Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking Back on 2012 Through The Seasons

This last year has been filled with ups and downs, adventures and good times with friends. When 2012 started I was mostly focused on the upcoming school year moving to 2nd grade. I was busy with planning lessons and considering the school year ahead as a team leader. At the same time I was single and getting accustomed to this new life style. As 2012 grew on I learned some important lessons and some good times.

I am going to take you through the last full year I experienced here in Korea, and I will do this by showcasing it through the seasons.

In February I went back home to Florida and visited family. I was able to get away from the cold of Seoul and enter the warmth and sunny skies of South Florida.

I think that visit helped me understand how really far away I am from them by living here in Korea. I never had a family member visit me here and so I think I started to wonder if it was worth living so far away. The almost two weeks I had was a good time spent with my folks, but mostly I felt disconnected from everyone.

I didn't decide at that time to leave Korea, but I can see now that a "seed" was planted. As you can see I got to visit Washington D.C. and I have to say it was a lifetime experience. In fact my absence from America has made me become more fond of my country. I'm looking forward to heading back and being involved in the community, culture and history of where I live. I'm also looking forward to "reverse culture shock". But, let's move on.

When I got back to Korea it felt like I needed to continue to try and discover what this place has to offer. As spring unfolded I enjoyed the cherry blossoms and other blooms around town.

Springtime for me was when I realized it's okay to be a single gal. I picked myself up and headed out to explore areas by myself.  I also enjoyed the spectacular exhibit of Do Ho Suh's work at the Leeum Samsung Museum.

Not to mention the fantastic little Design museum I found in Hongdae, which gave me inspiration for my own artwork.

Spring, it seemed was a time for me to get out and explore and really spread my wings here in Korea. I went to Yeoju and Silleuksa for a ceramics festival, and found myself sitting atop a rock near a river reflecting on all that has transpired. Perhaps, this is where the "seed" for leaving Korea started to sprout. As I felt inside a growing sense that it was time to move on from Korea.

A lot of people complain it gets too hot and muggy here in the summer. I for one don't mind it and love the summer season here. The bugs buzzz and the smells of green leaves pass throughout the air. It also means I can explore further out in Korea without thinking about freezing my butt off.

Summer started with finishing up a tumultuous first semester at my school. Let's just say I've come to appreciate those in managerial postions after being a team leader. Despite that I still love teaching and enriching my student's lives.

It was around the end of July when I made my final decision to leave Korea. As I ventured to Damyang for a taste of a bamboo forest, I brought with me the thoughts that this could possibly be my last adventure in Korea. All by myself out there in small-town Korea I was able to absorb this country's culture and people. I've always felt I was fortunate to visit the countryside as much as I did when I was with my ex, and so once again felt glad to be there.

I would say fall started on Chuseok, which coincided with my birthday. When you think about it, that makes for a really magical year. I got out and ventured into the crowds at the Namsangol Hanok Village. I didn't mind the crowds and found everyone to be in a festive mood.

This is also when I enjoyed the company of others and shared memories in Korea. Friends come and go in Korea, but you learn to make ones that you feel will stick around. Unfortunately, I'm now becoming that friend who leaves. Sorry, everyone!

Once the end of October comes around the air starts to get cooler and you know winter is heading your way. I took to Hongdae and ventured into a newer part (Hapjeong). Here I was reminded of Korea's hip culture that never ceases to be edgy and fun.

I'll miss not walking through these sorts of neighborhoods again, and noting what changes have incurred.

But October also brought upon the KOTESOL Conference, where I discovered that the TESOL profession is certainly for me. It was here that I hoped to end up a lecturer someday sharing my expertise advice on teaching language students. Someday...

Let's November I announced that I was leaving Korea and it meant that I was serious. I bought my plane ticket and started making all my plans to exit this country. It was also a busy time at work and with more team leader snafu's, but I made it through. Again more life lessons to bring with me back home.

It's winter now of course, and as you can see not too much has been happening. I'm kind of keeping it that way as I need to save money for my move. But that doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed time with friends and a few adventures here and there. I am hoping to get to a few museums and exhibits before I go, just wishing the weather would cooperate a little.

But as this is my last winter in Korea I can say I'm ready to say goodbye to the snow and freezing temps.

As this winter will bleed into next year's spring, I'll be packing up my suitcases and heading off into the sunset. After writing about what happened this year I can't help but see how enriching and full it was. Even though I will be a busy student back home I hope to fill my time with adventures and discoveries.

Thank you 2012 and I can't wait for 2013. Good luck everyone in the year of the Snake!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Braved The Cold and Celebrated Christmas

For Christmas I braved the freezing temperatures and ventured into the Jongno area for some Middle-Eastern food and cupcakes. I met a like minded friend who wanted to enjoy this holiday season and we had a jolly good time.

We picked up cupcakes from Goodovening near Euljiro-1 station.

In fact I based my Christmas-fun location on the proximity of an Indian or Middle Eastern restaurant to a cupcake shop (that would be open). My favorite cupcake shop is really in Itaewon but they were closed this season, so I went with Goodovening. Their cupcakes are pretty good, except the cake is really dense.

Our dining experience was at Saffron in the area where Myeongdong starts (at the Ibis hotel).

From reviews I read online, people said this place was authentic and that the prices were decent. When we stepped inside we were seated at a table near the window, where we had a view of decorated trees. It was quite lovely and cozy.

Once opening the menu we realized the prices were certainly in the "special occasion" arena. Main dishes were around 20,000 won. Since my friend is vegetarian we ate mostly off the appetizer menu, getting the hummus mixed plate and falafels. I also ordered a vegetable curry and some naan and pita bread.

The taste was very good and quite satisfying. There were generous amounts of hummus and dippings on the plate to fill us both. Afterward we enjoyed the cupcakes, one a caramel concoction and the other a "bird's nest" of roasted coconut on top. I particularly liked the coconut one more!

We enjoyed a good amount of time sitting in the restaurant and catching up over old times and also talking about the future. It came time to move on home before things got too cold. On our way we enjoyed a Christmas tree in the lobby.

Yet what we enjoyed most wasn't getting our picture taken in front of it, but watching a couple spend a glorious amount of time photographing each other and posing in funny ways. Indeed, Christmas is a couple holiday in Korea, which is hard to explain to other people not familiar with it. So everywhere you looked there were couples acting all cute together. I'm over being single and wasn't really bothered by the site of it all. Christmas is still a special time of the year for me, no matter the status of my love life!

Well hope your holidays are shaping up nicely and so Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Heading Back to Being a Student

Looks like there is just about eight more weeks left till I hitch a ride back to America. I've done a lot of preparation towards moving and learning about Seattle. It seems preparing myself for Graduate school and becoming a student again has been on the back of my mind. I know that Graduate school will be a lot harder than Undergraduate school, but haven't really grasped that yet. In hindsight I don't really think there is much I can do to prepare for my upcoming school days, except buy some notebooks and pens.

However, I figured why not get a sense for the terminology and concepts of TESOL before heading into the classroom. So I went on iTunes and downloaded some "iTunesU" of TESOL lectures. The Teachers College at Columbia University offers some videos on the subject such as, "Action-based Teaching and Learning: An Ecological Perspective." So I packed up my notebook (the paper kind) and iPod and headed to my local Starbucks this morning. I figured the crowds won't be there till the afternoon and I could get some cozy listening in before the couples arrive.

As I sat and listened to the lecture it all sort of made sense to me. Although I don't know all the jargon he was using I was able to correlate the content with my own experience.  He had a chart on the projector that showed how one can go about lesson planning and execution. On one side was a "very planned" style where students know what to expect every time, and on the other side was more innovative styles. He said how if you stick to a rigid plan each class can become stale, and worse if you don't really plan and just "wing-it" your classes have no clear outcomes. Planning for innovation and exploration is more favored because students get involved and make real-life connections. He asked the audience where they felt they were on this graph, and to me I felt like I was somewhere in the center. I make really detailed plans but also change things up class-to-class. I've also found that I sometimes assess the students attitudes as the class starts and change up my activities or lecture to accommodate.

All in all, listening to the lectures and taking notes reassured me I can head back to school. It's been six years since I was as a student, and hope I'm not too rusty. I think I'll have a lot to input into the class as I'll be bringing my teaching experience with me. So I'm all excited to be heading back to school and also just jazzed up about getting more into this profession. :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Korea's Future Without Me

The recent Korean Presidential election reminded me that this country's politics and future is going to roll on without me next year. I am surprised and proud of Korea for electing a woman President, but I know that it doesn't necessarily mean more rights for women in this country. However, with the figures for the number of people who voted this election I can see that people care about their country's future and want changes to come.

To be honest I'm not deeply involved in Korea's political scene or know in depth the problems Korea faces. However, I know that it's very expensive to get a house here due to many reasons and that I for one would like to see things change to help people settle down.

Korea has changed so much in the five years I have been here, and mostly in the commercial landscape. Take Itaewon for example, a town that when I first visited felt like an oasis for foreigners. This was because not many Korean people seemed to be there inside the restaurants and bars. I mean there were Korean people there of course, but when I mentioned "Itaewon" to my Korean friends their typical response was, "Is it safe?" Now Itaewon has become the hub of gourmet restaurants and swanky clubs, almost starting to look like Hongdae's outer areas of swankiness. This is all good and fine, but for those who remember Itaewon as it was it's a huge a change. My point I want to make is that I think Koreans have changed in a way of embracing Westernization and accepting Westerners here.

Anyway, I've learned in the past to not talk too much about Korean's and their opinions as some think I was wrong.

If I were to wish for Korea's future I mostly would hope that the country continues to prosper and also find peace with it's neighbor up north. Of course that can't be accomplished if North Korea continues to be as stubborn as it is.

Roboseyo has a good post about the election, which he put up after a slumbering period of no posts. Now Korea will have five years of President Park Geun Hye, and I hope she delivers what the people want.

As for me I'm heading home to my country where a fiscal cliff looms and guns laws need to be tightened. However, I am not afraid to return to my country in the state that it's in. Besides I'm moving to Washington State where they just legalized marijuana and gay marriage!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Video about Fashion and also Beauty in Korea

After watching this video:

It made me think about these aspects of Korean culture that I have found interesting, creative but at the same time at odds about. The video at the beginning goes into underground fashion and sort of what "real" fashion is like here in Korea. Then it veers off into plastic surgery and how it's "extreme". 

I for one am not a fashionable person. I mean I like fashion and appreciate it, but don't really go out of my way to embrace it. 

However, I can say the "plastic surgery" issue has come up a lot in my time here in Korea. For one I can't help but stare at the surgery ads on the subway with the "before" and "after" pictures. Then I look at Korean women and wonder what they had done. 

For the most part I understand that one's looks in this country are very important. Changing those looks can indeed give you more confidence and help you get through the competing race of love and career here. But I've often wondered if Korean women feel like it is too much, and whether they worry about their future. It sometimes feels like they are changing their "Korean-ness" to be this plastic ideal. Eventually most women in Korea will look like this ideal...

But it's their country and they do as they will. Americans get plastic surgery too and care about their looks just as much. 

Either way this was a fun and vibrant video to watch and one that gives you a nice little look into contemporary Korean culture. Putting the plastic surgery stuff aside I liked how one person in the video talked about his concern that most of the world will just know Korea through K-Pop, when there is other music and fashion that could better serve Korea's image. Perhaps this person needs to know that K-pop will be like the first door someone opens to understanding Korean culture. From there they can explore the rest of it.

When I head back home and tell people I was living in Korea for five year's, I'll be curious to see what they say. I think, if the opportunity comes, I'll ask them what they think about when I say "South Korea." Having lived over here for five year's I know my understanding will be different to "regular" folks back home. Something I'm going to be proud to carry over with, as I wouldn't mind spreading Korean culture to people back home.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Getting Five Years of Stuff Down to Two Suitcases

 After five years here, stuff starts to accumulate. I'm talking about books, souvenirs, memorabilia, and just anything else I've held onto over the years. So I've been sorting things lately and making one big pile of "donate" and the rest is being packed into boxes to be shipped across the ocean. I found it the cheapest to send via "surface" or by ship. But the weight limit for each box is 20kg or 44lbs. So trying to meet these requirements is a little tough.

This small pile pictured above is the stuff I am hoping to take with me along with my clothes in two suitcases. Speaking of clothes, I have a lot! Since Korea has four or really two seasons (hot and cold) I've accumulated quite the collection. However, I am going to let go of a lot and hold on to the essentials. Some of it's old and worn out anyway.

How does one get rid of their stuff here in Korea? Back home you would call up the Salvation Army and they would pick up anything if it's in boxes. They have the Salvation Army here in Korea, but I have yet to try it. So we will see if that works out. In the meantime I have a nice huge pile of clothes, books and stuff growing in my laundry room closet.

What's left besides my "stuff" is a lot of kitchen wares, items and also furniture throughout the house. For some reason I filled up my space here with 3 bookshelves, desk and chair, microwave stand and a large TV stand. All of which will need to go, as you can see by my previous post. Hopefully people will come and buy this stuff or it can be donated. The worse case scenario is just giving it up to the front of the building. Instead of donating it themselves they tear left over furniture apart and get rid of it that way.

I also notice I have a lot of art supplies including sketchbooks and other materials. Also I have my portfolio that I need to figure out how to get back home, either with me or by shipping.

Thankfully I have till February to liquidate it all and pack up my two suitcases for the move. Our school's Christmas vacation is coming up next week and so that will give me plenty of time to start squaring away these tasks.

Seeing and going through all my stuff made me realize how much I settled into living here in Korea. I'm sure if I had planned on just teaching a few years and moving back, I wouldn't have accumulated so much. Oh well! Time to head back home and start piling on more! ha ha

Saturday, December 15, 2012

TV Stand and Bookshelf for Sale!

There are two items here for sale and both are in great condition.

1. Is a large TV stand. Dimensions are Length 149 m, Width 43.5 m, height 48m. It has five draws that pull out and an opening in the center for your entertainment device.

2. A standard bookshelf in light brown color. Dimensions are 120 height, 24m length and 38m depth.

1. TV Stand: 70,000 Won
2. Bookshelf: 10,000 Won

GET BOTH for 60,000 Won!

You have to come and pick this up and I live in Nowon, Seoul. More stuff for sale as time goes by, but items seen on this stuff is not for sale.

Thank you!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Life" in Korea ~ a video

Dug up some videos in the archive and threw this little ditty together. Maybe you will be able to spot familiar scenes. 

Enjoy. Music found here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I liked about Korea after 5 years

I am not a list maker on this blog. If you look back through the years there have been only a few times where I have made lists. But I think it is important to "list" in some way what I have liked about living in Korea for this long. I am sure whatever I mention here might be useful to the newcomer to Korea and also help them see what makes living here worthwhile.

Getting around: You could be freezing your ass off outside in the icy temps or roasting hot in the summer, but the busses and trains will always be there. Seoul provides many means of transportation that generally come on time and get you to your location quickly. It's one of the benefits of living in a compact country and certainly doesn't hurt your wallet after using it often. Even traveling outside of Seoul one has subway and bus options. If not then a taxi will do!

Healthcare: For the longest time I told myself I couldn't leave this country because I get great healthcare. I have an auto-immune disease that requires medication and doctor's visits. Three months worth of my medicine costs me no more than 30,000 won. Plus my Doc visits were also cheap. I can't help but say I will miss the healthcare, however at the same time relent that it's not worth staying in the country for. However, it's a great service and shows how functional a National Health Insurance plan can be.

Networking: I learned a lot about how to open up to people and share your lives with them. Starting on the grounds of just being expats people seemed more open minded to be your friend. I really liked getting to know the artist community here, along with the KOTESOL folks. It seems there is always something happening where you can meet new people who share similar interests.

Access to Contemporary Asian Art: I really enjoyed being able to visit galleries, museums and exhibitions featuring contemporary Asian art. Mostly because you can't have such access to this back home, and also it was all in Asia. I felt like I had a better time understanding the works by living here. I'm sure I'll find a way to fill this void back in Seattle, but nothing beats the plethora of art on display here.

Food: Of course I can't avoid mentioning this. I love Korean food! I crave a warm boiling pot of dweanjang jiggae in the winter and cold naengmyun in the summer. I may not always want to eat Korean, but the food is so delicious and unique here I know it's going to be hard to find good places back home. If you have any doubts of coming to Korea because you might not like the food, well don't worry!

Neighborhoods: As you explore Seoul and other areas you start to get to know different neighborhoods. Like Hongdae or Jongno. For me I really enjoyed Samcheongdong and other parts of that area. Mostly I liked seeing neighborhoods expand and change throughout the years. Insadong is definitely not the same when I first got here. However, I think that's what made living here so lively. I could return to a part of Seoul I hadn't been to in a long time and discover something totally new about it. I wonder how much will change when I leave.

The Rural Route: Getting out of Seoul and seeing Korea as it is without the tall buildings and bustling streets is a really great site. I explored out of Seoul both on my own and with Ex's, and every time felt like I was getting a taste of real culture. People are really welcoming and friendly in this country and you can explore it with a beginner's hand at Korean. I am quite fond of my recent trip to Damyang and will always look back at that experience as a very positive way to enjoy Korea. Also not to mention my trip to Munkyeong and their tea bowl festival.

You know I could probably keep listing more and more, but I'm sure I've mentioned stuff elsewhere. If you have anything to add, please do!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On this coldest day in December...

From what my friend tells me this is the coldest day in December that Korea has seen in 27 years. That not only made my eyebrows raise but at the same time give me chills. Temperatures in the teens usually doesn't come around till January. But it looks like things will "warm" up next week, a bit.

To beat the cold my friend and I enjoyed watching a movie and TV in the comfort of my warm home. For dinner we had homemade bulgolgi and japchae, with lettuce for wraps. It was a warming meal and also quite wholesome.

Dipping the bok choy and other greens in to the gochujjang, turned out to be quite tasty. Fresh and live vegetables are probably what the body needs to keep healthy this frozen season.

Anyway, hope everyone is staying warm this winter and finding fun ways to enjoy it despite the low temps.

Friday, December 7, 2012

San Francisco > Seoul > Seattle

Ever since I left my dad's house to attend community college in Humboldt County (Eureka, CA), it feels like I have been a nomad. I think it's a symptom of my age, where we don't settle in one place. But this allows one to explore and see the world as they move around. That is why as I find myself packing things up and heading to Seattle, I know I'll be ready for what's ahead.

I also find it somewhat iconic to be going from one big city to the next. In San Francisco I worked at an insurance company that was right in front of the Pyramid building, and a block from Chinatown. 

Living in San Francisco, for the most part, was where I gained my city feet and learned how to survive in the urban environment. Having come from Eureka, a town of probably just a thousand people set against the deep redwood forests, living in the city was certainly new. When I decided to come to Korea I wondered if I was prepared for Seoul life, a city of millions. 

I left the triangular tower and came to Seoul with it's iconic Namsan Tower set in the center of everything. 

(my photo)
What really can prepare you to live in a city of millions of people? Everywhere you go, whenever you go is crowded or never really empty. Life flows on the streets so abundantly here that the buzz only dies down on certain holidays. But this doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It just means this is a city that beats and constantly spins to it's own rhythm due to the number of people and it's culture. I've often felt when visiting back home in my dad's small town an eerie feeling of the lack of people around. Seoul is a vibrant city with so much going on that you hardly need to dig deep to find meaningful experiences. 

Leaving Seoul behind is a hard decision as it is a city that has truly grown on to me. I have felt like I fit in here after so many years. But it's time to look forward and onward, and this time the place of interest is Seattle.

I have never been to Seattle, and in fact it will be the Northwestern most point in America that I will end up in. People tell me it's a fun and great city to live in and I believe them. From what I've read the place is buzzing with good food, live music and an eclectic scene of artists and creative people. 

Already I've found museums and parks that I want to explore, and with Canada right up top I might take an adventure there too. Since I'll be a student they have plenty of cozy cafes to warm up in with my laptop or books. And libraries!! Yes, Korea has libraries but you know..wasn't the same. 

It's going to be a new place to discover and I hope to get involved in the community and get to know what makes Seattle buzz. 

Anyway, just wanted to share this interesting set of facts about my life. Winter is here in Korea and I have to keep warm thoughts as the temperatures drop down. So here is looking ahead to the future and appreciating where I have been in the past. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

하얀 눈이 예뻐요!

The fresh and beautiful snow came down on Seoul today, leaving a glimmering snowy path to travel on the way home. Certainly it had the kids in a frenzy and people just generally caught by surprise. I really think it came early this year and is a sign of what this winter is going to be like.

Either way the sight, sound and smell of snow is unforgettable. Since this is my last winter in Korea, I guess nature wanted to leave me something to remember.

I liked this young girl walking ahead of me with her polka dot umbrella.

That's one heck of a snowball!

Bring it on winter!
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