A Christmas Story

This is the story all about how... my students and I co-wrote a new version of the 12 Days of Christmas titled the 12 Days of Icon. We spend the better part of half an hour coming with each of the days. Each day was especially crafted to represent the things that happened most in class or the things they complain about the most. What we ended up was a perfect representation of what my daily life looks like. If you're ever wondering "How is Lali doing in Korea? What does she do every day?" Well, look no further than the 12 days of Icon life.

After writing our ouvre, we settled in for an evening of eating pizza and watching Home Alone. YES THIS WAS OUR SCHOOL'S CHRISTMAS PARTY AND IT MADE ME REALLY HAPPY.

Here's the little ditty...

On the twelfth day of Icon
my teacher sent to me
12 Grammar Points
11 Pencils Breaking
10 Reading Questions
9 Essay Topics
7 Wordly Wises
6 Break-time Begging
5 Vocab Tests
4 Monkey Magic
3 New Books
2 Spelling Bees
and a lot of homework for me to read


A day later I found myself en route to the Island of Enchantment, the pearl of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico. My mom suggested that since she wouldn't be able to travel to Korea for Christmas, how about I traveled to PR instead. I could not say "YES" fast enough, and quickly set about finding the best priced half-the-globe ticket. And landed immediately placing ourselves on a beach. More perfection.

Thanksgiving and Cambodia

I reached insane levels of city Saturation toward the end of November. I was working 6 days/week, and while the overpay was welcomed, the burnout feeling was creeping up too quickly.

So... one night in the middle of a nervous breakdown, I bought a plane ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia on a whim. 

The trip was overall great, only thing I have to say is don't pick a hotel tuk-tuk driver - just get any from the street. (Huge lesson learned.) Anyway... you learn so much about yourself from traveling by yourself. I learned I can keep myself company really well, and also I SUCK at high-pressure sales (which btw is ALL of Cambodian sales.) It really stresses me out, and I don't make the right decisions. Like I agreed (per tuk-tuk drivers insistence) to go to the floating villages and agreed to pay a lot and agreed to go with a touring boat that made me feel like I was on a "poverty safari." It felt really exploitative and I felt a lot of guilt. There were a lot of weird POC privilege feelings that I had to work through while in Siem Reap. But those thoughts for a later date.

One nice unexpected event was meeting up with a friend of my little sister's for dinner. She was working in Cambodia and had a little time in the evening to take me around, and show me the ropes. I bought a locally made cotton scarf, the pattern and the color were a beautiful blue and it made me immensely happy. I had a renewed sense of energy, and on the second day I basically ignored my tuk-tuk driver and just did me. I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat, then spent 5 hours walking around the grounds. Continued walking to the other temples, and finally went back into town at around 2pm. I found a little restaurant, ate lunch there - a veggie amok. Then found an ice cream shot and cafe where I spent a few hours reading before heading to the airport.

I got back home both exhilarated and exhausted. 

Here is the photographic roundup...

Halloween and Harry Potter Go Well Together

Let's face it, there is nothing better than an excuse for a themed party, especially when the excuse is Halloween and your theme is Hogwarts!

It was so nice not to have to do a hard sell on this. My director immediately let me run with it. So, we divided the rooms per class... one was Potions (mine) where we would be doing experiments like "Creating Rain" and exploring "Non-Newtonian Liquids." The kids didn't believe that we could make the substance alone with cornstarch and water. Little did they know about my second grade science knowledge.

We also made an "Owlery" room where the kids made Origami owls and wrote letters (well... Harry Potter Mad Libs.) Then they went to the "Great Hall" where they "cooked" great ice cream sandwiches and chips.

The children were also introduced to the "Prisoner of Azkaban" Photo Booth. Seriously, I went full Del Rio on this party. (My family, the Del Rio, are notorious - some would say infamous - for their party prowess and attention to detail. Again, some would say they go overboard. But that's why I love them, and in this occasion it came out in full force. I love Halloween too much not to go full Del Rio.)

the boys make it rain #hogwartshalloween #kimchimofongo

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Night time is for adults, and it being Halloween weekend and so close to my bday, I decided to go out and have a onesie party. My future roommate, Nolan, and I both found ourselves with cool onesies, I was obviously Pikachu. And thus this boomerang was born. 

pikachu & mr. racoon in action. #halloween #kimchimofongo @_nolan_mc

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Almost Two Years... a Photographic Roundup

Seoul is alright by me. 

New school and new students. All happy times - and also extremely exhausting times. Here are some pictures highlighting the past 6 months in the city.

Almost 2 Years?!

I let my SQUARESPACE account lapse. I forgot about everything. I think it was a dark time followed by a time of rebooting, and finally a time to start writing again.

A lot has happened since the perfect moment with Bruno Mars, which is still something that pops into my head from time to time. 

Some further explanation...

I think when people live abroad they live with the expectations of those they left. That living in Korea should somehow become more exciting of a life than the one you had before. So, when life inevitably becomes routine, because it must, because there is were and responsibilities, you feel distraught and like you must have somehow failed. Instead of noticing that this is just a reality of life, a simple impossibility. Living in new and exotic lands doesn't mean a new and exotic life. It means you changed setting but not necessarily character. 

I readjusted, I reminded myself of the fleeting aspect of my life here (*both in Asia and on Earth in general - getting all deep and shit) and forced myself to forgive myself for becoming a little "boring," for not having stories to tell every day on a blog. But then, ironically, this is a story. This is my story, my reality. The longer I live in Korea, the more I become complacent to the life I've built. It takes extra energy to create excitement no matter where I am living. It takes extra effort to remain engaged. 

That's what got me writing again. I signed up to join a writer's group, I signed up for a spoken word open mic, I signed up to participate in Seoul's VDay (directed by an amazing Korean woman,) and I called up my friends and went on an excursion of bizarre Seoul (from poop cafes to 3D-trickeye museums.)

Lesson is... I needed to forgive myself, and then get up and find a life worth writing about.

Friday Conversations

On Fridays we have structured conversations. We use it as a way to introduce more language skills. It's based on what they've read during the week and their vocabulary words. I took it as an opportunity to jump start my sketch-writing career.

Sherlock Holmes
A: I just found out there is a new series about Sherlock Holmes!
B: Really? Is it set in the 1900’s?
A: No, it is a modern take on the classic character.
B: That sounds very interesting! I want to watch it!
A: You should come to my house. We are having a Sherlock party!
B: Are people dressing up?
A: Yes! Extra points if you bring a pipe!
B: I’ll be there, it’s elementary, my dear Watson!

 The Apple Store
A: Welcome to the Genius Bar, how can we help you?
B: My computer is making some strange noises.
A: Hm, let me take a look. Can you get to the main window?
B: I can see the desktop, but I can’t run any programs.
A: You may have a virus.
B: Is there something we can do about that?
A: We can run an anti-virus program, but it might depend on how much damage it caused.
B: This is very stressful, please help me recover as much as possible.


Then a student created an acrostic poem with my FULL NAME. Respect, kid. Respect.

The Perfect Moment Thanks to Bruno Mars

Today I had the perfect moment in my Level 5 Evening class.

It's become a habit to play music while the kids are doing their writing, grammar, or multiple choice exercises. It keeps them quiet and they actually do their work. Usually they try to rush it and fill out the blanks without thinking just to scream "FINISHED!" BUT when they get to select the song (as long as it's in English) they can work and listen to the songs. It's become a great incentive, plus they know that as soon as they're done the music is off, so they're not rushing anymore. 

Today's first request was "Count on Me" by Bruno Mars, and the most adorable thing happened. All of their little heads down, pencil on paper, and all of them began singing softly along with the song. 

It was such a small moment, but it was just what I needed. The perfect moment lasted just over 3 minutes.

Ice Ice Baby

Stop. Collaborate and listen, Lali is back with a new post edition.

Seriously, let's talk.

On Fridays Level 5 has conversation class. 

This Friday, while we did a translation exercise and listened to music, my iTunes on shuffle decided that it needed to share my deepest darkest secret to reveal that I had "Ice Ice Baby" on my playlist (still do.) And the kids LOVED it. With the opening line of the fine autotuned guy going "Yo Vanilla, kick it old school" to the catchy repetition of "Ice ice baby" they were hooked. 

And then out of nowhere the quiet kid in class, Ted, stood up and started doing the running man. Totally unprompted, just running man. It was glorious, and for a few minutes on what was an emotionally charged day, everything was right in my life.

We also listened to "No Diggity" and they were enjoying it, but the running man was just too perfect. I am trying to balance their education.

Slowly but surely, I will turn all children into 90's pop culture advocates.

I've also created monsters. They now chant "Ice Ice Baby" during class...


The One Where They Go Camping

So, I camped. That happened. 

Let's start at the beginning. Summer has finally arrived in Korea, and I wanted to take in every moment of it. It was also Buddha's birthday, a long weekend - so, it became the perfect storm for agreeing to go camping.

WinK Travel, a lovely group of people that organizes internal travel around Korea, put together a package to go camping in Namhae (남해.) Namhae island is slightly bigger than Geoje, and actually pretty close to it. BUT actually getting to Namhae required us to backtrack to Busan and then leave from there. 

I was fine with that. We grabbed a bus to Busan and hung around the area until we were to be picked up by the WinK group a little past mid-night. With almost 3hrs to kill, we ventured out in the neighboring areas.

And thank god we did, because... WOMAN, LIBRARY!!!

There is a bridge that goes over the highway, and I enjoyed looking at the pretty lights. I like shiny things. There was a couple making out (or closely holding hands, I didn't stand there long enough to figure it out) on the "good spot" to take a picture, so instead I took the adjacent shot.

OK, the romanticism of walking around quickly wore out and we walked back to the bus terminal to pick up our bags.

That's where shit got real. The time 11:07pm. There was a REALLY long line going around the terminal waiting to get on busses. It seemed strange that everyone would be outside. (We were tired and a little slow.) It took me until we went around the building and saw all the lights off to realize that the Sasang Bus Station in Busan actually closes down. Note to everyone: They close at 11PM, don't leave ANYTHING in the lockers OR expect to spend the night there. You will be locked out. Anyway, luck or the travel gods or both was on our side and the cleaning crew was still in there. We went under the half-closed gates and got our bags out from the lockers. It was a rush, and I almost cried in front of the convenience store cashier trying to get into the bus station. Not my proudest moment, but we needed those bags, so I had no shame. Thankfully, I didn't have to lose ALL my graces just yet.

We went outside with our bags feeling somewhere between grateful and dumb. We sat on the benches outside the bus station until we finally got on the bus that would take us to Namhae Island at 12:30AM. (If you're trying to follow - it is Saturday.) 

The bus was a "hagwon" bus, which means it's a glorified mini-van. With everyone's suitcases it was not the place to catch some shut eye. I should mention that while Pam and I employed the "travel light" rule, some people had roller suitcases. WHO THE HELL BRINGS A LEGIT SUITCASE TO A 3 DAY CAMPING TRIP?!?!?! It might have been the first sign that not everyone on this trip would be to my liking.

But all that aside, around 3AM we finally arrived at Boriam Temple where we were scheduled to watch the sunrise. At 4:20ish AM we started climbing to the peak... and a little past 5AM this picture was taken:

Then we had about an hour of walking around the temple to take all the pictures our little tourist hearts desired. There was mist everywhere and it gave the entire place a sense of magic.

We left the temple at 7am and finally arrived at the beach where we set up camp. There was a bit of a stand off situation with a competing group, which I shall not name, for the tent space. They had a guy sitting there calling dibs on a spot, like a parking spot in Chicago. It was a little laughable. What was not cool was his condescending tone. Had I not been delirious and thinking only of napping, I would have given him more than half a bitch-slap. I felt that strongly and weakly at the time. Whatever, turns out that group didn't even offer their campers' breakfast and meals. I'm happy to vouch for WinK Travels ability to keep us well-fed through the entirety of the trip.

After pitching a tent (and a couple of fits) we were taken to the garlic festival. Slightly more rested and relaxed the walk around the festival was both aromatic and picturesque. I failed to take pictures, but there was a whole section of Frozen characters made out of garlic. Yeah. 

Upon further exploration we found this yellow patch of trees. Don't know what they were, and I'm pretty sure they weren't part of the festival. But they were there, and it's like they were begging me to jump in. Plants talk, I listen.

After eating and eating and eating, and walking, it was time to release the white balloons as a sign of renewal, good harvest, and all the lovely thoughts to send out into the universe. It was really pretty, and it was at sunset, so I had some optimal lighting on my side.

A photo posted by marilali28 (@marilali28) on

As it turns out there was a capoeira school there with their drum band, and the whole thing started to feel like home. Meats on stakes, people dancing, some well-off drunk people, and old people dancing.

se formó el bembé! #kimchimofongo

A video posted by marilali28 (@marilali28) on

On Sunday we began an international affair with cross-cultural adventures! There is a place called Germantown in Namhae. If you've visited Epcot Center in Orlando Florida, it was pretty much what every "country" looks like there. You know they captured some of it, but there's a sterility to the design that you can't get over. They did have sausages and beer, so they were doing OK by me. 

A true win all around!

After taking in a few quick views at Germantown we went to a jazz concert at the art gardens across the way. That was truly lovely, and the bands were talented. Of course, the closing act was a KPop star that I didn't know, but he did know a Maroon 5 song, so I sang along. (With my head partially sunk in shame, but there's so few songs that I can reference here that I now get excited when I hear Maroon 5. I fear that stating this will cost me my "I like music" card - this is probably the hardest adjustment to make.) 

By evening it was time to get my party on, and as one of the only people above the age of 25 on this trip that meant I had to purchase Tylenol (타이레놀) along with my alcohols.

The evening was pretty interesting. There was some marshmallow roasting along with s'mores eating, there was drinking, and there was house music. There was also Lali realizing she wasn't this "bro-y" even when it would've been acceptable for her to be "bro-y." 

With such a high concentration of early-20, recent college grads, it became painfully clear to me how happy I am that I am no longer that age. Also, they had no connection to FRIENDS the series. To them it was some old show on reruns that international people used to connect with them, but it was totally "passé." Kids this days.    

By Monday morning I was grateful for the end of the trip. I loved the morning views, the surrounding areas, and a few people that were really wonderful and with who I had very interesting conversations. I was, however, looking forward to passing out on my own bed. And taking the world's most thorough shower!

Before that we had to make an obligatory stop by the Admiral Lee Museum where we watched a 3D movie about his turtle boats and saving Korea from Japan. I have to admit, the seats were really comfortable, and the 3D glasses over my actual glasses made me dizzy and I fell asleep. It was a pretty good cat nap.

Back in Busan I remembered to let Lucille pose for a couple of pictures. She called me crazy, but was happy she came along. She did spend most of the time inside the tent. Turns out Lucille is much more for the rock climbing and mountain hiking than beach side activities. (She also got super drunk the entire trip. 150yo tortoises can get super hammered.)

Back in Geoje by nightfall, I peeled my clothing off and showered right away. I'm glad I camped, although I would probably categorize this closer to glamping. I actually impressed myself with how much I could take. I do want more of a camping camp where you have a close group of friends and drink wine by the fire. This was more of a party on the beach camping. Maybe if I was 24? No, I don't think I was that 24 when I was 24.

I am now going to listen to 80's and early 90's music exclusively while playing FRIENDS on the background and talking about how cool MTV was when it actually played videos. You know, when it mattered. I'm still relevant.


A few weekends (months) ago I made reservations to stay at a Buddhist temple with my friend Matt (Mateo, for long.) We decided to stay in one that would be somewhat halfway between Seoul and Geoje (or at least one that would have us traveling the same amount of hours.)

We did our research and settled on the Golgulsa Temple (골굴사) in Gyeongju (경주.) It is a beautiful temple in the mountains, and home to the ancient martial art of Sunmudo (선무도.) It literally means "zen martial arts." It is a meditation-centered martial art, and it is painful. It is also calming. But I hurt somewhat. There's a lot of exercise involved and kicking. Really badass monks who smile at you but can clearly inflict damage. They are the best. They have a great staff, the temple is beautiful, and everything from booking to the stay was very smooth. Sarah in their office was very helpful.

My journey began taking a bus in Geoje (that's how they ALL start) to Busan Seobu/Sasang Bus Station (부산 서부/사상.) I was thinking of doing it all on busses, but the connection bus was out of another intercity bus terminal (Nopodong - 노포동.) So, I decided that since I had to make a long transfer I might as well take the shortest route, so I took my first KTX train ride!! Now, that's the way to travel!

The Busan KTX Station.

I bought myself some rice cakes and green tea latte as my train treat. Alcohol is allowed, but I didn't think that was the right way to start my detox/buddhist weekend... right?

After 3 busses, one train ride, and a 15 minute walk I arrived at Golgulsa. Totally worth it.

After checking in there was some free time before dinner, so Mateo and I went on a walk around the temple. The sights were breathtaking, and the continuous rain couldn't put a damper on the place.

A really old carving of Buddha into the side of the mountain from which the temple gets its name. Had I written this at the time that I went, I would have remembered exactly the year, but I waited to long. So, Google it (or Naver it, as the locals do.)


The weekend itself was a blur of martial arts, yoga, chanting, sitting meditation, soups, walking meditation, eating meditation, hand meditation, video meditation, no internet access, and finally the tea ceremony.  We got to talk to a grandmaster for about an hour, and then did the 108 bows. My quads were ON FIRE.

I didn't really take many pictures during the templestay because there were no "photography" meditations, but I did manage to get one during our tea ceremony.

As the weekend came to the end on Sunday, the entire experience was perfectly summed up by this small moment:

As Matt and I (backpacks in hand) headed out of the Templestay dorms a monk came back from lunch. He saw us buying some canned lattes from the vending machine and asked if we would like some hot coffee. It was rainy and a bit chilly. The thought of a warm drink was everything we could ask for. The monk invited us into his office, made us coffee and cookies. He sad with us smiling and talking for a few minutes while we finished our coffee. 

Then it was time to visit Bulguksa (불국사) just a 10 minute bus ride from Golgulsa. A World Heritage spot, it's one of the only structures that partially survived the Japanese invasion. 

Lucille the Tortoise took a moment to observe the gardens at the temple, and the koi fish swimming around.

It was raining, we were sleep deprived, and we'd just eaten pork. So, this picture happened.

And there, at the Sasang bus terminal in Busan, exhausted, delirious and painfully happy I sat to read and drink coffee while I waited for my bus to return to the exotic island of Geoje.

What happened soon after I took this picture, though, was very unexpected. I walked down from the second floor coffee shop to the main departure are about 10 minutes before my bus. As I was about to exit a young Korean man, he was 27 years old to be exact, stopped me and began to flatter me. I said a polite thank you and proceeded to walk out the door. Had this been the end of it, I would be OK, but he continued. He began to harass me. He took my glasses off of my face and began taking pictures of me with his cell phone. In the little Korean that I do know I began to tell him to leave me alone. I didn't want to make a scene.

How Do You Stop One 5yo From Crying?

Today in cross-cultural school drama:

There are 5 students in my Phonics Level class, all boys. They range in ages 7-9 Korean age, which makes them 5-7 western age. Today one of the boys brought cookies and asked if he could share with the class as he offered me the first cookie. I did a quick count and saw that he had a packet of 6. 6 cookies = 6 people. done, thought i.  

Silly, silly miguk. There is an intricate hierarchy that went whizzing over my head. He never intended to share with everyone. Only with those deemed worthy, and he had to keep 2 cookies, of course. Therefore, there was one boy he had to single out and not give a cookie. He chose the new boy. Learn your place new boy. Thems the rules. AND all of this is happening in Korean while I try to get them to sound out the words "pin" and "pine" because long and short vowels are soooo interesting. I'm failing. There's still one looking at me and trying, but the drama is getting to be too good to resist. The new boy is about to cry.

In my infinite wisdom I gave the new boy my cookie while at the same time loudly announcing that my stomach was hurting and why not share with him. I could not eat the cookie in my state! The new boy took the cookie. Coast clear.

Then everything got really quiet. The dark clouds outside where in our classroom. Now the cookie boy was tearing up. No, no, no. And then crying. Covering his eyes but not muffling the crying. When I finally got him to talk he pointed at the new kid and said "He ate your cookie." Well, he just said "he cookie" while signing that he ate it, but I knew what he meant. I calmed him down. I succeeded, now let's learn why "dear" and "deer" sound the same but "bear" and "beer" don't! 

I got 3/4 of the class chanting "Dear deer, get the bear a beer" when new kid's eyes start turning red. Now tears. There was very little teaching done today. The bell rang as I handed all of them copious amounts of candy to make it all better.

How do you stop one 5yo from crying? Get another one started.

More #TeacherProblems

When you make a mistake and try to figure if there is any way the kids won't notice...

When the lesson plan and game you planned for weeks goes terribly wrong.

When you're still not sure if your students are laughing with you or at you.

When students finally get it.

When students get really into the game you chose and your director drops in at that exact moment when they're all interacting perfectly.


International Wedding Singer

The details are still fuzzy. I'm not entirely sure how I agreed to do this, but in my eternal "yes, and" quest, I said yes. And now here we are.

A month ago my director's wife came over to my desk to ask if I would sing an English song at their son's wedding. That was it. Maybe my rendition of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" was THAT moving? It came out of nowhere, and I just nodded. A nod. 

Cut to March 21st where I attended the Korean-Chinese Christian wedding at the Daemyung Resort in Geoje. The 4 teachers at Canada school attended, and we basically depended on Jean  (the only Korean teacher) to tell us what was happening. She is not Christian, so she was confused about that too. A true clash of cultures. I didn't understand a single thing said during the ceremony. But in the cacophony I heard "Lali" and Jeans eyes dart my way.

So, I walked to the piano. I sang "So This Is Love" from Cinderella. It's 45seconds timed. (You can see me in the bottom left quadrant. Right after that, I ran away to the back of the room. (At least I didn't throw up.) Now more calm and ready to enjoy the rest of the festivities. Except, that was pretty much it. The groom sang a Chinese song for his new bride. It was moving and lovely, even though I didn't understand it (this will be a theme.) Then the friends gave the speeches during the ceremony. And then we went to eat a fancy buffet in the resort. That was it.

SOOOO... Jean invited us over to her place where we began the real festivities. She said I deserved to drink. I wasn't going to argue. We drank and ate ourselves into a comma. And then hobbled back to our homes at around 1am.

The lesson? I didn't die. It wasn't awful. I guess I overreacted. Liquor is good.

Oh... and I am now an international wedding singer.

Month of Overhearing Awesomeness

This post is to gather some of the stand out quotes that the students have said over the last month. It is a treasure. 

One of the main things the students love to talk about is what we do in America versus what they do in Korea. It's a pretty standard cultural exchange filled with wonderment, and a few random facial gestures to explain "good," "bad," or general ennui. 

So, when March was reaching its end, I thought it was the perfect time to explain April Fool's Day. Which in turn meant I had to explain what pranks were, followed by examples.

One of the students raised her hand and said: "Ms. Lali, you're mother is dead." 
You win.

This same student, who is spun sugar dipped in cuteness (literally wearing a bunny shirt with a cotton tail attached) was telling me about visiting a farm. Their assignment was to write about it. She asked to use a dictionary, and then proclaimed: "I love cock." 
Canadian Dictionary, you win.

Every two months, on a Friday after the BIG exam, we have a pizza party to alleviate some of the stress. We also have trivia quizzes where the kids can win candy bars. They go crazy for the candy bars, and they get really competitive. They will raise their hands before we finish the question. Which leads to the BEST answers.

Question 1
"What kind of bird lays the largest egg?"
Student: "OCTOPUS!"

Question 2
"What kind of mammals fly?"
Student A: "Birds?"
Student B: "Eagles!"
Student C: "BIRDS!"

And now, la piece de resistance: One of my former students, now in the upper level with my co-worker Pam made me one of the characters in his comic book assignment. Check me out as "Mario Lali."

I am treasure, and I'm awesome.

Set Jeju on Fire

It finally happened. My honeymoon-expat phase ended. It manifested in my sudden fear that getting out of Geoje would be too difficult, and that I would be stuck in the Never Never Land forever. It was totally unfounded. Of course it was. It was a low point of self-pity about living in a small town and not a metropolitan center, as I had requested. And, my reasonable, more centered, side came to terms with the "woe-is-me" stage in the cultural adjustments chart. So, I wrote it off and calmly explained to myself that I was being an idiot and getting out would be the best way to prove it. 

The bus to Gimhae Airport in Busan was a breeze, the airport is small and jam-packed with 3 coffee shops, so there was enough caffein to keep me up for a weekend of setting shit on fire. That is the whole point of writing this: When in doubt, set shit on fire.

The Gimhae Airport in Busan has this lounge. Strictly BS, nothing but it.

Let's get to the meat of it: JEJU. We went with the expressed reason to attend the Jeju Fire Festival of 2015 (제주 들불축제.) 

It coincides with the time of year when animals end their hibernation and come back out. It's a time to celebrate, start anew, and send good wishes out into the ether. Their motto is "Using fire to spread the message of hope out into space." Historically, the burning comes from old local villagers starting fires in the fields to burn off old/wilted grass, and kill vermins in the process. It's been reinterpreted to symbolize a new start.

We got there around 3PM, and decided to climb up the mountain that would be set on fire later that evening. It looked like a hill from where we were initially standing, but once you start the climb you start cursing your "go-get'em" attitude. Who the hell do you think you are? I'm not ready for this. To a final resignation because going back down would be both embarrassing and way too much of a hassle. 

A video posted by marilali28 (@marilali28) on

Selfie at the top to prove we made it.

Then, proceed to reward ourselves with all the street food we could stomach. At it was WORTH. IT. There was a crab wrapped in fish, popcorn chicken, an egg hugged by cornbread, and a potato screw on a stick. Korea leveled up on the street food game.

With our hunger fully satiated, we went to look around the other things the festival had too offer. It's not a big area, but it was enough to keep us entertained. There were noise-makers and this walkway with strips blowing in the wind that you could walk through. When I tried to wistfully walk through them the wind picked up. 

I was actually interviewed by a radio program called "The Wonders of Jeju." I never got to hear it because I was already back in Geoje, but somewhere millions of lightyears away, in a distant galaxy, some other intelligent life form might hear me talk about "how much fun we're having, oh yes, I'm so excited to set the mountain on fire."

Then off to fill out my card to burn for good wishes. Every single family member's name was painstakingly written down. I should note that my hands were completely numb. It was ridiculously cold up there, and I was ill-prepared. 

In search of a warmer area to wait while the sun went down and the official business would begin, we ran into the BIG food tent. It's also where I found this man roasting a pig. The smell brought me back home to Guavate. I may be half a world away, but we're pretty much all the same.

Finally the sun set. And one by one each lantern and pyre on the mountain was lit up. It was a sight for sore eyes... and frozen fingers. The heat from the mountain kept me from turning absolutely purple.


My good wishes were set on fire in this pyre.

After the festival we grabbed a shuttle bus that dropped us about a 15 minute walk from the guesthouse we reserved. It was a cute place called Hilltop Guesthouse, and it was a 20-30 minute walk to the airport (or 5 minute cab ride, depending on how you're feeling.) The accommodations were perfect, and we met some lovely people from Seoul on our last night.

Back to our trek. On Sunday we decided to go back to the festival to check out the aftermath. There was still smoke and a few scattered flames. After surveying the damage, we decided to go on a hike to a place called Jeju Love Land. It's a theme sculpture park on sensuality and eroticism.

We walked.

Found the Eiffel Tower on our way - but my geography may be off.

And then the arrow pointed us in the right direction when we reached a fork in the road.

As for the park itself, I'm a little conflicted. It wasn't necessarily bad, but the "sculptures" were somewhat lacking. Some were good, but most veered toward campy. It all seemed undercut by the uneasy feeling that somehow women were not equally participants in the sexual exploration - that it was more exploitation. But it was a good laugh, ad

And just like that the weekend trip to Jeju came to an end. Well, not before we went to a BBQ place and took a cab ride back that was playing Lionel Richie, and the fun conversation with the Seoul-ites. All of whom looked perplexed when we said we lived in Geoje. Each time we answered "where do you live?" they replied with "why?"

We walked to the airport the following morning. It was a nice walk, and a good way to wake up. We caught an early Monday flight back to Busan, then bus back to Geoje, then shower and off to class. Exhausted but happy. Seems to be a trend.


Delirious quotes from the trip...

1. While waiting for the bus back to Jeju-si:

Pam: Whoever has that dome on top of the mountain has a really good view of the fire!
Lali: You mean the moon?

2. On the bus.

Lali: Who the hell brought a bird on this bus?!
Pam: That's your keychain.


To Busan, With Love

Happy Seollal! (새 해복 많이받으세요!)

While everyone was posting "Happy Chinese New Year!" on their Facebook walls I felt like screaming in defense of ALL. THE. OTHER. COUNTRIES. THAT. CELEBRATE. LUNAR. NEW. YEAR!!!!! It's Lunar New Year!! (*steps off righteous podium.)

It also meant that there was a 5-day weekend in the works! From February 18th until the 22nd, I did not have to think of lesson plans, exams, or students asking me to sharpen their pencils. Pam, Gabi, and myself headed for a Busan on Wednesday. We arrived in the afternoon, passed out for two hours and headed right back out.

Busan is really pretty at night. Probably nicer by night than by day. There were some fireworks too, followed by a sign that said "no fireworks."

We meandered through the Haeundae (해운대) area, where we were staying, ending up in the ever-present foreigners Irish bar of choice: Wolfhounds. (There's one in Seoul as well.) We had an awkward encounter with some teachers we knew, and decided to write it off and keep onward with our journey. 

We walked back to our hostel through the open market. Being a holiday, it was all closed down, but the bright lights were a nice transition.

On Thursday we woke up determined to do everything possible and take as much of the city in as we could. We heard about a temple set on cliffs with beautiful views. We also heard that with it being a holiday, the temple was one of the few places that would certainly be open. So, the temple became our mission.

I think I have a walking obsession. I truly believe I can just walk anywhere. And according to the Busan map we had, you just had to follow these train tracks and they would lead you to the temple.

The trek was longer than the map led us to believe. But sometimes it's the journey not the destination. 

After walking through several terrains, somehow managing to enter suburbia, we climbed the last hill to face the entrance of a jam packed temple. It was worth the walk. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Somehow every entry and exit is lined with food.

After the walk, the sights, and the food our energies were less than stellar, so we returned victorious and exhausted back to the guest house. We stayed in to recharge.

On Friday we set out to spend the day outdoors.

We went to the UN Cemetery in the Nam-gu area of Busan. We went in through the sculpture park first into the cemetery.

It was both beautiful and somber. My only comment on this will be to acknowledge the very different wording between the UN and Korean agencies. In the Korean-run POW camp the war was very much referred to as on-going. However, in the UN cemetery the wording pushed toward an appeasement of sorts with an actual finality. For Koreans, their country is divided. There is temporary peace, but the war is not over.

The cemetery seems a reminder of this stark division on world-wide points of view.

After walking through the cemetery we were both hungry and in need of a pick me up.

We found them both in the way of Maison Café. I've been looking for any trace of it online, but there seems to be none. We stumbled upon it, it was halfway between the exit of the Sculpture Park and the Busan Museum. There was a banner for it on the main street and we just walked up and saw it adorably set on a corner. 

The food was delicious and they had beer. The decor was a blend of Korean whimsy and bookish fervor. Needless to say I'm in love and will be returning. Maison is Busan's response to my beloved Chat. If coffee shops were people, they would be best friends.

Type-A that I am, I had already checked to see what the weather was going to be while we were in Busan. Turns out Saturday was rainy as predicted, and we had planned accordingly.

We planned a trip to the Busan Aquarium. It was so lovely and relaxing. Even though it was filled to the brims, watching fish is very calming and soothing. The giant fake dragon holding a crystal ball in the middle of the fish tank was my favorite thing in the whole place.

Korea provides you with photographic opportunities at every point of your journey. You don't stop to question them. You take them.

It was still raining after the aquarium so we made a quick lunch break and then went to Shinsegae. What is Shinsegae, you say?

Well, technically it is the World's Largest Single store. It is so certified by the generous people at Guinness World Records. There is a giant plaque letting you know as much in the middle of the giant establishment.

However, upon further inspection, Shinsegae is the promise that Willy Wonka made to all of us. It's our imagination left to run while, where no excess is too much and no idea is too ridiculous.

This is the ice skating rink (full size) in one of the many floors of this behemoth surrounded by the food court. The Zamboni is decorated as a shark that runs all the children of the rink. It also has Yuna Kim videos playing ALL the time. Just in case you don't know who Yuna Kim is here is an accurate list of how everyone feels (and you should feel) about her compiled by Buzzfeed Community: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jul13hong/17-reasons-why-yuna-kim-will-forever-be-the-ice-queen#.aig2qXLAgX  

We sat down to take it all ink along with my new faithful companion: Lucille the Tortoise. She will be traveling with me from now on. Slow in pace, but quick with a comeback.

Shinsegae closed at 9pm and we could see it was still pouring outside. But by the time we got out of the train the rain had calmed down. We decided to go to Wolfhound's one last time for a chill evening. Maybe second time around would be less crowded...

We ordered some libations and spotted their board games. We drank, ate, and played Scrabble. 

We went back to the hostel and passed out. The next day we woke up, grabbed breakfast at OPS. OPS is a delicious French patisserie, and after quiche and coffee we proceeded to pass out closer to the bus station until we had to go back home to Geoje.

General exhaustion = great trip.

Okpo Odyssey

I had heard walking to Okpo was possible.  Let it be known I still believe this to be true. We succeeded in doing this for 4/5ths of the way, so I call it a win!

We met up with a new teacher living in SuWol, Gabi. I think she's afraid of me now, because I made her walk so much. She still agreed to join us in Busan for Seollal, so maybe she's OK with fear! 

As it happens there are few places to walk along road 14. It turns into a highway halfway in. Being crafty and resourceful (or giant idiots, whatever way you want to look at it) we jumped into the rice patty fields and walked parallel to the road. I imagine them to be beautiful once spring comes. 

We walked leisurely and found some lovely spots.

Everything was fun and games, but after about an hour and a half of seeing no real progress (and our phone maps starting to fail us) we got a little disheartened and decided to walk to the nearest bus stop and ride it the rest of the way. 

2 stops later: Daewoo Shipyards confirmed our arrival.


The whole excuse to walk to Okpo was to go to the 2 foreign markets there and see what they had. They made it worth our while.

We took the bus back. We were too exhausted, and it was also night time. We're adventurous, not masochists.

We stopped at a Baskin Robbins for a frozen reward, and then promptly went home and passed out.

I will try again, and I will succeed.

Seoul: Third Time's the Charm

It didn't get off to the best start, but it was a memorable trip nonetheless.

I was super efficient and bought the round trip bus tickets online so that when Friday rolled around we could just go straight to the bus station and head north. WELL... that would have been great had I bought the tickets for 8PM (20:00) instead of 8AM. So, we had missed the bus by 12 hours. After coming to terms with my stupidity we got tickets for Saturday morning and didn't look back. 

This time around we stayed in Itaewon. It's known as the "foreigner" area, and while I was slightly insulted by the name, it was just me getting over myself. We stayed at Be My Guest guesthouse in Itaewon and it's runned by the awesome Noel. She has a dog and his name is Dodo, and I would have just the same spent the whole day playing with him. He was so awesome. But I had to party.

The first thing was shopping. ITAEWON SHOPPING IS HAPPY TIME. Every time I come to Seoul I realize how much I miss big cities. It's refreshing and lovely to live in a small island, but the accessibilities of large metropolitan areas are my natural habitat.

My big purchase was this purse. I mean, you see this, you purchase:

Once we finally met up with Kari, Paddy, and Mack we walked around a bit made reservations at Vatos, and walked across the street to Dillinger's Bar while we waited to get a table.

We went to Vatos because we had to show off our find to Kari and Mack, and our new friend Paddy. I'm so happy they were equally impressed with the kimchi fries. This time I ordered the "I'm Rick James, Peach!" margarita. Seriously, ordered it because of the name. I may have repeated it several times. It was also delicious.

After that we went to Wolfhound Pub where Noel met up with us. Her friend Nora joined us too. Turns out Nora is from Mexico, so I was able to unload my almost 4 months of not speaking Spanish. We talked and jointly decided it was time to go dancing.

We went to SoHo and Queen in Homo Hill. Yep, it's everything that comes to mind, and slightly reminiscent of Boystown in Chicago. They played Beyonce and Gaga and a bit of Britney. I was happy. 

We ended at Gold Bar. Slightly sketchy BUT really good music, so alls well that ends well. Pam and I recognized this guy who was on a weird Korean baseball show that was playing on the TV on our way up to Seoul. We laughed to ourselves, and then watched as he macked on all the ladies. It was sad and amazing at the same time. At about 5:30AM the place was getting its second crowd and this group was too weird for our liking, so we headed out to get some sweet kebabs. 


All of Sunday was centered around the idea of brunch. And brunch we found. The Flying Pan is small, quaint, beautifully decorated, and great food.

French Toast with bacon and cheese.

Salmon Eggs Benedict with a potato and spinach salad.

The other half of the crêpe that Pam and I split. It was stuffed with beef and mushroom and buttery cream goodness. It also had an egg and a salad, because of course.

They had the most adorable cocktail napkins and mini-bittles of rosé.

From there we went to What the Book, and found a painting of a dazed and slightly confused Tiger Woods.

It was the perfect end to our weekend in Seoul.

Expat Life

When you meet someone who has similar interests to yours, no matter how slim.

If one more person tells me how I'm going to make bank teaching English in Korea.

The days when you just want to be left alone, no explanation necessary, just get out of my face, and the whole world is out to get you and you're only solace (chocolate) doesn't even taste the same as it does at home.

When you think everyone is looking at you...

... because they totally are

How you solve all your problems, no matter what.

Pizza is Always a Reward

The last Monday of every month we give the students an exam. We tests all aspects of the course: Listening, Writing, Speaking, Vocabulary, and Grammar. We give the students a homework review on Friday, they (hopefully) bottle up the material during the weekend, and spill it all out when they get in for Monday's exam.

There are some strengths and weaknesses to the whole plan. This months' exam creeped up on me, January really seemed to fly by! But now that the week is behind me, I can catch my breath and tell you all about the "end of the month" rituals at Canada School. And some actual pictures of the school!

There is also a silver lining to the traumatic experience of the BIG TEST: Pizza Party Friday. So much is pizza revered that my Phonics 2 class learned the "sl" blended vowel perfectly to say (scream, really:) "SLICE OF PIZZA!"

There is a component of "sing for your supper" to everything. As the students eat their pizza, or as they hope for a candy bar as dessert, they answer questions in a Trivia Tournament the teachers write up. For some reason no one knew Antarctica was a continent. So, my clever "What is the only continent where there are no bees?" was received with blank stares.

Eh, no big deal. Did I mention there was pizza? Between Koreans love of coffee and pizza, I could gain 100lbs easily. Good thing I've rediscovered my love of hiking, or this would be an entry begging for someone to stage an intervention on my behalf. (I will have an entry on hiking at some point, while I loved living in Chicago, I am so happy to be somewhere with hills.)

I digress. Here is a selection of pictures of the teachers trying to get the kids attention after we've shot them up with Coca Cola and pizza.

And some throwbacks (even if it's not Thursday) from some of our Christmas related parties. Below are some shots of Canada School.

Christmas celebrations included cake.

Finally, although a little late! This is photographic evidence of our staff dinner at VIPS (#1 Stakehouse - according to their signage) picture.

VIPS has a salad bar, so it's like a Sizzler, but Korean-style. They also have pizza and coffee as part of the salad bar. See? Full circle.