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Why I was happy with a hagwon.

wpid-img_20150923_142530.jpgI began writing this post two months ago after a weekend away with some EPIK teachers. One of the girls, who I really admire and like, made a comment that made me really think about the reputation academies in Korea have and how all the fears I had before working at one were unfounded. I thought this would be a helpful post for anyone looking to come to Korea to teach, and may have been rejected by EPIK or wanting to avoid the public school route all together. Both public and private schools have their pros and cons, I’m just going to write about my experience and what I’ve learned over my last year in Korea.

A hagwon is an academy is Korean. Academies are after school schools where kids go to do extra studying on top of their already busy schedules. Hagwons have notoriously bad reputations in Korea because most of them put business before education. Hagwons are not regulated, they’re owned and operated independently from the metropolitan government. They have their own rules and can be kind of intimidating, but they can also be really rewarding.

Hagwons can be a crapshoot, even after all the years of teachers being forced to deal with 11th month firings, and lack of pension or healthcare. Recently a group of hagwon teachers got together and SUED their academy for poor standards: no vacation, no pension, no healthcare. The only reason schools in Korea get away with this is because people let them! They take job offers at schools offering the bare minimum of things: 3 month-long internship periods, no pension, no healthcare, no access to a current teacher. If no one says anything, they’ll continue to do it!

If the school is offering you a contract look for these main things: salary clearly stated, teaching hours clearly stated (no more than 30 hours or you could be killing yourself, it’s a lot of work), vacation days (usually 10 plus the 10 red days -national holidays), round trip or one-way flight (this seems to be the new trend a one-way flight but there are still some schools offering round-trip airfare), and the two biggies the LEGAL biggies: NATIONAL PENSION – which your academy HAS to pay into by law if you are a full-time teacher, and NATIONAL HEALTHCARE – also has to be paid into, legally. DO NOT take an extra $100-$500 a month and not get healthcare or pension. To be contracted as anything other than a full-time or part-time teacher on your E-2 visa is ILLEGAL! If you’re not getting healthcare or pension your school is breaking the law by filing you as an Independent Contractor. The last, and probably the most important is access to the current teacher. If the school refuses to let you talk to them that’s a HUGE red flag. The current teacher knows the ins and outs of the school. Talk to them before signing anything.

Now, scary stuff aside hagwons can be great. Shop around! As a newly graduated person with a B.A you’re going to have pick of the litter, if you’re patient. I had to wait quite a bit before finding my job. It took months. I had a few offers, and I nearly signed a contract, but I did some more research and found the academy I almost signed with failed to pay severance or even pay their teachers on time. Thank god for the internet because I found an old teacher on Twitter of all places. Had I not found her I would probably be writing a different story right now. The important thing is to have standards. All jobs have the same offerings but find one that caters to your hours, and has a good rep with their current teachers. Don’t jump on the first offer you get because likely, it’s not going to be the best.

I get really offended when people say things like “You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a hagwon.” or “all hagwons care about is money.” This stuff is TRUE for most places but my school was AMAZING. I have to be 100% honest I got very, very lucky. I had an amazing boss, super friendly coworkers, and mostly great kids. Of course there were kids I wanted to banish to the hallway for an eternity, but I had flexibility in my classes, I got to sing songs and do dances for kids, and even watch movies with my kids! We had a great curriculum that approached English in a way that was inviting. It was so much fun and super rewarding. When I listened to my friends talk about their EPIK schools and even other academies I felt pretty lucky.

Here’s some anecdotes and comparisons I made about my experience and the EPIK experiences I heard about:

  • EPIK class sizes are about 35-40 kids PER class. You see them once a week. My classes maxed out at 12 kids and I saw almost all of them 2 times a week. Smaller classes are so much easier to handle, especially for a first time teacher.
  • EPIK teachers seem lonely: one foreigner in school, your co-teachers aren’t always friendly. This is the case for most people. My school had one other foreign teacher and my Korean co-teachers did not hesitate to ask me questions, chat about kids, or invite me to dinner.  Even having one other foreigner was great because you had someone to chat with when you needed it. Contrary to popular belief being the only foreigner teacher at an academy is not a bad thing, nor does it mean your school is poor, some schools are just smaller than others.
  • Sometimes you have to teach at 1-4 schools a week with EPIK, transportation not provided. This means you could have to bus to different places during a single day. No thanks. I had a 5 minute door-to-door commute from my apartment to school. Some teachers got a bonus for working additional schools but the bonuses barely cover the monthly transit.
  • An academy allows you to get closer with students: learn their Korean and English names, and you can spend one on one time with them. I spent hours with my students joking around with them, etc. I could even see them outside of class and say hello. When you teach an ENTIRE public school it’s hard to remember each face and name. When you teach a smaller portion of a school at an academy you can make better connections with your students.
  • When there’s a problem with your apartment sometimes nothing happens. And your apartment (EPIK or academy) can be really crappy depending on how many teachers have used it before you. When I had a problem in my apartment my director had it fixed within the week I asked. I never had any issues. It really does vary school to school though.
  • Vacations: EPIK is WAY better for vacations. I think you get the majority of August off and the majority of January. At an academy the most you’ll get is 5 days in winter and 5 days in summer. If you have a good school. I am jealous of the EPIK vacation time. Second only to the university vacation time (like 10 weeks!!)
  • Bonuses: maybe $100 more, if that, plus your settlement bonus from EPIK. You’ll get more there but not much more than you would at an academy.
  • EPIK has the cushioning that is safe, but it’s not where you’ll make the most money, EPIK is a long-standing program with a good reputation so it’s more secure than most academies but some academies have been around for many years. My academy, though unknown to most foreigners, is pretty famous in Busan and has been around for 16 years.
  • If you want to make more money in EPIK you have to be working in a rural area which sucks most of the time. Being the only foreigner in a small town can be draining on the most confident of person. EPIK in a rural area can be super rewarding but also really difficult. Not for the weak hearted that’s for sure.
  • From what’s been going around the internet: the EPIK program is on the way out. This program was not meant to last. Each year there are more and more schools cut from the program due to lack of funding. It’s sad really.
  • Recently I’ve seen that the EPIK program is really discriminatory against tattoos. From a thread on reddit, several new applicants to EPIK were rejected right away and the one common factor: they all had tattoos. Or they all were crap at writing an essay, the jury is still out.

I just want to get my opinion out there! I’m not bitter that I got rejected from EPIK. I  was sad when I first found out, but also happy I got to work at my school. My school was wonderful and I could not have asked for a better first place to teach at! I think there are a lot of misconceptions about hagwons/hakwons/academies in Korea and before working at one myself I had my own reservations. Take your time, ask questions, and don’t feel rushed into anything. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.  Check out Facebook for groups like: hagwon blacklist (bad schools in Korea), and Teachers in Korea. It’s full of people who have done the jobs you want to do. Trust your instincts and ask others for help!

Sorry for my lack of posting, I’m still adjusting to life in Canada again. I’ll have some more posts up soon! Thanks for your patience, I love you guys!

Until next time,
B.

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Studio Ghibli Art event at the Busan Museum of Art

wpid-img_20151008_154950.jpgThis post has a plain title just so it is easily found via google. There’s little to no information on this event happening in Busan right now, so I’m hoping that someone else can see this and check it out!

I’ve been pretty lucky since coming to Korea because I’ve got to seen not one, but two, different Studio Ghibli art events. These events are basically non-existent outside of Asia so I feel pretty #blessed. Studio Ghibli is an amazing animation studio based in Japan. They release stunning 2D animation movies every few years and I’ve fallen in love with them more than once. One of their most famous directors is Hayao Miyazaki. He has won countless awards for his animations and whenever they’re released there is always some Oscar buzz surrounding them. I have seen several of the movies Studio Ghibli has released, but there are many I still need to see!

This post will discuss the art event currently going on at the Busan Museum of Art (until November 29th!!) with a small comparison to the Studio Ghibli art event that happened in Seoul earlier this year. wpid-img_20151008_155119.jpg

The Busan Museum of Art is a beautiful building located very close to the stop on the green line in Busan. The stop is just called “Busan Museum of Art” so it’s really easy to get to. The museum is about 5 minutes from the station and also super close to BEXCO and Centum City department store. The Studio Ghibili Art event was $12 for admission, and it was happily advertised on the light posts, a huge banner outside the museum, and all over the ticket office. The only reason I found out about it was because I had seen a quick ad in the subway station one day before work. I hadn’t seen any other posters until I got to the museum. I had a friend google in hangul so I could find out more information. I made my way down there one Thursday afternoon, an unusual day off for me. The museum is located really close to Haeundae beach, so really far away from my area of town, haha. I made my way to the museum after hopping off the subway and found the ticket office. Totoro brightly greeted me and I handed my money over. The admission was $12, or 12,000w. I made my way to the second floor, barely looking at the small guide I was handed.

wpid-img_20151008_155259.jpgThe exhibit was at the top of the stairs, and I could see the gift shop. Before going in the gift shop, I decided to look at the guide. There were 9 or so sections of the exhibit, ranging from different movies, an outline of the history, the directors, the museum in Japan, and other things. And of course, it ended in the gift shop.The guide was pretty helpful and it also showed me that cellphones and pictures were not allowed. This was pretty different compared to the event in Seoul, where pictures were basically encouraged.

wpid-img_20151008_155437.jpgThe art event consisted of many things. Lots of original sketches and plans, water-colour sketches, physical examples of some of the doors and windows they used in the movies, and my favourite: the full-scale models. They had artwork and displays from basically every Studio Ghibli movie. If you’re a fan of the movies, or just animation art in general, you’d enjoy it. I loved the model of the Teahouse from Spirited Away, it lit up and made sounds… it was stunning. I stared at it for a good 15 minutes, inspected every part of it… I was fascinated. As well, the model of the mine shaft from Castle in the Sky had many little peeky holes and openings that were really cool to see. Also the house from Ponyo was really cool. They even had little pieces of furniture in it. So sweet…

The guides in the exhibit were really helpful to me, they asked if I wanted an English language guide recording, or they’d point out something I might have missed. I was really happy about that. There were many staff working, perhaps to make sure people weren’t taking pictures or what have you. Of course the entire exhibit was in Korean (the writeups and explanations) but I had no issues going without the audio guide.

wpid-img_20151008_195949.jpgThe atmosphere of the exhibit was really chilled out. I was able to go right up to the sketches and look at all the details, there weren’t too many people there. It was nice and quiet and I think it was the best time for me to go to really enjoy it. I took my time and it took me over an hour to explore the whole thing. I think it was completely worth the money. if you’re expecting to be able to take pictures with the character or see big sized models, you’ll be disappointed. The exhibit at Yongsan in Seoul was amazing and I really enjoyed it, but I think I enjoyed the exhibit in Busan more. By watching any Ghibli movie people can see how much detail goes into the animations. The exhibit was great because it was so amazing to see all the little details up close. As a long time Ghibli fan, I really pleased.

One part I rushed through was the section on the Ghibli museum. I’m still a little bitter that I didn’t get to go when I was in Tokyo… It was sold out.. wahhh… I’ll have to go back in the future of course. It looks amazing and I really want to go back one day! The final portion of the exhibit was a little interactive. You could make a little house and stamp it with wpid-img_20151008_171627.jpgdifferent things. I made a few little houses and made my way into the gift shop.

The prices were a little crazy but I did buy a few things for myself and a few people at home. If you’re in Busan right now, or anywhere in Korea and are a Studio Ghibli fan, you should make your way down to Busan. The Studio Ghibli art event will be on until the end of November (the 29th) this year. It makes for a great activity alone or in a group. The Busan Museum of Art is closed every Monday but open daily from 10am – 8pm.

wpid-img_20151008_171654.jpgThe museum also has a super cool sculpture garden and many other cool exhibitions going on right now!

Here’s some more info if you need it!
Ghibli in Busan

Until next time!
B.

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Big in Korea

I want to start this off with a disclaimer; these are just my personal experiences. I’m going to try to avoid making generalizations but I’m sure there will be a few in here. Today’s post is going to be about being Big in Korea.

I’ve always been a “big” girl, yes I’m overweight. Yes, I do know it, and always have. I’ve tried going to the gym but I usually fall back into the same patterns of overeating and under exercising. This is completely fixable and completely my own fault. I want to change, and I will eventually in my own time. That’s beside the point. I’m just going to talk about my experiences in Korea being a big girl.

Let’s start off with the informative bits: Can women (and men I think) get clothes in Korea if we’re not “Korean” sized? Yes! You can. Now they’re not always going to be in exactly your size, but you can find clothes in the subway stations and stores just like anyone else. A lot of the super cheap clothes in subway stations are in “Free size”, which sometimes can be an oversized version. I love summer clothes in Korea because there’s a lot of huge, loose, flowing shirts that look great oversized and sometimes they fit just right for girls like me.

You won’t be able to find bras here, especially if you’re over a C cup. Please bring those with you (I brought more than enough) because they’ll be expensive to replace and you’re more than likely going to have to order them online. Undies can be found at Uniqlo and H&M in larger sizes, but if you’ve got a big booty you might be better off coming prepared (like I did). Keep your eye out for American brands, I ended up with new undies unexpectedly when I went to Japan. They had an American Eagle Outfitters and I was super happy getting some XL Aerie undies.

Store brands in Korea like MIXXO and SPAO will carry “large” sized clothing (sometimes XL too) but remember those are  “Asian size”. It’s not typical of Koreans to be larger in body type, though there are “larger” people here, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to carry North American sized clothes. These Large sized clothes in Asian stores might be a size down compared to North American brands, like a Large would be a Medium in N.A, etc. Sometimes even American companies that usually go up to an XL or XXL will not carry that size run because there’s no market for it  here, aside from expats and tourists. Old Navy in Japan did not have XL sizes, or anything above a large in the ladies department.

H&M is basically the savior for expats in Korea. At least the ones in Busan who don’t have access to Forever 21 (there’s 3 in Seoul, come on!!). H&M’s sizes are the same world-wide. They have XS-L, sometimes even XLs in some of the women’s clothing (they carry XL in Men’s). I don’t really buy pants at H&M but as I’m “plus size” at home, I don’t expect them to carry pants in my size. I’ve seen them carry up to a 14, but I’m usually an 18 in pants so I don’t bother. I buy my basics like tanks and tees at H&M and my entire summer wardrobe came from H&M. I got lots of cute, comfortable summer dresses. And H&M also carries great maxi dresses. I have bought clothes from H&M at home so this was not unusual for me. I love getting deals at H&M and they have sales often so it’s pretty great. If you’re not too far above “plus size” in America (I’m on the lower end between 16-20) then you can fit in most H&M clothing.

There are also “big size” clothing shops in Korea. There are some bigger Koreans so it only makes sense. These shops are less common than the regular shops, of course, but they can be super helpful. One place I have bought a few things from, including Korean made jeans, is OKBT. This is OK BigTall, a plus size shop in Seoul and Busan that carries American brands. They also carry shoes in sizes above 9, or 255 in Korea. OKBT has lots of new styles and they change their clothes with the seasons. The prices are usually a bit higher than what you’d find at a North American shop but this is because the import everything. They have LOFT, Old Navy, Gap, Forever 21 plus, etc. They also have larger Korean made clothes, like jackets and jeans. I picked up a super comfy pair of black jeans for $45 that is arguably one of the best purchases I’ve made here, as well as a pair of blue jeans. I wear them a lot, and they go with everything. The clothes they carry can be life savers for women in Korea because they’re the only place you can go for winter jackets that fit, or clothes that aren’t entirely Asian sized. OKBT fits women who are seen as plus size in North America ranging in sizes from 16-24. I’ve seen posts on their facebook page of people who specifically make trips to Seoul and Busan to buy clothes.

Clothes are not the only things that come in smaller Asian sizes. Shoes for women stop at 250-255, which is about an 8-8.5. I know men’s go up to 280-290 (about 11-12 men’s) so it can be a blessing finding women’s shoes in a size 9. You can also find some locations of Payless Shoes! They carry up to a 270 in Women’s (size 10, my size!). I purchased two pairs of super cute fall boots that I wore all winter. The best part was that they were only $10 a pair. I have yet to get a better deal on shoes. I just googled “Payless shoes Korea, Busan” (because I’m in Busan). Most results will be expats talking about how excited they were to find a Payless shoes in Korea. The Payless shoes in Busan is at the Busan International Finance center stop (I think it’s stop #217 on the green line) and it’s located on the 3rd floor of the eMart, just outside exit 1. I’ll be heading there soon so I can replace my flats that have fallen apart while I’ve been here.

Now my experience otherwise: Koreans will stare at you. No matter if you’re huge or not, if you’re not Korean or don’t fit the common appearance of Koreans, they will stare. Some will be short stares, some will be extended stares that make you completely uncomfortable. I’ve gotten used to it, and usually I’ll stare back or make a stupid face. Most people will stop staring. I can’t blame them though, I’m so cute. Hahaha I’m kidding, I know it’s hard to stop staring at something new and different. I’ve stopped taking offense to stares. I guess I’m just used to it. It used to really bother me, but now it rolls off my back like water on a duck. I’m used to Canada, a multicultural mixing pot. Korea is a pretty homogeneous society. Even though there’s a big expat population in Seoul and Busan, and many other cities in Korea, the number of Koreans outweighs the non-Koreans (no pun intended).

I was really worried before I came about people making comments, especially my students. And it happened. When it first happened, the first time one of my students called me a “pig” or “dwegi” in Korean (I learned that one fast) I felt horrible. I almost cried. I never scolded them for it though, never lost my temper. Not with the little kids, but I was a bit short with the older kids who should’ve known better. I simply told them that they were being rude and it was unacceptable. It usually only happened once per new class I taught, every so often one of my younger kids will slip up and say something like “Teacher is fat” or “Teacher is pig” or some variation. It has gotten less hurtful each time. I’ve grown up with a lot of bullying and comments about my weight, so I’m certainly used to it. It still sucks, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’m not at all condoning it, but it will happen. Prepare yourself. Even my friends who are nowhere near as big as me have been called pigs, or asked if they were pregnant. Kids have no filter, really. I’ve grown to love my middle school kids because they really don’t give a fuck about what you look like, as long as you let them study their vocabulary books at all times or are somewhat entertaining.

When my kids bully each other, like call one another fat (when they’re clearly not, they’re proportionate to their size), I get mad. I will tell them they’re being rude, and dole out whatever punishment I see fit. Usually some points or stickers are taken away. I really hate when my kids are rude to each other. I do hate when they’re rude to me but when they are rude to each other, it just makes me sad. I know kids will do whatever they want, but in my classrooms, I don’t allow them to be jerks to each other.

Everyone’s experience will vary. You could have a school full of angels that think the sun shines out of your butt, some of my kids do and I love them for that, but in reality not all of us will have that. There’s always going to be that one little jerk that wants to make the other kids laugh at someone’s expense. You just have to learn to deal with it. But never sink down to their level, and never punish them more severely than they deserve. Some people will send kids out of the class, or they will do some sort of physical punishment. I don’t, but you do whatever works for you. I think this is also just another part of the job. Being a teacher is for the thick-skinned people of the world. If you’re hurt easily, you’re going to have a bit of trouble.

All in all, it’s not hard being big in Korea. It’s almost the same as being big everywhere else. Like most things in Korea, it can come as a challenge but challenges were made to be accepted. I remember I often googled things like “jimjilbang Korea fat/big” just to see if there was any information out there. I hope that this post helps anyone, even just one person, because I know it would’ve helped me. You can go to a jimjilbang and fit in the clothes that are “one size fits all”. Sometimes it’ll be a bit snug, but like most things in Korea you’ve just gotta roll with it. It’s a beautiful country with lots of amazing things, and it’s becoming more accommodating as the years go on.

Until next time,

B.

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Best view in Tokyo: FOR FREE.

wpid-img_20150731_160239.jpgWhen I was Tokyo I saw two of the best views of the city: one during the night at Tokyo tower, and the other during the middle of a humid summer day in Shinjuku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building is right near Tochomae station, just outside of Shinjuku. If you go to Shinjuku station you’ll see signs pointing you towards it. It’s on the “other side” of Shinjuku, so opposite all the cool stuff like Godzilla and the Robot Restaurant. I detailed my version of events in my post of about Day 3 and Day 4. Shinjuku is a pretty cool area of Tokyo, it’s more chilled out than other areas, but I came to enjoy it in my time in Tokyo.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building was a part of my changed opinion on Shinjuku. I really hated Shinjuku when I first got there because it was really wpid-img_20150731_162219.jpgconfusing, I was hangry, and I didn’t know what to expect. When I finally made it to the Government Building, it was like an oasis because it was nice and cool, and best of all, it was free. The building is basically like any government building but they open up the 44th and 45th floors for anyone and everyone to go and look at the city. The building basically houses a lot of the workers for the 23 wards of Tokyo, and most of the city. You can read more about it here. It’s a beautiful building and the observation desk is really cool.wpid-img_20150731_155824.jpg

You line up, go through a metal detector quickly and then you’re into the elevator up to the 45th floor. You can either go to the North or South observatory. We opted for the South observatory because it’s the one we came to first, haha. The elevator goes up the 45 floors super quickly, and though it would have been cool to see outside as you ascended, it was a closed in elevator. You can see so much of Tokyo outside the windows, and there was a lot of information in English, Chinese, Korean, and of course, Japanese posted. It showed you everything you could see out each window. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji.

wpid-img_20150731_160147.jpgThe observation deck is open daily from 8:00am – 6:45pm, making it possible to see a nice sunset. Any time would be good to go because it’s nice to escape what can sometimes be madness in Tokyo. It’s nice to just sit up there and watch the people go by. We spent nearly an hour up there, and it was totally worth it. I’d go back next time I’m Tokyo just because it’s one of the best things you can do for free. It’s a great thing you can do with a group of people or even by yourself (woo, solo travel!).

If you’re ever in Tokyo make sure you go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building!

Until next time,
B.
This is a post in my Tokyo a go go series.
Find the main post here!
Go back to Day One!
See where I stayed in Tokyo.
Go to Day Three!
Check out my Tokyo Transit Tips!
Go to Day Four!

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Tokyo Transit Tips!

originalSo, you want to go to Tokyo? Go for it! It has one of the biggest and most confusing subway systems ever, but once you get the hang of it, you’re going to be fine! These are my tips that I used when I was in Tokyo. I’m not an expert, but I just thought these would be helpful things to share!
Tokyo is an amazing city with many different neighborhoods and landmarks to get lost in. It’s good knowing some of the places you want to go, and then exploring from there. The subways are your best bet for getting around: they have English signage/announcements, it’s quick and you don’t have to worry about traffic, and you can get basically everywhere. Taxis in Japan are far more expensive than taxis in Korea, and if you’re coming from the land of the cheap cab fare like I was, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You’ll also be running to catch the last subway like I had to on Saturday night.

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-01-09-31-03.png

Screenshot from the Tokyo Subway app

First things first: Get an app!
I have an android phone and I downloaded and used the TokyoSubway app like my life depended on it, because sometimes it did. This was a quick easy-to-use app that you just use by clicking from Point A to Point B, and it told you all the transfers you’d need to make, and how long it would take. This app only used the Tokyo Metro/Toei lines as far as
I could tell, but it did give me some information for JR lines too. You can also use Google Maps pretty well in Tokyo. It will give you the quickest routes and uses every line in Japan, public and private.

wpid-img_20150825_000558.jpgNext! Get a pass!
Tokyo subways run on a few systems: both public and private. The public systems are Tokyo Metro and the Toei subways. These encompass a big part of Tokyo, and they all run on the same fare system. Now you can buy a ticket if you’re only going to one place, but if you want to explore a lot of Tokyo, I’d suggest getting a pass. I believe it was 1000Y for the Tokyo Metro/Toei subway pass, and 1500Y for all the line passes. If you’re going to do a lot of travelling within 24 hours, I’d recommend that. We were fine with out Tokyo Metro/Toei passes for all four days we were in Tokyo. Another option is getting a Suica card. Similar to Cashbee or T-Money in Korea, a Suica card is a re-loadable transit card. I can’t speak for the use of it that much as I only used mine once, but it’s seems to be accepted at most stations and is pretty easy to use. Most people in Japan use them, and most of the people I saw there used them! We had to put a 500Y deposit on the card, which I assume you can get refunded. This is exactly like in any major city like an Oyster Card in London, a Cashbee/T-Money card in Seoul, a Presto Pass in Ontario, etc. Fairly straight forward, easy to use.

Plan your journeys, try to go to things that are close together to make the most of your time in Tokyo. I was only there four days and I crammed a lot in. The subways in Tokyo are one of the best ways to get around. They’re fast, relatively inexpensive, and go everywhere. The Tokyo metro system runs until about midnight every night, and starts up at around 5am. So if you miss the last train and you don’t want to taxi home, you’ll be having a very late night.wpid-img_20150731_134245.jpg

Much like any city, Tokyo is a vibrant place with many things to offer. Get out there and enjoy it!

I hope you enjoyed my Tokyo Transit Tips, and it helped you in any small way!

Until next time,
B.

This is a post in my Tokyo a go go series.
Find the main post here!
Go back to Day One!
See where I stayed in Tokyo.
Go to Day Three!

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GRIDS hostel lounge Akihabara Review: AKA Best Capsule Hotel EVER.

wpid-img_20150801_101837.jpgWhen I first thought about going to Japan, I had the idea of staying in a capsule hotel. Capsule hotels started off as places for business men to crash for the night after a long day in the office. It started as the bare essentials: a bed, a shower, and a roof over your head. Now they’ve evolved into nice places to stay. I’m not going to lie, the capsule hotel I stayed at in Osaka was probably 30-40 years old, or at least it looked like it. It wasn’t dirty or anything, just old and outdated. The capsule hotel I stayed at in Akihabara blew it out of the water.

GRIDS hostel lounge is situated about 10 minutes from Akihabara station exit 1. I got very familiar with this walk in my time in Tokyo, and explored the small streets happily. There were several convenience stores, a nice little park, and even a cool owl restaurant (that we sadly didn’t get to go to 😦 ). The hotel is perched on the Kandawpid-img_20150801_101826.jpg river, in a sleek new building. I don’t know when it was built, but it had to have been within the last 5 years. There are 7 floors, including a spacious lobby area with a bar/restaurant. I only partook in the flavoured water they had out every day, but the staff were all very friendly and welcoming. Our rooms were on the 5th floor, the female only floor. The only floors I went on were the 5th, 7th, and 1st. The 7th floor had a common area with a huge fridge and freezer that was open to everyone. They also had a small kitchen type area that people could use.

Our floor was super clean and inviting. You tap your key card at the door, and then you put your shoes in the corresponding locker. You swap your shoes out for a pair of black pleather slippers and then you’re good to go. I went straight into the nicely air-conditioned pod room and found my bunk. Each day we had new sheets and towels laid out for us, and the friendliest cleaners were always smiling and warm to me. The pillow was a pellet filled/feather hybrid that was pretty comfortable, the blanket was plushy and just light enough for the summer. The pod had THREE outlets and a nice little light. This was great compared to the one in Osaka that only had 1 outlet for the whole pod. I slept 44797169comfortably the entire time I was there, aside from the time I hit my head on the roof of my bunk…

The bathroom area was kind of similar to an airport bathroom, but ten million times better. They had 4 individual shower stalls, one bath tub area, and then 6 bidet-equipped toilets. They also had a large vanity area with 6 sinks, hair dryers, and tissues at every mirror. It was sleek, comfortable, and clean. The open bath area in Osaka was fine, but this was so much better. The pressure on the showers was awesome, and the bathrooms even had lockers for all your stuff. During my time there I had no issues with theft or anything.à

All in all, this hotel was clean, modern, and super travel friendly. And for the most part, for a capsule hotel, it was really quiet too. Sometimes there’s a chance you may hear anything and everything everyone around you is doing and aside from some super organizing travelers and a couple for shouty Russian girls, I had no problems. The staff spoke English very well, were super helpful to my travel companion and myself when we needed anything, and it was just a great place to be. If I head back to Tokyo any time soon, I’ll be staying at Grids for sure.

I booked my trip with Booking.com, as per usual, and I had no problems.

Here’s the Booking link!

This is a post in my series called Tokyo a go go.
Here’s the main post.

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I’ve been to the dentist several times so I know the drill…. Going to the Dentist in Korea.

wpid-img_20150527_120252.jpgApple Tree Dental Hospital (사과나무병원), Hwamyeong is one of the few dentists listed on the Medical Office list for Foreigners in Busan. I had a few friends go there before, saying it wasn’t bad, so I decided to take a chance. It had been a year since my last scaling (cleaning), so I made an appointment for that by heading to the office during a break at work. All further appointments were made while I was already in office, for future reference. The girls there are a bit shy around me; nervous about their lack of English and my lack of Korean, but they’ve been nothing but helpful.
wpid-img_20150527_114723.jpgMy first appointment was May 27th, I made my way there right on time, waited about 5 minutes while they found an English-speaking worker, and I was in. They took me to get an x-ray first; one of my least favourite tasks at the dentist… but this time it was pain-free! Dentists in Canada use super uncomfortable cardboard and metal frame-type things to takewpid-img_20150527_114731.jpg x-rays, but here they have a huge machine that goes around your head (I think, my eyes were closed). You bite on a little section and the machine captures a full spread of all your teeth. After the x-ray, which took all of 3 painless minutes, I was back in the dentist chair. I was told that I’d just be getting a cleaning and then it started. Another girl came in, and put a green cloth over my face. This was kind of nice because I hate having the dentist light in my eye, but it was also a little weird because I kept feeling it on the edge of my mouth.

The cleaning was painless (I feel like I keep saying that!) and took maybe 15-20 wpid-img_20150527_114800.jpgminutes. After rinsing, I had a dentist come in and talk to me about my teeth. Of course I knew there were a few issues; she struggled a little bit but I was able to understand everything that was going on. After we planned out what was going to be done (one root canal, three crowns total.) I had to decide whether I wanted gold, silver, or porcelain crowns. It was at this point where my helper was having some issues explaining something to me in English so she did something I didn’t expect…She called her husband, who explained what she wanted to say to me in English (basically it was that porcelain may break, gold won’t break wpid-img_20150527_115647.jpgbut it’s more of an eyesore…). He had an accent so I asked her where her husband was from: he was Korean but he studied English in the UK so he had accented English. I love when I hear different ESL accents! It’s so cool. Either way he was so helpful and she was really wonderful and accommodating. I really appreciated her help.

After our next appointment was set and I was waiting for the elevator my great helper rushed over to me with a gift. It was a small plastic box with floss, toothpaste, and a toothbrush! I have it in my desk at work and it’s super helpful. The service at Apple Tree Dental Hospital is impeccable. The girls were all helpful even when they were shy.

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My little gift

My next appointment was a week later and I was scheduled to get a endodontic root canal on a wisdom tooth… It was really not great. It was one of the first times I’ve ever had to raise my hand when I felt pain (just like at home!). Even after more freezing I still felt a lot of the drilling… I was more than relieved when it was over and my helper girl from the last time had her husband, once again, explain something. He just told me that I couldn’t eat for 3 hours, should take pain killers for any pain, and I should try to lean more on the right side of my mouth than my left. The dentist in Korea is really similar to the dentist at home. Same Novocaine, same amount of waiting… I also had to get a temporary filling as my appointment went over time and I had another appointment set for a week later. That second appointment was rough as it was pretty painful, took an hour and a bit, and then I was at work before I could get something to eat.

I healed fine and I was ready for my next appointment.which I was apparently very excited for. I almost went a whole day early… The following Thursday (today), I made my way to the dentist. This time, thanks to MERS, I had my temperature checked. After my temperature was checked and I was fine, I sat down and waited. It wasn’t even five minutes before I was sitting in the dentist chair. Now today was a bit different because the girl who usually helped me wasn’t in. I was okay, thankfully. The girl who brought me to the dentist chair asked if I was having any pain (in Korean) and I was able to respond (small proud moment). She said a few more things to me in Korean that I didn’t understand completely but it turned out fine. My dentist came over, the green sheet was placed on my face and we were good to go.

I was a little terrified because I had not gotten any Novocaine at all, but to my surprise there was no pain at all. The session today was just the filling. And after my emergency filling was removed, I had a new filling put in. There was no pain, but maybe a bit of pressure, that’s all. My filling only took 20 minutes, and I was out. Made another appointment for the following week and I assume that is when I’ll be getting my crown put in.

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Fancy waiting area with free drinks

I am happy to go back to the dentist for a few reasons: When my helper is there, she explains everything and she’s super nice. When she isn’t there, they’re really patient with me. As well, going to the dentist is incredibly affordable. The first appointment I had, the cleaning, was only 19,600w (about $25 CAD) which included my x-ray. The next appointment: emergency filling, endodontic treatment and another x-ray 15,600w. And today’s appointment a proper filling was only 17,000w. I expect my next appointment to be significantly more than all those others combined but that’s because I’ll be getting a crown. Either way I’ll update this post when I have that appointment.

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More of the fancy waiting area

All in all, going to the dentist in Korea is very similar to going to the dentist at home. Especially in a city with a big population of foreigners. If you’re really nervous, bring a Korean speaking friend with you, or find a dentist that specializes in helping Foreigners. Apple Tree Dental Hospital is supposed to be that way and they do always have at least one person that speaks English there, and my dentist did speak quite a bit of English. The staff there are very friendly, and the hospital itself is very clean and modern. The chairs are a bit in an open area so you won’t really be in a private room but that didn’t really bother me. Once the green sheet goes over your face, you don’t even realize where you are… Though I wish I was one of those people who could fall asleep in the dentist chair….

Apple Tree Dental Hospital (사과나무병원) is located on the 5th floor of the building KEB is in, it’s super close to the subway in Hwamyeong, just go up the stairs near Lotte Mart. There are locations all over Korea but this is the closest one to me!

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5F, All by itself

Anyway, my next post will be about my boating birthday weekend for my good friend Gillian. It was a wonderful adventure and I can’t wait to write about it.

Until next time,
B.