Saturday, August 16, 2008

APIS Faculty & Staff Retreat

This week, we took three days and two nights out of our frantic rush to prepare for the first day of classes (Tuesday, August 19) for a trip to the Dream Mountain Retreat Center, near Danyang, in the Sobaek Mountains of North Chungcheon province. (That's just about right smack in the middle of South Korea, about a 3-hour drive from Seoul.)

At first, I wasn't thrilled about the prospects of leaving my woefully unready classroom for three days, and I was even less thrilled taking was being billed as a "camping trip" in the middle of the monsoon. It turned out, though, that we were going camping Korean-style--that is to say, in air-conditioned cabins with running hot-and-cold water, en suite bathrooms, and kitchenettes (complete with refrigerators). I'm beginning to suspect "camping" isn't the right word . . .

It also turned out that the retreat was anything but a waste of our time. Aside from the obvious opportunities to get to know new faculty (who at this point outnumber returning faculty by about a bajillion to one), we spent a lot of time developing common goals for the year, as well as some basic procedures to go with them--and in the process generated some great ideas for the first few days of class. All in all, I feel much more ready for this year than I did for last, though partly because I'm not a first-year teacher anymore, and partly because I'm no longer new to Seoul. In fact, this year people are coming to US for advice on where to shop and where or what to eat--even (gulp!) on what to say in Korean!

But most importantly, the retreat was a lot of fun. (Dr. Kim and company have done it again! See selected entries on previous trips here, here, and here.) The retreat center was perched on top of a mountain overlooking the South Han river, providing us with the spectacular alpine vista you see above. To beat the heat, we had a refreshingly chilly pool (filled from a rainwater cistern, I think) and a leisurely rafting trip through the valley below, while we watched the mountains above peeking in and out of the clouds. Like many spots in Korea (Seoraksan comes to mind), the dim weather only made the scenery more beautiful. Even my getting stung on the finger by the most enormous wasp I have ever seen--the swelling still isn't completely gone, more than 48 hours later--didn't dampen the mood too much. Though later that evening I couldn't bring myself to touch the most enormous beetle I've ever seen, which Naomi, our Japanese teacher, picked up like it warn't no thang.

. . . In other words, I learned that my coworkers are good, fun folks who know how to have a good, fun time, which leaves me with a lot of hope for this year.

Look for another China post sometime soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back in Seoul: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Nana and I made it back to Seoul last night, at which point we promptly collapsed from exhaustion. The trip in a nutshell . . .

The Good: This was our shortest transpacific trip yet. Two legs (Pittsburgh-San Francisco, San Francisco-Seoul), a big flight of only ten hours, no pesky little connection at the end. As an added bonus, we actually left the airport (with all our luggage, somehow) around 6 PM, in plenty of time to catch the airport shuttle. All in all, it'd be hard to ask for more.

The Bad: We found out in San Francisco that we couldn't earn miles on our flight to Seoul. Of course, none of this was advertised in any of the fare or booking information. Watch out for this from Asiana Airlines. The number of miles involved meant it would have been worth it for use to pay a little more per ticket to be eligible for miles. This is the first time it's ever happened to us, so as you might imagine, we were quite unpleasantly surprised.

The Ugly: First, a tip for folks making an international connection through San Francisco: schedule at least a two-hour layover, possibly more, if you want good odds of making your second flight. There's no way to switch terminals at San Francisco without going back through security, which is annoying enough. Add to that the fact that check-in desks at your point of departure can no longer print boarding passes for international connections and you've got some pretty long waits. Even though our flight from Pittsburgh arrived four minutes early, we had to run about 1km to the international terminal, wait 20-25 minutes in the check-in line, produce baggage claim tickets for our luggage (which had been checked through from Pittsburgh), run to the security checkpoint, wait wait wait, then run to the gate. We made it with about 5-10 minutes to spare. And we wouldn't have, if Nana hadn't done some quick thinking in Pittsburgh: when we got new boarding passes at the gate for seats closer to the front of the plane, we turned in our old passes, which had the baggage claim tickets on the back. She actually left the jetway to get the old stubs from the gate attendant. If she hadn't, who knows where our luggage could be.

Second, I was in the country for all of 30 minutes before my first serious ajumma attack--though this time it came from a twenty-something woman just a bit too eager to get through international arrivals. We were right at the doors too the arrivals hall when, coming up from behind me, she ran over my foot with her baggage cart. Seriously: she hit me so hard my left foot was lodged under the front wheels of her cart. The rest of me, however, was not, and I fell sprawling to the floor in front of a good eight dozen onlookers. To her credit, the young woman did stop to apologize--give her ten years, though, and even that formality will be out the window. For a while there the foot looked pretty bad--a bit swollen, a bit discolored--but I'm happy to report it's doing better this morning. No real harm done, except to my hopes for a warm welcome back to Seoul!