Thursday, June 28, 2012

Culture Class

Despite all the pictures I post of my travels, I'm actually in a classroom the majority of the week. All NSETs are contracted to work 22 class hours per week during the allotted 8:40am-4:40pm work hours, myself included. And while every teacher's school/experience and class schedule is different, I normally work with grades 3-6 two times a week.  This past month, I was asked to give a special presentation for 2nd graders about the US. Here are a few pictures from those classes.

Started out with a quiz to see what the kids know about the USA.  One class picked (D) Will Smith as the American president!

Eager 2nd graders with all the answers!
One girl pointing out our national bird on the back of the US dollar.
Checking out US money.
Teaching them how to line dance to Cotton Eyed Joe :)

Silently coloring their own US flags into their minibooks.
I had such a great time preparing for and giving these classes, I wish every day could be as fun!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Paju Peace Park

Korea is the only remaining divided country in the world, and that makes for some fascinating history--as sad and as troubled as it has been. 

This past Sunday, one of my colleagues invited me to go with her family to the Paju Peace Park which is in the north western part of Gyeonggi-do along the Imjingak river, very close to the DMZ/North Korean border.  Through the eyes of a foreigner here in Korea, it is really interesting to see how South Koreans respond to talk about their Northern counterpart.  I mean, to be fair they are still technically at war, and to be even more fair, it's a war that has been at a standstill for the last 50+ years. The park was built under a special pretence and with a special meaning in mind, but as my colleague said, for her, "it's just a park" and you can totally feel that.  There is a mini-amusement park and kids and families building up tents and picnics only meters away from the peace bridge, peace bell and an observatory deck where you can look direction north. 

I wanted to share some pictures from the park, but if you ever get the chance to go, I would totally recommend it.  Enjoy!

Imjingak, the designated spot for 'peace' in the ROK.  The observatory deck with people looking northward.

Three of the four massive wicker men.  A art piece surely with significance to the north-south conflict, but unfortunately, we couldn't figure out what it was.

This park has patches of colorful pinwheels.  Such a simple but awesome way to add some fun to the park.
The pinwheels from a far. 
Bullet holes filling rusted train parts.  To remember the pain both sides struggled during the war.

Even though the other side of the fence is not yet North Korea, barbed wire was surrounding the park and there were a lot restricted areas and signs prohibiting photographs.  Not shown in the photo, is a railroad track leading to the last station in the north of South Korea, Dorasan.

Paying respects with flags and ribbons and letters to the 'other Koreans'.

Page 1 of a very sweet letter a child had written.  With my basic Korean I could decipher the main gist of it.  "North Korean friends, hello.  Quickly unification, so we can play together."

DMZ:  the sign behind reads, "DO NOT COME CLOSE OR TAKE PICTURES."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Riding the Heat Wave

This past Thursday, Seoul and the rest of the nation participated in an emergency blackout drill.  From 14:00 - 14:20, all citizens and businesses were asked to turn off all the electricity and prepare for what they would do if there was indeed a power outage. 

At school, my two co-teachers and I sat in the dark eating ice cream.  Twenty minutes later we went back to our desks and resumed our work on the computers.

I don't know how one can really prepare for a power outage, especially for large-sized farms and businesses, a loss will be had no matter what, but I think the government wants to put the idea in people's heads that it is a possibility.  We've had hardly any rain this year and the heat has been high for the last few weeks, so people have been turning on the ACs non-stop and earlier this year. As a result the national energy level is dwindling dangerously low.  My school in an effort to preserve energy has made a rule that the AC can't be turned on unless it is over 27 degrees (C) (80.6 F) and between the hours of 11am and 2pm. 

As a way to combat the heat, officials in Seoul have suggested a change to the office dress code. Check out the mayor of Seoul below, sporting his colorful, casual summer office wear.  (Such a cute smile!)  For the first time, according to BBC News, government workers have been given permission to come to work in shorts and sandals.

Seoul's mayor Park Won-Soon has promoted casual business for the summer, while Lee, Myung-Bak, the South Korean President, sweats it out in a black and formal suit below--typical business attire in SK.

Three years away

The further one goes, the less one knows.Lao-tzu

Three years ago today, I left the USA and moved to Germany, which is where I lived for 2.5 years before moving to Seoul this past February.  This anniversary marks not only three years since I've left the US, but also three years since I graduated university and three years since David and I ended the long-distance part of our relationship. 

Despite all the changes that have taken place the last three years, one constant has been my partner David, who has absorbed all these challenges with me day by day in both Germany and Korea. So even though I've been away from the US, it also feels like I can say I've been home for three years now, being able to be closer to my now-husband, getting to know him better and living a more 'normal' day to day life with him.

Originally, I thought a weekend trip to Busan would be the best way to celebrate the occasion, but as the date drew nearer, I realized it wasn't more travel that I desired.  There is actually very little I need right now to feel content.  So, this weekend will be a normal one, or as normal as life abroad can be.  We're planning on hitting up the Seoul International Book Fair at the Coex and Sunday will be a Korean soccer match at the World Cup Stadium (tickets courtesy of the art teacher) and celebrating here in Seoul.

..:*끝, Ende, the End*:..

Sweaty at the top of Jirisan Mountain, the second tallest mountain in South Korea.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When there is no delete button...

 Anybody in the mood for fresh crap?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An apple a day...

...only in your dreams.  Korean prices for fruit are out of this world expensive.  A glimpse of the exorbitant prices for fresh produce at my local supermarket.  Be warned, you will be shocked.

Apples, individually wrapped, for 4,800 KRW or around $4.12 each.

Six peaches for 21,900 KRW or $18.78.

A six-pack of vine ripened tomatoes 5,800 KRW or $4.97.

A watermelon going for 26,900 KRW or about $23.00.

Luckily, you CAN find produce for a bit cheaper by scouring the local traditional markets.  My first reaction to these prices (which were even higher during the winter months when I arrived) was, "How do the Koreans survive?!" But like everything else, you get used to it.  In fact, I bought 2.5 carrots today for 1,600 won, which is the equivalent to almost $1.  It felt like a bargain.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Open Classes, Dinners and Meditation

Last week, my co-teachers and I had our second open classes for the year.  The first one last month was for the parents to come and observe the class and give feedback to the teachers.  The one that took place this last week was an open class for other teachers and the Principal and Vice Principal to come and observe.

The observations were not specifically for me, but rather for my two co-teachers, but indirectly of course I was being observed  as well.  Open classes are a big deal--and Korean teachers spend weeks planning for them, rehearsing them with the kids and then 'performing' in front of their supervisors.  I say performing because that's what it feels like, it doesn't feel like the normal classes we do everyday. We ended the afternoon with a box of Mister Donut doughnuts and then out to dinner with the teachers and the VP who observed the classes. 

Before coming to Korea, I'd heard a lot about these dinners where you go out with colleagues and eat and drink until the wee hours of the night. It's part of the job, so I'd heard.  I was dreading them at first, but this having been my second one, I have to say they aren't too bad.  And actually, I end up getting home earlier than I would on most nights when I go out.  I don't know if it's just my school, but the dinners tend to stay short and to the point.  Eat, talk, drink, leave.  The food was fantastic though, and for nothing else, a free meal of that sort is always welcome^^. We had an awesome five course traditional Chinese meal. 

I was stuffed and exhausted Friday evening and as a result we had a late start Saturday morning. David and I have been talking about doing a bike tour of Korea so we went out to test our legs yesterday in 30 degree heat, biking from Banghwa to Yeuido and back. We took a small break in Yeuido eating an ice cream and playing in the fountains with all the Korean kids.  

The Korean parents camping out by the fountains and all the children at play.
The bike ride itself was enjoyable, only now though do I regret not having put sunscreen on my arms.  They are totally red :(.  The evening was Korean classes and our first attempt at Korean meditation at the Seon International Center in Omokgyo.  We found out that every Saturday night they do a Dharma talk and walking and sitting meditation for beginners in English.  For a first experience, it was alright.  Difficult trying to keep my mind focused (for two hours!) but I did feel relatively calmer by the end of the evening (although I don't know if it was calmness or exhaustion).

Already 3:00pm now, and today has been the perfect chill day.  Gotta get ready now for my Culture Class tomorrow.  Teaching 2nd graders about the USA.  

Wishing you all a good week.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Ajummas and the Ajusshis

Today was Memorial Day, so companies and schools were closed and the Koreans took out their tents and pitched them at the park, and then picnicked and played outside all day.  Or at least that's what it seemed like. We found ourselves looking for a shady place to sit this afternoon at our local park, but no such luck.  Every bench and every gazebo was full.  

David and I try to go to the park in the mornings before work for a run, often we don't make it, but when we do, I'm amazed--AMAZED--to see how many grandmas and grandpas have already hit the trails in their vizors, walking sticks and neon colored sports gear.  One morning a few weeks ago there was a group of about thirty-five, forty seniors who were doing some kind of morning dance class altogether out on the basketball courts.  It was quite a sight to behold and I regret that I didn't have a way of capturing it on camera, but when I mentioned what I had seen to my co-teacher, she responded without surprise, "That's normal!  You should see the Japanese."  

Normal?  At least not where I come from, but amazing none the less.  If I could be that active when I hit my golden years, I'd only be so lucky.  There is something about the Koreans' work ethic that doesn't allow them to rest, even once they've retired and gone completely gray.  Its a bit embarrassing every time a man more than double my age passes me on our morning runs (which happens a lot more often than I care to admit!) but it is precisely those seniors still parading around the parks at sunrise, that a large part of Korea's success over the last half century is owed. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

World Expo: Yeosu

The World Expo is being held this year in Yeosu, South Korea and I knew before I even got to Korea that this was something I definitely wanted to see. Normally, I enjoy planning trips, but this time I booked with Adventure Korea and have to say it was super nice not having to deal with logistical things.  I could enjoy the experience of Yeosu hassle-free.  As for the expo itself, it was a fantastic experience and one I recommend to everyone in South Korea who can make their way there and to anyone who ever has a chance to go to one in their lifetime.  It was inspiring to see so many nations of the world coming together under a theme and showcasing their nation and their creative talents. 

Yeosu Expo 2012:  The Living Ocean and Coast

One portion of the expo grounds.  The architecture of the buildings were really cool.

Yeoni and Suni, the mascosts of expo Korea.

Every country present gets to display their nation's culture on a given day during the Expo's three month range.  The day we were there was Japan Day.
The Aqua Planet--the on-site aquarium.

Street performers could be found all over throughout the day.
So many beautiful marine animals to be seen and appreciated.

There was a special exhibit of robots this year and visitors were given lots of cool demonstrations.

He was especially lively and funny.
The only downside to the Expo were the lines :/... everyone waiting to get into the USA Pavilion.

Many of the larger countries put together pavilions where they could showcase their creativity and their nation in line with the theme of the Oceans and Coasts.  We didn't have time to go to every single pavilion, but the ones we did see were all amazing.

Of course we visited the Germany pavilion.  We even got VIP Easy Access, thanks to David ;).  Germans were allowed to skip the line!

Amazing efforts for visitors.  It was truly spectacular.

Search lights lighting up the coast at night during an evening fireworks show.

The symbol of the expo in many ways.

The Grand Finale:  the Big O show.

For more info on the expo or to see your nations representation, click here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Starting with Lunch Time

I've been lacking in details on this blog.  Lacking in the details of day to day living in a foreign country. It does a great disservice to anyone who reads this blog and then imagines that living abroad is all glamour. Photos of Gyeongbok Palace, temples and korean barbecue (and the like) will continue to be posted, but for my own peace of conscience, I will start being more inclusive of everything I experience, the good and the not so good.

That being said, I thought the first thing I would write about is lunch time at my school because for me, it can feel like the most 'Korean' part of my day in many ways.  My school is small for being in Seoul.  We have just over 300 students and just under 40 staff members.  If I had to imagine working in a country school in Korea, I would imagine that it would be somewhat like my school.  I look outside one window and I face a green mountain, the other side is a massive dirt field.    The hallways are usually filled with running children who feel at ease with each other and with the teachers and run past saying "Hello, Teacher" or "Annyeonghaseyo" all day long.

My lunch time starts at 12:30, coming directly from a class, I usually end up being a little late.  I wait for my two co-teachers and we walk down five flights of stairs together (there's no elevator in our school), teachers stealing looks in the mirror as we pass one at the end of every floor.  We make our way down to the staff lunch room, where a large rectangular table sits that can fit about 12-14 teachers.  

In the front of the room are several large aluminum pots.  I grab a metal tray, a spoon and chopsticks and wait in line, first to put my side dishes, there are usually three, and two of the three usually consist of kimchi and something kimchied, then take the main dishes of rice (all variations) and some kind of soup.  It usually looks something like this:

I don't dread lunchtime, mostly because the food is pretty good and costs me just a little over $2 a meal. It gives me a chance to try out lots of Korean things that I never would try on my own, but the experience of sitting at a table with 12 of my Korean colleagues was at first a bit overwhelming.  I would hold my breath (who am I kidding, I still do) and pray silently that I would not end up in a seat near the principal.  He seems like a nice enough man, mind you, but you can feel his power.  He is the principal.  And people tiptoe around him and laugh politely at everything he says. I might be the one person in the school that he is a bit afraid of though, because when I'm there, there is that reminder that English could be spoken and isn't.  He, like most teachers, won't address me directly, usually through one of my two co-teachers translations.  Most Koreans know some English, but at school they are afraid to use it.  Sometimes I think more afraid of what their colleagues will think of their English than what I will.   I've had a few teachers brave talking to me (never at lunch), and I'm so grateful when they do, but its rare, and usually if no one else is around.  But for the most part, we stop at "Good Morning." or "Annyeonghaseyo".

Do I think they should or have to speak English with me? No.  
Does that make it uncomfortable sitting at lunch together every day, day in and day out? Yes.

So as a result, I usually eat my lunch in silence and stare up at the big screen TV and watch the Korean News and if the conversation goes on especially long that day, I get to watch parts of a Korean Drama. I usually have no idea what is going on, but fawning interest in that is a lot easier than pretending I know what is going on in the conversation around me.