Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Korea Fashion Scene

I'm not sure how to start talking about this other than to say that it's an enormous disappointment. Now, don't get me wrong, there is SO much luxury in Busan it's ludicrous. Louis Vuitton, Bottega Venetta, Gucci, Prada, Ferregamo, Chanel, Armani, Miu Miu, Tiffany, Dior, (Dior Homme has it's own separate store), Jimmy Choo...and not only are all these in one place there are multiples of them all over the city. There are two Louis Vuittons within a 5 minute walk of one another. For those of you who know me you're probably thinking "...why is that a bad thing?" Along with the abundance of extravagance there is a plethora of counterfeit to go right with it. In Japan this wasn't the case. If a Japanese person was carrying a fake Gucci anything they would be like, shamed or something. Japan is full of luxury and you know that 99.9% of the time it's hands down authentic. I'm not saying Korea is China or even Canal Street in New York City in regards to fakes being sold but it is nearly everywhere I look. I can't walk out the front door of my building without seeing ten Louis Vuittons in all shapes and sizes and half of them aren't real. Without sounding a bit snobbish, I can, in most cases, tell you at first glance whether a Louis is authentic or not. Call it a gift. And a lot of them I see are definitely on the not side. I liked going into secondhand shops in Japan (see Louis Vuitton posts from the past) and knowing that what I was buying was authentic without question. Here, I'm much more wary about things like that and I hate it. One spends $800 on a bag because of the quality and because it will last forever and I think that's something to take pride in, not that you got a knockoff for $50 that's going to fall apart next year. Snooty rant over.

As far as normal shopping goes, it's also a colossal disappointment. Again, there is shopping everywhere I look but everything is so dreadfully expensive. In Japan (comparing again) my absolute favorite store was/is Zara. If you've never heard of it, google it or something, it's absolutely fabulous. On the hierarchy of this type of store it would be something along the lines of Charlotte Russe-Forever 21-H&M-Zara, though with Zara and H&M being incredibly close though Zara might be slightly more expensive. I love all those stores with Zara being my absolute favorite because of what they offer in terms of clothes but Forever 21 is my favorite because of what they offer but the prices are great. Not as great of quality, but being 25 and poor means I need a cute $12 top once in a while. I swear I was at Zara every single weekend in Japan. (Everything changes out once a week I think.) Skirts ran from about $10-$30, basic tops could be as low as $12-$20 while super nice tops were about $30-$40. Jeans and pants run about $40-$50 and dresses, especially summer ones were as low as $25 but could run up to $60 or $70. (there were more expensive things but this was the price range I usually picked from) All I could think about before heading back overe here was that I couldn't wait to get back to Zara to do some shopping, especially since 75% of my clothes are STILL in Japan waiting for me to come get them. I walk into Zara, a huge grin on my face ready to do some damage and I look at the price tag of one of the more basic shirts: W49,000. That's roughly $40. Okay...moving on. Next price tag for a regular old sweater: W69,000. ($65ish) What is going on!??! I start getting a bit frantic running about the place pulling out price tags all over and I don't think I saw one less than W29,000 ($25 or so) and that was for a freaking t-shirt which I certainly don't need right now. I nearly started to cry. Okay...well...maybe we can try Uniqlo (another good store, nothing fancy, a cheaper, lesser variety type of Gap maybe?) It was always super cheap in Japan (I got a good bit of stuff there and never spent over $20 for anything I don't think) so we hunted down the Uniqlo here. I go in hoping to find some deals and again...W39,000 for a sweater? W49,000 for a thicker sweater? I could get that for like $20 in Japan! :::facepalm::: So here I am, sweaterless and with no hopes in sight of doing any major shopping. I'm hoping that with warmer weather and less material for clothing will bring cheaper prices but I'm not so sure. And these stores are considered like, the lesser expensive type shops for clothing. Department stores or other types of shops forget about it, the prices are doubled there. They've also not ever heard of a proper sale. Usually in Zara (at all times, actually) there is a wall full of sale items (Uniqlo too, though you have to dig for the good stuff in bins it seems) but not here. Not a stitch of a sale item. Today we went to the World's Largest Department Store (it has an ice rink and driving range!) called Shinsegae in Centum City and I think 6 of the stores were advertising for these HUGE sales but when we went to the Gap there were giant red banners in all the windows that said "SALE 30%!!" 30%?? Well if 30% is what Koreans consider an awesome sale then I have no hope whatsoever here.

I'm still on my Christmas vacation from school and we've been off exploring. The food court in the Shinsegae had some amazing Tonkatsu Ramen (fav) so I was happy about that. If I ever find some good deals on clothes I'll write about it, but don't hold your breath.

Friday, December 23, 2011

First Week DONE

It's Friday night and I've finished my first week of classes. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. All in all I don't believe it's going to be too difficult a job. It's a lot like what I did in Japan, just with a little more supervision and much more advanced children. And speaking of the children, they're HORRIBLE. And when I mean horrible, imagine 15-20 kids all yelling, throwing things, talking, playing video games...and then you are shouting until you are hoarse for them to stop and listen and they don't even bat an eye. You go over to them and steer them towards their seat and they just get back up again, you yell for them to stop throwing paper across the room and they pause, look at you, and continue to do so. (And all theses kids are conversational, don't think they don't know what I'm saying to them) It always reminds me of that scene in Titanic when Jack and Rose are walking and talking along the boat deck and she says "...It's like I'm standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming at the top of my lungs and no one even looks up." Yeah. It's like that.

My previous counterpart, Cody, told me before coming that she had "a discipline problem". I never imagined the extent of that discipline problem. I have two classes twice a week that are entirely too large. They are more than double that of my regular classes and I have no idea why these two classes have so many students. They are my worst classes mostly in part because there are so many of them not listening as opposed to half as many not listening in a normal sized class. The Korean teachers told me that they know that we are just after school program teachers and not "real" teachers so they don't care and know they can't get in serious trouble for acting that way...then again they also told me that a guy just got fired from there two months ago for not being "strict enough" because he got complaints from parents (the parents can wander the school and watch through the windows of your classes if they want) that he wasn't able to control the kids. Great. On Tuesday after I had those enormous classes and after my mini stroke subsided I decided that I have to figure out a way to get them to chill the eff out. Thursday I spent nearly 20 minutes rearranging where they sit. Get them away from their friends, separate them. I'd say it calmed them down by about 30%. I have a long way to go but if anyone has any suggestions on how to control something like that, by all means, send them my way.

The rest of the classes aren't TOO bad. Once the new semester starts (after the 1st) I'll have fixed everything to make it the way I want instead of Cody's way and hopefully I'll have a better grasp on things and a clear idea on how to handle these monstrous kids. They may be smarter than Japanese kids but definitely have worse behavior.

Al is learning Hangul (The Korean alphabet) so hopefully his knowledge will pass onto me like it did with Japanese. It's very helpful with him having that extra special part in his brain for languages. I've not learned how to say anything in Korean, although I do keep accidentally speaking to them in Japanese. And, to a Westerner, Korean and Japanese people do look very similar so to me it's just another day in Japan...until I speak Japanese, realize that I am, in fact, not in Japan and do a mental facepalm while hoping I didn't greatly offend them.

It's FREEZING here. From everything I read I thought Busan had relatively mild (40s-50s) winters. I don't think it's gotten above 35 and that's pushing it. And I have a 30 minute walk to and from school! It's not pleasant. Oh, it's also quite windy. I'm hoping it's just a severe cold front and that it will warm up (just hit 40! Please!) soon.

So, Kim Jong Il died. Awesome. "Were you in Japan when the big earthquake hit?" "Yep." "Were you in Korea when Kim John Il died?" "Yep..." I'm wondering why I wasn't in Cairo during all the riots. It seems wherever I am there is international news of some kind that could possibly get my family stirred up with anxiety. Hopefully this won't directly affect me and it will result in good news for the Korean people and not a direct order from the US Embassy for all the foreigners to get on outta dodge.

Well tomorrow is Christmas Eve...crazy. Can't believe I'm stuck in cold Korea. I wasn't home for Christmas last year either but at least I was off doing something awesome.

It's getting late and I've had an excruciatingly long week. Good night!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Korea: Day 4 1/2

We've been here nearly five days...crazy, considering I feel like I've been here five months. My first few days were full of fear and stress in anticipation of my first day of classes which made those days seem to stretch into oblivion. Now that my first day is done and I have more of an idea of what to expect hopefully my days will chill out and start feeling like normal ones. As I write this it's 9:46am Tuesday and I'm far more relaxed than I was at 9:46am yesterday. While teaching in Japan it was slightly more than playing bingo and Uno for 45 minutes. We went through a textbook, yes, but mostly those textbooks were well past the English intelligence level of my kids. Parents are shamed if their children have to be held back in the same level for another semester so generally they are moved along to the next level whether they have the ability or not. So eventually I have 12 year old kids with a book expecting them to read, write and understand basic grammar and vocabulary and all the while they can't count to 20. Not in Korea! These kids are insane smart. For instance, my first class yesterday the children are roughly  6-8 years old and their "textbook" is just a Nemo book and Nemo workbook. Very basic english with three sentences a page or so. I read the first few pages and the kids shoot their hands in the I point to one and she just reads the next page on her own, no big deal. I just stared at her for a second, amazed. So I point to another and he does the same that was a real eye opener for the rest of the day. My two favorite students in Japan were two 12 year old girls who had great English and I could actually have basic conversation with them....that's the level of my 7 year olds here. This may sound boring to you reading this but to me, it's incredible.

So my days are Monday-Friday 1:00-6:35. Not bad. I have to leave my apartment about 12:15 or so and after I get done teaching I write up a daily report and head home. I still get to sleep in but I get home at a reasonable time...I like it. I actually lucked out with my job. Most people who are placed in private schools have extremely long hours (until 10pm mostly) and that's what I had come to accept would be my job. But my recruiter found a position at an after school program in the public schools. Nice.

Everything will become much easier once I learn how to read Korean. Al is already starting to pick up on it very easily and that will be a big help. A lot of things are bi-lingual in Korean in Japanese and I thank the Heavens for it because I can actually read the Japanese part. I find myself looking for things with Japanese on it just so I can have some sense of understanding. Weird concept...being in Korea but getting excited when things are written in Japanese.

We went to karaoke the other night! Not the same as in Japan...this one only had a book to choose from, not a fancy machine, and it wasn't the most up-to-date choices. Did a lot of Kelly Clarkson. The place is directly across the street from our building so I'm sure we'll venture out and hopefully find a better place.

The train system is exactly like Japan so that was easy to navigate...AND everything is in English as well. English menus on the ticket machine. YESSSSSSSS. The train voice does her bit in Korean then miraculously I hear "Next stop - Seomyeon." YESSSSSSSSS. Al went to to beach yesterday while I was at work and said it's amazing. A mix between Honolulu and South Beach from what I gathered.

A lot of choppy random information, I know, but it's late...=)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In the land of Hyundais

After nearly 30 hours of travel we arrived safely in Busan, South Korea. From start to finish the travelling part really wasn't TOO horrible. Everything went as smoothly as travelling for 30 hours can go. The plane wasn't as big as the last time we came over, it was a 3-3-3 configuration and Al and I were the only two in one of the middle sections. As the plane was loading up, the seat next to me was staying empty and I prayed to God no one would sit there so I could lie down and sleep most of the way. I got lucky. The plane was mostly full with only a few empty seats back in the pauper area (economy) and the one beside me was one of them, heaven! I popped a Xanax, Al popped his Advil PM and my last view of America went out of sight.

13 hours and 50 minutes, two meals, Crazy Stupid Love, and a few plastic cups of wine later we landed in Seoul, SK. Because of Al's visa situation I was panicking before going through customs. But they didn't say a word, took my fingerprints and picture, stamped our passports (yay! new one!) and sent us on our way. We hopped a shuttle to the smaller airport, Gimpo, to catch our last flight to Busan. Once finally touching down for the last time, a woman from our recruiting agency picked us up and brought us to our new dorm room apartment. It's incredibly nice but extremely small. We have nothing but a bed and a tv stand (no tv) as furniture and one fork, one spoon, one knife and a plate. Awesome.

We ventured out today to a Target-esque store called Home Plus. It's ama-za-zing. Anything and everything we need is in there, and we need a lot. Got some towels, trash can, a sheet for the bed...the basics. All of our house things are still in Japan and we won't be able to go get them for another week and a half so we had to get emergency things. While walking around town I realized that I didn't feel the need to take pictures of anything. To be honest, it looks just like Japan but with Korean on everything instead of Japanese. Obviously, I'm now in a city whereas before we weren't, but architecturally everything looks the same so maybe the novelty of this part of the world has worn off for me. I'm sure there are some fun new things to be seen and experienced but as of right now nothing looks new and exciting so I'm kinda just like meh. I'm actually more frustrated because now it's another language I don't know and signs I can't read and I keep thinking "ugh, I just wish we were in Japan, this would be so much easier." So if there is a lack of pictures, sorry, I'm having a hard time trying to find something awesome to take pictures of!

The jetlag flying west is really and truly not bad. It only took a week or so to get over it last time (and that's just starting to get tired about 8 and waking up at 7 or 8) and this time I feel like it's even better. Flying east is a completely different story, it took a solid two weeks, if not more, of waking up at 4am every morning to even start getting over it. It's 8:46pm Saturday right now and I am getting pretty drowsy...Al is conked out already. I'm trying to decide if I want to perk up and wake him up to go karaoke...haven't decided.

As you can see, I changed the title of the blog since before it was centered around Japan. But I figure it should be more of a travelling blog. Though, I can't change the name of the actual blog greatwaveoffshikoku...which refers to "Great Wave off Kanagawa"...probably one of the most famous Japanese works of art. So the name of the blog will stay Japanese-centered.

After finishing typing I've decided I'm going to let Al sleep and I'm going to join karaoke for me tonight, too exhausted! All those Taylor Swift songs will have to wait, unfortunately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Here We Come, Korea!

So, after 7 months and a few weeks of being home we're finally heading back to Asia. It's been a frustrating past few months considering we were planning on being out of here August 1st. When we came home April 16th we planned on staying the summer and getting back to Japan during hiring season in August. Two of our friends wanted to go somewhere different so they talked us into Korea so we started that process which has been the longest and most irritating and stressful process of my life. So here it is, almost mid-December and we're just catching a plane out. Once we decided to go with private schools it's been a breeze, just came down to choosing the right school. I found the right school, they booked our flights and off we go!

In 2010 when we decided to go to Japan, we accepted our jobs in January, received the fly out date in February and left in April. Those few months between February and April I had plenty of time to adjust to the idea of leaving and mentally prepare myself for the huge change in my life. With going to Korea I got my fly out date on December 2nd and that fly day is December 14th. That is 12 days to prepare myself for leaving. I'm not talking about packing and getting things ready to go but really prepare myself. This time around I'm not scared or intimidated because, for the most part, I know what to expect. Yes, I've been desperately trying to get out of Weston for the last 4 months. And now the time has come and perhaps I should be breathing a sigh of relief and rejoicing but regardless of the exciting aspects of leaving and travelling someplace new I'm still, once again, leaving the comforts of home for quite a while. I'm leaving all my friends and family and just the easiness of familiarity. I'm still trying to decide what I want my last American meal to be on Tuesday night, any suggestions?

Before we left for Japan I was an absolute nervous wreck. Japan had always been on my list of places to see but I never thought I'd actually be calling it home. I had no idea what to expect in any capacity. I didn't know the language, I didn't know what a 14 hour flight was like, I didn't know what food to expect, I didn't know how the train system worked, I didn't know how I was going to do basic things like grocery shop. This time, though I'm going to Korea and not Japan, those things are far less daunting. I don't know a smidge of Korean...but I learned Japanese fast enough to feel comfortable so I know I can do the same with Korean. And learning the language really is the gateway to making things easier for myself.

I'm sitting here now at my Aunt's house, a place that has basically been one of my two homes while being in Weston. It really hasn't hit me yet that I won't be seeing this place anymore in just a little over a week. My last 8 months here haven't been the most difficult. Other than being the cart girl at the resort for a few months it's been pretty easy peasy. Sleeping in every day, doing what I please...not bad. So knowing that in a very short time I will have a legitimate responsibility every day is a little scary. Any normal job search, you interview, you get a job. When you interview for a job you know exactly what you're getting into, exactly what your bosses expect out of you on a day-to-day basis. Taking a job in a foreign country is not like that...because I have very little idea of what my daily life will consist. I know that I have a 30 minute walk to work, I know that I have to make lesson plans for each semester, I know that it's important that my classes get through their books, I know I switch classrooms each class, I know I work from roughly 2-7. That's really it. How does the school want me to make lesson plans? Will I have to interact with parents? Will Koreans disrespect me simply because I am foreign? Are the children as badly behaved as Japanese children? Not only am I going into a new job, in which every person is nervous, but I'm going into a new job in a new culture in a new country where things don't work the same way they do in America. Nerve-wracking? I think so.

Everyone keeps asking if I'm sad that I'm leaving before Christmas...the answer is no. I mean, the idea of it saddens me a little but I was with my family for Thanksgiving and I'm sure they're just happy that I finally have a job. Maybe the fact that I'm leaving in 8 days will hit me soon? I hope so because today seems like any other day and that flight looming in my future...doesn't even seem real.

PS Once we get over there and settled in I'll change the name of this blog!