Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Chuseok!

Happy Chuseok from Google!
Chuseok (추석) is the most important national holiday of Korea. It's billed to Americans as "Korean Thanksgiving", which is supported by both holidays' occurrence in autumn and the focus on food and family. But from what I've seen, there are more differences than similarities. Perhaps the most conspicuous difference is that the "family" focus of Chuseok is actually on deceased family.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to spend Chuseok with my homestay family. They invited me to experience it, as most foreigners wouldn't get this kind of chance, and I was excited and accepted.

So I spent today in Daegu with my homestay family. (In fact, I spent most of the weekend in Daegu, and I'll have many more posts about my other adventures to write after this.) Custom dictates that a family will return to the father's hometown. So, we went to my homestay father's older brother's apartment, located in an old and quiet neighborhood where, thirty-some years ago, my homestay father grew up, biked to school, and played soccer.

Chalye jinaegi
The morning ritual was a 차례 지내기 (chalye jinaegi), a sort of memorial service for the family's late grandparents.

Despite the common translation of this as "ancestor worship", I would hesitate to call it that. I'm aware, of course, that not understanding the Korean language or really much at all about Korean culture, I could be totally off base. But the word "worship" has particular connotations that were absent from the scene I witnessed, with the grand exception of the prostration in front of the altar. Yet even in regards to that, well, Koreans bow a lot to many different people, and that is considered duly respectful, not idolatrous.

Anyway, the setup was really similar to the big rock unveiling ceremony that I attended last week: a table laden with food (fried sweet potatoes, fruits, dried squid and cuttlefish, a roasted chicken, rice, rice wine, rice cakes, and songpyeon (송편), but no pig head this time), incense, and candles. There was a paper screen with hanja on it that I couldn't decipher, and also smaller papers that represented the ancestors.

I was invited to take photos and film during the ritual, but even though I took advantage of this rare opportunity, I also felt so, incredibly awkward the entire time. "Oh, they're bowing, okay, this is a nice angle, oh, I wish the shutter weren't so freaking loud."
My homestay father burning the... well, burning something, which signaled the end of the ritual.
Some of the dishes prepared at the altar. Rice cake, fried vegetable pancakes, and a chicken!
After the memorial service, we ate all the food that was on the table. I'm just going to say that 송편 is delicious. It's probably the closest thing to mochi that you'll find in Korea. And then we ate ice cream and watched TV. Iron Man 2 was playing on a movie channel!
This is 송편 (songpyeon), rice balls filled with sweet stuff (in this case, sweet soybean paste).
In the afternoon, we set out for a mountainous area near Gyeongsan, a city southeast of Daegu, for the purpose of performing another 차례 지내기 at the actual grave of my homestay father's parents. We were joined by thousands of other families -- I'm not exaggerating -- who created an hours-long traffic jam in the mountains where the cemetery is located. I get the sense that most cemeteries in Korea are in the mountains; this obviously has something to do with Korea's very un-flat geography, but I wonder if it is also rooted in some traditional interpretations of spirituality and high elevation?
The hillside cemetery we visited, somewhere near Gyeongsan, with many families dotting the terraces.
Remembering 할머니 and 할아버지.
One thing is for sure: being in the mountains meant that the cemetery was gorgeous. It was very well-kept by thousands of people coming back to tend to it at least once a year, and the view from where we were was quite nice. Overall, the atmosphere at the cemetery was in fact more jovial, thanks to beautiful weather and lunch. Yes, after performing the memorial service, every family would take the food from the tombstone, spread out a blanket, and proceed to picnic. That was unexpected, I will confess. But it was also pleasant. There was more 송편! And fruits and bibimbap, too. We had a late lunch, and when we finished it was time to head back to Changwon.
Picnic time! The husbands drink and the wives prepare some bibimbap from this morning's leftovers.
Beautiful bouquets at every grave. They were all synthetic flowers, though! That's why they're so bright and perfect-looking.
On the long drive home (seriously, every highway in the country had a 교통 채증, or traffic jam, today), we passed a gorgeous sunset.
This was somewhere between Miryang and Changwon. I love Korea in the fall. Today's weather was so beautiful; I'm glad the typhoon that was slated to hit Korea today veered off course a few days ago. (It would've been the fifth!)
I'm going to close with two questions for my readers, especially if you are Korean. First, I've heard from three separate grown Korean women that Chuseok and other 명절 (myeongjeol), or traditional holidays, are incredibly work-intensive for the wives and mothers of a family, mostly because the food preparation takes forever and the men aren't expected to help. Because of this, they are sometimes resentful. For "progressive" Korean families, either in Korea or in the States, where gender roles are not as set in stone, is the workload ever shared among members of the family? And in the States, is the work actually less intense, in some respects, since less food is required and a cemetery visit is, in most cases, not possible?

Secondly, Chuseok obviously has deep roots in Confucianism. For Christian Korean families, how does this play out? I've noted earlier the dynamics of "ancestor worship" and harmless custom. Does Chuseok look different to a family that does not follow Confucian ideals?

And that's all! Happy Chuseok, everyone!

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Bit of Food Etiquette

Some things I've learned that are useful for living in a Korean household...

1. Don't eat 찌개 (jjigae) or 국 (guk) with chopsticks. It's soup. Use a spoon.
Okay, this might seem completely obvious to some, but let me explain. I grew up using chopsticks to eat a lot of things, including soup. It's business as usual to pick out the masticable bits and then to pick up the bowl itself to drain what's left. Apparently, that's not how it's done here. I've never actually seen any Korean pick up their bowl. But Koreans use spoons to a much greater extent than Chinese and Taiwanese. So I'm going to start getting used to sipping slowly!

[edit] I asked my host parents today about this: in fact, it is just fine to finish what's left in your bowl by picking it up and sipping from it. They do this on TV advertisements all the time. However, I still haven't seen anyone actually do it. [/edit]

2. It is impolite to watch your superiors/elders eat.
So, at least in my household, when I've finished breakfast with the host family, I have to get up and go somewhere else. I tell my host mother, "But I like so sit!" The reply: "Nope! Please get up." So I go to my room. Koreans tend to eat quickly, and I haven't completely adjusted to their dining speed yet. In the cafeteria, I'm usually the last to finish, which is fine if I'm eating with my students, but they feel awkward about waiting for me, because, well, I count as a superior to them. At a restaurant for a huishik, this may mean: if you notice you're eating too quickly, slow down. You can't finish until your superiors are finished.

3. Hot and spicy food is often eaten in order to "cool down".
It's not secret that Koreans love spicy food. But it sounds paradoxical when, after a fiery 김치 찌개 (kimchi stew), they'll lean back and say, "시원하다!" Shiwonhada means "cool". When I finished my share of kimchi stew, I felt anything but cool. No, seriously, I was sweating. But, as my co-teacher explained, the sweat brings out impurities in your body, and once the sweat evaporates, you do indeed feel cooler and refreshed. So when it comes to the 매운 음식, grin and bear it!

That's it for now! Watching Pirates of the Caribbean 4 with my host brother and sister on a rare night off for them. And this weekend is Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving! 여러분 추석 잘 보내세요!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


It's hard to translate the word 회식 (hweshik). Naver says it's "get-together" or "officers dining in", but the first is too broad and the second is too clumsy, in my opinion. The two words individually are Sino-Korean (會*, meaning a meeting, and 食, meaning food), but the phrase doesn't exist in Chinese as far as I'm aware.

So when I want to tell people in English that I went to a 회식, I literally say, "I went to a hweshik." And if they're native English teachers in Korea, it's likely that they'll know what that means.

A hweshik, then, is a dinner outing specifically for members of a school or company. It's like an institution-sponsored night of food, fun, and 정-building. They are very common, and commonly end in lots of very happy drunk Koreans singing at a 노래방. Or so I've been told.

I've been to two hweshiks with the faculty of Changwon Science High so far. The first was to toast a farewell (송별연회) to our outgoing principal, and the one I went to tonight was to welcome in the new one. At neither party did anyone surpass even mild tipsiness, and I, especially -- not wanting to embarrass myself with my lightning-quick Asian glow -- sipped that soju as slowly as possible.

But while the first hweshik was awkward, because I hardly knew anyone and just listened to one of my co-teachers translate everything everyone else was saying, tonight was more fun. By this time, all of the other teachers know who I am, and some of them have apparently latched onto me despite the fact that I can't even remember their names.

The two who wanted to sit next to me teach math and chemistry, and while they're both married with kids, they're still among the youngest of my co-workers. (Have I mentioned yet that I'm closer in age to my students than to any of the other teachers at my school?) Upon sitting down, they declared that they were the "Andrew Fan Club". I had trouble understanding this at first, because transliterated into Korean, this becomes en-de-lyu pen ke-lub (앤드류 팬 클럽). I also have no idea why they want to be my fan club; nevertheless, they have designated themselves to be chief and manager. I should learn their names.

Again, conversation started off in stilted English ("What are you doing for Chuseok?" "Do you like math?"), moved to broken Korean ("I'm going to Daegu with my homestay family, and I was terrible at math in high school"), and then lapsed into their fluent Korean with me zoning out or texting. Math Teacher (MT) was humorously trying to keep me in the loop by staying glued to his dictionary and trying to translate as fast as he could. Here's how that went:

Me: *thinking about blogging*
MT: Investment techniques.
Me: What?
MT: Investment techniques. *shows me the dictionary on his smartphone*
Me: Oh, okay, Investment techniques. Why?
MT: They are talking about investment techniques.
Me: Oh, okay! Um... which bank do you use?
Everyone: *starts arguing about the best banks in Korea, in Korean*
Me: *zones out again*

And then there was Chemistry Teacher (CT), who trying so hard to increase his vocabulary.

Me: *points to what looks like oil* What is this?
CT: *unintelligible Korean*
Me: Okay, I'll just look that up in the dictionary. Ah, sesame oil!
CT: Sesame oil! Yes. With... *points to the grains of rock salt mixed in* ... Sodium chloride.
Me: Ah, yes, we call that salt.

Every time Chemistry Teacher or Math Teacher would successfully translate something difficult into English, they'd give each other high-fives across the table. Computer Science Teacher was just amused. She doesn't speak much English, is what I gathered.

Anyway, that was my second hweshik. The food was great, and the company was nice. It was really quite tame, even tamer than the first. From what I've heard of my Fulbright colleagues' experiences, these dinner parties can get wild. It's a well-known fact that Korean educators are some of the most hardworking -- and most stressed-out -- employees of the state. Thus, it follows that when they have an opportunity to completely unwind, they will, and the spirits flow in proportion. But my high school is actually in the middle of administering midterm exams. Half of the teachers actually returned to campus after dinner to continue working (grading exams or whatever), ostensibly until nine or ten at night, as usual. At Changwon Science High School, I guess that's how we roll.

위하여! Cheers!**

- - -
*LOL. As soon as I typed that Chinese character, my host mother came home, and I almost greeted her with a cheery "你好!" What is wrong with me?

**More correctly, that means "To...!", as in "To us! To health! To Changwon Science High School!", etc.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Adventure is out there! (Weekend pt. 3)

After a brief five-hour nap, I woke up in the early morning, got down off the bunk bed at the hostel, and checked the time. 6am. Still a bit early to actually be awake. Torn between wanting to catch a few more minutes of sleep and being unwilling to get back up onto the bunk bed, I resumed my nap on the floor of the hostel until 6:15.

Half an hour later, I was up, chatting with Jason and Katelyn outside and eating free toast and jam provided by the Pencil Guesthouse. Soon, our adventure group was all ready to go, and we made our way to the meet-up point by 7am.

Our day trip was organized by Adventure Korea, a wonderful company that organizes events and outings for expats all throughout the year. Korena, a fellow Fulbright ETA, got wind of their last whitewater rafting trip of the year and encouraged as many Fulbrighters as possible to sign up. As a result, a Fulbright cohort of about eighteen joined two other groups of expats (a few teachers and a bunch of guys somehow connected to the military) for a trip to the Hantan River (한탄강) in Gangwon Province.
Fulbrighters before our big rafting adventure! Note the mountains and the perfect weather. :)
Some of the best areas in South Korea for "extreme" outdoorsy stuff is in Gangwon Province, which is one of the most rural and wild regions of the country. It shares a border with the DMZ and North Korea, has almost no large cities, and also has the coldest weather come wintertime. But the countryside is spectacular come early autumn: intricately shaped mountain ranges in the distance are preceded by endless expanses of wildflowers (which is like, what? since when does Asia look like Switzerland?) and crystal-clear rivers snake their way around the green fields of the many farms. There were also plenty of pretty vacation homes in the city that we were in specifically, Cheorwon (철원).
So there's Jason and me. And then there's Katelyn, trying so hard. So hard. ;)
When we arrived at the rafting place, I was totally psyched. I'd never been rafting (래프팅) before, and here I now had the opportunity to not only raft with my friends, but also to raft in such a beautiful location. As we learned on the trip, the particular stretch of the river where we started was the old crater of an extinct volcano that had split in two. I'm not even a good enough writer to describe how amazing it was during slower portions of the river just to lean back in the raft and take in the surroundings. 아름다운 경치, indeed...
A shot of me rafting on the Hantan River! (taken by Jason)
Happy and on a boat! (taken by Jason)
We were ten to a boat in five boats, including a guide for each one. Our guide was named Yedeok (if I remember correctly), and he was a nice guy with a quiet sense of humor -- which is to say, he would quietly push unsuspecting people out of the raft when the current was slower. Because his English was basically nonexistent and my Korean was the least nonexistent of my group, however, I found myself having to translate some of what he told us in terms of instructions, which was an unexpected and mildly alarming experience.

As soon as we found our rhythm (literally), though, it was fantastic and nothing but fun. Of course, I didn't catch any of the actual rafting on film (or on memory card?), but fortunately, Jason had a waterproof digital camera and took excellent photos. I'm posting some of them here, courtesy his Facebook.

Overall, the "whitewater" part of the rafting trip was not as exciting as I'd hoped. It was fun, of course, but each patch of whitewater was separated by long (relaxing, peaceful, beautiful) stretches of calm water. I didn't mind, really. I sang "Down to the River to Pray" and watched dragonflies (잠자리) fly around and played the splash-the-other-rafts-when-they-get-close game, along with everyone else. All too soon, it was over, and we bused back to the starting point to shower and have lunch.
At several points during the trip, we all got out of the rafts and had a bit of fun. Here, the guides turned the rafts into a makeshift water slide into the river. Ammy (above) did some kind of cool corkscrew jump. Awesome! (taken by Jason)
All of the Fulbrighters at the halfway point of our river adventure. We look good in life jackets and red helmets. (courtesy Jason)
And then... AND THEN! It was time to go BUNGEE JUMPING! 번지점프!

BUNGEE JUMPING! Off of a 50-meter (170-ish feet) bridge! In Korea! On a beautiful, sunny day! And with members of a Korean motorcycle gang watching and cheering! Do I even need to say any more? The location of the bungee jumping was called 백마레저 (Baekma Lejeo, or... "White Horse Recreation"?), or maybe that's the name of the company, anyway, we drove onto a bridge, walked into a small building constructed in the middle of the bridge, suited up, and jumped.

Well, it wasn't as quick as that. There was a lot of time spent getting everyone suited up, and each jump, while brief in and of itself, took up to five minutes total due to the wait time in collecting the jumper after the fact and clearing the way for the next person. I was eighth to go, which was enough time to become sufficiently nervous. Especially since I was looking at this the whole time:
What a view! On the right is the jumping platform. I waited on it for quite some time.
Anyone who knows me well is aware that I absolutely love thrill-seeking in the form of rollercoasters. Ever since I was little, I've loved the feeling of free-fall and the gut-twisting adrenaline rush from inversions and G-forces. But I'd never done anything quite like bungee jumping before now (perhaps the Big Swing at Chapter Camp comes close), and yes, I was nervous. I had sweaty palms.
Jason, Katelyn, and I are smiling on the outside and going crazy on the inside. (taken by Ammy)
But my turn came soon enough. Right before I jumped, I wasn't thinking anything. I took a running start, and then... "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!"

Except that was all in my head; I didn't actually say anything as I leapt off the platform. I just felt free-fall and my body froze up for three long, long seconds. Then, the cord went taut, stretched, and bungee'd me back up to the bridge, and it was AWESOME!

And it was beautiful (have I said that enough times yet?), and it felt just a little bit like flying. It was also a tad uncomfortable because of the harness and certain delicate body parts that it constricted, but thanks to adrenaline, I felt nothing but the rush of having done something crazy that I've always wanted to do. Bucket list item: CHECK!
A photo from ground level. I'm that black speck in the white sky. (taken by Ben W.)
Here is a video of my jump from ground level, taken on Ammy's camera. You can view it if you are friends with Ammy or me on Facebook. And here is a video taken from the bridge, courtesy Lauren. You can view it if you are friends with Lauren or me on Facebook. (Start watching from 0:30.) This was the video I showed my students this week, in conjunction with an explanation of how items on a Bucket List are actually meant to be completed! Follow your dreams, kids!
After my jump, I watched the rest of the Fulbrighters do their thing, and I also took some neat photos from the bridge. I'm grateful for high-speed continuous shooting. If I have time, I'll make a gif/stop motion thing of some peoples' jumps. For now, here's just a few photos.
Dan in mid-free-fall.
Ben, right after his jump.
He was anchored at the ankles... ouch!
So that's that. Adventure is out there, and I look forward to doing many other crazy things in Korea! Maybe I'll try ice-fishing in January, sea kayaking off the coast of Jeju Island, caving, or a 10k run. Any suggestions?

After the two-hour bus ride back to Seoul, I bought a cheap dinner and a ticket for the 7:40 bus back to Changwon. After a little under four hours (the evening return trip, having no traffic, was much faster than the first trip), I arrived home. Fortunately, the bus stopped at the train station before heading farther south to the actual bus terminal, and because the train station is only a fifteen minute walk away from my apartment, I hurried off there and arrived home before midnight. Thus ends the second Seoul weekend. It was a blast. And for my own future reference, here is what I spent:

My 2nd Seoul Weekend, price-wise!
Transportation: 2 one-way express bus tickets, Changwon-Seoul; a little under 30,000₩ each
Transportation: random taxis and total metro fare; ~20,000₩ (but taxi fare was split among friends)
Food: 2 full meals on Saturday, 2 cheap meals on Sunday; 15,000₩ (I'm serious.)
Adventure Korea: rafting fee, transportation, and lunch; 49,000₩
Adventure Korea: bungee jumping; 35,000₩

Yeah, I brought about 150,000₩ with me for the weekend and spent all of it. What really blew a whole in my wallet was the unexpected high price of transportation. Oh well. It was still all completely worth it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Night Lights (Weekend pt. 2)

The number of Fulbrighters hanging out in Seoul quickly swelled as the evening wore on. So did my sinuses.
Busy, crowded streets of Hongdae (홍대) at night. I spy a Korean hipster!
The group from the Han River Park made a pit stop by the Fulbright Building in Mapo-gu to pick up things and hang out with Jake and Leslie for a bit before heading to Hongdae (홍대). Hongdae is hoppin', easily the most interesting neighborhood I've seen in Korea so far. It's young, hip, and really lively at night. We checked into our hostel, the Pencil Guesthouse, and then walked to the busier part of the neighborhood, taking in all the sights. Just along the short walk from the Hongik University metro station to the restaurant, we saw: tons of foreigners, tons of hipsters, tiny shops selling everything imaginable, a silent mp3 dance party, street performances, and at least one guy in drag.
A silent mp3 dance party on the streets in Hongdae. Everyone had wireless headphones and was dancing to music, but no one watching could hear anything! And they all had balloons, too. Yay, balloons!

The whole group in front of the restaurant. From left to
right: Amy and David (friends of friends), Kristen,
Stephanie, Cecile, Julia, Ammy, Jessica, Alanna, Ben,
and Taxi. A group of twelve for an unplanned dinner is
 unwieldy, but we had a blast!
Our group was twelve strong at 연탄 불고기 (Yeontan Bulgogi), which was a barbecue place suggested by Jessica. Two different sets of her Korean friends had taken her to eat there, so we figured it'd work for us. And although the menu was simple (nothing but pork barbecue, banchan, or side dishes, and steamed egg), it was delicious. And there was a lot of food. And it was really, really cheap. Like, 5,000-won-(less than $5)-per-person-for-a-full-meal-cheap. I highly recommend this place.
Yayyy, Korean barbecue! (I was worried about Cecile, who doesn't eat pork, because there was essentially nothing else on the menu... But the rest of us ate like kings!)
Unfortunately, by the end of the meal, my nose was running like a leaky faucet. The wonderful afternoon spent outside in Nature had its consequences in the form of severe allergies. I probably looked like crap, but I just had to power through, because we had one more stop before the day was over: Namsan Tower!

Namsan Tower is a big tower smack dab in the middle of the city. It's also called N Seoul Tower, and it's easily visible from most parts of town, helped in part because it's on the top of a hill (Namsan). Our group took the metro and a taxi to get to the bottom of the hiking trail, which was beautifully lit for the evening. Because the cable car line was fairly long, and because we're adventurous Fulbrighters, we decided to hike the whole way up. It took about twenty minutes, not including several pauses along the way to take in the gorgeous views of the city we were being offered at every turn. Also, we played Contact on the way up and it soothed my troubled, word game-deprived soul.
And then we arrived at the tower and bought tickets (9,000 won) to take the elevator to the observation deck. Yes, the view was fantastic. Breathtaking, even. I've seen many cities from the tops of many towers and tall buildings, but Seoul was a new high. This city is beyond huge. It's staggering just how far the lights go in every direction. At the observation deck, which was actually fairly small, I just kept walking around and around, marveling at how impossibly big Seoul is. I took lots of photos...
A breathtaking (and slightly smudgy) view of Seoul's nightscape from the observation deck of Namsan Tower.
It was nearly midnight, and we were all falling asleep at the top, when we decided to call it a night. After some of us got ice cream and checked out the "love padlocks" on the terrace by the foot of the tower, which I personally found kind of boring, we took two taxis (an expensive black one and a cheaper white one) back to Hongdae, which at 1am was still bustling and clogged with pedestrian traffic. We finally arrived at the hostel at 1am, and I conked out almost immediately.
Thousands of couples have locked their love onto the walls of a terrace at Namsan Tower. Stephanie's contemplating 왜 남자 친구가 아직 그녀에게 자물쇠를 안 사다줬어요!
'Twas a good day. Despite the allergies, which made me feel gross and miserable and probably resulted in me being a bossypants (because when your face is on fire and you've been blowing your nose with alcohol sanitizing wipes because so many Korean restaurants don't have napkins, the last thing you want to do is stand around waiting for twelve people to decide where to go and when...), I had a wonderful time. And I was pleasantly surprised at us Fulbrighters' efficacy when it came to splitting the dinner bill, paying for our hostel, meeting up and splitting up, and so on. Everything just went more smoothly than I'd imagined it to be. You see, when you travel, it's not just the great food and the cool sights that count; transportation (must be comfortable), monetary transactions (must be efficient), and all plans going without a hitch can make -- or break -- a vacation.

In the next post: whitewater rafting and bungee jumping in Cherwon!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Chill Day in Seoul (Weekend pt. 1)

This past weekend, I made another trek up north to the Capital, from much farther away this time, and on my own. It was a giant step up from my last excursion outside of Changwon, but I was ready to embrace everything, mishaps and all, as an adventure.

As it turns out, everything was pretty chill. I woke up at 5:30am and left the house by six. It took me about one hour to get to the intercity bus terminal (시외버스터미널) due to my unfamiliarity with the lines that run super early on a Saturday morning. But I had plenty of time. My 7:20am bus arrived at Seoul Express Bus Terminal (in the Gangnam district) at 11:45am. The projected length of the trip was four hours and ten minutes; we encountered a bit of traffic going in. The first thing I did was get some lunch: pineapple pork 볶음밥 (and I'm sorry, but Taiwan does it way better).

From there, I went to meet up with other Fulbrighters in Itaewon, the international district. They had just had brunch at an American diner; I met them at 1:20pm. All in all, it took me over seven hours of travel to meet up with friends! Once we did, though, it was time to relax. We took the metro to the Yeouinaru station, which is located on an island of sorts in the middle of the Han River. We were told that this would be the best place to experience the awesomeness that is the Han River Parks (한각공원), a series of parks and public recreation spaces scattered along the banks of Seoul's big, beautiful river.
Jumping for joy at the Han River Park!
To put it simply, we did experience the awesomeness. Cecile, Kristen, Ben, Julia, and I just chilled on the banks of the river for hours, talking, eating ice cream and chocolate, and watching speedboats and ferries go by. We were later joined by some other friends. We basked in the sun. Cecile painted. We watched an amateur traditional drumming performance. And we saw this:
We were going to take a photo, and then I saw this, and then we were all mesmerized for five minutes. He was doing dolphin dives and stuff; everyone on the docked ferry was watching, too! Amazing.
It was blissful. Very relaxing. The beautiful clear weather and autumn-is-nigh sunshine were a bonus. After spending so much time outside, though, my allergies started to act up. Later in the evening, I felt like I was at Swat in the springtime: runny nose, headache, and consequent irritability, which seemed to take the form of bossiness... Well, we'll not think about that now. Photos!
Kristen and Julia enjoying ice cream (red bean fish-shaped ice cream pastry! and a Melona bar!) at the Han River Park.
The kids we saw drumming and marching in a circle for hours. It looked like quite a workout, but also lots of fun!
Fulbright 친구 in Seoul! From left to right: Ben, Julia, Kristen, Cecile, and me. (taken by Julia's friend David)
In the next post: evening in Hongdae (홍대) and the Namsan Tower (남산타워)!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Big Rock and the Pig Head

I witnessed something fairly unique yesterday. At around five-o'-clock, my co-teacher announced that there was going to be a special ceremony outside at the front of the school, and that it wouldn't take long, so I should attend. Curious, I joined her and all of the school's faculty and staff.

Front entrance of my school.
In this photo I took a few weeks ago of the front entrance of my school's campus,  there is definitely not a big rock on top of that small brick platform on the left. Instead, there are trees.

But now, there's a big rock on it! The trees are gone, replaced by an enormous sculpted hunk of granite with hanja and Korean carved into it. I remember seeing it for the first time earlier this week, but I must not have realized that it hadn't always been there.

So, when I arrived at the "special ceremony" with my co-teacher, the rock was covered by a large white sheet. As it turns out, this was an unveiling ceremony for the sculpture.

One of my coworkers told me that the four Chinese characters were the school's motto: 元亨利貞 (yuán hēng lì zhēn, something like "first, prosperity, benefit, loyalty"; and in Korean: 원형이정, won hyeong yi jeong). But she herself questioned the necessity of a giant boulder in front of our campus. It was, after all, a huge investment from the school, the price tag being an estimated $10,000 USD. (Her speculation -- in brief because I don't want to talk about school politics, yet -- was that a rather pushy member of the Parents' Union thought it inappropriate that our school didn't have one, and as he was himself in the business of carving big rocks, offered his services, astronomical costs aside.)
3... 2... 1...
The unveiling ceremony was nice and official and all (look at those white gloves!), but after the rock was uncovered, what happened next was extremely interesting. A table was brought in front of the sculpture. The table was laden with fruits, candles, incense, a giant rice cake (떡), a dried fish wrapped in bundles of thread, and an entire pig head. Yup, the boiled head of a real pig, right in the middle of it all.

The principal (left) goes forward to give insa.
I watched in curiosity (and some strange apprehension) as my school's principal gave insa at the altar by prostrating himself three times in front of it and then putting an envelope of money inside the pigs mouth. My coworker explained the symbolism: the incense was to ward off bad spirits, and the pig was offered to good spirits to promise prosperity; that's why people put money in its mouth (and also stuck bills in its ears). And if the pig head happens to be smiling, you get extra good luck. The threads that were wrapped around the dried fish represented longevity. And the rice cake was... well, I think that was just there because Koreans eat rice cakes in every conceivable situation.

This was the first time I've ever seen a traditional Korean ceremony of this kind. My coworker also made it point to tell me that I was lucky to have been able to see it. Although it's a traditional ceremony, it's actually becoming less and less commonplace these days. She even admitted that it was the first time she had witnessed this kind of ceremony herself (but she is Buddhist, so I imagine that she is familiar with the whole insa thing in similar situations).

With the food on the altar and everything, I felt a mix of innocent foreigner interest and religious uneasiness. As a Christian, I knew that I was definitely not going to prostrate myself at the altar or put money in the pig's mouth, even though many of the other teachers and staff members did. And I'm glad that nobody pressured me to, either. As for the food, I had a brief moment of panic when I was offered a bit of rice cake and bit into it: does this count as eating food sacrificed to idols? But that quickly subsided when I remembered 1 Corinthians 8, in which Paul concludes that the mind prevails over matter in situations like these and you shouldn't make a big deal of things that... aren't a big deal.

So that said, I'm filing this one under "cultural experiences" and look forward to other random and unexpected happenings of a similar caliber. And with that, I leave you with the Lord of the Flies himself!
Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh! (Oh and yes, this thing is actually eaten afterwards. A special machine flattens the thing whole and turns it into boiled pork slices, served with dipping sauce.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Bucket List Lesson

My bucket short-list, an in-class example.
As of today, I've finished teaching my first unit to my second-year students. The theme was "Dreams", and in the last lesson, I taught about bucket lists (with video supplements from the 2007 movie and a nice TED talk).

I tried to emphasize putting realistic dreams and goals on these lists, knowing that if I simply said, "Anything is possible!" they would all write that they would marry Suzy or Won Bin or live on the moon.

As a result, I got lots of great bucket lists. The majority of them, of course, were nothing out of the ordinary: my students want to travel to all sorts of countries, meet celebrities, find love, learn musical instruments, and get good jobs. (But there weren't as many "become very rich"-es as I expected).

And what surprised me the most was that, given that I was compiling each class' Bucket List Top 10, all of the dreams and goals they came up with were so original. With about twenty-two students in each class, each of them writing five things on their list, I actually got eighty to ninety unique bucket list items.

So now, I will present some of my favorites, the ones that made me laugh or think for a moment. (And I am quoting verbatim, so please excuse their syntax!)

"Before I die I will raise a hawk."
"Before I die, I will spread many money, standing on a building's top"
"Before I die, I want to make my mine. I want to dig my own mine."

"I want proud myself"
"I will meet David Tennent"
"I want to catch fish with hand"
"I will to be a VIP at Outback"

"to do a speaking at TED"
"Crash a wall on my punching."
"believe religious"
"Be someone's eternal knight."
"have dramatic love"

The ones that should be on my bucket list:
"Before I die I will make a very very Big cake"
"eat cheese that is most delicious cheese in the world with honey"
"Meet very handsome and rich guy and make him mine."
"be with Polar bear"

And now, the best of the bunch:
Runner-up: "Take a nap under the warm sunlight in the green field."
The winner: "punish my middle school music teacher"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

초코파이 - Choco Pie (and 정)

Choco Pie is a Korean chocolate and marshmallow snack cake that is now as ubiquitous as kimchi, since arriving in convenience stories in the mid-1970's. Koreans seem to love it. Almost every Korean-American I know has grown up in love with it (while I don't recall even hearing about it before college...), and to be sure every Korean person in this country knows all about it. Every foreign ESL teacher knows about it, too, because they are cheap ($0.80 for a pack of 6) and we are always tempted to use them as prizes in class, trans fats and high sugar content notwithstanding.

I read briefly that while the original Korean company that made them, Orion, tried to sue another company, Lotte, for using a trademarked name, Lotte argued that by now, Choco Pie has become a common noun. This apparently happened a decade ago, and I guess now I don't need to capitalize the name and can just say that the choco pie craze is still going strong.

At the end of week's Tuesday morning teaching meeting, I brought out boxes of choco pie that I had bought over the weekend and shared them with all of my co-workers, with a smile and a "많이 드세요!". They were pretty stoked, not gonna lie. At first, they wanted to know what the special occasion was. But when it turned out that there was none, all of them had the same reaction: they laughed and cried out, "정!" Aha.

Jeong (情) is a Korean word that loosely translates to "relationship" or "affection". It is a collective emotion felt in a group, and as such has many layers and nuances of meaning that apply to different situations and different people. The Naver Korean dictionary defines it as "느끼어 일어나는 마음" (a feeling arising in the mind?) or "사랑이나 친근감을 느끼는 마음" (a feeling of love or intimacy), which are frankly just as cryptic as the translation attempt.

But as far as we've been educated at Fulbright (during all of those long cultural workshops), jeong is like the combination of a genuine personal and a crucial professional relationship. The emphasis time and again has been on being good cultural ambassadors, proper representatives of the United States. This means: build good relationships with Koreans (all of them). Build good jeong. Be as like-minded as you can. Give small, thoughtful gifts regularly. (In America, we perform random acts of kindness. In Korea, perform random acts of jeong.) Be helpful and enthusiastic and try new things, like karaoke or live octopus with sesame oil. Smile! Make an effort to connect socially, linguistically, and emotionally.

And buy choco pie for all of your co-workers. They'll get it.

P.S. Here is an interesting article on jeong and its relationships to psychotherapy that was one of the first Google hits. It was informative, but I think that for myself, simply being in Korea is a better way to learn. Living, learning, and teaching while immersed in Korean culture and society will teach me more fully what jeong really means.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Typhoon Sanba

Another typhoon made school a shade more interesting today! Typhoon Sanba, one of the strongest of the 2012 season, made landfall last night and strengthened continuously until this afternoon. Although there seemed to be more media hype about Bolaven, the underwhelming storm we got three weeks ago, Samba was actually pretty rough. You see, while Bolaven was menacingly large, it managed to miss the Korean peninsula and swept upward off the west coast without making landfall. But Sanba was a small yet powerful typhoon that cut straight across the southeastern part of the country. It passed right through my province and wreaked havoc in many areas.

From what I saw on the news tonight, most of the damage was due to flooding. There was even footage from Masan, which is the southwestern district of my city, Changwon, and is fairly close to sea level. The roads were completely submerged. Elsewhere, crop fields and orchards were ruined, landslides occurred, roofs blew away, and semis toppled over onto cars. That giant sand wall I saw on Haeundae Beach on Saturday? It has been obliterated.

But I didn't know any of that this morning. So today, although I had to go to school (which is almost never canceled for my students, who live in a dormitory on campus and can get to their classes in complete safety), I wasn't worried in the slightest. Typhoon? NBD. I've got a crappy umbrella, I'll be fine. Ha. Fortunately, my host father drove me to campus to save me a soaked and soggy walk; once I got to my office, I felt secure. The power didn't even go out once! Throughout the morning, the wind grew stronger and stronger, until it was blowing water into the rooms from the cracks between the windows and the window sills. That was something I hadn't seen before... In fact, roofs and walls at the school were leaking all over the place. But there wasn't any flooding.

I taught three classes today, normal for a Monday. And to my surprise, by the time I finished in the afternoon, the storm had passed in its entirety, and I even saw bits of blue sky in the distance.

So that's that for the third typhoon I've lived and taught through in Korea. I'm kind of hoping that there won't be any more, because they really are a nuisance (at the most benign) and an alarming catastrophe (at their worst). And it's almost autumn, so I want it to feel like that now.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

선물 - A gift!

I got a package from home! It arrived while I was in Busan yesterday and was waiting for me when I got home. The goods: chocolate (Ghirardelli! 72% Dark!!!), allergy medicine, and some extra clothes (because I packed so light before coming to Korea that I didn't bring enough shirts or socks).
Stuff from home! In this photo, I'd like to point out boat pajama bottoms, the fake hipster glasses I bought in Taiwan three summers ago, 72% dark chocolate, and also my new (and first ever) smartphone!
Thanks, mom and dad! I feel cared for. Especially because they have probably never sent so much stuff overseas since... I don't know, probably since they moved to the U.S. over thirty years ago. When my mom used to send me packages in college, they were invariably stuffed to the brim with granola bars. This time, I got extra socks. They weren't fuzzy, but I feel warm and fuzzy inside. :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Day in Busan (부산)

Evening in Busan, the city by the sea! It reminds me of San Francisco... (They even have a baseball team called the Giants.)
New flash: Andrew actually got out of Changwon for a day to visit other Fulbrighters! Surprise, surprise! Since Departure Day, which was over three weeks ago, I have not seen any of my colleagues in person, or even gone to any other city for a bit of fun (Daejeon didn't count). Today, I spent a drizzly but wonderful day in "Dynamic" Busan, the huge coastal city that is the south's answer to Seoul.

For my own future reference... it should take me less than two hours to get to the center of Busan. Today, it took me almost three, but that is mostly my fault, as I totally missed my first bus stop and got lost in my own city even before I had left it. The buses leave from Changwon (Masan Intercity Bus Terminal/마산시외버스터미널) every fifteen minutes or so for most of the day, and arrive at the Busan Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal/부산서부시외버스터미널 in 45 minutes. And then, the subway ride from Sasang Station/사상역 to what I would assume is the central downtown area takes another 45 minutes. The bus fare was 3,500 Won (about $3), although the return trip was 3,700 Won; for the Busan metro, I used my T-money card as I have been doing with Changwon buses, and it deducts at least 1,100 Won for each ride, plus a bit more if I travel far.

All in all, the travel is really quite cheap and not inconvenient in the least. I'm relieved, because on maps, Changwon always seemed so far away.

Ground floor entrance to Shinsegae. It's like a palace!
So what did I do in Busan? The first stop was the Shinsegae Department Store (신세계), whose branch in Busan happens to be the largest department store/shopping mall in all of Asia. It was pretty darn huge. And not only was there shopping, but there is a three-story Spaworld attached to it, as well as an ice skating rink of the fourth floor! (There's also an H&M! I will be back.)

While my friends were finishing up a morning at the spa, I wandered around Shinsegae's six floors, realized that I couldn't afford anything, and then sat by the ice skating rink to watch people go around in circles. It was nice and relaxing, although not as much as a three-hour spa treatment might have been, haha.

When I met up with the other Fulbrighters (Payal, Monica, and Hilary from Busan, and Jet, Thomas, and Taylor visiting from Daegu), we had lunch at the department store food court. I had my first 오무라이스 (omurice) in Korea! And it was absolutely delicious, as expected.
The first familiar faces I've seen in three weeks. Glad they're all smiling!
The Daegu crew had to leave soon after, so the Busan girls and I went on our own adventure: beaches on a rainy day! The drizzle was on and off all afternoon, but that didn't stop us. We went to Gwangalli Beach to see the Gwangan Bridge (광안대교). It's supposed to be very pretty when its lit up at night, but on this overcast afternoon, it simply blended into the steel gray sky. Still pretty, in a different way.
Gwangan Bridge from Gwangalli Beach.
On Gwangalli Beach, I had a fantastic time collecting some of the beautiful seashells (조개껍데리) that were everywhere. Monica commented that Gwangalli Beach seemed to have more litter than the more popular Haeundae Beach. It's true that Haeundae was clean and beautiful, but as far as I could tell, the objects that "littered" the Gwangalli sands the most plentifully were actually thousands of seashells, some of them quite large. I pocketed some of the prettiest that I could find.
Hilary and Monica with their large seashells.
Seashells on Gwangalli Beach
This might have been my favorite part of the day. Despite the drizzle (보슬보슬), it was still relaxing and peaceful on the beach. I think a beach is always relaxing, unless it's stormy. Speaking of which, another typhoon is supposed to hit South Korea starting from tomorrow evening. I guess today's weather was just a harbinger of worse that is to come.

But I wasn't thinking about that, really. It was just nice to chat and catch up with friends. We mostly talked about our schools and our lives with the homestay experience. All of us have enough stories to last days! Well, everyone else has plenty of stories. My life has been kind of boring in comparison, to be honest...

It strikes me every time just how different my school is from (almost) everyone else's. The best stories (and by best, I guess I mean funniest and most shocking) are those that recount the lengths to which some of us Fulbrighters must go in order to discipline unruly students or out-of-control classes.

When it comes down to it, I myself could never imagine playing "Mean Teacher Andrew", and I'm just grateful that my students are so astoundingly well-behaved. Hope this doesn't come back to bite me in the butt as the semester goes on!
Payal and the beautiful conch shell she found on the beach.
After Gwangalli, our group took a cab to Haeundae (해운대), arguably the better and more popular beach in Busan. Well, it's definitely larger and cleaner. But I couldn't tell you anything about popularity, since the rain and the approaching storm left the beach nearly deserted. I did notice one family having a cute picnic on a blanket and under a few umbrellas.

Also at Haeundae, which as a whole is considered the ritzy social neighborhood, we chanced upon some sort of festival (or tournament, maybe?) for computer games. There were two guys playing Starcraft, and their game was being displayed on a giant screen. And yes, there was an audience of at least one hundred, decked out in rain ponchos and completely engrossed in the action. It was so amusing. At one point, the cameramen of the event, who would sometimes pan the crowd in between action sequences of the game, pointed their lenses at us! And we showed up on the giant screen, much to our amusement (and embarrassment). I caught that part on video, and I'll put it up here sometime...
The World Cyber Games festival. Did you know that in South Korea, video gaming is considered a pro sport?

As we continued walking east along the beach, we also came across this giant sandbar (or, I guess it's a dike?) that was created as a safety measure against the typhoon's giant waves. It was essentially a huge wall of sand, and we took a short stroll on top of it!
I love Monica's rainbow umbrella!
Then, we found a Mango Six cafe and stopped for mango smoothies, dried mangoes, and mango fro-yo (which was phenomenal -- I'll have to visit again). And again, we just chatted about life in the present and life plans for the future. It was so pleasant having people to talk to who have had experiences similar to mine, never mind that it comprises a mere six weeks spent in Orientation.
Hilary and I were matching perfectly! We're both wearing red pants that we bought in Korea. I promise we didn't coordinate. Haha, this is such a happy photo! (taken by Payal)
For dinner, we went to a Mexican bar/restaurant called Fuzzy Navel (...?) in Haeundae. I guess it's becoming a habit of mine to find a Mexican place when I go to a larger city in Korea... I suppose I'll do it again when go visit Daegu and Gwangju! Anyway, at Fuzzy Navel I got a chicken avocado burrito, and although the tortilla was strangely crispy, it was overall a fantastic burrito worth the 11,500 Won. I wouldn't recommend getting any of the smaller dishes; portions were 작은변이예요. Also, if you're craving guacamole, the stuff here is pricey and a bit bland. But my burrito was good! :3
Dinner at Fuzzy Navel. Nachos and cheese! Salsa! Guac! Burrito! 멕시코음식! (taken by Payal)
The very last thing for the day was a quick trip to Seomyeong (서명), which is where a lot of the nightlife happens. It reminded me of Hongdae in Seoul; there were tons of bars, restaurants, and interesting shops open late. Pedestrians were everywhere, and it looked like a great, younger crowd, something I haven't been able to locate yet in Changwon. There is also an underground mall (yeah, like a 地下街!) here, which is apparently called a 프리멀 (Primall). Finding it was a nice surprise! I'll definitely be back to Seomeyong soon!
Nighttime scene in Seomyeon. It was busy and lively, but it wasn't hot or crowded. I wish I'd had more time to explore!
So that was my day in Busan. I had a great time, and I've already decided to go back a few more times this semester. Thanks, fellow Fulbrighters, for showing me around!