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My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 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

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

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!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

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

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

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.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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

Rooftop view, Baebang, 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

Daecheon Beach, Korea

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!

Korean BBQ in Korea

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

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

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…

Word of wisdom, Korea

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.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

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

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, 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!

Optimized-SAM_0882

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

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

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…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… 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

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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!

Mission Aborted: Why I Fled Korea’s Private ESL Industry

Optimized-IMG_0707Not the reason why I quit: my kids, while sometimes challenging and naughty, were generally friendly and well-behaved. The aspects that tipped the scales towards my departure were related to the behavior of my employer, using tactics that are shockingly common throughout the private ESL industry.

If you follow my social media accounts, then you may be aware of what has happened in the past week. If not, I’ll keep it brief: I left my teaching job in Korea after a series of legal abuses regarding to things owed to me by my hagwon, in accordance with Korean law.

These specific things included medical insurance and contributions to my pension. One of them provides national healthcare coverage, instead of me having to pursue expensive private health insurance on my own, and the other adds up to about $1,000 or more by the end of the contract.

This was money I was planning to pay my Canadian taxes with, as well as put towards other bills (Hi Mastercard!) next Spring.

Another insidious fact I learned as I dug deeper, is that since I was not receiving pay stubs when I got paid. Given that I was paid 2.1 million won a month, my automatic tax deduction should have been in the area of 30,000 – 40,000 won.

INSTEAD, I was being charged 3.3% tax per month, leading to an outgo of almost twice that figure. Additionally, I have no way of knowing for sure, but since I was not receiving pay stubs, it was plausible he could have been skimming money off my cheque as “taxes” and pocketing the money.

On top of all this, my boss was saddling me with an ever increasing workload, with expectations to teach a “perfect” lesson (e.g. please all the kids all the time). At first, my classes were too boring. Then, I played too many games. Then, they were too boring again. I simply couldn’t win.

With all the legal hassles, insane work loads and expectations, and the general stress of teaching kids you couldn’t effectively discipline (because if you upset them, bye bye precious tuition $$$), it was exacting a heavy toll on my physical and emotional health.

 

I had a nasty cold that I had to work through (sick days? What’s a sick day? They don’t exist in Korea in hagwons generally speaking.)

My lips were constantly breaking out in nasty canker sores from all the stress I was experiencing.

I experienced a general fatigue that grew worse as time pressed on, only partially remedied by the weekend.

In my last two weeks, I started to slip into a depression … catching myself falling into this dangerous pattern, I knew I had to get out before anything worse could happen to me.

After a plea to my recruiter either led to my boss not caring, or my recruiter not passing along my grievances (I had already complained about my other issues in person to my boss twice before, only to have him dodge the question or provide a convenient excuse/non-answer), and a 15 minute meeting at the end of my last workday that led to him calling me a liar (which wasn’t true — it was related to course materials and such, as he was unaware of what was going on in his classes — if he spent more time out of his office instead of counting tuition money on his spreadsheets he’d know that!)

After all that frustration, and a day off to plan my escape, I had finally had enough – I was going to pull a runner.

30 hours later, I was on a plane to Bangkok via Shanghai, bidding farewell to Korea’s private ESL industry. I do feel bad for the teachers I left behind, but I felt like I was backed into a corner with few options available to me. This whole episode will pass, hopefully with valuable lessons learned by all sides involved.

Have you ever ran/resigned from an ESL job in South Korea due to shady dealings? Feel free to spill yer guts below!

Zero Hour: Flying To Korea To Teach ESL … Hurrah!

IMG_0214The starting point of my latest journey – the best city on the face of the Earth, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The trip – another 12 hour long haul across the big blue Pacific to South Korea. the mission: Teach the English to overeager Korean youngsters. Game on.

After sorting through reams of paperwork, spending hundreds of dollars, and struggling at times to occupy myself during three months of funemployment in Calgary, Canada, I was on the eve of taking off to tackle the next big adventure in my life. In the next few days, I was due to hop in a plane, head to South Korea (seemingly on the brink of nuclear war at the time of my departure, lol!) and teach English as a second language for one year.

I had just finished spending one year back in my native Canadia, reconnecting with family and attempting to pay off some debt, while figuring out where to steer my ship next. The prior is a story for another post, but suffice to say, the words of my traveling mates, urging me give teaching ESL in Korea a chance, came echoing back somewhere around November 2012. This, plus my discovery of eatyourkimchi.com, an excellent website focused on Korean music and culture, tilted my bow in the direction of the Far East once again!

This brings us to the day of my departure as I commenced flying to Korea … travel with me as I leave the comforts of home once again for the great wide open…!

Optimized-IMG_0345The giant fish tank in the international departures area of the Vancouver Airport provides an appropriate send-off for Yours Truly. Quick, let’s make our way back to our gate, only five minutes till boarding call!

Optimized-IMG_0355The Coast Mountains of Vancouver Island comprise the last speck of land that represents Canada on this flight. Judging from the epicness of the scene below, I will have to check’er out next time I’m home for an extended period!

Optimized-IMG_0358Air Canada airline food: vastly improved from the last time I ate with them. Not only was it edible, it was flavourful and very filling. Great job guys!

After an disorientating 12 hour flight across the vast expanse of the Pacific, I was greeted by a guy who thought I was his guy and who I thought was my contact. Two elevator rides and a five minute wait in the backseat of a cab in a parking garage later, we both realized our mistake and hottailed it back for the arrivals area 😛

Here, I met my contact for ESL Partner, my recruiting agency, who welcomed to the country and walked me through the process of buying my bus ticket to Asan City, 2 hours and 45 minutes away (a good hour and a half south of Seoul). After a few mis-communications, I had my ticket in hand. After spending an hour watching a tape delay MLB game (the LA Dodgers, who have brought over Hyun-Jin Ryu, an outstanding pitcher from Korea, was the prime attraction), I was on the bus and off to Asan City…!

 

Optimized-IMG_0380My room in Baebang (not in Asan city as I had previously thought!), after a deep, prolonged sleep. It would have been more prolonged, but I was expected at the school for orientation the following morning!

Have a great (better than mine?!) headed to Korea for the first time tale to tell? Share it below!

In Motion: My Korean Apartment Tour – Live From Baebang, South Korea!

My Korean kitchen ... cosy, but many tasty meals were made here!

Hey guise! Sorry for the silence over the past month or so. With the major adjustments that come with moving overseas and working as an ESL teacher, I have struggled with falling back into a routine with respect to online work.

Now that things seem to be falling into place, I will getting back on the horse, which means finishing the Philippines, the start of posts on South Korea, as well as a variety of new content related to outdoor adventure and excitement in general.

Today’s post is my entry into the vast trove of Korean apartment videos. I had fears of moving into a rickety tar paper shack. Thankfully, South Korea is a first world, super modern country, and those fears are largely unfounded. A few holes owned by shady Hagwon owners do exist, but they are in the minority.

Check out my Korean apartment tour below, and enjoy!