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!