Author Archives: Cynthia

Don’t miss out on posts!

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Thanks to everyone for following me here on WordPress – it’s been a wonderful ride.

BUT I felt I needed a little more autonomy to keep the blog growing with me, so all new content is now being posted on my new site:

www.gitanalife.com 

I would love love love if you came and followed along there!

Same content, just more of it! 

Hope to see you soon 🙂

 

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The blog is moving! I hope you’ll come, too!

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Thanks so much for following along on my blogging adventures.  I love love writing the blog and I hope some of you find it helpful and/or entertaining.

In order to keep the fun going longer, and give myself a little more creative license, I’ve changed locations.

It’s all the same content, continued, just in a slightly nicer (read: easier) layout.  I hope you’ll stop by and check it out and choose to follow along there instead!

www.gitanalife.com 

If you don’t want to follow along by email (though I hope you will!), you can always check back for posts or find me on facebook, twitter, pinterest, or instagram.  

Hope to see you there!

Blooms, booze, and bathrooms: my 8 favourite things about Korea

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Blooms, booze, and bathrooms: my 8 favourite things about Korea

Each new place and experience has those things that imprint themselves on us.  In a new culture, they end up being the things you’ll always remember clearly and long for years later as you travel to new places.  They are the things that will make you smile and be grateful for your time spent in that place, whether you recall it as a wholly uplifting experience or not. As we prepare to leave, I have been reflecting on the best bits about this strange land and the last year in it.  For me, there are 8 things that stand out as really awesome.

Follow the link to my new and improved blog at gitanalife.com to read the full post!

Uniquely Korean. Part two.

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On the one-month-eve of my departure, I bring to you my final compilation of those things that are uniquely Korean.  Or at least, of those things that seem uniquely Korean to me because I have yet to witness them anywhere else.  All of this is not to say that they could not be found elsewhere, naturally – simply that I have not had the joy of experiencing them elsewhere yet.

Why part two, you may ask!?  Well, silly, because I already wrote part one!  It’s here.  Go check it out if you haven’t and then come back.  We’ll wait.

And now the list, edición dos:

* Holidays are never pushed to the weekends.  If a holiday falls on a Thursday, you will enjoy your Thursday off and then head back to work on Friday.  It sucks.  A lot.  (I’m so spoiled, clearly)  The only time they will extend the weekend out is for Chuseok – the one big Korean holiday (it’s like their Thanksgiving).

'yellow dust' from China

‘Yellow dust’ from China

* Yellow dust, pollution, toxins carried on the air, and radioactive fish and water from China and Japan (respectively) are a much bigger public security concern than anything North Korea says or does.  This week, for example, we are being advised to limit our physical activity outdoors because of a huge cloud of toxic dust surrounding us that blew over from China.  I get more headaches certain weeks, it seems, so I tend to believe that this is a real thing (in terms of concern).  It certainly concerns the Koreans and I can understand why, given how often it seems to happen.  That’s a lot of additional air and food contamination over a lifetime.

* Koreans meander.  Always and forever.  No one picks a side or path and sticks to it.  Many people have their noses in their phones while they walk, which could account for some of this, except that even without phones they meander.  No one ever seems in a hurry or even like there’s a specific place they might be headed.  They are just meanderers, nothing more about it 🙂

* Koreans drink hot coffees (and the like) with stir sticks, but cold beverages with straws.  It’s pretty strictly so.  I have no real idea why.  I think the straws in general are to avoid colouring the teeth, which I get (though I can’t imagine giving up the wonderful feeling of putting my lips to a take out style (because I re-use, guys!) lid).  But why the teeny stir straws?  Is it because the drinks are hot and the straws allow for less tongue burnage?  Does it help their drinks last longer so they can suffice as an entire meal?  I have no idea.  This is one mystery that will just remain unsolved, I guess.  (I’m clearly coffee-obsessed, as it shows up on both of these lists.  Perhaps I should just write a blog about worldwide coffee culture and give into my obsession.)

* There are no personal pencil sharpeners!  I have looked and looked and looked and none are to be found.  Talk about an untapped market!  Most of the older kids use mechanical pencils, and larger classroom size sharpeners do exist, but do you know what they do to sharpen regular pencils!?  They (the kids, the young kids) carry around and use an EXACTO KNIFE to sharpen their leads.  I kid you not.  Can you even begin to imagine that flying in some places!?

* In Korea, a marker is not a marker if it doesn’t smell of delicious food.  IT’S. SO. AWESOME.

* Gay does not exist here.  I mean, it does but it does not permeate the consciousness of general society.  It doesn’t exist, it isn’t in Korea, and therefore (at least this part is pleasant?!) it’s nothing to be ‘afraid of’.

071206_p18_koreans*Koreans love spam.  Of the ‘edible’ variety, not those annoying junk emails that occasionally slip through your gmail filter.  On big holidays, most notedly Chuseok, it is common to give a nicely wrapped box displaying about 12 tins of spam.  I wish I was joking.  I’m going to guess it’s a throwback to the days of poverty that weren’t so far in the past.  I mean, that’s why we all eat hotdogs, right?  I hope?  Because, ew to spam and ew to hotdogs.  This article, much to my everlasting amusement, discusses the history of spam in Korea and why Koreans love it so much 😀  The picture is also theirs.

* Remember the crazy traffic I wrote about?  Turns out it doesn’t even stop for ambulances.  Ambulances have to fight their way through the traffic and fight through lights and generally just fight to get anywhere.  Frightening to think about what that means in, you know, an emergency!

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*We all know the classic red, white and blue spinning sign of a barber shop (and in case you grew up under a rock and don’t, there’s a picture of one right here –>).  Well in Korea, these barber shop poles signify something entiiiiiirrrreeeely different.  And about as different a thing from a haircut and shave as you can get.  They signify places where sex is sold.  They are often attached to the jimjilbangs (spas), sometimes attached to seemingly random businesses, and of course always attached to brothels.  Actual hair salons have taken to using a colourful and entirely different spinning sign so as not to be confused with prostitution businesses.

* Prostitution is rampant and includes women from other countries that are lured here under false pretences (it’s not like this is the only place that happens but it doesn’t lessen my concern).  Fortunately, there are amazing organizations at work trying to combat this reality, such as Salim Women’s Shelter, where I volunteered for a large part of my time here.

* The drinking culture is literally unparalleled elsewhere in the world.  South Korean adults are the biggest drinkers in the world, and the sale of soju (the preferred national liquor) outsells vodka and whiskey worldwide.  You can check out this article for a brief synopsis (it attributes alcohol abuse to most of the crime in South Korea).  According to a google search, it seems the government is taking this somewhat seriously and at least trying to contain the effect on adults and children under the age of 25 by restricting advertising to them.

* You can leave things out in the open, even cell phones and laptops and wallets, and they will NOT go missing.  Ever.  I mean, this is no gospel so no need to heed my every word should you find yourself here.  But I seriously cross the line of what is smart in terms of leaving stuff everywhere here (partially because I’m curious how much I can get away with) and nothing ever ever goes missing.  Not helmets or jackets or bags hanging off the bike, not my laptop or phone while I’m in the bathroom at the coffee shop, nothing.  Except Jon’s license plate once.  Apparently that’s a much hotter commodity than a computer…?

* Koreans of all ages live in slip-on sandals.  Think Adidas slides.  With socks, without socks, in all seasons.  I suppose it’s to do with the ease of slipping them off 🙂 but it’s kinda funny that everyone shuffles around in black or blue or purple slides in any size ranging from clearly too small to your-foot-is-touching-the-ground-those-are-so-big-on-you large.  Maybe they’re family sized and everyone shares?

There you have it!  Our final round of ‘what’s up’ in Korealand, all the things you never knew you wanted to know and now you do!

Did I miss anything?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Denouement

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Denouement

As the Korea chapter of our lives comes quickly to a close, we have been plagued with questions of what to do next.  Where should we go?  Africa?  South America?  Back to Canada?  What should we do?  Is there work for us there?  Volunteer?  Travel?  Here, there, anywhere?!

It’s been exhausting and stressful to have the whole wide world as an option.  I know, LIFE’S HARD 😉

And it’s extra hard when your wants are at war with your needs – we all know what that feels like – and it’s never a fun part of life.  But it IS life.  And so we’ve been back and forth debating the heaviness of our desires with the realities of our current situation.

My dream has long since been to do development work in Africa but I need to work for free, it seems, to get my foot in the door.  That’s hard to do with student debt.  SO, if we head to Africa, our time in Korea would have rewarded us with a trip to Africa…but not really helped us to accomplish any debt relief.  You see the dilemma!?  So it was this that had us going back and forth….and back and forth…and back and forth for what feels like months now (I think it really was months, actually).

All of which is a long-winded way of telling you that we finally have a plan 🙂  And I think at least some of you will be pretty darn excited about it.

Drum roll, please.

We are coming back to Canada!  Exciting, right?!

Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves, you should know upfront that this is not permanent.  We do, however, expect to stay through mid/end August.  We’ll be hanging mostly in Osoyoos (and by ‘hanging’ I naturally mean ‘working our ever-loving a**es off’) but we will get to see all of you!  We are so happy!  Of course ALL of YOU strictly applies to those Canadian friends and family living in the Western part of the country.  I am sorry to report that we will not be doing any side trips to Chile or Australia or Eastern Canada or the US or anywhere else to see our scattered family and friends.  But we will be thinking of you, if that helps 😉

The Plan

Early December Jon is going to head to Johannesburg, South Africa to attend an International Teaching Conference.  I am going to come back to Canada and he will join me about 10 days later.  I’m not sure where we’ll be camped for the month of December…Victoria, Williams Lake or Osoyoos probably (or very likely some combo therein) but January the job hunt will begin in Osoyoos.  Let me know if you hear of some seasonal (Christmas) work in any of those areas, mmmkkaaayyy?

The idea is that Jon gets a teaching contract somewhere awesome (our first choice is somewhere in Africa), and we head there in August to set up camp for two years.  Then I can volunteer/work/look for work/try to get my life together (since I will be 30 by then and my god, will I ever grow up!? Hint: probably not.  That’s boring).  We don’t know where that will be, or IF it will be, and we have contingencies for where and if and when.  But no need to worry about all that for now!  We’ll keep you updated as we know more, of course.  I am nothing if not an over-sharer.

In the meantime, I think it’s going to be great fun documenting our reverse culture shock back in Canada and I am really looking forward to playing the tourist in my own country – especially wine country! – for a while.  The blog posts will continue (they’ll be continuing on a new site…stay tuned for more on that as well) and hopefully continue to entertain you as we fumble our way back into the world we know but definitely don’t remember accurately (culture shock is WEIRD).

There you have it!  Right now we are busy planning our exit from Korea and entrance into Canada (and beyond), so though we would love to start making promises about when and how we can see you all 🙂 we won’t be able to do that just yet.  We ask that you let us get back to Canada first, and then rest assured, we will absolutely make plans to see each and every one of your beautiful faces before we leave again.  You don’t think we’d forget you, do you!?

We are desperately hoping to avoid this horror. Ack!  Snow!

#TBT…We (okay, me) are desperately hoping to avoid this horror upon our return. Ack! Snow!

Falling in love with fall in Korea

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Falling in love with fall in Korea

Ask me what my favourite season is and I will tell you it’s summer every single time.  I live for flip flops and sundresses and slurpees,  and long, lazy evenings.  I have even taken to perpetually chasing summer as much as I can, in the form of vacations during winter and life abroad in warmer countries (fortunately (!?) nearly everywhere qualifies as ‘warmer’ when you hail from Canada!).

But this year I am really, super digging fall.  Fall in Korea is unparalleled.  It’s picture-book-perfect fall.  Busan sees temperatures as high as the mid twenties through until early November, with the evenings pleasantly dropping to the mid teens.  You can wear a tee during the day and go for a splendid hike, then switch into jeans and a light sweater to get through the evenings (I know some of you crazy kids long for “sweater weather”!).  Furthermore, this slow descent into winter allows the leaves to lazily change colour.  They’ve been turning for weeks, now!  BIt by bit, golden hues into orange and red flames, against a still-green backdrop.

I’m surprised to admit that I am enjoying fall here in Korea so much more than I enjoyed the summer.  Summers with 80% and higher humidity most days really are just too hot.  Believe me, I am as shocked as you to hear myself utter (write) those words.  But it’s true.  It feels like you are slogging through a mud puddle everywhere you go.  Decidedly UNsexy and also a bit exhausting.  Fall, by contrast, is exhilarating!  For starters, it’s red wine season again!  (I’m kidding.  NO I’M NOT.)  The nature is beautifeous (I’d like to make that a word), the weather is resplendent, the days are not too short yet, baseball games abound (and they are FUN), I daresay the Koreans themselves are at their best – they love fall, too – and there are festivals nonstop.

Did I mention that?  Fall is festival season in Korea!  There’s a festival, big or small, every week (or at the very least, weekEND) from September through early November.  There’s the famous Jinju Lantern Festival that I wrote about last week, there was the Sea Art Festival before that, and there are countless other festivals big and small, dotted throughout the country.  Busan has one every weekend, somewhere!  Two weeks ago there was the Jagalchi Market festival and this weekend Book Alley is having one.  I’m not lying when I tell you there’s a festival for everyone.

To sum: I love fall in Korea, fall in Korea is fabulous, and if you plan to visit Korea, fall is the time to do it.  Trust me on this.  Spring is good, it’s true…but fall is the Korean season to fall in love with.

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It doesn't even look real!

It doesn’t even look real!

Jinju Lantern Festival

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This time last year, shortly after we had arrived in Korea, I found out about the infamous Jinju Lantern Festival.  It sounded awesome.  Lots of pretty lanterns, all lit up, and people can make their own and set them adrift on the river!?  Sign me up!  But as we had just missed it, I was resigned to waiting out the year to catch it the next time around.  And of course, I very nearly missed it again!  Thank goodness my students and I were brainstorming all the things I should fit in before I leave 🙂

The festival did not disappoint.  We headed up there just for an afternoon (it’s about a 1.5 hour bus ride from Busan – scroll to bottom for more details on getting there) and had checked our expectations ahead of time.  Since our history here has been to feel let down after making the trek to some town, sight, or festival, we did not plan to be blown away.  And I think it is for this reason, in large part, that we had such a nice time.  Which isn’t to say the festival itself wasn’t also great.  It was!  It was such a pleasant surprise.  It was organized, fun, charming, and enjoyable.

Potentially adding to all of this pleasure was the fact that it was a lot like a festival as we (Jon and I, westerners, Canadians) might expect when we hear the word ‘festival’.  There were booths selling goods and crafts and food, some fair games like balloon darts and the ring toss, there were people making lanterns (alas, the lines were a bit long), and there were A LOT of lanterns everywhere.  Everyone seemed in good spirits – even the vendors!  Just charming.  If you want a good festival experience in Korea, this is the one I recommend.  Go in the afternoon to check out the stalls and maybe make your own lantern (we didn’t, sadly), make a wish upon it,  and stay into the evening to see everything all lit up.  You won’t regret it.

Jon and I mostly wandered around sampling the food, drinking the beer, enjoying slurpees(!!) and hanging out.  It was a good time.  But we like that kinda thing.  Also, the river and surrounding area is really nice.  Even though it got quite busy towards the evening, it felt small-town and peaceful.

Here are some of my pictures.  There are not a lot because the real beauty happens at night when the entire place is lit up, but my camera is horrible and does not do night pics (something I hope to remedy sooner rather than later).  As you can hopefully see, an entire section of the river was filled with giant lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and (yes!) cultural representations.  There was a whole Disney section with an Ariel, a Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, and more.  There were tons of Korean warriors and dragons and tigers.  There was a Statue of Liberty and an entire Canadian section with six Mounties on one, a huge maple leaf as another, two giant bear lanterns that were playing a little one-on-one, and even a Niagara Falls!  That was an exciting discovery, just as we were leaving, no less 🙂  There were also several loooooong lantern walkways – one with the ‘official’ lanterns that I think people made wishes on, and one with all the crazy, unique, personal lanterns that people made.

Check them out, but definitely go if you’re in Korea in October.  The festival usually runs through the beginning of October for about 10 days and the whole atmosphere was an upbeat one – festive, if you will 😉

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Seriously, sorry for the lousy photos.  Hopefully you get the idea and understand that my camera is NOT doing it justice.  I know what my next purchase needs to be!

*To get to Jinju from Busan you need to grab a bus from the Seobu Terminal (Sasang where the green and brown line meet).  The buses leave every few minutes for the festival, cost is ₩7,700 and the ride is under 1.5 hours.  There were lines and a bit of a wait both ways because of the festival, so give yourself some buffer time.  But things moved pretty quickly.