Tuesday, 18 June 2013

[Using] the iron road [that's] runnin' from sea to the sea

I am still having a little trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I am in Korea over a year now. However, one thing that has not escaped my comprehension is that I have been incredibly lucky in my location. I've been able to get everywhere that I've been to in a maximum of half a day of travelling (sometimes a little longer with rest stops and/or transfers). I wish I could say that I have taken full advantage of this but I haven't. There are so many places that I want to go and, although they are semi easy to get to, I've yet to take the plunge. On the other hand, I've been having a fantastic time doing the few travels that I have done.

So how have I gotten around to all the fantastic places I've visited? Well, mostly by train and subway (and sometimes bus). KORAIL is the train and subway system that connects Korea so that "wild majestic mountains [no longer] stood alone against the sun". It's been in existence since 1899 - wow! - with the Seoul-Incheon line (source: Korail).  I've  found it to be a great service - fast, efficient, cheap, clean and that the staff are incredibly helpful. In the bigger cities I have visited, Daejeon, Seoul and Busan, there are subway lines. Seoul's is the most extensive but easily manoeuvred. There are several lines each in several different colours and they are also numbered. They all cross at several points which means getting from A to X is quite easy. To travel across country, I've mostly taken trains. The Mungunghwa is the train that I take the most often and it is the one that runs the most frequently. It's generally the slowest train. The Saemaeul is the second fastest train as they tend to stop less frequently than the Nooriro and Mungunghwa as well as moving at a faster speed. If you visit Chuncheon in Gangwan-Do you have at your fingertips Korea's first two-storey train! I've ridden it two or three times now.  It leaves Yongsan Station once every hour. However, if  you've "gotta get on our way 'cause we're movin' too slow" then the KTX is probably the best option as it is a high speed train. However...you pay quite a bit more for it.

And where have I visited? Well, considering Korea just isn't that big....not enough places! I realise that being here a year I have a wealth of knowledge about some of the different cities and amenities I have visited. There are other places that I have visited but I didn't spend enough time there to feel confident in describing the amenities. Let's start with Seoul. I've been to Seoul a minimum of once a month since being here and I can't get enough of the place. Admittedly, I don't always get to do sightseeing stuff as sometimes I go up to just do shopping or partying. Also, as you go up with people who're are going for the first time to Seoul you tend to end up going to the same places time and again.

Some of my favourite things that I have done in Seoul are the Cheonggyecheon stream which you can get to by going to Gwanghwamun Station and taking exit... This beautiful stream was recently restored and for Buddha's birthday it is filled with stunning lanterns. When I arrived last year I was privileged enough to go here the very morning after I arrived. I got to see the lanterns (unlit) and had much fun crossing the stepping stones. I was there more recently for Buddha's birthday this year with some girlfriends and this time we got to see the lit lanterns!

Close by the stream is Gyeongbokgung palace which I have detailed in several other posts (See HERE). This palace can be accessed by going to the same subway station as the stream but taking exit 2. However, I usually take the exit 5 and walk down the whole way to the palace as the view of the giant statues of King Sejong and the mountains behind the palace are breathtaking. In summer, on the way to the palace they are fountains which children and adults play in while the sun beats down upon them. Much of this palace had been destroyed by the Japanese and some parts are still being restored as of May 2013. Additionally, nearby at the City Hall Station, Exit 2, is Deoksugung Palace.
This small palace is an oasis in this busy hub, a place where it seems to be "too silent to be real". I went here with my cousin in September and the quiet beauty of this palace blew me away.

Besides the palaces and the stream there are many museums that showcase the history of this vibrant city and  intense little country. One of my favourite ones has been the Seoul Museum of Art which showcased an exhibition of Tim Burton's work.The gardens and the Museum were well laid out. I am interested to see what other exhibitions this museum has on offer. This is around the corner from Deoksugung palace where there is also a famous road that has some interesting sculptures as well as some embassies. Some other museums worthy of visiting are the War Memorial Museum of Korea and the National Museum of Korea. The latter has beautiful gardens full of pagoda's lakes and quiet walkways. Set in the heart of the city this museum nicely juxtaposes serenity with chaos. 
The Trick-Eye Museum in Hongdae is great fun. These illusions make it appear as if you are collecting dropped gold coins or that you are an angel fallen from heaven. I went with my brother my first month in Korea and it still remains one my highlights. Hongdae is addtionally a great place to go out.

   There are many other interesting things to do in Seoul including going to the Namsan Seoul Tower - we went in the pouring rain but it was a lot of fun. We got the bus from Myeondong and it took about 30 minutes to get there. You have about a ten minute walk to the tower itself from the bus stop and it's up quite a little hill (I was panting and aching!).

For those who've been living in Korea longer or are weary of travelling without much exposure to Western culture look no further than Itaewon, which is a cacophony of foreign voices.  If you are based in a small town where you are pretty much guaranteed nearly nobody understands you, well you may want to spend your time here with your mouth open. English is everywhere, from the shop names, to the multitudes of people all speaking a language you understand. Itaewon is my least favourite place in Seoul except for a few reasons - "What the Book" an amazing little bookstore, the foreigner market for when you need some western spices etc and for going the odd time to have lunch or dinner.

So you might think I'm mad to go to Seoul as often as I do and you might think I'm mad to not want to spend anymore time than necessary in Itaewon. However, "time has no beginnngs and hist'ry has no bounds" to what I feel I can learn about Korean culture, history and impact that Seoul has to offer.  I will continue to travel and explore as much as I can of Korea. And my quest to learn and see as much as Seoul has to offer will continue until my "minds [is] overflowing with the visions".

PS This post was inspired by Gordon Lightfoot's song "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and the amount of times my Mam has played this song during the course of my life!
PPS This post was inspired by the many trips I've taken to Seoul.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Now that life has begun.

Imagine a girl, curled up in a big chair in the corner of a room, a laptop sits on her knees and as her fingers glance over the keyboard, her brow furrows in concentration. A question has stumped her - she isn't sure if she understand the grammar point in question.

This is me about a year and a half ago in the midst of the last leg of the journey that has led me to where I am today.Truth be told, the journey of me arriving in Korea and teaching here travels back to the aeons of time and not just to September 2011 when I started studying for my TEFL Qualification. Some of my favourite books as a kid (and beyond, I must admit) were the "Chalet School" Stories by Elinor M Brent Dyer. I loved those books about girls attending a boarding school in Austria and I always had "time to spare" to reread them. I played games in my head where I designed schools, curriculums and imagined teaching my students. Oh, the adventures we had!

As I grew up, my desire to be a teacher did stick with me as my work experience in Secondary School was spent at a local Gaelscoil. However, I hadn't done well in my Leaving Cert so when I finally went to college in 2002, I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted tout of life. I thought (considering my love for books) that maybe I wanted to be a librarian eventually. In truth, I would love to be a librarian or a bookshop owner at some point in my life but reality has a way of kicking you in the bum. Digital is the way most books are going and libraries aren't as popular as they were many moons ago. I remember how, even as a kid, we seemed to be the only kids in our neighbourhood who frequented the several local libraries constantly. Reading just isn't as cool as it once was and with the ever increasing amount of television shows, computer games etc books are fighting what seems to be a losing battle. Even in my own family, I've one brother who came to reading quite late compared to the rest of us ("Harry Potter" reeled him in) and one sister who really doesn't read at all (her favourite book is "Black Beauty" which is the only book she (semi) voluntarily read as a child). However, I worked in the library when I was in college so partly, this dream has been fulfilled. 

Then, I graduated. I started working at a car rental company in the HR department and I realised that teaching was something that I not only enjoyed but was good at. I trained in a lot of work experience / interns and coworkers over the years as well as two people who would go on to manage me. When the time came (after 5+ years) for me to decide what I wanted to do with my life outside of HR (I realised it wasn't something I wanted to do forever), it's probably not surprising that I chose to Teach English as a Foreign Language in Korea.

As I look back on this year, I realise that I have come a long way and I'm so glad that  "[I] let me go...[so that I wasn't] stuck in the same place I've always been"When I arrived I was so nervous. Leaving Ireland had left me emotionally exhausted (see post: I left on a Jet plane ) and I didn't think I'd adjust as easily as I did. I've had an amazing support system from the get-go: a fantastic brother, amazing co-teachers, wonderful friends who have become like family,as well as outstanding family and friends at home...and I've had my determination to make this a memorable experience. Korea (as with any experience) is what you make of it. And for any experience to be a success you have to let go a little and enjoy it, have a bit of determination to stick with it and a desire to actually experience it. In Korea, you have to embrace the culture just a little bit to truly enjoy it here - whether  you start watching K-dramas, listen to K-pop (and not just PSY), or embracing the whole Kimchi Experience. There are tons of things to do and see, people to meet and experiences outside of teaching to be had.

When I first came here, I'd never gone somewhere on a vacation by myself and definitely not to somewhere I'd never been before. Well, I managed to enjoy myself in Korea visiting Seoul museums and spending 5 days alone in Gyeongju (see post: I did survive). I know it's not my favourite way to do things but I learned HOW to do that here. I've learned how to use a smartphone - anyone in my family will tell you when it comes to phones the simpler the better! I've learned a new language and while I am far from proficient I can now use a taxi to get from A to B, I can order my food/drinks and I can understand a few phrases my students throw at me or random strangers ask me. I've learned that acting the eeijit is a completely legit way to entertain children and the sillier you are the funnier they find you. I've learned games are the best way to get kids to practice their vocabulary and that sometimes you need to just drop whatever lesson you had planned and go with the flow. As long as they speak English the main objective has been reached.

Other ways that I have grown are too numerous to count but a few examples are as follows. I've grown more comfortable in my own skin. I am learning how to live by myself, completely - this means doing my own laundry, paying bills on time, waking myself up everyday etc. I only answer to myself. If I forget to pay a bill, the only person that is on is me. When I've lived in accommodation at home, I was responsible for paying bills but only my share. If I were late, someone would always call me or knock on my door. I had stress in my old job but I never pulled something out of thin air before - I have learned to do this consistently in Korea - sometimes a lesson just isn't going the way you want it even if you have the best class in the world. Sometimes, you need to change gear and start doing some thing new to get the kids to focus.

So you might think I'm mad but I feel that I have gotten a lot more out of Korea than I have given to Korea. You might think I'm mad to believe that acting the eeijit is a legitimate way to entertain children and that it's definitely worth it. All, I know is that this has been an incredible year that I wouldn't exchange for the world despite the "usual morning lineup" of my daily life. I no longer need to "wonder when will my life begin". For me the "lights [of opportunity] will [keep] appear[ing]" and I am getting lots of chances to go "out there where they glow".

PS: This post was inspired by a year in Korea
PPS: This post was inspired by the song "When will my life begin" which is sung by Mandy Moore in Tangled. 
Doing a barefoot walk in Daejeon
Lantern Festival, Seoul
Students at Job world

Immersing myself in Korean culture by completing
a puzzle and doing one of the Kimchi poses. 

Seafood in Busan

St Paddy's Day Party, Seoul