Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

"My favorite movie is Home Alone. I really enjoyed it. I'm alone on Christmas, but that movie is my girlfriend." - HG

A first-year student's quip during a conversation class a few weeks ago. You all know by now that Korea is all about the couples on Christmas. How about on New Year's Eve? I couldn't tell you, actually. But my company tonight is a big bowl of ramen and the last of my personal statements and sample research proposals for my graduate school applications. I'm trying to see if I can finish them before the end of the year... Oh, who am I kidding. I'm trying to see if I can finish them before the end of the day on January first, as they are due on the second.

I've never held much appreciation for the festivities that surround the New Year. For me, it's supposed to be another excuse to spend time with my family. Without them, I see no reason to treat tonight differently from any other night. Work, then a TV break, followed by more work, and when the clock strikes midnight I'll go to sleep.

Goodbye, 2013! See you soon, 2014! And please be warmer.

[edit] Awww, heck, why not. This year-end survey is from Sam Morrow.

1: what did you do this year that you've never done before?
Ice fishing, night skiing, and silkworm eating, to name a few. I began seriously training in martial arts and won a medal, touched a human brain, celebrated a Jewish passover Seder,  went to a Korean baseball game, visited Jeju Island (and many other new places in Korea), marched in a pride parade, saw South Dakota, moved into my own apartmentran a 5k, and spent Christmas away from home.
2: did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any resolutions. Next year, I resolve to obtain my black belt in taekgyeon, read my Bible regularly, and be the best teacher I can be for one more semester.
3: did anyone close to you give birth?
Hm... maybe? Not that I recall, though my memory about these things is very poor.
4: did anyone close to you die?
My Ga-jiu A-kong; he was 92. Also, one of my students.
5: what countries did you visit?
Lived in Korea, visited Taiwan twice and the US twice.
6: what would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
A graduate school acceptance letter.
7: what dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I don't remember dates.
8: what was your biggest achievement of the year?
One-year milestone of teaching in Korea!
9: what was your biggest failure?
Tough question... I have not yet hiked up any of Korea's famous mountains, even though I kept saying I would.
10: did you suffer illness or injury?
I got the flu and food poisoning a few times this year. Also, crazy tonsilloliths.
11: what was the best thing you bought?
Fuzzy slippers and a space heater for my apartment.
12: whose behaviour merited celebration?
Everyone who made a stranger's life better!
13: whose behaviour made you appalled?
Who am I to judge?
14: where did most of your money go?
Travel and transportation. Plane tickets... seriously.
15: what did you get really, really, really excited about?
Irene and Dan's wedding! Wes and Hana's wedding! (Side note: Facebook's "photos I have liked" search function is making me really happy right now.) Hm... also, Pokemon X & Y, educational theory, baking, books, and AcousticHolic!
16: what song will always remind you of 2013?
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, "Can't Hold Us". Or anything by Pentatonix!
17: compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
Happier, always. Thinner a bit. And... I've been saving up for this winter break, so richer, but not for long.
18: what do you wish you’d done more of?
Exercise, study Korean, go to church, travel and see friends, read, blog, photograph beautiful things.
19: what do you wish you’d done less of?
20: how did you spend christmas?
21: did you fall in love in 2013?
With all of my wonderful students!
22: what was your favourite tv program?
Parks and Recreation! No -- ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT SEASON 4
23: do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
24: what was the best book you read?
World War Z by Max Brooks or Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
25: what was your greatest musical discovery?
Sungha Jung! Roy Kim! No -- ACOUSTICHOLIC!
26: what did you want and get?
Direction in life.
27: what did you want and not get?
My admissions letter to Hogwarts.
28: what was your favourite film of this year?
Cloud Atlas (I watched it in January in Korea) and, unfortunately, This Is the End. Ooh, also The Great Gatsby.
29: what one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
30: how would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
Teacher clothes.
31: what kept you sane?
See #29.
32: which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I don't know, and also this survey is getting long and boring.
33: what political issue stirred you the most?
Marriage equality!
34: whom did you miss?
See #29.
35: tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
Don't judge others for being different, leading a different life, having different skills, seeking different goals. Our differences should make us appreciate each other more.
36: quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"If we hold on, and though we carry scars, God is with us marching through the dark." - "Fools Marching" by Tim Be Told

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Food for the Seoul

Ice cream in Iksan, Bananagrams at Belgium Chocolatier, Ben's Cookies, Myeongdong Kyoja, Monster Pizza, listening to Tim Be Told, chilling at AcousticHolic, shopping at Ssamziegil in Insadong.
My wallet has been relieved of the army of King Sejongs who have been living in it undisturbed for quite some time. In their place, a wad of receipts. A weekend in Seoul always means money spent left and right, but I had a great time and ate a lot of amazing food; it was all well worth it.

Friday Food: MEAT and a quarter gallon of ice cream
So, last Friday after school, I took a two-leg bus trip to Iksan (익산) to visit Katelyn, who welcomed me with dinner at 종로상회, an amazing barbecue restaurant with generous portions, and the traditional Iksan Initiation: a quarter-gallon of Baskin Robbins, to be eaten in one sitting. At BR, we ran into two of her students, and I was sorely tempted to pretend to be Katelyn's boyfriend. We then pigged out on ice cream and cookies we had both baked while watching Monsters University, which I fairly enjoyed despite its predictability.

Saturday Food: street food and super-spicy vindaloo
Late Saturday morning, we took a bus to Seoul for our weekend adventure. Most of this adventure consisted of shopping and eating. Our first stop was Insadong (인사동), the neighborhood best known for souvenirs and traditional Korean crafts that are made in China. Eh, some of them are made in China, but honestly I wasn't able to tell what was really authentic and what wasn't. However, I was especially enamored with Ssamziegil (쌈지길), a four-story building crammed to bursting with little shops for everything from jewelry and clothes to phone accessories and toys. Everything looked handmade, and just walking around and taking in the sights was as much a pleasure as the shopping itself. I will certainly come back to Insadong in the future, this time armed with my camera.

As for good eats, well, there's nothing like a $1 hotteok (호떡) in a cup from a street vendor on a below-freezing night. After snacking in Insadong, Katelyn, Ashley, and I joined Liam in Hongdae for dinner at an exellent Indian/Nepalese restaurant called Yeti (예티), which I featured in hungryinhongdae a while back. The lamb vindaloo was extremely spicy and caused me to sweat, but I couldn't stop eating it (and should have ordered another mango lassi to calm my tongue...) Also, bottomless naan baskets! What a deal! Following that, we hurried to AcousticHolic to watch our friends perform. I hadn't been in at least six months, but everyone still remembered me! And their performances were excellent, as usual.

Sunday Food: chopped noodle soup, cookies, egg tart, fro-yo, American pizza and a burger
In an attempt to beat the crowds at the famous Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자), Katelyn, Jessica and I aimed to arrive at Myeongdong, Seoul's famous upscale shopping district, at 11:30am. We actually got to the restaurant at noon, and the place was as busy as a beehive. The three of us were promptly seated at a table for two, ordered three bowls of 칼국수 (delicious noodle soup that warms your soul) and paid up front in cash (8,000KRW), and within two minutes three bowls of soup and sides of kimchi appeared on our table. It was faster than fast food! I was dumbfounded. But the restaurant was extremely busy; people kept coming in, eating, and leaving in the blink of an eye. Still, the ladies and I had the time to talk and catch up, and we also got second helpings of the delicious (and bottomless/free refill) noodles.

After lunch, Katelyn and I hopped in and out of shops in the midst of post-Christmas sales, but I exercised some restraint and bought only one thing: a divinely delicious orange-milk chocolate cookie from Ben's Cookies, a chain that does one thing and does it well, with six locations in Seoul. At three bucks, it's one-third of a nice scarf from Spau, but I'd take the cookie any day!

Katelyn then had to leave for the airport, and I hung out with Liam for the afternoon (i.e. read a book and napped in his apartment). We chilled at a small cafe in Hongdae called Cafe Omao that has egg tarts from Lord Stow's, which explains why a sign for the various tarts (not just egg, but also sweet potato tarts, pumpkin tarts, red bean tarts, and apple cinnamon tarts) read, "Andrew's Egg Tarts & Coffee". 2,200KRW for a small egg tart is extremely pricey in my opinion, but it was good, and the atmosphere of the place is perfect for what Liam calls "a good cafe session", which basically means we talked at length about our various experiences in Korea over the past 18 months, how our viewpoints have changed, and what we're expecting from the nebulous and uncertain future.

For dinner, we met up with Monica, on her way back from her sixth (or six-hundredth, who knows) K-pop concert of the semester, and dined at Burger B, another hungryinhongdae favorite. The gorgonzola burger (9,000KRW) here is great, but it's not something that will fill you up after a full day of halfhearted shopping (i.e. walking around), so we hit up Monster Pizza for some legit American-style pizza. It's not your Korean Mr. Pizza or Pizza Etang, nope, this is a huge slice of cheese, pepperoni, or ham with peppers -- no sweet potato, corn, mayo, or bulgogi on this baby -- for 3,500KRW. It was amazing. I'll be back (with my camera).

We ended our evening with fro-yo from Snow Spoon Cafe, which features macarons, gelato, standard cafe fare, and, of course, frozen yogurt in a number of crazy flavors on rotation. These include: milk tea, red wine, squid ink, rice, and something called "blue" (not "blueberry", mind you, just "blue"). I got red wine and blackberry, and Monica chose milk tea with original tart. Price is based on weight in grams at 26KRW/g, which is nearly 70 cents per ounce. Extremely pricey compared to Californian fro-yo shops. Still... it's fro-yo! I quite enjoyed it. At Monica's apartment, we watched Bridesmaids, which I thought was funny albeit a bit overhyped. Still, Kristen Wiig is fantastic. Also, pomegranates are fantastic. Hanging out with friends and eating pomegranates is fantastic.

Monday Food: brunch and Belgian hot chocolate
I had originally intended to return to Changwon on Sunday evening, but decided that I'd rather spend more time (and money) in Seoul with my friends, so on Monday morning, I met up with Ashley for brunch at The Flying Pan Blue in Itaewon. My egg/ham/avocado/pesto thing on toasted French bread was amazing, and Ashley got a delicious panini. Most Americans will attest that it's difficult to get a good sandwich in Seoul (let alone Korea), so this was quite a treat. Most breakfasts, which are served all day, run from 15-18,000KRW.

Following that, we went to a cafe called... Well, to tell the truth I'm not sure what it's called. Jubilee Chocolatier, I think, but my receipt tells me 벨지움쇼콜라띠에 (Belgium Chocolatier). I should have taken photos! Anyway, raspberry hot chocolate at this joint is pricey (5.800KRW) but delicious. The tiramisu tart is pricey (7,000KRW) and not quite as delicious, or perhaps my sweet tooth was finally running out after a weekend chock-full of desserts. In any case, the best part of this cafe was that Ashley and I got to play Bananagrams and Pirate Scrabble in peace, and this is part of why I love cafe culture in Korea.

Before I finally left for Changwon, I met a friend of a friend who is in Seoul visiting family -- and we chatted as I waited for my bus. He's also a fan of Tim Be Told, aka my favorite band in the universe! Everyone go buy their newest album, Mighty Sound.

What a weekend. I was so happy to see my friends again and also to make new ones. It's a bit tough on my penny-pinching mentality to splurge the way I did, but the good times are worth it. I'm fortunate to have a job where I make enough not to have to worry about finances. That said, I should continue to be frugal, since I have two months of vacation and ahead of me, and travel isn't cheap.

On another note, how silly of me not to bring my camera to Seoul. I claimed I was trying to travel lightly, but seriously, I missed out on a lot of great photos of interesting architecture in Insadong, friends having a good time in Hongdae, and beautiful food everywhere. I had to struggle with the poor camera in my phone, and the result is the collage you see above. Lesson duly noted: bring your camera with you wherever you go, Andrew.

- - -
Just for my own future reference, bus times and fares!
Changwon to Jeonju: 2.5 hrs, 14,400KRW
Jeonju to Iksan: 45min, 3,300KRW
Iksan to Seoul: 3.5 hrs, 17,500KRW
Seoul to Changwon: 4.5 hrs, 30,900KRW (man, that price seems to go up every time I check it...)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Last Day of School: 2013 Retrospection

On the last day of school, I am sitting at my desk, drinking Korean instant coffee and reading news stories and my friends' blogs. Students are running around the halls outside, screaming and yelling their goodbyes at each other. In a few minutes, the closing ceremony will be held, and winter vacation will begin.

First stop is a buffet lunch downtown with the school faculty, and then I'm off to visit a friends in Iksan and Seoul. When I return from my first solo trip out of town in six weeks (I haven't seen any of my Fulbright friends in person since our Thanksgiving dinner), a stack of books several feet high will be waiting for me! So will my last two graduate school applications, preliminary planning for my spring semester research project, and, hopefully, seasons four through six of Parks and Recreation.

While I'm looking forward to staying busy and productive over the break, it's been oddly peaceful at school this past week. Actually, all of December was kind of a breeze. I've spent this month administering speaking tests, throwing class parties, and deskwarming; during final exams last week, I chilled in my office planning my vacation travels. Since Monday, I have prepared for six classes but only seen two (and one of them was a movie party) due to scheduling changes, Christmas, and the school festival throwing everything into chaos. Chaos for the administration, I mean. For me, it just means a lot of down time.

I've spent some of that time comparing where I am now to where I was one year ago. In 2012, went home for Christmas and didn't attend the school festival. The apocalypse came and went; I did not have any concrete plans for the future; my grandfather was alive and kicking. This year, I attended my grandfather's funeral. I have spent the past two months applying to grad school (and the past six worrying about it). The Earth continued to revolve around the sun even as disaster, tragedy, and war deepened its fissures. And I now have over one full year of teaching experience at Changwon Science High School. 117 students I have taught for three semesters will graduate and go to college next March; 82 new freshmen will arrive to take their place.

It only took me a few months last autumn to fall in love with my school and my students. So, one year later, I have a richer understanding of gratitude toward this small community. Of course, this understanding comes hand-in-hand with the end of the honeymoon period. There have been times when I've witnessed firsthand how ridiculous school politics can be, seen the stress of an intense and merciless curriculum take its toll on these teenagers, been hurt by linguistic and cultural misunderstandings.

But, when all is said and done, I have had an eye-opening and life-fulfilling experience here. At this moment in my life, there is nothing I would rather be doing. Yesterday's school festival was one example of the small joys that make being here worthwhile, even worth missing Christmas with my family. I'll write about it in more detail later, but suffice it to say that I'm happy in the here and now. I welcome winter vacation with as much gusto as the next teacher; however, for reasons including but not limited to I'm tired of cold weather already, next March couldn't come sooner!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Korea!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
- Luke 2:10-11
A jar of homemade cranberry honey butter I made!
Merry Christmas! (메리 크리스마스!) This is the first Christmas I have ever spent away from home. 그래서 조금 고향과 가족이 그리워요... But I've had a great day and a very cheerful holiday season overall, so no complaints. To get my dose of holiday spirit, there was the Santa Bike Ride and a holiday White Elephant party at a church friend's home. At school, I wiled away free hours by cutting paper snowflakes and trees and showed Elf and Christmas YouTube videos to my students. To top it off, of course, baking Christmas cookies, listening to my Christmas playlist all day, and Skyping with my family, are really what make me feel "at home".

Today, I went to a service at my church, followed by bacon and pancakes at a friend's house, and then ice skating in the afternoon! The day ended with dinner and hanging out with a bunch of 솔크* friends. I'm heading to bed early because tomorrow morning I'll get up early to bake (more!) and go to school to attend my school's festival (it's like an end-of-the-year talent show). After that, it's winter break! 드디어!
Holiday party at a church friend's house last Saturday.
* In Korea, Christmas is all about couples and being romantic. It follows that being single on Christmas Day is considered to be one of the saddest things that can happen to you all year. The Konglish for this is "솔로 크리스마스" (Solo Christmas), which teens have shortened to 솔크. I like this because it sounds like the word "sulk". Got no one to hold hands and watch the pretty snow fall with? No one to buy you chocolate and a new scarf? No one to *gasp* match your red reindeer sweater with a green snowflake one? Too bad! Go sulk about it and better luck next year. Ha.

Pentatonix's "Little Drummer Boy" 
The Piano Guys' "Angels We Have Heard on High"

WestJet Christmas Miracle. Good advertising that brought me to tears.

Friday, December 20, 2013


On my way to the gym, I spot SM sitting alone at the computer bank. Slacking as usual, I think. All the other students are in study hall, but SM doesn't really have to cram for finals, since he's already been accepted to university early. I remember catching him on these very computers playing League of Legends a few weeks earlier. Video games on the school computers is expressly forbidden, but for teenagers, where there's a will, there's a way.

I catch his eye and walk toward him. He's not playing LoL; in fact, there's nothing showing but the desktop. He's not working, just starting blankly at a blank screen. Come to think of it, SM still hasn't turned in the final draft of his speech test. It's at least two weeks late by now. I'd give him a zero now if I could. I open my mouth to speak...

"Whats up, SM?"
"Hi, Teacher. Um... not so good."
"Oh, why? What's wrong?"
"I have a lot of... thinking."
"About what?"

Reprimands of SM's late work fly out of my mind. He explains to me in his most earnest faltering English that he isn't sure if he's made the right decision in registering for University A. Having been accepted to University A, as well as generally more prestigious Universities B and C, he's chosen A because it is closely aligned with Samsung, Korea's economic powerhouse conglomerate and the surefire means to a successful career for anyone in this country. Going to University A would mean greater job security, money to buy a house, and a more comfortable future.

"But... I don't know if I want to go."

I'm surprised at how much SM opened up to me, just because I happened to pass him in the hallway.* Suddenly, I see myself six years ago, weighing admissions letters from Swarthmore and a handful of UCs, wondering how momentously my life would be altered by choosing one over the others. For a moment, I frame that scene in the humble perspective six years, four countries, and one life-changing job can give.

"Well, my advice is -- wait, SM, would you like some advice?"
"Okay, my advice is this: Do not do anything that you do not really want to do. Do you understand?"
"I think so."
"I mean, if you work for Samsung, that's great! You can make lots of money, buy a house, and become famous, but if you do not enjoy the work that you do... then what's the reason? You will wake up one day when you are forty years old and think, "Wow, I'm forty. What did I do in my life?"

Make a lot of money?

"Also... remember this: you are still young. You have lots of time. If you do not know what you want to do in the future, that's okay! You don't have to know now."
"Yeah... Oh, but it's so difficult!"
"You can do it."
"Thank you, Teacher."
"You're welcome. And one more thing: you still have not given me your final draft."

- - -

*Okay, I shouldn't be surprised anymore, my students have rarely proved to be anything other than friendly, open-minded, and genuine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lessons and Mean Girls

Lesson 1: don't eat expired ice cream. Stupid, stupid Andrew gave himself 24-hour food poisoning yesterday and is slowly getting over it, although he had to miss school and taekgyeon practice and spent most of today in bed.

When I did haul my butt out of my apartment around noon to get lunch at school, my co-teacher took one look at me and said, "Wow, Andrew, your face looks half the size of your normal face." I blame throwing up twice last night. After lunch, I got permission from the VP to go right back home.
Santa's Little Helpers from Mean Girls
Lesson 2: Mean Girls is a hit with my students. I showed the endlessly-quotable comedy to my second-year high schoolers over four days, knowing that the boys would be drawn in by the likes of Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Seyfried (they all love Amanda Seyfried) but might also learn a moral lesson or two. We did about twenty minutes per class and discussed slang, cultural differences, and the perceptions of American high school it gave them. Although I was hesitant at first because of some of the vulgar words in the movie, well, I trust my students and I think they got more out of the movie than a few new insults to use.

I gave them a homework assignment to tell me what they had learned after watching the movie, and here are the four best responses I got:

"There's no one Queen, all girls are Queen."
What I learned from watching Mean Girls is How to react to Group like "plastic". in movie, first, Cady became mean girl, and resisted to Regina. of cause, this way is effective. but this way can ruin own life. because people who use this way can accustom, and do like bad people. Cady became Regina because she do like Regina. so, she treat her like on out cast. at last, Cady reflect on her conduct, and in Spring fling party, she broke her crown, and shared piece of crown. there's no on Queen, all of girls are Queen. I think this means all are equality. plastic was made from discrimination. who are beautiful, who are ugly, who are cool, these think come into conflict. so, to solve like this problem, no do like, awaken they are equality. this is what I learned from watching Mean Girls.

"Math is the most important subject."
I was laughed many time while watching this movie. So I think something while watching this movie. First, I need a tool that math. Math can use many things and math is the most important subject. Second, talking behind can make fight. In the movie, many fight caused to many talking behind. Finally, Regina spread all contents of Burn Book and this make large scale battle. This is my finish.

"My middle school life was similar to Mean Girls!"
At the mean girls, i feel that i'm not strange about that situations. Because, my middle school life was similar to mean girls! It was very funny. If i can go back to middle school life, i will do like cady heron. I think it's not bad.

"I will be a considerate girl and not a plastic girl."
I watched Mean Girls in English class. I saw this movie before in my home, so I know all this movie's story. But it is gratifying. I studied about clique in English class. When I saw the movie, I understand that clique is very important to America's students, and I don't know what I would be a clique. I have a lot of things is clique parts. When I think about what is the best valuable part in high school, I think that friend is the most important thing, because main actress Cady was depressed when all students hate her. I will be considerate girl and don't be plastic girl.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Changwon Bike Party Santa Ride!

산타할배 (Santa Claus) strikes again!
Saturday was a day full of biking. I was looking forward to my third Changwon Bike Party ride, this one being Christmas-themed. To my surprise, there was also a small cohort of Koreans doing their own Santa-themed bike ride on the same day. In years past, Changwon City has organized a huge Santa-themed bike ride, drawing hundreds and even thousands of participants in an amazing red and white parade. This year, funding for the event was cut. What a shame for a city that prides itself on its excellent bike share program. In any case, these hardcore cyclists were not to be deterred; though only a small group of about two dozen, they had their own unofficial Santa ride around town, and Coby and I joined in on the fun.
I had my camera out this time and snapped some photos while riding. Dangerous, I know. This one of Coby and some Santas was taken at a red light, though.
It was fun getting to know the members of the cycling club, called 전차데이 (Jeoncha Day, and jeoncha is a Gyeongnam dialect abbreviation of 자전거, or bicycle). They were very friendly and excited to get to know the two foreigners in their midst. They even treated us to lunch at a 오리탕 (duck soup) restaurant and then coffee at Starbucks afterward! Amazing Korean hospitality, right there. They of course invited us to their next ride. 전차데이 rides once a month, just like Changwon Bike Party. They also do more epic rides, like a tour around Jeju Island (it takes about three days) last spring. One lady was very eager to show me photos of every ride over the past year; she turned to be a kind of amateur competitor in long-distance cycling. I was impressed.
Changwon Bike Party Santa Ride! I don't have a Santa outfit, so I went with a red and green scheme with my Christmas bow tie. We're in the Changwon rotary, with its giant Christmas lights tree behind us. Photo courtesy Coby Z.
In the afternoon, it was time for the foreigner redux, Changwon Bike Party! Us 외국인 being decidedly less spirited, nobody came dressed as Santa besides our fearless leader Coby. Fortunately, some of the 전차데이 folks decided to join us for our afternoon ride, so we still had Santas in our lineup! The Changwon Bike Party route took us to the 창원의집 (House of Changwon), one of the very few cultural establishments in this city. It is the old residence of a Korean scholar that is now open to the public. It was my first time visiting the 창원의집, so I took plenty of photos. It was nothing too special, though, I must admit.
별 and me in front of the House of Changwon (창원의짐). Taken by Coby Z.
We then rode down to Changwon FC stadium, home to our city's soccer team. I actually had no idea that this stadium existed, even though it's very close to the university and the educational training center where I worked part-time last spring. Finally, we made our way back to the city center, called it a day, and moved on to evening festivities. Two of Coby's friends were visiting from Japan; they were crash-coursing Korea for about twenty-four hours, so it was fun introducing them to a bit of the culture. This included warming up in a cafe while getting covers of the same three Christmas songs blasted in our ears, dinner of 춘천닭갈비, which was spicy and delicious, and then 노래방, or karaoke! I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of 노래방 usually, but if you're with the right people, it can be a darn good time.
Ended the night with 노래방 (noraebang, or karaoke room)! Coby and 별 have this Korean rap song down like nobody's business.
When the group headed to a Thursday Party bar for 3차 (the third event of the evening), I went home to get some rest, since Sunday was to be a day of grad school and grant applications. This was a great way to close out my weekend, though. Even though I haven't left my city in a month, I'm glad staying in town hasn't turned out to be a huge bore!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Taekgyeon Showcase

Last Friday night, I went to and participated in my first taekgyeon showcase. My dojang has a few of these every year, but I've never seen what it's actually like. The showcase is mostly like a recital. All the taekgyeon kids (babies, most of them!) perform the routines they've learned: jumping and 낙법 (fall breaking), kicking, board breaking, sparring, and jump rope routines. Their parents were in attendance, super proud and also heavily involved: there were games incorporating 엄마 and 아빠, like the parents holding boards for their kids to break, as well as an adorable father-child jump rope contest. The last event was a lottery for some incredible prizes, including three new road bikes. It was loud, chaotic, and surprisingly fun!
Adorable taekgyeon babies! A lot of these kids are black belts, haha. Don't mess with 'em.
My moments in the spotlight came twice: I jumped over a soft barricade about four feet tall (in the video below, kids jump over one and two soft blocks; I've been doing four and trying five) and performed 본때뵈기 with the other adults who train at the dojang. It wasn't much, but I was proud to be able to show what I've been working on recently. In the end, I got a little medal for my participation in taekgyeon this past year, just like all of the other kids. Yay!
The guys on the far left and far right are my middle school homies. They hang out and train with the adults every so often, and I like talking to them, usually about American pop music.
I wish I had more photos to show you, but my camera was going nuts that evening. It had been too cold outside and it was too warm inside the dojang, so my lens and internal hardware kept fogging up. It wouldn't stop until the camera became acclimated to the indoor temperature. As a result, a lot of my photos were foggy, dark, and blurry. I wasn't pleased. But I did take some videos later, and I've spliced them into a short video. So here's a bit of what I witnessed at the showcase. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

산타할배 - Santa Gramps

"Can I get a photo with you?" "How much do you weigh?" "What?" photo taken by Coby.
So, this happened. On Saturday, there was a Santa-themed bike ride (loosely related to Changwon Bike Party), and I went. After the ride, I asked to take a photo with one of the Santas, and he picked me up! I'll write and post more about my weekend adventures over the next few days. In the meantime, I hope you are all having an enjoyable and not-too-stressful holiday season!

P.S. 산타 = "Santa". 할배 is local dialect for grandfather (할아버지 in standard Korean).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chalk It up to Cultural Differences

Once or twice a week, my school's small English department gets together for what I like to think of as teatime. We eat snacks, drink tea, and talk about an opinion or news article that we have all read. There are three Koreans and me in this group, and I've really enjoyed the discussions that we've had over the past year.

I've found that our views rarely align on most social issues, but on the bright side, this makes for lively debate and forces me to think very critically about my own opinions. Only if I'm feeling lazy do I simply ascribe the lack of unanimity to "cultural differences". It's true, there is a cultural difference, as well as an age difference and a disparity in life experience. However, I try my best to understand where they are coming from as people, not as representatives of any particular social category.

Recently, we've disagreed about the effect of media violence on a person's actions, the inclusive education of special-needs students, the welfare system for disadvantaged minorities (such as American Indians who live on reservations), approaches to immigration reform and cultural assimilation, and the benefits and drawbacks of stereotyping. Tough topics, all of them. I'm lucky to be surrounded by English teachers who think critically about issues like these.

Today, we didn't discuss an article, but rather, a student named JD. He had come into the office to ask a teacher, SK, about a very specific and convoluted grammar point. The question was one of those 따지는, nitpicky grammatical queries: if "almost" is an adverb, how come it can modify a noun, as in "almost everyone had arrived"?*

JD continued to ask a lot of difficult questions; I was glad he was directed them at SK, since I definitely wouldn't have been able to answer them. When he had finally left, SK remarked that the level of English grammar he was trying to learn was a bit high. This began a discussion on the merits of focusing on studying proper grammar versus maximizing exposure by listening and reading when trying to learn a second language. I sided with SH, who felt like our student was wasting his time on questions beyond his level that weren't really important for proper language use anyway. SK insisted that his curiosity and drive to understand difficult concepts was good, and that grammar was the better method for our students, since they aren't in a total-immersion environment, anyway.

I wasn't surprised at the difference in opinion, but I was surprised at what followed. The focus was retrained on the question of whether Korea values a clever, vocal, and highly inquisitive mind like JD's. It was a good thing he's at our school and not a normal high school, SH explained, because at a normal high school he wouldn't be accepted. SK sharply disagreed, saying that she saw a bit of herself in him, that his analytic personality was a trait that should be encouraged, since his creativity was bound to be met with success in the future. "Yes," SH replied, "but students and teachers are different now." Most teachers simply didn't like JD's outspokenness, she said, especially in math and science classes, because he's really just full of hot air. "He thinks too much. He has all of these ideas and he talks for a long time, but there's no point to what he says. He does not actually ask questions, only thinks of his own answers." SH reasoned that he was a bright student but lacked social intelligence; he needed to learn how to listen. I hesitantly agreed, offering that I really appreciated JD's presence in my class because he was refreshingly different and always spoke his mind, but that he did sometimes dominate discussions for his own gain. I was thinking all the while that we were talking a bit too much about one student, and wondered if I could change the subject.

But before I could, things started to become personal. SK argued that schools were losing respect for student self-expression. She said that outside of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, education was too conservative and people weren't learning how to express themselves clearly. This was when JJ finally chimed in; he said apologetically that that was wrong. Schools in Seoul are just as bad at promoting self-expression, he said. But SK fired back that her own experience as a person from Seoul was really telling about the difference between the capital and Gyeongsang Province. She lived in Seoul for decades, but it was only after she left that she realized why Seoul people are called "서울 깍쟁이" (city slickers). In the same way, having come to Gyeongsang as an outsider, she had to live and observe from the sidelines for fifteen years before understanding why Gyeongsang people are called "진국" -- sincere and authentic, but only after you take the time to get to know them, because when you first meet them, boy, do they have trouble saying what they really mean. SH's voice stiffened. "Yes, but I don't think it's true about everyone." She has lived in this province her whole life. "At least we're more open than Chungcheong people."

I began to feel very uncomfortable about the conversation and turned to my computer to work. All four of us were at our desks, separated by cubicle walls, but SK had stood up. Right, she said to SH, you're actually one of the most blunt people I know. And, well, I don't know anything about Chungcheong people. (JJ, our resident Chungcheong person, mumbled something I didn't catch.) But still, even though it's a stereotype, SK continued, Gyeongsang Province really is conservative. There is some truth to what I say about the people.

"Yes, but..."

Our lively debate had descended into an argument, and I was embarrassed and extremely anxious. All of this, I remind you, was being played out in English, so I understood every word. But I couldn't think of what to say to contribute, or to dampen the sparks that were beginning to fly.

Fortunately, the comment about Chungcheong Province people seemed to diffuse the tension a bit, and SK remarked that it was dangerous for her to be talking about regional stereotypes in this manner. Edging away from the abyss, we went back to talking about JD and his educational prospects. He is definitely a bright student, and I agreed with SK that he would be very successful if he studied in a more open educational environment, such as an American or European university. I also thought he could be successful anywhere if he put his mind to it, but I didn't say anything more, because I was just about done with the discussion.

And with that, the bell rang and teatime was over. The 분위기 lightened considerably. A year ago, this was an hour when SK and SH would commiserate together about problems in Korean society, such as gender inequality, corruption in education, and school inefficiency, and I would politely listen. But today was a different beast altogether. We didn't have any tea, but things were still quite "heated".

The good thing is that I am learning a heck of a lot about Korea and Korean domestic issues by osmosis.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

High Places

High places of two kinds
I took this photo using my phone's camera; its panorama setting is really impressive. This was an interesting juxtaposition I came across while taking a short walk near my apartment: a hillside cleared for some traditional statues facing several twenty-story apartment buildings just across the road. There was a temple nearby, too -- the smallest and humblest of temples, more like a shrine -- but I couldn't help feeling that its placement was similarly incongruous.

On a completely different note, my life has ceased to exist outside of school and graduate school applications. The bright side is that I'm exactly halfway through the aforementioned applications. Plus, Christmas is only two weeks away! Best of luck to everyone immersed in final exams now, and also, happy Advent season!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Smile Bank

And the award for the cutest thing a student has written in their journal all week goes to...

"My friends make me happy, because they are my smile bank."

That was in response to the prompt, "What makes you happy?" I think having my students write weekly journals was one of the best ideas I incorporated into my classes this semester. Some of them have very clearly improved their writing skills even though they only worked at it for five-ish minutes a week. Since I read all 120 journals and correct them, their writing is also a good way for me to evaluate what they're learning and for them to communicate with me.

The last journal question I asked my second-years this semester was simply, "What have you learned in my class this year?" Here's one response that stuck out in particular:

"I have been learned many things from you. How to read and write sentences, many interesting subjects, … etc. Especially, this journal makes me have bravement. When I wrote journal first, it was too hard. But constantly I was writing. Finally I can write english sentences easily before than last day. English time with you was so helpful to me. Thanks."

Cue positive feelings of purpose and fulfillment!

Oh, on a different note, here's a pro tip for high school teachers abroad: a great way to connect with your students is to show them your own high school yearbook. MSJ Costanoan '08, represent! I brought Inspired back to Korea with me last winter, and my students fawn over it. Yesterday, YJ and MW, two of my third-years, skipped out on self-study period and hung out in my office for over an hour, engrossed in the 졸업앨범 ("graduation album"). I sat next to them, correcting journals and chatting with them on a huge spectrum of topics, each one sparked by interesting photos that they saw.

On a student life page: "Oh, she is dressed up as a Starbucks."
On an article about a party: "Are they a couple? Are they dancing? Wow, her dress!"
On an article about a school play: "오만과 편견!!! Bingley!"
On the gymnastics page: "Teacher, are these students professional?"
On a clubs page: "Gay... Straight... Alliance? Teacher, do you support them?"
On the Senior Superlatives: "Are these all couples? What is 'Future Dictator'?"
On the people pages: "Chen Chen Chen Chen Chen Chen Cheng Chi Chi Chiu..."

And every time they found a picture of me, it was as if they'd discovered treasure. MW commented that I looked more mature now than five and a half years ago. YJ squealed when she found my baby picture. (She was also excited by our football team, our cheerleaders, and basically the entire book.)

I was delighted to spend that bit of quality time with my students. For them, it was solid language practice and a jackpot of cross-cultural exposure in a casual setting. Also, they taught me Busan-flavor Korean slang (including 까리 and 간지, which were used to describe female water polo players, the models for our charity fashion show, and every attractive guy they saw). A simple yearbook provides almost limitless possibilities for building positive relationships. I think I'm just going to leave mine open on my desk from now on.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winds Blow Deep into My Heart

This video is of my 3rd-year students performing the final song of their fall concert. I was bummed that I had to administer speaking tests during that period, so I missed most of it, but thankfully I hurried to the auditorium just after second period in time to catch this gem.

I didn't understand the lyrics of the song, but the melody was touching, and their harmonies were wonderful. I felt so lucky to be there!

After some Googling, I've discovered that the song is "Eres Tu" by 브니엘 (Peniel), which seems to indicate that this is a Christian song. However, the lyrics to "Eres Tu" don't exactly match what my students are singing, so they must have changed the lyrics a little bit.

I've posted the original lyrics (가사) below, and I've attempted a quick and rough translation. Korean speakers, feel free to correct them!

내 귀에 속삭이시던 그 말씀
영원히 너와 함께 하리
지난 밤 나를 부르던 그대 목소리
난 정말 잊을 수 없네

(Something along the lines of, "The words you whispered into my ear are eternally with me; last night, your voice singing to me I can never forget.")

주님의 부드러운 그 음성에
내마음 기쁨에 젖었네
언제나 다시 만날 수 있을까
나 주님 뵙기 원하네

("Lord, the voice of you singing drenches my soul; when can we meet again? I want to see my Lord.")

바람아 내 마음 깊은 곳까지
불어라 주님의 사랑 안고서
아 바람아 불어라 주님 나의 마음 깊은 곳까지
바람아 불어라 주님 사랑 안고서

("Winds blow deep into my heart; I'm held in my Lord's love. Ah, winds blow; my Lord is deep in my heart. Winds blow; I'm in my Lord's loving embrace.")

외로울 때에 위로를 주시고
슬픔과 눈물 닦으시네
평안과 기쁨 내게 늘 주시는
나 주님 뵙기 원하네

("When I'm lonely, he gives me comfort; he washes away sadness and tears. Peace and joy he always gives me; I want to see my Lord.")

바람아 내 마음 깊은 곳까지
불어라 주님의 사랑 안고서
아 바람아 불어라 주님 나의 마음 깊은 곳까지
바람아 불어라 주님 사랑 안고서
아 바람아 불어라 주님 나의 마음 깊은 곳까지
바람아 불어라 주님 사랑 안고서

Monday, December 2, 2013

Learning in Fear

"Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid." - Author Junot Díaz, speaking at Yale
These are some incredible words! I've never read any of this man's books, but there are a few in my school's library, and I'll get to them once I've finished my applications. (One month to go!)

I want my students to know this. Their education is not (should not be) for the end goal of a stable and high-paying job. They should not be turned into numbers for national high school rankings, which are based on how many graduates go to Seoul National University. They should be learning in order to change and be changed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Being gay in the DPRK - article from NK News

Just a link today to a story I read in the NK News about attitudes toward homosexuality in North Korea (DPRK).

It is striking that there is reportedly a complete lack of awareness of sexual minorities in the communist state. I mean, when it comes to countries like Iran, where the conservative (and willfully blind, in my opinion) leadership claims that, "We don't have any gays", the denial is outright preposterous, since, well, it's Iran, and its religious revolution didn't happen so long ago that people have forgotten how liberal it was before.

But North Korea has been shuttered away from the world for sixty years, which is enough time for a few generations to become convinced that the only reality that's ever been is the one their government has taught them. And in this reality, homosexuality cannot even be conceptualized. It's so invisible that there aren't even any laws against it.

I don't expect things to stay this way forever, though. The more North Korea opens up, and the more exposure it gets from South Korea and other neighboring countries, the more the conflict between homosexuality and the pro-heterosexual nuclear family ideals of the communist regime will grow. I mean, surely gay-positive South Korean dramas like Life is Beautiful and Reply 1997 have made their way across the border via the black market by now?

One more thing: a Westerner who organizes tours of North Korea (Yes, it's a thing. You can visit NK for vacation.) said that the country is "attractive as a gay tourist destination for the militarism, the kitsch, the innocence too."

Um, no. That's offensive. Can you please explain how militarism and kitsch appeal to gay tourists?

P.S. Crazy news: A US veteran was detained by North Korea just before he finished a tour and made to apologize for "war crimes" committed during the war sixty years ago. It's a strange story, and I could comment on it further, but... you should read about it, too. I hope and pray that he is released soon.