"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, April 27, 2009

Why we have to leave the country

Ok, so some of you have been hearing/seeing random things about Jon and I and deportation, so I thought I should set the record straight.

Last year, right before we came here, we were having some issues with the visa because the Jeonju Reading Town wasn't finished with construction yet, so couldn't get a business liscence so couldn't sponser us. In order to get us here before the school started, Reading Town headquarters registered us under a Reading Town in Seoul. They told us they would change it as soon as we got here, and then we thought they had fixed it. They told us everything was ok with our visa etc. 

You might not think it's a big deal to be teaching with a different branch of the same school, but you need a visa from the CITY that you are working in also. We did NOT know that. It's not really something that comes up in casual conversation. We have our residents' cards like everyone else, only ours says "Immigration office of Seoul" in small letters at the bottom--we figured that everyone's went through Seoul, since it's the capital and general hub of activity. Nope. Everyone else's in Jeonju says "Immigration office of Jeonju." We find out after all of this.

Anyway, somehow (we're not really clear on this part) immigration in Jeonju found out that we'd been working illegally for the past 9 months. We went with our director to the immigration offices on Thursday and again on Friday to figure out basically how pissed they were at us and especially Mr. Lee, the director. 

To make a long story short, which I'm going to because I've told this story a million times in the past 5 days, they're ending our contracts and giving us 10 days to leave the country. Not technically deported, so we can come back, and it doesn't look bad on us. Jon's trying to wrangle some severance money out of headquarters since it's their fault, we have emails to prove it, and they're trying to blame it all on our director. 

So, that's the story. We're fine. Jon'll travel with me for a little, depending on how much he can get from headquarters....

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great American Pasttime...Korean Style

I've been wanting to go to a baseball game here since before I came. But when we got here, we didn't know enough about what was going on, and we missed the end of the season. So, finally, the weekend before last, I made it to a game. 
Jon and I, and our friends Dan and Amanda, were planning on taking the train up to Daejeon (where the closest team is) on Saturday, going to the nearby zoo, then to the game and then to Costco for the bi-monthly stock-up. Well, on Thursday night we were at the Beer Cave, as is becoming usual, and we met a very friendly Korean man in an intense bicycling outfit. His name is Brad, and he turned out to be really cool. We talked to him a lot that night, and found out he is a certified SCUBA dive-master, loves to travel and loves trying different foods and beers (that is rare in Koreans). He was also quite funny. The conversation turned to Costco, and we mentioned we were going on Saturday. Brad professed his love for Costco, and volunteered to drive us there. We told him the plans for the day, and he got pretty excited. We exchanged phone numbers, and left unsure of whether he was actually going to go with us, and drive, so planning on keeping the original plan. 
Well, Friday night he called me and said he and a friend would drive us, that there were 2 others girls coming too, and that he'd pick us up at 9. Sweet! Going somewhere in an actual car is a luxury Jon and I have only had one other time in Korea, but it makes life much easier. 
Brad picked us up on time, and after taking the usual while to get out of town that comes standard with a road trip, we were on the way to Daejeon. Daejeon is about an hour away by car, and its a bigger city than I thought it was, having only been the two blocks from the train station to Costco. It has a population of 1.4 million, which is crazy since it's only the 5th largest city. There are at least 8 cities in Korea with more than a million people....and Korea's the size of Indiana!!  
The zoo was fun...there were beautiful leopards, tigers and panters, but also some small enclosures for other animals and a particularly sickly-looking polar bear. On the whole, average for Korean zoos. There were crowds of people throwing chips to the monkeys, who showed quite impressive catching skills while hanging onto the bars of the cage and sticking their skinny arms out. That can't be good for the monkeys. 
After the zoo, we headed to the baseball game. Outside the stadium, there were vendors selling boxes of fried chicken that came with sketchy-looking label-less plastic bottles of beer. And there was a Pizza Hut stand selling personal pan pizzas with sweet potato and chicken. And the ubiquitous stalls with dried squid and meat on a stick. And, of course, soju and beer. 
The inside of the stadium was a lot more like the baseball games I'm used to. Stands of people wearing jerseys, a fan section with lots of signs, little kids with baseball gloves, and tons of Thundersticks (the long, narrow plastic balloons used as noisemakers). There were kids on the field playing catch before the game, a ritual sometimes held after the game in the States, usually at minor-league parks. The players were warming up. There were cheerleaders on the field. Okay, maybe that part isn't the same as the games in the States. 
The game started, we passed around paper cups of that questionable beer, and I felt at home. True, there were more home runs than a usual MLB game (at least 6, probably 8). And the 7th inning stretch was not only moved to the 6th inning, but the players actually used it to get out on the field and stretch. And there were cheerleaders, and a man conducting synchronized cheers most of the game in the hard-core fan section. And there was dried squid and roasted squid but no hot dogs. But there was a pitcher, a catcher, fielders, a batter and runners. In short, it was baseball. Three strikes and you're out. Some things are sacred.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, cherry blossoms

Think Asia, and you'll probably think about cherry blossoms in the first few seconds. They're right up there with samurais, tigers, tea and pagodas. So, in the spring in Korea, of course we had to go to a Cherry Blossom Festival.
First of all, I was thinking that cherry blossoms would be a bit over-rated. I mean, they're in everything...paintings, books, movies...talk about setting you up for disappointment. But cherry blossoms really are that awesome. Especially when they're on trees that line to road for miles, creating a canopy over the road. And when they line riverbanks. And when the wind blows, and it snows flower petals. Here there are a few varieties of beautiful blooming trees, with blossoms varying from pure white to bright pink. The white-flowered trees are my favorite, because the trees look like popcorn or cotton stuffing or I don't even know. They look comfy. 
Cherry trees had been blooming in Jeonju slowly for a few weeks, but they hadn't gotten to peak yet, where they take over the whole tree. It was still beautiful. When the weekend of the cherry blossom festival rolled around (the first weekend in April), they still hadn't quite peaked in Jeonju. Nonetheless, Jon, our friends Dan, Amanda, Ben, Talor, Helen, Ken and I boarded a train headed south for Hwagae, a little village at the foot of a huge mountain that boasted a festival that made the top 3 tourist activities of the Korean spring. 
After we got to the train station, we had to wander for awhile, trying to find the bus station. We eventually took a taxi to a small, old, dilapidated bus station that looked like an old school building, with old, dilapidated buses that could have been school buses in front. We bought our tickets for the bus that would take us to the festival, and waited around for it to get there. 
Once it did, and we were boarded along with everyone else going to the festival, the bus started along the road. It was supposed to be a 30 minute ride. After about 10, we ran into stop-and-go traffic that was more stop than go. It was backup from the festival. After an hour and a half crawling down a beautiful road along a river lined with cherry trees, we got out and walked, following the example of a Korean power-walked we'd been going at the same pace as for at least 30 minutes. We figured some fresh air was in order, and that walking would probably be more enjoyable anyway. 
It definitely was, and we walked the rest of the way. The festival grounds were a market in this tiny village. The market was apparently usually an attraction in itself, and it was sprawling, filled with fresh roots and mushrooms from the mountain, bags of tea leaves and pottery. The pottery was beautiful. Rustic jars, mugs and tea sets, delicate soju shot glasses and vases, all made of brown clay and decorated with white glaze, sometimes with a dash of pink or blue. I bought a nice, big, thick, heavy mug. I like my coffee or tea in something substantial. :) 
We spent the rest of the time wandering the market, then walking on a road justly labeled "scenic road of Korea." It was lined on both sides with cherry trees, which came together overhead. It would have been greater, had it not also been backed up with traffic. But we still enjoyed it, and walked until the sun started setting. 
We took a bus back to Jeonju. Getting on the first bus was an experience. We waited in an orderly line, which doesn't happen much in Korea. But then, when the bus came, everybody completely sprinted to the doors, pushing and shoving everyone else out of the way. I got pushed by a few scary old ladies, and elbowed by some guy with a little kid. Talor and I shoved along with them, and got seats, along with a couple other friends. 
When we got back to Jeonju, we had a nice big dinner of Dak Galbi. Cheesy, wonderful goodness.....that's something I'm gonna have to learn to make when I get home. Mmmmm.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Great Outdoors

A few years back, I was taking a nice springtime walk on the preserve at Catawba, reflecting on my life, and I realized that almost all of my childhood memories took place outside. The more I tried to remember being indoors, the more I realized how much of my life I spent outside. For this, I have my parents, especially my mother, to thank. 
I grew up in a place that was especially outdoors-friendly-- Burlington, Vermont. Not only did my family take advantage of every opportunity to spend time outdoors at home, but every vacation we took revolved around the outdoors-- the ocean, lakes, woods. We had a good-sized backyard with a huge willow tree that I would climb and spend hours in, and a garden and a deck in the back that we spent most of the warm-weather days on. We went to the beach, to the park, to the woods, and to parks all over Vermont. At the time, I might not have always wanted to go, but looking back I'm thankful we did. I remember spring evenings playing catch, summer mornings at the beach, and fall days picking apples. 
So these days, I'm thinking about my connection to the outdoors more and more. Living in a city such as Jeonju, with a nice but small river, some small parks but nothing really big or nice makes me feel the need to get out of town every weekend. I'm used to nature. I need it. 
I always feel bad for people who don't have this strong connection to nature, to the outdoors. Although maybe it would make life in a city easier. But I think it's so important, especially for kids, to get out into nature. To get dirty. To explore. To hug a tree. :) Climb a mountain. Explore a tide pool. 
In spring, there's a certain time of day I feel like I need to be at softball practice. Not need to like I might get in trouble if I don't go. But need to like a part of me just needs to be outside, working hard, getting dirty and doing something active. (Man. Just writing about it makes me sad. I'd better find a rec team in DC next year.) 
More importantly, as I'm sitting in my office on this very warm spring day in Korea, sun coming in the window, I feel like I'm a student again on one of those spring days when everyone begs the teacher to hold class outside. And then I see my students, here from 3:45-7. Missing the best part of the day. They should be outside. Because I'm pretty sure I gained more from running around outside all afternoon than I would have in a classroom. But that's a concept that's yet to catch on here. In the meantime, I'll remain frustrated at the system. I'm thinking of letting my class outside for 10 minutes today, if we finish all our work, and I probably will. I'm just pretty sure I'll get told I can't do that anymore in a day or so. But I think it's worth it. If I wasn't already leaving in a few weeks, and therefore don't want to cause any more trouble, I'd have the whole class outside. Just once. Learn names of trees and plants. Play a playground game. But it won't happen. I just hope their parents take them places on the weekends. 
Thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking me places. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kai, Bai, BO!

"Kai, Bai, Bo" is the Korean version of rock, paper, scissors, and I am pretty sure that Koreans use that to decide everything from who will pay the check to the fate of the world. Well, maybe not that last one, but I'm not convinced they couldn't use it during unification.
Case in point. My students are highly competitive. Seriously. They will fight over nothing, and compete for who can finish their work first, and who gets the most answers right....etc. One of my classes assigns each other medals (gold, silver, bronze) in every exercise we do, and even created 3 more ranked categories since there are 6 people in the class. They started fighting over who finished first, seriously fighting, to the point of tears in some of them. So, after that episode, they started doing rock paper scissors to solve the disputes. This worked perfectly. No problem. They completely accept the outcome of this random game. It cracks me up. Something that used to make them fight to the death is now solved by rock paper scissors. 

Not only is RPS a way to solve disputes, but in Korea it's also a game by itself, with an added element. Whoever wins gets to flick the other one in the forehead. Hard. They practice. My students play it all the time. They've even gotten Jon to play with them, but I refuse to get flicked in the forehead. Or flick anyone else. But mostly get flicked. 
The best time I had playing this game...well I guess the only time I played...was waiting for the subway one night in Seoul. It was the night after Joe, Tara and Nate's first night in Korea, and we were heading back to the hostel. This drunk Korean guy came up to us and, after babbling something in Korean he started in with the rock paper scissors motion. So we got the point. So we all played a group game, and then the ones who lost got flicked in the head by, of course, the drunk guy, who, of course, won. We kept playing until the subway came, and getting flicked in the head. It was ... interesting. 

But my favorite RPS story has to be last week at this new bar we found. Our friend Carlos called us and told us where to meet him. The bar is this small dive in the basement of a random building only a few blocks from our apartment. Another foreigner discovered it a few weeks ago, and a week later there were tons of us. There is a lot of imported beer...rare in this city...and it's pretty cheap. The beer is just in fridges in the bar, and you just grab it and they add up the bottles. 
But there was an older Korean guy there with one of the foreigners, he was one of her students. He was really friendly, and bought us a round of drinks. Then, he was talking to the owner of the bar, and then he turned to us and said "Ok, this is the owner. We will play rock paper scissors. I win, he give this beer (shows us 5 bottles of $5 beer). I no win....uh...I will win." 

So they played. And he won. So we got free beer. And later we found out that all that happened if he lost was that he had to pay for the beer. 

I love rock paper scissors. It solves everything. :)