Category Archives: South Korea
10 Months After Landing in Vegas
I bought this print while in Insadong, South Korea, a section of Seoul. The print remained in a poster tube for 10 months before I finally brought it in to be framed. Since I have no place to now put it as I still live with family as of May 2011, it’s covered again and put away like an old relic like the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Notice the the two men in the distance (top left) gazing at the women bathing.
The Package 2
You may want to re-read The Package, an earlier blog, to re-fresh the history of this package. Basically, this package was shipped from Las Vegas to Korea during the first week I left which was the very beginning of June. The package took like 10 days to arrive and then went through a whole lot of red tape and I didn’t see it for a few more weeks, right up to the week I was going to fly back.
So, unfortunately, my one year journey of living and working abroad in Korea was only going to be a month-long. I decided to use that same package to ship back to Las Vegas. This was a few days before my flight back, on July 9th I believe. I wanted to do what I could to avoid any overweight fees on luggage like I had flying to Korea. I filled the package with ESL and screenwriting books and resources. Saving myself some dough, I opted to ship via boat, but that meant it would take anytime from 2 weeks to two or three months. Finally, a few days ago, about August 25th the package came home.
In the video above which had been filmed July 4th weekend there are references to ‘the package.’ Skype made it effortlessly to connect with my family during some rough times abroad. To infinity and beyond!
Play ball! Baseball is very popular in South Korea. Oddly enough, their team names are in English such as Lions and Tigers, etc. Walking around Seoul, especially Itaewon, you feel like you’re in a big city populated by American baseball fans. It seemed like every other Korean wearing a baseball cap was sporting a NY Yankees logo. Yankee fans in South Korea? Sweet! Go Yankees! Oh, wait! They’re sporting Red Sox caps too. BOO! Apparently, there’s some story connected to the Cleveland Indians’ logo as many Koreans wear Indian caps too.
The other thing you’ll notice about the photo is that the NY symbol is in PINK! Pink? Yes, pink. Pink is a popular color in South Korea. Parents don’t distinguish colors for boys and girls when planning playrooms or bedrooms for babies. That’s probably why so many men wear pink, not to mention PURSES!
If you were say riding a train in America and at the next stop a person enters wearing hospital pajamas you might think the were an escapee from a mental institution. Koreans commonly ride the trains or walk the streets immediately after being at a hospital. They don’t have a change of clothes. I don’t know if they entered the hospital without clothes or were found naked. It’s all very typical there in South Korea to see patients just released wearing hospital gowns and medical bracelets.
My flight from the U.S. arrived in Seoul, South Korea, on May 27th, 2010. My Mom decided to send me a follow-up package of things I could use and may not find in Korea right away. The main purpose for the package was for a small bottle of prescription that held a 3 month supply. I have to watch my high cholesterol and triglycerides. Not a big deal…unless you’re sending it to Korea.
My insurance company allows a 3 month tourist supply, but I had to acquire permission from my doctor. Three months doesn’t cover a year supply, but at least I would have it a while longer. I could possibly spread out the days I take it.
Other items in the package;
- some shirts
- plastic cups
- plastic silverware and plates
My Mom was concerned that I may not find some items easily. Mom was just being, well, Mom. It’s not like I was going away for camp.
Anyway, so Mom mailed this package on June 3, 2010. The package weighed 6 pounds. If all was fine I would have seen the package in about ten days at the most. The package was mailed through Federal Express and was being mailed directly to the school.
So, the package arrived…at FedEx about ten days later which is expected. I spoke to my parents and they said that the package arrived, but had to go through customs. They also told me that someone would be contacting me through email or my cell phone.
A few days later I received an email from a FedEx representative. I emailed back with the tracking # and where the package is to be dropped off. I wanted the package to be dropped off at the address written on the package, my school. The mailboxes at our apartment building are not trustworthy as Moniqa, one of the teachers, stopped receiving mail there. The mail simply ceased to arrive without any warnings or notices. After living there for a while I’d believe that. After all, our landlord is believed to be dead.
Anyway, back to our story. A few more days passed and I decided to call the FedEx office from school. I spoke to someone and left a message for them. Jake, the Korean American teacher, became a mediary. Jake told me that I needed to have my information handy regarding the prescription. They wanted to know my doctor’s name and phone number. Federal Express also wanted to know the pharmacy’s phone number as well. I emailed that information to the contact I had.
A few days later, Jake informed me that I needed to bring in the prescription bottle so one of the Korean teacher’s could verify and give that information to FedEx. Done.
No, we’re not done. Days later Jake told me that customs may run some tests that could take another ten days. What? What tests? They’ve made those phone calls to my pharmacy and doctor’s office and still don’t trust that it’s prescription.
FedEx then asked me who the people were that sent me the package. Well, let’s see, they raised me, sent me to college and watched me play ice hockey. Oh, yes, they have the same last name. Maybe they’re oh, I don’t know, MY PARENTS! Do they think my parents are in on the drug deal too? What a great cover!
So, a few more days pass. Jake gets a call from FedEx. The prescription is fine. Now they want to know the cost of the few plastic silverware items. What? Are you serious? Really? Really?
At this point my concern was that the package would arrive after I have left South Korea and headed back to the U.S. because the few leads I had were not panning out.
I got on the phone with the FedEx guy and told him:
“Send it back! Send the package back to the United States. Send it back!”
The guy on the phone pleaded with me that it was very easy at this point. All I had to do was pay the shipping or customs or international tax, something. I finally caved in and said ‘Fine. I’ll pay the tax.” That’s all FedEx really wanted.
I think I told him $4 for the plastic silverware. They probably cost less then that.
Jake found out how much the taxes were. I paid him in won because I didn’t have a bank account yet. (I would have a had a lot of things like a foreign registration card, health insurance and a South Korean cell phone if I knew I was staying in SK.)
Jake took care of paying FedEx.So, for the next many days, possibly a week went by, I’d ask the Korean teacher if my package arrived. No package.
The package was sent on June 3, 2010. It didn’t arrive at the school and in my care until July 11th.
So, that was a lesson to me and let it be a lesson to you. If you can get your 3 month supply ahead of time before leaving pack it into your suitcase or do without it.
I decided a few days later to use the same package to send back a bunch of resource books on ESL and screenwriting. I had an overweight fee on my luggage when I left the Las Vegas airport to fly to Seoul. I thought I would lighten my load on the way back. The package will take a long time to go back to Vegas as I paid for the cheapest way…by boat which could take from 2 weeks to 2 or 3 months. I’ve been in Vegas for one week as of today, Monday, July 19th. Stay tuned to find out when the package will finally come home.
A Million in Won
When I was contemplating a new job and career teaching English for one year in South Korea people told me that one-year went by very quickly. Well, it definitely felt like a blur; going from one thing to the next, one class to the next, one day to the next, one train to the next.
Things did not work out in this position at this school. I’m not going to get in to what happened or why things happened that way. Things just happen in this life. You take the best out of your experience and be a better person. That’s what she said. If anyone wants to know, we can discuss it in person or through separate email.
The Kids Are Alright
I enjoyed the teaching experience. I feel like I did a great job, not knowing and still not knowing what type of teacher I am.
Teaching kindergarteners is something I never thought I would do. It was okay. I am open to that experience again. They were a very unruly bunch at our school.
Every time your back was turned gave them all sorts of ideas.
But I liked seeing the older kids’ eyes light up when they learned something interesting. There were students that were very enthusiastic in learning about the world. Those students were the most fun to teach.
- I decided to try to find another job while already there in South Korea. Schools wouldn’t have to pay for my flight there. I gave myself a few weeks to find a job and then I would have to plan on going home. When my time working at the school would end mid-July, my Visa sponsorship would be over and my apartment would be mine no longer.
So, I asked around the few people in South Korea I knew about leads. I asked my family since my sister had taught here a decade ago. I was working with a few new recruiters as almost all of the schools today use recruiting firms to acquire teachers.
So Many Places, So Little Time
I may not have met a lot of people, but I sure went to a lot of places.
Knowing early on that I would not be enjoying a year long adventure, I decided to fit a year’s worth of touring into one month. I observed and immersed myself into Seoul’s trendy areas; Itaewon, Insadong, Hongdae and Gangnam. I visited many great museums and some beautiful palaces, temples and fortresses. The Seoul Tower was very cool. One day I traveled with a tour group to the DMZ and stepped over the line into North Korea. That was amazing!
I had a ‘million and won’ chance of a lifetime to live and work in South Korea. I loved almost every minute of it. Well, I guess I even loved the time I had with the kindergarteners. “Paul, sit in your chair!”
My flight home was actually kind of nice as I was bumped up to Business Class for free. I probably would have enjoyed it more if this was one year later. It felt sad leaving the school and then leaving the country. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back.
Oh, home for now is in Las Vegas, Nevada…with Mom & Dad.
This is definitely not the end of this blog. There are more stories coming. Look out for a blog about “The Package.”
Seoul Tower overlooks all of Seoul. It’s quite an amazing view!
Korean Folk Village
The Korean Folk Village near Suwon, South Korea, is immense! It’s packed full of exhibits outdoors showcasing the traditional ways Koreans lived thousands of years ago. There were acrobats doing amazing stunts while riding horses. There was a traditional wedding ceremony. This is a great way to learn about the traditional culture of Korea’s past.
My co-worker, Jon, and I were walking away after seeing the acrobats on the horses when a female voice said, “Jon!” It turned out to be Danielle, the teacher I had replaced at school. The Korean Folk Village may be immense, but ‘it’s a small world after all.’
After a long hot and humid day at the Korean Folk Village we were very tired, but up for one last adventure for the day. The Hwaseong Fotress in Suwon is another site not too far from the Korean Folk Village. The fortress was built by the 22nd Joseon king, Jeongjo. Jon and I walked up many steps on a very steep hill. The view of Suwon at the top was awesome. We walked around and followed the fortress wall. I kept thinking that there was some sort of building behind the fortress. The information center had closed so we were on our own without a map. The fortress wall was pretty cool. What a workout though. Jon, who’s moving to the Suwon area, may now walk up these stairs for exercise. It’s very peaceful place once you make it to the top…and don’t pass out.
Now that’s a bell!
DMZ – FREEDOM BRIDGE
Saturday, July 3rd, 2010 is the day I decided to cross the border into North Korea…legally that is. I signed up a few days earlier online for the combined tours of the Third Tunnel and Panmunjom. I received an automatic confirmation and reservation number. I was already thinking that if for some reason I didn’t get into the tour I would just walk around the area of the departure. The departure point happened to be the prestigious Lotte Hotel. I hadn’t paid for the tour yet. The hotel is a stop away from City Hall so there’s plenty to do there. I had to get up at 5am so I could be on the train around 6am. I had to be at the hotel by 7:30am and it takes an hour on the train to get to the Lotte Hotel including some line transfers.
So, I get to the Lotte Hotel in timely fashion. I find the floor I need to the DMZ tour office. I walk in and am asked to take a seat. I sit down for a moment. Then they call me over. The clerk tells me that the tour I reserved online for was not even open this day. (I should have known as the reservation was too easy.) There’s more than one tour company. This office happen to be another tour company doing the same tour around the same time. I asked if they had room for me and I got the very last seat on the bus. Phew!
Half or a bit more than half the bus was a large group of Japanese tourists. There were always two tour guides on the bus. One was for the Japanese and a sweet, funny older Korean lady spoke English to the foreigners.
There are separate tours for the Third Tunnel and Panmunjom. I wanted to see it all and I’m so glad I did.
First of all, the bus ride is about an hour and half to the Northern border.
In the morning, the first stop was at Imjingak where you can see the Freedom Bridge where a train once ran through here. It was a place where the North and the South exchanged prisoners after the Korean War. This is a very sacred area as many South Koreans still have family members in the North.
Next Stop: Odusan Unification Observatory
This was very fascinating! Those mountains in the background are in North Korea. Over the right side behind this soldier is a small South Korean village made up of a few hundred farmers. A South Korean flag can be seen as well as a church steeple and the town. A few hundred meters north of the South Korean flag is a North Korean flag. The North Korean village is known as the Propaganda Village since not a soul lives there. The North is all about appearances. It’s not easy to take photos of these sites as the South Korean government purposely makes it difficult. There’s a yellow line that lets you know you can take pictures up until that point. No pictures after crossing that line. You can really see the two villages and the two flags very well through binoculars at the edge for 500 won.
The South Korean villagers in this town don’t pay taxes and do not have to do the mandatory military service that the rest of the country does. They have good benefits. They deal with enough living with hostile neighbors that have been known to kidnap villagers. These villagers are also surrounded by thousands of land mines. The South Korean military has only rid of about 30% of the mines here.
Welcome to the Third Tunnel.
We took a monorail down to the Third Tunnel. The space is very narrow so you have to watch your head. I bumped mine a few times on the monorail and on foot. The monorail only takes you down so far. The rest is on foot. So, apparently one North Korean defector came to the South and told them of these tunnels being dug so the North can do a surprise attack. Four tunnels have been found, but they suspect up to 10 possibly exist. The North splashed some coal over the tunnel to make it seem like they were simply mining coal, but there’s no coal. The Fourth Tunnel was found as recent as the early 90’s. The North doesn’t let up. The tunnel was pretty amazing. We had to bend down in order to walk. You can barely fit two people beside each other. I don’t know how an army would attack through such narrow spaces. They would need to sleep after getting to the other side. We walked to the end where the South Korean military put up a wall so the North can not penetrate now. Through a small hole in the wall you can see another door further away. On the way back, instead of taking the monorail which some people did, I opted to walk up the steep incline. It’s VERY steep and quite long considering we were on the monorail for about 3 to 5 minutes. I was dying when I reached the top.
Next Stop: Dorasan Station
There is a South Korean factory way over the North Korean territory in Gyeseong. Most of the workers are North Korean. Some South Koreans in supervisor type roles take the train here to Gyeseong to go to work. The North and South have an agreement regarding this factory where both sides benefit. South Koreans would love to see this station be a working station for civilians to take through North Korea all the way to China. South Koreans have to fly if they want to go to China.
I’m starving. Bulgogi! I think this is my favorite Korean meal. Beef stew is all it is. It tastes much better than it sounds. We ate at a traditional Korean restaurant and sat on the floor.
Let’s go to North Korea!
The bus headed to Camp Bonifas, South Korea’s military base on the border. Things get very strict here and at different times throughout both tours. There are places and times when you’re not allowed to snap photos. Since we were now much closer to the neighboring villages we could see them without binoculars. ‘No pictures please.’
On our way into the area in the morning there were a few check points where soldiers checked passports. Camp Boifas has even more restrictions. On our way into the base, the tour guide kept updating us on how close we were getting to the Demarcation Line or Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Soldiers took another look at our passports. We finally left for the Joint Security Area where the DMZ line is. But first we needed to see an 8 minute movie about the DMZ. We also signed our life away on some form. (It was nice knowing you all.) We picked up badges that we wore in plain sight on our shirts. Other than the movie we were also briefed about what we could do and what we could not do. Still cameras were okay to bring and snap photos inside the MAC Conference Room. Video cameras are not permitted. (So, all those You Tube videos are people that broke a very serious rule. Bad! Very bad! But thank you for sharing.)
We were not allowed to bring our camera cases. Just the still cameras. It started to drizzle. I thought, ‘Oh, great. We can bring our cameras, but if it starts raining we’re screwed.’ Luckily, the rain remained a light drizzle. We were also informed that we could not do any pointing with our fingers. The North will use that as propaganda. There are apparently cameras everywhere. Who knows what would happen to you? Don’t be a dumb-ass and follow the rules people!
Here it comes!
The MAC Conference Room is the ultimate in political geography when two sides are technically still at war. It’s a very strange feeling being there. We had about 5 minutes to snap photos inside the MAC Conference Room. All the soldiers inside are South Korean. The soldier I’m standing beside is positioned on the DMZ line. The table is half on South Korea and the other half is in North Korea. There is a flag and marks on the table indicating the line. You’ll see the line outside the window. The South Korean side has gravel while the North Koreans prefer the plain concrete look. They’re not big on decorating.
After posing for that picture, I stepped over into North Korea to take some more photos. It’s a weird feeling to stand there. Before we knew it, we were being rushed out of the room. Get in. Get out. Stay safe.
We then were able to take more pictures from a distance as another tour group entered the Conference Room. A few soldiers outside stand facing the North with only one eye to watch the other side. These soldiers in their set positions are seriously like mannequins.
The purpose of this Demilitarized Zone is to prevent any possible fight between two hostile armed forces.
In this wide shot you can see a North Korean soldier looking on from across the way in the furthest building.
In such an awful place there is still some incredible beauty as a flock of white cranes filled the trees.
There is so much suffering among the Korean people over this area. A part of Imjingak is a family amusement park. I guess it’s a pleasant thing to have there since many Koreans go there to think about their relatives still in North Korea.
Hopefully some day these two countries will patch things up. I’m just glad I got to see some unbelievable history.
On Sunday, June 27th, Jon and I headed out for a full day of museums and a stop in Insadong. It was raining so I decided not to take my big Nikon along. Jon had his pocket-sized digital camera. Of course, that meant that the rain subsided very early in the day. Just because I didn’t bring my camera, the weather turned out fine.
WAR MUSEUM of KOREA
Anyway, we went to the War Memorial of Korea museum first. It was awesome! We spent about half an hour outside just checking out all the planes, military vehicles and rockets from the various wars.
Jon had to pose in front of the giant loud speaker that was used early on in the North-South Korea conflict. It has been said that the loud speakers are still used from time to time to force propaganda into the opposition.
The museum has 3 floors of simply amazing exhibits on Korean war history. I learned that during the Korean War, a large amount of captured North Koreans did not want to return to the North and wanted to stay in the South. The North Koreans demanded their soldiers returned. War broke out again from the North, breaking down peace talks. Representatives for South Korea were not present when the Korea Armistice Agreement took place on July 27th, 1953.
Don’t go up! That’s what most of the vehicles say inside and outside the museum. On some vehicles it’s allowed.
Okay, now there is this on-going joke about South Korea. The people seem to love the English language. They just don’t know how to spell it. This is a photo taken from in front of one of the vehicles standing outside. Notice the spellings of ‘separated’ and ‘caliber.’ This is a major museum. Typo or not. It’s not some menu at a dive restaurant.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM of KOREA
The National Museum of Korea was next. Jon and I had walked quite a long hall, about 30 minutes in between museums after thinking the subway would probably take just as long even though it was a few stops over. Tell that to my feet and my breath. We were dying when we reached the museum. Water was our first site to see and drink. AHH!
Lots of great history at this museum too: art, ceramics, sculptures and much more. One of the earliest letter-typing sets was invented by Koreans. I really dug this as it was something I just read about in the book I’m reading, Korea’s Place in the Sun.
As if our legs couldn’t walk another step, we hoped back on the train and headed for Insadong, a very trendy area in Seoul where the streets are lined with shops, restaurants and tea houses. It’s a popular place for artists and people that appreciate art. In fact, I bought myself a print of women back in the traditional times bathing while a couple of men off far away look on, giggling. Maybe I’ll snap a photo of that some time later and post it here. For now, here’s a photo of some ‘slop’ on a table from a street vendor. Try it? Yo go first!
Jon and I grabbed some tea at a tea house. I had a cinnamon tea that was out of this world!
TOY MUSEUM in INSADONG
As if this wasn’t enough events in one day, I spotted something that caught my eye as I looked up from the street in Insadong. On the second floor of a building was a row of toys and one robot that looked very similar to a set of robots I had as a kid growing up in Minnesota. Yes, I lived in Minnesota for 5 years before and after living in NY. So, Jon and I go up to seek out what we thought was a toy store. It turned out to be a toy museum. What’s one more museum today? Three’s the charm, right?
We saw Gremlins, Star Wars figures and all kinds of figures from the early 70’s in TV and movies that took us back to our childhoods. Jon is a few years older than me. I found a bunch of robots that resembled the ones I remembered, but not any exact ones. I guess the fun was in the hope of discovering it. Also, I felt like a kid again.
Before leaving Insadong, Jon and I decided to grab a bite in town before heading back to Ansan, a very long trip home. We headed towards our subway station and thought we’d find something on the way. We did! A very good Chinese restaurant. We had orange chicken. Jon had bot had orange chicken before. What do you want? He’s from New Zealand.
It was a full schedule this day, but very well worth it. Oh, getting back to robots, I had to pose with this one in Insadong.