Thursday, September 29, 2005

Field Trip

I just finished my last class of the day and am quite exhausted partially due to the fact that I've caught a cold from one of my many sick kids and also because we had a field trip today. There's at least a couple in each class that have colds and my immune system isn't used to being here yet. I'll have to go to Walmart and try to find Korean Dayquil tonight.
Today we took our morning kids on a field trip to some sort of park (I'm actually not really sure what it was...?). They picked chestnuts, tie-dyed some towels, painted gourds and made shell necklaces. Try to picture ten, 4 and 5 year-olds stringing tiny shells on string. Who thought of that bright idea? Obviously not anyone who was actually going to be helping them...
I painted funny looking faces of my kids on the gourdes and they loved it. Oh, and the school also had them all wear matching sweatshirts today in the heat and forgot to bring water during all the activities. But it was fun anyways. All the kids brought lunches from home and they definitely were not the sack lunch you would see in the States-- they all had kimbap and rice balls.
Only Friday left and then another 3 day weekend for some random holiday. I'm going to Gyoungju Saturday morning which is the ancient capital of Korea. It's just North of Busan and should take about 5 hours to get there by bus.
Tonight all the foreigner teachers at Kid's Club are going out for Kalbi (Korean barbecue) to celebrate one teacher leaving and another coming. The new teachers name is Dede (pronounced "deed") and he's from Kansas also. It's crazy showing him around here, it seems like I just got here and I'm already not the "new one" anymore. Crazy how time flies...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hwagyesa Temple

On Sunday I made my way to the Hwagyesa temple located in northeast Seoul on Sam Gak mountain for sitting meditation and a Dharma talk in English. The guiding teacher was born into a large Catholic family in New Jersey, graduated from Yale and received his Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard and then decided to become a monk after meeting Zen master Seung Sahn at Harvard. He led the Dharma talk and was very captivating and humorous, not at all what I was expecting and in reality, much better. The focus of the talk (and the primary focus of Buddhism) is to always live in the moment for nothing is guaranteed in life. I believe this poem says it all:

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.

The afternoon was very relaxing--especially after the chaos of kindergartners. I also met a few new friends that I went to dinner with in Hiwa when we left the temple. If you want to see pictures of the temple or read more about the founder Zen Master Seoung Sahn the website is:

"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."

-Leonardo daVinci

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Squid on Ulleungdo

Ulleungdo view from lookout point



Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dokdo Island

The second day on Ullungdo island the few of us that didn't suffer from motion sickness the day before took a ferry to Dokdo Island, the famous rocky island that is the cause of a long territorial dispute between Korea and Japan. Dokdo (or "Takeshima" as it's known in Japan) is located 90 kilometers east of Ullungdo island and 157 kilometers northwest of Japan's Oki islands. Both Koreans and the Japanese are very passionate about this island and one of my older classes got very mad at me when I told them I went to Japan this weekend to visit Takeshima! The dispute is not merely over the 2 rocky islands of Dokdo but also of the water rights surrounding the islands which compose of 16,600 square miles of very fertile fishing grounds and may contain some 600 million tons of gas hydrate--a possible energy source for the future.
Right before boarding the ferry I took a mix of tylenol PM (thanks Emily!) and a packet of about 12 various pills the Koreans were selling for motion sickness. I really wanted to catch up on some sleep and was not looking forward to a repeat of the last ferry ride-- imagine watching almost everyone around you look deadly sick and a Korean family laying on the floor in front of you puking into vomit bags... not an experience I want to repeat. So I went into a deep sleep on the way to the island and woke up to Korean tourists racing each other to the outside deck to get the first view of Dokdo. Unfortunately though we weren't able to get off the boat because the water was too choppy to land. We circled around and heard commentary in Korean for about 30 minutes. The sun was just beginning to go down and the islands looked really beautiful. While we were at Dokdo I also looked down in the water and saw a huge jellyfish about 3 feet in diameter right below me-- I was quite fascinated with it. It was also really funny while we were on the boat Koreans kept wanting to take pictures of my friend and I... what's the tourist attraction again? I've noticed that Koreans have an obsession with pictures that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. Sometimes I wonder if they ever actually stop to appreciate what they're seeing in between the non-stop photo taking...

Me jumping off a bridge on Ulluengdo island

Ullungdo Island Trip

My long weekend finally came to an end and I'm back to teaching once again. It was really good to get out of the big city for a weekend with the Adventure Korea group. Amanda, Maria and I got on the bus at 11:30pm on Friday night with a bottle of Soju to split between us to help us sleep. Unfortunately it didn't work and by the time we arrived on the East coast to watch the sunrise we had only had about 30 minutes of uncomfortable, interrupted sleep. It was a cloudy morning and the red sun only shined through the clouds for a couple minutes but nonetheless it was a beautiful view from the cliffs overlooking the beach. From there we caught a 2 1/2 hour ferry bound for Ullungdo on very choppy waters. (On the map Ullungdo is the island in the upper right corner) Luckily for me I was one of the very few who didn't get sick and I even got an extra hour of sleep.
A couple weeks ago a hurricane hit Ullungdo island and we saw some of the damage that was caused before we landed. Ullungdo is known for it's seafood, especially the squid which you can see hanging all over the island on clotheslines. It is also known for it's pumpkin which I tried in several forms throughout the weekend: pumpkin taffy, pumpkin tea, pumpkin pizza (my favorite), pumpkin bread, cookies, cakes and doughnuts.
The first day we walked around the island and sampled some medicinal mineral water and then caught a cable car to the highest point where we hiked to a couple different lookout points.
One of my favorite things we did was jump off a bridge and swim around part of the island. The water was emerald green, very clear and the perfect temperature. I was a little nervous about swimming in the same body of water with jelly fish that were 3 ft in diameter and 4 ft long but at least I could see several feet through the water. It was quite a change from the brown lakes in Kansas I'm used to.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

-Albert Einstein

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Chuseok Holiday

This holiday takes place on September 18th this year and is recognized by foreigners as the Korean version of Thanksgiving Day. Similar to Thanksgiving, Chuseok is the day when families gather and express thanks to their ancestors for a plentiful harvest and wish for another good year. Everyone gets off work and school on Monday and since I have a 3 day weekend I decided to head to two islands, Ulleungdo and Dokdo, off the East coast with two teachers I work with. Ulleungdo is an extinct volcanic island which I've heard is very exotic and beautiful. My kids told me I can get really good octopus and other seafood there-- I can't wait to try the octopus tentacles that are still moving on my plate! I'm leaving on Friday night after a full day of teaching, then sleeping on the bus and arriving in time to watch the sunrise. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday we will be able to hike, snorkel, fish, sight see and many other activities. After this week of teaching I'm definitely ready for a 3 day weekend. The weeks are going by so fast-I've already been here 3 weeks- I only wish some of my classes would go by that fast and the weeks would slow down...

"You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a
choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be."

-Chuck Palahniuk

Monday, September 12, 2005

What's your blood type? (Hopefully not B if you live in Korea)

One question I was asked the other day which apparently is as common in Korea as asking your age was--"What is your blood type?" On that particular occasion I told them A-Positive and then waited for an explanation but got none. Following this perplexing question I decided to head for the Google for further explanation and was quite amused at what I found.
Blood typing has existed in Japan and Korea for many years now but recently has received much more media attention with the 2004 release of a hit song, "Type B Men" by Kim Hyun-Jong and the 2005 movie, "My boyfriend is Type-B". Some of the characteristics that are supposed to be associated with men with type-B blood is that they are "selfish, mercurial and absolutely useless as caring and devoted boyfriends". Type-A blood carriers are supposed to be considered "introverted perfectionists"--does that sound like me? I also read that many companies actually ask your blood type on applications and some even use this as a screening process. Check out this link if you want to read an article from MSNBC about blood typing and dating in Korea:

Luckily I'm type A and won't be turned down for friendships, dates or jobs while I'm in Korea--at least not on that basis.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Palace, a Buddhist temple & making new Korean friends all in a day

Friday night ended up being a late one, or early depending on how you look at it. We didn't leave the bar until 7:00am but it only felt like about 2:00am, we danced until the sun came up at Norea Bar in Sinchon. The problem with living in Anyang is that you have to take the subway home (or pay for a taxi) which is about a 45 minute ride and it's closed from around midnight to 5:00am. We call it resourceful, but instead of spending our money on a taxi we just stay out until the subway opens back up in the morning and forego the few extra hours of sleep.
Even though I only got 1 1/2 hours of sleep I didn't want to waste my entire Saturday sleeping so I dragged myself out of bed and headed back into Seoul for what would turn into quite an adventurous day. First I headed to Changdeokgung Palace and got there just in time for the English tour. It was my first time going to a palace in Seoul and it turned out to be a good lesson in Korean culture and history. Afterwards I went on a search for a Buddhist temple that was supposed to have a class in English on Sunday evenings. I finally found it but the English class is actually at a different temple on the island of Kanghwa about 60km west of Seoul. Maybe next Sunday...
It's now about 6:30pm and I decide to head to the Gangnam spa to relax and recover from Friday night. On my way there I stop off at Apkujeoung on whim for a bite to eat and to check it out, I had heard it was a fun place for the younger university crowd. I was wandering around trying to decide what I wanted to eat when I heard a Korean guy behind me trying to get my attention. I figured that I dropped something but he came up and asked me where I was from (in perfect English). I told him Kansas and he couldn't believe it because he actually went to KU for a summer! What are the chances? A Korean guy I randomly meet actually went to the same University as me! His name is TKoo and he works for an MBA consulting firm in Apkujeoung. We started talking and ended up meeting up with his colleague, Jamie. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant and then headed to a very posh bar called 'The Strip'. They ordered a very good bottle of Chilean red wine and a cheese and fruit tray. In Korea good cheese is either impossible to find or you have to go to a specialty store and pay outrageous amounts for it, so I considered myself lucky. In the back of the bar was a blackjack table, a roulette table and some other table with ex-professional card dealers standing by. It's illegal for Koreans (but not foreigners) to gamble in Korea so the tables were just for fun, but you could win prizes and drinks. I had a great time talking with TKoo and Jamie, they were actually the first Koreans I've met that spoke English perfectly. It was really interesting being able to converse with Koreans at a deeper level than surface conversation on account of the absence of the language barrier. I had the best night and am very happy to have met such wonderful, funny Korean friends within only a couple weeks of moving here. TKoo drove me back to Boemgye and we're all planning on hanging out in Apkujeoung again soon.

Bizarre Coincidence Part 2

Discovering an elementary school friend I haven't seen in 12 years is living in Korea at the same time as me was already coincidence enough, but... it gets stranger. We hadn't yet met up or talked on the phone but we had emailed each other and planned to possibly meet on Saturday night. On Friday night I went to Itaewon (which is about an hour away by subway from where I live) with Amanda and Maria (both teach at the same school as me) and another friend, Brandy. We went to a small, dark bar called Bricks that only had candles on the tables for lighting. About 45 minutes after we arrived the couple sitting next to us got up to leave and Amanda (who met Miles once) said that she thought it was him. They started yelling his name before he walked out and he turned around. I went up and asked him if his name was Miles and it was! We both couldn't believe that we ended up actually randomly meeting like that. We all went to a bar next door and met his friends and Miles and I caught each other up on the last 12 years of life. Good times!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Aly Teacher, Aly Teacher!!!

Aly Teacher...! It's not Ms. Young in Korea, they go by first names here followed by your title (there's already another "Amanda Teacher" here). You have no idea how much I've heard "Aly Teacher" in the last week... Thankfully, it's Friday and I've now survived my first week teaching Korean children. Although today I did resort to bribing with Dum-Dums in order to get my homeroom to behave. It actually worked quite well, I think I'll be visiting the candy store more often...
My Korean classroom is not the typical classroom that comes to mind when I think back to my primary school years. It is a fairly small room with a camera in the corner monitoring everything for the "desk teacher" to watch on a monitor in the hallway. The camera can be very helpful when the kids get out of hand because a Korean teacher comes in and yells at them in Korean and they get quiet real fast. There are also no desks in the classroom, only a table that is about a foot off the floor (which the kindergartners LOVE to crawl underneath).
On Wednesday I had a class attack me because one of the kids lifted up my shirt and saw I had my belly button pierced-- Imagine 10 8-year olds screaming and trying to take your shirt off-- apparently body piercings are not a common sight here! That was one time I wish the desk teacher would have been watching the monitor, I had to threaten to go get the principal in order to get them off.
All of my students have their Korean names and are also given an English name that they use at Kid's Club. The fun part about the English names is that I get to name any new students that join. I've already named four: Kimmie, Hannah, Bernie and Zachary. I tried to name Zachary "Walter" after my dad, but he wouldn't have it (I even tried Wally, but no to that also).

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Korean-style Ping Pong

A few days ago I finally found what I had been looking for since I arrived... a ping pong hall! (For those of you that don't know, one of my aspirations in life is to become the ping pong champion of the world. I know, I know, laugh if you want...) The best part is that it's open 24 hours and is literally right next door in the basement. I've now gone 3 times and tonight I actually started to play well against a Korean woman whose English name is Jenny. I got a short lesson from one of the owners and it made all the difference, I'm playing much better already. Everytime I've gone there has always been at least 6 people playing. It's actually quite expensive to pay by the hour (7,000won or $7) and costs 50,000won for a month. I'll just have to go a lot to ensure I get my 50,000W worth.

Eating & drinking in Korea

As most of you probably know, I love to eat and also love to cook. Unfortunately, I will seldom be cooking because I lack the kitchen appliances and many of the ingredients. I don't even have a fork in my apartment but because of all the practice I have already grown quite accustomed to using chopsticks. I haven't even seen a fork since I arrived and a few nights ago I ate spaghetti with chopsticks for the first time!
Fortunately though, there are so many restaurants within walking distance of my apartment that I could eat three (very cheap) meals a day in restaurants every day for a year and never have to go to the same one twice! I can't believe how many restaurants and bars there are piled up to 7 stories high. Everyday I see a restaurant, bar or shop that's right next to my apartment that I never noticed before.
Kimchi is a very popular Korean dish that is served with nearly every meal. It consists of spicy, fermented cabbage and vegetables and is available in many different varieties. Another popular dish here is kimbap, Korean-style sushi rolls. One difference between Japanese sushi and kimbap is that kimbap contains many ingredients such as egg, carrot, cucumber, crab and often times ham whereas Japanese sushi often times contains only one ingredient such as tuna or salmon. There are also many noodle dishes, one of which is called mandu. I've only tried it once and can't say I'm the biggest fan but I'll give it another go at a different place. I've also had many delicious soups and also a tofu casserole at a kalbi restarant. At the kalbi restarants you order the raw meat (or tofu) and cook it yourself at the table--very fun!
The other day I went to a frozen yogurt and fruit place and saw spaghetti with fruit and pickles on the menu! It was also strange that my fruit and yogurt was served with toast.
And then of course there is the soju, which is equivalent to saki in Japan. It costs a mere 1,000won ($1) and I would compare it to slightly diluted vodka. Kid's Club, the school I work for, had a barbecue for all the American, Canadian & Korean teachers last Thursday and the owner of the school- Mr. Park-made everyone take shots of soju with him to declare his "affection & appreciation" for us. Just to illustrate the effects of soju--one of the teachers woke up at 4:30am, on an unknown sidewalk, ONLY wearing boxers! Everyone at the school the next day, including the director, had fun with that story...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

First Impressions

I have now experienced over a week of Korean culture and it's been a whirlwind of teaching, eating, drinking, meeting new people and seeing the sights in Seoul. I was a bit apprehensive about my first day in the classroom only because of my lack of experience but I think as soon as I get accustomed to the children and the activities, I will be fine. The kids truly are some of the most adorable kids I've ever seen and luckily there are only a couple who could turn out to be trouble-makers. My homeroom class is called "Kitty Class" and it consists of ten 5 year-olds(American 4). I teach this class everyday from 10:50-1:45 with a 35 minute lunch break. In the afternoons I have a few different classes and get out early on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I really enjoyed teaching the older kids on Friday, they were really smart and I could communicate and have more fun with them. I've also moved into my apartment which is much more like a glorified dorm room than anything else. I do have my own bathroom complete with a Korean shower, which consists of a drain in the middle of the floor and a hand-held shower nozzle. You also have to remember to switch the water back to the faucet after finished unless you want to receive a shower next time you wash your hands (which I've already done twice). I also have a full size refrigerator, a kitchen sink, one burner, a couch, a TV, a bed and a table and chair. Most of the TV shows are in Korean but because we are near a U.S. military base we also receive quite a few channels in English.

Bizzare Coincidence

On Friday night I went to the Rock Ssin for the bi-weekly open mike night and to meet some of the other foreigners in the area. I was about to head home when I met a couple guys from Ireland. One of them said I was only the second person he has ever met from Kansas and the other one happened to also be a teacher here and one of his good friends. I asked his name and he said "Miles". I asked his last name and it turned out he's a kid I went to elementary school with and probably haven't really seen in 12 years- Miles Mcdonough! I couldn't believe's been so long since I've seen him and actually run into him in Korea! I got his email address and we're planning to meet up sometime soon. It should be interesting to say the least.