Saturday, March 31, 2007


Stupid Tourist Saturday!

Today's adventures took us to Suwon which has as its main attraction a fortress. The 3 kilometers of wall surrounds a palace and along the wall there are some pretty serious battlements.
The fortress is the result of Korea's second crazy king who in the late 1700s decided he was tired of Seoul and wanted the capital moved to Suwon. Sound reasoning if you ask me.
The fortress is the Hwaseong Fortress, the Flower of Castles. It is fully restored and well worth the 1,000W entrance fee. You can find the fortress by taking the dark blue subway (line #1) to the Suwon station. It is a good 1.5 to 2 hour ride but the majority of it is above ground. The other option is to take a train from Seoul Station. The trains cost 3,000W and leave every half hour. It is about a 20 minute train ride. From Suwon Station, get in the extraordinarily long taxi cue and once in a taxi, direct him to the Paldalmoon front entrance gate of the fortress.
The day was overcast and cool which allowed for much reduced crowds but still enjoyable weather. Trees and bushes were blooming profusely. We began our trek along the wall.
All along the wall were notches for archers, firearms bastions, lookouts, hidden entrances, and catapult towers.
At the top of the mountain was a bell that starting in April (one day too early) could be rung for 1,000W. One ring is for your gratitude for your parents, two rings is for health and prosperity, and three rings is for the realization of your dreams.
There are four main gates and in between each gate, the walls are lined with different colored flags. White on the west wall, black on the east. Red on the north wall, blue on the south.
On either end of the fortress is a flood gate that leads into a nice stream. It is supposed to be one of the first restored streams marking an effort of environmental conservation.
Our stupid touristy day would not have been complete without a ride on the dragon trolley.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The True Definition of a Hagwon

With the beginning of the new school year (March 1), we started specialized classes. For the most part this works really well and we can focus on a particular area of English study instead of trying to teach everything at once.

The classes are broken down into reading comprehension, writing, grammar, conversation and vocabulary. The down side is that with our schedule, the students might have a different teacher for each one of those subjects. They then get homework in each subject but it isn't due until the following week's class.

The students are slowly figuring out the system though this past month we've had a lot of problems. Students bring their grammar books on reading days and their vocabulary books on writing days. They forget to turn in their homework or leave it at home. Each student has a book for each class and then either a practice book or a homework book to accompany it. Most students have nine-plus books for English class!

More than ever before I feel that we are fulfilling the mission of a hagwon - cram school. For 50 minutes each Friday I drill the kids on 12 new vocabulary words. We go over definitions, parts of speech and usage in sentences. For their homework, they are then supposed to be able to complete complex analogies, use the vocab words to complete sentences and write their own sentences using each of the words. Yikes!

There are 18 pages of homework for vocabulary. Then the students have homework each week in reading, writing, grammar and conversation. This isn't even taking into account that they are all going to public school and probably have homework in each of those classes. Most of the students then go to one or two other hagwons (music, math, science, taekwondo, etc.) and have homework in each of those.

Are we asking too much of these students? It is debatable. It is what their parents and society expects. They'd just better get it all done or else it is down to the principals office where they face the corporal punishment lovingly doled out at the end of a stick by a short but stern and scary Korean lady.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring Showers....Bring May Flowers

Days are often gloomy here with a constantly slight overcast sky. But the last couple days, dark clouds have been rolling in. Some of them let loose their rain and others pass us by without a fleeting glance. Either way, they upset the delicate balance of my classroom management. Kids jump out of their seats to see the black clouds and crane to look out the window and see if it is raining.

They need to go outdoors more often! We don't have a playground for the kids to run around in and have recess. They have gym class once or twice a week but it usually ends up being an extended English lesson. Which leaves us teachers inventing new ways to expel energy productively in the classroom.

I employ the jumping jack game. My students practice their numbers in English up to 100 (if they have that much energy) by doing jumping jacks and counting them allowed. If a kid can't sit still in their chair, I take their chair away and make them stand. Cruel?, yes but effective.

Anybody have any other great ideas to keep these kindergarten bodies productively in motion? I'm always open to new ideas. Leave me a comment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Today, I received a care package from one of my former students (who will remain nameless and blameless). How exciting! Packages from home are always exciting.

I waited until my ten minute break in between classes and then tore into it with gusto to see what had been sent. I struggled for a moment and then was engulfed in a cloud of sparkly blue glitter as the package exploded.

This peach of a student had thoughtfully sent me some candies, pens and stickers (to replace the ones she might have stolen over the years). She even more thoughtfully filled the mailing envelope with the finest blue glitter sold. I was covered from head to toe. My clothes, my jacket, my bag, my chair.

The only thing that could have made it better is if the package had arrived on April 1st. It will take me weeks if not months to get rid of all the glitter. I stood outside for a good ten minutes trying to brush myself off.

I really did appreciate the care package. Thanks TS. And I'm good natured enough to highly recommend the glittered envelope if you're still searching for that perfect April 1st prank. It worked like a charm on me. I'm sure it'll work for you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Korean Golf

Even in Korea golf is a rich man's sport. Though the lack of open space seems to present a problem for courses in or around the metropolitan area.

Koreans who do play golf have resorted to large netted driving ranges. This is really ingenious in a way because you don't have the labor of collecting the balls from the field. The netted areas include a ramp that allows the balls to roll back to the tee. (It would defeat the purpose if you only paid for a bucket of balls like in the states.)
These driving ranges can be located everywhere around the city and if you get done working on your driving, you can practice your putting at the mini-golf course just next door.
This particular range was located behind the National Museum but was completely walled off from the museum and thus preventing us from taking in nine holes on the put-put course after touring the museum.

Interested in golfing in Korea? Just look for the large green netted areas.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fan Death

I have heard about this before but then it came up at dinner last night and again in my adult conversation class today. Take it as a sign, an omen...I'm supposed to blog about it.

Now I'm not normally a superstitious person. And most anything dealing with good luck or bad luck can be scientifically reasoned out. Black cats don't scare me. I broke a mirror once and I should be in that seven years of bad luck phase but some really good things have happened to me. I always forget to throw salt over my shoulder. And it is almost impossible to avoid walking under ladders.

But this one kills me (figuratively, not literally).

Fan death is an urban legend that originated in South Korea, but has since spread. The belief is that an electric fan, if left running overnight in a closed room, can result in the death (by suffocation, poisoning, or hypothermia) of those inside. This belief also extends to air conditioners and the fans in cars. When the air conditioner or fan is on in a car, some people are apt to leave their car windows open a crack to avoid "fan death." Fans manufactured and sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.

They argue the fan creates a vortex and partial vacuum that sucks the oxygen away. They also think that the fan turns the oxygen in to carbon dioxide OR better yet, chops up the air particles so they are no longer breathable (laughable factor...high).

My adult class actually tried to argue the science behind the fan death theories. Bad move on their part. Never argue science with a former science teacher masquerading as an English teacher. What got to me was how set on the idea they were. They were utterly convinced.

Oh, by the way, I slept with my fan on last night and I'm alive and well writing this post.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Breakfast for Dinner

One thing we've all been missing is a nice big American breakfast. Breakfast here isn't that important and the menu is often a clone of dinner or lunch menu...kimbop, bibimbop, etc.

We haven't had a house party in a long time either...since Christmas. So, we invited a bunch of people and planned a menu:

Sourdough pancakes

Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheese

Hash browns


Juice and Coffee

It was an amazing meal. Made that much better because at our local black market American goods store (Living Talk Talk) we found American bacon and Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.

After, we watched movies and then played a lively game of Outburst.

Friday, March 23, 2007


With a population of 48 million in a country the size of Montana, they'd better have a good plan for dealing with waste.

Once a week the city sets up their recycling bins in from of our apartment building. We separate metal, plastic, glass, cardboad and milk cartons. It is a pretty good system.
We are wasteful Americans and we usually throw away a lot of stuff that should be recycled. We always have to coordinate the days we take our garbage out. We can't take our garbage out on recycling day because we get yelled at for throwing certain items away.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Korea is a seemingly very health conscious society. Many products are sold as all natural. Most of the food is produced with less salt than Americans are used to. Some of the their ideas of health seem a little screwy to me.

In addition to watching their diets, many Koreans regularly exercise by walking trails, hiking, or riding bikes. Strategically located along many walking trails are outdoor exercise equipment. I have only seen a couple of indoor gyms. Most of the equipment seems pretty ridiculous to me. You can twist or turn on the machines but they don't appear to actually work any muscle group. There are some bench press type machines but they don't have any weight on them.

Koreans don't like muscular body types. They like long lean muscled frames on men and very very slight frames on women. Either way they don't workout the way Americans do. Here is one of their exercise parks along the trail in the Yongsan Family Park.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rex's Birthday

Parents spend a lot of money to send kids to our school. Most of the parents are very wealthy and most of the kids are spoiled rotten. This yields several different results.


1. Many of the kids are behavior problems. They never get punished at home. When they get punished at school they cry, throw a fit, tell their parents and the teacher gets in trouble.

2. Kids don't have to worry about their baby teeth falling out. Most kids eat so much sugar that at the tender age of 5 and 6, their teeth are rotting out of their heads.


1. Birthday parties include a ridiculous amount of really good food.

2. When the students like us, we get pretty posh presents. I've yet to pull in anything that'll make you green with envy, but some co-workers have gotten gifts valued at over $300.

Anyways, here are some pictures of the latest birthday party.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Feel good video part two. The world is just a better place because of things like this. Give somebody a hug today!

Free Hugs in KOREA

Free Hugs

Feel good video of the day. The song is 'All the Same' by Sick Puppies. Koreans don't have a word for 'hug' so I'm not sure what the sign says. The translation seems to come through. The song and story is explained here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Can't Escape the IRS

Even in Korea I can't escape the IRS. I am trying to figure out exactly what I need to file for this tax season. Even though April 15 deadline is fast approaching, because I am living overseas, I have an automatic extension.

I want to get everything done so that I don't have to worry about it. I have downloaded all of the forms and registered for e-filing. Taxes are never easy.

There are plenty of exemptions and circumstances that apply to Americans living abroad. The State Department offers some tips for filing. Other websites offer information here and here.

If any reader has gone through the rigmarole of filing while living abroad and would care to offer suggestions or helpful hints, please leave me a comment.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Walking, Talking Dictionary

The 10am choir and the 3pm choir at IWE has joined forces to put on an Easter Cantata performance. I am the token pale face in the choir as most are Koreans or other internationals who have naturally darker complexion.

It is hard to blend in. I am automatically looked to for pronunciation on words in the cantata. I think it is funny because even Americans don't always pronounce biblical words the same way. Jerusalem, Hosanna, Alleluia. They aren't exactly English words with set pronunciation. I just give them my pronunciation and we get on with the song.

The director conducts in Korean and so he'll give instructions and I have to figure out what and where I need to sing. It is a fun challenge.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Stupid Tourist Saturday.We met for lunch in Itaewon at the Wolfhound Irish Pub. It was a nice pub that served traditional Irish meals like Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Champ, and Shepherd's Pie. We also indulged in some Guinness, Black and Tans, and green beer.
After lunch we went to a little hole-in-the-wall book store called What the Book. It has a great English selection and specializes in used books. I found 'The Aquariums of Pyongyang' which came highly recommended. It is about a North Korean who escaped and is now living in South Korea. He recounts the story of his years in that country.

Our party split, the girls to go shopping and the guys to go the the National Museum. It was the last day of a special exchange exhibit from the Louvre. There was a huge crowd on hand to see the exhibit before it left. We stood in live for a long time.
It cost 10,000W to get into the exhibit in which we had to shove and elbow our way to get even a short, distant view of the paintings. Some of the paintings were very impressive but it was a relatively small exhibit. I am no art aficionado but I didn't recognize any of the artists.

The museum is huge. The permanent exhibit of the museum spans three floors and costs an additional 2,000W to view. The interior of the main exhibit hall is the size of Grand Central Station. We only got through half of the museum which housed artwork, metal work and artifacts from all over Asia. I'll have to return when I have more time. The museum can be located off subway line #4, the Ichon station.
After the museum, we all met up again and went to a house warming party for a former co-worker. She cooked a Dominican meal and then we danced to salsa and meringue.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Brown Nosing

I usually look down on brown-nosers and it irritates me to no end when my students try it, but it really does pay off.

We brought back a few souvenirs from North Korea for some people in the office. We gave a bottle of blueberry brandy to one of our Korean helper teachers. She acts like our mom and dotes upon us at every opportunity. We like it.
We also got a nice poster of the Kumgangsan Mountain region and then had it framed for our boss, Mrs. Lee. She was very impressed and began to regale us - through an interpreter - about her visit to North Korea when tourists were first allowed (1998). She told us that she will be going back next month to plant trees with some women's group.

The poster was a mere 10,000W ($10US) and the framing was 35,000W. It was worth the investment. First she bought us dinner...Actually she handed us 100,000W and said dinner and beer is on me. Then she proceeded to offer the use of her condo on Jeju-Do island. We had originally nixed the idea of going to Jeju-Do but now that we have a condo, a weekend jaunt is much more feasible.

Brown nosing really paid off big this time. I might have to make it a habit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Life In Idioms

It is sad to say but I feel like my life has been reduced to idioms (words or phrases whose meanings cannot be deduced from literal definitions but refer instead to figurative meanings). In my adult conversation classes, we dissect the meaning of each idiom from the simple to the complex. I began to realize that everything I say is some sort of idiom. Everything I write. Everything I think. I am constantly dissecting the hidden meaning of each phrase.

I can see why English can be a frustrating language to learn because you don't just have to learn the words and what the words mean, but you have to learn the phrases and what the phrases mean.

Take tonight for example...We were discussing 'save the day' and 'at death's door'. So next time I'm at the bank I'll just ask the teller to go ahead and put a day away for me. I'll save it for later when I need an extra one. OR I was went to a friend's house and who happened to live just across the hall?-Death. He is one scary dude, that Death guy. And his door is kind of freaky too.

Who would have guessed the actual meanings of those phrases include the common theme from superhero movies and being close to death. I constantly have an internal monologue running saying "Oooo, That's a good idiom. How could I explain it to my adult conversation class?"

I need to get out more!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

24 Hour Bug

I got food poisoning from one of my favorite local restaurants. We had dinner there last night and I gorged myself. I then made matters worse by downing an entire pint of Baskin Robbins.

The only medicine that the school had on hand was for 5 year olds and tasted a bit like sour milk, and it was brown. I didn't have any breaks in my teaching schedule to find some real medicine.

The nice thing about a 24 hour bug is that it does pass. I was raked over the coals with symptoms but it was relatively short lived. I got one of my fellow teachers to cover my adult class and I came home and slept for 12.5 hours.

The major downside of the whole episode is that I'm not very keen on the idea of returning to the aforementioned restaurant even though they serve really good Korean barbecue.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

North Korea Observed

Upon first entering the country it was almost immediately apparent how controlled everything is. We said how 'scripted' everything was. We were only allowed a short way into the country and the whole area was very controlled. They only let us see what they wanted us to see.

If electricity is any indication, a quick look at this photo shows how poor the country is. S. Korea is lit up from top to bottom. That great black void is N. Korea. Looking out from our hotel, there was a strip of lights along the road that ran for a half mile. After that was complete darkness. I forgot to take advantage of the star gazing.

Roads were closed off when they were not in use, we could not venture from the hotel complex and any interaction with the North Korean people was closely monitored. They even went so far as to hire South Koreans as hotel staff.

We heard stories of family members coming to visit relatives in North Korea. The North Korean family would be moved to a nicer fully furnished house. Then they would have to sign documents claiming that is how they have always lived and that they would not reveal any secrets of day-to-day life to their relatives. As soon as the relatives left they would be moved back to their run down ramshackled house.

The trip was like taking a step back in time. Everything seemed as if it might have been in the 1950s. Only the army had vehicles and all of their trucks, motorcycles and tanks were from the war. (Kudos to their mechanic for keeping everything in pristine working order for over 50 years.)

Along the road, the soldiers were laying phone lines and I even saw one guard tapping into the phone line just like on M*A*S*H.
On the second afternoon, we went shuttle hopping and got up close and personal to soldiers albeit through the bus window. The poor state of development was apparent everywhere you looked accept at the hotels which were classic western design.

The road up to the hiking trails was apparently built by the Japanese and thus accounts for the numerous switch backs. It is interesting that they don't seem to be susceptible to frost heaves here and the roads are in good condition for being so old. Everywhere along the trails were carved huge scripts in the rocks. Some had to be ten feet tall and up 50 feet on the wall.

Monday, March 12, 2007

North Korea Adventure

Day two in the Stalinist state started out with a breakfast at the hotel. For some reason they don't believe in bacon and eggs and insist on rice and kimchi. The hotel was a western style hotel and had a nice view from the window.

We were bussed to the trail head of the second hike. All of the tour groups go at the same time so we were jockeying for our position on the trail. The trail followed a river up the mountain and so offered some beautiful waterfalls, gorges, weeping walls and bridges.

The trail branched at the top but we weren't allowed to proceed because we didn't have the proper gear. They neglected to tell us the trail was iced over and that we might need crampons. It was still a beautiful hike.

We lunched at the trail head and had a traditional North Korean meal. It was very similar to South Korean fare but the kimchi was less spicy.

On the way down the mountain we stopped at a Buddhist temple that was being repaired.

We then did some souvenir shopping in the main hotel complex area. We took a shuttle up the road and got a picture of a painting of the Great Leader. The doormen at the hotel had to take the picture to ensure we didn't crop the painting. Rules state that the picture must be full and complete of the painting.

We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon shuttle hopping and so rode another shuttle to the other hotels. They surrounded an inlet from the ocean and looked across to a North Korean city. We weren't allowed to take pictures. Along the way we got closer to some N. Korean peasants, military personnel, and everyday life.

Finally, we boarded the bus and headed back home. It is strange to call S. Korea my home.

As we left the N. Korean boarder control check station we heard a series of gun shots in the distance. They were at least a half mile away but it was still a little unnerving.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

So, what did you do this weekend?

Oh, nothing much...I just went to North Korea!!!! Really stupid tourist Saturday and Sunday. (By the way, Kim Jong Il says 'hi'.)

After adult class on Friday night, we took a cab to the Adventure Korea meeting place in Hongdae. We were scheduled to depart at 11:30pm. We drove through the night to arrive at the South Korean border control check point at 7am. We were a little early and so had to kill some time.

After going through South Korean security, we boarded the bus and drove through the DMZ. The border had ten foot high barbed wire fences. The DMZ was completely devoid of trees for visibility reasons. We came to the North Korean border control and the differences in the two countries became immediately apparent. South Korea had a beautiful building on their side of the border. It was reminiscent of an airport with the metal detectors, sweeping architecture and roomy interior. North Korea had a tent. It was a large steel framed tent, but a tent nonetheless.

We were not allowed to take pictures and all of the border control agents were very gruff looking in their military dress. We continued on to our hotel in the Mount Kumgang region of North Korea on the eastern coastline.

We went less that twenty miles into the country but along the way we saw North Korean villagers walking and riding their bicycles to and from destinations. Farmers plowed fields with oxen and every quarter mile along the road, a N. Korean soldier stood guard. The guards had red flags and if they saw you take a picture of something you weren't supposed to they would confiscate your camera.

We were shuttled up the mountain along 77 hairpin turns that unfortunately reminded me of Tokyo Drift. The trail was lined with breathtaking views and vistas. In some places the path became a near vertical ascent up stairs that made for and adventurous challenge.

After we made our way back down the mountain we went straight to the second hike of the day around Samilpo lake. This was more of a leisurely walk and so made for a nice cool down. We hadn't had time to eat anything since 6am and with all of our exertions we ravenously devoured some not-very-good kabobs at the end of the trail.

We boarded the bus back to the hotel complex area and sat down for our final scheduled activity of the day, a Korean acrobatic show. It was really good and the performers demonstrated some amazing feats of balance, strength and agility. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted that few of us made it through the entire performance awake.

More tomorrow...

Meanwhile, what happened while we were away?...There was a riot in Seoul over FTA negotiations.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Strange Weather

We had been having some of the most beautiful weather. It was very spring-like and the trees looked like they wanted to burst with new leaves.

But then Sunday turned into a drenching rain. We still went to Yongsan to browse the DVD selection. Apparently, the electronic marketeers didn't like the rain. It was eerily deserted because only two vendors had their full selection and three others had a limited selection out huddled under a large umbrella. When we had sufficiently looked through the limited selection, we went to eat salted pork in our favorite back alley restaurant - Sogum Gui. On the way home we jumped on the wrong bus and had to walk an extra four blocks home in the rain. We were sopping wet.

Monday continued the weird weather as it turned bitter cold. For some reason, cold weather after a warm spell seems colder than it should. My adult English students said that this was typical March weather with three or more days of cold and then four days of warmer temps. I told them about our saying for March 'In like a lion and out like a lamb'.

Tuesday, Wednesday and today it snowed. Not enough to stick and make things white but enough to call it a flurry. I am really ready for spring now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New School Year

This week marked the start of the new school year (March to March). What that means for us is that every class has been rearranged and all of the teachers switched.

I'm not entirely sure of the logic in all of this because I don't know my new students, I don't know what to teach, and I don't know when and where I'm supposed to go. All the other teachers are in the same boat as me and this week has been a challenge.

Consequently, I have learned some key lessons:

#1 Turn off that little part of your brain that deals with logic and rationale. It is much easier to accept change. Most of the changes have seemed completely illogical and irrational but who knows. Maybe there is a grand scheme.

#2 Flexibility at work is best if your are a contortionist. I enjoy learning what I am supposed to teach 10 minutes after class has begun. I enjoy teaching from the hip and not having any materials. BUT...I prefer to have a plan so I can be prepared with the appropriate materials.

#3 Find strength in numbers. None of the teachers understand the new system. None of the students understand the new system. I guess we can all learn together.

There is a glimmer of hope as the new class arrangements are supposed to be specialized. In theory we can concentrate on reading, writing or conversation in each class and all of the students will actually be at the same proficiency theory. We'll see if it works.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Three days and counting. Friday we will be venturing across, yes, across the DMZ to experience North Korea!

The trip will be with my favorite Korean tour company. Just for the weekend and we will get some hiking, some hot springs and some entertainment (Korean acrobatics). We will be going to the Geumgangsan Diamond mountain area whose more than 12,000 pinnacles make up "the surreal land of fairies, immortal hermits, dragons and phoenixes".

As we are preparing for the trip, I can't help but question and then laugh at the laundry list of restricted items:
Banned items list and other regulations
① Mobile phones and other communications devices are not permitted. Cameras with telephoto lenses of more than160mm and binoculars with zooming capabilities of 10 times or more are banned. All electronic equipment must be checked at the Guemgang Condo before departing for North Korea. This includes all cameras, battery chargers, PDAs, video cameras, notebook computers, calculators & CDP, and MP3 players. (dang, I guess my x-ray specs are out of the question)
② Newspapers and magazines from South Korea aren’t permitted. You are allowed to bring personal reading material but please take the subject matter into consideration. (as if I'm fluent in Hangul and regularly read South Korean newspapers)
③ You must ALWAYS wear your ID (you will get this before you arrive in NK) around your neck. You will be fined if it lost or damaged. (I'm not worried about the fine, I'm worried about getting back into South Korea!)
④ Must carry your passport and ID with you at all times. (Duh!)
⑤ You are not permitted to bring alcohol or other food items into North Korea. (Fortunately, they make and sell azalea wine there)
⑥ Washing hands and/or feet is not allowed in the fresh water springs (fine is $15). Also, please be aware of the NO SMOKING areas and do not leave cigarette butts on ground. (stupid Americans...ruining it for everyone)
⑦ Do not take any natural objects(such as rocks) (Not even a small one?)
⑧ Only US dollars and credit cards are accepted. (You mean those funny looking green bills?)
⑨ There are many large rocks with engraving done by the government. Do not touch or lean on these rocks.
⑩ You may speak with the North Korean people that you meet, but you may not take random pictures of them, including pictures from inside the bus. In addition, please be careful of the conversation topics when speaking with North Koreans. DO NOT talk about politics, diplomatic relations, economics and other such sensitive issues. (Stick to acceptable topics like the weather and everyone's health)

I was also keen to find out that the hot springs have "contains trace amounts of radium and is effective for curing skin troubles, neuralgia, rheumatism, muscle pain, and has overall skincare and anti-aging properties". Radium?!? Isn't that the stuff that is intensely radioactive?

So if Kim Jong Il doesn't get me, I can look forward to the radioactive hot tubs. Awesome!
All in all, I am really looking forward to the trip. I'm sure I'll have lots of pictures to share next Monday.

Monday, March 05, 2007


I have no idea how it started.

I have just not been myself since I started working here. First, I played Santa Claus. Shortly thereafter I became Superman.

Way back in January, of my fellow teachers told the kids that I was Superman. In between classes I was mobbed by the students asking if I was the famous superhero. I played along. And the web of deceit began to be spun. Firstly, I can only fly when I'm outside (otherwise the whole building would come with me). Secondly, one of the other students did see me leap a tall building in a single bound when I was walking home. Of course I have x-ray vision and super hearing. Duh! Why can't I use my laser vision? My boss keeps kryptonite in the school to keep me under control. Etc., etc., etc.

The stories perpetuated. Apparently, superheros in America needed a safe haven and so had to all move to Korea. Our school currently employs Supergirl (my little 'sister'), Spiderman and Spidergirl (a husband and wife teaching team), Wonder Woman, and Batman. Who knew?

A majority of the students are doubtful of our claims of super powers but the teaching staff has united to continue the myth. Even the Korean staff has joined in. A good number of the kids believe the stories. They say I look like Superman. Bless their little hearts. I don't see the resemblance other than I'm tall and American. (Oh and I was born on the planet Krypton). But other than that I can't understand why they believe it.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I'm a nerd

Stupid Tourist Saturday!

Well, I'm definitely an Aggie. I was flipping through my guide book and got to the part on Seoul museums and which one catches my eye? The Agricultural Museum. I really had an enjoyable time looking at all of the tools used in farming practices throughout the centuries.

Some of the implements included plows, soil levelers, threshers and even RotoTillers.

They had elaborate tools for making fertilizer pellets.

And others for controlling irrigation systems.

They even had greenhouses that had paper windows allowing light in but that were insulated with straw and heated with an underground boiler. This allowed them to force crops even in winter months.

I walked a couple of blocks to the Gyeonghuigung Palace. Honestly, I've had my fill of Korean palaces. They are all remarkably similar usually only varying in size. While they all have beautifully ornate ceilings and they are truly remarkable structures I've decided that early Korean architects didn't have much of an imagination. They tended to copy each other.

Next stop was the Seoul Museum of History. This structure brings together samples of artifacts from throughout Seoul's history. It was a nice museum and only a 700 Won entrance fee but it lacked flow through the exhibit rooms and it seemed to be a repeat of the museums and displays at the various palaces.

I ended the day at the Seoul Arts Center which encompasses a concert hall, opera house, recital hall, art gallery, calligraphy hall, and Museum of Traditional Korean Music. There were closing the doors to the museum as I was arriving so I only got a couple of minutes to look around. I'll have return when I'm not rushed.

I ended up at the recital hall where fortuitously they have a concert of traditional Korean music every Saturday at 5pm.

It was an 8,000 Won ticket which paid for a comfortable seat. I promptly fell asleep but not before snapping a couple pictures of the performances.

Korean music might be an acquired taste. The one piece I did enjoy was from a modern composer using the traditional instruments.

Each song was easily ten minutes long and the tempo could best be described as somewhere between adagio and grave. Thus the nap time.