Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 6 & 7: Badger Blogging Blitz

[Badger Blogging Blitz (BBB) 2014: Ashley ...meanwhile in Korea...Vicky Outside the PyxisMaggie The Traveling FlamingoDrew The Hungry PartierRebecca Rebe with a Clause]

Today is Sunday, March 30th. The weather today is sunny with a high of 68, low of 45 degrees fahrenheit. Saturday's weather was rainy, drizzling on and off all day in Seoul (high of 63, low of 48).

Saturday Daily Recap
Get in my belly, weekend. Dentist appointment in Seoul and first meal at Lotteria, Korea's version of McDonald's in case you don't want to go McDonald's. Shopping, soju, beer, and Vietnamese food with Anne and Rebecca on the "Avenue of Youth" in the Jonggak area; it was SO good to hang out with them.

7:13AM: I give up trying to sleep in until 8:00, when my alarm is set for. What can I say, my body is finely-tuned machine with the internal clock of a punctual polar bear. I listen to NPR's hourly newscast in bed and then I don't even know what -- pretty soon it's already 8:30 and I quickly shower, make coffee, take my calcium supplement, and race out the door to catch the Dongbu Express bus to Seoul for my dentist appointment.


9:00AM: Walk to the Icheon Bus Terminal. It's about a 25 minute walk when I lolligag. The city is barely awake; only a few early birds are dressed and outside. There is a main "pedestrian" walking-shopping street in Icheon that is similar to State Street in Madison that leads straight to the Terminal. Coined "Walking Street" by the foreigners, it is a highway of traffic on market days and evenings when there are business "meetings" (drunk drunk drunk) and people are out eating dinner and shopping. Scooters and cars have the right of way in Korea, including on any sidewalk - as long as they can squeeze their vehicles through or onto, it's a legitimate road/parking space.

9:25AM: I make my way through the main part of the the Terminal, back to the Dongbu Express Bus ticket box. I have the iKobus app on my iPhone that lets me reserve a ticket in advance, which is necessary because the seats to Seoul fill up quickly. There's an electric clock by the ticket window that shows the time of the next available bus to Seoul. This morning is not bad -- 9:45AM is the next one. The app is in Korean and I enjoy being able to use my Hangul reading skills but once you learn all the city numbers, it's pretty painless. Here is a tutorial about how to book an express bus online that is a bit out of date but has the components that make it possible. The busing system is convenient but also very confusing with different types of buses and routes. The first time I used this service was a shot in the dark really -- I had no idea where I was going to end up, but that's what one has to do in a foreign country. Trust my gut and know I would probably end up at another bus terminal, if worst case scenario I end up in a different city (it all worked out). I walk up to the ticket window, greet possibly one of the friendliest transportation workers in Korea and say, "I have a reservation." ^^ She says, "Thank you," and hands me my ticket.

9:30-10:30AM: On the dot, the bus pulls out of the terminal. That's one thing I can rely on in Korea - the buses leaving on time. The gentleman sitting next to me reads every single page in his newspaper on the hour-long bus ride to Seoul. It was nice to see that. The frantic whistle-blowing by the Korean glovesy alerts me to the arrival at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul.
10:30-11:30AM: I pick up my ticket home (last bus to Icheon 22:30) and subway it to Jonggak Station for my appointment. The Express Bus Terminal is bustling already, though all the shops are just opening up - workers setting up displays and pulling out racks of clothes from their "stations." I refill my good-for-everything transportation card, or T-money, in one of the "refill your transportation card" machines. Typical subway ride with Korean dramas playing on smart phones.

11:30AM-1:15PM: Dentist appointment; temporary caps off, drilling, and temporary bridge put in. I did some research to find an English-speaking dentist in Korea, because one of my fillings broke off at the height of my "Korea is destroying my teeth" phase, and I wanted to learn about my options as far as getting some major dental work done. I was in the process of getting bridges put in back in States (for the gaps left by having no permanent teeth) before I came to Korea, and holy cow, without insurance, it's affordable for me, a teacher, to pay for this work out of pocket. Boston Park Dental has a great English-speaking staff that has been excellent about telling me what they're going to be doing (in Korea, it's customary for the dentist to do the work they see fit without consulting the patient, so I read) and they have a nice facility. From a lifetime of being in the dentist chair (trips to the dentist as a kid were so much a part of my life that I named one of my stuffed animals after my dentist, Dr. Gardner), I notice small things like the stains on the ceiling or the peeling upholstery at the bottom of chair because there's no plastic covering, but that's just me being uber critical. The care and equipment is completely modern and right on with my experiences in the States. The one practice that  has differentiated the Korean dentist from American -- when they work on my teeth, they drape a small blanket over my face with a hole cut out for my mouth. It's kind of nice, kind of strange; it definitely contributed to me falling asleep during my root canals last weekend. 

*If you are reading this blog from Korea and are interested in reading more about dentists in Korea: this waygook thread was how I found Boston Park Dental and this dentist came recommended by a teacher in my city. To get to Boston Park Dental: take subway line 1 (dark blue) to Jonggak Station, Exit 10. Walk straight for about a block and turn right at the Misshu store (or onto the "Avenue of Youth"). Boston Park Dental is located at the end of the avenue, on the right side, on the 7th floor of the building with the KB bank on the first floor. Feel free to contact me about prices and though each case is different, the first consultation appointment that included a standard teeth cleaning, mandatory x-ray, and a desensitizing teeth treatment cost me 45,000 won or roughly 45.00 USD.

1:15-2:30PM: As I have an hour or so before I meet up with Rebecca and Anne,  I decide that it's far time for me to try Lotteria fast food. I resent the assessment of Lotteria as having "the shittiest food"  by the group of foreigner teachers in Icheon now that I've eaten it. Maybe they are the shitty ones because my meal is GLORIOUS. Oh, Lotz burger with your ketchup, mayo, tasteless tomato, pre made beef patty, and sweetened bun. Oh, french fries that have been fried in animal fat. Oh, soda that I drink without a straw because I can't find the straw dispenser. I love you. Anne and Rebecca are running late so I read some more of the BBB posts I've missed this week. The perfect dessert.

2:30-9:30PM: We meet just outside the Lotteria, Exit 10 of the Jonggak Station, and explore the "Avenue of Youth," talking, shopping, eating, and most importantly, taking shots of soju. It is such a great time -- so many laughs because we are witty and hilarious. There are toothbrush and tongue cleaner purchases made left and right (by me mwahaha) and we all make stationary-esque buys at Artbox, the place of all things good. Pho Mein, a chain Vietnamese restaurant for food, waffles and brownies with cheesecake gelato for dessert, and the random bar I get nose-goes into choosing, which happens to be the only bar in Korea that doesn't have soju. It's called the Wa Bar, a Western world bar. Hmmmm. It is a fantastic Saturday.

9:30-11:30PM: Transport home to Icheon-si. It's the first time I don't get confused and lost back-tracking to the actual Express Bus Bus Terminal. The subway station is also named Express Bus Terminal and with everything being closed or just opening when I arrive in Seoul and everything being open and crazy when I'm leaving Seoul and with signs for multiple Express Bus Terminals, it's a miracle. I joke with a friend that one day we'll come to Seoul just to hang out at the Express Bus Terminal. It's part of a larger underground shopping mall that has full-blown restaurant options, hundreds of small shops, and a larger mall area with a fountain I accidentally wandered into one time. It's a city.

Sunday Daily Recap
I sleep in and am reading in my bed when I get a text from my Dad and youngest brother being silly at home. I end up texting with my brother for a good hour or so, talking about school and joking around. It's a lot of fun -- the first time I've done any texting or anything like that with him. He tells me to act like it was my idea to facetime, which gives me a chance to see him in person. He's really growing up ahhh!! Our parents join us and it's a good morning chat.

I'll probably do some grocery shopping later this afternoon and go for a light jog in Seolbong Park once the sun starts setting. Low-key Sunday, just the way I like it. One of perks of living in Korea is being able to putz around my own apartment, which you can see a video tour of below. 

Congratulations to my fellow Korea Badger bloggers for all the posts this week! It was a ton of work, but I say we've created a thoughtful look at Korea and teaching in Korea through our stories and daily insights. As always, it's a great day to be a Badger.

P.S. - Final Four :D 

Daily Questions:

1. Do you always try all the foods offered? Have you made an effort to try a variety of new foods or do you tend to stick to the things you've found and like?

Food has been really good to me in Korea. It's so fresh and so healthy -- we were talking yesterday about school lunches and how incredible it is, the quality. Anne was saying that they had duck the other day at her middle school, which would be hard pressed to find in the U.S. And would the kids eat it? If you walk into a grocery, most of that grocery store will be fresh produce, another observation Anne pointed out. There is junk food in Korea, but it doesn't have as dominant a place as it does back home. So yes, I eat as much Korean food as I am offered.

Staple foods have a reputation for being family recipes; so, even my favorite foods, like kimchi, not only come in many different varieties (cabbage, white radish, and cucumber), but also are particular by family, and one batch is never the same. There is kimchi-making season when my then co-teacher got together with her mother and her husband's mother and her brother's wife to make a year supply of kimchi. Over three hundred cabbages they chopped up that weekend. Kimchi flavor also depends on the crop and how long it's kept fermenting... Even should I choose just one Korean food to live by, there are so many factors that add enough variety that I think would keep me satisfied. Of course, I do have my favorite food stands and my favorite mandu place.

Being in Korea is an effort to try new foods. Even familiar foods like pizza have Korean flair -- unless it's a piece of fruit, there's not a whole of "home tastes" available, or it's going to take an expedition to find. I'm not the type of person to go out to seek a "new and exciting food" but if I see something intriguing or something I've read about, I'll eat it. Eating out with my co-workers has been my main source of exposure to new foods, along with school lunches (which still serve foods I've never seen before six months in!). I am very thankful for that, and I get a much more educated sense about what the food is and how to eat it.

I haven't had a whole lot of things I didn't care for. There are days where the rice cakes get to be a bit much. They are so dense and thick and chewy. My co-workers eat them like they're saltines. I just get full and tired of chewing. At the ceramics festival, we ate sundae (순대), which is either congealed beef's blood or pig intestine mixed with rice noodles and vegetables packaged into a sausage. They had ordered kimchi pajeon, or kimchi pancakes, which were fantastic but I was craving some meat. My stomach grumbled when I saw the plate of "sausage." I ate probably a good half a dozen of the sausage-shaped pieces, which were satisfying my protein craving but in an odd way. I later discovered what I had been eating, reading a list of top Korean foods to try. Ah, that's why it wasn't quite hitting the mark for me. I'm not a huge fan of the internal organs or congealed body liquids but I guess I stomach them fine. 

2. What plans do you have when the yearlong contract is up? Will you renew? Why or why not?

I will not be renewing my contract with my school, which I do say with a heavy heart. I was open to the idea of staying and teaching for two years before I came, but this Korea isn't a good fit for me. I think under different circumstances, working a different, more creative type of job, I could stay. But as much as I love my students and consider Doam Elementary to be my spirit animal (all the plants and charming windmill gardens), teaching is hard in a way that won't ever get better for me. You know, there are teachers and then there are teachers. I'm just not cut from that stone. 

The time frame my school gave me for deciding to stay another year also factored into not renewing. It was during winter break, I had only been here three months, and my first co-teacher shows up out of the blue (she was on maternity leave) and tells me I have until the end of the day to decide if I want to renew or not. It wasn't an intentional disregard for my feelings, but that lack of insight (maybe I want to talk to my family about this because maybe this is a huge life-choice) bothered me. I remember saying, "Oh. Well, can I let you know by tomorrow?" And my co-teacher said, "Yes, let me know by the end of the day." 

It's small things like that, that Korea doesn't grasp onto because the system is so based on obligation rather than discussion. It's irrelevant for them to think about me, as an individual. I found out about Doji Elementary a few weeks later, which really hit the point home. Had I renewed, it would have been based on my experiences up to that point which is in no way an indication of what my second year could look like. I don't like that mix -- complete lack of control with contracted time. 

I also need more freedom. The timing worked really well for coming to Korea, and I was happy to sign the contract and dedicate myself to a year of teaching. After this, no more contracts. Living in Korea has given me the time I needed to think, and now I'm ready to take a stab at my creative inclinations -- moving to California or down south to get a film production job was the original plan. I really have discovered that I like writing. I've been reading Rebe's blog about freelance opportunities in writing and about all the online work she's been completing to make her own creative goals possible. I am an artist. I need to work with my hands and make things. I've looked to the companies whose work I admire -- NPR, Portenzo, Patagonia, Pixar, Buzzfeed, Disney Animation, Tremendous! Entertainment... It's a long road. But here, I'm making it known. I want to write. I want to make books. I want to edit films. I want to draw. I want travel more. I want to live and work in a new place. 

Fabrics of My Day

Badger Blogging Blitz (BBB) 2014:
Ashley Wendorf: ...meanwhile in Korea...
Vicky Lee: Outside the Pyxis
Maggie FlamingoThe Traveling Flamingo


  1. I love your comment about the shower in your apartment tour! "It only takes about a day for everything to dry" haha That was one thing I was surprised by when I went to Korea. The fact that there were no doors or anything and it was just a stall. Still gets the job done. :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Britt! It's something to get used to for sure. I think that's one of the major distinctions between cultures -- the bathroom experience. It's been for the places I've traveled to so far at least lol. Love hearing from you

  2. - I never knew it was called nose-goes! haha I really like your apartment video! I might make one too now.
    - Oh yeah - rice cakes are way too dense for me! When we get 4 at lunch I cannot believe how fast some of the teachers eat them. I can't even put a whole one in my mouth at once - way too much to chew. And chew. And chew.
    - My last co-teacher asked me sometime in December if I thought I'd be staying, because she had to submit the next year's budget that day. She said it was okay if I changed my mind. So I said no that day, and no one's asked me again since!
    - I'm so excited to see what you'll do after this year. You have so much talent -- just keep creating! You can do all of the things you want to do, continue heading down that road. I haven't really started any online work YET, but yes, there's a lot out there. ^^

    1. That does make sense about the budget and everything -- it's like renting an apartment in Madison (SO early). I'm not sure if that was the case at Doam, but I wouldn't trust the translation of "you can change your mind," at least at my school. Even though things are constantly changing, they take everything I say so literally, which is good. I like that they pay attention to what I say, but because of the language barrier and the multiple people any information has to go through -- I've put my foot in my mouth a few times. And you, too -- I'm excited to see what the next year brings. I'm counting on you blogging about it :)

  3. I've enjoyed reading your posts! (better late than never~) Your apartment looks nice and cozy. I love the laundry song! It makes me feel way more accomplished than I have any right to feel for simply doing laundry. You're a great writer, so I look forward to seeing whatever it is you choose to create. When it's time for us to all go back, we'll have to have one last big night out in Seoul.

    1. Thank you, Ashley -- the writing compliment means a lot coming from you; you are a fantastic writer. I'm sorry I didn't comment on any of your posts but pretty much agreed, Brian is a huge dick ^^ And I wash my laundry every week just for that song -- it's my weekly feel-good moment. I love-love your stationary blog post (and so does my dad). Lots of random tidbits, hope the week is going well!