S: Seoulful Serendipity Continued
FC: Seoulful Serendipity | Our heroine continues to amaze us as she ventures through uncharted territory... | Continued
1: seoulful : full of or expressing deep feeling; profoundly emotional; specifically in Seoul, Korea (and other locations within its proximities)
2: 2 | Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | English Festival | Today was the 3rd annual English Festival at our school. For weeks, students have been scrambling around, preparing themselves as has the English Department! Before the actual festival began, all of the students had to take the TTP test. TTP stands for Triple Three Project. It is the goal of the English Department that by the time each student graduates, they will know 3,000 words and sentences. For about a week, all of the students have been pouring themselves into studying a list of 50 possible sentences that they would be tested over. During the test, the principal came to my desk and said she needed my help. She brought me to her office, which I had never seen before, and asked me, since I am her English teacher (she warms my heart!), to help her perfect the opening speech she would give to kick off the festival. I read each sentence to her and she repeated after me to get the pronunciations down and where would be good places for her to breathe. Then, she read each sentence to me so I could tell her where she needed different intonation. Korean is a very monotone language, so the fact that our words ride and fall is very hard for them to master. She is a star student and I really enjoy working with her. She is so appreciative of my help and gets really frazzled when she doesn't have time to practice with me on Wednesday mornings. For the morning portion of the festival, Dionne and I were the judges, along with various other Korean teachers, for a speech contest, a singing contest and a skit contest. The speeches were done by one or two girls from each homeroom class and were all fully memorized. It brought me back to my elementary ELP days when I had to memorize a speech about Annie Wittenmyer for a famous Iowans showcase for our sesquicentennial in third grade. The amount of work the girls put into these projects and the courage they have to get up in front of the entire school and recite a three to four minute piece in what is a second language (or third for some!) is truly amazing to me. The singing contest was mostly Christmas carol medleys sung by large groups, but they wore costumes, worked out choreography, handed out candy and one group even had candles! So creative! One girl, with an amazing voice, sang "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic. She was awesome! The skits were done by the first year students. One group read the lines in English while another group acted out the skit onstage. I coached one of the teams. They performed Little Red Riding Hood. When we were practicing after school on Friday, they kept pronouncing the words: Riddle Led Liding Who'd, among other difficult sounds for any Korean to form. After a little work and some really cute actions, costumes and musical enhancements, I am proud to say that my group won the first prize! I was sooo proud of them!
3: 3 | Then, we had a break for lunch. At lunch, we were greeted by the principal and vice principal asking us what we thought of the festival. They were so proud of their students (as were we!) and loved being able to share this with us. Dionne and I marveled at how lucky we were to have been placed in the school we were. Many people are not placed in the best of situations and each day, I grow more and more thankful for my place here. On the way back from lunch, Dionne and I caught up to many of the other teachers from our school. They were taking pictures in front of a big rock with Korean writing all over it and asked us to join them. Then, as we were walking down the hill to return to the building, they stopped us again to take pictures with us walking down the hill. We taught them a new phrase: action shot. They were obsessed with getting a picture of about five of us walking and kept giggling and repeating action shot, action shot, action shot. Adorable Korean ladies. I so enjoy them! The afternoon was filled with various English games that were fun to watch. I sat next to the principal while she gave me commentary on what was happening and asked me questions about phrases being used that she had never heard. The whole day's competition was both for individuals and each homeroom class, much like wrestling or track meets where there are both individual and team winners. This really caused a lot of team camaraderie and spirit to be displayed. When all of the final awards were presented at the end of the day, each class that won a big prize was awarded a large sum of money (90,000, 70,000, and 50,000 won for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively) to be used for, I assume, some sort of class party. I was impressed that the school would shell out that kind of money to the winners! Then, each of the winning classes posed for pictures. Dionne and I were dragged into the pictures with one of the winning teams and when I forgot to put up the requisite peace sign, the students all me sure to point out my gross oversight and show me the correct peace sign technique! Walking home after school today, I stopped into the kimbap shop to grab some dinner before the man comes to fix my internet (I'm stealing wireless from someone nearby and the land line internet man is half an hour late!). Literally every table in the shop was filled with EB students and they all excitedly greeted me as I entered the shop. They always get so excited to see me in public! One group even invited me to sit with them while I waited for my kimbap to be made. I'm really going to miss these little buggers when I'm on winter break in a week! Here are a couple of pictures I snapped of the girls in the kimbap shop: I will never understand why they look so somber in pictures! Moments before they were smiling and laughing like the little school girls they are. Regardless, they make this job amazing. I love my students and my school!
4: 4 | Since Friday, I've been pilfering someone's wireless signal because my land line internet was not properly functioning. On Monday, I told Hyunjoo my problem and she arranged for someone to come fix it last night. Forty-five minutes late, two young hipster Korean men arrived at my apartment. They encountered my busted modem and were unprepared to fix it. They didn't speak hardly any English and since most of the Korean I know involves food, it was very difficult for us to communicate. After a few successful attempts to understand each other using Charades, they spent a couple of moments looking at the pictures on my wall before they left. They told me (via a phone call to Hyunjoo) that they would be back with a fully functioning modem tonight. Mr. Fix-it (only one of last night's duo showed up tonight - the one with the hipster-stache, in case you were wondering) just left and now my internet is back in business. But, not without a few awkward moments. Behold: On the second attempt with a new modem, he leaned over the arm of my couch to fiddle with my computer. I invited him to sit on the couch where he might be more comfortable in messing around on my computer. Upon realizing that all of my computer was in English, he uttered the stock phrase that it seems every Korean knows, "Oh. My. God." (My girls have perfected this expression, complete with a little sassy attitude. I'm so proud.) Next, he clicked on the Internet Explorer icon, which is only used by me when I have to peruse Korean websites for whatever reason. (Korean websites do not work in any other browser but Internet Explorer.) It took forever to load. While it was loading, the following conversation ensued: Noelle: (pointing to my computer) It's very slow! And old! Mr. Fix-It: Yes. Very slow. (laughs) N: (pointing to my computer) Five years old! MFI: How old you? N: 23 (holds up two fingers on one hand and three on the other) MFI: Oh? (points to himself and holds up two fingers on one hand and four on the other) Awkward silence ensues as he looks at the display of pictures on my wall. MFI: American? N: Yep! MFI: Chicago? N: Close. MFI: Friends? N: Yes. MFI: (points to himself) Friend? Noelle = confused - was he asking if the two of us were friends, or if I had a boyfriend? This language barrier makes for some pretty great situations... Just then, Internet Explorer successfully loaded. He cheered and put his hands in the air in triumph. I laughed and he ran out the door, bidding me good night as I thanked him for fixing my internet. Oh Korea. | Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | Getting my Internet Fixed
5: 5 | Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | All Things Christmas | I should learn to write things as they happen so there aren't gargantuan posts that result after almost a week's worth of escapades... Buckle your seatbelt - here's the Christmas edition of my Korean adventure: On Wednesday, during the teacher's meeting that I attended for some reason, the third graders gave a short presentation thanking the teachers for everything they have done for them and basically saying goodbye. They also gave us gifts. There was a wrapped package and a bag of fruit and cookies. It was at this time that the school's Christmas gift to us was also presented. So, when I got home, I had a little Kyunghwa Christmas. I opened up a wall clock with the school's crest on it and a five pack of toothpaste from the third graders. Koreans are so practical with their gifts! I think I have about 10 tubes of toothpaste in my apartment now! During lunch on Thursday, the founder approached Dionne and me to invite us to join him in his office for a drink after lunch. We walked into his office in the middle school and shared some tea with him as he told us all about the journey he took to be where he is today. He grew up in North Korea and escaped by himself shortly after the armistice was signed in 1953. He worked as a houseboy on an air force base and befriended an American electrical engineer there. The engineer took him under his wing, financing college for the founder. He built one of the largest steel companies in Korea, which has exclusive contracts with the nuclear facilities all over Korea. Once he had garnered enough money, he bought the entire mountain on which our facilities sit and began building up the school complex. He started with the middle school, then the cafeteria ("because students were hungry," he said), then the high school, auditorium, dormitories and last, the EB school in 2006. They are currently building more dorms with the goal of being able to house 1000 students on the grounds. He also really wants to build a high school for the arts, but doesn't have any concrete plans for that yet. Quite a man! Later that night, he treated the entire staff to a Christmas banquet. The whole school gathered in the auditorium where we enjoyed a large buffet of finger food, soups and salads. Such a great meal! Friday was our school's Christmas program which involved hymns, dancing, handbells and a short video depicting the birth of Jesus. I took some videos of the performances but it was too dark for them to turn out very well. Dionne and I were also presented with homemade Christmas cards from the worship team which were given out during about 16 counts of one of their dances. Adorable! Also during this service, Hyunjoo invited me to spend Christmas Eve with her family. I already had plans with Diane, but it was so comforting to know that if I hadn't had the plans, I would have had a great environment in which to spend Christmas with an amazing family. I really cherish the people I have met here and each day, I grow closer to them! Later, toward the end of the day, random bits of food kept showing up in the teachers' office. Someone ordered about 10 pizzas that were distributed throughout the offices and another teacher sprang for kimbap and duk boki because his daughter achieved the highest grades among the second year students. As we were finishing up the kimbap and duk boki, the principal insisted that I take home a leftover roll of kimbap. She said, "You take this kimbap. I insist. I Principal. I do what I want." Adorable.
6: 6 | (cont.) Later that evening, I met Diane at a bus stop near my apartment and we went out to dinner for Christmas Eve. On the way, we were waiting for a walk signal and were chattering away about the day's events when a man kept staring at us. We weren't sure if he was just intrigued that we were speaking English or if the sight of my white face and big eyes were so foreign to him that he couldn't look away. It is common for people to stare at me since I look so much different that the average person on the street, but he was blatantly gawking at us. Suddenly, he began asking if I was cold and where I was from, etc. It turned out that he just wanted to demonstrate his strong grasp of English. As we walked down the street, we had a nice conversation with the man, who was on his way to church. Diane and I enjoyed a lovely dinner of duck and pork lettuce wraps with various side dishes like kimchi (two kinds!) and a pumpkin salad. On the way to Paris Baguette to buy a Christmas cake, we ran into one of my favorite students who was on her way to aerobics. She was so excited to see me that she hugged me several times. She's a third grader. I'll miss her when she graduates. The funny thing is that she rarely speaks English to me but she has such an adorable personality and is always so excited to see me. We ended up buying a green tea chiffon cake and were given a bottle of champagne for free with our cake. We decided to save that for New Years. When we arrived back at my apartment, frozen from the chilly air, we opened our cake, I prepared a plate of Christmas cookies and fudge that I had saved from the goods people sent me (thanks again to everyone who sent me Christmas goodies!!) and opened a bottle of wine. We enjoyed all of these treats as we watched The Family Stone. This is the first Christmas Eve that I have not attended church and it felt a little un-Christmas-y, but it was a good time nonetheless spent with a good pal. The next day, we had planned to go into Seoul, but it was too cold for us so we stayed in our pajamas all day and watched movies (five to be exact)! We prepared a large brunch of omelets, hash browns, grilled cheese, fruit and mango juice. We ordered pizza for dinner, which took two hours to arrive because of some miscommunication over where I live, but when it finally arrived, it proved to be well worth the wait! Very early the next morning, I called Grandma and Grandpa Plueger while everyone was still gathered at their condo for Christmas. It was fun to talk to everyone even if just for a brief moment! Yesterday, the first thing the principal said to me was, "So many people all over world say your name yesterday. I bet your ears busy!" Lots of laughing ensued after this comment. She's so clever! Yesterday also marked the end of my TEFL course as I finished it! I am so excited to have that off my shoulders! At about 4:45, Dionne and I were informed that the English Department decided to go out for dinner together to a tofu house. There were five of the six of us there and it was such a great time. We really bonded over great conversation and lots of great food! It began snowing yesterday afternoon at about 4:00 and didn't stop until sometime early this morning. When I was walking to school today, it looked like about an inch and a half or two inches had accumulated and cars were not allowed to drive up the mountain! Many teachers either walked or parked away from the school today. Dionne, Chan Yang and I went shopping this morning for Winter Camp supplies and we saw several soldiers removing snow from the city streets. Korea is not used to this accumulation of snow! I think it's gorgeous. Today is the last day of school before winter break. There were no classes and the students left at 10:00. Right now the teachers are all in a meeting so I'm taking this time to update my blog before I delve into Winter Camp preparations like cutting paper into squares and making powerpoint presentations. We're pretty much ready for everything, which if you know me at all, is a miracle as I'm quite the procrastinator! Mr. Shin just delivered a box of seven Dunkin' Donuts to every teacher to celebrate the success of the English Department this year. They smell so good! Jill gets here on Friday and Saturday we embark for Vietnam! I'm so excited!!! Until then, it's packing, preparing for Winter Camp and trying to stay as warm as possible! Stay tuned for "Jill and Noelle take on Vietnam with Maren's help!" It's bound to be a doozy.
7: 7 | Jill and I reluctantly parted ways this afternoon as I put her on the bus to the airport before I had to be at school. The last three weeks have been absolutely marvelous. I apologize for my absence from the blog - I will try to recount our adventures according to the journal I have been keeping along the way and the myriad of pictures Jill took... Read on for Part 1 of 3 of Jill and Noelle take Vietnam by Storm with Maren's Guidance, of course: Jill arrived in Korea on New Year's Eve. Her baggage did not. Normally, this would not have been much of a problem, except that we were scheduled to leave for Vietnam the very next day at noon. After communication with a representative from her airline, we hoped to have her bags sent to Hanoi to be picked up when we arrived the next evening. We were not sure this would work, but we hoped for the best. Upon arrival back in Gwangju after the two hour bus ride from the airport, we went to dinner at a restaurant where you grill your own meat in front of you and then wrap it, along with many different sides, in leaves of lettuce. So delicious, and it was so fun to share Jill's first Korean meal. The restaurant workers also enjoyed having us in their restaurant, apparently, because of all the attention they paid us. At one point, we let the meat get a little crispy and burnt, which is just the way I like it. The woman who was keeping an eye on us was horrified at the thought of us eating meat with any sort of burnt morsel and promptly came over with a pair of scissors in hand to trim off the burnt bits. I was equally as horrified that she was cutting off what I considered to be the best part of the meat. She smiled so big as, in her eyes, she vastly improved the quality of our meal. What a pal! She even showed us how to properly construct a lettuce wrap by snatching Jill's lettuce leaf from her hand, filling it with a little bit of everything, rolling it up and giving it to Jill to eat. She proudly looked on as Jill devoured the lettuce wrap, then proceeded to do the same favor for me after receiving Jill's seal of approval. Definitely a meal to remember! The next day, we woke up, made it to the airport shuttle just in time and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We received word that Jill's luggage would arrive in Hanoi around 10 pm. Our flight to Beijing boarded about 20 minutes late and actually ended up taking off at the time we were supposed to have landed in Bejing. When we arrived in Beijing, we went through Chinese customs and had a hell of a time finding the international transfers area of the airport. Most airports are clearly marked and sport clocks every few hundred feet. Not Beijing. Word to the wise: avoid flying through Beijing. So confusing! After asking several questions about where to go, we realized it was 3:00. Our flight to Hanoi was to leave at 3:30 and we still needed to get our boarding passes printed! We ran through customs (for a second time - so weird!) and found our ticket counter. The ladies at this counter pointed us to another counter. There was not one person at the counter at which they pointed and the monitor indicated that it was too late to make the flight. We were directed to find the Vietnam Airlines office upstairs and had them help us. And, help us they did. Two very nice men set us up with another flight departing at 5:30 but that took an extra two hours to arrive in Hanoi. We didn't understand this, but we weren't about to question it as we just wanted to secure our flight! | Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | Vietnam: Getting To Hanoi
8: 8 | After being sent on a wild goose chase to check into our new flight, making sure my luggage made it onto our original flight to Hanoi and having our new boarding passes printed, we had some time to figure out how to let Maren know that we would be arriving almost six hours later than planned. Our strategy was to find someone with a computer, put on our big American smiles and convince them to let us use their internet connection. After surveying the situation in our gate, we approached a very handsome man with an exotic accent, but more importantly, a computer. He said that internet was not available in the gate but if there was some way for us to achieve internet access, we were more than welcome to use his computer. We inquired at a snack shop about the availability of internet and found it unavailable. Another black mark against the Beijing airport! We spotted a pay phone and went to work. The catch was that it was nearly 2:00 AM at home. On New Years Eve. Not the best night of the year to get ahold of people! We didn't have Maren's phone number in Vietnam so we frantically left voice messages with several people asking them to contact Maren via Facebook to let her know our new circumstances. We were actually able to get ahold of Maren thanks to Jill's mom answering our second phone call and having obtained Maren's phone number. How lucky we were! As Jill was talking to Maren and explaining the change of plans, I had the following conversation with the man whose internet we tried to use: Man: I hope everything is alright with you and your friend. Noelle: Yes, yes. We just got ahold of our friend to tell her we'll arrive late. Thank you so much for offering your computer to us! M: It would have been my pleasure to help you. Where are you from? N: We're from America. I teach in Korea. Jill is visiting me and we are going to Vietnam to visit our friend who lives in Hanoi. (typical Noelle - way more information than necessary :) ) Where are you from? M: I am from Iran. Have you heard of my country? N: (trying not to laugh) I sure have! When his flight to Tehran was boarding, we shared several of what I call "moments" with him as we waved goodbye to each other about three times, thanked him for his help and concern and bid him safe travels. We boarded our flight to Hanoi in good spirits and sat next to one of the craziest men I have ever encountered in my life. He was so obnoxious. He would blow his nose and throw the tissue between the seat in front of him and the plane's wall. He talked extra loudly and was quite demanding of the flight attendants and he inhaled two servings of the in-flight meal in the time Jill and I leisurely finished about half of ours. When our plane landed, he was quite anxious to get off the plane, nudging and pushing us before the plane even came to a complete stop. We got off the plane and walked to the baggage claim area of the airport after a short stop in the bathroom. We inquired about my luggage which should have arrived on an earlier flight and after much rigamarole, were told that my luggage could be found at carousel number nine. As we approached our carousel, we were intercepted by a handsome airport worker and told to follow him. No other explanation. Just follow him. Jill and I decided to follow him unless he left the building. We followed him all over creation in that airport, the whole time indicating that I just needed one bag. He answered us with assurances that we would in fact get our bag, no worries. He led us all over, and at one point asked us to wait while he went into a secret airport staff room. A couple of minutes later, he emerged with handwritten boarding passes to the flight on which we had just arrived. This made zero sense to us, but we continued to follow him nonetheless. He went through security and customs again, still with much confusion. The airport man just kept smiling and laughing and telling us we would get our bag. The following exchange ensued: Noelle: We just need one bag. Jill: No flying (waving her arms in the air). Just bag.
9: 9 | Airport Man: You will get bag. Don't worry. (We arrive at a boarding gate) AM: Go gate A102. Your bag there. Bye bye. N and J: What?? You can't leave! How will we find our way back? Help us!!! AM: (laughing and waving) Bye bye! Bewildered, we walked toward the gate and saw a screen with our flight number and Hanoi as the destination. It was then that it all clicked. We were not in Hanoi. We were still in China. Unbeknownst to us, our flight had a stopover in Gwangzhou, China. We would receive my bag indeed, when we actually made it to Vietnam! We boarded the same flight we had left half an hour (or more) before and tried to find seats away from people who looked familiar so as to avoid more embarrassment. We began to recount the signs that we were not yet in Vietnam: The extra two hours flight duration Other passengers giving us weird looks as we got off the plane No Vietnamese writing on the bathroom signs Our flight arriving directly to baggage claim without first going through customs Going through Chinese customs People looking curiously similar to the airport workers with whom we worked in Beijing We arrived in Vietnam at 11:30 or so and got our visa situation taken care of. We went through customs, which consisted of two young-ish guys laughing and smiling a lot, asking seemingly unimportant questions of us as they pointed us toward our luggage. Our luggage was nowhere to be found. As we inquired at the lost and found desk, they produced Jill's luggage. Mine hadn't made the flight after all. We were so relieved to have Jill's luggage, to have arrived safely in Vietnam and to see our dear pal Maren that it was of no matter to me that my luggage hadn't arrived. We arranged for it to be delivered to Maren's home the following day and were on our way to our hotel. Maren had made arrangements for us to stay in a cozy hotel just a few minutes walk from her apartment, which was so convenient for all of us! Because it was in a more residential area of Hanoi, it was much more slow paced and quiet. The next morning, we accompanied Maren to her international church and it was then that we truly got our first look at Hanoi and Vietnamese culture in general. Talk about a hustle and bustle! At first glance, the roads seem quite chaotic with motorbikes darting in and out of traffic, but once Maren explained the system, it made so much sense. They don't have lanes of traffic really. The person whose wheel is in front has the right of way. As for pulling into traffic or making turns, you just gradually and cautiously edge into traffic and everyone else avoids you. This is the rule for crossing the street as well. Because the only automobiles on the rode are taxis and the occasional city bus, the majority of road traffic is motorbikes and bicycles. | Notice the girls in heels. Impressive! | Jill and I in the middle of traffic in the heart of Hanoi
10: 10 | Church with Maren was great! It was the first church service, aside from school church once a week, that I have attended since leaving the US, so it was nice to be in that environment again. Even nicer though was seeing Maren with the amazing support system she has cultivated through her church. It is obvious that Maren is so happy and comfortable in her Vietnamese surroundings. She speaks Vietnamese like a champ, and is constantly complemented on her abilities. Her enthusiasm and fun loving attitude is contagious. We couldn't have asked for a better tour guide and travel companion during our stay in Vietnam. We were continually impressed with the ease and comfort with which she communicates with people from shop owners to taxi drivers to her host family and church community. What a joy to be able to share in her life in Vietnam! | After church, we had lunch with her friend Will and two Vietnamese girls who were new to the church. We had a delicious meal of an assortment of typical Vietnamese food, all of which was quite tasty! | After lunch, we spent a lot of time wandering around the old quarter of Hanoi, bouncing in and out of shops and observing everything around us. | Family transport... | The lunch crew | There were so many shops that sold reprints of different works of art... | A typical vendor | There were so many women balancing these bad boys on their shoulders as they walked down the street
11: 11 | Maren took us to the only Catholic church in Hanoi and we were sweetly greeted by several children as they left the church. We stopped at a third floor cafe for refreshments and to plan the rest of our time in Hanoi. Will met back up with us and suggested we get fruit cups. These fruit cups were bonkers. A pint glass was filled with about five kinds of fruit and sweet and condensed milk (how can that taste good, right?). Then, you stir everything around with as much crushed ice as you can work into your glass before you eat it. So weird, but so tasty! | Also, most street food eateries involve you sitting on small plastic foot stools. The same stools in the next size larger sometimes serve as tables, while other times there are actual plastic tables that look like they would function for a little kid's picnic or tea party. Observe these gentlemen who ate dinner a little ways away from us later that night: | The next day, our first stop was to eat a breakfast of one of the most famous Vietnamese dishes: ph (pronounced like the sound the letter F makes when sounding out a word). It is basically chicken noodle soup, though each time we ate it, it contained thinly sliced beef. The best part, for me, was the abundance of cilantro in the soup. I began to crave this dish in the few short days we were in Vietnam. It was so tasty! | Next, we booked plane and train tickets for the rest of our time in Vietnam. The rest of the day was spent snagging souvenirs in the old quarter of Hanoi, recovering my luggage from the airport luggage delivery man (I was starting to get pretty anxious when my luggage hadn't arrived by the second afternoon of our stay!) and preparing for the next segment of our journey. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jill and Noelle take Vietnam by Storm with Maren's Guidance, of course. It's a doozy - trust me! | Typical street food setup - my legs did not fit under the tables... | These girls ate next to us and fought off a boy who was trying to flirt with them - nothing comes between them and their pho! | Pho! | Jill and Maren enjoy a meal seated on tiny stools, just like the Vietnamese! | A little group shot action...
12: 12 | Saturday, January 22, 2011 | Vietnam: Trekking in Sapa | We arrived in the northern Vietnam village of Sapa via a sleeper train after a nine (or so) hour overnight journey. After a hearty breakfast, we met up with our Black Hmong (the largest of the 54 minority groups in Vietnam) tour guide Su. Maren had gone on a trek with Su about two months ago and had a great time so Jill and I were eager for the new experience. | As Su purchased the food we would eat for the next two days, Jill, Maren and I got fitted with Hmong style leg warmers to keep our pants from getting muddy. They were well worth the $3 we paid for them as they saved us (and our pants) from serious discomfort later on. It's no wonder no Hmong woman leaves home without them :) | They answered our myriad of questions about their culture from marriage and birthing practices to family lifestyles, the ways of their handicrafts and whatever else we could think to ask. Each woman's hands were stained from the indigo used to dye their woven fabrics and they spent the entire trek stretching and separating long strands of hemp before weaving it around their worn hands. I asked one of the women what she was doing and to my surprise, she hauled out a piece of hemp, showed me how to stretch and separate it and wove it between my pinkie finger and thumb, smiling from ear to ear. We became fast friends. To add to our bond, she must have recognized my oaf-like tendencies as we hiked because any time it was even remotely slippery or I looked unsteady in the least, she would, with cat-like reflexes, reach for my hand and steady me. Several times, I was nervous that I would take her with me if I fell, but no such thing happened. I would say she held my hand about 45% of the trek and that is probably a modest estimate. I'm sure we were quite the sight. I towered over her, yet she was the one holding my hand, providing me with (at times, much needed) support. You just never know when or where you're going to connect with people. I never expected to gain a pseudo caretaker on this three hour trek, but that is exactly what I got. She was a gem. | Su - 28 years old - amazing tour guide, spunky personality, incredible person | After our leg warmer situation was taken care of, we began our trek. As we walked through the streets of Sapa, we gained quite a posse of Hmong women who were trying their best to peddle their wares. A big part of the Sapa City experience is enduring women of all ages asking where you're from, what your name is, etc., in order to make some sort of connection with you in hopes that this new connection will result in a sale. To some extent, it becomes a bit exhausting, but we managed to make the most of it. The three women that stuck with us for the entire trek were dears. | In the market in Sapa, sporting the Hmong style leg warmers with a new pal
13: 13 | Our trek lasted for about three hours. A dense fog had descended upon the area and never really lifted the first day. Though we weren't able to enjoy the picturesque views, the fog made for its own mysterious and oddly soothing beauty. We hiked through various terrains including a hard surface road, rickety bridges (see below), up sharp inclines and down steep paths through hard clay, rocks and slippery mud. We learned the reasoning behind most Hmong people being outfitted in rubber galoshes. I'll definitely add those to the packing list for next time! (By the end of the second day, my entire right foot was coated with mud. It looked like I had a chocolate covered foot attached to my body.) Also during the hike, we stopped for lunch at a tiny shack that cooks for trekkers. We had chicken omelets, laughing cow cheese (!!), tomato and cucumber slices on a baguette. Soo tasty! | My pal, showing me her ways | Though it became obvious that these women hoped to make some money from us as they hiked well out of their way with us, it was one of the best parts of the experience. One of the women was 23 years old, the same as Jill and me. It was mind blowing to consider the contrasts between our lives. Despite these vast differences, it was so refreshing and delightful to learn about our similarities. Talking with these women and later Su and Mai (our homestay host), I was reminded of just how small the world really is. Despite the many surface differences that are apparent to the naked eye, we are so much more similar that I would have ever thought to recognize. We have similar worries, triumphs, joys and pain. We met such strong, capable, amazing women on this two day journey and we built a beautiful bond with them in such a short time. | Jill and Maren with my pal on a super delicate bridge. I kept thinking of Romancing the Stone when parts of a bridge breaks off as they're crossing it... EEK! That didn't even come close to happening to us, but it would have made for a sweet story! | The dense fog - and my caretaker. Notice her holding my hand and imagine an hour and a half of this for her. She has strong arms underneath that hemp robe!
14: 14 | Both women are incredibly intelligent, both learning English through their exposure to tourists. They were so open to sharing their lives with us in such an incredible way. They made us feel right at home, building an awesome fire, cooking us delicious meals and talking for hours around the fire. Su took to calling each of us "Sister" for the rest of the trip. I'm not sure if this was because she couldn't remember our names or if we earned this term of endearment through our time spent together, but either way, we found it quite delightful and returned the sentiment often. Connecting with these women on a more complex level than can be expected was so special. It touched my heart in ways that are hard to describe. Listening to them talk to us about their way of life, their struggles and triumphs and seeing them smile and laugh reminded me of how simple life can be. This seems to be something we lose as we do so much to make life more complex than it needs to be. Maybe it's due to the differences in our upbringing, world view or culture, but it was mind blowing to experience. I later wondered if our experience was different than that of the average homestay participant. Do these women charm everyone or did we really connect with them on a deeper level? I guess it doesn't matter. What does matter is the experience we had and the bonds we created with these women and with each other. This was truly one of the most special (and unexpected!) experiences of my life. | Soon after lunch, we arrived to the village (Lao Chai Village, population 850 or so - my pal was baffled to hear that my hometown was not a whole lot bigger than their modest village!) where we would spend the night. We were taken to a school yard so my pal could introduce us to her painfully shy granddaughter and got to spend a few minutes playing with the adorable Hmong children. We spent the rest of the afternoon warming ourselves and our shoes by the fire inside the house, talking with Su and Mai. Mai is 28 years old and has three kids. When her husband died last year in a logging accident, she was forced to support her family on her own. With Su's sister Shu's help, she was able to get a loan to build a house in which to host homestays as often as Su can book them. | Rice paddies filled with water. If there was no fog, this view would go as far as the eye could see. Beautiful. Have I mentioned that I love Vietnam? | Su and Mai cooked us dinner and breakfast the next morning. The food they prepared was delicious and it was fun to share meals with them. Su and Mai cooked us dinner and breakfast the next morning. The food they prepared was delicious and it was fun to share meals with them.
15: 15 | The next morning Maren and I woke up around 8:00 to find Mai cooking us breakfast. Probably still recovering from jet lag (and, let's be honest, homegirl enjoys a good night's sleep!) Jill slept in until around 10:00 and woke up to sing song calls from Su of "Sister - Lazy! Lazy Sister!" For the rest of our time together, Su's sing song voice could be heard warning us of the slippery terrain ahead, urging us to be careful or just calling Jill lazy. Delightful. | The weather cleared for the second day, so we were able to fully enjoy the picturesque natural views. The hiking on the second day was crazy. Lots more mud resulting in many falls - on my part. By the end of the trek, Jill told me I should change my pants for the bus ride to the train station because it looked like I had had an accident. I had, just not the kind to which she was referring :) | Jill and Su warmed their hands while demonstrating what I now refer to as the Asian squat. Everyone squats here and in Vietnam too. The physics of such a bodily position are beyond me, but it is ingrained in them early on. Ever Mai's two year old daughter had perfected her squat! | This little buddy greeted us outside the house's window along with two other "buffalo" | Maren with Mai and her daughter. The blanket Maren is holding was hand stitched by Mai | Su and me - she's pint sized! | A view of Lao Chai village from our homestay | Hiking with our pal Sister | One of my favorite pictures from the trip - these girls were adorable
16: 16 | At one point, Su took us to her house to introduce us to her children. It was so special to be able to meet her family and play with them. Because their father was at work logging and Su was giving us a tour, her ten year old son was placed in charge of the whole brood. It seems Hmong children are forced to grow up much faster than western cultures are generally accustomed. This ten year old was in charge of his eight year old sister, six year old brother and four and a half year old brother, often times overnight. This blew my mind. Clearly, he was capable of such a task and will grow into an even more responsible, kind caretaker than he already is, but can you imagine placing your family in the care of a ten year old? It was refreshing to watch these kids play. When we arrived, the eldest son was meticulously whittling a top. The younger boys cleverly constructed a hammock out of a rice sack and a cell phone charger. When it broke, resulting in them falling from their contraption, there were no tears, just belly laughing at how fun it was to fly, even just the briefest of moments. When the hammock lost its appeal, they constructed makeshift bows and arrows from a cornstalk and string. Not only was this idea adorable, but they worked pretty well too. Between these two feats of ingenuity, Jill captured some amazing portraits of concentration, determination and pure and unabated joy. The irony of the situation was when Su emerged from their home to ask where her children were. They had run somewhere and we didn't know where they were. Unconcerned, Su replied, "Oh well. They're probably watching the t.v. at the neighbors." HA! I guess kids are more similar across cultures than I thought! | Su's eldest son perfecting his top | Some bow and arrow action, corn stalk style | Enjoying the hammock in all its glory
17: 17 | the most beautiful scenery in which I have found myself with some of the most amazing and delightful women with whom I have had the pleasure of spending time, doesn't mean I am regretful. In fact, as we descended on the small clearing with a homestay destination that marked the end of our trek and more important to me, our lunch break, I was so glad that we signed up for this experience. After all, in life, some of the experiences that are the most worthwhile are things you never saw yourself doing in the first place. | The whole group - what a wild ride we took in Sapa! | Traversing the rim of a rice paddy, trying not to fall backward into the water filled pool of mud and muck. Of course Su held my hand - this became a standard practice | Miss Maren and me - I am so thankful to have shared with experience with you, pal! (And Jill too... I guess :) ) | The rest of the trek was spent (on my part) desperately trying to stay upright. I took such careful steps, so as not to fall down, that I fell quite behind the rest of the group. They were patient with me though and by the end of the hike, I would be lying if I said I was disappointed that we weren't doing more hiking. I don't know how, but I often end up doing activities that I never saw myself doing. Several hour treks through mud falls into this category. However, just because I never saw myself accomplishing such a feat surrounded by some of
18: 18 | I am so lazy and for that, I apologize. Here's the third and final post about our Vietnamese escapades, then I'll move on to Jill's time in Korea. Since Winter Camp finished, I've had two weeks off with no plans, thus little about which to blog... I teach next week and then have two more weeks off for Spring Break before the new semester / school year starts. The amount of time I get off is almost embarrassing to admit. Almost. Anyway, back to Vietnam: After a very reluctant goodbye to Su, we boarded a van to take us to the train station. We had some time to kill before our train left so we walked around looking for a suitable (read: warm) restaurant. We walked into a place that had literally just opened a few days before. It felt cold and we were reluctant to stay when a European couple eating there assured us it was good and safe. They had eaten there for lunch the day before and when they hadn't gotten sick from the food, they kept coming back. This night was their third trip back to the same restaurant. I was appreciative for the advice but I was a little baffled that they were being pretty adventurous in visiting Vietnam, but refused to eat anywhere but this one restaurant. To each their own, I guess... The restaurant turned out to be pretty legit except for one thing. They seemed to have a one song playlist of their favorite Kenny G song and they played it over and over and over again. Jill gave serious thought to playing d.j. and changing the song since the laptop was sitting, unmanned, at the next table, but it never happened and we endured the saxophone stylings of Kenny G for a few songs more. That song will never be the same... We arrived back in Hanoi at about 5:30 the next morning and went back to Maren's room to shower, regroup and pack for our next adventure. Around noon, we flew to Da Non, a city in the south that was important during the American War (as the Vietnamese call it). Who were we kidding though? We weren't in that part of the country to visit war related sites. We were there to shop! We didn't waste any time getting ourselves a taxi to Hoi An, a city about 20 minutes away that is known for its myriad of tailors and custom made clothing at cheap prices. Since it's fairly difficult to find clothes here that properly fit me, aside from the occasional weird fitting sweatshirt with incorrect or amusing English phrasing and American style clothes from Forever 21, I was pretty excited to add a few pieces to my wardrobe. So, basically, our time in Hoi An consisted of walking through the streets and wandering into any shops that caught our eye. Once you've walked into a shop and show a suitable amount of interest in a certain example piece or a fabric, the shop worker approaches you to talk about what you want to have made. Once you agree on a price (most of the time, they start out at a higher price and you are expected to barter down), they take your measurements and choices in fabric, piping, stitching, etc., until you've worked out all of the details for whatever it is you're having made. This is where it gets dangerous. By the time you've a discussed your piece at length, you have an idea in your head as to what it will look like and how it will fit you. Since it's being custom tailored to your body, you have every expectation for a perfect, flattering fit. With this idealistic picture in your mind, you gladly plunk down the 45-50% deposit and agree on a time to come back when your garment will be finished, or at least ready for the initial fitting. Some things we had more luck with than others... | Vietnam: Hoi An - Coats, Dresses and Shoes- Holy Cow! | Wednesday, February 2, 2011
19: 19 | A typical tailor shop... many ideas from which to take inspiration | For example, my coat was perfect the first time, but I attribute that to my request for extra room since I have a habit of wearing at least three layers at all times and I have little to no shape to my body. I had pants made that took two fittings and a dress that took three and was down to the wire for when we had to leave town to catch our plane back to Hanoi. Jill and Maren had similar experiences of triumph and frustration. We discovered just how different our bodies are from Vietnamese bodies with their subtle mistakes in tailoring... What is really crazy to me is how this whole process works from design to delivery; The customer makes an order with the shop worker. That shop worker takes extensive notes as to the details of the order. They have several couriers that ride motorbikes between the shop and where the tailors actually work. The garment is constructed off site somewhere, often overnight. The next day, your garment is delivered back to the shop. You try it on and the shop worker makes alteration marks (x's and dashes) on the garment with colored chalk. No notes taken. Then, the garment gets sent back to the actual tailor. So, the customer has no direct contact with the person who is actually constructing and making alterations to the garment. They never see first hand the form for which they are making this garment and rely solely on the measurements taken by the shop worker. And, seemingly miraculously, many of the garments turn out well, albeit after several go between trips for alterations. They've obviously got this business down to a science and almost a month later, it continues to baffle me. Jill and I had leather boots made and I literally told the shop worker that they were a little loose. That's it. Just a little loose. No measurements, no feeling where my foot was in the shoe. The next day, I tried them on again and they were perfect. I do not understand. | Hoi An - so colorful, in more ways than one... | When we weren't talking to tailors, we enjoyed the city. There is a small body of water that runs through the town where you can hire old ladies to paddle you around in small canoes. We figured the only way to do this right was if we wore rice hats at the same time. Our time in Hoi An was the only time it rained during the whole trip, which, in my book, was super lucky. I would have been miserable in Sapa if it had rained! So, each day in Hoi An, it rained in varying degrees of intensity. The day we took the boat ride, it was raining fairly hard. My moccasins turned my feet brown from the water if that tells you anything... Behold, our boat experience. | Our sea-faring captain. She kept touching my shoulder and telling me I was beautiful. She won my vote for best boat captain... | The whole group in our hats. In another picture that was taken, the boat lady put her hand under my chin. I do not know why. | Jilly enjoying the boat ride... and the rain.
20: 20 | We enjoyed some delightful meals in Hoi An as well. Between being fatigued from our shopping excursions, braving the rain and being hungry, some pretty random things happened while we were eating. We also shared some great conversations and funny stories. I will treasure those meals for many moons. | Above: Two examples of our dining situations. Left: Vietnamese coffee. The coffee cup houses the sweetened and condensed milk and the coffee sits in the metal contraption above the cup. The coffee slowly drips through holes in the metal deal until your coffee has brewed. The whole process take about 10 minutes. Amazing. Right: Jill ordered coconut juice. I thought it would come out in a glass just like all of the other juices we had ordered over the course of the trip. When the waitress came out carrying this huge coconut, I lost my cool. I laughed really loud and for a long time, causing an unnecessary scene. The wait staff seemed to get a kick out it though, so I guess no harm, no foul. Maybe you had to be there... Jill also spent a pretty good amount of time taking artsy shots of the various colors, people and random objects found on the streets of Hoi An. Some examples of her fine work:
21: 21 | After lunch one day, a lady approached us and offered to take a picture with us if we paid her the rough equivalent of $0.10. Jill was all about it and definitely got our money's worth, shooting about five pictures in rapid succession. The lady threw in a complimentary rain poncho at the end, which was a good thing because Jill forgot her umbrella at the hotel the day it rained extra hard. | Funny story: I had two button down shirts made at a shop. I happened to have been wearing my favorite button down shirt that day and the lady thought it fit me well and offered to make my new shirts exact copies of the shirt I was wearing. This sounded like a splendid idea to me so I gave her my shirt to take to the tailor. She gave me the shirt I am sporting in the photo above to wear while my original shirt was otherwise occupied. The shirt I gave them was white with a blue pinstripe. The shirt I borrowed was white with blue and red pinstripes. Throughout the day, I got several compliments on the shirt I borrowed from several random Vietnamese people. Apparently, a red pinstripe really flatters me... | Our picture and poncho pal | A little group photo action... | Obligatory jumping photo - our favorite pose! It only took about six tries to get this right... and two different Vietnamese shop workers to take it...
22: 22 | Jill has started a custom of buying a painting from wherever her visits take her and Vietnam was no exception. One night, we were wandering around the streets and we came upon this shop with many amazing pieces of art. It turned out that it was owned by the cutest old man ever and all the paintings in the shop were done by him. Maren talked to him and found out that he was a soldier in the American War with the Southern Vietnamese army. We loved him and each bought a piece from him. This proved to me how much more full an experience can be when you know the local language. So cool! By the time we left with our paintings in tow, the man was smiling from ear to ear at the sales he made in a matter of 15 minutes. I guess we made each others' night. | Our favorite shop worker - we spent so much time in her shop waiting for alterations to be made that she started teaching Jill Vietnamese! | My favorite group photo from the whole trip! | Our artist pal and one of his beautiful creations
23: 23 | By the end of the three days we spent in Hoi An, we were all exhausted. Evidence: | Thus ended our Vietnamese adventure. What a beautiful time we had. It was so great to be able to share such an exciting and unexpected experience with Jill and Maren. So many marvelous memories were made in such a short period, memories that I will cherish for a long, long time to come with two of the best travel pals for which a gal could hope! | Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. – Cesare Pavese
24: 24 | Jill's visit to Korea was so epic (or maybe my writing about it is so long winded :) ) that it warrants three separate posts - here's the first one. We got back to Seoul after a smooth-ish flight situation (nothing happened that made us miss flights and we received all of our luggage, so I chalk it up to success!). To make a long, boring story short, I would advise my dear readers to avoid flying through China, unless, of course, you are visiting China, in which case you wouldn't encounter the problems we did. By the time we got through customs and claimed our baggage, it was about 10 pm. This didn't worry me, since it doesn't seem too late, right? Wrong. We missed the last bus back to Gwangju. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been that big of deal, but we had to be at school the next day at 11 am and the last thing I wanted to do was sleep in an airport to catch a 6 am bus. Instead, we opted for a taxi. It cost more than I'm willing to admit, but it was totally worth it when you factor in the comfort of being home, the curbside drop off and the travel time that was cut in half. Here is a break down of what our week consisted, minus Winter Camp which warrants its own post: Monday: We were tuckered out from our trip, travels and teaching so we decided to take it easy. We went to E-Mart to visit my duk boki pals for dinner. We split an order of duk boki and Jill also saw a skewer of vegetable, rice cake and what I'll call sausage, though I'm pretty sure it was not in fact sausage. This skewer was bathing in a very spicy sauce, but we weren't afraid. We weren't afraid, that is, until we took a bite from the skewer. That is the first time since I've been in Korea that I felt as though I was a fire breathing dragon. Wowza. The rest of the evening was spent shopping for food at E-Mart since my cupboards were bare and watching movies. Tuesday: Jonah (Dionne's son who helped at Winter Camp) is an avid photographer, so Jill and Jonah talked shop during the school day. Jonah told Jill about a camera lens he found in the famed Yongsan Electronics Market for real cheap. Jill's ears perked up at the sound of acquiring cheap camera equipment, so we set off for some deals. I had never been there before so I had no idea where we were going once we got to the area of town. Jonah gave Jill directions, but we got confused and just ended up wandering around. This market is huge, as in, 20 buildings housing over 5,000 shops. Jill had decided before we got there that she probably wouldn't purchase anything so our adventure became a night of wandering aimlessly, taking in Jill's first taste of Seoul. We stumbled upon a street of bootleg dvd tents and bought five dvds for roughly $7.50. Not too shabby. We had a very Korean dinner of soup and sides before coming home to watch our movies. Wednesday: We ventured to Gangnam so Jill could experience the famed fish pedicure. We sipped our obligatory lattes while we tried to plan our weekend adventure. As this was my first hot drink at the Dr. Fish Cafe, I was pleasantly surprised to find their affinity for latte art! All I could master in my days as a barista was an ill-fated accidental heart, so these works of art were particularly impressive to me. | Saturday, February 5, 2011 | Jill in Korea Vol. 1: Monday - Friday
25: 25 | After our lattes, we headed over to the fish tanks. Since I've blogged extensively about fish pedicures in the past (see: here and here), I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Let's just say, Jill is a giggler. | After the fish finished their business (Jill could honestly feel a difference :) ) and we did a little bit of shopping, we stopped for dinner. We went to a place that looked really busy, which is an indicator that it serves good food. We sat down and tried to order what we thought everyone else had, which looked really good. After perusing the menu, we made what we thought was a delightful choice. We also ordered beer. Since I don't drink that often, I forgot that the beer here is served in huge bottles that usually serve two or three people. We ordered two bottles. We got a funny look from the waitress, but she brought out two bottles nonetheless. When she arrived at our table, she had another kid with her. They saw the look on our faces when we saw the size of the beer bottles, had a quick discussion between them and took one of the bottles away as they opened the other one. Many minutes later, after many other customers who were seated after us had been served, we still hadn't received our food. We soon understood why. In Korea, many restaurants make their specialty dish in very large quantities so that they can serve it pretty much on demand. Apparently, not only had we failed to order what everyone else was eating, but we also managed to order a dish that they don't often make because they actually had to cook our meal rather than merely dish it up like that of what everyone else had ordered. Oops. Whatever it was that we ordered (stir fried veggies, spam (!) and other meat...probably pork) was not a hot commodity, but it sure did taste good! Next, we hit up my favorite dessert cafe. We ordered some sort of cheesecake ice cream and a piece of cake to share. What we received was definitely not cheesecake flavored, but rather some sort of chocolate fudge situation. We decided not to make a fuss and just eat it. A few minutes later, the server guy came over with our cheesecake ice cream in tow. He assured us that the chocolate ice cream was merely a sample. Sure it was, buddy. :)
26: 26 | On the way back to the subway station, we decided to try out one of the media poles that are stationed every hundred feet or so. These are the poles that give directions, news and weather reports and take pictures that can then be e-mailed to those who partake. Of course, we did. | E-mailing our picture to Jill... | Thursday: Since we had a very big weekend planned, we decided to stay in Gwangju Thursday afternoon and night. We made a trip to the post office because we both had letters to mail and then we walked around the market and random side streets. We happened upon what is now my favorite Gwangju cafe, a small, trendy hole in the wall called Brown Story that sells organic coffee, makes delightful lattes and serves lemon water. I'm in love. On the way to the post office, we had run in to my friend Tara and invited her and her fiance Joe to join us for dinner at our favorite shabu shabu restaurant. Tara and Joe are planning to spend some time volunteering in Chile before starting a tour business in New Zealand. Since Jill studied in Chile for six months, it was a perfect time for them to chat. We had a great dinner with great conversation. | The shabu shabu spread | Friday: That morning before camp, we booked beds in the Yellow Submarine Seoul Guesthouse 2.0, a hostel in a neighborhood known for its nightlife. While there were several hostels in the neighborhood, I've always been a sucker for a good gimmick, thus making the Yellow Submarine the obvious choice. We chose correctly. About a 10 minute walk from the subway, it was in a quiet area, but close to everything we needed. I highly recommend it! Anyway, once we dropped our stuff off at the Yellow Submarine, we hopped back on the subway to meet Diane and Maria in Myeongdong. Before we met Diane, Maria, Jill and I grabbed some street food to tie us over until after the show we were about to see. | Jill ate a corndog that was fried with french fries in the batter. Awesome. | Duk boki (for Maria) and a plate of cabbage and mandu (for me). Amazing.
27: 27 | We had plans to attend the famed NANTA! show. (NANTA! is similar to Stomp!, but uses cooking utensils instead of industrial materials.) It also involved audience participation. In addition to claps, cheering and stomping, twice during the show, the cast came out to the audience to choose people to come do things on stage. At one such point during the show, I was chosen to come up on stage along with an older man to try the soup they had just concocted. Since the plot of the show is that the cooks are preparing food for a wedding banquet, they use these two people as the couple for whose wedding they are preparing the meal. At the end of our time on stage, they made us walk arm in arm downstage while they threw rice at us. Jill illegally took pictures of this monstrosity: veries and simple pleasures came my way, and I'm not turning them away. | As the show ended, they projected our picture on a large screen at the back of the stage. As we walked out of the theater, I was handed a keepsake photo of my onstage experience. Delightful. The show itself was quite fun and entertaining! We really enjoyed it! Our final stop for the night was dinner. We enjoyed a dinner of chicken galbi which is chicken, vegetables and rice cakes all stir fried with some spicy sauce. Then, they fry rice once the rest of the food is gone. So good! We made plans for the next night before we parted ways with Maria. We called it an early night because we had to be at the USO at 7:00 am sharp for our tour of the DMZ. Stay tuned for the rest of the story... | eating soup with my new husband :) | Jill and Diane imitating Korean picture taking culture | The whole group
28: 28 | Diane, Jill and I awoke at the ripe time of 5:20 am in order to ensure that we left the hostel promptly at 6 am so as to arrive at the USO by 7:00. We arrived to the USO right on time after wandering around looking for a place to buy breakfast. They are very strict about providing the correct documents in order to partake in the tour (you MUST present either a passport or valid military i.d.) and one guy from the group in front of us was unable to board the bus because he didn't bring his passport. They don't mess around on this tour. There's even a dress code! The bus ride from the USO in Seoul to the DMZ was about an hour and a half. The DMZ tour is comprised of several components. First, we arrived at Camp Bonifas which is the United Nations Command post (it was known as Camp Kitty Hawk and Camp Liberty Bell before it was renamed in 1986 to commemorate a captain killed in a now infamous ax murder on the part of North Korean soldiers). Upon arrival at Camp Bonifas, we were joined by an American soldier who would serve as our tour guide for the first half or so of the tour. He was really intense, and rightfully so given the circumstances, but his lack of emotion and his cold demeanor took a little getting used to, especially given the bubbly personality of our USO tour guide. We were made to sign an agreement that we wouldn't talk to, gesture toward or engage in any sort of verbal or non verbal communication with any North Korean soldiers or even in the direction of North Korea. We were also under strict orders not to take pictures unless we were specifically told it was allowed. Once we had all signed the agreement, we sat through a 20 minute presentation explaining the events that established the DMZ and the reasons for the present day high security environment of Camp Bonifas. Following the presentation, we were taken to the Joint Security Area (JSA). This area is where the Armistice Agreement of 1953 (the agreement that ended the war in a ceasefire) is enforced by both sides. There are two big gorgeous buildings on either side of four blue buildings that are divided in half by small cement slabs. The cement slabs mark the border between North and South Korean territory at the JSA. As we stood outside the South Korean side looking across to the North Korean building, we were informed that this was the critical time not to make any gestures of any kind toward North Korea. Why? Because we were being filmed and photographed by North Korea in an attempt to score some propaganda or to capture footage of someone important who may or may not be part of our tour group. It was eerie to be aware that we were being photographed simply because we were standing on a specific side of a cement slab. There was a lone soldier standing guard outside the North Korean building across the way and I couldn't help but wonder if he believed in what he was doing and what his country and government stand for or if he secretly wished he could be on the other side. North Korean men are made to serve 10 years in the military while women serve four years (if I remember correctly...). It's so strange to think about how backwards North Korea seems and how together South Korea is given their close proximity and mutually nightmarish past. After a spiel about the buildings between the two larger buildings and the antics of North Korean soldiers, we were ushered into one of the blue buildings. This building is where officials from North and South Korea and different members of the U.N. coalition have negotiation talks. This is also where tourists are able to step foot into North Korean territory. This room is under especially tight security since it is accessible to both sides. In the building with us were three South Korean soldiers who were at the ready to rip someone's head off at any sign of necessity. They were real intense dudes and we were told we could take pictures with / of them but under no circumstances were we to touch them. Pretty intense stuff. | Sunday, February 6, 2011 | Jill in Korea - Vol. 2: DMZ-ing, Hongdae-ing, Jimjilbang-ing
29: 29 | For the remainder of the tour, we were shuttled around on a bus with the American soldier pointing out and explaining points of interest and the stories behind them. We went to two different lookout points where we could see North Korea, their propaganda village and a factory compound. We also drove past the Bridge of No Return which is the sight of a POW exchange following the 1953 armistice agreement where soldiers from both sides were brought to the bridge and told to choose on which side of the bridge they wanted to live. The catch was that they were never allowed to change their mind and return to the other side, hence the name of the bridge. In an instant, these soldiers were made to choose whether they wanted to return to their families in the north and a guarantee of life under a repressive government or if they wanted to live in a free, probably prosperous nation, but never see their family again. That's a pretty loaded decision to be making. | After we parted ways with our soldier guide, our USO guide took us to another spot of interest. North Korea dug several tunnels into South Korea so that in the event of a North Korean invasion, several thousand troops would be able to secretly access South Korea in a matter of hours. Four such tunnels have been discovered and there are rumored to be about 17 in total. One of the tunnels has been excavated so that tourists can go inside and explore it, seeing for themselves how it would work for North Korean soldiers to venture through to the South. We were given helmets and walked at a steep incline for the distance of a 20 story building laid on its side. Once we reached the tunnel, we had to hunch our backs to keep from hitting our heads on the rock ceiling. The tunnel went on for quite a while and at the end of the point to which tourists have access, we were able to look through a small peephole to North Korean territory. The endpoint of our access to the tunnel was clearly marked with barbed wire, signs and a surveillance camera. The area to which we were able to walk was only one third of the length of the tunnel. The second third is filled with live land mines to discourage any North Koreans from putting the tunnel to use. Yowza. On the way into and out of the tunnel, Jill wondered aloud why we had to wear helmets. Just as she made her remark, my back started to get a little tight, so I straightened it out as much as I could without being able to fully stand up. Almost instantaneously after she uttered her comment, a nasty noise could be heard: the sound of contact between the rock ceiling and my helmet. I hit my head at least 10 times throughout the course of the tunnel hike. I now have a deep appreciation for those helmets. | That small sidewalk halfway between that patch of snow is what separates North and South Korea at this particular area | The North Korean soldier - I wish I knew what he thought about all day... | South Korean soldier inside the negotiation room | The Bridge of No Return | North Korea - If you look at a picture of the DMZ and the surrounding area of a couple of km radius, you can distinctly tell where the line is because of the difference in lush plants and trees. It's mind blowing.
30: 30 | Jill pointed out to us that many Americans hold the same sentiment when dealing with problems on the home front - poverty, hunger, welfare, etc., but only the boldest people are willing to admit their gut instinct for not wanting to tackle issues - they don't think it's their responsibility to pay for it. No one really wants to admit that they don't want to pay for other people to live better lives. It doesn't sound politically correct and while there are plenty of people who could care less about being PC, there are also plenty of people who bend over backwards to remain PC at all times. Rarely do you hear Koreans say something that isn't PC. And yet, this young woman said, without batting an eyebrow, that it wasn't her deal. The next Monday at school, my principal and I were talking about our trip to the DMZ and she and I had a fascinating two minute conversation about the situation. She said she would love to see reunification but it's not that easy. Many more resources, manpower and development go into reunification than simply breaking down the border and throwing some money to the North. What would reunification mean for Korea in the short term as well as the long term? Would they lose footing on the world stage because they would have to (to some extent) change their focus from production to rebuilding? Would it be worth the inevitable sacrifices? If you want to enter into a perplexing conversation, ask a Korean their feelings on reunification. It's astounding stuff. After a quick lunch, we made a trip to the optimist side of the reunification situation: a train station that is all set to function once the border between the two Koreas is open. This train station is fully functioning and would open up travel not only all over the Korean peninsula but also between Europe and Asia. The only thing it needs is for North Korea to be open. It's bonkers to me that they would build such an expensive symbol of optimism. It just illustrates the paradox between the pro and con arguments for reunification. Despite the logical and practical arguments for reunification, of course the ultimate goal is to reunite, no matter the cost. After a rather intense afternoon of mind boggling political issues, we did a little shopping for our night on the town in Hongdae (a neighborhood in Seoul that is a popular nightlife destination for Koreans and foreigners alike, also the same neighborhood as our hostel). Diane had not originally planned to go out with us after the DMZ, but after some persuasive arguments, Jill convinced her that she should stay in town and go out with us. Maria would also be joining us and none of us had properly packed for a clubbing situation, so we hit up our old standby, Forever 21, for some appropriate attire. After a delightful time getting ready to go out, including a raucous photo shoot, we left the hostel at almost 11:00 in search of a hearty dinner. | There are still land mines strewn about in the DMZ | Following our emergence from the tunnel, Jill asked our USO tour guide, a Korean college student, what her opinion was on the subject of reunification between the North and South. Her answer was a bit astounding. Basically, she said that of course in a perfect world, everyone wants reunification. But, reunification isn't just that easy. When you take two areas of similar geographic area, one that is underdeveloped, poverty stricken and barren, and one that is industrialized, modern and quite prosperous, it becomes the responsibility of the South to build up the North. Our tour guide said that while reunification sounds like a nice idea in theory, she wasn't so sure she wanted to foot the bill. What we found so interesting about this response was her pure honesty. | Watch out Hongdae - four ladies on the prowl...
31: 31 | We arrived at our restaurant of choice, ordered our food and drinks and had an awesome dinner - full of laughs, meaningful toasts, good food and bonding with the restaurateur. By the end of the meal, we were ready to move the party to a noraebong (Korean style karaoke where each group has their own private room rather than singing in front of the whole bar - quite popular with all ages). We still had half a bottle of soju on our hands so we decided to share with the handsome Korean gentlemen at the table next to us. We all took the shot in unison and they thanked us from afar, showing little interest in talking to us. Satisfied with our bold move and delicious meal, we asked our server where we could find the nearest noraebong. We smuggled our own makgali (Korean rice wine - super smooth and very low alcohol content) into the noraebong and got down to business singing and having a merry time. Within 10 minutes, there was a knock on the door. We were surprised to see the three men from the restaurant standing outside the door to our noraebong room. We still aren't sure how they found us, but we weren't too concerned about that. We invited them in and, despite the language barrier, had a good time singing and talking. We found out they were tattoo artists (what are the odds? Many Koreans still find tattoos distasteful and until the last couple of years, the only place in which to get a tattoo was at a doctor's office or an army base - oh times, they are a changin'!). After a sincere inquiry as to how much her desired tattoo would cost, one of the guys offered to give Maria a tattoo - FOR FREE. We were all astounded at this generous offer, as were the other two guys and we made him sign several pieces of paper vouching that he was serious about his promise and would make good on the offer later. We also took a picture for Maria to use as reminder when she went in for the tattoo. Once our time at the noraebong was over, they took us to a couple of clubs. We had a good time dancing and taking in the Hongdae nightlife experience. We awoke the next morning (read: afternoon) and recounted the evening. We were still baffled that we so randomly met Korean tattoo artists and had such a good time with them. Maria was quite serious about getting this free tattoo so Jill and I set out with her in search of the shop so she could remind them of their agreement. After much rigmarole, we were greeted by one of the guys and led to their shop. They did indeed remember their agreement with Maria and there are plans in the works to make good on their promise. No worries, Mom and Dad - no new tattoos for this kid, though after seeing their work, I am confident that they would do a good job. :) | Jill and our new Korean pals... | Proof.
32: 32 | Jill and I had a pretty low key Sunday, ordering pizza, recounting our weekend and hanging out. The next day was Jill's last day in Korea as she was due to fly out on Tuesday. We decided to spend her last night in Korea experiencing one of the most Korean things a foreigner can do - a trip to the public bath. We met Maria and set out for a jimjilbang (the Korean term for public bath) that Hyunjoo had recommended to me. We walked in to the building and were greeted by Koreans of all ages. For a Monday night, I was surprised to see how busy the place was. We paid 8,000 won (a little more than $5), were given our jimjilbang outfits (matching orange shirts and shorts - the biggest size they offered since we're foreigners) and instructed to put our shoes in provided lockers. We were escorted up to the second floor because we obviously had no idea where to go and were shown the layout. The second floor was the women's bath and changing area. This is where we disrobed, took the preliminary shower and took a nice long soak in one of several hot tubs set to varying temperatures. Did I mention that this is all done stark naked? I was surprised at how comfortable I was in a sea of naked Korean women. It had been awhile since using public showers in high school, but that was what it felt like, with four hot tubs and a sauna thrown in... All around us, friends were talking as if they were in a coffee shop, mothers were washing the backs of their daughters and old ladies walked around like they owned the place. As odd as it may sound, it was a beautiful environment. Koreans are not as outwardly affectionate with their children as many Americans seem to be, but seeing mothers and daughters of all ages bathing each other was a more intimate look into the intricacies of Korean culture. It wasn't uncomfortable as I had worried it might be. It seems so natural that people would enjoy a trip to the spa with their family and friends. Not only did a soak in the hot tubs refresh us at our long night on the town, but it was awesome (and not in the generic overused-by-teenagers sense of the word) to experience this beautifully intimate portrait of Korean life. The beauty didn't stop there. The third floor was comprised of about six saunas, all set to different temperatures and with different minerals present. (The other floors housed the men's bath area, a restaurant and an outdoor pool that was obviously closed due to the currently frigid climate.) Since the sauna floor was co-ed, we wore our provided outfits. As soon as we entered the sauna floor, a couple of old men expressed their positive impressions of our bravery in attending a jimjilbang and our ability to withstand the heat of the saunas. Despite our language barriers, they were obviously impressed by our presence in the sauna and our unabashed willingness to talk to them. Oh Korea. We spent a good amount of time in each of the saunas, including one that was set so high that not only did you need a mat with which to sit in it, but there was also a woman stationed at the door to open and close it for the people entering and leaving that particular sauna. It was in this sauna that Maria saw one of her students. Her student was so embarrassed to have seen Maria in a jimjilbang (that had been one of my major concerns - running into a student or teacher on the second floor! EEK!) but both Maria and the girl's mom assured her that is was no big deal. We also spent some time in the common area between the saunas which included a snack bar, nooks for sleeping and an area in the middle for lazing about reading, talking or looking deep into the eyes of your significant other. It was fun to observe the family dynamics present in this common area (and the saunas) as well as the ways teenage couples interacted with each other. After feeling appropriately cleansed (I haven't sweat that much in a REAL long time!), we took one last shower and dip in the hot tubs before emerging from the jimjilbang with a new lease on life, and new insight into Korean culture.
33: 33 | Monday, February 7, 2011 | Jill in Korea Vol. 3: Winter Camp | It is 1:37 pm on Monday. This is my first real day at school since December. I taught one class today (and by taught, I mean helped facilitate a game with Dionne to a group of 36 giddy second graders). 'Twas delightful. This week is the last week of the school year and thus, shortened days for the students, no expectations in the classroom except laid back fun and no extras. This leaves me lots of time. If I were in the business of planning ahead, this would be the perfect time to plan my lessons for the ensuing school year. But, we all know that's not my style, so instead I'm spending my time reading blogs, catching up on happenings at home via Facebook and e-mails, reading the pile of snail mail that was delivered to my desk after lunch, and drinking tea from a borrowed paper cup since I forgot my tumbler at home. What a life I lead. Behold - the last of the catch-up blogs, which also (sadly) means the last of the awesome photo documentary a la Jill (I'll try to be better, I pinkie swear!): Since the bulk of what I do here is teaching, that was what I was most excited to share with Jill. I was excited to show her around the school. have her meet my co-workers and experience firsthand my purpose in this country. Jill was a more than willing participant and she fit right in. Everyone loved her! Before school each day, Chan Yang ordered lunch for delivery at the school. This was perfect because not only did it give Jill a chance to try several different types of Korean food, but it was free! It was fun to share a daily meal with Jonah, Mr. Shin and Chan Yang. All of the students who attended our two week Winter Camp were new students to us and will be some of the incoming first year students. We tried to create a fun environment for them and I think they enjoyed themselves... The first day was spent creating name tags and playing ice breakers like Two Truths and a Lie and untangling a human knot. One girl sat next to Jill and told her all about her pet hamster. They were fast pals. The next day was devoted to teaching (read: reviewing, since these girls seemed to be ahead of the curve) past tense and playing a quick game of Pass the Paper. Wednesday was present tense day. The girls created personal ads, as did Jill and I. I should have written down some of the posters' contents - they were adorable. The next day was future tense and we tried to play the famed elementary bus game of M.A.S.H. to predict their futures, but it didn't work out quite like I had hoped... Oh well. Much of this camp was trial and error with little time to fix the things that didn't work out well...
34: 34 | The last day of the week, we played a revised version of the BOMB game and baked chocolate chip cookies. I measured out the ingredients and they mixed the dough. It was fun to watch the girls cook. Unfortunately, our toaster oven situation proved disastrous given my oven's apparent and surprising inability to bake a proper cookie. Almost immediately upon inserting the cookies into the oven, it produced billows of smoke, a foul smell and instantaneously burnt (albeit gooey and delicious) cookie dough. Rats. Despite my oven's malfunction, Dionne's oven prevailed and slowly produced enough cookies for each students to enjoy one. Jill and I tried to teach Chan Yang the wonders of eating cookie dough. He was not a convert. As I poured the horrid amount of sugar into the girls' bowls for them to mix, Chan Yang explained that we were making American Style cookies. That distinction didn't stop Jill and I from ingesting cookie dough at any possible moment. That is, after all, the best part of baking cookies, in my humble opinion. | Jill's last day of camp was Monday. We had the girls create their own categories for Charades and spent the remainder of the class time playing Charades. The girls were pretty good and really creative. It was fun to watch them forced out of their comfort zone. Once each of the girls had a chance to act out the contents of their card, each of the teachers took a turn, including Chan Yang. Awesome. | The girls were sad to hear that Jill would be leaving and I'm sure she will be the topic of many a question at the beginning of the new school year. At the end of the day, the principal (who had come to school that day for this express purpose only) invited us into her office for tea, cookies and a chat. She was so appreciative of Jill spending time at our school and extended an invitation for her to return anytime. Then, to all of our amazement, she, the vice principal and Mr. Shin presented Jill with gifts of appreciation, including our school's clock (which was also given to all of the teachers as a Christmas gift) and a beautiful handmade traditional Korean mirror. Jill was taken quite by surprise. | These two were a hoot. | My, what diligent listening skills they are displaying... | Giggling during the Bomb game later in the week. These girls were such sweeties! | Cutting chocolate for our cookies
35: 35 | The girls were sad the next day at camp when they realized Jill really wasn't coming back, but they soldiered on. The rest of the week was pretty no big deal...until Friday. We created a list of challenges for the girls to complete, some using English that they had learned over the week and others making the girls perform random tasks that Dionne and I thought would be fun (or at the very least funny). We had them put together puzzles made from pictures of Justin Bieber photo spreads from Tiger Beat magazine that Jill brought, sing songs, whistle with a mouthful of crackers, unwrap chocolate wearing oven mits, and tell stories using flashcards, among other things. My absolute favorite task was having them make another team a fruit salad with some pretty nasty condiments and then eating the salad that was concocted for them by another team. Some teams were ruthless, making their fruit salad super spicy with mustard, pepper paste and vinegar. Other teams were super sweet to each other, asking each other what they wanted in their salads. It was, surprisingly, a pretty true testament of their personalities and character. Winter Camp got me pretty jazzed for the upcoming school year. More than that, however, getting the chance to share this chunk of my life with Jill was pretty dang special and I'm so thankful that she would take time out to come to Korea to visit! Seriously, words cannot accurately describe how delightful it was to have her here! It was just the taste of home, kinship, pure joy and uncensored laughter that I had (unbeknownst to me) been craving. Thanks, again, for the magical time pal! | Chan Yang acting out his card while Dionne tries to figure out what he's doing with his hands | Tea in the Principal's office | Most of the campers and all of the teachers. I like to think a good time was had by all...
36: 36 | For some reason, (I think because I don't have a bedside lamp and I can't be bothered to walk to the lamp store to pick one out, nor can I be bothered to get out of my cozy warm nest to turn out the overhead light in my bedroom once I'm done reading for the night) I've started listening to NPR podcasts as I fall asleep at night. Lately, it's been Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me - The NPR News Quiz, which is, by the way, delightfully clever and amusing. Check it out. Anyway, Dick Van Dyke was on the particular episode to which I was listening last night and he sang the lyrics to the theme song of his longtime television show and those lyrics got me thinking. So you think that you've got trouble, Well trouble's a bubble. So tell ol' Mr. Trouble to get lost. Why not hold your head up high And stop cryin', Start tryin' And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. When you find the joy of living Is loving and giving. You'll be there when the winning dice are tossed. A smile is just a frown That's turned upside down. So, smile and that frown'll get lost. And, don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. Aren't those just the most splendid theme song lyrics? | Wednesday, February 9, 2011 | Words to Live By... And other musings.
37: 37 | Now for a whole slew of stream-of-consciousness style thoughts on a myriad of subjects: Either today or tomorrow, it will be announced which teachers will be selected to be homeroom teachers. I suspect this is the reasoning behind many of the male teachers gathering around my desk neighbor's desk and whispering new developments. It looks to me that they're gossiping like school girls and the sight warms my heart. We had fresh strawberries at lunch. They were sooo sweet and delicious. I hope I can find a friendly man selling bags of strawberries off the back of a flat bed truck so I can enjoy them at home. They're so spendy from the grocery store, and those back-of-the-truck produce men are much friendlier for my wallet. :) We just had church to wish the third graders well before graduation. This is the first time I've seen most of them since December. I should preface this by saying that my school prohibits the girls from altering their appearance in any way (no makeup, jewelry (except watches), and no hair dye). In true rebellious teenager fashion, many of them decided to stick it to the man. Instead of coming to their last day of school drunk or hungover like many of my high school classmates, they did the most drastic thing it seems Korean culture allows - dying your hair orange, gold (in an attempt to achieve California blond, I suspect), kool-aid red, etc. Dionne hit the nail on the head when she described them looking like a forest of trees baring their fall colors. I guess I don't have much to say about it since I, too, pulled a shock value dye job when I was their age. Let's not forget the day I turned from blond to almost black in a matter of 20 or so minutes. EEK. Just another piece of proof that teenagers aren't really that different across cultures... This week is the last week of the school year. I've taught three classes all week. Here's why: No third graders, no afternoon class Monday through Wednesday and no classes Thursday (graduation) or Friday (the remaining students meet their new homeroom teachers). Bonkers? Yes. It's fun to be in the school atmosphere again, but I must confess that I miss the student interaction... I'm looking forward to the new school year, except that whole lesson planning part. That part is the things of which headaches are made. Lucky for me, Dionne stumbled across a huge stash of English curriculum books from previous Morning English programs and Mr. Shin showed us a couple of books from his private stash. The ideas are forming, now it's just a matter of those ideas translating into lessons. The cycle begins. Nice. On a semi-related note, it feels funny to be starting a new school year in March. Generally, I associate new school years with warmth, fall colors, new backpacks, clean notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils. The last three, I can produce. The first two just might take some getting used to. But, if there's one thing I have learned to be during the almost six months I've been here (isn't that c.r.a.z.y.??), it's adaptable, sometimes with a capital A. P.S. Today is my mom's birthday!!! Today Kris turns 60. She's a pretty young 60, and she and Bob are taking Sun City West by storm. Huzzah! Play a round of golf and eat some pesto today! Hooray! | Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. -Miriam Beard
38: 38 | Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Exchanging Languages | After witnessing Maren's strong command of Vietnamese, I was quite inspired to try my hand at learning Korean. Usually when I get inspired to try something new, it quickly passes when the next inspiration comes along. This, however, was more important than most of my short lived schemes. While I have gotten along quite nicely here only knowing how to say hello, thank you and the names of my favorite foods and activities, not to mention not being able to read Korean, it was high time that I delved a little deeper into the culture, especially since I've decided to stay for (at least) another year. A few days after proclaiming my desire to learn Korean to Jill, we ran into my friend Tara walking down the street. She told me that a teacher at her school had approached her about giving English lessons to her college age daughter. Tara politely declined (though many native teachers do give lessons on the side, it is really illegal and could result in deportation if it is discovered), but said she would ask around to see if any of her friends were interested. When Tara asked me if I would be interested in doing the lessons, I thought it was just the ticket to learning Korean - a language exchange. I proposed this idea to Tara, saying that while I wouldn't be comfortable giving her friend English lessons and receiving compensation for said lessons, I would be more than willing to meet with her in a setting where we could speak English and she could teach me some Korean too. A couple of weeks later, I received a Facebook message from Tara with Yeeseul's phone number, saying she was really excited by my proposition and wanted to set up a meeting right away. I texted Yeeseul and we agreed to meet at a coffee shop. We sat there for a little over an hour, talking and sizing each other up. Yeeseul is 24 (in Korean age - probably closer to 22 or 23 with the difference in the way Korean's calculate their age) and is attending graduate school in Sports Medicine with a focus on Physical Therapy. She hopes to spend some time working for a hospital or clinic in the US so she wants to brush up on and become more comfortable with her English. Also, she has several friends who attend universities in the US and when she talks to them online, she can't understand their internet lingo and slang, so she's especially interested in acronyms like lol and omg and typical American college student slang. For my half of the language exchange agreement, I am compiling a list of acronyms and slang terms to share with her and explain. She makes a list of anything her friends say that she doesn't understand and I explain them to her. (If you have any suggestions, please don't hesitate to share them with me...) I feel a little cheap about the lessons because of our agreement. Basically, the way she practices English is by teaching me Korean using English. Because of this, I try to throw in impromptu English tid bits during the Korean lessons so that she feels like she's learning something new too. I guess it is good practice for her English to be teaching me about her native language using her second language, but I still feel bad (it's part of my nature - if I didn't feel bad about something during the course of the day, I'd worry about myself :) )
39: 39 | Originally, Yeeseul wanted to meet two or three times each week, but now that she has secured a part time job at an English academy that will occupy her most week nights from 5:00 until 10:00 pm, we have decided to meet on Sunday mornings. We meet at the organic coffee shop called Brown Story that Jill and I discovered on one of our walks around Gwangju. The shop owner is starting to recognize us and it's fun to be a regular customer somewhere beside my duk boki stand in E-Mart. Our first meeting was (predictably) a little awkward but now that we've grown more familiar with each other and met a couple more times, we've become good friends. I genuinely look forward to our meetings, not only because she is a great teacher, but it's fun to have a Korean friend! She's so sweet and we have a great time together. One night we were so engrossed in our conversation and lesson that three and a half hours passed without us even realizing how long we'd been talking. Our conversations remind me of conversations with my best pals at home - sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and always comfortable. We talk about Korean culture, college life (she asked me if my sorority was like Legally Blond - I carefully explained the similarities and glaring differences) American culture and we laugh as I fumble to relate Korean pronunciation to English sounds. She also laughs at the faces I make when I fumble through sounding out words. She is, in a word, delightful. P.S. I can now read Korean, albeit quite slowly, but I can also tell I'm improving. The language makes soooo much sense. It's fun to be able to read menus and not have to mime the specifics of what I want to order and to be able to read the station names on the screens in the subway without having to wait for the English to appear. My next project is conquering the numbers. Because they use different numbers to refer to money, dates, phone numbers and minutes of time (numbers derived from Chinese) than for counting things, age and the hours of time (pure Korean numbers), I have to learn almost twice as many...EEK. But, I've made some real intense flashcards and I'm getting a (slow) handle on them. HOORAY. Also, this week marks me being here for six months! I can't believe how quickly the time has passed! Sometimes it feels like I just got here and other times it feels like I've been here for years. My apartment feels more like home and less like temporary housing and everything becomes more and more second nature each day. One year (and sometimes two years!) just doesn't seem like enough time to fully experience all that Korea has to offer. Stay tuned for two editions of Spring Break escapades, just as soon as I get the pictures from Diane - my camera had a minor malfunction, but now we're back in business... just in time for the new school year to start :) | "We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -Jawaharal Nehru
40: 40 | Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | Spring Break - Round 1: Meeting Diane's Pals and Packing with the Husteds | Much of the first portion of Spring Break was boring to hear about, unless you enjoy reading about how I slept until noon, watched stupid amounts of t.v. on the internet (watch The Big Bang Theory - sooo funny!!), didn't feel well (how is it that a little cold can make you not feel like moving? I'll never understand) and ate lots of popcorn and oranges. WOO HOO! Big stuff, eh? When I wasn't being painfully boring, this is what I was up to: Packing with the Husteds: Dionne, Scott and Jonah had been living across town in a really nice apartment that was too big for one of their friends rather than living in the tighter accommodations provided by our school. The lease on that apartment was up at the end of February, so they had to move into a small apartment up the road from me until a larger, more family appropriate space opens up in May. I spent a delightful afternoon helping them pack up their old apartment. Hanging out with them is always delightful and this afternoon was no exception. It's comforting to spend time with a family, though it makes me miss the witty banter I so enjoy with my family. We had great conversations, a fine mixture of funny and serious, and once we were finished packing, we sat down to an awesome meal of lasagna and green salad, nicely complimented by a red wine. I hadn't really been missing Italian food, but it was such a nice treat to have some familiar food in a family style setting. Plus, Dionne is an amazing cook, so dining at the Husted's was a treat in and of itself. During dinner, more delightful conversation ensued as well as many laughs. I'm so glad to be neighbors (sort of...) with the Husteds. I can only imagine the fun times in store over the next year and a half! Insadong and Dongdaemun with Diane's friends from college: Much like Jill visited me in January, Diane had some pals to show around Seoul in February. Her college friend Nicki goes to graduate school in Australia, so over her break between semesters, she (and her friend from high school Michael) traveled around Asia for about a month and joined us in Seoul for one of the last portions of their adventure. Also, when Diane and Nicki studied abroad in Japan for a summer, they became good friends with Eri, who now lives in Tokyo and works for Olympus. We spent a day together roaming around Insadong and shopping in Dongdaemun and then ate at a fun barbecue dinner in Hyehwa. Such a fun day! It was fun to meet Diane's friends from another phase of her life. They were delightful and so so fun!
41: Hongdae: No trip to Seoul would be complete without a raucous night of clubbing in Hongdae, so Saturday night, we indulged a little. Maria and I went with Diane, Nicki and Eri, starting our night with a solid dinner and drinks at a Cajun restaurant in Hongdae. Maria had on some pretty dramatic eye makeup that was attracting looks from men all over the restaurant. We had a blast watching her make eyes with several of the guys in the restaurant. At one point, the group sitting in the adjacent booth got up to leave and they started talking to us. We learned they were on their way to a noraebong and wished them well. A couple of minutes later, one of the guys from the table came back into the restaurant, approached our table and presented Maria with a bottled coffee drink. Almost before she could even thank him, let alone talk to him at all, he disappeared through the door to rejoin his noraebong group. So random. Such is Korea. We made our way to the same club to which we went when Jill was in town. We danced the night away from 12:30 to 5:30, experiencing several colorful moments with various fellow club goers. Maria met a really nice Korean college boy of whom we all approve. The rest of us tried to avoid getting too familiar with the plethora of intoxicated Korean men who were intrigued by our exotic foreignness. Once again, all I can say is: Oh Korea. At the end of the night, we were in line at the coat check when Nicki started conversing with the bouncer of the VIP section of the club. He invited her to enter the VIP section and then tapped me on the shoulder and told me to join her. We walked in and wandered around the seemingly deserted (given the time of the night) VIP section and found our way up some stairs to a private bar. A couple of female club employees rushed over to us and started talking to us, commenting on how tall we both were. It got pretty weird pretty fast, and just as I was suspicious we were being pimped out to dirty old men with an interest in tall women, they handed us bottles of water and showed us to an area that overlooked the still over-crowded dance floor. We stayed there and danced a little more until Diane texted me, telling me she had our coats and it was time to leave. Another night in Hongdae was thus conquered. Holy cow, was I worthless the next couple of days after staying out all night, arriving home at 7:30 Sunday morning. Ouch, but fun nonetheless. | 41 | I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. - Mark Twain
42: 42 | Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | Spring Break - Round 2: Jeju | For three of the four years of my college career I had pretty unforgettable Spring Break experiences with some of the best sorority pals a girl would ask for. I was just getting used to the idea that Spring Break was no longer a reality for me...until I realized that I'm a teacher. Spring Break still exists! Hurrah! Diane and I took full advantage of our two weeks off by spending the latter part of our break on an island off the southwestern coast of Korea called Jeju. It is often referred to as Korea's Hawaii. Even though the temperatures weren't tropical caliber, it was a nice getaway to new surroundings before plunging back into a new school year. Since we left the Monday after our all night excursion in Hongdae, we were still wiped as we boarded our short flight from Seoul to Jeju. However, upon arrival to this lovely island, experiencing jacket-free fresh air, lush surroundings, grass, (and green grass at that), and palm trees, we felt instant rejuvenation. We arrived at our hostel, Tae Gong Gak Inn and Guesthouse (if you ever go to Jeju, STAY THERE!!! It's amazing!), after a long bus ride to the other side of the island. We were warmly greeted by the innkeeper Peter. [For those of you who know Carl Anders Helander, this man was a Korean version of him! It was uncanny and delightful!] Peter and Sylvia (the innkeepers) took care of any question we had or reservation we needed, . They delighted in helping us plan our day trips, suggesting where to eat and getting to know us. It was the perfect place to stay! | Our first full day, we got a pretty late start. We began our day with an awesome lunch of hairtail fish soup and grilled mackerel. We weren't overly excited by the hairtail fish soup but the texture and crunch of the mackerel was so good that we picked that fish clean. | After an early dinner, we walked to this fresh waterfall. Notice that Diane is standing on a rock :) This picture just doesn't get old... | I called this "Demolition Derby"
43: 43 | Next, we went on a submarine ride to get an up close and personal look at the fish that live around the island. In order to get to the submarine, we had to ride a shuttle boat out to where the submarine would start its journey. Diane and I were two of four foreigners on the submarine trip. The men in charge of herding people from place to place showed us to the front of the line. While we were waiting for our boat to arrive at the submarine, a frantic young Korean boy came running over to me, asking (in Korean) if I had seen a blue coat. Homeboy was freaking out and I had no idea what he was saying. Diane had been sitting on something and pulled it out from under her and lo and behold, it was his coat. Fast forward 10 minutes. We were now on a different boat and waiting in line to board the submarine. The frantic boy (now quite calm and charming) was standing in line right behind us. He started asking us questions in impeccable English. He told us he was 12 years old and his English name was John. He was so cute and quite the conversationalist! As we were climbing into the submarine, he said, "I think this look very ... funny." He melted my heart. Presumably, since we were special foreigner guests, we were told to sit in the front of the submarine... pretty sweet seats! The fish we saw from the submarine were pretty cool, but nothing tropical or super amazing to spend time writing about. What was more cool, to me, was riding in the front of the submarine and watching as we descended into the depths of the water. So cool! | Right in the middle of our conversation about who knows what, John's grandmother came over and pointed out a huge swarm of seagulls following the path of the boat. John immediately halted our riveting conversation and screeched "CAMERA!!!" as he began snapping shot after shot of the seagulls. Then, his grandfather gave us some french fry shaped chips so we could feed them. | Immediately upon exiting the submarine and getting back on the boat that would transport us back to shore, I was tapped on the shoulder by little John. He asked me a barrage of questions about our time in Jeju, teaching, America, etc. The icing on the cake was when he asked me for my phone number! What a charmer! | There are still land mines strewn about in the DMZ | John! Cutest 12 year old ever | I had that 'gull eating out of my hand...literally :) | After several attempts, so did John. (My face is not staged, I'll have you know...)
44: 44 | That night, we ate an awesome dinner of black pork that is a Jeju specialty as well as a Jeju variation of three layered pork belly meat. 'Twas tasty. Then, we went to a waterfall that is specially lit up at night. | As we were gearing up to leave the waterfall, I noticed a Korean man taking a picture of the group with which he was traveling. I offered to take the picture so that he, too, could be in the picture. Despite my offer being in English, he began to explain some photo requests in Korean. He didn't stop when I gave him a bewildered "I have no idea what you are saying to me" look. Luckily, between his accompanying gestures and Diane's Korean vocabulary, we were able to understand what it was he wanted (though I can't remember now...). As I was snapping their pictures, he continued to talk to me in Korean until a young girl in the group yelled, "She's a foreigner!" Everyone started laughing and he profusely thanked us as we walked away after giving them back their cameras. Later on, toward the end of our time in the waterfall park, we ran into the group again and the man asked us if we were walking back to our hotel. When we said yes, he looked super impressed. I have no idea what was so impressive about us walking back to our hotel, but it gave us a good laugh. The next day, we shared an all day taxi tour with a Canadian teacher and her mom. Our taxi driver's name was Mr. Go and he was delightful. He was a bodybuilder (and wasn't hesitant about showing us a picture from a bodybuilding competition in which he was sporting a chiseled bod and a Speedo.. Yikes.) and was eager to practice his fairly impressive English skills with us. Also, he insisted on following us around, explaining things and taking pictures for us at any possible Kodak moment. (And when I say he took pictures, I mean he did everything in his power to make sure we got the best possible pictures. He was climbing railings, squatting, standing on fences where one false move could result in his imminent death... Homeboy was d-e-d-i-c-a-t-e-d.) He was so nice and so fun! And, upon hearing that Diane enjoys listening to K-Pop music, he produced a pretty impressive mix c.d. that he played for the first part of the trip (the second part was an 80s mix - it made me feel like I was in a Rocky movie :) ) The day was spent touring around the east side of the island to various geological and other natural structures and various points along the coast. There about 85 pictures of Diane and I standing in front of a significant place, view or point in varying poses - peace signs, thumbs up or awkward standing with big smiles. I'll spare you and just show the biggies... | In front of the largest lava structure of its kind in the world, which is inside the world's second largest lava tube. Eat your heart out A-How.
45: 45 | These pictures were taken at a trick art museum... There were probably about 30 reproductions of famous (and not so famous) pieces of art and locations that were painted to include something interactive. They make for some real sweet pictures! | Jeju is famous for a group of old women who dive to retrieve seafood from a small cove. Everyday, they put on a short demonstration and we went to watch. As we arrived, we noticed a camera crew from what is basically Korea's version of PBS. The film crew was following the daughter of a famous Korean actor around to various tourist locations in Jeju. There was also a small boy at the show who was completely enthralled by the little girl being filmed. He kept wandering over to her, and each time he came over, she reached into her pocket and gave him a small piece of chocolate. He kept coming over to talk to her, but I suspect he was using her for her chocolate :) At any rate, this exchange was adorable to watch. Once she stopped handing him chocolate, he lost interest in her and took an interest in Mr. Go. From what we gathered, Mr. Go was not married or a father (though he did receive a curious amount of phone calls :) ) but the interactions he had with the most-adorable-Korean-boy-ever prove that he should indeed join the club known as Fatherhood. When the women divers brought back an octopus, Mr. Go and the cute little dude were right in the mix, picking the creature up and waving it around. This was quite easily one of the most adorable things I have seen in a really long time... Aside from little John, of course! | An action shot of Mr. Go taking a photo. Intense. | Hustling for some chocolate... | Mr. Go takes over... | This kid was so curious... and delightful.
46: 46 | Our last day was spent in much the same fashion as the previous day. Sylvia and Peter arranged for us to be shown around by Mr. Go again, this time for a half day on the west side of the island, ending with Mr. Go dropping us off at the airport. We visited several points along the coast (including the one below that boasts rock formations that are somehow in the shape of hexagons) and other notable sights. We also visited a green tea museum and experienced the marvel that is Mystery Road, a road in which your car coasts downhill though it appears to be traveling uphill. Crazy biz. | This day got a little more interesting though. The last destination on our day was a sex museum and collection of erotic statues and pieces of art called Loveland. To our surprise, Mr. Go followed us into Loveland and not only looked around with us, but also proceeded to point out and explain what we were looking at. If that wasn't awkward enough, we saw an inordinate amount of old ladies roaming around Loveland. The three of us received our fair share of strange looks as we walked around Loveland together... Nice. Thus ended our Spring Break excursion to Jeju. Before we left, we had already started planning our next trip. It was so easy to be there and there was an endless amount of excitement to behold. I loved it so much there that in the event that I grow tired of living and teaching in Gwangju but still have a desire to live and teach in Korea, I would consider relocating to Jeju... So amazing! | With the woman diver who caught the octopus. She was real funny... | Mr. Go stood on a corner like the one we're standing in front of to take this picture. So hardcore.
47: 47 | Thursday, March 17, 2011 | School started two weeks ago today. Getting back into the 8-5 schedule took a little (read: A LOT) getting used to, but now I've gotten to a point where I feel like we've been in session for months. A few changes have occurred in my school life. I'm still adapting, but things are still just as amazing as they ever were! I had been teaching the class with the higher level English speakers, but this year, Dionne and I switched so that the students would be exposed to different teaching methods and styles. So, now I teach the lower level of students. Teaching the lower level students also means that I have a co-teacher for every class. It is nice to have another teacher in the class to help facilitate activities, explain points (though the students seem to rely a little too much upon the impending translations) and help keep the students in check. They also provide me with some valuable feedback. Having another teacher in the classroom definitely takes some getting used to (and is, at times, a bit tough), but in the long run, this will make me a better teacher and it is fun to get to know a whole new set of girls at every level. That being said, they must have revised the way they split the classes because about a quarter of each of my classes are comprised of students I had in my classes last semester... I enjoy having a couple of students in each class who are used to the way I teach and my personality. My first lesson in each class was spent introducing myself since I hadn't taught many of the students. I gave them time to ask me questions and boy did I get some doozies! Here's a sample: Are your eyelashes real? What is your ideal type? (meaning what do you look for in a boyfriend) What is your skincare line? Why is your hair short? / Why do you hate long hair? (they think that since I have short hair, I hate long hair...) Do you have a boyfriend? How did you get so tall? / What did you eat to make you tall? My favorite situation, though, was the following line of questioning: Student: What is your skincare line? Noelle: I use a special washcloth. (Student nods, blushes, says something in Korean, covers her face and repeats the Korean inquiry to Ji Hye, that class's co-teacher) Ji Hye (laughing): She thinks you're beautiful and wants to know if you've had plastic surgery! Noelle = flabbergasted | Back Into the Swing of Things
48: 48 | Apparently, though I have yet to see it, Diane and I were on t.v. when we were at the women divers' show in Jeju. Grace (one of our co-teachers) and several students have told me that they were watching t.v. when, all of sudden, there was Noelle Teacher. A couple of students were extra excited to tell me that they saw me on t.v... One day, I unlocked the door to our classrooms to shrieks of, "Noelle Teacher (sounds like Tea-cha)! You. On t.v. Jeju Jeju!!!!!!!!!" I think they were more excited about it than I was :) I started teaching an after school class four times a week to nine first grade students. Today was the second day of the class and I can already tell that I am going to LOVE this class! They are adorable. I printed out questions on small strips of paper and made them answer the questions to get a piece of candy (today I brought in leftover candy canes and they went bonkers over them!). My favorite answer: Question: Are you a morning or a night person? Student: Night person. In vacation, I stay up 4 a.m., sleep to 2 p.m. 2 p.m. I wake up. Eat. Watch t.v. Eat. Play computer game. Eat. Talk to cat. Eat (by this time, the whole class joins in a chorus of EAT as she says it... Delightful). So, I've decided that it's nice to be back into the school routine. Having (essentially) six weeks off was nice, but I'm glad to be back to a sense of normalcy, routine and adorable interactions with students, teachers and my old pal, Principal Suh. | Last weekend, I tried to call Maria. I got some recording that said my phone was not set up to make outgoing calls, per my request. I thought that was weird, so I tried to call Diane. Same thing. I was not pleased. Since it was Friday night, there was nothing I could do about it until Monday. The lack of phone service made for an interesting weekend trying to coordinate a meet-up with Diane, confirming my language exchange with Yeeseul and offering up my couch to Maria. My phone could receive calls and texts, but not being able to make calls and send texts felt pretty paralyzing. Monday morning, I brought my phone to Hyunjoo to see if she could help me fix it. She called my cell phone company and after some research, she asked me if I had done anything to change my bank account information. DUH. Before Christmas, I had to close my first bank account and open a new one at a different branch of the bank to enable me to wire money home. Since my cell phone bill is automatically deducted from my bank account, I hadn't paid my phone bill in three months! They had been sending me texts to tell me such vital information, but of course, since they were in Korean, I assumed they were spam texts. Oh Noelley. (I love that they don't shut down your service, but just disable your ability to make calls... So Korean!) So, Monday after school, I traipsed down to the E-Mart building to visit my phone company with a handwritten memo in Korean to present to the phone company worker. With a few clicks of a mouse, a phone call to Hyunjoo, and a swipe of my debit card worth three months of phone service, my phone was back in business. Nice. Today, as I prepare to meet Diane for our weekly adventure in Seoul, I am extra thankful to have a fully functioning phone! | Saturday, March 19, 2011 | Phone Fiasco
49: 49 | This weekend, a member of the high school staff's wife died after a 10 year battle with cancer. Dionne and I have worked with Mario, so we thought it would be appropriate to venture to the hospital in Seoul where the funeral was being held. I felt like it was a rare opportunity to look deep into Korean culture, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in observing how Koreans honor their loved ones. It was surprisingly similar to what we're used to in Iowa. Instead of having a visitation and a funeral, they have a visiting period of three days. So, imagine a three day visitation. Christian funerals are held on a special floor in the hospital where they died. We walked into the basement of the hospital and found the room where we needed to be. Outside the room were huge floral wreaths with messages printed on huge ribbons hanging from the wreaths. We removed our shoes and were instructed to sign our names in the guest book. Next, we were handed single white flowers with a black ribbon tied around the stem and shown into an empty room with a wooden alter. Because they do not view the body, a picture of Mario's wife was on the alter. We placed our flowers on a pile of others' flowers. Then, we stepped back and prayed. Once we were finished with our prayer, we greeted Mario and two of his wife's brothers. The whole situation lasted maybe two minutes. There were no long winding lines like American visitations, possibly because we were there at 8 pm, or maybe because the body lays in wait for three days instead of two or three hours, giving people much more time to pay their respects. There is no church service like we would have in the U.S. After the three days have passed, the body gets buried in the family burial plot which are often in the mountains because they are still considered sacred land. Next, we were ushered through a hallway and into a fellowship room with about 12 long tables set up with sporadic groups of Koreans dressed mostly in black eating. If we hadn't eaten kimbap on the bus ride to Seoul, we would have been fed a huge Korean meal with all of the trimmings. Instead, we munched on fried vegetables, cherry tomatoes, oranges and mixed nuts as we talked and observed those around us. We stayed for about half an hour. When we got up to leave, we went to the table where the administration from two of the Kyunghwa schools were sitting to say goodbye to Principal Suh. She was so concerned about how we would get home and offered to drive us to the bus station! We assured her that we would be fine. As we walked out and said goodbye to Mario, he was also concerned about us getting home. Once we convinced him that we would be able to catch a bus, he thanked us again for coming. Then his nephew retrieved our shoes and we were on our way. As I write this, I am struggling with what to say about the experience. So many things about the experience were very indicative of Korean culture, but also very similar to the funeral practices I have experienced in the U.S. I am continually blown away by how two cultures so far apart, and so different on the surface, can be so similar in the strangest ways. But, just as I marvel at those similarities, I marvel at the big differences too. Today during lunch, we were talking about the funeral and Toni told us that single, engaged or pregnant women do not traditionally attend funerals. I don't really understand why, but this is still practiced! One of the teachers at the high school is pregnant and when she tried to arrange going to the funeral, other teachers wouldn't let her go! I guess the things that are different are REALLY different... | Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | Korean Funerals
50: 50 | This week was class trip week. The second graders went to Jeju (the small island off the southwest coast that Diane and I visited for Spring Break) on Tuesday and returned today. So, we didn't teach any second grade classes this week, save one on Monday afternoon. On Wednesday, the third graders went to Everland (like Six Flags) and the first graders went to Lotte World (kind of like Disney World, but mostly indoor. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record for the largest indoor amusement park in the world). Each of the teachers was assigned to go on one of the class trips and Dionne and I went to Lotte World with the first graders. We had such a fun day, riding roller coasters with students, getting coffee with some teachers, looking around a folk museum that showed Korean history from prehistoric eras to the 1930s and eating an enormous and tasty lunch with all of the teachers. Any time we were around students, they wanted to take pictures with us. We were pseudo celebrities for the day and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it a little... :) We rode several rides, both just the two of us and with students or Hyunjoo. At one point, we rode a roller coaster that goes upside down. Today, Hyunjoo told me that the other teacher that rode it with us leaned over to her and asked, "This is safe, right?" Adorable. Perhaps the best part of the day was when we rode roller coasters with a group of about 12 students. They were so excited that we were going to ride with them and they didn't even care that they had to speak a little English to communicate with us. They told us that our mission was to make a heart above our head (a popular pose for pictures) during the last big drop of the roller coaster. Sure enough, as we approached the last drop, we heard cries of "Teach-UH, heart-UH, heart-UH," reminding us of our "mission." (In case you're wondering, the mission was completed by all involved :) ) So delightful. Here are a few pictures that I pilfered from a teacher: | Lotte World | Friday, April 1, 2011 | We were having such a great time that we stayed at the park until about 7:30 that night, making for quite a long day. The next day at school, everyone, students AND teachers, were walking around like zombies. Dionne thought we should get a second day off to recover... I wouldn't have protested. However, as it turned out, we only taught one class (plus my after school class), so it was a pretty easy day.
51: 51 | My heart is at home today. As our small community comes together to mourn the loss of a fine young man and hope and pray for the recovery of another one, it is with a heavy heart that I consider life's intricacies. The events of this weekend have caused me to realize how much in life is taken for granted and how we assume that the wild ride we take through life will not end until we're ready for it to. Obviously, this is not the case, so I feel it is especially important to fully express myself today. Life is a beautiful thing. As I cobble together a life a million miles from anything familiar, it becomes more and more apparent to me that family, friendship, sisterhood, the support and comfort you cultivate through building and strengthening relationships - these are the things that really make life rich, full and beautiful. These are also the things that can be the most taken for granted. If I have learned one thing over the last seven months, it is the vital importance of these connections and the effort it takes to maintain them. I fear that I don't often enough express the sincere gratitude and love I have for all of the people in my life. So, this is me telling all of you thank you for enriching my life and the lives of all of those you touch. In light of this weekend's events at home, take some time to not only remember that life is precious and beautiful but also to recognize those that make your life what it is. I also can't help but realize and remember what a blessing it is to be a part of such a wonderful, supportive and loving community. It is no secret that I couldn't wait to move on and experience the huge world that lies outside of eastern Iowa. However, several events during my time here have caused me to consider the love, unconditional support and charm that accompany small town life. I guess you could say I'm hooked. With tragedy to the east in Japan and tragedy at home, it is easy to get lost in it all. But, as many mourn the loss of loved ones, our family is set to welcome its newest member. Baby Plueger is on his way, hopefully this week, and let me just tell you, I couldn't be more excited! More on that later, like, when he's actually born. :) All of this life talk reminds me of some of my fave song lyrics: This life is a beautiful one And though I've seen it coming undone, Well, I know most definitely It always works out the way it's meant to be So, baby, keep your head up Keep it on the up and up And know now Cuz you've got all my Love, love, love So, with that, I will be sending ridiculous amounts of love and prayers home until further notice. | This Life is a Beautiful One | Sunday, April 3, 2011
52: 52 | Behold, a few recent stories from my lovely students: We were playing a dice game in one of my first year classes in which rolling a one meant that you lost 10 points. On their first roll, the first team rolled a one, earning their team no points. The girl who rolled the die, without thinking, exclaimed, "Shit!" Immediately we locked eyes with bewildered looks on our faces. If I were a different sort of teacher, she would have gotten a death look (you know...THE LOOK), perhaps followed by a sharp reprimand. But, I'm me, so, trying desperately not to laugh, I said, with a huge smile on my face, "Shh, shh. It's okay. Just don't say it anymore!" What could I do? I was pretty impressed that she used it in the correct context... First, let me preface this story by saying that this is nothing to worry about, whatsoever. Trust me. I just thought it was cute and funny. After our after school classes were finished, Dionne and I went to our respective offices to pack up for the day before leaving school together. Wouldn't you know a story was about to unfold: (I didn't hear this part, but Dionne re-enacted it minutes later.) Student: Teacher! Tomorrow, bring umbrella! Bad rain. Dionne: Bad rain? S: Dangerous rain. D: What? S: Tomorrow, it rain. (Complete with really dramatic charades) You die. D: Really? Why? S: Japan rain! D: Oh... radiation! After packing up my bag and saying goodbye to the few teachers left in my office, I walked across the hall to Dionne's office. Student: Teacher! Tomorrow. Dangerous rain! Bring umbrella!!! Noelle: Really? Why? S: (with a very proud look on her face) Radiation rain! Here are some pictures that a teacher e-mailed me today from last week's trip to Lotte World: | Dangerous Rain | Wednesday, April 6, 2011 | Things here continue to be splendid. I couldn't ask for a better situation. More later... | Dionne and I with the head of the English Dept., Mr. Shin | With one of my favorite teachers... She teaches History and is always good for a heartwarming compliment, warm greeting or a laugh. Love her!
53: 53 | As of today, the Plueger tribe has grown! Drew Nicholas Plueger was born April 6 at around 8 pm. What a delightful little announcement to discover upon my return from lunch today! I've heard tell that both Mommy and youngster are doing well and that Jess was one tough broad during labor. I expect nothing less - she's a trooper! And, Nick is one proud Papa, promptly sending and posting pictures. They will be phenomenal parents. I can't wait to see them in action! We're planning a little skype sesh for when Mom and Dad swing through town on their way home from Arizona next weekend. I can't wait! I haven't even met the little tyke yet, but I can already tell we'll be pals. I don't understand how it is possible to feel such a deep sense of love for someone you've never met, talked to or bonded with in any way, but I'm not in the business of explaining things (except that I am...that's beside the point)... Anyway, I'm pretty jazzed about this little dude and can't wait to meet him when I go home this summer! Here's a sneak preview of Little Buddy: | Thursday, April 7, 2011 | Baby Baby Baby Baby! | That's all for today... Almost more excitement that a person should experience in one day. Almost. :) | He's got the Plueger bod - long and lean... and, lots of strawberry blond hair! A real ladies man. I can see it now :) | The blanket I crocheted for him... It turned out pretty well considering it was the first project I've ever finished... ever.
54: 54 | Unbelievable! | Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | A few cute stories for you, dear readers: Yesterday, I was playing a game with some third grade students. I put a picture on the screen and they had to tell me a sentence using a certain verb tense to get points for their team. I try not to use pictures I find on Google, instead, preferring to use pictures from Facebook or old pictures of me. One of the pictures I used for this game was from a sushi outing / birthday dinner four years ago in which my friend Jess and I ordered sushi with a raw quail egg broken on top: | When the picture showed up on the the screen, I moved the cursor around my head, asking, "Who's this?" They looked at me with blank looks on their faces while one girl shouted, "Noelle Teach-uh?" I confirmed her question/answer/guess. Many of the girls asked, "Really?" while one girl, above the rest, shouted, "OH! Unbelievable!" Today, with the first graders, I did an activity with synonyms and antonyms. I had gotten a worksheet and powerpoint online for this activity in which some of the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song are changed to synonyms or antonyms of the correct lyric. They have to listen to each lyric and tell me which lyrics are incorrect, what they should say and if the two words are antonyms or synonyms. At the end, once they have filled in all of the lyrics, we watch the music video. I knew I was teaching teenage girls when they all squealed at the declaration of love and the kiss at the end of the video. The girls expressed their delight so loudly that after class, Dionne asked me what was going on in my class because she had heard the screams coming from my classroom. I guess that lesson was a success :) This morning after morning English, a teacher asked me to clarify some of the vocabulary they learned. After I helped her, she translated what I had said to the Vice Principal. Afterward, the following exchange occurred: Teacher: Tomorrow, I will forget all of this. Vice Principal: Tomorrow, I forget your mistake. T: Oh! You. Very smart. VP: Thank you very muchEE T: I... love you. VP: I love you too. T: You give me chicken bumps. (to me) How you call them in English? I. LOVE. MY. JOB.
55: 55 | I've lived in Korea for over seven months. Seven months! I can't believe it! Time passes so quickly. Anyway, here's a breakdown of last weekend...just in time for this weekend :) Maria, Diane and I journeyed to Hongdae with intentions of visiting a cat cafe. (More on that later.) Maria also wanted to get her ear pierced because the hole in her left lobe had closed. We meandered through the streets, window shopping and looking for the piercing parlor about which Maria had read online. Piercings in Korea are great. First, they're super cheap. At The Crow (the small shop is right next to Lush in Hongdae if you're interested, and even if you're not :) ) Maria paid 2,000 won ($1.75) to get her ear pierced and an additional 1,000 won ($0.75) for the earring! Crazy! And there were walls upon walls of earring from which to choose. Also, because body art is still somewhat taboo, you see some real interesting characters in and around piercings shops. I could people watch there all day long! When the time comes to get down to business, they don't mess. It's in and out, real fast. Anyway, as Maria was getting her ear pierced, Diane and I were feeling... inspired. Just last week, we had both talked about wanting to get our ears pierced and I've really been missing my nose ring lately. So, it happened. New piercings for everyone! It turned out that Maria's ear was, in fact, still pierced, but now she has a shiny new earring... Diane got her cartilage pierced and I conquered the tragus (the little flap on your ear close to your cheek) on my left ear. I couldn't believe how quickly everything happened. I told the woman I wanted my tragus pierced, I picked out a seafoam green barbell stud and was led to a bench. The most adorable Korean girl with ripped black tights, combat boots, t-shirt, big pink hair bow and clear plastic braces (!) pierced my ear. Not only was she adorable and nice but she was the best piercer I've ever had! Whenever I'd gotten my nose pierced, it felt like it took forever to happen, between the needle being inserted and the ring being put in. This time, I kept waiting for it to hurt but it never did, which was extra surprising because I've always heard tragus piercings are very painful. Nice. | Cats and New Piercings...Another Weekend Conquered | Thursday, April 14, 2011
56: 56 | After our piercings, lunch, finding a pharmacy to buy the required cleaning ointment and a quick dash into Baskin Robbins (I had blueberry aloe vera ice cream. I know it sounds weird but it was oh so delicious :) ), we found our way to Tom's Cat Cafe. Here's the deal: immediately upon removing our shoes (my socks had dogs on them...ironic?) and getting doused with hand sanitizer, we paid an entrance fee that also included one free drink. Then we were led to a table and told to put our belongings into white bags to protect them from kitty mischief. Then, a girl with impeccable English explained the rules. The cats with red ribbons were kittens so we weren't supposed to pick them up and carry them. Cats with blue ribbons around them were mean and should be left alone. If a cat didn't have a ribbon around its neck, we were free to pet it, play with it, pick it and carry it...you name it. So, we sipped fruit smoothies and played with cats for a couple of hours before dinner. No big deal. Totally normal. There were between 15 and 20 cats roaming the cafe at any given time and let me just tell you, people watching at this cat cafe was almost more entertaining than the cats. | Aside from the whole situation being a little weird, it was a really fun atmosphere. All around the third floor cafe were several types of perches on which the cats could hang out. It was super clean and cute, but the idea that these cats just roam around the cafe all days sort of weirds me out... Maybe it's because I'm more of a dog person. Maybe it's because I wouldn't want a cat watching me make a latte... I don't know... At my language exchange the next day, Yeeseul was telling me that there are all sorts of different kinds of niche cafes like this in Korea: dog cafes, dress cafes in which you essentially play dress up as you drink coffee, cakes/cupcake/dessert cafes and there were others that obviously didn't leave a lasting impression on me because I can't think of any more examples... I love how the idea of cafes in Korea is so new but once the idea caught on, it spread like wildfire in every possible direction. Also, Bob's birthday is Sunday, and since I probably won't blog again until next week, Happy 65th Birthday, Sir! I hope you have a magical day! P.S. Thanks to Diane for letting me pilfer her pictures :) | We named some of the cats... Behold: | Cats sitting on the counter, supervising the drink preparation...no big deal. | Feisty kitty. | Tired kitty. | Latte art kitty. | Aloof kitty.
57: 57 | The last couple of days have held some solid gold funny moments. These are part of what makes living here so delightful... These cherry blossoms don't hurt Korea's reputation either... | A Few Funnies... | Thursday, April 21, 2011 | On Tuesday, our school hosted a radio show to showcase (literally) how awesome we are... and, obviously, humble, too :) Since the program was supposed to make an appearance in our English class 2nd period, Dionne and I planned special lessons to showcase our Business English curriculum for that class and I wore a dress for the occasion. As I walked into school that morning, one of the students on student council who greets everyone in the morning (and makes sure everyone is in their proper school attire) rose her hands above her head and said, "Oh Teacher! You so cool!!" Little tyke warmed my heart :) Right before second period, we were informed that the radio dudes wouldn't arrive to the school until 11:00 so they wouldn't be coming to our classes after all. NICE. This didn't upset me in the least. After our morning classes, Dionne and I went to lunch. During lunch she told me that one of our co-teachers told her that the pastor "asked" her and Dionne to sing at church this week. And, by ask, I mean this: "Pastor prayed about it and God told him that we're singing at church this week. We have to." When Dionne told me this story, I laughed so loud that people turned to see what the deal was. It's a good thing they like it when we laugh at lunch... (The founder's wife, who is also the principal of the high school, told Toni that she likes to hear our foreign laughs echoing across the lunch room because it tells her that we are happy here. How cute!) Enter fourth period - a first year class. Right before the class started, we were told that the radio people would come to THIS class, a class I had other plans for... NUTS. So, I pulled out a lesson that we had already beat to death, but since we explained that they were special and would be on the radio, the little gems cooperated to the fullest. And, I gave them candy, which never hurts the cooperation level. So, they performed their phone conversations like the little champs they are for 30 minutes. And guess what? The radio dudes never showed. Schedule change. DOUBLE NUTS. Oh well... this little blunder gave me a new respect for that class, so it was a good thing for them I guess... That afternoon, as I was walking down the street, a random man stopped me, extended his hand and said, "Korea." I (quite awkwardly) shook his hand and told him to have a nice day. He said thank you. Weird. Yesterday was the last day for my after school class's term. I brought a little cake and we had ourselves a par-tay. Whoever said teenage girls don't like to eat is a dumb tool. These girls demolished that cake in a few minutes. It was kind of impressive. | They are soooo pretty but they don't last long...
58: 58 | Then, we played a rousing game of homemade Pictionary. If the words were too confusing for them or they hesitated very much, I let them pick a new card. One of the girls picked a card that said "vacuum." I expected her to be confused and ask for a different card. Instead, her eyes lit up and she went to work. I was impressed by her apparent determination for drawing this word. Little did I know... She drew a circle, then colored in a sort-of triangle above it and two dots in the middle of the circle. I was baffled. It was obviously a head, but what the H did this have to do with a vacuum? The girls seemed to be on the same page, though, as they all shouted, "Beckham!" She excitedly nodded her head at their "correct" answer, having obviously drawn David Beckham's head.. I started laughing, saying, "Good job...but your word was vacuum!" Everyone erupted into laughter. Here's the evidence: | On my way home from school today, I was snapping several shots of cherry blossoms. Every couple of minutes or so, I heard calls of "Noelle TeachAH! What you doing?" or "Noelle TeachAH. HiEEEE!" I had a couple of adorable conversations and two groups of girls excitedly requested that I take their picture. The results of a simple walk home on a delightful spring day: | Rarely is there a dull day in Korea... I like it that way :) | My little after school dears. They were de-light-ful. | THE CAKE. Korean cakes are sooo pretty, and delicious. | Eating cake with wooden chopsticks will never get old... or normal. | BAHAHAHAHA! So Young's version of a vacuum... :)
59: 59 | Everyday, there is a printed sheet given to all of the teachers that has announcements, schedule changes, etc. on it. It is all in Korean, so usually someone explains all pertinent announcements to Dionne and then she comes and tells me. Next Tuesday, all of the teachers are going out for lunch at a ritzy seafood buffet for a social outing. To announce / remind everyone of the outing, the following invitation appeared in today's announcements: When: 3rd May (Tuesday) 1:00 - 3:00 Who: Every Teacher (We have 34 RESERVATION!!) Where: In Bungdang Jungga-dong (another town about 15 minutes away) Todai (International Cuisine and Sushi Buffet Restaurant) Special Event: Gift and pleasant lunch time ... etc... Essential Preparation: Happy Mind!! I have no idea why this announcement was in English, but it made my day... You best believe I'll prepare a happy mind for a pleasant lunch time! On a side note, I had a completely delightful, leisurely weekend spent doing some light shopping and heavy people watching from a cafe in a college neighborhood. To cap off a great Saturday, I got to talk to many members of my extended family at the respective Easter gatherings. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and I feel recharged to get through the next three months until I come home for a visit. Hooray for Skype and the awesome people I am blessed to call family! | Essential Preparation: Happy Mind!! | Monday, April 25, 2011 | A passport, as I'm sure you know, is a document that one shows to government officials whenever one reaches a border between countries, so the officials can learn who you are, where you were born, and how you look when photographed unflatteringly. ~Lemony Snicket
60: 60 | FYI: This is not a post about Korea... Instead, Noelley comments on current events... Hooray! Consider yourself advised :) Like many of my generation, I heard news of Osama bin Laden's death via Facebook. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little relieved at this announcement. This is a man who wreaked unspeakable havoc on the world, using his family's construction and oil/gas fortune to preach extremism, breed violence and foster hate. It goes without saying (and yet, here I am, essentially saying it) that he was a dangerous, horrible man whose influence and mere presence in the world certainly did nothing to better it. The small sense of relief I felt was quickly squashed though, as I read through my Facebook feed and CNN.com, hearing stories of celebrations on my college campus, in New York, Washington D.C., and no doubt, across America. I was taken aback at the portrait these celebrations paint. Something pulled at my conscience and heart as I contemplated what these celebrations meant. Something about this scene just didn't sit well with me. Since when do we celebrate death? I understand that some people were celebrating a sense of justice or closure while others were merely people watching or creating a memory of a night they are sure to remember forever. But, what further concerns me about these assemblies is the message it sends the rest of the world. Thinking back to the hours and days following 9/11 when we were all glued to our t.v.s, watching Peter Jennings at a literal loss for words over the horrific events, I remember being upset and confused by coverage of citizens in faraway lands cheering and celebrating the day's events. Why would these people celebrate so fervently the deaths of thousands of innocent people? I felt the same sense of confusion, discomfort and general bafflement upon reading commentary on similar displays across college campuses. Couches burning in Maryland and West Virginia, cracking a celebratory Bud Light at the site of Ground Zero or chanting "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" in reference to bin Laden: how do these displays portray us? What must the rest of the world glean from these public displays of glee over bin Laden's death? And, as an I read in this article from NPR, "is it ever a good idea — from a spiritual or philosophical standpoint — to celebrate with beer and good cheer over the death of anyone, even a widely acknowledged monster?" My short answer is N-O. | I Just Can't Stop Thinking About This... | Tuesday, May 3, 2011
61: 61 | I would instead, along with a large number of Facebook pals and no doubt, many others, argue that the better way to cope can be achieved through a more peaceful philosophy. Enter some real nice words that have blown up on Facebook statuses. They were attributed to Martin Luther King but were actually written by a Theta (read the story here) who used to go to Iowa State but transferred to Penn State the year before I joined: I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. That bit of wisdom leads me to another interesting tidbit I read in this article: Before the news last night, it was clear that Osama bin Laden was already losing. The "Arab Spring" of young Arabs and Muslims through nonviolent democratic movements has been a repudiation of bin Laden and his radical terrorist agenda. The death of Osama bin Laden could be a turning point in our ability to both resist evil and seek good, to turn away from the logic of both terrorism and war, and, as the Bible says, to find the things "that make for peace." I've long been a "Support the Troops, Not the War" kind of gal because as idealistic and rainbows and butterflies as it sounds, peaceful social movements work. They're not as quick as extremist thinking, violence and hate, but, all in due time, they get the job done. Bob always told me you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar... | 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
62: 62 | This week is midterms and Thursday is a national holiday (Children's Day - basically a designated day for families to spend together) so I went to school for half a day on Tuesday, had Monday, Wednesday and Thursday off, and will "teach" (read: play games to fill out the week) on Friday. Sweet life! Yesterday, after our half day at school was over, all of the teachers met in Bundang, an upscale satellite city of Seoul about 15 or 20 minutes away, at an international buffet restaurant. Since the last few weeks have been super busy and stressful for the Korean teachers, it was extra fun to watch everyone fully enjoy themselves and let loose. Everyone was laughing, eating, talking and genuinely enjoying each others' company. My kind of gathering :) The food was, of course, AWESOME, which made the integrity of the event even better. By the end of the dinner, I was stuffed to the gills with every kind of sushi imaginable. I forgot how much I love love love sushi! While kimbap is the same idea as sushi, and is a very, very close second, there will always be something special to me about sushi that I can't quite describe... Hellooooo Philadelphia roll. YUM. After the eating portion of the outing was over, the teachers who organized the shindig pulled out some trivia questions for the teachers to answer. The first person to give the correct answer for each question got to pick a prize. Even though all of the questions were in Korean, it was just as enjoyable to watch the other teachers play. Seeing that moment when the metaphorical light bulb switches on in peoples' eyes is one of my favorite people watching observations, which might make me sound real creepy, but I'm just being honest :) Some of the most coveted prizes were five pound bags of rice and coupons for free coffee at the school's coffee machine. After the lunch was over, some of the teachers went home while about 15 of us headed to a nearby movie theater to watch a Korean comedy about when the two families of an engaged couple meet. The entire movie was in Korean so of course I had no idea what was going on, but never fear. I sat between my dear pals Ji Hye and Principal Suh, who took turns leaning over and explaining important plot points. They were so cute and I loved that they took time out of their movie viewing to help me understand what was going on. To make an already great day even better, on the way home from Bundang, Ji Hye and I busted out the Coyote Ugly soundtrack. What a blast from the past! Ji Hye is a fellow movie buff, so we had such a good time discussing our favorite movies. She's so sweet! And, listening to her sing along to LeAnn Rimes was delightful. Awesome. Day. | Wednesday, May 4, 2011 | The Teacher Outing
63: 63 | I haven't posted for a week... Sorry. I'm been keeping busy (and at times, delightfully un-busy too) doing nothing particularly exciting. Last week was super easy. Since it was midterms until Wednesday, I didn't do too much other than relaxing, enjoying the fresh air through open windows in my apartment and doing some experimental cooking. Even though I live in this treasure trove of a country, sometimes it's nice to spend some time with myself, doing nothing. So, nothing exciting to report there... Saturday, Diane and I did some shopping and went to Water for Elephants. I had just finished reading the book a little over a week before, so it was perfect timing to see the movie. Both the book and movie were decent, though not life changing by any means in my eyes... The best part of the experience was the onion flavored popcorn we ate. I'd been dreaming of that popcorn ever since I sat next to the adorable little boy at Harry Potter and could smell the salty scent of onion powder wafting from his popcorn bucket. YUM! This week is also proving to be pretty chill. Tuesday was Buddha's birthday so we had the day off from school as it is a national holiday. Diane and I took this opportunity to visit the Korean National Museum. It shows Korean history from prehistoric times up to the Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century. It was pretty hard to get into the information because there were really lengthy Korean descriptions of the artifacts and the English would say something like "old rock" or "metal tool" But, it was a treasure trove for people watching (as is most of Korea) and we did end up seeing some pretty cool stuff... We spent the rest of the day looking for a book I'm supposed to be reading for a little book club I'm a part of (Shout out to the 300+ Club :) ) and walking around several shopping centers. I am continually blown away by the vast amounts of shopping opportunities in this country. Yikes. And, most of the stores are the same no matter where you go, or at least very, very similar... Interesting. Yesterday we only had the first four periods of class because there was a special church service for all of the schools. It was supposed to have been held in the Kyunghwa Bowl (the outdoor stadium) but it had rained all day, so it was held in the auditorium instead. We had no idea was the occasion was, so Dionne and I were baffled to find that the school had brought in a Christian boy band for a concert! The girls were so so funny to watch. They were falling over themselves as if Elvis or the Beatles were in the building... Adorable. A new term of after school conversation class started yesterday. This is how I found out: At 4:15, Mr. Shin came to my desk. | Thursday, May 12, 2011 | Lately...
64: 64 | Photoshop Skillz | Monday, May 16, 2011 | Mr. Shin: Uh, excuse me, Noelle Teacher. Are you busy? Noelle: Nope. What's up? (so professional, right?!) M.S.: Did you know after school class starts today? N: Haha... Nope! M.S.: I didn't know either. Is it okay? N: Sounds good to me... I'll figure something out... M.S. Sounds good to you? Sounds good to me too! (Mr. Shin has the most delightful infectious laugh. He demonstrated it here.) I have six students this time, four from the last class and two new ones. All delightful, adorable, bright eyed and smiley... just the way I like them :) I'm going to love the next five weeks for sure! Today is Fitness Test Day so there are no classes. I'm relegated to my desk while the other teachers help measure how much each student has grown, what they weigh, their body fat percentage, etc. As everyone was gearing up for Fitness Day, Chan Yang gave me a new task to complete before the end of the year... There is a list of 1000 vocabulary words that we teach over the course of the year in Morning English. The Vice Principal asked him to make the example sentences more conversational - like true to how we would use them in an everyday sense. So, I have to write sentences for each possible meaning of each of the 1000 words like we would use them in everyday conversation... I'm kind of looking forward to it... (I'm such a word nerd! Did you know there is an application on dictionary.com that tells you what weird things are called - like the gook in the corners of your eyes when you wake up in the morning that I grew up calling sleep or eye boogers is actually called rheum? There's a reason I asked for a dictionary for my 18th birthday :) ) But, some of the words are hard because I never use them - like intent or memorization or exhibition. Yikes. This could get fun... Chan Yang told me there's no hurry, but I wonder what that means... After working fairly steadily all morning, I'm on number 61. This is going to take longer than I thought... | At the end of my trek up the hill to school on Friday, I noticed a bunch of girls huddled around some display boards in front of the school. I was in a hurry to get to my office, so I didn't stop to see what the fuss was about. Later, as Dionne and I made our way to the auditorium, we came across these beauties done by some of our students in honor of Teachers' Day. Dionne and I couldn't stop laughing...
65: 65 | Those girls are hella creative. I still can't believe how good their Photoshop skills are! And, all of the teachers were such good sports about being parodied by the girls. I think we had just as much fun with it as the students did. Just another reason for me to love, love, love this school! | The English Department :) | Vice Principal Choi and Principal Suh!
66: 66 | If you haven't figured it out, I teach some of the world's most adorable students. Here are the latest funnies: From my after school class: I asked them what they want in a boyfriend: SoYoung: tall, kind, and body uhhhh" (giggle) Noelle: a nice body? SY: No. Body (and makes motion of cutting her chest open and giving things away) N: Organ donor? SY: Yes, yes. Organ donor. That's one I've never heard before.... Later we were working on tongue twisters to help with their pronunciation. The tongue twister was "If Stu chews shoes, should Stu choose the shoes he chews?" I asked what they thought and YouJong said, "Stu's crazy." Another tongue twister was "Kris Kringle carefully crunched on a candy cane." The girls kept saying crunchED (like the man's name). I made them practice crunchT over and over. Then, I made them practice cht, cht, cht, over and over. Then, ncht, ncht, ncht. (If you are reading this right now, you should make the sound ncht, ncht, ncht.) SoYoung said, "Teacher. You. Beatbox." I laughed and started beat boxing New Kids on the Block style with my hands on my mouth and making beat box noises like poo poo cht poo poo cht. SoYoung said, "Teacher, you sound like" and made the motion of farting. Then she laughed and said, "I like noises." Yesterday, we were playing Jenga and their rules are a little more hardcore than the American ones. So, I said, "In America, we blah blah blah," explaining the rules we use. Another student, JiHye fired back, "Teacher, this is KOREA." Then, she winked at me. Today in class, Dionne and I were feeling feisty so we demonstrated the Chicken Dance to a couple of our classes. After we did a nice long round of it, I asked the students what they thought the name of the dance was. They didn't know. So, I asked them what I was while slowing doing the dance's actions. Student: Chicken. Noelle: So, what is it? Student: Delicious. I almost died from laughing so hard. Now I'm off to class to see what adorable things they say today... | Thursday, May 19, 2011 | Koreans Say the Darnedest Things...
67: 67 | The weather has been absolutely beautiful these last couple of weeks. So, at night, while I watch t.v. (The Wire = amazing television, I'm still disappointed that My So-Called Life aired only one season and I just can't quite make myself enjoy Breaking Bad...but I'm still working on it), I've had my bedroom window open. This sounds pretty dingy (just like the other day when brushing our teeth after lunch, I exclaimed to Dionne, "Gawd. Brushing my teeth is just so... refreshing!" - pretty profound stuff I'm thinking over here :) ), but having my window open is giving me a whole new impression of my neighborhood. From the usual neighborhood raucous of dogs barking, horns honking and little kids chattering to the more... shall I say, unique sounds that come from my building (more on that later), I'm almost rediscovering, after nine months, what it's really like to live here. If you'll recall from one of my first posts, I live directly above a martial arts studio, which is also above a music academy. Both business are also avid believers in fresh air, it turns out, because I can hear, quite plainly, what is going on below me. Some persistent young pianist keep pounding away; sometimes I hear Chopsticks, but mostly the little tyke is perfecting the finale arrangement of Ode to Joy from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. I can't say I mind these musical stylings... in fact, I rather enjoy them :) A few weeks ago, there was some sort of big concert going on in the park on the other side of the river from my neighborhood. At the show's finale, they shot off fireworks. I stood with my head contorted so as to see the fireworks from my open window. I wasn't the only one of my neighbors to have this idea. As the fireworks were being shot off, several other spectators in close proximity to me verbally expressed their awe of the colorful bursts in the sky. There's nothing quite like listening to a Korean be impressed with something. I don't know how to describe it other than to say I love it. I've also started opening the windows in my classroom. Yesterday, I was trying to review for their final exam with a group of particularly restless second graders. One girl kept craning her neck to look out the window, while raucously waving to someone - probably a boy at the nearby Gwangju Boy's High School. After telling the girl that she could wave to her boyfriend after school (this didn't faze her...), I was forced to cast a dark shadow over the front right corner of the classroom when I closed the shade. Sad day. Not to worry, though. Homegirl stopped waving to her pseudo-whatever-he-was, and instead, embarked on an epic dry-erase marker fight with her table. Once I shut that down, she complained to me about the long black streak on her face. Poor girl - can't wave to her boyfriend and she leaves class with a (literal) black mark. Never a dull day here folks. I have to admit that no matter how crazy my students act, I still find them charming and delightful, even if I leave some classes utterly exhausted. Korea (and more specifically Kyunghwa EB) is making me really appreciate sunlight, open windows and my students' raw energy. Bring on the raucous. I. Love. It. In other news, two (short!) months from yesterday, and I will be home. Home sweet home. For almost four whole weeks. I'm so jazzed :) | Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | Open Windows
68: 68 | Last night, Desiree (the new teacher at the middle school) and I ate at a new dok boki restaurant that just opened on our street. In short, It. Was. Awesome. We had extra extra taste-the-extra-hot-pepper dok boki, hot hot hot kimbap with melted cheese in the middle (how could THAT be good?) and tempura dumplings and fishcake. On top of the tasty food, the people who run the restaurant were so so sweet. Desiree and I decided it was our new hangout place... To top off the delightful dinner we had, every 10 or so minutes, a student of mine, walking home from school, would see us sitting in the restaurant, stop and stare in the window and once I noticed them, double hand wave like a crazy person. I love my students. As I was leaving school yesterday, I noticed about 10 or 15 students jumping rope elementary school style (one HUGE rope, several girls jumping at the same time - I wish I remembered the songs we used to sing during rainy day recess in the gym...) in the vast limestone sports field across from our school. One girl ran across the street to tell me goodbye and I decided to join their jump rope party. Boy, did that score some brownie points! We jumped and jumped and jumped and pretty soon Dionne joined us as well as Chan Yang for a few minutes. Yesterday afternoon was probably one of my favorite non-classroom interaction times so far. They were all amazed that we could jump rope like them... To be honest, I was a little amazed I could still do it too! :) Today is the Dongsung Educational Foundation's 36th Founding Year Anniversary Celebration Student Choral Competition (what a name!). For the entire morning, each homeroom from the first and second grades will sing one Korean song and one English song with their homeroom teacher. Hyunjoo is the main judge and Dionne and I are the congeniality judges. (Hyunjoo told us that some of the classes are not as musically talented as others but they worked so so hard, so we are supposed to pick the class with the best energy and unity... so cute!) The classes have been practicing for weeks and they even cancelled several of our classes this week for dress rehearsals! Tomorrow is Sports Day. All of the (literally) 1000s of students from our three schools and all of the teachers will descend on the limestone field to participate in yard games like jumping rope, three legged races, tug o' war, etc. all day tomorrow. I've been told team costumes are involved. I am SO EXCITED for this! Hopefully I'll be able to properly document the day - I've kind of fallen off the wagon as far as pictures go... That changes... tomorrow :) | Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Update Update Update
69: Sports Day | Sunday, May 29, 2011 | 69 | Oh Sports Day. What a glorious, delightful day, in so many ways. First, everybody wears some sort of sporty attire. The students all dress up in crazy class costumes be they matching t-shirts, crazy hats of some sort, long skirts, etc. Each homeroom goes online and orders some sort of team uniform - there seemed to be lots of Hawaiian this year - Hawaiian shirts, boards shorts., etc. There are also, inevitably, Super Soaker water guns involved in every team's uniform. Awesome. | The teachers also dressed in their casual sports attire, which usually involved a matching pants and jacket getup. Everyone though, wore their typical school attire (the girls wore their uniforms and most of the teachers wore their suits, etc.) to school and changed into their sports gear after they got to school. This is something I didn't understand... I, too, donned my sports attire for the day - blue mesh shorts, a t-shirt and some sneakers. When I walked into the teachers' office Friday morning, Vice Principal Choi gave me a surprised up and down look and said, "Noelle Teacher. Good!" | The morning consisted of four events - six legged race, dodgeball, jumping rope and tug o' war. In the afternoon, there was a 4x4 relay and awards. So, the day was spent watching these events, cheering and taking pictures with what seemed like every single student in our school. Too bad my camera batteries died early on, but I did manage to get some good stuff before that unfortunate situation occurred... | Dionne and I decided that Sports Day is a good thing - for everyone. Everyone at our school (and in all of Korea, really) works so so hard ALL THE TIME, so this day of nothing but fun and foolishness was much needed by everyone. Even though our students' and teachers' vibrant personalities show through in the classroom or office, respectively, it is extra fun to see them be able to let completely loose and have a good, stress-free time. I. LOVED. IT. Here's a short video with some Sports Day highlights... <
70: 70 | Snot Factory | Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | Hope that title isn't too graphic for you, but it aptly describes my current state of being. I've contracted a vicious cold, but I think I'm on the road to recovery. Several cute scenarios have presented themselves as a result of my sickness, though, so in the name of cute English interactions with Koreans, this cold has been solid gold. This morning, the head teacher of the Research and Development Department asked how my cold was doing. I told her I was feeling better, but wasn't 100% yet. The Vice Principal asked her what we were talking about and then said, "Noelle Teacher. How your cold coming?" We've had several interactions lately. He's so cute! After lunch, and after blowing my nose almost continuously for my entire free period prior to lunch, he said, "Noelle Teacher. Cold better?" So concerned. Love it. MiYoung Teacher also just came to my desk to check on me. She's so sweet. Chan Yang asked me how I was doing during Morning English and I answered that I was sick. On the way to lunch, four students said, "I'm sorry to hear you are sick Noelle Teacher. Have a nice lunchEE!" One had a very concerned look on her face and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. After lunch, I was talking to some girls and they said, "Teacher. You have cold." I said, "Yes, but I'm getting better." One girl then shouted the Korean go-to encouragement for every situation: "FIGHTING!" with a fist pump. On a separate and completely unrelated note, yesterday I was shocked. I was wearing a pretty conservative sweetheart neckline dress that didn't (in my American opinion) show much (if any) chest. It was certainly more modest than other things I have worn to school... All day I got compliments on the dress. Even the Vice Principal told me he liked it (Oh Noelle TeachA. Dress. Good.) As I was leaving school, a group of second graders came up to me. One girl put her hand ON my chest and, shaking her head, said, "Oh Teacher. Too much." Yikes. I'm usually pretty conscious of wearing modest clothes, but I guess not conscious enough... Today I wore a crew neck shirt and a scarf, just to be sure... | Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going. – Paul Theroux
71: 71 | Desiree and I have taken to meeting for dinner every Wednesday night (and other nights of the week too but Wednesdays are a given). Tonight we decided to take a left turn away from downtown rather than our customary right turn toward downtown. We stumbled upon a barbeque restaurant and went in. We were greeted by a host of people who were excited to be entertaining foreigners. We ordered barbeque pork (though where the barbeque part came in is still a mystery to me :) ) and went to work. We enjoyed our spectacular meal and amusing conversation. As we got up to leave, I spotted the neighborhood trash lady and her husband who is the copy man at school. I've had several delightful greeting exchanges with both of them in their respective environment, but I've never seen them together, or outside of our familiar settings. We walked over to say hello. Mr. Copy-Man was so excited to see us that he insisted we sit down with them and share a shot of soju with him. Desiree and I looked at each other hesitantly. He compromised by backing down to half a shot (it wasn't the alcohol itself that had me hesitating - it was the complete lack of previous alcohol consumption with anyone associated with our school that had me unsure...). We poured me the agreed upon half shot and proceeded to get some chopsticks ready for Desiree. She thought he was offering me a shot and her some food. Little did we know... we were off to the races. We each took half a shot of soju with Mr. Copy-Man. Then, he insisted we eat some of their meat too. After we were done. he pointed to his wife across the table and said "Wi-puh" Desiree said, "Beautiful" and I said, "YES!" He whacked my arm way hard, and I thought I had offended them, but then he gave me a big smile and an arm squeeze and I knew all was well. He vigorously shook each of our hands. We thanked them for their hospitality, paid for our meal and enthusiastically waved goodbye one more time. I'm still a little shocked at this delightful encounter and I can only imagine him telling his pals at the EB school about his encounter with the foreigners at school tomorrow. Yikes. The next order of business was dessert. All week we have seen several girls toting these huge ice cream cups back up the hill to school. Tonight was our time to try them out. We walked up to the counter and asked for ice cream. They reached for cones. We stopped and said, "Cu-puh?" They nodded knowingly and said, "Bing-su," pointing to the huge banner in front of us. Duh. What happened next sounds disgusting, but trust me friends, this is a delicious delight. With bare hands (Korean food practices are not for germophobes!), the woman layered cornflakes, a healthy helping of shave ice, a few pieces of tapioca, some fruit cocktail, and Korean sweet beans into a plastic sundae cup. As if that isn't awesome enough, it was topped with a generous dollop of chocolate ice cream and *sprinkles*! Now that it's all melted together and mixed up, it looks like I'm eating sludge, but it is some of the most delicious sludge I've laid my hands on. Typically, I'm told bing-su involves sweetened and condensed milk rather than chocolate ice cream, but here in the Gwanj, (what I've taken to calling my beloved home), I guess we do things a little differently... Also, I'm feeling much better today (thanks for asking :) ). As I walked into school today, Vice Principal Choi asked how I was feeling, the teacher that sits at the front of my desk pod congratulated ( !! ) me for getting over my cold, and one of the adorable concerned students from my lunch encounter yesterday stopped me on the street to tell me she was so glad I am feeling better. Their concern warms my heart. On a quick book review note, I just finished reading FREEDOM! by Jonathon Franzen. This 560 page saga involving a seemingly cookie cutter suburban Midwestern family of four was delightful, in a Thornbirds kind of way, minus the saucier bits. It was honest, funny, thought provoking and intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, plus, it's pretty gratifying to finish a 560 page book. Just sayin'. | Wednesday Night Dinner... | Wednesday, June 1, 2011
72: 72 | Best Meal of the Trip? Live Octopus, Hands Down. | Monday, June 6, 2011 | (More on that later :) ) First, a comment on how awesome the Indigo Girls are. I am love love loving their debut album - about 25 years late, but that's okay. Right now I can think of no better soundtrack to unpacking, pedicuring, blog writing, video constructing and last-hours-of-the-weekend-enjoying. Get it, girls! So, back to business. Since today was Korea's Memorial Day, Diane and I took advantage of the three day weekend, and ventured to Busan, a city on the southeast coast of Korea. Since we fully intend to go back when it isn't so busy (this weekend, it seemed that everyone and their brother went to Busan...), we took it pretty easy, not doing a whole lot... Just our style :) Friday night after school was over, I took the bus to Suwon, the capital of Gyeonggi Province (the area surrounding Seoul) to meet Diane, who lives about half an hour south of Suwon. While waiting to board the bus for the two hour journey ahead of me, as I was yakking with Diane on the phone, an old lady came up to me, tapped my face with her hand and a huge smile on her face. Then she tapped my overnight bag and my butt. I was just as surprised to have this happen as you are to read it. Usually people look at me like I'm a crazy (a tall white girl with short hair in the country? Unheard of.), but they NEVER touch me. Once again, never a dull moment in the Gwanj. Friday night, once I met up with Diane, and we traveled to her city of Pyeontaek, we met up with Heather, Diane's neighbor who teaches as the boy's middle school near Diane's school who I also met at orientation. We had a delightful barbeque dinner. The next day, we woke up bright and early to board the KTX train bound for Busan. Since we bought our tickets only a week before, there were no seats left in economy seating, so we were forced to pay $10 extra for first class tickets. BALLS. What a tough trip down we had :) | After we arrived to Busan, and took the subway to our hotel, we wasted no time in finding a cafe at which to lounge, plot our plan of action and, of course, people watch. The rest of Friday was spent wandering around looking for an awesome pajeon (savory green onion and seafood pancake) restaurant. We walked in circles a couple of times (when will we learn that Lonely Planet guide directions leave much to be desired?), then walked for at least a mile if not more before randomly taking turns to get back where we started before stumbling upon the first of several landmarks we were looking for. Half an hour later we still hadn't found the restaurant, so we broke down and asked a nice woman for help. She was a peach and showed us to the famous (and well worth the adventure of a walk) pajeon house. We were seated right in front of the woman cooking the pancakes, so after much observation (read: shameless staring), I think I have the technique down. (Watch our Iowa!) Then, we headed for the beach. We were pleasantly greeted by a quiet, mostly deserted, soft sanded beach with a beautiful view of a famous lit bridge. A couple of hours of girl talk later, we called it a night. What a great day! | Obligatory feet-on-the-beach picture with the bridge | Skyline by the beach - my camera does some crazy biz at night :)
73: 73 | The next day, we took a cab to a coastal area (I cannot remember the name...). It was so refreshing to ride in a car with the windows down. My high school friends are probably re-reading that last sentence because I used to HATE driving with the windows down, but now I find it quite refreshing. What a great ride. Once we got to the coastal area, we took a trolley ride to a lighthouse to enjoy the view and the ocean. | Check out this adorable (stalker-esque) video I shot of a family trying to take clever pictures. Jumping photos are an international sensation, obviously. :) <
74: 74 | Tickets have been purchased. That's right folks. This kid is coming home for three and a half glorious weeks in July and August (July 23 to August 18 to be exact). Words cannot express my excitement. Despite my continued love affair with Korea, it will be nice to be in an unconditionally familiar place surrounded by those who know me best. As I gear up for this trip, I have been having the weirdest cravings. Cravings for food I never eat at home - like rhubarb crisp, braunschweiger and chicken wings. I figure I'd better take advantage of my (probably short-lived and exclusive to my Korean adventure) carnivorous ways. I've also been having cravings to do weird things that I haven't done in years - like playing catch in our front yard - something I haven't done since middle school at least. It's weird to realize the things I've been subconsciously missing, but funny too. Nothing too juicy to report from school this week - pretty standard stuff for a four day week. My students are adorable on a regular basis, as are many of the teachers, but one delightful conversation blends into another. Here are the ones I distinctly remember: (Desiree and I ate dinner at a new cupbap (fried rice served in a paper cup) restaurant that recently opened in our neighborhood. We both had tuna dressing cupbap (tuna, mayonnaise, corn, rice, sesame seeds and seaweed) and found it to be quite satisfying and delicious. Yesterday on my way home from school, I was talking to some of my favorite third grade students. Student: Teacher. Yesterday, you eat cupbap? Noelle: Yes! It was delicious. Student: No Teacher. (shaking head and waving hands) That food (sounded more like pood) is ..... Another Student: JUNK-AH! Student: Yes. Teacher. That cupbap - junk! I guess that shows how much I know about the properties of satisfactory cupbap! If students walk into our class late, we make them sing a song in English in front of the whole class. Yesterday, two girls walked in late. Noelle: Girls. Why are you late? Student: Oh Teacher. Dress. Good! Noelle: Thanks. Why are you late? Another Student: Teacher. Very Beautiful. Noelle: Thanks. Why are you late? Student - realizing the sucking up was not working, she let out a sigh: Toilet. Noelle: Ah ha! Which song will you sing? They chose Baby by Justin Bieber so Dionne and I accompanied them, singing the verses while they (along with the whole class) passionately sang the chorus. Don't worry - I rapped too. (I think of you every single time Jill - She woke me up daaaaily. Don't need no Staaaaaarbucks!) | It's Official! | Friday, June 6, 2011
75: 75 | Today, Founder Kim visited our office. He and Vice Principal Choi invited me to share a cup of coffee with them. This, among several other small conversations, was a highlight. Founder Kim: How long you stay in Korea? Noelle: Less than one year! I came in September. Founder Kim: You stay 10 years. You marry Korean. We make nice place for you live. Noelle: (nervous laugh) hahaha. We'll see. After a delightful (albeit somewhat intimidating...) chat, I had to leave to teach. Founder Kim pointed at my huge cup of bright purple Tazo Passion tea and said, "You drinking whiskey?" To which, I thought HA. Yeah right. This kid drink whiskey? Puh-lease... :) Speaking of which, you can't imagine how much I am looking forward to Happy Hour at 405 4th Ave. Bring on the G&T, Bob! I am ready! | Buckle your seat belt - here's a not-as-light-hearted-as-usual post... I teach teenage girls. I remember being a teenage girl (it wasn't all that long ago after all) and the inevitable stresses that go with it. That was in small town Iowa where appearances are important, but not as important as your character and work ethic. In Korea, where image and physical appearance mean everything, those stresses are magnified. In a big, big way. It breaks my heart to see this stress play out on an everyday basis, but it is a reality of Korea. Plain and simple. In Korea, beauty means being slim and having big eyes, a small face, and pale skin. If someone doesn't fit that bill, what do they do? They make themselves fit that bill. Diets (one of my girls told me that "diets are every girl's forever homework" - which simultaneously made me laugh and broke my heart), skin whitening serum, face wash, etc., and in many cases, plastic surgery, both seemingly minor and major procedures. There is an obsession with eyes especially. Yesterday, one of my students, who has told me on multiple occasions that she has a complex over her sparse eyebrows, got them tattooed. For some reason, when she told me she was going ahead with the procedure this weekend, I was shocked and oddly terrified for her. Since I have tattoos, I wasn't concerned for the pain she would endure (it's not as bad as you might think...); I think I was more weirded out by the fact that she was A) tattooing her FACE and 2) she's only 15 years old and if the vanity-related insecurities are being bowed to now, how much else will she seek to fix before she is satisfied? I just hope that this minor procedure doesn't open the door to more serious surgeries down the road... I'm such a worrier. | Sunday, June 12, 2011 | Beauty
76: 76 | A more popular topic: I had never noticed this before coming to Korea, but "Western" eyes have a crease between the eye lid and the brow bone, often referred to in English as a double eye lid or eye line. Many Asians don't have such a crease, which creates a constant source of envy among Korean girls. There are even products that are sold in beauty stores to create the crease - plastic, shiny band-aid type stickers to create the illusion, and even crazier - glue. When those products don't create the desired effect, girls turn to (guess what?) a surgical procedure in which a slit is cut above the eye lid to produce a scar that creates the illusion of the double eye lid or eye line. Several of my students have had this procedure done and for me, the jury is still out. The girls (and many teachers) who have had it done don't look much different to me, but if it gets rid of that complex of theirs, then, whatever. But, seeing fresh surgeries was enough to turn me off any kind of cosmetic surgery. Girls came back to school from winter vacation - and summer vacation will likely produce the same results - with these painful looking, nasty, red puffy injuries on their eyes that looked like they were on the receiving end of a broken beer bottle. Sometimes they don't heal properly and, like one of my third grade students, infection spreads to their eye. To take a beautiful Korean eye and try to morph it into a more Western ideal not only freaks me out a little, but it tugs at my heartstrings in a big way. So anyway, this topic is never far from my mind as I watch these young women come into their own and negotiate who they are and what is important to them. Dionne and I have talked about it on several occasions but it wasn't until YouJong told me about her eyebrow procedure and I watched the video posted below that I really thought about how high-stakes beauty is in this culture. Korea is a beautiful, majestic place, but it certainly isn't without its flaws. I guess this is the one that continually sneaks into my thoughts... I came across this documentary project that was initially about Korean education but, once filming began, morphed into something much more - a study of Korean "hahn" and all this complicated concept entails. (Follow the link above to get a full explanation of hahn.) I cannot wait for this documentary to be released. I think this project is not only eye opening (no pun intended :) ), intriguing and interesting but also a really important dialogue for the way we see ourselves - Korean or not. Enjoy. A Documentary project in Seoul, South Korea by Kelley Katzenmeyer <
77: 77 | The first stop was the LG Best Shop. Its purple exterior looked nice and happy to me so walking into the store, I had high hopes. Looking at the computers killed those hopes. They all looked crappy to me, which was surprising because I've seen some pretty swanky LG computers on teachers' desks at school... And, the man who approached us had a certain sleazy used car salesmen vibe to him, plus a definite lack of English, which made me nervous. We quickly found our way out of that store and made our way to the Samsung store across the street. I quickly settled on a beautiful white computer with a pink cover (sounds like a match made in heaven, right?). The man who was helping me seemed pleased with the easy sale, that is, until he couldn't find the computer in stock. He asked if I was willing to buy the display computer, whose price he reduced by quite a bit. That sounded fine to me, until he came back, saying there was no English operation system available. That sounded weird to us, since we were pretty sure you could just change the language setting on the computer, but if he didn't know that, I wasn't about to try to do sign language-like moves to figure it out. We left and walked back to our neck of the woods where there is another Samsung store. We walked in and marched right up to the computers. A very nice man started showing me around, asking me (in pretty good English!) what I wanted in a computer. To Koreans, my list must have sounded like a joke. "Uh, word processing, internet surfing, listening to music. No games." Astonished, he asked, "No game?" - like, are you for real? No games - you're a weirdo. He started asking me to lift the computers to find the most light-weight machine. I have no problem carrying around a heavy-ish computer (take a look at my purse sometime - it's like a no-frills weight workout when I go anywhere...), but I humored him because I thought it was funny. There was a beautiful MacBookAir-esque model that was awesome...until I looked at the price - he agreed that it was too expensive. That's when I knew we were going to get along. We finally landed on a sleek looking computer to which he said " this best one for you!" Dude didn't have to tell me twice - I was ready to make this purchase. He quickly changed the language to English and made me pick out one free thing (he tried to push a mouse on me, but my apartment is a rodent-free zone :) - he was so surprised to hear that I prefer to use the touch-pad on the laptop - unheard of in Korea! ). I inquired about speakers instead. He rummaged around in a cupboard that contained several sets of desktop speakers. He pulled out blue, green and pink versions of metallic bagpipe speakers, asking me which color I preferred. Without thinking, I pointed to the pink (duh.) and he said, "Yes. You a girl." HA. Love it. After I paid for my merch, he installed Microsoft Office, the Korean language writing program and Adobe Photoshop on my computer. He kept offering different applications that sounded good to me so I took him up on his offers. To this, he said, "You not make my job easy!" Oops. He made us go sit down and "watch t.v." while he installed all of my biz. Ten minutes later, he walked us down the stairs to the main floor of the shop, handed me a 4 GB flash drive - one that I had been eyeing in E-Mart but had been too cheap to buy myself and said, "My gift for you." Wow. I was a happy camper. I have spent the last several hours getting things set up on my new computer and I am still marveling at how fast it moves! I can't believe how patient I had been on my old, weathered companion! Windows 7 will take some getting used to, but I am loving this machine (and the speakers and flash drive!) already! Huzzah! | Not all those who wander are lost. – J. R. R. Tolkien
78: 78 | Oh. My. God. Last night was one of my favorite nights. Ever. As I was leaving school yesterday afternoon, Hyunjoo invited me to come to a sleepover she was having for her select choir. I already had dinner plans and then Diane was coming to stay for the weekend, so I wasn't sure if it would work, but I told her I'd text her after dinner and Diane's arrival to see if the festivities were still happening. Boy were they! The sleepover was held at a house that the school owns that is two buildings away from my apartment. The house is used for special camps that the school has sometimes. So, we (Diane, Desiree and I) walked into the house and heard loud music, singing, cheering and clapping coming from a room at the side of the house. As we entered the room, about 25 teenage girls erupted into cheering, clapping and screams. They were so excited to see us. We sat down and watched as several different groups of girls came to the front of the room to perform. In true Kyunghwa fashion, some sang, many danced and there was even a violin duet. There were a couple of other teachers there too, all watching as the girls put on the most raucous of talent showcases. Some of the girls had total sleepover hair and had also painted freckles on their faces for their performances. During a lull in their performances, Desiree, Diane and I had the bright idea to teach them the Macerena, so, amid more raucous cheering, we came to the front of the room to demonstrate the actions. In the meantime, the girls requested that we do the Chicken Dance, which Dionne and I had taught them a couple of weeks ago for no good reason. I was so excited and almost touched that they not only remembered but wanted to do it again with us. Adorable. As we were teaching them the actions (right hand out, left hand out, right hand up, left hand up, right hand elbow, left hand elbow, etc.) they were all repeating the words we were telling them. I should have taken a video of it. It was so cute. They loved the dance and asked us to teach them more. (Dionne and I planned to do just this for a lesson after Finals, so it was good confirmation that they'll enjoy it, but I also didn't want to do too much to spoil the lesson...) In the meantime, they also asked to do the Hokey Pokey (Dionne and I taught them the Hokey Pokey so they would sing it when they were late to class, but no one seemed to catch on and connect to it, so I was also surprised at their excitement to do the Hokey Pokey...) Then, we all migrated to the dining room where Hyunjoo and Ji Hye had prepared watermelon for us to eat. We stood around the dining room talking to my most adorable students. Then, most of the students retired to a huge room on the second floor of the house to play typical sleepover games before winding down for bed. We figured that was a good time to leave, so thus ended our Korean sleepover experience. I don't feel like I'm doing this experience justice in my explanation... It was such a simple couple of hours, but, to quote Tom Hanks from Sleepless in Seattle, it was a million little things that made the evening special. Their excitement over our arrival and meeting my friends, their giddiness and their interest in things Dionne and I had randomly taught them weeks ago was heartwarming - maybe more than heartwarming. Things I thought they'd never remember or react to come up more and more. I'm starting to realize just how much our interactions impact them and it's a pretty special feeling. The more time I spend here with my students, especially outside of the classroom, the more I feel like I'm building a really special connection to this place, and more so, the people that I interact with on a daily basis. I've always known I would fondly look back on this time of my life, but it's starting to sink in that my time in Korea is going to affect me for the rest of my life - in the best way possible. | Saturday, June 18, 2011 | Sleepovers
79: 79 | Tomato Festival... | I hate festivals. It's just true. There is something about festivals - maybe the hoards of people because we all know I love a good gimmick, so that just can't be the problem - that just doesn't appeal to me. A few weeks ago I heard about an upcoming festival in a tiny hamlet that is technically part of my city that's about a 15 or 20 minutes taxi ride away from my neighborhood. Diane was in town to hopefully sign her new contract (she's coming to work at Kyunghwa Middle School next year!!) and Desiree's friend Faith came to town as well. Despite my adverse feelings toward festivals and Desiree and Faith's dislike of tomatoes, we decided we had better experience a little Gwangju (and tomato) culture since the opportunity presented itself. The short time we spent there was certainly worth our while. After our taxi arrived (on Friday, Mr. Shin told me we had to take a cab all the way out there because it was too complicated for a foreigner to take the buses there! Yikes.) we began walking around, sizing up the situation. We stumbled upon a tent that was selling a bunch of typical Korean household items - I picked up quite a few gifts to take home with me... and a straw hat akin to those many of my students wore on Sports Day. I'm so Korean now :) Next was the highlight of the festival. We saw a tent that was giving out samples of tomato flavored makgeolli (Korean rice wine). Of course Diane and I partook in the free sample, while a cameraman filmed (right up in our faces!) our reactions to the drink. It tasted so so good - sweet instead of V8-like with a little alcohol zip. We inquired about buying some and were told 5,000 won (a little less than $5.00) was the cost for a huge jug of the stuff. We thought that was pretty cheap, so we told them we wanted to buy some. The woman took my bag of household item purchases and told me I could have it back when I was done. I thought that was weird since we were just planning to buy a jug of the wine, but they obviously had other plans for us: instead of buying tomato makgeolli, we were going to make our own. No big deal. | We began by donning plastic food service gloves and squeezing and crushing several tomatoes into a plastic jug. Then, we added a butt-ton of rice, some yeast and some weird particles called gomja that looked like petrified rabbit poo. (I later found out that those weird particles are the wet moldy bits of feed at the bottom of the feed sack - perfect for making makgeolli, though it sounds disgusting.) That all got washed through a strainer with some water. Then, we took turns reaching into the jug and mixing it all together. Next, the woman helping us gave me directions for finishing the process. (When we got home, I had to turn the lid one quarter turn to let the gasses form and do their work. Then, in one week, I need to add one liter of water and eight grams of sugar. Then, a week after that, it's good to go - just add sugar to taste and strain off the mold and jank before we drink it - sounds tasty, eh?) The whole time, there were cameramen filming our every move, reaction and squeeze of a tomato. Diane and I are curious to see if we end up on Korean t.v. again - just like when we were in Jeju!
80: 80 | Then, after a wild goose chase to get a taxi back to Gwangju (we got help from a shady looking dude (only because he had facial hair, which is a rarity in Korea) that spoke English and led us to a man wearing a vest that said "Best Driver" who waited with us until the taxi he called showed up - he was a peach.) and took a short rest in the air conditioning, we made our way to Bundang, which is a more upscale satellite city about an half an hour or 45 minute bus ride away. We got a Jamba Juice smoothie, walked around the tree-lined neighborhoods and ate dinner at Butterfingers - a really good upscale diner that serves bomb American-style breakfast food (I had the most delicious cream cheese and mozzarella pancakes - YUM.) We were all pretty tired by this point, so Diane, Desiree and I parted from Faith (who lives in Bundang with her Korean husband Mark) for the bus ride home. On the way to Bundang, a middle school girl had struck up a conversation with Faith. She and her friend were on their way to watch a horror movie. They were really cute and spoke English really well. On our way home, about 10 minutes into the bus ride, who boarded the bus and sat right next to us but the very same girls! Crazy. Diane talked to the girl that sat next to her all the way home, talking K-Pop mostly. At one point, the girl and I bonded over our mutual affinities for ear piercings (she beat my seven piercings with eight) and jewelry making. She was absolutely adorable. Feeling pretty energized from this interaction, none of us felt tired once we got off the bus so we decided to take Desiree for her first noraebong (Korean karaoke) experience. Two hours, several classic songs (think Baby Got Back, Fallin', Baby (just for you, Jill!), Wannabe, Footloose, What's Love Got to Do With It, Circle of Life and Mambo No. 5, just to name a few) and laughably awesome dance moves later, we danced our way home by the river. What a fantastic day. | The festival also boasted such eccentricities as an inflatable water slide that led to a pool filled with tomatoes and water. Fully clothed children plunged into the tomato filled pool one after another, screaming with delight. It looked like a good time, but I can only imagine how disgusting that smelled at the end of the day with the sun beating down on it all day long. EWWWW. | The whole gang - Desiree, Faith, Diane and me
81: 81 | Palm Reading | A quick snippet from class 104: After their speaking test today, two girls approached my desk. They asked for my hand. I reluctantly extended it because, really, how weird is that - "TeachAH! Give us your hand!?". They examined it for a little while, tracing the lines on my hand. Right then and there, I knew this would be a delightful interaction. Tracing the line where my middle finger connects to my hand, one girl said, "You marry handsome husband." (I liked her fortune telling skills immediately.) Tracing the line on my knuckle another girl said, "He will be very richEE man." (More brownie points here.) Pressing the fatty part of my hand below my thumb and getting no color change, the first girl said, "Oh. Gooood!" "Why?" I asked. After much conversing in Korean and looking back and forth and giggling at each other, they said, "We no know. BlogUH say goooood." Tracing my lifeline, they said, "You. No short life. No long life. Sorry Teacher!" (Slight loss of brownie points here, but I dig their honesty...) Last, they traced the line across the top of my palm. They were very impressed by this one, saying, "Teacher. Feelings. Strong. Many." (Say whaaa?) Then ,they said, "You. Movie. Watch. Many cry." Right on the money. They know me too well. | Monday, June 20, 2011 | Normalcy | Normalcy HA. I started writing the following post at the beginning of April but never published it because I wasn't finished with my thoughts. It's funny to travel back in time, in some kind of strange way, to what my thoughts were a few months ago... P.S. Can you believe three posts in ONE day? Don't get used to this, dear readers! So anyway, here's where my head was on April 4, 2011: I've been thinking about living in Korea a lot lately. Like, more than the typical day to day living here encounters type stuff. The time here goes by lightning fast. Everyone has always told me that the older you get, the faster the time passes. If time passes this fast at 23 years old, I'm baffled at the thought of how quickly time will pass as I grow even older! Weird. As a result of being here for seven months (!) already, life here has begun to feel normal. The honeymoon period is over and Diane and I no longer feel a need to experience touristy weekend attractions. We're more interested in walking around and enjoying the city for itself. This provides for some good people watching and contextual funny stories, but little in the way of blog post topics... Sorry.
82: 82 | On the other hand, I marvel at how I sometimes feel like I'm still very much a newbie to this living in Korea thing. For instance, I have yet to experience most of the culinary delights on my street. I'm sure you're asking yourself how this is possible given the propensity with which I write about the food I eat here... But, I assure you, it's true. Just today I was talking to some of my most adorable students about where they were going. They informed me with great excitement that they were on their way to buy toast. (There is a franchise here that makes a butt-ton of different variations of grilled cheese / melt sandwiches). My eyes lit up. You see, I have wanted to try this toast for quite some time, but there lies a barrier. I am terrified to order it. Yes, I can finally read Korean, ergo, I can read the menu. Yes, between the little Korean I know and the abundance of Konglish (English terms interpreted into Korean writing), I should be able to figure out what most of the sandwiches entail. Here's the clincher: there is a 78% (did you know that 88% of percentages are made up? Just like both of these... :) ) chance that at any given moment that I try to order said toast, a student will either be in the shop, ordering her own toast or within earshot of the toast shop to hear me sound like a fool. And, no, I do not welcome the opportunity to look like a tool in front of my students... So, (and I'm sure this didn't alleviate my fears of making a fool of myself) I practiced ordering a toast with my students on the walk home. They were so excited that I tried to speak Korean and helped perfect my toast order. Their excitement over my practicing how to order toast was so delightful that I didn't care if I looked like a tool to them. | (That was all I wrote on the topic, but I had bigger plans for this post...) I still have yet to order one of those sandwiches, but I have explored more areas of my neighborhood and Gwangju in general, thanks to my gal pal Desiree's arrival. It's funny how some days, living here seems like the most natural thing in the world for me and other days, I have those light-bulb-above-the-head epiphany moments where all of a sudden, I think to myself, "Holy BALLS. I live in KOREA!" Who would have thunk that living in Korea would ever seem normal? And, despite that sense of normalcy and comfort, each day, I learn, discover or experience something new. I am convinced that one year here is not enough (in my case) to fully gain everything from this experience. I'm thanking my lucky stars that A) I somehow fell into one of the best situations for which one could ask and 2) that my school likes me just as much as I adore them. Just this weekend, Diane and I were talking about how during our first month here, we were both warned about our honeymoon phase, where everything about Korea is exciting and new and interesting, would soon wear off and we would find ourselves having trouble adjusting, being homesick or even hating it here to some extent. Well folks, the honeymoon doesn't seem to have ended. And I'm okay with that. Living here certainly keeps me on my toes on the daily. For example, our water has been off for about three hours (that I have noticed...) and no one on my floor has any idea when it will return. I sure hope they turn it back on before morning because the humidity has arrived and this kid needs a shower :) | Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation. – Elizabeth Drew
83: Sunday, June 26, 2011 | Blogger Finally Works! | 83 | At last, almost a whole week later, Blogger has let me upload pictures and a video to my Tomato Festival post. Click here to check out the newly updated post about last weekend's tomato festival, and more specifically, making makgeolli (which, by the way, currently looks disgusting - I'll spare you the details of its appearance - I just hope it tastes better than it looks by next week!) Highlights from the last week include, but are not limited to: The last two days of after school conversation class - the students taught Dionne and me a Korean card game kind of like Uno! (I fully intend to introduce it to Iowa - way fun!) and the next day we played Spoons. Some of the students wrote me adorable notes and one student looked up the airport express bus schedule for me because I had mentioned I was concerned about finding a bus early enough in the morning for when I go home (my flight leaves at 9 am, so I have to leave the Gwangj no later than 5 am!) - such sweet adorable students I teach! Sharing homemade salsa with the teachers at school - some of them were amazed to hear that they, too, could produce such a culinary delight! A delightful movie night with Desiree (She had never seen Pretty Woman. We rectified that situation real quick :) ) Meeting Diane's delightful college friend Hilary for lunch and coffee in Myeongdong yesterday Seeing The Lincoln Lawyer last night - we had no idea what it would be about, but Matthew McConaughey has never steered me wrong :) - it was so so good! Making Korean style macaroni and cheese and hot dogs: cheese flavored ramen with tiny smokies - so good! Being stupidly exhausted after teaching a full week of classes (read: giving over 200 speaking tests and supervising 3rd grade study halls) after having partial weeks for the last three weeks - luckily, this week I only go to school three days (thank you, Finals!) - one day of classes (read: study halls because the girls can't seem to think of anything else), one half day with a teacher lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Seoul (I can already taste the guacamole!) and one more day of planning summer camp, finishing up lesson plans for next semester (Yes, I'm planning ahead - weird, I know), and putting the finishing touches on a demonstration class scheduled for the beginning of July. Helllllooooo four day weekend! AND, on an unrelated-to-Korea-but-totally-awesome-because-it's-such-a-big-deal-and-I'm-so-excited-about-it note - same sex marriage was legalized in New York yesterday! HUZZAH! Countdown to home: 27 days! I. Can't. Wait.
84: 84 | Monday, June 27, 2011 | The Most Delightful Photo Shoot in English Zone History | Next Thursday, we have an open class. That means that other teachers can come watch a lesson, as well as an official from GEPIK, which is the office that oversees English education in our province. So, I guess it's a big deal. We've been preparing for this class for the last week and will even practice parts of the class beforehand to make sure it goes off without a hitch. Our lesson is over practicing shopping dialogue that we've already taught the students, so for the first part of the lesson, we're reviewing that dialogue. We wanted to find pictures online of certain shopping situations, but when that proved more difficult than expected, Ruth Teacher suggested we stage a photo shoot with EB teachers instead. I was immediately in love with the idea. So, we enlisted the help of the always-willing-to-bend-over-backwards-to-help-us Mr. Shin and one of the co-teachers who also teaches Math, KyungNam. We set up a make-shift store in Dionne's classroom of things that Dionne has been using to help her teach the shopping dialogue (in the world of ESL, it is referred to a realia, though that is not in fact a word...) and went to work. Hilarity ensued and my day was made. I suppose you'd have to know these people to understand just how delightful the following pictures are, but it is worth noting how stiff, rigid and proud many Koreans tend to be, especially in professional situations. Though our school seems to be much more laid back and fun loving than many other schools, I was surprised about the gusto and full-on hilarity with which Mr. Shin and KyungNam approached this favor we asked of them. The fact that these teachers were willing to make fools of themselves, not only to help us out, but for the students and teachers from other schools to see, speaks volumes about the character and big hearts of my co-workers. Here are the highlights:
85: 85 | In other news, I just got back from a gut-stuffing session at our neighborhood all-you-can-eat meat grilling place with Dionne and Scott. What a delightful evening. Good conversation and amazing food was topped off with the discovery that the mother of the proprietor stalks the patrons and gnaws on their untouched rib bones after they leave. Reason 1293810417 why I LOVE Korea - people do things that you never, ever, not in a million years would ever expect or even try to guess. Today was the day before final exams so Dionne and I just gave all of our classes study halls. A girl in our first class called my name so I approached her desk to talk to her. After a discussion about what she was studying, I noticed that she and her desk partner were air drying their socks on the top of their desk (it's monsoon season - soggy socks are miserable - just ask Forrest Gump.) When I pointed out the socks, the student nonchalantly replied, "Teacher. It's okay. No smell." During the next class, my pal YeSeul (she pronounces her name like Yessir and shoots me guns whenever she sees me - we're real tight.) offered me a saltine cracker saying, "Teacher, you have snack?" (She was coached by a couple of her friends as to what to say.) When someone corrected her a few seconds later, she apologize, saying, "So sorry Teacher. She. (she pointed to her offending friend) Give bad information!" Later, a girl asked us permission for her friend to use the restroom by saying, "Teacher. She is bathroom" Dionne responded, "WHAT? She is a BATHROOM??" Raucous laughing ensued. I just can't get enough of this place.
86: 86 | Saturday, July 9, 2011 | I've Been a Busy Lady... | **Blogger is being weird again, and not letting me add pictures - I'll add them once Blogger corrects itself... Holy Cow. Going from a two and a half day work week to a full work week is exhausting. So much has happened over the last week and a half that writing a blog post seems daunting. I'm resorting to a list instead. Sorry if that's a cop-out. So, without further mindless drivel, here are 10 highlights (in no particular order) from the last 10 days... 1. Rain, rain, rain - It's monsoon season, which equals frequent rain. And, when it rains, it doesn't mess around. It rains almost every day (which is why I'm not in Seoul this afternoon), making being outside a bit of a chore... My coffee date with YeeSeul on Sunday lasted an extra hour because neither of us wanted to go outside! I'm giving serious thought to bringing my rain boots back with me... Yikes. 2. Spraining my ankle - That's right. I sprained my ankle. It was raining (go figure :) ) and I was walking down the stairs from Scott and Dionne's apartment. As I was thinking to myself that I should be careful because it would be real bad news to fall, my feet flew out from under me and I landed on my left ankle. It started to swell immediately but didn't hurt too badly, so I continued on to the market with the Husteds. I've been elevating it at night and iced it quite a bit in the beginning and while it's still a little tight, the swelling and bruising are mostly gone. Now I'm extra cautious on the stairs! 3. Shopping for watermelon and various home goods with Dionne and Scott - DIonne and Scott know all of the good places to snag cool stuff so shopping with them is always an adventure. The day I sprained my ankle, we went to the traditional open air market in Gwangju. As we were walking around, Dionne spotted nicely priced watermelons. We approached the stand and a jolly man emerged from the associated grocery store. He cut huge hunks from a dark green watermelon for us to sample, proclaiming that it was an Obama melon, given its dark color. I lost it, laughing for a real long time. He was pretty proud of himself. 4. Korean Folk Village adventure - Since last week was finals week, we had a lot of time off. DIonne and Scott took me to the nearby Korean Folk Village to explore. It was so cool! It had traditional Korean homes from every region and social class, performances of samul nori drumming, and tight rope walking, all kinds of traditional Korean wares and we even accidentally watched a hanbok fashion show. What a fun day with Dionne and Scott with beautiful weather too! 5. Pita Pit - Pita Pit (kind of like Subway, for for pitas) was one of my favorite fast food restaurants in Ames and a location just opened in Seoul a couple of months ago. When Diane and I first saw it in March, I was so excited to see it that I cried a little. It wasn't yet open then, so when we were back in the respective neighborhood last weekend, we stopped there for lunch. What a delightful taste of home! 6. Chatting with the fam - especially the Drewster - Every Sunday night, I skype with the folks and last week, Nick and Jess were home too, so I got to talk to them and see the Drewster as well. What a little prince he is! I'm so so excited to finally meet him in two short weeks! I can't believe how much he's changed in the last three months!
87: 87 | 7. Line Dancing - For some reason, the school schedule in Korea has finals happen with three weeks of school remaining, giving us two weeks of classes after finals. Dionne and I decided to use this time to introduce some American culture to the girls, so last week, we taught them how to line dance (we taught them the Macarena, Cupid Shuffle and Electric Slide). It was so fun (and funny)! Predictably, the second and third graders were a little too cool to enjoy themselves much, but the first graders! WOW. They LOVED it! It was so fun to be able to see them let completely loose and enjoy themselves. Even the co-teachers joined us, which was really fun! Mr. Shin was such a gem, not only doing the dances, but really getting into it. He wants to incorporate line dancing into summer camp AND the English festival next year! I cannot wait to see 250 students (and hopefully teachers, too!) doing the Macarena in the auditorium! Awesome! (I wanted to take pictures and video of it, but I felt too much like a voyeur doing it and the one video Dionne took is pretty poor quality because my camera is a complete piece... Next year, I promise!) 8. Tasting my tomato makgeolli with Dionne and Scott... twice - Remember the tomato flavored rice wine I made three weeks ago? Tuesday night, I brought the bucket'o'jank over to Dionne and Scott's so Scott could help me strain it and we could finally taste it. Once we added sugar to it, it was pretty tasty! Who knew that something that looks like barf could taste so delicious sans the barf-like particles?! We finished it last night as we watched a movie. The movie, some tasty popcorn, cold, tangy tomato makgeolli, some bakery fresh baby cream puffs and the company made for a pretty awesome (and rainy) Friday night. 9. Chatting with a car salesman on the way home from E-Mart - On Wednesday, Desiree and I were walking home from E-Mart when a middle aged man said hello to me as we passed each other on the street. I said hello back to him and kept walking until he asked if we had time to talk to him. He asked where I was from and told me he knew where Iowa was (I totally didn't believe him because no one in Korea has ever heard of Iowa, but whatever - he was nice enough...) He invited us into the car dealership where he works for a cup of coffee (which turned out to mean fizzy orange drink) and talked to us for quite a while. His English was pretty good and he got real deep, saying that Americans and Koreans are so different, but we are all under the same sky. When he told us we looked like angels, we made a not so graceful exit, saying we needed to put our groceries away... Oh Korea. 10. Open Class - Much of the last two weeks were spent preparing for this demonstration class that other teachers could come watch to get ideas for their own classes and also to critique our teaching. It went really well and the students were delightful about the whole process. But, it's a good thing we practiced the day before because otherwise, the place would have been a total zoo. Since we've been talking about fashion and shopping for the past two months, we decided to do an activity using their shopping dialogue. We had the students bring in their own clothes and accessories to create a flee market atmosphere. Some students were shop owners while others were shoppers. When we first practiced the activity, the students were crazy and loud, but used the dialogue fairly well, though put too much of a focus on bartering. Once they received a pep talk from Ruth (their co-teacher), they were total gems when we did the activity in the actual open class. We're rewarding them with an ice cream party after school on Monday. I'm going to miss these little tykes over break! P.S. I signed my renewal contract this week too! It's official... Korea is stuck with me for another year! If the next year goes by as quickly as this one, I may have to stay a third year... I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it! P.P.S. Just two weeks until I reunite with Iowa. I. Can. Not. Wait. Where has the year gone?!
88: 88 | Monday, August 22, 2011 | I'm Baaaaaack! | I literally don't even know where to begin. Since I haven't posted in such a long time, I guess I should start by apologizing for my absence... So, sorry for that. The last six weeks have been a blur, but the most delicious blur for which a gal could ask. We finished up the first semester of the school year, only to jump right into Summer Camp. We did an American themed camp and at the very least, Dionne and I were able to fully understand why the students at our school are so dear to our hearts. We had a great time with the camp, and really enjoyed getting to know a whole group of girls, but those girls also made us really appreciate how good we have it at Kyunghwa EB. Enough of that. The weirdest (and most disgusting) thing happened during camp: we accompanied our students to Yongsan Army camp for a field trip. For lunch, we all ate Pizza Hut pizza - like, authentic, American-style pizza, which, trust me, is WAY different from Korean Pizza Hut's product. Many of the girls complained of the abundance of salt (thank you, processed meat) and grease on the pizza. We thought nothing of it until the next day when only 14 of our 34 students showed up. Why? They were ALL sick. From the pizza. Gross. | The very next day following camp, I left for Iowa. Words cannot describe how excited I was for this trip! I experienced a little culture shock going through customs in Dallas - being able to eavesdrop on conversations (and understand what was being said!) was SO strange (and a little uncomfortable...) as well as the sea of white people in which I found myself. Very strangey. Without spelling out every single detail of my almost four weeks at home, let me just say it was the most satisfying, grounding, reassuring, comfortable experience for which I could have possibly asked. Not one day was misspent, and though the time flew by at warp speed, I have returned to Korea completely rejuvenated and ready for another year. Highlights from Iowa, in no particular order, include, but are not limited to: 1 > FINALLY meeting the Drewster. I think I'm going to enjoy being an aunt. | My principal pals
89: 89 | 2 > Spending a TON of time with family - the Pluegers, Kirk, the Banachs, Nick and Jess, Mom and Dad - I thoroughly enjoyed every single moment! I'm a pretty lucky gal to be able to call all of these wonderful people family! | 3 > One of the most badass class reunion weekends imaginable. It is still amazing to me that somehow, we never seem to skip a beat. Some of my best friends in the world are from high school and I wouldn't have it any other way. | 4 > Some AWESOME Theta time - being at the house after a whole year away felt completely normal. Witty banter with Mona, chatting with Mom Anne, helping with recruitment and lounging with Alyssa never felt so natural. | 5 > Being able to share a little Korean culture with Iowa - I cooked four Korean meals for various group of people and I couldn't have been more pleased with their reception. I was a little nervous about how people would feel about the food since they'd never had anything like it before, so when all went well at every dinner, I was so, so excited. In some weird way, it was comforting to be able to share something about which I feel so strongly with some of the most important people in my life. | Being able to spend almost four weeks at home was absolutely fabulous. It honestly felt like I never left, which is far from what I anticipated. Returning to Korea has yielded the same results. Walking to school this morning, it felt like I hadn't been home. It's so strange (but also quite comforting) to feel so unconditionally at home in a place no matter how long you are absent. I guess that's a good thing :) | Korean dinner at the Banach's house - notice how Ross is flexing his muscles. He's such a stud :) | Plueger Cousins
90: 90 | Saturday, August 27, 2011 | One Year. Wowza. | Thursday marked my one year anniversary of initially arriving in Korea. Since the last year has had the most profound of impacts on my life, I'm going to spend a little time in reflection. Get excited. When I signed up to come to Korea, I had (literally) no idea what awaited me. I had done a fair amount of research on the possibilities, but never in my wildest dreams could I have conjured up any kind of idea that would come even remotely close to what would become my Korean reality. The last year has meant many things to me: stepping seriously out of my comfort zone on an almost daily basis in one way or another, doing some serious soul searching and self discovery (and being happy with what I found), crossing some fairly unexpected items off my life's to-do list, and honestly, simply surviving. Let me explain: Driving around Iowa City with my mom on one of my first days in Iowa in 11 months, I shared with her that my first couple weeks in Korea were a little... unsettling. Everyone was nice and welcoming, but I couldn't help but wonder what the hell I was doing signing up to live in a country whose culture, food, way of living, dressing, pretty much everything was not only completely (and obviously) foreign to me, but foreign in ways for which I could not possibly have prepared. I was a long way from Iowa and my first couple of weeks here were a crash course in so many things: living alone, teaching (!), being a minority, dealing with a serious language barrier, and to some extent, moving on. I had gotten exactly what I wanted, but I wasn't so sure why I had wanted it in the first place. I hate doing most things by myself, so why had it seemed like such a great idea to move halfway across the world all on my own? Then, I began to get the hang of things. I made some invaluable friends in and out of school. I took full advantage of skype, e-mail and Facebook. I grew a pair of proverbial stones and decided that this would be a life changing experience no matter what happened. And, it was. It continues to be. I cannot accurately (or concisely) put into words the multitude of things I have learned this year: things about life, things about myself, things about people in general, but I have noticed and continue to notice their impact on my outlook and experience here and at home. My time in Korea so far has been exactly what I needed it to be, and, at the same time, so much more. I was hoping for an experience abroad to satisfy my craving for something completely different from anything I had previously known. I wanted some time for self discovery and reflection. I wanted a time in my life on which I could look back and fondly remember as an integral part of defining who I am and how I came to be that way. And, let's be honest, I wanted some fun stories to tell. I got all of that, and so much more.
91: 91 | The experiences I have cultivated outside of school, from the exciting and surprisingly profound (Vietnam (and Jill's visit in general), Bonguensa Temple, Jeju Island, the DMZ, Saturdays in Seoul, K-Pop concerts, Sunday coffee dates with Yeeseul (and more importantly, our conversations), and crashing Rejoice Singers sleepovers - to name the biggies) to the fairly mundane, but nonetheless valuable (eating out, people watching, shopping at E-Mart, walking around the Gwanj, walking to school in the morning - you get the picture) - all of these things, and countless others are what have contributed to making me a pretty happy camper here (which I realize may or may not be the understatement of the year). But, the one thing I go back to, again and again, that has made this year so successful, enjoyable and unabashedly rad in every possible way, is Kyunghwa EB. I look around my school, taking everything in: how adorable, smart, clever and funny our students can be, and the seemingly simple (and sometimes not so simple), but heart-warming and delightful interactions with teachers, the principals and Dionne and I can't help but think about how utterly blessed I am to be able to be a part of such an incredible school and an extraordinary group of people. People (both in Korea and at home) often comment on how obviously elated I seem to be, and all I can do is point to the unbelievable situation in which I find myself. There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly where I am meant to be right now. I don't know how long I will stay here, but I do know that Kyunghwa EB's lasting impact on me will endure long after my time here has come to an end. Thank you, thank you, thank you for following me on this crazy journey of mine. I cannot express how much your words of support, e-mails and general interest in my life here comfort me and make me feel less far away. Honestly, just knowing people read this silly account of my experiences and observations here means the world to me. You're all peaches. Each and every one of you. Big, sweet, juicy Georgia peaches.