Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Christmas!

So you'd think I would've learned how to at least say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" in Korean by now...but I haven't. So English it is.

So last week I literally sat at school and watched an entire season of Desperate Housewives AND painted my nails (discreetly of course). I didn't have a single class because the kids had finals. Which meant that I still had to be at school but had nothing to do. Sort of sucked that I had to be there, but I also can't complain too much because I got paid to watch TV and skype my fam and friends. Yay!

Thursday was payday (!!) so I went with my friends Q and John to Myeongdong where we did some holiday shopping. Q helped me bargain with some of the people which was so nice, because they always raise the prices for foreigners, and with him being Korean and all, he was able to bargain them down to more reasonable prices. Woo!

Friday evening I hung out in Uijeongbu and snapped some pictures of the lovely Christmas decorations.

I bought myself a Christmas tree too :) Its about a foot tall and sort of resembles the tree from Charlie Brown Christmas. But all it needed was a little love, and now its beautiful (at least I think so!).

We had a Christmas party on Friday night with some of the people who live in this area - so we all exchanged gifts and drank Christmas punch and then (naturally) ended up at a noraebang where we sang lots of off-key and out of tune Christmas songs!

Werner, John, Q, me!

Bad Santas!

Holiday Noraebang!

Saturday we all just took it easy, since the holiday party the night before really took its toll on us all. Sunday I did some serious Christmas shopping. I know Christmas is only a few days away but it just doesn't feel like Christmas here for some reason. I think its the lack of snow. Or maybe its the lack of stress that I usually have this time of year as finals are finishing up. AGH. I don't miss those one bit, they were awful.

Monday I went to dance, as usual. I won't be able to go for about a month after this week, because I have some busy weeks coming up! Today I went ventured down to the COEX mall to get some last minute gifts. But just in case there is any doubt - here is proof that I have my gifts bought and wrapped before Christmas!

Attn Family: Gifts will be mailed Thursday at the latest - sorry they're late, but I promise you will get them (not to mention you'll be getting stuff from Thailand once I get back)! They're bigger than my little tree. Sorry about the lame wrapping/boxes/bags. I live in Korea. Christmas is sort of a holiday for couples here. Everyone celebrates, regardless of religion. So its not really all about family or Jesus. Its basically just commercial. Which is fine...but it sure does make finding certain things hard. Like actual Christmas boxes or wrapping paper. That's why your gifts have hearts all over them, and awkward Konglish phrases like "I love the fragrant" and "Sweet heart...you color my world with love". I'm not kidding, you'll see.

Next week I'll be on a ski trip with some of my teachers. The week after...Kelsey will be here! The week after that...Jane will be here! And we're planning to go to some dance classes at Soo Dance instead of the studio I usually attend. Willie Gomez is going to be here and is doing a week-long workshop, so we're going to try to attend some of his classes. Willie is a choreographer and is probably most famous for choreographing Britney Spears' most recent Circus Tour. He's really great and I'm excited to meet him and take some classes with him. And then of course the following 2 weeks I will be in THAILAND.

I'm starting to get really excited about Thailand. The 4 of us will be together the whole time, but a girl Sara knows will be meeting up with us for part of our trip, so we'll be 5 strong for some of it! We're really lax on our plans, except for a 3 night stay that we definitely want in Koh Phangan. We'll be there for the Half Moon Party. They have huge parties once a month for the full moon, but they rage for the half moon as well. I guess the full moon parties can attract upwards of 30,000 people. Half moon only brings in around 5,000 - but that's still a lot of people and I think we'll have a great time. You can look for Koh Phangan on the map - just click on the link! Can't find it? Look for Koh Samui (we're going there too!) and you'll see Koh Phangan just north of there. We're also going to go to Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, and hopefully Phi Phi (but that's really a lot to do in the time we have). The only major city we won't make it to is Chiang Mai. I think if we had more time its a place we'd all love to go, but its just too far out of the way, and this really is more of a beach vacation than a touristy sightseeing vacation. So I guess that's just too bad. If we're lucky, we'll go back one day :) Can I also mention, with the exception of the flight, how disgustingly cheap this trip is going to be. Apparently for the bungalow we're getting on the beach in Koh Phangan all 5 of us can stay for 3 nights (with A/C) for 30,000won each. Yep. I'm paying around $27 for 3 nights in an air conditioned bungalow on an island in Thailand. I hope you all think about that when you're freezing in Wisconsin or Minnesota or wherever you are. The high in Bangkok was about 95 the other day. I win.

School has been a breeze this week. I'm doing like a 10 minute lesson on rhyming - explaining what rhyming is and then asking the kids to rhyme simple words (cat/hat, mad/sad, sing/Japan...wait what?). Yes, its true. I asked my kids to rhyme with the word sing. And they did well at first: ring, king, thing. But then some kid yelled out "Japan!" and I knew it was hopeless so I just started the movie. I'd like to give a big shout out to Dr. Seuss for helping me teach kids how to rhyme. Woo! The Grinch is a big hit, and even though they can't understand everything, they still get the story for the most part and I think most of my kids have enjoyed it. I love the Grinch myself, but after watching it 10 times this week, I may never want to watch it again.

We have another holiday party planned for Christmas Eve, and then Christmas Day I'm not sure what the plan is. I think most of us want to Skype with our families and friends - so we'll spend much of the day doing that. Apparently its really common to go out to a nice dinner on Christmas, but we're a little behind on making reservations soooo maybe we'll just make our own dinner :) The day after Christmas, however, we have a fabulous holiday activity planned! So....in Hongdae where we always go out, there is a chain of bars called "Ho Bar". Sounds like a strip club or something, I know. But its not! Its just...a normal bar. Not sure how to explain it. Its just normal. It has been a dream of ours since we got here to do a "Ho Bar Crawl" because there's at least 10 of them in the Hongdae area, not to mention the countless others sprawled across the Seoul metro area. But, in the spirit of Christmas, we have decided to make this a "Ho Ho Ho Christmas Bar Crawl". We're smart right? So the whole gang and then some is getting together to celebrate Christmas and hopefully make to every Ho Bar within walking distance. Proper holiday attire is required.

Hm..I think that's all for now. Sorry its been so slow lately. But I swear, the next few weeks will be crazy and I'll probably have to make 2 posts for Thailand (or it will be the longest thing I've ever written).

Here's your K-Pop Song of the week! Not Christmassy (sorry). But popular! Its by a group called B2st (that's pronounced Beast). 2 in Korean is "i" pronounced "ee". The song is called Bad Girl. Not sure how old they are, I'm going to guess like...16. So again, Courtney and Meghan, they are all yours!

Missing you all and thinking about you during the holidays. To get into the holiday spirit - I've made a small donation to Amnesty International. For those of you who would like to donate somewhere, but don't know where, check out this website. The Life You Can Save website has a pledge you can take, as well as a list of charities and foundations you can give your money to. It doesn't have to be a lot - every little bit helps! AI is my charity of choice, but choose a cause that's important to you and GIVE! Merry Christmas (and Happy New Year!!).

"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." -- Sir Winston Churchill

Monday, December 14, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Hi! This past week was pretty laid back. I had a few cancelled classes due to final exam review and swine flu vaccinations so my week was pretty easy. I also let half my classes watch a movie (in English of course) because I know they're stressed about finals, and I figured I'd give them a break.

Had a dinner one night with some of the people in the Dongducheon area - we love to get together when we can and cook "normal" meals. Korean food is good, but its kind of boring. We're used to it by now, but we also miss the diversity of all of the yummy things we can get back home, so we like to have Indian, or Italian, or Mexican food nights. Mmm!

Friday I went to Seoul with Sara and her mom and Rebecca. She got a hotel room for us again, and took us out for Indian food. So nice! The hotel was in an area of Seoul I've never been, and now its probably a bad thing that I know about it because there's a pretty sweet mall there. Oops. The hotel was in Seoul Times Square, which is a relatively newer area from what I hear. It was really nice though. We just spent the night hanging out in the hotel and being lazy.

Yeongdeungpo Station

Rebecca and the sweet sweatshirt we found - "stold my love". Who is Tom???

Hotel and shopping center at Seoul Times Square

View from the hotel room

Saturday we took Sara's mom to see Deoksugung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square, and Gyeongbokgung Palace. Gwanghwamun, which usually has fountains and flowers, was set up for Seoul's Snow Jam. They basically brought in a bunch of fake snow, since it doesn't really snow here, and set up a small area for children to sled down. There was also a big ski/snowboard jump for a show they put on later that day, and an ice skating rink. It was a bright, sunny, and relatively warm day, so some of the ice rink was melting. I'm sure all of you back home weren't having that problem!

Seoul Plaza

Sledding for the little ones

Skating in Gwanghwamun Square

Which, by the way, I'm so disappointed I wasn't in Madison for all the excitement that happened last week with the giant snowball being left in the middle of University, the massive snowball fight on Bascom Hill...and of course the DAY OFF SCHOOL. Since when does UW cancel classes? There were blizzards when I went there too and never a single cancelled class. I'm mad.


Gyeongbokgung Entrance
Pagoda picture (the winter version - we'll eventually have one of all 4 seasons)

Anyway...after the palace I left them and came to Uijeongbu. I went out with my friends John and Q and Rachel and then we met up with some of our friends from South Africa, Mieke and Werner. We went to a great little Korean restaurant that after we had stuffed ourselves to the max, and drank ourselves drunk, we each ended up paying around $8. Unbelievable how cheap things are here. After dinner we were off to the noraebang for a few hours of ear-splitting drunken singing. We even threw in a few Christmas carols. As much as I love going out in Seoul, some of my favorite nights have been just hanging out in our obscure little Korean towns doing random things.

This week is finals and so I'm spending my week skyping everyone and watching American TV shows online. Yay. I got to leave school early today and went to a teacher's house with some of the other teachers for lunch. So nice!

Christmas is about a week and a half away yet it just doesn't feel like the holidays here. Its true, there's lights up everywhere, but there's no snow. I feel like I've always had a white Christmas, and this year I definitely won't. Sort of sad. But we do have some holiday activities planned, since none of us will be with our families.

What else? Not much to say I guess. Pay day is Thursday, which means this weekend will be much more fun than this past one :)

Here's your K-Pop update. This song is by CL and Minzy (from 2NE1) and its called Please Don't Go. There's no actual video for it that I can find, except for live performance versions, so this link is just for the song.

Also, have you guys seen this video of the little boy playing the ukulele and singing "I'm Yours"? Its freaking adorable you need to watch it!

I really thought I had more to say...but I guess I don't. Sorry. Hopefully next week I will be more interesting. Bye!

"It is not down in any map; true places never are." --Herman Melville

Monday, December 07, 2009

Do You Funny Korea?

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!

Anna and me out in Hongdae

We were sort of tired from being out late the night before, but since it was around 1am when the tiredness hit us, we really had no choice but to stay out. There was, of course, the option to take a 40,000 won cab ride home, but that wasn't too appealing, so we did the next best thing. No, we didn't sleep in the subway (or in the Burger King). We went to a DVD bang! DVD bangs are these rooms (remember bang - or 방 - means 'room') where you can just sit and watch movies. You have to pay per person - maybe around 5-7,000 won - but it sure beats shelling out tons of money for a cab! We sat/slept in there for 4 hours while we watched Wall-E and one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies. I wish I had remembered to take a picture, but I'm sure there will be more times so I will make sure to have some pics next time. When the subway finally opened Rebecca and I came back to my place.

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.

Bang! Bang!

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

Ring Dinggy Ding Dinggy Ding Ding Ding

Hi! Last week was a good week :)

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?!

Cooking dinner!

Making a mess in the kitchen

Being Korea and all..forks were hard to come by so we ate our dinner with chopsticks. Even the apple pie and the "dirt cake".

Eating dirt cake with chopsticks

Here's a pic of the whole crew that we attempted to take with a timer. Sort of cut some people off but you get the idea...

Overall it was a great celebration. Someone even brought sparklers (must've been one of the non-Americans confused about Thanksgiving traditions).

Saturday I met up with Sara and Rebecca to go to Hongdae. We met up in the early afternoon to check out the Free Market (free because you don't need a permit to sell stuff...not actually free stuff). The free market is every Saturday morning from March-November. Hongik University is a big art school and so on Saturday mornings all of the art students are out selling their artwork, jewelry, clothing, etc. Its really great because you know that everything you are getting is one of a kind and most likely hand made. This particular Saturday was the last Saturday before it shuts down for the winter, so we were able to bargain and get deals on things. Awesome!

Free Market in Hongdae

Kids in Hongdae

Shit is Art...who knew

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 couldn't resist being all artsy and emo...but really we just look like a Delia's catalog.

We went to a restaurant where we ordered some food and prepared to get our night started.

Kimchi pancake and tteokbokki

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


Hi everyone!
This past week was business as usual around here. I had the occasional cancelled class (which seems to be a weekly occurrence) but overall nothing too exciting. Last Tuesday I attended a meeting in Seoul about North Korean human rights. It was really informative and I plan to go again. Its a great place for me to learn more about the situation, but also to get involved. There are so many opportunities in Seoul that I wasn't aware of. Everything from protests and marches, to handing out information in central Seoul, to volunteering with those who have managed to escape. For those of you who don't know, people who attempt to defect from North Korea do not attempt to do so by crossing the DMZ. Its completely impassable, and so they generally go through China to Vietnam where they can claim political asylum at the embassy in Hanoi. If they are caught in China, they will be detained while they await repatriation to North Korea. Once they are returned to NK, they will definitely face punishment. Punishment is usually served out in one of the prison camps, which likely involves torture, and execution is even a possibility. I could go on forever about this and all of the injustices, but this isn't a human rights paper so I'll cut myself off. But please watch this video and read this article that was on CNN about North Koreans who are lucky enough to make their way to South Korea, and how their reintegration into society is difficult after being isolated and fed propaganda their entire lives.

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.

John and Q

I look like I'm about to be kicked off American Idol...

So this week is Thanksgiving. I'm sad I'm missing it. Nobody here celebrates it, obviously. So while all of you are eating your turkey and enjoying your days off school and work, I will be sitting at school with people who don't have any clue that a very important holiday is being celebrated. Some of us have a get together planned for Thursday and probably another one for Saturday so more of us can get together since we're spread all over the city. Turkeys are hard to come by and even if we could find one...nobody here has ovens. How are we supposed to make turkey without an oven? What good is an oven on Thanksgiving without a turkey? That fact shocked me when I first got here. But Korea is so....Korean. And they don't make any food other than Korean food. And their food doesn't need to be baked..ever. Therefore ovens are not necessary to them. I asked what they do when they want to make cookies. I was given a blank stare followed by the reply "we buy cookies", with a silent but implied duh at the end. Well then. We may have to have a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with popcorn, toast, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans.

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.

Helping a student read

Acting out a scene from Friends with one of my students

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

Monday, November 16, 2009


So this week was pretty normal, although it did involve a day off school. Woo! Tuesday night I went out to dinner with a bunch of the teachers which naturally turned into noraebanging until 1:30am. Luckily Wednesday was only a half day of school. Wednesday last week was also 빼빼로 (pepero) day. Pepero Day is sort of a fake holiday created by Lotte probably to boost sales. Lotte manufactures this snack called pepero that is these cookie sticks covered in chocolate. There's a bunch of different flavors. Its celebrated on November 11th because 4 of these pepero sticks looks like 11/11. Totally pointless. However it is tradition for couples to give each other boxes of pepero on this day, and its sort of like Valentine's Day for them. So of course my students who love me soooo much brought me tons of pepero. I ate like 3 boxes that day. But they're so good! I'll be sure to send some home soon.

Thursday was the big college entrance exam test so none of the students were in school. I didn't have to go to school either so I ventured down to Suwon to hang out with Sara and Rebecca who also had the day off. We got some yummy Korean BBQ and then downed 2 pitchers of beer at the bar across from Rebecca's apartment. Friday night I was an old lady and did more laundry and caught up on some reading and episodes of Glee. That is embarrassing to admit so moving on...

Saturday I went out with the usual group. We started off the night at our favorite hookah bar in Seoul and then moved onto the clubs from there.

Sara, Anna, Mark, Rebecca, & me :)

And that's all you're getting out of me for pictures...sorry. Some pictures just weren't meant for the public. We wanted to find somewhere to watch the Wisco/Michigan game (which started around 1am on this side of the world) but it was on Big Ten Network which unsurprisingly does not reach Seoul :( Thanks to technology though we were able to get the score as soon as the game was over. Wisco's win was cause for celebration and resulted in yet another night of being out until the sun came up.

My vacation time for January has been approved. I get the last 2 weeks of January off, which means that a trip to Thailand will be booked sometime in the next week or two. EEEEK. I'm pretty excited, in case you can't tell. Vacation will be paid (although it will use up half of my available vacation days but I don't really care). I've had some serious talks with my friends about staying for a 2nd year here. We may change our minds come contract renewal time...but for now its a definite possibility. Its just really hard to say no to the possibility of staying here longer. We have an amazing set up here - apartment paid for, airfare paid for, etc. We get paid way more money than we deserve for the amount of work we do - I mean really how hard is it to speak in your own language all day playing learning games with kids? And even though we spend 40 hours/week in school, we only spend around 20 hours actually teaching each week. We get paid more than most of the actual teachers in our schools. We could probably all be saving tons of money if we didn't have student loans and a poor conversion rate to the US Dollar. Also, even though we've been here for 3 months (can you believe it!!) we still live like we're tourists i.e. we drink like college freshman, travel on the weekends, and eat out most nights especially when we're all together. We like to joke that living in Korea is "easier than life" because I mean really...it is.

Obama will be here in Seoul in a few days. He's on his Asian tour right now, stopping in China today to have a town hall style meeting with a bunch of Chinese college students. Its a pretty big deal for these countries to have our President visit them. I'm excited to see the reaction to him here in Korea - he seems to have a fair amount of support from the people of this country. His speech in China, for those of you who didn't see it since it was the middle of the night for you, really hammered through the point that he doesn't believe information, especially on the internet, should be restricted. China is known to have websites like Twitter and Facebook blocked, among others - including important media sources, and he reinforced his idea (and probably most Americans' idea) that access to information can empower people and that criticism of government is a positive thing because it helps keep the government in check. To further cite the restriction of information in China - his speech was not broadcast on TV in China, as other former US president's visits have been, and his quote about having free flowing information was on a website in China for only 30 minutes before censors deleted it. The students in the audience were mostly handpicked by the government, and many of them are part of China's young Communist Youth League, many of them having questions fed to them. Freedom of speech is not something the Chinese enjoy the way we do in America - so hopefully his visit will encourage the government there to reevaluate some policies.

I'm planning a lesson on movies for my students. Thank God for Disney's Pixar for making adorable little short movies that don't have words. I'm using 3-5 of these short films to get the kids talking about movie vocabulary (animation, characters, music, plot, story, etc), and then I'll eventually discuss with them how to criticize a movie and then make their own DVD covers with lots of fabulous English words on it. Yay! I'm sure half the kids will sleep but movies always seems to keep kids awake. Classroom behavior both appalls and amazes me here. It shows a level of immaturity that I didn't think was possible in high school age children. Some kids are good, but others are just so terrible. And the teachers just accept it. I get the impression the attitude here is that if the kids aren't mature enough by high school to understand the importance of education then the teachers give up. Maybe I've forgotten what high school was like? College kids (generally) are more well behaved in class. Although when we weren't listening to the professors we were a little more subtle about it...doing the crossword or sudoku, checking facebook, texting, etc. We didn't just blatantly sleep or talk in class. Courtney...am I missing something? Are you high school kids as bad in the US as my kids are here?

Naturally I have my weekly dose of kpop for you all. Taeyang has a new song out. He's a bigger babe than ever in this one. Its called Wedding Dress. I think a version of the video w/ English subtitles is available on youtube, but essentially he's saying that the girl who is getting married should be marrying him. And that sometimes he gets excited when she fights with her boyfriend because it gives him hope she'll dump that other loser and marry him. But since she's not, he hopes she's happy with the other guy so he can forget about her. Basically he's whining because he was too scared to tell her how he really felt. Wahh. But the boy can dance!

Also I've stumbled upon this gem of a video called Where the Hell is Matt? If these few minutes of uninhibited silliness don't make you laugh or at least smile, then you are no fun and I can't help you. I think this was 2008's viral video of the year, it has almost 25 million hits on youtube. Make sure you check out his outtakes too :) Maybe one day there will be a Where the Hell is Amy video. Seeing places that I have been, am, or will hopefully go makes me want to make my own version. Make sure you watch for the DMZ (1:52) and Seoul (2:46) in the video!

"I haven't been everywhere, but its on my list." -- Susan Sontag