Noel's Blog

Noel

Month 1

Stepping off my short trip of only 15 hours I felt tired, confused and nervous as I headed out into the foggy abyss to find my new school and home for a year. Upon arriving at my apartment I quickly passed out due to jet lag, only to be awoken in the morning to find out I would be starting my first day.

Aimlessly walking into the direction I was told my school was located I happened to miraculously step into the correct building and even more surprisingly the correct floor and suite. As I stood in the doorway of the English Academy called Sang Seung I had a small welcoming party waiting. I was soon led into what would be my own classroom, even equipped with a name tag on the door reading NOEL. The classroom is no bigger than a standard sized garage, but perfect. Big enough to teach 12 students at a time, but I find that I rarely have that many students and even have one class of only 2.

Throughout the day I have 5 classes that are 50 minutes apiece, the first class being the most basic or beginner and ending the day with the more advanced students. You would assume (or at least I did) that Asian children are well disciplined and eager to learn. Not the case. They are…kids;rowdy, noisy and easily distracted. Even with the scary, intimidating, ahem…authoritative figure I exude these kids don’t care. The only thing that shapes these kids into place is the fact that at the end of the class I get to mark in their daily book how their behavior was. Oh what’s that Johnny, you're mom and dad won't be happy that you got marked as average today? Well maybe the next time you're in class you won't hit little Judy pretending she's a video game character, have a great day.

With one week under my belt I feel like I have caught on pretty fast. I look forward to seeing progress in my teaching skills and in the children’s comprehension. As for my comprehension with the Korean language…well now that’s much to be desired.

My Apartment

One year, a sufficient amount of time. The anticipation of seeing my humble abode was high. Hopeful that I was going to enjoy coming home to my apartment I met with the school representative named Mr. Woo (pronounced ewe). His news was a bit heart wrenching. In broken English, he explained to me that my apartment was close to the school, (score) and I would be sharing it with 3 other teachers…say what? I was told that I would have my own apartment. My own apartment that happened to be very excited about. At that point I had to give myself a pep talk. Okay Noel, now is not the time to freak out. Put on a smile and get ready for some standard small talk, nobody likes a negative Nancy.

As we entered my apartment building and neared the eleventh floor, the floor I would be living on my mind was racing; I hope I don't have to room with boys, I hope they’re not messy, man please no lame-o’s. The two of us get off the elevator and start walking towards room 1103. Mr. Woo turns on the gas…hmm that's funny, if I have roommates why wouldn't the gas already be turned on. He takes out a key to unlock the door…hmm why wouldn't he try knocking first. The door opens, its pitch black…okay so no one is home. He flips on the lights, wow this is small for four people I don't even get my own room...let alone there is only one bed...there has to be a mistake. Mr. Woo then motions me to follow him out into the hallway. He knocks on a door down the hall. An English lad laughs and proceeds to explain that there are three other English teachers that live in this building. Ahh, yes, of course that's what he meant. Mystery happily solved.

So I was home. 11th floor, room 1103, my palace. Fully equip with a queen size bed, stove, washer, cable TV, internet, A/C, plenty of storage and a bathroom. Although not very big, I have nothing to complain about. It's actually better than I had pictured. The walls are a white, plain and at this point in time a tad depressing. I hope to spruce the place up in the future when the funds are a little more giving. My neighbors are quiet and nice. For the time being I'm happy as a clam to finally be living roommate free and thus, all of my idiosyncrasies will (hopefully) go unnoticed. One con- the view is a bit of an eyesore, but that's what blinds are for...right?

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My City... SiHeung, Korea

Siheung (she-hung) is a suburb if you will of Seoul and the city I will be calling home for the next year. With a population in the mid 400,000 it's a large city in itself. But ask people from outside Siheung, even Koreans and they've never heard of the city. With no big attraction, people who are not residents rarely travel to Siheung.

I however enjoy Siheung and don’t find the NEED to travel into Seoul every weekend unlike some of the other English teachers who treat Seoul like a drug. There are plenty of hiking trails, parks, pubs, restaurants and activities going on during the weekends to keep me entertained.

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My School

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This is the outside of my school or I guess just the elementary portion. Sang Seung is on the second floor with the red banner. Every building looks like this...they really take advantage of using every inch of space for advertising.








Food

Galbi’s (Gal-bee) the name, Korean barbecue's the game. This delicious and satisfying meal is a popular weekend treat for foreigners and locals. Galbi's typically will not serve you if you're alone, so going with a group is not only fun but more cost effective.

First things first, you need to decide which kind of meat you want; pork or beef. Rookie move choosing pork, beef all the way. Next, deciding if you want the meat spicy or mild. If you know me and my take on spicy foods, then you are fully aware of the fact that I love my food spicy. Once you're ready to order you press your table bell at which point your BBQ master comes over to take your order and gets started.

You are seated at a table in which the barbecue itself is in the center, so you get to enjoy watching your meal being cooked. The BBQ master will start by bringing over what looks like a small wok, filled with blazing hot coals. While the grill is heating up you are served a plethora of side dishes, all free of charge and refilled if you eat it all. From a seafood pancake to chopped onions drenched in oil there is a lot to choose from and potentially get full from before scarfing down on the actual meal. When the meat is finished being cooked to perfection the BBQ master will then take out a pair of scissors and cut the meat into bite size squares.

Now comes the time where you assemble the meat for consuming. It's very much like a lettuce wrap. You start with a piece of leafy, green lettuce and then spoon in a bit of rice as well as a sauce (spicy, sweet, peanutty, etc.) of your choice. Next, is selecting the perfect piece of meat to be your cherry on top. And lastly, folding your concoction on up and piling it into your mouth in one full swoop and repeat. It is quite a mouthful and you most definitely look like a squirrel preparing for winter, but yummy yummy in your tummy it’s good.

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I've been very pleased with the cuisine in Korea. I have yet to have a bad meal. I haven't quite warmed up to Kimchi (spicy, fermented cabbage) but I’m trying to trick myself into liking it since it is a true Korean staple and good for you. Below is a picture of mando, a must do if in Korea. Literally served anywhere, these steamed little potstickers come filled with meat and vegetables or just vegetables. A little restaurant below my school serves 7 mando for 1,000 won, which is about $0.90. I am a frequent customer and the workers greet me with a smile and the usual order.

Noel's Korean Food











Month 2

63 Building

63 floors of pure adventure…and well lots of apartments. The 63rd Building is Korea's second tallest structure and yes, I went all the way to the top and wasn't even scared. This bustling establishment is filled with people of all ages and ethnicities seeking exhibits of all types and a picturesque view.

The first floor and basement is an aquarium filled with sea life. While many of the aquarium go-ers were looking and smiling at the exhibits, I was busy smiling at the Koreans. Man, are they funny (in a good way). Maybe it’s the way they bang on the Plexiglas demanding that the animal pays attention to them or how they take 30 pictures of themselves, their family and then possibly just the animal on its own…I just hope they have a large memory card in their camera.

Here are a few pictures I captured. The last picture is a personal favorite. It includes a swim-dancer within a shark/fish tank. I bet you can imagine the look on my face when I walked into a room full of kids and parents gawking over this performer who was so mystically swimming to Josh Groban’s, "You Lift Me Up." You couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I walked in on this little diddy...it was truly outrageous.

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After the aquarium we headed up to the top floor to overlook the large city of Seoul. The lookout would have been spectacular if it hadn’t been so foggy. Equipped with an art gallery, the top floor really had you looking at a lot of stuff.

Below are a few pictures I took, bare in mind that it was a foggy day.

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YeoSoo Trip

A sunrise hike...believe me, it sounds a lot better on paper. In actuality, waking up at 5:30am and stepping off a bus into the frigid air from a "good" night sleep has you rethinking your motives. But after the initial shock wore off and the hiking started, things started to look brighter...figuratively and literally.

This was my first weekend trip away from my city of Siheung. The group and I traveled down south to a city called Yeosoo. I was excited to be joining a self-proclaimed hiking group and to meet some new people. Put together by an avid Korean mountain man named Warren, he led the trails with a bunch of energy and a never fading smile. His fun nature was not the only thing to make us fellow hikers smile, but he would shout out random phrases that would put us in stitches. Such phrases that I can remember, "I wouldn’t miss this hike or this mountain for a cherry!" "The beautiful red flower is so cute and looks shy!" "Okay, I didn’t pee I went swimming!"

Saturday, 5:30am. Youngchisan Mountain

Youngchisan is Korea's 3rd largest mountain. Nothing to boast about, the country is moderately flat. Although it is another average looking mountain to me…some switchbacks would be nice every now and then. This very vertical mountain has you gasping for air, even when you reach the top, because the view takes your breath away (cheesy…no doubt). The only thing I have to complain about is it was a pretty foggy day so the pictures didn't turn out picture perfect. On our descent down we had the pleasure of investigating a Buddhist temple while sipping on some refreshing green tea, a pleasant end to our day of trekking.

Below are some picture of the sunrise hike and the temples-

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Saturday night ended with a BBQ and a campfire on a nearby beach where we all were to share a large rented house for sleeping. This was a great chance to wind down, let loose if you so pleased and get to know the fellow hikers better.Overall, it was a nice change of pace to get out of the city and explore the country more. I hope to have plenty of other weekend adventures where I can see a new countryside and meet new and fun people.

Seodaemun Prison

My knowledge of Korean history was and is still limited, however it has broadened slightly after visiting Seodaemun Prison.

Built in 1908, Seodaemun Prison was built by the Japanese to house patriotic Koreans who were willing to fight for their independence from Japan. At that time Korea was still a colony of Japan. With most of the original buildings still intact I got to imagine what type of living conditions these revolutionists were put through. With capacity bursting at the seams it was nothing but unsanitary and cruel. There were various rooms for torturing and interrogating, very disturbing. Seodaemun was under the Japanese rule until 1945.

Below are some pictures I captured of the prison:

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As you can see this holding cell is very small. On average 7.9 people were packed into just one cell. This made it impossible to sleep let alone sit down.



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An outside look at the prison.






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This is the South Korean Flag... Sorry I couldn't find a bigger one.






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This was the small holding house where the prisoners were sent if they needed to be quarantined due to an incurable disease. As you can imagine this was always full due to poor living conditions.





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This is the ladies quarters.






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This tunnel is located right next to the execution hall. It was made a secret exit to carry out corpses to the public cemetery and shadow the brutality of it all.


Month 3

Soccer Game

Upon exiting the subway station I was overwhelmingly greeted by two things; the massive Seoul World Cup Stadium and the color red. Red shirts, red masks, red horns, red bandannas, red face paint…I think you get the point. What's the Korean national soccer team's mascot you ask? The Reds. I bet you're also wondering, "I wonder what color Noel wore to the game?" Not red. As if I needed another reason to stick out.

So, with the world cup gearing up to start in a few weeks Korea hosted a friendly match against Ecuador to get some practice in. It was an action filled game and awesome to say the least. I was surrounded by die-hard fans screaming chants, whistling all while downing their beer and soju (in which you can bring into the stadium). With no score by the end of the half I was getting ancy for something to happen. And boom, at minute 73 goal, Korea. The stadium went nuts; fireworks, toilet paper being thrown, beer spraying and of course more chants. Repeat all of this at minute 82 as well. The final score was 2-0, the crowd was happy.

After the game it got better. There were more fireworks and on the field they laid out this massive white sheet where they played highlights of past games and even clips of world cup 2006 on. Then, lights out. Laser beams on. K-pop group enters stage right. Crowd again goes crazy. This is also the part where I try to make noises that sound Korean to sing along…fail. So after a quick song the K-pop group exits stage right. Soccer team re-enters and they're back on the field and they’ve brought a huge flag. That's right we're sending them off properly to South Africa. As their names are announced they raise their hand and kick a ball into the crowd. The patriotism is bursting at the seams and I'm loving it. It will be hard to remember that I should be rooting for the USA when the time comes for world cup, because as of now, I've for red fever.

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Buddha's Birthday

May 21st…a day that for most people is just that…another day. But here in Korea it is a celebrated holiday marking Buddha’s Birthday. The weekend prior is dedicated to celebrating, fine by me.

A festival is held to honor the Religion of Buddhism and Buddha himself with members from all over the world coming together. With plenty of authentic music, food, crafts and activities to participate in most which are free of charge, it was no wonder this place was infested with people…but happy people at that.

Here are a few pictures I captured while gettin’ down beside the man with the big belly:

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Month 4

Summa Summa Time

Yes, it’s about that time again. Time to dollop on or in my case dowse on the sun screen and soak up the sun. The past couple of weeks have been great weather wise; sunny, cloudless skies and cool enough that I don't have to worry about my skin turning the color of a tomato. So for now I am trying to enjoy as much time outside as I can because once the humidity hits I’m doomed.

With this nice weather comes fun summer time activities. My favorite: BBQs. Conveniently enough my apartment has a roof and miniature BBQ for our pleasure. Now all that's missing in this recipe for fun is people. If you grill it, they will come, right? Sure enough, once the meat hit the barbie people came equip with smiles and drinks. With a roof packed full of foreigners it was fun to meet new people and swap stories. I look forward to many more rooftop parties and new faces showing up.

Here are some (or lack there of) pictures I took:

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