Goodbye Korea

26 Feb

So this is it!  This is my last post from Korea. What an amazingly hectic journey it has been!  Wow!  Throughout my blog there has been major ups and downs, funny moments and sad ones.  My year in Korea as a Native English teacher at a middle school has been many things, put all together it was stupendously f’in amazing!  Korea you taught me so much about life, about people and about myself.  As I am writing this my heart is overcome with emotion because for a year this has been my home.  My friends became my family.  That’s whats making it so hard to leave this place.  The relationships that we built in trying to decipher this crazy place are ones that are not easily lost!  To my Epiker friends, you guys made my experience truly memorable. 

Korea you will be missed. 

Goodbye!

So for one last time, Cheers from Kimchiland!

3 days left . . .

23 Feb

Wow!  I can’t believe that this is my final week in Korea!  What a blast it has been!  Tomorrow is my last day at my school en then on Saturday is goodbye Korea.  This past week I have had and still get many panic attacks about packing everything and seeing everyone!  It’s hectic!  But amidst all this craziness I still had time to reflect.  Coming to Korea was something that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time and I am still amazed at how quickly the time has flown by!  Korea is the third country I have lived in and by far the most challenging.  But all in all it was a fantastic year.

I was placed at a, how would the Koreans put it, ‘notorious’ school in a very poor area.  My area and middle school has been referred to as the Harlem of Daegu.  So yes teaching at one of the worst schools in Daegu was, let my put it this way, challenging.  I wanted to give up.  I wanted to pack my bags and go home.  But I didn’t.  I stuck through.  And that to me is a great accomplishment! Yes you might think how hard can it be to teach English to some of the most intelligent people on the planet, and in one of the best education systems in the world.  Well, I experienced another side that spectrum.  The majority of my students will not go to High school.  My school has one of the lowest academic ratings in the whole city and the kids’ behaviors attest to that!  My year started off pretty bad with the whole apartment saga, and then one of the students threatened another teacher with a knife.  Not the best introduction i’d say! I mention these things because I’m giving myself a pat on the shoulder.  Well done, you did great!  And I did.  I was a great teacher and the kids (well most of them) really loved me.  It was tough, really tough, but I made it through and now I am a stronger person.  I grew so much this year and that my friends, as MasterCard would say, is priceless.  I learned so much about myself and what I can accomplish.  I managed to live in a country where I don’t speak the language, am not to fond of the local cuisine and had my issues with the whole culture shock.  But I managed, no in fact I flourished.  Even so that I started to get really fond of Korea!  Not that I would want to live here permanently but Korea definitely has it’s up sides!  And there are so many things that I will miss dearly!

To my co-teacher I would like to say thank you.  She stuck by me and was always there when I needed her.  To all my new and amazing friends, damn, I’m gonna miss each and everyone of you so much.  It’s amazing how close you can get to someone when you are all experiencing the exact same thing.  If not for all my Epiker friends I would not have made it through this year!  And then to my school I would like to say, so long suckers!!!!!!!!!!  I will definitely be doing cartwheels in my heart tomorrow when I leave the Faksan behind!  But I will  wipe a hypothetical tear (i’m not much of a crier) when I board that Singapore Airlines flight on Saturday!

Korea, even with our love hate relationship I will never forget you or what I have learned this year.  It has truly been one of the greatest years of my life and I will cherish this experience forever.  To my fellow Epikers who decided to stay behind, good luck and enjoy every minute.  Before you know it your time here in Kimchiland will be over!  To the other Epikers returning to their ‘normal’ lives, the best of luck to you and I wish you all great success (Borat voice) upon all your future endeavours.

Korea, you made me laugh, you made me cry, you me scream and you made me jump!  I will never forget you!

Kimchi, to you I want to say, you can suck it!  I never want to see, smell or taste your ugly face ever again!

Cheers from Kimchiland!  It’s been good, real good!

Dokdo is Ours!!!

17 Feb

217 km of the east coast of Korea there are these two small islands, more like two big rocks.  At first glance these rocks might seem insignificant even unimposing!  But these two volcanic rock formations are far more impressive than you could ever imagine.  Without any real value these rocks can easily be a symbol and representation of the Korean culture.  The Koreans call these rocks Dokdo and claim it as theirs.  The Japanese call them Takashima and also claims the sovereignty of the rocks.  The rest of the world calls these two rocks the Laincourt Rocks and really can’t be bothered who they belong to.

There is an ongoing dispute (among many others) between South Korea and Japan over the sovereignty of the rocks.  Although for all practical reasons the rocks belong to South Korea as they have 2 Koreans who permanently live on the islands.  Also there is a rotation of about 40 people (police officers, light house operators and other random folks) who lives on the islands.  South Korea has set up 2 cell phone towers, a helicopter pad and a giant South Korean flag that can be seen from the sky!  So the island belongs to Korea, get over it.  But Japan does not want to retract their claims of the rocks and that infuriates Koreans even more.  I completely get this because Korea has a lot of anger in them for all the wrongdoings by the Japanese in the past.  Koreans really suffered under Japanese colonialism, so much so that it was forbidden to speak Korean on the streets.  So I completely get their frustration when Japan continues to claim soemthing (even if it is a pair insiginificant rocks in the middle of the ocean).  But instead of just accepting the fact that Dokdo belongs to Korea in their hearts and move on, Koreans get very obnoxious and heated up whenever the topic is raised.  Like I wrote in a earlier post, one of my students actually threw me with her pen after I joked about Dokdo belonging to Japan.  Pictures of Dokdo is everywhere.  If you are in Korea and you read this, start looking out for these idyllic rocks.  On cars and buses bumper stickers that read (in English) Dokdo is ours, Giant stickers on restaurant windows, giant framed pictures in the subway stations.  Dokdo is everywhere.  Almost like in a dictatorship where the face of the leader is absolutely everywhere.  In fact Dokdo dictates so much of Korean thinking.  They get so passionate about something so ridiculous.  They get offended so easily by these rocks that they turn to violence.  They lose all rational thinking capabilities when Dokdo is mentioned.  It’s frightening.

During my vacation in Malaysia I met the nicest Korean couple.  They are both from Seoul and work as tour guides (the guy is actually a Korean tour guide in Malaysia).  And as the conversation jumped from one thing to another it quickly ended up at Dokdo.  The girl soon told me that it is my task and responsibility to tell everyone I meet that Dokdo belongs to Korea.  Because people need to know this.  I didn’t know what to say.  So I just smiled and changed the topic.  But that’s how they think.  They think if the whole world agrees with them that these two useless rocks belongs to them and not Japan that it will make any difference.  I’m sure the starving children in Sudan and the political prisoners in Iran are really concerned about this.  The Koreans are so high on Dokdo juice, there are even ‘dokdo riders’.  People going around the world spreading the Dokdo message.  Yes Dokso is pivotal to our existence.

I read on Wikipedia that when Japan announced that one or other day will be known as Takashima day Koreans went nuts.  They protested in front of the japanese embassy.  They decapitated pheasants, one man lit himself on fire and a woman actually cut off her fingers.  This all for two volcanic rocks in the middle of the ocean.  To make matters worse, these people have probably never even been to Dokdo because it is ridiculously expensive to go there!  Another thing that can be seen during these protests are Koreans eating the Japanese flag.  In Korea it is illegal to burn a country’s flag, so here they eat the flags to show their disrespect.


But Dokdo is Korea and Korea is Dokdo.  Everything that those two rocks symbolizes is a perfect representation of the Korean way of thinking and their culture.  They have a very troubled history and it is a continuous fight to leave their mark!

Dokdo belongs to Korea!

Cheers from Dokdoland!

It’s been a year

17 Feb

Today, exactly one year ago I boarded a plane for Korea.  I can vividly remember everything that went through my mind as I said my goodbyes and drove to the airport!  How I took everything in that 15 minute drive because I knew it will be a while before I see my beautiful country again! Okay okay the drive to the airport is not very scenic but still.  We went to the airport something like 4 or 5 hours before our flight because the sitting at home, waiting to leave would’ve made me crazy.  So like pulling of a band-aid I said my goodbyes and just left.

Now it’s one year later, and I must admit that I had the most amazing year of my life!  It has been a non stop adventure, and even though things got a little monotonous towards the end I will never forget this experience!  Today I packed my boxes so that they can be shipped home.  It finally sunk in that I will be leaving Korea in very soon.  What makes this even more daunting is that I have absolute no plan for the future!  But now I am taking it one day at a time and will make the most of my last remaining days here in Kimchiland!

Cheers from Kimchiland (for now)

I grew up in the 90’s

16 Feb

I am bored!  I am not complaining that I am bored, I’m just merely mentioning.  It’s that time of year again when all the kids and teachers are on vacation.  But because I am a contract worker for the Korean government I get to deskwarm!  In order not to loose my mind am keeping myself busy.

I got an email with the title “you know you grew up in the 90’s if …” and I immediately thought it is one of those annoying emails where you had to send it to 15 people and then you will go to heaven or something.  But as I read the email I felt very nostalgic about my childhood, and it reminded me of a world that does not exist anymore.  Yes I’m a tad melodramatic and even thought the 90.s only ended 10 years ago, so much has changed!

So I will highlight some of my favorite parts of the email and what it was like growing up in the 90’s!

YOU KNOW YOU GREW UP IN THE 90’S IF:

You remember collecting Tazo’s

I sure can.  During break time at primary school we went nuts with these.  You only got one in a packet of chips and I knew there are some kids that had like hundred!  I was in awe of them!

You remember watching Kiddeo, Pumpkin Patch and Zet.

Kideo

 

 

You remember 95 Rugby World cup slammers

 

You remember when it was actually worth getting up early on a Saturday to watch cartoons

In the days before cartoon network came to our shores we only had M-net.  And KTV’s saturday morning cartoons were the best!

You remember reading Goosebumps!

Sure do, I think I read all of them!

 

If you ever got a Zoo Biscuit in your lunch box!

Not only Zoo Biscuits but also bite size super C’s or Melrose cheese!

If you listened to the radio all day long just to record your favorite song:

We are definitely the last generation to use these!  I can remember a time before mp3’s and Cd’s took over.  I still had an original Walkman!

If you ever watched Full House or The Dinosaurs TV show:

 

You knew that Kimberley, the pink power ranger, and Tommy, the green power ranger, were meant to be together.

 

my favorite was always Jason the red one!

You remember holy moleys

If you haven’t always had a computer, and it was cool to have internet.  Windows 95 was the best:

 

We only got a computer in 96 and maybe internet only after the millennium turned!

 

Sesame street was actually Sesame street and not Takalani Sesame:

I don’t think I have ever watched Takelani, but i sure kan remember Sesamie!

If you know all Roxette songs!

If you collected trolls:

I don’t know if I collected them but I know my sisters and I had a few of them!

 

You know the Macarena:

Still do!

If you ever danced to Sexy Eyes:

This was one of the biggest songs in South Africa.  Every single teenager knew the word and whenever it came up spontaneously burst into dancing!  Brings back great memories especially the awkward school dances!

Growing up in the 90’s was super awesome and even though I would have preferred to have grown up in the 80’s, the 90’s in my eyes can be seen as the last simple generation.  We grew up without Facebook and internet and even cellphones.  TV was just becoming main stream in South Africa.  We still had a normal childhood!  Those were the days!

Cheers from Kimchiland!

Shanghai days and Shanghai night(mares)!

16 Feb
Shanghai is the most populous city proper in t...

Image via Wikipedia

So the Chinese celebrate their own new year.  It’s based on the lunar calendar.  Korea also celebrates this Lunar new year, and that meant that I had three days off just after my winter vacation.  Now being so close to China I thought it would be excellent to ring in the Chinese new year in China.  I booked my ticket and went through the motions to secure a Chinese visa for the second time.  Since I already went to Beijing in September, Shanghai was next on my list.  I got my ticket for super cheap, half the price of my ticket to Beijing and the flight from Korea to Shanghai was very empty.  I had all 6 Emergence exit seats all to myself!  I arrived in Shanghai and everywhere I looked there were people.  Millions and millions of people.  But it’s to be expected of the most populous city in the most populous country in the world!  I navigated my way on the super over crowded subways to my hostel, and as I got off at East Nanjing road station I can remember my first glimpse at the Pearl tower.  I was super excited to be in this world city.  I quickly dropped by bag at the hostel and started exploring.  I walked the entire length of the Bund, went on a very boring and money wasting sightseeing tunnel ride to the other side of the river.  I explored Pudong and took in the marvel of all the skyscrapers.  As it started to get dark I made my way back to the bund and took in the famous Shanghai illuminated skyline.  But even though it was new years eve the place was very deserted.  Where are the people?  Where are the tourists?  I went back to the hostel to try and find out if there will be any celebrations or parades for the new.  Apparently not.  Families get together and shoot fireworks, but it’s all done at home.  So coming to Shanghai for Chinese new year was not going to be what I imagined it to be.  At around 11:45 pm I strolled back to the bund and waited for the new year to announce itself.  There were fireworks everywhere and more people arrived.  But midnight came and went without a spectacular fireworks display.  Yes there were many fireworks but more random than anything else.  That was also my cue to head indoors as the crazy fireworks being lit up in the streets was a definite safety hazard.

The next day all of China embarked on the main sights of Shanghai and being squashed was basically the theme for the remainder of my time in Shanghai.  Being Chinese new year many establishments were closed thus making things a lot less interesting.  An itinerary that was supposed to keep me busy for two days could not even keep me occupied for one whole day.  I’ve seen all major Shanghai sights in my first day and a half and I had two more days to kill.  That;s when I realised that Shanghai over Chinese new year and 4 days there was not the best decision.  But I tried to make the most of it and got really creative with my sightseeing.  In the end the crowds triumphed over me and I decided to just get coffee and read my book for a whole afternoon! The rest of my time in Shanghai was very low-key.

 

 

Shanghai did not leave a great impression on me but I don;t think it’s the city, it’s just the timing of my visit.  Although I must admit that the Shanghainese are some of the rudest people I have ever come across.  This is in complete contrast with the folks from Beijing!  I also found that the Shanghainese to be somewhat on the gross side.  Spitting and puking more than average, kids urinating ON the sidewalks and so on! They are also very short!  I read that in the guidebook that the Shanghainese are very short, but they are all really tiny!  It got super angry when a very short guy, probably 19 or so, tried to pick pocket me.  Now I am very street smart when I travel and know where to carry what.  But on a quiet street on my way back to my hostel I decided to put my ipod in.  Waiting at a crossing with about for other people I suddenly felt a hand reach into my coat’s pocket.  I casually look to my side and saw that this little Shanghai midget is trying to grab my ipod.  Not only did I feel his hand in my pocket but also the bloody thing is connected to my ears.  I grab his arm and shove him very hard backwards.  I shout at him and curse him only to be looked at as if I am the jerk!  What an idiot.  If someone is twice your size in width and in height do not attempt to pick pocket him and fail.  You will come second my friend!  So when I think of Shanghai I think of that idiot!!!

 

All in all I would not want to go back to Shanghai!

Cheers from Kimchiland!

Danger: Mines – Land mines in Cambodia

10 Feb

On our way from one temple to another our Tuk-Tuk driver casually asks if we’d be interested to visit the Cambodian Land mine museum.  Seeing that we needed a break from temples anyhow we said yes.  Very nonchalantly we strolled into the museum taking pictures of the workers/volunteers cleaning and rearranging the land mine display in the courtyard.

I started reading all the descriptions under the pictures on the wall and sadness struck my core.  Asian history is rarely covered in our curriculum so all I knew about the Vietnam war was that America fought Vietnam because there were communists and they didn’t like it.  I didn’t even think about the fact that the Vietnam war had a large effect on Cambodia.  Together with the many civil and regional wars, Cambodia is in fact a war torn country.  Something I did not know.  Apart from different political groups in Cambodia raging war against each other, The US, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan all played a part in tearing Cambodia up.

It’s shattering to realize that around 35 people are killed a month, every month, due to the aftermath of all Cambodia’s wars.  I read on wikipedia that one out of every 275 people have lost a limb.  That is shocking.  In the museum I read that  there are well over 3 million undetonated land mines in Cambodia.  These mines are everywhere – in the countryside, in villages, in the jungles.  All Cambodian guidebooks actually warn you that you should be very careful whenever you travel off the beaten track.

Here is the website of the Cambodia Land Mine Museum

watch?v=MqfywtjBjIM

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