Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Green Card, Let's Do This.

Al's life is now in the hands of the US Department of Homeland Security.

It turns out (much to our and now probably your surprise) that getting your hands on a United States Green Card is a very simple, inexpensive process. All  it takes for a spousal petition is roughly three forms and a $420 money order. Comparatively, to obtain my Canadian equivalent, it was unending forms, photos of our wedding, interviews, many hours spent in a lawyer's office and about $5,000 total. It could be because we had just gotten married so they need to make sure it's not a sham, but from what I understand about the same situation in the US is that if you've been married for under two years, you're just put on a "probation period" while waiting on the card, whatever that means. Because we've been married for almost five years still made no difference in the forms filling out. Still the same easy forms and the same $420. This makes me wonder why people come in illegally all the time when the process is so simple! Obviously, you have to wait on approval as well, but come one, at least fill out some papers and try. (btw, I'm not one of those right wing nuts who wants to shut down the borders, I just never understood how easy it was to work legally in the US)

It's about a 6-12 month wait, depending on how smoothly your approval goes. Because Al is simply Canadian and we've been married as long as we have, we should have it in a shorter amount of time. Al told me that one guy on some message board applied in late summer and had it in his hands before Christmas. Brilliant!

We've also recently had to apply for one more year on our visas here in Korea. As we're sitting in the immigration office, a place we've come to know well in numerous countries, we start to talk and laugh about the things that we have to deal with in our daily lives that average people would never even have to think about. Forms to stay in the country, forms to leave the country, what size "passport style" photo do we need to attach? When does my Alien Registration Card expire?, What is an I-130 form? Does anyone at all speak English? What's the exchange rate from Yen to Baht? My passport is almost full, I need to get new pages put in pronto, the Won is up!? Send money home NOW!!

It gets pretty exhausting, keeping tabs on all of our immigration issues and currency exchanges and a plethora of other things, but it's definitely worth it to live the lives we do right now. Next up, should we go to Vietnam for summer vacation?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

North Shmorth

It's business as usual here in South Korea, despite what the news back home may be telling you right this second. No one is worried, no one is scared, no one wants to install an emergency bunker in their one except myself.

I believe I am one of the very few expats who is tense and a bit concerned over what's happening about six hours north of me. While my friends, Korean and foreign alike, go about their daily lives as if there isn't some lunatic threatening their existence, I am frantically checking the news and any emergency updates from the US Embassy on a near daily basis.

I am a natural worrier. Al calls it a "curse of the Belts" because my family is the same way. I like to look at it as that I just value my life and other's lives a bit more than normal people and therefore think about them more often. It's not a debilitating thing, my worrying, nor does it engulf my life in any way. I'm generally pretty laid back and relaxed, but if something arises that I feel is out of the ordinary in a bad way, I probably do take it overboard with my being concerned. With this in mind, a threat on my life by The Supreme Leader does have me a bit on edge.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, I've talked to assures me I have nothing to worry about. The Embassy recently released a statement to the US expats saying that despite what's going on there is no reason they need to put us on alert and that they take our lives seriously and blah blah. Although that did make me feel slightly better, each time the Fattie Up North makes a new statement saying he's going to turn South Korea into some lake of fire, it gets me on pins and needles again. Because what if everything is more serious than we think? What if no one is worrying, but this time he means business? What if it's too late? These are all questions I've asked myself but there is nothing I can do about it. I'm here. Al and all my dude friends are always laughing about how they're staying and fighting if something happens. This does not help.

I have convinced Al that if things do take a turn for the worst, however unlikely, in the event the Embassy does release a message saying that they suggest we get on outta dodge, that we have a gameplan. Going back to the United States immediately would be a silly and expensive move if something were to happen. No matter how nervous I am about something actually happening, I do fully believe that once the US and South Korea (and all the other countries ready to jump into action) intervene, they would have the situation under control in a very short period of time. That means things would probably, hopefully, get back functioning around here quickly, therefore going back to the US would be silly. Our plan is that assuming we could leave the country once any kind of "get out" message is released, we'll head down to SE Asia somewhere, probably Laos, where it's very cheap to live for any extended period of time. Catch a flight there, hang out with the locals and the palm trees and the $2 meals until things settle down here. I believe that's the best option no matter how likely it is the North will strike.

Keep me in your prayers, no matter who you're praying to, but mostly pray for my anxiety levels if you would, because they are skyrocketing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

27 Years Young

My birthday came and went in all it's glory just like every year, but this year was a little better than most. This is the 8th birthday I've spent with Al and this is the first year he's put any effort into making sure I have a great day. Not to knock on him on my blog, but he's never set much store by holidays or special events. Perhaps they're too stressful, too family-oriented, too much pressure put on them...regardless of the excuse, he's not really one to go all out for any holiday, including my birthday. I believe the first few we spent together he watched the Masters (golf) all day ("But it's a TOURNAMENT UNLIKE ANY OTHER!") and probably took me to dinner along with a present I had previously asked for. (this is the first year my birthday and the Masters have not fallen in the same weekend, rejoice!) You know, a run of the mill boyfriend/husband obligation. Don't get me wrong, I've not had bad birthdays because of him, but just nothing memorable or spectacular. This year, though, I think he's finally realized (or I've complained enough) that I'd like my birthday to be something special and so he put a lot of genuine thought into it.

If you know me even a little, you know that Louis Vuitton ranks on my list of "Amazing Things In Life" second only to makeup or tampons. And ranked well above things like bread and vitamins. I am a firm believer that counterfeit Louis Vuitton is some kind of blasphemous abomination. Because of my beliefs coupled with the insane prices of the pieces, I have miraculously worked my way up to only two, one a carry-on sized bag bought secondhand in Japan and the other a small pochette (that was a gift from my mother), large enough for a cell phone, a wallet and a lip gloss if I'm lucky. I had a third in the past that was actually stolen from me, but I don't even like talking about it. It's one of those horrific memories I try to block out.

Al, having known this love of mine since we first met, added another to my collection for my birthday. It's the  Josephine wallet and I adore it.

There is a story behind this present. While out to dinner with a bunch of friends (sadly it was our friends Vinny and Ashley's last night in town) Abhay said something to me about liking my "new purse". What!?! What new purse Abhay!? So then he and Al went quiet, all the while I'm pretty upset that he just ruined my birthday present. Sophie, his girlfriend, who knew about the present, got upset with him and he kept apologizing over and over. Well, I still didn't know what kind of purse or brand or any other details other than the one he just accidentally divulged. Okay. Fine. Well Sophie, who was sitting down beside me, was talking to the person beside her and I heard her quietly say "Louis Vuitton" so I whipped around and said "Sophie! WHAT!?" and she turned her head, her eyes grew to the size of saucers as she realized what she had just done.

Everyone apologized and apologized, I got a little teary because 1. I was getting a new something LV and 2. The greatest present in the world was just ruined. After many promises that they'd make it up to me, we went about our dinner and evening.

Al had dropped the present off at our friend Peter's for safekeeping until my birthday the following Saturday, but since I knew about it, the next day we went to Peter's and Al very unceremoniously gave it to me there in Peter's living room. It's amazing and beautiful and Louis Vuitton takes such care in even the littlest things like wrapping and display before you even get to the good part inside. The craftsmanship is, in my opinion, unparalleled, and it seems perfect down to the tiniest detail. Which is probably why they cost so much. And this wallet, along with my other two pieces, will last me forever because of the quality. So, thank you Alain for the best birthday present ever!

Our friend Brandon's birthday is April 5th so we decided to have a joint party that weekend. It was Friday night and we started out at ME World, a small amusement park next to Gwangalli beach. Since some people couldn't come that early because of work, there were only a handful of us to start. (Al took the day off because Nammun was closed for some kind of ceremony!) I had carefully selected my outfit and worked tirelessly on making sure I had amazing birthday hair. Well, the boys convinced me that if I rode the log ride and got in the back, I wouldn't get wet. Why did I believe them!?!?! Sure enough, going down that flume and splashing water all over the place, my hair got wet. My hair will dry beautifully curly if it's soaked from the shower or swimming, but I had fixed it into perfect waves with product and my straightener and the little bit of water that got on it was only going to completely destroy it, not turn it into the pretty curls in which it usually dries. I definitely did a bit of whiny girly complaining, but realizing that I had no access to a hair straightener, I just sucked it up and went about my birthday party night.

We took taxis down to the other side of the beach for some dinner, Shabu Shabu. There is a boiling pot of broth and vegetables in the middle of the table and they bring you plates of very, very thin, uncooked meat for you to toss into the broth where it cooks in, literally, 5-10 seconds. I believe shabu shabu is native to Japan, though I never had it there, so this was my first time. It was super spicy (like everything Korean) and I don't like spicy, so Al assured me that the Japanese version isn't spicy so we must be at a Korean style joint. Oh well. We next went to a bar on the beach, uncleverly named "Beached" and settled in there for a while. Two of our friends, who are both named Rob, always played live music around Busan, one on a box drum the other a guitar, so they set up out on the sand (it was pretty warm that night!) and played some music...while Brandon and I had a photo shoot.

We finally made it to karaoke where I was sad to learn that they hadn't really updated much since I left last time. No new Taylor, boo. We stayed there until about 5:30am and called it a night. 

The next day, Saturday, was actually my birthday and since the night before was pretty cray, we kinda had a relaxing day. We went to Pizza Hut for lunch (yessss) then went bowling. If you read my blog entry about bowling when I was home, you'll know that I tend to be alright at it. Not today! I was horrible, but I totally blame the bowling balls. The holes were really shallow and I could feel the ends or something, so weird, and definitely all their fault. That evening, I wanted some good dinner so we called up some friends and went to a restaurant called Ashley's, an American style buffet. As far as "American style" in Korea goes, this place is pretty legit. Pizza, ribs, chicken...they also have unlimited free wine, so that's a plus. A few people came over to our place after dinner to just chill and hang out, which was really nice, though they changed the rules to Ring of Fire (4-four 7-heaven 8-mate 10-category and A-ALWAYS waterfall am I right!?!) so with raging PMS I got a bit cranky over the rule changes and ended up ruining the night for myself. Oops. Didn't mean to. So once everyone left I got a good night sleep and still had one more day of the weekend to enjoy. 

All in all, one of my best birthdays thanks to Al, my fabulous friends and that little store called Louis Vuitton.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Favorite Travel Photos

I decided that my blog definitely needed a bit of a revamp so here we are. I didn't change the layout too much, but I wanted something new to look at. I also changed the name of it from "Happy Travels" to "The Happy Traveler". It just fits better I think.

I thought that the way to start off on a good foot would be to showcase my favorite travel photos that I've taken over the years. First things first, I'm NOT a photographer. I have a $150 pocket-sized Nikon. I'm sure that if I had a decent camera I could take some stunning pictures of the places I visit, but I just don't want to schlep a huge paparazzi camera along with me. One of my absolute favorite pictures I've ever taken is the one above. It's from December 2010 in Vang Vieng, Laos. I took it from the window of where some friends were staying and the white and blue building on the left is the room that Al, Christa and I stayed in along the Nam Song river. I decided to put a favorite of my travel words of wisdom on it and I think it turned out pretty good! Pinterest worthy! Here are some more of my favorites:

Turks & Caicos, June 2008
Al carrying a tube to the river through a bamboo path, Vang Vieng, Laos, Christmas Day 2010
Ringing a gong in Kanonji, Japan, 2010

Turks & Caicos, June 2008

Al walking among some coconut palms, Phi Phi Don, Thailand, January 2011
Osaka, Japan, August 2010

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, Canada, 2009

Storm rolling in, Bamboo Island, Thailand, January 2011

Longtail boats, Phi Phi Ley, Thailand, December 2010
Jinhae, South Korea, April 2012

Turks & Caicos, June 2008

Jungle path, Perhentian Besar, Malaysia, July 2012
Ritsurin Garden,Takamatsu, Japan, November 2010
Longtail boats, Phi Phi Ley, Thailand, January 2011

Rain on a banana leaf, Perhentian Besar, Malaysia, July 2012
On our way snorkeling, Phi Phi Ley, Thailand, December 2010

Rooster in the road, Kuala Besut, Malaysia, July 2012

Perhentian Besar, Malaysia, July 2012

One of the main streets of Vang Vieng, Laos, December 2010

Al clambering into a longtail, Phi Phi Don, Thailand, January 2011

One of my favorite photos, Nam Song River, Vang Vieng, Laos, December 2010

Seomyeon, Busan, South Korea, 2012

Jinhae, South Korea, April 2012

On a ferry to Shodoshima Island, Japan, Spring 2010

Rice paddy, Takamatsu, Japan, 2010

Cherry blossoms, Marugame, Japan, Spring 2011

These were just a handful of the gazillion pictures I love. Enjoy those and I hope you like the new look of the blog!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back To "Normal"

I started back to work yesterday after six weeks of vacation. Blast.

It was nice going back to a familiar setting, faces and kids, though Al and I both have already started the "52 weeks and counting...". Lucky for me, Nammun Elementary has some kind of ceremony going on Friday so my first week back is a four day-er, a nice transition back. That also means that my birthday weekend (which is Saturday) is a nice three day one. The Heavens rejoice!

Asian kids have no life or fun childhood to speak of. They go to school year-round (and all day every day...). Since they do that, there has to be some random day where they move up a grade and that day is March 1st. Last March 1st was a chaotic nightmare with all the Korean teachers running around screaming like the North just attacked holding signs trying to direct the new kindergarteners to their new after school english classes (you know, instead of going out to play like normal 6 year olds). I dodged a bullet this year by being in the US at the time this was all going down, but because of that I've now come back mid-semester to about 4 classes full of new, blank stares. These lowest level kids are the hardest to deal with, I think. They're cute, yes, but because they can barely remember their own english name that they picked, I never know if they're actually learning anything. "What's this letter?" (I point to W) "M!!!!" :::facepalm:::

It's basic: ABCs, colors, a bit of phonics and maybe some counting if we're lucky. Because they mostly don't want to be there in the first place, they get distracted beyond easily and I'm left with 1. a class of pee pants children not knowing the difference between a small p and small q (I guess that would be a little confusing) and 2. their wandering eyes that keep facing towards the now open windows where they can hear the other screaming kids playing in the courtyard in between their classes. Hopefully here in about 6 months things will have improved a bit because they'll have gotten better and slightly more advanced.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I much prefer other people's children because I don't have to take them home and care for them. But these last few days walking through the halls of school and seeing all my students' faces light up when they see me and run towards me and latch on for dear life all while screaming "SAM TEACHER!!!!" has seriously, seriously made my days better. There are a few of them that I really did miss, but I didn't realize it until I saw them again. It warms the cockles of my heart, it really does.

I've also recently discovered that some of my older boy students have now dubbed me the "food killer". When they first told me that, I thought they were calling me fat and I (mentally) pelted them with the textbooks. But the thing is, I let the kids eat in class. I do not care in the slightest. Why rob them of something that does them nor myself any harm when they are sitting in english class for three hours? My only rule is that if they bring food, they share it with me. Most kids are sweet and give me a share anyway (Korean kids loooooove giving food away) but some of the more stingy boys like to keep those cheese puffs to themselves so I happily take a few. That's where my new nickname came from...apparently because I steal all the students food. Totally not true, but they aren't the only hungry ones come 5:00!

Walking into class to things like this makes this whole thing worthwhile:

I really do love some of those kids and I'm sure I'll miss them when I'm gone.