Sunday, December 14, 2008

Videos!

When in Seoul in November, we came across a street festival a block from our hotel. Here's a small portion of what we saw:


video

Reunions and Rockin 80's Tunes Revisited

Tonight I sit in my apartment, letting Sarah Slean, candles and mini Christmas lights set the ambience. It has been a lovely, lazy weekend and so easy to enjoy because I still don't have to be back at work until Wednesday. Mokah was attacking my feet for a while, but the Ondol (floor heating) has lulled her into yet another nap. I submitted some photos of her to Cute With Chris (http://www.cutewithchris.com/) so who knows, maybe soon she'll be famous on YouTube. OW! Ok no, not napping as much as I thought, hold on....


Last night was another fun night of Noribang, the Korean Kareoke. You get a private room for you and your friends equipped with its own kareoke machine, two mics and some disco lights thrown in for good measure. Being a zero hero myself, and big car/shower rockstar, its my ideal night out because is actually a fun activity going on besides just the entertainment that occurs when you're wasted (fun for the drunksters but for us zero heroes, we just don't follow down the rabbit hole). Drinkers are welcome to bring their own booze and with a bottle of soju costing less than a bottle of cola, you can understand why Noribang is widely popular. It's also great because you are singing in front of your friends instead of strangers, and the scoring system on the machine is based on volume and not key/pitch of the singer! My friends in Suncheon have proven multiple times to be a great Noribang group, we often go until 4 AM and always have a great time. It must be that we share a love for cheesy ballads and rocking 80's (does Kenny Loggins count as rocking?). You can see some pics of Noribang and food fun herehttp://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2213823&l=7fe47&id=122614903.


The weekend before my good friend Kristen and I got to hang out for the second weekend in a row! Kristen was my roommate for two years in University and I guess you could say she is to blame for me being in Korea. She was the first person I knew to pursue it and she recommended Canadian Connections (http://www.canconx.com/) to me, which worked out really well! We had some great food (korean porridge and doc galbi!) and had a great time at Noribang with some friends. The highlight for me was going to the Sauna though. The Sauna always wins with me, hands down. And it was great to have a friend to go with. A lot of westerners here are shy about the sauna, especially about going with someone they know. It's one thing to go and let a bunch of strangers see you nekkid, but it takes a little more gumption to go with someone you know. I'm not sure why, I guess people don't like the idea of crossing that line. Afterall, the list of "people I've been to lunch with" is a considerably less exclusive list than the list of "people who've seen me naked". If you are one of the ones it freaks out, let me offer a few words in defense of the Korean public bath. The sauna beside my apartment building has 5 baths: hot, luke warm (with massaging jets), ice, green tea (very hot) and cedar (also very hot). It also has two sauna rooms: salt and crystal. Nothing is as relaxing as going from a sauna to a cold bath to a hot bath and back again, it chills me out like nothing else. And really, once you just get over the fact that "yep, these people are going to see me naked" it's a breeze. Afterall, they're all naked too and (surprise!) nobody looks like a supermodel, not even skinny korean women! Also, the showers have way better pressure than the one in my apartment!

The weekend before that was my first time seeing Kristen when we reunited in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea! It was a very quick visit, didn't do alot of sight seeing, but I got to eat a Subway Sandwich! And buy christmas presents for everyone! And get the dead skin on my feet eaten off by little fishes while drinking tea! AND saw Cirque du Soleil's Allegria! It was a fantastic time. I can't wait to go back and see some of the museum's and temples (and you know, write a proper description of what I saw/did...I'm sorry it's late!). Here's a couple of pics, you're the first to see em, I haven't put them on Facebook yet!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Month 2 summed like a true Psych Major

Well. Here I sit at my desk at Suncheon Girls High School, rolling a werthers original around on my tongue (I found some at a Mini-stop, woo hoo!), killing time until 5:00 because it's final exam week so I don't have classes. I'm realizing it's been over two months now since I've arrived in Korea. It's hard to believe that time has passed so quickly, that it continues to pass by so quickly. I still haven't put my christmas cards in the mail yet!

I'd like to compare my time in Korea to the stages of life:
Week 1 - New Born Baby - you can't speak, read, comprehend anything. You can barely feed yourself. You cling desperately to adults more competent than you are. The world is a frightening, unfamiliar place and you desire a hand to hold.
Week 2 - Toddler - you start taking a few steps on your own. You are overcome with a sense of accomplishment when completing menial tasks by yourself (like giving a cab driver correct directions or figuring out how to work the washing machine). You feel perplexed that people aren't as impressed with your new talents as you are. You know what you want, but not how to get it. Adult supervision is still required.
Week 3 & 4 - Early Childhood - Basic abilities develop and you gain confidence in your own ability to do things without supervision. You start speaking a few basic words or phrases and can begin to communicate with others through language (rather than wild hand gestures). Your comfort zone expands to the nearby stores you have been taken to by other more competent people. You are still illiterate and need others to make any big decisions.
Month 2 - Late Childhood - Language ability continues to develop (albeit, very slowly). You are slowly learning to read the gibberish of written language, but you are painfully slow at it. You meet others who are "younger" than you and actually look up to you because you "know so much". You can handle day to day activities on your own (like buying fruit from an agima in the market), but still need help with any complex task (like paying bills at kiosk at the bank). Your sense of self-efficacy increases!

I'm looking forward to "growing up", though I hope I can skip puberty this time, haha. Korea continues to be challenging and exciting while already becoming mundane, ordinary and routine. It would be easy enough to stop my development here. I could stay in my routine and not need to learn another word of Korean and could get by eating at the restaurants I know that I like, if I wanted to. From what I've heard from others, this does happen with some foreigners. In a city like Suncheon, where there is a large community of foreigners, it would be easy to stay out of the Korean culture altogether; to go from your office to your apartment, order some pizza and watch CNN at night. But I think that's a surefire recipe for disenchantment. And I hope to have many months like November. Months of travelling (To Gwangju for a teachers meeting, and Seoul to see an old roommate from University and Cirque du Soliel!), eating at new restaurants and meeting new people. I've been here long enough to hear from alot of people about their experiences in South Korea. Newbies like me, or veterans, it really seems that so much of the experience is your attitude going in, and then how you handle the times when things don't go smoothly. There are real cultural challenges for westerners here and coupled with the language barrier, its easy to understand how some people find themselves miserably counting down the days until they can go home. Who knows, you may find me blogging about feeling that way in a couple of months! But I hope not. No place on earth is perfect, and Korea offers alot of opportunities (and perks) that I just wouldn't get in Canada.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The First Month Zooms By: Originally published Nov 11/08

The First Month Zooms By!

Well you know, when I was thinking about how things would be in Korea I really thought I would have lots of time to write letters and especially keep a really up to date blog about all that I see and do, but time has just been flying. Sunday, November 2nd was my 1 month aniversary in Korea! I will try my best to get you caught up without boring you with too many details. Here are some highlights:

Week#2

At the end of my first week of work (but no actual classes) there was a National Holiday, I believe it was called Foundation Day or something to that effect and so our school took its staff and students to Kyangcheon Sa (temple). It was an hour and a half long bus ride (most of which I spent talking to my mom on my nifty new cell phone!) to the mountain. At the base of the mountain was alittle business street with restaurants, a hotel and the ever-present street vendors selling fruits, vegetables and chestnuts in enormous quantities. It took us about an hour to reach the temple site which was really beautiful to see. The monks were friendly about all the visitors and you could hear the prayer bells tolling throughout the rest of the hike. It was a nice hike (and I have learned a very easy hike comparatively!), we hiked up the mountain for approximately 3 hours before we were called down to meet the teachers for lunch at a lower spot on the mountain, which was frustrating for me because we had just crossed the "spine chilling suspension bridge" (I wish I'd taken a picture of that sign!) and I had a feeling a few more minutes of climbing would've have given us some really great views. But mealtime gets priority around here so we met the other teachers for a picnic lunch of Kimbap (think California rolls but with spam and cooked egg in it instead of crabmeat), fruit, kimchi, and dried squid. .Friday night I went out with a group of Foreigners for bowling and Noribong. Bowling apparently is the same everywhere but Noribong, the Korean version of Kareoke, is something you've gotta try! Instead of going to a large bar and having to wait 2 hours to sing 1 one song in front of a bunch of strangers, Noribongs are Kareoke clubs where you get a room just for your group of friends. There are usually comfortable couches, disco lights, a good sound system and plenty of famous english songs to choose from. And after your song, the computer gives you a score out of 100. You can imagine this was pretty much right up my alley! We sang and danced the night away! ('Hangin Tough' by NKOTB was the surprise smash hit of the night, hahaha) The next day (Saturday) I travelled by train with some foreigners I had met here to the city of Jinju for their annual Lantern Festival. Thle Festival commemorates a special battle where an outnumbered group of Korean Soldiers held their ground against the Japanese. The isolated troops were able to send important messages to others by floating lanterns on the river. So now every year hundreds of lanterns are lit up on and along the river, and for a couple of bucks you can float your own wish lantern down the river, carrying your hopes on to their destination whatever it may be. My favourite lantern was an animatronic Dragon that moved and breathed fire! It was a really great day. The market there was fantastic and there was a spectacular fireworks show at the end. If I can figure out how I will upload the video I took of it to the google group page. And like so many things in Korea, the day trip was incredibly cheap. The return ticket for the train cost about $10 and it was 1.5 hours each way! The next few days were huge for me to get through because they were my first days actually teaching at the High School and I was very nervous. Korea is a very homogeneous country so foreigners, like myself get alot of notoriety here. It's not uncommon to walk down the street and have someone yell "Hello!" from a passing car. I had been prepared for this my first week in the school, when during class breaks I would find my desk surrounded by 10-15 students all saying hello and asking me how I like Korea. I had my lesson planned, I had my materials. I took a deep breath and walked into my first class. My students acted like a rock star had entered the room! Reasons: 1. They had been waiting almost a month for a new native speaking english teacher. 2. I'm a white girl with long hair (the last teacher was Korean-Canadian, and they have to keep their hair short while in the public school system) 3. Koreans are happy people who don't hesitate to clap/sing/skip down the street, so outbursts are not outside of social norms. I was amazed at how that energy from my students gave me confidence. And I'm thankful to my high school drama club for making me feel comfortable in front of 40 students. Talk about a sink or swim situation! Thankfully, I'm swimming, or at least treading water. I'm entering the school half way through the second semester of the school year, so there isn't any structure to my curriculum. I'm simply trying out different lesson techniques and filling the weeks until winter vacation (the new school year will start in March 2009). I have an amazing opportunity here in Korea, both for cultural experience but also my job is excellent. I work 9-5 monday to friday. I work at an all girls high school, which means: a) I don't have any boys to deal with (so no disciplinary worries so far), b) all the students have a basic understanding of English, even if they don't speak it well, and c) there are lots of exams so classes get cancelled on a regular basis. As of writing this note (my fourth week of Teaching) I have only had 1 full week of teaching without any classes being cancelled. This week is the Korean SAT exams so I have only one class on Wednesday and no classes on Thursday! On top of that we get all government holidays (there are 14 in the year I believe) and I have 5 weeks of holidays officially in my contract, but according to my teacher I get at least 3 more weeks of holiday in the winter break because my school won't be open. And it's especially sweet compared to what most other foreigners get teaching at Hogwans (private english schools) who often work six days a week, from 12-8 PM, and get one week of paid holiday in the year. Their income is higher, but I wouldn't trade this position for a few hundred thousand won. Plus (honestly, THIS is my favourite part...) my school has a teachers nap room! You sleep on the floor Korean-style, but the floor is heated so you sleep like a baby! (Anyone who has every worked with me has heard me say: "You know what this place needs? A nap room.")After school one day, my co-teachers took me to Suncheon Bay. Located south of the city, its an ecological reserve, protecting the reeds, muddy banks, birds and millions of crabs that live there. The city has constructed a remarkable raised walkway through the bay so that you can walk through the reeds a couple of feet above the muddy world of th crabs. The bay is surrounded by mountain peaks, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset of every colour in the spectrum in the west, and the full moon rising in the east. I will post pictures when I figure out how to get them off of my cell phone! Afterwards, my co-teachers took me to the Pizza Hut in Suncheon which was really considerate of them since western food is expensive and not too tasty to the Korean palate. Our pizza had sweet potato on it, hmmm tasty!

Week #3
After my first week of teaching, our school had a 'mini-holiday' (Oct 21-20) where we didn't have classes on Monday and Tuesday, so my co-teachers invited me to hiking with them on the Monday. We drove to the port city of Yeosu where a boat took us to the island of Gamodo (sp?). The view on the boat ride was fantastic. Now "hiking" in Korea is really mountain climbind without needing ropes and pick axes because of the terrain. It is hard work and there is an entire industry here that sells "hiking" gear - special pants, shoes, jackets, sun visors, hiking sticks and gloves. Most of my co-teachers were fully decked out. We hiked up the first mountain in about 3 hours and then spent the rest of the day hiking along the peaks on the island. It was hard work, and on a bad ankle not always enjoyable, but definitely worth the view. Korea is stunningly beautiful. The next day, Jodie took me to see a local doctor for acupuncture to help with tension in my shoulders. It was definitely an interesting experience! First the put this strange suction cup things up my spine (which left big hickeys, I looked like I'd been attached by an octopus afterwards) and a little blood letting, then the acupunture itself. And it was like they say it is, painless. The most shocking part came after. One hour of Acupuncture treatment cost me 6000W ($6)!




Week #4

At the end of the month I went to two Halloween parties, both of which were alot of fun. The first was in Yeosu. Myself and four other Canadian gals did the Alice in Wonderland theme; I went as the Mad Hatter, and litterally cut and pasted my hat together. I still can't believe that it held together for both parties, the second of which was held by Dean and Mandy just two floors above me in Shidae apartments. I had alot of fun at this party and even dunked my entire head bobbing for apples (I was not coming up without that apple in my mouth darn it!). On November 2nd, I took a train to the Daejeon to pick up Mokah, my new kitty! I have wanted to adopt an animal for sometime but the transitory life of a University student isn't to a pet so I've waited. There are alot of foreigners here with pets because animals are not treated very humanely in Korea; they are seen as food or pests but rarely as companions. Once I realized that I could get food and veterinary care for an animal here, I knew I wanted to get my first cat in Korea, to help me with homesickness and rescue an animal that really needs a home. I contacted several rescuers and let them know I was looking to adopt a cat, especially one that needed alittle extra care getting used to humans as I know how to work with them thanks to my Mom. Mokah had been rescued off the street as a kitten and had been kept in a cage at vet's for four months as she was scared of humans and would sometimes hiss at people that got too close. She didn't warm up to me right away, she was very frightened. But once I picked her up and talked to her for a few minutes, she started purring and I felt my heart melt. In one short week she has gone from being a frightened kitty who hid under the bed and behind the fridge, to the biggest suck you've ever met. We are getting along great and its so wonderful to see her adjust so quickly to life outside of a cage!


The month has been filled with lots of new experiences. I've got my apartment decorated, I've eaten alot of new things, I've hiked the mountain beside my apartment complex and I've learned enough basic Korean to get around the city just fine by taxi. There is so much to see, do and experience. I've been warned that I'm still in the 'honeymoon phase', but I am loving my time in Korea so far. I love you all very much. Thanks for your support. Miss you!
Lisa

Lisa's 1st week in Korea - Originally published Oct 15/08

Well technically, this blog starts with my last couple of days in Canada, but after this I’m planning to do weekly updates from Friday to Thursday of the following week. Feel free to leave me comments via the google group or Facebook, or send me an email at lisahaessler@gmail.com. My new mailing address and cell phone number are listed below.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The plan had been to leave by 6:00 pm and get into Thunder Bay around 11:00pm. There I could get a full nights rest at my brother’s apartment before my flight left at 1:00 pm Tuesday for Toronto. However, any of you who know me can suspect I was not nearly ready for that! There was still quite a bit of shopping to get done plus you know, pack my suitcases! My mom and dad were a huge help with getting me out the door at a decent time, albeit two hours later than I originally planned, and cheerleading me when my nerves were completely frayed. Saying Goodbye to Dryden as I drove away, watching the lights fade in the rear view mirror was a different Goodbye from when I left for University 5 years earlier. It was definitely bittersweet, partly because I was feeling much less sure of myself and because I knew it was the last time I would see the “Home” I had known for the last 15 years as my parents are hoping to sell the house and move before the end of the year. I knew that when I returned, Dryden would be a visiting place and not a staying place. I arrived safely in Thunder Bay around 1:15 am and stayed up chatting with my Brother for a while. Going to bed proved to be a useless attempt at sleep; every time I got close to sleep I would wake up certain that the alarm clock would malfunction and I would oversleep and miss my flight. Hours of sleep: maybe 4.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

After repacking my suitcases (and leaving behind many books I really wanted to come with me!) in order to get my luggage under the weight restrictions I had no problems with catching my flight to Toronto, arrival 3:00pm. At Pearson I was able to keep myself busy by connecting to their wireless internet service and chatting online and reviewing some “Let’s Speak Korean” lessons on youtube. Only major disappointment of the day was that my lack of organization the day before ended up in a miscommunication that kept me from meeting some very good friends for Dinner at the airport . At about 9:00 PM it was time to check in for my flight with Korea Air. I was the only white person and the only English speaker in line. Most of the signs were written in Hangul. Here was first time that I had the feeling to tuck my tail and run. “Mark and Whitney are only an hour away, I could get on the bus...”, “My Aunt Charlotte lives 10 minutes away, she could come get me...”, “I could get on a bus and go to Mexico and start leading another life under an alias and no one would ever have to know what a chicken I am...”. These were the kinds of thoughts that ran through my head as the line pushed me closer and closer to the check-in attendant. It was the first time since I was about six that the sentiment “I wish my mommy was here” felt like an immediate need, haha. Well, sheer determination kept me planted in that line until I was checked in. At security the bobby pins in my beauty case caused a connumdrum at the security gate because they showed up funny on the x-ray and none of us could figure out what it was. We took that whole bag apart before they decided it was unlikely I was carrying anything threatening. I found my departure gate and sat there in a daze for probably an hour before I heard over the Airport loudspeaker, “Korean Air passenger Annalisa Haessler, please go to courtesy mumblemumble, you have a message waiting.” Worried that this is something really important like I left my credit card at the Yogen Fruz stand or they overbooked my flight and now I won’t be able to get on, I go in search of a Pearson Airport employee to find out what this “courtesy mumblemumble” thing is so I can get to my message. Turns out it’s a courtesy phone and the mumble part was to press 2 to get my message. “Annalisa Haessler, the message is ‘Call your mother’.” OK, so now I’m thinking about the things that could have gone wrong at home and how I may be turning around anyway after how brave I was in the check-in line up. At the payphone I call home. “Hey Mom, what’s up? Everything OK?”“Hi sweetie, yeah I just wanted to let you know I was just talking to Joy (my older sister) and she’s going to be visiting us in a couple of weeks and helping out with staging the house, so you don’t have to worry about those unfinished projects.”“Oh. OK, that’s pretty cool. Wait. You had me paged over Pearson International Airport’s loud speaker to tell me Joy is coming home for a visit?”Later my mom told me the real reason was that she really wanted to talk to me one more time before I left Canada, but she thought if she said that she would get emotional so she decided to tell me about her conversation with Joy instead. Aww...When all was said and done I got on my flight with no problems at 11:50 pm. A Boeing 777 jet. Again, only white girl in sight.Wednesday October 1st, 2008 I had been given a lot of really good advice prior to going South Korea. I found two pieces of advice in particular had a major impact on my travel experience. The first was this (from my Uncle Mel): “The moment you get on the plane, change your watch to Korean time.” In doing this I instantaneously lost 13 hours of my Wednesday, but it helped immeasurably with jet lag. Even though it was midnight in Canada, it was now 1:00pm in Korea, and so even with only 4 hours of sleep the night before I decided it would be best to stay up as long as possible. Dinner was served soon after takeoff: a Korean dish called Bibimbap, which was made of ground beef, various vegetables, rice and spicy red pepper paste and was pretty tasty. The big screen at the front of the cabin showed our flight path as flying almost directly north over the pole, not east or west as my mother and I had debated. The in-flight movie was ‘Ironman’; I watched the first hour or so before my eyelids got too heavy. Hours of sleep: maybe 5.

Thursday October 2nd, 2008

We landed smoothly at Incheon International Airport just outside of Seoul at 2:30 am. I had checked thoughout the flight, and at no time was sun shining during those 14 hours so sadly I didn’t see the ocean from 35 000 feet. That’s alright, there will be lots of opportunities in the next year. Having arrived at Incheon and fumbled my way through customs to get my stamp in my passport (yay!), I immediately bought an international calling card. I didn’t immediately call my parents though, haha. No, I followed that second piece of excellent advice I mentioned earlier: I went to the basement level of the airport and found the all night sauna/bath. I had a few hours to kill before I needed to catch my bus to Gimpo airport, and Shane (the director of Canadian Connection) recommended the sauna to me. It was wonderful and, although pricey, totally worth bathing naked with some older Korean women in order to calm my nerves and get freshened up. In Korea, communal bath houses are still very popular. The tradition has continued long after indoor plumbing would’ve replaced it I think because of the Korean emphasis on community. Women and men come with the friends to share a long soak in multiple shallow pools of various temperatures and switch to a sauna room or two. There’s also usually a jinjubong (resting room) where you can go sleep on heated floors. After my lovely sauna, I waited outside the airport for my bus to Gimpo to arrive. Here I met a very nice Korean woman named Jay who had grown children in the US so her English was very good. She helped me find my way at Gimpo Airport and was another friendly stranger to make my journey easier. The bus picked us up at 6:15 am. The sky was going purple as we got on, and I watched the sunrise on the way to Gimpo. After helping me check in for my flight, Jay gave me a hug, I gave her a Dryden pin and she headed to her hotel room. I went in search of food. I picked a decent looking noodle bowl with beef and veggies from a numbered menu written in Hangul. It was enormous and tasty but I probably only ate ¼ of it, it was such a big portion. The flight from Seoul to Gwangju lasted about 50 minutes. I enjoyed the scenery before sleeping for about a half an hour. Korea is 70% mountains so it was beautiful, I don’t think the pictures do it justice. At Gimpo airport I was met by Mr Yang, the provincial co-ordinator for English Teachers in Jeollanamdo and Seon-hee Park, my co-teacher at Suncheon Girls High School. Mr Yang shook my hand, welcomed me to Korea, asked me for a copy of my contract and then got in his car. Seon-hee (pronounced Sunny) helped me with my bags and we got in her car and drove to Suncheon (about an hour away). That drive was the most surreal. My brain seemed to catch up with my body and as I watched the mountains roll by excitement filled me up. I did it. I actually made it. Nothing horrible happened, no strange twist of fate kept me from realizing this dream. I didn’t screw it up!Once in Suncheon, Seon-hee got me set up with a bank account and took me to the hospital for another physical. Here’s my favourite part of my first day in Korea: Getting on a weight scale and having a big red “FATNESS!” appear above my weight, hahaha. Lots more paperwork was done etc etc etc. The afternoon felt like a big hazy blur of signs I couldn’t reach and conversations that were about me but I couldn’t understand. In the early evening, my co-teachers helped me get some groceries and took me up to my apartment. Just as we were getting into the elevator , a white girl was walking up to the second elevator (one elevator only stops on even floors, one only stops on odd floors, don’t ask me why) and I had never been so relieved to see a stranger in my life. She must have seen it on my face.“First day? My name’s Jodie, I live in ***. Come visit me anytime.” And the doors closed. Now it was past 7PM and I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. My co-teachers made me something to eat and they were so sweet. All I could think was “Jodie lives in ***...Jodie lives in ***, don’t forget Jodie lives in ***” as my head hit the pillow.

Friday October 3rd, 2008

After 13 hours of sleep, I awoke to a familiar feeling: "Holy crap, I'm in South Korea." It's a feeling that sinks in at least once a day. I spent a good part of the day unpacking my belongings and cleaning up my apartment, though the previous teacher had left the place in really good condition for me. She also left behind some handy things like speakers for my computer, a hair straightener and some nice bedding. My apartment is a small studio style apartment on the 17th floor of a 19 floor apartment building, situated on the side of one of many small mountains around Suncheon. Once I was done unpacking, I sat in my apartment wondering what I should do next and feeling a little trapped. I didn't know how to read or speak anymore and I didn't know where anything was except for the grocery store down the block and the internet room across the street. The internet room! A connection with the English speaking world! I was on my way. Internet rooms or PC bongs here are very cheap: 1000 won for an hour. The clerk didn't speak a word of English, but that's fine, what else would a waygook want in a PC Bong but to use the internet? I felt much better being able to check email and facebook and still know that friends and family were just a few mouse clicks away. That evening, back at my apartment, again feeling confined, I decided I had better stop being a chicken and go knock on Jodie's door. Jodie lives with her husband Steven and their tiny white dog, Wicket. When I knocked on the door they also had their friend Fraser over visiting. They were very welcoming and had plenty of advice for me. I don't remember what any of it was, but it was good to know I had met some friendly Canadians who could help me out while I was settling in.Saturday October 4th, 2008 Jody offered to show me around our neighborhood and the city a little bit, so we walked a lot that morning. She took me out for a beef soup lunch that was very tasty. Meat portions for soups are often left in very large pieces, so the soup was served with scissors to cut it up with. Eating out in Korea is very cheap ($4-$8 CDN), and every Korean entrée comes with 6-10 seasonal side dishes included. Usually there will be two or three kinds of kimchi and various vegetables. Traditionally Koreans don't drink anything with their meals, a cup of soup is served on the side for washing things down. Strangely I have found this difficult to adjust to since everything in the meal tends to be spicy or very salty. Most restaurants however now offer cola and cider (like gingerale) to drink, especially to foreigners. After lunch we went back to my school to meet Seon-hee, who wanted to be with me when the men came to install my internet and television. Seon-hee had been waiting for us to eat lunch, so we ate lunch again in the school cafeteria (it would have been considered rude to refuse). So far cafeteria food at the school has been quite tasty, though I find the kimchi too spicy.After the internet and tv were hooked up, Seon-hee took me to watch an English Speaking contest in the nearby city of Gwangyang which her sister had organized. It was in a building called "The World Marine Life Center" and it was 17 floors of glass windows; the building itself was shaped like a sail. Unfortunately, at 17 floors up the only view offered was of the surrounding shipping docks, not picturesque but still interesting to see. On the way back to Suncheon we picked up Seon-hee's daughter and went for another meal near my apartment. Soon after I got home I hit the sack for another 12 hours. I think being busy all day since I've arrived has really helped with jetlag, as I am forced to stay up all afternoon.

Sunday October 5th, 2008

Seon-hee had told me over and over not to be late for the teachers meeting on Monday morning, so I spent a good portion of the day riding the #59 bus and wandering around downtown trying to find my school. No such luck. OK, I figure I will take a cab and get there just fine (oh wishful thinking…).On Sunday evening I tagged along with Jodie to a book club meeting for foreigners living in our complex. There were about eight of us there, and it was great to meet some more people my age and talk about our favourite books. Being in Shi-dae apartments feels like my first few weeks of University, where everyone is very friendly because you don't have a lot of friends (even more so here because it's exciting to meet someone who speaks english!) and you can just go up or down a few levels and knock on someone's door if you need to. Shi-dae is known for having a lot of foreigners living in it. I still meet people on my bus or in the elevator. Note: at this bookclub meeting Jodie made the best homemade brownies this girl has ever eaten!
Monday October 6th, 2008

Monday was my first official day of work. Got up early, all ready to go. I hop in a cab at 8:15, and I figure that is plenty of time to get there since it only took Seon-hee 10 – 15 minutes to drive me home over the last couple of days. However that had something to do with the driver knowing where she was going. I had the address of the school written in English, and told the driver "Sucheon Yah-go" thinking that was the Korean name of the school was. Nope, I was mispronouncing it and he couldn't read english. So instead the cab driver proceeded to drive me to local schools (he correctly guessed I was a teacher at least) and when I shook my head and wouldn't get out of the car, he'd try another one. After 3 schools he finally pulled over and asked a nearby businessman for help. The man looked at my paper and then told the driver "Suncheon Yo-go" and poof! He knew where to take me! So I walk into the teachers meeting a few minutes late, very embarrassed and feeling unnerved. Mr. Kim informs me I will be introduced next. When the vice-principal puts down the microphone, Mr. Kim picks it up and introduces me as "Our new English teacher from Canada, the most beautiful western lady!" and hands me the microphone. Well at least it gave me the opportunity to apologize to everyone for being late. As luck would have it, my first week of classes were cancelled because of exams, so "you have all week to prepare your lessons" Seon-hee tells me. Haha, well not quite. On Monday, Seon-hee took me around and introduced me to a lot of the staff, one whom was Gwang-ja, the hilarious PE teacher. Gwang-ja used to play volleyball professionally for Korea; she also insists on talking to me very enthusiastically in Korean even though I can't understand a word she says. Now I should tell you that Volleyball is HUGE in Korea, and since I had found this out I was using it to make a good first impression with a lot of the teachers I'd met so far. When I told Gwang-ja I had played setter in High School she went nuts and drafted me for the team. And because this week is exam week, we had three-hour team practices on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the match game on Wednesday. At Monday's practice I discovered several things: Koreans don't sweat, western girls who are out of shape DO, Koreans play with nine people on the court instead of six, there is no such thing as rotating in Korean volleyball, I need to buy knee pads, there is no such thing as an illegal lift or hit in Korean volleyball (kicking the ball was quite popular), and Koreans have a great sense of sportsmanship.The English Teachers also treated me to a Traditional Korean Lunch (Lunchee as they say it here) where we sat on the floor and ate lots of raw fish and squid and plenty of things that I'm glad I didn't know what they were. And traditional Korean Lunches are 3 full courses. Because of how salty things are, I find that I lose my appetite quite quickly here. But these skinny Koreans eat so much its hard to believe, it's really impressive. It is also common to drink beer and do shots of soju (a vodka like alcohol, very popular here) at lunchtime. Thankfully Seon-hee explained to the teachers that I don't drink alcohol so there was no pressure.After the school day was over, Seon-hee made sure to walk to me to the nearest bus stop so that on Tuesday I wouldn't be late.

Tuesday October 7, 2008

On Tuesday, Seon-hee and I drove to Yeosu to apply for my alien registration card at the immigration office. She told me we would be meeting some teachers for lunch when we got back to Suncheon, but on return we had some time to kill so she took me to exchange some money at the bank and then to the 5-day market in the centre of the city. It's an enormous traditional Korean market where vendors sell produce, live animals for slaughter, fish and all kinds of seafood, plus clothing, crafts, jewellery and anything else you could think of. I bought a beautiful Korean quilt for 33000 won. I love it! Lunch turned out to be the entire school staff including our principle being treated to Korean Samgibsa by the parents of the students who had been elected chairperson of their grade. Samgibsa is pieces of pork, mushrooms and onion grilled over coals. The grills are in the middle of the table so you cook it yourself. You take the pieces of cooked pork, place them in the middle of a lettuce leaf, add some sauce and some veggies, wrap it up in the leaf and shove the whole thing in your mouth. It was quite tasty and I was relieved to eat cooked food, until the next course came out which was soup and another full serving of various raw seafoods. Still it was impressive to sit among such a large group for lunch, and an honor to have a seat at the same table as the principle. After lunch was another 3-hour practice of volleyball, where I was presented with a pink & black school jersey to wear to the game on Wednesday. That night Jodie and Steven were a huge help and took me shopping for things for the apartment and groceries! It was great to start feeling like I was getting settled.
Wednesday October 8, 2008

Today was the match game against another school's teachers. I wasn't nervous until we stepped into the gym and there was quite a crowd in the stands and both school's principles and vice principles on stage. And even though we had just had lunch, there were tables and tables of food, and lots of beer and soju going around! Now the nice thing about Korean volleyball is that the height of the net is low, so I can actually spike and block at the net (handy since Korean's don't rotate so I'm ALWAYS playing front row centre, ie I'm blocking every spike coming from the other side). We didn't win our game, but the guys team did and here everyone seems to genuinely enjoy playing the game so there was no sourness about our near miss. Afterwards, they gave out draw prizes. My number was picked from a hat and I got (drum roll please…): a tube of toothpaste! A tube of toothpaste?When I got home my muscles were killing me. Truth be told they had been killing me since Monday. So I decided it was time to check out the sauna at the DongSu gym beside my apartment building. It was exactly what I needed. This sauna has two sauna rooms: a salt sauna and a crystal sauana and 5 different baths of various temperature and featuring powerful jets of water you can turn on if you like (great for getting out those kinks!) The two-hour soak was exactly what I needed.Thursday October 9, 2008 You still with me? Ok so Thursday Seonhee informs me that the school is going to pay for the teachers to go to the Cinema downtown in the afternoon and that we are going to drop by a cellphone store and see if we can get me a phone even though I don't have my ARC card back yet. We saw "Go Go 70" about a Korean rock band in the 1970's named "The Devils" who became famous playing western rock music and were consequently thrown in jail when the government put western rock and roll under prohibition. Good movie, although it was all in Korean. Afterwards I got a cell phone! Yay! Seon-hee put it in her name to save some me money and just like that, I was a cell phone carrier. It's a new experience for me, but I like the security it gives me, living in a foreign country. Once the cell phone was bought, I went out for dinner with Dean (the coordinator for teachers in Suncheon) and his wife Mandy, who live just two floors up from me. We went to one of the only Italian restaurants in the city, the Gran Piatto, and I had some DELICIOUS chicken pizza. I didn't realize how much I would miss western food until I got here. Breads and cheeses are enough to make you stop dead in your tracks if you see/smell them. Dean and Mandy were very kind, and also lent me their hammer when my vanity fell apart that night while I was rearranging the furniture.

I'm having a tremendous time, even though its still an emotional rollercoaster. Everyday is something new. As promised here is my contact information:

Please send mail to:
Ms. Annalisa Haessler
c/0 Suncheon Girls High School
88 Bunji, Jeojeon-dong
Suncheon city, Jeollanamdo
South Korea
Postal Code: 540-180
It's safer to send my mail to the school, kids may get curious about Canadian mail at my apartment and the mailboxes aren't locked. I would love to hear from you!Cell phone: 010-5872-5161.
To dial direct from Canada you would dial 011-82-10-5872-5161 (right mom?) Don't worry about the time difference, call me ANYTIME!!! Stay tuned for my next blog featuring: mountain hike and temple excursion, bowling and noribang with the waygooks, the jinju lantern festival and my first week of teaching!Thanks for all your support. I miss you and love you all, hugs from the other side of the planet!!!

Lisa