A Day in the Life

I don’t know if anyone wonders what I get up to between weekend adventures or not, but I figured I’d post on the matter since living in Korea is not all weekend adventures and fun and games. I do have a real job and I work about 8.5 hours a day (1-9:40pm) although I do get to play during a large part of that time.

Breakfast

Most days Nicole and I get up around 9:30 and make breakfast at my apartment or hers. Lately I’ve been making us a lot of eggs in a nest (the breakfast V makes in V for Vendetta).

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Cut a hole the diameter of a tennis ball in a piece of bread

Grease a pan and set the stove to low heat

Place your bread on the stove and crack an egg in the center

Let it sit for a few minutes then flip and wait a few more minutes

Enjoy

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Some days Nicole makes pancakes. I have a french press and one of us usually makes coffee for both of us. Nicole has to go in to work before me so she usually leaves for work and I update my blog or read the news until I have to leave for work around 12:30pm.

Walking to Work

My work is a 15-20 minute walk from my apartment. I put on a podcast or I listen to music and walk through the quiet streets to my work. The walk is nice. I walk past little marts and aparment buildings, hair salons and local restaurants. Because I start work midday, I rarely see anyone else on the street. Occasionally a group of school children will pass me and one person will shout “HELLO” and I’ll say “Hello” back to them.

Its nice. I’ve spent almost 9 months waking up naturally without an alarm. I just get up when I please, aside from the occasional weekend adventure which requires an early bus.

I arrive at work at 1pm and most days I just sit at my desk and prepare for class or grade papers. My earliest class is not until 2:50 and some days my first class is not until 5pm. This gives me more than enough time.

Coffee or Lunch

Classroom preparation takes anywhere from a few minutes per class to maybe 20 minutes on the high end if I prepare a custom worksheet or lesson. Some days I go to get coffee at a nearby coffee shop. Other days I meet Nicole during her break and we have lunch together.

Kimchi Roll
Fancy Kimbap roll

My hagwon, a Korean word for after school academy, is located in an office building. There are several coffee shops along the road: Mango Six, Tom and Tom, Starbucks, Angel-In-Us, and Holly’s. There are also various small restaurants like Pho Bay, kimbap places, Bap Burger (they sell rice burgers), Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Steff Hotdog, and Roti Boy.

After lunch or I finish planning my lessons, its usually time to start teaching. My classes are either 2:50-9:40 with a few breaks in between or they are 5-9:40 with a 5 minute break every 45 minutes.

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Dinner

Piles of Kimchi
Piles of Kimchi

On my latest break, usually 4-5pm, I go upstairs to the company cafeteria on the roof. It looks like two shipping containers welded together. Inside an old Korean lady makes food for us. Every month we pay 40,000KRW or roughly $38 for a month’s worth of dinners. It ends up being a great deal. There are usually several buffet style trays with food that you can put on a plate for yourself. Everyday we have white rice, kimchi, kimchi radish, and some sort of soup. The other food options are more varied. Sometimes its more western food like fried eggs or ham. Other days the foods are more traditionally Korean like fermented raw octopus, quail eggs, mandoo, or squid in a spicy red sauce.[divider_flat]

Classes

holloween mummy

I teach both middle school and elementary school. My first 6 class time slots are elementary school, while my last 2 classes are 70 minutes and middle school. My classes are anywhere from 1 student to 15 students. My elementary classes are usually on the smaller side. I have more elementary classes that are 1-8 students. Most of my middle school classes are close to the 15 student class limit.

Aside from some low level classes like sight words or phonics, most of my classes are either writing or speaking. We spend the class learning about a particular subject like careers, sports, family members, or foods. If its speaking class we’ll practice using vocabulary or explaining our opinion using reasons and examples. If its writing class we’ll construct an essay using the vocabulary and grammar that we learned about in the lesson.

Closing Time and Second Dinner

Because I have so much planning time before classes, I usually go home shortly after my last class. I’ll either walk/bike to my apartment or I’ll take a $3 cab ride to Nicole’s apartment. The two of us will make a second, usually smaller, dinner, because the last time we both ate was probably 5 hours ago and we’re super hungry. Sometimes we’ll go downtown to eat a late dinner if we don’t feel like cooking after a long day of teaching.

Thoughts

I really enjoy my schedule. Sometimes I wish I had fewer classes, or more of a break to separate out my different classes between the day, but when I stop and look at my schedule I realize that I’m really fortunate. I get to wake up naturally and make a nice breakfast. I get to listen to music or podcasts and walk to work. I have plenty of time to prepare for my classes and get coffee or lunch. Most of my classes are pretty small and the students are much better behaved than what I remember from my middle school in the U.S.

I don’t have to deal with traffic. I don’t have giant 35+ student classes. I work at a big enough hagwon that I know the business will not disappear one day. I’m always paid on time and I don’t have to work Saturdays or Sundays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things I’ve learned about Korea Part I

1.  Koreans Love Soju and they drink it like water

DSC_0061I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to dinner with Nicole or various friends in Korea and at the next table sat a group of older Korean men getting sauced on Soju. I’ve had the drink, I don’t mind the drink, but to me it’s not particularly flavorful. I’d never willingly drink it straight, but like I said, I see Koreans slamming it back at restaurants with a table covered in empty bottles of it and hardly any room for actual food.

It’s also worth noting its the world’s best-selling alcohol.

2.  There are no trash cans

Korea does have trash cans, but they’re few and far between. I can count on one hand the number of trash cans that I’ve seen since arriving in Korea six months ago. So what do Korean’s do with their trash? As far as I can figure out they just litter. I’ve seen numerous Koreans chuck their can of Gatorade or Chilsing Cider onto the ground as they stroll about downtown.

Occasionally I’ll see a few coffee cups or soda cans on a ledge or a window sill of a building. Clearly earlier in the day one person put their garbage there and the collection slowly snowballed until that particular site became an unwritten-yet-still-official garbage site.

3.  It gets hot, real hot

beach facesSummer in Korea is scorching, like surface of the sun, gates to hell, hot. I say this as someone who is from Florida. I am familiar with hot. I’ve also had experience with welding, pottery, and glass blowing, so I’m familiar with furnaces and  kilns. Korea is hot. I spent almost all of my non-work hours wearing a bathing suit and sandals. The humidity doesn’t help either. Nicole’s apartment seems to have negative insulation so whatever temperature it is outside it’s a slightly more extreme temperature inside. 100 degrees outside? Its 110 in Nicole’s apartment. I have no idea how that’s possible, but perhaps one day science can answer that question for us.

4.  It gets cold, real cold

winter in Gwangju

As hot as Korea gets, it also gets that cold. The winters here are comparable to my time in Wisconsin. It’s early January here and it’s already snowed several times. I feel like what really separates Korea from say the northern US is insulation. In the US when you go inside its warmer than outside. I can honestly say that isn’t the case in Korea. It’s very warm in department stores and offices, but apartments are another story. My apartment stays nice and toasty, I imagine largely thanks to some very warm Koreans downstairs, but Nicole’s apartment is freezing. I mentioned her negative insulation (above). In winter its cold enough to see your breath in her apartment.

5.  Koreans love Gear

koreans love gear

Korea is an absolutely perfect market for outdoor apparel. Koreans love all manner of outdoor gear. Whenever I find myself hiking a mountain or walking about town, I always see some group of elderly Koreans wearing head to toe Korean hiking gear.

6.  If you go out to eat be prepared to work

Most Korean restaurants, will involve some manner of working or food preparation such as cooking meats or boiling vegetables.

Shabu Shabu

shabu shabu

Shabu Shabu restaurants are both fun to eat at and fun to say. They are also one of the most traditional dining experiences you can have in Korea. When you enter the restaurant, you’ll take off your shoes and keep them on a shelf, like at a bowling alley. After depositing your shoes, you’ll step up onto a raised wooden floor with several low tables for sitting at. There are no chairs. Instead everyone sits cross-legged and pretends their ankles don’t hurt, or at least thats what I do.

The food is brought out raw on small plates and you put it into a large bowl in the center of the table where it boils and becomes increasingly more delicious as it cooks.

Samgyeopsal

2013-09-29 19.21.59Ahh samgyeopsal so delicious and so prevalent in Korea. Walking down any road in Korea you will quickly discover that there are more samgyeopsal restaurants than any other kind of restaurant in Korea and rightly so. Its delicious. Samgyeopsal is basically quadruple thick bacon cooked over a grill in the center of the table.

Koreans love it, to the point that 70% of Koreans eat it weekly. Its so popular in Korea that the country must import it wholesale from Europe to keep up with demand. In the second half of 2011 alone, Korea imported 70,000 tons of it.

7.  The Coffee is weak

Korean coffee is really weak. You can drink 8 cups a day and never get the jitters. The downside is each cup costs the same as in the states, if not slightly more so you’ll need to drink a lot more to get your caffeine fix. That being said coffee shops are on every block and sometimes more frequent than that. There are two Angel-In-Us coffee shops on the street my school is on and I wouldn’t be surprised if they opened up a third one.

8.  The phones are huge

Phone screens have been increasing in size worldwide and no more is that more evident than in Korea. Everyone here seems to have a phablet, that’s phone/tablet for the tech illiterate. I have the new Nexus 5 and its the largest phone I would ever buy. However in Korea, a 5″ phone is commonplace. Many people have larger phones than that. I suspect that years from now large phones and phablets will be the norm and Korea will be having the last laugh.

9.  Love Motels are the best places to stay

In Korea there are 4 main options of places to stay:  Minboks, Hostels, western hotels, and love motels. Minbok’s are traditional Korean “hotels”. They’re usually just one room in an old Korean house, often in more rural areas. Usually they don’t have any furniture, just blankets and a floor. We stayed in one at Oedaldo.

Hostels are hostels. They’re more common in Europe than Korea. For $20/bed you can sleep in a dorm. Most big cities in Korea have at least a few of them.

Western hotels are really expensive here in Korea. Anything with an English name is often $100 more expensive than all of your other options. That’s where Love Motels come in.

Love motel

I’ve heard rumors that love motels are used for adultery and promiscuity and I suspect that in some places they are, but for the most part they are now just an inexpensive option for accommodations while traveling especially for foreigners that ignore any sort of stigma attached to the hotels. Nicole and I have stayed in several. They are rather nice boutique hotels with large comfortable beds and giant bathrooms. In Seoul people rent them out for a few hours at a time and have parties. Some rooms even come with pools and bowling alleys. Nicole and I have never spent more than $80 on a room but $60-70 a night is average.

10. Korean internet speeds are comparable to Google fiber

Korean Internet SpeedsKorean internet speeds are insanely fast. In fact, on average they are the fastest in the world. Downloading movies and streaming YouTube videos has never been easier. Its one thing I’ll definitely miss when I return to the states.

Sports Day – Trail of Tears

Every October 9th South Koreans observe Hangul Day, a national holiday, commemorating the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great. For most Koreans it means a day off and a chance to rest and relax. For my coworkers and me it meant a forced march up a mountain in the rain, but it wasn’t that bad

My hagwon, private after school academy, holds a Sports Day twice a year where all of the employees gather together to play sports or go on some sort of outing. It is often followed by a delicious meal together at the end of the day. It would be a great day if it wasn’t on a national holiday and if it wasn’t raining all day, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Ski Village Coffee and Walk

Nicole and I got up and walked from her apartment in Hakdong to the base of Mudeungsan a large mountain at the edge of town.  The walk is only about 20 minutes and the closer you get to the base of the mountain the less populated your surroundings become until you find yourself in a small ski village at the base of the mountain. None of the mountains have skiing, but the village looks like a carbon copy of a small ski village from Europe or the US. There are tons of shops selling hiking and winter apparel. The architecture is reminiscent of a ski village with its exposed beams and wooden framing.

Nicole and I got coffee at Angel-In-Us, a Korean coffee chain, in the middle of the little ski village. It’s everywhere and it’s similar to a cheaper version of Starbucks. While it is a coffee shop, coffee doesn’t appear much on the menu. It’s mostly frappes, milkshakes, lattes, and various iced beverages, many lacking any form of coffee.  The one we stopped at was three stories and there was a fountain on the top, a bit over the top for a coffee shop.

As Nicole and I enjoyed our coffee we watched dozens of Koreans in all of their hiking gear gathering at the base of the mountain in preparation for their hikes on their day off. I finished the last of my Americano and said goodbye to Nicole before joining the other confused foreigners outside on the long rainy hike up the mountain.

Hiking to Rabbit Peak

sports day in KoreaPart of Sports Day is friendly competition so we were all broken up into groups for the day’s various competitions. Each team had 8 members, one foreign (me) and seven Korean. Over the course of the afternoon we hiked to a part of the mountain and performed activities along the way. Our first activity was getting a group photo with Jade, the Korean teacher who organized sports day. This involved everyone getting a text message with the challenge and then all of us running around to find Jade and be the first to snap a photo. The  first team to successfully text their photo to Jade won.

Lunch

sports day lunch

When we reached the highest point we were to hike to we stopped for lunch. Each one of us was provided with a cookie, kimbap, juice, and a water. The kimbap was pretty good, mine was fried shrimp.

Korea is known for having exercise equipment installed everywhere: along sidewalks, randomly on mountainsides, in parks. Its fantastic. With the amount of gym equipment available for free in Korea, I couldn’t imagine purchasing a gym membership.

Where we stopped for lunch there was a bunch of this equipment and various old Korean men using it. It was pretty impressive because we just hiked 3 hours to get to the equipment and the Korean guys up there didn’t seem winded. I wondered if this was part of their routine, hike the mountain then work out and hike back down. Either way it was impressive.

Games

sports day games

After lunch we hiked to a small clearing and competed in some games with our teams. One game was Rock, Paper, Scissors using your whole body to act out the rock, paper, or scissors. Another game involved eating 10 Funion chips then whistling. I can’t whistle, but based on everyone who did try, its very hard to whistle after eating onion flavored chips. Ted won the tournament and earned the nickname “Paul Funion”.

At the end of the competition everyone who placed first through third, most of the people there, got a $5 gift certificate redeemable at several different cafes and coffee shops near work. I have yet to use mine, but I have big plans for my $5.

This pretty much concluded our day of adventures and all that was left was eating a delicious celebratory meal after a long walk to the restaurant.

Dinner

sports day dinner

We walked down a long and winding path to a little mountainside restaurant with a beautiful clearing and several picnic tables outside. The staff served us amazing spicy chicken and potatoes with all the Korean sides: kimchi, pickled radishes, acorn tofu, steamed egg, everything. Sorry I couldn’t get a picture with the food. I was starving and my attention was completely diverted once the food arrived.

It was a delicious end to a day that improved as the weather improved.