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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Philippines: Part 1

Pictures will come later but thought I'd get a jump on posting while I have time. (I'm enjoying an ice cold San Miguel while I wait on my tilapia dinner.)

Flight arrived in Manila after midnight and I successfully made it to the guest house I had reserved. Unfortunately the said place was not quite a success...

How much of an un-success, you ask? Hands down the crappiest place I've ever stayed in! The receptionist leads me down the ghetto road and through a series of locked and barb wired gates and doors. My dorm room: About as big as my tiny Korean bathroom. I quickly found out it was already occupied by bunk mates. A young mother and her young son were there and had the room all set up with a clothes line and living essentials. It was obvious they had been living there for quite a while. Heartbraking. Half-slept with my sarong covering my face (the light stayed on all night with no way to turn it off.) I got out of there as quickly as I could the next morning; my clothes already smelling of must and mold.

Then I was off to the island of Caticlan. Luckily someone from my hotel met me at the airport and navigated through a series of tuk-tuks and a boat. I arrived at a paradise called White Beach. The name is quite fitting.

The weather was pretty crappy for two days as a big storm passed through. I met some friends Friday and enjoyed nice company and copious amounts of drinks.

The next day I was up early and surprisingly refreshed for my first day of diving! My instruction has been one on one and for that I'm very thankful. I breezed through my first few sets of skills and hit the boat to go under. Twelve meters deep I wasn't so graceful. I was no fish or good swimmer with fins. I was a little disappointed but my instructor assured me that I still did much better than most and would get the hang of it.

The next day (today) I went back out again, determined to be a master diver. Not so much... My second time down, while better than the first, proved quite difficult. It also included a few tears and some gagging (I have an extreme aversion to salt water in my mouth... I almost always vomit...).

Once I conquered my initial problem (couldn't get one ear to pop as I was going down) it was good. But at this point I was still following my instructors and his assistants were following me; like a little school.

Still determined, I went out again a few hours later. This time I finally felt successful and confident! I got much better at the things I had been doing wrong and was able to swim off on my own more. The couple diving with me from Hong Kong also boosted my confidence! She didn't make it off the surface and he required the constant attention of the instructor and both assistants. Maybe I can do this diving thing!

I spent the rest of the sunlight hours basking (burning) in the sun. I'm also developing wetsuit tan lines. Confession: getting into a wetsuit was my biggest fear about scuba diving. It proved to be a quite painless task after all...

I have one final dive to complete my certification. Then I'm official!


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Close Quarters

Bless Korea and all its glory but it is just too small sometimes. I know for a fact that I couldn't survive in Seoul, with strangers constantly around to bump you and get in your way. Even my small little neighborhood in my small city feels too cramped sometimes.

Like now. It's fall and the weather is beautiful so naturally I have all of my windows open to provide airflow to the room I live in. Everyone who lives in my building and the neighboring building also have their windows open. One or two floors down they have a new baby. This makes two babies in their dwelling. Have I ever met them? No. But my ears have met the cries of both babies. Occasionally at the same time. Usually during wee hours of the morning.

Every night I hear an old man in the building across from me blow his nose. I'm a big advocate of nose-blowing but there's no reason I should be able to hear him excreting his bodily fluids in that manner. When he's had too much soju I also hear him vomit and dry heave.

Someone else across the way has an in-home daycare. Today there is a demon child in that house. Call an exorcist - quickly!

And last, but certainly not least, I have my own neighbors, whom I very infrequently pass on the way in and out. They do not get a hello or smile from me. On one side I have a family with three dogs. In an apartment that probably only has two small bedrooms max. And they're little ankle biters. The family has some favorite things they like to do with their noise-making companions. First, they like to keep them out of their living space (because they make too much noise) so they confine them in the little entry way by their door. So when anyone walks by the door, they make noise for the whole floor to hear! The other fun thing they do is take the creatures out for walks. But going all the way down to the ground floor is a bit exhausting. They easy solution they discovered: take them to the roof! The best spot to scurry back and forth, back and forth is the big open space right over my place. How convenient.

Then we have the other side neighbors. They're quite new and I have been un-thrilled by their presence since they moved in. There is a girl and a guy, I'm assuming boyfriend and girlfriend in a ridiculously dysfunctional relationship. He's a fried chicken delivery guy. She's a... hooker? (All I know is I hear her high heels tapping at very odd hours of the night.)

These basket cases have a fun game they like to play. It's called, "Let's lock each other out of the apartment!" We have four-digit pass codes rather than keys to get in. So how is this game played, you ask? Well, she gets pissed at him and chances the code. So when he comes home after a night or working or drinking or both, he can't get in. She's sleeping. Solution? Bang as hard as you can on the steel door to try to wake her up. That banging sound just happens to resonate inside my apartment. The acoustics are great, especially at 5 a.m. To get revenge, the next time she goes out to hook (or drink with her friends) he changes the code on her! Ha! Take that! And the process repeats. Almost always around 5 a.m. I must say, he's a much more sound sleeper than she. Always takes double the time to wake him up.

I do express my distaste for their actions, usually by way of cursing at them loudly in English wearing an over-sized T-shirt and crazy bed head hair. He responds quite well to the F word. Her: not so much. She doesn't understand my language. No problem. I can switch to Korean and curse.

Maybe you're thinking, "How did she figure out the rules to this clever game?" Last week I heard one of them attempting to change the code. It wasn't an easy process. For about 30 minutes I heard "doo doo doo" (hi pitch) "boop boop boop boop". [pause] "DOO DOO DOO" (low pitch). Over and over again. Finally I heard "dee dee dee" (high pitch) "boop boop boop boop" "Dee Dee Dee" (low pitch). Much success. I was sure to not be around that night for game time.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Also...

Have to note on a funny moment Kim and I had together. She and I live on literal opposite sides of the country. She's on the west coast; I'm on the east. Since it's quite a trek to get through the central mountains, we met in a city that was easy for us both to commute to. Thus, we had to get a hotel.

Since neither of us was familiar with this city, we didn't know where the best places to stay were. Well, we had a recommendation but no clue how to get there or even ask where it was. We did actually ask a local barista and she had no clue. We were left to our own devices.

Typically, there are always cheap hotels near the bus terminal in most cities. (See my "Dirty Thirty" post!) In this city, some were dingy. Others were flat out gross-looking. We saw one that looked like a German-style building and thought that it would suffice. There was no one in the front office so we left in search of somewhere else. As we're exiting, here comes this old-as-dirt man, with skunk looking hair from a bad dye job to cover his white hair. Even better, he has red chili sauce stains from his lunch. Perhaps he was saving it for later?

After some language barrier communication, everything was clear that we needed one room for one night. 25,000 (about $25). Perfect! So he grabs several sets of keys (only, this wasn't a quick process since he was over 100 years old) and takes us up the elevator to our room. The place is pretty desolate but well stocked with VHS porn tapes. Once we get to the eighth floor, however, it was quite noisy. The old man goes to a door and attempts to unlock it (once again, not quick for Father Time) and opens to reveal a room full of Korean men with their shirts off. He'd heard the noise and instead of knocking and asking the guys to keep quiet, he just opened it. Room full of half naked men? I wasn't even about to ask questions... But needless to say, Kim and I got quite a laugh out of it!

"Our room," was less than pleasing. While it did have two (old) TVs (that may or may not have worked), it had no bed. With our first-world preferences in tow, we opted not to stay at this place. Grandpa was quite disappointed that we didn't want to stay there but reluctantly gave us our money back.




(For $15 more we got the Windmill Motel - with a windmill on top, next to the New York Motel - with a giant Statue of Liberty on top!)

Relationships

I hadn't exactly realized how strange my form of regular communication was until this past weekend. My very dear friend from university, Kim, recently moved to Korea to embark on my same journey. I was thrilled to finally see her again and have a wonderful taste of home just being in her presence!

Fresh off the boat (well...plane), four weeks into her new adventure, Korea is still foreign to her. I know how I was way back when when I was first here. It was a challenge and always intimidating trying to talk to the locals. How do you express what you want to say? How will they understand? How will I understand how they respond?

It's amazing how two people can have a "conversation" of sorts when they each know very few words in the others' language.

For example, at one point we were in a taxi... The driver was trying to ask our relationship. I told him (in Korean) that we're friends. Luckily, I know that in Korean what he said next wasn't actually offensive. To understand me correctly, he called me an old woman... but in the form of a semi-question? The western term for "friend" is too difficult for him to understand.

In Korea, only people of the same age can be "friends." Otherwise, they're your older/younger brother/sister.  This isn't really weird for me because I call my uncle, "Uncle," and all of my cousins, "Cousin." (What is weird though, is the main term of endearment for a girl to call her boyfriend is the same word as "older brother." A bit incestuous if you ask me.)

Lessons on family is always terribly difficult here. If a student tells me he has two sisters and a brother that could mean he has two sisters and a brother or he's an only child with three cousins!

Long story long... I told the cabbie in Korean that she was my aunt. That was a term he could understand and believe. And I called him a grandpa in Korean for insinuating that I was an old woman.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Get your culture on

Alas, I'm back!

Upon pondering the topic of culture and how to best experience it, I've decided that I like home-stays the best. I've had the opportunity to home-stay in Germany, (kind of) China and Korea. And in Thailand was able to meet up with a local friend as well. It's hands down the best way to fully immerse yourself and take in all that you wouldn't otherwise be able to see or do simply as a tourist. 

This summer I've had the pleasure of staying with two very different families. My first stop was Jeju Island, the "Hawaii of Korea." I would quite compare it to Hawaii or other tropical places I've visited but it certainly was beautiful. 

From waterfalls, caves and inappropriate statue parks to beaches. Lots and lots of beaches! I'm talking white sand to black sand and everything in between. 

 
This beach was lovely, with very shallow water from the road, reaching to the sea. That was my lovely host for the week.


 Father and daughter catching fish.

 
Pyeongsan Beach

Volcanic lava tube cave, of course with my fav toddler!

Iho Taewoo Beach at night.

Love Land... full of inappropriate statues.

 
This one is PG.

 
Waterfall going into the sea.

My favorite beach in Korea.

Silly faces!


 This is (kind of) black sand. It mixes with white sand to create a marble-type effect.

My next stop was to the country. Nestled in a valley, between beautiful green mountains, one of my favorite students' grandmother's lives in a quaint little house with a vast garden. I got to visit overnight and go river rafting. (Not quite white water rafting but still rafting...)

 Washing chili peppers.


This is only a glimpse of Grandma's huge garden.

 
White water creek from the mountain    minerals.

Korean burial ground.

 Me and mom!

The lovely family.


 
Pretty Korean mountains.


One thing I love the most about living with the locals is the food! They know the best dishes and where to get them or how to make it! Even while eating "at home" in Jeju, I had delicious fish and traditional Korean side dishes. During my weekend with Grandma, we never ate anything that wasn't fresh from the garden. (Well, fresh from the garden then pickled, the typical Korean way!) I definitely ate better and healthier with Koreans than I do on my own, hands down! 


 
I made American style homemade spaghetti!

I don't remember the name of this dish but it was delicious!

 I helped Grandma pick and clean these delicious greens!

Everything = from the garden

... the beef wasn't... it was from a Korean cow. Korean beef is actually way more expensive and (believed to be...) more delicious than beef from elsewhere such as America or Australia.


The moral of the story is to stay with the locals to get the most culture out of your experiences. Sure, my idea of a vacation is only beaches and relaxing but I know I can gain so much more knowledge of the place I'm visiting while off the beach and in the house!


Monday, August 13, 2012

우체국

That's Korean for post office (oo-chay-guk). That's where I just spent nearly an hour. Typically, my trips there take five minutes max...

However, today, the guy who speaks great English was apparently too busy on his phone. Who did I get instead? The deaf guy. (No offense whatsoever to deaf people - love em'! But when regular communication might have been an issue, let's add in a language barrier too!)

This is about how our "conversation" went:

Me: Box-uh? [mime box with my hands]
Him: [puzzled look]
Me: Yogi! [points to box]
Him: [gives me a box]

I put the contents of my package in said box. It's a little too big, but with some bubble wrap it will be perfect.

Me: Bubble wrap? [imitate popping bubble wrap]
Him: [puzzled look]
Me: Fragile...?
Him: [puzzled look] Korean Korean Korean (that I can't understand)
Me: [unwrap all breakables from package]
Him: [gives me the smallest piece of bubble wrap he could find]
Him: [gets more bubble wrap]
Him: Korean Korean Korean (that I can't understand, but I figure out he's asking where is my package going. Which I do know the Korean for, by the way...)
Me: Miguk (Korean for America)
Him: [points to the other side of the room and holds up a peace sign]
Me: [wander around the room, touching all the forms I find. The one I need is in the #2 box. Perfect.]
Him: [tapes up my package]

I forgot to put in my letter (pretty much always happens when I send packages...)

Me: Envelope? [mime envelope with my hands]
Him: [puzzled look]
Guy who speaks English: [tells him I need an envelope]
Him: [points somewhere on the other side of the room]
Me: [puzzled look] [grab for anything that looks like an envelope]
Him: [shakes head, no]
Guy who speaks English: [gives me an air mail envelope]

I fill out all the paperwork, etc. I was just going to mail my letter separately, no big deal. The guy sees that it's the same address on both things and decides it's best to put them together because the letter would arrive a week later than the package. That was easy to understand, since the calendar was handy... He opens my package to slip the letter in then re-tapes it...

Me: Miahn-ham-nida (Korean for "sorry")
Him: Nay (Korean for "yes")...

Then it takes another half hour for him to look my customs form up and down to make sure he can read every letter and number on it. Which is completely unnecessary. All the other workers I've dealt with just tape it on the package and done. My guy doesn't speak English, thus, can't read Korean written in English. So I have to dictate my address to him in Korean, which he can't understand either. Geesh. 

We get by miming the rest of the process, he takes my money, shows me when my package should arrive and sends me on my way...

As I'm getting on my scooter he runs out to catch me. He forgot to give me my tracking code and customs receipt. And tells me I shouldn't ride my scooter because it's cloudy and might rain again. (I understood that much). Thanks.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jeju: Part 1

Jeju-do is considered to be the Korean Hawaii. All Koreans long to visit at least once in their life. I'm lucky to have a friend who recently moved here and a great excuse to see this magical place!

Flying to Jeju was one of the more comical flights I've ever taken. I knew this was probably the first time flying for at least 50 percent of passengers. (20 percent were infants or children... Don't get me started on crying babies on airplanes! I was fortunate to be seated next to silent old people.)

I heard a few "oohs" as we covered the runway. The "ahs" were plentiful as we leveled off - which is completely not worty of such gasping and amazement in my opinion.

It took me back to my first time flying that I could clearly remember. (That time when I flew with my stepsister at age eight in matching polka-dot tank tops. The cool kind that tied in the front, revealing the every so small bit of midriff.)

I was 15. So excited but so scared. I can remember my palms sweating profusely and heart racing as the plane cruised faster and faster down the runway. I gripped the armrest as tightly as possible. Eyes closed, I eagerly waited for take-off to be over. That wasn't so bad, was it?

It was at the time... Luckily it only took about one or two more flights to conquer my fear and develop a love of flying. That trip actually included a lot of flights. Jetting off to Europe at sixteen with no parents isn't something that a lot of people I know do.

Ever since, I've been blessed to have travled to ten other countries and constantly want to add to the list!

(I'm happy to announce my next travel destination to the public. I'll be going to the Philippenes for twelve days at the end of September!)

Stay tuned for more on my Jeju trip and other summer happenings!