Thursday, February 21, 2008

I've never felt as sad as I have over the past couple of days. I never even felt this way for being homesick for everyone back in SA.

I've honestly surprised myself at how I suddenly felt shaken up by the news that my 2 co-teachers, who I'm extremely close to, won't be at my school this year. Through much tears, they both assured me that we'll still remain friends. I feel like I'm starting work all over again - from square one, where I know no one and am uncertain about everything around me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

When things change...


There's an episode in FRIENDS, just before Monica & Chandler get married where Joey feels disorientated and uncomfortable that so many things are changing within their friends circle.

Change is good, and I'm all for it. I think we can all learn and grow from new experiences. But at the moment I'm feeling like I've been thrown in the deep end ~ and I don't know how to swim.

I've been here since the end of August last year. I left my home, family and friends and trekked to the other side of the world to start a new life in a new country. Some will vouch for me that the first few days of arriving were extremely difficult. I had to come to terms that I was in an environment that wasn't English-speaking and that I had to either "fight" or "flight"

Six months later, it's evident that I chose to fight. I feel like I'm at the happiest point of my life and I'm doing things that I always dreamed of.

But I wouldn't have been so settled if it weren't for certain people who made the transition so smooth and easy for me. Within the first two weeks of my being here, they became my new family.

As we begin the new academic year at my school I am deeply saddened because the very people who I hold so close to my heart will no longer be at my school.

I'm really feeling very sad about this. Unlike other foreign teachers I know, my co-teachers are more than just that ...they became my big sisters, mother's and friends. Most of my day would be spent with them...and I grew extremely fond of them.

During January, when I ran my English winter camp at school for 4 weeks, I missed my co-teachers terribly and I couldn't wait for regular school to begin again.

I wish I wasn't the type of person to become attached to people as I do, but these things just happen...I'll take it as part of life and growing up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

London ~ General

This concludes the chronicles of my London trip ^^*

London is a melting pot of cultures. On a single bus trip, you can see burqa-clad women sitting alongside turban-wearing men with beards down to their belly.

WEATHER

London weather is unpredictable! You can expect to wake up to grey skies, but have the sun out by lunch time. We were fortunate to have clear skies for most of the week.

TRANSPORT & NAVIGATION

Although I was only there for a week, I found the transport system to be fairly efficient. We only used buses, and had no need to use the tube. We were advised by many people not to use taxis as they are quite expensive.

Maps can be deceiving. What looks like a distance can merely be a ten minute walk from point A to point B.

EATING PLACES

Youll never run short of places to eat there are café’s, delis, coffee shops and restaurants everywhere! Its not that difficult to eat well on a tight budget (look for the nearest SUBWAY!) I was spoiled with choice with all the Indian eateries.

PEOPLE

Various shopkeepers couldnt be bothered to keep us waiting while they finished their personal phone calls. Strangers on the street or on the buses were willing to tell us which bus to take to which destination.

Bus drivers are also generally OK, and a few even looked for us in their rearview mirror to tell us that the stop we were at is the one we needed to get off!

NOTE: Always ask at least two people to verify directions (some people get a kick out of sending tourists in the wrong direction!)

London ~ Sunday (Feb 10) The sweetness that is home...

When I got home, my apartment was freezingbut it was so good to be back in my own little space! After my gim-bap and making a few phone calls, I got to bedhoping and praying Id wake up in time for work the next day!

I received my luggage the next day (Monday evening)

London ~ Sunday (Feb 10) Luggage Drama

I landed in Korea at 3:30pm, and assumed Id be home by 5pm. Well, one of my nightmares came true my luggage was nowhere to be found. After reporting the matter, I was told that it was at Pudong Airport. I was furious, because when I checked in at Heathrow, I specifically asked the woman if my luggage would go through directly to Incheon, and she said that I only need to collect it in Korea

I was told that theyd try to put it on the next flight, and I was even prepared to wait at the airport for it. But there was no guarantee so I went home, and I was assured that it would be delivered to me (for which Id have to pay for!)

London ~ Sunday (Feb 10) Back home!

I flew British Airways from London to Shanghai. Again, I wasnt impressed by BAs service. For the second time round, I found the aircraft to be dirty, and thank goodness I inspected my seat before sitting down as there were pieces of chocolate on it.

I was pleased to arrive at Pudong Airport, because I was nearly home. I then flew China Eastern Airlines to Incheon International, which was very pleasant. Good and friendly service!

*While I was on the shuttle bus going to the aircraft from the terminal, I felt so relieved to see Hangul (Korean writing) on the Asiana Aircraft!! I still cant believe that I was homesick for Korea.

London ~ Saturday (Feb 9) All good things must come to an end...

Our week of absolute fun came to an end on Saturday and by afternoon, I was at Heathrow saying good bye to my mum as I made my journey back home.

London ~ Friday (Feb 8) Harrods


Who would have thought that a department store would thrill me nearly as much as a theme park?!

I walked into Harrods and looked around wide-eyed, like a child with unlimited access to Disney World! I was in absolute amazement. Situated in Knightsbridge, Harrods is apparently one of the largest department stores in the world, with designer labels everywhere ~ I mean everywhere!

It has over 300 departments, including clothing, jewelry, sporting gear, electronics, bridal wear, pet accessories, toys, food, furniture and so much more.

If anything, the food halls will make you feel as though youve died and gone to heaven! The proud owner of Harrods is Mohamed Fayed, an Egyptian businessman and billionaire.


London ~ Friday (Feb 8) Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds is the famous wax museum in London, which also has branches in other major cities, including Las Vegas, New York and Shanghai.

It is home to some of the most famous faces in history, from the royal family to academics, writers, sportspeople, singers and actors.

I saw everyone ~ Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, John Travolta, Salman Khan, Robin Williams, David Bekham, Hitler, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela and Benazir Bhutto.

Youre likely to be star struck in this museum I sure was!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

London ~ Thursday (Feb 7) Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805)

South Africa House!

London ~ Thursday (Feb 7) Picadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus lies at the heart of London's West End and is a major tourist attraction with loads of entertainment and shopping.

London ~ Thursday (Feb 7) Kensington Palace


Until 1997, Kensington Palace was the official residence of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The palace currently hosts an exhibition dedicated to the late princess, which includes some of her evening gowns that she'd worn.

The surrounding gardens

London ~ Thursday (Feb 7) St Paul's Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral sits high on my list of favourite places Ive seen in London. The beauty of the exterior of the building certainly doesnt prepare one for what lies inside.

The minute I stepped into the Cathedral, I felt a sense of calmness. Naturally, photography isn't permitted as it is a place of worship. The intricate designs covering nearly every piece of the cathedral is mesmerizing.

Services that have taken place here include Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, peace services marking the end of the First & Second World Wars and the wedding of Prince Charles & Princess Diana.

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Buckingham Palace


Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British residence and is used for state occasions and royal entertaining (stated on Wikipedia)

Victoria Memorial

Thursday, February 14, 2008

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) London Eye

The London Eye is also known as the Millennium Wheel and stands 135 metres high on the south bank of the River Thames. One revolution takes 30 minute and the observation capsules are air-conditioned and can hold up to 25 people.

The view from the capsules make you feel like youre really on top of the world. In fact, you dont even feel it moving. The Eye is one of the most popular attractions in the city and again, I think we were very lucky to have excellent weather that day!

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey served as a cathedral from 1546-1556. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs.

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Big Ben & Houses of Parliament

Big Ben is one of Londons best known landmarks and is situated at the north-eastern end of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Taken from parliament.co.uk :

The first known royal palace to occupy Parliament
s site was Edward the Confessors (c1065). Parliament officially remains a royal palace and is still referred to as the Palace of Westminster. The site was used as a royal residence until Henry VIII moved the royal family out in 1512 following a fire.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) River Thames Cruise

The River Thames is the longest river in England. After spending a couple of hours at the Tower of London, we took a cruise on the Thames which stopped at the London Eye!

I was giddy with excitement when I caught the first glimpse of Big Ben from the river. It was simply majestic. The view of the London Eye and other spectacular buildings were beautiful beyond words. We were so lucky that we had good weather!

I think I was the only person running around snapping pics from the left... then the right... then the left again!

...with Mum!

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Crown Jewels

Obviously only a picture!

According to Wikipedia, the Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since 1303 after they were stolen from Westminster Abbey. They are considered to be the most valuable jewelrey collection in existence.

Let's just say there was more BLING than my eyes could handle *^^*

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Tower of London


We drove over London Bridge and stopped at the Tower of London which was the seat of British government and the living quarters of monarchs. It has housed lions, bears and flightless ravens. Legend has it that if ravens leave the tower, the world will see the fall of the British government. It is an historic monument situated on the north bank of the River Thames.

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) London Bridge

I grew up with the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is falling down so when I came face to face with this majestic bridge I couldnt click fast enough on my camera. I swear, it looked like a picture from a fairytale book.

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Korean's on the bus ^^

With Sam Mi from Korea!

Mum and I sat on the upper level on the bus, braving the cold! First, we were the only 2 people up there, until 3 ladies joined us. They seemed very excited and were snapping pics like crazy, even though the bus hadnt even moved yet! I had an inkling that they could be from Korea, but didnt ask them.

.and then I heard one of them say Hana, Dul, Set (One, Two, Three in Korean). I jumped with joy. Excuse me? I said. Are you from Korea?

They were! I was too excited to meet Koreans, because by this day I was feeling homesick (for Korea!). My friends find this hard to believe. Ive been told, But Korea isnt your home! Well the fact that I was missing the SMELL of Korean air and that I was craving gim-bap proves that this is now my home, right?!

London ~ Wednesday (Feb 6) Big Bus Tour


We bought tickets for a tour bus called Big Bus. It runs on a
hop on / hop off system. That means that they drive around to all the major attractions, and you can get off the bus explore on your own and then wait for the next bus to come around and take you to the next destination. The tickets are valid for 48 hours. You can also buy tickets to selected attractions from the bus company to avoid long queues example: St Pauls Cathedral, Kensington Palace, Tower of London, London Eye and Madame Tussauds.

London ~ Tuesday (Feb 5) Oxford Street

I wanted to buy another battery for my camera, so we were directed to a camera store called Jesspos on Oxford Street. A lady at the information desk at the Sleeping exhibition told us that we just walk around the corner and walk straight for about 7 minutes till we reach Oxford Street.

The walk was great and I was snapping pics of all the magnificent buildings around me. 20 minutes later we found Jessops. We did a bit of shopping in the area and I found another mega store called HMV I was going crazy all my favourite TV series in box sets. If only had loads of cash on me!

I was thrilled when I found my absolute favourite British comedy on DVD Mind Your Language. Its about an English professor who teaches evening classes to a group of foreigners.

We took a bus back to the hotel and we hadnt realized how much we actually walked that day! But it was awesome...even thought it rained a bit during the afternoon.

London ~ Tuesday (Feb 5) Sleeping & Dreaming expo

Afterwards, we walked down the road to another exhibition on Sleeping & Dreaming. It provided information on things like sleeping pills, the process of sleeping, how we dream and various issues surrounding jet lag.

London ~ Tuesday (Feb 5) British Library


On Tuesday we took the bus from the hotel to Kings Cross Station and walked to the British Library. Hefty security guards met us at the door to search our bags, and after I showed the really big (yet hot) guard that I was irritated with him messing up my very organized handbag, he left me alone. Hahaha

When you step into the library, you may as well be stepping into an art gallery. Contrary to what may be believed, its not dark, dingy and eerily quiet. Its airy and quite big with a few exhibitions on display.


London ~ Monday (Feb 4) Southall


We went to Southall
a South Asian residential district in West London. Indian stores line the streets of this area from Indian garments to jewelry, to Bollywood CDs & DVDs to quaint little restaurants. Mum and I were surprised that stores only opened at 11am, so we spent nearly an hour just window browsing.

We had a bite to eat at a restaurant called Chandni Chowk. If youre an avid Bollwyood follower, youll know that this term is often used in films. Chandni Chowk is actually one of the oldest and busiest markets in Delhi.


We weren
t really tempted to buy much in Southall (its not like we were seeing anything new) but I just bought a few bindis and a Bollywood CD.

After lunch, we moved into a hotel in Kings Cross with most places within a decent distance.


London ~ Sunday (Feb 3) Cambridge


On Sunday afternoon we took a drive to Cambridge. The architecture of the buildings was out of this world, and I couldn
t get over the amazing contrasts of the colours ie: the sky, the buildings and the greenery surrounding it. It was picture perfect, and we were there at just the right time nearly sunset.

Unfortunately, we didnt make it in time for punting. This is similar to the gondola experience one can have in Venice.

(A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. The punter generally propels the punt by pushing against the river bed with a pole
Taken from WIkipedia)

London ~ Saturday (February 2)

My mum and I stayed in Bedford with a cousin for 3 nights. Its a beautiful area with open patches of greenery everywhere. On Saturday we spent a few hours at Milton Keynes Mall. I discovered the most amazing store ~ ZAAVI a music / DVD store with every imaginable title one can think of!

London ~ Friday night (February 1)

Me with Rushmi, Camilla & Dits

My mum arrived in London on Wednesday and spent a couple of days with her sister. My cousin and I met them at an awesome Mexican restaurant. I hadnt seen my mum in 5 months, and the other family member in over 7 years! However, thanks to technology (We love you, Skype) time and distance becomes non-existent.

Dits, Camilla, mum & me

Korean Air & British Airways


I flew Korean Air from Incheon Intl to Narita (Tokyo) which was rather pleasant. The hostesses were attentive and looked like dolls strutting down the aisle!

I sat next to two men Japanese architects who were on their way home after spending several weeks in Cambodia. When the one man hauled out his huge Canon camera, I immediately asked him to help me navigate my new Nikon camera (Japanese make) that I bought 2 days before. It hadnt come with an English manual, and I didnt have time to look for one online. Anyways, he helped me out with the settings and all was good.

We arrived in sunny Tokyo, and within a few minutes I already checked in at British Airways and spent the next hour reading while sitting at the gate where I had to board.

I prepared myself for the long flight to London I got the window seat! I sat next to two old Japanese ladies who were enroute to Portugal.

It was the first time I was flying BA, and I wasnt really blown away. There was junk in the seat pocket in front of me (probably from the previous passenger), and I found the airhostesses to be untidy and non-attentive to passengers around me.

I arrived at Heathrow at 16:20. It wasn
t as crazy as I anticipated. I got through immigration in just a few minutes, and I was soon met by my cousin who picked me up.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

London ~ Getting to Incheon airport

I was going to take the 05:30 airport limousine (bus!) to Incheon airport. My flight was at 09:20, so I'd have ample time.

I found out exactly where the bus stop was, so just after 5am, I took a cab to the bus stop. When it arrived, everything was fine... till I kept seeing signs outside saying Gimpo Airport. I was worried that I got onto the wrong bus, but everything turned out fine. The bus first makes a stop at Gimpo Airport and then proceeds to Incheon!

All my friends were right - take the airport limousine instead of the taxi. They're efficient and MUCH cheaper. And they drop you off right in front of International departures!

Incheon airport has had many good reviews from travelers around the globe. It's easy to navigate, clean and staff are most willing to help.

I flew Korean Air from Incheon to Narita (Tokyo). I would then transfer to British Airways and fly to Heathrow...

London ~ The idea & preparation

from google images

How often will I be able to say I spontaneously booked a flight to London?! I had a few days off from work, and I didnt know what Id do with myself. Yes, I could have traveled around Korea, but decided to do something outrageous.

Where could I go? I was looking for visa-free countries with my SA passport. The only European countries I was really interested in was the UK & Switzerland

I booked a trip to London which I was going to do alone, but after a while I thought itd be fun if my mum met me there!

Friday morning (January 25) I got the idea of going and by 5pm my ticket was booked and paid for. On Saturday I asked my mum to meet me. Monday her ticket was booked. Wednesday she arrived in the UK and I arrived 2 days later!

I spent the few days before I left shopping for gifts to send back for my dad and brother in SA. I also had other admin to sort out, which went smoothly and pretty quickly.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Namdaemun goes up in flames

Taken from the Korean Times....


By Lee Hyo-shik
Staff Reporter

A fire swallowed the nation's No. 1 treasure Sungnyemun - more commonly known as Namdaemun, meaning South Gate in Korean - in the heart of Seoul late Sunday.

The historic structure from the Joseon Kingdom was totally demolished four hours after it caught fire at 8:30 p.m. Firefighters stopped operation at 10: 30 p.m. as the blaze appeared to be extinguished but it flared up again some minutes later, spreading quickly beyond control.

About 30 fire trucks along with 90 firefighters rushed to the scene to bring the blaze under control. There were no reports of any casualties and the exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined, they said.

Police suspect someone deliberately started the fire as a taxi driver, identified only by his surname Lee, said he saw a man in his 50s go up the stairs of the gate with a shopping bag, while he was waiting to pick up a customer in the nearby area.

Lee said he then saw a spark like a firework and reported it to police, adding the man came down the stairs afterwards. The taxi driver said he drove around looking for the man but could not find him.

Read more here

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tuesday - in London

It's grey in London today.

Mum & I took it pretty easy this morning. After breakfast, we went to the British Library ... amazing exhibitions! Then we went to another exhibition down the road about sleep and dreams.

We've walked so much, and I'm in awe of the buildings around me. As you can imagine, I'm going crazy taking pics!

We are definitely going to take in a show - I want to see SOUND OF MUSIC.. but we'll see.

Till next time... xxx

Monday, February 4, 2008

Monday - in London!

sorry no pics - at an internet cafe @ the moment


Quick update:

Yesterday, we went to Cambridge - took gorgeous photos. I'm taken aback by the buildings and architecture here.

This morning, we went to Southall...restricted myself from buying too many unneccesary things, but ended up buying a Bollywood CD from a guy cause he was so cute :)

Rode the red bus this morning :) and been seeing plenty of red phone booths and post boxes.

Mum & I have moved to a really snazzy Holiday Inn, with Madame Tussades and the British Library just a few minutes away.

I don't have much time to write, but basically:

I am really appreciating my home (in Korea) even more now that I am away from it.

I keep wanting to use Korean phrases like, `Ul-ma-yo' (how much is it?) and 'Gham-sam-ni-da' (thank you)

Not looking forward to saying good-bye to mum again.

Still wish I could see my dad & brother (LOVE YOU & MISS YOU!)

Gotta go... till next time xxx

Saturday, February 2, 2008

UPDATE - I'm in LONDON!


Quick update ... last week, I decided to do something outrageous and go somewhere during my week off next week. I looked for countries that are visa-free with my SA passport, and decided to book a flight to London!

This is the most spontaneous thing I've ever done in my life...

I was going to go alone, but the next day I convinced my mum to meet me here.

I arrived last night...mum arrived the previous day, and it was so great seeing my mum after all these months.

What have I done since I've arrived?

Spoke for 5 hours straight with my mum!
Shopped - even though I vowed I'd do no shopping
At the most delicious chicken burger (first time eating chicken in 5 months)

Mum & I will be staying at a hotel in London from Monday till the end of the week...

Hope everyone's well!
...till next time xxxx
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