Bulguksa (불국사)

Earlier this year, I worked in my company’s publishing department editing a Korean history book. While a lot of the information blended together because of the extensive detail and use of Korean names, I did learn a little about the Silla Kingdom and its grand history. Among many things, Silla is credited for creating the first unified Korea by conquering the two kingdoms of Baekje (백제) and Goguryeo (고구려). The Silla, an ancient kingdom of Korea, once called the city of Gyeongju its capital, which is partly the reason I wanted to visit.

IMG_1848 Outside the Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, Chris and I rented a scooter for 25,000 won for three hours. After we picked up a handy map of Gyeongju in English from the tourist center outside the bus terminal, we hopped on our scooter and hit the road.

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Not too long later, we arrived at our destination: a famous temple. Bulguksa (불국사) is the main site to see in Gyeongju. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the biggest temples in Korea. The structure standing today has gone through dozens of renovations, but it was incredible to think that Koreans were on this sacred land more than 1,400 years ago building this very temple.

We skipped seeing the Seokguram Grotto (석굴암) because the weather started to turn on us (check out my sweet rain poncho!). We hopped back on the scooter and headed out to see a sex museum; however, the steep admission of 10,000 won each scared us away.

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On our ride back to the bus terminal, I spotted a line of luxury cars parked casually in a coffee shop’s parking lot. We stopped to take a peak (and a handful of photos). To no surprise, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the view.

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Getting to Gyeongju: I took a 50-minute bus ride from Dongdaegu bus terminal. The cost is no more than 4,300 won ($5) each way.

To the students who made my year

My last day of teaching was bittersweet. I was excited for S.E. Asia trip coming up, but sad to leave my students, knowing that I’d likely never see them again. 

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Chan Ho is incredibly bright and even more kind.

One student, Chan Ho, was getting so excited to tell me something that he began to stutter. He couldn’t think of the English. Then finally he stops and says in a very serious tone, “Sarah Teacher, you are the Best English Teacher.” he pauses for dramatic effect, “Of..My…Life.” “Thank you, Chan Ho.”

Collecting your pension

One thing I did not mention in my first two posts about applying for a job in Korea is that my job includes a pension plan. The pension is on top of the salary, severance pay, round-trip airfare, health insurance and furnished apartment. Not bad, eh?

The pension is called a lump-sum pension refund. If you qualify, a small amount of money is taken out of your paycheck each month and matched by your employer. Unfortunately, my British and Kiwi coworkers pay into the pension yet do not qualify to receive the pension at the end of their contracts, yet Americans and Canadians can expect to receive their lump-sum pension refund four to five weeks after ending their contract.

 

That is what 9 million won looks like in 50,000 won notes. Not too shabby.
That is what 9 million won looks like in 50,000 won notes. Not too shabby.

My pension is meant to be around 1.6 million won (or $1,550)** after working in Korea for 12 months. For me, the best part about this money is that it was an added “savings” account for me. While in Korea I was able to save about 59% of my paycheck, this is added savings that I did not have to account for.

Collecting your lump-sum pension refund in Daegu is easy. The woman in the office in Daegu speaks English. Some male foreign teachers have tried to snag her number; she is good looking, too. I recommend visiting the office four weeks before you fly out of Korea to give you time in case you’re missing documents.

It is an easy trip to the National Pension Service Office.

Be sure to bring:

  • Passport (original)
  • Alien Registration Card
  • Flight ticket (should be within one month of departure date)
  • If you want your money transferred into your KEB account, bring your KEB bank account passbook
  • If you want the money transferred into your home country’s bank account, bring the following information: bank’s address, phone number, account number, routing number, and a copy of a bank statement.

Where’s the National Pension office in Daegu? 
Beomeo Station (범어역), on the green line. The LIG building is between exit 1 and 4. It is a huge building, you cannot miss it.  The office is on the 11th floor.
If you want to be lazy and take a taxi (you are about to get 1.5 million won, so you can afford to splurge) Tell the taxi: 범어역 출구 1번으로 가주세요 – (Boh-Moh-Yuck-Chool-Goo-Eel-Bohn-Euh-Roh-Gah-Choo-Say-Yoh)

Phone: (053) 750-9180
Address: 11th Floor, LIG Bldg., 712 Dalgubeol-daero, Suseong-gu, Daegu

 

** UPDATE: In Mid-November 2015, $1,900 USD was deposited into my Bank of America account.

Theme Motel in Tongyeong (통영)

Tongyeong (통영) is where you take the ferry to Bijindo. I knew I wanted to stay near the Gangguan harbor (강구안) to visit the Jungang Live Fish Market (중앙활어시장) and to be near the Tongyeong passenger ferry terminal (여객선 터미널) to catch an early morning ferry to Bijindo (비진도).

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Now, I have to admit I have stayed in some not-so-nice hotels and even worse hostels. However, as far as love motels go, they’re the crème de la crème of accommodations in Korea. Deemed “love” motels because of their hourly rate options and the small package of goodies you receive when you check in. The small, often zip-locked, bag typically contains two deposable toothbrushes, a comb, condoms and maybe some type of sample cosmetic. One thing these motels are not is bug-infested or anything scary. They’re usually much cleaner and “nicer” than hostels I have stayed in around the world.

On Friday, September 19, I arrived in Gangguan harbor (강구안) a few hours before Chris’s bus was meant to arrive in Tongyeong Bus Terminal, so it was my job to find accommodation. The tricky thing about love motels is that many of theme do not have any web presence in English making it near impossible to book in advance.

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The neon sign of the Theme Motel caught my eye and I had time to kill, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check it out first. The building looked exactly like the hundreds of apartment buildings in my town with packing spots below and a nice marble-like entryway. I was greeted by a sweet-tempered older Korean woman. Impressed by the buildings’ cleanliness and her friendliness, I asked how much for a room. At 40,000 won, I was sold. Plus, my bag and tent were getting heavy.

I took the elevator to the sixth floor where I was greeted by funky colored lights and wallpaper with English words collaged full of English errors. As I laughed to myself, I put in the key to open the door. By habit, I removed my shoes and put the key in the alloated slot that allows the lights to turn on.

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I turned to enter the room and was welcomed by this incredibly saucy wallpaper. Now, I knew I had picked the best love motel in Gangguan harbor (강구안) and likely all of Tongyeong.

Bucket List Item: Hike Bukhansan

With one month left in Korea, I was determined to hike Bukhaksan (북한산국립공원-도봉 지구). I hiked to the top of Bukhansan’s highest peak yesterday to check off another Korean Bucket List item. The highest peak is Baegundae (백운대), which is 837 meters high (2,746 feet).

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Chris and I took our time and enjoyed the day hiking along the fortress wall, originally built in 1711. While the hike wasn’t horribly hard, it did seem more difficult than Seoraksan, but it also could be that I have not been running lately because I’ve been sick.

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To get to Bukhansan National Park, take the subway to Gireum Station (길음역) on Line 4. Walk out of exit 3 to the bus stop for bus 143 or 110B. We took bus 143 and got off at the last bus stop and made another stop for water at a nearby convenience store. I recommend taking a good amount of water. There was only one spring water station along the hike, and it was pretty early on (maybe within the first half hour). We packed some tuna and crackers, which gave us just the right amount of fuel to make it to the top.

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From others’ experiences and blogs I have read, this hike is meant to be really crowded. So, in hopes of avoiding the crowd, I hiked on the Monday of the Chuseok holiday. Chuseok is a Korean “thanksgiving” holiday, which meant I had a five-day weekend. In my opinion, it was a great time to hike Bukhaksan. Most Koreans are spending time with their families. While Chris and I ran into a handful of hikers here and there. We spent most of the climb alone.

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On the way down, I twisted my ankle. It really wasn’t a big deal. It hurt really bad (including my pride), but I didn’t need medical attention. However, we were conveniently outside one of the information centers situated along the mountain pathways. A Korean or two witnessed my tumble and found me professional attention. I was embarrassed, but I let them work diligently as they wrapped and sprayed my ankle with some type of Korean icy-hot spray, which felt awesome.

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Student Essays: Are all boys the same? Girls and money.

After watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk “The power of introverts,” I gave my students an essay to discuss the points of Cain’s talk. Most of my students were able to touch on both the good and the bad about being an introvert.

Essay Question: Is being shy a good things or a bad thing?

One of my thirteen-year-old students, who is clever, quiet and tall, wrote this essay: “I think being shy is a bad thing…I like a girl, but I’m shy. I can’t speak ‘Do you want me?'”

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My students struggle to communicate with me for a number of reasons. Some students simply haven’t learned enough English to communicate while some students are shy like this boy. A majority of the students have little interest in learning English. They’re forced to go to English academy by their parents who are forced to send their kids to English academy because of their country’s unrealistic educational expectations.

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I spend 40 minutes with the students twice a week, so over the past seven months I have been able to learn little things about each student—some more than others. My students’ homework assignment is a short essay worksheet twice a week. Through these essays, I learn the most about my students. I learn what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what they worry about and what they want. Some weeks they write the most simple sentences while others they write thoughtful essays often with loads of mistakes.

I love the mistake-ridden essay in which the students are trying to say something important even when they don’t know how. I am often reminded that my students are not just middle school kids—they’re people. So, I try week in and week out to treat them as so. Even when they make fart jokes or curse in English, I force myself to see them past the exhausted expressions on the students’ faces and see them as thoughtful, emotional, hardworking teenagers.