Most apologies to my Grandma Hornick (Thank you for your consistent e-mails) and my aunts (the two in California and Aunt Sandy) that I know check this as well. Oh, and I cannot forget about my very special, Uncle Lonnie...he has made a short-cut to my blog on his iPhone. Of course this includes anyone else that checks my blog regularly to only be disappointed each time. I love you all very much and I am truly sorry.
I am realizing as my time in Korea passes, that it goes much quicker than I anticipated. It seems like yesterday (only this was in February) that my mom was peeking her head around the corner of the elevator to pick me up from "school." Not only have I had the adventures of Mom and Juju's visit, but also a trip to Thailand with a tsunami evacuation scare, continued adventures in Suji-gu, and a new hobby of hiking/climbing Korean mountains. The end of my contract is sneaking up on me fast (only three and a half more months), therefore, I must give you an informed update before I forget all those little moments I would have wanted to share. Put on your eyeglasses; this is going to be a long one!
End of February:
The most exciting part in the last couple of weeks in February was my mom and sister's visit. I had spent a couple, maybe even a few weeks, planning for mom to come. As some of you may know, I created an itinerary for her stay along with specific instructions (in English AND Korean) for when she landed. From what I gathered, the instructions worked well and she (and my sister) had help from a Korean or two. When Mom made it to my apartment, she was able to set her things down, take a breather, and then she came to my school (work) to "pick me up." Seeing her step off the elevator, tired, a bit confused as to whether or not she was in the right place or not, was an indescribable feeling. When we made eye contact, it was nothing but smiles, tears, and hugs. The front desk staff got quite the movie scene. Mom came into my office to meet my co-workers. We had written a "Welcome Mum!" message (one of my closest friends, Emily, is from England and says "Mum" not "Mom") on our whiteboard. Because I have talked to Mom about my co-workers often and she has seen many pictures, she said she felt like she already knew them. Emily walked home with us and then we parted ways once we reached our building. As Mom and I walked into my apartment, and I walked down the short, almost non-existent hallway, I heard, "Hi Juju!" Completely shocked, speechless, and many more emotions at once, I said something that I cannot repeat. My sister, my Juju, my bestest of best friends, came all the way to Korea to see me!! As you all know, Carson (my nephew) was only 8 months, if I did the math right. Juju had already spent a lot of time away from him because of work, but the words she said to me that I will never forget is, "There is no way I could go a whole year without seeing my Juju Bee." The next thing that came were the alligator tears. Mom was able to capture one picture...it's not the best, but I will post anyway. It was the three of us girls, together again. I can't explain the feelings I felt or the thoughts I had to have my mom and sister a part of my life in Korea.
Our first night was not much to report. We stayed up for a bit talking. Mom took the bed. Juju slept on the air mattress that they brought and I slept on the couch. When mom went to bed, Juju and I stayed up talking and giggling as if we were 13 and 9 again. We made snoring noises like we used to when we were younger (Sorry Juju, the secret is out). The two of us had become even closer when Carson was born...spending as many days together as we could, even if it meant that I helped with laundry or entertaining Carson so she could respond to some work e-mails or attempt to take a nap, knowing that our time left was limited since I was leaving for Korea. It felt so good to have my best friend laying next to me in my new world.
The next day, Mom and Juju came to my work during my lunch time. We went to an Italian restaurant that is nearly, right next door to my work building. Yeah, yeah. Their first meal in Korea and it wasn't even Korean. Oopsy. I showed them my favorite coffee shop. And they saw that I am a very frequent customer (my punch card was on the wall near the cash register). After we ate, I headed to work, I think. They explored the Suji-gu area (where I live). I met up with them at my apartment after work. We visited and got ready for a night out with my close friends from home, Steph and Joe. I took them on a subway for their first time (well, I think Juju's...mom has been on one in Boston, maybe). Steph and Joe are only 4 subway stops from my station. We hung out at their studio for quite a while just visiting and enjoying each other's company. It was a long, story-filled, fun night!!
Because of the late night, we stayed in most of the next day. I showed them a little bit of Seohyeon area. And then we went to dinner. The three of us were still tired and recovering from a long week of work, jet-lag, etc. It was early to bed for us.
Refreshed and ready to take on Korea, we headed out for a fun-filled busy day. I took them to Cheongbeokdong Palace. Mom brought her traveling friend. You will see pictures below. We took a lot of pictures there and enjoyed seeing the history. Afterwards, I took them to a popular shopping area called "Myeongdong." Our goal was to find outfits for our last night in Korea together. Of course we found that, plus some! Our last adventure of the night was the Jimjilbang. This is a "spa" place that is traditional for Koreans. It is very relaxing. Women and men have separate sides and then there is a communal area. In both the women and men's, there are different spas that have different temperatures. There are even cold baths. Also, you have the option (with an extra expense) to get a full body scrub, massage, hair wash, etc. You can spend as much time in this are with different hot tubs as you want. Once you are finished, you put on Pepto Bismol pink shorts and shirts, and go to the communal area where men from your family or your friends can meet you (they are wearing, most of the time, sky blue shorts and shirts). In this area, you will find different temperatures of saunas, an oxygen room, etc. There are massage chairs, play room for kids, karaoke rooms, a workout facility, restaurant, and hot stone walkways. Also, there is a concession stand for late-night guests, as this is a 24-hr facility. It is amazing all the different areas. The three of us had a good time relaxing and soaking up the Korean culture. Mom and Juju really seemed to enjoy the atmosphere. For Koreans, it is "family time." This was a great ending to our evening.
Over the next few days, I had to head back to work. I was not feeling 100% (a typical cold) so we stayed close to home in the evenings. While I was at work, Mom and Juju were able to explore. We would make a route for them in the evenings so the next day, they knew exactly where they needed to go, whether it was a bus or subway. It seemed to work well, and I was so happy that mom had Juju here to experience it with. They visited the Korean Folk Village, Korean War Memorial, and Itaewon. One evening, the three of us went to Nanta (a comedy cooking show). One of the days, before they headed out on their adventure, both of them came to two or three of my classes. My kids LOVED seeing Mom and Juju. It is not often that they see a foreign family together. And for them to see their native teacher's family is even better. They had the chance to ask Mom and Juju the typical questions (What is your name? etc). And of course, the kids were on their best behavior for them. Mom and Juju took pictures too, as you will see later. Another day, I was able to take mom and Juju to Insadong as well as meet up with Joe and Steph one last time. Mom and Juju also just briefly met Daniel. There was a lot of shopping to be had in Insadong! We went to dinner afterwards at an Irish Pub that Joe and Steph had introduced me to on my birthday earlier in the month. All of us played darts and had a great time.
Our last night was the most important evening for me. It was the ONE plan that was a surprise (well, for Mom...Juju knew all along as I did not know she would be coming TOO). I told Mom that she needed to have one nice outfit for her last night in Korea. She knew we would be going somewhere nice but had no idea. Getting ready together was one of the best parts of the afternoon/early evening. I was the hair stylist. Mom was first. Then myself. And last, my sister. We went back and forth on what outfits we wanted to wear (typical girl stuff). As we exited the subway station and were walking down a street, Juju looked up. She looked over to me and smiled. A few moments later she asked, "Are you going to tell mom yet?" Mom, looking a bit confused (maybe she knew), asked, "What?" I told mom to look up at the tower that was in front of us. I explained to her that we were going to the top of it for dinner. The three of us with HUGE smiles and locked arms made our way to the sky trolley and headed to the top. From mid-point, it takes you to an observatory with a little shop and a few restaurants. We made our way to the elevator that gives you an exciting, short ride to the tippy-top. The restaurant is called, "N-Grill." As mom opened the menu after getting seated, she immediately said, "MaLeah, NO!" HaHa. Then I had to remind her it was my treat and shows how much it means to me for her to come to Korea for a visit. And then she made me promise it was her birthday present too. There is a possibility she threw in Christmas and every other holiday thereafter. It was an AMAZING evening. Mom would be able to give the best details. There is not a single picture that could do the view of Seoul at night justice. We finished the evening with one last Myeongdong trip to buy more socks!
I will say...their visit was bitter-sweet. Bitter because I had to say "Goodbye" to them, again...but sweet because it was a time I will cherish and hold onto forever. Having Mom come would have been enough to keep me going until I come back home...but having my sister, my best friend come too made the experience that much more unforgettable. It still amazes me that they were both here.
Looking back on March, I cannot say there is much to report. The only pictures I have from my camera are St. Patrick's Day. It was a fun experience to have here in Korea. A group of friends and myself went on an evening cruise with many other expats, but I think that is about it for March. Hmm...
This was the month of Thailand! I will classify this as an AMAZING vacation in Asia. To be honest, I cannot even BEGIN to tell all the stories from my trip so I will let the pictures do the talking. However, I will say, our first night was spent in Phuket, Thailand (at the best hostel), second through sixth nights were spent on Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand (where we met a wonderful couple and had a tsunami evacuation), seventh night was spent back in Phuket, and our last and final night was spent in Bangkok, Thailand (where we rode an elephant, got our pictures taken with tigers, and had one last 1.5hr massage). On our trip, we did not do much shopping. I will say though, that while on the island, we spoiled ourselves with mani's, pedi's, and massages. Also on the island, we experienced Songkran (the Thai New Year). If the three of us could do it all again, we said we would, but we would change up the itinerary a bit. Instead of all the relaxing in the beginning and adventures at the end, we would switch. The three of us girls got along well in a resort for 5 nights and hostels for the other 3. Check out the pictures to see our experiences.
Almost done with the update.
May was sad. But happy too. Daniel had to leave Korea early. His orders were re-assigned to go back to the states for more training. On his next assignment, he will be working on different engines, therefore, he needs the training, partly in South Carolina and the last bit in California. I have only mentioned him a couple times in my blog. To give you more details, he is from Atlanta, Georgia originally. Daniel is in the Air Force (9 years now) as a staff sergeant flight line engine mechanic (I think I said this right - I'm still learning). He is working to get another stripe, tech. sergeant. Crossing my fingers for him. Before coming to Korea, he was stationed in South Carolina for 8 years. In my opinion, an amazing guy with a big heart. He has many goals for himself, as I still do for myself, so we are staying in contact, supporting each other, and seeing where it takes us - no expectations. Also in May, I found a new interest. No, not a man. Korean hiking/climbing. It is MUCH different from back in the states. There is no such thing called a "switchback." And when I say this, I am NOT joking. Koreans are serious about their "hiking." Uneven, steep rocks as steps ALL THE WAY up! A flat area for a break?! YEAH RIGHT! And going back down the mountains are no joke either. If you want to get in shape, you do what I've been doing. It truly is a love/hate relationship. In my head on the way up, I say, "What the heck was I thinking?!" Once I'm at the top, I tell myself, "This is exactly why!" And then heading back down the mountain, "Why can't there be a stinkin' escalator?!" When it is all said and done, and I am recovering on my couch watching NCIS with a pack of ice on top of my head, I am still glad I did it. The most challenging is the mental aspect. It has really forced me to overcome my thoughts of giving up or thinking I am not strong enough to do it. I am learning that I am a lot tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. Because of this, it has become one of my favorite parts of Korea. And I will continue to take on these challenges.
I am only 11 days into June so there is still a lot to be had. Already, I have been on one overnight hike (we departed from Seoul at 12am and started hiking at 4:30am - continuing to hike until 4pm, totaling almost a 12hr hike). This was the hike that REALLY tested my mental toughness. It was one of the hardest things I have had to overcome physically and mentally. That says a lot considering I have been involved in sports my whole life.
Also, I went on a shorter, easier hike with Emily. Gwangyo Mountain is near our home so last Saturday, June 9th, when she got off work, we decided to take an afternoon hike. It was a perfect day. I was able to sleep in and relax because during the week, I was still recovering from the overnight trip. When she got off work, we met downstairs and our co-worker, Joe, took us to the beginning area. We mapped out our trip on the mountain and off we went. It was relaxing and we enjoyed the afternoon together. I will say, it was harder than Emily had anticipated. She realized how hard Korean hiking is. Although this hike was more like what I am used to back in the states. There were more consistent breaks in the climb. We only took a few pictures but I will say, this was another moment I had where I said, "I am DEFINITELY in Korea." At one rest/break area, there was a small library tent. Yes, that is what I said. A small library tent. This was an area where people could stop, take a rest, and read if they wanted. At another break area, there was an outside workout gym. Again, yes; that is what I said. There was a bench press right out there in nature, surrounded by trees. I repeat, "Only in Korea." Coming back down the mountain felt easy for me. It was nothing I had experienced the weekend before on Jirisan Mountain. Emily was hurting however. And we were trying to beat the light. Sunset is around 7:30pm right now and we still had around 3-4km to go. It was a race to get off the mountain before it was completely dark. I had forgotten to take my LED flashlight. My phone was almost dead so I could not use that as a light. All we had was Emily's iPhone and Layla, her dog to help guide us. It was definitely an unforgettable experience as we basically tripped down the last 2km's. All in all, it was fun and we treated ourselves afterwards.
The next day (yesterday), we met up around 1pm for a study sesh (session). Sidenote: I have started an online course to get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. This will not only look good on my CV/Resume, but will also allow me to teach in other countries as well. It will take me about 3 months to complete as long as I stay on top of it. When I am done with the course, the company I am getting my certificate from will help me develop my CV/Resume more thoroughly, along with helping me find another job abroad if I choose to go that route. We went to a cafe that is near our building/work. It's called, "Cafe Koreano." After 6 hours of sipping a coffee, eating half a sandwich, and typing away, we decided to call it quits. Nervously, I e-mailed my first unit to my online instructor and we headed to the nearest Italian restaurant for some good ole comfort food. It wasn't bad...but it still wasn't my mom's spaghetti sauce. And the garlic bread should not be that sweet. If only I could have access to their kitchen. I would show them how it's done! Maybe...
Guess what?! I have already received feedback from my online instructor about my first unit. He stated in the e-mail that I did very well and that he enjoyed reading my thorough, thought-out responses to the questions. There was only one thing he said I could have added to one of the tasks but overall, he was very pleased and cannot wait to read my future assignments. Usually, they only e-mail one unit at a time however he sent me units two and three today. This is REALLY good news! I assume he trusts that I am taking this seriously and not just trying to breeze through it. It helps having 8 months of experience with ESL students. Still, it feels good to know that what I am producing is more than satisfactory. Hopefully my work continues to get good responses. Cross your fingers for me!
This weekend will be another fun-filled, busy weekend. Saturday morning I will make my way to Namhae Island for the day/night. There is a big group of people, most I do not know, but a couple I do know, that I will be with. Some are staying in a pension (hostel) and others are camping out, tent-style. I will be in a pension unfortunately since I do not have access to camping gear and do not want to spend the money. On Sunday, I will come back to Suji-gu (home) to finish my studying and submit my units to my online instructor.
And there you have it!
The last few months will go by quick; I just know it! Soon, I will be selling all the things I bought for my apartment and possibly writing a conclusion to this chapter of my life. Only the future will know. But for now, I am going to continue to enjoy my time in Korea with the friends I've made along with looking at my options for the future.
Until my next submission...
|On the Subway! Headed out for a fun-filled day together.|
|Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea|
|These girls loved us...they squeeled when we said we wanted to take a picture with them!|
|Jimjilbang! Amazing culture experience.|
|Mom and Juju would kill me if I posted a picture of them...so here's ME|
|@ Nanta Theatre - waiting for the cooking show to start!|
|A temple in Insadong - Mom and Juju checking out the inside...inside, there are monks praying|
|On our first stop @ DMZ|
|Mom on Freedom Bridge|
|on the bus.|
|outside of one of the tunnels. this guy was so nice - tried his best to speak English|
|Insung! He was so cool! Loves English and talking to us.|
|Jimjilbang - yes, we brought Mom's friend.|
|Mom and Juju wanted a picture with one of my 5th grade classes.|
|Another 5th grade class - lower level.|
|Mom and Juju on an adventure while I work|
|Korean War Memorial|
|sent Mom and Juju to Itaewon so they could visit the Harley shop!|
|on our way to Nanta.|
|After a day in Insadong, Steph Joe and I took Mom and Juju to an Irish Pub for food, beer, and darts.|
|Mom and Joe!|
|The three of us at Imjingak - DMZ|
|a tall Korean!|
|the view from Namsam (N Seoul) Tower on their last night|
|Locks of Love|
|Namsam (N Seoul) Tower|
|Writing on our locks...|
|Last chance - sock shopping!|
|1st day - they took me to lunch!|
|Steph - adopted sister into our family! We love you Steph!!|
|At my favorite coffee shop - Le Pommier|
|Mom - experiencing grocery shopping packing in Korea|
|Before heading to the Jimjilbang|
|Juju taking out my trash for me! Thank you JUJU!!|
|Baby Guinness - Irish Pub|
|In one of the tunnels - DMZ|
|Last night - we're ready for a fun evening|
|On the tram - that's where we were headed|
|Can we say, "tired?!"|
|in Insadong, in front of the temple|
|another Tunnel picture|
|Just the three of us - a bond that no one can break!|
|Waiting for mom when she arrived|
|The moment Mom caught on camera|
|Our Welcome Sign at work|