Monday, December 31, 2007

Forbidden City

Peeking through the gate into the Forbidden City. It is a huge place, rightfully called a city. The buildings and gardens keep going on and on; here is just the first glimpse.
A tour group walking across the main courtyard. The Forbidden City is a great testament to the power and wealth of the Emperor, everything is done on a grand scale as a reminder of his position and prestige.

Beyond the huge flashy buildings are a labyrinth of small corridors and numerous corners that are slightly more humble but still impressive in their design, art, and expanse.

Resting in a rock archway in the garden. For the whole trip, it was just me and the boys: (from left to right, me, Peter, Huy, Jonny, and Julian)

Friday, December 21, 2007


It's a little late, but here are some pictures of my street that I took out my window last week on the night of the first real snowfall. It was a very picture perfect scene - big fat snowflakes that lightly painted everything white. However, it was all gone before the next morning and hasn't snowed since. Not that I'm complaining though, I hate the cold.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm voting next year

Several students in one of my highest level classes asked me recently if I was going to vote in the Korean presidental election on December 19. After laughing at them, I asked, "Do I look like I'm Korean? Am I Korean? NO! I'm not going to vote. I can't. I'm not Korean." Class, it's time to learn a new English word - citizen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rokkugo & Lee Myung Bak

This is another great Korean pop song. It's by a group called Super Junior T. They are a small side group of an even bigger group called Super Junior. By big, I mean that the group has 13 members. Isn't that a little excessive? Teenage girls are the only ones who don't think so. Anyway, this song has a catchy chorus and is pretty much just a silly song which is why I like it. Basically, it's the Korean word for backwards said backwards.

I've been hearing this song a lot lately. Korea has a presidental election on December 19 and one of the 12 candidates has apparently chosen this as his theme song. The words have been changed so that the chorus now goes, "Lee Myung Bak, Lee Myung Bak, Lee Myung Bak, Yah, Yah, Yah." There are this trucks that will park in major areas like near Lotte Mart or the subway station and blast music/propaganda about their candidate while people dressed in matching jackets with Miss America type sashes with the candidate's name and number on it stand waving their arms and passing out flyers. It's an interesting campaign strategy that I would love to see someone like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton try to emulate back home.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Korea is the land of delivery food. You can get almost any food delivered to your apartment at almost any hour of the day. I regularly get food menus taped to my door advertising everything from fried chicken to Japanese to pizza to Korean and now McDonalds.
The McDonalds right by my school is now offering McDelivery service. They are already open 24/7 and now they have a delivery service 24/7 as well. We had a menu in the teachers' room the other day and were scheming of how best to take advantage of this seemingly unfathomable, but fantastic new idea.

Here is a worker on the bright yellow McDelivery bikes ready to roll out into traffic. I think the knee pads are a nice touch. This person has obviously had to ride a motorcycle in Korean traffic before. I'm sure those knee pads are not just to look fashionable. Returning from a delivery and ready to pick up another order.

McDelivery is perfect business sense in Korea where delivery is a way of life. Most restaurants even deliver the food in regular dishes. When you are finished with your food, you leave the dishes outside your door and someone comes back around to pick them up. For all this great service, you also don't pay any extra. Makes me wonder how feasible McDelivery would be back home. Maybe I will be surprised when I return home and see a bright yellow scooter whiz past me, although I kind of doubt it. I will be prepared though to jump out of the way so I don't get run down. The only downside to the delievery culture in Korea is that delivery guys have no mercy for pedestrians.

Friday, December 14, 2007


The standard teaching contract in Korea lasts for 1 year. My year was set to end on January 29th, a rather scary thought. Even telling people that I have been here for almost 11 months seems strange and shocking as it comes out of my mouth.
When I first arrived here, other teachers assured me that time flies in Korea. At first I thought they were crazy, each day seemed so long and each week dragged past. However, those feelings quickly change as the crossed off months on a calendar add up.
12 months are easily broken down into significant milestones. First comes up the 3 month mark which is followed closely by the 4 month mark representing 1/4 and 1/3 of a year respectively. Then comes the big 6 month anniversary, a celebration that from now on you are sliding down instead of climbing up. Months 8 and 9 go by with hardly any notice because they have become indistinguishable from each other. Then month 10 comes and the idea of double digits strikes you. When 11 months rolls around, it is almost unfathomable. How could 11 months have already gone by?
More than anything else, 11 months scared me. There were times throughout the past few months when I really wanted to go home and found myself heavily daydreaming about seeing my family, sleeping in my own bed at home, eating food I miss, driving a car. Yet, as much as I was ready to go home, I wasn't ready to leave Korea. I didn't want to be finished so soon.
In that vein of thought, I approached my manager with a proposal to extend my contract for 2 more months. She enthusiastically agreed to the idea. A few signatures later, she took my passport and ARC card down to immigration and returned with an very unofficial looking date stamped on the back of my ARC card - March 28.

Christmas Decorating

Last week, my school designated 2 days as Christmas decorating days. They bought a lot of wonderfully cheap & tacky wreaths and garlands and bows and whatnot for us to hang up in our classrooms. We also got to spend time having our students make Christmas decorations, all part of the school's new effort to have "fun" learning English. Before this recent strategy, "fun" had been a 3 letter F word at school. Study and work were the holy principles we were always supposed to abide by. But when our student enrollment went drastically down, our manager was practically forced to change her philosophy and so now we are allowed to have occasional fun with our students.
The front of my classroom. My attempt at decorating was to drape the garland over the air conditioner and hang the wreath on the door.
The back corner of the room. The colored papers hanging up on the wall are sticker charts for my Basic 5 class. For young students, stickers have a magical motivational quality.
My desk and very nice swivel chair. I currently have a green trash can in my room. I always know when the cleaning lady has been at the school because the trash can I had the previous day is gone and in its place is a new one that has come from someone else's room.
The Christmas trees that my J6 class made because they thought they were too cool to make reindeer.
My reindeer that I made as an example (thanks for the idea, Mom).
Mark getting ready to glue the antlers to the head while Bella and Dororthy are busy cutting behind him.
Jack with his finished reindeer who looks more appropriate for Halloween than Christmas.
Peter's reindeer looks like he is going to a costume party as well. At least these boys have a sense of creativity and humor, strange as it might be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Daily Walk

My latest realization about living in Korea is that so many things are so normal to me after 10 months here. I don't notice when I get pushed by an ajumma (old Korean woman) on the subway or when an adjoshi (old Korean man) spits on the sidewalk as I walk past. The closer I get to coming home, I also realize that nothing I consider normal is even close to being normal to everyone back home. Regardless of how many photos I take or how much I talk or write about it, no one will ever truly know Korea the way I do. In an attempt to change that last fact just a little, here is what I see two times a day, Monday through Friday, as I walk from my apartment to school and back to my apartment.
The outside of my apartment building. Ironically, the name of the building is the same name as my hometown.
A view down my street. I don't know the name of my street. Street names are somewhat irrevelant in Korea. Each building has a name and a number and that is more important. I ordered pizza from a place at the end of this street and it took me about 5 minutes to communicate to the delivery guy that I lived at the end of the street, just 2 minutes away.
The major road that runs parallel to my smaller street.
Crossing the major intersection, often going across on a red light when there are no cars around to the horrified stares from any nearby Koreans.
Another view of the same intersection.
Heading towards the blue apartment buildings.
A lovely sight to see every day - trash on the sidewalk.

Entering the blue apartment building complex. When I first got here, I thought I would get lost because all the apartments looked the same to me and they seemed to be everywhere that I looked.

Leaving the blue apartments and entering the few blocks of shops and restaurants, a mini oasis of sorts, as I consider it.
School is in sight, the top (7th) floor of the building in the middle.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Korean Music Video

This is my favorite Korean song of the moment. My kids love that I can sing the English part of the chorus, although I change the lyrics to "I'm so sorry that I love you, but it's time for a grammar quiz" or something to that effect. Sometimes, when it comes to teaching, you have to find ways to amuse yourself in order to survive the day.
Anyway, this song is called Lies or Koh Ji Mal by a group named Big Bang. This video has English subtitles so you can follow it. Enjoy.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Teachers at the Zoo

All the girls at my school, in a circle from left to right: Lynn, Apple, (in back) Sela, Janice, Annette, me, Gina, and Jun.
This is the manager at my school, Lynn. Although she can be quite strict with us teachers sometimes, I do respect her and appreciate that since she doesn't let us slack off, we end up becoming good teachers. She works extremely hard at her job and is always in a tough position trying to please students, parents, teachers, and the main corporation.
This is Apple, one of the Korean teachers at my school. Her and Jun below don't work with the students in the classroom. That is our sole domain. Instead, they work at the main counter, answering phones, talking to parents, disciplining students, and taking care of all other administrative type work at the school.
Each of us is assigned a "counter teacher" or "counselor" as we call them who then works with us to manage the students. We meet periodically to discuss how the students are doing and come to each other with any specific concerns. Jun is my counselor and has been since she started working at my school back in the spring. The sign she is holding says something to the likes of "Danger. Stay Away." We tried to convince her to bring it back and hang it up at the school, but she thought it best to leave the sign in its rightful place at the zoo.
Lest you think that there are no boys at my school, rest assured that there are quite a few now. Here are two of them, Huy and Neil, demonstrating their winning poses for our school's next top model competition.

Animals at the Zoo

The other weekend, the manager at my school arranged for all of us teachers to go on a trip to the zoo in Seoul. Despite being a slightly cold day, it was still a fun time being outside admist all the colorful leaves. Here are some pictures of the best animals.

Sadly, these bears have learned how to beg for food. Whenever they saw a lot of people standing in front of their area, the big one would immediately start posing and then the littles ones, who are obviously in training, would follow suit. These animals are smart though because all their tricks worked and the people who aren't so smart would then toss them pieces of carrot or apple.
This bear was doing his best to get some food as well. While it was fun to watch these bears perform, you also felt really bad for them and a slight anger towards the audience. The entire zoo is much different than the one near my hometown in that people aren't allowed at all to feed or even tempt the animals with food and the animals' living areas are much bigger and cleaner.

Apparently at the zoo, the giraffes love hamburgers as evidenced by this sign on a Lotteria (Korean fast food restaurant) stand directly across from their area.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Pepero Day!

In Korea, November 11th is Pepero Day. Pepero is the name of a favorite type of snack. Basically, it is a biscuit/cookie stick dipped in chocolate although it comes in several different versions like chocolate stick dipped in chocolate, stick filled with chocolate, and stick dipped in chocolate with almonds. On November 11th, you are supposed to give Pepero to people that you love, sort of like another version of Valentine's Day. Why November 11th? Well, Pepero are shaped like the number one and November 11th is 11/11. Clever. Anyway, Lotte Mart had a huge display of Pepero just for Pepero Day. It was quite amazing and amusing to see just how many different kinds and different sizes and different boxes of Pepero you could buy.