I got a new dress. This is very exciting because for the last year I've been limited to about two outfits. Before that, I was trying to wear out my clothes so that when we left Korea I could leave them and not feel bad (I didn't). So I haven't done any real shopping since before I can remember. This has been kind of a big change and can be contrasted with my freshman year of college when I had so many clothes that I didn't do laundry for three months.
However I have recently added the first of some new things to my wardrobe.
Check out those stylish chaco tans!
Let's revisit what I've been wearing for the last year. A long time ago, Jordan conviced me that I should wear normal traveling pants.
Eventually I decided I really wasn't a traveling pants kind of person. Also that flannel shirt really didn't fit. I traded in my traveling pants for these excellent ones that were made in Vietnam.
Sadly, they ripped, so I traded them in for these stylish polka dot shorts (shirt courtesy of my mom).
Also, in Malaysia I bought this nice shirt:
which you have to admit is perfect for petting goats in.
When it was cold I looked like this (thanks Mom for that fleece):
or this (also, thanks for that nice black scarf):
And when it rained I looked like this:
This was my outfit when we were on the go:
It also worked well when you want to blend in:
or stand out:
And this outfit worked well for a picnic:
And a hike:
Jordan looked like this:
He takes traveling outfits seriously.
A little movie I made about our trip.
It turns out fried chicken is really delicious. That's why people eat it all the time.
Also, a side note, it's really hard to do consistent food photography because sometimes (mostly) you eat the food and then realize you should have taken a picture.
Moral of the story (#48): Sometimes you have to go to new places to learn something you already knew (or should have).
1. I like beer here. Weird.
2. Even weirder, I like bananas. It seems not all bananas were created equal.
3. Dr Fish. I had my feet munched on by many hungry fish and they have never been softer. (It's only painful if you're really ticklish.)
4. Angkor Wat.
5. The hospital. At least if your name is Jordan and going once isn't enough.
And for those who came back based on my iPod teaser; a joke posted especially for my dad's last comment about the elephant:
I was going to write an email to various family members (I have put you in bold so you feel special), but then I realized I may as well post it on the blog for the entertainment of everyone else.
We arrived in Bangkok yesterday. It has felt a bit like coming into another world. We had been in Vietnam and Cambodia for about four months. In those four months we seem to have forgotten a few things. Like rain. Right after we arrived at our hotel last night a giant downpour and thunderstorm started. I stared at it for a few moments before I remembered that water falls from the sky sometimes. Hello rain. Long time, no see.
While the rain was nice to see, it made finding food a bit difficult. We hadn't eaten much all day because we'd been on the bus trying to get to Bangkok from Siem Reap. We settled for buying all the food in the mart next to the hotel. If you are interested, here are some things they sell in the mart next to the hotel: microwave meals (that are actually delicious), A&W Root Beer (which is better than the stuff they sell in the States), and Mars bars. I haven't eaten my Mars bar yet.
Today we did the things that you did when you suddenly find yourself in a real city after months of being in places that lack certain necessities, like McDonalds and movie theaters. We enjoyed our Big Macs and Double Cheeseburgers very much and then saw "The Adjustement Bureau" at the fanciest movie theater ever. And since the movie was only $4, I think we may end up seeing every movie they are showing. The movie was good (thanks for the tip Erica).
After dinner what could we do but go to Dairy Queen for dessert. I had a hot fudge milkshake. My first milkshake in a very long time. It was delicious. I thought about my Dad and how he loves hot fudge milkshakes. I enjoyed it extra for you.
Jordan is working on his cumulative post about Cambodia. I think I will write one tomorrow too. It will be called "5 Interesting Things About Cambodia." One of the interesting things is Angkor Wat. Another one involves fish. Also, I may post a humorous picture about iPods that would especially appeal to middle school students.
Also, Mom, I forgot to tell you that I lost one of my earrings. I made sure before I left Hanoi to put the extra secure backs on all my earrings, the ones that snap, so that I wouldn't lose one. But still, one afternoon, I returned to find that I was missing an earring. I don't know if it was the motorcycle ride, the elephant trek, or swimming in the waterfall that knocked it loose, but you may want to warn people that they aren't totally secure. Perhaps the elephant ate it. He tried to eat my purse, so I wouldn't put it past him.
I am currently sitting on top of a double-decker bus, rocking my way towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The bus is a bit more like a roller coaster than I remember double-decker buses being. Perhaps it's because I'm sitting in back, or perhaps it's because the roads in Cambodia aren't quite as smooth as the ones in Hong Kong. Of course you could have all the smoothness in the world and it wouldn't matter when you go swerving around motorbikes and cows at full speed.
It is now 3:30pm. We were told that the bus would be arriving around 4:30, which we took hopefully to mean we would arrive around 6 or so. However, soon after getting on the bus bright and early this morning, I began to despair that we would ever arrive at our destination.
We arrived at the bus stop this morning at about 7:45. The hotel arranged for our tickets and our ride to the bus stop, and I was quite surprised to see the bus pulling out as my motorbike came down the street, honked and pulled in front of the bus so it couldn't make a sneaky escape until Jordan and his motorbike arrived. The bus conductor berated me for being late, and I laughed, “ha ha, like I have any control over this situation.” We got quickly on the bus and congratulated ourselves on not missing the bus, despite the fact that it was supposed to leave about 20 minutes earlier. We felt lucky and relieved to be on board, and missed the sign from the universe that perhaps we should have missed the bus.
Me, still happy, smiling into Jordan's glasses.
After one last mean look from the conductor, the bus pulled off the curb, drove about 300 meters and then pulled over again to let some more people on. It continued to do this every 300 meters or so for about an hour. It should be noted that when Jordan and I got on the bus we sat in the last empty seats, so everyone else they picked up was squatting in the aisle.
The aisles are full and the tv is loud.
At this point (after picking up about 10 extra aisle squatters), we calculated that we were about an hour behind schedule, and things began to pick up. Or rather the opposite, since we didn't pick anyone up for about 10 minutes. However, the cruising time was brief and we soon pulled over to the side of the road. Everyone dashed off the bus, and I thought maybe the squatters had arrived at their destination, but after looking around, it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. And I don't mean “middle of nowhere” like we were in Cambodia, but “middle of nowhere” meaning we were in the forest and there were no signs of people. In turned out after some observation that the bus guys (of which there seemed to be about 5 on our bus of 60) were out fixing something under the bus and everyone else had seized the moment to have a roadside pee, despite the fact that most of them had just been picked up and had been on the bus for about 10 minutes. Finally, the pee-ers returned to the bus, the bus guys removed the wooden blocks from the tires, and we were off again. Perhaps an hour and half late at this point, although it's really hard to know since the arrival time is only a mysterious 4:30, which we never really believed in.
We chugged along with hope in our hearts as we sped toward our destination. The morning light glistened off the green mountains and everything looked very lovely. I pulled out the iPod, turned it on and enjoyed the scenery set to my own personal soundtrack. What a lovely day it will be, I thought.
The beautiful, dry scenery passes by the window.
Suddenly the bus pulled over again. We looked around in confusion and saw that we had pulled over at a rest stop. It's breakfast time. And since we had been in the bus for about 2 hours, and driven perhaps 30 miles, it was time to take advantage of the road side stop. Everyone piled off the bus to eat and use the WC, and the bus boys were back out there tinkering with the bus. About 20 minutes later or so, we all got back on the bus and headed out, at this point so far behind schedule that I really couldn't give you a time figure.
And so it goes for many hours. We drive a few miles and then have a rest stop. I have never had so many rest stops as on this bus ride. The real highlight came when I glanced out the window to see where we could possibly be stopping at this point, and saw that some guy had bounded off the bus and was buying furniture from a roadside stand. One of the bus boys had followed him out and was slowly carting stools made from solid wood logs back to the bus. The guy was wandering around what I guess is a furniture store (but really looks like a shack) and was contemplating various things. Eventually the bus driver gave him a honk, as whatever induced him to stop for this furniture shopping spree has been overrun by the 60 people sitting on the bus, looking out the window and wondering why someone is buying furniture. Eventually the man got back on the bus with the last stool at the shop, and we were on our way again.
See the man sprinting back to the bus. See how there is no more furniture in the yard to be bought.
This, I thought, was the icing on the cake of our bus trip. However, I thought that just before the air con broke.
The only redeeming thing about spending 10+ hours on the bus is that you get to do it in the cool air and look out the window at scenery set to your own personal soundtrack. When suddenly the cool factor is gone, and it's over 90 degrees with no air flow (the bus windows don't open), nothing really makes the trip seem worthwhile, not your soundtrack, not hours of playing Zoo Keeper on the DS, not the thought that tomorrow you can see Angkor Wat. Mostly you just think, I would trade all the temples in and around Angkor Wat for a cool breeze.
And that, I concluded while I could feel the sweat dripping down and pooling around and soaking into my clothes, is what traveling is. It may seem exotic and exciting and other words that start with 'e', and sometimes it is, but mostly it's uncomfortable and uncontrollable and surprising. Sometimes the surprises are good, so you keep going. Sometimes they are bad and you question why in the world you are at the location you are. For now I have hope that we will someday arrive at our destination, and that the surprises tomorrow will be good ones. And since we're going to Angkor Wat, I'm thinking the chances are good.
Sometimes I like to imagine what I would do if I was Dumbledore as I travel. Well, mostly I just think about the puter-outer that he made and think about what I would make. At this point in our travels my mind is firmly decided that I would make a de-honker to be used in the following situations:
Situation 1: Crossing the Street
A very small Marisa-Dumbledore goes to cross the street. Giant, fatty SUV comes barreling down the road, feels threatened by Marisa-Dumbledore and makes a very loud honk. Right now my only response as Marisa-with-no-Dumbledore-skills is to jump and scurry across the road, much like Farah used to whenever she saw anything. However, Marisa-Dumbledore would zap the giant, fatty SUV with the de-honker and the offending vehicle would suddenly find itself de-manned and de-honked, never to be rude again. Marisa-Dumbledore could cross the street without anyone making obscenly loud noises.
Situation 2: The Bus Ride
Marisa-Dumbledore is on a long bus ride to the middle of nowhere. The bus ride is long so I/she/we are listening to the iPod, maybe sleeping, or at least trying to relax. However, every five minutes or so, right after I/she/we have been lulled into a safe quiet, the driver (who thinks he is driving a race car, not a giant bus) lays on the horn for about a minute until the motorbike/bicycle/cow gets out the way. Marisa-with-no-Dumbledore-skills just has to sit there and try not to relax too much because then the horn is extra loud. Marisa-Dumbledore would just zap the driver's horn leaving him to take a more leisurely and relaxing pace behind the motorbikes/bicycles/cows he can no longer scare and intimidate out of the way.
I have been contemplating seeing if I actually have Dumbledore-skills by standing in the middle of the traffic and seeing what happens when the horns don't work. Sure you may think you are a big, tough, fatty vehicle with a loud, vile horn, but I am Marisa-Dumbledore and will not be cowed by obnoxiousness. However, since we're in Cambodia, the Wild West of South-East Asia, I'm a bit loathe to test out my skills. Things didn't work out that well for Dumbledore afterall anyway.
It's said that the best way to cross the street is to find a monk to tag along with.
Not such a good day for the chickens to cross the road.
Jordan and I spent the last week traveling in and around Busan, Korea's second largest city (with a population of about three million). We spent the first day visiting Jordan's old friend Ben in Ulsan, a town about an hour away from Busan (home to Hyundai) and his wife Na-Young and their son. They were nice enough to show us around the city and take us to a temple out in the country. We had a very enoyable day with them.
In Busan highlights included pointing to things in the fish market I would not eat:
Watching the other tourists enthusiastially point at the things they wanted to eat:
We also went to famous Haeundae beach and swam with thousands of our friends.
The big aquarium on the beach was also great, it was more impressive than our guide book led us to believe and some of the tanks had creative embellishments.
We also enjoyed lots of great shopping in the neighborhood around our hotel.
In the end I didn't want to leave Busan as it reminded me of Hong Kong with the large ships sailing in the distance, the lush, forested mountains coming down to meet the beach and the busy streets filled with people and market stalls. Back home in the Dream Hub things are quiet and hot. Jordan has finally gotten a video game to work after a month of trying, but hopefully he'll pull himself away to post video of the hip hop festival we saw one evening at the beach in the rain. And I'll spend the next week or so working on a scrapbook of our trip. You can see the rest of our pictures here.
This last week we went up to the far north-eastern province of Gangwon-do to take party in the largest and longest-held Korean cultural festival, Danoje. We spent the night and were taken on tour as part of the special week-long foreigner program (the festival itself is a month-long afair).
Here's a little video of the experience (pictures will be up shortly):
We're on the final leg of our Turkey trip. We're currently ensconced at a rather nice hotel on the Mediterranean in Southern Turkey. The hotel offers buffets all day and stunning views of the water, in between which we are doing our web design work.
We finished a two day tour of Cappadocia, an area in central Turkey known for its unusual rock formations and cave dwellings. The scenery was quite fantastic, it's low season since it's cold and often snowy, but snow always lends a magical quality to any scene, and places that are already named after fairies take on an other world feeling. The seemingly carefully eroded Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia take on various shapes, like rabbits, camels and Napolean's hat. We toured cave dwellings used by early Christians as monasteries, dug into the strange rock formations in order to hide and protect them from their persecutors. The Christians were eventually joined by the Muslims and you can see churches side by side with mosques, all dug into the rock and often painted with frescoes of scenes from the Bible (as our tour guide said, the story of Abraham is in the Koran too, it's just different). We also visited an entire underground city that was dug by hand several stories into the earth. Safe from invaders and cold weather, the people slept, cooked and made wine below the surface. Walking around in this underground city was like experiencing a location right out of a fantasy novel. Driving around Cappadocia was like being in another world; many locals still use the caves for storage, work or living. Everywhere you go you can see doors dug into the rock, including the hotel we stayed in.
Our hotel room was a converted cave, made quite comfortable by beds, heat and running water. We enjoyed spectacular breakfasts (the traditional Turkish breakfast is bread, cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers, a far cry from the Korean breakfast of rice and kimchi) and were amazed by the fact that the cave had wireless. The hotel animals were quite friendly. We were joined by a dog one evening as we sat outside playing backgammon, and a fancy white cat was determined that it should be living in our hotel room and made its way under our beds several times, even meowing loudly outside the door to be let in.
Our picture collections are just about finished, so be sure to check them out. The Istanbul set has had many recent additions.
This last weekend we decided to go visit Matthew Fisher in Chungju, instead of cleaning our apartment, or buying bookshelves for our apartment... or setting up picture frames in our apartment. Or crafting floral arrangements for our apartment. The trip started out a bit, well, painfully, as the stomach issues which I had been dealing with the night before (I'm not sure my system agrees with any amount of Soju, as both times I've had it I've felt ill the next day) cropped up as soon as we got on the bus, but all things ended well.
As you can see on the map we traveled northeast, traversing about half of the width of Korea, and roughly a third of the length. The bus trip took about 5 hours total, which included many stops and a short layover; a straight shot by car would probably be under two hours if you didn't hit traffic in the cities. We returned by train in about 4 hours, with two layovers. Both trips were about 18,000 Won a person, which, with the currency doing so poorly at the moment, translates into $12.50 USD.
Photos from our trip can be seen in the slide show below, or by visiting our flickr album.
We got in Saturday afternoon and spent the night at Matthew's, on our camping mats. Chungju is beautiful (nestled by mountains on all sides), so we had a nice walk around the place. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to play board games and drink gingerale with a couple of Matthew's expatriot friends (one of whom is of course named Matt); I had been on boardgame withdrawal for several weeks.
Anyway, here's a little video from our walk. The free exercise equipment appears to be a standard Korea lakeside feature.
This last Saturday we took a bus up to Seoul (about a three hour ride) to see Matthew,* and do a little electronics shopping (we weren't actually in the market for anything ourselves, but we thought we'd go ahead and tag along). Seoul is massive, teaming, and spreads over everything; about half of South Korea's 49-million inhabitants call Seoul their home, making it the second most populated metropolitan area in the world behind Tokyo (and equal to Tokyo in density--my previous home of Cairo, I'm pleased to say, is the most densely populated of the world's largest city areas).
The area of Seoul we visited, called Yongsan, is very famous for having... well, everything in the world there is to buy. To my understanding it is in fact the largest electronics market on planet earth (and sells everything else as well). About half way through the shopping we decided to ditch the rest of the party (American friends of Matthew's from his province of Chungbuk) and see Quantum of Solace with Matthew at a fancy cinema to celebrate the fact that the movie came to Korea before the US (which still won't see it for a couple more days).We then almost missed our bus back to Gunsan despite having over an hour to make it to the station.
In short we had a fun time, and learned how to navigate the city: on our next trip we plan to see more of the actual sites, and do some shopping for ourselves (we did buy an incredibly cool splattering pig, though, which you can check out in the video).
*Matthew, if you don't know, is my former college roommate of four years, and very good friend, who got us into this whole wonderful mess: he discovered Korea's need for English teachers first, and we proceeded to follow him over here (and are very glad we did). I would direct you to his blog, but he has stubornly taken it down for the moment.
Marisa Says: I am pleased to note that it doesn't get any denser than Hong Kong. Also it is the best James Bond movie I've ever seen (and I'm not just saying that because the story focuses on Bolivia).
So my Dad always used to tell me before traveling that I should always travel with $200 cash, just in case. Me, in my wise generational wisdom, thought this was somewhat useless advice, since I have a credit card, and a debit card, where could I possibly go that would not be able to access my money? Afterall, "MasterCard, it's everywhere you want to be" right? Normally I travel with $20 so I can buy a hamburger at the airport.
But this post is to let everyone like me know that my Dad was right. You can travel to places that won't be able to access your money. Even places as seemingly advanced as South Korea. After being rejected from several ATMs around town, we learned that most of the Korean ATMs aren't hooked up to the international network. Suddenly, Jordan and I found ourselves with no money. I had to go to school one morning with only 2000 won (about $2) which needed to get me to and from school. Life is a bit different when you suddenly realize that you have no money.
The situation isn't as bad as I'm making it seem. Despite the one day when I only had $2 to my name, our credit cards do work in Korea and most places where we spend our money will accept them (the grocery store, the dollar store, and many restaurants). For the small things like the bus and taxis, we were lucky enough, despite my disbelief in my Dad's advice, to travel with a decent amount of cash, which we were able to convert and have been using stingily until we manage to get a Korean bank account, where all our hard earned money will be deposited and easily accessed by even the most Korean of the Korean ATMs.
We've been here for a few days now and these are the things that have impressed me the most:
I cannot believe this country exists. On one hand they are totally developed and part of the modern, western world. You can clearly see the western influence in the way they dress, the entertainment they watch, and even in some of the food they eat. However, they are often in complete shock to see an actual western person walking around. And it's not just the kids who act like crazy people when we're around, but the adults too. They will say hi to me and the run off giggling back to their friends, people who are older than I am! I don't know how they can be so westernized, yet completely unaware that we actually exist.
Everyone is very friendly, even if they may stop, point, stare and laugh at us as we walk by. Everyone tries whatever English they may know, and then talks away in Korean in hopes that we'll understand. Bus drivers have helped me to get on and off at the right place, customers have motioned us from inside the restaurant inviting us in and then helped us to get seated. Our landlord invited us over for dinner. Our co-teachers have driven us all over the city helping us to find the things we need.
Our apartment reminds me of Ma Hang, a big government subsidized housing complex near our home in Hong Kong. Despite having a relative large amount of space, all the Koreans still prefer to live on top of each other in giant high rise apartment buildings. Luckily, it's easy to find your way home because the only tall buildings are the apartments. So you can just look up and find your number. Just like Ma Hang, all the apartments are the same ugly, cement housing blocks that are definitely uninviting. But once you're inside it is very pleasant. I could not believe how large our apartment was. After living in Hong Kong and having a bedroom the size of a closet, I was prepared to have very little space. But we have enough room that we could play hide and seek (if we had some furniture, that is).
There are bakeries. I have never moved anywhere outside the States that has had tasty bakeries. I had determined from this that I would never move anywhere where there were tasty bakeries. Even when we went to North Carolina I was disappointed. To me there is nothing like a doughnut from Cub. In fact the Cub bakery is the standard that I hold all bakeries to. And few have compared. Here in Korea, while they don't perhaps have the same selection as Cub, I think the bakeries may still stand a chance in competing with Cub. (And despite my desire to move away from doughnuts, there is a dunkin' doughnuts right around the corner from our apartment).
There is no McDonalds. I thought all Asians loved McDonalds. I guess I will have to change this assumption to all Chinese love McDonalds. You couldn't go half a block in Hong Kong without coming upon McDonalds. And it was so good too, much better than any McDonalds in the States. Here we have Lotteria, the McDonalds stand in. But they don't have the popularity of McDonalds in China.
My parents would love it here. As I sit here writing, it's "cleaning time." There is a twenty minute break during which all the students get brooms and mops and things and clean the school. I'm not sure what the point of this is, since I think we still have janitors. I guess it's to instill good cleaning skills in the students. Some of them use it as an excuse though to come say hi to me (and tell me I'm pretty, which I guess is just as good a way to spend your time as cleaning).
Bowing has already become ingrained in my very being. It was practically instantaneous upon landing in Korea. I think there was one awkward time when I tried to shake someone's hand (thank goodness I didn't try to kiss them), but otherwise bowing seems to me to be perfectly natural. I don't know how I'll ever stop.
They have the perfect recycling method here. They have free recycling and really expensive garbage bags you have to buy for your garbage. Anyone with a brain then will recycle as much as possible. Now that I've experienced it, it seems like the perfect method for encouraging recycling.