Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Update

Merry Christmas, one and all! I got a trip to the dentist because being responsible is sometimes no fun and a ticket to see Wicked because musicals are always fun. Also, the baby sister and I have been bursting into Wicked duets at the drop of the hat for the past month.

Brother: Don't make me laugh!
Baby sister: ♫ Think of celebrated heads of state, or specially great communicators! Did they have brains or knowledge ♫
Me: ♫ Don't make me laugh! They were POPULAR! Please! It's all about popular. ♫
Father: I was reading an analysis in the Wall Street Jounral...
Me: ♫ Don't be offended by my frank analysis! ♫
Baby Sister: ♫ Think of it as personality dialysis! ♫
Entire family: No seriously, we will kill you.
Me: Elphaba - why couldn't you have stayed calm for once, instead of flying off the handle!
Baby sister: ♫I hope you're happy! I hope you're happy now. I hope you're happy how you've hurt your cause forever. ♫
Me: ♫ I hope you think you're clever! ♫

We also made and decorated approximately seven million sugar cookies to give out as Christmas gifts. After the third hour of decorating cookies, my brothers and I tried to storm out, but we were snowed in and there was nothing but sugar cookies. Endless sugar cookies. I will admit, however, that the end results were pretty cool looking.

Christmas Cookies

There are stores about the individual cookies here. (Scroll over the picture for the notes.) I made a Kirk and Spock cookies, because I'm a giant dork. Later that evening, I was reading while my parents were talking about the cookies and I heard my dad say, "...those two gay guys that Cait made." And then I fell out of my chair laughing. Oh Dad, if only you knew.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Life in a Norman Rockwell Painting

Winter Wonderland - 12.19.09

The storm has pasted, leaving us blanketed in a scene straight out of a Boy's Life cover. Saturday morning my sister and I built a snowman and hiked down the road to see how snowed in we were before returning home for fresh baked banana bread. We made hot cocoa in a pot on the stove and baked sugar cooked. Mom and I played card games, while my dad and sister made a Brio train track around the Christmas tree, then the whole family headed back out into the snow to go sledding. We had a roast chicken for dinner. And then Norman Rockwell came and threw up all over us because the scene was to picturesque even for him. (Granted, a Norman Rockwell painting never featured my brothers shouting about how I had to take pictures of them sledding down their snow ramp so they could have awesome Facebook photos of them catching air, but you have to allow adjustments for new technology.)

Today the whole family partook in the age old tradition of shoveling snow so we could get the car out of the driveway. The verdict: we are no longer officially snowed in, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to drive on our one lane snow and ice covered dirt road, especially not since my dad fish tailed the entire way to the main road. At least we have power again. It still looks like this outside, so I guess I'm okay with being a homebody for the next few days:

Winter Wonderland - 12.19.09
Winter Wonderland - 12.19.09 Winter Wonderland - 12.19.09

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Appalachian Snowfall

Good News: It snowed today!

Bad News: It snowed *a lot* today and down here in the Land of Cornbread and Dixie, we are not exactly equipped to handle lots of snow, even in the mountains.

Good News: At the last measurement, we had six inches of snow. I've never seen this much snow in my life!

Bad News: Snow on trees means trees on power lines. We lost power around noon.

Good News: We have a generator!

Bad News: Of course, the generator can't power the entire house. We don't have lights in half the house and the oven, washer/dryer and microwave don't work. We also don't have heat in the upstairs (where the bedrooms are), but that matters less since we're going to turn off the generator at midnight to save power. It's going to be cold tonight.

Good News: At least we have enough power to have a Star Wars marathon this evening. (Oh Han Solo, BE MINE!)

Bad News: While we still have some power, the nearby jail does not.

Good News: This might mean our power will be fixed in the next few days, instead of the current wait time, which is "indeterminate".

Bad News: The JAIL has NO power. I guess those people in orange jumpsuits aren't from the power company?

Good News: The weather is perfect for playing outside. It's not too cold and the snow is light and fluffy, which means we could stay outside for hours without getting frozen.

Bad News: A game of snow football gone awry resulted in my brother and I colliding and banging heads.

Good News: There were lots of cold things to press against the instant goose egg that appeared.

Bad News: My head still aches, bad enough that I can't chew and can only eat soup, and I'm not allowed to go to bed due to a possible concussion.

Good News: It looks like this outside:

Winter Wonderland - 12.18.09
Winter Wonderland - 12.18.09 Winter Wonderland - 12.18.09
Winter Wonderland - 12.18.09

The full set of photos are here, with more to come tomorrow once it stops snowing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mini East Coast Tour: Washington DC (Part 1)


I'm home from my mini-vacation. I actually got home a week ago, but considering it took me a MONTH to write about getting home from Korea, I think I'm doing pretty good. Ages and ages ago, back when I was still in Rocky Mount, Pru told me that if I ever wanted to visit New York, I could crash on her couch. I always meant to take her up on the offer, but first I was working, then unemployed and broke and then I moved to Korea, which effectively ruled out weekend trips to New York, but I'm back in the US and after living at home for a month, I was ready for an adventure on my own.

Train Tracks
Train tracks through Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I took this picture a year and a half ago when I lived there.

I spent the first half of the trip in Washington DC. I took Amtrak from High Point (with a quick stop in Winston Salem to see my brother which, because it was my family, ended with him caressing his ass in front of a Baptist minister from my mother's family's home town, OMG my life). The train wound its way east, stopping in little towns as it went, including Rocky Mount. Every time I was in downtown Rocky Mount (which, admittedly, wasn't often) I would go down to the train station and wish like hell I was on the next train out of town, so there was something fitting about finally leaving town on a train, albeit over a year after I moved away. Also, I was able to see the library and the YMCA, the two places I went most often. The train also past by Halifax and I looked up from my book long enough to make a rude gesture as we barreled past. I also read a book and a half on the train ride alone. Sure, I'd read the books before and I read fast, but that's still 600 pages in one sitting. And that, my friends, is why I always run out of books on vacation, no matter how many I take with me. It's also the reason I've read the 1,000 page Lonely Planet Southeast Asia On A Shoestring travel guide cover to cover.

I love Washington DC, mostly because of the Smithsonian Institute. A lot of people say they like museums, to which I always respond, "No, I *really* like museums." I spent almost my entire four days in Washington at various museums, part because I'm a GIANT NERD and part nostalgia from working in museums for a year. I was staying in a hostel near the Mall and every morning I would walk past the Natural History Museum and duck in because hey, what the hell, I might as well take in the Hall of Paleobiology since I'm in the area. And then hours would past and I would stumble down the steps and realize I'd just waste four hours in the Natural History Museum. AGAIN!

I did, however, take time out of my busy schedule of attempting to visit the entire Smithsonian in four days and accidentally went on a date with a married man AND got kicked out of my hostel. See, I'm not completely lame. In my defense, I didn't know he was married until the middle of the date. I met the guy at my hostel one morning and he invited me to lunch later that day. We met that afternoon and while we were walking to the restaurant, he asked if I was married. I thought it was a strange question, but I told him no and, casting about for something to say, asked if he was married. He responded, "Yes, but my wife is back home in India," and suggested we eat at a restaurant that was so fancy they probably wouldn't have let my jean-clad self in the front door. He continued to court me for the rest of my stay, mostly trying to get me drunk in the evenings, despite my increasingly strong refusals.

Married Dude: Tonight I will take you to a club. Do you like to drink?
Me: Go away.
Married Dude: Don't worry, I will pay for your drinks.
Me: I find you creepy and unattractive.
Married Dude: I will pick you up at 9:00.

I also had a chance to meet up with while I was in Washington. Siobhain is one of my closest friends from Korea and I hadn't seen her since September. We met for lunch, ended up spending three hours at a burrito joint catching up and then went in search of a yarn store, which is pretty much par for the course with us. Then we went out to dinner and a bar with her friend Julie, who lives in Washington. Julie offered to let me spend my last night in Washington at her apartment, which turned out to be a helpful offer since my hostel screwed up my reservation, gave away my bed and left me with no where else to spend the night. Of course, I was in such a snit packing that I left my cell phone charger and a pair of shoes and had to stop by the next morning and go all angry southern woman on the front desk so I could pick them up.

Part II: New York City coming soon soonish. Maybe.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back in the US(S)A

So, hi! I'm back in the States. I've been back in the States for a month now, but first I was jetlagged and busy seeing family and friend, and now so much time has passed that I'm not really sure what to say other than, yeah, I'm back in the US. The first week back was surreal and I kept pointing out mundane things like not being given a wet napkin at a restaurant or people speaking English and going, "That's so weeeeeird!" When I first got back to the US, still in the airport at San Fransisco waiting for my connection to Charlotte, I got so flustered by the rampant use of English around me that I had to retreat behind my headphones, but for the most part I've re-acclimated to life in America.

I haven't done too much since I got home. I've been exercising like a fiend (I'm trying to run a few miles five days a week), playing tennis (for the first time in nearly a decade) and playing an obscene amount of Wii Mario Kart (my new goal in life in to beat the snot out of my brother at least once before I die). I've visited friends in Chapel Hill and Knoxville over weekends and seen my brother in Winston Salem a few times. I'm also constantly reading everything in sight. After a year of not having a library and having to methodically plan how fast and how much I could read so I wouldn't overshoot my book budget, I'm reveling in the ability to read a book a day and be able to get more, for FREE, whenever I want.

I also got to watch the leaves change (including one veeeeery long road trip through the mountains during the peek weekend), which I missed last year.

Fall Colors

I'm currently in on a proper vacation to visit a friend in New York. I took the Amtrak to Washington DC yesterday and I leave for New York on November 4th. I will say traveling is substantially easier when you can understand the language.

The Capitol
It's good to be home!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Goodbyes, Part 3

I leave for the airport in just a few hours and if I tried to actually sum up this past year, I would end up being disgustingly sentimental and Sunrise, Sutset-esque, so instead, just for the lolz, I'm going to post two of my favorite videos that I think do a pretty good job of explaining what life is like for a waegook in the Land of the Morning Calm.

(Probably not safe for work, what with the multiple multiple swear words.)

Bye, Korea! See you in December.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Goodbyes, Part 2

I spent the last few day signing the backs of worksheets and blank pages in textbooks and notebooks. Every time I sat down in between class, a line of students wanting my signature instantly appeared. Students have been coming by my office all week with presents; there were a few material items, but it was mostly letters. Wonderful, precious letters full of broken English that they wrote themselves, letters they couldn't have written when I arrived a year ago. I've been torn between wanting to spend the week behind the lens of a camera, capturing every last detail of my school and my kids for posterity, or just enjoying these last few days.

Today was my last day of school and oh, it was hard. I knew I was going to cry when I left and I did. After I untangled myself from students wanting one last hug, one last reassurance that I wouldn't forget them, I sat down on my bus and silently cried, tears running down my cheeks while I watched my school and the town disappear. What I wasn't prepared for was walking into my classroom for the last time, one last quick trip to throw away the last of the trash from my office, and starting to sob. Great, noisy, undignified sobs because despite all the frustrations, I've been so happy here.

The boys were a bit rambunctious and the boy to my right was being crushed. He kept shouting, "Help me, please! Help me, please!" It's a fitting end of my year here: we started studying Chapter 12: Will You Help Me, Please? today.

After school, I went out for samgyeopsal with friends. We ate at an outdoors galbi restaurant along a pedestrian road near our apartments that is overrun every night with dinners. We had beer and pork and kimchi and a metric ton of cooked garlic (that might have just been me) while we talked and toasted Korea and watched squids bob for freedom in the tanks at the restaurant next door. A good way to celebrate the end of a good year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ansan Asia Town, Redux

One of my favorite things about living in Asia are the bizare and amazing electronics you find here. For example, the machine where you can text your camera phone pictures and have them printed out as Polaroids on the spot or the claw vending machine where you attempt to fish out live lobsters. Only in Asia!

Last night, I went down to Ansan Asia Town for some amazing Vietnamese with friends. (To get there, take Line 4 south to Ansan Station. Exit 1, cross under the street, turn left and walk along the main road until you get to the restaurant with the Vietnamese flag. Order the pho, you won't regret it.) Marie, Greg and I walked around for a bit afterwards and we found Sea World, a claw vending machine with live lobsters as the prize. Greg gave it a try while I took the video. We didn't manage to win a lobster, which was probably for the best, because what the hell would we have done with the thing if we had won. I have this mental image of me trying to shove a live lobster into my purse, along side my bus pass and knitting, as I hop on the subway home. It's not a mental picture that ends well.


I bought my plane ticket home this week! Actually, after much fanfare and hair pulling, my school bought my plane ticket home, as per my contract. I leave Korea on Monday, September 28th, which is only ten days away. I was originally planning traveling around SE Asia after my contract was up and making it home in time for Christmas, but abandoned those plans at the last minute for fiscal responsibility. Instead, I'm heading straight home for two months, visiting with family and food, then heading back to Korea in December for another year.

I've started telling my students I'm leaving, which has sucked about as much as I thought it would. On Wednesday, the day my ticket was bought, 긴원 and 다니, two of my favorite sixth graders, came by my office at lunch. We've been playing with Scrabble tiles during lunch recently. The kids pour the tiles out of my table and spell out the names of their favorite singers: FT Island, G Dragon, Shinee. The girls poured the tiles out onto the table and asked if I was leaving Korea. I told them I was going back to America in a few weeks, and instead of getting into their usual argument of 2PM vs. Big Bang, they wrote this:

No Go America

Ow, my heartstrings. They asked why I was leaving and I explained that I missed my family and needed to go home. 긴원 gave this some though and suggested that I just call my family and tell them come live in Korea with me. That way, I can see my family and can stay in Korea. (Also, it gets around that pesky confusion of me living alone while unmarried, a rarity in Korea.) Then she grabbed my hand and said, "Teacher, promise remember me," and my heart just broke. I solemnly took her hand in mine and promised that I would never ever forget her. Yesterday, I was sitting outside by the playground after school, watching my students play. As the students ran past they shouted, "Hello Teacher!" A few stopped to show me things and joke with me (Kids: Teacher, it's raining and snowy. Day: *remains sunny and warm* Me: Oh no! Raining?! Snowing?! Kids: *laugh uproariously at the gullible foreigner*) and my little 4th grade girls run up for a hug. Damn, I thought to myself as I left, I'm really going to miss this place.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gyeongju, Day 2

Sunday, August 2nd: Splish Splash, I Was Taking A Bath
Lotus Blossoms @ Anapji Pond

The original plan was to wake up early and go see a temple. That lasted right up until the alarm went off and Sarah and I promptly decided no thanks, we would rather sleep for another two hours. Story of her visit. We finally made it out of the hotel by eleven and set off to explore Gyeongju. Our first stop was Tumuli Park.

Tumuli Park

Tumuli are tombs from the Silla dynasty, which lasted from 57 BC to 935 AD. Tumuli Park has twenty three tombs of Silla royalty. The tumuli look like large grassy mounts and they're all over Gyeongju. Many of the tombs have been excavated and the largest tomb is open to visitors, with reproductions of the burial and some of the treasures, but mostly all you see are the grassy hillocks. They're immaculately maintained and there were flowering trees surrounding the tombs, but there wasn't much to actually see.

Our next stop was the 7-11, where we scrounged together a breakfast of Denish pastries (not a typo), some sort of blueberry cream cheese sandwich thing and nuts. Eating was a bit of an adventure in Gyeongju. While Sarah was here, we ate mostly western food. Korea is not an easy place to eat if you're vegetarian and since Tonga doesn't really have restaurants, Sarah was understandable more interested western food that wasn't normally available to her than trying to figure out what Korean food she could eat. That's all fine and dandy when we were in Seoul, but western food (at least, non Korean/western fusion food [*shudder*]) was far more difficult to find once we left the capital. A lot of our meals were pretty hit or miss.

Lotus Blossoms @ Anapji Pond
Lotus Blossoms @ Anapji Pond
Lotus Blossoms @ Anapji Pond
Lotus Blossoms @ Anapji Pond

After breakfast we went to Anapji Pond. Anapji Pond was built as a pleasure garden by King Manmu in 674. The buildings have been destroyed, but the pond is full of lotus blossoms. It's a really lovely spot, if very crowded. Sarah and I spend another hour wandering around, taking pictures of lotus blossoms.

Anapji Pond: Before

We also did the whole "posing in front of cultural monument so we could take a self portrait and sent it home to our parents in an attempt to convince them we're not dead yet" thing and, well, it ended poorly. We posed crouching down on some stepping stones making a path through the pond and as we were standing up, I overbalanced and toppled backwards into the pond. Luckily my purse didn't get (too) wet and I didn't loose my shoes scrambling out of the pond, but I did end up looking like this:

Anapji Pond: After

We (well, I) squelched back to our hotel, stopping briefly at Wolseong Park to see Cheomseongdae, the the oldest astrological observatory in the Far East.


Once back at the hotel I tried to wash the worst of the mud and pond scum out of my clothes in the shower and while my stuff tried, Sarah and I hung out at the hotel for a few hours. The owner of the hotel told us about a free traditional music performance held at a nearby resort that we decided to check out. It was, to say the least interesting. There were a few good acts in the first half, but the second half was a Korean/western fusion band playing western songs on traditional Korean instruments. In theory that sounds interesting, but in practice it sounds like this:

Halfway through the song Sarah and I looked at each other and incredulously asked, "Is that ABBA?" There was also a visible drunk man in the audience who kept running onto the stage to try and dance with the performers. It was an unique take of traditional Korean music. On the way home, we stopped by the train station to buy our tickets for trip home well in advance. (That was a bit of an adventure. The ticket seller kept saying there was no train to Seoul that night and I kept repeating Tuesday over and over again, but we finally understood each other and got our tickets.)

The train station was across the town from where we were staying and as we got off the bus we heard a flurry of whispers from a large group of western tourists staying at the same hostel as us. "Wait, is this our stop? Why are they getting off? Should we get off?" The strangest thing about the trip was the tourists. They were everywhere! I don't normally see that many tourists in Korea, since I don't live in a touristy area or spend much time at tourist spots, but they were everywhere in Gyeonju and I kept being mistaken for one. They were loud and complained about how no one spoke English and kept obviously disregarding Korean culture and for a person who travels as much as I do, it turns out I'm an awful snob about people traveling in the country where I live.

The rest of the photos from the day are here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gyeongju, Day 1

Map of Korea Another vacation post. (For the record, they're all being tagged I got Seoul after the chorus from the Killers song "All These Things That I've Done" because a) Seoul/Soul puns are even funnier now that I know the correct way to pronounce Seoul and b) I unapologetically love Hot Fuss, even though I know that makes me an emo hipster.) After a week in Seoul, Sarah and I decided to ventured out into the countryside and on Friday (08/01), we left for Gyeongju. If you look at the map, Ansan (where I live) is the blue pen and Gyeongju is the green pen. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Empire, which lasted for nearly a thousand years (from 57 BC - 935 AD). At its height, Gyeongju had nearly a million inhabitants and was the capital of the entire Korean peninsula for 300 years. It's full of tombs and temples and pagodas and lotus ponds. That last one will be important later.

The quick and dirty highlights version is we went to a lotus pond full of beautiful, delicate blossoms...

Anapji Pond

and I fell in. OF COURSE I DID! Was there any other way for that setup to end? If I were a stick figure drawn on the back of an Hello Kitty envelope, it would have looked something like this:

Anapji Pond: The Aftermath

I Twittered about it that night (I'm in ur social network, connectin' with mah peepz), saying Today I fell in a lotus pond. Some days I feel like I really shouldn't be allowed out of the house without proper supervision. Several people responded, saying things like Doesn't Sarah count as proper supervision?, and the answer is no, no she doesn't. Trust me, it's more fun that way.

I originally planned to write about the entire trip to Gyeongju in one post, but that was taking too long to finish, so I'm going to do it day by day. (And also, Step by Step.)

Saturday, August 1st: Sorry, No Train, But How About This Dragon Trolley?
Dongbuk Gangnu @ Hwaseong Fortress

Sarah and I left my apartment around ten and took a bus to Suwon, with plans of catching a train to Gyeongju from there. Suwon, the capital of the province I live in, is only twenty minutes away from me by bus and, as one of the primary suburbs of Seoul, a major transportation hub. We got to the train station by eleven, only to be told there were no tickets to Gyeongju until eleven that night. We decided to try our luck at the bus terminal and got tickets on a bus leaving at 4:40, leaving us five hours to kill in Suwon. We decided to check out the Hwaseong Fortress. Quick history lesson: Hwaswong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between 1794 and 1796 by King Jeongjo to honor his father. The fortress is primarily a wall that surrounds the inner city of Suwon with various gates and outposts along the perimeter.

Hwaseong Trolley

We had a bit of an adventure actually finding the fortress and due to poor directions (we were told to get off HERE, with here being no where near where we wanted to be) and ended up wandering a couple of miles through Suwon, hoping to stumble upon some sort of fortification. We eventually found Paldalmun, the South Gate, and then located the rest of the fortress wall, up a very steep hill. By the time we made it to the top of the fortress, we were hot, sweaty and a bit cross, which is probably why we opted to ride the Dragon Trolley with a bunch of children instead of walking along the fortress. I'm pleased to report that the Dragon Trolley is just as awesome as it looks and I a met a very nice Korean boy who told me all about his favorite comic after a bit of prompting from his dad.

Hwahongmun @ Hwaseong Fortress
Hwahongmun @ Hwaseong Fortress

After the trolley ride, we doubled back to get a closer look at the northern stretch of the fortress. I hiked along the southern stretch when I first moved to Korea, but I didn't make it this far around. The Suwoncheon (Suwon River) runs through the middle of the city. The Hwahongmun is one of the two floodgates that lets the river through. The whole area was very picturesque, with the traditional eves painting and the walls and parapets and children splashing in the river. Less picturesque was this sign:

Korean Street Signs

Careful, drivers. Don't drive off this very obvious embankment into the river. (I laugh, but given how Koreans drive [hint: craaazy], it's a pretty reasonable warning to give.) Given our difficulties finding the fortress and the subsequent trolley ride, we left for the bus station well in advance, only to decide to catch a taxi (screw you, bus!) and arrived at the bus terminal with time to spare. We sampled the different bakeries for an early dinner and left Suwon by 5:00. The bus ride was long. The only two adjacent seats were in the middle of the very back row, which means no arm rests, air vents or seat lights. Not even a window to lean against and gaze out. We spent the first hour of the trip stuck in Seoul traffic and two hours into the trip, the overhead lights on the bus were turned off, meaning we couldn't read. (I may have exclaimed, "Hey!" angrily when the lights went out, earning me several dirty looks from my fellow passengers trying to sleep.) Without an air vent the heat was stifling and the teenage girl I was sitting next to (who did have an air vent) kept pushing her fleece blanket onto my lap.

We arrived in Gyeongju late and found small, curly black hairs all over the floor of our room, but the hostel had held our reservation and after a quick trip to the local grocery store for a mini-broom, we cleaned our room and went to bed. The rest of the photos from Suwon can be found at the bottom of here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


So, I've been studying Korean in earnest (albeit on and off) for a couple of months now and, well, it's slow going. Korean is so different from English or any other language I've studied that I barely even know where to begin. I have a textbook that I haul around with me and pull out when I have a spare moment, and I've spent hours writing the same words and sentences and grammatical concepts over and over again:

가다 - to go, 가다 - to go, 가다 - to go, 가다 - to go
나는 서울에 가요. - I go to Seoul. 나는 학교에 가요. - I go to school.
는/은 - object markers, 는 - if the previous syllable ends with vowel, 은 - if the previous syllable ends with a consonant
너 - you, 너 - you, 너 - you, 그 - he, 그 - he, 그 - he, 그녀 - she, 그녀 - she,그녀 - she

And really, I'm no closer to being able to understand what people are saying around me than I was a few months ago. I understand the idea behind immersion learning, but without a basic understanding of how the language works, you don't get far. Once I learned how to count, I was able to figure out the basics of number classifiers just by listening to how other people ordered things, but only once I knew the numbers. And other examples are few and far between. I get by okay by speaking phrases and nodding a lot while not really understanding the answer, but sometimes I despair about actually being able to use Korean on any sort of a functional level.

My fifth graders are working on possessives and on Monday my co-teacher gave them a worksheet that included, among other things, six Korean sentences to translate into English. I was walking around, helping the kids with the other sections when I realized I didn't know the translations for those sentences. Crap, I thought to myself, as I turned to find my co-teacher and ask for a translation. Then I paused and really looked at the sentences:
이것은 너의 연필이다. // 이것은 너의 것이다.
이것은 그의 컴퓨터이다. // 이것은 그의 것이다.
이것은 그녀의 가방이다. // 이것은 그녀의 것이다.

And I realized - dude! - I got this. I know what those sentences mean. I'm not just inferring based on being able to read a word or two, but I *know* what those *sentences* *mean* and I understand the underlying grammatical components. In a perfect combination of acquired knowledge and sheer exposure to Korean, something clicked.

이것은 너의 연필이다. 이것 = This. I know that from the phrase how much is this. 은 = means the word this is the object of the sentence. I learned that out of a textbook. 너 = you. I ought to know that one; it's one of the hundreds of words I've written over and over again while studying. 의 = possessive marker. I knew the lesson was about possessives, which means that something has to turn the you into your and 의 was the only unknown in the sentence. 연필 = pencil. My students like to teach my Korean, usually by pointing to an object on my desk and telling me the Korean and English word. I've have dozens of different students teach me the word for pencil. 이다 = is. My students shout BINGO이다! whenever they see the Bingo boards on my desk. "Hurray," they're saying, "it's BINGO!"

이것은 너의 연필이다 = This is your pencil.

I'm no closer to being able to understand Korean than I was last week, but I feel like at least I'm making some progress.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter

On Friday (07/31) Sarah and I wished Harry Potter a happy birthday in style and went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on 3D IMAX. Turns out only the first fifteen minutes were in 3D, which we found out twenty five minutes into the movie when the 3D still hadn't come back on. Still, I think we looked smashing in our special glasses.

Happy Birthday Harry Potter
I'm throwing the peace sign (when in Asia...), but you can only see the tip of one finger. The perils of self portraits. Photo taken by Sarah.

I really enjoyed the movie, but it reminded me how very little I remember of the original series and it inspired me to re-read the books. The library at my school has the entire series (in English) and I'm currently on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I'd forgotten how much I *loved* these books the first (several) times I read them. I mentioned to a friend that I was suitable impressed with the English book selection at my school library and I was checking out some books to read. She snotted HA - you read kiddie books, and I just stared at her blankly because, hello, have we even met? I find YA Fiction a valid and entertaining genre. Do I need to get that put on a shirt?

After the movie we headed to the Yongsan Electronics Market where I finally - two hard drive crashes later - bought an external hard drive. An external hard drive is a terribly *boring* purchase, since it doesn't actually *do* anything and if I drop that sort of money I want more excitement than whee! let's back up my Word documents!, but I've had two hard drive crashes and both times I lost everything. It was time to have a backup. It is a very Whovian hard drive. I partitioned the hard drive; one third is a backup and the rest is storage for my rather large collection of .avi files. The backup is named Time Machine (which is the name the Mac backup system - not my fault), and I named the other part TARDIS, because it is a very small hard drive that has an awful lot of TV series in it. And now look, I've gone and posted to my blog with my geek showing.

Yongsan at Dusk
Yongsan at dusk

Korean Folk Village

Pungmul @ Korean Folk Village

On Wednesday (07/29), Sarah and I went to the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. (Fun story, the first time I was in Korea [summer 2007] at least one of the signs for the Korean Folk Village said Korean Fork Village. The 'l' and 'r' sound are the same symbol in Hangul [ㄹ] so it's an understandable, if funny, mistake, but I will forever think of folk villages as fork villages.) Folk villages are a pervasive part of Korean tourism, but with 282 buildings, workshops, markets, games, a theme park and five traditional performances, the Korean Folk Village is the largest.

It's quite simple to get to the Korean Folk Village. Take Line 1 to Suwon Station (Sarah and I took a bus from Ansan because there are a half dozen buses going between Ansan and Suwon, but the subway is the tourist friendly way to get there from Seoul) and go to the Tourist Information Center next to station to buy your tickets and catch the free shuttle bus.

Korean Folk Village

Sarah and I spent an hour or so looking at the traditional homes and playing on the nol-ttwigi, the traditional Korean see-saw. Unlike western see-saws, riders stand on either end of the nol-ttwigi and jump, forcing their partner into the air. There's a video (not mine) of traditional nol-ttwigi here, but Sarah and I weren't that good. No midair acrobatics from us; we mostly tried not to hurt ourselves and shouted a lot.

Pungmul @ Korean Folk Village
Pungmul @ Korean Folk Village
Pungmul @ Korean Folk Village

We also caught a few traditional performances. First, we saw a pungmul dance (traditional farmers' dance). Pungmul was traditionally performed by musicians and dancers during farming festivals. The musicians play drums, gongs and a horn while the dancers played a small drum while dancing. The dancers wore sangmo, hats with long ribbons attached to them. The dancers caused the ribbons to move in elaborate spirals and patterns by moving their heads.

Kunettwigi @ Korea Folk Village Kunettwigi @ Korea Folk Village

As we were leaving, we stumbled upon the kunettwigi, or traditional Korean swings. Kunettwigi are much larger than western swings and the rider stands on the seat instead of sitting. It's actually quite hard, since I'm use to pumping with my legs, not my entire body. (I'm sure it doesn't help that I can't remember the last time I was actually *on* a swing.) It was a lot of fun, if challenging. Sarah was quite good at it, but I never managed to get very high.

The full set of photos are here (down at the bottom). Incidentally, a few days ago something happened and my set of Suwon photos got 18,000 views in 24 hours. I don't know *what* happened - it was probably a bug - but it was very unsettling to refresh my Flickr page and discover 400 people had viewed the page in the past ten minutes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Back to the vacation posts. On Tuesday (07/28) we went to Costco. People are always surprised to hear there are Costcos in Korea, but there are seven in Korea, four of which are in Seoul. On the way, we stopped by my school so I could transfer money home.

Sack of Money Face

Due to complicated and boring reasons, to transfer money I have to withdraw the money from my bank and then go to another bank to actually send it home. Until very recently, the largest bill in Korea was a 만 원 (man won = 10,000 won), or roughly $8. It's still the only bill offered at many ATMs, which means that when I need to transfer money home, I end up with a very large stack of cash. I sent home 1 million won (about $800) which meant I ended up with a stack of one hundred bills. Here I'm showing off my sack of money in front of my school.

On the way back from Costco, laden down with bags and bags of cheese, a guy came up to us on the subway. We exchanged greetings, shook hands (very difficult to do when holding bags and bags of cheese) and he asked, "어디서 오셨어요?" (Where are you from?) I told him we were 미국인 (Americans). He asked if I spoke Korean and I told him 조금 (a little). He thought that over, looked at us and said, "Obama!" Then he bowed and walked off. Sarah and I spent the rest of the trip discussing what the proper response to that would have been. Clinton? (Hillary Clinton had been in Korea a few days prior and pictures of her with Korean president Lee Myung-bak were all over the newspapers.) Micheal Jackson? Oprah?!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Office

The fall semester starts on Friday, which means I'm stuck sitting in my office for eight hours a day with nothing to do all week. I'm taking advantage of the down time clean my office, catch up on Cracked and make my grocery list. (Note to self: buy tomatoes.) I'll miss the free time when the semester starts again, but right now I just wish I wasn't so bored.

I took pictures of my office now that it's clean. One of the best things about my school is that I have my own office. A lot of English teachers I know either share an office with the Korean English teachers or have a desk in the teachers' room (along with the vice principal), but there was an empty room across from my classroom and my school converted it into an office just for me.

Office Office

My office is shaped like an L. The left hand photo was taken standing at the door and looking at the long part of the L. There isn't much use for the table since it's not like I have meetings, but it makes the office feel less empty. The right hand picture is my desk, which is in the short part of the L. The cabinets behind my desk lock, so I use them to lock up candy and other goodies that I would rather the students not find and beg me for.


Another view of the table and bookshelves, this time taken from my desk. The bookshelves mostly have art supplies left over from English Camp and textbooks/teacher's guides. My little girls like to stop by my office during lunch and primp in the mirror while they talk to me. Next to the bookshelves you can see the space heaters that made the winter bearable.


My desk. Normally it's a bit more cluttered than this. The fan on the printer was given to me by a student and was a godsend this summer when my office felt like a furnace. The post-it notes on the computer have students' names written on them. I'm terrible at remembering Korean names, but the kids disparately want me to know their Korean names. I make them write their Korean names down on post-it notes and then stick them to my computer so I can glance at my cheat sheet when I'm talking to them.

I love fruits juice!

A close up of the notebook on my desk. I found at a grocery store while on vacation a few weeks ago and I use it to jot down notes when I'm lesson planning. Before I would use whatever piece of paper was handy, which made my desk pretty cluttered after a week. I love the Konglish (I love fruits juice!) and the happy cannibalistic strawberry juice. In general, I just love Korean stationary.


Back in February, Amber sent me a care package that included a stuffed panda. I put the panda on my desk and my students went crazy over it. A couple of fourth graders names him Keomdungi (검둥이) and drew a picture of him on the back of a worksheet. Poor Keomdungi tends to get roughed up a lot (the students have tough love approach) and he's already lost a leg once. Luckily, I was able to repair him with some super glue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Look, you're really cute, but I can't understand what you're saying

Today was my last day of English Camp! The goal of the 5th & 6th grade camp was reading and eh, we did read every day, but I just don't feel comfortable teaching reading. I know that I learned how to read at a very early age and that I haven't stopped since, but I don't really know how to teach someone else how to do it. You look at the page and read the words and then - voilà! - comprehension, knowledge, enlightenment. I can't even begin to figure out how to teach reading comprehension and when you take a kid who perhaps doesn't have the strongest reading skills to begin with and add a whole new language, you get a quagmire. Combine that with students who would. not. look up a word unless I beat them over the head with a dictionary, and by the end of the week I was ready to throw my hands up. We did read a story every day, but we mostly played a bunch of games and watched Finding Nemo.

I justified Finding Nemo by watching it in English (with Korean subtitles) and giving the kids a worksheet asking them question about the movie, even if I did have to prompt them on most of the questions. (Me: What's that? Kids: It's whale! Me: Look at question 10. [Name 10 animals that live in the ocean.] Kids: Oh yes Teacher!) My students loved it, as did every other student in the library, including those working with a tutor and complaining about how they wanted to go to English Camp. Whoops. Had I known English Camp would be held in the library before the day it started, I probably wouldn't have chosen to show a movie, but I wasn't about to rearrange my entire lesson plan once camp started and I was spending every moment trying to get ready. I did think this line was particularly apt:

Same, Same