With Goodbyes Come Hellos

21 09 2008

With less than 10 days left in Korea it time to start saying goodbye. This weekend I had a wonderful evening with my four Korean friends from U of I. I met these amazing girls a year ago May when we (along with 7 other students) went on a 12 day volunteer road trip to the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California. When I mentioned that at one point I was considering teaching English in Asia, it was them that put the idea of Korea in my head. (In the photo: Madonna, Hyejin, Goya, and Kristen)

While I’ve been here I haven’t had the chance to see them as much as I’d of liked to. Partly because they were all busy college students, partly because for the most part they lived on the other side of a mega city, and partly because my job was stressful and time consuming. But the times that we have had together were always really great.

We had plans to meet as a group one last time. Little did I know they wanted to treat me to dinner, buy me an icecream cake, and give me a gift! Thank you girls, you are too kind!

It feels strange to start saying goodbye. I still feel like my departure is far off and that there is so much to do between now and then. But I am ready, I have been getting progressively more excited about traveling and returning to the US. And I can’t wait to see all of my friends back home.


Nami Island

7 09 2008

Minkyung and I took a day trip yesterday. We traveled by bus and train and bus and ferry to get to a little island in the middle of the Han river a 3 hour journey away from Seoul.

It was a very picturesque island with tall ginkgo and birch trees lining the pathways. It was about 3 miles in circumference and had little tandems and segways and strange transportation that people could rent to explore the island. It also had lots of sculpture art and little restaurants and a couple of band shells with live music.

It was a nice relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Walking, and eating yummy food, and taking pictures, and enjoying the company. But the best part of all was when we saw the wild ostrich family strutting around the island. OSTRICH ALLERT!

Oh, and note the hints of fall in the back ground. Yay!

Here is a link to the rest of my album.

Seoul Walking Tour

1 09 2008

My friend Robyn found some really great walking tours on the National Geographic website of Seoul. So this weekend we decided to check out the ‘Old Seoul’ tour and had a lot of fun. I had been to a lot of neighborhoods that the tour took us through, but it pointed out interesting sights that had gone unnoticed or took me a little further beyond, around corners that I’d not turned before.

We started off at Gyeongbok Palace, the main palace in Seoul, then visited Beomyeonsa temple, after that we walked along a street of art galleries and eventually wandered to the President’s house. Then along a boutique and cafe lined road to a couple of museums. Finally we wandered along Seoul’s only district of traditional homes, with the new city in the distance. It was a spectacularly unique sight even after living here for a year.

For the details of the tour click on the national geographic link above, and for a few more photos click for my album here.

3 things…

23 08 2008

1. My school is closing down. With only a month and a half left on my contract this was really shocking news. I was expecting to coast through to the end with all the big hurdles of observations and drama performances and open houses out of the way. I really wanted to be able to just focus on being the best teacher I can be and really work hard for all of my students that I have come to cherish and adore. The thing is, my boss owns two schools so I will be able to fulfill my contract (and make all of those pennies that I was counting on). This next week will be the last one at the current school. Right now it is not entirely clear how many of the students will follow us to the new school, but it is located in a completely different neighborhood. With private English institutions lining Seoul’s streets many parents don’t want to put their children on a bus for 45min-1h to get to the other school. I think that I will keep many of the students in my kindergarten class, but lose the majority of my after school elementary students. I just hate that there have to be so many changes so close to the end. I guess I was expecting too much and should have learned by now its never smooth sailing at Kid’s College.

2. More big changes….Dan and I are not moving to southern California anymore. He decided to take a research position at UIUC and is really excited about it. Financially it was the right decision to be made, and I’m sure all around it was the right decision to be made, but I am just taking a bit of time to adjust to the change in plans after preparing to move to CA for the past 6 months. What I’m looking forward to the most: being close to Dory, saving money, being close to Amy and Christopher Chase Bolt who just bought a house in Urbana, and in a lot of ways I think that it will be easier for me and Dan to be in a more familiar space after all of our time apart. Changes, changes, changes….

3. Exciting News! During my recent visit to Japan I found myself missing my family a lot and knowing that they would have loved all the experiences that I was having, especially my father. Dad has shown interest in coming to visit, but I guess neither of us ever pushed it, so it never really happened. But when I was in Japan I realized that I wanted him to travel with me in Southeast Asia between my contract and my return home just in time for Rachel’s wedding (my best friend from HS). So a couple of days ago my dad and I booked him a ticket meeting me in Vietnam. From there we will go south to Singapore and Indonesia, and two weeks later he will fly home from Malaysia. I will continue traveling for about a week before returning home myself. It’s going to be great!

Weekend Getaway

18 08 2008

Over the weekend I retreated away to my dear friend Hyejin’s family home a couple of hours outside of Seoul. It was absolutely wonderful.  She lives near a town called Cheongju that is in a wide valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. High up on some parts the leaves were starting to change color already. Everything else was just green, green, green for my eyes to behold. A nice change from the concrete-ness of Seoul. We did a bit of sightseeing, lots of visiting, a ridiculous amount of eating, and the perfect bit of relaxing and soaking in the start of the Olympics. Hyejin’s parents didn’t speak English, but they made me feel so welcome and comfortable in their beautiful apartment. I was surrounded by such kindhearted people, eating delicious homemade Korean delights, relaxing on their sectional leather couch, watching their big screen, ahhhhhhhhhhh!

On the Sunday we went to a river where people were picnicking (Korean style) and swimming.

Hyejin with her parents.

My turn!



11 08 2008

I recently got the opportunity to spend a week vacationing in Japan. It was a really amazing trip, and came at just the right time. Things at work, as always, are high energy and high stress and we only get two weeks vacation a year. I’ve known ever since I had plans to move to Korea that visiting Japan was high on my list of places to go. It certainly met my expectations, both as a getaway from ‘it all’ and as a country that I have always wanted to visit.

I traveled there with my co-worker Jordan. Together we planed a trip which started with 3 days in Tokyo, a day hiking Mt. Fuji (see below) and 3 days in Kyoto (the formal Imperial capital of Japan, and thriving historical center).

While in Tokyo we tried to enjoy a budget vacation (hard to do in the world’s most expensive country!) So, we stayed in these capsule hotels. Pretty cool, eh? Basically like a hostel, but with a bit more privacy, tv included and all! It was a really neat and uniquely Japanese experience.

We ran all around the city, walking LOTS and just soaking in the city and all that it has to offer. Probably one of the highlight of Tokyo was when we were wandering around the  Harajuku area and happened upon these guys:

These greased out 40something year olds were rocking out to Japanese diner rock in the 100 degrees weather non stop. They were really into themselves, and even had a full length mirror where they kept dancing over to so that they could check out their hair and six packs. Ah, Yoyogi park, I love you!

Other highlights in Tokyo included eating delicious sushi at 8am at Tokyo fish market


Checking out Shinjuku crossing both at day and at night. This multi lane crosswalk is thought to be the world’s busiest crosswalk, and it could easily supply hours of people watching

After Tokyo and our hike up Fuji Mountain we headed to Kyoto on the super fast bullet train, another unique Japanese experience. By the time we got to Kyoto we were feeling tuckered, but still eager to soak it all in. We enjoyed staying in a slightly more luxurious Ryokan (Japanese style hotel). We woke up early and tried to soak in as many temples and shrines as we could each day, but the weather was hot and my body exhausted so I spent the afternoons relaxing in the hotel, soaking in the onsen (hot springs public bath), watching BBC world news, and reading Siddhartha, which was the more than perfect book to meet the cadence of my travel. Retreat from chaos, spiritual symbolic journey up Fuji, reflections on my relationships, break in my daily routine. The book was thought provoking and beautiful in a myriad of ways.

Here are some photo highlights from Kyoto:

For a larger selection of photos from my trip click below:

Tokyo Album

Kyoto Album

Mt. Fuji

4 08 2008

While I was in Japan last week on vacation my coworker, Jordan, and I hiked to the summit of Mt. Fuji. It was such an amazing experience! We left Tokyo around 11am and took a bus to Kawaguchi, the 5th station. It is about 2300m high and where most hikers start from. I was prepared as could be, with water and food for the next 24 hours and gear for the array of weather elements that I was sure to experience on the hike. We started up the mountain around 2pm and hiked till sunset when I needed a well deserved rest. We spend a few hours in a really expensive, packed hut where there was only room to lay flat on our back when it came time to (try to) sleep. We got up around 1am and hiked in the rain for the next 3 or so hours with our headlights guiding the way. At times the traffic of pilgrims making the ascent was so thick that we would have to stop and wait for our turn. After hiking through the rain in the dark we made to the summit shortly after 4am just in time for the break of dawn.

The view was spectacular. The sunrise breathtaking (or was that the hike which took my breath?) The experience exhausting in such a satisfying way. Unfortunately because of the rain in the morning my gloves were soaked and I couldn’t feel my fingers. The below freezing temps made it hard for me to enjoy much at the top beyond the sunrise. Jordan circumambulated the volcanic crater while I took a rest in a food hut and tried to regain feeling in my fingers and toes. Now all we had to do was get down!

The morning light was beautiful on the way down. It was hard at times to keep our footing on the steep pumiced mountain, but it went a lot faster then the way up. I can’t say that I’ve gotten sunburnt many times at 8 in the morning, but I guess when you’re 3776m high in the sky its bound to happen. Good thing around 9 I thought to put on sunscreen. About 20 hours after we started up the mountain we returned to the fifth station, exhausted and satisfied.

Click here to see more photos from my journey!