Sunday, October 30, 2011

Busan International Firework Festival

My first night in Korea and I was greeted with an hour long firework display just for me (and 2 million other spectators.)

The Busan International Firework Festival is a 9 day firework and cultural event, which showcases fireworks from around the World including the US, Poland, and China.  I was lucky enough to catch the last day and main event, an hour long firework and advanced technique show.

After spending most of my first day as a tourist (pics of that up soon).  I headed back to the hotel for a little R&R before the firework show.  The display was centered around Gwangandaegyo Bridge, the nation's first 2 level bridge.  The main viewing area was at Gwangalli Beach (where I was), although supposedly you can see fireworks from all around Busan.

I headed out at about 7 pm to find a good location for the 8 pm show. As soon as I got outside I realized it was raining.  I debated taking an umbrella with me, but decided to go ahead just in case it got bad.  I am thankful that I did, as it rained the entire evening.  

There were people everywhere.  I had seen some of the set-up during the day while I was walking around, but I'm not sure what I was expecting.  I'm no stranger to over crowded festivals on a waterfront, but being in a foreign country made it a bit more difficult to navigate the crowds.

After several failed attempts at finding a good spot, I eventually found what I thought to be an ok location.  (If I hadn't been alone, and it hadn't been raining, this would definitely be a festival I would scope out a location early on.)

So, tucked in with millions of people (all with umbrellas), the show began...I only wish my camera could do it justice.

(click on pictures to enlarge)
 Rainbows of fireworks over Gwangandaegyo Bridge

 The entire sky was illuminated.

Fireworks and laser lights from the bridge

 The main portion of the bridge, shown lit up as part of the laser show

 There were so many fireworks that my poor little camera could not handle it, 
but man look at all those umbrellas.

 More action on the laser show

 Even more lasers.  The bright lights on the bottom are illuminated waterfalls coming off the bridge.

 In short, breathtaking!

The colored lights changed on the bridge, and the smoke enabled the laser lights to be seen even further into the sky.

I was completely surrounded. 

 You can only imagine how loud the booms got, you could feel each firework resonate.

 And like all festivals, a man selling glow & light up things.

 Even the buildings got in on the laser shows, several had changing lights on their facades. 

On the way back to the hotel, the crowds were crazy, drivers were crazy, rain was crazy, and although this picture is blurry it captures the scene well.

Overall, it was an awesome experience.  I was drenched and half deaf by the time I got back to the hotel.  The whole festival fireworks and people was one of the many reminders about just how small each one of us is in the world, and how great and awe-inspiring that world is.

UPDATE:  I found a decent video and and a more official video of just a very small portion of the show....amazing!!!

Hugs & Kisses,

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nearly 10,000 miles in less than a week

Saddled with way too much luggage, I set out from Dallas to Chicago on Saturday, October 22.  

I spent a few short days back with my friends in Chicago after several horrific days of packing.  The Chicago trip was supposed to be one final goodbye to my nearest and dearest friends, however it turned out to be, hands down, the smartest thing I'd done towards moving overseas.

After days of trying to purge, condense, and plan what I would need to take with me overseas, and of course, the physical act of cramming all that into my luggage, the Chicago trip served as a much needed buffer, before jumping on a plane for across the globe.  I was able to sneak in a last haircut, pick up a few things I had forgotten or ran out of time in Texas to get, and also a few little luxuries such as a pedicure and short (very much needed) massage, and of course, just enjoy my time with friends.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my flight on Cathay Pacific left Chicago at about 3:30 pm from O'Hare on Thursday, October 27.  I left for the airport from Chicago's Gold Coast at about 11:30 am and figured I'd have a whole ton of time to kill, but better to be safe than sorry.

Suitcases ready to leave for Korea

As it turns out, I needed every last minute.  Cathay Pacific was having some computer issues, and checking in my luggage took FOREVER.  No exaggeration, really it took close to an hour.  

Once I finished with that I quickly checked the exchange rate to convert my US dollars to cash, and opted to take my chances once I got to Korea.  I noticed quite a few shops and restaurants on my way to the security line, not wanting to risk losing anymore time, I opted just to jump in line and get food on the other side of security.  I was about to eat my arm off yo, as I hadn't eaten all day (nope, not even coffee).  This turned out not to be the smartest idea, as security took about 15 minutes and there is no hot food once through security.  Thus, I stood in another long line for the one vendor that had some cold snacks and picked up a caprice salad sandwich, some beef jerky, and some Chex Mix, as well as a Pepsi and some water.  (I had been told it was wise to have some extra food on the flight, and I was taking no chances with a 15-hour flight.  Also, looking back, I should have gotten the ultra-mega-huge sized water.)  I quickly devoured half of the sandwich and the Pepsi, and started to prep myself to board.

All-in-all, I probably waited less than 45 minutes to get on the flight, and nearly missed my very important last minute call to my sister (she's awesome if you don't know her, and this nearly crushed us both), but was able to sneak that in as well.  I probably would have had longer, but Cathay Pacific boards from the back of the plane up (with the exception of first and business classes.)

Entrance to the International Terminal at O'Hare International Airport

Once on the plane, I met a very nice Chinese lady who was traveling home after visiting her son in Chicago.  She was very helpful in making sure I knew what was going on.  After we took off I ate the other half of my sandwich, which of course meant that they served dinner only moments later.  

The dinner was shrimp salad with cocktail sauce, choice of either curry chicken with veggies, beef and veggie stew, or pasta with red pepper sauce, as well as ice cream.  I got the curry chicken and it was delish.

Later, we were served another meal, which was fruit salad, and your choice of stir-fried beef with rice or pork in mushroom sauce with veggies (I got the latter) and carrot cake.  

The flight was pretty uneventful, as sitting for 15 hours frequently is, but I do say that Cathay Pacific had some good TV & movie options.  I caught up on CSI, and watched The Hangover 2 and Bad Teacher (ironic?).  Overall, I was impressed with the flight, as it was not nearly as pain staking as I thought it would be, except (well, I guess technically I'm still on the fence about) the seats.  Cathay Pacific has these (new?) seats that recline within themselves.  It prevents you from losing all your space when the person in front of you reclines, but I felt that it limited how far I myself was able to recline (and it took me a good long while to figure out how to do it).  Regardless, out of 15 hours I think I was able to sleep about 6 or so of them.  (Thank God they had a lot to watch, amirite?)  Last, one of the coolest little features I liked was the screen where you could watch where your plane was in the flight.  I liked being able to see the route we took as well as to know what it was I looking at out the window, but I'm nerdy like that.

Finally, we landed in Hong Kong.

Shockingly after eating only twice in 15 hours, ok, so I had some beef jerky too, I was yet again, starving.  So my first stop was food, after getting mildly lost in the airport for a bit.  I was somewhat overwhelmed by the options and decided on something that wouldn't upset my stomach just in case.  So I went with a pretty safe bet of pork ramen with spring rolls and dumplings.  (I really had no idea how much food I was actually ordering.)

Meal in Hong Kong, Ramen with spring rolls and dumplings.

Again, it was awesome!  I could probably eat this meal daily.  The ramen had more of a creamy texture than what we're used to with the "Top Ramen" sold in the U.S.  And the dumplings were what you'd expect from a good Chinese place.  It was the spring rolls that threw me off guard.  I thought they looked a little iffy at first, but alas depite being a texture I am not used to (and making a huge crumbly mess when you eat them), these were probably some of the best spring rolls I've had.  

Close up of the spring rolls.

And, of course, a diet Coke, or as they call it in Hong Kong, a CokeLgt, which I assume stands for Coke Light. 

Dinner order (the "Volvic" was a bottle of water)

After dinner I had about 5 hours to kill til my next flight.  I hit up the duty free store(s), and did a bit of window shopping.  I also grabbed some coffee so I wouldn't fall asleep on my layover, which was between 8 pm and 2:20 am Hong Kong time.  

Shops & food court at Hong Kong International Airport.

I got a couple of things for me, as well as a few gifts for people in Korea, and I talked myself out of this fabulous faux!  (It didn't take much to talk myself out of it once I saw the price tag.)

I really, really wanted this.  A meaner & greener faux alot.

I also spent a great portion of my time, seeking out an outlet, so I could plug in my laptop and feel connected with the world again.  However, the plugs were few and far between (and usually in use), so I just found a computer kiosk that allowed 15 minutes of usage at a time.  Most of the stores closed about 11 or 12, so it was kind of nice to just walk around for a bit after so much sitting.  

The plugs are under the overhangs at the bottom of these walls, very well hidden.

Looking toward (most of) the gates in Hong Kong.

By the time my connecting flight was ready to board I was beyond exhausted.  I flew Dragon Air for the second leg.  It was a smaller plane, but more than that I felt like a giant!  The rows were so close together.  Regardless, I feel asleep within minutes (as did my whole row) and woke up to the custom forms laying on me.  I did think that was kind of funny. 

I think we had a crazy tail wind or something, because I believe our flight landed almost an hour early, about 6 am Korean Standard Time (KST) on Saturday, October 29.  I slept the entire way. By the time I got my bags, had my visa checked, made it through customs, and exchanged my money, I was feeling back on schedule.

Still somewhat groggy and confused about what to do next, I sort of explored the non-secure part of the airport (there was not much).  Popeyes made me laugh though.  The translation/visitor services wrote out my address for my hotel in Korean for the cab driver, and gave me some helpful tips and maps, etc.  After that there was only one thing left to do...

Popeyes at Gimhae (Busan/Pusan) International Airport

So, I caught a taxi to the hotel that I'll be staying at the next few days.  It is surreal to be here at this moment.  Someone asked me earlier what impression I had of Korea thus far.  "Foreign" was all I could respond with.  

And after traveling nearly 10,000 (air) miles, losing an entire day, crossing the date line, and seeing 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises in less than a day, I can only be excited on where I get to go from here.

My first glimpse of Korea in my taxi ride to the hotel.

Hugs & Kisses,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And I quote...

“Nothing is so dear as what you’re about to leave.”
-Jessamyn West

And I quote...

Friday, October 21, 2011

The deets

Conversation I had with Lara today:

Lara:  Wow, you leave for Korea in one week from today!
Me:  I know, crazy! And I still need a week to pack.
Lara:  You can have two days.

(I love her so much!)

But alas that made me realize that I forgot to include the details of my timeline on my last post.

on American Airlines (shout out to Joe T.)
Saturday 10/22 - leave for Chicago (noon-ish CST) 

on Cathay Pacific
Thursday 10/27 - leave for Korea (3ish pm CST)
Friday 10/28 - arrive in Hong Kong  (8 pm HKT)

on Cathay Pacific/Dragon Air
Saturday 10/29 - leave Hong Kong (2 am HKT), arrive in Busan, South Korea  (7ish am KST)

That is a total of about 19 hours of flying time, and 6 hours of layover time.  

Korean Standard Time (KST) is 14 hours ahead of US Central Standard Time (CST), so all of my Chicago and Texas peeps will be able to calculate that by flipping the am & pm and adding 2 hours (or just add 14 hours whatevs.)

Once I arrive in Busan I am hoping to force myself to fight jet lag and catch the Busan International Firework Festival (  I'm such a sucker for fireworks that I feel like it'll be a nice welcome to Korea, as well as helping me forget that I'm missing any sort of Halloween celebration this!  (pun intended)

This is the pic that sold me on getting to Busan a few days early for the Firework Festival.
(picture credit: 10 Magazine)

So, after getting over jet lag, and chillin' in Busan for a few days, the school board is going to come pick me up on November 1st and take me to Changwon, the city I will be living in (again, more on that later).  Thus will begin my new job, and the next chapter of my life.

Hugs & Kisses,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teaching in Korea...the back story

Hi Y'all,

As many of you may or may not know, I am moving out of the country. I am moving to South Korea!!! I left Chicago the last week in August, and have been spending a little over month or so with my family in the Dallas area, as well as a short trip to Colorado to visit my dad.  I have managed to squeeze in a short trip back to Chicago before my departure to Korea.

I first began thinking about moving/traveling extensively abroad about a year ago. I knew that I wanted to see the world, but money always seemed to be an issue. I decided to make a list of what I was truly passionate about. My list was simple; travel, create, and make the world a better place. That is when my epiphany hit me – I could do all of these things anywhere in the world. (Keep in mind that I love America. Honestly y'all, I am patriotic to a fault.)

I realized that the best option for me was to get certified in TEFL/TSL (Teach English as a Foreign Language/English as a Second Language) and begin my journey in Chicago, and eventually travel the world to fully round out my bucket list.

A blurry (and cheesy) pic of me accepting my TEFL Certification.

My TEFL Certification led me to teach and tutor at the South-East Asia Center, and Jewish Vocational Service in Chicago, where I met some of the most intelligent and amazing people. The South-East Asia Center helps other cultures (mostly Asians, but some others as well) adapt to life in the U.S., specifically Chicago. In contrast, the Jewish Vocational Service services refugees from war-torn countries. Many of the students I work with there have come to the U.S. with almost no warning, some without their families, and all having seen things we could only imagine. These are hands down, some of the happiest people I have ever encountered. My students there were from all over the world; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, and Iraq to name a few. These students have a varying degree of English skills, as most are very educated, but not all took English in their native country. Regardless, being a part of those classes has been a very positive and eye opening experience, and there is no one more thankful and gracious than the students.

The South-East Asia Center is in an old German restaurant in 
Chicago's Vietnamese neighborhood in Chicago.

My awesome student Tong Tong.

Me & Tong Tong at our going away dinner.

Deciding where to go teach became the hardest part of my decision…I want to go everywhere! Looking into visa laws and other perks of teaching in each country (a daunting task I might add), I decided that Asia was the best place for me to start. Once I had decided on Asia in general, I quickly honed in on South Korea (with Thailand as a very, very close second.) South Korea is so incredibly diverse with beaches, mountains, forests, cities, islands, temples, palaces, skyscrapers, and all in a peninsula about the size of Kentucky. Thus began the extensive job hunt and visa process. South Korea has very strict entry requirements, an apostilled FBI level background check, apostilled Bachelors diploma, TEFL certificate, transcripts, medical checks, letters of reference, international CV, video & Skype interviews, phone interviews (most conducted late in the evening), and many various forms of communication. It took upwards of 12 weeks to get all the information in order to obtain a job. And then began the decision making...

The job I have accepted is in Changwon, in Gyeongsangnam province, but more on that later.

My contract in South Korea will be for one year, after which I have the opportunity to renew. I already have plans to (hopefully) visit Thailand, China, Japan, and Australia within my first year abroad. Once the contract is up, I can choose to stay in Korea, or I may opt to keep traveling. The tentative plan at the moment is to take a semester off for travels, and resume in Korea for the start of their spring semester the following year (March 2013).

Once I am settled in Korea, I will be happy to provide you non-stalkers my address.  (I accept care packages, post cards, letters, and fun & happy things in general.)

It has been a grueling several months of classes, lesson planning, teaching, packing, selling, job hunting, decision making and moving.  I am very excited at this opportunity and thank everyone for their support in my decision. I am starting this blog to keep you updated on the haps of life, me, and all things awesome. Hope to see you in the blog-o-sphere.

Hugs & Kisses,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And I quote...

“I must learn to love the fool in me; the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries”
- Theodore Isaac Rubin

And I quote...