Seoul and Surrounding Areas

Sorry, I'm a bit behind. We had a busy weekend. On Saturday we were in the greater Seoul Area and on Sunday Katrina and I went to see Inception - it was better than average but it didn't blow my mind. The pictures from Saturday will have to wait at least another 5 days... Why you might ask? In 15 minutes we are headed to the bus stop, catching a bus to Incheon International airport, and flying to Japan! VACATION has arrived. So, until further ado, have a WONDERFUL week.

PS - I forgot to mention, I met perhaps the coolest older couple I have ever met (next to Poli Poli and Plowboy, of course) in Itaewon on Saturday. (Check out - www.sparkyourdream.net) 10 years ago they got in a car and started driving from Argentina to Alaska. Now, they are touring around Asia. When they first started they didn't have any kids - now, they have four! Amazing. I absolutely adore people who follow their dreams!!!


Terrific Tuesday

You might be wondering why Tuesday was so terrific. I will tell you. If you do not care to know, skip to paragraph two where you will get a work update. Tuesday was great for two reasons. For starters, I only had two classes. The new guy, Spenser, picked up one of my classes which gave me an extra 70 minutes to do some work - grade essays, enter class comments, etc. So, it was nice to have the extra time. On top of that, an expected package arrived from my mother and was sitting on my desk when I got back from my first class - another great surprise. Inside was everything I asked for and then some (a tarp - which actually cost about $100 mom - to use as a rain fly for our $15 tent, a belt, a wallet so I can use my T-Money card without actually having to remove it from my wallet, tooth paste, lotion, gum, honey roasted peanuts, 3 cans of refried beans, 2 Old El Paso and 1 Taco Bell, tootsie rolls, chocolate, and the powdered drink packets which can add flavor to any bottle of water! A glorious package! I was quite pleased, in fact ecstatic, to say the least! Thanks again Mom!

As for work, we start intensives on Thursday and they last for a week. Intensives allow students the opportunity to come in for an extra class and focus on one specific area of English - this semester, speaking. There are two nice things about intensives - more breaks and I am done at 9 pm. Nevertheless, there are also some drawbacks. I now start at 12 pm instead of 2 pm, I only have an hour of prep time instead of two, and there is an additional class each day that I must prepare for. I have the hour of prep time, teach a class, then two breaks, then three classes on Monday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday I have the hour of prep time, class, break, class, break, two classes. My sweet day, Wednesday, I have prep time, class, two breaks, two classes, then a break at the end of the day. Not a bad schedule, my only real complaint is that my Monday and Friday break is from 2:10 until 4:40, which is not conducive to a nice dinner. On the plus side, I do think I make a few extra dollars, however, due the lack of communication within the work place this has not yet been confirmed or denied so I will have to wait until August 10th and check my pay stub.

As for now, that is the latest and the greatest. We are headed to Insadong this weekend to try to find Katrina's Dad and step Mother birthday gifts. We might stop at Itaewon on the way back for dinner. There aren't really any set plans. I am getting more and more excited about our vacation with each passing day. I keep telling myself with the extra work - VACATION, VACATION, VACATION!!! It's only for 5 days but it will be a wonderful 5 days! I am looking forward to seeing Hiroko and her family and I am sure there will be lots of pictures from the trip.


Manseok Park

On Friday night, Spenser came with me over to Katrina's apartment. Katrina's power cord on her Mac Book (tsk tsk Macs) had not been working so she wanted to go up to Seoul to get another cord. While Spenser and I were on the bus I got a text message - her cord worked again. So, we just ended up hanging out Friday night and drinking Makali (fermented rice wine). We woke up on Saturday with a new objective - go to Itaewon for another falafel sandwich. We were down a man because Katrina wasn't feeling good. In fact, she hasn't been feeling good for quite a few days now. So, Spenser and I were going to make the journey ourselves.

On our way to the bus stop, about a 10 minute walk, we got drenched. Spenser's umbrella turned inside out and quite a few times, mine almost flew out of my hands. Welcome to Monsoon season in Korea - 60% chance of rain everyday according to the Weather Channel, and that's on the 10 day forecast. Again, WELCOME to the Monsoon Season. Therefore, Itaewon was out and Suwon Station was in. We went to the station and walked around quite a bit, I was able to "Have it My Way," with a delicious flame broiled Whopper and onion rings for lunch.

After checking out the station we headed over to Home Plus (aka the Wal-Mart of Target of Korea). Spenser hadn't been yet and I know what it's like being the new guy so I walked him over there. Afterward, I came home, cleaned up a bit, did some laundry and waited for Katrina to come over. In order to celebrate me quitting smoking and our - dah da dah - one year anniversary of living together, we got pizza, or should I say pizzas, one cheese, for you know who, and a Super Combi (sausage, peperoni, green peppers, onions, and CORN - yes, for some reason they put corn on their pizza, including cheese pizzas). Also, I got some wings! Not bad, not good, just wings. I also confirmed I can call and order pizza from the place since I go in there once a week. I told the guy when I call I'll say "Mi-guk" which means American and "Cheesu Pizza" which means Cheese pizza (but they say cheezu) or whatever I wanted. He just smiled and nodded. His wife said "10 minu" and I said, "Yes, 10 minutes" and she said, "Yes, minutes, minutes, minutes." At least I can order the pizza in advance now which I am pretty stoked about.

As for the quitting smoking, I've been trying since Japan and have yet to kick the habit. However, I recently read Alan Carr's "Easy Way to Quit Smoking" and I now consider myself cured. What I couldn't do in two years he did in two days, of course with my help since I read the book.

Today, Katrina and I went to Manseok Park and here are some pictures:

(On the way to the park you can see the highest structure from the Fortress, the one that is at the top of my blog)

(On the way to the park I saw this giant bug moving on the ground only to realize it was being dragged by an ant. By far, my favorite animal photo of ALL TIME!)

(A lone Lotus Flower with background)

(Me at the park)

(Romance is blooming - Happy One Year Anniversary of Living Together)

(Just a cool little bridge that I liked)

(Katrina hanging out on a bench, enjoying the view)

(Traditional structure located in the park)

(View of the lake/pond at the park)

There is also a trail which runs around the park that is 1.6 kms long or 1 mile. I think I am going to start running around once I get back from Japan to try and get in shape again and get some of the gunk out of my lungs. I did enjoy the park because it is so quiet. Obviously, there are cars and buses within 100 meters at all time. However, due to the planning it was exceptionally quiet.

Hope you had a nice weekend!


What does Iowa and a bike have in common?

They are both the topic of this blog! Got a new bicycle today, used. I will take a picture in the near future but I really have no other news than that. I will be using to commute back and forth to work so instead of walking 15 minutes, I now only have to ride my bike for 5 - SCORE! Plus, it will help me get home faster after work so I can get over to Katrina's sooner, at least that's what I am telling myself.

As for Iowa... got a new teacher yesterday. He is from Iowa. Seems like a nice guy but I've only talked to him for a few hours. We went out after work for a beer last night to welcome the new guy. A beer turned in to three or four and it was about 1 am until I got home. The good news, I don't start work until 2 pm so I got to sleep in.

Side note - Katrina's power cord blew on her MAC (tisk tisk tisk MAC) so we will be headed to Seoul this weekend to try and find a power cord, at some point. That's all for now. Pretty jazzed up about the bike!!! I'm ready to ride that puppy all over town!


Suwon Fortress at Night

This weekend we were playing on going to the beach again; however, due to in climate weather we decided to take a lazy weekend, which we were both alright with. On a quick side note, I got paid on Friday - sweet! On the way home, I kept saying to myself, "It's the weekend! It's Pay Day! I got paid! It's the weekend! It's Pay Day! I got paid." And on and on for a few minutes. I know have as much in my account in Korea as I do back home...

Anyway, on Friday night I came over to Katrina's place. I told her if the money was in the bank I would take her out to lunch or dinner. We went to one of her favorite Indian Restaurants - The Taj. The food was a little expensive and I think the last time I paid that much for one meal was in college. Nevertheless, it felt good to be able to spend money and not worry about dropping $50 on food. Also, it felt nice to be able to take Katrina out for a nice meal, something I haven't been able to do in a while due to my lack of employment.

After lunch, we went to Home Plus and got some supplies for the beef and bean burritos we are going to make for dinner tonight. We got back from Home Plus and watched the X-files. I only watched for about 10 minutes before falling asleep. I really wanted to take a nap this weekend and I did. We got up from our nap and I planned on us going to the Fortress at night, something I have wanted to do since I got here and saw it lit up at night. So, we caught the 98 and got dropped off in the 'Fine Arts' district. There really weren't many fine arts so I don't know where it got the name. We did some exploring and found a market, some clothing shops, and a few marts. Oh yeah, and a dollar store or so it was advertised. Why are dollar stores no longer dollar stores? Now, as long as it ends in .00 it can go in a dollar store - $2.00, $3.00, etc.

(Entrance to the market)

(Seafood, Seafood, and more Seafood at the market! Crabs, Conchs, varieties of fish, squid, large shrimp, and on and on)

(The three little pigs...)

After touring around the market we bought a big beer, some Sun Chips (sweet and spicy flavor), and headed up the Fortress. Spent some time walking up then hung out at the top for a while and drank our beer and ate our Sun Chips. We took some pictures and then headed down the other side.

(Steps we climbed on the way up and view back down)

(Katrina at the very top in front of a guard tower/gate entrance)

(Gate/Guard Tower at the top of the hill from a different angle)

(View along the wall)

(Structure at the top of the mountain)

(Katrina in front of the structure)

(Me in front of the building)

Took some more pictures, bought some more beer, and drank it. Katrina tried to get a Twix knock off but it was disgusting. We did get free chips, I think because of the beer we bought. The chips were similar to Bugles. I used to put Bugles on each finger so it looked like I had long nails and then I would eat them off one by one. We took a few more pictures and then caught the bus home. I tried watching the X-files again but failed to make it 15 minutes this time.

(View from the bottom. If you look, in the distance, you can see the structure at the top of the mountain. It's that tiny bit of light.)

(View of the wall on the way down)

(Entrance and a gate back on the ground level)

(Lookout Tower)

(The main gate at night)

Today, we are just relaxing, I am updating my blog, and we are going to check out some places to visit in Japan. Katrina and I are headed there in two and a half weeks. We are going to stay with the Aochi Family, my Japanese kin. As of now, Hiroko has kept it a secret so I am going to show up and surprise Oto San and Oka San. Needless to say, I am pretty freaking excited!!! Oh yeah, we are going to make some burritos today too. We found nacho chips at the 7-Eleven close to Katrina's place, the perfect amount for nachos. That is just a side note and has nothing to do with the burritos.

If you get a chance, try reading some Kurt Vonnegut. He has some interesting points and personally, I enjoy his writing. I just finished "The Breakfast of Champions." Good book.

Hope everyone is doing great, I know I am.


Quick Update

Just a quick update - busy week this week. Another teacher went on vacation this week so I am doing 4 classes again, which means about four and half straight hours of teaching. I know it's not a lot, but it seems like a lot when you are used to a 70 minute break at some point in the day. However, today is Friday which is wonderful news.

No big plans for this weekend. We thought about going to the beach but the weather isn't looking too good, mostly cloudy and a few chances of rain. Without a tarp or a sufficient rain fly, which our $15 tent didn't have, we decided to play it safe and just tour around Suwon a bit more. We are going to climb up a section of the wall along the fortress we have yet to visit. Also, if I get paid, Katrina and I are going to get some Indian food. I am 26 and this is my first 'real job,' at least according to my father's definition (health benefits and a decent paycheck). So, I am going to celebrate my first real paycheck. It's a bit strange being paid once a month but such is life. It definitely makes me live on a budget, which is good and bad. However, I have yet to run out of money on my budget so I think it is working pretty well.

I borrowed a bike from one of my co-workers the other day - I think that will also be a gift to myself after the first paycheck is in the bank. The walk to work is only fifteen minutes but the amount of time I'll save over a year will be well worth the bike purchase. Plus, I can cruise around like I did in Japan and check out all the little areas I might not get to on foot. Katrina and I found a market last week exploring, I'll have to take some pictures. That's all for now. Hope everyone is doing great.

On a side note: CONGRATULATIONS to my cousin, Kara, and her husband to be, Scotty. There wedding is this weekend. Also, my sister is a maid of honor in another wedding in Boston this weekend.


Itaewon and so much more

On Saturday, Katrina and I went to Itaewon. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. The first objective was to get Katrina a falafel sandwich from Istanbul. The second, to meet up with Transition and his girlfriend Dani (who will henceforth and affectionately be referred to as shuffles). Itaewon is the U.S.A. town of Korea. It could best be equated to Chinatown, only it is in South Korea and there are more Americans than Koreans walking the streets, at least that’s how it felt. From my understanding there is a military base nearby but I never took the time to research it.

So, we got off the bus stop and away we went, in search of Istanbul, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Korea. I was doubtful we would actually be able to find it since the directions were poor. The only bright spot was it was located between to stops. So, we start walking in the direction I think it is supposed to be, past a whole bunch of shops, and up a hill. As we continue up the hill, there are less and less shops and more and more apartments. I could tell we were leaving the commercial district and headed for a residential district.

(My new favorite bar)

I thought our quest was futile but we continued walking. We walked a little further and Katrina spotted the other subway station. My instincts kicked in and we headed towards Istanbul, or at least I thought where Istanbul was supposed to be. We made our way down a hill, out of the apartments, and back into a commercial area. Sure enough, after about five minutes, we found the shop. Needless to say, I was pretty excited, just because we found the shop. Katrina was excited because she got to eat a falafel sandwich. Objective one complete. I should have taken a picture but I didn’t. I’ll be sure to get one the next time we go back.

(Street vendors selling hats, socks, clothing, knick-knacks, and food)

(We went into the basement of one store to look for Mink blankets for Katrina's friend Nicky. In the basement, what do I see - BEAR DOWN CHICAGO BEARS, BEAR DOWN! This one's for my Dad!)

After down our sandwiches, we asked the owner, a New Zealander, for directions to ‘What the Book,’ an all English bookstore. The falafel, by the way, was delicious and we plan on going back very soon. Off we headed, back towards the train station. While we were eating, I got a text from Matt that said they were on the way. We met them at Exit 3 of the Itaewon Station. Objective two complete. Anything from here on out would be a bonus. We continued on to the book store and Katrina was in her glory. It has been difficult to find books in Korea but now we know where to go. I think we ended up spending an hour or so browsing the shelves – I forgot to mention, most of the books are used, so they are cheaper (bonus #1). I ended up buying two books, both by Kurt Vonnegut, Katrina got two, and Shuffles and Transition each got one.

Right next to the book store was a Foreign Food Grocery Store (bonus #2). There was not a huge selection but we did luck out and find some black beans for Katrina, 2500 won a can, some refried beans, 4500 won, and hummus, another Middle Eastern food Katrina enjoys. Next time we go back to Itaewon, we are definitely going to take a larger backpack and stock up on some supplies.

(An enticing display - notice the hair piece)

(Bonus #3). I forgot to mention that I asked Transition to pick up some cheese and granola bars at Costco since it is so much cheaper than any grocery store. So, we got two blocks of cheese and 48 granola bars.

We toured around Itaewon for a bit longer, checking out the shops and seeing what other treats there were in this forbidden city. A few times I was enticed by a Korean custom suit maker. One even said, “I am a suit doctor. I will fix you up!” However, I declined all the offers and continued on my way. From the limited reading I have done on Itaewon, it used to be a red light district but has since cleaned up its act. However, at certain times of the evening, in certain parts of the city, ladies of the night can still be found.

(Alley Market)

We made our way back to the station, transferred three times, went out the wrong exit, but still managed to catch a bus back to Yeongtong. We dropped our goodies off a home, had a few drinks of Makali – Korean rice wine – and headed to the Mexican restaurant. I had a chicken burrito, which was sufficient, considering the circumstances. It definitely was not a real chicken burrito. In fact, I think there was more chicken than rice, but it was Mexican nonetheless (bonus #4).

We came home, drank, played some cards, and had a nice evening. After playing cards with Dani, I gave her the nickname ‘Shuffles,’ due to the manner in which she shuffles cards. Imagine holding the cards to shuffle them, now, rotate your hands 180 degrees so that your thumbs are no longer in the middle but on the outside. Then, shuffle the cards with your four fingers. If you can picture this, you will now know how ‘Shuffles’ shuffles the cards.

(Me attempting to shuffle in the same manner as Dani - aka 'Shuffles')

Today, on the 4th of July, we woke up, went back to the Fortress to show Transition and Shuffles around. Dani’s mother had sent her a care package with 4th of July plates, a tablecloth, and four U.S. flags. So, we ate at the top of Mt. Paldal on an American tablecloth surrounded by four flags at each corner. Of course, our picnic was served on the red, white, and blue plates sent by her mother. It was a nice day and we did all of the things we had previously done so there aren’t any pictures. And that was our weekend. In a brief summary, falafel sandwiches, English bookstore, black beans and hummus, cheese and granola bars, Mexican food, as well as the Suwon Fortress with Transition and Shuffles. What a wonderful weekend!

(Happy 4th of July!!!)

(Picnic Spread)

(The four of us at Suwon Fortress)