Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Travel Photo: It's a bird! It's a plane!

This is a perfect example of why I love Koreans. They make things fun!!! Even things that can sometimes be horrible, like hospitals, which is what this is! This hospital is in the new downtown of Suncheon and we see it on our current walk home from school. There are more huge apes at the bottom of the building by the entrance holding up two benches.

See more photos from our first month in Korea here

Monday, July 25, 2011


Our apartment community in Suncheon, South Korea has access to fresh drinking water, three times a day, from a really cool boulder thing. Check out the video.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Night at a Jjimjilbahng

We're on the bus to a stopover city on our way to the Mud Festival. We're talking about places to stay the night and Spencer and I aren't saying anything because we know squat about Korean lodgings. We are just doing whatever the two guys who have been in Korea the longest are doing. 

"How about a jjimjilbahng?" one guy asks. "Ok." says the other, smiling. 

Me: "What's a ja-jim-bong?" 

The guys basically say, "Oh, it's a place where you can go for up to 24 hours and there are big common rooms to sleep on the floor in. It's only like 5,000 Won ($5) and there are saunas and hot spring water baths. It's the cheapest place to sleep."

At this point, Spencer and I are planning on going to Hong Kong soon and we haven't gotten paid yet so we are down with saving a little cash. We automatically say, "yes. Sure, why not?" We might as well try it out. It's all part of the Korean experience!

Someone asks for directions and we start walking. Me: "What are we looking for?" Guy one: "We are looking for the Korean writing for jjimjilbahng." Okay, I have no idea what that is so I keep walking while looking at all the pretty flashing lights. They find it and we walk an empty lobby with an elevator. Ok, this is fine. Lots of things are on the top stories of buildings in biggie. We get to the right floor and see this:

Alllll right....this is okay. We all pay and she hands us shorts and a t-shirt to wear. Then she points for me to go into the girls locker room and the boys to upstairs to their locker room. At this point I realize there are 4 guys and one girl....I will be alone.

I hesitantly walk in the door to the locker room. I take off my sandals and wear their green plastic sandals into the room--here is my first mistake. You only wear the shoes outside of the room, not in it! Even worse, I wore them in the shower....I thought the women were staring at me because I was white. Nope, they were staring at me because I was wearing outdoor shoes in the shower.

The showers were along one wall (no curtains, very GI Jane), there was a hot spring pool in the middle, a bigger cold pool along one wall, and a door to the sauna. There also looked to be a massage table in one corner.

After I got cleaned up, I went to try and meet up with the guys. I walk out into the "lobby" of the jjimjilbahng which is basically a 5'x10' space with the lady behind plexiglass (pictured above). It's then that I realize that I have no way of contacting them. I don't have a cell phone. I can't go into the boys locker room. I can't find the common areas.

Thankfully, the lady saw the confusion and panic in my eyes and after some gestures and hand signals, I went to the 11th floor. I walk into the double doors directly in front of the elevator and put my green plastic sandals on one of the many shelves in the entryway along with countless identical pairs. The room is dark except for a big screen TV playing a movie with the sound on low. There are men sleeping on mats with tiny square pillows. There are doors around the big room, some open, some closed, with Korean signs above them. I don't go in any of the rooms since I don't know what the signs say.
I look around for the guys. I don't see them. 

I get back in the elevator and push every floor on the way down. I see no one and every floor is dark and deserted. I go back to the lobby and sit in the one chair they have available. I sit for a while and think crazy thoughts. "What if this place is huge and I never find them!?" See? Crazy.

After a while, I head back up to the 11th floor. I might have missed them when I was stopping at every floor since there are two elevators. That's probably where they will go because the lady will tell them the same thing she told me, right? Sounds logical enough. I ride up to the 11th floor, the elevator doors open and there is Spencer, waiting for me outside the double doors of the common area! I smiled so big. I was so happy to see him!!  

The rest of the night was spent trying to find a comfortable position on the hardwood floor with only a thin mat and a tiny square "pillow." I saw "pillow" because I'm pretty sure it was foam wrapped in pleather (yuck). It wasn't a good night's sleep but it was cheap and an experience I will never forget.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There Will Be Mud: The Boryeong Mud Festival

The Boryeong Mud Festival was the perfect experience for our first trip out of Suncheon. We took a bus to Gwangju on Friday and spent the night in a Jjimjilbang (Read about our experience here). We woke up on Saturday and took a bus directly to Daecheon Beach for the 14th annual Mud Festival. We had heard a lot about it and decided it was something we did not want to miss.

The festival was super fun! You could wander the central area and play on the mud slides and mud pools. You could relax on the beach or in the water. You could grab some food or drinks and experience some of the best people watching in Korea. There was even a colored mud painting station where we were able to get painted in some refreshingly cool colored mud (pictured above). It was like our own colorful version of sunscreen!

After a mud paint job and several cold beverages, we made our way down to the beach dance area, where a giant cannon was blasting the crowd with water. After joining the crowd, we suddenly saw these strange things being thrown in our direction. After one hit someone near us, we realized what it was -- a small baggie filled with mud. We had just walked into the front lines of a mud war! We quickly realized we were on the receiving end of this war, as we were getting pelted with mud yet had to rely on picking these bags off the ground if we wanted to return fire. No worries though, we were already covered in mud, sand, water, and a little bit of beer. It was all in good fun. A little more mud never hurt anyone.

See our photos of the Boryeong Mud Festival weekend here.

Tips for future Mud Festival travelers:
1. Booking a hotel ahead of time is not necessary, but be prepared to pay a high price. We just showed up with no set plans and were able to get a room in a motel right on the beach. It was really expensive (a decent room with Queen sized bed and bathroom for 180,000 Won) but with several of us sharing a room, it was only about $30 each. I am sure you could find a cheaper price by walking further away from the festival, but expect to pay more for everything during the festival.

2.If you are on a tight budget and want to avoid the high prices, you could probably spend a night in a nearby city. Then take an early bus to Boryeong and spend the day at the festival. You really only need half a day to get the full festival experience. Get there early. Soak in the sun. Play with the mud. Drink and eat and swim in the water. By 4pm, you will have had you fix and you can make your way back home.

3. Bring a swimsuit, suncreen, and a pair of sandals or flip flops that you don't mind losing or breaking. We were able to buy a cheap pair of flip flops for a few dollars. You definitely don't want to be walking around the festival in shoes, and anything you bring with you might break or get lost. People are constantly taking their sandals on and off to jump in the mud. Nothing will get stolen, but everyone is drunk so things sometimes get misplaced.

4. They offer free lockers rentals for foreigners. The lockers normally cost 500 Won and there was a table set up where they would give you a 500 Won coin for free to use. It helped us greatly. Best advice we can give is to bring a digital camera but leave it in the locker. We saw so many cameras get wet and damaged from the mud and rain. We just left it in the locker for most of the day and then went a took it out for short periods of time to take some photos.

5. The festival seems to change every year. We were told if was different in 2010 and we expect it to be different in 2012. This year was the first year that festival goers were charged 5,000 Won to enter the main area with all the mud activities. You can still have a good time without buying the entrance ticket, but you will miss out on the opportunity to do a lot of the group mud events (wrestling, slides, etc.)

6. Be prepared to be around a ridiculous amount of drunk foreigners. No getting around it: This festival is dominated by Non-Koreans. It really boils down to the fact that everyone is drinking a large amount of alcohol while playing in inflatable mud pits like uninhibited little kids. A combination that is guaranteed to put a huge smile on your face.

 Get more information about the Boryeong Mud Festival at the Official Website (English)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Arts & Crafts: Marionettes

I teach four arts and crafts classes (40 minutes each) a week for the kindergarteners. The lessons are already planned out for me (easy, right?!). All the materials are pre-separated into individual baggies for each child and one for me to make/practice with. The baggies are good and terrible at the same time.

They are good because all the materials are already divided for you (yay!). They are bad because if you give the kid all of the materials at once they will make a huge mess/break something (and then cry)/use all the tape and then need more (the other kids don't really like sharing, "no, that's my tape!")/lose something (and then cry)/tangle up the string/et cetra (not so yay). It took me a few classes to figure this out. There was a lot of Maggie Teacher saying, "DO NOT TOUCH THE STRING YET!" and "Robbie, I said don't touch the string yet!" and "Be careful or you will tangle all the strings up!" FYI, the kids are either 4 or 5 years old and English is their second language. They don't know what "tangle" even means.

What can I do? This is all part of the learning curve of teaching English in South Korea. Most of the time, you screw up the first time you do it. Luckily, most of the kids don't know what they're supposed to be doing anyway so it doesn't really matter. The kids that do understand that you are winging it, don't care because they are probably too busy thinking, "Yes! This teacher has no idea what they're doing! I can be crazy!" and are standing on their chairs while tangling up their marionette strings and speaking in Korean (a big "no, no" at English school).

Eventually, I figured out how to handle letting tiny kids make puppets while ensuring that I was not finishing every kids project while they ate lunch (which I had to do in the first class, whoops!).

The Answer:
1.) One step at a time (very important!)
2.) Simplifying the process--by the last class they were only making the arms move and not the legs. I noticed that if we attached the arms and legs, they would just tangle them up in five minutes or less. Then they would get very frustrated and sad (some crying) because they could not figure out how to fix it. Plus, we were extremely rushed if we attached them all and the kids didn't have time to play with their projects before shoving them in their backpacks (and probably breaking them).
3.) Smile A LOT - even if you are screwing up, just smile a lot! The kids will think you're doing everything right and seem to be happier when you're smiling. :) (probably the MOST important thing)

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Signs can be funny while also informing. Sometimes they are misinformingly hilarious. Either way, I like signs while traveling.

This is a sign posted on the inside of our elevator in our apartment building. I'm pretty sure it says, "Don't lean on the elevator doors or they will magically open and you will fall in the elevator shaft." Really people, pictures are louder than words.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I just love that it was in an expat bar. Those foreign boys are frisky!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Calm Cool Collected Chaos of Crossing the Street

In the United States it’s simple: Wait for the green "walking man" to flash and then cross while all the cars are stopped. In our first few weeks in Korea, we have learned that things on the street work a little differently. There is a great understanding and flow in the driver/walker relationship. Some of the major intersections do have the rotating “walk/don’t walk” flashing signs, but the rest of them just leave it to the people to decide when to go forth. And it works! If cars have an open intersection, they go for it. If people crossing have an open moment to cross, they take it. What is really interesting is the fact that there is little (if any) hesitation between people in the cars and people on the streets. If you start to cross just as a car approaches the intersection, they may not stop, but rather slow down and make a turn while you breeze past the side of them. They sense that you are crossing so they make a wide turn and you see them turning so you take an extra step to the left which allows you to brush by within inches of their car. Swoosh! It all happens in a split second; You go with your gut instinct and just cross. And it always seems to work out. It may sometimes seem like a crossing car just misses you by a few feet, but no matter how chaotic and fast the traffic is moving, you rarely feel any danger. We have yet to witness any kind of traffic accident or even a close call, and there is noticeably less road rage (at least from our point of view as pedestrians).

So the next time you are stuck trying to walk across that darn intersection with the authoritatively demanding red hand telling you "NOT SO FAST, BUD", take a moment and think about Korea. And while you are stopped thinking about it, we will already be across the street and halfway home, because that is just the way things flow here. Just another day on the calmly chaotic streets of Suncheon.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Right Outside Our Door

It's so nice to see a bit of green every time we walk out our front door!

Friday, July 8, 2011

High Rise Moving Day

High Rise Moving Day
Living in a high rise apartment building is pretty standard in Suncheon, South Korea. In the week and a half we've been here, I've counted about 25 of these huge living boxes and I'm sure there are more. With so many people living in high rises, it's no wonder they have come up with such a streamlined way to move.

When moving into a high rise, South Koreans have it down. This machine is a platform on a huge ladder-like lift. They simply move everything onto the platform and then send it up! It's genius! The platform rises pretty quickly, definitely more quickly than I thought it would go. Wouldn't this be great in New York, Paris, or Hong Kong? Moving would be a snap!

I love seeing new ways of doing ordinary things. It's one of my favorite parts about travel! Have you ever noticed something you thought was ordinary transformed into something extraordinary on your travels?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Transitioning to Suncheon, South Korea

We arrived in our new home, Suncheon, at 11pm on Tuesday, June 28th. We left San Francisco International Airport at 1pm the day before. We were excited, sleep deprived, and smelly. 

our motel in between the Lexus Motel and the OK Motel, hehehe

The director of our school, Mrs. Hur picked us up from the bus station and took us to our motel, Sky Motel. The name "Sky Motel" was written on the towels, the pillow cases, the "blanket," and the mirror in the bathroom, just in case we forgot where we were, or something. I don't know. We had a tiny but neat room with lots of perks such as, normal sized toothpaste, big bottles of shampoo/conditioner/body wash, hair gel, brush/comb, q-tips, internet, tea, water cooler, lotion, mini-fridge, orange you can see, MUCH more than you would ever find in a western motel room. We didn't really use any of it but it was cool. The bed was extremely hard, as are all the beds in Korea, apparently. Not too happy about that but whatevs, I'll get over it....and eventually beg my mom to send me some memory foam if I don't. 

major intersection in Suncheon on the way to school

The next day, we went to our school, Wonderland, in the afternoon to start learning about the school and how to teach English. We are taking over Mark and Gillian's classes while they visit home for a month in Scotland. When they get back, Kurt and Carrie are leaving to go home and then we will take over their classes. So, for the next month we will have one set of classes and then the next month, we will have all new classes again! 

Wonderland; it's a castle!

While watching Gillian teach her (soon to be my) classes on that first day, I remember thinking, "Oh no, this looks so hard. How am I going to remember all these (there are eight) different books? What if I can't control the children? What if I say something wrong? What if I can't do this??" I panicked a little but was too jet lagged to run.

Spencer in his classroom

We had one more day to shadow Mark and Gillian and that day was way better. They were giving us so much information about how they teach and it was very overwhelming but I figured, "hey, I speak English and graduated from college. I can totally do this!" I think confidence came with the 10 hours of sleep I had gotten the night before.

my classroom

Our first day teaching on our own was a Friday. Honestly, I have no idea why I fretted for even a second. It was easy and FUN! I have a wide range of ages in my classes and it's nice to be able to act silly with the tiny kids and watch the older kids really understand what I'm talking about. Also, Korean kids are adorable! It's so fun to see all their cute hair clips and interesting clothing choices. On Friday, I saw a boy wearing (and actually pulling off!) yellow skinny jeans! It was awesome!