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

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.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Exploration+No phone+ No money+ A fragile sense of Direction = Lost

I nearly got lost... again. I swear I'm not a totally incompetent navigator. If you give me a general direction and an end point I can usually stumble and bumble my way there and probably back again (note: "probably"). It's just that living in a Korean city has shaken the foundations of my already delicate sense of direction.

With that said, I've been exploring different directions from my apartment on my long Sunday runs. Today I looked at the map and saw a sizable chunk of green south of me. A park! I had to find it. From what I could tell, I could run south along one road that started with a "D" for a ways and at some point veer right, which would put me smack dab in it. It was a large enough park that I thought, surely there's no missing it and I was right about that. There was no missing the park... getting back was a different story.

I found the park without a hitch. It was a bit of a trek to the top because it appears to be the highest point within the city limits. I tried running up the hill.  That was a Swing and a Miss!  I couldn't tell you the grade, but whatever it was it was way too steep for my sad legs that were already fatigued from running (figuratively) around Busan this weekend.

The park was really nice. I wasn't there for long because the sun was going down and I knew I had to get back.  I saw quite a few hiking trails and a really big fitness facility with basketball courts, tennis courts, and a running track.

I haven't notice this until now, but in parks or even along the side of nicer pedestrian walkways Korea has exercise equipment set out for the public. I'm talking ellipticals, stationary bikes, calf presses, and places to do sit-ups and pull-ups. I haven't seen very many young people using the machines, but plenty of ajimas (a Korean word for old married women).  Ajimas, fully equipped with their neck to toe track suit and visor, move spryly on the ellipticals.  But don't let these little ajimas fool you! They look cute, but they have quite the reputation for their less than amiable personalities and aggressive shoving on the metro or anywhere on the street if you happen to be in their way.

As I said, the park looked to be the highest elevation in the city so I thought I might catch a clear view of the city. I walked further and further along a ridge in hopes that it would open up. It never did. It makes sense hindsight.  I wanted to see a view of the city because I'm not native. The Koreans who go to this park go to get away from the city. They want their own patch of green not more brick and concrete.  

Part Two: The Journey back:  On the way back I made a grave mistake. I found the entrance to the park by taking a series of lefts and rights until I ran into it, really, by chance. So my thought was that on the way back I would try to find a more direct route.  (Mistake, I know. It made sense to me at the time.) The problem being that (as in the case of getting lost before) city planning is not a true grid system here. Streets cut across one another in every direction.  For example, I started on a street that looked to be heading northward (where I needed to go), but I found that it was really running northeast (ever so slightly, but enough to knock me way off course).  I knew I was looking for a street that started with a "D" and I thought that if I saw it again it would look familiar, but all of the street names began to look the same. "Was it Dongsero or Daedeokdaero or Daedunsanno?... ?? " Mistake number two: I left the apartment with only my key and music. I didn't have a phone, I didn't have money, and I was lost.  I'll admit, I started to panic, which meant that at that point I had terrible images of myself crying, begging someone to help back to Galleria Timeworld (the biggest landmark near my apartment). Thankfully, I didn't have to resort to that. The sun was going down on my left so I knew I was walking north and I (by the grace of some higher power) found my way back.

There is a lesson here: stay away from the Ajimas (they body check like pro hockey player) and always, always have a cell phone (or a way to buy one) when I leave the apartment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

h"A" Girls! Let's hear it!

My blood  type is A. I realize that this is of no real importance to anyone reading this, but to Koreans a person's blood type gives insight to their personality. It's one of a few unique questions that I've gotten on occasion here. Supposedly it's like someone asking you what your sign is in the States. I, personally, place about the same weight on the relevance of both.. that being, very little.

When I told the ladies at my lunch circle that I'm blood type A they all nodded in unison. I desperately looked to Jella, my main co-teacher (and life line here), for some sort of translation. "It's good for women to be blood type A," she said.  Natually, I asked her what A meant about my personality. All she could really tell me clearly was that a person with blood type A was usually timid. hmmm..  Tell me again why this is a good blood type for women in Korea??

So for kicks, I looked a little more into this blood type thing. The relevance of blood types came to Korea from Japan and took off. So here it is:
Blood Type A:
Positive Traits: Conservative, introverted, reserved, patient, punctual and inclined to be perfectionists.
Worst Traits: Obsessive, stubborn, self conscious and uptight.
Referred as ‘farmers’ in some descriptions, Type A’s are said to be considerate of others and loyal to a fault. They can also be secretive and reluctant to share their feelings.

I could say, "yep that's me" to about half of them and in the same breath I could say that some of those in no way resemble me. (i.e. punctual.. perfectionist.. hah!)  It reminded me a lot of reading my horoscope.  Its so broad that parts of this personality catalog could describe my dog, Ben. He's a little introverted and obsessive. (We have affectionately termed his reaction to human contact as the "Ben Bunge".. which is a made up term that refers to how he hunches in cowardice with his butt in the air. No, we've never beat our dog. He came that way).

All of this being said, back to my original question: why is A a good type for women?  Well Korea is still very much a male dominated society, which (from what I've been told) is founded in Confucianism. Confucianism might have originated in China, but Koreans have taken it and run. Briefly, Confucianism is an ideology and one pillar of that ideology is the emphasis placed on respecting a social hierarchy. Children and women are at the bottom, then men (each stratified based on education and class) and then at the top are the elderly. Koreans have a huge amount of respect for their elders.

It's unfortunate, but from my own personal observation I've seen male dominance already in my kids at the elementary school level.  You ask a question to the class and I'm willing to bet that 98-100% of the hands up are from the boys. Nearly every time.  They are shouting out the answer or jumping out of their seats, wiggling their little hands in the air, begging you to pick them. The girls: silent.  I've ignored the boys with their hands flailing in the air and picked out a girl to answer on occasion.  It shocks them. It's understood that the students with their hands raised get called on.  I have no doubt that the girls know the material. After all, of the kids that have been writing me letters, all but one of them are girls. I have one boy who writes to me. So what does this mean?  My girls don't have a voice ... and I don't know how to give them one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"The World's ...Second Best cookie" Recipe

I went dancing this weekend with some of my fantastic co-teachers. It was a blast.  It was really the first time that I had spent time with a couple of them outside of school.  Your relationship with someone at work and outside of work is always a little different. It was nice to let loose a bit and get to know some of these lovely ladies a little better. I'm really starting to love them.
My co-teachers and I: On the far right is Shi On (I call her Sean).  I teach the 6th Grade with Sean. Next to her with the head band is Jella (my main co-teacher). She is the one who has been so great to help me get settled in these last few weeks.  She and I teach the 5th Grade. The woman standing and the woman next to me are teachers at the elementary school, but not English teachers.

As a side note: I made a social observation.  I found that Korean guys actually dance at clubs (I know, ladies, go figure!) and Korean women actually dance less. When dancing, the women move their bodies more conservatively than say.. in the States. I don't think I'd ever find a Korean woman "bootie poppin'" or "moving her body like a cyclone" or "dropping it to the floor."

Anyway, to show my gratitude, I was hoping to make cookies and bring them in for my co-teachers tomorrow at school.  I started by searching the internet for "the world's best cookie" recipe. What I really wanted was to shock and awe them with awesome baking skills. .. yeah.. I'm not sure I'll achieve "the world's best baker" status in the eyes of my Korean co-workers.

I'm going to do what we all have become so adapted at.. pointing the finger. Honestly, this time, it wasn't my fault. I was lucky to find the basic items necessary to make cookies (some of which I had to use baking substitutes), much less find the "secret ingredients."  One recipe said that the secret ingredient in the "world's best chocolate chip" recipe is instant pudding.  Hmm..I would have never thought of that. But do you think that Korea has instant pudding? Of course not. Nor could I find butter ((!) only the staple to American cooking and baking! I hardly know what to do!), or brown sugar, or vanilla extract.
My ingredients: The flour had a cookie in the picture so I knew that one was a safe bet. I couldn't find chocolate chip morsels so I cut up dark chocolate Hersey's Kisses. And I'm not sure that the sugar on the right is actually brown sugar. 
I have never seen powered vanilla before.. but I used it!

A few other kinks: the metric system. It's not an entirely huge deal thanks to Google. Just do a general search and you can find what 350 degrees Fahrenheit is in degrees Celsius; but I also had no measuring cup. I couldn't find one and even if I could it would be using a unit of measurement in the metric system. . which is like reading Arabic for me. I still don't understand what people mean when they tell me the predicted temperature for the weekend in degrees Celsius. Come on U.S.A! You are doing your students a disservice by sticking to this outdated American system. I don't know how to bake, or approximate the temperature, or give directions using distances in another country! This is a problem.

I worked with what I had. Added a little of this and a little of that. My cereal bowl served as my measuring cup for the evening. And here you have it...  
The end result: Lets just say that they probably won't be entered into "the world's best cookie" competition, but all things considering, I think they're pretty tasty!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pen Pals

I think we all remember the time in elementary school when our teacher broke out the U.S. or World map and told us that we would start writing letters to kids our age from ____ (as she pointed to another area on the map). It was an exciting time. I worked so hard at perfecting my letters... each "t" had a perfect little hook, each "I" had absolutely perpendicular lines, a heart placed next to my name... a sign of girly sisterhood. I anticipated receiving a letter like a kid anticipates finding the goodies that Santa has brought on Christmas day. maybe I had a uniquely exciting experience writing to my pen pal. I understand if not everyone shared the same enthusiasm. But being as how it was for me, I've gladly brought this tradition from the dredges of my childhood to share with my kids here in Korea.  I teach 4th, 5th, and 6th grade English so I've had to modify the activity a bit. Their English is not bad, but it's not quite advanced enough to write to kids their age in the States. Instead, they write letters to me. I'm the school-wide pen pal. I realize that doesn't sound incredibly thrilling, but I think the kids (or the ones that participate.. it's optional) still really enjoy it.

I'll admit that the idea of pen pals was not uniquely my idea. It started the first week here when a  few kids, eager to practice their English and to get to know the new native English teacher wrote me letters. For ESL learners (English as a Second Language) their are 4 components to learning a second language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading and listening are kind of like input learning skills.  Kids tend to pick these skills up first.  Speaking and writing are output skills and typically come last because they require that students create language.  Between the two output skills, I've found that with a lot of my kids its easier for them to write because speaking takes quite a bit of confidence. Plus, once you say a word or a phrase, its out there and there's no time for them to correct themselves.Writing letters takes away the stress of talking to me one on one AND it gives the kids who really want to practice a chance to read and write.

I've told all of the kids to call me Jessica (it's easier for them to say than Jessie), but some call me "Jessica Teacher" because in Korean they address their teachers as "_(teacher's last name)__teacher"

You'll notice that some of them give themselves English names. The privileged kids go to an English academy that encourages them to do so.

This girls English is very good, but she is not actually in my school. She goes to the neighboring middle school and is the sister of one of the boys who writes to me.

I've loved the letters that I've gotten so far. They're all so cute. Sometimes I get pretty stationary or suckers (!) or chocolate (!!) (these kids have me pegged) or pretty colored pens and paper. It's been so much fun. I try to make my letters just as fun.. which for me has meant learning how to fold my letters into paper cranes (that took a bit of finagling) or putting Disney princess or hello kitty stickers across the page. I need to buy some candy to attach to the letters. What can I say? I want them to write and I've always been partial to bribery!
Very Cute Stationary

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Corner of Korea

I went to the Jinju Lantern Festival last Saturday. If you exclude orientation, it was my first time venturing out of the city since I arrived, in whats going on, 3 weeks ago. Wow, three weeks. My fellow, yet more experienced, English teachers would laugh at this revelation. Some of them have been in Korea over a year or more now.  Forgive me, but 3 weeks feels like a long time. Strangely, it also feels like it's gone by quickly.

Jinju is a much smaller town than Daejeon. At about 330k, it's a forth of the size. Every year the city of Jinju and it's visitors display hundreds of lanterns on the river and in the air to commemorate the souls lost during the Imjin War, a period of Japanese occupation.  The story goes that lanterns were sent down the river or flown in the air as military signaling and as a way for family members to communicate their safety to one another.

I was expecting numerous pretty little paper lanterns... something like the Chinese lanterns that you decorate your dorm room with. What I found was something completely different.  They were numerous, but little they were not.  These lanterns were larger than life sized sculptures... and so intricate and colorful.. truly beautiful.  I touched a few; the material felt like a weather resistant cloth. No candles, all bulbs. Ahh the beauty of modern technology. The threat of burning the city to the ground is now greatly reduced.

Now there was a multitude of the pretty little paper lanterns.  Admittedly, this was my favorite part of the festival.  (Carolyn, I know what you're thinking. No making fun!). My sister teases me about the undeniable fact that I am (as naive as this might sound) a romantic. Go ahead, hand me my rose colored glasses. I like them, thank you! ;) Here's the truth: I like going to fairs, less for the guy they shoot from a canon into a ring of fire, and more for the way fairs make me feel.. I need to have fair food, the Farris wheel, and someone to ride it with.  I love the time leading up to Christmas... more than Christmas day itself. I habitually make every holiday a big deal.  My family would eat out on Thanksgiving if I didn't insist that we stay home. They humor me. The Jinju Lantern festival was no exception. I enjoyed seeing the large lanterns, but I could have spent the entire time in the section devoted to the small hand crafted lanterns. 

As I said, this was the Jinju Lantern FESTIVAL.  I think the concept of a festival is pretty universal.  It goes without saying that the food follows this rule. Festival food is festival food everywhere.. but maybe with a twist. The key: can we say, "fried food?" There was comfort in seeing that Koreans do as we do. Festival food = regular food that has been battered and deep fried.  I had fried Japchae (a Korean noodle dish).  Some other similarities: chintzy fair games that reward you with cheap prizes, unnecessary fees.. for example we had to pay a one way ticket every time we wanted to cross the bridge over the river.

In its own right, this festival was unique in many ways. For one, a Buddhist Temple on the mountain over looked the city.  There were many traditional Korean dance performances and an interesting selection of food. One vendor was selling ice cream and ...  cooked silk worm larvae right next to each other. I suppose you could put some larvae on your ice cream as a topping. I tried the ice cream and left the "toppings" for the next customer.  Someone in the group I traveled with said that he had tried them before and that they tasted like dirt... hmmm. I'll pass.

All in all, it was a nice weekend. I enjoyed seeing another corner of Korea.
Jinju Lantern Festival: Overlooking the river and the floating lanterns

I'm the year of the Dragon. Of the larger lanterns, I liked the dragons the best.

The small hand crafted lantern section. If I had had more time I would have made one to hang. Let let you do it for free!

A fire breathing lantern!

The inside of the Buddhist Temple that overlooks Jinju

Silk worm larvae, anyone?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Actively Proactive

The other day a friend of mine told me that I have to be proactive to survive living in such a big city in a foreign country. He was referring to making friends here in Daejeon and, more specifically, when making plans. I understand that this is especially important during this period that I like to call my own personal communication limbo.  I don't have a phone so I don't have, god forbid, texting! (If you know me well then you know that I've never been one to drink the "texting cool aid"). But bless Jesus, I do have the internet. And what would I do without it?? I've become a skyping, facebooking, blogging, instant messaging junkie, which (undeniably) has always been true (to a degree), but has amplified since I've been in Korea. Type Type Type. The tip tap strike of the keys has become the soundtrack to my life these past 2 weeks. In all seriousness, it's my only mode of communication because I live alone and I'm the only native English speaker in my school. So, yes, I agree, you do have to be proactive to survive in a foreign country, but I believe in more ways than one.

I've been walking in larger concentric circles about my neighborhood... if you could call it that. Daejeon has over 1.4 million people and I live in the heart of the city in an area near its "new downtown."  It's not your quiet residential neighborhood.  I'm slowly getting my bearrings. I'm not a person who can look at a map and understand the layout. I need to see it, walk it.  Plus, it gives me something to do during the week, which hasn't been entirely action packed.  Survival 101 in a large city in a foreign country: keep busy doing something, whether that be going for a run, teaching myself korean, going for a walk, having dinner with friends, cooking, blogging, reading, talking with friends, or going shopping. It's different during the weekends where I have the time to get out of the city and do something, but during the week my antidote to impending boredom and possibly homesickness is constant motion.

Today I tried to go for, what has become, my daily run in the park by city hall. What I found was rehearsal for the 2010 World Archery Festival.  I watched for a minute as 10 Korean boys practiced their routines in colorful robes. I opted for a walk around the city instead. I suppose I could have run on the side walks and I sometimes do, but I get looks for that.  I've got my neighborhood pretty well mapped out. Crispy Creme, check! My co-teacher, Jella, calls it, "The Crispy," which I find incredibly cute and very funny. Dunkin' Doughnuts, check! McDonald's, check! Fellas, if you've been searching for the "Sexy Bar" and have yet to find it, lucky for you, I now know where that is too. KFC, check! All my essentials are right around the corner ;)

I think on my next venture I'll take the metro to another area of the city and see where that lands me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thank You Vania!!

The photos here are beautiful and artistically captured.. and they are also not mine. My camera battery was out of service the week of orientation and the day that we went to Gyeongbokdung Palace and to the Nanta Performance. Vania Lanas was sweet enough to let me use her photos to show all of you. Thanks Vania!

These are photos are from inside Gyeongbok Palace. Gyongbok Palace, located in Korea's capital city, Seoul, was built more than six centuries ago; though parts of it have been destroyed and reconstructed. The picture at the top was the King's residence.

Military inside the castle preparing for the G-20 Summit meeting that will be held in Seoul in November of this year. Korea will be the first non-G8 member to host a G-20 Summit meeting.

Traditional Korean drum used to create Samulnori, traditional Korean music.

Our orientation leaders told us that Nanta means to make a mess. The performance was something like a cooking show meets stomp the yard meets an eurythmic  beat.

I swear I was trying my darnedest not to make eye contact when they were looking for two people to go on stage. Of course they had to pick me! I'm eating soup here. I got unofficially married on the show.  That's why I'm wearing the get up. It was an arranged marriage. It didn't end well. ;)