Sunday, October 28, 2007

Nine months is a long time

It's been nine months for me now in Korea. I haven't posted much this month because everything around me seems normal. Teaching is a routine, especially since 2 of the levels I have taught the past 2 months I had already taught before. I have the daily class pattern memorized: attendence, homework check, reading homework, reading, vocabulary quiz, grammar homework, grammar quiz, new grammar lesson.
The surroundings between the triangle of my school, my apartment, and the subway stop all seem normal to me. I have discovered all the shortcuts and alternate routes around my extended neighborhood. I have figured out all the quirks of my apartment from the way to turn on the oven burners so that they actually come on (hint: press down really hard and hold it for a few seconds before releasing) to the way the washing machine leaks water on the floor of the balcony (hint: toilet paper smells really bad when it gets soaked in laundry water).
I hardly flinch when motorcycles whiz past me as I'm walking on the sidewalk (hint: it's called a sidewalk, not a sidecycle for a reason). I understand all the questions asked of me at Lotte Mart and know the appropriate responses in Korean. I can navigate my way around the subway system without a map and when a new teacher asks me directions, I can picture the map in my head without any thought (hint: avoid the rapid train when coming back from Suwon station and always make sure you are on the train going to Cheonan not Inchon). I can even imitate the English announcements on the subway system (female voice: The train bound for Cheonan is now approaching; male voice: Please stand clear of the yellow line).
Overall, what I'm trying to say is that nine months is a long time. The longer you are away from home, the more you change, and the harder it becomes to go back because you can never go back in time to the way you once were before you left.

Halloween Korean Style

Peter and Mandie, aka Adam and Eve, hosted a Halloween party at their new apartment. Since Halloween is not extensively celebrated in Korea, we were forced to be creative with our costumes instead of just making a quick trip to a party store. Below are some of the results.
Neil and Annette are a golf couple, all items including hat, glasses, red sequin bowties, pajama pants, argyle socks, and childrens' plastic golf clubs are courtesy of the local Lotte Mart.
Sarah was cloudy with a chance of showers and MJ was a librarian.
Grant the boxer is knocking out Jonny the basketball player in a battle of sportsmanship.
I drew inspiration from Korea and went as a Lotte Mart girl. Look at the Chuseok post for further information and pictures of the actual girls in action. Briefly, girls dress up in these white socks and matching skirts and jackets and pass out samples of coffee and promote new products. Everyone remarked on how clever and cute my costume was. I'll have to wait until Wednesday to see how my students will react.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Love in Korea

Gyeonguk Palace proved to be a popular place for couples to spend their holiday.
This bride and groom decided to take some pictures of their own after posing for their own pictures taken by a professional photographer.
I especially like how the bride is wearing sneakers underneath her wedding dress. For once it's practical not to wear heels. Korean girls have an obsession with heels. They wear them everywhere, even to the beach and mountain hiking. This guy is lucky to get a smart girl who realizes that sometimes function is better than fashion.
Quiet moment on a bench in the shade outside the palace.
A not so secret lovers' embrace. It's hard to find privacy in a crowded country.

Gyeongbok Palace

The last Korean holiday (Foundation Day) until the end of the year (sigh) was on Wednesday. I decided to enjoy the great fall weather by crossing off one of the things on my 'to do before I leave Korea' list and went to Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. This palace is considered the biggest and most beautiful palace in Seoul and I think I agree with this assessment. Besides the palace itself, I seemed to be an attraction as well. I was stopped 3 times and asked to have my picture taken. After being asked by the picture takers where I was from, I was told that I had pretty eyes and was beautiful. Needless to say, that made my day just a little more pleasant.
Right outside the main entrance to the palace are these guards dressed in traditional uniforms. Obviously, this girl could care less about the man with an ax standing right behind her. I initially felt sorry for these guards having to just stand there for hours and have their picture taken endless number of times. But then I got approached for the second time in about 15 minutes by a giggling group of teenage/college girls and realized that it may be a slight annoyance to be a tourist attraction, but it is kind of fun in its own strange way.
This is probably the biggest building in the whole complex and one of the first ones that you see. Behind it is a carefully laid out complex of courtyards and smaller buildings, each perfectly designed and decorated that seem to just keep going and going.
Main gate of the courtyard wall outside the main building.
Ever since my time in China, I love the colors and shapes of Asian architecture.
Attached to the rear of the palace was a beautiful garden with a lotus filled pond and a small temple adorned island in the middle.
This boy was having a fun time hamming it up for his parents' camera.
His sister, however, wasn't having as much fun.
Here I love how the reflection of the temple is visible in the water even through the scattered lotus leaves. The garden was one of the most peaceful places I have visited in Korea. I felt like I could spend hours sitting on a bench by the edge of the pond, just reading a book and people watching. However, I didn't want to become a potential target for more photo takers so I kept moving on. All in all, it was a wonderful way to enjoy the last holiday of the year.

Friday, October 5, 2007

This is a horrible thing...

This is a horrible thing for a teacher to say, but some kids are just dumb. Maybe this is just the cynic coming out of me, but it's true. I do try to be very patient with my students and remember the fact that the Korean educational system is very stressful with lots of extra studying and homework and tests. But the following incident which happened yesterday in my Junior 5 (high intermediate level and 12 years old) class is proof that some kids are just dumb, no matter what.
I was teaching a lesson on future questions with the word will and was going around the room asking every student a question.
Me to John: What time will you eat lunch tomorrow?
John: Blank stare at me
Me: What time will you eat lunch tomorrow?
John: Long pause. 1:30.
Me: Okay. 1:30.
Other students: 1:30? What? Really?
John: Confused look
Other students: Your school eats lunch at 1:30? Really?
John: Not 1:30.
Me: Okay. What time then?
John: Blank stare. Writes something on his book
Jake (sitting by John): 12:10.
Me: John, do you eat lunch at 12:10?
John: Shakes his head.
Me: Okay, what time do you eat lunch then?
John: Confused look
Me: John, you think about it while I ask some other students.
I ask about 3 students a question and then John shouts something out.
John: I eat lunch at 7:30.
Me: 7:30?
Other students: Lots of laughing
Me: John, I don't think so.
Jake: Teacher, John doesn't know what lunch-ee is.
Other students: Lots of laughing
Me: There is no lunch-ee. Lunch-ee is not an English word. It is lunCH.
Me: John, look up here at the board (where I write). Every day, most people first wake up, then eat breakfast, then go to school. In the middle of school they eat lunch. Then they go home and eat dinner and then go to sleep. Understand?
John: Nodding
Me: Okay, so what time do you eat lunch?
John: 5:30.
Other students: Lots of laughing. John eats lunch-ee at 5:30!
Me: No one eats lunch-ee. It is lunCH (writing lunch-ee and lunch on the board).
Jake: John eats lunch at 12:30.
Me: Okay, great. Now John, say a sentence.
John: I will eat lunch at 12:30 tomorrow.
Me: Thank you.
This whole exchange took at least 10 minutes and by the end of it I didn't know whether to laugh or hit my head on the board.

Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress

Suwon, the city where I live, is famous for its fortress. Even though it was originally built over 200 years ago, it is almost perfectly intact. When you visit, you can walk all the way around the fortress, a trip that lets you see a lot of the city and takes roughly 3 hours.
A watchtower
Painted walls
The way the fortress snakes its way up the hill brings back memories of the Great Wall of China
Here you can see how the fortress goes right through the middle of the city
A view of Suwon from a high point on the fortress