A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Hi Seoul! ~ The Soul of Asia

First real visit to Seoul and my birthday in Itaewon

overcast 18 °C


It is still cold out, but not as drastic as two weeks ago. Spring is finally settling in and my hands are freezing less and less. Today is the day I make my very first trip to Seoul. My first time using public transport in Korea as well. Still without a phone, I have to rely on a little map of the subway I tore from a magazine. This does get me to Bupyeong station where I meet my friends. From here on, people who seem much more adapt in navigating things like subways, take over to get us to Seoul. We arrive in Myeongdong late afternoon and meet more of our friends there.

South Korea has an excellent metro system, the Seoul Metro. I live near Dongincheon station which is the first stop on the Rapid Line. This means that there are two trains leaving form Dongincheon station. One to your left and on to your right. The train on your left is the slow train and stops at every station on the way to Seoul. The train on your right is on the Rapid Line. This train only stops at every third or fourth station. It is called the Yongsan Rapid as the train does stop at Yongsan station. The Rapid train takes approximately 45minutes to Yongsan while the slow train will take about 60minutes. From Yongsan you can take a taxi for as little as 4000won to for example Itaewon if you do not feel like transferring to another train.

1. Tea in Myongdong, Seoul

2. Wandering the busy streets

3. Galbi dinner

4. Animals in Seoul ~ Very often you will see promotion people dressed up in animal suits.


5. Bosingak Bell Tower

While walking back from the restuarant to get a taxi, I spot a building in the background. The group is in a big rush as we are on our way to a club in Itaewon. I quickly pose for a picture. This is the Bosingak Bellfry. It was built in 1396 to notify the residents of Seoul of the opening and closing of the city gates. Every morning it would ring 33 times at 04:00am. The 33 signifies the 33 cheon (Heaven) of Buddhism. In the evening the bell rang at 7:00pm for 28 times for su (the stars). The building has been destroyed many times by fire, Japanese occupation and the Korean war. The actual bell is preserved in the National Museum. A replica was installed in 1985.

Today the bell is not rung daily anymore. There are New Years parties held here and every year at the strike of midnight, the bell will be rung 33 times. During this time, the area is so busy and so popular that the station closest to the bellfry is closed. The train simply passes it and does not stop for any passengers to get off.

We make our way to a taxi, get in and soon we arrive in Itaewon. The two areas are very close to each other. It is much more cheaper by train, but will take you a little while longer as the taxi is quick and direct. The club that we are visiting is called Helios. Entrance is paid for by one of the boys, we conveniently check our coats in at the entrance and we are ready to go. When the clock strikes twelve, I also celebrate my 23rd birthday in Seoul!

6. Birthday Time!

7. Awesome birthday cake from my co-teacher

In other news, a friend took me to traditional Korean dinner in that week. The food is so much that it feels like no one will ever be able to finish it. This is what an ultimate traditional Korean dinner looks like.

7. Traditional Korean Food

TOP TIP: Get a Seoul Metro App on your phone as soon as possible. If you do not have a smartphone or no phone at all, print out the metro system. This will come in very handy when navigating the subway as you will have to get off the trains and transfer many times.
I RECOMMEND: Metroid App for Android. Or, get the printable maps here.

Posted by Anja Fourie 22:21 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea seoul subway korea incheon bosingak seoul_metro itaewon myongdong galbi dongincheon yongsan express_train rapid_line Comments (1)

Arriving in Incheon, South Korea

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

overcast 15 °C

The hour bus journey from Seoul felt like it took two minutes. Within another 30 seconds my bags were out of the bus, and I was sitting next to my new co-teachers in the hall at Incheon Department of Education. Sarah, from the Incheon Municipal Office of Education (IMOE), is mostly in charge of us english teachers in Incheon.

In this hall, I meet my two English co-teachers. They are Mrs.Kwan and Miss.Lim, who I just call Soo. Her full name is Lim Soo-Young (the Korean surname first) and she jokes that she's lucky that her real name sounds like the English name Sue. This means she didn't have to choose an English name for herself. Sarah's speach is over and my co-teachers lead me to Mrs.Kwan's car outside. All my orientation friends are leaving with their respective co-teachers and suddenly it feels very real. The orientation bubble we were in from the past week just burst and nerves are settling in.

Driving to my school takes about 10 minutes from the Education Office. I am teaching at Insung Girls Middle School. It is a semi-private school which means it has more money than most schools. I will only learn this later as I see the state of the buildings of some other schools and realise that being treated to lavish dinners and giving gifts to all the staff members is not the norm in all schools. I soon realise that I am privileged to be working at a school like this. The school is part of a school complex. Insung High, Middle and Elementary are all on the school grounds. It is a Christian School which means we also have a church on the grounds. Every Wednesday morning the entire Middle School attends church. It is in Korean of course, so I mostly just sit and watch.

1. Staff Photo taken at 60 year anniversary of Insung Middle School
Miss.Lim, my young co-teacher is standing right next to me. My principal is in front with the blue jacket, and my other co-teacher Mrs.Kwan is standing right behind my principal, to her left.

2. Insung Middle School (left), Elementary (Middle), High (Right)

In school there is an English Zone. The kids come down to the class to have English here. The English Zone consists of a classroom, cafe area, kitchen area and two noreabangs (Korean karaoke room). I also have my own little office here which I share with no one. All the other teachers sit in the staff room upstairs. View the video of my English Zone here.

3. English Zone and my office

After meeting everyone and being introduced to the principal and vice-principal, I am taken to my apartment for the first time. Every step down the hallway is met by girls screaming when they see me. All the girls wear the same shoulder length black hair and their school uniforms are adorably cute with their skirts, blazers and little ties.

4. My Girls in Uniform

My school is a 5min walk from where I live. I have to be at school at 8:30 every morning, so I leave at approximately 8:20 and take a casual stroll up the hill and I'm still early. My building is called Portview Officetel. It is situated in Jungangdong, Jung-gu. The building is right near the port as the name states. You can even hear the ship horns at night. My window unfortunately does not look out to the ocean side, but into the neighbourhood. My building has a restaurant, convenience store, billiards club and Screen Golf. Watch the video of my apartment here.

5. Sports Day at my School

My co-teacher tells me of the girl who lives in my building. She is the English teacher at the High School and we share a cafeteria, but I haven't seen her yet. I live in Apartment 315 and she live in Apartment 317. During my first week she knocks on my door and takes me out for my very first Korean Galbi dinner. Galbi is a sort of Korean barbeque. They bring you the raw meat with a lot of side dishes. You then cook this meat yourself on a coal grill in the middle of your table. You also receive a lot of side dishes with your meat.

6. First Galbi Dinner

This girl who knocked on my door has become a very close friend of mine. So far from home everyone here needs friends who will become your family. Living so close together, teaching so close together, eating together every day and going out together every weekend, has resulted in a close relationship. Here's a shout out to Taryn van As for introducing me to Incheon and the whole new world that is Korea!

7. Cherry Blossoms outside our schools

Posted by Anja Fourie 01:02 Archived in South Korea Tagged apartment south_korea flat housing incheon teaching_english epik insung Comments (2)

The Land of the Morning Calm

My journey to Korea and an EPIK Orientation

rain 10 °C

August 2008, Career Day, Stellenbosch University.
It's almost Spring time in South Africa and thousands of high school students are swarming the university campus for career day. As a first year, I am casually strolling back to my residence with my roommate. We look at some of the displays without much interest while we wait for our Iced Lattes. On the way out of the building, a woman dressed in traditional Asian clothing (which I would only much later learn to be a traditional Korean hanbok), hands me a flyer. Generally I hate having flyers pushed in my hand. I almost throw it away but put it in my bag, so as not to offend her.

Later that evening I am unpacking my bag and find the flyer. My roommate and I joke about the sayings on the front, especially the one about "Blazing Fast Internet!". But I did read the rest of the flyer and somewhere something clicked in my head. It wasn't enough for me to realise it yet, but it was enough for me not to throw away the flyer. Although I didn't realise it at the time or even thought that it could be a reality a few years down the line, this is where my Korea journey began.

June 2010, Winter Holiday, Port Elizabeth
While in Port Elizabeth for the holidays I visit a friend's grandmother with him. While there she tells us about these dolls that she made to raise money for the home she is staying at. The dolls were in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and all of them were representing the teams in the World Cup. Being a generous grandmother, she showed us the only two that was left and said we could have them. A South African doll and a South Korean doll. I wasn't biased to any doll and as my friend said he wanted the South African doll, I just took the South Korean one. I kept it and put it away in my drawer of mysteries.

At the end of 2010 I finished my degree, emptied my room at University and brought a million things back home, I decided to clean out my room and throw out. Black bags were filled pretty quickly as old notes, papers, posters, nonsense trinkets, clothes and things I didn't want anymore got thrown. Through all this cleaning, a pamphlet and a long lost little Korean doll popped up. Sitting on my floor, it all suddenly came together. I do believe the universe gives you signs. Would I be dumb to ignore these signs? I decide then and there to do it and go to Korea.

After a year of working, saving, going to Europe and then eventually quitting my job for Korea, I am now here in the Land of the Morning Calm.

1. Korean work visa

EPIK is the English Program in Korea. This is a government funded Ministry of Education program that places teachers in Korea. On the application, a possible three choices were given for placement in Korea. I chose Incheon as my first choice and then two random provinces as my second and third choices. While on holiday in Mozambique, I checked my email and was so extremely happy to find out that I got my first choice Incheon as placement. Unfortunately you do not find out your school or area until the very last day of orientation.

Arrinving at Incheon airport on 19 March 2012, I'm tired and irritated after the longest flight in life. More than a day travelling, I felt like killing every Korean in sight. We did meet up with the EPIK co-ordinators quite soon and boarded the bus to Seoul. This bus takes approximately 1.5 hours from the airport as it is raining and traffic was heavy. Seeing Korea for the first time, I struggled against falling asleep in the bus. We arrived there soon enough. In Seoul, Spring has supposedly already come, but my fingers are freezing off.

2. Welcome

The EPIK orientation consisted of about 5 days of lectures from early in the morning to late at night. Lectures consisted of Curfews of 12pm were put on the dorms and every night we had to work on our lessonplans that we had to do at the final day of orientation. The whole group was divided into four classrooms. These classes consisted mostly of people going to the same cities. I was part of Class 1-B. I even learnt how to write my name in Korean.

3. Korean class

4. Teaching our Lesson

In the end our group drew in votes with another group in our class for best lesson.

After all of this stress and planning and lessons, we had some fun. EPIK took us on a Field Trip to Namsan Traditional Village. Here we wore Hanbok, the traditional Korean clothes, learnt a Korean dance, made rice cakes, and watched a performance by some traditional Korean performers.

5. Field Trip

6. Super stylish dad and son

For our last evening before heading out to our different areas and schools, we were taken to Marisco's Seafood Restaurant which has a massive buffet. Eating here was almost bad, because you simply have to leave out so many things as you cannot have everything. I could only manage two plates, which you can see both look wildly different.

7. Marisco's Buffet

After dinner, everyone headed back to the dorms to pack for departure the next day. The next morning we had a simple ceremony thanking everyone for their hard word. We also got our medical results back with a printed out photo of our groups and a ceritificate stating that we completed the hours for orientation. As everyone got into their seperate busses, nerves and excitement started to pile up. Soon, we would meet out new co-teachers, see our schools and our little apartments. Korea suddenly became very real and exciting.

Posted by Anja Fourie 21:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea dolls teaching_english epik epik_orientation land_of_the_morning_calm Comments (2)