Matthew and I went to Beijing for our 3 day summer vacation. We left on Saturday, the 31st of July and got in around 4pm. We checked into the Swissotel and got settled– then we went out for dumplings and noodles. We came back to get ready for dinner. We met our friend, Rachel, and went for the most delicious Peking Duck. It was by far the best duck I had ever had! After we went to a popular drinking area on a lake- it had a fun night life.
We woke up late because my cell phone alarm was on silent, so I ran downstairs to see if Rachel was still waiting for us in the lobby– Thank God she was still there! So Matt and I rushed to get ready. We took a taxi to Beijing’s famous Dirt Market.
It was huge and filled with all kinds of antiques. Matt and I made a great haggling team. It felt like a game- trying to get a great deal for everything we wanted. It got pretty intense at times, luckily I had done my research and knew that when a vendor says, “Now my children will not eat dinner tonight, I give you this price,” that it is a lie. So I responded with, “Now I can’t eat lunch or dinner with that price!” After a few hours of shopping around, we met back up with Rachel for lunch in a market restaurant. We ate delicious noodles and relaxed– Matt with his tall-boy Beijing beer and me and Rachel with the most delicious iced tea I’ve ever had (If you go to China it is in a red bottle, but Alex prefers the yellow bottle.)
After lunch, we took the subway to the Summer Palace, which was beautiful! Like many ‘must see’ places in China the Summer Palace was MASSIVE!
It was really nice to be there with Rachel, too. It was a nice day but it was really hot and humid (the hottest weather I’ve experienced in Asia), so we took some popsicle breaks (popsicles were about 20 US cents). We stayed there for 3 hours.
For Dinner, we went to Tairo Tepinyaki it was somewhat similar to Beinhanas in the US except it was all you can eat for half of the price. Our waitress and I got off on the wrong foot, so her service was pretty bad but later she warmed up to be probably after my cheeks were pink 😉 …I estimate that I ate half a baby lamb and three salmons. I also had quite a few beers since they were included. It was a delicious meal– I’ve never been so full in my life! I had a tipsy walk home with Matt and Rachel. I would link arms with Matt and try to walk him into trees while simultaneously laughing like the mad woman I quite often am. Matt used to say that he has to ‘endure’ my ridiculousness but I’ve told him there is a new word he should use: “co-exist,” the diction is perfect for our situation.
Rachel left Monday morning, so I was very sad. We ventured out to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City– it was even more massive than the Summer Palace.
I felt so lucky to be in Beijing and to be having this experience with Matt, without going into debt. We explored and walked around for 4 hours while I nursed my Taro Tepinyaki hangover. I took so many pictures that I filled up my entire 2 GB memory card. After we left, it took a lot of walking and will power to find a taxi. One taxi took us to the wrong place too. So we got into another taxi and found some fried rice for lunch. After lunch, we popped into a tea shop next store where we had a 45 minute non-verbal conversation with the Chinese tea lady– she was very kind to us! Then we headed to an crazy outdoor food market, with some ginseng green tea in pack. At the market they sold all kinds of weird food: star fish, snakes, and scorpions to name a few. Matt and I were happy to find some barbecued oysters, so we could feel like we belonged. We turned onto a pedestrian street with even more vendors. This street had scorpions skewered that were still moving! Later, Matt and I went for dinner at this delicious Szechuan restaurant. We drank a bottle of “Great Wall Wine” and ate chicken, dumplings, and dan-dan noodles all of which left a tingling sensation on our tongues. After dinner, we met up with Alex and Hakim for drinks in a popular college bar area.
We got up around ten to take our hired taxi to the Great Wall. Our taxi was an hour late due to traffic. Then on the way there while jamming out to club music we almost got into 13 accidents and we got lost for 2 hours. Then we were almost to Badaling when we were about to run out of gas… then we couldn’t find a gas station. So what should have been a 45 minute ride turned into a 4 hour ride. Once we got there it was well worth all the trouble. We went to a less crowded area of the wall and hiked up until it was blocked off. After that, we walked back in the more touristy direction because it was less crowded by then. It was so fun and I felt so lucky to be right where I was! After the wall we were quite hungry so we ate some over-priced fried rice. We finally found our driver and made our way back to Beijing. After picking up my dress, we went with Alex and Hakim for kebabs. I wouldn’t normally think of coriander and cumin spiced lamb to be Chinese, but it is the cuisine a large Muslim region in western China. The kebabs were delicious and paired nicely with our Yanjing beers. After we went to a Russian Night Club called Chocolate, it was complete with a midget bouncer and an escalator. It was the last place you would expect to see in Beijing. We ended up staying out to 4am. It was fun to spend time with friends and it was complete with air guitar and salsa dancing :).
We got a late start due to the late night. We met up with Alex in the late morning to go to the Silk Market. I was in shopping heaven! I bought pearls galore, a tea set, two jackets, and more. It was awesome to have Alex with us because she gives you her honest opinion and she speaks Madarin! She saved me SO MUCH money and it was really fun to go with her. Later, we all met Hakim for a delicious dinner then we went for a Chinese massage after dinner– it was a great day!
To be continued after I get back from Seoul….
Today, Matt and I have one more day before we leave for Beijing. Also, as of today we have 66 days left on our year contract here or so we thought. Yesterday, I recieved a facebook chat message from my friend Jamie, who is interviewing to replace me at my school. He told me that my school wants to cut our contracts short. I was really confused because I had heard NONE of this information from our school. I’m not sure when they were planning on telling us especially since they want us to leave in a month, on September 3rd or 2nd. My parents are meant to fly into Korea on September 4th and leave on September 14th– so this is getting stressful! Also, there is a Korean Thanksgiving holiday in September which Matt and I have already booked flights and accomodation for!! Also, my good friends are coming in September to teach for a year and I was really excited to show them around Ulsan. The school has not made a decision yet and they have made it very unclear whether it is even our decision. I am pretty sure this is illegal, too. I need to do some research about what our rights are, plus we have worked hard these past ten months we really dnon’t deserve this, no one does. I’m unhappy about all of this uncertainty.
As of today, Matt and I only have 75 days left in Korea. In less than two weeks, we will go to Beijing for 6 days– I bought my Mandarin Phrasebook and everything! I have a college friend there so hopefully we will meet up several times. Shortly after we return, Matthew’s brother, Buda, will be coming to stay with us for a couple weeks! About a week after that, my parents are coming out for my birthday! Then a few days later, Matt and I are going to go to Jeju Island (Korea’s Hawaii). Then we literally work one week to finish our year contract! After we finish here Matt plans to head home to Phoenix to see his family and save money for South Africa. I am lucky to not have any student loans yet so I am going to do some traveling before I go back to Sacramento. I plan on doing a week of deep-water soloing climbing in Thailand. I am so excited. Once I get home, I hope to work at a restaurant in Sacramento, then in January Matt and I will be off to Cape Town for a month to visit our friend Seymour!!! After I come back, I hope to nanny for a family then begin graduate school in the fall of 2011.
There are so many exciting things coming up! I feel so blessed to have so many wonderful people and oppurtunities in my life. I hope it doesn’t go by too FAST!
In the first few months of being in Korea I thought there would literally be nothing I would miss about this place! Now that Matt and I are really enjoying ourselves there will be a lot of things that I will miss.
- I am really going to miss my students. They are so amazing!! They are so quick to love and truly a blessing to be around. The other day my student, Sean, approached me in the middle of the lesson and said, “Teeaacher, I am so happy for you.” I asked him why but he wouldn’t tell me, I don’t think he knew why but it was sweet nonetheless.
- I am going to miss the food. Even this past week we tried something new near our house and it was delicious. At the restaurant they gave me one of their aprons for free. It is so exciting to be trying new foods all the time here. It is also such a neat atmosphere especially because many of the foods are simple, yet amazing.
- I am going to miss the wonderful friends we have made here. We have friends from the US, South Africa, England, and Scotland. It has been so wonderful to have a family away from home. Matt and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with these people they are so genuine.
- I am going to miss living with Matt. At first, we weren’t too thrilled about living together but it was just how it worked out really, so it was a challenge. Now, I think we both really enjoy it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
- I am also going to miss traveling in Asia because I don’t think we will ever make it back to Asia.
- I am going to miss my daily life here! Waking up around 8 and relaxing, going to yoga at the gym at 9, soaking in the public bath-house, meeting friends for tea and lunch, working, then eating dinner at home and unwinding before bed.
- On Thursday, I was in the public bath-house and I got felt up by the old Korean woman in the hot tub next to me– she wanted to compare boobs apparently (at least mine weren’t as saggy).
- The other day, I took in some dry cleaning and I had to explain to the cleaner in charades that my rabbit pissed all over my favorite sweater… Moments like these are priceless.
Although 95% of our encounters with Korean people have been wonderful there are some horrible things that have happened. One thing in particular comes to mind. When a big group of us foreigners were down in Busan for baseball and soccer events maybe 5 of us women went off to find a restaurant. Two tables were pushed together and we were sitting down when the owner of the restaurant ran out of the kitchen and asked us to leave. We weren’t being rude, loud, or obnoxious. We were very polite and speaking in our best broken Korean. We were essentially refused service soley because we were foreigners!! I was shocked, hurt, and disgusted. It was a hurtful experience to say the least. If this is what it is like for some minorities in some parts of America on a daily basis I can truly empathize. Korea is very homogenous and I don’t think it serves Korean citizens well.
Sorry it has been a while since my last post as we have been quite busy these days! As of today, Matt and I only have 90 days left in Korea, sometimes it seems like a century but most of the time it is feeling really short. We are so busy with work and our routine that I feel like I blink and it is the weekend all over again. I feel that I have embraced the ‘work hard play hard’ culture with open arms. I’m glad I’ve finally been able to relax at work especially these past five months– it’s more enjoyable for everyone that way. I think this is a blog about what I have learned and maybe wished I had known before coming to Korea.
1. Relax– Korea is a really safe and honest culture it is unlikely that anything will be stolen from you or that you will encounter any type of violence. I remember Matthew forgot his wallet in a taxi, it was delivered to our apartment the next morning without a single won missing. Also, relax in the classroom. Children are highly perceptive of their teachers and other adults. If you relax and just do your best the kids will relax and do their best most of the time.
2. Try everything. If a friend calls to do something that you have never tried before: do it! Even if you don’t like it at least you know. I tried long distance running it was so healthy for me both physically and mentally. Try new foods too, I was plesantly suprised with many new foods.
3. Come with an open mind ready for a new experience that will be very unique. You will enjoy your time here much more if you are ready for new challenges. Every foreigner I know here has “I hate Korea days” similar to ‘I hate my life days’ at home. Just try and remember why you came to Korea and what you are grateful for here. Always remember that you are a guest, although it is difficult to forget.
4. Remember that you will never regret having this experience.
5. Try to learn some Korean: at least enough to be polite and get around easily.
6. Travel: how often will most of us westerners really be living in Southeast Asia? Whenever there is a holiday from work book an affortable trip!
7. Always do your best!
10. The Social Awkwardness: I have never encoutered a group of more awkward people–it can be hilarious!
9. Our apartment– it’s propbably the most spacious place Matt and I will live in for the next ten years.
8. All of the amazing, once in a lifetime travel oppurtunites!
7. This culture’s respect for elders, their tradition of bowing, the high level of social trust, and the loving nature of these people especially agemas (older women). One day, I was waiting for the light to change at the crosswalk and a woman who was also waiting linked arms with me and put her umbrella over both of us… how sweet is that? That would NEVER happen in the US!! Trust: Matt left coins in the vending machine and went to his class then came back to check and they weren’t there. When he went back to his desk the coins were stacked and scotch taped together with a little note 🙂
6. It is really cheap to eat out at restaurants here.
5. Matt and I work 35 hours a week so we have quite a bit of free time in the mornings.
4. I adore most of my students.
3. I love most Korean food and drinks. Sam-gup- sal thick cut bacon barbequed 맛 잇ㅅ 어, Jeju Oranges, and Makali- Korean rice wine!!
2. Having this experience with Matt.
1. All the new friends we have met from all over the world here.