Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Teacher Wears a Skirt

"Stephanie-Teacher! You wear skirt today! Very beautiful!" "Teacher, teacher, skirt!" "Stephanie-Teacher, do you have a date today?"

This is what I heard all day long from every single class. Apparently, I wear skirts much less than I realized. But then, biking to school does dictate that one wear either pants or a long skirt. And even in a long skirt, I do have to worry about such things as wind currents on a bicycle. Today, however, I felt like walking to school, so I thought I'd dress like a girl for a change and wear my pretty new skirt that I bought just before I left the USA. The kids were fascinated by the change in my appearance. Maybe I'll have to have a skirt day once a week from now on...

Cate announced today that in honor of Children's Day, which is on Monday, we're going to do cooking with the afternoon classes on Friday (schools are closed on Monday, so I get a three-day weekend). Apparently, she was so impressed with the way my nacho idea turned out for the kindergarten, she now wants to do it with the older kids. I'm thrilled, as it means that I don't have to plan games for every class like I usually do on Fridays. Plus, I get to eat yummy nachos again!

Since we have a three-day weekend, some friends and I are going to take a trip to an island on the other side of the country. This time, we've done the travel arrangements ourselves, so there won't be any side trips to ginseng factories or elk farms. There will still be the hideously long bus ride there and back, but since we're staying for two nights, it won't be as bad. We'll be leaving the island on Monday evening and traveling during the night, so we'll arrive back in Gyeongju at 7:00 am on Tuesday. Then I get to shower, change, and head to school. Cate asked me to come an hour early on Tuesday, as she is going to take me downtown to set up a bank account. I need one in order to book my vacations and to wire money home to pay off the loan I got from the First National Bank of Mom and Dad.

I am currently in the process of planning and booking my summer vacation, since Cate has given me concrete dates for my time off. I get a whole glorious week! I was originally planning to go to China, but when I realized that I would be going the week before the Olympics, I decided to go somewhere else. So, I'm going to the Philippines instead. I couldn't be more excited. It's going to be like a one-week journey through my favorite history textbooks! I'm planning to visit Manila, Bataan, Corregidor, and even Vigan. I realize that I'll be going during the wet season, but I figured this way it will be much cheaper, so I can do more. I'm not really interested in going to beaches alone, so rain won't bother me much at all. I'm going for the historical sites and museums - my bread and butter. I can't wait!

Korea Has Seoul (part 2)

Lizzi and I were so exhausted from our full day on Saturday that we slept until 11:00 am on Sunday! Finally, we managed to motivate ourselves enough to get up, dress, and leave. Since we were still pretty foggy-headed, we went to a cute little coffee shop for coffees and danish. I had the foresight to pack some oranges before we left Gyeongju, so we devoured those as well. Over breakfast, we discussed how to spend our second day in Seoul. I really wanted to see a palace, so we chose to go to Gyeongbokgung Palace, which sounded amazing.
Gyeongbokgung Palace lived up to its reputation. It was huge and beautiful, surrounded by the tall buildings of Seoul and mountains. We arrived just in time to get to see the changing of the guard, which was awesome. I took some video of it, so I'll try to edit it and post it soon.
The palace was built in 1395, when the capital of the Joseon Dynasty was moved from Gaeseong to Seoul. The Japanese invaded Korea in 1592 and burned the beautiful palace to the ground. Under King Gojong, the Koreans rebuilt the palace a few centuries later, in 1868. Then, years later, the Japanese occupied Korea again, and once more destroyed the palace, this time at least leaving a couple of its buildings. Since 1990, the Koreans have been restoring the palace. So far, less than 40% of the original structures have been rebuilt. Considering how many buildings there are now, this palace is going to be colossal when they finish.
I particularly enjoyed getting to see the queen's quarters, which were gorgeous. I think I could have been very happy as the queen of that palace! I was also enchanted by the many stone figurines and had more fun than one might imagine taking random photographs with them.
One of the best parts of our trip to the palace was getting to dress up like guards. Believe it or not, it was completely free! We got decked out from head to toe in guard uniforms, chose our weapons, and went wild taking photos.
After enjoying Gyeongbokgung Palace, Lizzi and I discovered that it was already nearly 4:00 pm, with a four-hour bus journey back to Gyeongju still awaiting us. We opted to have dinner first, so we went to a fantastic restaurant that specializes in mandu (dumplings). I had the pork and vegetable mandu, along with some teriyaki chicken, vegetables, and noodles. Yum!

While our delicious dinner settled in our stomachs, Lizzi and I did a bit of browsing at some little shops that lined the street we were on. We each found adorable earrings (mine are little scorpions). We also noticed some television crews and a number of people waving Chinese flags, which we had also observed earlier in the day. As we were preparing to leave for the bus terminal, I happened to catch sight of a little ice cream stand. What a lucky sight that was! It was Korean ice cream, which comes in odd, albeit mouthwatering flavors. Lizzi got grape and vanilla ice cream, and I bought melon ice cream with chocolate chips in it. As bizarre as that combination sounds, it was simply divine.
When Lizzi and I finally got to the bus terminal, we bought tickets for the 6:30 express to Gyeongju. We had half an hour until our bus left, so we waited outside, enjoying a bit more fresh air and leg-stretching before having to sit for four hours. We were surprised (and delighted) to run into four of our friends from Gyeongju, who had taken a DMZ tour and were returning by the same bus we were on! On the bus, our friend Allison explained about the television crews and crowds waving Chinese flags that we had seen earlier. Apparently, we were there at the same time that the Olympic torch was!

It was nearly 11:00 pm when I finally stumbled through the door of my apartment. As much as I enjoyed Seoul, I was happy to return to Gyeongju. Seoul is exciting and full of great things to see and do, but Gyeongju is something truly special. It's peaceful, friendly, lovely, and for the next ten months, it's my home.

Korea Has Seoul (part 1)

Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun!

I spent the weekend in Seoul with my friend Lizzi, and boy did we have a terrific time! We caught a bus out of Gyeongju at about 8:30 Saturday morning, and spent the next four hours napping on the very comfortable reclining seats. In between dozing off, I had the opportunity to admire breath-taking scenery, as we passed by the many mountains. I love the way the hazy mist settles over the green tree-covered mountains around here. Simply stunning!
When we arrived in Seoul, Lizzi and I went to Tom and Tom's, a coffee shop, to plan out how we would spend our first day in Seoul. After poring over our guidebooks, we decided to visit the Korean War Museum. Since Lizzi majored in classics and I majored in history, the two of us are nuts about good museums. We had no idea just how lucky we were going to be.
When we got to the Korean War Museum, we decided to walk around outside for awhile and check out the many monuments, statues, airplanes, tanks, trucks, and AA guns. Needless to say, I was in seventh heaven! The Two Brothers Monument was particularly moving, as it show two soldiers embracing while the foundation beneath them splits into two parts. Powerful. There were also beautiful gardens and fountains to admire. We bought some Dippin' Dots ice cream and walked around in absolute rhapsody.
After thoroughly enjoying the outside, we went to purchase our tickets for the museum. Imagine our surprise and delight when we learned that the Dead Sea Scrolls were currently on display at the museum (on loan)! I have always wanted to see them! It cost more to get into that exhibit, but Lizzi and I readily agreed that it was well worth it. And we were right! The exhibit was fascinating. In addition to the scrolls, they also had many artifacts pertaining to Jewish history and the beginning of the Christian church. It was like having my theology books from college suddenly spring to life! Unfortunately, owing to the age and condition of the scrolls, no photographs were allowed.

Lizzi and I got so involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that we completely forgot about the war museum and walked outside before getting to see it! So, now I'll have to make another journey to Seoul to finish seeing the museum.

After the Korean War Museum, Lizzi and I were famished (and my blood sugar was ready to crash). We went to Itaewan (a more touristy area) to find a place to eat. Both of us were in the mood for Italian, so we started looking for an inexpensive Italian restaurant. We came upon a restaurant with a menu so enticing that we decided to splurge and have one expensive meal. It was worth the won! Lizzi, who is a vegetarian, found something perfectly suited to her tastes, and I had the best lasagna of my entire life.

After dinner, we took the metro out to the area where Jane's Groove (a club) is located. There was an Aussie/Kiwi party for foreigners being held there with live music, and Lizzi was positively salivating at the thought (it was, in fact, our original reason for going to Seoul). We decided it would be wise to find a place to spend the night before going to the club, as we knew we wouldn't be leaving there until the wee hours of the morning. Here is where our happy day took a more adventurous, far less pleasant turn...

We asked a few Koreans where we could find a cheap place to stay, and they told us about the Bobo Hotel. We headed off in the direction we were told to go in, and discovered that it was much further than we had been told. After an extremely long walk, we arrived, only to find that the cost was 100,000 won a night - way too much for our budgets. We decided to keep walking, in the hopes of finding a cheaper place. After two hours of walking and searching, we hailed a cab. We had the driver take us by the bus terminal, hoping to find something cheap near there. In a dark, steep alley, we found several motels, so we decided to look for the one with the least amount of lights and advertising (those tend to be the cheaper ones over here).

We found a love motel (very cheap accommodation specially designed for men having affairs) that was only 40,000 won. Since we were exhausted and wanted to get back to Jane's Groove for fun and music, we agreed to take the room. The woman running the establishment was exceedingly unpleasant, but the price was right. The trouble came when we asked for a key so that we could go out and then return. She started yelling at us, then, mid-one-sided-conversation she plopped down on a toilet and, with the door wide open, relieved herself. Lizzi and I discretely walked away until she was finished. Then she yelled at us some more, thrust back our money, and led us to the door. We decided to find a different place to stay.

Across the street was another love motel, so we went there to inquire about price. It was 45,000 won (less than $45) and we were quite shaken from the last place, so, since the man running this establishment was smiling and friendly, we made the decision to stay there. The room was tiny, but adequate to our needs. It featured a red light, lots of mirrors, a nearby condom dispenser, and an impressive selection of pornographic films (which we didn't bother to examine). We laughed, and headed for Jane's Groove. The proprietor of our love motel wouldn't give us a key to the room, but he assured us that he would let us back in when we returned.
At Jane's Groove, Lizzi and I ran into our friend Patty, who also teaches in Gyeongju. The three of us enjoyed the music, and even wound up on the dance floor with the rest of the foreigners. At about 3:30 am, Lizzi and I called it a night and returned to our love motel. The man kept his word and let us in, and we gratefully crawled into bed and fell asleep. Saturday had been a very full day!

Monday, April 28, 2008

First Trip to a Korean Doctor

Cate insisted on taking me to a doctor after school today. My sinus infection and cough that I've been battling for the past few weeks got worse over the weekend, so I decided not to resist. After classes were over, Cate walked me to the doctor's office, which is conveniently located right next to a pharmacy, just down the road from the school. I have this to say about the experience of seeing a Korean doctor - American doctors have a lot to learn!

For one thing, I didn't need to make an appointment. We walked right in, Cate spoke to a pleasant receptionist, and then we sat down in a clean, quiet waiting room that smelled like a mixture of lavender and vanilla. After less than five minutes, we were taken into the examination room. I didn't have to get senselessly weighed or measured first. Once I sat down, Cate told the doctor my symptoms and he asked a few questions. Then he checked my throat and ears with an apparatus hooked up to a computer. It was pretty cool getting to see the insides of my ears for the first time. I was delighted to see that my cleaning efforts have not been wasted!

After spraying something in my throat and listening to my breathing, the doctor made his diagnosis: bronchitis. He sent me out to use a nose-cleaning machine while he prepared the prescriptions. The nose-cleaning machine was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. I had to use it for one minute on each side of my nose. It gently sprayed something up there that made my breathing suddenly easier. Impressive! Then the nurse handed us a special solution that I am supposed to gargle each day, along with the prescriptions. Cate paid 10,000 won (less than ten dollars), and we were off to the pharmacy.

At the pharmacy, we waited for about two minutes for my medications. I have to take four pills three times a day, and the dosages are already measured out into tiny individually sealed bags. The medication cost a little over 9,000 won (about nine dollars). All total, we spent less than twenty minutes walking to the doctor, seeing him, and getting the prescriptions. As I said before, American doctors could learn a lesson from their Korean colleagues!

Friday, April 25, 2008

This Is Why I Go to Work Eagerly Every Day

The kindergarten field trip to Gyeongju World went well today. As has been the case on previous field trips, the kids behaved well and had a blast. I went on a few rides with them, and it made me really want kids of my own (again). I can't wait to raise my own little rollarcoaster fanatics (don't worry Mom, it's not happening for a few more years yet)! It was so adorable seeing their little faces light up as they climbed into the cars, or hearing them laughing as the rides moved. Few things are as joyous to see as children enjoying themselves.

We had a picnic lunch at the amusement park. Of course, kimbap was on the menu. It is the perfect picnic food, as it travels well, tastes good, doesn't need a cooler, and isn't messy. In addition to the kimbap, there was fruit, a tasty noodle dish that Angel (the Korean kindergarten teacher) made, and some dainty little sandwiches. As we were enjoying our meal, we watched a show. There were Chinese dancers, acrobats, a magician, tightrope walkers, and clowns. As I watched the show with a stomach full of goodies and an adorable, affectionate child on my lap, I found it hard to believe that this is really my job. How lucky can one person be?

On the way back to school, Cate stopped to buy ice cream treats for the kids and us teachers. After helping unload kids and backpacks, I turned to leave. Suddenly, I was apprehended by three small children (Issac, Liz, and Eddy) clutching my legs and shouting "No teacher! No go! Teacher stay!" It took some work to get free from them, and I must confess, I kind of wished that it wasn't time for me to go.

The afternoon classes all went well today, too. Since it was Friday, it was game day, which always results in happy children. Owing to a school picnic, my E2-A class only had four students today (Tim, Brian, Ricky, and John), so I was able to do a more complicated game with them than usual. I missed the other kids in that class (the girls are all really sweet), but it was nice to be able to bond a little extra with four of the boys. They are bright kids, and have very engaging personalities. I was thrilled when Tim tied for first place in the game. He's been struggling a bit lately, so I really wanted to see him do well for a change.

E5-A (my last class of the day) had another test I needed to administer today, and I was delighted to be able to give out seven 100% grades (out of eight students). I was so thrilled with them for doing well today, on top of the great job they did on their test yesterday, that I gave them each a treat after their test. We had a few minutes left of class, so I was able to play a short game with them, too. Few things feel as great as when I get to see kids that I have taught excel.

Fire-Eaters and "Smegheads"

I realize that it is now technically Friday, but since I haven't gotten to bed yet, it is still Thursday for me. What a day it was!

Owing to several schools having picnics, my class sizes were greatly reduced in four classes. It was great! Since I only had two kids in my first afternoon class, I decided to teach them something other than English. So, I taught them how to play Twister. They loved it, and I had a blast deliberately manipulating the wheel so that I could twist the kids up in knots. In E3-C, my two biggest trouble-makers were gone, so the class was quiet and perfectly behaved. Apparently there are more picnics on Friday (today), so I'm going to have more reduced classes. Hurray!

My last class of the day, E5-A, had an oral test that I had to administer. I think I was more nervous than the kids! I have been drilling the living daylights out of them for the past week, trying to cram their heads with the right answers. Today, I desperately wanted each of them to excel on their tests. I was not disappointed. Out of eight kids, five of them scored 100% on the test! I am so proud of them! I have to give them another test today, and if they do well on it, too, I am bringing them a treat on Monday. Those kids have really earned it.

After school, I walked over to Hwangseong Park to meet my friend Nina. The two of us went back to the Rice Cake Festival, where we watched some wimpy fireworks and an amazing fire-eater. We were famished, so we bought some tasty treats from one of the tents. We then ran into Lizzi, and the three of us bought banana-flavored cotton candy and took a nighttime stroll through the park.

Afterwards, we joined our friend Ashley and the four of us went to Nina's apartment, where we settled in to watch about five episodes of "Red Dwarf," a British comedy show. I love British humor, and my three friends are all English (well, actually Lizzi is really Irish), so we all enjoyed the show. "Smeghead," in case you're curious, is a reference to the show - it's a commonly used insult.

After I finally get some sleep, I have to be at the school a bit early today. We are taking the kindergartners on another field trip, this time to Gyeongju World (an amusement park). I'm hoping to get to bed early, but I have a feeling we teachers might be going out tonight. On Saturday morning I have to be up very early, as Lizzi and I are going to Seoul (a last minute trip). We'll be coming back on Sunday, although we haven't decided yet whether we'll come back in the morning or spend the day up there. At any rate, it should be a blast, and I probably won't get much sleep. It's great to be young!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two Months!! (And an Answer to a Question)

Wow, I have officially been in Korea for two months now! I can't believe I'm 1/6 of the way through my contract already. It's a bit scary actually, when I realize just how fast the time has flown by. It's also hard to believe that it has been five months since I first decided to come here. And now my twenty-fourth birthday is getting eerily close. Where does the time go?

I remember how scared I was on the plane from Seoul to Busan two months ago. I had had such a horrible traveling experience, and I was terrified that I would find my director to be demanding and unreasonable. I was worried, too, that I would be a lousy teacher and that the kids would hate me for the entire year. I kept thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" I felt quite relieved when I met Cate for the first time at Busan airport, but the worry came back when I woke up the next morning.

At first I couldn't figure out where I was, and I thought that the entire day before had been just a dream. I thought about what I would fix for breakfast, and wondered if Dad and the dogs were up yet. Then it sunk in that I was no longer in the same country (or time zone, or continent) as Dad and the dogs, and I gave way to a moment of panic. I couldn't believe I had really come here. After a few tortured minutes, I dressed and left the bedroom. Cate cheerily greeted me, and fixed breakfast for me. My panic left me then, and I somehow knew that everything was going to be fine. I haven't had any regrets about coming since then, nor do I anticipate any. On the contrary, I think this is a wonderful country and I wish I had longer than just a year here. I may very conceivably come back after my TEFL course in Greece next year.

Aside from being the two month anniversary of the day I came to Korea, today is also the day I finally found the answer to something that has puzzled me since I got here. Most of the streets here are very narrow, with cars parked on both sides and barely enough room for one car to drive. In fact, my bicycle and I have often had to dodge behind a parked car to give passage room to oncoming traffic. So, I have frequently wondered exactly what would happen if two cars came from two directions at the same time on one of these streets (none of them are one-way). This morning, I finally witnessed this situation. The answer to my query is that the two drivers will continue to approach one another at the same speed until they both stop mere centimeters from collision. Both drivers apparently must then glare at one another for at least one tense minute before one gives in and starts slowly backing up, while the other continues to move forward (still glaring at the other driver). When the backing car reaches an empty space, they parallel park and wait for the oncoming car to pass.

Tonight, I have plans to meet some friends at Hwangseon Park for the final night of the Korean Traditional Drink and Rice Cake Festival. There are going to be fireworks and possibly fire-eaters, which should prove fun to watch. Afterwards, we're planning to watch a British comedy show together at somebody's apartment (most of my friends here are English). It seems a perfect way to spend my two-month anniversary.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

May He Bring You Hope

I have had a song stuck in my head all day long. It's a Michelle Tumes song, "Christ of Hope." Considering how long it's been since I last listened to Michelle Tumes, I have no idea what put it into my head. Still, as I was thinking over the lyrics, I realized that this song puts to music my exact feelings regarding the friends and family I love whom I left behind back in the USA:

As I travel far from kinships
As I wander far from home
May He grace you with His favor
And breathe the fragrance of His love
May His angels watch and keep you
As you slumber through the night
The gentle hand of God will touch you
As He wakes you with the morning light

May He bring you hope
Hope you've never never known
May the Christ of hope
Embrace you evermore

I know the people most important to me read this blog regularly, so when all of you read this, this song is my wish for all of you. I have not yet been homesick over here, but that doesn't mean that I don't miss all of you. It's just inevitable when you love a lot of people that you'll always be missing someone. I feel very lucky to have so many people to miss at any given moment.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kindergartners at the Rice Cake Festival

When I got to school this morning, Cate informed me that we were going to take the kindergartners to the Rice Cake Festival instead of having lessons today. This was fine by me, as it is a particularly lovely day, of the sort that makes one loathe to go inside. Plus, it saves me the trouble of making a lesson plan for tomorrow, as I can just use the one I had prepared for today!
So, we gathered together ten little cuties (Lynn came later) and headed off to the park. It was a very pleasant fifteen minute walk, during which I questioned the kids in English about what things they could see ("Harry, what color are those flowers?" "Amber, do you see a truck?"). The kids are always eager to show off how smart they are, so they chattered happily away in answer to my questions, each trying to outdo the others by telling me more things in English. I especially love it when the kids do this in front of my boss!

Once we got to the festival, we watched another rice cake demonstration. The kids were given the opportunity to pound rice with the huge hammer, which was very fun to watch. Especially as the hammer is about the same size as the kids! After that, we walked through an exhibit on homemade paper, which was rather neat, and one on rice cakes, in which hundreds of different varieties were on display. Unfortunately I was so busy keeping an eye on the kids that I forgot to take any pictures! We next walked through another exhibit in which they were spinning silk from silkworms. At that exhibit, I took a video:

The kids also had the chance to play on a traditional Korean seesaw. It differs from the type I played on as a child in that on this type, you stand rather than sit. My friend Claire and I tried out one of these at Yangdong, and I got launched into the air a bit further than expected, almost resulting in a painful landing. Thus, I was a bit nervous watching the kids doing it, but, as they are more coordinated than I am, there were no unfortunate incidents.

Below is a video I took of the kids playing on the seesaw. The woman in the blue bubble top is Cate, my boss, and the woman in the white blouse is Angel, the Korean kindergarten teacher. Tagged onto the end of the video is a clip of Lynn and Issac playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors," which I just thought was cute.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Adding to the Curriculum

My E4-C class was quite amusing today. Apparently Geena, one of my students, saw me at the Rice Cake Festival on Saturday, but I did not hear her calling to me. When she announced that in class, it sparked a class discussion about the festival, which was fine with me. I decided to go ahead and just converse with the kids for a few minutes - they learn better conversational English that way than they do with their cheesy, pathetic Disney curriculum (Englishland). In case you haven't figured it out, I hate the book we're using in that class! It's so lousy that I actually apologized once to the kids for making them sing one of the songs in it.

Anyway, the discussion on the festival somehow evolved into the kids peppering me with questions about my social life and relationship status. Then they wanted to know all about past relationships (actually, technically that's singular in my case), so I gave in and told them what they wanted to know. It's not like there's anything rated PG or above in my past. The kids got more into that discussion than any we've had in the past two months! At the end of our class discussion, the class as a whole decided that I should get a Korean boyfriend. I just laughed.

Group Hug!

My second kindergarten class was so sweet today. We were in the middle of playing "Teacher Says" (basically the same game as "Simon Says") when, for no apparent reason, they all decided to end the game and hug the teacher. I got completely mobbed by seven little sets of arms, all wrapping themselves around me at once. Of course they just about choked me, but I didn't mind. It was such a wonderful, spontaneous demonstration of love. And I love every one of them right back!

My first class was not quite so endearing today. In order to reinforce the phrases "cut the paper" and "glue the paper," I decided to do a craft with them. So on Friday, I drew a fishbowl on a sheet of paper and made four copies. Then I spent about twenty minutes finding pictures of fish that could be colored, and making copies of those. Today I had them each color three fish, then cut them out and glue them to the fishbowl drawings. It was a pretty cute idea and the kids liked it, but making the craft was a headache: "Harry, off the table!" "Jay, sit!" "No, Jay!" "Put that down and color your fish - Harry, no!" "No, no, don't glue the table, glue the fish!" "Where is your fish?" "Stop, Jay!" "No, don't cut that." It was all worth it though; all four kids now understand the two phrases I was attempting to teach them, and they all had fun learning them. Still, I'm glad that I don't have another craft tomorrow!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Sunday Bike Ride

I decided to take a long bike ride today, since the weather was so perfect. I rode out by the river and took the bike path there, which is lovely. Then, my long ride turned into a longer one than I had counted on because I got lost! I really wish I had a better sense of direction! I wasn't too worried though; it was a beautiful day, I had plenty of time, and if I got really desperate, I had my cell phone with me. As it turned out, I was able to find my way back on my one.

Since I wasn't completely devoid of energy yet, I decided to bike over to HomePlus and do my grocery shopping. The ride back was rather interesting: the grocery bag got caught in my wheel, so I had to hold it on my arm the rest of the way home in order to keep it from catching again. The bag had a nice rip in it, so I don't think I breathed the entire way back! I was so paranoid that my groceries were going to go flying out on the road. Luckily, the groceries made it safely home without further incident.

Below are some pictures I snapped during my ride (prior to grocery shopping):

Korean Traditional Drink and Rice Cake Festival

As my friend Nina put it, Saturday was an unusual day in that Gyeongju was "the place to be instead of the place to leave." We foreigners love it here, but in all honesty, there isn't usually a lot going on in Gyeongju. Saturday, however, was certainly the exception. This was the weekend of the "Korean Traditional Drink and Rice Cake Festival," an event that had foreigners pouring in from Daegu and even as far away as Seoul. Since we foreigners who live here are pretty isolated, we got rather excited at seeing other foreigners. I think our enthusiasm may have startled them a bit!
The festival was a lot of fun. I went with Jaime and Ashley, and then we met up with Lizzi, Nina, and Nina's friend Josephine, who teaches in Seoul. At some point, we abandoned Jaime and Ashley. Oops! There was loads to see, such as people baking traditional Korean bread and making rice cakes. There were also traditional drummers parading about and a beauty contest. At many of the tents, you could sample different types of rice cakes or different Korean wines.
Baking Hwangnam bread inside one of the hundreds of tents.
Pounding rice to create rice cakes. Rice cakes are not fluffy little cakes, but rather glutinous blobs created from smashed rice and then frequently stuffed with red bean paste and/or covered in something like sesame seeds or cinnamon. Sounds a little gross, I know, but actually they're pretty tasty (just a bit odd the first time you try one).
Rice cakes for sale. I bought a box of the ones on the far right, which are filled with sweetened red bean paste.
A small parade of drummers. They were pretty talented.

As always, we foreigners were treated like celebrities. We got interviewed by a TV crew, photographed several dozen times (no exaggeration), and greeted in English by at least a hundred Koreans. I apparently am irresistible to cute little old ladies, so I got my elbows squeezed or my arms rubbed (??) so many times that I lost count. I had the pleasure of running into four of my students, including two of my favorites, Rose and Sally (twin sisters). Their mother doesn't speak much English, but she was delighted when I told her that she had two "very good girls."

The only part I didn't enjoy was when a middle-aged man became enamored by me. He wanted to hug me, which I'm accustomed to Koreans doing by now, but then he got a really good grip on me and tried repeatedly to kiss me. Luckily, my revulsion was stronger than his ardor, so my lips escaped any unwanted contact. I wish I could say the same for my cheek! He must have kissed my cheek about six or seven times. Let's just say that was a layer of skin that got exfoliated as soon as I got home!

Below are some videos I took of rice cakes being made:

First, the cooked rice is gathered together into a pile. The guy demonstrating was a bit of a ham, as you'll see. Sorry about the lighting - it was a very sunny day.

Next, the man soaked a huge wooden hammer in water, then began pounding the rice.

The man was later joined by another guy, who helped him to pound the snot out of the rice. As you may have noticed, we were standing within mere feet of the demonstration. In case you're wondering, yes, we did get splattered with rice!
Finally, the smashed up rice gloop was rolled into a tube and cut into small pieces, which were then smothered in cinnamon. Yummy!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Game Day

Finally, something that completely sums up the teaching experience!

I keep finding myself thinking back on the education classes I took in my first two years of college. It has occurred to me that I have used absolutely nothing that I was taught! In fact, my most effective teaching methods have been thought up on the spur of the moment! When I recall all the hours I spent writing scantron tests and laboring over bulletin boards with perfectly straight letters handmade on a cutter, or transparencies with little white frames, I have to laugh. None of that is at all applicable to my situation!

Since today was Friday, it was "game day" for all of my classes. While this makes creating lesson plans very easy, it actually stresses me out a bit. I refuse to play games that don't in some way help the kids learn, and kids get bored playing the same game every week, so I wind up spending a lot of my spare time creating new games and making improvements to old ones. I have found a few websites, such as, which have helpful ideas, but mostly I rely on my own ingenuity. A lot of work goes into planning out games: I have to take into account how quickly and easily I can explain it, whether or not I need to teach anything new in order for the kids to play it, and any possibility of injuries or fights from the game. In other words, games frequently give me headaches!

Today I had a new game to try out on my E3-C class, which has been my worst class since I started. Strangely, they have made a sudden change this week and have been one of my best classes. Thus, I felt somewhat safe in taking the risk of playing a game that involves grabbing (normally I would worry about them killing each other in a game like that). I was delighted to find that they not only enjoyed the game, but actually got really into it. Plus, no one got hurt! I'm really, really hoping that this present good behavior is going to be the new norm for E3-C. Previously I hated teaching them, but this week I have not only enjoyed them, but have had the chance to bond a bit with them. I have discovered that they are very intelligent kids, who seem to retain information better than many of my other kids.

E3-C hasn't been my only surprise. When I first started, I was convinced that E5-A would be my worst class. Then, after about four weeks, Curt left the school. Suddenly, E5-A turned into a class that I look forward to. Evan and Leon, who misbehaved when Curt was there, have proven to be fun and intelligent students. If I could just get the three girls to talk, E5-A would probably rival E5-B as my favorite class. Amazing!

For E5-A, I decided to play "Apples to Apples" again today. I just taught them the game last week, and they really liked it. For those who are not familiar with the game, it is a game in which the players have cards with nouns on them, and they try to match the noun cards to an adjective card. Whoever has the closest match (in the mind of whichever student is judging), wins the round and gets the adjective card. The winner is the one with the most adjective cards at the end. It's a great way to help kids better learn parts of speech, and I also find it helpful in teaching more vocabulary. It's also fun for the teacher, as the kids' answers are frequently amusing (such as when Meg rejected the Tom Cruise card when looking for one that fit the word "bright"). Today, one of the words was "cute" and Jake announced that he had the best answer. He put in a card that read "my teacher." I love that kid!

I never in a million years anticipated liking teaching this much. I figured living abroad would be the best part of this experience, but in actuality, it's the kids. I love my students! I wake up every morning and can't wait to get to school. When I'm not with my kids, I find myself thinking about them and talking about them to anyone who will listen. I never saw myself as a "teacher type," but I guess I am after all. This is truly one of the most wonderful jobs I have ever held, second only to when I worked as a weekend director at a historic mansion. I think I have finally found my niche in life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Animals Are Lining up Two by Two...

If the title didn't already give it away, let me just say, it is raining today. For the second day in a row! One of the many downsides of this is that I ride a bicycle to and from school each day. This morning, I figured that if I can ride a bike while holding a head of lettuce and a two-liter bottle of water, I should be able to ride a bike while holding an umbrella. I soon discovered that while I can ride a bike and hold an umbrella at the same time, I cannot do so when the bike gets a flat tire. Drat!

Luckily, I work for very nice people. Cate had her husband, Mark, fix my tire for me while I was teaching kindergarten. Since bad things usually happen in twos or threes, I was actually prepared for my first class to act up. They did not disappoint. The girls were good, but I spent the entire hour pulling Jay off the table and putting him back in his chair. I also had to convince Harry to stop pulling his pants down. I have a feeling I may have a future Korean Hefner on my hands!

After I finished my morning classes, I faced the wet ride home. Since the wind had picked up, I very soon found it impossible to accomplish the triple goal of (a) riding the bicycle, (b) holding the umbrella, and (c) not getting hit by a car. After a near miss with a black sedan, I knew I had to try something different if I was going to make it home with my body intact (and preferably not soaked). Those who know me well will be the first to say that I am a rather creative person. I came up with the ingenious idea of sticking the handle of the umbrella down my sweater. This kept the umbrella over my head, while leaving both hands free and giving me better visibility. I flirted with the idea of making use of my bra to more securely hold the umbrella in place, but decided there was no way to accomplish the feat without flashing all oncoming traffic. As it was, I got plenty of smiles and laughs as I pedaled to my apartment. I may have looked like an idiot, but at least I was an idiot with dry hair! My pants, sadly, got soaked.

For lunch, I decided to forgo my usual cereal and have hot soup and a tasty salad. I bought a fantastic new salad dressing yesterday, which ranks among the best I have ever tried. It's kiwi flavored. There were several other unusual flavors at the store, including green tea (I think everything comes in green tea flavor here). I really hope my next teaching job is in a country with food as good as Korea's!

Last night I worked on my plans for when my contract ends. I have decided to switch my TEFL course to April 2009 instead of May. The weather would be nicer in May, but flying from home and back would be a ridiculous added expense. It makes much more sense just to travel until it's time for my course. I started looking into tours I could take in March (my contract here ends at the end of February), and I found one that is a dream come true. For nine years I have longed to visit Morocco, and I found a 21-day tour of Morocco that is well within my price range.

So, the plan now is to spend nine or ten days traveling in Korea after my contract ends, then have Cate fly me to Casablanca instead of home (as per my contract, she has agreed to pay for my return flight). I'll have one or two days to relax alone in Casablanca. Then I'll join the tour group and spend 21 glorious days exploring the entire country of Morocco. Following that adventure, I'll fly to Athens and spend ten days backpacking around Greece and the vicinity before heading to Ios, where I will live for one month doing my TEFL certification course. After that, since airfare from Athens to Chicago is outrageous, I will take the train to Italy, and spend one week in Italy. Then, sometime around May 9, I'll fly from Rome to Chicago, where my parents can pick me up. I'm planning on spending one or two months back in the US before heading out for my next teaching job. Of course, if I find something amazing I'll have to leave sooner. I'm still not sure whether it'll be back to Asia or on to Europe for the next job, but there's plenty of time to figure that out later.

I figure that this is the only time in my life when I will have the youthful vigor and stamina, as well as the time and lack of responsibilities needed for this kind of travel. When my time on earth ends, I plan to die completely exhausted and satisfied, knowing that I have wrung the very last drop of adventure out of life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Quotes from My Kids

Here, for the enjoyment of my dear readers, are some more quotes from the mouths of my brilliant students (the ages of those quoted range from three to twelve years old):

Me: "How are you, Amy?"
Amy: "I'm fine."
Me: "How are you, Harry?"
Harry: (very loudly and proudly) "I'm French!"

Me: "How are you, Amber?"
Amber: (with a huge smile on her face) "I'm very, very angry!"
Me: "Really? You don't look angry."
Amber: "I am happy angry!"

Me: "What do whales eat?"
Eddy: "Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of fish!" (at which point he fell off his chair from the vast amount of energy he put into his answer)

Me: "What is one international food that you like?"
Leon: "Ummmm....sushi."
Me: "Sushi? Oh, well, yeah I guess that counts. You're from Korea, so Japanese food would be international."
Evan: "And very expensive!"

Me: "If you could do anything, what would you do?"
Leon: "I would die."
Me: "That wouldn't be much fun."
Leon: "I would do it very exciting."

(During a game of modified "Apples to Apples")
Meg: "Teacher, what is brilliant?"
Me: "Very smart, um, very good, like a student who gets 100% on every test. The student would be brilliant." (obviously there are more definitions for the word, but it's easier on the kids if we just stick to one)
Meg: "Okay." (looking through her cards) "Not this one." (referring to the "Tom Cruise" card)

Me: (pointing to the number 1,000,000 on the board) "What number is this?"
Tommy and Lisa: "One thousand thousand!"

Me: "If I go out and I punch Danny (one of the students), am I good or bad?"
Geena, Ginger, and Chad: "Very good!"

Me: "Okay, what sound does 'P' make?"
Perry: "Puh-puh-puh-panda, puh-puh-puh-pencil, puh-puh-puh-pig, puh-puh-puh-Perry!"

Me: "Where is the fence?"
Sam: "It is sitting under the cat."

Me: "What does a cat say?"
Lynn: "Meow, meow"
Me: "What does a cow say?"
Eddy: "Give me some hay!"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I just got back from a forty-minute bike ride that can best be described as simply delicious. The weather is warm without being stifling, the sun is radiant, and there are so many flowers in bloom that the air is saturated with fragrance. I rode down past the library to the area where they are currently setting up for the Rice Cake and Soju Festival, which is this weekend. Then I circled back, took a brief meander through the park, and came back here. I would gladly have stayed out much longer, but I still have afternoon classes left to teach, and I can't risk getting lost and winding up late.
The library.
The sidewalks with their tree canopies positively beg you to ride or walk down them.
Aren't the flowers lovely?
The bike path through the park.
It's kind of exhilarating crossing this six-lane road, especially since cars don't always honor the "walk" light.

Random Acts of Kindness

Sometimes, after reading the news or watching CNN (pretty much the only channel I get in English), I get sort of burnt out on humanity. It happened back in college, too, when I was studying past wars and other atrocities (my major was history, and my specialty was cultural/women's history during WWII). I have often said that wars make both the most interesting and the most horrible history. Sometimes I found my studies a bit too much for me emotionally, such as when I was studying the Holocaust in depth - I wound up in tears every day and I couldn't sleep at night. I get horrified whenever I realize that the nations of the world are continually putting more and more money and energy into new ways to destroy each other, while their people starve or battle terminal illnesses that not enough energy and money are going into finding a cure for. Sometimes, it all weighs me down, and I even find myself wondering why we bother to bring more children into the world.

Then come the random acts of kindness and mercy, and the momentous efforts to do good amidst apparently insurmountable odds. I witness, read, and study about them, and suddenly I'm not bogged down, and I know why we keep having children. I remember in college studying about a Nazi officer who saved hundreds of Chinese people from murder at the hands of the Japanese. When he was later nearly dying in poverty in post-war Germany, the Chinese, battling poverty of their own, remembered him and took care of his needs. I remember, too, studying in depth the American nurses who lived a hellish existence in the South Pacific during WWII, were captured by the Japanese and severely mistreated, and then gave medical aid to their captors. The "Candy Bomber" dropped candy from an airplane down to the war-ravaged children during the Berlin Airlift.

When I worked at C.R. Meyer, one of my coworkers was an Army veteran who had served in Korea. He told me about him and several other soldiers giving away their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the little Korean children. My Great Uncle Melvin told me about when he served in China during WWII and he and the men he served with took in a little orphaned boy for their entire stay.

Today, I was privileged to witness a few other random acts of kindness. They weren't perhaps on the same scale as the others I've mentioned, but they touched me in a very special way.

The first came in my first kindergarten class. Harry got up when he wasn't supposed to (nothing new there) and wound up hitting his head somehow. Cali and Amy immediately jumped up from their seats and threw their arms around him in an enormous hug. Once they had comforted him, they patted his head tenderly and then sat down. I had to fight to keep from tearing up!

Then in my second kindergarten class, I went around asking each child how they were feeling today (I do that every day with them). When I got to Amber, she informed me that she was "very very sad." I asked why, and she replied, "Because Lynn is sad today." When Lynn started to cry a few minutes later (I have no idea what was wrong, and she didn't know enough English to tell me), her classmates all responded with concern, and a few of them even hugged her.

I wish the adults in this world would take a lesson from my three to five-year-olds.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunyudo in Sepia

While I was on the ferry to Sunyudo (on Saturday), I decided to play around with the settings on my camera. I'm not a very artistic person, unfortunately, but I'm actually rather pleased with how my "artsy" photos came out:

"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"