Tag Archives: vacation

The Whirlwind Begins

Wat Chedi Luang, one of the billions of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang, one of the billions of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.

After a whirlwind two days, I’m finally (relatively) settled in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok late Wednesday, where Matt of Nomadic Matt fame was gracious enough to lend me his floor for the night. I spent half of Thursday running around town making arrangements for the rest of the trip. The dizzying rush of finding last-minute bus rides and plane tickets taught me a few things.

First of all, in a place like Thailand where the tourists flock, there is always a bus ticket. Even though I was looking for an overnight ticket for Christmas night — the start of Thailand’s true peak tourist season with foreigners and Thai nationals all on vacation — I found one within minutes of talking to a travel agent. That leads me to my next point.

Travel agents, no matter how friendly and well-traveled they are, are not your friends. The travel agent’s affable nature combined with my lack of preparation for this trip to sucker me into an overpriced tour package that seemed to be a good deal. I should’ve followed my first instincts and booked everything one step at a time. In Bangkok, I should’ve booked how to get to Chiang Mai, where I would find my accomodations and things to do.

Now I’m in a relatively nice hostel called Backpackers’ Meeting Place Resident, but it’s a little more expensive than I would’ve like to have paid. Also, the bus ticket to Chiang Mai was probably a little more expensive than I should’ve paid for it. It’s also outside the city center, but it is close to an open food market, which is wonderful given my affinity for street food. Through this same tour, I’m going on a two-day trek through some jungle tomorrow complete with elephants, huts, and bamboo rafting. Should be interesting.

At least when I screw up in Thailand, it only means an extra six or seven dollars a night, which won’t kill me. Six or seven dollars, however, goes a long ways in Thailand. For example, six dollars stuffs me with street food for three meals, so losing such a big part of my budget to something so stupid is rather annoying. I’ve learned my lesson for my trip to Vietnam in January.

At least now I have everything set and I only have to worry about getting from scheduled Point A to scheduled Point B. The rest of the itinerary looks like this: Chiang Mai for three more days, then bus to Bangkok where I catch a flight to the islands around Koh Samui for New Year’s, then back to actually explore Bangkok for a few days.

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Wherever the Winds Take Me

My best decisions tend to be the ones that occur after the least amount of thinking. As scary as it may be, I like following my gut instincts. One day I woke up and decided finding a new job wouldn’t be as fun as moving to a new country. This morning I woke up and decided going to Thailand for 12 days would be more fun than staying in Seoul for that time. And that was that.

It really began when I started planning my February trip this morning. I was debating between Thailand and Malaysia, even considering doing both in the same two-week trip. Then I took the easy way out: I figured I should just go to each on separate trips. I did some cursory research on all the airline ticketing sites and found that Bangkok was clearly within my financial reach. Armed with a new determination (and an ever-so-open bankbook), I headed straight for the travel agencies after school and booked my flight from Incheon to Bangkok.

The travel agents gave me looks ranging from a clearly perplexed “are you crazy?” to a subtly annoyed “you’re not going to get any flights this late.” Third time’s a charm as the third travel agent found a flight whose dates and times fell right into my desired timeframe and whose price tag fit just right, something for which we owe the Thai PAD protesters a big “thank you.”

This is especially nice because this weekend I was extremely lazy and didn’t have a New Place of the Week feature, figuring I’d do a lot of wandering during my 10 days off before my winter camp. Little did I imagine on Sunday that I’d be headed to Thailand later this week.

The itinerary looks something like this: land in Bangkok, wander to Chiang Mai, fly to Phuket, and bus back to Bangkok. That’s about as much as I’ve planned, and that’s probably going to be the extent of it. Ah, the life of a dabbler.

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Welcome to Korea

Today is November 11, and the winter break begins December 24. In Korea, the school year is the opposite of Western nations: the school year starts in March and ends in December (except for a seemingly random two-weeks in February during which the sixth graders take exams and graduate to middle school). As a result, the winter break is the longer of the two holidays.

While having essentially 2.5 months off in Asia sounds fantastic, it’s not such a dreamy gig for the native-speaking English teachers, or NSETs. While some principals let the NSET have the entire break off, most English teachers will have to do some sort of winter camp. The duration of these camps vary from district to district and even from school to school, depending on who organizes these camps. Camps can last from two weeks to five weeks, but often the point is moot. During the time there isn’t a camp, many schools require the teacher to come into the office and do literally nothing. There may be only one other teacher in the school at the same time.

We NSETs working for the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education have 21 paid vacation days in our contracts, which they prefer for us to use during these long breaks. My problem, though, is the complete lack of communication from the district down to my school to me. I was told, in early October by my liaison teacher, that the school doesn’t have money in its budget to run a camp, that the district usually does one each year, and the district would have these dates set sometime in late October to early November. I was also told by a less official source — my English co-teacher — that I wouldn’t have to come into school during the days without camp, but that decision is usually left to the principal.

Today is November 11, and the winter break begins December 24 — and I still have no word from anyone on whether I have to work a district camp or whether I have to come into school during the off days. Even though this camp is an annual event, the district hasn’t figured out if or when it’s going to happen, yet. As a result, I will summarize my winter break plans with the following word:

Umm.

I can only watch flight prices continue to rise as I’m stuck in this red-tape limbo. I can’t even begin to plan my trip since I don’t even know how much time I have off. Two weeks? Three weeks? Five weeks? If push comes to shove, I will decide my two weeks’ worth of vacation dates, and the district can have a camp without me. This is Korean efficiency at its finest.

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It’s not what you know but who you know

After arriving in Korea with an E-2 visa (one designated specially for English teachers), it’s necessary to get an Alien Registration Card (ARC). The ARC is more or less my ID as a temporary resident in Korea and is necessary for things such as opening a bank account (which I actually did without an ARC thanks to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education‘s sponsoring us at orientation) and acquiring a cell phone (which I actually did without an ARC thanks to the shadiness of Itaewon).

The process is somewhat tedious, but I finally got my ARC this week with the help of my Korean co-teachers. Here are the steps to apply for a Korean alien registration card:

  1. Get two passport-sized photos of yourself.
  2. Get a medical check at one of the public hospitals in Seoul. You’ll need one of your photos for this.
  3. Pick up medical check a few days later.
  4. Make an appointment at the Seoul Immigration Office or show up and wait forever (I’ve heard up to two hours) in line.
  5. Show up and turn in your ARC application with 10,000 KRW, your medical check, and your passport.
  6. Wait 1-2 weeks for your ARC.

Or you could have a co-teacher who knows someone who works in immigration in Incheon who makes a phone call to someone who works in immigration in Seoul and can shorten the whole process at the Seoul Immigration Office to a painless 20-minute wait and have you walk out the same day with your ARC in hand.

I went with the latter of the choices. It was fantastic. Also, in other fantastic news, I learned my school doesn’t require me to be at school during winter break when I’m not teaching the winter camp. The holidays lasts from December 24 to February 2 and then from February 14 to March 2. After taking out two weeks for the camp, I have about three weeks in January and two weeks in February to do whatever the hell I want — and still get paid for it.

I’m thinking a three-week backpacking excursion through southeast Asia in January and maybe a jaunt through the States in February, but as we all know, that could very suddenly change. Stay tuned.

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