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)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

the newest and smallest additions to my teaching day

really, there isn't enough content on this blog about my students, considering they take up a massive bulk of my work week/life in general. and while i favour some students over others, the addition of a brand new grade one class in my schedule has definitely won all of my love and attention.

12 new-to-english + new-to-our-academy students arrived wide-eyed and terrified two mondays ago. their backpacks were clean, over-sized, and never used (and they didn't know how to open them ...). they had never had class with a foreign teacher, and i had to assign a dozen english nicknames. it's been an interesting and bumpy start, what with them not knowing any english and me not knowing any korean enough korean to hold a conversation. i've improvised with my extensive charades abilities, and by adding dancing and hand actions to story time - goodbye conventional classroom conduct! they've since been split into two classes of six (one clever class, and one not-so-clever class), so now they keep me busy on both days of my rotating two-day schedule.

i'm totally biased because they get away with so much more bad behaviour as a result of being just so cute! i've had my hair pulled, nosy six-year-old eyes trying to peep down my shirt, and my ear screamed in. oh wait, that was all from little trouble-maker kevin ...

he looks so innocent, no? forgive him his inappropriate behaviour because he's just so small and adorable! i named him after my sister's boyfriend, and big canadian kevin has been inundated with updates about his little korean namesake. and with the pronunciation of "v" being a big challenge for native korean speakers, he can instead be referred to as "kebin."

clockwise from left: ian, blake (and his monkey face), paige, jake's mouth, and alex teacher.

the whole "clever class" crew: dean, ian, blake, paige, jake, and liz. mono-syllable names like woah.

representing half of the not-so-clever class: cindy, travis, and mick.

travis is by far the most polite and well-behaved student. he's super small and had a bit of difficulty with his new name. it took some practice to get away from "cherbis," but he's coming along. definitely one of my faves. every class is ended with his lingering at the door for a second "goodbye alex teacher!" and a big grin. insert heart swelling here.

me and my little group: (L to R) cindy, blake, liz, paige, ian, mick (with an awesome boy band pensive chin holding pose), travis, jake, kevin, dean, simon, and joey.

i'll be really sad when my time with these little guys ends. but i suppose there's only so much hair-pulling i can take ...

Monday, March 15, 2010


this past sunday, march 14th, was "white day" in korea. and while the name of this day could initially be regarded as something potentially racist (woo! caucasian day!), rest assured, it's not.

white day (or, 화이트데이) lands exactly one month post valentine's day, and is sort of like v-day part two. except this time, it's specifically for women to accept chocolates and/or candies from their loved ones. yes! i like. mark gave me a box of chocolates, and even some of my students were on their game, passing me little chocolates and individually-wrapped bags of candies in class on friday afternoon. this must mean they actually love me!

apparently, white day's dark sister black day is also observed in south korea. one month from today, while mark and i board a plane bound for thailand and end our hagwon days forever*, singles in korea will be celebrating their sans relationship freedom by getting together eating jajangmyeon.


(picture via okkorea)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

cats: the animal, not the musical

what better way to fill the void of wanting-but-not-having a pet than by visiting one of seoul's animal cafés?

originating in taiwan, and growing increasingly popular in japan, there are now a number of pet coffee shops popping up around seoul. cat or dog cafés are literally facilities that serve hot and cold beverages, and allow patrons to enjoy their brew while potentially being swarmed by felines or canines. this set up caters to those who are unable to have pets due to limited space at home. or, in my case, ex-pat who had to leave an indulged extremely loved house cat behind.

so, on saturday, maddie and i (shameless cat-lovers) decided to check out hongdae's gio cat. for an "admission fee" of ₩8,000 (which also includes a beverage) you are free to hang out at the café for over two hours. and while it's against the rules to pick up or disturb any sleeping animals, you can enjoy your coffee while they crawl into your lap. or in my case, sleep on a nearby chair. ... nearly as good.

cats, cats everywhere.

the cat "menu" was a sort of yearbook letting us know their names, breeds, and temperament. i liked that mong-sil the himalayan was known for "always closing eyes". uhh ... or, sleeping?

there was a small rumble on maddie's lap.

cat microwave!

best hair cut EVER. seriously.

ok, my stint as a blogging cat-lady has now ended. maddie's feline loving review (and pics) are found here.

Monday, March 1, 2010


congratulations, canada! thanks to the men's hockey team and a nail-biting-edge-of-your-seat game, we defeated USA and proved whose sport hockey is. what an awesome ending to the olympics. feeling so proud to be canadian, and so grateful that mark forced encouraged me to get up at 4:30am and host a small gathering of friends for wee-hours-of-the-morning game-watching.

now, if only we could've joined in the post-game revelry in the middle of yonge street.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

김연아 fever

while the olympics are coming to a close (ahh! what are we going to do with all of our free time now??), amidst the excitement of canada's gold medal glory, is the contagious pride for korea's shining star: figure skater kim yu-na.

her publicity is inescapable around here. she's promoting every product on TV and my students have turned her name into a sentence/question/exclamation in itself - "teacher! kim yu-na!?" the hype about her gold medal win even seeped into our teacher's meetings' news twice (both times being presumptive announcements, as she hadn't yet won ... but, whatever. might as well assume. and pre-celebrate). the time difference required us to be at work during her skating times, so the korean teachers could be found huddled around a cell phone, watching her performance on DMB (digital media broadcasting, or TV on your hand phone for those only familiar with conventional media formats).

i've given in to the queen yu-na love, and was thrilled to see her olympic record performance earn her a gold. i never hesitate to inform all my students that she lives and trains in toronto. thus, she's korean-canadian, just like me! ha.

all athlete/prodigy/gold-medal-olympian gushing aside, i do enjoy that her coach, brian orser, got to make an appearance in one of her many korean celebrity endorsements. this commercial for samsung hauzen zero air conditioner sort of makes him look simultaneously british and overweight, but one of my korean co-workers still raved about how "handsome!" he is. hmm.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a day at the spa

this saturday, i had my first experience at a korean jjimjilbang.

a jjimjilbang (or 찜질방) is more or less a public bathhouse, and they are extremely popular among koreans. this is the place to relax and unwind, and most are open 24 hours and thus also provide a place to sleep on the cheap (usually ₩6,000-₩10,000; roughly $5-$9CDN). housed inside are not only jacuzzis and showers and saunas and steam rooms of varying size and specifications, but often also a gym, cafes, TVs, restaurants, arcades and more.

there are several moderately-sized jjimjilbangs in our neighbourhood that my foreign friends and co-workers have frequented several times, but i had yet to indulge. i have to admit, while curious about the whole experience, i was feeling nervous and modest about the nudity bit of it. you see, there's no such thing as swimsuit-wearing going on at the jjimjilbang. the spa areas are gender segregated and clothes-free. meaning, i quickly had to get over any intimidation about lounging around in the buff if i was going to partake.

so, i decided to get over it! on saturday, breda, maddie and i headed into seoul to check out yongsan dragon hill spa, one of the largest jjimjilbangs in south korea. although a bit pricier than others, with a
₩12,000 entrance fee on weekends, it houses 6 floors of upscale pampering.

and it ended up being a very interesting and relaxing experience. we showered and sampled several hot tubs of varying temperatures.
my favourite tub was probably the outdoor (yes, outdoor!) jacuzzi. the indoor showers and saunas share space with short individual sinks with stools for shampooing and personal scrubbing. the bulk of the patrons occupied these sinks, and were busy soaping and hosing themselves down. after having enough of the hot baths, we changed into our pajamas - provided shorts + tshirt uniform - and enjoyed some massaging chairs (significantly more budget friendly than the rubs and scrubs provided by nearly-nude spa employees). among the many saunas and sweating rooms we sampled, one was literally called a "kiln" which is quite fitting considering it had a waist-high entrance and a sloped roof highly resembling an over-sized oven.

in the co-ed section of the jjimjilbang, there are cafes and snack bars to satisfy your appetite (where hard boiled eggs seem to be the food of choice). there is also a large common room for floor sprawling, where we caught part of a live magic show. the place was packed, and i'd estimate there was an audience of at least 200 pajama-lounging koreans for the somewhat unexpected but enjoyable performance.

after almost 3 hours of relaxation, we felt we'd gotten the most out of our experience. and while the admission fee lets you rest and recharge for up to 12 hours, i'm pretty sure i would have shriveled into a prune after that long.

the jjimjilbang was an interesting and relaxing cultural experience. it was worth the money, and definitely worth the nudity!

Monday, February 15, 2010

olympics and tigers and meeko ... oh my.

happy seollal (설날), or lunar new year + valentine's day + gold medal win for canada.

whew, so many things to celebrate on this glorious february long weekend. most importantly, at least in these parts, was the beginning of the korean calendar. goodbye year of the ox, hello year of the tiger. schools and businesses were closed for the better part of the weekend, as many koreans head out of town to visit family over the holiday. the new year coincided with valentine's on february 14th, and accordingly the day before and after a holiday are usually designated as days off as well, so a 3-day weekend it was. even the bank was closed this weekend, to the extent that my ATM card wouldn't function and i ended up being cash-less. yikes.

while ma
rk and i didn't dress up in hanbok and/or pay respects to family shrines like the better part of the country, we were cat-sitting for our friend sarah for three days. 6-month-old meeko was our houseguest, and all of our plants ended up having to be locked in the spare room. still a kitten, we quickly realized that meeko thoroughly enjoys eating and biting things, like houseplants and arms and hands and elbows. he also likes tearing maniacally through the apartment and launching himself into small and/or high spaces. i accidentally closed him in the refrigerator without noticing, but it was only for 30 seconds, max. sorry sarah. his bursts of energy were evenly weighed with sleeping and cuddling-time. cute overload.

in between cat-sitting, we had a mini-party for the olympic opening ceremonies, which aired saturday morning at 11am here. i'm fully in the midst of total olympic fever and even made sure to rock my canada mittens and wave to the athletes on tv. GO CANADA! also, on the subject of patriotism and vancouver 2010 spirit, make sure to check out these olympic designs, courtesy of mark's good friend james tuer.

now, don't get me wrong, while i wear my canadian pride on my sleeve, i must admit: the opening ceremonies were a bit of a bore. i keep flip-flopping in labeling it a "snooze-fest" because i feel like a little bit of my nationalism dies with that tagging ... but. too long. too boring. mechanical defect on fourth arm in torch lighting (which meant catriona le may doan just had to stand there awkwardly instead of participating in such a momentous occasion). also, way to make it look like all canadians are either fiddle-playing ashley macisaacs or first nations members. and bryan adams? really? k.d. lang ... oh man. needless to say, i was really not as impressed as i could have been.

regardless, olympic fever prevails. and while our temporary tiger, meeko, has since returned to his own home (ooh, perfect cheesy segue-conclusion!), i wish a happy year of the tiger to everyone.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

what with it being superbowl sunday ...

why not combine a little k-pop with football fandom? here i present girls' generation's (or, 소녀시대) latest catchy pop hit, oh!:

this is likely the closest i will get to celebrating the superbowl (ie, not very close at all). it doesn't help that being 14 hours ahead of hometime makes for a monday-morning-8am-broadcast. and while there was an invite to go into seoul during rush hour tomorrow for bloody marys, american breakfast, and football watching, i'll have to decline. who's playing, anyway?

on the other hand, this sports fan passivity should take a different turn when it comes to the winter olympics next week, just so you know. i can't say i'll be joining mark in his 5am viewing plans for the gold cup game, but i will do my best to be a proud canadian in another time zone.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

생일 축하합니다 madeline teacher!

january 30th marked the day of birth of our good friend and co-worker maddie. we celebrated on friday evening with a large galbi dinner party and many shots of soju, followed by some 맥주 at our favourite local hangout, beer ocean. if you'll recall, we spent another birthday here back in may. thankfully, we didn't have any vomit do-overs this time around. (at least not by me, madeline will have to speak for herself ...)

all in all, a great time was had, and we capped the night off with several late night hours in the noraebang (노래방, or singing room). nothing like belting a few tunes to commemorate the birthday girl. while the noraebang usually has a wide variety of english/western songs to choose from, we foreigners can sometimes be limited in viable selections - the specific song you're looking for never seems to be available, and there are often a ton of really hit-or-miss options. on top of that, anything too slow is boring (and risks being "next"-ed by your drunk friends) and anything too fast proves impossible to keep up (think, outkast's bombs over baghdad - hello, challenge!). while weezer's say it ain't so, the cranberries' zombie, and oasis's don't look back in anger have become our group's go-tos, it's always awesome to find a diamond in the rough. or rather, a goodie amongst the many unknown and/or random tracks (it also doesn't help that songs are listed by title, and not by artist). friday's gems included blondie's heart of glass, no doubt's cover of talk talk's it's my life, and kelly clarkson's since u been gone. eugh, i also vaguely recall doing a solo performance of britney's overprotected ... yikes.

regardless, it was a successful birthday spent, dangler-touching* and all. happy birthday!

* a method of reducing nausea, as passed down to young grasshopper madeline from wise (and much experienced) alex teacher

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the "what's happening" for january

is a whole lot of working, relaxing, and going to the gym. gym, tan, laundry. (GTL). lather, rinse, repeat.

in other, more interesting news, we picked up a copy of lonely's planet's southeast asia on a shoestring in itaewon last weekend, and the countdown can now officially begin.

so here you go:

this means we're in the home stretch of our contract and time here in korea, and less than three months away from backpacking and beach lounging in thailand, cambodia, vietnam and hopefully, laos. our next big adventure begins as soon our employment obligations are fulfilled mid-april. and while this anticipation will likely make the next 2.5 months crawl by, i know i should (and will!) appreciate the rest of our time in korea.

regardless of how exciting/surreal/anticipatory south east asia travels feel, the return to canada in less than four short months will be reverse culture shock to the extreme. i know both mark and i are bursting with excitement to see friends and family (and other miscellaneous objects, vehicles, materials, and animals), but it will definitely be a bizarre transition.

we're in the last quarter of our year here dear readers, and with that we'll be spending the next 2+ months relishing all the things we've grown to love about korea. time to make the most of the next 76 days ...

* note: in hindsight, this post could be misread to think that mark and i are in a jaded, we're-over-korea annoying mindset, what with an ELECTRONIC COUNTDOWN and what not. i just want to clarify that while we are very excited for our upcoming travels and eventually returning to the great white north, we love korea and by no means want to undermine or hasten our experience here. xo

Sunday, January 10, 2010

big in japan: christmas in tokyo

it's HERE. sorry for the delay. here's an abbreviated synopsis/review of our holidays in tokyo, conveniently laid out in categorized bullets.

the good:
  • the hotel: we originally thought we'd been bunking with the son of a friend of klara's (which had the potential to be very small and imposing) and when that fell through we were upgraded to two rooms at the shinagawa prince hotel, in which we had our own room and access to 8 in-house restaurants.
  • being within walking distance to tokyo tower; being able to see it lit up at night from our hotel room window.
  • our day tours: we signed up to do a city tour of tokyo on boxing day + a tour of mt fuji the day following and both were really informative, well-organized, and highly recommended. if you're heading to tokyo on a time limit, let me suggest checking out viator's sightseeing options
  • seeing the top of mt fuji from breakfast at our hotel on the 38th floor - the sky was clear enough to see it, more than 95kms away.
  • to go from seeing mt fuji from breakfast in downtown tokyo, to visiting the fourth station in the trek up its slope - 2020m high.
  • exploring meiji shinto shrine, asakusa kannon temple, and the imperial palace's east garden.
  • visiting nakamise shopping street, a colourful shopping arcade crammed with tiny food vendors and souvenir shops: perfect for purchasing kimonos and t-shirts and phone charms and fans
  • a cruise of tokyo bay: awesome for photo ops of the tokyo skyline and the iconic rainbow bridge
  • later taking the rainbow bridge to man-made island, odaiba.
  • vending machines. everywhere. literally, at least one on every block. selling only beverages, of course. snacks aren't necessary to maintain svelte-ness.
  • driving on the other side of the road. yes, that's right. the japanese join the ranks of the british and kiwis with left-lane right-of-ways.
  • the weather! we escaped the cold and snow of winter in korea and embraced the mid-fall temperatures of japan. i even got away without a coat one day, it was wonderful.
  • free admission to the aquarium housed within our hotel.
  • high speed bullet train! we took the shinkansen back to tokyo from mt fuji, and it turns an 1.5 hour bus ride into 30 minutes, at 300km/hour. futuristic-ly fast.

the bad:
  • the traffic, both vehicular and human. people, people everywhere. (that being said, this is highly similar to seoul ...)
  • we never got to take the subway! i really wanted to see if those "pusher" people are for real.
  • the prices. tokyo lives up to its reputation in the expensive department. our christmas day dinner was a delicious though minimal spread of nine sushi and sashimi rolls, an order of tempura, mysterious meat skewers, and two asahi draft beers and equaled almost $100 CDN. outlandish.
  • a minor food poisoning experience. i blame the raw tuna, but i was a tad unwell our last day in tokyo.
  • time constraints. as with any vacation, you can't see it all. and while we did well for our 72 hours in japan, i wish we had had more time to explore. driving through harajuku and ginza shopping district just didn't cut it!

the weird/unique/wish-i-lived-in-japan stuff:
  • the overall aesthetic of the city. organized urban planning, numerous tall and extremely slim buildings, structures built into unique situations (ie, coffee shops built into underpasses), creative ways to fit a massive population into a minimal space.
  • cleanliness. i saw barely any litter and every bathroom i visited was spotless. and had soap and jet-powered hand dryers.
  • architecture. (slim buildings included.) the fuji television headquarters for instance.
  • everyone in tokyo runs. maybe it's a maintaining-thinness-in-the-city thing. we saw a lot of runners.
  • the christmas decorations. gorgeous trees and tinsel the day we arrived, all quickly vanished come december 26th. xmas isn't a big deal for the japanese, and with oshogatsu (or new year's) ranking significantly more important, they ditch the trees ASAP and begin decorating the town with kadomatsu, or bamboo wreath displays, that are supposed to bring good luck for the new year.
all in all, a christmas/holiday success. a massive thank you to klara for her generosity, curiosity and enthusiasm for asian culture, for being a mom (and a surrogate mom to me) during the i-miss-my-family festive season, and of course, for putting up with mark and me for 10 days.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

winter woahs.

we thought we'd escaped canadian winter by, oh, you know, living outside of canada for a year. unfortunately, due to either global warming or poor luck (or a terrible combination of the two), we're in the midst of winter climate like south korea's never experienced.

or, at least not since they started recording data. in 1937.

on monday, we got the heaviest snowfall that the country has had in over 70 years: 26 centimetres+. and while this is nothing out of the ordinary for us canadians, most koreans aren't even used to a little snow, let alone a lot. and with not being used to such accumulation, they had to call in the military to help clean up. though, i'm not sure what is meant by "clean up" as nothing has been plowed or cleared in our neighbourhood and the only snow-removal tools i've seen have been a couple of shovels and some brooms (really).

so, classes were canceled on monday and we got a snow day, which was a nice work-mandated hibernation day. the snow has since stopped falling, but the temperature has now dropped to a sub-arctic level, one that makes leaving the apartment extremely unbearable. tomorrow's high is -10°C ... time to bundle up!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

hello twenty ten.

i've got an upcoming post about our amazing christmas vacation in tokyo with mark's mom, klara (and it includes balmy snow-free weather, sushi, mt fuji, shrines, kimonos, tokyo tower, and much much more), but by "upcoming" i mean: still in my brain needing to be formulated and my laziness is getting the better of me. the new year didn't bring me a glorious, non-procrastinate-y work ethic, unfortunately!

because, YES! it's 2010 ... in case you didn't know. twenty ten ("two thousand and ten" is too long and tongue garble-y, let's simplify) seems far too futuristic to be present day. it also briefly worried me that i could clearly recall what i did to celebrate NYE a decade ago, when i was sixteen and foolish. this is the third decade-change new years eve i've been alive for, which also reminds me that i'll turn 30 this decade. dear god. i then reconfirmed my youth by reminding myself that this was the fourth decade-change new years for both of my sisters, and then i felt better. wink!

this year, instead of party-going and boozing we shared a quiet night inside our apartment and spared ourselves the -22° C temperatures outside. in lieu of a ball dropping in times square, seoul offered a bell being gonged at city hall at midnight. there was minimal countdown hype, which was kind of nice. we watched the live broadcast (which mostly involved lip-synching k-pop performances), played yahtzee, blew noisemakers, and called family members post-midnight for "happy new year from the future!" phone calls. all in all, it was a simple but sufficient celebration.

our holiday excitement came to an end this morning, with klara leaving on a flight home. it's always nice having visitors, and a mom over the holidays was particularly wonderful! we were sad to see her go, but her departure also indicates the last and final stretch of our contract. we've only got 100 days left - so, happy new year! and see you soon!