Monday, August 31, 2009

First day of work

Hey there!
The first day of work is going well.  I got to school at 8:15 -they told me 8:30 but it doesnt hurt to be early.  Everyone is very nice.  Kim, my advisor, met me at the gate of the school.  She brought me to the principal's office and then sat me down at my new desk in the faculty room.  After this I had to go to the broadcasting room and introduce myself on morning announcements.  It was really awkward but I'm pretty sure no one knew what I was saying so it was fine.  I forgot to bow at the end/I didn't know I was supposed to bow.  I finally caught on but it was awkward, and I hope I didn't offend anyone.  Anyway, Kim had to go teach- I'm still quarantined and cant be around kids for a few days, so I'm currently sitting alone now at my desk for "free time."  I dont have the curriculum book or I would start working on lesson plans.  I had to go to the principal's office earlier- he and the 2 vice principal's were nice and gave me tea.  He said that I had to learn Korean.  Yikes. I'm going to try, but I hope he doesn't hold me to that! He also said to be careful with my check card.  He said "My daughter go to Canada. 1 year.  She has _ and he held up the card- and he goes. Lost. And she call. She cry. you. Careful."  Ok.  Then they talked to me a little more, but I mostly didn't understand.  They told me I was very beautiful though and they also said I had good "sensations" whatever that means.  Anyway, everyone is nice and I'm having fun so far.

My first weekend in Seoul was great.  We went out Saturday night which was really fun- I'm about a 45 min. subway ride to the Itaewon stop which is where all the fun foreign bars are.  It is far, but no further than uptown/downtown in Manhattan. There are 9 SMOE people in my building which is nice- me and 2 other girls- Angie and Arianna went out together.   This is great because we can share cabs home together too.  The subways close about 12. We went to this really fun bar called Wolfhound- it was packed and so fun.  Then we went and got street food and walked around.  I ended up taking a cab back about 2:30.  I loved Itaewon and what I've seen of Seoul nightlife, but it's going to be rough when it gets cold.  Sunday, I woke up and had a late lunch.  We went to a little Korean restaurant and ate something unidentifiable but really good.  I was really hungry so it was fine.  Spicy but good. Then we went to the market down the street.  The market is amazing.  I also loaded up on more household necessities, but I will buy more when I finally get paid at the end of September.  Miss you all!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First impressions

My new street!


So I'm currently paying to use iternet at a pc bang in a basement where like 1000 korean middle schoolers are playing world of warcraft or something like that.  Anyway, I got up early, loaded buses at orientation/lockdown, did ceremony stuff which was really boring, then left about 1pm for Gangdong-gu.  When we arrived, we took a tour of the SMOE district office then waited nervously in a conference room waiting on our co-teachers to arrive.  When they started to show up, all of the people in the room, including myself, felt like children waiting to be adopted- it was really scary. This man and this woman drive up and they are mine.  They dont speak much english.  The man- bless his heart- loaded all my heavy luggage into this SUV that only had 2 seats so the lady rode in the back with my stuff.  I make awkward simple sentence small talk with the man who is head of the 6th grade at the school.  The woman is a 1st grade teacher- not my co-teacher but very nice nonetheless. 

They take me to the school where 2 vice principles and the principle are waiting for me.  We go in the principal's office, and they all start talking to me.  I miss most of what they are saying, but they all did get very concerned when I said I am 22-  they are like oooohhh very young very pretty and they were so worried when I said I was alone--- the principal kept trying to warn me about going out at night.  After that awkward conversation, they realized my "room" didnt have bedding.  I started thinking uh-oh a room -not an apartment. We then all headed out to see my new place for the next year.  I was absolutely terrified!  The administration was like having my parents times 3 on college move in day- then the people that own the apartment building were helping and everyone was unloading my stuff and putting stuff everywhere-- it was a disaster.  the principle was on the floor trying to plug stuff in behind pieces of furniture.  The room is very small -probably smaller than a hotel room, but the building is brand new so everything is very nice and modern. I have a small stove top, very nice sink, and minifridge with a freezer.   One wall is hot pink with flowers and the bathroom is new neon yellow tile.  There is a kitchenette and cabinets on one wall and an armoir in the corner next to the bed.  There is a bathroom but there is no shower- the shower is hooked to the sink but Im going to have to work witht that I guess. Im more bummed I dont have a dryer.  I am going to have to figure something out about that.

 Anyway, then principal was like "follow me and we go to store to buy bedding"... all 6 of us head down the road to this tinyyyy store and they let me pick out what I wanted. So I got 2 blankets and a pillow-- apparently they do not have sheets?  Then they take me to buy pots and pans and stuff- I'm not set- like I need more stuff for sure but I'llgo tomorrow or something and get more- I have the basics at least right now. I felt bad asking for things like a collander and accessories.  Then the men all left and the woman-Kim- and i signed paperwork.  Following this, Kim and Liz (the landlord's wife who is SO nice) took me to the grocery store to show me it, but there is an AMAZING market down the street-- its like the one in Paris I loved so much!!  Then they took me to the subway- which is like  maybe a 2 min. walk! YES.  

Anyway, I got back and see my friend Arianna and 4 other SMOE kids coming in! There are tons of foreigners in the building and Arianna lives down the hall.  I am SO happy with everything.  I'm going to go shopping tomorrow and get like an iron and ironing board and mre kitchen stuff and maybe a fullsize mirror and set myself up.  I need to figure out sheets- apparently they dont have them but I'm going to look.  I also need to get some groceries and stuff.  I cant get a phone until i get my alien registration card but i need paperwork for that. 

Anyway, I'm getting settled, and I am very lucky with how everything turned out!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bangkok and SMOE Orientation


Heading for the Palace in Bangkok

Katy and I with all of our bags about to leave Chiang Mai on a gross overnight train experience

Hi everyone!

Things have gotten very busy since I left Chiang Mai!  I left with 5 other members of my group last Sunday afternoon on a 15 hour train ride down to Bangkok.  Luckily, we got the airconditioned regular car; however, the seats barely reclined and the fluorescent lights also did not turn off at all so it was hard to sleep.  There were dozens of cockroaches scampering everywhere (I swear those things follow me everywhere I go- I was very proud of myself for not freaking out), and there was only a squat toilet in the "bathroom."  Do you know how hard it is to use a squat toilet on a moving train? I am barely coordinated enough to use one of those when not on a rough train ride.   Anyway, about 6am the next day we arrived in Bangkok.  We then all had to unload our tons of luggage (16 suitcases to be exact) and headed over to Khao San Road.  This is basically a crazy street for foreigners. There are thousands of backpackers and vendors and food.  There are fortune tellers, taxis, motorbikes, and tuktuk drivers.  Literally anything you would ever want is on this road.  Its disgusting, loud, dirty, and probably the craziest scene I’d ever seen.  Our little hotel was also pretty gross.  It didn't have airconditioning, the window in the bathroom was broken out, and the shower was something akin to a hose on the wall.  Only a few of us stayed- the rest only stayed one night then took a train down to the beaches.  I don't blame them!  Island hopping in Thailand is definitely on my to-do list.  I would have gone had I not had to go to the embassy for my visa. (Luckily I did get a visa with no problem at all and now can work in Korea!)  Anyway, Bangkok was fun enough-I saw some temples, the palace, and did some exploring- I wasn't a huge fan though, and I don't plan on going back there.  I think Chiang Mai really spoiled us.  (I've updated my picassa page so you can see Bangkok- I also added a lot of photos to the rest of the albums from Thailand too : )

I high-tailed it out of Khao San Road and Bangkok about 3am last Thursday morning.  I flew to Tokyo then on to Seoul.  I arrived several days before any of my friends, and I had booked a hostel.  Long story short, I also high-tailed it out of this hostel after one miserable night and then stayed in a much better area of Seoul.  I was going to spend the days exploring the city, but I am embarrassed to say that I only ate Starbucks for 3 days straight (please don't judge), sat in the hotel bathrobe, and watched Korean television.  I really needed the break from everything though, and it was refreshing to relax.  Sunday morning I met up with my friends who arrived, and we took the bus to our week-long orientation in Suwon (Thank goodness this is the last place I have to haul my 1 ton of luggage.  I'm getting ready to unpack!)  I am currently on lockdown - quarantined by the government for fear that one of the 500 of us at this orientation may have H1N1.  I got a notice earlier today that the tour of Seoul (the only fun thing on our schedule of seminars and lectures) was cancelled and instead the program "will be replacing that timeslot with daily temperature checks done by nurses." Whoo hoo.  When we arrived at orientation each of us got a thermometer and we already have to report our temperature every day.  Our accommodations here aren't bad (we are in a pretty nice college dorm), but I think all 500 foreigners here are really ready to get done with everything here and get settled.  I've made some new friends though, and I am having fun.  It is nice to get to know people before we head out on our own.  I found out yesterday that I am going to be working at an elementary school in Seoul (probably starting Monday) so that is exciting - it is the age group that I was hoping for!  

I should get shipped out of here on a bus Saturday afternoon.  Apparently (assuming no one gets swine flu and they hold us here longer) we are taken to our apartments and given tours of our schools that day.  I am very excited to start work, but also a little nervous- I feel like the first couple of weeks are critical and will really determine how much these kids and I are going to click.  Miss you all!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Last week in Chiang Mai

The ATI group at THC Rooftop Bar

Teaching Practice at a Thai School

Exploring at Doi Suthep!

Doi Suthep

Hi all,

The last week or so has flown by so quickly- I have been so busy, but I am loving every single minute of my life in Chiang Mai!  Last Friday was our first day teaching in a Thai school.  The school is a beautiful open-aired building way out in the middle of the rice paddies.  We are split into groups of 5 and each group has an observer on top of that so it is kind of intimidating.  We were teaching 6 year olds on the first day.  Although I was really nervous before I got up there, I had a blast.  All the kids are so good!  When you first get up in front they all say “Good morning teacherrrrrrr, at the end of class they all say “Thank you teacherrrrr,” and they are all so curious about us.  Monday we stayed at the hotel and taught the hotel staff, but then all this week we have been back at the school – each day teaching older and older students.  The worst group was definitely middle school- I think that is just a really obnoxious age in any country.  I’m hoping now for younger kids when I arrive in Korea.  I’ll find out my assignment in about 2 weeks.  I am glad I am getting the practice experience and lesson plan models though because I have absolutely no idea what I am doing most of the time. 

Since we have been teaching every day, a large amount of our other time is spent working on lesson plans and our picture cards.  We have to show a lot of pictures during the lesson because otherwise the kids wouldn’t even get the context.  The point is to really minimize our speaking and only say what is necessary because otherwise they don’t understand and will just get confused.  They are capable of repeating but would never understand what was going on in class without pictures.  We are supposed to draw the pictures so my art skills are really being put to good use- I’m pretty sure that some of my pictures are unrecognizable.   Friday my friend was trying to set the context of the day for his lesson which was New York City.  To begin he showed a picture of the Statue of Liberty and asked if anyone knew what it was.  One student was very convinced that it was Jesus.

I’ve really enjoyed the last week though- the group of people here is really great.  There are 19 people in the program with ages ranging from me all the way up to age 43.  About 12 of us have become really close, and I am excited that I will already have a group of friends heading with me to Korea.  It’s amazing how close we all have gotten in only 3 weeks, but all being put into a completely foreign situation will do that.  I’ve become closest with 2 people who will also be doing the same program with me in Seoul.  We have been finding lots of fun nightlife – karaoke, rooftop bars, and some really great reggae places.  Last weekend we went up to a temple on the hill- Doi Suthep and spent the afternoon exploring up there.  I love walking around Chiang Mai- my favorite is when I see elephants going down the street.  I also still love the night markets- we have found some really spectacular ones around the city.   

Tomorrow I am heading to Bangkok on the overnight train.  Some friends and I are going to explore there for a couple days.  I still do not have my work visa for Korea so I have to go the Korean embassy first thing Monday morning and apply for that.  It took forever for most of us to get our notice of appointment number to apply.  Although I’ve had mine for a few weeks, I didn’t really want to mail my passport across Thailand and risk losing it so I decided to apply in person.  Since most of us still have at least a week before heading to Korea, we may also go a few hours out of Bangkok and go to the beach for a couple days. 

I’m going to be sad to leave Chiang Mai, but I think it will be good for me.  I’m pretty sure I currently have about 45 mosquito bites on my body (its amazing how they only bite some of us and not others), and I also can’t eat anything anymore.  I get sick to my stomach after every meal whether its spicy curry, market food (never a good idea), granola bars, or even peanut butter and jelly.  I decided I only like Thai food when it isn’t from Thailand.  Every day at least one of us is really sick with terrible food poisoning.  If I can’t keep anything down once I get to Korea I’m going to see a doctor, but hopefully it won’t come to that.  I’ve been kind of lax about drinking the water and eating unidentifiable meat on a stick, and I think I’m probably paying the price.

I arrive in Seoul on the night of August 22nd and head to my orientation on the day of the 23rd.  I will be essentially on lockdown (we actually cannot leave the premises haha) at the Hyundai Learning Center a few hours from Seoul for that entire week.   All of the teachers for the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will be there during the week and then they bus us all to our new apartments where someone is supposed to be waiting on us. 

I am very excited about my move, making more new friends, and getting to see my new apartment and school!  I will keep you all updated on everything.  I love hearing from all of you!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thai Massage experience


I am still enjoying Chiang Mai.  Yesterday, we did our peerteach in the morning—it went well.  Friday is our first day in the Thai schools so that will be fun but kind of scary because we have so many observers.  After lunch in our afternoon session we did really not useful things like learn about interjections and phrases such as “Alas! He is dead.”  Always useful.  Then after class, 4 other girls and I went to have Thai massages.  I’ve never had a massage before, but apparently if you have a Thai massage you never want to get one anywhere else.  We also heard that its best to do it at the blind places because the blind give really good massages.  So we find this blind massage parlor and go in- it smells like a hospital and kind of looks like some sort of insane asylum on the inside.  We lay down on these little cots and all these blind people come out – I got the 1 hour thai massage for 150bhat which is like maybe 5 bucks.  Anyway, I essentially paid 5 dollars to get beat up by a tiny thai blind man who was climbing all over me like a monkey.  They actually like beat on you.  At one point, he was massaging my ankles then picked up both my feet and when I didn’t even expect it, he swiftly popped every single one of my toes at one time.  I yelped.  I saw Katy next to me getting all of her fingers popped.  I was like NO WAY.  So when he started on my arms, I balled up my fists because I didn’t know how to say please don’t pop my knuckles in thai.  He kept trying to undo my fist, but I was like no no no thank you.  Anyway, luckily I lived through my thai massage- next time I think I may go for the oil massage- I think they don’t beat you in that one. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trip to Pai!

Seeing elephants heading up the road while on our biking adventure!

Pai Canyon!

Hot Springs at Pai

Heading across the scary bridge to the bungalows!

Hi all!

I just got back to Chiang Mai after a wonderful weekend in Pai!  Last week flew by… my class is going very well.  I am learning all sorts of things about how to teach English.  We spent a lot of time exploring Chiang Mai last week, and I have stumbled upon so many great wats, restaurants, and beautiful scenery.

So my friends and I decided to spend the weekend in Pai- this hippie village in the  mountains of Northern Thailand up kind of by Burma.   I’ve heard this place is like a backpackers paradise so we were excited.  (also you all will be proud to know that I indeed only did have a small backpack. Impressive for me I know)  Anyway, we ride 3 hours on Friday afternoon in this 15 passenger van through the most absurd roads I’ve ever seen -literally going through the jungle.  It was terrifying and all of us were carsick.  It was beautiful though if you can stomach it.  There was so much up and down, stray dogs running across the road, and herds of cows wandering around, that I was surprised we made it there without injuring ourselves or another creature. 

Once we arrived, we found a guesthouse to stay in for the night.  This was also hilarious.  We only paid 3 dollars to stay here so I shouldn’t complain, but it was the worst place I have ever seen.  My mattress might as well have been made of a wooden plank, there were cobwebs everywhere, and the walls were made of something that looked like bark.  We dropped off our backpacks here and went to find dinner.  After a nice Thai meal we found a bar with live music and stayed there for a few hours. 

Saturday, we woke up early and went to get breakfast.  After this, we rented bicycles.  They were only 4 dollars for 24 hours of rental so we thought we would use them to get around Pai.  We told the man at the rental place that we wanted to ride out to the hot springs we had heard about from a friend.  The man laughed and tried to get us to rent motorbikes.  This should have been our warning, but we really didn’t think anything through very well.  We rented our bikes, went back to our gross guesthouse to get our backpacks, and decided to find a cute bungalow or hut to rent for Saturday night.  We found one set of bungalows across the river, but they were closed.  I mention this only because to get to them we had to cross a bridge that likely appeared in Fear Factor.  It was only made of rickety bamboo and had no sides.  It was terrifying!  We eventually found an adorable set of bungalows and we rented a handful of them for Saturday night.  They were really rustic and charming- we even had these pretty mosquito nets over the beds haha.  We dropped off our stuff, took pictures of some lizards, as if we didn’t already look like tourists, then headed out to the hot springs. 

It was about 90 degrees and the humidity was SO intense.  The road was through the mountains, and the bikes were old and only had one speed so we couldn’t switch gears or anything.  Every other hill we would have to get off and push our bikes up the hill then coast back down.  The view made it completely worth it (so did the 7 elephants we passed on the road), but all of us said we were glad we didn’t know what we were getting into or none of us would have done it.  Needless to say, by the time we arrived to the hot springs, all of us were drenched in sweat and we had no desire to then soak in a hot spring.  We explored a little first and took some pictures (like one of a sign that said “No Boil Egg” next to one hot spring- apparently that is a common problem?)  We eventually got in one of the cooler hot springs and stayed in for about 45 minutes.  We then headed home a different way- basically making a loop from the springs back to town.  This road was no better.   I’m horrific on a bike as most of you know, and the entire thing was so terrible and ridiculous it was really funny.  All the motorists that passed us looked at us like we were crazy. 

After about a mere12 miles of intense mountain biking on one speed banana seat bikes, we finally made it home Saturday late afternoon (we did stop once to climb up a steep incline to see Pai Canyon which has really spectacular views!).  Two of our friends had rented motorbikes and met us in Pai.  Some of us had considered renting them and all of us biking up together, but our instructor in class insisted that we would probably “rip our faces off” if we attempted this, and I’m having way too much fun to accidentally kill myself now.  (Actually on the way home two more of my friends did decide to rent motorbikes back to Chiang Mai and my friend Katy wrecked twice and is really skinned up).  After much needed showers in our cute bungalows, we headed out to another great meal and several more fun bars in the town.  I even tried Thai wasn't that bad, and I think it made the night more enjoyable haha.  The town is so cool and artsy – it was a great experience!  Anyway, I have to get going- we have our first graded assignment- a peer teach in a few hours and my partner and I have to go over our lesson plans and assignments before our turn is here.  I hope everyone is doing well! Miss you all!