Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Horrible blogger

I'm on gchat with my sister and she mentions that I am a horrible blogger. Yes, I know. I apologize it's been so long. The blogosphere world can celebrate once more though because I'm finally posting an update.

My last post was in May so there is way too much to write about in detail. I'll have to keep this update brief. After coming back from Thailand/Laos/Cambodia/Malaysia, I started working for Wall Street Institute. Working for WSI has been a blessing, I actually look forward to going to work every day. I get to teach adults that really want to learn English, in an environment that is stable and fun. I worked for a bit near Samsung Station but then transferred to a WSI branch near Kangnam Station. The Kangnam area is probably the best place to work in in all of Korea because it's always fast paced, full of people, bright neon lights galore, chaotic, lots of food options, and near my apartment. I found a four bedroom apartment on that's right near the Han River, literally a two minute walk. I share it with a French guy who's in Korea getting his masters. Lately, I've been teaching at Samsung, conducting a conversation class with 6 business people. It's super laid back and the lessons are completely up to me. I teach at WSI each weekday evening from 7:00pm until 10:00pm and on Saturdays. I've been doing odd jobs here and there like writing some material for WSI and conducting interviews for Samsung.

Seoul is absolutely great. I love living in a huge city that never sleeps. But, I've decided it's time for me to pick up and move on to the next thing. I'm returning to the USA December 22nd, right in time for Xmas. It's been a while since I've seen my parents, so this'll be nice. I'm looking for a job now, hopefully on the west coast, but haven't lined anything up just yet.

There is plenty of stuff about Korea I should write about but fortunately my friend Joe has been doing just that. Check out his blog, He's a better writer than I am and has a better camera. He lives just one subway stop away, so we try and hang out when we can.

See you soon America!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thailand - ราชอาณาจักรไทย (and I thought Korean was tough)

I guess I like reading a lot more than writing. Sorry, I should have updated my blog much sooner, but better late than never.

I went traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and a small stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in April. Here are some of the stories from those travels.

I flew out of Incheon International on April 1st. Jon and I were pushing it close and were kind of late arriving to the airport. As we approached to check in for our flight, a Malaysian Airlines employee motioned for us to come over to the first class check in line (there was actually no one around). We told him were we were going and he said he had an offer for us. If I could change out of my shorts and put some pants on along with some shoes (I was wearing sandals), he'd upgrade us to first class for free. The problem was, I didn't bring any pants or shoes with me, I'm going to scorching hot SE Asia! I tried bribing him with my sweet, pink ray ban like knock off shades, but he upgraded us for free anyways. We got to fly first class. Nice way to start the trip.

After a layover in Kuala Lumpur, we landed in Bangkok and made our way to Khao San Road, which is the touristy "backpacker ghetto". Right off the bat, I was surprised with how modern, hectic, loud, and chaotic Bangkok was. The city is huge, about 15 million people, skyscrapers to be seen in every direction, and traffic is always a problem, so it took a while to get to our hostel. We got to our hostel, Kawin place, and after a quick Pad Thai bought on the street for about $1, we crashed for the night.

The next day we saw the Grand Palace, what seemed like a couple hundred Buddhas, and explored the city. If you followed the news at all, you know that that was about the time the red shirt protests began. The red shirts were demanding for the dissolution of the current government, accusing the current people in power of corruption, among other things. Our tuk tuk drivers, and locals we spoke to, insisted that these protests were to be peaceful. A few years ago, the yellow shirts protested and closed down both of the major airports, which crippled the heavily dependent tourist economy, so the red shirts did not want this to happen. Anyway, we could see protesters everywhere, but it was still pretty calm and seemed safe. More on that later.

The highlight of Bangkok for me was touring the Grand Palace. Our guide, a little old Thai man, would crack jokes every two minutes or so, but none of us got them. We did laugh, because he thought he was so funny, on the verge of chocking. I don't think he realized we were laughing at him, not with him. Either way, I learned a lot and saw a lot.

Besides the grand palace, I didn't like Bangkok at all. It was fantastic to see it and experience it, but the place was way to busy and in your face to be able to take it easy. For example, walking down Khao San Road, there are hordes of Indian men wearing flashy suits, sporting slicked back hair, trying to sell you a suit or two.

"Sir, you buy a suit. I'll give you good price, sir. Sir!"
"No, thank you"
"Sir, you will be handsome. Buy suit"

Less than five seconds later, the same type of thing happens, but with a new guy. These guys were like mosquitoes, unwilling to take no for an answer. Apparently, you can get pretty nice suits, custom made and with high quality materials, but I didn't want one!!! One time, sensing that a suit man was approaching, I simply said "I don't want a suit, man". He replied "Why do you assume I sell you suit?! Why? I wasn't even talking to you yet!" "Sorry, but if it walks like a duck..." "Why you say that!? I no sell you suit!" "Well, what were you going to sell me?" "F**k you, I no sell you suit" So I keep on walking. Half an hour later, as I was leaving the internet cafe, the same guy approaches me and offers me a suit for a good price. "Don't you remember me? You said you don't sell suits and that you wouldn't sell me anything?" The suit man, realizing that he had in fact talked to me earlier, says "I can sell you suit now. Best price, you want?" I didn't buy a suit.

We met up with two other friends from Korea, Nicole and Sarah, who had already been traveling for over a month, and traveled together for a while. We decided to leave Bangkok and go see a floating market about two hours west of the city. This required getting up at the early hour of 6:00am in order to beat traffic and the protesters, but alas, a hearty McDonalds breakfast put everything in order. (I want to try McDonalds in every country I go to. So does my brother Sasha). The floating market was nice. Get in a long boat with a scrappy looking motor hanging at the back, and drive around this market/village where people sell stuff I don't really want or need, but interesting to see nonetheless. I was most enthralled with the motors on these boats and the driveshafts sticking out of them, going into the water. It was like they tore a motor out of an old Corolla, attached a driveshaft with a propeller at the end, and viola, you've got yourself a motor boat. Speaking of Corollas, the majority of the cars I saw in Thailand, and Cambodia for that matter, were Toyotas. They were everywhere.

It took forever to get back to our hostel because of protesters blocking roads everywhere. We could see military checkpoints everywhere, but after what seemed like half a day of sitting in traffic, we got out and walked back, at which point we ran into another teacher from Korea, who we spent some time with! This teacher was preparing to go climb to base camp at Mt. Everest. Hopefully he made it.

After Bangkok, we headed for Cambodia. From Khao San Road, we took a mini-bus to the Cambodian border, which was also pretty chaotic and confusing. It took about an hour of standing in the blistering heat to get our passports stamped, but we were on our way soon enough to Siem Reap. As soon as we crossed the border, it was easy to tell that Cambodia is a much poorer country. Rickety looking stores, what looked like ill nourished cows, and trash were everywhere. Thailand looked like a spotless place compared to Cambodia. Recycling does not exist there, as was apparent from stuff lying around absolutely everywhere. Granted, having food on the table for your family is more important than making sure the plastic bottle you're drinking from ends up being recycled, but it was just an example of how different the place is.

Siem Reap is the town situated right next to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. We found a reasonably priced guest house (I think it was $7 a night) with AC, which was absolutely necessary. April is the hottest month of the year in south east Asia, with temperatures reaching about 45 degrees centigrade. I remember Sacramento being unbearably hot, but this, for whatever reason, was worse. When I asked why the internet wasn't working at our guesthouse, the owner, with sweat dripping off his brow, pointed outside and said "Look. It is too hot for the internet. Maybe next month". I had no choice but had to take his word for it.

We bought a three day pass to the temples, which was $40 USD (US cash was accepted everywhere in Cambodia. I guess the US dollar is a lot more stable). The tuk tuk driver that had driven us to the guesthouse the day before came back again to drive us to the temples. We spent the next three days exploring this massive site, by first visiting the smallest temples around the perimeter and working up the biggest ones, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. We went to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, which was surreal and definitely worth the 4:00am wake up.

Along the way to another temple, we stopped to feed some monkeys! Some of these furry guys were the definition of gross obesity, since hordes of tourists stuff them with bananas, bought from little Cambodian kids for less than a buck. Naturally, we couldn't help but do the same.

A highlight from the Cambodia trip was being invited to a Lunar New Year's party by a taxi driver, who happened to be a local police lieutenant. We had our tuk tuk driver, Jimmy, pick us up and drive us the one hour out of Siem Reap to the village where this cop lives. There were about 50 or so people at this shindig. They already had roasted a cow over an open fire and had plenty of food. Cheasy Cambodian music was blasting in all directions and these people loved talking to us. One thing about SE Asia is that they love saying "same, same, but different". Here is an example of how its used.

Jimmy, our tuk tuk driver, calls me over. BTW, I told Jimmy that my name is Jimmy too, but that's another story altogether. "Jimmy, come meet my father!"
Me. "It's nice to meet you. Your son Jimmy here has been a very accommodating driver."
Jimmy. "haha, yes"
Five minutes later, Jimmy calls me over again.
Jimmy. "Jimmy, meet my father!"
Me. "Jimmy, I thought your father is that guy. You just introduced us five minutes ago. Am I mistaken?"
Jimmy. "Same, same, but different"
Me. "Same same, but different? No, you can only have one dad, which one is it?"
Jimmy. "haha, same same, but different, Jimmy. Have some cow! Did you try our Cambodian cheese?" (the cheese did not look or taste like cheese at all. More like ground up alfalfa)

After Cambodia, Jon and I decided to completely change our plans, and decided to go back to Thailand because we heard that Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand, celebrates the new year in only the most memorable way. A three day long, city wide, water fight. We took a bus back to Bangkok, where it took a lot of haggling and negotiating to find a way to Chiang Mai. After only too many travel agents, we booked a flight through AirAsia, which have pretty cheap flights all over SE Asia.

Chiang Mai was a lot more to my liking, compared to Bangkok. The city has a laid back feel to it, people don't force suits down your throat, and the landscape is gorgeous. We arrived a few days before Songkram (the name of the new year festival about to happen) was to begin, so we booked a two day trek through the Thai jungle. This trek included riding elephants, hiking through mountains to a little village, seeing a long-neck village, jumping off of waterfalls, white water rafting, and bamboo river rafting. Besides Jon and I, our group consisted, coincidentally, another guy from Seattle and his Brazilian girlfriend, three girls from Ontario, who happened to live really close to Jon, an Austrian girl, two recent high school grad from England, and our tour guide, Khan. The three Canadian girls had somehow never in their lives gone hiking before. About a kilometer into the hike, one of the girls was puking while another was crying, begging to turn back. Bear in mind, its about 40 degrees and we are in the middle of the jungle. The only person knows how to get back to civilization is Khan, and we still have a few more hours of hiking to the village where we are to spend the night. Long story short, we got to the village, albeit later than expected. Along the way, Khan showed us what we could and could not eat; off of trees, from the ground, from rotting stumps, etc. I felt like I was Bear Grills.

Anyway, writing about this takes more time than expected. I'll try and finish soon.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Things change

I've had a lot go on in the past few weeks. Here's what stands out the most.

* I don't work for JM English School anymore. :) I won't go into the details, but they let me go with positive recommendations and we parted amicably. I'm glad I don't work there anymore and have consequently lined up a new place of employment, Wall Street Institute.
I'll be teaching adults come May, which I think I'll enjoy quite a bit more.

* Last week, Anja and Sasha visited me for about a week. We did a lot of touristy stuff, doing a city bus tour, memorials, museums, quirky neighborhoods, etc. I was very happy to see them and spend some time with my siblings. I think they also did. Before Seoul, they spent a few days in Tokyo, which sounded amazing and sounded like Sasha really got a kick out of. I think I've now come to terms that my little brother is a grown person, which took a little getting used to. He also got into all the universities he applied to and I have no doubt he will do well in whichever one he chooses to go to.

* In light of the fact that I don't have a job for the month of April, I'm taking a backpacking adventure through the beautiful countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and maybe a stop in Vietnam. The itinerary includes Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world and where Tomb Raider was filmed, the wild jungles of Laos, and Ko Tao, arguably the mecca of scuba diving in the world. I leave tomorrow morning with my Canadian friend Jon. We will be meeting up with some other friends along the way and I can't wait to see what South East Asia has to offer.

For some reason, won't allow me to upload pictures. Hopefully my sister will soon. Otherwise, I'll have to do it in May.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Koreans have a hard time pronouncing some of our sounds, like the letter z. Instead of Jesus, it's more like "Jejush". Pizza is more like "pija". My name comes out "Bitari" instead of Vitaliy. I understand though. For the longest time, I couldn't get it why my parents couldn't say things in English the way my siblings and I could. It was so easy for us! Now, when I try to say things in Korean, Koreans often have to ask a few times because I, apparently, can't say it properly and the way they say it. Making sure you're going to the right part of the city is especially crucial when in a cab because there are so many neighborhoods that can be mispronounced.

Another thing I understand now is that learning a language was sooooo much easier when I was younger. It just came to me. Learning to speak Korean is going to be harder than I thought.

I loved pizza the moment I bit into a slice and the same remains true today. Fortunately, Papa Johns expanded to Korea and they taste pretty much the same here. Koreans do make a few weird tweaks to their pizza that are just wrong. For example, there is a pizza franchise here called Pizza School that is really cheap, starting at 5000 won for a pizza, which is roughly $4.50USD. They have something called a Deousche pizza with sausages (there are lots of spelling mistakes here, it's supposed to be Deutsche guys), sweet potato, pizza with chicken wings on it as the topping, and another one with I don't even know what as the topping but mayonnaise as the sauce. Almost every pizza has corn on it too. Fortunately, there are some pizzas at Pizza School that taste pretty good. My favorite is bulgogi, which is Korean for beef.

This picture is of a Papa Johns delivery man with a portable credit card reader.

A delivery bike for Sta Sera, an Italian restaurant in Gangnam.

Below we have Mandoo. It's kind of like Ukrainian pelmeni, stuffed with a mix of beef and seafood or kimchi. Really cheap too at only 3000 won. Which reminds me of something else the rest of America should really pick up on. When paying for things, the tax is included in the advertised price. No one likes messing around with change, so Koreans keep it simple. If something says 3000 won, you pay 3000 won. Not 3000 plus tax. Makes life a little less complicated.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

So much to do, so little time!

My blog has become a bit quiet. Sorry about that. Perhaps I'm not a writer, or perhaps I've been preoccupied with other things. Perhaps a bit of both.

The past two months have been going well, albeit very, very cold. It's finally getting warmer and I couldn't be happier. I did go snowboarding twice, which was great. Coming to Korea, I basically gave up on the idea of hitting the slopes but turns out Koreans love racing down the mountain almost as much as I do. I went to Yongpyong Ski Resort, which is the largest resort in the country. I also went to Vivaldi Ski park on Lunar New Year weekend, which was cool but the park was the smallest one I've been to in my life.

I'm not an expert snowboarder by any means but compared to most Koreans, I'm Shaun White (he won gold for us in halfpipe). The mountains they have here are nothing compared to what we have back home. I'm attaching a few pics for your viewing pleasure.

Right before I left for the Philippines, I was Santa for all the kindergarten students at my school. They loved it! I wore shades so that they wouldn't be able to tell who I was.

What else. I'm playing ball hockey now with a bunch of waygooks (Korean for foreigners). I've never played hockey before, so I've got a lot of learning to do. It's pretty fun, a great work out, and so far I love it. Below is a video from the rookie only game. This was all the first timers playing, with the captains of each team scouting us out to later draft the players they want. Check out for info on the league.

One of my best friends has decided to move to Korea and become a teacher, which is great news for me. I lived with Joe for three years while in college and having a good friend here will only make living in Korea better. Here's another video he took of us eating galbi. I eat at this restaurant at least once a week. We call it Chuck's Beef Strips. The owner's name is difficult to pronounce for us, so I asked him if I could give him an English name. He was all for it and after some careful thought, I gave him the name Chuck because he reminds me of Chuck Norris. He's well built, stocky, and can probably kick some butt, just like Chuck Norris. The name caught on and everyone I know that goes here calls him Chuck.

There's plenty of other things to write about but I have to go. 'Til next time!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Philippines!

Happy New Year to everyone! This year, I had the opportunity to spend Christmas and ring in the new year on the tropical island of Boracay. The island, one of over 7,000 in the Philippines, was voted one of the most beautiful in the world by Yahoo travel and I can attest to its ranking being so high. This place was great.

I left Seoul with 8 other friends on Christmas eve and landed in Manila an hour before the 25th. I booked a hostel near the airports for us, which cost $5.70 for the night per person. We spent the night there and flew out of the domestic airport for the town of Kalibo, which was about an hour's flight from Manila. After landing, we took an hour and a half bus ride to the port of Caticlan. Caticlan actually has a little landing strip, but its been closed down due to a landing accident a few weeks ago. This is according to the Filipino man I was sitting next too. Apparently, domestic flights don't have the same safety measures as international flights. Not the most reassuring thing to hear, but whatever, when have I ever been afraid of something like a little airplane flight.

Once we got to the ferry terminal, we were directed away from the port to the "luxury private" ferry boat. There was nothing luxurious about this thing. Basically, if you want to get to Boracay, you have to take a little ferry, which is half built from bamboo poles, for a 15 minute ride. Boracay isn't very far from the main island (I wasn't able to figure out what constitutes a main island) but there are no bridges going here. Transportation is very water based. After hitting the beach in our ferry boat, we had to jump into the water, with our luggage over our heads, and wade on over to the beach. There, we hired a van/truck/vehicle thing. I felt like a sardine sitting in the back of this windowless, bumpy, third world truck. The van dropped me, Jon, and Kevin off at our hostel, Trafalgar Cottages. The girls decided to get a hostel with AC. Being the rugged men that we are, we thought an $8/night room would be just fine. Anyway, the hostel owner was a really nice British lady (Trafalgar...can you make the connection?) who met her Filipino husband while volunteering for the UN in Africa. After unloading our stuff in our room, we met up with the rest of our group and had a predictably fantastic seafood themed dinner. Unpredictably, we had this at a Mexican restaurant, which was recommended by the girls' hostel owner, who was from New Zealand.

Boracay is a pretty small island, about 9 km in length and only about 1 km across. White beach is the main beach, which stretches for almost the entire length of the island on the side that is protected from the ocean winds. The sand is absolutely wonderful and doesn't get hot in the sun at all. The water, a perfectly cool, clear, and refreshing temperature, could not have been better. Wading around on the beach knee deep, I could see tropical fish swimming around me.

A few things that really struck me over the course of this 8 day adventure was how nice Filipinos were. No one would bump into me, jump in front of me while waiting in line for something, or rush me like people often do in fast-paced Seoul. In addition to speaking Tagalog, Filipinos also speak English, which was convenient and a nice change from the charades I've grown accustomed to in Korea when trying to get my point across. The people are much poorer though, compared to Korea or the US. I got to see where the locals live, and a lot of these homes seemed like places I could build with my own two hands. Definitely a different world.

Another thing that was surprising but really cool was how diverse all of the vacationers were. There were people from all over the world. I met people from Norway, France, Russia, UK, Korea, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Poland and overheard Indians, Africans, South Americans. The majority of people vacationing on the island were non-Filipinos.

One of the days, we went to a beach called Bulabog Beach, which apparently is one of the most famous beaches in the world for kite surfing. The sport, which I had never seen before, consists of a snowboard like board strapped to a persons feet and a parachute pulling the body across the water. Bulabog beach is on the opposite side of white beach and has strong winds, which is perfect for the sport. There were literally hundreds of kite boarders surfin' up a storm. We just stood in awe watching the action for over an hour before finally moving on, it was that cool. I was told the sport is very difficult and believe it, based on the couple of brave souls clearly still attempting to control the free-willing parachutes doing what they please.

One side note: Korean tourists were the easiest to spot on the island. Boracay is a popular destination for Koreans, especially for newlyweds. I've learned that once in a relationship, Korean women pretty much dress their men from head to toe. Vacation gear entails wearing matching outfits, which was pretty funny to us. Peace signs are ubiquitous when taking pictures. I also saw a Korean girl driving an ATV crash into a parked moped. Hilarity ensued.

I took an island hopping tour one of the days with my group of friends and a couple other teachers we ran into that were mutual friends. The tour consisted of going to an island that had some caves to explore, a nice beach, snorkeling, another island with an all you can eat seafood buffet, some more snorkeling, and then back to White Beach. While coming to our second snorkeling spot, we asked our guides if it was deep enough to dive. We were told that of course its deep enough, dive right in. Turned out it wasn't, as I got a nice cut on my foot from the coral reef right below the boat. Apparently, corals grow under a persons skin so I had to clean out my wound that night, which turned out to be a bit of nuisance. Be careful where you dive! (my foot is fine now)

There is only one road on Boracay, that runs the length of the island, which is full of tuk-tuks running around. These things were great. A tuk-tuk is simply a moped with a side car attached that will fit as many people as are willing to get on. Safety didn't really seem like a priority, which Jon experienced first hand when he fell off of one them. I had never been on one of these before but I can't wait to get on one again!

I don't know if I'll ever be able to beat the new years I had. There were fireworks along the entire stretch of White Beach that lasted for about half an hour. Very memorable.

We left Boracay at the horrible hour of 4am on January 2nd. This time, we were able to use the official port and didn't have to go into the water...getting onto the ferry boat. Getting off was a different story. I don't know what happened, but the ferry couldn't get close enough to the shore for whatever reason and we were about 25 meters away from dry land. Jon and I were the last two to get off the boat and when I stepped out of the enclosed passenger area, I had to rub my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Everyone that had been on the boat was being carried by little Filipino men on their shoulders. Since we were still kind of far out, there were skinny and what looked like malnourished men in their 50's hoisting people, which held their luggage above their heads, onto their shoulders and walking them to shore. I couldn't help but laugh. A kind looking man tugged on my arm, directing me to jump onto his shoulders. I looked at him in disbelief and said "thank you, but I don't want to break your back". He tugged on my arm harder but I just went ahead and jumped into the water. The man was probably 5'2" and 130 pounds! A little water never hurt anyone, so Jon and I were the only ones that waded to the shore on our own two feet. This last ferry experience was probably my favorite part of the entire trip.

The travel back to Korea went without hiccups, and before I knew it, I was back in Korea. Cold, snowy, freezing, Korea. The weather went from 33 degrees Celsius to -15. This January has seen the largest snow fall since Korea started recording weather. And it is soooooo cold here. It hit -20 Celsius a couple of times. It feels like someone punches you in the lungs when stepping outside.

On another note, a friend of mine from Seattle visited. We both worked on a final GIS project in Geography my senior year and have since become pretty good acquaintances. He now works for a Korean bank in Seattle and came here for business but crashed at my place. He is actually Korean-American, having emigrated with his family to Washington when he was 5 years old.

Below are some pictures from my trip.

The people I went with at the airport on Christmas day. 4 Americans, 5 Canadians.

This is the "luxury" ferry boat we took to Boracay.

The crew on the way to the island.

Boracay sand castle




Bulabog beach


Ice cream man coming out to our snorkeling boat

Filipino kids dancing on the boat and singing a Korean pop song!

A cave on one of the islands

Island hoping

Pretty nice

The view from a ferry boat

The sunsets were unreal

White beach

My buddy Yo (that's his name) visiting from Seattle