Tag Archives: Paju

Awakening Spring

17 Mar

It is a quiet Monday at English Village in Paju, South Korea.  The sky is somewhat overcast, but with my windows open and the birds’ calls leaking through there is a lighter feeling of Spring… or almost Spring.  I hope.  We’ll see…  Earlier today I heard the masses of students entering through main street past my apartment.  At about 350 students, they are the first of two groups this week beginning the restoration of the often busy pace and bulging student capacity at English Village.

As my weekend is on Mondays and Tuesdays, I will not teach the first busy round of students.  But as Wednesday arrives I will join the other teachers in greeting a group of 585 students.  That’s a lot.

English Village has been through some growing pains recently.  In the Fall they lost nearly half of their staff in a quick and unexpected exodus.  Until recently, there has been a hiring freeze leaving a smaller size staff to respond to regular size programming.  Recently they have hired a modest collection of new Korean and foreign teachers, but we aren’t yet at a place to easily meet the teaching needs of incoming programs.  Often this will mean larger and more classes taught by current teachers.

I continue to find my groove returning to the busy “young learners” (mostly middle-school students) week-day programs after a four-month hiatus teaching the little ones reading in our Bookclub program.  I still teach Bookclub students on Saturdays only, appreciative to return to the small simple programming and body of students after three days in busier programs and classes. Bookclub is indeed a different world filled with typical childhood shenanigans like nose picking, hiding behind doors, and the occasional biting (… the last person to be bit, by the way, was me… but I digress…).  This has challenges all its own, but in many ways it still feels like a gentle respite.

And so I am doing my best in mind and spirit to prepare myself for the impending busier season. In the meantime, I am lost in my own diversions of chanting, Reiki, yoga and the like.  Life has been simple and in many ways good but with the slow awakening of Spring I admit I am itching for something to be different.

What about you?  Is the arrival of Spring bringing anything new in your world?  Let me know!  It’s always good to hear from you!

Featured photo a little slice of sunset on the rooftops of English Village.

Spring Outing

10 Mar

I am hearing and seeing new things at English Village.  Birds are flying in v-shapes overhead.  There are more people wandering the streets on weekends.  I notice voices of other teachers outside in the evenings.  The birds are even starting to sing.  It seems the Christmas trees in front of our “City Hall” have even been taken down.  Plus the collection of snow on the English Village campus has shrunk to a minimum. Could it be… is it possible… that Spring is coming?

Talking about Spring in Paju, South Korea automatically strikes up conversation of local weather.  It seems that Paju is in some sort of bad weather vortex on the peninsula of South Korea.  It has long, particularly harsh Winters (we are colder and get more snow than our neighboring Seoul, just an hour away).  Hot, humid Summers (I am told, yes, for some reason Paju is hotter than Seoul too).  And then there is monsoon season.  I don’t know that much about it except for stories of water flooding through the hallways of buildings and being encouraged to buy rain boots. I hear that Spring and Fall here are fabulous… for as long as they last… which is rumored to be comparatively short to Summer and Winter.

As the freezing cold weather appears to finally be breaking away, I can feel myself and the world around me starting to come out of hibernation.  I am beginning to have a desire to do something other than bundle up and stay warm for dear life.

On that note, I took a little outing this week on one of my days off.  As I am working weekends this month, my “weekend” currently is on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  This past Wednesday was such a fresh day I actually felt inspired to go out, take a little walk and explore the area.   I learned recently that the outlet mall that I knew was “somewhere around here” is in fact in walking distance just a straight shot down the road.  So I took a little walk and made my way to the post-office first (so long Flat Stanley!) and then the neighboring “Paju Premium Outlet Mall”.

Now, my first observation is that “Paju Premium Outlet Mall” sounds suspiciously like “… Philadelphia Premium Outlets”.  Before coming to South Korea I stayed in Philadelphia for a few months acquiring my Korean work Visa and preparing for my trip.  How surprising it was to leave the States, travel to the other side of the world, arrive  in the foreign lands of Asia only to find… another Premium Outlet Mall.  Hmmm…  That said, I enjoyed my walk down the street, a beautiful day, and the splendor of just spending some time away from work and “off campus”.

Walking around in Paju is no easy feat – especially for this woman who lived in the flatlands of New Orleans for 13 years.  Paju is what you might call… hilly.  You cannot go any direction outside of English Village without surmounting at least one if not two hills.  This is not a complaint mind you.  But for me and my hamstrings it is… an adjustment.

I arrived at the outlet mall to find a seemingly endless array of shops and restaurants, piled up three stories high.  I ran into some colleagues from work in the food court and joined them for lunch.  Afterwards I continued to peruse the daunting supply of high-end shops including DKNY, Coach, Nike and Calvin Klein.  I bought myself a smoothie at Smoothie King (yes the Premium outlet mall comes complete with Smoothie King and Aunt Annie’s pretzels… sound familiar?).  Despite my periodic moments of deja vu, the outing was a treat and I was glad for the diversion.

I returned home the same way I arrived…on foot. The two hills I easily surmounted on the way there looked a bit more oppressive on the way back.  I considered taking the bus, but my pride got the best of me and I trudged my way back over the hills and made my way home.

I have enjoyed swimming lately as well.  We are lucky to have a gym here on the English Village (EV) campus that is open to the teachers and staff at EV as well as the community.  As I am now off on Wednesdays and Thursdays it gives me a little time to sneak in for a swim when it’s not as busy.  Usually Korean moms and kids start to arrive in the afternoon just about the time that I am leaving.  It’s funny to watch the little girls staring at me – in a friendly way.  I am usually the only foreigner in the locker room and I am sure quite a surprise and literally a “foreign” sight to the young Korean girls.

Our last quiet week of work has nearly come to an end as we will have students again this coming week. I am grateful for the promise of Spring arriving and all that brings.

I am wondering, has Spring sprung wherever you are in the world?  If so, what will you be doing as the lovely Spring days fold in?  Any suggestions for how to spend a spring day in South Korea?  It’s always great to hear from you!

Featured image at top from the second floor of the Paju Premium Outlet Mall.  Clearly a close cousin of the Premium Outlet Malls in the United States.

Turkish Delight

24 Feb

Don’t let the title alarm you.  I’m still in South Korea. It’s a Sunday afternoon here and for me… it is a work day.  I am working a two month weekend shift – that is I work the weekends and have two days off during the week.  English Village is open 7 days a week and sometimes there are programs on weekends.  When there are, we need staff around to teach.  Therefore, until the end of March, that includes me.  I am not alone in my weekend working escapade… but it is a smallish group, about 6 other English teachers.  Today is a quiet day of work and not much action at the English Village.  We still have our regular winter coat of snow… the one that seems to be replaced regularly whenever the old one starts to melt.  Since I have been here, snow is no longer a surprise for me.  It is a regular occurrence… to wake up and discover… it snowed again.  I am unsure how long this will continue.  I have heard rumors that sometimes it snows in April.  I try not to think about that…

This week I have been finding my way in my new rhythm of working on weekends and having Wednesdays and Thursdays off.  This past Thursday I went to run my errands and walked to the grocery store down the street.  It was about 11am and for some reason, the store was closed.  I don’t know why.  So, I walked back and then later took a cab to a bigger grocery store further away and..it too was closed.  It seems to be some great mystery as to why these stores were closed.  It was no holiday.  The best answer I have heard so far is “sometimes stores are just closed”.  Hmmm… surely there must be a reason…  Any ideas?

This week I taught college students visiting from a university in South Korea.  I really like teaching college students.  In general they are bright, mature and ready to learn.  The students arrived on Monday and departed on Friday which is typical for many programs here.  I noticed they left with more confidence in themselves around English speakers and more confidence in their own ability to speak English.

Friday night I wandered off campus with another teacher to grab a little bite to eat.  We are in the city of Paju, but it’s really not much of a “city”.  There is mostly open land surrounding English Village and little clusters of businesses and restaurants are not too far away.  Our dining destination for the evening?  Kim’s Kabob.  Doesn’t sound very Korean, does it?  That would be because… it’s not…

I am a food lover who is super sensitive to refined sugar… and Koreans put sugar in almost everything.  Therefore  it can be challenging for me to find food I can eat in Korean restaurants.  Not long ago a fellow teacher was talking about a Turkish restaurant nearby.  Aha!  I thought… it sounded like a culinary adventure with my name on it!  And so… I found my way to Kim’s Kabob.

I heard that the owners, Korean, had lived in Turkey for 8 years.  When we arrived at the restaurant we found a simple but welcoming restaurant with friendly Korean owners.  As they did not speak English and we did not speak Korean, a lot of pointing and smiling was done.  On occasion, I sheepishly offered a grateful but humble “gamsahabnida” (korean for thank you).

It was a delight to see the menu – a visual cornucopia with a selection of fresh meats and platters inviting our appetites to take note!  We decided to order a few different things and share them – an eggplant salad as well as a beef kabob and beef and chicken platter.  My dining companion also ordered some lovely bread that looked delicate and lightly crispy on the outside and virtually “empty” on the inside, like a baloon.  The menu did not disappoint!

It was fun to eat out for a change and enjoy food that was simple and basic but delicious.  It was strange to notice that at around 7pm on a Friday evening we were the only ones in the restaurant.  I am not sure why – but it certainly had nothing to do with the quality of the food or the hospitality of the hosts…  Perhaps it’s somehow related to the grocery store being closed… part of a Korean mystery…

It was a brisk walk back but not far really.  As we got closer we saw the English Village sign lit up on the hillside in “hollywood” style, leading us home. Just a hop, skip and a jump and I was once again within the walls of the English Village campus.

And so today my Sunday continues to unfold in its easy leisurely manner.  I am enjoying a cup of tea surrounded by my fellow teachers, each equally entranced in their computers while I type away at my blog.

I am wondering, for those of you who live or have lived in Korea, what is your favorite place or places to eat in South Korea?  Do you have a secret dining destination where you love to escape?  And for those of you Stateside, or anywhere else in the world… perhaps you have a favorite recipe to share?  Something simple and Korea friendly, perhaps your favorite crock pot recipe? (With just a hotplate to cook on, the crock pot is my current appliance of choice!)  It would be fun to see!

As always, thanks for checking in!  It’s always great to hear from you!

My Serene Seollal Celebration

10 Feb

It’s Sunday.  Just an ordinary day for most Americans.  But for Korea it is the celebration of the Lunar New Year called Seollal.  I can’t say that I really know that much about it.  I know it is an important holiday for Koreans and that traditionally people travel to be with their families and prepare and eat traditional foods.  I have heard that Seoul is a ghost town during Seollal since so many people depart to go be with their families.

According to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_New_Year), the Korean New Year is traditionally celebrated by eating Tteokguk , a soup with sliced rice cakes. It says the Korean New Year is similar to a birthday for Koreans, and eating tteokguk is part of the birthday celebration. Once you finish eating your tteokguk, you are one year older.  But for me, mostly, it’s just another day.

I went to Seoul yesterday for a meeting with my SGI Buddhist group.  It was great!  The chapter I participate in is a small group of mostly foreigners (remember, that’s me!) but also a few Korean folks too.  We had a study group together yesterday and then a potluck to celebrate the New Year.  I brought a fresh spinach dip to the celebration.  Here is the recipe if you’re curious.  I used soy sauce instead of the Worcestershire sauce and didn’t use any mayonnaise.  Next time I think I’ll use greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  At any rate, it was a hit and it was a nice gathering among friends new to me.

After the meeting the leaders of the SGI group traveled with me back to Paju to “enshrine” my Gohonzon.  For those of you not familiar with SGI Buddhism, the Gohonzon is a scroll with Sanscrit writing and is the object of devotion in the practice.  I received my Gohonzon when I became a member of SGI two years ago, but as I have been traveling for most of the past two years, it is just now that I am a little more “settled” and I am able have and use and practice with my Gohonzon again.

It was fun for me to lead them from Seoul to my new “home” in Paju.  They had no idea what to expect from English Village.  They were tickled and delighted to discover English Village is like a small theme park, complete with a giant mock Stonehenge at the entrance!  “So you live in there?”  they asked referring to behind the gates entering English Village.  “Yep” I said.  Not your typical Korean abode! They were like kids in a candy store as we entered through the gates and I began to lead them through the campus to my room.

They were generous in their description of my little “home” in English Village.  “It’s cute”  they said.  “So cozy” and “It’s like a little hotel room.”  All little affirmations that were nice to hear and in fact, for me it is cozy!  We spent a little time together in my room, hung my Gohonzon in its new cabinet and did a little chanting together.  It was really sweet for me to have them all there and to spend that time together.

As it is the New Years holiday, we have fives days vacation this week at English Village.  This is time that many staff use to travel to near-by (and not so near-by) destinations – Thailand, Japan.  As I am a recent arrival I was not yet prepared to take a trip but look forward to having a nice low-key week and doing a little sightseeing in Seoul.

I am not alone in my New Years respite at English Village.  We have a staff potluck/New Years celebration tomorrow night and it will be fun to share food and time together in the midst of the slow-paced holiday break.

And today, the day of  Korea’s New Years celebration, I find I have time to rest, relax and have time with myself.  I have indulged in a little on-line video streaming, plucked around on the internet, as well as my typical respite of Reiki and yoga.

A fresh coat of snow in last week... about a foot.  Not a Blizzard or anything... just regular winter life in Paju South Korea.

A fresh thick coat of snow last week.  It wasn’t a blizzard or anything – just regular winter life in Paju South Korea.

I was told not too long ago by a young Korean man I met on the subway (who was excited to see a “foreigner” so he could practice his English)  that according to Korean tradition, I am 44 years old.  Now I don’t know exactly how that works… but somehow in that process I gained two years! (I am 42 in American years)  And so it is.

The sun is starting to set and the quiet evening is making itself known.  It is so peaceful here right now that the only sound I can here is the hum of my heater blowing overhead.  We remain cold  here with a hearty blanket of snow on the ground unwilling yet to go away.  And so, this is the context and the landscape of my Korean New Year.  My only question is… with this New Year, am I now 45?

Top Photo:  Toto, we’re not in Korea anymore!  Stonehenge?  The unexpected welcome at the entrance to Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

Being at Ease

2 Feb

It’s been a great Saturday for me.  Nothing too exciting.  It’s the weekend and I spent the day taking it easy.  Cleaning my apartment, sorting things, going to the grocery store.  I gave myself a Reiki treatment, did some yoga and put some black beans in the crock pot.  Tonight I will watch a movie.  I have to say it has been a great day!  Just what I needed.

I realized today as I was walking to the grocery store that I am starting to move out of  “survival phase” in my integration to life at the English Village in South Korea.  I have been here long enough that I am now fairly content that my basic needs will be met.  I have a kitchen full of foods that are healthy and satisfying.  I have a fluffy pillow and warm blankets.  I order regularly from iherb.com to get the healthy foods I want and need but can’t get in South Korea (delivery only a flat fee of $4.00!).  I have some basic spices and seasonings in my cupboard and with the assistance of my lovely crock pot I am able to cook some yummy meals for myself.

I can also get myself to Seoul without too much distress and make my way around a bit on the subway.  I have overcome some simple, but necessary challenges of traveling by myself to and from Seoul… like making sure I exit the subway at the exit number where the bus stop for the bus home is located (this is very important!  A few times I exited at random exit numbers and emerged on the streets of Seoul and had no idea where I was, let alone where my bus was!) And I am now confident that I know my bus stop well enough that I won’t accidentally miss it or pass it by, even at night.  It’s the little things!  So I am starting to feel a more… relaxed… and at home.

I am very grateful for my connection to the SGI Buddhist group in Seoul!  They have been a wonderful respite and a place to connect and meet new people when I want on the weekends.  This weekend on Sunday I will be traveling to Seoul to join them for their monthly world peace chanting.  Afterwards I will join a few members to go grab a bite to eat.  Really nice.

It’s a quiet winter day here on the English Village campus.  The snow has mostly melted and today this sun is shining.  While it is warmer, there is still a descent bite of cold in the air.  Our busy month of January programming and teaching is complete.  We have had a few days of light teaching this week and I am told a light week to come before our upcoming 5 day holiday (It is the Korean New Year).

As you may know, I am in Paju, south Korea which is a small community of about 250,000 just an hour north of Seoul.  The surrounding area is pretty spacious… much wide open land with little clusters of business – stores, restaurants and other things I can’t tell what they are since I don’t read Korean.  I am told this area is agricultural  and has a Korean military base not far away.  Paju Premium Outlet mall is just a short bus ride away (shockingly similar name to the outlet chains in the United States) with American movies and some familiar brand names and shops.  We’ve had a few days of weather here where it’s not so cold that I am huddled into my own being like a turtle seeking its shell. I am actually starting to look around and notice my surroundings a bit more.

Picture 002

A quick look at the area surrounding the English Village in Paju, South Korea, the land still barren in the dead of winter.

The English Village campus is somewhat remote.  While we are located in the city of Paju, we are surrounded by much land and are a 5 or ten minute walk from the grocery store and a fifteen or twenty-minute walk to nearby restaurants, post office and other commerce.

We have pretty easy access to “getting around” with the bus stop just outside the English Village grounds and a bus that goes directly to Seoul.  There are other buses that take you to nearby shopping areas and cities and with the assistance of our friendly security staff, we can easily catch a cab when needed.

I was at a clothing swap earlier this week.  A staff member is leaving and she hosted a swap as an opportunity for her to give away clothes and other items that she won’t be taking with her when she leaves Korea.  When we were chatting she mentioned that living at English Village is like “Korea light”… which is true.  Nestled in the comfort of our English-speaking environment, we get to experience many of the comforts and ease of home.

That said, we don’t have to go far to be immediately immersed in the world and culture of  South Korea – just beyond the Hollywood-like sign of the English Village.  For me, I find it’s a nice balance… as I continue to ease my way into life and work in South Korea.