Sunday, March 29, 2009

Busy Weekend

Kim and I had a pretty busy couple of days 2 weekends ago.  We finally had our cable and internet installed on Friday night.  Once again I was amazed by the Korean service.  The guy came to our apartment at 8:30 PM even though he was suppose to get off work at 6:00 PM.  Our cable is called internet cable.  I still have not figured it out but basically we have to download anything that we want to watch.  Its nice having our own internet now so that we do not have to search around for a wireless connection to steal. 

A few months ago, Kim joined an organization called G.O.A.L which is an organization that helps Korean adoptees.  They have a service that provides Korean tutors for their members.  Kim applied for one and we were contacted last week by a college student named Sinae.  We had our first meeting with her last Saturday.  I think that she is going to be very helpful to us since she can speak English extremely well.  We plan on meeting with her for 2 to 3 hours every Saturday afternoon.  She only lives 2 subway stops away so we will not have to travel that far.  

Then later that night, SangKwun's friends took us out to dinner and for drinks. They have all really gone out of their way for us and we appreciated their generosity. There were 3 guys - the one standing, Dennis, lived in Canada for a year and speaks English pretty fluently. The girl with us is named Cary and she is a Korean teacher at our school.

After dinner at a beef BBQ place, and visiting another bar, the group decided to go to a seafood grill. This is basically an outdoor area covered by a tent with all kinds of marinated seafood to grill. It was delicious!

I'm not sure if we've mentioned this, but one of the English teachers at our school, Chloe, is getting married to a Korean guy in a few weeks. We are all invited and are excited to experience a Korean wedding. Chloe is a Korean American, but her husband-to-be is a Korean who happened to be studying in America when they met. The female English teachers decided to throw Chloe a surprise shower and take her out for a massage. So on Sunday, Kim and the girls went to get Thai massages. This was a picture Kim took of the place they went.

Then everyone came back to our apartment for some food and cake. Here's a shot of the group.

And here's the bride-to-be, Chloe, cutting her cake.

Immediately after the shower, we got picked up by Father and taken to a buffet at the 63 Building. This is the second tallest building in Seoul, and has 63 stories. 

The buffet was really, really good. We continue to be amazed by the quality of the buffets in Korea. But the best part was that Peter (the translator from our wedding) was in town, so we got to eat and spend some time with him and his extended family.

After dinner, the whole group headed up to the top of the building to see the art gallery and the sights of the city. It was really cool to see the lights of Seoul from up high at night.

Here's a picture of Kim, Father, and me at the top of the building.

Here's the entire group. From right to left, there was Peter's brother Young (who also was at our wedding), Young's daughter (who's taking the picture), me, Father, Kim, Peter, Peter's nephew's wife, Peter's nephew, and Peter's cousin.

Here was an example of the view.

Here's Kim with Peter's nephew's wife at one of the exhibits. She really took a liking to us and even asked for our phone number.

And here we are at another exhibit/photo op. I'm noticing that Koreans love to have things to put their faces through to take pictures with! They can be found at almost every place you go!

Overall, it was a fun and busy weekend. I'm glad that every weekend isn't always this full, it's nice to have some time to relax on our days off too!

My trip to Guam and Squids in Seoul

Last week, I had to take a trip to Guam so I could get my E2 visa which is required for me to teach English.  I arrived on Friday morning at around 4:00 AM and I left Sunday morning at 2:00 AM.  The whole process was fairly painless and I was able to get everything done on Friday.  The rest of the time I just watched the NCAA tournament and went swimming in the ocean.  Guam is a major tourist location for Koreans and Japanese people.  There were not many Americans who were not involved with the military.  

This is a picture of the Korean consulate.  It was in the most random neighborhood.  The taxi driver turned down this alley in not the best area.   I started to wonder if he knew where he was going when I spotted the Korean flag.  I turned in my documents at 9:00 AM and they had my E2 visa for me by 4:00 PM.  

I stayed in a Holiday Inn Resort.  It was decent.  Below is the view from my balcony.  

Sidlo was in Seoul for the last month doing some training for the Air Force.  He was stationed about 2 hours south of Seoul so we did not have an opportunity to meet up until last weekend.  Unfortunately for me, I was in Guam so just Kim and Joe met up last Saturday.  Joe has another friend working here in Seoul named Andrew.  You can see him in the pictures below.  Joe spent the night at our apartment that night so I was able to see him when I got back Sunday morning.

I have no idea what Joe is doing in this picture but apparently he thinks its hilarious.

This is a picture on Andrew.  

It is very common for Koreans to throw up the peace sign when posing for a picture.  Kim and Joe were just trying to fit in.

It was nice seeing one of our friends from the US and both Kim and I are excited to see our parents when they come to visit this summer.

The kiddos

Most of you know that I work with 3 and 4 year olds in the mornings. There are six of them and here are some much requested pictures of the little guys. At first, I found it very frustrating, but their English comprehension is slowly improving and I'll admit that I'm getting attached to them.

Here's are a few pics from art class. The other teacher is my Korean co-teacher, Anne. She is absolutely awesome and seems to have a bottomless pit of patience. With kids this young, the Korean teacher stays in the classroom a lot to help translate until their English gets better.

Here's the whole class. They're cute in their little Poly gym uniforms aren't they? (Even though it's a hideous shade of bright yellow...)

Here are some individual shots from another day. This was coloring/writing class. 

This little guy's English name is Benedict. His English is already pretty good since his grandfather can speak English and taught him a lot. He can actually already write his name, which is quite an accomplishment considering what his name is.

These two are Judy and Max. As Judy's english is getting better, she's warming up to me more and more. And Max is adorable, but he tests my patience more than any of the other kids. He is really smart, but likes to pretend he doesn't understand when he gets in trouble. But when he's behaving, he can be absolutely hysterical. Whenever he does something well, he always prompts me to say.... "GOOD JOB MAX!" :)

The one on the far right is Andy. He is our resident genius. He actually taught himself to read English. (He can also already read Korean also.) His parents don't speak English, yet he can speak the language like any American 3 year olds. And his reading skills are higher than some of the second graders I teach in the afternoons. Wow!

Here's another one of him. Also, I love that he's like a little man. He's so serious and will sit and read a book when the other kids are running around wildly. And see those chubby cheeks? We always have to check them after snack and lunch times because when he doesn't like the food, he'll hide them in there like a little squirrel.

And shhh... don't tell anyone since we're not supposed to have favorites, but these two kids are my faves... Chloe and Brian. Chloe already knows a lot of English since she lived in America for a year and went to US preschools. She is a total girly girl and obsessed with princesses, pink and tiaras. (Notice the pink crayon in her hand!) :)

And finally, Brian. He didn't speak a word of English when he started, but he's started singing the nursery rhymes and can understand a lot better than at first. He is the sweetest little boy ever. When he's coloring or playing, sometimes he'll look at me and get a huge grin on his face. Talk about making me melt!

So these are the kids that are slowly stealing my heart. I actually had a moment this weekend of really missing them and looking forward to some little kid hugs and kisses. One of the perks of the job I guess!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Brother Love at the Fish Market

A few weekends ago, SangKwun, Emily, Mark, and I went to the Norangjin Fish Market. Basically it's a huge fresh fish market. Quite a few seafood restaurants in Seoul get their seafood from here. But customers (like us) can also come to the market and choose fresh fish to take to the surrounding restaurants to cook for us.

We came here the first time with a work event and were blown away by how delicious everything was. So we decided to come back with SK and Emily.

This is the scene at the market. There are rows after rows of tanks of various fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, octopus, and things I've never seen before in my life. The first thing you'll notice is the seafood smell that hits you square in the nose. I'll be honest, it's not my favorite smell in the world. Fortunately the quality of the food makes it all worth it... There are men just like this waiting at nearly every turn to try to sell you something.

This picture gives you an idea of how huge this place is -- we took this standing in the middle looking one way -- so imagine the same thing going in the other direction.

We selected some prawn and crab for our dinner. They're pretty expensive in Seoul... crabs cost between W 60,000 and W 80,000. Cheaper than ordering in a restaurant, but definitely not inexpensive.

Once we made our selection, the salesperson pulled the food out and killed it right there. I can't watch that part, especially when they take a hammer/sharp hook to the fish... then they took the seafood up to the restaurant for us.

We started with these char-grilled prawns. Heavenly.

Next were these things. I don't know what they were and really wasn't a fan. They were a request by Emily. We learned that Emily really likes turtle soup as well. I will not be trying that anytime in the near future.

We got two crabs. Here's SangKwun breaking them down for us. Koreans are geniuses. They use sharp scissors to cut apart and to split the shells. Much easier than the cracker and tiny fork you get in the States!

Here's another shot of the food. The crab was my favorite part of the meal, though the prawns weren't far behind!

Then SangKwun ordered a seafood soup. It was spicy and had tiny little crabs in it. 

Here it is in the hot pot.

One thing about SangKwun is that he is SUCH the big brother and takes his role very seriously. I talked to some Korean co-workers and I guess in the Korean culture the older sibling needs to take care (and baby) his or her younger brothers and sisters. This includes everything from paying for the bulk of the stuff (SK rarely allows us to pay when we do things together), to making sure we're well fed. At Norangjin, SK was constantly peeling and deveining the shrimp for us. And when the crab arrived, anytime he got it cracked with a good piece of meat, he'd instantly put it on my, or Emily's, or Mark's plates. (Mark's plate less, probably because he could see that Mark was easily fending for himself in keeping himself fed.)

And after we were all sufficiently stuffed, SangKwun announced that we were going somewhere else for fried chicken and beer. Do Koreans EVER stop eating? SK's friend Beck met us, as well as Emily's 2 Chinese friends who were also visiting Korea.

Here's the group shot (minus Emily's Chinese friends).

Overall, it was such a fun night. Nights like this make me so glad we made the decision to come to Korea. I feel so lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to spend this time getting to know my birth family on the other side of the world.

He's baaaaack!!

Just in case anyone's wondering, Mark is back in Korea with his shiny new visa. He has some pictures, so I'll have him put together a post soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shady recruiters, teacher workshops, and sunny beaches

Overall, our time working has been good. The director of Poly and her staff seem to be pretty fair and honest. Despite the long work days, we haven't really experienced any of the hagwon nightmare stories that seem so prevalent on the ESL teacher message boards. 

So, basically our experience thus far has been very good EXCEPT...

Our experience with our recruiter, Appletree Recruiting. Mark and I would not recommend them to anyone for any reason whatsoever. First of all, the staff we interacted with could barely speak English. Not a good thing for a company whose sole source of income is placing English speaking teachers in Korean schools. Also, once they placed us at Poly School they just sort of faded out of the picture. They are responsible for helping us secure our visa's so we can work, but they provided no assistance or advice to me in securing my F4 visa. And as for Mark's E2 visa..................

When we first applied at Poly through Appletree, we made it very clear to both institutions that we intended to arrive in Korea about a month or two before we started working. So in order to get the visa cheaply through the Chicago office, Appletree would need to start working on the E2 visa application ASAP. Mark sent all his paperwork to Appletree's Colorado office via priority mail and we waited.... and waited.... and heard nothing. Finally, about a week before we were supposed to leave for Korea, Mark contacted Appletree to check on the status of the visa. Many excuses were given, but bottom line was they forgot about it. They told us not to worry and that we could just take care of this in Korea. Not ideal since it would require a visa run to China or Japan, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Once we got in Korea, we had a little correspondence with Appletree, asking Mark to send and resend copies of various visa paperwork - yeah, they needed copies of the stuff that he already sent a month prior via priority mail, we figured they were pretty disorganized at this point. 

Mark is now approaching the 90 day limit on his tourist pass to Korea and needs to secure his E2 by April to stay here. So last week we received word that there was a mistake on his visa issuance number. It's an American number, so a simple trip to Japan or China won't work. And there's not enough time to get another number. So Mark is heading off to the nearest American territory, which would be Guam. Of course, this is a more expensive trip. He was able to convince the school to foot half of the bill since this mistake is on their recruiter's side. (Though Appletree called Mark the other day to berate him and basically place the blame on everyone else under the sun besides themselves: Mark, Poly, their grandmother's dog... talk about a professional organization.)

Anywho, there's a bright side to this. Mark is leaving tonight (Thursday) at 9:30 for this paradise. I think it's 80 degrees right now. I'm insanely jealous. His flight back to Korea is Sunday morning at 4am. I'm not jealous of that. :)

And the best part (for him) is that we have a mandatory all day teacher's workshop on Saturday for Poly. So while I'll be sitting in boring day-long presentations, Mark will be relaxing on the sunny beaches of Guam...

I've tasked him with taking a lot of pictures so we can all live vicariously through him. So hopefully there'll be a gorgeous blog post to come in the near future! Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Our New Apartment

Here's a little video tour of our new apartment. Mark made me give the tour, sorry about the cheesiness.

The Cell

For the past two weeks Mark and I have been staying in a temporary apartment provided by Poly while we waited for our official "couple" apartment to become available. To say the temporary apartment is small for two people is an understatement. Mark and I both felt like we were always bumping into each other!

Here are some pictures -- oh and I measured, it was 7 Kim steps from the front door to the end of the apartment.

Here's the bathroom.

I must say that this part was the most shocking to me. There is no shower stall, just a handheld showerhead coming out of the sink to hose yourself off!

This is the front door that opens immediately into the kitchen. Then 3 steps later you're in the bedroom.

Here's the bedroom area.

As you can see, not much room for two people...

But we spent most of the day moving and are really excited about our new place. We'll post a video of it soon!