Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring! ...Sort of...

The school calendar says spring. The solar calendar says spring.  Yet it does note quite feel like spring yet here in Seoul.  However, to be fair, the yellow dust has been blowing in (now with radioactivity!), and that is the REAL indicator of Korean spring.

As I've said before, the Korean school year starts in spring, so on the second of March I was back at school, ready to spend two weeks discussing the finer points of introducing yourself to people and asking where they are from. I know it is new kids in each grade, but it just always feels like everyone has regressed back to the beginning of speaking English when we come back from spring break. These classes are more of a challenge for me because the kids are so high level that they look at me like I'm an idiot when I say "Ok, repeat after me: HOW ARE YOU?"

Co-teachers also change in March, which was a MAJOR source of concern and consternation for me last year, but went much more smoothly this year.  I teach all third grade classes (except for one) and all of sixth grade with a sweet, quiet new teacher named Ji In. She is right out of university. The other third grade class and all of fourth grade are taught with Hae Jung, one of Carin's old co-teachers who I worked with at summer and winter camp at Cheondong. Her English is awesome, so that helps everything go more smoothly. We are working on classroom management...let's leave it at that. Half of the fifth grade is taught with Yeon Ah from last year, and the other half is taught with Ju Yeon, who was one of the other subject teachers when I first arrived here in 2009, so we shared an office for a semester. Things have been going pretty smoothly thus far. I have all the lesson materials from last year, so I'm able to only make minor changes and be all ready to go. That is pretty damn sweet, haha. I thought I did little work before (compared to teaching in the US) and now I'm totally spoiled. Things are also easier because the kids all know me, they aren't afraid of me anymore, they understand how my classroom runs, etc. That frees me up to have more fun with the lessons and give them more authentic experiences, so that makes me happy.

As for the school administration, we got a new vice principal, and that has been...interesting. I am slightly concerned he is a sociopath, but whatever. Before he came everyone was all atwitter because he had a reputation for being really strict and kind of a hard-ass.  However, when he arrived he smiled a lot, could actually speak a little English (his daughter goes to Drexel in Philly), and seemed okay to me.  Turns out that is just because I don't speak Korean. While his face remained cheerful and nothing changed in his tone of voice or body language, he would get super snappy at teachers and make all sorts of crazy rules. Decree #1: All teachers should be smiling all the time when he sees them in the hallway.  Decree #2: No laughing in the teachers' cafeteria; it's rude. Decree #3: Teachers may only sit at the lunch table with him and the principal when invited (keeping in mind that forces the 20 teachers to cram around the only two remaining tables.  He's just a little nuts and the atmosphere in the room changes the moment he enters, so that sucks. Obviously I wasn't doing a whole lot of talking and uproarious laughing during lunch before, but I know it stresses my co-teachers out when he's around so that sucks. The principal is this quiet little lady and she won't tell him to cool his jets, so he's on a big power trip I think.

Outside of school things have been going well also. I got my free iPad (finally!) this month. I won it in a raffle over at Buzz-Korea, and I am a little (read: totally) in love with it. And Angry Birds. You should pop over onto the Buzz-Korea site, because they have lots of raffles and competitions going, and now you know they are good for it! In general, I've been a busy little social butterfly. How is it that so many of my friends who teach here had birthdays in the last couple of weeks? March 12 we went out to celebrate Dana's birthday with a trip to an amazing (and expensive on the weekends!) buffet called Seven Springs in Yeoksam, before retiring to the Tree Hof in Gangnam to partake in some cocktail soju and birthday cake.

Cakes galore!

Julia, Chrissy and Diana are excited to celebrate! 

Representin' Merlind.

Crazy northerners.
Soju cocktail cheers!

March 17 was St. Patrick's Day and a group of us, including a handful of our co-teachers, headed down to the Dublin Terrace Pub in Gangnam for some celebration. While the atmosphere was beautiful and really did remind me of pubs in western Ireland and the food was to DIE FOR (go right now and eat some Guinness stew, it's amazing), it was extremely expensive (a pint of Guinness for $12?!) and there was NO GREEN BEER which is basically blasphemy. I felt especially bad since that was one of the draws for my co-teachers.  Carin and I thought we had outsmarted the system by brining our own food coloring.  Alas, it was ridic Korean food coloring that was gel instead of liquid and just floated around in foul tasting little balls of green rather than dying anything. Sad day. We also had to pressure them into putting Irish music on, so that was weird.

If only your insides were as festive as your outsides.

Carin with the headband SHE STOLE FROM ME.


Dave's like a life size leprechaun...who likes to drink June Bugs.


March 18 was Diana D's birthday celebration, and a fun time was had by all. It turned into a fun girls night as Sarah, Diana, Chrissy, Shannon, Amanda, Julia, Lee-Rae and I met up to have a tasty Italian dinner near Konguk University.  Then we spent some time at a very cool decorate-your-own-cake cafe near in that area. You buy a cake, choose an icing in a piping bag, choose decorations, and go to town. Crazy Diana chose banana icing for the chocolate cake, but I forgave her eventually. It was fun to fancy up our own cake for the evening.  After we were kicked out (they were closing) we popped into a photo sticker booth so Diana could commemorate the night. The pictures are hilarious, as per usual. Future reference, 8 people is TOO MANY for a photo booth, haha.  A few streets down from the photo place there was a bar (one of a chain) called Ireland Yuki where they put on a hilarious birthday show for Diana, including a "bartending" show (where the guy dropped the cups twice), a mini fire show (where his first try breathing fire didn't light so he just spit alcohol all over the table), and a personal serenade by a bartender. She was also given a free shot and a bowl of birthday seaweed soup. Hilarious. We chowed down on some cake and threw back some cocktails before heading down to Apgujeong and partying it up at the always entertaining Monkey Beach.  I fled before everyone else because it became claustrophobic and over-packed, but it was a great time.  Love me some tequila sunrise buckets! I also saw the fire show for the first time and that was way cool.

Cake decorating cafe.

The cake (with Happy Birthday written in Korean) and our decorating supplies.

Ready to deck the cake!

Diana is a professional icing applier. Julia is impressed.

Amanda making the "coffee" look perfect.


We couldn't let that icing go to WASTE!

When Chrissy got married she converted to Islam and the other day we were talking about her future pilgrimage to Mecca. Turns out she never has to leave Seoul.  Check!

Bartending show in Ireland Yuki.


Nothing says "I'm glad you were born!" quite like seaweed soup, am I right?

This was BEFORE drinking, haha.

Fire show! Mesmerizing.

Love these ladies. 
Shannon, Chrissy, Diana, Amanda.

Posing with the birthday girl.

Please note that Shannon is becoming ever more Korean. Latest addition: glassless frames.
Julia and Shannon

More posing with the birthday girl!
Lee-Rae and Diana

Since Thursday was a let down for St. Patrick's Day, we were all thankful that we had already been planning to celebrate on March 20 as well! Diana, Carin and I started the day by going to see Beastly, which was PAINFULLY terrible. So so bad. Thank god it was only the three of us and one Korean couple in the theater, because we did a ridiculous amount of laughing and poking fun. After the movie we met up with Josephine and Julia and checked out the Irish Festival in Insadong. It was nice (and we got balloons), but after a bit we decided to head over to Itaewon.  (This turned out to be a good plan, because although the temperature was beautiful, it was a bad day for yellow dust and by the time I got home that night my throat was hurting and I had a stuffy nose already.) On the way to the subway station we randomly bumped into Amanda and Tom, who joined our motley crew. When we got to Itaewon everyone was hungry so we hit up Kraze Burger, a very popular restaurant chain here. Chrissy met us at Kraze, and then our whole group migrated over to the Wolfhound Pub.  We got there at 4pm and got the last table. Things only got busier and crazier as the night went on! Copious amounts of green beer, a plethora of green and white balloons, entertaining people watching, and fantastic food (those onion rings are now a feature in my dreams...) more than made up for the disappointing actual St. Patrick's Day.  Lesson learned! Stick with the Wolfhound. They treated us well last year, and again this year.

 St. Patrick's Day windows.

Classroom decorations a la Karen Shanahan.

We stood in line FOREVER to get these balloons. The men tasked with inflating them and handing them out were totally inept.

Julia, Carin and I

Gotta rep the heritage!


And delicious! (Well, as delicious as cheap Korean beer can be...)

That giant pitcher holds 6 pints and it was only 15,000won!  I just noticed that this is also the trifecta of cheap Korean beer: Hite, Cass and Max.

One side of the table.
Chrissy, Julia, Carin, Josephine

And the other side.
Amanda, Tom, Me, Diana

Pouring for friends.
Jamie, Julia, Carin

Group photo!
Amanda, Tom, Me, Chrissy, Diana, Shannon, Jamie, Julia, Carin, Josephine

March 20 was spent recovering, haha. I was not meant to go out every night. I just don't have it in me...or my bank account.

This past Wednesday I met up with some friends of my first cousin twice removed (I think that's right), Shirley. My grandmother was an only child, and grew up very close to her cousins Shirley, Marian, and Jane. Shirley is awesome, she's always been a unique, interesting feature in our family. Right after college she moved to Egypt and taught for two years, which was obviously a HUGE DEAL in my grandmother's time. We've always been kind of similar and before I left she gave me her memoirs of her time in Egypt. It was so fascinating, and that was definitely part of the reason I started keeping a blog. Shirley lives in Connecticut, and she had made friends with a couple who was from Korea and working in the States. They moved back to Seoul recently and Shirley gave them my info so we could get in contact. Caroline Lee got in touch with me and we decided to meet up for dinner with her, her husband, and a Isaac Durst, a local TV personality whose brother was a friend of the Lees. We met up at VIPS in Wangsimni and it was wonderful: good food, excellent conversation, and just an overall nice time. I was really glad that we got a chance to hook up, and I hope we get a chance to see each other again before I leave.

Saturday night we celebrated the birthday trifecta of Erich (March 21), Diana D. (March 22), and Jamie (February 14, but he was in a Cambodian hospital suffering from amoebic dysentery, so he got a re-do) with a night of fun. Dinner at Fry Pan with Carin and Caitlin was delicious, and then we were off to the Funky Dunky (true story) where we had drinks and met up with David, Chrissy, Diana, Josephine, Jamie and Shannon. After some quality imbibing we walked across the street to the luxury noraebang where we were joined by Julia, her prionce Derek,  Erich, and (briefly) Stephanie. We sang for three and a half much fun. So much alcohol. So many terrible renditions of songs. An excellent evening. And Cheonho is so close that we just walked home, which was really nice. Big fan of our new local flava.

Luxury noraebang. We had a balcony, too!

Erich, Carin and Derek singing (surprisingly well) in Korean. Well, surprising for the two that aren't Korean, I guess.

Birthday kids.  Happy birthday Erich, Diana and Jamie!

Ridiculous. Love it.

I will miss nights like this dearly.
Jamie, Shannon, Chrissy, Julia, Derek, Carin, Diana, Josephine, David, Erich and I

So my leaving, I suppose, is also something that has majorly changed since I last updated. I officially tendered my resignation on March 23, effective May 26.  Over the next two months I will be packing up my stuff (shipping a lot of it home) and then I'll be on a plane to DC on the morning of Friday, May 27.  This gives me two weeks to overcome jet-lag before Bruno and Daria's wedding in Boston on June 11 and Morgan and Lon's wedding on the Eastern Shore on June 18 (both of which I am absolutely thrilled to be home for.) May 27 is alarmingly close. There is so much to do before then that I am a little overwhelmed, but hopefully I'll find some way to get through it! My co-teachers knew I was leaving, but I was really concerned about how the (crazy, as previously mentioned) VP would take the news. Thankfully he was surprisingly chill...probably had something to do with me throwing the name "Harvard" out there.

Here is where the whole grad school thing stands...I was accepted at Harvard, Columbia, UPenn, George Washington, Pitt School of Education and Pitt School of International Affairs. I was rejected at MARYLAND. This still is so freaking bizarre to me. No wait list, just flat out rejected. Bill, a guy I went to Marywood with, shed a little light on the possible reason. "Schools often reject applicants who are unlikely to attend their program in order to protect their yield numbers, which in turn boosts their appearance of selectivity. If they admit you and you matriculate elsewhere, all they get out of it is a higher acceptance rate printed in USNEWS. You'd be surprised at how sophisticated admissions departments can be at predicting their yield numbers and managing the concomitant financial aid and enrollment numbers. Sort of like a nice girl who's been used by a good looking charlatan, they've been burned before. When they look at the sophistication of your app and GRE scores and such, they can likely say there is a less than X% chance you will attend based on the actions of similar applicants in previous cycles. It would totally suck if you truly wanted to go to Maryland and only Maryland; in this case, however, it seems like they probably got it right, no? For a school like Maryland, the highest compliment they can pay a top applicant is actually a yield protect rejection, not an offer of admissions. By the way, another thing they may or may not have done is gleaned your admission offers from other schools from your facebook status or grad school forums. I'm sure that would make it easier to confidently yield protect you."  SO, scratch that, Maryland didn't reject me, they yield protected me, haha. I am actually super appreciative, because I had this horrible fear that I'd get down to the end and be left with a great school I had to pay a lot for, or Maryland that would be almost free. I think it would break my heart to go to Maryland. It's not a bad school, it's just a bad school for me. I am super thankful it won't come down to that now. The only school I haven't heard from is NYU. I think that is just rude to not have sent out decisions yet, especially since there is a national agreement recognized by almost every school that says April 15 is the deadline to accept an offer and put down your non-refundable down payments. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter that much, because NYU is a two year program and housing alone would be over $21,000, so it is out of my price range.

Moral of the story, I am 98% sure that I will be matriculating at Harvard come fall. Crazy, right?  I think so. Financial aid at all the schools is taking their sweet ass time, so that is where the last 2% of waffling comes in. If Columbia offered me some sort of ridiculously generous financial aid I might be swayed, but my heart is kind of set on Boston/Cambridge now. I can't really begin to think of the logistics of moving back to the US, moving up to Massachusetts, paying for school, living like a pauper, etc because it is just a tad stressful, but I am very excited. 

I'm very much looking forward to being around for things I've missed in the past year: births, weddings, engagements. Speaking of engagements, my brother popped the question and asked Loran, his girlfriend of two years, to marry him when they were on vacation in Morocco. Antique ring with a pillow cut diamond, at sunset, on a sand dune in the one can say my brother ever does anything half assed. She (obviously) said yes, so that is very exciting. The craziest part for me is the fact that I've never met her in person, only via video chat, because I've been in Korea the entire time they were dating. Insanity! I can't wait to be back in the loop in my loved ones lives. Because my brother isn't a girl, he hasn't done a satisfactory job of sharing 10000 pictures of the ring, or cluing me in on other important details, but I'll let that slide. For now.

My brother, Mike, standing on the dune where he would later propose.

My future sister-in-law, Loran, in the Sahara.

Sooooo, yeah. That is pretty much what has been going on in my life. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Welcome to Native Speaker HELL!

The folks over at The Waygook Effect pulled together a HILARIOUS entry about the 10 Worst Dialogues from the Elementary School English Curriculum and I just had to share it with everyone. SO good, and so funny. Thankfully we got brand new books (and accompanying CDs) this year so we bid adieu to these gems.

Check it out.

I love their fifth pick so much that I have to repost it separately.  I laugh uncontrollably every time Peter utters the words "Whaaaat a BEAUTIFUL DAY!"  I want it as a ringtone on my phone.


Vacation: Indonesia!

Upon arriving in Bali we deplaned, grabbed our bags, stood in the slowest immigration line in history, and headed out to the arrivals area where a driver and van from Prima Cottages was waiting for us. Our first stop in Bali was Sanur, which is the area I was (by far) most excited about.  I did a hell of a lot of research for this trip, and I knew almost immediately that Sanur was the place I wanted to be.  On the southeastern coast of the island of Bali, Sanur is a quieter area, with clean beaches that are protected by reefs to there are only very small waves. It is an area where lots of older expats come and settle down thanks to the chill feeling of the town and the tons of delicious and cheap restaurants. Laura was adamant that we stay at a beach with surfing (specifically Kuta) at least part of the time, but I was able to talk everyone into spending four nights in Sanur and two nights in Kuta (thank GOD....more on that later).

We arrived at our hotel and were taken to our rooms.  Lee-Rae and I paid a little more to get an air conditioned room, while Laura and Diana opted to sleep in a fan-cooled room. I was happy with my choice. The room was clean and cool and the beds were comfy...I can't ask for much more. Our room was just steps from the restaurant and pool area, which was lovely (except for when the parrots woke me up in the morning begging for fruit).  After settling in we walked down to the beach (about a 15 minute walk) and had some frilly drinks as the sun set.  It was great.  We got fantastic local food for dinner on the way back to the hotel and finished the evening with a dip in the pool with the stars shining above.  Great start to our Indonesian adventure!
Entrance to Prima Cottages. That cage on the left houses two disarmingly cute palm civets.

Look at that face! Look at those gigantic eyes!  And the little nom nom mouth! And the BUTT NOSE!  I wanted to steal them and squeeze them.

Fun foliage around the hotel.

Pool view as we breakfasted.

Looking up from one of the deck chairs around the pool where I lounged about.

Little tiki huts where we had drinks on the beach.

Evening on the beach at low tide.

Sun setting behind some traditional gates.

Tuesday morning dawned sunny and hot, so after eating the delicious breakfast that was included with our stay we headed over to the beach.  The morning was spent bobbing about in the calm water, working on our tans.  The only downside to the beach is the fact that there are lots of people trying to sell you stuff (from sarongs to pedicures) and they do NOT quit.  I totally get that this is a part of a poor, tourism based area, but  it is still massively annoying.  Diana partook in a massage and pedicure while the rest of us hit the water. I could have floated there all day, no lie. Eventually we headed back to the hotel, took showers, went out to eat, swam in the pool, and generally vegetated. With a liberal sprinkling of frou frou drinks. Just what I was looking for in a beach vacation.

Laura with the ridiculously large "coco head" drink she ordered at dinner one night.

Wednesday was a little overcast in the morning, but I still got in some quality swimming and reading on the beach before partaking in another one of Sanur's awesome restaurants for lunch.  We ate every meal at a different restaurant and they were all FANTASTIC.  So cheap for such good food. I wanted to take all the restaurants home with me.  That afternoon Laura, Lee-Rae and I headed out for an afternoon shopping tour through some local art villages. I should make it clear that we didn't know it was just a shopping tour before we left, but it was still interesting so I'm not complaining.  Villages (this term is loosely used since they are not exactly what you think of as individual villages as they basically seamlessly run into each other along the main roads. The three of us got a driver for the afternoon and he took us out to various artisan shops as it poured rain.  We saw batik, paintings, silver jewelry, wood carvings, and stone carvings being made and bought very little because we are all poor.  Man what I couldn't do to a house if I had unlimited money! We also stopped by a pretty rice field and a local temple.

Beautiful flowers along the road in Sanur.

Ahhh, relaxation. 
(Different beach, different Kindle, same love as last year.)

Artisan working on her batik.  A white cloth is decorated with wax and then dyed. When the wax is removed the space beneath it is still white. This can be done in layers to get different colors.

Applying the wax.

One of the many stunning end results.

Stone carver's handiwork.


Traditional Indonesian style painting in progress.

Buildings in the painter compound. Artists come to live and work together here. 

Wood carver showing off his work on a piece of "crocodile tree," so named because of its crazy bumpy surface.

I love rice fields.

Multi-tiered village temple on the way home.

Awesome carving at the temple. This is what I imagine when I read about the old kings of Narnia.

Thursday we decided to take advantage of a snorkeling/glass bottom boat/turtle island visit that we had picked up brochures about.  The day started a bit stressful when we arrived and they had no power so we weren't able to pay with credit/debit cards, a kind of necessary thing for Laura and I.  Thankfully Diana was able to cover us and we were off. We headed out into the overcast skies on our small boat that had a little window on the bottom so we could play fish voyeur.  It was decent, though I think the glass bottom boat ride in the Bahamas (not-so-fondly remembered by my very seasick mother) blew it out of the water. Figuratively, of course. After a bit of fish and reef watching we headed over to the turtle island.  Since I returned home I've  read a ton of terrible reviews about this place, but overall I didn't leave too aghast.  I mean, sure, it would piss of PETA.  However it is not nearly as heart wrenching as the zoo in Ho Chi Minh City or, even worse, the bear park at the Great Wall.  We had a hilarious guide, an Indonesian 29-year-old with the most ridiculous Crocodile Dundee Australian accent I've ever heard.  He was crass, but funny, and never pressured us for any money.  We started with the big turtles, which are rotated in and out of the wild every six months, according to our guide. There were a few different species and we got to pick up the medium sized ones and pose with them.  Then we looked around at the teen and baby turtles.  We weren't allowed to hold any of them for their protection, but the thought of sticking a baby sea turtle in my pocket did cross my mind. Then there was a small zoo area that I found to be much more depressing than the turtle area: a sad little monkey, a flying fox, a hornbill, a sea hawk, a free-roaming iguana, and a boa constrictor with its mouth scotch taped shut.  The snake was definitely the worst.  After seeing the animals we sat and drank some fresh young coconuts with our tour guide before boarding the boat and heading back to Nusa Dua. If you recall, I said there were three components to our trip: glass bottom boat (check), turtle island (check) and snorkeling.  When we found ourselves back at the place where the boats leave, we were very confused. After a lengthly (at times heated) discussion, it was determined that there was a miscommunication and the man taking the phone message the day before had thought we just wanted the boat and turtles, not the snorkeling.  Thankfully we worked that out and we were off on a different boat about 20 minutes later.  The snorkeling itself was alright (water was a little murky, but you got bread to feed the fish so they swam right over to you, which was cool) but the whole jumping out of and hoisting yourself back onto the boat in the middle of the water thing was embarrassing and stressful, so I'd be okay never doing that again. 

Boats all ready to head out on a cloudy day.

Glass bottom boat.

Out and about on the sea!

Turtle Park entrance. No, those are not real turtles.

Yes, that is a real turtle.

Strike a pose! So beautiful.

Sea turtles for everyone.
(Me, Lee-Rae, Laura, Diana)

Tween turtle swimmin' around, one arm chicken winged back.

Sad little monkey.

This is how I organize my baby sea turtles at home!

Love the colors. They are like little iPod commercials.

Flying foxes also have butt noses!

Kings don't need advice from little hornbills for a start!

Hanging out on the boat ride back.

Thursday evening was spent packing up the rest of our stuff, eating some more fantastic food, and floating around in the hotel pool. I was really sad to leave Prima Cottage Friday morning, but we had a full day of adventure awaiting us.  Earlier in the week we had agreed to do a full-day tour with one of the drivers who hang out in downtown Sanur soliciting customers.  While many were pushy and annoying, we found one man who was very nice and seemed super knowledgeable.  His name was Made (mah-DAY) and he came and picked us up on Friday morning.  Since it took us a little longer than expected to load up all the luggage we sped off to the Jambe Budaya dance troupe's performance of a traditional Indonesian Barong dance. A Barong (mythical animal that looks alarmingly like Falcor from Neverending Story...) is the king of the spirits and the leader in the fight for good.  His enemy is Rangda, the demon queen (who, fyi, happens to look a lot like the abominable snowman).  The Barong dance/play represents the eternal fight between good and evil. The dance was fascinating and absolutely beautiful.  

With one of the beautiful dancers before the show.

Look out behind you! 

Good guy tied up to the tree waiting to be sacrificed.

Enter the Rangda.

Go, Barong, go!

Tell me he wasn't inspiration for Falcor.

The guys go into a kind of religious ecstasy during this part of the dance. It is nuts. They are all screaming and stabbing themselves. 

Posing with the dancers and the Barong costume.

After the show we drove much further north on the island, on our way to Mt. Batur volcano.  On the way we stopped at a coffee and spice garden.  We got to see how various spices and fruits grow before sitting down to do a taste test. They offered free tastes of five different drinks, and then you could pay more to taste Kopi Luwak. Currently, Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world.  Why? Because of how it is made. Palm civets (whose pure adorableness was shown never) walk around the forest and eat only the ripest coffee  berries.  When they digest them, the coffee bean is stripped of its fleshy outer protection, and then goes directly through the palm civet's digestive system.  They poop out full coffee beans that are then collected, cleaned, and roasted.  The coffee they produce is supposed to be much milder since the acid is reduced during the digestion process.  You're probably wondering if I tried cat poop coffee...OF COURSE. It tasted terrible...but then again I think all coffee tastes and smells terrible, so I am not the best judge.  I bought my brother some for his birthday, so he will definitely be forced to try it.

Cute little cafe in the rainforest.

Guide showing us the various stages of coffee roasting.

Variety of things grown on the plantation. 

Enjoying the fresh air and break from the van.

 Our samplers.  Starting at the top and going clockwise: Lemongrass Tea, Bali Cocoa, Bali Coffee, Ginseng Coffee, Ginger Tea.

Braving (cat poop) coffee.

Snakefruit.  The outside looks (surprise!) like a snake, and the inside looks like a garlic clove. It tastes like a mixture between a pineapple and regular apple. Crazytown.

Our next destination was a restaurant with an absolutely spectacular view of Mt. Batur volcano. The volcano, lake, and surrounding mountains were a stunning backdrop for a delicious buffet meal.  Too bad Diana got violently ill (not because of the buffet) and spent the rest of the afternoon nibbling an unripe guava (apparently a local cure for Bali Belly).  

 Mt. Batur and Lake Batur.

Enjoying our lovely lunch.

My favorite picture of me during the whole trip.

 Our next stop was at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces.  We didn't get out of the car lest we be swarmed with peddlers, but it was still beautiful from inside the van.  Tier upon tier of rice fields that were both naturally and architecturally beautiful.  Such brilliant colors...I love it.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces!

Very cool.

I suppose I'll take this opportunity to quickly talk about the religion in Bali.  It is one of the more relaxed, yet pious places I've ever been. Religion is a huge part of life in Bali and is integrated into everything people do.  The vast majority of people in Bali are Hindu (as opposed to greater Indonesia where Islam prevails).  Each family has a family temple on their land, and then each village has at least three temples built to honor the three Hindu gods: Brahma (the creator), Visnu (the protector) and Shiva (the destroyer).  Offerings are placed out in front of businesses, at temples, in cars, etc 2-3 times per day.  Just little banana leaf baskets with flowers and a little food in them, they are constant reminders to give thanks. Made was telling us that when you return home from work, you can't just go directly into your house or you will bring any negative energy you collected during the day into the home. It is essential that you take a few moments, relax, and let go of any negative energy you are bringing home with you.  I really like that idea.  Balinese culture is also very focused on supporting and helping each other, which is wonderful.  I think it must be so much easier to be religious when it presented as it is in Bali.  Really beautiful.  Each year they also have a holiday called Nyepi, which is a day of silence. Basically it is a day to cleanse yourself and become more at peace before beginning a new year.  Giant effigies of bad spirits are burned in the streets and negativity is released.  Very cool.

Family temple.  The little house straight ahead has three doors for the three gods.  The buildings on the left honor this family's ancestors.

Offering on the dashboard of one of the vans we rode in. 

Our last stop of the day was at Ubud Palace, downtown in Ubud. The palace had a lot of old, beautiful stone carvings, so that was nice.  Then it was time for Made and his brother to drop us off in Kuta where we would spend the next two nights.

So lush.

Gate to the palace.

Love the carvings.

Statue with her offering.

Laura, Lee-Rae, Diana and I with Made.  He is wonderful and if anyone ever goes to Bali let me know and I'll give you his contact info.

So then we were in Kuta.  Kuta, Kuta, Kuta. If I could have only three words to describe Kuta, it would be congested, dirty, and good old fashioned disgusting. Ugh, simply put, I hated Kuta. As soon as we stepped out of the van I missed the quiet streets of Sanur. We were dropped off at Mastapa Garden Hotel, where we had reservations for the next two nights.  Looks lovely, doesn't it? That's what we thought. WRONG. It was horrible from the get go.  First, they took us to two rooms in one building, one with a queen bed and one with twin beds.  We explained that no, this wasn't right, because we had reserved two twin rooms.  As the man is calling the front desk to sort it out (after telling us that absolutely no other rooms were available), Lee-Rae opened a door at the back of the room, which had us questioning why it had a lock on the inside.  It was the bathroom, and it was HALF OUTSIDE.  Now I like an outdoor shower like any other girl, but this was disgusting.  A crappy shower and broke-ass toilet sat in one corner, and one whole half of the bathroom was a dirt covered floor with only chicken wire above it.  Lee-Rae was aghast and told the man he needed to give us a bathroom that was INSIDE (he tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her that this bathroom WAS inside...terrible).  Magically, two twin rooms opened up for us in another building!  I heaved my luggage up two sets of stairs and we were met with totally gross rooms.  The bathroom looked like a murder scene, the beds were crappy and uncomfortable, and Lee-Rae's sheets had a huge, suspicious stain on them.  Perhaps urine, perhaps vomit. Either one was too much for us to handle. We ended up going out to get food and spending some time researching hotel options at a local internet cafe. Finally Lee-Rae and Laura just headed out on foot to try and find a nicer place to stay (this was not that big of a challenge since ANYWHERE had to be nicer).  Thankfully they found Aroma's of Bali (sic) who was not quite open yet and therefore gave us a great rate (only $10 more a night than the old crap hole).  It was brand new and super clean, so I was a happy camper. We had to share king sized beds, but it was SO WORTH IT.  We also got free, traditional, delicious breakfasts each morning and a welcome drink.  Bliss.

Hard to see in this photo, but the huge stain was under Lee-Rae's hand.

Bathroom.  Cue horror music.

Worse shower scene than Psycho.


Lee-Rae's sad face at Mastapa Garden.

Lee-Rae's happy face at lovely, new, clean Aroma's of Bali.

Look at that sparkle!

Living room in our suite.

Our suite's kitchen. Complete with heinous wallpaper.

Tasty mie goreng for breakfast!

Saturday morning dawned way too early if you ask me, and we were picked up to head over to the Anika Bali Cooking Class we had booked for the day. The cooking class was absolutely the thing I was most looking forward to, thanks to the amazing cooking class we attended in Laos that was one of the highlights of my trip.  In that sense, it was a bit of a let down.  This class was much larger (about 35 people vs. 12 at the last class) and rather than cooking everything yourselves with the help of a teacher, this was more of a demonstration class where each person cooked only part of one dish.  Not what I expected.  The market tour at the beginning was nice, though. Overall, I felt it was just way too expensive for what it was. They don't tell you that the 30% you save by booking online is almost completely obliterated by the 25% (!!!!) tax and service charge. As for the other participants, we were with a gigantic group of Australians who were there celebrating a friend's 50th birthday (and drinking the cooking class completely out of beer, haha).  There was also a group of mom's doing a weekend get away from Australia.  Parts of Australia are only two hours from Bali, and Sydney is only six hours by plane, so Indonesia is kind of like their Caribbean. The food we made was all fantastic, but I feel like I would be hard pressed to recreate a lot of it, even though I was given recipes, because I wasn't really a huge part of cooking it. Can't wait to cook Laotian food for friends and family when I get home!

Our guide/cooking teacher, Ben, at the traditional market.

Market offerings.

More produce for sale.

Fish market. Love this shot.

Offering baskets for sale.

Cooking class and guest house.

Not only is hibiscus tea good for "hemorrhoids and wounds" but also for "relaxing your uterus."  Thank god, mine was stressed.

Cooking class participants.

Our other teacher.

Ingredients for one of the flavorful pastes that are used on most Indonesian dishes.

Starting the smushing process.

Look at me pulverize those chilis!

Satay skewering.  This is a recipe I will ABSOLUTELY use.

Satay team #1.

Satay team #2.

My brief stint as an Indonesian chef. Making mie goreng.

Stop talking so we can eat!

The (delicious) spoils of all our hard work.

After all that food for lunch I couldn't be bothered to eat dinner, so I lounged about on the couch reading and watching part of a truly painful early 90s action movie that was being shown on TV. On Saturday we had to leave around 4:00pm to head to the airport, so I slept in a bit, ate a delicious breakfast provided by the hotel, and then headed down to check out the beach (read: verify its squalor) with Lee-Rae. Yup, it lived up to my expectations and confirmed that I never, ever, ever need to go to Kuta again. Sanur is lovely, but Kuta is a total shit hole. I didn't enjoy how cramped and dirty it felt, nor did I enjoy feeling like my life was in peril each time I walked down the (sidewalk-free) streets and had to dodge a bunch of idiot foreigners on motorbikes who had no discernible understanding of local traffic laws. Lunch at a local restaurant brought our vacation to an end and after only a slight spat about certain members of our group being late for our departure time, we were off to the airport.  

Breakfast on day two at Aroma's of Bali.

Streets of Kuta on the way to the beach.

In the beginning it looks harmless enough...

Then your eyes have a moment to focus on the filth.

This was the area designated for swimming. Looks welcoming, no?

Wide shots make it look a lot better.

How is that "Keep Bali Beach Clean" campaign working out?

Ah, piles of rubbish. That's...better?

View from our restaurant porch.

Surf and painting shops along the street to the beach.

About 15 hours of overnight traveling later, we arrived in Seoul. Then I got to take a two hour bus ride to my school where I was forced to come in (EVEN THOUGH IT WAS LABELED AS A HOLIDAY ON OUR SCHOOL CALENDARS). I was...thrilled. Thankfully I looked so exhausted and pitiful that they let me go home early, where I took a nap and allowed my suitcase to explode all over my apartment (where it may or may not remain to this day...insert shifty eyes). 

Pretty soon I'll pull together another blog entry about the past couple of weeks that will include: starting a new school year with new co-teachers and new vice principal, receiving exciting grad school information, celebrating everyone and their mom's birthdays in Seoul, and other exciting tidbits. Hopefully this has just whet your appetite!