Saturday, February 23, 2013

EPIK Orientation Day 3

I will keep this brief again today. I am super tired. 

The lecturers today were again all really good. One of them was called "Hidden Wonders of Korea". They got us all involved by dressing us in the traditional Korean dress known as Hanbok. 

The mix of western and Korean food continued today




That is all for today. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

EPIK Orientation Day 2

I will keep this brief. Today has been a huge day. I have only just got back to my room. Breakfast was at 7:30am and we had a day packed with lectures and group work. Like I said. It has been a huge day but it has gone super quick because all the lectures have been really good. I wish my lecturers at university were as interesting and enthusiastic as the people they have here. 

It snowed this morning :). Later on the day warmed up a little (around 3 degrees celcius) and what little snow fell has now melted and refrozen as slippery ice. I took this photo as i walked to my first lecture this morning.

This is one half of the dining hall where we eat our meals. As you can see there are quite a few of us (about 600 at the Daejeon orientation venue). The crazy guy in the photo is Nubia (sorry if I got the spelling wrong). 

The food the kitchen is serving is a mish mash of western and Korean foods which is fine with me. I am not going hungry which is the important thing. Here is what I had to eat today.




Super tired but I have to brainstorm some ideas for "shopping" lesson plans, and by brainstorm I mean think of google search terms ;).

That is all for today.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

EPIK Orientation Day 1

Even though I arrived at orientation yesterday, today was the first day where we actually had to do anything so I am going to call this EPIK Orientation Day 1. 

I was awoken by a loud "official EPIK announcement" at around 6:45am this morning which was blasted over the public address system informing the first group that they need to be down stairs at 7am for their medical exam. I tried to get some more sleep but was repeatedly woken by "official EPIK announcements" so I gave up and spent some time reading the massive orientation text book they gave us instead. 

About 2 hours later it was time for my medical exam. There was a urine drug test (I hate these, don't tell me when I have to go to the bathroom), height and weight check, eye exam (they told me to keep my glasses on), medical survey, blood pressure test, blood test and a chest xray (they had a bus with an xray machine in it on site). The test was surprisingly quick considering how many people they had to churn through. I think all up the test only took about 15 minutes. 

After lunch we had the opening ceremony. 

As far as opening ceremonies go it was good. The speeches were short, the seating was comfortable and it was nice and warm :). After the speeches some traditional Korean singers and dancers went up on stage and did their thing. 

After the opening ceremony we had a short break and then ploughed on into a lecture on Korean culture and history. To many of you it might sound boring, but we had a really fantastic speaker. I was quite disappointed that he had to cut his lecture short because he was running over time. He had lived here for 15 years and had some interesting insights. One of the things that I though was interesting is that in Korea each day two convenience stores open each day and now there are over 14,000 convenience stores open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Another interesting topic he talked about was the size of the country and the population density. I already knew the population was about twice that of Australia and that the land area of South Korea is about the same as Tasmania, but what I did not realise is how little of South Korea can undergo urban development. Only about 30% of South Korea can be built on, the rest is all rugged mountain ranges and doesn't lend itself well high rise development. 50 million people squashed on to 30% of Tasmania. That really put things into perspective for me. 

The picture below shows a rough breakdown of the foreigners present in Korea. China was top of the list with about 700,000 followed by the USA with about 150,000 from memory. 

He also talked about etiquette in Korea but I will write about that in a later blog. 

After the lecture we broke off into smaller groups to discuss the next few days and work out our groups for a group assignment we have to present at the end of orientation. I have to (with my partner) write a English lesson plan for year 10 students on the topic of "shopping". I think it will be an easy topic to write a lesson plan for. We can use more advanced language and shopping is an interesting topic for most young people (particularly girls). 

That is all for today.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Meeting Friends and EPIK Orientation

This morning I rode the subway again and went to meet John. John is an Australian who has been living in Korea for the last 4 years working as an English teacher and happens to be the brother of one of my primary school teachers who is by chance good friends with my mum. Anyway, John was kind enough to shout Jay and myself lunch at a burger place called Kraze Burgers near City Hall station.

It was pretty good. I wish I had of taken a photo of the food, but it slipped my mind (again). If I am looking for a burger again I will be going back there. The burgers alone were about 10,000 won each which is a little more than you would pay for lunch if you went to a Korean restaurant by the time you include something to drink and some chips (the cheese chilli fries are great!), but if you are looking for some western food this is a better choice than McDonalds. 

I thought I would post an example of my camera (Sony RX100) operating in HDR mode. 

Here is a picture of John and myself with HDR mode turned off.

Here is a picture with HDR mode turned on.

The HDR mode takes three quick photos with different exposure settings and then merges all the pictures together to try and make the photo as good as possible. As you can see it works really well when objects are stationary. 

Anyway, after meeting John for lunch I headed to my EPIK orientation. There was nothing scheduled for today so a group of us went for a walk near where we are staying. We came across this amazing market of fresh food (fruit, fish, meat), clothes and nick nacks. I'm planning to head back when I am not part of a large group and take some time to try and get some awesome photos. After that we stopped at a small Korean restaurant (half the group headed back to the orientation venue because the restaurant wasn't big enough for all of us) and had something to eat and played a couple of drinking games to break the ice. After that I headed back to our orientation venue for dinner only to find that I was too late. Sadness. I ended up grabbing some instant noodles from the local convenience store. 

That is all for today

Daejeon Subway

Yesterday I rode the Daejeon subway for the first time. 

I will do another blog about the subway system later on but I thought I would list some of the awesome things about it. 

  1. It is cheap. It costs between 1100won and 1300won (~AU$1) depending on travel distance and how you pay.
  2. It is clean.
  3. The trains are on time.
  4. Off peak trains arrive every 10 minutes, peak hour trains arrive every 5 minutes (the timetable below is for Galma station).
  5. It has English and Korean instructions (written in the station and audio in the train itself).
  6. You can use your bank card to touch on and touch off (similar to a go card).
  7. On the train, there is a clear map of what station you just passed and what the next station is. The station you passed/arrived at is illuminated in green and the next/future stations are illuminated in orange. 
  8. Instead of an annoying beep when you touch on or touch off, the machine plays bird sounds (be warned, if you do the wrong thing like I did loud beep will sound an an angry Korean voice will yell at you)

Monday, February 18, 2013

olleh olleh~~~ olleh olleh, singing hot hot hot!

My mission today (with Jays invaluable assistance) was to get a SIM card for my mobile. It was not difficult to find a mobile store as there are at least 15 of them within a 5 minute walk of where I am staying. I have decided to use the phone company known as "olleh". Their plans are cheaper than their competitors and their coverage seems good. 

Today the people seemed much more helpful. It took them a while because apparently it is a complicated process to issue a foreigner with a SIM card. In the end it turns out I put the cart before the horse. My passport alone was not sufficient identification to get a SIM card. I should have gotten a foreigner ID card from the government before getting a SIM card with access to data plans. Without the foreigner ID card the phone store could only sell me a very basic phone package with no data allowance and only the ability to make phone calls and send text messages. Lucky for me I have a Korean girlfriend. Jay was able to legally sign me up under her name and give me access to the better mobile plans. As you can see in the first table below, the plans are a lot more generous than in Australia. In the end I decided to go with the 54,000 won (AU$49) per month plan which gives me unlimited data. 

Early today (around 11am) I ran a speed test and got a ping of 495ms, download of 1045kbps and an upload of 567kbps. I just ran the test again (sitting at my desk again) and got a ping 768ms, download of 253kbps and an upload of 157kbps so there seems to be quite a bit of variability depending on the time of day. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Adventure Begins

I have been in Korea for a couple of days now. I have finally got a power cable for my laptop so I thought now would be a good time for an update.

Check In
I got up super early to allow plenty of time for my dad to drive me to the airport and claim a GST refund on my camera (more on that later). I was anxious about my baggage weights but they let me check in without any problems. Women being women, my girlfriend was way over her baggage limit when she flew home a couple of weeks ago so it fell to me to try and fit as much in MY luggage as possible. Hmm.....

My friend +Anthony Gray was kind enough to come and see me off (as far as the departure gate anyway).

Tourist Refund Scheme
There is a scheme the Australian government runs called the Tourist Refund Scheme where you can get the 10% sales tax that is applied to everything you buy in Australia refunded. There are a few conditions so I will leave this informative link here, but it is a great way to get an even better price on things like laptops and cameras. After the tax refund my Sony RX100 only cost me around $570. I got to the airport really early and was lucky enough to get there before any queue started to form.

The Flight
After almost driving to Korea we finally took off. I swear the pilot got lost on the runway because we seemed to be taxiing around forever.  Once we found the runway we were taking off from it was all systems go. After thundering down the runway for what seemed an eternity we finally took off.

The A330 is quite a good plane. It is not too noisy (or maybe i'm just going deaf) and the way Korean Air had it configured made it feel as though there was a decent amount of room, even in economy. I was lucky enough to get a window seat just in front of the left wing, meaning my view was virtually unobstructed (other than the cloud cover. All those positive things said, the flight was average. For some reason the screen in the back of the seat in front of me would not play video. I tried to get some sleep but i never sleep well when flying. A nice surprise after nap time was a hot towel. It is a great idea. All airlines should do it.

Arrival at Incheon Airport
Jay met me at Incheon airport and we had dinner there before heading to the hotel. Just as you exit customs there is a small restaurant called Sanuki Bore to the right. The food isn't bad. I had Donkasu Don Combo which is basically pork schnitzel on a bed of rice with various side dishes (combo meal Korean style).

Incheon to Daejeon
The next day we caught the free shuttle bus service the hotel offered back to the airport so we could catch the bus to Daejeon. I should have taken a photo of the bus to Daejeon. It really was like travelling first class. Super comfortable leather seats which had loads of leg room and were really wide. It took about 3 hours to catch the bus to Daejeon and cost 22,100 won (approximately 20 Australian Dollars). When you consider it would cost $22 in tolls alone if you were to drive your own car, it really is a cheap way to get around. 

Once in Daejeon we headed to the apartment Jay had organize for me to stay in. It is not so much an apartment, but more dormitory style accommodation where her brother lives during the university semester. It is small but all I need for the next week and much cheaper than staying in a hotel. The internet is super fast (literally about 1000x faster that what I had in Australia). I tried to take some photos to show what it was like but it is just too damn small. The best I could do was stand out side the front door and take a photo pointing in.

Mobile Sim Card
We then went for a walk to find a mobile phone shop so I could buy myself a sim card..... It turns out they can't issue sim cards on the weekend.... Personally, I think the guy just couldn't be bothered to help me because I am a westerner and it is more difficult to issue a sim card.

Exploring Daejeon
Today we went to see the Hansel & Gretel movie (it cost 13,000 won (AU$12) for the both of us to go which is a nice change from getting ripped by event cinemas in Australia. For lunch we went to a amazing restaurant that specialised in Mandu (dumplings). I took photos and everything but got home to find that there was no SD card in my camera!!! Why did it let me take photos without a SD card! WHY. Sony... I blame you! For dinner we went to a place that specialized in fried chicken. Again, it looked amazing but my stupid camera didn't have an SD card in it. 

After walking Jay to the bus I went for a walk to find something to take a photo of for my 365 day photo challenge. Near where I am staying is a "Rodeo Street". What does that mean? Well, there are no bucking bulls anywhere is sight as the name "Rodeo" might suggest. Koreans seem to have taken the word and apply it to areas like the one below. In short it is a "party" area. There are lots of restaurants, karaoke rooms, game arcades, pool rooms, PC rooms, etc in the area.

That is all for today. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

My EPIK Adventure Part 7

Stage 4
The last stage to write about in the EPIK application process is Stage 4. There are a few different parts to this final stage of the EPIK application process.
  1. Getting your visa back
  2. Booking your flight 
  3. Packing your bag
  4. Attending the 9 day Orientation course in Korea with the other western teachers. In 2013 it will start on the 20th of February and conclude on the 28th of February. I will post more about this in a later blog.
Packing your bag
I am not going to list everything that someone should pack for South Korea, but here are some of the main things that I thought I should highlight for an EPIK teacher.

TESOL Certificate – To ensure you are paid at the higher rate make sure you take this with you.

EPIK Pre-Orientation Certificate – This should be completed before you go to Korea. The pre-orientation course is a simple online course consisting of 17 lessons on a range of topics from classroom management techniques to Korean political history. Each lesson takes about 30 minutes to complete. 

Letter of Australian Residency – If you would like to avoid paying Tax in Korea then take your residency letter with you and present it to the school you will be working in. 

Passport with Visa attached – Kind of obvious, they won’t let you get on the aeroplane in Australia let alone enter Korea unless you have this. 

Gifts – I hate buying gifts at the best of times and it irks me even more that I have to waste precious baggage allowance on them but they are something I have take with me. It is suggested that you should take some gifts for your students to use as prizes when you play games in class and also a gift for your Korean co-teacher. 

Some good gifts for children are
  1. Pens with Australian animals or themes
  2. Australian stickers
  3. Koala clips (these come in a pack of 12 from most cheap shops)
  4. Baloons with the australian flag on them
Some good gifts for adults are
  1. Coins (you can get special coin sets from the mint)
  2. Australian landscape books
  3. Shot glasses with Australian animals or themes (the drinking culture in Korea is quite strong)
  4. Small bowls with Australian animals or themes (in Korea meals are served with may side dishes so small bowls are always useful)
  5. Tim Tams – for anyone in not familiar with Australian cuisine this is a type of popular chocolate biscuit. You can’t go wrong with these.
  6. Australian wine – There are some very good wines produced in Australia. 
  7. Australian themed place mats
  8. Australian themed tea towel
  9. An Australian flag. You can pick up cheap flags for between $3 and $6 each. Good quality flags cost a bit more.
Cold and Flu Tablets – Since I will be flying to Korea in a cramped aluminium can filled with recirculated air, I think taking cold and flu tablets is a prudent measure. If I start to get sick the last thing I want to be doing is trudging around the streets in the freezing cold looking for some medication.

Warm clothing – In Australia it is relatively warm all year round, and even when it does cool off (in Queensland at least) it is not very cold. This means I have a very limited winter wardrobe. I have enough to keep me warm between the airport and the hotel but I am going to need to buy some warmer clothes if I am to survive. I considered buying stuff in Australia but concluded that 1) since it doesn’t get cold here we have a very limited range of winter clothing which isn’t suitable for the bitter cold weather in Korea and 2) anything I buy I will have to take onto the aeroplane with me. 

Money – I have about 500,000won (around $500) remaining from my trip to Korea in 2011. I will need a little more than that since I won’t get paid until the middle of March. My recruiting agent advised me to take at least 1,000,000 won with me to keep me going until I get paid but to be frank, the exchange rate offered in Australia is pathetic. I have found the best option is to open a bank account in Korea and get my Australian Dollars converted to Korean Won by the Bank. I can’t remember exactly what the exchange rate they offer is, but it is pretty much spot on what the daily floating market rate is. I will also have my credit card ready as a backup.

Deodorant – A few people have told me that deodorant is hard to find/expensive in South Korea so to be safe I am going to through a couple of cans in. 

You might have noticed that I did not include Korean power adapters on my list. This is because I worked out it is cheaper (and more convenient) for me just to buy a new phone charger and laptop power cable in Korea. 

That is all for today.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Final Count Down

The Final Count Down
After a somewhat hectic and stressful weekend things have gone full circle for me. I am now living back at home with my parents sleeping in the same room and the same bed that I grew up in. I am a little taller than I used to be so my feet stick out over the end of the bed, but it feels good to be back in my old room again even if I am surrounded by boxes stacked sky high. 

Late (very late) Saturday night my girlfriend (Jay) flew home to Korea. We had a good old fashioned aussie BBQ at my parents house before she said her goodbyes and I drove her to the airport. My friends +Stacey Everingham and +Anthony Gray were kind enough to meet us at the airport and say hooroo (for any non Australian readers this is slang for goodbye). She is going to kill me for this, but here is a photo of her just before she passed through the departure gate. She looks pretty happy to be leaving Australia. 
ATTN Jay: before you yell at me for posting this picture, be happy I didn't post the picture of you stuffing your face with blueberry cheesecake :).

On the weekend I also booked my flight to Korea. I decided to use Korean Air since they were the second cheapest for a one way ticket, they have a slightly larger economy baggage allowance (23kg) and they fly directly from Brisbane to Korea which means it will only take 10 hours to get there :). The cheapest option (by about $30) was Thai airways with a total flying time of 46 hours!!! No thanks. Anyway, I am departing from Brisbane airport on the 15th of February 2013 at 8:30am. I think now is an appropriate time to rock out to this classic.