Category: Seongju


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.  🙂

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

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.

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! 🙂

Wednesday, May 19:  Today after school, Mr. O insists on taking me to see the Placenta Chamber of King Sejo the Great, about 14 km north of Seongju.  According to the Memorial Stone Tablet for the Placenta Chamber of King Sejo the Great: “In the 21st year of his reign, His Majesty King Sejong…ordered his royal servant to spot the auspicious ground for the placenta chambers of his many princes.  Subsequently, they were built on the ridge of Mt. Seonseok, 14 km north of Seongju.  Each chamber was marked with a memorial stone.  One of them was the placenta chamber of the reigning king with the stone tablet inscribed with ‘Placenta Chamber for Prince Suyang.'”

Though Mr. O means well, his English is atrocious, so I cannot understand anything he tells me about this place.  The only information I glean is from the stone tablet mentioned above and from the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea website.

Placenta Chambers

Placenta Chambers

The placenta jars of King Sejong’s 18 sons (legitimate and illegitimate) and grandson Danjong are buried in a group on the top of Taebong peak, just below Seonseoksan Mountain in Wolhang-myeon, Seongju-gun.

Of the 19 jars, 14 retain their original appearance but in the case of the five sons who opposed Sejo’s usurping the throne, their jars have been destroyed and only the large rectangular base stones carved with lotus leaves remain.

Placenta Chambers

Placenta Chambers

The placenta jars were placed here some time between 1438 (20th year of King Sejong) and 1442.

This site is also important for being the only one in Korea where the placenta jars of royal princes remain intact, and for showing changes in the way such structures were built during the transition from Goryeo to Joseon (Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea: Historic Site 444: Placenta Chamber of Princes of King Sejong in Seongju).

me with the Placenta Chambers

me with the Placenta Chambers

After visiting these bizarre placenta burial chambers, Mr. O takes me to see a traditional village.  There aren’t many of these left in Korea, as the country has been overtaken by bland high-rise apartment buildings to accommodate the huge population.

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

me with a traditional Korean house

me with a traditional Korean house

the lanes in the traditional village

the lanes in the traditional village

This weekend is Buddha’s birthday weekend, and I’m planning a trip to Seoul for the 3-day weekend.  Though this is a lovely outing, I would have preferred not to do it this evening, as I need to pack for my trip.  But what can I do?  Mr. O had his mind set on this, and I didn’t care to insult him any more than I usually do.

Wednesday, May 12: One day I was walking down the street near my apartment and an older Korean man caught my eye.  He pointed to my hair and shook his head, then he made a gesture with his hands: he formed a cup with one hand and then he dipped his other fingers into the cup.  Then he wiped his fingers on his hair.  The gesture obviously meant he thought I needed to dye my hair black, like most Koreans do.  He had a kind of disgusted look on his face; he was not at all happy that I was walking around his streets with my whitish hair so indecently exposed!

I refused to take this insult lightly.  I shook my head vehemently and said “NO!” accompanied by the Korean style NO gesture, which is crossing my forearms in the shape of an “X.”  I then said, “I LOVE (making the sign of a heart with my fingers) my hair (pointing to my hair)!” And then I promptly turned my back on him and walked away.

Wow!

OMG, she has white hair, a big nose and fat arms!!

OMG, she has white hair, a big nose and fat arms!!

The attitude toward age in this country is infuriating.  My experience has been that basically if you are over 25, you are considered old.  I have two young Korean lady friends in their late 20s who truly believe they are old because they are no longer in university.  And, heaven forbid, they are not married!  I find this attitude really irritating.

Clara and Naree..."over the hill" in their late 20s!!

Clara and Naree…”over the hill” in their late 20s!!

One day I was in the carpool, sitting in my designated backseat, with Mr. O in front.  He said, “Mrs. Cathy (as he always says), do you find that you have problems with memory at your age?”  I said, “No, Mr. O, I don’t have any problems with my memory.  Besides, I am NOT old!”  He said, “I have seen your papers and I know your age.”  I said, “Mr. O, I am NOT old!”

Another day, Mr. O said, “Mrs. Cathy (keep in mind, Mr. O is older than me in body and MUCH older than me in spirit!), do you color your hair?” I said, “No, Mr. O.  I don’t believe in coloring my hair.” He said, “Well we Koreans people, we color our hair because we think it makes us look younger.”  I said, “No, Mr. O, coloring your hair black does not make you look younger!  It actually makes you look older.  Because when you get older, your skin changes and black hair does not look good against aging skin.” This I truly believe, because up until 5 years ago, I myself colored my own hair dark brown.  When I finally removed all the dye and went natural, people came out of nowhere to compliment me on how much younger I looked!

Another day I was hiking up to Gatbawi, the Buddha with the flat hat, and an older Korean man pointed to my hair and said something nasty to his wife in Korean.  I could tell it was nasty because of the perturbed expression on his face.  Again, I think he was really disturbed about my hair!

Then there are my students, some of whom are rude beyond belief.  I have one student in particular in the 4th grade.  Every day, she wears the same pair of knit pants with wide black and gray stripes.  They look like jailbird pants.  One day I wore a ribbed knit tank under a cardigan.  She grabbed the bottom of my tank and asked in Korean if I was wearing my underwear.  Coffee J laughed about this as he translated it for me.  I actually found this rude of him — that he found it funny and translated it so lightly, without reprimanding the girl.  I said, “No, this is a tank top, not underwear!” Of course, the girl couldn’t understand me.  But what I really felt like saying was, “No, this is not underwear, but are those your jailbird pajamas that you wear every day?? Do you ever wash them??  Why are you here?  Did you escape from prison today?”

Little Miss Jailbird and the Pig Farmer's daughter

Little Miss Jailbird and the Pig Farmer’s daughter

I went on a field trip and sat beside another girl in the same 4th grade class.  Funny thing is, this girl’s father is a pig farmer.  She pointed at my nose and made a funny gesture on her own nose, touching her nose and then lifting her finger in an arch away from her nose.  I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say, so I asked Coffee J what she meant.  He said she thinks I have a big nose.

Later in this same day, Miss Jailbird Pajamas pointed at my nose and made the same type of gesture.  Again, Coffee J translated this to mean she thinks I have a big nose.  Do I have a big nose?  Do I have a PIG nose?? How has this insult escaped me my entire life??  I have been insulted for things I know to be true before, but this?  Maybe people have been dying to tell me this my whole life but have kept it all bottled up inside.  Maybe this insult to my nose has been gnawing at people’s insides, churning and burning away!!

I’m not the only one who has gotten the big nose gesture.  Anna Schuett said she was walking down the street one day and some kid came up to her, pointed at her nose, and started making pig noises.

Finally, Miss Jailbird also had a comment about my arms.  Granted, my arms are my least favorite part of my body.  I wish they were thin and graceful, but alas, I have the German body!  So, the first day I wear a short sleeve shirt, little Miss Jailbird comes up to me, puts her hands around my arms and then expands them, showing me she thinks they are fat!!  OMG!  How can I shut this girl up???

OK, OK, I admit my arms are chubby...

OK, OK, I admit my arms are chubby…

Monday, March 15: I teach at two elementary schools in rural Seongju County, but I live in the city of Daegu. So… each day I have about an hour commute each way to work; luckily I’m able to carpool with some of my fellow teachers.  Otherwise, I’d have a horribly inconvenient trip by city bus and then by rural bus which could take me 1 1/2 hours and 10,000 Korean won/day.  The teachers offered me the option of carpooling with them during my first week.  I think it may have been a temporary offer, but now, much to their dismay, they are stuck with me; I’m like the guest they can’t quite shake, the visitor who is overstaying her welcome.   I’m playing dumb as long as I can….

Welcome to Seongju

Welcome to Seongju

Carpool #1 to Chojeon Elementary (M, T, F): I ride to work three days a week with three funny guys: my co-teacher Coffee-J, Mr. Yun, the PE and head teacher, and Mr. Sun, the 5th grade teacher.  During the entire drive, they talk together animatedly in Korean, laughing, making hand gestures, cracking crazy jokes; it’s high jinx.  Despite the fact that I can’t understand a word they’re saying, I find myself laughing along as if I understand their jokes.  I want to belong to their little group, but clearly I don’t.  Being the only woman and having very limited Korean speaking abilities, I mainly stay quietly amused in the back seat.

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun at Chojeon Elementary School

I don’t know quite what to do with myself.  Some days, I simply fall asleep when my mind wanders off into an imaginary land where Englishy is spoken….inside my own head. (Koreans add “y” to the end of many English words: Englishy, lunchy, clothies, etc.) Sometimes I pull out my Korean flashcards and mutter words incorrectly to myself until one of them overhears me and corrects my pronunciation. (Odee, Yogi, Chogi – Where? Here. There.)  Other days, I stare absently out the window at the miles of vinyl houses where the yellow melon is grown. Other days I just can’t keep quiet and I start yapping to Coffee-J in English, probably taxing the poor guy’s mind first thing in the morning.  When I do that, of course, Mr. Sun and Mr. Yun become the outsiders, as they can speak very limited Englishy.  I don’t like to do this too much as it disrupts their camaraderie and may get me ousted from the carpool.  That’s something I DO NOT want to happen.

This past Friday afternoon, Coffee J and I got behind a slow-moving vehicle and he impatiently tried to get around.  He said, “What do you call this, this slow-moving car?” I said, “Hmm… I guess you’d say he’s pokey.” He said “porky? like the food?” I said, “No, p-o-k-e-y, pokey. Not a food!  You’d probably call him a slowpoke.” He said, “Oh, ok, a slow-pokey! That’s funny!” Then he kept saying that word all the way home.  “Oh, another slow-pokey. Haha!”

Tuesday, March 16: Carpool #2 to Byeokjin Elementary (W, Th) : My other carpool is with Mr. O, the 2nd grade teacher at my other school.  He is also my “manager” at Byeokjin.  I was excited before I met him because Coffee J said Mr. O has a Ph.D. in English.  However, Mr. O speaks very limited Englishy!!  As a matter of fact, hardly anyone at Byeokjin speaks Englishy; I honestly have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing at that school!!  Apparently Mr. O got his Ph.D. in English many years ago and, like many who study foreign languages, learned to read and write but not to speak.

Mr. O

Mr. O

The first day Mr. O picked me up, Coffee J met us in his car at the pick up spot.  Coffee J and Mr. O got out of their respective cars and Coffee J introduced me to Mr. O.  I promptly got in the front seat of Mr. O’s car, but first I had to move his briefcase, his phone, and his jacket to the back seat.  It happened to be snowing that day, and Mr. O drove very nervously and slowly to Byeokjin.  I could tell he was quite on edge, between the snow, trying to speak to me in his very poor Englishy, and having a strange woman in the car with him.

On Friday, I was back in my regular carpool with the Chojeon guys.  Coffee J’s phone rang and there was a very loud voice on the other end.  Coffee J held the phone away from his ear and then thrust his phone into the air so everyone in the carpool could hear what the other party was saying.  The three guys were laughing their heads off, but I was clueless as usual. After he hung up the phone, Coffee J said, “That was Mr. O.  He called to say that the next time you ride with him, he wants you to sit in the back seat. He can’t concentrate with you in the front seat and he feels very nervous!”

What???

The next day, I dutifully got into Mr. O’s back seat when he picked me up.  I figured since he wanted me to sit in the back seat (despite the fact that a perfectly good front seat was available!!) that I could just mind my own business in the back seat.  I planned to busily occupy myself putting phone numbers into my new Korean phone, looking over my lesson plans, reading emails on my blackberry.

Surprisingly, Mr. O talked to me non-stop.  He told me a story that went something like this: “I don’t like autumn.  It remembers me of my girlfriend in college.  She was rich and liked to eat (some kind of food I didn’t understand). She was the brother of my wife.  OK? You understand?”  There was some other stuff about the girlfriend eating a lot of some kind of food.  I tried so hard to understand what he was trying to tell me.  Did the girlfriend get fat eating all that food?  Did she leave him or did he leave her because she got fat?  Did he meet his wife through his girlfriend’s brother??

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

I patiently tried to process his convoluted tale.  Then Mr. O said, “By the way, I talked to Mr. Kim (Coffee J) and he told me you are a lot of fun, that you like to drink alcohol and soju.  So one night, I want to drink alcohol with you!”  Huh???  Now that’s an experience I can’t wait for:-)

Monday, March 29: Today, I’m informed by Coffee-J that our carpool is going out for dinner and drinks tonight after work.  This seems to always be the way things work in Korea.  No one asks if you might have other engagements; they simply announce some plan and expect you to follow along.  Usually, because I’m a foreigner and hardly anyone speaks English, I’m always the last to know.

Tonight we go out to a Korean restaurant in Daegu and eat bulgogi.   On this outing, it’s just the Chojeon car pool teachers; Mr. O is not included.

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Bulgogi is made from thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef.  Before cooking, the meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, garlic, onions or mushrooms.

Bulgogi is traditionally grilled, but pan cooking has become popular as well. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions and chopped green peppers are often grilled or fried with the meat.  This dish is sometimes served with a side of lettuce, which is used to wrap a slice of cooked meat, often along with a dab of ssamjang (a thick spicy sauce made of soy bean paste, a red chili condiment, sesame oil, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar), or other side dishes, and then eaten together. (Wikipedia: Bulgogi)

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

As always at any Korean gathering, the meal is accompanied by huge amounts of beer and soju, a distilled South Korean beverage traditionally made from rice.  It tastes similar to vodka but sweeter (Wikipedia: Soju).  There are always some bottles of Fanta also floating around.

Me and Mr. Sun

Me and Mr. Sun making a toast with soju

In short order, with all the soju and beer going around, everyone is quite drunk.  We laugh a lot and I feel like these carpooling co-teachers of mine are becoming good friends.

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Yun doesn't speak a word of English, but he's always a jolly fellow

Mr. Yun doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’s always a jolly fellow

After dinner, we go to noraebang, where we all have a grand time belting out songs, both Korean and English.  Crazy times!!

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! :-)

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! 🙂

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

Tuesday, April 27: Today, I’m informed once again that we’re having a carpool party, this time including Mr. O from Byeokjin Elementary.  After work, we head to a restaurant between Seongju and Daegu.  As always, the meal includes a lot of beer and soju and as always, there are lots of laughs and high jinx.  This is typical Korean culture that I experienced too many times to count!

Coffee-J's face always turns bright red when he drinks

Coffee-J’s face always turns bright red when he drinks

me holding a bottle of soju

me holding a bottle of soju

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall :-)

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall 🙂

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

Friday, April 23:  Today I take some pictures of my 6th grade class at Chojeon Elementary School.  I divide the students into teams and challenge them with a scavenger hunt; they have to follow directions throughout the school, finding little treasures hidden at the spot where each clue leads them.  At that point, they find another clue that leads them to another clue and so on.  These pictures are taken as they study the directions to the next clue.

my 6th grade class at Chojeon Elementary

my 6th grade class at Chojeon Elementary

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

6th graders Chojeon

This was a large class of 30 rambunctious students.  The teacher couldn’t speak much English, but he seemed to be a very good teacher himself.  It was always a challenge teaching them because of their lively energy, but some of them were incredibly smart.

Monday, April 5:  Today, I take some pictures of Coffee-J’s 4th grade class at Chojeon Elementary School.  They are a wild bunch, as you can see from the pictures.

Coffee-J's 4th grade class

Coffee-J’s 4th grade class

Coffee-J's 4th grade class

Coffee-J’s 4th grade class

Boys will be boys and then...

Boys will be boys and then…

boys will be boys.... :-)

boys will be boys…. 🙂

and kids will be kids... :-)

and kids will be kids… 🙂

Wednesday, March 31:  The first lesson in the Korean elementary curriculum involves simple greetings: hello, hi, nice to meet you, nice to meet you too.  Easy enough.  But another part of the lesson involves making introductions.  “Hello.  Eun Jung Cho, this is Gang Suk. Gang Suk, this is Eun Jung Cho.”  I tried a role play for the students, inviting volunteers to the front of the class.  I asked each student his/her name, so that I could introduce one to the other.  It came out something like this: I said, “What is your name?” The child said, “(Mumble mumble) young soon (mumble).”  I said, “Joon Young Soon?”  The class giggled and the child shook his head.  I said, “What?”  The kid mumbled something else unintelligible.  Every single time, I got it wrong and the kids snickered….When I did the actual introductions, I often botched the name horribly or forgot it altogether in the course of the role play.  It was so pathetic that I started using English names to introduce the kids to one another:  Who wants to be Joe?? Who wants to be Ann??  Then the poor kids struggled to remember the fake English names of their friends and they were as confused as I had been previously.

The first grade menagerie

The first grade menagerie

For the inept English teachers who can’t pronounce Korean names (like me), the children often pick English names.  This is totally for the benefit of the dense native English teacher.  I actually asked my fifth and sixth graders to make up English name tags.  They chose names that included Looney Tune, Curie (for Madame Curie of radioactivity fame), Ronaldo, Amy, Chloe, Jennifer, Max, Sam, Obama, Simpson, Trudy, Helena, Wonder Woman, Zinna, Tania, Holly, Sally, Gloria, Gun, Hera, and Giroro.

doggies and zebras and sharks, oh my!

doggies and zebras and sharks, oh my!

I never asked for this, but the tiny first graders at Byeokjin Elementary had already picked English names before I came into their class.  Funny thing is, they are animal names.  There is panda, shark, alligator, snake, doggie, cat, rabbit, pig, zebra, raccoon, elephant, cat, and mouse.  A multitude of little animals, a virtual zoo!  The teacher asks me each day to go around one by one and introduce myself.  In turn, I say, “Hello.  What is your name?”  An angelic little child says in a squeaky high-pitched voice, “I’m doggie.” I say, “Hello doggie, nice to meet you.”  The child responds, “Nice to meet you too.”

the little animals

the little animals

I am on the verge of crying as I do these introductions! I imagine each and every child as the animal name they have picked.  It is so funny, yet so touching.  We automatically make associations with each animal that we don’t realize we make, and when suddenly paired with a human being, an animal name gives the human a whole different dimension.  My little menagerie has totally captured my heart:-)

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