Sunday, October 30, 2011


A while a go, my husband who LOVES shopping, and also LOVES outdoor gear, put an airsoft gun to my head, and forced me to buy some chacos.  Secretly, I think he just wanted us to have matching shoes. For all of you non-chaco peeps, chacos are a type of outdoor shoe for hiking, getting wet, and pretty much anything else one does outdoors. My chacos are some of the cutest I've ever seen.  Their much girly-er than many of the styles that are typically sold. 

BUT they sometimes give me blisters. I have super sensitive feet though. Its not normal for chacos to give blisters. So I was concerned about having them as my MAIN shoes while traveling.  If I get blisters then I'd pretty much be up a creek barefoot.

So I started looking at other outdoor shoes to compliment my chacos.  And on a random day out and about, I found these: Merrell Hiking shoes. Not only are they ADORABLE outdoor shoes, but they also are closed toe, waterproof, breathable and extremely comfortable. I payed WAY more than I wanted to.  The pain is even more acute and sharp because I paid more than the retail price in the states (because of import tax). I hate buying expensive things, but sometimes you just have to break down.  I almost always look for sales, but I wasn't sure I was going to find a sale before we left for traveling, and its getting cold.  I don't like shopping in the cold. So I just bought them. I'm very happy with them so far, although I haven't gotten to wear them much because fall has abandoned us to the harsh grasp of winter, but every time I slip them on, they feel like walking on clouds.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New toys

The one on the left with the hood is the zoomy lens and the other is the wide angle lens.
This shot, taken hastily in the morning, which has a smudge, is to show you the bulb in the center of the lens.  This is what give is the wide angle.
for those camera people, this is a 28mm-105mm.  3.5f, In the camera world, amongst the pros and Koreans who must have everything top of the line or else they die, it isn't the best, but I think it will suit our purposes.
 We've been preparing for our travels.  Basically, everyday, Kyle and I wake up and say, "do we have to go to work, can't we just go on our travels today?" in the whiniest voice ever.  In the end, we decide to go to work, begrudgingly.

And in preparing for our travels, Kyle and I decided that if we were ever to invest in good lenses, now was the time.  So we made our way to Yongsan, where one goes to buy electronics, and made our planned purchase, a lens with a more enhanced zoom capacity. Its not really a ZOOM lens, but it has a more zoominess than did our previous.

Our camera came with two lenses, the kit lens and a mega zoom lens.  The mega zoom lens couldn't take clear photos without a tripod, and as we only carry a tiny tripod with us, it just didn't ever get any use. We sold both lenses even though the guy laughed at the "poor" quality of my kit lens.

We then however made an impulse buy, one that I so far have no regrets about, a wide angle lens.  I've wanted a wide angle lens for a LONG time. Wide angle lenses are responsible for those AMAZING sky shots that are often seen in magazines. But wide angle lenses are SUPER expensive.  Like $600 and higher sometimes.  But a new lens came out which is much cheaper, and not AS cool, but still pretty cool, and on impulse we bought it. We called a friend quickly to do a price check and a review check previous to making the decision, and in the end, we thought, we couldn't live without.  Or we could, but it would be REALLY fun to have.

So here are some examples of what are new lenses can do:
50 mm is a close up lens, this shot is just meant to give perspective.
Wide angle lens.  Do see how much of the background you can see?
Normal shot

wide angle lens
Normal shot

wide angle lens
I'm so excited to have these new toys!  Hopefully our pictures will reflect this, and everyone can ooohh and awwww over our AMAZING new photos.
Normal lens
zoomier lens

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The trouble with public transportation

One of the things I LOVE about Korea is its public transportation. Not only is it pretty efficient, but it's also incredibly cheap.  Its a Godsend to any expat trying to save money. Subways, trains, buses are such a blessing.  Not only do I not pay car insurance, gas or the added expenses when my car breaks down, it helps to cut down on emissions which just happen to be choking our world to death.  Public transportation gets me just about anywhere I want to go and as an added bonus, I don't have to worry about parking.  I wish it were something that Texas would invest in.

But, sadly, its not all smiles and butterflies. Public transportation has its pitfalls as well. For example, I can't get EVERYWHERE I want to go. Exploring unknown territory is pretty much impossible.  We have a friend with a car here at English Village, and a couple of times he's taken us around Yongmun in his car.  We saw areas of Yongmun, we would have NEVER seen if it hadn't been for his car.  I can't just jump in a taxi and say, "just drive, just explore for a while" like you can when you own a car.

Public transportation has limits including it's timetables. The subways in Seoul stop running at 12ish on a Saturday night.  Which doesn't sound too late, but that means that I have to be on a subway by 10:30pm if I want to get home at all on Saturday night, which pretty much puts a damper on going out on the town. ( I live 1 hr and a half from Seoul)

For example, this past weekend, I was going out to dinner with a dear friend for her last weekend before she heads off to Thailand. She was late to dinner, so we were paying the bill at 10:00pm. We had also told some friends that we'd meet them in the foreigner area called Itaewon at a pub.  I didn't want to make it an all-nighter.  I wanted to make it a shorter night in fact, but I also wanted to spend time with my friend who I might never see again. And here in lies the rub. If I choose not to go home by 10:30pm, I cannot go home AT ALL until the morning. Jimjilbangs (bathhouses) provide floor mats to sleep on in communal rooms for under $10 a night which is an option, or a hotel for $40. This past weekend however, I really wanted to sleep in my own bed, so instead of getting a hotel or jimjilbang, I decided to wait up for the first subway at 6am.

Which leads me to my next point about the weakness of public transportation; subways and most buses don't have bathrooms.  Picture if you will three sleep-deprived English teachers curled up on a cold bench waiting for the subway. Kyle, Lisa (our friend/co-worker) and myself  are those characters snoring away. I wake up at 5:52 and realize that I should go to the bathroom before the subway comes.  However, I don't think I'll make it before the it comes.  The bell rings, the subway swishes in and I hesitantly step inside.  My bladder is full and there isn't a bathroom on the subway.  If I get off the subway, I'll have to wait another 40 minutes before the next one comes, and all I really want is my bed.

 Luckily, I fell asleep, but there were moments I was sure I wouldn't make it. I had nightmares about peeing on myself on the subway because I was too stubborn to get off.  I clenched my teeth and willed the pee to remain in my bladder. The cost of peeing was 40 more minutes I wouldn't be in my bed and the price was just too high.

As soon as the subway slid into the station, I yanked off my high heel boots (which I no longer could effectively walk in, only hobble like a distorted walking dead creature) and ran to the bathroom. It was glorious.  I had made it.  But the journey had been incredibly painful.  There are aspects of public transportation I'll miss, but there are definitely others I'll be glad to be rid of.

Did I mention: We've got TICKETS HOME!

A few posts back, I mentioned that Kyle and I have officially purchased our tickets.   And these plane tickets are just direct plane tickets home, OH NO, they have five stops.  And Oh yes, did I get an amazing deal on them.  We're paying just $450 more than a direct flight.  Yippie Yie Yay!!  Seriously, I am a serious scavenger for all things cheap, and we got the motherload on this deal.

So here is the basic Itinerary:

Last work day: Jan. 1

Fly to Bangkok, Thailand- a few days later (after SERIOUS packing) and I mean serious!  Oh dear Lord, I don't want to pack.

We spend THREE MONTHS backpacking Southeast Asia!!  When I was planning this out, I thought, "three months- thats a LONG time."  Now that I'm looking at what we are going to do, I keep thinking- we don't have ENOUGH time.  (I really like the caps locks tonight)
Countries we're going to visit:

But we're not flying home from Bangkok.  Nope, we're going to go visit our friends we've made here in ENGLAND and IRELAND, for two weeks.

And then to NYC to visit Jen. G. my bestest friend!  For a few days.

And then HOME to TEXAS late April, after my birthday. My birthday will be spent in Ireland.  Kyle's birthday in March, we're not sure where we'll be yet.

So heres the run down:
3 months- Southeast Asia
2 weeks- England, Ireland
1 week (roughly) NYC
4 months of traveling

At least a year, probably more -TEXAS

Who's excited!!??

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween video #2

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Fun Halloween videos!

I made these two Jibjab Halloween videos for some of our friends here at the Village. Here is the first one...

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Take more pictures

Part of being a teacher at our preschool is being a photographer.  The children need their pictures taken regularly as proof that their being taught.  So on each field trip, I take my camera and dutifully take as many pictures of the kids as I can while still trying to answer their questions, hold their hands, and take them to the bathroom. Recently we were told, that we don't take enough pictures.  Not in quantity really, but that we also needed to take pictures during the week of the kids doing mundane things like studying etc. 
"Are you serious?" I asked my co-teacher.  "I have just uploaded 2000 photos to my kodak file.  Seriously, how many pictures do the parents need?"

So one day as we were playing outside under the bridge, the kids and I engaged in a funny game.  Take pictures wearing teacher Vanessa's sunglasses.  One of the kids wanted to wear my sunglasses, and we thought it was so funny we took their pictures.  They all started yelling out at that point, "I want to, I want to..."  So we had them line up for their picture with my sunglasses.  They were so cute with my movie-star sunglasses on their tiny faces.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ocean World

Here are many of the Korean teachers in not only their swimsuits but their swimming clothes.
In the previous post, I discussed Korean culture with water.  They don't know how to swim, and therefore have a different relationship to water than do westerners. After summer camp, our school often does something nice for its overworked teachers.  This year, they chose to send us to OceanWorld. Because Korea is an overpopulated country, it is a guarantee that on any given day, nearly any tourist destination will be packed to the brim with people.

As is typical in Korean culture, caps and life vests were required.  For those of us who know how to swim, the life vests were cumbersome and annoying in all but one attraction, the wave pool.  I've never used a life vest in a wave pool, and don't plan to once back in the states, however in Korea, I was glad I had it.  Because the water was so entirely packed with people that if I moved an arm or a leg, I arbitrarily kicked or hit another person. And when the waves came, if it hadn't been for the life vests, I might have been clobbered and drowned by a piling of others on top of me.   I sometimes felt like a tackled football player at the bottom of a pile up.  Despite the excess number of bodies, the wave pool was quite fun.

However, in the "rapid river" which was like a lazy river except with bursts of waves, we were required to not only have on a life vest but also a tube.  And not sitting lazinly on top of the tube but inside the doughnut hole.  It pushed the life vest uncomfortable up my neck making the experience less fun than other "river rides" I've been on.  The boys had fun playing bumper tubes, attacking each other mercilessly with their yellow tubes like sumo wrestlers in the water.

All in all, though, the day was thrilling.  Ocean World had better rides than I expected.  Non of them were AMAZING, but they were fun.  The day was then followed by a free buffet in at nice hotel with sushi, salad, and other goodies.  It was quite a memorable day.  Below is the footage from the day.

Here's the Ocean world video.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Koreans and swimming

Koreans don't like water.  Well, it's not that they don't like water or it's properties, but they're afraid of it.  Their afraid of emerging their bodies in it and then drowning. It is a peninsula country, a country nearly entirely surrounded by water, and its citizens are petrified of swimming. How a water-locked country does not value swimming is beyond me.

Before I came to Korea, I took my ability to swim for granted.  I don't think I'd even ever been asked if I could swim before I arrived in Korea.  From a young age, Americans are coaxed into the water.  As toddlers, even as babes, parents teach their children the basics of swimming.  I am by no means Michael Phelps, and by no means, an excellent swimmer, but I can do all four main strokes, and I can get myself from here to there without drowning. Whenever I think of my swimming abilities, I'm always reminded of an embarrassing moment in my swim team years.  One where in the midst of a competition, I, who incidentally wore no goggles, mistakenly swam under and across all four lanes only to end up beneath another competitor in the wrong lane, oh so very far from my own lane.  So engrossed was I in the race, I had no idea of this embarrassing mistake I'd made until I came up for air and found a person above me.

There is only a short summer in Korea, few pools, and fewer swimming lessons. Korea is a modest society, one in which being half naked is not smiled upon. Swimming is a large part of American culture.  If you say you can swim in a conversation, people don't generally gush over your amazing talents.    It's pretty much assumed. In Korea, saying you can swim is akin to having super human powers.  No one knows how to swim.  That's an exaggeration; a minority of Koreans can swim.

All swimming pools require swimming caps.  If you don't have a swimming cap, a hat is acceptable. I'd never worn a swimming cap before coming to Korea.  The idea of swimming caps isn't inherently a bad one, but the way in which Koreans wear their caps, completely defeats the purpose of keeping the hair out of the drains of the pools.  Hats do nothing to keep hair from floating its way to clogging the pool, and often caps are only worn on the top of the head allowing the hair to freely languor in the water.  But the rule is never-the-less strictly enforced.

It should also be noted that Koreans do wear swimsuits, but never by itself. It is always accompanied with baggy clothing.  Why, I do not know.  Because it is a modest country, because it is their way, because that is how it has always been done.

Korea's culture is a baffling one, but it's swimming culture really threw me through a loop.  It's moments like these that I'm grateful fro my citizenry in America. I'm grateful I'm an adult who not only knows how to swim but can enjoys a dip in a pool without fear of drowning.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I have a new pet

One of the field trips we took with the kids recently was described to us as "about bugs."

"Okay" I thought, "this is going to be boring."

It was anything but boring.  And one of the treasures the kids, along with the teachers were given to take home as a pet was a caterpillar.  However, this caterpillar, if he can be called that, will not transform into a beautiful butterfly.  Oh, no!  Not this guy.  This guy will certainly make a cocoon, but his metamorphosis will be into entirely different; a Japanese rhinoceros beetle. Well, at least I think it's that beetle.  No one knows for sure.  In Korean it's called the "stag beetle" but we can't seem to find a proper translation.  Basically this beetle will be HUGE; 35-90 mm, around the length of a man's index finger.

 The kids were sent home with these beetle larva as well, except without any instructions other than verbal instructions.  Can you imagine being a parent, and having your kid walking through the doorway with a jar filled with soil and a larva as large as your child's fist??  My mom would have had a heart attack.  Why would they not send home written instructions to the parents.  Do they actually expect 3-6 year olds to remember what they were told to do with the creatures.  And when they grow into full sized beetles, they're completely equipped with wings.  They will fly, oh yes they will.

I've named him George Harrison after the Beatle (from the band) who is the "forgotten Beatle." He currently resides in his jar tucked away in our cabinet as we were told that he prefers the darkness.  He requires no care.  If his soil drys up, we are to spray it lightly with water, other than that, leave him to his business of eating, growing, cocooning and growing into a humongous beetle.  I can't wait to see him progress!  Maybe I'll even send him home to my family as a gift :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Introducing love motels

When we travel on our own, as opposed to in an organized trip with "meet up" we often have the pleasure, or displeasure of using "love motels." Love motels are primarily a result of young people living with their parents until they are married, but also, the extramarital activities that are common within Korean culture.  Love motels can be very nice, or they can be as close to a roach motel I've ever experienced and hope to experience.  To give you a closer look into "love motels," we've created a little video.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Vampire deer

The DMZ, (Demilitarized Zone) is the area between North and South Korea that is used as a buffer zone between the two countries.  The Korean war, although not actually actively at war, has never fully ended.  They are in a limbo between war and peace. Fifty-five years ago, for better or worse, the countries came to an agreement, "we agree not to agree, but also not to war."  What is left is a highly unstable North Korea, and the most highly protected border in the entire world, the DMZ.  The DMZ for all intensive purposes cuts the two contesting countries in half on the 38th parallel.   It is about 2.5 miles wide and 160 miles long. 

One unexpected benefit arising from this fifty-five year hiatus of human-less land has created a Godsend for many of the nearly extinct animals of the Korean peninsula.  Because this area of land has been untouched by humans, flora, fauna and wildlife have flourished into a conservationists dream. Fifty animal species, and nearly 200 types of flora and fauna, have found a home in this highly contest strip of land.

One of these animals, the musk deer, is one of the rarities to emerge from the DMZ.  Known for it's vampire like fangs, this animals is often called "a vampire deer."  The canine teeth have extended to form a kind of tusk.  It's almost fantastical and many do not believe it until they see it.  On a field trip not too long ago, I had the privilege of seeing one of these rare vampire deer up close, behind a fence enclosure.  Here are the pictures from that experience.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I have Senioritis

Its true.  I have senioritis.  I don't know any other way of putting it.  I was thinking on it the other day while I was sitting in my classroom supposed to be working, but instead, trying to put a finger on what exactly was going on within the cobwebs of my mind. My symptoms are as follows: listlessness, apathy, laziness, half-hearted effort at work, day dreaming of laying on beaches in Thailand, day dreaming of anything besides working.
This senioritis has slowly been creeping in like the creaks in arthritic bones when a thunderstorm is approaching. I could feel it tingling within, distracting me from what was present around me before our vacation to Jeju.  But what perpetuated the surge of dispassion was the purchasing of our tickets home.  That's right, you read that right.  We've purchased tickets home.  It makes me want to scream with delight. The thought of not spending another full winter here in the frozen Korea tundra makes me want to do cartwheels through our village. It makes me want to sing joyous songs while dancing the tango.  Basically I want to do anything but work. Its like being a senior in high school again approaching the finish line and actually being able to see it in the distance.  The work placed in front of us might as well have been arabic. Books were unreadable, and work couldn't hold our attention long enough to merit grading. We'd checked out.  It was almost over; the torture of school. 

And it has come again, that illness of apathy. It has shaken me to my very core, but probably worse this time than in high school. I enjoyed high school, but it was all I'd ever known.  I was apprehensive about leaving my boyfriend (now husband) behind, and all of my friends. At this point in my nomadic life, I've come to terms with saying goodbye to friends, it's a part of package of the vagabond life. However, I feel a little guilty, not only because I feel like I'm doing a disservice to my kids by being absent in my mind, but because this job is not that hard.  For all that we complain about how the administration is out to get us, this is not difficult work. It's not as if we are slaving away out in the blazing sun working for pennies. This is simple work, rewarding even and I can't wait to leave. There are a lot of factors involved, two of witch are that I'm so ready to travel, that I confuse my day dreams with reality and as great as Korea as been to us, its time to leave for our home country.  

With the onset of senoritis, it's difficult to say the least, to stay in the present, but with our approaching preschool talent show, it'll be vital to my ability to direct three and four years old to perform not only a play but songs and dances as well.  I'm not sure there is a cure to senioritis, but as we still have nearly three full months of work, I'm going to have to find a way to get my head screwed on right.