Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Taste of Armageddon

ROK soldier takes part in a civil defense drill from six years ago

As I write this, there is a large booming voice coming over the loudspeaker in the school, yelling at the students to get down and find cover.  Emergency alarms and sirens are going off all over the city, and the booms of jet fighters flying overhead can be heard.

No, we're not under attack.

Today, at 2:00 pm local time, a civil emergency drill is being held, and tests of the civil response to an attack on Korea are being held across the country.  It is very fascinating to be living in an area where the possibility of an attack such as this actually exists.  It is a far cry from life in northern Alberta...

Here is a copy of the email I received from the Canadian Embassy this morning:

South Korea will hold a nationwide special civil emergency exercise today at 14:00 for 15 minutes. Sirens will sound, transport will be stopped and some people may be asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. Aircraft may be heard overhead. There is no need to be alarmed. On 23 November, North Korea fired multiple rounds of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong, killing 4 people and injuring several more. South Korea responded with its own artillery and has strengthened its military presence in the area. We advise against travel to Yeonpyong, or to the other North West Islands of Baengnyeong-do, Daecheong-do, Socheong-do and Woo-do. We assess that there is no substantially increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to other areas of South Korea as a result of current tensions. Canadians should be vigilant, monitor ongoing developments, and follow the advice of local authorities.

Canadians are encouraged to maintain their level of readiness to cope with any emergency situation. It is recommended that:

you ensure that your travel documents, including your passport, are valid;
you have registered with the online Registry of Canadians Abroad (ROCA) and/or updated your registration with your latest information.

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook may know that on Thursday of last week, I lost my passport when I left my backpack on the subway.  Needless to say, the past few days have been very stressful and have involved filling out a police report, pleading my case with the Canadian Embassy, and beginning the lengthy process of acquiring a new passport.  One roadblock that I've encountered is the fact that I need my birth certificate in order to apply for a replacement passport, a document I neglected to bring with me to Korea.  As my parents are currently on vacation in South America until the end of December, I've been required to apply for a new birth certificate with the Government of Alberta.  They are currently processing my application, and will mail the certificate here when it is ready.

As I wrap this post up, the alarms continue to sound, and the voices over the intercom speak in clipped, panicked Korean.  I can definitely hear the jets flying overhead, and there is a palpable sense of excitement in the office.  Moreso now than at any other time in the last few days am I feeling apprehension at not having my passport with me.  I can only hope that I am able to acquire a new one before I'm scheduled to go home next month, or before the voices and sirens are no longer a drill.

Love you all, and with any luck, I'll see you next month back in Alberta!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Three Months In: A General Update

Today is November 26th, which means exactly three months ago I started working here in South Korea.  What do I think so far?

A Korean dish: Bibimbap
The Food: It took awhile, but I'm really enjoying Korean food.  In fact, the other day I came to the realization that I will miss many Korean foods when I return to Canada.  Korean barbecue is easy enough to find in Canada, but acquiring some things like dak galbi or songpyun may be a little more difficult.

The People: Korean people are an interesting group.  Koreans are fiercely loyal to their families, and intensely proud of Korean accomplishments; the Korean national identity is very strong.  Students in my class were dismayed when I told them that many people around the world don't realize how modern Korea is, but the class erupted in cheers when I told them that my best friend drives a Hyundai Tucson, and that my television back in Canada is a Samsung.

"Dynamic Seoul"
Seoul is an extremely active, busy place.  I'm amazed that, at three in the morning, there seems to be just as many vehicles driving on a main thoroughfare as most other times of the day.  Of course, at that time, well over 90% of them are taxis.  The city simply never stops.  I'm often both amazed and daunted by it.

I would be remiss if I didn't comment briefly on the events of this past Tuesday.  Supposedly in response to military exercises conducted by South Korean forces, North Korea launched a barrage of artillery shells against a South Korean island, Yeonpyeong.  The attack resulted in the deaths of two Korean marines and two civilian men and the destruction of a number of South Korean homes.  South Korea returned fire to the north with 88 artillery shells.  Damage and casualties in the north is unknown.  It is important to remember that incidents between the two Koreas happen on a regular basis.  This particular attack is a little different in that it is the first time civilian targets have been hit; however, it is by no means the most severe attack to happen.  Please know that we are completely safe and sound here in Seoul!

Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young
resigned after criticism
Yeonpyeong Island after NK shelling
Two marines and two civilians
were killed on the island

In the aftermath of this incident, the President of South Korea has declared that more troops will be stationed in the maritime border region and Washington has of course declared its solidarity with South Korea.  Also, the Korean defense minister has resigned due to public pressure with regards to how the attack was handled.  The President has stated that, in the future, Northern aggression that targets civilians will be met with harsher retaliation.  Finally, the United States has deployed a carrier group, led by the USS George Washington, to the Yellow Sea.  The only other worrying sign is that the US Navy and the ROK Navy are scheduled to participate in military exercises sometime next week, and the government in Pyongyang has stated that they will respond to this "provocation."  I had scheduled a visit to the Demilitarized Zone next week, but in light of this latest news, I've decided to hold off on that particular trip.  I do not believe that the situation will escalate significantly, but I also don't believe we have seen all of the fallout from this incident.  I do want everyone to know that I am keeping an ear to the ground, but that I am currently completely safe!  I've registered with the Canadian embassy, so if there is any reason to leave Korea quickly, I'll have support in place.

Tonight, however, will be cause for celebration.  I've signed up to a Thanksgiving dinner, put on by the group "Seoulite."  Originally, a few friends were going to come with me, but they unfortunately had to back out.  I guess I can share the bottle of wine I got us with some new friends I meet there!  I think it will be a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  Can't wait!  Pictures to come!

Friday, November 12, 2010

빼빼로 Day!

Pepero promotional display in Lotte Mart in November

As I wrote about yesterday, November 11th is Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries.  Korea also observes a special day on November 11th: Pepero Day!

Pepero is a Korean confection, made of a cookie stick covered in chocolate.  There are a number of different flavours, but my favorite is definitely almond!  On Pepero Day, couples exchange boxes of pepero in order to show their affection.  Also, students will buy pepero for their teachers, and people often buy pepero for friends in their workplace.

Pepero is manufactured and sold by Lotte, a Korean company whose influence cannot be escaped in Seoul.  Everywhere you look, you will find items and services carrying the Lotte name.  Lotte Mart, Lotte Department Store, Lotte World (a huge indoor amusement park), apartment complexes known as Lotte Castle, hotels, insurance coverage, and even two baseball teams: the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, and the Lotte Giants in Busan.  According to Lotte, Pepero Day was not started by them.  Rather, they apparently noticed a spike in the sale of pepero on November 11th, after which they encouraged the holiday with special gift packaging and promotions of pepero during November.  November 11th is considered Pepero Day because, apparently, the date "11/11" resembles four sticks of pepero.

Original pepero

Regardless of the origin or "legitimacy" of Pepero Day as a holiday, Korean couples and children have a lot of fun exchanging pepero and surprising friends and family with the treat.  I, for one, enjoyed receiving pepero from many of my students, and I even bought a couple of boxes to bring to work and share with my co-workers.  I wonder if something similar could be introduced to Canada?  I personally think that pepero (and/or pocky) should have more of a presence in my home country.  Perhaps Lotte could expand their operations even further?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget

Today is November 11th, and in Canada, that means it's Remembrance Day.  Well, strictly speaking, it's not Remembrance Day yet, because it's only still the 10th in Canada as I write this.  You see, the time zone thing is very strange.  I'm currently living in November 11th here in Korea, which means... whoa, I'm in the future!  This is incredible!  Let me see if I can get today's lotto numbers for people back in North America... okay, something's wrong there, the Lotto 6/49 website hasn't updated to today yet.  Wait... if I'm in the future, what happens to past me?  Could I conceivably meet myself and somehow screw up time?  What if I do something to alter history so that I'm never born?!?  Wait, it's only a sixteen-hour difference... but I could change things... oh, this is far too much power for one person to have... I can't...

Okay, sorry about that, I've now upped my meds, and can continue on in a semi-rational manner.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in
Ottawa on Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day is observed on November 11th in order to mark the date of the Armistice following the First World War.  Historically, that war ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 when Germany signed the Armistice.  Remembrance Day is observed by the countries of the Commonwealth.

Traditionally, one or two minutes of silence are observed at 11:00 a.m. in memory of the soldiers who fought and died since World War One.  In Canada, official Remembrance Day ceremonies are held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, with the Governor General and other government representatives in attendance.  In Canadian schools, Remembrance Day assemblies are held, usually the day before Remembrance Day as the 11th itself is a national holiday.

A small red flower, called a "poppy," is worn on the left lapel during the two weeks before Remembrance Day, and on Remembrance Day itself.  In many of the battlefields of Europe, poppies grew, leading Canadian military physician John McCrae to author a poem entitled "In Flanders Fields."

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Since the 1920s, poppies have been a symbol of Remembrance Day throughout the Commonwealth.

I hope that this post has been at least a little educational to my non-Canadian (or Commonwealth country) friends.  Tomorrow, I'll write a post about a special day that is celebrated in Korea, which also falls on November 11th.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Confession time...

During my time here, there are many things I've had to keep quiet about.  You know what they say, "when in Rome..."  Maybe they are a little less liberal here, maybe some things just aren't spoken about...  Sometimes I can't help but think things like, "we don't do that in Canada... how strange."  But most of the time, you accept things because that's the way they are done here, and after all, I am a guest, and I want to learn how Korea does it.

However, I can't keep silent on this issue anymore.  It threatens to come bubbling to the surface, and I feel like I can't be myself.  So, revealed here for all the world to see is my shameful secret, something I've only told a few, very close friends:

I don't like kimchi.

Korean kimchi
I know, I know!  It's shocking!  I can hear Koreans and fellow ex-pats alike, crying "how could you!"  "I thought I knew you!" and even "That's unnatural!"  I know, and I'm so very sorry.  I tried.  Oh, how I tried to like it!  Every day at the school lunch, I would take three or four pieces, slowly eat them, and try my hardest to hide my grimace as they went down.  However, last week, the kimchi tasted... different.  Almost as though it had gone bad.  (Of course, this is a very relative term, as kimchi is made of fermented cabbage.  Can fermented cabbage "go bad"?)  Since that one experience, I haven't been able to eat kimchi.  I do my best to hide the fact that there is no kimchi on my tray during the lunch break, but it's only a matter of time before it's noticed and commented on...

Radish kimchi
There is another variety of kimchi made of radish that is occasionally on the menu.  It is still not one of my favorite foods, but I can eat it.

The Koreans in my reading audience will tell you that it's very healthy, and that eating kimchi actually burns fat.  I know that can't be true, however, it is high in fiber and low in calories.  It is, in many ways, a good food, just one that I find myself unable to stomach any longer.  Besides, one study links kimchi to higher risks of developing gastric cancer.  So, you know, there's that.

There are many aspects of Korean culture and food that I am wholeheartedly embracing.  It just so happens that one of the most visible parts of that culture turns my stomach... to my Korean friends, and other kimchi sympathizers, I'm so sorry.  However, it leaves more for the rest of you!

Officially swearing off kimchi for the time being,

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, remember the fifth of November...

Portrait of Guy Fawkes
Many people in Canada know very little about Guy Fawkes Day, which is celebrated in the UK.  The day commemorates the uncovering of the "Gunpowder Treason," a supposed attempt by Sir Robert Catesby and a number of Catholic co-conspirators to blow up the British House of Lords and kill the Protestant King James I during the opening of Parliament on November 5th, 1605.  The attempt was thwarted when, after receiving an anonymous letter detailing the plot, British authorities discovered one of Catesby's co-conspirators, Guy Fawkes, guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords.  Fawkes was arrested, and while most of his co-conspirators attempted to flee London, eight men, including Fawkes, were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

A bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night
The outcome of the Gunpowder Treason is felt even today.  Traditionally, before the opening of Parliament, the cellar of the Palace of Westminster is inspected by the Yeomen of the Guard in order to ensure that no one has planted explosives in a modern-day attempted Gunpowder Treason.  Only once the cellar has been declared clear is the Queen permitted to enter.  In Great Britain, Guy Fawkes Day (November the fifth) is celebrated by lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.  Small representations of Guy Fawkes are purchased and displayed, and these effigies are burned in the bonfires.  This practice has diminished over the years, slowly being replaced by American Halloween.  In Canada, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in a few areas, such as Nanaimo BC and Newfoundland.

British Yeomen of the Guard

In Korea, no one celebrates Guy Fawkes Day, and mention of it here draws only a blank stare, much as it does in most of Canada.  So, how will I be commemorating Guy Fawkes Day, you ask?  Well, I will be going to a friend's apartment tonight, where three of us will gather in front of my computer and watch V For Vendetta.  There is definitely something to be said for tradition.  I wonder where I can buy some popcorn?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Some thoughts...

Well, here it is, over two months into my Korean adventure.  I arrived in this country on the 25th of August, and it is now already the 4th of November.  The weeks are flying by at a rapid pace, and I scarcely have time to blink before the weekend ends and Monday arrives once again.  In the past two months, I have seen many things and experienced many aspects of Korean culture and sights in Seoul.  Still, it really feels as though I've barely scratched the surface of what I want to do here.

So far, I've been up the Namsan Tower, visited Insadong, toured the Namsan traditional village, been to Bukchon, visited Gyoungbok Palace, been solicited on the street in Itaewon, discovered the only place that sells pies in Korea, and even found time to clean my apartment somewhat.

I've eaten many types of Korean foods, including kimchi, galbi, gimbap, bibimbap, danmuji, quail eggs, and bulgogi.

I've picked up a few souvenirs already, too.  I already have my official keychain, and there is also a Korean flag adorning my apartment.  I've also picked up a few souvenirs for friends and family, and I want to send those soon...

Still, there are many more things that I would like to experience.  There are many items on my "to do" list, not the least of which are:

Visit the DMZ

Travel to Japan, China, and possibly the Philippines

Visit Jeju Island

Travel to Busan

What do you think?  What should I add to my list?  Please leave any suggestions for me in the comments, any and all ideas would be very much appreciated.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Random Subway Occurrence

So, I'm riding the subway on the way to Itaewon.  Beside me is a boy (about 12 years old) and his father.  The train stops at a station, and when the boy turns his head away from his father, the father very quietly and quickly gets up and slips out the open door.  A few seconds later, the boy turns back to see his father gone.  He looks around, confused, muttering something that probably translates as "Wha... I... wha?"  He then catches sight of his father looking at him from the platform laughing his head off!  Soon, a number of passengers (myself included) are grinning and smirking, doing all that we can to not burst out in peals of laughter.  As the train pulls out of the station, the father signals his son to catch the return train at the next station.  Needless to say, it was extremely hilarious.

I'm sure the child-abandonment issues and psychologist bills will be well worth the lols.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Bread and Circuses

So much has happened in the last few weeks, I scarcely know where to begin.  I realize it's been forever since I last wrote.  I didn't want this to become one of those blogs where there's a new post every few months apologizing for the lack of posts, followed by a promise to try to write more often.  So I'm not going to do that.  Moving on.

Chuseok gift: Delicious!
Tuesday, September 21st marked the beginning of Chuseok, a nearly week-long Thanksgiving celebration.  During this period, Koreans traditionally return home to celebrate with their families and exchange gifts.  Also during this time, many stores and businesses were closed.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook have probably seen the pictures of the gift of rice cakes (song pyun) and the awesome letter given to me by one of my students. If not, get on Facebook and/or pay more attention to me, dammit!  I'm looking at you, Jason!

Chuseok dinner
During Chuseok, one of my co-workers who goes by the English name "Clouds" invited me to his apartment to celebrate with his family.  They are a great group of people, and the food was more than excellent.  We played games and watched a couple of movies.  With it being Chuseok, we of course watched two traditional Korean films: downloaded copies of 21 starring Kevin Spacey and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.  Oh, and to Greg and Pat: I know it took forever for me to watch The Prestige, and you were right, it was an amazing film.

Amy and Erika from Newfoundland!
The Saturday following Chuseok, I went to the National Institute of International Education (NIIED) for a five-day orientation with EPIK, which stands for English Program in Korea.  Most of the lectures were helpful and informative (with one notable exception - the people reading this who were there, you know what I'm talking about).  We had classes in teaching theory and lesson planning, most of which were old news to me.  What was helpful was the beginner Korean language classes, which have given me a good starting-off point to learn the alphabet and begin to really learn how to communicate and understand Korean.  The true value of the week, however, was found in the new friends and contacts I've made here, both in Seoul and in the rest of Korea.  There were only four of us from Seoul at the orientation, but it turns out we're all Canadian!  Amy and Erika (who lives only one subway stop from me) are both from Newfoundland, so hanging out with them definitely makes me feel like I'm back home in Grande Prairie, Alberta!

Gyongbuk Palace
Other highlights of the EPIK orientation included a visit to Gyongbuk Palace and the Korean Folk Museum, as well as watching the musical performance "Nanta."  When I saw this show, I wanted nothing more than to have my friends and family there to see it.  What an amazing performance!  It's been performed in countries all over the world, but sadly not in Canada.  Toronto and Vancouver, get on it!
Cookin' With NANTA!

The only noraebang picture I got
before my camera batteries died!
The last night of orientation was sad, as we had to say goodbye (for awhile) to our new friends who were leaving for various parts of Korea.  A bunch of us went out partying that night after the farewell dinner: Erika, Amy, Pat from Calgary, Linda from Ireland, Alex from Australia, and George and Amber from the US.  And let me tell you, I never thought this sort of this would happen to me, but let me just say we noraebanged like crazy that night!  (That was just for you, Jason and Greg.  That's all you're getting!  And to everyone else, my sincere apologies.)

I think I'll wrap it up there for now.  So much is continually happening here, and there is always so much to do.  I've never seen a city more active at four in the morning than Seoul, with the possible exception of Vegas.  I'm sorry, I haven't written lately, and I promise to write more often.  I know I said that I wouldn't type that, but what can you do?  Old habits die hard.  From Seoul, South Korea, Cheers!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


 An nyoung ha seh yo!

That's hello.  In Korean.  Written in Hangul, that's 안녕하세요.

This is a crucial phrase if you want to get by in Seoul.  Everywhere I walk, I hear "an nyoung ha seh yo!"  People answering cell phones, passing friends on the street, bowing to elders and superiors in the hallway at work.  When one walks into any store or restaurant in Korea, he or she is greeted with a chorus of "an nyoung ha seh yo!" from any employees in the vicinity of the door.

Also, a phrase I've recently learned, and put to very good use:

"kamsahamnida"  (감사합니다)

This means "thank you."  I got into the habit of using this today, much to the delight of the Koreans I interacted with. They were so happy when I used it, and really made me feel more at ease about trying different Korean phrases out.  I purchased a bottle of orange juice at the Mini-Stop convenience store near my officetel, and when I couldn't quite remember the phrase, the store clerk had no problem with helping me out a bit.  She asked where I was from, and welcomed me to Korea.  Many people here are so inviting, it really makes me feel very welcome.

Friday, September 10, 2010


It's pouring rain outside, so I'm enjoying a relaxing Friday evening in, catching up on watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, eating nachos and drinking a Chilsung Cider:

"Cider" doesn't really mean the same thing here that it does back home.  Chilsung Cider tastes almost exactly like Sprite or 7-Up.

Things have been going fairly well for me.  The kids that I teach are amazing, and incredibly friendly and inquisitive.  My favorite part really has been teaching the classes so far.

I've joined a few meet-up groups, hoping to meet some fellow English-speakers.  One group, called "Seoullites," is meeting for a dinner/karaoke night next Saturday, the 18th.  I don't think I'll take part in the karaoke, but so far 27 people have signed up to go, so I think I have a good chance at meeting some fellow world travelers.

One oasis I have found, and for which I am very grateful:

I was pretty excited when I heard about this place.  It really felt like being back home when I went inside, and I'll definitely be going back for Tuesday wing night!

I hope this post finds everyone well, and I look forward to talking to you all very soon!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wolfhound Pub and the Seoul Metropolitan Subway

On Sunday, on the train to Itaewon, I met a girl from New York City named Adrienne. It was really great to meet someone with whom I could converse. Once we arrived at Itaewon, she helped me find the Wolfhound, an Irish pub that is apparently a very popular foreigner hangout. Let me tell you, fish and chips and a pint of Guinness? I was in Irish heaven...

I should take this time to tell you a little bit about the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. If you're like me, and the only experience you've had with city train transit is in cities like Edmonton, the Seoul Subway is quite a shock. In a city as densely populated as Seoul, an efficient rail system is key, and it is really amazing how well the subway here works. There are nine different lines in the system, with a total of 291 separate subway stations. You can quite literally get to almost any part of Seoul using the subway system. On top of that, the trains and stations are, without exception, nearly immaculately clean. The trains are very modern and obviously well-maintained.  To give you an idea of the scope of the entire system, here is the map of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway:

To me, it looks as though someone has dropped a bowl of cooked spaghetti on the city.  Crazy!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Coex Mall, Inception

My quest to get my medical exam yesterday was unsuccessful. When I got to the Seoul Medical Center, the lights above the information desk area were dark and it appeared as though it was closed. In the area, however, was the Coex Mall, a huge underground shopping area. It was there that I finally saw more than a few foreigners. It may sound like a bad thing, but it was a very welcome sight. I found a bookstore, and upon investigation, I found that it actually carried English language books and foreign magazines. I even found the science fiction section. Jackpot! I hung around the area for awhile, eventually going to a PC room to kill some time. After that, I went to the "Megabox Theatre" and watched Inception. It was a real treat eating theatre-style popcorn and watching a flick on the big screen. The experience was a little different from what I am used to; the seating in the theatre is assigned, and of course the pre-movie advertisements are all in Korean. I wish I could understand them, as some of them seemed quite amusing.

The movie started at 9:20pm, which meant that, by the time the movie had let out, the subway had shut down for the night. This enabled me to take a Seoul taxi for the first time. Getting a cab is fairly easy; there are designated taxi stops near the Coex Mall. The driver understood my request to be taken to "Nowon Station," the nearest subway station to my officetel. The taxi was also quite affordable. It wound up being around 20,000 won to get home (less than $20 CAN). It had been a very long day, and it was nice to get back to my room.

Today, I slept in somewhat; I didn't get out of bed until around noon. My goal for today is to check out Itaewon, a neighborhood in central Seoul known as a popular hangout for ex-pats.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Costco, and SMOE

So, last night I made a trip to Costco. It was my first time taking the subway train here in Seoul, and true to form, I got myself lost. Briefly. Eventually I got back on track, and got off at the correct stop. After walking about six blocks in the wrong direction, I got turned around by a helpful worker at a PC room, and eventually found Costco. Upon entering, I was greeted by many familiar sights. The products are very similar, and the packaging had English translations. It was a very welcome sight. The store is laid out somewhat differently, however. On the ground floor, I found electronics, clothing, bedding supplies, cleaners, pharmacy... basically everything but food. Then, once you are done with that section, you push your shopping cart onto a slanted conveyor belt and ride it down into a basement area, where all of the food is available for purchase. The checkout is very similar to western Costcos. Like Costco in Canada, Korean shoppers are limited in their payment options. The only way to pay for groceries in a Korean Costco is either cash or Samsung card. Thankfully, I changed about a thousand Canadian dollars into Korean Won at the airport, and had more than enough to cover my purchases. I bought two large towels, two pillows, and a package of toilet paper (nothing but the essentials!) Unfortunately, they didn't have a power converter or bedsheets in the size I needed. I think I may have to break down and order those on-line.

Today, I had to go to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to pick up a copy of my contract. Again, I had to navigate the subway system, this time transferring from one line to another. The subway stations are huge! I found my way to the correct station, and after wandering for a bit following signs, I found myself at SMOE. It is very hot here today, and most Koreans carry small fans around with them. I will have to try and get one for myself.

After getting my contract, I left SMOE, and turned left when I probably should have turned right. I'm very glad I did! I walked through a gate and came upon Gyeonghuigung Palace. Seoul is very much a city of contrasts. It is very modern, and very much a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Then, you turn a corner, and you are thrust back in time. The palace is a beautiful series of buildings featuring a huge courtyard, surrounded by beautiful trees right in the middle of a busy city. I took many pictures, and as soon as I am at my own computer, I will upload them.

After touring the area, I found the nearest subway station and made my way back to Nowon station, the closest terminal to my officetel (apartment). However, once I got off the train, the beautiful sunny day had turned into a deluge. After waiting for the rain to abate, I finally decided to make a run for it, and wound up going into what the Koreans call a PC room, which is basically an internet cafe, except more in the style of Fragz, for those of you familiar with that particular business. This is where I find myself now, writing this very blog post. Hopefully the rain will let up soon. Take care!

First Day at Sin-sang

Thursday, August 26th

I've just finished my first day at Sin-sang Middle School here in Seoul. The staff is extremely friendly, and was very eager to meet me. Almost as eager as the students. As I did only office work today, I didn't have much of a chance to interact with the students. Passing them in the halls, however, illustrated to me how fascinated they are with me. The students here are very respectful as well. Usually, if I made eye-contact with them in the halls, they would stop and bow formally. Needless to say, this behaviour on the part of students is very unfamiliar to me.

In order to do things such as get a cell phone or internet service, I need to get my alien registration card. To do this, I first need to have some passport-style pictures taken. They took a few hours to get done, so I took the opportunity to walk the streets in my area. The first thing you notice when you step outside here is the humidity. It has been overcast and rainy ever since I arrived, and even when it's not raining, it doesn't take long for your clothes to be in a perpetually clingy state.

On the streets, everyone is Korean, and I am immediately identifiable as an interloper. There is a big difference between the curiosity of the students at the school and the curiosity of the average person in the street. Whereas the students bowed and said hello, when I made eye-contact with passers-by, most tried their hardest to pretend they hadn't noticed me. I received a few grins and nods, but for the most part the reception was lukewarm.

My task for this evening is to take the train to Costco, where I'll buy some much-needed supplies, most notably bedsheets, towels, and a power converter. Tomorrow I will go to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to get a copy of my contract and to the Samsung Hospital to get a medical exam. Until tomorrow, I bid you a fond adieu!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cry, the Beloved Country

Monday, August 23rd, 2010: Vancouver, British Columbia

My last night in Canada. It's taking awhile for that one, simple thought to sink in.

My last night in Canada.

This one sentence is a powerful thing. Right now, it's causing me to go through a multitude of sensations: butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, quickened pulse, and more than a little shortness of breath. Am I ready for this? I mean, sure, I've done all the paperwork, I have my visa, I've signed my contract... but will I ever be truly "ready"?

My friends.

As I write this, I keep coming up with things I'll miss. My brain adds to the list constantly, making me realize what I'm giving up. Skype and Facebook are great, but they are no substitute for wing night. Or going to the movies with friends. Or Left 4 Dead at St. Joe's. Or "trekking out."


In Grande Prairie, I was so used to simply hopping into a vehicle and going wherever I wanted. I sold my car a couple of weeks ago, and I really do miss it. Not to mention road trips!


The Vinyl Cafe, Age of Persuasion, Q, As it Happens... turning on the radio in my car opened my mind to whole new worlds, allowing me to fulfill my goal of learning at least one new thing every day. All I know is I will be eternally grateful for podcasts and live internet streaming.

Having my best friend as my roommate.

We may not have kept the apartment perfectly clean, and we may not have finished watching the new Big Bang Theory episodes together, but dammit, having my best friend as my roommate was something special, and I will miss it.

Crown Royal.

Seriously. According to a friend, two-hundred dollars for a bottle of Crown Royal in Korea. Ridiculous!

There are many other things I will miss, but I suppose now is the time to look forward. New friends to go along with the old, new places to explore, new foods to eat, new things to drink, and even *shudder* K-pop. After all, Canada, this is not really goodbye, merely see you later. And until we meet again, you will go on fine without me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Great Expectations

Well, I'm on my way. As I sit in the hotel room here in Kamloops, I can't help but reflect on what I'm leaving behind. I have so many good friends in Grande Prairie and the rest of Alberta. There are so many special people who have touched my life. Friends, family, co-workers... when I try to think about everyone I care about, the list seems endless. To all of you, I can truly and honestly say that I love you, and I will miss all of you terribly.

Looking to tomorrow, we will be driving to Vancouver to visit the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. There, I will be picking up my E-2 visa, which will allow me to work as an English teacher in South Korea. I will also be getting back my passport and my university degree, both of which I mailed to them a couple of weeks ago. It was a strange feeling, booking an overseas flight without my passport in-hand. Hopefully, everything will go well at the consulate tomorrow; I'm confident there will be no snags.

With any luck, my next posting will be from Vancouver, visa in hand and raring to go!