"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, 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.