Friday, May 28, 2010

Wax on, wax off

Fancy a turn on the vibrating belt machine anyone?

Last Monday (May 17), I finally found a gym! Stepping into the gym felt so surreal. It's equipped with some pretty high tech cardio machines and is set up like your average gym (just a bit smaller)... but then there are small rows of vibrating belt machines. For real. And they are used quite a bit. More often than not during the busy hours there is a wait to use these machines. I must have looked completely terrified my first time there because the owner (picture Arnold Schwarzenegger, except Korean) took me through and literally showed me how to properly do each piece of machinery. Including the vibrating belt... which was probably the finest "awkward turtle" moment I've ever experienced.

In other fitness related news, this past week I started Taekwon-do! I go with my friend Jeongseon, who is good friends with our Master, and my other friend Scott, who has been doing it for a few months now. The rest of the class consists of 10-12 year olds who already have their red belts (or are getting ready to test for their black belts) and can seriously kick my ass. But I really enjoy it so far! Today was technically my first full day and the lesson was pretty intense... meaning it forced me to use muscles I forgot existed and now I can't walk. But I'm excited to study and learn more and will hopefully be able to go 3-4 times a week once I get the basics down (plus it's a great way to learn more Hangul).

^^ me looking hilariously awkward in my new "dobok" with my white belt!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

South Korea's got Seoul

Hello friends.. another week of broken blog promises. But this is my third post in a week to make up for the serious blog failure.

So this past weekend (May 21-23), I took my first weekend trip to Seoul! Friday was Buddha's birthday, and a national Korean holiday so we didn't have to work and were able to catch a train up early Friday morning. Upon arriving, we heading to Itaewon to find housing (a popular foreigner district of Seoul). Well apparently we weren't the only ones who had the idea of going to Seoul because we walked around Itaewon for over an hour looking for a place to stay. We finally stumbled upon a "Korean Love Motel" that was super cheap and would let all 6 of us stay in 1 room together. For those of you curious as to what a "Korean Love Motel" is, google it. Seeing as how my Grandparents read this (shout-out Gram Tanner and Gram and Pap VonBlohn!!), Imma leave that one for you to explore yourself. But I will give you a preview of our Oasis:

After settling into paradise we decided to head off to Olympic Park; home of the 1988 summer games! Cue photo montage:

The first 3 are wide shots of the actual park in the center of the Olympic.. Park.

These next 2 are of the EPIC fountain we found at the entrance to the park. It was 90 degrees out... and honestly who doesn't love playing in fountains? Though we were getting some pretty odd looks from the parents who were watching their young children play...

^^Self explanatory

So we pretty much hung out at the park all day Friday. There were a lot of great trails to walk around and it was nice just being able to lay around in the sun. Friday night we found a cute little "Mexican" restaurant to have dinner/drinks. I got enchiladas which weren't terrible, but weren't the best I've had. But my poor friend Baeda decided to go for the nachos...

Nachos made out of cheese wiz fail. I think that's the last time I'll try and find good Mexican food in Korea. After, we went to a district called Hongdae, which is literally known as the "entertainment and clubbing district." To sum up, it was another one of those nights where I went to bed as the sun was coming up. I thought partying in Gwangju was insane... but nothing can compare to a night spent in Hongdae... and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

After having an amazing American brunch at an epic find of a restaurant called "Gecko's," we headed to the business district of Seoul to explore and find Jogyesa Temple. Jogyesa plays the biggest role in the current state of Buddhism in all of Korea. Check out you wanna learn a bit more. Cue photo montage part 2:

There was the most AWESOME display of lanterns surrounding the temple. Words can't even describe just how unbelievable the colors were. Like most of the photos I took at the temple, pictures don't do it justice.

We got to witness a Buddhist prayer service. The monk was singing the most beautiful chant, but again I can't put into words how incredible it was to be present for this. It brought me to tears. I am blessed to be able to experience this moment. I made a short video of the monk chanting (and of the temple surroundings) so check it out at the end of this post.

Some of the trees surrounding the temple are over 500 years old. I wish I could say something more than "words can't describe yadda yadda yadda..." but in all honesty, they truly can't. The temple and the colors were all so beautiful... being here was so overwhelming, but in a good way.

Hey! Remember that time I photo bombed a movie? Yea... that was awesome. They were filming a movie on the temple grounds (hence the cow and filming paraphernalia you may be able to see in the first picture) and since ruining pictures is sort of my thing, I felt the need to step up my game. win.

After hanging around the temple for a good portion of the afternoon, we decided to check out the Insadong area, which is known for having ceramics, handcrafted paper goods, amazing traditional clothing and jewelry, etc. I didn't buy any thing this first trip because there was way too much to look at and "take in," but needless to say people back home are going to be getting some pretty epic Christmas gifts this year. Cue rain. fail.

It was just a cold drizzle so we decided to ride it out and head over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Unfortunately, we decided to not go into the palace grounds because it cost money, it was cold and rainy, and we were all pretty much exhausted. Though we did stare at the gates surrounding the palace and there was a free area to walk through.

Front entrance to the palace grounds.

A building that I never caught the name of on the palace grounds that was free to explore.


So at this point the exhaustion was overbearing, the rain was freezing, and we were all starving. After freshening up at the motel... we headed to explore the alleys of Itaewon to find food. We ended up at the cute little Thai restaurant:

^^ This is probably the most delicious (and spicy... holy wow spicy) curry I've ever had. This place was definitely an epic find. We headed to a bar called Bungalow next where the floor is covered in sand! They also have some of the best (and expensive) mojitos I've ever had. They also have giant swings everywhere that you can lounge in:

^^ lounging in the sand... haha.

Saturday night was pretty chill. We were all too exhausted (and too poor) from the day/night before so we called it an early night (and by early night I mean we were in by 1am instead of 4am). We headed back to Gwangju the next morning and the rest of my Sunday was spent napping/watching movies/not cleaning my apartment. That's all for now... I'll leave you with the video I captured of the monk chanting during the prayer service:

Monday, May 24, 2010


WARNING: A nittany lion has recently been spotted causing havoc throughout Seoul, South Korea.

Recent reports claim that sightings of the lion include:

loud disturbances at a love motel (as reported by the resident Ajuma),

trying to break into the pool at Olympic Park,

attending a prayer services at the Buddhist temple Jogyesa,

and invading Gyeongbokgung Palace.

He was last seen taking a bus to Gwangju, South Korea.

The people of Seoul are greatly in shock, and they fear no one is safe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Week 2 rundown... creative title fail

(A picture of the outside of the Hagwon I teach at... also my place of residence)

Holy wow another blog post! Disclaimer: I have about a week+ worth of material to write so bare with me if I start to babble. I'm really going to try and work on the bi-weekly postings...

May 10-14th
My neighbors and I spent Monday morning (the 10th) at Gwangju hospital (name not correct) getting our "physicals" which are required to receive our alien registration cards. Lemme just say... if you ever end up in a Korean hospital, make sure there is a translator readily available. I pretty much knew every test they were doing (though why we had to get a dental exam I'll never know), but it was still scary not being able to ask the doctors questions, or understand what they were trying to explain in return. It was mostly basic stuff... height, weight, blood work, TB test, and eye exam, where I was "told" that my long distance vision is poor and I may possibly be color blind.

Fun fact: I got glasses right before I left for Korea but was unaware of the eye exam, so didn't bring them with me to the hospital. And I'm not color blind... I just couldn't make out the shapes because apparently I skipped that lesson in preschool.

The rest of Monday and all of Tuesday through Friday (11-14th) I spent teaching by myself (Tuesday was my first full day). The first few days by myself took some time getting used to. Teaching here isn't very structured... at least not for the foreign teachers. We don't really do lesson planning or have much of an idea as to what chapters in the books we'll be teaching next. I've been planning on stealing extra copies of the books to try and get a basic grasp on lessons/actually prepare something so my kids don't think I'm a loony... but damn my procrastinating tendencies. I'm sure I'll get to it once I find my rhythm/teaching style.

Some of my classes are more difficult than others (communication wise). The preschool/kindergarten classes are taught in the morning and are named after U.S. states. For example, I teach Washington class and Maryland class, which are my kinders, and then I teach New York class right before lunch... which are my preschoolers!

The above 2 are pictures of my Washington class. The one time I actually want them to misbehave and do funny things for the camera... they decide to sit, focus on their assignments and completely ignore my presence.

The next 2 are from my Maryland class. The little boy that looks like the devil is Logan. He's a very funny/extremely hyper child. He's probably the most active child that I teach. Or the most hyperactive child I've ever met. The 2 girls I'm pictured with are Esther and Polly. Those 2 are just adorable. Esther never really listens to me... but I can never be frustrated with her. And Polly always wears her hair in curly pigtails which is just sooo cute haha.

New York class.... my preschoolers!!! I love love love teaching this class. They laugh at everything you say.

This is me with Lily... another one of my favorite students. She's so incredibly shy and never really speaks but always has that cute little smirk on her face.

The boy in the #3 shirt is Dean. He falls over from laughing too hard... all the time.

Anyhoooo, like I was saying earlier, communication with my morning classes can sometimes be difficult because they've all had no more than 1 year of English lessons, and for the preschoolers this is the first year of English lessons. My kinders can understand the basic directions coming from the books, and can answer simple questions like "how are you?" or "how's the weather?", but a conversation involving weekend plans or favorite extra curricular activities is out of the question. My preschoolers don't really understand sentences. I give directions usually in 2 words or less... and even have a Korean teacher to help translate. When all else fails, I just put on some music because they LOVE to sing and dance... and it's just way too adorable (please see video at end of post). They also really love stickers. I don't recall loving stickers that much when I was a child... but stickers have been a lifesaver so far (i.e. when I want my students to listen).

Teaching the afternoon classes is a bit easier. Grades range from 1st to 6th, and the older the students the easier it is to have conversations and teach. I like teaching the older classes because we do about 15-20 minutes of lesson then 10-15 minutes of playing games/teach Danielle Korean. Such games include hangman, rock paper scissors (BIG HIT), and my personal favorite, Head's Up Seven Up. They also seem to get extremely amused whenever I ask them to teach me certain words. Unfortunately, no pics of my afternoon classes yet because some of the older kids are "too cool for school" and get really camera shy.

Hmmmm what else?

Wednesday night my friends took me out for "yangnyum galbi"... more commonly referred to as Korean BBQ

I think it's been one of my favorite meals I've had since I've been here. You sit on the floor around an individual grill for your table, and the server brings out a few sides to start you off. Not quite sure yet what I was getting into... but everything was delicious. Next, she brings out a large plate of uncooked meat, turns on the grill, and we have at it. We cooked everything ourselves which was really fun! Oh.. while it was cooking we were brought about 2374114667 more sides. Now the way you eat it is interesting (that's what she said). You take a giant leaf (yes, leaf) and lay it in your hand. Add beef, rice, any sides and sauces you choose, roll the leaf, and basically shove it all in your mouth (again insert dirty jokes... it's hard not to talk about food without dirty jokes). All in all it was a very unique dining experiences, incredibly tasty and filling, and very cheap (about 7,000 won/person or $6.90).

And for those of you interested in the extremely diverse and more traditional local cuisine...

Octopus tentacles anyone?

Ok, friends... that's my (last) week in a giant nutshell. Next up: weekend adventure fail and the 8th world wonder that is my new gym.

To close, the adorable video of my Maryland class spontaneously breaking out into song.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Helloooo South Korea!

Yes yes I know I've been here a week and haven't written anything.. until now. So hold on to your hats, friends. This post is going to be epic...

(May 4-5th)
After 23 looong hours of traveling we finally made it to Gwangju, South Korea! Megan and I flew from BWI to San Francisco (6 hours), then from San Fran to Seoul, South Korea... which was a 12 hour flight. We flew Asiana airlines, and it was pretty amazing. Though I hardly slept the whole flight and watched "Sherlock Holmes" twice, the seats were incredibly comfortable, we were given hot towels, slippers, a tiny hygienic kit, and the wine was delicious.

After we landed in Seoul, things got pretty crazy to say the least. We were instructed to grab our luggage (and if you've seen the pics of my luggage, you'd know that I had 4 giant checked bags, a carry on, and personal item... smart decision, Danielle), find a place to buy a bus ticket and hop on a bus to Gwangju. Of course the woman we asked for help from didn't speak english, but that didn't stop her. Once she read where we needed to go, she took off running in large heels signaling for us to follow. Megan and I ran through the majority of the airport with our luggage carts trying to dodge massive crowds of people. Our Korean savior literally ran into the road to stop the bus, made the bus driver wait until we got our bus tickets, helped pack our bags into the bus, let me use her cell phone to make numerous calls, and all but carried me into my seat. If I could see her again, I would give her a big hug.

From there on it was mostly smooth sailing. The bus drove through Seoul which I managed to stay mostly awake for.

Above is a pretty crappy picture of Seoul taken through the window of the speeding bus. I didn't make it much further than Seoul. I slept for the entire 4 hour bus ride and hardly remember the midway pit stop. After being picked up at the bus station and parting ways with Megan, I arrived at my apartment at 11pm. Thankfully my awesome neighbors greeted me immediately upon arrival, helped me with my bags, showed me the apartment, etc... though I don't really remember much about that night... what with the no sleep/food/concept of time.

(May 6-7th)
Day 1 of orientation/shadowing/surprise Danielle you get to teach a class on your first day! I don't really remember too much about this day either because of the jet lag. I shadowed in the morning for 2 classes, then went out for my first Korean meal with my friends Kelsey and Jac. We went to a place known as "Korean fast food" or an "Orange facade joint." The food was amazing, it's prepared sooo quickly and you get a ton of side dishes. Also, it's uber cheap... which is awesome. See to learn more about the "orange facade joints."

I had planned on taking a nap right after lunch but was quickly informed that I would be teaching a class. Do you remember that one substitute teacher you had in school? The one that you completely didn't listen to, and you knew they were a last minute fill in because they looked clueless and didn't really enforce that you do anything? Yea. That was me. Thankfully, after this class I was able to nap... and ended up sleeping for almost 5 hours straight in the middle of the day. Still not over the jet lag.

Friday was more shadowing and I taught 2 more classes by myself, which pretty much went just as smoothly as the first day. At the time I didn't really have much concept of the way things were done around here (i.e. lesson planning, books, teaching styles... you know, the important stuff), but I quickly learned (which I'll explain in my next). BTW..still haven't unpacked.

(May 8-9th)
Saturday my friends Kelsey, Bess and I took a taxi to find Megan, and from there we went shopping at Home Plus. The best way to describe Home Plus is a giant Korean Wal-Mart. It's bigger than Wal-mart, has 3 floors, but same basic concept. You can find everything there for super, super cheap which is again... awesome. Was able to buy a few things to make my apartment look more "homey"/cleaner/smell better.

The above pictures are of my apartment after I finally cleaned and unpacked. It's obviously a studio but a nice size for 1 person. I have an oven in my kitchen which is a pretty rare occurrence. Though the bed may look cute and cozy, I would probably be more comfortable sleeping on my living room floor back home in Carlisle. And I have a tub in my bathroom which again, is an incredibly rare occurrence. I live on the top floor of the building where my school is and we have a pretty sweet rooftop patio, which is nice for group hang outs and has the amazing view of Gwangju which can be seen above.

Saturday night we went downtown to check out the hotspots for night life and shopping.

The first 2 are just wide views I took of the streets at night. It reminds me a lot of Time Square except bigger. As you can see, it's also pretty Westernized (what with the KFC, Burger King, and Pizza Hut). I had tons of fun exploring the different shops though. Fashion is HUGE here and can also be sort of eccentric, so I'm really looking forward to adapting to the new styles.

Why yes, that is a Starbucks. And it's just as good here as it is in America. After hitting up a fantastic Nepalese restaurant, shopping, and loading up on starbucks espresso, we headed for the bars. Every bar I've been to so far has such an obvious name... i.e. Pub's, Speakeasy, German Bar (they're a brewery and make FANTASTIC beer). We hung out at a place called Bubble Bar which is a huge foreigner hangout. I met some people from Philly and Pittsburgh which was pretty cool. It felt nice and comfortable to literally meet people from home my first weekend. "Going out" is taken to a whole new level here. All of the bars typically close around 4am... so getting back to my place at 5am and watching the sun come up before going to bed was a bit surreal. I guess my 4 years at PSU was all just practice for this! :-P

Sunday wasn't too, too exciting. I mostly spent it resting because I hadn't really stopped moving since I arrived Wednesday evening. My neighbor showed me where the local school track was, so I went running! I honestly felt loads more relaxed after I was finally able to get a nice, long run in. I also finally did some grocery shopping and went exploring around the street I live on.

The first pic is of the local supermarket where I grocery shop, also called "Lotte Super." The other 3 are just a few pics I took standing on a corner and looking down the street I live on. Okay, that's all I got for now of my first few days of living in Korea. Stayed tuned for the update on my first full week of teaching...