing tour.

After we finished with the elephant tour, we had a really low key night of just dinner and packing since everyone was splitting the next day.  My sister and Naidee were continuing their tour of Thailand for one more week, Brian was flying out the following night back to Korea, Poppy the day after, and were flying out to Singapore early the next morning. Our time together was coming to an end. I was so fun while it lasted.  Thailand is such a beautiful country.  It has amazing food and the country is breathtakingly beautiful.  I had such a good time exploring it.  The group of people that went  was the perfect group.  We all are so different–different personalities and different interests, but somehow, we managed to have the most fun together. I will definitely be seeing Thailand in the future.

My First Korean Wedding

I was lucky enough to experience my first Korean wedding when my co-teacher got married back in December.  I didn’t know too much about Korean weddings except that they were a lot shorter than American weddings.  I was a little shocked with how different they were.

The wedding started at noon.  When I first arrived to the wedding convention center, I was so amazed with how many people were there supporting my co-teacher and her future husband.  There had to be a few thousand people there! Except, they weren’t all there for them. I didn’t realize that there were multiple weddings going on at the same time and each one was held in a different room, and without a door I might add.  You could hear the noise from the people outside during the wedding ceremony–it wasn’t as romantic as it could have been.

I basically spent a crap ton of money on a buffet.

I basically spent a crap ton of money on a buffet.

I met up with one of the teachers and she took me to look for the bride and groom’s stand.  There were two men at the stand collecting money: one for the bride and one for the groom.  I was told that it was average to give about ₩30,000 (about $30) to each person.  In the past, if I’m giving money at a wedding, it’s to the couple, not individually.  I felt a little odd, but it’s the Korean culture.  Anyway, after I handed the envelopes with money to both men at the stand, I was given a ticket in return for the buffet that was up on the 10th floor of the wedding convention center.

After we gave money to the couple, we went into the wedding hall where the wedding was already taking place.  I was a little late, so I didn’t see how the bride walked in.  Aside from the noise coming from outside, the wedding was beautiful. The bride wore a gorgeous wedding dress.  She looked like royalty as she stood at the end of the glass runway.

Beautiful wedding

Beautiful wedding

After they said their vows and exchanged wedding rings, the couple bowed to both His and Her parents.  Once they were finished bowing, the groom sang a song that he wrote for his bride.  I found out later that it was the song that he purposed to her with (I know, so freaking adorable!).  Once he was finished singing, they cut their cake and the cake was wheeled away.

After the cake was cut, the bride and groom walked down the runway and smiled as people took pictures of them. And just like that, the wedding was over.  Of course, I didn’t know it at the time.  One of the teachers asked me if I wanted to take a picture with my co-teacher, but I said I’d do it later since she looked so busy.  Had I known it she would have gotten changed immediately into her hanbok (Korean traditional dress) after the wedding ceremony was finished, I would have snagged a picture with her in her wedding dress.

After the wedding ceremony finished, we went upstairs to eat at the buffet.  As I mentioned before, there were multiple weddings going on at the same time.  There were about eight rooms for people to sit down and eat in, but the rooms weren’t sectioned off for each party. People from all of the weddings sat wherever they wanted, so I didn’t know whether if I was sitting next to guests at my co-teacher’s wedding, or guests from the other weddings. My co-teacher and her husband came around to each room and spoke briefly to their guests and after they spoke to us, we left.  My jaw dropped when one of the teachers asked me if I wanted to go grab coffee because the wedding was over.  It took all but an hour and a half.

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Beautiful couple

I was told that after the wedding ceremony and lunch, there is an intimate ceremony for the immediate family members of the bride and groom.  During this ceremony, they bow for about an hour to pay their respects to their ancestors.  After that, the happy couple went straight to the airport and started their honeymoon.  Apparently, it’s pretty normal to go straight to the airport from the wedding because the weddings are so short and start so early.

I love weddings.  I go to as many weddings from as many different cultures every chance I get. I love seeing how different their weddings are compared to my own culture and the American culture.  My first Korean wedding was a little shocking, but it was such a good experience and I’m so glad I went. It was very different to give money to him and her separately.  It was strange to sit with a bunch of strangers from different weddings during my meal.   Prior to the wedding, I was really excited to meet the bride and groom’s parents so I could get a taste of their lives outside of work, but the wedding was so quick that I didn’t get the chance to meet anyone. I was very sad to see that Korean weddings aren’t very intimate–you literally go, give money to the couple, have a meal and leave. There was hardly any socializing and absolutely no dancing.  Most importantly, we don’t get any cake at the wedding.  Seriously, who gets to eat the cake??

Beijing in Three Days

Airport2My first thought when we landed in Beijing was man, I can smell the pollution from inside the plane.  When I looked outside, I couldn’t tell whether if the overcast and foggy weather was from the pollution, or if it was actually foggy.  It was pollution.  We were lucky enough to go to Beijing during a time where the air was at its worse–it was hazardous for our health.

The language barrier, as expected, was difficult.  But the thing I struggled the most with aside from that was the currency.  When I looked at the price for something, I kept thinking it was too expensive to buy, but it wasn’t.  Every 6CNY is equivalent to about 1USD, so my first meal of 23CNY was only about $4.  Let me be honest, math is not my strongest quality, so having to divide the currency by 6 wasn’t exactly fun.  I learned that I am very incompetent when it comes to basic math, so my calculator was my best friend during this trip.

I found Beijing to be an amazing city that holds so much history.  I normally say that when I travel, it’s to eat and sight seeing was a plus.  Well, in Beijing, that was thrown out of the window.  Overall, the food in Beijing was good, but it wasn’t absolutely amazing.  However, seeing the sites and learning about the history was an incredible experience.

Oh, hey! Were in China! You cant even tell we woke up at 4am.

A we’re in China selfie was necessary! You can’t even tell that we woke up at 4am.

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There was a lot of leftovers.

We landed in Beijing at 9:30 a.m. and arrived to our hostel around 11:30.  We stayed at Dragon King Hostel, about a five minute walk from the Zhangzizhong subway.  After we checked in, we ventured off to find a restaurant to eat our first meal in CHINA.  When we finally picked a restaurant,  we weren’t sure how to communicate with the staff. We don’t know any basic Chinese except for “please” and “thank you” and I wasn’t even sure if those were correct.  There was a menu on the wall with pictures, so all we needed to do was point at which picture we wanted. It was absolutely adorable when the lady gave us a stick to point at what we wanted and pulled out with a key in English and Chinese to help assist us better.  The first meal was great, but the portions were HUGE!  Part of traveling is learning….so lesson learned.

After our meal, we went on and on and on for the next three days.  Tiananamen Square and the Forbidden City was the first stop.  The line to get into  Tiananamen Square and the Forbidden City was pretty long because of the security, so it took us a little while to get in.  The Square was full of people, and the Forbidden City was huge, I felt like we walked for days.  Danielle and Poppy rented an automated tour with headphones, so I walked in silence for a lot of that tour.  I didn’t get the automated tour because I wasn’t as interested in learning about every detail about each building, but they gave me the gist of it.  There were also signs in front of the buildings that had a synopsis of the building and its history.

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The Forbidden City. Mulan took place here.

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After we were finished there, we went to find Wangfuging Street.  We really wanted to eat there because the street food looked amazing, but we weren’t very hungry yet.  Instead, we just walked around a bit and got coconut drinks.  We tried to find our way back, but failed, so we took a taxi back to our hostel to hang out for a bit before we catching an acrobatic show we booked for that night.

The acrobatic show was pretty good, but I held my breath for a lot of it.  It felt like a milder version of Cirque du Soleil.  After the show, we went back to the hostel, ate crappy food, and called it a night. After hours and hours of running around, we finally turned in around midnight on day one.

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The next day was extremely busy. We booked a tour for the Great Wall, so we had to be out of our hostel by 7:15.  The tour took us to so many different places.

The first stop was Ming Tombs.

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Apparently, this is how the Chinese pose for the camera.

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Then to a jade museum called Jin Dian Cloisonne Factory.  They showed us there, that the vases were all handmade with copper wire and had about 10 steps before finishing.  It was kind of cool to see.

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The next stop was the long-awaited Great Wall.  I felt so little there, and the stairs were so uneven.  Some of the steps were so tall, they were as high as my knees–I know, I know, I’m short.  There were so many people struggling to hike up the uneven stairs, it was great to share that experience with them.

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It was so foggy the day we went up the Great Wall. Where’s Poppy?

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We couldn’t visit the Great Wall and NOT have a jumping picture!

Next stop was lunch, then we went to a tea house to have a tea session as our final stop. They gave us a few tastings and taught us the proper etiquette to drinking tea in China. The tea was so good, we all ended up buying a lot–which is exactly what they wanted us to do.

IMG_2134We were dropped back off near our hostel when we finished the tour.  After almost two full days of running around like crazy in Beijing, we finally had some down time with a night free.  We decided to sit at a coffee shop and enjoy ourselves and used that extra time to decide what we would do for the night. We decided on a place called Jing Zun Peking Duck for dinner–we figured Peking duck should happen in Beijing since they’re pretty famous for it. When we finally went to look for the restaurant, it took us a long time. We kept going the wrong way, but when we finally arrived, it was worth it. The duck was okay, but other food we ordered to accompany the duck was delicious. This meal turned out to be the most expensive meal we had in Beijing, about $15–what a deal!

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Where is this place!?

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Dumplings

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Spare ribs

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Dinner is served…finally.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

After dinner, we walked around the area for a little bit before going back to our hostel to turn in for the night. Day two ended around 11pm.

The next day was our final day in Beijing.  Poppy left to go to a museum early in the morning, so me and Danielle decided to start our morning around 9.  We grabbed breakfast and coffee, then headed to our first stop: Temple of Heaven.  Before getting to the temple, we walked through a park area where people were dancing, practicing martial arts, exercising, playing cards, and so many different activities. It was great to see so many people get together to hang out and do things together.

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We were trying to avoid the peace sign.

10723286_10203890273151425_831490438_nAfter visiting the Temple of Heaven, we attempted to shop a little at the Silk Market, but we didn’t find anything too interesting, so we were in and out, then headed back to Wangfujing Street to meet Poppy. After meeting her, we grabbed lunch and headed to the Summer Palace.  The palace was beautiful and massive, but it was so crowded, I hated it when we first got there. We sat near the water where the crowd was very minimal, so that was great. When we managed to break away from the crowd, I really did enjoy being there.  I’m a child, what can I say?

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At the entrance of Summer Palace

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There were so many different sections of the Summer Palace, we could have walked around there for an entire day, but we got there a little late, so they wouldn’t sell us the day pass. We still made most of the time we had there.

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When we finally left the Summer Palace, we went back to our hostel.  Poppy left us to watch an opera, while me and Danielle met up with a Mien person named San from Laos, who was studying on Beijing for his masters.  Ever since I moved to Korea, I realized how small the Mien community is, and I try to look for and meet Mien people where I can.  We met up with him for dinner and drinks.   The bottom floor of our hostel very conveniently has a bar, so we went back there and ended our night with drinks.

Hot Pot for dinner was....interesting.  It numbed your mouth.

Hot Pot for dinner was….interesting.  The spiciness numbed our mouths

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I really enjoyed Beijing.  The driving there is nuts. Even when the light is green for the pedestrians to walk, the drivers and people on motor bikes will still go and honk at you if you’re walking too slowly. Seriously!? The pollution was so bad that the end of the day, my clothes were disgusting.  It had a layer of film on it.  Some places we shopped, people were following us and practically pulling at our arms to get us to buy their things, even though we told them no.  Beijing has a population of about 20 million people, but it didn’t feel like it at all.  The subways weren’t very packed and walking around the city didn’t feel like it populated 20 million people.  There were certain places where went that were full of people, but it was the touristy areas. Beijing has so much to offer and there are so many thing to see and experience, good and bad.

Although we were rushed, we managed to get a lot done and had so much fun doing it.  I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see the history of China from the textbooks I learned about as a child, come to life.  That was amazing.

Getting a Tourist Visa for China from Korea

This blog is specifically for those of you who are attempting to get a tourist visa to China from South Korea.  My friends and I had such a hard time getting the visa, we thought we weren’t going to go anymore.  This blog is to make it easier for those of you going in the future, so you don’t go through the same thing as we did.

We know that some cities in China are visa-free, so depending on your nationality, you don’t need a Tourist Visa.  If you are like me and my friends, you choose to go to a city where you do need a Tourist Visa, it can be a little difficult to acquire if you’re not living in your own country.

You need to get a Tourist Visa for China if you are flying to China and fly back to the same country. If you are flying to China and onto a third country within a 72-hour window, you will not need a Tourist Visa, but a Transit Visa, and that’s free.  You can get that once you are in China.  All you need to do is show them your ticket to the third country.

Where We Went

The Chinese Embassy that we went to is the one in Seoul at Seoul Station (Line 1 or 4), exit 8 or 9.  Their number is 02-6260-8888.  The office is located in the Seoul Square building on the sixth floor.

It takes about four days to process the visa, but because we applied for our visa during a holiday week, it took a week and a day.  Someone can turn in the documents on your behalf.  All you have to do is make sure all of the documents are ready and the application is filled out.  Me and my friend Poppy filled out the application, gathered all of the documents together, gave our friend Danielle the money, and she dropped off the paperwork for us.  I’m an American, so it cost me 190,000 and Poppy is from England, so her visa cost her 55,000.  Such a big difference if you are an American.  You don’t pay until you go back and pick up the visa–not exactly sure how it works if you get it sent to you.

What you need:

-ARC Card

-Passport

-1 Copy of ARC card and passport

-1 Passport photo

-Filled out application form   http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/fd/W020130830801798289342.pdf

-A letter of employment from your employer (재직증명서)

-Printed round trip ticket

-Printed hotel information (make sure everyone’s name is on the hotel booking, because they will check this)

-Travel itinerary (simple, just type or write where you’re going and dates)

A Little Problem

If you have been in Korea for more than a year and have renewed your ARC card, you will need to get two certificates from your town office, 읍사무소, or if you are in a city, the office is called 동사무소.  I got this information from calling immigration at 1345–there is an English button, so you don’t need a Korean for this.  These are the two documents you need to get from the office:

-Certificate of Entry and Exit form (출입국에 관한 사실증명)

-Certificate of Alien Registration (외국인 등록 사실증명)

Both of these forms will cost you a total of 3000. When I talked to immigration, I was told that it would take about three hours to get these papers. I went in about 20 minutes before closing and they told me it would be ready the next day, but I begged them to get it to me ASAP. Danielle had to run back to Seoul the following morning to turn in the papers.  In the end, it only took about 15 minutes to get the papers.

If We Only Knew

We had the hardest time with these two documents. I called the Chinese Embassy in Seoul to confirm that the required documents matched the website, and the lady I spoke to didn’t mention that we needed the certificates if we renewed our ARC cards.  If you’ve renewed your ARC card, you know that instead of issuing a new one, immigration just writes the new expiration date on the back of the card.  According to the lady, this is a common mistake with foreigners because they aren’t aware that they need the certificates and it’s not listed on their website.  China believes that anyone can do the renewal because it’s written in, so they want the certificates confirming that the renewal was, in fact, real.  Very fair, but if we knew this in advance, Danielle wouldn’t have had to travel the 3.5 hours to Seoul two days in a row–this doesn’t even count the Friday before she attempted to go, but they were closed.  When she got back to our town, we were running around like crazy trying to get those two pieces of paper. It was crucial that Danielle went back to the Chinese Embassy the next day because it was the last day we could apply for it to get it in time for our trip.  Can you imagine how stressed out we were?  In the end, it all worked out.

If you are getting your visa, here a few tips so you don’t run into the same issues as we did:

-If there are any holidays near the time that you are applying for your visa, make sure you call to get their hours and what days they are open that week. There was a holiday on the Friday the week we applied, but the office was only open on Monday and Tuesday.  We thought we had until at least Thursday.

-Call the office to check their  hours. We thought we had until at least 4 pm, but they were only open until 2:30.  They also stop taking people before that time, so make sure you’re there early.

-Apply for the visa early in case you run into any speed bumps.  We applied for the visa 2.5 weeks before we went thinking we had time, but it turned into 2 days because of the holidays.

Good luck, and hope this helps someone out there.

Happy traveling!

Japan for a Long Weekend

Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok) falls on a long weekend in September, so we decided a few months prior to visit Japan for that weekend.  When we first arrived to Japan, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t tell the difference between the two countries.  It wasn’t Japan Airplaneuntil the second night when I started to spot differences.  For one thing, my default Korean doesn’t work in Japan like it does in Korea, obviously!  I don’t know a lot of Korean, but things like asking where something is, or how much something  was, was something I couldn’t do in Japan.  I loved seeing that the Japanese had a different look compared to Koreans.  You don’t notice this unless you’re living in Korea, but they all have a specific look; pale skin, skinny, and the women’s (and some men) faces are loaded with make-up–beauty is a big deal in Korea.  I noticed that in Japan, a lot of the people had their own look and didn’t focus on one set standard, which was great. You can tell that they are a more westernized country, people ate alone and did things alone.  Korea is very communal, and you could be turned away from restaurants if you’re alone.  Eating alone is just something they don’t do.

We arrived in Japan at 5:30 on a Saturday night and ran to catch the Narita Express Train into Tokyo.  The trains ACTUALLY run on time, so we didn’t want to risk missing it. Too bad there was a 45 minute delay about 20 minutes into the ride.  Our two hour ride turned into almost three.  We separated from Sandra once we were in Tokyo, while she continued her trip to Nagoya for the night to see some old friends.

Wow, the train is so clean!

Wow, the train is so clean!

Sushi!

Sushi! It was melt in our mouths, delicious!

Sake Bombs!!!!!

Sake Bombs!!!!!

The first night, we stayed in the Asakusa area of Tokyo.  After me and Liz checked into our hotel, it was a little late, and all we wanted to do was eat. We went straight to look for a sushi place  for dinner.  Of course! That girl has never had sushi OR sake bombs, so that was a must.

The next day, we went to the Akihabara area. I heard of a vintage video game store in that area called Super Potato.  We spent awhile looking for the store, but when we finally found it, it was completely worth it!  There were so many different game consoles, so many different games, and for so cheap (well most of them, anyway), I felt like I was back in the 90s.  I picked up a Nintendo 64 for my brother along with a few other games.  When we finished with Super Potato, we walked around Akihabara and shopped….a lot.  We found a Daiso, a Hello Kitty store, and a bunch of random little stores that we had too much fun in. 

The game consoles were so cheap!!!

The game consoles were so cheap!!!

IMG_1678After we finished in Akihabara, we moved our stuff to the Shinjuku area, and that is where we would spend the next couple of nights.  I really loved that area.  That was the night I realized how quiet Japan is.  The people walking down the streets are quiet.  The people in the subway are quiets.  Everywhere we went was just, quiet. We weren’t the most quiet of people, so I felt bad when I thought about how disruptive a group of loud foreign women can be to this quiet country, and we can be pretty loud.

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The restaurant was closing, so there were no more sushi on the belt.

The restaurant was closing, so there was no more sushi on the belt.

Me and Danielle’s birthday are five days apart, so we had birthday dinner at a sushi place with  moving belts!!!  It was like the Japanese version of dim sum. The plates were color coded, so depending on the color of the plate, they varied in prices.  You can choose what you wanted to eat on the belt, or order what you wanted from the menu.  The sushi chefs were so fun and tried to talk to us, but only Sandra was able to communicate with them.

After dinner, we walked around what looks like the downtown area of Shinjuku.  We went into this place called Sega Club where you can play a variety of video games.  This was my favorite part of the trip.  We were like children running all over the place and wasted a lot of money there.  We played games, attempted multiple times to get stuffed animals out using the claws, and even played tricks on each other….well, they played tricks on me, anyway.  Same–same.

Mario Cart!

Mario Cart!

 

They had too much fun on this game.

They had too much fun on this game.

When we finished fooling around at the Sega Club, we walked around the area.  It was a Sunday night, so it was pretty quiet. We walked into this ridiculously quiet bar where there was no music and the people stared when we came in–I felt like we walked into a library.  After we sat down, we got back up and left.  We found another bar and it was exactly the same! I think bars in Japan are just quiet and without any music.  The inside of Japan, mirrored its outside.  The second bar was empty, so we decided to stay for a drink and left.  On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped by the Sega Club again.  We just couldn’t help it.

The next day, Poppy and Sandra went to the Osaka area while the rest of us stayed behind in Tokyo. We went to see Shibuya Crossing–it’s completely hectic, it looks like there’s about a million people crossing at the same time in three different crossings, but was very organized.  Nobody ran into each other and everyone minded their own business.  It was awesome to watch!  We bought coffee at the Starbucks that overlooks the crosswalk and watched as the people scattered every time the crosswalk light turned green.

Shibyia Crossing

Shibyia Crossing

Outside of the Shibuya Station, the infamous Hachikō dog statue is there, so we stopped by to take pictures of it.  I have never heard of the story before I went to Tokyo, but the story seems pretty cool and a little sad.

Hachikō Statue

Hachikō Statue

The next stop was Takeshita Street and near there, we found a temple and a shrine, but we were really looking for a park.  Jumping is a no-no at the shrine, so if you must, make sure it’s done quietly and away from the front.  We sort of got yelled at for that.

The shrine was the last big thing we did before our trip came to a close.  Poppy, Danielle and Amanda stayed an extra night in Japan, but me, Liz and Sandra had to leave by 9 the next morning for our flight at 1:30.  We wanted to see Tokyo Tower that night, but it started pouring, so the ladies decided to call it a night early, but I wasn’t ready.  I left and explored a little by myself and shopped, a lot, again, and when  Sandra came back around 9:30 to the hotel and we went back out to shop.  We went a little crazy in search for KitKats and snacks for our family.  It was a good way to end the trip.

Ordering our meal through this vending machine. Japan is so high tech!

Ordering our meal through this vending machine. Japan is so high tech!

Japan went by so quickly!  Arriving late on Saturday night and flying out on Tuesday afternoon didn’t give us three full days there.  I spent too much money, was sick the entire time, and had no sleep, but it was still such a BLAST!

Waiting for the subway! Make sure you're in the doors when it shuts, because it won't wait for you!

Waiting for the subway! Make sure you’re in the doors when it shuts, because it won’t wait for you!

The people were so nice.  They don’t speak very much English, but they really try to help you with their limited English skills.  Anything less than 1000 yen ( about $10USD) was a coin, so we had to pay with mostly coins.  That made me feel like the jerk who throws all coins on the table and takes forever counting it, but at the end of the trip, I started getting the hang of it.  I didn’t get to experience as much of Japan as I would, and ran around like crazy, but I got to see enough of it to think, “I love Japan” when I  left.

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