A Week-In-The-Life of Chris in South Korea

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Chris Backe is the blogger behind Chris in South Korea, which focuses on travel and life in Korea. Chris has visited at least one new place, event, or festival every week since he arrived in Korea back in March 2008. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Chris, living in South Korea and teaching English.

Chris Backe of Chris in South Korea

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. The website Chris in South Korea is no longer, but at the end there is an update with what Chris is currently up to (which is a lot)!

Day One: Monday

11am: Get up in my one-bedroom apartment. I live about an hour south of Seoul and work as a full-time English teacher to pay the bills. Since my morning and early afternoons are typically free, I spend my time catching up on the previous weekend’s blogging and photos. I’ll take an average of 200 pictures a weekend; of those, 10-15 of the best will eventually be uploaded to Chris in South Korea per post.

2pm: Time for some lunch – nothing fancy here. Most days, I’ll make something simple – ham and cheese sandwiches or your old-fashioned PB&J. If I’m out and about I might get some toast (actually a grilled cheese sandwich) or some budae jjigae – translated to ‘army stew’, it’s a spicy stew often made with hot dogs, Spam, and instant ramen among other things.

4pm – 10pm: Get to work. I walk to school to teach English to several classes of elementary-schoolers. It’s a job, though between classes I’m on my netbook working on my own projects.

10pm: Leave school, grab some beer at the local grocery store, and walk home.

10:30pm: Relax at home with said beer in hand. There’s a blog post or two that needs to get written, but I’m a night owl at heart.

Day Two: Tuesday

9am: I’m up early because I’m headed out! This week, I’m going up north to Seoul to check out Taereung, one of the Joseon-Dynasty royal tombs located within Seoul proper.

Taereung, one of the Joseon-Dynasty royal tombs located within Seoul, Korea. Taken by Chris Backe

12pm: A 1 1/2 hour subway ride through Seoul and a 10 minute bus ride later, I’ve made it to Taereung, the tomb of Queen Munjeong from King Jungjong’s reign over 430 years ago. I take some pictures and meander around the area, making contact with a gentleman working for the Cultural Heritage Administration. I may need this contact in the future, so I ask him to write down his cell phone number while I offer my business card to him.

2pm: 100+ pictures later, I’m headed back to get back to work on time. It’s not the sexiest or most romantic gig ever, but again, it pays the bills.

4pm – 9:10pm: Teach English.

9:30pm: Head home, relax, wash dishes, etc. Aaah, the life of someone calling a place home…

Day Three: Wednesday

8am: Get up time – I’m headed to Seoul, which means a 45 minute bus ride.

10:30am: Time to meet a friend and business colleague to discuss advertising possibilities. Over a caramel macchiato, we talk about approaching advertisers, fellow bloggers, and a possibility of helping to start an ad network. While advertising is currently a small part of my website, I’d love to make some money while providing good advice and traveling.

1pm: Back at home, I have some blogging to do, and I need to draft an e-mail to my blogging colleagues inviting them to learn more about the not-yet-existent ad network. While things are set up on Twitter and Facebook to create a new post whenever there’s a new blog post, I still log-on to those two sites to keep up with friends and family.

4pm: Time to teach English again.

10pm: It’s BOWLING NIGHT! A fellow expat organizes a bowling night at a nearby alley once a week through Facebook, and it’s a fun chance to connect with fellow English-speakers. It’s quite enjoyable to puzzle the locals at times, who often look over to our group of 4-8 strong.

Day Four: Thursday

10am: One nice thing about working during the afternoons and evenings is the ability to meander around town or relax over a cup of coffee. If the former, my camera is slung around my shoulder for anything new that might be discovered; if the latter, I carry little more than a wallet and phone and call it a relaxing day out. This is my personal recharging and brainstorming time – and I take full advantage of it.

3pm: Getting to work a little earlier than usual today – such is life working full-time.

9pm: Now finished with work, it’s time for a weekly (sometimes twice a week) trip to a jimjilbang – a Korean day spa with plenty of hot tubs, saunas, and massage chairs galore. Sure, pay the 50,000 Korean won (about $45 USD) for a real massage if you like, but the automated-chair massage gives you 10 minutes for 2,000 Korean won (about $1.50 USD). The majority of jimjilbang are open 24/7 for people to sleep in, but I get my relaxation on until I’m ready to head home (it’s a short walk home).

Day Five: Friday

9am: Finally Friday! Some blogging and researching to do this morning, including deciding where I’d like to go this weekend. This process usually involves looking over my list of several dozen places to visit, figuring out the best way to get there, and putting together some information about the site. I do not look for lots of opinions on the place, since I’d prefer to make those myself once I arrive. This weekend, my lady and I will head to Gwangju – a city in southeast South Korea, about a four-hour train ride.

11am: I throw some laundry in a state-of-the-art washer, complete with ‘pause’ button. I grab my bike and meander down to the Homeplus – a Korean department store not unlike a Tesco or Target (indeed, quite a few products available are Tesco-branded). My lady needs a couple things to make a cake for a friend, while I need a new winter hat and some tea bags.

12:30pm: Back at home, it’s time to hang the clothes up, wash some dishes, and pack my bag.

2:15pm: Get to work, prep for classes, and teach English.

8:50pm: Finished with work, I’ve already planned to drop by home, change clothes, grab my already-packed bag, ensure my lady is ready, and head to the local bus stop. We’ll take a bus to Suwon station (a train / subway station about 30 minutes away from where I live) and catch a train from there to Gwangju.

2:25am: After a four-hour train ride, we find a hotel room near the train station and crash for the night.

Day Six: Saturday

10am: We wake up and walk back to the train station – there’s a tourist information center stocked with maps and brochures, along with a friendly English-speaking person. One of our chosen destinations for the week is the 5.18 National Cemetery, the place where hundreds of people were buried after a pro-democracy protest in 1980. The appropriately-numbered bus 518 takes us to the cemetery.

5.18 National Cemetery, photo by Chris in South Korea

11:30am: With camera in hand, we head to the entrance. We watch a 30-minute documentary of what’s called the ‘Gwangju Massacre’ or the ‘Gwangju Democratization Movement’ We walk around, explore, and take plenty of pictures. Eventually, we catch the same bus back to town, and a subway to the other side of Gwangju.

4pm: After some lunch, we take a bus over to the 5.18 Memorial Park – a recreation of the prison where dissidents were held and tortured while the military ruled the country.

6pm: With the sun going down, we walk to the nearest subway station and head to the downtown area of Gwangju – a commercial district closest to the Geumnamno-4-ga area. After finding a simple but clean motel for the night (I pay 30,000 Korean won, or about $25 USD), we freshen up and head out on the town. Although I have my camera with me, exploring this area is just for fun.

9pm: After enjoying a mint mojito and a messy burger, we walk around some more before ending up back at our hotel room for the night. Neither of us are clubbers or big drinkers, so Saturday nights can end relatively early with little or no disappointment.

Day Seven: Sunday

11am: Being one of the two days this week that my lady can sleep in, she does. We eventually get up and get on a local bus to take us to the Gwangju Bus Terminal. Our next and final stop this weekend is a Buddhist temple not too far away.

12 noon: Now at the Gwangju Bus Terminal, we buy our tickets for Suncheon, a small town about an hour away. From Suncheon we’ll catch a local bus to Songgwangsa, one of the three ‘treasure’ temples in Korea, specifically known for their monks. The Gwangju bus terminal does offer a direct bus to the temple, but the next one won’t come for another two hours.

2pm: Our bus arrives at the Suncheon Bus Terminal. From here, it’s local bus 111 to Songgwangsa…but where is the bus stop? Do we catch this bus from the terminal or one of the local bus stops down the street? After perusing the large sign outside the terminal, we eventually figure out that bus 111 stops at the local bus stop down the street. But do we need to cross the street to go the right way…?

These are the usual questions that crop up whenever we head somewhere off the beaten tourist track; the directions that exist for these places aren’t always good enough to get you there without incident. To make matters more complicated, you can’t trust that the locals will speak enough English (or you enough Korean) to understand and be understood. Thankfully, the bus sign features an arrow indicating bus 111’s ultimate destination: Songgwangsa.

3:30pm: A 30-minute wait and a 45-minute bus ride later, we arrive at Songgwangsa and take in the temple. With more monks than I’ve ever seen in one place, it’s a little intimidating to be around them. I take some pictures and we meander for awhile before eventually heading back to the bus stop.

7pm: Having already bought our train tickets back to Seoul, we hang around the train station area. Not feeling like anything fancy, we duck into a mom-and-pop Korean restaurant and watch a few Korean game shows while I enjoy my don-gga-seu, or pork cutlet. The convenience store next door gets some business as we buy some snacks and beverages for the four-hour train ride home.

8pm: We board our train and promptly take a nap.

12 midnight: After arriving at Suwon station, we take a taxi – one disadvantage of getting home so late is that the buses have stopped for the night. No biggie, as taxis here are cheaper and less likely to rip you off than elsewhere in Asia. Showing them an address (as I typically do) means they rely on their GPS for directions.

12:30am: Arrive at home, throw the dirty laundry in the hamper, and crash.

Chris is still working in and exploring South Korea with no immediate plans to leave. He said to me in an email that – like me – he goes where the opportunities are, and right now life seems good to him there.

Update 2020: Chris Backe has moved on from South Korea, and with it he have moved on from his website Chris in South Korea.
He designs strategy games with Entrogames, writes itineraries and guidebooks at Worthy Go, and mentors aspiring digital nomads with Becoming a Digital Nomad.

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3 thoughts on “A Week-In-The-Life of Chris in South Korea”

  1. This was a nice article about a major blogger here in Korea. However I think this shows how little Chris spends caring for his student’s education. From what I can make of this he only spends a little amount of time prepping for his classes, and in between them spends time on personal matters. Maybe his job is not too demanding (working at a hagwon), but still I think it shows he mostly uses the job for money and doesn’t really invest much in understanding the EFL profession. If his supervisors don’t mind and don’t care then that is probably okay. But I feel it gives future expats who will teach in Korea an impression that this job is a no-brainer and you can spend the rest of your time not caring about the job. While there are others of us at institutions that care about the energy you put into the job. Some might end up at a place that wants you to put in more than 10% and feel like you are a really lazy person just in Korea for the money.

    It’s great Chris writes a lot about traveling in Korea but I never really hear about the person himself and his experience with other Korean people. I think it would be great if we started to see more of this human interaction alongside the usual “I’ve been there…” posts.

    ~Joy

    Reply
  2. @Joy: Thanks for reading.

    You’re quite correct – for some people, their full-time job is an opportunity to devote your time and energy to that one employer or one goal. This, of course, leaves little time for hobbies, fun, or the things that make life worth living. One mistake people often make in Korea is going to either extreme. All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl, while all play and no work leaves Jack with few opportunities to improve himself. When it comes to “understanding the EFL profession”, it’s worth remembering that this “profession” is hardly treated as such in Korea.

    For the readers considering coming to Korea, I’ll say this: teaching English is a job. It’s a job I take seriously, prepare for seriously, and exert a serious amount of energy doing. It is, however, a job that allows for free time to spend on personal projects or whatever may interest you. Balance is the key.

    If I wanted to be a teacher for a living, however, I needn’t come to Korea. Teaching English is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I won’t be an English teacher for the rest of my life, and frankly I’d be surprised if I’m still teaching English in 10 years time. Since my blog (and much of what I’d prefer to focus on) is about traveling and enjoying life, it only seems appropriate to focus such a post on that.

    Reply

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