Tuesday, October 21, 2003

This past week marked our one-year anniversary in Korea. Strange to think that only twelve months ago, Amy and I stepped off the plane in Incheon into this strange land of kimchi, soju and singing garbage trucks.

When I think back over the last year, I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. We’ve seen and done so much. Snowboarding at Muju resort, windsurfing at Jinha beach, scooter rallies around Ulsan, trips to Thailand, Japan and China – we’ve certainly been busy!

Over the last year, we’ve lived through just about every conceivable weather condition from bitter Arctic winds to typhoons, heat waves and lung-clotting smog. We had a rainy season that seemed to last for an eternity - where we couldn’t dry our laundry if our lives depended on it and I lost a handful of t-shirts to mold. We’ve fought off invading ants, swarming dragonflies, screaming cicadas and the omnipresent mosquitoes.

Highlights for me from the last year would certainly include learning Hapkido. Who would have imagined I’d ever be able to leap headfirst over Amy and land into a roll. That, plus learning handsprings, rolls, flips and flying kicks, punches and wristlocks. I’ve especially enjoyed the relationship that we’ve all developed with our ‘Sahbuhneem’ (esteemed teacher). He has us in stitches laughing most mornings and even though he knows about as much English as I do Korean, we still manage to communicate somehow. We’ve learned so much from him and I know I will miss out morning workouts with him once I returned to Canada.

Another highlight for me has to have been our trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Given all the media hype over the North Korean “issue” over the last year – having the opportunity to visit the front lines of any potential conflict on the Korean peninsula was a powerful experience. I still find it hard to see a people so divided and the conflict between them saturated by so much ideology and venomous hatred. To this day, it’s strange to be living in a potential war zone - where the sight of uniformed soldiers in the streets or fighter aircraft in the skies is commonplace, as is being woken up by air raid drills.

Teaching English has been an interesting experience. For one thing, it’s taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the English language. Does anyone else know what a gerund is? Or had to explain it on the spot to an expectant classroom?

Teaching has also provided me with invaluable insight into Korean society. From my students I’ve learned more about the culture, traditions and history of Korea than I ever could have from any guidebook. I’ve learned more of the Korean language than I could have from studying from audiotapes or videos. Though, to be honest, most of it has been the dirty words. In either case, it’s been a very rewarding experience.

I think the most surprising thing for me over the last year has been that both Amy and I have made some very good friends here. We both came over here expecting to meet people but not really expecting to make any close friends. So we’ve both been pleasantly surprised that we’ve made some friends I know we’ll keep in touch with long after we leave Ulsan.

So what does the future hold?

Well, as most of you know Amy and I are planning to get married next summer, so there are all the preparations that need to be done for that – including visa applications, something neither of us is looking forward to.

We’ve signed new contracts with our school that will see us here in Ulsan until roughly May-June of next year at which point we will return home to get ready for the wedding. Our school director was very happy to have us sign on for an additional period, which was nice. We even managed to negotiate a bit of a salary increase, which was even nicer!

On a personal note, I’ve started writing a weekly column for an expatriate magazine published here in Ulsan and that has so far been a lot fun. Basically, it's just my thoughts and observations of life here in Ulsan. It’s also opened some doors with the guys at Hyundai Heavy Industries (the world’s largest shipyard) and may lead to some part-time work in the near future.

We continue to run hash runs every fortnight and I’ve now assumed the Assistant Grandmaster position, which allows me to dole out all kinds of penalties (beer down downs) for infractions, either real or imagined. I also just passed the 20 run milestone with this pack!

Amy and I continue to plan some more travels, with our eyes on Shanghai for the Chinese New Year and possibly another trip to Japan or even to Vietnam. We’ll have to see how the financial situation holds up!

By the way, a gerund is a verb that ends in -ing but functions as a noun (e.g. My favorite activity is sleeping.)

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