"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, February 15, 2009

A Big Decision

Some of you already know that I am very unhappy in my job here. I have been trying to make myself like it, and been trying to deal with not liking it by doing lots of other things while I'm not at work. That all worked for a while, more or less, but the balance between liking everything else in my life and severely disliking my work has shifted sharply towards the latter. I have decided it's time to move on, and gave my 2 1/2 month's notice today. The director was a little shocked, but mostly okay. He and my Korean co-worker mostly just said they would "follow my decision" and they wanted me to be happy, but they also asked me to stay through May.  I said I'd rather not, but if they really can't find anyone by then, I guess I could. 
       I definitely do not regret coming here. Not only have I learned about myself-- that I don't want to teach, that I would rather work in a task-based environment instead of time-based, etc-- but I have experienced a fascinating country and culture. I have met many wonderful people, and I've experienced living on the other side of the world in a culture infinitely different from anything I had experienced before. 
But I'm not leaving yet-- I still have 2 1/2 months, and I intend to use that time to its fullest to do everything I haven't done here yet that I want to do. And I will be much more able to enjoy that, and my students, knowing I have a shorter amount of time left. 
I really love some of my students, and so this was a hard decision to make, but I know its also in their best interest. Having a teacher that dreads going to class is not fair to them, and although I try to mask that, and I'm pretty sure I usually do, it's been getting harder and I've been getting more irritable despite my best efforts. Part of the reason I have trouble accepting teaching is that my students, who are from age 6 to 14, are exhausted every day from school and extra classes, they stay up until 11 or 12 (at least) every night doing homework and have hardly any free time. Even on school vacations.  During the school year, they go to school until 2 or 3, then they're at Reading Town for 2-3 hours (depending on if they're MWF or TTh), and I know they go to other academies....almost all of them have some kind of music academy, maybe science or math, and many learn Chinese or Japanese also. My oldest student- 14- goes to 12 hours straight of classes every day. She comes to mine- at the end of the day- exhausted and can barely do her classwork. But she still does her best. I don't like to be a part of the system that makes them miserable, and I while I try to make it easier on them by not assigning much homework, or playing games in class, the parents call and complain, and I'm told by my superiors that I have to assign more homework and do more work in class. I can't buy into this system, which is part of the reason I'm leaving. 
As for what I will do, I tried to get a job. I emailed contacts in the non-profit world, checked job sites and classifieds, and there was nothing. All my contacts said they had nothing and they didn't know of anyone who was hiring. I figured that would be the case. So, I've decided to take advantage of being over on this side of the world, and travel. How much I travel will depend in part on how much money I get from law school... I will find that out by April 15 (the seat deposit deadline), two weeks before I leave. My plan is to take the ferry with Jon to China and take the short train ride to Beijing and spend a long weekend there, after which Jon will go back to Jeonju and work, and I will continue down the eastern side of China, through Shanghai, Hong Kong, etc. by train, then into Vietnam. How much I do in Southeast Asia depends on the financial situation, but optimally I would go through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand (the parts I didn't get to the first time), Malaysia, Singapore and, maybe, Indonesia. I know some people who have done more or less this route, and I'll be talking to them a lot. It's apparently quite easy to do on the train, and cheap. 
Then I'll have to come back here to get my things and Kimchi. I'll probably stay for a few weeks, then come back to the States in mid-late July. Then, law school in August. 
Phew. Well, that's my big decision. I've come to it after a lot of obsessing and a lot of trying to make excuses not to do it, but I have to accept that this is the best choice for me and everyone else involved. I don't regret coming here at all, but I would regret finishing out this contract. I feel bad that I'm breaking it, but I think it's better than the alternative. I'll let you all know how my plans develop, and I've told Jon he has to blog here when I'm gone, though I'll also blog from my journey. 

aaand the rest of Thailand

First, I'm getting a little tired of writing detailed entries about something that happened 2 weeks ago. Second, for the rest of the trip...when we were at the beach...we really did nothing but sleep, eat and lay on the beach. So it's not too exciting. Oh, and Jon hacked open coconuts with a machete. :) Then we went back to Bangkok for a day and bought a lot of stuff. 

Yep, that's about it. The beach was beautiful, and not crowded at all. The food was, as usual, amazing. We had a lizard friend in our bungalow on the last night...we named him House since he lived in our house. And then we had another lizard friend named Screen, since he lived in the screen of our bathroom window. They were quite cute. 

Thailand was amazing. It's one of my favorite countries now, though I don't think it can ever knock Peru off the top spot for the simple sentimental value that is added to its awesomeness. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


  Monday morning, Jon and I got up early and headed to the train station. The Bangkok train station is fascinating, full of all kinds of people-- Thais, backpackers, other tourists, and groups of what I could ssume to be Muslim pilgrims or tourists or nomads..... We got on the train, 3rd-class seats, which are benches, basically, but not uncomfortable. While we were waiting to for the train to leave, a little girl kept waving at me and blowing kisses through the window. She was sooo cute.
As the train went though Bangkok, I could see the poorer neighborhoods out the window, houses made of wood and tin that went right up to the tracks. There were many people washing and filling the carts of sliced fruit that we brought on the streets. There were people walking down the tracks, or biking alongside of them.
Then we got into the countryside, where I saw fields and small towns, and small, quaint train stations. Some of the towns were clustered along rivers, and the wooden houses were built on stilts. There were birds in the fields, and I even saw some water buffalo! They were just chilling in a river. Fishermen were throwing nets into the rivers, and boys were swimming. 
The Ayutthaya station was small, but surrounded by food vendors and stalls renting bikes for the day. We ate at a hostel...I had amazing basil chicken...mmmmm...and a fresh watermelon shake. Then we took a ferry across the river and rented some bikes from a very helpful woman who gave us a map and showed us a good route to get around town. 
We took off down the hot and busy streets of Ayutthaya, surrounded by motorcycles and cars and food carts, but were soon confronted with a very old-looking brick wall surrounding an open area spotted with trees. It was the first compound of ruins we were to visit, th
e ruins of a temple from the 1300s that was destroyed during the Burmese invasion in the late 1500s. The grounds have not been restored, and there are hundred of stone Buddha statues in varying broken-ness, almost all headless. I am still wondering if they were beheaded on purpose during the invasion, since there are some that are in recesses in walls that are intact, there is no real evidence of damage around the statue, just a clean break at the neck. 

The temple compound, like the other temple ruins we saw that day, were sprawling grounds of spires, walls and Buddha statues, all made of stone and brick. You could climb up one of the spires and enter the chamber inside, which was small but held some Buddha images which were collecting offerings of incense and flowers. There were steep and narrow stairs inside that led down into a small chamber whose walls were covered in what seemed like gold-leaf paintings. I was a little scared of the stairs. I do, remember, have an irrational fear of descending stairs. :) 
After a few temples, we decided to go out in search of the elephant kraal, which was where they used to keep the royal elephants, and we had heard that there were still elephants there to see, maybe doing the rumored painting or soccer-playing. We followed our rough map over the river and down a winding road surrounded by palm trees and Thai houses, more and more into the country. Right when we were about to give up, thinking we had missed a turn or something beca
use we found ourselves almost in the middle of nowhere, I caught the scent of elephant in the air. For your next question, I have no idea why I can smell identify the smell of elephant, I can't have possibly smelled it many times in my life. I did ride one once, when I was r
eally young, and I remember multiple circuses with elephants in my past... but whatever the reason, I was sure I caught a whiff of elephant. So, we kept going, and maybe 100 yards down the road and around a curve we found the old kraal. It was just an empty courtyard surrounded by whitewashed walls with a pagoda in the middle, but from the observation area on the walls, we could see elephants in the distance behind the kraal. So, got back on our bikes and headed in that direction.
I don't like to think too much about what we saw, but I think it needs to be said. What we found was an elephant farm/training center/whatever that did not take good care of its elephants. At first it seemed nice, but when we got closer, it got a little more sketchy. First of all, I think it was one of those places that tour groups take you, or that you sign up to stay at on the internet, because there was a group of Westerners in matching t-shirts learning how to prepare the elephant food. It didn't seem to be a walk-up place, but there was nothing that told us to keep out, so we parked our bikes and wandered up. 
The first bad sign was a literal sign near where we parked our bikes that advised us to only take photos with a license. Strange, eh? Then we saw that all the elephants were chaine
d up to a corral-looking place, with only a few feet of chain, and were all struggling t
o walk forward but couldn't. The baby elephants were walking around, but the young men/boys that were obviously supposed to be taking care of them were kicking or hitting them. We saw one boy kick a baby elephant in the face. They looked healthy...well, as far as we can tell about elephants, i.e. they weren't really skinny and they didn't have visible welts. But we got right out of there. It didn't seem like a place we wanted to be, though I did wonder about the group of tourists...if they were bothered by what was going on, and how they could be a part of it. 
Upon our return to the city, we found the royal palace and the temple next to it. It was getting late in the afternoon, and there were crowds of people at the temple and rows o
f vendors around it, selling souvenirs and, of course, food. Let me take this moment to point out that this was Chinese (lunar) New Year. Many Thais have Chinese heritage, and the Chinese New Year was a big holiday. This temple had a HUGE golden Buddha inside, which was really awesome but we didn't get to see up close because there were people worshipping inside and swarming up and down the stairs, and I didn't want to get in the way. 
After some more wandering around the grounds, and seeing people taking elephant rides and Thai families playing in the grass, we headed back to return our bikes. We got some dinner from a street cart and headed to the train station to wait for the train. My basil chicken, unfortunately, turned out to be waaay too hot to eat (even Jon couldn't eat it...I thought I was going to die after a few bites), but my pastry-pancake thing with condensed milk drizzled o
ver it was great.
Some of the best times I had in Thailand were waiting for public transportation, or riding it. That train station was full of life and people, and it was a nice place to sit and people watch as the sun went down. The ride home was great, at least the second half. The train was very crowded, so we had to stand. About an hour in, I got really dizzy from dehydra
tion and, though I caught the signs early and bought and drank a bottle of water, I still had to go get some fresh air in-between the cars. For a while I just leaned against the wall, and I quickly felt better, but the doors were wide open and the stairs were just asking to be sat on. Jon was brave enough to go first, but after I realized that there was plenty of room and guard rails to hang onto, after Jon told be he had seen other people sitting in the doorways on the train, and after I realized that I don't often fall forward while I'm sitting down, I sat on the top step, far from the edge, and watched the world go by outside. It was beautiful. It was dark, and you could see the lights from all the houses go by, and feel the cool breeze in your face. The tracks were smooth, but once we got back into Bangkok they got a little rough, so I got scared and stood back up. 
Like I said, it was Chinese New Year, so Jon and I decided to go to Chinatown 
when we got back. We walked from the train station, and after getting a little lost, we found Chinatown packed to the brim with people, almost all in red clothes. The temples were lit up and decorated, people were lighting incense and monks were sitting at tables selling...something? Incense? And there were other monks serving food under big white tents. 
The streets were packed, and there wer
 dragon parades that you couldn't even see until they got right next to you. There were booths everywhere, and a stage with Chinese dancers. Mostly, though, it was mass insanity, and we left after not too long, since I got tired of trying to get through the crowd while guarding my camera bag. We made the mistake of getting a tuk-tuk (the taxi-like things with open backs, like a motorized carriage) on the opposite side of Chinatown than our hostel, so it took a while to drive through it (our driver clearly decided going around wasn't worth it and drove right through the middle of the madness). It was a good thing we had negotiated the price before we got in. 
Back at the hostel, I showered off all the dust and sweat that had accumulated during the day, and fell right asleep, exhausted after a wonderful day. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Street Food Galore! (Day 2)

The next morning, we got up reasonably early and, once again, paid too much for something. :) The hostel had a breakfast buffet for 160 baht, which we figured was a little expensive ($5) but the convenience might make it worthwhile. 
So, we ate some eggs and bacon and fruit, then headed out down the street toward the ferry dock. On 
the way, we passed through a market selling 
every kind of fruit imaginable...and some unimaginable. And it only cost about 10 baht for a bag of fruit. Which we found only after we tried to buy a single starfruit and ended up with a whole kilo. Which Jon walked around with in his bag all day. 

Once we got to the ferry dock, we deciphered the map and, stealthily avoiding the overpriced tourist boat, boarded the local ferry and headed off                             
up-river. Bangkok is built around the river, and one of the public transportation options is a ferry system that goes up and down the river. It's quite convenient, and a great way of observing Bangkok life. You can see the temples, hotels, restaurants and houses along the riverside, and observe the people riding the ferry, including monks of all ages wearing bright orange robes. 

We got off the ferry at a dock near the old palace and one of the most famous temples- Wat Pho. By the dock, there were food vendors, selling coconut juice in whole 
coconuts, fresh dragonfruit juice and some pad thai. Jon got a coconut and I had some dragonfruit juice...the vendor assured me it was "very healthy, fiber and vitamins. Very
 healthy." I'm not sure about health, but it was sure yummy! 

Then we walked up the street, around the old palace, and through more food and
 trinket vendors. Of c
ourse, I bought some more food. Then, Jon and I found a shop selling Thai traditional clothes. I h
ad been wanting to buy a skirt, and the think about Thai temples is that they are strict about dress.
 You can't go into functioning    
temples unless men have long pants and women have long pants or skirts, and your shoulders are covered. You take your shoes off in any room with an image of Buddha. And you don't pose for pictures with a Buddha image. So, in any case, we needed covering. And the skirt I bought was AWESOME! It's orange silk with golden embroidery. Jon bought black linen pants. 

So then, we walked some more until we ended up at the Thai history museum. It was a really big compound, with buildings full of Thai artifacts, from pottery to old bronze artifacts to giant, golden royal funerary carriage
s. A l
ot of the stuff was really cool, but it was a little thrown-together and overwhelming by sheer magnitude. 
After the museum, we endevoured to find Kho San Road, which is backpacker central in Bangkok. After wandering around Bangkok for a while because of a very not-to-scale map, we found it. Kho San Road is full of hostels; stores selling clothes and souvenirs; Thai massage parlors and bars and restaurants. It's filled with milling backpackers, mostly white. It's special 

in its own way, but not somewhere I'd like to stay and hang out. Its more suited for the type of traveler who seems to travel to shop, drink andmeet other backpackers. 
After Kho San Road, we wandered around some more. We went into the entrance of the Grand Palace, and sat and rested on the grass by a wall for a while. But, in the ended, we decided not to go in since we were going to the Ancient Capital the next day and would see our fill of temples and palaces. So, we walked down the river and hung out on the docks, drinking 
a nice cold beer and watching kids jump into the river. 
We eventually got onto the ferry. We decided to ride it all the way up the river and see what we could see. Which was a lot. More river life, which looked great as the sun was setting. 
The final stop on the river was a comparably lively dock, where we discovered a man with a baby elephant! He was selling bamboo shoots to feed the elephant...so, of course, we obliged. It was adorable...the elephant grabbed bamboo shoots from the bag and let us pet him and pretty much hug him. 
After that, we got some street food for dinner and got back on the ferry. By the time we got back to the stop near the hostel, it was dark. We hung out at the hostel a little, then went to bed, since we had a long day ahead of us. We were going to take the train to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thailand! Day 1

      Sorry for the boring title. I couldn't think of anything whitty or interesting. I guess it's just short and sweet. :)

Anyway, Jon and I went to Thailand the last week in January. We were there for an amazing 7 days, and ended up seeing a lot of the country and having a good range of experiences. Thailand is now one of my favorite countries to visit, and Thai food is definitely my new favorite ethnic food. 

We flew from Seoul to Bangkok on Saturday, January 24. It was not too bad of a flight...7 hours, which seems like nothing compared to the 20 it took to get over here. Plus, the in-seat TV screen where you can choose your own movies, TV shows and games really helps kill time-- I watched a pretty good Korean movie, and played a word game for way too long. :) We landed in Bangkok at about 10:30, went through customs, and entered into Thailand at about 11:30, tired and a little overwhelmed. So, we took the first taxi offered us. 

Admittedly, we knew this was probably a bad idea, since the taxi services with desks in the airport are usually expensive, we didn't know where we were going, and we were tired. So, we were charged 600 baht each (about $20) for the 50 minute ride...(which doesn't seem too bad, except when we realized later that it should cost 300 baht each...ooops). But, we had shown the people at the desk the address of the hostel, which was given as an intersection. When we got there, it turned out the hostel was a few blocks from the intersection (2, maaaybe 3), so the taxi driver automatically took us there. THEN, he tried to charge us 200 extra baht because he had driven the extra distance. After a lot of flat refusal and exaggerated hand gestures directed at the intersection that we could see from where we were standing, he finally gave up the attempt. 

This first experience, however, did not deter us in the least. The air was warm and sticky, but not too much so, and we were both sooo excited to be in Thailand. The hostel was pretty nice...a pretty big place as far as hostels go, so a little less communal and more business-like, but that's ok. The rooms were cheap and clean, and it was a nice place. When we got to the room (a group room with 6 sets of bunk-beds), who should we see sitting on the bed across from mine but three Koreans, chatting away in Korea. I thought we just LEFT Korea! :) It turns out, they had been studying abroad in Hong Kong and were visiting Thailand on vacation. But these were not the last Koreans we would run into.