Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Return to Korea: Part 1

Korea is the birthplace - or at the very least, the raison d'être - of this blog. It's the country where I met the love of my life, the country where I lived for a year and a half, and the country where I learned about a fascinating culture, and experienced a wealth of sights and festivities, including mud festivals, pink mountains, penis parks, palaces, puppy cafes, and excursions across the North Korean border. It was never our plan to return, but when we realised Korea would be one of the easier places to get my American green card, we started applying for teaching jobs immediately, and before we knew it, our planes were booked and we were all set for another year in this awesome country.

During my first year in Korea I think I wrote over a hundred blog posts detailing various adventures and experiences that Angela and I shared. This year, I just haven't had the time or energy, since I've been focusing on other writing pursuits, namely freelance writing and fiction. Nevertheless, we have visited some amazing must-see places that we missed the last time, including the beautiful islands of Jeju and Ulleungdo, so now seems a good time for a general update. Here's a basic rundown of our last six months.

This is Hanam City, our current Korean hometown. Located in eastern Gyeonggi-do Province, it's a pretty unremarkable satellite city of Seoul, and I can't think of many good reasons to visit. This is made worse by the fact that there's no metro station yet (it's opening in 2016, too late for us!), so the only way to Seoul is via bus or taxi. This has made life here feel isolating, and we pine for the days when we could just take a quick subway ride to the cool districts Seoul has to offer. We do still travel into the capital a lot - just not as easily as we would like - and Hanam does at least offer a decent range of restaurants and shops. The locals are also friendlier and less ostentatious than those in Gangnam and other parts of Seoul.
Probably the most interesting thing in Hanam is Deokpung Market, which is often abuzz with vendors selling battered vegetables, pigs feet, blood sausage and tteokbokki.
Our apartment here is pretty small compared to where we used to live, but we've gradually made it our own, decorating it with ornaments, maps and travel photos.
Pretty early on we bought ourselves bicycles, which we often ride to work via pretty canals and mountainous scenery.
Here's our current workplace: KEDLP (Korean-English Dual-Language Program). During our first two months our school was actually based in a different location, a stone's throw from our apartment, but now we're in a quieter part of Hanam fifteen minutes away. It's probably the prettiest hagwon I've worked in, but the fact that it's made up of several buildings does bring up some logistical issues that I won't go into it.
There are only two other foreign co-workers at our school. This is Maresha and Wade, who've been super friendly and welcoming to us. They've actually been in Korea for five years, and are finishing off one more year before returning home to Washington state. We've become good friends over the last six months, and they've introduced us to some great bars and restaurants in Hanam, particularly Dino Meat. Man, I could write a whole blog post about Dino Meat. Suffice to say, it's pretty much the best Korean food we've ever eaten: the reddest, most delectable beef, cheese-filled tteok, and the best kimchi, all unlimited. We were going there on a weekly basis for the longest time, but have tried to cut down recently as it's not the cheapest or healthiest of meals.
Here's Angela with one of her favourite classes at KEDLP.
Blowing bubbles outside during early spring.
One of the first trips we went on this year was to Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. Unfortunately, stormy weather, poor organisation on the part of our tour operators, and terrible traffic resulted in one of the worst trips we've ever been on. We didn't even get to attend the festival, though we did at least see some cherry blossoms.
Just like during our first year, we've made a point of visiting Angela's Korean family as regularly as we can. They are doing well, and Angela's cousins, Eun-Young and Eun-Ji are currently working hard developing their own teashop business.
We also made a point of returning to our old neighbourhoods. Here we are in Cheolsan, my first hometown in Korea. Those lights in the background were one of the first things I saw in Korea upon arrival back in October of 2012.
Not a whole lot has changed in Seoul since we left, but one thing of note is Lotte World Tower, which is twice the height it was when we left. It's currently projected to become the world's fourth tallest building.
We had such a gorgeous, sunny spring this year that we regularly ventured into Seoul for some good old-fashioned sightseeing. I took Angela to the Great Wall of Korea, Hwaseong Fortress, in Suwon, which I'd previously visited in winter, though it looked much different in this warm, flowery weather.
Dongdaemun History and Culture Park was under construction when we left, but was now complete.
We were excited to return to our favourite mountain in Seoul: Inwangsan. When I originally wrote my list of top 50 experiences in Korea, climbing this was at number one.

Here we are drinking on the Han River with our old friends, Matt and Kimmi, who actually returned to Korea on the exact same date as we did. Adding to the coincidence was the fact that their school put them on the same flight as us. We shared a plane from the US to Korea, and we've continued to hang out with them on the weekends in Seoul.
On May 15th, Korea celebrates Teacher's Day. This year, our students' parents generously gave us a ton of gifts, including candles, vitamins, toiletries, and copious Starbucks gift cards.
Here's Noel on a strawberry picking field trip.
Here's Aiden on the same trip. I had to include a picture of him, since he's probably the most exasperating yet irresistibly enthusiastic student I've ever taught.
Another sunny weekend saw us return to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Sitting by peaceful palace grounds on a sparkling, sunny day, colouring with the one you love. Can life possibly get better than this?
For Buddha's Birthday, we went to Jogyesa Temple, which was colourfully decorated with lanterns.
We even got to make our own...
...before taking them to the Lotus Lantern Festival.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!

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