Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 Random Things to Love about Korea

1. Gonggi

When I walked into two different classes today the children were playing this game. I hadn't seen them play before, but it could be that before I just wasn't paying attention.

These are my four teachers who taught me about the game. Their names are Lynn, Maria, Sara & Lucy. The game is played kind of like jacks. Here is a you tube example. These are NOT the kids I teach (just to avoid confusion) but they do give a good example of how the game is played.

I went out this afternoon to try to find the game pieces for myself and my newphew but struck out, which brings me to:

2. The Stationary Store
This is NOT Hallmark that we are talking about. The stationary store (where supposedly I could by Gonggi) is a veritable treasure trove of wonderfulness.
First, the one closest to us is hidden in a very unlikely place (further the treasure analogy.) Once you find the entrance you go down a twisty dark stairwell, but behold at the bottom, there is a veritable cornucopia of unexpected color, light and plastic!

I LOVE the Stationary store! There is paper (of course) but also art supplies, toys, hardware, gifts, party supplies, convenience store items, hair clips, glue guns, candy, etc. So many little things I want to bring home! I only made one purchase which brings me to:

3. face warmers/hygenic mask
This much disputed item either breeds sympathy or repulsion. On the flight over a girl was wearing a normal clinical white mask like a construction worker or dental assistant might sport. I think in her case it was a fear of being sick. Around here, however, you will see random people on the street with what look like doctor's masks except in different colors, fabrics and patterns. One of my students had one on today. I asked her about it and she said it keeps her face warm. I was beginning to get the picture that this was the idea anyway, because I don't generally see them on people walking around the Emart or hanging out in the classroom. They get put on when walking outside. My nose often turns so red on the long walk to the cafeteria that my students tell me I look like rudolph or like I have a strawberry nose. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate the cold. So, I invested in a facewarmer today. I am excited about wearing it tomorrow.

4. Maxim & Hallabong - Hot Drinks
Maxim - It isn't a raunchy men's magazine, and it isn't a feminine product. It is S. Korea's instant coffee! While I will always prefer pressed or brewed coffee, this is not an entirely bad stand in if you don't mind your coffee sweet. I found some in the Stationary store (of course!).

Hallabong Tea - Created from the Dekopon citris fruit and grown on Hallasan Mountain in S. Korea, Hallabong Tea is a native specialty. The tea is sold in a jar and looks like orange marmalade but it is a mixture of Dekopon and honey. You ladel two spoonfuls into a cup of steaming hot water and stir. Delectable does not begin to describe this sweet soothing liquid. This is definitely something I will be bringing back to the States with me. Michelle was nice enough to buy a jar and leave it in the kitchen for us all to enjoy and I have a steaming mug of it sitting here to sustain me as I create this post.

5. Korean Labels and signs
I just never tire of how fun it is to see things in a different language. It is not so noticeable in Spanish or other languages that use the same characters that English does, but in languages with a completely different alphabet, even the most 'normal' things look interesting.

There is ALOT of English around here even though we are surrounded by Korean. There are Dunkin Donuts, 7-11's, Outback Steakhouse, Baskin Robbins, Smoothie King, etc. Many Koreans speak English. Sometimes though, it still ends up making you wonder who exactly is in charge of translating and marketing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Short update

Today was largely uneventful. Woke up at 6am and could not get back to sleep so I posted the second half of Sunday to the blog. Went to school. School was fine but tiring. T, Th, Sat classes are just a little tougher. They are a little younger, speak a little less english, are a little less prepared and just make you work a little harder. They are still very cute though.

Last night we went to Emart and I bought a pillow. I was looking for something cheap, small and comfortable. Now don't be jealous, but this is what I found for just over 4,000 won: (the little gold one, not the pink one.)

The pink one was they one they gave us, but it is like a rock and oddly shaped for sleeping.

When I was in Seoul on Sunday I bought this book at a bookstore. It looks like a fairly good book, but I think I would learn any language faster in a classroom.

Lastly, two pictures from today's lunch.

See, they are cute, but so full of mischief!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday Part Two

This is Michelle and Emily standing in the upstairs foyer of Samil Church.

After church, the bookstore and passing the American Embassy we walked toward the Cheongwadae but kind of veered right in front of that strange building. We walked toward the Gyeongbok Palace which houses the Korean Folk Museum.

On the way in we passed some food stands. This one was selling chesnuts (roasted on a small propane burner) and the bugs (which I have now learned to smell from a block away. Not sure I am happy about that.) and something that looks like frenchfries but I think might be fish or something different (honestly, I didn't have time to stop and look.)

We tried some chesnuts. They were pretty good. Softer than I had thought. I don't know that I have had fresh roasted chesnuts before. Maybe, a long time ago...?

The details on the buildings are incredible. It is one thing I have noted and loved about the many different asian cultures that I feel shames much western culture and that is the intricacies of the details. Yes, in Europe and older buildings there are the carved beams and more ornate ornamentation, but traditional asian architecture (in my opinion) is far more striking.

We see these birds commonly. They are quite large, like an American crow, but so pretty. I don't remember seeing something exactly like this in the states. I asked Emily and she said it was a Magpie. I looked it up and here is a page with many different myths, legends and stories about the Korean Magpie.
The ones we see look like this one:
Apparently Magpies are common all over the world, but I do not remember seeing them on the east coast. *shrug* Maybe I don't know what I am looking for.

Here is a picture of Michelle and me standing outside of the Korean Folk Museum (it is located under this amazing structure.)

I liked this picture even though the banner is backward so the Korean is backwards. It was outside a representation of a traditional Korean pharmacy where herbs were hung to dry, etc.

The outside of the building, looking up from the left side outside the entrance to the Folk Museum.

More Details:

Inside the museum was an example of the paintings that were used on the interior roofs of many traditional structures. If I ever own a house again, maybe I should try this in some room.

I thought this was interesting:

I have not researched this but I remember catching the blurb on a tabloid as I was leaving the states about how Matthew McConaughey saved his son's placenta to replant it. I will have to research this more.

This is how the Koreans used to iron their clothes/cloth:
I thought it was interesting. They heated the iron, the placed the fabric on it and rolled it out with the wooden rods. Makes sense.

Michelle and I standing in front of a lighted display inside the museum.

After the museum Emily took us to a famous area in Seoul called Samcheong-dong which is littered with cafes, bistros and boutiques. It is very architecturally diverse and intersting. Things are trendy and eclectic and slightly eccentric. I would love to spend more time puttering around, but it was cold and we were needing to head home.

Lastly a few pictures of Seoul near Seoul Station. Blurry because I was walking and it was dusk.

Alright. I gotta get dressed for class, clean up the room a little and get outa here! Sleep well America. See you in the morning!

what I need to do, and what I am going to do

what I need to do is finish posting about Sunday. i should probably put in a load of laundry, and maybe write some more post cards.

what i am going to do is briefly recap today and go to bed.

to start the morning, i forgot my nametag. that meant I had to come back down the mountain and run back up it which put me about 5 minutes late to class. (not really a problem because my CA was there, mostly just hugely annoying because it is cold and running up a mountain twice in half an hour makes me tired.)

at the end of lunch it started snowing. not alot, just small wet flakes. it snowed for about an hour. I was worse than any of the kids. i think it has been 3(?) years since i have seen snow. sometimes I would stop the lesson and be like 'ok, now we are going to go to the window and look at the snow!' it didn't really stick. just for a very little while. then it melted in and has in some places made slippery ice patches.

my classes are doing a song for their final program.

i think it will be fun.

after school some friends and I went to Emart. (Read previous post.)

I came home, showered and ate. now i should be writing about sunday, but I am going to watch a tv show online and go to bed. i am wiped.

You can Hate me if you want to

***warning, this is a food post. Do not read if you are already hungry***

Tonight's aperitif:

After class today (Mon, 12-29) a few of the teachers and I went to Emart which is like a SuperWalmart, a Sears and a small mall all in one humongeous building.
This is Amanda, Amber, Brandon, Gillian and Bess. (There were 4 others, but I am not sure where they were at the time.)

The supermarket portion of this store is amazing. All kinds of things. It was probably smaller than many American grocery stores, but of course it was far more interesting to look at. There were people sampling different things all over the place (kind of like they do at Costco.)

Here you can buy Sushi by the piece.

Which is what I did.

Eventually, this was my dinner:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dec 28th, 2008 - Church & Seoul Part 1

Wow. So much I want to say about today, but I know my eyes won't stay open long enough to get it all out, so I am just going to give you some highlights that come to mind right away.

First, I broke into the can of Pine Bud Drink tonight. Wacky weird, I tell ya! It smells like Pinesol but the taste is sweet and vaguely reminiscent of the green nyquil (only without being nasty). I would like to tell you it is like Christmas in a can but that would be misleading, however, it does smell like a freshly cut pine tree. Wacky thing, it grows on you. I am half way through the can and I find myself picking it up more frequently.

This morning Michelle Cox and I went to
Samil Church in Seoul. It is one of (I think) 6 locations where services are held for this church since there are over 30,000 members. ( Here is the web page translated.) I tried to video the choreographed praise song, but I couldn't figure out the camera in time. Oh well, maybe next week. They had translation available for us through wireless headsets which was great. The pastor (Jeon, Byung Wook) spoke on 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 7. I want to write some thoughts on his message, but I will save that for another post.

I did learn an interested cultural tidbit. I had asked our friend Emily, who took us to church, to write down the pastor's name for me. I handed her my copy of the bulletin and a red pen (because it was the only one I had with me, and the one which I had used to take notes throughout the service.) She kind of paused and said, "Just so you know, in Korea we only use red pen to write a name when the person is dead. Most younger people will understand, but elders still think about that and it will not be good." Oh, well, um....*frantically searches head for whether I used my red pen in any of my classes this week* Good to know. She did go ahead and use the pen to write the pastor's name, but I felt as though I was disrespecting him by even asking her to do so. As though such an action would threaten him in some way. So silly, but once you know that is the superstition, it is hard not to feel strange.

After church we went and ate lunch with some friends of hers and then had coffee. We went to a bookstore and I bought a beginners book to teach me how to write Korean letters. I should mention that we road the bus for an hour to get into Seoul then walked to the subway and rode it to a station close to the church. When we left we walked to lunch then took the subway to the bookstore then walked to the street level and ended up heading toward Cheongwadae, or The Blue House, so named for its blue roofs. It is the Korean equivalent of the White House in the United States as it is supposed to be the residence of the S. Korean president. We did not get to see it (even from a distance) as it was hidden behind this strange building.

Side of strange building
On our way we passed the U.S. Embassy (which was closed) but it was nice to see where it is. I would like to take this moment to comment on how unhospitable and frankly ugly the U.S. Embassies seem to be in every country I have visited. In Bangkok you could walk right up the lawn and into most of the embassies. The U.S. Embassy however had barbed wire around the top of 8-10 foot high fen
ces. This one was the same. They even had this complex gate system to search cars.

This picture is of a frozen fountain. Just to show that it really IS that cold here.

I have much more I want to tell, but I am so tired that I am going to stop making sense soon, so I will leave you with this picture as a teaser.

P.S. I finally found postcards so hopefully I will get them out this week!

P.S.2 - Sorry for the formatting craziness. It is hard to read and not aesthetically pleasing, but I am too tired to continue to tweek my html.