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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!

In Motion: A Rainy Night In Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Itaewon Seoul Korea

Standing out like a patch of North America in the middle of South Korea, Itaewon is the preeminent foreigner hub in Seoul, and by virtue of this, the biggest gathering place for expats in the entire country. Western-style bars, restaurants, and stores with appropriately sized clothing are all available in relative abundance, leading to frequent trips to this area by desperate teachers from the provinces. Also, many Koreans find it to be the best place to experience foreign cultures in the whole country, made all the more significant by the fact that this country is very homogeneous (Korea is 98% ethnic Korean), making it hard to connect with all things international outside of this area.

Below, I make my first foray into this vibrant district, on a moody and rainy night in Seoul

Have you ever been to Itaewon?  Have a favourite bar/restaurant/shop you frequent there?  Let us know about it in the comments!

A Taste Of Home In The Middle Of Korea: MOOSEHEAD!

A refreshing taste of home in the middle of Korea ... ahhh!
Guess what I found in Seoul?

Just a short post today, as I’m writing this from a remote tropical island with creaky internet. When you’re in a foreign country (especially when you are living there full-time), you are constantly surrounded with new things to try and sample.

Sometimes, though, you crave a taste of things you know and love from back home. In Korea, not being a major tourist destination on the level of SE Asia, and only opening up majorly to international influences about a decade ago, it can be hard to find things that you take for granted in the West.

In Seoul, the capital city, it’s easier to find these products, but even I was surprised to find what I found when visiting an international self-serve beer bar … MOOSEHEAD BEER, from my neck of the woods (Atlantic Canada), repping my home nation, among the likes of Guinness, Heineken, Stella, Tiger, etc.

It was truly a nostalgic moment, and I enjoyed downing the ol’ Moose Green just as I had back in my college days (10+ long years ago!)

A full post on my first excursion to Seoul should be on the blog next week, so stay tuned!

Have you made any surprising finds when you were travelling/living overseas? Share your discovery in the comments!

Let’s Head To The Market: A Visit To The Outdoor Korean Food Market In Onyangoncheon, Korea

Optimized-IMG_0434Fuelling up on Don Katsu (breaded pork cutlet), smothered in a zesty garlic sauce, accompanied by all the usual banchan (side dishes), namely rice, tater tots (which I ate already, tee hee), a salad dish I can’t identify, plus some yellow radish and Kimchi…

Korea is a land of many unique foods. Kimchi stands chief among them, a fermented, spicy side dish of raw cabbage that many shy away from. Having indulged in it many times however, it is a taste that you grow to like in my opinion, and the spicy zing adds life to many meals without overwhelming them.

In order for the Kimchi, and the main dishes that it stars alongside to be created in the first place, the cooks, both household and professional alike, must first visit the local market. After catching word of an outstanding Korean food market in Onyangoncheon, the largest city in Asan, I had to check it out for myself…

Optimized-IMG_0451 A dizzying variety of produce, most of it from within the region, greets visitors to the market in Onyangoncheon

After taking Seoul Subway Line 1 to Onyangoncheon Station (visitors from Seoul will want to take an ITX train to the station [name is the same, as they share the same track] ), walk out onto the main street, and wander eastward for a couple of blocks. After this, cross the street and head south until you run into throngs of people, and an endless array of vegetables, fruits, seafood, baked goods, and people hawking crafts and other general merchandise.

Optimized-IMG_0452 A tantalizing array of Korean fast food (Ddeokbokki [spicy rice cakes in a red pepper sauce], Hoddeok [a pastry filled with brown sugar and nuts/seeds], sundae [Korean pork sausage], battered vegetables, etc) awaits those with a void to fill in their tummies (like me!)

Optimized-IMG_0453 An enviable selection of freshly caught fish waits patiently in their market stall, until a seafood chef comes by to arrange a marriage between them, some cooking oil, and a frying pan.

Optimized-IMG_0454 Awaiting a similar fate, a wide variety of shellfish are kept in good condition by constantly flowing water, until they find themselves in a stock pot later that evening…

Optimized-IMG_0457 Mmmmm …. Doughnuts!

After exiting the market, I came across a fountain just south of the train station. Before heading back to the terminal to catch the subway home, I found out quickly that this was no ordinary water feature

What’s your favorite thing about markets? The food? The atmosphere? The people? All the things you can buy? Talk to us in the comments!

A Look Around My Former Home in Korea, Baebang

Optimized-IMG_0384The streets of Baebang outside my apartment on the first morning at 8am

After shaking off the jetlag that accompanies a trip to the other side of the world, it was time to take a look around the community that would be my home for the next year. Baebang, unknown outside of Korea (and likely the Asan-Cheonan area) is considered to be a town by Korean standards, with a population of approximately 30,000.

While many places this size are a dime a dozen in this country, Baebang has a vibrant feel to it, due to the rapid economic growth it is experiencing due to the presence and continuing expansion of the Korean electronics company, Samsung.

Let’s go for a little stroll and see what’s here, shall we?

IMG_0386The view from the top of my five storey building, overlooking the Eastern portion of Baebang town.

Optimized-IMG_0395This is what the mailboxes look like over here … mail theft, what’s that? 😛

Optimized-IMG_0418An exercise machine in my neighbourhood … back pain? Rub up against it grizzly bear style and knead those cramps away!

Optimized-IMG_0421Many colourful flowers blossom in the long, hot summers that grace the Korean Peninsula. On a major street near the downtown area, we see a display of floral beauty that brighten the sometimes gritty urban landscape that you see throughout Korea.

Optimized-IMG_0426In Korea, with 50 million people hemmed into an area the size of Ohio or the island of Newfoundland, and with 70% of that land being comprised of mountains, land available to grow food is at a premium. Therefore, every square inch of land that can be used for growing food, usually is, even in the midst of urban areas. Here, a vacant lot is used to grow onions if I’m not mistaken…

IMG_0424At the back of the town site, an amazing site repeated almost everywhere throughout Korea … beautifully shaped mountains towering over their respective towns and cities. Korea is a wonderland for the hiking enthusiast … it’s just a shame I didn’t get a chance to scale one of these beauties (due to the heat, and my sudden … erm … exit from the country)

As I alluded to in the title of this post, I am no longer in Korea, as of August 16. I pulled a midnight run from my private English institute for reasons that shall be disclosed soon (by the end of this month).

Right now, I am typing this from a comfy hostel bed in Bangkok, Thailand. My focus over the next week will be to de-stress from everything that happened in the past two weeks or so. To that end, I’m headed to Koh Chang, hoping for a little sun in the midst of the rainy season (we shall see).

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this: Do you, or have you ever lived in Korea, away from Busan or Seoul? What was your town/city like? Tell me about it in the comments below!