About this blog

This is a blog maintained by Scott & Andrea - two Canadian kids who have flown the coop to teach English in South Korea. Follow our (mis)adventures in education, language, food and more, here in the Republic of Korea.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Arrival!

Today, after an agonizing 14 hour flight, Andrea and I arrived in Incheon. After smooth sailing through customs and baggage claims, our driver picked us up and drove us another hour and a half (I think? I was asleep for most of it) to Paju, South Korea - home of our new place of employment.

Now, it's 5:34 a.m. and I'm typing away. Jet lag is always a bitch to beat, but we've got the weekend completely free to rest, unpack and explore.

We met up with YJ, one of the HR guys here, who showed us our apartment (pics to come). It's larger than I expected, with high ceilings, a big living room/kitchen combo, lots of closet and wardrobe space, a firm (welcome to Korea) queen-sized bed in a large bedroom, a small bathroom that will need some cleaning, and huge, tall windows that look out onto the city hall square (the "city hall" being the heart of the campus).

Afterwards, he drove us to a small Emart Everyday - pretty much a small Emart, which is the Walmart of Korea. We picked up some essentials - eggs, milk, cereal, bread, juice - and headed back to our apartment. The next goal: get our cats.

A little back story here: last year in Changwon, we bought two cats from a market for 10 bucks a piece. Disease-ridden and mangy, we nursed each one back to health and name our orange one, Wellington and our black and white one, Murphy. When we were about to leave Korea back in August, we found someone here at the GEV who would babysit them while we were gone (David, you are a legend). So we trucked across the campus (it was only a 5 minute walk each way) three times to collect their supplies and our cats.

Murphy is settling into his home nicely, but Welly's having a bit of trouble. I think the stress of the move has really impacted him. He was meowing incessantly for 4 or 5 hours, though he's settled down in the bundle of the heated blanket we plugged in for them.

Tomorrow (today, I guess) will be a day of unpacking and prettying this place up. Despite its positive qualities, it is a bit sterile and boring. We'll need to add a little love to make it livable.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Round 2: "We at it again"

Oh dear, it has been awhile, hasn't it?

To all of you: hello! How have you been? Kids good? Great. Super. Good to see you. Onto business:

It's time for our second, year-long trip to South Korea! Different job (cooler!), different place (further north!), same luggage weight restrictions (Andrea has been mourning the potential loss of an unknown number of pairs of shoes).

To refresh your memory, last year, Andrea and I lived and worked in Changwon, in the deep south of the ROK. We taught English to kids from the ages of 8-16. Working at a hagwon, we mostly taught a wide range of English grammar, from extremely basic ("Hi, how are you?") to much more advanced and difficult concepts (do you know what a gerund is? A linking verb? Past perfect? Yeah, I didn't think so.) In addition to grammar, we also held classes in discussion, novel study, and even debate. Cool experience, but a little... dull after awhile, as I'm sure you can imagine. You can only teach a class on relative clauses so many ways, so many times.

Enter our new job: Gyeonggi English Village! Behold!

Pretty spiffy, huh?

Here's the short and skinny on GEV (this is how I explain it to everyone who inquires): it's like an English theme park, with no rides, no cotton candy stands, and a lot of classrooms.

It's a destination for family and school trips with the intent of total English immersion. They take classes in English (not grammar, but on various topics; they even offer a cooking class, where the students and teacher(s) follow a recipe in English and bake a cake or something delicious for me -- uhh, someone to eat); they take visits to faux civil centers, like a post office or a police office, and take part in role play scenes with their teachers (reporting an incident at the police station, for instance); and while they're at the Village, they stay in modern dorms and do "fun" things (whatever Koreans consider those things to be).

We asked some of our students what they thought about "English camp" at our last school and they mostly thought them to be an enjoyable place to go. No real homework, no tests, no studying -- every overworked Korean student's dream!

Another cool aspect of this new place? It's an hour on a city bus away from Hongdae in Seoul. Neato! Another one? Better pay! Another?? There's a cafeteria on campus. And a coffee shop. And restaurants! And their menus and everything else in there is in English! Suffice it to say, we're pretty excited to get there on Friday. Once we get past the jet lag and I find the nearest gimbap restaurant, we're going to be sitting pretty.

We're going to try and keep this blog updated as often as we can. We sort of dropped the ball last time, running out of unusual things to talk about and show our handful of readers. So we'll, uh, talk about our feelings or some shit this time around (I'm feeling needy and vulnerable).

Talk at you again soon, next time from another continent!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Apartment, New Post!

Hello Friends!

Sorry it's been so long since our last post. Our life slowed down and we had absolutely nothing exciting to share with you...until now! We moved into a sweet new pad! Wanna check it out? Yes?? Well, you're in luck, there are pictures!!!

This is our entry-way complete with coat rack. I fit in with the elderly Korean women when I wear that purple and turquoise raincoat....they love their brightly coloured active-wear around here.

Here's our kitchen. It's cute and blue.

Another photo of the kitchen, note the Me Gusta on the fridge, courtesy of Dan Losier.

Here's Scott in the spare room....such a friendly young man. Also, that giant teddy bear was here when we moved in...we don't know what to do with it. We thought the cats might like it. They don't.

Here's our dining and livingroom area. That ladder leads up to a storage loft that the old tenants left full of stuff. Strange stuff....bb guns, bongos, craft supplies, hamster balls, an electric keyboard, badminton equipment, a tambourine, just seriously a load of stuff.

Here's a view of some of that stuff, along with little Murphy on the ladder.

As you can see, the bathroom in our new place is much brighter than in the old apartment. Same deal though, washing machine, shower, toilet, sink, all in 1 room with 1 drain. Even the washing machine in this place drains out onto the floor.

Here's the lid of the garbage pail in our bathroom. Koreans love to put nonsensical English phrases on everything. These phrases usually have nothing to do with the product itself.

Here's our bedroom. It's spacious and comfortable. I took this photo during a short break of an epic cat battle occurring on the bed.

Here's one more pic of the cats enjoying the electric heating pad. This was in the old apartment, but I thought it was just adorable enough to add to this post. Welly would live on this thing if he could.

So that's the new apartment! Hope you enjoyed the tour! We miss you all...except for a few of you...you know who you are.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Update on South Korea (spoiler: the country is doing just fine)

This is long overdue. Andrea and I are both sorry for that. But here's a recap on the past 3 weeks or so:

Seoul! We went to Seoul. It was a blast. The plan was to take in a "clown and mime festival" in Incheon, but that was a bust. We were early by a day, mostly because we can't read Korean websites properly. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our (very) brief stay in Incheon. We roamed around a historical park of some kind, with a recreated political centre circa 15th century. There was lots of traditional Korean toys and masks and such to experiment with there, so we strolled through it, took some photos and hopped on the subway back to Seoul to meet up with some friends from Canada, who had found themselves, like us, teaching in South Korea.

The evening was a blast. We stayed at a hostel that our friends stay at most weekends. It was a friendly, warm atmosphere filled with foreigners, laughter, hookah smoking, soju pounding, and all-around good fun. We went to Hongdae in the later evening to sample a hookah bar (a basement bar lit by candles and chill lighting, pillows and comfy seating all over, and the dulcet tones of Bob Marley swimming through the air) and a foreigner-oriented bar, where I slipped (after drinking far too much) and likely twisted one leg's ankle and broke my big toe on the other. That put a rather abrupt period on the evening for me, which was spent outside the bar, nomming delicious street meat (shawarma made by an Indian!), surrounded by drunks and loud music.

Worth it.

Cats! Our cats are well, though they are proving to be a handful from time to time. Murphy brought to his new home a nasty intestinal infection, which, before treated and eliminated with medication, left little bingo dabber-like stamps of diarrhea everywhere he sat. Oh, and he stepped in his litter box deposits before exiting, trailing it all over the house wherever he went.

Nice. Now Welly has ringworm (a-fucking-gain) and Big Murph's possibly got some sort of parasite, judging by his sometimes-bloody poos and his firm, bloated tummy.

a) I know you want to hear this. Don't lie.
b) These little monsters are turning out to be furry money pits.

Date night! Ang and I just got back from our first trip to the movie theater here. There are, I suppose, a few things about our evening worth noting:

1. We saw "Real Steel" with Hugh Jackman (he was in the movie. We didn't go with him). SPOILER ALERT: front-of-mind for me the entire movie was this thought - "It's 2027. The human race has managed to invent giant robots that move fluidly and fight expertly, and, they've built an entire new industry of robot battling around this invention... but besides that and cool cell phones, nothing else has changed." Suspended disbelief engaged, it was an enjoyable if predictable, flick.

2. Entry was free, thanks to free tickets we received in the mail from our Internet provider, likely as incentive for signing up. I say "likely" because I really have no idea what the accompanying documentation said. It took us 15 minutes to figure out they were movie tickets.

3. Concessions are pretty cheap here. We got a huge bucket of popcorn and two beers - yes, that's right, beer in a movie theater - for $9.

Other than that, life is good here in the ROK. The work weeks go by at light speed. Our students seem to be adapting to us now and opening up a little, being more friendly, etc. We're moving to our new place in a couple weeks. We've been playing frisbee in the park. And generally, we're comfortable, adjusted and having fun.

Korea's a pretty sweet place. You should come visit.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Doctor visit & a new pet

Strange morning today.

So I've been sick for a few days now. Even took Friday off because of it. Just a nasty sinus cold, which I attribute to a recent hard shift in temperature. To get paid for my sick day, I needed to go to the doctor to get a prescription. Off we went.

Of note at this lovely 10-floor doctors' office structure:

We waited 30 minutes, then I was called in ("Suh-cott-mi?" is what I heard). Brought right into a doctor's office, which resembled a dentist's office, what with the odd chair in the centre of the room. I sat down and handed a list of my symptoms to the doctor, which I had our worker friend, Sam, write in Korean for me.

The doctor read the symptoms and asked me some questions in decent English. Then he grabbed a gun-like device that had a long, thin, tubular metal piece on the end. He shoved this thing up my nose with little warning, sliding it in pretty damn deep - deep enough to make me quite uncomfortable. It was a camera! And he had the inside of my nostril on a TV screen behind me!

Next, another gun into my nostrils that sucked out my snot. Then another then shot in some kind of mist and completely cleared me up for a good 2 hours. It was worth the discomfort!

Then came my mouth. Now, I've got a super sensitive gag reflex, so I was immediately worried when he picked up a tongue depressor and yet another gun. He pushed my tongue down and prodded the back of my throat with the gun, which caused me to gag and retch forward. He told me to calm down and then he stuck the gun back in, shooting more mist in there. I gagged and waved him off. No effect recorded.

$5.50 for the visit. Then $3.40 for a few sleeves of pills. They came in individually-packed crinkly plastic sacks, which you just tear off and rip open. There's a half dozen little pills in each package, each one different. No idea what they are. So that's how doctors work here.

Oh, we got another cat! A playmate for Wellington and a new adorable kitten to love for us - Murphy! They already love one another. They've been battling all day long, though Welly, with her size advantage, is definitely roughing the little one up.

Murphy is heading to the vet tomorrow, as is Welly. Last round of ringworm medication for Welly, as well as vaccinations. Murphy is going to get checked out. No visible ringworm, but she has some... anal issues. Murphy's butt has been leaking dookie all day and it's swollen and perhaps protruding a little. It's hard to say for sure, but we think she might have a prolapsed anus - somewhat common and not life-threatening, but definitely something that needs to be fixed. She may need a little minor surgery if the doctor can't just... pop... it back in like a little button. Goddamned market cats, costing us our hard-earned won.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Renewed hope for the future of Korean youth

In about 2 weeks, students have major exams at their schools, in a variety of subjects. So many of them opt not to come to some of their English academy classes, or none of them at all. We've been told to expect reduced class sizes.

Last night, in one of my particularly tough classes (energetic, loud boys + chatty girls), only one student showed up. We'll call him "Stu." Stu is a new student who has only been with us for a couple weeks, but he's already fit in nicely with the troublesome boys. So when Stu was the only student to show up for my JT4-3 class last night at 9:00 p.m., I didn't exactly have high hopes for the academic outcomes of the next 45 minutes.

I had prepared a lesson for a full class, complete with group activities, so I was a little at a loss for how to proceed. Stu had some ideas, though. Stu, who spoke surprisingly good English that I had never seen showcased in previous classes, asked me to go over the units that he had missed. Since he joined us only recently, he had missed the first 5 units of study. And here he was, alone in a typically boring class with his teacher, and he wanted to study.

So we spent the next 40 minutes going over previous units. Then, with the last 5 minutes left, I told him we should just wrap up for the night and, if this one-on-one situation presented itself again on Friday, we'll do this again. Stu gets up from his desk, walks to the board and says that he wants to teach me something. Again, I was shocked.

"Uh, what do you want to teach me?"

"Uhhhhh... I know history."

"History of what, Stu?"

"Where do you come from?"

"Canada."

"Oh. I know a little about Canada... Quebec?"

And I proceeded to try and explain why Quebecors speak French and the rest of Canada speaks English. Fun class.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Happy Chuseok!

Hello friends!

I'm writing on Sunday night, which means we are half way through our lovely long holiday weekend! Tomorrow is Chuseok, which is essentially Korean thanksgiving. Most people head out of the city to their family's hometowns to visit family, celebrate the harvest and tend to the graves of their ancestors (I gathered this from Wikipedia, as whenever I asked my students to describe their Chuseok traditions they only said, "Going to see my grandparents." Not too descriptive.)

Chuseok is one of Korea's largest holidays and a lot of gift giving goes on. Specifically, a lot of gift set giving. Every store you walk into has shelves lined with boxes and boxes of random gift sets. Some have booze, some have fruit, some have Spam, some have Minute Maid juice, some have canola oil. There is no rhyme or reason to gift set contents. For the past few days everyone I've seen has been carrying gift sets. People in stores have carts full of gift sets (and they are usually multiples of the same variety). People carry armloads of gift sets down the sidewalks. Hell, even our vet had a case of gift sets sitting on his office floor. The country has gone wild for gift sets. But I'm not complaining, as I have been on the receiving end of 2 of these gift sets! That's right, not only are the people are Korea extremely friendly and helpful, as we have described in our previous posts, they are also generous! One of my students gave me a lovely gift set with fancy bodywash and handsoap and our school gave Scott and I a wine giftset with a couple bottles of red, a corkscrew and a bottle stopper, all in a handy carrying case. All of the foreign English teachers at our school received the nice wine sets, but our school also employs a slew of bilingual Korean teachers. What did they receive? Tuna sets. Yep. Cans and cans of tuna, in a decorative box. Lucky.

I really wanted to take pictures of the gift sets in stores. The areas have rows of shelves stocked with nicely packaged treats. And the rows are lined with female employees in traditional Korean outfits (called Hanbok), smiling and encouraging you to purchase 15 tubes of toothpaste or whatever. But these spots were always so busy, and Koreans have very little boundaries when it comes to personal space, so I kind of avoided stopping to take photographs. Instead I have stolen some from the internet to show you what I'm talking about...


This is the exact tuna gift set the Korean teachers at our school received.


Very expensive ginseng gift sets.


$45 cantaloupes with bows.


Shelves of deliciously pricey Spam.


Woman in a hanbok peddling a buttload of gift sets.


Some more woman in traditional garb going about their Chuseok-y business.

That's about all for tonight, friends. Except one more piece of news. Those of you who know me well know that I mean business when it comes to my pancake recipe....well today I found the Korean equivalents of everything I needed to make them (except measuring cups)....long story short, they were awesome, "cooking soda", rice vinegar, "cake syrup" and all. They were like a little taste of home.

Have a good week, amigos!