Wednesday, November 19, 2008


One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much recently is that blogger is blocked at my school, so it’s impossible to post during the hours I’m normally sitting in front of a computer. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog (never posted) about how we had once again come to the magical time in Korea when the windows are open. Windows here are opened in the fall - in the cold -for the fresh air. It’s an odd feeling to walk into a room on a chilly fall day to find the windows open and your coworkers wearing their coats and using their space heaters. It’s odder when they complain about how cold it is after opening the windows. If ever there was an argument against Darwin’s natural selection, I think this might be it. Currently it’s -5 Celsius, and both Paul and I are sitting with windows open; my school has fortunately turned on the heat, his has not.

Yesterday, in class, some students asked about the word “conceptless,” which they had heard on Korean television. They said that they had looked it up, but couldn’t find it in their dictionary. My coteacher wrote it on the board and asked me about it. I said I didn’t think it was a real word, but if it was, it could only be used to describe things, such as books or movies, rather than people; I volunteered the word clueless instead.

When we returned to our office, I looked up the word online. It wasn’t on Merriam-Webster’s website, or; when I googled the word, nothing came up. My coworker, using a Korean search engine, managed to find some philosophy papers that used the word conceptless. I attempted to explain that once you were a philosopher, you had to make words up to describe things, but that since it wasn’t in the dictionary, it still wasn’t a word. She argued that Koreans could make up the word, then, since it was a direct translation of a word they use. “A concept,” she argued, “is a general idea, like ‘we need food to live.’”

“A concept is really just an idea.”

“No, it says here it’s a general idea, so that’s something everyone knows like how to behave.’”

“General idea really just means an idea, not something everyone shares.”

“No, the Korean word is _______, and we translate that as concept, so conceptless is a person who doesn’t behave properly.”

Eventually, I just dropped it. I'm in Korea, she's older than I am, there's no telling her she's wrong. I bit my tongue, and went on to the next thing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

365 Days

It’s been a while since we’ve written – for a variety of reasons. When last we wrote, our appliances had been removed and replaced, and I had flown to America to get my E2 visa documents. As most of you already know, I was in America for a month, visiting my family and shopping for supplies. I returned to our town on the 9th of October and started work the next morning. It seems as though I’ve been back for months and months, but I’ve really just barely passed the three-week mark.

Just before I left in September, I signed a contract with a new school; I’m now at an elementary school, a thirty-minute bus ride away from our house. It was a lucky find, after we were worried that I wouldn’t have a job this fall. My school and coworkers are kind, interested in me as a person, and interested in working together to teach students; in short, it’s everything that my old school was not.

I can’t say that I’m excited for another winter in Korea or eager for the next however-many-months of teaching at this school. I can say that though last year was miserable at times, I was proud at the end of it – proud that I had worked a full year at a place I had hated without quitting, proud of the money we had saved, proud of all the places we had been. I was the property of that school for 365 days, and I didn’t fold.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Year Down

Well it's been an eventful couple of weeks for us. As most of you probably know by now, Meg has been hired at a local Elementary school. The process was a lot more difficult than it should have been, but we're glad to have that behind us now. After over a month of going through recruiters with little to no luck, one of my co-workers finally called a public school that he knew of and they were extremely interested in hiring Meg. The next day we visited the school and had a meeting with the Principal, the VP and one of the English teachers. After a nice thirty minute conversation, they were quite eager to offer Meg the job (and we were equally eager to accept it). It made for a very happy weekend.

Unfortunately, that happiness didn't last too long. On the following Monday I was denied my renewal visa. My school didn't have me prepare the proper documents (they told me that I didn't need a criminal check since I had done one the previous year and hadn't been back to Canada...they were wrong). So now I have a month to get the criminal check done and sent to me over here. I should be fine, but I'll be much happier when I have my actual visa renewed.

Later that night at a farewell dinner, Meg's school informed her that they would be taking back all the furniture they had provided for us in our apartment. We had no idea what they had provided, but it turned out to be quite a lot. They apparently bought us the fridge, TV, washing machine, toaster oven, stove, ricer cooker, microwave, fan and iron. They were nice enough to give us 2 days notice.

We celebrated our one year mark in Korea with a box of delivery chicken while drinking warm Coke and watching TV on my laptop in our bare apartment. It wasn't quite the event we had hoped for. It did feel nice to have made it however. There were days where I think both of us weren't so sure we would.

After some mad scrambling my school managed to replace the items taken by Meg's former school on Friday (so we only went without them for the one day). Sadly, we now have a tiny fridge. I'm still trying to decide what to do about that. We might try and buy another ourselves, or just live with it for the next 6 months. It's quite small though.

On Saturday morning Meg flew back to the USA. After about 20 hours she arrived in Vermont and will be there for the next few days. From there she'll head down to Philadelphia to visit her sister's family (and her new nephew) before getting to Nashville sometime around Sept. 24th. If things go according to plan she'll fly back to Korea between Oct. 1st and 5th. I'm sure she'll really enjoy her time back home. I know she's missed seeing grass, fields and trees. She'll probably also enjoy breathing properly again as the air quality in Korea (at least the area we live in near Seoul) is quite poor.

As for myself, I've managed to kill most of my Korean Thanksgiving holiday watching TV and staying inside. The traffic is a nightmare and it takes about twice as long to get anywhere (and lots of things are closed anyways) so I've decided to just rest. It's been nice after the crazy few weeks we've had. Even after the few days of rest I've had, I still feel pretty beat. Hopefully, Meg's faring better back home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Our Climb in Photos (Part 3)

This photo is slightly out of order, but I wanted it at the top because it's my favourite of the collection. I really like the sky behind Meg as she climbs the final stretch of the mountain. I think it's also pretty cool that you can see the clouds below her.

Here's a sign by where we spent the night. I probably should have included it with the sunrise photos I posted earlier.

Here we are at the top. We finally made it. I think Meg looks happy and I just look plain tired. It's not my favourite photo ever, but all I cared about at this point was getting a photo and then getting down the mountain and to our hotel.

Here's a torii at the top. I thought it looked pretty cool with the clouds. I really like toriis too.

Here's another photo I really like of Meg at the top. Again, I love the sky behind her and the clouds below her. I'm glad we have a few really great photos of her at the top. Nothing that can compare to my one with Raj in the pouring rain...but close.

We've got lots of news and crazy stories from the last week that we'll start posting again soon. Meg has a job and we're very excited about that. She's also on her way back to the US for a couple of weeks on Saturday. I'll be holding the fort here and trying to keep people from stealing our appliances (you probably think I'm joking...).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Our Climb in Photos (Part 2)

This is the room where we spent the night (almost typed "slept" but that seems like a bit of a stretch). At the time however, we were thrilled to find somewhere to sleep at all. It was midnight and we had spent the morning touring around Tokyo (seeing the infamous Harajuku girls) before spending 3 hours on trains to get to the base of the mountain and then another hour on a bus to the starting point of our hike. It had definitely been a long day.

I managed to grab about 2 hours of sleep in this crammed room and I think Meg got about 3 and half. I didn't really fit as my legs were too long and when fully extended would knock into the another person's feet. I couldn't really sleep diagonal either as I was crowded on both sides. I think about 14 or 16 people slept in this tiny room (you can see 12 sleeping bags in this photo). Those blue things with the ziploc bags around them were our pillows and they were not at all comfortable.

We got up at 4am so we could see the sunrise and finish our climb to the top. Below is the start of the sunrise. Meg wasn't overly impressed with it, I think she was just too tired and exhausted to appreciate it.

Here we are with the sunrise behind us. As you can see Meg definitely doesn't look awake yet.

There was a little shrine with Torii where we spent the night.

The sunrise at full force. I enjoyed it myself. Meg was too busy finding her dixie cup of coffee.

And here's Meg with her coffee. She still isn't really with it yet. I think the coffee cost $4 or $5 for the little dixie cup.

Tomorrow I'll add the final set of photos. Our final few hours of climbing and our time at the top.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Our Climb in Photos (Part 1)

This is a photo of the train we took took Mount Fuji. You can take Japan Rail trains fairly close, but then have to transfer to local trains. In this case the local train was painted with little Mt. Fuji's all over it. I thought it was amusing, fairly typical for Japan, but amusing nonetheless.

As we drove to where the trail starts we couldn't see much of anything and then right before we parked the clouds around Fuji blew away revealing the peak. It was quite a spectacular site and were were quite lucky.

This photo was taken about 5 minutes after the one above and as you can see the peak is already being covered again by clouds.

And 10 seconds later it was virtually gone.

After a brief dinner we started our ascent. By then it was pitch dark. I had trouble framing this photo properly because I couldn't see anything through the viewfinder of my camera and had to force it into taking anything at all.

Unlike my last time climbing Fuji, the weather was fairly desent and so by the time we reached the 7th station (about 2 hours into our hike I beleive) we were still smiling.

I'm pretty sure I was feeling the effects of the hike much more than Meg the first night. She raced up the mountain and had to wait on me a number of times. I think you can start to see my fatigue in the photo below.

A few hours later all the smiles had faded. By the lower 8th station we could start to feel the altitude change starting to affect us. I felt like I was stumbling my way up the mountain at times. As you can see below Meg finally started to show some fatigue. Unfortunately the further you go up the less space there is to rest and so here we were just happy to have a wall to lean against.

For about a half an hour or so I was worried we'd be spending the night like these people in the photo below. Fortunately we managed to find lodging around midnight. Which is good because it was pretty cold by this point and when we woke up around 4am it was absolutely freezing.

Well that's the end of the first set of photos. We'll post more soon of the sunrise and our time at the top.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mt. Fuji

Now that the word is out, I suppose most of you want to know about our trip up (and down) Fuji. We didn’t tell anyone we were climbing, because we were a bit worried that I wouldn’t make it up, due to my asthma, so we managed to keep it a secret – even from those of you who asked directly.

We spent the morning with the Harajuku girls in Tokyo, then took a train to the Fuji area and arrived around five. It took us a while to change clothes, repack our backpacks, and get our luggage into a locker for the night. We took a bus from the train station at the bottom of Mt. Fuji to the fifth station, the place where most people begin their hike. It was a bright, sunny, and mostly clear day; when we reached the fifth station, we could actually see the top of the mountain. After taking some ‘before’ pictures, buying some more supplies (like some rain gear – just in case), and a nutritious dinner of overpriced hotdogs, we started our trek around seven thirty in the evening. It was dark, but there were plenty of other hikers, so we managed without our flashlights for the first while.

The beginning of the walk is fairly nice – like walking in a park at night. The moon and stars were bright, and it was refreshing to be able to see the night sky. We could see the trees below, and the stations lit up to the top. We made it to the sixth station (the one that Paul and Raj ‘missed’) in about 45 minutes, and were quite proud of our speedy pace. By then, we were above the tree line, and our path was becoming more ‘up’ than ‘across,’ slowly zig-zagging from one point to the next. At one point, I heard fireworks and looked around and saw them – far, far below us in some small town in the valley.

We stopped at the seventh station a little over an hour later. I got a stamp on my hiking stick, and we ate some of the trail mix we had packed. It was cold enough then for jackets and dark enough for flashlights. Somewhere around the beginning of our hike, Paul had mentioned that there was a part of the trail ‘where you have to use your hands.’ (Strangely, after reading on Mt. Fuji and talking about the trip for six weeks, this had never really come up.) This part came after the seventh station: the path became less like walking uphill and more like climbing – finding your footing and keeping your balance.

It was kind of fun – like climbing up a big rock – having to think about where to put your feet and hands. But with the atmospheric changes, combined with tiredness, it felt a bit more like shuffling blindly than boldly climbing. Armed with the better flashlight and walking stick, I left Paul in the dust. It was a nice feeling. After all, I’m the one who works out, so it’s only fair that I could win some race.

Somewhere in the enormous distance between the seventh and eighth station, we were suddenly joined by several large groups of tourists. We knew that this would likely happen on some part of our trip, but it was amazing how they seemed to come from nowhere. The path became crowded and annoying. Waiting for Paul at the lower eighth station, I saw a group of people sitting outside, all cozied up in their sleeping bags. We had planned to sleep for a few hours in one of the huts on the mountain, but hadn’t planned to sleep outside in the cold mountain air. Paul remarked that we may have to join those sleeping outside, should the tour groups take up all the sleeping space in the huts. I laughed – and then went to work passing them on our way up the mountain, determined to have a roof over my head for a few hours that night.

At 11:30, we asked for beds at a hut, but they were all full. We raced along to the next station and got a bed around midnight. Perhaps bed is a generous term – we got two sleeping bags in a room with twenty-five sleeping bags, and two rock-like pillows covered in Ziploc bags. It wasn’t the best sleep either of us had had. I felt like I was sleeping on the side of a mountain – far, far away from land and flat places. It’s a strange sensation to feel altitude while you’re lying down.

We awoke at four to see the sunrise. Sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji is supposed to be magnificent – the reason why everyone climbs at night. We had seen some fantastic sunrise pictures on the internet, but, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed at the sunrise. It was nice, but it wasn’t as breathtaking as I had imagined. Of course, that could be because of the very minimal amount of sleep I had had, the $4 Dixie Cup of coffee I was drinking, combined with the cold, cold wind, and the knowledge that we hadn’t yet reached the top.

We set out around five, and I felt sick almost immediately. The height of the mountain made the walk difficult for everyone around us. We would manage walking for about two minutes before a rest. Our pace slowed quite a bit from the night before. I never thought we’d get to the top. The sun was shining very brightly, and we could see quite a distance from where we were standing. The mountain itself was an earthy red color.

After three and a half hours of morning hiking, we finally made it to the top, which is made up of a little village of restaurants and souvenir shops. We went in to a restaurant, and I collapsed. Paul ordered and ate his lunch while I was sleeping. Eventually, I woke up, ate lunch, and wrote postcards. Revived, we wandered over to the post office, stopping to look into the crater on our way. Eventually, after mailing our postcards and taking many pictures, we were ready for our descent.

Ready perhaps isn’t the best word to describe our feelings. It might be better to say that we knew it was time to go down, we knew that if we didn’t leave, we wouldn’t make it to our hotel at a decent time. From the top of the mountain, the path zig-zags slowly down; you can see how dreadfully far it is. This was the worst part. The loose, rocky dirt was hard to walk on – it was far more difficult to find a grip with our legs and feet on this path than the one the night before – like sloshing through dirt, the same sort of inertia that comes when walking through a big slushy snowfall. After one zig, Paul had blisters, and I was ready to quit. “I can’t do this,” I told him, as though I hoped he would say, “why don’t we just wait for the elevator.” But there was no elevator, and we couldn’t stay forever on the mountain. The soles on my shoes were so worn and my legs so tired that I kept a snails pace. It was warm – the sun is so close up there, so bright – you feel… exposed. I felt miserable. Looking down and seeing the path, it felt like it would be forever before we got down. People passed us – people with hiking shoes, people without hiking shoes, people with children. An entire little-league baseball team passed us, and I still couldn’t pick up my pace, or believe any harder that I would ever get to the bottom of the mountain. Paul chose this point to ask if I was proud of what I had done and happy that we had done it. I informed him that I was certainly not proud or happy – I was miserable and regretting that I had let him talk me in to such nonsense. We didn’t talk much after that.

Eventually, the end was in sight (at least for Paul, that is, I don’t think I believed we would finish until we actually did). A bus was coming in forty-five minutes, and we decided to race the rest of the way back to the fifth station. We didn’t run – I can’t even really describe it as moving quickly – but we moved with purpose through the crowds of people at the beginning of their climb. I felt bad for them. Paul ran (that is, he moved quicker than I did) back to the station to buy tickets – the bus took off two minutes after I got to the station, five hours after we had started our descent. I have never been so filthy in my life. My hair, which I had kept under my hat the whole time we were on the mountain, was nothing but a mass of tangles, and when I finally took off my shoes in the train station restroom, out came my own little mountain of dirt.