blogging because.

Monday, December 27, 2010

wine, beer and holiday cheer

Well here I am keeping my desk mighty warm thinking of my first Christmas away.

I would have to say that the build up – or lack there of in Korea – was more upsetting than waking up, sans family on December 25th. Usually, I find the hyper commercialized North American Christmas to be quite exhausting but this year I really missed the lights, seasonal greetings, parties and general cheer.
bedazzled is better

Kym and I had a sleepover Christmas Eve so we didn’t have to wake up alone. I had the pleasure of witnessing a Trumper holiday teaser, the entire clan decked out with antlers and spewing quirky inside jokes from Bermuda to Busan. Gotta love it.
from Bermuda to Busan with love

Christmas morning we sipped seasonal coffees and exchanged stokings. I think Kym was pretty pleased with the mixture of practical and ‘just because’ pressies from me. My gift from Kymchi showcased just how well my dear Minsu knows her Jinho, a black tank top with studs accented with four (phew) boxes of Pepero. Christmas afternoon in Busan was a blur of friendship, over priced food+beer and not so good decision making…no one neeeeeeds McDonald’s after a Christmas feast. I am inclined to write it all off with a swift ‘because Korea.’
red, green, black and white
5 courses and 1 glass of wine?
So cheers to you this holiday season, I hope that you too indulged in all things festive and fantastic!
Bring on 2011…

Monday, December 20, 2010

oh and...

May 2010

'tis the season

Christmas light display in Nampodong
I don't know how to begin this update...the holidays this year are particularly overwhelming SO here goes...

December arrived in Korea without the familiar snowfall and temperature drop. Hyunhee, my co teacher, invited Kym and I to her Christmas party. Secretly I think she hosted it for just me, seeing as it was her first. I had been talking about the magic of the holidays, well, pretty much since Thanksgiving. She is SUCH a sweetheart! Here I met her daughters and some of her Korean friends, they had a good laugh at my expense, clearly my Korean language skills need a lot of work. It was a pot luck event, naturally I brought baked brie and crackers, Kym and I were circling the food table all night. Not doing much to defuse stereotypes about westerners and obesity I'm afraid.

I sent a package of Christmas goodies off to #67 before their departure to Whistler and was thrilled to receive one back! It arrived on the day I was presenting my Christmas PowerPoint presentation to my grade 4s & 6s so I was actually able to incorporate tangible visual aids. However, I am not sure if they fully understood that these presents were for me from my family in Canada. Regardless plenty of ooos and ahhhs. I have also been reminded of how fantastic my friends at home are! The girls have sent me cheesy cards, my favourite snack foods and other little treats that I have been missing. My friend Anne actually sent my family a Christmas card because she is missing our house too - this brought me to tears. On that note, the holidays are usually a time for reflection and being away from most of my loved ones, it has been quite an emotional month. It is hard to believe that we have passed the four month mark. This experience has already proved to be everything I had hoped it would be and I am sure moving into the second half of the journey a new set of opportunities for growth, friendship and understanding will present themselves. I have said to my parents on a number of occasions how much I would love to be in two places at once, but for now I have made my peace with creating a new set of holiday traditions with friends in Korea. It is very comforting for me to think of you all cozy at home, with family and friends indulging in whatever makes the season special for you. Enjoy it!

Sending you my holiday best and warmest wishes from a safe and happy New Year. See you 2011!
Grade 4s at Seongnam Elementary

Sunday, November 28, 2010

taking it in stride

I often describe my life abroad as a vortex. An unrelenting spiral of emotions. Some days I live quite happily in my Busanite bubble. Some days I long for my familiar Toronto. Today…I don’t know…

Last week South Korea was reminded of its unresolved war with the North. I was reminded just how far away I am from home. North Korea launched a surprise attack, claiming two lives and severely injuring more than a dozen. This demonstration has made the global community anxious and prepared to meet any further aggression with comparable force. The more I think about it, the more I understand how unique it is for me, a Canadian, to be experiencing first hand the fall out of a very complicated history.  

This weekend I celebrated my first American Thanksgiving. Served with all of the holiday best, I properly embraced the idea of making new holiday traditions. Trying to re create what I am ‘missing’ at home will dishonour the magic of this experience.
our very Korean American Thanksgiving
complete with Jenga and Soju

  That said, Sunday we went in search of Christmas decorations. Much to our surprise we were successful! Tucked away on one of Nampodong’s many side streets, we discovered a real gem. Standing outside, a singing Santa ushered us into a winter wonderland.
Santa baby
city lights
I walked away with stockings, faux trees and ornaments. Now, I am ready for the Christmas countdown. 
I am going to Costco later. That will make my day.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

star light, star bright, take me to toronto tonight
Holiday spirit is now decking the halls of Seongnam Elementary. Last Friday I introduced my grade 3 classes to the joys of a western Christmas. Together we scrolled through some personal holiday snap shots, exchanged seasonal traditions and gushed over the sparkle of city lights amidst the quiet calm of snowy winter nights.
my wee snow flakes

Monday, November 8, 2010

chopsticks 101

Well, one would think that come the three month mark, and being a native of the highly Asian infused city of Toronto, I would have mastered the art of chopsticking. False. I have called upon every excuse in the book to defend my lack of dexterity: "my fingers are to…the sticks are too wide…the food is too small and slippery…" Enough!

frustration sets in
 Clearly the jig is up and it is time to admit defeat. I will be a western utensil user for life and I am okay with it. A special thank-you to those poor souls that fought to convert me. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

learn by doing

there once was confusion

I have been growing increasingly puzzled by the tolerance of violence in the classroom.
This observation climaxed with a swift blow to the back of my head today.
The culprit, Homer, one of my sixth graders.
The weapon, a pokemon pencil box.
His reaction, to point and laugh.
My reaction, shell shock.
Anymore would have been a waste of breath, the meaning of my vengeful rant – surely lost in translation. Fortunately, my co-teacher witnessed the attack and came to my rescue.
With one clean flick to the head, Homer got the message.
I have been converted, in the future; I will use the flick method to drive my point home. Miscommunications? Phiiiiish!

peace at last

Monday, November 1, 2010

lets paint the town and shut it down

And so we did.
It was not the monster mash this Halloween, but rather the foreigner mash up.
Not the usual Family Mart crowd
10.31.10 penguins, ajummas and superheroes roamed the streets of KSU. 
Me, I dressed up as Jinho and took my beloved Minsu out for a night on the town.  
Could it be? Is it she?

World, meet Minsu and Jinho

"Eat it Calvin Klein"
A lot more could be said about this night, but pictures really say it better.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

and it was standing room only

just like sardines
From the confines of the subway car speeding toward Gwangan station to the overflowing streets of Gwangali Beach, Busan’s International Fireworks Festival was an event not to be missed. Several countries were represented at the show; however, none could compare to Korea’s EPIK closing performance. In the final moments of the hour long spectacle, the crowd new something special was imminent. The eruption of each firework louder, more colourful than the one before, we stood in awe as the sky burst into a sparkling display of fiery wonder to salute the end of show. Eventually darkness enveloped the sky again and Gwangali was returned back to the tranquil, beach side community on the shores of the Pacific.  
colour my world

c'est fini
click here to relive the magic!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

'seems like yesterday'

you'll never be alone again
This weekend was one for the books.
the gathering that was global on the Han River
After waiting in line for 1.5hrs, boarding the shuttle at Sangsu Station, the anticipation of what was to come was almost tangible. Thousands made their way to the shores of the Han River in Seoul to experience GLOBALGATHERING an international music festival that fused authentic Korean tracks with North American chart toppers. The energy was contagious and radiated through the crowd from dusk until dawn. Surrounded by friends old and new, I danced as if no one was watching.
bright like neon love
9.10.10 with love.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fresh Air

Literally and metaphorically, I am breathing it in.

This weekend we visited Beomousa Temple and hiked Geumjeong Mountain. Standing proud at the base of the mountain, Beomousa is renown for its intricate craftsmanship and vibrant colouring. Onlookers cannot help but succumb to the calm that percolates through the historical building, a feeling reinforced by the surrounding Buddhist sculptures.
We began our hike through a winding bamboo forest. The path, decorated with remnants of climbers before us, narrowed as we made our final push for the summit. Naturally, I forgot my epi pen and inhaler at home so in addition to the massive lactic acid build up in my legs, I was trying my very best to avoid the obvious…After an hour or so we broke through the tree line revealing the most incredible panoramic view of Busan and the rolling hills that envelope it.  The three of us sprawled on the warm rock face soaking in the view and chatting about how wonderful an experience it is to live and work abroad. Before making our descent, I took a conscious deep breath in. Reinvigorated and full of positive energy, I could not help but feel so lucky. With a smile ear to ear, I made my way back to civilization.
our pocket full of sunshine

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


...what have I found?
Many, many things.

1) You have not 'raged' until you have descended 6 floors sub street level and experienced a packed club, neon lights and the aggressive, unrelenting pound of the base. 
Cocoon @ Hongdae
2) Karaoke is underrated and never over done.
3) Always opt for a Turkish kebab at 5:00am versus a McDeal. 
4) Pain is beauty. Or is it beauty is pain...?
6 hours in a stacked Oxford pump?
5) Good food, company and conversation will forever be a winning combination. 
man candy at our bon voyage dinner
6) Seize the day, regardless of the time, place and weather.
7) Remember your roots. Peace and perseverance.
Korean War Memorial
8) Size does matter. 
and size 10 sucks
9) Always pack more than one map.
10) Travelling is simply the best education.

Inspired by Chousuk Seoul 2010.

Monday, September 27, 2010

a classroom comparison

To date the majority of my posts have showcased the differences between East and West, however, I have yet to highlight how classroom life varies in Busan from my own educational experience in Toronto. The most notable are:

1) Washrooms. Staff and students alike share these facilities. It would be an exaggeration even to say that stalls are divided by sex. On more than one occasion I've been forced to engage in conversation with one of my students mid #1 or #2 - fortunately a plywood door separated toilet and urinal. What is more, there is only one western style toilet in the entire building. In the event that it is occupied, I am shit out of luck (ha), and face 2 options a) hold it and refrain from subsequent water intake or b) straddle a porcelain hole ('squatter') in the ground. Tell me how squatting is possible wearing jeans/spandex/stockings without getting completely naked?

2) Bells. The all too familiar chime that beckoned us in from recess as kids, ushered us to move onto our next class in high school or symbolized freedom at 3:30pm does not exist in Korea. Instead, classical music fills the halls at Seongnam Elementary (and from what I've gathered everywhere else too) every 45 minutes. I am sure there is some academic rationale behind this, but one would think that replaying the same several bars would do very little for one neurological stimulation? For me, I just want to put my head phones on and block it out...

3) Lunch. I have accepted that rice and kim chi are a meal time staple, however the day that the ever changing mystery meat finds its way onto my plate...deport me. Perhaps its the claustrophobic atmosphere of the cafeteria, or the fact that I have to sit beside children that I know have not washed their hands. If you are looking for a quick fix and rapid weight loss, move to Korea in the Summer.

concrete beach - UWO
4) Curb appeal. Busan feels like what I imagined living in an Asian city would be: congested, cramped, chaotic and culturally alive. After a year here, I know I will walk away with an authentic experience. Nonetheless, despite the vibrancy of a lot of architecture in Busan, schools are quite simplistic and blend into the grey Pacific horizon. These characteristics pose a sharp contrast to what I know back home. What attracted me to Branksome and Western was the fact that you could feel the history in the beautifully preserved campus buildings and manicured green landscape. I suppose if the latter is all you know, then you don't know what you are missing...the outside the classroom richness. Sad really.

Jeongju University

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

such great heights

Well, as per usual this week brought many new discoveries:

1) I have a roof!...Seems rather obvious, I know, I just assumed that to gain enterance to this fabulous space I would have to be a VIP i.e. the landlord. False. Saturday night me and a group of friends chilled with the sparkling Busan horizion as our back drop before heading to Vinyl Underground where we listened live reggae and indie music.
2) Korean barbeque is growing on me. A friend came to visit from Gwangju and took the girls and I out for a traditional Korean bbq dinner. I was a little shocked to learn that we would be cooking our meal at our table. Naturally I left it to the professionals a.k.a the friend who has 6 months more experience in Korea than I do and just rolled with it. I must live by the mindset that when in Korea I 'do as the Koreans do'
3) My landlord, Mr. So. is simply the best. Despite the fact that he sports the same shirt everyday this man is a complete gem. In addition to his regular building duties, he is also an accomplished hair dresser. One night when Kym and I were getting organized to go out, he stopped by and noticed that I was straigtening my bangs. Before I could resist he had thrown his things on the bed and took charge of the styling. The man did a 5 star job. Who knew?

Monday, September 6, 2010

you never stop learning

Well after moving into what (I hope) will be my permanent apartment I have been able to properly unwind and get settled. #504 is starting to feel like home and just needs a few more personal touches.

We did this weekend in style. Spent the Saturday on the beach, a little slice of heaven. Tucked between rolling, lush mountains, Tanya, Kym and I met up with some new friends and spent some much needed time relaxing. The designated beach season is over at the end of August so we essentially had the white sand all to ourselves - huge plus. That said, a few families ventured out and the kids were too cute for words fighting over the yellow inner tubes. Dancing was on the agenda for Saturday night and we went hard. We rendezvoused with our fellow EPIK teachers at Keno-Eye in the Kyungsung Dea University district and had a blast. Right behind the DJ booth there was a chalk board - you created the play list, genius!
Rolled out of bed Sunday and forced myself to make the much needed trip to excursion I swear took at least one year off my life. Lesson: do not go to big box stores on the weekend. Ever. After 2 hours trying to navigate through the overflowing aisles, Tanya and I proudly sauntered up to the cash desk only to discover you cannot use a regular Visa, only your Costco credit or cash. Steam was pouring out my ears - this would have been helpful to know before we started our shop. In the end we were able to access our Canadian accounts and all was fine, and I able to take my $30.00 brick of Parmesan cheese home with me. SCORE.

Now, I am at school midway through working week 2 and I am starting to find my footing. I am in limbo somewhere between culture shock and the honeymoon phase of this journey. Living in a foreign country, in a city where I am a visible minority as brought a whole new meaning to the sentiment 'take each day for what it is.' I am constantly learning and acquiring tricks to make things easier and find great solice in little personal victories (i.e. successfully reloading my subway card - alone!).

Cheers to new beginnings and ongoing education.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


After a short lived courtship, I will be parting ways tomorrow and leaving the roach motel, or as it was so affectionately labelled, the shoebox. I have seen my new place and I am hopeful it will house nothing but good memories.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"You have legs for days teacher"

I landed in Korea 2 weeks ago. Upon our arrival we moved into Jeong Ju University for a 10 orientation program before moving onto our specific placements. I made it through the lectures, extreme heat and I am now starting to settle in in Busan...despite some hiccups along the way. I am teaching English at Seongnam Elementry School in the Namgu Busan region - it has a beautiful ocean view. When I walked into my classroom for the first time the kids stood up and just yelled "foreigner foreigner" which, I suppose I am. My principal’s first impression of me was that I have long legs and blue eyes, an anomaly over here. Anyway, tomorrow I will be leading a lesson on me, where I am from, my family and hobbies. Stay tuned!