Saturday, August 29, 2009

Last Day in Korea

Well, here I am.

It's one night left, and it feels bizarre. I have had my share of ups and downs in Korea, but on the whole, as I have said previously, I have been happy with my time here in Korea. I know I have grown in many ways, and learned a lot about the world, and myself, through my experiences here this past year.

I am going through waves of happiness and sadness to leave. To those readers still in Korea, and you know who you are, take care, and we'll see you again, soon.

To everyone back home: I'll be there soon, and will have a post up as fast as possible to let everyone know that I landed safe and sound.

All the best, to all,



Monday, August 24, 2009

The last week

Hi everybody,

It feels weird to type that title for this post. Last week. 3 school days left, before our contracts end. That is utterly, utterly, bizarre. I've gotten used to Korea, started picking up bits and pieces of the language, I can read Hangeul fluently, now (still don't know whether I'm seeing signs for a newspaper or a karaoke room, though), have become addicted to kimchi, fell in love with the madness of Seoul, and now I have to say goodbye? It's mildly depressing.

Here's a link to our latest exploits.

We saw Sky, an old friend of Jen's from her days as an ESL teacher in Canada, in Seoul on Saturday. We insisted on buying the dinner, since he snuck off with the bill last time. Korean etiquette on payment is funny, in a good way. In Canada, everybody argues over it, and usually we chip in together, right? Well, in Korea, the oldest person pays. Of course, people might offer to pay, but the oldest person (or the most senior in the company, the only married couple, etc.), pays. Period. Of course, if the older person is there, you have to stay out with him or her until they go home. This can, as you can imagine, lead to some rather epic moments if the older person wants to drink with you.

I'm not sure that Sky is older than Jen, but it was an interesting commentary on our time here to see him protesting when we basically took the bill and told him we'd pay this time.

From his perspective, he was paying the first time because that's what's done, in Korea. From our perspective, we insisted on paying him back for the last time. Getting back into Canadian thinking, I guess, and, besides, he did pay last time. It was our turn.

We then met the new teachers, Thomas and Claire, and showed them around Yeongtong, before going out to our last Suwon Bluewings game in town. Suwon lost, and the crowd was dead. One suspects this is due to the recent passing of former President Kim Dae-Jung. Alternatively, it may have been because Suwon is out of the running for the Championship this season. Either way, it was odd, but still a fun experience. We got stared at for being the only people starting the cheers, but then a dozen or so of the Koreans sitting nearest to us got into it, which was awesome.

We're down to a mere 3 days. I mentioned that earlier, but it still feels weird. I mentioned, in my last post, that I have fallen in love with this country. It has bizarre mood swings, but its an amazing country. I remember sheer culture shock threatening to overwhelm me in my first week, to the point that I was almost crying, and wanted to just say to hell with it and fly back home.

And yet, here I am, a year later, saying goodbyes to friends and students whom I've become accustomed to seeing every day, every week, or at least every month.

I will miss this place, but more importantly, I will miss the people. One of my students was sad last night, after class. He said "Teacher, I was in your class for a year. A year, teacher!" And then he smiled, sadly, and said goodbye.

This is one of my favorite students, so it hurt to hear those words coming from him. I know it is not 'goodbye' for some of my fellow teachers, since I'll see them again in Canada, or in the States, I'm sure. I know that for some of my students, this is not goodbye, either, since I'm already getting emails from some of them--one with pictures of Lee Min Ho, a soap-opera actor who is obviously my students' newest crush--but it still feels weird, and sad.

At the same time, I am looking forward to seeing Canada, again, and family and friends. It has been amazing, frustrating, and fun, to be in this part of the world. For what few bad parts that have come my way, I've found a dozen more things that were worth every moment of my travelling here.

I came here thinking I would take a year off from University, to work on PhD applications, make some money, and pay off student debts. Lo and behold, I emerge on the other side discovering that I love teaching, period, and that I don't really want to go back to school again. I've earned my TESL Canada Certification, and I intend to make a go of teaching in Canada. I also discovered that I like kids, and that so does Jen.

In short, while some folks talk about coming to Korea to 'find themselves,' and sometimes don't, I came to Korea to work, and end up finding out a lot about myself.

Funny the way things go, eh?

3 more days. I'll have, I hope, time for one more blog post, to make sure that folks back home know that Jen and I are okay, and then we'll be off on our 22-hour flight back home. Quirk of travelling that we'll be leaving and arriving on the same day, and only five hours later, objectively. Subjectively, though, Sunday's going to hurt.

Talk to you all soon!


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Insadong, 9 days left.

Hi all,

It's coming down to that time. We went into Insadong, a touristy part of town, for the last time. Regular readers may remember our first trip into that place along with Dave Gagnier, Daniel Leslie, and Oliver White.

They're still here, but the latter two, like me and my wife, are not going to be in Korea much longer. There. I said it. It's an odd mix of emotions that I have at present, with 9 business days left. I feel tired, and ready to go home... but also nervous about finding work, and about all the various insanities that go into travelling back home across the world.

I feel sad about leaving, but also fulfilled. I have seen much of the world that I might not otherwise have had a chance to see. I will miss Korea--it is strange, and fast-paced, and utterly illogical at times. It is noisy and occasionally bizarre. It is also humble, quiet, and peaceful, with a history and a unique culture, and a sense of pride that you won't find in many other places in the world. To say it's a mixed-bag is redundant, of course, but it is. I've enjoyed it all, the good and the bad, and I'm going to miss it, one way or another.

The reverse-culture-shock is going to be a pain, let's just say.

So, Insadong. We bought a bunch of gifts for folks back home. No hints, here, folks. Suffice 't to say that they are lovely, and you shall enjoy them.

We like that district. It's overpriced, but some of the shops have some genuinely nifty things hidden in the back alleys and sidewalk shops.

A week before that, Dave, myself, Roger Lam, and one of Dave's friends climbed Dobungsan. That hurt, but the view was worth it. Never went hiking in 35 degrees + humidity before, and I can say that I think I lost a pound and a half in sweat before we even got to the first marker. It was great to see Roger again, though, and to take in what is a quintessential Korean pastime: climbing one of the many mountains in this rocky country.

This weekend was Insadong, and a game of Cities and Knights, an expansion on Settlers of Catan with Dave. Man, that game is addictive. I know what I want for Christmas.

Next week: my last Bluewings game. My kids are jealous, and I intend to scream myself near hoarse during the game. After all, my adopted home team ain't doing so well this year, and every little bit helps, right?

Talk to you soon,


Saturday, August 1, 2009


Hi all,

Just got back from Tokyo! What a blast! We took dozens of pictures, but here's what we did:

We got up bright and early, four in the morning, to get to our 8 o'clock flight. We were staying in Shinjuku, a district of Tokyo's West end, and in the sub-district called Kabukicho... Essentially, the red-light district. We're no strangers to this, but seeing guys walking around dressed like pimps was a bit goofy. That said, we got in on time, checked in... and snoozed for an hour. Promptly thereafter, we got some dinner (SUSHI!) and played Mario Kart, then stocked up on supplies for the next day.

Which started hot. We went to the Imperial Palace, not perhaps as impressive as the one in Kyoto, but still interesting. It was, however, blazing hot, enough to make me gag and Jen want to collapse. We took in the Emperor's residence, which was originally built by warlords, and used by Tokugawa Ieyasu to hold Tokyo for himself, and as his base of power. The Shogunate he founded ruled Japan from the beginning of the 1600s, all the way to the 1860s, when the Meiji Emperor reclaimed Imperial power from the Shogun.

The castle is not the same as that in Kyoto because it was targeted by the Allies during the Second World War, so this is understandable. Sad, but understandable.

We then went to Ueno, where we took in a Japanese cultural museum (The Tokyo National Museum), much to Jen's relief from the heat. We saw some old swords, samurai armor, and dozens of relics from Japan's past.

The next day, we dropped into Asakusa, the shopping district, and Roppongi, where the night clubs were. It was neat to see temples next to 300 year old shops, and to see Tokyo lit up like a bulb during the night. As Jennifer has commented, it was very Blade Runner-esque.

All in all, a fun time. We're tired, but happy, and looking forward to our last few weeks in Korea, having just enjoyed our last trip abroad in Asia for the immediate future.

Best to all,