Saturday, December 29, 2007

Changdeokgung Palace

On a cultural bend, we decided to visit the second-largest palace in Seoul, Changdeokgung Palace. It was built in 1405 as a secondary residence for the King, but became the primary palace from 1590 to 1896 when the primary palace, Gyeongbokgung, burned down.

Designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997, Changdeokgung Palace can only be seen on a tour. Our Korean tour guide spoke understandable English, as she took us around the beautiful ancient buildings and the wild serene forest behind.

Taking photographs there was a wonderful experience. The palace is full of amazing colours. I hope you enjoy them:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Portrait of Seoul

Merry Christmas viewers of Bond's Blog! As a gift, here are some new pictures from Korea:

(I apologize for posting pictures on Facebook. I thought everyone could view them there without having to sign up, but apparently you can't. So I will return to posting my photographs back on Bond's Blog as well! Thanks for the notes. Check back for more!)

Walking the Streets of Seoul with my camera.

The Cheonggyecheon Stream

Jongno Area - Old Downtown Seoul


Traditional Dresses for Korean Women

Seoul is surrounded by hills and crossed by highways.
Apartment buildings are everywhere.

Cave paintings on these apartments...

Typical Gas Station in Seoul (Where are the pumps?)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Housewarming Party

Last night, Stephen and I had our housewarming party in our new place. Luckily, we do not have 50 rolls of toilet paper now.

Traditionally, a housewarming party in Korea is a stressful time for the host. They are expected to make lots and lots of food and provide drinks in a very formal atmosphere. In return, the guests bring gifts. Gifts such as dish soap, garbage bags and toilet paper... Any household necessity.

Our party was nothing of the sort. We provided snacks and beer/pop, while our guests brought food in a much more informal atmosphere! Two of our co-workers joined ten of Stephen's Korean friends in our large living room, and promptly sat down in a circle with the food in the center. This is a Korean-style Party.

While Steve and I were trying to figure out how to mix things up, Mr. Lee - our landlord - arrived, bearing more food! He stayed for a while and we all had a great time. Once he left, we moved the party down the street to a bar in Shinchon.

Overall, a successful blending of Korean and Western housewarming parties. And a successful kick-off to our social life in Seoul!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Today, there is a new President of South Korea.

His name is Lee Myung-bak, or Mr. Lee (as Korean family names are put first) and he used to be the Mayor of Seoul. As mayor, he helped "green-ify" Seoul by creating the Seoul Forest and reviving Cheonggyecheon, a stream passing though the downtown core. Mr. Lee is the conservative leader that 48.6% of Koreans want to fix their economy.

Yesterday, all Koreans had a day off from work so that they could vote. Over 60% of Koreans turned out to vote, which is the lowest in South Korean history. My classes also had the lowest turn out yet, as I was still working. Talking with those student who did show up, I found out much about Korean Politics.

Here are some interesting facts about politics in Korea:

-Did you know Korea has a President and a Prime Minister? Well, the President is the highest post one can achieve, while the Prime Minister is appointed by the President and assists him.

-There were 12 candidates for yesterday's election! Each candidate is given a number to campaign with: 1-12. Lee Myong-Bak was Number 2.

-The Number 8 candidate, Hun Kyoung-Young claimed to have an IQ of 430, promised to "transport" the UN Building to Seoul from New York, and would pay thousands of dollars (millions of won) to anyone who got married. Yeah. Mr. Huh also said he had the support of long-dead ex-president Park to marry Park Geun-Hye, an former female presidential nominee! Mr. Huh received 0.4% of the vote, which, amazingly, was higher than three other candidates...

-The official residence of the President of Korea is the Blue House. (Not to be confused with the White House!)

-Yesterday's election was marred by scandal, as Mr. Lee (the front-runner and eventual winner) was named in allegations of stock market fixing while he was head of the Hyondai Company.

End of KOREA FACTS! Ah, Politics....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Photos: My First Two Weeks in Seoul!

It has almost been two weeks since I arrived in Seoul, which means it is high time to post some pictures. Click on the link below to see my photographs:

Photos: My first two weeks in Seoul

Enjoy them!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Settling In...

What a crazy week this has been!

Arriving in Korea, being shocked by culture, starting work, meeting co-workers, searching for an apartment, enjoying the nightlife, finding an apartment, getting a phone, and setting up the apartment. Whew!

Yes, we finally found an apartment and moved in on Tuesday! After a week of searching, we found a large, three-bedroom place on the second floor of a "house." Not an apartment or office tower, but a floor in a five story building, owned by our landlord - in this case, Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee (or Mystery as we sometimes lovingly call him) is Korea, but he has lived in Vancouver for a few years, so he knows the city and speaks broken English. He is extremely nice and fun to talk to and has been very kind to us. Usually, apartments in Seoul do not come with any "options" (fridge, stove, furniture etc), but Mr. Lee has hooked us up with options at no extra cost. Fridge, gas range, TV, desk, 2 side tables, 4 plastic chairs and table, 2 plants, 2 single beds, and some plates, bowls, cups and cutlery!!! And 70 hangers. Every time we return home from work, something new has been added to our apartment. Today, it was the appearence of a washing machine in the bathroom! And this is the reason he is called Mystery...

So with heated floors, cable TV, and stolen internet from upstairs (thanks "Tom"), life is good. It got even better with the purchase of our new cell phones. It is by far the most advanced phone I have ever owned, and it is the cheapest phone I could buy. Camera, movies, mp3, internet, alarm, games, text AND you can talk on it! Amazing! I'll email my number about soon. If you don't get it, leave a reply.

Oh, the best part about the new house is that it is 10 minutes away from school. Perfect, so in my 3 hour breaks between classes, I can mosey on home and catch a nap or food. We live in the Sincheon Area of Seoul, between Sincheon and Idae Subway Stations.

Goodbye Love Hotel, Hello New House!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Housing in Soeul: a study in frustration

One of the most important things when starting up in a new country is to find shelter. Procuring housing in Seoul is an interesting and frustrating process.

Upon landing in Korea, our English Company has put Steve and I up in a hotel behind the school. This is of course a temporary situation, until we can find a place to live.

The hotel we are currently staying in (which we will have to start paying for as of Sunday, at $40 a night) is called a Love Hotel. There are many Love Hotels in the area behind the school. What is a Love Hotel, you ask? Take a guess. I'll just say that Koreans tend to live at home until they are married, but have girlfriends/boyfriends before that, and that there is a high percentage of cheating among marriages... So I think you can guess on the use of the Love Hotel.

Hilariously, each Love Hotel tries to outdo the next in tacky outside decor. Flashing neon signs, multi-coloured English and Koren words advertising the pleasing room, fake plastic plants and tube lights - still in a coil - stapled to the wall! "Come and stay at the Lexy Hotel!" Yes, very lexy...

Actually, staying at the Love Hotel is awesome. We both have our own rooms, complete with huge bed, super clean western-style washrooms, huge TVs (with cable), and a cleaning service every day! The TV even has three or four English channels, one of which being the American Military Broadcasting Network - intersplicing your favorite shows with inspirational military content. Last night, we caught Million Dollar Baby. Great movie.

Steve and I are looking for a two or three bedroom apartment close to the school (in Shincheon, an area of Seoul) or on Line 2 of the subway, which is close to the school. We also want it to be close to the fun area of Hongik (university area, clubs, pubs, jazz spots). Unfortunately, almost all the apartments in Seoul are one-bedrooms. That, or tiny dirty unfinished two-shoebox-sized-bedrooms.

The process for finding a place is to have an interpreter join you at a Real Estate Agents, where they talk a lot in Korean and you wait, nodding when they gesture to you. Eventually, the Agent understands what you want and you follow them to the apartment. They open the door, show you around in Korea, while the translator (in our case today, one of our teaching friends) rattles off what she says. "This is a two bedroom. This is the bathroom. This is the floor..." and so on.

Three days ago, we found a great place on the fifth floor with three rooms. Steve and I both loved it, and compared to the other places we were shown, it was better that the rest. It even had a roof top patio! Unfortunately, today we found out that the landlord has a bad credit rating and our school will not pay the key money, meaning we can't live there. Ugh...

(Key money is one year's rent payed in a lump sum up front. That is how rent works here - pay once and that's it. Obviously, we can't afford that so the school pays the key money and we pay back the school.)

So that leaves us with out number two choice, another three bedroom (cheaper) in not as good a location. Hopefully, we can get that one...

I will update you with what happens and what house we get soon. Now, it is time for my first weekend here and sleeping and going out. Should be fun!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Seoul Life - Day 2

------48 hours since my arrival in Seoul.-------

In a word: Amazing.

My life:

5:45am - Walk up to one of my two alarm clocks (I cannot sleep in). Fall out of the bed in my hotel (called a "love hotel" because of the "love" that often occurs within) and stumble to the tiny but surprisingly western toilet. After getting ready, I walk up a floor, meet Steve, and leave the hotel.

6:15am - Walk across the back alley to the convenience store and purchase a rice roll and yogurt for breakfast. Walk 30 seconds to the back of the School.

6:25am - Enter the school and prepare for my first classes.

7:00am - First class. Level 2. 6 sleepy business people. I realize the hardest part of the job will be remembering names (Heoug Ji or Ji Heoug or Jeoug Hi or Hi Jeoung. or Jimmy...)

8:00am - Second class. Level 2. Younger group of 8 more awake Koreans.

9:00 am - Break until 11am, which is a level 1 class with one student for two hours. Quite a long class...

1pm - Big break. 6 hours to sleep, eat, explore. Yesterday, Steve and I walked from our home base of Shincheon to the Han River, 3 subway stops away.

6:45pm - Return to work for 7pm and 8pm class. More names I cannot remember. Quite tired now.

9pm - School is over and you have the option of SLEEP or go out. Last night, we went out and met Steve's friend GiSu at a Bar in Hongik called the Crazy Monkey. Food was amazing and a strange "happy birthday" song erupted (a different version of Happy Birthday, but in English).

1am - Return home by subway and fall into bed. Watch hilarious Korean TV for 1 sec before falling asleep.

Luckily, I had set my alarm clocks. And so the cycle continues....

The weekend is looking mighty tempting right about now!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Flight Tomorrow!

In 11 hours, I will be getting onto a large Air Canada plane, AC63, heading west across the largest ocean on Earth. 11.5 hours later, I'll have crossed the Pacific and landed at Incheon Airport in Seoul. From that point on, I do not know what I am doing....

I think we are being met by the school...
I think they are putting us up in a hotel for a few nights...
I think they buy us a dinner...
I think I don't really know what is happening tomorrow.

Things I am not looking forward to:
1. Kimchi.
2. Hit by cars. 100 times more pedestrian imparts than in Canada.
3. Learning to teach English ESL. That's not really true, I can't wait, I'm just nervous...
4. Really hot summers. So hot (apparently)...
5. Explosive land mines in easily missed signs on chain link fences...DMZish...
6. Umm...

Really though, I am looking forward to this year in Korea. I am also looking forward to a plane flight with movies and reading and plane food and everything! If you haven't noticed, I love flying!

See you in Korea!