Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!
It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days. This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.
I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea. I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.
Well, that’s cool. But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway? On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!
January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary
One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this. Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.
As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead. All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!
February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job? Time To Go Skiing!
After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past. While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.
Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do? Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!
Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there! Sick times. Want to see more? Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!
March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence
As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe. Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.
An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”. While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.
During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico. During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.
In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB! I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul. WHOO-HOO!
April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth
Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system. As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…
Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.
I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”. There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).
Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!
May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea
After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here. The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.
For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).
Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend. Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t. So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>
Whew… I’m almost never like that. Sorry guys. Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine. And go public, not private. More on that in a second…!
June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s
OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right? I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world. Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach! Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.
If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs. Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style! I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!
Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ). I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.
Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers. When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!
July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation
Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.
My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city. From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet). As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂
August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…
I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August. After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.
With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move. After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.
I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand. For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching. Totally burnt out. I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.
As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity. A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it. At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…
September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia
After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia. I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die. If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily. It’s that good guys, for serious!
From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next. Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!
October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands
I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here. Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…
… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!
November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank
While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious. Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included. Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month. Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that! On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂
It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all. Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!
December 2013 – Catching Fire
Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month. Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that. I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.
All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later. I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂
How did the past year treat you? Regale us with your tales in the comments!