Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Marry Christmas"

I wish I could be with my grandfather when he receives all of the letters that I had my Drama Club students write to him. In the past two years he's lost a daughter and a wife, so he's a bit lonely right about now. Hoping these might cheer him up. :-)
I had them write a letter on the inside with a little bit about themselves. Of course they all felt the need to tell him what they thought of his grandson... some of the most memorable quotes being:
"I like Mr. Fitz his legs are long."
"My friends like Mr. Fitz."
"Mr. Fitz is very handsome and he has a husky voice."
-or when talking about themselves-
"I like to eat pizza and chicken so I am a little fat."
"I have one brothers and one kangaroo."
"This is my address (insert address here) PLEASE SEND ME GIFT."

I'm super thankful to have students that were willing to humor me and help me put a smile on good ol' Papa's face. Yay Christmas.

Mushroom Bulgogi

Brian and I met our two Korean friends at Hanam University last Sunday for our weekly grub and language exchange. Though it had actually been about three weeks since we had seen them last, so I feel like a liar saying they're weekly; anyways. As always, the company was fantastic and the food nearly rival.

I had eaten bulgogi before, but never mushroom bulgogi. Mushrooms are perhaps one of my favorite foods and there's not much to say about beef other than, mashifrickensoyo. Combine the two and you get a delectable amalgam of culinaryness. They brought out a giant tray of beef and mushrooms which we immediately started cooking in the center of the table- we emptied this pan three times and refilled it with roughly the same amount of food every time. Koreans know how to eat.

After the bulgogi we walked to a little cafe with a swell interior and indulged in some most excellent brews, tea and coffee. I would type to you some of the Korean I learned, but I don't have a hangeul enabled keyboard- I'm thinking I'll purchase a wireless one soon so I can be lazy and type from my bed. Well it was a great meet, I saw them again on Friday of last week, sans Brian as he was not feeling well. I tried to teach them some tongue twisters-- more on that later.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Small Things

Seriously appreciate a self-heating toilet seat.
High-five South Korea, high-five.

La Moustache!

During Epik orientation we were told by a presenter that Koreans pay attention to appearance, a lot of attention. So much attention that if you change your hair style, for example, they will question your mental health- didn't quite make sense to me either, but that's exactly what we were told. Due to this information I had been putting off shaving my beard even though mustaches kind of annoy me. I generally change my face once every other month or so... I like change.

I shaved last night! Went from a beard to a goatee with burns- a classic me look. I expected to go into school today and have everyone comment on my newly shorn face; it was not so. In fact, I went the entire day with only one person making a comment about it- the crossing guard outside the school. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie "La Moustache" but I certainly felt like yelling "LA MOUSTACHE!!! LAAAA MOUSTAAACCCCHHHE!" On more than one occasion today. Oh well.
Facial hair for me, and maybe all men and some women, is significant in that it becomes part of my identity. When I sport a full beard I look and feel older which juxtaposes my clean-shaven self when I look like a teenager and feel younger than I actually am. Since being in Korea the beard as added yet more depth by making me feel and appear obviously foreign. It is very rare to see a Korean man with any sort of facial hair; I'm told that being hairy is a signifier of lust here. In fact, there have even been stories of teachers being asked to shave by their schools due to these superstitious complaints. Koreans have on more than one occasion told me that I look like Jesus Christ, the comment is always set-up first by asking if I'm religious/Christian, the answer being "No" never stops the comparative follow up. I'd like to tell them that Jesus was probably not a white skinned, freckly, blue-eyed, Euro-mutt... with a pinch of Native American... but I would make less friends if I did that. Needless to say, now that I've shaved I'll be curious to see how new Koreans interact with me when we meet, looking like Jesus was a good way to break the ice.

P.S. I need winter vacation ideas.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Monday 11/22
A normal day of work followed by delicious grub with my coteachers and Brian. It was called 삼계탕 or "samgyetang". It's a Korean soup served in a warm stone bowl with a whole chicken in it. It was probably one of the most delicious soups I've had since being in Korean, but to be honest that's not a hard title to win... the school soups are generally atrocious.

Tuesday 11/23
Went to a movie with a coteacher and some of the fourth grade teachers and the music teacher. I had a good time hanging out, but the movie was relatively bad. Also, it didn't help that it was a Spanish movie with Korean subtitles. That being said, I don't feel as though I missed any amazing dialogue. This review makes the movie sound fantastic- please do not let it fool you. I felt like the director or artistic director took a semester long course in the "Artistry of Film" and made a checklist out of the notes he took. After the course finished he decided to make a movie about Bach and ticked his checkboxes one-by-one as the movie was filmed; "long flowing shots followed by a 20 second freezeframe... check. Self-playing piano... check. Dancing horse... check. Naked woman taking a shower... check. And last but not least [and the only saving grace] truck driver sitting in the passenger seat playing Bach on the harmonica... check." You no longer need to see the movie, instead- put in a Bach CD, close your eyes, and picture the afore mentioned.
Anyways... the theater was awesome- though unheated- there are pictures floating around somewhere on my coteacher's camera. I'll acquire them.

Wednesday 11/24
The fourth grade teachers, whom I love and adore, decided to cook kimchi pancakes in the teacher's room during the afternoon. I was there and willing to help, though took a supervisory role as I realized I didn't know how to help... that means I sat back and watched. We invited a bunch of other teachers to come and eat and drink with us; it was great! Afterwards some of us decided to go bowling! Seven of us loaded up in two cars and proceeded to go across town to a bowling alley. We rented two lanes and played one game just for fun- what I didn't know was that the first game was played to determine team makeup. Teams were split so that the team of three had the 1st, 4th, and 5th best and the team of four had the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scorers. Having scored 3rd, I was on the team of four. As a preface... noone in the initial game scored over 110, with the lowest score being around 30 (her first time bowling, ever, seriously).
The 1st place player, a 4th grade teacher by the name of Park, opened up with a strike... followed by four consecutives strikes during his next turns. It was unbelievable! By the 5th frame he had already beaten his top score of the last game, and I was sitting at a lowly 30. I felt the pressure and I knew I had to impress my Korean entourage so I channeled by bowling chi and scored three strikes in a row! Little did I know this would be the only turkey I would see this Thanksgiving season. Needless to say, our team of four just barely managed to win. Park scored a 204!!! Next was Sonny with a 133, me with a 132, and the numbers just get lower from there.
Afterwards we all went out for takalbi which was DELICIOUS. I love that stuff.
Three teachers left, including my coteacher, so there was just four of us. When my coteacher left she said "go with them" and she was smiling about it, I'm fairly certain it was because she knew what lay in store for me. Turns out that we were going to eat a second round (Koreans can seriously put it down). I don't know how to say this... but I ate korean barbecued pig intestine- not the normal looking kind that just looks like a long sausage, but little bits of it. I can't even find a picture online to show you. I'll have to make that a mission.
This was a fantastic day! I finally got to hang out with teachers outside of the school environment and we had a blast! Apparently they felt sad that it didn't happen sooner and they are pretty eager to make it happen again, next time we'll be going for 삼겹살!

Thursday 11/25

Friday 11/26

Saturday 11/27

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A lot has happened in the past several weeks and perhaps I'll mention most of it here.
I went hiking two weekends ago! It was so much fun although incredibly tiring. Korean mountains just go straight up, there are no switchbacks like you see on US trails- they opt for ropes tied to tree as extra balance for the really steep parts rather than zig-zag trails. One of my co-teachers took a few pictures; I plan on stealing them from her at some point.

Brian and I have established contact with two Korean English Teachers that we met whilst Noraebanging with friends on Halloween. We met them for dinner the day after the norae experience- I was so hung over I couldn't even touch the food (first somaek experience)... not the best first impression. Luckily, they stuck around and we're now meeting them once a week for language exchange. Learning Korean is super fun!

Today, 11/11, was Paepaero day. Look it up.

I'll add more later, I'm super tired... experiencing my first cold in Korea ("that's too bad") and I also kind of lost my voice... which made teaching English a difficult task today. Luckily my goal for most classes is to get the students to speak WAY more than I do, so it could have been worse had I failed goal.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Palace Tour and Secret Garden In Seoul

On Sunday I had the most excellent opportunity to take a tour of Changdeokgung Palace and it's recently opened to the public, "secret garden". I went with a friend's Korean coteachers who were more than happy to have me tag along, I have a feeling their new cyworld profile pictures will involve me... they love to pose! And always making the peace sign, which by the way, also means "me too" or so says my main coteacher. Some students were doing it in class after I asked a question and I was quite confused. Anyways.

Palace front gate. (These were taken on my cellphone, I've yet to get a real camera...)

We ran to the tour start destination after we entered because we were running a little late. The tour was only for the back garden, which was more like a 78 acre forest with ponds, traditional houses, temples, and trees- no well manicured floral displays or anything like that. However, it was in the middle of Seoul and once you entered the garden, all you could hear were the birds, the scraping of leaves, and the tour guide's amplifier. I didn't take a lot of pictures because one of the teachers was nominated official photographer, hopefully I'll be getting emailed some photos!

This was part of the servant quarters- it was gender separated by this wall. Many of the buildings I had seen up to this point had been painted bright colors, reds, oranges, and greens. It turns out that only temples and palaces were painted bright colors in Korea, so a pleb's house or quarters would look like above picture and not like this.

This building was called "Lotus Shrine" or something of that nature because it's very pointy roof was designed in the shape of a lotus flower.

An ancient library! The first floor was reserved for the books and the second floor was the reading and study area. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to go into any of these buildings- I would have LOVED to go into this one! I'm sure it's just an empty nest though.

The garden tour took a total of two hours and cost about 5000 won, totally worth it. I love being in a country that has more than 300 years of history, fascinating!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There's a lot about working in a Korean school that's different from the US school sytem; much of it positive, though of course there are negatives as well.
This could be taken as either a positive or negative depending on your perspective and whether or not you participate.

If you work at an elementary school in South Korea, you will most likely be asked to play volleyball with the other teachers- at least that's what I've heard and it's certainly true in my situation. At my school we play volleyball every Wednesday from about 2:30-4:30+ (whenever the last game finishes). I didn't play the first couple of weeks because I was a little intimidated, I was told it was super competitive and the last time I had played was probably gym class in High School, over seven years ago, not too confident in my skills.

I finally worked up the nerve to join them one day, I waited until about 4 before I went outside that way I would only be in for about one game. Within the first few minutes of play I had made an amazing save, which was bad news because they all thought I was really good- so for the next twenty minutes the male teachers kept trying to set me up for spikes or other cool plays which I failed not so elegantly time and time again... I don't regret playing at all though! The feeling of comraderie I had after the game was incredible and they all gave me the double high fives that they love to do here. I felt really good, like I had finally crossed the volley valley and was part of the team.

As I continue to play every wednesday the comraderie I felt after the initial day has grown tremendously. By not playing I was really feeling left out, but because I wanted to play and actually enjoy it it's become a really positive experience for me. And I'm told by my coteacher that they all really enjoy having me play with them, so it's not just a positive experience for me but for them as well. I think it's important that we try to connect with our korean teachers here, NOT JUST our coteachers- but all of them. Some of my teachers can hardly speak a lick of English but by playing volleyball with them I've entered into a dialogue of friendship that doesn't really require words.

If you don't want to play or can't play volleyball or whatever other sport your school likes to play- try to find something to connect with your Korean coworkers about. It will really improve your experience teaching here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just Another Burger Monday

House Grill now has a facebook- also, check out the owner's blog to see his art.

Brian and I have decided to start a ritual; what ritual? You might ask. Well, we found a nice burger joint near the Yongmun Lotte that has decent prices and delicious grub; so we've decided to baptize Monday as "Burger Monday". Really though, I don't expect we'll go there every Monday as I'm pretty sure I'd get sick of burgers pretty fast... but it's nice to have the suggestion of routine.

Let me tell you about House Grill, the burger place. It's a hole in the wall joint with a swell interior where your chef, waiter, host, and owner are all the same person- and yes he speaks English relatively well. On the menu you'll notice the slogan "burger + art" in which the burgers are self-explanatory but the art might take a minute. Hanging on the walls are illustrations of characters that may have either come out of a Tim Burton movie or a Maurice Sendak children's book; though they come from neither! They are a creation of the owner and are all for sale for rather reasonable prices.
Pretty much... he's a cool Korean guy that studied art in the US for a while, where he also developed some reasonable language skills. He decided to come back to Korea, open a burger joint and use it as a medium of art distribution. Oh, and his chili fries are damn good.

If you're near the Yongmun Lotte in Daejeon be sure to keep an eye out for House Grill! Fantastic!

View House Grill in a larger map

Friday, October 15, 2010

Avez-vous une cigarette?

I imagine that there are many South Koreans who have or will have lung cancer.

One of the teacher's rooms in my main school is the official smoking room and also the male teacher's lounge. Being a non-smoker and a male I was slightly worried that I'd be forced to asphyxiate if I wanted to socialize in a teacher's lounge. Luckily I was invited to the 요자 lounge- women's lounge. Yeah, the kids giggle everytime they see me walk in there and one 5th grade boy even tried to grab my arm and pull me out whilst yelling "Yohja Aniyo YOHJA ANIYO," terrified that I might get cooties, no doubt. But it's not a big deal and other male teacher's will venture there on occasion as well. Anyways, this is supposed to be more of a ponderage about the smoking habits of South Koreans than a conflict of gender disaggregation.

Recently, maybe in the pat 20-25 years, smoking has really become 'uncool' in the US. Laws have been passed prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars, pubs, bowling alleys, and pretty much anywhere that your smoking may offend someone. And current Hollywood has done a pretty decent job in not propegating smoking as a cool thing to do- unlike the Hollywood of past eras. Also, cigarettes are taxed heavily in the US, costing almost $8.00 a pack which is obviously a heavy deterrent. Perhaps these are some reasons as to why I notice the smoking in Korea so much- I had pretty much been removed from it in the US and now, I see people smoking everywhere- even inside! Guffaw!

Some questions:

How much does it cost here?

It isn't nearly as expensive as it is in the US- maybe $2-$3 a pack.

It seems to be mainly a male thing- why?

Does the media have anything to do with it?

Can they smoke anywhere?

Unless otherwise stated, and even then you'll smell it on the walls.

How many South Koreans die of lung cancer a year?

Etc... etc...
To answer some questions.

Smoking- not for me, you can do what you want to your body... but I will like you less for it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yeouida Park, German Sheperds, and Explosions

I visited Seoul again last weekend with the intention of meeting a friend. Things don't always go according to plan though, or maybe the fact that I don't really make plans can oft cause things to not go according to them- which isn't always detrimental. I won't delve into the cacophonous mishaps too greatly, simply put- I arrived in Seoul at 3:15 PM and I didn't end up meeting my friend until Midnight in Bucheon. The main reason for the delayed has much to do with my cell phone malfunctions- I couldn't recieve or make calls and many of my texts weren't 'uploading'. And when I did get texts they would arrive late, about an hour.
Destination Yeouido Park (여의도 공원)
Not entirely sure where the park was, and unable to find it on my subway map because I was looking for "Yoido" (요이도) which doesn't exist on the map- smallest miscommunications can make a huge difference- I asked a taxi driver outside of Seoul Station. The first one had no idea what I was talking about and the second did his best, which was pretty good. Yeouido is a district in Seoul and a pretty neat one at that. It's a rather large island on the Han River with some wonderful recreational areas and other Seoulesque attractions. As we were driving across the bridge to Yeouido we passed one of the river parks which was where I'm pretty sure I wanted to go, but the traffic was so bad that my driver opted to take me another route. He drove into the city more and eventually dropped me off at a part of the park, about a mile away from the river. I paid my 8000 won bill and began exploring. I made a new friend almost immediately:
His name is King Sejong and he was kind enough to let me take a picture of him.
He doesn't really have the greatest view in the park though.
I wandered around the park for a while, because it was beautiful, until I got a text letting me know that my friend had arrived down at the river portion of the park.
Destination Han River Park
This is the part where I never ended up meeting my friend due to technomishaps and a coin flip. The park was astir with thousands of people- playing in fountains, biking, blading, chilling in tents, or just meandering- much like I was. My attention was officially caught when I heard snare drums in a drumline style. I followed the sound until I saw what might be one of the coolest things ever... flying drummers.
I watched these guys for a while until I received a text from my friend informing me that she was somewhere close to a green bridge and a boat that had a KFC and other delcious things on board. I walked to land's edge and looked east and saw no green bridge or KFC boat, looking west I saw a bridge that was pretty far away and what looked like a white boat on the water with white buildings on the land. The flip of a coin decided that I would go west towards the green bridge.

Destination Green Bridge & KFC

After about five minutes of walking I looked at my phone, there was an error message on my screen. It informed me that I should call the service center; I had five bars but I couldn't use my phone for communication purposes, oh well. I decided to keep walking towards the bridge and hope that it was the right choice. I was walking on a dirt path along the shore, which turned out to be a mistake, because Yeouido- being an island- has a definite end to it. I walked by a lot of old korean men with their fishing rods secured to the ground and lures bobbing in the river 50 feet away. Each man; with Soju, Cass, and cigarettes to keep them company, had at least four rods set up just waiting for the first sign of a fish to catch on it. I ended up walking to the end of the island on the west side, the green bridge was still about half a mile away and there was no way across the river in site, so continued walking around the island now on the South Side heading East.
There were some signs written in Korean in a red font, as I read them I imagined what they could say- my best guess was "No trespassing." I walked up a small slope and I looked down into a construction site and boat dock and also, a way off the island and to the green bridge. I was seperated from route by about 200 yards of concrete, a small bridge, and a fence. I was about to make the walk when I noticed the guards, and the dogs. There were only a couple of them, but they were some of the biggest German Shepherds I had ever seen. Luckily they hadn't seen or smelled me, so I jumped down an embankment and enjoyed the gap-toothed stares of startled fishermen.
I walked parallel the construction site until I found a safer way around the fence. Eventually I got within sight of the green bridge and I came upon the white KFC looking boat; as I got closer I noticed more and more people- maybe I was headed in the right direction! As I got closer it became more apparent that the white boat was in fact not KFC, and the white tents on land were little shelters with tables under them for the customers of the Seven Eleven... and that this was not in fact where my friend was, at all.

Destination Back to Han River Park
When I finally got back to the park I was walking towards the bathroom when I hard snare drums start up. By this time it was dark and I couldn't see where the sound was coming from when suddenly around a corner comes a row of drummers dressed in colonial era european soldier's uniforms, with faces painted white like french clowns, or maybe ghosts? By the time I got my phone out to take a picture, which was still not functioning like a real phone, a spotlight had turned on to illuminate our snareful conspirators.

I apologize for the bad photos... my next big purchase is going to be a decent digital SLR camera. For now all I have is my cellphone.
Anyways, these guys were drumming and walking through the crowds of people. Occassionally they would stop walking, drum for a minute, and then charge forward forcing everyone in front of them back- it. was. awesome. While they were drumming there were also about five groups of traditional korean drummers walking around. Six sets of percussion in total all marching more or less to the same beat. Eventually the snares dissapeared and then out of nowhere...
They flew in on their harnesses and drummed over our heads, circling the audience, making faces at us and one of them even threw her clothes down as she started doing air ballet in a circus style swing. After about ten minutes of pure enjoyment there was a brilliant light followed by a loud bang. Everyone in the crowd turned around to enjoy the start of the longest fireworks display I have ever seen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Red Riding Hood

I've been in South Korea for over a month now and there are some things that I'm getting accustomed to and certain things that are taking a bit more time. Lately I've felt like a more attractive version of The Big Bad Wolf dressed as Grandmother, except instead of Little Red remarking on my large eyes, nose, eyebrows, beard, face (yeah I heard that one too), or other appendages (keep it PG, I'm not that promiscuous)- it's every Korean that you talk to or meet for the first time.
I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong... in fact I'm very flattered by what they all have to say as I've always thought of myself as an interesting looking average joe sort of guy. But in the story The Wolf tries to kill and eat Little Red; maybe if Koreans were a more meaty people I might have similar thoughts, instead I always feel like I should compliment them back. Maybe it's just me, but I get a little uncomfortable and dare I say sheepish when complimented. A huge part of me feels like if I return the compliment then they'll think I'm hitting on them so I try to compliment something that I think of as neutral territory:
"Your earrings are really nice."
"Where I come from, small noses are pleasant."
"I like the embroidery around your jacket."
"You have really nice pants."

Although, the best solution I've found is to simply smile and say thanks- and change the subject.

The flip-side of being told you're handsome all the time is that when you get close to certain Koreans then they will let you know when you're not looking so great. However, I don't suggest replying to a criticism with a criticism, that is probably a faux pas here. Of course most Koreans will withhold their criticisms of foreigners- at least to their faces. Your principal might let your coteacher know that he thinks you're smelly and then leave it up to the coteacher to inform you that you should bathe more frequently. Appearance means a lot here, the cover is important even if you don't think it is, just be aware.
That being said, I haven't changed who I am or the way I dress, or even the fact that I sometimes wear the same undershirt two days in a row... shhhhhh. But I have found myself trimming my beard more often, and actually looking in the mirror before I leave for work- which rarely happened in the States. I think it's been occurring on a mostly subconscious level and has only now come to light.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Quest and Beer

What you should do if you want to take the KTX is reserve a ticket the night before, or maybe two days before- it's fairly easy, you can do it online on their website which has a pretty easily navigable English section. I wanted to make my quest more spontaneous so I planned on simply going to the station in the morning, whenever I woke up. (Planned spontaneity, is it really spontaneous?) From the station I would catch a train to Seoul and find my way to the Nakwon Arcade, a gargantuan music store complex- multi levels with about 30 stores on each level. The idea was to just wander around until I came upon a banjo- I watched the YouTube videos of this place until I saw a banjo in a shop window as evidence that they might actually have one. After the banjo purchase I would scurry back to the Seoul KTX and make my way home. In retrospect I should have considered wandering around Seoul before buying a banjo, it's exhausting carrying one of those around for too long... That was the plan. Everything went according to plan, in fact I think it was too easy! Sure it was an adventure, yeah I've never traveled alone before, but I was entirely too successful! I was hoping for more of a thrill I guess- really though, it was just banjo shopping.

I arrived at the KTX station at about 11am with murse on my shoulder filled with traveler's essentials; Seoul guide book (thanks Adrienne), iPod, korean pocket translator, pint sized notebook, and a four-colour pen. I also had an umbrella which might have been a mistake... it's a large umbrella and slightly unwieldy and no one else seemed to be carrying one, I guess the advantage of being a Korean in Korea is that you can understand the weather channel. It's sort of a rule here, for me at least, that if the sky has some dark clouds in it then you should bring your umbrella with you.
Buying the ticket was easy, too easy- I actually thought I had done something wrong, it was that easy. They have automated ticket dispensers, you simply go up to it and hit the giant button on the bottom that says "English" and follow the steps as stated. I ended up getting a train at leaving at noon, the first two were sold out- only an hour wait. I waited around until it was boarding time for my train and when it was called I went to the platform and loaded. I had an opposite direction facing window seat, which I thought would make me want to vom everywhere- it didn't. It was a pretty cool ride, 300 km/hr is quite fast! I don't think I've ever gone that fast on land before. The coolest part had to be when we crossed the Great Han River as we arrived into Seoul. It just made me happy, that's all. You can really find anything on Youtube.
The Seoul station subway was a mess; like when you drop too many raisins into your oatmeal. Again they had automated ticket machines which were slightly more confusing than the fancy KTX ones but still manageable. It turns out the st
op I needed was only two stops away! What luck! The subways are wider than they are in Daejeon, which totally makes sense because it's a little more dense, if you know what I mean.
So I got off at my stop and looked at the street map on the wall- the Nakwon Arcade was just a few blocks away, walk straight, take a right, walk straight, and you're there. The building was a little indiscreet, as in, if I wasn't looking for it then I may have just thought it was another concrete multi-level possibly habitable shell. The first store I stopped at was just outside the complex, nice guitars and violins. I said howdy to the shopkeeper and asked where I could find a banjo. He responded somewhat quickly, because apparently there's only one store in the entire place that sells banjos. I understood "second floor" and "to the right" so I walked up to the second floor and quickly turned left- let's take some time to wander. Insert youtube videos here of Nakwon Arcade, that's what I saw. Dozens of little music stores filled to overflowing with sweet accessories, and totally-gnar gear.
Eventually I stumble upon the afore mentioned "second floor to the right" store. The store window displays a plethora of guitars, two banjos, and a banjo guitar. One banjo was a rather shoddy instrument I hardly gave it a once over, but the second banjo was a Hohner... the harmonica company? Yeah, same people.

Here she is!

It was priced at 500,000 kwon, about 450 bucks or something. A pretty good deal considering it retails at $699.99 when it's not on sale. I played in the store for a while and I walked out about 20 minutes later with a new banjo in a beautiful hardshell case, two packs of strings, and some finger picks for 540,000- the case alone should have been another 100,000.
So yeah, it was a fantastic deal. I ended up going straight back to the KTX, caught a train immediately, and was back in my apartment by 5pm pickin' away. What a comfort it is to have a banjo! It's like a small part of me that I left in the USA just decided to show up and hang out and NEVER leave.

So later on Saturday night I met up with some friends, drank a little too much, and played Rockband. Fantastic way to spend a Saturday if you ask me. Check out the catalyst- and the beer cooler.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

New Banjo!!!

Went to Seoul to buy a new banjo- check it outski!
Haven't played in a while... This is the song I use when I want to show off.
More abut the sojourn later!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Leaf Pie

I just ate a "Premium Pastry Pie" called a Leaf Pie. It was more like pie crust molded into the shape of a leaf with some glazed crust, which I will say was apple flavored. I'm yet to determine whether or not it was delicious.

I'm at school right now, it's T-u-e-s-d-a-y, S-e-p-t-e-m-b-e-r the TWENTY-EIGHTH of what year? Two thousand and ten, 2010 (insert smiley into the last zero). I taught 3rd grade today, which I totally love. However, I planned for the wrong lesson today... whoopsies. I brought in material for lesson 11- It's Cold- which I unpacked from my bag and set-up in the classroom. My coteacher walked in and I was very quick to tell her how extra prepared I was by bringing in my winter clothes! To which she responded, "Why?".

Anyways, we quickly threw together the first part of Lesson 10- I Can Swim- which had absolutely nothing to do with 'It's Cold', though I still wore my winter hat through part of first period... And again thanks to my quick thinking coteacher we had some decent games to play with them, so it wasn't a total bust. Actually I thought the games were all fantastic, though slightly hectic because the 3rd graders were all so excited to play, rambunctious is a good word.

The Leaf Pie was pretty good, I've decided.

I've also decided that I am not a fan of idle time. I came upon this discovery last week during the holiday when I failed to use my days off to my advantage and sat idle through most of the days doing nothing. That being said I finished Season 1 of Breaking Bad, Season 2 of Fringe, a movie or two and I acquiesced Season 1 of True Blood. I had to look up how to spell rambunctious but I didn't have to look up acquiesced... there's something uncategorizable happening to the English portion of my brain. By the end of the week I was feeling slightly mired, as a result of my miring I've decided to be less moored during future idle plights. So I hope I can adhere to that and use mire time moore wisely in the future.

Being back at work is great though, I love what I'm doing which is a fantastic sign for the future; being that I plan on teaching for a great while- whether in South Korea or somewhere else, who knows.

Getting attacked by kids. More later.

The-more-later part:
I got my first paycheck last Friday! And they all rejoiced-- Yancy. Ha ha, I had typed "yayyy" there but Google Chrome suggested I check my spelling, I like their suggestion more. It turns out that I get an extra 100,000 Won for teaching at multiple schools which was a fantastic surprise! Of course the fact that they had to take out 500,000 as a safety deposit was less fantastic, though not a surprise.

Things I'd like to spend my money on:
1. Instrument- Banjo would be preferred but finding one may be challenging... perhaps a quest is in order.
2. Camera- A reasonably priced moderately decent digital SLR... a Rebel or Nikon D-series, maybe even a Sony?
3. Food- I gotsta eat.
4. Alcohol- Liquor... Korean beer reminds me of freshman year of college and good beer is quite expensive.
5. Not student loans- If I didn't have to, I wouldn't...

I'm certain there's more but I just got home and plan on vegging out for a minute or two. I've got an idea- let's end my posts with quotes that may or may not be relevant from now on.

"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who don't have it."
- George Bernard Shaw

Friday, September 24, 2010

I've got a warm desk

It's Friday the 24th of September, 10:21 AM. I'm sitting at school in the English classroom just kind of relaxing... I'll be here for another six hours- not teaching, oh no no. I'm desk warming.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term; it's akin to benchwarming except a desk is involved and there's no game that you wish you were part of. Unless you consider being outside of school "the game" then yeah, it's more similar to bench warming than I'd like to admit.
Anyways, it's a good time to catch up on things- write in my blog and whatnot... maybe make a few youtube videos? I took some videos on my way to and at school today, on my phone. Unfortunately the file type is one that my computer can't recognize, so I couldn't edit them at all, and I don't thinkn the sound is working, which is fortunate because it really just saves me the embarassment of my early morning rants becoming public. No, I do not like coffee- neither here nor in America...

There are four parts to my story, make up your own script... The school I'm showing you is my main school- Shinheung Elementary. Anyways, it's been two hours of deskwarming and I'm already bored.

What did I do for the three days off, you ask?
Well Brian and I have been going out during the night more- and loving the Daejeon night life. We've found a few quaint bars, one of our favorites being the Beer Warehouse, which is the definition of dive bar. It's underground down a narrow staircase, the door opens up to a dimly lit room with high tables and stools, no bar, and graffiti covers the walls. One wall has about 5 large beer coolers filled with delicious brewskis, we imbibed just a few. Sitting in the corner with eight empty Budweisers between them was a young korean couple who were obviously curious about us being down there, but were entirely too engrossed in an epic game of Jenga to pay attention for long. Aside from Brian and I and the couple the only other person down there was the cashier- who seemed to dissappear for extended periods of time and then reappear without being beckoned. We got great vibes from that place.

After the warehouse I went to play a board game with some friends a few stops away from Yongmun. It was my first time to their apt. and to Galma station so I was met at the station and led to the abode. Apartments for couples in Korea are more than twice the size of a single- which makes sense I guess, but it's bewildering to go from my dorm room size apartment to a regularly sized apartment with a living room and spare room!
So the game is Settlers of Catan and it's quickly becoming an addiction. I had played it only once in the states and it left a good impression then, but now that I'm playing it more... totally dig it. Even if my current record is 0-3... that will change, I will add my name to the list o' champions.

Well, I'ves succesfully spent about 22 minutes writing in my blog, that leaves me with a little more than 300 minutes before I can go home... Expect more from me before the day is over.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

K Pop!

Classes this week have been going really well. Ok, so mostly well. I had one activity totally bomb- I had a premonition that it would so I had kind of prepared a back up (go me!). Turns out that 3rd graders can't really handle the Kimbab English game (speed dating game)- but they could handle a rock paper scissors tournament style game using picture cards. Must say that my coteacher made this game WAY better than I had anticipated by adding the competitiveness and bragging rights- she deserves alllll the credit.
Students pop out ten cards from the back of their book, all with pictures on one side and a number on the back.
They hold up one card each and take turns saying, "How many (object on card) do you have?" Then they play rock, paper, scissors (they never learned to say 'shoot' here so they just throw it down on 'scissors'... threw me off for a while). The winner gets to say how many they have "I have seven (object)" and they stick their tongue out at the loser in a playful manner. The winner puts their card on the table, moving them down to nine cards, and the loser just moves their card to the back of the pile, so they remain at ten. The ultimate winner is declared when one student has no cards left in their hand!
The kids ate it up, they loved it!

I taught grade four students today. Probably the best classes I've taught so far... maybe ever? I don't really feel like explaining what I did right now- but it was brilliant. Again much credit goes to my fabulous coteacher. I think we're starting to get the swing of things and figure out how to "tag team teach" as the kids say these days.

Every day at my main school- oh, I work at two different elementary schools. Shinheung m-w & fri and Dongmyoung on thursdays- so every day at my main school, at about 1:50 pm a group of 5th grade girls invades my little office. They try to teach me Korean, and of course I play dumb and ask them what everything means in English. Today they navigated me to a K-Pop site on Naver... they put on a song and proceeded to sing and dance for me. Most adorable thing everrrr.

I never thought elementary would be this much fun, but it is! It's a good way to stay young, although it can be a crazy amount of work. The beautiful thing is, no homework to correct! You would have to be crazy to assign homework and correct it- I have about 22 classes, all with different students, about 30 in each at my main school. My other school is VERY small, 60 students total in a k-6 school. Anyways, 22 x 30 = 660 students every week. I know one kid's name and that's because everytime he sees me he quizes me on it.

Let's talk about my current favorite Korean food. Takalbi or dakgalbi... 다갈비. I typed that myself.
It comes out in a giant deep dish pan- a sizzling mass of chicken, cabbage, thick noodles, and cheese if you ask for it (지츠 = chee-suu = cheese). You cook it at your table for about 5 minutes, until all of the cheese melts and the chicken is fully cooked. By the way, a lot of Korean restaurants will have burners in the middle of the tables- so you actually cook your own food. It's great. When the food is done cooking you can make miniature wraps with lettuce or sesame leaves, add some garlic, chili paste, or kimchi to the mix and stuff the whole thing in your mouth. SO GOOD. It almost has an indian curry flavor, but it's still spicy and Korean. You gotta try it.
Seriously the best thing ever.

Tonight I have a dinner meeting with my main school. I've just been told that it entails a lot of alcohol; Koreans love their alcohol, and lots of food; they also love their food. It's my first meeting so I'm pretty excited about it. I'm just hoping I can sit with the teachers that can speak a little english. Koreans get anxiety when foreigners aren't talking, but many of them are too shy or not competent enough with their English to attempt conversation. The fact that I know my silence makes them uncomfortable can create some seriously bad conversation. I talk about totally mundane and ridiculous things because I feel like I HAVE to be talking.
Dear Korea,
Sometimes I would rather sit in silence than have terrible conversation... silence doesn't mean I'm unhappy.
Sincerely, Aaron---And Mike.

Anywho- things have been going well this week. Brian and I continue to create some magical quotes which I should add to the quote page... I just forget what's said before I can write it down.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Daejeon: Like being in a foreign film

So I'll never actually write in this thing unless I catch up immediately!
Arrived in Daejeon.
Visited school.
Did intro lessons.
Kids are great and loved it.
Went out with coteacher, brian, and Seth (coteachers BF)- yes, he's American.
Taught more.
Teachers at school afraid to talk to me in English- very shy and lacking in confidence.
I convinced one to make after lunch time the "English(ee) Time"- it worked!
I now talk to at least 4 Korean teachers a day in English convos. Yay!
Lots of squid in school lunch... getting used to finding tentacles in my rice.
Weekends are great! Still have not been to a noraebang... Soon?
Week 2- going great!
Now we're caught up.

The Orientation Nutshell

The rest of orientation was great...
Went to a sweet buddhist temple- Brian got stung by hornets 3 times, and I tamed dragonflies.
Went to Hanok village in Jeonju- a part of the city with hundreds of traditional korean houses. We made our own fans, ate bibimbap and wandered the streets. I met up with a group of people and together our fans formed all four seasons, I had been the missing one. Serendipitous.

There were many, many, many lectures. Some of them were great, better than some classes I had at school- I majored in education, and these 40 mins - 1.5 hour lectures were better... That being said, maybe I just got more out of them because of my education background. Yeah, let's say that.

We were randomly assigned lesson presentation groups. My group consisted of a South African girl named Andrea, she was quite awesome, and a Canadian guy named Benjamin, people referred to him as: the Ghoul, the Creep, the Guy with Crazy Eyes, the Guy with the Sadistic Smile, the Guy that Sweats-a-Lot, and the Autistic Kid. I believe all of the above were and are true... Needless to say, our presentation didn't totally bomb, and we even had to go first. Right after the presentation Benjamin decided to leave the program, for good. So he went home. I'm truly glad that no kids will be near him.

BAM! Orientation is over! Most of us have overcome our jet lag and have acclimated truly well to our South Korean lifestyle.

Enter bus trip to Daejeon- we took a bus to Daejeon where we met our main coteachers. Super exciting moment. They marched us in to the auditoreum and we were put on display for a few minutes in front of the teachers. We had nametags so our teachers quickly waved us down. I just happened to be standing near mine, convenient. Her name is Younglan- she is nearly fluent in English (yes!) and she is super amazing. I.e. I got lucky.

She brought me to my apartment, which is rather tiny, but suitable for my pint sized self. I ran into Brian in my apartment building, our coteachers had coordinated! We live right across the hall from each other, applause!

We went out with our coteachers to register for our ARCs- Alien Registration Cards. They forgot to mention that we should bring passport photos so we ended up taking photos at a booth in the immigration office... Worst Picture Ever. I'll eventually get it up here... maybe. Anyways, I had no idea what to do- I just put the coin in the machine, I expected a menu with options to come up- nothing. Then BLAMSNAP! My picture is taken.

After the immigration office Younglan had to jet, so we said our goodbyes and I went with Brian and his main coteacher. By the way, she introduced herself to me by saying "My name is Kimchi". I didn't believe her, but it's true- I asked Younglan about it in an e-mail later that day.

Kimchi took us to a giant department store called Homeplus. The place had escalators! For you AND your carts! Like, escarampalators- which is really what they should be called. And the carts can turn in any direction at any time. In the US our carts are like cars- back, forwards, and wide arcing turns. In Korea the carts can go back, forwards, left, right, diagonal- like they're sitting on spheres instead of wheels... but they ARE wheels. Also, the carts have little stoppers on the wheels so it wont just slide down the escarampalators and take out everyone in front of you. Amazing.

So we bought some stuff, then went home. We unpacked and set up our computers- our landlord had the entire building installed with internet and we just pay him every month. Some people have to wait for their ARCs before they can get internet which can take as long as three weeks!

I made my bed, and passed out. End.


Monday, August 30, 2010


Day 1- August 19
We woke up before 8am so we could shower before breakfast.
There's something you should know about bathrooms in South Korea- there are no shower stalls persay, what there is is a detachable shower spout stuck on the wall, generally right over the toilet or sink, with a drain or two on the floor underneath the sink. The bathroom is your shower stall. The toilet paper holder has a little metal cover that flops down onto it- which is really just for looks.... I put my toilet paper in a cabinet when I shower. Also, korean public restrooms will rarely have toilet paper and they sometimes look like this (a.k.a. squatty) or this (a.k.a. don't touch the buttons!).
Showers completed- without accident- we ventured down to the 3rd floor for our university quality korean dining. I won't describe all of the meals at orientation so I'll simply say this... the combinations were occassionally baffling such as; scrambled eggs, kimchi, and spaghetti for breakfast- they were also surprisingly good, bi bim bap, bulgogi, or spicy mystery meat in quanderous sauces. I tried many new things, figured out I don't like a lot of it, and even managed to find a few things I did like. Though seafood salad with biddy octopuses in it, I'll pass on that next time- it was like chewing on a spicy sunction-cupped tire.
Oh right, when we checked in the previous night we were given name tags with class numbers on them. There were eight classes in all, we had class six- all of class sixers were going to Daejeon to teach. I guess this was the first year that they decided to group the classes like this, it was incredibly convenient that we spent the entire orientation week with a group of people that would be in the same province as us.
Class 6 was given a campus tour at about 10am- it was so hot outside, about 95F with insane humidity, luckily Brian and I had foregone formality and were just adorned in shorts and t-shirts; others, assuming we were supposed to be more formal, were dressed in long pants and dress shirts. Casual was quite alright for now.
As for the tour... If you believe that brevity is the soul of wit, you would have loved this tour. Our Korean tour guides, perhaps not confident in their english, didn't really talk a lot.
Guide: This is the laundry room, ok.
Us: What?
Guide: Laundry, that one for guys this one for girls, let's go!

Guide: Peace Hall, you will have lectures here. Let's go!
Us: What did he say this was?
Those of us that could hear: Peace hall, for lectures?
It was less of a tour and more of a nice walk, I think Brian and I actually changed our shirts when we got back to the room because we had sweat so much.
At 3pm all of the Epikers, about 300 of us, went to an opening ceremony. We watched some fantastic performances- traditional korean fan dancing, the JJ univ. taekwondo team, and a drum dance. Afterwards a practiced EPIK teacher gave us a presentation on life in Korea and what to expect as a teacher. Directly after the ceremony we all marched to an welcoming dinner which comprised of a buffet that never seemed to end- this is where I tried the seafood salad...
We also met Martin, a fantastic Scotsman whose favorite food is deep fried . Seriously, he informed us that in Scotland they will deep fry anything! Mars bars, steaks, ice cream, criminals- anything. I imagine his house looks something like this.
After dinner we decided to find some Soju, to see what the fuss was all about. The three of us started walking to a 7/11 that we had heard was around the corner by the dorm when we were joined by a 4th. In any gathering where you have at least 300 people there is something that can be said, there will be awkward or socially inept individuals. One such individual joined us for our sojuventure. Of course we didn't really mind, I mean you have to give everyone a chance, right? That being said, he had a gargantuan cold sore (it wasn't that bad) on his upper lip- right side. It was staring at me, he's getting his own soju I hope.
Brian bought the soju, about half a litre for 1500 or so won, aproximately a dollar twenty-five. It came in a plastic bottle with some korean on it, which probably meant soju- the only english word it had said 'Original'. He twisted off the cap and took a sniff, not bad, we took turns smelling it for a few moments. We had heard soju described as being a combination of hydrogen peroxide and petrol- an englishman had given the description. Brian's first swig went down smooth, he liked it! Next was Martin, also a fan. Then I took a swig... it was good! The englishman's description really wasn't far off, but it was much better than that. Sort of like a less alcoholic vodka, 20% instead of 40%, without the bite. And really, if petrol wasn't so bad for you, wouldn't you want to drink it too? A lot of people like the smell of petrol, and taste usually isn't that far off from smell.
I didn't want to pass it to the 4th but I did... and he took a swig. The bottle kind of sat in front of him for a minute as we discussed the taste. Probably not wanting to waste the bottle, Brian reached for it and non-chalantly wiped off the rim. He drank some more, bottle hovering tipped downward just above his upraised mouth. So I wasn't the only one to notice. Likewise, Martin did the same. I passed... the Soju was now about half full and sitting on the table- we decided to just give it to the 4th. We got up from the table and meandered our way home, feeling a slight tinge of a buzz, more due to sleep deprivation than to the soju. We parted ways with our new scottish friend and ended the day with showers in our dorm room.

(August 19-27)


I've been in Korea for just about two weeks now- and yes, I do love it. Thanks for asking.
I had never really flown prior to coming here, just one-way to Chicago from Manchester, I'm not counting that. So my first time flying was a one-way trip to Incheon National Airport in Incheon, South Korea. It couldn't have been a better decision; although sitting down for close to 20 hours straight wasn't really ideal... it had to be done. Fortunately for me my flight included an in air friend, Mr. Brian Fairbanks, who after a whirlwind tour to Australia was a veteran traveler. His presence certainly eased whatever anxiety I had been feeling about flying. That being said, I still managed to not sleep at all during the entire trip so it took me just about a week to fully recover from jet lag. Every time I managed to doze off it just happened to be right when the attendants were passing out food, of course the smell of airline bibimbap and "steak" roused me from my somnolent state. We landed in South Korea; with full bellies, at approximately 5:30pm on Wednesday, having left from Boston at 6:20am on Tuesday. There was a 13 hour time difference in there to account for the lost time. My first time on another continent- check.

ICN was a fantastic airport, by the time we got through immigration our luggage had just started coming onto the conveyor- perfect timing. Having gathered our belongings we began the search for the EPIK (English Program in Korea) stall and bus stop. We trekked to the far end of the terminal and found a congested group of foreigners with a wealth of smiling Koreans wearing EPIK shirts herding them out the door to a bus that had just arrived. We checked in at the station, they gave us numbers and we were asked to wait until our number was called- at which point we should bring our passports up, show them our visas and wait for the next bus to arrive. Whilst waiting we were interviewed and photographed- is it obvious that I hadn't slept in about 40 hours?

The bus arrived and about 20-30 of us were escorted to it, our luggage filling the bays and invading the seats. We were the 12th bus of the day- our gracious hosts almost looked more tired than I did. So ensued three more hours of traveling, although this time there were no clouds to obscure the scenery. The signs were in several languages, Korean, English, and the occasional Chinese; and the speed and distances were all metric- fascinating!

We made new friends on the bus ride to Jeonju; rather, we submitted a friend application to a wonderful couple- they responded several days later with a unanimous 'yes' for me, Brian is still trying to earn the title of friend. He might achieve this on Wednesday over some tea and bruised peaches. Finally at about 9:37pm we arrived to the front door of Jeonju University's dorm, or Star Tower- after checking in we got lost getting to our room (went into the wrong tower), managed to find our way back to the correct elevator and settled down into our spacious dormitory double. Getting into bed and lying down was the first time I had stopped moving in about 48 hours- though I hadn't the faintest idea what awaited me in the next week of training, I had no trouble getting to sleep.

(August 17-18)

*1000 Won and a sticker to the first person that can tell me the campy slogan of Jeonju University- yes, it is in English.