A Sunny Sunday

Yesterday, the weather was better than it had been in a long time: sunny and about 53 degrees. So, Steve and I decided we would have an adventure day!

In the morning, we woke up early and made our way to Dong Gu (another area of Ulsan) to find Saint Dionysus Greek Orthodox Church. My mom had told me it existed a few months ago and I had been meaning to go. After taking the bus to the wrong stop, we got in a taxi and the driver took us right to the front steps. It was beautiful! I took a few pictures before heading inside.

We had arrived just before Holy Communion. It has been a very long time since I’ve attended service on a Sunday. While I don’t consider myself a practitioner, I do feel that it’s still part of my heritage. Steve and I stood in the back. The priest spoke in a combination of Korean and Greek, and I was surprised to see quite a number of Greek people in attendance.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the interior of the church, but it was incredible. You would have never known you were in Korea,  except for the fact that all the lettering that should have been in Greek, was painted in hangeul.

After church, Steve and I instinctively headed toward the water (we’re a Scorpio and a Cancer) and took a nice long walk to Ilsan Beach. We were starving by the time we got there, and found a Korean buffet to try.

Holy. Shit. This place was amazing. There was sushi and other fresh seafood, make your own bibimbap, a salad bar, a cheese station, soups, a steamer overflowing with mandu, and a selection of fried foods. The wait staff even brought us a plate of steak with vegetables and massive bowls of udon. We ate so much! Then, we ate dessert. There was ice cream, bungeoppang (carp-shaped pastry filled with red bean), fresh fruits, and other sweet things to nibble on.

After, we left Ilsan Beach and made our way to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum, something else I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve been here. The museum is situated right next to the harbor and you can see all he boats coming in and out. What I did not expect, though, was that the majority of the exhibit was on whaling and that made me kind of upset. After walking through the main exhibit hall, we went to a secondary building which serves as a small aquarium and movie theatre. We even got to see dolphins! Overall, it was a lot of fun and I definitely suggest going if you’re visiting Ulsan.

What did you do this weekend?

 

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Six Month Update

The week leading up to my six month mark has been excruciatingly stressful. There are three Western teachers (myself included) at my school. Two of us were told that we would have to begin coming in an hour earlier every day to teach a new class (which currently only has one student enrolled). The other teacher is being forced to commute to another school nearly an hour away two days out of the week.

I don’t feel like I can divulge more details, but I’ll say that things are not good.

Everything that I have disliked about being here has culminated into complete and utter disdain.

I can hear the Korean teachers talk about us, though I can not understand what they’re saying. I don’t assume it’s anything positive.

Being in the classroom is so much fun and I genuinely love working with the kids. However, the work environment here is far from healthy. The hours are long, often with little time for breaks. The attitudes are passive aggressive, at best. Standing up for yourself puts you at risk for verbal abuse and belittlement from your superiors.

Furthermore, entire schedules are shifted around with no notice, leaving you with a headache and no time to plan lessons. I do not understand how anything gets done efficiently. When the head teacher gives out a new schedule, I sit with my co-workers and try to solve the cryptic paper before us. It almost always ends with a shrug and a guess, as we’re too nervous to ask anyone else.

Mostly, though, I just feel bad for the kids. The time that students spend taking tests is  incredible. They aren’t official or mandated by the government. I believe they are simply given to promote “diligence” and “education.”

I don’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but most Korean students have at least a twelve hour school day. For high school students, bump that number up a bit. This makes me so sad because kids don’t actually have any time to be kids. Their lives are consumed by studying and taking tests. The contrast between my elementary and middle school students is shocking. While my younger students are full of energy and want to play games, my older students mostly sit at their desks, heads down, completely drained of any life or emotion.

For now, I’ll shut up and do as I’m told. But the lack of autonomy and constant fear of scrutiny is essentially crushing my soul.

Tattoos, Burritos, and the Bus Ride from Hell

On Saturday, Hannah and I had made plans to go to Busan for a much-needed girls day. There were plenty of things on our to-do list, but I decided to make a spontaneous addition on the bus ride.

I decided to make an appointment to get a tattoo.

I sent a message to Fat Buddha Tattoo, and the owner (KJ) answered me within minutes – he also had an opening at 1 PM. I told him I’d be there. Immediately after, I called Hannah to tell her what I did.

We met up near the Busan Museum of Art. Hannah had arrived a little later than expected, so we grabbed a quick bite at Lotteria and made our way over to Fat Buddha. We were surprised to find out that the studio was in KJ’s (very fabulous) apartment. While we waited for him to finish with another client, we stared longingly out of the living room windows on the 31st floor at views of both the mountains and the sea. We also got to play with a funny little dog who was making some very funny sounds.

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Finally, it was time for me to have my consultation with KJ. I decided on the Scorpio constellation in purple ink on my wrist. This month marks seven years since my grandma passed away and I have been having a really hard week because of it. Our birthdays are six days apart (hers on Halloween and mine on November 6) and we both love purple, so the design seemed quite fitting.

It didn’t take more than a half an hour and it didn’t hurt at all. (I’ve heard that wrists can be quite a sensitive spot.) I was absolutely thrilled with the results!

After, Hannah and I made our way back towards the museum to check out an Andy Warhol exhibit that was showing there. We both discussed how surprised we were that someone who could be considered a controversial artist was being shown in such a conservative country. Regardless, it was an incredible exhibit. I love Warhol and the Pop Art movement and I was very happy to get to go to an art museum. There were three galleries filled with his works as well as some personal items, which were very cool to look at. After exiting the exhibit, the museum had set up a neat little photo area as well as a gift shop.

*Hannah and I have decided that we are dangerous as shopping buddies and had to try very hard to keep ourselves from buying shit we didn’t need. We succeeded. This time.

Then, we realized that we had to get to Hannah’s hostel (she way spending the night) so she could check in. We also realized that both our phones were dying. Panic. Neither of us had any idea where we were going. With the help of Google Maps, however, we made it to the bus stop and Hannah asked a girl if we were going in the right direction. We were.

The bus we needed came and we hopped on. I know I’ve mentioned how much I dislike taking the bus in Korea before, but this was next level. The bus driver was sitting on the horn the entire time, going way too fast, and changing lanes. I could hardly keep my footing (there were no seats). He even screamed at a woman who had asked him a question. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

After nine stops, we got off. Batteries dangerously low, we set out for the hostel. It was nowhere to be found. We asked a girl on the street, she couldn’t help us. It started to rain. We asked a guy at the gas station, he outright said “I don’t know.” We kept on crossing the street and wandering around aimlessly. Finally, after passing the gas station again, we turned around and I looked up. There it was – on the top floor of a building, and the only sign was painted on the window.

After a lot of nonsense, we got in and Hannah was able to charge her phone. Then, we took a lovely walk along Haeundae Beach and decided to go to Sharky’s for dinner. Sharky’s is a Western-style restaurant and they offer a 2 for 20,000 won deal. I got a delicious veggie burrito and Hannah got a spicy beef chimichanga. Yum! We ate our fill and went across the street for a coffee before calling it a night.

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I had a wonderful Saturday and it was so nice to see Hannah. I can’t wait until it starts getting warmer, so I can spend some real time at the beach!

What did you do this weekend?

Valentine’s Day

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. In Korea, it’s traditional for girls to make the day special for their boyfriends. Then, on March 14, boys do something special for their girlfriends.

I decided I would cook dinner for Steve. I planned on making fish ‘n’ chips because he loves it and can’t get it here. So, I went to the store in search of fish fillets. The only fillets I found were frozen and past the sell by date. Disappointment. It looked like I would have to use fresh fish, something I had never cooked before. So, I got a package of white fish and spent the majority of my day removing bones and skin. I probably won’t do that again any time soon. I also made tartar sauce and hand cut chips.

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Then, I went to go pick up the cake my Korean coworker had ordered for my during the week. When I got to the bakery, however, it was not there. Upset and unable to speak Korean, I flailed about and gave the workers my phone number. They literally went through every order they had with me, trying to match it. No luck. One of them even made a phone call (I’m assuming to a boss). After about 40 minutes of madness, I just bought another cake. It wasn’t the one I had wanted, but it was still very nice (and tasty).

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I went home and started cooking. Steve came over around 5 PM and surprised me with a beautiful gift basket full of candy! I loved it. We ate dinner, had the cake, and watched Bones and Keeping Up Appearances for the rest of the evening. It was a really lovely evening.

What did you do for Valentine’s Day?

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 4

Tuesday was my last day in Tokyo and I really didn’t want to leave! For breakfast, we had rice with dried seaweed, rice crackers, and water. We also had spinach with bonito flakes and soy sauce, and soup. I legitimately love Japanese food. I strongly prefer it to Korean food. It’s very mild in comparison (I don’t like spicy food) and there are a lot more vegetables!

After, we went to the train station to get an express ticket to the airport. Then, Eri’s dad drove us to an art studio to make traditional kiriko glass. We each picked a piece of glass to work with and the artist provided us with an adhesive template of a cherry blossom pattern. We both chose solid blue sake glasses. Then, we placed the template over the glass and cut around it with an X-acto knife. After, the glass was placed in a sand blaster, which removed the color from the glass where there was no adhesive. It was a long process, but we were very happy with our finished products. (Mine is the one on the left.)

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Following our arts and crafts session, we headed to the train station and set out for Tokyo Station. From there, we would catch the express train to Narita Airport. We had some time to kill, though, so we wandered around and got lots of yummy things to eat. Like a tonkastu sandwich and shrimp dumplings. After we took the train to the airport, it was time to check in and make my way to the gate. Eri and I said goodbye and I thanked her profusely for such a marvelous time.

I am quite madly in love with Japan and found it far superior to Korea in many ways. The people are so friendly and helpful. I didn’t feel out of place as a foreigner at all, like I often do in Korea. Eri’s family was so welcoming and hospitable, which really added to my positive experience. I also found there is much more variety in Japan, specifically regarding personal style and fashion. You can see that there are different subcultures and it was comforting to me.

Additionally, while the public transportation system is massive, it is extremely efficient and gets you everywhere you need to go. When you visit temples and other historical sites, it is easy to forget that you are in a city of over 13 million people. In Korea, you always know when you are in a city. It is overcrowded and dirty, there is garbage in the streets, and you see the same chains whether you are in Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. Tokyo is very clean for a city, almost too clean!

The food is absolutely phenomenal. Japanese food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, but having real Japanese food in Japan was pretty next level. It’s hard for me to find food I enjoy in Korea, mostly because everything is so spicy. Also because everything is so expensive.

I’d really love to go back to Japan and see more of this incredible country! My trip was definitely too short, but I loved every second of it.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 3

Monday was a long day. Eri and I woke up at 6 AM to get tickets to the Tokyo Skytree because it was supposed to get very crowded. The Skytree is in Sumida and we took the train. Eri had never been before, so we were both so excited!

When we got to the entrance, we were thrilled to find out that there was no line at all! We purchased our tickets and went up to the Tembo Deck, which is 350 meters up. After soaking in the amazing views of the city, we spent a little extra money to go up to the Tembo Galleria (450 meters up). At the Tembo Galleria, they had a Star Wars exhibit on display. I’ve actually never seen any of the movies, but it was really interesting. Then, we got coffee at the cafe, where we also had an incredible view of the city.

Later, we met Eri’s mom at Tsukiji Market, the famous fish market. We walked around and looked at all the stalls and even sampled some seaweed and almonds. For lunch, we got some very fresh raw fish on top of rice with miso soup. I can’t remember what the dish was called, but it was delicious. There was salmon, tuna, yellowtail, crab, shrimp, and roe.

When we were done with lunch, we all headed over to Asakusa to visit Senso-ji Temple. The streets were absolutely filled with people and there were many vendors selling souvenirs. Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and the entrance has a massive paper lantern. You can also see the pagoda, which is very close to the temple. Just as we did at the Meiji Shrine, we walked up the steps to toss in our coins and pray. I also got another fortune scroll.

Later, we headed back to Harajuku to do some souvenir shopping and check out the Kawaii Monster Cafe. The cafe was wonderfully weird and featured waitresses and performers dressed in the decora fashion style. We got milkshakes and multi-colored pasta, which was served on a plate shaped like an artist’s palette. It was pretty good!

We went back to Eri’s house to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to go for okonomiyaki and monjayaki. Okonomiyaki is essentially a pancake filled with your choice of ingredients that you cook on a hot plate at your table (we got one with mixed seafood and one with tuna and cheese). Monjayaki is similar, except you use more liquid while cooking it and it gets very crispy on the hot plate (ours had pork and vegetables).

After dinner, we went back to Eri’s house and had tea, sweets, and watched some TV. Then, it was time for bed.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 2

On Sunday, we got up early. Eri made ozoni for breakfast, which is a soup made with a clear broth, sticky grilled mochi, chicken, carrots, and greens. We also had pork gyoza and shrimp shumai.

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After breakfast, we headed out for Shibuya. We saw the statue of Hachiko, the loyal Akita, and the famous Shibuya crossing. We were able to get a seat upstairs by the window at  Starbucks to watch while people crossed. There were also many record stores (I miss record stores), and I bought myself a Kyary Pomyu Pomyu CD.

We walked through Shibuya on our way to the Meiji Shrine. Before getting there, though, we stopped in a little candy shop to look around. To our surprise, the workers were actually making the candy while we were there! The design they were making was for White Day, which is celebrated on March 14 and men give gifts to women who gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day. It was very interesting and we stayed for a long time to watch.

Then, we made our way to the Meiji Shrine. Walking through the gates was like walking back in time. I almost forgot I was in a city because everything was so green and peaceful. Before entering the shrine, we washed our hands outside. We also through coins into a series of slots and prayed. After, we each got an omikuji, which is a small piece of paper with our fortune on it.

Next stop was Harajuku! Harajuku is a popular area in Tokyo where a lot of young people hang out. Takeshita Street is the main shopping area. Eri and I went to a purikura photo booth (we were definitely the oldest people there) and walked around looking at the shops. There is lots of interesting fashion from decora to goth and everything in between.

Then, we went to the Nezu Museum which houses the private collection of Nezu Kaichiru. Eri had never been before, so it was exciting for both of us. They had a special exhibit called Pine, Bamboo, and Plum: Auspicious Designs in Celebration of the New Year. There was also a beautiful collection of kimonos and other garments as well as a collection of ancient Chinese bronzes. I loved it so much! We also got to explore the sprawling gardens outside.

We were totally starving after walking around all day, so we decided to go for tonkatsu. The restaurant we found was traditional style, so we got to sit in the floor. We each got a giant piece of breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet (it was like butter), shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. It might have been my favorite meal in Tokyo. I’m not sure, though, since everything was so good!

After walking around a little more, we headed back to Eri’s house. For dinner, her parents took us out to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaiten-sushi). The place was massive and everything was self-service (you could make matcha at the table). In addition to the sushi moving around the belt, you could also order anything else you wanted from a touch screen at the table. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. And I love sushi!

Day two in Tokyo was an enormous success.