Thursday, April 4, 2013

Korea: A Year Later

            It's been a year since I left Korea and it's time for an update.  Three weeks after leaving Korea I went to China with my family and had an incredible experience.  Since I shared my experience of living in Korea I've decided to share our trip to China as well.  You can go to that blog by clicking here y'all.
            After China I settled back to Tennessee and tried to figure out what to do next with TL. It was difficult to figure out what to do because I felt like I was looking at everything after getting new glasses. Things that used to be important to me, worrying about high gas prices for example, no longer were. Things that I used to take for granted, open green space, I no longer did. (If you're a former expat or service member you know what I'm talking about.  If you're reading this and you're in one of those two groups and are having trouble adjusting shoot me an email.  If you're around Nashville, we'll meet up and the first round is on me).
            That adjustment wasn't the only difficulty I had.  Trying to fit back into a domestic life wasn't easy while having to answer the only two questions everyone wanted to ask.  The first one being, "So when are you getting a real job?"  The second, "Well if you're not sure then when are you going to grad school?"  The truth is both are not easy to accomplish when you return.  You have to understand the type of job you want to apply for or you have to be prepared to invest the time, energy and money for grad school.  One thing we "Recessive Millennials", my term for those of us that graduated from college in 2007-2010, have learned is that having a degree doesn't guarantee a job.  You have to be specific in your skill set to obtain a position in the career you want to work in.
            All of this combined made TL and I realize after the summer that we were no longer a good fit together.  It was difficult, and it took some time, to move on but I've grown to love Nashville and I'm a better person because of our break-up.  My time in Korea taught me a great many things about maturity and being self-aware and it highlighted my love for travel and writing.  My time here in Nashville has given me the opportunity to apply those lessons.
Couldn't pass up taking the lil bro out to a Preds game for his 21st!
            One of the things that I kept thinking about and talking about, as I moved on from our break-up, was traveling and exploring.  Clearly, I'm someone who's always been interested in going to new places but also to learn new things.  I enjoy reading about a new discovery or seeing a new place we humans have gone to. So that is what I'm going to do.  While I'm sharing with you my family's journey to China, I'm going to be working on a personal blog about my thoughts on life, travel and our explorations as people. Those explorations can be outward, via travel, or inward through personal experiences.  I'll highlight both and write about them sharing my own opinions and through my own stories.  Most of those stories will be fiction but they'll be mine.  I'm excited to begin this new journey and I look forward to sharing it with you after I finish my family's trip to China.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Leaving Korea

            Well this is going to be my last blog post in Korea.  Korea was everything I wanted but nothing I expected. It's been an incredible year and one I'll remember fondly for the rest of my life.
            If there was one thing I wasn't prepared for it was saying goodbye to my students and coteachers.  I'd told my kids that I was leaving a good month in advance so they wouldn't be surprised.  It would be easier to transition between myself and the new teacher if the kids felt a part of the process.  So, all the classes knew who the new teacher was before she came and were excited to meet her.  She taught in America so I was relieved that I only had to teach her our system and not how to manage the class too.  I gave her the reins Thursday and Friday and she was great.  After she taught, each class gave me some cards they had written and it was overwhelming to receive them.  

Typically focused Korean students.

Kenny being awesome.



Group shot.  The boy on the far right told me, "Teacher I want to blow up all the planes in Korea so you can't leave." That's high praise coming from him!
One of my TOEFL classes wrote on the board.
Here they are. The most frustrating but rewarding class in the whole school. They weren't bad just middle school girls. Trying to figure out their moods was like trying to predict the wind.
The other TOEFL class and my Wolfpack. Teaching them was the highlight of my Tuesday and Thursday's.

Some of the Elementary kids wrote on another board.
One last group shot with all the teachers. Mi Eun is on the far left.
            Now for all my thanks to the people I met here.  First, I have to thank my boss Mi Eun.  I heard some horror stories about other Hagwon's but I had nothing but a great experience working at Jisan Hangil.  All the teacher's were excellent and fun to work with but her professionalism, positive attitude and love for her students set the bar.  Secondly, my coworker Joshua. He was a great guy to hang out with and work with.  Always prepared but never stressed, I loved sharing ideas about what we could do to get our students excited for class. Next, to all the people I met in Gwangju.  Jonathan, Graham, Phil, Maggie, Jack, Kezia, Leanne, Iris, Travis and Erin y'all made this year.  To Tim and Tony at First Alleyway you guys were my Western Food anchor.  Our conversations were always interesting no matter where they led.  To Song at German Bar thanks for showing me the Gwangju behind the curtain.  To Ji Hae and YoungChung at Cafe Florida your coffee was incredible and your company even better.  To all the rugby boys, you helped me settle into Korea and start living here.  James Ewen you are my Enkidu.  To my friends and family back home thanks for all the letters, cards and gifts. They did a great job keeping me in good spirits while covering my atrocious wallpaper.
            Last but certainly not least I have to thank The Lady.  It wasn't easy following this road away from you but having your support was like having matches in my pocket.  You never made too much light to blind me nor distract me from seeing the sights but you always gave me enough to keep me on the right path.  I can't wait to see you and start walking together on our own journey.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Last Rugby Tournament

            The weekend before last I went to Busan for my last rugby tournament. It was our best showing as a team I had a great time playing with the boys.  After watching and practicing a lot of rugby I finally began to take that knowledge and apply it at gamespeed.  For example, we were playing Busan and their outside centre, outside linebacker-ish, kept jumping to come after me and cut inside.  Well, our flyhalf, comparable to a point guard, a New Zealander, saw that last week and told the inside center to loop me and break the line. I knew to cut inside and draw the aggressive defender with me, freeing the looping IC. Loui, the flyhalf, kicked a perfect grubber, a bouncing forward pass, the IC looped me, I cut inside drawing my defender, the IC easily broke the line and scored a beautiful try.  The best part was the defender who followed me realized when Loui kicked the ball what happened and said, "Oh F*&k."  Game over.


Waiting to sub in.







Flyhalf getting ready to throw the ball.


And there he goes.


Filling my channel.

A fantastic day of rugby with some solid blokes. I couldn't have asked for a better team to join, nor wished for more support from the experienced guys.
           
            Afterwards we cleaned up, I went to the same hostel, Wow Guest House, I stayed at during Lunar New Year, we went out to enjoy St. Paddy's and watch some 6 Nations Rugby.  For a great video showing the highlights of the day click on this video link:  Jeonnam Aliens.  I make my appearance from 3:45-4:10.
            I will miss the guys and playing very much.  I'm lucky to have learned how to play a great game from the people who spent their whole lives playing it.  If rugby had been in East TN when I was growing up, I wouldn't have played anything else.  Be sure to check out the team's website:  Jeonnam Rugby.
            Here are some links for proper rugby sites:  Rugby Dump, Rugby Buzz, ESPNScrum and PlanetRugby to start.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Going To The DMZ

            One of the reasons I chose to teach in Korea was to visit the DMZ.  I decided that if Landon came to Korea before going to China then I would take him with me as a birthday present.  I was pumped it worked out we would experience it together.  We left late Friday night and made it to our hotel by 3am.  We grabbed a few hours sleep and went off to catch our bus.  Taking the advice of Maggie and Graham I booked our tour spots a month in advance.  You can go on a tour to only see the DMZ but I wanted to see it and go to the border.  I used Tour DMZ to go on both tours and I recommend you do the same.  They were easy to work with and the tours went smoothly.  Click here for their website:  TourDMZ.     
            We got on the bus and I saw a friend, who went on the Hwacheon Ice Festival trip, Amanda and her mom.  It's a small world we foreigners live in, in Korea.  I won't go into depth about the history of the DMZ for that click here:  DMZ History.
              Our tour guide made sure to emphasize not to stray from the tour group nor take pictures unless we were allowed.  Looking over the Han River she explained there was barbed wire fences along the riverbank.  They're there to keep out defectors and spies.  Anyone caught trying to cross the river will be shot.  After an hour on the bus we made it to our first checkpoint.  We stopped and a South Korean guard checked our passports. 
  
The first checkpoint.
            Our first stop was at the Dorasan train station.  It's the only place in South Korea that you can see Pyeongyang as a destination.  It was opened up 10 years ago as part of South Korea's "Sunshine Policy".  However it's now closed because of the high tensions with North Korea.


To Pyeongyang.

All South Korean guards near or at the DMZ have to be over six feet naturally or with lifted shoes.

Notice the guard's shoes.

If anyone could travel through North Korea then I could leave from Gwangju and end up in London three weeks later.
            Next, we went to the Observation Tower overlooking the DMZ. It was incredibly cold but crystal clear.  I could see for a dozen miles and that's extremely rare up at the border.  Looking over the DMZ I was astounded to see how bare North Korea was.  There was not a blade of grass or a standing tree.  Everything had been cut down so the North Korean people could eat the bark and use the timber for firewood.  The Propaganda Village was to my right and empty.  The only movement coming from it was the massive North Korean flag.  It's the third largest flagpole in the world and the flag was so heavy it couldn't move.  To my left was a village that was occupied and after looking through the binoculars I was astounded to see North Korean children playing soccer at their school. 

You couldn't take pictures past the column.

Notice how clear the air was and how bare the land is.

Not a tree on the mountains.

The green is the DMZ and the border is where the green stops.

            Leaving the Observation Tower we went to the Third Tunnel dug by the North Korean's under the DMZ.  Only four tunnels have been discovered by South Korea and it's military thinks there are two dozen more.  The tunnel we went to was large enough to transport 30,000, very short, troops in an hour.  Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the tunnel.

Getting the hard hat on.

Hard.

Landmines above the tunnel.

Also around it.

This monument was made in the hope for the two Korea's reuniting.

I'm trying to help.

Freedom Bridge.

Freedom Bridge, also called the Bridge Of No Return, was the last place soldiers and civilians could choose if they wanted to live in North or South Korea after the cease-fire was signed.

Here people have written notes and letters for family members in North Korea.

Landon checking it out.

The bridge was returned to ROK in 2006.

Try and imagine choosing to leave your family to live in South Korea. Or what if you made that choice but didn't make it in time before the bridge closed.

            After visiting the Freedom Bridge the first tour was done.  We got on another bus for our tour inside the DMZ at the Joint Security Area.  Our new tour guide reiterated that we couldn't go anywhere without him nor take pictures unless told to.  He also informed us to follow his instructions and he wasn't responsible if we got hurt, i.e. shot. 

This is the JSA, the building in the sunlight is North Korea's visiting center.

The center guard never moves.

 Look at the concrete line going through the snow. That's the line between North and South Korea.

Neither Landon or I were in a smiling mood.

Guess which side of the line we're on.

This is where talks are held. The guard is standing just inside the South Korean border and I'm on the North Korean side.

This guard is in front of the North Korean door.  They wear sunglasses so the North Koreans can't tell where they're looking. All parties must schedule a time to enter the building. Also, the guard's are always in a taekwondo stance ready to defend themselves.

Like I said, you didn't feel like smiling here.

If I stood next to the guard he would've taken me out without a warning. I doubt he'd left me conscious.

Last shot of the DMZ and North Korea behind it.

This used to be where you could go to North Korea. That changed in the 1970's after two American soldiers were killed trying to prune a tree.  That incident nearly put the two countries back into war. It's why everything is so tightly controlled now.


The South Korean flag flying in Freedom Village.  Unlike it's North Korean counterpart people actually live in it.

            Going to the DMZ and JSA was an incredible experience.  It really hit home how the two Korea's are still at war.  One side is a modern country and the other cannot even grow trees.  I've had a lot of great experiences in South Korea but I'm glad that I waited so long to go.  It gave me time to get perspective on South Korea, our (America) role and what both think of North Korea.  However, the best part was being able to share the experience with Landon.  Lastly, here's his blog so you can check out his experience of living in Beijing:  Dug That Hole To China.