Category: Gyeongsangbuk-Do


Thursday, February 17:  My two closest Korean friends are two women I see regularly at Byeokjin Elementary School in Seongju.

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. :-)

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. 🙂

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim Dong Hee is a 40-something woman who has never been married.  She teaches first grade.  Her English is the best I have ever heard in Korea, with virtually no trace of the typical Korean pronunciation problems.  She has lived abroad and takes a great interest in the outside world; this is very unusual in Korea. She is also one of the kindest and most gentle souls I have ever met.  Outside of school, about once a month, or sometimes more, we go out near my home in Daegu, either to Sydney Street Pub or to an Italian restaurant for pasta.  Unlike most Koreans, she isn’t attached to her mobile phone; she doesn’t even have text messaging enabled.   She doesn’t use Facebook and she barely uses email.  She’s an old-fashioned lady, but one with a huge heart and great generosity.

Kim Dong Hee

Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon is married with two children and is the English teacher at both schools where I teach.  Like me, she travels between both Byeokjin Elementary and Chojeon Elementary, so I see her in both places.  When I first meet her, she invites me to attend church with her, but with over an hour commute by train and bus to her church each way, I find it simply will not work.  Besides, I’m not that much of a church-goer anyway.  I love it on the days she comes to Chojeon especially, since I hardly have anyone to speak with there; hardly anyone at Chojeon speaks English except for Coffee-J.   She’s a wonderful teacher, lively and fun and able to motivate her students with fun games and songs.

Julie Moon

Julie Moon

I have been so blessed in Korea to have these two amazing women as friends.  🙂

~~grooming the waygook on the escalator~~

December 20, 2010: I’m in the midst of a crowd going down the escalator on metro, holding my down-stuffed winter coat in my arms and staring off into space when suddenly, I feel fingers picking at my back.  I turn around and two old ladies are busily pulling the down feathers off the back of my sweater.

They’re like mother monkeys picking fleas off their babies.  I smile at them and they are not deterred; they pick, pick, pick.  I show them the inside of my coat, where feathers are always escaping through the soft cotton lining and sticking to my clothes.  The monkey-ladies yap and yammer, saying something about the feathers and the mess they have made all over me.  Another older woman is watching; she too throws in a few comments.  Life in Korea.   One place where people have no concept of personal space and no qualms about grooming complete strangers.

A waygookin (외국인) is any person not of Korean ancestry. Waygook (외국) simply means “foreign”. Koreans call people of non Korean ancestry “waygooks”.

~~you are my sunshine: a rendition on the bus with a stuttering korean guy ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ~~

December 8: Kim Dong Hee and I are riding the bus home from Seongju Wednesday evening when a Korean guy sees me, stops in the aisle, leans over Kim’s shoulder, and starts speaking to me in English:  Oh!  Where are you from?  I’m Jun …… What is your name?  Cathy, I say. Oh Cashie?  I say, no CaTHy.  He says oh, Cashie, okay. Pleased to meet you.  What are you doing here in Korea?  Me: I teach English in Seongju.  At Chojeon and Byeokjin Elementary Schools. He: Oh, how long have you been here? Me: Nine months.  He: When will you leave?  I say in three more months.

His English is not bad, but he has a bit of a stutter.  When someone doesn’t speak English very well, sometimes I have difficulties telling if they are mentally challenged or if they’re really smart but they just don’t know English.  Because he has a stutter as well, I can’t help but question his mental capacity. I  DO KNOW a stutter is not a sign of low intelligence.  But.  I’m confused nonetheless.  Because lately I have a lot of mentally challenged people, adults and children alike, who have taken a great inexplicable liking to me.  On this Wednesday night, Jun goes on his merry way to the back of the bus.

December 13: The following Monday, he boards the bus and spots me sitting alone.  He plops down on the seat beside me and starts talking, asking me again some of the same questions he asked in our first meeting.  He asks my age and for some reason I tell him outright.  Usually I refuse to tell Koreans my age just because age is so important to them. It determines all the interactions people have with one another.  He tells me he is 40 years old and a businessman.  He has boarded the bus at some godforsaken bus stop, so I am curious about just what kind of businessman he is.

He has an MP3 player with earphones and he hands me one, keeping the other earphone in his ear.  Immediately, blasting in my ear is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”  He starts singing and I can’t help but sing along with him!  We are both singing away on the bus, singing and singing, oblivious to the other passengers:

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

The song ends and then another English song comes on that I’ve never heard in my life.  He’s shocked I don’t know it but I assure him it’s new to me:  “Handsome.”  I don’t think he has the title right because later, I can’t even find it on Google.  He knows all the lyrics though and sings along as I listen to both him and to the song through the earphones.  After our singing encounter, and before he gets off the bus, he tells me I am very beautiful and I have a nice smile.

December 15: Two nights later, he is back.  He gets on this time wearing white fluffy ear muffs and a royal blue shiny puffy jacket.  He plops down beside me, immediately reaching into his backpack for a notebook and a pen.  He starts writing: My name is Jun Young but you can call me Jun. After writing this, he reads it to me.  He asks me the spelling of my name and writes it on the page: CATHY.  He writes, How long will you be in Korea? He reads the question to me.  I say 3 more months.  He says, Oh no.  That’s too bad. The he writes:  Cathy is a very smile face and beautiful girl.  He reads this aloud to me, pointing to each word in turn.  Oh, happy days. 🙂

~~the light saber guy and his identity crisis~~

November 30: I’m standing on the curb in Chojeon, next to a cardboard box filled with trash, waiting for the 5:00 bus.  It’s a lovely spot, a dream spot really.  Directly across the street is a market with grimy windows, stuffed to the ceiling with foodstuffs, canned drinks and household paraphernalia.   In front of the store, several old ladies with canes sit on overturned primary-colored plastic crates, plaid scarves wrapped jauntily around their withered necks.  Bags of garbage keep them company.  The butcher shop next door displays meat carcasses in the window; giant radishes and roots lie on the concrete sidewalk in front.  On the opposite corner is a ubiquitous SK Telecom store, one of probably trillions of mobile phone stores in Korea.

Across the street, the most regular of the town drunks is talking in a deep raspy voice; he has apparently taken a chain saw to his hair.  Some parts of his head are shaved, other parts are sticking up like a confused bed of nails.  Other parts are shaped like jumping fish.  He’s stumbling about, rasping and coughing and hacking, gesticulating with everything he’s got.  Bits of white spittle cling to his rough face and after some of his rants, threads of drool drip from his mouth.  I think he lives at this spot, possibly even sleeps here.  Though he never speaks directly to me, he does do a lot of rude staring.

As I do many times while waiting for this infernal and untimely bus, I step off the curb and walk into the street so I can see if the bus is approaching from the distance.  Suddenly, a second town drunk appears in front of me. On his sweatshirt is a big A, sort of like the big S on Superman’s chest.  He is slashing the air with a pink toy light saber and as I step into the street, he sticks out the light saber horizontally across my stomach, stopping me from stepping into the street.  I say, Excuse me!   Who appointed you policeman?  Of course he can’t understand me.  I love to say ridiculous and outrageous things to Koreans because I know they can’t understand a word I say.  I step back on the curb, amused by this guy’s antics, but in a few minutes I am again curious to see if the bus is coming, so I step off the curb.  Even though light saber man has moved a distance from me, he rushes over and again juts the light saber across my belly.   I say, What are you doing?  If I want to step into the street, I will!  He snarls and mutters something mean in Korean.

I step back up on the curb and walk alongside a blue Hyundai Porter parked next to the sidewalk.  From the rear of the truck, I walk to the front, and again step out from the curb into the street.  Light saber man sees me and rushes up on the street side from the rear of the truck to where I am.  I immediately turn, step back up on the curb, and walk to the back of the truck, where I step back into the street to see if the bus is coming.  He catches on that I’m playing cat and mouse with him and he starts growling and yapping in Korean, waving around his light saber.  He comes toward me again, and I reverse direction, going back to the front of the truck and stepping back into the street.

Fun times.  This is the way I once decided I would escape if a bear ever tried to attack me.  I’d just put a tree between me and the bear and keep going back and forth, around and around.  This is the first time I’ve tried this maneuver with a man and I’m proud to say it works quite nicely.

~~the curious incident of the pakistani on the motorbike~~

Sometime in October: One night I walk out of my apartment and come face to face with a helmeted Pakistani guy on a motorbike.  He smiles hugely and says a very friendly hello; he has such an air of confidence and familiarity with me that I’m taken aback.  I ask, “Do I know you?” He says something that I can’t understand and then asks me if I wanna meeta.  Do you hava tima? I say, uh, I don’t know. Where?  He says, I donna know, somewhere.  I say, well, hmmm.  I guess so.  He motions for me to get on the back of his motorbike and I say, I can’t ride on this!  What about a helmet?  He assures me it will be okay. I hesitate but in the end hop on the back; he zips down my alley of a street to the 7-11, where he motions for me to get off.   I’m surprised as this is only about a half-block ride.  He says he needs to go to the bank to get money.  Will I wait for him here?

He returns within 5 minutes and brings me a can of cold coffee, which I guzzle down.  He then tells me once again to hop on the back of his motorbike.  In the meantime, he says a lot of other things, none of which I understand except the repeated “wanna meeta.”   He removes his helmet to reveal a balding head, which he is embarrassed about, and hands the helmet to me.  I put it on and he zips off once again, this time on the main road, weaving along between Hyundais, Kias, city buses and taxis.

I don’t ride motorbikes often, so I enjoy the wind whipping my hair about and going up my nostrils.  I have no idea where this guy is taking me.  I’m not afraid as it’s very populated and I know I can hop off if I want at any stoplight.  The motorbike is small, but it has a tough roar.  We ride and ride, approaching eMart, when suddenly he veers off into a fringe-curtained parking lot.  I recognize right away the typical Korean “love motel” parking lot.  He parks the bike and I say, Why are you stopping here?  What are you doing?  He says, go uppa and talka.  I say, No!  This is a motel!  I’m not going to talk with you in a motel.  We can go talk in a public place.  He is baffled and I am stunned, but I hop back on the bike and tell him to head back in the direction where he picked me up.  We cruise along and he points to a small park, dark and deserted.  He says, Here?  I say, NO!  We can go to a restaurant or a coffee shop.  That’s it.  I don’t know you!

Disgruntled, he takes me back to a restaurant I point out in my neighborhood and he motions me off the bike.  He says, I have to go to the bank for some money.  I say, I thought you already went to the bank!  He says, I’ll be back in a minute.  Wait me here.  As soon as he zooms away, I speed-walk down an alternate back street directly to my apartment.  Close the door, lock it.  Whew!

Monday, December 13:  Alex sleeps in while I schlep into work today.  Again, he visits the DVD bang during the day.  In the evening we go to Lotte Cinema to see The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp; it’s quite cute.  We have an exciting dinner at Mr. Pizza afterward, where we are the last customers of the night.

Tuesday, December 14:  Alex goes to Chojeon with me, where one of Coffee J’s 4th grade boys plays the flute for him.  Alex thinks Little Miss Jailbird is quite a character and he likes her edgy personality; she’s the girl who constantly insults me and wears the gray and black striped knit pants (see my previous blog: insults korean style).

In the evening, I expose Alex to the samgyeopsal and noraebang experience with Anna, Seth, Maurice, Myrna, Lilly and Ben.  Samgyeopsal consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is often dipped into a spicy pepper paste and wrapped in lettuce leaves along with other vegetables.  Noraebang, literally a “song room,” is similar to what we Westerners know as karaoke; it’s different in that a group of friends rents a room for an hour or two by themselves, and the public is not involved (as in Western-style karaoke).

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsol

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Myrna, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

Anna :-)

Anna 🙂

Alex tries samgyeopsal

Alex tries samgyeopsal

At noraebang, Alex wears dreadlocks and belts out songs along with the rest of us, losing all his inhibitions.

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Myrna belts out a song

Myrna belts out a song

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Wednesday, December 15:   Tonight, we go to my neighborhood Italian place for dinner, visit an outdoor Asian market near my house, and then try a different DVD bang where we watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, which happens to be the first book I read when I got to Korea in March.

Thursday, December 16:  Tonight, we go to downtown Daegu and eat fat juicy hamburgers at Gorilla Burger.  Later that night, Alex, prone as he is to making exaggerated sweeping statements, says, “This is the best December I’ve ever had in my lifetime!”  This is so much in character for him; I remember when he was a little boy  and he’d meet some random kid at a soccer game and he’d say, I just made a new best friend today, Mom!

December 6-10, 2010: During the week, I try to expose Alex to Korea as I know it.  He can’t believe the genius of the DVD bang, a place where you rent a movie with a room, sit on a comfortable reclining leather couch under a fuzzy blanket with a heat lamp warming you up, and watch a movie on a big screen.  A place where you can have a drink, munch on popcorn or ramen noodles.  He loves this place and its proprietor so much, he goes to the DVD bang every day while I’m at work.  I also introduce him to the PC bang, but he becomes really irritated that he can’t play computer games on it because he’s not a Korean citizen.  Apparently you need a Korean ID to be able to log into these communal computer games.

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Monday morning, Alex comes along to Chojeon Elementary School, where the students point at him, touch him, grab him.  Both the teachers and students continually call him “handsome boy.”  Coffee J’s 4th grade class puts on a vaudeville-type show for him, one they had done the previous week for the entire school.  This version is minus the costumes.  Afterwards, we hand out snacks and the students line up to get Alex’s autograph.  For the first time in his life, Alex is unquestionably a star!

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

the girls inspect and preen Alex

the girls inspect and preen Alex

"handsome boy" signs autographs

“handsome boy” signs autographs

my crazy 4th graders

my crazy 4th graders

Alex and one of my students hams it up

Alex and one of my students hams it up

That evening, after making a grocery run at Home Plus, we celebrate Alex’s first day of school at the local Aussie pub, Sydney Street, the only Western bar in the neighborhood.  We share impressions about Korea over beers and he meets a few of my Korean lady friends, 19-year-0ld university student Holly and flight-attendant wanna-be Becky.  Holly adds him the next day on Facebook as a friend.  In my apartment later, we relax and watch episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the computer he brought from home.

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex and me

Alex and me

Tuesday Alex stays homes and relaxes while I go to work.  In the evening, we go to Anna and Seth’s with Myrna and play a fun game of Ticket to Ride and share pizza & chicken.  Wednesday he also stays home, but after work we have pizza at Dasarang and then play billiards and watch the movie Sliding Door in the apartment.

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Myrna and Anna

Myrna and Anna

Alex and me

Alex and me

Alex comes to Byeokjin Elementary with me on Thursday, but he is bored out of his mind because the principal has forbidden him to be in the classroom “because he has no teaching credentials.”  This is crazy as it’s not a requirement to be a certified teacher in one’s home country to be a teacher in Korea (unlike in places like Dubai where this is required).   Hell, I’m not even a certified teacher!  Despite this prohibition by the principal, Kim Dong Hee’s animal-named first graders bring Alex welcome cards they made for him.  My fifth grade class gets to ask him questions for 10 minutes before class begins.  They exclaim that he’s a “handsome boy” and want to know if he has a girlfriend.

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Me at Byeokjin

Me at Byeokjin

That night, Kim Dong Hee and Young, two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, come out to a dinner of shrimp pilaf with us at the Warehouse.  After, we make a trip to Home Plus to see if my Vietnam visa is in.  It is.  I get it and we go to the hat department and try on goofy hats like a bunch of clowns.   Young, a brand new and very young teacher, is really cute and often blends in with her 5th grade students at Byeokjin.  Alex thinks she’s the cutest thing ever.  After they leave, Alex and I head to the DVD bang, where we watch Funny People with Adam Sandler.

Alex and me at the Warehouse

Alex and me at the Warehouse

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

A night at E-Mart.  Alex tries on a hat

A night at Home Plus. Alex tries on a hat

E-Mart: I try on a hat

Home Plus: I try on a hat

Kim and her hat

Kim and her hat

Saturday: December 4:  The first weekend he’s here, I expose Alex to public transportation in Korea.  We take a bus to Jinan, which takes about 3 hours.  I don’t think he’s fully gotten over the trip to get here and he gets a little irritable about having to be on the bus for so long.  We end up in the Jinan bus station waiting for a bus to Maisan Provincial Park, but we can’t get any information about when this bus arrives.  People tell us such a variety of things, our heads are spinning.  The Jinan bus terminal is one of Korea’s more grungy terminals.  Old people inundate this corner of the world.

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea's finest .... LOL

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea’s finest …. LOL

When we arrive, a girl in a school uniform immediately accosts us and starts speaking a little English with us.  Once we fall under her “care,” we can’t shake her and as our wait stretches from minutes into hours, she attaches herself to us with a vengeance.  She keeps repeating some kind of English-Korean mixture of words, none of which we can understand, and then she starts jumping at us and poking us in our heads to startle us.  It becomes quickly apparent that she’s a little uh— crazed.

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

Finally a bus driver speaks some English and informs us that the bus we are waiting for to take us to Maisan doesn’t arrive until 7:00 at night!!  We would have been waiting a long time….Someone tells us we should take a taxi; I have no idea how far it is, but at this point we have no choice.  We take a taxi.  It turns out to be a 2o-minute ride and costs only about 7,000 won.  No big deal.  When we arrive at Mt. Maisan, I see there are no taxis just sitting around waiting to take people back to Jinan, so I ask the driver for his card so I can call him when it’s time for us to leave.  He is a jovial fellow and agrees that all we need to say is “Maisan” and he will come for us.  Later, I am glad to have thought of his ahead of time, or Alex and I would have spent the night in the wilderness!

At Maisan, we stop for bibimbap at one of the many restaurants lining the path to Tap-sa, the temple we have come to see.  Alex has his first taste of true Korean food!  He likes the bibimbap; admittedly this is some of the best bibimbap I’ve even had in Korea.

alex eats his first bibimbap

alex eats his first bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

After, we walk the long path to Tap-sa and have a fun time exploring this unique and quirky temple.  In 1885, lone Buddhist hermit, 25-year-old Yi Gap Yong, came to Maisan to meditate and “cultivate” himself.  Over the next 30 years, he single-handedly constructed over 120 conical-shaped natural stone pagodas, without using mortar.   Today, 80 of his pagodas still remain standing.  This is a very unusual temple in Korea, an almost lunar-like landscape, thus it draws many tourists.  I came to Maisan before for an EPIK field trip, but didn’t see this temple because of a miscommunication about the time we had to see the sights.  Determined to see this bizarre place, I drag poor Alex along for his first Korean “temple” experience.

alex and his friend

alex and his friend

alex one with Buddha

alex one with Buddha

little buddhas

little buddha-like beings

tap-sa

tap-sa

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

We meander back and probe around in the Golden Hall Temple, which I saw last time I was here.  With darkness falling quickly, we call the taxi driver and head back to Jinan.

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

I have thought of many options because I want to see a particular temple in Jiri-san park, but after talking at great length to Tourist Information, I find any which way we travel to this temple, we will spend 7 hours on multiple buses on Sunday.  As Alex is of no mind to spend so much time on a bus, we decide to go to Jeonju to spend the night.  Though I’ve been to Jeonju twice already, Alex is interested in seeing Hanok Village (which I’ve also been to twice), so we plan to do that on Sunday.

Sunday, December 5:  Sunday morning we head to Hanok Village.

Hanok Village

Hanok Village

At Hanok Village, we walk all around the quaint little town and do a bit of Christmas shopping.  We buy gifts for Alex’s grandmother and aunt, his sister, his brother, and himself.

alex at hanok village in jeonju

alex at hanok village in jeonju

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

We see the Catholic Church, a historic building of some sort, and wander about enjoying the village.

Catholic church in Hanok Village

Catholic church in Hanok Village

We stop to warm up and eat waffles with ice cream at a cute little shop, where we find some interesting signs on the toilets.

Alex in the waffle cafe

Alex in the waffle cafe

waffles with ice cream :-)

waffles with ice cream 🙂

around Hanok Village

around Hanok Village

Alex loves mimicking statues :-)

Alex loves mimicking statues 🙂

We stop at Gyeonggijeon, built to preserve the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty.  Gyeonggijeon used to be a gigantic building with numerous other buildings attached, but it lost half its land during the Japanese occupation.  On the grounds of Gyeonggijeon today, there is an art show with some very strange art.

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

Art show

Art show

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Finally, we continue our walk around Hanok Village, enjoying the colorful foliage.

at a little cafe

at a little cafe

Later in the afternoon, we catch the bus back to Daegu and take a walk around Keimyung University, where we can see a great view of west Daegu and my neighborhood near the university.

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

alex on the campus of keimyung university

alex on the campus of keimyung university

me & the angels of Keimyung University

me & the angels of Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

We have dinner at Olive del Cucina, watch The Hangover at the DVD bang.  I prepare for a week of work.

Alex at Olive de Cucina

Alex at Olive del Cucina

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

Thursday, October 28:  I teach at Byeokjin Elementary School in Seongju two days a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I love teaching at Byeokjin more than at my other school, Chojeon Elementary School, because a number of the Korean teachers here speak excellent English; two of them end up becoming close friends.  I enjoy a heated and air-conditioned classroom, which I don’t have at Chojeon.  I am generally left alone to do my lesson planning and I genuinely like most of the teachers here, except for Mr. O.

I teach grades 1, 2, 5 & 6, something I have never done in my life.  My earlier teaching experiences were with high school students in the United States.

Seongju County (Seongju-gun) is a county in North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. This largely agricultural area is located immediately west of Daegu (Wikipedia: Seongju County).

Here are a few pictures of the drive through Seongju, Gyeongsangbukdo, which is the main region for growing the chamoe melon; in this area, 70% of the production is harvested. The estimated annual production of Seongju chamoe melon is 134,500 tons worth KRW 350 billion in sales (USD$ 296,595,034). The chamoe melon has been growing in Seongju province, where there is favorable weather and rich and fruitful soil, for almost 50 years.  (Fresh Plaza: Korean chamoe melon attracts more Japanese consumers)

Welcome to Seongju

Welcome to Seongju

Almost every piece of flat land in Seongju is covered in vinyl greenhouses for growing the chamoe melon.

vinyl greenhouses for the yellow melon

vinyl greenhouses for the yellow melon

Byeokjin is a very small town in the rural county and the school is typical of most Korean elementary schools.   This school only has about 60 students in total.

Byeokjin Elementary School

Byeokjin Elementary School

Byeokjin Elementary School

Byeokjin Elementary School

The boy students are quite lively and goofy; they love to dance and play football and all kinds of sports.

some of my students do a dance for me. :-)

some of my students do a dance for me. 🙂

I teach Kim Dong Hee’s first grade class once a week.  She has assigned them all animal names, which I think is quite adorable (see doggies and zebras and sharks, oh my!).

Kim Dong Hee's first grade class

Kim Dong Hee’s first grade class

Mr. O has only seven second graders.  I teach them once a week as well.

Mr. O's 2nd grade class

Mr. O’s 2nd grade class

The third and fourth grade classes are taught by Julie Moon, an excellent Korean English teacher.

Julie Moon, my friend and Korean English teacher for 3rd and 4th grades at Byeokjin

Julie Moon, my friend and Korean English teacher for 3rd and 4th grades at Byeokjin

Here is my 5th grade class.  The teacher, Young, is such a tiny Korean young woman, she almost looks like a student herself.

my 5th grade class at Byeokjin.  The teacher is on the far right bending down

my 5th grade class at Byeokjin. The teacher is on the far right bending down

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my 5th grade class at Byeokjin

My 6th grade class is quite smart and lively.  Overall, my students at Byeokjin Elementary have a higher level of English-speaking ability than my Chojeon students.

my 6th graders at Byeokjin

my 6th graders at Byeokjin

My days at Byeokjin are quite enjoyable and a lot less stressful overall than my days at Chojeon.  Chojeon is a larger school, with maybe 150 students. In addition, my commute from Daegu to Byeokjin is shorter (only 1 1/2 hours each way), whereas on the nights coming home from Chojeon, I have a 2 hour commute because of cumbersome and poorly-coordinated bus schedules.

Gaya-san summer camps

Work, work and more work.  I returned home from my two-week trip to Turkey on Wednesday night, August 4, close to midnight, exhausted and dirty. By the time I unpacked and got organized, it was 2 a.m.  At 6, I got up and went to work.  And I worked the rest of the summer, teaching summer camps: 1) a 2-day camp at Chojeon Elementary School, where I teach during the regular year; 2) two 3-day camps at the Seongju English Village; and 3) two camps at Gaya Mountain ~ one 2-day middle school camp and one 4-day elementary camp.  On the 3 days not booked with camps, I reported to Chojeon to put in my 8-hour days doing “lesson planning” (i.e. writing my blog and goofing off on Facebook).

Arrival at Gaya-san

Arrival at Gaya-san for the 2-day middle school camp

Rock gardens at Gaya-san

Rock gardens at Gaya-san

Funny thing this.  Regular teachers in South Korea get only a 6-week summer vacation – a lot less than our 2 1/2 months in the U.S.  However, many of the teachers are required to work for all or a good portion of this “vacation.”  I surveyed different Korean co-teachers after the “holiday”; some had off a month, others not a single day!  As a native English teacher, my contract specifies I get a total of 18 days in a year: 8 in summer and 10 in winter.  I took my 10 in summer, so I only have 8 remaining. We also get a couple of national holidays, but those don’t amount to much.  Yes, WORK is the order of the day in the Korean school system.

the gaya hotel

the gaya hotel

The Gaya Mountain camps were overnight camps; we stayed and taught in the classy Gaya-san Hotel.  It was definitely not “camping!” The middle school camp was supposed to be 3 days, but one day was cancelled because of heavy rain.  A nice reprieve, to get a totally unexpected day off!  Rare.

Overall, the camps were high jinx and a gave me a different lens through which to see the students.  I don’t normally teach middle school;  my “comic strips” camp lesson was a little over the kids’ heads.  I thought they would be more advanced.

one of my middle school students draws a comic strip

one of my middle school students draws a comic strip

Students drawing comic strips

Students drawing comic strips

what one of my students produced in the comic strip lesson

what one of my students produced in the comic strip lesson

In the elementary camps, I taught the song California Dreamin’; I played a Power Point Jeopardy Game I made up, simplified Boggle games and another 5×5 word game.  In one camp, I read the book Balloonia, about an imaginary land where balloons live above the clouds, then I had the kids make up a travel brochure for a land they made up themselves.  Finally, I played a drawing game where I reviewed body parts & descriptive adjectives and said sentences like: He is a tall boy with three eyes, big ears, and short curly hair.  Two teams competed to draw pictures incorporating every item in the sentence.

balloonia and the kids' travel brochures

balloonia and the kids’ travel brochures

My class's performance

My class’s performance

All the students & teachers at the camp

All the students & teachers at the camp

The best thing about the camps was this: I wasn’t the sole English teacher.  Usually, during the regular school year, I’m the only native English teacher in my school.  Except for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the Korean English teacher, my friend Julie, shows up, I have no one in my schools with whom I can just hang out and shoot the breeze (except Kim, who I talk about below).  I am always the lone “native.”  But here, at these camps, we bonded.  I got to know the other English teachers in Seongju who I barely knew before.  The teachers at the English Village were great: Suzanne and Manny from South Africa and Danny from the U.S.  I already know Anna, Seth and Kathy of course, but it was nice to work and hang out with them in a different setting.

After our two-day middle school camp, we also worked at a 4-day elementary school camp.

arrival at gaya-san summer camp for the second set of camps

arrival at gaya-san summer camp for the second set of camps

Kathy, Suzanne, Anna and Seth

Kathy, Suzanne, Anna and Seth

me, Suzanne, Anna and Seth

me, Suzanne, Anna and Seth

me with most of my students from Byeokjin Elementary

me with most of my students from Byeokjin Elementary

my students hamming it up

my students hamming it up

We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together (all the while complaining about the Korean food and wishing in vain for a western breakfast with coffee); we hung out and played poker and drank beer at night.  I loved and valued this camaraderie with my fellow teachers and native-English-speaking friends more than anything else.

playing poker at night to kill the time

playing poker at night to kill the time

at the teacher party the last night of camp: my fellow native english teachers: kathy, seth, anna, me & suzanne

at the teacher party the last night of camp: my fellow native english teachers: kathy, seth, anna, me & suzanne

Anna, me and Suzanne

Anna, me and Suzanne

our Korean co-teachers

our Korean co-teachers

We also had some free time in the afternoons to take mini-hikes on the grounds of the Gaya-san Hotel and on Gaya Mountain.

on the grounds of the Gaya-san hotel

on the grounds of the Gaya-san hotel

rock sculptures on the hotel grounds

rock sculptures on the hotel grounds

rock sculptures and bonsai trees

rock sculptures and bonsai trees

more rock sculptures

more rock sculptures

waterfall on the mountain

waterfall on the mountain

Anna and Kathy

Anna and Kathy

me by the waterfall

me by the waterfall

a narrow passageway at the museum

a narrow passageway at the museum

a little pond

a little pond

pretty greenery

pretty greenery

delicate flowers

delicate flowers

snow white flowers

snow white flowers

blossoms and fog

blossoms and fog

more delicate flowers

more delicate flowers

Actually, now that I’m back in my own schools to begin the second semester, I’m feeling kinda lonely and blue. 😦

my korean friend kim

Thursday, August 5: I do have one other close Korean friend besides Julie in one of my schools.  Her name is Kim and she teaches the first-graders at Byeokjin, the ones with the animal names.  Her English is excellent and she’s one of the nicest people I know in this world.  She is deep-thinking, intelligent, kind, soft-spoken and shy, but also worldly (she’s traveled a number of places outside of Korea, which is almost unheard of!)  She always tells me she loves talking to me because she likes older people, for one, and because I always teach her something new.  She says I encourage her to be more adventurous, because lately, in her life, she feels she’s in a rut and doesn’t much step out of her boundaries.  I am always happy to meet her for dinner every couple of Fridays or so.  She loves to eat pasta, and we end up going most often to VIVA where we have a glass of wine.   I’ve also dragged her along to Sydney Street, where she doesn’t feel too overwhelmed because there are never many people in there.

me & kim at sydney street cafe

me & kim at sydney street cafe on August 5

Kim is 42 and unmarried; this causes her great consternation.  Mr. O pronounced once that Kim is “old” and “not married.”  In Korean eyes, this is a bad combination.  She dated someone she loved very much for 15 years, off and on, but no longer speaks to him.  I know she would love to meet him again, or to meet someone new and kind-hearted and loving.  I wish this for her as well.

She always listens patiently to all my crazy or sad stories, my dreams,  my disappointments and my irritations. She’s always there to listen when I am struggling.  She never judges; she just listens and speaks her wisdom.  I like her so much.  When I leave Korea, I will carry her with me always, close to my heart.

hanging out with friends

Friday, August 6: Tonight, Myrna, Anna, Ben and I went out for pizza at our neighborhood pizza place after a week of teaching summer camps.

Anna

Anna

Ben, Anna, Myrna and me

Ben, Anna, Myrna and me

Myrna, me and Anna

Myrna, me and Anna

hangin’ & chillin’ with movies & games

Tuesday, August 24: Anna & Seth provide the house, games & movies for our entertainment nights.  As a married couple, they have the biggest apartment of all of us, with couches and chairs and even a coffee table!  We singles lack these simple things.  Always generous, they open their home to us and we congregate and play games, watch movies, or just hang out and eat dinner.  They also host our Bible studies.

anna & seth, the perfect hosts always

anna & seth, the perfect hosts always

It’s so funny, when they came to Korea, Anna & Seth paid an exorbitant sum for all the games, movies, books, etc. that they brought in their extra luggage.  But thank goodness for their foresight in bringing all this entertainment.  These things have given us many hours of pleasant companionship as well as some hearty competition.   Our favorites are: a cool railroad strategy game called Ticket to Ride (that Seth always wins!), Wii, Scrabble, poker with chips, and most recently, Spades.

Anna making steak fajitas

Anna making steak fajitas

I had Mike mail me some of my movies from home, including the 5-hour 1995 PBS version of Pride & Prejudice (starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), which we started watching in June, and will just finish watching this Friday.  And we’ve watched the 2002 Catch Me if You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Marice and Shihwan play Wii

Marice and Shihwan play Wii

We’ve had a couple of taco nights and just last week, Anna wanted to treat our Korean friends to some American food.  We worked together to make steak and potato fajitas…. delicious!  Shihwan was so funny; Koreans love their food spicy and he said, after eating half of his fajita, Do you have any spice to put on this? He looked a little bored with the whole fajita….

the makings for steak fajitas

the makings for steak fajitas

Maurice & Shihwan

Maurice & Shihwan

hot fun in the summertime

Here is summer in Daegu.  Unrelenting heat & humidity, sticky air.  Huge cicadas screeching at all times of day and night.  Swarms of huge dragonflies in pockets. A never-changing 90+ degree temperature, day and night.  Clothes sticking to your skin.   All I can say is I can’t wait till it ends and the cool crisp air of fall arrives. 🙂  Ahh, cool relief, where are you??

Wednesday, August 25:  This week we put on summer camps at the Seongju Office of Education. Students from many schools throughout Seongju attend, and my regular schools of Chojeon Elementary and Byeokjin Elementary are included in the camp.  We each prepare one lesson a day, and we teach that lesson 6 times.

Anna, Seth and I have to take the bus from Daegu to Seongju each day, where we then have to get a ride to the Seongju Office of Education.  What a fun time it is waiting at the filthy and non-climate-controlled bus station.

the bus station in Seongju

the bus station in Seongju

Seth and Anna on the bus

Seth and Anna on the bus

me on the bus

me on the bus

One of my lessons is on parts of the body.  To review the parts of the body, I show a power point with the different body parts.  Then I divide the class into teams and give them cards that say something like the following: 2 feet, 3 hands, 2 mouths, 1 ear, 2 eyes, 1 nose.  They have to form, as a team, the instructions that they are given and then I take a picture.  The team who forms a picture following the instructions they are given wins the competition.

a team had to form three hands, two mouths,

a team had to form three hands, two mouths, two feet, one nose and two eyes

5 eyes, 2 noses, 1 mouth, 3 hands

5 eyes, 2 noses, 1 mouth, 3 hands

In another activity, I tell the students I will draw a creature based on whatever body parts they want to include.  The students raise their hands and tell me: 3 heads, long curly hair, 6 hands, 4 eyes, 3 noses, 9 mouths, 2 big feet, 1 tooth, and freckles.  This is what I draw.

student told me how many parts of the body to draw on one creature, and I drew the creature based on their instructions

student told me how many parts of the body to draw on one creature, and I drew the creature based on their instructions

On our last day of the camps, we take the bus into Seongju again.  Usually I take a carpool into work with my Korean co-teachers (which I talk about in my older entry: carpools korean style).  Since most of the Korean teachers were either working elsewhere or actually on vacation, Anna, Seth and I took the bus from Daegu to Seongju.  As always, the older Koreans stared at us relentlessly, as if we were some freak aliens.  We hung out with the ajumas (the old Korean ladies) at the bus station and on the bus.

Anna and me on the Seongju bus

Anna and me on the Seongju bus

Seth and Anna and Harry Potter

Seth and Anna and Harry Potter

The students perform songs or skits that they practiced with their classes.

Student performances

Student performances

the final acts

the final acts

Sometimes Korea kids wear totally inappropriate English language T-shirts.  I’m sure this girl’s mother had no idea what this T-shirt means.

inappropriate English T-shirt: "If you get laid with me tonight SMILE"

inappropriate English T-shirt: “If you get laid with me tonight SMILE”

Student performances

Student performances

student performances

student performances

the whole group of teachers and students

The whole group of teachers and students. At the back left, you can see Coffee J, Mr. Son, and me.

On the bus ride home on my final day of camp, one of my students took the bus to Daegu to visit her mom at work; she sat beside me and I was amazed that she was actually able to carry on a bit of conversation.  Because of the size of my classes, I can’t often see the abilities of my individual students; though there are many that stand out as being quite capable.

one of my students and me on the bus to Daegu after the camp

one of my students and me on the bus to Daegu after the camp

other characters on the bus to Daegu

other characters on the bus to Daegu

We have a fun time at the summer camps, although I think ALL of us would have preferred to have the summer off! 🙂

Saturday, August 21:  Today, Kathy & I went on a quest.  I came across an article online titled: “Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting in the Summer.”  I have only been to one of these, Haeundae Beach in Busan, and I’ve been dreaming of exploring the other 11.  However, most weekends this summer have either been raining or threatening rain, so I’ve been waylaid on my intended expeditions.

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Finally, Kathy and I drove in her little Matiz to Guryongpo beach in south Pohang. Wow!  This place made the top 12 beaches??  I don’t know where they got their criteria for this article, but this was a pretty pathetic excuse for a beach.  Earlier this summer, Kathy and I went to the MUCH nicer Chilpo Beach, just north of Pohang.  Why isn’t Chilpo listed in this article?

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Guryongpo is small, crowded, tacky & commercial, and has only waist deep water at its furthest-out point.  We were both disappointed in it but decided that we’d stick it out since it seemed very “Korean.”  Chilpo is more like a nature reserve, not much commercialism, and has a wide swath of beach.  Granted, it’s covered in trash, but all beaches in Korea are covered in trash.  As a matter of fact, most Koreans just throw their trash on the street everywhere.  Trashcans are few and far between; being the anti-litter American I am, if I have a piece of garbage to throw away, I will carry it for blocks rather than toss it on the street.  Sometimes I think, maybe I should just toss it; everyone else does.  But I cannot bring myself to do it.  All those anti-litter campaigns by the U.S. government in the 1970s really got ingrained in this person’s head.  🙂

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

As soon as we parked, an ajuma approached us and wanted 10,000 won for a “parasol,” which we gave her.  I wanted an inner tube so gave her another 5,000 won.  Kathy and I chilled, floated in the inner tube, read, waded in the knee-deep water, sunbathed, walked along the beach, talked. We got a hoot out of watching the Koreans at the beach.  No one wears a bathing suit.  They wear t-shirts and shorts/long pants, hats and sunglasses.  Many of them wear these detached sleeves (yes, they’re NOT attached to anything!) on their arms and some wear masks over their faces.  A lot of them wear life-vests in the knee-deep water.  Very strange.  I’m sure I was quite shocking to them with my white hair and my bikini.  Of course, in a bikini, I’m shocking anywhere!

So much tackiness on the beach

So much tackiness on the beach

an ajuma at the beach

an ajuma at the beach

inner tubes for rent

inner tubes for rent

When it was time for lunch, Kathy and I walked along the road, looking for a place to eat.  We couldn’t find a place that served lunch; most people sat on these platforms under tents and ate meals they cooked and prepared themselves right there.  Or meals they prepared at home and brought along.  They sat Korean style and ate these feasts on the wooden platforms.

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

We stopped at a little roadside shop to check out the goods and take some pictures.  The ajuma put her hats on our heads and handed us a snorkel for the photo.  I guess she figured she may as well get some free advertising.

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

Later, we found a restaurant with live fish in a tank.  To order one of the fresh fish would have cost about 30,000 won, so we ate a simple lunch of rice and some Korean vegetables of seaweed, roots and kimchi.  Washed down with a slightly cooled beer….Simply delish.

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Still,  fun times.  I don’t know how this beach got in the Top 12 list….I guess it’s all in how someone defines a “top beach.”  Do Koreans see this type of beach as better than a more natural, deserted and quiet beach such as Chilpo?  I guess they do.  I better check my sources next time.

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

After we got back from Guryongpo, we showered and changed and went downtown to meet Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio, a restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel Ariana.  Ben and Carly joined us as well.  We ordered delicious formaggio and margherita pizzas & tall cold beers (this place is a brew pub) and listened to some live “easy listening” American music.

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

the "easy listening" singers

the “easy listening” singers

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

After, we went to noraebang for Anna, Seth, and Carly’s first experience.  Crazy times all around!  Since I’d been teaching California Dreamin’ at all my summer camps, I had to sing that, as well as Gwen Stefani’s Ain’t No Hollaback Girl, Ain’t No Hollaback Girl…..I never knew this song had so many nasty words in it. 🙂  (ooh, ooh, this my sh*%, this my sh*%…..)

seth singing at noraebang

seth singing at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

Saturday, August 14:  This evening, a gang of us went to see the Samsung Lions vs. the Daejeon Eagles at the baseball stadium in Daegu.  The night was hot and sultry, one of the most miserable nights since I’ve been in Korea.

Heading to see the Samsung Lions

Heading to see the Samsung Lions

We sat in the stands with the other Koreans, clothes sticking to our bodies, sweat soaking our hair and faces.  I never have cared anything for baseball, but the experience was a fascinating cultural grab-bag; I always love people-watching and seeing baseball Korean style was different, for sure. Especially the fans.  Anna, Seth, Kathy, Maurice, Suzanne, Carly, Shihwan and Shin were all in attendance.  I took a few pictures, and then my camera battery died (so irritating!). Maurice had our pastor’s camera, which I used to snap a bunch of photos.

field of Korean dreams

field of Korean dreams

Anna, Kathy and me in front, with Suzanne and Carly behind

Anna, Kathy and me in front, with Shin, Shihwan, Suzanne, Carly & Maurice behind

Suzanne, Carly and Maurice

Suzanne, Carly and Maurice

Shin and Shihwan

Shin and Shihwan

in the stands at a Korean baseball game

in the stands at a Korean baseball game

Shihwan, me and Maurice

Shihwan, me and Maurice

Alas, no hot dogs at this ball game.  I ordered a take-out of mandu, or Korean dumplings, which I ate in the stands with chopsticks.  Not exactly the baseball game fare I’m used to.  It mattered not; I love mandu!  Some of us also ordered fried chicken, which the Koreans have in recent years taken a great liking to (along with pizza and pasta).

Chicken, anyone?

Chicken, anyone?

The game gets very exciting towards the end and the Korean fans become very boisterous!

Korean fans

Korean fans

Korean baseball fans

Korean baseball fans

the Samsung Lion mascot

the Samsung Lion mascot

Anna, me and Carly with the field behind

Anna, me and Carly with the field behind

me, Carly and Anna with some balloon palm trees

me, Carly and Anna with some balloon palm trees

Even though the evening is sweltering, we still manage to have a good time experiencing a bit of the Korean baseball world. 🙂

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