Tag Archive: 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.  🙂

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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, July 21: Today I leave for Turkey.  It will be a long trip.  Mr. O told me yesterday afternoon that the principal at Byeokjin said I could take the day off today!! Then the guy from customs called from Incheon and told me I could pick up my package at the airport today for a steep customs duty of 72,000 won!!  Since I have the day off, I’ll take a bus to Incheon at 1:00, get there at 5:20, pick up the box, then wait around at the airport till my flight leaves at 11:55 pm!  Last night, Kathy was so sweet and picked up my bus ticket for me at Dongdaegu… I would have had to do that myself if she hadn’t done this.  I owe her so much for this favor, which took a big burden off of me!  Anyway, today it no longer feels like things are conspiring against me in my trip. 🙂

Tuesday, July 20: Why is it that when you’re getting ready to travel it seems everything is conspiring against you?  It’s just like the process of buying a house; people who have gone through purchasing a home say they feel like they will never go to closing.  Today, I was expecting a package from home which contained a debit card to replace mine that has expired.  The box also had some things I really needed for vacation that I wasn’t able to find here in Korea.  The package didn’t come because they held it up in customs in the Incheon Airport in Seoul.  I have had three other packages from home (none of which was urgent) and they have never held one up before!  I will be in Seoul at Incheon tomorrow, but the place is not right at the airport and I will be pressed for time.  So the package and I will pass each other going in opposite directions tomorrow!   In addition, I worked hard to prepare for all my summer camps so I would be ready upon my return home to dive right in; suddenly today one of my co-teachers told me one of the lesson plans (which I was told had to be a 40-minute plan) should be 3 hours long!!  So now, when I return, I will be stressed right away trying to complete two more lesson plans.  Then my friend Jayne writes me from England to tell me that Turkish airplane companies are going bankrupt and stranded Brits are having to pay double to get out.  Why, why, why?  Ok, this is where I need to learn to BREATHE ^o^……

We went to Sydney to celebrate Ben’s birthday tonight, but I left early because I ate too much cake and felt incredibly fat!!

Lillian & Ben at Ben's birthday celebration at Sydney St.

Lillian & Ben at Ben’s birthday celebration at Sydney St.

Xee, me, Seth & Anna at Ben's b-day

Xee, me, Seth & Anna at Ben’s b-day

Seth & Anna at Ben's birthday party

Seth & Anna at Ben’s birthday party

Monday, July 19: Winding down the first semester at school.  Today was my last official day of classes.  I played Jeopardy and Hangman with the kids:-)

Sunday, July 18: For the first time since I’ve been in Korea, I was able to talk by Skype to my friend Ed from the State Department back home.   He’s a foreign service officer and is applying now for his next post abroad.  We share a love of foreign lands, and a common experience at the State Department ~ I was in charge of the UN delegation to the 2007 Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis (& he was in charge of the Africa delegation) …. We so wanted to share a bottle of wine, but as it was midday for me, I couldn’t imbibe…  I had to pack for my trip:-)

Saturday, July 17: I went with Kathy to Sugar Joe’s, a laid-back bar near Kyungbook University’s North Gate, where we chatted and  listed to live music by Akooztik Coxwell.  I’m so happy to have found this place, recommended by Kate, an English teacher at the university, who I met while having my hair straightened at Frigo.

Friday, July 16: Chojeon Elementary students went on a field trip to SpaValley, a huge theme spa with a water park, bade pool, hot spring, & steam room.  The place was inundated with screaming and squealing kids.  The teachers were relegated to the cafeteria, but I basked for an hour in the hot tub and sauna.  Later we went to the Daegu National Museum, where the kids did all kinds of hands-on activities.  Meanwhile, since I had no duties, I finished my excellent book, The Piano Teacher, and dreamed of Hong Kong!

on the bus to SpaValley ~ the Chojeon 4th graders

on the bus to SpaValley ~ the Chojeon 4th graders

this little girl brought a whole suitcase of snacks

this little girl brought a whole suitcase of snacks

My 4th grade students

My 4th grade students

the back-of-the-bus gang

the back-of-the-bus gang

Heading into the Daegu National Museum with one of my co-teachers

Heading into the Daegu National Museum with one of my co-teachers

me in the entrance to the Daegu National Museum

me in the entrance to the Daegu National Museum

Thursday, July 15: ~~This afternoon was one of my loveliest here in Korea.  My friend Julie, who is my Korean English co-teacher at both of my schools, took me to her hometown of Wegwan for samgye tang, a ginseng chicken soup: a game hen-size chicken, stuffed with jujube (Asian date) garlic, persimmon, and glutinous rice.  Julie says it’s an “oriental medicine soup” and is often eaten in summer to lessen the effects of the heat.  Before dinner, she insisted on stopping at her local hospital so I could get physical therapy on my knee (since I hurt it recently at yoga!!).  We waited about 10 minutes, I paid about $3.50, and then had an hour of various heat treatments, suction cups, and exercise, which, miraculously made my knee feel a lot better. 🙂  Most amazing was how I felt the whole time with Julie.  She is so easy-going and so sweet.  She made me feel pampered, peaceful and thankful.  I so cherish her friendship and kindness!

Julie Moon and her son at dinner

Julie Moon and her son at dinner

samgye tang ~ yummy:-)

samgye tang ~ yummy:-)

~~Mr. O and I no longer speak to each other during our 45 minute commute.  I guess this silent treatment came about after I cut him off the 3rd time he tried to tell me how the men eat very spicy dog meat in summer for “stamina.”  Possibly it was after I cut him off when he tried for the 2nd time to have another excrutiatingly painful conversation about Lehman Brothers.  Anyway, it’s funny b/c I wished that he would just stop speaking.  Now he has, but it’s not an amiable silence.  This morning, he started a little passive-aggressive behavior, putting on a very loud English language cassette tape that might help him improve his English.  I suppose he was hoping conversations with me might help him.  Listening to this English tape, I now know where he got the expression he uses constantly with me: “Have you got it?”

Wednesday, July 14: I take my shower in the dreaded Korean style sink-shower: a portable shower head over the sink.  The water drains partially into the sink and the overflow into a hole in the floor.  Oh how I miss my baths!!

the Korean style sink-shower in my bathroom

the Korean style sink-shower in my bathroom

Tuesday, July 13: In U.S. schools, teachers are never to touch students.  Here, that rule is a little murky…  In fact, the children seem to have no concept of personal space.  Today, in the 10 minute break between classes, about 9-10 3rd graders crowded around my desk, telling me their Korean names and asking me to repeat them, & teaching me Korean words for classroom objects.  They cheered and clapped whenever I got it right. I can’t believe they were trying to teach me their names, which I still don’t know after nearly 5 months!!  Why can’t they just use ONE name?? Even in the U.S., I would never remember someone’s 1st, middle and last name!! ~ Meanwhile some of the 10 were playing with my hair, rubbing my arms, and touching my clothes.  I’m always taken aback by this…I feel like I should push them away and say Don’t touch!  As a Westerner, to me it’s very strange.  But is it to them?  It seems like a natural part of their culture.  I kind of wish we weren’t so uptight about this kind of thing in the U.S.  All over Korea, you see on the streets girls holding hands, boys holding hands.  Hmmm… don’t know quite what to make of this….

Monday, July 12: A night at Sydney St. Pub to celebrate Kathy D’s mother’s birthday.  Her mom bought a bunch of visors to take back home to her friends.  Reminds me of the countless “ajuma parmas” (old ladies with dyed-black hair and permanents) I see on the streets ~ they wear these atrocious visors, as do the middle-aged women.  Yikes!  It’s scary 🙂

Kathy, Seth, Patrick, me, and the birthday girl, Kathy's mom at Sydney St.

Kathy, Seth, Patrick, me, and the birthday girl, Kathy’s mom at Sydney St.

Anna and me

Anna and me

Kathy's mother and Kathy

Kathy’s mother and Kathy

Sunday, July 11: At Agape Church, where I have become a regular, my friend Maurice, a Kenyan theological student, encouraged me to fill out a membership card.  I did.  Little did I know I would have to stand and be introduced later in the service.  The choir sang a welcome song to me, hands outstretched & palms open.  Wow!!  In the sermon, the preacher encouraged us to have a “heart of evangelism;”  for an example of how lost souls need the gospel in their lives, he told the story of a person who cut her tongue with scissors.  Very upsetting…. According to an Economist article dated July 8, 2010: “The never-ending push for achievement [in Korea], however, also has a dark side: depression is a serious problem, and the recorded suicide rate—around 22 per 100,000 people—is the highest in the OECD.”  I see this push for achievement evident in the schools, where students spend countless hours in study….sadly kids can’t be kids in Korea. 😦

Saturday, July 10: A fruitless day of shopping in Daegu.  I am continually amazed at the ugliest array of clothing on the planet.  The salespeople stay on you like flies on fruitcake.  They have no concept of “I’m just looking!”

Friday, July 9: Coffee J told me about Jesa, a type of family reunion in honor of dead ancestors.  The entire family meets once a year in memory of the death of a grandparent.  This celebration can apply to as many as 5 generations ~ that’s a lot of family reunions (!!);  it’s an assured way for the family to keep in close contact. I like this – something like the Day of the Dead in Mexico.  We need something like this in the US!

Thursday, July 8: While walking to Sydney St. for a couple of beers, I was almost run over by a guy on a motorcycle driving on the sidewalk, as they always do.  He had a stack of business cards in one hand and was flicking them onto the pavement as he careened along.  Everyday, the shopkeepers must come out and sweep up all the business cards that have been strewn on the street by countless motorcycle-riding advertisers.  I wonder if anyone ever goes along the street and thinks: Wow! I must pick up one of these business cards so I can do business at this place!!

Wednesday, July 7: At the street crossing, I am yelled at by one of the ajumas who stands there every morning with a flag, giving pedestrians the okay to cross the street (…as if the walk signal isn’t enough!)  These ajumas wear yellow sashes, huge ugly visors or hats, masks, long sleeves, and gloves even in the heat of summer.  She yelled at me in Korean because at the Keimyung Gate I never wait for the walk signal and just cross.  There’s NEVER any traffic at that hour going into the university!!  I just ignored her.

A self-appointed police "ajuma parma" at the Keimyung University East Gate

A self-appointed police “ajuma parma” at the Keimyung University East Gate

Tuesday, July 6: My Korean English co-teacher, Julie, and I split up the third grade class we have on Tuesdays because there are 29 of them and they are a bunch of hooligans!!  However, we found that when the teacher split the class in two, she happened to put all the rowdiest kids in one group and the best-behaved kids in the other.  We have now dubbed the two groups: “OH MY GOD!” and “OH MY GOOD!”

Monday, July 5: At yoga tonight, the instructor has us doing an extensive array of kneeling exercises.  I can feel my knee crack, but do I heed the sound? No…. and now I think I may have set myself back by months on the healing of my knee!  And this right before my vacation to Turkey…..

Sunday, July 4: Ben makes tacos and Seth, Anna, Xee, and I go to Duryu Park for a 4th of July picnic.  Then we go to Camp Walker in Daegu to watch some pretty pathetic fireworks.  Anna and I both comment that there are some rough-looking dudes on the army base and Seth says it’s the first time in Korea he’s felt like someone might pick a fight with him.  ~ Earlier in the day, I went to the hospital to visit Kathy and had to make my way through throngs of hospital-gown-clad patients walking aboEditut outdoors dragging along their urine and IV bags; some were smoking!  I felt like I was in the midst of a bunch of hospital escapees…. 🙂

Xee, Seth, Ben and me at Duryu Park, 4th of July

Xee, Seth, Ben and me at Duryu Park, 4th of July

Coronas on 4th of July

Coronas on 4th of July

Xee, me and Anna at Duryu Park

Xee, me and Anna at Duryu Park

Duryu Park

Duryu Park

Ben and Anna

Ben and Anna

Xee at Camp Walker

Xee at Camp Walker

Fireworks at Camp Walker

Fireworks at Camp Walker

The fireworks at Camp Walker, an army base in Daegu

The fireworks at Camp Walker, an army base in Daegu

Saturday, July 3: My first haircut in Korea.  It took me about 2 hours to find a hair stylist who was recommended to me.  When I found him, he told me I could come back at 3:30 (it was 1:00).  I found another place I heard did hair-straightening, Frigo, so I figured I could get my hair straightened and then go back to the 1st guy for the haircut.  I spent the next 4 hours having my hair straightened, then I went ahead and had them cut it (since I missed the first appointment).  The whole process cost me 65,000 Won, or about $58!

Friday, July 2: At Chojeon Elementary, there is only one throne-type toilet, and it happens to be in the men’s bathroom.  I use it unabashedly.  When Coffee J first asked me why I used the men’s room, I said because women are built to sit.  Men stand; this toilet should be in the women’s room!!  Now, none of the adults say anything, but when the kids see me go in there, they love to pound on the door and run away; sometimes they turn the light off from outside, leaving me in the dark!  I don’t care… I steadfastly continue to do what I must do:-)  I will only use the ubiquitous squat toilets when there is no other choice and I am absolutely desperate!!

This evening we meet at Seth and Anna’s house for dinner and a Bible study.

Anna, Seth, Maurice, me and ??

Anna, Seth, Maurice, me and ??

me, Anna and ??

me, Anna and ??

Thursday, July 1: Kim, the Korean 1st grade teacher at Byeokjin, today tells me that she wants to take me to her favorite hair stylist to have my hair cut.  This hairstylist will apparently recommend the best cut for my hair and face. Then she mentions she notices that I never wear makeup.  (I do!) This is so typical for Koreans to comment about your appearance, even if it’s derogatory.

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.

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… 🙂

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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