Monday, 31 August 2009

First Impressions – Andeok Middle and High School

Shock. Surprise. Giddiness.

A 6-minute stroll down a path through sweet-smelling apple orchards, red chilies, green snap-peas and chocolaty-brown cows, eventually brings me to my main school…

Andeok Middle and High School stands magnificently on a dusty solid area of earth, with an insanely large soccer field, tennis court and separate gymnasium. Divided into two floors, this school definitely trumps my high school back in Canada. With a massive student population of one hundred and fifteen, there are eighteen hard-working teachers with enough composure to keep the school’s students in line.

The English resources at my disposal seem to be more useful for me than for the students. The ‘English Labs’ are decked-out with tons of recent American DVDs, novels in plain ol’ English, numerous English textbooks, and Korean-English dictionaries (although I doubt that most of these materials have been used more than once). I will have to carefully take those DVDs out of their sealed packaging and take them for a spin :).  

You hear about native English teachers being suckered into doing loads more than their contract states. However, I didn’t expect to be teaching both middle and high school. I had heard from a friend during the EPIK Orientation that she was to teach in THREE schools. At that time, I could only imagine the horror of traveling back and forth between them, hastily scurrying like a mouse to get from one to the other.

That was the LAST situation I wanted to be in for my one year of teaching.


This is the breakdown I received on my first day from Young-Hee (my Andeok co-teacher):

Andeok Middle and High School

  • Middle School Grades 1-3

  • High School Grades 1-2

  • 3 Teachers’ Classes

Hyeonseo Middle and High School

  • Middle School Grades 1-3

  • High School Grades 1-2

  • 3 Teachers’ Classes

Hyeondong Middle School (Hagwon)

  • Middle School Grades 1-3

  • Supplementary Class

  • Teacher’s Class


When I first looked at my schedule, I think I went brain-dead for a split-second. Thank-goodness I recovered, because I managed to save myself from embarrassment by pulling up a smile with what little spark I had left in my brain. Actually, after observing my first class of students in their natural habitat I couldn’t be happier. I say natural habitat, because apparently, the only thing these students do, is STUDY. Now I could crack the whip onto ALL of my students. Muahhahaha… The more little kiddies, the merrier.

I heard through the grapevine that Korean students, especially the older ones, were notorious for keeping quiet in class. They were afraid of giving the wrong answer to a question and making mistakes. Well, that depiction was blown to pieces when I asked the first question to my second grade high school students, receiving in return about a million guestimates as answers.

That afternoon, as I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge and creating my lesson plans, I heard a sudden whisper from the female teachers as one of them entered the room. I felt a tinge of worry as one of them walked straight up to my desk and handed me something…a pink origami heart? I was a little confused, but to say the least, I thought it was a kind gesture of friendship from the teacher. She slowly spoke, “Me, no English. Not good. Mrs. Na! Here.”

She spoke to Mrs. Na at a quick pace, and I smiled as I managed to pick up everything she said. A boy in third grade high school had made me a pink origami heart to seal his crush on me, and Mrs. Na confirmed it. Oh boy.


My second day at this school was again, quite lovely. After comfortably meeting the school’s principal the day before, I was informed that he had left, and that there was a new principal taking his place (apparently they are obliged to rotate schools every few years).

There was a large assembly in the gymnasium for the schools new leader – my new boss. As I entered, I quickly received plenty of smiles, double-glances, and stares, which were then followed by a faint blanket of whispering. The students were standing in perfectly straight rows (one for each grade), and the male teachers stood silent while the female teachers quietly gossiped near the back wall. The head teacher introduced the principal and then introduced me. Being Korean-Canadian, Mrs. Na thought it would be best to speak in English when introducing myself to everyone. As I got up on the stage, I felt like the gymnasium’s flood lights were going to make me sweat. “Hello teacher!” I heard from the pool of students. I quickly introduced myself: my name, my age (23 – which made the students gasp…and giggle), what country I was from, and the fact that I was a Korean-Canadian (that one elevated their whisper to a chatter). As the principle silenced them (already shining in his new position), I told the students how excited I was to teach them English. I finished by asking them if they liked games, and walked off the stage to the exclamations “Games? Games!”


I think I’m rather lucky to have my home school be as wonderful as it is. Again, through the EPIK Orientation, I heard that there are unlucky native English teachers who have the misfortune of unhelpful co-teachers. It’s hard to imagine being able to speak barely any Korean and trying to make it on your own - especially without receiving help from a Korean co-teacher who knows at least some English. I’m thankful and relieved to have such a selfless and English-literate co-teacher like Young-hee (who has helped Ken and I with everything, from figuring out our transforming washing machine to ordering gas at night for our stove…not to mention answering all of my bajillion questions without a hint of annoyance). I’m grateful to have such gracious teachers who always manage to keep snacks on my desk at all times (and I MUST eat every little crumb, every little grape, every sweet slice of apple, and every piece of sticky ddeok – just to be polite). Saying ‘No-thank-you’ is difficult for me when it comes to food. I always try to graciously refuse my students’ chocolate bars and other lunch snacks, but they insist I take them and force them upon me :).


I love this school. The students really are enchanting. And it is always nice to hear, “Beautiful girl! Beautiful girl!” from the same boy, in the same window, every morning and afternoon, as I walk by the school :).

- Jess

First Day at Bunam Middle School

My co-teacher, Mrs. Jeon, picked me up outside our house to leave for school at 8:00. As we drove off, I felt like I should be getting nervous. But I wasn’t. I was so excited that it completely overpowered any trace feelings of nervousness in my body.

Mrs. Jeon and I talked about life, the universe, and everything as we rocketed up and over the mountains towards Bunam. The best way that I can describe Korean driving is as such: Do you remember when you were a kid flying around a winding racetrack in a go-kart? Well, it’s like that, but a bajillion times more dangerous. It seemed as though the lines in the roads were simply for decoration, and the signs were merely suggestions. I’m not saying that she was a bad driver. She was just really, really…adventurous.

Korean drivers seem to rely a hell of a lot on their instincts. My “spidy-sense” was tingling non-stop, but she seemed perfectly at ease flying around a left-hand turn in the left (oncoming) lane without being able to see if anyone was coming. If I were to die at any point during the trip, at least it would be quick.

As we approached our final destination, she pointed into the distance at a series of concrete buildings surrounded by farmers’ fields.

“There’s your school,” she said. “Beautiful, yes?” she continued.

The school was EXACTLY the way I pictured it would be: A small cluster of concrete buildings, a dirt playground, apple orchards on either side, and a single South Korean flag waving proudly over the front entrance.

We pulled up to the gate, drove across the dirt playground, and parked beside the flag. As I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was how many pairs of eyeballs had just appeared in the windows. Initially, it was a little unnerving, but seconds later I saw who the eyeballs belonged to as students poured out of the buildings to take a closer look. Some were brave enough to shout “Hello!” but most continued to stare as I walked with Mrs. Jeon into the main building.

I asked her how many students attended the school, and she gave me a little smile and said, “You have six students in middle school one (grade 7), three for middle school two (grade 8), and nine for middle school three (grade 9).”

“Eighteen students total? In the whole school?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “We also have a technical high school for computer technicians and auto mechanics, so you will also teach them English as an extra-curricular activity. But they don’t have books, so we just want you to play games, talk, and if you can, make them talk.”

It was 8:30. We had arrived just in time for the weekly teachers meeting. We were the last to arrive, so once again I had the pleasure of being “oogled” by a large group of Koreans. It was slightly intimidating to be standing there in front of my new co-workers, but their smiles and attempts at speaking a few English greetings put me right at ease.

I sat down and listened as they continued the meeting for 15 minutes or so. All of a sudden, they all turned and looked at me in unison. They had warned us during orientation that this could happen, so when it did, I knew exactly what I had to do: a speech.

I stood up, cleared my throat, and began:

An nyoung haseyo (Hello)

Ne iroomun Ken imnida (My name is Ken)

Juhneun hangook nairo soomool set sal imnida (I am 23 years old)

Juhneun Canada ehsuh wahsoomnida (I am from Canada)

Mannasuh bangap soomnida (Nice meeting you)

Kamsa Hamnida (Thank you)

I finished the speech with a bow, and instantly received a roaring applause and a standing ovation. Wow, all I had to do was memorize a short speech that was on a cue card in my pocket and they made me feel like a superstar. As it turns out, they were just expecting a quick “hello” and a bow, so when they heard Korean coming out of my mouth they could barely contain themselves.

It was time for my first class. Mrs. Jeon led me to the English classroom, and as soon as it came in sight, my jaw dropped to the floor. I couldn’t believe the amount of money they had put into constructing their English lab. It had a huge collection of books, DVDs, several computers lining the wall, beautiful furnishings, and last but DEFINITELY not least, a 72” touch screen monitor with surround sound speakers! This was going to be fun…

I had a mere 5 minutes to explore my new classroom before students started pouring in. They eagerly filled up the first few rows and came to a silence as soon as everyone was seated. Mrs. Jeon sat in the audience with everyone and eagerly watched as I stood in the front of the class.


There it was. The nervousness. It stayed hidden from me the entire time until this point. I had no prep work, no lesson ideas, no understanding of Korean classroom dynamics… absolutely nothing. I cleared my head and began talking.

To be honest, I don’t really remember too much about that first class. I had way too much adrenaline running through my body. From what I can remember, I spent most of it introducing myself and talking about life in Canada. I tried my best to get the students involved in the discussion, but I was worried that they’d find it boring without any visuals. Before I knew it, the bell rang and class was over. They all stood up, bowed, thanked me, and left. Mrs. Jeon approached me and said that my presentation was awesome. She loved it, and the students loved it. Boy, was I relieved.

I had one hour before my next class, so I sat down at the computer and started pouring pictures and videos from Facebook into a makeshift PowerPoint presentation.

My second class was outstanding, and with the help of a few visuals, I had them glued to my presentation and dying to ask questions within minutes.

I taught five classes that first day.


At the end of the day, Mrs. Jeon complimented me on my teaching and said that she was really anxious to work with me for the year.

I couldn’t have gone home happier…

- Ken

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Our First Weekend in Andeok

You can stare…it doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable ~


Our first two-and-a-half days in Andeok were quite a spectacle. Of course, everyone knew that two native English teachers were arriving in their town…but they still didn’t hesitate to stop their trucks and turn their heads to stare. They didn’t try to hide it. Both Ken and I were a major attraction – the biggest thing to hit the city since the first native English teacher arrived (only seven months ago).

On our walkabout through the village of Myungdang-ri, we made sure to take a peek at all of the major ‘hotspots’ – the three convenience stores, the post office, the bank, the bus station, and a few of Myungdang-ri’s village-renowned restaurants. At every place, I was greeted with a-mile-a-minute Korean which was laced with numerous questions and curiosities. However, my confused look didn’t give me away as a foreigner – it just made me look stupid. The Gyeongsangbuk-do dialect didn’t help either, in contrast to my upbringing in the Seoul-Korean dialect. Back home, I was scrutinized by older folk for my lack of Korean speech (little did they know how much Korean I could speak), but here in Andeok, I’m experiencing my own little hangul-hakkyo (Korean language school), without the wooden slap-stick (just kidding!). I’m spewing out Korean words as if the language has been gestating inside of me for the past 23 years!


A note to all who have just purchased a Korean washing machine – watch out! These uncanny packages of nuts and bolts have the ability to speak and have the strength and power to shred your clothes! I feel as though one day I’ll hear sounds from outside the bedroom…of the washing machine transforming, and slowly pulling itself across the living room to the bedroom door… I know it wants to take my life…


Tomorrow is another day! Not just any day. It’s the first day we go to work, explore our schools, greet our delightful co-workers, and (eek!) meet our (hopefully) enchanting students :) .

- Jess

Friday, 28 August 2009

About Page

Our 'About' page is up!

Exploring Andeok

As we wound through the snakes of roads wrapped around the multitude of luscious mountains, we would ask our co-teachers from one town to the next, ”Ooooh, is this it?”. They’d murmur softly, “No, no…just a little bit further.” (My face quivered just a little) :S .

As the towns passed us by, each one following seemed a bit more miniature in size. However, the majestic mountains became more interwoven and lush, the red and green apple orchards seemed never-ending, and the number of persistent pools of red chilies drying on the roadsides seemed to indicate how small the area was becoming.

Finally we crossed a small bridge and entered a town made up of one main road. No flashing signs here. No hustle and bustle of students, everyday folk, and businessmen in this area (except for the old ajummas). No crazy nightlife in this small village called Myungdang-ri in the town of Andeok. The main road (measuring the entire village), takes about a 5-minute walk from one end to the other. And what separates our whimsical town of Andeok from others? Mountains. Dense, green, tree-covered mountains - not so easy to cross those on foot.

Our co-teachers were actually apologizing to us about the location of our residence. Ken and I wanted rural, and that’s exactly what we got…even if the area was too rural for many Koreans. At least we had the essentials: a convenience store, a post office, a local bank, and a few restaurants… but most importantly – a soju bar.

We rode Mrs. Jeon’s Korean-made jeep (using a pressurized gas instead of electricity or gasoline), finally making it to the foot of our home’s driveway. Suddenly, two boys on bicycles screeched to a halt in front of us…after seeing Ken (I imagine it was him) and bowed their heads like jackhammers. Through the window, I could hear them asking Mrs. Jeon (Ken’s co-teacher), “English teacher? English teacher?” As she nodded, they bowed even more fiercely, with enough force to cause a major migraine that I’m sure they felt later in the day.

We were shown into our house. It was probably one of the nicest houses in Myungdang-ri, standing exquisitely on the dusty concrete ground with its ruby-red brick coat. A house. We acquired a house.


We’ve decided to keep our house empty…I mean spacious. Our home is complete with a kitchen (no oven though…how am I going to bake my desserts?), living room, study room and master bedroom. Our voices and sounds echo with even the slightest of movements. Perhaps we should purchase one of those monstrous rice-popping cracker machines that Ken truly adores).


The number of Myungdang-ri residents in Andeok peaks at about 150 people, and having about 80 of them living in the retirement home across the street makes for a very tight-knit community. It’s nice to run into everyone pretty much everyday (although our necks are getting a little strained from bowing every few minutes :)).

“Did you know that Cheongsong is FAMOUS for its apples?” (Many Cheongsong English teachers will roll their eyes when you ask this question). I have heard this question, time and time again, from the townsfolk in Andeok, Hyeonseo and Hyeondong, and from my many co-workers at all three schools. I guess they don’t know about the apple orchards beside and behind my house, or about the numerous apple farms Ken and I both saw as we were first entering Cheongsong. Being an apple lover myself, I am always tempted to taste/steal the forbidden fruit from the neighbouring orchards. My mouth also constantly waters at the slight of lush date trees generously producing their fruit, red chili plants lining the apple orchards, vibrant green snap peas doubling the line of chilies, and the wondrous rice field in front of our house (Ken is continuously tempted to run through it…I guess it’s his choice whether or not he wants to drench himself in mud and have mosquito larvae caught in his leg hairs :). Oh Andeok… Our teaching contracts are signed in blood, so we’re here to make this place our lovely abode for one year.

Hey, did you know that Cheongsong is FAMOUS for its apples?

- Jess

Meeting our Co-Teachers

The bus ride from Jeonju University wasn’t at all what I expected it to be like.

Our new lives were about to begin. I had imagined an over-packed bus filled with bubbling newbie teachers, dying of excitement, reeking of anticipation. Open soju bottles, loud music, and enough energy to run a small village. Obviously, I lived in Montreal way too long…

We were finally finished our training, and the 10 long “death-by-powerpoint” days were showing in everyone’s eyes. The drive was a little over 2 hours long, and aside from the occasional announcement from our Province of Education leaders it was relatively quiet. I can’t speak for the others, but I was horribly exhausted. My batteries were done. I was tired of being “herded” around, over-saturated with information about what lay ahead for the upcoming year, and most of all, I was tired of living out of a backpack.

I don’t usually have a problem with living out of a backpack and not having a permanent bed. But this time, Jess and I were dragging close to 200 pounds of gear with us halfway around the world. Literally. There’s nothing I wanted more than to open them all up, spread my clothes everywhere, and not think about a backpack for a whole year.

2 hours went by quickly. We stopped in Gumi for a quick lunch, and took off again for a short drive across the city to meet our co-teachers. I wish I had taken a video of the scene as we pulled up.

Our Province of Education leader said it best:

“When I was in your position, pulling up in the parking lot to meet my co-teacher, I felt like a puppy at a pet store about to be adopted”.

She was absolutely right.

As our bus pulled up towards the parking lot, we were met by at least 50 very, very, very excited Korean people holding up signs, nameplates, or pictures. They stared, pointed, waved, and tried desperately to locate their Native English Teachers as our buses came to a halt.  

Within 5 seconds of exiting the bus, a small Korean woman approached me with a piece of paper with my name printed on it in size 108 font. She whisked me out of the crowd towards her car where several other teachers from my school were waiting for me. They approached me one at a time with a bow, a handshake, and a quick “nice to meet you”.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the vibe that I initially received from them, but it seemed to be a mixture of awkward over-politeness, nervousness, and relief. They had worked extremely hard in preparation for our arrival, and everything had finally come together.

We picked up our luggage, hastily said our goodbyes to the many, many wonderful people we met during orientation, and took off towards our new home.

- Ken

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Welcome to EPIK! (Part 2)

[Apparently a few hours later…]

My shining knight rushed into our dorm room and uncurled me from my fetal position. I had exhausted all of my strength distracting myself on his Nintendo DS and felt much more comfortable with my hands around my knees. Medicine! Finally! What a blessing in disguise…those white and yellow-black pills didn’t look too appealing at first, but within an hour, I was able to hobble around with wall- and bed-supports (and Ken’s bulging biceps).

Unable to go to the ‘Hanok Village – Keumsan Temple’ field trip, I fell asleep to Ken’s loud clamor and utter amazement at one rice-popping-cracker-patty machine he saw at Hanok Village. That’s all I can remember of that night…”Jess…look at this machine!” (me – “Oh cool!...uh huh….mm hmm…zzz…). Both the village and temple, two ‘must-sees’,  look beautiful (from what I have seen in Ken’s photos and videos).

The lectures the following day were once again positively marvelous, as the experienced English teachers gave us their all, informing and entertaining us bumbling novices. Being referred to as ‘Ken’s Sick Girlfriend’ also kept me in a light, cheery mood :).

On the last night of the orientation, all EPIK teachers were treated to Korean traditional music and dance (which is indubitably something to see…fast drumming and head-spinning for over 1/2 an hour straight!), and a feast (actually a feast) in an insanely large, glistening perma-tent was prepared for us (if only I had a bottomless stomach!).


The next morning, Ken and I gathered our things and headed out for the buses departing to the Gyeongbuk province. Our destination – Andeok (we were both a little worried…we couldn’t find the town on Google maps!). The Gyeongbuk crew loaded everyone’s luggage fittingly (like Tetris pieces) into the one luggage truck, and we made sure to squeeze the breath out of Polly and J.L. (our EPIK group leaders) in our hugs. Saying goodbye-but-not-farewell to the many teachers we befriended, we boarded our three-hour bus ride to Gyeongsangbuk-do.

I have to say, housing all 500 of us teachers, feeding our voracious bellies, and gathering such a fine group of down-to-earth native English speakers for 10 days, is wholly something to be applauded. Adieu EPIK, adieu! ‘Til we meet again!

- Jess

Meds for Jess

Jess was still sick when we returned back to campus from Hanok Village. I don’t want to bad-mouth the nurse on campus, but I was getting tired of her “go back to bed” and “keep taking your temperature” answers every time Jess managed to walk down to her office. She was an extremely kind woman, but she was obviously over-worked, stressed, and not qualified to administer the proper healthcare needed.

The final straw was when she gave Jess a hot water pouch and advised her to lay down with it on her abdomen. It sounded like a cozy solution, but I’m fairly certain that a nice warm environment was NOT a very good substitute for an antibiotic… Rather, it sounded more like a tropical paradise for the little buggers. Well, we gave it a try anyway. She laid back down in bed with the warm pouch on her abdomen, and two minutes later, lo and behold! She was in excruciating pain and curled up in the fetal position.

That was it. The final straw. It was my turn…

I probably should’ve looked into learning a few simple Korean words before venturing off by myself in search of some meds, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

My first stop was at the convenience store on campus. It’s not uncommon to find some symptom relief meds in Canada at a convenience store or a grocery store, so I tried my luck there first.

I approached the woman behind the counter, and did what I can do best in this country. I played charades. Now if you can just picture the “Pepto-Bismol” commercials, you’ll have a pretty clear image of what my dance looked liked…

Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach… well… you know the rest…

Aside from being hugely entertaining, it actually worked.

Her husband (who was originally stocking shelves when I walked in and quickly claimed first row seats when my show began) took off his work vest and beckoned me to follow him. I thought he was going to bring me back up to the campus nurse, but instead, he walked outside towards his car and opened the passenger door.

Now let me make this perfectly clear. Mom, if you’re reading this, I wouldn’t usually get into a stranger’s car. But I was desperate, Jess was sick, and he was smaller than me.

We drove off campus together and headed for downtown Jeonju.

Wow, what a place! The amount of blinking neon lights, strobes, and coloured spotlights on the sides of the buildings were more than impressive. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to admire the view for very long as we arrived at our first destination. It was closed. He took off again in a different direction.

With his frequent stops at closed stores, and frustrated mumbles, I quickly pieced together that most (if not all) of the pharmacies were closed at this time on a Sunday night.

Finally, he slowed down at a small shop, peered inside, smiled, and pulled over to the side of the road. He had found one that was open.

We went inside together, and he described the situation to the pharmacist (I will call him a pharmacist, but to be honest, he could’ve just been an old man working at a drug store. I will never know).

He pulled two small boxes off the shelves, and sounded out the drug names to me. The first one was “eh-pu-pro-peh” which, with a little imagination, sounded like “ibuprofen” (Advil), and the other one had the medication names written in English on the back (all of which I recognized). Both boxes set me back a grand total of 4 bucks. Not bad at all. I thanked the “Pharmacist”, and we headed back to the University.

He pulled up to the front door of the dorm, pointed inside, and tried to rush me out of the car to bring Jess the meds. I thanked him over and over again as I walked backwards towards the elevators, and he yelled out, “Visit tomorrow, yes?”

“Yes, yes I will,” I responded.

I arrived back at our room and gave her the meds.

The downward spiral was over.

The next night I kept my promise and visited the store. Both the husband and wife were working again, and their eyes lit up as I walked in with Jess at my side. We exchanged words of thanks, relief, more thanks, and I gave them a bottle of Mulberry wine that I had picked up as a souvenir from Hanok village on Saturday. Several bows later, we left the store, and headed back to the dorm.

Imagine yourself at a convenience store near your house. You ask one of the workers for a light bulb, but he doesn’t have any in stock. Instead of shrugging you off, he removes his work vest, drives you to Home Depot, speaks to the employees for you, walks through the aisles with you, finds the one you need, drives you back home, and in return, simply asks that you pay him a visit the next day to let him know if it worked or not. How many times has this happened to you?

This was my first.

- Ken

EPIK Field Trip

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Jeonju University

Welcome to EPIK! (Part 1)

JEONJU UNIVERISTY… The Place for Superstars ~

Rewind a bit. Once Ken and I finally landed in Incheon International Airport (i.e. SOUTH KOREA), our journey wasn’t over quite yet. Since we were a day late into Korea, we had missed the shuttle bus providing rides to EPIK teachers to the orientation at Jeonju University. Luckily, one of the Teach Away Inc. representatives, Jessa, was right at the airport terminal and led us to purchase our bus tickets (a 3-hour ride to Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do). Now that’s dedication as a Teach Away recruiter.


Pretty much passing out on the bus, we finally arrived in Jeonju…but again, we hadn’t reached our final destination. Dropped off at the Jeonju Core Hotel, we had to take another 25 minute taxi ride to the university. Being a major city, the channel of flashing store signs along the strip gave us a moment of sobriety.

Finally at the university, we knew that our major problems were over. Us stumbling EPIK travelers were greeted with open arms by EPIK coordinators and finally we were exactly where we needed to be.

They coordinators greeted us with everything we had missed on the first day of the orientation – information books, nametags, pens, and thermometers so that we could take our temperature every morning.

Ken and I were both led to our dorm room, and it was a good thing no one else was staying in there – we both completely passed out and it probably wasn’t a pretty sight.


Flash forward to the next morning…wonderful Western food for breakfast with some dishes having a Korean twist to them. Bulgogi (marinated beef) with scrambled eggs, a healthy serving of kimchi…and some espicy side dishes providing a special Korean touch to the food. Ken grew particularly attached to the Seoul Milk that they were serving (it tasted more like cream though…1-part coffee, 9-parts Seoul Milk…mmm…Nick, Ken says you’d love this milk…too bad we can't ship any to you). Having missed the first day of the orientation, we went straight into the mini-lectures from experienced English Teachers in Korea (and man, these teachers were actually enjoyable to listen to). They represented the way teachers should teach in the classroom – lots of games to soak up the never-ending pool of energy from the students, and the idea of making a fool of yourself whenever you can to keep the students attentive (they are teenagers after all). What did we have to look forward to next? The medical checkup. We were stripped down to our bare-buttocks (for the chest x-ray of course), and measured in every way (height, weight, vision and hearing), but the worst part for me must’ve been the taking of blood samples.

The nurse was incredibly nice, so I had to hide my winces as she missed my vein, tried to find a new one, dug into the another vein, and decided to move to my left arm (of course, I had told her about my poor blood pressure in both of my arms). In my left arm, she found the best vein she could find – and that vein still required much jabbing and digging-around by the needle. Her worried look and frequent murmurs of “Am I doing this right?” to her supervisor made me a wee bit lightheaded has the blood-bag filled up in slow increments.

[6 hours later in our dorm room…right before we went to sleep…9:00pm…I started to feel hot…but no big…I thought it was just the humidity…]

[9 hours later…I woke up with a wonderful surprise…just on the brink of a fever…37.8oC…]

Lead-headed, I went to see the EPIK nurse. Actually, I think I walked a straight line better in the delirious state I was in compared to every other day. I must’ve looked like normal, as I was resting my head on one of the vending machines near the nurse’s office. I had a pleasant three hours where I played “Don’t Sway and Look Like You’re Going to Vomit.” When I could finally see the nurse, she immediately took my temperature…and gave a nice little yelp – 39.4oC. Swine flu anyone? 

Of course that’s what she thought at the time…I insisted that I thought it was an infection from the blood samples they had taken. “Sterile.” She told me, “Sterile.” I told her I had gotten an infection once before from blood being drawn and had the same symptoms, but she was convinced that that was not the case. She gave me a Tylenol and I pretty much stayed in the office, sitting in a chair while she was treating other patients, until supper. Before having a little supper, she thought about taking me to the hospital to have me checked by a doctor (Swine flu! Swine flu!). After supper, however, I visited her office once again, and my temperature had gone down to 37.8oC. Okay, so maybe not Swine flu, but whatever this sickness was, it was moving through my system.


[Next day…]

Wow. Massive stomach pains. Whatever had sizzled my head was moving down, down, down. I managed to go see the nurse and tried explaining again that I thought I had an infection, but she was convinced otherwise. So, she gave me a hotpack for my stomach. After one minute…ooh the pain……Knock me out for a bit, take out my stomach! I was willing to do anything. Of course, there was Ken to my rescue, shining like a knight on his mighty steed, fed up, and determined to find some real medicine for his princess :).

- Jess

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Stranded In Beijing

Korea... Almost...

When we first arrived in Bejing, Ken and I stepped into an airport of such grandeur, it made up for our voices echoing in its emptiness. Apart from the airport personnel and the passengers stepping off of the plane, there was no one in the airport that we could see. I felt like an honoured guest at a ‘Welcome to Bejing!’ celebration, but with no welcoming party. Ken and I (and the other passengers) were greeted in Bejing with body heat detectors and were shuffled from one counter to another looking to get to our next connecting flight.

Oh, did we ever learn a harsh lesson: do NOT purchase any flight from Southern China Airlines! Not only do you have to check-in and be in the departure gate about 2 hours beforehand, the plane can leave before the departure time! Now, on our online flight itinerary, Ken and I were allotted a little over an hour to get to our last flight. I guess, however, that the shuttle train and shuttle bus (which altogether took an hour to ride) weren’t taken into account. When we finally figured out which terminal we were supposed to be in, we found ourselves at the mercy of a confused Southern China Airlines employee and 6 other people (also English Program In Korea teachers) waiting to get to the Incheon International Airport. Luckily for Ken and I, we had our travel insurance ($60CAD), which we had purchased with our flight. Of course, being the strong burly man he is, Ken refused to have his damsel (me) sleep in an airport for 24 hours :). He threatened to call the insurance company and explain the situation concerning Southern China Airlines. The Southern China Airlines employee 'somehow' found a way to change our flight to the next day, while she was unforgiving to the 6 other passengers who had to pay for another flight.

Sheesh, eh?

After sorting out the ticket information with Southern China Airlines, we next had to venture out and find out if our baggage was marooned in the terminal. Did it make it to South Korea? Did it stay in Bejing? Apparently, our baggage was something else of an enigma altogether. Six of us stranded EPIK passengers desperately tried to communicate our one and only question, “Where did our baggage go?”

We were tossed around from one airport desk to another, being directed to another terminal (for which we would have to take another shuttle and bus to get to), to the information desk (which was absolutely useless), and to the ‘Left Baggage’ counter (which was meant for people to pay to leave their luggage at the airport). At that desk, Ken’s impeccable drawing skills (drawing a plane taking off, us left behind as malnourished stick-people, and a question mark beside our luggage) finally communicated what we needed, and we were directed to the Manager's Counter. Luckily, the manager was able to speak a little English and we found out, hours later, that our baggage was right underneath us – on a sublevel floor.

In the meantime, Ken managed to call EPIK and the insurance company, and explain our situation. Lo and behold, we were given $300CAD each to spend on food, transportation and the most expensive hotel Bejing could offer us!


Wow. Winding through the roads of the outskirts of Bejing was one of the most death-defying experiences through which I’ve ever lived. Obeying the common rules of the road seemed to be a ‘no-no’ for the airport-hotel shuttle driver, even though it was pitch black at night.

Viewing the city, the streets seemed to be barren and rugged…that is, until we reached our hotel. The hotel and the buildings surrounding it seemed to tower over the rest of the region. A thick, brick wall, which looked like it was built as a military defense, surrounded the buildings and a security guard carefully monitored and secured the entrance gate.

The hotel itself was a wondrous sight. Glowing in the night, it seemed as though it was inviting us to sleep in its cozy white linens and sit down on its pearly white, square toilet. It was no mirage… As both Ken and I sleepily stumbled out of the shuttle bus like school children on a Monday morning, we were greeted by hotel employees, who carried our 200 lbs worth of luggage to our room of luxury. I could’ve been hallucinating – which was how I felt while my brain was still deciding whether or not I could sleep.

The hotel room itself was incredible. Set in pastel off-whites and bamboo-greens, the room gave off an ethereal ambience, with a glass-walled bathroom (not sound-proof, by the way) displaying a glamorous rainfall showerhead (these kinds of things get me excited).

Our dream was cut short, as both our stomachs spoke their minds. We were hungry. We were hungry enough to eat whatever Bejing’s streets had to offer us – even if it came out minutes after being devoured.

After walking about on the dimly-lit, honeycomb-bricked sidewalk, we managed to find one of the cheapest eateries around – a vibrant, rich-coloured stand, with a Pepsi backdrop. Safe enough, right?

What we ate was really the suggestion of four of the chefs…a plate of spicy noodles (according to Ken), a plate of spicy (according to Ken) shredded potato, a plate of bean-gelatin cubes (also spicy according to Ken), moist lima-bean-chick-peas disguised in peanut-like shells, the best beer I-have-ever-tasted, and more…all for about four-ish dollars. We were ready for the consequences…actually, we pretty much threw away our conscience and dove into our meal.


Breakfast was a breath of fresh air – continental food for us Westerners and international travelers. There were danishes, sausages, toast, cereal, vegetable platters, and so much more. The eerie silence was not disturbed by the one businessman drinking coffee near the window. The lack of people, however, only seemed to make the hotel service staff even more hospitable. One employee even walked out along the dusty streets with Ken and I to get a phone card. Despite the miscommunication between a cell phone card and a phone card, a provincial phone card and an international phone card, and then no phone card at all, the employee managed to keep a perfect composure and humbleness in helping us.


After our bags were loaded onto the airport-hotel shuttle, once again, Ken and I were ready to gamble with our lives once again. Riding the van with no seatbelts and a direct path to through the front windshield gave us a sense of delirious exhilaration that you can only experience, riding on a Bejing hotel-airport shuttle :)


Merely 16 hours later, both Ken and I were in that familiar place…that place with so many memories – the Bejing airport. We received our flight tickets in no time at all, passed-on our luggage, and waited, a good 3 hours before our flight. It was almost like yesterday's morning 'n' afternoon had been erased from our memories. Bye-bye Bejing…hello sweet land of Korea!

- Jess

Leaving Canada

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Preparing for the Flight

BE PREPARED. An adventure awaits in the dynamic land of Korea…


One thing I should’ve considered when packing my bags – an airline restriction of 23 kg/bag was much, much more weight than I ever needed, even for a year’s worth of living in Korea. Ken and I purchased airline tote bags for our packsacks that were the exact dimensions for the flight and we were able to fill each bag to its fullest (actualizing the size – each bag was large enough to fit a grown man). Only taking into consideration the weight restriction meant that we could stuff our bags with as much junk food, toys and deodorant as possible (apparently deodorant isn’t very common in many parts of Korea). Being the pack-junkie that I am, I made sure to stock various supplies to last a couple months in a new country – plenty of Canadian souvenirs and good ol’ Canadian maple syrup (a sticky-sweet reminder of home).

Luckily enough, I did remember some essential supplies to provide me with a more presentable outlook for the first couple of months abroad (also on the off-chance that Ken and I would be stranded in Bejing in between connecting flights…or something like that). The supplies kept dear to my heart: Colgate toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, mending supplies, and so much more. I was sure that it would come in handy sooner or later.


As we passed through Ottawa International Airport’s security gate, the officers were sure to open up Ken’s backpack, which was stuffed tightly with his dress shoes, rolled-up belt, rolled-up dress clothes, baggie of liquids in small containers and finally, a massive, solid external hard drive, which could outlast any nuclear explosion. I guess that my 4-litre baggie of gummy frogs stuffed and squished into my backpack’s front pocket didn’t look suspicious at all.

[21-hours on a plane with Ken…]

On the plane, the backtrack from Ottawa back to Toronto was pleasant…I had just heaved my 100 lbs of luggage onto a bus ride from St. Catharines to Toronto to Ottawa – 2 days beforehand. The very first flight was the one that got my attention and Ken’s as well. In front of each of the seats (Air Canada Airlines) was a small screen with access to plenty of movies, television shows, music and the news. Ken quickly sorted through the movies to watch, sighing that there wasn’t enough time to watch even one. Patience…just 19 ½ more hours to go :)

The connecting flight from Toronto to Bejing was the one that REALLY got our attention. We must’ve had at least 5 family meals and about 10 snacks throughout the entire flight (ah snacks, Ken must’ve been in heaven). I, on the other hand, had never felt so exhausted from eating so much!

Apart from the distasteful videos Ken took of his finger up my nose while I was sleeping (and I will lovingly pay him back for all THREE of them), the flight was quite peaceful, as we flew almost effortlessly between the unspeakably beautiful layers of brilliantly illuminated clouds. It felt like we were chasing the sun around the world as we were taking flight to Bejing. Little did we know, flying nearer and nearer, the delightful escapade that would unravel itself before us…

- Jess