S: Seoulful Serendipity
FC: Seoulful Serendipity | An Iowa girl is transplanted in South Korea for awhile. Hilarity is sure to ensue...
1: serendipity : the art of making happy discoveries, or finding the unexpected pleasant by chance or sagacity : I'd say that pretty aptly describes my Korean adventure...
2: New Beginnings... Somehow, last Sunday morning I got sucked into watching Uptown Girls on ABC Family. I was reminded of a couple of things... A. of what a jerk Dakota Fanning was in that movie, 2. how odd it is that Brittany Murphy is no longer alive and C. (and most importantly) why I liked that movie in the first place. After all conflict is resolved at the end, Dakota Fanning has a voice over narration that was stuck in my head for the next 10 minutes: Every story has an end, but in life, every ending is just a new beginning. How appropriate, for, in less than one month, I am moving my life to South Korea. Why am I moving to South Korea? (Thanks for asking.) To teach English, of course! Why would I do a thing like that? (Dang, you're curious...) One year ago, I saw myself serving in the Peace Corps after graduation. I completed the entire application and was real jazzed about the prospect of living in an exotic, faraway land. Then, while getting some writing advice from an English professor, I was forced to consider why I was making this decision. And, wouldn't you know, my answer was, "Uh, (pause) I guess it sounded cool?" Solid reason, right? That marked one of the many mind changes I have made in the last several years. (If college taught me one thing about myself, it was that I'm a real pro at changing my mind about what I think I want...) What started out as an experience that could strengthen my chances to someday find myself serving in the Peace Corps has turned into an experience that will surely shape the rest of my life. Moving across the world to teach English to high school girls... am I nuts? NO. I'm ambitious and excited and ready for a change, not to mention hopeful, optimistic, maybe a little bit nervous (or... maybe more than a little bit)... but hopefully a little bit brave, too. I am in hopes that this experience will be a lot of things for me. Not only will it prove to me that I can do most anything I set my mind to, but it will instill in me a new way of seeing and experiencing the world around me. I am excited for the inevitable changes that will occur in me and for everything that I will learn about myself. I would be lying to myself if I didn't acknowledge my excitement over the chance for some hardcore soul (and Seoul!) searching in the coming months. Each day will present new and exciting challenges and triumphs... many of which I am sure I will not hesitate to share! My favorite word is serendipity. According to a mug I bought at my favorite New York City restaurant, Serendipity 3, serendipity refers to the art of making happy discoveries, or finding the unexpected pleasant by chance or sagacity. That is exactly what I plan to do with my spare time while I'm in Korea. I hope you'll join me on my serendipitous discoveries. | Saturday, August 7, 2010 | 2
3: Holy Balls. I'm really doing this. Last week as I spent some time in Ames helping with recruitment, everything for this trip finally came together as I was e-mailed my plane reservations. I leave for Korea this Wednesday, the 25th. (I leave from Cedar Rapids at 7:25ish, and arrive in Seoul (via Chicago) at 5 am Friday morning.) With everything in place, including a last minute degree printing and apostille session in DSM on Thursday, I am all set to leave for my big adventure. It seems a little surreal that after all of the planning, preparations and research, I am actually doing this. I am moving to South Korea. This is the real deal. Do I have everything I need? Yes, save a last minute toiletrie run. (They do not sell deodorant in Korea. Target may need to restock their shelves by the time I'm done with them...) Am I all packed? Are you kidding me? If you know me at all, you know that I'll probably wait until Wednesday afternoon to even start. Am I nervous? Uh, SHYEAH! I've run the gammet of emotions this week. I'm nervous as hell, but then I hear words of encouragement from the director of my school or get a Facebook message from Liz, a girl that I met at the Korea consulate in Chicago, get words of encouragement from family and friends around home and I get super excited. I've felt a myriad of other emotions too. As I was driving home from DSM on Thursday, I heard a song called Wally by Aslyn (check her out. she's legit!) that reminded me of my grandparents and I started to cry. This morning, during offering in church, Mom leaned over and said, "By this time next week, you'll be in Seoul." We stared at each other for a a little while with bewildered looks on our faces and it was all I could do not to cry then, too. It's starting to sink in that I'll be gone for a real long time. Of course, through the wonders of modern technology, I'll be able to communicate, speak and even see most everyone back home, which will make being away much easier. Don't get me wrong. I'm sooooo excited for what lies ahead and I know it will be the experience of a lifetime. I have prepared myself in almost every way I can conceive to make this trip go as smoothly as possible and I've always been "a kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-gal" (props to you if you know which movie that is from...) anyway. Now comes that part that I can't prepare myself for. Saying goodbye. This weekend, we were able to have some family time. It was so nice to see Nick and Jess and Grandma and Grandpa one last time before I leave and to enjoy the typical Plueger fish fry as well. We squeezed in a family photo or two for the annual Christmas card and enjoyed a nice bike ride in Cedar Rapids on Friday. Then, last night, Kirk, Lu and I saw Eat Pray Love (so good!) and ate dinner at Perkins (fo' free! thanks to some VIP coupons I snagged through my work with the city of Cedar Rapids!) What an awesome way to spend my last weekend in Iowa! Today we're journeying to the much-touted Stone City General Store to enjoy open mic night and some good food. Next time I post, I'll be across the world from most of you reading these words. I'll have several stories to tell, I'm sure (I always do...), and I would LOVE to hear from you, telling me stories of the things I am missing at home, in Ames or from wherever you are. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, my skype name is noelle.plueger and I'll post my address in Korea as soon as I know what it is. Thanks for your excouragement, excitement, and support! | Monday , August 23, 2010 | 3
4: The Lowdown on my Time Here So Far... Disclaimer: This entry is REAL long! Very few details were spared in its writing. So, I started packing on Tuesday (way early for me) All I can say is Thank God for space bags (the bags you pack and suck all of the air out of with a vacuum hose) because I don’t know how else I would have gotten everything I needed (and probably quite a bit that I don’t need) into my allotted baggage limit of two bags weighing 50 pounds of less. I weighed everything before we left, shooting to have my bags weigh no more than 40 or so pounds to account for a difference between our bathroom scale and the scale at the airport. Mom, Dad and I got to the airport well before my flight left. I’m talking 4:45 for a 7:15 flight. We like to be prepared. The woman at the United desk printed off my boarding passes and went to check my luggage. She lifted my first bag and it passed the test with flying colors. The next bag had to be weighed. When Dad was putting my luggage in the car before we left, he had made a comment about that bag weighing too much. Mom had made the same comment as she carried it into the airport. I knew better. At least, I hoped. As the woman put the bag on the scale, a feeling of great relief passed over me. It weighed 45.7 pounds. No. Big. Deal. Kirk and Ruth came to the airport to see me off and Nick also called right before it was time for me to go through security. I can’t thank them all enough for coming and calling! Saying goodbye to everyone went a lot more smoothly than I had expected. No tears! My flight to Chicago was no big deal. Maybe 40 minutes. It was fun to look out the window at Cedar Rapids from the air. I’ve only lived in the city for about nine months of my life total, but I feel a special kinship just the same. When I arrived in Chicago, I had about four hours to kill. I landed in terminal two and had to find my way to terminal five which is the international terminal. I followed all of the brightly colored signs and found myself at a train that dropped me off right in front of the terminal as if I had taken the shuttle from Rockford as Mom, Dad, Nick and I had done about 10 years ago on our trip to Sweden. I had to re-check in since I was transferring airlines. I stood in line in front of a girl and guy who were also preparing to teach English in Asia. If was fun listening to them talk about their preparations, what they packed, etc. even though their faint Southern accents and verbal ticks started to get on my nerves a little When it was my turn to check in, I walked to the desk and handed the woman my passport and boarding pass. Everything went super smoothly until she asked about my carry-on luggage. I showed her what I had with me and she made me weigh the bigger of my two items. It weighed 14.6 kilograms. Apparently, the combined weight limit of carry-on luggage is only 10 kg. Oops. She told me they would have to check it. This worried me because I was not about to pay $45 to check an additional bag. She must have sensed this worry (I’ve never been very good at hiding my emotions) because she graciously waved the fee! I started to breathe much easier after I profusely thanked her and transferred a few things into my sole carry-on. My flight to Seoul was also pretty no big deal. I sat on the aisle beside two college age boys from Shanghai, China who were coming back from a Solar Decathlon Competition in Washington D.C. I didn’t talk to them hardly at all, though, because the kid across the aisle from me was quite the Chatty Cathy. Before the plane even began to move, Lee talked my ear off all about the competition (which I could sort of intelligently keep up with because a group from Iowa State had competed in the competition), his interest in energy conversion (lots of smiling and nodding here) and why I was going to Seoul. He was very excited that I was teaching and invited me to come teach in China next! What a character he was! After the plane lights were turned out, I fell fast asleep for the next eight hours straight, waking up a couple of times, having to remind myself that, yes, I was in fact en route to Korea and not having a weird dream. I slept through the first meal they served on the plane, which was fine because the choices were either beef or Korean (I’m not sure what that would have entailed) so I’m not sure I could have eaten them anyway. I was surprised to find that they even served a meal at all, let alone serving food three times. The second time, they served the first meal again and the third was breakfast several hours later. Much of the rest of my flight was spent sleeping and watching Friends and Under the Tuscan Sun on my ipod. I also ate a breakfast that consisted of an omelet, some melon, a croissant, and yogurt. | 4 | Saturday, August 7, 2010
5: With about half an hour of the flight left, Lee tapped me on the shoulder and started asking me all sorts of questions about what I studied in college and many other questions that I found funny. He asked me to tell him all about American barbeques, he told me that because I only eat fish and no other meat, I have really nice skin (for real? What a smooth talker My skin is in the worst shape it’s been in since high school!), and asked how much houses in Iowa cost. What a random kid. He was very, very interested in my study of Sociology and we talked a lot about the differences between Sociology and Psychology. We even exchanged stories about experiments and studies in the respective areas that we found interesting. He kept telling me over and over how much he loves America and how lucky I was to be an American, which is definitely something I take for granted, but I also don’t know that he has a legit idea of all that America entails, nor do I have a legit idea of what it means to not be American... The flight landed about half an hour early, which made me nervous that Mr. Kim would not be at the airport yet, especially given the time of day (4:30 am!). I made it through immigration quickly and retrieved my baggage within (literally) two minutes. I didn’t even have time to get a luggage cart before I had all of my bags. Customs was also super easy. I handed the man my card with no claims and he bowed and waved me through. Then, right in front of the welcome gate sat a sign that said my name on it, welcoming me to Korea. I walked up to the sign and smiled and made eye contact with Mr. Kim. He introduced me to his friend that would drive me to Gwangju city as he was waiting to pick up another native English teacher who would be arriving a little bit later. The drive from the airport in Incheon to Gwangju city was about an hour. The sun rose as we were driving, revealing Korea’s beautiful landscape of tree-lined hill-mountains. There were also a lot of buildings much like any large urban area. As we got off the interstate and closer to Gwangju city, I began to notice the several bright colored signs that are everywhere: on the sides of buildings, on banners along the side of the road, EVERYWHERE! We met the director of foreign relations at my school, Dr. Hyunjoo Kim, who hired me and has been communicating with me through this process, at my school. Because it was too early to visit the school (6:15 am or so), she took me to my apartment. (I’ll post pictures and a video tour soon, I promise!) It is just two blocks or so down the hill from my school. It is on the fourth floor of the building. On the street level is a small convenience store that is open 24 hours a day. The next floor is home to a business called Drumline that gives music lessons to kids. The third floor houses karate classes. This morning I heard a kid playing a drum kit (he or she was pretty good!) and just now I heard the karate class. There are four apartments on my floor. There is a door to enter the floor that is locked and then my apartment door is also locked so it is very secure! My apartment is quite small but has everything I need with lots of storage. There is a small kitchen right inside the door with a large refrigerator / freezer, a small sink and a two (gas) burner stovetop, very small, shallow broiler and wood laminate floor. If I keep walking straight, I enter the bathroom. It is made entirely of pink tile. There is a shower head on the left (but no enclosed area with a curtain or doors), a short, but good sized sink in the middle under a large mirror and a toilet and washing machine on the right. On the other end of my apartment is my bedroom/dining room/living room. I have a double bed, table with two chairs, good sized closet, television, desk and sofa. The whole wall facing the street is windows from the ceiling to about halfway down the wall. My desk sits on this wall, so I feel just like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City as I write this entry! I will only live in this apartment for about a month because when the other English teacher at my school leaves at the end of September, I will move into her apartment, which I’m told is larger. Either way, I am very comfortable here! Dr. Kim left me about two hours to get some rest and get cleaned up for the rest of the day. At 9:00, I was picked up by Chan-yang Jung, one of several Korean English teachers at my school. He took me to a hospital in the next city to get the health screening that is necessary to get my Alien Registration Card, which will enable me to get a cell phone, internet and a bank account. It was a pretty standard general physical, checking my teeth, weight, height, blood pressure, eye sight and hearing. Mr. Jung told me that I would probably have to get new glasses because my sight is not good enough with my current lenses, but we’ll see what the doctor says I also had to get blood drawn, get a chest x-ray and pee in a cup for a drug test. Mr. Jung handed me the cup and asked if I knew what it was for. | 5
6: 6 | (cont...) I said yes, but I wonder what he would have said if I had said no The whole thing was quite efficient and took less than an hour, which I guess is pretty fast because Mr. Jung was very happy with the amount of time it took. We talked on the way to and from the hospital about lots of things. The thing that really sticks in my mind was when he asked if America was like what he had seen on Desperate Housewives. He said that watching season two really helped his English skills. I consider it my personal mission for the next year to dispel any and all thoughts that all Americans behave like the women on Wisteria Lane. Once we got back from the hospital, we went to the school. My school is called Kyung-Hwa English Business High School for Girls. It is part of a larger campus that houses a middle school and an academic high school. My specific school is considered a vocational school for girls that are more geared toward entering a trade school once they are done with high school (beauty school, opening a bakery, becoming a certified typist to work as a secretary, etc.). The whole school was founded on a Christian ideology. Once we got to the school, I was taken around to meet several teachers and administrators and was shown where my desk would be. I was also introduced to a couple of music classes that Dr. Kim teaches. They all cheered and clapped when Dr. Kim introduced me (I suspect she coached them to do this, but it was much appreciated just the same..). Next, we ate lunch. For lunch that day there was standard kimchi and rice, fried pork cutlets and gravy, a cold bean sprout and corn salad and octopus soup. Everything (save the pork cutlet and gravy which I did not try) was delicious! The kimchi was spicy, the rice was nice and sticky and the octopus soup tasted similar to the oyster stew my mom makes for Christmas Eve dinner. I was a little shaky on the chop stick use, but I think I will get the hang of them soon with some practice. After lunch, Dr. Kim took me to E-Mart (much like a Target store) to purchase some supplies for my apartment. I got some pillows and a comforter for my bed, some eggs and milk, a dish and tea cup, and some cleaning supplies. I’m planning to venture out again tomorrow to get more food, an alarm clock and some other items for my apartment. After E-Mart, I sat in on two English classes. This helped me get an idea of the levels of the girls I will be teaching. Each of the school'sbthree levels are split into two sections, a lower level and a more advanced level. I will be teaching the lower levels. There isn’t really a set curriculum for me to follow, so Emily (the teacher whose classes I observed) gave me some advice on how to plan the classes. I am to come up with a general concept to practice and break that general concept down into several lessons, starting with easy things and building on those easy concepts to more difficult skills. I think it will take me a little while to come up with what to teach them, but once I figure out what I want to teach, the methods shouldn’t be too hard. I basically need to introduce the concept, have them practice it and them play a game or have an activity to engage them to put their new knowledge to use. I think this will be a lot of fun! The girls seemed very engaged and excited to learn and they all got very into the activities, constantly laughing and cheering when they were successful. I will be teaching about 20 hours per week, but will be at the school from about 7:50 to 5:00 each day, which gives me ample time to prepare my lessons during the day at school. I start teaching by myself on Wednesday! WHOA. That is all for now. I typed this whole entry in Microsoft Word and am stealing a spotty wireless signal to post it. Plus, I’m still real tired, so I think a nap is next on the day’s agenda. Thank you for all of the e-mails and Facebook greetings! It is comforting to know you are thinking of me and know that I am thinking of all of you as well! Dr. Kim told me to use the school’s address to send things since I’ll be moving. Here it is: Kyung-Hwa English Business High School for Girls Song-Jung Dong 52-1 Gwang-Ju City, Gyung-ghi Do Korea My apartment’s landline phone number can be dialed from the US like this: 011.82.31.768.8659 Love from Korea!
7: 7 | I'm a wordy cuss... After almost four whole days in Korea, I think I can safely say that I am going to enjoy my time here! After sleeping most of the day Saturday, I was WIDE awake yesterday morning at 1:30. I watched Sex and the City and drifted in and out of sleep for several more hours, managing to squeeze in a meal and shower. After being a total bum for two days, I talked myself into a solo trip to E-Mart, despite the torrential downpour that had been occurring all morning. I had to buy an alarm clock to ensure that I would be on time for my first full day at school! That place was C-R-A-Z-Y! First, because I had entered from the parking ramp below the store the previous time I had been to the store, the street entrance was a new adventure. To make a long story short, I rode all the way up to the fourth floor of this building, through a food court, department store and finally a top floor parking garage before realizing that E-Mart was in the basement of the building. Good exercise, right Mom?... except that all of this needless travel was via escalators... When I finally made it to E-Mart, it seemed that it was the place to be on that rainy Sunday afternoon. Almost every aisle was crowded with families gathering their loot. I bought all of the items on my list and treated myself to some $3 sushi for dinner. It was quite good. The rolls were much thinner than most sushi I've had, and instead of eight or 12 pieces, there were 24! Quite delightful! Because I had been up since 1:30, I quickly fell asleep around 5:00 pm. Bad choice. This morning, I woke up at about 2:30 and tossed and turned until I gave in, waking up for good at 4:30. Apparently i don't know how to adapt to a 14 hour time difference... I'm am forcing myself to stay awake until at least 8:00 tonight. Today I walked to school in the rain. When I arrived at the school, I was greeted by about twenty students lining the entrance handing out some sort of pamphlet. In unison, they bid me good morning as I walked to my office. Upon arrival at my desk, several teachers stopped to say hello or introduce themselves. at 8:00, there was a 10 minute meditation conducted over a television screen. They sang a hymn (in Korean, so I have no idea which one...) and then there was a long prayer. After the meditation, they began their morning English lesson. Each morning, the students and teachers take part in a 30 minute morning English lesson, led by a Korean English teacher, assisted by a native English teacher. Soon, this will be me. It is much like an American high school television station broadcasting the week's sports results or the lunch menu. It was interesting to watch the lesson and hear the teachers diligently repeating back the new phrases they were learning. Also, I was introduced to the whole school over this t.v. system. I'm sure I sounded like a total dork, but that's fine. After each t.v. segment (the meditation, my introduction and the English lesson) a picture of little Maggie Simpson (from the cartoon The Simpson's) holding a cat was shown on the screen. I laughed to myself that this school was showing a picture from a show that many of my friends were not allowed to watch growing up because of its content. All morning, people kept offering me fruit and coffee and one teacher asked me to teach her English. I don't know how well that will go, but I would be willing to give it a try! Today I also observed three classes. The more I observe, the more I start to get the hang of how to go about teaching, though I am still nervous about coming up with what I will teach. It will come with time, I know, but with a blank slate, it is a little nerve wracking! This job will involve lots of pantomiming and picture drawing (For anyone who took the same Spanish classes as me in high school, I found myself employing "Sra." stick figure drawing techniques!). Emily, the Native English teacher whose classes I have been observing, offered to let me help her teach the last class I observed today. I was a little shaky and definitely talked too fast, but the girls were fun! One girl shouted out that I had a cool voice. Delightful! Several girls told me they'd see me tomorrow as I was leaving school. Everyone is so sweet! I'm going to like this job for sure! Also, after I returned to my desk, there was a handful of tea bags and a sucker sitting by my computer. (It is common in Korean culture to give little gifts to people.) I wish I knew who it was so I could thank them, but I am also a fan of anonymously giving gifts, so I can appreciate the gesture in two ways. I was informed that I should instruct anyone sending mail to me to include the postal code in the address as many mail delivery people cannot read Romanized letters. Below is the real way you should write the address: Kyung-Hwa English Business High School for Girls Song-Jung Dong 52-1 Gwang-Ju City, Gyung-ghi Do Korea 464-901 Thanks for reading! | Monday, August 30, 2010
8: 8 | He Leadeth Me... And, Free Stuff! Today, during the morning meditation, I was handed a hymnal by the vice principal. While all of the rest of the staff sang He Leadeth Me in Korean, I quietly sang in English. It was kind of cool that we were all singing the same song, but in different languages! Afterward, as I returned the hymnal to the Vice Principal and thanked her for letting me use it, she asked if I had my own. I guess it must be common here for people to have their own hymnals... I am also supposed to bring my Bible to school with me to use during the meditation time. I think The Message (a version of the Bible that is written in contemporary language) will be quite a bit different from the version they use... (Today's picture between meditation and the morning English lesson was from Lady and the Tramp...no more Maggie Simpson)... I continued to observe Emily's classes today and she even let me teach the last couple. I started to get the hang of it and even talked quite slowly! Tomorrow is the first time I teach on my own. Holy. Cow. Please pray. For lunch today, the English Department threw a going away party for Solomon (the teacher I am replacing) and Emily (she leaves at the end of September). They provided chicken wings, two kinds of Korean pizza, frozen concord grapes and an ice cream cake. The pizza was AWESOME! One kind was Idaho Potato. It had peppers, small fried potatoes and cheddar cheese (I think... and probably other stuff, but I can't remember...). It tasted a lot like breakfast pizza, which I haven't had in a really long time since most breakfast pizza comes with meat on it... The other kind was called Sweet Potato and had beef (which I picked off, but got promptly snatched by another staff member), some sort of fruit that looked like canned peaches but was much sweeter and boiled potatoes. They served the pizza with chop sticks, which was a new approach to pizza for me, but then we ate it with our hands. With the pizza, they served a mustard sauce, hot sauce, garlic sauce for dipping the crust and a cup of pickles. To accompany the chicken wings, they served some kind of pickled radish that tasted kind of sweet. They were really good! They also served Pepsi! I couldn't really taste much of a difference from American Pepsi, but Solomon said the Pepsi here is much sweeter... It all tastes super sweet to me... I don't think (knock on wood) that I have encountered a Korean food that I have not found tasty! The only thing that I'm not sure about and will take some getting used to is a certain kind of tea (i have no idea what kind it is...someone left me a whole bunch of it on my desk yesterday...). It tasted like rice, but burnt or something... It tasted much better to me after I let it get cold. After the last class of the day, all of the native English teachers were leaving the English Cafe (the building / floor designated for all English classes) and Solomon told me I could have his bike. He is moving to Seoul to live with his fiance and is not taking his bike with him. I don't know how much I will ride it, but it's nice to have the option I guess. It looks pretty nice, is only two years old and he also gave me his lock! Pretty sweet deal! Right now, there is some sort of truck outside broadcasting some kind of message throughout the neighborhood over a loudspeaker. It sounds like propaganda of some sort, but I have no idea what they are saying and they keep driving around the block repeating the same couple of sentences over and over... Never a dull moment in Korea, I guess... | Tuesday, August 31, 2010
9: 9 | Noelle Teacher, what is your blood type? Today was my first foray into the world of teaching English in Korea. In my lesson today, I told them about myself. I showed them a picture of our family (they were fascinated by Jessica's name and repeated it over and over to themselves...), Iowa, the Field of Dreams film trailor, pictures of Iowa State, a video of a Lady Gaga song being played on the camponile and several other pictures and videos having to do with me or Iowa. Then, I had them write down two questions that they wanted to ask me. I got some straight doozies! I was asked many questions about whether or not I knew famous Koreans and what my favorite Korean food was. I don't really know much about Korean pop culture yet, so I told them it was their job to teach me everything I need to know in that area. They seemed okay with that... One group even told me a recipe I have to try this weekend which seems to amount to kimchi fried rice. Since I am teaching teenage girls, I was, of course, asked if I had a boyfriend, when was my first kiss (they ALL giggled hysterically when this was asked and answered) and what I look for in boys. I was also asked what blood type I am for some reason... One girl approached me after class and told me she was very interested in the differences between Korean and American culture and asked if we could talk about them sometime. How cute! And, two girls came into the teacher's office and asked a couple of other teachers to ask me if I would be their friend. This job is precious. Today was also my first time helping with Morning English. My voice was broadcast over the television screens to all of the 2nd year students as we taught them new vocabulary and reviewed what they had learned yesterday. The Korean English teacher that is in charge of these lessons takes each word and finds a corresponding picture to illustrate what the word or phrase means. All of this is put into a powerpoint show and broadcast to the students in their classrooms. I read each new word or phrase and they repeat it. This happens twice. Then, I read a sentence with the new word or phrase in it and they repeat it (again, done twice). Sometimes, the Korean teacher will ask me questions about the pictures or sentences to further clarify what they mean. For example, the first phrase was "at least" and the picture he chose was of a plane crash. He then asked me what the picture was. I said, "Uh, a plane crash?" The whole time I was wondering what the heck that had to do with explaining the meaning of "at least"... Then, he asked if I knew which world leader was killed in a plane crash last summer. Thank god I listened to NPR all summer because that is the only way I knew the answer was Poland. Then, he said that he heard that at least 30 other people died in the same crash. Another phrase was "more likely to" and the corresponding sentence was: Left handed people are more likely to be overweight. Then, Mr. Jung (the Korean English teacher I work with) asked me if I thought this was accurate. I said, "Well, I hope not because I'm left-handed..." I also giggled a little after I said this. He didn't laugh. This made for a fairly awkward moment...story of my life, I guess. The whole Morning English process is very sophisticated. They have a room about the size of my apartment that is divided into three smaller sections that house all of the broadcast equipment. There are two booths to broadcast the lessons. One is used for students and one is used to teach the teachers a different English lesson. It's a pretty cool setup and is completely run by the students! Today was also my first faculty meeting. It was conducted entirely in Korean (duh...). So, for about 50 minutes, I watched people speak in a language that still sounds like total gibberish to me. Even if I concentrate every free minute on learning Korean, there is no way I would be able to teach myself enough to understand what is being said in these meetings... On the plus side, it was prime people watching time and I got a small bottle of strawberry yogurt milk out of the deal, so all was well! | Wednesday, September 1, 2010
10: 10 | Thursday, September 2, 2010 | Big Day! Last night, I woke up to really loud wind outside...like, tornado style. I had heard that there was supposed to be a typhoon, but I didn't really know what to expect and no one at school seemed too worried, so neither was I. While I was getting ready for school, I received a phone call from the woman who hired me asking if I was okay. I was not affected by the typhoon, but apparently the power at her apartment was taken out by the strong weather. On the walk to school, there was a tree down, a street sign bent and leaves and sticks everywhere. The students asked me during class if I survived! Clearly, I did. Things are now cleaned up and seem to be back to normal. Another big thing: I moved during my lunch hour today! I am now two doors down from where I had been living all week and this place is much larger than the last, like, twice as big! I have a large living room with a good size kitchen area, a large bathroom (with a very small bathtub, but no shower curtain...) and a separate bedroom! This place is a palace! Here is a quick tour of the last place and this weekend, I'll post a video of my new place. (I need to clean a little and finish putting things away...) Also, I'm sorry this video is sideways. I didn't think about how it would upload when I shot it! (NOTE: Due to the inability to have moving photos like those that exist in Harry Potter, there will be no live videos in this journal. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please visit seoulfulserendipity.blogspot.com) In the last apartment, I had not been sleeping the best. At first, I attributed this to the time change, but now that I am acclimated to the time difference and still not sleeping the best, I blame the mattress. The mattresses here are VERY hard, and I'm more of a soft mattress gal. So, the man who lived here before me had left a comforter and several blankets. I had already purchased my own comforter so I put his comforter under my sheet to create a cushy mattress pad. Now, I have a sort of pillow top mattress. NICE. I can't wait to try it out tonight! Classes today went well for the most part. They asked me some more funny questions.. What is my shoe size, could I give them beauty tips and bake them cookies, etc. They were also fascinated with my haircut today. Why was it so short? When did I cut it? They were even more baffled when I told them I cut it myself. WHOA. A girl also drew me a picture and put it by my computer. It was my face, a heart and a big thumbs up. Then it said, "I like you." and she signed it. Precious. In another class, I played a game that I had read about in another teacher's blog. I gave the students each a post-it note and told them to put the post-it on something in the classroom. Then, they had to tell me a sentence describing it. I made them do it again and again until they had described 214 things! First, they described obvious stuff: light, fan, whiteboard, marker, chair, table. Then, they got creative. One girl put a post-it on another girl and said, "She is my best friend." Another girl put a post-it on her friend's supposedly fancy watch and said, "This is my friend's bling bling watch." My favorite: a girl put a post-it on her nose and said, "These are my blackheads." I LOVE this job.
11: 11 | ... Not much to report this weekend. I've taken full advantage of having no plans and done almost literally nothing but sleep, read, watch Sex and the City, cook and clean. In a little while, I will venture out to go grocery shopping and then I'll work on my online Teaching English as a Foreign Language class before skyping with Mom and Dad tonight (can't wait!) Here's a video of my new apartment. On Thursday morning, I was told I would be moving that day during the lunch hour so that the new middle school teacher could move in to my (now old) apartment. I had almost gotten used to living in the old place with its cozy surroundings, but I was also growing tired of the noise from the street, the almost constant water dripping from the air conditioner and the extreme lack of kitchen space. Enter new apartment. As you will soon see, it is almost twice the size of my old place and much lighter, nicer and more conducive to comfort. I was also left many apartment supplies from the guy who moved out on Wednesday, so there is little I have to purchase in order to make living here comfortable. Other than the move, nothing much new has happened in the last couple of days. Every Friday, there is chapel during the first hour of school when there is normally Morning English. So, we all gathered in the school's auditorium for the service. The girls all sit in super straight rows by homeroom. It was sort of weird to see how perfect it all looked... First, the pastor led everyone in a few worship songs. He was accompanied by a few girls playing instruments and a choir of about 20 students. There were also six girls leading actions in the front. All of the songs were in Korean except one, so all I could do was watch and smile. Next, a group of the first year students did an interpretive dance that was really cute. It reminded me of my liturgical dance days at St. John's! After that two girls sang, which was followed by a sermon. The sermon was punctuated with pictures on a powerpoint show of famous people (the only one I remember was Yogi Berra) but I have no idea what the sermon was about... Then, the choir sang one last song and the service was done. I was very impressed by the involvement by the girls, but got little out of the service. Chapel is optional, but I will probably keep going because it is fun to see the girls participate. On Monday, a teacher will draw me a map of how to get to the bus, so soon I will be exploring Seoul, which will lead to many stories, I'm sure. I'll try to take pictures of my school this week so you can see where I work. I hope everyone has a fabulous Labor Day weekend! | Sunday, September 5, 2010
12: 12 | Monday, September 6, 2010 | I finally ate non-cafeteria Korean Food... And other stuff. Today was another big day in Noelle-land. Teaching was good today...Nothing too exciting. I've been teaching the same lesson for almost a week now since I'm introducing myself to every class before I start in on their class-specific material. I've literally taught the same class 14 times as of today and I have one more to go. A few funny questions... Today the girls wanted to know what American boys look for in a girl. I wanted to tell them that if I could answer that, I wouldn't be single. Instead, I explained that every boy is different and looks for different things in different girls. Sometimes I feel like I teach an American dating seminar. Another girl asked me to teach her my favorite song (so cute!) A bit of a misunderstanding: in a picture I show of me in my powerpoint presentation, I have red eyes from the camera flash. One girl asked if that was my real eye color. Without looking at the picture, I said yes. She looked at me weirdly, so I looked at the picture to see what the big deal was and I noticed my red eyes. I laughed and explained that my eyes had turned red because of the camera flash. Then she asked me what color my contacts make my eyes. I was wearing glasses. I explained that I rarely wear contacts anymore but when I do they are clear and do not change my eye color. She continued to look at me suspiciously. I don't think there is any winning her over. She thinks I'm a weirdo. Today I was also asked to do a little extra work each week. Once a week (on Wednesday mornings in case you care...), I will be teaching some of the teachers "classroom" English. So, this kid gets paid 20,000 won (about $17) per class to teach teachers how to speak to their students using phrases like, "Do your homework!" "Pay attention!" "Very good!" etc. NICE. Through this whole teaching a new class situation, I also found out another glorious bit of info. Korea's equivalent to Thanksgiving falls on a Wednesday this year. Traditionally, our school gives the days before and after off, thus giving us Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off. Well, as they saw no point in going to school on Monday and Friday of a week, they gave us the whole week off. SCORE. I could not be more excited! This takes place in two weeks, so the week after my birthday, I have the WHOLE WEEK OFF! Happy Birthday, Me! I took a couple of pictures of my school surroundings to share. It has rained almost every day since I've been here, so there haven't been many good opportunities to take many more pictures, but they will come soon! I pinkie-swear! | The Entrance to the EB school | My classroom (from the doorway) | Another view of my classroom
13: 13 | My classroom is one of three on the third floor of the English Zone, which is a separate building from the picture above. On our campus, there is a middle school, a cafeteria, an academic high school (for those of you that saw the school website I was sent with the giant statue of Jesus holding a staff, the statue is in front of the academic high school), an auditorium, English Zone and the English Business (EB) high school. It's quite the property! On a different note, tonight Emily and I went to E-Mart after school. But, first, we stopped and bought my first (of many, I'm sure!) kimbap which can basically be described at Korea's answer to sushi. It is imitation crab, ham (though not in mine!), cucumber, pickled radish and egg rolled (sushi-style) in rice and seaweed. It is served warm and was delightfully cheap (1,000 won, so like $0.75!) and quite tasty! The shop is probably a little too convenient though. It is right next to the convenience store under my apartment... Watch out kimbap woman! Also, Emily taught me how to order in Korean sans the ham. Nice! Next, we went to the dry cleaner and a co-teacher at another school started talking to me, asking if we could get together and (I'm assuming) speak English. I thought...why not?! She asked me for my phone number and I told her I didn't have one yet. She was baffled. "Why not," she asked. I told her I had only been here for 10 days, so Emily gave the woman her phone number. She'll probably never call, but if she does, it should be a good time.... Next, we went to Emily's hairdresser friends' salon and chatted briefly. They were really nice and were watching a Korean drama. My girls constantly ask me if I have seen the Korean dramas and which one is my favorite. Korean dramas are more like American soap operas (but with a more defined time line) and less like Grey's Anatomy or Gilmore Girls. Maybe they could be likened to Beverly Hills 90210 (some crazy stuff went on on that show (Thank you, Soap Opera Network!)). At any rate, it was fun to watch the impending doom that was occurring on the show even though I had no idea what was going on... Then, we went to E-Mart to go grocery shopping. I had planned to go last weekend, but was too lazy and thought more of lazing about than going shopping... On Friday afternoon I had done a little shopping at the store down the street (Home Mart). I picked up a few vegetables and some oil, planning to make fried rice for dinner. When I got home, I realized that what I had thought was rice was in fact a large bag of sea salt. So, ramen for dinner, again. Tonight at E-Mart, Emily showed me the rice section and I decided on some lovely brown rice. Delightful. Also, prior to shopping at E-Mar,t we ate dinner. For 4,000 won, we purchased and split an order of dukbokki (pronounced dok-book-key): four pieces of fried veggie/fish/whatever (we got a sweet potato (as in legit yellow sweet potato, NOT yam), pumpkin, squid and a veggie concoction) that was deep fried, tempura style. These pieces of food are then dipped into a very spicy (almost Tabasco flavored!) sauce that is also home to rice cake (a gelatinous rice compound) and fish cake (basically, the seafood answer to spam... made from the same fish that imitation crab is, but pounded thin and spiced -- the texture kind of weirds me out, but the flavor more than makes up for it). SO GOOD. For an after dinner beverage (in Korea, there is rarely a beverage taken simultaneously with eating), Emily got an Americano and I got a Kiwi smoothie. Can you guess my reaction? (SO GOOD!) That's all for tonight... I need to start thinking about what I am going to teach these girls this week! EEK!
14: 14 | A Few Funny Stories... A couple quick quips from today before I begin a lesson-plan filled night o' fun... Today was the first day that I taught the class for teachers to learn more English. It was also attended by the Principal and Vice Principal. I made each teacher go around the room and tell me their name, position at the school and two situations they would like to practice in English (the last bit was a lost cause because almost everyone said, "I want to learn everything!"). The Principal (who told me her English name is Anne because she loves Anne of Green Gables (Shout-out to Grandma Plueger!)) said, "I beautiful teacher... (enter loud riotous laugh) Nobody believes that." She's a riot. I think that class will be a lot of fun because they are all so eager to learn English, but would you believe the class full of teachers was the most rowdy and hardest to control class of the day?! Go figure. After the teacher class, the head of the English Department (Mr. Shin, English name: Richard) was telling me what would be served for lunch. He said, among other things, there would be dumplings. I asked if they had meat in them. He said yes (pork... bummer!). Then, he began complaining about how much meat they serve in the school cafeteria. At first I thought he was trying to sympathize with my vegetarian needs, but then he said, "I old man. I need more vegetables!" Back to lesson plans now. I seem to think that the ample free time I have during the day (except today, which was super busy!) is better served cruising Facebook, CNN, NPR and my e-mail. I guess I'll use my nights to plan lessons instead... On a side note, I just ate a delightfully juicy peach. YUM. | Wednesday, September 8, 2010 | Thursday, September 9, 2010 | Letters and Laundry (This post will be pretty random, so enjoy the ride...) On Tuesday, four first year students, Emily and I had an hour photo shoot for the school's brochure. It was outside. I was instructed to wear professional looking clothing (translation: no jeans, please). It was hotter than blue blazes outside. I began sweating immediately, to the point that my makeup was all streaky and gross. We took several different pictures at several different locations. Fast forward to this morning at school. The first thing I heard today at school today was the teacher who had taken the pictures saying to me, "Uh, Noelle Teacher, we need to take picture again. The principal no like face. Sorry!" It turned out that some of the faces were blurry or covered by shadows, but at first, I thought he was telling me I was too sweaty in the pictures... No. Big. Deal. Classes went well today, except for one. In the future, discipline measures WILL be taken with the first section of my first year students. They are positively unruly. All of the other classes were absolute peaches today. I loved them!
15: 15 | Lunch left much to be desired today. It consisted of seaweed, a bean/mushroom/onion (?) salad whose texture weirded me out, (the clincher to the gross factor:) boiled kimchi with boiled fish (the kimchi was okay but the broth that was created from the kimchi juice and the fish was not delightful... dare I say, delight-less?), rice, some sort of seaweed and chicken soup and kiwis. So, I wrapped some rice in the seaweed (which was AWESOME! It was tasted salty like popcorn!) and ate the kiwi. Emily was equally as disappointed in the lunch today, so we "ran an errand" (which was accurate because this morning I had forgotten to buy candy for my class...) and went to one of the street vendors that caters to the school girls and grabbed a quick bite. (This sounds questionable, but it was quite tasty!) I had a deep fried rice cake (of the same gelatinous variety as the dukbooki from Monday's culinary adventure) on a stick, which was rubbed with a tangy not-quite-barbeque-but-close sauce. Emily had deep fried chicken on a stick with a very spicy sauce. I felt like we were at the state fair...in Korea. Quite delightful! After lunch and before our errand, a girl stopped me in the hall. She handed me an envelope. I looked at the envelope. It was quite colorful and it had my sorority's letters on the outside. I got a huge smile on my face and jumped up and down. I looked at the girls and said, (or shrieked, rather) "This is my first mail!!!!!!!" They were far less impressed and excited than I was. They starred at me a little and walked away. They couldn't ruin my excitement though! Inside the colorful envelope was a hand-colored, hand-written note from Ryan, one of my beloved Iowa State Thetas! (Thanks, again, for the card Ma'am! You made my day!) FYI: It appears to have been postmarked on August 30th or so, and it arrived on September 9 (Korea time) via air mail, so I guess it takes about 10 days for letters / cards / envelope-type mail to arrive via air mail. After the last class today, we had a mini-photo shoot (in the library...no sweat zone!) to redeem ourselves for the brochure pictures. This time, the principal came in to set the scene and pose us. The picture taking involved three of us sitting in chairs and three people standing behind us. The girl sitting in the middle held a book and I pointed to a picture in the book and said something that was obviously incredibly interesting so that the camera could capture the captivating looks on our faces, thus enticing students to understand the incredible intellectual energy surrounding us. I'd say the photo was a success... (I wore jeans today. So much for professional attire for the photo... Oops.) After school, Emily came to my apartment with me to show me how to work the mysterious Korean washing machine in my apartment. After a comprehensive lesson, including the help of some cell phone translations, I am all set in the laundry department. My bathroom has been taken over with my drying rack and hanging clothes from the rod that would house a shower curtain if they were a fixture in Korean bathrooms... One delightful discovery about Korean washing machines...or at least, mine: it spin dries to the point that my clothes are almost dry. I couldn't be more pleased. Thanks so much for all of the e-mails, Facebook messages and wallposts, and blog comments. Your correspondence truly brightens my day! | The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. -- Saint Augustine
16: 16 | Friday night and Seoul 1.0 This weekend has been adventure filled to say the least... Friday night, 10 foreigners from the Gwangju area met for Thai food. It was a great time and it was so nice to meet other foreigners! The Thai food was great, I enjoyed (!) a few mugs of beer and good conversation. After dinner, I was "initiated" into the group by drinking an alcohol that was housed in a big jar with what I think was ginger root. They called it medicine. Everything in Korea has a healthful or medicinal purpose whether they say spicy food is good for digestion or seaweed is good for circulation (or something like that...), and I don't what this alcohol's healthful purpose was, but I think I'd rather be unhealthy. This stuff tasted like really bad Jagermeister... Not my scene, but it was on the house and now I can say for sure that I have tried it. Next, a couple of us ventured to my building to watch Emily's hapkido (a Korean martial art) class. It looked like fun and a good workout and I'm thinking about doing it, but it is offered five nights a week and I don't know if I want to commit myself to getting my money's worth... After the class, we went out for another pitcher, had a kimchi pancake (I can't remember the Korean name...) and more good conversation. All in all, a great night on the town! Saturday, I met Liz (we met at the Korean consulate in Chicago when we were going through the interview process to get our E2 visas) and her boyfriend Barry in Seoul. They teach preschool in a new city that is on the west side of Seoul. This was my foray into using public transportation in Korea, or pretty much ever, and it went really smoothly! Emily had shown me where to get on the bus and explained everything. The method of paying for public transit is super slick! There is a small credit-like card called a T-money card that you can fill up with money and each time you get on and off a bus or subway, you swipe the card and it reduces your balance accordingly. When your balance gets low, you just reload it. Most convenience stores are able to reload them and there are also machines in the train stations. Super easy! After I bought my T-money card, I walked to E-mart to get on the bus because I wanted to make sure I got a seat on the bus for the nearly hour-long ride. (There is another stop that might be a little closer, but Emily told me that sometimes the bus is filled up by the time it gets to that stop and i would have to stand for much of the ride if there were no available seats.) I walked up to the shelter and waited. For 20 minutes. A bus is supposed to come every five or ten minutes. I finally realized that I was in the shelter for waiting for a taxi and the bus shelter was down the street. A couple of minutes later, I was on the 1113-1 bus to Seoul. Once I got to Seoul, I had to take a subway to the place where Liz and Barry's bus would drop them off. I followed the crowd who had gotten off the bus with me, unsure of where to find the subway station entrance. Sure enough, the crowd was all headed toward the subway as well. I followed the (English!) signs to find the train I needed. Eight stops later, I was at Gangnam station, which is where I was meeting Liz and Barry. I was 10 minutes late because of the taxi / bus shelter mix up, so I when I couldn't find Liz and Barry at our meeting place, I was nervous that they had left thinking I wasn't coming. I decided to wait for half an hour just in case they had gone into a shop or cafe. After 20 minutes, I was contemplating my next move (I didn't just want to come back to Gwangju after traveling for so long, but I had no idea what was in the area and I didn't want to stray too far away from the station by myself...) Then, all of sudden, here comes Liz and Barry! (They had arrived at their bus stop just as a bus was pulling away and had to wait 20 minutes for the next bus.)Hooray! The next several hours were a fantastic introduction to Seoul: | Sunday, September 12, 2010
17: 17 | First, we went to a cafe that specializes in fish pedicures. We got a cup of coffee/tea/smoothie respectively and enjoyed some complementary toast and jam while we waited for our turn at the pedicures. When it was our turn, we rolled up our pants, washed our feet off in a tub and proceeded to our fish tub. The whole premise of a fish pedicure is that there are fish in this tub that eat the dead skin off of your feet. So, for 20 minutes and 2000 won ($1.75ish) fish feasted on our foot skin. It was awesome! It took a little while to get used to the feeling of tiny fish surrounding on my feet and between my toes, but after a little while it just felt like a whirlpool jet stream. (I took a picture of this whole process, but you can't see the fish, so it's not worth posting...) I know it sounds super strange that fish ate the junk skin off of my feet, but it was seriously cool. We were in the tub with the smaller fish, but next time we meet, we're getting serious. The other tub has bigger fish that don't full as quickly, so they do a more thorough job. The smaller fish mostly tickle your feet, but we were told that the bigger fish do a little more than tickle. I'll report back next time about the big guys. Next, we met Janine, another teacher at their school and headed for Itaewon which is an area with a lot of western-style bars and restaurants. We met up with Janine's friend Jillian, who was celebrating her birthday. We went to an Irish pub for drinks, dinner and a couple games of darts. Good time. Next, we went to World Cup Stadium for a soccer game. It was Foreigner Night, so along with our 10000 won tickets we got a free beer and hot dog. We must have redeemed our hot dog vouchers in the wrong place because instead of the western style hot dog that we saw most others enjoying, we got two hot dogs on a stick, two Korean style corn dogs and two deep fried fish cakes. We enjoyed the game (Seoul won 4-0) and enjoyed some quality people watching too! Next, we ventured to Hongdae, which is a university district and another place where a lot of westerners go to party. It had been raining pretty much since we got off the train at the soccer game and many of the sidewalks here are made from a stone kind of like marble that gets really slippery when it gets wet. I experienced just how slippery it was in the subway station as I walked in, lost my balance and fell flat on my back. My glasses flew off my face and everyone rushed over to make sure I was okay. A nice Korean girl handed me my glasses, I got up and we were on our way. (My tailbone is a little sore, but nothing a few tylenol can't cure...) Once we got to Hongik, we bought drinks on the street at a place called Vinyl that sells their drinks in i.v. bags (YES. in i.v. bags, with bendy straws). Then, wewalked to a park where there is often music to enjoy our drinks. In Korea, there are no open container laws, so everyone literally walks the street and takes the train with a beer or soju (rice alcohol) in tow. It's so weird to walk around the street with a drink in my hand... Next the whole group was going to a nightclub to further celebrate Jillian's birthday. Liz, Barry and I weren't really in the mood to go clubbing and we certainly weren't interested in the 15000 won cover charge at the door, so we opted to go get some food and a drink and have a chat instead. We found a nice cafe and ordered some alcoholic Korean rice juice (I can't remember the name but it is sort of like a rice beer, but a little sweet) and had great conversation about several deep subjects. We were hungry but the menu was all in Korean, so we wondered around looking for a nice place to sit down and eat. The first place we went sounded good because it was called the No Mess Kitchen. We wandered up to the second floor of the building to the restaurant, but upon entry they told us they were closed. The next place was a Japanese place and the menu was also all in Korean. Barry was so desperate for food that he just pointed to something on the menu and was about to order it when a busboy came over to help us translate, He informed us that Barry was about to order fried crickets. New place. After lots of wandering around at 2 am, we found ourselves in a hookah bar on the fifth floor of a building, eating a little, drinking a little (at this establishment, everyone was required to buy at least one drink regardless...) and smoking guava flavored hookah (a traditionally Middle Eastern flavored tobacco).
18: 18 | It was a great place, the people were really nice and we enjoyed ourselves until about 4 am. Since the last bus back to our cities runs at 11 and another one doesn't start until 6 am, we had to stay in Seoul for the night, so we decided to just stay up and get on the subway shortly after it started running again at 5 to make our 6 am buses. We had about an hour to kill but wanted a change of scenery so we went to the neighboring restaurant and ordered a seafood pancake to share. Once we were done with the pancake, we walked to the nearest subway station and hopped our train. Sixteen stops later, Liz and Barry got off at Gangnam Station to catch their bus. We said goodbye and vowed to meet up again next weekend to celebrate my birthday. They were so fun, laid back and up for anything! Perfect Korean adventure companions! Next, I had another eight subway stops to get to my bus stop. Once I got out of the subway station, I wasn't really sure where to get my bus. It had dropped me of on the street when I arrived and I wasn't completely clear on where to catch it to get back to Gwangju. So, after a couple of minutes of wandering around, somehow I found myself at a large outdoor bus stop that housed several different lines. I found the line I needed and waited for awhile. To make sure I was in the right place, I stopped a man, pointed to the line I needed and said, "Here?" He said yes, but I'm pretty sure he had no idea what I was talking about because after about 10 minutes, my bus was nowhere in sight. Somehow, I spotted buses on the other side of the subway station that looked like a better bet. Sure enough, my bus pulled up about a minute after I got to the other side of the station. Perfect. I was home by 8 am and took a nice long nap. We had such a great time, but I'm not sure I could handle the Seoul nightlife on a regular basis! Everything stays open and hopping until about 6 am. Even the subway ride home was crowded to the point that we didn't get a seat for the first couple of stops. As the nightlife is winding down and people are going home, other people are getting up and traveling to go to church or work out. This city is literally never asleep. It baffles me!...Quite a bit different from Welch Ave. in Ames - that's for sure! At 4 am as we ate our seafood pancake and watched people out the window, it looked like it was 11 pm and things were just getting started for the night. What a place! Needless to say, today has been a lazy day. I slept for awhile, watched a movie and read quite a bit. One more week of teaching before my week off for Chusak (Korean Thanksgiving). I've been told that much of the country shuts down for the week (even ATM machines are turned off, if that tells you anything...), so traveling is a little out of the question. I think Maria (one of the foreigners I met at dinner on Friday) and I are planning to walk around Gwangju and explore what our city has to offer. I also might wander into Seoul one of the days, but laying around and thinking about lesson plans should probably be done too... Regardless, I'm looking forward to a nice nine day break!
19: 19 | A few quick stories about the girls... One of my favorite moments in class so far: This week's lesson with the second year students has been about story telling. I was specifically practicing using the words first, next or then and finally or last with them when telling stories. I would put up a picture of a scene from a Disney movie and they were supposed to tell me a story about the characters in the picture. For each picture, they would tell me a three part story. One girl would tell me the first part, then pick a new girl and she would tell me the second part, and so on. Some of the girls took this in a very black and white context and told me only what they could see happening in the picture and other girls made things up. For this particular story, the picture was of Cinderella dancing with Prince Charming: Girl 1: First, they are dancing. Girl 2: Then they go home. Noelle Teacher: Do they go home together or apart? Girl 2: Oh, together! Whole class of boy-obsessed teenage girls: giggle, giggle, sex, giggle, sex, sex, giggle, giggle (At this point, I was gearing up for a pretty juicy ending to the story, and I have to admit I was more than a little curious to see what they would say because I don't think I've been around long enough for them to know how I would react if they said anything they think I might find offensive or inappropriate.) Girl 3: Last, they (long pause) eat dinner. Whole class: giggle, giggle, giggle, some slapping each others' arms or the table. While we were grocery shopping at E-Mart, we saw two different groups of our students. They are always really quick to rush up and say hello to us but once we try to continue the conversation with small talk, they always get confused and walk away. This also happened Friday night, only on Friday night, their school uniform skirts were considerably shorter and they had adorned make-up, which they are not allowed to wear at school. I think I had forgotten what it is like to be a teenage girl. They kill me. Lastly, I got another card in the mail today from a good friend from high school, Andrea. (Thanks sooo much!) Before Korea, I think I had forgotten the absolute charm and excitement of receiving handwritten mail! This one took about 10 days as well, so if you send anything in an envelope by regular post, expect that I will receive it in about 10 days' time. | Monday, September 13, 2010
20: 20 | Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | Sooooo many things happened today. First, and most importantly, I can shout from the rooftops: in April, I will be an AUNT!!!! Hooray! I am sooo excited for Nick and Jess! And let's be honest, Bob and Kris are pretty jazzed about the grandparents gig too! Next, (I hope you're sitting down for this, Mom) today marked a major milestone in my life. I ate meat for the first time in three and a half years. For about a week, I have been giving this decision major thought. A huge part of Korean culture is community. Community EVERYTHING. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, eating. In several restaurant settings, it is common to share food. This could be side dishes like kimchi and pickled radish, but could also be the entire meal, entree included. Also, much of Korean cuisine contains some form of meat whether it is chicken or beef broth or actual pieces of meat strewn into much of the food choices. This year (or however long I decide to stay here...), it is my goal to soak up and experience as much Korean culture as possible. I do not want to exclude myself from Korean traditions or outings because of my distaste for meat. So, when the opportunity presents itself, I will, indeed, be partaking in meat. This does not mean that I will eat meat at every meal because let's not forget the reason I ceased eating meat in the first place: I simply do not enjoy the flavor or texture of many meats. But, this way, I know I can try new things and not get sick. For those of you who are wondering, the meat I ate today was highly processed ham on a piece of Korean sweet potato pizza that was bought by our vice principal to celebrate Chusak (Korean Thanksgiving) in our teachers meeting. It tasted weird (the ham, not the pizza...perhaps it was the texture too.). But, after two slices of heavily hammed pizza, my body has yet to freak out, so I'm hoping if I take it slow and don't go overboard, I will avoid getting sick. I think my body will take it fairly well since I eat so much fish and seafood and have never had a problem. But, (Mom) remember, this is not the end of the vegetarian (or, technically pescatarian) game, it is merely a timeout. When I step foot in the U-S-A, it's back to my old habits. Get excited. On Wednesdays, I usually teach four classes of the girls and one class for teachers. Today, in addition to the normal schedule, we also held an open class. This means that we prepared (and practiced a little...) a class that would be viewed by other area teachers. They give us feedback on our lesson and it also showcases our school. The lesson went pretty well, but there were some obvious things that could be improved upon. All in all, it was a great experience, and I got a lot of good feedback to apply to my everyday teaching. Also, immediately following the class, we went to the meeting to hear all of the comments from the teachers who observed our classes. This happened during the time that I usually teach a class, so I ended up teaching one less class than I thought I would, which made for a more chill day. The girls slept and chilled during their usual class time (they've been taking exams periodically all week and will continue tomorrow, so they are wiped!) and we got the eat, drink and get advice! Pretty sweet setup! Also, the class that sat through open class was the same class that I teach first thing in the morning and we spent most of the regular class preparing for open class, so I only taught two of my own lessons today! I was worried about feeling overly tired after today, but it was such a great day and went by really quickly. | so many things to report!
21: 21 | In my teacher class today, there were only four "students" because everyone else (usually there are 11) was really busy with preparations for a really important meeting at the middle school. We had such a great conversation. We practiced my planned lesson, which took about 15 minutes since there were so few people and then talked about their plans for Chusak next week and differences between holidays in Korea and the US. We talked a lot about traditions and I learned a lot! They also asked if I had a boyfriend. The whole class was middle aged men so I was surprised they would ask me such a question, but part of Korean culture is extreme curiosity and it may have been that that was an easy thing to say. I also sort of got invited to go to Chusak with one of the men, but I'm not sure if he was serious or not... It felt like he only invited me because I thought I might have other plans and I knew I couldn't go, but we'll see what happens... The girls are starting to warm up to me and they truly warm my heart! Today, as she was leaving class, a girl slyly passed me the following note (taken verbatim): Hi No-L!! I'm (Korean name) (in English name is Amy) I want to be your friend! because I want to make new friend and I think you need Korean friend isn't it? I think we will be good friend I like English but I can't well. I've very sad (Korean style sad face) but it's okay, because you will teach me! (Korean style happy face) Good bye ~ See you. How adorable is that? Of course we will be super tight! Another girl came up to me after a class, touched my upper arm and whispered, "I like your shoes!" That's our little secret I guess... I also got a cell phone today! The phone is pretty sweet. It has some real intense LED light action and makes cool noises...very high tech. And the best part is it was free with my contract! I got a one year contract, which is sometimes hard to get because phone companies often refuse to let foreigners sign contracts and force them to use pay as you go phones, which make them much more money. I only have 150 minutes a month, but I think that will be more than enough since I only have two contacts so far! And, all of my bills (cell phone, internet, utilities) are automatically taken from my account each month, which would normally not fly with me in the US, but I spend so little money here that I think I will enjoy the convenience of not having to physically pay bills. I'll still have statements available to me so I am aware of what the charges are, etc., but I'm glad I don't have to send a bill somewhere or worry about picking up my mail. At school, my mail is delivered to my desk, and today someone even found me and told me I had a package before I even made it to my desk. Such service! More exciting news: since the first year students are taking an all day test tomorrow and all of my classes are first year students, I don't teach tomorrow. I still go to work, but I have no obligations, so hopefully I will get a lot done! Also, because of Chusak, we get paid almost a whole week earlier! Hooray!
22: 22 | Action shot! The bubble says my name and where I went to school, but they mistakenly wrote Iowa University... | On the cover - this is the from the recovery shoot in the library... | I think I was telling her all about Snickers the Wonder dog... or my favorite food... | I feel like there were several other things that I am forgetting to write about, but I think this is enough to take in for now... | Friday, September 17, 2010 | My Birthday went something like this.... I got to school and was greeted by one of the co-teachers giving me a chocolate muffin and a very nice card. I didn't have to teach at all yesterday because all of my students were taking an English listening test, so it was a pretty easy day. I did miss seeing my students though! The head of the English Department asked me to proofread their English language newspaper before it went to print, so I spent most of the morning reading their stories. I was also able to chat with several friends from home on Facebook! As for the newspaper, the girls are very good writers and I mostly made corrections like adding prepositions before nouns and periods after sentences. It took me right back to my semester of tutoring! It was fun to read their stories about the school's many recent triumphs! Our school won a Japanese singing contest and a (either regional or national...either way, a big deal!) play competition (kind of like large group speech I'm assuming...) and will travel to Japan over winter break to compete in the next level. We were also named one of the top schools in our province for English education programs, specifically getting the girls to speak English on an everyday basis. They are obviously quite proud of their achievements, as they should be! After school, several girls stopped in to the office to wish me Happy Birthday. Another group sang to me in the hallway. As Emily and I were leaving school, a group of girls followed us down the hill singing! What delightful little serenades! Then, as Emily and I were leaving my apartment on our way to dinner, another group of girls sang to me in the street! They all giggled and clapped afterward. | My Korean-style Birthday!
23: 23 | Emily and I walked all around downtown Gwangju looking for a place for dinner. It was fun to see everything that downtown offers! There are many cute shops and restaurants, a small traditional market and even a few pet shops with really really cute little puppies! They made me miss Snickers! We finally decided on a rice porridge restaurant. I had a crab and cheese porridge and Emily got a pumpkin porridge. Along with our selected porridge, they served us a small dish of each of the following items to be added to the porridge: kimchi (of course!), soy sauce marinated beef strips (I never thought I would say this, but it was so good!), a red pepper and garlic paste and pickled radish. The food was amazing, as was the conversation! Next, we walked back and hung out for a little while in the hair shop that Emily's friends own. As we were walking back to our apartments, another one of the homeroom teachers at my school stopped us. She asked if I would be around and/or awake at 10:00 that night. I said I would and she said she would call me to come down for a short meeting. I talked to Mom and Dad for about an hour and read for a little while. Right at 10:00, I received her phone call and went downstairs to the street. She, three students who aren't in my classes and another homeroom teacher were standing on the sidewalk with another cake and candles lit, singing Happy Birthday! And, the cake was from Baskin Robbins, in the shape of a rabbit! So cute and soooo good! This morning I awoke to find several e-mails and facebook messages and wallposts from everyone at home, also wishing me a Happy Birthday! Thank you all soo much! I had a spectacular birthday! Today has been a fairly chill day at school. It is the last day before break, so everyone is pretty relaxed and ready for the break! We just got gifts from the school as a part of the Chuseok tradition. What did we get? Three bottles of grapeseed oil! Hooray! I don't think I will have to buy oil the entire time I am here... Emily gave me a bunch that she had left over (as in eight bottles) and now I've got three more! One of the teachers asked me if I knew what it was for, and I said, "Yes, for cooking." Another teacher chimed in, "Put that in your car!" What a clown. We all laughed. Tonight I am going to see the girls put on their award winning play right after school. Then, I will meet several other foreigners for dinner to celebrate my and another foreigner's birthday (which was also yesterday) at a traditional Korean restaurant downtown. It should be loads of fun! Tomorrow, I will meet Liz and Barry in Seoul again...maybe round two of fish pedicures? We'll see... and then, I'll report back! | I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full. ~Lord Dunsany
24: 24 | FYI: I've linked the names of the Korean things I talk about to explanations of what those things are on various websites. I still try to explain, but this is more comprehensive...so check the links if you want to learn more... A breakdown of the last couple of days: Friday after school, I rode with another teacher and the two exchange students from the Philippines to see my school's award winning play. Walking into the play, all of the students and teachers were so surprised to see me and all greeted me quite happily. I love the excitement they have! They always make me feel so special! The play was put on at City Hall (a beautiful modern new building that, curiously, has a small theater in it...) and several city officials were in attendance. Each them was introduced, followed by our principal, vice principal and school chaplain. I wasn't really listening to what the emcee was saying because it was all in Korean. I just laughed and clapped when everyone else did. At one point, he said something and then there was silence. Then, the girls sitting behind me whispered, "Noelle, Noelle, Noelle." Then I realized I had just been introduced and should stand up. I stood up and waved like an idiot while all of the girls whooped and hollered. My white skin and "blond" hair (they all say I have blond hair, though I usually characterize myself as being a brown-haired gal) have made me feel like a D-List celebrity: recognizable, though not as notable at Kathy Griffin. The play was real cute and the girls are obviously quite talented, and those not involved are ridiculously proud of their classmates! What an awesome atmosphere! I had no idea what was being said, and most of the time I wasn't sure what was going on in the story, but there were some really funny things. All in all, I'm really glad I went! Next, one of the teachers dropped me off at the restaurant to meet all of the other foreigners for a dual birthday dinner for Daniella (another foreigner whose birthday was the same day as mine...only one year older..) and me. We ate at a restaurant that specializes in growing their own mushrooms and serving shabu shabu. We sat on the floor on either side of a really long, low table. In the middle of the table, there were three metal pans that looked like a hybrid wok and skillet. The server poured beef broth into the pans and it was heated until it boiled. They brought out several side dishes (kimchi, an egg souffle that was flavored with fish paste, acorn jelly (one of the two things in Korea that I will not eat) and pickled radish. Each of us was also given a bowl of shredded cabbage with a horseradish flavored paste on it. Then, they brought out huge platters of really thinly sliced beef, several types of mushroom, onions and other vegetables. At our leisure, we put the contents of the platter into the broth to cook and then fished out the bits we wanted to eat. There was a soy/sesame sauce in which to dip our pieces. It was sooo tasty! It's a good thing I started eating meat because otherwise my birthday dinner would have consisted of me watching everyone else around me have a foodgasm while I watched them eat. Plus, it tasted sooo amazing! After we had cooked all of the food on our platters, the server brought out sticky noodles that looked like thick spaghetti. We cooked them in the broth and ate them. Also tasty! Next, they drained most of the broth from the pan and brought out the makings for fried rice. We let it get nice and crispy and scraped all of the burnt bits from the bottom. I've always maintained that the best part of any casserole is the burnt crispy edges and this fried rice was no exception to that rule. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. YUM. After this culinary delight, we enjoyed cake. Again. Two couple brought cakes for us to enjoy, bringing the total cake count to six. Yes. Six birthday cakes in two days. Nice. | Monday, September 20, 2010 | The Fun Continues...
25: 25 | After cake, we ventured to a noraebang. Noraebangs are HUGE in Korea. Basically, it's karaoke, but in private group rooms. Instead of just the words being shown on the screen, they show random pictures with the lyrics running over the top. The pictures have nothing to do with the songs, though they looked, to the untrained eye, as if they could be music videos. There is a huge book from which to choose the music (they have both Korean and English songs), and there are microphones and tambourines. What more could you ask for on a Friday night, I wonder? Don't worry...I totally represented by singing Jessie's Girl by Rick Springfield and Wanna Be by the Spice Girls. Such a fun time, but admittedly a little awkward because by this time, the people that I knew the best from the group had parted ways for various reasons. Still fun, though! I came home and cut my hair. Delightful. Saturday, I woke up to a phone call from Hyunjoo Kim, who is the foreign liaison at my school. which means she helps me with all of my living accommodations and such. She told me that a man was coming to hook up my internet, but she didn't know what time. So, I had to call off my plans to go to Seoul to meet Liz and Barry because I didn't know what time Mr. Internet would arrive. Bummer. But, now I have my own internet and don't have to feel like a dunce mooching off of someone's wireless connection... Otherwise, Saturday was a lazy day. I finished a book about the school shooting at Columbine High School near Denver in 1999. It was really good! That night, I went out to dinner with Emily, Richard and their hair dresser friends that Emily and I visit periodically throughout the week. We went to a restaurant that serves galbi, though, I was told, this restaurant's take on galbi was not traditional. At this restaurant, there is a grill at each table. They bring out plates of meat (at this particular restaurant, pork and American style ribs that have already been seasoned and boiled) that you throw on the grill with garlic and kimchi. Then, once the meat was grilled, we piled it, along with kimchi, rice, marinated onion and pepper or mustard sauce, on a leaf of what looked life romaine lettuce or sesame leaf, rolled it up and ate it. Also amazing!!! (If you visit me, we will go there!) We shared some great conversation over our dinner and sips of soju. Next, we ventured back to the same noraebang as the night before. This night was so much more comfortable and fun. We all got really into all of the songs and enjoyed ourselves by dancing, singing and enjoying a few beers. We sang Baby Got Back (my personal karaoke must), Ironic by Alanis Morissette, Pretty Fly (for a white guy) by The Offspring, 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls, Barbie Girl by Aqua and several others. This was one of the most fun nights I've had so far! Yesterday, I helped Richard and Emily move some of Emily's belongings to their new apartment in Seoul. It was raining, so we decided to take a taxi rather than walk for 10 minutes lugging her belongings in the rain. Also, this way, we could take more items because we wouldn't have to transport them on the bus, to the subway, etc. Then, Emily, Richard, Penny (Richard's (and soon Emily's) roommate from Australia) and I went to brunch at a place called Butterfingers, which serves HUGE American style breakfasts. I had a waffle, scrambled eggs, seasoned potatoes, bacon, sausage and grape juice. MMMMMMM! I love breakfast! It was refreshing to have Western food, especially breakfast, because in Korean cuisine, there isn't really breakfast food. For breakfast, they eat kimchi, rice, meat, etc., which is the same type of food they eat at every other meal... Then, all of us, plus Penny's friend Linda went to a coffee shop and hung out talking for awhile. By this time, I was wiped, so I hopped the subway to go home. I got on the correct subway line, but after eight or nine stops of no familiar looking names (and knowing that my ride should have been exactly eight stops), I realized I had been headed in the wrong direction. Oh Brother. I got off and walked across the platform to the train traveling in the correct direction and 17 stops later hopped on the 1113 bus back to Gwangju. Today I took it WAY easy...slept in and read most of another book, Riding in Cars with Boys. Remember the movie of the same title with Drew Barrymore? It was a true story! And, soooo funny! Then, I ventured to E-Mart and did a good amount of grocery shopping. That place was a zoo!
26: 26 | On the way to E-Mart, I was going to get rid of my trash. I carried it out of my building and started to walk up the hill to where everyone in my 'hood drops off their garbage. An old toothless woman that hangs out at the tables in front of the MiniStop (the mart below my apartment) started yelling at me. I turned around and she took my box of trash bags and gestured for me to just drop them in the lobby of my building and (I'm assuming...) she would take care of them. There are tons of old ladies in the area that dig through the trash looking for treasure so I'm assuming she wanted to stake claim on my exotic foreign trash. She was still sitting there when I got back from E-Mart, as was my trash. I smiled at her and bowed my head slightly to say hello and she gave me a big toothless grin. I think we're friends now. I just finished devouring mandu (dumplings) as my first home cooked meal (or as home cooked as taking a bag from the freezer and put them in my rice cooker with some water, oil and salt gets...) containing meat. Such a new world! They were soooo good! With the rest of the week off for Chuseok (I realized I've been spelling it wrong all along...), I hope I'll get a lot done for my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class that I've been taking online and I'm planning on hiking a little tomorrow or Wednesday. Hopefully, the weather will be clear and I can take some pictures that are worth posting of my surroundings. Here are some that I took of my school buildings on Thursday. They are arranged in the order you would see things as you walk up the hill and look starting from your left and moving to your right: | The limestone covered space where they have P.E. | The Middle School. | The academic high school... or part of it... | The auditorium where we have chapel every Friday. | EB High School (this is where I teach) | The view of Gwanju from my classroom window. | The city itself stretches for a really long time in all directions from my school. My school is near the top of a huge hill (the academic high school has a huge park behind it with several monuments like the Statue of Liberty and the Eifel Tower that goes up even higher) and the city sort of surrounds it and several other huge hill/mountains. Hopefully I'll be able to post more pictures of my surroundings soon....if it ever stops raining..
27: 27 | Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | Another Productive Day... | The last couple of days have been a nice mix of lazy and productive all at the same time. I'm on the third book of my trip here. I've completed a couple more lessons on my TEFL class, I've cooked some pretty sweet food, though some not on purpose, I've skyped with friends from home and sort of went hiking today (more on that later). All in all, this week has been great, and the best part is that it's only half way over! I'm sorry it took me so long to post this picture... | This is the building that houses my apartment. I enter under the white sign on the far left side, and climb up to the fourth floor to reach my apartment. Under my apartment, you can see the Ministop (yellow/blue/red awning) which is a 24-hour mart. The next little shop in the same building is my favorite place to buy gimbap and is a popular hangout for the girls after school. Above the Ministop is a place that offers music lessons, and above that is a hapkido dojo. You might notice that the sidewalk is all torn up in front. I don't know what happened, but when I walked down today, it was a HUGE mess and the entry way to my building was covered in mud. Weird. In the last couple of days, I have been rejuvenated. Not only am I catching up on sleep and enjoying my time off, thus being physically rejuvenated, but I also feel like my spirit has been rejuvenated. I have discovered several little things about my life here that have recharged my batteries. It's not like my batteries were dead in the first place, but a few serendipitous (!) discoveries and simple pleasures came my way, and I'm not turning them away. | 1.) Cleaning has become a point of interest. I vacuumed my apartment and immediately felt clean despite profusely sweating because of the humidity in the air. I scrubbed my toilet and was quite pleased with myself. I even windexed my coffee table just like I do at home at Mom's request. I also rearranged my kitchen a little and it feels much more mine now. B.) I did a little bit (very little...) of decorating. I replaced the dank picture above my green couch with a collage of photos and cards. I should have brought more pictures with me, but I worked with what I had... While it seems like such a small task to hang pictures on my wall, the presence of these pictures has made my apartment feel so much more like home and less like somewhere I just happen to sleep at night. It's weird how the smallest personal touch can make all the difference. | My building
28: 28 | Check out my handy work: 3.) Having food in my fridge makes cooking more of an adventure. Today, I accidentally made sweet potato and garlic rice porridge in my rice cooker. Nice. I've also made several different experimental versions of gimbap! 4.) I started a new shampoo bar today as well. Peppermint and rosemary. YUM. I forgot how refreshing it can be to shave your legs too. I keep rubbing my nice smooth legs together. | E.) I hate doing things by myself. Yes, I enjoy alone time, but when it comes to going somewhere or doing something, I am almost scarred to do it alone. Well, all of that had to change with my decision to move to a foreign country by myself. I am slowly learning to enjoy exploring and having adventures by myself. I have found one exception. Hiking. Today, I went for a hike and didn't even finish going to the top because I wasn't enjoying it. I think, for me, hiking will always be most enjoyable when done with others. Nonetheless, here are some photos I snapped during my (aborted) journey: | You can sort of see Gwanju in the distance... | I had to off-road it for this one... | Proof that I went hiking in the woods | Another view of the city... | One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.. -- Henry Miller
29: 29 | Monday, September 27, 2010 | Back to the Grind Stone... for now. | Today marked the end of Chuseok break as I ventured back to school to teach the most delightful girls possible. On Mondays, I teach three classes, so I spent the rest of my time reading NPR, editing more English newspaper articles and ... opening mail! Today, because of the holiday I'm guessing, I received three letters / cards AND three packages. Thanks, again, to all of the senders! I had to laugh because my mom sent me healthy oatmeal as requested (less sugar...) and my gal pal Wiener sent me caramel apple Hersey's kisses and homemade chocolate chip cookies and monster cookie bars. I think they cancel each other out... When I shared Wiener's goodies with some of the other teachers in my office, they were so grateful! One teacher was very touched and said, "Oh Noelle Teacher. Thank you for your kindness!" I love this job. Today in my third year classes, we practiced how to order food at restaurants and we talked about the American restaurant experience as a whole. I told them about tipping because in Korea, tipping is basically unheard of so they aren't used to the practice. One girl asked me, "If I leave big tip, will cute waiter give me phone number?" The same girl, not two minutes later, after the lesson was over with a couple of minutes left in class, said, "Noelle Teacher. I want American boyfriend. How do I meet boys?" I said, "Buddy, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn't be single." They laughed. I still can't get over how boy crazy some of the girls are...too funny! For the following story, it is important to know that I wore my contacts to school for the first time today. When I arrived at school, many teachers had fresh haircuts and / or were wearing new clothes following the Chuseok holiday. I saw the co-teacher with whom I do Morning English each day after lunch. He was sporting a new haircut. I said, "Ahh. Happy Haircut!" (Bob taught me well...) He said, "Uh, happy you not wear your glasses today... day...what are those things called?" to which he trailed off and left. We're still getting to know each other... Emily and I took off from school today during our afternoon free periods to go pay bills. I misunderstood how to deal with bills. Instead of everything being automatically deducted as I had previously explained, my bills go like this: my cell phone bill is automatically deducted from my bank account each month. My internet, electric and phone bills all go to the school and are split among the four apartments on my floors, all of which are owned and inhabited by teachers at one of the three Kyung-Hwa schools. I pay these bills when they ask me to... So, maybe I'll pay for one month or maybe I'll pay for three months at a time... however (and whenever...) they ask me to pay them. I have yet to hear about how this will work... So, on a monthly basis, the only bill I am responsible for paying on my own is my gas bill. I looked at the gas bill today for the month of August (which was before I moved in, so I didn't actually pay it...). It was for a whopping 4,600 won or something like that. That is about $4. For one month of gas. Crazy. Paying the bill is even crazier. You go to the bank, stand in line, and when your turn comes, you go to a machine much akin to an ATM machine. You stick your bank card in, individually insert each bill, and the amount you owe is deducted from your bank balance. At the end, it totals your amount and prints a receipt. It is the slickest bill pay I have ever seen.
30: 30 | Here is my schedule for the next couple of weeks: First, no morning English, so I still arrive at school at 7:50, but don't actually do anything class-wise until at least 9:00 when the first classes start. This week - Monday and Tuesday are normal (aside from no Morning English). Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - I go to a teacher training workshop attended by several Westerners from all over the province (the satellite cities surrounding Seoul), so I don't teach at all, and am not even in Gwangju those days. Next week is midterms. I come to school on Monday, but don't teach anything because all of the girls will be taking exams. I'm not exactly sure what I do since I don't give a Midterm and don't proctor any exams. I guess I'm supposed to use the time to lesson plan. In a perfect world, that is exactly what I would do. But, alas, I still live at Procrastination Station, so I'm sure Monday will be NPR, CNN and Facebook filled. I have Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off...which makes for a six day weekend! Sadly, no one else that I know has this time off (because Emily starts her new job that week), so traveling anywhere isn't really possible because I don't want to travel by myself... Helloooooooo Seoul exploration! Nothing else too exciting to report... I got my new American driver's license in the mail today. Hello angry looking pixelated Noelle. Yikes. Also, I bought peach air fresheners, so now my apartment is peachy fresh. YUM. | Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | Training Bound | Today was a pretty no big deal kind of day. One funny story from school: Fall has officially arrived in Gwangju! Temperatures are in the mid 60s most of the day, making for what I would consider beautiful weather, but what seems to most Koreans to be really cold considering their intense muggy summers. This week, I have noticed a definite change in the clothing everyone has chosen to wear. Not only are the clothes heavier (even some of the girls have elected to wear their winter uniforms of long sleeve shirts, ties and sweater vests) but they are also adapting to more muted, winter colors as well. I am just relieved not to be sweating profusely. Today, I wore a plaid shirt and jeans to school. As I was walking up the hill, the principal called out my name and told me I was not properly dressed for the weather. "Your shirt too... light. You get cold." I said, "No, no! I'm a sweater! I'll just drink some tea!" She shook her head and hurried into the building. That darn woman is always looking out for me! Bless her heart. Because tonight was the last night that I would be in town before Emily leaves for Seoul, we had her farewell dinner tonight. Six of us went out for a meal as follows (I can't remember the name, so no link as of now...) pork (already cooked, so different from a previously described meal), kimchi, some sort of green bean looking item, raw garlic and bean paste all wrapped in a lettuce leaf. We also had a seafood pancake and RAW oysters dipped in pepper paste. Everything was tasty... though I don't think I'll be eating raw oysters again for awhile... A weird thing happened with the lettuce concoction though... First, I ate the whole deal as a unit. I could taste each individual item in the lettuce bundle, but it also came together for a cohesive flavor, which was almost sweet. I also always eat one piece of meat by itself to get a feel for how the meat is different from what I remember meat tasting like in the U.S. I wasn't such a fan of this pork by itself (I think because there wasn't much of a seasoning on it and it was just plain pork). Then, after I went back to eating the whole concoction again, all I could taste was the pork, and not any of the other quite pronounced flavors. So weird.
31: 31 | Training Bound | After dinner, we walked down by the river close to where we live. There was a festival-like celebration going on because it has been 10 years since Gwangju became an official city. There was a big stage with a band playing, many tents and lots and lots of street food vendors. We scooped the loop to see what was going on and were headed back to our apartments when an older man stopped us on the street to talk. This is unusual, especially for a Korean man to stop a group of six obviously western people. We soon realized he was drunk, both by his liquid courage and the curious smell of alcohol he was emitting from every exposed pore. He put his arm around me and another guy in the group and talked to us about the festival. Then, he shook everyone's hand. When he got to me, instead of shaking my hand, he grabbed my butt! We all awkwardly laughed it off and it wasn't a big deal. We started to walk away and say goodbye when he tried to kiss my cheek. I wasn't about to let some rando drunk guy kiss me so I backed away a little and off we went walking down the street in the opposite direction. No harm. No foul. My first drunk Korean man experience. YES. Tomorrow I am off to teacher training for two nights and three days. All sorts of foreign teachers who work at middle and high schools in the area will be there, so hopefully this will be another chance to meet lots of new people! Hooray! Many stories to come, I'm sure! | Friday, October 1, 2010 | I Love Jesus But I Drink A Little... | I hope the title of this post intrigues you rather than scares you away, but I guess if you're reading this post, it isn't the latter. The video I posted below serves several purposes. First, I watch it every time I am in need of a good laugh. If I've had a tough class or I'm a little lonely, hello Ellen and Gladys. I even went so far as to download it onto my computer rather than just pulling it up on YouTube each time I feel the need to belly laugh. I showed Emily after class one day and she enjoyed it so much that she wanted me to send her the link. But, for some reason, the YouTube link no longer works and the file was too large to e-mail it, so the next best solution: post on my blog. So, here you go Emily! (I also hope YOU, as in my other loyal readers, enjoy this clip. If you don't think at least a little bit of this is funny, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore... :) Just kidding!) Video URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=&feature=player_embedded I'll write soon about my teacher orientation and such, but right now, it's time to venture to E-Mart to buy food for the upcoming week...and explore a little too! | Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover -Mark Twain
32: 32 | Since I last wrote a legit blog entry, much as transpired. First, from last Wednesday to Friday, I attended a teacher training / orientation for all of the public middle and high school foreign teachers in the Gyeonggi-do Province (all of the cities surrounding Seoul comprise their own province...sort of like a state, but a little different in ways that I'm not sure how to explain...). At the orientation, we attended several sessions. Some were presented by current teachers in GEPIK (this is the name of the program through which I teach) to give us ideas as to what to teach and games to play with our students. Other programs clued us in to Korean culture tidbits while others gave advice on classroom management. There were also sessions on speaking Korean, which I found quite helpful since the only words I have definitively learned so far are yes, hello. thank you, 1,000 won and without ham. For a good portion of the orientation, we were split into small groups. We taught demonstration lessons in partners. This exercise gave me so many ideas as to how to teach! Overall, I really learned a lot in those couple of days, both about how to teach and about myself. I also met a couple of people that I will definitely meet up with in the future, so all in all, it was a great getaway! On Friday, after I got back from orientation, I ventured to E-Mart to restock my fridge. On the way back, I snapped this photo: | In the distance, you can see my school... sort of... on the hill. | Long Overdue... | I realized I had been neglecting to show the landscape of my surroundings. From this picture, it looks like I live in the countryside to some extent. What this picture neglects to show you is that just across the sidewalk from where I stood to take this picture is one of the busiest streets in town, bustling with road traffic, foot traffic and all sorts of businesses. Gwangju is quite urbanized but because of mountains like the one in the picture, the city is very spread out rather than a concrete jungle like many of the newly developed cities. I will try to take more pictures of the city to give you more of an idea of what it looks like here... | On Sunday, I met Diane, a friend from orientation, in Seoul. We met at Coex Mall, which seemed to be Korea's answer to the Mall of America. The mall houses an aquarium, movie theater (with IMAX!), the Kimchi Field Museum, and hundreds of stores and food vendors. On the floor above all of this, there is a large conference center and Seoul's World Trade Center is also attached to the complex. There are also a couple of swanky hotels and a casino. It's a huge complex! This was the first time I had been shopping for anything other than food in Korea, so it was really fun. I bought a couple of books and a really good guidebook to Seoul and a couple of tops to wear to school. Diane and I got hungry during lunch time and we ended up eating at T.G.I. Fridays! Their menu was considerably smaller (only three pages!) but it was nice to have some legit American food for once. We had boneless buffalo wings (my first in almost four years! Chicken wings were the one thing I missed during my non-meat days!) which were served with greek tzatziki sauce instead of ranch or bleu cheese and a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, Monterrey jack cheese, tomato and lettuce and french fries. It was a treat! We tried to see a movie in the huge movie theater, but we couldn't find any ticket machines in English and since we weren't too serious about seeing a movie, we didn't bother to ask anyone for help. We also found the Kimchi Field Museum, but we weren't too jazzed on what it looked to entail after reading the description outside the entrance, so we decided not to spend the money to go in.
33: 33 | After a lengthy walk outside around the whole Coex complex, we ventured to Gangnam because Diane wanted to experience the infamous fish pedicure. We stopped off at Lush (my favorite cosmetic / toiletry shop that sells all handmade goods) so I could stock up on my favorite items. Right outside Lush was some sort of demonstration. There was a man who looked to be dressed in a North Korean military uniform pointing a gun at a man's head who was kneeling on the ground wearing a black hood. It looked to me to be some sort of attempt to bring awareness to the plight of North Korean refugees because there was a poster about the modern day underground railroad and other similar posters. It was really harrowing to walk down the street and see a man pointing a gun at someone's head, especially in Gangnam, which is sometimes touted as Seoul's Rodeo Drive. After this small dose of reality, we ventured on to the fish pedicure cafe. After enjoying banana and strawberry smoothies and the complementary toast, we stuck our feet in the fish. This time, we figured out that if you bring your feet closer to the surface, the fish follow, so I was able to get a couple of decent pictures of the fish. This time, post pedicure, as I was wiping my feet off, I could see the skin they had eaten from my foot. It sounds gross, but I would tell they had done work! Such a cool experience! I really want to try the big guys (which are goldfish size) now! | After our photo fun in Gangnam, we hopped the subway to Apgujeong which is a neighborhood with tree lined streets, fun boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. Just as we made it to the area, it started to rain. We walked and walked trying to find somewhere suitable to eat a small bite and seek shelter from the rain. We finally settled on a place we kept seeing all day long in various areas: a little cafe called A Twosome Place. Under the name of the establishment, it always says "A Cake and Sandwich Place," so naturally, we figured we would get a sandwich and maybe a piece of cake. We walked into the restaurant, put our stuff down and looked at the menu. No sandwich in sight. We were not pleased. The weird thing about this restaurant is that there are pictures of sandwiches everywhere and they are fairly heavily advertised, but there is not one sandwich on the menu. So. Weird. Instead, we settled for bread bowls of baked potato and bacon soup and a slice of cookie and Gruyere cheesecake. Both were very good. After our excursion at a Twosome Place, we walked back to the subway, parted ways to reach our respective destinations and an hour and a half later, I was home. Such a great day! | After the pedicures, we walked around Gangnam for awhile. We walked up a street with a lot of coffee shops and restaurants. At one point, we stopped and looked down a small street that was emitting good smells. A woman noticed us looking in her restaurant's general direction and started yelling at us, trying to get us to come into her restaurant. She was pretty aggressive and a little scary. We walked quickly in the opposite direction. Once we made it back to the main drag, we made a sweet discovery. On the street, every block or so, there are these interactive kiosks called media poles. You can read the news, play games or get directions to things in the neighborhood. | They're just little guys... | You can sort of see how they swarm your feet... | I like the man in the background... | You can also, as Diane and I discovered, take pictures and decorate them photo booth style and then e-mail them to yourself! The technology here astounds me. Here is the piece of art we created:
34: 34 | So, I've written a lot about what I've eaten in restaurants, but very little on what I cook for myself at home. Here's a breakdown. For breakfast, I usually eat yogurt (sometimes Yoplait!) and sometimes fruit, lately kiwi, but also peaches or apples. For lunch I eat at school every day and for the most part, lunches are good. I think they're still new and exciting to me so I'm still more than willing to try most everything, though sometimes the smell of the cafeteria takes a little courage! (I'm still getting used to how some things smell here...) For dinner, and lunch on the weekend days that I hang in my apartment, I cook for myself. Cooking here has to be a little creative because of the availability of ingredients. | The ingredients...minus the rice of course! | Monday, October 10, 2010 | Cooking! | Non-Korean ingredients are really expensive! I paid something like $8 for a honey bear the other day! So, lots of fried rice with vegetables and random crab or fish cake concoctions, stir fried vegetables (currently, I'm obsessed with sweet potatoes and carrots, though not together!), tofu, and my favorite: gimbap! I've put some crazy stuff in my gimbap, but today I played it more traditional. These ingredients are similar to what the woman in the shop downstairs makes. That shop has almost become my personal Cheers! because whenever I go in there, there are inevitably four tables of my students calling my name and saying hello and the woman knows my order without me saying a word...it's pretty sweet! But, now that I eat meat, I would like to add ham to my "usual" but I don't really know how to say it...one day I'll learn... or gesture in such a way that she understands what I mean... So, she makes hers with ham, imitation crab, cucumber, pickled radish and fried egg. Tonight, I was too lazy to fry an egg, so I used a carrot instead. So, pictured above is imitation crab, carrot, cucumber and pickled radish. Then I wrap all of those ingredients in a sheet of seaweed that is lined with white rice from my handy dandy rice cooker! Here's a pretty rough video of me making it: (I don't know why, but my camera cuts out some of the things I say to narrate what I'm doing, so the words are kind of jumbled...sorry!) | This was my first time using imitation crab and in the process of preparing the ingredients, I made a delightful discovery! The package of imitation crab I bought last week was HUGE, so I was unsure of how it was going to work to freeze the rest in the same package. Upon opening the enormous package of imitation crab, I discovered that each spear of crab is... individually wrapped! So, since I only used two spears, I literally have 38 string cheese size spears of imitation crab sitting in my freezer door. This is what my freezer looks like at present: | It's like I hit the crab lotto!
35: 35 | Pictures Galore! | I don't know why, but I went nuts taking pictures on Tuesday... Enjoy! First, I took some pictures around town on my way to E-Mart to catch the bus to Seoul. Some by my school... I had to run an errand there real quick before I left for the day. I ran into Mr. Shin (my head teacher) on my way down the hill and had a nice chat with him. He told me that that afternoon all of the woman teachers (his words, not mine!) would go home half way through the day while all of man teachers (again...his words) would climb the mountain behind our school. Nice! He also told me I had several pieces of mail on my desk since I hadn't been there for almost a week. (Thanks again to all the senders!) I walked into the office and one of the older male teachers looked up and said, "Oh! Long time, no see!" Nice English, sir! | Jeses. Outside the auditorium. | The view from the top of the steps to the Academic High School | This picture was taken facing my neighborhood, but the view is obstructed by the trees that line the road to and from the school. Hopefully you can get a sense of how high up the hill I walk each day! I took a couple of photos of my neighborhood, but they turned out to be pretty lame, so I'll take some better ones when the students are out and about so you can what a normal day looks like.... | Here are photos closer to downtown and E-Mart. | A mass exodus of students to catch a bus home | The river that sort of divides the town... | An example of wonky parking. This is a sidewalk. | Gwangju. Taken from the same spot as the river, but opposite direction
36: 36 | So, my plan for Tuesday was to eat lunch at E-Mart before heading to Seoul to meet Diane and Qiaoqiao (a Chinese foreign teacher at Diane's school) at N Seoul Tower which is on Namsan Mountain in Seoul. The building that houses E-Mart has a bus depot and a sizable food court with E-Mart downstairs and two floors of pseudo department store shopping above. I've only eaten at one of the food vendors in the food court and gotten coffee at a couple of the shops. I played it safe and ate at the vendor that sells duk boki (if you'll think back to my first experience eating out with Emily, this is what we ate). I've only eaten at this place three times now, but they remember me every time! The man even said hi and started to dish up the duk buki (even though they sell other items) before I uttered a word! Last time, I ordered wrong and didn't receive any of the fried food that gets dipped into the duk buki, which is the best part in my opinion. This time, I remembered to point to the correct sign and ended up with two pieces of squid, one piece of sweet potato and a common street food concoction of glass noodles (clear thin spaghetti) wrapped in seaweed and fried. The woman who gathered my fried food was a pal and cut everything into bite sized (chop-stick friendly!) pieces for me. As I was getting ready to carry my food to a table, I heard someone call my name. I turned around and there was my neighbor Toni who teaches at the academic high school. She brought her Popeye's chicken over to where I was sitting and we had a lovely chat. She invited me to go shopping with her husband and her once a month on the Friday after payday. They have a car because her husband Steven works for an imports company here and drives to work so they take their car to E-Mart once a month to buy the big items that are cumbersome to carry home. I'm grateful for the offer because when I bought water last week, I had a heck of a time carrying everything home! Anyway, here's my duk buki! | Yum! | So, in the background is the fried food that you dip into the plate in the foreground. The red biz in the foreground is comprised of fish cake (the square bits in the middle that look like meat but are basically seasoned fish spam which tastes much better than I just made it sound), rice cake, which is the other chunks you see and a sauce made from pepper paste and water. This is really spicy, but the fried food that gets dipped into the duk buki seems to cut the spice a little. The water cup at the top of the picture is the typical beverage serving size at restaurants. They aren't big on drinking with their meals here unless it's soju or beer. | During lunch at school, I don't drink anything, which is odd because if you've even dined with me in America, you know I drink truckloads of water (preferably with lime!) at most every meal. It's taken some getting used to, but now I don't feel like I need to drink nearly as much water with every meal. It's honestly more of a hassle to drink beverages during meals because of the customs that go with pouring and consuming beverages with meals (i.e. you NEVER pour your own drink and always fill everyone's cups before yours so there is often no more water left by the time you make it to your own cup, etc.). After my impromptu lunch with Toni, I boarded the bus to Seoul. I had to get off at a different stop than usual to get on a different line on the subway, so I was a little unclear on where to get off the bus. I got off the bus at what I thought was Gangdong station, and walked around a little to try to find the train. There was no train in sight. I asked a woman and she told me to turn left and walk for a long time. Knowing I was in the wrong place, I decided just to get back on the bus and go to my usual bus stop and make the extra transfers on the train. This also proved to be a problem because my bus only stops at this place if someone on the bus needs to get off there. Three buses whizzed by without stopping. I was getting frustrated because I was going to be really late to meet Diane and Qiaoqiao. Just as I was about to investigate a different bus line, a 1113 bus pulled right up to where I was standing and a woman got off. I went over and knocked on the door, which the driver opened with a confused look on his face and I was finally able, after a good 20 minutes of being stranded, to board the bus. Not ten minutes later, the bus stopped at my originally planned destination and I got off and had a quite pleasant half hour train ride to meet Diane and Qiaoqiao.
37: 37 | Once I finally arrived, ee ventured through some random allies and streets (as per our internet directions!) to purchase a ride to N Seoul Tower via cable car. The cable car ride was super sweet: smooth and quick! From the cable car, it was a pretty steep hike up to the tower sight. Here's a picture I took on the way: | At the tower, there are several restaurants, an observatory to take in several views of Seoul, an outdoor platform which will be explained shortly, and a Teddy Bear Museum that shows Seoul's history with Teddy Bears... that move. The tower also boasts the bathroom with the best view of Seoul. There are floor to ceiling windows! Here's a kind of lame video of the Teddy Bear Museum. It gives you an idea of the intensity of these bears: (see blog for video clip) | Picture time... | As much of the tower as my camera could capture | Seoul... | The bathroom! | More Seoul... | And...some more. | In the tower, there are two Twosome Place cafes (the place that didn't have sandwiches despite their vigorous mention of said sandwiches). Guess what? We found their sandwiches. LAME. They also serve a delightful white chocolate mocha using the same Ghirardelli chocolate that we used at the Business Cafe, in case you were wondering.
38: 38 | The aforementioned outdoor platform was quite interesting. For some reason, this tower is geared toward couples. There are walls covered (almost floor to ceiling) with magnets made by couples to document the love they have for each other (barf.). Here's an example with a cute kid that I found more fun to look at them those cutesy couples. So, outside on the platform, the love theme continues. Diane told me that couples come to the tower, bring or buy a lock, sign the lock with whatever cheesy junk they want, attach the locks to the fence, lock them and throw the key over the edge to signify their never ending love / bond. Some people take this pretty seriously... | that's a lot of love. | walls, upon walls of locks | a cutting board attached to a lock. What the H. | Group love on the bike lock. | Loner love. | As I was taking pictures of the locks, I noticed a couple struggling with a self portrait. I offered to take their picture for them. Their standard point and shoot camera had a mind of its own and kept taking pictures when I wasn't meaning to. I would like to apologize to you for the image I may have conveyed to this couple about Americans. He was real nice, though, and offered to take our picture. He even took artsy angles. He didn't mess around. | In Asia, do as the Asians do. Throwin' the peace signs. | After the tower, we ventured to a shopping district near the tower for dinner and, of course, some shopping. EXCITEMENT: I found TWO pairs of pants that fit me. They were real cheap too. Thank you Forever 21 (a tried and true American brand that is everywhere). Now I had cords to wear to school in the winter, and a little classier winter coat (camel with black toggles!) than my fleece and down vest ensemble. Delightful. We also happened upon a seemingly random K-Pop (Korean pop music) dance contest near the train station. The kids had moves. That's all I have to say about that. Today I made an appearance at school. Since the girls are still taking midterms, I sat at my desk and cultivated ideas for next week's lesson plans. I also found out that I am teaching on Friday. News to me. It's a good thing I have some fresh ideas from my teacher's training for some games. I don't want to get in the routine of starting new lessons on Fridays because that seems awkward to me, so Friday's classes will be geared toward a good time. Plus, the girls have been taking exams ALL week, so I don't want to overwhelm them. I also met the new foreign teacher at the EB high school! Her name is Dionne. She's also new to teaching ESL although she and her husband have been in Korea for the last five years teaching at a private institute that is run as an American school. She's really nice and has lots of teaching experience, though none in ESL or high school, so we'll learn together!
39: 39 | Thursday, October 7, 2010 | I still can't believe this happened. | Today I woke up to a phone call from Hyunjoo Kim telling me that she would take me to figure out internet banking this afternoon after the exams were done. I had a leisurely morning. I ate breakfast, skyped with my friend Taryn and watched some How I Met Your Mother. I had to walk to the school to pick up some stuff for the internet banking excursion and was supposed to receive a call from Hyunjoo when she was going to pick me up. At about 12:10. I was getting dressed when I heard someone knocking loudly on the door to access our apartments. (There is a door with an electronic lock that you have to go through to get onto our apartment floor and then each apartment also has a separate door to enter each apartment.) I finished getting dressed quickly and went to open the door. One of the other teachers had forgotten his key and couldn't get in. So, I pushed the button to open the door. It made the same sound as usual and appeared to be unlocked, but when I tried to open the door, it wouldn't open. After trying several times to lock and unlock the door, I realized it was no use. I was trapped in my apartment building. I called Hyunjoo and explained the situation. She called the school's administrative office and they sent the man who looks after our apartments over to help, thinking that the batteries on the lock needed to be replaced. Easy fix. He tried all of the same tricks I had tried to no avail. Hyunjoo called to ask where I was because by now, I was quite late for our appointment. I explained that the man was trying to open the door, but nothing was working and the batteries didn't seem to be the problem. She came to the apartment too and they continued to try to open the door. She called me a couple of times to tell me to turn the lock or try to open the door, but nothing worked. They even tried breaking down the door, but nothing would make whatever was obstructing the lock budge. Hyunjoo told me I should go back into my apartment and she would call me if they needed my help. By this time, I had been working on the door for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Maybe ten minutes later, Hyunjoo called me and said they had called 911 to come get the door open. She said I needed to open all of the windows in the breezeway and I should wait for them to get there in case they needed my help with anything. A couple minutes later, a red truck with Korean writing and 911 written on it pulled up to our building. I thought they would climb a ladder to enter the building. There was no ladder and I had yet to see anybody who looked like they had come in the truck. All of a sudden, I hear someone shouting in Korean. Then, I saw legs right outside the window and a man coming from the roof into the building. He repelled from the roof into the window. Then, he tried all of the same things I had tried to open the door. No dice. He went to the window and yelled to his partner who was still on the roof. His partner dropped in a couple of screwdrivers and the man removed part of the electronic lock in order to open the door. On the other side of the door, there stood Hyunjoo, another English teacher from my school, the building maintenance man, another old man and the teacher was had been locked out in the first place. Hyunjoo gave me a huge hug and looked so relieved that they had rescued (to some extent...) me. She said that was the first time she or the other English teacher had called 911! Next, the 911 men got my information (just my name and age) to write a report about the incident (I'm assuming). Hyunjoo was so sweet and motherly about the whole situation. She took me to Ministop and bought me a bottle of tea, and then she and the other English teacher that was outside my apartment with her took me to the bank to take care of the internet banking. On the way to the bank, I was telling them about what I had done all week and especially that the dok buki man at the food court in E-Mart recognized me. Hyunjoo was so surprised that I like duk boki that once we were done at the bank, she took me out for lunch at a place that serves REALLY great duk boki, which she also loves. She told me that she will cook it sometime and have me over to eat! What an exciting afternoon! Now, I'm off to Seoul to meet Emily and Richard for dinner. Hopefully nothing else exciting happens. I think I can only take one 911 call per day. Thank you Korea.
40: 40 | Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | To bring you up to speed... | All weekend, I had a house guest. At the academic high school, there are two teacher's assistants who have just graduated from high school in England and are spending their gap year in Korea for eight months before they start their university studies. Their names are Maria and June. They live in the dorms with some of the girls. Once a month, the dorms close and everyone either goes home or finds alternate plans for the weekend. June is Korean and her family lives in the south part of South Korea in Busan. Maria is from Switzerland. She needed a place to crash for the weekend, and I welcomed her into my apartment. It was fun to have someone around for a couple of days! Friday night, we went out for dinner at a place in Gwangju that reminded me a little of Applebees or restaurants like that...something for everybody. We shared a couple of dishes and hit up Baskin Robbins for some ice cream to eat while we walked around downtown. It was a super chill night. We both saw several of our students out and about, so it was fun to see them outside of school, even if they are terribly shy and won't talk to us aside from passionately saying hello. Saturday, Maria went to Everland, which is a big amusement park here and I ventured to Seoul to meet Diane and Qiaoqiao at Insadong, which is a shopping district famous for traditional Korean gifts. I ended up waiting about half an hour for Diane and Qiaoqiao to arrive because of difficulties boarding a train, and I got in some top notch people watching! There were several foreign tourists around this neighborhood, so it was fun to sit back and watch them negotiate the streets of Seoul (not that I'm much more than a tourist at this point, but they're still fun to watch!) There was also a man sitting on the sidewalk, peeling and selling small bags of garlic for 1,000 won. There is always something to look at here! Once we met up, we had an amazing lunch at a cozy little bistro off of a side street in Insadong and walked around all afternoon. When we were through with Insadong, we ventured to Hongdae (an eclectic university neighborhood) in search of the Hello Kitty Cafe. After a long, long walk, and a stop for frozen yogurt, we found the place, though we were too full from our yogurt binge to partake. We'll go back another time. That night, we went to the International Fireworks Festival on the Han River. We were supposed to meet more friends from orientation outside one of the subway exits at 6:30 in order to be able to grab a decent seat for the 7:30 start time. We were done at Hongdae really early, so we decided to head over to the festival early and walk around. We arrived at 4:30 and were greeted by more people than I have ever laid eyes on in my entire life. Literally. By the time the fireworks started, there were literally one million people (as far as the eye could see in ALL directions!) at this festival. As the fireworks started, the Koreans around us were ooo-ing and ahh-ing with marvel at the fireworks exploding in the sky. The 4th of July must have jaded me on fireworks because these fireworks were equal to the caliber of the Mechanicsville fireworks display each year -which are impressive for Mechanicsville's size...I can't say the same for Seoul, especially with an event name like International Fireworks Festival! While the fireworks left much to be desired, the people watching was, again, top notch! In Korea, it is popular for couples to dress alike. I'm not talking merely coordinating their outfits. I'm talking wearing the same exact outfit, or at the very least, the same shirt. It was tough not to stare at the plethora of couples in attendance. Our group was not excited by the idea of fighting a million people to get through one of two subway exits to hop a train home, so we left after the first 10 or 15 minutes. What should have taken us maybe 10 minutes to board a train ended up taking close to half an hour because of the hoards of people both arriving to and departing from the festival. It was mass chaos and if I never go to another event with that number of people again, I will be just fine.
41: Sunday, Maria and I met a fellow teacher in Gwangju, Kasandra, for lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was pretty good for what it was... I'm really starting to realize the spin other countries put on imported food. I ordered a pizza at this place, knowing full well that the pizza would be different than what I am used to. And, don't worry, it was. The flavor was quite good (mushroom and pesto!) and eating cheese for the first time in weeks was fun, but the crust of the pizza was a tortilla shell! So, essentially, I ate an open face quesadilla. It was good, but I think I'll stick to places that don't specialize in foreign food unless they are owned and operated by foreigners and proven to be legit... Monday was back to grind stone. It was so hard to get up on Monday morning, knowing I had a full week of teaching ahead of me after three weeks of no teaching or partial weeks! The girls brought me back though. Here are a couple of pictures of some of my students from Friday: | One of my third year classes | 41 | Here are a couple of cute stories from the past couple of days: Last Friday, I played games all day rather than start a new lesson. I played a game called Run and Write where I would give two teams a word and one person from each teach had to run across the room to the whiteboard and write a long (and correct!) sentence using the word. One of the words I gave them was Noelle. One of the students wrote "Noelle is our English teacher. We love her because she is very kindful and pretty. If I was a boy, I would want to marry her." (I don't know why she wrote more than one sentence...sucking up, I guess...) On Mondays, I go grocery shopping and usually eat duk boki at E-Mart. I was eating yesterday and reading a book when a bold student ran (literally) to my table, sat down (SUPER rare) and said, "Teacher, why you eat alone? (Mischievous pause, followed by an even more mischievous glow in her eye) You not have friend?!" She started laughing hysterically at her clever question. There is a girl in one of my favorite classes that has really short hair (same style as me, but longer). Her English isn't great but she always asks me questions to get me to talk to her. She also shamelessly waves at me from afar each time she sees me. We're pals. Today, I think she asked me if I would cut her hair. | Some first years gals who stayed for a little while after class
42: 42 | Here's a picture I pilfered from Diane that was taken at Namsan Tower last Tuesday. Around the observatory, the windows say which cities around the world are in that direction and how many kilometers away they are... I think we were about 10,525 km away from Chicago...or something like that. For the next several weeks, it is business as usual. Teaching full weeks (so weird!) and probably exploring Seoul on the weekends. This Friday is Lily Festival at school, which means that the entire day is spent in the Kyung-Hwa Bowl (an outdoor grass terraced stadium) watching each of the students perform various talents. We don't teach at all and there will be 3,000 people (students and teachers) gathered! Should be pretty cool! All of the foreigners (read: anyone fluent in English or good at singing) are singing a song during the offering portion of the accompanying church service. Details to come! | Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Noelle. You like drink beer? | During my last class, I awarded a piece of candy to the team that one the exercise. I like to switch up the prizes I give so they don't know what is coming to them. Sometimes, I'll give everyone in the class candy, but give the winners two pieces. Sometimes I'll do high fives and sometimes I only give the winners candy. Today, for my first year classes, it was a winning-team-only-candy-day. After class was over, one of the teams that didn't win candy stuck around for a little while. As they were leaving, they approached me, and in unison, chanted, "Trick or Treat!" I laughed, told them they did a good job and said I'd see them tomorrow. They left. Not a minute later, there was a knock at my door. I opened it and there they were with their hands out and big smiles on their faces, saying, "Trick or Treat, Teacher!" I told them they were clever and laughed. As they were about to walk away, I gave in and let them have a piece of candy. What can I say? I'm a softy and I like to reward the clever twerps. | Today was a pretty no big deal type of day... I taught. The students learned. (Hopefully!) And, (Bonus!) I learned some new things too. I have not seen the classes I taught today and and the ones I teach tomorrow since before Chuseok (at the end of September) because of all of my random time off. Before Morning English started today, I was warmly greeted as I entered the broadcast room. One girl (the one who wrote me the note to ask if we could be friends) ran up to me and told me how excited she was to have my class today and how much she had missed it the last couple of weeks! What a gem! I'm lucky to have such delightful students!
43: 43 | Apparently, there is some custom or tradition in Korea (that I can't find a link to on the internet...sorry!) that says that on Wednesdays, you have to eat everything on your plate. So, Wednesday = Clean Plate Club Day. When we eat lunch in the cafeteria at school, we empty what we don't eat into a rubbish vat that gets thrown away and probably recycled somehow. Some schools follow the cleaning your plate custom so closely that they don't allow any food to be thrown away on Wednesday. Other schools make you explain why you are throwing away food. Apparently, Kyung-Hwa wised up to this custom because they serve their best meals of the week on Wednesdays to ensure that food will be less likely to be thrown away. So, I guess Wednesdays are the cream of the crop meals at school. I had no idea before today. As promised, lunch today was awesome! There was good kimchi, some sort of crunchy soy saucey root vegetable, glass noodles wrapped in seaweed and fried, yellow chicken curry, rice and some sort of potato and fish soup. Dessert was a banana. The girls in my class before lunch are always hungry, as am I, so the first thing we talk about in every class is what is served for lunch that day. Now I understand why they get so excited about their lunches. I always teach them on Wednesdays, ergo, best lunches of the week! The newspaper for which I proofread several articles came out today! It is beautifully done and I was included on the staff list! I was reading it and Mr. Shin came up beside me, touched my arm and quite sincerely thanked me for helping him with the English. It was one of the most fulfilling moments I have had here so far. He's a great man and I am happy my helping him meant so much! Wednesdays are also when the weekly teachers' meeting is held. Dionne (the new English teacher that replaced Emily) and I skipped out on the meeting because Mr. Shin told her it wasn't necessary for her to go. The meetings are held in the same room as my desk, so I usually find an alternate location to hang out during the meeting. Today, when the meeting was over, I came back to the room to find a couple of teachers eating chicken wings and fried rice cake that someone had bought for everyone to celebrate something (I didn't really understand the occasion...) They insisted that I join them, and who was I to refuse?! We had a great little snack time and talked a lot. They told me about what a strong relationship they had formed with the first Native English Teacher at the school (they still keep in contact through e-mail and send cards and pictures to each other ten years later!) and they hoped that I will have the same strong bond with them. I was so touched! Another teacher came over and had the following conversation Teacher: Noelle Teacher. You like drink beer? Me: (maybe a little too excitedly...) Yes! Teacher: Ah. Me too. Pause. Another Teacher: He thinks you should join us to drink beer sometime. Original Teacher: (puts his finger to his mouth in the "Be Quiet" gesture) But, is top secret! Other Teacher: Yes. No one knows we all drink beer together. Everyone laughs. Apparently, these teachers like to have a good time and they think I have the potential to join them. I think this sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. | There is great meaning in life for those who are willing to journey. - Jim England
44: 44 | Bleacher Butt: Lily Festival 2010 | Saturday, October 16, 2010 | Holy Cow. Today was Lily Festival at school. Basically, it amounted to an all day talent showcase by all three of the schools. After two rounds of sitting on a styrofoam pad for three hours straight, I developed quite the case of bleacher butt, but it was well worth it! Today was my favorite day at school thus far! Here's a video I compiled of the day's festivities... Read on for more details and a few pictures... << see Blog at http://seoulfulserendipity.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html for video>> The festivities were held at the Kyung-hwa Bowl, which is this amazing outdoor amphitheater that sits beside the cafeteria. There were literally 3,000 people there with all of the students from the three schools, most of the faculty and staff and some city officials and other special guests who were present throughout the day. Toward the end of the day, some of the girls' boyfriends showed up, which made for a pretty raucous cheering section. First, there were opening ceremonies and a church service, lasting about an hour and a half total. During the worship service, all of the foreign teachers (along with pretty much anyone at the school who has singing talent that can speak English well) got on stage and sang an offering hymn as our contribution to Lily Festival. We sang four part harmony! It was so fun to sing again and when our students saw us on stage, they went c-r-a-z-y! They make us feel so loved! Next, many different groups of girls danced...mostly to hip hop. I was really surprised at how provocative some of the dancing was, but I guess that's the product of even more provocative music videos! It is also a good thing that most of the administration doesn't understand quickly spoken English because some of the songs contained some foul language... There were also a couple of traditional Korean drum performances, which were really cool! There was about an hour and half break for lunch, which also doubled as a time to showcase students' artwork and research projects and do some fund raising for various charities our school supports. Also, as we exited the Bowl, there were several groups of girls painted from head to toe, acting as statues depicting various scenes. After the lunch break, each of the schools put on a sort of variety show featuring teachers from their school. This part was all in Korean, so I couldn't really follow what was going on, but there were some funny things that happened. Next, there was a singing competition and two of the four groups that were chosen as winners were from my school! Hooray! Last, a rock band whose lead singer is an English teacher at the academic high school sang three songs to which the girls squealed the whole time! I was so impressed with the amount of work put into this festival by everyone! It was one of the most awesome displays of school pride, personal talent and peer support I have ever seen! Not only do the students feel an immense sense of pride in their own school and the students who represented them today, but they also support the other schools too. There was an extreme sense of unity and respect among the three schools. I don't know if I've written this yet, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how lucky I am to be a part of this school system! For various reasons, I have come to realize that my situation here is quite ideal. I am at a school that genuinely cares about the opportunities its students have; a school that allows for involvement, achievement and personal expression with a top-notch staff whose devotion to the students is apparent each and every day. I feel so at home here, with the students and the teachers and today, it really hit me that this place is exactly where I need to be at this point in my life.
45: 45 | Here are a few pictures of the students that I was able to take during the festival. Watching them watch each act was just as fun as watching the acts themselves! | This group of girls is in what was originally my hardest to control (and, thus, most frustrating) class, but somehow I've bonded with some of them and now I look forward to their class. The one with the short hair in the front is the girl who approached me at E-Mart and asked why I was eating alone. She's a pistol and she keeps me on my toes... | I love these three pictures because you can see the excitement the girls have for watching their friends perform. You can also get a sense for how large the Bowl is, and how many people were there today! All in all, this was such an awesome day that made me realize how much I love this school and everything (and everyone!) it encompasses!
46: 46 | Adventures in... Toothpaste | Monday, October 18, 2010 | Saturday, I met Diane in Seoul. We've starting referring to our excursions as Saturdays in Seoul. It's not so much a question of whether or not we will meet up, but rather where we will go each time. Saturday, we found ourselves at the 63 Building, which is the tallest building in Korea. During a fairly roundabout attempt to find the building's attractions, we happened upon two Korean weddings. The pictures on display outside the venue looked like high gloss magazine photos. They were beautiful. We finally found where we needed to be and ended up eating traditional Korean fare (bibimbap (lots of vegetables mixed with rice and pepper paste) and mandu (dumplings, usually filled with pork)) in the food court in the basement of the building. Then we saw a 3-D movie about dinosaurs. Between being in a bit of a food coma and the soothing notes of Michael Douglas's narration, Diane and I both fell asleep during the film. Oops. We opted not to go to the top of the building because it cost 12,000 won, and instead spent some time in a cute cafe drinking lattes and chatting. The 63 Building is in the same neighborhood as the site of last weekend's Fireworks Festival (which, according to our friend Heather's photos, got a lot more impressive after we left, but the nearest subway exit was also closed for fear of a riot breaking out, so I don't regret our premature exit!). We went back to the park and wandered around near the river. We saw several adorable kids, couples in matching clothes riding tandem bikes and random groups of older businessmen enjoying an afternoon soju-fest with their pals. There is always something to look at here! Also, while we were investigating a possible ferry ride on the Han River, an adorable eight or nine year old girl came up to us and said hello. She was closely followed by her little sister, who was dressed in an almost matching outfit. She was also a chatty cathy! They were so cute! Next, we headed to Myeongdong for some shopping and dinner. Earlier in the week, Diane had mentioned that she wanted Indian food. Lucky for her, I am an observant creature. As we were walking the packed streets, I noticed a small sign that said something about Indian and Nepalese food. It was next to a seemingly random elevator. We tried our luck and happened upon a really great restaurant on the fourth floor of a building that seemed to only be accessible via this Harry Potter platform 9 3/4-esque elevator (it was that random to find)! My first taste of Indian food was a total success! I also almost found a nice pair of brown leather boots being sold by a street vendor. I had picked them up to show Diane that those were the boots I was looking for when the proprietor came over and asked what size I needed. I told him I was just looking and that I have huge feet (by Korean standards...). He asked me what size I needed again, so to humor him, I told him size 260 (they measure shoe sizes in millimeters here) thinking he might laugh and say there was no chance. He ran to check and produced a pair of the boots in size 260. I was baffled. Alas, my feet were too wide for those particular boots (and I didn't have 49,000 won on me at the time) but now I know where to look for big people shoes! Sunday was a lazy day. I slept until almost noon, toodled around on the internet, worked on my TEFL class a little (read: very little) bit, made some real good fried rice and planned this week's lessons. I also skyped with the folks...always a pleasure! :)
47: 47 | Today's teaching wasn't anything to write home about...just three classes. Pretty average day. My students are continually getting more used to me, as I am them. They've picked up on my quirks and seem to enjoy them, so I guess that's a good sign. Even though they are not always impressed with my lessons (I can't blame them...the first time I teach each lesson, it inevitably bombs a little...or a lot.), they are always really grateful to me when they leave class. They always warmly greet me in the hallways, the office and outside of school and they've even stopped to have conversations with me rather than their previous habits of just saying hello and running away. I also may start tutoring a girl after school a couple of days a week to help her strengthen her speaking skills for when she moves to Missouri next fall to attend a small Christian college that is affiliated with our school. It should be a good time...more on that when it actually starts... :) Now for the title portion of this post: Korean toothpaste. Last week at lunch, a couple of the Native teachers who have been in Korea for awhile started talking about Korean toothpaste. The only toothpaste I had bought here seemed normal, so I was intrigued to hear them talking about the wacky flavors that can be found here. I went out that day and bought apple flavored toothpaste after a long debate between that and strawberry. Today, on my weekly (whether I need to or not...) journey to E-Mart for duk boki and groceries, I found coffee flavored (no joke!) and purchased some tubes (yes, tubes... Koreans are so obsessed with brushing their teeth that toothpaste is more often than not sold in bulk!) that have pine needles on the box, are described as being naturally salty and seem to smell like biofreeze and/or Vick's Vaporub. This flavor was recommended by both Native teachers, so I had to try it. If you come visit, don't bring toothpaste. I've assembled an arsenal. I think I'll send some home for folks to try too. This stuff is bonkers! | Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | I realize I haven't posted a new blog in over a week and I have nothing to say for myself other than I've been sort of busy, but mostly lazy. For that, I apologize. I have much to share. So much, in fact, that I made a list of things to cover in this post. Buckle your seat belt. Much of this post is written stream of consciousness style... On Saturday, I woke up real early to catch a ride into Seoul with my neighbor Toni, who was going to Itaewon (an area of Seoul that is home to many foreign foods and shops). Maria and I had plans to go shopping because Maria was severely lacking winter clothes and I never turn down a chance to go shopping :) We attempted to beat the crazy traffic by leaving at 8 am which gave us about an hour to kill before any shops opened. We found a coffee shop and bought some breakfast. Upon sitting down, we ran into another teacher from our city. The four of us had a great chat as we waited for the shops to open. After a successful stop to Forever 21, and meeting up with Diane, the three of us set out to find some lunch. We happened upon a shop whose displayed pictures looked appetizing. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered the restaurant. The girl at the counter told us to place our order. We asked to see a menu. She pointed to a picture of two bowls of noodles. Then she said, "Spicy or not. Those are choices." So, the only thing the restaurant served was cold noodles with a side of pork in a spicy (or not) fashion. I'd never tried cold noodles before so when our food showed up and the bowl literally had slushy ice in it, I was a bit surprised. It was really good though! And, the pork that accompanied the noodles tasted just like a smoked Iowa chop! Delightful. We continued shopping. We continued shopping until we had to leave for the next activity on our agenda.
48: 48 | The three of us journeyed back to Gwangju (DIane stayed with me Saturday night) to see a concert featuring the Gwangju women's choir. They sang three sets and between each of the sets, there was a vignette performance. One of the vignettes was an accordion player whose music had been featured on a very popular Korean drama. The other vignette was the select choir from my school! They were amazing! | The next day, Diane and I visited E-Mart so she could experience the duk boki I have come to love. As soon as we approached the counter, we were warmly greeted by the ladies who run the stand. They even spoke to us using the little English they know. We're pals. Then, we headed to a neighborhood in Seoul that hosts a Filipino market every Sunday. Since Diane is Filipino, she wanted to check it out and I'm so glad we did! After a bit of a roundabout journey in search of the market (we found belly dancers, fortune tellers and a building called the Beer Castle), we found the Filipino market and purchased some delicious food from a woman whose spot in the market seemed to be the prime spot for Filipino fare. We had an empanada, an egg roll and some barbequed chicken on a stick. We also had a special citrus juice that was delicious whose name escapes me. We WILL return to this market and neighborhood again. Then, we went to Dongdaemun, an area of Seoul that houses many wholesale retailers and a huge market. Diane and I were pretty overwhelmed by everything and all of the people, so we opted to head back to the previous neighborhood to a quiet cafe before we parted ways. In order to get to my bus for Gwangju, I had to transfer trains. As I was getting off the first train to transfer to the next one, a middle aged Korean man waved at me and asked if I was English, American or Canadian. I told him American and he lead me over to a group of more middle aged men. They chattered in Korean when told them I was American. I'm 99% sure they had placed bets on my nationality. Then, they started walking in the opposite direction of my train transfer and acted like they wanted me to follow. I didn't follow them and they asked me where I was headed. I told them Gwangju and they said that was pretty far away and wondered if I knew where I was going. I told them that I'm a teacher there so I know my way around. I proceeded to walk/run away. Soooo weird. | It was so fun to watch them perform! We caught a ride from Ji Hye, who is Hyunjoo's assistant, a co-teacher in a couple English classes and a Japanese teacher. She is such a sweetheart and always gives me rides to these performances. On the way back, she asked me if I like movies. Oh Ji Hye. You have no idea. We bonded over our love for Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks and vowed to meet up soon for a movie marathon. Then, Maria, Diane and I went to a shabu shabu restaurant (the same one as my birthday dinner) to eat a late dinner. When we arrived, there was a table of about eight 19 or 20 year old guys. They were not speaking to each other at all. | Instead, each of them was glued to some sort of media whether it was their cell phone, mp3 player or some sort of video game outlet. We kept an eye on them to see if their dining experience would get less awkward, and sure enough, once the food and soju arrived, they were chatty cathies. We all enjoyed our dinner and when it came time to cook the noodles, the woman told us if we wanted more, we could just help ourselves to the noodle cart. WHAA? Once we ate our fair share of noodles, we journeyed to Baskin Robbins for a little dessert. We had such a ruckus-filled night that we closed down Baskin Robbins at 11 pm. It's a crazy life I lead.
49: 49 | Yesterday at school, a girl and I had the following exchange: Girl: You have small face. Noelle: ... Thanks. Is that a good thing? Girl: You have small head. Noelle: ...Thanks. Girl: You have small brain? Noelle: hahaha NO. Last night, three of us (Toni, June (another teacher's assistant) and me) went out for dinner for June's birthday. The meal was exquisite. We had duck and two kinds of pork. The meat got wrapped in one of four different types of greens along with mustard, garlic, the best kimchi I have had here to date, a pumpkin salad and a salad with the most amazing vinaigrette dressing. I could have eaten a bushel of that salad! We ended the meal with what the menu translated as hangover soup. Lots of sesame powder and bean sprouts. I also made a sweet discovery about Korean driving culture. I've mentioned before that parking here is bonkers. Basically, people park anywhere that is not blocking traffic whether it's a designated parking spot or not. If someone is in the way, their cell phone number is posted visibly in the car so that you can call them and ask them to move their car. This happened to Toni while we were in the restaurant. We ended our marathon dinner at Baskin Robbins...again. I love that place! It was a great night of amazing food and great company / conversation! I'm teaching a Halloween lesson this week....mainly about culture. It's been really fun to see their enthusiasm for Halloween. I also show them this really scary video and watching them freak out when the scary part happens at the end is priceless every time. They literally jump out of their seats. I want to take a video of it, but I'm afraid that would spoil the scariness. I think word has spread that I'm giving out good candy this week since it's Halloween because several girls who are not in my class have come up to me and said, "Trick or Treat, Teacher!" in hopes of receiving candy. Today at lunch we had Korean mac and cheese! It was sooo good! They put corn and grated carrots in it with rotini noodles and it was obviously baked so the cheese was nice and crusty. I forgot how much better baked macaroni and cheese is than the kind from a box! Leave it to Korea to one up an American classic. Several things have appeared on my desk lately. Yesterday, a block of homemade rice cake wrapped in cellophane and last week, a cloth to wipe computer or cell phone screens that was made as a promotional tool for our school. It features the same picture of me (!) as the cover of the brochure that was printed a month ago. Today, Hyunjoo sneakily slipped me four or five extra cloths, so I'll send some home for you to see. I finally got a clear answer on where the post office is located, so now I am (hopefully) equipped to send snail mail. I'm sooo sorry to those of you who have sent me things that haven't received anything in return! On that note, I received two more letters yesterday and laughed out loud reading them. I think the teachers here must think I'm a weirdo because of the excitement I show over mail, but I can't help myself.
50: 50 | (cont...) | Last week, two students came to my desk to talk. They told me that they stayed up until 2 am the night before, studying for their college entrance exams. I wished them good luck on their exams and they said I should pray for them. I thought, okay, no problem. I'll send up a general prayer for my students to do well with their studying. They had something different in mind. They put their name tags pretty close to my face (which are written in Korean script, which I cannot yet read) and told me to remember their names. I didn't want them to know that I couldn't read their names (much less remember them from the sea of names I see each day) so I just smiled and nodded and told them I would pray for them. Fast forward to today. Same exact scenario, same exact situation, only this time, when I told them I would pray for them, they told me they loved me. I started tutoring a girl for an hour after school three days a week. I get paid extra to do it and it amounts to us talking for an hour because she wants to practice English conversation. For the exam she has to take to show her proficiency in English, she has to listen to something and then summarize what she heard. To practice that, we'll also watch videos and listen to podcasts and then she will summarize what they were about. These tutor sessions will be more fun than they're supposed to be. Also, she's really nervous about attending college in the US (she's going to school at a small Christian school in Missouri), so I feel myself slipping back into Ambassador mode when we talk about college life! The weather has suddenly changed. Sunday, it was really nice and almost hot. Then, Monday and today, it was really cold. I finally wore a jacket to school! It was one degree Celsius this morning as I was walking to school! During Morning English, Chan Yang Teacher asked me if I was surprised by the weather. I told him that it gets much colder in Iowa and said (on air) that last year it got to negative five (or something like that). He asked what that was in Celsius and before I took the time to think through what I was about to say, I did a quick (and very erroneous!) conversion in my head, telling them that was -37 in Celsius. He was very surprised and asked, "Really??" I said, "Yes! It gets really cold in Iowa!" It wasn't until I got back to my desk after Morning English that I realized the conversion is much more complicated than adding or subtracting 32. It's been a long time since high school chemistry when I learned that conversion! I think it's a good thing I teach English and not science! On a similar note, the leaves have started to change, making for a beautiful fall landscape! Enjoy!
51: 51 | Today was a fairly standard day... five classes, cold weather, Morning English, kimchi and rice lunch... Speaking of kimchi for lunch, yesterday, literally 3/5 of our lunch consisted of kimchi. There was standard cabbage kimchi, a cucumber salad that had been "kimchied" which means it was soaked in the same spicy sauce as kimchi and a kimchi soup along with the normal rice and a thick beef stew-like gravy (which I enjoyed...so weird). There were persimmons for dessert, though I didn't have time to eat mine because we had to hurry through lunch to go take yearbook photos (more those later)! It was Wednesday, which means best lunch of the week day, and Koreans LOVE their kimchi, so for them, it was a glorious meal! I eat kimchi every single day at lunch and without fail at most restaurants and I'm still enjoying it, which is good because apparently, it's SUPER healthy. Koreans swear up and down that they were not affected by the SARS outbreak because they eat so much kimchi. For the yearbook photo, they took one with all of the teachers together in a big group with the school and some fall colored trees in the background. I stood in the second to last row on the end. I was in front of the tallest male teacher and at one point, I heard a couple of the men talking behind me and then I heard the teacher directly behind me say, "Wow." Then, the photographer brought over one of his equipment boxes and made the teacher stand on it. He must not be used to having his vision impeded, let alone by a girl! After the picture was taken, Hyunjoo and I went to my apartment so she could show me how to run the heater. I thought I had figured it out, but I didn't think it was working or I was hitting a wrong button because I didn't notice a change in the room's temperature. We got it all figured out and last night, I came home to a toasty floored apartment! All of the heating in Korea is done through heat coils in the floor. It is sooo cozy! I got my phone and internet bill yesterday. Hyunjoo showed me that I could pay them (21,000 won altogether) at the convenience store below my apartment! It seems so weird to me that I can give a convenience store money and my bills are taken care of. It's soooo convenient though, so I'm certainly not complaining! Today in Morning English, Chan Yang asked me to explain Halloween. Prior to the start of our broadcast, he asked me when Americans trick or treat. I told him that it usually happens on Halloween night, but sometimes trick or treating happens the day before or after depending on the circumstances. (I seemed to remember not trick or treating on Sundays, but I could be making that up...) Then, he asked if I was sure because he heard that we never trick or treat on Halloween anymore because of 9/11 and terrorists attacking cities and killing millions of children. Hmmm... A few weeks ago, I heard a cute story. There is some sort of flower here that used to be used to stain finger nails in the same fashion that we use nail polish. The pigment is so strong that it literally stains the nail. The only way to remove it is the let the nail grow out. There is a sort of folklore legend that school age girls observe that says when they use that flower pigment to stain their fingernails, they will find their true love before the color disappears from nail growth. I had forgotten about that story until the last couple of days when I've noticed that about half of my students are sporting a curious dull orange color on their fingernails that are half grown out. I asked some of the students about it today and they were excited that I knew the legend and offered to stain my nails for me next year! | Clip-On Bangs and Concert Tix | Thursday, October 28, 2010
52: 52 | (cont...) One of my classes was literally like babysitting today. I was talking to three girls who were sitting in the front row and all was well. They taught me some nonsensical Korean kid's game and talked about funny stuff (like how one of them wants to be a policeWOMAN (she made a real big deal about this) because they wear a cool uniform), but the second I would go over to help other students, the girls literally tackled each other to the floor or hit each other. It was nuts. I finally made one of them move to another seat, but not without giving her the big eyes. They must know that when my eyes get big, I mean business. They were just fine once they moved. This morning, a teacher gave me a steamed sweet potato. Unsure of what to do, I began to peel it and eat it. I wasn't sure what the protocol was for eating a freshly steamed sweet potato, but it sure was yummy! I don't know what it is about Korean sweet potatoes. Maybe they are laced with crack because I eat them all the time! I've also grown to love mandarin oranges. The first mandarin orange I ate just tasted wrong to me (I think I was expecting more of a clementine flavor given their identical size and appearance), but now I LOVE them! I walked into the other teachers' office today to talk to Dionne and there was a gaggle of girls and a teacher surrounding a mirror behind the door. I discovered they were giving a girl advice about whether or not she should get bangs. How did they know if it was a good idea? They had clip-on hair that was cut like Korean school girl bangs that attached to the existing hair with metal hair clips. Of course, they insisted that I try them on (imagine my pixie cut with full, past the eyebrow jet black bangs!) and then told me I looked really nice with black hair. I told them the infamous "Noelle dyes her hair black" story and we all agreed I should stick with my natural color. Rest assure...no crazy hair changes for this kid anytime soon (unless I screw up my haircut...but that won't be by choice :) ) Diane and I just bought tickets to a sweet K-Pop concert in December! Apparently, (I'm not well versed in K-Pop, but Diane is an avid fan, so she knows the good stuff...) this concert is going to be huge. All of the popular groups from the YG record label will be performing at this show. This label hasn't held such a concert in something like three years, so we're lucky we even got tickets because of popular this show will be! I know a couple of songs from a couple of artists,(and Diane just gave me a whole bunch of the music) but this is sure to be one of the most Korean things I will do during my time here! Koreans love their K-Pop and I'm sure I'll grow to love it too! It's real catchy, that's for sure! Yesterday marked my two month anniversary in Korea! I cannot believe how quickly these last two months have passed! I feel like I've learned a lot and grown, too, in many ways. This is shaping up to be a great experience and it will only get better as I become more and more comfortable. | We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character. - Henry David Thoreau
53: Today. | Friday, October 29, 2010 | 53 | Today, the girls who asked me to pray for them came to my desk 10 minutes before class started, which is about the time I start to consider filling my tea tumbler, gathering my things, and going up to my classroom. I saw them approach my desk out of the corner of my eye and thought they wanted to stop by and say hello. Wrong. They came to my desk to personally escort me to class. One of the girls took my arm and said, "Time for class, Teacher!" She held my arm all the way to the classroom and giggled the whole time. Heartwarming. Loved it! The Friday after payday, Toni and her husband Steven do a bulk shopping trip to E-Mart in their car. A couple of weeks ago, Toni invited me along on their shopping spree and tonight was the night! We had dinner before we started the shopping extravaganza, so of course I hit up my duk boki stand. It never gets old to have several Korean proprietors warmly greet you as you approach their food stand. They've started giving me little extras, like searching for the biggest pieces of whichever dippers I choose and smothering the dippers with extra duk boki. I bet I got one and a half servings tonight, plus the traditional fish cake (Korean name: odang) broth that is served to cut the spice (apparently, this broth is also a nice cure for a hangover, according to Hyunjoo). These three things have never happened before. We're forming a nice little relationship. I like it. At E-Mart, two Korean high school aged boys with pretty intense ear piercings (for Koreans, anyway) said hi to me and struck up a short conversation. They were a little baffled by our group: me from America, Toni from Australia and Steven from Nigeria. They weren't sure what to make of it when Toni reached out and touched the plugs in their ears and they were even more baffled when Steven talked to them about the soccer match between Nigeria and South Korea last year. What a random encounter, all because we were obviously foreigners. I was kicking myself for not having my camera stashed in my bag tonight. Korean stores are real big on tacking on extra little freebies to packages. For example, I bought some strawberry milk, but there was also a small container of banana milk taped to the package as a bonus. Another time, my laundry soap came with a bonus box of Kleenex. I'm sure you get the picture. Tonight, I saw the best bonus yet. Accompanying a six or twelve pack of beer was a can of mild light tuna. Perfect combo, I'd say.
54: 54 | Ferrets and Five Floors of Pizza | Monday, November 1, 2010 | Saturday was a great day. Diane and I planned to meet in our new favorite neighborhood. We're not sure what the neighborhood is actually called but we get off at a subway stop called Hyehwa, so that's what we call it. It's a university type neighborhood, so it's really interesting and eclectic. There are numerous places to eat, chill, people watch, relax and there are several little shops too. We've decided that if we don't have any concrete plans, we'll just hang out in this area. We. Love. It. So, first, Diane had trouble catching a train that was headed for the right station (the trains on the outskirts of the city are complicated because they have different destinations despite leaving from common stations) so I hung out in a coffee shop, reading and sipping some Earl Gray, while I awaited her arrival. I finished the book I was reading: Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The synopsis on the back of the books says: We don't want to tell you what happens in this book It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we'll just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again-the story starts there. . . Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds. So, there you go. I'm heeding the book's request and not telling you anymore about the book other than urging you to read it because it truly is a magical story. It will make you think about things you've never considered before and will open your eyes to a whole world being lived right now, though oft overlooked. For those of you who need more convincing or want something from which to base your choice to read this book, some of the praise that has been published for the book calls it the next Three Cups of Tea. If that doesn't mean anything to you, you should also read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Amazing. True. Inspiring. The end. While Little Bee is a novel, it is very well researched and based on real experiences. Amazing. Enough said. Moving on... Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed waiting for Diane and was grateful to myself (is that even possible?) for remembering to stash the book in my bag! As I was walking to meet Diane, I was stopped by a college age guy holding a ferret. He was trying to convince me to come to some stage production that was being put on that night, but I was so distracted (and weirded out!) by the ferret he held in his arms that I quickly waved him off, told him I'd see him later (yeah, right...) and basically ran away. I'm still getting used to people stopping me on the street purely because I am clearly foreign and they can practice their English. Flattering, yes. Still, a bit weird, double yes. While wandering around looking for a restaurant that we read about in our Lonely Planet guide (that book has some great information, but Diane and I find their directions a bit lacking at times...) we grew tired of waiting. These girls were hungry. So, we settled on a cute pizza restaurant instead. We walked in the front door (at street level) and five floors later, we were seated on a floor reserved for parties of two. There were several trees adorning the room, arranged in such a way that they seems to be growing from the floor and through the ceiling. The pizza was good.
55: 55 | Next, we explored the neighborhood. A few of the gems we spotted: A sign advertising free lessons. We wondered what the free lessons were for, until, that is, we looked down and watched an overweight man working out on an elliptical machine. It looked like he was working out in a cage, like he was being featured to bring people into this gym. I am not adequately describing the sight and the picture I took is not worth posting. Trust me when I say it was truly bizarre. Free Hugs were out in full force. There was a line of three people in the middle of the street holding their Free Hugs signs. They had a colleague off the side taking pictures of any takers. I love the spectacle of free hugs. It almost seems like a social demonstration of some kind, but when it comes down to it, it's really just an anonymous public display of affection. I love how seemingly simple acts can be complicated at the same time. Amazing. And, mind boggling. We wandered into a delightful basement shop called Rainbow Stitch. This shop had all sorts of beach wear, but also carried a nice selection of vintage inspired and ironic English sweatshirts. One particular sweatshirt that caught my eye (and would have been mine had it not been for its unfortunate burnt orange color) had a novel written on the back. As I took the time to read what it said in its terribly broken English, I was flabbergasted. The sweatshirt was acknowledging that times are tough, especially with the recession, but that we should make the most of it and use the tough times to be inspired to achieve greatness. It was soooo deep, especially for the back of a sweatshirt, and the English was laughably terrible. If only it hadn't been that disgusting color. As Diane and I wound down from our day of observing at a delightful little cafe with slices of tiramisu and a green tea latte (for Diane) and sweet potato cake and a white mocha (for me), we were greeted by a delightful little Korean man who spoke amazing English. He was so outgoing and great to talk to. This time, the random encounter was welcomed and quite enjoyable. Maybe, because of the absence of a creature in his arms... and, it didn't hurt his plight that he told me I was beautiful :) The final discovery of the day: line 4's train seats (at least the one on which I sat) are heated! So weird, but surprisingly comfortable. I could get used to that long before I will ever get used to the heated toilet seats (yes, you read that correctly) that you sometimes find here. Such cultural differences! | First, during Morning English, Chan Yang asked me what we do in America to stay warm when the weather starts to get cold . I was a little stumped. After a lot of thinking, I said that we wear warm clothes. Not exciting, I know, but I seriously couldn't think of anything out of the ordinary that we do to stay warm in the winter. Then, I decided to explain drinking hot chocolate as a child and how that always warmed me up after spending some time outside in the cold. He seemed unimpressed with that, so I added that we put marshmallows in the hot chocolate too. On air, I was trying to explain marshmallows because they don't sell them in bags here like they do at home. Suddenly, Chan Yang had an epiphany (that's for you, Dave!), and the following exchange happened: Chan Yang: "Is that like the filling of choco pies?" (Choco pies are a Korean dessert exactly like Hostess Moon Pies.) Me: "YES! Exactly like choco pies!" Chan Yang took a moment to consider this and translate it into Korean. Then,... Chan Yang: "Excuse me, but I think that is a bit unbelievable." Who knew that putting marshmallows in our hot chocolate was such a crazy concept! | I, quite literally, LOL'ed today. | Wednesday, November 3, 2010
56: 56 | (cont...) During my teacher class today, I was working on common classroom expressions. I was going over different ways to praise the students and one of the examples I gave was to say, "Well done!" The principal looked at me and said, "Yes. Well done. Same way I like my beef." It took me a little while to catch her joke, but you can imagine how hard I laughed when it finally clicked! She is so dang funny! Later this afternoon, Hyunjoo treated the entire staff to fried chicken because her choir won the gold prize (which, I think is second place, but I'm not sure...) in a competition last week. I was in my classroom because I don't come to staff meetings anymore since they are conducted in all Korean. Suddenly, Dionne arrived in my classroom to tell me I had to come downstairs to the meeting because they had chicken and they didn't want me to miss out on it. When I got downstairs, the principal had hoarded the better part of one of the boxes and saved it for me. She said, "One box. Four teachers. But, you my teacher, so you get own box!" I felt like such a fatty and I only ate three of the ten pieces she saved for me, but I felt very special that she would save me so much! This week, with the second year students, I am doing an activity based on an MTV show called The Buried Life in which four Canadian guys travel around North America in a bus completing their list of 100 things they want to do before they die. Along the way, they help the random strangers they meet on the street complete their own life goals. It's a really inspiring show and I am a proud advocate and fan. So, for this class activity, after some introduction and explanation of the concept, I have them create a list of five things they want to do before they die and then they share them with the class. I hear many girls say they want to go to certain K-Pop groups' concerts or meet Korean celebrities. Many have said they want to help the poor and honor their parents and grandparents. A few have said they want to attend a good university and almost everybody has said they want to travel the world. One girl in particular sparked my attention when she said she wants to rob a bank. Uh oh. Since my classes' exams are given in the next couple of weeks, I have started reviewing what will be on the exam. I have devised a game for reviewing that is quite popular among native teachers here. It's a powerpoint game where the students choose a shape, letter or number from the screen. Each shape, letter or number is linked to a question. They have to correctly answer the question or complete the task. Once they have done so, a picture appears on the screen. The picture could be a point value, or it could be one of the following four things with these consequences: a water gun (wipes out that team's accumulated points), a bomb (wipes out every team's points), a bandit (allows the team to steal 15 points from another team) or a recycle sign (allows that team to switch points with any other team). Today, I played the game with two teams. One team had 30 points and the other team had 15. The losing team answered their question and the recycle sign appeared. One of the girls was so excited to see that sign that she started singing "Jesus Loves Me" at the top of her lungs. I started laughing so hard that I had to take a few moments to compose myself (and write myself a note to remember to include this in my upcoming blog post :) ) before I could move on with the game. | All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it. - Samuel Johnson
57: 57 | Just now in my 3rd year class, we were playing the review game for their exam next week. The scenario the two girls who always ask me to pray for them had to act out was a phone call where one of the girls calls someone for a ride to school. This is how it went: Girl 1: Hello Mommy. Very cold. Please, ride to school. Girl 2: No. I very busy. Walk. I laughed so hard. Maybe you had to be there... Before class, I got escorted by the same girls once again. One of the girls took my hand as we walked through the hallway. But, before we could proceed to class, we had to wait outside the bathroom so she could show her homeroom teacher that we were friends. I felt real awkward waiting for a teacher to exit the bathroom, but it seemed really important to her, so I didn't want to refuse her odd request... | Real quick funny... | Friday, November 5, 2010 | If I've learned one thing about living in Korea, it is this: there will never be a shortage of things for me to look at, be inspired by or make me laugh, just by looking at them. In the course of any given day (especially those spent in Seoul), I see sooo many things that are intriguing, hilarious, heartwarming and delightful that I couldn't begin to record them all. A small sample of the things I remember from this weekend: | Uneventful...Just the way I like it... | Monday, November 5, 2010 | - Two grown men laughing like school girls, walking arm in arm through the subway station - Countless adorable children. Everywhere. - Koreans with bleach blond hair. You know that's not real. - Korean couples. They match their clothes, they share ipod ear buds and the men carry the women's purses. So weird. So awesome. - Any and all ajumas (Korean middle aged women who have had children - they are frequently stereotyped here, and as much as I hate stereotypes, I have to admit that I have encountered more than a few who perpetuate the stereotype to a T. Many of them are really pushy and they cover their short permed haircut with huge obnoxious sun visors to keep their skin nice and white. They also often look they are about to hike to the top of a large peak, but they're mostly walking around town from what I gather...) Here's the perfect stereotypical gaggle of ajumas thanks to Google images:
58: 58 | (cont...) Now for a recap of Saturday's events: Diane's and my plans were foiled by the weather this weekend. We had planned to take a cruise on the Han River, which runs right through Seoul. But, as I arrived at our meeting place and noticed it was too foggy to see across the river, let alone see anything of note from the boat I called Diane and suggested a change of plans. We found ourselves in one of our old standbys: Myeong Dong. Our first order of business was to find something for lunch and when we saw this sign, we knew we were in business: | We wandered up to the second floor to find a delightful dok buki restaurant. Though it was different than the fare to which I have become accustomed at E-Mart, it was certainly tasty! We knew it had to be a legit restaurant when we found aprons to wear at our table. Nice. And, the food was served in Peter Rabbit bowls. Even if the food had tasted like junk, I would have been impressed by these two discoveries. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering in and out of shops, eating almost foot long ice cream cones (yogurt and strawberry twist for me!) and watching two ajumas fight (literally) in the middle of the street over a folding card table. Honestly, the day was pretty uneventful, which is the way I like it. For dinner, we found a Japanese curry restaurant, and after a bit of a treasure hunt to find its entrance, we found ourselves seated in the window of the second floor building overlooking the bustling street below. The owner of the restaurant was the sweetest woman. She is from Silicone Valley, CA but comes back to Korea every couple of months to check on her restaurant, from what I understood. She was really interested in Diane's and my teaching experience and wanted to make sure that we were enjoying our time in Korea. She was a joy to talk to and you better believe we will be frequent visitors of her delightful restaurant. After dinner, Diane and I made our way to the Seoul Lantern Festival. There were thousands of lanterns on display, some homemade by visitors of the festival and some sent from around the world. The lanterns were put out to symbolize hope and wishes for the future. Diane and I arrived well after it had gotten dark outside and the lanterns lit up the area beautifully. There were lots of people there but this crowd was much more manageable than the crazies at the Fireworks Festival. Here's a couple of lantern pictures for your enjoyment: | Nothing too exciting happened today. The semester is starting to wind down. This week I give final exams to the Level 3 students, next week's schedule is bananas (Monday and Wednesday are only morning classes, no classes whatsoever on Tuesday, no school on Thursday because of the Korean SAT tests, and a normal day on Friday). The week after that are my finals for Levels 1 and 2 and after that, it's a downhill slope toward Winter Break. Hooray! | Reels you right in, eh?
59: 59 | The longer I take to write this post, the more Christmas music I hear. For some reason, my Contemporary Folk Music shuffle list contains much of my Christmas music. Weird. Anyway, there's nothing like a couple of random Christmas songs popping into my itunes mix to put me a in chipper mood. I was already in a good mood because today was great. Aside from the first half of yesterday, it was a great week, so I can't complain. Here's the lowdown: I don't remember much from Tuesday... pretty unremarkable, I guess. Good lunch, I do remember that, though I don't remember what we ate. I discovered the grocery store down the street from me that was being remodeled has now opened and boy did I take full advantage. Almost $12 and two heaping bags of groceries later, I was in business. The food I cook here is super random and doesn't really make sense to explain, but rest assure that I'm eating. I doubt you were worried :) Wednesday was awesome. First. I found out my friend Jill is visiting me in January!!!!!!! I finally got a straight (ish) answer from Mr. Shin about winter English camp and Jill got the dates for when she has to report to her new fancy job with the Air Force, so our Asian Adventure travel plans are sort of set, more than they previously were, anyway. Now, we're trying to plan a short side trip to Vietnam to visit a friend from high school (hopefully) or Thailand (as a backup plan in case Vietnam doesn't work out). Sooooo jazzed! I also found out that Baby Plueger is a boy. Hooray! Now I know what color to buy (or which colors NOT to buy) when I spoil the little tyke. He better put his reading glasses on because many books are coming his way. My lessons went well on Wednesday too. Most days, even if my lessons are lame, I really enjoy my students and their adorable personalities. Yesterday morning, I was in a bit of a funk. I messed up in Morning English a couple of times, and had terrible reception to my morning lessons when I expected them to be eating out of the palm of my hand. I have come to realize which classes I will come away from in a bad mood, but these classes were a bit of a surprise. I don't like those kinds of surprises. Then, just as I was descending into the pits of frustration, I talked to two pals from home via Facebook chat AND had an awesome lunch. Both of these things put me on the right side of the day and from then on, I was unsinkable. Lunch was seconds worthy (duk boki!!!) and the afternoon went MUCH more smoothly. When lunch time rolled around today, I was pretty hungry, so when the smell of fish wafted my way in the lunch line, disappointment fell across my face. I love fish. Correction: I love Bob's fish. The fish here comes with bones (and sometimes bodies) included and the way it smells makes me think it would be better to just be hungry. So, when I approached the food and saw my favorite kimchi, marinated tofu, odang (fishcake) and the traditional odang soup (which is basically water and onions, but somehow, it tastes SOOO good!), I was so relieved to find the makings of an awesome lunch. Also, the lunch lady randomly served me the odang and soup. You rarely see the lunch ladies unless they are refilling the food, but one woman stayed behind and actually served me my food. It was kind of awkward, but I appreciated the gesture. She was a sweet woman. This just added to goodness and excitement of the unexpectedly tasty lunch. I do like these kinds of surprises. The last 40 minutes of school today were bonkers. Right in the middle of playing the review game with an awesome group of second years, the bell rang. To end class. Twenty minutes early. For a teachers meeting. That we didn't know about. Later, I was approached by a couple of worried second years who hurriedly asked to borrow a black marker and a ruler. I have no idea what they were for, but I obliged. It seemed like a real big deal. I still don't know what the deal was, but I encountered a similar situation in Dionne's office minutes later. She was a better boy scout than me. She had three black markers whereas I only had one. A few minutes later, I had the following exchange with Mr. Shin and Hyunjoo: | Christmas Music | Friday, November 12, 2010
60: 60 | (cont...)Hyunjoo: Oh. Noelle. Have you heard about Monday? Noelle: ...Yes. I only teach the first half of the day. Hyunjoo: And then, I think you and Dionne are gonna interview new students. Noelle: WHAAA? For real? Are you serious? Mr. Shin: Yes. Monday. Hyunjoo: We talk about it and decide you do good job. Noelle: Uh...Ok. Do I need to prepare questions? Mr. Shin: No, no. (waving hands) You just sit and speak. We give you questions. Noelle: (breathes serious sigh of relief) Oh. Nice. Mr. Shin: Then you go home early Wednesday. And, no school for you Thursday. Give you nice break. Noelle: (literally) SWEEET! I mean, that sounds good. I was real baffled at the idea that I had a role in the selection of new students. Like, my class counts for 5% of one of their core classes, but they'll let me interview future students? What kind of sense does that make? Then, I realized that I was just the messenger of the English language, the token foreigner. Thank God there will be a member of the (Korean) English faculty on hand to do the real work. This was almost too much pressure for me! Then, back in my office, I had the following exchange with my pal and star student, the Principal: Principal: (frantically waving goodbye to me) See you Monday Noelle Teacher! Noelle: Yes, yes. See you Monday. Have a nice weekend. Principal: Nice weekend. Yes. You too. You know about next week? Noelle: Yes. Monday and Wednesday, half days and no school on Thursday. Principal: Who say you? (shakes head) Who tell you? (bewildered look) Which is correct? Noelle: Who TOLD you? Principal: Who tell you? Noelle: Mr. Shin and Hyunjoo. Principal: Ah. yes. Easy week for Noelle Teacher. Korean teacher who is listening to our conversation: Easy week for you. Hard week for me. I stand all day. Then, I felt guilty. Sort of. Then, on my walk home, two middle school students approached me: Student 1: Hello Teacher! Noelle: Hi! I like your ear muffs. Students 2: What about this? (points to her BRIGHT RED scarf that is so thick it almost covers her face) Noelle: Beautiful. It looks wa-! (I got cut off in the middle of the word warm) Student 1: You are beautiful. (both students violently giggle) Noelle: Oh. Thank you! Students: Ok. Bye. (both students furiously wave) The students follow close behind me with two other students who joined them. Student 2: Oh Teacher. Shoes. Cute. Noelle: Thanks! Student 1: PINK. You. (points me up and down) Fashionista. Noelle: Whoa. Thank you! Then, the toothless ajumma who goes through my garbage started yelling in my direction after I said hello to her. The middle school girls tried to translate what she was saying to me, which amounted to telling me that Toni (my neighbor) wasn't parked in her usual spot. I'm not sure why she wanted to tell me that so badly, but she was real animated in trying to relay this impossibly important message to me. I guess I'm a little flattered that she wanted to talk to me though... Off to shave my legs. Sorry, Heather. No Shave November doesn't fly with the fish pedicure lady who will have to rinse my legs tomorrow.
61: Almost a week later... | Friday, November 19, 2010 | 61 | Since I'm lazy, I'm just now getting around to blogging about last weekend. Here are the highlights: Diane and I met in Hyehwa in an attempt to find a craft store I had read about in the neighborhood. I want to teach my students to make the friendship bracelets that I was constantly making as a kid, so I've been on the hunt for embroidery floss. The directions to the store seemed simple enough. Get out of the subway and walk toward Baskin Robbins. The store should have been about 10 stores past my beloved ice cream shop. As Diane and I followed these straightforward directions, we came upon a shoe store instead. The shop was nowhere to be found. When I got home that night, I returned to the blog I had read about the store and realized it had been written in 2008. Oops. The store turnover here is crazy sometimes. My embroidery floss mission remains un-accomplished. Then, we had a tasty lunch at an awesome restaurant near the would-be location of the craft shop. We were attracted to the restaurant because of the caricature of a man giving a thumbs-up sign (always a good sign in my book :) ) and when we entered the second floor restaurant, we knew we had made a good choice. It was packed with Koreans and we managed to snag the last free table. I was told by someone that if a restaurant is completely empty and no Koreans are eating there, it's probably jank. On the flip side, if there are a ton of Koreans in the restaurant, you know it will be an enjoyable meal. Diane flagged down a server and ordered a meal even though we had no idea what we would be receiving. There were about five items on a board mounted on the wall and the first item on the menu was also posted on flags and banners ALL over the restaurant. That's the dish we ordered, along with some mandu and rice. Literally five minutes later, we received our food. It was a spicy soup with cabbage, onions, octopus, mussels and pork with a bunch of noodles in the bottom. It was AMAZING. Here's a picture Diane took of our meal: | After our culinary adventures, we headed to Gangnam to embark on round two of fish pedicures. I convinced Diane to try the big guys this time. Oh. Man. Those guys are bonkers! I stole these pictures from Diane as her camera is more fish friendly. | Yum. This is making me hungry. right. now.
62: 62 | (cont....) So, the little fish kind of tickle a little, but it mostly feels like they're swimming around you. Not the case with the big guys. You can actually feel their teeth eating your skin. It doesn't hurt but it does feel like mild pinching. I had forgotten just how ticklish the bottoms of my feet can be. Feeling these fish on the bottom of my feet was too much for me to handle, so I firmly planted my feet at the bottom of the fish pool. I could handle them on my ankles and legs, but the bottoms of my feet were too much. As a result, I didn't reap the benefits of smooth feet since I refused access to those little dudes. Oh well. Diane had similar feelings, but since she's shorter than me, it was harder for her to evade the tickles. She did her fair share of grimacing and squealing during our 20 minutes experience. It was certainly an experience to remember! The rest of the night was spent eating and talking. We had a craving for Western food, so when we stumbled upon a restaurant called Burger Hunter, it seemed like a natural choice. I had my first Philly Steak in years (literally) and it was delicious. Then, we went to Favorite D* for dessert. This is a dessert cafe brought to us by our pals at Baskin Robbins. The first floor is like a regular Baskin Robbins and caters to the take out crowd. The next floor (on the third floor of a building overlooking the bustling boulevard below) is a proper cafe. Diane and I were quickly seated by a nice man and ordered a piece of chocolate pistachio ice cream cake and two scoops of gelato (cream cheese and chocolate hazelnut). Both were delightful. I love dessert. I can't remember if I've written about this yet, but I keep seeing Koreans that remind me of people at home. I saw a man that looked like the Korean version of my 4th Ave. neighbor Wayne on the subway. I've seen people that look like friends from college and Hyunjoo reminds me of Vicky Anderson in about five different ways, including but not limited to, her looks, personality, and proficiency in music (she's a very talented Soprano, teaches the music classes at our school and is the director of Rejoice Singers, which is our school's select choir). Our server at Favorite D* looked so familiar to me and I couldn't figure out why. Then, about half an hour into our stay at this cafe, I realized our server was a perfect Korean doppelganger of Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Hauser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother fame. So weird. Diane and I spent a couple of hours in this cafe talking about everything. It was a great, great night with a great friend! Monday was a half day and I only taught (and by taught, I mean played a sweet word game) one class. So easy. Then, in the afternoon, we interviewed incoming students. The whole process reminded me a lot of Formal Recruitment. I was in a room with another Korean teacher. One by one, girls came into the room. First, they talked to the Korean teacher, then they crossed the faux barrier that had been created by potted plants and came to speak to me. I asked them a series of questions to try to determine their English level. I had about two minute conversations with them for almost two hours. I was only supposed to make a notation if their English was exceptional, which was the case for about 10 students. It was pretty fun and I enjoyed it. The school also provided me with a plate of goodies and the girls came around twice offering me cups of tea. I hadn't eaten much from my goody plate since the interviews took place almost immediately after lunch. As soon as I was told my time was done, three girls rushed into the room to clean up after me. Their eyes lit up as they saw my goody plate almost fully intact. They began grabbing the few candy bars and stuffing them in their pockets. I chuckled at their actions and they smiled back at me, putting their fingers to their mouths asking me not to say anything to anyone. Don't worry, girls. That will be our little secret :) I went to E-Mart Monday night for dok buki. I hadn't been to the stand in over a week, so when I approached the stand, they all smiled and waved to me. The woman who speaks English really well greeted me warmly saying that it had been a long time since they'd seen me. Maybe I go a little too often, but it's so tasty and their reception of me is so enjoyable!
63: 63 | Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain | I took it home with me rather than eating it at a table in E-Mart since I had forgotten my book. The man who seems to be in charge of the stand threw in the most freshly fried vegetables and he gave me an extra dumpling for free. "Service," he said with a huge smile as he held up the dumpling before tossing it into my bag. What a guy. Wednesday was also a half day, but this time, I got to leave at noon. I only taught one class this day too and then did about a 20 minute lesson with the teachers. I usually teach a third year class right before lunch, but because this was the day before their big college entrance exams, they spent that period with their homeroom teachers for a bit of a pep talk before they left for their exams. With about ten minutes left in the day, the student council and many of the teachers lined the front hallway of the school and sent off the third year students with hoots, hollers and raucous clapping. The girls were so funny. They ran down the stairs, acting embarrassed and covering their faces. I know many of the students were crazy nervous about this test. I was not surprised at the idea of the girls being nervous for the exam, but their level of anxiety did surprise me. Some girls were crying the day before and I have seen some girls crying at school today. Some have told me they are sad because of their performance, but I think they are just so exhausted from all of the studying and preparing that they are mentally drained. I certainly do not miss that part of going to school! Wednesday night, I ventured to Seoul to meet Emily and Richard for dinner. It was so nice to see them again after almost a month! We got chicken wings (I can't get enough chicken wings...they were one of the only meat dished I missed during my stint as a vegetarian) and enjoyed a couple of beers over great conversation. 'Twas a great night! Yesterday, there was no school because of the SATs so Diane and I met in Seoul to take advantage of our day off. I'll write a separate post about our day. For now, I'll just say it was amazing, powerful and enlightening. Stay tuned. Today is a full day of teaching, but Dionne and I feel sorry for the third years and their stress levels, so we're showing them a movie (Princess Diaries) in lieu of making them speak English. They all go crazy when Mandy Moore and her dirty little boyfriend kiss in the hallway and especially when she blows a bubbles with her gum and he bites the bubble. You'd think something seriously juicy was happening on screen. Yowza. Showing the movie means that I only really teach two classes today, plus I get to watch the first 45 minutes of a great movie twice. Pretty sweet deal.
64: 64 | Bongeunsa Temple | Sunday, November 21, 2010 | As I've written before, Thursday was the day that all Korean third year high school students take their university entrance exams. This means the culmination of years (literally) of studying and one of the most stressful days of their life. For me, it meant a nice day off spent with Diane in Seoul. We have come to joke that the Lonely Planet Travel Guide for Seoul has become our bible of sorts. Only, we often get annoyed at its lack of clear directions and have come to take its suggestions with a grain of salt. Sometimes, it leads us astray, but other times it does offer up some legit information. A couple of weeks ago, I was thumbing through the book when I came across a temple that offers foreigners a guided tour with other activities on Thursdays. CSAT Day was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this situation, so that was the main event on the day's agenda. We met at COEX Mall, which was across the street from the temple and had a delightful meal of Japanese Korean fusion. After a quick trip to Bandi and Luni's (the Korean version of Barnes and Noble), Diane and I set out to find the temple. LP (I've taken to referring to things in acronyms... I'm not sure how I feel about this new habit...) told us to leave COEX at exit 5 and according to the map, walk toward the Inter Continental Hotel. After walking a good ten blocks or so, we didn't see any signs of the temple, so we made a right turn. After a good amount of walking in this direction, there was still no sign of the temple. We made another right turn and saw the temple on our left. Across the street from COEX. Like I said, LP gives some sketchy directions... For 10,000 won (less than $10), we purchased our admission to the foreigner templestay. This package consisted of a 50 minute temple tour, a traditional tea ceremony, a lesson in zen meditation from a monk and making lotus flowers. NICE. The tour didn't begin for about 40 minutes, so Diane and I explored a little. Here is what we saw: | Inside the entrance to the temple | Temple doors | Beautiful flowers everywhere! | The temple is in the same neighborhood as Seoul's World Trade Center
65: 65 | The grounds were beautiful, full of life and even more full of people! It was first established in 794 A.D., so the modern cityscape of Seoul has really grown up around it, especially within the last 15 years or so. The temple's location is literally across the street from where the G20 conference was held last week. It was mind blowing to be in this space where it seems as though time has stopped. When you are in the temple, you are surrounded by ornate buildings, nature and you feel a sort of spiritual connection. But, if you look up and out beyond the temple grounds, you see skyscrapers. The juxtaposition was really interesting to me. As Diane and I explored, we walked up a set of steps to find hundreds of people gathered all around, praying. We stood, quietly watching them pray for a couple of minutes, and it sounds odd to say, but I was so enamored by watching people of another religion experience their faith. It didn't feel invasive, but rather that they were open to experiencing their faith in a completely exposed environment, without even realizing others were around. For me, it was a moment of intense introspection among complete strangers. My faith has always been a pretty private thing for me, especially prayer, but being able to observe others praying in a manner I have never experienced was eye opening in many ways. I also couldn't believe how many people were praying. It was almost 2:00 in the afternoon, so the volume of people and the length of their stay was a little confusing to me. This would be explained later. Later, as I was waiting for Diane to emerge from the bathroom, a woman approached me. She asked if I was German (of all Western nationalities...weird, since, I technically, AM, German, ancestrally, anyway). I told her I was American and she asked what I thought of Buddhism. I confessed that I didn't know much about it, but as a Christian, I found it really interesting. She began to tell me what she thought of Buddhism, about her thoughts that it is more of a philosophy than a religion. I wasn't really sure where she was going with this, whether she was criticizing Buddhism for that or just explaining. Later, this, too, would make much more sense to me. Next, we gathered at the temple's entrance to begin the tour portion of our templestay. Before the tour guide began her spiel, she explained that, since it was the day of the college entrance exams, the parents of students taking the exam spent the entire day praying for them. At any given time over the nearly 10 hour testing period (the test begins at 8:40 am and ends at 6:05 pm), the parents and other loved ones of exam takers were praying continuously for successful exam performances by their students. When the students took breaks, the people praying also took breaks. This biz is taken seriously, and rightfully so, as this day is the biggest day in their 17 year old lives. They spend years studying for this exam, studying from 7:00 am until midnight or later on school nights AND weekends. Given the diligence with which they study, and the importance this exam holds for their future, I can understand their families spending the day praying for them. It was different to see them in action though. The meaning of this exam became very real as I watched the prayers. Their diligence and commitment was both touching, as their level of support was evident, and mind boggling. In the days following the exam, I realized how much stock is put into this exam. Education is so different here, because as Toni mused at lunch on Friday, they are rooted in the ancient Confucian tradition of education, but are trying to compete for a top spot on the 21st century's world stage. That's a lot of pressure for anyone to handle. The second bit of information the tour guide shared before the tour began was that our tour would be joined by an Australian film crew who would tape the entire experience for their travel show Coxy's Big Break. If you're interested, check them out on YouTube. So, this kid will appear on an Australian travel show at some point. I hope I didn't do too many awkward things in their footage, but let's be honest, it wouldn't be a day in my life if I didn't do something awkward at some point....it's just part of my charm :)
66: 66 | (cont...) The tour was pretty straightforward with the guide taking us around the grounds with a focus on Buddhist thought and history. She explained that Buddhists don't adhere to a higher spiritual being like many other religions, but rather use the teachings of Buddha to show them the path to spiritual enlightenment. Meditation is important as well as living life in adherence to Buddha's teachings. It could be viewed as both religion and philosophy. Very interesting stuff! Normally, we would have gone into the various buildings, but that would not happen on this particular day so as not to disturb the prayers of the temple's guests on this important day. Because I didn't know much about Buddhism before this tour, it was interesting to hear the tour guide's explanation of Buddhist thought. Here are some pictures from the temple grounds: | There are instruments in this building that signify different types of worship | Following the tour, we took part in a traditional tea ceremony. We sipped a couple of different types of tea and ate traditional accompaniment snacks as we chatted with a couple from near Seattle who were there to help celebrate a close family friend's wedding. Next, we learned the art of zen meditation from a monk. We did several stretches before we assumed the meditation position and they were all stretches with which I was quite familiar given my high school sports experience. I knew that would come in handy at some point :) though, my jeans were not exactly conducive to getting in a solid stretch. I also had a little trouble with the full bow, which requires you to go from standing to crouching on the ground while balancing on your toes. I fell. Diane and I tried not to laugh, but I failed. I've put it behind me. I enjoyed the meditation, but I had trouble concentrating on breathing with all of the new things I had just learned during the tour on my mind. Last, we made lotus flowers out of brightly colored paper. The women who were supervising our craft time were real quick to jump in and help with the glue sticks. Next, Diane and I ventured back over to COEX to visit the aquarium housed there. We thought it might have some obvious aquarium fixtures, but we were so excited to see their extensive display! Aside from the normal fish on display, there were also otters, beavers, penguins AND MANATEES! So freaking cool! I've never been so enthralled to watch an animal eat romaine lettuce in my life. For dinner, we indulged in some Korean pizza. Korean pizza is different from American pizza because they put corn on it. Every variety, no matter what. Corn. I honestly really enjoy Korean pizza and find nothing wrong with the corn, but I could see where pizza purists get a little thrown off. What a great way to spend a day off! I did feel bad the next day at school, though, when all of the Korean teachers were tired and sore from standing in one place all day as they supervised the exams. I've read that the teachers who supervise the exams have a pretty crap day. They have to go to a different school to make sure that no cheating goes on , but they cannot move for much of the day because if a student gets a low score and accuses a supervising teacher of distracting them, thus being the cause for their poor performance, it could have serious consequences for their career. I guess it pays to be the foreign teacher... | This offers only a glimpse as to how many people were there praying | Inside another one of the temple's buildings | Another prayer spot
67: Lazy Days | 67 | Because Thursday felt like a Saturday, it was a little strange to have two days off following an easy Friday. Diane and I opted to meet in Insadong, a neighborhood filled with traditional tea shops and souvenirs. There are also a lot of art galleries in the area, not to mention some real good food :) We'd been to the area before (on the day of the crazy fireworks festival) but hadn't done much exploring off the beaten path. That was our goal for the day, and we accomplished it to some extent. We ended up eating in the same restaurant that we had discovered last time, but vowed to order different food. So, we did, if by different, you mean the same type of food, but slightly different ingredients. We know what we like, I guess. We found ourselves eating kimchi and laver (seaweed) pancake and spicy shellfish/seafood dok buki. Both were amazing as well as the accompanying side dishes of kimchi, and cold glass noodles. There were a couple of other side dishes that we opted to skip out on (the only one I remember was pea pods surrounded by anchovies - I ate one pea pod to just make sure I wouldn't like the accompanying anchovy taste). After a successful round of Christmas shopping, we found ourselves ready for some tea. We wandered into a basement cafe to find that the place was literally empty. We couldn't really walk in and leave when the proprietors had seen and welcomed us to their place, so we reluctantly sat down on the sofas that served as booths. The place was cute enough and very comfortable, but we tend to stray away from places that have no one else in them. And, since it was in a basement, the place smelled real musty. We decided to make the most of the experience and ordered our drinks. I ordered cherry tea, thinking it would be a nice herbal tea with a mild flavor. What arrived minutes later was literally hot kool-aid. No joke. But, it tasted good enough so I drank it as Diane and I tried to play Jenga. The cafe had a stash of board games and Jenga seemed to be the best choice among them, however many of blocks were not willing to budge, which made for a lackluster game. All in all, the place and experience was pretty funny, but I think you had to be there to fully appreciate it :) After more wandering around, we happened upon a small group of shops that resembled a mall, but made up of small boutiques instead of chain stores. In the middle of the venue, there was a large gathering of people. After observing for a few moments, Diane and I realized that a popular paste company (they make pepper paste, soybean paste, fermented bean paste, etc. all of which are heavily used to flavor Korean cuisine) was giving away free tubs of soybean paste. People waited in line for their free tub for an extensive amount of time and I'm pretty sure Diane and I spent just as much time watching them from the floors above. We love people watching and this event provided some quality material. We've seen several groups offering Free Hugs in many of the touristy areas and Saturday in Insadong was no exception. We saw two group of Free Huggers holding their signs in hopes of spreading warm fuzzies. I love the statement Free Hugs make and often try to take artsy-ish pictures of them. As we were walking through the streets, we saw a group of Free Huggers. A couple of British guys walking behind us also saw the Free Huggers and we overheard the following conversation from which we both got a good chuckle: (Imagine, if you will, their British accents, which made it even funnier) Guy 1: What is the point of them giving free hugs anyway? Guy 2: They're trying to spread goodwill or something. Guy 1: It sounds more like a chance at a free grope if you ask me.
68: 68 | We figured that we had seen all we wanted of Insadong so we headed to the nearby neighborhood of Myeong Dong (it was time, since we hadn't been there for a whole two weeks!) to scout out some dinner. We both agreed that we need to start exploring different neighborhoods than the ones in our comfort zone, but we were so close and we knew we would find some really good food. We were right. We ended up eating in a restaurant called School Food which serves the same types of food as school lunches, but with much better flavors. We ordered cheese ramen, bulgogi mari (basically, beef kimbap) and mandu. When our food arrived minutes later (service here is lightning fast!), I literally started giggling like a school girl at the sight of the ramen. It was a bowl of ramen in the usual red soup, and the cheese component of the cheese ramen was literally what appeared to be a Kraft single floating on top. It looked a little sad, but as we dug in, we didn't regret our ordering decision one bit. Somehow, the flavors combined to taste exactly like nacho cheese. YUM. While we enjoyed our meal, we also enjoyed the musical stylings of the hostess's itunes mix. She played a bunch of popular American songs to which Diane and I sang along to every song with great gusto as we enjoyed our school food. We made sure to tell her how much we loved her music selections as we paid for our meal. Sunday was a lazy, lazy day, just the way I like it. Nothing special to report, other than skyping with the folks and one of my best pals, Ruth. Both were enjoyable experiences. Yesterday was such an easy day... I'm not really clear on the details, but the third year students spend the mornings this week preparing for another test of some sort and then have the afternoons off, so no third year classes this week. So, I taught one class yesterday, in which I gave an exam, and had to the rest of the day to work at my desk. I finished another TEFL lesson and got in some quality Facebook time. Today I didn't teach any classes because the first and second year students had a mock SAT test. I've gotten a lot done today - another TEFL lesson, writing the first years' test, prepping for all of the tests, planning part of winter camp (ten lessons right in the middle of winter vacation for the incoming first year students) and planning the teacher's class tomorrow. I also made an awesome mix on itunes of my favorite 100 songs from movie soundtracks. Like I said, real productive :) Tonight there is a teacher's dinner for the whole staff at some restaurant in town. I've been told the menu involves duck, which I've also been told is very healthy, just like everything else Koreans eat. I love that everything they eat has a specific health purpose and that they are not shy about telling you what each food does for your body. I'm sure funny stories will ensue because of the combination of their colorful personalities and copious amounts of adult beverages. Raucous laughter can be heard routinely from the office at any point throughout the school day, so I can only imagine what happens over a free dinner. Stay tuned for the hilarity. While you all celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, I'll be testing first year students over contractions, comparisons and synonyms, antonyms and homonyms. Then, after school I'm interviewing about eight students to help select who among them gets to study abroad in Australia. I'm excited to talk to them about what they hope to glean from such an experience. I admire them for having the courage to study abroad at such a young age. This school offers its students some really cool opportunities! Then, on Saturday, I'll spend the day at a Thanksgiving gathering at Dionne's apartment with her family and several of their friends from church, complete with all of the traditional Thanksgiving fare. This will be the first turkey I've eaten in almost four years, so that will be a little different :)
69: Teacher Appreciation Dinner | Saturday, November 23, 2010 | 69 | Dinner was crazy, but not in the way I expected... First, we all loaded up in a bus. Yes, a bus. Driven by the restaurant's proprietor. We drove for probably 10 or 15 minutes in a direction I have never ventured. We ended our journey in the middle of nowhere. Traditional countryside type stuff. We walked into a small cement room with six stone tables and plastic patio chairs. Each table was set with three sets of five different side dishes and three baskets of lettuce wraps. The tables also had two green bottles, which I thought were soju, but turned out to be cider. which is the general name Koreans use for 7-UP / Sprite / lemon lime soda. In the middle of each table was a stone cook top and under each table was a wood burning fire. Table by table, the couple who ran the restaurant brought out platters of duck, potato, and white and green onion, which got thrown onto the cook top. Three different times, the man smothered our food with more and more green onions. Since Dionne is a vegetarian, they cooked a special meal for her as well, which she shared with those of us who sat at her table. They brought her a potato pancake, special acorn jelly dressed with carrots, seaweed and a vinaigrette dressing and a bowl of very spicy kimchi and tofu soup. We all ate together, talking amongst ourselves. I wish I would have had my camera with me to capture the environment. Everyone was happily talking and eating with one another. Dining in Korea, especially with other Koreans is a jolly affair, to say the least. At one point, the other four teachers at our table had to leave for some reason, so we moved to another table. By that time, it was time for the rice. The ajumma doing the cooking slung a bunch of rice and other vegetables (mostly seaweed and green onion from what I could taste) onto the cook top to cook in the duck fat. It was literally the best fried rice I have ever tasted. The girls at the table were so glad to see that I was enjoying the food and kept encouraging me to eat more and more. So, I did. The principal, who was at the next table, was having an passionate discussion with the rest of her table about being the opposite of a vegetarian. She leaned over and asked me: Principal: Noelle Teacher. What is opposite vegetarian? Noelle: Hmm... Probably carnivore. But, that means they only eat meat. Like a dinosaur. (My whole table laughs...presumably over the dinosaur example, but I'm still not sure.) Noelle: If you're talking about you, you'd say omnivore because you eat plants and meat. Principal: Omnivore. Thank you very much Noelle Teacher. (Not two minutes later) Principal: Noelle Teacher. What you call me? Noelle: Omnivore. Principal: How you spell? Noelle: o-m-n-i-v-o-r-e Principal: Ah. Thank you very much. She turns to her table and says, in English, "I om-ni-vore. O-M-N-I-V-ORE (Whole table laughs) Next, the restaurateurs brought out a small basket with several little shriveled fruits. I warily took one because they looked a little rotten and no one at the table had ever had one before. They turned out to taste exactly like kiwis, only much smaller - like bite size. Interesting and so tasty. Then, when we were all done eating, we hopped back on the bus and the restaurant's owner drove us back to school. Delightful, delightful (and free!) meal! A night well spent, I'd say.
70: 70 | Just Another Thursday.... | Thursday, November 25, 2010 | If I had been in America today, I would likely be in Texas with my parents, aunt, uncles and cousin preparing a feast and enjoying the company. But, since I'm in Korea, today was just another day. I tried to explain what we eat for Thanksgiving during Morning English. After a perplexed expression on Chan Yang's face when I described a traditional Thanksgiving menu, I resorted to calling a turkey a very large chicken, and stuffing soggy-ish baked bread and other spices, traditionally cooked inside the turkey. I'm pretty sure I didn't leave their mouths watering... Today was the Vice Principal's birthday, so there were two cakes on which to munch during the day and many random song sessions. He is such a jolly man with a smile often planted from ear to ear (except when he studies English in my class, when his face is very determined). One of the other teachers took this opportunity to snap several pictures, including one of the Vice Principal, her and me holding up the requisite peace signs. I hope she e-mails it to me...it's a classic! As I was leaving school, I had the following exchange: Vice Principal: Good job today! (in reference to interviews, which are touched upon later in this post) Noelle: Thanks! Happy Birthday, again. Do you have any big plans for tonight? Vice Principal: No big plan. Small plan. (holds up thumb and index finger to indicate a small size - and giggles) During lunch, a gospel band who played at the academic high school's chapel service joined us. They were from a nearby arts university and I heard their show was AWESOME. One brave soul, a very cute boy adorned in khakis and a bow tie, sat by all of the foreign teachers. He reveled in the chance to show off his English skills. He even sang us some Jason Mraz. He was quite a character and he really livened up an already delightful lunch crew. I gave the same exam all day long and by the end of the day, I had grown tired of the pictures I had selected for the exam. I am so glad I finished testing the first years today so that I only have one exam (for second years) left tomorrow. For the last class of the day, who I tested yesterday, I prepared a culture lesson. I taught them how to do four very American line dances - the Cupid Shuffle, the Cha Cha Slide, the Macarena, and the Electric Slide. I am so upset with myself for not having my camera with me. The girls were soooo cute and funny as they perfected their line dancing skills. I thought maybe they would think the lesson was lame, but they kept asking for more. I love it when a lesson goes like that. After school, Dionne and I interviewed two students who are applying to study abroad in Australia next year. Both students were excellent candidates and it was fun to hear them talk about their strengths and what they hope to glean from their experience. We have some determined young women in our school and it is refreshing to listen to their ideas, hopes and plans for the future.
71: 71 | As Thanksgiving Day nears its end in Korean time, and I eat my dinner of sauteed tofu in mustard sauce and seaweed wrapped rice, I am taking time to reflect on the many things for which I am thankful, including but not limited to: an amazing family, both nuclear and extended - being this far away is hard, but weekly skype dates, heartwarming snail mail and e-mail updates make it feel like the distance is much smaller. Your continued interest and support in this Korean adventure means the world to me and not a day passes that I don't remind myself of how lucky I am to have you all cheering me on, stateside. loyal friends - being away from all of you is also real tough, but, like my family, you've been far more diligent about keeping in touch that I could have hoped for in my wildest dreams. Random pieces of mail, e-mails, and FB communications serve as a reminder of how lucky I am to have surrounded myself with some of the best friends a gal could ask for. a great school / job environment - accepting a job halfway around the world with little to no information about what's awaiting you is scary, but I think it's safe to say that I've hit the jackpot. I couldn't ask for a better teaching environment, better students (I only have two consistent problems out of 277 students - pretty sweet odds!), and great fellow teachers. Literally, the only frustrations I have are a result of cultural differences, which would be present at any and all schools, and the frustrations are so minute that they don't even count... the wonderful people I have met thus far - I have been quite fortunate to find great people with whom to spend time. I think they are a huge reason for my continued comfort and ease in being here. a clear head - since my arrival in Korea, many things have come to make very clear sense to me. Thanks to extensive soul searching, I have come closer to figuring out who I am. Though it's a lifelong process, it's nice to have an idea who I am and feel good about it. Clear thinking can be such a relief. technology - whether it's skype, my ipod, cell phone, computer, internet, public transportation, or ATM machines, the comfort I experience on a daily basis is directly related to modern technology. I hate to think that I am dependent on technologies to be comfortable, or even function, but without these simple machines and applications, being here would be much more of a trial than it is. This short list doesn't begin to represent everything for which I am thankful, but I hit the biggies, so I feel it's sufficient. Here's hoping that your Thanksgiving is full of cherished moments and memories, good food, good company,and the start to a wonderful holiday season. I miss you all and think of you often! | Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life -A. J. Cronin . - Jim England
72: 72 | The North Korea Situation... | Sunday, November 28, 2010 | I'm sorry I haven't addressed this until now and I hope you weren't too worried about me. I guess I'm still forming my opinions and trying to decide how I feel about everything. First, please know that I am fine. As I am still single and the master of my own destiny, my first priority in Korea is ME. Please know that I will always act in such a way as to ensure my personal safety and well being. For the time being, I feel like it is of no personal risk to stay here and go on with life as normal. With that being said, I know there is a lot about the tension on the Korean peninsula in the news at home. While it is true that this is the first actual fire exchange since the armistice happened, it is not the first time North Korea has acted in a threatening manner toward South Korea. Maybe living in a country that has technically been at war for over 50 years with North Korea has jaded South Koreans, but everyone I have interacted with in the days following the attack has assured me that there is nothing to worry about. Both countries have so much to lose if they were to enter a war with each other, so it really isn't in their best interests to start anything. Today at the Thanksgiving gathering I attended (which was SO great...more on that in the next post!), I overheard a conversation about the current situation between two of the older men in the group. One of them said he has a friend in the Army here that told him that if North Korea tried anything in the way of waging war, the U.S. Army has missiles pointed at North Korea that they would not hesitate to use. So, if something were to happen, it would be short and sweet, according to Todd's Army pal. Friday was the last day of school for one of the exchange students from the Philippines because her parents were so nervous about what is going on here that they decided to send her home much earlier than originally planned. As she was saying goodbye to all of the teachers, Hyunjoo was trying to convince her to stay. The teachers all found it a bit foolish that her parents were making her leave so suddenly because they think a bigger deal is being made out of this than is necessary. Last night, I registered myself with the U.S. State Department so if anything goes awry here, I will be contacted via e-mail and cell phone that I need to evacuate the country. I also listed my parents as emergency contacts, so they will be notified if something should happen to me. Until any such warning happens, I am staying put. I really believe that my school has my best interest at heart. They will not keep me here if it becomes too dangerous. So, to make a long story longer, you shouldn't be worried about me. I know you're seeing a lot on the news, but, from what I can tell based on some of the stories I've read and videos I've watched, things are being a bit exaggerated and the situation here, while perhaps tense among people holding different political beliefs, is truly business as usual for most people. I appreciate your thoughts, concern and correspondence and I apologize if my failure to post anything about this situation had you worried in the least. I'm continuing to do well and enjoy my time here and I don't foresee that changing in the near future. Love from Korea!
73: 73 | Thanksgiving... In Korea | Thanksgiving Day didn't seem like Thanksgiving this year, not only because I had to work as if it was any normal Thursday (because, here, it was...), but also because I didn't spend it with my family, eating the traditional fare and playing cards and board games, though I was able to skype with Mom, Dad, Kirk, Kandie and Mike in Texas Thursday night, which made it feel a little more like a holiday :). Though I still haven't become homesick in the depressed and sad sense, I certainly miss the people, food and traditions that happen during this time of year. Saturday's Thanksgiving celebration was just what I needed to fill the slight void I felt. Thirty one people gathered in Dionne and Scott's apartment, which was about a fifteen minute bus ride from E-Mart, to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. We had all of the usual food, save sweet potatoes, including a turkey they found at Costco that was imported from Australia! In addition to the turkey, we had two kinds of sage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, two green salads, corn relish, rolls, a relish tray and cranberry sauce that someone found at a black market store in Seoul for five dollars a can! For dessert, we had pumpkin pie, Boston creme pie, bread pudding and a cranberry apple pie. Everything was so good! And, for those of you wondering about eating turkey for the first time in a couple of years, here's the verdict. I like meat in Korea because it's covered in sauce or other flavors. I will never enjoy the taste or texture of meat. I slathered the small piece I took with gravy. I contributed a green salad to the dinner and dressed it with this delightful lemon vinaigrette dressing that Kirk and I made all the time last summer. Even though I had to make a couple of changes to the ingredients based on availability, prices and utensils, it turned out quite nicely! Here's the recipe. Try it. It's easy. And, it will blow your mind. 1/2 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon minced shallot 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel 1/2 teaspoon sugar Whisk all ingredients in bowl to blend (or make in a jar and vigorously shake with the lid on). Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Makes about 3/4 cup. Aside from eating, we played many, many games. Banana-grams (like scrabble), cribbage, euchre and a new guessing-type game called family were what occupied the rest of the day, as well as several deep conversations and singing Christmas carols. I made some new friends and am going to start gathering with them on Sunday nights for a dinner and worship time. Because everyone comes from a different religious background, though all are Christians, I feel very safe in opening up and exposing myself to this new group of people. I think it will be a great time for learning and expanding my faith and outlook. Perfect! The women also meet on Wednesday nights, so I think I'll start gathering with them after the new school year starts in March. I'm very excited to have been connected to this new community of people.
74: 74 | (cont...) During the night on Friday, I was woken up by a full blown storm. Lightning, thunder, rain, etc. So, on Saturday morning, when I woke up to a light covering of snow, I was a little surprised. There was less than half an inch of snow, but it was very heavy and wet snow. I was surprised by people's reaction toward the snow. I guess it takes some getting used to since it's been several months since they last dealt with it... Before I journeyed to the Thanksgiving gathering, I was taken out to lunch by Hyunjoo and her family. She has the most adorable six year old twins, Samuel and Evelyn and her husband, Bong Kye, is very sweet. They picked me up and had planned to go to one of their favorite restaurants, though I'm not really sure what the restaurant was to serve. I never found out, either, because they weren't open due to the snow. So, Samuel and Evelyn requested shabu shabu, so they took me to a newly opened chain restaurant that specializes in shabu shabu. It was amazing! This restaurant provided many more types of food than the other shabu shabu restaurant I have tried. Hyunjoo and I opted for a spicy broth. Instead of getting merely thinly sliced beef, greens and mushrooms, we got fish cake, a beef compound with the consistency of braunschweiger, mandu, radish and probably other things that I am forgetting, as well as noodles and rice at the end. The rice wasn't as much fried rice and rice porridge because they left more broth in the pot. It was yummy and warm on the chilly day. There was also a tasty salad and a very mild kimchi that was more like a relish tray than actual kimchi. It was sooooooooo good and cheaper than the other restaurant too! I'll be back, for sure! During lunch, Hyunjoo also asked if I would be willing to play with Samuel and Evelyn once a week. They were born in America and learned some English very early on, and continue to use it sparingly. Hyunjoo is concerned that they are losing what English they know, so she wants me to hang out with them, so that, at least once a week, they are forced to speak English. Tomorrow is our first "play date" and I'm pretty excited about it! I'm hoping to teach them to play Go Fish... Last night, I ordered a pizza for the first time. I had it delivered to my apartment and I was so scared to order it! It took me about 15 minutes to psych myself up to order it and when I did, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was! A woman answered the phone and when she heard a foreigner on the other end, she put me on hold and found someone who spoke really great English to help me. I ordered a potato pizza (which had Korean bacon, which isn't cured like at home, small pieces of beef, potato wedges, corn, onion and a sauce that tasted like a seasoned mayonnaise on top). Since I called from my land line phone, I thought my address automatically appeared in their system, which was perfect because I don't know what my address is... When they asked if the address they told me was correct, I said, "Sure!" The wait time was supposed to be 35 minutes, but over an hour had gone by and I hadn't yet received my pizza. I thought the problem was that there are two buildings that have the same name and sure enough, I got a phone call asking me to verify my address. This time, I made sure to tell them I lived above the hapkido studio and about 15 minutes later, I heard a knock at the electronic door. I opened it to a pizza delivery man who looked a little agitated. Today at lunch, I was telling the lunch table about my pizza ordering experience and Toni said, "Oh. That was your pizza?" Last night, the pizza man walked through our electronic door that must have been left open for some reason and tried to deliver the pizza to Toni because the apartment number they had on the order was 402, which I thought was my number. It turns out I'm 403 but since I was a foreigner, they assumed it was Toni ordering the pizza. That poor delivery kid came to our building twice last night with the same pizza... I'm excited to try different kinds of take out delivery here now that I know how it's done. It is super cheap because they don't have extra delivery fees and you don't tip them either. And, in the case of most delivery food, they serve it to you on actual plates instead of stryofoam boxes. When you're done with your meal, you leave your dished outside your door and they come back to retrieve them later. How crazy is that?!
75: 75 | On Monday, I wore dark skinny jeans, a light blue v-neck sweater, a pink, blue and teal plaid scarf and my Ugg boots. I was little surprised to have the following exchange while I was brushing my teeth after lunch: Grace Teacher: Oh. Noelle Teacher. I like your outfit today. Noelle (holding my toothpaste covered toothbrush, and speaking with a mouth full of toothpaste as I waited for an open sink): Thanks! Grace Teacher: Look like cowboy today. Noelle = baffled. All week, I've been playing the same game with my students. We all stand in a circle with one person in the middle. They spin in a circle and when they stop, they point to someone and say a letter. The person that was pointed to sits down and the people on either side of her have to say a word that starts with that letter. (We also played a variation where they have to say a word that ends in that letter, which was much harder.) Whoever says it first wins and goes to the middle and whoever loses is out. Some of them get so into it and it's so funny! Sometimes they say a word over and over to prove they won. So, there's a chorus of EAR EAR EAR EAR EAR or TIGAH TIGAH TIGAH (tiger, but when they say it, the r sounds like an h). I also play, so when a student realizes they have to play against me, they often make funny noises because they're sure they're going to lose. What they don't know is that before I answer, I count to ten to give them a chance to think of something. Sometimes, I also can't think of a word that fits whatever variation we are playing. Whenever a student beats me, the whole class breaks into a low sounding OHHH as I sit down. It's so funny. Also, no third graders this week so far. They've had to attend various lectures and programs, so we even haven't seen them all week. I'm starting to miss the little boogers. Now for the last bit of excitement: yesterday, I booked Jill's and my tickets to Vietnam!!!! We're going to spend eight days with our pal Maren in Hanoi, which is in northern Vietnam. We're sooo excited! | A Couple Tid Bits... | Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | Two Things: First, tonight, I triumphed. Until tonight, I had yet to go to a new restaurant by myself and order food. I have always stayed in my kimbap and duk boki comfort zone, but after my (mostly) successful effort at ordering a pizza last night, I was flying pretty high this evening. I ventured down the street to a chain restaurant that specializes in Korean comfort food and order a roll of tuna kimbap and a roll of cheese kimbap (the usual kimbap ingredients, plus a Kraft single wrapped in a sesame leaf). No problems, no misunderstandings, just the food. NICE. Also, as I was walking out with my dinner in hand, I noticed that Kathy, my other neighbor who is from New Zealand and teaches at the middle school, was sitting at a table eating her rice. So, I joined her and we had a delightful chat. I haven't spent much time with her, so it was great to sit and chat and get to know each other a bit better. Such a great dinner from both the food and company standpoint! Also, MTV has started airing commercials between scenes on their online episodes. What's that about, MTV? They're just minute segments of two commercials, but they're the same two commercials each time and one of them keeps saying the word awesomer, which my first year students could tell you is incorrect. Because awesome is a two syllable word, it's comparative version is more awesome. It almost hurts my ears to hear it :)
76: 76 | I have just returned from hanging out with Hyunjoo's six year old twins, Samuel and Evelyn. I had such a great time. Today at the end of school, Hyunjoo came to my desk and said that we would meet for duk boki at the kimbap shop that is in my building (not the same one I went to last night...) and then we would go back to her apartment to play with the kiddos, She also asked me how much I wanted her to pay me for playing with her kids. I didn't know what was appropriate, plus I felt weird that she wanted to pay me for playing games with her kids. It wasn't like I was babysitting them or taking care of them in any way. I was just having fun with them. So, I told her it was not necessary to pay me. We agreed that she would buy me dinner each time I hang out with her kids. Sounds like a plan to me! When Hyunjoo was done with work, she called me and I wandered down to the kimbap shop to meet her. Waiting for me was duk boki, complete with ramen noodles, cooking on a table, and a roll of kimbap. My two favorite Korean foods, right at my disposal! We started eating and talking, enjoying each other's company. A couple of times, different students wandered into the shop as well, so we had a nice chat with them too. Then, Hyunjoo suggested we also try japaghetti, which is a traditionally Chinese dish that Koreans have adapted. It is like spaghetti in that it is noodles covered in sauce. Japaghetti entails ramen noodles cooked in a sort of sweet black bean sauce and ours was served topped with a fried egg. SOO GOOD! Japaghetti is the comfort food for Korean kids just as macaroni and cheese is for American children. After we had consumed our fair share of tasty Korean fare and were both complaining about over eating and how full we felt, we headed to her apartment. I was greeted at the door by Evelyn and Samuel was playing hide'n'seek by himself. Both are adorable. Evelyn started playing the piano for me as Hyunjoo made me some tea to settle my stomach. On the tea saucer, she also gave me three swizzle sticks (those cracker sticks with chocolate filling...I can't think of the name...) I set my tea aside as we began to set up a game of Monopoly and Samuel kept eating my swizzle sticks. He was so adorable and I was too full to want them anyway, so I let it happen. As we were setting up monopoly, one of the kids knocked over Hyunjoo's tea cup, sending it to the floor. The handle broke from it and Evelyn and I cleaned up the mess. She was so quick to help me and was very careful. Such a cute girl! We played Monopoly for quite a while and the kids caught onto the game very quickly. They are very, very smart kids, so full of energy and humor. We played for almost an hour, and it surprised me that they would have that long of an attention span. They took me home about about 8:45 and we made plans for next time. I'm going to be a bit sad when they move to Seoul next month! Hopefully we can still get together every once in a while because I had such a great time tonight! Hyunjoo definitely spoils me and I feel very honored that she would welcome me into her home to play with her children. She is such a sweet lady and I have grown quite fond of her and her family! | Samuel and Evelyn | Thursday, December 2, 2010
77: 77 | Yesterday, Diane and I went to the YG Family Concert in Seoul. It was bonkers. First, I should explain about the concert: YG is a music label here. They have some of the most popular groups in Korean music signed to their label. These super popular groups all performed at the same show. So, it would be the same idea if Berry Gordy-era Motown were to put on a show with their five biggest acts. The show featured the following performers: 2NE1 (a group of four girls), Pys (a solo man who has been in music in Korea for over 10 years but recently signed with YG), Gummy (a solo pianist and singer of mostly ballads), Se7en (pronounced like the number seven - solo male performer who released an ill-fated rap album in the U.S. a couple of years ago...he came back to his strengths in Korea) and Big Bang (a group of five guys). There were three shows put on for this rare concert in Olympic Park (where the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games were held) and we went to the second of the three. All of the songs are predominantly in Korean, but many of the choruses have English in them and despite the language barrier, the songs are super catchy. The concert we had tickets to started at 2 pm, but in order to get in line for a good spot in our section, we met around noon. In the subway station, I saw two students from school. They aren't in my classes, but they recognized me and were really excited to hear that I was going to the YG concert. We saw them again as Diane was getting our wristbands. They had an impassioned conversation with Diane over who their favorite group members were. It was delightful to see them in public! After we found where our section was to line up, we waited maybe two minutes before we were allowed to enter the building. We were supposed to be in section 009. As we wound our way through the maze of hallways and people, we came to a fork in the path. Diane showed her wristband to the security man and he pointed us to the right. We found our way to the section to which he had directed us. Diane quickly realized we were in the wrong section, but this section was much better than where we were supposed to be, and as it was a standing section anyway, we figured we could claim being dumb foreigners if anyone called us out. Here's a diagram of the sections: | Monday, December 6, 2010 | Cultural Experiences | If you look at the above diagram, you'll notice that section 009 is the last standing section in the back. Because the security guard read Diane's number upside down, we were sent to section 006. We secured positions toward the back right corner of the section, so when the performers walked in the red areas, we were within 10 feet of them. SOOO COOL!
78: 78 | Instead of people holding up lighters or cell phones to express approval of a song, fans of K-Pop hold up over sized glow sticks that correspond to their favorite group or performer. They bop their glow sticks to the beat of the song, so at any given moment during the three and a half hour show, there was a sea of yellow, green and white flashing, glittering glow sticks held in the air. No wonder Diane's arms are sore today :) Here's a video of one of the songs someone took. You can see the vigorous waving of the Big Bang themed glow stick in the foreground. The song they're singing is a duet between Big Bang and 2NE1 that was used to promote a cell phone last year. Diane told me that this concert was the first time it was performed live. You're watching K-Pop history unfold :) <
79: 79 | Yesterday was a half day at school, so Dionne, Scott (her husband), Jonah (her son) and I journeyed into Seoul in the afternoon to beat the rush hour traffic and outsmart the snow that we were supposed to get. Here is Dionne and her family: | Thursday, December 9, 2010 | Hyunjoo's Concert | We started our journey by driving to the next city with a subway stop. It was about 20 minutes away. We parked their car in a parking ramp that was free of charge. Then, we took the subway two stops. After a quick stop for coffee and tea, we caught an express bus into downtown Seoul. What might have taken several hours by car, factoring in traffic and finding a parking spot, took about 25 minutes by bus. We got off the bus and began walking around. This is the same part of town as the lantern festival took place several weeks ago, so things looked quite familiar to me. They're starting to decorate the area for the Winter Festival, which will be on until the Lunar New Year in early February. We saw the U.S. Embassy, which is probably one of the ugliest buildings in Seoul. It is under constant police protection because of bomb threats from other countries and it is surrounded by a stone wall, complete with barbed wire. It is so weird to look around and see all of these gorgeous buildings and other embassies in relation to how unapproachable and prison-esque our embassy looks. Bummer. As we walked to the King's Palace, Scott and Dionne told me a lot about Korean history, especially all of the nasty things the Japanese did to the Koreans between WWI and WWII. If you want to know more, google it or ask me about it. The King's Palace was closed to tours by the time we reached it, but we were able to step inside the grounds for a little while. | Seoul continues to amaze me. It has all of this ancient architecture sandwiched in between cutting edge, new buildings. The juxtaposition is soooo interesting to me. At Thanksgiving, Kim was telling me that in 1987 (the year of my birth), Korea was still fairly undeveloped and still recovering from the devastation of the Korean War. All that Korea represents and is in the world now has been accomplished in the last 23 years. That blows my mind. In the span of my life, Korea has gone from a developing country to the twelfth largest economy in the world. Even in the last five years, things have become much more opened up to the rest of the world as far as the availability of foreign goods. It is crazy to think that five years ago, you had to search high and low to find coffee and now there seems to be a cafe on every corner. | Scott, Dionne and Jonah Husted | The palace (and me :) ) | The gate to enter the palace grounds and the modern buildings that surround the area
80: 80 | Hyunjoo is in the blue dress, holding all of the flowers. Her daughter Evelyn is standing next to her, wearing the blue plaid dress and the principal of the school is on her other side in the blue coat. Some of the other people are teachers at the school and I have no idea who others of them are. I'm glad we have the day off today because we got home at 12:30 last night. Yowza. Sleeping in felt quite nice this morning :) Off to E-Mart now to buy some groceries and eat some duk boki. It's been almost two weeks since I visited the shop. They probably think I'm dead. | When we arrived at the concert, we were warmly greeted by several staff members from our school. We spoke with the Founder of the school, who, we found out, is Hyunjoo's father. He was a glowing parent last night, which was very fun to see. We sat with Mr. Shin (the head of the English department), the Vice Principal and another teacher. Mr. Shin gave me all sorts of travel suggestions for when Jill is here. He is such a sweet man! Hyunjoo's performance was AMAZING. She sang six different sets of songs, all very difficult and impressive. She and her husband sang a duet from La Traviata and later, as an encore, the sang All I Ask of You from The Phantom of the Opera. She was all dolled up in these huge party gowns and looked like a princess. It was so great to see a huge turnout from not only the EB High School but also the academic high school as well. It was a fun event and it was so great to see everyone in a non-school setting. | After we ate dinner, we still have about an hour and a half before we needed to arrive at the concert. To kill some time, we continued to walk around the neighborhood some more. We happened upon an underground shopping center where we purchased some flowers to present to Hyunjoo and we saw this restaurant: | That poor lady...
81: 81 | Tuesday, December 14, 2010 | The Yarn Shop, Chex Mix and the Worst Movie of my Life | Thursday night, I met my friends Joe and Tara who are also teachers and live right across the street from me for dinner. We ate at a fried chicken restaurant where we enjoyed a couple pieces of fried chicken, french fries and a beer. It was a nice dinner to end a quiet day spent at home. After dinner, they showed me where the yarn shop is in Gwangju. I want to crochet Baby Plueger a blanket, but I didn't know where to buy yarn. In the TINY shop, a woman was passionately teaching three other women how to knit as we browsed the selection of yarn. It seemed fairly picked over and I couldn't find any of the colors I had in mind. Then, Joe found a box of yarn that was in front of the shop that was on sale. I found some good stuff in there for the baby's blanket and for one for myself. They aren't quite the colors Jess suggested (or at all, really...) but I think the blanket will turn out pretty sweet. Friday, I received the Christmas package my mom sent. It only took a week to get here! In it, she included two types of chex mix for me to share with the teachers at my school. When I started to pass it out to the teachers, along with mini candy canes, they went bonkers. They couldn't believe that she would take the time to make such a wonderful homemade treat for them. They kept saying that she must be an angel or Santa Claus and other cute, appreciative comments of the like. And, they LOVED the chex mix! They each only got about a dixie cup's worth of the stuff, but they were in love. I was glad to be able to share something with them that reminds me of Christmas time (thanks, again, Mom!). I don't think it has fully dawned on me that I won't be spending Christmas in any of the traditional ways. Time for new traditions, I guess. Friday night, I was snuggled up in my pajamas, crocheting and watching a movie when Hyunjoo called to invite me to her apartment for dinner. The last of our foreign exchange students was leaving that night, so she had us over for dinner. We had several traditional Korean side dishes and she also ordered in two main dishes for us to enjoy. I shared some peanut clusters with the group, which they also loved. After dinner, we watched Letters to Juliet. Hyunjoo and Ji Hye's reactions to the movie were so delightful...almost more entertaining than the movie :) What a perfect way to spend a Friday night! Saturday was spent wrapping up my Christmas shopping with Diane. We started the day in Namdaemun Market which is a traditional market that sells almost anything you can imagine from fresh fish to wholesale jewelry. We walked down a darkish alley in search of food and knew we were in business when we were in the way of several women carrying trays of rice, kimchi and ramen on trays balanced on their head. We settled into a small busy restaurant after a very smooth man in a bow tie tried to entice us into his fish soup restaurant with the promise of a warm place to sit. His promises of heat couldn't make up for the unappetizing look of his fish soup and we chose a different place to eat. We sat down and ordered our respective kinds of soup (tofu for me and kimchi for Diane), which was accompanied by about six side dishes. Everything was delicious except for the light brown mystery fish (?) whose texture weirded me out even more than the seeming absence of flavor. Odd. The soups we ordered (and the poached egg souffle side dish) were served steaming hot, and with the direction of the wind blowing through the front and back doors of the small tent where we ate caused all of the steam to blow in the direction of my face, giving me a free egg facial in the process of enjoying lunch. It was annoying at first, but after we couldn't change the direction of the steam, I decided it was funny.
82: 82 | Later, after our shopping excursion took us to Insadong and we enjoyed some tea at a cute tea house called Tea Time, we headed to Myeongdong for dinner. We weren't hungry and it was still early, so we decided it would be a good time to see a movie. There were two options: the latest installment of The Chronicles of Narnia (a movie I was not interested in in the least) and The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. I've never been a huge fan of either of those two (aside from What's Eating Gilbert Grape, of course!), but Diane and I were willing to give it a chance. We purchased our tickets (you choose the seats when you buy the tickets!) and walked around for awhile to kill time. Two hours later, we entered the theater and prepared to enjoy the movie. Aside from a few clever jokes which seemed to be lost in translation as Diane and I were literally the only people laughing in the theater, the best part of the movie was the 20 or so minutes when I fell asleep. The overall plot was weak, the action wasn't there and the lukewarm romance plot was completely unbelievable. (I'm sorry if you've seen in and enjoyed it... Diane and I found this movie laughably terrible!) Nonetheless, we were happy to have figured out how to navigate a Korean movie theater as the big show comes this weekend with the Korean debut of the latest Harry Potter movie. I haven't read any of the books since the first 50 or so pages of the the fifth book and I haven't seen hardly any of the movies, so I hope I'm not completely lost! Oh well. I have to know what all of the fuss is about! This week's classes are back to normal for the most part, but since all of their exams are over, the students are in no mindset to learn new things. So, we're showing movies for the rest of the time before Winter Break. By Friday of next week, I will have watched Home Alone 15 times! It's a good thing much of that movie will never get old for me. Also, Hyunjoo, Ruth Teacher, Dionne, two students and I will sing for chapel this week. Since it will be too cold to have chapel in the auditorium (Mr. Shin told me that some teachers refer to the Samsung Memorial Auditorium (our school's auditorium) as the Samsung Refrigerator because it is so cold in there during the winter!), we will record our performance Thursday after school and it will be broadcast along with the rest of the service throughout the school on Friday morning. Tomorrow is supposed to be really cold. I'm trying to figure out which pair of leggings will be the warmest to wear under my jeans :) | Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | Chicken Dinner Vows | Today during the weekly teacher's meeting, Mr. Shin bought everyone chicken wings because our English department won an award and a $1,000 grant from the Education Ministry (or something like that...). Anyway, I never go to those meetings because they are conducted all in Korean, so when I returned to my desk, I found a dixie cup full of chicken wings and a carton of the accompanying sweet pickled radishes (to fight the spice?) waiting for me. As I ate the chicken and checked my e-mail to kill time until 5:00, the principal invited me to sit at the community table in the middle of the teacher's office to share the rest of the chicken. She wanted to chat, so she lured me in with food. Like I've said, she's a smart lady :) When she asked me to join her, she said, "Noelle teacher. Join me. We have dinner party! (Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.)" I joined her, and soon we had accrued quite a group with the vice principal, Mr. Shin and another big wig guy who always has something funny to say. The principal insisted that everyone speak English and we had quite the conversation. Here are some snippets:
83: 83 | Principal: Noelle. I buy you food. You teach me English. Okay? Noelle: Like a bribe? P: Yes. Yes. Bribe. Okay? N: You know me too well. ------------- Other Teacher: Noelle. I hear you go Vietnam for winter break. I have been. Noelle: Oh? Where? OT: Ho Chi Minh City. Where you going? N: Hanoi. OT: You will like Vietnam. I recommend everyone go there. In park, I saw young couple make love. (Everyone looks at him funny. I start laughing) OT: Oh, oh. Just hug. And kiss. More laughing. OT: You won't see that in Hanoi. They are much more .... ..... (searching for word) open in Ho Chi Minh City. N: Darn! ----------- Principal: I must meet friend Jill. Noelle: You will! She's coming to school with me. P: She a good person. N: Yes! P: I know she must be. You good person and she your friend. N: Thanks. P: I think we have party at end of Winter Camp. When Jill leave to go America? N: Jan. 18 P: (Camp goes until the 21st) Oh. We have midterm party then! We eat chicken! Jill like chicken? N: Yes! That would be great. Jill would love that! P: You are witness. Don't let Mr. Shin forget we decide to have party! Everyone at the table agrees not to let Mr. Shin forget that he was told to throw a party. Mr. Shin just shakes his head... P: You have other American friends? N: Yes... P: They come to Korea? N: I hope so... P: You tell them they come, I buy them chicken dinner. N: Haha... Okay! I'll tell them! P: Parents too. I want meet them! N: Oh, you will! They want to meet you too! P: I like you. You stay at school long time. 2014? You heard it here first. If you visit me, the principal promises to treat you to a chicken dinner! What more motivation do you need?!
84: 84 | Monday, December 20, 2010 | Impromptu Teacher's Dinner? Okay! | At about 4:55 this afternoon, just as I was starting to think about the yummy duk boki that was waiting for me at E-Mart, a gaggle of Korean women carrying plastic bags filled with food began streaming through the door to the teachers' office. I thought maybe many of the teachers had ordered in since they looked to be working well into the night as usual. I went about my business, putting my computer away, emptying and rinsing my tea tumbler, and packing up my desk for the night. As I got up to put my coat on, one of the head teachers looked at me funny and said, "Noelle, you stay for dinner!" Since it's terribly rude to refuse things that are offered to you, and the food looked really interesting, who was I to turn down a perfectly good dinner offer?! I came over to the table and began helping them unwrap the several plastic platters filled with different types of meat, several side dishes, cups of dipping sauces and plates of lettuce wraps. Just as I finished unwrapping the last side dish, another head teacher came in and said, "Noelle. Change (pronounced: changEE). Come with me." He led me to the conference room where I usually hold class with the principal. There, I began unwrapping the same dishes and spreading newspaper all over the table to minimize the cleanup. (I am continually blown away by Korean efficiency, for real. So many things that they do just make complete and total sense to me.) Here's what the spread included: Two kinds of kimchi (one of them was literally the best kimchi I have ever had -- sweet, but spicy and so fresh. YUM!) A cold noodle and cabbage salad with various greens whose name escapes me Raw oysters laying on a bed of green onion tips and romaine lettuce wraps (oysters = slime, but the flavor was tolerable, though I prefer them in the Meyer family Christmas Eve oyster stew, where it is expected that they will be wet.) Green onion and seafood pancake (I have tried to replicate this dish at home, and I've come close, but, in the words of my 7th grade History teacher, Mr. Kedley, no cigar, ) Three kinds of dipping sauce - all red and all spicy, though of varying degrees and thicknesses, accompanied by a cup of fresh garlic cloves and hot green peppers Two kinds of lettuce for wrapping the meat Korean miso soup - made with bean paste - the flavor is growing on me, slowly. Samgyeopsal - pork belly, which is similar to bacon, but is not cured like the bacon you all think of. Instead of being fried, this was boiled, so the teachers all insisted it was healthy, despite the thick layer of fat overtaking every single slice of meat.
85: 85 | Pig feet meat - literally. On the plate was a pig's leg. Like, when they butchered the pig, they just hacked off it's entire leg and sold it to the restaurant for this dish. The leg, hoof (is that what a pig's foot is called?) and all, had been boiled with ginger, garlic and other herbs and slapped onto this plate. There was also a thick layer of fat over the length of the leg that looked like the brown icing on a Casey's donut. I was told it was collagen, so eating it would be healthy for my face. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they use every single part of whatever it is they are eating, whether it's an animal or a vegetable. Also, everything, and I mean everything, has a specific health purpose. Oh Korea. That's a butt-ton of food, right? There were at least four different spreads, with two of each side dish, soup and lettuce wrap stashed around the school wherever there was room for six to eight people to gather around a table. My school doesn't mess around when it comes to food. I was told to sit next to the principal and during the whole dinner, lively passionate stories were exchanged (90% of which were in Korean) but I could tell they were all having a great time, as was I. After the meal was over and everything was cleaned up, we retired to the teachers' office. I began putting on my coat and getting ready to leave. Before I left, I wanted to thank someone for including me in the dinner, but I didn't know who, so I thanked the teachers with whom I ate. One of them side-hugged me and thanked me for staying, and always being cheerful, etc. Then, she told me that she loves me and I am like a daughter to her. She then proceeded to tell me that she has a 23 year old son who just applied to the PhD program in Pharmacy at Seoul National University. Uh, set us up, please! | I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. -Henry David Thoreau