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.