Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dongbu Summer English Camp

In addition to the weekly English camps that I teach at Dongbu Elementary, most schools in Korea also set up week-long summer English camps. Dongbu is no exception. For the past week, Sara and I spent the mornings at Dongbu with two select groups of students. The lessons are still focused on learning English, but as teachers we are no longer bound in any way to the textbook, which makes the camps more free and fun. Here, I will highlight two of the activities we did this week.

Watching the Eclipse
As I'm sure many of you have seen from Sara's blog and heard in the news, we were privy to the longest total solar eclipse for the next 120 odd years. Where we were in Andong, it reached about 75% total darkness, but the entire experience was incredible cool none-the-less. After explaining to my kids the term "solar eclipse" (ilshik in Korean), I warned them heavily not to to look at the eclipse directly, but to look through the special viewing devices we had. I also showed the kids how to make a pinhole eclipse viewer, which they found quite interesting.

Minji, one of my fourth graders, thought the entire experience was especially fun.

It was a surreal experience seeing my students watch a solar eclipse. I couldn't help but reminisce about when I was in elementary school and there was a total eclipse during the day in the US. All the kids at Balmoral went outside to watch it, and I remember distinctly being too awestruck to speak.

At first, my English camp students were just being their same, rowdy, fun-loving, excited-to-be-outside selves, but when the daylight started to dim, and they began to stare, mesmerized up into the day sky through doubled over pieces of film strip, I noted that some things are truly universal. Bewilderment and amazement at the wonders of the natural world is one of them.

After the eclipse had passed and we all returned to Earth, we paused for a photo op.
Cooking Class
Both mine and Sara's classes had a cooking class during the week. She and Hyeon-beom made sandwiches and punch, while I was a little more than surprised when Missuc showed up with a recipe and ingredients for fried bean curd sushi. In truth, it wasn't nearly as difficult a recipe as it sounded, and the kids had a great time.The students had a blast, the sushi was quite delicious, and my two co-teachers and I acted as judges in a very serious cooking competition. Since the students' results all tasted basically the same, we awarded top prize to presentation. The girls presented me with this lovely piece of art ("It's Mr. Williams!"), but first place still went to the boys who created a forest out of their parsley.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


As of last Thursday, I am the luckiest man in the world, because I have been considered a VIP to one Ms. Sara Long for 2 years. To celebrate our anniversary, I took Sara to Juwangsan National Park. We spent Saturday night in Chungseong, the small town near the national park, where we relaxed, ate pizza, and watched TV in our luxurious motel room. (It really was pretty nice, I'm not just being sarcastic!)

The next morning, we packed up what little we brought, put on our hiking boots, and headed off to the park for a day of hiking.

As should be expected this month in Korea, it rained about 65% of the day, but there's something about this park that makes that okay. There are rivers, waterfalls, ponds, and creeks everywhere, and somehow the rain falling on the canopy above us was more soothing and fitting than obnoxious. By the end of the day we were soaked, dirty, exhausted, and thoroughly fulfilled. Juwangsan is breathtakingly beautiful, and a great place to get some exercise and get away from the hustle and bustle of Korean cities. Since I'm sure Sara will give you all beautiful pictures and a description to match, I'll just let my camcorder speak for me. Here's a video of the beautiful Juwangsan National Park. I have intentionally left the audio in so you can hear the same serenity we were privy to.

Friday, July 10, 2009

An Open Letter to My Readers

Hi everybody!

Sara and I both recently entered our blogs in a contest which awards travel money to English-language blogs about Korea. The reason I'm telling all of you this is that the awards are judged as much on the merit of your blog as they are by the number of followers and comments you have. So I would like to request two things:

1) If you read my blog regularly, but have not become a follower, please click on the "Follow" link to the left and create an account. (If you use Gmail, AIM, or Yahoo you just need to sign in.) After clicking the "Follow" button, click on "Create a new google account" and follow the instructions there. It's very easy to do!

2) If you've already decided to follow, leave me comments! Under each post there is a link that says "Comments." If you click it, you can read what others are saying and make comments of your own. Aside from boosting my numbers for the contest, you can also tell me what you think of my writing so far and give me ideas for future posts.

I hope you've all been enjoying reading about my adventures as much as I've enjoyed living them. I wish I could bring you all here with me and show you the many wonderful things Korea has to offer.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just Another Day in Korea

The Fourth of July really sneaked up on us expats. The Thursday before American Independence Day, we all started to realize that the day was about the pass us by, with the foreigners just going along with the flow. It is strange celebrating a national holiday in another country. You want everyone around you to care about it, and to ask you about it, but why should they? It isn't their country, and it's not the appropriate time for them to be interested or excited. So we had to come together as a group and have a Fourth of July extravaganza to remind us all where we come from.

Sara and I decided to host the event on our roof, which apparently caught our landlord's attention since he came up to see what the hoopla was. Luckily, he saw we were causing no harm and allowed the festivities to continue. He is a really nice guy.
We scoured the town for everything we could find to make the event truly American. We had hot dogs (in dinner rolls), hamburgers (in sliced bread), potato salad, pasta salad, chips, beer, watermelon, pop, and cheesecake. Our roof truly was American territory for one glorious night. Sara and I even bought a charcoal grill for 15,000 Won (about $11-12) so we could have a genuine cookout.
Peter and I found some quality time to entertain the pack with our newest hobby: jammin'.
Jin brought her puppy (pictured right), so Melody could experience her first bit of Americana.At the end of it all, Peter, Sara, Alice and I ended up on the roof (possibly inebriated) belting the Star Spangled Banner at the top of our lungs. For a brief second I pondered what it would be like to hear 4 foreigners at 2AM in America shouting some anthem I'd never heard. I guess it would be pretty strange, but I quickly returned to the overwhelming feeling of strange joy coming out of that moment. I doubt it would happen between me and my friends in America. There is just something about living abroad that gives you a newfound respect for what you've left behind.

And all in all, the night was a rousing success with good food and great friends. It felt very much like celebrating the Fourth in a small town in America, or on a rooftop in Chicago. Surrounded by my friends and living the way I'm used to, I realized just how great of a country I come from. Looking out onto the Andong skyline and sharing the Fourth with a few choice Korean friends helped me realize just how great of one I live in now.

Happy belated Fourth of July to all my friends and family back home.

Thanks to Alice, whose pictures I stole from Facebook to make this post. Soon, I won't have to do that when I get the new digital camera that Tim and Linda (Sara's parents) bought me for my birthday. Thanks guys! You're the best!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Last week I finally broke down and bought myself a new toy. I just couldn't wait until mom and dad got here at the end of July to play again. Here's a quick vid:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Great Classes, Mekchu, and San Nac Chi

As is becoming common in Korea, I had another epic, adventurous day yesterday. It started on Monday night when my main contact at Youngnam Elementary, Kwon Mi-hye, called and told me that 3rd and 4th grade were finished with the textbook and wanted me to prepare a lesson to teach to those classes. It may seem like short notice, but I was actually very excited. I have been tossed around like a rag doll, never knowing what I would do for the day at Youngnam. Now I actually had a chance to plan my own lesson there.

The Lesson
I started with my usual warm up. I tell them good morning (or afternoon), ask them how they are, and ask them about the weather. The weather here is so often sunny that when it is overcast and dreary, like yesterday, they still rattle off "It's sunny!" as if it's the only thing they know how to say. So I give them an exaggerated look like they're crazy and they giggle and say, "It's cloudy!"

Youngnam has a lot of materials, including magnetic panels depicting scenes of various weather. So after the warm-up I asked them how the weather was in each panel and then had them put magnetic game pieces with umbrellas, gloves, snowmen, suns, clouds, and fans in the right place by telling me where they go. By the end of this part, the kids are noticeably bored with weather, so I move on.

I then go into Hangman and tell the kids that the answer is their next game. They are very excited. Korean kids absolutely LOVE Hangman, and it teaches them spelling and phonics. Many kids could not connect the meaning between letters and sounds when I got here, but they certainly can now. The answer to the hangman was "drawing."

The drawing game was simple, but very effective. The class was divided into 3 teams. One team sends up an artist to draw something on the board that they know how to say in English, then their team has to say the word. They have to do this within 10 seconds. If they say it correctly, the artist draws a card from a deck of playing cards. You get however many points you draw, face cards being worth 10. I threw in a catch: if you speak Korean while at the board, your team loses two points. I added this rule when I realized kids were drawing a face card and excitedly shouting out "SHIP!" which means 10 in Korean. In the last round, the points are doubled. Obviously, the team with the most points wins. The kids loved this game, and the teachers loved me.

My teacher's went out to dinner to say goodbye to Mr. Choi, one of our administrators. He was leaving for another school and yesterday was his last day. We had some sam gyup sal (grilled pork) and nang myun (spicy, cool noodles). It was delicious, and I celebrated my great day at Youngnam with a beer or two. The outgoing Mr. Choi also poured me a shot of Soju, as did my vice principal. It was a wonderful dinner, and at the end I was ready to go home and rest a bit. I thought the night was over. I was very wrong.

Nore Bang
Like usual, we ended up at an ENORMOUS nore bang (private song room, or Karaoke), where the staff immediately brought in somewhere between 20 and 30 bottles of beer and set them on the table. I was astounded that our principal had ordered that much beer, so you can understand my amazement when they rolled in 30 more. Mind you, these are not your standard 16 oz bottles. They are enough for 2 0r 3 glasses of beer each. And there were only about 15 of us. We did, of course, drink almost all of it. After all, it's rude in Korea not to finish your food.

San Nac Chi
I stumbled out of the nore bang and had to stand there for a second to see if I would be able to walk any further or if someone would have to carry me. I had mentioned earlier that my friends have eaten san nac chi, but that I had not tried it. This prompted a quest from my staff to find it for me. Ok...enough beating around the bush. What is it? It's octopus. LIVE octopus. Live, wriggling, sticky, chewy, slimy octopus. And it's actually quite delicious. I watched the chef struggle with the whole creature in the kitchen. She rinsed it, pulled it straight, laid it down, and took a cleaver to it. Within the minute, we had a full plate of wriggling tentacle. With each bite, I could feel the suction cups sticking to my cheek. As many of my friends have stated before--it's the only food that fights back.

The teachers I was there with also ordered another bottle of beer and a bottle of soju, but for the first time, I felt comfortable enough to refuse. To be fair, none of them really drank it either. Mrs. Lee, our designated driver for the the evening, then took everyone home, where I passed out, and awoke the next morning surprisingly refreshed. My teachers told me the san nac chi would invigorate me, and I guess they were right.

Moral of the evening:
Wanna avoid a hangover? Grab some live octopus.

Once more, I apologize for the lack of pictures. I still do not own a camera. I will post videos of the san nac chi the next time we go to eat it, which we will because Sara has not tried it yet.