Well, the school year is starting to wind down and everyone here at my school is getting ready for some big changes. Only two of the Korean teachers are staying so offices have been pretty packed and some of us have a lot of teachers observing our classes. I was a little embarrassed on Tuesday when my drama classes were observed by four of the new Kindergarten teachers. These activity classes involve a lot of singing and dancing.

My vocal chords are not really serenade-esque (as anyone who has been to a Norebang with me can testify to…) and since the songs don’t come with associated dances. That means that I get to make up all of the dances in my class. Even though I was president of Thespian Society in high school I’m not really into choreography. I always did the dramas in the Fall and opted to play rugby instead of do the musicals in the Spring.

I was pretty surprised when one of the new teachers came up to me in the hall and asked me “Are you Nathan and friends with Mary and Jacob?” Turns out that she was one of their co-teachers at their hagwon that closed in November. For a city of almost 12 million it still feels like a small world.

I’m slammed at the moment with projects and paperwork. Currently trying to figure out if I can get my pension (roughly 10% of my paycheck) reimbursed since I’m going home for so long. An extra $1,300 would definitely help out in terms of leaving enough money to cover student loans and maybe pickup a laptop while I’m back home. Looks promising but keeping my fingers crossed. Fighting off a sinus infection at the moment which is probably why it’s so easy to get distracted by writing an overdue blog post.

Wish me luck tomorrow, have an appointment at the dentist and it’s been a few years since my last visit. Really hoping I don’t need too much time under the drill, if any.

Advertisements

Well things have been a bit hectic here the last couple weeks. Last Wednesday my manager pulled me into her office…and informed me that they were unable to book as many students for the kindergarten classes starting in March. The director was willing to be “generous” and offer a 3 month (unpaid) vacation back home starting in March until June and then come back as an afternoon teacher. “Isn’t that wonderful?” was the delivery. To say I was a little shocked would be an understatement. I just got back from one vacation, and my bank account reflected this. A 3 month limbo, even back home, is not really what I was looking for. If I had a lot of savings and didn’t mind burning it all a backpacking trip through Europe would be great but my current funds don’t really allow for such an expedition.

In many ways I have to reassure myself that coming over here and is not just taking a small detour in accomplishing the goals I have in life. I look forward to Masters school and starting my career back home and justify my time spent here as a great way to become a more well-rounded student and gain a larger perspective on the world. I do truly believe this. There is a small nagging voice in the back of my head that does sneak up from time to time and sel-criticisms of just procrastinating and enjoying the easy lifestyle that Korea offers ex-pat teachers is not the path right now. 3 months of coach surfing and spending all of my savings would be giving those self-doubts a little credence in my opinion.

Back in Bellingham I worked afternoon and evenings at UPS immediately after graduating. While having the day to myself was nice I remember that a lot of my time interacting with friends was later at night and most of the friends who socialize at these hours do so at bars over drinks. This is all fine when you are still riding that postgraduation high. I’m 26 now and trying to flex some of the maturity I will need to really accomplish the things I desire to do in my life and revisiting this lifestyle doesn’t have a huge appeal to me.

Plus, while many teachers I talk to don’t really like the kindergarten classes (especially other guys) these are the times when I get the most gratification from teaching. The physical energy you have to expend is quite a bit more with students at this age but the payoff is immense. The influence and admiration you gain with them and being able to see how rapidly you are affecting them in a positive manner is one of my favorite things about teaching.

I explained both these things to my bosses and a compromise was struck. I am going home early March and coming back near the end of April to start kindergarten classes in June. My director gave me a decent raise and is going to put me back on the payroll in May. I will be the most veteran foreign and morning teacher at this point and the second longest teacher at my school. I will also be the oldest one. Amazing how much can change in one year.

Enough about work, on to my impromptou trip back home. It took a little scrambling to figure out the logistics but I’m already anticipating my return home. Aroung March 9th I fly out from Incheon to Tucson, Arizona. My best friend is attending school there for his Masters and has Spring Break starting on the 10th. I have never really been to the Southwest and look forward to not only the adventures but the warm temperatures and cuisine of an Arizona Spring. After a week or two there I’m cruising over to LA to reconnect with some friends and family for about a week and then flying up to Seattle for the duration of April.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches, such is life. I’ve got my gloves laced tight, a smile on my face and am ready for some epic adventure-filled rounds Stateside. Viva!

Finally got a moment of respite from the marathon teaching that was last week. This is shaping up to be a great work week as we had Monday off for Korean independence day, some of you may have taken note of this is you saw Google’s homepage giving props to the flag. Thursday and Friday all my afternoon classes have the singing contest so no real intensive classes then and on Friday all morning classes have the pajama party, my kindergarten coteacher and I are in charge of cooking classes so we’re teaching them all how to make  canapés for the entire session.

Enough about SLP though I still need to recap my Busan vacation at the beginning of this month. Our (I was accompanied by 4 of my coworkers) train going down to Busan actually left at 10:30 instead of 9:50 as we originally thought so we made it to the departing station in downtown central Seoul in no time. We were riding on the KTX and I had never ridden on a bullet train before so this was quite a novel experience.

To travel from Seoul which is near the Northwest corner of Korea all the way down to Busan on the opposite end of the country takes only about 3 hours including the numerous stops at stations to pick up more passengers along the way. You really don’t comprehend exactly how fast you are moving as you look out onto the landscape in the distance. Then you focus on the scenery passing by in a closer proximity to the train and suffer a wave of vertigo as everything just becomes a blur of movement.

Upon arrival we hailed a cab and cruised out to our hotel. This is peak vacation season and we had just managed to snag one of the last hotel rooms available. The price was really cheap but the hotel was located in an odd spot of town where very few foreigners visit. It did kind of feel like I was in an odd ’80s communist era hotel but the beds were comfortable and the AC was efficient so I can’t complain.

We spent a total of three nights in Busan. During the day we hit up many beaches including the most popular beach Haundae. This was by far the most crowded beach that I have ever been on in my life. A sea of parasols and beach mats covered most of the available square footage and the always present lifeguards on jet skis not letting swimmers past 6-7 feet deep roamed the waters like sharks waiting outside a reef. The sound of families, soju intoxicated college kids and fellow expats was a constant drone. While exciting and spring-breakesque this wasn’t really my idea of the perfect beach.

Vacation seaside frenzy.

In comparison to this the next day was quite a difference as we went out to Songjeong beach and had another day of soaking up some rays. This beach is far more family orientated and much less crowded. Had some decent nostalgia stirred up upon seeing all the kids making moat-encircled sand castles by the water line. I decided to invest in one of the intertube rentals for $5 and was rewarded with a nice cool vantage point mostly above water gently bobbing in the sea. Spectacular.

One other great thing to note about this beach is that it was the only one I saw with an area roped off for surfing and had quite a few amateur Korean surfers trying to catch the small breakers coming in. I flashed a “shaka” but think this hawaiian greeting was lost in translation. I was kinda tempted to go hit up the surf shack on the other side of the road to rent a board but it wasn’t destined to be as we didn’t discover this part of the beach until nearer to sunset.

Bobbing on the intertube with my shades on was vacay bliss.

The next day I was feeling like I had my fill of beaches and decided to enrich the cultural aspect of this trip by visiting one of the local Buddhist temples. Haedong Yonggungsa is a unique temple to Korea in that it is the only Buddhist temple in this country that is located right on the coast. I had originally planned on visiting Beomeosa which is one of the “5 great temples of Korea” but its isolated location up in the mountains in Northern Busan and associated 1.5-2 hour one-way transit time was kinda discouraging. I didn’t regret my decision to opt for Yonggungsa the moment I stood at this tranquil viewpoint with the ocean breeze caressing my face.

The only seaside temple in Korea.

This is the first large Buddhist temple I have ever visited and I was quite impressed. The only one I had seen before this was the very small and quaint temple located within Boramae park two stops away from my hood. This temple had numerous sentinel-like sculptures leading up to the entrance to the temple steps once you finally made it through the long alley of stalls selling everything from sweet red-bean pastries to Buddhist amulets & bracelets and even iced apricot tea (I was intrigued).

A long set of steps followed leading down past small alters with old wax encrusted pillars and stonework lanterns cut from a white rock. A few smaller outdoor side shrines branched off until you reached a vista point and all of the sudden you could all of the sudden perceive the main temple complex pictured above and the panoramic sea view pictured below.

The sun was strong but the setting so serene you didn't notice the sweat.

Finally doing some culturally enriching sightseeing instead of just beaches and bar debauchery!

While here I felt a strong sense of fulfillment and pride. My father raised me Roman Catholic (no longer practicing) but always strongly urged me to visit as many temples, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques to truly gain an appreciation for the cultures that created them. The stories concerning the origins of this place as well as the values reflected in the architecture, layout religious artwork truly seemed to impress upon you some empathy for the civilization that created it.

This was the main one out of many different buddha statues. Some were small stone ones with rub-worn stone bellies due to generations of hands searching for good luck. Others were giant ebony totems right by the breaking ocean waves.

The general mood of the people was a joy to behold. From the old, stoic grandmother making her practiced bows in the inner shrine, to the sightseeing tourists soaking up part of their own culture and snapping dozens of photos  every few minutes, to the small children running around smiling and laughing everyone seemed very at peace. No one was rude or pushy in the lines like at the subway stations. Everyone just seemed to appreciate where they were and the moment they were living in.

Dear blog,

Sorry I’ve been neglecting you so much. I know, I know, you are my Hermes carrying messages back home and promoting my exploits here in Korea. Yes, I know, in twenty years when I am much more tied down and think back to times of wanderlust you will be a testament of inspiration for adventures of yesteryear. It’s just that I lost that camera cord and really wanted to upload photos so that the text wouldn’t stand alone. This last week especially has been really hectic at school as we’ve had two new teachers show up and they’ve been observing me so I’ve had to really put my game face on. That paired with fact that it’s been the last week of the July session and I’ve had an increased classload has given me virtually no free time for blogging at school.

I’ll make it up to you by promising to put this and two other posts up this week. This first one will be the recap of mid-July and Marine Week in which our protagonist ventured out to the Aquarium at COEX with his awesome young linguists protegés the Cheetah class and battled the ocean/elements and made more expat friends from around the world at the Boryoeng Mud Festival.

First off, the aquarium was a complete blast! My kids were in high spirits and I had a delightful time watching them ohhh and ahhh at all the sharks, sea turtles, tropical fish, crocodiles and more. The AC was pumping out a cool flow and the humidity was low. Facilities were very modern and the fact that cost of entry is My aquatic buddies.usually $30 on the weekends made me thankful the school was picking up the bill on this one. Another one of my patented beaming smiles was let loose upon seeing the sea otter exhibit. I DIG SEA OTTERS in a big way. The way they sinuously move in the water makes me envious of a prowess at swimming I will never posses. Their features always seem to be mischievously smiling and mates hold paws when they sleep so that they don’t lose each other out on the open sea. There is no marine animal I would rather be than the carefree sea otter.

Cheetah class humming Under the Sea.

Boreyong was a blast. Our bus left Seoul at 7:30am and Noksapyeong is a good 45 minutes away via subway so we had to leave the apartments by 6:20 to play it safe. I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am to make a huge breakfast scramble consisting of 12 eggs, one zuchnni, two yellow onion, 4 Korean chili peppers, 1 orange bell pepper, 1 potato, basil, oregano and some Boulliard’s Louisiana hot sauce and Sriracha Thai chili sauce. A little power breakfast to help with the beginning of the forey. The bus ride was uneventful but I was filled with a lighthearted joy upon leaving Seoul for the first time since arriving.

I loved zoning out on road trips and just soaking up the passing scenery of Washington as a child. This trait is not lost to me as an adult and South Korea’s countryside had a lot to offer. From mist shrouded mountains clad in verdant tones of green fauna unfamiliar to me to terraced agricultural hills and small clusters of skyscrapers indicating small towns (everything is compact here, which I dig since I abhor suburban sprawl). After this panoramic ride of 2 1/2 hours we arrived at Boryeong at around 10:30.

We lucked out and our room was ready so our crew of 6 unloaded backpacks an threw on some trunks in the room. A mini-fridge, small stove, pile of bedding on hardwood floor and separate bathroom was definitely the smallest room I’ve shared with a group this size. After assessing the facilities we headed down to the beach. Our neglect to put any sunscreen on is shown in the peeling skin currently on my shoulders and the pink, new skin showing on my nose. The water was warm and the beach expansive with a chain of islands of varying sized reminding me of the San Juan back home. I dove in and made a cross-stroke beeline for the nearest buoy 50 yards out. At 30 yards I was jarred out of my rhythm by a Korean coast guard member on a jetski waving me back to shore. Guess they’re a little phobic of tourism fallout if some intoxicated waygook (foreigner) drowns during the festivities. Fair enough.

As for the actual mud festival section of the beach we didn’t spend a ton of time. $5 purchased entry to all the events like mud wrestling, mud slides and mud obstacle courses. Unfortunately this was the first day of festivities and the lines were lengthy so the only one we did was a slip and slide style race. I challenged my British buddy and had a glorious victory after a thirtyish foot long slide and scramble to the end. He claimed I had a false start, sore loser…haha. We painted ourselves with the provided cosmetic grade mud to help lessen the intensity of the sun but this proved to be in vain as Monsoon season rain reared it’s head and showered away our protective coating.

As the sun set we grabbed out bottles of cass, took a fortifying shot of Johnny Walker black label (they sell it in 7-11 here…) and changed out of our now filthy, smelling of the sea shorts to go grab some dinner. The bibimbap hit the spot and we meandered down to the beach to meet some Irish friends and their blokes. The opening night fireworks were phenomenal and I was very impressed with not only the size of the arsenal but the variety. Back home we don’t have shells that separate into a multitude of hearts or smiley faces on the horizon. Good times were had by all.

The next day we were tired of sand in our shorts and decided to go to the waterpark by the bus stop. My favorite ride was my first. However, I wasn’t used to the protocol and just thought it worked just like “Wild Waves” the Six Flags water/amusement park back home. I grabbed the bar and propelled myself down the tube. Bad move, here you are supposed to slowly lie down and let them push you to initiate the ride. I smacked my forehead on the top of the entry (good thing I’m thick-headed) but still managed to fly down the tube on the rushing water.

This tube did four consecutive circles (dizziness ensues not helped by blow to the noggin) and then spits you out into a large bowl. If you have ever seen the fundraising device where you put a coin in and the velocity makes it go around and round the bowl before dropping through the hole at the bottom you can picture this ride. I had more momentum than most due to my size and exuberant take off at the top so was spun about 4 times before falling through the hole into the pool at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me there was a life guard with a floatation device at the bottom who helps grab you and escort you to the exit. Makes sense considering the vertigo inducing dizziness of said ride. I however almost freaked out and started swinging when two hands grabbed me under the water, haha.

Mini panic attack and forced leave of the park was averted when I noticed the red lifeguard attire. Upon exiting two lifeguards were waiting questioning my state of health “Are you ok? Are you sure?”. Seems the lifeguard at the top had noticed me hit my head and had radioed her fellow employees bottom-side. I was laughing like a little kid and reassured them my condition was strong.

Many other slides and hijinks ensued and I also was pleasantly surprised to discover the sauna at the top which had around 70 separate water massage stations for your back, legs, shoulders and chest. Pretty savvy concept. The shoulder massage had a very strong flow and felt good to my muscles but extremely harsh on my sunburnt skin. We were all pretty burnt by the time we hopped on the bus back to Seoul. Koreans take extra precaution against sunburn and exposure to elements so the next day at class all my students were pointing and yelling “Red Teacher”!!!

Well blog, I hope this is a good start to making it up to you for not corresponding for some time. Tonight is another going away party in Itaewon for the last of the departing teachers finishing their contracts and leaving for home this Summer. A total of 7 teachers have concluded their time here and left for home since I’ve arrived. It’s been a little surreal just arriving and seeing so many people I’ve just met depart, also a little odd being considered the “veteran” amongst the new hires.

The going away party isn’t for another 7 hours so I think I’m finished with this post, ready to sign out of Facebook, watch one last video on Pitchfork TV and leave the “Interpark Soo” PC Bang (motto: The moment when after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this.) and go see some of Seoul. I think Boramae park or wandering around the grounds of a buddhist temple seems like the perfect idea right now. Cheers!

I hate to say it, but loss of life and property damage aside I was a little disappointed at the typhoon. Growing up on the West Coast I was quite curious at the concept of a Pacific Ocean hurricane. All in all I’ve been through much worse wind storms back home. This being said other areas of Korea were hit much harder than Seoul, my condolences go out to the families of the seven individuals who were killed or are currently missing in other parts of the country.

In completely unrelated news on Friday I was reading the Korean herald and noticed an article about government plans to cut college tuition costs by 30% by 2014. Considering the opposite is happening in the States I was pretty impressed. Hey politicians back home? Get your priorities right…

The title was said a few times while playing darts with my coworkers this weekend. Hope a few of you caught the NBA Jam reference. I like it for being appropriate on a couple of levels, both the climate and my outlook. The temperature is rapidly rising here in Seoul with Saturday being in the high 70s and Sunday feeling even warmer (I would guess low 80s). Since Washington had somewhat of a long, protracted winter (it had a random snow flurry out at my folks at the beginning of May and a chilly Monsoon the last weekend I was there) I’m having to rapidly develop a bit more of a warm temp tolerance. Pretty happy about buying a couple extra pairs of shorts before I left the States.

Skyscrapers all the way to the mountains.

Lucky for me that my coworkers have found a great way to beat the heat. We all just go up to the roof of our apartment building and bask out on blankets with a cd player providing some audio satisfaction. I had some frozen grapes and sunchips I contributed to the cause and was able to do my first loads of laundry since I arrived. Up on the 8th floor we get a pretty good breeze and there are already clotheslines and pins so most of my laundry dried within 4 hours of hanging it.

 

We also had a couple coworkers that had just came back from the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on the border with North Korea. They brought some North Korean beer and wine up to the roof. The beer wasn’t bad though hard to gauge when it’s warm and the wine was actually made with blueberries and tasted pretty decent. It’s interesting how little I think about the threat posed by North Korea considering how close they are in proximity. This morning while walking to class I was struck with this thought when I looked up into the sky and three Blackhawk Helicopters were flying North over the buildings in the direction of the most heavily fortified border in the world.

On a different note I’ll conclude this post with the second reason the title seems apt, my perspective. I really feel like I’m getting into my grove. Still no huge amount of culture shock, definitely some moments of social vertigo and at times feeling slightly frustrated when trying to navigate a city this large when you can’t read the majority of the signs but I kinda thought that would happen. All in all I’m feeling really happy already with Seoul and am pretty happy about making the decision to come over here. Time will tell and I shouldn’t be extremely confident because that could just set me up for a huge disappointment down the road but I could see myself making some great friends over here and gaining a more enriched perspective on life and the world.

Thanks for reading, Cheers!

NBA Jam just reminds me of great times as a chillun.