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I go Korea!
New Zealand!

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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

Last leg of a long journey

Auckland, New Zealand

Hello again, faithful readers. Fourteen months ago, I wrote my first blog as I was preparing to jet off to Seoul, and here I am now trying to wrap it all up as I return home. Home, I should note, is rather a fluid concept at present: after a couple days in Girl World with my ladies in Seattle, I'm spending a few weeks in Wenatchee, then back to Seattle, where the aforementioned ladies have been so considerate as to procure an apartment for me. It's so soon! I can't wait to see my friends and family after so long away.

Before that though, I've had a few more adventures to speak of. I finished off the south Island last week in great style, leaving Christchurch for Kaikoura, a little coastal town where most of the entertainment is pulled from the seaside. Accordingly, I went on a little fishing excursion with my friend Jack, another English lad. As we were preparing to step into the boat, someone spotted a sizable octopus hiding in the rocks. I was really excited. I like octopi. Darren, our Scottish first mate, was excited too. As I was engaged in appreciative comments about the wonder of nature and what amazing creatures they are, Darren promptly reached into the sea with a hook, pulled up the animal and cut off its head, tossing it unceremoniously back into the ocean. "Bait," he said. Oh. It was that kind of a fishing trip.

A couple minutes later, one of the girls was staring in the bait bucket, looking a little queasy. "The legs are still moving," she observed. She was right. The bloody mass of

tentacles continued to writhe in the bucket, despite the obvious inconvenience of headlessness. "Ah, yeah," said Darren. "It'll survive for hours." I didn't have much time to marvel about the incredible adaptive qualities of octopi before it was time to start fishing. After the octopus incident, we were all a little apprehensive about the trip, wondering just what we'd gotten ourselves into, but in reality the actual act of fishing didn't require much of us. Darren showed us how to do it. "Drop," he said, letting down the line. "Wait." Two minutes of silence ensued while we waited for the line to go slack, indicating it had hit bottom. Immediately, there was a tug on the line. "Jerk," said Darren. "Reel." With that, he set to cranking the line, and before you know it, there was a bright orange sea perch being hauled into the boat.

"That was well quick," Jack noted.
"This ain't Dover," Darren retorted, once again beheading the fish without ceremony.

Laconic though the delivery was, Darren's formula worked. We dropped, waited, jerked

and reeled up dozens of fish, mostly perch, but Jack managed to haul in a couple blue cod as well. I had better luck with the crayfish myself. After fishing, we went to our captain's house, where he cut up the perch and set out some soy sauce and wasabi for some fresh-caught sushi. Good stuff. Then, he gave us all a couple pours of his moonshine whiskey. As a rule, I'm not much of a whiskey girl, but under the circumstances it seemed appropriate. We steamed up the crayfish for one of the best meals I've ever had. Good times in Kaikoura, and in New Zealand in general.

That said, it's been quite a long walkabout, and I look forward to being home. Thanks to everyone that has followed along with me this year. I hope to write many more stories of many more places in the years to come. See you all soon!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 29, 2010 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand!
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Lady on a Tramp

Queenstown, New Zealand

I've just had the best shower in the entire world, because it's the first I've had in four long, sweaty days after finishing the Routeburn Track in fjordland, south New Zealand. For my first solo backpacking trip--without the guidance of a responsible adult male--I'd say it went fairly well. I was certainly glad of every piece of gear I brought with me (specifically the wet-weather variety) because it was a wild trip.

Day one was brilliant. Awesome weather, stunning views:

Each night, we stayed in backcountry huts. NZ, hospitable country that it is, has an extensive hut system for trampers (as we're called). Huts may be a bit of a misnomer. It brings to mind shoddy structures hastily thrown together made of twigs and dried grass. A more apt term would be basic cabin, which admittedly does not have the same ring as Backcountry Hut, though it does contain the marketing advantage of double alliteration. About the huts, though. I stayed in a different hut each of the three nights on the tramp, and they vaired in capacity but all had the same basic functions (drinking water, gas for cooking, wood stove, bunks). I can't describe how nice it was not to have to set up a tent at the end of 11km of hiking. It certainly does a lot for the morale to know that you've got a roof waiting for you at the end of the section.

Day two rained steadily all day long, but I did manage to capture some breathtaking views of the Harris Saddle and Lake Mackenzie thanks to the waterproof camera bag that Michelle and Hannah gave me as a leaving-Asia present. (Faithful readers will remember M&H as my best Korea friends.)
My rain jacket, which I used with great success all throughout the Korean monsoon season, proved to be somewhat less effective than I had hoped, but all turned out well in the end once we got a fire going to dry everything out.

Day three was clear and cold. There's no escaping the onset of winter here in Fjordland Nat'l Park, as it got down to a frigid -12C last night (about 4 degrees F). I have developed something close to an addiction to Raro, the Kiwi answer to Tang, on this trip. Since I couldn't very well have my beloved Chai latter, it's tough to beat a cup of hot Raro in tough alpine weather! This was a relatively easy day, mostly flat, but with a spectacular ending.

Day four took me out of the track, where I caught a bus to Milford Sound, at the advice of my grandpa. Unfortunately, it was another dreary day on the coast, so the experience was

a little less magical for me than for him, perhaps. Still worth it though. This particular cruise that I went on evidently catered to Asians, because our buffet lunch definitely required fine chopsticks skills, which of course I have now. Thanks Korea! It was the first time I've used them since leaving six weeks ago. Then I went into the bathroom, and found an empty bottle of soju in there. (This, faithful readers will also recall, is the cheap-as-chips alcohol of choice in Korea. Sort of like if vodka met sake down a dark dark alley...Ah, memories.) I bet the bottle's owner was much warmer than me.

And last, some glacial fun that I didn't get to put up here because I kept forgetting while in Franz! So I've got just about two weeks left until I come back to the good old U.S. of A. Some times I feel better about that than other times. I'll be happy to see the faces, and I think I've gotten over the worst of the culture shock of being back in the western world by now. As it evident from the many references above, I still miss Korea quite frequently, and I suppose I always will. It's hard to imagine myself "home" right now. But I can't wait to see the faces of home, and my bank account can't wait to have a rest, either. Until next time!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 18, 2010 from Queenstown, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand!
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Queenstown, New Zealand

I said goodbye to Franz Josef and the treehouses a couple days ago. FJ is located on the west coast of the south island, and is known for being generally rugged and home to lots of what we might call "characters." I did in fact find this to be the case. It was a good time, but now it's back to the adventuring as I prepare for a four-day trek (or "tramp" as they say here) called the Routeburn. This is one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks, of which I've done pieces of two already: the Tongariro Crossing is part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, and I also did a 6km segment of the Abel Tasman.

My travels have led me into Queenstown, billed as the adventure capital of the country. Lonely Planet remarked, no one's ever come to Queenstown and said, "I'm bored." True that. Most people come here to engage in various terrifying activities like canyon swings, bungy jumping and skydiving, all of which I steadfastly refuse. I enjoy most water- and land-based pursuits, but I'm not so much about being dropped from high places. Ask my dear friend Ryan how much fun I am at a carnival. Anwer: no fun, because I won't go on any of the rides. Luckily he is a scaredy-cat too when it comes to those things. And since I tend to get sick even on just slightly too-quick elevators, I am, to say the least, not an adrenalin junkie. Which is fine. I have learned, over the last couple years, that I'm just not that extreme.

Next up is the Routeburn. Should be awesome!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 12, 2010 from Queenstown, New Zealand
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Glaciers! Kayaks! Treehouses!

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

My dear uncle Denny informs me that I am doing a "pissy job" of informing all my devoted readers of my actions here in the Land Down Under. Sorry. But internet is costly here. Nonetheless, I hate to keep you all waiting with baited breath, so here's an update on what I'm doing down here.

Once again I can say this has been an amazing week. First things first: I landed a job cleaning tree houses at the Rainforest Retreat. Yes. I WORK IN A TREEHOUSE IN THE RAINFOREST!! Hahaha. Of course I do. I'm not getting paid in actual money, but rather in accomodation (though sadly not in a treehouse), food and alcohol. Works for me! Freezes up the travel budget anyway. So I'm currently situated in Franz Joseph, on the west coast of the south island, "gateway to glacier country." It's a bit Stanleyesque in that only about 75 people live here, and they're all either in the hospitality industry, or they're outdoor guides and tour people. Just a dot on the map, really, but it's got a bookstore and coffee shop and it's absolutely beautiful here among the mountains and rainforest. It's quite strange going from Seoul to here. But, good strange.

Yesterday, I got to go up on the Franz Joseph glacier. It was absolutely stunning. Probably about the coolest thing I've ever gotten to do. We were on the ice for a full day, and got to go into some really amazing crevasses and ice caves, and I got to try my hand at ice climbing!! Not that I need another hobby. But it was truly breathtaking, and now I definitely know the real meaning of glacial. I'll put some pictures up the next time I'm online, if I remember to bring my camera cord. Oh technology, you've thwarted me again.

Also, in a nod to how diverse this country is, last week I was up in the Nelson area (north of here) kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. It was sunny and gorgeous. I went hiking (tramping, in the local dialect) in the park for about 12 km and then paddled back. SO RAD. This week has provided some much-needed outdoor therapy as I work on getting grounded again. I really tried to keep sight of the big picture in this last year abroad, but it got difficult sometimes in the Korean madness, when everything around me was so foreign and just purchasing cough syrup was a victory worthy of highest celebration. But I can feel myself coming back. I am really happy here. Also, my uncle Joe is getting me in touch with a friend whose family owns a winery down here, so if that pans out, I think I'll head up that way on my way back north. Joe has been a far more helpful uncle than Denny, though I love them both the same.

For now, it's back to the treehouse for some dinner. Stay tuned for pictures!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 27, 2010 from Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand!
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In pictures

Rotorua, New Zealand

dolphins! (maybe...the phots's not showing up on this computer, don't know why) and geeking out where Lord of the Rings was filmed

happy at Cathedral Cove, and out for a paddle!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 9, 2010 from Rotorua, New Zealand
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Livin' it up in the Hellhole of the Pacific

Paihia, New Zealand

Kia Ora, everyone! After 30+ hours of travel, I finally made it out of the Land of the Morning Calm and into Auckland, New Zealand. After a few days in Auckland to shake the jet lag and get my feet on the ground again, I headed north to Paihia in the beautiful Bay of Islands.

A little history: back in the 1800s, Paihia was the main whaling port for the European powers that were in the South Pacific. Thus, all the sailors and various unsavories stopped off here every few weeks, and naturally, a degenerate crowd grew to call the place home. For some time, it's nickname was, in fact, "the hellhole of the pacific." Locals love to report that back then, the only establishment with a higher gross income than the brothels were the pubs, and even then, only just. These days, it's quite a bit more calm in the bay. Over 144 islands to explore at my leisure! And explore them I did.

For the first bit, I was still attempting to get over the reverse culture shock of leaving Asia. It took a bit to get out of my Korea Shell, but soon enough, I took up with an English lad who was thrilled to have found himself traveling with an American Girl. (Which makes...one of him. The general reaction to my nationality is a sort of disappointed look, and then some sort of comment along the lines of, "why can't you just be more like your older brother, Canada...he never seems to get into trouble like you..." Well, sorry for all the muck-ups, folks, it's really not my fault.) Anyway. That first day, I lazed about on the beach. The weather's been lovely, especially after coming from dead winter in Seoul. The next day, I went on a little cruise and saw my first dolphins! Turns out my aquatic photography skills leave quite a lot to be desired, so I abandoned the attempt and just watched them frolic. One word: CUTE.

Next day, I went for a little paddle and explored the various inlets and coves throughout the bay. It felt good to be out in a kayak again--first time in a year! I also went for a little coastal walk, which afforded plenty of good photos. Unfortunately, I left my cable in my room, so you don't get to see them this time around.

Long story short, it's gorgeous here, I love it, people are unbelievably friendly (even the bus dirvers say, "Have a lovely day, darling!") and I may never come home. Well, at the least, I know where I'm retiring.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 8, 2010 from Paihia, New Zealand
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A nod to some fellow bloggers

Seoul, South Korea

These are links to my two favorite blogs about living in Korea. Shame on me for not giving them props far earlier.

This one might only make sense to people that have actually lived and tried, valiantly, to understand this country:
I don't know. I'm currently having a hard time remembering who I was before here.

And this is probably one of the greatest things to hit the internet, ever. Period. Go to Ask A Korean. For starters, check out the translated North Korea jokes:


permalink written by  alli_ockinga on January 25, 2010 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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Packing up, moving out

Seoul, South Korea

I got a letter from the Korean government the other day informing me that my permitted period of stay is expiring, and I need to make alternate living arrangements. This wasn’t the first sign that the clock’s running out on this grand Asian adventure; last week, I had my last hapkido class, and it’s getting to the point where I know that every time I leave somewhere, it’s the last time I’ll be there. Thus, each day is filled with a dozen tiny moments of unexpected sentiment.

There’s so much that I’m going to miss here, and so much that I’m looking forward to when I get home. It seems like everything is double-edged, here. Like, I know I’ll long for the accessibility of Seoul’s public transportation, but I am thrilled to know I’ll never have to listen to another subway salesmen hawking pipe cleaners or spandex sleeves on the train. I can’t wait to go shopping and buy the pair of jeans I like the most, as opposed to the ones that offend me least; on the other hand, I love how people express themselves here by wearing whatever the hell they want and if you don’t like it then forget you. I like that there’s always someone in a weirder outfit than me here. This has not always been the case in my life.

I won’t miss how I attract attention to myself merely by existing. I’ll bid a cheerful farewell to my loyal companion Racial Discrimination, and his friend Blatant Sexism. I never did get used to the culture of indirectness, and I really, really really won’t miss the Korean woman whine. But oh, how I will miss not paying rent, ninja gymnastics, delicious street food for a dollar, and of course, my students and friends. I think I’ll probably see many of my teacher friends again. After all, it may be a big world, but it’s full of small circles. Then again, maybe I just don’t like saying goodbyes. My Korean friends are another matter. The Japanese word for goodbye—sayonara—literally means, “if this is how it must be.” I guess that’s how I feel about it. There are great people everywhere on earth, if you seek them out, and it’s a shame I can’t just pick my one hundred favorites and form a little haven full of them.

As for my students, some of them know I’m leaving, and some don’t yet. Of the ones that do, some are more tore up about it than others, as expected. They know that foreign teachers are a rotational bunch, and so the older ones are used to teacher changes. But my younger ones don’t understand why I’m going. It’s always hard to explain to people why you have to go away, and doubly so when those people are seven. There’s a handful of them that I’m always going to wonder about. Did Tae Sun ever become a robot scientist like she wanted? Did Kyu Hyuk ever learn to tie his shoes? Fingers crossed for that kid. Hopefully they’ve been able to learn a little from me this year, if not about grammar, then at least that foreigners are people too.

I know I have been changed by Korea, but it’s hard to say just how right now. I think that I’m a little less a citizen of a nation and a little more a resident of the world. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are essentially the same all over the world, albeit with different packaging. The society is different, and so are the words we use to talk about it, but we’re all singing the same songs.

And so, I take off in a week. Not just me; most of my friends’ contracts end in the next month or so, as well. Additionally, Hannah’s teenaged brother, Jonny, has been here the past month, visiting on his semester break from college. Last night, we took him out to a noraebang. Literally, a noraebang is a small “singing room,” just like your own private karaoke place, only big enough for about six people. (I’m happy to report that Koreans have lived up to the stereotype of Asians loving karaoke.) Amidst the musical chaos and flashing lights, we asked him what he’ll be telling his college friends about Korea.

“Lots and lots of people,” he said. Right.
And about English teachers living in Korea?
“Lots and lots of beer.” Right…so, we didn’t manage to subvert that particular stereotype. Well. One thing at a time.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on January 23, 2010 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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Blowfish and black belts and bear hats, oh my!

Seoul, South Korea

Happy 2010! It's going to be a good year--I can feel it in the air. I'm now officially down to my last month in Korea, which makes me sad. But tonight is not the night for sap and sentiment. Here are some awesome things to happen lately:

1. We ate blowfish!

In case you don't know, this little guy to the right (photo credit to wikipedia) is a blowfish, also sometimes called a puffer fish. Do not be fooled by how adorable he appears. He is a ruthless killer. Here's a taste of what wikipedia says on the subject: "Puffer fish are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world, the first being a Golden Poison Frog. The skin and certain internal organs are highly toxic to humans, but nevertheless the meat of some species is considered a delicacy in both Japan (as fugu) and Korea (as bok). . . Puffer's poisoning, usually as a result of incorrectly prepared flesh, will cause deadening of the tongue and lips, dizziness, and vomiting. These are followed by numbness and prickling over the body, rapid heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and muscle paralysis. Death results from suffocation as diaphragm muscles are paralyzed. Patients who live longer than 24 hours are expected to survive. . . In Voodoo, puffer's poison must be ingested by the victim for the black magic of creating "zombies."

Well. What's life without a little adventure. For a being with the alleged ability to create zombies, it was actually quite tasty. We ate it raw, as sushimi, and cooked over noodles and veggies, as bok. It's similar in taste and appearance to halibut. Evidently, our chef prepared the meal correctly, because we're all still here.


I know! Right!?! This actually happened about two weeks ago. The test was big, scary, and all in Korean. But the Grand Master, who is about 72 and looks exactly like a grand master should, said I did very well. I am a ninja! And I have to say, I feel like a rock star tying on the new belt each day. Hapkido has really played a huge role in my year, as it's allowed me to access at least a bit of Korean culture through an easily digestible medium. Also, it's just cool.

3. Continual absorption of culture

The golden statue is of King Sejong, who created the modern Hangul alphabet. Before that, they used Chinese, and that was terrible because Chinese is ridiculously difficult, so only the very elite could read and write. Now they use a logical phonetic alphabet that was easy enough to learn after a couple weeks here.

4.And, it's been snowing here, to the delight of pretty much everyone.

Winter in Korea is sort of terrible, because we get those bitter tundra winds sweeping down from Russia. But it's also sort of awesome, because all the little kids wear these adorable animal hats. I've seen polar bears, wolves, white tigers, pandas, and even a rogue koala once. Sometimes, the hanging-down bits are connected to fleece-lined paws, which act as mittens. Soooo cute.

I suppose that's enough for now. Hope everyone had a happy, fun and safe New Years. See you in three months!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on January 2, 2010 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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Holidays with the Surrogate Fam

Seoul, South Korea

As you may have guessed, in a land with a significant Buddhist overtone, Christmas isn't as big of a cultural deal here. There are a few department stores echoing the American bombardment of holiday cheer, but overall, it's a much more low-key affair. So the holiday was celebrated a bit differently this year. I had a four-day weekend, almost all of which was spent with my surrogate family at Hannah and Michelle's apartment. We spent the Eve watching Christmasy movies and drinking our homemade eggnog and mulled wine, then went our separate ways for Christmas morning to call our real families. We got a skiff of snow on Christmas day, which made us all happy.

Christmas night, we met back up in Seoul for the Rock Tigers. These guys are awesome. They're a Korean rockabilly band, and they always put on an amazing show. Also, it seems
to be my lot in life to fall for completely unattainable Korean rock stars, so that happened, again, this time with the stand-up bass player. [A cautionary note for my more PC readers: extreme honesty ahead!] Still with me? Okay, so when I first got here, I was not psyched about the dating pool, because at first glance, all the men appeared to be gay.

They all carried gorgeous handbags and wore skinny jeans with superstyled hair, and often, topped off the look with eyeliner. Understand, I am all about being who you are and all that good stuff--but I was going to be here for a YEAR. Prospects were limited. And then, a couple months in, I realized the inherent logical fallacy: there are 23 million people in this country. Clearly, the whole nation was not, in fact, gay. I'd become more acculturated, and I'd see a fabulous young man dressed to the nines in runway fashion and just think, "Wow, I really love his purse." And then, a funny thing started to happen about three months ago: I kind of started to like it. These Korean guys got flavor. And now, I've come full circle, and I'm in love every ten minutes on the subway. Life is so much more interesting, and I am so much more distracted now. Evidently, I've been hit by what the coarser expats among us refer to as Yellow Fever. Inappropriate terminology, yes. But not without accuracy.

Hannah's younger brother arrived to visit over his winter break from college, and that's given us an excuse to do lots of touristy things that we just haven't gotten around to yet. First, we toured an old palace, which would have been a more enjoyable experience if it hadn't been 13 degrees out. Still, the bits of snow left on the tiled roofs lent a charming feel to the atmosphere and helped mitigate the pain of the encroaching frostbite a little bit. Next, we headed up to North Tower on Namsan Mountain. The North Tower is Seoul's answer to the Space Needle: a really tall structure with a disk-shaped observatory at the top. We took a cable car up to the top around dusk, which afforded us some epic views of the whole of Seoul spread out around us. SEOUL IS HUGE. The photos I've uploaded here do not in any way do justice to the magic of the sight: it was like being on an island, in the middle of a flat lake, at midnight, where each light was a reflection of the millions of stars overhead.

And that wasn't even the coolest part. At the bottom of the Tower is the Lock Wall: a long chain-link fence enclosing the grounded observation deck, that people have turned into a monument to love. Koreans really love love, as you can see here. The tradition is to bring a padlock, and decorate it however you wish. Some got really elaborate, with etched pictures of couples and families, while others were just two names and a date. When you've inscribed your message on the padlock, you lock it to this fence, and pass the key on to someone else--children, best friends, your other half--and they return to the tower and look for your lock. It's a very beautiful, simple tradition. So, I locked my lock, and now I know that there will always be a little part of me still in Seoul, after I leave and live the rest of my life--because my Key People won't get them until I come home.

Which, by the way, is five weeks plus two NZ months from now. WOW. By the way, I tested for and received my BLACK BELT last week, so look for that post soon. Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on December 26, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
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