One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Sunday, December 26, 2010

7 Step Recipe for a Korean Christmas

I thought it would be unbearably hard to spend Christmas thousands of miles away from home in a country that doesn't really celebrate the holiday. (Korea has a fairly large Christian population as far as Asian countries are concerned.  However, Christmas is celebrated on a much smaller scale. I would say its a lot less commercialized.  For example: I asked my co-teacher if she was celebrating Christmas and, if so, what she was getting her (adorably cute) 3 year old daughter, Cherim. She said that she was getting her practice chopsticks (They're connected at the top to teach children learn how to use them. They're kind of like twisters.) and a pair of red shoes.  Christmas, I've learned is a much bigger holiday for couples than for families. It's a huge date night.)  So. Was it hard? Yeah, but I had a few things that made this season feel a little bit more like Christmas for me.

Korean Christmas Souffle Recipe
  • a sprinkle of snow
  • 3 teaspoons of gingerbread men cookies
  • a generous dose (roughly 1 cup) of a family substitute
  • a touch (5 grams) of Santa Claus
  • 4 tablespoons of holiday food
  • 1pack (250 grams) of skyping with friends and family
prep time: 1 month      cooking time: 20 minutes

Step 1: sprinkle a touch of snow (or more to your liking) in a medium sized mixing bowl.
With perfect seasonal timing, we experienced our first snow in Daejeon about 2 weeks ago.  Korea doesn't see much snow (no more than a few centimeters at a time and mostly melted by midday), but even the smallest amount seems to coax holiday songs from my lips.  What was that?  "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" or "Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh.." 

Admittedly, I was just as excited for the first snowfall as the kids were. During the 10 minute breaks between classes you could find (me and) dozens of the kids playing outside in the snow-- the girls were delicately crafting small snowmen while the boys taunted them with their increasing larger balls of snow with aims of either A) driving them away screaming, leaving no trace that a snow figure was ever there at all or B) provoking the girls to retaliate with their own equally large snow ball. I was there to capture evidence.

This is one of my first graders. I shouldn't have favorites, but inevitably, I do. Every time I see him in the hall he literally runs to me and yells "Jessica 선생님!" and grabs me around the waist.   선생님 translates to "teacher." Its romanization is "seon-saeng-nim," but for those who are not good at linguistics, myself included, to me it sounds like "sun-sang-nim."  Funny story about this boy. He peeped his head into the teachers office one day and saw that I was sitting at my desk. "Jessica seon-saeng-nim!" I motioned for him to come over. I keep candy in my desk for anytime the kids in class need extra incentive and I also keep stickers for letters. I placed both in his hand, "shhh,(motioning my finger to my mouth) It's a secret."  He scampered off. Twenty minutes later (like a modern day pied piper), he came back to my office with 4 others in toe.  I had to laugh. I gave them the same treatment. So much for secrecy.  
Step 2:  add 3 teaspoons of Gingerbread men cookies to your sprinkle of snow. Stir well.
Jella (my main co-teacher) and I held a party for class 5-8. (They've been our observation class for 2 open classes and have put in a lot of extra practice and hard work this semester). With it being close to Christmas, I was dying to make gingerbread cookies for the party.  Some of the women in the subject teachers office wanted to help make them. Pictures as follows:

From the left: Jella, Ms. Ahn, the Science subject teacher (I'm not sure on her name), Mrs. Kim, and Shi On. They are all leaving next year (Korean teachers rotate schools every 5 years. Sometimes more frequently than that.) I will miss them so much.

Note: I did Mrs. Kim's hair (back right). Sometimes we have hair shop in the office. We joke that we're going to open a hair and bakery shop.  "hair -10 dolla'! cookie- 2 dolla!'"

Gingerbread cookies!

None of them were familiar with gingerbread cookies prior to this, but they were all eager to cut the shapes and decorate them. It made me smile.

This is class 5-8s party. The next two photos are pictures of the presentation they made for Jella and I. It consisted of singing and dancing. I couldn't tell you what it was about though.

The girls from class 5-8

Having spent so much time with 5-8, I've gotten closer to these kids. Each student and I took a picture together in what Jella called the gingerbread man cookie ceremony. She insisted that each of them hold up their cookie for the picture. They later got copies.

Step 3: Add a generous dose (or roughly 1 cup) of a family substitute with whom to spend Christmas to your snow/gingerbread mixture.  Beat with an electric mixer until light, fluffy peaks form.
You can't spend Christmas alone and this year I spent it with a really wonderful group of EPIK teachers. We went to dinner on Christmas Eve at a traditional Korean restaurant (the kind where you sit on the floor and cook the food on burners on the table in front of you.) We went back to Megan and John's apartment, the couple that hosted the party, drank wine, played games, and eventually passed at around 4 in the morning. Megan, our expert chef, woke up early on Christmas to make everyone breakfast. I eased out of a comatose state with the sounds of a hushed conversation from the kitchen, a sizzling and popping sound and with the smell of bacon in the air.

Step 4: In a separate bowl add a touch (or roughly 5 grams) of Santa Claus.
Santa made it to Korea! We had planned to do a secret Santa gift exchange and stockings for Christmas. Everyone brought their own stocking and  bought a gift for another person and 11 small items to be stuffed into all of the stockings.  After breakfast everyone broke into their gifts from Santa.

Step 5: Mix 4 tablespoons of holiday food into the Santa bowl. Fold Holiday and Santa mixture into the snow/gingerbread/family substitute mixture. Start on the outside and fold inwards.
We had a really delicious Christmas meal around midday. Our master chef provided us with all of the holiday essentials: ham, stuffing, cooked carrots, corn pudding, cooked cabbage, and roasted potatoes.

Step 6: Pour the souffle mixture into a pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  While the souffle is baking, melt a pack (250 grams) of Skyping family and friends in a medium sauce pan. Once the souffle has cooled, drizzle over the top.
I got to call my family on Christmas Eve and skype them on Christmas day. They weren't expecting the call on Christmas Eve. My dad answered the phone. "Hey Dad" pause "Hey baby!" Then came my tears. I can be a pretty emotional person (I've always been this way, I accept it now), but something about that man can melt my heart and make me cry more than any person I know. He's aware that it embarrasses me when I have these spells. We have an unspoken agreement that he doesn't draw attention to it.  My mom and sister jumped on the other phone lines and we talked for a good hour. (I'll be curious to see that phone bill. yikes!)

The next day for them (that evening for me) they skyped me in for presenting "opening."  Why is "opening" in quotes you ask?  Isn't that what you do with presents? You open them.  Well, yes, for most families, that is what you do; but mine, bless them, is special. Non-traditionalists, non-conformists, .. call them what you will.  They explained that not one of them actually wrapped anything this year. They put the presents on the kitchen table (because they didn't put up the tree) and threw a blanket over the top. Then when it was time for gift giving, like a magician ripping a table cloth off a set table, surprise! There are the presents!  I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love them for this quark. I've already threatened them with a very festive Christmas next year to make up for the one this year.

Step 7: Cut into the Korean Christmas Souffle and enjoy. Repeat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bend it like... a Yoga Guru

Yoga leaves me flat on my face like a lifetime of running never has. If you've ever had a friend, girlfriend, brother, or mother tell you it's hard-- it's hard! If you've never done yoga, then you're probably wondering what the fuss is about.  It has a way of pushing you into impossible, back bending, joint twisting, inverted, muscle burning, positions.  Yoga has proved to be a combination of the most dichotomous practices. You have to be incredibly strong and yet incredibly flexible. You have to keep your core rigidly straight while turning your limbs in every direction. You must twist your body one way, but look another.  Lets not forget that you must maintain your balance while controlling your motion and breath.  It's as exhausting physically as it is mentally.

I've been practicing yoga for 7 weeks now. I started classes after my co-teacher told me that she was taking yoga at the center by my apartment.  I had hoped to start yoga while I was here, but an opportunity presented itself when that same co-teacher asked if I wanted to take classes with her and another teacher. There was a discount if 3 people signed up at the same time for 3 months. Now I go 3 times a week for an hour.  I wish that I could tell you that I've now taken on the quality of Gumby, his horse Pokey, or Mr. Fantastic, but, sadly, very sadly, I haven't.  It's still just as hard as it was day 1.  Though, I might look a little less like a fool.  I can now put myself into the positions (that's more than I can say about 7 seven weeks ago..or even 3 weeks ago)-- even if I'm not turned into same extreme angles as some of the other women.

One of my Yoginis is an older woman.  I would call her a Guru.  She's been practicing yoga for a long time--it's her studio. The other instructor, I found out recently, is a year younger than me. She is also very good, but probably not a Guru yet.  My yoginis don't speak English, though the younger one and I have tried to talk on occasion. 

The language barrier made class in the beginning a challenge. I spent more time looking at other people than i did practicing yoga. I sat towards the middle of the class so that I could see the instructor well, but not in the front so that I could follow others in the class. It's different for me now. I don't have to follow so much anymore. I lot of the class has become routine and because of that I've been passively learning Korean. I don't know exactly what the words translate to, but after hearing them repetitively, I know that I do certain motions after certain phrases. 

Some days I'm thankful that I don't understand what my Yogini is saying. I'd probably like her a little less.  (keep in mind that her tone is always so peaceful and she has the most serene look on her face while asking us to do, what feels like, the most impossible positions and that would become frustrating.). I imagine she says something like this:  "Bend backwards. Now, in an upside down position, control your breath. Wrap one arm around your leg. Lift the other leg in the air with mindfulness. Keep a firm footing. You are planted to the floor-- you are a tree. Now reach your other hand to the sky with gratitude. Find your chi." She's never asked us to do anything like this, but some days I feel as though she might as well have.

At this point I've become a regular. The women there recognize my face and know my name (I'm the only westerner in my yoga center. I know this for a fact because in our dressing room we're given a little cubby with our names on them. A romanized name like Jessica stands out ).  I don't know names, but I recognize most of the women and I know them through quirky mental notes: mrs. bendy (she could be a yoga guru herself), ms. nicetown (she lives in my building), smiley woman.. etc.  Only a handful of the women speak enough English to get by (and I speak minimal Korean), but we say hello and goodbye, and exchange knowing looks after a particularly hard class.  One woman and her daughter live on my street. The three of us walk back home after class together. The daughter knows a little English, but doesn't always come to class. Even on days that it's just the mother and I we some how manage to have a conversation with only a few words. 

I have to say, I like the feeling.  It's nice to feel like part of a Korean community, one that's separate from my school. 75% of the time I don't understand them and they don't understand me, but I feel a sense of belonging there and that is just as valuable as the yoga itself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Korean Take on an American Tradition

 Korean take on American Thanksgiving right here before you: muffins, apples, melon, chocolates, chicken Caesar salad, grapes, shrimp salad, sweet potato casserole, bananas, and, yes, even pumpkin pie
I know its 14 hours premature for my friends and family back home, but here I am in Korea,  celebrating Thanksgiving with my fellow teachers. I thought Thanksgiving might feel a little hollow this year with me being away from home and enveloped by a completely different culture; and yet, paradoxically, I feel so full.  Maybe not full from festive dishes like turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce (oh, how I lament not having these dishes!), but none the less full of warm, fuzzy, oozy emotions... and Caesar salad, muffins, and sweet potato casserole.  Not your traditional Thanksgiving.  One look at our spread and I'm flashed to something from the Peanuts Gang. Well, it was quite a leap from a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I don't think Snoopy brought shrimp salad and chocolate truffles.

I'm compelled by tradition to say how thankful I am this year.  I'm thankful for my friends and my family, and (ironically) I'm thankful for a job that has also pulled me away from them. For me, there is nothing like being away from home to make me miss it and appreciate it down to my very core.  I wish that weren't the case. I wish it didn't take a holiday or being halfway across the world to remind myself of these things.  I'm guilty.

It's funny, people have asked me if I feel different about the U.S after living abroad.  I suppose they wonder if I've turned into an ex-patriot wanna-be and find myself more bitter, cynical, and critical as the days go by. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. Nothing makes me miss my home more; nothing makes me more grateful; and if I come back with criticisms, they are only with the hope that a country that I love will improve itself.

I am also thankful for my fellow teachers. They are wonderful women.  I find that, time and time again, they will go to great lengths to help one another.  I've been drawn into this community, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm the newest and youngest teacher at the school. I'm asked "how are you" quite frequently and I get the distinct impression that they are not asking out of courtesy but out of genuine concern.

Last week Mrs. Kim asked me a similar question and I told her that I was great, but maybe a little homesick with the holidays around the corner. I explained Thanksgiving and told her that it was a big holiday in the U.S.  She said a few words in Korean to some of the other teachers and the subject was dropped, but not for long.  On Tuesday Mrs. Kim told me that they wanted to have a "Korean Thanksgiving" on Thursday.  They asked me what Americans usually eat. I rattled off a list.

"Stu--ffing??"  "Yes, Stuffing," as I pointed to a picture I'd pulled up online. They laughed. I didn't understand their words, but their expressions were saying "NO!"  I couldn't sell them on "stu--ffing," but I think I won some advocates in the sweet potato casserole category. This dish was my contribution to the potluck today.  Someone else was good enough to buy pumpkin pie at Costco (a little piece of the U.S. right there for our non-turkey Turkey Day convenience). We may not have had turkey and we may not have had cranberry sauce, but oh man did we have pie!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North and South Korea: Should we be worried?

Yeonpyeong Island, the site of the shelling, is located close to the border on the west coast side, close to Incheon.  I'm living in the city Taejon, which is nearly in the middle of the country. It's surrounded by mountains and is a good distance from the conflict. 

I've decided to post something on the recent artillery firings between the North and South.  I've gotten a few concerned messages from friends and family. First of all, I am fine and nowhere near the conflict.

Here's a link to a BBC news article:
It gives more detail explaining the incident than I can really go into.

I tried to gage the seriousness of the situation from my co-teachers reaction. The language barrier makes it really difficult to say for sure, but my impression is that most Koreans are not worried. To give you an idea...  Yesterday, I had my first open class with my 5th grade co-teacher.  An open class is a class that is open for the public to watch (neighboring schools' teachers, principles, and parents all come to observe your class).  We had been preparing for weeks; so with it finally finished we had a little celebration in the staff room. The head 6th grade teacher interrupted the party to tell us the shelling had just happened. All of the teachers jumped to their desks and onto their computers to check for news updates. The alarm lasted for 10 minutes and then, like nothing had happened, they were all back to sitting around, eating, and talking about the open class.

Later I pulled a few teachers aside (those that spoke better English) and asked them what they thought about it. A few were worried, but most for male relatives who are currently serving in the military.  (All men have a two year obligatory service)

"Our country is divided" was one statement I heard unexpectedly. Many Koreans still view the situation between the North and South as one country divided and not of two waring countries. In fact, most South Koreans want to be reunited with the North one day. Much like what happened in Germany and Berlin, the Korean war split families into its northern and southern vectors. So what stops unification? A tyrannical dictator, for one. North and South Korea are like night and day. The South has prospered: their economy, infrastructure, and commerce has grown considerably in the last 20 years. A city here is like a city anywhere in the west. Meanwhile people in the North are very literally starving. I have friends who have visited the DMZ (It's a popular tourist destination.. though not one thats currently high on my list )  I've heard that you can clearly see a stark contrast between the North and South just by standing at the DMZ. There are trees on the southern side, while on the northern side there are patches of clear cutting, mines, and barbed wire fencing. Thats no place I want to go.

It's hard to say whether the problem will continue to escalate. Its forced me to think more seriously about "what if" scenarios, but I refuse to stoop to fear mongering.  Yesterday, I registered with the American Embassy here in Korea (something I should have done when I first got here). I'm calm, but keeping a watchful eye. For now, all is fine and my bags remain unpacked.

Flesh Eating Fish in 3D

No, the answer to your burning question, I didn't see Piranha in 3D. Though, I did have a very 3D flesh eating experience.

Last week I went to a cafe in downtown Daejeon that had something called "Dr. Fish." (You'll have to forgive me for being so late on this post [cough cough, Brian]. I'm having to play a little catch up. Sadly I've joined the devoted group of Dexter watchers and it's consuming the time that I would otherwise spend doing... well, just about anything else.. blogging included.  Lesson: I have no self control when it comes to addictive TV series. Please save my personal life; do not recommend new ones.).

I went with a group to grab a coffee and get my feet exfoliated by these tiny fish that eat the dead skin from your feet. We walked up to the pool area and washed our feet (don't want to kill the little monsters, I suppose) then we grabbed a pillow and sat on the side of a small pool filled with 50+ fish.  It's amazing how quickly they swarmed our feet.  Poor little guys must not get a variety of food or I don't think they'd be so eager to snack on us. It was a really weird sensation. It tickled mostly and that, mixed with the novelty, had me laughing for a solid 3 minutes. It felt like bubbles, really.

And then like a flip of a switch, I felt a little horrified.  My mind twisted the image of tiny fish tickling my feet to swarms of fish eating my dead skin... which is precisely what Dr. Fish is.  I hadn't realized that I was doing it, but a friend mentioned that I was sullenly staring at the fish. He was right, I was. It was all becoming less funny and more grotesque by the flesh eating minute.

After an hour in the pool and upon a final examination of my feet, I'm not all that sure that Dr. Fish did much exfoliating. Cool experience. I'd go back, but maybe to get a coffee and to smuggle the little piranhas some fish food flakes instead.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Pepero Day!


I learned an interesting cultural nugget about Korea today.  Korea is full of quirky holidays. 

I walked into my elementary school this morning and was immediately greeted by smiling children holding up red, green, and golden boxes-- some wrapped, some with ribbons, but each holding thin long stick cookies, dipped in chocolate.  "Jessica Teacher! Pepero!" as they gestured the boxes in my direction.  I couldn't help myself, each additional box of peperos made me want to skip down the hall. I threw my arms around my students, thanking them profusely while most stood stunned with their hands at their sides. I suppose some of them might have felt a tad accosted by what (only now) appears to have been an overreaction to stick shaped cookies. As uncomfortable they might have felt, I couldn't stop hugging them if I tried. I saw my co-teacher, Shi On, chuckle as I hugged one of our students on the way out of class 6-5.  She, with more grace, accepted her box of peperos by simply saying, "thank you."  My defense: It was my first pepero day experience! I felt so loved <3  

I had been warned (somewhat) about pepero day. I spent 5k won (roughly 5 U.S. dollars) on six boxes of peperos the day before, thinking that number should be sufficient. My thought was that if any students gave me a box, I would give them one in return.  Not knowing the scale of this holiday, I didn't want too many. After all, any remaining boxes would only end up back in my apartment!... . . . I should have bought a few *dozen* more! I gave the first six away in a snap.  Then I resorted to recycling the boxes I had been given by giving them to other students.  Finally I gave up after I realized that even this tactic could not sustain the pace. I did what the other teachers did: I accepted the boxes, thanked them for it, and watched them giggle as they scampered off (but not without a squeeze!).

Pepero day is celebrated on 11/11. It's a day when young Korean children and couples exchange this delightful cookie.  Pepero's, if you'll notice, are in the same shape as the "1"s in it's date. And there you have it folks! All it takes to make a Korean holiday...chocolate dipped cookies in the shape of the date they are celebrated.  What a fantastic marketing scheme, Lotte Department Store (the manufacturers of peperos).

Pepero Day, as I learned from the teacher's table at lunch, falls into a long list of commercialized holidays in Korea. The 14th day of every month is some kind of holiday for couples, which is appropriate for a country that obsesses about marital status.  (When I got to this country the string of questions that I was usually asked started with "Are you single [single=not married] ?'  "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Do you want a boyfriend?" "Do you want a Korean boyfriend?" and "How old are you?")  So here they are:
January 14th: calendar/planner day. Couples give each other this gift ... I guess to help them remember the next eleven
February 14: Valentines Day: An imported holiday, but uniquely Korean. Women give gifts to men on this day. No worries ladies, it's made up for triple fold on ..
March 14th: White day:  The day men reciprocate by giving gifts to women that are worth 3 times the value they received on February 14th.  Way to go ladies! clever thinking!
April 14th: Black Day: I don't think I would have survived my adolescence with a holiday like this.  Singles who did not celebrate on feb. 14th and march 14th get together a eat ja jang myun - a black noodle soup or anything else black. So let me get this straight... couples get candy and flowers... singles get to eat black food together to morn their single status. ummm.. I don't think so. You can keep that one Korea!
May 14th: Rose day: Couples exchange roses
June 14th: Kiss Day:  self-explanatory
July 14th: now here's a good one: silver day: couples exchange silver jewelry. I think this holiday needs to make it's way back to the States
August 14th: couples drink Soju (a rice liquor in a green bottle) and take long walks in the woods. I suppose in Korean fashion singles can drink themselves into a stupor
September 14th: Photo Day: ... I think you've got it
November 14th: Movie day
December 14th: Hug day

I came home with a bag full of pretty little boxes of peperos. Now to pawn them off.  I went to yoga tonight and was able to give away 6.  If this sounds like a charitable act, I assure you, my waist line is thanking me for this.  I love and hate the thought of eating peperos for the next 3 weeks.
Peperos that I received from students <3

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rising with the Monks

Golgul Temple

Last weekend was Halloween and I decided to do something a bit non-traditional. I didn't put on face paint or go to a party, but I did dress up.... if you're willing to count Buddhist trainee garb as a costume. They have programs in Korea where people have the opportunity to live like a Buddhist monk in a temple for a weekend.  I think it's safe to say that I couldn't have done something more polarizing than stay in a temple the weekend of Halloween, but in hindsight (and with a little more sleep) I'm really glad I went.

It was a beautiful time of year to go into the mountains near Gyeongju.  Like home, the leaves are changing this time of year so it was very colorful this weekend. Not to mention, we got lucky with the weather: no rain and temperatures in the 60s.

We got there around 2 on Saturday, checked in, got our temple uniform (i.e Halloween costume) and jumped right into a lesson in archery.   My friend and I noted that the master of archery shattered our imagine of a Buddhist monk. He was a Norweigan man is his late 20's with blond hair and blue eyes. But boy, were we ever wrong in doubting him. Could he ever hit a bulls eye! And later in our stay he led the yoga and Samudo training as well.  Samudo is a form of martial arts and yoga that's practiced in this particular temple. Being a Buddhist form of martial arts, Samudo is never used to harm anyone.  They don't even pretend to hit one another in Samudo routines.  I think it can best be described as a form of dance that synchronizes the mind and body.  
A Samudo performance from young boys training to be monks.

The temple uniform reminded me of something between Aladdin (the big baggy tapered pants and vest) and an inmate (orange vest).

The guy standing right behind me is the archery master. As a side note: I hit the target on this shot (it was the one and only time)
This is where I "slept" Saturday night. The two blankets and pillow on the top shelf made my "bed" on the floor.  My roommate, a Korean girl who was roughly my age, took the set on the bottom shelf.  We went to bed around 10 that night after 2 hours of Samudo training.  One monk emphasized the importance of our attendance to the early morning chanting and meditation service.  Missing this event meant missing breakfast and 3000 bows as punishment. Needless to say, I was really worried that I wouldn't wake up to the 4:00 wake up call.  I can say now that there was no need for me to be so worried. I hardly slept that night. I think I checked my watch at least 4 or 5 times and I had been laying awake on the floor for an hour before I heard the monks chanting at 4am to wake the community. 
Before the birds were singing, we trekked up to the temple  (I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say we had to hike to the top of the mountain to get there.. maybe they make monks hike to the top to increase their gratitude in reaching the temple).  Just a few things about temple procedures that I learned and experienced.  Buddhist temples have three doors (two on the sides and one in the front).  Only the monks enter the front entrance.  You never enter with your shoes on and once you walk in you should do 3 half bows immediately.  Then you grab a small pillow and do 3 full bows. A full bow means that you put your hands together in a prayer position in the center of your chest and bow halfway at your waist. Then dropping to a kneeling position, your forearms and forehead must touch the floor. You hold that position for a half second and then turn your palms face up and (with your forehead still touching the ground) raise your palms above your ears. If  it sounds complicated.. it's not. You do that three times representing your thanks for the 3 jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (those who have found enlightenment).

The morning chanting service was quite neat.  The monks were already seated on their pillows in the front when we walked in. We filed in and followed suit. The chants were in Korean and though we had romanized translations, I really couldn't follow. I listened instead as I did the 108 bows. 

Then came the hard part: 30 minutes of meditation.  I know sitting for 30 minutes doesn't sound difficult, but you'll have to trust me when I say it was harder than sleeping on the floor that night.  Several things about it are hard. First, you sit in something called the half-lotus position, which will kill anyone's knees, hips, and, especially for me, back.  Second, you're told to "quiet your mind" and focus on your breathing.  It's hard for anyone to keep their mind quiet, but I found that my mind is like a small child in this regard. In telling it not to do something, it of course, had to do it... and man, was it loud.

Meditation went something like this:
"Aww, this is kind of nice being able to close my eyes.. I could sleep.. would they catch me if I slept.. would I have to do the bows if they caught me.. maan, its got to be 4:35.. I wish I could look at my watch.. probably 4:36 now..  that's 3:36 at home.. I wonder what everyone's doing.. I'd give anything not to be doing this right now... ooo, ooo, okay, my back hurts.. I want to reposition but how quietly can I do this.. that was a little loud.. .straighten your back.. please, god, just let the time go by..  maybe another 23 more minutes to go.. okay, focus, focus on your breath...fill your chest and empty it out.. fill your chest and empt.."  Then a few golden seconds of silence.  "hey, I'm doing it!.. .damn it." 

We followed the sitting meditation with a walking meditation down to the dining hall for breakfast. I could handle doing walking meditation all day in comparison! There was no pain and it was pitch dark .. which for me, made it so much easier to zone out. The wind was blowing and because we were only a little ways from the coast I could smell the salt in the air. Walking meditation was a much more pleasant experience and I think a more successful one, at that.

Breakfast on Sunday was a traditional Buddhist ceremony. It was complicated and ritualized... two things that made me pretty nervous. A few interesting parts:  Buddhists monks don't eat for pleasure, they eat simply to sustain their bodies (If the meditation didn't rule this lifestyle out for me, then that stipulation definitely did. I enjoy food). When they eat that eat mindfully and with gratitude.  Not a single grain of rice or drop of water can be wasted. So we had to eat every bit of food that we received. I mean every. grain. of rice. If we didn't then the monks would have sent us back to finish.  We had to clean our 4 bowls ourselves with a little bit of hot water and a piece of cabbage.  We had to drink the remaining water and eat the cabbage (I know that sounds horrifying, but it really wasn't bad... they are vegetarian so in the end it was just hot spiced water that we were drinking). 
Tea Ceremony: Through a translator we were able to ask one of the monks questions. It was the only time we were able to speak to them.

What did I get from this experience: well, apart from the bags under my eyes, I did leave with a greater knowledge of Buddhism and a new found appreciation and mindfulness of the food that I eat and the bed that I sleep on... oh and gratitude for backed chairs... I'd be okay if I never had to sit in the half lotus position again.
These two pictures are of the group who did the temple stay this weekend. Nice people from a lot of different places: Norway, Korea, Iceland, Iran, and Germany

Sunday, October 31, 2010

This is Halloween!

We made Halloween masks last week in class!
Sadly, Korea does not celebrate Halloween.  Under any other circumstance this news would have brought me to my knees last week.  I love Halloween.  However, I had 20 classes of 5th and 6th graders in my hands, which proved to be a more than excellent way to get into the Halloween spirit.  It's like taking a kid with you to see the newest Disney movie that you've been dying to see, but felt too silly to see by yourself.

We had a good time. The lesson consisted of a brief history and a montage of Halloween pictures: bats, ghouls, witches, jack-o-lanterns, Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies, and Halloween costumes: kids their age dressed as skeletons and fairies, babies in costume, even dogs (they got a kick out seeing a chihuahua dressed as an angel). 

After showing them a picture of a witch.. Me: "Can anyone tell me what this is?"  One student: "A grandmother!"  .. Okay, I don't know what his grandmother looks like, but mine does not have a crooked nose, green skin, and a mole with a long hair on her chin.

Me: "Okay, good, it's a vampire! And what do vampires do?"  Students:  "Bite neck!" "Eat blood!" "Drink pee!" ... hmmm.. okay, here was an excellent teaching opportunity. "Okay good, vampires bite necks, but do we say 'eat blood??'''  "NO!"  "Good, No! We say 'drink blood'"  ..Now to address "drink pee".. ?..

Me: "Do you know what this is? It's a mummy!"  Students: "hehe, mummy.. mommy."

Of course, I had to show them clips from Michael Jackson's Thriller music video and two clips from my favorite childhood movies, "Hocus Pocus" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

Then came the fun part: masks! Any excuse to pull out the art supplies, right?

Sponge Bob!

Pororo! A Korean cartoon.

Unfortunately, the color is washed out on this one.  I don't know if you can tell, but this student made a Homer Simpson mask. I was so impressed because it's so hard to get this student to participate in class. As you can see, it was a struggle to get him to pose for a picture. But he did it! Yay!

Some students really got into it!

This one is just too cute

If she appears to be a little older than a 6th grader it's because she is. My co-teacher made a mask too! 

 Some kids really got into it by putting time and effort into their mask while others finished as quickly as they could.  Of course, candy was a "carrot and stick" for most of them.  Once they finished they held up their mask, said trick-or-treat, and got candy.  They had to have the full Halloween experience.. and what's Halloween without candy?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Busan in a Snap(shot)

I took a quick sprint down to Busan last weekend.  Busan is a port city in the southern tip of Korea, famous for their fish market, live octopus tentacle (a Busan delicacy), fireworks, The Busan Film Festival, and home to the worlds largest... department store. I am now happy to check worlds largest department store off my life long list of things to see. I could tell you that I went down there for the fish market or the fireworks, but I think we all know the real motivation ;)

So if this blog is taking on the feel of a picture book, I apologize. Teaching ESL in an elementary school is starting to really influence my blogging style. I'm going to do with this blog like I do with my kids.. lots of pictures less talking. Whats the saying? A picture says...

The port where fish are delivered every morning at 6am.  I couldn't wake myself up early enough to catch this prime fish market hour, but I've been told that it's a circus.

Fish market

Octopus: These little friends would not be ideal for the Busan delicacy.  The trick is to cut a tentacle off a live octopus.  While the synapses are still firing and the suckers on the tentacle are still sucking, you dip the piece of tentacle in hot sauce and eat it. The hot sauce is actually a really important step as it is something for the suckers to hold on to because they could stick to your throat. A few people have died from eating this "delicacy." I didn't try it, but give me a few months and I might be more up to it.

I've talked about ajimas (Korean grandmothers) before. This is a prime shot of an ajima selling at the fish market.

This was amazing. Hundreds of squid. My camera lens wasn't wide enough to show just how many were there.


I don't know if anyone else watches the show "Dirty Jobs," but Mike Rowe did an episode on these critters.. slime eels, also known as hag fish. They are a Korean favorite. I see them in tanks all over the city.

Here's another "Dirty Jobs" episode that I came across... Gooey Ducks. You'd have to look it up. 

Korea's walk of fame

Haeunnae Beach: This area is swarming with people in the summer. Luckily we missed that in October. Funny cultural lesson learned here. Koreans swim with their clothes over their swimming suits. I saw two boys coming out of the ocean fully clothed. No need to say that it's a fairly conservative society.

This is not an "aww, that's so cute" picture! This is an "I'm disgusted!" picture. Before you think I'm a total cynic, let me explain. I don't know if you can tell clearly, but this couple is wearing a matching outfit. . head to toe.. the shoes, the jeans, the sweater. It is so common to see couple outfits here in Korea. I love the culture, I love the people, I do not love matching outfits. I'm so happy this is not something that has made its way to the States.    
This is a famous Busan icon to have a picture taken with (sorry Jenny, I ended a sentence with a preposition).

BIFF: Busan International Fireworks Festival. The internet told me there were ~ 1.5 million people watching from this stretch of beach.  I believe it! (It was a couple few more than I would have liked).  We made the mistake of not getting there 4 hours early to reserve a spot on the beach, which put us in the peanut gallery. It was hard move, forget finding a place to sit.

The fireworks were shot from this famous bridge in Busan. I believe that's water coming down.

The finally: Despite the hordes of people, the fireworks were amazing.