Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ho-ho-ho, I'm a Gorilla?

Christmas time is near and the festive spirit can be felt in the air in Seoul, but no where near what its like in America. At school the other day, I joked to my second grade class that if they didn't do all of their homework, I would call Santa Claus and rat 'em out. No cool Christmas presents this year kids! The moment they heard this threat, a reaction occurred that I really did not expect. These kids are 8 year olds, and they still believe in a Santa! They wanted to know how I knew him, what he was like, does he really speak Korean, was I lying (I reassured them I met him personally in Finland), if he could please bring them a Nintendo DS/some Pokemon toy/a new cell phone (most of the toys were heavily technology based. Each kid here has a cell phone), and other questions I can't remember. I then asked them, how does he get into your apartments on Christmas Eve? One of the girls exclaimed "through the chimney!", but before I could help direct my question another kid blurted out "but we don't have chimneys here! Does he know our apartment codes?" After some discussion amongst my little pupils, the consensus was that Old Saint Nick does in fact know their apartment codes.

The next day, I had one of other teachers call me on my cell phone because I had told the second graders that I have Santa's cell phone number. When they saw it was "Santa Claus" on the caller ID, they had to talk to him. "Santa" reminded them that not completing their English homework would result in last year's Samsung or LG toy instead of this years cool, new one. Needless to say, the students are looking forward to Christmas. One thing to note is that my third graders did not fall for my knowing Santa. I guess that's about the age where they realize Santa is in the same boat as Spiderman, Superman, and King Kong; they don't exist.

Which leads me to another thing. I've been called a lot of things by my students in my short tenure as a teacher. Here they are, in no particular order (all of these are typically screamed by kids):

* Supermaaaaan! (A fellow teacher told a group of Kindergartners that's what I actually am. They're 5 year olds. haha)
* Chinaman! Chinaman! (why? I have no idea)
* Koreaman! Koreaman! (I told a few of them I can speak Korean. When 'proved' it by saying a few phrases, I had them convinced I'm actually a Korean in disguise)
* Gorillaman! or Monkeyman! (I have a slight beard right now, and this is a big deal since I'm told its harder for Korean men to grow facial hair. The kids are terrified of touching my facial hair. On the other hand, they love to come and 'pet' my arm hair. For some odd reason, they can't get enough of this. When it was still warm and I wore shorts, they loved pulling on my leg hair.)
* Ajashi! Ajashi! (In Korean, Ajashi is a term for a married man. Now, why they call me this? No clue. I think it might be the facial hair.)
* Pom-Pom (A Cat's name from a book we read in a Kindergarten class)
* Oookraeeen! (Ukraine. Two of my kindergartner's are moving to Ukraine in January because of their father's work. I'm not sure what he does, but these are not poor kids, so I imagine they'll be doing well in Ukraine. Also, talk about coincidence)

These are but a few of the nicknames I've heard. I'm sure there will be more.

We are taking pictures will all of our students to send to their parents as Christmas cards. Here are two pics with two of my favorite Kindergarten students.


BTW, my fourth graders are NOT as cute as these little people. :)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Being thankful

I've past the three month mark of living in Korea. This is the longest I've been out of the United States in my life (besides Ukraine, of course). A few things I want to update the blog about, including Thanksgiving.

Seeing how this is my first Thanksgiving away from home, the other teachers and I got together to celebrate Turkey day. In preparation for the day, each person was to prepare a dish for this potluck dinner of ours. The week before, I went to one of the six Costco stores in Korea. Inside, the place was nearly identical to the Costcos in America. The main differences were that there were two levels and half of the food being sold was food no one would be interested in at home. Frozen octopus tentacles sold in bulk probably wouldn't sell like hot cakes.

We decided Chicken would have to be the Turkey substitute because a frozen Turkey costs about $70 here, and a ready-to-go chicken is less than $7. We got three and a pumpkin pie. For the dinner, I decided to make the Ukrainian version of potato salad, Olivye. We also had mashed potatoes, Ceasar salad, glazed carrots, stuffing, fruit salad, deviled eggs, bruschetta bread, steamed broccoli, and lots of chicken. For not having any ovens to work with, the dinner turned out fantastic.

This is the "family" away from home.

Last weekend, I went to a Korean co-worker's wedding. The wedding was held at a building specifically for weddings and was incredibly nice. Chloe, who is about 30 years old, met her husband while studying English in California. The reception was very short, lasting only about 25 minutes, but that was fine since everything was in Korean. We were able to take a picture with the bride, although as you can see I stick out like a giant compared to Ellie, another co-worker of mine.

The ceremony was an "American" style event that really didn't seem much different from anything back home. The most notable difference was the mothers and grandmothers wearing traditional Korean dresses. Other than that, the most notable difference was that it was all in Korean.

Natalie, Becky, and I were the three that went to the wedding.

The reception was held in the same building and was surprising in its elegance and level of sophistication. The catered, seven course meal consisted of raw tuna, shrimp, mashed potatoes, steak, salad, and desert. There were people that came out and spoke about the couple, sang songs, and said their wishes. All in all, I was honored to be there.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A nine year old's essay

The following are short essays some of my nine year old students wrote for a weekly test. The instructions are to summarize the story "Montigue of the High Seas", a story we covered the week before.

"In big hole the mole is live. Mole name is montigue. One day montigue's home is flood. So montigue is flow to sea. And He is went ship. Then He find a new home. It is good home."

"On day montigue's house is swept. So He hide a bootle and He start adventure He met a mice and made a ship and. They are start adventure. On day they see a ground and live together."

"The main Character is Montigue. Montigue is mog, Montigue live in hole. Montige's home is at afternoon it's cool, and at evening, it's warm. One day, ..."

These are pretty average essays. Some kids have better writing skills while others are worse, so this is to give you a taste of the level of English I'm working with. There is still work to be done.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Getting chilly!

It's been a while since my last post and a lot has happened. I'm in month three of living in Seoul and I think the honeymoon period has finally worn off. I'll talk about a few highlights that have happened over the past month.

On Halloween weekend, together with Kevin, we went to a city about 45 minutes south of Seoul called Daejeon. This town is known as the silicon valley of Korea but that's not why we went there for the weekend. Ultimate frisbee is pretty big with the foreign community here, I wanted to try it out, and this weekend Daejeon was hosting a tournament for English speakers. Ultimate is a game that is similar to soccer and football, but played with a frisbee. Kev and I left our neighborhood around 5:30am, took a cab to the KTX train terminal, where we met a few other guys that were going as well. KTX is Korea's high speed rail service that was very comfortable and quick. These trains go up to 350 km/h! We got to the fields, which were on the bank of a river, around 9am and prepared for a day of frisbee. About 50 to 60 people showed up and we played the entire day. I got a chance to meet a lot of new people from all over the world, with people from the states, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, etc.

Around 11:00am, two Korean businessmen showed up with a bunch of goodies for all of us. These included cases of vitamin water (which are small bottles that people drink for sole purpose of having more vitamins and staying healthy), snacks, drinks, etc. We took a break at noon to each some lunch but were all asked to listen to the what the two men had to say. They provided the drinks and food, so it was the least we could do. The two men in the shiny suits turned out to be representatives from a local pharmaceautical company looking to advertise a new miracle drug their company manufactures. Everything they said went through a interperter (one of the Korean Americans playing ultimate with us) and a few things may have been lost in translation, but what happened I have never seen or experienced before.

They began by asking us if we had ever heard of their company, a name which now I do not remember. The guy translating told us to just say yes, which we obediently did, much to the joy of the Korean men. They proceeded to tell us they were here today because they would like to share this new pill that will revolutionize the world. Before telling us what it does, they asked us what the number one cause of death in the United States is today. It was decided heart disease is the most common problem (I'm pretty sure that's right...), and we were told that with this new drug, heart disease will become a thing of the past. The representatives with the wonder drug asked us if we knew that smoking and drinking also is bad for one's health. A couple of the guys smoking cigarettes responded that this is just liberal propaganda engineered by Obama and the like (the irony didn't quite transfer to the Korean men as expected).

Anyways, they revealed that this drug will help lower cholesterol, decrease the chance of liver failure, help quell stomach problems, improve skin, etc. When someone asked if it cures Aids, they said it has not been proven that it does but that it might. At this point, everyone is chuckling to themselves and making jokes about this pill. The reps finally asked if any of us would like to try the drug, since they brought samples with them. A few brave souls decided to give the thing a shot and popped a few pills. One of the guys said his stomach wasn't doing too well but the drug was supposed to make him feel normal in about a half hour. Here's a pic of the man presenting the pill.

It was at this point that one of the representatives pulled out a block of styrofoam form his suitcase and announced that he would like to show us first hand what the drug does to clogged arteries in our body. He punctured the liquid gelcap pill and poured one out onto the inch thick styrofoam. Within five seconds, the liquid created a hole an inch and half in diameter. Everyone was stunned. This is what this thing does!? One of the guys, a brit, that took two pills (you're supposed to take one) was not pleased and let everyone know what his thoughts were, using British style curse words and word 'bloody' quite a bit. Part of the reason for this is because the reps said one of the side effects of this drug is Viagra like (this was revealed after people popped the pills). The reps then showed us a half full water bottle, threw in a few chunks of styrofoam, and then one of the wonder pills. After shaking the bottle up, the styrofoam was gone within half a minute. The name of this drug, btw, is Pine Needle Plus and has yet to be released on the market. We were told it should be approved by the Korean equivalent FDA next year sometime. And in case you're wondering, the guys that took the pills turned out fine in the end.

After a full day of Ultimate, everyone headed for the motels, or "love" motels as they are called here, due to their romantic aura and themes. Apparently, regular motels do not exist in Korea, they are all called "love" motels. After changing and showering, Kevin, Vinnie (a guy from Montreal I've befriended), and I headed to the dinner party/halloween party. People dressed up a lot more than I expected (I wore a pig snout and a face mask, otherwise known as swine flu). The coolest costume went to two Korean American girls that set up a bars representing a jail in the restaurant, that were 'saved' by a guy dressed up as Bill Clinton waltzing in and breaking them out of 'North Korea'.

Being on the topic of Halloween, the foreign staff at work also dressed up for Halloween, which our students absolutely loved. We had Jon as a cowboy, Kevin struck by lightning (although his students called him Grandpa), Ian as an elf, Liz as a detective/sherlock holmes, and three cats. Halloween isn't as big in Korea as it is in the states, but some people do dress their kids up. All of the apartments have security doors, so I don't think there was any trick or treating.

Moving on to a different topic, work for the past three weekdays has been a joke. The reason being, the school has been kid free. No kids! They've been ordered to stay at home because of recent swine flu outbreak in a few of the classes, so hopefully the spread of the virus will slow down. All of the teachers still have to show up for work, but there is only so much lesson planning to do. Some hagwons have shut down for a week or more, without pay for the teachers but fortunately for us, we will still be paid.

On November 11th, it was Pepero day in Korea. This is a holiday that is similar to Valentine's day, but seems like a clever way for companies looking to sell more Pepero's, which are pretty much Pocky sticks that come from Japan. The sweets are simply cookie sticks dipped in chocolate. People give Peperos to friends, loved ones, and teachers! I got a note and some peperos from one of my students. The note reads "Hello ~ teacher. I am sally. You are very friendly. and nice. I think you are good teacher. have a nice day!" A lot of the teachers received similar notes and Peperos from their students. Needless to say, I feel that Pepero day should be implemented in the states.

Another interesting anecdote happened about a week ago or so. Kevin and I decided to branch out a bit and find a new place to eat at after work. We walked a few streets over from ours and walked down a random bright lit, crowded, scooter screaming, pedestrian unfriendly, sign infested street, which is like every other street in Seoul . I saw a place with a picture of bbq chicken strips and a barbecue grill outside. We let the owner know that we would like an order of bbq chicken and pointed to the large picture with what looked like bbq chicken strips. He asked, in broken English, if we would like boneless or bone chicken. Boneless. No bone. Bone 'aniyo' (no in Korean). How could this possibly go wrong? How could one possibly go wrong with boneless chicken you may be thinking to yourself? Well, the plate that the owner set in front of us took a while to figure out. We couldn't believe what was in front of us. After half a minute of pocking and touching the food with our chopsticks, we realized that we had about 50 or so chicken feet. I'm talking about skinny chicken talons. The three claws and the foot that a chicken uses to walk around with. No meat. All bone, cartilage, and skin, smothered in barbecue sauce. BTW, the owner is hovering above us the whole time, waiting for us to take our first bite. We had no choice and had a talon each, which to put it simply, was unpleasant. The sauce, although tasting similar to what buffalo wings are coated with in America, were tear producing. But the main challenge was chewing through the cartilage and skin, plus, there was absolutely no meat. After about 10 minutes of awkward pocking and moving around of the stuff in front of us, we politely paid and fled. Unfortunately for us, our stomachs were not happy with these foreign chicken feet and both of us got to know bathrooms very well that night. I'm all about trying new food, but dakbal, which is what these things are called in Korea, will not be on my to do list anytime soon.

Fall has been fantastic weather wise, but the past week has brought chilly air to the area, apparently from the God forbidden freeze-land called Siberia. Winters are very cold here, but the good thing is that buildings are heated through the floor. Instead of electrically heated air being pushed into a building, floors are heated by water pipes that lie underneath. Hot water circulates through the pipes, heating the floor, thus heating the apartment.

I'll finish the post with a picture from the COEX Aquarium, which is in COEX mall, supposedly the largest in all of Asia. "Creepy but Okay, Thanks Earthworms!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Climbing mountains

The past few weeks have seen a change in temperature and its safe to say that fall has arrived in Korea. That's fine though, because now is the best time to sight see.

Last weekend I went paintballing with a fellow teacher from my school through adverturekorea.com. We went out into a forest, northwest of Seoul, with 50 or so other foreigners. Everyone was pumped to shoot some guns and have some healthy battles. It was a little shocking to see so many trees and breath fresh air, seeing how it has been over a month now that I've last had a deep breath of Washington air.

Paintballing was a whole lot of fun, lasting about 3 hours. The games included team elimination and capture the flag, starting with 25 vs. 25 and dropping in size to 5 vs. 5 at the very end.

This past Saturday, together with four other people, I made a hike to the top of Mt. Bukhansan, about an hour and half from where I live. The mountain nestles right against Seoul, but to the northwest of the city, whereas I live in the southeast. I had no idea before coming here, but Koreans are obsessed with hiking. South Korea is covered with mountains, taking up about 70% of the land, so there is no shortage of trails to tackle. But these people take it to a professional level, wearing the latest hiking clothes, backpacks with hiking poles, and everything else that comes along with climbing Mt. Everest. During the weekends, Seoulites flee the city to get some exercise and spend time in Buddhist temples littered all over these mountains.

The hike started simple enough, a steady but gradual climb up with lots of other hikers. The first half hour was spent weaving through tiny streets sandwitched between korean barbecue stands and little restaurants. Eventually, we were making our way up, enjoying the changing colors that fall brings to the trees. Whenever we took breaks, Koreans would stop to talk to us, practice their English, and brag about their children and their accomplishments. One elderly couple, that had spent 15 years living in Philadelphia, beamed about their son scoring perfectly on the SAT's and graduating from Carnegie Mellon. I guess parents are the same the world over; they love their kids, especially if they have something to brag about.

After about 3 hours of an increasingly vertical climb, using a cable as the only thing keeping us from falling down the steep slope, we made it to the top, 830 meters above sea level, 4 kilometers from the bottom to the top. The view was absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I've ever seen. The city of Seoul and its suburbs seemed to stretch endlessly, only to be curbed by other mountains. The pictures don't serve justice to the amazing experience of being on top of this mountain. Needless to say, I'm going to hiking again soon.

This is the mountain at the start of the hike.

A description for ya

These food stands are all over Korea, and this trail was no exception. This lady was making some sort of pork bbq and dumplings on skewers. I'm trying lots of new food with mixed success. Unfortunately, even my stomach can't always process everything...gotta be careful.

These are kimchi pots. The pots stay outside and ferment for a few weeks or months until they are ready to be served!

One of the Buddhist temples we saw along the way.

The inside of the temple. I've been told Koreans come to these to meditate during their hikes. No one was inside when I looked.

A part of Seoul.

It was really windy and cold at the peak. The pole behind us is a South Korean flag waving in the wind.

Near the top.

I uploaded two short videos from the hike.

After the hike, we went to TGI Fridays because a few of us have been missing American food (myself being one of those people). It was like being right at home! Burgers, quesadillas, mac and cheese bites, etc. They even split the bill, which is the first time I've ever seen it dong in Korea.

I went to an English speaking church, Jubilee Church, with two of the girls from my hagwon on Sunday. Everyone there was in their 20's and 30's and it really wasn't very different from modern non-denominational churches back home. A band playing and leading worship and one sermon, led by a Korean-American that grew up in Philadelphia. Half of the people there were Korean-Americans and the other half were regular Americans/Canadians/westerners teaching English here. There are other churches here that have English services. The next one I plan on checking out is the largest church in the world in membership.

A few last tidbits. Don't write a Korean's name using a red-ink pen, its considered bad luck, as I found out at school today. Also, having facial, arm, or leg hair is proving to be problem. My kindergartners love touching my leg hair especially, then jumping back in excitement. Now they're moving on to tugging and pulling the hairs on my toes, and that's not cool at all.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now, called Tom N Toms Coffee and there is a large flyer near the doorway advertising the 2009 Korea International Music Festival. The reason it caught my eye was because of the Ukrainian trident as one of the sponsors. Here's the website, http://www.kimf.or.kr/eng/index.asp. This isn't the first time I've run into Ukraine here, I've met a few guys that are from Ukraine dancing hip hop for a few weeks in Korea. Small world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Missing people

Well, it's been a little over a month now that I've been teaching and I'm beginning to miss a few things, one of them being friends and family. I just spent some time talking to my Dad via Skype and that really made me miss what I had back in Washington. Knowing that someone will always think of you is a difficult feeling to describe for me, but I'm thankful that I have that and its one that helps when feeling a little down.

The weather is gradually getting cooler with each day, although its still warm enough to walk around in shorts and sandals. I'm pretty fortunate as to where I ended living because of the lakes that are a short two blocks away from my apartment. The track around them is 2.5 kilometers (like the rest of the world, they don't use miles here) and is great for exercise, albeit sometimes difficult to navigate due to all of the powerwalkers and their swinging arms. There were less than a dozen people running, the other couple hundred were power walking. It must be a Korean thing.

Last night, a group of us went out to dinner with one of the teacher's parents that came to visit for a week. We found a restaurant with decently priced beef! Thank God, because the Burger King here serves some sort of beef that has the texture of wet humus that is sprinkled with beef seasoning. Pork is huge in Korea, but beef is five times what it costs in the USA. I saw an Outback Steakhouse the other day, I'll have to see what they're like.

I was grading one of my students' tests today. Their use of English can be pretty funny sometimes. For example, the question is "What does the word 'vital' mean?" The seven year old responds "Vital mean leaky faucet." haha

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Art, the Olympics, and mosquitoes

This weekend is Chuseok in Korea, which is the equivalent of our Thanksgiving. Koreans leave the city and go visit their ancestral towns to celebrate where they are from, remember their ancestors, and spend time with family. Its remarkable how empty the city is, with many restaurants closed and almost all the stores shutting down for the holiday. Its actually less stressful walking around the streets and the air feels cleaner.

Before making the big move to Seoul, I was told that the mosquitoes here are the most persistent and annoying in the world. I thought I experienced the worst mosquitoes in Ukraine one summer, but the Korean ones are notch worse. They somehow get into my apartment and wont allow me to sleep. A few nights ago, I was up until 5:00am, dog tired, sitting in my bathroom with the light on, waiting for one to fly in. As soon as one did, I'd shut the door and try to kill the bloody thing. The bathroom trap worked and 10 mosquitoes died that night but I knew that this couldn't continue, I need to sleep! Once again, Mr. Moon came to the rescue by recommending I buy a spray at the local grocery store. Sure enough, the stuff works and I've been sleeping like baby again.

I've been exploring Seoul almost everyday, but I want to share pics from the Olympic park. Its one subway stop from my place and supposedly the only park in Seoul where people are allowed to walk on the grass. For those that don't know, Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988.

This is the world peace gate, which is the first thing you see walking up to the park.

Pillars with unique faces line both sides of the peace gate.

This is right near the peace gate. Lotteria is Korea's equivalent of McDonald's (they have McDonald's everywhere too). The burgers aren't to my liking though. Koreans love their coffee and Starbucks is easy to find as well.

Lotteria advertises a new burger. One patty is chicken, the other is beef (it might be pork, I don't know). I'll pass.

Similar to Seattle, they have a sculpture park here. The art is from all around the world and there were probably over 50 sculptures throughout the area. Very cool.

This one is from the USA

This one was from Italy, if remember correctly

From Spain

A view of the peace gate from a hill in the park. The park was full of families having picnics and people rollerblading, riding bikes, and enjoying the day.

Now a few random photos. This is a Kia for sale for 11,000,000 won, which is about $8,800 USD. The cars have the prices right on top of them.

This is just one of many churches in the this city. Its remarkable how many churches there are here, which are very easy to spot at night because they all have an unmistakable red neon cross on top the buildings.

A large Methodist church. Most of the church buildings are regular looking office buildings, but the way you can tell its a church is because of the red neon cross on top.

I don't like donuts but in case I get the urge, Krispy Kreme is in my subway station.

In case of a gas attack, the subways have gas masks. I saw about a dozen, so I'm not sure how they'd be rationed. Women and children first?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A hospital visit

Moving to a new country brings a few challenges, one of them being having one's body acclimate to a new environment. This past Monday, my body decided to let me know that it was pissed and wasn't feeling well in the form of a fever, right during the middle of my teaching day. I started the day feeling fine, a little hungry (when am I not hungry?), and ready to teach my little tykes how to pronounce their "r's" and "l's". Three hours into teaching, I had a horrible headache and felt like I should sit down, take a break. Monday's are the longest days and I barely have time between classes to collect my thoughts, so that didn't help. I went downstairs and had Mrs. Moon take my temperature. Sure enough, I had a fever (Mama, I'm not going to say how high, just be assured that I'm completely fine now). The news that I had a fever sent Ms. Lee into a mild state of shock (she told me the next day she didn't sleep a wink because she was so worried). I insisted that all I needed was some rest and that I had to leave for the rest of the day, but this was met with Ms. Lee's strong refusal and insistence that I immediately go to the hospital. After arguing for a few minutes, I succumbed and Mr. Moon and I took a cab to Seoul National Police Hospital.

Mr. Moon, who is the assistant director, translated everything and explained the situation once at the hospital. I was given a mask to wear and after informing the doc of my medical history (or lack thereof) and taking about a dozen different tests, was ordered to lie in bed while an IV was kindly injected into my body. I asked a few nurses and the doc if this was truly necessary but was told that I could not leave the hospital until my fever was gone. The IV was some sort of saline, which Mr. Moon translated for me with his cell phone Korean-English dictionary. I think they grew a little annoyed with me and my questions, so I just shut up and waited for the fever to go down. It took an entire five hours before I was finally deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital. The tests came back and the flu virus, both regular the and H1N1 strains, were negative. It was the common cold, coupled together with screaming kids and a little fatigue, caused me to have a fever.

It was an experience, not something I wanted, but fear of catching the swine flu virus here is as common as kimchi being served with your meal. Ms. Lee was not going to compromise her hagwon (which is what private schools in Korea are called) with a white man bringing swine flu and scaring the little bundles of joy, and the money they bring in, away. I'm currently going through a unit in one of my classes that covers illnesses. The unit, a little ambiguous in its naming, is called "What is Wrong With You?" We inevitably had a few sentences that used the word flu in them and one of the girls asked me why there were no sentences in the book with the word influenza. I explained that flu and influenza is the same thing but the students quickly tried to correct me by informing me that no, no, influenza will kill you! I tried explaining that the regular flu kills also, about 36,000 Americans annually, but they wouldn't believe me. How is it back home right now? Are people as paranoid about the flu as they are here?

I'm totally fine now, after battling this cold with sleep, juice, and what else but kimchi. (If you've seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Weeding, think of using Windex to cure everything. Except instead of Windex, use kimchi. haha.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finally getting situated

It's been three weeks since I've arrived to the land of the morning calm and I think I'm getting used to life here, sort of. Every day has been one that brings new sights, sounds, and experiences. I think every person sees the world in their own way and so I'll talk about the things that have been most noteworthy and interesting, hopefully they are for you too.

As surprising as it is, I really don't miss driving. That may be because I spent an average of 3 hours a day in my car for my last job, but not having to deal with traffic and everything that comes along with it (i.e. road rage) is refreshing. I think I'm pretty aggressive when driving, but driving here would require some sort of mental preparation and a solid insurance plan. Rules of the road seem merely like recommendations of the road. Apart from all of the cars and buses on the road, you have these lunatic guys on scooters weaving in and out of traffic. If they can't get by on the road, watch out and get out of the way because they use the sidewalks too. Walking along on the sidewalks, as wide as they are, aren't wide enough for the scooters. What makes the sidewalks even more congested is that cars sometimes drive down them! Typically this is cars that park in front of buildings and need to drive down a section, since there are trees and barriers preventing them from hoping onto the road. A lot of this is very similar to Ukraine, except for the scooters.

Something else to watch out is the old Korean women power-walking down the sidewalks and walkways of Seoul. They have a word for these superhuman women, which is the Ajuma. I understand that elderly should have preference for seating on subways and should be respected, but if you somehow get in the way of her path, don't be surprised when you feel a sharp punch from an Ajuma's fist or elbow. They're treated somewhat like scooters, which is that they have the right of way and if you don't move, expect trouble. What makes it funny is the shoes they wear. I need to take a few pictures of these to fully make you understand what were working with here. Imagine taking the shoes the spice girls wore during their heyday and make them curved on the bottom, so that when walking, you bob up and down. Pics will be up as soon as I get a chance to snap a few.

An anecdote I find notable is what happens fairly often to the blond girls that come there to teach. There were about 10 of us sitting outside about a week ago near a restaurant a short walk from my apartment building, hanging out and talking. There were some new teachers that I just met and as I was talking with one of the teachers, we noticed an older Korean man screech to a stop on his bike and stare at all of us in bewilderment. We heard him manage to say "Wow! So many!". I guess it was a big deal for him to see so many white people together at the same time? He stood there for a bit and decided to come over to ask a simple question. He pointed to the two blonds in the group and asked "Russian?" We kindly told him no, we're all teachers. Now, this happens to blond girls here because there are Russian prostitutes that move to Korea and being blond is often understood to define ones way of making a living. The old man said thank you and went on his way. The blond girl teachers I've talked to say this happens to them a few times a week and is considered normal. I can't even begin to think of what kind of lawsuits these inquires would start back home.

I'm getting the gist of teaching (or at least I think I am) and my students are getting used to me. The way they refer to us teachers is pretty funny. "Vitaliy teacher! Vitaliy teacher! Hiiiiiiii!" But if its rushed, it sounds like "Bitari teacher, Bitari teacher!" The Korean language doesn't have distinct sounds for the English letters r and l, which is actually one sound (so I've been told). So instead of hearing the letter l, you hear the letter r. "Turtle Bay" was a story one of my classes read and teaching these 8 year olds how to actually say "turtle" and not "tultre" took more time that I expected.

I've been venturing out and exploring the city, which has been really cool and there is more than enough to see. Below are some pictures from Changdeokgung Palace, which was originally built in 1405 and served as the residential and administrative complex for the Joseon Dynasty. Most of the buildings were destroyed when the Japanese invaded the country centuries ago, but have been rebuilt since. I took an English tour of the area together with a few other teachers, but one thing that surprised me was the amount of international tourists that were on the tour. People from everywhere and languages I could not decipher.

The entrance gate to Changdeokgung

The cliche and ubiquitous peace sign

The underside of the entry gate

In front of Injeongjeon, which was used for major state affairs, the coronation of new kings, and receiving foreign envoys.

From what I remember, a lot of these colors and paints were considered royal because they were imported and only the wealthy could afford them. The Koreans traded a lot with the Chinese, and the influence still remains to this day. Koreans used the Chinese alphabet until Hangul (the Korean alphabet) came to be the dominant and native language.

A type of sun clock, dating back to the 15th century.

안녕히계세요 = annyeonghi gyeseyo = good bye

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A few pictures


Peugeot dealership near my apartment

Socks for sale in one of the subway stations

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My apartment

Here's a video of my a typical apartment English teacher's get to live in while working in Seoul, South Korea.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Time to teach!

Wow, where do I begin. I'll start with work. The name of the school that I teach at is JM English School. This is a private English school (called hagwons in Korea) that has 8 foreign teachers, including me, teaching English to kids between the ages of 4 and 15. Walking into the place, one might think that its a pre-school because of the friendly looking animals painted all over the walls. The building is 5 stories and is considered a pretty large hagwon for Korea. Ms. Lee is the director, not Mr. Moon, like I may have mentioned to some people. When I arrived at my apartment the first day, I asked Mr. Moon if he is the director, to which he replied yes. I brought a gift with me, a box of taffy my sister helped me purchase right before the flight, but Mr. Moon set it down and left it at my apartment! The reason? Ms. Lee showed up and I instantly realized she's the person in charge.

My schedule (as of yesterday, its changed every day I've been here) is 11:00am to 8:00pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday and 10:00am to 7:00pm Tuesday and Thursday. I have two kindergarten classes, in which the kids are 5 years old (which is 4 years old if we use the western system. A child is considered to be a year old on the day they're born). The other four classes are kids that are 9 and 10 years old. Most of them are pretty well behaved but there are a few little brats that are spoiled and won't take direction from me. Now, I don't really have much experience with kids, so I'm not sure what works and its been a learning experience this past week. One thing I have figured out is a carrot and sticks approach can work, in the form of rewarding kids with stars next to their name on the whiteboard if they answer my questions and stay in their seats. Get five stars on the board, and you'll get a star from me in your folder. Get 25 stars in your folder, you'll be rewarded with a prize (prizes have yet to be found by yours truly, I need ideas. Stickers wont do here, maybe pencils? What do kids like that won't empty out my wallet?)

Some of the kids are really cute though. One of the four year old girls, Dorothy, just looks at me when I ask her "What is this? (pointing to a picture of a table)". I tell her the answer, which she promptly recites, but then looks away with a cute smile, overcome by her shyness. On one of the days, she started crying out of nowhere. Fortunately, one of the Korean co-teachers was in the classroom and took her out in the hallway. Turns out, she simply had to go pee. After her return, the little girl came up to me and gave my leg a big hug. It was a kodak moment, I couldn't help but smile. I'll take a picture with these kids later and post them here.

When some of the boys misbehave, I simply erase one of their stars on the whiteboard and that works most of the time. Its backfired a few times, in the form of crying, not responding to me, or getting mad and hitting their heads on the table. Its a freaking star on the board kid! When the 10 year olds get crazy and don't listen, I just raise my voice (I've only had to do this once) and the terror quiets them down. All in all, the vast majority are well behaved and like me. The most common question I've gotten from the kids is "Teacher! Teacher! How many centimeters are you?" When I tell them my height, their reactions are hilarious. Its like the answer is the most amazing thing they've ever heard.

The other foreign teachers have been very helpful in trying to figure out how to teach. It's been difficult understanding the director because of her English abilities, which aren't what I've been used to, but I'll have to make do. One of the guys is from Virginia, another guy from Niagra Falls, Canada, a girl from Ottawa, a girl from Toronto, two sisters from Pennsylvania, and a guy from Seattle that went to SPU. All of us graduated from college recently and everyone is pretty cool.

I've hung out with the other teachers almost every day. I went to a baseball game last weekend, which are more fun than Mariners games back home. The stadium is divided in two, with each side cheering for their team. There is a platform on either side with cheerleaders leading the crowd with cheers, but they're not like in the US. The entire crowd cheers and sings along with the cheerleaders, which are led by a guy with a whistle and four girls. It really gets you into the game and makes it more interesting to watch.

Last note. I have a cell phone and you can text me! The number, to text from the US, is 011-82-10-5784-0637.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I made it to Korea!

Hi guys,

Like I told so many of you, I'm creating this blog so that I can keep you updated on my life in Seoul as an English teacher. I've wanted to do this since high school and after graduating from UW, the chance presented itself and so here I am. I loved living in Seattle for the past five years but I felt like if I didn't do this sooner than later, I wouldn't do it at all.

I left from Portland's airport a couple hours late, causing the plane to arrive four hours late to Tokyo's Narita airport. The airline put me into a hotel for the night (Radisson, pretty nice) and I flew out to Seoul the next day, but not before running into a friend from college, Anna Bickenbach, at the airport! Super random. After a bite to eat, we parted and I was on my way.

I was picked up by a taxi service as I stepped through immigration in Seoul. The guy bought me a cold water bottle right away and drove me to my apartment in Songpa-Gu, Seoul. Driving through the city during rush hour took about 1.5 hours, but then again this city is unlike anything I've every seen, even New York, when it comes to how large it is. 10 million residents in the city, 24 million for the metropolitan area. Mr. Moon, a middle aged man that is my school's co-director met us and showed me my place. My sister helped me get a gift, a box of taffy, for the director before taking off, but the guy forgot to take it after handing it to him! The reason might be because Ms. Lee, the other co-director, seems to be the one in charge. I'll talk about her in a future post.

Three of the teachers came by and introduced themselves that night. We walked over to the subway station, Jamsil Station, got some food and I got to see a bit of where I'll be living for the next year. The walk to the subway station takes a little under 10 minutes. The area is pretty cool though and is dominated by Lotte everything. Lotte world, Lotte department store, Lotte hotels, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotte_World My apartment building is only four stories tall, but the area is incredibly dense, with a variety of shops everywhere you look. Walking through the streets, I can't help but notice the plethora of smells culminating behind every building. The air is nothing like what the pacific northwest has to offer, and the street vendors, restaurants, cars, mopeds, garbage bins, and people walking by with their own scents, will take some getting used to.

The next day, one of the new teachers and I went to a hospital about 45 minutes away via the subway to get our health exams. Seems like everyone here is on edge about swine flu. Just today, I was wandering through the isles of a little convenience shop and the lady behind the counter, in her limited English, asked me if I was new. I told her yes, just a few days. She immediately covered her face and said something like "influenza! influenza!", to which I replied no, no, I'm fine, I promise (I think). Needless to say, she didn't seem to want me in her store so I left. A lot of the women here wear masks over their face due to the scare. But I digress. The health exam (which cost 88,000 Korean won, which is about $70 USD) consisted of 13 stations, testing us on things ranging from weight, height, temperature, blood draw, urine samples, chest xrays, hearing, eye sight, and a few others. I had to change clothes and wear a hospital gown (XL large was the largest, not long enough for my body though), but the tests were done with the highest efficiency I've ever experienced. The 13 tests took about 45 minutes, which I doubt our current US system would be able to pull off for $70 without reform (Go Obama! :) Afterwards, I wandered around downtown for a bit and saw some more sights.

I'm going to start teaching on Monday, so I'll blog sometime next week. Later! (Below are some pics I've managed to take during the past few days)

A tower, driving through the city. I can't remember what this one is called.

A tower in Jung-Gu. I walked inside and Samsung seemed to dominate most things, although I did see Boeing had offices on one floor.

This is a five minute walk from my apartment. Lotte amusement park with two man made lakes surrounding it.

Lotte amusement park

An ancient gate in Seoul, sorry, don't remember the name. Jung-Gu area

Jung-Gu area