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South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad

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Narita, Japan

To spare you some of the more boring bits here I will not go into lengthy pontification of my flight from the Dirty D’ to Narita in Japan. There just wasn’t too much to note. It was the first overseas flight that I have taken and also the first to provide two and a half meals. The half being a wee sandwich about the size of a Twinkie although far more delicious. All of which were rather decent and scarfed down by yours truly seconds after arriving on my seat back tray.
The plane was very nice, the flight felt shorter than I had imagined and there was a large screen in the middle of the plane on which I could see where exactly we were in our progress and our flight path. That is, when there weren’t obnoxious kids movies playing. Our flight left Detroit and went on a steady arc up through Canada, over Alaska, across that land bridge deal between Alaska and Russia and down towards Tokyo. Silly me, I thought that the quickest way from one point to another was a straight line… then I began to wonder why we had flown like this? To avoid bad weather? To constantly be above land in case of an emergency landing? Who knows.
The fourteen hours seemed to tick by rather quickly and I got a little reading done in between small fits of restless sleep. The announcements being made over the plane would rattle off information in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
My stay at the Narita airport was very short and my connecting flight gate was very close to the gate I arrived at. I wanted to do a bit more exploring of the airport but we were cordoned off in some obscure side-wing of the place. I browsed around the little convenience store there and marveled at the myriad small Japanese foods and Hello Kitty and Gundam items for sale before taking my seat patiently next to my departure gate.
After getting onto the plane bound for Gimhae airport in Busan it was just another short two hour hop from Tokyo to Busan. This time the plane was more crowded, smaller and was apparently host to one crying baby and a first grade class of about twenty five, very vibrant and very much still awake children. I at this point just wanted to be wherever I was going and was, quite frankly, done with airplane travel for the day.
It was on this flight that I also learned about the Korean avoidance in covering of the mouth when coughing. The man across the aisle, roughly five times, throughout the flight coughed directly on me. At first I thought it was a fluke and he was just rude for not excusing himself. I began to realize somewhere in between the second and third hack that this was one of those fabled cultural differences I would be learning about.
After eating a delightful box lunch of rice, shrimp, fish roe with sides of assorted fruits and veggies I was feeling in better spirits upon departing from the plane. My customs check went very well and only took about five minutes.
I must at this point digress and mention that the staff at both the Narita and Gimhae airports were of much better ilk than those employed by the Detroit airport. In fact, they were down right accommodating in comparison.
After grabbing my luggage and arranging it all into somewhat safe wheeled towers so that I wouldn’t harm myself or others I walked towards the airport exit.
I stepped out of the departure area and was soon found by the director of the company that recruited me. He goes by Simpson. It is normal practice that Koreans, that are learning English or deal in any business with English speaking people, will adopt an “English” name. At first you are kind of taken aback. Similar to if you are calling a customer support line for your computer and a kindly voice picks up and announces in a thick Indian accent. “Hello, dis’ is Jone-a-tin.” You find yourself thinking, no, sir your name is not Simpson or Josh or Harry… but at this point I did not care to reason out the eccentricities of Korean/English name giving customs.
Simpson, seeming tired, showed me to his car and helped me to load my bags into the back. Soon we were zipping through toll gates and side streets on our way to Brian’s apartment. Brian is the director of my school and I was told that would be staying at his place for a couple of days until the current teacher I was replacing vacated the apartment I was to take over.
As Simpson and I zipped through the countryside, which I couldn’t make out too well seeing as it was night, he flipped on the radio and lit a cigarette amidst plaintive coughs from deep in his chest. I’m afraid I wasn’t too much of a conversationalist for this, the first Korean person that I met. I was understandably tired and just wanted to be able to plant my feet somewhere for more than a few hours.
The first thing that you will notice in Korea is the lack of usable space. This is not to say that it has gone to waste by any means. What becomes readily apparent are the amazing amount of towering apartment buildings that sprawl across the landscape. Koreans realized they couldn’t utilize, thankfully, the popular American ideal of urban sprawl. They instead build up into the sky and down below ground instead of spreading laterally. This shows in the beehive apartment spires and the underground bars and shopping centers that radiate from beneath buildings and subway stops.
What I noted also as we were zipping across Gwangan Bridge were the large amount of red neon crosses dotting the cityscape. In fact korea is one of the most Christianized Asian countries. As I would later find out, complete with their own televangelist channels on T.V.
I was just sitting back taking in all of this and wondering exactly where I was being zipped off too.
I soon found out. I arrived at Brian’s apartment building and was ushered upstairs by Simpson, who again was kind enough to help me with my bags. I stepped into Brian’s place removed my shoes at the door and after Simpson and Brian chatted for a bit in Korean I said my formal hellos to my new director. Brian is a great guy and made me feel very welcome. I took a shower, brushed my teeth and then was nearly set to turn in for the night.
Brian showed me the room I would be sleeping in and I brought in my myriad pieces of luggage. He asked me to come down to the school the next day around one p.m. and took me out onto his balcony to show me how to get there. The school is only a couple of blocks away from his place and it would be my first trek out into Busan.
Here I was, exhausted yet still excited and ready for some shut eye. I guess that is when culture shock set in, and only for a few minutes, for me. I had just been on a series of planes for roughly sixteen hours, whisked across a strange new city by a stranger, taken to another stranger’s house and was expected to sleep soundly…

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on February 24, 2008 from Narita, Japan
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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Hyejin's Birthday

Pusan, South Korea

Today was Hyejin's Birthday. She is the girlfriend of Wesley that I work with at GnB. Tonight we went to the bar right near Haeundae beach called U2 for her birthday. Hyejin is a unique Korean girl. She is very outgoing and a bit rebellious when it comes to women here. She is a blast to hang out with and she speaks very good English
As I said, we started the night at U2 and met a bunch of Hyejin’s Korean friends. Everyone was very inviting and we soon had drink flowing from everyone’s cups. Us English speaking folk may not have been able to communicate well with the locals but there is one language that everyone seems to speak. Drunken dancing. Soon we were all requesting songs and urging each other onto the cramped dance floor. There truly aren’t many social barriers when people are dancing. We all move differently but we can all relate through common things like these. Singing happy birthday in our own languages, dancing and sharing good company.
We gathered around Hyejin’s cake and lit sparklers as we sang. Many good photographs come from these moments. People stuffing cake in their faces, sparklers dangerously drifting through the air. The Camera was hijacked at one point and Westerners and Koreans alike began to take prank pictures. The old “I’m Squishing Your Head with My Fingers” optical illusion seems to be cross cultural as well.
Soon we parted with many of the Korean friends that had to be back home earlier than the rest of our rag-tag crew. We took a taxi to the Kyungsung area and went to the Vinyl Underground. A seething pit of a bar, the two times I have been there, that is located in the basement of a building. The tow times I have been there it has been packed from shoulder to shoulder and no standing room at the bar. They also play house music most of the time and have arrhythmic DJ’s… le sigh. This was fun for a bit but then something went wrong. Perhaps it was the mass amount of people writhing around in the place. People always look, to me, like reptiles carelessly crawling over one another in these situations. Or perhaps it was the Jumbo Cass Red(6.9% alc.) that Ashley, Hyejin and I split… and I had to chug the last quarter of… that was causing a sudden feeling of uneasiness. Oh, let’s be honest it was probably both combined with a healthy(?) dash of crappy house music. The group was beginning to overload and the next thing I knew, much to my relief, we were leaving.
In the cab ride back I don’t remember too much except that I really didn’t want to talk to much. I was in the misty cloud realm of Cass Red… and not in a good way. People would ask me questions only to receive the Korean Ne(Yes) or Annio(No). I’m not entirely sure why but it seemed to amuse the other passengers.
We made it back in one piece and I managed to get to my apartment door. I tried my door code about thirty times before I got it correct. This probably pissed my neighbors off to no end. Instead of keys we have electronic door codes to open our apartment doors. These keypads beep relatively loud with each press of a button. So thirty attempts to get in times six button presses per try equals about one hundred and eighty electronic beeps at three in the morning. It’s alright because the next day I would learn to ascribe to a ban, no exceptions, on Cass and all of it’s inferior faux beer products.

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on February 9, 2008 from Pusan, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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E-mart Freak-out!

Pusan, South Korea

To experience E-mart is to experience modern Korean shopping. I believe they take many of their practices from the Japanese; the navy blue uniforms with slouch socks, the deep bow and greeting you receive at the door and the veritable army of clerks. They are at every juncture within the infrastructure of the store. If you are browsing electronics you will be within eyesight and earshot of at least three to four salespeople. This is very helpful, to be sure, but also a bit intimidating. I like to browse at my leisure and feel I am on display when I shop in these stores. Even the grocery section of the store has sample women at every turn and representatives for cereal, fish and produce waiting to help you.
I found myself braving E-mart after a long night out, I was hung-over, tired and just wanted to get out of the house. This, my friends, was the wrong place to come. E-mart is a multi-story department store that includes a grocery floor as well. It is usually packed and brimming full with people and I found this to be none too helpful to my bleary eyed state that day. I was wandering around aimlessly trying to find the groceries and ended up taking the winding escalators up into unknown regions of the store. I glimpsed every possible product imaginable and was being jostled and bumped by what seemed like every person in Busan.
An interesting aside, people in Busan seem to have the same hard worn tenacity of the people of Chicago or New York. I know there must be a phrase to say excuse me in Korean but it is rarely used on the streets or in stores. Perhaps they are just more used to being in more confined spaces, I do not know, but you will find yourself pushed out of the way. Not in a violent manner but just sort of glossed over by passersby as if you are all one large school of fish.
Back to E-mart. I kept traveling up and up the escalators looking for the grocery section and found myself out of luck. Instead of trying to navigate the slow moving walkways again I looked for an elevator. These too proved to be obnoxious, slow and very infrequent. After about an hour of unproductive work I found my way to the grocery section and made my purchases.
I have since been to E-mart a few more times and have been able to negotiate my way around fairly well. I guess that practice does improve most everything.

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on February 3, 2008 from Pusan, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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Ponderous Wandering

Pusan, South Korea

Feeling adventurous I decided to explore my surroundings today. I knew the general direction to Haeundae Beach and started out on my trek. I wanted to stretch my feet and get out of the apartment. I began my stroll and decided to trust my sense of direction to lead me to the seashore.
Along the way I saw some of the back alleyways away from the main drag. What you would think of as the traditional oriental-style roofs still cling to the tops of some of the surviving one story buildings in the city. I have yet too learn Hangul, or Korean script, so many of the signs are still a mystery to me. But I was met with many interesting sights and smells. Cooking smells came from a cluster of the one storied traditional homes and I walked by them to steal a whiff. Many restaurants along the way display the fish they serve in tanks outside of their entrances. Scattered merchants occupying small stalls or storefronts hawk their wares. They have everything from traditional candies to buckets of tangerines and strawberries. One day I even saw waffles on a stick being sold from a cart near the beach.
As I wandered through these alleys I noticed that the weather was very similar to the weather back home. I’ve heard that it doesn’t snow here yet there is almost a Chicago style nip to the air and wind that whips through the streets. I have heard that Haeundae beach becomes insanely crowded during the summer months with beach umbrellas covering every square foot. In these cooler months when I visit there are a few stragglers and joggers that tread it’s length. You will also find the aquarium here. I haven’t gone to it yet but it looks to be pretty impressive. There is a map of the facility and list of animals at an information kiosk outside the aquarium. I was delighted to see all sort of underwater denizens: Saw Fish, Sharks, Eels, Sea Dragons and last but not least the Jackass Penguin! I have no idea what this creature is… perhaps just a very rude bird? I’ll update when I find out more.

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on February 2, 2008 from Pusan, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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First Day Teaching...

Pusan, South Korea

The teachers room, crowded, noisy. Everything that a sanctuary for educators should be right? Right. Kids run into the room, dart behind your chair and scream “Hi, teachuh!” while cramming their book bag uncomfortably behind your back. A nice little treat for you to rest your lumbar region on until you wrap up your email. The kids share the computers with the teachers. They use them to do speaking practice using microphones. Repeating over and over and yet again over. “Are you my mother!” In a lilting bastard child of Korean and English. Not quite either but struggling this way and that.
My first class went pretty well considering a few things. I had had no instruction besides watching other classes play games and color. I had no preparation with the book I was to be teaching and had no idea what was on the Cds that come with said books.
So, I winged it as best I could. I sped through the whole lesson’s worth of material, sparse material at that, in about fifteen minutes… that including me introducing myself and asking the kid’s names. Now is when one must prove oneself. This is the chance to show my true grit, show that I am of the highest ilk in the ESL(English as a Second Language) community. Therefore, I wandered around the room asking the little ones… umm, what color is this?! Searching frantically for an answer. Blue, green, yellow, and on and on. Two minutes later I have run out of colors that they know. Anyone think this is Burnt Umber? Egg shell white? C’mon kids! Next I found myself pointing at different shapes and counting the sides of them with the students. Yes! A hexagon has 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 sides!
Thirty-five minutes of that and you’d better believe the kids were rolling their eyes, sighing heavily and plaintively whining “Teachuuuuuuh!” I had survived my first class and was then off and running to the five other classes of the day. Each one being fifty minutes long with a ten minute break sandwiched in between. I began to get the hang of this sort of CD/Book teaching. I was able to fluff up and fill the time left by lack of material by talking with the students. By asking them about themselves, their likes their dislikes. More important to the ESL teachers than this student connection has proven to be the “fail-safe” of Hang-man. Man, they eat that game up. Unless they are older, surly Junior High kids who think it’s uncool. Hangman ironically enough saved me from hanging out to dry a few times when I found myself running short on lesson material. It's cheap, I know this, but it must have some educational value.
After completing my first official shift I was ready to call it a day. I was able to move into my apartment seeing as the previous teacher had taken off during the day. After school I went back home with Brian and he helped me drag my suitcases to my building. To most people my apartment would be considered a shoe box. I guess I haven’t really thought about it too much because it is big enough for me. It is comfortable enough and most importantly it is paid for by the man! I was very lucky to have almost everything that I could possibly need left for me by Nicole. From a fold-down futon couch/bed to a blender. I can not thank her enough for making my move less of a culture shock and hassle than it could have been.

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on January 31, 2008 from Pusan, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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Sleep Until 1 O'clock!? No Dice!

Pusan, South Korea

So, I couldn’t sleep at all… ahh, what a pain you can be jet lag. I was up all night tossing and turning, knowing I was tired enough to sleep but my internal clock wouldn’t let me sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.
I was awake when Brian started to get ready in the morning so I just gathered myself up and asked him if I could just come with him when he left. I had showered quickly the night before but I will go into greater detail about Korean bathrooms now.

Korean lavatories 101:
-In my experience I have not seen too many bathtubs here in Korea, mostly just showers that share the same floor as the rest of the bathroom. Meaning that there is no partition between your showering area and your toilet or sink.
- All surfaces are covered by tiles and generally when I finish a shower the whole, rather small room, is splattered with shower water. This seems to be a blessing so far because cleanup is a cinch. The whole floor is swept daily with water and it exits down the same drain as the sink via a little recessed trough at one side of the bathroom.
-The pain with Korean bathrooms comes from the lack of shower partition. If you have taken a shower earlier in the day and then go into the bathroom in stocking feet without putting on your little plastic slippers you will find yourself soaking up all sorts of little puddles.

Back to the work-day. Still frazzled and tired yet unable to sleep I went with Brian into the bracing cold. We got into his cart and zipped the few blocks over to the school. We were the first ones to get there and unlocked the front doors. The school is on the fourth floor of the Woongshin Cinart building. This building also houses two other language schools on the same floor as well as a movie theater and countless, smaller ground level shops. Oh yes, and a Starbuck’s. Go figure.
Brian asked if I wanted some coffee, I accpeted the offer and it was over to the water cooler. A slender, plastic package was produced, being a 50/25/25 mix of instant coffee, non-dairy creamer and sugar. Hrm, not what I was expecting but I just wouldn’t try it again. Brian graciously said, “You must be hungry too, huh? I’ll be back, I will get bread for you, don’t worry.”
My first taste of Roti-boy was like eating a butter soaked cloud from heaven. There are two different stores in the same building here, Roti boy being a smaller offshoot of Papa Roti. Papa Roti is affectionately monikered the King of Buns. The name Roti probably just referring to the pan-Asian term for a sort of bread. These buns however are not flat like it’s like named counterpart but they are soaked with butter on the bottom. Add some sort of cinnamon-sugar mixture and your good to go.
So, I had my chemical coffee, my butter-soaked bun. What else could top off this ambrosia? Shrimp-flavored fries of course. Brian also bought a bag of this delectable snack food for us to suckle some sustenance from. As I got some food(?) in my belly the Korean teachers started to show up. I met each of them as they started to pour in. Ten in all, and then I met the foreign teachers I would be working with. Katie from San Diego, Wes from Boston/Texas and Ashley from Canada.
Today I was to sit in on some of the other foreign teacher’s classes and observe. I found out a month later that these were not actually “normal” classes as they were at the end of the month. The classes we teach attempt to wrap up the teaching of one of our slim volumes of text each month. This meant that I sat in on two or three classes where playing Uno and coloring were to be the most pressing tasks of the day.
While I was sitting in on Wes’s class I was wondering if I would indeed receive the ten day’s of unpaid training that they wrote about in the contract. I would learn later that day that I was to come in the next week and start teaching my own classes. This didn’t bother me too much as I wasn’t looking forward to tedious training, let alone the unpaid kind. Therefore, my training consisted of playing Uno with Wes and a little boy of perhaps six or seven years of age that can speak barely a smeck of English. The kids call Wes “wrestling” teacher because they can’t properly pronounce Wesley.
As I did not have my own schedule as of yet I was just floating from class to class. Wes took me out on a break we had for lunch. We went to what has become a staple haunt of mine, Kimbap Chunguk. Perhaps the closet American Analouge would be McDonald’s but sheerly for the positive reasons. It is a small, quick-service restaurant that has a menu of eighty-seven different dishes. All brought to you within about five minutes along with a cup of miso soup and at least three side dishes. There are usually kimchi, some sort of pickled radish, seasoned bean sprouts or egg soufflé provided as sides.
On this, my first, outing to what the foreign teacher’s affectionately call the “Orange” restaurant(because most of us can’t read the Hangul sign) Wes suggested I get a kimbap and a bowl of bi-bim-bap. Bap translates to rice, the staple food here besides red chili paste. A kimbap is the Korean equivalent of a Japanese maki roll of sushi. Differences being the inside contents, no raw fish, in place of this there is a strip of neon yellow pickled radish, a strip of Spam-like meat, a smathering of seaweed, strips of carrot and perhaps lettuce. They can also be filled with other ingredients at a cost. Bi-bim-bap is rice with a dollop of red pepper paste, lettuce, seaweed, dried seaweed, bean sprouts, carrots strips and it is topped with a fried egg. Pretty delicious stuff for my first experience. I’ll tell you, the constant pickling of veggies gets to you after a while.
After the lunch of new and different foods I went back to the school with Wes. I finished out the day and, it being Friday, was ready to go back to Brian’s apartment and maybe catch some shuteye. Brian told me that he would have to stay for a number of hours and gave me the key to his apartment. I was pretty sure I knew the way back and would be able to find the apartment. What I realized when I got back to his apartment building was that I had either forgotten or misheard Brian about what apartment number it was.
I went to the floor I believed it to be on and upon stepping out of the elevator started to second guess myself. There wasn’t a kid’s bike in the hallway next to his door before… why would there be now? Brian doesn’t have any children… hmm. Okay deductive logic tells me that his apartment would not be below this floor. I remembered the day before. Looking out of his window as he explained how to get to the school. It seemed as if we were at least seven, eight floors up. Okay. Breath, think and you’ll be alright. This is the right building isn’t it?
I got into the elevator and went down to the lobby. I was now even doubting that I had chosen the correct building. A quick look outside and yes, this was the right building, for sure. Now I had to figure out what floor. I decided to walk up the stairs and check out each small floor and see if anything struck me as familiar. Each floor had only two doors leading into their respective apartments. This couldn’t be that hard could it? Check the elevator, how many floors are there. Eighteen, oh great, let’s just go floor by floor.
I started from floor five on up knowing that it had to be above that level. I began to notice as I was going up that there were bikes scattered on some floors in the hallway. Brian definitely didn’t have a bike outside. I eliminated those floors. I got to what I thought was the floor by a process of elimination and guesswork. I steeled myself and knocked gingerly on the door, heard what sounded like a T.V. behind the apartment walls. Could he have gotten home before me? I rang the bell beside the door and seconds later an elderly Korean man answered, still pulling a robe over his undershirt. I apologized and excused myself.
I was almost sure that was the door and then began to panic a bit… then I remembered the apartment key in my pocket. I had noticed on some of the doors a keypad locking device while others had just a keyhole. I used this to narrow down my search also. I looked between the eighth and twelfth floors knowing it had to be within that range of floors. I looked at the door handles and decided to chance the ninth floor door that had a keyhole instead of keypad.
I glanced around, no one in sight, the neighbors across the hall watching a blaring television. I knocked on the door sheepishly. Crossing my fingers that there wouldn’t be another aging Korean person to pester on the other side. No answer. I began to slip the key in millimeter by millimeter just in case I had the wrong apartment and someone sleeping on the other side of the door might wake and call the cops. I got the key in and remembered that it had been a very stubborn thing to even get the key to work that morning. Brian had given me the key and wanted to make sure that I could get in. I tried three full force turn of the key and handle. Beginning to sweat a bit, feeling like a burglar… wait burglars don’t use keys do they? Until finally the handle gave way and I found myself in the relative safety of Brian’s apartment. After about an hour and a half ordeal I was ready to shower and crawl into the unfamiliar bed in his apartment…

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on January 30, 2008 from Pusan, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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D-town Departure A.K.A. Panic in Detroit

Detroit, United States

So at long last and much waiting in Michigan I am all set to board the Boeing 747-400 for a quick(fourteen hour!) jaunt over to Narita Airport outside of Tokyo and another hop on a smaller 747-200 over to Gimhae Airport in Busan. This is where I will be calling home for the next year and I have been ready for quite some time to make this flight.
The morning of my departure I woke up about 6:30 – 7:00 A.M. and got ready. Two huge rolling suitcases. Check. Laptop and bulging duffle bag that is beginning to burst at the zippers. Check. Seven sticks of deodorant, seeing as I have read that it is not the same or in short supply over here. Check. I wasn’t entirely sure what to bring but had a pretty good idea that with this much luggage I’m pretty sure I won’t be in too dire of need.
After my parents and I are all set to make the drive to Detroit Metro Airport we load everything into the car and take off. I haven’t really felt nervous the whole time I have been planning and waiting for this trip to commence and I believe that it was the right time to do something like this. Too step outside of the aching normality back home to see something else for once. I occupy myself in the back of the car with thoughts of the fantastic going away party that my friends threw for me. It was Mardi-Gras Masquerade in theme and turned out to be one of the best times that I have had since coming back to the Coloma/St. Joseph area from Kalamazoo.
Along the trip my parents asked me a few more questions about Busan and Korea in general. I answered as best I could but felt that I wouldn’t truly know what was going to happen or what things were going to be like until I got there. We arrived at the Detroit airport and began the process of checking in my bags…
And so it starts. I thought I had navigated the Northwest Airlines website well enough yet as it turns out this was not the case. I had misread the luggage requirements and thought that you could bring up to one hundred pounds in each piece of checked luggage. In reality NWA would accept up to one hundred pounds with no charge up to fifty pounds, a fifty dollar charge for up to seventy pounds and a three hundred and ninety-five dollar charge for anything over seventy pounds.
Seeing as I had a bit over seventy pounds in one case and around fifty in my smaller case I was in a world of hurt. We had a cardboard box brought so I could shed some of the unnecessary items for my parents to take home. Then began the nerve-racking game of Tetris. Shuffling items from one case to the other in hopes of balancing the scales. Shoving odd pairs of socks into my carry on luggage, hence it’s near bursting state as I carried it toward the departure gate.
I must take a moment here to completely denounce the security staff at the Detroit Metro Airport. What a surly bunch of ass-hats they were. I shuffled through the roped off walkway after I said my goodbyes to my parents. Like a rat in a maze, nearly falling over trying to steer my huge carry-on luggage around the corners I shuffled up to a podium. There was a man standing behind it turned the other way leisurely chatting it up with a co-worker.
It was pretty well apparent that I was there, I had made some noise in approaching and it is not as if the worker facing me couldn’t see me waiting to board. So, I cleared my throat and said excuse me, the man turned around with every once of incredulity he could muster in his sneer and glare. He just stared at me… and I at him… I began to sweat. Was this part of the security screening process? A good, old fashioned stare off? Do terrorists usually cave after thrirty seconds under this man’s gaze? I shifted, eyes darting around as I avoided his stare and began to shift my bags uncomfortably.
“Boarding pass…”, He stated. Not “May I have your…” or “I need your…”. Just a simple noun. I was perturbed at his rudeness, I didn’t see any sign around that said have your boarding pass ready. Eh, forget it give the clown his pass and continue on to the security check.
Again, I am met with a worker that is more concerned with talking to a co-worker than instructing me on what the current procedures are. I place my first bag on the conveyor, empty my pockets into one of the buckets that they have and send it through.
“Do I put my laptop through?” I ask.
A rolling of eyes. “Yes.”
I begin to push the case through.
“Naw, take it out.” He snaps his brow furrowed with disgust.
I begin to mumble curses about this man’s mother under my breath and roll my own eyes and then realize if I get shitty with him he can deny me entrance. Nice, so that’s the game, eh? I take the laptop out and send it and the bag through. I take off my jacket, pass it through and then go to step through.
“Naw, take your shoes off.” He burps.
I think this is probably currently, not so much a safety measure but the lazy airport workers way to stick it to you if they think you are some backwoods rube. I take off my shoes and pick them up and begin to walk through.
“Naw,” again… “If I wanted you to take them through the metal detector I wouldn’t have told you to take them off…”
What an insufferable prick. I bite my tongue, place my shoes on the conveyor and leave this uninviting douche-bag behind. I wave my goodbyes to my parents and gather up my dignity, put on my shoes, gather my bags and find my gate.
Luckily it was right by the security entrance and I took up a seat to wait for the boarding announcement. Shortly thereafter I got in line and boarded the plane…

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on January 29, 2008 from Detroit, United States
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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Mardi-Gras Masquerade Going away Party Madness

Saint Joseph, United States

In a frantic search before the party to find a costume I made a quick circuit of the Benton Harbor shopping area. Which basically is comprised of the Factory Card Outlet, Wal-Mart and Meijer seeing as it was about 8:30 P.M. on the 26th of January. I had only found out that my friends were going to be throwing me a party a few days prior and had no idea what I should wear to this masquerade.
I ended up meeting Calie, Liz, Freeman and Rachel at The Factory Card outlet. As the real Mardi Gras is coming up soon the Factory Card Outlet had a fine selection of beads. From among the necklaces that consisted of grossly oversized beads to interwoven beads that formed a drink cozy I choose one of a cameo face mask that has an annoying red blinking light. Wandering around a bit more I happen to find the one thing that I though would be fun for a Mardi Gras party. The Two-Drink Baseball Helmet! You know the kind I’m talking about, a bright red baseball helmet with two can holders on each side and a double straw contraption for maximum hilarity! That was my first good find of the night.
Next, I went with Rachel and Josh to Wal-Mart where we suspected we could find some cheap, goofy shirts or kid’s clothes that would make good costumes. Something cheesy that wouldn’t break the bank. As always, Wal-Mart disappointed me for the most part. Except for the fact that I did find a pack of Glow-In-The-Dark Spider-Man Underoos… I mean what costume could fail if it includes a pair of these? This is the thought that I had in mind as I made my way to the U-Scan area, furtively glancing over my shoulders, trying not to feel like a pedophile while purchasing the Roos.
On to Meijer where I was in a frantic search for cheap, garish looking shirts that would complete my costume. I was unable to locate on of those screen-printed tees that look like a tuxedo, but oh well. I was able to piece together some cheap, plain white tees, a pair of suspenders (to hold the underoos on), and some pajamas with skulls printed all over them. This time as I U-scanned everthing I felt a sense of relief. A sense of contentment with the mishmash of articles I had bought. I still had no idea what they would look like on but felt confident that the night’s success had already been sealed.
When I arrived at Calie’s place, she Lis and Andrew were all getting ready. I ran into the bedroom in order to try and figure out my costume and get it on so we could go grab a drink and burger at the Stevensville Station before going to Lis and Freeman’s place. After getting everything just right I wondered where do I put my wallet for the night? Hmm? No pockets… Oh yeah! I shoved it in the underoos, making the whole ensemble that much more flattering!
Everyone enjoyed my costume and I loved theirs as well. Andrew looked like a News Reporter from the mid seventies. All turd brown leaisure suit, mustache and professionality. Now, if he had been drinking scotch it would have topped of the whole thing. Calies getup consisted of lime green tights, a scandalous dress and big crazy hair… I believe their were opera gloves involved also. Lis rocked an elegant black and white dress and a Mardi Gras hat with foil, sparkly wig all topped of withed a caterpillar mustache. In a last minute ditch effort to up the creepiness factor Lis cut a lock of hair off of Calies mannequin head, ratted and rolled it between her hands and then applied it to her chest with hairspray! It was probably one of the most brilliant make-up effects I have ever seen, it looked just like real chest hair!
So we went to the hole in the wall Stevensville Station that is right down the road from Calie’s house. It was definitely a shock to the usual crowd there to see us all dressed to impress, or rather dressed to freak out the squares. We met up with Mr. Bromagin there who wore a previous Halloween costume of the character Rorschach. We finished up our beer and burgers and went over the Lis and Freeman’s place.
It was a great night all together we waited for the other guests to arrive and took off yet again to terrorize the town. We ended up going to Czar’s. it was just another normal night there with a shitty cover band playing and the usual people hanging around. At first we got all sorts of odd looks and even hostile glares but then people began to warm up to us, and vice versa. A woman came up and told me that she had the same pair of Spiderman underwear. I remember Calie and Rachel drunkenly taking the stage while the band was playing. Andrew shared his mustache with the people at the table next to us. Frank helped me rig up my drinking helmet with straws so that I could actually use it to get to the bottom of my beers, thanks Frank. Freeman danced the night away in his pink bath robe. Lis asked a boy to dance but I think the chest hair might have had an influence on his decision. And the the night ended with me getting the great idea to throw my Underoos on stage for the bands last song(thanks to Lis for help with the actual throwing. Luckily the band played an encore with some crazy guy from the crowd singing for them. My night was complete when he picked up the underoos and finished the song with them on top of his head.
Who could ask for a better going away party?

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on January 26, 2008 from Saint Joseph, United States
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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To Chicago for My E2 Visa

Chicago, United States

Ah, one more step complete in preparation for my trip to Busan. I went to Chicago today to apply for my visa to enter Korea. I took the infamous "Hell Train", as my friends and I have deemed it, technically it is the South Shore Line commuter train that runs from Michigan City, IN to Millennium Station in Chicago.
I got going a bit early and arrived in the city around 10:00 A.M. Chicago time. When I got off the train i was walking up the stairs to Michigan Ave. and a mother and child were walking ahead of me. She was holding his hand as they walked up the stairs and was telling him that they were in "the big city" and asked if he was ready. As we walked further up the stairs and out into downtown the little boy was overcome and looked around him with wide eyes. "Wow, Wow!" was all he could say as he looked up at the skyscrapers. Even having lived here for a short time and coming to visit once and again I still get a little bit of that feeling when I come here. I really like Chicago and have a great time when I come.
Invariably, I get a little lost every time I come, and i learned later that even Brett confirmed that you can be two blocks away from somewhere you know and not even be aware of it. This happened to me after I finished my business at the Korean consulate in NBC Tower.
I began to follow Clark St. North and at some point lost my bearings, I forgot that it runs at a diagonal from SE to NW, and had trouble finding the correct bus route. I ended up walking a good, long way probably two blocks East of Clark St. in the more residential area. In actuality i was probably traveling parallel to Clark for a good while, damning the confusing Chicago streets and thinking about asking one the mail carriers where the hell I was.
After what seemed like forever, and nearly venturing to relieve my bladder in an affluent Lincoln Park alleyway, I told myself that I was going to scream if I didn't find my bearings in about two seconds.
Then to my surprise, I rounded the corner of a block and what had been hazy and unrecognizable began to look slowly familiar. I saw a Chinese restaurant I used to go to, the intersection of Clark and Fullerton, and around the corner, the Urban Outfitters where I used to work. With an exasperated "Jesus!" and a rolling of my eyes I know had found my way and looked for a sushi restaurant.
I forgot that they are all only open for dinner at this time of year, except for one of those "All You Can Eat" sushi places.(No, thanks.) So I settled, more out of nostalgia than epicurean delight, for some char dogs and cheese fries at the Weiner's Circle. Gut-wrenching but delicious.
i bummed around for a bit, wanted to catch a movie but missed it by twenty minutes, ended up going to the book store on Clark that I used to frequent. Listened to the crazy old owner in the Bears stocking hat as he lugged new purchases,"125 dollars of fuckin' philosophy I have to get rid of, now!", around to the shelves that are packed from top to bottom, spilling over and have new arrivals stacked in front of them.
Shortly after this I left, ventured to Chicago Comics for a bit and went back to the Century Center to sit for a while and wait for Brett and Carrie to come and pick me up.
We went to get a pie, which we determined was lacking the proper amount of cheese, and then had a beer before they dropped me back off at the train station. Getting to see Brett is always fun and it is so good to see that he is having a great time in his new digs with Carrie. The two of them are very happy together and I can't think of a guy more deserving of happiness than Brett. He truly has a heart of gold under all that sarcasm!
With my mission accomplished and having the bonus of being able to hang out with Brett and Carrie I was able to ride home on Hell Train a bit more comfortably.
Just about a month to go and I will be shipping out. Man, the waiting game has really set in and I am counting the minutes...

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on December 10, 2007 from Chicago, United States
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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Waiting for that sweet, sweet visa number...

Coloma, United States

At long last everything should be set for me to leave at the end of January for Busan, South Korea. I signed on the dotted line of the contract with a school in Haeundae Beach area and am anxiously awaiting my departure.
I graduated a few years ago with a secondary teaching degree in English and have been feeling out the right way to go with it. I have definitely not been feeling the teaching scene in Michigan, let alone the states recently. Also because of a feeling of confusion about the U.S.'s current political/economic/educational state right now I even more so felt the need to explore other horizons. That is how I ended up looking into teaching abroad and i couldn't be more excited.
I am just gritting my teeth through the last few weeks here. Michigan feels like such a black hole sometimes. The past, and current situations, seem to suck time away quickly. One thing that has helped me is having a good group of friends to help keep my chin up and support me through this whole process.
All I am waiting on is my visa confirmation number from my employer. Then it will be a quick trip to Chicago to the Korean Consulate there, I'll get my stamp and then be off shortly to the Land of the Morning Calm.
So the waiting game continues, but at least now there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. More to come soon as I patiently (yeah, right) wait for my certificate of freedom.

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on November 30, 2007 from Coloma, United States
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
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