Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Thankfullness

With this being my first Thanksgiving away from my family and friends back in Iowa and the United States, I have been able to experience one of my favorite holidays in a completely different way.

Thursday night, I went out to eat in Itaewon (the international district here in Seoul) and enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving style buffet. The Thanksgiving spread included most of the traditional dishes: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Also included were oysters, smoked salmon, steak, chicken, apple pie, rolls, and salad. It was a delicious meal that definitely fulfilled my Thanksgiving hankering for this year. Granted, I did miss the corn, homemade chicken and noodles, and German chocolate cake that comes with my Thanksgiving feasts back home, but it all worked out.

Of the 8 of us that went to this meal, only 3 of us were actually from America. 4 of the others were from Britain and and other person was from Canada. The British folk were enjoying their first Thanksgiving meal and were extremely pleased and left stuffed and feeling sleepy. It was a fantastic way to spend the holiday. The next morning I was able to Skype with my parents, and the rest of my dad's family, which was a great time (even if my brother and cousins did insist on eating their Thanksgiving cuisine in front of me).

To finish up this post, here is a list of some of the many things that I'm thankful for this year.

1. The many friends that I have met while here in Seoul from all over the world (Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, etc.) and America

2. My co-teachers and the staff at Seoul High School for all of their support and help in making me comfortable during these past three months

3. Public transportation - it has been a nice blessing to not have a car to worry about (even those times that I am smashed onto the subways at 7:30 in the morning with about 100 other Koreans)
4. Korean socks - I am still amazed at the different styles/designs that my students wear while in my class (including Starbucks, Kakao Talk (a Korean text messaging application), Simpsons, Angry Birds, and others)
5. Korean holidays - I have never had so many random days off during a school year in my entire life and it has been very nice! Finals, midterms, Chuseok, school anniversaries, festival days, testing days - you name it, there's probably a day off for it here in Korea

My time here in Korea so far has been an awesome experience and I can't wait for the upcoming months. Here's what I have to look forward to:

- The end of the semester (which means not having to teach for the majority of the month of December)
- Winter English camps (I am super excited for these actually! 3 weeks, small classes, fun materials)
- Christmas parties (complete with ugly sweaters, eggnog, and jolly good times!)
- New Year's celebrations, Korean style (not quite sure what to expect, but I'm stoked to find out)
- Possible trip to Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, or the Philippines in January (still pending)
- 2 week trip to Thailand and Cambodia in February (riding elephants, laying on the beach, island hopping = best vacation EVER!)
- Start of a brand new school year in March with new kids and new experiences awaiting me

Hope everyone had a glorious Thanksgiving holiday and are refreshed as the end of the school year/calendar year approaches!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tandem = Two

The weather is starting to turn cold here in Seoul. So before it got too miserable to be outside, Emma, Andy, Katie and I decided to take advantage of one of the last warm and enjoyable days and spend some time down by the Han River that runs through the middle of Seoul.

We made our way down to the river and scouted out a bike rental place. There were two different options to choose from: single, regular bikes or tandem bikes for two. Having never had the opportunity to ride a tandem, I instantly was drawn to this option. Emma and Katie shared my enthusiasm; however, Andy was hesitant as he apparently struggles with his own two wheels. After being outvoted, Andy finally succumbed to the majority and went along with the tandem decision. Let the adventure begin...

Andy and I shared a bike, while Emma and Katie took another one. It took a good 5 minutes for Andy and I to get the hang of balancing both of our weights and peddling in time. However, even once we got the hang of things, our bike decided to have a mind of its own as it started going through various gears at inopportune times. For example, while peddling up a nice little incline, the sputtering of the peddles/chains caused us to walk our bike up the rest of the hill while other Korean bikers zoomed past us.

Andy and I having a rough time getting started

Finally got the hang of things!

Emma and Katie ready to go!

And they're off!

Since we only had the bikes for an hour, we had to turn around at some point and head back to the bike shop. We decided to switch partners, so I rode back with Katie, while Andy accompanied Emma back to the shop. It was an awesome leisurely ride back along the river. Granted as the sun started to go down, so did the temperature, making us happy that we decided to turn back when we did.

Heading back to the shop

The sun setting over the Han River

Following our bike ride, we headed to find a restaurant to enjoy some food and re-energize ourselves from the cold. We ended up eating at a traditional Korean restaurant that served this amazing Korean dumpling soup. The dumplings were filled with meat, green onions, and some other vegetables. It hit the spot and rejuvenated us for our last adventure of the night, the Seoul Lantern Festival.

Full of soup and warmed to the bone, we headed back out into the cold, hopped on the subway and made our way to northern Seoul to Cheonggyecheon, a man-made stream that flows in the middle of Seoul. Set up in the river were hundreds of various lanterns. There were traditional Korean lanterns that told stories about Korea's past, represented the various animals of the Chinese calendar, and depicted various famous leaders from Korea's history. Also included in the display were famous sites from around the world (including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Statue of Liberty) and some superheroes (including Superman and Batman). All in all, despite the cold and loads of people (probably close to 1 million or so) it was a great experience.

(Side note - this was actually the second time that I had seen the lanterns, as I had visited the festival a couple of weeks earlier with my friends Travis, Megan, Steve, Mitch, and Katie Power. It was just as impressive the second time around.)

After taking in all of the lanterns that we could before losing feeling in our bodies, we decided to head to a coffee shop to warm up, get a nice steaming cup of joe, and chill out for a while. We found a place near the river, headed in, and warmed up around some coffee and conversation.

Tandems, dumplings, and lanterns...the recipe for a successful day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quarter of a Century Never Felt so Good!

As many of you know, I turned 25 last Tuesday (November 1) and am now officially a quarter of a century young! I am now able to legally rent a car in the US! Woo hoo!

I spent the majority of my birthday at school with my lovely sophomore students. I had four classes that day and the first two of were having parties for good behavior. As my fourth period class (class 102) rolled into the room, I was showing Friends on the screen (as I always do during passing time). The bell rang and my co-teacher still hadn't shown up (which was very odd because he is always early and never late). He finally strolled into class about 5 minutes after the bell carrying a blue box. Immediately, one of the students leaped out of his seat and turned all of the lights off. My co-teacher, Mr. Go, came to the front of the room with the blue box and opened it. This is what was inside...

A delicious, chocolate birthday cake! Mr. Go proceeded to put candles in the cake and light them. The entire class than sang me "Happy Birthday" in both English and Korean and I blew out my candles. I was so taken aback and appreciative of this gesture! Plus the cake was absolutely delicious!

After class, some of my other co-teachers treated me out to lunch at a restaurant near our school. On Monday, one of the teachers approached me and told me that they were planning on taking me out to lunch. But she also said that she wasn't sure I was going to like the menu, which had me a little worried. We ended up eating at a restaurant that served fish, vegetables, sprouts, and a really tasty soup, along with the staple of every Korean meal - rice. I actually really enjoyed the meal, but apparently my teachers didn't think I ate enough as they bought me a sandwich on the way back to school.

When we arrived at school, I was surprised with the following...

With two of the other English teachers and my cake! 
Yes...another cake! This one had fruit on top and was as equally delicious as the first one. My co-teachers lit some candles and the entire office sang me Happy Birthday again. One of the vice-principals gave me some nice thick, wool socks for the winter, which was a welcomed gift. That night, I went out to eat with my friends Megan, Travis, and Steve. We went to a restaurant called Oktoberfest and had a great time celebrating.

Since my birthday was during the week, I wasn't able to actually celebrate with all of my friends until the weekend. I had been telling people that I didn't want to plan what we did and was open to suggestions. My friend Rich suggested that we go check out the horse races that happen pretty much every weekend at the race track in southern Seoul. Since I had never been to a live horse race before, I was all for it!

So Saturday, about 15 of us met at the horse track for an afternoon of racing and (hopefully) winning! The betting was surprisingly easy and while I didn't win any money, I had a great time and hope to head back there sometime soon!

The horse track from the outside

Posing with my first two bets...EVER!

...and their off!...

Koreans take this seriously!

View of the homestretch of the track

Once we had had our fulfillment of horse racing and losing money, we headed to Sinchon, an area of Seoul right next Hongdae, for some dinner and drinks. The restaurant/bar that we ended up at is called Yalebar and they have tables set up so people can place beer pong and flip cup, along with an assortment of board games. We have been here a couple of times before and have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, so we ventured back for another round of merriment. Yalebar once again did not let us down, as we once again had a great time.

Following our time at Yalebar, we headed over to Hongdae to support our friend Joel who was DJing at a Club Exit. Along the way, my friend Emma purchased a pair of bright pink Happy Birthday glasses that I was of course obligated to wear for the rest of the night. I also met a Korean who's English name is Owen and who's birthday is November 2nd! Needless to say, we became instant friends.

Sporting my new glasses

Cheersing with my new friend Owen

It was a great birthday celebration and I couldn't have done without everyone that came out! Here's to another great 25 years!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm On A Spook-tacular Boat!

This post and the following one are both long overdue...but I have some free time so here we go...

Halloween is huge in America.
Kids dress up, go door to door, get candy, and are hyper for the following 24 hours as the sugar surges through their veins and small bodies.

Here in Korea, Halloween is not all. The only people that really go all out are the foreigners. Westerners from all over the world living in Korea come together to continue the celebration of Halloween in their homelands that they are missing out on. I was able to participate in one such celebration.

About 3 weeks before Halloween, my friends Megan, Travis, Mitch, and I started discussing what we were wanting to be. Now costume attaining here in Korea is much more difficult than back home. There are no Goodwill's or secondhand stores to raid to find that perfect article or accessory that will send your costume over the top. So we had to try and be resourceful. All of the ideas that we came up with originally were too difficult to achieve with our limited budget and resources. We finally decided that we were going to try and pull off the Lion King. This idea was inspired by one of the costumes that I constructed for Camp Adventure training a couple of years ago when I was Zazu...

Megan was going to be Scar, Travis called Rafiki, and Mitch would make the perfect Timon. So we set to doing some research and found a secondhand store chain here in Seoul with multiple stores all over the city. We went to go check it out one weekend, only to be extremely disappointed with their "selection." So that dashed our hopes to pull of the Lion King. But we were not out of options just yet.

We headed to another part of Seoul and went to a costume shop that had a small selection of props, masks, wigs, and other accessories. However, they did not have any complete costumes. There were bits and pieces of things, but nothing really complete. So after staring at this minimal selection for about 45 minutes, we started to feel hopeless. Halloween was only one week away and we had no ideas. Enter random mouse hat...

Travis just happened to pick up this random mouse head hat and put it on as a bit of a joke. Megan got super excited and suggested that her, Trav, and myself go as the Three Blind Mice! Problem solved! Perfection! Halloween was saved. We proceeded to but these hats and a white cane (for the blind part) and headed out of that store with our heads held high and a new sense of excitement for Halloween.

Mitch decided to be fan death. For those that do not know what this is, there's a superstition here in Korea that if you leave a fan on over night, you will die because the fan will suck all of the oxygen out of the air. You will then die in your sleep from CO2 poisoning. To avoid this, all fans in Korea have a timer on them so that they do not run for the entire night. A little weird, I know, but it made for the perfect costume for Mitch.

So now that we had our costume, we had to figure out what we were going to do to properly celebrate one of the best holidays during the year. My friend Tennille had told me about a boat cruise that her and some of her friends from her Hagwon (private Korean school) were going on. We checked it out and decided to do it as well. Turns out 800 other westerners liked the idea as well.

The day of the cruise, I met up with Trav, Meg, and Mitch and we all got ready. It was quite the experience riding the subway with our costumes on - Trav, Meg, and I dressed like mice and Mitch with his face painted all white with "blood" stains all over. We got some pretty awesome looks and managed to scare a few Koreans in the process. One family and their kids were so enthralled with our outfits that they actually missed their stop!

Once at the meeting point, we signed in, met up with a bunch of other people also attending the cruise, then jumped on a bus. The cruise was taking place off of Incheon, about an hour and a half bus ride away from the middle of Seoul. Once we got to the docks, we waited for about 30 minutes before the party boat arrived. It was four stories, complete with two dance floors, two large mingling areas, and plenty of room to enjoy the night!

The cruise lasted for three hours and was worth every minute! Once on the boat, we were treated to some free food, cheap drinks, pumping jams, and socializing! The costumes were pretty entertaining and some were down right genius considering the supplies (or lack their of) that we had to work with. Below are some pictures of the Three Blind Mice and others.

After the boat, we took the buses back to Hongdae (a popular party district in Seoul) and spent the rest of the night enjoying the sights and sounds of Halloween in Seoul. All in all it was a great night and probably one of my favorite Halloween experiences to date!