Saturday, September 27, 2014


I forget things easily, and I'm sad to admit it. The other day I was browsing my Facebook news feed when I saw that one of my former students had changed his cover photo to a cute picture of his entire class. I smiled when I saw the picture, then clicked on it to take a closer look. I saw three rows of familiar faces smiling for the camera, hands in the familiar "V"-sign I'd even begun to use after living in Korea for two years.

Nobody was tagged in the photo yet, so I tried to remember the names of the students in that particular homeroom class. And that's when I realized that I couldn't. Many names came back to me easily, but others escaped me completely. I had iterations of various Korean names floating around in my head, but I couldn't attach them to faces. I almost panicked because it dawned on me that my attachment to Korea has already begun to weaken and fade. I've been home for almost two months, haven't seen my students in nearly three, and despite all the messages I send on Facebook or the photos and status updates they post every day, I am beginning to forget who they are.

On one hand, this is only natural. We can pour our hearts out onto people and connect in life-changing ways, but when it's time to move on, the old links break while new ones form; the empty jar gets filled with other people. Social media and other forms of technology can only sustain it for so long. Maybe we just wern't meant to keep in touch with everyone forever.

Which do I fear more, forgetting or being forgotten? I hope that I left a lasting legacy on my students, at my school. But I know full well that I will eventually become nothing more than a memory, maybe also a photo. Courtney, who is now teaching at my school, has been doing an amazing job with my old students, as far as I can tell. And I'm happy about it. If they have so much fun in her class that they forget all the (boring) things that I ever taught them, I'll have peace of mind. But the jealous litle devil in me also wants them to miss me. To think, "I wish Andrew Teacher were still around," even though it's just a pipe dream.

Well, Courtney messaged me the other day with a photo she took of a second-year student's journal entry. And when I read what JH had written, I felt all warm inside. It really made my day.
"Since I have lived quiet good life, I have a lot of great memories. First, it is meeting teacher Andrew in CSHS. Andrew teacher is the most intelligent and kind teacher who I have ever met include Korean and foreigns. He always cheer us and keep us think optimistically. After I graduate BS in university, I'm going to meet him in US."

If you look carefully, you'll see that JH's second great memory is meeting Courtney at CSHS. I'm just so thrilled that English educators are making an impact on this young person's life. Maybe five or ten years down the road, he won't remember much of anything about either of us. (And maybe five or ten days for now I'll have forgotten what he looks like again.) But at least for now, we can know that we've done some good.

- - -

On another note, I will be closing this blog at the end of September. This is probably going to be my last post. There are some other things I've had sitting around in my drafts for a while, but it's unlikely that I'll ever get to them. If something does come up in my future that brings me back to Korea, then I see no reason why I wouldn't write again. But in the meantime, I'm starting up a new blog, this time on WordPress, that will document my adventures in graduate school. You can find it here.

I have loved writing and photographing my time in Korea, and I thank all my readers for having joined me at one time or another. If you were a friend from home, or the random parents of friends, or a complete stranger who stumbled across this by accident, thank you all the same! I hope you learned a thing or two and were inspired, possibly, to think or write or create in some way for yourself.

안녕히계세요. Peace.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has reached Korea

They're using the hashtag #아이스버킷챌린지, and their videos having been popping up on my NewsFeed all week. Yes, the Internet's most viral meme of the moment has hopped across the Pacific from the US to Korea. I've watched dozens of videos of my friends and students dumping (very large) buckets of water on their heads, and it's entertaining every single time! It's the funniest when I see my students sitting cross-legged in the school showers, flinching right before their friends gleefully drench them. I'm very happy to see them doing their part to raise awareness for ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease/루게릭병) and for the Korean ALS Association.

In addition to my students, at least one fellow CSHS teacher has risen to the challenge -- his Facebook video was Liked by basically the entire population of the school, including me. I have also seen a few of my Taiwanese friends jump on the bandwagon, and now I wonder if the Ice Bucket Challenge has successfully made it all the way around the globe yet?
Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone nominated me. To my surprise, however, it was one of my Korean students, not an American friend! There are just two problems, though...

The first is that California is suffering from an extreme and devastating drought, and to fill and immediately empty a bucket of water for no reason other than to make a thirty-second video is a senseless waste of resources.

The second is a bit more trivial, but I maintain a bit of my teaching persona with my students even though I am Facebook friends with them and no longer even their teacher. So, I asked JH to translate her challenge into English so that I could understand it, first. ;)

Whatever your views on the Ice Bucket Challenge -- there are a dozen different ways to spin it -- I'm a fan. If you've otherwise been ignoring the fad, at least educate yourself and look up what ALS is, and donate if you can.

Oh, and if you want to watch a bunch of Korean celebrities get soaked... here's a fun collection of videos. (Makes me wish I could turn my friends' Facebook videos into gifs...)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Korean Snack Fix

Skatewing is 홍어, better known as "fish fermented in its own pee." They also have radish kimchi, which I really like! All of these side dishes are in a huge bar in the Han Kook Supermarket, but no tasting, please!
Welcome to the Bay Area, where those who are nostalgic about the great food they had in Asia never have to travel far to find it again. I helped my brother and sister-in-law move into their new place in the South Bay. Luckily for them, not ten minutes away there are a huge number of Asian markets and restaurants, including the enormous Han Kook Supermarket (한국슈퍼마켓) in Sunnyvale. I went to check it out with my aunt and uncle, who told me they like to get Korean side dishes (반찬) there.

The place is like a miniature E-Mart. Most of it is groceries with goods imported from Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, but there are also small sections for accessories, beauty products, and electronics, just like in a typical department store. I amused myself by reading the English translations of snacks and foods that I'd learned only in Korean.
Everyone knows Choco Pie, right? It doesn't need an explanation in Korea. But in America, they have to make sure you know that the stuff in the middle is marshmallow filling, and also that "IT'S FLUFFY." 
My absolute favorite milk shake in a bag, 설레임, has been translated as "snow ice." Well, 설 does mean "snow," but I never really understood what "레임" meant. It certainly doesn't mean "ice," since that would be the more recognizable (and more delicious) 설빙 (Sulbing)! Anyway, I succeeded in getting my family hooked on 설레임.
My family also went to a Korean barbecue place for dinner last night, and it made me more than a bit nostalgic. I got to practice a bit of Korean with the waitstaff and explained what I knew about the different foods we ordered. I'm certainly going to look for my local Korean markets and restaurants in Berkeley; I'm very lucky indeed that I get to spend the next five years in Northern California.

On a related note, I thought this was really cute:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paris Baguette (파리바게뜨) in Berkeley!

Can we take a minute to chuckle at how excited 1) all my Korean friends and 2) all my friends in Korea are over the discovery of the Korean bakery chain Paris Baguette in California? They're actually popping every in the Bay Area (and Los Angeles/Orange County), due in no small part to the ever-increasing number of Asian immigrants and Asian-American communities. I found one in Berkeley, right next to the Downtown Berkeley BART Station! It's like a taste of Korea (but definitely not like a taste of France, let's be real).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Disappearing Languages and Other Things

Interesting stats about the language imbalance in the world and current efforts to translate the Bible into indigenous languages, shared with me by a friend who did two years of missions in western Afria.

About four years ago, my dream was to become a linguist for Wycliffe who would go to remote areas of the world to translate the Bible into indigenous languages. That's changed, and a part of me regrets that my life has taken a different direction. Of course, I say that I will do whatever and go wherever God calls me, but I wonder if I backed down from the idea of working with Wycliffe because I was intimidated by the notion of actually being a missionary?

When people from my Christian community back home learn that I've been in Korea teaching English, their first assumption is that I went abroad to do missions work and taught on the side. Actually, I went abroad to teach English, and didn't do any missions work on the side. To reiterate: not a finger did I lift to contribute to this great cause for which I purport to live. And when I clarify this, well, it becomes a bit awkward. I wonder if I've let them down in some sense.

Now, my time in Korea is over. Memories are starting to be replaced by photos and blog entries, people are losing reasons to stay in touch. I've been home for one week, and in two more, classes will begin: my first steps toward obtaining a PhD in linguistics. Five years down the road, I'll be a "doctor"... and then what? What will I do after that? Where will I go? God only knows. (And does anything I'd ever had planned even matter to Him?)

A new chapter begins... But the book of life metaphor isn't perfect, I must admit. In a book, I can always turn back to an earlier page, read it again, maybe add an annotation. Seems more like I'm reading a message I'd scratched in wet sand at the beach, only to have the water wash it away.

It's hard to remember things.

- - -

P.S. Unrelated: I found out recently that a friend and fellow Fulbrighter in my year is the granddaughter of WC Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International! Wow! Also, one of the Fulbright Korea grantees this year is the grandson of Noam Chomsky. It's like the heirs of linguistic royalty are partying up in Seoul right now. Haha.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Home and Hair

When I returned home last week, it took a few days for everyone to get used to me, because I looked quite different from the last time they'd seen me. In particular, comments were made about my hair, which I'd had bleached to a sandy blond color. While I was expecting some adverse reactions, I didn't think my family's responses would make me laugh so much:

Said my grandfather, in Taiwanese, "Your hair is whiter than mine!"
Said my grandmother, "Andrew wants to look like a famous Korean singer!"
Said my mom's younger sister, "Wow, so cooool!" When she speaks in English, I can't tell if she is being sarcastic or not.
Said my 11-year-old cousin, visiting from overseas, in Chinese, "At first, I thought you were wearing a towel on your head. I thought you were grandma!"

My brother and sister-and-law and their dog are temporarily staying in the house, too, and Hoagie the 3-year-old beagle-basset hound mix wouldn't stop growling and barking at me when we met for the first time.

Said my father, "He doesn't like your hair."
Said my mother, "Why is your hair that color?"
Said my uncle, to my mother, in Chinese, "Wow, you have a 外國人 (foreigner) in your house now!"

Well, all I had to say to all of them was, essentially, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Or, "입향순속(入鄉隨俗)."

I then went off to a family wedding in Southern California, where the rest of my extended family commented on my hair, then greeted me, then wondered if I would be mistaken for a member of my cousin's fiance's family, who are Korean. As it turns out, while I had plenty of opportunity to practice Korean with the Kim family, I stuck to my own for the evening. It was a wonderful family reunion, the first time that everyone had been together at the same time since our grandfather's funeral last September (and probably the last time for another year or longer).
All nine cousins, plus spouses, plus A-ma! Such a happy reunion! :) Congratulations to Johanna and the newest family addition, Daniel! Photo taken by Jen Lee.
Now, I'm home and apartment-hunting full-time until school begins in a week and a half. It's lovely being back in California. I get to enjoy home-cooked meals, sunny, dry weather every day (although there is a drought...), and the freedom of having no plans and no responsibilities. But it won't be long before this awesome vacation ends...

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Enter Pyongyang" Hyperlapse Video Review

A friend shared this video on Facebook, and I had to take a look. First impression: it's well-crafted and beautiful as a film. No surprise there, since Vimeo is the video sharing site to go to if you have something pretty to share! I'm a sucker for timelapse and hyperlapse (that is, timelapse + shifts in perspective) videos anyway, so simply watching this was a treat.

I'm a little concerned about the message it's sending, however. The pros are that the video will dispel myths that Pyongyang is completely destitute, crumbling to pieces, and cut off from the outside world. These are pretty much untrue, but that doesn't mean it's, like, a nice place to live. So the cons are that the video can easily give a false idea of what Pyongyang, or even all of North Korea, is like.

Here's what I thought as I watched the video: where is all that light coming from? There is so little electricity available in the city. The cityscape is not that bright at night. The computeres in the grand library are only on for a few hours each day. And where is all that color coming from? Maybe my camera is not as nice as the equipment used for this video, but the dominant color in every photo I took in North Korea is gray.

The subway is exactly how I remembered it, though. Like my tour group, the filmmakers were only allowed to see the few nicest and busiest stations of the two-line system. Even though the platform was grand and lit up, the train was dated and dark inside. I was caught by surprise by a tender moment when the sped-up footage slowed down to show an old man entering the station, and again when it paused to let a traffic cop stop and chat with a lady pushing a stroller, again when a little girl at the roller-skating rink spotted the camera. These brief moments that revealed ordinary human actions and interactions did make me smile.

But again, that does not mean North Korean society is harmonious or normal by any standard. The filmmakers worked closely with Koryo Tours, a North Korean tourism company, so it's not surprising that the footage shown was neat, aesthetic, and even attractive. It's the image a tourism company wants you to see. It's also the fabricated facade that the DPRK's totalitarian regime wants you to see. They don't want you to see that the inside of the gorgeous pyramidal Ryugyong Hotel is skeletal and unfinished, only that the lawns on the outside are green. They don't want you to see the dilapidated apartments in the western parts of the city that have no glass in their windows, only the newly-constructed ones (that, despite their appearances, have their electricity shut off at night just like every other building in the city besides the monuments). They don't want you to see anything outside of the capital city, either: none of the concentration camps, the starving gangs of orphan children in the northeast, the abandoned factories that have produced nothing for decades, the hills stripped completely bare of their forests, the desperate men and women who smuggle food, drugs, and people across the border to China. None of these things are supposed to exist in the Kim dynasty's sterilized image of the Victorious Fatherland. It's not that I expect them to show up in what is essentially a three-minute advertisement, but I'll be frank: the North Korea that you have just seen is not the North Korea that you need to see.

This video used awesome technology and uplifting music to reinforce the idealized image of Pyongyang. I wouldn't call it propaganda, and it's not like anything shown in the video is actually fake. But it's easy for pretty things to convince the world that pretty is all that exists, and I caution any viewer from drawing the conclusion that because a couple of professional filmmakers were allowed to tour the capital of North Korea with their cameras, the entire country is actually brimming with "dynamism and [a] sense of potential."

North Korea is a long way away from really opening up to the outside world, but when it does, I hope that someone with the same advanced equipment as well as a heart for millions of oppressed and suffering people can enter and show us more than this.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

From Incheon Airport

On July 4th, 2012, I wrote:

"환영합니다! That means, 'Welcome!' I'm in Korea! That's all, bye!"

Lots of exclamation points.

It's August 7th, 2014.

잘 다녀오세요. That means, "Have a good trip." Literally, it means, "Go and come back well."

I'm leaving Korea! But I'll come back well.

Boarding now, bye!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Last Night in Korea

And all of a sudden, it's my last night in Korea. Wait, what? In twelve hours, I'll be on my way to Incheon Airport with two suitcases and a backpack, and in twenty-four, I'll be landing in San Francisco. I'll be home so very soon.

I haven't gotten around to blogging as much as I'd intended to this past week, so here are a few quick updates:

1. After bumming around in Seoul for a few days, I went to Goesan for Fulbright Orientation where I led four workshops over a few days. Two workshops were for discussing identity: one to support LGBTQ-identifying ETAs and another to support Asian-Americans. The next workshop was to introduce different methods and resources for people who want to continue studying Korean on their own throughout the year. Many ETAs showed up to this talk, which was very encouraging. The last workshop was for all fifty secondary school ETAs; it was a crash course on how to plan a unit. Honestly, if there's one thing I can say about teaching, it's that one hour-long lesson isn't nearly enough for any topic in education. But just as important as preparation is practice, plain and simple. I've been pretty encouraged by the enthusiasm and earnestness I've seen in the new ETA class. I'm confident that they'll do a great job this coming year.
Katelyn, Tracey, Seijin, and Jemarley taking a break from Fulbright duties to play Bananagrams at a local makkeoli bar!
Judith's and my unknown reunion!
And I know I've already said this, but I'm especially excited about the teacher who will replace me at CSHS, Courtney, because she is determined to be exactly the kind of teacher I think is most effective: passionate, accessible, and involved in students' lives.

Unrelated: to my great surprise, one of the new ETAs, Judith, is actually a family friend! Her parents have been good friends with my parents ever since my family lived in Philadelphia (nearly thirty years ago)! And, awkwardly enough, we've even met. Four years ago, our parents' church had a reunion in Philadelphia, both Judith and I attended. So we met, took photos, and even played Bananagrams together! We obviously didn't leave very lasting impressions on each other, since both of us thought we were meeting for the first time last week. I think it's hilarious! The world of Taiwanese-Americans can be very small, indeed.

2. During the weekend, a typhoon was sweeping by Korea, and it brought a lot of rain with it. I'd planned to go hiking with a friend, but instead, we went to Cheongju, a smallish-city with not too much to do. However, it was still bigger than rural Goesan. (Aside from a new cafe/jam space on the outskirts of town, where I karaoke-d for hours on Friday night with new friends, there's nothing to do in Goesan.) Katelyn and I watched a movie, ate great 칼국수 and 빙수 and explored Cheongju's own "mural village", Suamgol, in the midst of a drizzle. It wasn't the most exciting thing to do, but after being cooped up in the marble halls of Jungwon University for four days, it was excellent.
Katelyn and me in the colorful Suamgol, Cheongju. Brownie points if you can spot what's wrong with this picture...
4. I spent a good chunk of my last full day in Seoul running errands, and it was more than a little frustrating. I had to cancel my phone contract and my bank account. Long story short, it was more of a hassle than I'd expected, mostly because I had to do almost every transaction in Korean! I'd thought that big branches of phone stores and banks would have some competent English speakers in the capital city, but that was not the case. Even the resident English speaker at the bank tried explaining the procedure to me for about five minutes before switching back to Korean. Ugh, Koreal life. I managed to get these two simple tasks done in three hours, and in the meantime I picked up a few useful vocabulary words, such as 계좌 ("account") and 해지하다 ("to cancel"). Whew.

Catan! Photo taken by Katelyn
5. And as for my last night in South Korea? I hung out in Hongdae and played Settlers of Catan with my friends (역시... I mean, what else? It's what I did on my "last night" in the US two years ago.). Ooh, we also got dessert from Ben's Cookies. Their milk chocolate-orange cookies are amazing!

It was a chill and really enjoyable evening. There's nothing else I'd have rather done!

Hm... so how do I feel? In all honesty, this night doesn't feel at all different from any other night I've spent hanging out with friends in Seoul. I have a feeling that the reality of leaving won't hit me until I'm en route to the airport, or maybe not even until I've boarded the plane. Nostalgia doesn't kick in as early for me as it seems to for other people. But that's not to say I'm not cherishing every last moment I have here. Even though those moments are dwindling, why waste any of them dwelling on the very fact that they are? Too meta and unproductive for me.

Next time you hear from me, I'll either be at the airport or at home.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The War Memorial of Korea

Color guard rehearsal at the War Memorial of Korea
One of the last things on my Korea bucket list was a visit to the War Memorial of Korea, a museum dedicated to Korea's bellic history. It may not be as exciting as shark diving or bungee jumping, but I enjoy visiting museums on my own. When I go with a tour, there is never enough time scheduled to see everything at a properly slow pace, and when I go with friends, we always end up separated anyway because our interests differ. So, I first paid a visit to the museum with Monica on Monday, and although we caught the tail end of a really interesting color guard rehearsal taking place in front of the museum, we found out that the museum itself was closed, as is the case every Monday.

So, I went by myself a few days later, and the following photos are from this second visit. I'd heard that its exhibits are extensive and worth an entire afternoon's visit, and indeed, I spent a good four hours wandering its halls.
A South Korean flag carried by a member of the student soldiers' battalion during the Battle of Pohang (August 1950).
Memorial to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives at White Horse Hill
What surprised me straight off the bat was that it was not a museum about just the Korean War, fought from 1950-1953. True, the museum had more than two floors dedicated to this important and transformative period in Korean history, but it actually was meant to cover the entire war history of Korea. That being the case, the exhibits actually began with coverage of the wars fought between Korea's ancient kingdoms, as well as confrontations with Japanese invaders leading up to the twentieth century. I didn't find these very interesting, though, so I hurried on through.

The next thing that surprised me was -- for lack of a better way to describe it -- the entertainment value of the exhibits. Of course, I don't think a museum should be boring, but the way this museum chose to keep up interest for visitors, particularly children, was rather odd to me. Take for example the re-enactments of famous battles using animatronics and CGI bombs and explosions. It reminded me, unfortunately, of North Korea's war museum in Pyongyang, which I visited last February. Having been recently renovated, that museum made use of state-of-the-art technology to immerse visitors in as "realistic" a recreation of the war as possible. I use scare quotes because the information presented as fact in Pyongyang's museum is clearly distorted to present a DPRK-positive account.
Life-size diorama and multimedia display of one of the battles along the Han River during the Korean War.
"Shooting Area" for the kids to experience what it's like to use an assault rifle in a wartime situation. Classy.
In any case, I remain amused at the cornier aspects of the museum, but at the same time impressed by the depth and breadth of the exhibits. All the important information was provided in English and Korean, and many interactive screens provided additional facts in Japanese and Chinese. There were many tour groups visiting, as well as many people just wandering the halls on their own, children running from the prop guns to the model fighter planes. This was one drastic difference from my experience in Pyongyang: there, I had to stay with the tour guide at all times and listen obediently to her propagandistic explanations of history. There was only one other tour group in the museum, and otherwise all was silent and cold. In Seoul, I had the freedom to go anywhere in the museum that I wanted, and overall it was louder and felt more alive.

On that note, I also happened to visit on a "fourth Wednesday", which is the one day each month when soldiers from a local garrison give a free public concert in the main hall of the museum. The performances were extremely diverse, from traditional Korean instruments to classical opera to a guy who played "Fly Me to the Moon" on the harmonica. I like how a museum can be an active performance space that engages the community instead of just an inert building to walk through.
These tenors sang "Funiculì, Funiculà", and they were really good! This was the firs time I've seen opera performed live by Koreans.
These two soldiers performed the traditional Korean instruments 해금 (haegeum) and 장구 (janggu).
I think my favorite exhibit in the museum, or at least the one that touched me the most, was the hall on the third floor dedicated to the UN forces sent by sixteen countries to aid in the Korean War effort. Not only was it well designed, it was also extremely detailed. The exact statistics on how many soldiers each country sent, who led them, and what special things they did were all listed, and their uniforms were on display along with small things like soldiers' diaries. I think it was noble of South Korea to devote so much space to thank the international community that helped them.

In contrast, Pyongyang's war museum presents the conflict as one of Korea versus the evil United States and barely mentions Russia, China, or the UN. There is supposedly an exhibit that covers the Chinese troops' (invaluable) participation in the latter half of the war, but it certainly was not part of our tour.
A memorial for the UN soldiers who participated in the war effort. The words on the wall read, " With the US as main force, 21 countries dispatched combat froces and medical aid units for the freedom of the Republic of Korea.
The last part of the museum that I visited was its outdoor display of ships, plans, tanks, and rockets used in various modern war efforts. Again, I couldn't help but compare it to the display of military artifacts in Pyongyang's museum, which consists entirely of abandoned and captured enemy vehicles. American and British tanks, planes, and even the USS Pueblo. North Korea keeps all of these old hunks of iron as "war trophies" and uses the more-recently captured vehicles liberally in its propaganda. In Seoul, however, all the vehicles are replicas, just another exhibit.
A few tanks, including one that looks almost cute!
Ships and planes at the War Memorial of Korea. You can see Namsan Tower in the hills in the background.
Well, that's all for the War Memorial of Korea! I spent a good, long afternoon there and learned a lot. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about modern Korean history. It's especially important for people living in Korea to understand the Korean War and get the story as told by South Korea (while comparing it with other accounts for balance and perspective).

The museum is located in Yongsan, not far from Itaewon. To get there, you can take the subway (lines 4 or 6) to Samgakji Station (삼각지역). From Line 4, leave from exit 1 and turn right, then following the road for less than five minutes. From Line 6, leave from exit 12 and follow road until you reach the museum. It is open from 9am-6pm every day except Monday. More visitors' information can be found here.
War Memorial of Korea

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I'm just going to leave this here for your enjoyment. I am so happy that this exists. (For those who need an explanation, it uses the Pokédex entries for Pokémon to explain certain Korean vocabulary words that can be written using hanja, or Chinese characters. In this case, 部分, or 부분, means "each part," as in, "Each part of the center of Acousta/Starmie's body, called the core, radiates a different colored light each time it is seen.")

Pokémon = 포켓몬 (Pocket Mon)
Hanja = 한자 (漢字)
Pikachu = 피카츄
Gotta catch 'em all! = 반드시 노려라 포켓몬! / 포켓몬 get 하겠어!

Friday, August 1, 2014

서래마을 - Seorae Maeul, Seoul's French Village

Pain au chocolat. I have not seen one in years. La France me manque...
My previous long-term experience abroad, a semester in France, is now three years in my past, but I still get nostalgic when I think about the amazing time I had. I wish I could go back! But since that's an impossibility at the moment, I suppose I could settle for Korea's only French enclave, the Seorae Village in Seoul!

I don't want to hype it up too much. It's a small neighborhood in Banpo-dong, south of the Han River, where several hundred French people live. The Lycée Français de Séoul is located here, and the cultural influence is pretty visible. Many of the cafes and shops have a French or European theme, and some signs are written in Korean and in French.
The awesome mural on the side of the French School in Seorae Maeul. Bonjour! 봉주르!
Quick vocab: 서래 is prononced "seo-rae". 마을 ("ma-eul") means "village" in Korean. France is transliterated into Korean as 프랑스, or "ph-rang-ss".

So last Monday, I visited Seorae Maeul with Monica. I wasn't sure what to expect, maybe picturesque streets and some French people walking around? To be honest, we were slightly disappointed because there didn't seem to be that much to see or do. I took a lot of pictures, and we walked around the neighborhood and the local park, aptly named Montmartre, as it's on the top of a hill. We didn't see or hear any French! I'd really hoped that I'd run into somebody to chat with. And even though it's supposed to evoke Paris, there's more of an international village vibe than a "Little Paris" one: we passed lots of Japanese restaurants and a few American bars. Hélas... At least it was a nice day for walking.
Monica doing her modeling thang in the park.
There were quite a few wine shops in the neighborhood; this was a restaurant that kept all its empty bottles on display outside...
The highlight might have been the pain au chocolat and drinks we got at the local Paris Croissant. Paris Croissant is a Korean chain of bakeries. They are generally of a higher quality than the ubiquitous and related Paris Baguette chain; in fact, this Paris Croissant is said to import its flour directly from France. The breads and pastries were fantastic. I haven't had such good bread in ages! The basement of this Paris Croissant also sells French chocolates, macarons, wine, AND CHEESE. Du fromage français! En Corée! And not in a Costco! Of course, it was expensive, but it was still a delightful find. Monica and I bought some to take home with us, and we feasted later that evening.
The bakery section of this huge Paris Croissant. Une boulangerie français en Corée!
Des croissants! La patisserie était parfaitement friable!
Des petites tartines chocolates avec d'or?! Gold leaf on a chocolate tart?!
Macaron towers! Trop beaux, trop élégant!
Jus de kiwi et d'orange et du thé de pamplemousse et fruits rouges!
Gga-mang-be-reu Chi-jeu. Du camembert! J'en ai acheté une meule. :)
Et, bien sur, du pain! Une vrai baguette...!
So that's about it for Seorae Village: cute cafes, a park, and an amazing bakery! I don't know what I might have missed, but there just wasn't much there to begin with, I think. It's a nice place to spend an afternoon, but not really worth putting on your bucket list.

To get to Seorae Village, you can take the subway to the Express Bus Terminal Station (lines 3, 7, and 9), and go out of exit #5. Head down the tree-lined path by the stream for about ten minutes, until you reach a pedestrian walkway that crosses above the road on your left. Then follow the signs in English for Seorae Village. You'll know you're in it when you see the Paris Croissant or see signs written in French. You can also take 마을 bus #13 directly to the bottom of the street.

Amusez-vous bien à Seorae Maeul! A plus!
Au revoir! Merci pour avoir lu mon blog! Commentez, s'il vous plaît! Etes-vous allé à Seorae Maeul, ou les autres quartiers français dans les autres pays? Comment avez-vous les trouvé? Have you ever been to Seorae Maeul or other French neighborhoods in other countries? What'd you think?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Vacation

Where did July go? It's hard for me to look at the calendar and see August 7th coming up in just one week. That's when I fly home. But for the past few days, I've been just chilling, meeting up with old friends, and generally not thinking about endings. This has been my summer vacation! Two weeks spent bumming around Seoul and northern parts of the country (followed soon by two weeks of lazing around California). Okay, get ready for a lot of selfies!
Lauren and me after reaching the "peak" of a local mountain in Sanbon!
After I left Cheonan last Thursday, I went to Sanbon (산본), one of Seoul's many suburbs in Gyeonggi-do, to stay with a friend from college, Lauren. I literally hadn't seen her since I graduated two years ago, so it was wonderful to spend so much time with her and her family. We went hiking, jammed together, and caught up on each other's lives. Lauren, who like me studied linguistics at Swat, also helped with translations for the Jeju dictionary.
With friends new and old in Seoul!
On Saturday, I went up to Seoul and spent the next few days meeting up with old friends, many of whom are soon leaving Korea (or have by now already left). It was bittersweet; I've grown so close to them over the past two years, and even though we're all headed back to the US, they'll be going to different parts of the country, and meeting up won't be as simple as a two- or three-hour bus ride anymore. Before Jake left, we got chicken and beer. Before Andrew M. left, we played tons of Settlers of Catan and mahjong. Before Hana left, we ate the best of food in the restaurants and cafes around Seoul's Garosugil.
Mahjong with Andrew and Monica, and also Monica's mom!
Despite goodbyes, I was also saying a lot of hellos by reconnecting with old friends who are in Seoul for the summer, like Terrance and Rachel, whom I met at church and haven't seen for two years, or Hae-in, a close college friend who first introduced me to the Korean language and who also visited my school in Changwon once! When I hung out with Terrance and Rachel in Hongdae, we had a haircut date, and all three of us went to Punk Shalom. The only problem was that it was closed, so we went to another salon down the street. I wanted to do something a little bit crazy (don't freak out, Mom and Dad!) so I decided to dye my hair silver! Well, gray. Well, first, yellow. In order for black hair to become "ash" color, it has to be bleached three times. And then dyed. Boy, my scalp was burning by the end! And this is what my head looks like now!
Newly silver-coiffed me in the middle, with Terrance and Rachel!
Other Seoul adventures included a trip to the French village and the War Memorial of Korea. I'll make separate posts about those shortly.

Right now I'm writing this from Jungwon University in Goesan, where Fulbright Orientation is held every year. Today, I gave a few workshops for the new BETAs ("Baby" English Teaching Assistants!) and also sat in to watch their Placement Ceremony. My own Placement Ceremony was two whole years ago... Good memories! This time around, it was fun to see the new ETAs find out where they are going to teach for one year. Some were stony-faced; others couldn't hide their happiness.

And, well, placement... you know what that means! I met the ETA who is going to my old school, Changwon Science High School. Her name is Courtney, and she's great! With a background in engineering and a ton of enthusiasm for the ways she can connect with her students, I'm already really confident that she'll be successful. Tomorrow we'll meet up again, and I'm looking forward to giving her the letters our students wrote for their new teacher!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Drim School English Camp

Teachers and volunteers for the Drim School's first English camp! Left to right: Debbie, Hannah, Carolyn, Leslie, Min, me, Alanna, Dianna, and Nikki.
Hello from Cheonan! I have spent the past two days teaching at an English camp for the Drim School (드림학교). This school is a 대안학교 (alternative school) for teenagers and young adults who are North Korean defectors (탈북청소년). They study in order to catch up on years of lost or insufficient education, become more adjusted to life in South Korea, and eventually take Korean primary and secondary school exit exams so that they can apply to university.

The Drim School, founded in 2003, is affiliated with the Korea Theological Seminary (고려신학대학원) in Cheonan and has been working with Fulbright Korea for about five years. Fulbright ETAs teach volunteer English classes there weekly. This English camp, however, was the first of its kind at the school. The volunteers wanted to provide something similar to the summer camps that the Drim School students can't normally afford. We prepared a program with English classes, cultural activities, games, and lots of time to make new friends and build strong relationships.

I was assigned to teach the lowest-level English students, which means lessons on recognizing letters and the basics of English phonics. This was surprising for me at first, since I teach fairly high-level students at my regular school. However, I learned that the reason I was given the low-level students was that I can speak and understand at least some Mandarin Chinese. The students who cannot speak English are mostly those who have only very recently arrived in South Korea, usually from China. Since they have spent years living in China (and may even consider themselves Chinese rather than Korean), they are completely fluent in Mandarin but have little to no grasp of English. A handful are not even conversational in Korean, so even the regular Drim School teachers have some trouble communicating or connecting with them.

Me with some "star"* students during the scavenger hunt!
One such student was OH. He arrived in South Korea no more than one month ago and speaks only Mandarin and very basic Korean. It wasn't hard to figure out why he looked so lost and lonely all the time; while he could talk to most of the other students in Mandarin, every other exchange in his life was conducted in rapid Korean. Even though he is Korean, he was just as confused as any non-Korean is when they first get here.

OH was in my class, and at our first meeting I told all my students straight off the bat, in Mandarin, that if they ever had any questions or problems and wanted to ask me, they could do so in whatever language they felt most comfortable with. Since I was the only volunteer in the camp who could speak it, many students chose to chat with me in Mandarin (or in a mix of Mandarin and Korean). Even though I'm well out of practice, not having studied it for three years, I welcomed the opportunity to practice and, more importantly, to connect with kids who may have gone months or even years without a teacher who can understand them in what they consider their native language. It was so wonderful to see how OH opened up, not just to me, but to his peers as well, over the course of the camp. I don't really know what his performance was like during the past semester, but he certainly proved to be a diligent student, taking notes in my class and asking me questions, volunteering for every game, and putting in a genuine effort to memorize the numbers from one to twenty.

Besides English classes, I also co-led an extracurricular class on guitar and songwriting with my friend Alanna. At first, we had no sign-ups, but eventually we had too many students in the classroom to keep the class under control! It was very loud and very fun; we just taught two simple chords and a strumming pattern and wrote a simple song about love. (It tastes like sweet chocolate and feels like the warm sun.) I think that more than anything, the students learned that learning how to play the guitar isn't easy! I'd forgotten how much it hurts your fingers when you first start out. But I think they all enjoyed it, anyway.

Hannah and me with the 동그라미 (circle) group!
There were other cultural activities, like t-shirt tie-dyeing, baking, and a Konglish photo scavenger hunt, that were quite enjoyable. I'm really impressed with how much effort the other volunteers put into their classes and activities. I myself was scrambling to throw together my lessons right up until the start of camp, because I literally moved out of my apartment the day before it opened and had been very busy and just a bit frazzled. Though like any camp, it had its hectic moments, unexpected snafus, and last-minute schedule changes, overall, I think it went splendidly. It was only two days, but that was enough for me to get close with my students and show them some love.

The vice principal of the school mentioned in her closing ceremony speech tonight that she was grateful that through our camp, the kids could experience some of God's love. And it hadn't occurred to me before, but I guess it's true. The Drim School, along with the majority of non-governmental South Korean-led initiatives to help North Korean defectors and achieve peninsular reunification, is an evangelical Christian mission. I have to admit I rather admire the passion that the Korean church has for reunification (this is despite my personal misgivings about its actual possibility in the near future), and I am grateful for the way their devotion to God has translated into tangible good works for those in need.

My father, who just finished a missionary English camp of his own in Taiwan, asked me recently if I had used my time in South Korea to share the Gospel with my students or others in my community. The simple answer is no, unfortunately, but now I wonder if there can be such a thing as "passive witnessing," wherein my students know that I am a Christian and can observe how I live and act in light of this information, or else I volunteer with the Drim School and reinforce the school's teaching that all good things are a blessing from God, including fun foreign teachers who speak Chinese.

I also admitted to a friend a while back that I'd sort of marked the last two years in South Korea as a spiritual lost cause -- this was mostly in reference to my frustration with church before I started attending Redeemer -- but on the other hand, I might be looking at things overly pessimistically. No one is a lost cause to God. He isn't in the habit of giving up on people, so I won't give up, either.

Okay, sorry for the tangent. Anyway, I am very happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to help with the Drim School's very first English camp, and I wish my students all the best in the years to come. I'll surely visit them when I return to Korea in the future.

- - -
* I'm covering my North Korean defector students' faces with stickers in my photos, because I am not allowed to show them anywhere online for security reasons.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Scattered Thoughts

Me with friends at El Loco!
Well, I got hit by a car while riding a bike today. It was bound to happen, I think. I'm lucky, though: the guy was waiting to make a right, and he inched forward just as I was passing in front of him, so he only clipped my back wheel. I regained balance quickly and kept going after throwing him a dirty look.

Twelve hours until I vacate my apartment and leave Changwon for good. Time to start packing.

I've had a great weekend. Even I'm meeting people to say goodbye, it's not so much sad as it is fondly reminiscent. I finally went to El Loco, Changwon's rave-reviewed Mexican restaurant. Not bad! Portions kind of small, margaritas very very strong. Said my goodbyes to Soo, Eunjin, and Yeongbin.

Oh, and Friday night was my last outing with taekgyeon folks. I brought a tub of Baskin Robbins to the bar! We stayed out until around 1:30, and they got really drunk and kept telling me not to go back to America. Aww.
Taekgyeon folks and our two masters (on my right and left)

Today was my last day at church, my third and last time playing keys for the worship band. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been part of Redeemer, even though it was for a short time. I had a nice sendoff, then a nice meal at Bombay with church folks. I'll miss them.

Moving out is a pain in the neck.

It's been rather amusing coming up with ways to use up all the food left in the pantry. I make my own jjajangmyeon with spaghetti and boxed jjajang. I've been eating cereal with peanut butter because I'm out of milk. Well, actually I've been eating cereal with peanut butter because I love peanut butter and would add it to anything.

Season one of Orphan Black was incredible. Tatiana Maslany is a genius.

I'm going to pierce my ears before I leave Korea. It's an idiosyncrasy of mine to get a piercing after a significant life milestone, and I think two years of teaching can qualify.

And to think I still have lesson plans to finish... Sigh. Okay, but I really must start packing now.