A Travellerspoint blog

People Everyday

doing what they do

Singapore is one of the most diverse countries I have ever been to. Ever.

Yes, America is also very diverse. But not when you live in suburban Indiana. Korea is nowhere even CLOSE to being considered diverse. If you are not ethnically Korean, you will usually stick out like a sore thumb. I still receive stares on a daily basis, on the subway train that I take every day, to and from work.

So coming to Singapore where I hardly stand out (except maybe in Little India, where I was staying) was certainly a breath of fresh air.

The people are friendly and polite and more than willing to help you if you flail around, looking helpless.
These are just things I noticed.

Also, no one spits on the street. (More so because it is illegal, I think...)

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A grandma and grandson in Little India.

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Drunk Irish Santas on Christmas Eve at Muddy Murphy's Irish pub on Orchard Road.

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Street Musicians on Christmas Eve, Orchard Road.

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Kids playing in a fountain on Christmas Day, near Bugis Station.

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Making Dim Sum Soup, Chinatown.

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Painting a mosque, Chinatown.

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Decorating a Mercedes-Benz, Little India.

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Chinese calligrapher, Chinatown.

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Outdoor barber, Chinatown.

Great!

Posted by lrbergen 05:40 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

Flora / Fauna of Singapore

...many photo blogs to follow!

With the purchase of a brand-new 1GB memory card for my camera (before, I was limited to 2 256MB cards, which limited my space), let's just say I went a little berserk...

So, as the title suggests, I will begin our photographic tour of Singapore with both flora and fauna of the city, something they have an abundance of. The flora was mostly taken in Bishan park or surrounding the countless temples I encountered, and all of the fauna is from the Singapore Zoo.

Let's start...ok-lah? (In Singapore, they add "lah" to the end of everything. EVERYTHING...it's mostly used to emphasize your point.)

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Otter, which leaves a nasty smell to mark his territory.

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The flamingos were getting a bit testy with each other.

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They had several orangutans, which were allowed to roam pretty much where they pleased.

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We managed to make it in time for the polar bear feeding, and on his birthday nonetheless!

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One of the three white tigers.

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Pygmy hippos...the little guy was freakin' adorable.

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Kangaroo scrounging around for lunch.

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One of the elephants snatching her trainer's hat.

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Baboons grooming / being groomed.

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White rhino

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Zebras. Duh.

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Ostrich pecking for food.

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Giraffe.

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Female African lion lounging in the shade.

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Proboscis monkey, the animal kingdom's comedian.

There were countless others from the zoo, but I had to pick and choose to save everyone's sanity.

Now, the flora of Singapore (a small percentage of it). There are parks and botanical gardens all around the small island, full of beautiful flowers and trees. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about flowers (I say "next to", because I know an orchid when I see one, and there were many), so most of these will go unrecognized. It's not for lack of trying by any means, and if anyone happens to know what the heck these are, let me know!

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Enjoy! Keep looking!

Posted by lrbergen 04:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Don't Believe the Hype

...sometimes it's WAY better...

Merry Christmas from Singapore!
For several reasons, it was almost easy to forget it's even that time of year! One, it's a tropical climate; two, Singapore is full of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim people, who don't celebrate Christmas; and three, with the exception of the posh Orchard Road, there have been few, if any, decorations. But honestly, I can't think of a better place to be.

Due to the absence of pictures, and the terrible Richard Marx-era music playing in the Internet cafe (every time!), I will give a brief rundown of the very best and worst of Singapore (so far!):

- Beauty: Singapore is full of both natural and architectural beauty. They have managed to maintain a harmonious relationship between man and nature. There are trees and flowers EVERYWHERE, (the trees are huge, so you know that they have been around for a long time), the air is fresh and clean, and the buildings are almost always surprising in their uniqueness, simplicity, and character. You will see what I mean once I post pictures.

- People: Like so many other countries, Singapore is full of a wide variety of people. There are people from India (and surrounding countries such as Nepal and Pakistan), Malaysia, China, and everywhere in between. It is literally impossible to guess where someone is from. Unlike most countries, however, Singaporeans maintain a calm philosophy of "live and let live." People are kind and helpful to each other; one only need to take the subway or walk down the street to witness this. It is an amazing and nearly emotional experience to be surrounded by this.

- Food: OH! MY! GOD! The FOOD! As you all know, I am a foodie and that is one thing I was told to look out for in Singapore. You can get pretty much anything: from Indian to Chinese to pizza to Malay...and it is all DELICIOUS. Aside from the variety, there is also a range of prices. You can spend anywhere from $3SGD up to $50SGD on a meal, but no matter. It is all good, which is for sure the mark of a great culinary city.

- The Sights: There is never a dull moment in Singapore. I have been here for 4 days and have been on the go, doing things the whole time. There is a wicked Science Museum with an amazing Omnimax theater that plays documentary-type movies. I saw one about Mummies, and am going back tomorrow for the award-nominated "Hurricane on the Bayou" because it is just THAT COOL. If you feel like relaxing and enjoying nature, there are a plethora of parks here. For Christmas Eve, I rented a bike and scooted around Bishan Park for only $9SGD. There are different areas of town, all different; Little India, Chinatown, Orchard Road, etc., that just beg to be explored. One not even need visit a temple or other attraction. Just walking down the street is entertainment enough. However, the temples are very beautiful and each one is different.

And the BEST thing, which deserves an entire paragraph devoted to itself, is the Singapore Zoo, billed as one of the world's best. At the daunting-at-first price of $30SGD ($45, combined with the Night Safari), one would think that such an attraction would be over-hyped. I had heard from everyone that this was a sight not to be missed, and the skeptical person that I am, went in with a bit of a cynical edge.

But the 5 hours that I spent there today were hours spent in awe. The animals, of course, are amazing. My favorites were the white tigers, the pygmy hippos, the polar bear feeding, the tree kangaroo that licked my arm, the orangutans that are free to roam the trees, the elephants at work and play show, pretty much all of the monkeys (especially the Proboscis Monkeys and Chimpanzees), and the otters. But it wasn't just the animals that were impressive. The Singapore Zoo is set over 28 hectares of land and is a beautiful place to be, animals or no. You can even walk up to some of the animals; as they say, they use moats where possible instead of bars. These animals don't look depressed, don't pace, don't look like they are in prison. There are trees and plants everywhere, and the animals' areas are pristinely maintained.

I really can't say enough about the zoo...it was amazing to see these wonderful animals in the closest thing to their natural habitats. And don't worry, I have almost an entire 1GB memory card full of pictures to show.

I'm about halfway through my time here, and I'm enjoying every minute. Singapore is every bit as amazing as I had heard, if not more so. So...sometimes you shouldn't believe the hype and maybe you'll get more than you thought.

Posted by lrbergen 05:40 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Yard Time

just like prison

Once a week, each class gets 30 minutes of outdoor time, making use of the front yard of our school.

And now I have pictoral proof of this.

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Joseph.

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Sean.

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Sebin.

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Cindy.

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Smooshed on the slide.

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The reason I get up in the morning, Esther-pants.

(*81 days left until I leave Korea! 12 days until I go to Singapore!)

Posted by lrbergen 05:53 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

One Wedding and an Outing

not quite the makes of a movie....

Ok, loyal readers. I know that it's been approximately 10 years since I've posted anything. For this, I am only partially sorry. Most of the time, I feel that I am as comfortable in Seoul as I was in South Bend, meaning, of course, that nothing has really been too blog-worthy. But since I have not e-mailed anyone either, I feel it is time for a DOUBLE POST! That's right....two, two, TWO BLOGS IN ONE! Why all the caps? It's all very exciting, you see.

The first post will be about the first of many outings taken with my NEW class at the Daechi Worwick. (Sidenote: if you don't remember why I am not at the Bundang Worwick, backtrack to the post "Being Fired in Korea"...ring a bell? Ok, let's continue then.)
My NEW school is set in Daechi, in the greater Gangnam area, in Seoul. What this translates to is an hour commute via crowded, hot, smelly subway for 40 minutes one way. I didn't move because, well....I really hate moving. My entire community of friends and restaurants are set in Bundang, and I only have 112 days (not that I'm counting) left in Korea, so why move? To a smaller and dirtier apartment? Where I have to relearn local geography and infrastructure? No, thank you. The school itself is quite beautiful. It was the first of the series, and is a stand-alone building, two stories, with a FRONT YARD! It's not very healthy or particularly lush grass, but it serves its purpose. We also have a swingset, with a slide and seesaw and are alloted 30 minutes per week to go crazy in an outdoor setting. This part I like.

I will not go any further in depth into the parts I don't like. Not gon' do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

Anyway, the only thing keeping me sane amidst the regular insanity is, again, the kids. I have a class of 7 (slightly down from the 9 I started with) beautiful, silly, wonderful, bright students. I took over for a teacher that incorporated no discipline, who took over for a teacher that incorporated FAR less discipline. My kids have adapted well, speaking no Korean in class, and for the most part staying in their seats. I love them.

Because of our location in Seoul rather than the "suburbs", our outings seem to be limited. We had my first one at Olympic Park in the Jamsil area. It was a beautiful, mild day and the kids seemed to have fun, then be worn out and irritable. So it goes.

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The conditions were favorable.

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Grass is very sacred in Seoul. When we tried to let the kids run around all over it, we were promptly scolded by the ajassi landscapers.

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My new babies, Libra class. 1st row, L-R: Denny, Kate, Sebin, Cindy, Esther. 2nd row: me, Daniel (who has left us for Korean kindergarten), Sean, and Jung Ook (our Korean teacher)

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Chaos in a garden maze.

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Clara, from Cassiopeia class, is by far one of my favorites.

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I can't remember what they were pointing at....I believe one of the kids was using his taekwondo powers on a swarm of gnats....

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Esther, on the left, is the new sunshine of my life. (Ignore the cocked fist...she usually just hugs or clings)

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This is Sean, modeling one of the classic poses after an outing. The dismay. The horror. The exhaustion.

My kids are super-sweet, if not a little rambunctious. I have parent-teacher meetings coming up, an event that always makes me reach for the Tums, especially at the new place. Our punishment is to teach a full day of kindergarten, then have double elementary, then two hours (average) of meetings. I'm looking at a 12-hour sentence. Fun.

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Christina's Wedding

Recently, one of our ex-co-workers, Christina teacher, got married. Up until now, I have avoided Korean weddings like the plague.

So, imagine, if you will, a Korean wedding: they take place in a Wedding Hall, which is basically like a wedding factory. The ceremonies are about 30 minutes long and secular (I think). The halls are in a perpetual state of decoration, the same ones all the time. The couple comes in, gets married, there is generally a banquet somewhere on the premises, quickly, then the next one comes. Usually when the ceremony is taking place, the entire audience (because that is exactly what they are) is talking on their respective cell phones. Phones are ringing, people are elbowing each other to get the best seat/standing area. It's like the subway. It's hard to get a good picture because there is a crowd of photographers standing at the altar with the couple. They are omnipresent. Everything is in Korean, because, well....we're in Korea. So if you're a foreigner in the audience, it's pretty much guaranteed you won't understand a word. Two people sang songs, one in Korean and one in English, (I don't know if that's typical) the ceremony was over, then the whole family was herded like cattle to the front for pictures. Then the friends. Then the food. Then get out, get out, get out! because there's another couple coming in.

I went because it was our friend's wedding and I knew it was pretty much the only time I could reason going to one of these things. I managed to get a handful of good pictures in.

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A picture of the formal picture of Christina and her new husband, Dong Hyun.

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Wedding hall exterior.

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Amy and I with Christina in the bride's room.

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The interior of the wedding hall.

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Christina and her dad going down the aisle.

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Listening to one of the singers.

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Bowing to Dong Hyun's parents (this is customary; the bride does a half bow, but the groom does a full-body bow)

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Just married!

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Christina and Dong Hyun's families.

And so a Korean wedding goes.

This post was incredibly long, but I'm making up for a lot of lost time. My next post will probably be from Singapore, where I am going for Christmas! Woohoo!

Posted by lrbergen 03:53 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

The Real Reason I Went to Thailand...

ok, really! elephants!

My second day, I relived a childhood experience (which might not have happened...a 3-year-old's memory is shoddy at best) and booked a jungle trek. With an elephant! Exciting!

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When we pulled up (there was a couple doing it as well), the size of the elephants alone was enough to make me gasp. No, really. I gasped. Then, once you get over that these things could crush you with one fell swoop, you start to realize how incredibly beautiful they are. I really can't describe it with words, so the rest of this two-part blog will be pictures. See for yourself.

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It was amazing, something I won't ever forget.

The rest of my island stay was spent hanging out with people I met, Chea May and Canaan from Germany and Inbar from Israel. The island is so beautiful and relaxed. I'm already starting to think about when I can go back. I left the day I flew back to Korea and saw some stuff on the way.

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Waiting for the ferry.

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The most beautiful Thai baby on the ferry. She was a very happy baby.

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Lunch.

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Skyscraper, Bangkok.

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Hanging out ON the train tracks.

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Kao San Road, THE backpacker hotspot.

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Mounds and mounds of Pad Thai.

I love Thailand. I shall return.

Posted by lrbergen 07:02 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Real Reason I Went to Thailand...

elephants!

-17 °C

Ahem. As the title suggests, I went to Thailand for the elephants. This is partially true. I also went to get away from Korea, to go for a SCUBA, to meet people from around the world, see some beautiful beaches, and eat Thai food for authentic, believe-it-or-not prices. Since being in Korea, Thailand has been my ...own private Xanadu, if you will.

All in 5 days?

Mission accomplished.


(I love these maps!)

I arrived in Bangkok, where I literally stayed for the "One Night in Bangkok" that the pop group Murray Head sang about in the 80's. Let me....let me just share some of those lyrics with you (wow, we can all tell already that this is going to be a long one...)

"One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free
You'll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you're lucky then the god's a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me"

So yeah...pretty much. Just from one night, you can get the sense that ANYTHING is possible in Bangkok. Anything.

But I had other goals in mind, so I headed to Koh Chang, which is about 5 hours east, close to the Cambodian border. Well...5 hours by bus to Trat. Then about a 20 minute ride to the ferry. Then about a 30 minute ferry ride. Then another 20-30 minutes to the hotel. So really, about a day's worth of being herded like cattle. But I digress.

The name "Koh Chang" means "Elephant Island". It also has some pretty nice scuba. My first night, I stayed at the "Tree House Lodge," which was about as basic as you could get. Straw huts with a light, a bed and a mosquito net for 80 baht, or roughly $2.50. The bathrooms were shared, with squatter toilets and no running water. Freezing cold water, but a fantastic view overlooking the ocean.
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There was also a really great restaurant, also looking over the ocean, with cheap, delicious Pad Thai (noodles) and Tom Yam (sour spicy soup).
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My first full day, I went for a SCUBA at Koh Yak and another small island, uninhabited, but with great coral and marine life. That day, the water was particularly rough and the boat TOSSED, 45-degree angle to 45-degree angle, back and forth. I was unfortunately the only one to get violently seasick. It was a bummer, needless to say.
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My first dive was a refresher course with the instructor, and it was nice. The second was a bit more nerve-racking because we had a really strong current to work with, and it was maybe my second time diving with more than one other person. Several times I kicked another girl with my fins because she was behind me and we couldn't see each other. I got really low on air really quickly for whatever reason so I had to use the other regulator on my dive master's BCD (there are two, for such an emergency). It was actually quite good because he was able to make me get closer to the coral and fish than I normally would have. And I saw a stingray. It was great.

It rained the night I stayed at the Tree House, with the waves crashing right outside my door and scaring the bejezus out of me, and the roof leaked all over my bed with me in it (and I normally don't complain about that sort of thing too much), so I quickly moved to Nature Beach, where I at least had a real roof over my head, for only 250 baht per night. It was well worth it for running water and real walls. They also had a good restaurant, with barbecue every night, and a fire twirler show. The beach was also pristine, just beautiful.

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The sky looked like this every day.

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This is my bathroom. It seems weird, but it looks like this during the day. Naturally.

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One of my meals, fat Thai noodles with pork.

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The sunsets looked like this every day.

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From the restaurant.

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To be continued (it's a two-parter!)....

What about the elephants? You were promised elephants!

Hold your horses! Or...elephants, in this case...

Posted by lrbergen 06:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Being "Fired" in Korea

kind of...

-17 °C

Disclaimer: I apologize if this post sounds bitter, or angry in any way. But, as in life, the good always comes with the bad. Also, this sad tale illustrates a big part of Korean culture in a work-related form.

Um, so yeah...as the title suggests, I've finally been had by the kids' moms, who don't want me as their kids' teacher, claiming that I don't like their kids and the feeling's mutual, never once bothering to actually talk to me, or even look at me.

As you probably know from previous posts here, my favorite class, my only class, was closed due to the higher-ups being cheap and making me take another class of higher-level kids, the ones who are full of themselves, yes, even at 7 years old. It was a rough first month because I didn't bend to this attitude and instituted my own classroom rules and began disciplining, which seemed to be the first time this ever happened to them. This happened in July.

Things changed, the kids got used to the rules, and suddenly, we all got along. The kids freaked out when they saw me in the hall...we joked with each other and I began to care about the little punks. Then one fateful day, we arrive at the "Peach Incident," as it has later been referred to.

One day, we had cut up peaches as a snack. Given no plates or forks, I put the peaches on a tissue on their desks.

And that was the peach incident.

The moms had the proverbial cow, taking this as a clear sign that I hated their children and severely insulted them, their kids, and by extension, all of Korea.

So they wanted me out...and since they are really just big bags of money who want their kids to be doctors at age 12, who don't want their kids to actually have fun, they will always get their way. So even though I loved their kids, and their kids loved me, I am no longer a teacher at my school's Bundang campus.

But wait...am I really fired? No. I am not. Unless you genuinely screw up (like set fire to a child), you will just be transferred. It's the Korean way. You could be lazy, incompetent, or in this case, just unpopular, but you will just be moved. So I am being transferred to the Daechi campus, near Gangnam.

I am heartbroken, more so than before when my other class was canceled in the first place. The directors of my school set a precedent when this same thing happened to a co-worker of mine. Our directors bow to the mothers, and I like to think they fight their hardest before they do so. They agreed with me that this was an absurd request, they know that I love my job and my kids, and that I try to be the best teacher I can. But still.

This is so very sad.

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I will miss my babies.

Posted by lrbergen 18:27 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

Going Naked

busan, busan....

overcast 20 °C

As I might have mentioned before, living in Korea, you lose your sense of wonder about anything around you (as you do any place, I suspect). You become accustomed to not understanding anything anyone says, being pushed around in a huge crowd of people, and still being surprised every time you see "one of your own." Then again, sometimes events (or people, as in this case) push you to really see what's around you, to once again enjoy your surroundings and yes, even be pleasantly surprised.

Sini, my friend from Finland whom I met in Vietnam, has been here visiting for the past week. It's so strange: even walking through the streets that I see every day has become a new experience. I've learned to see things through new eyes, to taste food differently, and (holy crap) even be much more polite to people.

This weekend, we went on the KTX (Korea's super-fast train) 2.5 hours to Busan, way in the south of Korea.

Busan (often Romanized into Pusan) is right along the coast, with its own metro and everything. Sini and I found a really great hotel seaside with an amazing view for only $70 (normally $120). It was raining and we were nearly blown away by the hurricane-like winds. So we took a nap in our hotel room with only the sound of the waves.

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After, we found a nice restaurant nearby with really great sashimi and about 100 side dishes.
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Strong waves knocking kids over.

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Haeundae beach.

Then we decided to try our hand at the sauna/jjimjilbang. I haven't been comfortable enough to walk around naked with perfect strangers, but Sini really wanted to go to compare it to the Finnish sauna, so I thought now was as good a time as ever.

We walked into the building and got off the elevator on the wrong floor. We started entering a room when there it was: a big tattoo on a Korean man's butt. Oh. This must be the MEN'S floor. Woops. So then we went down one more flight of stairs to the main counter to pay and go to the WOMEN'S sauna. We paid our $6 and were on our way.

The main problem we had was that there are no instructions for this sauna. We got our towels, took off our clothes and walked into a huge room with about 6 different pools and about 70-80 naked Korean women of all ages. Ok, now what? It's probably best that we take a shower. So we walked over to the showers where one of the scrubbing ajummas in a bra and panties (signaling they work there) came and handed us stools to sit on and bowls. We sat down and turned on the shower but...no soap. We tried to look as helpless as possible so someone would help us and sure enough, a really kind older women brought us her shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and loofah. We thanked her kindly and scrubbed away.

Then, in the center of the room were three huge hot baths with women lounging along the side and soaking. We learned the hard way that you're supposed to start in the coolest one and work your way up to the hottest. After the initial stares (I have 5 tattoos and I'm white), we all got used to each other and Sini and I could relax. Since I was a newbie, I couldn't go to any of the other hot baths. Then we went to a cooler bath on the side that has built-in chairs with really powerful jets of water (which are incredibly difficult to stay on). After a while, we went to the sauna rooms. My medical condition prevented me from the really hot ones and only allowed a 5-minute stay in the least hot one.

Then we decided we wanted to put the scrubbing ajummas to work. It was unfortunate that we couldn't understand each other. She thought we hadn't washed at all yet and was asking her what to do. We thought she was telling us to get out of there as soon as possible. We tried to explain that we had already washed and wanted only the scrubbing (oh yes. You can pay someone to actually scrub your entire body). A discussion ensued in which none of us understood anyone else. As you can imagine, this wasn't the quietest conversation so the entirety of the spa room stopped what they were doing and began staring with amused looks on their faces. A woman went and bought us all of the toiletries we needed, which was indeed very nice, but we left them and moved on.

After the naked part, you're given a nice loose shirt and shorts to wear to go to the 6th floor jjimjilbang, which is a communal area. We saw people sleeping, eating, taking sauna, and playing on computers. We opted for the DVD room, where we watched the new Die Hard movie on a sleeping mat on a heated floor.
We took a taxi back to the hotel and went to bed, satisfied with our first Korean sauna experience.

The next day was again overcast, but not as rainy, so we went to Beomeosa Temple on the complete opposite end of the metro. It was quite beautiful.

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A street on our way.

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A pillar with old Korean writing.

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One of the guardians in the gate.

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An old tree surrounded by bamboo.

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Black and white makes everything look classier...even if it seems impossible.

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Wall, Beomeosa.

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Tile on the roof.

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Stairs at Beomeosa.

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Tower.

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Temple buildings.

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Beomeosa/mountains.

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Some of the trees were really cool, with leaves that were shaped like fire.

The pictures pretty much say it all. Of course none of the Buddhist temples here are exactly the same, but they seem to run together. The best part, for me, was being where the air was so clean and getting away from the noise of Seoul. The temples are always so peaceful, usually with only the sounds of chanting around. Most of the buildings were quite old, though I tried to be respectful and not take pictures of the ones being worshipped in.

After, we had a very nice lunch near the subway station, then headed to Busan Station to catch our evening KTX. The view was quite beautiful on the ride back.

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So if you read this, Sini, then thank you for helping me get my wonder back. And giving me the courage to go naked in front of 80 strangers.

Posted by lrbergen 20:39 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

What's Your Wish?

dibo hell: completed

-17 °C

The most stressful two weeks of teaching kindergarten is over!

Stressful? Kindergarten? Teaching in KOREA?!

Yes, I know. It's crazy. For the past two weeks we have lived in a hell reserved only for Worwick teachers. The hell that is (cue dramatic music) production week!
We had to make costumes and props and drill our students on a script, actions, songs, and movements. The kids hated it and so did we.

I was especially worried because my moms are very high-strung and uptight (more on that later), so if my kids didn't perform well not only would I incur the wrath, so would the kids. One student even said "My mommy gets angry if I make a mistake." What could I say? Only that I wouldn't.

The day went off without a hitch...my kids were GREAT and those uptight mothers even brought me flowers.

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These aren't my kids, they're the 5-year-olds. They did a really great job too.

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These are my kids, Aries class. L-R: Na Yeon (Bunny), So Yoon (Ella), David (Cro), Clara (Annie) and Jerry (Dibo the Gift Dragon). They did so great!

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Libra, Delphinus and Aries class singing at the very end.

Our school also rented really big carnival-style character costumes to supplement our play. We got to wear them and come running in, much to the kids' surprise. Fun!

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With Dibo feet.

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Dibo (me) and Elo (Tina).

It was eleventy billion degrees in there and since I was too tall, it bruised my forehead. But other than that, it was actually fun.

Posted by lrbergen 17:28 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Kia Tigers

go tigers!

We recently went to a baseball game at the stadium in Jamsil, Seoul.

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The snacks were pretty god awful....dried squid anyone?

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The fans for the Tigers are pretty much awesome...they never stopped cheering...well that is, until it started lightning and pouring rain.

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And to think...this pretty little patch of sky started it all.

A note about Korean baseball: they don't have "regional" teams, like we do in the States. Instead, they are sponsored by corporations (I guess it's the same in America, but here, they don't even try to hide it), such as the LG Twins (LG), Doosan Bears (Doosan), Kia Tigers (Kia), Hyundai Unicorns (Hyundai), and Samsung Lions (Samsung). Do you see the trend here?
But beer is $3 a pop and there's all the pat bing soo you can handle!

Posted by lrbergen 21:27 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Kenting

trashy paradise

The whole point of this trip was to go for a SCUBA. Since Kenting was billed as a main tourist area, I thought it would be easy to find a PADI place, that information would be readily available, and that I would be able to find a nice, clean beach, and move around easily.

I was way off.

It was easy to get TO, but not AROUND. I found a cheap hotel, and set out to find a beach towel, the Internet, and a dive shop. In a beach town, I found ONE dive shop in the entire town. One. And assuming you had your own equipment (I do not), the price was reasonable. To rent theirs, it cost an extra $100. Disappointed, I resigned myself to just lying on the beach. Tough break, I guess.

I ran into my friend and his girlfriend, and it was nice to see a familiar face.
The next two days I stayed in the area and found a small beach close to my hotel. Unless you have your own transportation, you can't get around anywhere outside of Kenting. The beach I found nearby was empty while the sun was out and had nice umbrellas with chairs set up. The water was also surprisingly clean and clear, considering that the beach was full of trash and smelled awful.

My last day I rented a scooter. That opened up a whole new world to me. I ran into my friend and his gf, and we went up and down the coast looking for a new beach. They found one, and I decided to keep on my own. I went past the point (of no return? no, but close!) that I had been earlier in the day to the east and ended up seeing some pretty amazing coastline.

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Fishermen

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The cliffs at one stopping point

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More cliffs/dunes

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A small inlet where there were people kayaking

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A nice bridge that cost $10NT to cross (about 20 cents)

If I hadn't been able to rent a scooter and see this nice area off the coast, I would have said that Kenting was a bust. It was until that point. It must just be that the area doesn't really have a lot of resources for the tourist industry. I was expecting more...more information, more communication, more transportation, etc. I was also hoping to find a nice beach, but none were found.

The next day, I went back to Taipei via Kaohsiung, where I met a nice Canadian girl in my hostel.
Overall thoughts on Taiwan: I kept hoping that it would magically turn into Vietnam, then when I learned that it never would, I had a better time. I came home with some interesting little trinkets, a bit of a sunburn, and the need to vacation after vacation.

So for those of you who continued to read about Taiwan, through the shoddy reports, thanks and I hope you enjoyed yourselves!

Posted by lrbergen 22:54 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Anytown, Taiwan

day in kaohsiung

-17 °C

I left the chaos of Taipei for a more serene time in the south of Taiwan. My whole plan was to go for a scuba to add in my book, and I had heard that Green Island was the best. As planning went on, I got lazier and lazier and opted for the tourist (trap?) area of Kenting. My Lonely Planet was about 3 years out-of-date, so I had to work with a lot of guesswork and minus the HSR (High Speed Rail) that had recently been completed. I decided to take the regular line to Kaohsiung and take a bus to Kenting town.

The train ride was fun...6 hours, but at least I wasn't one of the unfortunates who had to stand most of that way. I'm not very good at planning and chose my ride at night, to get into Kaohsiung at midnight (with no hotel, and no view of Taiwan along the way). I chose a hotel close to the station, to save on time and sanity. It was decent...clean, but old and seemingly something straight out of a horror movie (the bathroom reminded me of "Psycho," except there was no shower curtain).

I set out when daylight hit to explore the town...from the guide, there wasn't a whole lot to see. And how.

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Guitar shop

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REAL bubble tea...not the kind you get that tastes like a fruit shake.
This is authentic...only $2US.

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An electricity box.

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Street

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Sweaty me and the "Love River"

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You can't make this stuff up.

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A spiral structure

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People hanging out by the river

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Part of the walkway, riverside

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A mosaic near a really dump-y tire store

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Another street, around rush hour (I had forgotten it was Monday)

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Typical cheap, delicious restaurant

I didn't really see any sights...just the river and the night market, which was somewhat similar to the one I went to in Taipei.
There were some strange things, like garbage trucks that played music like an ice cream truck, and people who have probably never seen a white person in real life (those people hanging out by the river...and a lady who forced her grandson to wave at me for approximately 5 minutes), and virtually NO OTHER TOURISTS. It was also hard to find information in English. But I feel like I got an impression of Anytown, Taiwan.

Overall, it was a nice break from tourist-y spots.

continued in Kenting...

Posted by lrbergen 17:05 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Eleven Years Behind

Thirteen hours ahead...

-17 °C

I just got back from Taiwan, a whirlwind trip of 8 days where I tried to jam-pack an entire culture into everything I did, which has left me in a daze.

I arrived in Taipei to neither hustle nor bustle, and after 15 minutes of struggle, I finally found an English-speaking cab driver to take me to an overpriced hotel. After looking in Lonely Planet (which was sufficient, but not nearly as helpful as the one for Vietnam), I made a list of destinations.

* Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial - built in honor of the former dictator and leader of the KMT, who revamped the education system and infrastructure while biding his time to fight against the Communists in mainland China (say THAT 5 times fast!). Everything was huge, reminiscent of Communist structures...but not.

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The gate to the entrance.

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The memorial from afar. Unfortunately, it was undergoing renovation and I couldn't go inside. Bummer.

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Boy chasing pigeons

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An artist sketching the Memorial's gardens.

Overall, it was impressive, though I am disappointed that I couldn't go inside anything. The garden was lovely.

* Longshan Temple - a multi-denominational temple, with lots of impressive ornate dragons. The temple is open to the general public, but I felt very disrespectful. Imagine people came to your place of worship and took pictures of you trying to worship. I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible.

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It was hard to get a good picture at night, while trying to be invisible.

* Snake Alley - the name for Taipei Hwahsi Tourist Night Market. Its nickname comes from the few shops that have real snakes that are used for their blood (mixed with a liquor for virility). There's much more, though. There is an overabundance of food (some questionable, others delectable), jewelry, sex shops, clothing, electronics, etc. There isn't nearly enough time to see everything.

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These were all over the walls of the covered area.

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Jewelry.

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Live snakes. We would later see the unpleasant sight of the man skinning them. Disturbing.

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Dried squid.

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A man had this little creature as a pet and he let me feed it a cherry on my arm. I look really frightening in this picture.

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People playing arcade games.

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Very fresh seafood.

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Lots of food.

I enjoyed Snake Alley...a nice girl I met, Eve, and I had dinner for about $6. Delicious!

* National Palace Museum - this museum has the most extensive collection of Chinese art than any other in the world. It's a bit overwhelming, seeing something that is over 6,000 years old. And seeing lots of it. Apparently, all of the artwork was held in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

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A girl blowing bubbles near Shilin Station.

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The grounds of the Museum.

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Stairs leading up.

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Trashcan.

The museum was overall impressive, but after about an hour, it got to be overwhelming.

* Taipei 101 - billed as the tallest building IN THE WORLD (up until a week ago, that is...Dubai has one that is a mere 4 meters higher...dang), it also has the fastest elevator in the world. The observation deck is on the 89th floor and costs $450NT ($15US)...for $100NT more, you can climb up and go to the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor. Impressive.

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From a couple blocks away.

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View of Taipei from inside.

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View from outside.

I'm bummed I didn't get to it a week and a half earlier...but still, now I've been in the 2nd highest building in the world...

There were other fun sights around Taipei, stumbled upon en route.

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View from the subway, called the MRT.

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Inside the Hello Kitty store...trinkets galore.

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Graffiti near Shilin Station.

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A row of blind people giving serious massages outside of Longshan Temple.

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This was in a small neighborhood near Taipei 101.

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Giant chess set on the corner.

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Polite, eh?

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Typical Taipei Street.

...to be continued in Kaohsiung!

Posted by lrbergen 19:30 Archived in Taiwan Comments (1)

Chiang Kai-Shek

china in a really hot, tropical, bustling micro-form

overcast 37 °C

Well greetings from Taipei, where I literally feel like I am wasting away from the sweat. It's bleedin' hot here....I feel like I'm swimming through the air.

A few things:

- Hostelling International? Brilliant. A cheap, clean bed for about $15 a night. Granted, the last time I stayed in a hotel, it was the same price, but a 2-star in Vietnam. But that was Vietnam. Taipei is not Vietnam. Everything is booked for this holiday...who knew there would be so many Koreans migrating to Taiwan's capital?

- The National Palace Museum is incredible. It contains the artwork confiscated by the Chinese government and held in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Or I just made that up....but I'm pretty sure I read it somewhere. It's amazing to realize how short America's history when compared with nearly 6,000 years of artifacts, pottery, and other handiwork. The grounds are beautiful as well, and for about $5 entry. There are 3 floors, 2 filled with the museum's permanent display, and one with the temporary.
My favorites: tiny tiny, fingernail-sized ivory boxes connected by chains, carved with intricate designes, with each link independent of each other.
Seventeen concentric ivory balls, all carved from the same piece of ivory.
The grounds...palm trees, shrubbery, and huge ornate buildings.

- Taipei is nothing like I've ever seen before. It reminds me of Fukuoka, HaNoi, and Seoul all in one. But really, it's completely different. Don't let me fool you.

What I don't like is the lack of planning on my part, but really that's my own fault. I wasn't too excited about my destination and didn't really try too hard to plan. Bad idea. All I care about is the beach and going for a SCUBA. That's it, that's all.

So tomorrow, I'm headed off on a 6-hour slow train ride to Kaoshiung in the south, close to Kenting National Park, where there is supposedly scuba. Hopefully my 11pm arrival will still give me some leeway to get a room.

Posted by lrbergen 02:20 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

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