Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Into the Woods

Our apartment complex is surrounded by a row of trees. For some reason, I'd always vaguely wondered what was behind them, but since Korea is a small country that tends to develop or plant on every available piece of land, and since right next door to our apartment there are stores and houses, I assumed it wasn't much. One day, I was sitting in our bedroom and I looked out the window to see a couple decked out in hiking gear appearing out of the trees. I started paying attention and noticed this actually happened quite frequently, then I looked down at the tiny garden that sits below our window and noticed a path leading into this unexplored area. We decided to follow the path and see what was back there. We were not disappointed! It turns out that, although there is a lot of development right along the road next to our apartment complex, right behind that development there are miles of trees, rice fields, farm houses, and even gravestones leading all the way up to the top of a mountain. Needless to say, it's beautiful!

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

More pictures here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Coffee Factory!

If you read the title of this post, then you know that my dreams have all come true. There is an amazing coffee factory and cafe in Gangneung, our neighboring "big city" and our friends Will and Theresa recently introduced us to it. It's called Terarosa, and they have the reputation of having the best coffee in all of Korea. They're so popular that the delicious bread they bake all sells out before noon. In order to make sure we didn't miss out, we caught a 7:30 AM bus so we could reach the cafe right at 9:00 when they opened.

Gangneung is pretty big and urban, so I was surprised at how rural the area surrounding Terarosa was.

The entrance:
Coffee-tasting bar (those are un-roasted beans, if you're wondering about the light brown coloring):
Display of old-school coffee grinders:
The beginning of a coffee tree:
Theresa showing the part of the plant where the coffee cherry grows.
Stacks of fresh coffee beans:
The cafe was huge and divided into several different seating areas. I thought this part was particularly pretty:
Delcious, fresh, chocolate-filled bread.
And a delicious latte, of course. Korean baristas like to put designs in the top of foamy drinks, usually opting for the ever-endearing heart. I think this one is a Christmas tree?
Hanging out with a cute baby.
The whole crew.
That's it for my new favorite place in Korea. Hopefully we'll make it back there before we leave (which will be in 6 weeks, can you believe it?).

You can find more pictures here.

Buddha's Birthday

On Friday May 21st, we had the day off for Buddha's Birthday. We ventured to Hyu Hyu Am (the Buddhist temple across the street from our apartment) to see what the festivities entailed.
Buddha's got it good. He gets all of this food. You can't really see it in this picture, but he has some Ramen and chips on his right side. (Funny story: Jon used to work in a Thai restaurant and every day they would give a small gift of food to their Buddha statue. After the sacrifice was over, they would offer the food to Jon. They told him otherwise they would feed it to a dog. )
Some people paying their respect to the "Big Buddha."
A view of the Temple area. There are a lot of small temples grouped together.
We ran into a student from our school.
I never thought about it, but I guess most religions have their own TV station. It's still weird to think about a Buddhist TV network, though, because they don't really evangelize. I guess it's just up-to-the-minute Buddhist news?

And here's a video I took of the monks chanting and people worshipping. Sorry, I don't know much about Buddhism, so I'm not sure what to call the rituals. I get the impression that most Koreans hold kind of hybrid beliefs between shamanism and Buddhism or Christianity, so even my co-teacher, who was raised Buddhist, doesn't know much about Buddhist tradition.

You can find more photos here.


I'm going to do a little bit of a blog cheat, and, instead of telling you about it myself, share with you a blog post made by our friends, Will and Theresa, about a recent visit they made to our area. Ok, it was in May. So, I'm really behind, but enjoy (click the link below).

Will and Theresa's Blog.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Missing home

I haven't been that great of a Blogger lately, and part of it is sheer laziness, part of it is because we've been having a very frustrating experience at work and I haven't quite felt up to it.

In short: we smell. Or so says our school.

In not-so-short: One day, I was sitting at lunch and the chief teacher sat next to me, then she got up and moved away. Later that day my co-teacher approached me and said that some of the teachers had complained that Jon and I "have a bad smell" that's how she said it. Kind of like we had a disease. Needless to say I was mortified having this conversation and thinking about all the teachers talking about us smelling bad and that teacher moving to sit somewhere else. All I could say to her was "We bathe. We wash our clothes. We brush our teeth. I don't know what it could be." She said "Yeah, I don't know" and didn't say much else. I told Jon about it, we were upset, we didn't bring it up with her again and we didn't do anything about it (because what could we do? We already, like most people, make a daily effort not to smell bad, and we had no idea WHAT smelled bad or WHY).

After a week or so, we kind of forgot about it, then the head of the English Center came into our office and, with our co-teacher translating, again told us that we had a bad smell. She actually said a lot of stuff in Korean, then said "smell" in English and waved her hand in front of her nose. This time, unlike most of the times when ridiculous stuff happens to us here, we reacted strongly and negatively. We both said that maybe it was a cultural issue, because we've heard that some Koreans think all foreigners smell bad (just like some foreigners think all Koreans smell bad), our co-teacher vehemently denied this, but then she said "Don't you think some Koreans smell bad?" which undercut her point. Then I pointed out that even if we did smell bad, if we were Korean no one would even think of telling us about this. I used one male teacher who always reeks of cigarettes as an example. I said that if we complained to the head of the English center about his smell, no one would have a meeting with him to tell him to do something about it, they would just tell us to deal with it.

After this heated discussion, the class that I usually teach with the teachers was cancelled for the rest of the semester. It was a Friday and we went home angry, and came to school today (Monday) angry. We always get to school before the other teachers. We were sitting in our office and when our office assistant came in the room she plugged her nose and said something to June and then they opened the door and windows and turned off the air conditioning (Great! No airconditioning is really going to make me smell better). Then I started to notice a strong smell of Febreeze in all of my classrooms. Whenever we would leave a room, someone would come in behind us and spray something. In one of my classes, the smell of the Febreeze was so strong that the students were coughing and I had to open a window so they didn't choke to death.

Basically, I now feel extremely uncomfortable all the time. These people who I've become friends with and gotten to like think that I stink. There's nothing I can do about this. Every time I get near someone I'm just thinking that they're probably thinking about how smelly I am. I'm trying to get over it, though, because I know these aren't bad people (Except the Chief Teacher. Moving to another seat? That is just about the rudest thing anyone's ever done to me.) and they don't realize how hurtful it is to us, especially since we're already outsiders. Maybe it isn't that offensive to tell people they smell in Korea? I doubt it, but maybe.

As excited as we are to come home, before this incident we were still thinking about how we would miss our home in Ingu and living by the beach and our adventures in Korea. Now, honestly, I'm just counting down the days.

Hope you can't smell me through the computer! Love and miss you all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Lately I've taken a bunch of short videos of my students and different things around town, so I thought in lieu of a regular post, I would share the videos with you.
First, I want to show you Ji Hoon. Ji Hoon is such a sweet and funny kid, but he has a hard time in school, and particularly a hard time in English. Not because he's not smart or he doesn't try, but because he is bullied by the other kids. I assume they always bully him, but in English it's worse, because they know I can't understand what they're saying. I'll turn around and he'll be crying or hitting someone or throwing something at them. The Korean school system doesn't seem to take bullying that seriously, so the only punishment for these kids is getting yelled at for a few seconds in the hallway. Anyway, the other day Ji Hoon was running through the hallways acting like different animals and saying their names in English. I, of course, broke out the camera and asked him to do it again.

Next is a video of our students at Hyeonbuk elementary school. This is our Friday school with an entire population (counting all grades and all teachers) of 20 at the most. These are my favorite students. They know a lot of English, they want to learn more, and they get really excited when they see us. This is one of the few schools where all the students call us Sarah and Jon instead of "Teacher" or "Sonsangnim"(Teacher in Korean) or "Hey!" A few weeks ago, we got to play this crazy game with them. Watch and see if you can figure out the rules.

Students playing instruments. There are a lot of problems with the Korean school system, but a lack of investment in the arts is not one of them. All of our schools have traditional Korean music classes, art classes, and many have violin and piano as well. You might remember that Hyeonbuk school has it's own rock band. Monday morning, we were sitting in the office when we heard some nice music out in the hallway, I went outside to investigate and found two of my favorite fourth grade students practicing a duet. I had to label this "students playing instruments" because I'm not sure what either of these instruments are called.

Lastly, I'll share a little bit of the craziness that is election time in Korea. I still don't completely understand the situation, but the jist is this: instead of being identified by their names, the candidates have numbers. This leads to confusion, especially with older voters, who end up just voting for number one. There are 8 or 9 positions and up to 8 candidates for each position, so I don't know how they keep all of this straight. The candidates hire people to stand on the side of the road, wearing t-shirts and foam fingers with their number, and bowing to passing cars. Candidates also have their own trucks with huge pictures of themselves on the side that ride through town blasting an original song about how great the candidate is. We heard this candidate's song several times a day: in the parking lot of our apartment complex when we got ready in the morning, on the street when we walked to school, and in the parking lot of school once we arrived. You've got to admit, it's a pretty catchy song.