From the BK to the SK
 
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This is my last day of work in Korea, and tonight I am heading off to backpack across Asia. I will be blogging from my other address, so please go to the above site to follow my travel and stories and crazy misadventures throughout the next 6 months.
 
 
I'm back in the ROK for a few days until I take off for my backpacking trip, and I couldn't be any more excited.
Japan was an amazing trip, the best part of it all being the time I spent with my older brother in a foreign country. I got to watch him do what he does best: captain the USA rugby team in a game against Japan. Though they lost, I have never felt so excited and proud to be a fan in the crowds, cheering for my brother and his teammates in what was a hard and well-played match.
I've told my brother this already, but seeing him play in Japan was the first time the reality of what he does sunk in. To know he was flown to Japan for just 6 days to play in a game and to see him standing leading his team out onto the field under the bright lights of a stadium that was filled with Japanese fans - it was just a whole different experience for me.  It hit me that my older brother is a professional athlete who rugby fans around the world look up to and wait to get an autograph signed as he leaves. I felt so proud of him and what he does, and for that I will forever be in awe of my older brother, his determination and his character. He's a leader for his team and for my younger brother and I, and I am happy I had the chance to experience Japan with him.
Japan in general was one of the best experiences of my life. It took a major hit on my wallet, but after 8 days in Tokyo I felt like I barely even made a dent. I will never forget the feeling of sheer and utter amazement when I stepped out onto the Tokyo streets, wandered endlessly expecting for them to end somewhere, for them to eventually lead to nowhere, but no; Tokyo is a mystery that you unravel with every step, and there is something to be discovered around each corner. I was fascinated by every aspect of this clean and beautiful city, by its people and their polite manner, a quality that isn't so common in Asia. I really do envision myself living in Tokyo one day, and I have more than a good enough reason to return.
On my last morning there, after parting ways with my brother, I had 420 yen left in my wallet, the equivalent of about 5 USD. It was enough for me to get to the Kanda 2nd Hand Book Area, one of my favorite parts of Tokyo. I had been there earlier in the week, in search of the perfect journal for my upcoming backpacking trip. I came across a small little store run by two kind ladies with such warm smiles.
I browsed around before finding two journals I loved. It is a traditional Japanese journal with lines running vertically down the page. If I turn it horizontally, it gives me only about 6 lines to write on - I'd finish the entire book in one entry. I decided to make it a book for quotes that I loved, and so it is more a keep sake for myself. The one lady, at my request, wrote along it in Japanese saying, "Believe in Your Heart".
I found another journal that was plain - no frills, nothing fancy, just a cover that looked like it spent years in the bottom of someone's backpack. It was what I had been searching for, but I held out from buying it. I wanted to visit the antique markets, and if I could find nothing there and still thought of this journal, I'd return Monday morning to buy it.
And so, after thinking about it each day and the markets being closed down because of rainy weather, I used the last of my money on Monday morning to get to the book store one last time before I headed out. I had my credit card, hoping that this little shop accepted cards for payment. When I arrived, the women smiled when they saw me as if they had been waiting for me. I handed them my journal and my debit card, and of course, my dream came to a crashing halt: No cards.
Now, I really wanted this journal. It cost 890 yen, and I was willing to go to the ATM and get a 6,979& charge just to take out enough money to buy it. I ran to an ATM, which was entirely Japanese, and my card shot right back out of the machine. I returned to tell the women that it woudn't work, and that the only cash I could offer was 5,000 Korean won.
They suggested that I exchange it at the bank, but when I returned empty handed of yen and a frown on my face, they tried to help. The one woman who owned the store (I think the other was her friend) walked with me to the bank, asked about my card and told me she was sorry to say only Visa was accepted.
The corners of my mouth drooped even more as she asked me some questions about why I wanted that journal as we walked back to the store.
I told her that I loved it and felt like it was mine, that it was the kind of journal a writer wished would never end. When we got back to the store, I went to leave when she handed me a gift. It was the little red journal, wrapped up and handed to me free of charge.
I felt so happy that I wanted to cry. Her genorsity and kindness really touched me, and I spent about 20 minutes trying to find a candy shop or bakery that accepted credit cards so that I could buy them some kind of thank you gift.
Unforunately, no place I came across took cards, and the time for my departure was getting closer and closer. So, in the coming months as I use my journal, I will always remember this little store and think of it every time I write, and I will be excited for the day when I can
 
 
I don:t know where to begin in describing how happy I feel in this electrifying city - aside from the heat that is. Apparently there is a heat wave in Tokyo right now, which is just my luck, but I:ve been making the best of it and chugging water like a camel every hour.
When I got on the train headed from the airport to the city center, I prayed that it would be an above ground train. The last time I felt this excited to see a city sprawled out before me was when I spent a summer in China, my first introduction into the Asian culture. I remember telling my best friend Laura that I couldn:t wait to just be sitting in the van as it left the airport as we drove toward the festival of neon lights that I imagined China to be.
Well, Tokyo is HUGE, so it took an hour and10 minutes before anything really and truly started to merit the eagerness I felt. Once we reached the heart of the city, I felt like I didn;t know which way to look. Everything around me was competing for my attention.
I got to my hostel only to find out that the regular dorm bed I had booked was not available to me. Instead, the manager told me that he would let me stay in a capsule bed for the same, cheaper price. If I wanted to switch the next night, i could, but most people like the :privacy: of these capsule beds.
I went upstairs to have a look, and it felt like walking through cabins on a ship. It was just three rows of these wooden boxes, and there were two levels to each. As you walk by each row, at the beginning of each bunk there is a little curtain you draw back, one on top for the top bed and one on bottom for the bottom bed. I am literally sleeping in a box. The only opening is the curtain I crawl through to get into and out of the capsule, but other than that it is just a mattress inside of a wooden box. It]s actually not bad. They are brand new and very clean, and the comforter is actually incredibly comfortable. It is definitely more private than staying in an open floor, regular dorm room, though it does make it abit harder to meet people when you are traveling solo, especially when the hostel doesn:t have the greatest common room.
So, after approving of my living arrangement, I put down my things and started walking toward the Shinjuku area, which is a popular and more famous part of Tokyo. It is about 20ish minutes from my hostel, and though I can take the train I like my walk there.
My first night I walked around the shopping area and breathed in every bit of Tokyo that I could. I felt like the quality of life and the smiles on people:s faces was just contagious, and I suddenly had such a strong surge of happiness I thought I was going to cry. This had instantly, within just an hour, started to compete with Paris for my favorite city.

Here aer some things I love about Tokyo so far;
1. IT IS CLEAN! Tokyo is literally spotless and one of the two cleanest cities in the world I have been to, the first being Singapore. There is something about the Tokyo cleansiness that is a bit more...unrealistic? unbelievable? Singapore just seems fake - there is a part of it that is man made, and it just doesn:t feel as natural. It is hard to believe that a city like Tokyo, a big city, can be so naturally beautiful. There are signs painted on to the sidewalks that say, No Smoking cigarettes. There are people sweeping the street every morning as I go on my run. This morning I even saw a man cleaning the front of the apartment building with a wash rag, and it was just then that I realized even the store fronts are clean. This city is literally just spotless.
2. PEOPLE RIDE  BIKES. This one sounds dumb I am sure, but after living in Korea for a year, the amount of people I see leisurely and freely riding bikes on the sidewalks and IN THE STREETS fascinates me day in and day out. I have seen a total of 7 peopel get hit by cars while riding their bikes throughout Daegu. Not only that, but the bike riders in Korea are just not as pleasant in my opinion. Majority of the time they are ahjummas or ahjosshis on a mission and willing to take you out along the way without even a second glance. But here in Tokyo, people glide along effortlessly, and I absolutely adore it.
3. THE FOOD. Japanese food is so fresh and lovely. Granted, as a budget backpacker some sacrifices have to be made, and more often than not that falls on food, along with transportation and sleeping. I have been eating most of my meals at Family Marts or other such stores because it is affordable for me, but that doesn:t mean it is any less delicious. It is fresh every day, packaged to perfection and gone by lunch time with all the other people who think the same way I do do.
4. The quiet craziness. One of the things that most amazes me about Tokyo is how quiet it can be. In Korea, there is always someone talking on a cell phone - or, should I say screaming on a cell phone - screaming in conversation or just some how, some way making noise. It is crazy to me that when I run through a group of people in the mornings - especially all the people headed to work in their business suits - or walk with a group of people toward where ever I am going, I can hear myself think. People here are polite, they are respectful and courteous (it seems to far) to others around them. It is so incredibly pleasant and enjoyable to know that even with the loud, pulsating city streets you can still find refuge and silence. I don:t think I have ever noticed that in any other city I lived in or traveled to, or maybe it is because a year in Korea makes you really appreciate peace and quiet.
5. Being fascinated by a language, written and spoken, and the culture. Not to say I:ve become jaded by the Korean culture, because there are still things that surprise me about that crazy country; however, coming to Japan made me realize how much I love exposing myself to something foreign and new and how completely raptured I become by it all. I can read Korean, so looking around Tokyo and not knowing where to start or how to beging the written language fascinates me. Listening to the people speak in delis and stores intrigues me - it all makes me want to learn Japanese.
And obviously last, but not least, my favorite thing about Tokyo is the chance to travel and hang out with my older brother, because after years of us darting from every which way around the globe, we are finna
Tokyo has swept me off my feet and keeps me wanting more. I:ve readjusted my life plan to include moving here on day in the near future. There is just something about this place and the quality and way of life that makes you realize this is a culture that really knows how to appreciate the moment and the sacred and the beauty in the simplest of things. Don:t be surprised if I end up blogging from Tokyo one day.
 
 
As a preface to this blog post, please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. I am typing on a JAPANESE keyboard because I:ve finally reached JAPAN!
And, I say finally, because getting here wasn:t as easy breezy as I hoped.
Last weekend was my last weekend in Korea, and it definitely didn;t go out with a bang. It was super low key, mostly because only three of my friends were in town, and also because I was on a severe budget as I number crunched the money needed for Japan and my remaining two days in Korea when I return. Drinks would have to wait until I got back.
So, Friday we did a simple night at a coffee shop with some aimless walking around the downtown area, all the while my mind buzzing with images I was trying to grab and retain for the rest of my life. Saturday was a day spent downloading as much music as humanly possible and uploading it onto my iPod to help keep me sane and balanced over the next 6 months. Music really is SO essential to maintaining the calm in tense situations.
Anyway, a few tears slid down these cheeks Saturday night. I was just amazed at the thought that the past year of my life was spent living in Korea. Will I ever truly process that? I don:t know to be honest.
But that sadness slowly faded as I thought of Japan, and that exciting that had been building up for the past few weeks had become so charged I thought I was going to burst.
Getting to sleep was no easy task, as I woke up hourly checking my clock and letting out a sigh knowing the time to wake up and head out hadn:t come yet. So, at around 5 30 or so, I decided to end the nonsense, get myself together and head to the bs station.
I arrived at the station bright and early aroudn 6;30 or so, and the 7;20 bus to the Busan airport was sold out. That was not a problem. I bought a ticket for 8;20, which gave me plenty of time to check in and go through security before my 11;15 flight.
I sat in the hot, sticky bus station, my eyes rolling in the back of my head with exhaustion as the lack of sleep slowly started to kick in. I fought through it, fearing I would fall asleep and miss the bus and be S-O-L.
I am also trying this new thing out where I don:t let myself get anxious or worried about things like time and to just go with it. But, when 8;18 rolled around and there was still no bus, I knew something was up.
I went to the window where I put my ticket, strung together my best Korean and asked the woman who sold me the ticket where the bus was, to which I received a response that went so above my head. I pointed at the current time and explained there were ;short minutes; between now and when the bus was supposed to leave. She answered me again, and I picked up on the time at 9;00. She wrote it down on paper. :Bus-uh, 9!: she said to me.
Now, this was one of those moments where normally I would have started freaking out, but I started channeling every bit of tranquility I could as I reminded myself over and over again how small Busan airport is. It was like a broken record playing in my head.
What I couldn:t and still do not understand as to whether there was actually an 8;20 bus, because the fact she told me 9 so quickly seemed like something was wrong. I think she sensed a little bit of my frustration after she told me the arrival time was at 10;20, and I told her that my plane time was at 11.
She followed me to my seat, telling me to take a taxi for 70,000 won. Do I look like Rockafeller?
I buried my head in my hands as I practiced some breathing exercises while envisioning myself `run, run rodolph-ing` Home alone style through the airport to catch my flight. She was drawing out the time schedule on my quad, explaining that 40 minutes was definitely enough time if I hurried fast.
I wanted to be like, `Listen, lady, I didn:t feel like being in a mad dash to finish line. I am not Houssein Bolt, so stop telling me to be quick!` But, instead, I shook my head politely, explained that it was a short time but that I will hurry and left it at that.
I really didn:t feel anything but a longing to just be on the plane safe and sound that very minute, because realistically there wasn:t anything I could do. Taking the KTX train wouldn;t make the trip any quicker, so I just left it at what it was: a trip strung together with prayers that it would go as planned.
But, the ahjummas sitting beside me who overheard the conversation and could sense my flight frustration started consoling me a bit. It was one of those moments where you hold it together perfectly, and then someone asks you if you are OK, and you just start crying. I felt my eyes becoming pools, my mouth pinching together tight as if I wanted to cry. I let one or two drop before I closed my eyes tight and told myself I would make it just fine.
When the bus finally arrived, I sat right up front and finally was able to fall asleep for a little bit; however, just as I woke up, with only a few minutes left to get to the airport, I received an e-mail saying there had been a slight time change in my itinerary. The flight time was now moved up 15 minutes.
My only thought was that this was some kind of joke, or that I did something really bad and that karma was taking its course. How the hell could they move the flight time up like that?
I think I jumped off the bus while it was still moving when we arrived at the airport, and I ran like mad to check in, which was a piece of cake. No line, no fuss, no nothing. At security, they decided to open my backpack and shift through it all, just to make me wait a second or two more to actually be safe and sound waiting for my flight.
Needless to say, it wasn:t karma catching up with me, and i didn:t do anything wrong in recent weeks to deserve it. I made my flight, got on board, watched the Office and landed in Tokyo like a kid on Christmas morning, eager to dive right in.
Tokyo has surpassed my expectations. I have been here for one day now, and I am head over heels in love with everything about it. I will write more about my obsession with this incredible city in a separate post, just so you can soak in the enjoyment I had while making my way to this incredible and beautiful city.
 
 
ALL I KEEP THINKING OF IS JAPAN AND BACKPACKING!
 
 
It's an actually beautiful summer night in Daegu right now, and there was no better way to top off my 13 mile run (yes, 13 straight miles! woo hoo!) than with a night at a coffee shop and people watching. The sunset cast such a beautiful splatter of pinks and purples and blue across the sky that even the dull, lifeless apartment buildings couldn't take away from the power behind it; it simply just made me appreciate Korea for the night, more than I have in a long time.
It is strange that most of these little moments are so simple, yet they speak volumes. Walking home from the grocery store about a week ago made me stop dead in my tracks, as I realized that this walk, which had become so familiar to me that I could do it with my eyes closed, would soon no longer be a daily routine for me. It was a strange feeling, and I just enjoyed the silence and the darnkess that settled over Daegu that night.
I have only four days left of deskwarming until I go to Japan, and the excitement is just crawling through my skin. I don't know what it is that suddenly made me feel like Japan is going to be such a life changing experience, which is putting a lot of pressure on an 8-day trip, haha. But, for some reason, I just keep envisioning it as this immense, vibrant city with this electrifying pulse, yet at the same time being so stoic and serene and peaceful.
This really is my last week in Korea, because I know that when I return from Japan, this will all be over in the blink of an eye. There will be so many things whirling about my mind that I won't really process what is going on until it's over. I can't believe that I've been here for a year.
There are definitely a fair amount of things about Korea I will miss, but those things are so much harder for me to put into words. So, to kind of do a 180 with the direction of this blog post, I figured I'd first write a list of the things I will not miss about Korea.

1. Deskwarming. Clearly, this is a no brainer. Going to work every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day when there is no work to be done and no students to teach, day after day, literally is a form of torture.

2. Waygook guys with Korean women. This has become my BIGGEST pet peeve throughout the year here. The amount of foreign guys who start dating Korean women and have Korean girlfriends quicker than you could snap your fingers just makes me so annoyed. Personally, I tend to think the Korean women will just date any foreigner that comes their ways. It is honestly just so irritating to me. Now I understand how the boys I studied abroad with must have felt while we all had our Italian 'boyfriends'.

3. Korean traffic lights. This one makes me almost as annoyed as the previous thing I mentioned. Korean traffic lights are honestly ridiculous on every level. If you get stuck at a light in a bus, you could be waiting for over 7 minutes, and don't even get me started when there's traffic. It makes my skin crawl whenever the bus I am on or the taxi I am in approaches Bokhyeon Oguri, the 5 way junction near my house, and approaches green lights at the pace of a snail. It drives me mad when we reach the light, and then it turns red. You have no idea.

4. The smell of dry fish. I'll still never forget when my school had a 'dried fished' party in the library and asked me to join. I spared them the sight of me vomiting upon entering the room, and so I politely turned down the offer.

5. Ahjummas. I will NOT miss being punched in the face, elbowed in the mouth or being swiped out at the ankles by 90-year-old Korean women whose backs are curved so much that their gazes are always fixed to the floor. These women do anything for a seat on the bus, to pass you on the street and will even hit you with their bicycle as they ride past you while you're running as far to the side of the path as possible so as to avoid such occurrences. (Can you tell this has happened to me before?)

6. Teaching classes after lunch time. Let's face it, no one wants to be there.

7. Teaching in the dead of winter and having to wear your jacket, scarf, gloves and hat in the classroom, OR teaching in the dead of summer and sweating to death at the front of the room. Looking back on it and remembering what it was like to teach kids and not be able to see their faces because they were buried in scarves might be funny, but in the moment I was crying tears that immediately turned into icicles before they even reach my cheek.

8. Riding the bus. I will in no way imaginable miss riding the buses around Daegu, which were more like roller coasters with the way some of these drivers drove.

9. The food. Aside from a few good dishes I liked, I will not miss the food.

10. Feeling uncomfortable in a place you call home. There were at times, especially in the summer, moments when I felt like such an outsider, even after a year. The people here don't really wear tanks and shorts in the summer time, and I always feel uncomfortable leaving my house because I do know better, but there is no way I am suffering from heat stroke and wearing jeans to fit in.

11. Soju. You have been the death of me one too many times. I will also not miss your effects via Korean men, i.e. throw up on the street.

12. Shopping. I will not miss NOT being able to try on clothes before I buy them. Such an absurd rule.

13. Difference between the treatment of men and women. There is such a huge unbalance here, and it gets so incredibly irritating at times.

14. Sunday night lesson planning. It never was very fun to plan a lesson last minute after a long weekend.

15. Last, and most important, I will in absolutely no way miss the sound of squealing and screaming pigs crammed into the back of a truck on their way to the slaughterhouse, nor will I miss the smell that permeates the air and wanders through my windows as they pass 20 times throughout the morning. I also will not miss leaving my apartment to see the trucks right there in front of me, packed with pigs or sometimes even cows that are staring right back at me.
 
 
I have nine days left of desk warming before I head to meet my brother, Michael, in Japan for a week before heading off to travel. Well, I mean, I come back to Korea to collect myself and my things for three days before heading off, but still - I HAVE TWO WEEKENDS LEFT OF LIVING IN KOREA.
I won't lie in that I imagined it to play out a bit differently. For the most part, I've gone out a good amount throughout the past year, but I haven't necessarily done the whole 'college thing' weekend after weekend. I guess maybe I am basing this off of being a 20-year-old student abroad in Italy whose time with her friends and her dream world was coming to an end, but my friends and I went out pretty much every night that last month before leaving.
It's sort of getting more and more quiet here as our last month winds down. All of my guys friends we hung out with are staying, and by the end of this week they will all be headed off for their summer holiday - traveling or going back to visit their families. My one best friend, Sheila, left on Saturday, and let me tell you - staying out til 5 a.m. when you have to lug your suitcases through town in the heat to get to the train station and struggle to get your things on the train so you can get to the airport an hour and a half away is not the smartest idea. I am pretty sure Sheila, Amanda and I were all in a state of utter delusion as we attempt to get her bags and get her on the train.
But, that Friday night, the tears came out as we said our good byes and realized that it may be a long time before the group of friends we formed so quickly and solidly when we moved to Korea be united again. (I mean, I cried, but we all know I am a cry baby, and endless shots from bartenders at your favorite bar don't help whatsoever.)
So it is definitely quieting down, and come this Friday it will only be a few of us left here in Daegu. I was expecting some big, endless send off of nonstop revelry, ESPECIALLY since I go to work every day only to stream TV shows from home and watch them all day long. Desk warming gets old really, really fast.
So, I can't say I'm insanely disappointed, because God knows that my bank account could do without going out every night right before going to Japan. I'm pretty sure that the past two weekends could suffice for the next two weeks here, and that my body is probably very happy for a break.
The good byes are sad, you know - very different from a good bye at college for summer break. This one is permanent, and seeing as the friends I've made are from around the world and across the States, and I am not sure of the next time I will see any of them.
I have to wrap up this emotional entry, because I actually need to head downtown to say good bye to one of my friends.
And yet again, here come the tears.
 
 
I'm desk warming for the next 3 weeks until I leave for Japan. It feels weird. Saying good bye to my students gave me this pang of sadness and a wave of tears. I taught 3 days of 'academic summer camp (remember this is korea - even though school is out for the summer, there is still school. they never stop studying)', which ended yesterday, so this is the first morning to start off my summer vacation - no teaching, just desk warming. Usually, my friends and I feel a bit frustrated to come into work every day and sit with nothing to do for 8 hours, even though we were well aware this was what part of the job entailed. It's a bit worse in the summer, really, since all I want to do is go to the beach, and this is the second summer in my life where there is no beach nearby (first was Beijing).
When I left my house to walk to work, surprisingly, it wasn't a million degrees outside with air so thick it weighs you down as you trek around feeling like you have cement legs. There was a breeze, cool enough for me to wish I had set an alarm earlier so that I could have taken a relaxing morning jog. It was one of those mornings you breathe in and feel it in your skin that's it is a beautiful beach day - that made me miss Cape Cod just a little.
But then I remembered the within a month, I will be island hopping through South East Asia, making trips to beaches you see in movies or in your dreams. I will be traveling around, waking up and going to grab breakfast at the nearest food stall while whatever crazy and electrified city I am visiting is still waking up from its slumber (one of the perks to being a morning person).
I just felt excited and elated at once, knowing that something so big lies ahead of me. I am sure when the day comes in August to pack up my things and hit the road, I'll shed some more tears, but for now I feel like I can't wait another day for it all to start.
 
 
My grade 3 classes.
(Make sure to look at the post below for grade 2 students.)
 
 
So, they might not be the best work of photography, but this is so you can see my classes