On January 18th 2004, terrified and anxious, I boarded a plane at Chicago's O'Hare airport bound for Seoul, Korea by way of Tokyo, Japan. After many hours in the air and additional hours waiting at Nariata Airport I arrived in Seoul roughly 11pm on January, 19th. So, depending on your time zone or how you split hairs, today marks the 2nd anniversary of my arrival in Korea.

Looking back I can still conjure the feelings of that first night. I was picked up by my recruiter and driven from the airport to the city I would live in for the next year and a half. Despite the excitement of my first time in Asia and my fear that I was, in fact, being driven to sex-slave camp and not to an English school, I managed to sleep for most of the car ride. My recruiter quickly shuffled me into a hotel room, complete with black-light and circular bed ("Oh, shit! I'm a sex-slave!") and promised to return in the morning.

Upon his departure, the fear and anxiety kicked itself into high-gear. I vividly remember peeking out of my seventh-story window and gazing in awe at the sea of neon lights before looking down and discovering, in my windowsill, a two-sided full-color business card featuring a photograph of a naked lady and a phone number. I slammed the window shut, fearful that someone might see into the room and spot the strange, young white man who was clearly out of place and ripe to be taken advantage of. However, they might see fit to do so.

The following week I did not work since I arrived during Chinese New Year. My recruiter had returned on the second day and was nice enough to introduce me to the person I'd be replacing. Fortunately, he gave me his phone number and I was able to call him whenever I wanted to eat (since at this time I was still too afraid to even walk into a restaurant alone). I spent most of the week in my hotel room flipping through numerous programs on the television, none of which I could understand. Though, I did get out for the occasional beer with my only contact in Korea.

Needless to say, things have gotten much better since that time. I realized, quite quickly, that Korea is not a scary place and, in fact, is rather enjoyable. However, being an anniversary it's been a time to reflect on all that has transpired since those fateful early days. I have, of course, managed to accomplish a few things in the past two years. I can now use chopsticks like I was born with them in my hands. I can speak a passable amount of Korean, though not near fluent and possibly not even intermediate. I've seen most of what this country has to offer, including a trip to the DMZ. I've traveled to Thailand and nearly missed being in the path of the tsunami thanks to botched airline tickets. I've made some great friends, discovered that I enjoy teaching and developed a taste for kimchi and corn on my pizza.

All around, it's been a wonderful two years. There are certainly more things I wish I had accomplished and things I regret doing and not doing (need to travel more and save some money), but I look on the previous two years with a sense of excitement and pride. I have had more fun than a person should be allowed and it is far from what I expected boarding that plane in Chicago.


Busy Winter

Winter intensive courses are in full swing and I'm staying as busy as possible. Just to give you an idea here is a sample of my schedule.

8:30am - Wake up
9:15am - Pick up some breakfast
9:30am - Arrive at the office
9:30am-10am - Prepare for classes and ingest as much caffeine and nicotine as possible
10am - Begin first intensive class
10:40 - Mid-class break
10:45 - Resume class
11:25 - Finish first intensive class
11:30 - Start second intensive class (low level. Teaching rug, bug, tug, etc.)
12:10 - Finish second intensive class
12:15 - Begin third intensive class (lowest level: Teaching A is for apple, B is for book, etc)
12:55 - Finish third intensive class
1:00 - 2:30 - Break. Time to get some lunch and prepare for my afternoon classes
2:30 - First regular afternoon class begins
3:25 - Finish first afternoon class
3:30 - Second afternoon class begins
4:25 - finish second afternoon class
4:30 - Third afternoon class begins
5:25 - Finish third afternoon class
5:30-6:30 - Break. Grab a snack and prepare for evening classes
6:30 - First evening class starts
7:25 - Class ends
7:30 - Second evening class starts
8:25 - class ends
8:30 - Go home
9pm-12am - watch a movie, eats some dinner or surf the net. Then go to sleep and get ready to do it all over again.

Compared to my regular schedule this is pretty hectic. The first week was very rough, but now I've adjusted to it and am cruising through it smoothly. After tomorrow they will be half-completed (or half-begun if you're pessimistic).


Speech Contest Update

I forgot to mention in my last post that my school announced the winners of the speech and writing contests on Thursday and Friday of last week. My total tally was five winners of the writing contest and three winners of the speech contest. In fact, my Monday, Wednesday and Friday students swept the speech contest! They won every time slot!

I was incredibly proud of them and also, of course, proud of myself. Overall, I had more total winners than any other of the twelve or so teachers at my school. However, I can hardly take any credit since these kids put in the work and stood up in front of a room full of people and gave a speech in their second language. Regardless, I walked around like a proud father for a couple of days.

New Years

Yunha and I headed out to a popular area of Seoul for New Years eve.

We started out in Myeong-dong and made our way into Jongno. Supposedly, this is the most popular area for New Years eve. We saw a report on the news saying there were 100,000 people there for the celebration. There is a massive bell in this area that is rung at the midnight.

It's difficult to tell from these photos but, on this street were thousands of people shooting off Roman candles over a newly restored stream (can't remember the name) that runs through Seoul. We bought some as well and shot them off together.

Standing behind a stage. This streets was lit up with holiday lights in addition to the normal shine of neons.

Again, it's difficult to tell but, this street was closed off from traffic and packed shoulder-to-shoulder with Koreans celebrating the coming of 2006. Coming from a relatively small city like St. Louis, it never fails to amaze me how many people live in Seoul.

A blurry shot of the side of a skyscraper wishing everyone luck in the new year. The lights of this giant sign were flashing so I had to time the taking of the picture to get all the lights lit up.

Again, blurry. I'm not sure if this is due to my camera progressively getting worse or that all of the lights made it made it hard to focus or, more than likely, a combination of both.

Oh, the contrast! We wandered on some back streets seeking a quiet place where I could relieve myself and stumbled upon this entrance to what I can only assume is a restaurant or private residence. It's sounds cliche but I love shots like these because it really shows how Seoul is a combination of traditional and modern life.

Before midnight we made our way to a hotel and paid an outrageously high-price for a tiny room and watched the New Year's celebration on television. Though we were so close to the party that we watched the fireworks on TV but, could hear them through the open window.

Tomorrow I start my hellish winter intensive schedule. Also, I have a weeks vacation this month but, I haven't decided what to do yet.