Monday, August 31, 2015

my job: the night shift

(I apologize for grammar spelling errors that may appear in this post.  I was tired and my brain wasn't at its finest).

I realize that as of yet, I haven't spoken a lot about my job and what it's like being at Branksome Hall Asia.  My posts are mainly about going off campus, and as such I've had questions like, "when do your students arrive?" from a few of my friends.  Surprise!  The students have been here for two weeks! I tricked you all! Muahaha.

It'd be too much for one post to cover all that I do, so today I'll give you a brief image and cover what I am doing now.

I am one of 6 Teacher Dons that work in the grade 11 and 12 residence at BHA.  We're slightly different from the other residents because our girls each have their own room (they share rooms for the grades 6 through 10) and they are doing the International Baccalaureate curriculum.  If you don't know, the IB program is extremely rigorous and demanding.  The girls are only two weeks in and some of them have already been close to pulling all nighters to finish essays and assignments.

Each night, three of us are on overnight duty.  If there is an emergency, we're right here within reach.  But also, if the girls are acting out, we have to put things back in order.  In the morning, we're in charge of making sure the girls get up, go to breakfast and get to school on time.  If you've been a teenager or know any teenagers, you probable can imagine some of the challenges we face with that task alone.

My night time hangout.  (I really just wanted to include a picture).
Currently I am on overnight duty.  And while night duty isn't strenuous in regards to physical labour, it has its trials. These girls are really smart and fun, but they are also really sneaky.  They have to be in their own rooms by 11 o'clock and ideally going to bed by midnight (as I mentioned, some stay up later because of their homework).  In the last couple of weeks, a number of grade 11s have been sneaking out of their rooms after curfew to go and chat with their friends.  The big problem--beyond sneaking out--is that these girls are not quiet.  They are chatting loudly and the voices echo through the dorm, disturbing the grade 12s who are trying to study hard.  That's not fair to the grade 12s or any other students who are annoyed by the noise.

And so, we've had to crack down.  I am currently sitting on the second floor of our building, waiting and daring any student to poke their head out their door.  My ears are poised for the slightest sound... although I think I'm starting to psyche myself out with phantom noises.  (The echo in the dorm doesn't help pinpoint where sounds are coming from either...).

The consequence for leaving their room after 11pm?  They will come home from school the next day to find that they have relocated to the first floor, away from their friends, and also with the possibility of crickets and centipedes crawling up their drains.  The only question is, how long do we wait?  Until midnight?  Until 1?  Will the girls try to out wait us?

As I write these words, it is nearing midnight and I want to go to bed.  But how long do I wait?  Morning comes too soon.  Morning is still so far away.

Love and Hugs.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

An Unintended Food Outing (or UFO)

I have given up on knowing what I am eating.  I've reached a point where I merely accept the food offered and then hope I like it.  Generally, I do like to know what I am eating, but I have found it hard to keep track of what's what in our school cafeteria.  The menu is always posted, but as I go down the line of serving women each meal, I can't always tell what is supposed to be what.  The ladies are always so cheerful as they hand out food, that I also find it difficult to tell them no.  So, I just let them put whatever it is on my plate and hope that I like it.  I can only say one thing for sure at this point: I am not a fan of acorn jelly.

Anywho, the regular cafeteria food is not the reason I am writing this post.  This morning, I had an unintended and unidentified food outing.  A UFO, if you will.  ㅎㅎ.

I was determined to visit Gapado this morning.  It's a small island just a few kilometers south of Moseulpo Harbor.  According to my research, it takes about an hour to walk around the whole island and so I thought I would give it a go--do something more active away from the school.  Due to inconsistent information about ferry times, I headed in early this morning, determined to catch the first boat out, even if I had to wait.  While waiting, I met some of the other passengers--all Korean.  I attempted to make conversation which led to a asking if anyone spoke English.  There were a couple.  An ahjussi and his friend were heading out and coming back on the same ferry as I and so they sort of "adopted" me.
Leaving Jeju behind!
View as the Ferry pulled up to Gapado.
Panorama as you get off the boat and walk off the pier.
I had planned to just walk around the island, but after we landed, there was a moment of confusion.  They looked at a giant wall map of the island with me and then gestured toward the bike rental store.  As much as I love cycling, I wanted to walk today and conveyed this to the two ahjussi.  They nod and then gestured that I should follow.  Not knowing what to do, I did as I was told.

This led to my adventure.  I will have to go back to Gapado because I did not walk around the island at all, really.  I followed the men across the island (which only took 15 or so minutes) and around another small harbor where I was then told to sit at a table.  The next thing I know, I am being told to eat and drink.  The first thing was dried squid... I think.  I am not entirely sure beyond the fact that it was dried, fish-like, and very chewy.

The next food that came out was different. Voici my UFO.  I could easily tell that it was some sort of aquatic life and that it was raw, but I had no idea what it was.  My parents didn't raise me to be rude, so when they told me to dig in, I ate despite being hesitant.  When I showed the picture to my friend later, she said that she thinks it's abalone, but that's just the best guess.
My Unidentified Food Outing.
Honestly, the food wasn't too bad.  It's just different from what I'm used to which makes it weird for me to eat.  The abalone-like thing had a chewy end and a harder, cartilage-like end.  I had to chew hard to get it to break down before swallowing.  We were given a hot sauce and a peanut sauce for dipping along with a dish of seaweed and a jelly thing.  I can only guess that it was more acorn jelly (which I dipped in the sauce and ate, too).  The hot sauce had a nice kick to it and by the end of the meal I could almost breathe fire.  I don't know if I would order it this on my own, but it was fun to share.  The men mainly talked among themselves and then would try and ask me things.  Sometimes those moments went better than others, but it was still fun.
My 2 guides + a man from the restaurant leading the way.
On the way back to the boat, they asked me to sing a "Canada Folk Song."  Not knowing what to sing, I just sang O Canada while they clapped along.  They then sang Arirang for me. Most definitely a cool moment.

What I most liked from today--and really from all my outings so far--is that despite the language barrier, I've found that the people on Jeju are just so willing to help.  Sometimes going out of their way to ensure that you understand or you're where you're needed to be.  It's a good reminder to do that for someone else, too.

Love and hugs.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

a brief island tour

This past weekend was the last weekend before the students arrive.  Students arrive in residence Monday throughout the day.  Some will be dropped off by parents while others will fly in to the airport on their own and then picked up by a team of dons.  It'll be a crazy-busy day, that's for sure.  But that's tomorrow.

As our last weekend before the craziness starts, the school organized an optional tour of some of the island sites.  A number of us new staff opted in for a full, but awesome day.

We left the school at 930.  Our first stop was the Manjanggul Lava Tube (만장굴).  The tube is one of the largest lava tubes in the world and is 7.4 long.  Roughly 1 km of the tube is open to the public.  Currently the weather is really hot on the island with 25°C being the night time low, but when you descend into the lava tube, temperatures drop down to 11-13°.  I'd never been in a lava tube before and it was really cool to see how the molten rock had shaped the walls and ceiling.  A truly awe-inspiring site.
A bunch of us Teacher Dons chilling in the Tube.  We we all felt the need to hunch over, we don't really know.  Photo by random tourist.
The section of the tube open to the public ended in this lovely rock formation.
From the tube we stopped at a nearby beach for lunch and a little swimming before continuing on to Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (성산 일출봉).  
At the base of the "Peak."
I really wanted to reach the top while we were there, but we were in a bit of a time crunch.  Our bus arrived at the Peak at 1415 and had to leave to head back to the school at 1600. We were told it would take between 45 minutes to an hour to get to the top and back down, which gave us plenty of time... except that at 1500 there was a presentation by the Haenyeo (해녀, meaning sea women).  We definitely did not want to miss that. Still wanting to climb, my friend Yeareen and I booked it off the bus and basically raced to the top.  While not as hard as the Incline in Colorado, we were gasping for breath and incredibly sweaty by the time we reach the top in ~15 min.  It was so worth it:

View looking out over the small town.
A friend and I standing proudly, and very sweatily, at the top. Photo by random Korean.
So happy to have made it!
View back down the stairs.
We made it back down with time to spare as we headed for the Haenyeo cove.
The cove where the Haenyeo women gave their little performance.
The Haenyeo worked at this restaurant and out from they're were tanks keeping their catch fresh.
Display of sea-things caught by Haenyeo.  I touched them. Some were moving.
At three, a group appeared fully dressed in their gear and headed into the water.  After 15 or so minutes, one re-emerged with a small octopus. The others came out shortly after.
Haenyeo women.  There are only about 100 left.  The oldest is ~83 and the youngest ~54.  It is a dying occupation.
I opted for a picture with one of these amazing women.
All in all, it was a great day.  Very full and busy, but so worth it and so much fun.  I can't wait to see where we'll go next!

Love and hugs.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Re: Korea's Broken Internet

Before coming to Korea, I did a bunch of research reading blogs and watching videos made by people who have lived in Korea or are currently living in Korea.  I wanted to get a feel for things that I should expect and a better understanding of certain things that might be surprising.  One video-blog post was from the Eat Your Kimchi crew and it was about Korea's "Broken Internet" (March 2014). In a nutshell, Simon and Martina were talking about how to use Internet banking, you had to use a windows computer and download a bi-jillion programs and that the whole process was not super nice.

After going through the process to set up my Internet banking this week, I can see what they are talking about.  So far, that has been the hardest, most frustrating thing that I had to do--for a few reasons.

First, I had to use Internet Explorer (initially).  I tried both Chrome and Firefox but I couldn't get the security programs to install.  IE was dis-activated on my computer so that was a few minutes trying to figure out where it went and turning it back on.  But it worked and I got the security programs installed.

However, it was still not smooth.  The banking site has an English setting for foreigners like me who need it.  You click on the right buttons and start filling in the online forms to activate your Internet banking--should be simple.  Until you get to the one asking you your address.  Then it wants it in the Korean characters.  I tried the English in a few different ways and it wouldn't accept.  Normally, probably wouldn't be a problem, but Korea has recently changed it's address system and my school's web page hadn't yet updated its (and my) address.  Luckily my friend Jenny could type in the right address and help me out.

You might think it got smooth, but that would be easy.  I would get to the address step or the step right after and IE would crash.  The website would just kick me out and I had to start all over from scratch.  I wasn't sure if it was a time thing or if it was some other trigger, but I tried to complete my certificate 5+ times before giving up for a moment.  It had now been over an hour of me trying to get my banking online.  I was frustrated and close to tears--but I wouldn't let the system beat me.  It would be conquered.

I decided to give Firefox another go.  Now that the security programs were installed in my computer, the web browser recognized them and I was able to complete the forms with only 1 or 2 crashes before I had success.

The whole process took me nearly 2 hours when it should have been 10-15 minutes top.  I really hope that now that I can log on to the system the actual "banking" goes smoothly.  I suppose I'll find out in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

how a 6k walk turned into 15k

I was warned by a don from last year that it is really hard to get around Jeju-do without the use of a GPS.  The roads, she said, are really confusing and they often made wrong turns and got lost.  Undaunted, I decided to set off on an adventure this past weekend with the hope of finding a store called Hanaro Mart.  You see, the school is pretty isolated and we've been busing/cabbing 40+ mins into either Jeju City or Seogwipo for any grocery or necessity shopping.  I was hoping to find something more local that I could get to more easily via walking or cycling.  After studying a map of the area, I thought I had a good idea of where to go and how long it would take to get to this mysterious Hanaro Mart.  And so, Saturday morning, I set out.

Things did not go quite as smoothly as I anticipated.  I realized early into my walk that the mapping software I had used was not as accurate as it could be.  I should have used google maps, but I thought instead to try a different program.  The mapping issue was the route of all my problems, I think.

Here is a map of where I was hoping to go.

The original goal and rough map to Hanaro Mart--this map is not from the same mapping source I originally used and shows more detail than I had.
The roads were empty.  I didn't pass many people either.
It's 6 k, which honestly isn't that bad of a walk and should have taken about an hour, one way.  Unfortunately, the first trail I was on wasn't really marked.  It was more of a back-road trail and although it was really pretty, I walked a lot further west than I intended.  Shortly after coming out on the 1136 I asked an older Korean woman, or ajumma, where Hanaro Mart was.  I wanted her to point me in the right direction.  She was very friendly and made wide gestures, but she also spoke to me in rapid Korean, probably giving me a lot of details, all of which were lost on me.  Her gestures led me to go further west and I partly wonder if she was telling me to take the bus...

Anyway, I kept going and in the next 20 or so minutes, asked for directions a couple more times--one group of ladies definitely told me to get the bus, but I established that I wanted to walk.

Beautiful (and humid-hazy) view as I walked.
The next mistake I made was turning south.  This one was all on me as I simply misplaced myself on my mind map of the area and thought I was still too far north.  If it weren't for this mapping mistake, I probably would have made it.  However, after I turned, I didn't run into any more people for 3 kilometers.  By the time I found more people to ask (yellow-green dot on the next map), I was closer to the "next" Hanaro Mart than I was to my goal.  Naturally, when I asked for directions, I was now directed further on.

At this point, I was continuing because of pure stubbornness.  I really wanted to find Hanaro Mart.  It was hot.  I was really sweaty and I knew that despite the sunscreen I had put on I was getting a bit burned, but I really wanted to reach my goal.

Map of the route I actually walked.  At ~10k I turned around.
Purple dots are Hanaro Mart.
At last I reached a city about 2 hours into my walk.  Knowing that my initially walk should have only been 1 hour, I was a little confused.  Where had I made the wrong turn?  I explored the city for a bit, stocking up on liquids and searching for the elusive Hanaro Mart.  In the end, after little success and after finding out it was 11h15, I decided to turn around.  I wasn't sure how to take the bus back to Global Edu City and I would have to walk another 2 hours to get back to the school.  In addition, there was a bus leaving for the beach at 2 and if I wanted to go, I would need to get back in time.  So I set out the way I came.

I could see Global Edu City and was depressed by how far away it still was...
The sun was now a lot hotter, I was still extremely sweaty, and I knew I was definitely getting burned.  Occasionally vehicles passed me by and I longed for them to stop and take me with them.  I was so tired of walking.  As I reached the 3 hour point (and 15k), a taxi came toward me.  I must have cried out or looked at it with such longing that the driver stopped a ways from me.  I didn't hesitate and rushed to the car.  He understood where I wanted to go and not even 10 mins later I was walking up to my room.

I really did enjoy my walk despite the wrong turns and extra kilometers, it was fun to explore the surrounding countryside.  But I am so thankful that the taxi came along when it did, and even more thankful that he stopped for me.

Here's to more adventures to come!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Week 1, Check

Tonight marks the end of our first week at Branksome Hall Asia, and what a busy week it's been.  From going to the hospital, to immigration, to spending a couple of days learning more about how the International Baccalaureate program works.  To be honest, I haven't had much experience out among the Korean population yet.  We've been so busy and we've always been with other English speakers from the school that I haven't felt... "surrounded" by Korea yet.  It's like a weird in between moment as I know that the feeling will come.

To close off the week, the new faculty went for a fancy outdoor dinner at the Hyatt Hotel.

Photo Cred: Soo (center).
A couple of the other teacher dons and myself.  We got all dolled up to go.
In the few K-dramas that I have watched, whenever characters go to Jeju-do, they always frequent these lovely hotels along the coast.  The Hyatt is gorgeous and my pictures don't do it justice.  (I also didn't take very many pictures so I didn't have many to choose from).

View of the pool area as you go out the back of the hotel.
Looking back toward the main building from the green.
There were a number of these statues chilling around the hotel.
More on them another time... 
 It was a wonderful evening full of good food and good people.  We're quite an assortment of faculty.  A number of us are from Canada, but then there is another big group from Australia.  A handful from the States and China and a sprinkling of South Africans and British--and that's not considering the returning staff who arrive this weekend.  I've already made some great friends and am really looking forward to getting better acquainted with the other staff members.  It's going to be a good year.

Love and hugs to my family and friends around the world!

View to the left of where we were...

...And the view a little ways to the right.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Settling In

It's been a busy first couple of days here on Jeju-do.

The majority of the new faculty arrived late Sunday night at Jeju International Airport.  There were well over 30 (or 40... it was chaos and I didn't count. ha.) of us gathering in the arrivals area, each of us with a luggage laden cart.  It made for a very chaotic, but also energy-boosting, experience.  As we made our way from the airport to our new locations of residence, we were told that we couldn't eat anything after 22h00 because we were going to the hospital for a medical examination the next day.

We left early Monday morning to head back into Jeju City for the hospital.  (Branksome Hall Asia is about a  40-50 minute drive from the two main cities on the island).  I have never been in such a nice hospital.  The interior could have passed for a hotel, it was so nice.  It took roughly 3.5 hours to get us all through the medical check, and then we were whisked away to a wonderful bulgogi lunch.  It was so good--even more so because we were so hungry.  We finished the day with a trip to E Mart and then some free time to settle in and unpack.  I managed to meet one of the faculty from last year and she took me down to this lovely spot:
View toward the Sea.  
 I would tell you "where" this is, except I am not really sure what it is called.  There aren't many "cities" on Jeju from what I can tell and I am still getting used to how addresses are labelled and written.
View over the bay back toward Mount Hallasan (peak eclipsed by the clouds)
And that was only the first day.  Yesterday (Tuesday), we did a lot more stuff around the school.  We met in our divisions for a general information overview, had a tour of the school and received a macbook.  This PC user still prefers her PC, but I like that I don't have to worry about mixing up my work and personal stuff on my laptop.  Plus, there are IT people at the school to help if anything goes wrong (although hopefully nothing will!).

The campus is beautiful in design and architecture.  I'll show more pictures later, but for now here's an image that I took of the academic side of the campus yesterday as I was heading to dinner:
View from the bridge of the academic side of the campus.  Junior School pods are the two buildings on the right with the middle school on the far left.  In the back is the central building with the main office and HR.
Today it's Wednesday and we'll be going into Jeju City again, this time to visit immigration.  It's sure to be another full day and I can't wait.


Saturday, August 01, 2015

Blast Off! Next stop, the Future.

Well, today's the day.  I've said many farewells in the past couple of weeks, my bags are now packed, and my rooms are somewhat clean.  I guess that's it.

I woke up nice and early to walk Rudi one last time and now it's go time.

While I don't have a TARDIS or any other sort of time machine, today I will be doing the next best thing--crossing the International Date Line.  As I travel from Toronto to Korea, I will be jumping 14 hours into the future.  [That means Christmas comes to me first! Ha. Time travel is cool. ;)]

As I leave on this journey, I look forward to making new friends and embarking on many adventures.  I pray for a safe flight and wisdom in all my encounters.

To all my family and friends, know that I love you and I'll miss you.  All the best for you all in this coming year.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...