not all those who wander are lost

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DMZ- The Only Divided Country in the World

Yesterday a few friends and I headed to Paju, Gyeonggi-do with Adventure Korea. Adventure Korea is a well known travel club here that has weekly trips to various destinations all across Korea. Some of their trips include temple stays, deep sea fishing, surfing, exploring caves and trips to various Asian countries… just to name a few. We headed to the DMZ (Demilitarized Done) which divides North and South Korea. Although the subway is in both English and Korean, we still managed to get a little confused and got off one stop short. With the bus arriving in 10 miutes I was almost positive we were going to miss this trip. Thank god we didn’t, because it was a day to remember! The bus from seoul to Paju took about an hour and along the way my eyes were glued to the barbwire fences that parted the two countries. Every 100 or so meters were little army huts filled with soldiers with their eyes on the North.

Our first stop was ImjinGak, which is as far as civilians can go to the North by themselves without permission. Imjingak was built to console those who had lost their families to the North. It has Manngbaedan, an altar where those who cannot go back to visit their homes get together and pray for thei ancestors and families on the New year day or Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving). The peace bell was put with the starting of the millennium for wishing a peace and unification between the two Koreas. This was a truly special and unforgettable place. I was able to buy a peace ribbon, write on it and place it on the fence with all of the other ribbons filled with prayers and hope. It was very touching and made me really appreciate all that I have. We were able to see what was left of a train from the Korean War and we also go to see the Freedom Bridge, which was used to exchange prisoners after the war.

There are two villages inside DMZ. The first one is Daesongdong just near the Panmunjom and the other one is Tongilchon (Unification village). We visited the second one and it was quite fascinating to see how the people in this village live day-to-day. There are no gates or addresses on the houses and only about 100 families live here. To keep residency they have to sleep in their houses a couple hundred days of the year. They do not pay taxes, or have to serve in the military because they are pretty much living in war zone. They have a curfew every night as it is dangerous to be outside at certain hours. We stopped at this village for a delicious lunch that consisted of freshly grown rice, soybeans and ginseng.

Our next stop was the third tunnel. The 3rd tunnel was first discovered in 1978, was dug by North Korea to infiltrate into the south. It is 2m in width, 2m in height, 1,635m in length, and 435m from MDL. Visitors descend about 300 meters at a 14-15 degree angle before reaching the North Korean infiltration tunnel, which is 73 meters below the surface. Its almost like 25-30 stories building. The floor of the tunnel (interception & infiltration tunnel) is covered with rubber mats and the wall with charcoal which was applied to give some possibility to the North Korean claim that the tunnel was part of an abandoned mine. This tunnel would allow about 10,000 armed or 30,000 unarmed soldiers to invade Seoul within one hour. Scary isn’t it? To date, the South has only discovered 4 tunnels but they predict that the North has dug about 20 more that they are unaware of.  We were able to venture down the third tunnel and take a look into North Korea. The decline was about 100m down and this is something I will never ever forget. In my head I was thinking, Wow I am so close to North Korea, this is so cool.. but then I started to feel badly that I was so excited. There are thousands of people who have never been outside the country, who will never get outside the country and who are essentially stuck inside the country for the rest of their lives. While they would give anything to get out, I am somehow feeling excited to be to close to such a country..very uneasy feeling.

Dorsan station is a railroad on the Gyeonggi line, which once connected North and South Korea. Materials were shipped between the Koreas until 2008 when the North Korean government closed the border crossing after accusing the South of a confrontational policy.For several years now, the northermost stop of the line was Dorsan station, but the South is hoping for unification and that some day this station will be open and running into the North. It was incredibly sad to see such a beautiful station all built and ready to go, yet no one is using it. We were able to buy a ticket for 50 cents and go and play on the tracks.

Our last and final stop was supposed to be the Dora Observatory, but for some reason the soldiers restricted our bus. We headed to another observatory which had a spectacular view of the North. For 50 cents you could use the binoculars and see right into North Korea. I saw two people! Our tour guide informed us that these are fake cities…showing only what they want you to see..So when I say I saw North Korea yesterday I guess I really didn’t because the North Korea the world knows doesn’t consist of modern houses and nice villages. Looking to my left and seeing the South, then looking to my right and seeing the North was an unforgettable sight. The South is filled with life and tall buildings and the North literally has nothing in sight.. and it looks quite dead. For only around $40 CAD I was able to explore the only divided country in the world!


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Everyday Life In The ROK

Coffee: One of the first thing I noticed when I arrived in SK was the price of coffee. You will pay around $3-4 for a coffee no matter what the name or how good/awful it tastes. The coffee here is not the best and to make matters worse.. I have resorted to the instant maxwell mix because I do not own a coffee machine.

Fruit: Fruit is RIDICULOUSLY expensive!
Watermelon – $22 for 1.. yes 1!
Apples (6-7) – $7
Kiwi (6) $7
banana (bunch)- $3
Frozen blueberries (sm bag) $6 or half a pint for $5

While on the topic of food, the only time I eat meat is usually at Korean BBQ. Buying meat is expensive and difficult to cook when you do not have a BBQ/oven. Veggies are less expensive so I have loaded up on carrots, tasty cucumber and cherry tomatoes. I have not seen baby or bagged carrots here.. definitely realized how spoiled I was. You have to peel them and cut them yourself. Terrible. If you eat korean food it is not only inexpensive (around $4-6 a meal) but it is delicious! Korean BBQ is my number one choice followed by bimimbap.

Washrooms: Most restaurants do not have public washrooms. The washrooms are usually on the first floor of the building the restaurant/store is located in. Note: the washroom will not have toilet paper* I have been to places where there is not even a toilet paper roll holder in the stall! Sometimes you get lucky and you can grab some from the one big holder on the way in, but more times than not you need to carry tissue with you at all times. It could always be worse.. there might not be a toilet and you could have to squat. Yes they have those here and no I have not seen one..yet.

T-Money cards: You can buy them at almost all convenient stores. These cards are used for the bus and subway. The subway costs around $2 and the bus costs a little less, depending on your route. I need to be more adventurous and explore the subway a little more!

Lunch at school: The lunch at school is not that bad. I am very thankful that they provide us with one as some schools do not do this for their teachers. Like every Korean meal, Kimchi is served everyday and so is rice. There is always a soup and I rarely touch it. They also serve a variety of other dishes, some of which include: curry, fish, octopus, quail eggs, pork, chicken, seaweed salad, veggies, squid and bimimbap.

Busses and taxi rides: Hold on! Rule #1: Pedestrians DO NOT have the right away. In Korea, even though the light is red I see it as optional because I have seen so many cars run red lights. I have seen so many near death experiences with people running across the street and cars not stopping. On the bus home from work last week I saw a car completely on its side. The ride to school has everyone airborne halfway through with this one killer speed bump. You would think that with all the grunts and spilled coffee daily that the driver would slow down..but he doesn’t..ever. Taxi rides are a whole new story. They don’t wear seat belts and always go about 50 over the speed limit.

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“Teeeeecha, What?”

Three weeks later…I apologize for my lack of postings and don’t want you to think it’s because nothing exciting is happening.. because to be quite honest everyday in SK is an exciting new adventure and there have been so many things I have wanted to share with you all.

After vacation we headed back to work for two weeks of ‘Intensives’. Just like it sounds, intensives was two weeks of two and three hours classes a day. Intensives is an educational summer camp for all the keeners out there whose parents have money trees growing in their backyards. The one thing I really enjoyed about these two weeks was working with new children and getting to know two new classes of kids. The second half of the day was our summer Olympics program where we worked with the children to design a new Olympic sport. The children had to be original and make up a new sport, make up their own rules and show the other teams how to play their sport etc… On the last Friday we held our very own summer Olympics and it was a blast! All of the kids were so excited and they did a fabulous job at explaining and managing their sport. Every second Thursday lesson plans are due. Two weeks of lesson plans are to be handed in and one time and this was probably the most stressful part of work to date. I am still learning the curriculum, learning where resources are and what resources are available but I got through it and am working on my next set due this week. We also have report cards due on Tuesday. Even though some days feel long, the weeks really do fly by here.

Now that intensives are over we have changed back to the regular schedule where I teach four, forty minute classes in the morning, a forty minute after-kindy class and a two-hour Gr.1 class in the afternoon.The Korean government passed a new law, saying that having English early in the morning is putting a lot of stress on the children especially because when the children finish school they take part in various extra curricular activities including more english classes. Some kids are in these classes until 10/11 PM…crazy. Because of this new law, our morning classes have been pushed back meaning I am teaching back to back for nearly 4 hours. Not the end of the world but definitely the hardest part of the day. My four morning classes have anywhere from 26-32 kids and I have a teaching partner. My after-kindy and Gr.1 have 6 and 8 kids and I am on my own. Thankfully I am good with names! Everyday I find a reason to smile and feel lucky that I get to work in such a wonderful atmosphere with the cutest children ever. Their hugs and kisses never run out and the things they say assure me that I do not want to be in any other field. They can take a piece of paper and with a few snips and some tape they can turn it into a masterpiece.. it really amazes me what my kids can come up with.

Last night we went out for staff dinner with our director. He took us to a gourmet traditional Chinese restaurant that was delish. Anyone who has been living in Korea knows that staff dinner means endless amounts of soju and a good time. The first thing our boss did was show us how to make a Korean cocktail.. like I didn’t already know. It’s called ‘Somaek’ and it is a mix of soju and beer. He also ordered some chinese liquor that was absolutely distasteful but somehow we managed to have 3 rounds…ooops. We started with chicken, eggplant, then beef and veggies and the list continued until we realized we had been eating for two hours. I also think it’s important to inform you that in Korea, drinking is like an Olympic sport.. or at least it should be. When your glass is empty it needs to be refilled right away. Sitting with an empty class is unacceptable and with this little bit of information you should be able to tell how I felt this morning. After dinner we continued the fun by heading to Noribong to sing and dance the night away. All in all the night was a success and I feel as though everyone is closer than ever. I am super excited to spend the next year with all these fabulous people!!

I know there is SOO much I am forgetting but this is all I can think of right now! Missing everyone back home and hope you are all doing well xoxox

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Mt. Wolchulsan


A few days ago, a friend and I headed to Yeongam to hike Korea’s smallest mountain. By small, I mean 809m, 7 hours and very steep. This is also a good time to mention that Mt. Wolchuslan was the first mountain I had ever hiked. Only being in Korea just over two weeks, I really had no idea how to plan a trip. I did however remember reading a blog that showed pictures of this beautiful orange bridge in the mountains and I knew from the moment I saw it, that I definitely needed to see it. It was really nice to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Yongin, and head far south, where there wasn’t any tall buildings or Dunkin Donuts in sight. Although I am getting better with taking and figuring out the subway, I had never taken the KTX (train) but we figured it all out and before we knew it we were well on our way to Mokpo. The trip only took 3:20 and the real adventure started when we arrived. I had previously read on a blog that the bus terminal is close to the KTX station, and that you are supposed to take a bus to Yeongam. I was thinking that the cities were super close and that we might even be able to cab it.. good thing we didn’t because Yeongam was a good hour bus ride from Mokpo. Getting in a cab and not being able to communicate where we wanted to go was quite frustrating and the first thing we did once we got to Yeongam was grab a cold beer and take a deep breath. We started walking from the bus terminal in search of some lunch when this lovely Korean couple invited us in for tea and potato. The husband was practicing his English, and had a bible that was Korean on the left hand side and English on the right. He said numerous prayers and I felt truly blessed to have met this adorable couple. We walked into the first motel we saw, about five minutes down the road and instead of a front desk, there was what looked like a vending machine with keys. This man came down and showed us a few rooms, including the ones that didn’t have beds… I guess some Korean’s prefer to sleep on the floor. We quickly realized that there was absolutely nothing to do or eat around this hotel and so we ventured on in search of Wolchuslan Spa. I had done some research on this resort, which had a clear and beautiful view of the mountain, but I did not know that we would have to trek a few miles to find it. The weather was absolutely beautiful, although definitely made for an uncomfortable walk. At first they told us they didn’t have any room but then they suddenly changed their minds and we only ended up paying 78,000W for the night which we were both very pleased about. The spa also had a pool that we immediately enjoyed. Exhausted from our trip and the sun all we wanted to do was sleep but we decided to head back into Mokpo for some dinner.

I didn’t really sleep that night because 1. It was so hot in the room and 2. I was super excited for the hike in the am. We made it to the mountain at 7am, which was another adventure in itself.. cabbie was driving at a ridiculous speed. No one at the park spoke any English and this of course worried me a little because all I could then think about was getting stranded on this mountain, not having a phone to call for help, and not being able to read the maps to know where to go. Like everything else thus far, it worked out perfectly and before we knew it we were following a Korean man and his two sons to the trail. Hiking is very big in SK and so their speed and our speed is VERY different. The first hour of following this family definitely helped us in the long run with time, but I also wanted to die a little. It also didn’t help that check out time was 11am, therefore we were carrying around 15-20lbs of clothes, water and snacks on our backs. The first hour was all uphill with zero scenic views but after about an hour and a half we made it to our first clearing and thats when everything was suddenly better! We told the lovely family to go ahead because we knew we could not keep up. Thankfully, the signs were in both Korean and English and the signage was surprisingly great and only a few times did we question if we were still on the trail. The view was spectacular, unlike anything I have ever experienced before and I was so happy that I was in such a beautiful place. As we continued up the mountain we saw various ladders, rails, ropes and stairs that were supposed to aid us on our climb and we took full advantage of this. We saw various rocks such as “Pig Rock”, “Face Rock”, and “Phallic Rock”…a rock in the shape of a penis that is supposed to resemble man’s energy in the Spring. We must of said only one more hour, for about four hours but once we reached the top we couldn’t stop smiling. To be honest we didn’t have any intention on making it all the way to the top, rather we just wanted to make it to that orange bridge and grab the shuttle down. When you look at the map it shows where you start at the bottom and at the top, just past the Cloud Bridge” it shows a parking lot and shuttle bus. The whole time we were hiking we kept thinking about how great it was going to feel once we reached the bridge and got the shuttle down to the bottom. Little did we know, there was no shuttle service at the bridge. You can imagine the look on my face when a korean man, laughing hysterically told us there was no bus to bring us down. After 5 hours up, we had about  2 more hours to go to get down the other side. The other side was so steep which is why it takes half the time to reach the bottom. The stairs were so terrifying that we went down backwards, gripping the rail with both hands. This is when I realized that I am a hell of a lot better at going up then down and my legs started to give out. The way down was by far the most challenging part of the climb, for me anyways. After about 45 minutes we reached the bridge and again, all the negativity went out the window as we enjoyed the amazing view. The only thing that helped me get through the last hour and a half was the thought of being off my feet, on a bus back home and not having to see any more stairs. We reached the bottom a lot faster then I expected and it felt like Christmas morning when I grabbed sight of the pavement. I was SO proud of myself and filled with so many emotions. What a day and what a climb!

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I am not even sure where to begin.. yesterday was incredible! A few friends and I went to Everland, Korea’s most popular theme park. Not only was it awesome that were were going to receive a foreigner discount but we actually got free tickets. Our friends mom works at Everland/Caribbean Bay and she was nice enough to let all of us in. Everland is divided into 5 sections and surrounded by beautiful hills and trees. The rides are awesome especially the wooden roller coaster. It wasn’t like normal wooden ones, where you have a throbbing headache afterwards. It was massive, fast and super smooth. Side note: Not sure what Everland is like in the day but we loved going at night time! Everything lights up, the humidity goes to sleep and they put on the most spectacular light show/firework performance. Believe me when I say I have never in my life seen anything like this show. I had to pick my jaw up from the ground a few times and I said, “OMG” about 50 times. The fireworks themselves were so amazing and so well put together that I do not know if I will ever again experience something so beautiful. After the show we met up with the ladies who gave us our tickets.. our new Korean mom’s as we now call them. They are very generous here. They bought us drinks and made sure our tummy’s were full. Speaking of tummy’s, I tried peanut butter squid and didn’t hate it. I probably won’t touch it again but I am happy I can say I tried it haha. In Korea, more food means more love..needless to say I felt very, very loved : )

The buses had already stopped running and so we were thrilled when they told us there was room for all of us in the car. We headed to a beer house where they ordered beer, soju, and chicken and wouldn’t take a dime from us. Back home it is safe to say we enjoy pizza with our beer but in Korea they do not do this.. they eat chicken. Our “mom’s” knew we secretly wanted pizza and so one of them went and ordered pizza and brought it to the beer house! How thoughtful? As if that wasn’t enough food, they ordered extra chicken to go so that we would have a yummy lunch today. Welcome to Korea. After a few rounds we grabbed some beers and headed to Noribang. Even though it is my second time I am still as terrible as I was two weeks ago. For some reason I love singing “Just The Two of Us” and this time we actually scored 99%, somehow.. We alternated songs in Korean and English, danced, drank, ate some more and has such an amazing time. We are invited to do Caribbean Bay (water park) this sunday and I am pumped!

Ha na, tul, set, KIMCHI!

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I can’t believe my two-week mark is tomorrow! The time has gone by so fast already and I know it will only continue to do so. My co-worker’s are en route to China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia, but this girl is kicking it in Korea for summer vacay. On Friday I explored Insadong and had the pleasure of visiting Jogyesa Temple..the largest Buddhist temple in Seoul. It consists of a main temple and several out-buildings including the bell-tower. Everyone is welcome to enter the temple to watch and participate with the worshipers and look at the interior, just remember to remove your shoes and keep quiet! I also explored Samcheong-dong, a hilly neighborhood with small art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Samcheong-dong attracts a lot of foreigners because of the restored Hanok’s (Korean traditional-style houses). After exploring for 3ish hours I was exhausted from the sun.. the weather has been in the low 30’s all week. I met up with a friend I have been chatting with since December on friday night… a few of us went to her apartment here in Yongin and then to Seoul for what was an eventful evening. Rule # 1: Soju always wins! Rule # 2: Never take a cab from Yongin-Seoul. So far I have learned that a night out in Seoul means you’re not getting home until around 7am. It also means that you will most likely sleep all of Saturday and wake up early Sunday morning.

Last night I enjoyed Korean BBQ with a friend and we planned on going to see a movie. Korean’s do not really eat salad here, rather they use the leaves to wrap their meat in. They also use cabbage. All meals are served with multiple sides and I am loving all of it, even the kimchi. Right now in Yongin, there are only two movies playing in English.. Batman and Ice Age. We missed Ice Age by 10 minutes and didn’t feel like waiting two hours for Batman, so we settled for ice cream and called it a night.

I can now say I know about 20 Korean words! I plan on learning more over the break and I am currently emailing with some people to try and set up a language exchange.  Talktomeinkorean is a super helpful site for anyone interested in learning basics *

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First week in SK

Friday morning Mr. Yun took me to get my health check. Everything is super fast here.. the whole process took under 30 minutes.

Health check:
– Chest X-ray
– Weight/height
– Blood pressure
– Eyes and ears
– Urine
– Blood

First stop.. SEOUL! Friday after work I enjoyed some Korean food with a coworker and it was delish. I paid $4 for a dish called new fav. Bimimbap generally consists of rice, seaweed, korean vegetables, egg, and a spicy chili paste. You can order it hot or cold but I prefer it hot and mix it all together. I really don’t see myself cooking for a while! After dinner I met with the ladies from work and headed into Seoul. The bus only cost $2 and only took about 40 minutes. Our first stop was Big Rock, a Canadian bar where beers were around $8/9. This was a treat to the teachers here as they are used to korean beers which of course do not taste as good as ours. Our next stop was one of the coolest places I have EVER been to.. Rainbow bar. Like a lot of places in Korea, you take your shoes off, bag them and pick your flavor of hookah. You then pick your poison for buckets which are $25.. and well worth it! Everyone sits on pillows and enjoys drinks, music, hookah and a good time. Rainbow is a total hippy bar and I will definitely be heading back soon. Club NB was next on the list and by this time it was past 1am, meaning we had missed the subway and had to stay until around 6am. Although cover for NB was $20, it was well worth it. The size of this place was unbelievable and almost all of the songs were in english. They can’t speak english but believe me when I tell you they know ALL the words! Around 3am we headed to Norebong (karoke) where you rent out rooms and sing your heart out. There are hundreds of songs to choose from and it was soooo much fun. Around 4:30am we headed back to NB and once we couldn’t feel our legs anymore we headed home. I got to my apartment around 7am completely exhausted especially because I had not slept all week. I woke up at 1pm, had lunch and went back to sleep from 3pm-6am the next day. I felt so rested Sunday that I literally spent my entire day exploring my neighborhood.

Things I have noticed this week:
– “Without kimchi, Korean’s would not live”
– Children apparently do not need car seats..i’ve seen parents holding their babies in the front passenger seat
– You never tip
– Eating Korean is very inexpensive and convenient
– The bus drivers at our school are also the electricians, gardeners, cooks, cleaners etc.

Still having the time of my life here in SK. Summer vacation starts Friday and I am sure I will have lots to write in the next few weeks.
Sending love to all my friends and family back home ❤