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Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Ever since I knew I was going to return to Seoul as a tourist, I felt a strange anxiety. On one hand, I was excited to see my friends again and feast on the delicious food, but on the other, I was worried that this visit would shatter the embellished image of Korea I had formed in my head over the past few years. Since I left Korea, I always reminded myself of the good times I had (never the bad times) and I always kept the option of going back as a backup, however unlikely. I knew that if I couldn’t find work and a place to study, I could go back to Korea, be able to find a job, be able to travel, and be able to save money. I don’t know if I would have actually gone through with it, but that thought helped me at times.

Now that I’m back, I realise that I wouldn’t enjoy coming back, at least not to teach English as I had done before. Sure, I still love the food and the chaos, but Korea isn’t the same as when I left it. My friends are mostly gone, I’m a different person, and the people here have changed. It may seem over dramatic to say that after only 3 years away, but anyone who has been here knows that Korea changes at an absurd rate. Things are different now. My friend with whom I’m staying, one of the biggest partiers I know and the first Korean friend I made, doesn’t go out anymore. He works 12 hours per day, has a girlfriend and relaxes at home when he’s not working. We went to Hongdae (a trendy club area) together when I got in on Saturday and we hardly recognized the place. Sure, the bars were mostly the same, but the crowd had changed. One of the bars I went to on one of my first weekends out to Seoul is now “Korean Only”. Places change just as people do, I guess. We ended up waking around the area with a few beer from a corner store, looking at the people and talking about the how things are different.

I’m about to go visit my old school. I’m looking forward to seeing my old boss and coworkers. I hope we will all be able to go out for supper and drinks tonight, I hope at least some things stay the same. There is apparently a new foreign English teacher at the school. I’m excited to meet him or her, but because I’m so vain, I’m a bit worried he or she is cooler and better liked by the teachers and student than me. I will soon find out.

Yesterday, I got to meet with an old friend from my neighbourhood for the afternoon. He, my friend who I’m staying with and I walked for the afternoon. I never really took time to walk around Seoul. It’s an interesting city with so many hidden streets and corners, and while it’s super easy to get lost in the labyrinth of streets, you get to see a side of the city that you don’t se by sticking to the subway. I woke up at 5am this morning and walked around my friend’s neighbourhood. There’s a certain life to the streets that you don’t get in Montreal, even in the early morning. That energy is one of the things that I miss most about here.

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Earlier today, I gave a presentation to 25 6th grade students about the brain. The presentation was centered around the 5 senses and, as a big finale, the kids got to touch a real (calf) brain! This presentation was held for the 2012 international Brain Awareness Week. A week where local student-run organizations go to primary and secondary schools and give presentation to raise awareness about brain-related science. I’ve been involved with Brain Awareness Week or BAM (Brain Awareness Montreal), for two years and this was the first time I gave a presentation. It was really fun to explain the brain, try to explain how my research is related to the presentation and answer questions. One of the kids said she’d like to be a brain scientist when she grew up. Awesome! I can’t wait to do it again next year!

For obvious reasons, this experience reminded me of my students in Korea. I also realized that large classes (I had one class of 41 students, if memory serves) make a huge difference when it comes to teaching and discipline. It’s way easier to manage a 25 student class than a 40 student class. It also seemed like the students weren’t as spread out because the actual room was smaller. Plus you can really focus on answering more questions if you have 15 students less to worry about. Thinking about my old students put me in a very nostalgic mood. I might watch a few kpop music videos and send them emails later.

Speaking of science, my first article came out this week! That’s seriously awesome news. I wasn’t as involved with this article as I would have liked (most of the actual testing was done before I joined the lab), but I’ll be able to make up for that in the next articles. The article is titled Audiovisual segregation in cochlear implant users and I think it’s a pretty neat research, though I’m super biased. The article is published in one of the only peer-reviewed Creative Commons journal, so you don’t need an expensive subscription to the journal! If you want to read something before bed or if you want something to knock you out, I highly recommend you check it out.

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It’s been a long time since my last post. Sorry. I haven’t really been doing anything noteworthy these days (that’s a lie). Actually, I just haven’t found the motivation to update my blog. Hopefully that’ll change now.

School

Ok, so here’s where I am now. Tuesday was the last day of class for this semester. That means I’m done normal school until late August. I don’t have the summer off though; I’m doing a language camp and some English classes for the next three weeks. It won’t be too bad because I get to choose what I teach and I have smaller classes. It will be like my after school classes I was taught Mondays and Fridays for the last few months. Should be ok.

Future

I’ve pretty much completely accepted that I’m not coming back for another year. At the moment, my plans for September are torn between some internship thing in China (I’ll go into greater details if I get it) and taking Korean classes in Seoul. Both sound fine and will be good for me, I think. The China thing would be interesting since it’s not teaching English and I’ll be able to live in China and see how things work there. I’ll also get some Chinese lessons, which I think is amazing. While the pay is almost non-existent, I think it’ll be a good experience. The Korean language course would be great because it would a)give me legitimate knowledge of Korean, however limited b)it will give me academic credits that will hopefully help with getting accepted in a masters program. I’m waiting on the China thing at the moment. Once I get the yay or nay, I’ll be more willing to expand on my plans for the next months.

Blogging

I met Adeel by coincidence at an Indian restaurant in Suwon. He said the blog was getting a bit boring. It’s true. It was (his words, not mine) pretty funny before, but now it’s only travel information. He accurately guess that this a reflection of how I feel. I used to have hope, excitement and joy for my new life in Korea. Now, I still have joy, I mean, I really like my life and my friends, but this place is taking its toll on me. I do still like it, but I feel I’m going a bit crazy. This clearly shows on the blog.

Quick Ski Review

Last Sunday was my birthday. On Saturday, I went to an indoor ski slope in Korea called Tiger World. It was pretty cool to be back on snow, but it actually made me go a bit crazy (a common theme these days). See, the slope in essentially in a giant fridge. As I’m coming to realize, Korea is giving me, expanding on or exposing many of my neurosis. Apparently, being stuck in a giant freezer freaks me out. Pretty hard. While I eventually calmed down, I was pretty anxious for the first two hours. The snow wasn’t that great since it’s (obviously) man made and it seems particularly icy. I had the great idea of skiing through the snow maker’s mist and it was like if someone was throwing tiny ice chunks at my face. The run takes about 45 seconds and to get back to the top of the hill, you need to take a painfully slow moving carpet. Obviously it can’t be perfect, since it’s so hot outside, but I’m not sure if I would recommend this place to anyone, thought it’s a fun afternoon trip if you want ot cool down and try something new.

Spare Time

On Sunday, I took it super relaxed with my friend and we went to see Harry Potter 6. We’ve been watching the Harry Potter movies fairly non-stop at school and I have to say, Harry’s latest adventure is great. I think the way it’s shot looks great on the big screen. While I doubt it stands as a good movie on it’s own, it works amazingly well within the world of the Harry Potter films. I’d just like to add, for the record, that (in my opinion) Harry Potter 1 is terrible, so is 2. They get infinitely better starting with 3. After Harry Potter, I went to a restaurant with my boss and his wife. Eunice’s Garden(the restaurant) is the best restaurant I’ve been to in Korea. It’s surrounded by nature, open in design and the food was great. It’s western food done right. After supper, you can walk around Eunice’s garden, take in the smells and generally relax. Check out the website for some picture. It’s all in Korean, but you can see some picture on the bottom on the home page. According to my boss, the owner (or the chef, I’m not sure) studied in Italy. It shows. Best spaghetti I’ve had in Korea.

Last Friday, I went to the Jisan Valle Rock festival (that I blogged about earlier) and I saw, among a others, Fall Out Boy. I can’t stress how much I love Fall Out Boy enough. Seriously. It’s actually a bit embarrassing. But I saw them live (for what ended up being quite a bit of money) and I loved it. It was a great show. I was lucky enough to be with another guy who loved them as much as I do, so we were able to freak out about them together. I’ll go on about my love for the band later. So if my blog sounds like a high school girl has taken over someday soon, don’t be alarmed.

Alright, so, here are a few things I’m going to touch on in the following posts: Indian food restaurants in Suwon, Tiger World indoor ski in Bucheon, reasons to stay/leave Korea (as I see it, so basically a refection post) and a larger Jisan Rock fest review. Stay tuned!

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Well that went so much better than I had expected. I got picked up by Yae-An’s (I’m almost convinced I’m not spelling that properly) parents at the school at 9-ish and from there we went to Incheon to see some war memorials and a traditional Korean village. I’m not really sure why we went to the war memorials since they’re all American memorials. I assume it has something to do with Yae-An’s military father, either that or they assumed Canadian and American history are interchangeable.

Chuseok lunch with some cute kids

Chuseok lunch with some cute kids

After that, we went to her grandparent’s house for a family Chuseok celebration. I got to meet all her relatives and though most couldn’t speak any English, we got along well. I had lunch at the kid’s table for the first time in many moons, but it was for the best since most kids could speak English. In the picture on the left, you can see a little girl with a traditional Korean dress called hanbok. I should have taken a full length picture of her, it’s a really nice dress and she was such a cute little kid. After a traditional lunch, the kids (we) all went to a park to play. When I got dressed for this day, I was worried that it was a semi formal affair so I rocked some dress pants, dress shoes and a polo shirt. Not only was this a bad idea due to the unearthly heat we’re having in Korea, but wearing dress clothes in a playground serious limits your opportunities for fun. Once we tired from the park, the whole family went to a bowling alley. I feel like bowling is a very Korean activity. It has that “crappy American culture” aspect to it that Koreans are so fond of, same way there are Outback Steakhouses and so many “Western Bars” with neon cowboys here. So bowling was fun and turns out a few of kids had never bowled before. After bowling we went back to her grandparent’s apartment for supper, which was essentially the same as lunch. Still delicious though. I got called out for my lacking chopstick skills by one of Yae-An’s cousins when I took longer to eat than everyone else. Whatever. Give me a knife and fork and I’d have that finished like two hours before the meal was even served! My commitment to cultural integration is amazing, right? Around 7pm, people started leaving. It was a very cool days and I think I’m really lucky to have experienced life in a Korean family so early in my trip. I hope to have many other experiences like this this year.

My Chuseok family

My Chuseok family

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I finally visited Seoul today. I went with Julia (I met her through a friend from Bishop’s) and Lorne (went to Bishop’s but I never talked to him). Lorne has lived in Korea for 6 months now, so he’s down with the Seoul scene, if you will. Seoul, as it turns out, is enormous. I’m not kidding. Think of the largest city you’ve ever been in (unless you’ve been to Bombay, Karachi, Delhi, Shanghai, Moscow or Sao Paulo) and multiply that by 2 to 3 million. That’s how big Seoul is. It’s also a very unattractive city, in my opinion. It’s like if they built everything rushed and didn’t bother maintaining anything. I’m not denying that there are many beautiful ancient temples and structures, but in terms of a city, I find it very dirty and worn. Maybe it’ll grow on me though and I do love the fact that you can see mountains from the middle of the city. I guess it has its charm.

Since it was my first visit to Seoul, I got to get a feel for the travel times. Turns out I live 10 minutes from Suwon Station (the metro station in my city) and from there it’s 60-ish minutes to the middle of Seoul. The Seoul metro system is sort of like a mix of the TTC and the GO trains (for Torontonians) or the Parisian Metro and the RER. It emcompaces the innercity as well as the intercity routes. I haven’t quite figured out how the fees work, but it’s 900W for the bus and there’s a small transfer fee for the metro. Either way, it’s a very cheap way to get around.

So we walked around for a while and it was good. I’ll need to go check it out on a weekly basis to see all of the city. We saw a few foreigner, but very few of them acknowledged us. It was weird, I mean it’s pretty obvious that we’re all from North America. I figure we should at least say hi, kinda of like how bikers greet each other. But that’s just not how it is. Also, some crazy/drunk homeless man accosted us with a toothpick and offered Lorne fellatio. Tempting, but he somehow resisted. Julia though he was going to spit on her and was shook for the next half hour. Big cities are a strange place indeed.

Tomorrow I’m going to a student’s house for Chuseok (a Korean holiday similar to Thanksgiving). I’m really excited but I’m also quite scared. I don’t think anyone in the family speaks English except the student and I think we’re going to her grandfather’s house. I’m so scared that I’ll do or say something that’ll dishonor her or her family and they’ll have to live in shame for the next 17 generations or something. Hopefully it’ll go well. I figure I’ll smile lots and copy what they do and hope for the best.

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As I mentioned yesterday, I had my physical examination done. It went much better than anticipated. The only problem I had was getting to pee on command. That was a bit tricky. So I had my tests and then Mr Lee asked me if I was interested in “going to soccer” and food/drinks with a bunch of other male teachers from Youngshin and another local high school in the afternoon. I figured it would be a good opportunity to bond and learn some foreign culture.

Mr Lee picked me up around 4 and we went “to soccer”. When we got there, I discovered that “going to soccer” meant play soccer. So here I am, surrounded by a bunch of Korean middle school teachers with mismatched gym garbs (I’m wearing my regular street clothes) about to face off against a team who practices every week (and sport matching uniforms). I was pretty pumped.

We played our first third pretty well; they just scored 3 times. Between periods, our team decided to boost moral by having some treats. Someone had brought some pork snacks, some sort of a bit-sized rice snack and some rice wine. That’s when I realized these guys were there to have a good time and were succeeding at doing it.

After the game (we lost something like 7 to 1), we went to a traditional Korean restaurant for food and drinks. You know the type of restaurant where you sit on the floor and eat from a bunch of plates on the table? That’s what it was. Anyway, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m not a very flexible guy. I know, it’s hard to believe, but I’m not; so spending 2 hours sitting in “Indian” style on the floor isn’t the most comfortable thing for me. Also, tables aren’t exactly made for 6 foot some dudes who can’t fold properly to sit at. Anyway, meal was pleasant and after we had a few drinks. I think I even bonded a bit with some of the guys who likes “the sauce” over a few shots of soju (Korean alcohol). Good times.

This morning, when I turned on my computer, surprise surprise, it didn’t let me in. Some of you may recall that I tried to “hack” Windows XP 30 days ago. Well, it didn’t work. I got a message saying it was already registered, but it wouldn’t let me log on. I had to reinstall WinXP to buy me another 30 days. I think I may fold and just reinstall Vista or something. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. So moral of the story, you can’t crack Windows XP anymore. The software serial number is linked to your system configuration, so hacking it pretty much impossible.

BONUS STORY: One of the English teacher took me on the bus today to show me how it’s done.  While we’re waiting at a red light, the driver actually got up and left the bus. I suspect he went for a smoke or to pee or something. It was the oddest thing. He eventually came back once the light turned green and cars behind us started honking.

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Settling In

Well this is strange. I’m writing this from my apartment in South Korea. It’s a pretty nice place. It’s quite small, but from what I understand, most apartment here are small. Something that’s thrown me off is the washroom. It’s a small room with a drain in the middle and a shower faucet on the wall. Turns out the sink drains in the floor and you take your shower in the room. Just like that. At first I was slightly concerned that the toilet would work on the same principal, but it doesn’t. Thank God.

My room

My room

I’m off to get some blood work done so I can get my Alien Registration Card. Since Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, they want to know who and where everyone in the country is. I bet that’ll be a terrifying experience; getting shot with a needle by someone who doesn’t speak English. I can’t wait.

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