Top Searches

Upon examination of the top searches that lead readers to my blog, queries about Songdo and life in Songdo (bars, running, Lotte, development) take the cake.  Of course, many people are still landing here based on searches for Chadwick International, and I think WordPress must push my blog to other runners because they are the ones who read and “like” certain posts.  But the queries for CI mostly only happen during hiring fairs and there is not one currently in session–the bumps in hits are pretty funny.

So, we head out tomorrow to Japan for a short ski trip over Lunar New Year (the Koreans don’t call it Chinese New Year) and when we return, I promise to post pictures and updated information about life in Songdo including all the best restaurants, bars, parks, and shopping.  I might even drag Tim out with me to take the photos.  So please stay tuned, and I will be back with what you’re looking for.

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This Happened

Yesterday, our city hosted a marathon, half marathon, 10k and 5k.  Many people from school participated and it seemed like a good-sized event that maybe grows each year.  I ran the 10k after careful consideration of the boring-factor.  We run in this tiny city everyday.  It’s flat.  It’s all on road.  I chose the shorter distance and still used my ipod to combate the boredom–something I’ve never done for a race this short.  Race organization was fine–not much to complain about there.  The course was straightforward and well-marked and each race wave began 5 minutes later than the one preceding it.  This meant that there was always someone to catch up ahead until the 8km mark where the 10k race veered off to head to the finish.  There were 3 water stations, so that seemed plenty.  The only bad thing about the race was that the 10k was long.   Multiple people recorded it to be 10.7km.  Because I am so very familiar with the city and distances, I knew something was screwy when we still weren’t turning towards the finish when I thought we should be.  But, I took their markings on faith that maybe I was somehow wrong, and let me tell you people:  that last kilometer was the most painful of my life.  Because it was more like 1.7 and I gave my all at the 1.  My time was 50:30.  Having not broken 50 in a 10k in my previous adult life, this was frustrating, but at the same time, I’m pretty easy-going and really happy to know that at the real 10k, I was under 50.  I also came in 7th woman.  1st-5th place got money.  I got:

7th place

6 kilos of rice.  Yep, 6 KILOS of rice.  And a fancy certificate.  I may have been 7th, but on this day, I was a winner!

Still There?

Yes!!  I still live in Songdo and still work for Chadwick International.  What’s with the year hiatus, you ask?  Actually, I’m not sure.  We were just so busy.  I won’t lie–working for CI is incredibly demanding.  At times it was not always rewarding, and so I didn’t feel like writing much.  But it’s a new school year, I’ve moved to high school, and so I’m feeling a bit more like writing these days.  So there you have it.

What happens in a year in a rapidly-filling brand new city raised from the mud?

–They began and are close to finishing building the Lotte Mart half of the Lotte Mall complex 2 blocks from our house.

–The new Green Climate Fund (GCF) secretariat to the UN chose Songdo as it’s homebase, promising an influx of 500 families of multinational background.  But in the wake of all that silly media circus about North Korea last spring, their arrival is delayed.  Songdo is still as Korean as the next city and remains “International” in name only.

–A bar owned and run by expats finally opened.  Cinder Bar is great.  They open at 5:30, officially making them the only bar anywhere nearby that opens when Westerners actually want to drink.

–As the city fills, but people still drive erratically, the number of bike wrecks is on the rise.  We constantly beg the kids to wear their helmets.  But they still won’t.  This is a constant source of anxiety for me.

–I’m coaching cross country and we actually have a real season this year, complete with multiple scored meets.  This has been awesome, yet exhausting.  Totally worth it, though.  The kids are incredible.

–Many more restaurants and bars are opening–we even got a second Starbucks.  There are also many new stores, but none of these things have me particularly excited.  Except of course for the addition of many Korean cosmetic stores.  I love that stuff.  Guilty secret, but I’m putting it out there now.  So there.  Now you know.  I love makeup shaped like cats and bunnies.  Truth.

–Tim and I bought a summer home in the mountains of Colorado.  I have a picture of it by my desk.  I look at it often.

Just a snippet of things to come.

I’m feeling much more at-home in Korea this year.  The food has really grown on me and I feel like I finally really understand the culture, which helps me let go of a lot of things that upset me about people here before.  I’m feeling quite satisfied with where I am in life at the moment.  Maybe that’s why I feel like writing again.

Summer Run Down

We are back in Songdo now after an incredibly eventful summer.

A quick run-down in case you wondered:

Immediately after school let out in June we flew to Thailand.  We were on our way to a wedding in Pakistan but we had about 8 or 9 days to kill before the wedding events began.  The original plan was to trek in Northern Pakistan for that time.  However, recent sectarian violence and instability in those regions caused us a re-think.  Not that we were scared for ourselves.  These flare-ups rarely affect foreigners.  However, we worried the lock-downs would affect our travel back to Islamabad and how selfish would it be to miss the wedding we went there for in the first place? So we scrapped those plans and extended our layover in Bangkok by 9 days.  We spent three weeks there over Christmas break and loved it–but on that trip we stuck to the South, rock climbing in the Railay/Krabi area.  This time we decided to go North to Chaing Mai.   June in Thailand was fantastic.  It’s low season, so the crowds are nonexistent and the hotels are cheap.  But the monsoon had not yet arrived–the weather was quite pleasant!  I love elephants, so we spent one full day at the Elephant Nature Park–a no riding, no stupid elephant tricks, rescue farm.  It is now my charity of choice.  We also spent a full day rock climbing which was pretty stellar, and we spent a day seeing the local sights and eating AWESOME food!  Did I mention I love Thailand?

After a couple of days with a friend in Bangkok (I LOVE Bangkok), we continued on to Islamabad.  Pakistan and the wedding was an interesting experience.  However, we did not get much of a chance to “see” Pakistan.  Islamabad is not what you think of when you picture Pakistan.  Islamabad is clean and orderly with wide avenues, a ban on rickshaws and jingle trucks, and relatively nice houses and restaurants.  Also, being there at the end of June, before the monsoon, is not really when you want to go touristing around.  To say it’s hot would be an understatement.  And with the energy crisis and rolling blackouts, there’s not much you can do besides trying to stay perfectly still in the coolest corner you can find to wait until the AC can come back on.  The wedding was lovely and it was such an honor to be involved and included in our friend’s family and to be able to meet and talk to so many of the intelligentsia who founded Islamabad.  For about 6 days straight there were dinners hosted by family and friends of the family, so there were many opportunities to get to know one another.  We did make it out of town one day to go to my friend’s father’s ancestral village in the foothills where they still have a house.  It was a wonderful respite from the heat and a chance to see a bit more of the real Pakistan.

When we left Islamabad, we had 3 days at the beginning of July back in Songdo so we could switch out luggage, do the laundry and pet the cat and then it was off to Denver.  I had a week in Denver with friends, then two weeks in Boone, NC with friends and family, and then one more week in Colorado before we returned to Korea.  These days were spent catching up with friends, eating at favorite restaurants, drinking lots and lots and lots of IPA, trail running, climbing, hiking, camping, seeing Steve’s plays in Creede, a beach weekend, and just reveling in summer in the mountains.

And now we’re back, rejuvenated, and ready for a new school year.  At Chadwick, we have opened and moved into our upper school building.  Last year when we were just an elementary and middle school, the entire operation was housed in the elementary school building.  But with the addition of 9th grade, we’ve outgrown that space and moved into our own building.  This is a welcome change as it actually feels like a secondary school to me.  The sinks are not at my knees, there are lockers, there are administrative offices, there are great facilities for students to congregate and work and there’s just more space in general.  So things are good.  The second year overseas in a school is always great because you have everything figured out and can really concentrate on your teaching practice and perfecting your craft.  You understand the kids culturally and know what to expect.  I’m ready to enjoy the year.

Running Songdo

Every time we move, I am anxiously concerned with where and when and how much I’ll be able to run in my immediate vicinity. In Quito we had Parque Metropolitano, complete with a five mile loop trail and various interconnected single-track on the top of one of the upper ridges of Quito. That was a beautiful park, chock full of eucalyptus trees and sufficiently high enough above the city that in many parts of the park, you could believe you were in wilderness. And while I could run all year, as Quito is the land of eternal springtime, being on the equator means that you only have until 6pm to be done with your run because you can bet your arse I won’t be caught out alone in the park after dark. Yikes. So that was a serious limitation.

In Turkey we lived right beside beautiful rolling, empty hills, where you could literally run trails all day long because there were fresh water springs throughout. This was a wonderful sanity-preserver with two serious downfalls. While in Turkey you are safe from people, on the Anatolian plains, you are not safe from wild dogs and our precious hills had a large, aggressive pack of them. Many a run was cut short by those damn dogs. We also had a serious mud season out there from about mid-November to mid-March. So a large part of the year, I couldn’t even run outside. That will bum one out real fast!

Behold, Songdo, where I can run all year (when it’s not TOO cold) and all night if I need to.  The city developers have taken great care to make walking (running!) paths of rubberized track surface, dirt, and pavement all over the city and around the city parks.  I can even link up to actual trails in Incheon on longer runs, but this is about running in Songdo proper.  The Pros:  it’s safe, clear, and right out my door.  Almost all the paths are lit at night so I don’t even need a head lamp on night runs!  There are no wild dog and no serious mud.  I can run all year, all hours of the day or night.  Cons:  No wilderness.  It’s city running.  It’s totally flat (which might be on your pro list) so I have to find some other way to incorporate hill training.  The parks have piped in classical music which is totally annoying.  So, you give a little, you gain a little.  In the space between I find my sanity.  Win!

Discoveries

After a crazy few weeks at work, we had our first holiday–ahhhhhhh!  We took a week-long break for the Korean Chusok holiday which is much like our Thanksgiving.  Our last Friday at school, I received my glorious, wonderful, stupendous, fantastic, beautiful, cool new iphone!  If you’ve owned one of these things for many years and are feeling rather ho-hum about the whole thing, just go down to the next paragraph.  I am in love with this little beauty.  I am only just beginning to discover what it can do!  I have gone from an ancient flip phone with no camera or anything, to the wave of the future!  And it even has an orange case!

So now that we’re normal, I’m able to capture some fun stuff as we happen upon it.  Again, wow!  I love this thing!  And so we began our week off with a weekend exploring Chinatown Incheon and Seoul.

First, to get there, we have to take the subway.  The subway here rocks.  It’s clean, efficient, and SUPER easy to use.  Even for gringos like us.  But what I really love about the subway is all the public service announcements everywhere.  They have the best videos of “poor use” of the escalator to try to teach people to stand on the right and pass on the left.  Mostly, they’re just funny.  And people are obviously NOT taking the lessons to heart.  Inside the subway are fun little diagrams for the do’s and don’ts.  Don’ts include things like pushing, talking loudly on your cellphone, taking up too much space, ignoring the elderly, and PDA.

The PDA one is hilarious.  If you look closely, it seems to suggest that you should not engage in PDA because it makes others sad, ill, and embarrassed.  I’m guessing the person on the left is embarrassed while the passenger on the right is crying and holding his stomach.  Thoughts?  Special note:  the PDA couple is even wearing couple shirts–a strange Korean phenomenon!

Another great discovery that weekend was the Kitty Cafe.  There are many in Seoul, but we had no idea where they were.  We stumbled out of the subway with a group of friends looking for a bar and instead we found a large mascot pointing the way to my own little slice of heaven.  Behold, the cat cafe, where you can play with about 8-12 gorgeous pure-breed cats, while you sip a latte.  I was in love.

If that wasn’t enough, they brought out a little pig named Spam.  He totally stole the show, but I love the kitties the most.

With this new-fangled contraption, the sky is truly the limit for what I might be able to capture in this crazy new world.  I wonder what I’ll stumble upon this week?

Well Someone Has Pictures

New Songdo City photo credit: Tim Henkels

My husband, Tim, went to the Songdo Good Market this past weekend.  On his way around town, he took some photos.  It gives you a much better idea of what the city looks like.  You can see his post and pictures here.  You’ll notice that the streets are relatively empty.  It’s true, there’s no traffic yet.  You’ll notice there’s lots of green stuff.  Indeed, we have a lot of trees.  But I’m worried we don’t have tree people.  You can tell the trees have been implanted and are too close together.  Some have died, and many blow over in the typhoons even though they’re anchored quite well.  We’ve also noticed there seems to be a lack of weed eaters in this city.  The weekend before school opened, there were tons of workers outside pulling the weeds by hand!  And we are talking about a giant of a school complex.  So after quite the rainy summer, New Songdo City is very green, but not very manicured!

I will try to take my camera to work tomorrow for some glimpses of the place where we spend most of our time right now.  In the meantime, enjoy Tim’s reflections and photos.

 

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