Placement Test = Humiliation : (

30 09 2009

So after 7 months in Seoul, I finally got my act together enough to register for Korean language classes, which is ostensibly the whole reason I came here in the first place! After doing a bit of web research and emailing different schools with questions, I decided to register with Ganada Korean Language Institute. (

I chose them because they actually responded to my questions pretty quickly, and answered them effectively. A lot of the schools didn’t even bother to respond!! Now, it’s been a really long time since I was a student, so the thought of registering for full-time studies at Yonsei or one of the other universities seemed a bit too much to handle. This class was 4 times a week, for 3 hours per day, which seemed like exactly enough time to get started. I’ll be immersed enough, but it won’t overwhelm the small (very small) portion of my brain that is effective at language learning.

Today, I went for the placement test which would determine the level I would be placed in. Let’s just say that it was a somewhat humiliating experience. I arrived and was immediately rushed into a small classroom with 3 other students already writing the test. One was Caucasian, and the other 2 appeared to be gyopo (overseas Korean). I picked up the 3 page test and stared in horror at the first page. It was all in KOREAN, with only a few English words!! I felt a sudden moment of panic, my palms began to sweat, and I was transported back to a traumatic 5th grade math test experience, (which also ended badly).

The feeling was identical! Truth be told, I thought that I would be a little better than beginner level, but woe is me, this proved to be nothing more than empty arrogance. The only difference between THIS test and my 5th grade math test, was that I had been able to fill in most of THAT test, albeit with wrong answers! I flipped through all 3 pages, hoping the situation would improve, and upon realizing it would not, attempted to phonetically sound out the letters on the first question. One word and five minutes later, I decided to take a break (my brain was hurting), and observe the other students in the room. I surreptitiously snuck a peek at the Caucasian girl…surely she would be as dumbfounded as I. Imagine my horror when I saw her merrily filling in the answers!

Fortunately, one of the instructors entered the room at just that moment and asked me if I wanted to have the interview. (I guess they knew that I wouldn’t be able to write the test, since they gave me exactly 15 minutes to do it in!!!) I stood up so quickly in relief that I almost knocked the desk over! I am happy to report that the interview went much better, since my comprehension skills are passable. I wasn’t able to (or was too humiliated to) answer in Korean, but at least I could understand her!

At the end of the interview, she smiled at me sadly, and said that even though I could understand Korean pretty well, perhaps it would be best if I started with the beginner level. I wholeheartedly agreed. Class starts on October 5th.



19 09 2009

I visited Italy for the first time in 2007, as part of a whirlwind European tour. It was the first real backpackers trip I had taken since 1998, when I had travelled through Greece for a month. These travels helped me remember how much I love to travel! I promised myself then that I would never wait another 10 years to travel, and so far, it’s worked out.

This is a view of Venice from the airplane window.


It was interesting to actually visit Venice and Italy, because I think it’s one of those destinations that everyone has a pre-determined idea about. It’s so romanticized in popular culture. You imagine canals singing gondola drivers, and the Masquerade, and some of that is there, but of course, reality is never the same as your imaginings.

This is a pretty iconic image of Venice – the view of the canals from the Rialto Bridge. It looks lovely, doesn’t it? And it is! If you wake up early in the morning and get a picture before the rest of tourists wake up. After that, it’s a foot stepping, elbowing battle to the side of the bridge to get a clear picture. And those gondola rides?? They cost 100 euros and last about 30 minutes. Plus there’s no “O Sole Mio,” singing. The drivers do wear those striped shirts though.


The best part of Venice wasn’t the great lattes, amazing carbonara pasta, gondola rides, or endless canals. The best part was getting lost in these narrow, winding, cobblestone pathways. Late at night, the streets are deserted and Venice seems to take on a hushed and haunted feeling.

Deserted Streets

Baby Turtles!!

15 09 2009

Selingaan Island

We took a trip to Borneo for a few weeks, and while there, we were able to stay in Turtle Islands National Park. The three islands of the Park cover approximately 17 square kilometres and are famous for the green and hawksbill turtles that come ashore to lay eggs on its beaches.

We stayed on Selingaan Island, which is a hair tugging, face numbing speedboat journey that takes you 40km off the coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. After an hour of listening to the whining roar of the engine, you end up on a deserted and peaceful island in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The first turtle hatchery in Malaysia was established here in 1966, and is managed by Sabah Parks.

Selingaan is the only island equipped for overnight visitors, and though you can book through various independent tour operators, the best choice is to plan ahead and book with Crystal Quest, the sanctioned operator for the Island. It’s much cheaper, AND with them, you are able to stay overnight at one of the island chalets. There is only space for about 50 people to stay overnight. This is important because the turtles only come to the beach at night. If you want to see this miracle of reproduction, you must be on the Island overnight!

Once upon the island, there are some pretty strict rules. It is a turtle sanctuary after all, and their protection is priority number one. Still, we arrived early in the morning and were free to walk around the island, swim and snorkel  until evening. After dinner, we were told to stay in the cafeteria and wait for a ranger to call “TURTLE TIME! TURTLE TIME!” This was our signal to head to the beach to watch the mother turtle lay her eggs. Essentially, we were at the mercy of the mama turtle’s timing.

We waited for about an hour and after one false alarm, we were called to the beach. The entire process happens in the dark, and only one flashlight was used to light the event. Here you can see the back of the mother turtle and the eggs she has laid so far. The eggs are perfectly round and about the size of a small apple. In total, the mother turtle laid 89 eggs!! The funny thing is that the mother turtle goes into a trance while she is in the egg laying process (about 2 hours), and she had no awareness of our presence.

Mother turtle laying eggs

As the mother laid the eggs, the ranger took them and placed them in a blue bucket, for placement in the turtle hatchery. This protects them from predators and from being dug up by other mothers laying eggs on the beach. The eggs incubate for about 30 to 60 days before they hatch en masse, and help each other struggle to the top of the sand. An interesting fact is that it is a few degrees of temperature difference that determines the sex of the baby turtles.

Turtle Eggs

Finally, the baby turtles are released into the Sulu Sea. Here they are making a run for it!! Some of them get confused and run the wrong way, and this is when you have the privilege of picking them up and turning them in the right direction.

Baby turtles making a run for it!

Still, it was amazing how most of them knew exactly which direction to run. Mother Nature really is incredible!