Monday, September 30, 2013

The After-Korea: Part 2

As many of you will have read, (and if not you can do so here) I wrote recently about one of the options I am considering for my time after Korea: Turkey. Turkey offers a chance to get back to the Middle East, where I studied for my degree, but gives some people pause due to the political situation at the moment, both in neighboring Syria and within Turkey itself. At the moment, I am not too worried about Turkey, but chaos and riots seem to love me, so who knows.
Syria, of course, worries me. But I'm not going there. And I will of course, if I choose to go to Turkey before the Syrian Civil War comes to an end, evaluate the security of any sites I plan on visiting which lie within a reasonable distance of Syria.
But enough talk about Syria. That shit's depressing. I wanna talk about option two!

Option Two: Latin America
I hinted at the end of my last post that if you knew me you would likely not have a hard time guessing this, and I'm sure anyone who ventured a guess was probably right.
In addition to the Middle East, I also spent a chuck of time during university studying in Chile. I speak decently fluent Spanish, and I didn't travel at all outside of Chile while I was there (though I have been to Argentina on a previous trip).
A trip to Latin America would be a huge, encompassing undertaking. It would likely take a couple of years, since I would likely stop often along the way to work, volunteer, lie on the beach for exorbitant amounts of time, etc.
There are obviously several ways that one can go about traveling through Latin America, and the route doesn't really matter to me; I would likely just buy a ticket to wherever was cheapest and then see where I could go from there.
In my previous post I made a list of things to be seen in Turkey, mostly because I'm fairly confident most of you have never looked into what is there. Latin America, on the other hand, has many more well-known destinations. I will, however, let you know some of the things I most look forward to about a trip through Latin America:
  • Machu Pichu (Peru)
  • The Amazon (Mostly Brazil, but also Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru)
  • Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
  • Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Old friends
  • The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
  • Scuba diving (mostly Belize, but elsewhere as well)
  • Mayan ruins (Central America)
  • Huge salt flats (Bolivia)
  • Angel Falls (Venezuela)
  • Colonial architecture
  • Iguazu falls (both Argentina and Brazil)
  • Great hiking
  • Humungous glaciers (Chile and Argentina)
  • Amazing food
  • Giant Jesus of Rio (Brazil)
  • The ancient and super-strange Nazca Lines (Peru)
  • Tons of indigenous cultures
  • The Panama Canal (I think you know where that one is)
That ended up being a longer list than I imagined it would be, but that just goes to show how much there is to see in Latin America. 
The pay for English teaching is not great, but if I keep my savings from Korea it shouldn't be an issue. With my language skills I also have the option of working in hostels, bars, restaurants, et cetera, and I don't think I would have much trouble finding work. But that would not be the point of this trip. This would be largely vacation, with some work thrown in to make some money. In that way this would be quite different from going to Turkey, where I imagine I would travel for a while and then get a job, or maybe visa versa.

What going to Latin America would mean:

  1. Probably spending a chunk of my savings rather than adding to it.
  2. Improving my Spanish rather than taking up a new language (Turkish).
  3. Probably being able to go home for a while on the way, seeing as there really is no direct anything from here to there.
  4. Traveling instead of working all the time, while not spending all that much of my savings.

While I've been writing this, I've actually started giving serious thought to what has generally been my option number three, and so although I was not originally planning on it, I think this will end up being a three-part blog. Stay tuned for option number three, which I think will be a bit harder for y'all to guess. Who knows. It's not that much of an oddball.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The After-Korea: Part One

Ok, it's been a long time. Like, nearing a year. What can I say, this is supposed to be about my travels and I've been uninspired.
But now I am planning! Double planning, really!
I'll be finished in Korea in February, and I'm very, VERY itchy to get out. There are currently two major options for my immediate post-Korea life, and neither of them involve the US for any extended amount of time (something my family is of course sad to find out).
Option number one: Turkey
'What's in Turkey?' You ask?
  • Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia - and all the architecture (Hagia Sofya) and art that you can imagine would go with that
  • Cappadocia, home of other-worldly landscapes
  • Awesome mosques
  • Tons of history
  • Beautiful beaches (Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas)
  • Lots of camping
  • Ancient Roman ruins, including the Ruins of Ephesus
  • Troy
  • Mount Nemrut, home of disembodied heads (made of stone) and beautiful scenery.
  • Mount Ararat, supposed resting place of none other than The ARK. You can't climb it without insane permits (nor has anyone lucky enough to do so ever actually found anything), but still.
  • Ancient and (more) modern castles
  • Beautiful art
  • Deserted nature
  • A monastery in the side of a cliff
Besides all of this and more, going to Turkey would bring me back to the Middle East, a region I have been longing to return to since my abrupt departure almost two and a half years ago now. The Middle East intrigues me, and the five days I spent in Istanbul before leaving the region has whet my appetite for more.
Finishing here in late February/early March, I would be arriving in Turkey as the snow is beginning to melt. This would give me a couple of months to maybe work and get a bit more money before the ideal time (summer) for travel in most of Turkey. Living somewhere and having a job for a while would mean learning some Turkish and generally hanging about for a while, hopefully in Istanbul, which I could then explore during my non-work hours, enabling me to see more of it than I would passing through. A downside: A lot of the good jobs in Turkey are September (new school year) starts.

What going to Turkey would (likely) mean:
Not going home after this contract
Spending some of my savings from two years in Korea
Maybe do something like a TEFL course in March (Italy? Prague? Spain? France?) before the weather warms up enough for camping (which is both fun and money-saving).

I'm already working on the post for option two. If you know me, you can probably guess what region of the world it might be in. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Siem Reap to Bangkok by bus

I know that when I was looking into traveling from Siem Reap to Bangkok by bus recently, there was very little information available that was less than a few years old. From my own experience I can tell you that the roads are a lot better than those posts make them out to be.

I also want to clarify something: it really does take nine hours however, this is divided up into three parts: sitting in a minibus in Cambodia, standing in line at immigration at the Thai boarder (for an hour and a half, maybe two hours), and sitting in a minibus in Thailand.

Honestly, it's not that bad. I even managed some sleep.

Here's what you do (#10 being the easies to mess up, in my opinion):

1. Ask your hostel owner! I was staying at a rather helpful hostel where I was able to book the entire thing without getting out of my PJs. Most hostels, I imagine, are equally as helpful (it's good business).
If your hostel owner doesn't have something set up himself, he'll know where they do.

2. Wake up at about 4:30AM, maybe earlier. Have snacks with you, because you won't have much of a chance to eat all day. Or even buy anything.

3. Get in a tuktuk sent by your bus company.

4. Chat with your future bus mates for a while while the guy who overslept gets dragged out of bed.

5. Watch in amazement as a small, impoverished Cambodian man somehow fits 15 bags in a cubic meter worth of trunk space.

6. Squish. As you get out of the van, a man will put a sticker on your shirt. Don't take it off (your shirt or the sticker).

7. Fill out a quick form and get it stamped. You have now exited Cambodia. That was the easy part.

8. Take that form to another building, where you will wait in line for what seems like an eternity without it moving. Then, suddenly, you will all be ushered into the building together to...
Continue waiting.

9. Get a quick stamp from a chubby Thai man and wonder what took so long for the line to move (I think this may have something to do with my ownership of an American passport: Them be rich people! No questions, move along!)

10. As you exit the immigration building, that sticker on your shirt will get you grabbed by a random dude who will tell you to wait in some random open space. You will then have to wait for every other person that was on your bus (regardless of how slow they were getting in line/how far behind you they are; I was first through immigration of my group, so I sat around for at least a half hour).

Be warned: the man whose job it is to spot the sticker on your shirt is LAZY. Keep an eye out for the people who were on your bus. One guy on my bus walked right past us, and if we hadn't literally run after him, he would have wandered off, and likely would have never found us again.

11. Be put on another bus before you are given any time to buy anything to eat.

12. About three an a half hours later, arrive in Bangkok.

13. Enjoy your stay!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Travelers' Itch

As someone who considers herself a traveler, I relish the ability to see new things and explore REALLY old things, travel to off-the-beaten track gems, or take in a well-known-for-a-reason hotspot, but Cheongju is not any of those things. It has its charms, and as far as teaching in Korea goes, it's a great place to save money, and it's even really central so you can go anywhere you like in three hours or less.
For me, however, that doesn't help so much. There is nothing new to see here after a couple months, there is certainly nothing particularly old here (or really in Korea, it's all been destroyed), and while not many tourists come to Korea (and thus it's a bit off the beaten track), in my opinion it's for a reason.
Because of this, I've been thinking: I need to get out of here. Or, at least part of me does.
Many people are drawn to Korean culture, to Korean food, to Korean language, history, or any of a number of other things which are distinct about this country. Still more are drawn in by the pay, especially for the inexperienced. Nowhere else in the world, that I've seen, can a fresh-out-of-uni teacher save so much money while going out every weekend, traveling when possible, and generally living a middle-class life on their own.
*One exception may be Saudi Arabia, but the lifestyle mentioned would not apply there.
To me, the major bonus of being an expat is immersing oneself in an awesome culture, and Korea is just not a place that appeals to me in that way.
Don't get me wrong, the money is great. For someone just out of university, the ability to actually build myself a savings is not something I take for granted in this economy.If possible, I would stay here for a few months past my year contract to save up some more $$$, but once I have a bit of padding I'm moving on to greener pastures.
Where are these greener pastures? you ask. On the other side of the fence, of course. Honestly, I know that everywhere looks better than here right now because where I am is here, right now. There has to be some way to choose, though, and so I've been doing some thinking.
Right now, number one on the list is Turkey, specifically Istanbul. For me, the culture is much more intriguing, the history much richer (and still visible), and I've heard some great things about it.The money is the worst in Istanbul when compared to elsewhere in the country, but I'm hoping that with a year of experience under my belt I'll be able to get a better-paying job. Still, the thought of not being able to save money is not so exciting. Other blogs I read discuss the lack of savings.
At this point, I really don't know what I'll be doing at the end of this contract. Five months is a long time. Part of me wants to stay to get the money in the bank, but I feel like I've been in Korea long enough to know that its not for me.
Hopefully I will be able to achieve the while-in-Korea goals I had set for myself before this year is up, but as much as I would hate to not meet my goals, that wouldn't keep me here.
And I just keep daydreaming of getting back to the Middle East!

Friday, September 7, 2012


I know I haven't yet blogged about most of my vacation, but I wanted to shoot something up here about how I've been moved to class number two at the YMCA! I am officially no longer in the 'beginner' class. Cheongju's YMCA has several levels of classes, ranging from "uhhh, what sound does the little 2 shape make again?" (class zero) all the way to "I'm pretty darn good at this" (class five, I think?), and I am moving my way on up.
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but one of my goals before I leave Korea is to pass the beginner TOPIK (Test Of Proficiency In Korean) test. Depending on my progress by the end of this year, I may change that to the intermediate test, but I'm not gonna set my goals too high. One thing that has been disappointing about Cheongju for me is a lack of options for learning Korean outside of the YMCA.
Many cities have universities which offer courses for foreigners wanting to learn the language, but this is not one of those cities, unfortunately for me (but probably fortunately for my savings account). It's not that I don't enjoy the classes at the Y, but they're a bit too laid-back for my learning goals. It works well for people who want to go a few times a month and pick up a bit, but I definitely feel like I could have been working faster (and now I'll probably be in over my head in class two).
I do a lot of studying outside of class on my own, as well (I have a good amount of free time here), and I keep finding new resources to help me with more relevant vocabulary (I'm currently working on a reading activity related to housing, with words for rooms of the house, furniture, and things like 'real estate' and 'contract'

~language happiness~

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let's start at the beginning

Alright, I know I've done quite a few interesting things recently, and people have been bugging my for pictures/blogs/my first born/etc.
Two outta three ain't bad, right?

I figured I'll write first about my summer holiday, before moving on to some of the smaller things I did in the weeks before the holiday. Since it was a bit of a long holiday, and since spanned three countries, I thought I'll split up the post into a few smaller, easier to digest bits.
Logically, then, Ill start at the beginning:


Shopping at Ben Tranh market in Saigon
I really didn't get to see, well, ANYTHING that most tourists see in Vietnam. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam's biggest tourist draw, is about an entire day of traveling (minimum) away from where I was, in the south.

Met this guy while wandering around Saigon.
I flew into Saigon, eventually (sidenote: there will be another post about my traveling ordeal), and once I got there I only had a few hours to walk around, in which I saw some pretty gardens, did some shopping, and had some pho.
French influence, anyone?
I also went tour-company shopping. At 6am or so the next day I left (with my decide-upon company) for the Mekong Delta region, the rice-basket region of Vietnam, where the majority of life still depends on the river.
A boat like the one I was touring on
I know it sounds super cheesy, and parts of it were, but I did feel like I could extrapolate from what I saw (the really touristy stuff) to imagine what life is like for the actual residents of the Mekong region. At least, I feel I can imagine better than I could before, or than I imagine others can who have not been.
I held some bees
I also drank vodka with SNAKES inside.
It was pretty vile.
I also did a home-stay on this tour, but contrary to what I had been told, this was nowhere near the highlight of my tour. It could not have been more fake, and all I got out of it was some really bad alcohol and drunk tourists to go with it. I mean, it only cost me what it would have cost me for a single room in the hotel that I would have stayed in otherwise, so I can't really complain, but a glimpse into rural life it was not. Regardless, I had an interesting time in Vietnam, and I would love to be able to see more of what seemed like a lovely country (truth be told, it's certainly in the cunning for Christmas vacation).
Here's a bit more of a glimpse of what I did on my tour (the captions should let you know what you need to know):

Alligators. Caption totally necessary, right?

Fruit. The skinny yellow one on the near end gave me a
 terrible sore throat so I didn't try many of them.

I wore a stereotypical hat.

This was my underwhelming homestay (the room was fine,
the experience is what was unimpressive)

I wore another stereotypical hat.

This is the bit of a glimpse I got into real Mekong life,
boating down a random river the morning after our homestay.

Doin' some fishin'.


Making rice paper

That's a bridge. A very skinny one. Hold on to those
railings (and your camera)!

We also went to a fish farm, where this little dude got so
excited for breakfast that he flopped out of his cage.
My favorite Buddha

We finished up with a visit to a minority
Cham village. This is their mosque.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why *NOT* to live in Seoul: Six reasons why I love living in Korea's most boring province

Inspired by a question asked by my recruiter recently, I would like to share a few reasons why I love living in not-Seoul.
As a resident of Cheongju, capital of chungcheongbuk-do (chungbuk, for short), likely Korea's most boring province, I can think of more than a few reasons not to live in Seoul. Here are a few:

1.Have a ready-made network of awesome people, always happy to befriend a newbie.
Although I did not see another foreigner for just over a week after I arrived, from the first night I stepped into a bar I've made amazing friends, and I make more weekly, even four months later. That is (obviously) not to say that there aren't some amazing people for you to befriend in Seoul, I'm sure there are, but they're a lot harder to find.
In addition, the relatively small size of Cheongju's foreigner community means that i would feel comfortable approaching any foreigner I see on the street, and we likely have friends in common.
2.Learn Korean (or don't)
Every time I've gone to Seoul, I am taken aback by the number of people who speak English.
Oggling a subway map one day, a random dude directed my friend and I in perfect English to the correct platform.
Buying beer from a corner store, I asked in Korean if they had any paper cups (generally at the counter and sold in singles for this purpose). The cashier ( an older guy) was visibly shocked by my words and could not stop praising my Korean. He even engaged me in a short conversation about where I live, etc. while this was nice, I remarked as soon as I left that i never would have learned Korean in Seoul. Or at least not as fast. There are no opportunities to practice, even the store clerk speaks English!
That being said, I do know people who have survived here for a year or two without any Korean, so if that's what you're afraid of and why you want to live in Seoul, you don't need to worry (and odds are that even if you're not in Seoul, you'll still be in a bigger city than Cheongju, where you can survive on English if that's what you want).
I'll probably write another post soon on my opinions about that, but that doesn't belong here.
3. Save BUCKETS of money.
Seriously. Without trying AT ALL, I have ~$2,000 in the bank in four months. This is after buying a new MacBook, plane tickets to Cambodia, and $400 worth of dental work.
4. Be centrally located.
I can be at Inchon airport in 2 hours ( it can take that long from some parts of Seoul), in Busan in 3 hours, in Boryeong for MudFest in 2 hours, in Daegu in under 2 hours, in Yeosu for the World Expo in 3 hours (with transfer in Daejeon). For those of you who aren't familiar with the geography of this country, all of those places are really far from each other. But not from me.
5. Be able to breathe.
I've heard a good bit from friends, forums, etc., that the pollution can get pretty nasty in and around Seoul. I've never been in the city for more than one night so I can't say I've noticed, but the air here is (hot and humid, but) not at all like what I've heard of Seoul.
6. Experience Korea.
This one kind of combines all of the previous reasons into one.
I know that Seoul has all the conveniences of Western life, but of you want those, then stay home. You are moving probably at least a third of the way around the globe, things will be different. You do not NEED Taco Bell (but believe me I do go every time I'm in Seoul), your favorite brand of candy bar, a shwarma stand to go to when you're drunk. I know they're nice to have, but that's not Korea.
I bet one of the most appealing things about getting a job in Korea is the ability to see the world and save money at the same time, right? I sure think so. But if you ask me, that's not seeing the rest of the world, that's seeing the parts of the world that are just like ours.