Thursday, February 25, 2010

This is Kim Yu-Na, also known as "Queen Yu-Na." If you've been watching the Olympics, you probably already know about her. She is the reigning women's figure skating World Champion and, as of 5 minutes before this post, the reigning Olympic gold medalist.

When I met my 5th grade co-teacher, one of the first things he asked me was "Do you know Kim Yu-Na?" I told him I didn't, and he quickly explained that A.) she was Korean and B.) she was the World Champion.

Korea is a small country that doesn't get much attention in the international press; as such, they are fiercely proud of those who do make it into the spotlight.

Another co-teacher once recorded me greeting the students in my class and made a video where Kim-Yu Na's lips moved and my voice came out. I mean, they really like her.

Today, we dropped everything at 1:00 PM and watched the figure skating competition. Even though I'm not Korean, I still felt very proud watching Kim Yu-Na skate and break another world record. I loved how emotional she got when she finished, and I frowned as the Japanese competitor took the floor, hoping she didn't beat Yu-Na. I was in luck, as Kim Yu-Na's score remained the highest, and she took home the gold medal.

I use Korean celebrities quite often in my lessons, as I've learned they're an easy ploy to get the kids to pay attention. Kim Yu-Na is one of my favorites to use. It's a good thing she won gold and will continue to be in public favor so that I don't have to research any new pop stars. It's hard to keep up with "kids these days."


After our stay in Manila, we flew to the island of Palawan to experience rural life in the Philippines and, let's face it, play on the beach.

Our first stop on Palawan was the town of Sabang. In all the travel information I read online, Sabang was listed as a must visit location, if only for a day, to visit the Underground River, a World Heritage Site.

We stayed at Bambua Resort in Sabang, which is not exactly a typical resort. When I think of resorts, I think of being cut off from the local culture, sitting on the beach, and having someone bring you a drink with an umbrella in it. Bambua is a collection of a few cottages tucked on top of a hill. There is no airconditionining, there is no power between the hours of 11PM and 6PM, you can hear monkeys and birds as you sleep, and the stars are the brightest I've ever seen.

The strangest thing about Bambua was our company. As I said, the resort is made up of a collection of cottages, and there appeared to only be two cottages that were not lived in by the owners of the resort. Jon and I were in one cottage and two EPIK teachers we know who also live in Yang Yang were in the other. We ran into these teachers on the bus on the way to the airport. We asked where they were going. They said the Philippines. We asked where in the Philippines. They said Palawan. We asked where in Palawan. They said Sabang. We asked where in Sabang. They said Bambua Resort.
This was our cabin in Bambua:

The resort's restaurant:

Delicious Filipino food:

A rooster outside of our cabin. There were roosters and chickens running around EVERYWHERE we went in Palawan:

Walking between Bambua and the beach, we were able to see daily life of the people who lived in Sabang. Here's a view of some of the houses and farmland:

A Methodist Church:

Every house seemed to have its own ox, this one was grazing right in front of our resort (please tell me if I'm misidentifying this animal. It might just be a cow.):

The main part of the town with some souvenir shops and restaurants:

As I mentioned, the main purpose of our trip was to go on a tour of the Underground River. The river flows through a cave for 8.2 Km before running into the South China Sea. It is supposedly the world's longest underground river. Obviously, we didn't travel the entire 8.2 Km through the cave, although our tour guide said that is an option if you come at a time when scientists are there to study the cave. We took a 45 minute boat ride in, and then 45 minutes back out.
Here is the group that preceded us exiting the mouth of the cave:

A rock formation that looked like a jellyfish inside the cave:


At the entrance to the Underground River park:

On the boat leaving the cave:

The next post will be about our trip to Port Barton. Again, if you want to go ahead and see more pictures, the album is here.

Ingu School is Forever!

I'm going to take a quick break in between my vacation posts to tell a funny story.

On Tuesday night, we had a goodbye dinner for the teachers who are leaving our school. In Korea, teachers are only allowed to remain at a school for 4 years and then they must move somewhere else. For some, this is a frustrating experience, but for teachers at our school, parting is mostly sweet with no sorrow mixed in to confuse things.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but most teachers hate our school. In the past, I've detailed some of the crazy antics of our principal, and for a while I thought that his behavior was normal for all principals. It turns out that he is quite a unique gem, and is actually infamous in our school system as being one of the worst principals. The principal at one of our friends' schools in Yang Yang shares the title of "Worst Principal Ever," and when my friend made a complaint about some issues at her school, our region's coordinator said the only solution would be "to fire the principal."

Korean society is vertical, so in any company, the boss sets the tone. A good principal, as we've seen at some of the smaller schools where we teach, can make a school a happy and relaxed place to work, a bad principal can make a school miserable.

This is my way of attempting to explain the tension at our school. Many Native English Teachers attend wild parties at their schools, have group breaks and snacks often, and enjoy spending time with their co-workers. At our school, we only spend time together when the principal makes us, not because we don't like each other, but because the principal is so controlling and crazy that he makes social situations not so fun.

Some examples of craziness:
1. One time we were supposed to attend a meeting for new Native English Teachers and co-teachers. The principal decided that our co-teacher wasn't allowed to come and instead the head of the English center (who doesn't speak English) would take us. The head of the English center didn't want to do this because her daughter was sick, and our co-teacher wanted to come because there was pertinent information to her job. The solution? We left the school with the head of the English center, drove down the road and parked in a gravel lot. Our co-teacher snuck out the back door of the school and met us in the lot. We ran out of one car, jumped into the other, and zoomed to the meeting.
2. The English Center at Ingu School has an interesting acrostic name. It's called Talent's Garden. Here's what Talent stands for:
E-East-sea coast
Sometimes, when the principal gets drunk at school dinners, he brags to us about making up this name. The sad thing isn't that he came up with it. It's a pretty good effort for someone who doesn't speak English. The sad thing is that no one (not the Korean co-teacher who speaks English fluently, not the Native English Teachers, not the people at the board of education) was brave enough to tell him that it didn't make any sense.

So I was going to tell a funny story right? I got a little sidetracked.

As I said, we were at a dinner to say goodbye to the teachers who were leaving to go to new schools. One such teacher, the first grade teacher, was in our English class for teachers last year (I came up with the name Talent's Gardeners for it, but the Principal said that was too long, so he changed it to T-Gardeners. See? Crazy!). On the first day of T-Gardeners class, we played an icebreaker game where we each listed 5 things about ourselves, one of which was not true. Everyone had to guess the one that was false. I don't remember the 1st grade teacher's entire list, but I do remember the item that was false: "I like teaching here." At dinner, when the principal handed her the certificate of appointment to a new school, I looked at the teachers at my table and whispered "happy." "Yes" they said, "very happy!"

After this ceremony, we had a pleasant dinner of delicious Korean barbecue. Yeong Eon and I talked in our combination of English and Korean (mostly English, because she's much better than I am) while Jon went around and did the duty of pouring drinks for everyone. He had the usual funny experience while pouring a drink for the principal who told him that his (Jon's) father was a "traditional Korean man." I don't know what that means, but it's probably a huge compliment.

At the end of dinner, the Principal stood up to make a toast. He spoke for a while in Korean and then yelled: "Jonathan! Sally!* Ingu School is forever! Understand?"

*Yes, Sally is a nickname for Sarah, but it is not one that I have ever gone by. I don't know how he suddenly forgot my name.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I know it has been a very long time since my last post, but I have a perfectly reasonable explanation: we've been on vacation! I've been putting off my post-vacation post because I have so much to share that I don't even know where to start. I guess it would make sense to start from the beginning, huh?

The first stop on our winter vacation was to someplace warm: a wonderful country known as the Philippines. We spent a few days in the capital city of Manila, and the majority of our time relaxing on the beach on an island called Palawan.

In Manila, we stayed in a nice, quiet hotel called Casa Nicarosa. It's situated on a secluded street, which would explain why we ended up driving around in circles ever time we tried to take a taxi there. Our conversations with the cab driver went something like this:
Us:"It's on Madre Ignacia street."
Cab Driver: "Casa Ignacia?"
Us: "Madre Ignacia"
Cab Driver (asking someone for direction): "Do you know where I can find Madre Nicarosa street?"

Here's a picture of the front of the hotel (yes, we did end up finding it), and the view from inside. I love how a lot of the buildings in the Philippines are very open.

The population of the Philippines is 80% Catholic, so our main destinations in Manila were cathedrals.
Here we are in front of Manila Cathedral:

There was a wedding going on inside the cathedral, and we were encouraged to go inside and take pictures. I bit.

We also went to Quiapo Church, home of the famous Black Nazerene statue, a carving of Jesus made out of dark wood. There are many legends about why the wood is so dark. My favorite involves a man poisoning Jesus' toe in order to kill a man who kissed his foot every day. He failed, because Jesus absorbed the poison and slowly turned black. This story was told to us by a man in our hotel as a fact.

We happened to visit Quiapo Church on it's feast day, and there were huge crowds. Not every one could fit inside for mass, so it was broadcast over a huge TV in the courtyard.

We also made our way to Roxas Blvd., one of the major streets in Manila, where we saw many families picnicking, many street vendors, and a lot of poverty. At one point I saw a couple that couldn't have been older than 14 carrying a diaper bag and a baby.
Here are some children playing in the water beside Roxas.

I took a short video to capture that atmosphere along the Boulevard. I think the man walking up to sell us pearls at the end says it all.

My favorite part of our stay in Manila was our visit to the area called Intramuros (within the walls), an area that still retains pieces of the fortress built during the Spanish colonial period.
We took a carriage ride from a very pushy driver,

enjoyed a delicious meal in the sunshine,

and explored the streets.

In my next post, I'll talk about our trip to Sabang, but if you can't wait until then and just have to go ahead and see all the pictures from our trip, you can go here.