The countdown is over.
Currently, I’m at Incheon International Airport, officially checked in and awaiting takeoff. Only 34 minutes until boarding time!
The next time I write, I’ll be in 31°C weather and working on my suntan. Now, tell me you’re not jealous! xx
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According to today’s news reports, Seoul was shaken by a mild earthquake Tuesday night. Registering at a 3.0 magnitude, the quake was the first of its degree to be detected in more than 30 years. No one was injured.
One of Korea’s top English newspapers, The Chosun Ilbo, reported the earthquake could be felt in regions surrounding Seoul within the Gyeonggi Province. But with Suwon located a good 20 miles south of the nation’s capital, residents of the “happy” city remained safe and sound and wholly unaware of what was shaking northward. I myself was unable to fall asleep until 5 a.m. but I blame that on my youtube marathon of The Amazing Race, not the earthquake!
Read the full Chosun Ilbo article here.
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It’s amazing how quickly Korea can spoil you with its outstanding capacity for travel and adventure. With the Gyeonggi-do public school system’s contractual 20 days of paid vacation and Korea’s prime location in the heart of Eastern Asia, it’s standard for most ESL teachers to take two or three trips abroad in a single year. Last year I had the good fortune of visiting four countries: Thailand, Japan, China and Taiwan.
International travel is so standard to the foreign teacher’s lifestyle in Korea that I’ve forgotten just how extraordinary it really is. Despite the fact that I’ve lived nearly 20 years of my life without seeing a single thing beyond the United States’s borders, it’s now hard for me to imagine going for more than a year without a holiday abroad. Even my last international trip, to Taiwan just this past July, seems ages ago to me. Since arriving in Korea a year and a half ago, it’s the longest I’ve gone without a foreign vacation. But to think that I’ve become so accustomed to routine international adventure that I’m lamenting a six-month lapse is pretty mind-boggling and shows just how much my life has evolved. The small-town Wisconsin girl whose experience with ethnic diversity, cultural exchange and big-city living didn’t reach beyond Madison has become a world traveler! Wow.
So, you might be wondering, where will I be going next? (Drum roll, please …)
My flight is booked and the countdown is on!
9 days to go …
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Just like anywhere else you’d call home, where life is molded by duty and sculpted by habit, life in Korea doesn’t vary a whole lot from day to day. There are the whirlwind weekends in Seoul, the trips out of town to visit friends, the holidays abroad to explore Asia. But more often than not, there is none of the above. There is just the regular workday. So, in this way, life as a foreigner in the Far East isn’t as foreign as you might imagine. In fact, in many ways, my life is probably a lot like yours.
Most days I follow the same general routine. I oversleep. I hurry to shower and dress. I skip breakfast. I go to work. I teach four morning classes and spend the afternoon lesson-planning, reading or writing. I leave work, have a quick workout at the gym and get ready for the night to begin. Usually it’s as simple as dinner or a movie with a friend. Sometimes it’s as mundane as grocery shopping or cleaning my apartment. And once in awhile, if I’m especially energetic, it’s a few drinks at Now Bar.
As creatures of habit, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the daily grind, without ever stopping to analyze what it is we’re really doing as we hurry from one time slot in our schedules to the next. Work. Home. Play. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. And so it goes from one weekday to the next.
But, luckily for me, as a resident of a foreign country, it’s also easy enough to snap out of it. Because every so often something happens that opens my eyes, jars my senses and reminds me of how wonderfuly strange, exciting, fascinating and confusing life can be, especially life abroad.
The trigger can be quite ordinary. Most times it is. Maybe it’s as simple as eating something new, learning a new Korean fact, or realizing you know hardly anything at all. Maybe it’s as frustrating as losing your way on public transportation, as annoying as struggling to figure out how to get the Internet repaired in your apartment, as frightening as being trampled by a group of over-aggressive ajummas (Korean for old women) in the street, or as awkward as feeling like absolutely everyone is staring at you. Maybe it’s as inspiring as swapping travel tales with a new pal, as hilarious as watching a Korean talk show on TV, as touching as hearing a student of yours tell you she loves you, or as heartwarming as being showered with piles of complimentary food, placed proudly on your table by the local restaurant owner, simply because you said you like Korean cuisine.
And that’s when you remember. You remember that life in Korea is nothing short of incredible.
Filed under: everyday life, foreigners, reflection, teaching | Leave a Comment
Tags: life abroad, schedule
COUNTRIES TRAVELED TO: 4
CITIES IN KOREA VISITED: 13
MOUNTAINS CLIMBED: 3
BOOKS READ: 14
PICTURES TAKEN: 3,774
TRULY GOOD FRIENDS MADE: 5
APARTMENTS LIVED IN: 3
SONGS DOWNLOADED: 933
EMAILS SENT: 278
SCHOOLS OR ACADEMIES WORKED FULL OR PARTTIME AT: 4
IN-THEATER MOVIES SEEN: 9
BLOG POSTS WRITTEN: 38
PLANS TO ATTEND LAW SCHOOL CHANGED: 4
PAIRS OF SHOES BOUGHT: 8
BONES BROKEN: 1
HEARTS BROKEN: 1
MEMORIES MADE: COUNTLESS
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Like last year’s Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in Korea, this year’s holiday season made me feel a little (a lot) lonesome for family and friends, and a little (a lot) sentimental about the end of another year of my life. And just like last year, I did my best to make the most of it all. This time around, I went through the holiday season with the benefit of more friends, closer connections, a deeper understanding and a better outlook. But, of course, I still found it difficult to not think too much about home.
So what does a homesick girl do to cheer herself up in times like these? Gather with good friends and celebrate! Celebrate what? Absolutely anything.
The Party Season.
November 14. Patrick & Elaine’s Engagement Party. On my second day in Korea, way back in August of 2008, I met an English-Canadian couple at Suwon Station who very graciously welcomed me to the country with galbi and soju. After months of lost contact, we got back in touch and just in time for their engagement! Patrick and Elaine’s friends gathered at a wine bar in Suwon to celebrate what we all think is the perfect culmination to a perfect match.
November 21. Connla’s Birthday Party. I have an Irish buddy named Connla, who I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, but who nonetheless is a close friend of mine. In celebration of his 27th birthday, a group of our friends shared some pre-bar drinks at his apartment before heading to Beomgye for a night of debaucherous dancing at Club Slang. To top the night off, the club’s special promotion, fifteen minutes of free tequila shots, came as a very welcome surprise to everyone. Because who needs cake when there’s tequila? Happy birthday, friend!
November 26. Thanksgiving Dinner with Ryan. Not about to half-heartedly celebrate the holiday with only a Korean meal and a comfortably full stomach, I made it my mission to cook as close to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as possible and eat as much as I could. And even with limited resources and a tiny kitchen, I was able to stuff myself full with most of my holiday favorites. Ryan and I spent the evening eating piles of delicious food, watching good movies and engaging in even better conversation. And, in the end, the only nontraditional part of this Thanksgiving was the absence of turkey and the fact that my company was Canadian.
November 27. Byron’s Farewell Party. Where do Suwon expats go to celebrate their final night in Korea, to come together with their nearest and dearest friends and have that one last hurrah? For many, it’s the place where it all began, the place where they met their first real friends and first felt at home. It’s Now Bar. Ryan’s former coworker Byron did just that, gathering at everyone’s favorite foreigner hangout for a final round of drinks and memory making, before bidding farewell to the R.O.K. for what might be for good. We miss you, Byron!
November 28. Thanksgiving Potluck with Patrick & Elaine. In the true tradition of Thanksgiving, a big group of expats came together at Patrick and Elaine’s to share good food, good feelings and good fun. I brought the sweet potatoes, which, for such a simple dish, turned out to be surprisingly unedible. Luckily for everyone, there were plenty of other (properly made, delicious) foods to pass around, so not a person was left unsatisfied. After dinner we played a round of Cranium, substituting leftover mashed potatoes for the game’s misplaced clay component. A lot messier, but way more festive!
December 4. Luke’s Welcome-Back Gathering. Just as I was settling into life in Suwon, a Canadian named Luke had finished his tenure and was on his way out. Almost a year later, to everyone’s delight, Luke has come back to the country for another term of Korean fun. The lot of us gathered at Now Bar to welcome him back, and though I didn’t know him well to begin with, I was happy to join and become better acquainted with the person all my friends seemed to be talking about.
December 11. My Apartment-Warming Party. After signing on for another year as a public school English teacher, this time at Gokban Elementary School, I moved off of my friend Sharon’s floor (where I was temporarily staying until I made the transition from parttime private tutoring to fulltime contracted job) and into my own snazzy loft-style apartment in Yeongtong, Suwon. This apartment, in the Seohyeon Officetel complex, is bigger, nicer and in a better location than my last. Thirty-five minutes southeast of my old place, Seohyeon Officetel is in a safer neighborhood, closer to my friends and within walking distance of Now Bar. Who could ask for more? And what better way to celebrate than to break the place in with a dozen good friends and a couple dozen bottles of almost-good wine?
December 12. Luke’s Apartment-Warming Party. The day after my own apartment-warming party, Luke hosted one of his own. This time the gang headed to the Jamsil/Sincheon area of Seoul to check out his new place before going to Hongdae for the night. I was in pretty rough shape, having spent the entire day feeling hungover, but somehow I managed to power through the nausea and occasional urges to vomit and end up enjoying more than my fair share of drinks for the second night in a row.
December 19. Jeremy’s Birthday Party. My South African friend Jeremy rang in his 26th year in the night clubs of Hongdae, stopping first at Go-Go’s and next at Jane’s Groove. We drank. We danced. We laughed. And though we can’t honestly say we remember all that much of the night, we can assure you it was birthday-worthy.
December 23. Potluck Dinner Party. Because I’ve been working to become a better cook and friend, I decided to invite some people over for a small dinner party, potluck style. This time around, my dish (recipe courtesy of the Food Network web site) was a bonafide hit! Along with my yummy Spanish chicken empanadas, among the scrumptious smorgasbord of random recipes were Connla’s Irish mushroom mashed potatoes and Brian’s Canadian-Chinese stir-fried rice. It was an international feast, and I can’t wait to host another!
December 24. Dave’s X-Mas Eve Get-Together. Despite having to work on Christmas Eve, I found the day to be surprisingly bearable with my friend Dave’s holiday party to look forward to. With a gift exchange offering and bottle of red wine in tow, I showed up at Dave’s ready for whatever the night had in store. Immediately I was welcomed by a festively decorated apartment, the delicious smell of Dave’s speciality stew bubbling on the stovetop and a half a dozen cheerful hello’s, and I knew it was going to be a very merry Christmas Eve indeed.
December 25. Christmas Dinner & Drinks at Now Bar. After spending the day opening Christmas gifts and drinking egg nog, Ryan and I made our way to Now Bar for a big holiday feast with our Suwon family of friends. We shared a scrumptious meal of turkey and sides, along with the customary couple of pitchers of cheap Cass, which wasn’t so bad after we were too drunk to notice how bad it was. And, honestly, with so much Christmas cheer in the air and our very own Santa Clause (a.k.a. Connla), I don’t believe anyone really remembered what they expected to be missing.
December 31. New Year’s Eve Bash in Seoul. Ryan and I began our evening with a fancy dinner at Aioli, one of only a handful of good Italian restaurants in the area. A few plates of good food and a bottle of wine later, we met up with our friends Will and Karin to catch the bus to Seoul and go to Luke’s place for the pre-bar festivities. Just before midnight we moved the party to a local nightclub to officially count down the New Year. As it turned out, there was no official countdown and most of us, including me, missed the moment altogether. But however anticlimactic the New Year’s was, I’d still say it was among the best I’ve ever had.◊
Filed under: company, family and friends, holiday season, nightlife | Leave a Comment
Tags: Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving
Filed under: holiday season | Leave a Comment
Tags: new year
My favorite indulgences of the season.
- alexi murdoch, sad, simple melodies for not-so-simple times
- goguma (sweet potato) lattes from holly’s coffee, surprisingly delicious
- naps, best had between the workday’s end and the night’s beginning
- wine, of any variety
- jane’s groove, a hongdae hot spot with the right music for dancing
- plain jam sandwiches, because peanut butter is just too darn expensive in this country
- the food network web site, for trying out new recipes
- hot showers, after a long day of working in a classroom with a broken heater
- grooveshark, for making streaming party playlists
- 30 rock, when I’m feeling anxious, grumbly or otherwise out of sorts
- now bar, (as if you couldn’t have guessed!), no explanation necessary
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Tags: favorites, winter
ANOTHER CHRISTMAS PASSES. ANOTHER NEW YEAR APPROACHES. AND, STILL, I’M FAR, FAR AWAY IN A FOREIGN LAND. BUT WALKING THE STREETS OF SUWON, REFLECTING ON ALL THAT’S RIGHT IN MY LIFE, I’M THINKING OF YOU.
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Tags: Christmas, new year