Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in the Land of the Morning Calm

Merry Christmas! Christmas can be hard when you spend it away from family and all the traditions that make holidays special. All last week, students and teachers asked me if I was going home for Christmas and when I told them no (even if I could afford a flight to the US right now, there is literally not enough time in a weekend to fly to the US and back, and I had class on Friday and Monday), they asked if I was sad about spending the holidays alone, which, way to bring up that thing I was really pointedly not thinking about guys. I kept busy though, and had a good holiday.

My celebrations started last Saturday when SnB held a curry party & yarn/book white elephant gift exchange. Riah and Caroline made curry, Audrey made cookies, Siobhain made naan using a wine bottle for a rolling pin, and Jen and Robin helped to empty said wine bottle. I wrapped presents since we wanted dinner to be edible. Everyone brought nice things for the swap, so it wasn't very white elephant-esque, but we had fun and I have a quite a few new books to add to the pile of books I need to read before I go home.

Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010
Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010 Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010
Top: Siobhain making naan with a wine bottle; Left: Caroline showing us her new apron and festive Christmas nose; Right: Riah sampling the curry.

Then, on Christmas Eve Eve, I went to Ansan after work for pho, spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee with Marie and Greg. Traffic was horrible, but I made friends with the six year old sitting next to me. I was the first foreigner he had ever seen, and at first he just stared, but he grew more confident as the bus pulled away from the station and he started making faces at me. I started copying his faces, which he thought was hi-larious. After a few minutes of crossing his eyes and rapidly shifting his jaw around, he decided to stick his finger up his nose, watching me with bright eyes to see what I would do. I briefly though about copying him (standards, what are those?), but we were being watched by the ajeosshis sitting across from us and I was going straight to dinner, so I settled with sticking my finger beside my nose, which luckily was sufficiently funny enough for my friend.

Friday was Christmas Eve and I wished my 6th grade classes a Merry Christmas, but I was corrected. "No, Teacher. Merry Christmas Eve." After school, I went to a candlelight service at the Seoul International Baptist Church near Itaewon. It's next to the base and a lot of parishioners were soldiers and their families. Most of the foreigners I see are teachers in their twenties or thirties, and this was the first time I had seen a non-Korean family in almost a year. American children are giant compared to my wee, slight students. After the service, we took a cab to Itaewon, hung out in What The Book until they closed, then went to the Thai restaurant upstairs. Mmmm, Christmas curry. I've never been a fan of traditional Christmas food and I was thrilled for the excuse to spend my holiday eating SE Asian food instead.

Then on Christmas Day, Caroline, Siobhain, Audrey, Riah and I went for Indian and Doctor Fish in Gangnam. We bought ourselves a Christmas ice cream cake, sang Christmas carols (different ones, at the same time), and then used our cake to reenact the current political situation of the Korean peninsula. The cake was divided into five sections. Riah was South Korea, Audrey was North Korea, Caroline was China, Siobhain was the US and I was somehow Sino-American relations, which meant that I spent a lot of time supplying North Korea with rice and cow (decorative cranberries) which North Korea turned into bombs to throw at South Korea. The chocolate decorations served as the DMZ. Tunnels were dug beneath it. I started making "Phew Phew" noises to simulate bombs, which is when the Koreans sitting next to us started taking our picture. My parents called me while I was waiting for the bus home and I pulled a Waegukin Smash to talk to them while they opened presents.

Christmas 2010
Failboats in public. From (left → right) Siobhain, me, Audrey, Caroline and Riah

Christmas 2010
Mid-conflict on a delicious peninsula

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

de Bello Gallico

The best thing about owning a Kindle is that when I get my annual hankering (brought on by listening to the reading of the Gospel) to read about Caesar's conquest of Gaul at 12:30 on Christmas morning, I can buy de Bello Gallico immediately and start reading before the realization that this is probably the geekiest thing I've ever done stops me.

Even better is getting home at 12:30 on Christmas morning after Thai food with friends to find a Amazon gift card from said friend with which to buy de Bello Gallico.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope it's a good one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Five Things

[+] Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! Christmas isn't really an important secular holiday here. It's a red day, meaning I would have the day off it wasn't already on a Saturday. Christian Koreans treat it as a purely religious holiday and everyone treats it as a couple's holiday, almost akin to Valentine's Day. A few of the bigger department stores lights up and there is a massive coca-Cola sponsored Christmas display along the streets of Gangnam, but there are no Christmas decorations in my neighborhood, I'm still teaching class (winter break don't start until next Tuesday) and I've almost forgotten it's almost Christmas. However, I was linked to a cover of the Little Drummer Boy yesterday and I've been listening to it non-stop. It's really excellent and a nice bit of Christmas cheer.

[+] Well, when I say I'm "teaching classes," I mean I finished the textbook last week, so this week I'm showing Up dubbed in Korean with English subtitles. My co-teacher and I take turns sitting in the back of the classroom and occasionally saying, "Quiet" while the other stays in the office and works. Of course, this means I've watched the first twenty minutes of Up twenty times now and if anyone needs me, I'll be weeping in a corner because all happiness will grow old and die or get crotchety and deaf and we all end up alone and sad and *sob*. (Class is only forty minutes long, so I only see the depressing beginning, not the uplifting and happy ending. The students don't seem nearly as affected as I am.)

[+] I've finished my lesson plans for English camp. Well, I've mostly finished them. The last day is a movie day and I really should come up with actual content to teach, but I don't want to. I still need to finish prepping for camp, but this is by far the most prepared I've ever been. I'm sure this will blow up in my face somehow.

[+] I bought my ticket home yesterday. I leave Korea on February 28th, just over two months from now. I was adding money to my T-money card (subway/bus pass) yesterday night and I had to pause and think if would actually use $50 on transportation in the next two months. I got a bit teary about how I was leeeeeeeeeaving, although it might have been because I'm going to have to start buying gas again and there's no way $50 worth of gas could ever possible last two months.

[+] I had a completely gratifying moment on the subway home yesterday when someone asked me what I was reading and I was able to answer with "a survey of political and social forces during the late Roman Empire." I mean, I was reading about the political and social forces that lead to the fall of the Roman Empire (Justinian's Flea, good if a bit pedantic), and I'm not actually ashamed of anything I read (okay, maybe that needle-point based mystery), but it's nice to asked that question when I'm actually reading something impressive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It never rains, but it pours

I'm busy, which is unusual. I work forty hours a week, but only fourteen of those hours are actually spent teaching, and class prep, grading, extra classes and miscellaneous child wrangling are not enough to fill the other twenty six hours. I normally have an hour or two of free time in the afternoons, which is why going from having nothing to do to more than I can possible do practically overnight has left me reeling.

The semester ends on December 27th and two weeks of English camp starts the next day, which means I have six days finishing planning and preparing 28 hour-and-a-half long lessons from scratch. I probably should have started planning before last week, but I had a training conference the week before last and I wanted to wait until afterward to start planning. I don't have a text book for English camp, so I've chosen stories to base the lessons on. The 3rd and 4th graders are reading Eric Carle books. The 5th and 6th graders are reading fairy tales, which I'm going to write myself because I can't find decent easy reader versions using the vocabulary I want to target.

This is my forth time teaching English camp and each time, I oscillate from being unprepared to being too prepared. My first English camp was a disaster of epic proportion, mostly because my co-teacher and I didn't plan at all (and then my co-teacher just stopped showing up, leaving me to deal with the mess), so when it came time to prepare for the second English camp, I spent a month freaking out and working late and creating hours of extra material. It worked - the camps were a success - but I barely escaped with my sanity intact. This summer I had only planned the first week of the camp, which blew up in my face when the it turned out that, due to a schedule mix-up, what I thought was the first week was, in fact, not the first week, and I spent the next two weeks frantically playing catch up. I'm hoping that by my fourth try I will have found a happy medium.

To further busy things, the broadcasting club has started practicing again last week after a month and a half hiatus. I love those kids to death and I'm so proud of the work they're doing. This time, we're making them write their own articles about their week at Seongnam English Town, and only Ji-won and Ji-yeon turned in articles written entirely in English. The other girls' articles were a mix of Korean and English. One went 한국말, 한국말, 한국말, extreme weather systems, 한국말, 한국말, puppetry 한국말, 한국말, water festival, leaving me very curious about what she was talking about. Last week, each student came by during their lunch for one-on-one help editing their essays. I helped Ji-won and Ji-yeon fix the mistakes in their essays and my co-teacher Nicole helped Hye-ryeong and Han-som translate their articles. Then, on Friday, Jeong-yun (whose article was only 60% in Korean) and her friend Ye-sol (who isn't even in the Broadcasting Club, but is super smart) showed up before Nicole finished lunch and the three of us, with minimal assistance from Jeong-yun's cell phone dictionary, wrote an entire page . I'm ridiculously proud of how well she did and how she kept trying at something she thought was impossible. So yes, I love the Broadcasting Club and I'm glad they have one more report this year, but it does take up a lot of time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Winter Is Going to Suck

It snowed Wednesday night and when I woke up Thursday morning, the sidewalk in front of my apartment was covered in ice, as was the crosswalk by my bus stop, the hill my school is on and the entire school grounds. Basically, my entire route to school was one icy slick. I know Korea is allergic to snow days, but if ever there was a time to close school, it would be when the hill the school is on is so icy that it's physically impossible to reach by car and students can't get between the buildings without falling on the ice. The weather was a bit better today and parts of the Ice Hill o' Doom had been cleared, but it turns out the plus to it being too icy for vehicles is that I didn't have to watch a car try to gun it up and hill and fish-tail on a patch of ice a mere foot from a pack of oblivious students on their way to school. I spent the entire walk to school pulling children away from oncoming traffic.

I'm already dreading the winter...
This winter is going to suck.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Amazing Race: Seoul

So, yesterday morning Amber IM'd me to tell me that the latest episode of The Amazing Race was set in Seoul and they went rafting in the DMZ. My response can best be summed up as "..." since I'm pretty sure I would remember an American reality TV show causing an international incident by crossing into the DMZ, an area that is best known for the fact that people CAN'T go there. Even though I don't watch the Amazing Race, I figured this episode would be worth watching.

The teams arrived in Korea and it was raining, which, of course it was raining. The rainy season was abnormally long this year, and by abnormally long, I mean it rained for five straight months. We went weeks without seeing the sun. I thought my shoes would never dry. That weather was what I saw practically ever day from June to October.

On the drive to Seung-il Bridge, Nat or Kat complained that "most of the signs are completely devoid of any sort of English characters." An interesting observation since, in fact, ALL OF THE SIGNS are in English and Korean.

So, I understand why Amber told me the teams were rafting in the DMZ. The teams constantly referenced the DMZ and claimed to be in the DMZ or the DMZ area. I wonder how much of that was added for rating due to the recent tensions because, really, no. They weren't at the DMZ. They were rafting at a popular tourist destination. If the teams were in the DMZ, then so is Seoul. So am I.

Can we talk for a moment about how RIDICULOUS the third challenge (getting from Camp Casey to the World Cup Stadium) was. Like, seriously, they took the subway. The subway where every station is labeled in English. There was ONE transfer. The name of the station they were going to was WORLD CUP STADIUM STATION. How is that a challenge? If I only have to transfer once, I count it a win. Also, Jill and Thomas (the couple) kept sitting the seats reserved for the elderly or the handicapped. Seats that are clearly labeled as such in English and with pictures. I kept cringing because way to Waegukin Smash and give the rest of us a bad name, guys.

The Mokdong Ice Rink (home to the fourth challenge) is one of the two evacuation spots for Americans in Seoul should the Norks invade. The more you know....

I'm sad none of the groups opted for the Namdaemun challenge because Namdaemun is pretty awesome. It's also a lot more authentically Korean than an ice rink. Plus, I've had the ginseng tonic (the nurse at my school gives it to me whenever I'm sick) and it's not half bad.

I LOVED the shots of the teams trying to hail a taxi and failing. It's next to impossible to hail a taxi on the side of the road in Seoul You have to go to a taxi stop and wait in line.

The Pit Stop - the Temple of Heaven - is a super obscure location. I had never heard of it and according to Google, in 1968 the Westin Hotel was built on the site and the temple is now part of the hotel complex. It's essentially a knock-off of a Chinese temple build by the dying throes of Imperial Korea. There are so many better places that could have been chosen.

I enjoyed this episode, but I don't think I could watch the show on a regular basis. Too many of the contestants act like arrogant, entitled assholes and embodied every negative sterotype people have about Americans. When they were searching for the statue of the airplane at Hangang Park, Thomas gripped, "How does nobody know what an airplane is?" and I had to pause the show so I could shout, "I don't know, maybe because airplane is ENGLISH and you're in KOREA, jackass. Try asking for the 비행기, but wait, you don't speak in Korean. You just expect everyone to speak English." I might be overly sensative because I do live in Korea and know enough about the culture to notice when the contestants are overtly rude, but it was still a constant sorce of annoyance for the entire episode.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Colorful Daegu, Day 2


Daegu, Day 2 (which is technically day three, since we left on Friday and this is about Sunday, but a vacation doesn't start until you arrive). I woke up on Sunday as sore as a creaky old man, although I did figure out how to work all the extra gadgets in the shower, which was something. We checked out of the motel, bought our bus tickets back to Seoul, stored our luggage at the station and headed off to a different bus station to catch a bus to Haeinsa.

Haeinsa is the main temple of the Jogye Order, the primary order of Korean Buddhism, and home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the oldest complete version of the Buddhist canon. We had about four hours before we needed to be back in Daegu to catch our bus home, and we thought the bus to Haeinsa took an hour, giving us two hours at the temple. Turns out, the bus to Haeinsa took an hour and a half, a fact we learned only after we had been on the bus for an hour and still weren't there. We ended up having about 40 minutes to see the temple, and after the hike to Gatbawi, Margaret and I decided we weren't up for another forced march. Instead, we went and climbed on the rocks in the river.

I was disappointed - I have wanted to see Haeinsa since I got to Korea - but that's life and I wanted to not miss my bus back to Seoul more. We ended up making it back to the bus station with only a minutes to spare (literally; Korean buses leave on. time.), and that was with us begging our taxi drive to go 빨리빨리 (fast). That was the last bit of 빨리빨리 for the trip. We ran into a traffic jam full of leafers returning to Seoul and it was unfortunately close to midnight when we finally made it home.

I always forget how much I enjoy getting out of Seoul I always mean to travel more on the weekends, but usually, by the time the weekend rolls around and I'm weighing the relative merits of a trip versus sleeping in, I'm exhausted and cranky (the many flaws of my Friday classes, let me tell you about them), and sleeping tends to win out. It was a fun weekend and I'm glad I went.

Haeinsa Haeinsa

Rest of the photos are here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Winner! Asa! I win at NaBloPoMo! 30 days, 30 posts, 11,827 words. I wrote one travelogue, started a second one and exhausted an entire month's supply of cute student stories (that's a lie, I have more). And then there's this bit of chat transcript from last week, which is probably the wrong reaction to a state of national emergency:

me: I am so ready for NaBlo to be over
Amber: orly?
me: I'm just getting tired of constantly having to think of something to write about. thank goodness NKorea attacked. That's going to be good for at least two entires
Amber: lol

I never got around to half the entries I was planning on writing, but for the most part I think managed to make somewhat substantive posts. That vast majority of this month's posts were written at school, which is why the weekend's posts were so phoned in. It also meant that I spent less of my free time in the afternoon bored. Reading over this month's posts, it feels like I spent the entire time giving tests, so I checked my scheduler and realized that's because I did spent the entire month giving tests. My students still think x is a legitimate letter.

I would say something about how I'm going to take a break from posting, but I have an honest-to-God list of posts I need to make in my scheduler, so I guess you're stuck with me and my thoughts and ~feelings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Colorful Daegu, Day 1

Seoul & Daegu A few weeks ago, I went to Daegu for the weekend with some friends. Daegu is the fourth largest city in Korea and the only major city in Korea I had yet to visit. It's only 130 miles away from Seongnam (on the map, I live at the blue check while Daegu is the orange check), which is just a few hours by bus. One of the best things about travel in Korea is a) this country is small, about the size of Kentucky and b) almost everywhere has an express bus linking it to Seoul in just a few hours.

The plan was for Margaret, Veronica and I to meet at the bus terminal in Seongnam after school on Friday and buy our tickets, but when we arrived at 6:15, we discovered that Daegu was popular destination that weekend and consequently, the next several buses were sold out. The first bus could tickets for didn't leave until 8:10, meaning we wouldn't arrive in Daegu until close to midnight. Since we were free spirited ladies and wandering around the Daegu bus terminal at midnight trying to find a hotel didn't much sound like fun, we decided to pick a new destination for the weekend. We wrote down the name of all the cities with an express bus leaving from the bus terminal (including Daegu, because an hour and a half wasn't that long to wait) on pieces of paper. There were four cities with buses still leaving and three of us, so we each picked a slip of paper and decided to go to wherever the last piece of paper told us to go. The last bit of paper was Busan, the southernmost city on the peninsula. The next bus left at 8:00, just ten minutes before the bus to Daegu, but it would take us an extra two hours to get there.

We ended up going to Daegu. Fate, I can take a hint.

We pulled up in Daegu around 11:30 and set out in search of a love motel, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like but, despite the seedy connotations, they are, hands down, the best deal when traveling. Love motels are everywhere - literally on every corner around bus and train stations - and while rooms can be rented in two hour blocks, they're also available for the night. Love motels are cheaper than hotels and even a basic love motel offers better accommodations than similarly priced hotel. Plus, you're almost guaranteed a fun and exciting light scheme. However, multiple beds are obviously not common and we had to visit four different motels before we found one with 방 하나, 침대 두개 (one room, two beds).

Love Motel, Daegu
Missing from this picture are giant bathroom, creative lighting scheme and the tiny disco strobe lights. We looked at a few rooms that included a sauna, but went with the cheaper, sauna-less room.

Saturday morning we woke up, hit up a convenience store for breakfast and went to the Daegu Herbal Medicine Market. Before we reached the market, we stumbled upon Rice Cake Street. Seoul has these areas with a high concentration of shops all specializing in the same thing. There's no warming: one moment it's a perfectly normal street full of regular shops and then suddenly every shop in sight is selling shoe laces or socks or prosthetic limbs. Daegu is no different, it appears, and Rice Cake street, which dates back to the Korean War, has 37 different shops selling every possible variety of rice cakes. Rice cakes (떡, tteok) are "cakes" made from steamed glutinous rice flour. Because when I think of the word glutinous, I think delicious. There are tons of different types of rice cakes and they are part of many traditional Korean meals. Tteok has no actual relation to real cake, but I've been given many rice cakes in my time here because hey, it has cake in the name and foreigners like cake, right? I'm not a big fan, but it was neat to see the elaborate tteok creations the shops made.

Rice Cake Street, Daegu

The Daegu Herbal Medicine Market, founded in 1658, is the oldest market in Korea. It's suppose to be one of the largest markets in Korea, but it was almost abandoned on Saturady morning. We only saw a couple of other people shopping and lots of the stores were closed. We did, however, see lots of ginseng and reindeer horns (good for stamina, heh heh heh) and bins full of what appeared to be bark (no doubt good for well-being, but please don't ask me how). We also stumbled upon the wholesale market, which was filled with sacks brimming with spices and herbs and bark and what I swear to God was twigs. Korea, I don't *understand* your mania about well-being. There were samgyetang (i.e. the soup with an entire damn chicken in the bowl) restaurants nestled between shops with antlers hanging in the windows. Veronica and I decided that breakfast samgyetang at 11:00 was an appropriate life choice, and while Margaret went to pick up her boyfriend Nick, we had an early lunch of chicken soup. 맛이 있어요!

Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Market, Daegu Samgyetang
Left: Jars of ginseng at Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Market; Right: Bowl of samgyetang. Yes, that's a whole chicken in a bowl of soup for one person.

After lunch, we headed off to Palgongsan Provincial Park to hike to Gatbawi, a stone Buddha built in 638 AD. We were under the impression that it would be an easy hike. In Deagu, we were told it was an hour hike. Half an hour up and half and hour down, simple. When we got to Palgongsan, we were told it was an hour each way, not an hour total, but two hours is still a pretty basic hike. Over an hour later, when we finally reached Gwanamsa, a temple on the mountain, we were told that Gatbawi was at least another hour hiking up stone steps. All in all, it took us three hours to reach the summit and because the hill was so steep and steps were so uneven, it took us almost two hours to get to the base of the mountain. It was a pretty beautiful hike, though.

Gwanamsa Gatbawi
Top: Temple bell at Gwanamsa; Left: Main building at Gwanamsa; Right: Gatbawi. Gatbawi means Stone Hat Buddha because the 15cm thick flat stone atop the Buddha's head resembled a gat (갓), a traditional Korean hat.

When we finally made it back to Daegu, we were starving. The others wanted steak. I, while not begrudging their desire for steak, did not want steak. We all felt that, eh, you know, not sitting on the floor and eating with chopsticks might be groovy, and in downtown Daegu, the first combination of the three was an Outback Steakhouse. Again, 맛이 있어요 if, you know, a bit shameful.

The cheese fries are delicious, the onion rings are not and we were all a bit loopy by that point.

More photos are here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Korean Thanksgiving

My first Thanksgiving away from home, I spent the day blinking back tears and taught my classes through a tight throat before treking into Seoul for a turkey dinner with friends. This year, I figured the holiday would be easier if I just ignored it, and so I went to the dentist. I did call home the next morning (Korea is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast, so 8:00 my Friday morning was 6:00 Thursday evening back home), but I didn't even get dinner on Thanksgiving since my mouth was too numb from the dentist to chew.

I did, however, celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday with my Stitch n' Bitch group. We ordered a traditional dinner from Dragon Hill Lodge on the base and people brought additional dishes. We had turkey and potatoes and green bean casserole and walnut pie, which isn't quite pecan pie, but was closer that I expecting to get here. We opted not to go around in a circle and list what we were thankful for, but I am thankful. I'm thankful to have a job I enjoy. I'm thankful that I get to live in another country and I'm thankful that that country is Korea. I'm thankful I have friends to spend Thanksgiving with. I'm thankful that I'm here and healthy and happy.

A Korean Thanksgiving
Our hostess Caroline carving her first turkey. She did an excellent job.

A Korean Thanksgiving

A Korean Thanksgiving
Our Thanksgiving feast.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weekend Round-Up

So, glancing over this month's blog posts, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that I'm phoning it in on the weekends. Either the entries are just straight up written during the week, they're super short or consist mostly of pictures of the hilarious things one can buy here. And guess what? This weekend is no different!

I spent Saturday hanging out with Riah in Itaewon, the foreigner district. There are really only two things worth doing in Itaewon: eat foreign food and go to the English language bookstore, and we did both with great abandon. Lunch was Bulgarian food, followed by two hours perusing What the Book with our Kindles out, checking first to see if we could buy the books as e-books, followed by ice cream at Cold Stone. Mmmm, foreign things are delicious.

Today was Sunday, which means Stitch n' Bitch. We normally meet at cafes around the city, but today Caroline hosted a belated Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment, which was full of turkey and green bean casserole and walnut pie, which isn't quite pecan pie, but it's as close as we're going to get here.

All in all, a good weekend.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

방구 금지

방구 금지 Today, Riah gave me what is possible the greatest thing I have ever and will ever have owned.

These are socks.

That's a dude farting.

A dude farting in the middle of a prohibition sign.

방구 금지 = fart ban

In case you find this relevant to your interest, that would be pronounced banggu geumji.

Both my brothers are getting a copy of this picture for Christmas. A framed copy. As for me, I might never take them off.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Open Wide

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I spent mine at the dentist's office because I FORGOT this Thursday was Thanksgiving when I made my appointment. *facepalm* I went to the dentist for the first time last Thursday for a cleaning/check-up/X-rays/other things I can't afford in the US and while I was there, she found two cavities. My follow-up appointment to have them filled was made for this Thursday and, several days later, when I realized that meant it was on Thanksgiving, I decided I didn't actually care and didn't reschedule the appointment.

Going to the dentist was something I put off my first year here because of language barrier and the added difficulty of doing things in another country and well, I'll be home in six months, might as well wait and do it then. Turns out, that was poor reasoning since not only is going to the dentist just as easy here, it's SO MUCH CHEAPER. (One of these days I'm going to make a post about my giant love for the Korean national health care system and how, seriously America, you NEED TO GET ON THAT.)

The first appointment, the check-up, was almost identical to the check ups I've had in the US, except that there was Kpop, not country, on the radio and during the cleaning, the hygienist draped a cloth over my face so I couldn't see anything. There was a hole in the cloth for my mouth and nose, but my eyes and the rest of my face were covered.

The second appointment was also similar to the US, in as much as I can remember the one time I had a cavity filled back home. It might have actually been better, since this time, the dentist didn't try to discuss Carolina basketball with me while there was a drill in my mouth. I mean, yes, I'm also hopeful for another title, but could you spend more time concentrating on the drill IN MY MOUTH and less time waxing about Hansbrough's average number of assists per game.

I showed up for my appointment after work and as I sat down in the chair, the dentist asked me what I thought about pain.

"Well," I told her, "I'm not a big fan of it."

"Okay," she responded, and whipped out a syringe bigger THAN MY FACE and stuck it in my mouth.

I might have groaned a little when she picked up a second syringe for the other side of my mouth. "It's just a little cavity," she told me. "Are you sure you want this?"

Which, lady, when it comes to choosing between giant needles in my mouth or a drill in my unnumbed mouth, I will go with the giant needles any day of the week.

The real fun came after the appointment. I took the subway home and stopped at the convenient store across the street from my apartment with my mouth still completely numb. When I attempted to thank the owner, my kamsamnida (thank you) came out some unintelligible mumble. The owner looked at me askance, and I attempted the smile (also difficult with a numbed mouth) reassuringly before hurrying home where I didn't have to inflect my terrible terrible Korean on anyone. Turns out, I really can't speak Korean when my mouth is numb from the dentist.

Korean dentists: I went to Tuft's Dental Clinic in Gangnam. I highly recommend her. She's trained at Tufts University in Boston, is licensed in three US states and she (and her staff) speaks excellent English.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yeonpyeong-do, Spelling Tests & Training

[+] For anyone interested in a more in depth discussion of the Yeonpyeong-do shelling than "boom boom two people is die," the always excellent Ask a Korean has a thorough write-up of what happened and why it matters. I particularly agree with this bit:
South Koreans' apathy for North Korean provocations have become quite famous around the world, because it is so difficult to imagine what it is like to constantly live in a state where nuclear annihilation is a real possibility. But once you live in South Korea, there is not much you can do other than ignore the danger.
[+] I spent the afternoon grading the 4th graders test. The verdict: they did well well on the listening section almost across the board and wow, they can't spell for shit, and not even in an amusing way. Some of the lowlights: make: miwl; bank: orlk; school: sacdl; right: ridos. So yeah, that's something to work on.

[+] GEPIK teachers are suppose to go to a two day, overnight training session at the start of their contract, with additional one-day training sessions throughout the year. I went last year, so I wasn't invited to this year's training session when I started my new contract. There's a separate training session for teachers who renew their contracts, but because I switched to a new school within GEPIK instead of renewing at my old school, I'm not technically considered a returning teacher. I slipped through the training cracks and I was fine with that, thank you very much, and very pointedly didn't bring it to anyone's attention and skated by for nine months, but I've been found out now I get to spend December 7th and 8th at the Future Leadership Center in Yongin, South Korea being educated on how to do the job I've been doing for the last two years.

I actually wouldn't have minded going to the GEPIK training back in March. They all sound the same (yay, teaching in Korea! yay, bomb game! both sentiments I agree with, but I really only need to told once, and actually, since I'm in agreement, I don't need to be told at all), but it's part of the job and I get that. However, this particular session is at the beginning of December. The fall semester is over three weeks later, but thanks to the early exam date, the last three weeks of the semester are going to be a bit of a wash. Then it's two weeks of winter camp, which are completely different from the national curriculum covered in the training, three weeks of vacation, one final week of school (which will be a complete wash since, at that point, grades were completed two month before), two weeks of desk warming during what is called spring break, although February and spring are not same same Korea, and then I fly back to America, ostensible forever. This is a case of too little too late, and I do resent having my time wasted.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

boom boom two people is die

Further update on the unfolding geo-political situation in the Korean peninsula:

Marie: "teacher, bukhan yesterday boom boom two people is die. very poor"
me: eleoquent
Marie: I thought so.
me: "teacher, kim jong il is bad man. very mean."
Marie: lol Clearly we need to post these eloquent explanations of yesterday's events.
me: I think so
Marie: Dear friends and family, in case you're wondering exactly what went on yesterday please read the following summary.
me: kids explaining complex political situations say the darndest things

What Do You Want To Do? Speaking of things kids say, here are the Konglish highlights from the test the 6th graders took today. The question was What do you want to do?.I'm sick The answer was obviously I want to play the violin, but one girl mixed up her verbs and wrote I want to be a violin. The last question on the test was a picture of the lad on the right. The question was I'm sick. I _______________. The answer was (I) have a stomachache, but the kids struggled with it. A bunch of students answered I have a stomach which, while technically correct, isn't the answer I was looking for. Many of the kids who did answer stomachache misspelled it. Many of the students just didn't answer the question and a few went completely off the reservation for their answers. I have flowers and I high many homework, sorry were both answers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And then that happened...

I went to school this morning, taught the 3rd graders, spent the afternoon editing photos in my office, stopped at Pizza School on my way home (too lazy to cook dinner: check) and came home to discover that while I was editing power lines out of the background of picture of a temple in Daegu, North Korea was firing a barrage of artillery shells at one of the inhabited South Korean islands off the west coast, only 80 miles from where I live. I might have bemoaned my dull afternoon, but it beats being evacuated due to attacking North Koreans.

My first thought was, "Well, that happened. Several thoughts later, the closest I've gotten to concern was contemplating the reaction if this had happened during the G20. (South Korea: North Korea, stop it! You're embarrassing me in front of the international community!) This is only meriting a blog post because it's NaBloPoMo and I'm desperate for topics.

When North Korea launched a missile into the Pacific last April, the first overt military action from North Korea since I had arrived on the peninsula, I spent the afternoon glued to the TV, obsessively refreshing new sites and generally freaking out over impending death and destruction by North Koreans. However, by the time all the drama happened late that May, I had adopted a more Korean attitude towards the Norks and spent a lot of time rolling my eyes over the frantic emails I got from friends back home asking if I was okay and when I was evacuating. Today, classes continued without interruption and there were no announcements or sirens. The TV in the pizza place was tuned to a rerun of Kdrama, not the news. If I hadn't checked the news when I got home, I would have no idea something had happened.  And that's life, or at least that's life here.

This is the second North Korean military attack this YEAR that has resulted in the loss of lives, the military is on the highest peacetime alert, this country is technically under attack right now, but outside of Yeonpueong, life is going on as normal in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Monday's Frustrations:
The 5th graders started Lesson 14: Is Peter There? this week. It's all about phone numbers and phone conversations so, of course, I played "867-5309/Jenny" and told the kids to listen for the phone number and write it down. While the students enjoyed the song, the activity was a complete failure. I showed a live performance of the song from YouTube, and the sound quality was less than steller. Even I was having trouble making out the lyrics, and I already knew what they were. After the first two classes, I scrapped the idea and spent the last five minutes of class reviewing Step & Jump.

Monday's Konglish:
Cheating (or as it's called in Konglish, cunning) is rampant in Korean classrooms, far more than I remember from when I was in school, and it's not uncommon to see half the class blatantly cheating during textbook activities. During the "Let's Write" textbook activity today, I saw a boy leaning over for a look at his friend's textbook.

"No cunning," I told them.

"'Teacher," the first boy protested. "I'm no cunning. I'm ... SOSing."

It's a touch depressing that he couldn't think of help, which is basic vocabulary, but I am amused that he substitued it for the Morse code signal for help.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life in Korea, a study in 7 words

My goal for NaBlo was to avoid posting for the sake of posting. I wanted to make each post substantive, or at least amusing, and I think I've done a pretty good job, but some days I get home for SnB at 9:00 and just want to curl up in bed with a book and preserve the last lingering moments of my weekend before going to bed, so I leave you with my deep, philosophical ramblings about life in Korea.

Korean Notebooks
Things are cheaper, and have more pandas.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Freshly Cooked Salad

So, Margaret came over last night for a Firefly marathon and "health drink" drinking game. (One of the little known side effects of prolonged exposure to Korea is that you start saying things like "It's good for your well-being" or "increases stamina" and then you talk about the state of your condition. Our "health drinks" were actually pomegranate juice mixed with Cherry Coke and raspberry vodka, but the label of the pomegranate juice said it contained powerful antioxidants, so we're pretty sure it's good for our well-being.)

Our rules were:
  • Take a sip every time Wash flips the three switches on the console.
  • Take a sip every time Zoe calls Mal Sir or Captain.
  • Take a sip every time Book hits at his shady past.
  • Take a sip every time Inara is called by something other than her name.
  • Take a sip every time River knows something or does something she should know or be able to do.
  • Take a sip every time Jayne overtly caresses a weapon.
  • Take a sip every time Mal says something self depreciating.
  • Take a sip every time anyone says shiny, gorram or rutting.
  • Make a toast for especially awesome lines not otherwise covered.
  • Finish your drink when Serenity lights up like a firefly or someone mentions the compression coil.
In the first fifteen minutes of the pilot, Wash flipped the switches, there were various Sirs and Shinys and Gorrams, we had to toast for the "too pretty to die" line AND Wash playing with his dinosaurs and we finished our drink twice. It all went downhill from there, and by the time the second episode started, I was not longer coordinated enough to properly make finger hearts at the screen.

We made a Caesar salad for dinner, but since my kitchen has limited counter space and I don't own a salad bowl, I had to make the salad in my biggest pot, sitting on the stove. Margaret and I made cracks about cooking salad for the rest of the evening.

Freshly Cooked Salad
Nothing like a freshly cooking salad to whet the appetite.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Have a Raining Nose

This week appears to be dedicated to talking about school, and who am I to buck the trend on Friday?

I finished giving the 6th graders their speaking test today. (I have two sixth grade classes on Wednesday and the other four on Friday.) The first class did brilliantly. Out of the super specific grading system (Δ = bad, O = OK, OO = great), only two students got Δs and half of them got OOs. During the class change, I commented to Michelle that the test seemed too easy. Then 6-4 (these guys) showed up and did terribly. Half the kids got Δs and only six students got OOs. Serves me right for being optimistic.

The best 6-4 student was a boy who happened to have a cold. He came into the back room, sat down next to me and sighed, "Teacher, I have a bad cold."

"That's too bad," I told him.

"Yes, Teacher. I have a sore throat and runny nose and cough."

"Oh no! You can go back to your desk and take a rest."

"But Teacher," he protested, "test."

Kid, that was the test.

The best Konglish moment came from a 6-1 girl who couldn't remember how to say runny nose and told me I have a raining nose. In Korean, runny nose is 콧물 (ko mul), which literally translates to nose water, so raining nose was both phonetically similar and made some logical sense.

I'll end with the conversation I had with the 4th graders who clean my classroom during lunch:

Me: Guys, smile for the camera.
Boys: *Asian pose*
Girl: Teacher, why picture?
Me: Because you are ADORABLE.

4-1 Cleaning Crew

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Step & Jump

I spent all day review Step & Jump with the 4th graders. Step & Jump is supplemental material for the national curriculum and provides an extra example of the key expressions from each chapter. The students are suppose to memorize all the dialogs and they're tested on the material twice a year. The fall semester Step & Jump test is next week, so I spent all morning reading the Step & Jump material out loud and having the students repeat after me.
A: May I read your book?
B: Sure, here you are.

A: Let's play soccer.
B: OK.
C: Sorry, I can't. I'm tired.
A: That's too bad.

A: What do you want?
B: That yellow bag, please. How much is it?
A: It's 500 won.

A: Julie, clean your room.
B: Yes, Mom. Zeeto, help me zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
Sorry, I just feel asleep typing that. I kept drifting off in class too. The emphasis on repetition and route memorization is my least favorite part of teaching in Korea and I try and avoid it as much as possible, but sometimes I have to bow to the prevailing system and be an English teaching robot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teacher Has 신종인 플루

Wednesdays are my easy days. I only have two classes - 3rd and 4th period - so I'm not rushed in the morning AND I'm done by lunch. Today, the 6th graders had a speaking test, which is always a mixed bag. Speaking tests are the only one-on-one interaction I have with a lot of my students, and I never know what to expect. Sometimes kids who barely speak in class surprise me by being super competent. Sometimes it turns out the kids who barely speak in class are silent because they can't string a sentence together. Sometimes the kids who act out and make me want to throttle them instead of explaining for the tenth time that 두통 means headache IT'S NOT THAT HARD, SERIOUSLY show improvement, which is super gratifying. And then there are the silent kids.

The silent ones are depressing. There are a few in every class and they just. won't. talk. They spent the entire test looking at their feet and won't say a word (in English or Korean), no matter how much I cajole and prompt and finally just give them the answer in a desperate attempt to make them to say something FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JINHO, JUST TALK. The thing is, I've worked really hard at being someone who is approachable because I KNOW English is difficult to learn and I KNOW it's hard to summon up the courage to speak in another language when you know you're going to make mistakes, even though that's the only way to learn, and I want to be a safe person for the kids to try and talk to. For the most part, I think I've succeeded, and I certainly have plenty of students who love showing me pictures on their cell phones or pages from whatever cartoon they're reading and won't stop talking long enough for me to start class, but I also have the silent kids and I don't know how to motivate them.

The test itself was pretty simple. We just finished Lesson 13: That's Too Bad, which is all about illnesses and using them as an excuse to get out of doing things. I took the students into the back room, showed them a few pictures of people suffering various ailments and had them describe the pictures. He's sick, he has a cold. She's hurt, she had a bloody nose. I was sick over the weekend and I still have a deep hacking cough, so when the more confident students came for their test, I turned my head, coughed into my hand and asked, "What's wrong with Teacher?" It confused a few of the kids, but most of them thought it was funny and the answers ranged from Teacher has a cough to Teacher has a bad cold to Teacher has swine flu.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Can You Find Santa?

Lesson 13: Merry ChristmasThe 3rd graders started Lesson 13: Merry Christmas today. For Christ's sake, it's only mid-November! Granted, I'm a bit ahead of schedule since, for some reason, my school has scheduled final exams on December 8th, even though winter break doesn't begin until December 31st, and I'm trying to cover as much of the textbook as I can before the exam. Don't ask me why exams are so early OR what I'm going to be doing the few weeks of the semester. However, while we are ahead, we're ahead by like, a week, so in no way is it seasonally appropriate for Santa to appear on screen, granting Christmas wishes. It could be worse, though. The 4th graders studied their Christmas themed chapter (Chapter 11: How Much Is It?) at the beginning of October.

The lesson's key expressions are Can you find ______? and Yes, I can/No I can't find ______, but the kids were having trouble pronouncing the word find. Can you fly Santa? Can you like Santa? My favorite was Yes, I can fight Santa. Three classes in, I finally realized the problem was I have a cold and my nose is so stuffy, I wasn't pronouncing find clearly, so the kids were just substituting any word they already knew that sounded close in place of find.

I am made of win this week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

바보, Cait

Michelle and I gave the 5th graders a test today, mostly as punishment for making me want to defenestrate them last week. There were several sections, including three sentences written in Korean for the students to translated into English. I was looking over the test while the kids worked and Michelle asked if I could translate the Korean sentences. I started sounding out the words* and translating under my breath.

그녀는 무엇을 하고 있니? Well, it's a question, 무엇을 means what, 그녀는 means she and 있니 means is, which give me What is she something. The title of Chapter 11 (one of the chapters being tested) is What Is She Doing? and anyways, I'm pretty sure 하고 means do, so 그녀는 무엇을 하고 있니? must mean What is she doing?

그는 노래하고 있어. 그는 and 있어 are he and is and 노래 is the first part of the Korean word for karaoke room and hey, I think 노래하고 would literally translate to do song, which means singing. 그는 노래하고 있어 means He is singing.

나는 달리고 있어. Well, as per the last two sentences, 있어 still means is and 나는 means I. I am something. 달리고, where do I know that from? Oh right, that's what my co-teachers are always telling the students when them come tearing into the classroom at top speed. 나는 달리고 있어 means I am running.

I looked up from the paper, pleased with awesome Korean skillz, only to find the fifth graders in the front row hanging onto my every word and frantically scribbling down the answers I had just inadvertently given them.

One of the boys gave me a thumbs up and said, "Thanks, Teacher."

Michelle looked at me and said, "You can't say the sentences out loud."

"I didn't think I'd be able to translate them," I wailed softly.

바보, Cait.**

*While I've been able to read Korean for almost two years now, I still don't recognize many words that aren't place names, so I have to sound things out when I read and sometimes, they turn out to be words I know.

**바보 - dumb, stupid, foolish

Sunday, November 14, 2010

G20 Seoul Summit 2010

G20 Seoul Summit 2010The G20 summit was held in Seoul on Thursday and Friday. It was impossible to miss; people were already talking about the G20 summit when I moved here TWO years ago. This was the first G20 summit held in an Asian country, and Koreans were proud to be the hosting country. The past few weeks have practically been an onslaught of information about the G20. Every bus had an advertisement about the summit, every time I turned on the TV (which, admittedly wasn't often) the news was running a feature about the G20 and major Western news publications were talking about Korea, a rarity. My students were even interested, and amidst Thursday's chatter about Pepero, I heard more than one mention of Obama and the G20.

Despite large-scale protests before the summit and the US State Department issuing a traveling warning for Seoul, the G20 Seoul Summit was relatively peaceful. On Thursday night, I went to Iteawon, the major foreign district in Seoul, and while there were special G20 police in the subways and troops of police wearing riot armor patrolling the streets and guarding the subway exits, I had no problems and didn't see any protesters. I'm glad the G20 summit is over, that it went off smoothly and that Korea got some positive attention from the rest of the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

3rd Graders, Part 37405

In what is probably the most adorable abduction ever, I was kidnapped by 3rd graders yesterday. Due to complicated and boring reasons, there was a scheduling mishap and two classes (3-3 and 6-4) were both scheduled to being in the English Zone during 5th period AND they both had to come early, when the 4th graders were cleaning, meaning everyone converged on my classroom at once. The 4th graders were frustrated, the 6th graders were confused and the 3rd graders were crazy, as they are usually are. I tried to herd the 3rd graders to the other English classroom, but it was also being cleaned by 4th graders, leaving me stuck in the hallway, the center of a wriggling pile of 3rd graders, like some an adorable Asian rat king. The kids, probably sensing weakness, begin to drag me down the hall, I think to their classroom where presumable I would have been kept as a human jungle gym, but I'm not really sure since my queries of "어디 가요?" only resulted in shocked gasps and shouts of, "Teacher, Korean speaking very good!" I like to think I could have broken away since my 3rd graders are mostly pint sized, but there was a dozen of them and only one of me, so I'm not sure.

I really love my 3rd graders.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Introducing 태세종

Tae SeJong (태세종)A few weeks ago, Yeong Eun, the former 6th grade co-teacher, had her baby, a little boy named Sejong, and on Wednesday, the 3rd grade teachers, Nicole and I went to visit her. (The different special area teachers are grouped with different grades for administrative purposes, so the English teachers are all considered 3rd grade teachers, even though only two of us actually teach 3rd grade.) We used our cultural activity day* to leave school early, and before going to Yeong Eun's house, we first had to stop by the Seongnam Art Center and take a group photo to document our "cultural activity."

Yeong Eun is observing samchilil (삼칠일), literally 21 Days, the traditional Korean postpartum rituals. Samchilil requires that mother and child stay warm and cloistered in the house for the first twenty-one days, and that the mother primarily eat seaweed soup (미역국) and avoid anything cold, spicy or hard. They also aren't allowed to bath for the three weeks following birth. All this is to ease the child's transition from the womb to real life, but apparently doesn't preclude visitors. Sejong (who was named after the most famous of the Korean monarchs) is an adorable baby. He slept most of the visit, but he was constantly making faces and rolling his eyes, which was hilarious. I got to hold him for a long while, which reduced to me cooing puddle of baby talk, which only my co-teachers noticed, since none of the third grade teachers could understand me to begin with.

*One day each semester, a grade's teachers can leave early for some sort of cultural activity. Last year, I went to the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

Tae SeJong (태세종)
Welcome to the world, baby boy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pepero Day!

Today is both the start of the G20 Summit and Pepero Day. I'll admit, I'm enjoying the irony of Seoul hosting a conference for twenty of the world's largest economies during one of the most crassly commercial holiday I've ever heard of. Pepero Day was dreamt up less than twenty years ago by Lotte, the manufacturers of Pepero, as a way to boost sales. The date was chosen because, held side-by-side, four sticks of Pepero look like 11/11. And it works; over half of Pepero sales in Korea are during November. Every convenience store I've been in for the past week has had a huge Pepero display next to the register and my students spend today running around the school, handing out Pepero, demanding Pepero from their friends and in general Pepero Pepero 빼빼로!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Korean Census

Korea is taking its census this year and for the past few weeks, census worker have been going door to door in my neighborhood, canvassing the residents. They've visited me three times, but the first two times it was late, after 10:00, and I was already in pajamas and reading in bed, and didn't want to bother getting up and answering the door. Last night, they came at a more reasonable hour while I was cleaning the kitchen and looking for a diversion. The census collector was an adjumma who spoke little English. After spending a few minutes explaining the census to me in Korean and me explaining that while I understood what she wanted, but I didn't have the Korean vocabulary to fill out a form, she told me to wait ten minutes and went in search of an English census form for me to fill out.

The first part was pretty basic. How many people lived at my residence? My nationality and education and how long I had lived in Korea? The second part, questions about my apartment, was more difficult. How many bedrooms/living rooms/kitchens does the apartment have? Technically one of each, but that feels disingenuous since my apartment only has one room. I don't know the details about rent, since my school provides my housing, and I don't even know how big a pyeong (Korean unit of measurement) is, much less how many pyeongs my apartment is. I left a few of those questions blank.

I have now been duly counted as part of the Korean population. I left for Korea before the US held its census, and therefore wasn't counted. If I can't be considered a part of my country's population, at least I'm counted as part of the world's population.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ulleungdo, Mysterious Island: Day 3

(Arrr, this was suppose to be Tuesday's post. I wrote most of it at school and was going to add the final bits once I got home, only I went home to a broken internet. I shook my fist menacingly and turned the modem on and off many times, but it remained broken and this is being backdated from school Wednesday morning. When it became apparent that the internet wasn't coming back before went to bed, I briefly considered running to the nearest PC bang to post it, but that would require putting on pants and braving the cold. I'm sure you understand.)

Dokdo Observatory, Ulleungdo
Haengnam Shore Walkway as seen from the Dokdo Observatory

Ulleungdo, day 3. Tuesday morning, our last day on the island, dawned bright and clear and there was much grumbling that we had to evacuate now that the weather had finally cleared up. We took advantage of the good weather and rode the cable car to the Dokdo Observatory. On clear days, the island of Dokdo, 54 miles away, is faintly visible from the observatory, but most days it's too hazy to see. There were, however, some spectacular views of the coastline. On the way back to town, Caroline and I stopped to explore Haedosa (Haedo Temple), a Buddhist temple in Dodong. It was tiny, just a few buildings, but it was new and all the paint was bright and fresh.

It was warm and sunny, with clear blue skies for the first time in WEEKS, and it was hard to believe that a storm was suppose to hit that afternoon, but half way through the three hour ferry ride back to the mainland, the sky turned gray, the sea turned choppy and by the time the boat reached Donghae Harbor, we had to duck our heads to the rain as we ran to the bus. By the time we reached the first rest stop, the rain was coming down in sheets. We were maybe an hour into the trip when I felt the bus start to hydroplane and then shake as we slid off the road and onto the shoulder. Everyone was sitting up, trying to figure out what had just happened, when the second bus hit the back corner, raining broken glass down on the passengers, and scrapped its way down the length of the bus until it too rocked to a stop. In the middle of the craziness and confusion and demands for explanations and bemoaning how late this was going to make us getting back to Seoul, someone looked out the window and realized there was a body lying on the pavement and I stopped worrying about anything as trivial as when I was getting home that evening.

As near as anyone can tell, there was a two-car wreck and the passengers were thrown out of their vehicles. Our bus swerved to avoid the wreck, hydroplaned off the road and was hit by the other bus. We spent an hour and half on the road side, waiting for the emergency services and tow trucks to show. A few members of the group had first aid and CPR training and were able to help, and the two men were taken to the hospital in critical but stable condition. One member of our group was also taken to the hospital with a concussion.

I got a call from a friend just after the accident happened, before we knew that the two men were still alive, asking something about a SnB lunch meet up and the rain and the subways not working? I had other things on my mind. Then later, once we were safely, albeit a bit jumpy every time the bus driver hit the breaks, back on the road to Seoul, Marie called me to ask if I knew anything about the flooding in Seoul. Both of us were out of town, but she was watching the news and apparently Seoul was underwater and the subways were closed due to standing water on the tracks. I groaned because, Lord, I just wanted to get home, but miraculously, when we pulled up to Seoul Express Bus Terminal, the worst of the flooding has subsided, most of the water had been pumped out of the subway and by some miracle, I was able to catch the last train home. Say what you like about the Korean work ethic, but it gets things done. Imagine the reaction if a major American city's public transit was shut down by flash flooding on the equivalent of Christmas Eve (assuming that Christmas Eve was also a national holiday) and workers were called in to get the subways running.

Dokdo Observatory, Ulleungdo
Haedosa, Dodong, Ulleungdo Haedosa, Dodong, Ulleungdo
Dried Squid, Dodong, Ulleungdo
Top: Looking east towards Dokdo from the Dokdo Observatory; Middle: Buddha statue at Haedosa (left), Things Wot You Find On Ulleungdo: squid, dolphins, sea turtles, and a octopus that will cook itself into a delicious ojing-eo bulgogi (right); Bottom: Drying squid

More photos are here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Song Meme: S

The song meme that's going around. I was given the letter S.

  1. Reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter.
  2. List (and upload) 5 songs you love that begin with that letter.
  3. Post them to your journal with these instructions.
  1. - Shake the Sheets - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (from Shake the Sheets) - I strongly associate this album with the six months I lived in Rocky Mount. I had a forty minute commute to work and I could listen to the whole album on the drive. I especially like the references to I-95, the interstate I used to get to work.

  2. - Shine - Carbon Leaf (from Echo Echo) - Carbon Leaf is a Virginia based rock band with Celtic and Bluegrass influences and I love the way they blend the different sounds together. I love the range of instruments they use in their music and I love the lead singer Barry Privett's voice.

  3. - Sing Me Spanish Techno - The New Pornographers (from Twin Cinema) - I love almost everything The New Pornographers have made and I can't help but notice that a song that contains the lyrics "listening too long to one song" is one of my most listened to songs.

  4. - Squalor Victoria - The National (from The Boxer) - The drums in the intro to this song are mesmerizing. This is another song I associate with a long commute, and drumming along on my steering wheel and hoping that I don't accidentally hit the horn.

  5. - 쏘리 쏘리 (Sorry, Sorry) - Super Junior (슈주) (from Sorry, Sorry) - This is the song that made me go from "lol, Kpop is hilarious" to "I can't stop listening to this song IT'S SO ADDICTIVE!" SuJu, you are the reason I am a Kpop fan! *shakes fist* SuJu, you are also the reason I can not convince my students that 'sorry' doesn't begin with an 'sh' sound. However, you are also the reason why, whenever reprimanded, my students rub their hands together in supplication, à la the music video, and say, "Teacher, shorry, shorry," and that's funny enough that I forgive you for everything. (SuJu, I love you, never stop making manufactured pop music!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daegu Weekend Round-Up

Mountains hiked: only one, but it was really big
Food eaten: so much food, ~so much
Korean porn channels on the love motel TV: only two
Number of Buddha statues seen: 4
Number of powdered reindeer horn signs seen: more than I can count
Minutes to spare catching the bus back to Seoul: 2
Hours late our bus was getting back to Seoul: almost 2, damn leafers
Amount of fun had: quite a lot
Chance that I'm going to finish the Ulleungdo travelogue tonight: same as a snowball's chance in hell

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ulleungdo, Mysterious Island: Day 2

Ulleungdo, day 2. On Monday morning, the group went on a bus ride around Ulleungdo. Ulleungdo is small, but there isn't a road the circumnavigates that island, so we drove most of the way around the island, and then turned around and drove back the same way. There are a number of rock formations that supposedly look like animals just off the coast and the bus driver took care to point out every single one in great detail. That rock is a turtle, diving in the ocean, with a baby turtle on its back and that right there is the baby turtle's man penis. This is the elephant rock and the small rock behind it? Yeah, that's the elephant's dung. Near the end of the tour, we drove through a natural stone bridge that is suppose to look like a vagina. Male drivers like to drive part way through, back up and drive through again. They also like to say, "I'm coming," as they drive through and sometimes hit the windshield wiper spray as he drove through. Stay classy, adjoshi.

After the bus ride and lunch, a smaller group took the ferry to Dokdo. Dokdo is... it's complicated. Dokdo is comprised of two main islets and 35 smaller rocks in the middle of of a watery nowhere that is right smack dab in between Korea and Japan. Both countries claim sovereignty over the rocks, and while Dokdo is situated over rich fishing grounds and a possible natural gas reservoir, the controversy has less to do with economics and more to do with the 400-year-long feud between Korea and Japan and Korea's lingering resentment over Japanese invasions. This is Japan vs. Korea, round three thousand, and it has become a matter of intense nationalistic importance in Korea. While Dokdo is disputed territory, it is administered by South Korea and the only residents are Korean. There is a daily ferry between Ulleungdo and Dokdo for tourists, and after a year and a half of seeing adds about Dokdo, hearing songs about Dokdo, seeing kindergarteners dressed like the Korean flag dance about Dokdo and having tiny 4th graders beseechingly tell me, "Teacher, Dokdo is Korea," I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see the island for myself.

I've now been to Dokdo and, well, they're rocks. Rocks in the middle of nowhere, but if I have to choose a side, I'm on Team Korea. Visitors were restricted to the wharf, but Caroline and I clambered up the rocky sides of the island, and if we can't say we've stood on Dokdo, we can at least claim to have perched precariously on Dokdo. We played rock-paper-scissors since it was the most Korean thing we could think of besides kimchi, and neither of us had any kimchi handy.

It rained pretty much the entire first two days. From the sporadic rain Sunday morning (a rude awakening to my beach nap, let me tell you) to the pouring rain Sunday night which canceled the cable car trip to the light mist that obscured views during the bus ride, it was a wet trip, and while on Dokdo, I overheard some of the staff talking about a big storm that might shut down the ferries and leave us stranded on the island. Monday night, the Adventure Korea staff told us that due to an approaching storm, the ferries back to the mainland would be closed on Wednesday, Thursday and possible Friday and, faced with the options of either being stranded on Ulleungdo, five to a hotel room, during heavy rains or leaving a day and a half early, they had decided to cut the trip short. An extra ferry would be running the next day at noon to take people back to the mainland, and we had less than twenty four hours left on Ulleungdo.

One of the bridges along the Haengnam Shore Walkway crossed over a cove wide enough and deep enough to jump into. On Sunday's hike, part of the group had jumped off the bridge and gone swimming, but I hadn't wanted to finish the hike in a wet bathing suit, so I stayed on dry land and planned to come back later in the trip. Thanks to the change in departure, my only chance was to go that night, so after dinner, Caroline and I donned bathing suits and walked back to the trail to go swimming. At first we weren't going to jump on the bridge; it was five or six hours later than when people had original jumped, we weren't sure how the tide might have affected the water depth and the lights on that section of the walkway were out, so we would be jumping blind. We climbed down the side of the coast next to the bridge to check the water, and while it seemed deep enough, we discovered that the railing along the walkway was mildly electrified. We couldn't feel it when we were dry, but once we were wet, it stung like a bitch every time we touched the metal railing. Instead of electrocuting ourselves, we decided to just go swimming in the East Sea and, come time to get out, scare the bejesus out the Koreans dinning on the nearby dimly-lit beach by rising out of the waters like some 외국인 Monsters From the Black Lagoon. While we were swimming, a Korean family hiking along the pathway above noticed us and shouted out a greeting.

"Hi," the little girl shouted to us.

"Hi," Caroline and I shouted back, and immediately she launched into a torrent of broken English. Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? Do you like kimchi? I love Korea! At one point I asked her how old she was and her father, who was standing next to her, shouted back, "I am 41 years old."

We swam until we started to get cold, and then walked back to our clothes at the bridge. While we were drying off, the Adventure Korea staff showed up, a bit drunk, to go bridge jumping. Caroline and I warned them about the electrified fence, but since they were dry and couldn't feel it, they didn't believe us until after they had jumped into the ocean and were electrified trying to slither under the fence back onto the walkway. There was lots of shouting and swearing and laughing (from Caroline and me). After a few jumps, the staff convinced Caroline and I to join in, and I ended up jumping off the bridge once. It wasn't that high of a jump, or at least that's what I thought until I had climbed over the railing on the bridge and was looking into the dark ocean below and realized that, oh crap, I was going to have to let go of my death grip on the rail. It was a lot of fun, though, and worth that brief moment of panic.

Elephant Rock, Ulleungdo
Samseonam Rocks (Three Fairy Rocks), Ulleungdo Dokdo
Top: Elephant Rock with elephant poop; Middle: Samseonam Rocks representing "the three fairies who were stuck on views here changed to those three rocks," according to the guide I picked up at the minbak (left), Seodo (western islet) of Dokdo (right); Bottom: 가위바위보! Dokdo is Korea!

More photos are here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ulleungdo, Mysterious Island: Day 1

Harbor at Dodong-ri, Ulleungdo
Dodong Harbor, Ulleungdo

Over Chuseok break (yes, that was over a month ago) I went to Ulleungdo with Adventure Korea. I tried really hard to book this trip to Ulleungdo by myself, but Ulleungdo is a remote island and Chuseok is the most traveled holiday in Korea. I spent a long week in early September frantically trying to juggle bus, train and ferry schedules, but I gave up right around the time I realized that the only ferry from Ulleungdo reached the mainland a mere thirty minutes after the last train back to Seoul departed. Caroline emailed me that afternoon asking if I wanted to go on the Adventure Korea trip to Ulleungdo with her, and I said sign me up.

We left Seoul just after midnight on Sunday morning, September 19th, bound for Donghae City and Chuam Beach. The idea was to sleep on the bus, although I'm not sure how, since a) we were on a bus (other people seemed to have less trouble with this than me) and b) we stopped at a rest spot every hour, effectively waking most people up. We reached Chuam Beach at 4:30 in the morning.

"Good morning," our guide chirped over the loudspeaker, waking us up again. "We're at the beach, but sunrise isn't for another few hours, so you can keep napping.

The engined turned off, the AC stopped and the bus started to get stuffy. A few rows ahead of me, a man started to snore. Caroline looked over at me and asked, "Sleep on the beach?"

"Oh yeah!" I said. We walked down to the beach and I dozed off to the sound of the surf crashing against the beach and the knowledge that when I woke up, my bra would somehow have sand in it. Sunrise at Chuam Beach is suppose to be spectacular; it's even shown on the morning news while the national anthem plays, but thanks to clouds and early morning drizzle, there wasn't a sunrise. It just got progressively lighter and lighter until it was morning. Shortly after sunrise, a patrol of soldiers marched down the beach.

"Why are there soldiers?" asked Cameron, a fellow teacher who had just arrived in Korea two weeks earlier. "This is a beach!"

"North Korea," I told him. Donghae is only eighty miles from the DMZ, and many of the beaches in the area are lined with barbed wire and closed to the public. It's easy to forget since South Korea is so nonchalant about it, but the Korean peninsula is technically still at war.

Our ferry to Ulleungdo departed from Donghae at 10:00, and after sunrise, we left the beach and went into town for breakfast. It was before 8:00 on a Sunday morning, the weekend before a holiday, and not much was opened, but we eventually found a Dunkin' Donuts willing to open early for a chance to make money off a group of 90 foreigners desperate to not eat kimchi for breakfast. We drank our coffee, ate our donuts and were stared at by the poor cashier who really hadn't though her morning would be that busy, much less involve that much English. The ferry ride was uneventful; other people complained of a rough ride, but I slept the whole way. We reached Dodong Harbor on Ulleungdo by 1:00 and walked to our minbak, a Korean style bed and breakfast with a mat on the floor in place of a bed, for lunch.

After lunch, we hiked along the Haengnam Shore Walkway. It was a nice hike, meandering along the coast. Ulleungdo is a volcanic island and in many places, there were steep drops from the edge of the island to the ocean. The path clung to the side of the coast, starting near the water and then climbing high above the shore before dropping back down to the ocean, with bridges spanning small coves of startling clear blue water. The hike was suppose to lead to the Dodong Lighthouse, but when Caroline and I reached the end of the coastal walkway, the trail turned inland with no sight of a lighthouse, just a pier stretching out into the ocean. Turns out the lighthouse was another forty minute hike inland, but we amused ourselves by wandered down to the pier and climbed on the A-jacks forming the breakwater.

The group was suppose to take a cable car to the Dokdo Observatory before dinner, but by the time we made it back to the minbak, it had started to rain heavily. The Dokdo Observatory was postponed until another, hopefully clear, day and one of the staffers looked at the group assembled on the front steps of the hostel and said, "Well, I guess it's time to start drinking." Caroline trekked through the rain to the FamilyMart for soju and orange juice and we ended up in a group playing cards on the front porch until dinner.

Chuam Beach, Donghae-si, Gangwon-do
Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo
Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo
Top: Soldiers on Chuam Beach; Middle: Waves crashing against the breakwater on the Haengnam Shore Walkway (left), Stone cairn along the Haengnam Shore Walkway (right); Bottom: Haengnam Shore Walkway

More photos are here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Mundane Side of NaBloPoMo

Four days into NaBloPoMo, and I still haven't talked about anything that has happened in November, which I feel isn't being true to the spirit of the month. The problem is, I haven't *done* anything so far this month. I wake up (usually a few minutes past the okay-you-have-to-get-out-of-bed-NOW point; I've been really tired this week), taught class (or not, since the 6th grades are on a week long retreat and I don't have class on Wednesday or Friday) and then gone home. No plans after work and my students have declined to say anything cute that could be turned into blog fodder. THANKS A LOT, KIDS.

The most exciting part of today was playing hangman with the 4th graders who clean my classroom during lunch. They love hangman, but they're terrible at it. They have no concept of what letter are popular or what letter combination don't exist in English or that x is a fake letter and will never ever be used in a word, no seriously kids, for the love of God, stop always guessing x, it will never be x. We played a few rounds using the vocabulary from class today, and then they took over using the words printed around the classroom. Cute? Yes. Exciting? Not so much.

The dark, mundane side of NaBloPoMo.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

GEPIK Training: Korean Culture Tour

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion @ Gyeongbokgung

I had GEPIK training last Wednesday. GEPIK is the program in charge of native English teachers in the Gyeonggi public schools. Periodically they hold training sessions and I make faces and complain because I'm a bitter cynic, but last week's training was a Korean Culture Tour, so I was marginally interested. It was suppose to be for new GEPIK teachers - most of the other teachers had only been in Korea for a month or two, and one girl had only been here for five days - and I'm not quite sure why I was included, since I'm new to neither Korea nor GEPIK. There had been a cold snap the day before and I got to play the part of grizzled veteran as the newer teachers asked about the weather.  No, your school isn't going to start heating the hallways, and yes, the windows will stay open all winter. Just wait until January when you have students wearing six layers asking you to open the window because they're so hot.  On the plus side, it only took me a year to start eating kimchi and K-pop is actually quite catchy.  WELCOME TO KOREA!

We went to Gyeongbokgung, the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven, the largest and most important of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul. I visited last year, but I hadn't been back since the restorations of the main gate were completed and I had wanted to visit at least one of the palaces this fall when the leaves were changing, just to take pictures. We arrived just as the changing of the guard ceremony started and once we started the tour, we immediately ran into a royal procession near Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. The royal procession included Korean and English narration and my favorite part of the day was the poor man, dressed in the traditional jeonbok, draped with speakers for the guide's PA system. I laughed and laughed, although I waited until after I look the photo to do it because, dude, embarrassing historical costumes and the long suffering faces of those wearing them, I know thee well.

Changing of the Guard @ Gyeongbokgung

Royal Procession @ Gyeongbokgung Royal Procession @ Gyeongbokgung

We were taken on a guided tour of the palace, which was actually pretty great because it meant I could ask question - my geekiness, let me show it to you - and I finally, after two years here, learned the named of the traditional eaves painting that I've seen at every temple, palace and gate I've visited in this country. (Dancheong (단청), by the way, and since I didn't write it down, I still had to spend a solid half hour Googling to find it again once I was home.) The last stop was the National Folk Museum of Korea, which we didn't actually visit. Instead we huddled by a group of twelve statues, each one representing one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. It also listed the dates of each animal, which is how I learned that the placemats at every Chinese buffet I've ever been to were LYING TO ME and thanks to discrepancies between the solar and lunar new years, I was actually born in the year of the rat, not the year of the ox. Quite a blow for a girl to find out she's forthright, tenacious and intense instead of dependable, ambitious, calm as this point in her life.

Gyotaejeon @ Gyeongbokgung
Dancheong painting on the upturned eaves of the Gyotaejeon.

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion @ Gyeongbokgung
Bridge to Hyangwonjeong Pavilion

The rest of the photos are here.