Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Korean Grandmothers

I was called out of class today and into the principals office. One of my new students' grandmothers was there and she wanted to wish me luck and bestow good health on me.

She had given a bottle of pure Korea red ginseng extract to the principal and had one prepped and ready for me. It was explained to me that this was a very expensive health remedy and I was able to show my appreciation for her thoughtfulness and concern. Apparently, it is really good for your health but you need to get past the taste. What!?! It had possible side effects!?!

I downed the tiny bottle of herbal good health and turned my puckered face from the bitter taste into a smile of gratitude.

We were still in the office talking and before I could defend myself, the grandmother lunged at me and shoved a pill into my mouth. I could only assume it was another natural health booster. Apparently, I'm not allowed to feed myself. She had a huge smile on her face as if she had single-handedly prevented any future illness that I might have contracted.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Service's a great thing.

So, a couple nights ago we had stopped into my favorite local ice cream place for some 31 flavors. We each got our ice cream and everything was going great until we tried to leave. The proprietor who spoke a little English started to yell at us that we didn't pay. We did a quick survey of the group and yep, everyone paid. She was convinced that someone hadn't.

Through a lot of arm waving, gesturing and grunts, we explained that we had each paid and the individual concerned had actually paid one of the other girls working and not the cashier attendant.

The proprietor admitted her mistake and let us leave without further incidence. Tonight I stopped in for another guilty pleasure and the proprietor recognized me immediately. She flashed a sheepish grim and we each had a knowing laugh. I ordered my flavor and before I left this time she said 'service' and put an extra ice cream sandwich in my bag.

'Service' is what they call any free item. I would be more accustomed to 'its on the house' or 'its on me' but the meaning is the same. Americans are given sooo much free stuff here. Usually just because we're American.

My roommate received a pair of free gloves from a man on the subway when he noticed she didn't have any. A co-worker was given an umbrella during a downpour to make sure her hair wouldn't get wet. Another co-worker bought a cake from the downstairs bakery and was given a couple of other items 'service'.

It would seem that being different attracts the 'service' items more. Thank goodness for my pale skin.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Sounding board, here is my book review.

I finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It was an excellent read. Gladwell dissects the anatomy of an epidemic. The epidemic could be social, cultural, or disease related and they all seem to follow the same pattern. A select few are responsible for starting and perpetuating the movement until one day it 'tips' and becomes an epidemic.

Take for example crime in the New York subway system in which crime was rampant and unchecked for years. Gladwell argues that with the vigilant reduction of graffiti and constant enforcement of rules against fare breaking, more violent crimes were reduced and nearly ceased. Because of a select group of law enforcement, a well thought out plan and appropriate leadership, the wave of violence tipped and the pendulum swung the other way.

Freakonomics offers another reasoning for the drastic reduction of crime in New York City (i.e. Roe v. Wade) and both authors have sound logic.

I was fascinated by the statistics, examples and stories used to illustrate the idea of 'how little things can make a big difference' but at the end of the book I felt like asking...."Okay, so what's the point?" Gladwell outlines some steps you can take to make an idea, trend, or social behavior tip but in the end I felt that the concept was still too abstract.

I would highly recommend the book as I enjoyed the subject and Gladwell's writing style. His more recent book Blink is also a good read.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Stupid Tourist Saturday!

We made our way to Bukchon via the Orange Subway line (Line #3) and started our walking venture. This part of Seoul is residential and commercial with many 'preserved' houses. The houses are lived in but they also serve as tourist stops hosting several traditional crafts.

Our first stop was to the Unhyeongung which was the residence of Prince Regent HungSon TaeWonGun of the Choson Dynasty. It was quite a bit smaller than some of the other palaces but the nice thing was that it was set up more like a museum. Rooms were made up to represent what they might have actually been like.

The male side of the house was completely separate from the female side. Most rooms seemed to be multifunctional accept the writing rooms. Apparently, it is important to have a room designated solely for writing. Furniture consisted of small tables, the occasional dresser, pads, pillows and screens. Not exactly comfortable and homey. Each room was accessed by stepping over an inconveniently tall sill. I guess it served as a reminder to take off your shoes.

Visiting these places in the winter truly baffles me. They lived in the same Korea that I am living in now. It is a Korea of subzero winters, snow, wind and otherwise rather harsh conditions. Yet, the walls of the buildings are paper thin and poorly insulated. There is no viable means for internal heating, i.e. no fire places. Either these people were incredibly tough...and I mean tough or I am missing something.

The rest of our walk through Bukchon was a little disappointing. Despite a map of questionable accuracy, we found all of the 'preserved' historical houses. Each was proudly indicated by a six by six inch sign that read Historical Preservation Society Visitable Traditional House (or something to that affect). There was nothing remotely visitable about them. They were boarded up tighter than hurricane preparation and when we tried the doorbell, all we got in responce was the yapping of a vicious sounding miniature dog.

We made up for the failure by buying DVDs in Yongsan and then going to the theater to see Babel. I can see why it got the nod from the academy. I liked it, but then I have some weird tastes in movies. It definitely isn't a feel good movie.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Today was graduation for our kindergarten classes. We held the ceremony in an auditorium in downtown Kimpo. The stage was lavishly decorated with balloons and banners.

The program started out with the kids walking in to Pomp and Circumstance. They looked really cute in their miniature caps and gowns.

Each class had representatives that gave speeches in English and Korean and there was a lot of other pomp and a couple of circumstances. We finished the ceremony with three songs sung by the kids in English as a showcase for all that they have learned. It didn't matter much because the sound tech cranked up the background music so much you couldn't hear the kids.

The thriving entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Korea, as evidenced by the flower vendor who set up shop on the steps of the auditorium just before and just after the ceremony. I really wonder if someone clued him in to the event or if he just lucked out and stumbled upon an important celebration that involved rich parents. He sold out of his pre-made bouquets by the time everyone left the ceremony.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of my brother being declared cancer free! Happy anniversary, bro!

To support cancer research click on the following links:

LiveStrong - Lance Armstrong Foundation

Breast Cancer - Susan G. Komen Foundation

The V Foundation - Jimmy V

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

National Foundation for Cancer Research

Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation

Cute Koreans

My last day with my kindergarten class. We didn't even get to have a party or anything.

Instead they will all be starting the elementary school English classes so I had to give them placement tests. We played the 'test game'. See how many answers you can get right.

As for my class, I will be saying goodbye to Brooke,




Michael and


Good luck in elementary school!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doldrum Day

The day started out pretty boring. The kindergarten was practicing for graduation, the afternoon classes were all taking placement tests. I didn't officially teach anything all day. I was to the point of wondering what I might blog about.

Three o'clock changed all of that. Excitement! There was a frantic message in Korean over the schools' intercom. I was with my afternoon kindergarten class who don't know what's going on most of the time. Apparently the announcement said something about evacuating the building. 'Evacuate the building' isn't in my Korean vocabulary yet so I was as clueless as my kids.

I leave my classroom to find everyone running around screaming instructions to each other. I open up the door to the stair well to be confronted by a firefighter fully suited up with a oxygen tank, face mask and full turnouts.

This was not a drill! I race back to my classroom to shepherd all of my kids out of the building. We made it down to the street and watched the mayhem of three fire trucks and a crew of firefighters.

Apparently, there was a small fire on the roof of the building. Someone had easily put it out with fire extinguishers but the fire department was called to be safe. The kids loaded their bus and went home having had just a little excitement for the day.

I had left my camera in the office but managed to snap a picture from the school window after they let us back up.

I am going to request that the school develop a fire plan (they don't have one yet!).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rural Isolation

After skiing, we checked into the Youth Hostel (a very nice hostel), and then enjoyed some billiards at the local rec room.

We had a leisurely morning on Saturday and then ventured out on the bus to our new destination. We set up camp in a remote part of Korea with beautiful mountains and scenery. The place we stayed at was kind of like the Korean version of condos with kitchenettes and private bathrooms. The exterior was a little weird though.

On Sunday night they had a barbecue for us. After dinner we played King's Cup and then learned some Korean counting games. On Monday morning, anybody who made it out of bed went hiking/ice walking.

The creek we followed was mostly frozen so we were able to walk up it for a couple of miles.

Despite the temperature and ice, there were clear signs that spring is on the way. The creek was lined with pussy willows.

Along the creek we also saw some traditional bee hives and honey pots. These were usually located under a cliff over hang. Once we knew what they were, we started noticing them in a lot of other places.

The trail head was marked by some traditional spirit posts called Jangseung. They are the guardians of the area. They protect from harm and ensure peace and prosperity.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Our weekend started out with a bus ride to Phoenix Ski Resort three hours east of Seoul. Phoenix is just one of several ski hills surrounding the city of Pyeongchang which is vying for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

We rented equipment and set out to the hill. I spent the better part of the afternoon teaching CW how to ski. I was impressed with how quickly she learned but she still spent a good amount of time on her back in the snow.

There wasn't a lot of snow and they clearly make snow any night that it gets cold enough. Temperatures were around 5 degrees so it was very nice and the snow was even melting. The mountain wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. But every inch of the mountain was covered with billboard advertisements. They also had music blaring all around the mountain. It was definitely different from what I am used to in the States.

We paid the extra money and went night skiing. The temperature dropped to -1 degrees and so I cold. Good thing I have my new ski hat! These are really popular here. I hope the fashion makes it to the US soon. They come in pig, sheep, ram, lamb, and a multitude of other animals.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy New Year!

It is the year of the Boar. This weekend, February 18 to be exact, is New Year's Day on the Lunar calendar. Fortunately, this is a big holiday and we get Monday off. Most people in Korea go visit relatives over this weekend and they say that the city of Seoul empties.

Posts will be delayed until Monday as we will be taking the holiday to go skiing/snowboarding. I am really excited though I am wondering how good the snow will be. We are probably going night skiing as well. We'll have a full day on the slopes and then a second day at a resort. It should be a lot of fun.

One of my students will celebrate his birthday on Monday. Because we don't have school, he got a party today. My camera crapped out on me so I didn't get any pictures. But I did get free pizza and cake for lunch.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Search of Black Tea

I am a tea drinker. I haven't worked my way up to tea connoisseur but I'm trying. I really like black teas and red teas but I also get distracted easily.

On my last shopping trip to HomePlus I had written on my list 'black tea'. I have given up on Earl Grey but I know they do have some sort of Lipton variety original black tea. I got to the tea section of the isle and was immediately dazzled by all of the different types of teas.

Most I couldn't read but two that caught my attention were Rosemary tea and Red tea. The Rosemary actually has rosemary leaves in it. It tastes and smells like rosemary. The Red tea uses rooibus leaves from Africa and has a distinct flavor and smell.

I walked out of the store without black tea but instead with two boxes of red tea and a box of rosemary.

I have a couple of really good teas from Christmas: elderberry, chokecherry and raspberry. At lunch the other day I tried some chrysanthemum tea. Smelled a little like flowers.

Maybe I'll just start drinking more coffee.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

It is quite typical for students here to give presents to teachers here. Sometimes they might be munching on the Korean equivalent of goldfish crackers and run up to you and say "Teacher. You, me, this give."

Depending on their level of English study that simple, grammatically incorrect sentence could be a huge break through or a moment of utter frustration.

Either way you gratefully accept the gift. Anything that is unwrapped I usually find a way to discreetly throw away. (Who knows where there hands have been.) Anything that is wrapped, I say woohoo!

This being Valentine's Day I was given a mountain of chocolates from my students. Pro: The more students you have, the more chocolate you get. Con: There is only so much chocolate one person can eat.

Just take a look at this booty! And this is after I gorged myself all day on chocolates.

I also learned that in Korea, on Valentine's Day the girl gives chocolates to the boy. A month later on White Day, the boy gives candy to the girl. A month after that on Black Day, single schmucks eat black Chinese noodles. Injustice!!

Side note: I had one of the best adult classes ever today because I learned that Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream has made it to Korea. I will definitely have to make a venture to Mokdong or Sincheon in the very near future.

Side note #2: I am really glad to see The Clintons making music videos. I really like their music. I hope they don't get sucked into the country genre though.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


It started raining today.

I am convinced there are few things better than the smell of rain. It is so fresh.

I have been wanting to share my Hangul Script Banner that I bought. This was two weeks ago when I went to the Jongmyo shrine. There were several artists outside the front gates doing the traditional banners.

I had quite a crowd of Korean men around me trying to explain what each of the banners meant. I felt obliged to buy one. I selected one that roughly translated means: My spirit is in full heart with God.

Monday, February 12, 2007

MTVs Real World

Sign me up for Real World Korea. I've decided that living and working here is like episodes of the popular MTV show. We work together, live together and party together.


7 Real Worlders........7 American Teachers
All living together.....Mostly living together
All working together.....Check
All put through sometimes ridiculous ordeals.....Check

Last week we just had a new roommate move in. She cooks, cleans, does the dishes. She even mopped the floor!

She might be the perfect roommate accept for one thing. Her boyfriend. He is quite good at making himself annoying. Sometimes he'll come over when she isn't here. (Who does that?) Sometimes he'll practice his trumpet when he has a perfectly good apartment of his own. (Who does that?!?) Sometimes he'll carry on loud conversations with himself. (Who does that??!!!??)

On top of it all he eats our food, ties up the washing machine (because she does his laundry), and sets up office in the middle of our living room.

He happens to be a Montanan and went to school at MSU. As much as I love my home state and Alma madre neither distinction could ensure this guy would have good social skills. Maybe I'm being Punked! Where's Ashton?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Inner Seoraskan

Stupid Tourist Saturday AND Sunday cont....

We made our way by bus to our hotel in Inner Seoraskan. Our hotel had its own hot springs which we could use. It was a good thing because no hot water got to the shower on my end of the building.

This is my bed. A one inch pad on the floor. I think this might even be luxurious compared to some Korean hotels.

Day two: We started our hike at the Osaka mineral water spring. We each filled up a bottle. It tasted like water that had a penny left in it over night. It wasn't bad and I got used to it after the first couple of drinks. It is supposed to be very healthy.

We followed a washed out river bed up the mountain and passed another Buddhist temple.

The river flooded last year with enough force to rip out the existing trail and walkways, and pulverized the metal.

Construction crews were working to clear a good channel for the river and to re install the trail.

At the end of the trail we hung out at a waterfall. On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at rest area at the top of the mountain. It was really pretty.

Cirith Ungol

Stupid Tourist Saturday AND Sunday!

This weekend's adventures take us to Seoraskan National Park with Adventure Korea tours. I left the apartment at 6am hoping and praying that the buses and subway would be running. They were! They shut down at midnight but reopen at 6am.

I made it to the meeting point 15 minutes early and boarded the bus. The trip cost me 89,000 Won which included three meals, the charter bus ride, one nights lodging and a tour guide. Pretty good deal.

Seoraskan N.P. is located approximately three hours northeast of Seoul. Day One was a hike in the outer park. Seoraskan means snow so it was appropriate to do this hike in the winter months. The entrance to the trail is lined with souvenir shops, a three story Buddha, as well as a Buddhist temple. The trail was only 3.4 km but took just over two hours up and an hour back.

There were some breathtaking views of mountains leading up to the vertical rock wall that we were about to ascend.
On the way up we also past the tottering rock. With a little muscle I was able to make it move. There were more than 800 stairs at a 17 percent grade up the side of the mountain. It made me think of Frodo and Sam and the stairs of Cirith Ungol.

Under the metal stairs were remnants of the cement stairs that had predated the metal ones and occasionally I caught glimpses of the wooden ladders that predated the cement stairs. The metal stairs really didn't feel comfortingly safe and the cement and wooden ones looked even worse.

I wonder now who built the stairs. Many projects like that in the States were expertly constructed by the CCC which was the brainchild of President Roosevelt. Did Korea have a CCC?

Once at the top we battled a snow squall.

What a difference five minutes makes when you're on the top of a mountain.
Once it cleared up enough, we could just make out the East Sea. They say on a clear day, you can see all the way to Japan.

After the grueling hike I bought a nut roll from a trail side vendor. Homemade version of a PayDay. Pretty good.