I’m going to miss this.
I thought November was going to be a bit of a nothing month but it turns out it’s been quite the opposite! I’ve actually been fairly busy! School has been chugging along nicely, all things considered. I finished Speaking Tests with my first graders last week and we’re preparing Second Grade for finals now. It’s a bit strange- I actually only have a couple of weeks of ‘serious teaching’ left. After finals it’s movies and games and then Winter Camp and then my last two weeks. I’m rather pleased about this though- I’m ready for a slightly more relaxed pace. I am feeling a little bit less ansty about leaving though, which is good. I think the end being closer in sight in helping with that!
I’ve also been busy being a social butterfly! My friend Keflyn came to visit on the 8th. He went to the Pub Quiz I regularly attend with me, which was lots of fun. He also gave me a Nintendo DS so I can play Pokemon. There’s no denying how super cool I am. We ate delicious food and had lots of fun together. It’s really strange though- we flew out to Korea together and we’re both planning on leaving at roughly the same time. It’s amazing how much we’ve both experienced since getting here.
The following weekend I had my very last session of the Reading Program I’ve been doing 2 weeks a month September-November. I had to get my kids to perform a song which went about as well as expected- 9 year olds really aren’t loud singers! I’m kind of sad about finishing actually because I get on really well with the other teachers I worked with! Here’s a picture of us on the last day as we escaped to go and get some Ice Cream at Lunch Time!
That day was also pretty long because I went straight from work to my friend Suzanne’s birthday party! We went to my favourite Italian Restaurant and had an awesome time, drinking wine, eating and chatting.
After this we headed to a bar- Ulsan finally got it’s open branch of Thursday Party, which is a bar chain I quite like- and we had a lot of fun there before heading to a noraebang. I love noraebang so it was quite odd to realise that I hadn’t been to one in over a year! It was a very odd experience though because the owner tried to negotiate with us about the amount of beer we were going to drink! (We had one!) I had a really awesome time and it was probably the best night out I have had in ages. Lots of fun with the people I like the best! I followed this with a very chilled Sunday which was most appreciated!
Last weekend marked my very, very final Saturday shift! This time it was ‘Conversation Classes’ in Old Downtown, where my partner and I stood by an ATM and taught nine year olds the words ‘deposit’ and ‘withdrawal’. Hugely useful, I’m sure you’ll agree. I was really good to finish and to know that I have my weekends (mostly) back to myself. That being said, I am still chasing up payment for the Reading Program. Stupid MOE.
To celebrate us finishing, our friend Corey joined Suzanne and I myself in watching The Hunger Games: Catching Fire which I really, really enjoyed! Much better than the first movie. We followed this with delicious Thai food and talking for hours. Pretty much a perfect way to spend an evening with your friends! I’m really going to miss my friends when I leave- probably more than anything else.
On Sunday, I watched the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special and went Christmas shopping! I’ve got most of my friends sorted and am planning to send out all my cards and packages this week! That being said, I’m still feeling rather sad about being away from home for Christmas this year. Most of the time I can think about all the fun things I’m doing instead but around this time of year, I just remember all the things I miss about home. My friends, my family, the food. I think I’d be far more sad about it though if it wasn’t so close to the end.
And that’s about everything with me. December is shaping up to be busy and exciting and I really need to start organising things more efficently for leaving. I have a deep feeling January is going to hit and I’m going to be all ‘CRAP! There’s so much to do’. But everything is good and groovy mostly. Enjoying my last few months in the ROK!
Is Education in Korea really that good?
South Korea routinely comes very high in the tables of Education around the world, alongside counties such as China, Singapore and Finland. A lot of my friends and family back home have been interested to hear about what makes Korean education so successful and the international reputation of the education here is such that countries such as the USA want to emulate certain things about Korean education in order to improve their educational systems. A friend even posted a link on facebook the other day about how Sweden is looking to Korean education for guidance. Before I came to teach in Korea, I was swayed by stories of hard-working studious students who respected their teachers implicitly.
Almost 2 and a half years later, I can tell you that this is not the case. Almost any of the myths you’ve heard about how wonderful Korean education is are not true. With the end of my time here approaching, I thought it might be nice to explain some of the realities of education here. Obviously all of this is based off of my own experience and what I’ve gathered from friends.
Why does Korea come so high in international rankings?
Reason 1: Testing
The main reason Korea ranks so highly in World Educational rankings is because Koreans are trained from a young age to succeed in testing. These children are good at taking tests. For example, the school tests run from 0-100 as a score. The children in my Intermediate class still have scores in the 80s because so many students get scores in the 90s!
Korean Education seems heavily focused on memorisation. My Second Grade students will take a speaking test next week- in which they will have to regurgitate a small passage about 7 lines long. Remember it perfectly and you pass! Because that’s how the test Oral Ability here.
So, Koreans are always going to score well in International Rankings because they’re trained to test in a way that’s very different from western education
Reason 2: Academies
For the vast majority of Korean students, school doesn’t end at 4.30. After school they will head to a variety of academies to continue studying in the evening, sometimes until as late as 10.30.
Popular subjects are Maths and English but younger students in particular study Art and the Piano. Studying tends to get more serious the older the students becomes.
This means that in comparison to a lot of other countries, Korean children study more for longer. This is going to affect their test rankings because extra studying will give you an edge.
Reason 3: Koreans Take Education seriously
One big difference, I feel, is that Koreans take education very seriously. It’s incredible, the way Korea transformed from a third world nation into an economic powerhouse in such a short space of time and Education is seen as a big part of that success.
Koreans parents also believe that unless a child does not succeed in their schooling, that they will fail to secure a good job and thus a good life. A lot of parents push their children to succeed and to study hard. Parents are willing to pay a lot of money to make sure their child does well.
With a whole culture taking education seriously, that is going to translate into results.
So, what’s the problem?
There are several problems with the things I’ve described above. Obviously studying to tests isn’t itself bad and neither is allowing your kids to have extra tutoring and obviously making education a priorty is great. BUT… BUT…
Testing isn’t always useful
I did all of my schooling in the UK and whilst I was definitely prepared to take exams and get good grades, I’m also able to confidently say that my schooling gave me skills which I’ve been able to use in my life. (Except Algebra). Whilst I think tests can be an important Educational tools, I also think it’s the responsibility of educators to help children learn in such a way that it readies them for life. I mean, that’s what I want as an English teacher. I want my students to use the skill of English outside of a classroom environment and to feel confident doing so, regardless of their ability. From what I have seen of Korean education, this is not the case. I’m not saying that Korean teachers don’t want their students to do well in life, but furnishing them with life skills is not their main priority because education is so heavily geared towards tests.
And the sad fact is, these tests aren’t really helping students. We’ve all been there- we study very hard for an exam and afterwards we give ourselves permission to forget everything. This is why testing should be put together with skills based education so despite the fact that students might forget information, they still have the ability to use that information in a certain way when they come across it.
I also find some of my students struggle creatively- I’ve worked with Elementary Students and they’re happy doing creative endeavours and projects. However, my Middle School students seem almost… bad at it? Even when I give them free reign to write what they like or to make something students seem confused without explicit guidelines. This isn’t true in all cases and students do get to do creative stuff in art class but I remember my schooling be FULL of projects. Time-lines, reports, maps… I did lots of that in every class. I can’t speak for every subject but I see very little of that here because education is so focused on pumping them full of information when they then pour out for one test.
Extra Studying isn’t always helpful
Sure extra tutoring is a nice idea but the students here do it for HOURS. They basically have an extra half a school day after school. I’m not remotely convinced that this is good for them. These are children- they need time to play and develop in other ways. I think play is an important part of being a child.
Also, it renders a lot of schooling pointless, particularly for English. Most students have encountered a lot of what they are being taught now if they have been to an academy.
Also, lower level students do not tend to go to Academy. Academies give students from wealthier families a significant advantage. And they’re so expensive…
I’m just not personally convinced academies help that much. The benefits don’t seem to outweigh the negatives. They cost families so much money and I just wish children here had more time to be just that.
Educational Pressure is Ridiculous
The number one cause of death among Korean teenagers is suicide. And the huge amount of pressure they are put under in regards to education is seen a huge part of that.
Recognising that education is important is not a bad thing. Allowing children to think that if they don’t succeed that they have failed is wrong. Your schooling makes up such a small part of your life- what you do afterwards is just as important.
Parents, in particular, need to strike a fan balance between support and encouragement vs pressure. There’s a big difference. I have students who are told by their parents that they should be the top students in Ulsan. Students who are asked ‘Why did you not get full marks in every test?’ by their parents. I have a student with depression because his Mother was convinced he was gifted and he knew he wasn’t. Children shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of their parents expectations and Korean parents do seem to have very high expectations about their children’s academic achievement.
But your students are really respectful and well-behaved, right?
Ha. Ha ha ha ha.
The big thing I noticed is how similar Korean teenagers are to British teenagers. Some of them are very respectful but you also get mouthy kids who drive you crazy and you have to remove from class. You have students who don’t care, students who try to answer every question. There’s a wide variety of students.
Korean students do have a different relationship with their teachers though- it seems closer. And I definitely feel that the discipline issues I experience here aren’t as serious as some of the issues I saw teachers facing when I was at school. But Korean students are fairly normal- their culture hasn’t imbued them with a magic respect. And as a foreigner, I certainly feel less respected by some students.
So, what’s good?
As I said, valuing education is important. Teachers are more valued here too and that’s great. Encouraging students to succeed is good. In fact, the common denominator between countries with good education is that teachers and education have a greater cultural significance. That’s what countries who want to improve their education should take away from Korea.
But the testing and the stress should be taken away. It’s so unproductive and just hurts students.
And well, that’s it folks. Just remember- the rankings you see don’t reflect the reality of an education system. Korea has some things right, but there are some things about working in this environment that I will not be sad to leave behind.
'A victim of bullying thinks that they aren't a necessary existence in the world. However, his thought is wrong. Everything which exists in the world is valuable'
So as my exit approaches, I’ve obviously been thinking quite seriously about my post-Korea plans.
I’m still planning on travelling but as time is progressing my route is taking shape a little differently. Time, finance and other considerations are all becoming serious concerns and it’s becoming ever more apparent that I won’t make it to all the countries I’d like to visit or even see everything I’d like to in the countries I will visit.
I’ve also never really planned a trip that will last this long (four months). It’s both exciting and dauting. The sad fact is, I don’t have a huge amount of time to spend seeing lots of different places so I have to be a little more organised than if I’d taken a year off work and could go anywhere. I want to be home by the beginning of July 2014 at the latest and it creates an immediacy to my plans. Anyway, I thought I’d start talking about the places I am planning on going.
How long for: 3-4 days
'Wait, haven't you been there before?' I can hear you asking. Yep, I have. And yes, I want to go back before I leave Asia. Hong Kong is my favourite place that I have visited since I came to Korea- that's not say that Japan and Taiwan both aren't awesome, just that Hong Kong is such a cool mash-up of east meets west, it's great. Also, my cousin, my best friend's sister and some people I know from Korea are living there now. My plans for this trip involve eating far more authentic chinese food than last time, a night market and Macau. Can't wait!
How long for: 2-3 weeks
I’m planning to travel from North to South in Vietnam, landing in Hanoi. Halong Bay is a must visit and I also plan in visiting the cities of Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. This won’t give me a huge amount of time in each city so I may skip out Hue. I’m a bit nervous about Vietnam because I haven’t yet been to SE Asia and I don’t really know what to expect. It’s strange, after living in another country for so long, to be really intimidated at the prospect of Culture Shock! But I am excited- I hear wonderful things about the food and people and I’m excited to experience it.
How Long for: 10 Days- 2 weeks
From HCM City, I’ll get a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I plan on spend 4-5 days there. I want to visit The Killing Fields and find our more about the Khmer Rouge. After that, I’m planning on taking a bus to Siem Reap in order to visit the Angkor Wat. I am very excited about this part and I am also hoping that I can have a couple of days to relax. By this point, I will have been on the road for about a month so I suspect a couple of days reading by a pool may also be beneficial!
How Long for: 2-3 Weeks.
From Siem Reap, I’m going to head to Bangkok. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to do that by bus or by plane- plane is more expensive but you’re only allowed 15 Visa Free Days in Thailand if you arrive overland, and you’re allowed 30 if you arrive by air. I’m planning to spend a couple of days in Bangkok and then to head to Kanchanaburi, where the Bride on the River Kwai was built. Then I’m thinking of heading to Ayutthaya, the Ancient Siamese Capital. I’ll then finish Thailand with a few days in Chiang Mai. I really want to visit a famous Elephant Sanctuary there.
How Long For: 2-3 Days
I was planning to spend a little longer in Malaysia but owing to time, I’ll have to sacrifice time there (and potentially sacrifice it altogether if I end to spending too much time in the previous countries). I’m planning on heading to Kuala Lumpar as I have a friend there. I might see if there are day tours available to nearby locations. But I suspect by time in Malaysia will be brief!
How Long For: 1 week
Originally, I was also planning to spend 2 weeks in Indonesia. I had visions of a week lying on a beach. And then it occured to me- I’m going to find lying on a beach for longer than a couple of days really, really boring. So I’m planning to head to Bali. I’ll probably spend a couple of days somewhere busier such as Ubud and then I’m going to head to the Gilli Islands for a little taste of Island Paradise!
How Long For: 2-3 Weeks
After that I’ll be off Down Under! My good friend from here, Suzanne, will be back at her home in Brisbane so my first stop will be visiting her. I have deep suspicions that by this point I’m going to be tired. So a couple of days chilling out at her place in my pyjamas might be appreciated. Also, it’s going to be my time back in Western Civilisation! I suspect delicious foods will be appreciated. I’m hoping to spend a few days in Sydney and Melbourne each too doing touristy things.
How Long For: 2-3 Weeks
Okay, basically I want to go to Hobbiton. But I feel like I should see other stuff too. And I hear NZ is kind of cool. From wherever I end up in Oz, I’m going to fly to Wellington. From my guide book, Wellington sounds awesome and exciting. I am then going to bus my way up the North Island stopping in various cool places along the way. (Also… Hobbiton!!) I’m excited about NZ but time and money constraints mean I can’t really spend the amount of time I’d like to there. As such, I’m probably not going to make it to the South Island. It’s a bit disappointing but I figured there’s plenty in the North for me to see. I am going to end my trip with a couple of days in Auckland.
For How Long: 2-3 Weeks
I’m still not sure about where I’m going to head to first in the US- it’ll either be to a friend’s in California or my Uncle’s in Michigan. I sadly can’t afford both and if push comes to shove, I might have to miss both. Boo, money. In which case, I’ll head to New Hampshire to visit my friend Mysti! I’m hopeful we’ll be able to visit Boston and Salem and some other interesting places in New England! After I leave her, there’s a friend in Rhode Island, I’d at least like to meet for dinner! And after that… New York City! I’d love to spend 4 or 5 days there. I’d like to see a Broadway show and visit of the landmarks and then everyone…
For How Long: Foreverish?
Yep, then I’ll be homeward bound. I’ll hopefully have a couple of months at home with my family over the summer, perhaps with small trips to see friends and relatives. Then towards the end of August, beginning of September next year, I’ll be moving to Edinburgh and looking for somewhere to live and a job, without knowing anyone.
And that’s going to be 2014. I’m so scared and excited and nervous, all at once. I know it’s going to be an incredible experience though!
November: The month in which nothing happens
Hello there readers. Apologies for the silence over the past few weeks. I’d like to say there was a good reason, but mainly I’ve just been busy. I’ve worked three Saturdays this past month and I’m generally pretty busy in the evenings too. It’s not even that anything interesting has happened!
School is generally fine- I’m still a bit frustrated about certain things but feeling a bit calmer and more accepting. I think that’s just the way with dealing with another culture. Sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s just baffling. And I think feeling that way is okay. Living in another place and experiencing the way a different people do things is never going to be 100% smooth.
October was a pretty busy month at school. The students had mid-terms and this was followed by the school sports day and then the school festival the week afterwards. We were supposed to have a school picnic day too, but despite planning the school calendar back in February, they decided at the last minute that too much was happening in October and we’d have it in December instead! The festival was really fun- I played board games and watched a film with my students in the morning and then in the afternoon there was a concert, which was a lot of fun. Definitely more entertaining than regular school!
That being said, I can’t deny being pretty happy that there’s less than 8 weeks of the semester to go! In fact, there’s 52 days until Winter vacation total, of which 34 are teaching days! In fact, 22 of those days are in November- I only have 12 teaching days in December!!
In fact, November is a bit of a weird month school calendar wise because very little happens in comparison to the rest of the school year which is generally busier. March is busy with starting the year, there’s field trips in April, mid-terms, teacher’s day and a health check in May, random days off in June and then finals in July. Then there’s summer vacation. September is Chuseok and October is mid-terms, sports day, picnic day and the school festival. And then there’s November… four weeks of uninterrupted teaching. Eep!
I have no major plans for the month. I have two more Saturdays to work before I finish those programs entirely. They’re going well- I like the students at the reading program I do a little better this semester and the classes are smaller too. However, I’m looking forward to finishing these programs and reclaiming my weekends.
That being said, my school is trying to claim my one free weekend this month. I’m supposed to go on a school hike this Saturday but I feel that I’m unfortunately going to be too unwell to attend.*ahem* I don’t mind school events after school too much but I think eating into my (one free) weekend is a bit much. Also, no one will speak to me and four hours of hiking is so not my thing. The whole forced socialisation thing that Korean schools have going on does seem fairly odd to me. We all work together and see each other five days a week- why should we be forced to spend extra time together outside of school? Ah well, it’s just one of those Korean things I’ll never get.
Beyond that, things are fine. I’m starting to sell my belongings and I had a bit of a sort out and threw away some stuff too. I’m celebrating Bonfire Night with my friends here tomorrow, it’s Suzanne’s birthday next week and well… that’s about it folks. Life is plodding on, though there’s certainly change on the horizon!
I am definitely on the downward slope of my time here Korea and with it is coming a new set of emotions and experiences. I’ve even got an official countdown on my phone until the day I expect to leave (26th February). 141 Days left guys!
I’ve been feeling fairly negative about my job since the semester began. It’s boring, it’s routine and I feel very unstimulated. When I started two years ago, the job was a challenge and as is natural, I suppose it’s become less and less of one. I can teach competently, lesson planning is a breeze and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve become fairly complacent about my job performance. The fact that I know I’m leaving soon also means that I don’t really feel the need to shake myself from my complacency.
The fact that I am enjoying my job less, also means that everything I don’t enjoy about my job is becoming more and more obvious. Working in a Korean work environment has always been hard but whilst it was confusing at first, and then unsurprising, it’s now reached the point where it’s plain infuriating. The fact that everything is last minute, ineffective management, enforced staff activities and poor co-teachers have stopped being minor irritations and become major ones that I can’t wait to stop experiencing.
And I feel bad about this because Korea has been such an incredible experience. I’ve lived abroad for two years, I’ve met so many people, I’ve experienced a work environment that’s totally alien, I’ve learned so many new skills and right now, all I seem to be able to do is to complain about it!
I know I’m just ready to move on and I think I’m already mentally making that leap despite the fact that there’s still a significant amount of time left. My mind is ahead of my circumstances, if you will. But I am excited for the next things and experiencing new things again.
There is one positive of this: despite the fact that I am going to be sad to leave Korea and to leave my school, (despite my complaining, I really will) at the same time, feeling like this is a reminder that I’m making the right decision by leaving in a few months. Korea has taught me everything it can teach me and the time is coming to head somewhere new and pick up some new lessons there.
Now to enjoy the remaining four and a half months, as much as possible!
shephaestion said: WHOA that sounds very very cool! is it like gender studies+history?
I guess Gender Theory will be part of it, but mainly it’s History. Predominantly analysing the role of women in History but also look at how constructs such as femininity and masculinity have impacted people/ events/ time periods etc.I can’t wait to get started!
Whilst I have always planned on travelling after I left Korea, what I’d be doing when I got home was a little more uncertain. However, yesterday I received an Unconditional Offer of Admission to the University of Edinburgh to study MSc Gender History.
I’ll start studying there at the beginning of September 2014 and I can’t wait to move somewhere new and exciting!
I have 5 months left in Korea, then four months of travelling, a summer at home and a move to a brand new city to look forward to. It’s going to be an incredible year.
Korea has been good to me, but I am really excited about the adventures coming my way. There’s no doubt, I’m ready for a new challenge.
Korean Students Speak (Nonsense): Quotations.
Student 1:: My father can fix anything, like McGyver
Student 2:: Nuclear Power is dangerous, like my Mother.
Student 3:: Teacher, am I black?
Student 4:: Teacher, you are not pretty....
Student 4:: You're sexy!
Student 5:: Teacher, how do you spell cock?
Student 5:: Yes teacher! Like Cocka-Cola...
Me:: (Teaching about weather) There is a Tornado! What should I do?
Student 6:: Die
Me:: Take that pencil out of your ear!
Me:: Where do Tacos come from?
Student 7:: France!!
Me:: What foods do you think are disgusting?
Student:: My Mother's cooking
Me:: (Trying to elicit the word 'Lime') It's like a lemon but it's green!
Student 8:: Orange?
Last year, I was lucky to meet a couple of really awesome people here in Ulsan. David and Sinead are an Irish couple and after being introduced by our mutual friend Mysti, we really hit it off. They left Korea in November and travelled around India before heading to Taiwan to continue their teaching adventure. As soon as they moved to Taiwan, I knew Chuseok would be the perfect opportunity to go and visit them.
Chuseok, for those who need reminding, is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. It’s a time to get together with your families and eat a lot. It’s three days off school but this year it feel on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday meaning I had five days in a row off. Perfect for a long trip!
I flew to Taipei last Wednesday. I got the train to Seoul and from there to Incheon Airport. It was an average airport experience if you discount the fact that I was flying on the famous Hello Kitty Plane!!
I really like Hello Kitty so I was a bit over-excited about this! The whole plane was Hello Kitty themed too. Hello Kitty cushions, Hello Kitty headrests, Hello Kitty Cutlery, Hello Kitty welcome video. It was pretty surreal to be honest, but also fun!
I had a pretty easy journey over- I got to watch Monster’s University which was great- and when I landed David was waiting for me. I managed to insult him within 30 seconds of seeing him (Excellent) in regards to his hat and we got a taxi back to his and Sinead’s place, which was right in the centre of Taipei.
After some hugs with Sinead and a little tour around their lovely loft apartment, we had dinner- Kimchi Jiggae which Sinead made! You can take the girl out of Korea, but apparently you can’t take her away from the Kimchi! We just spent the evening catching up before heading to bed around 1am.
The next day we were a bit slow to get moving but we eventually succeeded in getting ready and leaving the house around lunchtime. We decided to walk to Taipei Main Station and from there, get the Subway to Taipei 101! Walking through Taipei was interesting. It’s not the prettiest city in the world, but it’s charming, in a way. It has a very relaxed atmosphere for a capital city and Taiwanese people are very friendly. An old man even waved to us!
Taipei Main Station was itself, a labyrinth. We went to find a local branch of Lush first where I charmingly had an allergic reaction to some hand cream which left my hands itchy all day. (Only I would have a reaction to a product from a store specialising in natural products. Go me). We then found the correct line and went on Taipei’s MRT. The best thing, in my opinion, about the MRT was that there was a queuing system. After the pushing and shoving of Korea, this was quite a revelation!
We got to the Subway station near Taipei 101 and it was then that I experienced something that David and Sinead had been warning me about- Taipei’s Mercurial Weather! It can be sunny one minute and then the heavens will open in another. And this is exactly what it did! Poor Don got absolutely soaked and was wearing trainers- he was distinctly uncomfortable!
We got inside the building and lunch became our priority. We spotted a cool looking restaurant with a hot plate where you lunch was prepared in front of you and were immediately game! We all chose a different Meat with Garlic (I had lamb for the first time in ages. Heaven!) and it really was cooked just in front of us. First we were given a bowl of rice and a soup. Then the chef fried bean sprouts on the hot plate in front of us- they were simply delicious! For some reason, the beansprouts in Korea taste unpleasantly nutty to me so I rarely eat them here! Then he fried our meats- he put on a variety of seasoning, garlic and onion and fried them all together! And then… the cabbage. Now, I rarely get excited about cabbage but this was sensational. The chef friend it, seasoned it with salt and pepper, poured water over it and then put a lid over it and steamed it. It was potentially the tastiest cabbage I have ever eaten.
Whilst all this was going on, we were getting some interesting looks from our fellow diners! Now, in comparison with Korea, the staring was minimal in Taiwan from the Taiwanese. However, Mainland Chinese tourists, of which there were many, were far more interested in staring at us! And there were many, many tourists from Mainland China!!
We then decided to pay to go up Taipei 101. For those who don’t know, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world for a few years and also has the world’s fastest lift! We queued up and got into the lift and then went up 84 floors in 45 seconds! I must admit, it did not feel particularly pleasant and made my ears pop a lot!
And then when we got to the top we saw lots of… cloud. Despite being mostly sunny when we were outside, in the time that we had lunch and went up the building, the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the views were not particularly impressive. I managed to get a few okay photographs but it was a bit uninspiring- it seems to happen every time I climb anything tall too! It was the same when I went up The Peak in Hong Kong!
After this we headed back home to get changed and to relax a bit before heading out to dinner. David’s work colleague had booked us dinner at a Chinese Hot Pot place! Hot Pot is vaguely similar to Shabu-Shabu but it is a little different. Firstly, the pot is divided into two with two different broth flavours. One broth was spicy, the other was vegetable. You then order your meat- it’s all you can eat- and then you go up to a giant cooling cabinet. Here you can collect all the vegetables you could possibly want to add to your soup! It was a fun experience and as it was all you can eat, we had a lot of fun, particularly with the all-you-can-eat Ice Cream afterwards! It was tasty and a really fun thing to try!
We had an early night on Thursday and tried to leave a little earlier on Friday. However, a quick check of the weather revealed that Typhoon Usagi was approaching the south of Taiwan. Up in the North, we were unlikely to feel the full ravages but we were definitely going to have some inclement weather!
We decided to start out day at the National Palace Museum. Taiwan actually has more Historical Chinese Artifacts than China does because when the Japanese occupied China and then the Communists took over, the Nationalist Government moved them all to Taiwan! They actually have so many relics, it would take 12 years to view them all and they rotate them every 2-3 months! The museum itself was wonderful- incredibly interesting. But there was only one downside- the big tour groups. I believe that for most Mainland Chinese it is a requirement to travel to Taiwan with a tour group. Large groups do not make for a flowing Museum experience and we skipped the top floor entirely because by this time, there were huge queues to view the exhibits!
After this we had lunch- my first taste of delicious Chinese dumplings! After filling ourselves with these we headed to Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall. Chiang Kai Shek was the leader of the National Government in pre-communist China and had a big role in shaping Taiwan. In fact, the offical name for Taiwan today is still the Republic of China and only 22 countries recognise it as a seperate entity from China! The memorial hall was interesting- the exhibits however, were wildly biased. The only positive is that there were no tour groups, as clearly this is not somewhere the Chinese Government would like their citizens to visit!!
After this, is started raining in earnest again but we decided to go to Xiemen, a nice shopping and restaurant area of Taipei for Tea. Taiwan is famous for it’s tea but I doubt that the Caramel tea I had was the most traditional! We relaxed there- the weather was starting to get bad but we decided to go for it and head to Roahe Night Market for dinner!
We got the Night market and had the most delicious pork dumplings! They were absolutely divine! We wandered around, samplings all kinds of food. However, the weather was starting to get worse and we eventually decided to head home. This was fine except the MRT station was a good 20 minute walk away. During that walk we all got absolutely drenched! Rookie error! I do wish I could have gone to the night market during better weather as I would have loved to have tried some more food and seen different things. We headed home in torrential rain. Eventually my shoes got to wet and slippy, I took my shoe off and wandered barefoot through Taipei! It certainly earned some interesting looks.
We woke up on Saturday morning and the rain wasn’t really any better. Aside from this, of my two pairs of shoes, one was soaking wet and the others gave me blisters. We decided to take it easy and relax at home. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see everything I wanted but considering the weather, it was the best decision! Damn you Typhoon Usagi!
We did however, venture out for dinner. We found reviews online of a restaurant not too far away from David and Sinead’s place- it had a Michelin star but was apparently not too expensive! We got there and the queues were huge- we were told there was an hour and forty minute wait. But we decided to do just that! In the meantime, we went shopping for a new pair of shoes for me (Bright pink trainers- they are smashing!) and for some clothes for Sinead. We got back to the restaurant and they asked if we minded sharing a table! We didn’t and off we went!
We ordered so many things- Won Ton, Fried Rice, Beef Noodle Soup, Dumplings, Soup Dumplings and everything was delicious. Everything. It was one of the nicest meals out I have ever had and certainly one of the nicest Chinese meals I have ever tasted. It was delicious! The dumplings were sublime. I think I ate about 17 in total!! (Oh dear!).
After this, there wasn’t much left to do! We stayed up for a bit and then after a sleep it was time for me to pack my things! I got the bus to the airport, checked in, ate some final dumplings and got on the plane! A train home and then I was back in Ulsan at around 1am on Monday morning!
I loved visiting Taipei and seeing David and Sinead! It seems like they are having an amazing time there, which is awesome. It’s always interesting to travel to other countries in East Asia too, because the comparisons with Korea are striking. Korea just seems so reserved in comparison. Taiwan seemed much more comfortable.
What was interesting for me as well, was how the language barrier was an issue. I technically live in a country where I don’t know the language but I do *know* it. I understand a lot of Korean even if I can’t speak it. I can generally guess that it happening. This is not the case in Chinese and it made a big difference to how I felt. I guess my Korean is better than I thought!
I kind of assumed this trip might be my last galavant in this area of the world, but I could be wrong. Keep your eyes peeled! At the very least the next few weeks are going to be busy- I don’t have a fully free Saturday until the end of November! Eep!
I fully believe in this quote so tomorrow, I’m off to Taiwan! Here’s to new places!
Cooling Down/ 6 Months to Go
I think it’s safe to say that the Dog Days are over. The 40c days of early August are gone and have been replaced with 25c weather with sunshine and a lovely breeze. Autumn is in the air and I am looking forward to the changing of the seasons.
Of course, this means that my last summer in Korea is done. It feels a bit mad to know that but it is and despite the fact that South East Asia will be warm next year, knowing that I’m on the final stretch back to cool British weather makes me happy.
I have also officially been living and teaching in Ulsan for over 2 years. What?! This year, my anniversary was a fairly hectic time so I didn’t really have time to commemorate it. But I was reminded that I wrote a resolutions post last year and I thought I’d take another look at it.
How many did I achieve? I did a bit more exploring, but not that much. I have yet to make it to a National Park, I still haven’t cooked Korean food at home and I’ve given up studying Korean. But I have certainly been more prepared as a teacher, I’ve applied for my Masters degree and I’ve spent more time with old and a new friends and I saw Nanta and ticked some stuff off my bucket list.
I feel like I’m in the ‘wrapping up’ phase of things. There’s one more trip to Seoul in the works, I’m potentially heading to Goeje Island soon, and maybe Jeonju. I’m off to Taiwan for Chuseok next week and I’m potentially going to Hong Kong in early October. There’s lots happening.
School is busy. We’ve been back for 3 weeks, with one week until Chuseok. I’m busy helping students prepare for a speaking contest, I’ve got essays to edit weekly, conversation classes and a new teacher’s class with my co-teachers. But I must admit, the job has stopped challenging me and stimulating me. I just do my time and go home and my students deserve better than that. February will be the right time to go.
And in the meantime, I am planning and researching. I’ve been reading about New Zealand lately and am thinking about where I want to go there. I need to start applying for funding for my Masters soon and think about starting to sell off some of the stuff in my apartment that I don’t need or use.
I can’t believe how quickly everything is progressing. It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure. My life has been so stable for the last couple of years and soon there’s going to be a load of big changes. But I’m ready.