My first year contract is complete! Well, it will be in one week…during that time I won’t have much real work to do, though. So, essentially, it’s done! I can’t believe it. I also can’t believe I signed the contract to stay here another year, but I did. School schedules are a little strange in Korea, there is a winter vacation for the month of January and during that time most teachers will teach at least one winter English camp. The first week of February is this weird week of classes and graduation before the real end of the semester. The new school year begins the first week of March.
Working in Korea as an EPIK teacher, I get two chunks of vacation time, 8 days in the summer and 10 in the winter (you also get 5 extra days if you renew your contract). This is one of the really nice perks of working here. Although I’m not a fan of deskwarming when the students don’t have school, I am thankful for my chances to travel. And deskwarming isn’t so bad anyway. It gives me a (forced) opportunity to make cooler lesson plans, study Korean, catch up on the news (oh, wait, that’s super depressing these days) or even better, to sit down with a cup of Korean instant coffee and write.
Summer vacation in August was rather busy. After teaching 3 summer camps (so much work!), I flew off to meet my lifelong friend Mary in Thailand. I was excited to finally travel with her after all of our years traveling separately and to see another new country. Thailand is great, but 9 days is definitely not enough. It’s not long enough to really get a good feel for any country that large. Even so, it was nice to get away for awhile and not think so much about waking up early and getting to school and lesson planning.
If I got the chance, I would like to go back to Thailand. I was so worn out from the year that I don’t think I was much fun to begin with (sorry Mary), and then I got seriously sick in Chiang Mai and missed out on a lot of natural wonders that would’ve, I’m sure, made the trip much more full. 3 full days while traveling is a lot of time out, sadly, so I missed out on hiking in some beautiful natural places and hanging out with elephants and eating a lot of delicious food. (Sidenote, I’m convinced food poisoning is the closest a human can get to feeling death while still managing to stay alive). All in all, I’m happy I went, and I was glad to travel with Mary (finally) but I don’t feel like I had enough time in the least bit.
In January I was able to take all my vacation at once. EPIK teachers are allowed 10 days in the winter for vacation, and then if you are renewing your contract they give you a bonus 5 days. I combined my vacation days with the Lunar New year (설날) and had a nice chunk of time away from teaching.
For 10 days, I was back in the US visiting family and friends. It was good to be back to see the people I love, but honestly it also felt strange. I had this weird feeling that I was foreign in my own country, even though I certainly also feel foreign in Korea. Maybe the concept of “home” is just lost on me. I went through my old things and went past my old apartment and drank coffee at my old regular places. But it was different. Or maybe it’s me who is different now. One thing is for sure, though…it felt amazing to breathe such clean air again. A “cold” that had been lingering for months suddenly went away after spending a few days in the Minnesota air.
I was also able to participate in a sister march for the Women’s March on Washington. I saw women (and men) of all backgrounds and beliefs come together to support and fight for women’s equality in a way that is accessible to all. I won’t get into the politics of it all here, but I will say that I do believe now is a very important time for women to stand together peacefully and make our voices heard.
Before going home (to my Korean one, that is) I went with Riza to Hong Kong and Macau. Hong Kong is small, and the 5 days and 4 nights we spent there was pretty perfect. It would’ve been nice to have about 2 more days to move a little more slowly and visit a few more cafes, but all in all I was not disappointed even with less than a week. I was pretty rested after my vacation at home and I was ready to go all out and do things all day, so we were able to pack it all in.
This trip’s itinerary:
Day 1: Arrived around 10am, ate probably the most delicious wonton soup of my life, lost Riza’s passport, found Riza’s passport, took the train into the city center (Tsim Sha Tsui) to drop off our bags and freshen up. Visited: Kowloon Park (lovely!), Garden of the Stars, Coffee Academics (cafe)
Day 2: Took the MTR to Tung Chung Stn and the bus to Ngong Ping Stn to get to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. This was probably my favorite place of the trip..it felt so peaceful there and the Buddha is beautiful and massive.
Went to Victoria Peak on the tram, visited the ladies market in the Mong Kok neighborhood (scored my only souvenier of the trip…a denim bag with a cat on it…)
Day 3: Day Trip to Macau! Took the Ferry from the Kowloon ferry terminus to Macau. It seems very easy to just buy tickets when you get there. We used TurboJet. It was so warm in Macau! Saw the ruins of St. Paul, Senado Square and headed to the Venetian Macau. I think my favorite thing about Macau were the pretty blue street signs with both Chinese and Portugese. And the egg tarts…oh, the egg tarts. Ferried back and slept for about 12 hours from exhaustion.
Day 4: Hiked Dragon’s back (so windy, but so lovely!) Then we rested before watching the Chinese New Year parade. It was huge…people were waiting hours before it started to get a good view. The parade consisted of several floats and performances by groups from all over the world. A little crowded, but cool to see.
Day 5: Eggs Benedict at Urban Coffee Roasters Tsim Sha Tsui (highly recommend for food and espresso…best flat white I’ve had in Asia thus far), packed our things, chilled out a bit and headed to the airport.
Pro-tips for Hong Kong (not sure I can call myself a pro, but…): Get an Octopus Card for the MTR (rail transport) at one of the customer service centers in an MTR station, go to the Lantau Island Buddha early in the morning (preferably on a weekday) for lovely views and less crowds…same goes for Victoria Peak (another tip, don’t get your hopes up too much for Victoria Peak as it mostly felt like a tourist trap to me despite the nice view).
I love love love vacaion time. I’m already trying to hold myself back from planning my next one. I’m thinking Taiwan or Japan next, or maybe Indonesia or the Phillipines. Or… okay, enough for now. Teaching abroad is not only great for the experience of living in another country, but you’re also given time off to explore nearby countries. Now excuse my while I re-open my other tab…the flight search engine…