Nicole and I visited a local cherry blossom festival in nearby Jinhae. The trip was through a local Korean tour guide named Pedro, its his adopted English name. He was the same tour guide we used for our second snowboarding adventure a month or two earlier.
Getting to Jinhae
We met across from the bus terminal in Gwangju and hopped aboard the bus Pedro had rented for the day. He usually just uses his van, but he booked a big trip this time so he rented a full size bus. The trip out to Jinhae was about 3 hours and we arrived a little after noon. Driving through Jinhae, the streets were packed with Koreans eager to witness the majestic beauty of blooming cherry blossoms.
The City of Jinhae
The city was familiar with cherry blossom crowd management and setup a temporary parking lot at the naval base just outside of town. Our bus dropped us off here and we took a $2 shuttle bus into the actual city. Central Jinhae is laid out like a bicycle wheel with a park in the center and many spokes reaching out in various directions. The central park was hosting a singing competition/music revue. Nicole and I made a note to come back for it, but we had bigger plans for now.
Environment Eco-park Riverside
We walked straight through town and headed North to walk along a beautiful river and get some photos of blossoms over the river.
365 Steps of Mt. Jaehwang-san
Later we made our way to the 365 steps of Mt. Jaehwang-san. The steps were surprisingly manageable and only took a few minutes to climb.
Watching the Korean Naval Band
After out steps we were pretty beat. So we headed over to the local stadium to see the Korean Naval Band perform. Their drumline was really impressive to see. Somehow I lost the picture for it.
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.
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
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
This weekend, Nicole and I went snowboarding in Muju, South Korea. It’s about two hours away from Gwangju by bus. Nicole found a coupon online to rent gear, get a bus to the mountain, get a lift pass, and lessons all for about $100. I asked one of my Korean coworkers, Lizzy, to help me book the trip. After a lot of back and forth between the company, Lizzy, and myself, the plans were made.
One does not simply walk into Muju
Nicole and I woke up at 4:30am, had a small breakfast and headed out the door. We walked to the Emart near my school to wait for the bus. The bus arrived shortly after we did, sometime around 5:40am. There were a few other Koreans who joined us on the bus as well. When we boarded, Nicole and I walked to the back and sat down. The bus was about half full when we departed. What a bus though! There were all kinds of crazy lights on it.
Once the bus got going, Nicole quickly fell asleep while I busied myself with a game called Kingdom Rush. With the bus’ lights on, it was hard to fall asleep so, it was nice to have something to occupy my time. The trip in total took about 2 hours. Eventually, the bus driver turned off the lights on the ceiling so, I was able to get a little bit of sleep.
Arriving at Muju
When we arrived at Muju, Nicole and I were really hungry, but what does one eat at a Korean ski resort? If you guessed American Southern Fried Chicken, then you’re right! Directly adjacent to the slopes is a Popeye’s Chicken. Nicole and I got some delicious fried chicken and fries before we hit the slopes. Nothing to get you going like some fast food.
After “breakfast” we got in line to rent ski pants, pick up our ski passes, and get our tags for ski school. I’ve snowboarded maybe 3 times in my life and by no means am I good, so, ski school was a nice refresher for me. For Nicole, it was necessary as she’d never been snowboarding before and this was maybe the 5th time she’d seen snow in her life.
Ski school was a mix of many different ages and there were as many adults as there were kids, so we didn’t feel too out-of-place, age wise that is. Everyone else in our ski school was Korean, of course, since we’re in Korea. The instructor knew a little bit of English, but it didn’t really matter if you understood what he said since all we needed to do was copy whatever he did. I felt like one of my low-level students with the teacher saying something incomprehensible and me just copying what he did.
I picked up everything that we covered pretty quickly. I can do all the basic things like skate, glide, and J-turns. I was hoping this class would get into carving which would help me, but it was too basic. Instead, I just helped Nicole out. Since this was her first time, she needed a lot of help. In her words, she was the bottom of the ski school class, but I think she did well for her first time. [divider_flat]
Graduating from Ski School
After our two-hour ski school, Nicole and I got some food inside at the absurdly crowded food court. The dining area was divided into several very long tables with maybe a few hundred people at each long table. Almost every single seat in the crowded dining hall was full. With the long tables, it was like dining at Hogwarts, except everyone was Korean and, as far as I know, there were no wizards present.
Snowboarding in Korea
Snowboarding seems to be a relatively recent trend in Korea. People have been skiing for decades, but it seems that snowboarding has only recently become popular. I can only speak for what I saw, but it seems that almost no one in Korea is good at snowboarding, which was fantastic for the Nicole and I because it set the bar nice and low and we felt right at home with our lack of skill.
After lunch, we started slow. Nicole and I took a little conveyor belt up to the halfway mark on one of the smaller bunny hills. I went down with Nicole a few times and just made sure to go slow so she could keep up. We had a great time and I practiced my steering, dodging the many “starfish” stopped on the slope with their arms out (see above).
Later in the day, Nicole and I went up to the top of one of the beginner slopes and made our way down. By this time, Nicole had mastered slowly moving sideways down the mountain and I was almost to the point I could connect a few S-turns.
At the end of the day, Nicole and I returned our gear and headed back to Gwangju on the bus. We had a great day snowboarding and I think we both made a lot of progress. Based on how inexpensive it is here, at least compared to snowboarding in the states, Nicole and I plan to go back several times before the season ends in March.
November 11th is upon us and, as I’m sure you’re all aware, it’s the day before my mom’s birthday. HI MOM! It’s also a very special day in Korea; it’s Pepero Day. Pepero Day is like Korean Valentine’s Day, not to be confused with Valentine’s Day in Korea which is also a holiday (2/14).
I know a lot of you are probably confused about how to celebrate this momentous day, so I put together this handy guide to celebrating Pepero Day…like a boss.
What is Pepero?
[quote]Pepero (빼빼로) is a cookie stick, dipped in compound chocolate, manufactured by Lotte Confectionery in South Korea since 1983.[/quote]
Pepero is delicious. It’s similar to Pocky, the Japanese chocolate covered cookie stick, but, don’t tell the Koreans that. It’s sold in 12 different flavors. Although, I have not tried all of the flavors yet, so far, White Cookie Chocolate is the best.
Nude (chocolate in the center)
Nude Lemon Cheese
White Cookie Chocolate
*This list has been unaltered and comes straight from the Pepero website.
Why is Pepero Day November 11th? Is there some historical significance?
Nope! Pepero Day is November 11th because 11/11 looks like 4 sticks of Pepero and that’s as good a day as any to celebrate chocolate cookie sticks.
Is Pepero Day only for lovers?
Every November 11th young couples purchase delicious Pepero snacks for their special someone and they exchange their snacks as romantically as possible. If your sweetie lives too far away from you to visit on Pepero Day, you can also mail them Pepero. You don’t even need to ship them in separate packaging. Pepero boxes come with a place to add a stamp as well as a short message. That’s right! So much Pepero is mailed around Korea that they designate a place on the box for a postage stamp.
In case you were wondering what living in the future feels like, it feels like this: chocolate candy sticks with stamps for mailing to lovers.
What if I love my sweetie more than other people love their sweeties? Is there a way I can rub it in their faces?
Absolutely! Pepero Day is a great way to gauge your love for others in the form of chocolate cookie sticks. Nicole got me a giant Pepero stick with a heart-shaped handle, similar to the handle on a shepherd’s staff, or crook, as I recently learned on Wikipedia. Since my Pepero staff, or crook, was far too delicious to photograph, I found this picture online to approximate my appearance on Pepero Day.
Halloween is a whole different beast here in Korea. It seems to have spread to Korea through word of mouth and some sort of long-distance, cross-cultural game of “Telephone.” Some ideas came through and other ones clearly got lost in translation. In short, not many people dress up and there isn’t a lot of candy diversity, but let’s explore further!
Korea isn’t big on costumes
As I said, Korea doesn’t really do costumes. Korea is a culture that embraces modesty; ladies aren’t supposed to show too much skin and they should never show their shoulders. This idea is in stark contrast to the western idea of scantily clad Halloweiners, I may or may not have just made that word up. Most of my fellow teachers didn’t dress up for Halloween or, if they did, their costume was limited to cat ears and/or a witch’s cape. My students opted for similar costumes, so I spent most of Halloween surrounded by cat witches.
Since half of our students attend Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other half attend Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, we celebrated Halloween on Wednesday and Thursday; October 30th and 31st, respectively. Lindsay, one of my fellow foreign teachers, dressed up as a Care Bear one day and a Librarian next. Conrad dressed up as a punk one day and Dracula the next day. I opted to go as a lumberjack both days with a pair of work boots and a giant construction paper axe. It was a great costume and my paper axe managed to keep my students in line. Jade, one of the awesomest Korean teachers at work, went as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and had an awesome costume complete with weapons.
In the afternoon, my academy has younger students in elementary grades. We made little Halloween boxes with them and went trick-or-treating around the academy to other classrooms. During their last class of the afternoon, we had a mummy-making contest. This was one of the highlights of my day. Normally, our school looks down on wrapping the students in toilet paper and marching them through the hallways. I know because I checked my contract. It’s a big no-no in Korea. HOWEVER, on Halloween it’s perfectly acceptable, nay, its required.
Twice a day for both Halloween and Monday/Wednesday/Friday Halloween, I got to help my students cover one of their peers with toilet paper and turn them into a mummy. The younger kids loved it. I have a class of about six 8 year olds who look like the Korean Cabbage patch kids and they went bananas for it. We had a blast and covered one student, Dan, with enough toilet paper to stretch to Seoul and back (3.5 hours by bus…each way).
The older students were less enthused. They’re in that awkward teenager phase where practicing ancient Egyptian burial customs is considered uncool. I was disappointed because as the teacher, it’s usually a bad sign if you’re the most enthusiastic person in the room. I thought for sure they would love it since the middle schoolers’ only interaction with paper products is writing essays and using the bathroom between classes.
P.S. sorry for the delay in writing. More to come soon!