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Monday, February 27, 2006

Changes are already being made to the aforementioned changes

So I was whisked off at lunch today to go eat at a restaurant with a group of teachers...of whom I had no idea who they were (was that anywhere near grammatically correct??). Turns out they were the 6th grade teachers. It appears the 6th grade may be my base camp this term; last term it was the 5th grade. It's kind of bad because they're all new people that I have to get used to/know them, but they also seemed more apt to try to speak with me which will be good. And there's actually a guy teacher in the 6th grade. That'll be new.

So, I am NOT teaching 3-6th grade like I was initially told. Which, if I had thought about it more closely, would be obvious. If I taught all classes 3-6th grade that would have meant I'd be teaching 36 hours/week...which is impossible with how the schedule at the school is set up (although holy OT money!). Basically, I'm just not teaching 3rd grade...only 4-6. And I'll actually have 3 co-teachers. The 2 I mentioned before, and then one other one who will teach 2 of the 4th grade classes with me (I don't really know why). I'm not exactly sure who this will be, but I think it might be a 5th grade teacher who came late last term because she was on pregnancy leave. So I don't know her well, but I think she speaks English better than the other 2 teachers that I'll be teaching with (you met her and spoke to her a bit, Joleen). I don't know what her name is, though. I should find that out. It's making me a bit nervous that I have so many co-teachers. I don't know how lesson planning is going to work out...will I be in charge or the co-teacher?? Will it depend on the co-teacher? Arg.

Also, I guess I'm not moving rooms until another month or so. For whatever reason. I hope that doesn't mean I'll have to come in on a Saturday to move all my shit. That would suck. My contract says no Saturdays!!! I have a feeling I wouldn't get paid OT for that, either.

Also, we're getting a new vice-principal at our school. The old crotchity VP is leaving (which is good) but he's being replaced by a lady who used to be head of the English Education Dept in Pyeongtaek. Which seems like it'd be good, but I don't think it will be. 1) She'll take a much bigger interest in my teaching and may pop in to watch more of my classes (I hate that). 2) Word on the street is that she's a bitch and is really hard to get along with. Ya-hoo. Don't mess with the bull, lady...you'll get the horns! Yeah, that sure describes me. At least there will be someone in a relative position of power who I can hopefully communicate effectively with...bitch or no. I was having serious communication issues with Ms. Lee (new co-teacher) today. Actually, I should say Ms. Ee...I don't know why it gets changed to Lee in "English" because there is no L sound in that name. Ever. In South Korea, anyway. In North Korea there are a few actual Lees, I guess. I don't know about other Asian countries. And the name Park is really pronounced more like Bak. More of a 'b' sound and there is no 'r' in it at all. Haha, I just had a really funny thought as to why that name is spelled and pronounced Park in English: When Korean immigrants first came to the US they came in on the East coast. When they said their name "Bak" it just sounded like how Bostonians (Bostonites?) say "Park." And the rest is history. Right. Ok, so that wasn't really funny, but I thought it was mildly humorous.

I don't feel that bad about not knowing any of the teachers' names because I guess none of them call each other by their actual names. Ms. Lee (old co-teacher) didn't even know half their names. I guess they just call each other "5-1 teacher" or "5-7 teacher," etc. But in Korean, obviously. So it'd be "something-something seonsaengnim." Or my method, which is either not talking to them or just looking at the person and then start to talk. It seems to work fine. Most of the time.

I'm wondering how many more changes I'll find out about. I just never be told, "Hey, guess what?!? You're teaching 2 hours of teacher classes a week!!!" NOOOOO!!!!!!

Fast Changes Arriving

So this week my new teaching term begins (Thursday is the first day of the new term/semester). It's actually the 1st semester of the year, as in Korea the first and second semesters are reversed from that in the US. But I've got quite a few changes coming my way. I don't know if they'll be for the better or for the worse, but I'll soon find out.

I am apparently changing rooms...I'm getting a bigger room, about 1.5 classroom sizes. Theoretically that's nice, but I haven't actually been in the room yet, so I don't know. It's on the 2nd floor...which is kind of bad b/c that's the same floor as the offices. But there are no windows looking into the room from the hallway, so that's good.

Also, previously I taught 4th and 5th graders; 4th graders once a week and 5th graders twice a week. Now I will be teaching 3rd, 4th, 5th, AND 6th grade, but all of them only once a week. This will mean I'll teach 26 hours/week (which is 4 OT hours). My co-teacher is gone and I'll have 2 new co-teachers; one will teach 3rd and 5th with me and the other will teach 4th and 6th with me. I know the teachers already, so that's nice. One was the other English teacher from last term (Ms. Kwan) who taught 2 weeks of English camp with me this winter. The other is the old 5th grade head teacher. She is very nice, but her English isn't the greatest (neither is Ms. Kwan's but it's not too bad). So it will be quite the change from Ms. Lee who was fluent in English (the new teacher is also a Ms. Lee). There will be much more Korean spoken in the classes this term, I think. Which I think will be good for the most part...but there might be TOO much Korean spoken...which will be annoying for me b/c then I'll have no idea what's going on. We'll see.

I am also going to refuse to teach teacher classes this term. That was the source of great amounts of stress for me last term so I WILL NOT do it again. I don't care if they think less of me for it. Screw them. I teach way more than any other native English speaking teacher I know--without extra classes I'm already doing 4 OT hours/week this term...and last term I was doing 6 OT hours/week. Sure I get extra money, but at this point my happiness and sanity is coming first.

So here's hoping for a decent next 6 months...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So I'm Eating Crow
I think that's a proper saying for this situation, anyway...

I mentioned that stupid, white, annoying lady in my last post and how she insisted that the capital of SoKo was going to move from Seoul to somewhere else. I made fun of her and said that it was highly unlikely. However, I looked it up and apparently it's true. Sorry, lady. Although I still think you're stupid, you were definitely white, and you were one of the most annoying people I ever had to sit in front of on a bus. Anyway, for those of you interested in reading about this odd move, here is a link to an article: Capital Move?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

So What Else Does Korea Have To Offer?

Ok, so that's just me being bitter. Anyway, here are a few more pictures from the goings-on in Korea when Joleen was here. I'll probably be adding more later, but I'm doing this at school and don't have all the pics with me. Bu tI thin kI'm going to leave at lunch time and just not come back today because this is honestly ridiculous. No one would have a clue if I did or did not come in today and I doubt they'd notice if I left early and didn't come back. If they do and get angry...go ahead and fire me. This is what I've done so far this morning: finished 2 crossword puzzles and watched the first 2 episodes of Survivor on my iPod. Why do I need to be in school for that? I don't. Yesterday from 10-2 I watched the Olympics. At least I had a big screen TV to watch the ice skating. Go Sasha Cohen!

Ok, back to Korea. So, I took Joleen to Suwon where we took the hike around Hwaseong Fortress. It's a decent old fortress surrounded by a big city (I think the population of Suwon is 3 million or something). Speaking of big cities, here's a ridiculous thing Joleen and I heard this dumb annoying white lady saying to her friend on the DMZ tour: According to her, because Seoul is too crowded, they're changing the capital of South Korea sometime in the next couple of years. Yeah, you're a dumbass. Her friend was like, "Really??" She insisted that it was true. Ok, I haven't attempted to look this up to see how factual it is, but how can it be true? Honestly. Anyway, I've included a pic that shows the old fortress juxtaposed with the modern city. Neat-o. There's also a picture of Joleen in fron of a fortress wall. And of course, how could I not include the picture of the typical Korean dog (when it's not being eaten). The really funny thing is that it was being walked by 2 guys. Haha.

And here's a picture of a dog restaurant near my house. Seriously...there's not a picture of a dog for nothing. One of the menu appears to be gay tang...dog stew, I think. Apparently dog is pretty fatty. I wouldn't know. According to Koreans it's "good for health." According to Koreans, anything Korean is "good for health." I guess dog is supposed to help with male virility. Sure. And for good measure have it with a side of bear gall bladder.

And here's a picture of Joleen standing at the Pyeongtaek subway station waiting for the train bound for Cheongyangmi and hoping it's not the express train bound for Yongsan (which doesn't stop at all the stops...but it can be hard to tell which train is which when they come because they're not labeled for us non-Korean speakers).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Face-to-Face With Commies
"In Front Of Them All" at the DMZ

So on Saturday Joleen and I took a tour of the DMZ. It was a very nice tour. What exactly is the DMZ, you may be wondering? DMZ stands for the De-militarized Zone. After WWII, the Soviets and the US set the 38th parallel as the boundary for the speheres of control between the two countries (Soviets controlling the N and US the S). Technically Korea was still one country at this point, but it pretty much made what was to come inevitable. In 1950 North Korea invades South Korea and at one point had control of everything except the the southern tip (Busan). But with the help of US forces, they're pushed back to about their original position. In 1953 an Armistice was signed and the DMZ was formed. The whole thing is pretty sad because during the Korean War many families were separated from each other (either due to the military or fleeing N Korea/areas of fighting). After the DMZ was formed no one was able to cross it...so some families were split up between North and South Korea. I highly recommend reading the book Still-Life With Rice by Helie Lee. It's really good. It's about a Korean woman's life in Korea during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War (it's kind of a memoir/biography but written like a novel...it's actually written by her granddaughter who's Korean-American). It's amazing to read what Koreans had to go through during this time.

The town of Panmunjon is located on the DMZ and some people still live here (actually their village is called Taesung-dong, or Freedom Village). They get quite a few benefits from this (lots of free farmland, no taxes, military service exemption) but also have to live by some strict rules (have to be back in town by sunset and in their houses locked up by midnight or 11 or something). The JSA (Joint Security Area) was set up on the DMZ in Panmunjon. "Temporary" buildings were built here for peace talks, etc...but the buildings are still up and used, so not so temporary, eh? The DMZ is neutral territory, but there's South and North Korean sides. There are buildings built on this line, so half the building is on the South Korean side and half is on the North Korean side. On my tour I got to go in this building and Joleen and I milled about on the North Korean side for a while. We debated whether or not that meant we've been to North Korea, but decided that it didn't.

Ok, so now on to our actual experience. We boarded the bus at the USO office in Seoul at 7:30am. Our first stop was at Camp Bonifas (which really isn't too far from Seoul). Here we were briefed by a US soldier stationed here on the DMZ. We then headed to the DMZ/JSA. This is where we got to enter the half NoKo half SoKo building. I have included some pictures. First is me standing on the North Korean side of the building. The soldier you see is an ROK soldier (Republic of Korea/S Korean...North Korea's offical name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...yeah, really fitting). Notice he stands at a taekwando-ready position (in order for ROK soldiers to be stationed at the DMZ they need to have a blackbelt in both taekwando and judo). This is how it works: both sides give tours (but many more from the S Korean side). There is a door at both ends of the building. When people from the SoKo side are in the building the door to the N Korean side is shut and locked from the inside. There are South Korean soldiers inside for protection, or whatever. When people from the NoKo side are in the building the door to the SoKo side is shut and locked and North Korean soldiers are inside. They also guard the door to the SoKo side. However, I think their main role is to prevent people from defecting to South Korea...not for protection.

This other picture has a few things of note in it. The blue building on the right that has people filing into it is the building I went in. The 3 soldiers you see in front are ROK soldiers. Notice the guy on the left who looks like he's been naughty because he's facing a wall? Well, he stands like this to observe the NoKo side, but has half his body shielded by the wall so he's less of a target. There's another guy like him at the building to the right of the center one that you can't see in the picture. When NoKo soldiers are posted at the building they assume different positions--again, their job is more to stop people from defecting than for protection (although for both reasons, probably). In 1984, a Russian on the NoKo tour of the DMZ ran across to the SoKo side. NoKo soldiers followed him with guns blazing and 1 ROK and 1 US soldier were killed. The SoKos fired back, killing 3 NoKos. The Russian successfully defected. The concrete building you see in back is a North Korean building. I don't know exactly what it's for, but there's a SoKo building like it (but much prettier) opposite it that we came out of. Funny story: The top tier of the NoKo building was added on to make it taller than the SoKo building. But then the SoKos built a new building; the only requirement? That it be taller than the NoKo building. :D Notice the 2 little guys on the stairs of that building? They are North Korean soldiers watching us. Also, if you zoom in to that area, you can see a guy in the window next to them. He's looking at us through binoculars. We were told not to make gestures at them that could be construed as anything hostile, such as throat slashing motions. There went my plans. :D

We then went to an observation point/check point where you had nice views of North Korea (although it was a bit hazy that morning). On the way there we passed by the Bridge of No Return (see pic). This is where all POWs were repatriated after that Korean War. It was used for POW exchanges at the end of the Korean War. The name originates from the fact that prisoners were given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity or cross over to the other country. But if they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return. At the observation point we were surrounded on 3 sides by North Korea. The picture here is of a North Korean village called Kijong-dong, but usually referred to as "Propaganda Village." This is because there's constant loudspeakers blaring across to SoKo propaganda about how great NoKo is and telling SoKo people to defect to NoKo (yeah, right). There's also billboards and signs all over with propaganda messages on them. Interestingly, no one lives in this village. Some people even think that the windows on the buildings are just painted on. Notice the huge flagpole/flag? Funny story. So, both Taesong-dong (Freedom Village in SoKo) and Kijong-dong (Propaganda Village in NoKo) had their respective flags flying on flagpoles. After the Olympics were held in Seoul, the Olympic committe gave the official Olympic flagpole to SoKo. SoKo donated it to Taesong-dong. It's about 100 meters high. The North Koreans didn't want to be outdone, so they got their own new flagpole...160 meters high. And get this: the actual flag on it is 30 meters long and weighs 600 pounds!!!! Holy crap that's a huge flag! Needless to say, that's a competition the NoKos won. The flag in the pic is un-billowed as 1) it wasn't very windy that day, and 2) you need a massive gust to completely unfurl it anyway.

Back in 1976 an event now known as the Axe Murder Incident ocurred. There was a tree (on the SoKo side) that blocked the view from one SoKo outpost. SoKo and US soldiers went to trim the branches (which apparently is routine work in the JSA). A bunch of NoKo soldiers showed up and ended up brutally killing 2 US soldiers with axes. After this Operation Paul Bunyan was put in place; with massive security the tree was chopped down. I think it ended up costing like $30 million to cut down that damn tree.

After this we went to the "3rd Tunnel." In the 70s the SoKos discovered some tunnels that the NoKos had dug from NoKo into SoKo. They've found 4 tunnels so far, but suspect at least 10 more. The 3rd tunnel was big enough for 30,000 armed soldiers with heavy guns and equipment to pass through in an hour. At the time it was discovered it really freaked the SoKos out, especially since it ended not too far from Seoul (44 km). So we got to go in this tunnel. Pictures weren't allowed, but Joleen snuck one anyway. So here's our illegal picture. That was about it. All in all it was a very interesting experience.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More Monkeys Than You Can Shake a Stick At
Part 4 of the 'I Heart Thailand' series

Ruins in AyutthayaWhile in Bangkok we took a day trip to Ayutthaya (the old capital of Thailand) and Lopburi. As Joleen says, we got up at the butt-crack of dawn and made our way to the train station in Bangkok via the skytrain (which was very handy and near to our hotel). We should have just missed the train to Ayutthaya and had to wait another hour for the next one--which would have sucked--but fortunately the train was delayed so we made it onto that one. It costs like a dollar for a 2 hour ride. Not too shabby.

Joleen in DoorwayWe arrived in Ayutthaya and after slight confusion upon leaving the train station, we successfully made our way to the river where we had to take a little boat thing across it (and after being occosted by tuk tuk drivers). Originally we were going to rent a bike to explore the ruins (ruins being the primary reason of going to Ayutthaya) but decided not to because we decided it wouldn't be worth our while and it wasn't a bike-friendly looking place. So we walked. It was super hot and we were both wearing pants since we didn't know if you had to wear pants in the wat ruins or not. You didn't, so it kinda sucked that we were wearing pants in 90,000 degree heat. We walked a hell of a long way, too.

Cool Buddha TreeWe found the ruins and explored a while. They were pretty cool. The ruins were full of headless Buddhas. We were then on a quest to get a picture of one of us standing behind a Buddha so our head was on the Buddha body. But you weren't supposed to do this and they had sentinel people standing guard at various places, so we had to be really covert about it. We finally found one that Joleen could stand Buddha Tree Close-Upbehind just pretending to be standing there while I stood back a bit and pretended to be taking a picture of the building behind her. We had to tkae it quick, however, so the pic ain't that great. See it included here. There was a cool Buddha head thing in a giant tree. We saw one ruin that had 3 dogs sleeping on the stairs. Joleen tells me to take a picture of them, so I approach and they wake up and start visciously barking at us. It was a little frightening. The guard dogs of the ruins.

So we saw our share of the ruins then went back to the train station to catch a train to Lopburi, further north (the monkey pics above are from Lopburi). We had a bit of a wait before the next train came, so we had to sit around a little. There were these 2 foreign guys attempting to buy tickets at a closed ticket booth (you could only buy your ticket 20 m inutes before your train left for whatever reason) so we tried to explain to them how it worked. They knew minimal English at best. They may have been from some sort of Scandinavian country. But hey, we tried. So we board the train for Lopburi...but there's not enough seats so we had to stand in the area between train cars (in the doorway) for a long time. But at least we had some nice breeze and interesting scenery.

Lopburi was hilarious. We went there because it's a town overrun by monkeys. Here is an excerpt from Lonely Planet: Thailand on Lopburi:

Monkey Trouble
More than any other city in Thailand, Lopburi is a city besieged by monkeys. The city's original troop of monkeys (actually a type of macaque) inhabits the San Phra Khan (Kala Shrine) during the day and then crosses the street in the evening to roost in the halls of Prang Sam Yot. At some time in the past, the band split into two factions. The splinter troop, lead by a half-blind dominant male, gave up the sanctity of the shrine for the temptations of the city. These renegades can be seen making nuisances of themselves by swinging from shop fronts and smearing excrement on the windshields of parked cars. Many human residents of the old city have been forced to attach special monkey foils to their television antennas, lest simian antics spoil TV reception. Some locals even swear that the city-dwelling monkeys have been known to board trains for other provinces, returning to Lopburi once their wanderlust is spent.

How hilarious is that?? So on the way to the shrine where the monkeys apparently reside we stopped at a 7-Eleven (which are all over Asia, by the way) and we both got slurpees. When we got to the monkey place we still had our slurpees. We paid the lady at the entrance to the shrine/wat (ruins) and upon entering immediately saw a few monkeys. We get all excited. One approaches Joleen and stands right next to her. Joleen freaks out at me telling me to get a picture of it standing next to her. "It's so close!!!" The ticket lady also sold us a bag of peanuts to feed the monkeys. This is a bad idea. If any of you ever go there, do not buy the peanuts or bring anyting remotely edible into the area. Joleen says to bring a giant stick instead. Yeah, so we turn the corner and I about have a coronary. There were seriously scores of monkeys there. Little ones, fat-ass ones, you name it. It was great. At first. "Oh, let's feed them the peanuts!" Yeah, so then they began attacking us for our food. They would jump onto your leg and try to grab your stuff. There was a kid there with a slingshot whose job it was to slingshot the monkeys off of people. At one point I had one on my friggin' head while another was on my leg. It was a little frightening, especially since one was baring it's teeth at me when I tried to get it off. They kept trying to steal our slurpees, so we went back to the ticket booth and asked the lady there if we could keep our slurpees on the ticket counter. She said yes. 2 seconds after putting them up there a couple of monkeys run up and grab our slurpees and run away with them. So now there's 2 monkeys sitting around drinking slurpees. It was very funny...even though we lost our slurpees. Definitely worth it. See pic. We hung out with the monkeys a little longer until the monkeys started freaking us out. I was honeslty afraid they'd gang up on us and just take us down. We began avoiding eye contact with the monkeys. I ended up hurling my entire bag of peanuts on the ground (I needed to get rid of them before being attacked). One monkey grabbed the bang and took off with it, while a horde of other monkeys chased after him. Honestly, monkeys are scary. They're too smart for my good. I did get one monkey to grab peanuts out of my hand, though. That was cute. He was a nice monkey. We didn't stay long in Lopburi. Then we took a bus back to Bangkok. I got a picture of a monkey sitting on a car. They were all over the town.

Thus concludes the 'I Heart Thailand' series. I'll maybe add some random funny stories later, but the main gist is now layed down here. It was a nice trip. I enjoyed it. Thailand and Thais are awesome. Too bad I really can't say the same thing for Korea.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

One Night in Bangkok (and the world's your oyster)
Part 3 of the 'I Heart Thailand' Series

So, in Bangkok we stayed at the Montien Hotel. It was actually very nice. Nice room, and most importantly, a nice and normal bathroom. The most normal bathroom I've been in since arriving in Korea. Actually, the bathroom at the Pearl Hotel wasn't bad, either. The hotel had fancy doormen wearing funny outfits and big hats who'd do little dances while opening the door for you. It was a pretty good location as well, as it was right across the street from Patpong street (the red light district). Not that we were looking for whores, but each night the street turned into a giant market of goods (mostly of a non-sexual nature). I didn't buy much, though. I bought a few pairs of fisherman pants--which are so confusing to put on that Joleen and I labeled them puzzle pants. Honestly, I think we spend hours trying to put them on correctly. Sad, but true. I also bought some pirated dvds. These are the ones I bought: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the new Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly, Brokeback Mountain, The Skeleton Key, Dodgeball, Anchorman, Elizabethtown, Kingdom of Heaven, Madagascar, Narnia, and Napolean Dynamite. Each cost 100 baht, which is about $2.50. Upon viewing at home, the quality of them all was good, but Elizabethtown and Harry Potter was a little sub-par. Also, the end of Elizabethtown and Dodgeball don't work, so that was annoying. You get what you pay for, I guess. And the ending to Pride and Prejudice was a little different than the theatrical version, according to my sister. I guess it was just missing a small scene or something. All in all, not too bad. Joleen also bought 50 First Dates.

The first afternoon we were in Bangkok we went to this ginormous market called Chatuchak Market. It was honestly huge. We got lost wandering in it. A lot of the stuff was just western style clothes and stuff. But they had about everything. There's a crap load of purse and shoe 'stores'. And lots of the shoes were worn. No thanks. They had pets for sale too, and there was a dog that was the tiniest dog I've ever seen in my life. It was so friggin' cute. It was smaller than Wicket and it looked like a tiny doberman. Crazy. And we saw some albino hedgehogs and these weird animals that looked a little like small squirrels but with tails that were a little less bushy. They were actually pretty cute. Joleen was on a mission to find peppercorns for Sunny since apparently Thailand has the best peppercorns. We never found any, though. We could't figure out where Thais bought their food since we never saw a grocery store or a market that sold unprepared food. It was weird.

While also in Bangkok we took a tourist ferry down the Chao Phraya river to a market that wasn't there and to Khao San Road...which is a road famous for backpackers/smelly hippies. There are tuk tuk drivers all over the friggin' place and they are very aggresive in trying to drive you around. "Tuk tuk!!!!!!" No. We then went to Wat (temple) Pho. It was very golden. It was also super hot that day. I don't know what else to say about Wat Pho other than it was golden and had Buddhas. Oh, it had a giant reclining Buddha that was kinda cool. And it was giant, let me tell you. Then we went to the Royal Palace next door. It was also very golden and had Buddhas. Neither one of us were wearing long pants and Joleen was wearing a tank top so we had to rent a skirt and Joleen a shirt. Again, not much to say about it. There were a crap-load of Koreans there. You could tell they were Korean from a mile away. They gather in giant groups and the women all have these giant umbrellas to shield them from the sun. And they often wear matching hats and shirts. And you can hear them say their "imnidas, seyos, sumnidas" etc. They are loud and kind of obnoxious. Americans and westerners in general seem much better mannered than Koreans (possibly Asians in general, I don't know). I've been told Asians can be "rude" and pushy because they're used to living in crowded cities and need to be, but it's still annoying. We also went to China Town which really kind sucked. You see one China Town, you've seen them all.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Kanchanaburi...guajira Kanchanaburi...
Part two of the 'I Heart Thailand' series
To be read after part one (scroll down) for those of you who may be a bit dense

So we stayed at a place called Sam's River Raft House in Kanchanburi. It took a couple tries to get to the right guesthouse (our taxi/sawngthaew driver was a moron). We got there really late, like midnight. It was a pretty spartan room, but it was kinda cool that it was on a raft on the River Kwai. The walls looked thatched. We had hot water and a normal flush toilet, which was a plus. However, replacing the geckos as our living companions were cockroaches. Ew. Mind you, we didn't see them too often...but heard them a plenty skittering around in the walls at night. It made it kinda difficualt to fall asleep since our beds were flush up against the walls. At night and in the morning when you'd open the bathroom door you'd usually see a cockroach skitter out of sight. Joleen had to flush one down a hole in the floor with the shower nozzle. Oh well, I've seen my share working in Chadbourne. It was also a bit hard to sleep at night because of the floating karaoke boats that drift down the river blasting horrid music being sung by horrid tone deaf Asians.

So the next day we had a big private tour lined up (just Joleen and I and a tour guide and a driver). First up we went to Erawan National Park, which has a 7-tiered waterfall. So we hiked up that, which I think was about 2 miles. It wasn't too bad, but I was wearing flip flops (jandals) so by the end I had nasty blisters on my toes. It was pretty. And afterwards we had some awesome food. It was great, man. oh, we saw monkeys on the hike which, at the time, we were thrilled about. Little did we know that in not too much time we'd be attacked by a gang of monkeys. But I get ahead of myself.

Next up on the tour we went to an Elephant Camp to ride some elephants. We rode a big 'ol elephant with apparently one tusk (which we didn't realize until looking at the pictures later). It was nothing like riding a horse, but it smelled like a horse. Elephants are cool. We rode through this poverty-stricken village. It was both interesting and awkward. They had a baby elephant there that was doing tricks for us. Then they had it kiss me, which meant it shoving it's trunk on my eye socket and attempting to suction my eye out. It was really stinky. But at least I can say I got kissed by an elephant. For what that's worth. We also got our picture taken (for 20 baht) with a 76 year old elephant. He was old.

Then we went on a bamboo raft ride down a river. It was this giant bamboo raft that only 4 people were on. Kinda funny. This wasn't too exciting, but the whole bamboo raft thing was kinda cool and it was relaxing. I guess all the raft operators were Burmese refugees. I don't know if the Burmese are bamboo raft experts or what. After the raft ride we found out that the car we were being driven around in was in a car accident while we were rafting (not surprising if you see the drivers here). So we had to tag along with this other random group for the remainder of the trip. Slightly awkward.

After the bamboo raft ride we went to the Death Railway. This is a railway that was built during WWII. The Japanese made all their POWs build the track. A lot of people died because it was on a cliff, etc. It should have taken like 5 years to build, but the Japanese forced them to finish it in 16 months. Then we rode in an old-ass train down the Death Railway. When you think about it, who would want to ride in a train on a railway called the Death Railway? Yoinks. We then visited the bridge over the River Kwai. Which was a bridge. And it has a movie named after it. It was funny because there were no side rails and you could totally just fall off of it into the river, especially since it was pretty crowded at times. But we didn't. That was the end of that tour. Then we went back to the raft house and ate a really nice dinner at another guest house (Apple's Guest House). We ate breakfast there the next morning as well since they apparently have the best banana pancakes in Thailand. They were good. Then we took a bus back to Bangkok. It was funny because on the bus they were showing Thai music videos. Every single one of the videos was really sad and depressing. One girl committed suicide, one girl was dumped then run over by a car, one girl's boyfriend was killed by shrapnel, etc. Man, and Thais seem like such happy people...

I've included this next picture of a sign we saw in Kanchanaburi just for Liz, as I thought she'd appreciate it. I enjoyed it, anyway.

I Heart Thailand
Part One

Without further ado, I bring to you some text with accompanying pictures that, as a whole, will hopefully narrate a few of the trials and tribulations, adventures and misadventures, and love and heartbreak that Joleen and I experienced during our sojourn in the tantalizingly beautiful and mysterious country formerly known as Siam: Thailand. I won't go into excuciating detail here, as it would then take me 20,000 hours and 20,000 pages to type. After writing the main stuff I'll try to add funny/random stuff that happened at a later time. Anyway, onward...

We took an amazingly large number of different modes of transportation throughout our trip. To get to our bungalow on Phi Phi, for example, we had to endure: 1) A taxi from my apartment to the bus station. 2) A 2.5 hour bus ride from Pyeongtaek to the Incheon (Seoul) airport. 3) A 6 hour airplane flight from Seoul to Bangkok. 4) Another 1.5 hour flight from Bangkok to Phuket. 5) A mini-bus from the Phuket airport to our first hotel (in which we stayed 1 night). 6) a mini-bus from our hotel to the Phuket Pier. 7) A ferry from Phuket to Ton Sai Bay on Phi Phi Don. 8) A longtail boat from Ton Sai to Ao Toh Ko (the beach where our bungalow was located on Phi Phi). Wow; impressive, eh? Other modes of transportation utilized throughout the trip: tuk tuk, regular city bus, subway, train, sky train, songthaw, sidecar of a motorcycle, and an SUV.

The first leg of our journey began by spending an evening and night with Sunny's grandma, cousin (high school girl), and uncle. It was quite possibly one of the most awkward days of both my and Joleen's lives. We had gone into the whole ordeal with the understanding that the cousin spoke some English. This was really not the case. She knew very minimal English and rarely spoke. The grandma was among the group of people who believe that the louder you speak the more likely someone is to understand a foreign language. The uncle was not home 3/4 of the time. The whole afternoon--honestly, about 8 hours--was spent watching tv in silence. Anyway, much more occurred that was funny/confusing, but I'll cut it short for now to get to our actual vacation. But I have included a picture here of Joleen with Grandma Sunny and The Cousin, Mi Ae. Fyi, old Korean ladies are kinda scary.

Anyway, let's cut to the chase...or get to the meat of the story, if you will. So on January 29th (Sunday) we flew out of Seoul and into Bangkok. It took approximately 9 hours to get through customs. Seriously. There was this big group of Russians in front of us that annoyed the ever-lovin' shit out of us and all took a bazillion years to get through the line. God. But right from there we got on another flight to Phuket (an island in southern Thailand). It took quite a bit of time to get to our hotel for various reasons. Our hotel was not bad. It was called The Pearl. I would stay there again. Not only did we have a Bible placed by the Gideons in our room, but we also had a book on Buddhism. Nice. So we wandered around Phuket Town a while (no beaches in Phuket Town) and ate some Pad Thai noodles. Scrumptious.

The next morning we went via ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don, the island that we'd be staying at for the next 4 nights. The ferry dropped us off at Ao Ton Sai, a beach on Phi Phi that was not the beach we were staying at. This beach was hit really hard by The Tsunami. It didn't look too bad, though...aside from some construction going on. Then again, we didn't have anything to compare it to. Joleen got her picture taken with an interesting Thai guy. See included picture. The water was unbelievably gorgeous and blue. After much confusion on Ao Ton Sai regarding who the hell was supposed to pick us up and take us to our beach (Ao Toh Ko) we finally boarded a longtail boat and then arrived in about 1/2 hour's time to our beach bungalow paradise. I will include various pictures. Look and be envious.

The food there was awesome. And super cheap. And our bungalow had 2 hammocks on the porch. That was awesome. The bathroom was kinda nasty, but not like we were spending a lot of time in there. There was no hot water and you had to flush the toilet by pouring a bucket of water into the main bowl area, thus forcing the "goods" down the pipes. Joleen has just dubbed it a high-tech outhouse. We also only had electricity during the nighttime hours. Our bed had sweet-ass mosquito netting around it. It's primary purpose, however, was not to ward off mosquitos (as there weren't many inside) but to protect us from gecko feces from the multitude of geckos hanging out on our ceiling. Slightly creepy at first, but soon became our cherished bungalow companions.

Our time at the Ao Toh Ko beach bungalow consisted of lazing around the beach and burning ourselves to a crisp within the first hour of arrival and snorkeling. We took a couple snorkeling outings to nearby islands--Bamboo Island and Phi Phi Lei (the shooting location for The Beach). The best snorkeling was actually at the beach we were staying at. I was a little disappointed that I didn't see a shark, although if I had seen one while snorkeling I may have shat my swimsuit. I did see a jellyfish at one point...we were actually close to jumping off the boat right onto it. That would not have been good. I hate jellyfish. They freak me out. I think it's a borderline phobia (along with squid and especially octopus). But we saw some cool coral, fish, anenomies, a crap load of sea urchins, and a bunch of what appeared to be eels hanging out on the sea floor (we were in the Andaman Sea). I don't have any pictures from snorkeling as we haven't developed the underwater camera yet, but when I do I'll put em' up. We took a hike up to a viewpoint one morning where we had a good view of Ao Ton Sai and the opposing beach (all of which got wiped out by The Tsunami). It was really pretty. We also had a couple dolphin sightings which were pretty exciting. Not up close and personal or anything, but we could see them jumping out of the water. After our stay on Ao Toh Ko we headed back to Phuket where we boarded a flight to Bangkok then immediately caught a bus to Kanchanaburi (to the west of Bangkok, not too far form the Myanmar border). I'll continue with this travelogue at a later date as Joleen is making dinner and I should help. And it's getting long. So adieu for now, mis amigos.