Korea is full of flower festivals!


Spring has sprung here in South Korea, and there is a new flower festival every week it seems. Last weekend, we went to the cherry blossom festival, and this past weekend we went to the canola flower festival. Both were pretty, festive, and full of tasty foods.

Not much to say besides the fact that we had a lot of fun. I will let the pictures speak for me!

The Jinju Cherry Blossom Festival



No filter needed!


For those times where it rains petals…


So friggin pretty!



It’s raining cherry blossoms!


Number of steps up the mountain. I thought I was gonna die a little.


A few more flights of stairs after the 365, but this was the prize.


200,000+ cherry trees!



Did I mention they had CHURROS?!


I didn’t know ice cream was a Turkish specialty, but I’m sold.


The Namji Canola Flower Festival


So many more flowerses to go!


Nick is very excited for popped things.


Swimming in flowers?


Drowning in flowers >:)


Unintentional pose by Nick!


Lauren plays the ice cream sax! (another Turkish specialty)




More fun with color isolation in the lantern tunnel!



I want a hanbok.



This was taken at eye level…


You can’t tell, but I am Superman(da)ing on top of Nick’s back in order to get on top of the super tall flowers!


Evilly protecting my flower lair.



The Nick’s lifting me up over even taller (almost 5ft?) flowers.


Sweet river shot.


Windmills everywhere on this side.


Walking up to the Buddhist temple



Love this jolly Buddha


Naked baby Buddha! Happy birthday!


Is that a pizza box?


Sweet dragon.


panorama 3

One last awesome panorama.


I leave you with the “intentionally disgustingly cute nose-kissing pic” Enjoy your puking 😉


What do you do again?

As promised, for those interested, I’m finally going to explain how things work at my job. I feel like whenever I explain it to people, they get really confused. So I’m going to try my best to simplify it. TL;DR? I’ll try to sum it up at the bottom.

  • I teach English as a foreign language in South Korea (in case you weren’t clued in yet).
  • I teach at a government school, which means it’s a little different than the average school in Korea.
  • I work a midday shift, which means if you are one of my U.S. friends, I am free your evenings, so you should totally be Skyping with me.

Are you following so far? Good. It’s gonna get a little more complicated.

  • I teach at an English camp. Think of it as Summer camp, but it runs all year, and it’s also kind of school.
  • All of the teachers at my school come from English-speaking countries.
  • It’s a full English immersion program. All of the teachers only speak English. We only use Korean (very basic) when absolutely necessary, which is not often.
  • Every week, I teach students from a different school in the province.
  • On most weeks, I teach a different grade level than I did the previous week. The grade range is usually 4th-8th.
  • We split the children into six groups, 1 being the lowest proficiency, 6 being the highest. Every week, I teach a different (descending) fluency level.  If I teach Level 6 this week, I will teach Level 5 next week, Level 4 the following week, and so on.
  • I use textbooks and materials created by the teachers at my school (yep, I totally helped write a textbook!) The textbooks are made up of basic English, and activities related to our many simulation rooms.

Still with me? If so, congratulations, you’ve made it through the most complicated part. If not, rinse and repeat. Simulation rooms, you ask? Yes! This is the coolest part about my school. Basically the school’s goal is to create the experience of traveling to an English-speaking country. We teach the students vocabulary associated with each room, and then go to the rooms to play games, perform role-plays, have scavenger hunts, and more. What we do depends on the level of the students. I’ve had days where we just walked around and talked about what was in the rooms in simple English, and days where students have come up with their own full-scale role-plays on the spot. Wanna see?


The register in the Market. The wall is pretty cool; it’s basically a duty free store at the airport (but we use the room as a regular shop. Kind of like our own mini-Walmart?) The kids love it.


The clothing store in the Market. Students love to buy the clothes and put on fashion shows.


The hodgepodge part of the Market. Students can go shopping for anything here and practice purchase role-plays with anything in the room.


The grocery store section of the Market. Great for helping students practice their foods!


Science. Students can do experiments, learn about their 5 senses, or (a popular new activity) test their heart rate using different exercises.


Language Lab. This is a great place for various review games, or to introduce students to each room via various videos (Mr. Bean is most popular).


This place is creepy at night. He gets me every time. My gift to you.


The Airport. Students learn various travel vocabulary words, role-play a travel experience, or have a question scavenger hunt here. They can even make passports to get stamped by a “customs officer.”


The Hotel. Students can role-play here, or play games on the map or with international landmarks.


The doctor’s office in the Hospital, where students can perform role-plays using lab coats, a stethoscope, and a toy needle, otoscope, pager, and thermometer.


The optometrist corner of the Hospital.


There is a pharmacy in the Hospital that is used in a scavenger hunt activity.


The Bank. Students practice exchanging money, withdrawing money from an ATM, and counting.


The Post Office. After going to the Bank (same room), students can use their “money” to pay for shipments. There’s a fun packing contest that we do in here that students like a lot.


Art Room, full of various crafts. Students usually make masks or paper crafts, or draw whatever.


Our (small but hopefully growing) Restaurant. My favorite place that I’ve been trying to develop more and more. Right now it’s in the travel room, but maybe one day in its own room? 😀


Restaurant menus made by an awesome teacher (Lauren S.) We have all of the food on the menu for role-playing.


My classroom!


From the other side.

So that’s pretty much CEV. We use simulation rooms to teach English to elementary and middle school students in a week-long, camp-like immersion program. It’s pretty cool.

Central Vietnam (Hue)

Picking up from where we left off

Nick and I left Hanoi via train. I was very nervous about this, having taken the train in China many times, with sometimes less-than-lovely experiences. It can be fun if you’re in a group, but not often as a twosome. Anyway, turns out our train was pretty much a foreigners-only train. We shared a soft sleeper (which P.S. China hard sleeper>Vietnam soft sleeper) with a nice couple around our age from Chicago. I chatted them up quite a bit, apologizing for doing so, and blaming it on the two cups of coffee a day. For Vietnamese coffee that’s basically like 4 espressos.

Also, can we stop for a minute and discuss Vietnamese coffee? Sorry, American friends, but I have to be that guy who says they prefer something that they tried on their travels to an exotic land. My love for Vietnamese coffee began last year when we went to Cambodia. If that terrible island (KR) we were on did anything right, it was serving iced Vietnamese coffee. With sweetened condensed milk. I mean, how did this never occur to me? That was a morning staple everyday for the rest of that trip. Anyway, I was really looking forward to having the coffee again, and it did not let me down. The smell and taste is completely different than Western coffee. It smells like the offspring of coffee and hot cocoa (more chocolatey than a mocha). The taste is sweeter. And the coffee itself, as I said, is much stronger. Did I mention we got two pounds for $8? Yeah, it’s at least that for one pound back home (but hey, at least it’s available!) The good thing is, for me at least, it will last twice as long as regular coffee because I can only drink half a cup. Otherwise, I’d be bouncing off the walls. Basically, try it if you like coffee. And if you prefer tea, at least have the decency to try Thai iced tea.

Seriously, try it.

Seriously, try it.

Sorry about that. I just feel very strongly (pun intended) about that coffee.

Where was I? Oh right, the train. I fell asleep about a half hour after leaving the station. And woke up about 10 hours later. Much needed sleep. Got to Hue at around 9 a.m., with our ride waiting for us. We only had enough time for a quick trip to check in at the hotel, and then we were out again. We asked the guide to take us to have banh xeo, which we saw on “No Reservations,” and were told that Hoi An was the best place for it. It’s basically a savory pancake stuffed with shrimp and pork, which you dip into fish sauce. They were a bit skimpy on the filling, but it was still good.

Savory goodness

Savory goodness

After breakfast, we headed to the pier to take a dragon boat to the other side of the city. We learned a crap-ton of history on that little ride. Thankfully it was repeated later. We were (of course) faced with that awkward moment where the boat lady guilted us into buying stuff from her. But can you really refuse someone who is forced to live on a tiny boat with her whole family? Plus, it’s not like it was as awkward as our guide telling us very loudly how he hates America after finding out where we are from.


Our wobbly little boat


On the dragon boat, old city on the right, new city on the left

On the other side, we saw the old Chinese pagoda (Thiên Mụ), the symbol of Hue. We also saw a bonzai garden, the car of the famous monk who self-immolated in the 1960s, a king’s tomb, and the Royal Citadel, including lots of spots that were blown up by the Americans in the war. We even got to sneak in and see a traditional song and dance performance.


View of the pagoda from the river


View of the river from the pagoda side. On the left is the Hue countryside.


Bonzai garden


Oldest tree in the bonsai garden

Falling over from exhaustion once again, we were back to the hotel. We reeeally didn’t feel like finding a restaurant, so we decided to grab a famous street sandwich, banh mi (a combo of tons of stuffing, including pickles, sprouts, and paté on a baguette) and order dessert from room service. The sandwich wasn’t bad. Definitely not my favorite, but it was like $0.50, so you can’t really complain.

Mmm baguette (banh mi)

Mmm baguette (banh mi)

We soon crashed, as we had to head out to Da Nang and Hoi An the next day…

While you wait, check out some more pics below…


Aren’t forced pictures fun?


Love the roofs


A kings constellations?


The tomb with no body


No, I didn’t ride it 😦


Lots of European influence


I want hundreds of men to dig me a pretty pond!


Holes and damage from American bombing


Glowy dancers


❤ dergens


Sacrificial altar


Another area blasted during the war


Edible flower dessert


Our oranges are fancier than yours


Mmm meat on rice crackers


Fanciest. spring rolls. ever.


Pretty garden


A very sad relic, but I couldn’t help but wonder why a monk had such a nice car?


Us with Buddha!


Pagoda from the back

More American bullet holes

More American bullet holes


Room service 🙂

메리 크리스마스!

Yeah, so my posts are out of order. I wanted to slip this one in before the last one, but just didn’t. Anyway, the subject of this blog is “Merry Christmas” in Korean. I figured I’d give you a little info on our holiday here in SK.

In South Korea, Christmas isn’t really a big holiday. Thankfully, it’s bigger than in China, so we had Christmas day off, and got out a little early Christmas Eve. This was great for Skyping with people back home.

Thankfully it’s also big enough so that you get music video gems like the one from this still…

Crayon Pop - "Lonely Christmas" (still from Youtube)

I need this outfit immediately. Though it’s no match for their Rudolph with an uzi outfit.

To feel as in the Christmas spirit as we could, Nick and I made sure to come to Korea prepared. We brought some ornaments, Christmas movies, and my homemade decorations from China. Add to that some homemade snowflakes, and you’ve got yourself a very Christmas-y apartment.

You know it smells like pumpkin and cookies up in this beotch.

You know it smells like pumpkin and cookies up in this beotch.

Keeping with tradition, I watched a different Christmas movie just about every day (doubling up to keep pace if need be). I watched everything from classics like “Frosty,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Miracle on 34th Street,”  …

In a world where it's totally acceptable for your 8-year-old daughter to hang out with a grown man neighbor you've never met.

In a world where it’s totally acceptable for your 8-year-old daughter to hang out with a grown man neighbor you’ve never met.

… to not-so-classics like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,”  “Jingle All the Way,” and “Jack Frost.”

"Guilty" does not precede the word "pleasure" when describing my feelings about this film.

“Guilty” does not precede the word “pleasure” when describing my feelings about this film.

We also got to watch lots of the 1930s-1950s cartoons that I watched as a kid (unfortunately, Nick can only appreciate the original Rudolph ironically).  There were also some Christmas firsts this year in movies for Nick and I, like “Holiday Inn” and “Yogi’s First Christmas,” the longest children’s cartoon Christmas movie of all time. Seriously. It’s two hours long. 

Reindeer walking on two legs: not creepy at all, Nick!

Reindeer walking on two legs: not creepy at all, Nick!

If you decide to watch this, please watch the cut version. And for your own good, don't Wikipedia Bing Crosby.

If you decide to watch this, please watch the cut version. And for your own good, don’t Wikipedia Bing Crosby.

“Holiday Inn” was good, for a movie with the most racist scene I’ve seen thus far in any film. For those of you who’ve never seen it, it’s a movie based around an inn that is open only on holidays, so they throw a big party with song and dance performances for every single American holiday. Including President’s Day. This particular party centers around Abraham Lincoln. And there is a song about him freeing the slaves. Where everyone on stage is in blackface. And the servers are in blackface. And someone says they have to “black up.” AND BING CROSBY IS IN BLACKFACE. SINGING IN RACIST PIDGIN. It was a car wreck you couldn’t not watch. One that makes you laugh nervously from discomfort. And makes you feel even worse knowing that they thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with that back then. And knowing that this is the movie that made Bing Crosby’s name forever linked with Christmas. “White Christmas” will never be the same again.

Anyway, apparently this has become a rant about Christmas movies, so I’ll move on!

The week of Christmas, we had a lovely American-style dinner for Christmas with the staff of our school. It was nice to have a taste of home all the way over here, especially because I was really feeling the holiday homesickness this past year. We had a beef stroganoff-type dish, stuffing (made by yours truly), cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, banana bread, mashed potatoes, and more. And some bulgogi to give it a Korean touch. We listened to Christmas music and chatted. We danced to our boss’s Autotuned dance version of a speech she gave. Fun times.

On Christmas Eve we watched more movies and ate snacks. On Christmas morning, I made cinnamon buns and breakfast casserole. Nick and I watched the top Christmas class for us (Frosty/Rudolph/Garfield/Charlie Brown) and exchanged gifts. Nick got me Kindle versions of the final Sookie Stackhouse book (!) and George Takei’s book.

The rest of the day was Skyping and calling home, and relaxing as much as we could, since we had work the next day *sigh*

It was a good Christmas season. I missed our friends and family (both Maryland and Peace Corps), but we managed to have as homey a holiday as we possibly could.

Planning on Christmas in Baltimore this year, though! Can’t wait!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Goooood morning, Vietnam! (Ha Noi)

During our two-week break from work, Nick and I took a week-long private tour of Vietnam (www.vietnamdiscovery.com). I know, sounds crazy expensive, right? Actually, we didn’t even know it was private until after booking. It’s just that cheap there. We decided that it would make more sense to try to see as much of Vietnam as possible, otherwise we would’ve done the backpacking thing. This way was wayyy better because we got to see more, learn more, and eat more than if we’d gone on our own. And because the trip was basically 7 straight days of 8-10 hour touring, our relaxing week at a Thailand resort was the perfect end to the vacation. We did A LOT, so I will probably have to break these blogs down by city!

Our trip started with a night in Busan. We stayed at a “love motel” near the bus station. In Baltimore this means a skeezy hotel on Route 40. In Korea this means a small motel with computers in the room, a goody bag of amenities at check-in, and sometimes a red light. Most importantly, it means cheap (and clean!) Mcdonald’s, a luxury considering we don’t have one where we live, for dinner. Then, we walked around for a bit. Lots of neon lights in our vicinity. We spent the rest of the night relaxing and taking advantage of a good shower. A marathon of Psych later and we were ready for bed.

We left our hotel around 7am, and finally ended up in Vietnam after 2:30ish. We got straight off the plane (delayed an hour) and had to book it to a water puppet show due to said lateness. We got there just in time for lights out and it was awesome! It was way cooler than I expected. There were really cute stories, dragons, FIRE, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how the puppeteers did it. Seriously, the puppets could go up and down AND back and forth, and go behind the curtain. I don’t… no clue. Magic I guess.

After the show, we had a walking tour of Hanoi. We finished at a famous Chinese temple and learned that the Chinese had colonized Vietnam for 1000 years! Because of this, you can see China everywhere, from the language to the clothes to the temples to the Chinese characters. We got to see a giant turtle from an old legend. The legend reminds me of Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake. The legend says that in the 15th century, the emperor of Vietnam was on a boat in the lake where the temple was. He held the sword –given to him by the turtle god- that he used to defeat the Chinese. Suddenly, the turtle popped his head out of the water and took the sword under the water. The turtle and sword were never seen again. Today, the turtle is considered a sacred symbol in Vietnam. The turtle that currently lives in the lake is referred to as “Great Grandfather Turtle” (or “Pop Pop” as I prefer).

We continued to walk around for a few more hours, learning interesting facts like every street in the Old Quarter is named after whichever product it traditionally sold (as in every store on a street sold the same thing). Some of the streets, like Shoe Street, still sell the same products that they’ve sold since it was just “the Quarter”. We had an early dinner (late by Korean time) of lots of traditional goodies. So good! And so much food. Then, we walked back to the hotel (located at the intersection of Onion Street and Coffee Street) The room was huge (we were upgraded!). The bathtub was HUGE HUGE. A bath was had immediately. We pretty much had to crash as we had to be up around 6 the next day in order to eat before our pick-up to our boat trip. We got up super early (thankfully it was 8am Korea time!) and were the first to have breakfast (including Vietnamese coffee!) Then we waited… and waited… and finally Hoa (our next guide) showed up…


And super warm floors to boot


Didn’t get any great photos since the room was super dark, but here’s an example of water puppets. These are water fairies. (Wikipedia)


Giant turtle! Turtle God? We may never know.


Hoàn Kiếm Lake (“Lake of the Returned Sword”)


Pumpkin Soup


Fried spring rolls with fish sauce


Fried Chicken with chili sauce


Grilled fish- the best dish!


Caramel pork


The Gondola Hotel


Zhu An, our guide for the night


From the balcony


Morning walk near the lake


Hotel Lobby

Next up: Halong Bay!

Happy Holidays and Welcome Back!

Holy wow it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this thing! So this is gonna be a long one. First off, I guess I should mention that I am no longer in the Middle Kingdom, but in the Land of the Morning Calm. Nick and I will be working in South Korea as contract English teachers for the next year. This is not through Peace Corps, but through a job agency. So it’s a regular, paid job, not a volunteer job. It just happens to be in South Korea.


Our campus

I wanted to update this thing after my first month here, but it looks like the second will have to do. That’s how fast things are flying!

So far, so good. We like our job. We like our co-workers. Our apartment is nice. My experience these first few months has definitely been a culture shock rollercoaster, but not exactly how I thought it would be. When we first got here, it was culture shock as an ex-Chinese resident. I was comparing everything to China because so many things are similar (from language to beliefs to the way people behave), and yet small things are different. I’m sure I drove my new friends crazy, but I couldn’t help myself! Fortunately, China really prepared me for being here. Being illiterate, having no insulation, dealing with “face culture,” not speaking the language… these are all things I’ve been through, so China has made these a breeze.

Things I miss about China:

1) Food streets within walking distance

2) Grocery stores within walking distance

3) My produce lady and sandwich guy

4) Having tons of restaurants to choose from in my neighborhood

Living in the countryside has its benefits (it’s beautiful), but not having too much within walking distance without a vehicle makes things a bit tough.

Things I don’t miss:

1) Lanzhou pollution and how it made me sick (two months in here, and not even a cold!)

2) Severe stares

3) Night soil, hormones, and antibiotics in my food (eco city, what what!)

4) Cooking on a hot plate


Plus, I get to see this every night

Now that we’ve been here for a few months, I am having culture shock as an American living in a foreign country. Why on earth isn’t there insulation? It’s colder inside than outside! Floor heating will never beat central heating. Why are avocadoes so expensive? I also am really appreciating the Peace Corps language training, and wish I had it for Korean, too!

But you know what?

-I can buy almost anything I need online (and it arrives in 3 days or less)

-I can buy things like milk (that’s safe!) and butter at the nearest grocery store

-I can get Hershey bars, Pringles, and Pepperidge Farm cookies at the corner store (in a town of less than 3,000 people, that’s quite a feat!)

-Almost the entire country is wired

-I am 1.5 hours from a beach, and less than an hour away from almost any western restaurant I’d want to go to

So there’s been a lot of up and down, but altogether I’m enjoying myself. Definitely dealing with homesickness more this time around, but super fast internet helps with keeping in touch. So why aren’t you Skyping with me right now?!

While you chide yourself, check out some photos below! And tune in next time as I attempt to explain my confusing work schedule.


Clubbing in Daegu


Duck; Served with a side of the most awkward (but in the end, nice) lunch with a 100% language barrier


Seen on a walk around the village. This year we got two Falls!


Kitty sleeping in my coat at the cat cafe!


Halloween with my first group of students


Nam-ji girls are the coolest

Our first group shot!

Our first group shot!



I leave you with one last shot of our gorgeous neighborhood (the building on the back right is our apartment building)

The time has come, the walrus said…

It’s my last month of Peace Corps service. In. Sane. Not to sound cliche, but it really did fly by. And leaving is truly bittersweet. 

Throughout my service, I’ve learned that:

  • I like teaching
  • I’m good at improvising
  • I can live pretty minimally (I can’t wait to throw tons of crap out when I get home)
  • I can be lazier than I ever thought possible
  • Either I am much less mature than I thought, or I’ve regressed (and I’m OK with that!)
  • I can go for days without showering
  • I am spoiled by Chinese students and Chinese teaching hours
  • I can eat rice almost everyday for 2 years straight and still love it

While there are many reason why I’m excited to leave (missing people, food, my health), I’m also really sad to go. I’ve made some great friends that I see several times a week. I’ve even made some awesome Chinese friends. Like many PCVs, two years is both just enough and not enough time. Enough time to miss home and get tired of the problems. But it’s like, just when you’ve found your groove and connected with students, it’s time to go.

If it weren’t for my health issues, I definitely would have considered a third year. Why? Because I have students that offer to take care of me or buy me fruit when I’m sick. They tell me I’m their friend instead of their teacher. That they’ll miss me and remember me forever. Last week, I went to support a student’s dance performance and she told me the dance was dedicated to me, and she hugged me and told me she loved me. And whenever I need help, students offer to give it.

This past weekend, I was hanging with a student that told me two years ago that after college she would have an arranged marriage (which she didn’t want, but family, religion, and community pressures would force her). While we were chatting this weekend, she told me that, after graduation, she might have a job lined up as a translator with a friend, and that she wants to travel and take care of herself, be independent, despite all the pressure to be a wife and the idea that “a degree is enough [for a woman]”. I’m extremely proud of her and so happy to hear it. I really hope she’s able to do this. 

While I do have students who can be lazy, not care, or maybe don’t like me, I’ve learned the lesson that all teachers learn: it’s those few exceptions that make it all worth it. It just sometimes seems that more of these exceptions exist here than they would elsewhere.

I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life, but I will never forget my Peace Corps experience. I got to live out the dream I’d had for over a decade. And I got to do it with the person I love. It’s been the best experience of my life.