A Travellerspoint blog

September 2007

The Real Reason I Went to Thailand...


-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.
There was also a really great restaurant, also looking over the ocean, with cheap, delicious Pad Thai (noodles) and Tom Yam (sour spicy soup).

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.
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.

The sky looked like this every day.

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

One of my meals, fat Thai noodles with pork.

The sunsets looked like this every day.

From the restaurant.





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.


After, we found a nice restaurant nearby with really great sashimi and about 100 side dishes.

Strong waves knocking kids over.

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.

A street on our way.

A pillar with old Korean writing.

One of the guardians in the gate.

An old tree surrounded by bamboo.

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

Wall, Beomeosa.

Tile on the roof.

Stairs at Beomeosa.


Temple buildings.


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.



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.

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

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!

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!

With Dibo feet.

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)

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