Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You Call It

Nothing remarkable went down today.  My kids were relatively well behaved, though very quiet as my Wednesday students often are.  I only teach three different classes today (I just repeat them), so it's a bit monotonous.

A few of you have been wondering about how hard these kids are pushed to succeed.  Well, everyday during my 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 classes kids say they're hungry.  When I ask if they've eaten, they look at me blankly and say that they haven't.  Many of them look exhausted, too.  When Ian asked a kid yesterday why he was so tired (the kid nearly dozed off while he was standing) he simply responded, "Homework."

This boy is sound asleep in his chair at an audio desk.  You can even see his limp arm.  He was asleep for nearly a full teen minutes before he was disturbed.  When he did wake up, he simply slumped forward and went back to sleep.  The Korean English teacher eventually helped him wake up.  She was very nice to him, but he looked pretty terrible, all ruddy and exhausted.

Things are pretty slow around here right now.  Ian might make some cheese later and I'll take a few photos to showcase that art form in our tiny kitchen.

When things are slow we sit around and read our own blog!  Yay!  Just kidding.  Kind of.

So, I want to write a blog that is a slightly more academic than what I've been doing.  I know you guys are interested in Korean culture, so I thought I'd give you a few choices.  Do you want me to research and write about:  A) Chuseok (the upcoming harvest holiday)  B) Confucianism (the philosophy upon which large parts of Korean culture is based)  C) Traditional Korean alcohol and nightlife or  D) Korean Buddhism.  I'll check out what you guys want tomorrow at 10am my time (6pm PST).  Depending upon how intense the research turns out to be, I'll either write it tomorrow night or sometime over the three day weekend.  I'll let you know.

Chun wha hasn't said anything about Chuseok, yet, but she did give me some rice cakes.  They... were not so good.  One kind tastes a bit like vomit.  Not sure why, since it seems to be primarily puffed rice.  Still, I appreciate the gesture.  If we're invited to Chuseok (which is Saturday), she'll most likely say something tomorrow.

Good night and enjoy your Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

11 to go!

We've managed our first month in Asia pretty well.  We're learning some of the language and getting more comfortable.  I can't believe we've been here a month.  I still miss my family everyday, but a year here seems more reasonable all the time.  Save for Julia, you could almost say things are going smoothly.  I think it will help when we get paid and have the opportunity to see Seoul, Busan and other cities.  We feel a little stuck without any money to travel.  Our paycheck on October 10th will be a welcome relief.  Plus, with more money to do things, comes more things to blog about.  I'm running on empty here.

On a random note, I think I'm coming down with a cold or something.  Nobody understands the whole "cover your mouth" concept here, so illness is inevitable.  The contradictions and misguided-ness about health and contagion here is startling.  I guess it's one of the best reminders that South Korea only "recently" became an industrialized nation.

Ian and I found "Hershey's with Almonds" (the big ones) at a little family store near our house.  Why a tiny store has it and not Lotte Mart, I don't know.  I also don't know why they have the almond ones and not the plain ones.  It doesn't matter, as Ian and I are so pleased.  This discovery will help us savor the candy my family sent us even more.  At home, Hershey's is regarded as the epitome of average chocolate.  Here, it is the best stuff ever.  Asian chocolate is no good.  It's a bit waxy and devoid of any richness.

Today, in one of my classes the students' books call for them to draw and label their family.

I definitely took the time to draw my own on the board.  I'm such a good teacher.

Ian's become a real hard ass in his classes.  Today one of his student's was being (in Ian's words) "a douche" so he startled him by going "BAH!" in his face.  The boy whipped back and slammed his head into the wall.  Ian just laughed at him with the rest of the class.  This is what Korea does to you.  You should hear the other teachers talk.  But, in our defense, these children are not only spoiled rotten, they are pushed to their limit.  So, everyday we deal with snotty kids displacing their anger.

I've only briefly looked at the comments from last night's blog.  I'll take a better look and respond directly to you folks tomorrow morning.  I appreciate your thoughts!  Remember, if there's something you'd like to see us post about, let me know!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Call for Suggestions

Today was a pretty average Monday, so there is not much to blog about and no pictures to be had!
Julia texted us this morning and switched our meeting to tomorrow at 10:30am.  Apparently Julia has a cold. She's been sick for over two weeks.  As we say here in Asia, let's hope it's not "the influenza."  Don't panic, I'm joking.  However, I am unsure why the meeting has to be so damn early.  I suppose she needs to make up for the time she's lost in letting us know that we're inadequate.

It was pretty refreshing to talk to the other teachers on Saturday.  We're definitely not alone in our troubles, in fact, we actually work fewer hours than they do.  Some of their set ups (breaks, apartments and vacations) sound a little better, but for the most part we're all in the same boat.  Many of them use a stick or ruler at work (or their coteachers do).  It's pretty much to poke the kids into paying attention.  Man, on some days, what I wouldn't give...

The only main difference that bums me out is our location.  Everyone else lives pretty close to downtown and within reasonable walking distance (20 minutes, tops) to everything (work, shopping, other teachers, etc.).  It's kinda lame to be stuck out in the annex.  It takes us at least twice as long to get anywhere and it seems like it's strange that we're not within walking distance from our schools.  Everyone else seems to be.  Ian says that he likes the annex, though.  And, he has a point.  Our neighborhood is really self contained, I mean, we could easily live without ever leaving Sinback.  But, all the neighborhoods (called "dongs," yes, go ahead, giggle) are self contained that way.

So, because we have a lull this evening, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask for a couple of suggestions.  Firstly, we're almost done with the books we brought.  When we get paid, we're going to order some new ones from  So, we want to know if anyone has a good book suggestion or two.  I've recently read and enjoyed "Broken" by Daniel Clay and I'm currently finishing "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris.  Ian likes most science fiction (I like a good deal of it, too) and recently finished the Star Wars novel "Vision of the Future."  We both read and mostly enjoyed "The Time Traveler's Wife" this summer.  We both love graphic novels, but we're trying to stay away from them because they make for too quick a read when getting books takes so much effort.  So, what say you?

The other thing we are looking for are good skillet (stove top) recipes.  We don't have an oven we get home around 9pm to make dinner, so it needs to be relatively quick.  Though, if you have a more time consuming one that you really like, let us know.  I'm sure we could make it on a weekend.  Remember, we're vegetarians (vegeMAtarians, as the British girls call us :) ), so please leave out the meat (meaning we don't eat fish, either).  Also, we live in Korea, which means that some ingredients are tough to find.  We won't be able to make it to Costco until after the 10th (I'm SO stoked).  I'm excited to see what you guys come up with.

Last call for suggestions:  is there anything that you would like to see me blog about?  I know you want more Ian, but it's very difficult to get him to cooperate. Any questions to which I can devote a blog?  Let me know.

This coming weekend is a three day weekend (we have Friday off for Chuseok, which is Saturday).  I don't know what we're doing.  We may be going with Chun wha to her family's place for the actual holiday.  I'm not saying anything to her about it, because with the language barrier you tend to invite yourself to things.  Chuseok is a VERY family oriented holiday.  If we are invited, it's an honor and we will go.  However, I completely understand if they'd prefer to leave the foreigners out of this one.  We probably won't know until the last minute, but we'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Easy Going Sunday

Today was a very laid back day.  We got up around noon (we got in at 4am last night) and walked to down town for some coffee and pastries (even though it was raining).  We've come to terms with the fact that though we have no money, there are certain habits that help us feel normal.  It's tough not to feel guilty about spending money out, but it's almost as cheap as staying in here.  After all, an iced latte is about $2.50.  Granted, it tastes like it's $2.50.

We thought about seeing a movie, but decided against the expense of seeing something we were only half interested in.  So, we wandered and took some pictures.

Ian and I stood in a stairway off the main shopping center to get out of the rain. We were there people watching for like an hour.  It was pretty cool.

This is the first "Thomas" we've seen since we've been here.  I wonder if they've been over to the Sodor Park.

We decided to grab some food at Mr. Pizza.  On the table there was this advertisement for this apparently award winning pizza.  On the ad there are little arrows letting you know what each unidentifiable topping is.  From top left, clockwise: chicken, crab, potato, shrimp.  All covered in what is probably mayonnaise.  After all, these people give you butter with your pizza.  But, there's something stranger and creepier than the pizza itself on the ad.

I don't think I want food to be advertised as anything close to a lover.  Let alone the "Best."

Our leftovers were packaged with a lovely bow.  Made it very convenient to carry.

We stopped in at HomeMart on the way home because we didn't have anything better to do.  I feel like they have at least 8 people working on the floor at all times (keep in mind this store has, like, 4 aisles).  They hover, because Koreans don't really "shop around," so we are bizarre.  We were there for about an hour and all we bought were 40 cent cookies, which were not so great.  But, we did find some new things to amuse you.

It's Chuseok season, which means there are gift packs of everything.   It took us forever to figure out what this one was.  I'm not sure why we were so curious about it.  We thought it might be candy or something because it has four pictures on it (corn, pomegranate, kimchi pots and some sort of woody looking plant).    But then we finally looked at the coupon attached and figured it out.

Our camera bizarrely focused behind the image, but if you look hard you'll see that they are holding toothbrushes.  Yep, this is a four toothpaste gift pack.  I have no idea what those pictures have to do with toothpaste.  I hope this isn't the case, but as there were four toothpastes and four pictures, I have the terrible feeling that they were flavors.

Cookies and creme isn't a strange flavor at all, right?  Well, it is for gum.  And they seem to have their qualifiers backwards ("white cookies and creme chocolate" instead of "chocolate cookies and white creme").

Well, tomorrow begins another workweek.  It also marks a month since we've been here.  Miss you guys.

Night Out!

Tonight we were invited out to dinner with Sara Jayne, Haley, and several other native English teachers they know.  We went to dinner at a "Western" restaurant.  Ian and I had vegetable topped tortillas.  This was after sending the ham covered ones back, of course.  We did find out that there is a good vegetarian restaurant in Jecheon (in Sinback, no less) and that there is another vegetarian teacher here; we didn't meet her, though.

Then the group decided that we sould go for drinks afterward. So, it was a pretty standard Western evening.  Their were Britons, Americans, Australians, and Canadians.  All in all, it was a good time.  It's 4:00am here and we just got back.  Ian is trashed (and asleep next to me).  He has a hard time saying no.  :)

We didn't take a ton of pictures, but here are the few good ones.  Going out is very cheap.  It was only about $9 per person at each place, and we had PLENTY of food and drink.

My first shot of soju.  The Korean girl next to me (Ereen, or something similar) shoved a pork rind-ish chip in to my mouth directly after.  GROSS.

Ian after a few shots of soju.

Haley, Sara Jayne and Kate.

Ian and Ian, obviously. :)

Jeff, Adam. Matt, and Albert.

Tonia joined us later.

The mildly racist statue at the "Soul Mate" bar.

The group at Metro (Adam took the picture).

As I said, it was a pretty stereotypical night of drinking and talking loudly.  But, it was wonderful to have the person you are talking to relate to and understand your humor.  We'll probably be seeing these people pretty often.  It will be nice to bring in some balance to our lives.

Good night!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Behind the Scenes

This post will be short and sweet, as I am exhausted and we have some internet t.v. to catch up on.

I took some pictures this morning relating to our morning routine.  I thought it might help you imagine the bizarre balance our life strikes between monotony and the never ending string of surprises.

Obviously, you already know that I write the blog every night when I get home from work.  When I get up in the morning, I check the blog for comments, return emails and hang out on Skype to chat with you faraway folks.  After breakfast, Ian and I go jogging.  When we get back from being gawked at (we do it everyday, yet people still stare...) I do abs and some yoga.  Morning exercise is one of the ways we deal with stress here.  I try to channel any negative feelings into my run and then I use the yoga and stretching for "sort of" meditation.  To anyone working through a challenging time, I recommend finding your release.  If I didn't work out... Well, I'd probably have no patience with my students.  They can be trying as it is.

We've had a lot of morning fog here lately.  That's the view of the morning sun over the hills out our window.

I only recently achieved this yoga position (creatively named "tree").  I'm still pretty proud of it.  I couldn't pack my mat, so that's a quad-folded blanket under my feet.  Not very safe, but it works.

This is what Ian looks like after we jog.

Ian is not so great at yoga.  Or stretching in general...

So, he makes lunch instead.

When I finish my yoga, I start to clean up the apartment.  It's very difficult to clean while getting ready for work, but we do it everyday.

We do it everyday because this is what it looks like when we return from our jog.  Remember, our apartment is pretty much a room and a kitchen.  Easy to keep tidy, difficult to keep clean (because you are ALWAYS dirtying every inch of space).

The floors also have to be swept everyday.  All the dust bunnies end up next to the washing machine (which is in Korean).  Tomorrow is laundry day.  Yay!  We'll see if we can get it to start on the first try this time.

Tomorrow we are having dinner with a bunch of native English teachers (from places like the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.).  We're pretty excited.  I'll make sure to take the camera!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


So, this morning I missed my bus and had to take a cab.  Not so great since I don't know the Ha So neighborhood at all.  Anyway, the cab driver dropped me in some residential area and I had to figure it out.  No worries, I managed it all on my own (much to Ian's dismay, he would have felt better had I called Chun wha).  Now I have a little sheet that tells me what to tell the cab driver.

Today was a good day for us.  Thursdays always are.  My Beginner 1 class was a bunch of brats today, however.  I actually yelled.  If you know me at all, you know that it takes a lot.

Ian asked his Fluent 3 class (the highest of any we have) for Korean music suggestions.  Since I don't have any pictures for today (as it was completely average) I thought I'd let you entertain yourself with the videos for some of the songs they like.  Popular music here (a mix of Pop, Club and Hip-Hop genres) is called K-Pop.  Warning:  this music is not so great.  Granted, it's not much worse than a lot of American club music.  But, I know that it will not suit many your tastes.  I don't blame you, I think Ian and I will stick to listening to Pandora Radio online.  I've found some Korean "Indie" and Rock online, too, so I'll trow that in at the end to give you some relief.

The most popular band with our students:
2NE1 (pronounced "to anyone" or "twenty-one").  This song is called "I Don't Care."

Phew!  You survived that one.  Maybe. Maybe you skipped it.  I'm not judging you.  Here's a couple of songs from the Korean Michael Jackson wannabe, G-Dragon.  First, the wildly popular song "Heartbreaker."  Then I'll show you how much this guy rips off American music.  Most people will never know, because it just doesn't make it over here.

Here's a little mash up someone made to show the copy-cat nature of G-Dragon.

He is definitely not alone.  Copy cats are all over K-Pop.
(Big Bang- "This Love")

Maroon 5 with "This Love" (the original)

Here's one more K-Pop favorite for your listening pleasure:
Super Juniors- "Sorry Sorry"

Alright!  You made it through.  Would you like some stickers?  The appropriate response to that question is "YES!" because tiny green square stickers are like crack to Korean children and adolescents.

Here are a couple of Korean "alternative" songs/bands that I found online.  Much to my surprise, IT DOES EXIST!  To be said in a manner not unlike Jack Skellington's response to the Christmas spirit.

Here is a band called Pia with "Gloomy Sunday."  It reminds us of late 90s angst rock (ala Puddle of Mudd, or Staind, something of that nature).

Ah.  The next few are a bit more our style.

Windy City- "All Time Rockers"

The Black Skirts-"좋아해줘" ( I have no idea what that says)

Add4- "늦은면 큰일나요"  (also, no idea) (This is South Korea's first ever rock band, the song is from 1964).

I think that's probably plenty. :)  It seems like we might actually meet up with some other teachers this weekend.  I got a message back from Sara Jayne (one of the girls that contacted us through the blog) saying that she would keep me posted.  We were invited to dinner by Tonya (one of the Wonderland teachers Ian met) but we had to decline because they were meeting at 8:30 and I was still across town at Ha So.  But, it looks like there's a big group and that we'll meet them very soon.  I'm stoked.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


"Here's the mail, it never fails/
It makes me want to wag my tail/
When it comes I want to wail- MAIL!"

Yeah, that's the mail song from Blue's Clues.  Mail excites me so much that I am reduced to a four year old state of mind.  :)  I know, I'm a dork.

So, like I told you, we had a notice on our door when I got home yesterday.  After staring at it in wonderment, I figured out that it was a package notice!  So, Ian and I skipped running this morning to hop in a cab and go to the post office.  We don't know how to say "post office" or even "mail," so when we got in the cab, I just handed him the slip.  I feel like if that works for Amazing Race contestants, it can work for us.  Still, I should probably learn those words.  I do know how to say "It's delicious!" --> "B/Ma cho-tah!"  It's important to know how to say that here.  It's very important to people that you like the food.

Anyway, on to the packages.

I think I've seen multiple post offices in town.  This one is in a part of town we've never been to.  I didn't take pictures of the inside (I didn't want to get into trouble), but it looks more like a high end bank than a post office.  After some waiting and awkward silences (language barrier limits small talk with strangers), we signed for our packages.  They got here very fast.  It only took seven days.

Fra-geel!  We were stoked.  Ian didn't let me carry one.  I think he was worried I'd drop it.  We resisted looking at them too much because they post what's in them on the outside and we wanted to be surprised.  We did quite well.

We stopped at Paris Baguette for brekky.  That's Ian's giant pastry there with his orange juice.  I had a heart shaped pink donut with my tea (I think today's was scorched rice or barley, I had roasted corn tea the other day). 

This a butcher shop out the window (from where we ate).  It has pictures of calves and piglets on the side of it.  I've seen a lot of pictures like this (happy animals in their serene habitats) on butcher shops.  I think it's an extreme form of the "farm facade" that you see in America.  Korea has a terrible system of factory farming.  After all, there is no space here.  You want people to believe the food they eat was healthy in life and therefore healthy for them to eat.  Unfortunately, that's not so much the case. 

As I mentioned, our adventure took us to a new part of town.  There seem to be a lot of cafes in this part, which is pretty cool.

A Hilton Cafe.  Complete with strange sculpture.  I feel like the Hilton family/company doesn't even know this exists.

You may remember that I talked a bit about garbage in an earlier post.  Well, here are some photos to show you what the streets can be like.

A garbage pile waiting for pick up.

A close up.  Krispy Kremes!  We haven't seen the company here yet, but here is evidence!

These older ladies go around and pick up the loose trash.  It seems a little futile to me, but it's nice that people care.  It has been awhile since I played with autoshapes, so I added a big arrow for fun (and in case you didn't see her).

Then we hailed a cab and went home to open our surprises.

Ian and I each opened one box.  Of course, Ian didn't manage to take a picture of me.

The first ("Essentials") box. Not pictured: My Mom's homemade "Bug Me Not."

Second ("Halloween") Box.  Those poor Tostitos were the only things that didn't survive very well.  We still intend to eat every crumb.

Our t.v. is more a mantel than anything else.  We don't have cable or a dvd payer (other than our laptops).  So, we've put my birthday cards and the ghost Robbie and Danie gave us on it.  The ghost glows and changes color.  I know it's a bit premature, but I think it's cute and I LOVE Halloween.  They also gave us Halloween wax-candy fangs.

o_O - Rawr!  I was very careful with them.  I didn't bite down or drool on them.  I want them for Halloween day/night.  They smell like cherries syrup.

Good night!  I hope you got at least a fraction of the enjoyment out of our mail as we did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday

Okay, so that reference is massively overblown.  But still, neither Ian nor I have much fun on Tuesdays.  Most of Ian's students on this day are brats, and I have many bratty students (not as many as Ian) and Julia to deal with.  I sent the camera with Ian today, hoping he could find something constructive within his hatred of this day, but he couldn't find anything that he found blog worthy.

We did see another praying mantis today during our run, but we didn't have the camera.  It's tough to jog with it.  This time, the mantis had its "hands" in the air in the "you want a piece of this?" fashion.  It was pretty awesome.

David gave us our schedules for the year (telling us our time off and such.  Ian asked him vacation time and asking for a few days.  David apparently seemed confused and told us to talk to Julia.  I'm pretty nervous about it.

Here are the days we get off (aside from every Saturday and Sunday):

Friday, October 2nd (for Chuseok, which is the 3rd)
Friday, December 25th through Sunday January 3rd (Christmas vacation)
Monday, February 15th (Lunar New Year)
Monday, March 1st (Independence Movement Day)
Wednesday, May 5th (Children's Day)
Friday, May 21st (Buddha's Birthday)
Saturday, July 24th through Saturday, August 1st (Summer vacation)
Our contract ends on Monday, August 30th, 2010.

I tutored Julia's daughter during my "break" again today.  I'm thinking of asking Asia (our ESL recruiter) if this is an acceptable practice.  It just doesn't feel right.  I will ask Asia to reply to me before saying anything to Julia or David, though.  I don't want to get deported because I overstepped or something.

We got our bills in the mail today.  It looks like Yoon's pays about $80 U.S./month for us to live here.  We also got some sort of recap about last month's bills.  I'm not sure the previous tenant paid everything, but I'll just show Julia the paper and see what she says.

On a positive note, there was a notice on our door when I got home from work today.  After looking at it for a moment, I realized that it was notification of a package.  There was a picture of a mailman on a Vespa and "U.S" was handwritten on it.  We took it to our super, since he has all the packages.  It turns out that we need to go down to the Post Office to sign for it.  We're going to try to get there tomorrow.  It should be an adventure.  I'm not sure if it's one package or two, because most of the notice was in Korean.  But, we're really stoked!  That was very fast.

Well, that's all for now.  Hopefully, there will be something worth photographing tomorrow.

Unexpected Adventure!

Today began as any normal day.  We skipped running because of our Monday morning meeting, but Julia's son called 15 minutes before it was to begin and told us that she is ill.  So, we watched a movie instead.

One of my Basic 3 classes remembered that yesterday was my birthday.  We had gone over birthdays in class because we were studying ordinal numbers.  Some of the students gave me little gifts and the wrote on the board before I came in:

My gifts. Two pens and a dragon-y origami. :)

The kids wrote on the board for me.  I left it up the whole class.

Earlier today I had my Basic 2 class working on faces and body parts.  Then we created this:


After work Chun Wha (or Mrs. Lee, formerly known as Kim) invited Ian and I to go with her, her husband and one of the other teachers to the Traditional Health Expo that's going on right now.  It happens once a year for a week.  Of course, we went!  We didn't learn much because it was all in Korean, but we had a lot of fun and took some photos.

Us at the entrance of the garden that led into the Expo.

These two figures are unique to the city, but I don't remember their names.

Heart shaped foliage!

Our teacher friend... yeah, I'll eventually get their names down, I promise!

Chun wha and her husband (we heard his name for the first time tonight...ugh, we ARE trying).


Dragon foliage!

A replica of a traditional Korean pharmacy/ healer's office.

Let's dress up the foreigners!  We drew a bit of a crowd.

Korean style.

We stopped at a craft booth where children cover pens in clay (yes, we're apparently their surrogate children while their son is in Seoul for college).  Ian amused everyone while he played with some paper eyes.

This man is making traditional Royal candies out of honey, corn flour and mashed almonds.  We turns a hardened piece of honey (it looks like a stone) and a pile of corn flour into threads which he fills with the almond mix.  Look closely and what he's holding.  He made those strands from scratch while we watched him.  The finished product tastes a lot like Bit-o-Honey.

Naturally, we came home with some juck food.  Those white candies are the ones you see being made above. Then there is some yogurt in the middle, boiled hazelnuts in the yellow (taste like turkey, it's really gross) and some crispy fried sweet potatoes in the cup.  The light colored candies on the right that are fading into the blanket are tradition rice and pumpkin candies called "yut."  Oh, and we had a full meal and some makoli (the rice wine that we had last time with them), too.  In the middle their are the little craft pens we made.

Before we even went out, Chun wha gave me some Belgian chocolates from Singapore.  They were delicious.  And they were wrapped in Winnie the Pooh.

Anyway, it seems as though we might have real friends in these folks.  They sort of offered to have us over for Chuseok (they pretty much offered, but the language barrier made our attempt at a polite reply of "If you truly want us to come, we will" quite difficult).  We will most certainly take them up on their offer, but we don't want them to feel obligated.

It's very late, so I'll talk to you all on the morrow!