Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Monday, December 07, 2009
Hi! So the holiday season is approaching...can you believe it? I'm in shock that I am 2 short weeks away from my 4th full month of living here, and 2 1/2 weeks away from my first ever Christmas away from home. Unreal.
Last week I went to dance as usual. I really really like the studio and its so easy to get to on the subway. I'm excited to have a place where I can go to classes consistently!
Sara's mom came into town last Friday. She was incredibly generous and took us (me, Rebecca, Dave, and of course Sara) out to dinner and also reserved a suite for us to stay in at the New Seoul (Best Western) hotel. She had a smaller room for herself, and left the suite to us. Being out to dinner with her was so fun. We got to teach her the Korean way to drink, eat galbi, and use chopsticks! She wasn't too impressed by kimchi, but we assured her it grows on you. The location of the hotel was great because it was in the heart of Seoul so it was perfect for sightseeing, but was also a cheap taxi ride away from our favorite places to go out near Hongdae - and located on a subway line. Perfect. Mom and Dad: when/if you come visit I definitely recommend staying there for a night or two! We did our best to keep her jet lagged mother up until after midnight in order to try to get her on schedule, and then we went out for the night.
Christmas lights up near the hotel
Our Korean dinner
Saturday I went to Myeongdong with Rebecca, Mieke, and Q to do a little Christmas shopping. After that we went near the river that runs through the middle of Seoul to cheer our friend John on in the 10K he was running that day. It was freezing out, but he definitely appreciated our support. Rebecca and I went back to my place to take a nap and grab some dinner before heading back out in Seoul for the night to meet up with everyone again.
Me, Rebecca, Mieke, and Q in Myeongdong!
We slept pretty late, but once we woke up we hopped on the subway one stop down to Uijeongbu Station. New Moon came out this weekend here finally and we had been dying to see it. I did my best to look for movie times online before we went, but of course I couldn't find them anywhere. So we decided to just wing it. Of course when we got there it was incredibly crowded, and the next available show time wasn't for about another hour and a half, but it worked out ok in the end. So, Korean movie theaters work a little bit differently than they do in the U.S. When you get there, you take a number (kind of like at the DMV). Once your number is called you can buy your tickets, and also reserve your seats. Check out this video by Simon and Martina to learn about movie theaters in Korea. They are a young married couple from Toronto who are teaching here in Korea. They spoke at our orientation about lesson plans and general cultural things that we should be aware of. They have a website and blog and YouTube channel - all with helpful and sometimes comical information about how to live and teach in Korea. The theater you see in their video is pretty much what every theater looks like from what I can tell. Overall, pretty normal.
The movie theater near my apartment is on the 14th and 15th floors of the Central Tower in Uijeongbu. Its basically just a bunch of restaurants, food courts, shops, and game rooms. Since Rebecca and I had to wait so long for our movie to start, we hit up the arcade. We played a motorcycle racing game, and a kill-the-zombies shooting game.
We practically killed ourselves trying to play some Japanese version of Dance Dance Revolution. We couldn't choose the setting for some reason so instead of doing it on "Easy" which we would have preferred, we ended up on "Totally Impossible" and made complete fools of ourselves. Whatever. We get stared at wherever we go anyway, we might as well give them something fun to look at while all eyes are on us. Its getting pretty old to be stared at everywhere we go. Its like they're waiting for us to do tricks or something offensive or something. I don't understand it and I certainly don't appreciate it. There is no possible way I am the first non-asian they have ever seen. I always have the urge to yell "I'M SORRY I'M WHITE BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO STARE AT ME!" every time I walk onto the subway - but of course nobody would understand a word that was coming out of my mouth. It sort of reminds me of that scene in Mean Girls where Karen asks Cady why she's white. "You can't just ask people why they're white..". Makes me laugh every time.
While we waited for our movie to start we also got to talking about how we're surprised more people can't speak English given the infiltration of American culture in their country. Its so strange to think about from their point of view. Of course, all of our movies are in English, and that's pretty much how it is, with the exception of the occasional foreign film. But can you imagine if every box office in the United States had over half of the movies in a different language, and you had to read subtitles all the time? If half of the movies I saw were in Spanish, or French, I would certainly be more inclined to learn that language. And speaking of language...we also got to talking about the fact that literally everything we do can be stressful because we have the constant concern that we won't be understood or that we ourselves won't understand. Even going to the movies, as fun as it is, can be a bit more challenging because chances are that the person helping us can't speak English, and we need to somehow communicate what movie we need to see (although generally the movie titles don't change, but occasionally they do) and what time we want to see it, and where we want to sit. We got lucky this time, and the person who sold us our tickets spoke English well enough to tell us which theater we were in and where to go. Restaurants can be the same - especially if the menu doesn't have the English translation we sort of just have to guess and hope we're not getting raw cow liver...but we're figuring it out more every time.
So anyway...we saw New Moon. We even got awesome Korean "New Moon" (뉴문) posters! This picture is backwards since I took it with the camera on my computer but since most of you reading this can't read Korean anyway...you get the idea.
The movie was in English of course, but there were Korean subtitles to go with it. I'm afraid some of the comedy of it was lost in translation. There's a part where one of the girls is being incredibly sarcastic and bratty and Rebecca and I were cracking up - but we were the only ones laughing. Guess it didn't come through in the subtitles. The movie was...well those of you who have seen it, or seen Twilight know the quality of those movies. We didn't care though, we loved it. At least we can recognize that the acting is bad. My students on the other hand think it deserves an Oscar. They aren't used to those Michael Bay/James Cameron blockbusters that we are so accustomed to in the US - so their expectations for movies are a little bit lower. There really isn't a film industry anywhere in the world like Hollywood - so they think anything that comes from America is amazing. Its pretty obvious by watching any Korean movie or TV show that they just don't have the same quality of production. Here's a trailer for a movie that came out this summer here called 해운대 (Haeundae)...pronounced hay-oon-day. It was filmed on Haeundae Beach in Busan where I visited a few months ago. Its about a tsunami that hits Busan. Look for the Rainbow Bridge and the fireworks! I saw this movie after I had visited there, and it was so strange! But this movie is a recent Korean hit and everyone has seen it and loves it. The trailer alone will probably make you laugh (although believe it or not its supposed to be a really sad movie) - but hopefully you can gain enough insight from the trailer into the film industry here. No joke, its apparently the best movie that came out this year. Yikes. I admit, it was a little sad...but I would not say it was good.
Last week I did "celebrity interviews" with my kids. We reviewed the basic who, what, where, when, why, and how questions and then I showed them a mock interview that I did with Kanye West as an example. I handed out sheets with different prompts and told them to choose a partner and interview a celebrity of their choice, or they could make up their own celebrity (like themselves). In addition to the "who, what, where, etc." questions, they also had to ask 3 'fun' questions not using those words. Then they had to draw a picture of their celebrity or signature "gear" like Kanye's shutter shades. One of my students decided to interview me. I'm sure you can only imagine how that went. Since I needed to be walking around the room helping the other kids, I asked him to write down all of his questions and then I would stop back to answer them. Some of the questions made sense. But here are some word-for-word examples of what I found waiting for me when I went back to his desk...along with my responses. Of course I corrected his grammar as we went, but the questions are so much better in their original form.
Min Joon: "What your hopes?"
Me: "To have a good career."
Min Joon: "Where did you fall in first love?"
Me: "We met in high school through a friend."
Min Joon: "Do you funny Korea?"
Me: "Yes I think Korea is a lot of fun."
Min Joon: "Do you delicious Korea food?"
Me: "Yes I like Korean food but sometimes it is too spicy."
Min Joon: "Do you love me?"
It was all just so adorable I had to laugh. Of course I answered the "do you love me" question with a simple "yes". However, he changed my answer so that it said "Yes. I love Min Joon". Gaaahh! This was the same kid who a few days before had interrupted me while I was teaching class with "Amy! What's your name?". All the kids, including the other teacher in the room with me burst out laughing. Definitely up there at the top of the list of memorable quotes from my kids, along with "I am English very well".
Here's the picture he drew of me (backwards again from being taken on my computer). It totally resembles me, right?
In the spirit of the holidays I made a little video of me and Jin on Elf Yourself. I sent it to her, and she told me she almost cried watching it she was laughing so hard. Its a pretty common website among my friends and I during the holidays, but Sang Jin had never seen it before and she thought it was absolutely hilarious. Made one for the fam too, so you can watch Bob break it down here. You can also see us in the country version and the singing version.
Next week is finals for my students, which means no teaching and lots of time for skyping everyone! Also, I'd like to send some Christmas cards home to people so leave your addresses please and I'll send you some (don't judge me on the improper English, I'm just working with what I can get over here).
My student's "do you love me" question made me think of this song for your K-Pop video of the week. Maybe this is where he got it from? This song is called Abracadabra by the Brown Eyed Girls. The music video is incredibly racy for Korea, and I have to admit even by American standards its up there with some of Britney's. I've linked you to the version with English subtitles so you can understand what its actually saying. The video still doesn't really make sense with the song - but that's Korea for you.
Its getting really cold here. Luckily it doesn't snow much, I've only seen a few flurries. But I'm still not happy about it. 39 days til Thailand!
"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind."-- Seneca
Monday, November 30, 2009
Wednesday I tried out a new dance studio, called Soo Dance. I took a class with Soo, who is the owner of the studio. She's danced all over the world and speaks English really well. She ran the class in a mix of Korean and English which was so helpful to me. I absolutely loved her class, but the downside was that its an hour and half each way on the subway. The class is intended to be a three-day-a-week class. So that's a bit much. She recommended another studio that was closer to me. I checked that studio out tonight. Little did I know, she had already called the studio for me and told them I was coming and they recommended a great class for me. Amazing. She will be getting a big thank you from me! This studio doesn't have instructors who speak English, but like I said before, its really not necessary. They all attempted and it was pretty funny, but definitely appreciated.
Thursday was Thanksgiving. We had our little get together up in Dongducheon. Out of all the people there, only 4 of us were American. There was one Korean, 5 South Africans, and 2 Canadians (party was hosted by a Canadian). That's the great thing about being overseas and having friends from all over the world...more holidays!! Everyone brought something to share (someone ordered a pizza) - but mostly we tried not to let no oven big enough to cook a turkey and no turkey anywhere get us down. I made deviled eggs - aren't you proud mom?!
As we were walking to find somewhere to get a few drinks, we were stopped by some people filming some sort of Korean commercial. Apparently they needed some foreigners and we were the first ones they happened to see. We had to put on the same t-shirts and yell something into the camera about Reebok celebrating its 20th anniversary in Korea. Hm? Hopefully we're on TV or something because really how cool would that be?
After our commercial we found a place called...Charlie Brown cafe! We couldn't resist taking a picture with Charlie Brown given the whole Thanksgiving thing. Then we walked around looking for a place to grab some food. On our way we discovered an alley that had some interesting graffiti on it and stopped to take some pics - Korean style.
We went to a restaurant where we ordered some food and prepared to get our night started.
After visiting one bar and getting kicked out of another we met up with some friends at our usual hookah bar and then went off to another place to dance. We got kicked out of one bar because they were randomly carding people and Sara didn't have any ID on her. She recently lost her wallet and didn't have anything to identify herself with. We didn't think we looked under 19 (the legal drinking age here) but apparently we did. They explained that with high school students finishing up exams, many of them try to sneak into bars so they have to be more strict about IDs. Hm...last time I checked we don't look like Korean high school students? But whatev. We still had a great night.
Things are still good at school - only this week and next week of class and then the students start final exams. I'm so confused because even after the students finish exams, they still have to go to school. They do a "winter camp" but it doesn't make sense to me because its not graded and they don't get credit for it. Sooo...I don't see the point. What is their incentive to learn? I'm supposed to teach it but I have no idea what I'm going to do. I don't know how I can possibly get the kids to listen to me when they have nothing to lose by not listening. Its not like they get graded or tested on this information so I really just don't understand. Apparently the Office of Education mandates that the kids need to be in school for X amount of days...but then why have exams when they do, with days of school still left to attend? Why not teach actual class for 2 more weeks and then have exams? Its just so backwards to me and nobody can explain it very well other than "its normal" and "that's just the way it is". I get that...but really do these people not question the senselessness of having school that way? It doesn't make any sense at all. Am I right? Tell me if I'm being all snobby American about this - but I've found that other foreign teachers agree with me, and not just Americans. I. Don't. Understand.
Sara's mom is coming to visit this weekend...she'll be here for 10 days or so. Friday night she's being kind enough to get 2 hotel rooms...one for her to sleep off her jet lag in, and one for Sara and some of us to spend the night in so we don't have to be out until 5:30am. Its true, we could all go in on a love motel on the weekends, it wouldn't be too expensive. But eventually it would add up and it saves us money to just stick it out for that extra hour or two. This will be an actual hotel though, not some sleezy love motel, so I'm looking forward to that.
Here's your K-Pop update for the week. This is by a group called SHINee. The song is Ring Ding Dong. Yeah...I don't know. The guys range in age from 15-19 sooo Courtney and Meghan take your pick because they're definitely too young for me. Some interesting facts about K-Pop boy bands/girl groups. Apparently most of them have work done on their face. Koreans tend to have rounder flatter faces. So to make them "more attractive" by Korean standards, they get nose jobs to make their noses higher (interesting...people do the opposite in the US), cheek implants, surgery to make their eyes bigger, and some even shave their jaw line to make it more defined. Nearly every Korean celebrity has had work of some sort done to their face. They're literally plastic. Kind of sad actually. One of my students actually asked me the other day if I had had surgery on my face. Uhhhh no? Its sad that its so common here that they would think I had cosmetic surgery. Yeeeesh. Most of the boys have it in their contracts that if they gain weight they will be kicked out of the group. Skinny is really in for men in Korea I guess. Not my type but that's what's in here.
Countdown to Thailand is on...46 days!
"Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken." -- Frank Herbert
Monday, November 23, 2009
Wednesday I went with Christine, a fellow Badger, to a dance studio in Seoul. We took the hip hop class and it was actually really good. It felt sooo good to get back into a studio! The staff was really nice, and did their best to speak English to us (naturally we were the only non-Koreans in the place). Our instructor was really nice as well and tried his best to explain things to us in English. Precious. But hey! They count in English! And not just for us. I was happy. I would definitely go back there again, but I think later this week we're going to check out another studio in Seoul that I was recommended to try, but this time for jazz. Both studios are pretty far though - about an hour and a half on the subway each way. Gah. But to me, its worth it.
Thursday I went to dinner with my friend John and several other native English teachers in the area. It was basically a welcome dinner for the teachers who have just arrived here. They were from all over the world - U.S., South Africa, the UK, Canada, etc. Most of the people had only been here for a week or two, and some only for a few days. Its amazing how much I've learned in only 3 months! From basic Korean vocabulary to cultural differences, I was able to answer so many questions.
It never ceases to amaze me how cheap things can be here though. There were about 13 of us at dinner, and our total bill was only 150,000 won! That's about $125. That included all of our Korean BBQ, side dishes, and beer and soju. Unbelievable.
This weekend I went back to Dongducheon where I hung out with my friends John and Q. We cooked ourselves a nice little Italian dinner and then proceeded to down 4 bottles of wine between the 3 of us. Of course we ended up at a noraebang (this one had free ice cream!) and noraebanged the night away.
My flight to Thailand has been booked! Its official!! Sara, Rebecca, Anna, and myself are leaving early in the morning on January 16th. We have a layover in Beijing, and arrive in Bangkok around 6pm. We leave Thailand on the 31st, and are taking an overnight flight back to Seoul, again with a layover in Beijing. I'm so excited - I absolutely cannot wait. January is supposed to be the coldest month in Korea, but I won't be around for half of it to find out - I'll be loving life on a beach in Thailand. We don't have many specific plans yet. And it will probably stay that way. We will do the usual touristy stuff of course, but we plan to spend a lot of our vacation just relaxing and beach hopping. Eventually we'll need to book another flight from Bangkok to Phuket, but it will be extremely cheap so we're waiting until we get closer to the actual time. Can't wait. This is going to be one epic vacation. I'm also especially excited for January because not only do I get to spend half the month in Thailand, but I also have my friend Kelsey from high school visiting me from the 3rd-9th. She's living in the Philippines right now, and is making a trip up for a week to see me. I only have to work the 2nd week in January (as far as I've been told) and the rest of the time I will have free. Oh and I'm still getting paid. My job is ridiculous.
School is going well. I asked one of my students today what he did this weekend and he said "I ate kitchen". He meant chicken, and I knew that, but it still didn't prevent me from cracking up. I suppose...if you switch the ch and the k around, chicken does sort of sound like kitchen if you're a non-native speaker just learning English. Hee funny ^_^ The kids are still sort of all over the place (remember that immaturity I talked about last time?). Sort of annoying. If I had things my way, I'd bring them all to the U.S. for a few days so I could show them what high school life is like in America, because they just have no idea. Courtney sent me a few pics of high school life from her perspective, which I'll turn into a "high school in America" lesson for my students. Learning culture is important when learning a language so I try to incorporate it into as many of my lessons as I can. I showed some of the pictures to one of the other English teachers, and she was so surprised. I had to explain about every student having their own lockers "no, they're not for changing" and that there's an auditorium for performances "it doesn't take place in the cafeteria", and just...a bunch of other things that I would've thought was common knowledge but clearly I was wrong. She thought Fort's high school library looked like a university library...to which I had to explain that of course a university library is much much bigger and most universities have more than one. Wisconsin has a list a mile long.
Some of these things are just so difficult to explain that I wish it were possible for everyone to visit the U.S. so they could see for themselves. Inversely, I wish I could send all my friends and family over here as well so that you could all see for yourselves the cultural differences that I deal with daily. I'm getting used to many of them, but sometimes I still forget. I forget that when someone older than me is pouring my drink for me (alcohol is not poured yourself, someone else pours it for you) that I should hold the cup with two hands as a sign of respect. I forget to give a little bow when I pass another teacher in the hallway (as is customary). I usually smile and give a perky little wave before I remember where I am, and then sort of awkwardly give a little head nod, ashamed that after 3 months of living here I still can't remember to bow. I'm working on it. When I eventually go back to the U.S. I'll be bowing left and right and no one will have a clue what I'm doing. I do my best to remember every little thing about life in the U.S. but I know that after being fully immersed in a completely different culture for a year, or more, that reverse culture shock is going to hit me pretty hard. Coming home after an experience like this is always more difficult of an adjustment. Luckily...that is far far far away for me, so I'll worry about it later.
Here's some pics of me in the classroom. This is from an open class that one of the English teachers I work with, Choi Yun-Hee, had to do, and I helped her with it. Every now and then teachers have to give an open class where they are critiqued and evaluated by other teachers and the principals. Which is why you can see the vice principal and my co-teacher, Sang-Jin, in the back of the classroom. I figured I'd post this to prove that I actually do work over here, since facebook albums and blog entries probably suggest otherwise.
In my classroom I have a "virtual studio" which is like a green screen (but mine is blue) where I can place the kids in any number of scenes: the bank, post office, doctor's, etc. It is projected onto the big touch screen board I have at the front of my classroom. In this particular picture, although you can't see the scene, we're standing in an episode of Friends. We were discussing the differences and similarities between Thanksgiving and Chuseok, and watched part of an episode where Joey gets the turkey stuck on his head. Classic!
Here's your weekly dose of K-Pop. Its by a group called 소녀시대 (pronounced So Nyeo Shi Dae). They generally go by the English name Girls Generation or their acronym of SNSD. The song is called Gee, and we all go nuts when it comes on in the clubs, naturally. Its pretty catchy, especially the "Gee gee gee gee baby baby baby" since that's all we can understand really. In true K-Pop fashion there's about 30 of them all 18-20 years old. For all of you who can't read Korean - where it says 뮤직비디오 after the title...that literally just says "music video" phonetically in Korean. Easy.
Hope you all have a fabulous Thanksgiving! I will be celebrating by hanging out with people from all over the world who love Thanksgiving even though they aren't American, and I'll be watching Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving on youtube. But I'll be...turkeyless :(
"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." -- Robert Louis Stevenson