Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dinner and English Speech Contest

Last weekend, Jon and I hosted a dinner for our co-teacher June, her husband Matt, and our office assistant Yeong Eon. I made a cobbled together version of bruschetta (which I had to grill in corn oil instead of olive oil, which is hard to find here) and ceviche. Matt made us a delicious carrot cake for dessert, which we really appreciated since we only have a stove top and no oven, which means no baking.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Koreans are very into gift-giving, so to thank us for having her over, Yeong Eon gave us some perfect gifts including a box full of Korean snacks, a carton of milk, and some instant latte mix.
Yeong Eon is practicing English, so she brought along her English book and practiced phrases like: "Your decorations are very beautiful." Also, when June and Matt arrived she said: "Welcome to Sarah and Jonathan's house." She's great. June calls her our entertainer.
On Saturday, we accompanied our student Seung Eun to an English Speech Contest in Gangneung. Seung Eun is probably our smartest student, but she's pretty shy. She wrote a speech about Jukdo or "Bamboo Island." June translated it word for word into English, then Jon rewrote it so that it made sense. We've been working with her for a month on the speech, and we were so proud!

Afterward, we went out to coffee with June, The 5th grade teacher, the vice principal's assistant, Seung Eun, her mom, and her sister. I know I've complained about the instant coffee in Korea, but once you get into bigger towns, they actually have really great coffee shops, a lot of which roast their own beans.
We found out that Seung Eun's mom owns a beautiful bed and breakfast that we noticed on our first day in Ingu and in which we've been planning to stay sometime. She also told us that her husband is a coffee roaster, and they have their own brand of coffee called Hippie Coffee.
We rode home with Seung Eun's family and were really impressed with their ability to communicate in English. Seung Eun has near-perfect listening ability and could translate everything we said to her mother. Her mother asked us what type of music we liked, and when Jon said he liked Metal she said she loved Metallica and Iron Maiden. Jon says she's the Lorelai Gilmore of Ingu (Inn Owner, strange music taste, smart daughters). They invited us to go with them to a coffee festival this weekend in Gangneung. We can't wait!

More pictures are here and videos are here.

Sports Day

On Friday, October 23rd, our school held it's Sports Day, where there weren't that many sports, and there were a lot of things to eat. The first activity we observed was a The Price is Right style game, where some of the students and parents had to guess how much a bag of chili peppers weighed and how big the biggest highway in Korea is.

Later there was a tug of war, where Jon and I were pitted against each other. I was on the green team, and he was yellow (my team won).

There was also a relay race, which was the most fun to watch. It started with the Kindergartners:

The race got pretty intense near the end:

The green team cheated in the relay race (one of the kindergardeners decided to run straight across instead of around the track) so the yellow team was not happy about it:

The best and worst thing about Sports Day was the massive amounts of food. First, the mother of our student Seung Eun, who we assisted with an English speech, made us a picnic basket with gimbap (sushi rolls), rice balls, and salad.

Then, our school staff provided us a meal of Korean Kimchi Pancakes (not as bad as they sound), fruit, rice cakes, chestnuts, and soup:

THEN (oh yes, it's not over) we went outside where our students' moms pushed plates and plates of bulgogi, fried chicken, and fried dumplings. They also asked us if we wanted any alcohol, at school, in the middle of the afternoon.

More pictures are here and videos here.

Yang Yang Salmon Festival

On October 17th, Jon and I went to Yang Yang's annual Salmon Festival. Yang Yang is famous for two tings: Salmon, and Pine Mushrooms. We accidentally missed the Pine Mushroom Festival, and we didn't want to make the same mistake twice. At the Salmon festival, we had the option of catching fish with our bare hands, then heading over to a tent where someone would cook and season the salmon for us. I thought this sounded fun, but once I actually saw people doing this, I was no longer interested. It's actually not a very fair situation, since they fence the salmon in, making the human to salmon ratio about 1:50. There's pretty much no way that you couldn't catch one. Also, there were a lot of dead fish laying around on the banks. I didn't object to watching other people try their hand, though:

We did participate in some other Salmon festivities, like the ever-popular "throw the beanbag through the fish eye" game.

The highlight of the festival was this delicious clam and noodle soup:

Friday, October 16, 2009


This month, I've been teaching my 3rd graders a lesson entitled "How many cows?" The point of the lesson is to learn how to ask and answer questions regarding liking animals, having animals, and counting animals. Some of my classes know the vocabulary so well that they are completely bored, others still can't differentiate between like and have (which is particularly hard to teach at the schools where I have no co-teacher). Anyway, the best thing about this lesson is using animal props.
These are two of my 3rd graders Jason (in the hat) and Lion (face covered). Just so you know, I didn't assign them English names, they already had them. I would never advise a kid to choose the name Lion.

These props were for a role play. Here's another third grade class acting out the role play. It might be hard to tell what's going on. The general idea is that momma pig (in the hat) counts to see how many baby pigs she has. She has 3. She then sends them off to play. After they've been playing, brother pig (the puppet) counts again, and finds that there is one less pig. Sister pig (felt pig) quickly corrects him and informs him that he forgot to count himself.

We also recently discovered that at our smallest school (with a total of eight students) our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are in a rock band. Front Row (L to R) My one and only 5th grade student on guitar, Jon's one and only 4th grade student on guitar, Jon's 6th grade student on bass. Back row: Jon's 6th grade students on drums and keyboard. Make sure you turn down the volume before you watch this video, and please watch it the whole way. About halfway through there's a really cute chant and a cool keyboard part.

I used the Facebook uploader for the videos this time, as I know Vimeo doesn't work well on some computers. The videos are still available on Vimeo as well. Ingu pictures are here, Seoul pictures are here, and orientation pictures are here.

Trips around Yang Yang and Gangneung

Last weekend we visited nearby Namae Harbor:

We ran into some students there, who saw us buying cookies and candy from a truck, so when they next saw me in class they said "Teacher. Cookie." "Yes." I replied.
We also walked by something that looked dangerous:

Yesterday, the principal planned a last minute trip to look at some mountains and go out to dinner in Gagneung, a large city south of Yang Yang. The strange thing about these social events is that all of the teachers complain about having to go to them, and the principal, by all appearances, doesn't actually enjoy our company. Despite this fact, we were told that we should put money into the school social fund, and attend all the events, or the other teachers might ostracize us. I'm not complaining, because Jon and I actually enjoy going on the trips, I just think that we are the only people who want to be there.
The view along the mountains was very beautiful:

and Young On was wearing makeup, so she let us photograph her:

While Jon and I enjoyed looking at the view and being out in the cool fall air, the Principal was mostly concerned with drinking on every stop (there are no outdoor drinking laws). He offered Jon and I both a drink of Johnny Walker out of a paper cup, which we politely accepted. We luckily had a bunch of fried potatoes we'd bought at a roadside stand, which I proceeded to stuff in my mouth afterwards.
Here's Jon with Young On and June, enjoying some potatoes:

You can see more photos here, and videos here.

Some funny things about Korea

The Ghost
Last week we came into school to discover that the Vice Principal was very upset with us. Why was this? Because Jonathan left his computer on, some neighbors saw the screen through the window at night, and called the school to complain that there was a ghost. My favorite thing about this story is that the Vice Principal wasn't annoyed with the neighbors for bothering him with ghost complaints, he was more annoyed that Jon caused them to complain by leaving on his computer.

Traffic Laws
There are none. After sitting in the car for several minutes with our co-teacher, who was stopped at a green light, waiting to turn left, with no oncoming traffic, then trying to cross the street at a red light, watching car after car zoom under the light, Jon and I decided to ask what exactly the rules are. We thought maybe red lights were more like stop signs here, even though some cars don't even slow down or stop under them. When I say cars run red lights, I mean almost all cars run red lights, and I don't mean the light is yellow so they try to make it under, I mean the light has been red for several seconds, when they first see the light it is red, and they just keep driving. Apparently it is just as illegal to run red lights here as it is in the US, there just aren't as many police officers patrolling for moving violations, and you can apparently easily bribe them into not giving you a ticket.

The (Possibly Drunk) Bus Driver
One day, we got on the idle bus, to find our bus driver asleep in the back seat. He then woke up, and went through another passenger's grocery bags. After he found nothing to his liking there, he looked through our box, which he was disappointed to find was full of school supplies. While he was driving us back to our home school, he pulled off to the side of the road next to a fish stand. He proceeded to yell at the ladies working at the stand for a few minutes, then continued on his way.

Discussing Physical Appearance
I've talked before about all of the teachers yelling at the school dinner about how beautiful me and Jonathan are. I've been compared to a doll probably about 10 times now, which I think is mostly related to my pale skin, and the fact that Koreans need to get more dolls that look like them. Yesterday, while we were on a school trip, one of the lunchroom ladies came up behind me and started rubbing my belly and everyone started laughing and yelling things, my co-teacher said they were just saying how skinny I was. So, I know, it sounds real tough living with a bunch of people who mostly like to compliment your looks, but they don't only talk about the good things. A group of young students at one school love to call Jonathan Pinocchio and pull on his nose. The other day when I was at the supermarket, I was looking at skin care products, and a sales woman walked up to me, pointed at my zits, and then pointed to the product she thought I should use. This openness about the way someone looks is not only used for us foreigners either. At our staff dinner last night, several male teachers made an effort to compliment Young On, our office assistant, on her new makeup. I couldn't even tell she was wearing different makeup.

Young On recently showed us her profile on the Korean equivalent of Facebook. All of the pictures were Photoshopped in some way. Sometimes she added words above here head, or made her face extremely pale, it also appeared that she had Photoshopped her sister's eyes to be bigger in some pictures. The weirdest thing she did was blur out her mouth in several photos, and when I asked her why she just shook her head.
When we later showed her our wedding photos she was absolutely amazed that we had done nothing to alter the original photos. She showed me some of her friends' wedding photos, and it was almost like looking at a ghost. All the edges had been softened, the background blurred, and there was an extremely white girl sitting in the middle.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chuseok in Seoul

This past weekend, Jonathan and I took an express bus to Seoul to meet up with friends and explore the city. Initially, Seoul was a little scary to me, since it's the biggest city I've ever visited, but, although we got lost a few times, it was overall extremely easy to navigate and had the best subway system I've ever used. We also found that, just like everywhere else in Korea, everyone was extremely helpful. For example, one night when we were walking back to our hostel, it started to rain, and a guy walked up behind us and said "share my umbrella." He was a student at the local college, and went out of his way to walk us back to our door.

Due to Chuseok, a Korean holiday similar to Thanksgiving, many Koreans left Seoul to be with their families, while many Westerners went to Seoul to see each other. It was especially strange for me and Jon after being the lone foreigners in our town to see so many English-speakers in one place. Because many Koreans vacate Seoul for the holiday, many attractions we wanted to see were closed. We did manage to visit a few major sites, including Gyeongbok Palace. My favorite part of the palace was Hyeongwonjeong, the King's "Palace within a palace":

Next door to the palace was the National Folk Museum of Korea, which wasn't too impressive since it mostly displayed replicas, but it did have cool Chinese Zodiac statues outside. Here's Jon with his sign, The Bull:

We also visited Seoul Tower. After walking around for thirty minutes trying to figure out how to get there, then taking a taxi where the taxi driver yelled at us and told us we should be on a bus, then taking a bus that slowly chugged its way up to the top, we made it. Here's a view of the city:

Our other Seoul adventures included running into our old friend Gandalf:

and eating another one of those huge waffles:

We enjoyed being able to see our friends from EPIK orientation in the city, and visiting friends from Georgia who now live in Seoul, but after a tiring weekend we felt like country bumpkins from little old Ingu and were ready to go back to the town where everybody knows our name.

Many more pictures from our trip can be found here!