Thursday, June 23

Philippines Weekend Getaway

Kung Fu Panda pose! :)

This past weekend, Leigh and I took a mini-vacation to the Philippines.  His sister, Marijean, her husband, Ian, and their 2 sons, Brayden and Kennnedy live in Manila, so it was a great chance for Leigh to see his family, me to meet them, and for us to explore Manila.

Soooo Ready for vacation
They were such great hosts, and there were MANY highlights of the trip! I captured a few pictures, please excuse our sweaty appearances - it was HOTT in Manila! 39 Celsius when we landed at midnight. (102 degrees Fahrenheit!)
Like any big city, I'd heard, Manila has its dangerous spots, but thankfully Ian works for the Canadian embassy and they've lived there for about a year, so they were able to give us a great tour of Manila. We got in late Friday night, took a swim at the pool in their backyard, and then crashed for the night.  Saturday Marijean, Ian, and Leigh and I took an adults day to go exploring.  First stop, was the fresh fruit food market, Salcedo. There were lots of yummy fruits you could buy, as well as tuna steaks, and other meats. Much different than the octopus, squid, and cuddle fish filled markets in our coastal city, Pohang.

After Salcedo, we went to a small indoor market, where Ian prepared us for the Philippino "Ladyboys." If you're like me and have no idea what a ladyboy is, it can be summed up by Aerosmith's song "Dude looks like a Lady".  At first glance, they look like a gorgeous Philippina woman, with long hair, perfect makeup, and a great figure, but then they say "hello mommy, hello sir" in a deep manly voice, or bust out in song, and you're stunned to realize that the beautiful woman, or so you thought, is actually a man.  :)

Next, we got our history on at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. This was such a great experience, sombering, because we're surrounded by thousands of graves of soldiers who lost their lives, but unexpectedly touching to feel the respect for America, even being so far away. I'm so glad we stopped there.  It was hard to capture pictures, but here's the link for the cemetery with some great photos. Link for the American Memorial and Cemetery

Ian and Marijean showed us around the city for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Manila really surprised me.  Granted, I didn't really know what to expect, but it's much more Westernized than most of the cities I've seen in Korea, it felt more like being in Seoul, but everyone spoke English.  The Philippines does have its own language, Tagalog, but English is also taught in school, and almost everyone we encountered spoke English.  But different, than the English I hear in Korea, it definitely has more of a Spanish influence. (Which makes sense, because they were colonized by the Spaniards, but then had American presence starting around the 1900s).
A few highlights from the evening :) 
Midget Wrestling...yes you read that correctly! :)
Taxi Motorcyle thing-a-ma-bob :)

Keep reading for Part 2! :)

Wednesday, June 22

Philippines Getaway Part 2!

One thing we were looking forward to in the Philippines was the SHOPPING! :) The next day a typhoon/monsoon rolled in, so it was the perfect day to spend the day inside shopping till we dropped! Which is exactly what we did.  I know I've written about being overwhelmed in Seoul before, but the indoor market at Green Hills Manila takes the cake! :)   One of the craziest things was how hard the shop workers were trying to get our attention.  They call the women, "Mommy" and the men "Sir," so as we were walking everyone was screaming "Mommy, Sir, beautiful handbags, very good prices, shirts berry good prices." I learned to walk quickly through those sections and not make eye contact. :) When we first got into the wide open area, I would take a couple steps, and just stop, stand still, and look as far right and as far left as I could,  not even knowing where to begin.  There were all these little stands, but built up like individual store fronts, and it went on forever. 
Walls of designer purses - crazyness!
It's known as a bargain center, and has EVERY name brand you can think of.  I don't even thing they're fake, I think they're just damaged, like possibly a stitch or seam being off.  Regardless, we couldn't tell that anything was wrong with them, and we took FULL advantage of getting great things in our sizes for CHEAP. Leigh left with 30 t-shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, a North Face Winter coat for $25, and a pair of shoes! We had to borrow a bag from Ian just to get all our goodies back! I was a little more reserved with my shopping, as I was just trying to take it all in! :) I regret not going with more of a gameplan, had I been more prepared I could have stocked up on some great clothes for friends and family back home. Next time, I'll know what I'm walking into! All in all, Green Hills was an absolute success!
Leigh turned into a shopping machine! :)
The infamous JEEPNEYS!! :) These things are everywhere in the Philippines. I'm sure you're wondering, "What's a jeepney?" Well...they are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. Pretty interesting fact: they were originally made from leftover Military Jeeps from World War II.  When the war was over, there were a lot still left over so they were sold or given away. The Jeepneys are known for their flamboyant decoration, crowded seating, and aggresive driving. They're definitely a symbol of Philippine culture.

After shopping till we dropped and since it was so rainy, Sunday night was pretty low key.  Ian made a popular Canadian, particularly Novia Scotian treat - Donair. It's like a gyro, but with a sweet sauce.  They were delicious! Then, a manicurist/pedicurist, and a masseuse came to the house to give Marijean and I manis and pedis, and Leigh a massage! :) We felt like royalty! And the prices were insanely cheap!

While it was a whirlwind of a trip, Leigh and I loved Manila and loved seeing (meeting for me) Marijean, Ian, Brayden and Kennedy! Thanks for such a great time, and we can't wait to visit again!

Leigh's nephews, Brayden (left) Kennedy (front)

Tuesday, June 7

Busan Sand Festival

 Whew! :) After our Saturday spent inside vehicles -we woke up Sunday morning feeling refreshed and thankful we had a 3 day weekend! We met up with Mary and Tyler, and hit Haeundae Beach in Busan for some fun in the sun at the Sand Castle Festival! There were hundreds of people there, and the sand sculptures and castles were quite impressive! They even had an Alice in Wonderland color scene and the Wizard of Oz! :) Saturday didn't turn out as we hoped, but Sunday more than made up for it!

All smiles :)

Trains, Taxis, and Busses: Our unexpected tour of Korea

Yay! Almost to the beach...or so we thought
We had a long weekend, thanks to Monday being Korea's Memorial day, and Leigh and I's original plan was to attend his friend Grace's birthday party on a west coast beach.  They'd rented pensions and we were excited to spend some time on the west coast.  Little did we know, we would learn all the holes in Korea's public transportation.  Ironic, considering how my last post was complimenting the transit system.
What followed was a 10 hour tour around Korea via trains, taxis, and busses.

The day in review: We woke up a little later than we expected on Saturday, rushed to Gyeongju and caught the KTX (which is the fast as lightning train that goes around 300 km an hour!).  2 quick hours later we arrived in Daejeon.  We called our friends to get directions to the pensions, which were only about 60 km away.  We took a taxi to the bus station and Leigh bought us tickets to "SAEchon".
Proof we were in Daejeon

He's typically the navigator since he's been here longer, knows more Korean than I do, AND I'm severely directionally challenged, and usually it works out perfectly BUT...this time it didn't.  3 hours later, still on our bus ride to what we thought was Saechon, we knew something was wrong.  We tried desperately to read any signs the bus passed, we used Leigh's smartphone to Googlemaps where we were - then we realized that we had just completely negated the KTX train ride we came up on, and had now driven 3 hours SOUTH coming close to where we started this ordeal, but not close enough to get home. The bus has made a few short stops, but we hadn't even noticed that they were real stops. Apparently "SOEchon" was one of those stops. This is the point we realized that we, ahem I mean Leigh, had made a tiny pronunciation error that resulted in us getting on the SOEcheon bus rather than the SAEchon bus. The bus's last stop was Tongyeong.  At this point we've invested $62 each for first class KTX tickets and $14 each for the bus ride, we've spent quite a bit of money and been riding around for 8 hours. We were laughing and trying to make the best of it.  We'd already spent too much money to try to get to the birthday party on the west coast and we decided we might as well explore Tongyeong. The first thing we needed to do was secure a place to sleep for the night. We tried 2 taxis and at the mention of motels, they yelled at us like we'd said a bad word.  We were a little confused and fearful at the idea of not having a place to sleep for the night.  So, at that point, we knew we had to leave.  We hopped on the last bus to Busan, where our friends Mary and Tyler live, and we knew a Sand Festival was going on.  We got in to Busan at around 11:45pm - tried to catch the subway, but had missed that.  So, we found a place to sleep for the night, and considered the day a complete wash :) We kept our moods in check all day, and managed to not bite each other's heads off, and even learned a thing or 2 like: the importance of showing the bus cashier the Korean word for your desired destination! :) Next post will include how the rest of our weekend turned out in Busan :)

Making friends at the KTX Statio

Thanks for Reading! Em

Friday, June 3

Korea Year 2?

I think I decided in my heart of hearts to resign months ago, but it's official, I've signed a second contract with my school!! :) The decision comes with a lot of different emotions, excitement to live abroad for another year, and explore and delve into Korean culture even more than I have this year.  There's so much to learn in and about this country and its' people, one year can't do it justice. The decision to stay relieves some anxiety, without the official decision to stay, I felt in limbo - what am I going to do after this? I was left with thoughts about going back to America...the stresses of having to look for a job in a crappy job market, buying a car, thinking of a place to settle down, looking for a new place to live - eeek all those symbols of permanence are enough to steer me away from going back to America for a while. 

On the other hand, another year here means being away from family and friends. It means being away from my Dad, who is the most amazing father I could have ever asked for, another year in Korea, means being away from my mom (who this year Finally reached her longest mark of sobriety in the last 15 years - so incredibly proud of her), it means being away from my brother who's in the Air Force, and missing all those oh-so important beret and accomplishment ceremonies, my grandmothers, my aunts and uncles, and my friends :) my wonderfully, supportive friends like Kayla, Jackie, Kathryn, Parisa, and so many others. Being here the first year I've missed out on important things, and continue to.  Jackie's wedding is on July 17th, and I won't be there for that. :(

What I've come to realize, is that events come and go.  And thought it's sad to miss important milestones in friends and family members lives, just because I'm not in the crowd witnessing a graduation ceremony, or a wedding ceremony, or a friend can't tell me in person that they're pregnant, it doesn't mean that I care any less.  I've learned so much about myself this year, and about relationships, and about taking chances, and I know that the friendships I've maintained since I've been here are forever friendships, those that aren't threatened by distance. Of course I miss my family and friends daily, but I have so much more to share with them, and feel so much closer to them, because I'm out living an incredible life, and I couldn't have done this without all of their support! :) I'm so thankful for this 1st year, and can't wait to see what's in store for me year 2! 

Thanks for reading! I'm Incredibly Blessed!
Love Always, Em :)

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