Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Good at English

JH asked me after class for "help with English". What sort of help do you need, I asked.

"Just... help."

Poor JH. Here's a good example of a student who is enthusiastic for English, has been exposed to it often and thus speaks it with fluency -- a slight British flavor to her minimal Korean accent -- who is struggling with the system because her knowledge of formal grammar isn't on par with her peers.

"Everyone thinks I'm good at English, but I'm not," she lamented. "I get low scores on tests. When you have a question to choose which answer is incorrect, my friends look at the sentence like Subject, Object, Verb, but I just try to read which one doesn't sound right."

I, for one, think her English is excellent. Most of my students can't put together an utterance the way she did without first writing it down and asking me to "check please Teacher." Even the ones who get high exam scores are often too shy or scared in class to actually say anything in English out loud. Truth be told, there is more than one way to be "good at English".

"'Good at English' and 'Good at grammar' are different," I told her. "Many native speakers -- many Americans -- speak fluently, but they still make grammar mistakes. In your case, I think that choosing an incorrect sentence based on how it sounds is not a bad method -- it's what native speakers do all the time in non-exam situations. That said," I continued, "I would only suggest it for a native speaker taking a test made by and for native speakers. You are a non-native speaker taking a test made by a non-native speaker. In this case, in order to succeed, you must know the grammar rules."

"It's so hard..."

"Yeah, it's hard, and it's unfortunate, but don't let it get you down. In college, my favorite science subject was biology." (I didn't tell her it was the only science class I took.) "It was difficult, and I was not happy about getting low grades, but I still enjoyed it. Hopefully your grade doesn't affect your feelings too much. I know this is hard, because your scores are very important for you. But I think you are just fine."

And to think I can only successfully communicate that kind of advice to a student if they're already really advanced...

JH tried to look encouraged. I told her to come to my office to ask any specific grammar questions any time she wanted. Honestly, I wasn't sure how to help her. She could bring her tests to me so I could show her what went wrong and how to fix it, but my co-teacher, the one who actually teaches the grammar class, could do the same and better. Here's the thing: I've learned after a few semesters that my role as "the native English teacher" is not to teach my students the English that they'll need to pass the English portions of the 수능 or any standardized tests, but to focus on conversational English, "useful" English, and bits and pieces of American culture. I'm also here to cheer them on every day, because English class is hard and high school is even harder and life at a science high school is the hardest of all.

In any case, I'm glad JH reached out to me first, because now I know a little bit better how I should support her and cater to her learning style. Sometimes I wonder if the most I can offer my students is a feeble "화이팅! You can do it!" as they stare down the barrel of an academic bazooka, but once in a while the opportunity to really make a difference in a student's life presents itself. I hope this is one such time!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jinju Lantern Festival

A few weeks ago, I went to the Jinju Lantern Festival and took lots of pictures of the main attraction: lanterns. Well, to be honest they weren't really lanterns, but more like lit-up paper sculptures. They were statues that glowed in the dark. Either way, it was quite the experience. Thanks to an earlier typhoon, the weather was a bit drizzly and there were fewer visitors (the festival is famous for being extremely crowded), but it was nice enough out to walk along the Nam River in Jinju and take in all the sights. You could pay a small toll to traverse makeshift bridges and see the largest and most beautiful sculptures on the river itself, including huge floats that represented landmarks around the world, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sphinx, and the Statue of Liberty.

I experienced the festival with Elani, a friend from Changwon, and John, another Fulbrighter who lives and teaches at the science high school in Jinju. Even though Jinju is only an hour's bus ride away from Changwon, this was in fact my first time visiting. Well, better late than never!

Here are the photos! Excuse the horrendous image quality, please; I've taken these off of Facebook. If you're interested in viewing or using an original, just let me know.
A lantern sculpture depicting 차례지내기, the tradition of honoring ancestors at Chuseok, an important Korean national holiday.
There were giant "lanterns" set up all around Jinju Fortress (진주성), the site of an important battle waged against Japanese invaders in the late 1500s. A lot of these lanterns depicted traditional Korean life or warfare, like this soldier on a horse.
As it got darker, the lanterns became more luminous and beautiful. Here is a beautiful tyrannosaurus rex, ready to chomp off Elani's head!
Besides the big lantern sculptures, there were "tunnels" of smaller lanterns -- these were more like the lanterns I am familiar with. Walking through this tunnel was fantastic. All of these lanterns were homemade.
This was a cool part of the festival: people can make their own lantern and set it on the river to float away, presumably with a wish or some sort of blessing. All of the lanterns ended up floating into the nearby bank, but it still looked pretty magical.
And then there was this dragon being ridden by Guanyin.
Here is a photo of the entire 남강 (Nam River) in Jinju at night, with tons of lanterns making the river brighter than the city itself. It was so lovely! ... But dang, this looks like one apocalyptic electricity bill...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Kid They Call 게이, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

"Hey JS, can I talk to you after class?"
"Me?" said JS.

I waited until all the other students had left and talked to JS as I cleaned the whiteboard and gathered my things.

"Good job today, by the way," I began. "Um, I just wanted to ask you about your nickname."
"Oh, yeah," said JS, as if he guessed what was coming.
"Why do the other students call you that?"

JS began a rambling story. "Well, it started with JM. He saw my namecard one day, with (my initials) AJS, and the words were a little faded, so you couldn't read it... So he wrote in "gay" (게이) as my name. It's because I'm in the Mathematics Club at our school. People joke that the Mathematics Club is gay. Apparently the leaders of the club a few years ago went crazy. During the event when students introduce their clubs, they said, 'We welcome girls, but we welcome boys even more.'"

"Oh, I see." After listening to all that, well, I couldn't say that I was surprised. "That's... funny."
"Yeah," JS said.
"So you don't mind people calling you that?" I asked.
"No, not really," he replied. "It's just... people being funny."

I walked toward the back of the room to turn off the light, thinking very hard. Then I went for it. "Do you want to know why I don't like it when people use the word 'gay', though?" Not waiting for an answer, I went on. "In the United States, students cannot say that word -- I'm sure you know..." I recalled that JS had lived in New Jersey for three years. "...Because they use it to insult and bully others. Know what I mean?"

JS was quick to catch on. "Yeah. I guess, in Korea, gay people are rare... or hidden..."
"Right," I replied. "Does that make it okay to make fun of them?"
"I guess not," he said.

"Right." I breathed a small sigh. "I'm just glad to know that you aren't offended by it. But I want you to know something." By this time we were both walking toward the door. "If you ever, ever don't like it when someone calls you that, you can tell them to stop. It's that easy. Just say, 'Please don't call me that.' You understand?" I looked at him closely.


As he stepped out the door, I said, half to myself, "Wow, I guess it's about time I taught a lesson on the power of words, huh?"
"That might be interesting," he said. "Bye, teacher!"
"See ya."

- - -

This conversation took place last week, after a class where everything went smoothly except for one moment in a game, when JM, the same student who gave JS his nickname, called a girl gay, and the entire class erupted in laughter. I was so angry. I paused the game and sternly told them not to use "gay" as an insult. But what use is that? How could my students know they're using it as an insult? It's just a joke to most of them.

On the bright side, the incident reminded me that I wanted to talk to JS, and the opportunity opened itself right up after class.

But... sigh. How many times is this going to happen?

At last weekend's Fulbright Conference, my friend Sara and I led a small group discussion centered on LGBTQ issues as expats and teachers in Korea. We talked about various issues, including straight-washing relationships, encountering students who may be LGBTQ, how to challenge locals' notions of Korea's queer community, and handling homophobia in the classroom and workplace. I wish I could say I had all the answers, but I definitely don't. Fortunately, having the support of my friends and colleagues is encouragement enough for now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

베이킹을 사랑해! I Love Baking!

Fulbright Fall Conference was last weekend, and one of the events was a bake sale as part of a fundraising effort for various Fulbrighter-led initiatives. My contribution was a batch of persimmon cupcakes (with persimmon frosting!) and Oreo brownies! My friend Katelyn, who baked peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies, and I together raised about $70 for the North Korea Defector tutoring program in Daegu.

I documented my uber-baking process, which began at 6am the morning before I was to leave for Gyeongju. I got up before sunrise, baked for three hours straight, cleaned for one hour, packed, and was out the door by 10:30am.
The set-up: some new baking pans, a new muffin tin! And all the ingredients up top: peanut butter, persimmons, Oreos, chocolate... Dang, seeing this makes me excited to bake again.
Oreo brownies: one layer of cookie dough, one layer of Oreos, and one layer of brownies. Recipe from here.
The finished product! It was very sweet, but not as melty or moist as I'd have liked. Still, not bad for the first try.
Persimmon cupcakes, just out of the oven! I mostly followed this recipe from the Cupcake Project, but used cinnamon instead of pumpkin pie spice and also added crushed walnuts per a recipe I got from my aunt. (The idea was inspired by her own persimmon cake, so thanks, A-koh!)
Here's the first batch! Persimmon cupcakes, with persimmon. :) Cute, but a bit flat. Perhaps more baking powder next time to help them rise. Also, more flour to counteract too much juice from the fruit.
I also made persimmon frosting! Without powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar), I had to go with a recipe that used granulated sugar, but it turned out better than I could have imagined, anyway. Butter, sugar, milk, flour (?!), and one persimmon, whipped together like mad and refrigerated for a few hours. I frosted them just before the bake sale, so that it wouldn't melt. They were a hit. I even sold cups of extra frosting for a buck each; I'm not kidding.
Oh and here's another thing I did a few weeks ago: cinnamon sugar sweet potato fries. Yum!
I love baking and I will try to get better at it throughout the year. Fall is definitely here. How do I know? The weather is chillier and I've caught a cold. Time to try recipes with pumpkins (Korean pumpkins, 호박, are quite different from American ones) and Korean pears!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe (조리법)

Pesto Grilled Cheese! 페스토 그릴드 치즈!
- sliced bread/빵
- Tillamook pepperjack cheese/치즈
- mushrooms/버섯
- pesto/페스토
- butter/버터

1. Dice the mushrooms and fry them in butter. 버섯을 깍둑썰기를 하고 버터에 튀기다.
2. Spread pesto on one slice of bread and top with all of the cheese you desire. 빵에서 페스토를 바르고 치즈를 원하는 만큼 놓다.
3. Generously coat a skillet with butter and place the half-sandwich in it. Add the mushrooms, more cheese, and the second slice of bread to complete the sandwich. 프라이팬에 버터를 많이 놓고 샌드위치도 놓다. 버섯, 치즈와 빵 또한 조각을 놓도록 샌드위치를 만들다.
4. Flip once. 한 번 뒤집다.
5. Eat deliciously. 맛있게 드세요!

Good food is good for friendships. Last weekend in Seoul, I had the chance to get dinner with Jake, except we didn't get dinner but decided to make it ourselves. I'd been craving cheese for some reason, so we went simple and did grilled cheese sandwiches. I was quite content. Not only was dinner absolutely delicious and absolutely the kind of comfort food that I needed, I really appreciated getting to catch up with Jake and have some 친구 time, as well as with some other Fulbrighters whom we ran into and chilled with for the evening.

I also made a date with another Swattie! I love how so many of us can be found in Korea, working, studying, living, visiting, or just passing through. I've met up with over two dozen in less than two years; considering how small my college was, I'd say that's a decently high number! Steph had been employed in Shanghai but moved to Seoul less than a month ago for a change of pace. I caught her during the conference lunch break, and we got some good Vietnamese pho, spring rolls, and pineapple fried rice (!) at a small restaurant close to the university campus. Although we only had an hour, it was enough to catch up -- I hadn't seen her in two years -- and talk excitedly about how awesome Korea is. I'm sure she's going to love Seoul. But come visit Changwon, too, Steph!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Woohoo, Changwon Bike Party!

Changwon Bike Party! Photo courtesy Coby Z.
Ever since I heard of the Changwon Bike Party, I've been itching to take part. I needed two things, though: first, to get a Nubija pass so that I can use the city's public bike rental system, and second, to not be out of town so much. The Bike Party takes place once a month, and I've missed out because I'm so rarely home on weekends.

Fortunately, the October Bike Party was last Friday, and I was in town for it. I also got my Nubija pass a few months ago (and have been using the heck out of it already), so I was ready to go. After taekgyeon class ended at 10:40pm, I made my way to the nearest bike station as fast as I could, and, still sweaty from my workout, proceeded to bike the eight kilometers (five miles) downtown. It took me over half an hour, so by the time I neared the meeting place, I figured that the group would already have left. Fortunately, the organizer, Coby, had posted a map of the night's route online, so I used that to estimate where the group might be.

Cycling at midnight: cold, but fun. Photo courtesy Coby Z.
A bit anxious, I set off in pursuit. Soon, I was relieved to see a group of blinking red single taillights in the distance, which couldn't have been anything but a group of about a dozen cyclists headed toward the river. It took me about ten minutes to catch up to them.

The rest of the night was great! Although it was very cold, the adventure and good company more than made up for it. I chatted with some expat friends I knew and also made new friends, both Korean and non-Korean! I was really excited to meet the Koreans, actually, since I actually don't know too many who are my age. We talked as we biked, easily done since the wide and well-paved roads in the factory-dominated part of the city are conducive for simultaneous cycling and conversation. When we passed through the busier downtown area, we all rang our cute bicycle bells and shouted, "Woohoo! Bike Partyyy!" and Koreans stared at us or gave us high-fives. The group stopped twice at convenience stores for drinks and ended the night around 1:30 by going to a bar. (I headed home instead, arriving around 2am, since I needed to get at least some sleep before catching an early morning train to Seoul.)

In short, Bike Party is great, and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

P.S. As it turns out, Changwon Bike Party has its origins in the Bay Area, my home in California. The organizer took the idea from the San Jose Bike Party, which he attended regularly while he was studying there for a few years (while I was in college on the East Coast, I might add -- boy, did I miss out!). Just one more reason to appreciate this new monthly hobby I've found!

P.P.S. Changwon Bike Party website. We're also on Facebook!

Sunday, October 13, 2013


This past weekend was one of those rare ones where you have a fantastic time yet don't dread the week to follow, because said fantastic time was had at an education conference, and you learned so much that you just can't wait to get back into your classroom and get your teaching groove on!

I'm not going to write about the KOTESOL Conference right now, though, since it's late and I need to sleep early tonight. The week that I'm really looking forward to is also going to be a very tough one -- it's bookended by conferences, one of which I need to process and write about, the other for which I need to prepare a presentation and baked goods. This ordeal begins tomorrow. And I haven't finished my Monday afternoon lesson plan. So! It's off to bed for me...

But not without some photos, at least!
Changwon Station at 6:30am. It looks grand, but Seoul Station is even grander...
The first (of many) cool things about last weekend was that I took a train in Korea for the first time. Now, Seoul's metropolitan train/subway system I'm quite familiar with, but I've never taken regional trains, such as the Mugunghwa (무궁화호), or the high-speed rail, called KTX. For the past fifteen months, it's been all buses, all the time. Buses are much cheaper than trains, and for me, the travel time difference isn't much of an issue. It takes 2.5 hours (and 52,000₩/$50) to ride the KTX from Changwon to Seoul, which is already such a long time that when I want to spend a weekend in the capital, the extra two hours that a bus ride requires is actually... negligible? That sounds ridiculous, I know, but what I mean is that the four hours I would save by taking the high-speed rail is not worth the extra $40-60 for the round trip.

Anyway, the point is that I've never taken the train before, and this seems to surprise a lot of people. The reason I got to ride the KTX this past weekend, then, was that my school's English department scored some cash to fund our registration fees (등록비) and transportation costs (교통비) for the KOTESOL Conference.

I had to wake up at 5:30am to catch my 6:50 train, and Changwon Station looked quite beautiful in the early morning light. (I have not been awake to see the sunrise in a very long time.)

When I arrived at the station, I ran into four of my first-year students. They were also taking the early morning train to Seoul! When I asked why, they explained that they were entering a national mathematics competition for which they had to use algorithms and equations to replicate a famous drawing, theirs being Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer. Right: my geniuses were going to draw a Dutch Golden Age masterpiece with math.
I chatted with the students I ran into at the train station. I hope they did well at their competition!
I enjoyed chatting with them, especially since I rarely see my students outside of school, and it was cute how excited they were to try to explain what their project was about to me with their limited English. But their seats were in a different car on the train, so I said goodbye when our train pulled up.

The last and most important thing about my KTX adventure is that I hardly remember the rest of it, since I fell asleep in those gloriously comfortable seats. I do have one complaint: not enough legroom. The seats were better than those of regular (일반) buses, but when compared to "luxury" (우등) buses, well, I actually think the luxury buses are more comfortable, because I can recline and stretch out my legs quite a bit. So even though the KTX is faster, I think in the future I'll still stick to my good ol' buses.

P.S. Another bus story: about a month ago, I ran into one of my students on the bus. As it turns out, he has been attending a hagwon (private academy) for extra science classes in Seoul every weekend since July, and the course will end in October. That's sixteen weekends in a row of the 8-hour commute for the sake of extra science classes. I was dumbfounded. Not only that, he said that he wasn't the only student who did it: one of his classmates attended the same hagwon-for-kids-whose-parents-can-afford-to-be-this-crazy, but he wasn't on the bus because he had taken the KTX. The KTX. A hundred bucks a week for the sake of extra science classes. Un-교툥비-lievable. My co-teachers and I agree that this is absolutely nuts, but that's Korean education for you, in a (forgive me) nutshell.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Conversation Club

JJ said that he didn't see why JM's roommate had to borrow his water bottle every night just so that he could make instant ramen (라면) in his room after curfew. JM then took it upon himself to explain. His roommate's bottle only held 100cc, so he needed to fill it all the way with hot water for the noodles. Then, he needed another bottle to fill with cool water to drink, since the ramen broth was too spicy. Hence, two bottles needed.

"JM," I asked, "why can't he just use the same bottle twice? Fill it with hot water, put the hot water in the noodles, and then fill it again with cold water?"

"We can't leave our rooms after we get water!" JM replied.

Oh. Strict dorm curfew is strict.

"Well, in that case, you should say 'thank you' to JJ," I said.

JM turned to JJ and said, "Thank you."

"Er -- I mean, you should say 'thank you' every time you borrow his water bottle."

JM looked at me, confused, and then turned back to JJ. "Thank you every time you borrow his --"

"No!" I chuckled. "You should say 'thanks' only when you borrow his water bottle."

The other students in the club were laughing now. JM just wasn't getting it. "Thank you only when you...?"

"Not now!" I couldn't keep a straight face at this point. "Later! Oh, never mind."

Fortunately, at that point it clicked for JM, and he figured it out. When he and his roommate ask their neighbor if they can borrow his water bottle so they can have their midnight snacks in their dorm, then he should remember to thank him.

어려울 때 친구가 진짜 친구이다.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Baby Korean Jesus

The Nativity Scene a la Lantern Festival
This evening, I went to the Jinju Lantern Festival (진주남강유등축제), where the main attraction is a gallery of enormous, colorful, "lantern" sculptures floating on the Nam River (남당). This one is a Nativity scene with Asian wise men, Asian Joseph and Mary, and a beautiful baby Asian Jesus (아기예수) in his lit-up manger. It's late, so I have to retire to my own manger now, but I promise more photos to come soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hongshi Season

Yes, that is an Oshawott spoon.
홍시가 제철이다! Hongshi are fully-ripened astringent persimmons that taste like heaven. I got six of them for 3,000₩ (a little less than three bucks) from a vendor on the street, and I think that's a good deal. I've been eating them for breakfast every day this past week, and now that I'm almost out, it's time to get more. Perhaps I can bake them into something. I could also freeze them for a few months: instant persimmon water ice for Korea's super-hot summers!

For more on persimmons, read this.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Difference Between Migrants and Expats (MAMF 2013)

MAMF 2013 in Yongji Cultural Park, Changwon
After church today, some friends and I visited the Migrants' Arirang Multicultural Festival being held in Yongji Cultural Park, conveniently just across the street from Hanbit Presbyterian Church. I had heard of this unique cultural festival last year, but I didn't attend. This year, it appeared to be a much bigger event, and since it was so close and also because there was the promise of food, I went to check it out.

My first and most enduring impression was that there were a lot of people there, and the diversity was stunning. Now, I know that Changwon is home to thousands of non-Koreans. Ever since South Korea's rise to economic success, people from many other countries in Asia have arrived to seek their fortunes here. But I never realized just... how many there were. I have literally never seen more non-East Asians assembled in one place until today. And I emphasize non-East Asians because Western countries were hardly represented here. More on that later.
Mongolian representatives enter the wrestling ring.
The festival had been running all weekend, but the crowds were still bustling and events were going on all the time even on its final day. In one corner of the park, a large group of Vietnamese were holding a talent show. They were decked out in traditional clothes or t-shirts with their national flag on them. In another area, what looked like a beauty contest was taking place for the Cambodian community. Right next to them, a Nepalese man decked out in hip-hop attire was giving a rap performance to an attentive crowd. Pakistani university exchange students were blasting music and dancing together, too, to the amusement of the many Koreans wandering by the park. One of the most interesting events I witnessed was a demonstration of Mongolian wrestling, or Bökh (Бөх). The athletes braved the cold in their very bare uniforms (see photo above) and also did some interesting balletic salutes to their flag and to the crowd before commencing their bouts of grappling and throwing each other to the ground.

In addition to the events, there were numerous stalls promoting each country's unique culture and food, as well as stalls for kids to experience the "multi" aspect of the culture by creating buttons or decorating flags. My favorite part, of course, was browsing the food stalls for delicious things to eat. Vietnam had pho, Japan had takoyaki, Indonesia had sate ayam, and Russia had a barbecue grill that was billowing enormous clouds of smoke in every direction. For lunch, I got menudo, a kind of meat stew, and turon, which are like fried banana egg rolls, both from the Philippines. I also sneaked bites of my friends' pad thai (Thailand), tandoori chicken (India), and fried calamari (Indonesia). This lunch reminded me a lot of Multicultural Week at my high school, where student clubs would raise money by selling foods from all around the world, and because my high school was in Fremont, well, the diversity of authentic ethnic foods you could find at our little high school fair was superb.
Food stalls! So many good smells emanating from this area of the festival...
So here's the odd part. The first thing I looked for when I realized that it was a multicultural festival was the stall for Taiwan. I didn't find one. China had a food stall, where they were selling dumplings and milk tea (unfortunately, when I asked for one, they had temporarily run out of water... at least I got to practice my Mandarin!). But Taiwan was nowhere to be found. I also noticed that there were food stalls for over a dozen Asian countries, including countries that I must admit I never think about (like Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. I always forget about Bangladesh on Sporcle quizzes...), but the only European country represented was Germany, whose popular wurst stall was being run by a Korean.

It didn't take me long, however, to realize that it being the "Migrants' Arirang" festival, the only countries represented would be those of... migrant workers. I then looked around and realized that all these South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Central Asians that I had never noticed before were probably from communities of migrant workers or immigrants in Korea, and I had a really big "OH" moment.

I think that up until now, my astoundingly narrow-minded idea of the "foreigner" (외국인) in Korea was of the Western Anglophone: an independent twenty-something  from Canada, South Africa, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, or the US, most likely white, here in Korea for one to four years on a short teaching stint before moving home or on to the next Asian country. Of course, living in Changwon expanded that idea a bit to include young couples on a short teaching stint, old couples on a very long teaching stint, missionaries, foreign exchange students, and lots and lots of engineers from all over the world.

Most of these kinds of foreigners I can also categorize as "expats". The dictionary definition of "expatriate" is someone who is banished from or purposely withdraws from their native country to live somewhere else, but it has less of a negative or political connotation in expat circles today, especially when it comes to communities of expat English teachers. I've noticed that the word "expat" now refers primarily to Western foreigners, a more exclusive circle than 외국인.

And now I can see clearly how there is a huge group of people categorically left out of the discourse: immigrants (이민자). I never see them because they are mostly employed in industry, like in one of Changwon's hundreds of factories, in a completely different part of town. Migrant workers (이주 노동자) are supposed to be temporary, making enough money to move back home or onto something else in just a few years. However, I learned that in some immigrant communities in Changwon, families have lived here for ten or more years. Their children have grown up here. They are, in fact, exactly like the permanent immigrant communities in California that I'm so accustomed to (that I'm a part of, actually), only their adopted country is Korea, not the United States.

I find it somewhat awkward that this had never really occurred to me before -- it was a curious case of culture shock. That there are huge communities of minorities threaded into the seemingly solid-color fabric of Korean society shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. But it took my seeing all of them "out in the open" to realize how sizable the demographic really is.

Perhaps the other awkward part was realizing then why I couldn't find Taiwan today: there are relatively few migrant workers in Korea who are from my motherland, because Taiwan is developed enough economically for its people not to have to go abroad to find work. (Plus, Koreans don't crave stinky tofu the way they crave jajangmyeon.)

And that then made me think about how strange it would be if I did run into a poor Taiwanese enclave somewhere in the world and found myself staring straight into the face of my American privilege. Taiwanese-Americans and ABCs of my generation have generally done very well for themselves in the US. What if this wasn't the case somewhere else, and I met a community of Taiwanese emigrants who were living virtually unrecognized in a society that only acknowledged them once a year with a festival that celebrated but also completely Otherized them? I don't know what I would do. I would probably also have trouble communicating with them, beyond asking for a 布丁奶茶 and explaining that I'm actually from California.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking this now. Readers, what do you think about migrant workers and immigrant communities in the place where you live? Do you think about them at all?

In any case, I did enjoy spending time at the Migrants' Arirang Multicultural Festival today, and above all else I'm happy that Changwon hosts a festival like this, in the midst of Korea's festival-overload season. (Also happening this weekend were the Andong Maskdance Festival, the Busan International Film Festival, the Jinju Lantern Festival, and the Korea Drama Festival, and those are just the ones in the Gyeongsang provinces alone!)

P.S. Here are two articles about MAMF 2013 that I will get around to reading (and maybe translating -- they're in Korean) if I have the time: Nocut News and International News.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


As of last Wednesday, teacher sports day is back! After over a month of wondering if our principal had finally done away with the weekly volleyball, soccer, or badminton games for the teachers at my school, I was pleased to receive a message from the PE teacher announcing pick-up volleyball at 4:30 in the gym.

Although my volleyball skills are rusty (oh, who am I kidding, they were never even greased), I can hold my own on the court. I run fours for whatever team I'm on -- a position I was never permitted to play in high school -- and my mediocre attacks have earned me the admiration of some of my colleagues. Even better, my skills improved a lot last year when we played every week. Needless to say, I love playing volleyball with the other teachers at my school. I also love that we order pizza, fried chicken, and beer after the game, and that some female teachers come to watch and cheer us on, but mostly come for the food. Mr. Pizza is growing on me.

Anyway, yesterday I noticed that one of the chemistry teachers kept saying "Glucose!" over and over again throughout the game. I thought that he might be smack talking a player on the other team, since he always called it out every time the other team missed the ball or made an error. When a particularly good serve wasn't returned: "Glucose!" When I spiked and the ball went through someone's hands: "Glucose!"

I was really amused by the nickname, and I tried to figure out which teacher on the other team it was aimed at. It must have been someone else in the chemistry department -- why else would they be called Glucose? At least two of the teachers on the other team were definitely not very experienced on the court, but neither was responding directly to the name, so I was left uncertain.

Then, the teachers reset the court for a game of foot volleyball (족구), and after making a fool of myself for one match, I sat out the next one and munched on some pizza. The chemistry teacher took my place and resumed his name-calling: "Glucose!" right after a serve. "Glucose!" when we scored a point on an error.

I turned to a physics teacher who was there for the pizza. "Teacher, who is Glucose?"
"What?" he looked at me quizzically.
"Glucose... what that teacher said. Who is it?"
"I don't understand."

Embarrassed, I waited for a pause in the game, and then I called out to the chemistry teacher himself. "Teacher, what is Glucose?"
"Glucose?" he said. "포도당."
"Oh..." He had literally translated glucose into Korean for me. "That's not what I meant," I thought.

The physics teacher turned to me. "Why did you want to know that, anyway?"
"No," I tried to explain, "the teacher was saying 'glucose' to someone on the other team... Glucose! Glucose! Who is it?"

Suddenly, a light bulb lit up in his head. "Oh... 굿코스 (goot-kohss)! Good course! Good shot!"
"What? Good course?"
"It means 'good shot'," he explained. "Wow, then that must be Konglish, right?"
"Yeah, I guess!" I replied. It all made sense: Glucose wasn't a person, I had merely misheard a bit of garbled English. "Good course" was his version of "good shot", and it wasn't directed at the other team, but at our own. The physics teacher found this whole thing very funny and made a point to tell the chemistry teacher that what he had thought was English was actually Konglish.

It reminded me of how some of the teachers had picked up my habit of shouting "Nice serve!" after every serve (even if it wasn't remotely nice), but since I didn't really enunciate and they didn't really speak English, they eventually turned it into "나이서브 (nai-seo-bu)!"

They also laughed at me every time I called for the ball, saying "Got it!" quickly and repeatedly, like a machine gun: "Gotitgotitgotitgotit!" But I haven't yet been able to switch over to what they say: "마이 (mai)!", which I assume comes from the word "mine".

Every time I play sports in Korea, whether it's soccer with my students, padminton with my dojang, or anything with my teachers, I'm constantly amused and intrigued by how English has loaned so many words to Korean athletic vernacular but has also watched them become unflatteringly repurposed by the phenomenon of Konglish. Off the top of my head, there's 아웃(이다), 플레이, 블랙홀, and, of course, 화이팅.

My friends who champion the cause of sports diplomacy assert that sports can unite people from different cultures in a way that language cannot. While I agree, I believe it's also worth noting that sports can rarely be played successfully without verbal communication, and when it comes to the language of sports, English has lived up to its reputation as the language of conquest (or the international language, if you prefer). But this is precisely why it tickles me so much that English's ruthless incursion into Korean athletics has been tripped up by the fact that the Korean language will do whatever the heck it wants with whatever words come its way from outside the peninsula, proper syntax and pronunciation be damned.

Long live Konglish! And long live teacher sports day!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


휴일 (hyu-il) means holiday or vacation day. Today is Korea's Foundation Day, when the ancient Gojoseon kingdom was supposedly established by a god who descended upon Baekdu Mountain from heaven. It's a typical origin myth, and while I find the story interesting (there's a part about a bear that ate garlic for a hundred days and turned into a human), I'm only really invested in the day because, as a national public holiday, I got the day off of school. My students didn't; they're stuck on campus for a day of self-studying.

I don't have any plans for the day... aside from the usual sleep in, cook some whatever, upload photos to Facebook, and work on graduate school applications. Here's what I've been up to lately, though:
Fulbright friends!
Wine, cheese, and cookies! And tons more food.
Last weekend, I traveled to Pohang (about two and a half hours away by bus) to visit a fellow Fulbright teacher, who teaches at the Gyeongbuk Science High School. We had organized an informal "wine and cheese social", where we dressed up, discussed art, and networked. Nah, I'm just kidding. We drank crappy wine and ate cookies and pizza, watched Lady Gaga's music videos and talked about our schools and travel plans, and really, it was just an excuse to hang out with friends and pretend to be classy (세련되다) and I have no regrets.
And then this happened.
Katelyn and an apple pie a la mode!
This past Sunday and Monday, my friend Katelyn came to visit. Her school has midterms this week, so she was free to travel, and, aren't I lucky, she decided to travel to Changwon! My first visitor this year. To celebrate, we had a jam session, baked an apple pie (pâte brisée is impossible to make...), watched Glee, and had a fantastic time.

Also, Katelyn visited my school on Monday and left a couple of my classes in awe. We threw together a lesson that consisted mostly of my students asking her questions about her life, and the response was quite positive. Some of my students were more engaged on Monday than they have been all year!

In other news, I've officially begun applying to graduate programs in Linguistics, most of them in California. Writing a personal statement is proving to be difficult, since I don't know for sure what the programs are looking for in an applicant, or how well I stack up. However, I hope to have them all done by the end of November, and then I'll leave it up to God until I hear back in February or March next year.

I also bought a guitar, and I started listening to more K-pop (current favorites: Ailee, Primary, Roy Kim, Akdong Musician, and Miss A). Uh-oh... I wonder how much of a distraction both of these are going to turn out to be!