Thursday, June 28, 2007

Teacher, there is war today

When I went into my first class, Basic 5, on Monday, the kids were all talking (more like yelling at me) in rapid broken English like they usually do. After I got them calmed down, a few students who sit up at the front of the room near my desk started mentioning war.
One girl, Lynn who speaks very well, looked right at me and very calmly said, "Teacher, there is war today." Several students immediately chimed in, "Yes, teacher, yes. Today is war." Somewhat puzzled I asked where. "In Korea" they all replied right away. I am starting to get a little nervous. This is news to me.
"Where in Korea?" I asked. This set off frantic gesturing and a strange mix of mumbled English and Korean. To help them out I offered, "DMZ? 38?" They got excited by my answer, "Yes, teacher, yes!" To clarify some more I ask, "Fighting with North?" "Yes, teacher, yes. North and South fighting." Now I'm starting to panic a little. Surely if there was war today, I would have heard something about it or even heard the airplanes or bombs themselves. Our city is less than an hour away from Seoul on the subway and Seoul is only 30 miles from the DMZ.
My mind was quickly going through all the possibilities. Did they mean military drills? Those are quite common, but no, the kids were insisting that this was actual war between North and South. Did the North do something crazy? If so, why we were still in school? And why were the kids so calm about the whole thing?
Finally, I realized that my kids were referring to the start of the Korean War - on June 25, 1950. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, I laughed and tried to explain to my students my mistake. Given their English level, I'm not quite sure they understood. My older and more advanced students definitely understood when I explaned the event to them and they found it quite humorous, as I do now. Technically, the war has not ended so every day I am living in a war country, although thankfully there is no outright fighting involved.

Friday, June 22, 2007

63 Tower

The 63 Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Seoul and a major landmark, sort of like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I took these pictures from a park across from the Tower last weekend. As you can tell, I had a little fun playing around with my color settings.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Views from my Rooftop

As the title states, these pictures are taken from the roof of my apartment building. The roof is the equivalent of being on the 4th story - very short when it comes to Korea where 20+ story apartment buildings are common.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Deoksugung Palace

Today I went to Deoksugung Palace which served primarily as a palace for other members of the royal family from the 1500s up until the early 1900s. Elements of architecture and layout reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing, but not as grand or opulent. The best thing about the palace was the blissful sensation of peace, a hard thing to find in a densely populated country where the noise is neverending. I was also struck by the contrast of the old painted wooden buildings carefully preserved in the middle of multitudes of new shiny metal skyscrapers. It is a true picture of the past giving way to the future and a symbol of Korea's transition as a country.

I love the way Koreans use the English language. At least this sign makes sense, unlike so many other random things from signs to t-shirt slogans to sayings on stationary products.