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