Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vaughn Family Visit

Happy Humpday!

I've been meaning to update everyone on the Vaughn Family's big Korean adventure, but I have been too busy the last couple weeks! My parents left about ten days ago, and although it was nice to get back to my routine, I looked forward to their visit for months and it was hard to see them go. As Mom and Dad can probably tell you, I am a great tour guide so if you want to see Seoul you've got 8 more weeks to get over here for your free city tour. It was exciting to have them here after I have already had a chance to thoroughly get to know Seoul. I was able to set up a great itinerary for them, as well as choose to revisit some of my favorite places in Seoul (on someone else's dime!) I kept them busy (as Dad says, "I would have been popular in the French Foreign Legion - March or Die."), but hopefully they left feeling like they hadn't missed out on anything the city has to offer.

Photo pole at Gangnam Station!

Changdeokgung Gardens

Stream in downtown Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Gardens


While they were here, I took them to a palace and a couple shopping areas while introducing them to my favorite Korean dishes. Unfortunately, the food was the least favorite part of their adventure. After only two days, my Dad told me three times how great his Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich was the first day and how lucky I was to have a Dunkin' Donuts. I tried not to take the hint, and kept hoping to find something that they liked. Alas, I still fed them all sorts of Korean cuisine- from bibimbab to bulgogi to octopus to rice cake in hopes of finding something they enjoyed. No luck.

The first weekend they were here, we left early Saturday for Sokcho- the gateway town to Seoraksan National Park. I spent a weekend here in April, and the trip was amazing so I was hoping to recreate it with P&D. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and it was cloudy and hazy for most of the hike. I think they enjoyed it though, and even through the clouds some of the views were stunning.

Naksan Temple at Sokcho

Seoraksan - the summit at Ulsanbawi


Another highlight of their trip - for me - was bringing my parents to school. The kids got really excited to see them and surrounded them before class. They would point at them and say "MOM??" "Dad??" and when I nodded yes they would loudly exclaim, "Wooooowwwww!" as if they were aliens from outer space. The kids asked them how old they were repeatedly as they circled my parents. It was fun to watch.

During the week, we also took in several temples and palaces, all the main shopping districts (including the subways), and got to attend the World Cup game against Argentina. We decked ourselves out in Red and cheered at City Hall Plaza for the Korean team (which lost that night). My parents couldn't take the crowd so they left early, but I had a great time there with my friends. Korea finally got knocked out of the Cup by Uruguay on Saturday night. The mood in Seoul had been so festive, and everything from advertisements, to songs, to my students were yelling, "Fighting!," singing songs, and wearing red from head to toe.

The past two weeks I have also been very busy getting my summer camp plans together. I will teach three weeks of camp between the end of July and the end of my contract in late August. I'm making a "science English camp" for my kids, and I have a lot of work to do! I've also been to a Korean play, watched an obscene amount of Korean dramas with English subtitles online, and been planning my next steps after I finish my Korea contract.

This is my favorite Korean Drama- it's amazing.

I am thrilled about the warm weather and my final six weeks in Korea. I am not ready to leave at all! There are still lots of people to see, shopping to do, Korean food to try, and places to explore before August 24th!



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Boracay Vacation


I've just returned from a fabulous long weekend in the Philappines! I not only had an amazing time, but I also just completed my first solo vacation. Go me. I headed to Incheon Friday after school to catch my flight to Manila. I flew Cebu Pacific which was really questionable. Not only was I quite certain the plane was going to fall apart any second, but I've never been so cramped up on a plane. And I'm not even a big person. I luckily landed safely in Manila about 12:30 Friday night and had a 5 hour layover in the airport. I had planned to sleep on the floor somewhere while clutching my purse, but because Manila is maybe the sketchiest place I've ever been, I instead made friends with the graveyard shift airport staff who let me charge my ipod and sit behind a counter with them. At 5:30, I then boarded an even more questionable Cebu Pacific Puddle Jumper for a short flight to Caticlan. After our plane smacked and skidded across the shortest runway at the smallest airport I've ever seen, I followed my fellow passengers to the Caticlan jetty port where I then boarded a "ferry" for the island of Boracay.

Airport in Caticlan

The extent of the runway at the Caticlan Airport

The ferry from Caticlan to Boracay!

Once on the island, I hired a tricycle to take me to my hostel. The tricycle is akin to the tuktuk - a mode of transportation I have grown accustomed to over the past year. The tricycle, however, really takes the prize for being the most ridiculous. It is essentially a motorbike with a cart attached to the side of it with a couple benches in it for passengers to sit. My tricycle that morning was filled with me and six Filipino men. The side of the tricycle said, "Elegant, Durable, Safe," and I remember thinking that it was absolutely none of those things as we careened across the island. It was only 7AM, and it was already swelteringly hot.

I checked into my hostel - a charming little resort a couple minutes from the beach. I ate breakfast with the owner then went to my dorm room to put my stuff down. The room didn't have airconditioning (SOOO hot in there), but besides that it was really comfortable. I put on my bathing suit and headed for the beach. After being briefly chased by three goats, I finally made it. The trip was absolutely worth it - I was in paradise. The water was crystal clear, there were only a few puffy white clouds in the sky, the sand was fine and white, and there were plenty of palms swaying in the breeze.

I laid on the beach all day Saturday while alternating between putting my umbrella up or down for sun or shade. I was quite content just sunbathing, staring at the ocean, catching the breeze, and taking pictures of the beach. I had Jane Austen and Chelsea Handler on my Kindle to keep my company and I alternated between fresh fruit shakes and margaritas as I enjoyed my vacation.

Saturday night, I went back to the hostel to enjoy a fresh seafood dinner and hopefully make myself some friends for my long weekend. The dinner was delicious, and I met about 8 other travelers who I then spent the next three days with on the island. I was the only American of the group - the others consisted of Australians, Canadians, Germans, Mexicans, a couple girls from London, and a French Girl. Several of the group had just finished teaching contracts in Korea and were heading back home. It was nice to meet new people, and every night I went out with the group to experience the vibrant Boracay nightlife.

A bar on the beach on Boracay

Sunday, I laid on the beach all day until afternoon when the French girl, Alex, and I headed to a mountain on the island to see the views. We were escorted by a passle of Filipino children that had begun hanging out with some girls in our group. They were really amazing kids - smart and sweet, and although they walked the beach selling jewelry all day, they naturally made time to escape and spend time with us. Six of us set out from the beach in a tricycle, but, unfortunately, the tricycle could not make it up the mountain and at one point started rolling backwards down the steep hill. I was just about to bail from the cart to escape my untimely Tricycle Philippines Death, when the driver got ahold of his motorbike and ordered us to jump out and walk. The mountain had stunning views, monkeys, and a nice breeze so it was definitely worth the trek.

Sunday night, our group watched more fireshows (mostly done by Khalid - one of our Filipino children) and stayed out most of the night just enjoying the live music on the beach, drinks, fireshows, and crowds of travelers. Boracay is amazing. Monday, I continued my lazy vacation by laying on the beach again all day followed by a night out with new friends.

This is Halida - she wrote all our names in the sand the last night I was there. I think I am supposed to be "Indy."

I returned to Seoul late Tuesday night, and now I am getting ready for tomorrow when the Vaughn's arrive to see Korea!
Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 4, 2010

What tension?

The weeks are flying by, and I realized the other day that I only have a short 10 weeks left in the ROK. In order to take advantage of the time I have left, I've been staying quite busy. I wrote in my last entry about the Lotus Lantern Festival, but Buddha's 2554th birthday celebration lasted at least another week. I took myself to Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul to check out the lanterns decorating the temple grounds for the occasion. The pictures do not do the scene justice-- it was really extraordinary.

I've been having a great couple weeks, and I have been very busy enjoying the (finally!) nice weather, working out, going out with friends, and doing a lot of shopping. I feel like it is expected that I say things have been tense here, but Seoul is completely not fazed by the myriad of threats being thrown around by North Korea. Because of the atmosphere here, I forget - probably more than my parents- that I am still in a country technically at war. I did remember (unfortunately maybe too late) early last week when I pulled out my lesson plan and pulled up the class game for my 5th grade students. I had planned to play vocabulary battleship, but after I explained it, I felt really culturally insensitive so I changed the game to "Sunken Treasure" and called them all pirates. Poor planning.

A view of Namsan Tower while shopping downtown last week!

A view of Seoul from a friend's rooftop party

Jamsil Stadium for a baseball game!

I have been enjoying teaching recently, but last Friday was an absolutel nightmare. I have one child - Yu-Bin - who has some problems (don't even get me started on Korea not separating disabled students or students on various levels- I teach them all at the same time). I'm not exactly sure what is the deal with Yu-Bin, but anyway, this kid is always trying to escape from class. On Fridays we literally have to bolt the doors from the top while Yu-Bin RUNS and THROWS himself at the door for FORTY minutes. (There isn't like a place to send him like in America-- like I can't just be like go to the principal or detention- they dont really do that. It's up to you to control their behavior). It's absolutely ridiculous.

So Friday morning, we're playing a multiple choice game (stand in the corner you think is the right answer) and the category for the question was "Famous People" with a picture of Johnny Depp fully clad in Jack Sparrow attire. I had SEVEN students get out on this question- not because they thought it was Brad Pitt or Nicholas Cage, but because they legitmately thought it was BARACK OBAMA. My students think all black people are Obama, but when I said, "Barack Obama is African American" my coteacher goes-- oh, they don't know foreign policy. OK?

As I'm reeling from this, I look up to see a DOG run by in the HALLWAY. This country seriously blows my mind sometimes. Luckily no students see it- yet. I turn around only to see the 4th grade girl in the wheelchair being run around the room FULL SPEED doing doughnuts by this little obese boy. Everyone is screaming. Then, unfortunately, dog is spotted and 75% of my students run out of the room including Yu-Bin which was really unfortunate since this kid requires capturing. I watch helplessly as this dog runs up and down the hall, OUTSIDE, with 30 4th graders after it. One girl as she ran by panting goes- Teachahhh-- Dog-- Fastuh!! I can't even articulate the level of chaos that was happening.

Below is a picture of me with some of my coworkers at a dinner last week. They are always so nice and supportive of me - I am so lucky to work with such wonderful people!

I leave for the Philappines tomorrow for a 4 day solo trip to Boracay. I will be sure to put up pictures and update you as soon as I get back!