Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spontaneous Partying with Korean Elderlies

Okay, not all of them were elderly.

When Ian and I decided to walk down and check out the tech stores opening near Emart, there was quite a bit of commotion coming from a street corner near our complex.  We heard what sounded like noribang (karaoke) and general party noise.  I initially thought that it might be from a grand opening.  There is a lot of pomp and circumstance for grand openings here.

But, as we walked down the street, we saw a relatively large group of older Korean people drinking and generally getting their party on.

The group.  As soon as we slowed our pace, they waved us over and served us paper cups of beer.  They tried fervently to give Ian soju, but he declined.  It was, after all, early afternoon.

As we were standing there, the woman in the apron looped her arm through mine and pulled me into their dance party.  That's me in the middle with the striped sweater.  I danced.  You don't say no to people this happy.

Sorry, it's blurry.  Our camera battery was damn near dead.  A very nice man taught us how to play this game.  There's a point system that depends on what side of the sticks are up when they come to rest.  I did well, Ian did poorly.  The man (Cheon Si-chun?) then told us he liked America because of our involvement in the Korean War and the sacrifices of our troops.

Most likely, they were celebrating tomorrow's holiday.  It's Independence Movement Day, which commemorates the Korean people's decision in 1919 to fully invest themselves in gaining autonomy from Japan.  We didn't need their party to start revolving around us, so we stayed about 15 or 20 minutes total, bowed and thanked everyone and continued walking to the store.

The tech stores were uninspiring, but we did find this special on Velveeta cheese and hand cream.  Together at last.  Is that hand cream Philadelphia brand?  As in the cream cheese?

Good night!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

That's the name of a Daft Punk song I like to run to.  I ran my 5k in 36:10 today.  While that may seem a bit slow for most folks, it's down a full 8 minutes from my first try a month ago.  So, I'm feeling pretty good about it.  Ian declines to share his 5k time, but instead says that his is down about 3 minutes.

We're working really hard on our calorie consumption, so I thought I'd share a couple of things we (Ian) made today.  

We sleep in on weekends, so we eat brunch instead of breakfast and lunch; so we take the opportunity to have the heavier breakfasts we love.  We tried a recipe for vegetarian breakfast sausage this morning.  It's made out of tofu, bread crumbs and wheat gluten (but, we substituted rice gluten) and spices.  It has to be wrapped in tin foil and steamed for 30 minutes, so it's not the fastests of breakfasts.  It wasn't as firm as it was supposed to be, so it came apart when Ian unwrapped it, but it tasted really good.  You can flour and fry them after they've been steamed, if that's your fancy.

I apologize in advance for the unappetizing food photography.  Ian's been disallowed.

Ian's plate.  The mash is the sausage.  I know it looks icky, but it really tastes great.  Much better than the frozen vegetarian stuff.  We have some firming up in the fridge for tomorrow, so there might be a chance for some better photos.

We bought black beans at the store awhile ago, but we weren't quite sure what they were.  We knew they weren't turtle beans.  We did a little Google searching and figured out that they are black soybeans, an even healthier variety of soybean.  So, we made burgers tonight.

Close up!  Very tasty and firm.  I had a roasted sweet potato with mine.  As you can see, we're out of burger buns.

Good night!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ian, Meet Daniel

Or, at least that's what Julia would have said if she was at all a normal person.

Instead, Daniel introduced himself to Ian as Julia got on the phone as soon as she walk through the Janrak door. He's a forty something Korean-American from Busan by way of L.A.  He came to the campus today to interview and took one of Ian's classes as part of that process.

Ian talked to him about Yoon's and it's chaotic nature (as this is it's first year).  He used Julia's drop off (without a word to Ian) as an example of this.  Though, Ian assured him, the school does pay well, on time, and there are few surprises in the schedule.

Daniel's last school was pretty terrible.  He actually had to sue to get paid and they never furnished his apartment.  So, perhaps Yoon's could be a step up for him.

He had a job offer in Busan, but he turned it down as they offered money for housing instead of setting it up for him.  He figured he'd have more offers, but he hasn't.  He's considering taking te job at Yoon's (where his job description would be more like the Korean teachers' than ours, though his Korean is elementary at best).  Jecheon's lack of culture is both a pro and a con for him, he'd have less to do, but he'd be saving more money.  He and Ian talked about the transportation to Seoul and other places.

I don't know when we'll find out more about Daniel.  We'll probably have to infer his employment standing by whether we (Ian) ever see him again.  I mean, no one even told us they were hiring.

The meeting this morning with Julia was stressful as expected.  She didn't listen and continuously explained the Goam transition no matter what concern we raised.  I've started cutting her off.  I can't handle meetings that go on for three hours due to her ridiculous infantilization of us.  We still don't know exactly what's going on with Ian's new schedule (he starts Tuesday), but we did find out that our requested two days off will be taken out of our paychecks; our contract doesn't say anything about requesting vacation, so we might just have to grin and bear that.  We haven't been guaranteed the time off, yet, either.  Oh, and Julia called me Cathy and wrote my name down as such in her notes.  Is it time to come home, yet?

It was Ian's last day at Janrak and an overall interesting one.  We saw a movie called "Chloe" tonight and I recommend it.

 Good night!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Holy Inappropriate Pencil Case, Batman!

This image, courtesy of, exemplifies how important school supplies are to Korean children.  Especially pencil cases.  Some kids seem to have a new one every week, while others' pencil cases look as old as they are.  Some of them are huge with multiple drawers and wheels, while others still are hollowed out plushies with zippers.

Kids trade small plastic toys to keep in these cases along with their character pencils, "sharps" (mechanical pencils) and erasers.  Charms hang from the zippers, like the ones so popular for cell phones here.  The better stocked your pencil case, the more popular you are.

I have some students who have multiple pencil cases to go with their multitude of backpacks, one for regular school and each hagwon.  While students readily use the backpacks the hagwons give out to advertise, I've never seen one use a hagwon pencil case. 

I'll try to get some pictures of my students' pencil cases tomorrow.  I didn't have the camera on me today, which proved very unfortunate.

Katelyn, a student in my Basic 3 class (10-11 year olds) showed up with a very interesting new pencil case today.  It seemed normal enough at first glance; it's a simple large pouch with a zipper.  But, one word on it caught my eye, "Bondage."  I took a closer look and the seemingly innocuous pink and white case had all sorts of provocative English written on it: voyeur, hash cakes, down with panties/ up with skirts, the Texas massacre, Harold & Maude, and the random phrase "that's a drag."  

English is a very common sight on many things here.  Attempts at romantic language or even poetry are on nearly every shop wall.  Plenty of shout outs to romantic love can be found on school supplies.  But, I've never seen anything so outrageously inappropriate before.  It makes me want to look up the random French, Chinese and German that can be found on many items in the States.  

If you have any stories of inappropriate foreign language use (from travel or otherwise) feel free to write them in the comments, even if we've never met.

"Hash cakes" makes me laugh the most.

Good night!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Now that I'm feeling sick from overindulging in pizza and cake, it's time to share Ian's birthday with you.

The day started off well (I surprised Ian with pastry and Lorina's Pink Lemonade for breakfast).  But Ian's laptop fell off the bed and the system crashed.  It is now, as Ian affectionately calls it, a very expensive paperweight.  We're going to look into buying a Netbook.

Ian refreshes with the lemonade after his run.

He took the camera to work today and took pictures of the Goam happenings.

Ian's desk for now.  The new space will have a teacher's lounge area, but we don't know if there will be computers in it.

A better view.

Other side of Ian's office.

Beginnings of the new front desk.


Safe!  Keep in mind that this whole area is accessible to kids.

One of the classrooms.

Corner room with lots of windows.  Ian hopes this is his classroom.

Yoon's and GnB signs competing for attention.

I picked Ian's ice cream cake up from Baskin Robbins tonight after work.  We've learned our lesson and we'll never buy the pretty, tasteless cakes they have at Paris Baguette or Tous Les Jour again.  So, after stuffing our faces full of Pizza Hut pizza, we feasted on the sweet stuff.


It's time for Ian's creepy birthday face.

Ian's slice.  There was actually no cake in it.  The whole thing was made of ice cream and frosted with whipped cream and cookie pieces.  From bottom to top: it's chocolate, cherry, vanilla with cherry swirl and strawberry.  Though we were expecting some cake to be involved, it was very delicious.

Happy birthday to Danielle and Aunt Sherrie, too!  Good night!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interactions in a Nutshell, well Three

Ian's birthday is tomorrow.  Unfortunately, so is our weekly meeting.  It was originally scheduled for 11:30 (which gave me hopes of a run), but when I went in to ask Gene if it could possibly be moved to Thursday, he told me it had been moved to 11am because Julia was going to be there.  The (possible) good news is that we might be discussing time off for Mom's visit.  The bad news is that we have a meeting with Julia on Ian's birthday.  No matter the general outcome of those meetings, it's always stressful, long and disheartening.  Hopefully, she gives us time to eat lunch before classes begin.

*This just in (via text)- Our meeting has been moved to Friday.  Thank you, Gene!*

Julia was at Sinback all day today.  She didn't say much to me, but her proximity makes me nauseous.  David showed up later and paced around outside my classroom.  That seems to be his specialty.

On the last post, Mom wondered about our interactions with locals.  Honestly, we have very few personal encounters with them.  Our hours keep us from random meetings and on the weekends we're usually pretty self contained.  That said, our interactions usually fall into one of three categories:  1) parental 2) condescending/correctional, or 3) overzealous servitude. 

Type 1 is, by far, the easiest to deal with.  Chun wha and her family fall into this category.  While we love how amazing and kind they are to us, it gets a little tiring because we're not seen as adults.  Twenty-somethings are pretty immature here, so no one really expects us to have opinions or needs.  That makes being an employee pretty difficult. 

Strangely, type 2 usually comes from strangers.  A couple good examples of this are the gym owner warning us not to run and Ian's special neighborhood friend thinking we were packing the Halloween candy for our lunch.  These people mean us well, but they think we're completely mentally deficient and devoid of life skills.  Julia is somewhere between 1 and 2.

Type 3 most often happens to me at the local bakeries.  I cannot purchase something without getting something for free.  It doesn't matter when I come in or who is working.  They ooh and aah, ask me to wait while they package something random up, give it to me and refuse my money.  It's very sweet, but totally awkward.  I've observed Korean patrons and they don't seem to be served with the same fervor.  This is the type of behavior that makes many Western travelers say "Asian people are so friendly and willing to help."  That statement isn't wrong, we just see it a little differently now that we've lived here.

I hate to generalize an entire population but, as they are a very small, homogeneous society that craves conformity, it's easy to put people in boxes.  I hardly know any of the people we work with.  Even Chun wha's thoughts on life are a complete mystery to me.  The only real exception to this is Gene, and he's very atypical.  I know that the language barrier plays a part, but it's much bigger than that.

Tomorrow, Ian will take picture at Goam so that you can see the changes happening there.

Good night!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Paint Thinner and Cigarettes

Ian works with a girl named Rahee.  She is our age and she is Korean, but she's been living in Spain for the past few years.  So, she is almost as alone here as we are.  She has few friends and tells Ian that she feels like a foreigner.  She smokes, which is completely taboo in Korea.  Don't get me wrong, smoking is a popular pastime here, but women aren't supposed to do it in public.  In fact, it isn't unlikely for women to get accosted by men (and occasionally assaulted) if they are seen doing so.  Every public restroom I enter is filled with cigarette smoke.

Apparently, someone somehow affiliated with Yoon's saw Rahee smoking somewhere public and complained to Julia or David (or someone high up on the chain of command).  So, Rahee was lectured for being a bad influence and a general degenerate.  At least we can't be lectured without a translation.

She told Ian that one of her friends goes to our gym.  Apparently, everyone has been wondering about Ian and my connection.  I'm sure Rahee will inform her friend and soon everyone will know through the grapevine.

Ian had a terrible day at work.  They're doing construction at the Goam campus, but they're still holding classes.  He spent the hole day in paint thinner fumes with David pacing around the building.  He gave Ian a mini-tour of the new fascilities and he'll take pictures on Wednesday.  His students hardly spoke, probably because their heads were buzzing.  We're halfway through our contracts, but it feels like we're back at square one in so many ways.

The construction methods don't look exactly sound according to Ian, either.

One of his students wrote a particularly intellectual piece for his homework.  Keep in mind that this was an Essential 2 student (about 13 years old).  His assignment was to look at the picture below and write what he thought the groundhog's (or bear, as most students called it) plans were for the day.

The student wrote (slightly altered to be readable):

"Mr. Crazy good morning.  Mr. Crazy breakfast is 100 (Korean scribble) eat fish.  Mr. Crazy wash the teeth.  Mr. Crazy going bingo house.  Mr. Crazy said, "Hello bingo. How are you?"  Bingo said, "I am so-so."  Bingo said, "Your name why crazy?"  Mr. Crazy said, "I am crazy said."  Bingo said, "Ha ha your 바보 ("babo"= Korean for crazy/stupid).  Mr. Crazy is dance.  Bingo said, "Your right your 바보 and crazy."

Sometimes it's tough not to get disheartened by students who care so little. It'd be different if they chose to learn English.  Instead, the populace is fed that every child's future depends on their English skill level.  And maybe it does.  But, there's got to be a better way.

If you're interested in a general rundown of South Korea's Educational System, click hereThe Grand Narrative blog has some great pieces on Korean sociology and popular culture.  Here's his post on the system.

I'd like some feedback on the links I post.  Do you guys follow them?  Are they helpful or at least interesting?

Good night!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Walk, Coffee and Scrabble

We went on a walk around Jecheon today.  The weather is warming up and it's pretty exciting.  We're supposed to get temperatures in the 60s on Wednesday.  And while part of me worries that spring temperatures are coming too soon for many parts of the world, I'm happy that winter is ending.

Amy and Ben invited us to have coffee and play Scrabble with them at their favorite spot, so we pointed our meandering toward downtown.

Boys playing in an alley.

It seems to be mostly older people who live in houses, though we've never managed to get any straight answers out of our students or coworkers.  This is a pretty typical setup, the houses are slightly below street level with their roofs actually overlapping in some places.  Everything is built for space here.

Gate to a courtyard that connects several houses.  This is the most common type of gate we see in our area.

Stone balcony.  That's where you'll find kimchi storage jars. 

We know that these are used for traditional cooking and heating, but we're not sure quite how.  They're ubiquitous around our neighborhood. 

Also ubiquitous.  With our students love of computer games, you'd think they'd have their own computer.  But, everyone uses these rooms (PC Rooms).  The sign says "Sam Bo PC Game Bang."  Bang is pronounced "bong" and means room.

We walked up to the stadium because we've never been there before.  This is inside the stadium.  There's also an amphitheater, a soccer field, basketball courts, a croquet court and, of course, some outdoor exercise equipment.  There were a few people out and about, playing and flying kites.

Animal sightings:

A dog nervously peaked out at us from his house.

Then he saw this cat.

And he came out to bark at it.

We tried the peanut bread today.  There are actual peanuts in it.  It was pretty decent.  But, we've completely fallen in love with Jeju tangerines.  If you ever have a chance, eat one.  They're tart and not really like any of the small oranges you get in the states.

My cappuccino.  Next to it is the small pot of liquid sugar that came nowhere near my coffee.  Ben and Amy were definitely right, this place actually serves good coffee.  No sugar needed! 


Ben's mocha.

Amy's iced vanilla latte.

Ian's drip Kenyan blend.  We also split a waffle, which was a little too soft, but still quite decadent and delicious.

Ben and Amy really cleaned up in Scrabble.  I narrowly beat Ian by 20 points, but Amy beat me by over 25 and Ben had another 20 or so on her.  It felt good to actually use my brain.  Thinking back, I'm not sure if I've ever played Scrabble.  I really liked it.

Well, it's lesson plans and bed time in Korea land.  Good night!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Slow Start

Ian and I sat around the apartment for most of the day.  But, I did manage to upload photos to Facebook and study a smidgen of Korean; so the inactivity was not a total loss.  We also caught some figure skating and curling on t.v.  I think we're only keeping our cable subscription until the Olympics are over.  I've read on the internet that NBC is doing a pretty terrible job covering the Games.  The coverage is relatively good here, and a lot of it is live.  Unfortunately, that means that one curling match is on t.v. for over an hour.

We left for the gym around 4:15 to do our Saturday 5k.  Ian's run was rough, but mine felt really great.  I did, however, have to deal with a Korean man staring at me for the first ten minutes of my run.  His stare seemed to be a combination of foreign fetishization, frustration that I was running longer and harder than he was and his fascination with my semifunctioning sports bra (not to be crude).  I made eye contact with him three times, but that didn't seem to bother him.  When he got tired of me staring back at him, he used the mirror on his other side to stare.

But, he was soon gone to strut around the gym between sets of three, so my run greatly improved.

We saw the movie "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" tonight.  It was really terrible.  Ian still thinks that "Jeepers Creepers" is the worst movie ever made, but I think this one's a real contender.  Oh well, "Alice in Wonderland" will be here soon enough.  Though, we'll have to make a trip to Wonju to see it in 3D.

Tomorrow we'll be taking a walk around Jecheon, as the weather is supposed to be nice; so I'll be sure to take my camera.  We should have something to show you on tomorrow's post.

Good night!

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Schedule Disaster

Gene gave me Ian's new schedule today.  The Goam changes take place in a week, so I'm glad we have a little warning.  The schedule is still preliminary, but it's not looking good.  To refresh your memory regarding what's happening over at the Goam campus, check out my previous post on it.

Here's a rundown of Ian's new schedule.

On Monday his first class starts at 2pm and his last class begins at 8pm (with no classes filling the 5 and 6 o'clock hours).  Classes are now 40 minutes long with only 5 minutes in between.  Tuesday and Wednesday classes begin at 2:45pm with the last class on Tuesday beginning at 5:45pm and the last one on Wednesday at 8pm with no classes in the 5:45 or 6:30 timeslots (so he is to teach for 2hr and 40min, sit for an hour and a half, then teach for an hour and a half and go home).  Thursdays begin at 3:30 and the last class is at 8pm.

Fridays are a whole different animal.  Ian's coworker, Rahee (Korean who lived in Spain) thought Ian and I might not have classes on Fridays, so we had our fingers cautiously crossed.  But, indeed, we do.  We will be seeing the students who are only taught by English teacher's in their homes on Fridays.  So, we'll have to have a whole different set of lesson plans for them.  Friday classes begin at 2:45 with the last class at 8pm.

Sound chaotic and confusing?  We think so, too.  Not to mention that Ian and I will have different schedules, just to add a little difficulty to our work lives which have been thus far filled with a level of joy and normalcy that is obviously too much for Julia's standards.  

We're going to talk to Gene and try to have our sanity considered in the schedule.  I don't know how much control we have, though.  Weigh in, if you want, and tell us what you think we should do.

On the bright side, I mentioned to Gene that Ian and I will want/need a couple of days off in April when Mom comes and he didn't seem negative about it.  It just might happen.

Good night! 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ian's Early Birthday Fun

Ian's not the best at suspense, so he wanted to open his gifts as soon as her received them.

Mom's boxes came first.

Stuffed full!

 Pinto bean spillage.  Don't worry, none were lost.

Valentines candy, beans and lentils, spices, veggie wash, notepads and erasers (a family tradition), body scrub, Arches Magazine (a UPS grad necessity) and Zicam and vitamin E.

Ian's present was in it's own Mickey box.  But, he didn't want to wait for the 24th.  He didn't even want to wait for me to take the picture!

He totally digs it; and it suits him really well.  Maybe not in his swim trunks, though.

Rob and Danie's box came yesterday.  The delivery people actually stopped as as we were walking back from the gym.  They had tried to deliver but, as I mentioned, we weren't home.  So, we signed and they opened the van and gave it to us.  I guess being a foreigner can be useful sometimes.

Transformers wrapping!  We hung a little piece on our card window (of course, the cards from you guys got hung up, too).

Again with the no waiting.  What is it?

New rockin' jeans.  Maybe Ian's taking the rocking part a little too literally.  Then again, maybe not.

Snack crackers, licorice (red AND black), Jelly Bellies (including some "beanboozled" ones featuring flavors like vomit and rotten egg), good magazines, Ian's new jeans and what we believe to be a note in code from Grant.  Or Audrey. 

Thank you so much!  Ian is ecstatic over his gifts and the food stuffs (healthy and junky) help make us feel normal.  Love you guys.

We've found a couple strange Valentine heart candies that I thought might be worth sharing:

"Don't tell."

Congenital heart defect?

Good night!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Busan in Pictures, Part II

Before I get to the rest of the pictures, I'll answer Mom's question from her comment on the precious post.  There are several markets in Busan, many of them devoted to fresh fish.  Some of the important ones are: the Gukje Market, the Jagalchi Fish Market, and the Busan Cooperative Fish Market.  It's winter, so we didn't really seek out markets on this trip.  But, we definitely will when the weather warms up.  Though, honestly, we don't have much use for fish markets. 

Alright, let's begin with Sunday (Lunar New Year's Day, Seolnal in Korean).

We intended to go to the Suicide Cliffs, but we ended up just walking around the city for most of the day.  This van/cart is advertising peanuts and eggs, two types of bread street food.  I've never had the peanuts, but the eggs are yummy. It's a whole egg cooked into a small piece of sweet bread.

I don't know why the peanut is drooling.

We walked down the coastline.  Here is the Gwangan Bridge (the 69th longest suspension bridge in the world).

These folks were pouring something from a bottle (soju, maybe?) into the water.  It seemed to have something to do with ancestor worship (a big part of the holiday).

Molded barrier stones along the levee.

These firefighters were busy getting something or someone from below, but we could never figure out what was going on.

Busan Cinema Studios.

Movie poster walls.

These ducks have dark red heads and gray bodies.  Very pretty.

We stopped at a restaurant in Haeundae called Hello Thai (which is the same as Thailand's current tourism campaign).  The food was pretty good, but the restaurant was empty save for another small group of foreigners.  So, the waitresses stood and watched us as we eat, coming to fill our glasses if they got low at all, say "Excuse me," each time.  Quite awkward.  Also, they played a random collection of American music, mostly from the 80s.

Artificial jetty for the fishing marina.

Ancestor worship or an abandoned picnic?  We'll never know.  There was also a feral cat down there, but he disapeared before we could take a photo of him.

Fishing marina.

We decided to officially give up on the Suicide Cliffs when we realized that we'd been walking for 3 hours and were only a little over halfway there, so we headed to the aquarium.

Snouty turtle!  Their noses' look a little like pig snouts.

Colorful crabs.

This fish only had one fin.  Go fish, go!

The aquarium was quite disapointing.  There was little education to be had (though, there was a magic show) and kids and adults alike were pounding on the glass with no one to stop them.  The only sign I say was on the seal tank.  The tanks were very small and the whole design lacked the initiative to conserve and educate that we are used to.

We finished the night by seeing Wolfman.  Not a great movie, but, our English choices are limited and it was fun, nonetheless.

Ian and Batman at the theater.

On Monday, the original plan was to go to 40 Steps Street and Geumjeong Fortress, but we later decided to save the fortress for another trip.

40 Steps Street is billed as a recreation of war-ear Korea, but really it's just an older part of town with some statues.  The signs and most eveything else, aside from the buildings themselves, were modern.  And the buildings probably dated from the 50s, which is the war-era, but the whole thing pretty much looked like Jecheon. 


We saw Busan Tower on a tourism map and decided to walk there.

 It's Busan's answer to Namsam Tower.  It's not as touristy, though.  It's quieter and more like a park.

The courtyard.
Here are some views of the city from the observation deck:



The triad.  I think the tower looks like a lamppost.  The statue is of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, a naval commander remembered for his victories against the Japanese during the 1592-1598 invasions. 

Birds!  The weather was so nice.  It was tough to leave.

Korean dragons have four toes, by the way.

This is the Citizen's Bell and that's about all I know about it.

After that adventure, we wandered down to Texas Street.  Texas Street used to be an American area, but now it's very Russian.  Chinatown is also there.  Confused?  It's just as sketchy as it sounds.

We then headed back to check out of our hostel and we grabbed a quick late lunch at Quizno's.  I took this photo of the IndyHouse living room right before we left:

After a four hour bus ride (which we nearly missed) we were back in Jecheon, where it's still icy and freezing.

Good night!