Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snow on the Road

(Moving slow on the highway through snow and slush)

I don’t like it.  It makes me tense.  Driving in the snow, I hold the steering wheel with white knuckles.  It wasn’t always this way.  But, after a rollover car accident on the interstate two years ago, I’ve lost my confidence driving in the snow.

Yesterday, I was the passenger, but I still didn’t like it.  Snow removal in Korea is sub-par to say the least.  As we hit the road after about two or three inches of snowfall, my husband remarked that this is what it must be like after it snows in Texas.  No one really knows how to drive in the snow.  Drivers were going at a snails pace.  Considering the typically frenetic drivers in Korea, that was okay with me.  Especially since drivers continued to run red lights as is their habit.

The true hazard is that the roads are not pre-treated.  In the States, a forecast of snow means you see the plow trucks out laying brine or salt on the roads.  Here, the snow quickly collected on the roads with nothing to stop it.  Even after the snowfall, it is rare to see a snow plow.  Yes, the city has them.  How many I don’t know.  All I can say is, it’s not enough.

Thankfully it hasn’t snowed often this winter.  The lack of snow removal on the roads is only trumped by what happens to the sidewalks.  No one shovels.  Soon the snow is packed down by pedestrians and turns to sheets of ice.  Walking to work becomes an exercise in balance as I say silent prayers that I not fall and break a limb.  That ice can stick around for weeks as temperatures rarely reach above freezing in the winter months.

The cold I can handle.  We bundle up so that only our eyes are showing as we walk to work.  Layers keep those biting temperatures at bay.  However, I can do without the snow.  It wasn’t always this way, but a beautiful snowfall no longer means a snow day, sledding and maybe some hot chocolate.  Too bad, I could use a snow day!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Philippines Bound

(Boracay's White Beach)

In two weeks time I’ll witness the culture and chaos of Manila followed by the beaches of Boracay.  I am Philippines bound!

One goal in moving to the other side of the world was to see what it has to offer – to travel.  Just as it would be at home, our travel is dictated by our jobs and our time off.  However, at home I request vacation days.  As teachers in Korea we go by the school’s schedule.  The first week in February marks the Lunar New Year holiday.  While most will travel to see their families, we will be hopping on a plane.

Deciding where to go for our week off was a fun challenge.  There are so many places to see and we want to see them all!  When our time in Korea is finished, our plan is to take a tour of Southeast Asia…most of which is connected.  So, you can move on from one country to another by land.  However, the Philippines sits out to sea, alone.  Logistically, it just made sense to go now.

Okay, so we’re going to the Philippines…now what?  It’s an archipelago of 7,000 islands!  I’ve got 9 days including travel, so we can’t see it all.  We did our research and hemmed and hawed over what we wanted to see most and what places were the easiest to get too.

We fly into Manila, a city that most just pass through.  It’s supposed to be a bit intimidating and have terrible traffic.  But, it also has the beautiful Manila Bay, the oldest Chinatown in the world, and the old walled Spanish city of Intramurous.  The travel gurus we read for advice say it’s worth seeing, so we will see it.

(The Fortress Wall at Intramuros, Manila)

Then it’s off to Lake Taal and Taal Volcano.  It's a day trip from Manila to spend a day boating on a lake that surrounds the volcano's 47 craters.  From the town of Talisay we hop on a bangka for the boat ride out to Taal Vocano's main crater.  It's then an hour hike up to the top where we can look down into the crater at the simmering yellow sulfurous lake within.  This is still an active volcano and there were dramatic eruptions here in the 1960's and 70's.  At peace, Lake Taal and Taal Volcano are said to be a marvel to behold.

(The view from above of Taal Volcano)

With some days of sightseeing under our belt, it’s off to the beach.  Boracay’s White Beach has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful in the world.  The pictures are certainly gorgeous.  I’ll be more than willing to weigh in with my review!  Yes, we’ll laze on the beach a bit.  But, we like activity.  A boat trip around the island to see the various beaches and test out the waters snorkeling is on the agenda.  The Philippines is a popular scuba diving destination.  I’ve gone twice before at the beginning level.  My husband has never gone diving.  Maybe we’ll make a go of it together.       

You know what feeling I love?  It’s when you have a vacation on the horizon.  No matter how crazy or chaotic a day is….you think to yourself only 13 more days until the Philippines!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas in Korea


(Nutcracker Ballet at the Seoul Arts Center)

Celebrating Christmas in Korea feels a bit different.  At first, you forget that Christmas is around the corner.  In America, the retailers remind you in late September when they decorate the stores and bombard you with TV advertisement.  It reaches a fever pitch on Black Friday, when crazed shoppers fight each other for the hottest gifts.  Santa Clause is in every mall and lights adorn most houses.  You simply can’t forget that Christmas in coming. 

Korea is the second most Christian county in Asia.  So, there are plenty of people who do celebrate Christmas.  However, it isn’t the biggest holiday or even the second biggest holiday in the country.  Department stores do decorate, but not until December and not too much.  Seeing Christmas lights outside of a store setting is rare and if you see them in an apartment window, they likely belong to a foreigner.

We arrived in Korea without any Christmas decorations, and soon I realized this would not do.  We heard of a market selling Christmas items and it was magnificent.  Anything you could want.  However, seeing as most people live in apartments with small square footage, the Christmas trees are smaller.  Oh, and they’re all artificial.  You won’t find any Christmas tree lots here.  So, we purchased our 3 foot tree and some lights and were on our way.  That was enough for us – the decorations here are expensive.  But, oh how our apartment feels lovely now with the tree twinkling.

The week of Christmas finally started to “feel” like Christmas.  We made Christmas cards with our children in the classroom and played Christmas music.  Most of the music they thought sounded funny, weird, or bad…but it’s so joyful to me and that’s what they were stuck with!  I played a Christmas trivia game and we wrote down our Christmas wishes to post them on a green paper tree.  Finally, Santa (my husband Cameron) went visiting each classroom to hand out candy.  Of course, no one was fooled – this was not Santa Clause, but it still fun.

(Cameron/Santa visiting my classes)

At home, we immersed ourselves in Christmas music and classic Christmas movies.  We saw the Nutcracker Ballet in Seoul.  We cut out snowflakes and pinned them to our window.  I went nuts finding and sending Christmas cards home.  I mailed them more than two weeks early…and some still haven’t arrived.  Ugh!  However, my package of presents for the family did arrive on time.  And, from home I received cookies and candied nuts that quite simply tasted like home.  That’s the best flavor.  These are the Christmas rituals we go through to get in the spirit.

Christmas Eve we had to work…as a reporter, this was a familiar scenario.  But, Christmas Day was ours to enjoy.  We were up early…I had one last thing to get at the store.  Yes, all the stores here are still open on Christmas Day.  By 10:30am we were with my husband’s sister and family as well as some friends.  We gorged ourselves on delicious food, all having chipped in for a pricey and hard to find turkey and the fixings.  We played games, put on more movies, and then the gift exchange began.  It was a pleasant, joyful day.

(Cameron's  Christmas was a feast!)

(My nephew Ethan enjoying his new truck)

(Christmas Night -- sleepy, but happy)

The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a reminder that we should be with family for the holiday.  But…as the song lyrics go “…. I’ll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  Yet, another year has passed where I wasn’t “home” for Christmas.  And, how often I’ve wished I could catapult myself to New Jersey to be with everyone I love.  However, I was still with family and we were happy together.  In fact the cards my husband and I exchanged said the same thing – as long as we’re together it’s a very Merry Christmas.  We managed to make Christmas in Korea something to celebrate.

(Back at School, posting Christmas wishes to our tree)

(Time for funny faces!) 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Go Auburn! Deleted Scenes (Video)

The great news is that our original Auburn video is getting a lot of views and fans really seem to like it.  So, we decided to post some of our deleted scenes as well.  I actually hated to see some of these get cut -- the students and Chris are just too funny!

At this point, our video is generating a bit of news coverage.  The War Eagle Reader was the first to post about this -- read their first story here.  Then, following some e-mail interviews, they posted a follow up story -- article #2.

Next, Chris did a phone interview that aired on ABC3340 in Birmingham, Alabama.  You can see that story here.

We're now on Auburn University's official Facebook page...and if all goes well, a version of the video may play on the Jumbotron at future sporting events.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Go Auburn! War Eagle From South Korea! (Video)

It's true: Chris Lowe is an Auburn alumnus, he is an English teacher in South Korea, and he taught hundreds of his students some of his favorite Auburn chants and cheers to celebrate the Tigers playing in the BCS Championship.

However, this video is a fictional comic take based on Chris' love for all things Auburn.  No, he did not actually name any of his students Bo, Jackson, Cam or Newton.  He has not been teaching his students about Auburn football all semester long.  Oh, but one more thing is true; Chris and all his students wish Auburn good luck against Oregon in the national title game.

Note:  This video is the sole property of Lauren Bercarich.  I encourage you to share this video!  It  may be broadcast and distributed without prior consent.