Thursday, February 26, 2009

My apartment now.

After the disgusting photos below, I need to show you my lovely apartment now. Small, but cozy. And white. It's an old Victorian house, but I'm loving all the moldings.

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That's where I lived for a year

My lovely Korean abode. Finally.

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That's why I was so miserable at times.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rediscovering Montreal


One thing I've missed about Montreal is the abundance of independent coffee shops. Yes, Seoul has coffee shops on every single corner, but they're all chains: Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and numerous Korean chains. Nothing independently owned.

Since I've been back I spent most of my time at Caffè in Gamba, which is just down the street. My roommate told me about it, since we didn't have the internet set up yet, so we'd just go there to use the free wireless. I spent countless hours there slouched on the velvety red couches, writing long emails, chatting, and actually getting some work done. The employees are so nice, and they seem to recognize me now. I almost feel bad that they had to put up with my roommate and I, making ourselves at home in our sweat pants, and me giggling during chat sessions. It's so warm and cozy in there, the perfect place to hide on a Sunday afternoon during a snowstorm.

It was voted the best coffee in Montreal, and it is pretty exquisite. Sorry Seoul, but Montreal beats you for coffee.

Taking it easy

The past few days have been a mixture of settling in, and just enjoying being back. I don't always enjoy it, though. Everything seems like a challenge, again. I feel lost in my own hometown. Taking the bus or the subway is confusing, and the grocery store is overwhelming. I'm slowly getting re-acquainted with everything, though.

Seeing my friends is the best- nothing has changed at all. I also bought some food for the first time since I arrived (for the past week, I've been spoiled by my mom and my roommate!). It was fun to pick out my favorites, food I've barely touched in the past year: hummus, pita, special k cereal... I even baked some brownies last night... just for the thrill of baking.

I went to my former job to say hi to everyone, and honestly I couldn't be happier I left. It's a great workplace with amazing people, but there is no way I could be happy being back into it. I definitely need something new, and the upcoming week is dedicated to a full-time job search.

I still don't know how I feel about being here. It's definitely nice and comfortable, but it's just so challenging, and why did I miss it so much while I was gone?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Canada. Home.


Lost.

It's been a week since I returned, but I still feel a bit lost. I was walking around downtown today, looking at all the sights, the new stores... and I feel the same way I felt in Seoul, the first few weeks. I was confused using the subway system, and I keep comparing everything to Korea- good and bad.

My closest friends had a welcome back party for me last weekend, it was amazing. They made me an elaborate dinner, we drank lots of wine and just caught up on the past year. It felt exactly the same, it felt like I never left. But something was definitely different, but in a good way. We all grew in our own ways in the past year, but somehow we still get along so great. I realized how much I've missed them, it was so comfortable to be around them, and we talked for over six hours. It takes that long to catch up, and we barely scratched the surface. It seems like we all went through pretty intense things at the same time, even with me on the other side of the world.

I'm also happily back with my roommate, and it's so, so nice! We cook together, we share clothes, we hang out in our pajamas at the local café, we go out for brunch, and we just have so much fun. My apartment, my lovely apartment... I'm still living in my suitcases, I need more furniture... but I'm home.

I know the next couple of months will be difficult for some reasons (actually, many reasons). but it's okay, I'll manage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reverse culture shock

*There's white people everywhere!!
*I still bow to sales people
*I give money with both hands
*I'm confused with the currency
*There's open spaces, and it's so clean
*Lots of overweight people (no offense, but compared to Asia...)
*Diversity, diversity
*The air smells so fresh and crisp
*I can hear all the conversations around me (a bit annoying)
*People apologize when they bump into you... so polite.
*The food, oh the selection of food!

It feels great to be home, but I feel like an alien a bit. I'm just observing everything and not quite fitting right in. I think Korea really changed my perspective on things in life.

I'm still so jet-lagged, I just can't sleep at night. When will it go away? Apparently it takes one day per time zone you cross, so it might take me 8-10 days. Yikes.

Flying home

I'm flying home to Montreal in a few hours... home, home, home! Calgary was gorgeous, even though I was a jet-lagged mess. I got to see Banff and Lake Louise, go to a Flames hockey game, and drinks loads of Starbucks and eat the best home-cooked foods ever (thanks, Justin!). I got re-acquainted with the cold, and walked around in snow.

I'm still a bit of a mess, but a few more nights of sleep should bring me back to normal.

PS- I have tons of pictures of the ugly Seoul apartment, but I'm almost embarrassed to post them now, I realize how ugly and dirty is it. I will post them still. I miss Seoul. Not the apartment, though.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Almost home

My last night in Seoul was fabulous, and my last morning in Seoul was just... sad.

I almost missed my flight (too much traffic downtown), but I made it, and I'm almost home. Almost? I'm in Calgary for a few days, then heading home on Wednesday.

It's been great to see some open land again... breathe some fresh air... not being a foreigner... and eat some of my favorite foods. I've been spoiled so far.

I'm still jet-lagged and quite lost. I just want to sleep, sleep, sleep. Montreal scares me a bit, and I feel Seoul-sick. Why why why?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I remember

*Making the trek trying to find the French area of Seoul, getting so lost
*Getting so embarrassed my first time in the sauna, but enjoying it
*Drinking wine at Abbey Road, a charming pub in Apkujeong
*Late-night grilled meat meals accompanied of soju, and talking until 4am
*Sitting outside 7-Eleven in the summer, sipping 2% (the best peach-flavored water)
*Sleeping on the floor on cold winter nights, staying warm
*Sleeping on the floor in the hot summer nights, trying to stay close to the AC
*Ice skating with my students during winter camp
*Going skiing on an overcrowded, small mountain, but still having a blast
*Going to a Noraebang (karaoke private room, shamelessly showing off)
*Seeing Death Cab for Cutie in Tokyo. Enough said.
*Getting soaked in the rain and mud at Pentaport, wearing rainboots
*Making my first traditional Christmas feast
*Cat-sitting for my friend and making her cat fat
*Teaching in kindergarten for a few weeks- they're adorable
*Getting over my fear of heights in Seroaksan, and making it to the top
*Riding a bicycle by the Han River
*The Golden Globes party at my friend's, with homemade food and all
*My birthday party at Homestead, seeing everyone together
*Anytime the taxi drives by downtown at night... so beautiful
*Sitting on a beach in Thailand and seriously considering fleeing Korea (seriously)
*Late, lazy Sunday brunches with girl friends
*Eating noodles... mmmmmmmmn.

LAST DAY today!! AAAARRGH. I'm stuck at school, desk-warming, and re-reading my blog to have a little wrap-up in my head. I cannot believe I'm leaving tomorrow, it's unreal. I'm not ready. So much to do, still.

Happy Valentines Day to all, I'll be spending mine on a plane home, home, home!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bittersweet

(This one goes out to Nicole, who's itching to pack and go travel abroad)

Bittersweet is the perfect word to describe how I feel right now. Saying good byes to friends in Seoul, leaving this huge city, but going home to old friends and familiar things.

Today was my last day of teaching- perhaps for ever! My students wrote me some letters, which were so touching. I do hope I made a difference in their lives somehow, even if it was just from playing a game or making them laugh. I'll miss the kids, and the joys of teaching. Especially when I'll be running about on a busy set and stressing out about deadlines.

Packing my stuff was actually quite fast, I gave a huge bag of clothes to my friend who's staying an extra year, she was very excited. I'm shipping a box by boat, and taking the rest along. I'm surprisingly a light packer. No one believes me when I tell them I came to Korea with only one suitcase full of clothes, and the other suitcase only contained bedding.

And I'm not forgetting about the pictures of my apartment! I know you're all waiting for it, and you won't be disappointed.

So I'm off to enjoy one last meal with all the other foreign teachers. We're all parting ways, each going back to Canada, South Africa, and some back to Korea. Then off to meet more friends for more good-byes... but then I read my roommate's Facebook page and I get excited again. Bittersweet!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Incheon here I come

I daydreamed all year about that moment when I would be sitting on that plane, leaving Incheon airport, and probably feel quite relieved I'm leaving. Although I'm so sad to leave this exciting city and so many friendships behind, I'm quite relieved it's over, as it hasn't been easy.

My friend from Canada, who just left today after 4 amazing days of catching up and sightseeing, told me how she thought Seoul was such a... difficult city to live in. Everything is a challenge, and there's quite a few annoyances. She definitely enjoyed it, but she traveled a lot and I believed her when she told me that. And it made me feel better in a sense, maybe it was okay to complain a bit about the cultural differences and daily annoyances.

And I'm glad I survived it. I remember landing here almost a year ago, looking out the car window as we drove to our new home, and I remember being a little bit frightened, and perhaps a little disappointed. I also remember the weird feeling of not knowing anything at all, and being completely lost and confused.

A year later I feel completely different, and completely comfortable in this environment. The whole year I asked myself how Korea changed me, I couldn't see it. I still can't put my finger on it, but something is definitely different, and important changes are happening. Maybe the whole thing about the experience is the aftermath?

I'm especially sad that it's the end of my blog too, but maybe it doesn't have to be. I'll definitely keep writing about settling back home, and perhaps a few months later about... leaving again?!

Hmm. I should head to bed. Writing on a total of ten hours of sleep in the past 4 days is not exactly the best idea.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Last week

And I'm not ready. At all. In all senses. I'm not packed, and I'm not thinking about the fact that I won't be in Seoul next weekend.

One of my friends from home is visiting me in Seoul for a few days, she is traveling around the world and decided to stop here- it's been so much fun! I think it's perfect she came now, I get to show her my favorite spots and the city, and do things for a last time.

I had a pretty exciting last weekend in Seoul: quality time with friends, walking around my favorite neighborhoods, a 4pm Sunday brunch filled with every food you can imagine, a relaxing night at the spa, some drinks and music on Saturday night in the nightlife area, some shopping... and very, very little sleep.

I think this week will be a little crazy, between teaching, packing, seeing friends, and not fully realizing that I'm done here. I go between getting very excited and very sad. Weird, weird.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Email of the day

I got this email from one of my second graders:

"Hello, teacher Vivian.I'm James. Thanks for teaching IC class and morning in the school and me!!!!~ Thanks for gave us a party. we eat snacks, and watching movies. do you like purple? I like it too!!!~ You are the best teacher in the whole world. I like you.I want to go to your contry and meet you."

Oh, god. I'll miss my kids.

(I think I spent too much time having little parties with them and eating snacks, but I'm happy I gave them some fun memories).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Apple Love


I spoiled myself with an end of the year present. A new Apple MacBook! I had it shipped at home, so when I get off the plane it will be waiting for me. I even added a card, saying "Congratulations. You survived Korea".

Brightened up my day. Today was one of those days when you'd rather stay in bed, hide under the covers and wait for the next day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Going to the spa. Take two.

Korea is famous for its public baths, which are an amazing (and terrifying) experience. They're comparable to spas, equipped with dozens of different saunas (hot, cold, salty, steamy), and an array of baths and showers. There is also a coed area where you can just relax on the hot floor, watch television, sip drinks, get massages, or various beauty treatments. A girl's dream, right?

My first experience (almost a year ago, when I first got here), was rather unpleasant and humiliating. I didn't know where to go, or what to do, and I felt so uncomfortable the whole time. Last night, when my friend suggested we go relax at the spa, I decided to give it a second chance. And I loved it!

The place we went to was definitely more upscale, and much bigger and cleaner. We first changed into the (ugly) short and t-shirt combo, then headed to the hottest rooms to sweat and reminisce about our year in Korea. We alternated between very hot, and very cold rooms, and sipped on a traditional Korean drink made of rice and sugar. We even got massages, and ate some snacks while watching game shows.

Then, the scary part. The baths! I tried to get over my fear of public nakedness and actually enjoyed relaxing in the hot water, followed by cold dips and a few deep breaths in the aromatherapy steam room. The spa even has an outdoor area with more tubs, and it was my favorite part. The cold winter air, and the hot water. Such a relaxing time (after all), and no major incident except for getting caught stealing another girl's shampoo. (I thought she was done and just left it behind, I couldn't pass up on Aveda).

I regret not going more often during the year, as it's a wonderful time (you can stay as long as you want, it's open 24 hours, and it only costs 10$). I felt so relaxed, refreshed and energized. I might have to go again next week.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ch-ch-check it out

I'm an honored guest writer on the Lil Bee!!