Saturday, May 31, 2014

머리스타일, 놀라워 - Meolistyle: No, La, Woah!

JH got up from his end of the table and sat down again with his tray, right across from me.

"Talking is fun," he said. Boom. Day made.

Meanwhile, JM was eating with his eyes trained on the television show playing on the screen in the cafeteria. The show was some sort of reality TV filler that followed the members of one of Korea's most famous boy bands, Infinite. I like one of their members, Hoya, who starred in Reply 1997, but I don't listen to any of their music (1). As we watched them do vaguely interesting things, my eyes were drawn to their hair. All of the members have pretty flamboyant personal style and fashion sense (though I definitely don't think any of them has any control over his public image). One in particular (maybe SungJong?) was sporting a head of singularly unattractive bubble-gum pink hair. It made me laugh out loud, and I looked at JH.

"JH, would you ever want to have pink hair?"

"Never," he said.

"Well, then, if you could dye your hair any color, what color would you want?"

JH thought for a minute, and his eventual answer surprised me: "Gray! Like an old man."

I dig it. (from Pinterest)
I think that could work. Instead of gray, though, I told JH that he might want to go for silver. It's been done!

I also told JH that I'm thinking about cutting all of my hair off, shaving it really close, as it was when I first came to Korea two years ago. The reason is that my black belt test in taekgyeon is in a few weeks, and I'm getting really tired of having my hair in my face all the time when I'm trying to concentrate on my kicks or forms. I use a bandana or a headband to keep my bangs in check, but it's still 불편해 (inconvenient)!

Showing JH and JM my really, really long 앞머리, I quipped that it was so long I could almost braid it. "Do you know what a braid is?" I asked. They didn't. I very, very rarely see any Koreans with braided hair (땋은 머리). I'm not really sure why... it's just not a thing here, I guess. Women always have their hair down. And men generally don't sport long hair, anyway.

This reminded JH of an old Korean custom. He explained that in ancient times, Korean men and women both had long hair and kept it up: women had unbelievably elaborate braids and updos, while men had top knots (상투) (2). According to JH, people would never, ever cut their hair, because they considered their hair to be a part of their ancestral heritage. I find that idea very intriguing.

But then, so the story goes, the Japanese came and cut off all the men's top knots. It's more than a bit symbolic, as Japanese colonialism really did sever Korean culture from its roots. Ever since, Koreans have had more "modern" hairstyles.

The picture I showed my stylist.
And today, hair is big. There's no question about it. Hair salons are everywhere; there are four or five in a ten-minute radius around my house. It is extremely common for anyone to perm and dye their hair, no matter their gender or age. I've seen toddlers in barbershop high chairs and old ladies getting their latest ajumma perm. My taekgyeon master permed his hair last week; on Friday it was straight, and on Monday it was a tangle of loose curls. Of course, people my age like to follow trends, and as far as I can tell, right now dark brown is in, but simple cuts are not. For guys specifically, they're asking for something called 투블럭 ("two-block"), which is equivalent, I think, to an undercut. The sides are shaved close and the top is left to its own devices, sometimes with the help of a perm or wax.

Now, one year ago, I was pretty set against ever changing the super-straight, super black natural state of my hair. In a nutshell, I didn't want to be a trend-follower, I didn't want to possibly contribute to the stereotype that Asians prefer a look that is more natural for Caucasians, and I didn't want to send a message to my students that I was at all dissatisfied with my natural hair. But I did want to change my hair, simply out of... I don't know, call it an early-twenties desire to color outside the lines every so often.

In February this year, I dyed my hair brown. I was literally dragged into Punk Shalom by my friend Katelyn, who told the folks there that I wanted a change and that they could make it happen however they liked. It was, in fact, a very fun experience. When I returned to school the following March, I got double-takes and plenty of compliments.

Before, During, After!
So by last week, almost four months later, the roots were growing out and everything was just getting too long, and I decided I needed another haircut. But then I toyed with the idea of perming (파마) instead. It's another way to keep my bangs out of my eyes, and also... I won't deny it, it's popular.

Thus, I brought paperwork to a salon near my house that I'd been to once before and corrected my students' speech drafts for three hours while sporting curlers and a head saturated with chemicals. Yeah, a perm takes a long time. The result was, as you can see... wavy.

It's not pink or silver, but it's certainly crazier than anything I've ever done with hair -- and that includes bleaching it myself in the dorm bathroom three years ago.

Did I worry this time about compromising my values? No. Do I have qualms about how my friends, family, co-workers, or students will react? Not in the slightest. But am I now wondering about how closely hair is connected with identity, and considering how changes in my appearance may reflect changes in myself that two years of living in Korea have wrought? Yes.

And am I also considering letting my hair continue to grow out until I can make a respectable top knot?


- - -
1) This is one of Infinite's most recent music video releases, for a song called "Last Romeo".

My reaction: Eh... 별로. Unfortunately, this video is the epitome of what is popular in K-pop today: angsty, strangely-albeit-immaculately-dressed men pointing at the camera and dancing really well in dimly lit halls, reaching longingly toward the same forgettable girl only to have the entire library explode into confetti from a thousand fake books.

2) Speaking of top knots and taekgyeon, 관장님 told me that when taekgyeon players during the dynastic periods sparred, sometimes the winner would be determined by which man could hit -- rather than the face -- his opponent's top knot first. Illustrations of taekgyeon being played in bygone eras show men with very long queues in the ring, while those who watched wore their hair up. (Actually, he also said that only married men sported 상투...)

P.S. Title of this post comes from an Akdong Musician song, 가르마 (Hair Part): 머리스타일 하나로 다른 사람이 되다니 정말 놀라워. Translation: You can become a different person just by changing your hairstyle, it's amazing.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Windy Hill and Camellia Island (바람의 언덕과 지심도)

Continued adventures on Geoje Island! The first half of my weekend wasn't so smooth (see previous post about transportation fails), but I had a blast spending Saturday night eating good barbecue, playing Cards Against Humanity -- the most hilarious and inappropriate card game -- and falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.

On Sunday morning, my friends and I headed out onto the peninsula to visit Windy Hill (바람의 언덕). Supposedly it's very windy there, but I didn't feel so much as a breeze. Jeju Island is infinitely windier, that's for sure. But Windy Hill has an adorable little windmill at the top of it. Actually, it's not very little at all. But it sure is picturesque. The seven of us took photos, just like the hundreds of other tourists there, but we also turned a few heads as we filmed a few short segments for a music video we're making...
From left to right: Carly, Anna, Amy, Neal, Rachel, and another Andrew, at Windy Hill in Geoje.
After Windy Hill, we taxied up to Jangseungpo and got tickets for a ferry to go to Camellia Island (지심도). A few scenes of a recent mega-hit Korean drama called My Love from the Star (별에서 온 그데) were filmed on this island while its camellia flowers were in full bloom. Of course, my K-drama obsessed friends Amy and Anna were beyond thrilled to be setting foot on the island that Kim Soo-hyun pretended was his own alien planet.

Well, 지심도 really is quite pretty! And although the skies were threatening to rain, it was cool enough that a brisk walk along the secluded and forested paths was more refreshing than exertive. I believe that nobody actually lives on the island; some people run shops and restaurants for daily tourists, but today it seemed almost deserted. All the better for us to film some extra scenes for our music video with nobody around to accidentally walk into a beautiful backdrop!
Our small ferry to Camellia Island. Side note: there are no trash cans on the island at all! All trash must be carried down to the boat each evening to be taken back to the mainland.
Well, there isn't much else to do on 지심도 than 산책 and look at the ocean or the camellia trees (동백나무), which weren't in bloom, so after a few hours, we headed back down to the pier to wait for our boat. The round-trip fare is ₩12,000 and boats leave about every hour until around 3pm. And that's all for Camellia Island!
Fulbright friends on Camellia Island!
It was nearing 5pm by the time we returned to Jangseungpo, so I decided it was about time to head back to Changwon. After grabbing a quick snack at Lotteria (and realizing to my amusement that it was my first time eating at a Lotteria since Fulbright Orientation... way back in August 2012!), I hopped on a bus home.

To my great surprise, I ran into two students on the bus when it stopped at Tongyeong! YJ, who lives in Geoje, and HY, a first-year who lives in Tongyeong. I was very happy to see YJ, who never shies away from talking with me and also asks me really interesting questions about life in the US. "Teacher, in Korea, the curriculum at Seoul National University and Geoje University are actually the same; they use the same textbooks and the professors aren't necessary better teachers at SNU. So it's only the reputation of the school that makes a difference. Is this so in the United States?" ... What a conversation starter, huh?

When we arrived in Changwon at 7:30, the three of us took a taxi back to school. Students have to return to their dorms by Sunday evenings at 9pm. Since we had some time to kill, I invited them both to dinner. HY had already eaten, but YJ accepted, and we got chicken at the local chicken joint, cleverly named ChiKing (치킹). Fried chicken fit for royalty. I am sure that this is the place my students call when they break the school rules against ordering takeout from their dorm rooms at night.

Anyway, I'm very pleased with the trajectory of my mood this weekend. Yes, it started off kind of low, but the steady increase went exponential by Sunday evening. Treating one of my favorite students to dinner ended it on a high note. I wish I could do this every weekend!
A view of the ocean from Camellia Island.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Geoje Island and a Day of Public Transit Fails

A butterfly! (나비) I can't even remember the last time I've seen a butterfly this close. Well, there are dead butterflies in a display case by the biology department at school...
Last weekend, I took a trip down south to Geoje Island (거제도). It's Korea's third largest island, but it's not actually very far from the mainland, being easily accessible by a couple long bridges. Geoje City, which is coextensive with the main island plus a few smaller ones surrounding it, has a population of about a quarter million and relies a lot on tourism (thanks to gorgeous natural scenery) and shipbuilding (because of its seaside location).

Several of my students are from Geoje, and I guess that fact duped me into thinking that it wasn't so far away from Changwon. Well, if you're driving and you can cross the new bridge that connects from Busan, it takes about an hour. But when I traveled to the island last weekend... well, let's just say I severely overestimated the power of public transportation. Several times. Story time!

On Saturday afternoon, I rode the city bus for an hour to get from Changwon to the southern bus terminal in Masan, which had the most frequent buses going to Geoje. I actually missed the stop, and the bus driver kicked me off the bus when he reached the end of the line. Fortunately, I only had to walk back for about five minutes. I got a ticket for Geoje (about 13,000KRW) and got comfortable for a two-hour bus ride. When I arrived at the Gohyun (고현) Bus Terminal, one of several on the island, it was about 4:30pm. From here, I had to figure out how to get to the vacation house (called a "pension/펜션" in Konglish) my friends were staying at.

This pension happened to be down at the southern end of the island, while Gohyun was in the north. According to my phone's map application, I could either take a city bus that went around the entire perimeter of the island, totaling two hours, or I could take three buses (transfering twice) that cut through the middle of it, for ninety minutes. Foolishly, I opted for the latter. I've been spoiled by my city's well-run bus system, and I can only say that Geoje's buses are not nearly as reliable. Backpack on my shoulders and a birthday cake I bought for my friend in hand, I hopped on my first bus of many.

Checking my phone's navigation on the bus, I was instructed to get off in the middle of nowhere for my first transfer... I found myself at a bus stop that consisted of a sign by the road. It didn't even have a bench, and instead of a schedule of bus arrival times or destinations, it had a phone number that you could call. After waiting for about fifteen minutes, I tried the number, and a robot told me a bus would arrive in three minutes. But it wasn't the bus I was supposed to take. Also, it didn't come in three minutes. It arrived after another fifteen minutes, and by that point I was wondering if perhaps the city buses ran on a different schedule on weekends. Since it was the only bus I'd seen for the past half an hour, and since my cell phone battery was getting dangerously low, I took my chances and got on.

Knowing, of course, that it wasn't the right bus, I asked the driver how I could get to Hammok (함목), which was my final destination. He told me to get off at Dongbu (동부) and take another bus from there. Dongbu was on the west side of the island; I was being forced into a detour that ended up amounting to more time than if I had just taken the 2-hour island-circumnavigating bus. Anyway, I got off at Dongbu -- it was about 5:45 -- and was soon confused again because I couldn't find the bus stop. A nice lady who ran the local convenience store explained that her store was essentially the bus stop; a printout of bus times had been posted on the window. She was kind enough to explain when the next bus would arrive (6:25pm), but didn't let me recharge my phone when I asked. I was forced to shut it off to save my battery from going completely dry.

After waiting for longer than I could patiently bear, a bus finally came! I hopped on, asked the driver if he was going to Hammok, and got a jumbled reply that I couldn't exactly decipher until after I'd found a seat. I purposely sat down next to a map that showed the bus routes and realized that the one I'd boarded wasn't going to stop at Hammok. It would, however, go to the two stops before and after Hammok. I realized that the bus driver had told me to get off one stop before Hammok, at Hakdong (학동). So after another half hour on the bus, winding through pretty hills at dusk, I hopped off at Hakdong, watched the bus drive away, and realized that I was definitely not in the right place.

It occured to me, after having closely studied the map and geography of the island during my desperate phone use on the first bus, that where I was currently standing in relation to the sea didn't put me as close to Hammok as I'd thought. I asked the first people I saw, a couple, how close I was to Hammok. The lady shook her head and said that it would take at least half an hour walking. The man suggested I take a taxi. I gritted my teeth and said that I'd try walking. The lady said that perhaps if another bus came by as I walked, I could easily flag it down and hop on.

So I started walking on the road. And it was a real road, meant only for cars, no sidewalk or pedestrian path of any sort. Tons of cars passed me, as well as a few trucks and taxis... but not a single bus! So I kept walking, and walking, and walking... I came upon a roadside rest stop after twenty minutes. The woman looked at me like I was crazy when I asked her how much farther Hammok was, and then replied another fifteen minutes. I continued walking, and I briefly considered trying to hitchhike the rest of the way, but I figured that nobody would be familiar with the concept; maybe they'd just think I was giving them the thumbs-up (and a tired, peeved, pouty face to go with it). I wondered if I could trade a slice of birthday cake for a ride... and I kept walking. I walked for 4.5 kilometers. (I know because I checked on that freaking map app later.)

At 7:30pm, I finally reached Hammok and its very cute cluster of guesthouses and pensions right by the shore. I knew it was the right place because a peninsula of the island jutted out into the sea... and I also caught sight of the windmill on Windy Hill. Miraculously, when I turned on my phone, it was still at 2% battery life, so I called my friends and met up with them in time for a barbecue dinner. I was exhausted and extremely hungry, but my joy at finally meeting up with my friends made up for all of it. We ate, drank, and were merry, and also ate the birthday cake and made it a night almost worth a ridiculous day.

Of course, I was still really annoyed about my experience that day. I'm a big fan of public transportation and I always give it a chance in any city I'm visiting. But Geoje's buses completely failed me. I think even if I hadn't made any dumb foreigner mistakes, it would have taken me far too long to get to where I wanted to go.

Needless to say, for the rest of the weekend, my friends and I took taxis to every sightseeing spot on our itinerary.
The view of the pebble beach and the ocean from our pension!
Okay, so I know this post was boring. But I just needed to get it all out. Again. I already ranted about this in Korean on lang-8. More fun in the next post, I promise: Windy Hill and Camellia Island!

- - -
realize = 알아차리다.
거제도의 대중교통이 엉망이 되는걸 알아차렸다. I realized that Geoje's public transportation system is a mess.
overestimate = 과대평가하다.
그의 실력을 과대평가하지마라. Don't overestimate his abilities!
allow = 허락하다.
마트주인은 제 휴대폰 충전을 허락하시지 않았다. The shopowner didn't allow me to charge my phone.
at last = 마침내, 드디어.
마침내 펜션에 도착했다! I finally arrived at the pension!
indicate in writing = 적히다 (write down = 적다).
여기에는 버스시간표가 적혀있지 않다. The bus schedule isn't indicated here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Outdoor Class

This is educational, I promise.
Ah, after a rainy weekend, we've finally hit some legitimate summer weather. I can actually feel the humidity in the air, and at night, I can walk around in a t-shirt and shorts. It won't be long before we start turning on the fans at my taekgyeon dojang. The change is welcome, although spring didn't seem quite long enough.

A pity that I can't take advantage of these fine sunny days to hold classes outdoors again! I did it once this semester, back in April. I took my third years outside to play some fun games that required communciation skills (in English, of course), including the always-successful Human Knot (above) and group charades (below). They really enjoyed the class, but we're nearing the end of the semester, and it's time to prepare for speech tests, so I can't do it again anytime soon. I've got all 180 of my students writing drafts of their speeches this week and next. This means I won't be able to enjoy a spare minute outside, either, as I'll be inside at my desk correcting a thousand grammar and spelling mistakes from now until mid-June.

But I'll keep these hliarious snapshots in mind, because as soon as the tests are over, it'll be time to have fun -- as much of it as possible before I leave.
I think they were supposed to make a tree?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Windy Hill

The Windy Hill Windmill!
Friends and I went tilting at Windy Hill on Geoje-do, a beautiful and rather secluded island on the southeastern coast of the peninsula. More to come later! First, I've got lesson planning to do.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Human Zoo - Animal Idioms in Korean and English

This week, I taught my students a few idioms that involve animals. Earlier this semester, a student had expressed the hope that we could do some drawing activities in class, so I gave each of them an animal and a marker, and we played pictionary. The results were hilarious, and the student who got her wish was literally bent over double in laughter as her friends drew what I suppose were meant to be cats... or were they tigers? Bears? Goats?

Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos. On the bright side, as I was checking their journals later, I found that some students had not only written down the English definitions of the idioms that I'd provided, they also jotted down rough translations in Korean. I went ahead and added all of them to my own vocabulary list:

big fish in a small pond - 우물 안 개구리
The Korean version of this idiom, which refers to someone important in a relatively small sphere of influence, is "우물 안 개구리는 바다를 모른다", which translates to: "The frog in the well knows nothing of the ocean." One of my students, HS, proudly asserted that he was a big fish, but his face fell when I told him that we were currently swimming in a very small pond.

black sheep - 이단아
이단 appears to mean a sort of rebel or maverick, and 아 means child, so although there is no Korean version of this idiom that means a person who is radically (and often problematically) different from their group, the image of a "maverick child" is just as memorable, I think.

bookworm - 책벌레
This one was extremely easy to guess. TG drew a box on the board and then a striped oval inside of it. Since 책 (book) 벌레 (bug) is a direct translation from English, it was also simple to understand. As it turns out, avid readers are not the only kind of people who can be described with a Korean idiom that references bugs. (Keep reading!)

copycat - 흉내쟁이
I got this translation from the dictionary; the students didn't write down any translations, either because it was easy enough to understand or because they were too busy laughing their heads off at the picture their classmate tried to draw. It appeared to be an anthropomorphized Doraemon: that is, the cartoon cat with hair and glasses, wearing human clothes. Anyway, 흉내 means "impersonation" and 쟁이 is a casual suffix that refers to a person who does a certain action.

dark horse - 다크호스
If you can't read Korean, the above phrase is a transliteration: da-kh ho-ss. The concept is evidently familiar in Korea. I wonder if they've seen Katy Perry's new music video?

eager beaver - 일벌레
I gave myself the responsibility of trying to draw this one, and it was difficult because few of my students knew what a beaver was (in Korean, it's 비버, another transliteration). Anyway, this idiom for an overly enthusiastic worker is called 일벌레 in Korean. You can see the word "bug" used again; a "work bug" is how they refer to workaholics, but I think it has a more negative connotation than eager beaver.

lone wolf - 외톨이 늑대
YH wrote in his notes that lone wolf was "외로운 늑대" -- a lonely wolf. The dictionary's translation is more accurate, I believe: 외톨이 means "lone" in the manner of choosing to be alone. There's a nuanced difference. But of course, in Korea, everyone assumes that if you are by yourself, then you are lonely. Single people and loners can never catch a break here!

scapegoat - 희생양
I had a lot of trouble explaining this one. Even a brief summary of the Bible story associated with this idiom didn't make much sense. I told him that a scapegoat is a person who takes the blame or punishment for someone else, sort of like if YH illicitly ordered fried chicken from his dorm room and got caught, but somehow NH was punished for it. Though I'm not sure if that's ever happened, NH is definitely the scapegoat of his class!

social butterfly - 외향적
First of all, JK's drawing for this was excellent: a simple butterfly outline plus the square Facebook icon. Too clever! 외향적 is actually the word for "extroverted" in Korean; I couldn't find the Korean version of the idiom that means a person who loves socializing and meeting new people. It surprised me which students considered themselves to be extroverted in my class. Rather than social butterflies, I might have thought of them as shrinking violets. But that just goes to show how much there is to my students that I have yet to discover!

tiger parent - 타이거맘
This idiom also resulted in a fun drawing: JM took his sweet time in creating a caricature of an anthropomorphized tiger, complete with khakis and briefcase. The idea of a "tiger mom" (which is what the Korean phrase says: ta-i-guh mam) is obviously very well known here. You could argue that Asian countries are where tiger parents originated, thanks to a certain Yale professor's infamous manifesto. I'm curious if there's an older, purely Korean idiom that refers to this kind of charater, though, because Koreans have been hell-bent on education for decades.

That's it for the ten animal idioms and their Korean versions! Can you suggest any other interesting idioms, in English or in Korean, that my students and I should know?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Disce aut discede

I'm a little bit sad because I found out recently that two of my second-year students have left our school. One decided to take a year-long leave of absence, and the other dropped out entirely. According to my co-teachers, the academic pressure was too difficult for them to handle.

I wondered for a moment if there had been anything I could have done to prevent these two students from giving up. There were, of course, warning signs. The student who dropped out (henceforth S1) had always seemed overwhelmed by everything. Both of them had underperformed consistently for three semesters, and the student who took the leave of absence (S2) was clearly depressed. In his very first journal entry, he wrote that he hated this school. If I'd taken these things more seriously and spoken up, could I have kept them here?

Let's be real, though: it takes a brave student to recognize that he's not a good fit for the two-year academic boot camp that is our school. While they certainly could have used more support and encouragement, ultimately I think it's better that they knew their limits and got out before they stretched themselves beyond their ability. I'm not disappointed; I'm relieved on their behalf.

I'm also somewhat irked that I didn't learn about the situation until now. S1 hadn't come to class in about three weeks before I learned why he was gone. Actually, in his first week of absence, S2 wrote in his journal that he was worried about his classmate, S1. I wrote back, asking what the matter was and offering my well-wishes. But S2 never got that feedback, because he didn't show up to class for the following two weeks.

So this week, I asked one of my co-teachers if she knew where S1 was; I wondered aloud if he was perhaps sick. My co-teacher hesitated and then put on her quiet, serious tone. "Well, the truth is that S1 is preparing to leave the school." I was taken aback. But then another teacher overheard and chimed in: "Preparing? No, I think he has already left. He left a few weeks ago."

Three weeks, to be precise, yet nobody bothered to tell me! And nobody told my co-teacher, either. She knew his situation, but the details were hushed up. The reality is, she told me, that people tend to keep very quiet about sensitive matters like students leaving school. We don't want to risk losing face. Typical Korean channels of communication: as blocked as the roads leading into Seoul during rush hour.

I wish that I'd had the opportunity to say goodbye to my two students. I'd give them back their journals and tell them to keep writing in them, even though they won't be in my class anymore. I hope that they will rest up well in their time off and, when they're ready to study again, come back to the game even stronger than before.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

소방 훈련 (Fire Drill)

Today there was a 소방 훈련 (fire drill), and unsurprisingly, I wasn't informed of it until about half an hour before it was to take place. Of course, I'm sure somebody must have announced this days ago, only it would have been in Korean, and I don't really pay attention to the announcements at teacher meetings.

A little past 4:30, the bells began ringing and dozens of students burst excitedly out of their study rooms to run outside. They weren't supposed to run, in fact, but give them any excuse to escape their study carrels, and they'll take it.

Local firefighters (소방관) had come to our school for the drill to educate us on proper safety protocols. They also allowed some students to practice using a fire extinguisher (소화기)! I think it looked pretty fun, speaking as someone who has never even touched a fire extinguisher. The white dust that blew toward the audience after the controlled fire was put out though didn't amuse them, though.
A photo I took from the last 소방 훈련 we did, way back in Fall 2012. Yay, fire extinguishers!
After the drill was over, I ran into MS, a second-year who had gotten to try her hand at firefighting.

"MS!" I called to her. "You got to use the fire extinguisher! Was it fun?"

"Oh, teacher, no," she said, looking none too happy.

"Really? Why not?" I asked.

"Because... Teacher Kang tell me, um... '시켰어요' 영어로 뭐라지?" She turned to her friend for translation help. I did a quick search through my mental dictionary.

"Teacher Kang... commanded you?" I suggested. 시키다 means 'order' or, better for this case, 'force someone to do something'.

"I didn't want to do it," MS explained, "but Teacher Kang said I am like a man, so I have to!"

That got me laughing. I assume the local firefighting unit had wanted to give the girls a chance to be involved, but the homeroom teachers probably decided that that meant only the "manliest" (i.e. strongest, sorry feminists) could properly carry out the task.

Or maybe it was a joke. I wouldn't put that past Teacher Kang.
And here's a photo of some of my old students at the time... All but nine of these students have graduated. I miss them!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wishy-Washy Korean Onomatopoeia (의성어) and Mimetic Words (의태어)

I'm no expert in Korean linguistics, but I have noticed something strange about Korean onomatopoeia (의성어) that I'd like to share with you. Aside from being astoundingly creative and multifarious, Korean onomatopoeia is intriguing because it takes the linguistic idea of iconicity and runs far, far away with it. There are thousands of ideophones in the language: onomatopoetic words that describe not just sounds but also certain kinds of sensory perceptions that don't necessarily make a sound.

nomz. Hi, Pusheen!
To begin with, common Korean onomatopoeia include: 냠냠 (nyam-nyam), which is how they write the nomz (eating), 음 (eum), which is their "hm", and 똑똑똑 (ddok-ddok-ddok), for when somebody knocks on the door.

Of course, linguists argue that not all onomatopoeia are iconic. How exactly does 쩌렁쩌렁 (jjeoleong-jjeoleong) sound like a shrill voice? Which sounds more like a heartbeat, lub-dub or 두근두근 (dugeun-dugeun)?

In any case, where Korean (and Japanese, as well) excels at onomatopoeia is their wealth of words that describe sounds that aren't actually sounds. For example, 따끈따끈 (ddaggeun-ddaggeun) is the "sound" of warm, fuzzy feelings. 빤짝빤짝 (bbanjjak-bbanjjak) is their version of twinkle. In Korean, these ideophones are called 의태어 (mimetic words), and their definitions always include the word 모양 (moyang), which means "shape" or "form".

Well, this is where things get confusing, because Korean 의태어 tend to be quite fickle. It seems that not everybody has been able to agree on just how to say -- or, more accurately, write -- the sound of a shimmering star, for example. This particular onomatopoeia is cited equally often as 빤짝 (bbanjjak) and 반짝 (banjjak), the difference contained in the first letter: ㅂ or ㅃ. The sounds are very similar, of course, as the second is simply a tense version of the first, but they are still considered separate phonemes.

As for meaning, some say that 빤짝 is a stronger shininess than regular old 반짝, due in part to the tensed phoneme. But what I see is a simple lack of standardization in these onomatopoeia. As in English, we may wonder if the sound of a train is really "choo-choo" or "toot-toot". Does a dog say, "woof," "ruff," or "arf"?

Another Korean example can be found in the aforementioned heartbeat: not only 두근두근 (dugeun-dugeun) but also 두글두글 (dugeul-dugeul).

When I first began noticing these rather murky boundaries surrounding onomatopoeia, it reminded me of a Korean adage my co-teacher taught me. It goes like this: "아 다르고 어 다르다." It roughly translates to "ah is different from oh," meaning that you must pay careful attention to how you say things. You wouldn't want to meet a cool guy (멋있다/meoshitda) and tell him you think it's he's tasty (맛있다/mashitda).

But how this figures into the difficulty I have in learning Korean onomatopoeia is that it seems that the rules for altering them are quite arbitrary: sometimes the vowels can be shifted, sometimes not. Sometimes it's unclear if the way someone pronounces a word is due to their regional dialect or if they're just saying it wrong.

Take a look at the sound of drizzle, which I learned as 보슬보슬 (boseul-boseul). I must take care not to accidently say 버슬버슬 (beoseul-beoseul), because according to the dictionary, that's the texture of crumbly pastries. So is 바슬바슬 (baseul-baseul). What I can say, though, is 부슬부슬 (buseul-buseul); it appears to be acceptable even though I have literally never heard it before.

For good measure, I just checked out the remaining possible vowels to insert into the first syllable and found that 비슬비슬 (biseul-biseul) means to take tottering steps, 배슬배슬 (baeseul-baeseul) and 베슬베슬 (beseul-beseul) mean to do something weakly and passively, or to shirk, and 뱌슬뱌슬 (byaseul-byaseul) is yet another variant of this. 브슬브슬 (beuseul-beuseul) was not in the dictionary, but I can't help but wonder, "Well, why couldn't this just be another way to describe mizzle or goldbricking?"

(One more: 벼슬하다 (byeoseul) is, in fact, not one of these 의태어, but it means to take up a public office.)

At lunch the other day, a teacher was trying to describe a former student whose face I was having trouble bringing up. "He was short and skinny, didn't wear glasses..." he struggled to use a descriptor that didn't apply to roughly half of our school's population. Finally, he said, "Well, he was 반질반질 (banjil-banjil)," and at that the teachers around us laughed and nodded in agreement.

My co-teacher tried her best to explain. 반질반질 is a word (an 의태어, in fact) used to describe the smooth or slick surface of a stone, but when applied to people, it paints a picture of someone who never wants to work and can think of a hundred ways to avoid responsibility without taking the blame. They're shirkers, charmers, and, well, now that I think about it, they're also 배슬배슬. That can't be a coincidence, can it?

반질 as a baby's bottom.
I offered the translation of "slippery" or "cunning", and also mentioned Ferris Bueller.

Anyway, as my co-teacher went on, another teacher offered that 반질반질 was the same as 밴질밴질 (baenjil-baenjil). When I looked this up in the dictionary, I discovered that 빤질빤질 (bbanjil-bbanjil) was also an option. So were 번질번질 (beonjil-beonjil) and 뻔질뻔질 (bbeonjil-bbeonjil). All of these words mean greasy, glossy, sleek, or smooth. And at that point, my search history on Naver dictionary looked ridiculous.

The common definition among all of these words happened to include another word unfamiliar to me: 빤빤하다 (bban-bban), which means "brazen". Unsurprisingly, 뻔뻔하다 (bbeon-bbeon) and 뺀뺀하다 (bbaen-bbaen) are acceptable variants. But don't get too far ahead of yourself: 반반하다 (ban-ban) means to be good-looking, and 번번하다 (beon-beon) means to have a fair complexion or to be... smooth.

Sometimes I feel like the dictionary is taunting me by sending me in circles.

It played one last trick on my co-teacher and me by telling me that "brazen" meant someone who had no 염치 (yeom-chi). When I asked my co-teacher what that was, she told me that there must have been a mistake: the word they should have used was 얌치 (yam-chi). As it turns out, 염치 and 얌치 have the same meaning, only my co-teacher had never heard of the former.

아 다르고 어 다르다! Does a small difference in pronunciation actually matter? If you look at Korean onomatopoeia, you might think that it's not important at all!

- - -

P.S. I found this fun list of cross-linguistic onomatopoeia during my "research".
P.P.S. Talented graphic designers Dom and Hyo made a infographic of some common Korean onomatopoeia, which I've reproduced below. Have fun studying!

Monday, May 19, 2014


One of the many murals in Tongyeong's Dongpirang Wall Painting Village, and also Coby.
Haphazardly placed wires and colorful rooftops in Dongpirang Village. Ah, the beauty of Korean cities.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bike Party and the Noraeboat!

Nubija bikes, the symbol of Changwon Bike Party
Woohoo, Changwon Bike Party! Last weekend was the May bike party. We rode from City 7 up to the train station, then down through Masan, ending at the harbor. But the party didn't stop there -- after dinner, we got onto a NoraeBoat! It's like a noraebang (Korean karaoke room), but on a boat. Our party boat went around the harbor as the sun set, and it was beautiful, crazy fun.
Changwon bikers safely riding through Masan's busiest neighborhood. It was a bit stressful sharing the road with huge buses and lots of cars, but we made it!
Bike selfie. I know this is dangerous. I'm sorry.
It might not be clear from the photos, but the theme was "Stoplight", which meant that everyone had to wear green, yellow, or red. I wore my favorite green bike shirt: Infinity MPG, a Threadless classic. I also donned the yellow shades I got at Color Me Rad and red shorts. Short pants: finally! Summer is practically here -- it's been almost uncomfortably warm this past week.

But thanks to the weather, many more people are showing up to Bike Party rides, and it makes me very happy to see attendance so strong. The organizer, Coby, is a good friend of mine, and I'm so proud on his behalf of how a small idea he had two years ago has grown into such an amazing community-building event. Here are some photos I took!
바이크파티 친구! (Bike Party friends!)
Down by Masan Harbor!
This lady is a kind of traditional Korean entertainer that reminds me of a court jester -- their outfits are bizarre, they dance and sing and act ridiculously, and then they try to sell you candy or something. This lady danced to retro Korean pop music and dragged a few of us into the performance with her; it was very amusing and very awkward.
On the noraeboat! I am not the biggest fan of Korean-style karaoke, but it's always fun to do it with a large group of friendly expats. Especially when you're on a boat! That just adds to the fun!
Masan harbor near sunset. It was gorgeous.
Bora and me, with the Machang Bridge in the background. I wasn't willing to try a Titanic-esque pose.
Coby and me on the noraeboat!
Noraeboat Party!!! Complete with wigs, hats, Hite, super-enthusiastic foreigners, and Koreans who look like they'd rather be anywhere else.
May Bike Party! (photo courtesy Bike Party)
Changwon Bike Party is probably my favorite thing about my city. It's always sure to be fun, it's a great way to meet new people, and it also gives me an excuse not to stay at home and watch TV all weekend!

Making the bike party a priority was one of the best decisions I made this past year, and it's sad to think that there will only be two more left for me. All the more reason to make the most of them, though!

And when I'm back in California, I'm going to get a bike and join the East Bay Bike Party. I'm already excited about it!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

To Teachers!

The Korean Google Doodle for Teachers Day!
Today is Teachers Day! It's a special day when students show their appreciation for their teachers past and present, in keeping with the idea that in Korea, a child's teacher is every bit as important, respected, and responsible for a proper upbringing as her parents are.

Gifts of food, flowers, and boutonnieres were delivered to all the offices today, and I got a nice note from one of my favorite students. What really surprised me, though, was seeing banners strung up in our main building's atrium. At first, I thought that they were more of the banners that our school puts up to congratulate students who win competitions. But then, I saw that they were from universities... and also that some of them were rather oddly designed. I don't think Yonsei University would really congratulate future prospective students with a grinning eagle-headed man or that Hanyang University would compare our teachers to coffee.

When I actually read the banners, I realized that they had been given by former students of Changwon Science High School. There was one each from five of the best universities in Korea: Hanyang, KAIST, Seoul National, Sungkyunkwan, and Yonsei; all of them had well-wishes and words of thanks. The amazing kids at KAIST also sent a banner on which they had hand-written long letters to their past teachers: the hardworking, sacrificial individuals who'd led them through two years of grueling academic torture so that they could succeed in their education. I noticed a "Mr. Cheng, Thank You" among all the indecipherable Korean, and I was touched.
These are some of the banners strung up in the hall. I'm going to try my hand at translating them... from top to bottom:

Hanyang University: "If our school's professors are like normal coffee, CSHS's teachers are T.O.P. We'll never forget your kindness."
KAIST: "We will never forget your kindness."
Seoul National University: "We're becoming people thanks to you, teachers! We respect you always." (And this one is followed by the names of students along with nicknames I don't fully comprehend.)
Sungkyunkwan Univesrity: "How our teachers' kindness is higher than heaven! Thank you."
Yonsei University: "To our teachers who guided us along a straight path, everlasting thanks. Yonsei pride for CSHS: Go Eagles!"

Anyway, I want to take just a moment to thank all of my past amazing teachers, starting with Swarthmore professors who've really helped me and had an impact on my life: To David Harrison, Donna Jo Napoli, Nathan Sanders, and Helen Plotkin. And to my own high school teachers who would probably be surprised to hear where I've ended up six years after graduation: Jean Dotson, Lee Glover, Valerie Hodin, Elizabeth Waller. To my coaches and cello teachers, youth pastors and camp counselors, dozens of language teachers of dozens of foreign languages, and my parents. To all my friends who have studied education and burn passionately for their schools or for fixing the broken American education system. To everyone who's ever invested themselves in the cause of a well-rounded, accessible, and inspiring education for children all around the world... To teachers! They are among the strongest and most important members of any society. Give your nearest teacher a hug.

스승의날 축하합니다!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday Night 회식

회식 with the 택견 gym folks
Oh, 회식 (an evening out for co-workers or members of a formal group, meant to foster relationships). Good for building , bad for everything else, it seems. As tomorrow is Teacher's Day (스승의날), the folks at my taekgyeon gym decided to go out for seafood and drinking instead of training tonight. It was ostensibly to thank 관장님 and 사범님 for being awesome teachers, but it was also because Koreans love seafood and drinking.

I tried half-heartedly to get out of it. I mean, it's Wednesday night. It's a school night -- I have class tomorrow! Also, I want to exercise, not eat shellfish! But although I dragged my feet and made excuses, eventually I made it to the restaurant; I felt badly for my reluctance, too, since 회식 is actually very culturally important, and I didn't want to seem like a flake.

Well, even though I'm smiling in the photo, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows tonight.

Pro: admittedly amazing seafood / Con: my stomach hurts
Pro: got to hang out with fun people / Con: 10pm-12:30am on a school night
Pro: a chance to practice Korean / Con: a chance to suck at Korean
Pro: when they get tipsy they tend to compliment me a lot / Con: aggressive heteronormativity

And I mean aggressive. Like, "You're so handsome! Why don't you have a girlfriend? Why? WHY? WHY???" Later, "That girl in your profile photo is your girlfriend right? No? Liar!" Later, "So, why don't you have a girlfriend? What, do you like men? Do you? Do you?"

"부끄러워요," I said. I'm embarrassed. Please stop. And eventually they changed the subject.

Con: we went Dutch
Con: I didn't exercise tonight
Con: have a lot of work to catch up on
Pro: built 정

So where does that leave me? 회식 can be extremely uncomfortable sometimes. I enjoy it for what it is, but when I'm already not feeling up to extended, alcohol-fueld social interaction, it can veer perilously close to being a total trainwreck. I, just... on a school night! I should have been asleep by eleven. And here I am blogging about it past one. Yo, Andrew, get your priorities straight.
This, by the way, was what we ate. That is an entire octopus! Also scallops, severl kinds of clams, mussels, cuttlefish, shrimp, crab, and abalone that were still alive when this platter was brought to our table. Would've been great for dinner, but midnight snack?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Some of people olny judge me by my IQ or abillity. I hate that point of view, but people usually do that. I have an over average IQ. If some people know that my IQ, They remember me that "He have very high IQ" and they forget about who I am.

- excerpt from a student's journal entry today

Monday, May 12, 2014

Subway Preacher

A subway evangelist on the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, Line 1 heading toward Cheonan.
The man was not drunk, nor was he selling anything. Both of those I have encountered before. But I believe this suited and well-groomed man, who stood at one end of a long subway car for fifteen minutes, talking incessantly to an inattentive audience, was the first subway preacher I've seen in my two years here.

He was loud, but not aggressive. At first, I tried listening to figure out what he was saying, but all I could catch were the names 하나님 (Hananim/God) and 예수 (Yesu/Jesus). As I was standing behind him, I took a few shots with my camera. All the other subway passengers focused intently on their books or phones; only one or two heads turned his way occassionally, embarrassed. When he was finished, he shrugged his large knapsack off of the overhead baggage shelf and walked straight into the next adjoining car.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation, the public nuisance that subway passengers disliked the most on their commute was "propogation of religion", followed by intoxicated passengers.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress

When I hear the name of Korea's eighth largest city, Suwon, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that a Korean-American friend of mine has family who lives there. An odd bit of trivia. Unlike me, the rest of the country thinks, "Oh, that big fortress wall." They are referring to an ancient fortress that is Suwon's most famous historical site and tourist attraction, and, yes, it has a wall. I visited about one week ago, on Children's Day. (It was one day before Buddha's Birthday, or, as I like to call it as of right now, Buddha's Eve.)
One of the gates to Hwaseong Fortress, seen from atop the wall itself.
The Hwaseong Fortress (華城/화성 -- I should point out that 성 itself means "castle" or "fotress", so this is really the Hwa Fortress) was built in the end of the 18th century, during the Joseon Dynasty, and it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wall of the fortress is astoundingly long: 3.5 miles (5.7 kilometers) in length and running over two hills. It is also impressively well-maintained; you can walk or jog along the length of the entire wall and enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding city the entire time.
Paldalmun (팔달문), the southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. It's quite beautiful to look at, but because it is detached from the rest of the wall and stuck in a giant rotary amidst traffic and ugly modern buildings, some of the charm is admittedly lost.
In my opinion, walled cities that have survived from antiquity to the present day have a very distinct charm. I'm thinking Avignon and Chiang Mai, both of which I really enjoyed visiting. But in those two cities, despite their historical flavor, the old walls not only preserve a bit of the culture but also give off a somewhat claustrophobic air. Avignon is, to put it bluntly, cramped. And Chiang Mai's old city is small enough that you can never walk too far before you hit the wall, quite literally.

Suwon's wall is different. It's as wide as a jogging path in a park, and as I said before, it's a very pretty and well-maintained space in such a big, busy city. Nothing about this wall actually seems belligerently imposing; it's grand, but it's peaceful. All the gates, turrets, and sentry points feel like they were constructed less for war than for sightseeing. Of course, Hwaseong Fortress has hundreds of years of history that I know nothing about, so this could be my ignorance talking.
Walking up the first hill of the fortress wall from the Paldalmun entrance; quite a steep climb, but worth it.
Anyway, I visited the wall with friends on a beautiful spring day. The entrance fee is usually 1,000KRW, but thanks to a certain golden holiday, we got in for free. All we did was walk around the wall, take photos, and watch tourists ring a giant bell to grant wishes as we munched on snacks. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon. Of course, there were tons of other things to do in the fortress complex itself: performances, culture centers, maybe a museum or two? I don't really know. But I was content to hang out with my friends with nothing planned and very little on my mind.
Hwahongmun (화홍문), the north water gate of the Hwaseong Fortress, through which the Suwon River flows. It's a beautiful spot that I would like to come back to one day. But there are so few days left...
In addition to hiking the fortress wall, my friends and I explored the enormous shopping complex that sprung out of the loins of Suwon's main train station. Tip for future reference: its food court is amazing. I also met up with Greg, whom I first met in Laos, for dinner (in said food court), and it was nice to catch up with him and get an update on his plans to move to Southeast Asia permanently.

So that was Suwon, in a nutshell. I was happy to strike another Korean city off my map (I've now been to nine of the ten largest cities), especially now that my days here are numbered and the opportunity to travel freely won't come again for a while. It's been strange, thinking about what I should do with the three months I have left. Even planning this trip to Suwon took that into consideration: I literally asked my friend, "So, where have you not been yet?"

And the question now is, "Where will I go, before I go?"
Many flags wave proudly along the top of the fotress wall. This one reads 巡視 (xúnshì/순시, which means to patrol or inspect). "Keep your eyes peeled," I think, "for the impending future."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Golden Holiday

A pagoda with lanterns erected in the middle of Changwon's downtown in celebration of Buddha's Birthday.
Happy belated Children's Day (어린이날, May 5th), Buddha's Birthday (부처님 오신 날/석가탄신일, May 6th), and Parents' Day (어버이날, today)! Due to the two consecutive big holidays earlier this week, most people had a four-day weekend. This special confluence doesn't come often, so Koreans call it a "golden holiday" (황금연휴).

I spent day one of my golden holiday at home doing absolutely nothing. I was almost doing the alligator dance (악어춤), an odd idiom that means to wallow in the torpidness of determined inactivity, much like a fat alligator in a mudhole.

On day two, I roused myself and hopped on a bus to Cheonan, where I met up with good friends from around the country to celebrate our days off together. Adventures included "pork wine jazz", hard apple cider and Set, a day trip to Suwon, and, um, more wine. Yes, much alcohol was consumed. But at least it was all classy. Photos to come soon.

Thank you, Buddha, for giving me a few days off! This three-day work week has been lovely. Another weekend is just around the corner. This one won't be golden, but I'll spend it with just as much gusto.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I Love My Job, Part 2

Last week, my students and I tried not to panic as we spent two very long evenings bringing their science project presentation up to scratch in order to prepare for an impending international competition. They worked really hard, but we just didn't have enough time. When they left for Houston, I wished them luck, honestly thinking that they would be lucky to scrape an Honorable Mention.

This morning, I entered my office and my co-teacher said to me, "Have you heard? They got bronze!"

YJ and DH had returned from the I-SWEEEP Olympiad triumphant, with a bronze medal! It felt like the room suddenly became ten times brighter. All our efforts really paid off, and do you know what the best part was?

The best part wasn't when my other co-teacher, the one who really grilled them during their Q&A session prep, walked into the office beaming with the good news that I already knew.

The best part wasn't when their chemistry teacher and project adviser caught my eye from another table during lunch and flashed me a thumbs-up with a huge grin.

The best part wasn't when I discovered that my students had bought the English department a gift of chocolate from the US in thanks. (I love chocolate, but still.)

The best part was when YJ and DH came by my office in the afternoon to chat with me personally. They were as awkward and shy as ever, but I gave them the biggest high-fives I could muster and told them again and again how happy and proud of them I was. They told me that the competition was a lot more fun than they'd expected, that the Turkish contestants were really enamored by the Korean contestants for some reason, and that the grand prize winner, a Korean-American from Texas, could speak a little bit of Korean. They also got to visit NASA on their day off! All in all, this was a fantastic experience for these two students, especially since they're not students I'd have expected to succeed in an English-language competition. This bronze medal* is really going to give them a boost in their competitiveness for university admissions this fall.


- - -
*The first thing I did when I heard "bronze medal" was check what that actually means. The olympiad had 385 projects, of which 234 were awarded medals (40 gold, 81 silver, 113 bronze) and 86 were awarded Honorable Mention. This means that 83% of participating teams won at least something. There were 7 teams from South Korea.

P.S. Here are some news articles featuring my students (here, here, here, and here) that I will get around to reading/translating maybe over the weekend.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Luang Prabang

A shiny mosaic at Wat Xieng Thong.
Day 9 (Feb.1): Wat Xieng Thong, Phou Si, and Dyen Sabai
It's difficult to get lost in the old town of Luang Prabang: it's just one big loop on the top of a hill. I wandered around for a day with no real plans in mind, but it was nice to run into old friends and make new ones.

I met a guy from Chengdu whose English name is Flame. He was very friendly and eager to talk about everything from politics to Taiwanese food. Even though he was from China, he loved Taiwan (and really disliked Chinese communism). We walked to Wat Xieng Thong, the city's most famous temple, where we ran into Corine and Ian! It was hot, but the temples were cool inside, so it was nice to explore and take photos. Overall, it wasn't very interesting, though. I was getting temple fatigue -- they all look the same after a while.
Small Buddha sculptures at Wat Xieng Thong.
Later in the afternoon, Flame got a massage while I got a smoothie and played with free WiFi. Internet access is advertised all over the city, but it's very rarely reliable. In fact, Flame and I actually met at the guesthouse because he asked me how to access its WiFi. It wasn't easy -- I had to go out onto the balcony to get just a few bars.

Anyway, as the afternoon wore on, we decided to hike to the very top of the local hill, Phou Si, to watch the sunset. This wasn't the best of ideas, since it ended up being so overwhelmingly crowded that any enjoyment of the natural beauty was inevitably spoiled by hordes of people taking photos and being loud. It was so ridiculous that it became funny, actually. But I'd paid the price of 20,000kip and a hike to see this, so I joined the crowd and tried to take some photos, too.
The sunset was still gorgeous. It was just hard to appreciate it with all the people around.
Me, Green, and Flame at Phou Si.
At the top of the hill, Flame and I ran into Green, a guy from Taiwan whom I met briefly in between the border crossing into Laos and the slow boat pier at Huay Xai. Green had taken a bus up north to Luang Namtha and had finally found his way back down to Luang Prabang. Realizing that they could have a lot of interesting things to talk about, I introduced them to each other and then tuned out as they talked about their respective countries in Mandarin too fast for me to really follow along.

That evening, I met up with Greg and P, Corine and Ian, and their friend Chrissie at the nice restaurant across the bamboo bridge* from the old city. It's called Dyen Sabai, and I highly recommend it. Their specialty is Lao fondue, which is similar to Cambodian barbecue. Essentially, it's meat grilled on coals like a barbecue, plus a heated broth for cooking other things hot-pot style. There was buffalo meat, Lao sausage, and delicious dishes with eggplant including fried eggplant and baba ganoush. Everything was to die for and also served with class.

The restaurant's atmosphere is also great -- instead of four walls, patrons dine in large open-air huts and sit on the floor with bamboo mats and cushions. It was wonderful. It was also cheap -- we ordered several of the dinner sets and lots of happy hour drinks and ate until we were beyond stuffed, but our total bill came out to less than 100USD. My share of the bill came out to 116,000kip, or $14.50. And this was my splurge meal of the week. Easily four times the amount I'd been paying for meals up until then, but compared to South Korea or the US, it was an unbelievable deal. So, if you are ever in Luang Prabang, be sure to try Dyen Sabai.
Lao fondue: a grill plus a hot pot. That there is buffalo meat! It's basically beef.
Greg, Ian, Chrissie, Corinne, and P, having a wonderful dinner in an open-air hut.
Of course, now that the city is booming with tourism, there are undoubtedly many other high-end restaurants that can provide the same level of class and fine dining, but this place really was something special. I think the good company added to it.

I ended the night at a bar owned by a French man, chilling with the three funny and friendly Brits I'd befriended over the past few days. After just one day in Luang Prabang, I already loved it.

- - -

*If you are ever in Luang Prabang, beware the evening bridge toll scammer! During daylight hours, tourists who cross the bridge must pay toll; this contributes to the maintenance of the bridge, which is washed away every rainy season and rebuilt. But after sunset, the crossing is supposed to be free. That didn't stop a clever swindler from installing himself in the toll booth to collect fees from unsuspecting tourists. I was lucky to be crossing with P, who marched right past the toll booth without even giving the guy a second glance. And the guy was gone when we crossed back after dinner...
The bamboo bridge in Luang Prabang