Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Year in Review

Dear Future Rae,

Here we are again, at the end of one year and at the start of a new one. When you think back on 2016, what will you remember? In comparison to 2015, my big "Year of Firsts," I feel like 2016 is almost eclipsed... but this past year was still full of fun adventures and shenanigans.
A snowy lane to end the year...
And thus, here is a chronological list of some of the highlights, for when you seek to remember the days of Past Rae...
  1. January - While at the time it was a bit of a nightmare, the 2016 Jeju Blizzard is now a funny story in hindsight. Stuck ON my airplane for over five hours (failing to go to Busan) and then at the airport for an additional four... my friends and I had an interesting time finding a place to stay the night and then getting back to our school the next day. The snow closed the airport (and my school) for a couple of days, which made it crazy in residence, but, at least I could make snowmen
  2. February - My first trip to China was for the Lunar New Year. I wasn't sure what to expect--especially not the constant fire crackers! But it was a lot of fun, I learned how to play Mahjong (and probably forgot most of it by now), and I ate some delicious home cooked food!
  3. March - I may have completed my first official "10 k" in 2015, but my first successful race was with my coworkers at the Jeju International Peace Marathon. A beautiful run and some super-awesome people made the day extra awesome--especially with the post-run food.
  4. March-April - The Cherry Blossoms in Korea are a remnant of Japanese colonization. One of my friends calls them "stealth beauties" because before they bloom, they look like grey, uninteresting and spindly trees. Then BAM! While the reason they are so extensive now in Korea is both painful and sad, they are still beautiful and it was a lot of fun wandering around Seoul and Jeju beneath their canopy.
  5. May-June - Future Rae, let's not forgot that you conquered the multi-week process of getting your Korean Driver's License! That's an exciting milestone. Congrats to that, and all that jazz.
  6. July - Home again, home again after a long year away. My mum and I managed to do a bit of camping AND we also went up the CN Tower. New adventures all around! 
  7. July/September - At last, I visited Busan and not once but twice (day trip)! This is a city I must visit again. Although it's a big city, it's definitely very different from Seoul. As I continue to explore Korea, I hope to find other awesome places!
  8. September - Some may find it weird travelling to a city in order to play a cellphone game, but as Pokemon Go can only be played in Sokcho, South Korea (yes, still only in Sokcho), Alyna and I weren't the only ones. It was cool to see many families out playing the game together and we enjoyed walking around the city. Another town I will have to visit again!
  9. Inktober - Paper, ink, and a challenge!
  10. October-November -Vietnam. Such an amazing place. At one point, I thought I would travel to places and cross them off my list, but I'm finding that instead I'm just creating a list of places I want to visit again...
  11. November - A few of my students expressed interest in running a race before they graduate last year. Because of our breaks and the exam schedule, it hadn't worked out and so we bumped it to this year. Race day was colder than what we expected, but all three finished with decent times considering they did not have as much opportunity to train as we would have liked. Hopefully I can encourage more students to participate in races in the future.
  12. December - To end the year off strong, I returned home for the holidays. I was able to see a lot of people, despite the short time frame, but as always wished I could have seen more. I also cut off most of my hair (for Locks of Love). Ha.
Before
After
 As I prepare to close this post, I think it's important to also remember that 2016 was also a big year for goodbyes. At the end of my first year's contract, many of my friends moved on to other opportunities and far-off places. It was a sad goodbye (I balled) because we knew that we might never see each other again--or at least not for a number of years...

Future Rae, Korea is still a fun place to be, for now. I'm happy I stayed for another year and hope that my current job search goes well for next year. I'm still waiting to run into a celebrity at Incheon Airport. It could happen. Someday. Hopefully I'll get lucky in 2017 and that celebrity will want to be my friend. ㅎㅎㅎ.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Almost There: Home for Christmas

Less than a week to go and then school will be over for 2016!
One of our Residence Trees "decorated" by Osulloc Tea Museum (오설록).
In some ways it's hard to believe that Christmas is almost here, but on the other hand, I'm sure teachers everywhere can also agree when I say "Finally!" It's been a crazy-busy fall and I am ready for another kind of crazy-busy with my friends and family back in Canada.

I'm only home for two weeks and I'm sure the days will race by all too quickly. Last year, I couldn't afford the plane ticket across the ocean and while travelling around south-east Asia was fun, it didn't really feel like Christmas. Without the family, food and usual (habitual?) disappointing lack of snow, it just wasn't "Christmas" in some ways.
Throwback: The sun's rays hitting the peak on Mount Kinabalu, Christmas morning 2015
Throwback: My friend Jade and I bundled at the top of Mount Kinabalu. My hat? A t-shirt.
So, family, friends, I miss you and I am so excited to see as many of you as I can soon!

Love and Hugs.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sunrise in Jeju

If you want to watch the sunrise, the best thing to do is to first wake up to see the sunrise. ㅎㅎ.

The best thing to do on Jeju, is to hope (or plan) for good weather, camp out near Sunrise Peak (성산일출봉; Seong-San Il-Chul Bong), and then climb up early in the morning along with a bunch of other Korean (and maybe some Chinese) tourists. Pack your snacks, drinks and most definitely your camera and selfie-stick and you are good to go.
A common angle (or similar to) of Sunrise Peak featured on many postcards
Sunrise peak is one of the selling views of Jeju island. In a package of postcards, you might get 3-4 different angles and seasonal shots of the "Tuff Cone." Most tour companies bus their customers out to the east side of the island and wait the 30 mins to an hour while their tourists explore. At different times during the day, you can also see a demonstration by Haenyeo, Jeju's traditional female divers. (I don't know how these differ seasonally).

This past week, luck (and the weather) were on our side. One of my friends and I wanted to see the sunrise last April (click for blog post), but a cloudy night made for an anti-climatic morning. This time, it was different. At this time of year, the sunrise was also a lot later meaning we were able to sleep longer.
Heading toward the peak, the sun's rays already warm the horizon.
As we headed toward the peak in the early morning hours, we could already tell that it was going to be a good day. The sun's rays painted the horizon's edge in deep orange and yellow hues. The wisps of clouds creeping from the east edged into frame like actors setting the stage. The show was preparing to start!

There were many other people at the top with us, despite it being a Tuesday morning. A forest of selfie-sticks waving, the sound of camera shutters rippled through the crowd like leaves in the wind. We waited. The sky grew brighter, the light reflecting across the water and off the clouds. Then, the first sliver of the sun poked above the horizon. It was like we were at a sports match. There was a collective cheer and smiles all around. (My friends and I regret not filming that moment). In that brief moment we were a connected community and sharing a bit of the world's magic.
The sun above the horizon.
Canada Mitts!
I'm so happy that I was able to see the sunrise during this trip. We probably would have lingered longer, but the cold and our hunger eventually convinced us to return to the bottom. 

Until next time, Sunrise Peak. See you again.

Love and Hugs.
View from the top of the peak, looking back toward Jeju just after Sunrise.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mon voyage (français) à Hạ Long Bay

After seeing pictures and hearing about my friend's experiences in Ha Long Bay, I knew it was a place that I wanted to visit. Travelling through a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site on a boat? Yes please! Sounds like a fun (and relaxing) adventure. I never expected that my vacation would also be so bilingual, an added bonus. (In truth, I think that during my time in Viet Nam I spent more time speaking French than English).

Before I insert too many pictures, I want to fore-front this post by saying that if you are travelling to Ha Noi/Ha Long Bay and are interested in doing a boat cruise among the islands, you do not need to worry about booking super far in advance. I booked in advance through my hostel, but when I got to Vietnam, I learned it was very easy to go to one of the many travel agencies in the city and book day before (or even morning of, as one of the people at my hostel did). For those more price-conscious, it can also be a cheaper comparing prices at different travel boutiques in the city, or even travelling to your chosen destination first and then finding a tour package upon arrival.

And now...
Leaving the harbour!
Among the islands
One Happy Camper, a Vietnamese Flag and some Islands.
Nous parlons français (^.^)
Compared to the busy traffic in Ha Noi, the constant beeping and the people, Ha Long Bay was pretty empty--even with ALL the tourist boats. There are over 1,600 islands and our guide said that despite giving this tour, he has yet to see all of the islands.

I love meeting other travellers and hearing about where they've been or where they are going. My cruise group consisted mainly of Europeans with people representing the UK, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany and then Argentina and Canada. And while the common language was mostly English, there were overlaps in language. A group of us spoke French most of the trip and I'm happy to report that while I am often mistaken for an American when speaking English, I am always correctly identified as Canadian when speaking French.

One of my new friends preferred to take pictures of the islands sans bâteau, but I find the boats add perspective and depth to the scenery. Even the tour boats look lovely amid the jagged points.
From a cave lookout. I think this was one of my favourite views of the trip.
The islands rise from the water like spikes on a sea serpent. Sudden cliffs topped with tuffs of green hair, jut from the waves at sporadic intervals. These are not the same geographical features that I'm used to back in Canada or here in Korea.

Our first day, one of our activities was kayaking around these rugged giants. We struggled a bit against the wind and waves that pushed us toward the rocky walls. The kayaks are so small in comparison, no match for these massive islands, and yet they can slide quickly through and around the rocks. I liked being able to explore away from our tour boat, too.
Where we boarded the kayaks (and then put down anchor for night time).
Out on the water.
I opted for a 3-Day-2-Night tour. One of my friends did the 2D1N but recommended spending more time among the islands and I am glad I took her advice. On the second day, we headed to Cát Bà Island, the biggest island in Ha Long Bay. After a bit of hiking and lunch, we could choose free time on the island (many tourists rented motorbikes or bicycles to explore), or we had the opportunity to hop on another boat to visit Monkey Island. Naturally, I picked monkeys. Our whole cruise family did, in fact. All for one and one for all! Ha.

The island is known for its beautiful beach...
 ... and of course monkeys:
Monkey drinking orange fanta on a beach
Here is my commercial for Fanta.
These monkeys were vicious. As some other tourists were climbing the small mountain, a monkey jumped out of the trees with half of its face all ripped and bloody. They stalked us on the beach and at the snack shack. One of them stole a can of sprite right out of my friend's hand. No personal space issues here. I will admit I was a little scared of these guys. I remember thinking I did not want to spend my last hours in Vietnam at a hospital because of an accident with a monkey... But all good.

On our way back to our hotel on Cát Bà, our boat took us through the largest fishing village in Ha Long Bay. Home to 3000 people, these fishermen live right on the water. I cannot say that I'm jealous, but I definitely respect their hard work and perseverance. Props.

The Fishing Village near Cát Bà Island
A closer shot of the houses in the fishing village
This trip was a wonderful and relaxing end to my time in Vietnam. I met some super cool people and I hope that someday our paths cross again. I wish, as always, that I could have stayed longer, but I suppose I will just have to go back one day.

Love and Hugs.

P.S. Let the record show that I caught Pokemon on Cát Bà.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Postcard: From Tam Đảo

Dear Friends and Family,

After two days in Hà Ni, I was determined to get out of the Old Quarter. My trip to Vietnam was short in general and I didn't want to say that I had only seen the city (and then later Halong Bay). The receptionist at my hostel recommended a trip to Tam Đảo, a couple hours away from the city. She had gone recently and showed me pictures of a waterfall. It is very peaceful and relaxing, she said.

It sounded nice, but I wasn't sure. It's one thing to randomly hop on a bus in Canada or Korea--in one I can speak the language and at least in the other I can read and make small talk--but to venture a couple hours from the city in Vietnam alone? That was scary. Terrifying, even.

But I was on vacation and determined to have an adventure. I approached a French tourist who had arrived when I did and convinced her to come along. With directions written by the receptionist, we headed out early the next day. Three hours, a taxi, three buses and a taxi-bike later, we arrived on a clouded and misty mountain side (See postscript for details).
On the road up the mountain.
Clouds rolling up the mountain.
Whoa. My brain was stunned as the motorbike rounded a bend (btw, I do not recommend taking the motorbike up the mountain in inclement weather. It was chilly and I wished I was in the taxi). Tam Đảo is a settlement in the mountain folds. The picturesque houses, add spots of bright colour to the forested slopes. I wished to pause the moment as the bike carried me all too swiftly up to the drop off point, but in that moment, the whole trip was worth it.
Exploring town led to some beautiful pathways.
If only the rain held off...the clouds come in quick on the mountain and the clear patches were brief amid the dreary weather. Still, my new friend Chloe and I made the most of our time, hunting first for the waterfall that inspired our journey. I guess it might be off season as we didn't really see many other tourists--or many other people.

As a bonus, the whole community had wifi and pokemon. So yes, I can say that I've caught an Evee at the foot of a waterfall on a mountainside in Vietnam. Ha.
View from the top of a temple/pagoda.
We also wandered up to a temple and found some lunch at a small restaurant. We would have liked to stay longer, but the rain, wind, and daunting journey back to Hanoi pushed us to end our trip after a couple hours. As a result, we were able to meet some other friends in time for dinner. Not bad for a day's outing! I'm glad Chloe agreed to go venture out into the unknown with me otherwise I doubt I would have had the courage to try by myself.

On to the next adventure!

Love and Hugs

P.S. Directions from Hà Ni (Our Journey):

  1. Get to Long Biên Bus Station
  2. Take Bus #58 to Mê Linh Plaza
  3. Take Bus #1 to Vĩnh Phúc Province
  4. Take Bus #7 to Tam Đảo
  5. Agree to take one of the Taxis/Motor-Taxis to the village as it is still 13km away (We paid 50,000 vnd for this).

On the way back, the taxi driver helped us find a bus that took us straight to Mê Linh Plaza where we caught the 58 back to Long Biên Station. It was a bit more expensive, but I think overall the trip cost us about 15$ usd.

P.P.S. Two more pictures...
Panoramic view as we explored the town.
One last shot before heading back to the city...

Monday, November 07, 2016

Things I've learned about Hà Nội, Việt Nam

I feel like I've been on vacation for more than a week. After my time in Viet Nam, I feel so much more relaxed and rejuvenated. An indicator of how stressed and tired I was leading into the break, I suppose.

As with my trend in travelling, I knew very little about Viet Nam before I decided to make it my next destination. I don't recall ever hearing the language before, wasn't sure what was considered "vietnamese food," and didn't know what to expect culture-wise. ㅎㅎ. I know of the Viet Nam war, but I don't really know the details of that either. For me, that's what makes it fun: stepping out into the unknown to learn whatever I can.
This picture was snapped between passing cars and trucks; one of my first views after arriving
My first couple of days in Hanoi were overcast and rainy. Not really the best start to my vacation... But, you can't order the weather and I was determined to get out and do things (although I was tempted to stay inside). My hostel was located in Hanoi's Old Quarter, which I quickly realized is foreigner/traveller central. Every other booth seemed to be a souvenir shop, a tour booking agency, restaurant, or a hostel/hotel. ㅋㅋㅋ. Thus one of the first things I learned: tourists are abundant in Hanoi. Meeting other travellers is a very different dynamic than meeting locals, but still a lot of fun. I like hearing where people are coming from, where they are going, and asking if they'd like to do some exploring together.

2. The Old Quarter's Themed Streets
As you explore the quarter, you'll quickly notice that merchandise is localized. There will be a block where every store sells scarves and then a block later everyone is selling shoes. Do you need jackets? Go to the street over there. Dried goods? Check the one in that direction, and so on. I'm so used to the big stores that sell everything that it was cool walking past shops that were specialized--especially when I passed a stuffed animal store next to a Styrofoam store. Quite the contrast.
The stuff animal and Styrofoam stores
3. 'Bicycle Venders'
I wish this was a thing where I live. Many women (I don't recall seeing any men), have baskets on the front or back of their bicycles filled with produce, flowers or other merchandise. They walk their bikes along the streets, occasionally popping up their kick stand to "set up shop" at a certain location. There were so many people selling fresh cut flowers! I would love to buy fresh flowers from a bike vendor whenever I felt like it. Definitely a perk to the Hanoi life.
Flower power! (There were also fruit vendors at their backs)
A number of fruit vendors set up along the roadside
A bicycle vendor on the move in the traffic
4. What road rules?
Speaking of bicycles, they and motorbikes appear to be the most popular method of travel. I have no factual statistics to back that statement besides my eyeballs. They wiz in and out of everywhere. To cross the street, you just hold your hand up and walk, expecting traffic to part like the sea. It can be quite nerve-wracking at first, but surprisingly the system works. There's an ebb and flow that makes me think of those animated scenes from Finding Nemo.
In such a bustling city, this vacant railway stands out
5. If you are a foreigner, you will be cheated. No ifs ands or buts.
Sad life, really, but I don't think you can avoid it unless you are with a local person. If you're travelling in the first place, you must be rich, right? But in all fairness, even when I was cheated, I don't think it was very much by western standards.

6. A lot of people want to practice English.
A French tourist and I were walking around the lake near the Old Quarter and were stopped at least 5 times by university students and children wanting to practice English, asking us questions and so forth. Another traveller said that we were probably the victim of pick pockets, but I didn't have anything stolen and I don't think my friend did either. Honestly, it got to the point where we switched to French because otherwise we would never have reached the restaurant.
Night lights reflecting on Hoàn Kiếm Lake
7. The food is delicious
I had a lot of noodles (naturally) and only scratched the surface of the different Vietnamese dishes. There were too many to try in only a couple of days. In the picture below, the woman was steaming rice water (or milk, I'm not sure) until it became more like a pancake. Then she rolled veggies and meat inside. Tasty. It's a shame, but I suppose I'll just have to go back...
At a whole-in-the-wall restaurant you can find some delicious food
Love and Hugs.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Inktober

Day 1: The Artist's Climb
When I made the decision to do Inktober this year, I really wasn't sure if I would (a) be able to draw a picture every day and (b) produce anything to be proud of. I've never really challenged my artistic abilities. I've drawn things here and there for fun or for other people, but usually I just try to recreate a cartoon image. Here, at times I was trying to combine elements from different sources, attempting to draw 2D based on 3D models, and at times trying to pull something out of thin air (although I think those were the worst). Definitely not my comfort zone.
Day 3: Web Connections; inspired by the Magic School Bus
Day 4; a combination of three model images
 And yet each day, somehow I was able to put to paper an impression of what I wanted (or almost).
Day 7; based off a 3D artwork
Day 9: Broken Telephone; 3D model
A few days in, I started following the official prompt list as an inspiration point (designated by the # in the photos). I liked the challenge of creating an image that fit a given word. At times, I chose to draw something that obviously fit, while at other points, I tried to stretch the understanding of the given prompt.
Day 10: Cottage Dock
Day 14; I tried drawing two different trees before doing this one
I think the hardest part for me was the lack of eraser. I'm so used to sketching and then erasing, perfecting each line multiple times until it looks exactly the way I want it. With ink though... Every line was permanent.
Day15: Dog Days; I wished for a hammock
I may not be heading toward fame with my artwork (Ha!) but after this month, I'm a lot more comfortable with ink between my figures. There were still days when I didn't want to post what I drew, embarrassed or unhappy with the final result. But inktober is all about trying, I think. My favourite for the month was early on (Day 12; prompt: worried) because I was able to include so much detail and shading. Inspired by the White Rabbit, here it is:
Worried about being late?
My second favourite, was in an inversed style (lines white, main black) is currently my most liked photo on instagram with nearly 140 likes as I write this. I think that is in part due to fandom appeal. Inspired by my favourite childhood tv show (Digimon), the image also appropriately fits the prompt "escape:"
Day 18: Digivice with Crest of Light
Inktober is almost over and hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in the last couple of drawings before the end of the month. I'm on my way to Hanoi, Vietnam today for my vacation week and I've left my notebook behind. Haha. Still, I am proud of what I've accomplished in the last 29 days.

I'm looking forward to seeing a new country and having new adventures.

Love and Hugs

Monday, October 17, 2016

Language Learning, The Inner Battle

Learning Korean is making me a better English Teacher.

This might seem like a strange statement if you've never tried to learn an additional language, but if you're familiar with the feeling of helplessness that comes from the early stages of trying to communicate when you know nothing, then you probably know what I'm taking about.
The many books I have collected (so far) to teach me Korean things...
As I work to improve my Korean, I think I'm understanding what some of my students feel when they are sitting in the classroom and the teacher expects them to speak English. When I encounter situations where I have to listen and speak, I get anxious and nervous and fumbling through the simple sentences and words that I know I know. I've read that listening and speaking are generally the first skills picked up when learning a new language, but for me I'm more comfortable reading and writing. I have more time to think it through.

A foreign block of text can be overwhelming.
I must have gone through a similar process when learning French in elementary school, but I don't remember what it was like anymore. As a 6 or 7 year old, I doubt I analyzed my use of French vocabulary and grammar. Ha! The transition from non-speaking to speaking is all a blur... I do, however, remember not knowing the words and at times French-ifying an English word so that it sounded like it belonged in my sentences... Alas, that only got me so far.

As an adult learning a new language, I now find myself questioning how I managed to learn both English and French in the first place... Past-me, why do you make it seem so easy? Le sigh.

Here's a brief glimpse of the thoughts that swirl through my head when I encounter a situation in Korean.

My Inner Thought Battle:
  • There is that moment when someone says something to me and my brain scrambles to make sense of it. 

  • If I manage to understand, I feel a brief moment of elation--YES!--and then I realize they want a response. 

  • My brain stalls. Which words do I use? What grammar do I use? If I say it this way will it make sense?

  • Wait. How much time has passed now? Ahhhhh! They're staring at me. I think they've waited too long... they probably think I don't know. 

  • If I answer now, will it be awkward? What was I going to say again? 
Following these thoughts, I either freeze up or fumble through a sentence, feeling slightly defeated. The worst part is that despite the fact that I might have understood and that I do know what I want to say, I can't always articulate that to the other person. 

I wonder how many of my students are stuck in similar situations in class...  In my own classroom, is there too much emphasis on oral production and not enough on inner cognition? How many of my students feel the pressure of needing to answer quickly and then, as a result, feel like they can't think and put their ideas into the right words?

In practice, the exercises are short and controlled.
Now, as I stand before my students, sometimes I feel like I can hear those same thoughts screaming through their heads. There is that moment when their eyes widen and I can almost see the debate raging: do they have time to try and figure out what is being asked and response? Or should they glance to a friend, relying on a quick translation?

For me, this is an important reminder. Some of my students are so quick to respond that I sometimes forget English is their second (or third) language. And yet others are still fine tuning their listening and production skills. I need to be mindful of the inner battles raging within my students so that I can create a safe space where they feel comfortable relying on and improving their own skills. Am I talking too fast? Have I introduced words that they don't know yet? What supports can I put in place to help decrease confounding stress?

As I push forward in my own Korean studies, I hope that I can learn more about how I can help my students with their English. I hope that my revelation has been able to help someone else, too.

Love and Hugs.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Update

Plumb tuckered out. But still alive. ㅎ

That describes how I feel at this moment in time.

I decided to take an additional basic qualification course this semester so that I could teach English to Intermediate level students. With my residence and day school duties, I know that I have to balance, but I knew I would still be able to manage. What I didn't consider was my current Korean class (+homework) and that I would be taking a swim qualification course so that I could supervise students at our pool. With everything colliding at once, I feel like a rag-doll pulled in all directions. And every time my butt finds a chair, I tend to flop to one side or the other. I dream of sleep. ㅋㅋ.

I haven't had much opportunity to do any new hiking, too, and now's the perfect time for it--not too hot and not too cold. Sadness!

Chère famille, I'm still alive and despite being tired I am well. I send you my love and hugs.

Please enjoy this picture of the "Loner Tree" (왕따 나무; Wang-dda Na-mu) that I visited briefly with my friend at the end of September.


The end.

For now.