"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. 

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)


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? 


(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. 


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