Travel Vicariously through the Fitzgerald's

We are happy to provide our experiences as a stay-cation for you! If you have any questions feel free to ask. We have a lot to learn and lots to see!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nothing much...

Nothing overly exciting since our last post. This week has been one of those long weeks because there is so much going on yet, short because in the blink of an eye it is Friday. This week was parent/teacher conferences which I will happily say I did not have to worry about. Stacy did though but luckily it was not so bad. As a math teacher, he stayed very busy but because he's a high school teacher he doesn't get gifts. Elementary school parents are really good about bringing gifts to the teachers and this usually lasts into middle school. Getting gifts is nice.  Our schedule this week was modified. Wednesday through Friday were half-days with conferences from 1-4 pm. I spent my afternoons either watching faculty kids or students on the soccer field while their parents met with their teachers.

I have not really had a break from subbing as there have been lots of faculty out because they were sick, their children were sick or school related events had them missing. The school did finally hire a third full-time substitute but it really hasn't changed anything because there is enough work for 3 of us, probably even 4.

This week I have been a PE, Social Studies, Kindergarten, Psychology, and grade 4 teacher. I get around :).

The weather has really cooled off in the last week. It's gorgeous weather. Unfortunately it's also telling me that I need to get the right type of shoes so that my toes don't fall off. Stacy is in hog heaven! I thought it was a bit too cool last night in the apartment so we turned on the heater for the first time. Our floors have "ondol", which is a floor heating system which uses heated water that flows through pipes in the floor. Amazingly it actually heats the entire apartment. It was really nice to walk on the heated floors. This is something I may miss if we ever move back to the states, or anywhere else for that matter!

Who knows what the weekend has in store for us. Well actually I know that this weekend we will go grocery shopping and I will go girl clothes shopping without Stacy and Ethan. We might even plan a trip to a palace...

I missed talking to my family last weekend so I am extremely excited about getting to talk to them this evening! I have really been missing them. Hearing their voices is actually very comforting.

OH YES! BIG NEWS! I'M GOING TO JAPAN IN OCTOBER! It's been confirmed. October 20-23 the 8th grade class at KIS will be going to Japan and I was selected as a chaperone. Sad that Stacy won't get to go but looking at the bright side, I will get to experience it a bit so that when we take a family vacation there it won't be so foreign. And I'll be with a bunch of students so it's not going to be a carefree trip but its FREE!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reflecting on the last 2 months...

As Stacy and I were preparing dinner this evening, I stood at the stove looking out my kitchen window breathing in the fresh air from the mountain in my backyard. It was a refreshing view as the sun was setting giving one last glow to the green mountain and the air was cooling. Thinking to myself "I live in Korea. I am cooking dinner with my husband just like we used to back in Texas. I feel content. I can hear Ethan playing in his room through the open window near the kitchen. This is what life is. Living."

It is almost surreal at times to think we live in a country on the other side of the world. Among a group of people completely alien both in language and tradition. We are embracing the language and the culture the best we can. Time flies and creeps by simultaneously.

Back in Texas, we used to watch the movie Mama Mia! while we cooked and ate dinner dreaming of moving over seas. Of course, our dream was somewhere in Europe or on a Greek Island not Asia. Tonight we listened to the soundtrack of the movie which brought back those dreams we envisioned back in Richwood.  For now we are in Korea, a beautiful country with kind people but when its time we will move on to see all the wonders of the world. God moved us here. When things go smoothly, you know He has a hand in them.

We have had to change the way we live. Stacy, Ethan and I have all had to move outside of our comfort zones. Luckily, we are all strong individuals. We are so thankful we have such an independent and energetic child who is curious about all things. He attracts more attention than anyone I have seen here. Because of Ethan, our experiences here have been richer.

Chusok Break Comes to an End...

What a week! Monday Itaewon; Tuesday rain in Seoul; Wednesday- PERFECT!; Thursday too crowded; Friday rest; Saturday a birthday party; furniture delivery and grocery shopping; and today - preparing for another long stretch of school.

We didn't get near as much done as we wanted to but it was nice not having a schedule. Although we didn't have any big plans, we will get to hear about and see pictures of our colleagues' trips to China, Mongolia, Nepal, and Russia. I'm sure next year we will plan something too.

So, I don't remember if I mentioned Ethan's hanbok in detail but I will talk more about it now. It is a traditional Korean outfit that used to be worn all the time but now it is reserved for special occasions. The colors and details signify your status or at least it used to. Now that they can be purchased anywhere and made in mass quantities, the significance has faded. Ethan picked it out. The color pink is a gender neutral color in Korea. When we were looking for a hanbok for Ethan, the department store clerk kept showing Ethan ones that had pink. He kept saying, "that's a girl color." Society final influenced him because just 2 years ago, pink was his favorite color.  The one he chose consisted of a crimson red vest with an ivory under shirt and dark blue pants. Anyhow, he loved the attention he received as he walked through the streets of Seoul during Chuseok in his hanbok.  There were more girls than boys wearing a hanbok. We were happy to see that Ethan wasn't the only one. The weather was perfectly cool and breezy for him too because his hanbok was long sleeved and the pants were thick so he didn't sweat.

It has been a somewhat relaxing week for us and we are ready to begin the next stretch of school.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chusok Break

We are super exhausted and tomorrow is Thursday. Here is the breakdown of how we have spent our week so far:

Friday, Saturday & Sunday
We took it easy. I honestly can't remember what we did other than shop.

Friday night we went to Traveler's Bar and Grill for a farewell gathering for one of the most important people at KIS. He was important because he was the first face we saw when we landed in Korea and he was one of the key players in making our transition seamless. Keith Ki-Won Choi is leaving KIS to do I don't know what. He will be sorely missed but, we wish him luck.

Saturday, we went to E-mart to buy some groceries and other necessities! At E-mart I made a friend with Mr. O, the 64 year old English translator. He was a sweet man who was trying to be as helpful as possible. He talked my ear off while we shopped and I now know that he has a sister in New York and a son in Arizona. Amazing what you can learn in a few short conversations. Stacy was slightly annoyed because it was late and this poor guy wanted to chat (practice his English). 

Sunday we went to another E-mart location searching for furniture. Here, we purchased some furniture for the apartment. The manager spoke some English and helped us with our order form. I haven't had to write our address in so long that I forgot it. I also forgot the paper the school gave us with our address written in Korean. I thought, "I'll call some friends and ask them to look up our address." They didn't answer. I'm searching through my wallet for something that has it when my visa falls out. I picked it up and was looking at it when Stacy and I noticed-- IT HAS OUR ADDRESS IN KOREAN! Thank you God for that little accident. :)

On to shopping for clothes. Since the weather is beginning to change, we knew Ethan needed some new winter clothes. Assuming clothes would be cheap here, we only brought summer clothes for Ethan. Bad idea. Never assume. Shopping for clothes at E-mart was not easy. I swear everything looked really girly, even what I thought were boy clothes. The whole skinny jean is in for both boys and girls and Ethan doesn't like them. Stacy and I found some long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts but no pants. We gave up and moved on to Lotte. It's easier to shop there because the attendants can look at him and know exactly what size he needs. We went to the Levi's section but Ethan thought the decoration on the jeans back pockets were hearts (they weren't). He said no to all 3 pairs he tried on and the ones the attendants showed him. They are very attentive. One section over we found a place called AskEnquired. We found a winter jacket that is "pimpin", some jeans, sweat pants, and sweatshirt, all purchased for the plump figure of 269,000 won. After feeling the pain of spending that much money on 4 items, we went home to shop online at Children's Place where we selected 18 items for $175 and $5 shipping. Decision made: take the other clothes back!

Stacy, not having been to Itaewon yet, decided we should make it a relaxing visit. The subway seemed like a good idea because we haven't really used it for long trips. It took 3 transfers and over an hour to get there.  We did a lot of walking but didn't really enjoy it because Ethan wasn't minding too well. We walked up to the mosque near the top of the hill. It had great views of the area but I felt very uncomfortable considering we were there during prayer time, near the men's entrance and I was wearing shorts. I was given a skirt to wear to cover my legs. Stacy thought I looked silly in it. What a husband.

We walked around a bit more but didn't really get to look around the areas I was interested in. We'll have to go back another time when we get a babysitter for Ethan. 

We ate lunch at Pancho's. Not the Pancho's we all know (buffet style where you raise the flag). This was a well decorated restaurant with an air of authenticity but the food was terrible. 

We planned a visit to Gwanghwamun and invited the Katz family to join us. Instead of the subway, we took the bus which took like 30 minutes. Much more time efficient. :) It was a rainy day off and on for the first part of our trip. We went to the Seoul Museum of History which we thoroughly enjoyed minus the temperature inside (oven-like temps). We had originally planned to see the palaces nearby but the rain hindered that plan. Stopped off at the gift shop before leaving the museum to find something to eat. 

When you are with another family and looking for something to eat, it can be difficult to agree on a place when one side is picky (mine). We split up and said good-bye. Normally there are places to eat everywhere but, on this rainy day I think we walked 3 blocks before we found one. It was an Italian eatery on the 2nd floor. The 2 things I wanted were cool air and good food.  After peeking at the menu and drying off for a bit we decided it wasn't going to work. We braved the rain again to end up at Mr. Pizza which Ethan was cool with. I think from the moment we split with the Katz's, it rained like "cats and dogs". 

It rained the whole rest of the day into the night...I mean RAINED. Check out the video that Steve Katz took while we were out.

The Day it Rained in Seoul (click here)

Today was officially Chusok! We started the day late but enjoyed it regardless. Ethan wore his hanbok. Stacy and I dressed up because you are supposed to.

We all rode the bus again into Seoul and went to Seoul Museum of History where they were having Chusok performances. There were so many places we wanted to go to but they are so spread out and it was so late in the afternoon by the time we arrived that chose to enjoy one place today. There were SO MANY people out in Seoul. There was a festival going on downtown that we passed by. The palaces were holding special performances. It was very refreshing witnessing Koreans and their culture. They didn't look down on us either for having Ethan wear a hanbok even though he wasn't Korean. They actually complimented us/him many different ways.

The Museum sponsored performances that were delightful to watch. We enjoyed one of the smaller palaces called Gyeonghuigung Palace. The stark contrast of European palaces and Korean palaces was completely eye opening. Having visited castles in England which are full of all kinds of ornate furniture, the Korean palaces seem bare and spacious. Beautifully decorated on the outside. Ethan loved exploring the palace and the museum. He lead us around asking for us to read everything. He was a great model in his outfit not only for me but for other visitors. 

Afterwards, we visited a tent that had an ink imprinting wooden tablet that you could try. Ethan made his own with some mommy supervision. 

We ended up at Outback Steakhouse for an expensive dinner. Stacy enjoyed some ribs. The menu was slightly different. Fried rice was one of the sides. Our dinner was served with kimchi, pickles, and radishes. I had forgotten what a good glass of ice cold tea tasted like and it was quite funny how odd it tasted to my tongue. 

On the bus home, we met 2 American missionaries that we chatted with. It was good conversation and now we have new "friends" to call if we ever need help.

Random Tid-bit
I had been eyeing this very beautiful vanity at a furniture store down the street. The first time we saw it we were told it cost 250,000 won. We went back to inquire again Sunday and were sent to another furniture store back towards our apartment who actually owns the piece. The owner of the store was very friendly and kind. She introduced herself to us as Catherina. She is from Vancouver but lives here most of the year as she owns this business. She absolutely loved Ethan. She spoke very good English and showed us around her store. Anytime Stacy asked how much something cost, she would say "oh, it is very expensive" and then she would tell him the price. Half way through the store we all realize that she is leaving off a zero, so my vanity which was $250 was really $2,500. WHOA! She's right, very expensive. We ended up exchanging phone numbers and she invited me for a cup of coffee some day soon at her home. She wanted someone to visit with as she is very lonely.

Oh, and we ride the city buses so much that the drivers know us. They wave at us as we are walking down the street. They wait an extra minute if they see us coming. Just the other day we were on the bus and weren't paying attention when the bus driver stopped and told us (in Korean) this is our stop. HA! Glad he was paying attention. :)

We have been making Korean acquaintances everywhere it seems like but, it just goes to show you how great Koreans are. From the lady stranger who gave me a ride back to school the first week to Mr. O at E-mart, they all want to help and make our stay in Korea wonderful because that's how they envision it should be.   

Candy maker

Click here to view this video

Jogyesa Prayer Time

Click here to view this video

Monk Chant

Click here to view this video

Monday, September 20, 2010

Free gifts

We have done a lot of shopping since arriving and it seems like we always get a free gift of some sort. Just this week I bought a mop with its own bucket that has a spinning center to wring it out. They gave me an extra mop head!! Then I moved on to buy detergent. An emart employee ran over and helped us pick out a brand and then gave us a package of liquid softener FREE! Moving on to search for clothing for Ethan, we found a hanbok (Chusok traditional  dress) and they gave us the hat and pins for free. Once we paid, we were directed to the customer service counter where we gave them our receipt and in return we were given a FREE package of pancake mix (a Korean version).

Yesterday we went shopping at Lotte department store in search of more clothes for Ethan. We found some insanely expensive clothes for him and purchased them. Ethan received a hooded British blanket FREE, I guess for spending so much.

Sometimes it's great to be a foreigner. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Random thoughts

Students lacking life experiences

Stacy gave a quiz in his Statistics class the other day. Since it is an American based curriculum, the wording is geared towards all things American. In the middle of the quiz, a student raises his hand.
Student: "Mr. Fitz, what is a bolt?"
Stacy: "You are in the middle of a quiz, I can't take time to explain what a bolt is."
Student: "I can not accurately answer the question if I don't understand the question."
Stacy: "Question #? is now a bonus question."
Students: "That's not fair."
Stacy: "I can't help it if you don't have life experiences. There are bolts in Korea, I've seen them."

Stacy is a doting father
One morning, I walked Ethan to the kindergarten playground across from the cafeteria. One of Ethan's classmates is in there already while his mother watches. She looks at me and says good morning. She is Korean and I met her initially at Open House.

Mother: "I met Ethan's father yesterday"
Me: "Oh, that's great! Where?"
Mother: "Afterschool swimming lessons. He is such a good and involved father."
Me: "Yes, Ethan is blessed with a good father and I am happy to have such a helpful husband."
Mother: "He is such a doting father. He was helping dress Ethan after the lessons. He is so good it makes me feel like a bad mother."
Me: "Yes well, I feel even worse because I couldn't be there."

If she feels like a bad mother, I must be horrible. She likely does not work and spends every minute of her day doing something with or for her only son. Myself on the other hand, have so much to do that Stacy and I have to schedule who is going to do what with Ethan.  I went to the bank that day and I'm sure Stacy was the only dad there with the other Korean moms.

Eating out
It's terrible. Now that we have the bus schedule for the 80 and 80-1 we wait less for the bus and consequently feel it is easier to go out to eat. Last week, we ate out 4 or 5 times. We went to Dos Tacos, Butterfinger Pancakes, The Frypan and the Attic. I'm sure there was another that I am missing. Oh, yeah, The Wood Fire Grill. Unfortunately our tummies are happy because of this but our wallets are sad because of this.  The Fitzgerald's would all agree that food is definitely comforting. We have vowed to do a better job of eating at home. I really can't decide if I want to stick to that or not. Wednesday is know what that means!

You might be wondering about the restaurants so let me tell you what we have eaten so far. Dos Tacos is the place to get burritos. Butterfinger Pancakes is the place to get all things breakfast. At The Frypan we order a chicken tender/boneless drumstick set which came with a salad big enough for all 3 of us and the chicken (at least 20 pieces) sat atop a bed of home-made potato chips. This was less than 30,000 won and you get a discount if you order take out instead of dining in. The word "set" is like our word "combo" in the states. Order the set and you get the side and a drink.

The Wood Fire Grill serves pizza and pasta. Surprisingly, it was very tasty! Corn is a big ingredient in pizza. It is actually Ethan's fav....corn and bacon.

Considering this is the home of Taekwondo, it is only natural that Ethan, Stacy and I should take lessons while we are here. Currently, Ethan will take them because he is dying to do it. Maybe Stacy and I will later. With help, we have found a place where he can go 3 times a week and it only costs 120,000 won a month. I think that is fairly cheap.

If you are looking for something to cure your sweet tooth in Korea, you may have to look harder to find something that is actually sweet. Most dessert items are mildly sweet which has left me wanted more. Luckily, our school cafeteria makes some of the best chocolate chip cookies and they are a dollar. We get one almost everyday. It's a nice end of the day snack.

I wonder if it is Ethan or just the way Korean's react to younger children. I can't say that I see it that often with other children. Anytime we go anywhere, Ethan seems to charm the people at the grocery store or candy store into giving him something. They talk to him and treat him so well. It is quite something when a store clerk finds us in the store just to give Ethan something.

Subbing at KIS
If you have to sacrifice a conference period to cover a fellow teacher you receive 25,000 won for each block that you cover. Definitely a motivator.

Birthday party

Sunday was an eventful day. We were invited to a friend's son's birthday party which was going to take place at a bowling alley in Bojeong. We had a late start since Stacy woke at 5am to watch the Sooners play. So he woke me up at 8:30 so he could go back to bed. He slept until noon. I was a good wife and didn't bother him. I cooked breakfast for Ethan and myself, Skyped with Stephanie and called my mom. Stacy ate leftover breakfast and then we all started getting ready for the party.

We were told to arrive around 2pm because that is the least busy time. We made it to the main road at 2 and met the Taylor's who were also running a bit late. We all worked on flagging down taxis who were obviously blowing us off. When we finally got one to stop, Susan and I piled in with the kids and let Stacy and Todd catch another cab. I don't know if it's a good idea to sit in the front seat of a taxi when the trip long. I swear we could have wrecked at least 3 times but miraculously we didn't. I wonder what their drivers ed is like. Maybe the U.S. should make teens wait until their 18 like they do here.  Anyhow, we made it to the bowling alley at 2:43. Late as always but the party was just getting started.

We bowled for maybe an hour and then made our way over to the smallest Baskin Robbin's in the area. Mind you, there were at least 11 kids and 8 adults who crammed into this BR to continue the party. When we walked in, the employees were wide eyed. Steve and Miriam bought a delicious ice cream cake that fed all of us. We sang the birthday song in English, Spanish and Polish. Then we did presents and pictures. We caused quite a spectacle considering the store had glass windows and people on the street were peering in to see what all the fuss was about.

After the hooplah, we left on our own because we were going to catch a bus. When we didn't find the buses we wanted we chose to walk down to Shinsegae mall that was nearby. I took lots of pictures of this area. We found the bus stop that the 390 stops at and caught the bus home.

The 390 drops us off on the main road near our home which means we have to walk about 4 blocks, maybe 5 to get home. Some of our KIS friends were playing at the neighborhood playground. I had picked up some groceries at the store down the street so Stacy took the groceries home while I stayed with Ethan and visited with Jenn. We stayed maybe 30 minutes. I told Ethan it was time to go. As he was walking next to me he thought it would be a good idea to hop on the exercise equipment one last time. BAD IDEA! It moved and hit him square in the shin. The way he dropped to the ground grabbing his leg, I thought he broke something. Everyone at the playground was grabbing at him and checking him. He wailed so hard that it scared me. When we finally concluded that he had not broken anything, I picked him up and walked him home.  He instantly bruised. I felt so sorry for him but there is always a lesson to be taught. Here was the lesson: if we are leaving, is it a good decision to go back and play or should you follow mom/dad? Ethan: I should follow you and not jump on the walking thing. I have a feeling he'll remember this lesson for a while.

We got home and I had to carry this boy who weighs like 50 pounds up 3 flights of stairs. I realized I need to get in better shape. LOL! We put some frozen fruit on it (its all we had) to keep the swelling down. Some friends from the neighborhood came to check on Ethan and let us know that they would be willing to drive us to the doctor if the need arises.

Ethan has not gotten hurt so badly in a really long time. We have been really lucky.

After a long day, we fell into our routine of cooking dinner, doing some laundry, cleaning up, ironing clothes for the week, washing dishes, and the like. I told Stacy that we should shoot for a job in a place where we could have a maid and a cook and a gardner. He laughed and blew me off. :)

I think my next blog will be random things that have been coming up.

Friday, September 3, 2010

JUMP! & A temple excursion

Friday night we surprised Ethan with a theater show called Jump!

There were 72 of us on the bus to a place near Insadong. We all dispersed to find a place to eat and then explored. We went with the Fellers to Burger King and then they showed us around the area. We visited a Buddhist temple and arrived just in time to hear the monk bang the gong. Prayer time. It was a great experience.

We explored an area that I don't know the name of but there were so many shops and eateries. We watched a guy make candy and then bought some.

The show started at 8pm and it was the best money that we have spent so far. We sat in row E which was very close. Half the audience were KIS staff. Ethan laughed so hard that everyone near us heard him. It was like a Korean soap opera comedy. I wish I could have taken pictures but I didn't want to get kicked out.

After the show, we went to the lobby to meet the performers and have them sign Ethan's poster.  They were awesome!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Typhoon Kompasu saves the day!

Oxymoron, right?

Wednesday we get word that Typhoon Kompasu is rolling in and that we should prepare for possible bad weather Thursday. Well wouldn't you know, it was bad enough to cancel school. I don't know if it was worst in other places but it wasn't terrible near our apartment.

I woke up at 5:30 and heard howling winds but that was it. I thought it might be windy waiting for the bus to arrive. I continued getting ready and waking the rest of the family up. Ethan is eating breakfast (kind of) when the phone rings. It's the phone tree and the message is that school has been canceled because of hazardous driving conditions. Since we have students who come from an hour away, the director thought it was safest to just cancel school to prevent students and staff from commuting.

WOOHOO! Is what we thought immediately. I probably should have gotten more done around my house today. I did a load of laundry, dishes, made breakfast, straightened up the house a bit, and skyped with my brother and his family. By noon, the weather seemed to improve. There were some dark clouds in the sky but we chose to brave the weather and make the day productive.


We hopped on the bus at our usual spot and got off at Lotte. This is another fabulous mall like AK Plaza that is super expensive but very fun to window shop in.

Before exploring Lotte, the number one priority was getting our cell phones activated. I think we went into 4 cell phone stores before we were finally directed to the proper store to get prepaid minutes. Paid 10,000 won for about 35 minutes. What a rip off. It's only for the month so I guess we'll look into getting a plan for October.

We spent our most serious time "shopping" in the furniture department. We found a beautiful leather couch for less than 2,000,000. You can't hardly find cloth furniture. I guess it's because of the humidity here. We found a 4,000,000 won tempurpedic mattress that will likely go to the top of the list because we need to get some GOOD sleep. We found a bed that had a hard surface but it had heat/cool controllers for both sides of the bed. That was very enticing considering winters are very cold here. They also had a heating/cooling mat that has a controller which only cost 6,700,000 won. I told Stacy I was worth it if he didn't want to burn up in the winter. Ethan found a bed for himself too. It was adorable and definitely a boy bed. Again, the bed was almost 3,000,000 won. So we decided that we would sleep on it and decide later what we truly wanted to buy. It was all seriously tempting.
Doesn't that look like a fun bed? He'd never fall asleep!

Stacy was getting impatient which meant he was hungry. I have finally learned this after nearly 7 years. We hit up the nearby Quizno's for an early dinner. I know what you're thinking. These crazy Americans want to live in another country but they don't want to eat the food. Sorry peeps. It's just the way its going to be for a while. The sandwiches were good but not filling enough. Paris Baguette (a bakery/pastry store) across the way is where we bought some dessert, a mini-chocolate cake and a mini-cake minus the icing. Stacy thought it was a cheesecake because it looked like one but turned out not to be.
Ethan making faces at Quizno's

Leaving the store we ran into a group of KIS teachers who were enjoying their "day off" too. Luckily this whole time out (about 4 hours) it never rained. It sprinkled but, never rained.
Irish Mexicans in South Korea
So now to prepare for ONE day of school and then our first big event of the month JUMP! We are very excited about this show. It is said to be an awesome show full of martial arts which Ethan should love. We leave around 4 pm from the school and eat near the theater. I should have lots to talk about this weekend.

I hope to get Ethan to blog a little bit about his experiences too.