"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)

Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education. 
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Day

          Well, we had a bit of a white Christmas, after all. But let me start from the beginning. 

 Christmas morning, Jon and I exchanged presents. He got me mittens on a string (sooo convenient :) ), a travel coffee mug (I've really been needing one) from Starbucks that says Korea on it and has pictures of Korean stuff, and gift certificates to Kyobo bookstore, a chain we have in Jeonju and that there is a huge branch of in Seoul. Actually, the gift certificates were homemade, with the Kyobo logo on nice little envelopes with cash inside. See, I had told Jon that that was what I wanted, but when he tried to get them, he found out that Kyobo doesn't have gift certificates. So, I figured I wasn't getting that. So I was nicely surprised to get one anyway. :) 
        I had gotten Jon a digital camera, which he loved. I figured that, since we were in Korea and are going to Thailand, he really needed a camera. And he's definitely already used it plenty. 
After presents, I made french toast, and then Skyped my dad and sisters. It was Christmas Eve there, and Anna and Erin were quite hyper.  
After talking for a while, Jon and I headed out to the Hanok Village, the traditional area of the city. It was a beautiful morning, and after just a few minutes, it started to snow big, fat flakes. We walked around a while, and visited a calligraphy museum and the cultural center. We also found a HUGE, awesome swing. Of course, we swung on it. It was quite fun.
Then we figured we were cold enough, and headed to a traditional tea house to warm up with a cup of tea. It was a really cute place...we sat in a smaller building off the main tea house, with only two tables. It was made in the traditional Korean style-- wooden with white plaster walls and the paper windows and doors. And heated floors, which I loooove. The tea was good too--loose-leaf tea that was dried just outside. 
After tea, we stopped by Isaac Toast for a quick snack. Isaac Toast is a chain of tiny storefront food places that makes sandwiches on toast, such as egg and cheese; egg, cheese and ham; hamburgers; etc. It's quite yummy, and pretty cheap. Jon and I both had hamburgers, then headed off in a taxi to Spa La Qua, our favorite spa-type place. 
Spa La Qua was nice, and relaxing, but more crowded than usual, so we only stayed about 3 hours. Then we came home and got ready for dinner. We had reservations for 8 pm at an Italian Restaurant. This one is a real italian restaurant, as opposed to the Korean-style ones that don't quite taste right, because it has a real Italian chef. Who happens to be one of our friends. Dinner was amazing. We got bread, salad and an amazing pumpkin soup, then our entrees. I got Gorgonzola pasta....mmmmmm, it was delicious. I miss cheese. :) So that was nice. Jon got gnocci in tomato sauce, which was quite good also. We had a bottle of white wine with dinner, then I had tiramisu for dessert, and Jon had cheesecake. And it was real cheesecake! That's in short supply around here...usually 'cheesecake' tastes like bland spongecake. 
After dinner, I Skyped my mom and sisters. That was nice, although I was surprised to find that they hadn't started opening presents yet...it was 9am there, and I can remember not too long ago when we were almost done with presents by then. But they opened the presents I had sent them while they were talking to me, which was cool. 
All in all, it was quite a nice Christmas, relaxing and fun. And it snowed!!! Though it still didn't really feeeeel like Christmas. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Next 4 Years

         For those of you who haven't heard yet, I was recently accepted into American University's Washington College of Law for fall 2009. American is located in Washington, DC, and its international law program was ranked 5th in the nation by US News and World Report. I've been talking to a lot of you at various points, but I wanted to write a little about the program I'm planning on doing, and all of the opportunities I'll have at WCL that I wouldn't have at other law schools many people think of as more prestigious, like Harvard and Yale (Yale, by the way, was tied with American for Int'l Law). I looked at a lot of those schools, but they just didn't have what I was looking for. 
        So, what am I looking for? I want to study international human rights law. That can involve anything from refugees to war crimes tribunals to petitions to stop construction of factories that pollute across borders. American U. has a joint degree program that would grant me a law degree (JD) and a masters in international affairs, with one of about 10 specializations, many having to do with human rights. It is a strong, institutionalized program, with 200 students in it right now, as opposed to most similar programs at other schools, which are smaller or must be designed on an individual basis, and focus usually on the business side of international law. I want to do a joint degree because that way, I can practice law or go into policy, and either way I'd have a strong background and a broader knowledge base. I still haven't heard from the School for International Service, where I would get my masters, because they just got my application forwarded once WCL accepted me. But even if I don't get it, I can apply after my first year at WCL, which will not set me back because my first year I would take all law courses anyway.
        Beyond the joint degree program, there are many other benefits to WCL. There are four summer abroad programs (Chile/Europe [Geneva, Brussels, London and Paris)/The Hague/Turkey) that focus on international law and development/human rights issues. These programs are a month long, and many participants are able to get internships abroad for the rest of the summer in the location they studied. That would give me invaluable international experience. 
      Speaking of invaluable international experience, the Dean of the law school is a chair of the UN's Committee Against Torture, and every year he chooses 6 students to help prepare for the meetings and take a special class on torture and international law, then they go to Geneva for the meetings and attend meetings with the Committee and State delegations. 
      There's also the War Crimes Research Office, where students, professors, staff and outside experts prepare research for War Crimes Tribunals. And the American University International Law Review, a student-written law review focusing on International Law. And the Human Rights Brief, another student publication. And the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition, held at American every year, with participants from almost every country in Latin America, usually from multiple universities in each country, and from all over the US and Canada. 
      There are also numerous courses pertaining to international human rights law, and the interaction of law and development, economics, politics, etc. Plus, being in Washington, DC itself provides many opportunities. 
    I am very excited about this, although I know it will be very hard. When I visited American and WCL last spring, I knew it was somewhere I could feel comfortable, and somewhere I would learn a lot, from classes, professors and other students. Just wanted you all to know what's going on. : )

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the Season...

   Well, we knew it would be an extended Christmas season when, on November 1st, the Lotte Department Store near our apartment put up a huge, pretty horrendous christmas tree outside. It is basically a triangular-cone-thing of solid white lights that flash, with a star on top. But none the less, it heralded the beginning of the Christmas season. A season that it now in full swing. 

While many stores are decorated, it still doesn't really feel like Christmas. There's not really any lights outside, and it's only snowed really once in December. Although that day was beautiful-- it snowed all day and most of the night; big fat flakes covering everything. Jon and I walked around in it, trying to go get some cocoa in the University area. Unfortunately, the snow-removal system (assuming there is one) hadn't kicked in, and the roads were terrible. Plus, there were no taxis to be had. So, we walked to a nearby coffee shop and, the hems of our pants covered in snow and my feet freezing in my clogs, we finally got our cocoa. 

     That was the first Friday in December. That weekend, we went up to Seoul for some Christmas shopping and Christmas spirit. From our experience of the roads the night before, we decided on the train Saturday morning. It was a beautiful train ride. Most of the countryside was still covered in snow, the fields white with snow-covered hay bales and temples sticking up from the outlines of snowy hills. The train snaked through the mountains and over partially-frozen rivers spotted with birds in mid-migration. 

    However, the snow had melted by the time we got to Seoul. There, it was just cold. Right next to the station was a huge electronics store, where we went to browse the camera supplies (for me) and iPod accessories (for Jon). I came really close to buying a camera lens, since they were much cheaper than I have found them, but I decided I should be saving money for Christmas presents and our upcoming trip to Thailand (!!). But still, the vendors let my try out some lenses on my camera body, and that was pretty fun and tempting... :)  

   After some more browsing, we headed to the hostel we had booked online. Although the directions were a little confusing on paper (walk past such-and-such store, turn behind this other store...), they made perfect sense once we got off the subway. The hostel, called Golden Pond Hostel, is a very cute, tiny hostel in an area near one of the many universities in Seoul. There were plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, and it was only a few blocks from the subway. The woman who runs it speaks very good English, and was friendly. We didn't spend much time there, though-- just dropped off our things and left to venture towards Insa-dong.

   Insa-dong is my favorite part of Seoul. For those of you familiar with Burlington, VT, it's like an even-cooler Church street. For everyone else, it's a neighborhood built around a street that closes to cars during the day and evening. Many shops sell traditional Korean crafts and artwork (so can sometimes be a bit touristy), but it's also really artsy and has galleries, cafes and teahouses, and a myriad of antiques dealers with some pretty fascinating artifacts. I found some Mexican pesos from the 1800s (nope, sorry, didn't buy them....this time. I have no idea how much they cost), along with the more common old scroll paintings, buddhist statues, wooden carvings and ancient-looking books. 

   The walk to Insa-dong took only about 20 minutes, but it was freeeeeezing. Maybe we should've taken the subway. It was late afternoon by the time we got there, and the sun was setting. We wandered for a few hours, buying Christmas presents for our families. When we got hungry, we went to this Indian place we had seen on the second floor of one of the buildings, but when we got there, I started to think better of it. First, it didn't smell like Indian food. This is not a good sign, since Indian food had such a strong and unique smell that permeates everything--when I cook Indian, the apartment smells like it for days. Second, the menu was quite short, and included mostly samosas and drinks, with only 2 or 3 main dishes. Third, it was a little over-decorated with Indian deco. So, we left. 

   After dropping our bags off at the hostel (this time, we were smart and took the subway back), we went to a Vietnamese noodle restaurant that we had seen earlier in the afternoon. This place was much better! It was so little and cute, and more importantly, staffed with actual Vietnamese people. I got Vietnamese vermicelli, which was served cold with sauce, cucumbers, pineapple, carrots and other veggies. And, of course, spring rolls. Mmmmmmm. And they gave us yummy yummy tea. 

   After dinner, we wandered for a little, and decided to try out the DVD rooms. DVD rooms are basically like your own private movie theater, but more comfy. They're places where you pick out a movie to watch, then they send you to a little room where you watch it. Jon and I hadn't been to one yet, but friends of ours said they were fun. Plus they're cheap. So, after much deliberation, we picked "Sweeny Todd," and were directed to our room. There was a big couch/bed/cushion thing in the room, and a big TV. It was pretty fun, and the movie was good. Except for the many gore-y parts. All in all, a great concept-- you can pick whatever movie you want (they have a ton) and it's pretty cheap. 

   That night, when we got back to the hostel around 11pm, people were already asleep in the room we were in (it was a room with 3 bunk beds. There hadn't been anyone elses' stuff there in the afternoon), so we just went right to bed. It was pretty quiet, with only a few people opening the door during the night. Unfortunately, there were no windows, so when I woke up at 10, it felt like 7. That morning, Jon and I went our separate ways to buy each others' presents, so I won't go into detail about my adventures that morning in case he reads this... :) But we had agreed to meet back at the hostel to go out for lunch afterwards. Of course, I was running about 1/2 hour late, but it was okay since Jon ended up being about 1 1/2 hours late :). So I hung out at the hostel with the owner, chatting a little, reading my book and drinking a nice mug of tea she made me. 

    When Jon finally made it back, we packed up our backpacks and went into central Seoul to look around a little, then to the train station. We ended up wandering downtown and eating lunch at Quiznos, honestly one of my favorite restaurants in Seoul because sometimes, you just need a good sandwich, and there's really nothing deli-like in Jeonju, not even good bread or lunch meats to make subs. (Except one place in the University area but it's still not as good) 

   Anyway, this was supposed to be about Christmas time in Korea. It's still pretty Christmas-y in stores, but not really outside-- no lights on houses, or big trees. We bought a HUGE tub of candy canes at Costco in November, so we've been giving them out to students as prizes when we play games in class. Also, I had my students make paper snowflakes last week, which they loved, and we used them to decorate my classroom, which now looks like it's experiencing a blizzard. And then I made a Christmas tree out of construction paper and put it on the wall, with red construction paper 'bulbs' with each student's name on them. And a star. I had my very little student (whose class mostly involves me reading stories to her) help me hang it up and decorate it. It was cute, and quite fun! We're doing secret santa with the other teachers/the administrative assistant here...I'm quite excited! It'll make up for having to work on Christmas Eve...ugh! But, we're just pretty much going to watch Christmas movies with all our classes (at least I am..!). And eat candy canes and hot cocoa. 

   Plus, I can't complain about days off. We just found out we're getting the 31st-the 4th off anyway. So I guess it'll be Seoul for the New Year, then who knows where.......