Monday, March 31, 2008

Images of Korea

Monday Morning Workout

My first batch of kindergartners freaked me out this morning. They went into the room before it was time for class, seated themselves, and were quietly waiting for me when I walked in. For the few who may not know, this is not normal behavior for three and four-year-olds! They further confounded me by participating fully in the lesson. I'm not used to them being that angelic, so I almost wasn't sure how to handle them today! Of course, I'm not complaining at all. I hope they freak me out even more tomorrow!

My second kindergarten class brought me back to reality. They were determined to do anything but learn, so I spent the entire class feeling more like a drill sergeant than a teacher: "Amber! What is this?" "Sam! Where is the chicken?" "Liz! Stop talking and sit down!" "Eddy! Open your book!" "Lynn! What is the cow doing?" "Repeat!"

I'm trying to get into better shape, so I've been taking advantage of my kindergartners to help me. Since they're so full to the brim with excess energy, I stop their lessons halfway through each day and have them do exercises, like jumping jacks. They like it, and it's beneficial to me as well. Afterwards, we get back to lessons, and I have found that they pay better attention. In addition, I've been coming up with the most rambunctious games and songs possible to end my lessons with. The kids love it, and it burns calories.

Today, for instance, I invented a game for the second class in which they were chickens fleeing from the hungry farmer. The table was the hen-house, and they had to be under it in order to be safe. Whenever the farmer "took a nap," the chickens were supposed to run around. If the farmer caught a chicken, the chicken was eaten and then turned into a farmer (with the farmer magically becoming a chicken). Naturally, they adored the game and I actually had a few who were sad when class ended. Let's hear it for job security!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Quiet Sunday

I was originally planning to go to either an amusement park or another folk village today, but when I woke up and saw the size of my ankle, I decided a day of rest would be a better idea. Apparently, my ankle did not appreciate all the walking I did yesterday! So, I facebooked my friends to say that I was staying in, and settled back for a quiet, relaxing day. After watching a few episodes of Friends, I decided to dedicate some time to working on my plans for next year.

Anyone who knows me can testify that I do not function well without goals and at least some basic version of a plan. And quite frankly, I often get even more enjoyment out of making the plans than I do carrying them out! I just love mapping out each step towards a goal, and then watching as I complete each step. So even though I've got almost eleven months left in Korea (which is a deliriously happy thought), I've already gotten a head start on mapping out the next few destinations.

From the beginning of this whole Korean adventure, I have planned to backpack across Europe for a month when I finish my contract. That, naturally, is still my intent. I've had a blast looking over maps and railway websites, planning out which countries I intend to visit. I've just found out about a one month TEFL certification course in Florence that I can take after I get done backpacking. I think this would be a great idea for me, since I would get to live in Italy for a month and since I would be further qualified for a job that I find both enjoyable and satisfying. With TEFL certification, I would be able to work in Vietnam, which would be awesome, or I could work throughout Europe. Egypt is even on the table for consideration (won't Mom be delighted to hear that?!).

I realized this morning that if I hadn't left UNCW, I would be graduating with my master's in just over a month. At first the thought depressed me a bit, but then I realized how much better off I am. I am living the kind of life I've always dreamed of, with a world of possibilities beckoning to me. I'll never get rich living this lifestyle, but wealth has never been an enticement for me. I love what I'm doing, and where I'm living, and I love all the options I have. I don't for one minute regret doing my undergraduate work in history. I got to study something that fascinates and thrills me. I spent four years learning about amazing people, places, and events, and I got to write papers about things I cared about. Now I'm getting to visit many of the places I studied, and it's like meeting a pen pal for the first time. I know now that I made the right decisions when it came to my education.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Saturday in Yangdong

After the week I've had, I knew I needed some fun today. So when my friend Clare suggested a trip to Yangdong Folk Village, I eagerly agreed. It's a really neat village about forty minutes from here by bus, still technically in Gyeongju. Many of the buildings are from the eighteenth century, there is a national treasure to see, and there are cute thatched roof houses. Perfect fodder for the eager eyes of a history major!

The day did not get off to the greatest of starts. Owing to a marathon that was being run today, I got to the bus terminal (where I was to meet Clare) almost ten minutes late. I looked around, and couldn't find Clare anywhere. I waited and waited as twenty minutes slipped by, convinced that something had gone wrong and I would be spending the day alone back at my apartment. Then Clare came breathlessly running over, also having been delayed by the marathon. Boy was I relieved to see her!

We took the bus to Yangdong for 1,000 won (less than one dollar). It was a scenic ride through countryside, surrounded by mountains. I don't know how I'll ever be happy living elsewhere after being so thoroughly spoiled by all this Korean beauty!

The village was fascinating to walk around. There are over 160 homes and buildings built amongst a beautiful forest, about sixty of which are well over two hundred years old. It was like stepping back in time into the Joseon Dynasty! We ate lunch in an adorable little restaurant being run out of someone's home. We walked all over the place, enjoying the fascinating architecture, lovely flowers, and stunning views, and even had the opportunity to hike on some rather steep "trails" (the jury is still out on whether they were actually meant to be trails). Click here to see pictures of Yangdong.

After spending the day in Yangdong, we decided to hitch-hike home rather than wait for the bus. We got lucky on our first attempt, and the very friendly driver took us all the way back to Dongchundong, which is exactly where we wanted to be. On the way back we passed by our friend Nina, so we called and invited her to join us for bing soo (the yummiest food in the world). It had started to rain a little, so we took a cab downtown and then went to Dark Black Chocolate, a fantastic coffee cafe. There I indulged in the best mochaccino ever, followed by fruit bing soo, which was even better than I had remembered. Afterwards, the three of us did some shopping downtown before finally parting ways at about 10:00.
My bing soo
My mochaccino, complete with a tiger face made out of cream on top.

When I got home, I called my dad and told him of an important decision I have made regarding my future. I asked him to go ahead and sell my car, because I have no intention of living in the US again for at least a few more years. I don't know if I'll stay in Korea that long (although the idea is really appealing), but certainly I am going to stay abroad. This world is just too big and too full of wonderful places for me to move back to America any time soon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A "Whale" of a Good Time in Ulsan

Today we packed up all eleven kindergartners (both classes together) and went on a field trip to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum in Ulsan. The museum was about a one-hour drive from the school, during which the kids were amazingly good. They were all in high spirits, as they love any creatures that are bigger than them. The drive was beautiful, much of it through rural areas (Gyeongju is kind of in the middle of nowhere).

When we got there, we let the kids explore outside the museum and run around for a little while. Then we had a picnic lunch of kimbap and strawberries. Kimbap is rapidly becoming one of my favorite foods, which poses a problem. While it is very cheap here, it is ungodly expensive back in the states. There's another point against you, America!

The museum itself was quite interesting. Most of the exhibits were in Korean, but there were a few that had English translations. At any rate, I love whales, so I enjoyed looking at whale artifacts, pictures, videos, and bones. They even had several whale fetuses, which were adorable. It had never before occurred to me that a whale would have an umbilical cord. It makes sense, but I never gave the matter any thought before. Well, now I've learned something new!

Click here to see photos from the field trip.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Corn Ice Cream

No, that's not a typo. I have made yet another Korean food discovery (drum roll please): corn ice cream. It sounds weird, but it tastes really good. It has a pastry shell that is shaped like corn, and then the inside is corn-flavored ice cream with little bits of actual corn and a little bit of chocolate sauce. An odd, but satisfying combination. I had a horrible thought the other day: how am I ever going to readjust to boring American food if I decide to move back to the USA later?

My ankle is a little smaller today, but still pretty swollen. It REALLY hurts. Especially since I live on the fourth floor, and also have to climb stairs at school. I can understand why animals sometimes bite off their limbs after an injury. I briefly considered that alternative earlier today. Cate was very sweet, offering to take me to either a doctor or a massage place. I turned her down though. I have injured this ankle so many times that I know exactly how to treat it, and despite the pain, it really didn't get hurt that badly last night.

What a day I had yesterday! I thought about it this morning as I stood on one foot to brush my teeth in my honeysuckle-scented bathroom. Days like that suck, but they do turn into very amusing stories later. And, on the positive side, the nice English-speaking taxi driver taught me how to correctly pronounce the area where I live, so I can get home from downtown easier in the future. Also, I now know the location of four American fast food restaurants, in case I ever lose my mind and decide I need to clog a few arteries.

Of all the restaurants we could have given them...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Limping Miguki

That would be me (Miguki means American). Why am I limping, you ask? Well, let me tell you...

When I checked my facebook this afternoon, I saw that some friends had invited me to join them for sushi and thought hanging out with friends might cheer me up a bit after my lousy morning. Naturally I neglected to look at the date on the invitation. Had I looked, I would have seen that sushi night was yesterday.

I had Jackie, one of my Korean coworkers, write down in Hangeul the location of the bank downtown where I was to meet my friends. I figured this way my crappy American pronunciation of Korean words wouldn't get me lost. When the cab dropped me off, however, no one was there (of course, since we were supposed to meet last night). I waited for beyond a reasonable amount of time. Then, when no one showed up, I decided that perhaps I was at the wrong bank and went looking for the right one (second mistake of the evening).

Over the course of the next hour and a half, I got progressively more and more lost. Where does the limp come in? Oh, that delightful bit occurred about half an hour into my adventure when I managed to twist my bad ankle. It's now about twice as big as it should be and hurts like heck. I started trying to find a cab after the ankle incident, but I was so lost in back streets that there were no cabs to be found. When I finally did find one, he couldn't understand where I was asking him to take me and dropped me off in the busier section of downtown (where cabs are prevalent), free of charge (at least I had that much going for me). Did I mention that I still don't have a cell phone, so calling for help was not an option?

Eventually I was lucky enough to find a cab driver who spoke fluent English and corrected my pronunciation so that hopefully I will not confuse any future drivers. He was very kind and dropped me off at the Lotte Mart, where I picked up a few special groceries and then limped miserably home. I decided that after a day like today, I earned a special grilled cheese sandwich dinner with some coffee ice cream. Grilled cheese may not sound special, but when you consider that the cheese cost over $5 and the butter over $3, plus the cost of bread, it becomes the equivalent of a nice meal in a restaurant here.

I am now going to enjoy my decadent ice cream treat while I ice my ankle and watch Friends (my new second-favorite show). I hope tomorrow goes a lot smoother. I also hope my adorable kindergartners don't further damage my poor ankle!


I had a rough morning this morning. I slept lousily last night, so I tried to compensate by giving myself an extra half hour of sleep. Unfortunately, that meant I had to rush to get ready for school, and in my haste, tragedy struck.

Okay, so maybe it wouldn't be tragedy to anyone else, but it was to me. I dropped my favorite bottle of perfume (also the only one I have here in Korea) and it shattered. I was so stunned that I didn't react until later at school, when I kept blinking back tears while having my coffee. Luckily the kids didn't see, or they would have been very concerned.

My whole life, I have always loved the scent of honeysuckle. It brings to my mind images of barefoot summer days as a child, when I used to pretend to cook with flowers, and honeysuckles were always the most priceless item on the menu. I called them truffles because I knew that truffles were exceedingly expensive, even though I had no idea what they were or what they looked like. Honeysuckles remind me of laying on my stomach for hours on our dock, fishing for bluegill with my net while the rich scents of summer wafted about me. Honeysuckles are the happiest scent I know.

Last year, at one of the roughest times of my life, when I had just turned my back on a lifelong dream and faced the possibility of losing one of the most important people in my life, I bought this perfume. I was over-wrought with worry and unable to give way to emotions through tears, for fear that I may never stop crying. So instead, I went out to the mall alone. I walked blindly from store to store, feeling numb and trying not to think. Then I went inside "Bath and Body Works" (one of my favorite stores). They had a new scent out that day: honeysuckle.

It sounds a bit silly, but when I sprayed a little bit of that perfume on my wrist, it brought back a flood of memories of happier times. I'm not usually a fan of perfume, but I had to buy that one. Every time I used it, the smell made me happy. When I packed to leave for Korea, that perfume was one of the top items on the list. I even took it carry-on, just to keep it safe. Every day, I've sprayed just a hint of it on me.

Today, when I broke that special bottle of perfume and realized that I can't replace it, something inside me broke too. It's a stupid, pathetic, materialistic thing to get upset over, but there it is. That perfume meant a lot to me, and now it's gone. The men who read this blog are probably scratching their heads right now, but I'll bet most of the women understand. Sometimes silly little things mean a lot more than big important ones.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One Month

Today marks one full month that I have been here in Korea. I can't believe how fast the time has flown by, or how much I love it here. I haven't been at all homesick yet, which seems a bit odd. In fact, I keep thinking already about the possibility of extending my contract. One thing is for certain; I was definitely born to live abroad. I have no desire to return to the US anytime soon.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I'm going to do over Christmas. Going home is ridiculously expensive and downright silly (I'd waste two days just in traveling, for one thing), so I've decided I'm going to take a vacation over Christmas week. I'm thinking a week in Guam and Saipan would be great, plus the airfare is actually quite affordable. If that doesn't work out, I may go to the Philippines or Indonesia. I love having all these options!

This is why I can't understand people thinking that I should be trying to find a husband right now. The last thing on earth I want right now is a guy! I love my freedom, and being able to live wherever I want, and to travel wherever I choose to. I am not about to give up this lifestyle yet. No thank you!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Random Amusing Sights

Here, for the enjoyment of my faithful readers, is a collection of some amusing things I have photographed here in Korea. I hope they make you smile!

Seoul airport. You can just imagine how hard it was to figure out where to go to get my bags!
A modern art exhibit, also in Seoul airport. I'll bet my dad would love to have this bed, which is made out of television sets!
The buttons on my Korean washer. Is it any wonder I was nervous the first time I did laundry here?
Just a nice, wholesome children's book (my Aunt Diane would LOVE this one)!
This is a trashcan that I saw in a restroom. I have no idea what the author intended the little story to mean!
This is actually a bar downtown (no, Grandma, I didn't go in).
Awesome sign at the Corner Cafe, the cutest coffee shop in Gyeongju.

"Hello, this is Mission Control..."

I love Skype! I can call the USA for only two cents a minute, and I get to wear my really fun-looking headset while I'm doing it! I feel like Mission Control when I have that thing on!

So, dear friends and family that I left behind, be forewarned: you're going to get phone calls from me in the near future. Of course, the tricky part is working around the time difference. The best times for me to talk are when those I love are contentedly making zzzzzs. Ah well, not a big deal. I'm just delighted that I found a cheap and reliable way to talk to people. Thank you, modern technology!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Girls' Night Out

Tonight (okay, technically last night since it is after midnight) seven of us girls (and two guys who wanted to tag along) went out for a fun night together. We went to Tiare, a really cute Italian restaurant, for dinner. The food was okay, but the fruit juices and the dessert were out of this world! I had a glass of kiwi juice, which cost next to nothing and was delicious. For dessert, Nina and I shared a huge bowl of fruit bing soo, which consisted of fruit (strawberries, kiwi, banana), ice cream, syrup, shaved ice, and cornflakes. I am officially addicted. I must eat this delectable treat again, and soon!

While we were eating, we saw two other foreigners walking past the restaurant, so we sent Clare out to grab them and invite them to join us, which they did. They turned out to be a married couple who are working as teachers in Seoul. They're originally from California. It was fun to randomly meet more foreign people! I love how everyone is so friendly here in Gyeongju.

After dinner, we said goodbye to our two new friends, and went out to a really adorable coffee shop called the "Corner Cafe." There we had hot chocolate with Bailey's (so good!), talked, and played cards while listening to music. It was a great time for all. We parted ways a bit early tonight, so I got home at about 11:45 pm, as opposed to the wee hours of the morning like last night (technically two nights ago). Whew! What a busy, fun Easter weekend I'm having!

The World's Foremost Klutz Retains Her Title

Yesterday got off to a rather painful start. Literally. I was happily riding my bike to school when, out of nowhere, a curb showed up. I bumped the curb, and the bike and I hit the sidewalk. The bike was not injured at all, as it had something soft to land on (me). My bag went flying through the air, littering the sidewalk with its entire contents. As about twenty Koreans stared in apparent amusement, I limped about collecting everything before getting back on the bike and going to school.

When I told Cate what happened, she was very concerned. "Is the bike okay?" she asked immediately. To be fair, her next question was whether I was okay. Later, she asked me again if I was sure I wasn't hurt. I assured her that both the bike and I were just fine, although my pride was severely injured. Unfortunately, I later discovered that my camera got a bit dented in the fall (luckily it still works).

The bike accident notwithstanding, yesterday was actually a good day. When I went in to teach my afternoon classes, I discovered that Christine, one of the Korean teachers, had left a box of Dove dark chocolates for me on my desk. There was a really sweet note as well, in which she offered her help if I run into any problems ever. I have the best co-workers!

After school, Daisy and I went out to dinner with some of the other foreigners. Cate had invited me to dinner, but I already had plans with my friends, so I had to turn her down. Dinner was delicious, as always. We had pork this time. They bring a plate of it (raw) to your table along with all your side dishes, and then you cook it yourself on the grill in the center of the table. There are many ways to eat it, but the tastiest is to roll up some of the pork in a lettuce leaf with a bit of the salad and some sauce.

After dinner, we joined some more friends and went out to a soju tent. I had to take a picture of one of the side dishes there: fried silkworm larva. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't bring myself to try one. They smelled pretty gross, and nothing about their appearance suggested that they belonged in a human mouth.
It was there at the soju tent that I finally conquered two of my biggest Korean fears. The first fear was my fear of squat toilets. Without going into details, I'll just say that while thoroughly disgusting, they do the job. My second fear has been taking a taxi alone, since I know VERY little Korean. It took me a while to catch one, but once I did, I confidently told him in Korean where to take me....and he had to call his English teacher to decipher what I said. Oh well, at least I got home safely. I guess I'll have to work a bit more on my pronunciation.

Me with Sarah, one of my many new friends.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

One of "Those" Days

If I'd had any idea how today was going to pan out when I awoke this morning, I would have stayed in bed a lot longer. It was a day full of teacher vs. students, and I'm still not sure who won. Probably the students, since they seemed no worse for wear. I, on the other hand, desperately wanted to make a necklace out of Valium and lick at it all day long!

Yesterday I planned a project for each of my kindergarten classes. For the first class, we were to make "film books": a sleeve with a window, and then a "filmstrip" with various pictures to pull through the sleeve. For the second class, I decided to be very optimistic and have them make farm dioramas. Or, rather, the start of farm dioramas. My idea was to use the diorama as a teaching tool by having them do one part at a time.

The kids were enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyed their lessons today, so I guess you could call my ideas successful. On the other hand, I underestimated the challenges I was undertaking. I knew I would need to cut out the main parts of the dioramas and film books in advance (Satan will get frostbite before I ever let my kindy kids do their own cutting on anything that requires precision), so I went to school early today in order to get it done. I soon discovered that kids are fascinated by teachers cutting things, and had to cut out the parts with about six kids hovering over me and occasionally trying to sit in my lap. Not easy! Then, I ran into trouble with the film books in my first class. The sleeves turned out the same width as the filmstrips, so I had to re-cut the filmstrips in order to be able to insert them. The windows on those sleeves were a nightmare to cut out - I found myself longing to just chuck the whole project!

My afternoon classes were possible fodder for the script of a future horror film. In all but one class (that's seven if you're keeping track), the kids behaved horribly and I had outright confrontations. In my E3-C class, I actually kicked a kid out of the room. I knew I had to get him away from me. All my classes were loud, even the one class that behaved well. One hour in, and I had a splitting headache. Ivy, one of the Korean teachers, was kind enough to give me some medication that I have a feeling is probably not legal in the US without a prescription. It got rid of my headache for a few hours, and doped me up enough that I managed to survive the day.

The only bright spots in my day have been my E5-B class, getting back my passport and alien registration card, and the anticipation of dinner tonight. I'm going out with a bunch of other foreigners for dak galbi, which I've been told is absolutely delicious. I'm completely exhausted and my headache is back, but I need that dinner. This day has got to end on a positive note! I've earned it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Ginny (pronounced "Jeannie") is quite possibly my favorite student. I call her the "Girl of a Thousand Faces" because she is so expressive. She wants so badly to be able to talk to me that she learns at an astonishing rate. When I first met her a few weeks ago, she knew only a couple of words. Now, she is rapidly gaining more comprehension of English every day. Of course, it probably helps a lot that her mom is Jackie, one of the other teachers (she's the woman whose back is to the camera).

Ginny is a little comedian. She makes the funniest faces ever, and she is always doing really cute things that just crack me up. I see quite a bit more of Ginny than most of my students, since she is always early and often comes to the school in the evening to wait for one of her parents to take her home. Usually I'm pretty busy making my lesson plans in the evening (after my last class is over), but I can always find a few free minutes to spend with Ginny.

I swear, this job is really bringing out my maternal side! I always liked kids, but I never realized just how addicting they can be! Oh, and let's not forget exhausting.

E3-D (My Second Favorite Class)

There are only four students in my E3-D class (third grade level), which is part of why I love that class so much. Perry, Gene, Lucy, and Emily are four of my best students; they are lovable, smart, eager, and downright funny. Every day with them is a pleasure because they try so hard and enjoy every activity or game that I plan for them. As a result, I teach better, and leave class each day feeling pleased not only with them, but also with myself.

Emily and Lucy are eight and the boys are nine. The girls insist on carrying my supplies to class for me each day, and then Perry usually carries them back after class. After class, the girls always wipe the board for me. Is it any wonder I love these kids?
In case you're curious, that two-fingered sign you see all the kids doing is not a peace sign (like in the USA); it's the "V for Victory" sign from WWII. Apparently, Koreans liked it so much they decided to keep doing it! Almost every picture you see of Koreans has at least one person making the victory sign.
Perry and Gene, my goofy boys.

Lessons Learned in Kindergarten

Me: "What does your father do?"
Student: "My father is an office worker."
Me: (to a different student) "What does your father do?"
Student: "My father drinks!"

Me: "What color is the bush?"
Harry: "Blue."
Me: "No, not blue, Harry. It's green."
Harry: (grabs blue crayon and scribbles over bush) "No, blue."

Me: "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Student: "I have a brother."
Me: "Does your brother like to play with you?"
Student: "No, hits."

Me: "How are you today, Lynn?"
Lynn: "I am happy and sad and hungry and very, very, very so-so!"

Me: "What did you have for breakfast today, Sam?"
Sam: "Rice."
Me: "What did you have for breakfast today, Eddy?"
Eddy: "Eggs and frogs!"

Isaac: (pointing excitedly to a picture of a dolphin) "Goldfish!"

My little girls, from my second kindy class: Amber, Lynn, Erin, and Liz

Cali and Amy, from my first kindy class. Cali helps Amy whenever she doesn't understand something. I have a feeling Cali may grow up to be a teacher.

Harry and Jay, also from the first class.

Sweet little Erin, who loves to sit with me between classes.

They're a handful, but they're also a lot of fun! (Now where's Sam?)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Do You Think is Scary?

Today in E5-A (fifth-graders), I was asking the kids what bores them, tires them, excites them, and scares them. When I finally got around to Jake, his answer caught me completely off guard!

Me: "Okay, Jake, what do you think is scary?"
Jake: "I think you are scary!"

Yeah, I probably had that one coming!

Hail the Disciplinarian!

My kindergartners (the second class) were behaving so badly today that they were endangering themselves. In other words, I was ready to strangle them! Since strangulation is a frowned-upon form of discipline, and since yelling at kids in a foreign language is also ineffective, I wracked my brain for a better method. I found one! I drew a box with a frowning face and the word "bad" on the board. Then I explained that anyone who kept talking or getting out of their seat would have their name written in the box. At the end of class, anyone with their name in the box would have to stay while everyone else got to go play. Result: the best behaved kindergartners I have ever seen! I think I'll try this on my older kids...

As for my other class of kindy kids, those four are turning into adorable little mimics. Since I am always having to tell Jay to sit back down, the others students now shout "Jay! Sit!" every time he gets up in class. Peer pressure is very effective; he sits every time they tell him to. My little Cali (a VERY cute and intelligent girl) is a miniature teacher now: she loves drilling the other three with the flash cards. Since I'm open to just about anything that encourages more learning, I am happy to let her.

I am also celebrating another victory this week: I taught the first batch of kindy kids the "Hello Song," which is actually a song used in the curriculum of two of my older classes. It's an easy, repetitive song, so I figured it would help the kindergartners learn "hello," "what's your name," and "my name is" better than drilling them would. I was right. The kids love the song, so they go around singing it after class, which is great. My director even commented on it today. Best of all, now they understand what I mean when I ask them their names. Slower but surely, I'm helping to create a batch of future English-speakers.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flowers, Flowers Everywhere!

Once again, we have a sunshiny, warm day here in Gyeongju. All the plants across the street are happily blooming away now, so I couldn't resist a few more flower pictures. I didn't get a chance to properly appreciate them on my way to class, because I was running a little late and then got a flat tire on my bicycle. I guess the leprechauns aren't giving me any help in the luck department today, even though I did wear green.

My eyes were feeling a bit dry today, so I decided to wear my glasses to class. Big mistake! My first class didn't seem to notice, but my second batch of kindergartners couldn't get over the change in my appearance. The minute I started to write the date on the board (and the kids stopped talking in order to observe me), I heard an immediate chorus of "Teacher! Teacher! Eyes!" and "Teacher Grandma!" Whilst retaining my laughter, I explained to them that normally I wear contacts (this explanation involved some brilliant charades), but "today Stephanie-teacher's eyes hurt - ouch. Eyes ouch. So Stephanie-teacher wear glasses today. Understand?" Seven little heads nodded, then Amber piped up again: "So Stephanie-Teacher grandma today!" Kids say the darnedest things!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Holy Polaris!"

Tonight I went downtown with my new friend Nina to hang out with another new friend, Kristin. The three of us enjoyed a delicious fully-loaded baked potato dinner, a bottle of wine, and the classic, hilarious 1969 film Batman. That film is so cheesy, but that just makes it all the better. It was terrific fun mocking all the pathetic dialogue and "special effects", and of course, rooting for the bad guys. As much as I love Koreans, it was great to hang out with a British girl and another American and be able to speak in complete sentences sans charades.

Today officially marks the end of my third week in Korea. In this short amount of time I've been introduced to dozens of new dishes (most of them delicious), learned to decipher Korean nutrition information on packaged foods, learned to communicate with people in grocery stores, made several new friends, discovered that I really like teaching, and even learned to use Korean appliances. I have yet to humiliate myself in a public place, and I have not committed any cultural offences. On top of all that, my boss likes me, and I her. I'd say I'm off to a simply smashing start!

The Blue Garbage Bag Saga

Korea has a very intelligent way of handling trash pickup: you buy special colored trash bags (different colors for different areas) for throwing out garbage and the cost of the bags covers the cost of trash pick-up. Very sensible. The only problem for me has been the difficulty in locating these bags, which for my location are blue.

For the past two weeks, I have been diligently searching for these bags, with no luck. Cate gave me one to tide me over, but after that, I was forced to commit a big no-no: one night I waited until no one was about and then snuck out a grocery bag full of my trash. It was either that or live with the trash, and since the trash contributed nothing to the upkeep of the home, I could not find it in my heart to allow it to stay. I was unable to comprehend why anything so essential as a garbage bag should be hidden away, and my frustration was mounting with each failed attempt to uncover the secret hideaway of the bags.

This afternoon, the saga finally had a happy ending. Cate, my ever-conscientious director, stopped by to see if I had time for a short trip to the store. Then she took me there personally and showed me exactly where to find the elusive blue trash bags. Who knew a day would come when I would look upon being able to take out the trash with such delight?

A Rooftop BBQ and a Trip to the Cinema

Saturday began with a migraine, which concerned me since I had plans for the evening and did not want to have to cancel them. I used every means available to me and managed to get the blasted thing to a tolerable level of pain by 6:00 pm, which is when I needed to leave by. I was due to meet up with Daisy, the teacher I replaced, at 6:15 in front of the Lotte Supermarket (where I do most of my grocery shopping). I think the walk did me some good, because my headache was completely gone by the time I got there.

We met up with a few other foreigners and then went downtown. A very nice lady, Patty, was having a rooftop BBQ, and we were all invited. It was a great opportunity for me to meet about twenty other foreigners, all of whom are very friendly and fun people to know.

The weather turned cold, so our rooftop party was more like a rooftop huddle around two heaters. We still had fun, though. We all come from different parts of the world, so it was neat to hear about places other people lived and to compare stories of how we happened to choose life in Korea. Aside from being foreign teachers, we all share one very important thing in common: we all love Korea!

After the party, a group of nine of us went further downtown to a cinema to watch an 11:00 showing of 10,000 B.C. The film was actually quite stupid and fanciful, so we had a great time making fun of it (it was in English with Korean subtitles). The cinema was very nice - clean with comfy seats and tasty snacks. I tried some flavored popcorn that was simply delicious. Best of all, unlike in America, the cinema here doesn't show any ads or previews before films.

After the movie concluded we unanimously decided to call it a night, so we hopped into cabs (which cost next to nothing) and headed back to our part of town. I left the group at the Lotte Supermarket and headed cheerfully back to my apartment. As I walked though the abandoned streets, I almost laughed aloud at how much my mother would be bothered if she knew I were walking home alone at 1:00 AM through dark, narrow streets and alleys. It's Gyeongju though, so it's perfectly safe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Temple Pictures from Last Weekend

Today my absolutely awesome director Cate e-mailed me a few pictures she took last Sunday when we visited the temples.

The first two pictures are of Bulguksa; the third is of the other temple we visited (way up in the mountains). The little girl with glasses is my student Angie and the other little girl is Rosie, also my student (and Cate's daughter). They are two of my best students, as well as two of my all-around favorite kids.

Have You Ever Wondered What Killer Whales Eat?

Thanks to today's kindergarten lesson, I can tell you: they eat seal, octopus, fish, and squid. Now don't you feel smarter?

Today is Friday, so the schedule is different for the kindergarten classes. Each month has a different theme, and each Friday has activities and lessons centered on that theme. The month concludes with a field trip. This month, our theme is whales, and our month will conclude with a field trip to a whale museum (which I am really looking forward to).

My job today was to teach a "science" lesson about whales to the kids and to assist Cate in doing a big whale craft project. For the lesson, I taught the kids what killer whales eat. That may not sound like much of a lesson, but imagine having to learn that lesson in a language that you barely speak. Now do you have a healthy respect for my smart little kindy kids?

For the craft, we made killer whales and colored and cut out pictures of seals, octopuses, squid, and fish to "feed" the whales. Of course, the kids' favorite thing to do with their whales is make them poop out what they just ate. It figures!

Happy White Day!

Today is White Day. When one of my classes informed me of this yesterday, I was, needless to say, a mite puzzled. My students patiently explained to me that Korea has two versions of Valentine's Day. On February 14, girls give chocolate to the boy they like. On March 14, boys give candy to the girl they like. Sounds like a great plan for the candy companies!

On a completely unrelated note, it has been very cloudy here the past two days. Cate told me yesterday that this is actually owing to the pollution from China. My immediate thought was "Wow, just how badly polluted is China?" Then last night, I was watching CNN's Asia World News and they actually discussed the pollution in China. Apparently it is so bad that one marathon runner has already decided not to compete in these year's Olympics, and several other athletes are also reasonably concerned.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

If Only Memories Could Be Bottled

"I wish there could have been an invention that bottled up a memory, like perfume, and it never faded, never got stale. Then whenever I wanted to, I could uncork that bottle and live the memory all over again." ~"I" de Winter, Rebecca (by Daphne du Maurier)

Today had two moments, both during the same class, that I wish I could bottle and relive over and over again.

I love my E3-D class. There are only four students: Lucy, Emily, Gene, and Perry, ages eight and nine. They are four of the most eager, lovable kids I have ever been privileged to know. Whenever they enjoy a lesson, for instance, they thank me. Imagine, kids thanking a teacher for teaching them! Most kids just take such things for granted.

Today I created a new review game for the kids, since they have just finished their Smart Phonics book. The first moment I'd like to have bottled took place while they were engaged in this activity. Gene did something (I'm not sure what) that made Emily cry. I jokingly suggested to Emily that she should hit Gene for being such a mean boy and he responded by saying "here" and offering her his head. Emily smacked him on the head before I could do anything. Smacked him hard, in fact. Gene grinned, so I knew he was okay, but I was more than a little bit shocked. I asked Emily if she felt better and she replied thoughtfully, "One more time." Once again, Gene offered his head (rather eagerly actually), Emily smacked him even harder (REALLY hard), and I once again responded with horrified shock. Gene gave me his infectious grin, pointed to himself, and declared "Stone-head!"

My second moment came as I was preparing to leave the room. Emily and Lucy, as always, had erased the board for me. I just happened to glance at it as I was walking out the door and I read the message Emily had left for me: "I love you."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Gets Lost in Translation

I am curious as to whether the author of my kindergarten curriculum is indeed a native English speaker, or whether he/she just a twisted sense of humor. Today's lesson in my second class was, shall we say, a bit rough on the teacher.

Apparently, euphemisms were not taken into consideration in the writing of the textbook. Try keeping a completely straight face while teaching all of your students to say "Those are my balls!" Normally, I'm above such things, but today, it was REALLY hard not to giggle after hearing this about the sixth time (with each child pointing down at the picture on the bottom of the page as they said it). Take into consideration that my first kindergarten class still insists on referring to the number that follows five as "sex" instead of "six" and I'm sure you'll excuse my brief relapse into adolescent humor.

The author of the textbook also has lousy grammar, which sometimes irks me a bit. For instance, I'm supposed to teach the kids to say they're doing good (when actually they are well), and have them learn to ask if they "can" do something (when actually they should be saying "may"). I know that very few Americans even briefly consider grammar anymore, but I don't like deliberately teaching poor grammar. It's like encouraging kids to live up to the lowest standards.

Some of the things the kids come up with on their own are pretty funny. A few kids like to use the word "angry" as a substitute for "very": "I am angry hot, teacher!" or "It is angry sunny outside." Oh, and what blockhead taught all these Korean kids the phrase "so-so"? I seldom hear that back home, and yet almost every kid over here says they're so-so when I ask how they're doing. They like to make combinations, too: "I'm happy and so-so," "I'm angry and so-so." What the heck?! I keep finding myself using the blasted phrase now!

I love teaching English. I may completely lose my mind in a few months, but I love it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dinner with the Parents

Dinner tonight went pretty well. Of course, I was a bit nervous having dinner with the parents of one of my students (Anne, from my favorite class), but at least Gary and Cate were along, as well as Rosie (Cate's delightful daughter) so I wasn't completely put on the spot. Anne is a sweet little girl, and her parents are quite nice, but it was important that I represent the school well, which put a little pressure on me.

We went to a charming little Chinese restaurant, which I was very glad about. I love Korean restaurants, but it is so much easier to make a good impression when you get to sit in a chair, as opposed to the floor. Of course, we used chopsticks, which I'm still not as dexterous with as I would like to be (though vastly improved from when I first came).

There were loads of new foods for me to try (served in courses), most of which I thought were fantastic. I've gotten to the point now where I don't even bother to ask what I'm eating anymore, so I have no idea exactly what ingredients were in each thing I ate. The dumplings with stir-fried peppers and chicken were yummy, as were the sticky sweet potatoes, pickled radishes, and the sweet and sour pork. Best of all were the ginormous shrimp with a light, sweet, buttery coating. Normally I'm not a shrimp fan, but these were amazing! My soup was pretty good, albeit a bit odd: there were pieces of tentacle from some species of sea creature, which I found very difficult too eat (too rubbery for my liking). Of course, the main dish of chajang myon was great (even though I had that for lunch). There was one other dish involving shrimp that I tried and, while it was not a smash hit, it was acceptable to my palette.

The trouble came with a seemingly innocent vegetable and shrimp dish that involved a great deal of broccoli. I personally consider broccoli to be the second greatest among vegetables, so I was eager to try this new dish. Nothing in its appearance prepared me for what was to come. In short, that dish was cruel and vindictive! It was very spicy to begin with, and then I bit into some unidentified crunchy object that was so hot it brought instant tears to my eyes and made me almost desperate enough to tear my tongue out of my mouth and throw it across the restaurant. As I was being observed by Anne's parents, I had no choice but to swallow and try to downplay just how much agony I was in. The side of my tongue is actually still sore from whatever it was I bit into.

Aside from that one mishap, and the one water chestnut that chose to dive into my lap rather than my mouth, dinner was a success. Anne's parents seemed pleased with us teachers, and I thought both of them were very kind. It was also nice to get to spend a little extra time with two of my best students, both of whom are really fun little girls to be around.

One thing continues to amaze me though: I can't figure out how Koreans can stay so small and yet eat so much at each meal! Every Korean I've met can out-eat me easily, yet I'm like Behemoth next to them! It must be all the stairs they put everywhere.

More Pictures of Spring Being Born

It's getting prettier and prettier every day here in Gyeongju, now that spring is finally getting out of bed.

Cate and Mark gave me a bike, which I finally figured out the kickstand on, so today I rode home from school instead of walking. It felt terrific. It's the perfect temperature out, so you don't need a coat, but you don't get sweaty doing anything active, either. Perfect weather for bike riding! I'm planning to leave a little early for my afternoon classes so I can take advantage of the weather and have a bit of a ride.

This evening, three of us teachers are going out to dinner. We're being taken out by the parents of a student that we all have. I'm a little nervous, since I will be kind of on display tonight, but I anticipate good food and a general good time. We're going to a Chinese restaurant. I'm hoping to have something I haven't tried yet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring Is in the Air

On my walk back to school to teach my afternoon classes, I had the delight of seeing brand new yellow blossoms springing up on the trees. Aren't they lovely? I can hardly wait to photograph what it looks like when they all burst out in glorious profusion.

I really enjoy my walks to and from school each day. I pass so many beautiful sights each time, and I find myself leaving home earlier than I need to each day, just so I can savor my walk a bit more, and have that extra moment to enjoy something that catches my eye.

My Clothes Have Been Known to Excite Small Children

It is gorgeous outside today. The sun is bright and cheerful, the sky is a happy light blue, and it's warm enough to go without a coat. Naturally, I felt the need to dress accordingly, so I put on my brightest red shirt this morning. I had no idea what delight my shirt would have for my kindergartners (they are a rather unpredictable bunch).

When I walked into my first class, with my four little cuties that speak next to no English, I was greeted with cheers of "Hello! Red! Red! Hello, hello!" The kids paid much closer attention than normal, so I'm wondering if the shirt had anything to do with it. After class, Jay, my slowest little boy, came and sat with me for a few minutes and kept pointing to his shirt and then mine, saying "red." (He was also wearing a red shirt.) I was so delighted to hear that he has learned something!

In my next kindergarten class, I was greeted with more cheers: "Hi Teacher! Teacher red shirt! Red!" As with my first class, I seemed to hold their attention much better than usual. So either English was much more fascinating today, or kids like red shirts.

After class is over, the kids play together while waiting for their parents. Today, as often happens, they got a bit too wound up and there was soon the sound of crying. It was little Jay, and he came barrelling into the office, ignored the two Korean teachers, and threw himself into my lap. I almost started tearing up myself! He wanted comfort from the foreigner! I can barely communicate with the kid, and yet he likes me! It was a very special moment for me.

I have reached the conclusion that although kindergartners are twice the stress and three times the work of my other classes, they are not without rewards. Kindy kids give the best hugs, for one thing. They make you want to pull your hair out one minute, and then the next minute they do something so unbelievably cute and/or sweet that you wish you could bottle the moment and preserve it forever. They are really lovable little monsters!

On Friday, when Mark and I got back from Daegu, he took me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant that serves excellent chajang myun (noodles in a dark sauce with beef). It was Kids' Day at school, so Cate and two other teachers took the kindergartners out to lunch at the same restaurant Mark and I were at. The kids saw me immediately, and began shouting excitedly, "Stiff-unnie Teacher! Hello Stiff-unnie Teacher!" (By the way Mom and Dad, thanks for giving me a name that not a single Korean can pronounce.) It felt great knowing that just the sight of me excites my little pupils. It felt even better knowing that I didn't have to eat with them!
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"