Archives for May 2013

The New Norm Part III

Sometimes living in a different country you forget that some of the very odd and different things around you are in fact…odd and different. Here are some more things from around Korea that I first thought were odd and different but now just blend into the background. 

Neon lights

 

Down every road at night it looks like a mini version of Vegas.

Mixing up the language

When I first moved here and started teaching kindi, they would always say ‘shi shi’ when they had to use the bathroom. As a naive newcomer, I assumed this was the proper way to say ‘bathroom’ (because kindi kids always speak in perfect grammar right?). I went to a restaurant and tried to practice my newly learned Korean phrase on the waitress to ask where the bathroom is. She started giggling and pointed towards the bathroom. I learned later that ‘shi shi’ is the equivalent of saying ‘pee pee’.

Call buttons

 

This may just be the best thing ever invented. It’s a call button, and it’s placed on every table in most restaurants around here. So instead of a waiter hounding you every few moments if you need something, they only appear if you press this little button and call them. Absolute genius.

Hiking gear

This is common hiking gear in Korea. Bright as a rainbow and covering every inch of your body.

Having an escape route out of the country

No, we don’t feel in danger. But yes, we have talked about the ‘what if’. And don’t worry mom, as much as we joke about stealing a boat and rowing to safety, we have a slightly more secure plan than that.

Good luck gestures

 

Outside of a new business you can find several large planters sitting out with ribbons on them. These are bought by the company or friends and partners of the owner to wish the new business good luck.

Body language

Not knowing appropriate or more importantly, inappropriate gestures. In the states it’s common to play the game ‘I’ve got your nose’ with little kids. Little did I know that the gesture that we use with our thumb in-between our two fingers is a very vulgar gesture here in Korea. I unfortunately learned this after I had done taught it to every single one of my kindi classes. Sorry parents.

Our Little Piece of Paradise

Other than Chiang Mai, Railay Beach was our favorite spot in Thailand. Located on a peninsula in the South of Thailand, Railay acts like an island since there are no roads leading in or out of the area due to the large un-drillable limestone rocks that surround it. Everything and everyone must come by boat. We took a ferry from Phi Phi Island to Railay Beach with the hopes of rock climbing and cave exploring, both of which are highly popular in this area. We were not disappointed and as we approached the beach, we could see why this place was so popular.

railay beach thailand
While we were there we:
 
Hiked to the view point. There was also a lagoon on top of the mountain but we were told by some disgruntled tourists that it was currently a muddy pit so we turned back. (we’ve heard to go during high tide and it’s beautiful)
railay beach lookout thailand

 Enjoyed the cave scenes on the beach.

railay beach thailand

 Watched two dudes decrease each other’s brain cells.

thai boxing railay beach thailand

 Bought some food from a boat.

long tail boats railay beach thailand

 Climbed through a cave in the pitch black…

exploring caves in railay beach thailand

 Up old bamboo ladders…

cave exploring in railay beach thailand

 Through caves….

cave exploring in railay beach thailand

 To get to a view like this.

rock climbing in railay beach thailand

 Took a sailboat…

deep water solo in railay beach thailand

 To this place…

deep water solo in railay beach thailand
To go rock climbing…
deep water solo in railay beach thailand

 Then jumped!

deep water solo in railay beach thailand

 Celebrated Valentine’s Day with a lantern…

lanterns in thailand

 That crashed the first time…we eventually got it to float away.

lanterns in thailand

 Enjoyed drinks on the beach and made fun of hubs major farmer tan.

drinks on the beach in railay beach thailand

 Found some pretty amazing beach front restaurants

restaurant on the beach in railay beach thailand

 And the best cashew chicken I’ve ever tasted.

restaurants in railay beach thailand

 And ended every night enjoying the sunset and dreaming about living on a sailboat.

sunset in railay beach thailand

Is it time to go back yet??

An Island Getaway

After the hustle and bustle of being in cities during our first week in Thailand, we decided that we needed a break and headed down south to soak up the sun, do some diving and well…do absolutely nothing. Just a little island getaway. Like I’ve mentioned before, hubs and I are extremely a.d.d. when it comes to vacationing and while the plan was to spend our days on the beach, that didn’t happen for very long. My pale skin is proof of that.

After hopping on a plane from Chiang Mai to Phuket, we caught a ferry boat that would take us to Phi Phi Island. We heard very mixed reviews of the small island, but mostly that it had gorgeous beaches and a very lively (aka loud) party scene. We weren’t too worried because the hotel that we had found were small bungalows located on a hillside up from the water and about a ten minute boat ride (there were free shuttles through the hotel) or 20 minute walk from town. We figured that we would be far enough away from the bar scene that we wouldn’t be able to hear it. Wrong. Oh so wrong. While it didn’t stop us from getting a good night sleep, loud bumping music could still be heard on the other side of the cove.

phi phi island thailand
View from our room
We decided that with Phi Phi, we would go low maintenance and focus on the experience instead. So with no air conditioner and no hot water we ‘roughed it’ on this little island getaway. It actually worked out a lot better than I expected. We weren’t there during the day so we had little need for the air conditioner since the sea breeze at night cooled us down plenty. And we were so hot in the morning before we left that the ‘only cold’ water option felt great! The only problem were the bugs that seemed to love our room.
There were also monkeys in the forest that we were in which we could see on the dirt path that led to town. One night, after we were all settled inside our mosquito net, with all the doors open and fast asleep, we both woke with a startle. In a matter of minutes, while I scanned unsuccessfully around the pitch black room, I was convinced that there was a monkey inside the room. Just a side note, I’m not a huge fan of monkeys. While they’re cute to look at, I’ve seen too many of them try to attack people to think that they’re harmless. Thank goodness for brave husbands that go and check for vicious monkeys in the dark. Even though he found nothing, I still wasn’t convinced and had a hard time sleeping as I imagined what our torn apart room would look like in the morning…that ocean breeze can sure do wonders with plastic bags and creaky doors.
keep it simple in phi phi island thailand
Our bungalow getaway on a hill.
thai sunset
View from the hotel shore.
phi phi island
long tail boats thailand
One of our first nights on the island (we spent a total of two nights, three days there) we ventured into town to grab a drink and sit on the beach. They have awesome beach front bars there with bean bags to sit on in the sand while you watch the sunset and sip away on a bucket. Yup, a bucket. They have these sand castle bucket stands on the streets and also in bars. They have a variety of options and often include liquor, energy drinks or soda. When you choose which one you want, they simply pour everything inside and add a straw. Dangerous…but delicious.
bucket drinks thailand
via
Every bar also had fire shows at night. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the nightlife because I have never seen anything like it. These guys went crazy walking up and down the beaches doing tricks with their fire staffs and almost throwing sparks into the crowd. I guess that’s why they want you to buy a bucket first, so you won’t care so much if sparks of fire come hurling towards you…
fire show thailand
Before we left on the last day we took a hike up the tallest point of the island. From here you could see the entirety of the island. To get here, there were steep stairs all the way up the mountainside with hotels on either side. I’m so glad that we didn’t have to do the stair master to get to and from our hotel every day. Even though it may have not been a bad idea with the amount of pad thai and roti pancakes that we were having on a daily basis.
This area is also the evacuation route in case of a tsunami. They had before and after pictures at the top from the last tsunami and it really hit home just how much of this island was washed away. If you haven’t seen the movie The Impossible or the documentary, Tsunami Caught on Tape I would highly recommend it. It will leave you in tears but it does such a great job at portraying not only the horror of Mother Nature but also the compassion of people as they risk their lives to save perfect strangers.
phi phi island lookout
Overall we’re really glad that we went because it’s a beautiful island but we probably wouldn’t go back again. As great of a place that it is for scuba diving, relaxing on the beach and also doing a bit of hiking, the town itself is overly crowded with tourists there for a drinking holiday. Fun for some, but just not our style as we’re attracted to more of a laid back, not as touristy sort of feel.

 

Getin’ Neked

Last week I may have just had the most unAmerican experience possible. I stripped down to my birthday suit in front of a bunch of Korean women. Jjimjilbangs (찜질방), or Korean style bathhouses are extremely popular where I live. You can see them on just about every block and are a very common Korean past time, especially during the cooler months. These spas are gender segregated and include several different pools of varying temperatures, showers and also separate sit down showers with mirrors where women sit and scrub off a layer of their skin. And all for the price of $6.00!

So this all sounds fantastic right? You’re probably wondering why it took me two whole years to go. Because, my friends, all of this is done while being completely butt neked. And while I’m not exactly the most timid one out there, something about being completely naked and the only foreigner, kind of got to me.

I once asked a student of mine about the spa and she mentioned that she had seen some foreigners there. I said great, what did she look like (we live in a small town, chances are, I knew her). My student went on to say that she had short brown hair, tall, and oh teacher, she had huge boobs! As tempting as it was to try out the spa, I did not want to take the chance of not only seeing one of my students…both of us in the nude…but I definitely didn’t want to be the foreigner that she’s describing in detail to anyone that would listen.

My partners in crime, Jen & Amber. The red sign above is the symbol indicating a bath house

Recently, however, I caved into finally experiencing the glory of the bathhouse and I could not be more thrilled! A friend of mine arranged this little get together and we all braved the awkwardness of showing our goods together. So here’s the drill to going to a Korean bathhouse:

When you walk in, you will choose which option you want. You can either just use the spa, or you can pay extra to spend the night. Clothes are provided for this option and both men and women sleep in the common area which has TV’s, couches, food and a unisex sauna. This is a great option for a cheap nights stay if all the hotels are booked.

When you pay, you receive a ticket with a number on it. You go into the women’s locker room and find the correlating locker number and put your shoes in. Then, you go into the next locker room and again, find the matching number and that locker is for your clothes. We were wondering if this was where we should strip down, and just as we were asking each other, three unabashedly unclothed women walked by. Yup, we were in the right spot.

We all stood looking at our empty lockers in front of us, not being able to contain our awkward laughter as we undressed. I have gone topless at beaches (until the one American showed up and started staring down all the women. Advice to guys; if you want to go to a topless beach, wear sunglasses), I’ve stripped down to my undies in front of strangers backstage when I used to do runway shows, but walking around in absolutely nothing like it ain’t no thing? That was new for me.

The last picture we could take

Each pool had a thermometer above it showing the temperature while others had jets or added minerals to them. Then there was also the option for a whole body scrub. Now, most Koreans simply buy a scrub cloth (resembling a Brillo pad) from a fully stocked beauty vending machine in the locker room and get to work in front of the seated showers. How some of them weren’t bleeding by the end of it is beyond me. But there is also an option to pay an extra $20 and have someone do it for you.

I have had friends tell me in the past that women scrub you down in these places but the way that they described it, I just thought there were some older Korean women that hung around the spa and liked to scrub people’s backs while they relaxed. I thought it was a little weird but hey, it’s Korea. Anything can happen. I quickly realized that I had been wrong and these people scrubbing women down were in fact employees and it was in no way as weird as I thought (or at least as un-weird as a women scrubbing another completely naked woman can be). One of the friends that I went with went for this option and while it took over an hour, she said that her skin had never felt so amazing.

So what did I think? I realize that so many countries around the world practice nude bath houses, but coming from America, this was one of the most foreign experiences I’ve had yet. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to take pictures inside the bathhouse,  because it all looked so bizarre, but I don’t think that would have made the most family friendly post. To be perfectly honest though, I found this experience somewhat liberating. At first, yes, it’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable but by the end of it I felt perfectly comfortable walking around and hardly noticed that there were no bathing suits, not to mention it was one of the most relaxing experiences. So would I go again? In a heartbeat.