Tag Archive: EPIK


Saturday, November 6: In the morning, we head out toward the coast to see the Saemangeum Tidal Embankment, a seawall dubbed “The Great Wall on the Sea.”  This is the world’s largest sea dike measuring 33.9 km in length, beating the former largest dike in the Netherlands, the Suiderzee Afsluit.  It was completed in April, 2010 after 18 years and 5 months.

Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

The purpose of the dike was to secure enough arable land to ensure food security for the future.  The reclaimed area is about 2/3 the size of Seoul, about a square meter of new land for every Korean.  The original intent was to allocate 70% of the land for farming and the remaining 30% for industrial use.  Now, with an oversupply of rice, the plan has been changed to give 70% to industrial use, tourism or logistics, and the remaining 30% for agriculture.  A large part will go to tourism, such as casinos and other facilities, which is hoped to bring 8 million tourists by 2012.

the biggest dike in the world

the biggest dike in the world

We walk down to stand over the water as it roars out of the dam.  When one level is higher, they open the gates for 45 minutes and let the water flow out.  It is a quite impressive and powerful flow of water we see bursting from the floodgates.  I walk up to a hill where there is a park and observation area.

a tunnel under Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

a tunnel under Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Memorial at Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Memorial at Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

From the embankment, we head south to Buan-gun, a peninsula that juts out into the Yellow Sea.  Within the Byeonsan Peninsula National Park, we walk through a gorgeous scarlet-hued tunnel of fir trees, and then rows of cherry blossom trees, to see Naesosa Temple.  Originally called Soraesa Temple, it means “a place to visit to be reborn.” The weather is cool and crisp and the autumn colors are stunning.  Naesosa was built by a Buddhist monk in 633 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty and rebuilt in 1633 during the Joseon Dynasty.  Daeungbojeon, the main building, is built with interlocking wood blocks without nails.  Each door is decorated with lotus blossoms and chrysanthemums. The temple also boasts the Goryeo Bronze Bell, with three Buddhas on its body, from 1222.  It is thought to be the leading creation of the late Goryereo Dynasty.

me at naeonsa temple

me at naeonsa temple

Korean pancakes

Korean pancakes

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typical Korean restaurant on the way to Naesosa

Naesosa Temple

Naesosa Temple

thankful messages at Noesosa Temple

thankful messages at Noesosa Temple

inside Naesosa Temple

inside Naesosa Temple

The best thing about visiting Naesosa Temple is the setting, with its bright tunnel of trees.  My interest is also piqued because they offer temple stays.

the stunning tunnel of trees at naesosa temple

the stunning tunnel of trees at naesosa temple

Finally, we start our journey west to Daegu, with a stop in Mt. Maisan Provincial Park. Mt. Maisan’s claim to fame is its donkey-ears shape.  A myth tells of  two gods that came down from the sky, had a child and lived on earth for a while. As they were going back up to the sky, a village woman saw them ascending, and were trapped on earth and were transformed in to a rock mountain. Even today, you can see the father peak and the child peak, and the mother peak on the other side.

When the bus drops us at the entrance, we are told we have until 3:40 to go explore.  We jauntily walk off, not even knowing what we’re supposed to be looking for.  We linger along the path, checking out the interesting food stalls and restaurants along the way, snapping pictures.

succulents in pots for sale along the path

succulents in pots for sale along the path

a snack of silkworms, anyone?

a snack of silkworms, anyone?

big hunks of meat for sale

big hunks of meat for sale

Finally, we come to a temple with a bright gold roof, Geumdangsa Temple, or “Gold Hall Temple,” built in 814 during the Silla Dynasty.  I think this is the temple we have come to see, so I take a bunch of pictures and spend too much time exploring the grounds.

Geumdangsa Temple Buddha

Geumdangsa Temple Buddha

bright leaves and lanterns at the "Gold Hall Temple"

bright leaves and lanterns at the “Gold Hall Temple”

drum at "Gold Hall Temple"

drum at “Gold Hall Temple”

I see other EPIK teachers walking further down the path, and I meet my friends Anna and Seth, who are heading to the really cool and unusual temple we are meant to see, Tapsa.  By this time it is 3:20 and though Anna and Seth are determined to walk to it, none of knows how far away it is.  I keep walking with them for a while, but as we round each corner and don’t see it, I become worried it about making it back in time, with my troublesome knee.  Finally at about 3:30, I say I better turn around.  I make it to the bus at 3:40, but no one is in any hurry to leave as they apparently changed the departure time to 4:00!  I would have had time to see the amazing Tapsa after all!  I am so disappointed, especially when Anna finally returns with her pictures of the very unusual temple.  I can’t believe I was right there and didn’t see it.  I have determined to return to this park sometime in the next couple of weeks to see it.

me with Mt. Maisan's donkey-eared peaks

me with Mt. Maisan’s donkey-eared peaks

Tapsa is a temple where a retired scholar built numerous pagodas one stone at a time over a period of decades. There are some marvelous towers which are so tall and massive it’s hard to believe they were erected by just one man. It is said that he built 108 towers over 30 years from 1885, but only 80 of them remain today.

the golden hall temple, but not the one i was supposed to see :-(

the golden hall temple, but not the one i was supposed to see 😦

We are on the bus a long 4 hours after this, heading back to Daegu.  By this time, I am bus-burned, especially as these seats are tight and narrow with little leg room, unlike most public transport buses in Korea which have plenty of room to stretch out.  We arrive at the Gyeongsangbuk-Do Provincial Office of Education around 8 p.m.  Wiped out, but happily so. 🙂

the beautiful grounds of Geumdangsa Temple

the beautiful grounds of Geumdangsa Temple

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November 5:  It’s Friday morning and it seems there is to be no Hite Brewery for us.  This despite the fact that we are the chosen ones, the “best EPIKers,” at least according to the name tags we are given.  I have no idea what the criteria were that decided which Guest English Teachers (GETs) from Gyeongsangbuk-Do would get to attend this two-day field trip to Jeollabuk-do province, but somehow, we are special.  Due to our specialness, our first planned stop at 11:30 a.m. is to be the Hite Brewery, where all of us are dreaming of sampling brews before heading off on the rest of our field trip.  However, as we pull up to the brewery, we are told that on Fridays, Hite does not allow tourists to enter.  Hmmm…. Strange thing, this, as wouldn’t you think our fearless planners would have checked this out in advance and confirmed our arrival with the brewery?  Oh well, no beer to boost us off on our first day.  It seems it will be a dry day.

no Hite beer for us ~ at least not from the Hite brewery:-(

no Hite beer for us ~ at least not from the Hite brewery:-(

Instead we bus onward to the exciting Jeonju National Museum.  On our way, we make a stop at a rest area where we see this group of schoolchildren.

Korean schoolchildren at a rest area on the way to Jeonju

Korean schoolchildren at a rest area on the way to Jeonju

At the Jeonju National Museum, we see treasures we could never have imagined glimpsing in our lifetimes.    Opened in 1990, this museum houses Jeollabuk-do’s cultural heritages; its collection encompasses 24,000 works including archeological and artistic relics from the prehistoric and Mahan and Baekje periods, as well as folklore materials.  Nearly 1,400 works are displayed in 5 exhibition rooms and an outdoor exhibition area.  The museum also houses Buddhist arts, ceramics, and metal crafts.

Danny, Seth and Anna

Danny, Seth and Anna

fall colors on the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

fall colors on the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

the jeonju national museum

the jeonju national museum

the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

I am bowled over by three huge ceramic beautiful woven vases, swirling with jade, lapis blue, and deep Indian red & gold strands.  I don’t know what these are, but they are stunning.

some amazing ceramic "woven" vases

some amazing ceramic “woven” vases

I see scrolls and paintings of interesting characters from the Joseon royal family, vases and pottery, bronze crowns and caps, dioramas of jumak taverns where tired travelers stopped for liquor, food and sleeping.  A Jangdokdae jar stand depicts how Koreans keep their spices on a low stone embankment on a sunny side of the house.  Basic seasonings are kept for all cooking done in the household, including soy sauce, soy bean and red pepper paste, red pepper powder, sesame, salt and kimchi.

a diorama in the Jeonju National Museum

a diorama in the Jeonju National Museum

pots for keeping kimchi

pots for keeping kimchi

After the museum, we head to a lunch of bibimbap.  We eat bibimbap continually in Korea, but apparently Jeonju is especially known for two dishes: bibimbap and gongnamul gukbap (which I won’t discuss because we didn’t eat it!).   Bibimbap is a mixture of a half-dozen seasoned vegetables, strips of marinated beef, sesame seed, seaweed, a fried egg, and a dollop of red pepper paste over a bowl of steamed rice.  Often served in a brass container, the ingredients are to be mixed before eaten.  As bibimbap is one of my favorite dishes in Korea, I enjoy it, and do even take note that it is better in Jeonju than in other places where I’ve eaten it.

lunchtime: bibimbap

lunchtime: bibimbap

After lunch we head to Hanok Maeul, a village of traditional-style Korean houses with tile roofs, high walls, and narrow alleyways.  Most of us EPIK teachers saw this village during our orientation in February, 2010, so we’re a little baffled as to why we’ve come here again.  We don’t complain too much as it is quite quaint and lovely.  Possibly our planners may have thought, because we were a little disoriented during our orientation, that we might not remember we had come here before!

jeonju hanok village ~ haven't we been here before? Me with Anna

jeonju hanok village ~ haven’t we been here before? Me with Anna

To start we go to a hilltop pavilion where we hear a woman perform traditional Korean music called pansori.  It is vocal and percussion music performed by one singer and one drummer playing a barrel drum.  From the hilltop, we have a great view of the tiled roofs of the village below.

the pavilion above hanok village where we hear pansori

the pavilion above hanok village where we hear pansori

shoes all lined up on the steps of the pavilion

shoes all lined up on the steps of the pavilion

This village is said to be the largest concentration of such traditional housing in the entire country.  In recent years, many homes have been spiffed up and turned into accommodations, restaurants, gift shops, coffee shops or tea houses.  The town is quite cheery at this time of year with its bright yellow ginkgo trees and other red-and-orange speckled trees.

a street in Jeonju

a street in Jeonju

Anna, Seth and Suzanne under a ginkgo tree

Anna, Seth and Suzanne under a ginkgo tree

sweet little goodies for sale in Jeonju

sweet little goodies for sale in Jeonju

colorful fans for sale in Jeonju

colorful fans for sale in Jeonju

Several guys in our group dress up in traditional costumes and pound rice with wooden mallets in a stone bowl to make rice cakes.  It’s pretty funny as they really get into their roles and eat up the attention.  We all get to sample the rice cakes after.

making rice cakes

making rice cakes

one of the guys making rice cakes

one of the guys making rice cakes

me with Seth, sampling the rice cakes

me with Seth, sampling the rice cakes

At the far end of the town, we explore the plush interior of the Jeondong Cathedral, a European-looking Catholic Church.  On the grounds is a grotto guarded by a gleaming statue of the Virgin Mary; inside are candles that can be lit for prayers.

Jeondong Cathedral

Jeondong Cathedral

inside Jeondong Cathedral

inside Jeondong Cathedral

a grotto with the Virgin Mary

a grotto with the Virgin Mary

part of the Jeondong Cathedral

part of the Jeondong Cathedral

For dinner, we are supposed to have samgyeopsal, grilled three-layered (meat-fat-meat) thinly sliced pork loin, but instead, we have some kind of soup with unknown meat (possibly beef?) in it.  We sit on floor mats at long low tables and drink Cokes and soju and eat the soup and other roots and vegetables and pancakes that usually accompany Korean meals.

the rooftops of hanok village

the rooftops of hanok village

As part of the purpose of this field trip is to meet and mingle with other EPIK teachers and forge new friendships, I sit somewhere randomly hoping to meet some new folks.  I happen to sit next to a nice Korean-American young man named David.  He surprises me by asking a fairly intense and thoughtful question, not the usually superficial banter that goes on at these gatherings.  He asks, what is your biggest challenge here in Korea?  I answer straightaway: loneliness.  Being older than most of the EPIK teachers, I find I have little common ground with other teachers.   And I don’t speak Korean to be able to make Korean friends. I ask him in return, What about you?  He says he came here to discover his heritage, as both of his parents are Korean.  Though brought up in California, he feels as Korean as a person can be.  But, he describes that Koreans have a circle of who’s accepted.  On the outside are the foreigners, who will never be inside of the circle.  But on the fringes of the inside are people like David, Koreans but not Koreans.  Both his parents are Korean; he was brought up Korean, but he’s American.  He will never be a part of the inner circle.  He is looked down upon because his first language is not Korean and thus not perfect; he seems uneducated to native Koreans.  This despite the fact that he speaks several languages.

me at an outdoor cafe in Jeonju

me at an outdoor cafe in Jeonju

a little fish pond

a little fish pond

After we check in to our hotel, a number of people congregate in our room to play a rousing dice game called Farkle.  We have a lot of fun; it’s great to meet some new people I’ve never met before.  I also happen to win the game, which is always a happy event!

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.

Tuesday, August 31: August 31 marks the halfway point for my time in Korea. I have survived 6 months!  🙂 I have six more months to go until my contract ends on February 28, 2011. Here, I look backward and forward, to what the last 6 months have brought and to what the next 6 months might bring.

At this time last year, I was working as a poorly paid intern at Management Systems International (MSI), commuting a nightmarish 1 1/2 hours each way. Our offices were on 13 boats in a marina in downtown Washington, D.C. and as an intern, my work there was under-challenging, to say the least.  I had started working there in March, 2009, and this date (August 31) also marked 6 months there.  These first 6 months at MSI felt like an eternity. I worked there until the end of December; luckily my last 4 months there were more challenging as I worked on a big contract evaluating all of USAID’s trade projects around the world for their effectiveness in actually improving trade.  It was one of the few contracts at MSI that involved research, which I loved.  So the last 4 months went quickly.  But finally, I left MSI as it was evident that, for some reason, they were never going to offer me a full-time position.

the boat at msi where i worked from march-august 2009

the boat at MSI where i worked from March-August 2009

I really wanted to live and work abroad.  Though Korea wouldn’t have been my first choice, it was the only country that didn’t require any teaching experience or the TEFL or that you be certified in your home country.  This is why I came to Korea, to get the experience of living abroad, to get the one year of teaching experience and to complete my TEFL while I was here.  I always looked at this as a stepping stone to get to where I really want to go: to the Middle East (or now possibly Turkey).

Overall my life in Korea is a fascinating, challenging, and sometimes difficult and lonely, experience.   Teaching elementary children is not particularly exciting, but the kids are thrilled to have a foreigner in their midst and I’m happy to be the subject of their enthusiasm.  They’re full of energy and sweet and crazy.  But.  Trying to figure out a way to actually teach them to speak English, that is more of the challenge.  It’s frustrating because the children have no place to practice their English except with me, in one or two 40-minute sessions a week.  Outside of school, neither their parents nor their friends speak English.  There are so few foreigners in southern Korea that they still see us as alien creatures.  My friend Kathy thinks that one of the reasons the Korean government imports all of us native English teachers is so people in Korea will get used to seeing foreigners.  As Korea is not much of a tourist destination and it is cut off physically from the rest of the world, it is a good way to have foreigners in their midst.  I have no idea if this is true; this is just her theory.  But it makes sense.

chojeon elementary school ~ august 30 ~ crepe myrtles in bloom

chojeon elementary school ~ august 30 ~ crepe myrtles in bloom

In the six months I’ve been here, I’ve struggled to adapt to a culture that in many ways is vastly different from my own, and in other ways is eerily similar.  It’s different in the way the people are.  When I happen upon the few Koreans who speak some English, I find them very friendly.  They’ll do anything for you; they’ll invite you to their homes, to dinner, to church.  But for the vast majority who don’t speak English, they don’t make any attempt at eye contact or any kind of approach at all.  I live near Keimyung University, where college students roam the streets until all hours.  I know these kids have only recently graduated from a public school system that has taught them English for at least 15 years, yet they all claim to know no English.  If I stop on the street and ask someone for directions or if I have any question, they wave me off, say, No English!  They are afraid to speak it because they never get a chance to practice.  I understand this perfectly, since I have studied a number of foreign languages and am afraid to speak any of them.  But it makes a foreigner’s life here difficult…and lonely.

julie & coffee-j, my korean co-teachers

julie & coffee-j, my korean co-teachers

Granted, much of this is my own fault for not making more of an attempt to learn Korean.  I should do this, and I do intend to work harder at it in the next 6 months.

There are a lot of differences that I find difficult to ignore.  Koreans don’t believe in standing in line.  They will shove their way into any place, metro, stairs, ticket offices, toilets, ignoring any semblance of a queue.  There are rarely trash cans evident, so people just toss their trash on the street.  People spit.  Young couples wear matching shirts, sometimes whole matching outfits.  Ajumas are always glaring at you or even yelling at you for reasons you can’t understand.  People, children and adults alike, touch the hair on your head or the hair on your arms;  they will comment on your appearance as if you asked for their opinion.  Recently one of Anna’s co-teachers asked her if she brushes her hair in the mornings.  Anna, who was taken aback, said yes she does.  The co-teacher went on to say, because it looks like in the afternoons, your hair is brushed, but in the mornings it doesn’t.  Korean people eat roots and condiments as if they are real dishes.  They believe every dish has some kind of health benefit.  They believe they are the only country in the world with 4 distinct seasons. They love beef and pork with all the fat still on it (some people love this but I don’t!).  They drive on sidewalks.  They wear sleeves that don’t attach to anything.  They get decked out in elaborate hiking gear to walk in the mountains.  They don’t wear bathing suits at the beach but instead wear a full regalia of clothing, including hats, long sleeves, unattached sleeves, and shoes.  The list could go on forever…..

a buddhist temple in seoul

a buddhist temple in seoul

Oddly, Korea is somehow not so different from America too.  People drive their modern cars (usually Hyundais) down their modern highways to their regular jobs.  They go to church on Sunday or to their Buddhist temples (although I haven’t met many Buddhists).  They love their families and take their kids to the beach, to the huge water parks, or to E-mart for groceries.  They care deeply about their children’s education.  It’s weird, sometimes I forget briefly that I’m even in a foreign country!

So, in a nutshell, here’s what I’ve done my first 6 months.  I’ve explored Daegu. I’ve traveled to Pohang, Busan, Gyeongju, Andong, & Seoul.  I traveled outside of Korea to Turkey.  I’ve connected with some really great foreigners here in Daegu who also teach English in Seongju.  I have two very close Korean girlfriends.  I’ve studied Arabic. I’ve worked on my TEFL.  I am learning, by trial and error, how to teach English as a second language to Korean children.  I have started writing, which is one of my favorite things.  I have been to DVD bangs, noraebangs, and eaten a LOT of Korean food.  I have learned how it feels to be a foreigner; I know now how disoriented and scared and overwhelmed immigrants in America must feel.  I know how it must feel to come to America speaking only Spanish, and not bother to learn English because you have a community of people from your own culture who can speak to you in Spanish; outside of that community, you can get by with what little English you know.  I know what it feels like to be in the minority.

standing near the top of the andong dam in may

standing near the top of the andong dam in may

I’ve learned how to be alone with myself.  That’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned here.  As one of the few older English teachers, in world populated by mostly 20- to 30-something teachers, I am the odd girl out.  I no longer feel like going out partying until all hours of the night.  I’m just no longer into that.  I love hanging out, drinking beer and playing games with my more mature younger friends.  I’ve learned I love being alone and even traveling alone.  I get caught up in writing stuff for myself that not many other people read.  But, it’s important to me all the same.

me at the folk museum in seoul

me at the folk museum in seoul

Finally, how will the next 6 months go?  I have no idea.  I will continue writing as much as possible.  I will finish my TEFL.  I will continue to explore Korea on weekends.  I will visit China in a couple of weeks and hopefully Vietnam & Cambodia over winter break.  I will try to meet my best friend Jayne in India for two weeks on my way home to the U.S. in March, and possibly stop in Turkey again as well.  I will continue to go to church and I will do a Buddhist temple stay or two. I will try to go hiking in Korea’s endless array of mountains, filled with temples and Buddha statues and many other unknown treasures.

I am losing hope of finding any romance here in Korea, but I will keep my heart open, just in case.  And I will continue to read my books, filling my head with crazy notions that will guide my life into places unexpected and surprising.

Friday, April 30:  Today, the fourth and fifth grade classes at Chojeon Elementary School go on a field trip to Daejeon to visit the National Science Museum.

The National Science Museum is a museum which studies and exhibits scientific materials. At its center is the Astronomical Hall, which is the largest dome in Korea. From here you can vividly see the phenomenon of the celestial sphere and the human development of space.  It re-creates a night sky.

the kids line up at Chojeon Elementary School

the kids line up at Chojeon Elementary School

one of my favorite little students

one of my favorite little students

There are exhibits featuring about 4,000 items based on nature and natural science at the Permanent Exhibit Hall. There are also exhibit halls featuring Korean nature, weapons, and folk musical instruments. You can see the stages of collecting energy from nature, and its use in transportation. Outside the Hall is Cheomseongdae, a weather evaluating machine from the Goryeo period; models of plant-eating dinosaurs; and a steam engine. The exhibits help to easily understand the theories of science, and the wonders of nature (Official Site of Korea Tourism: National Science Museum).

the National Science Museum in Daejeon

the National Science Museum in Daejeon

Mr. Son

Mr. Son, the 5th grade teacher at Chojeon

the two 4th grade teachers: Coffee J on the right.

the two 4th grade teachers: Coffee J on the right.

4th and 5th graders

4th and 5th graders

Mr. Son on the right

Mr. Son on the right

the National Science Museum

the National Science Museum

me with some of my students

me with some of my students

the ubiquitous peace sign

the ubiquitous peace sign

fun-loving boys

fun-loving boys

more cute boys

more cute boys

and some of the girls

and some of the girls

inside the Science Museum.  The human body unveiled....

inside the Science Museum. The human body unveiled….

muscles of the human body

muscles of the human body

a human on a bicycle

a human on a bicycle

... and another cut in half

… and another cut in half

a bubble show

a bubble show

more bubbles

more bubbles

tiny bubbles

tiny bubbles

and big bubbles

and big bubbles

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… 🙂

Thursday, April 1:  My friend Kathy may be in danger of becoming a Korean.  Another native English teacher in the lovely “yellow melon” county of Seongju, she teaches at the boys’ middle school.  She’s in-the-know about Korean life because she’s been here a year longer than us newcomers.  She opted to renew her contract with EPIK (English Program in Korea), and now she’s truly settling in.  She made the leap to becoming a true resident by purchasing a car, a Daewoo Matiz, a 5-door hatchback “city car.”  Some people call it a disposable car.  It’s truly inexpensive, about 1.4 million Won, or about $1,200.  She named the car Lucy.  If she becomes Korean, she may have to change her name to the Korean style, with family name first.  She’ll become Daegu Kathy and her little car will be Daegu Lucy Matiz.

The Matiz and Kathy

The Matiz and Kathy

It appears to be a tiny vehicle on first view, from the outside, but inside it’s perfectly roomy.  Surprisingly, it even feels safe at high speeds on the highway.   It has a GPS that Kathy turns on only when we’re on our way back to Daegu, since the system is in Korean only and she doesn’t know how to program it for anywhere but home.

Kathy is a funny girl.  She is one of the most open and blunt people I’ve ever met.  She doesn’t mind telling anybody about her failed career endeavors, and refreshingly, she makes fun of herself in the telling.  When I listen to her, I feel that I might have had an identical or parallel life, except I’m not as artistic as she is, and I was lucky enough to have a husband who supported me financially through all my failed career attempts.  She hasn’t been married, so she has soldiered through by her own sheer will and with the help of  family and friends.  She told me a story once about a radio program she thoroughly botched that led to end of her radio career, and she makes it a funny story, although I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time.

Kathy and Cathy at Hard Rock Cafe for Poker night

Kathy and Cathy at Hard Rock Cafe for Poker night

She’s a photographer and a writer, and a radio and TV show producer.  She’s also an English teacher in Korea.  But she has aspirations to succeed at these former pursuits, to have an artist’s studio/loft in L.A., to produce TV and radio shows, to exhibit her photography, to publish books.  She periodically suffers setbacks to her dreams.  On her recent vacation to Bangkok, she was in a taxi with her very expensive camera and lenses in tow.  When she went to pay the taxi driver, she reached into her bag to get more money, setting aside the camera.  Then she jumped out of the cab, and the taxi drove away.  She tells how she got on the elevator in her hotel, and just as the doors closed, she realized she left her camera in the taxi.  Thousands of dollars gone, just like that.

She’s gone through periods where she did Bikram yoga religiously, others where she meditated an hour or more each day.  She wears a cross because she believes it keeps her safe.  She believes in miracles and for asking the universe very clearly for what you want in life.  She inspired me to write a list of the things I want in my life, and I look at it, sometimes revising it, every night before I go to sleep.  She encourages me to frame things in a more positive way, to avoid saying negative things.  I’m trying, though not always succeeding…..

She was worried about driving in Korea because Koreans are crazy drivers.  She discovered one day that when she flipped off another driver, he immediately backed off.  So, we decided she should get a rubber hand with a bobbing middle finger (like those dogs with the bobbing heads) and attach it to the hood of her car.  That way she can make a statement wherever she drives.

Kathy is kind-hearted and tries to look out for us by planning social events such as coffee shop Boggle, Poker night at Hard Rock, movie nights, dinners out, etc.  I’m sure sometimes she feels unappreciated, as Myrna and I are often homebodies and don’t always jump on board with her plans.  Hopefully, she’ll forgive my lazy tendencies….  and you will read more about our continuing adventures in Daegu Lucy Matiz……

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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