Friday, May 29, 2009

N. Korea

In response to Amanda's question from the comments section of my last post, and due to the fact that some people may want to know what it's like to witness the N. Korea situation almost first hand, here's a post on just that.

To put it simply, no one in S. Korea, including Sara and I, is worried about N. Korea. At all. People don't even talk about it. Everyone here seems to agree that the North is simply trying to engage in some kind of international pissing contest. Occasionally, Koreans will ask me, "Are you worried?" And I reply with a very quick, "Of course not." They usually then say, "Me either." That's about the extent of any discussions about N. Korea.

The two major points about the North are that 1) they threaten some kind of military action in response to a nonissue about once a week or so, and have for years. Because of this, no one in South Korea takes them seriously anymore, though they do have an exceptionally large army. 2) The DMZ (the border between N. and S. Korea) is the most heavily guarded and armed border in the world. They ain't gettin' in here.

Though I believe that Kim Jong Il is crazy enough to make good on some of his threats, he would be silenced so quickly by the US, Korea, and Japan, that the North wouldn't have the time to do any sort of real damage. I think, also, that he honestly doesn't want to start any wars. He just wants to be taken seriously. Maybe he should try losing the platform shoes and unspiking his hair.

Bottom line: The media makes North Korea sounds a lot scarier than they are. Kim Jong Il likes to shout a lot, but he carries a toothpick, not a big stick.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Online Translations

According to Google Translate, one of many free, multi-lingual, online translation tools, today my principal sent all the teachers this message using the school's messenger system:

Today is Dragon Boat Festival, one of the four major holidays.
To the head in the head, wrapped geunedwimyeo changpomul scope of the medicated malryeoseo tteuteoda plug this season injinsuk

Nutritional supplements and forget

Happy day

Iran was not happy to see he's a freak.
Someone loves me and I understand ㅗ
I feel good this morning for a ㅓ P, this is the pendulum move.
I feel good chachimeul begin!
Happy, happy day in the morning,
This is a happy day, happy life.

Tae car from the trail

Mr. Williams two of the best 6th grade class, the kid has wasted a lot of trouble.

Safety training, evacuation training for today's disaster.
To order the map, the training and rapid response.

Bbs weeks to 29 days hoejangsang jangyounggeun the mother to pass.

Believe it or not, I don't put too much faith in these things. I usually ask Hyun-beom what they say instead.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sara and Scott's Wonderful Weekend

Sara and I had a great weekend.

After a scary run-in with a neighborhood dog on Friday (see Sara's Blog) we had a carefree and heartwarming (not to mention delicious) dinner with Sara's co-teacher, Im Miye, and her family. Her two children were darling and her husband was as nice as she was. We were a little late due to the dog-biting and all, but our hosts understood and we had a wonderful time playing darts, talking to Mrs. Im's husband's students via webcam, listening to their adorable kids speak select phrases of perfect English, and learning a little Korean while our hosts learned a little English. It seems that no matter where we go in this country, everyone always wants to learn a little English, and we are always willing to learn a little more Korean.

After dinner we (what else?) went out drinking with the foreigners. It's amazing how soon after swearing off Soju everyone is willing to dive back in again.

In what seemed like an ill-fated day, Sara and I started Saturday by missing the bus to Andong's largest and oldest Buddhist temple, Bongjeongsa, by about 6 seconds. As we were walking to the bus stop, I was reading numbers off the numerous buses parked there. "Ok, there's 67, 76, 0-1, 49. Oh Oh! There it is! 51! The one that's pulling away..." And as it drove off without us, I slumped down on a bench, dejected because I felt like we may miss out on Korean history for another week, a point which I was determined to correct this weekend.

Ever the optimist, Sara pointed out that the Andong Art Festival was going on at City Hall this week, and that Saturday was supposed to have something to do with children and singing. We decided to try it and, after running into some friends we hadn't seen in awhile, marched on to City Hall. We found a spot in the Auditorium and had our spirits lifted for over an hour watching Korean children and their parents sing traditional and pop songs to an enthusiastic audience. Afterward, we left and headed home for a relaxing evening of video games. (gotta chill sometime!)

Determined to make good on my personal promise to experience some Korean history, Sara and I trekked off to 도산서원 (Dosan Seowon or Dosan Confucian Academy), which is the oldest Confucian Academy in Korea. We were plenty early for the bus this time, and got to the site just in time for the clouds to break and the temperature to rise. On the way there, we passed over the dry riverbed of the river that runs through Andong. It's dry because there has been little rain in Andong as of late.

After that, we arrived at Dosan and toured one of Korea's most treasured landmarks. I didn't get many good videos because I was trying to take it in through my own eyes, but here's a quick video that should give you an idea of the architecture and setting.

There were about 15 or so buildings in total, all built into the side of the mountain. Each set of buildings was another short staircase up the hill.

After we were done with the main site, we went across the river to Sisadan, a small shrine where a stone pillar which marked the memory of an event from 1792 when so many people showed up to Dosan to take a state examination that they had to move the test site several miles away to the riverside.
Yi Hwang, the Confucian scholar who started the Dosan academy, was largely responsible for the huge spike in interest in Confucian teaching several hundred years earlier. The pillar was moved to this location when the Andong Dam was built, and the site where it had rested for 200 years was flooded. It now sits in the shrine you see in the picture above.

After we had exhausted our exploration of Dosan, we grabbed some drinks and waited for the bus, which didn't take long to show up. When we got back to Andong, we were starving, and found a great traditional Korean restaurant with delicious bi bim bap (rice, veggies, red pepper paste, egg, and a whole lotta yummy), where we ate heartily and reflected on our great weekend. If most of our weekends are half as good as this past one, our time in Korea will be very well spent.

Oh yeah...and at the Confucian academy, I learned how to fly. I bet you always wondered what Confucianism was all about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saturday Afternoon-Art Gallery

On Saturday, Mrs. Lee (who teaches 4th grade at Dongbu) invited Sara and I to her husband's art gallery for lunch and an art opening. Sara unfortunately couldn't go, but HB and I decided to go anyway. It took me awhile to discern exactly what I was going to. At first invite, I thought I was being asked to some kind of ribbon cutting at a new building, then I thought it was a pig roast at Mrs. Lee's house, then an art gallery opening at Mrs. Lee's house. Finally (upon arrival) everything was explained.

On the way there, Hyeun-bum said to me, "We are going to an old school." He couldn't have been more right. Mrs. Lee and her husband own an old shut down school in the mountains just outside of Andong. When you walk in, there are still faded pictures on the walls of students from the 1970s during assemblies and soccer games. The halls are filled with old desks and supplies, and up a staircase and to the right is a bona fide living quarters where, I would find out, Mrs. Lee and her family lived for 4 years before moving closer to downtown. After a delicious lunch and about 10,000 rounds of a game called "Guessing game! Just one more time!" with one of the children there, HB and I went around back to an open-air structure behind the school filled with colorful tables and a backroom full of pottery and a giant kiln. In this room, Hyeun-bum and I proceeded to make 10" sculptures of Korean girls in traditional Hanbok dresses.
(I hope HB doesn't mind me posting his picture on here)

From there, we went to a room even further behind the pottery room to find a small gallery, newly refurbished with state of the art lighting and newly-installed carpet. Inside were a few artists standing proudly around a table of food, their art hung around them on the four walls. I don't know much about art, but these paintings, with deliberate but delicate brushstrokes and soothing earthy tones that made each picture look just a little misty, were right up my alley. Most of the art depicted traditional Korean homes or buildings, with titles like "Home" and "Freedom." I was fascinated by the art, even if the Koreans were more fascinated that I could read the artists names on the signs next to it.

It was a great afternoon with Hyeun-bum where I felt like I finally experienced a bit of Korean culture without any added pressure of expectation. And it was all capped of with this image as we drove home on a rainy but warm Saturday in Andong.
I think it might be nice to climb to the top of those mountains. Perhaps next weekend...

Later on--Saturday Part Deux: The Never Ending Night!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Teacher's Day

May is holiday month in Korea. Last week brought Children's Day and Parent's Day. Buddha's Birthday was right before that. Next week is a day celebrating marriage. Yesterday was Teacher's Day. Teacher's Day begins with the students (sometimes reluctantly) giving their teacher's carnations and reading them letters. Then the teacher's all go to a predetermined location for a volleyball tournament with all the schools in the city. (Dongbu lost in the first round, but they put up a damn good fight!)


My staff went to a restaurant up in the mountains. After an (accidental, hour long) detour through the mountains north of Andong, HB and I arrived at the restaurant. During our adventure finding the place, several members of our staff called us to make sure we were OK. When we got to the restaurant, shots of soju were immediately poured and glasses of beer consumed. The main course was yumsogoki (barbecued goat meat) which was a little tough and very fatty, but still delicious.

After several shots of soju and a few glasses of beer, I began speaking Korean, which quickly gained the attention of the staff. Immediately, I was being handed bottles and slips of paper to read, with each oration being followed by rousing applause and chattering about how great my language is. Nevermind that I had no idea what I was saying most of the time...

Enter Kinny

There was another school at the same restaurant with a TaLK scholar in tow. TaLK is like EPIK but for college students or people with 2 year degrees. The other school's staff marched Kinny over to me, so I approached. What ensued was akin to parents in the park putting their babies in front of each other to see what they'll do. Kinny told me he was from San Antonio. I told Kinny that my Aunt Julie and Uncle John live in Boerne. Kinny told me about his school. etc. etc. (Did I mention he was absolutely sloshed?) All the while, both schools watched in quiet awe as we spoke rapidly in English and shook hands.

When Kinny left I turned to Hyeun-bum and asked how to say "He's very drunk" in Korean. He told me, and I turned and announced the now-forgotten phrase to my co-workers, who immediately burst into literal fits of laughter.

Saxophone Live!

From there we went to a bar called Saxophone Live which was a Karaoke Bar (nari-bang in Korean), but with a man playing saxophone with each performance. It was a lot of fun, as you can see below.
That's Mr. Kim, our special ed teacher, singing. Our school bus driver (who was also emcee) on the left. You can see the saxophonist on the far left. (I took this with my cell phone, sorry!)

After some prompting, I got up to sing a well received rendition of The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. After I finished singing, Hyeun-bum told me that he got a call that police were out in full force to pick up the hundreds of drunken teachers if they dared get behind the wheel of a car. I joked with HB that if you get caught, they send you to the North.

After more soju and more beer, we were all up cheering on the current singer. At one point Mr. Kwan, our 3rd grade teacher, turned to me and said, "Sikotchie!" (my name butchered in Korean) "You sing--again--Village People!" I courteously abstained from the Village People, but HB and I did do a fun duet of Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door together.


As if 5 hours of drinking weren't enough, I then joined Sara's school downtown for a few more shots of soju and some more beer, followed by bar-hopping with the foreigners. We went to a foreigner favorite called Woodstock, a cheesy but character-filled attempt at an American western bar. We then went to WABAR, which has a great selection of imported beers and cocktails, as long as you want to pay $6-9 a drink. We then flipped over to Okdong (the new downtown) to go to another western bar called Indy, but not before meeting our friend's adorable new shitzu puppy. All in all, it was a great day, a great night, and somehow Sara and I ended up at home with a can of BBQ Pringles that I picked up somewhere along the way.

Teacher's Day, in Andong, was an absolute riot. What's more, I finally feel like I'm not just "the foreigner," but a bonafide teacher and resident. Andong is starting to feel more and more like a suitable home, thanks in no small part to a great cohort of colleagues and friends.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Adversary

For the doubters, I present...THE BUG!
The Wikipedia article can be found by clicking here:
"The stinger of the Asian giant hornet is about 6 mm (¼ in) in length, and injects an especially potent venom that contains, like many bee and wasp venoms, a cytolytic peptide (specifically, a mastoparan) that can damage tissue by stimulating phospholipase action, in addition to its own intrinsic phospholipase."

The REAL Bug

I'm afraid my "Heart of Darkness"-esque post yesterday about the bug was either too long or too serious. It was supposed to be funny. o_O I hope people don't think I've turned into a malicious serial killer over here. (I mean, come on. The bug whispering his last words to me about the betrayal of his beloved colors? Comic GOLD!)

Anyway, this is what really happened.

A giant Korean hornet flew into my room. (That's not just a guess, it was a hornet and it was about 2 inches long) I left it alone for a good long while before I tried to shoo it out, but when it wouldn't leave I had to kill it because I had 3rd grade coming in soon and I didn't want anyone getting stung. I will say, it was quite an ordeal trying to kill it though, hence the epically overblown post.

Later today: Costco! (Though I think Sara beat me to it)

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bug

All I ever asked of the insect world was to be left alone. I sat in the Dongbu English Village today at approximately 1130 hours. I was preparing as best I could for 3rd grade in the afternoon when I was rudely interrupted by sometimes. Not just any something--The Bug, a 2 inch long, black and yellow beast of an insect that looked like a cross between a hummingbird and a wasp.

For a short while, I left The Bug alone. Once I realized he would be hanging around for awhile, I began to research on the Internet what this potential bug might be. After not finding any results, I grew nervous of his presence. I watched him as he circled the ceiling of my room, ever aware that he could strike me at any moment, and with 3rd grade coming in a mere two hours, I knew The Bug would have to be dealt with.

But I am a fair man. It was time for lunch, and I shuffled off to the cafeteria, closing the door behind me. I gave The Bug ample time to clear my room, figuring that left alone he would simply fly out of the window.

I ate, I talked, I relaxed, and then...I returned. At 1240 hours I returned to Dongbu English Village. I cracked open the door, looked left at the restaurant poster on my wall, and saw nothing. I walked leisurely to my desk. *Bzzz* He immediately flew at me, beginning what I had hoped would never come to pass! I gave him time...I gave him a window...he decided to stay.


Grabbing a book on my desk, I began to swat forcefully but with precision at the bug. After realizing that I would not easily reach him I came to the conclusion that he was drawn to the colors on my retractable posters. I rolled the vinyl English tools up to the ceiling and he was dumbfounded. His colorful paradise was ripped away, and all that was left was a sea of drab, brown, mahogany panelling. He began to roam again. This time, The Bug did not limit himself to the ceiling or the north wall, as there was nothing keeping him there any longer. With his altitude lowered I swung at him, as he flew at me, again and again, before I finally landed the winning blow.

He soared like a clay pigeon through the air and landed, on his back, in the middle of a sea of brightly colored stools. He looked left and right, knowing at least that he would die surrounded by the very things that drew him into my English Village in the first place.

"Betrayal," thought the bug.

But if I had any mercy, it was not that I would let him go, but end the suffering of his wriggling body. He looked at me and fluttered his wings. Fearing a resurgence, I grabbed a notebook, stood above my adversary, and crushed him once and for all. As his body fell away from this world, I heard a faint whisper of "the colors" before silence befell the Dongbu English Village once again.

I never asked for the battle. After all, whoever asks for violence and bloodshed? But this is my English Village, and I will do everything to protect it. It is the nature of men and beasts that we will breed war. Whether provoked by one side or the is bound to happen.

War never ends.

And war--war never changes.

Friday, May 8, 2009


As promised, here is my post about Youngnam Elementary School.

In contrast to Dongbu, there are a lot of things that I wish were different about my situation at Youngnam Elementary. Since the school is six times the size of Dongbu, their entire building is understandably more busy. But since I only go there on Tuesdays, it's hard for me to settle in. I have so far only been to Youngnam twice. When we got here I started work on Tuesday and as a result was at Dongbu for the day. I was at Youngnam for the next two weeks, but then I got sick and missed the week after that. Since then they have had a picnic that I was told to stay home for and a holiday. I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever really fit in there.

The good news is that the students and staff are every bit as excited as the Dongbu peeps when I'm there. Everyone is helpful and interested, so I never feel too left behind, though I do frequently feel very out of the loop. In fact, sometimes it would be nice to have a minute to myself, since I teach six classes there.

I am in charge of teaching English to 3rd and 4th graders at Youngnam. They have three sections of each grade, so I teach three 3rd grade classes and three 4th grade classes. This means I only have to prepare 2 lessons for the day. The major issue, though, is that I don't get to talk very much with the teachers. So even if I prepare a lesson, I might be told that I can't use it because they have a different lesson. Sometimes they want me to teach their lesson (which they have prepared largely in Korean) and sometimes I am reduced to a "talking parrot" as we say in Korea. That means I'm there to say words and have the students repeat me.

Of course, I can't complain too much because this job is wonderful. Even at its low points it's better than a lot of other jobs.

Either tomorrow or in two weeks (I don't know which yet) Sara and I will start teaching a Saturday English camp (after school English-language course) at Youngnam. My hope is that the English camp will give me a chance to get to know the staff and students there, so that maybe Tuesday will no longer be the day of the week that I dread.

Until then, I guess I'll suck it up. Afterall, I could be working at some university writing center or something... ;-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoughts On a Month of Teaching

A new job can be scary for anyone. A new teaching job can be terrifying. A new job teaching in a foreign country where only a handful of people speak your language is downright enough to stop your heart. But here I am, over a month into this new gig, and my heart is still pumping hard. What I've realized now after starting a small handful of new jobs in my life is that there are always people there to help you, and they always understand just how scared you might be. If you get the right group, they will even find ways of harnessing your anxiety into positive energy. At Dongbu Elementary, that's exactly what the students and teachers have done for me.

You might say I got lucky here. I'm at a school with only 150 students, so I have ample opportunity to get to know each and every one of them. I may not know their names, but I recognize them all, and I feel like I've built some lasting bonds with some of the kids already. It's easy to fall in love with a school when the students seem so eager to learn and the staff are so excited by everything I do. If I bring in a chocolate bar from America or show the kids some pictures of my university, everyone is ecstatic. Literally everything I do is a learning experience because I'm so foreign to these kids. And the teachers are so excited to have me that I sometimes think I can do no wrong. Of course, that just motivates me to continue giving them a high caliber of results. I want to impress people every day, and am driven to show my students (and the staff for that matter) that I am excited on a daily basis because of that.

(Unfortunately, lately that has been hard to do. Because of my lingering bronchitis from being sick a few weeks back, the teachers all think I'm very sick and weak. I'm not, but that's hard to explain in a culture where your health is valued above almost everything else. Because I have a raspy voice and nagging cough, the teachers want to give me time to rest. They will sometimes take over more of the class or cut class short. Anyway this is a tangent, let me get back to teaching...)

Yes, I am stuck to the same boring and occasionally downright pitiful curriculum that is provided for all English education here. And yes, sometimes its hard to motivate students when the material is dull or doesn't make as much sense as it should. But finding ways to make that material fun or interesting is the best part of this job. For example, last week after the 5th graders had learned the prepositions on, under, above, inside, between, and next to (after 3 classes), I took the opportunity to teach them parts of speech. What good will random phrases do these kids if they don't understand how English works? So, with a lot of help from my brilliant co-teacher Mr. Choi, we talked about nouns, verbs, and prepositions. Now this week I am devising games to help them understand why they need to know parts of speech.

But none of it would be any fun, or productive in any way, if the students weren't so excited about learning so much of the time. I click most with the 5th and 6th graders, only because they can communicate the most with me. But I still love the 3rd and 4th grade students and their enthusiasm for learning even a new word or two to say to me in the hallways. In particular, there are a few 6th grade students who will come to my classroom between breaks or after class is done for the day just to point at things in the room and ask me what they are. Or arrange letters on my Velcro board to show me words they can spell. They also take the time to teach me a little Korean, though I make it clear that my classroom is an English only zone. These are the kids that send me home with a smile every day.

And so there you have it--any job is wonderful if you are surrounded by the right people. And at my job, I am surrounded by the perfect group of mentors, co-workers, dedicated students, and friends. I couldn't ask for a better situation.

Youngnam, on the other hand, is a completely different story--a story that I will tell you in the coming days.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sara's Korean Drink

Here's a video from when Sara and I first got to Andong and got our new apartment. It needs no introduction.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kids Climbing Mountains

Here is a video of my students climbing Youngnam Mountain last week. This is more of a test to see if I've got the video thing down than anything, but at least you can see some of my students! This is the 6th grade class at Dongbu Elementary School.