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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Last Day

“Good morning, UJ!”
“Teacher, last day!”
“Yes, today is my last day…”
Classes were canceled today (but of course) for student performances and the semester closing ceremony. I was disappointed that I couldn't have my last class with my first-years, but I had a lot of other stuff on my plate that I had to take care of, anyway. First on the list was a letter to the new teacher explaining everything about our school. I gave myself a week to finish it, and it ended up being 14 pages long. I also had to clean up the computers and my desk, which felt strange... and I ran around the school giving some teachers and students gifts at the last minute. Students kept coming into my office all day with goodbye letters they'd written for me, and I was very happy and grateful. But I was too busy to let my emotions take over.
"So you're leaving tomorrow?"
"Monday, actually."
"And you're never coming back?"
"No. Uh, I mean... well, I'll probably come back; I just don't know when."
"You know, I always find that on important days, I'm not as emotional as I think I should be. What I mean is, after the day is over, I look back and think that I should have been more happy, or more sad."
"Well, I don't know. I think for me, I just want to act as I normally do. I wouldn't want my emotions to be dictated by my thoughts or expectations."
At the closing ceremony, I watched my students sing and dance for the last time... then awards were handed out, the principal gave a speech, and I gave some final words. Flashback to two years ago, when I looked out at 180 young faces for the first time and said, "안녕하십니까?" Seriously, two years ago?

My speech was short. I reiterated the three points I'd made (up on the spot) when I was interviewed for the school newspaper. What parting advice would I give my students? Number one: please try to get more sleep. Not in class, of course, but in your dormitories. Number two: although you are all bound to be high-achieving, successful people in the future, please remember that your worth, your value as a human being, cannot be measured by your academic performance. Remember that what is most important is not what school you go to or how much you make, but who you are inside. Number three: please keep in touch! Although I am saying goodbye, I prefer to say, "See you later." My eyes became a bit damp at the end, but I held actual tears at bay.
"Teacher, will I see you next semester?"
"No, you won't..."
"Oh, no... really?"
"I'm sorry!"
"Teacher, I almost cried when you talked... what was it? You said, 'remember your value'... I was so... ah... Teacher, I'll miss you!"
"건강하세요. Stay healthy and happy."
After the final bell rang, I paid one last visit to the hallway by the environmental science classroom, accompanied by the earth science teacher who was my gym buddy this past semester. He told me to stay healthy and gave me a hug. I said my goodbyes silently.
"Teacher, can we take a picture?"
"Of course! I love taking pictures!"
"Dear Andrew... I want to tell you something. When you were in this country, you made many people happy. At least the students of this school, could enjoy an english class every week. So, when you go back, you should be happy and proud of yourself that you gave us a big present i love, and a nice memory. I hope whenever you think of Korea, you feel really nice. Thank you for your existance!


That's when I cried. Finally. As I sat on my bed at home with farewell letters all around me and the rain and thunder going nuts outside. I was so touched, so blown away by the affection of people I've only known for a short time. Everyone wants to be able to make a difference in others' lives, and to be validated like this, with such genuine, heartfelt gratitude from a student, was just the thing to get this stoic to shed a tear.

I will miss this... but I won't say goodbye.

See you later!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

지리산에 비가 오는 날 - Rainy Day at Jirisan

Ghosts hiking Jirisan...
Jirisan (지리산/智異山(1)) is one of South Korea's most famous mountain ranges. It spans three provinces in the south of the peninsula and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. About one hundred of these visitors are students from my school! The second-years have an annual trip to Jirisan, and this time, I went along.

The plan was to walk part of the way up to the mountain -- the peak, being 1915 meters/6283 feet, was definitely not doable -- and visit a temple famous for its 비구니, or Buddhist nuns, a nature/culture educational park, and a museum dedicated to a 16th-century Confucian scholar named 남명 who apparently built a school on the mountain.

Unfortunately, the weather was pretty awful all day. It rained on and off, and everyone was given thin rain coats to wear during the hike. It was like wearing a garbage bag, actually. I got wet from the rain and from the sweat produced because the plastic poncho wasn't breathable. Despite this, I enjoyed the time I got to spend with my students. During the nature walk, I chatted with them and mostly ignored the tour guide, admitting to my students that although I can understand some Korean, a full-on lecture was beyond me. But he talked about some of the special flora and fauna of the mountain, including Korean kiwis and some kind of tiger, and also showed us a mud house that was built decades ago when people still lived deep in the forest.

After the hike and a lunch of mountain herbs bibimbap, a bunch of students jumped into the river and had a massive water fight -- in the rain, no less! That was a lot of fun to watch; I would have joined in, too, but I hadn't brought a change of clothes...
Water fight!
The museum was boring, not gonna lie. And after that, we visited Jirisan High School, Korea's only completely free private school, for a short (and somewhat awkward) educational exchange. Their school is very interesting: it's extremely small, with a student body of about 50, and their educational focus is on service and building citizenship. The students are extremely well-mannered! I'll admit it: when they did their 인사, or bowing greeting, in perfect unison, our students seemed pretty 촌스럽다(2) in comparison... On the other hand, this school's shoestring budget is funded only by monthly private donations and receives very little support from the Gyeongnam Provincial Office of Education, whereas CSHS is like this giant magnet for scholarships and corporate sponsorship and all that. I felt awkward when I watched our school's introduction video because it flaunted just how well-funded we are and made Jirisan High School look, well, pretty 촌스럽다 in comparison.

And that was that! I had a good day, despite not being able to see the full beauty of Jirisan and not really learning too much from what was supposed to be an educational field trip. The good thing was that I got some photos with my students. I'll try to take more tomorrow, which is the last day of school!
Me with one of the second-year classes. They are all 찝찝해(3) and kind of miserable, but somehow look somewhat happy!
- - -
(1) 지리산 means something along the lines of "Mountain of Strange/Secret/Alternative Wisdom". The vice principal tried to explain to me exactly what it meant, but I never really understand what he is saying to me. I figured out, though, that the students go on this trip annually so that they can find some sort of wisdom and build character. Haha.
(2) 촌스럽다 describes things that are humble and perhaps uncivilized because they're out in the countryside; rustic, unsophisticated, provincial.
(3) 찝찝해 -- I don't know if I spelled that right -- means drenched or uncomfortably wet.

P.S. Today was my last day of taekgyeon training... I think 사범님 was actually tearing up as we finished. I kept thinking, "This is the last time I'll do X," X being whatever stretching, kicking, or sparring skill we went through. And when we ended with 명상, or meditation, I let my mind wander back to the very first day of taekgyeon, sixteen months ago... And the very last day will be tomorrow, when instead of training, we're just going out for drinks and stuff.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Going, going...

A few letters from students, including a gorgeous poster from my third-years!
Should I have made a bigger deal out of my leaving? I've been downplaying my imminent departure so much that I wonder if my students have really digested the reality of it all. I know I haven't, not really. This has been the week of "last classes", and they have mostly looked like this: I pass out class awards, tell the students via riddle or just straight up that I'm going back to the States for grad school, and then show Video Game High School or play Mafia. Then the bell rings, the students leave, and I sit at my desk and wonder if I should be, like, emotional or anything. I think one thing I am going to regret is that I haven't set aside any time to take class photos with my students.

Tomorrow, the second-years are going on a field trip to Jirisan, and I will join them, so there's a good opportunity to "catch up," so to speak. All the photos I take will end up on Facebook, and now that my contract is officially over, I think I can start adding my students as friends. In this way, at least, goodbye isn't really goodbye, since we can easily keep in touch online. Still, what I'll miss the most is physically being with my students, and no social network can replace that.

I'm having my first-year students write letters to the new Fulbright teacher who will replace me this fall. The letters are very cute, and so far they give good insight into the students' personalities. Some students surprised me by writing very thoughtful letters or by writing more than I expected of them. Other students surprised me by writing me a letter instead of focusing on the assignment I gave them. Well, I'm not going to take issue with that. :) I've gotten a few other letters from students, which I will cherish. I'm really touched when students take the time to show me that I've made some sort of impact on their lives, as brief as my time here has been. So yes, even the sheet of paper that says nothing but, "I love you, Teacher! Forever," and a bunch of hearts is going in my keepsakes box.

All of my third-years wrote something in a large card they gave me today. Since it was our last class, and since I like them enough to hand them twenty bucks and permission to go to the corner convenience store, I treated them to ice cream! And we blogged, of course. Ah, these are the students I taught for four semesters. I'll miss them a lot.

Oh! Unrelated: our school cohir had a mini-concert today. One of the songs they performed was called "Flying Free"; it was very beautiful. The other was "Hava Nagila", and I thought it was strange to hear Hebrew being sung from my Korean students' mouths... but my Asian church choir has sung in plenty of different languages before, so I guess I shouldn't make a big deal out of it! I really enjoyed their performance! Check out the videos below.

So... really. I'm looking at nothing but a day trip with students tomorrow, and then Friday, which is just a half-day. The last day. But it still hasn't registered yet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

작별 인사 스피치 - Farewell Speech

Today, I went to the community center Korean class for the last time, sat down to write a short essay for the last time, asked the Korean tutors to check my work for the last time... and gave a speech for the last time. I haven't been going to the class regularly this semester due to busyness, but it was an integral part of my life in Changwon for my first year and a half. I'm very thankful for the 창원한글학당 (Changwon Korean Class) because it helped keep me motivated to study Korean. Anyway, here's the speech I wrote, with the translations beneath.

시간이 너무 빨리 지나갔죠? 다음 주 월요일에 저는 창원을 떠날겁니다. 그 때 이 주일 반 후에 한국을 떠날겁니다. 저는 달력을 보다가 걱정하거나 멘붕 와야 한다고 생각하는데, 실제로는 아주 침착합니다. 대개 저는 감정적인 성격이 아니거든요. 제 친구들중에도 한국을 떠나는 선생님들이 많습니다. 그들은 마지막 수업 할 때 많이 웁니다. 그러나 저는 오늘 학교에서 작별 인사 스피치를 했을 때도 눈물 하나도 없었습니다.

Time's really flown, hasn't it? Next Monday, I'm going to leave Changwon. Two and a half weeks after that, I'm going to leave Korea. I ought to be looking at my calendar and worrying or freaking out, but actually, I'm calm. I'm usually not a very emotional person, you see. Many of my friends are also teachers who are about to leave Korea. They've been doing a lot of crying in their last classes lately. But as for me, even though I gave a farewell speech at school* today, I didn't shed a tear.

제가 안 울고 있는데, 그 이유가 떠나는게 안 섭섭해서가 아닙니다. 저는 진짜 아쉽습니다. 약간 가고 싶지 않습니다. 그렇지만, 이제 저는 앞으로 나가기 위해 준비되었습니다. 이년 동안 한국에서 굉장히 즐거웠습니다. 매우 축복받은 사람이라고 생각합니다.

So I'm not crying. But it's not because I'm not sad about leaving. In fact, I feel really sorry to go! I kind of don't want to leave. But I think I'm ready to move on now. I have really, really enjoyed my two years in Korea. I feel very blessed.

저는 미국에 돌아가서 캘리포니아 버클리 대학교에서 언어학 박사학위를 시작합니다. 저는 진짜 신나고 여기서 받은 경험이 저를 도와 줄 것 같습니다. 특히 여기 창원 한글학당의 선생님들에게 감사 드립니다. 선생님들은 저를 격려하셨고 한국어를 잘 가르쳐주셨고... 창원에서 살고 있는 외국인들에게 매우 귀중한 단체입니다. 써니 쌤 열심히 지도하셔서, 또 나미 쌤 참을성있게 가르쳐주셔거, 그리고 여러분 모두 사심없이 도와주셔서 감사 드립니다.

When I go back to the United States, I'm going to start working on a PhD in Linguistics at UC Berkeley. I'm really excited, and I think my experiences here will help me. I especially want to thank the teachers at the Changwon Korean Class. You teachers have encouraged me and taught me well. The foreigners who live in Changwon have such a valuable resource in you. Sunny, thanks for enthusiastically leading the class; Nami, thanks for patiently teaching me, and to everyone, thank you for all of your self-sacrificial help.

미래에 한국에 돌아오면 다시 뵐 수 있기를 바랍니다.

In the future, I hope that I can come back to Korea and that we can see each other again.
창원한글학당 - Changwon Korean Class. Nami is in yellow, and Sunny is in white on the far right.
- - -
There were not too many people at Korean class today, but the few that I really wanted to thank were there, so that was enough. Nami gave me a small farewell gift, a beautiful keychain. Man, I really am sorry to go!

*Yes, I also gave a goodbye speech at school today. It was before the end-of-the-year teachers' sports competition, which took the form of a ring-toss tournament this time. Anyway, the speech I wrote (and my co-teacher expertly translated) was a heck of a lot longer than this one. I awkwardly stumbled through it for like five minutes because the level of Korean that I was reading was way beyond me. But my principal really appreciated it, I guess. He kept saying, "아쉽다! 아쉽다!" That means, "It's too bad! It's too bad [that you're leaving]!" Perhaps I will post that speech in its entirety later.

Monday, July 14, 2014

South Carnival (사우스 카니발) - 몬딱 도르라

This is too good not to share! My friend who teaches in Seogwipo on Jeju Island showed me this music video by a Korean ska band called South Carnival. The song is called "몬딱 도르라"*. Not only is this video cute and vibrant, the song is sung in Jeju-eo! The subtitles are written in Standard Korean, but if you listen closely (and can read/understand Hangul), then you can tell that what they're saying doesn't match up with the lyrics. And this is because Jeju-eo is quite different from Standard Korean.

I don't know enough about ska to consider myself a fan of the genre, but this song is currently stuck in my head for sure. Music is such a wonderful way to preserve language and culture!

*몬딱 도르라" (monddak doreura) is Jeju-eo for "함께 달리자" (hamkke dallija), which means "run together". Unfortunately, 도르다 in Standard Korean can also mean "to vomit," so maybe Koreans who are unfamiliar with Jeju-eo will be confused by the song title.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Redeemer International Community Church in Changwon

For the past few months, I have been attending a new church in Changwon called Redeemer International Community Church, or Redeemer for short. Redeemer was founded in Busan; I visited the church when I was in Busan with my parents a few months ago. It was during that time that preparations for a new campus or branch were underway. Just a few weeks after my visit, a small group of Christian expats in Changwon began to meet weekly in various cafes downtown to hold simple Sunday services. And after a few months of this, we finally found a permanent spot for our church, in a Korean church-owned cafe located in the busy downtown area!

I feel very blessed to have found this church. Pastor Dan is a really gifted speaker, and I've learned a lot from his witty yet hard-hitting sermons. The timing is bittersweet, though: because I was becoming increasingly bored/frustrated with my old church, I'm happy to have finally found a better source of spiritual nourishment. But the church launched in its new location at the beginning of July, and I'm going to leave Changwon at the end of July. 아쉽다! It's too bad!

Although my time is limited, I've stepped up to serve where I can: namely, as a part of the worship band. I really miss having music in my life, so I'm thankful that I had this small opportunity to help out. Also, Pastor Dan preached from Hosea 2 today, and one of his points was that we believers -- represented by Hosea's unfaithful wife Gomer -- have received beautiful and lavish gifts from God but too often squander them and, even worse, fail to recognize that they are blessings from God and not from the other lovers we chase. It's important for me to remember that with all that I've been given, I should be giving back even more.

I'm excited about the future of Redeemer Changwon. There's a huge potential for growth, and I think this church can offer the English-speaking community of my city something it really needs. May God bless the efforts of this congregation and allow them to bear fruit!
Pastor Dan delivering the message at the "first launch" service last week.
This photo was taken by a Korean church member, Mr. Ha.
Redeeemer Changwon info
The cafe we meet in is called Cafe Send (카페 센드). Services begin at 4pm and end around 5:30pm.
Korean Address: 경남 창원시 상남동 3 마디미동로 4층
English Address: Gyeongnam Changwon-si Sangnam-dong 3 Madimidong-ro 4F

Friday, July 11, 2014

An Anniversary

The music teacher sits down next to me as I scan the newspaper for words I can identify. She smiles, and I put the newspaper down. Here we go again -- how uncomfortable will she make me this time?
The music teacher likes to practice her English with me, and I usually welcome being her language partner. The problem is that the subjects of our conversations always, somehow, veer into awkward territory. She asks me every time why I don't have a girlfriend, for one. She likes to tell me about her various experiences with choirs and music conferences around the world -- and then wants to see videos of my own high school choir performances. She is comfortable telling me about times when she has been depressed, but I squirm in my seat because this is not the kind of small talk I'm used to. Once, over lunch, she told me that I was 예뻐요. I turned to my co-teacher.

"Doesn't that mean 'pretty'?"
"Well, yes," my co-teacher replied. "Is the word 'pretty' not used for males?"
"Generally, no," I said.
"In this case, actually, it can mean something more like 'cute'. The way a grandmother would call her grandson 'cute'."
I stared.
"In the United States, do men not like being called 'cute'?" she asked.
"Well, not if they're twenty-three years old," I answered curtly.
My co-teacher translated this back for the music teacher, and they laughed. I ignored them.
Today, the music teacher wants to talk about Haeinsa; all the faculty know that I visited it the other day. I tell her that it was very pretty and very peaceful. "You know, I used to work at a high school near Haeinsa," she begins. This legitimately piques my interest. She tells me two stories about the small high school where she taught piano, music, and folk dance in the late eighties.
This high school had around one hundred and fifty students, and several of them were orphans who were being raised by the monks of Haeinsa or students who otherwise did not live with their parents.

The student she remembers most was one of the class captains. He was a smart and hard-working student. A bookish kid who was always reading. He was being cared for by the monks of the temple, and although his background was a difficult one, it looked to all as if he had a bright future ahead of him.

One day, the student went missing. They found him many days later at the end of a rope in the woods.
"He was a student who had many thoughts," says the music teacher. "He thought too much. He was depressed."

I want to ask her why she is telling me this, but she continues with her second story.
Her favorite student was the son of divorced parents. His mother had lived in the United States, and his father came from a rich family. For many reasons, the wife and the mother-in-law did not get along, but the one who was left worst off by the split was the child. He was sent to live with his aunt near Haeinsa, and he was not given a cent from his rich father. Everyone assumed that he had enough savings in a bank account somewhere to be able to buy all the required textbooks, but he didn't and he couldn't, and he was punished for not meeting their expectations.

One day, the son learned that his mother had returned to Korea and was coming to take him away. They were going to go to the United States for good. He left willingly.
"I still keep in touch with my old student," the music teacher tells me. "He lives in Seattle. He is now a taekwondo master and just received a degree in theology. So he is a pastor and a master. And he still knows the folk dances that I taught him when he was in high school."

I subtly glance at the clock. It is almost 1:30pm, when the bell signalling the end of the lunch period normally rings. "I have a friend who is moving to Seattle. Maybe when he gets there, he can meet your old student," I say brightly.

"And when are you leaving?" she asks.

"At the end of July. First, I will travel to Seoul. Then, I will fly out of Korea in early August."

"I used to live in Seoul..." she muses. A third story begins.
She used to live in Seoul, until she graduated from high school. Then, her family moved to Daegu, because her father was a colonel in the army. But then her father developed cancer. He drank too much. He was in great pain toward the end of his life. "I want to die, I want to die," he would shout in his bed. It was a sorrowful time.

The music teacher was in the middle of class one day when the principal interrupted and told her that her family was on the line. It was her mother, delivering the news: aboji had passed. At that moment, she had a vision of her father, no longer in pain but smiling and waving down toward her. "Goodbye, my daughter," he said.
"At the very end, he became a Christian," the music teacher confides in me. "So he went to heaven. And then they gave full military honors at his funeral -- I've told you about my father's funeral before, haven't I? He was cremated. At that time, the yellow flowers were in full bloom, and they were beautiful, but I didn't care. I was too sad. My mother was too sad. But now, it's okay."

The clock reads 1:35pm, but the bell hasn't rung, and then I remember that the final exam schedule is different from usual. I don't know how much longer I will be here.

"Death," says the music teacher, her eyes bright, "is a great sadness." She looks into my eyes and pauses.

"Do you remember what happened at our school one year ago?"
One year ago, one of our students committed suicide by leaving the study hall at night and jumping out of the fourth-story window next to the environmental science classroom.
I look at the music teacher with the most emotionless stare I can manage, because what I really want so say is, "How dare you talk to me about this?"

I want to say, "Of course I remember. I was haunted by it for months."
I want to say, "The minute you started sharing about your student at your old school near Haeinsa I prayed to God that it wouldn't lead to this."
I want to say, "Can you feel how uncomfortable I am right now? Because I feel very uncomfortable right now."
I want to say, "I have no desire to continue this conversation."

Instead, I say, "Yes, I remember." I push my discomfort down into nothingness, and I nod solemnly.

Taking this cue, the music teacher continues. "The environmental science teacher was in pain for a very long time," she says. Physical pain resulting from emotional trauma. How could she teach in a space darkened by such tragedy?

"But recently, she has changed the hallway. Have you seen it?" I shake my head, still in disbelief at where our conversation has ended up, but my curiosity is piqued once more.

"What do you mean, changed?"

"Let's go. I'll show you."

As we walk up the stairs, I tell the music teacher that I rarely venture up to the fourth floor from the realm of the English department on the third. She mentions something about there being more natural light on the top floor, as the ceiling is made of glass. We pass the music classroom, then turn left into the science wing.

Everything is green. The hallway and the classrooms have been painted a pastel shade of new pine shoots. Along the walls, workers are installing hexagonal shelves, like carbon rings or honeycombs, upon which small potted plants sit. And at the end of the hall, there is life. Pink flowers in planters are arranged in a neat row on the windowsill. Two plants with long hanging tendrils are suspended from the ceiling in front of the windows, although they don't completely obscure the long metal bars that were recently installed across them. Beneath the window are more honeycomb shelves, filled with books, students' artwork, and models of birds in flight.

The stairwell to the left of this space has been converted into a gallery for the students' environmental science projects: posters, paintings, books, and even a board game that one team of first-year students created. Half of the windows are now covered by display cases, but the stairwell is still full of light and color. One year ago, it was desolate.

"This was part of the environmental science teacher's healing process," the music teacher says to me as I silently take it all in. "She wanted to change it from a sad place to a place where students will want to come."

I don't know what to say, so I don't say anything at all.

I don't know what to feel.

"She told us at the last teachers' meeting that she wanted to send a message to our student. Although he's gone, maybe he can still hear it." The music teacher nods at the model birds. "And she wanted to say, 'You're flying now, aren't you? You're okay now, aren't you?'" A message of hope and light.

건호야, 지금 괜찮지?
I never knew about this place. I never knew exactly which windowsill it was where he placed his slippers and his wallet before opening the window and flying away. And I have never had a reason to go to the fourth floor to find out. But now I know, because the environmental teacher decided to reclaim and to transform, and because the music teacher wanted to show me. It was never her intent to make me uncomfortable, but I am grateful that she did.

Now I know, and I will visit again before I fly out.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


     He said, "I've been studying Japanese lately, been getting a real kick out of it, too."
     They were at a cafe that was situated above another cafe, looking over a busy intersection as umbrellas competed for space on corners not meant for the cars parked on them. Rain was in the air, not so much falling as existing, hovering, slowly being drawn toward surfaces like dust to a sheet of plastic wrap.
     As he spoke, she stirred the empty contents of her cup and watched him, noticing that his words left his mouth and fell straight down into his half-full glass instead of traveling up to meet his eyes. As he spoke, his gaze remained silent.
     He stopped and thought for a moment. "It's kinda ironic, I guess? I know what you're going to say: 'So when are you going to start studying Korean?'
     In fact, she was going to say that.
     "I've been here two years and I can still barely order chicken and beer." He chuckled. "But we're thinking of, you know, moving on."
     This was news. "Wait, hold on. You're going to leave Korea? And go to Japan?"
     She paused her stirring for dramatic effect, the director and only audience of a play staged between her chair and the middle of the table.
     A slight hesitation. "Not Japan, necessarily. But, you know, somewhere. Korea has never really felt like home."
     With the smallest suggestion of raised eyebrows, she quickly replied, "Well, of course it doesn't. No, your home is where your father was born."
     "What?" he asked, forehead wrinkling in confusion. "According to who?"
     "According to Korea," she answered, matter-of-factly. "That is, according to the traditional concept of hometown. Gohyang."
     "What, does that mean even if I live here for twenty years I still won't be--"
     "Right. 'You're not from around here.' You never will be, because your family isn't. But your real home, your gohyang -- what is it, South Carolina? Georgia? At least that will always be there."
     He paused to consider this, albeit briefly, and signaled this by glancing out the window, where green had just turned yellow, then yellow red. She looked into his eyes and, subconsciously, followed them outside. People had begun to cross.
    "In any case," he began, "we're obviously not going to go before our contracts are up, but we're, you know, keeping our options open."
     "And well you should!" she said loudly, causing his eyes to widen. "But look, permit me to give you some advice? As someone who has been here now more than half a decade?"
     She didn't wait for permission. "Forgive me if this comes across as condescending, but perhaps the reason you don't feel like Korea is home is that you haven't tried to make it your home. And no, I don't mean by making your parents move here and getting them fake birth certificates. No, just, maybe try to learn the language? Meet more people? Realize that there is a world outside of your apartment, your school, and your five favorite cafes downtown?"
     "I do do a lot of stuff," he countered. "And I really like my school, my kids. Maybe it's hard to explain how I feel. Things just haven't... clicked."
     "Korea isn't for everyone," she remarked calmly.
     He bristled, and immediately hoped she didn't notice. "Well, all the cafes are overpriced, anyways."
     "So where is your hometown, then?"
     "South Carolina was right." His eyes were a deep indigo blue. "And yours?"
     She thought for a moment with her mouth slightly ajar. "Well, it's complicated. Father's from Indiana, mother's from New York, but we've lived abroad for more years than we've been in the States. So uri gohyang... could be anywhere, really." She shrugged. "As long as it's not Eagleton."
     He gave a small smirk, finished the rest of his drink, and looked around. Every other pair in the cafe was a couple, communicating via a combination of texting and making doe-eyed faces. One girl had been taking photos of herself with her latte-sipping boyfriend in the background, pretending that his cuteness was candid. I will never understand this, he thought to himself. She cleared her throat.
     "You know how they say, 'Home is where the heart is'?" she said.
     "Not here, apparently," he replied. "I mean, who is the 'they'?"
     She had to think about this, but wasn't sure if she wanted to. So she met his gaze once more, saw that it had sharpened, and went with rhetoric instead.
     "Who indeed?"

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Schadenfreude (and the World Cup)

I haven't written much about the World Cup -- nothing since the time my entire school gathered in the auditorium to watch Korea vs. Russia -- and this is because I'm not really following the games. Facebook and a few blogs I follow have kept me in the loop enough to satisfy my curiosity. This morning, though, when my news feed exploded with status updates and funny pictures related to the Brazil vs. Germany game, I thought it would be worth checking out in more detail.

That's how I found out that the gods of international soccer, Brazil, sustained a record-breaking, mind-blowing 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-final match. This game was on their home turf, and there were tens of thousands of fans present, hundreds of thousands more watching on television, as the team failed spectacularly again and again and again.

Photos of Brazil's soccer team looking agonized and desolate, as well as photos of angry, crying, screaming fans have gone viral. In a moment of inspiration, I made a last-minute addition to my afternoon lesson and taught my third years about schadenfreude.

"It's a German word," I said, "so it's appropriate that we are learning it today."

I looked up the Korean definition; there's no translation, just an explanation. "남의 불행에 대해 갖는 쾌감": "pleasure derived from other people's misfortune."

HS was very pleased to learn this. He said that he experiences schadenfreude quite often. We then took a break to watch some "epic fail" videos.

The actual point of bringing up the World Cup game was to remind the students how to correctly talk about winning and losing. It's kind of complex in English (why "A lost to B" but not "B won to A"?), and then there's all the slang we use to refer to victory and defeat. "What happened at the World Cup today?" I asked my students. Their using-what-they'd-just-learned-replies:

"Germany kicked Brazil's butt."
"Germany schooled Brazil."
"Brazil blew it."
"Germany steamrollered Brazil."
"Germany owned Brazil."
"Brazil was a hot mess."
"Brazil got creamed."
"Germany won."

And because we all had a good laugh at this, well... schadenfreude!
This is me capitalizing on a trending topic and in-group humor to gain approval on social media. Also, I wanted to show the link to the Avenue Q song without actually linking to it, because it is rather inappropriate! I did not play it for my students. But we did listen to Sam Smith, Pentatonix, The Piano Guys, and Sam Tsui as part of a lesson on music!
P.S. I also learned a bit of Korean from discussing the game with other teachers at my school. To lose is 지다 (jida), but to lose humiliatingly, as Brazil did, is 깨지다 (ggaejida), which can also mean to break or shatter. 실패하다 (silpaehada) means to fail, but it was explained that this is a failure of something you prepared for, such as an exam. The other two verbs are for failing in a competition. And the Korean equivalent of "Brazil was crushed by Germany"? 브라질이 독일한테 떡 됬다. Brazil became rice cake against Germany. Why rice cake? Beacuse this is how it's made:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Let the Countdown Begin

Actually, I meant to start my countdown a while ago, but I never got around to it. Today, however, is special. From today, I have only thirty days left in Korea! In just one month, on August 7th, I will board a plane at Incheon Airport and fly home to California.

Here's an even smaller and scarier number: I have eight days left with my students, and on two of those days, they will be taking exams! I was surprised by quirks in the schedule (although after two years of this nonsense, you'd think I'd stop getting blindsided) that left me with just one more meeting with some of my favorite classes.

So today, I had to rush my goodbyes. I passed back tests, gave out class awards, and then played one last game with the second-years. This game was an elaborate puzzle that I put together from bits and pieces of things they've learned (or should have learned) over the past year, like Greek and Latin roots, high school cliques, and US geography. There were eight parts to the puzzle, and each part, when unscrambled and put together, spelled out the answer to the Big Question: Where is Andrew going?

The answer: "University of California at Berkeley."

My nerdy students had a lot of fun with the riddles, but I underestimated the difficulty of some parts, unfortunately. The classes thus took so long to figure out the puzzle that by the time I actually gave my announcement, breaking the news -- just a week before the end of the semester -- that I would not be returning in the fall, the bell was already ringing. So there actually wasn't much time at all for goodbyes.

I think it would have been more difficult to prolong it, anyway.

Fortunately, I've already had some students promise to visit me!

- - -
Unrelated: tonight, I went to 한글학당 (hangeul hakdang), the weekly Korean tutoring sessions offered for free at a local community center, for the first time in months. I felt bad because I have only two more opportunities to go, and I made a promise to the Korean teachers there that I'd be more diligent about going this year. Well, I totally broke that promise (약속을 지키지 못했다). Actually, it turns out they'd all assumed that I'd gone home to the US already. Nope! I just went to chat with the teachers and learn a thing or two. A lot of my time was unexpectedly taken up by a local reporter who was doing a news story on the Korean class. So, instead of studying Korean, I got to practice Korean by being interviewed for a newspaper! That's pretty exciting. If I get ahold of the article (기사/kisa) when it comes out, I will certainly share it here.

Also unrelated: there was a crazy thunder-and-lightning storm (뇌우/nwe-u) today! A lot of people assumed that it was Typhoon Racoon*, which has sliced through Okinawa and is about to travel up Korea's east coast, but it was actually just a typical monsoon season (장마/jangma) storm. The typhoon is supposed to arrive tomorrow, which will mean high winds and heavy rain, but there's no real danger, at least where I'm living.

*Neoguri (pronounced nuh-goo-ree), means "racoon" in Korean. I don't know why they named a typhoon thus.

- - -
Lastly, watch this. It is, in fact, thematically appropriate.

You're welcome.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Jeju-eo Project Update

About six months ago, I introduced my self-directed research project about Jeju-eo, the endangered variety of Korean spoken on Jeju Island. Since then, I've been happily busy with the linguistic documentation work which I received a small Fulbright grant to do.

In January, I met with a professor of Jeju National University to get his insight and some inside information on what language activism looks like on the autonomous island province of Korea. Then, nothing happened for a while.
This is me giving my presentation on Jeju-eo at the Fulbright Spring Conference 2014. Even without anything concrete to show, I went way over time! But people gave me very positive feedback, at least! Photo taken by Katelyn.
It was not until April, during the Fulbright Spring Conference, that I actually had the opportunity to do any fieldwork! After giving a presentation of my research at the conference itself (which was a bit lacking, in my opinion, since I didn't have any actual data to show yet), I spent an entire afternoon with five native Jeju Islanders who helped me make recordings.

The fieldwork was fun but a bit nerve-wracking, at least for the first part. Through a friend of a friend, I met an elderly couple who live in a rural area outside of Jeju City. They are known to be very involved in the local language activism community, so fortunately, they were very willing to talk about Jeju-eo with a complete stranger, and told me many stories. For example, they explained why Jeju-eo sounded so clipped (shortened words make communication across long distances easier when wind is constantly blowing over the island) and highlighted the main differences between Standard Korean and Jeju-eo.

The nerve-wracking part was that I felt way out of my depth in terms of language ability. These people spoke no English, so all of our communication was done in Korean. It was tough for me to explain exactly how I needed them to elicit the words I wanted to record. Also, there was a lot of ambient noise in the recordings, because we were meeting in their house, which meant that they offered snacks and were busy eating them the entire time. Also, the background noise of refrigerators, clocks, and a farm have probably ended up in these recordings.
The friendly and hospitable first group of consultants. They welcomed me to come back any time in the future!
My second group of consultants were much easier to work with, since they were a mother and a daughter, and the daughter happened to be an English teacher. Again, I was connected through a friend of a friend, and again, even though I was just this random kid with a microphone, they were enthusiastic about helping and showed a great deal of generosity.

Because the linguistic barriers were no longer an issue, the second recording session went much more smoothly, and we worked for over an hour to collect over one hundred words, including many that are unique to Jeju-eo. These are the recordings that I have been putting into the Jeju-eo Online Talking Dictionary.

Ah, yes, the dictionary. The big project. I can freely admit that the lexicographical process is much more of a mountain than the molehill I expected it to be. Although I returned from Jeju Island happy and ready to dive right into the splicing, transcribing, annotating, and uploading work required to build up the dictionary from nothing, well, all of that work took a lot more time than I'd planned for. Weeks went by, and then months, and still I never got close to finishing. Then the semester got busy, and I had to put my project on hold.

Back when I did online lexicography in college, it was as part of a team. Despite my experience -- or perhaps beacuse of it? -- I underestimated my ability to do all the work on my own!

Finally, in early June, the deadline for my final report drew nearer, and I realized that it was now or never. I spent hours upon hours one weekend churning out data, giving myself just enough to work with for a few key observations in my report, and finished the eight thousand-word paper just before the deadline! This wasn't the worst I've ever procrastinated, but -- whew! -- It certainly was a wake-up call to the kind of work I might be doing in grad school. Note to self: no full-time jobs when you're doing full-time research, too. :)

Anyway, what I have to show for my work now is a modest online dictionary of Jeju-eo that you can browse at your leisure here. It's not complete by any means, and it's also imperfect. (This is mostly due to my imperfect translations and transcriptions. I do need help with the Korean, so if you know anyone who's willing to lend a hand or an ear, let me know!) But, as my friend Coby put it, "Something now exists that didn't exist before because of your work. That's awesome!"

In other news, I learned that a Fulbright Junior Researcher for the 2014-2015 grant year is going to be doing a similar project! Actually, let's be real here: her project is essentially exactly the same as mine. But she will have full funding for a year's worth of research and dictionary-making, and she will also be based on Jeju Island, so she can develop better connections and do more in-depth fieldwork. I've already been in touch with her, and I'm excited about the prospect of collaborating.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Children's Novels about Korea by Linda Sue Park

Last spring, when I was informed that my school's English department had hundreds of dollars' worth of extra funding to purchase classroom materials, I decided to spend my share of the money on books. I was hoping to use some of the books as educational tools in my classroom, or at least to lend them to students for extracurricular reading.

Now, I realize that that was a foolish hope, since few of my students are at a high enough level of English to read entire novels, even children's novels, and even if they all could or wanted to, they simply don't have time. They have to study all day and can't read for pleasure, unless it's short-form webcomics or books in Korean that they can get through quickly, between periods.

So, all those wonderful books I bought are being read by nobody except me. 아쉽다! That is, ashipda, or "too bad"... because two that I finished recently would be of great interest to my students, I think. They are both written by Linda Sue Park, a Korean-American author whose work mostly focuses on Korean history and culture.

The first book of hers that I read is called When My Name Was Keoko. It is about a young girl whose family endures the harsh treatment of Koreans by the Japanese because of the occupation during World War II. Actually, the family's story is told from two perspectives, by the girl, Sun-hee (whose Korean name is changed to the Japanese "Keoko" per official mandates at the time), and her brother, Tae-yul, who enlists for the army because he wants to fly planes.

I really enjoyed the novel because it was a personal look at a period in history I know very little about. Of course, I've heard so much about how the occupation was a time of cruel treatment toward the Korean people and irreparable damage to Korean culture -- in fact, centuries of on-and-off oppression have left many Koreans with a bitter vendetta against Japan. But when the facts are told through the eyes of two young children, they become manifested in a way that a history book cannot capture. The book was gripping, dramatic, and inspiring, and I'm sure my students would like it, too.
The second book is called A Single Shard. This book won the Newbery Medal for children's literature in 2002. I had no idea! It appears to have been the book that really made Park's career.

This novel follows the adventures of an oprhan boy named Tree-Ear (I'm guessing that's 목이/木耳?) who dreams of becoming a master potter and learns at the feet of an irritable man who specializes in famous Korean celadon. This is also historical fiction, as it is set in 12th century Korea, which looked nothing at all like Korea today. I mean, this was during the Goryeo dynasty. The capital of Korea was Songdo/Kaesong (in modern-day North Korea), not Seoul. There were no roads, let alone cars, and the society depicted is really just many small mud-hut villages separated by seemingly impassable mountain ranges. How Korea has changed!

I feel pretty neutral about this book; it wasn't bad, but not nearly as interesting as Keoko, because it moves at a slower pace and is further removed from me historically. Still, it was elegant in its simplicity and unique as a carefully-crafted window into an overlooked period and culture.

However, there was one tiny anacrhonism in it that really bugged me: Korea's national dish, kimchi, didn't have red pepper flakes in it until the late 16th century (thanks, incidentally, to the first wave of Japanese invasions...). But when Tree-Ear discovers kimchi in his meal, it has those characteristic red flakes. I don't know why it bothered me so much that there should be such a trivial error, but I guess I'm just... attached to kimchi, after eating it almost once a day for two years!

- - -
So, I got these books, and many others that could be classified as Asian-American lit, just so that my students could read them and see a bit more representation than they're used to form American media. Unfortunately, they'll only gather dust on the library shelves if I don't actively incorporate it into my class somehow.

Actually, when I was talking to some English teachers today, they mentioned that they knew about When My Name is Keoko, so I guess in the past decade, Park's novels have been introduced to English education circles in Korea. I'm very happy about that!

On another note, some of the other books I bought are Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, which really is for children, so I found it too simple for my liking, and a few graphic novels, such as Gene Luen Yang's Level Up and American Born Chinese, as well as Derk Kirk Kim's Same Difference. These I certainly also bought for my own benefit -- i.e., I wanted to read them myself -- but I also thought that because they are graphic novels, my students would find them easier to read. Well, one of my third-years tried American Born Chinese, but the slang in it was beyond him. Oh well, at least he enjoyed the pictures.

What are your favorite English-language books that feature minority and/or foreign cultures?

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Flag Cake and the Fourth

I baked a chocolate cake last night and woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning to decorate it with vanilla frosting, strawberry jam, frozen blueberries, and white chocolate chips. The result was the delicious Pan of Patriotism pictured above. Well, I don't actually know if it was delicious or not, since I didn't taste any of it. 왜?!

왜냐면, This American flag cake was for the teachers at my school, in celebration of American Independence Day. They all told me the cake and the chocolate chip cookies I made were 진짜 맛있어요, so that's good enough for me! I also brought two huge watermelons in a suitcase, because they are in season right now, and because, as I tried to explain in Korean, "In America, on Independence Day, people get together with friends and family and barbecue outside and eat watermelon... and there are fireworks..." It's quite different from the somewhat solemn Korean Independence Day (August 15th), and actually in comparison it seems rather frivolous.

But the point is that my job is to share American culture in a positive way, and in Korea, food is one's best bet for building relationships. All of my school's faculty are amazed that I made the cake and cookies from scratch. Literally, they have a hard time believing that a cake can come from anywhere other than the corner bakery (ovens are rare in Korean households). But tasting is believing in this case. I'm happy to have helped everyone start their day right: with sugar and a healthy dose of red, white, and blue.

A great morning continued with a great day. I was productive during my desk-warming hours, preparing for some workshops I'll run at the 2014 Fulbright Orientation (which begins, incidentally, tomorrow!) later this month and taking care of some errands. My "Before I Leave" to-do list seems to get longer every day, and I'm a bit worried. But I'll take things one step at a time.

My students finished their final exams today, so everyone I met in the hallways and at lunch was quite happy. Also, more alumni came back to visit! Well, they didn't come to visit me this time, as this particular group of boys was... well, they were my sleepers, so I didn't have the opportunity to get very close to them. Still nice to see them, though.

And in the evening, all the faculty celebrated the end of finals and the approaching end of the semester with dinner at a wonderful barbecue restaurant by the Junam Reservoir called 호수에 그림 하난 ("One Picture at the Lake"?). We ate outdoors and watched the sun set over the mountains and the lake. Everything was lit golden, and large cranes flew by on occasion. It really was lovely. Even though I didn't get my fireworks or pool party, I am still grateful that I got to spend this Fourth of July in good company and in a beautiful place.
Junam Reservoir at sunset. The water is covered with hundreds of thousands of lotus plants.
Even indoor soccer at taekgyeon tonight couldn't ruin my good mood. Actually, soccer was saved by the middle school taekgyeon students, who stuck around to join us for our game. These kids are so full of energy, it's hard not to enjoy anything when they bring their game on at full volume. The best part was that the kids on the sidelines would yell out a constant live commentary, a skill they'd picked up from World Cup announcers. They also referred to me as 박지성 since I was scoring the most goals (not terribly difficult to do when you're a head taller than all your opponents). The only time I'll ever be compared to a professional athlete is when I'm playing indoor soccer with the taekgyeon kids...

Well, a very happy Fourth of July to all of you Americans! Celebrate your good luck and your liberty, crack some jokes, and then remember to support ongoing efforts to secure freedom around the world.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Day Off with Friends

I love to bake, and when friends come to visit Changwon, I all but drag them to my apartment so we can make cookies or pies or something delicious and cavity-inducing. Today's all about the chocolate chip cookies, but I'm also waiting for a chocolate cake to cool as I type. Tomorrow morning, it will become an American flag cake to celebrate the Fourth of July! :)

Hana and Yoobin visited me today! There's a convoluted story behind our relationship, which I am going to describe whether you're interested or not, so listen up: Hana and Yoobin met in the States while Yoobin was studying abroad in Pennsylvania, where Hana is from. Hana and I then kind-of met in college because we went to the same church. I knew her as one of the women on the worship team, though I didn't really consider us friends... But then, during our Senior spring, I heard that she was going to go to Korea on a Fulbright, and realized that we were going to be in the same program! Unfortunately, we were separated by our placements, because Hana was sent to Naju, and I went to Changwon. But, surprise surprise, it turns out Yoobin is from Changwon! So Hana got us connected, and Yoobin and I hung out for all of one day, before he left for China to study abroad for a year. Then Hana finished her grant year and returned to the US, and I was all alone...

... But Hana came back to Korea last April, and then Yoobin returned from China, which he claimed was too smelly for his liking, and today, the three of us finally had a reunion! It mostly consisted of eating patbingsu, eating yukgaejang, and (baking and) eating cookies. Oh, and we also taught Yoobin how to play Bananagrams.
Bananagrams at Sulbing! Two of my favorite things. And two of my favorite people! ;) Also, I am going to not-so-subtly point out that I had the letters to play "polyandry" in this round.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Haeinsa Cafe / Wordplay

A bit of cute wordplay at the Haein Cafe: 해맑게 인사하는 사람들...
A multi-orthographic linguistic puzzle! What does "海맑게 印寺하는 사람들" mean?

If you look carefully, you can see that this phrase uses two scripts: hanja, or Chinese characters, and hangul, the Korean writing system invented in the mid-fifteenth century. In ancient times, Korean was written entirely in hanja, but after Hangul was promulgated, it began to replace hanja. Today, few hanja are used, and then only in specific contexts; you might come across a few characters in newspaper headlines and official documents, but it's slowly falling out of common use.

Now let's examine these hanja. First, you have 海, which means "sea". It is pronounced 해 (hae). Then, you have 印 and 寺, which mean "stamp" or "mudra, a symbolic Buddhist gesture" and "temple", respectively. They are pronounced 인 (in) and 사 (sa).

Anyone familiar with Korean Buddhism will recognize these three hanja as the name of one of Korea's famous temples, 海印寺 (해인사/Haeinsa). What do they mean in the context of this phrase, however?

In fact, there's a bit of wordplay involved. As the Chinese characters are read with the Korean pronunciation, they are not intended to retain their written meaning. Instead of meaning "sea", 海 (hae) is simply part of the word 해맑게 (haemalkge), which means "brightly, purely". This 해 (hae) actually means "sun" in native Korean.

As for 印寺 (insa), the two words are essentially a homophone of 人事, or 인사 (insa). 인사하는 (insahaneun) means "greeting, bowing politely". And 사람들 (salamdeul) means "people", so...

Altogether, the phrase means something like, "People who greet brightly and purely." Maybe it makes more sense like this: "People who say hello with a warm smile (and a bow, because Korea)."

So as it turns out, the phrase has nothing to do with the sea or temples, but the clever part is that this was found printed on the menu for the cafe at Haeinsa. Thus, the cafe used the name of the temple as homophones to welcome its patrons. I love the ingenuity!

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Stray observations:
1. The menu is printed on beautiful hanji (한지/韓紙), a thick, coarse paper that has dried leaves and flowers embedded in it.

2. The spelling of "cafe" in Korean (까페/ggape), is a little unusual. Usually, it's 카페 (kape), with an aspirated [k] from the American English pronunciation. Instead of that, ㄲ represents a tense, unaspirated [g]. Perhaps this came from an attempt to transliterate the French pronunciation instead of the English one.

3. More hanja (한자/漢字) in the top right corner: 茶來軒, or 다래헌 (daraeheon). I've never encountered this word before, but it means a traditional teahouse. Literally, "a house or high pavilion where you can order tea." NB: don't think Korean words written with hanja are just borrowed from Chinese. 茶來軒 means nothing in Mandarin, as far as I'm aware. Also, the more common words for "teahouse" are 찻집 (chatjip) and 다방 (dabang/茶房).

4. Unrelated to linguistics: why does Haeinsa have its own cafe, anyway? Is it so that after you worship and commune with nature, you can get an iced caramel macchiato to keep you tethered to modern society? I enjoyed my seven-dollar (?!) iced 유자차 (citron tea), but the very existence of the cafe seemed incongruous to me, like the Starbucks located inside the Louvre or the stuffed animals sold in the 9/11 museum gift shop. I guess cafes are now just as integral to Korean culture as thousand-year-old temples, so this is an unsurprising mix of new and old.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Haeinsa, a Jewel Temple of Korea

伽倻山海印寺, 가야산해인사, Gayasan Haeinsa
Korea has three famous Buddhist temples called the "Three Jewel Temples". One, called Songgwangsa (송광사), is near Suncheon, and I visited it on Buddha's birthday last year. Another, called Tongdosa (통도사), is located in Yangsan. The third is called Haeinsa (해인사/海印寺), and it is located deep in the Gaya mountains, west of Daegu.

The Three Jewels of Buddhism (삼보/三寶) are its three principle objects of guidance:
1. Buddha himself (불/佛), which usually refers to sarira, or holy relics
2. Dharma (법/法), or the teachings of Buddhism
3. Sangha (승/僧), the Buddhist community, which usually refers to monks and nuns

Each of these Jewels is represented by one of the Jewel Temples. Songgwangsa has a famous monk training center, so it represents 승. Tongdosa has a famous pagoda that supposedly houses some of the Buddha's remains; it represents 불. Haeinsa, then, is the symbol of 법. What Haeinsa is renowned for is the Tripitaka Koreana (팔만 대장경), an ancient collection of 80,000 wooden printing blocks that contains the complete Buddhist scriptures.
My co-teachers and me at Haeinsa. No photos allowed of the real Tripitaka Koreana, so this poster had to suffice!
Today, I went on a field trip to Haeinsa with the English department faculty. It's the middle of finals week, so we don't have much work to do. The school sponsored our trip, partly as a way to thank me for my two years at the school, and partly because they probably realized that I have never done anything "just for fun" with my co-teachers. I mean, we attended a TOEFL conference last fall, and we go to the all-faculty outings, but this was actually the first time that just the four of us did something together that was unrelated to work!

I really enjoyed it as a change of pace. I've been constantly busy for months now, and to be able to take a break in the middle of the week for the first time since April was delightful. It helped that today was a gorgeous day, humid but not overwhelmingly hot. Also, since it was a weekday, the temple had very few visitors. I'm sure that on weekends, the grounds are buzzing with tourists, but it was peaceful and serene today. Like all Korean temples, it was gorgeous, and the natural environment was refreshing. The air somehow tasted better than it does in factory-clogged Changwon.
One of the smaller buildings in the Haeinsa temple complex. The colors are amazing!
Our vice principal wanted to make sure that I got a bit of cultural education out of the excursion, so here's what I learned: Haeinsa is located near Mt. Gaya (in Gayasan National Park). Mt. Gaya is a spiritual place important to Buddhism; the name may refer to the place in India where Buddha achieved enlightenment or to the ancient Korean Gaya Confederacy, which was annexed by the Silla kingdom in the 6th century. Haeinsa was founded in the year 802 during the Silla period. It has been renovated many times due to damage from fire and war, most recently in 1964, I believe. This was two years after Korea added the Tripitaka Koreana to its list of national treasures. In 1995, the temple and the scriptures were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The name Haeinsa is a bit odd, because, according to the plaque I read, it refers to a Buddhist philosophical state of consciousness during which "a reflection on a calm sea after struggling against wind and waves enables everything to be conscious of its true nature." It's a nice concept, of course, but I don't understand why this temple located nowhere near the ocean has such a name.
The lantern-lined labyrinth of the temple grounds. Once you enter, you have no choice to walk the entire thing!
This temple came to house the famous Buddhist scriptures in 1398. The Tripitaka Koreana is the world's oldest and most complete version of the Buddhist scriptures in Chinese script (한자). There are 81,350 wooden printing blocks into which are carved over 52 million Chinese characters! The entire thing took 16 years to complete.

All of these blocks are currently housed in a special building at the top of a hill overlooking the rest of the complex. We were not allowed inside the building or even to take photos, but it honestly didn't look so impressive. It reminded me of the basement stacks of a library: rows and rows of heavy old books that nobody ever touches. Still, I was in awe, just knowing what was inside the room as we peered through the windows. Although the building is plain, it is said to have been designed in such a way that the wooden blocks can stay in their preserved state for centuries -- and they certainly have!
A gorgeous panel painting inside the main hall, 대적광전 (Daejeokkwangjeon).
Besides the temple, which was nice enough to walk around (but, in the end, still looked like every other temple I've visited, and the same goes for cathedrals and shrines), there was a kind of art exhibition going on. I don't know if the sculptures we saw were permanent or temporary, but I really enjoyed looking at them. This is in part because seeing the sculptures was so incongruous with what I've come to expect from a Korean temple. But they were also beautiful and profound.

The one below is a bronze sculpture of a Sitting Buddha that has been split cleanly in half. Its title was something like, "The Sound of Buddha"; I can't recall correctly. But it was quite mesmerizing.
What's in the space between?
And the other sculpture that really held my attention was this giant bamboo thing right by the main gate. It was called "Third Eye Within" or something along those lines. If you look carefully, you can see a smaller figure nested within the larger figure.
It reminds me a bit of Burning Man...
My day looked like this: my co-teachers and I had a late lunch at one of the tourist restaurants that served typical Korean Buddhist cuisine (think lots of mountain herbs, mushrooms, and 반찬, and no red meat), walked around the temple grounds for an hour, chilled at the temple's cafe (?!), and popped into the museum to see some more Buddhist art and more reproductions of the wooden printing blocks. The museum also had a Lego miniature of the temple grounds, I kid you not. I have no idea why. Anyway, by 5pm, we were ready to go home, and I slept almost all the way back.

I'm still feeling quite relaxed from our trip, and I am so very glad we were given this opportunity. Now that I have two of the Three Jewel Temples down, why shouldn't I try for the third? Yangsan is only an hour away!

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If you want to visit Haeinsa, the Korea tourism website can help you! If you don't have a car, you'll have to go via bus from Daegu Seobu Terminal, which takes an hour and a half. Temple stays are offered and weekends.