"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, October 27, 2008


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.