Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For the last time

I've been trying to write this for days, but every time I start I either get emotional or give up because I can't find the right words. I don't really think there are words for this situation.

Two years ago I set foot in Korea, and in 10 days I will be going home. It has been the fastest two years, beyond anything I dreamed it would be. It's hard to measure how far I've come because I've gotten so used to this life.

I lived on my own for the first time. I thought it would be scary and lonely, but it wasn't. It was good for me. I learned how to be independent and take care of myself. I don't always like doing everything on my own, but I know I can. I learned to trust myself and be decisive. I can handle a lot more than I thought I could. Silly things like riding the bus and figuring out what to buy in the grocery store were hard in the beginning, but I figured it out. I made my way through several foreign countries with maps and friends and guesses. I did it. I did a lot. I'm capable.

I've felt a lot of things throughout my time here and right now I feel everything all at once: so happy and content about everything that has happened, heartbroken to say good-bye to my kids forever, satisfied with the job I've done, ready to move on to bigger things, excited about the future. It's hard to leave my students in the hands of a stranger, and I hope they do as good of a job as I think I did.

Everything I do, I think "This is the last time I'm going to do this." The last time at every restaurant, the last time walking to school, the last face-to-face conversations with friends. The final-ness is what's so hard. I'll never see my students again, and friends are moving all over the world.

I feel good about my time here. No regrets. I made a lot of lifelong friends, I saw the world, I was a good teacher, and most days I did my best. I love these kids even though they can drive me crazy, and I think I made a difference in their little lives. They made a difference in mine.

I've been listening to this song on repeat. I think it's pretty fitting for these final days in Korea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Philippines

Ahhh, the Philippines. It was warm, tropical, relaxing...all the good words. We stayed in El Nido, which is 2 planes and a van ride away from Japan, which I did not realize until we were in Japan. Thao says she told me - she probably did and I just blocked it out. So that was an unhappy surprise, but it was completely worth it once we got there. El Nido has really beautiful beaches but not many tourists go there because it's so hard to get to. It was nice to not see a million people everywhere we went. El Nido is a very small town, and every day the entire city loses power from 6-2:30. It didn't really bother us until we got to restaurants and they couldn't blend anything and they were out of tons of stuff and they didn't have ice...it was weird, but it was fine. Everybody speaks English, but they also speak different Filipino dialects, and sometimes it would take me a second to figure out which language they were speaking.. They assumed Thao was Filipino, so they'd usually start speaking to us not in English, then get very confused and have to switch. There is party music playing all the time. It was like constantly being in a club. Even at 5am fishing we were listening to rap and remixes. Someone has made a remix for My Heart Will Go On, that one was probably my favorite.
Day 1 we got off the plane, changed into summer clothes, and got straight in the van. They crammed us in there and Katherine and I ended up in the front seat with the driver. I was half asleep when I heard this conversation:
Katherine: There's a lot of dead animals in the road.
Driver: Yeah.
Katherine: Have you ever hit one?
Driver: A pig and a few dogs.
Driver: Are you worried?
Katherine: Yeah.
Driver: It's ok, we have a bumper.
Aside from the road kill, the ride was beautiful. It was like driving through the jungle. Once we made it to El Nido we hopped on a tricycle and drove over to our hotel. Immediately we put our swimsuits on and went for a sunset swim. It was warm and perfect.
One very early morning we went fishing. We were walking out to the boat and the guys told us there was low tide, and man they weren't kidding. We probably walked 400 feet into the ocean before we hit water. Once we got to the spot they have us our fishing "poles" - spools of line with a few hooks and weights. Squid was the bait, and we just dropped it in and waited. Us girls did not have the technique the guys had, because we caught 5 fish and the 2 of them caught at least 10. There was a little octopus on the boat, I think as backup bait, and it kept escaping from its bucket. Later that day we went island hopping. They took us to a few lagoons, a cave, we did some awesome snorkeling, and some laying on the beach. The only downer was the jellyfish. Everywhere we swam there were these little clear jellyfish and you almost never saw them until it was too late. Everybody came out of the water with little stings all over their body, but they didn't hurt for too long.

The last 2 days the weather wasn't perfect. It was still warm, but it rained off and on. It didn't bother us too much though, we hung out on balconies and read and played games and relaxed. There was lots of eating and drinking and picture taking. We bought some mangoes and pineapple from the market and ate those every night. Thao and I got massages one afternoon.

We wanted to break up all the vans and planes on the way out of the Philippines, so we took the van to a city and spent the night there. On the way we stopped for lunch at this shack on the side of the road. We had  also stopped there on the way up to El Nido, so none of us thought twice about eating the food. We should have. It must have been sitting out for too long because everybody got sick. We got to the hotel and ate pepto bismol and took a "nap" that lasted all night. Our room had 4 beds and we all fell asleep on one. For breakfast the next morning they served us bread with ketchup, and then we were off to the airport.

We flew to Cebu and spent 2 days shopping and sightseeing. There was a giant mall where we bought lots of clothes. Things are pretty cheap down there. Most people in the Philippines are Catholic, and in Cebu they have the first Catholic church on the island and a wooden cross that was built by Magellan. The church is beautiful and the cross is just a cross, but it's cool that it's been around for so long. Once again, we had just enough money to get ourselves to the airport. We were standing in a line after security but before the gate, and I realized we were waiting to pay an airport fee that nobody told us existed and that we could not afford. Thank goodness Katherine had some Korean won they accepted. It was a great vacation with really fun friends!

Monday, February 4, 2013


Vacation is over. This is the first day I've been at school in quite a while. I had about 2 weeks vacation, plus my school asked me to teach extra during English camp and not come in a few other days. I loved it, but it's good to be back in routine again. Also I forgot how cold my classroom can get.

It was such a great trip! We spent 5 days in Japan and visited 3 different cities. It was very hectic and not at all relaxing. A lot of time was spent on trains and subways and looking at maps. I don't like to look like a tourist more than I already do - I feel like I'm just asking to be taken advantage of - so I let my friends do most of the map reading. Half the people thought Katherine was Japanese anyways. Japanese people are as polite as everyone says they are. The English on their clothes is much more accurate than in Korea. And the subways are so quiet. There are signs saying no cell phone, and nobody even talks to the people they're sitting with.

I enjoyed Tokyo the most because it's such a big city with so many people. And everyone is an individual, I've practically forgotten what that's like. You can wear whatever you want and it's ok. I wouldn't wear most of the stuff they do, but it's so fun to look at everyone. Lots of the girls look like life-size dolls. Tokyo might be the best place to people-watch. Our first night there we walked around Shibuya and Harajuku and did a little shopping, a little eating. We went into a restaurant for dinner because it was full, and that's always a good sign. We sat down at the counter and everyone just kind of looked at us. Turns out you're supposed to place an order on this machine that looks like an ATM, then give your ticket stub to the chef so they can cook what you ordered. We did not do that. We pointed and played charades and got our food, but not without a few ugly stares from some other customers. Oh well.

The next morning we went to Yoyogi Park. There wasn't a ton to see since it was January, but I felt like I was in "real" Japan for a little bit, hanging out with the kids and families and watching people live their lives. After that we went back to Harajuku. The night before it had been pretty deserted, but it was much more lively and exciting the second time around. In the evening we went to Mori Tower to see the city. We planned to go around sunset so we could get both day and night pictures. Smart. Tokyo is so spread out, and watching the sun set over the mountains and all the city lights come on was beautiful. I think this was the highlight of Japan for me. After that we made our way to the bus station with the help of a nice policeman and took a night bus to Osaka.

The first thing we did in Osaka was the spa. They had lots of different pools, and signs next to those pools with pictures of bamboo and leaves and flowers. We're assuming whatever was in there was good for our skin. After a ton of walking in Tokyo and sleeping on a bus, soaking in warm pools of water was just what we needed. In the evening we wandered around the riverwalk. If you live/have lived in Ulsan, it's like a big classy Seongnam-dong.

The next day we took the train to Kyoto. It used to be the capital of Japan before Tokyo, so there are a lot of historic things to see. None of us really cared to visit temples in Japan, but several people told us to go to a certain one so we did. It was orange, which is different, and there were lots of ladies and families walking around in kimonos. The temple is on top of a hill so you get wonderful views of the city. And it's in a very historic-feeling neighborhood. We spent hours wandering around, eating green tea flavored things and buying souvenirs. Next we went to the golden pavilion. The story is that it used to belong to some Japanese gangster, and when he died he left it to the monks. Ironic. That night we ate sushi. I'm not a fish eater, but I really wanted to like sushi in Japan. My friends picked out the tame ones for me, and it was good! We had a great day in Kyoto. It's a very peaceful, tranquil city.

Our last day in Japan was spent at Osaka castle. It was built in the 1600s, then burned down several times and re-built. I think the version we saw was the 4th or 5th. I hate finding out that what I'm looking at is a copy of something that used to exist, but such is life. The short version of the castle saga is this: the man who built it started out as a peasant and worked for a military man, then ended up taking over his job when that man died. People (today) are very inspired by his story because it's so rags-to-riches. Back then not everybody loved him. Wars were fought. Fires were started. Eventually there was peace.

Japan is a very expensive country. We budgeted, but by day 5 we each had a handful of coins left. We were left with enough to take the subway back to our hotel to get our bags, take the free shuttle to the airport, and eat a cheap meal in the airport. Well, of course, the subway left later than we thought, and we were cutting it very close. We didn't have enough money to pay for a ride to the airport and also eat once we got there. So as soon as those subway doors opened we sprinted for our hotel. I basically threw myself in front of the shuttle to make the driver stop, and Thao and Katherine ran inside to find our suitcases. At the airport we each had a plate of noodles and split a bottle of water that the kind lady let us buy even though we were 2 yen short. Successful trip!