Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Blogs!

I thought it was about time to update my blog list because some people have stopped posting, and I have discovered some new amazingly awesome blogs.

My friend Fallon, who I met in South Korea but went to the same university as me writes a blog called Fallon's Healthy Life. It is about trying to lose weight and stay fit while working, traveling and having fun. She is currently living in Australia with her boyfriend.

Bitch Cakes is a blog I really enjoy. It is written by a woman who has lost almost 60 pounds using weight watchers and she is FABULOUS. Totally glamorous and fun, she is a real inspiration for anyone who has any kind goal, its all about taking it one day at a time. She lives in New York city and rides her bike everywhere so she includes some awesome photos as well.

My favorite blog EVER is Hyperbole and a Half. I laugh out loud nearly every time I read it. I can't even open it at work, it is THAT FUNNY. Written by a twenty-something woman, it is a mix of poorly drawn cartoons and commentary on daily life. You have to read the post about how her dog may or may not be retarded. Even if you never read any other blogs (besides mine of course) you have to check this one out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I’m getting ready to leave Korea so I’ve been thinking a little bit about my time here, how it has changed me and what my goals are for the next part of my life. Before I came here I had three goals for myself:

1.) Pay off some debt. I don’t feel that I have done that well in this area. I’ve paid off about $7,000 in credit card debt, while making my regular payments on my student loans and storage unit. I also paid off a small medical bill that was in collections from when I was 18. I didn’t realize how much I would want to travel and that my actual income would be worth so little in dollars. I know if I just spent one more year here I could make a big dent in my student loans, but I don’t think it would be worth it.

I’m glad to be out from under the credit card debt and I can always get a forbearance on my student loans if I need to.

2.) Teach! My goal was to simply see if I would enjoy teaching, and I do! Now I know I can go back to school to get a Master’s in Education without feeling unsure about spending the money.

3.) Be more creative. I’m not sure if I’ve really accomplished this goal. I guess writing could be considered creative… I don’t know if dancing in the club to bad Korean pop music counts but I’ve done a lot of that. I still want to continue working on this!

Living and working in Korea has taught me so much about myself and, as cliché as it sounds, life really. I’m now so far away from my childhood and adolescent situation, I am really a completely different person. Inside I will always have those memories, but now I know I can change and be different and become whoever I want to be. I’ve achieved so many goals, it seems like yesterday I was making the goal to attended high school at least 70% of the time (I skipped A LOT). Living here was so frustrating at times that it really brought out the silly side of me. In some situations I could scream, cry or laugh and I discovered laughing is by far the best choice!

The friends I’ve made here have had a big impact on me. I’ve never really had friends that were so adventurous, fun and smart before. We all did some stupid things, had embarrassing moments and because we’re all in the same boat we helped each other through it, or just laughed about it. I think I take life a little less seriously now because of them and it feels great. I love them and I will miss them!!

My goals for the future:

1.) Find my passion. I really want to find some way of helping to change the world for the better. There are so many things I care about, but I’ve just never found that one issue that was my cause. I want to find it!

2.) Further my education. Working sucks, I want to stay in school forever.

3.) See more of the world. South America, here I come!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Quit!

So I’ve had a problem with the supervisor in my area (Damyang) since she arrived about a year ago. She really dislikes foreigners and makes it her personal goal to make our lives as difficult as possible. I’ve always done whatever she asked, I even went to an elementary school in the middle of nowhere for half a day, and basically just sat there because they had no clue why I was there.

Anyway, I worked this camp for her last winter and she promised us 650,000won. Then it went down to 30,000 overtime only (about 240,000) then the day before it was over she said it was 20,000 over time. I was like FFFFFUUUUUUU. She got away with it and I didn’t even say anything. None of the foreigners said anything.

So this summer, another camp is planned of course. This one is located in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. We’re talking like rice paddies to the base of a mountain, then a 2km hike straight uphill to the site. I’ve never been there before, so last week I e-mailed my fellow English teachers and asked about their plans for getting there. No response. So I asked my co-teacher. She said she had no idea how to get there on the bus, but I could ride out to Damyang and then go there with my students if I wanted. This was really my only option, so I took it. I arrived at my school at 7:45am (where and when she told me to be) to see no one. Not a soul. I’m like WTF. I call my coteacher. Nothing. Finally she calls me and tells me they are in a random parking lot across town. Of course. My students come find me. We load up the busses and we are on our way.

Upon arrival I was busy looking at the schedule (that had completely changed since I saw it last) and getting situated so I didn’t have a chance to say something to the other native speakers, like “hey, how did you get here?” I diligently taught my 5 classes to an unenthusiastic audience of first grade middle schoolers. At the end of the day I asked my co-teacher (who I don’t know at all, she works at a different middle school), “How do I get to the bus home? What time does it come?” She said she didn’t know. I looked around for the other native speakers. They had already left according to the supervisor. Now, I don’t dillydally around after school. I end my classes right on time and I GTF out of there. Apparently they knew something I didn’t. Like what time the bus comes (it runs every 50 minutes), where it comes, and how long it takes to get to the bus stop. The Koreans all stood around looking confused, the supervisor said it wasn’t her job to figure it out and I literally started crying.

Sidenote: On my way to school to meet my students and go to this camp, I saw a high schooler get hit by an SUV. He directly ran into traffic and it was his fault, but he had a head wound and it was bad. I stood over him, protecting him from the oncoming traffic while the driver called the ambulance. No one slowed down, none of the Koreans staring stopped to help. So that was the beginning to my day. Meaning I was a little sensitive.

Anyway, I proceed to walk down the mountain, crying a little, then resolved myself to simply do what I would have done back home. Call a friend, bitch a little, then hitch hike. I got to a bus stop after walking 40 minutes, but it didn’t go to Gwangju. I got 15 mosquito bites because of the rice paddies. So I stuck out my thumb and immediately got picked up by a well- off Korean couple. They took me to the closest town where I got a cab home.

I am just sick and tired of being treated like an indentured servant. Yes, I do get paid. But I did not sign up to be treated like a serf who will just do whatever I am told no matter how I am treated. Honestly, all I really want is to be informed about matters that are pertinent to me. In Korea, that means how and when to be somewhere. All my supervisor cares about is if I am in the classes, occupying the students. She cannot grasp the concept that this camp is COMPLETELY different that my regular job. Different place, no resources (including printers), different students of all levels, different schedule, more classes. I got up at 6am to be at this camp. But no one can tell me when and where to catch the bus? FUCK YOU. I quit.

I will be going to my regular school to desk warm tomorrow. I want to make it clear that I am willing to work. I love teaching and I would have such a good time teaching a camp that is supposed to be about fun and learning, not image and money.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Writing gives me anxiety. That's why I let Amanda spin her words in my stead. The first thing that happened on the day we went to the Great Wall of China was funny. China is one hour behind Korea, we set all our devices (Amanda's watch) to this time except for Amanda's ipod, which was our wake up call. So when we thought we were waking up at 7 we actually woke up at 6. We asked a few confused middle aged man who spoke minimal English for breakfast before we realized our mistake and went back to sleep. The breakfast at our hostel wasn't bad, but wasn't particularly substantial even by Asian standards. We climbed into the minibus to go to the Great Wall and stopped at another hostel to change buses. We were the only people at our hostel who signed up for the grueling Jinshanling to Simatai hike as opposed to the supposedly flatter Ming Tombs/ Mutianyu walk. The bus ride took 3 hours from Beijing. It was bumpy and the streets were small. I actually slept, which never happens, so it must have been soothingly bumpy.

We picked up a guide not far from the Wall. He didn't speak too much English, I didn't see the point. The landscape was nice as far as we could see it, gradually rising hills, green and rocky, and much more corn than I expected. While the limited visibility from Beijing lifted slightly it didn't dissipate which was surprising as we climbed and the grayness of the cloudless sky continued. Of course the driver almost killed us several times, but we got there finally and got out of the bus. They offered a liter and a half of water and a snickers bar to everyone. We already had 3 liters of water in our bags and several snacks, we were prepared hikers undaunted by the extra weight of water. When we made it through the gates, anxious to get started, we received postcards with a small map detailing the
route options. We could either hike up to the first tower and walk to the 22nd where we would descend, take a small shortcut and hike to the 5th tower or take the cable car and ascend quickly and effortlessly. Amanda considered the cable car, but I considered any shortcut a form of cheating and the only people we could cheat would be ourselves. She was concerned about her sensitivity to the sun and the extreme humidity which was already drawing the moisture out of our bodies like a dehumidifier as we were standing still. We compromised as we always do and hiked to the 5th tower.

On the way up we passed this sign. It will become relevant later. Seeing the great wall wasn't nearly as anticlimactic as other places I've seen and dreamed about. The Great Wall is mythologized as much as any structure on Earth, but not by me. It's a wonder that I was pretty surprised to be seeing. China never held much of a pull for me, but it was a great time and a logical choice for a short break from the Korean peninsula. I never really pictured going there as I always had pictured going to places like Italy and the Netherlands and the UK. Some places live up to the hype, most don't. I never thought I would see it so it ended up being pretty damn impressive but I imagine if you've always had your heart set on it then it might let you down. It's a damn impressive structure to be sure. It takes half an hour just to hike straight up the mountains it's built on top of. It's wide enough for 7 or 8 people to stand shoulder to shoulder on it. It has a tower, sometimes a two story tower about every .2 km and some of those are still standing. It's steeper than you want to climb let alone build. It's really something else, but like anything else you get used to being up there after an hour, and it becomes the road, like any other, you're walking on.

This is Amanda. She's wearing more layers than would be optimal in this heat and humidity, but she's afraid, and rightly so, that her fairest of fair skin will lobsterize in the invisible sun's rays. You can barely see to the hill in the background, but rest assured the sweat was pouring off everything with pores. This section of the wall was easy. The wall rose like a ramp. And although it became steep at times it was well cared for and rarely treacherous. The bricks looked nice and the towers were completely intact. The hike looked easy despite the aforementioned heat and the hawkers. Amanda looked like she was about to slap someone after a bottle of water was shoved in her face the tenth time. The pushed water on us after we had refused several times and were in the process of drinking our own water. It's a problem, we ignored them as much as they would allow us to ignore them.

Here's where the don't slip advice becomes relevant. Slipping is death and there are no handrails. We trekked up this section slowly, deliberately, and were mocked in German that I understood by some Germans who strode cavalierly down a slope like this (I don't know if it was this staircase or another one) who commented that Americans avoided difficult physical work and shouldn't undertake such a challenge. My German reaction time was not quick enough for retort. Our slowness was not from a lack of fitness but a will to live. On the first leg of the hike I took time to observe the scenery but here I was enjoying the challenge and the climb and how much I didn't care that I was sweating my entire shirt a different shade of green.

This is where the vending came to a head. If you look very closely at the top of those daunting stairs, which, let me assure you, are far more daunting from the top than the bottom not to mention the lack of a side wall to lean on or shield you from the sheer drop, you will see a man standing like an archer in the doorway. As we are climbing this staircase of doom, slowly, cautiously, he proceeds to yell about water and postcards. As for water, we have it. As for postcards, I'm concerned with not dying, shut the fuck up. He stood in the doorway as we were almost at the top hawking trivialities like a monk on a sacred mountain wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt. We refuse, stop, force him to go inside so we may complete the staircase of doom without having to step around a man standing directly in our way. When we enter the tower he's even more persistent, shoving water in our face and blocking our way as we try to avoid him and pass him saying, "No" in progressively louder, angrier voices. Despite his harassment of us; he is the one to lose his temper. "No, no, no, no" he shouts in an extremely loud and mocking tone. Twice he blocked Amanda as I skirted him so she got the brunt of his harassment and this is her last straw. Almost out the second door she stops turns around and yells at him, "Why are you shouting? Why are you shouting? We don't want any water. Go away." He continues yelling "No, no, no, no" like an asshole and we can hear it almost until we reach the next tower. There were only two left. The last one was full of women and a persistent child who really shouldn't have been forced into labor like that.

This is what it looks like against that charcoal sky. The descent took far longer than we expected, and our bodies were breaking. A 40 minute hike and we made it to the parking lot, nothing but a pebble bed, construction equipment and two hawkers. We saw a few others from our group and sat down by them. I bought a beer from a hawker and celebrated our trek. We were subsequently harassed by a bee that would not leave us alone for anything. When our minibus arrived and the rest of our party, who had chosen the full 1-22 tower trek, arrived more hawkers followed them. As we piled into the vehicle they attempted to follow shoving t shirts and water into our faces while we refused. We forced them out almost physically and escaped. Exhausted, drenched, stinky, we started our 3 hour ride back to Beijing.

The mini-bus and tour cost 320 Yuan which was a pretty fair deal. It was an all day affair, and we saw the part of the wall that we wanted to see. It was unfinished, and though we met plenty of other tourists on the way there were times between towers when we were completely alone. Just us and the Great Wall and the mountains stretching off into the distance that can only be imagined.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Fling with Beijing

Dan and I finally took our Beijing vacation we had been planning since May. We were in China for just five days. Here’s how it went:

Day 1 Wednesday: Started the day at 2am with a bus ride from Gwangju to Incheon International Airport. After a short 2 hour flight, we arrived in Beijing. We took the airport express train into town and a cab to our hostel, Peking International Youth Hostel. Even though it was 11am they let us into our room, which turned out to be amazing! We paid 400 yuen a night (about $60) and it really was worth the money. After we checked in we took a walking tour, passing The Forbidden City (right next to our hostel), The Gate of Heavenly Peace (where we said hi to Mao) and Tiananmen Square. Then we attempted to find a recommended duck restaurant, but it didn’t happen so we just stopped at a nice restaurant on the street next to the square.

At this point we were both overheating, sweaty and tired. So after lunch, we finished the tour and went back to the hostel to book our trip to the Great Wall for Thursday. Then we relaxed and read up on Beijing and the Great Wall before going to bed early.

Day 2 Thursday: Because we went to bed so early, we were both up at about 6:00am! Well, actually, I forgot to change the time on my IPOD so we actually woke up an hour early and surprised the old Chinese man watching the lobby by asking for breakfast! So we had to go back to bed for an hour before we could have breakfast and join the other people in the lobby for our tour to the Great Wall.

There were quite a few people going (maybe 10) but we were surprised (but later understood their hesitation) to learn that we were the only ones who signed up for the hike! We had to get out at the Downtown Backpackers Hostel and catch another van from there.

Dan is going to write about our Great Wall experience soon… it’s just too much for one post!

Day 3 Friday: We got up early once again and had a mediocre breakfast at the hostel. Then we rented bikes and set out for The Temple of Heaven Park. The ride was a little chaotic, nothing too extreme although we did have a mini crash when a guy pulled out directly in front of Dan and our brakes didn't work too well. The temple was CROWDED. So many people. Too many people. We checked out the “cookie jar” and the Echo Wall but there were just too many people to really enjoy it.

After we returned the bikes, we set out to meet Dan’s friend Jake at a subway stop near the Summer Palace. Jake has been living and teaching English in Beijing for 4 months so it was great to catch up with him and have a little boating adventure. Once we actually found the Summer Palace, we rented a paddle boat. The Palace is actually a big park that is made up mostly of water, so a boat is ideal to see everything. We paddled away, trying to avoid the ferries and small rented motor boats zipping along beside us. The smog made it a little difficult to see, but it was pretty sweet overall. After a couple of hours we returned the boat and took a walk around the lake. Then Jake had to run off to his Chinese lesson and we had to meet Adam and Alison for dinner.

After a shower (which was necessary after every voyage out of the hostel) we met our Gwangjuian friends Adam and Alison who are on their way home (to the USA) from working in Korea. We headed to the Beijing duck restaurant recommended to us by the owner of the Chinese restaurant in Gwangju. We found it after we wondered through the Donghuamen Night Market (delicious fried mice, scorpions, huge beetles and star fish for sale). The restaurant, Quianmen Quanjude, was nestled among the high end shopping found in Chongwen. This place can definitely make you forget China had any communist intentions at all. The duck was delicious, although we weren’t really sure what to order so we ended up getting 1 ½ ducks and made Vietnamese style wraps out of it.

After dinner we met up with Jake, and he took us to the seedy foreigner underbelly of Beijing, Sanlitun Lu. We saw a great Uighur band at Cheers and had a few beers. Alison and Adam were exhausted from a grueling day of traveling, so they took off and left the three of us to wonder around, admiring the pretty Chinese girls (much less done up than the Korean girls) and boys and drinking beer. Then we got to witness a street fight. Pretty awesome. At 3am we called it a night.

Day 4 Saturday: After getting in so late, we took a well deserved break from getting up at the crack of dawn and slept in until 11am! Then we headed to our main destination for the day: the Silk Market. Located in Chaoyang directly off the Yonganli subway stop, this six floors of shopping is a shopaholics dream. It could also be the anti-consumers nightmare. We planned on buying some gifts and cheap clothes. We came out a little over budget, but I think we did alright. Personally I thought the sales people were pushy, but not smothering. They definitely wanted you to come into their shop, but compared to the desperation I’ve seen in places like Mexico and Vietnam, this was a cake walk. The market was basically a mall, with lots of small shops, air conditioning and a food court.

That night we once again met up with Jake, who this time brought a friend, but we somehow missed hooking up with Adam and Alison. The four of us had some dinner (hot pot) that was similar to shabu shabu in Korea. It was okay, but I wasn’t really completely satisfied. Because Jake and Ben have been in Beijing much longer than Dan and I, we kind of let them take over the ordering and I don’t think they have quite the appetites we do!

After dinner we headed to the main backpacker hutong (alleyway), Nanluogu Xiang, for some drinks. Ben turned out to be quite the misogynist, which was interesting for a minute, until he realized that making blatantly sexist statements in the presence of at least one sharp tongued feminist might not be the best idea. Dan, being the mediator that he is, managed to distract him for a while, but we called it an early night anyway.

Day 5 Sunday: We slept in and checked out of the hostel at noon on the dot. Luckily, the weather had cooled considerably so we walked over to the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, probably because of the cooling weather, the lines to get tickets and to enter the palace were INSANE. So we just hung out in the park that skirts the moat.

After one last delicious meal we set off for the airport the same way we came, taxi to the airport express train, train to the airport.

Our flight was delayed for some unknown reason, giving us cause to worry that the bus tickets we had purchased back to Gwangju might not have been a very wise decision. But Dan and I managed to pull off some of the best traveling either of us has seen in a long time. We had exactly 25 minutes to catch our bus from when we departed the plane. We had to catch a shuttle, go through immigration, grab our one bag from the baggage claim, go through customs (where we did not have the proper form ready) and RUN LIKE HELL for the bus. But we made it. With one minute to spare. I think we can now be declared professionals.

Overall, fantastic trip. I’d love to see more of Beijing when it’s not quite so hot, humid or polluted. Here’s to wishing!!