Saturday, September 13, 2008

milk project in china

Milk Project is back!

Monday, June 25, 2007


1 week left of school...

note from a 5th grade girl:

Cara..Hi~ I'm Ji Young

I'm so sad..Because..Cara leaving to Korea
I'm happy..Because..we're together! ^^
I'm funny..Because..Cara's talking a me. <3
Cara! Don't forget me! ㅋㅋ
me too..Don't forget Cara..
Bye Cara..happy too meet you..

Goodbye <3

Cara <3

from one of my most irrepressible (and favorite) 5th grade boys:

hi cara teacher
my name is O Do hun
Thank You for teaching me and Im sorry I'm not a good boy in English class.
I, hope you always happy in your countny. English cless game and sing good time.
I'm Happy
I love You
Thank you good-Bye cara teacher

Friday, June 22, 2007

weekends in seoul

fake river!

Cheonggyecheon, called "the fake river" by me and Margaret (even though it's a stream that doesn't even try to pretend to be a river), is a man-made body of water that runs through the center of Seoul. I recently spent two weekends in a row in Seoul...a large part of each of which was spent at the fake river.

The first weekend, I was in Seoul to help proctor the Certified Financial Analyst exam, administered by Fulbright (I had to make the announcements, somewhat stressful). Rohit and I spent most of the day/evening before the exam at the fake river. Near the beginning of the fake river (it starts with a fountain and a big fake waterfall), a group of young people was handing out plants and telling people to go plant them. I planted mine outside the CFA test site the next morning.

We also participated in a community graffiti project--making our own graffiti (Rohit wrote his name in Korean in red, I wrote mine in Chinese in yellow) and watching artists create a graffiti mural. Farther down the river (you can see in the pics, the fake river progresses from orderly and clean paved lines in the first picture, more "natural" and "wild," like on the right), we got to have a mini bongo drum lesson with a huge circle of people, led by a very fat Korean man with dreadlocks.

The next weekend, I was back in Seoul to meet Katie's friend from college (visiting Korea on her way home from 3 weeks in Japan). After soundly defeating Katie and Mary in the "get interviewed/photographed/videotaped by Korean middle-and-high-schoolers for English class homework" competition, shopping a lot, feeding Mary our favorite Korean foods, watching traditional drumming, and journeying to the top of Seoul Tower on Saturday, we spent Sunday at the fake river, playing on the stepping stones and in the water with the (stocked) fishies.

the fake river and her parasol make Katie so happy

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

snakes in a school

Our school has been invaded by poisonous snakes. I just watched a 6th grade teacher kill one who was hiding in the small, dark space next to the water dispenser. Students like to cram themselves into this spot in order to ambush one another in water fights. My coteacher just told me to "be careful of snakes. There are many in the school. They will bite you, then you die."

I'm really happy that my only protection against these snakes is a verbal warning. Also that no one is doing anything to protect the children who roam unsupervised all over the school.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

summertime and the living's easy

Summer is in full swing in Gongju. The cherry blossoms and rhododendrons that used to cover the city have given way to dark pink roses and big, yellow-faced flowers. The rice fields are once again a patchwork of fresh green plants and mirror-flat water--beautiful but chock full of baby mosquitoes. Most of all it's unbelievably, wickedly hot and humid. Breathing is enough to make me break a sweat, so arduous tasks like walking to school, teaching class, or climbing a set of stairs all leave me red-faced and drenched. It's extremely embarrassing, since Koreans (or at least the ones in Gongju) don't seem to get sweaty without really serious physical exertion, whatever the disgustingness is quite the spectacle. The worst part, though, is at night. Our apartment doesn't have air conditioning (I suppose it would be a little weird to have a/c but not heat in the winter), and my host family doesn't let me go to sleep with the window open or my fan on. This is not a passive aggressive way of telling me to hurry up and return to America, but rather out of concern for my wellbeing. Most Koreans believe that sleeping with a window open is asking to get sick, even on the hottest summer nights. Sleeping with a fan is even more dangerous, as it can result in the dreaded fan death. This means that every night, I go to bed with my fan on and window open and wake up several hours later, sweaty, to find them off and closed. In the morning, I often get a lecture about how the fan can kill me. I think my host family believes in the vortex theory described in the article, because the lecture is often accompanied by graphic charades of a vacuum sucking air away from my face.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I didn't have any afternoon classes and left school early (I usually stay and lesson plan/prepare stuff for classes). This meant leaving at the same time as the kindergarteners...students I don't get to teach and to whom I'm still completely alien (Kindergarten has it's own wing of the school, so I almost never even glimpse them). The first little boy to see me gave a full bow (most students just wave...they think it's exciting I don't expect them to bow) and insa-ed in Korean. When I answered with, "hi," he ran flying from the shoe area, shouting the Korean equivalent of, "Oh my God you guys! The English teacher just said hi to me, in English!" Immediately I was surrounded by an army of tiny Koreans, each demanding their own hi. When I finally started walking off school grounds, one of the little girls trotted after me. "English teacher, are Japanese people bad or not bad?" she asked me, very seriously (in Korean). I was caught a bit off guard by the total randomness, but answered, "not bad." "Oh...well I'm Korean," she answered with a frown. "That's okay," I said, awkward because my Korean-to-person-of-lower-status is always really awkward. "Korean's aren't bad either." Fortunately this satisfied her and she took hold of my hand until we had to part ways.

i can't wait to be a vegetarian again

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

new family pet

This afternoon, Kiyeong came home from school with this cunning "little" guy:

Beetles like our new one are the pet of choice for many Korean youngsters. Many of my students have them and bring them to school fairly regularly. Parents like them because they're extremely low maintenance and don't smell, dirty, or damage a home--they're kind of like the beta fish of Korea. Kiyeong introduced us by coming into my room and tossing his new pet onto my arm. His feet are kind of clawed so it hurts a bit when he crawls around on bare skin. So far he's been put on my arm, my lap, all over my "bed," my wall (he can cling to vertical surfaces with his little claws), and in my hair. The poor guy spent most of the day being placed on his back by Kibeom and Kiyeong (so they can watch him flail around trying to flip over) or put on random things (usually me or themselves). When they pick him up again, they have to pretty much rip his little claws away from whatever he's on. I'm trying (by positive example and disapproval of their roughness) to teach them to be gentle with him, but it's only a matter of time before one of his legs gets ripped off.

The yellow stuff in the pictures, which we refer to as "jelly," is supposed to be his food. The white container--which he can crawl right out of--was supposed to be his home, but after imagining myself rolling over and accidentally crunching him in my sleep (possibly one of the grossest things I've ever imagined), I convinced the boys it would be fun to build him a house. We emptied out a cagelike marker container and went outside to fill it with dirt, leaves, and sticks. In addition to keeping him from roaming the apartment, his new home so far serves as protection against the boys--watching him play around with his dirt, leaves, and sticks (by "play around with," I pretty much just mean "hide under." Pet beetles are about as exciting as they sound) is almost as fun as torturing him, so they've backed off considerably.

We're trying to come up with a good name for him. Any ideas?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

poot pashion

Today my coteacher wore no fewer than 6 pairs of shoes. She wore one pair (tassled white high heels) from her car into school, one pair (platform black slip-ons with a sequined bow) to teach in, one pair (sporty pink velcro sneakers) to walk her second grade class onto the school's "field" (and then walk straight back into school), the tassled white ones again from school to her car, one pair (raffia flip-flops) for driving, one pair (black heels threaded with ribbon) from her car to Yongok Elementary School where we had a workshop about ETAs, and one last pair (plain black slip-ons) while we were actually inside Yongok Elementary School.

Before coming to Korea, I didn't even own 6 pairs of shoes.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

sports day

Several weeks ago (May 4th to be exact) was our school's Sports Day. It took weeks--and many missed classes--of preparation (the Provincial Board of Education came to watch, and our principal and vice-principal wanted ours to be the best Sports Day in the province), but it was all worth it. Everyone got outfits...cute little uniforms for the students and oversized blue polo shirts for the teachers, and we covered the school in flags and banners. The Day is nominally a contest between the arbitrarily assigned Red and Blue teams. The kindergarteners wore special yellow outfits to signify that their games were not a part of the competition, and the first graders wore either red or blue so they could remember which team they belonged to.

The day started with the national anthem, the other song we sing at every school assembly, and some whole-school aerobics. The little boy in the middle of the picture on the left is one of my funniest second graders. He may be only 6 years old, but he's already made important progress along the path to becoming a k-pop superstar. His little mullet is always perfectly coiffed--and sometimes even curled--and he never goes outside without visor, shades, gloves, and knee socks to protect him from the sun. Eunji (the girl to the right) is totally smitten.

I was actually surprised by how well-run everything was. Large games between grades took place in the middle of our "field" (can a dust/sandlot qualify as a field?), while races ran constantly around the outside. Each grade split into its red and blue components and played really creative and adorable relay-type games, and every single student participated in the races (a special volunteer was brought in to push one of our fourth graders, who uses a wheelchair). Points from all the games and races were tallied on a big scoreboard (I believe the Blue team scored almost 300 points to win, but I could be wrong about that). The transitions were pretty seamless, and they managed to run all the races without any problems. In the picture, it looks like Kiyeong is winning his race, but he was actually second. Kibeom did win his...a fact that he's still lording over his brother.

Tug-of-war was one of the most anticipated events. The vice principal made me fire the starting gun for the girls' tug-of-war (thus no pics), which was very stressful. Fortunately, I managed to avoid hurting anyone or making a huge fool of myself.

In addition to the obviously sporty events (races, tug-of-war, active games), Sports Day included several activities that required a more creative interpretation of the word "sport." These included traditional Korean things like a fan dance, baton twirling, and drumming performances, as well as the somewhat less traditional 1st grade sparkly matador outfit dance, other song and dance routines, and super fun English quiz--the grand prize of which was a gigantic package of toilet paper.

Sports Day also had events for the greater school community. There was a big mom tug-of-war competition...the moms got so into it that they went 2 extra rounds. In the final round, a group of boys (wanting to help their moms who had just lost twice) surreptitiously grabbed the very end of the rope and pulled their moms to victory. The picture on the right shows one of my absolute favorite parts of the day--the grandparents' relay. Two teams of grandparents faced off, each team with a fishing pole. At the gun, they shuffled over to the middle of the "field" and cast into a giant bucket "ocean", where two 3rd graders crouched in wait (you can see a little hand reaching for the fishing line in the picture). They tied a prize to the end of the fishing line--mostly bags of shrimp chips and tubes of pine-flavored toothpaste--and the grandparents shuffled back to hand off the pole. It was almost too cute to watch.

The picture on the right shows the most annoying part of Sports Day (as does the sparkly matador picture). During every single performance and game, parents had no qualms about walking right into the ranks of kids to take a picture of their child. In some of the performances with choreographed movements, photo-snapping parents bumped into kids trying to make fan formations or hold hands in a dance, and I saw one mother telling her son to stop baton-twirling and pose for her picture (peace sign! cutie!).

Friday, May 18, 2007


I found this picture today while trying to figure out our school's website:

I'm not sure what the deal is with the "quote" in the accompanying article. No one at my school could possibly have written I suppose either I did and don't remember (this is possible--my coteacher has approached me with random demands like "Write your dream. 2 lines," or "Write your think the vice principal, 3 sentences," on various occasions. I have to come up with something random on the spot, and since no one can--or cares to--really read what I've written, I don't worry about it enough to remember anything), or she just stole it from somewhere on the internet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

korean fire drill

Yesterday was the culmination of what my coteacher described in my Propulsion Comments as "Emergency Earthquake Training the Violence," but could possibly be better described as "a fire drill." I say possibly because, while the exercise was definitely a fire drill, labeling it as such could give the extremely misleading impression that it was similar to an American-style fire drill. From what I remember in elementary school, in America the fire alarm goes off, the students walk calmly (or at least, that's the goal) outside, the fire department checks the alarm system while the teachers take attendance, and then the students go back inside the school.

At Gongju Gyodong Elementary school, we had two days of training before the "real" fire drill. (I didn't have to participate in the drill-of-the-drill, so I'm not entirely sure what that was like). On the third, official day, members of the Provincial Board of Education came to watch from a special tent set up for them on a platform in front of the school. At the appointed time (11:30--three separate announcements reminded us of this fact), alarms began sounding all over the school. These were nearly drowned out by the sound of 500 madly sprinting students. To my surprise, all the teachers were right behind them, urging them to run faster (they did, however, all stop to change from inside shoes to outside shoes at the doorways). When we got outside, I saw that red flares had been placed on the second floor windows for effect. We squatted in the middle of the "athletic field" in front of the school, in front of a giant pile of sticks and brush onto which the school handyman was pouring huge jugs of gas. The fire department arrived, doused the flares, and then ignited the pile of sticks. One fireman gave a brief speech while the flames and smoke rose into a bonfire thick and high enough to completely obscure the school. The students were way too excited to stay still, and--just when I thought things couldn't possibly get more dangerous--the fireman selected a student from each of grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 and instructed them to grab some fire extinguishers and approach and put out the blaze. One of the two teachers I was standing with laughed at the 3rd grade girl (8 years old!) who was scared to get close to the fire.

Three teachers and the fireman eventually took over for the kids, but they couldn't put the fire out either. We had to go back into the school with it still burning merrily in the middle of the field (the field is just a sandlot, so we weren't in immediate danger or anything). I'm not entirely sure I feel safer now...

My friend and fellow ETA Jill had a similar--although seemingly not quite so life-threateningly awesome--Emergency Drill Day. This is from one of her emails:

My school is having practice emergency drills today, which means making an announcement and the whole school running out at once. There is no order. Once they are outside, the students are forced to run in a horde from one side of the school yard to the other. They have already done it three times and it is only third period.

Monday, May 14, 2007

snakes, snails, puppy dog tails

Kibeom came home from the hospital (not as bad as it the Koreans I know, going to the hospital is as common as taking an Ibuprofen for most Americans) this evening with a neck brace on, and Kiyeong's first reaction was to whine jealously and taekwondo chop him in the throat. Little monster.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

arts and crafts

This is what I did almost all evening/night. Our entire family (minus Kiyeong, who was deemed untrustworthy) was involved in completing this masterpiece of whatever bizarre advanced degree my host mother is pursuing. Host Dad constructed the field and goals, Kibeom drew the players, I drew the patterns onto the styrofoam soccer balls and painted the lines, and my host mom did her usual coloring and laminating. After the hours of work Kibeom, my host dad, and I put in on that thing (my host mom's part took about 20 minutes), all I can say is, she better get an A.

These are some pictures of our neighborhood taken from the window of our apartment. You can see our school in the one on the right. If you look closely at the dirt field in front of the school, you can see the 3-6th grade girls practicing a traditional Korean dance for Sports Day with their pink fans. The one below is Kibeom and Kiyeong in the soccer uniforms I bought for them in Vietnam. Kiyeong hates to take his off--he wears it as pajamas, as regular clothes, and hidden under his regular clothes on the days my host mom says he can't wear it to school.