Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas at Bench

On the 20th of December, Benchwarmers, one of the waeguk pubs in my neighborhood, had a formal Christmas dinner. The dinner started off with appetizers like pasta salad, veggie trays, deviled eggs and moving onto the main course there was chicken, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce and most importantly the desserts included mini cheesecakes, mini pecan pies, ginger cookies and more. After dinner, we went to the downtown area and sang Christmas carols in various establishments and the Koreans loved it. Here are some pics and vids from the event. Sorry for the shoddy camera work, I was several drinks deep into the night and also trying to walk and film at the same time. Also, I apologize for the singing for the aforementioned reasons.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Most Glorious Day in Korea so Far.

My experience in Korea has been marked by a lot of ups and downs, with the ups coming mostly on Friday-Sunday and the downs from Monday to Thursday. Oh, I'm just kidding, for the most part. Anyways, this past Saturday was the best day I've had in Korea so far so i have a kind of running diary for the day, albeit written the day after. Enjoy!

The day starts with me waking up at quarter to 11:00 and rushing to get my things together to play some soccer. It was a real struggle to do this easy task, mostly because it's so cold outside of my sheets in the morning and I was going off of 5 hours of sleep (I'll leave the explanation to your imagination). Manage to get my things together, get a papa roti bun and some gatorade and water from a nearby 7/11 all in time to meet with some members of the Wonshot Wanderers, a pub soccer team formed by a group of foreigners and koreans by 11:45.

So I meet these two waeguk (korean word for foreigners) guys waiting outside of the local pub and then a van shows up to take us to the sports complex. On a sidenote, to all Callanan/Sepe family members reading this, you'll be happy to know that one of the waeguks, Tom, is from Kingstown Rhode Island. So the van takes the 3 of us, plus 5 korean guys on a 25 minute ride to the sport complex, and to be honest it was the most I had seen of Korea thus far, scenery speaking.

We ended up scrimmaging two teams in a format where we would play one team, then break for a little bit then scrimmage the next, for a good two hours or so. Until this point I have ran once, my third day in Korea, and had not played soccer in some 4 weeks. Needless to say I was a bit gassed and my play, while not horrible, was not superb in anyway. We, as a team, did fairly well, not losing a game all day although to be fair, one of the teams was filled with mostly middle aged men and we're mostly young guys with a few "more experienced" players here and there.

During the 25 minute ride back to the downtown area, I was chatting with Alick (pronounced Alec), the other waeguk in the van, about a turkish-middle eastern restaurant in Samsung Dong, which striked his interest so we decided to give it a try that night. Later on I get a call from Alick and he said that him and some of his British friends were going out to eat and he invited me to come with.

So I meet up with Alick and his two mates, and we go to a Korean kind of B.B.Q place. I was quite content to go to one because I pass by these kinds of restaurants all the time but never go because they're very communal (not all Korean Restos are that way, but the b.b.q places are) and well I'm usually eating out by myself or with Craig, the other waeguk teacher at my school, and he is pescatarian (which means he only eats fish and seafood, no b.b.q). Do you know how hard it is to walk by all these restaurants that look so good but know that you can't eat there? I imagine it would be similar to a lactose intolerant person walking by a bunch of baskin robbins or something, but I digress.........

So the way things go out at this restaurant is you sit around a burner and they bring out the meats that you order and you cook them, wrap them in a leaf (either a leafy romaine lettuce leaf or mint leaf that they call a sesame leaf), put in some b.b.q sauce or chili paste, maybe part of a garlic clove in there, and then eat it fajita style. And to make the experience even better, they brought us these little orange aprins that served as bibs and we wore them as a joke, what a sight! To start, we ordered some tiny thin beef strips and a big thick pork cut which was later cut into tiny little cuts and we continued with the pork rib for the rest of the time there. It was glorious!!

Originally, when thinking about writing this post, I planned on just writing about the soccer and possibly the dinner, but I feel like this next part is classic, and quite essential to my experience, so I can't rob you of this one. After finishing dinner around maybe 9:30, deciding it's way too early to call an end to our Saturday night, we do what any 4 young gentleman would do. Hit the bars!

Starting off we hit up some tiny bar, drink a beer there and then to the next. We then hit up two chain bars which are set up in a western setting, or they call them western bars (but they're not waeguk bars, or owned by foreigners).

After doing the bars we decided to move on to the clubs, Club Orangi to be precise, or maybe it's spelled Orangey, not sure exactly. The club was quite a riot to be honest. The first thing that stuck out was it's like a restaurant in the sense that 90% of the club is booths set up for you to sit down, drink, be merry, etc. The other 10% is a stage and a small dance floor. Then they will play for music 20 minutes, take a break and people will go sit down for a bit until the music starts up again. Kind of different no? Awesome observation #2, this was the only club I've ever been to where they serve you fruit. How crazy/amazing is that? It's like what would go well with this beer, hmm, half a banana, a slice of apple and some watermelon, yes, that's what I was looking for. Only in Korea (one of the most common phrases used by waeguks, or "this is Korea").

We decided to go to the club in hopes of meeting some local friends but the whole language and cultural barrier was....well a barrier. Point in case, there was a group sitting next to us and this girl, Hyun-Cho, struck up a conversation with me, or something close to it. So we try talking for a bit but she knows little English and I know about 4 lines of Korean so our conversation was quite limited. We ended up exchanging phone numbers, so it went pretty well and I was thinking I was looking at my first dip into to the dating world here in Korea. Well, Hyun-Cho called me today and we talked for about 10 minutes and by talk I mean me trying to say that I would like to see her again, if she would like to go out to eat, me saying "hmmm" about 39.5 times and then fumbling through a dictionary to try and look up restaurant, or dinner, or something along those lines, only to get a little frustrated and have the phone call come to a halt. I think I'll try sending her a text but I'm not too sure if much will change which has led me to realize that my pool of ladies to choose from will be rather minimal, from Koreans that can speak English at a good level or waeguks. I guess I thought most of the adult population, well educated, had a good working knowledge of English, not the case. The good news is that I have an extra motivation to learn the language, the bad news is that my learning tool is a book that teaches me things like "how much is this?" and "do you have any milk?". Why can't they teach me useful stuff like "would you like to go out sometime?" or "do you have a boyfriend?" etc........Thanks Arirang (the group that wrote my language book)!!!

Anyways, this post has gone on for far too long so I will let you enjoy the rest of your Sunday. Hope all is well stateside, or wherever you're reading this. Peace!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This is my crib, these are my rides, i am a rolling...

Ok so I have no ride, unless you count my bus pass, but here are some pics of my apartment. The Korean cut out was left by the teacher who lived in the apartment before me so I decided to keep it have them be my Korean host family. Do you guys also like my improvised computer desk, aka t.v. box and end of the bed as a chair? T.V and Computer both provided by my director, which is pretty impressive. I know people have been here longer and don't have these amenities yet, so I'm very grateful to have a generous director.

Munsu Stadium and the Surrounding Sports Complex

So I received some instructions on how to get Munsu Stadium, home of Ulsuan Hyundai Football Club (aka Ulsan's soccer team), and decided to make the trip out to the stadium last weekend. I went several hours before a game that Ulsan had with the Pohang Steelers but held off on the game cause I didn't have anyone to accompany me to the game, still working on that one. The actual stadium is pretty cool looking and they have a multisport complex surrounding the stadium, with a walking track, swimming pool, inline skating track and some 30 points of interest in all.
As you can see in the pictures, the stadium was one of the many sites for the 2002 World Cup so they have a memorial/museum for the World Cup in the stadium just by the suites. Also, the stadium has a ceremony hall inside it, right by the World Cup museum, so it's good to know if I ever decide to do that marriage thing, there is a place appropriate for my tastes.
Coincidentally, Ulsan is fighting F.C. Seoul in a tightly contested game to see who will play the Suwon Blue Wings for the K-League Championship while I write this. Ulsan pulled a late equalizer and the game is now going to E.T. Yes, I realize how predictable I am...... I am awesome!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


More pics to come. I've been playing with my toys for too long and I should get to bed. If you would like to see some more, check out my facebook page. If you aren't on facebook, I'm sorry that you'll have to wait but I'm too lazy to put up a link so people outside the facebook community can see my pics. The rest should be up by this weekend.


So I now have a p.c. in my place and was able to upload the pictures I have taken so far so I'm going to try and put some up on the blog. The first one is the mascot of the Ulsan Basketball team that I ran into my first day wandering around the Lotte Mall. In picture number 2 we have soju on the right with some Kiwi drink that you can mix the soju in. Soju is a liquor made from Rice. Lastly, there is a sign of Seong Nam Dong, my hood.
Side note, I wanted to put the text at the top and put captions but in between the photos but I couldn't figure it out and it's 1:30 a.m. here so I'm too lazy/tired to figure it out. If anyone has any insight on how to work with blogger and pics, you'll be my best friend for 32 minutes, potentially more. That is all.

Corporate policies follow you around the world

Hey everyone, I know I just did post the other day but there have been so many things going on that I wanted to keep you guys in the loop. Plus, my director just dropped me off with computer in hand, and since they ran the internet through my apartment to the guy next door's apartment, I was already hooked up with internet so that means no more P/C gaming rooms for me, yay!

So I wanted to write about a meeting that Craig, the other american at my institute, and I had with the vice director Sebastian (he's Korean, Sebastian is his English name). The hagwon that I teach at is called GnB, which is actually a corporation of Hagwons throughout Korea. I think they're the 2nd biggest or biggest in Korea and there's actually multiple GnB's throughout Ulsan.

So Sebastian has us in the office and explains to us that the home office would like us to be using more GnB text books. Currently, Craig and I are using these books called "Match" which are ok, they involve a lot of coloring, songs (which I never do anyways cause I can never find the cd. Each classroom has 30-50 cds in it, how am I suppose to find the right cd in 25 minutes time?), listening activities that I can dictate, you know using the foreigners for their exact purpose.

On the other hand, the GnB books are a little bit harder to gameplan as the book has a story in English which you read with the kids, then have them write the Korean translation underneath and then go over some key phrases, and then next chapter, more or less. Obviously Craig and I don't know enough Korean to know whether they are writing it correctly or not and there aren't as many break-ups with different activities for the kids, making it harder for us to use the book.

I think Craig and I did an adequate idea of explaining that those books aren't really the best way to utilize our time, and Sebastian was very understanding however home office policy is....well, home office policy. Sebastian made it clear that we need to follow certain procedures, book completion rates, etc. in order to continue our status as a GnB school, which I imagine carries some prestige.

I guess the moral of the story is that you think you're leaving the corporate world and entering a different sector, but really things are just the same anywhere. To quote #2 from Austin Powers "there is no world anymore, it's all corporations". On a positive note, the meeting wasn't really bad, Craig and I weren't doing anything completely wrong, and to be honest, it was really the first instruction from Sebastian on how to do my job (quite standard really, or so I've heard).

In other news, the last 2 days of work had been really positive and I'm definitely feeling more comfortable. I had no 7:10-8:00 pm classes tonight so I got to talk with the director, Mr. Choi, during that time. It was really nice talking to him and getting to know more about him, and he was interested in knowing about me and my experience in Korea so far, which was cool. Craig had told me that Sebastian and Mr. Choi (they're brothers, just a side note for you), were very nice and I have not been let down so far.

Lastly, I want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving. I hope by this time you will have loosened your belt a couple of notches, watched the lions lose and ponder whether you should eat a 3rd piece of pumpkin pie or not. For me, it will have to be kimchi and some fried pancakes off the street....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Hagwon

So I'm teaching in what's called a Hagwon, or a private school where children go after their elementary school to learn English. There are other schools for Korean, math, etc. and I think they're called Hagwons too but I'm not sure.

Since the students are coming here after their elementary school, my schedule is as follows: m-w-f 2:25 till 8:35, and t-r 2:00 till 8:00 pm. The classes run on the hour intil 10 minutes till (so 50 minutes) and I am in a class room for 25 minutes at a time and then switch to another class room, then we have a 10 minute break except for there is a 20 minute break after the 6:00 clock class, so the next class starts at 7:10. Everything is clear so far?

The classes are small, anywhere from 5 to 11 children or so, for which I am quite thankful. The children can be well behaved but a lot act up all the time. I can empathize in the fact that they are in some type of school for most of their day and then go home to do all of their school work. I think they're even in school on Saturdays. When do they get time to be kids?!?! But that is the life that many adults live in Korea and that's just Korea in general. And unfortunately the parents pay my salary so until the kids can come up with a salary comparable to the one I receive now, boring bookwork will have to do for now.

As forementioned, a lot of the work here is just going by a book. I've found that when I can't anymore then it's Hangman/Pictionary time for the students. I've tried getting some of my students to do charades but that didn't work, i think something got lost in translation. I also heard from someone that she tried playing heads up 7-up only to have one of the children cry so I'm reluctant to try that one out. Anyways, if you do have something that might be fun for the kids to do, feel free to leave it in the comments. Hangman and Pictionary can only last for so long......

Friday, November 21, 2008

So much to post

Ok, so week one is in the books and as you can imagine, there are so many things to write about so I'm going to try and get you up to speed. Well after my rocky start, things have settled down and I am now getting accustomed to life in Korea. I live in a small studio apartment with a stove top, mini fridge/freezer, bathroom thats almost as big as my bedroom as it has my washing machine in it, and that's about it. The director of my school is actually in the process of obtaining a t.v. and desktop for me, not really sure where it will go, but it's cool that I will have those amenities in my place.

My apartment is located in a part of Ulsan call Saeng Nam Dong (not sure if I spelled that right or not). Every district has a dong in it, so there is Samsung Dong, Moogoo Dong, etc. My school is in a different district, which is actually pretty good because I'm not sure if I would want to see the children when I'm going out to eat, staggering out of my apt hungover, etc.

As far as being in Saeng Nam Dong, and the exact location of my apartment, it's pretty sweet. I'm right in the heart of everything, anything I need or want is pretty much a block away. I walk out of my apartment turn right and I can find a shopping mall, an adidas and puma store, MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, a 7/11, banks, a computer lab (although everyone uses it for gaming here), lots of bakeries and korean restaurants. As I said, anything I really want. On a sidenote, one of the landmarks to guide me home is a lingerie shop called Sexy Cookie. Try not to laugh at that, I dare you!

I've done a little traveling around my area and I've already come across some personal faves. Just next door to my apartment is a Japanese Ramen Restaurant. The owner is Korean but speaks some English and is super friendly. I've been getting the same thing, this spicy Japanese Ramen, it's by far one of the spiciest things I've ever had. Also, just a block over is this bakery called Papa Roti, which has these little buns that are about the size and shape of an oversized grapefruit cut in half. Anyways, the bottom part has like butter baked into it so it's all buttery and delicious. I've also realized that Papa Roti is ridonkulous at 10:00 am, when they open, and just plain old good at noon.

The other nice thing about being Saeng Nam Dong is that I am about 2 blocks away from Benchwarmers, a foreigner bar. It's a little hole in the wall that is pretty hard to find but a good thing to know about. I could go on and do a post about Benchwarmers, as a matter of fact, I just might when I have the time. For now, lets just say that I went there last Sunday and it was dead but one of the bartenders is the team manager for a soccer team of koreans and foreigners and invited me to play with them. He, Ryan is his English name, said he does a Korean class for foreigners, so I think I'm going to look into that. In that same trip I met some Canadian woman who knows someone who would like to practice their Spanish, which combined with the soccer, made my day.

So this is where I live. I know a lot of you are anxious to hear about my school and other things, so I will try and post about that when I can. Until next time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm here, barely...... (mom read at your own will)

Well after some 20 hours of travlel or so, I am here in Ulsan, South Korea. I must say it didn't come easy, at least the final part leg of the journey. What happened you ask? Well after getting in to South Korea from Tokyo, got my luggage and went through customs, everything normal so far. One of the ladies from my recruiting company greeted me at the airport and then showed me to a bus that I was to take to Ulsan, the directions being 'get off at the last stop'.

Upon arriving to Ulsan we made a stop or two and there were some directions in Korean and English telling people which stop it was, etc. and I knew I was good. But then we made a stop and there were no directions at all and everyone got off the bus. Well I followed and tried to ask the driver where we were, but of course he speaks no English and I speak about 5 words total of Korean, so we're pretty much at a stand still there. Well at this point the driver goes off and I am on outside some hotel and quickly coming to the realization that I am not where I need to be.

Ok, time to act, lets not panic, I'm thinking to myself. So I decide to hail a taxi only to go to the same motions of him not speaking English and me knowing 5 words of Korean, awesome. I end up pointing in my Learn Korean Book that i need to go to the airport cause there is a bus terminal there, taxi driver says he understands and we're off. Get to the airport and the taxi driver lets me off and I realize once again that I am not in the right spot except this time it's worse. This time, I'm in BFE Ulsan at 9:30 pm, at an airport that is entirely closed and dead. Honestly, what airport closes at 9:30

Insert panic feeling as I stroll around this parking lot looking for a single soul to talk to when my answers are heard and I run into some security guard type characters at the Ulsan airport. These guys could speak some English and we finally come to an understanding and decide that I need to be at the Ulsan bus terminal, another taxi ride.

Get to the bus station and stroll around for a bit but at this point I assume it's a safe bet that my director has already left and that I'm better off on my own at this point. Enter taxi #3, albeit a much shorter ride as there were several motels/hotels near the bus terminal.

Now I sit at my motel writing this blog post, which is pretty astounding that a motel would have a computer and internet connection. Since I do have internet I was able to see that my recruiter had e-mailed me concerned as I wasn't where I was supposed to be, so I gave her a call and explain the situation and they will get in touch with the director who will pick me up tomorrow.

Having gone through the worst of the first evening, I can look back and laugh at it. I mean nothing happened, I got to see a lot of the city and have agreat story for you the reader. Plus, I know I can get by in almost any situation now, right? The one thing I feel bad about is having the director/recruiter worry about me, but they know I'm safe now so its good now. Until next time.........

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Steel City, and I'm not talking about Pittsburgh

Despite the name of my blog's website, I will not teaching in Seoul but in a city called Ulsan. Ulsan is mostly kept afloat by Hyundai as it is a port city, and so it has the nickname as being "The Steel City", or so I've seen online.

So why would I choose a city that seems like a Korean version of Cleveland? Not for nostalgic reasons that's for sure. Literally, the conversation between myself and the recruiting company went as follows:

Recruiting company: Chris do you have any preference on the location of your stay?

Me: I don't want to be in a really large city (thus ruling out Seoul and Busan, the 2 biggest cities. Ulsan is still a big city, like the 8th or 9th biggest city in Korea). And the other important thing is that it has a soccer team.

And so they placed me in Ulsan, which is home of the Ulsan Tigers, sponsored by none other than the Hyundai corporation.

Check out map of South Korea and the location Ulsan:

Link specific about Ulsan:

Another side note about Ulsan: The U.S. Men's National team lost to Germany in Ulsan's stadium during the knockout stage of the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You're going to South Korea .... on purpose?

If you're reading this post odds are you already know that I will be heading to South Korea (Ulsan, South Korea to be precise) for a years length. So my departure date is scheduled for the 13th of November and I will start my teaching at the GnB English Institute shortly after.

So a lot of you have been asking why South Korea or if I know that they don't speak Spanish in South Korea. In response I would say yes, I know they speak Korean and no, I don't speak any Korean, apart from the word chuk-gu which means soccer. I chose South Korea for a myriad of reasons which I will explain briefly. I felt like changing things up a bit and having already been to Latin America a couple of times and while I'm sure I'd like another trip to South America, I kinda already know what I would be getting into. Furthermore, most Latin American countries require some certifications to teach in those countries and they try to keep the paying positions for their countrymen while South Korea has such a great demand for English teachers that they'll practically let a 3rd grader from the U.S. go teach them English, well not exactly but you get the point. Plus, they have individual karaoke rooms at bars, some kind of vodka drink called soju and their national dish is stinky, fermented cabbage called kimchi, what's not to love?

With my upcoming departure, I've decided to start up a blog to share my experiences as opposed to just sending out massive e-mails every week. I intend to post something on a weekly basis and possibly post some smaller posts as they come to me. So lets get this straight, I post weekly and you the reader will never respond or comment, I will in turn get frustrated and wonder why I even write it but will eventually write because I enjoy doing it (can you tell I've done this before?). And while my departure is still a couple of weeks away, I will try and blog a little before I go just to share my pre Korea experience.

So how are things going with my preparation so far? Well lets see my apartment is a complete disaster zone and nowhere near ready to be vacated in the upcoming weeks, I have lots of ends to tie up at my current place of employment and my current knowledge of Korean consists of one word. Simply awesome. Needless to say I have my work cut out for me and will be at it like crazy for the next couple of weeks..... Until next time....