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.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

awesome adjectives

Last week, the principal and vice principal decided, now that I have just over 2 months of teaching left, that my room was bare and they ordered my coteacher to make it pretty. First, she made a little placard like all the other teachers have, with my picture and some information on it (such as that I'm an English teacher and my "motto"). I felt kind of left out 9 months ago when I first got here and all the other teachers had them...but honestly, at the end of April? I'm leaving July 1st! Then today she put up some lovely posters--Awesome Adjectives, Frequently Misspelled Words, The Writing Process, and 10 Great Reasons to Write. Since maybe 12 out of my 500 students can write a complete sentence, I doubt any of them need to worry about prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, or outlined by the Writing Process poster. Their vocabularies would definitely benefit from some new adjectives--the only ones most students use voluntarily are beautiful, crazy, and fat--but dubious, wistful, colossal, inquisitive, and the other words from the Awesome Adjectives poster seem a tad on the unrealistic side. As I don't actually teach any classes in the room, however, I guess it doesn't really matter.

I'm at school right now, and the reason I'm posting rather than lesson planning is the exuberant and rambunctious (to use two adjectives from my new poster) antics of three very distracting 6th grade girls. One of them, Lee Cho Rong, is wearing an amazing shirt that I will now transcribe (all spelling errors in the original):

A quick-safe positive
Treatment for Gleet
Dischages and Irritations relieved in
Irritations relieved in intiammetery conditions
5 + 3 sunny yesterday. hi
up ^ Grade
Warranted absolutely free from all
our bona find money back gurantee
For nervous prostration
Lost vitality or any impairment of the nerve force price 95
druggist everywhere
Sunny fantastic weekend

Pharmacological instruction-like language is actually very common t-shirt subject matter. I wonder how on earth that came about.

teaching hatred

After recovering from lunch, a group of us went to Cheonan's historical site, Independence Hall. It's a really beautiful place to visit, with outdoor sculptures and monuments and a network of museum buildings (if somewhat difficult to navigate). Detracting slightly from these positives is the disturbing display out front. Mock torture rooms with nail studded boxes (see pictures), fingernail-pulling devices, racks, water torture, confinement containers, lashes, restraints, and much more feature colorful depictions and lifesized models of people tortured and bleeding by evil and animalistic Japanese guards. Children played gleefully in/with the different installations...some receiving lectures from their parents on Japanese evil and aggression. I'm all for learning...but hasn't the "appropriate" line been crossed when we turn torture into fun?
boys happily playing at torture

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

girl power?

Just in case single people don't have enough reminders that our lives are empty and worthless (moony couples everywhere in matching outfits, constant nagging about marriage and boyfriends, couple sets in restaurants and coffee shops, Pepero Day, Christmas, Valentine's Day, White Day, Rose Day, Yellow Day, Kiss Day...the list goes on), Koreans came up with Black Day to really hammer the point home. On April 14th, all of us poor, sad sack single people are supposed to go eat 짜장면 (black bean noodles) and think about how we are single and unloved and our lives have no meaning. That's the whole holiday...just single people eating noodles and feeling miserable. And it's no joke either...when I asked Kibbeum what she was doing that weekend, she looked at me sadly and said, "It is Black Day. I have no boyfriend. I will eat 짜장면 and cry."

On the fateful day, I found myself in Cheonan with a group of single ETA females (well, except for Laura, but we made her pretend). We decided that as cultural ambassadors, we had an obligation to experience Black Day in the proper Korean manner...and ate our black bean noodles and felt extremely depressed (see pictures). During our lunch, the restaurant gradually filled with groups of people, mostly girls and young women (although they acted like normal people--no crying or carrying on).

When I got home the next day, my host mom checked to make sure I had eaten my 짜장면. "Good," she said in response to my nodding. "You should remember that you have no boyfriend. Then you will have more energy/power in finding a boyfriend."

This country is desperately in need of some Anu Sharma.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

cherry blossoms

Last weekend, my host family took me to the cherry blossom festival at my favorite Gyeryongsan. When they told me we were going to Gyeryongsan, I assumed that meant we'd be hiking, or at least going to one of the Buddhist temples...but actually, we milled around on a road packed full of food, games, and knickknack vendors in the midst of an incredibly huge crowd. Our feet didn't leave pavement the entire time we were there. Overhead though, the canopy of cherry blossoms was unbelievably looked a lot like the way I always imagined Lover's Lane in Anne of Green Gables, except with a lot more Korean people wandering around. We walked around in the crowd, played some carnival games, watched a skanky dance performance, and ate a ton of street food. I do not understand how my host mom can freak out when she thinks I might leave the house in my just-barely-above-the-knee baggy running shorts, when the sight of women gyrating on a stage while wearing bedazzled bra tops and shiny silver hot pants causes her to exclaim only, "They are so beautiful! and good at dancing!" We ate giant hunks of spit-roasted pig, strange, chewy corn on the cob, spicy skewered meat, roasted chestnuts, discs shot out of a strange machine (see picture), rice wine, corn dogs, and fish cake. Then, we went straight home to have lunch.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


One of my other projects for the new semester has been to obtain Korean friends my own age. As an elementary school teacher who hangs out a lot with her middle-aged host parents, my only friends and acquaintances are either little children or middle-aged adults. While they're all really, really great, I definitely felt the lack last semester of Korean people my own age to hang out with and learn about. Young Koreans don't even seem to exist on our side of the city, so I was pretty sure meeting them had no chance of happening organically. Even though it was a little weird, I decided I had no choice except to make flyers basically begging Korean people to make friends with me and hang them up around Gongju National University.

This turned out to be a genius plan.

Emails started pouring in almost immediately. Here is one from one of my favorite new Korean friends, Kibbeum:


I`m a student of Gongju University.
I read your paper.

My name is 최기쁨. And my major is Tourism. 21 years old now. Female.

Actually, I don`t have any experience teaching Korean.
But I could help you very well. Becasue! I`m Korean. :)
Well, I`m quite cheerful girl.
So you don`t have to worry about boring or something while study with me.

And ..... Even my major is Tourism, I`m thinking about my future. Other way from my major.
I want teaching Korean in other country. Teaching Korean, I could tell about Korea culture,,,
music... thinking... and so on. It would be very nice thing to tell about my country. It is so
worthful thing, I guess.

Anyway, If you want me to study with, please contact.
And! Even you don`t want, let`s be a pen-pal or key-pal friend. Using Korean or English.
Take care,
especially sandy dust which blew here from the China Desert. It is not very good for health.

From 기쁨

Kibbeum and another girl, Dahye, are probably my two best Korean friends so far. We hang out and talk about American and Korean fashion and boys and eat ice cream and hold hands and text each other constantly. I've never felt so girly in all my natural life. I've started making little Asian-style faces in my text messages ( ^^ for happy ㅠㅠ for sad) and wanting to buy clothing with ruffles and puffy sleeves. I often go over to Dahye's apartment before taekwondo to just chat and eat American food from Costco (well, I do...she's on a diet) while sitting on the floor of her room. While sometimes I have trouble figuring out what she and Kibbeum are trying to say, their English is worlds above that of anyone in my school or at my homestay, and it feels great to be able to have real conversations. They've also been helping me a bit with Korean--but we mostly stick to English since I can't really say anything interesting or abstract in Korean just yet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

karate kid

This semester, I finally joined James' taekwondo class (I wanted to start taking it when I first got to Gongju, but its being all the way across the city, my coteacher's resistance to the idea, and the fact that taekwondo uniforms are supposed to get washed every day--quite the task to thrust upon my host mom, who still won't let me do my own laundry--kept me at home in the evenings). I've been doing it for almost a month and a half, and in that time I've discovered that I am a terrible martial artist...possibly the worst 백마태권도 (White Horse Taekwondo--our gym) has ever seen. Part of my problem is that I've simply been thrown into a class with James (who's had 8 months of classes already) and a bunch of black belts and, without explanation or introduction of any kind, expected to somehow understand and keep up with everything that's going on. The master will say something, and everyone will get down on the floor in the push-up position (on their fists...a practice that makes me want to cry and/or cheat and leaves my knuckles constantly feeling sore) , or spin around and do a leaping kick, or clap 3 times, pivot, and shout "taekwon!" while I'm left standing in the middle, looking puzzled and stupid. A much bigger part of my problem, though, is that I just seem to be bad at everything. Often we'll be stretching, or kicking, or doing something acrobatic, and the master will give me a long look, tilt his head, sigh, and urge, "Cara, try!"

Overall, class is an exercise in complete humiliation much more than it is actual physical exercise...I spend so much time messing up, being confused, and having to sit out (when I'm especially incompetant they have me sit on the sidelines and watch those more capable flip and spin around) that aerobically, I don't get very much exercise at all (anaerobically, it's a totally different story...I'm using parts of my body that have never had to do anything before, and I can feel myself getting much stronger and more flexible). Luckily, for the most part, it's way funnier than it is mortifying. If there's one thing I've learned in Korea, it's definitely how to be comfortable in extremely embarrassing situations.

I end up getting a really good aerobic workout too, since the only affordable way for me to take a taekwondo class across town is to run the (about) 3 miles there and back every day. Since tkd is from 8-9, this is done in the dark, with my really annoying backpack of tkd clothes bouncing around on my back. It's a tad on the dangerous side, but it feels great to be getting lots of exercise again.

*Update: tonight during class, the master told me that my "power good" and gave me a vigorous thumbs up, so maybe there's hope for my career as a crimefighter and/or action-adventure star yet!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

hygiene of the mouth

When I first got back to Gongju Gyodong Elementary School, I asked my coteacher for a translation of the school's calendar so I could try and figure out when/if there would be changes to my weekly schedule. On Monday, a full 5 weeks later, I was handed a piece of paper with the following headings: Date, Day, Propulsion Contents, Propulsion People, A teacher in charge, and A remarks column. Yesterday, the Propulsion Contents claimed it was Arbor Day training, and the Propulsion People were named as "all the students of a school." It must have been all the students of another school, because nothing arboreal occurred...and when I asked my coteacher what was happening for Arbor Day training, she looked at me like I was crazy.

Today the Propulsion Contents stated: "Day of loving school (Serving Activity) The hygiene of the mouth (1-2)." These Propulsion Contents turned out to be the school nurse interrupted of one of my second grade classes, followed by a man in a white dentist coat, mask, and latex gloves. He carried a trash bag full of disposable mini-dentist mirror heads, and proceeded to examine the teeth of each student in the class. The school nurse told me I could leave, but I elected to stay and watch the kids get checked (it took the dentist guy less than 20 minutes to examine 40 kids). I could not believe the state of their teeth--I was standing a good ten feet away from the dentist man (I think he's an intern at Gongju National Hospital, but I'm not totally sure I understood correctly) , but I could clearly see the huge, gaping black cavities, which in many cases enveloped several entire teeth. Aside from two little girls, the entire class had either tons of decay, mouths full of silver, or both. It was pretty staggering. I don't know if it has more to do with dental hygiene in Korea or the fact that my school is low income or what. I do know that toothbrushing is very important here...every day after lunch we all troop in the bathroom to brush our teeth...why isn't that preventing all these cavities?

Monday, April 09, 2007


Right now, Kibeom is wearing a new shirt that says, "I try to have a different perspective of my environment and take beauty from carp." Poor carp...they don't really have much beauty to spare.

For part of my post TKD dinner last night (dinner #3), my host mom fried up a puck-like slab of meat. Expecting salty meatiness, I was somewhat shocked to bite into a piece and find that it tasted exactly like a Christmas cookie (and I mean exactly. I had to keep checking it to make sure it still looked like meat). To top off this flavor surprise, my host mom proceeded to smother the remaining pieces of meat in a thick latticework of ketchup and sweet, kiwi-flavored mayonnaise. She then salted it down and made a big pool of mustard for dipping. This is one of the Korean meals I picture whenever someone tells me how fatty and unhealthy American food is compared to Korean food.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

so this is how dancing bears feel

Last night, my host dad had some of his juniors over after their baseball game (he's in some sort of adult league. They wear Boston Red Sox hats but swore to me it stands for Blue Sky). I haaaate it when my host family spends time with people I don't know...because then I'm forced to sit with them and get talked about like an exotic pet (but never talked to at all). As usual, everyone was very curious about me (and I can't blame them--I'd certainly feel the same way) and asked a billion questions: What do you feed it? What does it do all the time? It's pretty! Do your sons like it? Does it speak Korean? How did you get it? Which foods does it eat? Do you have to give it pizza every day? It's not fat! Has it lost a lot of weight since coming to Korea? How did you get it? (I always feel like they're referring to me as "it" even though technically they're, well, not). My host mom, proprietorially patting and stroking me the whole time, told them all about my eating habits, my sleeping habits, my excessive bathing habits, my exercise routine, how the boys love me, how I was acquired, and a bunch of stuff I didn't understand but caused everyone to roll around on the floor with laughter.

Still, despite the boring/awkward/endlessness of that nonsense, it was interesting to see my host dad interacting with his juniors. The Korean 선배/후배 (seonbae/hubae, or senior/junior) relationship is an extremely important part of interactions here. The system gets a lot of criticism for cultivating vertical structures of inequality, rigid hierarchies, and nonequivalent exchange--hubae must treat their seonbae with loyalty, respect, and obedience, and must always speak to them in formal language and observe traditional courtesies. But here, in Korea, it's hard to see the relationship as negative. Despite the deferential language, my host dad and his hubae clearly have an extremely close, comfortable and warm relationship. And seonbae do a lot for their hubae--protect them, help them make connections and get jobs, spend lots of money on them, and bail them out of trouble. My host mom recently confided to me that she thinks of me as her hubae, and hearing that made me feel genuinely loved and protected and a welcome part of her family...definitely not marginalized, bottom-of-the-hierarchy type feelings.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

playing with fire

Although I was traveling during Lunar New Year, I was back with my host family for 대보름 (daeboreum). 대보름 occurs on the 15th day of the new lunar year--with the appearance of the year's first full moon (in China it's called the Lantern Festival)--and is way cooler than the regular Lunar New Year anyway. On Jeju Island, they light an entire mountain on fire. In the "countryside" of Gongju, we celebrate a bit more simply, with hand-held fireworks.
We drove to the main exercise area of Gongju...a serious of tracks and fields that run along the river. Most of the town seemed to be there, shooting off fireworks, playing a traditional Korean game I don't know the name of (it's played on what looks like a see-saw, but instead of see-sawing, the people on each end jump...sending each other higher and higher. It takes really good coordination and balance) and eating street food. We started off with the traditional Korean fireworks: a can with holes in it and a long wire handle. The can gets filled with sticks and brush, lit on fire, and then swung vigorously around, which stokes it into a pretty impressive fireball. Very exciting. Even more exciting was that no one, my host family included, seemed to have any qualms about letting extremely small children play with the fire--so there were tiny kids everywhere swinging cans of fire and burning themselves and anyone unlucky enough not to notice them in time. Kiyeong burned his hand pretty badly, and mildly burned me and my host dad, since he was a little afraid of his can, a little too small for it anyway, and way too excited to stop jumping around like a little human firework even though he was holding a can full of fire. Another source of excitement was the fact that fuel for the cans was a pretty scarce commodity, as most of Gongju was there and we were in a giant, open, treeless field. People scrounged on hands and knees in the darkness, and packs of children trailing flaming cans ran about, stealing sticks and weed from others. My host dad disappeared for a really long time, then came back with armfuls of wood. He was instantly mobbed by strangers. When we were finished playing with our fireworks, my host dad took each one in turn, spun it madly around, and then released it at the peak of its spin--sending it arcing over the crowd in a beautiful but deadly shower of sparks and flame. We then went to the main, crowded area to get some food and modern fireworks. Here, people desperate for can-fuel had built bonfires of used modern fireworks, and their burning plastic and metallic-paper wrappers created a thick, toxic, horrible smoke. My host family was, of course, undaunted, and the boys gleefully shot off fireworks while I struggled to breathe. We then bought greasy chunks of meat on sticks and returned home to pile en masse into the bathroom and try to wash the soot off each other. All in all, it was an evening Smokey the Bear would have been proud of.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

a few random things

Today my coteacher was dressed exactly like Minnie Mouse--black long-sleeved shirt, little red frock with white polka dots, black tights, giant hairbow. I could have sworn it was a Halloween costume, only it's April.

Somehow, within the last 48 hours, the city of Gongju has become overrun with yo-yos. Two nights ago, my host mom complained to me that she had to go buy the boys yo-yos and that they were a rip off at 2,000 won each (a little more than $2). Then yesterday, yo-yos were suddenly everywhere! Almost every boy at my school between the ages of 6-14 was playing them in the hallways, at lunch, and in my classes. On my way to taekwondo (I'll post about that soon), I passed dozens of boys playing with yo-yos in pairs and clusters on the sidewalk, and all my host bros do in the evenings is attempt to show me yo-yo tricks. Kiyeong is too short for his yo-yo, so most of his yoyo-ing consists of him snapping it into the ground. When he gets too fed up with that, he swarms up my doorway and yo-yos down at me from the corner of the ceiling. Before yesterday, I had never seen a yo-yo in Korea, and I have yet to see a girl play with one.

Back in the middle of March, to celebrate the arrival of spring, my host mom cooked up a giant cauldron of pig foot soup. Pig foot soup, in taste, appearance, and consistency, is absolutely indistinguishable from cow foot soup (unless you look into the cauldron and look at the trotters/hooves/bones to see which animal is involved). Until very recently, I was eating it 4 meals a day (with my other, 5th meal lunch in the cafeteria at school). Thankfully, in the past week we've moved on to other, delicious meals that involve nutrients and variety, but the pig foot soup cauldron is still partially full, lurking in the washing machine for whenever my host mom thinks we deserve a special meal. I have to admit, I've gotten so used to the stuff that other than worrying about vitamin deprivation, eating it doesn't bother me at all. As I've probably said in earlier posts, when it's fresh I even enjoy just tastes like hot, salty water with black pepper and scallions in it and makes a comforting sort of gruel when mixed with rice.

When I got back to my homestay from traveling, the flora in the bathroom had gone from the one sort of sad plant in the tub to a jungle absolutely bristling with giant, drooping leaves. It was sort of like being in Where the Wild Things Are--when Max's room is still definitely a room, but also definitely a jungle. When I sat on the toilet, leaves brushed against my knees and tickled the left side of my face, and while showering I could barely squeeze in among all the foliage (and couldn't help getting shampoo and body wash on the poor plants). I suppose my host mom dragged them in there to water them...but there is no explanation for leaving them there for almost 2 full weeks without sun(possibly longer since they were already there when I got back). Plus, lugging the things in their ridiculously huge, heavy ceramic pots was way harder than simply walking around the apartment and watering them would have been.

I have begun a campaign of resistance against my rock mat. For months before break I slept on it with no problems, and right when I came back it was fine...but lately I've had trouble falling asleep on it, and every morning my neck and shoulders are extremely sore. For the past couple of nights, I've eased it carefully off my yo and slept in blissful comfort, then folded it up and placed it under my folded comforter every morning (making it pretty clear I haven't slept on it). Each evening my host mom replaces it on my yo and gives me a lecture about how I have to use it in order to avoid getting sick. I tell her I'm not cold and then nod neutrally as she scolds. Then, once she's safely asleep, I slide the mat off again. My host parents both think I've lost my mind but it's worth the extra, better sleep.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

back in the game

I've been back at school for just over a month now--it's already going by unbelievably fast. Teaching feels a lot easier this time around, partly because I'm teaching fewer (but larger--they consolidated second and fifth grade into two classes instead of three) classes but also partly because I'm more comfortable teaching and the students are more comfortable with English. I've been moved from my old desk in the music room to an empty classroom on the fourth floor next to the 6th graders (see pictures).

I sort of hated the music room--the desks in there are high and kind of creepy, it was always freezing cold, and it was next to the special English zone, home of Emily (the strange, possibly crazy Philipino lady who teaches club English classes and guilted me into teaching many of them for her last semester. She accomplished this in part by giving me loads of useless, hideous gifts and in part by relentless nagging)--so I was happy to move into my new upstairs home. The fourth floor is the exclusive domain of the 6th graders--younger kids are scared to come up--so I get a lot fewer visitors during my free time (although it doesn't really feel that way...many of the 6th grade girls and a semi-obnoxious, semi-endearing group of 6th grade boys spend an awful lot of time in there with me). In the month + week I've been back at school, my new room has gone from empty except for the TV and a broken computer, to getting a desk, to getting tables and chairs, to losing the TV, to getting a working computer but no internet, to getting the TV back, to losing the tables and chairs, to losing the TV, and finally, to getting working internet. Since that was kind of unclear, currently (the picture is a week and a half old) my room is completely empty except for my 2 desks, 2 computers (the monitor is embedded in the desk, and the broken computer is still there beside the functional one), and teaching materials. It's a little bare, but it's bright and somewhat warmer than the rest of the school (since I'm apparently the only person who realizes closing the windows can help keep the heat in).

My room is not the only thing that's changed a lot. In Korea, public school elementary teachers can only stay at one school for 5 years, and in one city for 10 (these numbers are slightly different from the ones for middle and high school...I don't know if the system for elementary is different or if my coteacher got her numbers mixed up--she told me about it in English). Teachers and principals and vice principals jumble around a lot, and to start off this new year we lost 3 teachers and gained 4. Of the 4 new people, 2 are men, which is exciting for the school but super awkward for me, since they are both below average (for the school) English speakers and both seem really uncomfortable turning over their classes to a younger, female foreigner. Also, many classrooms have moved, and lots of the teachers are teaching different grades or subjects. Of course, in the beginning no one told me who was teaching what where (and the classroom signs have still yet to be updated), so finding my way around the first week was an adventure.

sensitive but unclassified

Here are some pictures from the month long internship I did in January before starting my travels. Above is most of the office at PA in Seoul. I had a really, really great time...I got to see and do exciting and challenging things and I loved getting to work with the people there.

While doing the internship, I lived on Yongsan military base with the three other January interns (from left to right in the above picture) Jenny A, Colleen, and Melissa. It was really weird--and fab--living in the middle of Seoul but also in an American suburb. Our house (above right) was one in a row of identical, American-style houses, connected by American lawns and American sidewalks. We had access to our own American movie theater, restaurants, bowling alley, mall, gyms, library, and best of all, grocery store. We had central heating, beds, fitted sheets, full-sized towels, furniture, real showers, a dishwasher, a dryer, and a full kitchen.

Needless to say, we spent almost the entire month on the base, and specifically (for me), in the kitchen. It was glorious having an oven and endless supplies of dairy products...and even more glorious to be able to control when and what I had to eat. Colleen had never done any cooking before (she cracked her first egg, with much ceremony, into some cookies I was making the first week), so in the evenings she became my cooking intern. The above pictures showcase her senior thesis project from our last week on the base--vegetarian lasagna--for which she was awarded High Honors.

I thought that essentially working in America for a month would keep me safe from the mainly Asian preoccupation with karaoke, but sadly, I was very, very wrong. These last two pictures are of karaoke--the left is Colleen and me on a night out with our coworkers and the right is me singing backup for Ambassador Vershbow (he's the only dude).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

kommt das baby auch?

The other (yes, there was just one other) time we left our bungalow/beach was to go snorkeling/fishing/beach visiting on a mini adventure tour. We woke up early, walked out the narrow dirt track to the road, and got in a hot, cramped little minivan, where we were provided with snorkels and flippers. We were joined by Sven (an expat living in Saigon) and his hot Vietnamese girlfriend, who were staying in the bungalow to the left of ours, and driven about 20 meters down the road, where we got out of our minivan and into a slightly larger, more-than-slightly-hotter minivan with an middle-aged French couple. This minivan turned off the main road and drove down a long, narrow path to a field, where it then turned around and came back up. Then it stopped, for a seemingly interminable length of time with no explanation, until finally, a very large and cheerful German family--with 2 young sons and a 9 month old baby--came walking out of some bungalows and piled in. We picked up another German family (bringing our minivan total of persons under the age of 7 to 4) and then proceeded to our brightly painted tour boat. I'm no ageist, but the idea of a snorkeling baby in isolated Vietnam made me a little worried. We went out to some really pretty, tiny islands and dropped anchor to do some fishing. The boat's fishing equipment consisted of plastic rings with fishing line wrapped around them and a hook tied to the end. Little chunks of squid flesh baited the hooks, and the fishing line was dropped/tossed over the side of the boat and then wound back around the plastic ring. Will and I opted out of the fishing and hung out peacefully by ourselves on the upper deck of the boat, watching real fishermen in their extremely low riding boats. The other passengers caught lots of little fish that one of the boat dudes started cooking up for lunch as we packed up the fishing gear and headed towards one of the little islands to snorkel.

I absolutely love snorkeling. There were lots of cool fish and coral--although for the most part they weren't the brilliant colors of the fish and coral in Mexico and nature videos--and we got to spend most of the day in the water. None of the other people on the tour could really swim--most of them used life jackets (which are completely silly for snorkeling) and barely put their faces in the water--which made Will feel somewhat violently toward them. I felt the same way about a group of Koreans who, when not uselessly floundering around on their backs (the life jackets seemed to be a bit tough to manage), spent their time stabbing the huge black sea urchins with a wooden spear, snapping off their long black spines, and then bragging about how expensive sea urchins are in Korea. In between snorkeling, we ate lunch on the boat (the fish caught earlier supplemented with some other dishes), which was tasty if not completely sanitary, and explored a secluded little beach. Will got ridiculously sunburned and suffered quite a bit...but other than feeling guilty about his misery, I had a pretty much perfect day.