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Visiting Jeju Island Day 3 – Escape from Jeju

Yesterday, our tour guide had informed us that there was a typhoon coming and that our lunchtime ferry was cancelled. Instead, we would be taking the last ferry out of Jeju early Sunday morning. So we all woke early, packed our things, and like the Jews leaving Egypt, boarded a tour bus for the ferry terminal. By the time we all boarded the bus, we were running pretty far behind schedule. We all knew it was going to be a close call getting to the ferry in time. If we missed this ferry, we would be stuck on Jeju until Monday, and 70ish English teachers would be late for their classes. Fortunately we made it to the ferry terminal with 30 minutes to spare.

Ferry from Jeju

Ferry from Jeju

The ferry terminal was a mad house. There were people all over the place, packed in like sardines. Our tour guide got our tickets and got us to the foreigner-only line. Passport and ticket in hand, we showed our documents and boarded the ferry. This ferry was much larger and because of that, our tour group was given its own private room. It was awesome. We didn’t have to fight other passengers tooth and nail for a spot of carpet. We had our own carpeted room all to ourselves. The doors were closed and neither one of the doors looked particularly inviting. I would have assumed the door to our room led to a janitors closet, but that didn’t stop Koreans from trying to come into the room every few minutes for the first half our of our voyage. They would poke their heads in, look around curiously at all the foreigners then close the door behind themselves.

Despite these adorable interuptions, everyone fell asleep and I watched some Brooklyn Nine Nine. Three hours later we reached port and everyone woke up. Our tour guide led us back to the tour bus and we headed back to Gwangju. On the way we stopped at a rest stop on the side of the road for lunch. I had pork cutlet and Nicole had ramen. Out front of the rest stop was a small ride for only a dime. I had exactly a dime leftover so Nicole hopped onto the kids airplane ride and away she went. Video below.

When we finally reached Gwangju, Nicole and I bid farewell to the rest of our travel companions and took a bus back to Gwangyang while the rest of our travel mates returned to Seoul 4 hours to the north.

 

Returning to Korea and Orientation

Nicole and I returned to Korea after a day later than we’d originally intended thanks in part to some last minute snafus with our visas. We ended up getting them the day before we flew to Korea and hurriedly packing before flying out.

Orientation

We had a week long orientation when we arrived. The orientation was held at a hotel just outside of Gwangju. The hotel was really nice, although not as nice as our private pool hotel room in Seoul. We spent our days in the hotel’s banquet hall learning about Korean culture and how to teach in Korea. A lot of the information was familiar to us already, but some of it was new and its not bad to have an occasional review.

Damyang Bamboo Forest

On one of the orientation days we went on a field trip to Damyang Bamboo forest. I went there last year so it was old news for me, but Nicole had never been and she fell in love with the panda statues everywhere.

The forest was a bit more lively this time around. There were re-enactors making paper fans and preparing tea. Traditional games were also set up. One such game involved throwing a stick into a bamboo shoot. No one was good at that game. I concluded that it was impossible.

Dance Dance Korea

After our traditional Korea bamboo forest visit we had a fantastic lunch in the middle of nowhere. At the end of our meal we got sweet rice in little bamboo shoot cups. Nicole and I kept our cups as souvenirs, and because who can say no to free cups?

Bamboo Cup

Bamboo Cup

But why is this section called Dance Dance Korea if all I’m doing is talking about cups? Well wonder no longer, for I am about to tell you…after the end of this sentence.

The next stop on our field trip took us to a modern dance performance in a temple near Mudang Mountain. Nicole will tell you (if you ask) that the performance was not modern, and possibly not even dance. I don’t claim to understand the complex world of dance and theater so for me it was just a way to pass the afternoon sitting on a hard wooden floor. My take away from the dance was it was a story of a blind man who regained his sight when he met his estranged daughter. I might be way off on that though.

The Rest of Orientation

Potpouri

Potpourri

The rest of Orientation was less eventful. We visited the hospital and got our medical checks done. We made some traditional Korean crafts, including a small bag of potpourri in a traditional Korean Hambok. We also learned a traditional Korean song which I have since forgotten.

Award Winning Couple

On our second to last day of our orientation week, all the teachers had to perform a short model lesson. The lesson was only 5-10 minutes and meant to showcase your talents as a teacher. Nicole and I both won awards for being amazing teachers and teaching great lessons. Our  Korean co-teachers were thrilled when they picked us up that afternoon. They even brought us to the office of education when we arrived in Gwangyang to show off our new awards. Only a week in Korea and we were already off to a great start!

Bus to Incheon

Last Day in Korea and our visit to Unseo Airport Town

First, its been nearly a month since I last posted on my blog. Sorry everyone. I’ll be posting frequently from here on out as I have oodles to do over the next few weeks. However, before I launch into that, I figured I’d write a short writeup on my last day in Korea.

No Wifi leads to more errands

Nicole and I completely packed our apartments up, sold off the last of our things and ran a few last minute errands around town. We had loads of time since our last days were on Friday and we didn’t need to leave our apartments until Monday and my internet was turned off. It’s amazing how much free time I have when there’s no internet.

Nicole wanted to sell her broken laptop for parts to the Gwangju Mac PC guys downtown, unfortunately, we couldn’t get in touch with them. We ended up getting some coffee and kimbap, at two seperate restaurants. Nicole and I have yet to find a Korean establishment that offers both of these amenities.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 1

After coffee and, more importantly, free wifi, Nicole and I grabbed our bags and headed to the  Usquare bus terminal. Our flight wasn’t until Tuesday morning but it was an 11am flight and the thought of waking up at 4am for a 4 hour bus followed by a day of flying sounded miserable.

We tried to buy our tickets for Incheon airport. However, the last bus to Incheon airport, from Gwangju, leaves at 2pm and it was about 3:30 at this point. We took the second best option and booked our tickets for Incheon with the intention of transferring buses to Incheon airport when we arrived.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 2

Bus to Incheon

Bus to Incheon…look at that smoulder

The bus ride was typical and uneventful. Nicole and I listened to This American Life podcasts and fell asleep intermittently. We arrived at the Incheon bus terminal about 4 hours later and quickly visited the ticket booth to try and book a bus from Incheon to Incheon Airport. The lady behind the counter told us that would be impossible and we should just take the subway.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 3

I left Nicole with our luggage and went in search of the subway. There’s a set of stairs that lead below the Incheon bus terminal and into a giant food court with a Johnny Rockets, a Starbucks, Lotteria, and loads of other restaurants and shops. I traveled through the vast expanse of shops and came to the subway station. After snapping a quick picture, I ascended from the subterranean labyrinth into the glowing light of Mother Gaia. There was a small Korean taxi driver waiting at the top of the stairs, contemplating life, or more likely waiting for passengers. I asked him about the cost of traveling to Incheon airport from the bus terminal and he said $40 which seemed a bit steep. I thanked him for his honest advice and returned to Nicole through a small garden beside the bus terminal.

We convened on the matter of transportation and decided the subway was the best, cheapest, course of action. The two of us loaded up our bags and hopped on the subway. 16 stops later and one transfer, we found ourselves on the train to Incheon Airport.

The Jingabong in the Airport Basement

Nicole and I had planned to stay in a Jingabong, or bathhouse, rumored to be in the basement of the Incheon Airport. Neither of us could confirm that said bathhouse existed or that it had any vacancies.

At the second to last stop, Unseo, we threw away any previous and somewhat vague plan, deciding to get off the train and pass the night. From the train window we could see neon motel signs, noribangs, and Samgyeopsal places. It looked like Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, most likely filled with bad Korean boys who would soon turn into donkeys if they ate enough samgyeopsal.

Pleasure Island

Samgyeopsal restaurant in Unseo

Samgyeopsal restaurant in Unseo

Unseo is a relatively new city, designed and built for travelers to Incheon Airport. Its filled with cheap Korean motels, western-style hotels, noribangs, and samgyeopsal places. Nicole and I booked a cheap Korean motel with a quiet TV and an uncomfortable bed for $50. We dropped our bags and grabbed some samgyeopsal, our favorite Korean meal. Basically, you gather around a small grill of questionable cleanliness to cook selected meats and veggies. It should be noted that until two months ago Nicole was a vegetarian who insisted upon only eating the scrap lettuce and garlic sides.

New Years in Gwangju, South Korea

I feel like every year I skid over the finish line of the last year battered and bruised but eager for more. That statement was never more true than this year. Nicole and I found ourselves at First Alleyway, a foreigner bar downtown exhausted and worn out. Nicole couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, but how did this happen? Let’s Tarantino it…

It all began one week before…

I had a mandatory New Years party on Saturday for my work. I love New Years parties, but I like them because they’re fun and low stress. This New Years party was a bit different. No guests allowed, attendance is mandatory for the entire party (approx. 4 hours), we had to perform a skit, and assigned seating.

The party was at a local hotel ballroom and it was held by the owner of our school and several other schools. Each of the different schools put on a skit that we practiced for several weeks leading up to the party. My school did a parody of Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen about getting detention. It was pretty funny, although I must admit our dancing was terrible, mine especially.

Highlights from the party

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  • Choi made a Christmas card advertising himself and looking for a girlfriend, awesome if you ask me
  • There was lots of seafood and delicious Korean food, it was some of the best food I’ve had here so far
  • The skits were hilarious, my school was horribly out of sync, but we’re teachers not performers so I’m not too beat up over it
  • All of the Koreans went all out with their outfits and many of them got fancy haircuts or extensions for the occasion

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The After Party

After the New Years party, my coworkers and I met up with Nicole and her coworker, Will, at a foreigner bar downtown for drinks and dancing. Nicole and her friend Audrey were dancing on a little stage at the front having a good time, celebrating, and doing the running man.

[box type=”alert”]This is foreshadowing, remember these details.[/box]

The After After Party

Just kidding, Nicole and I aren’t that crazy. We came back home to the apartment and went to bed…when suddenly tragedy struck, or rather very gradually tragedy struck. Around 4am Nicole wakes up crying and in intense pain. I have no idea what’s happening and it takes me a second to figure out what’s happening, but Nicole suspects that she hurt her leg somehow doing the running man (remember that foreshadowing? I told you I would Tarantino it).

xray hospital gwangju snow

The cold weather and the snow must have numbed her leg long enough for us to get home and fall asleep, but after being asleep for a while her leg started to hurt. So here we are Saturday night, Nicole in pain and its well before dawn. Nicole and I get bundled up because its snowing outside. I carry Nicole down the 4 flights of stairs and help her limp around the corner to the main road to catch a cab. [divider_flat]

xray hospital leg midnight gwangju sprain

We take a cab to the hospital and bring Nicole inside. We have no idea where we’re going but a nice old lady who knows no English helps Nicole find a wheelchair and we navigate through the labyrinth of hallways and elevators until we get to the emergency room. In the ER we get a leg x-ray, see a doctor, get her a splint (her leg was sprained, but not broken), and several antibiotics, all without insurance mind you, for $170.

Say what you will about Korea’s often bizarre day-to-day happenings, but they sure know how to manage healthcare costs. Nicole, being the accident-prone lady that she is, has had several run-ins with Korean healthcare and it’s always been incredibly affordable and efficient. [divider_flat]

How did I lose my voice

So how did I end up losing my voice? I’ve only lost my voice a handful of times in my life, probably fewer than three times, but something about the dry winter air and having to teach for hours on end really takes it out of you. The day of New Years Eve, I lost my voice at the end of the day and could not talk at all. Even without my voice though New Years was fun. I got really good at miming and spent the evening basically playing one-man charades or typing things into my phone and Nicole explaining what I typed.

My first 6 months

My first 6 months in Korea have flown by. I moved here at the end of June and started my first week of school in July. I’ve been to baseball games, sunflower festivals, camped on the beach, and visited Japan. I’m looking forward to another exciting 6 months here and I can’t wait to see what the rest of Winter and Spring hold in store for me.

 

 

 

Christmas in Gwangju, South Korea

I expected when I first came to Korea that Christmas would be nonexistent here, or at the very least, a much smaller affair. However, Korea embraces Christmas wholeheartedly, see Korean Santa. There are a few twists on the classic Western Christmas though. In Korea, Christmas is more of a couple’s holiday, like Pepero Day, only bigger. People who are single celebrate Solomas, that is “solo” + “Christmas”. My students laughed at the idea of spending Christmas Eve with their parents. Apparently parents go out and kids stay home and do their own thing.

Their Own Thing

home alone in koreaKids stay home alone during Christmas and watch Home Alone. That’s right, the 1990 Macaulay Culkin masterpiece about home invasion, is Korea’s Christmas Story. It even plays around the clock on Korean TV. However, Koreans don’t call it Home Alone. Here it’s called “Kevin”, after the protagonists first name. There’s a joke in Korea that if you are single during Christmas, you’re going “on a date with Kevin”. I don’t know what would be worse, going on a date with Culkin on Christmas or staying home and watching him as a child star.

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Christmas in Korea

merry christmas in korea from halloween

Many of the great Western Korean traditions survived the voyage over the Korea, but a few were lost to the sea. For example, there are no candy canes in Korea, that I’ve found. I’m sure they’re available at Costco somewhere.

 

Many places in Korea decorate with lights, wreaths, and Christmas trees. They’re mostly coffee shops, but in my opinion they still count. [divider_flat]

Nicole and I held a holiday party of our own for a few of Nicole’s close friends. It was a cookie potluck, the best kind of potluck in my opinion. We held a Secret Santa as well. I “won” a Wack-A-Mole key chain that’s both as awesome and as annoying as it sounds.

We also celebrated with my friends and coworkers on Christmas day with delicious Turkey stew and another secret santa and a Christmas Story.

Matching Pajamas

matching christmas pajamas in koreaNicole and I couldn’t just celebrate Christmas the way the West does, that would be culturally ignorant of us, and I already feel guilty occasionally eating Taco Bell in Itaewon. We decided to celebrate Couple’s Christmas, the Korean way, with same-same pajamas. I picked out the most Italian tablecloth-like pajamas I could find, which were surprisingly easy to find in downtown Gwangju.

Nicole and I also exchanged presents of our own, aside from the adorable pajamas. I got her some awesome sparkly gold Vans and some really cool bearmuffs as well as several delicious stocking stuffers. Nicole got me some delicious Rogue beers like we had in Seoul, a sweet grey cap, and Flax Snax from iHerb.

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While Christmas is different here in Korea, it was an incredibly fun experience. I’m really enjoying my time here and all of the new, often bizarre, experiences I get to have each day.