Monday, June 14, 2010

home sweet home

though my lack of updating might lead you to think otherwise, we have arrived safely back in canada, and have slowly been making the transition back to north american living. we've actually just come up on our one month "anniversary" of being home, and while initially it was a bit of reverse culture shock, mark and i have had an awesome welcome home, and have happily unpacked our bags and settled into life in the western hemisphere.

it has been so good to reunite with friends and family, and i am excited to get life in canada started again. having our experience abroad come to an end has been simultaneously overwhelming, exciting, and bittersweet - but, being back weirdly feels like we've never left (with a year + missing from our memories). at first, it was a bizarre feeling, but so far we're doing a good job of adjusting.

our travels already feel like a lifetime ago, and our korea experience feels even longer. i've been busy job searching, while mark has landed himself a temporary full-time role. we'll soon be back into the swing of things ... but we'll never forget the memories we've made and the experiences we've had. thank you to all who kept up with us along the way - i'm so glad to have been able to share our adventures with you!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

one night (or three) in bangkok

goodbye islands, hello city.

we've arrived in bangkok after nearly two weeks in the paradise of the islands in the south. the majority of our time was spent on ko tao, and the best part was our 5-day visit to remote ao tanot (or, tanote bay). we had a beachside bungalow with an ocean view on an isolated strip of sand. i spent my birthday snorkeling in the shallow reefs - where we saw multiple black tip sharks! - and getting an afternoon massage on the beach. absolutely. wonderful.

and now we've arrived in bangkok, after a long but easy journey via boat, then bus. with all the media coverage of the ongoing political unrest here, we'd keeping an eye on the news reports and seeking advice from other travelers we met in the south who had just come from here. and the verdict was that everything in bangkok was ... business as usual. the protests seem to be settled, and then quickly unsettled. however, in the backpacker area of th khao san, everything is its crazy and boisterous self. the reputation of this small but infamous location does not fail to disappoint.

we will be keeping safe and lapping up our last days until we're set to fly home via tokyo on friday. can't wait!

see you soon (for real this time)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

the beach

this will have to be quick, as the internet is pricey, and i've been dawdling on facebook and email already ...

we are in the south of thailand, on ko pha-ngan to be more specific. we arrived at this island yesterday, after three wonderful days on the magnificent ko samui to the south. our lonely planet describes the three islands we'll be visiting during our travels as kind of "sisters", which i quite enjoy, being from a family of three girls. and the analogy works quite well.

to give you an idea: samui is the biggest sister, and the most developed. it has a lot of resorts, and many of the beachside backpacker bungalows are unfortunately being swallowed up by the big luxurious pricey guys. we managed to find one of the remaining cheap backpacker digs, on the island's popular chaweng beach. we were north of the raucous parties and main strip, which was fine by us, as our resort had one of the nicest views of the ocean. the water was so shallow you could walk out for almost a kilometer and still be only ankle deep, and the temperature was like a bathtub. it was amazing.

next, ko pha-ngan. home to the much-talked-about full moon party (also known as, monthly all-night beach rave), and the aforementioned middle kid. former home to hippie backpackers, it's now apparently growing more resort-y and samui-like. and although we'd heard good things and bad things about the legendary lunar bash, mark and i decided to opt out. in my defense, i don't need to be smushed like a sardine in a crowd of fluorescent-body-painted acid-tripping strangers dancing to house beats all night to feel like our thailand experience has been fulfulling ... (ha! just saying ...) instead, we stayed on samui until the full-moon had passed (and the prices on pha-ngan had lowered).

we'll be here for two more days, and then we are off to ko tao, the baby of the island family. ko tao is the smallest, but it is known for some of the best scuba diving in the world. mark's licensed, so he's looking forward to exploring the ocean depths. i, on the other hand, am both too cheap and too lazy to get certified, and will spend my time beach-lounging and finishing the beach. because, yes, i am very cliched and reading alex garland's cult classic ... while here on the beach.

Friday, April 23, 2010


oh, hello cambodia.

so, for the past 5 days, we have been exploring thailand's neighbour to the east, and basking in her glorious heat. no, seriously, it is REALLY hot here. and maybe it feels hotter because we're no longer soaked by songkran, and instead with our own sweat ... but 42°C and sunny is the hottest place i've been in my life.

not that i'm complaining, of course :)

we spent our first three cambodian days in the country's capital, phnom penh. phnom penh is a bustling city, with a million motor bikes. there's more to it, but that's the best way to describe it. our hostel was a short jaunt away from the tonle sap river, and about 15 minute walk to the touristy riverside strip. we spent our first day with a sombre visit to the killing fields and genocide museum, and got thorough insight into cambodia's all too recent terrible and violent history.

as an aside ...

it's reassuring to see that this country is taking steps to move forward from its past, but it's heartbreaking to watch how slowly these changes are unfolding. there is serious poverty here; many women and children are begging in the street. and while tourism is contributing a lot to cambodia's economy and prosperous future - it's clearly not enough. and doesn't do much to make me feel like less of a privileged westerner on a fancy vacation while children are asking for food from my patio lunch. even if we give in to each request, a dollar or two doesn't give these children an education or a proper meal. it's heartbreaking.

please check these out:

we left phnom penh on wednesday and took a 6 hour bus ride north to siem reap, where we are now. siem reap is the home to the temples of angkor, which was #1 on my must-do list when planning our trip to southeast asia. we've bought a 3-day pass to visit the sites, and have already spent our first day exploring. truly breathtaking and amazing and awe-inspiring. and HOT. i'm pretty sure i sweat all of my sunscreen off, and consequently burned one shoulder. and there's two more days to come ...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

chiang mai, the adventures continue

after spending thursday totally soaked in the songkran festivities, we'd signed up for a day-long trek for friday. chiang mai is very popular for "jungle trekking" - usually tour packages of various lengths that give you the opportunity to ride elephants, white water raft, hike in the jungle, and visit an indigenous hill tribe. we decided to forgo the overnight/multi-day trek in favour of our own (guest house) beds, but still found we were able to pack a lot of adventuring into a 9-hour day.
we were picked up in the morning by a songthaew, or a red covered pickup truck with bench seating in the back - chiang mai's ubiquitous taxi. after a quick stop at a butterfly farm, we were off to experience the elephants. i was way more nervous than i expected: needless to say, elephants are huge animals. and while we purchased a small bunch of bananas to feed him (/control him?), we are more or less at his mercy. and at one point, our guy wandered off the designated path and tore down a small tree to eat mid-ride. it wasn't until the guide's belated "yah!" yells (elephant-speak for "get the eff back on the path") that he returned to where he was supposed to be. meanwhile, i was freaking out and clinging with sweaty palms to the railings on the seat! nevertheless, we obviously survived and it was an amazing experience.

after the elephants, we trekked through the jungle to a small waterfall where we swam and ate lunch - pad thai wrapped in a banana leaf, mmm delicious. then in the afternoon, we went "white water rafting", which wasn't even, since it's april and the hottest season in thailand, and the river was too low for any white water, let alone rafting. unfortunately, we spent about an hour and half cruising down river and getting stuck on rocks, much to the delight of the hundreds of local thais bathing and relaxing in the river. they didn't hesitate to splash us with some belated songkran celebratory water as we continuously beached our raft on the rocks! oh, lovely.

although the white water rafting was a bit of a failure, our trek also included bamboo rafting which was much more suitable and leisurely for the river's level. we also got to visit with the long neck karen tribe, in their village. our time at the tribal village was brief, but we did get the opportunity for pictures and purchasing some of their handicrafts.

in the evening, despite our total exhaustion (and multitude of bug bites) from the day, we wrangled energy to go see a muay thai fight. totally awesome. not only did we get to see a girl fight and a midget vs a kid fight (among others; and the midget defeated the kid, if you're curious), but the headlining fight was a thai vs a canadian. and the canadian won! we consumed many chang beers and had an excellent time.

yesterday we visited tiger kingdom, which is a tiger sanctuary just outside of chiang mai. here you can visit tigers, and pet them. it was like the cat café, but so much better! i'm not 100% convinced these animals aren't drugged, as one trainer told us they sleep for 20 hours a day ... errmm really?? but they are treated properly, so that counts for something. my favourites were definitely the baby tigers - 8 weeks old! they cuddled in our lap, and i didn't want to leave.

but, speaking of leaving, our time in chiang mai is coming to a close. tomorrow, we're catching a flight to phnom penh, cambodia for a change of scenery. i apologize for the absence of our own pictures, accompanied by the tedious length of this post! we haven't had the opportunity to upload any of our pics yet, so you'll just have to enjoy my stolen internet illustrations.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


we have made it to thailand! i am going to try and keep up the blog while we're over here, hopefully i can wrangle the motivation to keep up while adventuring/vacationing. although we're no longer "seoul searching" we are still mark and alex in asia, so there!

mark and i are currently in chiang mai, thailand, which is in the north of the country. we arrived last night, around 10pm, totally zonked from a day of travel (and three consecutive flights). our last minute itinerary change ended up being a lucky rescheduling for us, as we arrived in the middle of thai new year, or songkran, which is heavily celebrated in chiang mai. the whole city comes out for a massive WATER FIGHT, complete with water guns and buckets to soak people. mark and i spent the day getting absolutely drenched (our guest house lent us some guns) - it was so amazing!! thai people are so friendly and happy, and very eager to soak two pale farang (foreigners). we had stupidly brought along our money belts + passports, thinking they'd stay dry ... they didn't. my passport spent several hours drying out, and is now pressed under a heavy book for de-wrinkling. i hope they let me out of the country (eventually, of course) as the date on my "admitted" stamp has now been washed away.

we plan to spend at least 5 days in chiang mai. our guest house is lovely, and we have air conditioning (thank god! it was 35°C when we arrived here, at night. hello heat.), free internet and there's a pool, which we soaked up the sun beside this afternoon. tomorrow we're booked to go for a jungle trek - we will spend the day hiking and visiting a hill tribe, as well as going for an elephant ride! i am super pumped.

we're having a wonderful time. we're off now to find some dinner and explore the night market and hopefully not get soaked.

to those in korea: we miss you! we're sorry you have to work/deal with unusual spring cold weather right now
to those in canada: see you in less than a month!

*not my pic - non-waterproof cameras could not survive such wet carnage. but check out that woman getting pummeled in the face! that was me x493022 today.

Monday, April 12, 2010

goodbye korea T_T

this is likely the last post from our current east asian life. tomorrow is our last day in korea, our last day at work. almost everything in our apartment has been packed up and sent home, or thrown away, or given away. our computers will be sent home tomorrow morning by express mail - our bags are (nearly) packed!

goodbye desk ...

our replacements, emma and patrick from ireland, have arrived, and are well on their way to learning the ropes at school. my final days have been spent having snack parties with each of my classes (a class period of literally eating and playing games, totally productive). my last class with some of my little guys this afternoon was spent with six pairs of curious eyes on me as i choked back tears during attendance. ok, and by "choked back tears" i really mean, splotchy red face and massively watering eyes. and emotionally-garbled "did you do your homework?" inquiries.

goodbye students ...

as organized as we've tried to be, a crisis (or two) came up in our southeast asia travel itinerary. we are scheduled to fly to bangkok on wednesday morning, and the currently political state in thailand's capital is not cooperating in our favour. for those that haven't been keeping up with the sensational news, the red shirt protesters have brought their month-long "peaceful" protest to an end. as in, it's no longer peaceful. the military's been called in, 20 people have been killed, and thailand is currently in a state of emergency. so, needless to say, after some minor freakouts (mostly on my part), we've rearranged our schedule and will be skipping bangkok-as-a-first-stop as originally planned. instead, we will immediately head north to chiang mai, where the anti-government protests aren't cramping our style.

goodbye bangkok ... (for now)

thus, our loose itinerary continues as follows:
  • chiang mai, thailand
  • siem reap, cambodia - angkor wat
  • phnom penh, cambodia
  • phuket, thailand
  • islands: koh phi phi, koh samui, koh pha ngan, koh tao
... and then back to bangkok, where hopefully the violent protests will have subsided by mid-may. wish us luck! i promise to avoid any civil unrest, at all costs. i by no means am looking to get shot with a rubber bullet. or a real one, for that matter.

so while we wrap up our odds and ends in this part of asia, a new chapter is just about to begin.
goodbye korea, it's been a slice.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

cherry blossoms and goodbyes

happy easter!

despite our absence of a 4-day holiday in korea, i've had a jam-packed weekend. on saturday, i went with some friends to the jinhae cherry blossom festival on the southern coast of korea. mark opted out, so i was on my own with the early morning wake-up. my day started super early (think, 3:45am - yikes) and ended very late (walked in the door past 1:00am, totally zonked), but it was nice to take part in the annual spring ritual and spend some time with friends. also, it's always interesting to do a cross-country trip in a DAY. that's something i could never do at home! all in all, it was a fun, albeit tiring, day.

tomorrow starts our final full week of teaching. our replacements also arrive this week, on tuesday, so we'll be spending most of our school-time training the new guys. as excited as i am to be finished and to hand off my classes, i am going to miss so many of my students (please note that i didn't say all, there are definitely some i won't miss!) and probably most importantly, i'll miss my co-teacher jinny. jinny's been my saviour so many times at work when i thought i was going to lose my mind (she has great power and authority over unruly students, which i sometimes significantly lack - bonus that she speaks their language and often wields a threatening stick); she's also been a really great friend! i don't like thinking about having to say goodbye to all these people who've become so important to me over the past year.

i received an early goodbye note last week from one of my grade six students, grace. although she was still a fairly new student, grace left our hagwon for greener pastures and returned after class one day last week, to give me a card and a small gift. how cute! the note inside was awesome (this is verbatim):

dear alex teacher hello! alex teacher. i'll stop to english academy. thank you for among the 2 month. you're very x1000 kind, pretty, and goodness. you're not korean then i can't said "thank you. i can't speak english very well (insert hand-drawn emoticon). we are not conversation very much but i feel your favor and kindness. i remember you! (insert emoticon) i love you bye bye... from grace

what! we are in conversation all the time, grace. if by "conversation" you mean me speaking to you and your peers and you looking back at me uninterested/blankly. regardless, totally adorable and flattering and heart warming. i can't wait to receive 62 more ...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

rabbit, rabbit

goodbye march, and hello april.

we've officially returned to our month of arrival, which means 14 days left in korea. my vocabulary can't get past the holy crap stage. i'm just an irritating broken record about how fast this year has gone and how soon we'll be leaving it all behind.

however, we've got plenty to do in the next coming days. as per usual, my loose ends will be tied in last minute, procrastinating fashion.

no biggie. we've only got to ...
  • get travel insurance
  • book a hostel in bangkok (suggestions, anyone?)
  • send more/all belongings home in boxes for the slow boat
  • pick up our pension reimbursement
  • wire money home
  • pack !
  • get passport-sized photos done for visas
  • rid our apartment of as much furniture as possible
  • throw ourselves an amazing goodbye party
the life 180 is right around the corner (again). wild times!

also, i promise to try to put more effort into future posts and not just vaguely ramble about how blown away i am by the fast-approaching end of our contract. but. still!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

cough cough cough

this is what rolled into town this past weekend.

south korea experienced its worst ever-recorded case of yellow dust on saturday and sunday. and more is expected to come.

this phenomenon is a regular occurrence in eastern asia's springtime months, but it has been increasing in severity over the past ten years due to deforestation and higher pollution levels. the dust is said to originate in mongolia (or, more specifically, the gobi desert), to then blow across china, and turn korean skies an eerie apocalyptic orange.

amongst other things ...

the dust also wreaks havoc on respiratory functioning, what with being full of pollutants and carcinogens, in addition to the long list of contaminants found here. blech. despite closing ourselves in our apartment for the day (what hangover? i was hiding from the dust!), i still have a tickle-y throat + hacking cough days later. we had two co-workers sick with throat problems at work today. time to break out the H1N1 mask.

(photo via flickr korea images)