The streets of Gangnam, like many other neighbourhoods in Seoul, become littered at night with brochures, fliers and cards advertising bars, hotels, restaurants, and… women.
We took our students on a field trip today to an English Village just outside of Gangnam. For those of you who are wondering, English Villages are popular English immersion field trip destinations for young English learners. This was the second English village I’ve visited since coming to Korea. Last year’s English village had an 18th century Virginia theme and today’s was set up to look like Wonderland, Alice’s destination after tumbling down the rabbit hole. They always have a staff of foreign English instructors who often live in the village itself. This means that the teachers at these places are seeing a different set of students everyday, and running the same lessons and activities over and over again. No thank you!
Our school went for the whole day, but a few of us had to go back to teach the elementary students who come to our school in the afternoon. So, we took the hour long bus to get there, hung around for about 90 minutes, took the obligatory photos, and made our way back to Deokso. All in all, a pretty relaxing day.
Gangnam (강남) in Central Seoul is a popular shopping and entertainment district. It has the most “big city” feel of any of the major districts in Seoul. It’s more or less the most expensive area in the country and is the home of most of Korea’s celebrities. This area was the site of the Seoul G20 Summit and is also home to the world HQ of most of Korea’s major corporations (Hyundai, Samsung, Kia). I’m not really sure what this particular building is, but I felt that the modern architecture and lights did a good job of encapsulating what this area is all about.
Hello Kitty Store, Coex Mall.
Korea loves Hello Kitty. This store is in Coex Mall in the Gangnam area of Seoul (site of the G20 Seoul Summit) and sells exclusively Hello Kitty merchandise. If that weren’t enough, there’s also a Hello Kitty cafe in Hongdae that sells Hello Kitty shaped donuts and pastries.
The Megabox cinema at Coex Mall in Gangnam. Movies here normally come out a little bit later than at home – I saw The Way Back a couple of weeks ago and discovered afterwards that it came out at home in November. I was pumped to find that Sucker Punch was being released here at about the same time. I don’t care what the critics said, I loved every minute of it.
These past couple of weeks since I arrived have been crazy, and through all the hustle and bustle my procrastination skills have proven to be top notch with regards to this blog. I promised a few of you that I would update it today though, so here I am.
Where to start? I’ve now been here for almost three weeks, and am finally beginning to settle into a weekly routine. The school that I’m working at is great. It’s only a 2 minute walk from my apartment, and the kids are, for the most part, a joy to teach. Of course, there are a few troublemakers, but that’s all part of the job description. The kids seem really eager to learn English, and love to blurt out the answers in class before I even finish the question. I teach kids from anywhere as young as 3 or 4 with zero knowledge of the English language, all the way up to 11 and 12 year olds, who surprise me with how strong their grasp of the language is. As far as my teaching style goes, I try to keep it fairly loose and easy going. Coming into this, I kept reminding myself how much I hated the hardass teachers who didn’t make learning any fun – so I’ve been making a really conscious effort to not be that person. I make my kids laugh, we play games in class (if they get all their work done!) and I like to show them Western music if we have extra time in class. The music they listen to over here is really bubblegum pop (eg, one of their most popular bands is called Girls Generation – and its more popular than the Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears, and the Jonas Brothers all rolled together – it’s also terrible), so I feel I owe them that much at least.
The city of Seoul is incredible. Never in my life have I seen so many people wherever I go. There are over 10 million people living in Seoul proper, not including the many suburbs and surrounding cities. The subway system here services all of Seoul and beyond, with lines going as far as Incheon International Airport, which is about a 2 hour drive away. There are 11 lines on the subway, and it makes getting to any part of the city remarkably easy. In terms of the foreigner hot spots around town, there is Hongdae, which is like the college bar district and is packed on a Saturday night; Itaewon, which could probably be considered the ex-pat capital of Seoul (features many bars and stores, with most fluent in English); and Gangnam, which has the most city-ish feel of the districts that I have been to thus far. Lots of tall skyscrapers, and more of a swanky, upper class bar scene.
Most of our weekends in Seoul are spent in Hongdae. Friday night, however, was spent in an area of town called Yongsan. We went to a Jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbangs are basically large bathhouses/sauna/spas, where for a low price, you can go and relax in one of many heated pools, saunas, hot tubs, ice rooms, etc) There is no time limit, and it is not uncommon for people to stay the night and sleep on the floor or in a massage chair (which is what we did that night). Many people will spend the nights at the bar, and rather than take a cab back home, head to a jjimjilbang and have a nice sauna and a relaxing sleep and wake up feeling refreshed the next morning. Saturday night we went to a Turkish restaurant in Gangnam for dinner, and then cabbed to Hongdae to hit the bars. The first place we went, called Club S was a seedy basement club that looked and felt a little too much like Trapper’s in Guelph. We stayed there for a little while before heading to another bar called BrixX – a chilled out hookah bar. This bar featured several drape-surrounded low-set tables, and you sat on cushions on the floor – in typical Korean fashion. The bars in Korea don’t close until sunrise, so most nights we find ourselves out until 4 or 5 in the morning.
One memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life is watching the Olympic gold medal hockey game between Canada and the USA. The game was on at 5:15 am local time for us – so we went out in Hongdae the night before and partied until about 3 am, and then head to Itaewon to a Canadian themed bar and joined about 200 other Canadians and Americans to watch the game. The atmosphere was unbelievable, and when Crosby scored that goal in overtime, the place went absolutely wild. It was me and 200 other Westerners, all celebrating a huge win for our country at 8:30 am. I’ll never forget it.
I have so much more to tell, but I feel this post has probably dragged on long enough. I’ll be back with more in the next day or two.
Ciao for now.