"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)

Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education. 
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch. 


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Day

          Well, we had a bit of a white Christmas, after all. But let me start from the beginning. 

 Christmas morning, Jon and I exchanged presents. He got me mittens on a string (sooo convenient :) ), a travel coffee mug (I've really been needing one) from Starbucks that says Korea on it and has pictures of Korean stuff, and gift certificates to Kyobo bookstore, a chain we have in Jeonju and that there is a huge branch of in Seoul. Actually, the gift certificates were homemade, with the Kyobo logo on nice little envelopes with cash inside. See, I had told Jon that that was what I wanted, but when he tried to get them, he found out that Kyobo doesn't have gift certificates. So, I figured I wasn't getting that. So I was nicely surprised to get one anyway. :) 
        I had gotten Jon a digital camera, which he loved. I figured that, since we were in Korea and are going to Thailand, he really needed a camera. And he's definitely already used it plenty. 
After presents, I made french toast, and then Skyped my dad and sisters. It was Christmas Eve there, and Anna and Erin were quite hyper.  
After talking for a while, Jon and I headed out to the Hanok Village, the traditional area of the city. It was a beautiful morning, and after just a few minutes, it started to snow big, fat flakes. We walked around a while, and visited a calligraphy museum and the cultural center. We also found a HUGE, awesome swing. Of course, we swung on it. It was quite fun.
Then we figured we were cold enough, and headed to a traditional tea house to warm up with a cup of tea. It was a really cute place...we sat in a smaller building off the main tea house, with only two tables. It was made in the traditional Korean style-- wooden with white plaster walls and the paper windows and doors. And heated floors, which I loooove. The tea was good too--loose-leaf tea that was dried just outside. 
After tea, we stopped by Isaac Toast for a quick snack. Isaac Toast is a chain of tiny storefront food places that makes sandwiches on toast, such as egg and cheese; egg, cheese and ham; hamburgers; etc. It's quite yummy, and pretty cheap. Jon and I both had hamburgers, then headed off in a taxi to Spa La Qua, our favorite spa-type place. 
Spa La Qua was nice, and relaxing, but more crowded than usual, so we only stayed about 3 hours. Then we came home and got ready for dinner. We had reservations for 8 pm at an Italian Restaurant. This one is a real italian restaurant, as opposed to the Korean-style ones that don't quite taste right, because it has a real Italian chef. Who happens to be one of our friends. Dinner was amazing. We got bread, salad and an amazing pumpkin soup, then our entrees. I got Gorgonzola pasta....mmmmmm, it was delicious. I miss cheese. :) So that was nice. Jon got gnocci in tomato sauce, which was quite good also. We had a bottle of white wine with dinner, then I had tiramisu for dessert, and Jon had cheesecake. And it was real cheesecake! That's in short supply around here...usually 'cheesecake' tastes like bland spongecake. 
After dinner, I Skyped my mom and sisters. That was nice, although I was surprised to find that they hadn't started opening presents yet...it was 9am there, and I can remember not too long ago when we were almost done with presents by then. But they opened the presents I had sent them while they were talking to me, which was cool. 
All in all, it was quite a nice Christmas, relaxing and fun. And it snowed!!! Though it still didn't really feeeeel like Christmas. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Next 4 Years

         For those of you who haven't heard yet, I was recently accepted into American University's Washington College of Law for fall 2009. American is located in Washington, DC, and its international law program was ranked 5th in the nation by US News and World Report. I've been talking to a lot of you at various points, but I wanted to write a little about the program I'm planning on doing, and all of the opportunities I'll have at WCL that I wouldn't have at other law schools many people think of as more prestigious, like Harvard and Yale (Yale, by the way, was tied with American for Int'l Law). I looked at a lot of those schools, but they just didn't have what I was looking for. 
        So, what am I looking for? I want to study international human rights law. That can involve anything from refugees to war crimes tribunals to petitions to stop construction of factories that pollute across borders. American U. has a joint degree program that would grant me a law degree (JD) and a masters in international affairs, with one of about 10 specializations, many having to do with human rights. It is a strong, institutionalized program, with 200 students in it right now, as opposed to most similar programs at other schools, which are smaller or must be designed on an individual basis, and focus usually on the business side of international law. I want to do a joint degree because that way, I can practice law or go into policy, and either way I'd have a strong background and a broader knowledge base. I still haven't heard from the School for International Service, where I would get my masters, because they just got my application forwarded once WCL accepted me. But even if I don't get it, I can apply after my first year at WCL, which will not set me back because my first year I would take all law courses anyway.
        Beyond the joint degree program, there are many other benefits to WCL. There are four summer abroad programs (Chile/Europe [Geneva, Brussels, London and Paris)/The Hague/Turkey) that focus on international law and development/human rights issues. These programs are a month long, and many participants are able to get internships abroad for the rest of the summer in the location they studied. That would give me invaluable international experience. 
      Speaking of invaluable international experience, the Dean of the law school is a chair of the UN's Committee Against Torture, and every year he chooses 6 students to help prepare for the meetings and take a special class on torture and international law, then they go to Geneva for the meetings and attend meetings with the Committee and State delegations. 
      There's also the War Crimes Research Office, where students, professors, staff and outside experts prepare research for War Crimes Tribunals. And the American University International Law Review, a student-written law review focusing on International Law. And the Human Rights Brief, another student publication. And the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition, held at American every year, with participants from almost every country in Latin America, usually from multiple universities in each country, and from all over the US and Canada. 
      There are also numerous courses pertaining to international human rights law, and the interaction of law and development, economics, politics, etc. Plus, being in Washington, DC itself provides many opportunities. 
    I am very excited about this, although I know it will be very hard. When I visited American and WCL last spring, I knew it was somewhere I could feel comfortable, and somewhere I would learn a lot, from classes, professors and other students. Just wanted you all to know what's going on. : )

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the Season...

   Well, we knew it would be an extended Christmas season when, on November 1st, the Lotte Department Store near our apartment put up a huge, pretty horrendous christmas tree outside. It is basically a triangular-cone-thing of solid white lights that flash, with a star on top. But none the less, it heralded the beginning of the Christmas season. A season that it now in full swing. 

While many stores are decorated, it still doesn't really feel like Christmas. There's not really any lights outside, and it's only snowed really once in December. Although that day was beautiful-- it snowed all day and most of the night; big fat flakes covering everything. Jon and I walked around in it, trying to go get some cocoa in the University area. Unfortunately, the snow-removal system (assuming there is one) hadn't kicked in, and the roads were terrible. Plus, there were no taxis to be had. So, we walked to a nearby coffee shop and, the hems of our pants covered in snow and my feet freezing in my clogs, we finally got our cocoa. 

     That was the first Friday in December. That weekend, we went up to Seoul for some Christmas shopping and Christmas spirit. From our experience of the roads the night before, we decided on the train Saturday morning. It was a beautiful train ride. Most of the countryside was still covered in snow, the fields white with snow-covered hay bales and temples sticking up from the outlines of snowy hills. The train snaked through the mountains and over partially-frozen rivers spotted with birds in mid-migration. 

    However, the snow had melted by the time we got to Seoul. There, it was just cold. Right next to the station was a huge electronics store, where we went to browse the camera supplies (for me) and iPod accessories (for Jon). I came really close to buying a camera lens, since they were much cheaper than I have found them, but I decided I should be saving money for Christmas presents and our upcoming trip to Thailand (!!). But still, the vendors let my try out some lenses on my camera body, and that was pretty fun and tempting... :)  

   After some more browsing, we headed to the hostel we had booked online. Although the directions were a little confusing on paper (walk past such-and-such store, turn behind this other store...), they made perfect sense once we got off the subway. The hostel, called Golden Pond Hostel, is a very cute, tiny hostel in an area near one of the many universities in Seoul. There were plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, and it was only a few blocks from the subway. The woman who runs it speaks very good English, and was friendly. We didn't spend much time there, though-- just dropped off our things and left to venture towards Insa-dong.

   Insa-dong is my favorite part of Seoul. For those of you familiar with Burlington, VT, it's like an even-cooler Church street. For everyone else, it's a neighborhood built around a street that closes to cars during the day and evening. Many shops sell traditional Korean crafts and artwork (so can sometimes be a bit touristy), but it's also really artsy and has galleries, cafes and teahouses, and a myriad of antiques dealers with some pretty fascinating artifacts. I found some Mexican pesos from the 1800s (nope, sorry, didn't buy them....this time. I have no idea how much they cost), along with the more common old scroll paintings, buddhist statues, wooden carvings and ancient-looking books. 

   The walk to Insa-dong took only about 20 minutes, but it was freeeeeezing. Maybe we should've taken the subway. It was late afternoon by the time we got there, and the sun was setting. We wandered for a few hours, buying Christmas presents for our families. When we got hungry, we went to this Indian place we had seen on the second floor of one of the buildings, but when we got there, I started to think better of it. First, it didn't smell like Indian food. This is not a good sign, since Indian food had such a strong and unique smell that permeates everything--when I cook Indian, the apartment smells like it for days. Second, the menu was quite short, and included mostly samosas and drinks, with only 2 or 3 main dishes. Third, it was a little over-decorated with Indian deco. So, we left. 

   After dropping our bags off at the hostel (this time, we were smart and took the subway back), we went to a Vietnamese noodle restaurant that we had seen earlier in the afternoon. This place was much better! It was so little and cute, and more importantly, staffed with actual Vietnamese people. I got Vietnamese vermicelli, which was served cold with sauce, cucumbers, pineapple, carrots and other veggies. And, of course, spring rolls. Mmmmmmm. And they gave us yummy yummy tea. 

   After dinner, we wandered for a little, and decided to try out the DVD rooms. DVD rooms are basically like your own private movie theater, but more comfy. They're places where you pick out a movie to watch, then they send you to a little room where you watch it. Jon and I hadn't been to one yet, but friends of ours said they were fun. Plus they're cheap. So, after much deliberation, we picked "Sweeny Todd," and were directed to our room. There was a big couch/bed/cushion thing in the room, and a big TV. It was pretty fun, and the movie was good. Except for the many gore-y parts. All in all, a great concept-- you can pick whatever movie you want (they have a ton) and it's pretty cheap. 

   That night, when we got back to the hostel around 11pm, people were already asleep in the room we were in (it was a room with 3 bunk beds. There hadn't been anyone elses' stuff there in the afternoon), so we just went right to bed. It was pretty quiet, with only a few people opening the door during the night. Unfortunately, there were no windows, so when I woke up at 10, it felt like 7. That morning, Jon and I went our separate ways to buy each others' presents, so I won't go into detail about my adventures that morning in case he reads this... :) But we had agreed to meet back at the hostel to go out for lunch afterwards. Of course, I was running about 1/2 hour late, but it was okay since Jon ended up being about 1 1/2 hours late :). So I hung out at the hostel with the owner, chatting a little, reading my book and drinking a nice mug of tea she made me. 

    When Jon finally made it back, we packed up our backpacks and went into central Seoul to look around a little, then to the train station. We ended up wandering downtown and eating lunch at Quiznos, honestly one of my favorite restaurants in Seoul because sometimes, you just need a good sandwich, and there's really nothing deli-like in Jeonju, not even good bread or lunch meats to make subs. (Except one place in the University area but it's still not as good) 

   Anyway, this was supposed to be about Christmas time in Korea. It's still pretty Christmas-y in stores, but not really outside-- no lights on houses, or big trees. We bought a HUGE tub of candy canes at Costco in November, so we've been giving them out to students as prizes when we play games in class. Also, I had my students make paper snowflakes last week, which they loved, and we used them to decorate my classroom, which now looks like it's experiencing a blizzard. And then I made a Christmas tree out of construction paper and put it on the wall, with red construction paper 'bulbs' with each student's name on them. And a star. I had my very little student (whose class mostly involves me reading stories to her) help me hang it up and decorate it. It was cute, and quite fun! We're doing secret santa with the other teachers/the administrative assistant here...I'm quite excited! It'll make up for having to work on Christmas Eve...ugh! But, we're just pretty much going to watch Christmas movies with all our classes (at least I am..!). And eat candy canes and hot cocoa. 

   Plus, I can't complain about days off. We just found out we're getting the 31st-the 4th off anyway. So I guess it'll be Seoul for the New Year, then who knows where.......

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving in Korea

            Turkey? Check. Stuffing? Check. Cranberry Sauce? Check. Mashed Potatoes? Check. Korean Vegetable and Rice Rolls? Check?

This Thanksgiving day, I was working. Clearly, the Koreans do not celebrate the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sharing a historically-dubious feast, so Thanksgiving day was like any other Thursday. But on Saturday, some Americans (and a Canadian and an Irishman) got together to eat. A lot. 

It all started the weekend before Thanksgiving, when Jon and I took the train up to Costco to search for a turkey, and maybe some cranberries (please?! please?!) and other Thanksgiving staples. We found the turkey, a huge 17 1/2 pounder, but not much else in the way of Thanksgiving foods. But oh well. We stocked up on other necessaries like cheese and Oreos, and headed home to put the turkey in the freezer. Luckily, it fit. 

After scouring the local grocery stores for cranberries, I discovered that it was indeed possible to
make cranberry sauce out of dried cranberries, which I had been able to locate. So on Thanksgivingmorning,
as Jon roasted the turkey and started the gravy, I reconstituted the dried cranberries and 
turned them into sauce. I also made a huge amount of stuffing, and an apple pie. 

We were supposed to meet people at our school at 2, but at 1:45 the turkey still wasn't done. 
Our director had very kindly allowed us to use the big conference-style room at school for this feast,
which we had arranged pot-luck style with 8 other foreigners. So I left Jon and the turkey and headed
to school, where I found Dana (a Korean teacher) waiting on some students to come take level tests.
One at a time, foreigners trickled in, much to the delight of Hillary and Sally, the director's 2 daughters
who were also at the school with the director and his wife, who were getting some work done and talking
to the parents of the students testing.

As we waited for the turkey, food amassed on the table. There were huge bowls of mashed potatoes,
lots of yummy bread and dip, olives, pickles, cheese and broccoli casserole, canned cranberry sauce,
and of course, a few bottles of wine. Hillary and Sally hung around at the edge of the room, suddenly
shy but fascinated by the food and people. They tried cranberry sauce, but made quite comical faces
and ran out of the room, I'm assuming to spit it out. I guess it's an acquired taste.

The turkey finally got there at 2:30, but we discovered it needed a little more cooking. By 3, we
were ready to eat. And eat, we did. It was amazing. I guess I should mention in here that I've been eating
meat for the past few months, something I've conveniently left out thus far (Tara, I don't want you
to be disappointed in me! :) ). I discovered that I just can't get enough protein here, with the absence
of almost all dairy, no whole grains and few beans. Since protein needs to come from varied sources,
and too much fish isn't good for your health, I had to start eating chicken and a little beef. And, on
Thanksgiving, turkey. And it was good! (Though I am already getting tired of eating meat.)

All in all, it was a good meal. After cleaning up, Jon and I went back to the apartment to rest and watch a Christmas movie (The Santa Clause). Then we attempted to navigate the bus system
(by getting on a bus we knew came to our neighborhood and I had seen downtown) to head to
a coffee shop where a friend was having a photography exhibit. We made it...eventually...but the bus
took us allllll over the city. There's gotta be a shorter way, but it's still a quarter of the cost of a taxi.

After coffee, we window shopped a little, went to the bookstore, got a piece of cake and split it
(still disappointing as Korean cake consistently is). After a while, we went to Deep In, a bar frequented
by foreigners, and played a game of Scrabble. Sometime towards the end of Scrabble, I got actually
homesick for the first time since I've been here.

I think I haven't gotten homesick yet because I know I will go back. I love Vermont, but I've gotten
accustomed to going for a few weeks a year, hanging out at my house, doing typical Vermont things,
and it being more or less the same. I can hang out with my mom and sisters, eat good food and
do other fun stuff that I miss, but know I'll do again.

But that night, I realized that I couldn't go back to Catawba. I mean, I can physically go back.
But it won't be the same. The same people won't be there. I won't be a student anymore, and 
call me a dork but what I miss partially the professors, the classes, hanging out and studying in 
the Lilly Center and the library...and hanging out with my friends there, taking random adventures
around North Carolina, going to Dixie's, Sushi 101, the Caper.... 

Oh, and I forgot the 'best' part of my getting homesick...wanna know what brought it on? That 
country song "I like this bar." I don't even know who it's by. Go ahead, laugh at me. I'm over it. 

But I still miss you guys.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Free Ice Cream in the Albert Einstein Room

            This past Wednesday was one of our Korean co-teachers' last day. She's going to live with her father for a while, in Daejeon, but is going back to university in the States in the fall (she went to James Madison U for a year- last year). Laura is one of our best friends here, and we go out a lot. She's also been a great help with navigating Korea and everything we need to do. 

So, Wednesday night we went out to celebrate her last night...Jon, Cathy, Dana (two of our Korean teachers) and Miss Jeong (our receptionist) and I. We went to the University area, and started at a chicken place. We ate, drank some soju, and talked for a while. Miss Jeong, who acts like she doesn't speak English, actually could understand us when we were talking, but was still too shy to speak much English. But she's a lot of fun. 

After eating, we went to the noraebang (karaoke room). It was a luxury noraebang, set up like a nice hotel, everything clean and white and shiny. The best part was, in the lobby, there was a huge cooler of free tubs of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. Yum. 

We took our ice cream upstairs, down a tiled hall, past doors to rooms labeled "Alfred Nobel," "Napoleon Bonaparte," "George Washington," until we reached "Albert Einstein. That was our room. This noraebang was definitely my favorite. There were great songs to choose from, including a few 2pac and Wyclef Jean songs that I definitely rocked... : ) ... 

Wait by the duck with the pink hair.




               We left at 8:30 in the morning, with just barely a clue about where we were headed-- a Migratory Bird Festival in Gunsan. We knew we could take a bus to Gunsan, but weren't sure how to get to the festival once we got there. We just figured we'd wing it. Oh man, sorry, I didn't mean to make that pun. : ) 

   Well, the flocks of people (or at least a few obvious bird-watchers) we were expecting to find at the bus station did not materialize, so I attempted to interpret a map, and from that it looked like the train station was nearby. I was pretty sure I had deciphered from the festival website (in Korean) that there was a shuttle from the train station to the festival, so we decided to look for the station. When that didn't work, we gave up and found a taxi, aided in our direction-giving by the giant sign for the festival right next to where we hailed the taxi.

The taxi dropped us off outside of the Gunsan Migratory Bird Observatory, which is actually quite a big complex. There is a 14-story tower with an observatory and restaurant at the top, and stuffed bird displays on the bottom. There are also other buildings with bird-related displays, such as the "hatching experience center" (in which, unfortunately, you do not actually experience yourself hatching :) ) and the GIANT duck statue that you actually go inside and walk through a replica of the inside of a duck, complete with intestines and other icky stuff. 
And wide-screen TVs that tell you about the insides of a duck.

 Although the hatching experience center's name was a little misleading, there were chicks at various stages of development, including one that had just hatched a few hours ago. There were also many live birds in habitats, and these habitats also included 2 random deer, a few rabbits and some goats, all living together with chickens, turkeys and geese.
(That's the view from the observatory...see that black mass in the water? Ducks.) 
 
There were also many tents set up outside the center, with snacks, hands-on activities for kids, and vendors. There was even a vendor from Turkey selling delicious wraps and various Turkish(ish) knick-knacks. At the information center, we found out (from some high school aged volunteers who laughed after everything they said in English) the times and location of the free sightseeing shuttles that went around the preserve. Thus their directions to "Wait by the duck with the purple hair." (There were two huge statues of what were apparently the mascots of the center, two brightly-colored ducks, at the entrance of the observatory) 
The sightseeing shuttle was a nice feature of the festival, though we didn't see much on ours. Gunsan hosts hundreds of migrating species throughout the year, especially in the fall and spring. The observatory is on a river, and the delta where the river meets the sea is nearby. You could see huge flocks of birds sitting in the water. They looked like islands. Once in a while they would take flight, and it was beautiful. 

Unfortunately, the route our shuttle took, letting us off at a few lookout points, was on the opposite side of the river. Had we had more time, we would have taken a longer shuttle, but we had to get back to town by 4. There were shuttles that went for up to four hours. But we did see swans and some ducks.  And a crew from a local TV station, which filmed me taking photos (must have been fascinating ;) ) 

After the tour, we went to eat lunch on a hill that overlooked the river, then walked around the trails near the river. We saw a few smaller birds that I managed to get some photos of, but not much. 

All in all, it was a nice festival. Really makes me want a telephoto lens, though. But it was beautiful, and the Center was nice and interesting. It took a while to get back into Gunsan, since we couldn't find a taxi until we walked closer to town. It seems everyone there had their own cars, or were there with a tour bus. But we found one eventually, and made it back barely in time to drop our stuff off at the apartment and make it to the train station to go to Costco for Thanksgiving supplies...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hiking in Korea....

What do you think of when you think of hiking? 

I used to think of mountains, nature, peace, quiet, a physical workout but spiritually rewarding. A connection with nature. Getting out of crowds and civilization. 

Now, after three experiences hiking in Korea, that is no longer the case. Sure, I still think of mountains, and a physical workout. But I also think of huge crowds of Koreans, all dressed in more or less the same outfit. I think of people picnicking on kimchi and other Korean food, drinking soju (rice liquor) and using walking sticks that look like ski poles. I think of waystations selling fried beetles and crickets. And I think of designated photo-ops that everyone goes to.

Not to paint too negative a picture of hiking in Korea. There are beautiful mountains, with great scenery and well-maintained trails, all within an hour or two's cheap bus ride from Jeonju. The only problem is, apparently every Korean loves to hike, and does so in huge groups every weekend, in the requisite Northface/Columbia/etc apparel, complete with backpacks, walking sticks and hats. Today's hike was the most crowded I had been on, with the wide trail packed almost the whole time. I got pushed more than a few times, and swore if someone pushed me and fell on my camera, I would grab onto them and not let go until they paid me for a new one. 

The vistas were amazing, with steep cliff faces and skinny rocks jutting up into the sky. The foliage was still pretty, although past peak. There was a suspension bridge which looked great, but we didn't get to it because it was literally a stand-still line to walk across it. The other hikes I've been on have been crowded until the first peak, but the parks were big enough that you could lose some of the crown the further you got from a starting point (the problem was you'd meet up with them again when you neared the other starting point). This mountain had a cable car up to the middle of the mountain, which also contributed to the crowd. 

But what really amazed me was the food vendors, staggered all the way up the mountain, selling homemade rice wine and an assortment of bugs and roots. And, as usual, Koreans taking shots of soju on their breaks. A woman gave us some soju on the way up (we drank it to be polite) and then, I guess as a chaser, dangled a fried shrimp into our mouths like we were puppies ("goooood foreigners, way to drink the soju....here's a treat for you."). 

As for the aforementioned 'official photo-ops,' there were places on the trail, especially at the top next to a statue, that almost everyone waited in line to take a photo in front of. I've noticed this on other hikes, that everyone takes pictures in the same places. I swear if you go to any Korean's house they'll have the same photos. 

Which gets to my wider recent observation of just how homogenous Korea is. Don't get me wrong, I think its a fascinating culture, but everyone does the same thing. The restaurants all have more or less the same food, unless its a pizza place or a Western chain like TGI Fridays. The clothing stores have more or less the same clothes. The people all go to the same mountains and wear the same outfits. The older women almost all wear face masks and giant visors. The kids all take the same extra classes. The Korean bars are very similar, and everyone goes to karaoke. There's very few ethnic restaurants, and you don't see many different styles. Almost everything you buy is made in Korea. It's a little strange, but definitely an interesting experience. The people are very nice, and friendly. They usually try very hard to help foreigners, and want to expose them to Korean culture. Which is great. 

Just not when I want a peaceful hike. 

I blame Ben and Jerry's.

      For what, you ask? Well, it all started when my AS3 class (3rd lowest level) was reading a story about how to make ice cream. The lesson in their workbook would only take about 5 minutes, so we needed something else to do. As any good Vermonter would, I went straight to the Ben and Jerry's website, with which I am clearly familiar (as any good Vermonter would be) and looked at their activities. I considered showing their flash video From Cow to Cone, but it was too complicated and the window was too small to show in class. I thought about their online games, but immediately realized that bringing my computer into a class of crazy 8 and 9 year olds was not a good plan. So, in the papercrafts section, I found the Virtual Cow. 
The Virtual Cow is actually a printable cow cut-out that you glue together to make 3D. And the head moves when you pull the tail. This was quite a hit in my class, making cows, and a good time-killer. It was quite cute seeing my youngest student, age 5, running around with the 3 cows she had somehow accumulated from other students. But the fun part came later. 
I kept the cow I had made as an example on the white-board shelf, and decided that it would be our class pet. I asked my next class what we should name it, which is how it got the name "Spot." Not very creative, I know. But I wanted to give the students the opportunity to name her. So Spot became the class pet. For the first month or so, no one really paid Spot much attention, besides a girl in my highest class who felt the need to write something about Spot being ugly or stupid on the board between classes at least once a week. Oh, and a lower level class that loved to ask if Spot was an American cow, because of the whole Mad Cow disease anti-American beef thing. Actually, these students called it "crazy cow," and kept calling Spot a crazy cow (I tried to explain that she was born in Korea, but I guess her connection with me made her American). 
  Then, some students in a class that was learning about sequence used Spot in an assignment to write directions to make their favorite sandwich. Thus was born the craze to kill Spot. The "Spot Sandwich" directions were made into a poster when they made posters of their How To writings, and therefore all the classes knew about Spot Sandwiches. The directions were actually quite sad, and I think an imaginary friend of Spot's and I also ended up dying and on the sandwich. (For those who are concerned, maybe this is not an appropriate subject for school, but I allow it because a) I know they're joking, and b) they're being creative and using their English and getting excited) There was also a sad picture of Spot being butchered. 
     After that, the same class began hiding Spot before class, folding her flat and hanging her by her tail from papers on the wall, behind the A/C remote, etc. This was fun, until she accidentally got left in a pile of scrap paper and thrown out by the cleaning lady. 
    Of course, Spot has a million lives (as I told my students), but I did forget for a few weeks to make a new one. When I finally made one, a student accidentally drowned her in my water glass that same day. 
   By this point, it was almost Halloween, and I had decided on a costume for the school party-- I was Spot. Actually, I was really just a generic cow, but you get the idea. It actually ended up being a good costume-- I had white pants and a white long-sleeved shirt, and cut out black construction-paper spots and put them on with double-sided tape. And I made ears and horns and stuck them to a headband. And I made a tail. The students loved it, and I had a great time. Especially when parents dropped kids off and saw a giant cow walking around. And also when I went to the supermarket to pick up some soda in full costume with one of the Korean teachers (also in costume as the main character from Kill Bill, complete with bright yellow wig). Actually, I noticed that in the supermarket, no one stared at me any more than they usually do, just because I'm foreign. Which confirms my suspicions that I can do whatever I want......
Anyway, the halloween parties at school were a blast! A lot of kids came in costume (mostly Scream masks and witch's hats, but there were some princesses, a Mickey Mouse, a dinosaur, some skeletons and an Indiana Jones), and they all had fun trick-or-treating, getting faces or hands painted, making masks and watching Corpse Bride. And the teachers had a good time decorating the school and scaring the kids. Jon told ghost stories in his classroom in the dark, and really scared some kids....oops. One group had a toilet-paper mummy contest, which was great fun to watch. Jon actually got wrapped up too, because there were an odd number of students. Dana (a Korean teacher) and I (with help on Friday from the other Korean teacher Laura) made a TON of ghost sugar cookies, both Thursday and Friday mornings. 
For the "big kid halloween party," (that's where I told the director's 7 year old daughter we were going), I went as Frida Kahlo. I was actually impressed with peoples' ability to recognize me (I think the unibrow did it...though I also liked the flowers in my hair and general bright, Mexican outfit). People I didn't even know came up to me and were like "Frida!! Can I take a picture with you?" Everyone had great costumes....well, most. There were a lot of Koreans who didn't wear costumes, and a group of maybe 5 Korean girls who were Playboy bunnies. Lots of people loved them, and I think they won best costume, which is stupid. It was a boring costume. 

   My favorite costume of the night? One of my friends', who won the Scariest Costume. She was Sarah Palin. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Books

I've been reading a lot of good books lately. Thought I'd try my hand at reviewing them. :) (Warning: plot spoilers)

   "The World is Flat" by Thomas Freidman: 

Although a few years old, this book is an important contribution to scholarship on globalization and its effects, especially since it is written in an entertaining and not too scholarly way. It is accessable to almost any English speaker, and contains important arguments and explanations about the effect of free trade and outsourcing, on both America and the world. To me, the most important point Freidman makes is that outsourcing can and should be beneficial to America. Instead of protecting "American" jobs, outsourcing frees up companies to be more efficient, and therefore hire more people in more skilled and mentally-stimulating jobs. The challenge globalization poses for America is to step up and innovate, work hard and be creative in the new fields. Freidman points out that America has, throughout its history, led the world in innovation, but the recent trend to protectionism and the dertermination to protect traditional industry is stifling the economy. That, and the insufficient education system. Protectionism in the form of tariffs will cause companies to go out of business, and the jobs will be lost anyway. What is needed instead, Freidman says, is an investment in worker re-training, social safety nets, and better education. And national leadership to spark the creativity and innovation of the country. Everyone should read this book, to understand the forces shaping today's world and to see past political rhetoric. 

    "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway

This novel, based in Paris and Spain in the early 1900s, follows wealthy friends who spend their nights partying and having affairs. During the summer, the narrator Jake Barnes heads to Spain to watch the bullfights and running of the bulls in Pamplona, joined by his former lover Brett Ashley, her fiance Mike, Barnes' friend Bill and Robert Coen, who is hopelessly in love with Ashley. During the bullfight, much immorality ensues, ending with the group's amused dismissal of a man's death in the bullfight and Ashley's affair with a bullfighter. In the end, it is clear that no one in this group has any morals, even Barnes, who seems sympathetic at the beginning. Hemingway's commentary on the so-called Lost Generation of the early 1900s is beautifully written and compelling.

   "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austin

I didn't think I would like this book. I mean, I thought I might enjoy the story, but thought it would be hard to wade through the style. This was not the case. It read like a smart soap opera, with scandal, love interests and moral commentary, with a background of cozy ambiance that made me want to travel to England and spend some time on a country estate. The main character, Fanny Price, is the daughter of a poor family who is sent to live with her wealthy Uncle Bertram, aunt and cousins. She is treated as inferior, and not deserving of the education and social privileges afforded her female cousins, but her cousin Edmund treats her as an equal and contributes to her education by lending her books and discussing them with her. The Bertram family and friends, including 5 people of marrying age, experience scandal, intrigues and adventures, against the backdrop of an English estate. 

   "The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway

This novella takes place in Cuba in the early 1900s, and follows an old fisherman who, desperate to change his run of bad luck, rows out much farther than usual. He eventually hooks a huge swordfish, and stays out for days waiting for the fish to tire and come close enough to the surface for the man to kill him. The man comes to respect the fish as a great creature, noble and majestic, and begins to feel mixed feelings about killing it. After days of heat exhaustion, very little food and little water, and muscular exhaustion, the man finally kills the fish. However, the fish is bigger than his boat, so he had to tie it to the side and row in. By the time he reaches the harbor, sharks have eaten almost all of the meat, and all that remains is the skeleton and some shreds of flesh. This is a fascinating story of determination, poverty and communion with nature. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seoul...it's a big city.

           Really. It is. 

  Ok, that's not the extent of my observations. A few weekends ago, Jon and I went to Seoul for a long weekend (yet another national holiday). His cousin, Megan, lives and works, as an English teacher, in Seoul. Or, I should say, outside of Seoul. We took the bus up Friday morning, a nice 3 1/2 hour bus ride, and got there around lunch time. 

Seoul is, like I said, a big city. It has a lot in common with most big cities in the world and not as much in common with the rest of the country. It is, however, a great place to visit in its own right. It's clean, and has an interesting mix of modern skyscrapers and ancient palaces. The weekend we went was the beginning of the fall "HiSeoul" festival, which is a festival a tourism board of Seoul puts on with every season, mostly to highlight music and the arts. 

       The first day, we walked down the river which runs through the middle of the city. It used to just be a yucky stream, overgrown and overlooked. A few years ago, some forward-looking member of the local government turned it into a long, nicely-maintained park. It has sidewalks on each side, nice greenery and random sculptures here and there, both in and out of the river. For example, there were dozens of umbrellas hanging on wires across the sky above one portion of the river. There were also stones in the shape of a spiral in the river. 

   Along the river there were other art projects going on...like a mural in black and white of the city with magnets people could move around and make their own art. There was also a yellow, transluscent globe kids could go inside and draw on/write messages. I'm sure there was meaning to this, but it was all in Korean. So I only got the surface meaning. 

    That afternoon we went to the biggest bookstore I have ever seen! The English section was about the size of an average bookstore in the States, and better stocked. They had fiction and every category of non-fiction, including the textbook I used in my Foreign Policy class in college. And a good selection of Learn Korean books. I purchased the first book and workbook in a series from the National University, after quite some time spent considering my options and the attempted help of a Japanese and a Korean woman. In the course of the conversation, the Korean woman found out where I was living and asked "WHY?!?!?!" Apparently to the residents of Seoul, a city of 600,000 is the countryside, a backwater town where there is nothing to do. 


   On the way to the bookstore, we looked across the street and saw a huge line of police officers in riot gear waiting to cross, headed in the opposite direction. We were a little worried, but figured it wasn't a big deal. Maybe another protest about beef imports. We decided to head in that direction later to find out. Turned out they were just headed to a heavily populated area to work on maneouvering through crowds-- they were just recruits. 

  That night, we went out to Itaewon with some of Megan's friends. Itaewan is the area around the huge American military base. One of Megan's friends described it as 'the place things go to fester,' and after going there,  I definitely agree. This place was seedy, and full of dirty alleys, sketchy bars and fast-food joints. And drunk foreigners. I'm sure that in the day it's a little better, and there are more American restaurants etc than I've seen elsewhere in Korea, but unless you are SERIOUSLY craving American food that you just can't find anywhere else, or make yourself, its not really worth going there. Except to go to the bar called Bungalow. It was sweet....island-themed and chill, there is a room inside where the floor is covered in sand (you take off your shoes and socks) and the only chairs are hammocks and swings. Very fun, but maybe not so well thought-out in the details, since a person in a swing will clearly want to swing, and the more you drink, the less you can control your impulses...and swinging results in smashing into the table, spilling drinks and/or ramming the table into the shins of the person across from you. Yes, that happened to me....I wasn't the one swinging, I was the one getting the table slammed into me. But it was ok, because I'm kinda surprised I wasn't the one swinging, and because the guy bought me a drink to make up for it. 

The next day we went to some old palaces, and then eventually wandered over to Insa-dong, which is the more traditional, artsy area of Seoul. There are traditional teahouses and restaurants, and a lot of traditional crafts and antiques stores. The main street is closed to traffic on the weekends, and is full of vendors and people browsing. It was my favorite spot in Seoul. We went to a great restaurant, and a really cute teahouse. The teahouse was very cute, small and eclectic. It had amazing tea, and tiny house-trained birds flying around inside. The table Jon and I sat at was actually a small tub with goldfish living in it, with plexiglass over the top. 

   Sunday morning, before catching the bus back to Jeonju, we went to a Buddhist temple in a suburb of Seoul. It was the first temple we had been to, and I loved it. It was actually quite the compound, with a main building and many smaller halls hidden away among trees, rocks and hills. Being in the middle of the city, it was an oasis of calm and nature. There were a lot of Koreans there, meditating and offering prayers. There were also monks walking around in their gray and beige robes and shaved heads. It was very interesting for me, since I have been interested in Buddhism for a while, and this was the first time I'd actually seen "buddhists in action.' :) I'm not sure which sect they belonged to, and the specifics of that sects beliefs, but like most religions, all Buddhist sects share the same basic principles. 

   So, like I said, Seoul is a big city. It is clean, and has a great blend of modern and traditional, but it's HUGE. Too big for me to ever live in, but nice to visit for a weekend. All in all, I was glad to be back to Jeonju on Sunday afternoon, with enough time to grab a coffee and relax before another week of work. 

 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Some Observations (Actual Substance....)

    So, we've been here for about two months, and I think its time I write about my impressions of Korea and Korean culture, beyond just narrating my life. There are two main things that stand out to me here that I want to expand on-- work ethic and coffee shops.

The work ethic here is intense, especially among the students. Just the fact that there are so many English teachers here is telling when it comes to how much everyone wants to learn English. But it's not limited to English. Most, if not all, of my students are also currently attending probably 3-4 extra classes, which meet multiple times a week. They go to science, math, music, Japanese and/or Chinese academies in addition to their normal school and, of course, English classes. I have at least two students who are attending TWO English academies at once. And my students are from 7-14 years old, most of them between 10 and 13. Most are up until midnight doing homework. Katy, one of my most advanced students, told me she had to spend Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) in her room studying for the huge tests middle school students have next week. She missed all the family celebrations and didn't even get to see her grandparents or cousins. 
While this may seem depressing, and certainly I think kids need free time, I can tell you that this is going to help them, and give them a huge advantage over American students when they all compete for jobs, which they will most definitely have to do. It makes me want to go home and tell kids to wake up! Maybe not so young, but I definitely think that a lot of high school and college kids need a wake up call, to stop messing around and not taking school seriously, or there won't be jobs for them. Especially college students. 
      I don't know much about college student here, but I do spend some time in the university area, which is full of restaurants and bars and shops. At the coffeehouses and restaurants you can see groups of students huddled over notebooks and textbooks. Not to say that they don't know how to relax. The bar and karaoke scene here is hopping every day of the week. I have found Koreans to be hard workers, and hard partiers. Proof to the American college student that you can do both. Even the adults go out drinking, and on the weekends grandparents hang out under bridges with cases of soju (rice liquor). As for the kids, they seem well-adjusted enough. They're still kids, they still goof off and complain about homework, and I always see them hanging out around town, giggling and acting like, well, kids. And the college students can be seen wandering the streets socializing, looking relaxed and happy as any college students. 

This brings me to my next observation. There are more coffeehouses here than I could have imagined, even if this were an American city. They're nice, too, and most aren't franchise. I haven't seen a Starbucks, though I saw where one was being put in. It amazes me how coffeeshops can survive when they're surrounded by others. In Jeonbuk-de (the university area) there are probably 4 per block consistently throughout the 10-15 blocks of pedestrian shops. And they are all always pretty busy. A few weekends ago, the coffeeshop Jon and I went to to hang out and read in was packed, people were searching in vain for tables, yet it still didn't seem too bustling or annoying. 
I read somewhere once that coffeeshops are crucial to the intellectual and political development of a society. I'm not sure how true that is, but I do know that public spaces, where people can interact outside of work or family institutions and where they sit around and talk, are very important to development of community. And I also know that coffeeshops were the epicenter of much revolutionary and reformist discussion and debate in very different societies at very different times. Cafes in Paris, Argentina, Russia and India teem with discussion. It's the very nature of coffeehouses. In this vein, the coffeehouse trend I am witnessing here in Korea is good, for a private society, one who prides itself on putting on a good face. Since I don't speak Korean, I can't attest to any intellectual conversations at coffeehouses, but I'm sure there are some, or that they will at least develop. People can only sit around, relax and talk about superficial issues for so long before they broach larger, deeper topics. 
I did some research into the connection between coffeeshops and intellectual development, and I found some interesting ideas. Some of these ideas went a little too far, in my opinion, in crediting coffee with about every political, economic and social reform during the Enlightenment. Some, however, seem quite interesting. Here are some passages I found most interesting:

This one is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 

"Over the centuries, 'cafes became places where informed men, some educated and some not, could come together and talk about stuff,' including literature, plays, poems, economics and politics...'Having a place to do that enriches a culture,' Weston said. 'It takes us out of the cocoon of private life and into the public world. Cafes are important for creating a public life, particularly in a democracy. It becomes a place where the town, or, in the big city, where the neighborhood develops.'"

This one is from a review of the book "Coffee: A Dark History" in the Washington Post:

The role of the coffeehouse, he argues, simply cannot be underestimated. In the Arab world it "was, other than the reviled tavern, the only place to meet friends outside the home, discuss politics and literature..."and thus is became "an integral part of the imperial system, providing a forum for the coming together and dissemination of news and ideas." ... "It has been argued that, until the arrival of coffee, the population of Europe had existed in a constant state of mild intoxication, since the quality of water was such that many people drank the weak beers of the time morning, noon and night. By switching to coffee, they were not only reducing the muddle-headedness resulting from alcohol consumption, but also ingesting a powerful new drug. Indeed, it could be said that the introduction of coffee to England led to a ... 'brain explosion.'"

The author of the book, Anthony Wild, continues to cite Lloyds of London, the Stock Exchange, the East India Company and the Royal Society as among those British institutions having their origins in coffeehouses. 


Certainly food for thought, isn't it? Or at least 'drink for thought.' 





Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's been a while........

(look! new pictures!)

Hey guys, how's it going? I know it's been a while since I've written. It's a combination of the fact that I've gotten a lot more busy at work and the fact that we still haven't gotten internet in our apartment. When we tell people that last one, they look at us like we just said we.....I don't even know....I guess like we just said we had never seen an electric lightbulb. 

Anyway, last weekend was a Korean holiday called Chuseok. It's essentially a harvest celebration, much like American Thanksgiving. Traditionally, families get together, get up really early to bow to their ancestors and offer them food, and then eat a huge meal and play traditional games the rest of the day. And, I'm sure, drink a lot of soju (traditional rice liquor).

We had this Monday and Tuesday off for the holiday, and one of our 2 directors invited us to his house. We weren't really sure for how long, or what was going on, because he barely speaks English. He just kind of pointed at the calendar and said "my house" and pointed at Friday and said "train." 

So, accordingly, Friday night, right after classes, we took a train to Suncheon where Mr. Kim and his family live. He has a wife and three sons, two of which are currently in private Christian schools in the US (one in Colombia, South Carolina...small world. We saw pictures of him and his friends at Carowinds :) ). His youngest son Eric (that's his English name) is 9 and in third grade. He is a lot of fun-- he speaks some English, and was teaching us some Korean. But mostly he wanted to play games, which Jon was more than happy to oblige. Mrs. Kim is very nice and fun. We had met them both when they picked us up at the airport back in August and then helped us settle in the next day. 

We ended up staying until Monday morning, and seeing a lot of the surrounding area. On Saturday we went to Mr. Kim's father's apartment in a town about an hour away and dropped off the food for Chuseok, then left Eric with Mr Kim's father and went to a seaside park where we walked across a bridge to an island, walked around the island and watched a really cool musical fountain. It was gorgeous. There were caves around the island, and steep rock cliffs. The coast of Korea is dotted with islands but also very mountainous. All the islands are mountains, and there are mountains all along the coast. 

That night we went out to eat with Mr. Kim the elder and Eric. We ate grilled eel...it was really surprisingly good! Then we visited Mr Kim's sister and her family. She had just had a baby 2 weeks ago...she was adorable. 

The next day we drove to visit Mrs Kim's uncle at the church where he is the senior pastor. We stayed there for a while because the Kims wanted to meet a friend of the uncle's who lives in Seattle, near where their other son goes to school. I take it they were talking about college in America because I kept hearing "SAT," "Community College" and other such words. 

After that most educational visit (of which we couldn't understand a word and during which Eric crawled under the table because he got bored), we went to a....(drumroll please)....green tea plantation!!!! It was sooooooooo gorgeous and amazing. I felt like I was in a movie (coincidentally, that plantation is used a lot for filming movies). Jon and I bought lots of tea and two mugs. We all had green tea ice cream, and ate homemade noodles made using green tea powder. There was even green tea salt to better season the noodle soup if you wanted. 

That night, we saw Mama Mia. That movie is a huge hit here. The Kims absolutely loved it, and were singing all the songs afterwards (in that kind of phoenetical way you sing songs when you don't actually speak the language they're written in). 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Korean Salsa Dancers?!

Leave it to me to find just about the only vestige of Latin America in Korea. Or at least in Jeonju.

On Friday night, Jon, Laura (one of the Korean teachers at our school) and I went to Deep In, one of the foreigner hangout bars in Jeonju. We hung out there for a while, but then decided we were hungry (well, mostly Jon was), so we left in search of something to eat. The area around Deep In isn't really a bar neighborhood, it's the downtown area where there's a lot of shops and restaurants, but nothing's really open late. So as we wandered the empty streets looking for food, I heard salsa music coming from down the street. When we got closer to the source, we realized the music was coming down some stairs from what looked like a restaurant that seemed to be open. Yes! Finally, food. And the added bonus, and mystery, of salsa music at a Korean restaurant in Jeonju. 

We went upstairs and ascertained that they were, in fact, still open. Laura ordered for us, and after a few minutes of sitting the music was too much for me. I had to dance. So Jon and I salsa danced for a song. Then the other, large party across the restaurant started clapping. When we looked their way, we realized that some of them were dancing too. Then one guy came and asked me to dance...he was really good. Laura went over and talked to them, to find out why they randomly knew salsa and what they were doing there. It turned out they were the Jeonju Salsa Club, and they were having a celebratory dinner after a workshop with a salsa teacher/events planner from Seoul. 

It turned out the teacher/planner was the only one among them who could speak English. He came over and spoke with us about the club, and what he was doing there. He told us he was organizing a World Salsa Congress in Seoul in October! Crazy! He was really nice, and talked to us for a while about salsa, and life. His name was Spin, and he used to dance but he got hurt, so now he teaches and plans. He gave us his number and told us to call him when we go to the Salsa Congress, which we definitely will. There are going to be dancers from all over the world, including Columbia.  

All in all, it was a really random experience. The restaurant wasn't even normally a salsa-playing establishment. The Club had just asked them to play the music that night, for their dinner. There is a salsa club down the street, that we saw one night but haven't gone to yet. Now I'm especially excited to. 

It's really a good thing I have salsa radar. :) 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kimchi the Hedgehog (Don't act like you're surprised :) )




Well, I finally gave in to my years of wanting a hedgehog. It all happened at Homever, a big supermarket/department store in Jeonju where we went to scout out the food choices, since we had heard you could find things there you couldn't find anywhere else. Which was true. We found things like actual spaghetti sauce, tortillas, and good spices. And a hedgehog. Which was very cute. 
I didn't really consider buying her until the second time we saw her. I figured, since 
hedgehogs are hard to find, and I've been wanting one, I should check out the procedure for bringi
ng her back to the States to see if we should get her. Turns out, there's
 not really any requirements for pet rodents/small mammals. So, after some research into how to take care of a hedgehog, we went to Homever after work last night and bought her. Of course, we took our Korean friend to ask about its health, age, a guarantee and other things. Turns out, the guy who sold her to us owns a hedgehog too, so he was helpful. 

Kimchi, as we named her, is about 3 months old but fully grown. (For those 
who don't know, kimchi is Korean fermented/pickled vegetables, usually cabb
age, that are buried underground in pots for months with an ungodly amount of chili powder. Its served with about every meal he
re.) Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which is good since we work all day but get home at around 9 and usually stay up until about 1am. Kimchi is very curious, and adorable. She is not really afraid of us-- hedgehogs curl up in a ball when they are afraid, and she lets us pick her up without pause and spent all her time in transit and getting used to her new home exploring rather than being scared. 

Last night I didn't sleep too well, being nervous about every strange noise, and the few times I checked on her after a particularly strange noise, I found her rearranging the things in her cage, climbing the wire walls and otherwise playing. We had cut a shoebox in half
 and put it in her cage to make a shelter for her to hide in, but we found her asleep this morning underneath her flipped-over shelter. It didn't look too comfortable, but obviously she thought it was. You could see it moving up and down with her breathing. :) 

(The pictures are from when we put her into a cardboard box while arranging her cage...she didn't really like it in there, and escaped as soon as she could)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hey man, thanks for the free squid!

    That's what I would have told the guy at E-Mart last night. If I spoke Korean. As it is, "kansamnida" (thank you) had to suffice. 
    
    I guess you're wondering what I'm talking about. E-Mart is a grocery store, etc, across the street from our school. It's like a smaller Wal-Mart, with more food. Anyway, Jon and I discovered one night that they severely discount food like bread, produce and seafood in the half-hour before closing. They only discount produce that's sell-by date is that day, but all fresh seafood and the bread left over is discounted. So that's when we do our shopping, and it's pretty fun and suspenseful, since you never know what you're going to get. 

Like last night. A full squid, maybe a foot long including tentacles that weren't stretched to full potential, was about 2,700 won ($2.70ish). Which is a great deal. 

The other great part about E-Mart in general is that things often come, how can I explain this, taped to other things. Like the other day there was a 4-pack of yogurt attached to a 4-pack of chocolate milk, so the yogurt was like a freebie for buying the chocolate milk. Or sometimes there's just an extra of the same thing you're buying, like a 'buy one, get one' sale. It's cool. 

Also, there are a lot of salespeople in E-Mart that serve up free samples and shout a lot, obstensively about their product, but I can't understand them. It gets even crazier at night, with the salespeople desperately trying to sell what they have left. It's pretty funny. They're not annoying, they don't bother you, they just yell pretty much across the store something I'm assuming is along the lines of "Fresh squid! Only 2,700 won! It tastes really good! Please buy it!" etc etc.

So back to the squid story. The guy who was working at the squid counter, after we started walking away with our squid, picked up the other package of squid that was left and said "No, no, take!" (In English! A lot of younger people here know at least some words, like take, thank you, pay, sign, etc) After a few seconds we realized that he wanted to tape that squid to the other, aka give it to us for free. So he took the first squid from us, handed it to the guy behind the counter, and he plastic-wrapped the packages together. It was sweet. 


Now we just have to figure out how to cook squid. I figure we can figure it out. I mean, all the time at restaurants, they just throw it on the burner in the pan in front of us, cutting it into chunks with scissors. I can do that. Scissors are really an important culinary instrument here.

p.s. New photos!!! On the sidebar in a slideshow...click and it'll take you to the album 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

All's well that ends well.......don't worry, it does.

    It's 5:45 am on Saturday morning. We wake up to the alarm. It's pouring rain, and there's thunder and lightning. 
   Aileen: Do you still want to go to the beach in this weather?
   Jon: Well, we'd get wet at the beach anyway.
   Aileen: Yeah. Good call. I'm just gonna put on my bathing suit and run around on the beach. 


   At 7:30 am, after ending up at the wrong bus station, eventually figuring out it was wrong and where the right one was, and then walking the around in a circle around the right bus station because we misread a sign, and getting soaking wet because raincoats and umbrellas can only do so much, we were on a bus to the beach. Byeonsan Beach, actually, just an hour and a half bus ride away. 

   So we arrived around 9, dry and happy, because the weather was improving. It was only partly cloudy, and most of the clouds weren't toooo threatening. So we bought towels at a roadside vendor and headed down to the beach. 

   The beach was great...it was low tide, and the tides are very drastic. So you could walk out for probably 200 yards before getting to the actual shore. And there were rocky outcroppings to explore, and a lot of shells. I found some nice shells, and also the mother-load of sea glass! Seriously. There was sooo much around the rocks that I couldn't pick up even a tenth of it. Even blue sea glass...which is very rare. 

   So that was fun. After about an hour, it looked like it might rain, so we tried to investigate the area's other attractions, which include a lot of hiking trails, a ferry to an island and a movie theme park. So we headed to the tourist information center, first walking down the main road, then when it turned into a highway, waiting for a taxi. And waiting. And waiting. 

   When we eventually found a taxi, found the information center and learned how to take the local bus, we took it to the other beach in the area, a few miles down the road, that was near the ferry dock and movie park. 

  The first thing we had to do when we got there was eat lunch. What we found out that was, despite the abundance of fresh seafood and the plethora of restaurants, it was not cheap. Eventually we decided on a restaurant, and ordered by pointing at what someone else had, having the waiter show it to us on the menu to check the price, and confirming that we wanted it. What we ended up with was a huge basket of fresh, raw shellfish that we cooked on a fire pit with a grill top in the center of our table. It was amazing. A enormous mussel, clams of all sizes, scallops, conch...everything. 

  After we ate, we found out that their credit card machine was not working. After they had told us they took cards. Luckily we had enough cash, but barely. Now we were left with 6,000 won (about $6), a foreign credit card that no one seemed to accept, and no return bus tickets. 

  No problem, right? Just find an ATM. Well, the only ATM in town didn't take foreign cards. Which is a problem here that I didn't expect, since my card has worked all over Latin America, where no one has cards. Here, where you can pay for a soda at the convenience store with your cell phone, the bus terminal in Jeonju did not take card. The restaurants at the beach did not take card. Only certain ATMs take foreign cards. 

    So what did we do? Went to the beach. We figured we had enough to take the local bus to Buan, a bigger city that was sure to have an ATM we could use. Just barely enough, but enough. If worse came to worse, we figured we had a number of options, including hitchhiking, finding an internet cafe and sending a message to someone that we needed picked up, and/or staying overnight in a hotel. Or walking to Buan. So we figured we'd enjoy ourselves for a little. 

   The beach was nice. It was sunny by this point, and hot. It was pretty crowded, but not too bad. Jon and I swam for a while (I think I was the only woman on the beach in a bikini- most others seemed to be fully clothed). But then it clouded over again, and we decided we should check the surrounding hotels and the dock for an ATM just in case, so we didn't have to potentially short-change the local bus driver. 

   So we walked. And walked. All around town in the hot sun and humid air, taking turns carrying my hiking backpack that had our snacks, clothes, towels and my camera. We must have looked like those hitchhikers you see on the side of the road, traveling cross-country. I'm sure at least that we looked pathetic. But we had fun, laughing at ourselves. 
  
  No ATM. We did, though, find a store that took card, so I bought some water and ice cream for us. So at least we didn't die of thirst. 

  We made it back to the bus station. Ironically, the bus that goes directly to Jeonju was there. But the ticket office (which was a decrepid desk inside an old, dusty store) didn't take card. So we had to mime to the driver, after we had asked if that was the Jeonju bus, that we couldn't buy tickets. So we watched sadly as it pulled away. 

   So we started walking down the road, following the route of the local bus, since the cost depends on where you get on and where you get off. We figured the closer we got walking to Buan, the less chance we had of making the driver mad by not having enough money. The bus eventually picked us up about 10 minutes (walking) down the road. Since you don't pay until you get off, we figured no matter what, we'd make it to Buan.

   And we did. We counted out all our change and it turned out we had more than enough to make it to Buan. When we got off the bus, we walked only a block and found a Family Mart, a convenience store that we knew had ATMs that would take my card. We were home free. 

  So we took the bus from Buan home to Jeonju. We arrived at the apartment exhausted at about 8 pm. I passed out for an hour, and woke up looking like a lobster but refreshed. After eating something, we decided that we could make it out for the much-anticipated 'Rock Lottery.' 

 The Rock Lottery is something the English teachers of Jeonju (aka foreigners) put together and a local bar agreed to host. They put the names of 20 people in a hat, and drew five at a time. Those five people would be in a band together with 2 weeks to practice and 20 minutes of stage time at the concert. That night was the concert. So we followed the directions we got online from other English teachers (which went something like "Have the taxi driver drop you off at such-and-such underpass. Walk up the hill 200 yards until you reach a 7-11. Buy smokes or whatever there before you get to the bar because it's a pain to leave to get them. Turn left, find a little yellow sign that says 'two be one,' take a little pill [to make you small, like Alice in Wonderland, because doorways and stairwells can be short here] and go down the stairs."). 

  The night was definitely worth going out for. The bar was crowded with foreigners, and the bands sounded.... pretty good, actually. We sat with a bunch of foreigners we had me last weekend, and had a great time. My favorite band was the one that played last, and serenaded us with an acoustic, slow version on Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby, One More Time," and ended with a version of "I can't live, if living is without you" that had to whole bar singing. 

   And the best part? It was dark, so you couldn't tell I looked like a lobster. 


"My father thinks he is very handsome, but I do not think so."

Don't worry, Dad, the title of this blog is not about you. :) It was actually the first sentence of a student's response an assignment I gave one of my classes- to write 10 sentences about their families. It gets better-- the student is the 13-year-old daughter of one of the directors at the school! Mr. Lee, the director in question, is super nice and awesome, and I have both of his daughters as students. They are both energetic, precocious and enthusiastic. As are many of me students. Either that, or they're very quiet. But their writing assignments continually make me laugh. Another student, in response to the same assignment, wrote "My first sister has huge eyes." 

I've decided that I need to dedicate a blog entry to how lucky we are, so far, to have a good school. There are other foreigners we have been hanging out with who have been having trouble, even in their first few weeks, with contract issues like getting paid on time, teaching hours, vacation time, etc. While we haven't really had an opportunity to have problems, our school does provide very well for us--- they buy dinner every night (delivered from a nearby restaurant, usually soup with varying vegetables, tofu, seafood and sometimes chicken, which I try to avoid, with rice.), provide snacks like bread, jam and a toaster to make toast; energy drinks; eggs and a frying pan; and little yogurt drinks. There is also a steady supply of (really good) instant cappuccino at the water cooler. Oh, and on Thursday, Mr. Lee handed us an envelope with $100 (100,000 won) and told us to go to the beach (it was a long weekend) and that it wouldn't come out of our paychecks. 

My classes are going well. Like I said, some students are a little too quiet, and it's a lot of work to get them to participate in discussions. And my younger classes have trouble settling down. But it's nothing major, and they're getting better. We still have small classes, which I like, but there will be more students next month. We have pretty set curriculae, and it can be hard when there are things a class needs to work on outside of that, like a specific grammar point, to find class time to do it. But it's flexible enough that I've been able to move things around and make room. 

Our Korean counterparts, young women our age named Laura and Dana, are lots of fun. We went out with them again Thursday night (since we had Friday off), and Jon, Laura and I ended up at a karaoke place. It was really a lot of fun-- they had a good amount of English songs. Laura and I rocked out to Destiny's Child together, we all sang some Backstreet Boys, and generally had a good time. 

Oh, and Anna, Erin and Mom...guess what song I also did! Build me up, Buttercup! Haha it reminded me of Leddy Beach :) 

And Kelli, we did Bohemian Rhapsody, although it was not as good without you. :) 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jimbjilbang and dak-galbi (style of cooking)

Jon~

I promise I have not forgotten about you all! This weekend was a crazy weekend, most of the good stuff happened on Sunday. Well, I found some Aussies, Brits, Canadian, and other US people who let me join in on some soccer. Aside from being grossly out of shape, and much much smaller than everyone else, I thought I did alright. That was until I got sick from the mid day heat and all the running. But the chaps all had great accents and were a lot of fun on the turf.

It turns out, one of our mates wife had invited Aileen and I to the spa to hang out with other foreign English teachers. The spa, aka Jimbjilbang , that we went to was called Orchestra. And for those how are visiting, this is one place you do not wana miss out on!!! Aside from the nudity among the same sex pools, the spas and jets and all were crazy cool. The guys section was on the second floor, the women were on the third, and then there was a fourth floor were the gals and guys can mingle. (No worries, all must be clothed in this section). Up on this part of the spa is food, TV's places to sleep and awesome sauna rooms, one of which we nicknamed the oven. You would walk in and it would be like a stone pizza oven... around 105+ degrees... most people only sat in there for about 2-5 mins... ya that hot. Then there were varying degrees down to a room that had ice crystles growing on the walls.

After that we went out to dinner and a bar. Jeonju def. has the best food I've ever eaten. And, although the main course is typically pricy, you get tons of food for free. Anyway that's all for now, I have classes. Cheers to you all. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snails, Students and Soju!

So, as some of you know, Jon and I started teaching on Monday. It's pretty evident just from the fact that it's taken me until Wednesday night to have time to write about this exciting event that we've been BUSY! 

Monday morning we had training... a very quick and not too in-depth introduction to the very complicated Reading Town Curriculum. There are four big level distinctions (AS, AP, XL and XT) and then each level has 3 sublevels. Each class has 4 subjects (speaking, comprehension, writing and reading), and native English speakers teach speaking and writing, and Korean teachers teach the other two. There are more complications, but that's the basics. Oh, except XT does not have reading, and only English teachers teach XT since it is the highest level. 

Luckily, Jon and I had written lesson plans on Sunday, since we'd had a bit of an introduction on Friday, and didn't have tooooo much planning to do for our first classes that afternoon. But it was still a little hectic, just jumping in without too long to figure everything out.

In between training and planning/teaching, we all went to lunch at at restaurant across the street from the school. We were told that their specialty was snail soup, so, why not? We had some! Even our trainer from Seoul had never eaten snail, so it was a group experience. They were really small snails, so I didn't really notice that they were snails. It was a really good-- and pretty-- soup, with lots of greens like scallion, and the blue-green snails. 

All our classes went pretty well, with the expected kinks of the first day of class, but we are settling into the routine. It can be overwhelming, though, since mostly everything going on around us in the school is in Korean...and it's been crazy, with people running around since the school just opened and students are still being tested and registered for next month, since they can start month by month. And apparently Korean parents are very involved... our Korean counterparts are often on the phone with current or perspective students' parents. 

Korean students so far seem more disciplined than American students, and more studious. Though my younger students are still mostly full of energy and giggles! My class sizes range from one student to six, but we should be getting more as the year progresses. 

After the first day of classes, Jon, the two Korean teachers (Laura and Dana...their English names) and I went out for a quick drink to celebrate. Although, as I found out, there is no "out for a quick drink" in Korea. Much like normal meals, which come with an array of side dishes included in the meal price, Korean bars bring out side dishes with drinks...from creamed corn (it was really good!!) to popcorn to something that looked like coleslaw. Also, Laura and Dana told us that Koreans eat when they drink, so we ordered a pot of seafood stew with octopus, clams, mushrooms and other veggies. 

To go with all this food, our Korean bar guides ordered a bottle of plain soju (a traditional Korean liquor) and a bottle of lemon soju. It comes in small bottles, about 16 ounces, and ranges from $3-15. The Koreans wanted to mix the soju, since the plain was too strong for them, but Jon and I insisted on trying the plain stuff....we had to experience the true culture! :) So we all did a shot, and it was surprisingly smooth... like tequila but much more drinkable. Then we drank the mixed stuff, which was even better. Like hard lemonade. Strong hard lemonade. 

So, the moral of the story is, don't try to go our for a 'quick drink' in Korea. With all the food involved, you almost lose track of what you came for. But it was definately a lot of fun. Laura and Dana tried to get us to go out for karaoke, but we left that for another night.....maybe Friday? 


~Aileen 

(p.s.- I know I wrote a lot more about going out than I wrote about school. Rest assured, I am spending plenty of time focusing on work. I just thought that the bar story was much more interesting than the confusing curriculum and crazy classes :) ) 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I never thought I'd eat a fried leaf.......

 And I thought that the American South was the capital of frying anything possible. Turns out you can have tempura leaves here. I never quite got what kind of leaf it was...some kind of herb, but it looked like a Birch leaf. Anyway, it came in a Lunchbox dinner I ordered with a million kinds of stuff in the different little compartments. Soooo good! 

   Anyway, Jon and I finally made it downtown Jeonju yesterday. We took a taxi, but had to show him the entry in the dictionary for 'downtown' since we couldn't pronounce it right. After we tried to ask to go to the central market but he couldn't understand us and what I had written down from the phrasebook was in wierd Romanization and he didn't get it. So he drove downtown, and randomly asked some people on the street their opinion. They figured it out, luckily. I've learned to pretty much completely humble myself here and hope that someone will take pity on me and figure out my pantomiming and reading from a phrasebook. Tomorrow I'm going to ask someone from the school if they can help me find a Korean language class. 

  Another consequence of my inability to communicate is that I can't quite get a feel for this place yet. It's crazy...old and new mixed together, the downtown full of nice new buildings next to the traditional peaked roofs and very well-preserved temples. We stumbled upon part of the huge historical village, and it was amazing, so old and beautiful and well-kept. 

  Which brings me to another observation. Korea is definitely very developed...at least, on the developed side of 'developing.' I mean, sure, they have poverty and problems, but so does every country, no matter their 'developing' status. My first clue to this was the unfortunate discovery that things are, almost exactly, the same price they are at home. Dinners out run from about 7-15 American dollars, with more expensive items. Some groceries are more expensive. The paper towels we bought last night definitely were ($3.20 for a two-pack!!). I still feel like I will save a lot of money, since we don't have to pay rent, and transportation between cities is cheap, but still.....a little disappointing. I will end up having the same budget for groceries as I had in the States. When we get more proficient in Korean, we'll tackle the markets, which will hopefully be cheaper. 

Things are also very advanced technologically here-- something I did expect. Our apartment building door, apartment door and office doors all have digital locks, with codes or a key that you just touch to a screen and it opens the door. There are a lot of nice cars. And from what I've observed so far, people have money to spend. There are always lots of people in the many restaurants, and E-Mart (a larger version of Wal-Mart right across from our school) is always busy. 

So. Those are some of my superficial observations. That, and almost all the women carry umbrellas as parasols. :) (The woman who helped us move in, our Director's wife, carried a piece of cardboard from a box in our apartment yesterday because she forgot her parasol :-) ) 

I do very much like the presence of history here. At the part of the historical village we visited yesterday, there very many Koreans. Some with their families, others with friends, sometimes just by themselves, walking through the buildings. There seems to be a lot of appreciation of and pride in their heritage. With good reason. 

Aileen

Oh, look at the link to my Picasa account (photo website)....I put some photos up!!! 


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Entry from the plane...

  So, I'm writing this blog from somewhere over Russia. Pretty cool, huh? Too bad Jon and I are in the middle of the middle row, so we are nowhere near a window. We flew over Canada, the Arctic, and now we are over Russia. We'll cut down across a little bit of China, then around North Korea to Seoul. It's wierd, because it's 12:15 am Eastern time (who knows what time it is underneath us) and it's still light out. It'll be 5:30 pm (Thursday) local time when we get to Seoul, in four hours. Which I guess means it'll never be dark, even though it'll be a different day. Wierd. Two days and no night. I can't really think about that too much.... :-) 

   So far, the ride's been alright. We have those video-on-demand video screens in the seats, so I've been watching a lot of TV and movies..."Definately, Maybe"; an episode of Friends and House; "Dan in Real Life"; and some of Horton Hears a Who. Plus they have games like Tetris, which is good for killing time. Jon's watching...I'm not sure, but it must be funny because he keeps laughing. :-) 

   Alright, writing this blog post did not kill nearly enough time. Guess I'll mess around some more on the computer. I'm tired of watching movies. I slept a little earlier, but I don't want to sleep now since I want to be on the right schedule, which I guess makes it 1:30 in the afternoon for me now. Aye.
  
Or maybe I'll just play some more Tetris .

       Jon says hello,

~Aileen

We're here!!!

Hey, so we made it to Korea!! I definately wrote 2 nice blog posts on my laptop, but we found this internet cafe before somewhere with wireless soo...guess you'll have to wait to read about our trip here. :)

Right now it is about 8 am, and we are wandering around the city. It's a nice city, and we can kind of figure out what some stuff is, by pictures or random English signs. We found a 7-11 to buy something to drink in....and a Domino's. I dont think they quite have the same menu as the ones in the US....they had a huge picture of a pizza with crab, octopus and noodles on it! It's really hot and humid here...good thing we have AC in the apartment...at least in our bedroom. (I'll write more about the apartment etc later when I post pictures of the apartment and our neighborhood!)

Today at 1, our school director's wife is picking us up...I'm guessing to go to the school...she didn't say when she dropped us off here last night.

~Aileen and Jon