A Travellerspoint blog


overcast 6 °C

So we were told that if you dropped a loonie on the ground downtown Tokyo, that the land that it covered could not be purchased with that dollar. No kidding… Therefore by boarding a plane for a short flight, we were off to Japan’s capital.

Well not quite, we, (Michael, Monique and two coworkers Michael and Rose) actually ended up getting a flight to Nagoya, which was about two hours out from Tokyo. This decision was more bases out of availability and not economics, because once we landed we needed to take a bullet train to the capital, which ended up costing $110. And that is when it hit us… How truly expensive this city was going to be.
Us getting ready for our first ride on the confusing Tokyo subway

Upon arriving in the city we spent a little time becoming acquainted with the comprehensive subway system, which is also one of the most complicated ones as well. You see Tokyo has about 15 subway lines, divided by two different operators. As we quickly realized that traveling on one line was easy, but in most circumstances one would have to transfer lines. Which meant that unless it was a same operator, you need to exit the subway, and enter and pay for an upgraded fair at the other companies booth, and then reenter the subway (different line), and continue with your journey. This was quite the welcoming we had so way being that we were paying much more then we had ever hard for transportation, in a vastly complicated system and city.

Nevertheless we discovered day passes for both systems, which not only was a reasonable price and much more manageable. Which then took us to our hostel, which was a really nice little place off of Akebonobashi station in Shunjuku district. It was a “cubical” style hostel which meant we had a little square in the wall where you could find our bed, and a locker down the hall. It was really nice because it had all the amenities; computers, clean facilities, a lounge and best of all beer vending machines!
Ace Inn Shinjuku our great hostel

Immediately we wanted to see this magnificent city, so we headed to The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices which was a set of very tall buildings overlooking the city for free. From here it was where we could see that the entire city, and how vast it truly was. Not to mention the backdrop of Mount. Fuji with its glacier covered peak.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices
Look at the view (and I don't mean Monique)
Monique and Michael
Monique and her beloved Monchichi dolls

After this we headed to Senso-ji in Asakusa where we saw the major market and one of the many Japanese temples and gardens. This was a beautiful temple that is open to daily prayers and incense burning. This was followed by views of the temple tower and the garden which Michael tried to capture, however is still learning a lot about his new camera.
Asakusa shopping area
There happen to be a photography lesson going on, so this is a picture of people taking pictures?!?!?!
Dont' Feed the Pigeons: the caption says "I can get my food by myself!"
Monique and Michael

Later on we went to a traditional Japanese restaurant and had out true first encounter with Japanese food. Despite Monique’s reluctance, Michael was pointing to anything on the menu and tried to keep a straight face when unusual raw fish that he’d never seen before showed up.
Monique doesn't look so impressed by the random raw fish on the way.
Unknown "thing"

After a little more touring around we headed to the hostel with every intention of getting ready for a night out. Despite this, we were lured to the top floor lounge were with beer vending machines and many other fellow travelers, who we ended up striking up a conversation with and spent the entire night exchanging stories.

The next day we were off to an early start to tour around the city. We spent some time in the business district of town where we spent a great deal of time looking as some of the vast architecture of this modern economic superpower’s capital city. This walking expedition eventually lead us to the Fukiage Imperial Gardens which hosts the Imperial Palace. Despite it being closed (its only open 2 days a year), it was a magnificent city of history architecture, pride, and tradition. At the time we showed up there was a changing of the guard, which truly demonstrated the Japanese’s ability to remain consistent with tradition.

After walking about and getting dinner we later headed back to the hostel to clean up and get ready for a bit night out. We paired up with some friends we met the night before and end up going out in the Shinjuku area which was luckily nearby. By the time we left the hostel and our pre-party adventures it was too late to take the subway – which meant taking a cab. And as warned, we got in and the base fare… $7.00, and it only climbs from there. Here we went out to several spots including a couple lower key lounges, and had another fantastic introduction to the nightlight of Tokyo.

The following day we were up at it again early, and this time off to the Tokyo downtown district to see some of the bigger shopping and corporate districts. We spent a great deal of time wandering aimlessly which despite how it sounds was truly a unique experience. We eventually saw the main shopping district, which was amazing to see, not only for the amount of consumerism in this country, but also the layout. For example, at one point we were standing at an intersection which had 5 directions of traffic flowing thought it, and then rather then having one section of pedestrians walking at one given time, this start shaped intersection had a walking time where everyone set off at the time same time with a possibility of 30 different point of direction. It was madness to see about 200 people of setting off in their own direction without mass collisions occurring. The rest of our last day in Tokyo made it lower key. Some casual meals, a café patio, and a meander through the city taking photos or the random things we would come across. This was also a good chance to have our last experience with Japanese food, where we spent a great deal of time tasting and sampling the food once again.
Insane crosswalk
Rose and Monique

That night we were back with our new friends and getting to go out to the main night life regions. This trip brought us down to a packed area of clubs which we sampled as we made our way down this region. After seeing everything from sumo wrestlers at the bar, to street performers, we went to a more upscale club district which had several big DJ’s in town. We ended up looking for the right club which eventually took us to the great little underground place. Eventually we needed to get back, because Travis our new friend had to catch a flight and ended up having to cab back to the hostel in order to catch his flight.
I says "Drink 15 different shots in one night and get your plaque on the wall and get a free t-shirt"
It was obviosuly a very popular challenge
Michael, Monique and two sumo wrestlers at a random bar

The next day we were up a bit later, understandable, but not that late. By the time we had our breakfast and were packed up, it was time to head back to the main bullet train station to head back to Nagoya to catch our evening flight back to Korea.

All in all the trip was a short couple days, but and excellent introduction to a country we will be definitely visiting again once we finish our year in Korea. Hope all is well, and keep looking for the blogs. We will try to be a bit better with them in the future, but right now we are busy planning out the 5 month expedition coming up as of August. Best wishes from Asia!

Oh and Michael went Skiing to Phonix Resort. It was really nice to get out a couple times this year to some decent skiing. The trip was $150 and included skiing, rental, hotel and transportation. The runs were nice, especially when he broke off from the group of beginners and spent the majority of the day with tunes in his ear on the top half of the mountain getting in many many runs.
Michael, Stephanie, Kate and Chris

Posted by koreaeh 20:57 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)


For Christmas, Monique's Birthday and New Years

sunny 32 °C

Looking back… Thailand lived up to every expectation we had about it. Perhaps a bold statement, but it was truly a postcard at every turn!

Steph, Jinny, Monique and Michael took off on the 22nd of December with nine days of pure chilling in mind. We landed in Bangkok and headed to a hotel we booked at the airport. After unpacking and bit of organizing the four of us snuggly fit into a tiny room that had two single beds. At first we took a cab to a travel agent to sort out some domestic travel plans, and then were recommended to walk up the ‘main’ road to find something to eat and eventually ended up at Khao San Road.

This worked out particularly well, for we found a really good family restaurant. Within two minutes of sitting a lovely woman who owned the restaurant came out and gave us a warm welcoming. She began to explain the menu in her broken English while showing so much passion for her culture. Upon ordering she had Thai cook books and travel brochures on our table to look through, and was behind the counter rummaging through a cardboard box of cassettes to play for us. If the ambience wasn’t enough, the food arrived with perfect presentation and outstanding favour! Upon finishing our meal and drinks and paying a whopping five dollars per person, we continued down towards Khao San Road.
Yummy Restaurant

This is a single road infested with foreigners, a multitude of clothing shops, bars and authentic Thai artifacts. Seeing as we only had the afternoon we decided to spend our time here and save sight seeing until the following day. Michael started to dig into this road very quickly; because he wanted to have some clothing tailored and couldn’t afford any time. After walking up and down this stretch and finding a tailor we were ready for some night life. The problem was that Thailand was having an election, which resulted in an alcohol ban for the Saturday and Sunday night until midnight! This resulted in us wondering around for a little longer, until Jinny decided that she wanted to have her braided and extended. As she began this what would becoming an extensive experience, Steph, Monique and Michael set out to find a bar that would sell some contraband drinks! We were successful, but not before we stumbled across a Thai massage parlor. The three of us opted for one, and went upstairs. We were brought into an open room, however a curtain was pulled around the three of us. This was unusual because we were then asked to undress. This process began; however shortly after two Thai masseuses drew the curtain open exposing Steph and Monique in very venerable positions. However it was all worth it, the $5.00 hour long massage made you feel like a new person after.

Upon this we returned to the bar and then periodically visited Jinny to check her progress with her hair. In the end we eventually closed down the bar, but were remarkably amazed to come back to Jinny who now had been sitting for 3 hours and had an entire family of younger kids braiding her hair. Once this was done we returned to the hotel and called it a night.
Jinny already 3 hours into getting her hair done and not even half way done.

The following morning we were up and determined to see some sights. Well, after eating and going to the tailor for a fitting for an oriental dress that Steph was going to have made. We then headed off to the Grand Palace which was very different to the one we had visited in China. Primarily, although they used a similar lay out for buildings of hierarchal relevance, they were spaced much more closely. The decorating of the buildings were much more elaborate as well, including vibrant colours. This also included many gold statues and buildings covered in coloured glass and mirrors. Upon spending a fair amount of time touring the grounds, we ended up at a restaurant within the temple. And to our luck, they didn’t adhere to the alcohol ban, and it was happy hour in Thailand!
Grand Palace
Monique, Jinny and Stephanie
Monique being scary.
Michael being........ Michael!
Monique and Michael
Jinny, Stephanie, Monique and Michael with their contraband beer.

After this we toured around some other beautiful sights around Bangkok including a modern dignitary’s palace and its gardens. This led us to hear about Chinatown which was a short ride from where we were. We hailed down a Tuck-tuck which is a retrofitted motorcycle with a bench on the back. After negotiating a price, and stating our concern with not wanting to go to their ‘friends store’ (most of these drivers will try to bring you to a store to have to buy things) we were off.
Our Tuck Tuck ride.

Chinatown was another side of Bangkok that we needed to see. With crowed streets and a serious automotive pollution issue we saw what we needed to see in a short amount of time. That night Jinny took off to the train station, she was heading to our next destination a day early, to meet up with the three of us who were taking to plane the next day. We took it easy this night and headed to a market area where we got to see some of the night markets. The rest of the evening was less desirable, as we were pulled into a “lady dancing” show and then accosted into paying a ridiculous amount of money for the drinks we ordered. That night things turned for Michael as he woke up in the middle of the night and realized that the water he had drank out of a public water fountain was causing him to have a fever and being really ill.

The following morning was not much better. Going to the airport was difficult because Michael had picked up a water borne bacterium and literally had a cab reject taking us because he threw up in the bushes as the driver was going to pick up Steph’s backpack. We all finally made it not only to the airport but to Ko Samui where we met up with Ashley.

We drove to the hotel, and as we passed through the town we realized it was a huge resort town. With a new resort every 50 meters on the waterside of the road, and shops and bars on the other, we knew we were still in a tourist area. Upon arriving at our hotel we settled the four girls and Michael into a room. (Michael wants to add at this point, “yes”, it was “utter hell” traveling with four women to a paradise beach island… Great success!!!)
Our hotels beach...... so beautiful!

That day we chilled out on the beach and saved our energy for the upcoming night. That night being Christmas Eve, there was a mandatory ‘gala dinner’ that we attended at our resort. This was a nice event however, truth be told, it was also a full moon this particular evening. And rumor has it, that Thailand’s Ko Pha-Ngan Island has a ridiculous party these nights. So the girls minus Michael, who was still bedridden, were off to this neighbouring island for quite an evening.
Christmas Eve Diner Gala (We're not very happy looking because we were very hungry and just wanted to eat now!)
Jinny and Monique

On the way their they met some Canadians who mentioned that this time last year one of the taxi boats that they were on was at over capacity and ended up sinking, causing 12 people to drown that night. Clinging afterwards to lifejackets, they finally arrived where they had to jump into half meter water and walk the remainder of the way to the beach. The atmosphere was like no other! This beach on this particular night sees the sea level recede and expose more then 200 meters of extra beach. Local vendors set up tables with buckets of alcohol, and the five or six major clubs that face out onto the beach pump loud music to create many different ‘worlds’ as you walk along the beach. The entire night is a sporadic night of sensory overload with major contributing factors including alcohol, music, fire shows and multitudes of foreign backpackers who are there for all the right reasons. Highlights of this night include James who became a self proclaimed fire expert, until he severally burned himself with a torch, and a child whose parents left him to sleep in a hammock next to a raging speaker!
Ashley, Monique and Stephanie with our new Canadian friends on the boat to the Full Moon party
Flame throwers on the beach at the Full Moon party
James contemplating playing with the fire.
James playing with the fire!
A sad photo of a child sleeping in the "Special Shake" bar next to the loud speaker and surrounded by drunk and "happy" people.

The following day was Christmas, and we decided to treat ourselves to some on land adventure and exploration. We chartered a van, and decided to enroll in several activities. The first was an authentic Thai cooking class, where we were taken to a small farm and showed how to grind the spices to create many of the popular dishes. Afterwards we headed into the mountains to do some elephant riding. We enjoyed this experience a lot, as we were able to ride through the forest on the back of a massive elephant. Upon feeding several baby elephants and chilling out next to a 20 meter waterfall, we continued on. The next stop was a monkey exhibit where trained monkeys would climb trees and retrieve coconuts. They would then show us how to extract the juice and how to make coconut shavings for desert! That night we chilled out on the beach and drank next to the crashing waves.
Stephanie, Monique, Jinny, Ashley and Michael watching Curry being made for us from scratch.
Beautiful Waterfall
Jinny and Ashley
Monique, Stephanie and Michael (riding on the elephant's neck)
An adult monkey who posed when he saw cameras.
Stephanie and the baby monkey.
Monique and the baby monkey.
Michael and the baby monkey.

The following morning we partook in another exploration adventure, however this time it was by water. We drove into town to the main port, and boarded a speed boat. It was beginning to rain and seriously made us reconsider the tour; however we took the guides recommendation that the rain would stop and we were off. Well shortly off. Most people were hiding under the canvas, and the main tour guide needed to have some people sit in the front of the boat. He ensured that everyone would get wet, and should just move now. Michael being courageous led the movement amongst the 35 other people on the boat and removed his shirt (revealing his massive muscles!) and went to sit in the rain at the front of the boat. This proved to be a profitable decision because Michael by doing this acquired one of his most cherished souvenirs; one of the marina employee shirts.
One of the first spots we stopped to go snorkeling.
Salt water lagoon
Stephanie and our tour guide Liam (who was awesome!)

By the time we reached the first stop, indeed everyone was soaked and the rain had also stopped. We were now in the National Park and were given an hour to do some snorkeling. This was very interesting due to the varieties of fish and coral available in this location. After this we went off to a private island where kayaks were waiting for us. We went for a fun hour long kayak ride and then came back to a warm lunch that was waiting for us on our private island. Our final destination was another island with a lagoon in the middle of it. We were able to hike to the top of the mountain and then back down to see the isolated lagoon. The day itself was another great way to see Thailand’s natural beauty!
Monique, Stephanie and Ashley
Monique and Michael
Ashley being a monkey because the tour guide claims the mountain behind her looks like a monkey's face.

That evening we went into town and chilled at some local establishment and hashed out some plans to migrate to Ko Pan-Ngan Island. We also said good bye to Jinny who was now leaving us to head back to the United States.
Ashley, Stephanie and Monique

The next morning we caught a personal speed boat to the island and were now in the heart of Thailand. The island was smaller and the town which we previously did not see had a much quainter feeling as well. We stepped into one of the few internet cafes to ask about hotels. The lady called around and after a couple minutes had us paired up with a resort called ‘Tommy Resort’. Her son offered to take us one by one on his moped to the resort.
Stephanie and Ashley on the 12 minute speed boat ride from Koh Samui to Koh Pan Ngan
Monique and Michael
Koh Pan Ngan

This was the gem of the trip with a personal cabin that looked out onto the ocean, with a beautiful beach, bar, pool and restaurant. So there we were, in paradise on Monique’s birthday! So, we went straight to the beach and drank! The beach was full of young travelers and which created a wonderful social community in itself.
Relaxing at the resort

That night we started hanging out on our cabins porch, when all of a sudden our neighbouring cabin dwellers came out with drinks and a guitar. Calling out requests eventually led to us joining these six guys from Israel, who turned out to be good friends by the end of the trip. After many songs, even a wonderful Happy Birthday song for Monique as she opened up her presents and ate the ice cream cone cake Michael had purchased for her, drinks were made and we set out to the beach that resembled the night of the full moon party! We danced barefoot on the sand and laughed the night away.
Our new Israeli friends.
Monique's birthday song with our new friends.
Stephanie, Monique and Michael

The following morning we were either found at the fantastic restaurant, or on the beach soaking up drinks and sun! This is to say that we potentially soaked up too much of both, and ended up with some severe burns, which later resulted in Monique, Ashley and Michael chilling at the cabin while Steph took off for another night on the beach with the Israelis.
Monique and the after burn.

The next day we all made a conscious decision to stay out of the sun. We lingered around the pool sipping drinks and reading in the shade. With our sun burns fading and a good restful day behind us we headed for dinner and drinks. Than the night continued once again to the beach were we danced up a storm on our last night in Koh Phan-ngan.
The next day in the shade
The "Special Shake" bar

The following morning we were packing up and preparing to head back to Bangkok. It was hard to say good bye to Ko Phan-ngan but we knew that we would be returning in the future! In Bangkok we met up with James and some of his coworkers and headed to a hostel that he had found on the internet. Despite the fact that it was in the outskirts of Bangkok, it was another gem! This ultra modern hostel was created by two architects who wanted to create cool lounge and hostel world. “Refill Now” as it was called, would be another place to stay upon our return. The three story building had a cool white modern feeling with clean facilities and ultra cool details throughout the entire building. Including a very cool lounge on the first floor that opened up to the outside and encompassed many leather chairs, a bar with some of the most friendliest service, a library of lonely planets and a play list of music that could sooth even the most stressed individual.
Our hostel in Bangkok

The following day we all woke up and decided to follow some previous advice about using all of the public transit methods, and headed straight to the cannel. Here we waited for a speed boat that literally didn’t stop for us to barely jump on as it took off down the river into Bangkok. This was a very fun experience and was a very different way of seeing the city.
The boat taxi ride that cost 15 cents
Michael enjoying himself on the taxi!
As you can maybe tell the boat was not designed for tall people, even Monique had to stick her head out the side.

Upon arriving we split up, as we decided that some of us wanted to see the city, while some of us who had already seen most of the sights, wanted to focus on their tailored products and buying souvenirs. That night we chilled the entire night in out hostel and soaked up the vibe and the starry sky.

The following day was New Years Eve and we all decided to start the party early. We went to a market and bar hopping for a while, and then ended up in the main square of downtown Bangkok and were treated to a close up fireworks show at the strike of midnight. We met up with friends of Kate’s that night as well who took us to a Thai bar in who knows where. We paid a small cover to get in, but with this cover you were all given a bottle of whiskey, so in turn it paid off. The bar was interesting to say the least; we were surrounded by girls dancing on tables who clearly had too much to drink. Unfortunately most of the girls were surrounded by older not so good looking men who pretty much sat their and ogled them.
At the weekend market in Bangkok.

With little rest in our systems, we were off early the next morning back to Korea. With a short stop in Hong Kong and a cozy flight we finally made it home. It was sad to step out into the cold, but our warm memories and tans reminded us of the beauty of Thailand.
Saying goodbye to Thailand from the plane.

To leave this blog we leave you with the miscellaneous collection of photographs what we took, that truly represents its infinite beauty!!
Full Moon
Truly breath taking.
Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted by koreaeh 20:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

November & December

sunny -3 °C

This blog is everything in between Beijing and Thailand we felt as though some important things happened that could not be left out. So here is a quick blog with adventures from November and December.

One of Michael’s greatest accomplishments in this month was a trek with his new bike from Bundang to Seoul which is equivalent to biking from Oakville to Toronto. He stopped to admire some scenery and take some pictures with his new camera too.
Michael on his solo bike adventure!

November and December were months filled with birthday parties and celebrations of all sorts. It started out with our friend Wennie’s birthday. We headed to our local watering hole for some drinks and dancing and as usual took over the bar and outnumbered the Koreans. The celebrations in November continued with a “Green Party” in Gagnam. One of our friends James was hosting the party at a local bar. We got to drink beer out of huge mini kegs. As you can see from the photos Monique was being her classy self and drinking right from the source. That same night we met up with some other friends and went out to another bar. We had drinks in buckets (Thailand Style) and danced the night away. However sadly the night ended with Monique’s sweater (actually her mom’s sweater, sorry!) being stolen, very sad indeed.
Wennie's Birthday!

Monique being her classy self.
Monkey Beach
Stephanie and Hooseok
Monique, Stephanne and Jinny.
Alex, Wennie, Neil, and Michael

Now this is where the month really takes off, we now celebrate Michael’s birthday. Michael’s celebration started off at work, all of our co-workers pitched in and we got Michael a delicious cake and a nice gift (camera bag for his camera).
Michael reading his lovely card.
The delicious cake.

After work we headed for some pizza in a cup and off to the bar. We started at Monkey Beach had a few starter drinks and then moved the night on to a bar called “Lose Control”, and as some of you may have guessed Michael decided to live by the rules of the bar and truly lose control. We were not at the bar for more than 5 minutes when the birthday boy had ordered about 20 shots of tequila (which he claims to hate but sure did a lot of that night). The night continued at that pace as beer was 3 for 10$ and he was putting them down like water. The night was filled with several “Drunk Michael” heart to hearts, drinking and dancing. The night came to a halt suddenly when Michael approached Monique and proclaimed he needed to be taken home. Monique kindly asked our friend Hooseok to take Michael outside while she paid the bills and gathered coats. Monique came outside to the lovely scene of Michael filling the hallway with puke. We struggled to shove Michael in a cab and finally got home. Michael after some ranting about illogical facts passed out in bed while Monique ensured the puke bucket was ready and some water.

The rest of the crew however was still at the bar celebrating on Michael’s behalf. Our good friends Stephanie and James were some of the last partiers and only left the bar because Korean women were trying to kill Stephanie (jealousy I suppose). Anyway they were sleeping at Michael’s and Monique’s house and came knocking on the door a few hours after Michael had been out for the count. As Stephanie and James explained the story of their fight at the bar, Drunk Michael came back to life. At this point Monique is no longer impressed with Drunk Michael and wants to go to bed seeing as they have to work the next day. However Drunk Michael in all his glory wakes up and turns the apartment into a disco with the lights, music and everything else. After a while of fun for Michael he finally got the point and passed out again only to wake up feeling like …… well lets be honest feeling like he had over 20 some shots of tequila.

Lose Control
One of the many round of shots.
Michael some what sober.
Michael on his way to becoming Drunk Michael.

Not sure how we survived these months but the parties kept coming. Next was a house party at our co worker Stephanne’s house. We all made delicious foods and chatted with new friends. The great night of Sangria and Wine led to the Nora Bang (karaoke bar) where everyone sang their hearts out with a little help from Sangria.
Cheers to the host Stephanne!
Linsie and Neil

In this same month we still had yet another birthday to celebrate, for our co-worker Hayley. We went to an amazing breakfast diner in Jeonga. It serves North American breakfast like pancakes, waffles, eggs, and bacon, mmmm. It was quite the feast!
Hayley's Birthday Celebration at work.
Ashley and Jinny
Wennie and Jin

One non party night that we had decided to stay in happened to be the first major snow fall in our area. So we called on the troops, dressed up and went outside for a good old Canadian snowball fight. The snowball fight which ended in bruised bodies turned into a Snow Angel making contest and the creation of a Snowman. The snowman we created was so large we had to enlist the help of random Korean strangers to help us lift the body. These business men got a kick out of the fact that A: we were foreigners and B: we were making a giant snowman at 1am. They wanted to celebrate and kindly bought us all coffees as we admired our beautiful two balled Snowman (In Korea the snowman are only made of 2 balls, they would not let us put a third ball on the snowman as a head, we were slightly confused). After the Koreans left we decided to add a baby snowman to our creation that of course was drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.
Winter wonderland
Baby snowman drinking and smoking.
The Korean business men we enlisted to life up the snowman's body.
The odd snowman with only 2 balls, we tried to add another but they would not let us.
The ice ball Alex whipped at Monique and bruised her leg.
Monique, Michael and the snowman.

Our next party was dedicated to 4 of our co-workers who were leaving. It was their last big weekend in Korea. We started at a nice Mexican restaurant for some dinner and continued to Tin Pan for some typical North American top 40 and beer. Eventually we decided to switch it up and went to this neat bar called Club Air. The bar was pretty much ours as it was a little empty; we took over the dance floor and had a great night. The next day we continued the last weekend party with our Youngdo Secret Santa party. We had a potluck dinner, everyone brought wonderful food and we had so many leftovers. There were piles of presents around our beautiful Christmas tree and everyone got some really great gifts.
Rachel (Monique's counselor at work)
The Youngdo crew.
Susan (Michael's old counselor) and Mia
Mia and Michael
Tony (our campus manager)

To end the parties we celebrated one last gentleman’s birthday our good friend William. The night began with a huge Korean Barbeque dinner and soju. The boys continued their night at Lose Control with more drinks and dancing.
William's birthday celebration.
Susan, Monique and Rachel

Overall the month of November and December flew by as it was non stop fun. Our vacation to Thailand was something we were really looking forward to and was well deserved. The next blog is about our adventures in Thailand!

On an extra note we had a request from some family members to know exactly what we do here in a day of work. So here is a quick breakdown of our schedule. On a regular day we work 2-10pm. From 2-4 we have 2 hours to prepare for our classes and eat lunch. On Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays we teach 3 classes for 2 hours each. In general our 4-6pm class is a lower level class with younger students. Our 6-8pm classes are lower level but with older students and our 8-10pm our higher level classes with teenage students. Tuesdays and Thursday are a little different, we still have 2 hours to prepare and then we have one class from 4-7pm which is 12-14 year olds at a fairly high level and our 7-10pm is all teenagers at high levels of English. A typical class consists of checking homework, then reading and discussing a story. The students have a test everyday on vocabulary from the stories and it is corrected in class. After break time we normally start the grammar lesson for the day, explain the concept and do some exercises with it. On some days we have the flexibility to do additional activities with the students or play games. Realistically our jobs are very simple and the curriculum is laid out for us. All we have to do is teach it. When we are not at school we are doing everyday things like you guys are doing, buying groceries, shopping, and whatever. Our lives here are not that much different from when we were at home….. Well maybe we’re partying a little more here!

Posted by koreaeh 05:40 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)


In A Weekend!

overcast 0 °C

Fitting well into our schedule of updates, we present to you Beijing in November (seeing as it is January now). This trip was a short visit, however full to the brim within our 2 days. To set it up, a ‘few’ coworkers had found some cheap tickets to Beijing, and on very short notice, we decided to join 13 coworkers (some from other campuses) / friends on this trip.

Up early in the morning, we all congregated at the airport with nothing more then a backpack and passport. Well no that’s not true either – being as our trip was done on a whim, Wennie the organizer, showed up with all 15 tickets and passports with Chinese visas in them.

Shortly after a one and a half hour flight, we arrived in Beijing greeted by Wennie’s mom. Mentioned previously in a blog when she came too Korea, this kind woman openly adopted all 15 of us for the weekend! Fittingly she asked how “her children were after the flight”, and then used her Chinese skills to dump us all into taxies which would bring us to a hotel she all had prearranged for us.
Us arriving at the airport and Wennie's mom waving us in!

To be truthful the ‘hotel’ was much more then that, it was in a glamorous part of town, which was an executive short to mid term housing condo – which happed to have 3 suits open for just this weekend. After becoming acquainted with the apartment, and some new coworkers whom we just met for the first time, we were off to lunch.

Full from an authentic Chinese meal were 8 people ordered different things and sampled everything as it was passed around on the ‘lazy Suzan’, we all then went off to see the city. Boarding a public bus was much of the experience, as we were jammed onto a very crowded bus. However we picked up some good advice which was “you know you have spend sufficient amount of time in a city when you have used all its forms of transportation”. As we rolled down into the downtown square we could not help but look at all of the architectural beauty of Beijing. With just under half of all the worlds high-rise cranes in China, a booming economy, and the Olympics coming this summer; it is no wonder everything just looks like it was built within the last decade. With stunning uses of marble and glass these buildings stood tall amongst all the people and congestion.

Finally we ended up at an authentic shopping area were we spent sometime wondering around looking at some of the different cultural items. This included one vendor who was selling deep fried everything, including cockroaches and whole scorpions! After we all chickened out and spent some more time looking around, we decided to head off to a different end of town for some more shopping.

We were warned before hand about the notorious ‘Silk Street’, but had no idea what to expect. To paint a picture, it’s a large store with many levels full of designer apparel that has either fallen out of the back of a factory that makes the originals, or has been made to be an authentic duplicate. Regardless the experience doesn’t stop there! With prices one tenth of what you would pay normally, and the most aggressive sellers it becomes a whirlwind of excitement! Fitting example; Monique, Stephanne and Melanie went off to purchase anything from designer purses and shoes, to sweaters and jewelry. Customarily if you showed any interest in what was in a particular booth, the seller would pull you by the arm into their booth shouting “Special price for you beautiful woman”. After negotiating and many theatrics, you would buy your designer ‘whatever’ for $10 to $20 and be on your way. However in this particular junction, Monique joked with this one seller over what amounted to a dollar ended up throwing the sweater in disgust at the price. Upon leaving and being chased down she was finally offered the price she wanted.

Michael’s story was a similar one, with James. After buying a 70 liter expedition travel backpack, he then realized he could quickly fill it up as well. After three hours Michael and James had the good guy, bad guy act perfected, cutting down most original prices by more then a tenth of what they originally offered. The group reconvened to find Michael being detained by a sales girl because he had made her and another vendor across the aisle enter into a bidding war, and she would not let him leave to get his backpack that was being held down with James in the other store. Needless to say it was a fun experience not only for the cheap merchandise, but for the general adrenaline rush as well.

The group returned to the apartment and went for a quick bite next door. As some of the group started to settle in and get some rest for an early morning trip, some of us decided there would be no rest for the wicked. Will, Jinny, Hayley, Monique and Michael went to meet up with Alex, who had some old friends in China. We met them at a Karaoke bar, which could have easily been confused for a 5 star hotel. This was a fun warm up were we were introduced to some really hospitable people who just wanted talk about our travel experience and show us a great time in their city. We then made our way to a large club district, where one of Alex’s friends knew the owner to a really good club. What we didn’t know was that this friend once hosted the club owner in Canada, and as a repayment for his gratitude we were able to bypass a huge line and were shown to our own private area in the VIP area. The club itself was very large with three independent rooms which each had a unique feel. Upon some more drinks, dancing and by now pure exhaustion, we made our move only to discover that the entire night of drinks was on the house as well!

Two hours of sleep later we were up again and this time boarding a private van. In order to see the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in one day, we needed to charter a van and start early. The Great Wall of China was our first stop, and a great way to wake up, by being out in the fresh air! The historic wall from the Ming Dynasty which was built to protect the Chinese Empire from the north was truly an amazing structural accomplishment of man kind. We walked for about one hour on the uneven boulders and steps that were put into place thousands of years ago. It is truly amazing to see a vast structure that just disappears into the mountainous landscape like an erratic stream.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China
Monique and The Great Wall
Monique and The Great Wall
This photo shows how uneven the steps were on the way up and down. You have to be careful not to fall when you're walking down these stairs!
Ashley and Kay
Ashley, Hayley, Erick, Monique, Kay, Stephanne
Michael wanted people to think it was nice and hot, not freezing like it really was. So he striped down into his summer clothes for a photo.
Michael and Hayley with the Policemen

We later ventured to the Forbidden City were we got to see first hand another historical masterpiece of the Ming Dynasty. This is a massive temple which covers close to a square kilometer, encompasses many structures that were built in succession to each other. As you pass through each building you notice the distinct patterns including the yellow roofs that sit upon bright red structures. Upon closer observation you see the use of pattern, and distinction including the use of gold lions on the roofs to demonstrate a buildings importance. This varied to buildings that were used for dignitaries and official meetings, to the Emperor’s dwellings.

On our way to the forbidden city with our travel guide.
Entrance to the Forbidden City
In the right hand corner of this photo you can see Lions on the roof, the number of Lions on the roof signifies the importance of the person who works/sleeps there. This is a lower level person's house.
Monique and James
This house has more Lions so it is a more important person's house.
This is the marriage box, they said if you rubbed the characters on the box you would have a good life filled with prosperity.
The female lion is representing a woman's duties to care for the children.

Upon leaving the temple from a different entrance, we were immediately faced with the ceremonious ‘lowering of the flag’ in Tiananmen Square. This ceremony has taken place every morning at sunrise and evening at sunset throughout its long history, including throughout its infamous student protests in ’89 where a demonstrator stood in front of approaching military tanks. This was a particularly interesting moment because it depicted the true longevity of the Chinese culture and tradition.
Soldiers practicing.
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square

After this we divided up and some of us in need to rest, while others in need of a second fix of Silk Street. Monique and Michael once again played too much of the same rhetoric as we did previously, however with much more focus on what we wanted to buy. Afterward we met up with Will, Kay, Melanie, James and Stephanne who split up for dinner. Monique, Will and Kay opted for the cheaper restaurant with beer included, while Stephanne, Melanie, James and Michael went for some authentic Chinese duck. After finishing we met and shared our stories. It turned out that later into the dinner Will and Kay got a rather unusual response at the bar upon asking if the wine on display was included as well. The waitress rather puzzled looked at them and with a straight face said “oh you didn’t know!” This was followed by a popping noise as the first of many bottles were brought to the table. Across the way, Stephanne, Melanie, James and Michael were being entertained by the head chief who personally wanted to come out and fillet the duck in front of us. Despite the long wait it was well worth the sweet duck meat that melted in ones mouth.
The chef cutting his masterpiece.

That night we returned to the apartment and Michael snuck out to the 7 Eleven to buy some beer for the few who were still fighting their exhaustion. This was a nice time chatting with coworkers who now after a few months of working together, were close friends. The following morning we were up again and flying back to Korea. A mad dash was made for the bus, as we literally all made it into work with about 1 minute to spare. All in all a beautiful trip, followed by one of the heaviest sleeps that Monday night.

Posted by koreaeh 02:11 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Korea in the Fall

Well as usual we apologize for the wait. It has been another busy month for us with our trip to Beijing, China (you will hear about that in the next blog). This blog will mostly be about the happenings of October seeing as we haven’t written anything since then.

October was another fun filled month. It started of with Michael, Stephanie and Monique deciding they needed some physical exercise after all the partying they have been doing. So we went on a walking tour of Seoul. We used our Lonely Planet guides as directions. The book would tell us where to turn, what we were supposed to be looking at and so on. Well it turns out Seoul has changed a little since the book was created (that or we don’t know how to follow directions well). So we got extremely lost and didn’t end up seeing anything beautiful at all. So instead we hopped on at the next subway station we say and went to a place called “Yongsan!”

Yongsan is Asia’s biggest electronic market. This place has anything and everything you can imagine and several floors of it. The place was litter with men seeing as like Stephanie and Monique most women were not that interested in the electronic madness. Michael on the other hand was in heaven, bargaining with the sales men, trying to find his perfect camera and deciding what type of spying lens he would buy.

The following weekend was a little more interesting. An ex-co-worker of ours called us all up and said her friend was opening a new bar downtown, and for $30 it was all you could drink. So our crew (all of our co workers) headed out to Hongdae for the night. At the bar as promised there was all you could drink, food, a great DJ, and to our surprise a Tarot card reader. Monique being eager as she is and loving this kind of stuff went first. The Tarot card reader immediately asked if Monique was dating someone and went on to talk about her “future” love life. The Tarot card reader claims that Michael is a “player” and that he has had a “wild” past. She warned Monique to be careful because there is another woman in Korea who has their eye on Michael and she is trying to get him. Then Michael took his turn with the Tarot card reader and asked about his financial future. It focused mostly on how two paths in his career exist, split between the current job (teaching) which was fun, or the other path which involves a lot of work, competition and more education. In a nut shell the ‘path less travelled’, but more interesting as this tarot card reader was seeing it.

The night continued with Monique and a co-worker entering a dance contest (this is what all you can drink does to people). Long story short, the co-worker bailed on Monique leaving her along on the stage. However she pulled it off and ended up winning the contest. She won some lovely mugs and two tickers to an Aquarium in Seoul (later deemed as ‘shaking her jugs for mugs’). We were all so proud of her! Eventually, around 5 am the night comes to an end with some breakfast to sober us up.

For the short time that we have been working at Young Do it seems as though the Korean counsellors that we have quickly come and go. It is unfortunate because the ones we have lost are the ones that we really liked. So yet again another counsellor leaves us. So we have a good bye night for Linsie first by having dinner at a Chinese inspired restaurant and then by heading to the famous Monkey Beach we always go to. The night was spiced up a little by the arrival of friends of ours that work at a different Young Do campus. One of the girls’ mothers was in town for the week. Her mom was a blast, drinking it up with the rest of us. An extremely caring woman who made us all wish our mommies were there visiting us too. (We miss you!!!!)

The following weekend was an experience we never want to have again. We decided to attend the World Fireworks Show that was being held in Seoul. To do this we needed to make our way to Yeumido Station. The first couple subway stops were fine but then we arrived at the stop that would finally take us to Yeumido. Describing what he saw as less than a million people crammed into one very small subway stop is an understatement. But being the brave soldiers we are we thought we could tough it out. So we joined the masses, but little did we know that once you got down to the bottom of the stop where you actually get on the subway, this is where hell broke loose. People we pushing and shoving, children were screaming and crying. An old woman was pushed to the ground and walked on and there was nothing you could do to stop it. You could stop people from pushing and you could barely stand your ground, so you had no choice but to go with the crowd. The worst parts came (we suffered through this for over 45 minutes) when the Subways would arrive. When the doors to the subways would open all you could hear were screams, the people inside the subway were getting trampled by the people waiting to get on the subway. People just pushed until they got on. The problem was when each subway arrived at our platform it was already full so when you have a mob pushing more people into it things get scary. All in all that experience is one of our worst so far, Monique did not enjoy herself what so ever. Once we did get to the fireworks show it was quite beautiful and we got a kick out of the fact that 15 year old boys were in charge of selling hand fireworks that kids were using to shoot at each other. We all know it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!

That Sunday we decided to takes things a little easier after being so traumatized. We headed to the huge Co-Ex Aquarium and Mall. Michael and Monique went to the aquarium (courtesy of the free tickets Monique won for shaking her booty). We saw some incredible creatures like Nemo (clown fish) and a two headed turtle. They also had a whole section of fish in every day items, for example there were fish in a washing machine, fridge, toilet etc. The best part for Michael was the crazy sharks and Monique’s favourite part was the adorable Jelly fish! All in all it was definitely worth the booty shake for the free tickets.

The next Saturday was one of our co workers Alex’s birthday. We went out to something called Club Night where you pay $15 to get into all of the clubs and one free drink. The night itself was all over the place and it seemed the only two people that were having a wild time was Drunk Michael and Drunk Neil. These two boys were having their own party and were living it up to say the least. Let’s just say the next day was rough. On Sunday we went out with friends of Stephanie’s to a Soju Infusion bar where they infuse alcohol and fruit. We have no clue how it’s done, all we know is that it is delicious and it gets you mighty tipsy!

Now for the final weekend of October. This was the weekend before Halloween and Michael and Monique needed to buy costumes for the big Halloween party that was being held at their schools. On the way to the Halloween store Michael unfortunately lost his cell phone and was extremely pissed about it. We called the phone about a million times and eventually lost hope. Then a couple hours later Monique got a call on her cell phone from Michael’s cell phone. It was their co-worker Stephanne. The story goes that on the way to the subway Michael dropped his cell phone out of his pocket. A “beggar” on the street saw the phone and picked it up but he could not figure out how to call because he did not speak any English. So the man wrote a sign in Korean saying “ I have found a foreigner’s cell phone but I do not speak English can someone please help me.” A random business man walking down the street saw this sign and purchased the cell phone from the beggar. He then called the last person Michael had called, Stephanne. He explained the situation to Stephanne and offered to go out of his way to drop the cell phone off to her. They met at our subway stop, Yatap Station where the man waited carrying a beautiful rose and the cell phone. He handed Stephanne the cell and the flower and thanked her and other foreigners for coming to Korea because we have made it a better place. The man refused any compensation and did not want to be contacted because he knew Michael would try to repay the favour. To say the least, we were all wowed by the situation!

Are weekend continued on a great note and the kindness of strangers. Michael and Monique headed on a hike. We hiked the highest mountain in Seoul, Dobongsan. The leaves were just starting to change colours and it was beautiful weather. This was quite the challenging hike, at some points you had to use cable wire to hold your self up and cross or metal bars to climb up the mountain it was so steep. There were several main peaks on this mountain so the hike ended up being a little more strenuous than we had bargained for. We also started the hike a little late and got to enjoy the sunset from the highest peak on the mountain. Now this was a beautiful sight however as we all know after the sun sets, it gets dark and in the middle of the forest there are no street lights to guide you. So Michael and Monique ended up getting lost on the way home, it was so dark and slippery we both kept falling down rocks and twisting our ankles. Michael wasn’t too concerned as he found this to be an adventure, Monique on the other hand was having a panic attack about whether or not they would make it out alive. Eventually we met up with some other hikers who had LIGHTS so Monique was bound and determined not to lose these hikers and literally joined their group until they lead us out of the mountain. It was a beautiful experience once it was over!

We finally closed the month with Halloween. This was a lot of fun to get the kids interested in school, and well feel them a lot of candy! We had theme rooms with ghost piñatas and scary movies like ‘thriller’ lol. The kids had a lot of fun, and we enjoyed getting dressed up!

October was another wonderful month for us here in Korea. We are living it up here and enjoying our lives to the fullest. Look forward to November’s blog about our adventures in Beijing!

Posted by koreaeh 06:03 Comments (0)

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