Friday, September 29, 2006

i've been teaching for a whole month now!

This is a picture of some of Kiyeong's recent homework--an acrostic poem about me! The characters on the far left read "kay-r/la-seon-saeng-nim," or "cara teacher." I can't actually read the poem...but the first line says "Cara teacher...good" and the last line says "Nim Cara teacher thank you" (I don't know what nim means there). Isn't it cute? I'm in two of Kibeom's homework assignments as well...he wrote an essay (with a really cute picture) about the frisbee I gave him and one all about which Korean foods I like and don't like (an obsession of many of the Koreans in my life here...his teacher COVERED the essay with comments even though none of his other essays have anything more than a word or two).

Thursday, September 28, 2006


The endless rice fields, plots, and paddies in and around Gongju are turning from green to gold. It's more beautiful than I can describe without being really cheesy.

Today my coteacher was wearing a plaid brown, orange, and navy blue asymmetrical skirt with no hem (there were strings of varying lengths dangling around her legs), a pink shirt with an unbelievably long torso, a delicate white shrug with little flowers on it, a striped headband, baby blue hamster socks, and--best of all--a gigantic cotten backless vest with two drooping sacklike folds in the front and a huge limp grey bow in the middle. She always wears crazy Asian girl outfits, but today, combining the shrug with the backless vest really took her to a new level.

Also today I went to Seoul to get my visa. I had really been dreading the trip--but magically I managed to figure out the subway (and subway/underground mall/labyrinth entrance and exit areas) and the ES Tour offices (no sign, on the 6th floor of a random building). Somehow I intuitively knew which way to go and where to turn, and it always turned out to be exactly right. I even retraced my steps perfectly on the way back. This might not sound all that impressive for a normal person...but since I still can't reliably get anywhere in the greater Portland area other than DHS, Tom Allen's office, the cousins', and the McCue's house, I was wicked proud of myself.
While I was in Seoul I made friends with a kimbap lady and she gave me my second roll of kimbap for free (I think I am developing a severe addiction) and had yogurt and delicious Lotteria cheese sticks as a reward for doing so well...and now I'm in a really good mood and all ready for China!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


This past weekend, Margaret and Jenny came down from Cheonan to go hiking with James and me. We went to Gyeryongsan National Park (Gyeryongsan means "rooster dragon mountain," if the Chinese characters are to be believed), which is just a short bus ride from Gongju--albeit a short bus ride with a random transfer on the side of the highway. When we got on the first bus, the driver tried to refuse to let us on, assuming our foreign selves had no way of navigating said transfer. Fortunately James knew what to do...although even if he hadn't, we could have followed the large group of Koreans decked out in full Korean hiking regalia (long sleeves and long pants--often all black, white gloves, wide-brimmed hat, hiking boots, bandanna around the neck, and downhill ski poles. Fully 75% of the hikers at Gyeryongsan were wearing this exact attire) and been set. The hike started at one of the four Buddhist temples that sort of border the park. The weather was beautiful--you can see how amazingly clear and blue the sky was in Jenny's pictures--and it felt brisk like fall but was still warm and sunny and just perfect. The trail was pretty strenuous and the mountains and trees were beautiful. Still, during the first few hours of the hike I felt almost as removed from nature as I do in downtown Gongju. This is because we were sharing the trail with what seemed like half the population of Korea, most of them dressed in the Korean hiking outfit and some of them emanating radio music from somewhere in their clothing (headphones are apparently not as cool). People snaked around and behind and in front of us as far as we could see around the trail. You can see on the right that I'm not exaggerating:
Even though the people were a little overwhelming...and definitely didn't fit my ideal for a nice, day long nature-y escape from the stresses of everyday life in Gongju...there were some upsides. Everyone was really friendly towards us, and we met some really cool people, many of whom gave us food. We were given an apple, a large handful of roasted chestnuts, and over an entire roll of kimbap (the incredibly delicious Korean version of maki--it doesn't actually have fish in it and is one of my fave foods) by different friendly people over the course of the day. We also met a group of friendly veterinary school students who asked to take a picture of us and hiked with us for a while (see below). The
girl in the white shirt and I talked for a long time and exchanged cell phone numbers, and it was great to make a new friend. We got to the top of the first mountain (the picture at the top of the post) and ate chocolate covered Digestive cookies and delicious Nutter Butters sent to Jenny from the US. We then continued on across the peaks, heading towards one of the other Buddhist temples. This turned out to be the best plan ever, as the crowd immediately trickled down to nothing. Apparently almost everyone just goes up and back down the first mountain. The picture below of James and me shows the contrast between the two trails. It also shows that the path itself was somewhat ambiguous--just piles of rocks for us to clamber over, occasionally laid out like a trail, but more often just rubble. At the top of the next mountain we had another little picnic, this time with a premium toast of cider (think American Sprite or Seven-up) in little paper shot glasses that Margaret brought along inside a plastic glove.

The trail ended at another Buddhist temple. We explored this one more freely, wandering around the temple grounds. One of the temple buildings had some amazing panels of the 12 Great Events and the center courtyard was hung with rows of brightly colored paper lanterns. We sat there for a while, talking and watching the monks, nuns, and other tourist-y people at prayer and just wandering around. There were a few other foreigners there...which was kind of surprising to me--although I guess it shouldn't have been, since Gyeryongsan is one of Korea's few national parks and really is a beautiful and tourist-attracting place. It actually turned out that two of the foreigners were Fulbrighters, one an elementary ETA halfway through her grant year and one a research grantee doing martial arts stuff. They both seemed really cool. After the temple, we bought roasted chestnuts from the ajuma (old ladies) selling them by the side of the road and ate them while standing on the bus (preem). I had an entire conversation in Korean with a tiny old lady sitting in front of me, and actually understood almost all of what we said to each other! All in all, it was a really good day. I think I will go hiking there a lot this year...James and I (hopefully the Cheonan girls will come too) already have plans do so when the leaves change colors and I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

pat wynne would be jealous

I lied about the cow foot soup being dead...we've since had it for breakfast twice. However, as I am pretty certain it will never actually die, I'm going to stop keeping track of it on my blog.

Although I genuinely enjoy the Korean system of communal eating (we sit around the little table with our own bowls of rice and use our spoons and chopsticks to eat directly from the soup and side dishes in the middle of the table. People often fish around in the dishes with their chopsticks, getting just the right piece of kimchi or trying to minimize dangling sprouts. They also often pick up something in their own chopsticks and give it to someone else, either chopsticks-to-chopsticks or chopsticks-to-bowl/spoon--this happens to me all the time since everyone is convinced I'm incapable of feeding myself. At one big teacher dinner, the school nurse basically hand-fed me the entire meal of spenzy saber fish stew: neatly pulling out bones with her chopsticks and passing me each little bit of fish. I felt like a baby bird), I have to admit I'm a little alarmed that sick members of the family aren't excluded from the eating pool. Kibeom and my host dad are both sick, but it hasn't stopped them from dipping spoonfuls of broth from the soup or, in the case of my host dad, offering me pieces of meat from the chopsticks he had just removed from his germ-infested mouth.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Today in my teacher class, my favorite teacher wrote the sentence, "Tomorrow I will go eat out my family." Then I came home and found my host brother studying an "English textbook" with the following gems (I swear these are exactly as they appear in the text):

Today I church walked.
I read much Bible book.
And church is good.
I continue go church.

I'm happy and exciting today.
Because school have no.
School have no my play.
So I'm interesting.

I saw a movie, Forest Gump yesterday.
Forest Gump is very good man.
That's because his IQ is very low he know the difference between public things and private things.
I'll Forest Gump like very good man.

Today is Children's day.
At my church do a party.
We are be invited for the church party.
I eat lunch for church delicious but so hot.
After went to pc room meet friends.
Anyway childrens day very good.
I wish the day like children's day increase.

and my fave...

My brother is test.
Today is holiday. I wanted to give him 'Yut.'
But I didn't have money buy 'Yut.'
So I gave him my longest finger.
Then my brother suddenly held my neck.
I hate him. I hoped he will do well on his exam.
Sorry, brother! eat tasty.

I had the hardest time convincing my family that the English was wrong--they are convinced that all printed material is infallible. I finally resorted to chanting the Korean word "bad" over and over as I madly crossed out words and sentences with my pencil.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Cow foot soup count: 17 (but I think it's finally dead)

I'm sorry for the lack of recent postings. I meant to update the other night, but the Korean tradition my students call "Pretty" got in the way. As soon as I arrived in Gongju, I started noticing that the fingernails, and in some cases fingertips, of many of my students were a sort of mottled orange color. A few other ETAs mentioned it as well--one girl speculated on her blog that it was the result of sticking one's fingers in kimchi for too long or of eating Cheetos-like snacks. We quickly found out that it's called bong-sung-ah (봉숭아), and it's made by mashing up the petals of a certain kind of flower. Koreans think it's very beautiful and (this I had to find out from an ETA in English-speaking circumstances) if the color lasts until the year's first snowfall, the lucky orange-fingered person will find love. This all has to do with me because two nights ago, as we were having some fruit at our family friends' house, I was included in the tradition. I was awkwardly trying to make conversation with the mother of the family, and told her that I thought her 봉숭아-ed fingernails were beautiful...before I had time to react, she grabbed one of my hands and started putting little blobs of red plant matter on top of my fingernails. She wrapped 3 fingers on each hand (why only 3? No idea) in plastic and taped them up tightly, then told me I had to sleep like that (at this point Kiyeong demanded to have his fingers done too, just like mine). Almost immediately, a dark, reddish stain started creeping down my fingers--making it look like they'd been dipped in blood. Everyone laughed and marveled at how my white American skin loved the plant dye. My host mom wouldn't let me take the plastic off when I got home, telling me that I wouldn't be beautiful if I did (thus the lack of updating...typing with just my thumbs and forefingers was a big pain. Brushing my teeth with them was too). I felt like a monster. The red color was starting to spread past the plastic when I went to bed, and I was really worried that I was going to stain my face and blankets red in my sleep. When I woke up, I felt like even more of a cuticles were the blackish-red of crusty blood and my fingers were dark red to the knuckles. I should have turned my computer on immediately and recorded it, but I started trying to scrub it off right away. I succeeded in reducing the pigment to an orangey-reddish color on my fingernails and tips. I don't really know what I think about it...if I just look at my fingernails themselves, the color is really pretty in an interesting that fades into deep orange. However, when I just glance down at my hands during the day, it really freaks me out, and the staining on the skin of my fingers is just hideous.
Here are some pics of what my hands look like right now:
See? If it was on all my fingernails and not staining any of my skin, it would be a really cool nail polish-like thing, but as is it is definitely strange looking. I've gotten a lot of compliments on it at school though...and I like being included in a Korean custom.

teacher! come on!

Here is a random shot of Kiyeong in one of his favorite spots, trying to tempt me to come play with him. I almost always give in...even though today I really just felt tired and didn't want to, I just can't say no. We ended up playing baseball with a taekwondo practice thingy for a bat and a little stuffed anime creature for a ball. Both boys got really into it--they thought it was hilarious when I tagged them out and were so proud of themselves whenever they got a "home run" (our name for a run of any kind). They didn't quite understand all the rules and thought I had some magical system (3 outs) of determining whose turn it was to hit. I can not tell you how weird it is to be considered good at throwing (they think I am wicked skilled) and sort of feel like I'm deceiving them in some way.

Today was a good day school-wise too. I got to teach kindergarten! The kindergarteners at our school get their own cool little wing. There are about fifty of them, nominally split into two classes (I think they mostly do things as a whole or in lots of random small groups, with 3 teachers working together). They have several rooms that are further split by furniture and bookshelves into an assortment of tiny rooms and passages and nooks...there is even (oddly) a little kitchen in one of the rooms). The whole wing is very bright with lots of murals, colorful kindergarten-sized furniture, tons of books, and toys. It's all really cute and fun and makes me wish I was a Korean kindergarten teacher. None of the 3 teachers spoke any English, so I was unsure of what they expected me to do...but we learned how to say "hello" and "hi" and sang and it was really great. I also finally got to teach my favorite 5-2 (we missed the last two classes together because of a 4th-5th-6th grade trivia contest and a school holiday) and they were so wonderful. When I am teaching them, 2-2, 4-1, or either of the 3rd grade classes, I think I want to be a teacher forever...although when I'm teaching 2-3 or 6-1 I can't imagine how I'm going to make it through the year.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

farm outing

Cow foot soup meal count: 16

Right now, my host mom is haltingly playing "edelweiss" on the tiny piano in the back room, over and over.

Last weekend we went to visit the boys' grandparents (on my host dad's side, I'm reasonably sure). They live on a farm about ten minutes away...and I wish I could move out of Tae Woo Apatu and move in with them. Halmoni and halaboji (grandmother and grandfather) are two of the tiniest, wrinkliest, friendliest people I've ever seen. Halmoni is bent nearly in half when she stands or walks, has a mouth full of silver fillings, and wears the largest visor ever whenever she goes outside. She got a huge kick out of me and liked patting my hair. They live in a very traditional Korean farmhouse, with little low, narrow buildings of house and farm storage space laid out to form a sort of double courtyard. The house itself has no furniture in it whatsoever: just smooth fake wood floors. There is a TV on the floor in one room, a refridgerator in the corner of the main room, and the kitchen has a stovetop and one little cupboard. All the other household belongings (blankets that serve as beds, the little table that's brought out at mealtimes, clothing, etc) are stacked neatly on the floor in the smallest room. Long buildings that hold farm tools, harvested crops, random things, and a cute little dog in a big cage give the courtyards their sides. Behind the house is the little mini second courtyard, where huge clay pots hold kimchi, kochu jang, and ten jang (kochu jang is the chili pepper sauce that we eat with absolutely everything, and ten jang--which I'm probably romanizing terribly--is a salty sauce made with soybean sprouts that we eat with a lot of things. It's really, really good), fermenting and preserving them in the traditional manner. In the corner is the little spigot and bit of rubber hose that provides the farm with all its water. Laundry is also hung up there, and little plots of herbs and sesame leaves have been carefully planted across the middle and along the edges, creeping out through the gaps between the buildings to join the large gardens that surround the little farmhouse. The crops would make a really pretty overhead picture, as each different plant is in little carefully shaped intersecting plots that form circles and circles around the farm. The back of the mini courtyard is the farm's tallest building, a cement rectangle with a high thatched sort of roof. Plants and herbs dry in bunches all along the ceiling, and stacked bales of hay cover one of the walls and form a partitioning wall in the middle of the building. Inside the building are 9 pretty little brown cows (one a little calf) with mean looking metal rings through their noses (the rings are roughly shaped metal wire and have a rope attached to them and tied over the cows' heads). Kiyeong proudly led me up through the second courtyard, weaving through a maze of plant rows, to see the cows and feed them bits of hay. They were skittish for a while until they realized we only wanted to feed them and talk to them softly.
Lots of family came to the farm for lunch. There was a baby, tons of little kids, a few sullen teens who lay around in front of the TV, and tons of adults. One of the ladies (I think she's my host dad's sister in law) is a middle school English teacher, so she could actually say speak a fair amount of English. Unfortunately I didn't get to talk to her much at all--her 5 year old daughter spent most of the time she was there crying uncontrollably and her mom had to keep taking her outside and on walks (I wondered if she was crying because she was afraid of me, but it was unclear). The baby, who has the fattest cheeks I have ever seen on a child, was just learning to walk. It kept coming over to me and either giving me something or demanding something of mine. Whenever I would give it something, its parents would tell it to say thank you and it would execute a perfect Korean bow and almost knock itself over.
We all had lunch together and then the boys and I went on a bike ride (on the three rustiest, most misaligned bikes imaginably) through the farmland. It was so beautiful. When we got back, the other families all left, but we went back in the house for a snack. The grandma busted out a GIGANTIC dried squid--fully 3 feet long--and slid it across the floor to my host mom so that she could singe the ends of it over the stove burner (the delightful effect of this little move was to overwhelm the house with the smell of burned squid). Then we sat around ripping pieces of it off and dipping it in kochu jang. It's really tough and hard to chew and just sick. After that though, we got to venture out into the fields and dig up buckets and buckets of little red sweet potatoes, some of which halmoni cooked up immediately and we squatted in the courtyard eating with our fingers. It was wonderful...definitely one of my favorite moments in Korea so far. I loved being out in the field in the sun, digging around in the dirt together. It's so satisfying to eat something you've just spend time and effort pulling out of the ground and to eat something so fresh. The sweet potatoes are much smaller and softer than American ones, pale yellow and very fluffy.
For dinner we had chicken soup with rice...although the chicken was whole and you take it out of the soup first and eat it it separately for a while, then add some of it to the broth and rice. It was really, really of the only times that I've actually enjoyed meat. We left right after dinner, filling our truck with a big box of sweet potatoes, a giant tupperware of kimchi, a bag of pears and apples, a huge bag of weird wheat stuff, and handfuls of loose chestnuts (which we disappointingly eat raw).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

shin gwan

Cow foot soup meal count: 11

Today, although last week I would have said it was impossible, we brought volleyball to a whole new level of intensity. This time we went to some sort of volleyball tournament against all the other elementary schools in Gongju. The principals sat under fancy tents in their suits and ties and made speeches to us teachers (we were lined up on the volleyball courts below them), official men explained the workings of the bracket (at least, I think that's what they were doing), and then 3 1/2 hours of volleyball got started. There were line judges, head judges with whistles and high seats, and teams of elementary school teachers in matching uniforms (my school wore pink, black, and red). Fortunately, I was allowed to be a part of my school's cheering section, clapping whenever Gyodong scored a point, and getting introduced to various teachers and administrators from other schools as Gyodong's foreign trophy.

I've realized that since no one in my homestay can understand 98% of the things I say, my inner monologue has moved firmly to the outside. It's kind of my method of dealing with my host mom constantly making fun of me. I hope I snap out of the habit before I start spending lots of time with native English speakers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

ehh post

Cow foot soup meal count: 9

I feel guilty a little guilty about it, but I'm definitely starting to have favorites at school. I like 3-2 (third grade...although Korean elementary schoolers are younger than American ones, so it's more like a youngish 2nd grade) and 5-2 (fifth grade) better than any of my other classes. Part of my bias towards 3-2 is because Kiyeong is in it, and he is absolutely my favorite person in Korea. For some reason, the other teachers at my school say he is a "bad" child and that none of them like him. I just can't believe it...he is honestly one of the sweetest, most appealing children I have ever come across. The teachers all warned me about 3-2 and said that it's the school's 'problem class' and that I shouldn't bother to try to hard with the kids, as they are too stupid to learn much English. I absolutely can't understand this--yes, their English is awful...but the whole school's English is awful, and they seem to be learning as quickly as their "smarter" peers in 3-1. I think I mainly like them better than 3-1 in response to this strange prejudice against them. 5-2 is definitely my most earnest and enthusiastic class. They all throw themselves into every single one of my activities (all the 6th grade classes and other 5th grade classes have at least a few students who are too cool for me and affect the rest of the class), and even the requisite loud boys in the back of the room are just loud in a participatory way instead of a misbehaving one (they shout out answers, jump out of their chairs to be called on, and beg me urgently for "han bon do!" or "one more time," at the end of every game).

I also have a fan club of 4th grade girls. They are waiting outside my music room "office" in the morning, and spend all their free time in my room (either trying to talk to me, just watching me do stuff, playing with my things, or playing me songs on the musical instruments in the room). They bring me candy, juice, and pastries, make me little clay animals in art class, and draw pictures for me on my blackboard. They also like to take me by the hands and arms and lead me, en masse, to each of my classes. They don't like to share me, so they often try and drive other students out of my room. This isn't really possible though, because my room has two giant sliding doors and students are ALWAYS coming in and out of them. They mostly just come in to say hello (for most of them, the only English they can reliably come up with) and gawk at me.

I would say that overall, teaching is definitely going really well. I love the kids and they seem to like my lessons. Sometimes, when I think of how they can really communicate with their schools and students, only plan 1 or 2 lesson plans a week, and get days off for exams and practice exams, I get jealous of the secondary ETAs and wish I had stayed in the secondary program...but when I really think about it, I feel so glad and lucky to be working with the little ones. They are so loving, responsive, and just rewarding to work with. Kiyeong and Kibeom can both remember and understand the things I've taught their classes, which makes me feel good, since they can't remember or understand the English they're learning at hagwon. Most of the teachers seem to like me as well, and are wicked impressed by my games (since English has only been in elementary school curriculums for about 10 years, many of the teachers didn't learn how to teach it when they got certified and are really freaked out by it. Also, most of the teachers in the school are barely better than the kids), although a few of the oldest ones are just really uncomfortable with me. I HATE teaching the teachers. It is the worst. Any tips on teaching them (especially from Nunk, as he is wise and experienced in adult ed) would be really, really great.

My host mom just got home. She always asks what time I got back from school...if I say 4:30 or earlier, she will say, "Oh! You are hungry!" and if I say later, she says, "Ah! You are not hungry!" (in Korean, obv). Since lunch is the only food I eat at school, and is at 12:30 regardless of when I get done in the afternoon, I have no idea what her logic is. But, if I am lucky enough to have gotten home before 4:30, I get a premium snack (I can't lie about it, because the boys always verify my homecoming times). Yesterday the boys and I had "hot dogs," which is what Koreans call corn dogs (although I think they are a little different from corn dogs--they have two layers of doughy coating, one of which is usually about three inches thick. Sometimes they are salty and have ketchup, and sometimes--like yesterday--they are rolled in sugar), and this drink they refer to as milk but is gray and has black crumbly stuff floating in it. It tastes like milk with crushed up Oreos in it, but slightly chalky. Preem.

Ew. Just now I was handed 3 dryish rolls with a layer of "jam" in the middle. The jam is a mixture of actual jam and barbecue sauce...seriously. There is also a strange flavor that reminds me really strongly of lanolin. Much less preem.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


With the exception of dinner last night, when we went to a restaurant and had really, really good food (although at one point during the meal, when I was dipping raw garlic cloves in chili sauce and happily eating them, I realized that my concept of good food has become much more inclusive in the last 3 weeks), we have been eating cow foot soup for every meal. Today I had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I miss vitamins.

On a non food-related subject, Kiyeong and I have a new favorite game in which we compare Korean and American animal sounds. We each make our own version of an animal's noise and then try to imitate each other. Korean dogs say "mung, mung," their frogs say "kegul, kegul," and their tigers make this crazy, siren-like sound that I have no idea how to transcribe. Usually we end up having extended bilingual conversations in frog while Kiyeong hops madly around me (although he says "rabbit" instead of "ribbit" and my "kegul" makes him giggle).

Oh, at dinner tonight, we watched a television that was entirely devoted to playing and replaying footage of bats going to the bathroom and apes getting tickled by people wearing full body plastic suits and surgical masks (the tickling didn't seem to be effective, mostly the poor animals just seemed to be trying to get away). My host mom, bros, and the random child we brough home from the library (a new one) all found the whole thing hilarious...especially the bats and a baboon (on account of its brightly colored butt). Who puts this stuff on TV? It was definitely a perfect accompaniment to the soup.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

1 week

Yesterday was such a good classes went really well, the lunch in the cafeteria was actually good, and I got to leave school a little earlier than usual because I barely had any lesson planning to do (Fridays are my lightest days, with only 4 classes and only one completely new lesson plan) . The weather here is just about perfect here now (Mom you would love it), hot and sunny but not humid during the day and much colder at night and in the early morning. After school I went for a long walk, getting myself more comfortable with the city on our side of the river. I explored this really cool outdoor market, buying grapes and just wandering around making friends (people love to try and talk to me). I located important landmarks like Pizza Hut, a bus stop, a branch of my bank, a bakery, and a Lotteria--a Korean fast food chain that I immediately went into and purchased glorious mozz sticks--called neh-chu-lal chee-juh suh-ti-kuh (natural cheese stick). You only get two, and they are not quite the real thing, but man they are delish. I went home to read and hang out with the boys and Kibeom made us all a pot of the most concentrated ramen I have ever experienced (honestly, it was like just eating a ramen flavor packet plain). After this, things went downhill a bit, as the boys' tutors showed up starting at 7:30 (in addition to school 6 days a week and private academy 6 days a week, the boys have math and English tutors who apparently come every Thursday evening. The English tutor has terrible pronunciation and the funniest voice ever). Kiyeong had not studied as hard this week as his mom wanted and he got in big trouble. We also had to wait until 9:30 to have dinner...which ended up being cow foot soup. As I was reluctant to suck on giant cow feet, my dinner was mainly rice and the weak whitish broth of the soup (unlike most soups here, which have tons of different things floating around in them, cow foot soup is just cow feet, water, and a few scallions). In my opinion it was not a particularly satisfying or balanced meal, but my host mom sure was excited and proud of it. Throughout the meal she would repeatedly grab my leg and proclaim loudly, "Oh, mashida [delicious]" every couple of minutes (this isn't totally unusual, but it is reserved for special dishes she's made).

Today I had one ehh class of mixed 3, 4, 5 in the morning, two really great fifth grade classes, and a second grade class that made me want to throw myself out a window. My fifth grade classes both loved the game I had them play today, to the point where they were speaking English INDIVIDUALLY and in loud voices. They were raising their hands and clamoring for me to pick them instead of trying desperately not to make eye contact, and whispering inaudibly when forced to speak. They were all disappointed when the game was over, even though class had gone over by almost 5 minutes. Mmm...the rewarding part of teaching.

My second graders (Think American kindergarten and first graders) were another story. I had 2 second grade classes yesterday and they were both wonderful and easy, so I was not at all prepared for Class 2-3. In the Korean educational system, students start learning English in 3rd grade. We are at the beginning of the year's second semester, so my 3rd graders have all had 1/2 a year of English, but the 2nd graders haven't had any at all. This means that the primary teacher for each 2nd grade class has to help me communicate with them. When I showed up to classroom 2-3, there was no teacher in the room (this happens sometimes with my other classes, but with the older kids I can manage without the primary teacher). I managed to keep them in their seats for about 20 minutes and then chaos just sort of took over.

Now I'm sitting at my desk in the music room and realizing that I've made it through a whole week of school. I've taught some 500 Korean children...the fifth and sixth grade ones twice. Pretty crazy.

Next week I am going to start volunteering at a program that helps North Korean refugees get ready for life in South Korea. The program is in Cheonan, so it's going to be kind of expensive to get there and back every week, but I'm really excited about it and I think it will definitely be worth the effort. I'm also possibly going to start getting some free Korean tutoring...but it looks like that might interfere with bollybally time, so it might not be an option.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Today I played 3 hours (with a 10 minute break in the middle to stuff ourselves with delicious mandu) of the most intense and aggressive volleyball ever played by a bunch of elementary school teachers and administrators. They even had matching polyester uniforms and made some of the elementary school students act as ball boys and scorekeepers.

My arm is red and swollen from hitting the ball...and apparently we do this every Wednesday afternoon (the kids have a half day)...

Monday, September 04, 2006

taewoo apatu unit 702

Here are some pics I took today when I got back from school before the boys were home from piano lessons. The pics are all blurry and/or dark because I had to use photobooth and just awkwardly carry my comp around the house (there's no flash or settings of any kind), so sorry about that. This first pic is the kitchen. It boasts the only American-height furniture (the little table with the chair...I've sat at it exactly once). As you can see, it's pretty narrow. Just about everything in our apartment (apatu) is pretty narrow, or at least made narrow by bookshelves and the like. Behind the kitchen you can see the little laundry/storage narrow opening.

Above is "my" room and the apartment's other bedroom. Mine is the one without the bed. The picture almost gives the illusion of depth, but I assure you that the pink thing is exactly 2 blankets off the ground. To the right is a pic of the bathroom. That plant has been in the tub since my arrival two Thursdays ago. The picture doesn't show the toilet or the size of the bathroom...but if I stand against the bathtub I can just about touch the door. The pics below show the living room where we eat all our meals and hang out, as well as the little balcony thing behind it. The one on the right is (clearly) the living room. That little table is the one we eat at, although if we are going to eat something really big, my host mom brings out a slightly larger (but not any higher) table in order to fit everything. That little wooden mat-like thing is what we use instead of a couch or chairs.

The picture on the left is just a close up of the little narrow balcony you can see at the back of the living room. It is mainly taken up with random drying things--food and laundry. Right now one side has drying fish and chili peppers and the other has drying laundry.

teacher, eating!

That is how Kibeom tells me it is time for a meal. I watch my host mom set everything out and tell the boys in Korean to tell me to come eat. Then Kibeom comes in my room and Kiyeong sort of dances around behind him, while Kibeom says, very urgently, "Teacher, eating!" I obediently go out and sit at the table, even though dinner is never actually ready for another 15 minutes or so.

Sometimes at dinner we watch TV--usually our favorite Korean drama. The show is about a girl with a side ponytail and fierce bangs. She lives on a grape farm (vineyard? I'm pretty sure the grapes aren't for, grape farm? it sounds funny) and pouts a lot. Last night, however, we watched some show in which contestants had a karaoke face-off to see who had to bungee jump off a tall platform. Karaoke is so huge here...if you flip around the channels at least a third of the shows will involve it in some way.

Dinner here has settled into a fixed pattern of really good, really bad, really good, really bad. Last night the main attraction of our meal was "Korean pizza," which is actually a fried pancake-like thing with potato and flour. It also has green onions, hot peppers (of course), and sometimes squid--although ours had octopus left over from the night before instead. In the pancake setting, the octopus was not bad at had been chopped up into little pieces and was just salty and a bit rubbery. The pancake is dipped in some preem sauce and is delish. We also had some really tasty (and unimaginably salty) tofu soup and some of my favorite side dishes (soybean sprouts, mushrooms, green and white onion salad) in addition to the usual anchovies and fish skin (which my host mom mostly knows I don't really like).

The dinner before that was a different story. We sat down to a big, bubbling pot of what was basically spicy, spicy water and lots of shellfish. Not only do I not really like shellfish, but also it's really awkward to try and pick up the giant shells with chopsticks and place them neatly in your bowl (we had big scallop-like things in addition to the usual clammy kitties). To dip the stuff in, my host mom brought out soy sauce (yay) and wasabi (not yay). I don't like wasabi--not because it's spicy, because believe me I am getting used to spicy--but because it tastes like chemicals. My host mom gestured for me to mix my wasabi into my soy sauce and I said, "Oh no thank you, I don't like wasabi." She told me that it was easy and reached over to mix it herself, apparently assuming that I (in my left-handed and foreign chopstick ineptitude) simply didn't understand how to stir it. I interrupted her and said in Korean, "I don't like it," and pointed to the wasabi, to which she replied "but it is delicious," and vigorously stirred it in. Biting back a sigh, I sort of looked down and noticed a large bucket next to my foot. Inside the bucket were 3 cat-sized raw octopi floating in some water. After we had all eaten enough shellfish to satisfy my host mom, she plopped those suckers into the soup, whole. There is something disconcerting about a dime-sized suction cup attaching itself to your tongue as you frantically try and chew it without wincing.

The night before this we had an amazing dinner of sort of fried rice and vegetables. It didn't have any meat in it! Not even little pieces! The best part was definitely the kimchi. I really like kimchi under normal circumstances, but when that stuff is fried it becomes one of the most delicious foods imaginable.

Then the night before that we had this sick soup. I was eating it and thinking, "this has the exact taste and consistancy of mud," when random-family-friend-dad (mentioned in a few posts) said to me "teacher, this mud pishy." It also had huge clumps of sesame leaves, which I hate--they are sort of minty and furry and just kind of awful.

Before that we had some really good samgyupsal in a restaurant with really good dishes to put in the lettuce and rice cooked until crispy in the pan afterwards. The pattern continues basically, I'm nervous for tonight. I was just handed a big plate of disgusting crustacean-flavored chiplike to a good start.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

cara teacher

I have almost officially survived my first full day of school. Regular classes are done for the day and I'm just waiting until 3:30 when I teach a class of all the teachers. I should really be using this time to prepare, as that class is going to be difficult--all the teachers are at different English levels (although the range is really just very low to low intermediate) and they are also all older than I am...which makes it very awkward for me to be teaching them, especially in Korea where age hierarchy is so important. I'm not really sure what to do with them...and I really hope the principal and vice principal aren't going to be there.

Teaching the kids went pretty well. The classes already kind of have their own personalities, which I really like and can't wait to experience more of. All the kids are excited and attentive, although they hate having to talk/participate by themselves. I can get them to pronounce things correctly in a chorus by making them repeat sounds in funny ways (they think it's hilarious, which is really rewarding), but if I ask a student to say something by his/herself the pronunciation is really bad and barely a whisper. They got really into everything I had them do...even the stuff I thought would be boring. For some reason the teachers in the school all warned me repeatedly about class 3-2 (Kiyeong's class), telling me that all the students in that class are bad and stupid. I have no idea why, because this class was just as sweet and enthusiastic as the other classes and ALL the classes have basically no knowledge of English whatsoever.

My biggest problem with teaching is definitely going to be the primary teachers. Some of them start translating everything I say into Korean (even when they aren't totally sure what it is that I'm saying) and I really don't want them to do that. I know the kids can follow me without understanding every word--or even most of the words--and I don't want them to be able to just slack off and listen to the teacher's words. One teacher really wanted us to coteach, and she had the class repeat (incorrect things) in English after's going to be difficult to deal with that too. It would be really bad for me to correct the teacher in front of her class. I don't know how to deal with these problems...

Any time I'm not teaching a class, I'm here in the music classroom. The kids know that this is my "office," so there is always a big group of them asking me if I have a boyfriend (seriously), talking in Korean, hitting each other, and occasionally trying to ask me questions in a mixture of Korean and English (mostly the former). Right now there is a group of fifth grade boys playing with my cell phone and a bunch of fourth grade girls, all wearing pink, looking at my stuff and trying to talk to me about it. One of the special ed students, a girl with downs, is sitting in the corner. The students like watching me type English quickly...since English is hard for Koreans, they haven't realized that it's not hard for me. (In the same way, since Korean is easy for them, they can't understand that Korean isn't easy for me too...and can't understand that/why I don't understand them).


As I mentioned last week but never posted about, last Sunday I went to visit James' school, Hanil Boys High School, for their school festival. It was the first time I had seen another American since arriving in Gongju and it was great to hang out with him and get to speak English in person and talk and talk and talk about our experiences. His school is really an amazing place--the students and teachers speak English incredibly fluidly and well. It was a cute little school fair, with lots of little carnival games and food for sale (the best game was by far a full-sized version of that arcade game where you bop little moles on the head with a mallet as they poke their heads out of holes...with helmet-wearing students in a big wooden box instead of mechanical moles. The things they come up with). James really impressed his students by doing really well at a balloon-popping darts game. Since we couldn't read any of the Korean signs, the two of us mainly just wandered around for a while and then entered a random auditorium. On the stage was a Hanil boy dressed like a nun, sitting in front of some nicely painted scenery of a large barn, singing a Korean love ballad. It was some sort of play that revolved around a group of dancing, singing boys dressed as nuns, and a suited singing boy who played a bunch of tricks on some boys dressed in drag. Boys dressing in drag is very big here--it's on TV all the time, and was a big part of the Korean Key Club outing at Kangwon Dae Hakkyo.
After the play, we went to a Trigger, the Hanil high school rap group, performance. The group is pretty huge, but they split up into different groups to perform different songs. Some of them were really talented and some of them were just really funny. My two favorites were a giant guy in a pink shirt and pink baseball hat and a little guy with glasses and dueling plaids (shirt and vest) who took himself extremely seriously but didn't have a strong grasp of the whole rhythm thing. There was also one kid who did some amazing beat boxing. The group was verrrry popular with the Korean students. Here's a picture of James during one of their songs. Here's one of me in front of the whole group. You can see pinky--he's just about to the middle. The guy to the right of him is not dueling plaid...he's just the beat boxer one who also happened to be wearing a plaid vest.

Hanil is an all-boys boarding school, and for the festival, high school girls from Cheonan and Gongju are bussed it's by far one of the boys' biggest events of the year and they go all out. In addition to Trigger, there was also a big dance group and two rock bands. The dancers were amazing, and the rock bands were loud. It's really impressive that these boys have time for all this dance and music considering how many hours they spend studying. One of the biggest highlights of the day came after the boy rock bands. A group of girls, wearing little white and red school uniforms and covering their faces in true Korean style came out on the stage. The singer had on a little red headband. I leaned over to James and said, "wouldn't it be amazing if they were a punk rock group or something?" And they totally were. They actually a really good Korean high school girls' punk rock group.

The last performance of the day was (what else?) a lengthy drag show. The boys in the drag show talked in high voices, pranced around, danced provocatively with each other, and fake made out. The two boys wearing suits fake made out nearly to the point of really making out. I can't imagine anything like this ever happening in an American high school.

nice, relaxing day

This morning, the host family--even the dad!, the random little girl we sometimes hang out with (pictured in an earlier post), two other random children, and I went hiking at an awesome Modern Art "Mountain" (it was really more of a large hill, but in Korea they rate it a mountain). There were large modern art installations all along the paths up the mountain, with little plaques in Korean and in Engrishy describing each artists "emotings" about his/her piece. Some family favorites were a large boxlike structure made out of rough-hewn logs with rusted horns sticking out in random places, a long narrow house-like thing made out of yarn, and a giant wicker either-egg-or-avocado. There was a platform at the very top of the "mountain" that looked out over all of Gongju. It's really a pretty little city: split in half by a little river (kum gang or silk river) and surrounded by light and dark green fields of crops (mainly rice) and tree-covered "mountains." I live to the south of the river, while most of the city is on the north side, so it was really easy to spot our apartment, my school, the track that I ran on once, and the library that we sometimes go to for 10 hours at a time. For most of the hike, especially on the way down, Kiyeong and the random little girl both insisted on holding my hand. This meant both that I had to explore every single modern art sculpture verrrry thoroughly and that I had a difficult time getting down the mountain. The mountain paths themselves were (amazingly, for Asia) not paved, and both kids had a lot of trouble staying on their feet on the dusty steep parts, so they dragged and slid me down the whole thing.
At almost every modern art sculpture, the family wanted to take a picture of me, just me, in front of it. Then we would take one of me, Kiyeong, and Kibeom, one of me and all the kids, one of me and the parents, and one of everyone together. This made the hike take quite a while without any of us actually having to get any exercise. Another time-consumer was the fact that for some reason or another, finding an acorn in Korea is a wicked exciting event. Anytime someone spotted one, they would hold it up and shout, "totori!" (presumably Korean for 'acorn') and then everyone would come over and exclaim over it. The things didn't seem particularly rare, so I have absolutely no idea why they are so interesting. Even better than the acorns was our lone squirrel sighting. We were all checking out a roughly 2 square foot opening in som rocks labeled on the map as "The Bear Cave," when I saw a little black squirrel running across a rock and pointed it out to the random little girl. She immediately pointed at it and screamed [Korean word meaning squirrel] and everyone went crazy. The boys all lept up on a rock and pointed at it and yelled at the dad to take a picture of it, even though by that point the poor terrified thing was just a little black dot running away up the mountain. Other Korean families came scrambling up to see it, and my host mom grabbed my arm, laughed, and excitedly said, "sonsaengnim, squirrel" many, many times. Very strange. I wish they could come see our back yard, although maybe it would be too many squirrels and acorns to handle.
After the hike, we all had some preem pomegranate popsicles and then went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. In Korea, Chinese food means some combination of four items: jiazhang mian (noodles in a thick, dark sauce with onions and a few other veggies), noodle soup with seafood, fried dumplings, and/or sweet-and-sour pork. It's all pretty good, although I don't really like sweet-and-sour pork (mainly on account of the pork, but also because that sweet-and-sour goop is kind of sick) and today's was definitely a bit underdone. Kiyeong and the random little girl both insisted on sitting next to me, so that made me happy. We played rock paper scissors about a billion times.
After lunch we went to a weird model home thing and looked at models of really nice apartments...with furniture...and real showers...and multiple beds. One even had an oven in the giant kitchen area. We had to take our shoes off at the door and carry them around in little tote bags. There was a raffle and free carnival-like food, all of which the boys raced to bring me--making me feel kind of sick. We hung out there for a while and then went home, where I helped Kiyeong study English for a while and then the two of us split an ice cream (coffee-flavored of course) and read (me: Persuasion--thanks Jenny!--and him: comic book) together on my "bed" for an hour or so. All in all, good day so far...although I have still have to do all my lesson plan stuff for tomorrow.