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

Friday, August 14, 2009

영어 캠프! (Vignettes from English Camp)

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
On the last day of English Camp, as a review, I gave the kids a bunch of letter posters (I printed PowerPoint slides with the letters of the alphabet in different fonts) and let them decorate them.

Sarah arrived on Friday, but my vacation didn't start until Tuesday. On Monday, I had to go into school and teach my last day of English Camp. My first English camp was with the first and second graders and we studied the alphabet. I'm not sure how effective it was; half the kids clearly already knew the alphabet from their hogwons and the other half were floundering because trying to cover the entire alphabet is a lot for one week. Due to construction (all the classrooms are getting new floors, hopefully ones that don't give people splinters) class was held in the library. It's a nice library, very modern, but it was also full of crazy Korean robot children who spend their summer vacation studying in the school library. Every time I did something that was even remotely noisy, like play a game or speak in a slightly raised voice, I would have an instant audience of forty or fifty kids, only half of whom were my camp students.

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
I had some alphabet letters that had originally been bought for the English room. They were meant to be used on a felt board, but we just glued then on the letter posters.

I gave all the students English names on the first day of camp. I wasn't planning on it, but everyone seemed to assume they would get English names out of the deal and it certainly did make it easier to learn the kids' names. Coming up with a list of English names off the top of your head is surprisingly hard, so I used a website that randomly selected three popular English names and let the kids pick which one they liked best. The list was based on the most popular names in America for 2007 and wow, people name their kids some weird and gender-ambiguous names. There were a few traditional names like Jack and Amy, but there was also an Ashlyn, a Brayden, a Riley (boy) and a Kennedy (girl).

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
The idea was that the kids were suppose to decorate the posters with things that started with the letter. Some kids did better than others. Steven glued random letters onto his R poster. It ended up spelling ROJ.

To make each class a little more fun, I found a bunch of alphabet clips from Sesame Street and played them as we started. The kids loved them, and a few of the more outgoing boys would come up to the stage and dance to the music. My mother (of four children) always swore that Sesame Street was a really fun show, but I never believed her until now. I ended up spending a lot of time going through the archives on the Sesame Street website and wow, there are some really funny skits and some really talented musical guests, like Anderson Cooper reporting live from GNN or Tilly and the Wall singing the ABCs.

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
Audrey just drew some flowers and a heart around her (upside-down) Ss. I didn't have the heart to tell her the poster was upside-down.

I taught the kids to fist bump me when they did a good job or finished an assignment and they loved it. My siblings and I have been fist bumping each other and shouting, "Pound it!" for years, so it only seemed right to teach my students to do it too. The kiddos were *very* enthusiastic about the fist bumps and I spent the rest of the week nursing sore knuckles.

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
Caroline, on the other hand, did very well. Not only did she draw a glass (one of the examples from the textbook) and grapes (not one of the examples, she's just that smart), she wrote both words out phonetically in Hangul. She also wrote out G phonetically in Hangul (지 = gee). Gee is the name of a popular Kpop song that came out this spring. When we learned the letter G, half my students immediately started singing the song. I always appreciate it when Kpop helps with my lessons.

Sarah came with me to school on Monday and sat in on the class. The principal quickly learned that there were two - count them, two - foreigners in the building and came to the library to meet Sarah. The first time he stopped by we were in the middle of class so, after some mutual bowing, he left, but the second time he came by during a break, so I was able to introduce Sarah, my 미국인 친구 (American friend). Then he came back a third time, this time with a camera, and took a few pictures of me and Sarah. I imagine the photos will show up on the school website soon. What a great promotional picture to show the parents - look! we have TWO American teachers at our school, at least for a day. My kids were also fascinated by Sarah. When they first saw her, they hid behind me and asked, "Teacher! Who dat?" One of my second graders, Audrey, likes to tell me what color things are. "Teacher," she says, pointing at my shirt, "green! Brown (my skirt), red (my glasses), pink (her dress), blue (another student's shirt)." On Monday, she marched right up to me and Sarah and started telling me the colors. "Teacher, green (my pants), black (my shirt), purple (my glasses), red (Sarah's shirt)." Then she pointed at Sarah's blonde hair and said, "Teacher, yellow hair!" "Yes," I told her, "that is yellow hair." Sarah and I laughed about it for the rest of the trip.

영어 캠프 7.21.09-7.27.09
It was a good activity, even if most of the kids didn't really grasp the whole point. Happy students are happy!

Monday, August 10, 2009


Hyangwonjeong @ Gyeongbokgung

The first of the vacation posts! (Technically, it's the third of the vacation posts, but it's the first of the post-vacation wrap up posts, i.e. the part where I feel guilty for ignoring my blog for weeks and spam it with photos. Lots and lots of photos.) Sarah arrived on a Friday and the next day, we headed into Seoul for some shopping and sight seeing. We spend a few hours looking at fans and posing for (other people's) pictures in Insa-dong, then walked to the nearby Gyeongbokgung, or the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.

Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395, shortly after the foundation of the Josoen Dynasty, and served as the main palace until 1592, when the Japanese burnt it down. It was rebuilt 300 years later, only to be destroyed by the Japanese again in 1915. It's a story that's repeated throughout Korea; this was once a site of important cultural patrimony until the Japanese burnt it to the ground. I had no idea the Japanese were so arson prone. Restoration of Gyeongbokgung began twenty years ago and it's a lovely, if no longer authentic, site. (In all honestly, I spent enough time in the museum and archaeology business to know how very few "historic sites" are truly authentic and Gyeongbokgung is at least a well done restoration.)

Changing of the Guard @ Gyeongbokgung

We arrived at Gyeongbokgung in time to see the changing of the guard ceremony. Maybe it's my own history in historic reenactment, but I always love watching other people suffer through it. I especially enjoyed the costumes (I know that one's pure schadenfreude), the weapons and the dude playing a conch shell.

Gyeongbokgung Roofs

One of the things I like the most about the Korean palaces are the roofs. The mixture of the upturned roofs and the brightly painted eves create an appealing and quintessentially Korean image. (I do apologize for sounding like a travel guide. I can't help it; I just really like traditional Korean roofs.)

Guardian Statues

The main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung, Geunjeongjeon, is surrounded by a two tier terrace decorated with statues of the Chinese zodiac and the guardian spirits. This one is, I think, a tiger, or possible Baekho, guardian of the west. The palace guidebook and my two week only memory are unclear as to which.

Ondol Chimneys in Amisan

Korean buildings are heated by ondol, a system of heated passageways underneath the floor. Traditionally smoke from a wood fire was used to heat the passageways, while modern ondol systems are a series of pipes filled with hot water. (The heater in my apartment didn't work particularly well, so this winter my apartment was heated solely by my building's ondol.) This is the chimney for the ondol system at Gyotaejeon, the queen's primary residence.


Behind the main palace is Hyangwonjeong, a small pagoda on an island in the middle of a square pond. The lily pads were so thick that the ducks in the pond had to waddle across them to reach open water. Hyangwonjeong is a well known symbol of the Joseon dynasty - I've seen multiple pictures of it - but I didn't know where it was until I visited Gyeongbokgung.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion

Mount Inwangsan

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion was built as a spot for the king to entertain guests and throw lavish parties. It's surrounded by a pond, and the king and his entourage would boat around the pavilion during the parties while Mount Inwangsan towered over them. I'll be honest, I would have totally partied with the Joseon king.

The full set of photos are here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Taco Night!

Sarah taught me how to make homemade tortillas* on Wednesday! She's in the Peace Corps, so she knows these things. They were super easy to make, which was a surprise. Sarah said they were easy, but me and cooking don't get along so well. If I was the sort of person who ever made Jello, I would probably manage to burn it.

On Monday, we went to Lotte Mart, the Korean equivalent of Super Wal-mart, and bought flour, salt and oil for the tortillas. We also picked up some tomatoes, onions and garlic to use as filling. We tried to buy beans, but could only find the sweeten red beans used for 팥빙수 and while 팥빙수 is delicious, tacos are not the time nor the place for sweet sticky beans. Then on Tuesday we went to Costco and, among many other things, bought avocados and cheese.

Wednesday night, we made the tortillas. We spiced the dough with Cajun seasoning to make them extra tasty (and because my family is insane when it comes to Cajun seasoning). Sarah also suggested adding taco seasoning or garlic for flavor. Both sound delicious. Sarah showed me how to make dough and I made the tortillas. We bought a rolling pen, but they still came out pretty oblong. Cooking is hard, yo. After we made the tortillas, Sarah chopped the vegetables while I cooked the tortillas. Well, actually she chopped all the vegetables while I watched the first tortilla cook. My stove is actually a hot plate and isn't very efficient. (I have to pre-boil water if I want to make pasta or else it takes half an hour for the water to boil.) The first tortilla took nearly twenty minutes to cook, but the rest went much faster.

Taco Night!
The first plate of toppings: tomatoes, red onions, avocados and garlic. We possible cut too much garlic, but it was super tasty.

Taco Night!
The second plate of toppings: cheese and avocados. You'll notice there are avocados on both plates, to which I say, "What's your point? Girls gotta have their avocados!"

Once the tortillas were cooking at a decent speed, we piled our toppings onto the tortillas while they cooked and then ate them straight from the stove. They were delicious! We only had vegetable fillings this time. Next time I either need to find beans to use or saute some tofu to use as filling.

Taco Night!
Om nom nom nom nom!

*I'm currently reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and on the way to the airport to pick Sarah up, I read the section about maize and homemade tortillas and I very seriously considered running away to Mexico, right then and there. Because making life choices based on the availability of tortillas is a totally valid decision.