japan

2016 Recap - Part 4 - Typhoons, Tomato & the Date That Led to my Tinder Retirement

 
 
 
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Typhoon-y Taiwan

After weeks of planning and counting down, I finally made the trip to Taiwan in mid-September. After a rough August at work, this break was so needed and so well deserved. Though my visit fell during the biggest super-typhoon of the year, I still had a kick ass time, and made it to almost all of my top destinations.

A friend of mine, and a guy who I had sort of been seeing off and on in Seoul also just so happened to be in Taipei at the time. After hanging out solo for most of the day, I met up with him and his friend (rather, ran into them) on Elephant Mountain. After 10 minutes of his constant bitching about bug bites, I was over it. He wanted to know what I was up to for the rest of the day, so I told him about the temples I planned to visit. His exact words were, “Well, that sounds kind of boring… I don’t want to do that… But I don’t know what else we’ll do, so we’ll just come with you.”

In my head, I’m thinking, damn… I do NOT want to spend the rest of the day in this beautiful (albeit rainy) country with this whiney human. I very strategically pulled out my map while we were on the subway and said, “Heyyyy, you guys should totally go check out the Memorial… You’ll reallyyyy like it. I went earlier, so I’m going to go on to the temple... Oh! Here’s your stop. Have fun – byeeeee!”

Meryl Streep, look out… because I truly deserve a Golden Globe for this performance. It was so well done that they didn’t even realize I was shaking them off. I gave them a smile, waved, and, as the train doors closed behind them, I breathed a sigh of relief in honor of my solitude. We tried to hang out again the next night, which resulted in us having a big argument on the streets of Taipei, me walking back to my hostel by myself in the middle of the night, and him sleeping with a random girl he met at the club.

He was a total shit head for the entirety of the time we were talking to each other… and I should have realized it sooner, but his accent made it easy to forgive his rude comments and damn near constant complaining. You really do learn whether or not you vibe with a person when you travel with them.

If a super-typhoon couldn’t ruin my trip, you’d better believe I wasn’t going to let a (for lack of a better word) fuckboy ruin it either. Taiwan was so dope and I loved every minute of wandering around solo in the pouring rain. My hostel was cheap, clean, trendy, and the staff was so friendly. My last night, I stayed at a fancier hotel close to the airport where I treated myself to a bubble bath, room service, and jumped on the extremely comfy bed in a bathrobe. Of all the places I visited in my few days there, my top three favorite spots were Bitou Cape, Ximending Cinema Street, and Elephant Mountain. Read more about where I stayed, what I did, and how I struggled with Mandarin here.

 
 

Tomato

 
 

Shortly after I returned to work, I was dealt a seriously blow to the chest. I was told that my favorite student, Sabina… aka Tomato… would be leaving our school. If you know anything at all about my kindy class, you likely know all about her, and how she’s the cutest, spunkiest five-year-old I have ever met. We have the same birthday, and for all of these reasons, she’s both my favorite, and a huge part of the reason I resigned my teaching contract.

Though she showed no signs of it at school, she apparently was extremely unhappy. Her parents said she cried at home every night because of the amount of homework she had. For the record, this “homework,” was never assigned by me, and I think it is absolutely ridiculous that a poor kindergartener goes home at night stressed to the point of tears. On top of the work load, due to road construction, she also had an hour long bus ride every evening… so, at five-years-old, Sabina was going to school and beginning classes at 9:40 in the morning and not getting home until after 6:00 in the evening.

I know that kids move, teachers leave, and life goes on for all parties involved, and I especially understood given Sabina’s circumstances… but I’ll tell you what, all of the waterproof mascara in the world could not have prepared me for Sabina’s last day. To make matters worse, I didn’t find out it was her last day until it WAS her last day. I cancelled classes, took the kids outside, and we played for the rest of the afternoon.

In my break period, with teary eyes, I sat at my desk and wrote a letter to her parents. I told them how proud I was of her, how far she had come, and how they should be very proud, too. I asked them to please keep me updated on her progress, gave them my contact info, and let them know that I would always be willing to nanny, tutor, or babysit for free.

 
 

The following week I received a message from Sabina’s mom. I have never had a direct line of communication with my students’ parents before. With the language barrier that’s typically left to the Korean co-teacher, so this was extremely rare. Her message said, “Miss Kirstie, you have changed our minds. I’m truly moved. At home, parents take care of kids, but at school they totally rely on their teachers. Having a good teacher like you is lucky for Sabina and I. On Tuesday, say, “Hello tomato,” to Sabina as always.”

So the next week, Sabina came back. Basically, the week was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. I cannot begin to explain how sad I was to see her go, or how excited I was to hear that her parents had decided against switching schools. Mostly, I was really happy that what I was doing was finally actually making a difference.

Sadly, the emotional roller coaster did not end there. Sabina ended up leaving Beethoven class for good in October, which, though it left me devastated, I totally understood. At the end of the day, all I want for Sabina is the same thing I want for all of my students in my kindy class – for them to be happy (and to stop gluing their hands together and coloring their faces). I still keep in touch with her mom and get adorable pictures like this one! 

 
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Like I mentioned, with October came another Tomato related blow. This time I was told she was “on vacation,” which I’ve realized is what they say about every kid who’s actually leaving or has already left. Eventually, one day her mom sent me a message saying Sabina wouldn’t be coming back. Every morning, when I did feelings with Beethoven class, all of the kids pointed out that, “Sabina is absent today.” They didn’t, and, even though we have a new 12th student, still don’t know she’s gone. I miss that kid a hell of a lot, and our class just isn’t the same without her.

Glamping Getaway

 
 

Between the tomato shaped hole in Beethoven class and my Taiwan blow-up with Mr. Mosquito Bite, I was feeling pretty down and out when October began. I needed a girl’s weekend and I needed it fast. Thankfully, that’s just how we started the month. A couple girlfriends and I loaded up our backpacks with cheese balls, champagne, and face masks, and headed to Banu Glamping site for a weekend away from the city. Aside from the sound of me popping open bottles of champagne at the crack of dawn, it was really relaxing. Give me a barefoot walk in the grass, some fresh air, a mimosa filled mug and I’m totally in my happy place. Read all about our trip (and other quirky Seoul escapes) here.

 
 

Getting Back on the Horse... Then Promptly getting off it

The following week, I decided to stop being down about Mr. Mosquito Bite and got back on the proverbial dating horse. I re-downloaded Tinder, and, after swiping left so many times my finger nearly fell off, I managed to match with a few promising, seemingly charming, fellas. One in particular stuck out to me. True to form, the one I had most interest in was the one who was only in town for the week (of course).

We made tentative plans to grab drinks throughout the week, but I was both battling a cold and unsure about meeting him. Mr. Mosquito Bite, and his laundry list of things wrong with me, had left me feeling rather crushed, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to let that happen again. However, Mr. October was persistent, and FaceTimed me one night that week.

Since I was about to go to bed, and refused to get up to turn the light on, my video was totally dark. The fact that he didn’t complain about my laziness, (and that the call proved he was as attractive and charming as in his photos and messages), made me finally decide that, perhaps all men weren’t evil. I decided to meet him that Friday night, and, after work, attempted to make myself look like an attractive human.

The evening was filled with more chicken and beer than either of us could actually consume, soju-ice cups at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and an epically perfect first kiss beside a weird chair-butt statue. When it started to rain he gave me his jacket, and we went back to his hotel to finish our soju, (which at that point we probably didn’t need any more of).

Considering it was our first time meeting in person, there was no uncomfortable hello, no painfully awkward silences, and, the next morning at breakfast, I enjoyed his company just as much as I had the night before. I couldn’t help but to feel a little bummed as he checked out of the hotel that morning, and really regretted not meeting him earlier in the week. Ya see, Mr. October is a tour manager for a group (who apparently sings one of my favorite gym pump up songs). They played a music festival in Seoul, and were leaving that morning to head to Japan – the next stop on their tour.

We had made jokes all week about me joining them in Osaka for the weekend… but at the time I really hadn’t really anticipated enjoying his company enough to hop on a plane for more of it. When I got home that day, it was already Saturday afternoon… and after very little deliberation, I entered serious auto-pilot, YOLO mode. I packed my backpack, looked up flights, got my Monday morning classes covered, and finalized my booking on the way to the airport... So for the second time in 2016, a Tinder matchup was taking me on an international date... Lol.

 
 

At around midnight, I arrived in Osaka where I, without a working phone, caught a bus and then somehow (without getting lost) walked to the Ritz Carlton. I am still SO impressed with my ability to hit the ground and navigate in totally foreign cities… because it took me most of my life to figure out how to get from Pleasant Garden to Greensboro. I was always reading a book in the car, and so I literally never paid attention to where we were going. Anyway, back to my story…  I rolled in to the fanciest place I have ever stepped foot in with my backpack and a hoodie on. Looking highly disheveled, and totally out of place, I asked to link up to their Wi-Fi so I could get in touch with Mr. October to tell him I was there.

As you should be at that time of night, he had accidentally fallen asleep… but I’ll tell ya what, in the five-ish minutes I waited before he came downstairs, I seriously questioned my decision to go all the way there. In my head I was thinking, “WHAT IF THIS IS ALL A JOKE, AND I CAME ALL THE WAY TO JAPAN AND HE’S GONNA BLOW ME OFF?” …But then he came downstairs, asked if I was hungry, and I stopped my crazy girl musings.

While he worked the next morning, I went out to explore Osaka, and then, that afternoon, we all headed to the venue. I was so wrapped up in living in the moment that weekend that I barely had my camera out to record anything, but believe me when I say that as we drove over the bridge from Osaka to Kansai, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my life. One of the singers made some ridiculous noises while warming up his voice in the van, and I wanted to laugh but somehow held it in when I noticed no one else was phased.

When we got to the festival we were given drinks, and the girlfriend of one of the brothers in the group took me under her wing while Mr. October got to work. We sipped champagne, talked about life, travels, and Mr. October, then, when it was show time, watched the performance from backstage. I was genuinely surprised by how down to earth this girl was. Despite dating a celebrity, she was so hardworking and totally had her own stuff going for her… And she wasn’t the only one. Everyone I met that weekend was SO grounded. It was inspiring to be around such hardworking, motivated, and successful people, Mr. October included.

 
 

The trip was brief, but epic, and, as with all of my trips to Japan, involved me stuffing my face with sushi. Way too early that Monday morning, I headed back to the airport, back to Korea, and back to work.

I realized a couple important things that weekend… one being that no tinder date in the past, present, or future of tinder dates could ever top this one (and, so I promptly deleted the app… cause ya gotta end on a high note). I also realized that if you want cool things to happen, you have to get the hell out of the house and start living. Given that I’d never been to a music festival (until Ultra a few months earlier), I never thought in a million years that I would end up backstage at a music festival in Japan of all places. When you open yourself up to new people and experiences, (and booking impromptu flights), life has a pretty cool way of making awesome stuff happen.

Another thing I learned that weekend is that I do in-fact have a type… and that my type is the go-getter – guys who are so focused and hardworking that they honestly don’t really have time for me. It’s taken me ages to realize this, but, from major league baseball players to guys climbing the corporate ladder, literally every guy I have EVER been in to for an extended period of time has been this way… and I’m alright with that… because even though, at times, I may think I want a relationship, I have absolutely zero time for one right now.

Mr. October was, and is, one hell of an awesome guy, and I have so much respect for his kind heart and work ethic. Our first kiss was on an odd butt-statue-chair in Seoul, and our last was at the Ritz Carlton in Osaka... So, as much as I'd love to see him again, I'm pretty satisfied with the epic story we created in our short time together.

Our timing was shit, but I’m thankful that he reminded I deserve much more than a fuckboy who complains about mosquito bites… and also for unintentionally making me get my ass in gear as far as chasing my dreams is concerned. I realized that, yes, I have a type… and yes, I want to be with a successful guy… but just like badass band girlfriend who took me under her wing, I want to have my own things going for me, too. With Tinder deleted and Mr. October no longer in Korea, I stopped worrying about boys altogether.


Halloween on the han

October got cold, just in time for Halloween when a few coworkers and I went on a booze cruise on the Han River. I really love Halloween now that people have stopped wearing store bought costumes and started getting creative. Stephanie and I dressed as a strawberry and pineapple wearing boxing gloves. Get it?! - Fruit punch! I thought my costume was wildly original, but, somehow, there were THREE other pineapples on the boat that night. None of them had boxing gloves, so, in my totally biased opinion, I think my costume was better. All in all, it was a great night and a pretty kick ass month.

 
 

Only two more months left in the 2016 recap! – Catch up on the shenanigans from January to August below and stay tuned to read about how I ended the year!

 

2016 Recap - Part 2 - Birthday Suits, Russell Wilson, and International (Semi)-blind Dates

 
 
 
 

Birthdays and Birthday Suits

Compared to April and June, May was a pretty laid back month for me. I celebrated my own birthday, my favorite student Tomato’s birthday, Buddha’s birthday… and stripped down to my birthday suit in a room full of people in the name of art. Judge all you want, but it was a very tasteful figure drawing class, and there was nothing slooty or raunchy about it (just like JC Penny catalogues – shout out to you, Guri).

It takes a hell of a lot of confidence to 1. strip down, and 2. sit in the middle of a room full of strangers who are not only observing all of your flaws, but also scrutinizing and recreating them on paper. Like most women, body image is an ongoing struggle for me, (especially living in the plastic surgery capital of the world), so I really pushed the limit with this one... but that's what this whole Seoul journey is all about - Pushing limits, becoming more confident, and discovering who I truly am. When you strip yourself of material things, you are raw, human - you are YOU, 100%. 

As luck would have it, a night of soju and norebang-ing the weekend before the art class had caused me to take quite the tumble on a very slippery staircase. It might actually have been a couple of tumbles, and, thus, resulted in me having a bruise the size of Jupiter on my butt cheek.

After many failed attempts to heal and cover the bruise, I gave up, but decided to do the class anyway. I took off my robe, sat in the middle of the room, picked a pose that concealed the goods, and proclaimed (in my mind), “Here I am… flaws (bruises) and all… now draw them.” Thankfully, only one person drew Jupiter… a girl who also got kicked out for using her phone to take photos during the class.

Maybe I’m just incredibly hyperactive, but I can't believe how painful it was to sit absolutely still for such a long time. One thing is for sure - my ADD ridden brain worked overtime to make up for the fact that my body was not to move a single inch. I contemplated everything from our humanity to problems like global warming and world hunger… and solved neither. I left the class that night feeling absolutely invincible - and I still do. Because if I can do that, I can do anything.

This check on my bucket list taught me to be brave, be bold, be raw, and always be myself... regardless of what anyone has to say about it. After all, have you ever met a hater doing better than you? ...Me either.

It was a weird, wild, bucket list experience… but, hey… When in Korea… 

 
 

 
 

It’s a good thing May was mellow because June. Was. Nuts. I started the month with a short, impromptu trip to Manila… and when I say short, I literally mean I was in the country for all of 36 hours. Those 36 hours were some of the most eye opening and life changing hours I’d had all year.

 
 

Thrilla in Manila

Most people who go to the Philippines either skip right over Manila or are forced to stop there because of a connecting flight... and it’s no surprise. This is definitely no five-star, up-scale, tourist destination.

There’s a famous quote that says, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries,” and I think that’s pretty true for Manila. I received many warnings and comments that I should be careful… namely from my dad who responded with crickets when I jokingly asked how much ransom he’d pay for me if I were kidnapped, (which, for the record, was his concern not mine).

Despite the warnings, I really enjoyed wandering around and experiencing Manila. We stayed right across the street from what was supposedly the red light district, and, I must say, though there were many ladyboy/prostitute/lady boy prostitute sightings, (which is to be expected), the area was pretty tame. 

There are good and bad people everywhere, and good and bad parts to every city. No matter where you go, you should always be careful. Because of my experience in Manila, I decided to never let someone else’s opinions and experience, (or, oftentimes, lack thereof), deter me from traveling to a place and experiencing it for myself.

 
 

One of the locals I was lucky enough to encounter in the city was an overly cheerful 23-year old named Russell, “like Russell Wilson.” With his jokes about free Wi-Fi and air conditioning, he somehow managed to talk two very frugal travellers into taking a tour around in his “Ferrari.” His jokes sold us, and we hopped in to his Ferrari, (which was actually just a bicycle with a little wagon-like cart attached to the side).

 
 

When we told him we were from the USA, he responded cheerfully with, “I’m from the USA, too!” He later drove us to his home… the USA, or United Squatters area. There were families bathing on the side of the street, people sleeping on cardboard boxes, kids wearing shirts for pants, and others wandering around with no shoes on at all in the blistering heat.

 
 

Despite their less than favourable living conditions, EVERYONE I encountered was friendly, happy, and welcoming, always offering a smile and a hello. Their joy was genuine, and the sense of community in “the USA” was so much stronger than that which you’d find in most white-picket fence American neighbourhoods.

The pedicab tour with Russell was the highlight of the trip. He had a contagious positive attitude and an adorable three-year-old daughter who rode around with us for part of our tour. He told us he was working and saving to send her to school because he wants to make sure that she will have a better life.

 
 

Though the Philippines’ “USA” wasn’t an intended destination on our tour that weekend, the experience was so incredibly eye opening. I was reminded that no matter how bad things may seem, there are people in the world who are far happier with far less. I’ve since tried to stop stressing the little things and to start being grateful for the life I live, even on my bad days… because, all things considered, the life I live is a pretty damn good one.

The rest of the trip can be summed up as eating cheap food, getting a $10 one-hour chocolate massage, consuming one $1 Red Horse too many, and getting majorly annoyed with my travel partner for thinking, and loudly voicing, that all the cab drivers were out to rip us off. We did get MAJORLY ripped off on a ride from the airport to our hostel, but there was no way for us to know that at the time, (and even what we paid wasn’t that much by Western standards).

Shit happens, and you shouldn't let a few bad apples who dupe you ruin your perception of an entire country of cabbies. Bottom line: learn from my mistake! If you fly in to the airport in Manila and are approached by some seemingly official guys holding a laminated sheet of paper with cab fares, talk down their price or tell them you will only take a metered ride. 

 
 
 

Ultra Korea

 
 

Once I returned to Korea, I had a four-day work week and another busy weekend to look forward to – Ultra Korea! It was my first big music festival and definitely lived up to the hype. Though I only went for one day, when you do it right, sometimes one day is enough.

As it was in Korea, there wasn’t quite as much dancing as I’d like, but I still had a good time running around between the various stages, drinking way too many red bull vodkas, and getting soaked in the periodic torrential downpours. According to this photo, I went to Ultra Tokyo, too.

 
 
 

Crossing the International Date Line

Tokyo Round 2

 
 

The weekend after THAT, I actually did take a trip to Tokyo. It’s still funny to me that I’m able to go on international weekeenders with nothing but my small backpack, but with the flight being just over an hour, it’s totally doable. The price was right, so I booked it.

You’re probably thinking, "You already went to Tokyo. Why did you go back?" The short answer is that I wanted sushi, and hadn’t yet discovered Hana (my favourite sushi spot in Seoul, which you can read about here). The long answer is that, though I’ve never been a huge fan of tinder, I sorta, kinda had an epic international tinder date.

To make a long story short, this cute Japanese Irish guy and I matched on Tinder when I was in Japan in February, again in April when he was in Korea, and finally decided to meet in June while I was visiting Tokyo. Potentially the most epic international tinder story of all time? Maybe. (Just wait until you read about October). Regardless, technology is cool.

After matching for the second time, we had also become Facebook friends, (so I knew he wasn’t a massive creep-o and that I wasn’t getting cat-fished). We bonded over our Irish roots, love of whiskey (he works for Jameson), and had a really awesome time exploring the city. At Asakusa Temple, my "omikuji," fortune telling strip, was a good one, and Tinderfella relived his childhood on Nakamise Shopping Street (minus the temper tantrums). 

 
 

It’s easy to get lost in Tokyo (both literally and figuratively), so it was cool getting a feel for the city through the eyes of a local (and someone who could speak the language). We Tokyo drifted around Shinjuku on our bikes, and went the coolest hole in the wall places that I never would have known to go to on my own.

It's really rare that I actually meet up with people from Tinder, (especially internationally) but I'm really glad I took a chance on meeting Tinderfella in Tokyo of all places.  No, we didn't have some magical happily ever after moment, but I did make a really good friend. It isn't often I meet someone who shares my loves of whiskey, traveling, and video making - AND who also puts up with my bad jokes. Tinderfella is now killing it in Canada as a rep for Jameson, and has a girlfriend who I'm told I would love (and hope to meet when I make it to Toronto).

The weekend was over before I knew it, and, before long, I was jetting back to Korea and in to July.

 
 

Stay tuned to hear all about Tinderfella's visit to Seoul... and what it's like to pass out mid-flight then suck on an oxygen tank over Canada. 


Miss the first recap? Catch up on the January to April adventures Here!

 
 

2016 Recap - Part 1 - Rum Buckets, Sake Bombs, Beethoven, and Cherry Blossoms

When I moved to Asia last fall, I had literally no idea what adventures awaited me. Let’s just say 2016 did not disappoint and was, without question, the greatest year of my life so far. The places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, and people I’ve met have showed me just how beautiful this world, and this life, can be. It hasn’t always been an easy ride, but nothing worthwhile ever is. The truth is, I should have been writing and posting updates all year… but I’ve been known to be a bit of a procrastinator. Instead, this is a small, overdue recap of the year… and since even the highlight reel is quite lengthy, here’s part 1 of 4 - the end of winter and the coming of spring.

 

 
 

I spent the last days of 2015 riding around in tuk-tuks instead of taxis and soaking up the sun on the beaches of Thailand. I drove an ATV up to the Big Buddha in Phuket, played with elephants, and lost bets on Muay Thai boxing matches on Bangla Road. New Year’s was spent exploring the Phi Phi Islands. My friend from university teaches in Thailand, so we made the trip from Bangkok to the islands together. He’s as up for anything as I am, so, on a whim, we decided to start celebrating 2016 early on a New Year’s Eve Booze Criuse. Captain Bob’s Booze Cruise was an awesome time, and though I’m genuinely surprised that we all survived the day to ring in the new year, I would absolutely do it again.

 
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The first few hours of the 2016 were spent dancing on the beach, watching fireworks explode directly over my head, sipping rum buckets, getting covered in neon glow paint by tattooed Aussies, and, later, smooching said hot tattooed Aussies.

As the night went on and dawn drew near, the streets of Ko Phi Phi Don transformed from a lively, happy-go-lucky celebration to an all-out war zone. After witnessing what I’d equate to a modern day, rum bucket induced war-zone (literally - blood was shed), hot Aussie and I decided to grab a slice of pizza and call it a night. As luck would have it, my friend from uni had hit it off quite well with tattooed Aussie’s sister, and we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the trip.

As with any trip, Thailand had it's ups and downs. Our bungalow in Ko Phi Phi had bed bugs, so, within a day, I was absolutely COVERED in bug bites. This was an important lesson for me in the expectations versus realities of travel. When traveling to a new place, you've got to remember that you're not SUPPOSED to feel comfortable there. If foreign places felt just like home, there'd be no point in going. If you want a real and raw experience, skip the five star hotel and book the $5 bungalow with the broken mosquito net and no aircon... and when the bug bites become unmanagable, splurge another $10 bucks for a bed in a hostel. (Side note: If you ever find yourself on Ko Phi Phi Don, be careful swimming at the beach on the Slinky's side of the island. My friend picked up this literal cleaver with his foot.)

 
 

When it was time to go back to the winter tundra that is Korea, I couldn’t have been more bummed. After a week of messy buns and no makeup, I winced at the thought of returning to the plastic surgery, rice powder compact capital of the world. As if on cue, when the plane landed in Seoul, I found myself surrounded by teeny cute Korean girls all whipping out their compacts and powdering their noses.

The rest of January is a bit of a blur. Not much else was going on once I got back to Korea… except for a wicked case of the post-tropical vacation blues. I went from being in a bikini on the beach to wearing layers indoors, and it was a really sad time. To beat said post-vaca blues, I decided to join my friend for Muay Thai classes. It both reminded me of Thailand and made me feel like a bad ass.


 
 

It was really hard to get back in the swing of things after having such an epic winter holiday. It was cold and I was ready for another vacation. Thankfully, with Lunar New Year in early February, it wasn’t long ‘til I got one. Though it wasn’t to a tropical island, it was my first time visiting Tokyo, Japan, the world’s largest city.

 
 

My friend Nicole and I met each other in the city for what was a whirlwind weekend of temples, sushi, weird underground clubs, and unexpected blizzards. Nicole arrived at the hostel the day before me, so she’d already met a hand full of people by the time I arrived. Apparently, everyone had headed out to a club that was *air quotes* "The BIGGEST club in Tokyoooo” *end air quotes*. The air quotes are totally necessary here because, though this club was sizeable, it was not worth the arm and a leg we spent on cabs to get there, to get in, to get a slight buzz, and to get back.

It’s true what they say about taxis in Japan. They are outrageously expensive, and you shouldn’t take one unless you absolutely have to. I literally blew a quarter, if not more, of my entire holiday budget on going out that ONE night… and it was so not worth it. So if anyone tries to trick you in to a night out at *The Biggest Club in Tokyooooo* say no… every time.

The rest of the trip flew by in a blur, as we tried to experience as many of Tokyo’s hot spots as possible. I went to Hooters in Shinjuku at 8am on a Monday morning to watch the Carolina Panthers, my home team, TOTALLY stop pounding against the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

We tried and failed to see Mount Fuji. The bus ride to the mountain was beautiful, but, as soon as we arrived, it started to blizzard and Fuji was literally nowhere to be seen. I settled for making a mini snowman instead, but I am still not convinced the mountain is a real thing. I elf-style hopped across Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest crosswalk, and got attacked by pigeons at Tokyo Tower. Above all else, I stuffed myself with all of the fresh, delicious sushi and sake that I could handle. Overall, I had a kick ass time.

 
 
 
 

For the rest of February, work was work, and as if one work wasn’t enough, I picked up a second job. Three times a week, I’d go straight from my hagwon job to the subway station, ride for nearly half an hour, then have a 90-minute tutoring session on the other side of the city. Most nights, I was lucky to make it in the door of my apartment by 10:30pm. The 14-hour work days were absolutely brutal, and my workouts and healthy eating habits went totally out the window… but these plane tickets don’t pay for themselves, y’all (and neither did the 10 fish and tank that I made the margarita influenced decision to purchase. In fairness, I just wanted ONE glow in the dark fish named Jimi Hendrix, but he and the tank came with 9 friends - Yes, I know. I am very good at adulting).

 
 

At the end of February, the school year ended, many students graduated, and there was a mass exodus of colleagues who were moving home or to jobs at different schools. The preparation for the beginning of a new school year began, and so did that shit storm that comes with any transition period.


 
 

When we were given our schedules for the new school year, I was devastated to find out I wouldn’t be teaching my class of eight, adorable 5-year-old girls, aka the Disney Princesses. I didn’t think I could possibly love any group of students more, but, my god, I was SO wrong. Cue Beethoven class. My kindergarten homeroom class, and the most adorable little group of rug rats you’ve ever seen. A couple months in to teaching these kids, and I'd decided to extend my contract for the rest of the school year. I mean, look at em though! Can you blame me?

 
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When the year started, they didn’t speak a lick of English, either because they didn’t know what to say or were too afraid of to talk. Some of them didn’t know their English name, and part of my morning routine became reminding a few of them… but mostly just David. I’d say, “David, open your book… David… David…” *No response* “…David…” Then I’d crouch down in front of David, look him dead in the eye, and repeat, “David, your name is David.”

Believe it or not, David was lucky... because some of them didn’t even HAVE English names. One parent even asked me to choose for them! When given the choice between Chloe and Emma, I picked Emma. I’ve gotta say, it feels strange to have had such power.

The month of March was really hard. It was filled with blank stares, tears, and lots of little babes blubbering things in Korean that I didn’t understand. Imagine how hard it is for kids to leave their parents and go to school for the first time. Then consider that these kids were going to a school where they would be spoken to, almost entirely, in a language they didn’t know yet - Pretty scary stuff for a five-year-old.

The first section in our Language Arts textbook, (yes, LANGUAGE ARTS – and TEXTBOOKS– for freakin’ five year olds), was “writing your name” and “cutting out teeny, tiny, miniscule, way too small shapes.” I suppose what the creators of this particular book hadn’t quite considered is that a lot of these kids had not yet learned the letters of the alphabet… and that they definitely didn’t know how to use scissors. It was tough keeping up with the units while simultaneously trying to catch the kids up from square one, dry their tears, and keep them from chopping off their fingers, and/or gluing their hands together.

 
 

In the beginning, Brian, my shyest student, either because he despised kindergarten or had no clue what was going on, absolutely refused to pick up a pencil or crayon to complete his assignments. Every day, I would calmly coax him in to choosing his favorite crayon… a tactic that only worked 60% of the time. The other 40%,I’d have to pry his tiny, clasped fingers apart and put the crayon in his hand myself.

It was on one of these days that Miss Joy, our most frantic and frazzled Korean teacher, came running into our classroom urgently needing my co-teacher to write something down. Of all the writing utensils in the room… of all the writing utensils in the school… of all the writing utensils on the peninsula of Korea and the rest of the surrounding free world, she TOOK THE BLUE CRAYON OUT. OF. BRIAN’S. HAND. Confused, as he had been in the middle of doing his work when the crayon was snatched from him, poor Brian began to cry… and I’ll tell ya what, I almost did too.

Looking back on these early Beethoven class days is almost laughable now. The scared, sad, and silent little nuggets have learned so much, (today they learned CONSTELLATIONS for cryin' out loud), and, now, I literally cannot get them to stop talking. As long as they’re using English, I really don’t mind their incessant chatter because learning English is the whole point, right? (My bosses and co-teacher would probably disagree).

The remainder of March was spent de-thawing my frozen body, recovering from a hellishly long, freezing winter, and planning what would become an epically busy spring and summer. Baseball season was back - and with a BYOB policy, you bet I hit that up.

 
 

 
 

It was in April that I was finally able to fully retire my big winter coat (that I had only worn half a dozen times prior to Korea) in favor of my lighter, more trendy, leather jacket. I was so pumped to be able to spend time outside, and, with cherry blossom season in full effect, it was an absolutely beautiful time of year. April was the month of festivals, all celebrating what seemed to be spring’s long overdue arrival - The first of which was the Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, or selfie stick festival, was pretty cool once you got past the hordes of tourists with their tripods and selfie sticks. It was beautiful… but I was most excited for the festival that followed in Busan, Korea’s second largest city, and a beautiful beach town in the south of the peninsula.

 
 

Busan’s Haeundae Beach was the venue for an epically colorful Holi Hai festival. It surely doesn’t come close to the celebration in India, but, given that it was hosted by an organization called India in Korea, it goes without saying that it was pretty damn legit. There were authentic Samosas and the Holi colors had come straight from India.

We all started the day with very tame, well-planned, and carefully drawn face-paints, but, as the day commenced, our once calculated attempts at color application became laughable. After a few hours of throwing Holi colors, downing bottles of soju, and smearing actual paint all over strangers at the beach, everyone looked as if a rainbow had thrown up on us. 

While dancing on the beach that day I made new friends from all over Korea, Morocco, Spain, France, and, of course, India. This festival reminded me of the pure, raw beauty of this world. We were all strangers united by a common celebration – the hope for a beautiful spring. It was such a beautiful, HAPPY celebration that I was so glad to have been a part of.

 
 

A couple weekends later, I attended the Sea Parting Festival in Jindo, South Korea, which, you guessed it, celebrated the literal parting of the sea. This phenomenon, which happens each year, and allows festival goers to make like Moses and walk to a nearby island. Exhausted from an overnight, cross country ride, we all groggily stumbled off the bus, put on galoshes, grabbed torches, and attempted to walk to the island at dusk. People who started walking really early made it all the way to the island and back, but others had to be “saved” by ocean rescue teams. My coworker Stephanie and I were almost among the latter, but instead were with the many who turned back at the sound of a very concerning alarm... and then struggled against the rising tide to get out of the water. I found a starfish, and then went to take a nap.

 
 

April was an extremely busy month, but I’m so happy I made it that way. I was still working two jobs during the week, and every weekend was packed with things to do. I had little to no downtime, but wouldn’t trade these epic, once in a life time experiences for anything.

2016 was off to a pretty good start. Want to know what I got up to for the rest of the year? Stay tuned for Part 2 of the 2016 review!