Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Love Bangkok

I've heard you either love Bangkok or you hate it. For me, it was love at first sight.

I expected Bangkok to be crowded, dirty, rowdy, and steaming hot. I expected my mind to be blown by the intensity of the city. I thought it would be packed full of people at all hours with wild tuk tuks blazing by and strange smells around every corner.  That's not how I found it (well, except for the hot part) and I was very pleasantly surprised.

I don't know if it's because I'd been living in Korea before traveling, but Bangkok was a lot calmer and nicer than I thought it would be. The airport was nice, the public transportation we took into the city was clean and air conditioned, and there didn't seem to be any more people on the street than in Suncheon. Seriously.

Everyone was super kind and smiley, the food was amazing, and the temples were all gleaming and beautiful. What more could a tourist ask for??!

Bangkok is such a cool city. Since it's an old city, there is so much character. There are great, fancy temples and tiny out of the way ones. There are gigantic malls and tiny roadside stalls. And the best part is, all are filled with happy, kind people. You are affected by the people around you, and I was so happy in Bangkok!

Bohol's Jungle

We set off into Bohol's jungle filled center with little expectation. I'd heard mixed reviews about the famous Chocolate Hills and wasn't expecting anything great. But before the Chocolate Hills, first we went to see the tarsiers.

Tarsiers are tiny, nocturnal primates that live on the island. They are endangered so we went to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation to see some. Apparently, there are some people who just catch them and then let tourists hold them and take pictures with them on their shoulder. This is illegal and those tarsiers die quickly. Not good for an endangered species, so don't do that, everybody!

At the Foundation, there is a small area with information about tarsiers, a video about them and the Foundation's efforts (which we didn't watch), and then a guide will take you out in the nearby jungle to see the little creatures. It was a pretty quick trip since we didn't watch the video and just went out to see them.

Then we got on the pretty bus pictured below and went to the Chocolate Hills.

Once we got to the Chocolate Hills we had two options, hire an overpriced tricycle to take us to the top or walk up. Even though we had our bags strapped on us, the walk wasn't bad at all. Actually, some of the best views we got were from the road...but that might have just been because we had to share the viewing platform with a Chinese tour group, who pulled up right as we reached the top.

The Chocolate Hills were pretty but the ride to get there was the real delight of the trip. The views from the bus were phenomenal. It was like a tropical dream.

All in all, I was underwhelmed with the touristy things to do on the island but loved the everyday aspects of it and the people were all super friendly so it was great. Sometimes, it really is just about the journey and not the destination.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adventures in Siquijor

Following Lonely Planet's advice, we rented a motorbike to tour the small island of Siquijor. As promised, it was a really fun way to see the island and do things on your own terms without having to bargain with tricycle or jeepney drivers, which can quickly become tiresome.

What we didn't count on, was Spencer being incredibly ill. That morning Spencer wasn't feeling well but he still really wanted to go on the trip. So, we went.

We set off on the motorbike a bit shaky at first. We were wearing helmets and full of determination to make it a success. We planned on taking turns and I was driving first since I had some previous motorcycle experience from when my dad taught me to ride a quad (aka ATV). As I was starting out, I was a bit nervous but I kept hearing my dad say, “Listen to the engine! Hear that? Okay, let up the gas and shift!” We would have been doomed without those lessons from my childhood! (Thanks, Dad!!)

As we hit the smooth main road, things got easier and I got more confidence. We were doing it! We were riding a motorbike and it was scary, exciting, and absolutely beautiful. We passed fields of rice, countless coconut trees, thatch huts, brightly painted cement houses, goats, chickens, pigs, cows, schools, villages, and the endless, shimmering sea. I felt so free but at the same time, I was constantly clutching the handlebars and never going over 45 kilometres/28 miles per hour.

After stopping a couple times for Spencer to be sick, getting lost once, and asking for directions multiple times, we finally made it to our first stop: Cambuhagay Falls. We planned on our second stop being a beach, but we never made it. You'll see why later.

Cambuhagay Falls is a set of three cascades in a river headed for the ocean. The water is a beautiful shade of aqua and the biggest swimming hole comes complete with an old jungle vine to swing into the water. The swinging vine along with the lush, green jungle surrounding the falls brings up thoughts of Tarzan. It was like a tropical dream! It's a must see if you come to Siquijor island.

The beauty of the location was the exact opposite of how Spencer felt. He was miserable. I kept telling him we could go back to our resort but he kept saying no. Even though he was sick, he still wanted to see the waterfall and hang out. What a trooper! So, I went swimming while Spencer threw up some more. Then we both took turns on the rope swing.

After a while, Spencer couldn't tolerate it anymore and we got back on the motorbike and headed towards home. I was getting more and more worried about his inability to even hold down water so when I saw a sign for a hospital, I immediately turned into its driveway.

We had to wait about 40 minutes for the doctor to come but I was happy we did. While we were waiting, the nurses gave Spencer a pill for his fever and by the time the doctor showed up, he was feeling a bit better. The doctor was very kind, she spoke perfect English (as a lot of Filipinos do), and prescribed Spencer some probiotics and re-hydration salts.

On doctor's orders, we skipped the beach and headed back to the resort. By the time we got back, Spencer was feeling better and even ate some toast for dinner. The day had not turned out how we intended but we had survived.

Christmastime in the Philippines

Even though it's hot and humid outside and doesn't feel like Christmastime at all, it still is, and it's nice to be reminded of it by decorations and Christmas lights.

In the Philippines if someone has a Christmas tree at their home, it's always a faux-tree and it's usually placed out on a front porch or balcony. It seems like people spend most of their time outside and from there they and others can enjoy it the most.

Near where we are staying in Tagbilaran, on the island Bohol, there is a public square with a big church on one side and the capitol building on the other. The park is decorated with all kinds of different Christmas lights.

A stroll through the park at night was a sparkly and wonderful way to be reminded that yes indeed, it is Christmastime, even though you are wearing as little clothes as possible and are still sweating at night! :)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and lots of joy to all of those who don't celebrate either of those!! Happiness and love to all!!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Serenity on Sugar Beach

After the hustle and bustle of Boracay, Sugar Beach was a welcome sight. We pulled up on the bright yellow Driftwood Village boat, named Surfy, to an nearly empty beach surrounded by hills crowded with jungle. It was perfection. Most unlike Boracay, there wasn't a single person trying to sell us stuff and we were so happy.

It's so peaceful on Sugar Beach that we were instantly relaxed, which was nice because it was a trek to get there. Sugar Beach is near the town of Sipalay on the west coast of the island of Negros. From Boracay, we took a bus to Iloilo (about 6 hours), a fast ferry (1.5 hours) to Bacolod (where we spent one night to break up the trip), then a bus from Bacolod to Sipalay (about 5 hours) and a boat from Sipalay to Sugar Beach (20 minutes), Phew! But it was worth it.

We were met with a smile and a handshake from the owner, Peter, who showed us to the reception area. There, we met the first of many extremely kind Filipino women who work at the resort. We asked for the cheapest room and she showed us over to a little thatch hut near the back of the property.

It wasn't much, but it would do. We had a bed, a shelf, a chair, a lock-box, a mosquito net, and a front porch with a hammock and loveseat. The bed was too short for Spencer's six foot three inches and I barely fit at five foot seven. I think if the bed was longer, we would have stayed longer because everything else was great.

The food was simple, filling and good. There was a large selection of dishes on the menu to choose from: western food, Thai, and Filipino. We ordered some drip coffee and it was incredibly bitter so I'd steer clear of that. Everything else we had was great.

There are tons of games to play and, with a view of the ocean, Spencer and I played chess all morning one day. They also had lots of beach games and other board games. Couple that with all the water activities you can do and you won't be bored at this place! There's diving, snorkeling, boat tours, etc.

The staff was incredibly nice and they invited us to play volleyball with them around sunset. It seemed like a nightly ritual and was a lot of fun! Afterwards, we jumped into the sea to cool off and wash the sand off ourselves from diving for the ball. The water was so refreshing after the match and the sunset that night was one of the best I've ever seen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beginning in Boracay

Here we are on this gorgeous tropical island of Boracay. It's breathtakingly beautiful here and full of tourists from all over the world.

The walkway along the beach is lined with shops and walking vendors selling everything you could possibly need while vacationing here; snorkels, sunglasses, dresses, flip flops, hats, souvenirs, and the most expensive sunscreen on the planet. We haven't bought much along this walkway because everything is more expensive here than if you just walk inland a little bit. The best thing we've done along this walkway was buy a coffee and a mango shake and just sit and take it all in: the people walking by, the brilliant sea, and the storm clouds rolling in from Typhoon Pablo.

Yes, there is a typhoon headed our way today! It's a big one, but it should be less strong by the time it reaches us, hopefully anyway.

The past couple of days have been super relaxing. We eat, we walk, we swim, we eat, we walk, we swim. The water is clear, cool, and wonderfully refreshing. We only go swimming around 3 or 4 in the afternoon to avoid the sun's harsh rays on our super white skin. We're wearing tons of sunscreen as well, of course.

Yesterday, we took some great photos underwater with our waterproof camera case and it worked flawlessly. It was super fun and we got some cool shots. I was so looking forward to uploading them but, unfortunately, our camera cord got lost in Seoul somehow. We have to find a new one now. :/

We've both agreed that this is a great first stop for our trip. It's relaxing and beautiful and also, since it's so touristy, it's kind of easing us into the travel lifestyle. We still have some of the conveniences of home, everyone speaks English, and the food isn't scary. Plus, even with the typhoon coming, it feels safe. The people are kind and the vendors and sales people aren't too pushy.

Our hostel/guesthouse is nicer than I anticipated. We have a good sized corner room which allows a nice cross breeze to roll through. We have a bed—that's really just a thick piece of foam on a frame, some shelves, a vanity, and a fan. We share the bathrooms and even though the shower is just dumping a bucket of cool water over my head, I don't mind it at all. I feel like a real traveler now, even though we've just begun!

I'm off to lay in the hammock on the balcony and read. The wind is picking up but we'll be okay.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things I'll Miss About Korea

Things have been a bit hectic lately. We packed up all our stuff, trained our replacements at Wonderland, said goodbye to all our friends and students, and packed our backpacks for the next 4.5 months. It's been intense, exciting, and sad.

Now, we are staying in Seoul with a week with my husband's sister, Katie. It's been so nice to just relax before our big trip. We can enjoy all the great parts about Korea while never having to wake up early or say, "Where's your homework??"

On Saturday night, we'll head to the airport for our early flight the next day and I can already imagine how hard it will be to say goodbye to Korea. Over the past year and a half I have loved and hated the differences and difficulties of living here, but now, looking back, it's been wonderful. I know I will miss this beautiful place filled with kind and honest people. I hope one day we'll come back.

Until then, here are the things I'll be missing:
  • Our friends, of course number one
  • Cheap, convenient heath care - I'm having some stomach pains and I went to the doctor and pharmacy this afternoon. I was in and out of both places within 20 minutes for under $9. Also, both the doctor and the pharmacist could speak English. That is amazing.  
  • Call buttons on tables at restaurants - These are genius. Need the waiter? Just push the button and they come right away! I love it. 
  • Cute stuff is everywhere and using it doesn't make you feel stupid and childish. It makes you happy. Well, it makes me happy, anyway. :) 
  • Cheap taxis, 'nough said. 
  • Working with kids has been so great and rewarding. At times, it can be super difficult but with time, it gets better and easier. I've really enjoyed teaching and I'm so grateful for the patience I've gained since working at Wonderland. I'm better for it. 
  • Being a mini-celebrity - Almost everyone who lives in Korea is Korean, so the few of us who aren't Korean really stand out! Little kids stare at us and we smile back and say hello. People learning English want to practice with us and my students loved playing with my "yellow hair". 
  • Tax included in the price shown - This might not be a big deal to you in your country but in the US, there is the price they show you and then there's the price you actually pay at the register. Tax is only included at the register. It does seem kind of sneaky now that I've experienced what it could be like to not have to always add in a little bit for tax when looking at things to buy in a store. 
  • Great public transportation is so convenient and helpful for everyone. I love that we never had to have a car in Korea. We could get anywhere via train, bus, taxi, or bike. I love not having a car and worrying about upkeep, parking, car insurance, and all that. 
  • Lightening fast internet is soooo cool and I will miss it immensely.  
last night in Suncheon

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dilemmas and Delights

It's our last week as teachers and our last week in Suncheon. This Saturday we are going to Seoul to stay with Spencer's sister Katie for a week before leaving for the Philippines on the first couple days of December. For all the chaos of packing and saying goodbye, I feel relatively calm. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be and I feel good.

  • Our passports are still out of our hands and with the Indian embassy but I'm not so worried. I'm sure they'll come
  • Flying with liquids - I've been packing my backpack which I'll be using as a carry on and I'm really angry at the terrorists who made it so damn difficult to fly with liquids. We had to cut things and then cut some more and then I finally got everything crammed into two quart sized bags only to realize I forgot two more essential things. UGH! Back to the chopping block. 
  • I don't like goodbyes and I'm not looking forward to them all at the end of this week. :(    
  • Missing Thanksgiving - Once again, we're missing the holiday season at home with our families. This is the hardest time of the year to be an expat. 


  • We spent our last Saturday afternoon in Suncheon getting me a haircut and lounging at a great coffee shop near our apartment. The coffee shop had this very cool wooden chess set and we had a good game. Spencer won, but I like to think that I challenged his skills. 
  • Downton Abbey - I've become obsessed with this show and have almost watched all three seasons already! It's fabulous
  • Researching destinations - I've been researching places to go and things to do in SE Asia and it's so exciting! There are so many cool things to do and see. Now just to find the right balance between fun and budget while on the road. 
  • One week of teaching left!   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dilemmas and Delights

I'm starting to get really sentimental about leaving Korea. We've had such a good life here and made some great friends. Our job wasn't bad and I've taught some of the same kids since I started over a year ago. I'll miss some of them and some of them I will leave with joy, but all of them have helped me learn and grow as a teacher and as a person. Korea is a great place to live and I can see ourselves possibly coming back one day. I already know I'll miss it. This is going to be a very bittersweet goodbye.

  • Packing is a task! We have so much stuff to organize and decide what to send home, get rid of, or leave for our replacements. It's crazy to think how little things I own but still, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 
  • Indian visa - I've been working on getting our visas for India and I screwed up, twice. First of all, I sent all our documents in but forgot to send our passports. I felt so dumb when I realized that....and then, I didn't transfer them enough money so I had to go back to the bank. Ugh, I hate the bank here. Anyway, it should all be fine now and be processing. I can't wait to get our passports back in our hands!
  • My mom had surgery a few days ago and we're hoping she's doing well and sending good healthy vibes her way. It's hard not to be home in times like these. I love you, Mom! 
  • My birthday! My birthday was on the 12th and we celebrated all weekend long. We went out to dinner and bowling on Saturday and then we went out for dinner and cake again on Monday. Spencer got me a super fun birthday present, an instant camera! I love it so much and am having so much fun taking photos with it. The pictures seem so special since there is just one. 
  • The trees are beautiful and I love them. I appreciate them every day. On Sunday, we went for a walk to take some pictures of them and go our for coffee. It was the perfect picture taking weather and I think they turned out well. 
  • Making travel plans - We've been researching and planning our upcoming trip for a long time but recently, we've been booking a few places to stay during busy times (Christmas/New Years). It's so exciting to know that we are so close to departing for this trip! I feel like I've been waiting for it for so long! EEEEeeeee!! :)
  • Two weeks left in Suncheon and one lazy week in Seoul before we leave for our first stop, the Philippines!!!! :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's Fall in Korea

I have to post some more fall pictures because it is just too beautiful outside right now not to share! It was cloudy out today and I knew that would be perfect for capturing the bright leaves of the season. So we ate breakfast and went for a walk. Everything was so lovely, even the little rain couldn't spoil it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Haedong Yong Gung Temple

We went to Busan last weekend and on Saturday is POURED all day long. There was a huge thunder and lightening storm passing through and we spent most of the day sheltered in a restaurant or drinking wine in an apartment. It was cool to see the lightening and listen to the pounding rain, but we were very grateful when the skies were clear and the sun was shining the following day.

We went to Haedong Yong Gung Temple, which is very picturesquely perched on the rocks by the sea. It was super crowded that day but we still had a great time.  

Haedong Yong Gung Temple
  You walk down a narrow stone path of steps with stone lanterns and bamboo lining the path. If there weren't forty thousand other people with me, it would've felt like I'd stepped back in time. It was charming in a spiritual way and everything seemed very old. Don't forget to rub the Buddha's belly to ensure you have a boy one day.

walking on the path, our first glimpse of the ocean and temple
rub for boy babies!
The steps take you down and across a small stone bridge, where you can stop and toss coins into the fountains below for luck. Extra points if you make it into one the bowls!

throw a coin and make a wish
As with any Korean temple, it was painted beautifully. I love the attention to detail and variety of colors. It's stunning! Also very cool was that bright gold, fat and happy Buddha. Isn't he jolly??!

love those hanging lanterns
We took more stone steps up and saw a brilliantly white statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. She was beautiful and her view of the sea was equally so.

Buddhist Goddess of Mercy
On the way out we all took pictures with our zodiac birth year animal statues. I'm the year of the tiger and Spencer is the year of the ox.

Spencer and Maggie High at Haedong Yong Gung Temple
To get to Haedong Yong Gung Temple, take bus number 181 and head east from outside the Haeundae subway stop.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dilemmas and Delights

The weather is now officially cold. It's no longer cool; it's cold. I was hoping that things would stay warmer this year until we left on December 2nd, but that was more like wishful thinking. Deep down, I knew we would have to face some cold weather since Korea seems to have six months of winter and six months of all the other seasons. Oh well, at least we don't have to stay the whole winter!

Here's what's been going on lately in Maggie-ville:

  • Indian visa paperwork. We're applying for our Indian visas now and as with obtaining any visa, there always seems to be confusion and chaos. We now have everything together and plan on having a courier pick it up on Monday morning. Here's to hoping it gets back soon. I always stress when I send my passport away. 
  • Every month we write "report cards" for all our students. Recently, they changed the format we use. We used to use one report card for six months, where the kids would take them home, show their parents, and bring them back. Now we just give them the report card and they take it home. We have to fill out a new one every month for each student. Two months into this new method, we run out of report cards because they didn't re-order them. Now most of the report cards won't be done in time. It's comical because this is sooo typical hagwon behavior. 
  • We've begun sorting, throwing stuff out, and packing up boxes. With only three weeks left, it's time to start thinking about what we really want to keep and what we can leave behind. I thought we would have so much stuff to send home but really, we don't have much. I keep cutting more and more clothes out of my wardrobe. When I did this before we came to Korea, I thought, "How will I ever live with so few clothes??!" Now I'm like, "Don't need this. Don't wear this." Toss, give away, give away. It's no problem!!! And is actually refreshing. Now, everything in my closet is something I love and will wear. 
  • Parents' Viewing. Ugh, the dreaded time when my kindergarten students' mommies come in to watch me teach. It's terrible. My director gets all crazy and stressed and makes me all crazy and stressed. Everything gets changed a zillion times, all last minute. I'll be SO GLAD when it's over on Thursday.

  • Fall is beautiful in Korea and I just LOVE seeing the trees change color. It's one of the greatest simple pleasures and makes me happy every day
  • Skyping with my parents. I got to talk to my mom and dad this morning and I love seeing their faces and getting news from home. They are both amazing and beautiful people and I can't wait to hug them tightly when we make it back to California in the spring. 
  • Mini-trip of a lifetime. I was searching flights back to the states and noticed that pretty much every one of them had a layover and some of them were crazy long, like 23 hours. Then I thought, "How much can you do in a city in 23 hours??" The wheels started turning as I furiously searched more and more, from different airports, into different airports, different days, different airlines. It was (and still is!) so exciting!! We could be coming from our SE Asia trip and stop for 23 hours in Cairo, Istanbul, Munich, or Kuwait. The most exciting for me is Cairo. I searched some more and found out that we could easily go see the pyramids in that time. THE PYRAMIDS!!! I am a little worried about traveling there now and will have to do more research before booking the flight, but just realizing this opportunity has been awesome. I'm stoked! 
  • Halloween at Wonderland was really fun. We had parties all day! Easiest work day, ever! :) 
  • Audiobooks are my new favorite thing. I love listening to them before I go to sleep. It's so relaxing and I love being able to picture everything in my head as it's told to me. I've started listing to the Harry Potter series, read by Jim Dale, who is just amazing. I love hearing the different voices and accents of the characters. Since I've read the Harry Potter books tons of times (especially the first three), it's super cool to hear them this way. It's like a whole new experience.
  • THREE WEEKS LEFT! (of work) :) 

Loving Fall

Fall is the best time to visit Korea, without a doubt. The weather is perfect, the trees are beautiful, and the summer rains have finally stopped pouring. Every day, on the way to work I look at all the trees and note their colors. It's such a simple pleasure to see them change and watch nature at work. It's so beautiful!

loving the leaves
on the way to work
pretty gingko tree
this street is juuust starting to change

The only bad thing about fall is this:
smelly gingko fruit! yuck!