Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And Another Holiday Season Spent in Korea!

Celebrating Christmas!
While some of my friends have been lucky enough to go to their home countries for the holidays, I'll be spending mine here for the third time in a row! I may not have any family here, but I do have a good group of amigos I can count on to make things happen!

Thanksgiving Dinner on Yongsan's US Army Base
The first was my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Well ahead of time, I think in late September, a Thanksgiving dinner event was posted on Facebook. It was a bit early, but when I saw the good food options and the price, I had to sign up for it!

The dinner was held on the Yongsan Army Base, in a dinner hall. It was advertised by a couple of ladies as a genuine authentic Thanksgiving dinner. They were at least American, so I was expecting good food to be cooked in a way familiar to me! The best detail of all was the price: It was only 20,000 won. I just had to wire money into the organizer's account.

This was the first time they had the event, so there were some hiccups with the organization. We had to sign up and give up some personal information. However, when we got there, they just let us all in, probably because there were so many of us. Also, there was supposed to be a shuttle bus, but we ended up being forced to walk to the hall where the event was taking place. After arriving, we had to wait quite awhile for the food to be ready, so people got a little bit antsy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Language Exchanges? Why I Switched to Private Tutoring to Learn Korean

At Yeouido Park with a (good) language exchange partner and some of his friends
 This is my third year in Korea, and I've previously written about the steps I have taken to improve my Korean.

Well, the neighborhood class I was taking ended in June, and after that I needed to figure out another way.

Language Exchanges

First, I decided to find a language exchange partner. That would be a situation where I would help a Korean with their English, and in exchange, they would help me with my Korean. That sounds like a good idea, right?

I tried this site, called Conversation Exchange, because there were lots of Koreans on it. When I filled it out, I began to receive messages from Koreans, usually men, who wanted to improve their English. They either needed it for a job, or their university course, they would say. That sounded promising.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our Trip to Yeongju City: Buseoksa Temple (부석사), Museom Village (영주 무섬마을), Sweet Potatoes and Tofu!

After, a cold spell, the weather had been great lately. Perfect for taking a fall trip to see the gorgeous colors of the leaves and experience some nature! I took a trip to Yeongju City (영주시), and my, the scenes were breathtaking!

Scenes from Buseoksa Temple

I was looking for things to do on a weekend, and I found this trip to Yeongju City on The Seoul Expat Global group. The group is headed by Harry Yoon, and it acts as a travel agency of sorts.

This trip in particular was a Sunday day trip to Yeongju to see the Buseoksa Temple, the Museom Village, and a local ginseng market. In addition, we saw the process of making tofu and harvested some sweet potatoes. Lunch and transportation was included. All of this was for only 20,000 won! That's because the trip is partly sponsored by the city itself to attract travelers.

Buseoksa Temple

After taking a bus from Seoul, we arrived at the temple after the three hour ride. Anyone can get there from the Yeongju intercity bus terminal by taking either the #55 or #27 bus.

Buseoksa Temple (부석사) is an old temple that was built back in the year 676. It's large and has a fantastic scenery. You can read more about its history here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Happy Halloween in 2013!

Me in my witch costume! I left my giant hat in the states!
Happy Halloween!! 

 It being my third Halloween in Korea, I already had a routine, more or less. I always found a way to celebrate the holiday on a night out with my friends, and I always celebrated it with my school.

Not everything went according to plan! I'm still satisfied with the way things turned out though.

Halloween fell on a Thursday this year. The Saturday before, I had a rather complicated situation. I wanted to meet two sets of friends, and also meet up with a date. I was supposed to have dinner first with the date, meet some friends in Hongdae, then meet some friends in Itaewon.

What it ended up being was: I dressed up as a pirate in the grungy women's bathroom in the subway station. Next, I met the friends in Hongdae for about 30 minutes, then had dinner with the date in Itaewon, then went to a bar with the guy, while waiting for the other set of friends to explain to me where the bar was (they had gone to a place I'd never heard of). I ended up getting tired and going home early!

No matter, the Aussie bar we went to had a couple there with an intense makeup job:

Yikes! I was told that she did the makeup.
After that, I genuinely scared for the night. ^^

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Korean Folk Village in Yongin, and Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon!

The Chuseok holiday gave me a five-day weekend in Korea, and I wanted to do whatever I could to celebrate the holiday and appreciate my free time! Aside from doing homework for school and cleaning my apartment, I set out to learn a little bit about Korean history.

Suwon's Hwaseong Palace and Fortress

On a Thursday, which happened to be Chuseok day, I paid a visit to the Hwaseong Palace and Fortress in Suwon [수원 화성 (행궁)], which happens to be the city I live in.

Scenes from the Hwaseong Palace in Suwon City, Gyeonggi-do Province
 How did I get there? From my neighborhood, it was a simple 20-minute bus ride away. I personally took a bus to the Hwaseong Henggung stop, then walked to the folk village. From Suwon Station there are many buses that head there, such as the numbers 2, 7, 7-2, 8, or 13. At least some of these would be taken be leaving out of exit 6 and crossing the street to the bus stops on the other side. You would get off at Jongno sageori (which means intersection).

The palace was open, and it's open every day. On Chuseok day, it just happened to be free, and all of the guests could just walk right in and explore.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Next Step: Getting My Teaching Certification from Abroad

Back to school again?

Why I'm getting certified

While I started things by tutoring children during undergrad, I began teaching full-time in 2010. In the beginning, it was just something I was experimenting with. At the time, I had recently left my retail management job and was living with my father. I thought the appeal of earning money while living in a new region was great.

Teaching was something that I began to enjoy, and I continuously looked for ways to improve myself as an educator. At the same time, I am working at a 학원 (private after-school academy) in Korea. It's a good entry-level job, but it's not something that's meant for you to do forever. There's a glass ceiling in place. If you're foreign, don't speak Korean and you're not married to a Korean, then the chances of advancing within any Korean language academy are slim to none.

I figured that since I enjoy teaching, then why not make a career out of it? However, I'm not that interested in teaching stateside. I did some research, and learned about teaching at international schools. It seemed like a good career path with chances of upward advancement, along with appealing pay and benefits offered to teachers worldwide.

One of the basic requirements to work in these schools is for me to be certified in my home country, the United States, and for me to have at least two years of experience.

Getting certified is my step #1!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

For My Birthday: What Advice Would I Have Given Myself 10 Years Ago?

I came across a question on the internet recently:

Knowing what I know now, what advice would I have given myself ten years ago?

It's an interesting question to answer for my birthday.

Aside from realizing that I'm getting older and there's nothing I can do about it, I thought it was interesting to think about since my life was so different ten years ago. I stopped to think about where I was and what I was doing. It was a turning point in my life.

Posing with family members about 10 years ago

Where was I ten years ago?

Let me see. I was just starting out my senior year in high school. I went to a medium-sized public school in the home state, where I spent my time with a close-knit group of friends and otherwise kept to myself in most aspects. At the same time, I was gaining a new confidence in myself I hadn't had before. I tried my best to stay away from the drama in my high school and was more focused on my future.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Chuseok Time!

 The kids at school in traditional Korean clothing, called the Hanbok, and making rice cakes
Chuseok or 추석 is the biggest and most important holiday in Korea. It celebrates the year's harvest and it's a time for Korean families to come together, be thankful and recognize the contributions of their ancestors.

It's a family holiday known for its food and gift giving. They come together and eat traditional food, and its staple is called Songpyeon (송편), which is a type of rice cake that is rolled into a ball and contains a sweet filling. There's also quite a bit of gift giving, where practical presents are given to friends and neighbors. Ideally, Korean families will visit the hometowns of their ancestors to pay respects to their spirits. It's technically one day, but it's celebrated as a three day holiday.

This year's gift box!
There are some similarities to Thanksgiving, so Chuseok is often described to foreign people as "the Korean Thanksgiving." 

You can read more about the Chuseok holiday here and here.

Since I'm not Korean, I don't have family that's from here, leaving me with little to celebrate. While I've heard of it happening before, it's not really common for the locals to invite foreigners to celebrate with them. It's strictly a family thing, so we are normally outside of the bubble of celebration.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Common Scams in South America... and Ways to Avoid Them

Just about everyone is excited to travel and explore new places. Although I would always recommend a new, fulfilling experience in South America, there are people who are only looking to gain access to your money. Sometimes, these people are just plain dishonest and walk away with your cash that they obtained illegitimately.

Children talking to a reporter in Bolivia
Many of us have heard of the extremes of what could happen to visitors, which include kidnapping for ransom or even murder. However, that's not likely for the average person, so this post isn't about emphasizing those extreme cases. 

In other words, these are the sort of things that visitors are likely to encounter, either directly or indirectly because they're so common. These are the scams to look out for on a day-to-day basis.

Check out these true stories about some of the negative parts of my adventures to countries such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Better than Busan! Our Weekend at Jumunjin Beach (주문진해변)

Two weeks ago, a friend invited me to go to the beach. This beach was called Jumunjin (주문진), which is located on the east coast of South Korea, in Gangneung City in the Gangwon Province (강원도 강릉시).

Jumunjin Beach
I had always heard that the beaches on the east coast of Korea were better, but I hadn't gone to the east coast at that point. Now that I've been, I can safely say that I also agree with that statement. If you're looking for nice beaches in Korea, but haven't checked out the east coast, then you're really missing out!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My God They're Bold: Frustrations with Korean Boys and Their Solicitations for Sex

25th birthday. A day or night out with "friends" can easily lead to disaster.
One Sunday evening a couple of months ago, I met with a potential language exchange partner. I wanted to practice using Korean, but the course I was taking ended, and wasn't going to start up again for several months at least.

We met at an ice cream parlor. He told me that he had lived in America for awhile, and we were interested in the same TV shows. I thought we had hit it off. He could help me.

Not too long later, he started making comments, suggesting that I "must be popular" and he asked me whether I had a boyfriend. He began pestering me about coming over his place to cook dinner sometime. When I told him that I didn't know him well enough, he became pushy about it. "Then, I'll come over to your place." 

I let him know that also wasn't acceptable. I wanted to only meet him in public places. He quickly became frustrated. He told me that it was okay, nothing would happen. I didn't have a boyfriend, so why did it matter?

By then, what he was looking for was clear. I bluntly told him that I wasn't looking for sex. I wanted a language exchange partner.

"What?? No, that wasn't what I wanted!! You're crazy!"

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Time a Korean Man Followed Me Home

At the King Sejeong Museum by Seoul City Hall. Usually these things happen to me when I'm away from home.

That night, about three weeks ago, I was walking to my apartment with two coworkers, both of whom had decided to do some evening shopping at the local food mart. I was only a block away and didn't need anything, so I continued on to our street.

As I turned the corner, I walked by several drunk men in their late twenties or early thirties.  One of them called out "Helllo! Helllo!" I ignored him and kept walking.

When I was just a few steps from my apartment building, I realize that one of these men is following me. I had already felt exhausted from a long day's work, so I became frustrated. Thinking that he would probably go away, I walked by my building and into a convenience store. I come out and he's magically reemerges. I walk to the food mart. He ducks around the corner and waits for me to come out.

I didn't want this man to see where I lived, nor did I want him to catch me in a secluded area. Very bad things have happened to women in these situations, so I try to be careful and do my best to keep aware of what's going on around me.

That man followed me as I kept walking around the block and eventually he got tired, instead asking me for my phone number. I shook my head and circled the block again. I had finally made it to my apartment safely. I have been followed, groped, violated and flashed before in Korea, but this was different. None of these things had happened so close to home. And that was the scary part.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Boryeong Mud Festival 보령머드축제 (Again!) in 2013

A collage of the fun we had last weekend!

Third Time's a Charm?

This year, I attended the Boryeong Mud Festival 2013 (보령머드축제) at Daecheon Beach, which is located on the west coast of Korea, about 2-3 hours south of Seoul. This is actually my third time going, since I also attended in 2010 and 2011. Not sure what it is? Here's a CNN article highlighting the event. Take the "3 million participants" claim with a grain of salt though -- that's an outrageously inflated number.

Me before getting muddy!
I actually wasn't going to go this year, but since all of my friends seemed to be going, I decided to go too. Ironically I didn't see any of them while I was there! But that was okay since I still enjoyed myself greatly.

This time, I went with a new date and we had some good, low-key fun. No 8:00 am party bus, no all-night drinking escapades and certainly no hookers! We enjoyed the beach, the seafood and the mud. There was plenty of relaxing involved.

We signed up the week before through a travel agency, Waegook Travel, which gave us accommodation for 59,000 Korean won each.

He lives in the Yongsan district in Seoul and I live in Suwon. We wanted to travel to Daecheon beach together, and not so early in the morning. We opted for the national rail (sometimes referred to as the "KTX train" interchangeably), which offers multiple Mungunghwa and Saemaul trains to Deacheon daily. Suwon and Yongsan subway stations double as rail stations too, making it convenient. I was able to book the tickets so that he got on the train first, and I hopped in the seat next to him later when the train reached Suwon. In 2010, I ended up without a seat, so this time I booked the train tickets a week before to ensure that we had seats for the approximately two hour trip to Daecheon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

So Many Activities In So Little Time!

I am still alive! I have been very busy these past few weeks. In Korea, it's currently monsoon season. It has been raining every day, and it's likely to continue to do so until around late August.

That hasn't kept me from being active, though. I've still been able to get out and do things, such as:

Playing Kickball

Picture of us after the game!

A few folks from the BSSK group decided to meet up for a kickball game! It was a gloomy Saturday, almost rainy, so not many people showed up, but it was still fun nonetheless.

We met up at a field near Janghanpyeong Station, line 5 and by exit 6. The neighborhood is full of middle aged Korean men lounging and hanging out. Why the strange location? Well, that field was free to rent. I could see why because it smelled of manure at times.

We played our game with a certified kickball ball, then ate lunch together. 


Making play-doh art with Mapo Gaon

Last weekend, one of my friends invited me to join him at the place where he volunteers. The organization is called Mapo Gaon. He helps disabled children in a particular area in Seoul once a month. I agreed to join him.

Their job was to pick up local disabled children from their home and bring them to a space, where the children and their helpers do activities together for a few hours. I thought it was very interesting and it was nice to meet the children. I also got a chance to practice my (limited) Korean.

At Yeouido Park

Afterward, we had some drinks at an Outback Steakhouse and had some drinks at Yeouido Park. It's a nice setting at night time. Many folks sit on mats and have a night picnic.

Salsa Dancing

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to Earn Money Teaching English in Colombia

Dancers in Cartagena, Colombia
 In early 2012, I decided to head to the beautiful country of Colombia to teach and travel. I had a wonderful experience and had the chance to meet lovely people and see spectacular places.

Lots of people would love to try out teaching in Latin America. However, they are reluctant to make that jump for three main reasons: there's very little information out there, they're worried about safety and they've heard about the very low pay in many Latin countries.

If you want to teach in Latin America, Colombia's a good choice. That's because the country has some of the best pay rates in the region and that there are plenty of jobs to be had. One can stay for as long as they want. For those with an adventurous spirit who are willing to put in hard work, the opportunities are endless. Here, you can meet fellow foreigners who were very successful at starting their own businesses.

Colombia's for the more independent worker. If you need someone to hold your hand, Colombia's not the place for you. However, if you like freedom of movement and opportunity, then Colombia's a good place to get started.

Learn more about my personal experience from my blog post.

What types of jobs are available? What qualifications do I need?

Monday, June 17, 2013

South African Barbecue at Nanji Hangang Park (Camping Site)

Me at the event :)

Not too long ago, I met a new friend at the Cinco de Mayo party that we both attended. He happened to be from South Africa, and he invited me to an annual get together for South Africans (and friends) in Seoul.

The event was a big barbecue where folks brought their own food and drinks. They cook, eat, drink and have a good time with friends. That reminds me of what I used to do with my own family in the USA, so I couldn't wait to attend.

Unfortunately, the South African friend who sent me the invitation ended up double-booking and wasn't able to attend. I was on my own! I ended up inviting a few of my friends to the event and met them there.

Sitting at the table
The event was held at Nanji Hangang Park (난지한강공원), at the camping site (캠핑장). The closest subway station is the World Cup Stadium station on line 6. In theory, one can walk there from the subway station in about 20 minutes by supposedly leaving out of exit #1 and following the signs. However, after talking to people who attempted to walk, it seems like it's very easy to get lost... and one of these people was Korean. The easiest way is to take a taxi. I took a taxi from Seoul Station which cost about 8,000 won.

We brought some of our own food. I prepared and brought chicken, salad and macaroni and cheese. My friends brought various other things. Luckily for us, I was able to get in contact with someone else to hold a spot for us. One man helped me get started, and I was able to make some BBQ chicken. Their grills were nice and easy to use. It was probably my second time being responsible for working the grill, so I was excited!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Life in Korea Requires a Thick Skin ... Really!

Living in Korea isn't always easy

After having a rather intense conversation with another westerner last week, I began to think about how we even survive here.

Well, overall life is pretty comfortable in the land of the morning calm. From my blog entries and Facebook posts, Korea may look like it's all fun and games. However, some actions or episodes can really make me hate certain aspects sometimes.

You may be saying, "Well, that's just culture shock." But it's beyond that. Foreigners have been saying the same thing to each other ever since I first came here. You need to have a thick skin to survive in Korea.

It's the reason why many people don't see themselves staying longer after a year or two. And it can be even worse for those of us who aren't white westerners. Seemingly tough and secure people can break -- emotionally -- after just a couple of years on the peninsula. Some folks break quickly and pull a midnight run. I've seen friends suffer and leave with no intentions of returning.

Why is that so? Certain experiences can be really grating, even if they're from students.

For example, during a recent discussion on basic hygiene vocabulary, a student declared that I must be dirty because my skin was brown. She said that over and over again, and the class thought that was hilarious.

I've also been called a monkey, and have gone through classes with disruptive students making gorilla noises.
Letting the hate get to you will make you lose your mind  

I've had children and adults say awful things about my natural hair. According to some people, it's bad, ugly and dirty.

On top of that, imagine watching television. Every commercial break shows advertisements featuring skin whitening creams. In its seasonal peak, summertime, every commercial break promotes three or four ads telling me that I'd be more beautiful if I bleached my skin.

As soon as the summer sun comes out, so do the parasols ... the pretty umbrellas designed to block sunlight. That's to keep them from getting darker. There's even a joke claiming that the quickest way to make a Korean woman insecure is to compliment her tan.

Now, after experiencing these sorts of events, imagine not having anyone to talk to about them. For example, my English-speaking coworkers are white and seemingly would never understand. In my time here, I've seen the locals give favorable treatment to my whiter counterparts. It's difficult to talk to a very average looking man who's constantly being told he's handsome by the locals.

As a result, it can be very easy to feel alone and helpless.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Finally, Gay Pride in Seoul 2013

A parade float

Last weekend, there was a gay pride march in Hongdae, the area near Hongik University in Seoul.

Now, I have been attending gay pride events since I was a teenager, starting with NYC. They're always high energy family events where everyone seemingly has a spectacular time. I've attended pride events in New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Buenos Aires.
Standing next to a sign

They have been having an annual queer festival in Seoul for about 13 years now, and they've obviously held them in the time I was here. However, gay pride, or the Korea Queer Cultural Festival as it is known locally, isn't a widely known event. Most people have no idea it even exists. As a result, I have always tended to not get wind of the festival happening. This explains why I missed it both times the first two years I was here. In 2010 and 2011, I heard about the event after it was held, which was unfortunate.

Last Friday, the day before, I heard of this year's event from a small post on facebook. I knew I was going to attend this time!

Being L, G, B or T is quite taboo in Korea in general (and yes, it's taboo in much of the USA as well). In the years that I have been here, I feel like I've seen the dialogue at least being started, which is an improvement. People, the young in particular, are more open minded to the existence and tolerance of LGBT folks.

This year, the event was held in Hongdae. I wanted to see the parade in particular, so I used this map as a reference. I went to the neighborhood, ate lunch and studied with a friend. We then walked outside at about 4:30 pm to look for the parade.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Temple Stay at Magoksa Temple (마곡사) and a Trip to Independence Hall (독립기념관)

When I first came to Korea, I learned about doing a temple stay. Temple stays, as I was told, offered a more unique and intimate experience with the history of Korea and Buddhism. 

Some buildings at Magoksa Temple
How to Sign Up

Basically, there are some temples in Korea where you can do a temple stay. There are options of staying for just a day, or staying for a night or two. In theory, you can sign up and go on your own, but that might be tricky if you're not fluent in Korean.

We all had a chance to bang this drum
A common option is to do what I did, which was sign up for a temple stay with other foreign tourists and residents through a travel group or agency. These sorts of agencies make everything simple. I was able to sign up and send them money to confirm my spot. After that, all I had to do was show up at a location in Seoul at a certain time, and board a rented bus going straight to our destination. It's much easier because you don't have to deal with figuring out how to get there or even simply communicating with temple representatives due to the language barrier. A popular agency is Adventure Korea. There are also groups available on Meetup that do similar trips and organize temple stays.

One of the Shrines
I did my own Temple Stay at Magoksa Temple (Korean: 마곡사). It's located in Gonju city in the Chungcheongnam province. I went with an agency now called Wink Travel and Culture Group with William Cho as the organizer. I actually wouldn't recommend them, as I've had a couple of negative experiences with the group related to two different trips. I'll explain that later. The Magoksa Temple, however, was wonderful... I would certainly recommend doing your stay here. To clarify, I went when I first arrived to Korea back in 2010. 
To learn more or organize your own trip yourself, go here for contact information and instructions on how to get there. It's a bit of a trek from Seoul, but it's not too bad or complicated.

The Program

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Buddha Needs Love Too!

First, I'll admit that I don't know a ton about Buddhism. I've learned bits and pieces from my university and I also did a temple stay as soon as I arrived to Korea during my first stint. About 23% of Korea's population is Buddhist.

I think it's appropriate to note that I'm personally not religious. My family's of a Christian background, but you could say that I'm atheist today.

Today there are more Christians in Korea, although Koreans tend not to use "Christian" as much and use either "Catholic" or "Protestant." While I'm sure many are nice people, these Christians can be quite aggressive and even rude in their recruitment efforts.

If for nothing else in my experience, Buddhism offers a good religious break from the Christians in Korea.

Scenes from the Lantern Parade 2013
The past week Korea has seen some tributes to Buddhism to honor the Buddha's birthday. Over the last week, there was the Lotus Lantern Festival. This has events that include the exhibition of lanterns, the lantern parade, a rally and celebration.

The Lotus Lantern Festival has been held at the same place in the years I've been here. That's in the Donguk University/City Hall area: Or near Jonggak Station (Line 1) on the Seoul subway. Once I get there, it's hard to go wrong with the crowds of people going to the same place.

I last attended the lantern exhibition in 2011. It was gorgeous! Basically, you see pretty, traditional lanterns along the Cheongyecheon stream. It's better at night for obvious reasons. There were lots of people though, which can be a turn-off knowing how rude your fellow picture takers can be.

This year I saw part of the parade, which was equally nice. Lots of folks attended this too, so getting a good spot would mean coming early.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Enjoying Colombia's Coffee Region

Going to the coffee region in Colombia was one of the most memorable parts of my travels in that country. I went there when my mother came to visit me in July 2012. I can't believe it has almost been a year!

We traveled to this part of Colombia after exploring Bogota, the capital city. This was the most challenging leg of our trip, hands down. That's because we ran into a major problem not long after arriving. I'll talk about that later.

My mom posing by the shuttle to Salento

In the morning, we got our things ready and took a taxi to the bus terminal in Bogota. We had booked a place to stay in the tiny town of Salento. However, there were no direct buses, so we had to take a bus to Armenia, the closest big city.

The trip took about 9 hours and the ride had impressive views of the mountains in Colombia. It was windy/loopy, however. Headache medicine if useful for those who get dizzy!

From the bus terminal in Armenia, we had to go to the back of the terminal and go outside where we could take a smaller shuttle to Salento. For a few bucks, we could take the shuttle and arrive to Salento in about 40 minutes.

Salento, Quindio, Colombia

The shuttle took us to the main square of the small town. It looked very simple and had a beautiful backdrop of the mountains surrounding it.

Exploring the main square
When we got there, we went to find the hostel since we arrived in the evening. We eventually snapped some photos of the main square and in front of a statue of Simon Bolivar. Looking around, it was very touristy and there were a bunch of shops, restaurants and bars around the main square and along the side streets. You could see plenty of tourists among the locals.

We did just a tad bit of shopping. I knew I would need a pair of sneakers, so I bought one pair of those along with a pair of sunglasses. They sold all of the typical stuff that you'd find in touristy shops in South America, including the clothes, souvenirs, etc.

We didn't interact with many locals, but they were certainly warmer than the people in Bogota.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo and Friendship!

Last weekend has been an eventful one for me.

At first, my heart was broken by someone and I was a bit upset, but luckily for me I was able to recover and I had a great time.

Cinco de Mayo at On the Border restaurant

It started with a simple Cinco de mayo get together at the On the Border restaurant located by Apgujeong Rodeo station. On this particular night, a group was able to buy out the restaurant for a get together. We were able to have all-you-can-eat tacos, burritos, chicken wings, salad and nacho chips. Not to mention a seemingly endless supply of margaritas! I tried a bit of everything, and I'm happy to say that the food was all great! 

On the Border, taken from their website
To those who might be concerned about the quality of the food, On the Border served us our tacos, burritos and salad with real salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The servings also had an acceptable amount of meat. Don't worry, I've been to my fair share of Mexican restaurants in Korea and have gone through the tragedy of paying a fortune to receive substandard food. Imagine paying more than $20 for a plate only to receive more lettuce and tomatoes than carne (meat/beef)? At On the Border, this is not so. I was also cynical about the margaritas ("Oh, they'll probably run out then serve only cheap beer...") but these surprised me as well. They truly meant all-you-can-drink and the drink was strong. They kept those coming too. 

To check this place out, keep in mind that the restaurant is located in Seoul by the Apgujeong Rodeo station on the Bundang Line. After coming out exit #6, walk straight and make a left onto the first small street. Then, make a right into the first little alley way and walk down. The restaurant is located on the left.
Here I was able to meet some chill people and have good conversations.

Club Answer

Our next stop was club Answer in Cheongdam. 

We took a taxi there, so I can't be sure of the exact directions, but the internet tells me it's close to Cheongdam station on line 7. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Magical Adventure at Lotte World

One view of Lotte World, an Amusement Park
Last weekend, we were wondering about how we were going to spend our Sunday evening. I decided that it would be convenient for us to go to Lotte World! It was actually the third time I've been there, but it has been awhile since I've been. I last went to the park in 2011.

Taking in the Scenery

Lotte World (or 롯데월드 in Korean) is a small to medium-sized amusement park in Seoul. It's located in the eastern section of the city and can be accessed by subway. Anyone interested in going should head to Jamsil station on line #2, and you can enter the park without having to exit the subway station. It can also be accessed from the outside, behind or beside the large Lotte Hotel World. 

Lotte World has all sorts of games and rides, including roller coasters for all ages. As a result, there were tons of children, adults and couples there. They also give live performances every now and then. They have an ice skating rink, too. Visitors can buy pretty souvenirs, carnival-type junk food and there are plenty of restaurants. We decided to only have a snack at the park and we went to the nearby TGI Friday's for a real dinner.

I like this amusement park in particular mostly because of its size and convenient location. It's easy to arrive here, but it's more complicated to get to Everland. We only had Sunday evening, so it made sense to come here. And we managed to have a good time in a few hours. Another big plus is the fact that many, if not most attractions are indoors. That way, I can enjoy myself even in poor weather!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Unplanned Vacation

One of my most memorable experiences took place with almost no plan in place
Over the next few weeks, I have a few coworkers who will be taking holidays from work. I've just started with the company, so I'm not allowed to plan any vacation days yet ... but I can still think about them, right?

That let me to think about my past travels, and how I'll plan future vacations. The most memorable of those have one thing in common. They were all unplanned vacations.

By "unplanned vacation," I mean the type where you purchase a plane ticket to an exotic locale, and just go. This is without mapping out your activities for each day or tightly scheduling your sightseeing. You just go and do whatever comes to you at the time.

This isn't for everyone. I know many people who would be frightened at the very suggestion of forgoing planning. But the truth is, my experiences have showed me that things are just more fun that way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chicken Ginseng Soup and French Toast ... A Food Post?

This week has been a good one in regards to food. I've cooked some good meals and had a chance to try out some soup at a famous restaurant in Seoul.

The front entrance of Tosokchon
After doing some shopping, I decided to try out a restaurant with some folks. The restaurant is called Tosokchon (토속촌) and it is located in northern Seoul, a couple of streets down from Gyeongbokgung station (line 3) exit 2. Walking straight out of the exit, it's about two streets up. After a left turn onto a small street, the restaurant is located a little down on the left side.

Tosokchon is famous for its chicken ginseng soup, or samgyetang (삼계탕) in Korean. Samgyetang is a soup dish of a whole chicken, stuffed with rice, cooked in a broth with Korean ginseng. There are many varieties, but this is the main idea of the dish. Aside from it being very delicious, this soup is also said to cure and prevent illness. It is even consumed in the summer months to restore nutrients lost in the heat.

After arriving, I ordered a simple dish of samgyetang, which comes with tea and few sides including cabbage and radish kimchi. They also give you a shot of a ginseng liquor. The soup itself was great and filling. The sides were good too. The ginseng shot was pretty strong and wasn't tasty at all -- but this obviously isn't the point! The experience set me back 15,000 korean won, or $13.28. Not bad!

The restaurant has a touristy feel to it, since it's aesthetically nice and they had a host dressed up in a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) seating people. It's also a restaurant where the patrons sit on the floor to eat. That's something that looks cool from a touristy perspective, but it can get uncomfortable. In any case, the food more than makes up for it. I would definitely recommend this place to others.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Korean Language Journey (So Far...)

Even though this is my 3rd year in Korea, I'll admit that I don't actually know much Korean. This is my fault, officially beginning with my waiting for more than 6 months to even learn to read the language. My life had changed and became much, much better after doing that one simple thing!
My textbook and a gift from a classmate!

I debated about how much effort I should put into learning the language, because I know that it would take years to just to become very good at speaking Korean. I also wondered how long I would actually be here. Would I put in an astronomical amount of effort, only to leave and never use it again? In the end, I figured that I should learn something, even if it's just to help me survive.

Lots to learn on the board
Eventually, in the fall of last year I --ahem-- picked up a copy of Rosetta Stone Korean. I worked on that for awhile and got through the three levels. I found it to be a good introduction for those that know absolutely nothing about the language. It isn't that comprehensive though, so I believe a serious learner shouldn't rely on it.

I knew that when I came back that I would at least sign up for a Korean class. There are many in the country. The best known courses are full time, fast-paced and offered by  universities here. Since I work and generally have other things to do, I knew that a comprehensive course would have been unfeasible for me.
My class all together

The good thing is that the Korean government provides funding for free Korean classes for foreigners. I was able to sign up for one of these in my area.

The specific course has many different levels, from absolute beginner to test prep-level. The first course was fun, but it wasn't challenging because I was placed with beginners who were unable to read or introduce themselves in Korean. I asked to move and they moved me to a slightly higher level. The classes have been good ever since, and our teachers are pretty friendly.

The book they gave us is pretty informative and it cost less than $20. The pace isn't too fast and the atmosphere is relaxed. My classmates are also pretty fun to talk to. So, I'll be happy for the time being.

I don't have a specific goal on my language-leaning journey, but rather to just keep putting in effort to improve and hope I like where I'll end up eventually. In the meantime, I'll still do my best to keep up with my Spanish and will continue to practice Portuguese when I have time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So ... What Is Going On with North Korea?

Kim Jong Un and North Korea have kept themselves in the headlines lately
While reading the news, I've noticed that Kim Jong Un and North Korea have been stepping up their ridiculous rhetoric over the past few weeks. As a result, North Korea has been dominating the news, occupying the top story spot for most of the past two weeks.

As a result, people all over the world have been wondering what is going to happen next. After all, I and everyone else would rather have peace on the Korean Peninsula. 

As an expat here in Korea, I've known quite a few folks to be receiving phone calls, e-mails and even facebook messages from worried friends and family members. No one in my family has contacted me personally, but that's because they probably haven't been paying attention (they tend to get their news locally on TV, and my family's not known for following international conflicts).

In related news, I'm staying relatively close to the Osan Air Base.  Just about every morning I hear different planes wizzing over my apartment building.

The truth is that life has been continuing as usual. Locals and expats alike are still going to work and heading home. They still find their way to the bars to get drunk. They still eat out at restaurants, and so on. There isn't any sort of widespread panic or chaos, and on average, expats are more "worried" than the locals, who have been hearing flaming rhetoric from their northern neighbors their entire lives. People are calm because threats of total destruction are normal for the south. So they continue to do what they normally do.

That said, it doesn't mean that nothing will happen. North Korea could still torpedo another ship or shell another island. They could even shoot rockets or invade. However, it appears to be unlikely that a full-scale war will happen, since Kim Jong Un would have nothing to gain and everything to lose after such a move. At the same time, we still have to be alert -- which is what people are. All Koreans know what is going on and are paying close attention. They just don't let it disrupt their lives.

As for me, I'm ok. All I can do is sit and wait to see what happens next. Let's hope for the best, shall we?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

And Finally! My ARC and Cell Phone

My old and new Korean ID card, passport and my Colombian ID, which turned out to be just a piece of paper!
Yay! After waiting for 1 1/2 months, I finally received my new Alien Registration Card (or ARC) from the immigration office. Now, I can do some critical things such as:

  • Get Internet at home
  • Get cable for my TV
  • Sign up for a cell phone plan
  • Get a debit card from my bank
  • Sign up for online banking
  • Get my airfare to Korea reimbursed
  • Sign up for health insurance

After a long and frustrating process, I was finally able to obtain a cell phone with a pre-paid plan. I first went to a cell phone company to purchase a pre-paid SIM, then went to a subway station to buy a phone. When I was looking at phones, the phone appeared to work and I called the cell phone company to be sure. When the phone still didn't work, I was worried that I might have been possibly scammed by the cell phone vendor. Turns out, I was able to go back and the problem was fixed.

Now that I have these critical items, I can move forward with the rest of my settlement process.

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Teaching Experience in Colombia

The city of Bogotá on a beautiful day
Even though I'm currently in Korea, I still feel drawn to Latin America. I, along with a group of people are contemplating going to a Latin club this weekend. It reminded me of my 7 month stint in Colombia.

After being in Korea the first time, I knew I needed a break from the culture, which is very different from my own. I decided to go to Colombia to teach.

I had done all of this research, and one day, I just booked my flight to the South American country. My goal was originally to stay there for a couple of years and get my teacher's license when I was there. I arrived in April.
The institute where I completed my CELTA

The first thing I did was that I signed up for a CELTA course. It's a month long course that teaches mostly native speakers how to teach English. Since the CELTA carries a lot of weight in Colombia, I wanted to make sure I had that. I decided to do it at an institute in Bogotá. While it was a tough and extremely time-consuming course, I made it through and got the best marks of the class.

After getting that certificate, I went job hunting. Due to the timing issues with my university program, I decided against teaching at a high school, or colegio. Getting a university job was possible, but difficult since I had few connections. I did some interviews and took up a job at an institute. This time, I was teaching adults, latino adults, which was very different that what I was used to. Asian adults and South American adults have different needs, and come from wildly different cultures. So, I had to get used to teaching Colombians.

I also took up some private classes on the side, which was an interesting experience. Unlike in Korea, this is legal in Colombia. It was also a rather dynamic experience altogether because students and classes were always coming and going. This came with its own complications.

On a typical day, I worked on split shifts. I would wake up early in the morning to teach classes as early as 7:00 am. I would probably teach again around lunch time and finally teach for the last time in the evening. It involved using public transport to travel all around the great city of Bogota.

I stayed in a residencia with mostly Colombian students during my time in Bogota. Oh, that was its own adventure all by itself.
One of my Colombian students invited me over for a party

Overall, I was really able to enjoy myself and relax for the most part. While Bogota wasn't a very exciting city in my opinion, it was still within reach of other cities in Colombia, and traveling was a blast since the country was so diverse. I was able to get to know some really warm people. I got the chance to travel to Colombia's coffee region, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva, Medellin and a bit of Ecuador too.

Are you interested in teaching in Colombia too? Follow this link to find out how to make it happen.