Valentine’s Weekend

Here in Korea, Valentine’s day is celebrated a little differently than in the United States.  February 14th is still celebrated with love and romance, but with a twist.  On Valentine’s Day in South Korea, the female half of the couple (because in Korea there are only heterosexual couples… jk but that is the image they project) buys the male half of the couple some delicious chocolate (or makes their own chocolate a.k.a. melts it into shapes and decorates it).  This is surprising to me for many reasons because Korea has a very strong culture of men paying for everything, women being helpless, men saving them… with money e.t.c.  Once again, this is not true for every couple or person in South Korea but it is a very common belief and even way of life (as demonstrated in almost any K-drama).

Anyways, it is nice to know that the men get a little appreciation in the form of chocolate at least once a year and to see traditional gender roles reversed.  On March 14th, however, the tables turn and the man should be expected to shell out the big bucks for a romantic gift.

Following in true Korean style, I bought David about $4 worth of chocolate from the local convenience store… with him right beside me… picking out the chocolate.  What can I say?  We are romantic fools!  We also spent Valentine’s evening with our friend Je Jin who invited us over for some traditional cooking at her mom’s house.  Apparently, the 14th is also a holiday in Korea where Koreans eat lots of vegetables to ward off the evil spirits of the upcoming year.  At least, that’s what I understood the holiday to be about.  Regardless, it was delicious and it was nice to spend the evening with a friend, eat yummy home-cooked Korean food, and watch the Curling event for the Sochi Olympics.

Saturday was also very romantic especially since we spent most of the day apart.  I had frisbee practice and went into downtown Cheonan.  I was pretty happy with myself because I already felt in a lot better shape from the last time we practiced and was able to stay for the whole thing.  All 3 and a half hours!!!!  Plus add and hour bus ride there and an hour bus ride back and your pretty much lost the whole day.  But I did get this beautiful picture of our practice field.

Cheonan Football Fields, we practice in what is apparently a dog park...

Cheonan Football Fields, we practice on what is apparently a dog park…

Although it was only about 45 degrees, compared the frigid weather we have been having lately, it felt like a dream!  Many of us were playing in shorts and t-shirts.

When I arrived home, I found this (the most mushy, gushy present ever!):

Yes, that is mold. And yes, that is running up our entire wall.

Yes, that is mold. And yes, that is running up our entire wall.

David and I had been wanting to move our wardrobe to the other side of the room and as a surprise, David had moved the entire thing by himself while I was at practice.  What he found was a wall of mold.  Not only that, we discovered mold was beginning to grow behind pretty much every piece of furniture on that side of the room… which means about 1/3 of the entire wall.  When I returned home, we did what every couple does when they find something wrong with there apartment, we ran away.  We left to eat a delicious Korean BBQ dinner, hoping the mold would get rid of itself.  Unfortunately, that did not happen, so we spent all of Sunday morning spraying the wall with bleach water, wiping away the mold, and then blowdrying it to prevent more from growing.

Sunday evening was a bit more fun.  We got all dressed up and road the bus into Cheonon and celebrated Valentine’s Day with a 57,000 (about $50) won meal at Outback Steakhouse.  While this meal would only cost about $25 or $30 in the U.S. and in hindsight, it would have been smarter for us to save money, we don’t regret it.  The food was delicious and pretty much exactly what you would find in the U.S.  We started out with some bread, followed by two entrees of steak salad and chicken salad.  I had the chicken salad (with RANCH!) and I almost died, it was so good.  Chicken tenders, eggs, bacon, lettuce, cheese, and ranch.  Exactly my kind of salad.  We also ordered an appetizer of cheese fries but it took them so long to make them (we got it after our entrees) that they gave us two free beers as well.

Read the line that says "Lemon Dill Viniagrette" Unfortunately my camera cut of the last part of the sentence but it says "Female customers are attracted by its flavor"

Read the line that says “Lemon Dill Viniagrette” Unfortunately my camera cut of the last part of the sentence but it says “Female customers are attracted by its flavor”

I was super hungry!

I was super hungry!

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David looking studly as usual.

Our beer and cheesy fries!

Our beer and cheesy fries!

I can honestly say that I have not eaten that much food in all my time since I have been to Korea (Except for maybe the time my boss took us out to eat and kept buying more food).  I felt like dying afterwards from being so full but it was sooooo good!  I hope David and I will be able to afford going there again soon.

P.S. For those of you who do not know, David and I are in the process of securing a new job here in Korea.  Look  for more details in our next post.

 

 

 

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Desk Warming and Photo Dump

February has been a nice break from jam packed January. Last week and this week, David and I have been re-writing the entire program (with the help of Je Jin).  We finished all the lessons plans last week, though, and with our boss on vacation for two weeks, it has been a little hard to stay motivated.  Honestly, we do not really have much else to do.  So we have spent a lot of time surfing the net, sending emails, watching Sailor Moon e.t.c.  I believe this is what I have heard referred to a “desk warming“.  Pretty much every Korean ESL blog I have ever read mentions it but up until now it had been a distant dream.  I actually enjoy a little desk warming except for the guilt I feel about getting paid to do nothing.  As I said above, it has mostly been a really nice break from our crazy January work-a-thon.

This brings us to our other exciting news!  We are planning a vacation to Jeju Island next week.  This island is often called “the Hawaii of Korea” but in reality, at least from what I have researched so far, it is not really like Hawaii at all except that it’s an island and it’s a prime honeymoon spot for Koreans.  That being said, David and I are super excited!  We get 9 paid days off because of all the time we worked in December and January.  So for 5ish days we are headed to Jeju.  Then we are planning to fly to Busan (a beach city at the tip of Korea) and explore there for a couple days, before we make our way back up to Cheonan.  So stay tuned for vacation updates!

I also joined an Ultimate Frisbee team!  We are called the Cheonan Cheonwons, which I have been informed by Je Jin that a Cheonwon is a 1000 won ($1) note.  So our jerseys are going to have the Yi Hwang, the guy printed on the 1000 won bill, in anime form, throwing a frisbee.  TBH, they are pretty awesome jerseys.  We had our first practice on Sunday.  To my extreme delight, I found out that 10 members of the team are new to Ultimate Frisbee as well (this made me happy because I am not the only one who sucks!).  Practice was pretty fun but really long.  We started at 1pm and I played until 3:30 when David and I had to leave to eat dinner and catch a movie we had tickets for.  When we left, the team was STILL playing!  All in all, I am pretty sore today from so much running.  I am really glad I joined though because everyone is really nice and I am excited to have extra reasons to travel and see Korea. *Side note: It was really weird seeing so many “foreigners” in one place.  Since David and I live in the middle of nowhere, we don’t see too many foreigners so it was pretty exciting.  It was also weird when I realized that we all had basically the same job (Native English Teachers).

After practice, I was extremely exhausted but David and I had plans so we went and got some pizza, then headed to the movie theater to see Frozen.  Whenever we buy movie tickets, we don’t really know what we are doing.  Apparently we bought “premium” movie tickets which we found out when we went to what we thought was our theater but they told us we were in the wrong place.  I got really confused because the guy told us to go downstairs but I thought he was telling us to wait next to him until we could go into the theater (this happened when we went to see The Hobbit) So you can imagine his confusion when I nodded in “understanding” and then continued to stand in line right next to him.  Then he tried to explain again and luckily David understood this time (I could hear the ushers laughing as we walked away… silly foreigners).  So what does a “premium” theater look like? Well first you walk in and there is a really classy lobby with chairs, tables, and books to read while you are waiting for your movie to start.  Then, you walk in the theater and all the seats look like this:

Couch seats!

Couch seats!

Every single seat was a two person couch.  They were super comfortable and had a ton of leg room.  And the best part was that it only cost 8000 won per person!  I love how cheap everything is in Korea.

Anyways, as we approach the two-month mark here in Korea, we are both enjoying our time here.  I have been getting homesick fairly often, but that is to be expected.  Remembering that I am only contracted for a year helps, a person can do anything for one year!  Well that’s all I have for now.  Enjoy some random photos that I have collected over the past couple weeks.

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Nose Change?

On Friday I got asked for the first and probably not the last time if I have had plastic surgery on my nose.  This question was posed to me in the form of “Nose change?”  In America, I feel as though plastic surgery has very negative connotations unless you are getting it for reconstructive reasons.  In Korea, however, plastic surgery is much more common place and it is more normal to be asked by a random, mischievous 12 year-old boy if you have had some work done.  Although, I doubt David will ever be asked these types of questions (Editors note: David wants me to mention that he has been asked if his hair is “original” aka dyed).

This past week was quite long and straining.  David and I had a high school camp (well mostly David) that called for an almost completely different curriculum than anything we have done so far.  We also only had 1 and half days to plan for it because we have been booked up with other camps pretty much everyday.  Luckily, David didn’t mind putting in a little weekend work and I had time to finish up the things David couldn’t get to while he was teaching.  Luck was also on our side because the kids were pretty well behaved.  We were all pretty worried about the situation because we had heard their English level was very low (which it was), we had to teach them business English (which David tried), and they were all boys.  They were coming from an “engineering” school, which in Korea, seems to be on par with military schools or alternative schools in the U.S.  These boys futures are already decided.  None of them will be attending college and all will be working in factories or joining the military.  So we were afraid they would be crazy, out of control, hoodlums.  In reality though, they were pretty normal, everyday high school kids.  Making foolish decisions but still fun to hang out with.

Like most other countries in the world besides the U.S., drinking and smoking is a lot more lax here.  Although the high schoolers were all under age, their teachers allowed them to drink and smoke in their rooms.  This may have resulted in one group of them punching and breaking a very expensive Samsung T.V.  How or why this happened is very unclear to all of us not involved, but the students who did the punching seemed quite proud of themselves…  I hope they have to work it off doing hard labor or something.

This week also marked the first time that we got to go to the Aquapia (massive water park).  They just finished remodeling it and…. dang.  First things first though.  In Korea, whenever you go swimming, you must wear a cap or head covering of some sort.  So I bought a baseball cap and David bought a swim cap.  Then you head for the locker room and are given a magnetized bracelet that is the key to your locker.  It is pretty snazzy and high tech.  The water park itself was really fun.  It has a lazy river, about 4 water slides, a wave pool, two hot tubs, a play structure, and the Flowrider, “surfing” ramp thing (and that is only the indoor part)!   My goal in life is to master the Flowrider before I return to the U.S. but right now I can not do anything on it.  In fact, at one point I got pushed over the edge by the current and was stuck against the edge because the water was crazy strong (don’t worry mom, my head was above water I just couldn’t stand up!) and the lifeguard had to pull me upright.  Flowrider 2, Tara 0  That will change soon enough though.

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Random Flowrider picture from the internet!

Also the outside part of Aquapia has a slide called the X-Wave… It is probably the biggest and scariest waterslide I have ever seen in my life.  I WILL DOMINATE IT!

Well that’s about all I’ve got for today.  We are sitting bored at work waiting for our boss to come in so we can start planning our vacation to Jeju in February!  We get about 9 days! Woohoo!

Gakwonsa Temple and Mt. Taejo

It’s not all work work work here in Korea for Tara and me.  Today we had an adventure of another sort, a little old-fashioned sightseeing.  To get a look at Korea’s spiritual heritage, we decided to visit the Gakwonsa Temple, home of a certain spectacular giant statue of the Buddha.

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A small shrine near the temple complex. This is not the giant Buddha.

We took two buses to get there, for a journey that was probably about an hour and a half in duration.  The temple is nestled up against some mountains, in a village area that has the feel of a skiing town.  There didn’t seem to be a huge permanent population, but it was definitely primed for tourists.

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Tourists who clearly know how to have a good time.

Korea is a mostly mountainous country, so it comes as no surprise that most of its holy places are associated with mountains.  It’s a very natural and appealing setting for a sanctuary.  It also entails a great deal of climbing.  We ascended an incredible series of stairs and had to pass a lovely island of trees before we finally caught a glimpse of Gakwonsa’s star attraction.

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Behold the stairway, destroyer of legs.

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This is the giant Buddha.

The giant Buddha of Gakwonsa is about 15 meters tall.  As you can see from this long-distance shot, 15 is quite a lot of meters.  It translates to about 50 feet, if you like your units traditional, and along from being very very big, it’s quite beautiful.  The craftsmanship needed to create a work like this should be applauded forever.

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A closer look at the Buddha, the second largest in South Korea.

To the Buddha’s left lies the temple complex itself, brightly painted  and chiming with bells in the brisk wind.  We came as tourists, but it is a very spiritual place, and we saw many people going about the act of worship.  There were places where one could write prayers (for the price of a donation), either on paper or on larger, shingle-like tiles.  And of course, many people would go inside the various temple buildings for prayer or meditation.

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No large crowds, thankfully.

Tara and I proceeded cautiously, wishing to respect the temple and the people to whom it belongs.  But we did go inside one briefly, to look at the golden statues inside and do a little quiet sitting.  We took no pictures of the interior, of course, but to anyone willing to make the trip, I’d highly recommend a look.  There are wonderful paintings of Buddhist history and myth, and the chamber is very peaceful.

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The swastika seen on the side of the main building here is a very ancient symbol associated with many cultures, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. It represents eternity, as well as being a traditional sign of good fortune.

There’s a hiking trail behind the temples, which we decided to try out.  Without really meaning to, we found ourselves climbing very near to the summit of Mt. Taejo.  We were pretty high up the mountain to begin with, and our path was only about 800 meters to the rest spot just below the peak.  But it was a steep trail, and somewhat perilous with ice and loose rock.  We each managed to slip and fall once, though I probably had the more hilarious landing.

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Glad we wore some decent shoes.

The path split in three directions, two of which appeared to go in an upwards direction (though we were clearly near the top).  Tired from the rugged climb, we decided to come back another day, perhaps when camp had made us a little fitter, and explore for more shrines or spots of significance.

It was cold and cloudy, but still a beautiful day.  I’m glad we took this opportunity look upon something exceptional, exhausting as it may have been.  We’re both looking forward to coming back, and seeing more such wonderful places.

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Love the Buddha’s dance moves.

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Candles at the site of the Buddha, bearing images and writing in both Hangul and Hanja (Chinese characters).

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I found myself wondering how many of the Koreans who visit these temples are still literate in the Hanja characters that adorn many of the sculptures and buildings here.

Saturday Adventure in Cheonan

I meant to post about this a while ago… but it never happened.

We went into Cheonan for the day a couple weekends ago.  It was great fun.  We went to see

.  Buying our tickets was a little interesting but luckily we found a foreigner to help us.  The process, at least a Yawoori Theater, is to take a number (like at the DMV or something).  Then you get called to the counter and pay for your tickets and pick your seats. Picking your seats beforehand is actually really nice because you don’t have to go super early to the theater to get prime seats.  The movie we went to see didn’t start until 3:00 and it was only about 1.  So we walked around the mall and went to eat lunch.   We decided to eat here:

Pizza Hut!

Pizza Hut!

It is funny because even though we are not tired of eating Korean food, seeing this Pizza Hut made us so happy that we had to eat there.  I couldn’t help being excited for “American” food.  The same goes for when we see American/ English brands.  The unfortunate part is that these brands are pretty expensive.  David and I enjoyed a smallish pepperoni pizza for 25,000 won!  We probably won’t be going back there anytime soon, especially when we found a much cheaper pizza place near our house that tastes better.

I also spent the 5000 won that my roommate Joann gave me for Christmas at a Starbucks!  I bought a Christmas Cookie Latte for 6,000 won…  It had tiny pieces of cookie in it and was definitely not worth $6ish but at least I got to go to Starbucks!

Me and my Christmas Cookie Latte!

Me and my Christmas Cookie Latte!

David and I saw our movie, then did some Christmas shopping (including buying lights for our room) and headed home.  It was a fun day and we saw a lot of different sites!

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Busy First Week

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

So we had a lot of things going on this week.  Most days ended with us stuffing our faces at a local Korean place, then going to sleep between 9-11 (mostly on the 9 side).

Monday:  We had our medical exams.  These were very nerve wracking mostly because we had no idea what was going on.  We were just shuffled between two floors around to about 4 or 5 different rooms and we had no idea if we were “passing” or not.  The first thing we had done was our weight and height.  The scale had this machine on top of it that would come down and hit you gently on the head to get your height.  I had no idea that was happening though so I wasn’t even standing straight and David ducked out of the way and it hit his shoulder… so he had to do it again. Then we got our hearing tested.  They put headphones on us and when you hear a beep in one ear you are supposed to raise that “ear’s” hand.  It kept getting quieter and quieter and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear the next one and then it was over.  The eye test was a normal eye test except they had numbers, letters, and… symbols (think fish and umbrellas).  This whole time they were telling us to breathe because I think they could tell we were freaked out.  I’m sure I looked all bug-eyed.  Then we got our blood pressure done and ours were both a tiny bit high, probably because we were so freaked!

After that room we went downstairs to get a “dental” exam.  She looked in our mouths for two seconds, said “clean” and then that was done.  Next we had the urine and blood tests.   For the urine test you had to pee in a dixie cup (almost exactly like the one pictured above now that I think about it) which was different.  Then we got our blood drawn to test for HIV/Aids.  The weirdest part about that was that the nurse did not wear gloves!!!!  It was crazy!  I mean, I know Koreans are super healthy and such but still… that was weird and you could probably get fired for that in America.

Finally it was back upstairs to get chest x-rays for TB.  I got put into a little room with like 25 lockers and was just pointed toward a locker.  When I opened it I found a gown shirt but I didn’t know if I was supposed to put my clothes in the locker or what.  So I secretly (and as uncreepily as possible) tried to watch this ajumma (older woman) next to me to see what she did.  That is pretty much my life here.  I watch other people to see what they do and copy.

After that we were finally done and I snapped this gem (click to enlarge):

Look closely and it is hilarious.

Look closely and it is hilarious.

 Tuesday:  David already told you about our first camp.  He mostly helped out in “Hospital” class and I mostly helped in “Cookie”.  At one point in cookie class we accidentally lit a baking paper on fire…. so that was scary and funny.  Luckily, we got the fire put out before too many cookies got burnt.

Wednesday: We got our medical test results back.  This was also scary because even though we were 99% positive we would pass, it was still the difference between deportation and our year abroad.  Luckily, WE PASSSED!!! Then it was off to the immigration office in Cheonan to apply for our alien registration cards.  We should get them next week or the week after.  Then we can get wifi, health insurance, and (most importantly :P) cell phone contracts!

Thursday: We had kindergarten camp and our first day of teaching.  I taught three lessons of “Dance” and one “Rudolph paper bag” class.  David taught “Immigration” for three classes and “Rudolph paper bag” for one.   Luckily, kindergarten classes are only 20minutes long because they have such short attention spans.  But they were awesome!  Enjoy some kindergarten cuteness:

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One thing I really like about children in Korea, especially young children, is there is a HUGE culture of sharing.  For example the kids parents all packed them ENORMOUS amounts of snack food.  They know that their kids share everything so they pack lots extra.  At one point one of the girls gave me a little cracker or something, then I looked up and about 15 different students were gathered around me trying to give me snacks.  I got to try a bunch of different crackers and chocolate.  I also got a Satsuma and an Oreo (so apparently they have Oreos here).   And they thought it was the funniest thing ever when I would say thank you to them in Korean.

Friday: Friday was pretty stressful because we had another camp but only about three hours to plan the camp after the kindergarteners left on Thursday.  So we were stressed out.  Also it was middle school (not my cup of tea), and the classes were a lot longer, 45 minutes.  On top of all that, the activity I planned only took about 15 minutes with me trying to stretch it out as long as possible.  So then we would go out in the hall and play some games but only one class understood how to play.  The last class of the day would not listen at all and were horrible demon children (not really but they were pretty bad).  David had a grand ole time though so it might have been just me.  Although we did go to bed at 9ish last night and “slept in” until 7:30ish so that is also telling.

Saturday:  Today we are going to attempt to go into Cheonan and watch Desolation of Smaug as well as do some Christmas shopping.  Wish us luck!

P.S. Sorry this post is so long!

As a consolation prize for sticking around to the end, you get a picture tour of our work! Yay, you!

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We’ve Arrived!

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Hi friends and family!  So as you may have guessed, we made it to Korea! Horray!  We have been here for a little over 24 hours now and it has been pretty awesome so far.

Our plane ride was sooooo long.  We traveled from Portland to San Francisco (one hour, forty-five minutes), from San Francisco to Incheon (12 hours), from Incheon to Cheonan (one hour, thirty minutes), and finally from Downtown Cheonan to our apartment (20 minutes).  Our flight to Korea sucked, at least for me.  I was in the middle seat and there was no leg room.  Time went by so slow, even when I tried to watch movies (I say tried because I would mostly just fall asleep).  I had only slept about 45 minutes the night before so I was quite tired.  The plane did have pretty great food though.  For one meal we had Bibimbop (pictured above).  Then we had a sandwich for a snack a couple hours later.  And about two hours before we landed we had some interesting parmesan chicken stuff with pasta, fruit, and coleslaw.  It was definitely pretty tasty for plane food.

We were picked up by Demitri, a part-time teacher at the school from Russia.  He was really awesome and gave us lots of advice about living where we live and showed us around to all the food places and such in our area.  He goes to Korea Tech which is basically right across the street from us so that is pretty cool.

Once we got to our apartment we pretty much just made the bed and passed out.  Like most Korean mattresses, ours is a rock! But we were so tired we slept for a full 9-10 hours.  Hopefully we will sleep about the same amount tonight.  I think it was actually good that we stayed up super late the day before we left because we are not too jet-lagged yet.

Today was just spent unpacking, cleaning, and such.  As you can see from the pictures, our apartment is tiny but cozy!  We were hoping for a two bedroom since we are a couple and couples sometimes get bigger apartments.  I guess it just wasn’t in the books for us though.  The only bad things about our apartment are that the shower is broken right now and we already found a HUGE spider in the laundry room.  The shower is missing the knob that you turn to get the water to flow from the sink to the shower head.  So we have been washing our hair in the kitchen sink and just wiping our bodies down with wet wipes… Hope we don’t smell too bad for work tomorrow.  My favorite parts of the apartment are the sliding glass doors and our bookshelf on the side of our desk.  Our bedroom/living room area is basically a square with two sets of sliding glass doors that lead to different parts of the apartment.  They keep the heat in really well which is nice. I want to get some Christmas window stickies to put on them if I can find them.  I hope to put up an “apartment tour” video but I want to buy a new camera first so that the picture quality is better.

As for food, we ate a lot of ramen today.  We had it for breakfast and dinner.  They have a whole aisle dedicated just to ramen at this grocery store right by our house.  It is pretty fun to just pick out a bowl and surprise yourself when you open it!  We obviously have no idea what we are getting into when we buy food except for what is in the picture so it is always an exciting adventure.  There are a lot of different foods that are only about two-five minutes walking distance away.  There are at least two different Korean BBQ places, a burger place, a kimbap place (Korean sushi), and lots of connivence stores that sell lots of delicious looking food.  We are excited to try everything out!

Anyways, post is getting pretty long and I am really tired.  We work tomorrow from 9-6, so look for another post about our first day! Love you and miss you all lots!

P.S.  When David and I are trying to communicate with a Korean person (mostly hand gestures) we accidently speak in Spanish sometimes!  I was trying to tell the girl at the checkout counter, “yes” and instead of saying “ne” in Korean, I kept randomly blurting out “si”.  I also heard David do it when were ordering lunch… Funny how that happens.  If only were were in Mexico…