Monday, December 21, 2009

New Books

Recently, here at Dongbu Elementary School, my co-teacher and I were given a stipend with which to buy some materials for the English classroom. On the top of both of our lists was books. So we ordered a collection of traditional western and Korean fairy tales written in English, with accompanying animated DVDs. While the western books were familiar titles to me (Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.), the Korean books were, for me, a little peek into the childhood of Koreans.

I was intrigued by titles such as "Rabbit's Liver," "Return Kindness, Toad," and "Golden Dung Cat." But still one book aroused my interest above all the others.

And so, without further ado, I'd like to share with you one of my new favorite Korean traditional stories:

Thunder Farting Daughter-in-Law
A long time ago, there lived a good hearted daughter-in-law. But as time went by, she got so lean. Mr. Kim worried, and asked, "Are you okay? Are you sick?"

His daughter-in-law's face turned red and answered, "I've never farted. That's why." Her father-in-law listened and laughed.

"Baby, just fart!"

"My fart is so strong," she said. "So father, hold on tightly to the door handle."
Mr. Kim held it like his daughter-in-law said.

'Pop, Pop, Pop' it was like thunder! Alarmed, Mr. Kim got angry and drove her out. The daughter-in-law met nine silk traders under the persimmon trees. The silk traders wanted to eat the delicious persimmons. But they were too high in the tree, so they could not pick them. The daughter-in-law said she would pick the fruit for them.
"If you pick the persimmon, I'll give you all the silk and donkeys," one silk trader said.
The daughter-in-law farted as hard as she could under the persimmon tree.


The sound of the fart made the fruit fall down. The daughter-in-law got silk and donkeys. Her husband had followed her and saw the whole thing.

"The ability to fart like thunder is so useful! Let's go home together," he said.

Mr. Kim listened to the story and danced with joy.

"My daughter-in-law's fart is the gold!"

The End

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ping Pong

For the past two weeks, Dongbu Elementary School students in grades 4-6 have been involved in an epic ping pong battle royale.

Mr. Choi, explaining the delicate nature of the competition.Split into two divisions (boys and girls) students initially took on their own classmates, but the championship round will pit the two best of each gender against each other, regardless of grade.
Mr. Choi, my main co-teacher and Korean best friend, explains how to kick some ping pong butt!

This week marks the lead up to the final round, and every student at Dongbu is gritting their teeth in anticipation. "WHO WILL WIN?" I hear them muttering at lunch. For you see--the winners walk away with a 10,000 won gift certificate that can be used at a variety of online vendors as well as brick and mortar book stores.As is the way of things--to the victor go the spoils. And for the defeated, only humiliation, isolation, and ridicule await.

I'm not kidding--my kids are really taking it THIS seriously.

Here's a video of the end of one of the matches: >.<
The kid swinging the broom around was charged with the task of keeping people from getting too close to the action, which he took to mean "swat at 4th graders as much as you can."

May the best ping ponger win!

A Student Letter

Today as I was walking through the halls of Youngnam Elemetnary School on my way to my 3rd hour class, I was stopped by the same little 3rd grade girl who used to resist leaving my classroom until she could tell me, "Teacher, I love you!" and give me a great big hug. She was awestruck for a moment, but then reached out her hands to present me with a handmade envelope, complete with pencil drawn arrow in case I didn't know how to open this strange device.
I told her (in Korean) that I was on my way to a class and couldn't open it just then. She said, "Ok!" and ran down the hall with a smile. But as soon as I got into my next class and started the movie we were watching today, I opened it up as carefully as I could to preserve her sticker-sealing system. Inside was a simple, but endearing note:Thank you, Young-eun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Though I have no photographic or video evidence of it, on Saturday night foreigners from Andong and the surrounding area gathered for a feast of such epic proportions (and portions) that it must have rivaled that of the earliest Thanksgiving dinners. Our friend Alissa, who was blessed with a cavernous, ground-floor apartment, offered her place up to us as a venue. I never thought we would be able to pack 19 people comfortably into one of our tiny Asian apartments, but we did it!

The guest list included almost every EPIK teacher in Andong, plus a hagwon (private English school teacher), and a few EPIKers from out of town. We also had a Brit and an Aussie to share our day with, which marked both of their first Thanksgivings.

Though I had some early fear that the meal would not sufficiently feed the massive turnout, the menu wound up being bountiful and delicious:

-Fresh tossed salad
-Deviled eggs
-Cheese and crackers
-6 Rotisserie chickens (Turkey is a little expensive/difficult to cook here)
-10 lbs of mashed potatoes and gravy
-Turkey gravy and mushroom and onion gravy
-Twice baked potatoes
-Sauteed zucchini and almonds
-Cinnamon and sugar apples
-StoveTop Stuffing
-Dinner rolls
-Fruit Salad
-Steamed broccoli with cheese
-Pumpkin pie
-Pumpkin casserole

It was absolutely a meal fit for kings.

I can't say enough how thankful I am not only for a good job and many great experiences here, but also that I can share it all with so many great friends. Cheers to the Andong crew for making Thanksgiving feel absolutely authentic and reminding me of one of the reasons why I decided to stay for another year.

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hand Turkeys

Bringing Thanksgiving Day to Korea... hand turkey at a time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Visit Korea Year

Since Sara and I arrived in this strange country we now call home, I've been seeing advertisements for "Visit Korea Year." On November 11th, the government finally kicked off the big celebration and began to pump this image into every major outlet they could reach:
Study it for a moment.

Mm hmmm....

You see it too, don't you?

It doesn't take much!


Uh, pardon me, but WHAT? The last time I checked, 2010-2012 was 2 years (or 3, depending on how you interpret the dash). Did I miss a major shift in the practice of how the world counts years? Korea launches a multimillion dollar campaign to encourage foreign (mostly English-speaking) tourists to finally shell out a few thousand bucks and take that vacation to Korea they've been planning since they were little, and the phrase its based on is a glaring mathematical and linguistic error.

I'm sure someone out there has a good explanation for this, but I have yet to hear it. It may have something to do with the lunar calendar (which Koreans follow for many of the dates and events in their daily lives), but the fact of the matter is that the Western world (which they're appealing to) doesn't.

Personally, I think this is just another example of Korea running at full speed to English-ize their country, only to fall flat on their face a quarter of a lap to the finish line. How can a country that spends more money per capita on English Education than any other nation in the world make SUCH a glaring error in this huge multinational campaign? If they're willing to dish out those kinds of bucks, I would gladly take a slice of the pie for the 6.4 seconds it would have taken me to let them know that there's a tiny oversight in their approach.

Alas...I still hope you all come visit Korea during the 24(36?) month year of 2010-2012. There are many great things to experience regardless of how they're publicized.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I refused to let my first Halloween outside of American get dampened simply because I was in a culture that doesn't celebrate it. So I did what any good, Halloween-loving American would have done in my situation--I forced Halloween on my students in an attempt to brainwash them into believing it's the greatest holiday ever.

The students (and, surprisingly, the teachers) were actually fine with my little plan. They were fascinated by this strange holiday where we "dress up like monsters and beg for candy." And so, I promised my students an entire month of Halloween activities. We started slow, by watching a scary movie (The Others) and worked our way up to the arts and crafts. I focused on Halloween during my after school English programs each Monday and Saturday. For the first two weeks of the month we watched The Others and learned about scary movies. The next week we made pumpkins out of strips of paper, thanks to a brilliant idea I found online for mess-free pumpkin carving. I was NOT about to risk the money, time, or mess of having thirty 10-year olds carve pumpkins in my classroom.
At Youngnam, I had the 1st and 2nd graders make pumpkins out of balloons, another clean Jack-o-Lantern method, and then taught them terms about fall and Halloween.
And of course, no Halloween would be complete without trick-or-treating. I told my students to visit me (any time except during a class) on Friday, October 30th and say "Trick or treat!" Weren't they surprised, then, when I wasn't there on the 30th because I found out on the 29th that I would be going to Seoul with the rest of the EPIK teachers in Gyeongbuk. When I returned on Monday, the students were not happy with me. So I promised them that if they came back on Wednesday, I would have their candy. Well--I forgot about it on Wednesday. So I pushed it to Thursday. And FINALLY, on November 5th, my students had their candy. Luckily, since Halloween is nearly meaningless here, they didn't mind the tardiness too much. They cared much more about the results than the practice of getting them.
And so my crusade is put on hold until next October, when I will continue bringing Halloween to conservative Korea--one school kid at a time.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Congratulations to my cousin Chris and his new wife, Abby, who were married yesterday.I wish I could have been there!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hanguk Wedding Day

After jealously listening to many of our friends discuss their trips to Korean Wedding ceremonies, Sara and I were finally invited to one in October. My friend and co-teacher Kim Missuc married her long-time boyfriend on Saturday, October 24th. At first, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to make the wedding for a number of factors. We both had to get up at 7 to teach an English camp from 9:00-12:00 on the Saturday of the wedding, and had to be back Andong by 5 for a triple birthday party featuring Alice, Katie, and Andrew. To add to those troubles, the wedding was to held in a small town called Bonghwa about an hour north of Andong and Sara and I are transportationless.

But of course Koreans would never let things like that stand in the way, and Missuc had lined up a bus from Andong to Bonghwa to send in her friends and family who didn't feel like making the trek on their own. So after literally running to a taxi and speeding home, Sara and I changed our clothes from English camp garb to wedding fare in approximately .73 seconds. We then hopped in another cab to make sure we got to City Hall (the pickup point) by 11:30, when the bus was scheduled to leave. We got there at 11:29, and knew that the day would be OK.

The bus was not quite as "Koreans Gone Wild" as I had imagined a wedding bus to be, but we were handed free snacks, including beer, on the way. It was obvious that Sara and I were quite the spectacle, as people craned their necks and whispered to their seat-mates upon spying our pasty white skin. This led to extreme anxiety for me, as the last thing I wanted to do was take attention away from my friend on her wedding day.

When we arrived, we followed the crowd (all we could do, really) into a sort-of run down building. But on the fourth floor was a rather cute and modern wedding hall.We must have looked lost and fore lorn, because a delicate older woman in a hanbok grabbed us and led us the line where we would turn in our envelope filled with 30,000 won, the standard wedding gift here. We were then ushered into a small room where Missuc sat, glowingly beautiful, in front of a bank of photographers.

Except something was different. She wasn't the quirky, silly, talkative girl I teach with. She was a bride, suddenly elegant and proper. And when she waved us in to say hello and take a picture, we were immediately mobbed with a dozen people taking pictures of Missuc and her foreign friends. I handed my camera to the professional photographer there, but this was the best picture he could take with my point-and-shoot:
When we were finally able to leave the barrage of flashes and whispers, we nestled quietly into the back of the wedding hall to await the ceremony. As there weren't enough chairs for everyone, we took it upon ourselves to stand. When Sara and I turned around, we realized that 10 members of what looked like special ops were standing behind us.
We never really got a clear explanation for why they were there, but we figured it had something to do with Missuc's hubby's army days. The ceremony started soon after.To the dismay of many people, I'm sure, I am not going to go into great detail about the ceremony itself. For one, it was almost identical in many ways to an American wedding, except that many of the elements that would be held during the reception at home are done during the ceremony here. The bouquet was thrown, speeches given, and mothers honored, all during the 30 minute ceremony. In case you're wondering, they did NOT kiss during this ceremony, but I don't know if that's standard in Korea or not.

I will go into detail about the end of the ceremony, which was both hilarious and interesting. On their way out, Missuc and her new husband were stopped by each pair of guards they passed.Each pair chanted a command at them that they had to complete before they could move on. It started small, with hugs and kisses on the forehead. But my favorite was when both the bride and groom had to take one of the groom's shoes and head to the opposite family to beg for money. The person who gathered more money was the winner. I'm not sure who won, but I would bet it was Missuc. That girl's got charisma.

After this, there were about 20 minutes of pictures of all sorts, several of which Sara and I were invited to participate in.If I can get my hands on one of the professional pictures, I will surely post it.

After this was, of course, the buffet lunch. We headed upstairs to find a GIANT hall filled with tables, food, soju, beer, and hungry guests.Sara and I each filled a plate and headed to a corner where we wouldn't be as obviously noticed. Unlike American weddings, there was no dancing, no DJ, and no hoopla during this portion of the afternoon. It was simple lunch, and then the wedding was officially over. The wedding started at 1, and by 3 o'clock Sara and I were gearing up to head back home.

Afraid we would not make it back to Andong in time for our birthday party, we decided to buy a ticket for the intercity bus, rather than wait for Missuc's wedding bus to leave. Much to our dismay, I got a call from Missuc about 10 minutes after we bought our tickets (and 40 minutes before the bus left) that her private bus was leaving soon, and we were invited on it. Since we had already bought our tickets we decided to just go on the intercity bus. We walked around the town of Bonghwa for a few minutes (which was all it took to see most of this tiny villa in the countryside), then headed back to the bus terminal.

We immediately spied our bus (with Andong written on the front) and boarded, even though it wasn't leaving for about 15 minutes. I showed our tickets to the driver, who waved us back, and then immediately started backing out.



Yep--you guessed it--wrong bus. About 10 minutes in, a nice woman asked us where we were going and we told her Andong. She smiled politely and told us that we were not going to Andong. After a brief panic attack, we learned that we were headed to Chunyang, a town even smaller than Bonghwa and another 30 minutes north. Sara and I briefly butted heads as she was feeling sick and I was pissed off, but then made a joke or two and made the best of a bad (or at least inconvenient) situation. We walked around and discovered a surprisingly charming little town nestled in the Korean hillside.The next bus to Andong didn't leave for almost two hours, so we had no choice but to look around a bit.In addition to a peaceful setting in the mountains, Chunyang also had an oddly placed, brand new walking bridge complete with artsy tree sculptures.It also had a market that went on for days, considering the size of the town.And once we had gotten our fill of Chunyang, we headed back to the bus terminal, had a quick photo shoot with some middle school girls, and headed back onto the same bus that had led us astray in the first place to go back to Andong once-and-for-all. We pulled into Andong with just enough time to run to meet our friends for their party. And as a long day stretched into a long night, Sara and I partied hardy with our friends--all while dressed in a full suit and dress.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And the leaves that are green...

This weekend I will have a few more extensive updates for you, but for now I wanted to show how rapidly the colors are changing here in Korea. This is the view from my classroom windows last week.
And this week.You can click the images for more detail. Fall is certainly beautiful when you're surrounded by mountains of trees!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Visiting the Capital of the Silla Kingdom

Long before there was Korea there were three different kingdoms in the region that the North and South Koreans now call home: The Goguryeo to the north, the Baekje to the southwest, and the Silla (pronounced she-lah), which existed from 57 BC - 935 AD, in the middle. Lucky for us, the capital of the Silla, Gyeongju, is a thriving city about 2 hours away from Andong. Even luckier, Sara and I were sent there for a conference on co-teaching last weekend. And I will never turn down a some-expenses-paid vacation.

The conference was fun, but nothing special. It was very similar to orientation in many ways, except that I was able to be there with my co-teacher, which was more fun than helpful. It's good to teach with someone you can call your friend, and not just a colleague. For more details on the conference itself, see Sara's blog ( The conference itself lasted a mere day and a half until Friday afternoon, so Sara and I, along with our good friend Katie, decided to stay in Gyeongju for the remainder of the weekend.

Everything in Korea is old, but Gyeongju is really old. And it's obvious. But it certainly hasn't escaped modernization. For example, outside of our conference hotel room was a view of the stunning Gyeongju Tower, an observation tower in the middle of the Gyeongju Cultural Expo Center.

Though we didn't get to go up in it this time around, it was still cool to see.

While downtown Gyeongju looks basically like every other city in Korea, the one thing that is stunningly unique about this place is the mounds. Oh boy do they have mounds.And mounds.Mounds and mounds of mounds.

What are these oddly shaped hills you say? They are the tombs of literally hundreds of Silla Kingdom kings, queens, and dignitaries. And they were EVERYWHERE. You could not turn a corner in Gyeongju without stumbling head over heals into a giant heap of tombs. Some are more culturally important than others, but they are all equally impressive. What's more, it was all me, Sara, and our friend Katie (pictured above) could do to not run up them and roll down like giddy 4th graders.

Aside from the mounds of kings, there were also mounds with trees.Mounds you could go in.
And mounds you couldn't.
The ones above are the tombs of the founder and first king of the Silla Kingdom as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th kings of the Silla Kingdom. No word on where the 4th king ended up, but in Korea, if they don't talk about it, it can't be pretty.

After Sara, Katie and I were finished investigating all of the tombs, our friend Andrew showed up and we all rented bikes, a popular way to travel around Gyeongju.Our first stop was to Gyeongju's national museum, which was small and unimpressive, but entrance was free so I can't complain. The buildings were certainly cool.
It was also fully equipped for the handicapped, old, and WEAK. I was pretty tired from all that biking. Does that count?After that we stopped off at Anapji pond, which is a man made pond formerly used as a leisure spot by the Silla royalty. Like nearly every important, historical, and beautiful building in Korea, most of the buildings there were destroyed long ago by numerous invasions by the Japanese.
After a long day of biking, we sampled one of the other fine things Gyeongju has going for it.You can sit at home and talk about how you could live without McDonald's all you want, but spend 7 months of your life without a hint of authentic western food, let alone a decent cheeseburger, and then we'll talk. I had McDonald's 3 times in the span of two days, and I don't regret it one bit. My only regret is that we didn't get to visit the Gyeongju KFC.

On our last day in town, Andrew, Katie, Sara and I decided to trek out to the must-not-miss Bulkuksa Temple and Seokguram. The former is considered the No. 1 historical and scenic site in Korea by the Korean government. It was certainly beautiful and scenic, but it was also marred by more tourists than I've seen anywhere in Korea.
The temple wasn't terribly different from many others I've seen before, including in Andong, but it was nestled nicely into a mountain, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And while there were a lot of people (including screaming children) it was still a peaceful and beautiful place to spend the afternoon.
It was especially nice to see it in the fall, since all of the leaves in Korea are now bursting into full color.
Our last stop, Seokguram, is a very old Buddhist grotto which contains an enormous statue of Buddha built into the mountain. Built in the 8th century, it has stood the test of time and now stands as a great monument to Buddhist culture in Korea and around the world. Since we aren't allowed to take pictures of the actual Buddha, I am borrowing this picture from Wikipedia to give you a good view.

Upon leaving the grotto, visitors are met with a spectacular view of the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which was a great site to see right before leaving Gyeongju. It is a good reminder for me that I need to return to this beautiful city.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When's the Made for TV Movie?

I was recently asked some questions by a reporter named Lynn Dill back home to have a story put in the local Crete newspaper about coming to Korea. Now I'm front page news on the news group's website! Big money!!! Check out Russell Publication's to read the story.

Many thanks to Lynn, who wrote a fantastic article!

UPDATE Oct 10th: I fixed the link. You should be able to read the article now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Kid

We got a new student in 6th grade a few weeks ago who is absolutely stellar in English. He attended the Daegu English Village, a very good English program in nearby Daegu, before coming to Andong. But whenever you get a new student, you worry about them fitting in. So I was naturally concerned when we did the comparisons lesson and our new student, Minho, at barely 4 feet tall and maybe 65 pounds dripping wet, was paired with our sumo-wrestler 6th grader, Taeyong, to write 3 comparisons sentences about each other. At the end of class, each pair was instructed to come and read me their three sentences.

"I am taller than Minho. I am bigger than Minho. I am stronger than Minho."

Minho (slightly bored with the remedial-for-him activity):
"I am shorter than Taeyong. I am weaker than Taeyong. I am smarter than my whole class."

I think he'll be OK.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tacos and Wii with my favorite Koreans!

Last week, Sara and I invited two of my coworkers over for some Wii and to introduce them to the wonderful world of Mexican food. Choi Hyeon-beom, who've I've spoken about before, is my main co-teacher and the 6th grade teacher. Park Nam-yeon teaches 5th grade at Dongbu, and while I don't teach with her, she is the closest in age to me and Sara at my school, so we hit it off well.

Everyone adored the tacos...I mean how can anyone not? They were quite delicious, and thank to mom for bringing me the tortillas and taco seasoning, without which we would have been sunk. It was quite an adventure explaining everything from the name to the preparation and just exactly how to eat something that I've been enjoying since my youth.

Afterward, we introduced them to the Nintendo Wii. Koreans know all about the Wii, but few people own one because of the focus on PC-based games instead of console games (Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox) here. While it's always fun having new people over to play the Wii, it was somehow even more fun to watch uber-athletic Koreans take on the system.
Even ping-pong was a serious matter.

And of course, as beginner's luck runs rampant on Wii, Nam-yeon beat the tar out of Sara...and all of us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What the heck is that thing?

Last week this equipment showed up in my room for "air quality testing" a.k.a. H1N1 testing.I'm not saying that foreigners are being singled out in the hunt for the flu, but I will note that my room was the only one tested because, "many students go there." I guess the lunchroom doesn't fit that criteria.

Good news though: Dongbu English World is a flu-free zone!