At noon on July 31st, we receive our August teaching schedule! Last minute is just the way things are done here. Hard to get used to, especially as a new teacher!
Today I headed out in the heat of the day, at 3 pm, and met a friend/student. We took the subway and bus to Taejongdae Park. (About an hour traveling, $1.50).
From there we took a ferry ride (10,000 won, $9) out and around a bit, then got off at the lighthouse. Ladies prepare fresh fish and serve raw fish to visitors at ‘restaurants’ on the rocks…red and blue canvas tarps stretched over rugs.
We skipped eating but instead walked back for a couple hours along the trails, savoring the sea breeze, and shady paths.
For dinner, we went to Nampodong and had Ssamkipsal …grill pork strips and garlic at your table and eat as lettuce wraps with greens and sauces. Yummy. Then, we went for coffee on the second floor as we looked out to the street for people watching. Nampodong reminds me of Pearl St mall or Santa Monica …that kind of cool, trendy area to hang out.
My Korean friend helped me learning some Korean phrases. Our main study material was a paper menu with dozens of items. I’d cut it up into small pieces and she helped me read and understand what it all was. Really fabulously fun and helpful!
Today we had our first weekday off, since I started in June. To celebrate, we organized and outing: me, a fellow teacher (Canadian) and several students met at the lobby of the school at 3:30 pm and headed to the subway for Sajik Stadium. (Maybe 30 minutes and $1 fare). The Lotte Giants (our team) was prepared to play the Kia Tigers. (Here baseball teams are corporately named/sponsored!) (More photos.)
We bought our tickets in the general admission section for 7,000 won (about $6). Then, our group of six split up. Three headed over to HomePlus (supermarket) for food and three of us went to save seats. In about 45 minutes, the HomePlus group arrived with boxes of fried chicken, six-packs of beer, a case of water and grapes. We sat in the shade of a banner, but the temperature was around 85F as we waited for the game to start. Still, we were a pretty happy group …watching baseball beats being indoors at English class!
In addition to chicken, you can buy pizza, kebabs, and more traditional Korean cuisine like noodles. Another group of three met us there a bit later. They broke out the dried squid. You know, I have had squid many times, but chewing on dried squid legs, which hang out of your mouth, as you’re working your way through the thing …hmmm, not so much! But everyone is suprised that I don’t like it. But it’s delicious, they swear!
Singing! There are so many songs. Each player has his own song with words. This isn’t how I remember it when I watched the Rockies that someone plays the song. No, the fans just break out singing each player’s song as he comes up to bat. The one Mexican player (Garcia), gets a song that ends with the chorus of his name (Korean-style) Ga-Ra-Ci-Ya (and his name is spelled in Hangeul (korean letters)), this way!))
By far, the funniest tradition is the part where the staff passes out orange trash bags near the end of the game. Later, the fans clean up their area and put all trash in the bags, then bring the bags to one of many collection points on the way out of the stadium.
But first, the bags are inflated and twisted to be a big orange blob, then worn on your head. The bags are secured to your head, by looping the handles, one around each ear. Or, a style preferred by some men and women, is to make the bag into a big bow and wear that.
Our group included a group of very cool university students and others in their 20′s, who donned the bags and maybe still were cool??!!
Other than one inning where the Lotte Giants gave up 10 runs to the Kia Tigers, it would have been a close game. So, they lost but we cheered them on anyhow, and had a great experience.
This month, I’m teaching the Hot Topics news discussion class. Wow, it’s a great way to find out what students are thinking about the important issues of the day.
I can’t think of a better way to learn about the culture, than to raise an issue, and hear what individuals think.
What I’m learning too, is that although Koreans spend a lot of time being educated, this is one of the few arenas my students have to express themselves freely.
Kinda cool. English class seems to be about more than just learning English.
From Colorado, it’s gotta be 1000 km to a beach in any direction! But from here, I walk about 40 steps from my apartment building, ride the elevator down to the subway station. Catch the subway, which runs every 10 minutes or less, and ride about 40 minutes to Haeundae. There I walk for about 10 minutes, down the hill past the shops and cafes and am at the beach! All for a cost of about $1 each way!
Now, it’s officially beach season. Which means that last week, it was too early to come to the beach but today was just right. They say that at the peak, there are 1,000,000 people here at the beach. Today, it was probably several hundred thousand.
Lifeguards patrol the line of buoys to keep people in water that does not reach chest height, even when most small waves pass. There was really no way to swim today. Other days the waves were a bit bigger and the crowds less, so we body surfed. Today body surfing might have a definition that includes moving about the crowds.
The water is starting to suffer from the crowds too. Normally, the water feels pretty clean. But today, floating lighters, plastic bottles, and trash were common. Our most entertaining moments though were from floating jellyfish that we played with. No stingers, just round blobs that you can pick up!
We made friends with some guys from Indonesia that are coworkers. They work in Busan in a factory making car parts for Haeundae and Daewoo automobiles.
There are no drive-thru restaurants (that I’ve seen anyway) in Korea. Instead, there is a deep delivery culture. You can order just about anything and have it delivered to you, and that included McDonalds.
I’ve been wanting to try calling to have food delivered to my apartment but wasn’t sure if they’d understand me when I said my building name (The O Ville Apartments …pronounced duh o bill aparto), my apartment number 2208 (i choen, i baek, pahl oh), and wasn’t sure what to order. So when I saw the McD delivery guy by the elevator I used sign language. And said, me, and pointed to his delivery bag. He spoke English and said to call the number emblazoned on his shirt and he was sure there was an English operator. So, I called. And the operator did not speak English. But about 40 minutes later, a different McD driver arrived (via motorcycle) with my order: two bulgogi sets (or combo meals). The food was crap compared to Korean food, but it’s a step in getting to be able to order Korean food at home.
My students are great. By teaching adults, the whole issue of discipline and classroom management disappears. Instead, I get to hang out with and listen to conversations about the lives of my students, which include:
- a 70-year old who participates in our discussion class, then has a Chinese class afterwards
- a 50-year old English teacher, who stays for Japanese class after my class, then teaches high school
- many 20-something’s that have graduated university but have no job at the moment
- a couple women who are preparing to interview as flight attends for Qatar Airways
- a businessman who is preparing for conference travel in the US
- a 30-year old who wants to attend automotive tech school in Australia
- university students who are working to improve their English to be able to qualify for a job after graduation (by achieving a good score on the ‘TOEIC exam’): majoring in math, engineering, hotel management, interior design
- a recently married shy 25 year old who is a university graduate but doesn’t work outside the home
- an 18-year old preparing for her university entrance exam, who is taking her summer vacation to study instead of going to Thailand, as her mom suggested
- many who say they want to learn English to make friends with ‘foreigners’ and learn about other cultures
- a middle school teacher who wants to eventually live in the US near family in Alabama
- several businessmen who come for business skills, but also for the freedom of expression that our conversation classes provide
- nurses who work in hospitals and clinics that want to be able to help foreigners who come in to their facilities who can’t communicate well
- a couple women who say they want to have an ‘international marriage’, that is to marry a non-Korean. when I suggest that it could be difficult to maintain a cross-cultural marriage, they say it would be difficult to marry a Korean man, given the strict traditional beliefs.
I’m really grateful for one aspect of my job, in particular. That is that, by design, I spend my days among South Koreans who are talking about their lives. Our topics include social situations, families, dreams, education, goals, frustrations, dating, cultural comparisons, and current events. And, in addition, there are also many opportunities to go out to lunch or dinner with students, who then become friends outside of the language learning realm.
It’s a total blessing for me to learn what Korean culture is through individuals, rather than as a amorphous group sterotype.
I’d never thought of the ability to sit on the grass as a luxury. Until I lived here.
I keep thinking maybe I’m overlooking something. But really, there’s no place to sit on the grass. You can sit on the beach, you can walk into almost any restaurant and immediately be seated and served, you can sit at the subway station or train station. You can sit by the creek on a bench or on the hard ground (bring a mat!), but you can’t sit on the grass.
They have been doing construction on the walkways near my apartment. In the last week, they brought in a few pallets of sod. They placed the sod on the sloped landscaped areas in the medians or pedestrian areas, between the turn lane and the main road. The sod is now down and tho it’s at a 45 degree angle in the middle of a large road, I still have the urge to sit there. But, I’ll keep looking for a better spot!
Wow, living near the beach is such a treat! Growing up in Colorado, 1000km plus from any beach, this is a luxury that I savor here, where life in other areas has so many challenges. Being near the beach is amazingly wonderful!
I can get to Haeundae Beach within 45 minutes by subway for about $1. It’s the perfect weekend activity, with fellow teachers and our Korean friends. And you can stop a passing vendor or use your cell phone to order food or beer to be delivered right to your spot on the beach. You can rent an umbrella and mat for $5 for the day.
The ability to be around nature and just relax is very precious, living here in the big city where otherwise hints of nature are few and far between.
A 20-minute bus ride from my home/work is the large City Park of Busan: Children’s Grand Park. The park is similar in many ways to large city parks you might know, like Central Park in NYC or City Park in Denver. It provides a natural, green space get-away from the large city that surrounds it. The paths and creeks are nearly all shaded by towering trees, which makes it a cool place even on hot summer days.
But these parks are well-used by probably thousands of people each day. So, paths are engineered to handle lots of foot traffic: rock or pavers, metal, wood or recycled timber handrails and fences, detailed signage.
In this park, there is also an amusement park, many little stores selling ice cream, mylar balloons of spongebob and other characters, and even a few Korean restaurants sprinkled about the park.
The first day I visited was a weekday and the paths were busy with 50+ year olds. The men are often wearing North Face or Columbia gear. The women wear either fancy label gear like that or a nylon blouse and visors with large brims. (My student friend joked that one woman with a huge dark plastic visor was Robocop and hid behind a tree as she passed!)
On the weekend, I went with fellow teachers. It was packed! There was some type of fun run, but those participants were only a fraction of the thousands of people in the park that day.
A really cool aspect of the park is the number of places that people enjoy a picnic! Koreans seem to have a knack for savoring picnics. Groups of women, men, or families are seen resting on a picnic mat (either of straw(?), plastic, or foam pad), with traditional snacks like kimbap (kind of a Korean California roll).
The creeks were lined with picnickers. At a couple places the creek was ‘redesigned’(??) to make it nice for people to splash about in. (Click on the photo for more pictures.) We considered joining them but weren’t sure if we might ruin the experience for others, by participating. As the only three ‘foreigners’, in the park, to have the three of us (including one big Australian), bust into the stream with the little kids seemed a bit iffy.
After our walk, we stopped at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed cheap, wonderful Korean food. My friend ordered the mulmyeon, a great choice for a summer day. Noodles in a cool broth with melon, hard boiled egg and a slice of beef.
Here in Korea, and maybe especially in Seomyeon (the area where I work), women shoes are amazing! My students tell me that it’s the best place to get handmade, high quality shoes, cheap!
In order to share this with you, and at the risk of coming off as a total freak, I spent about 20 minutes in the underground shopping mall one day photographing shoes in the stores and on women’s feet! Though some of Korean style is very conservative, this shows the flashy, sexy side that many women choose.
The funny part of being a ‘foreigner’, as we’re known here, is that you’re kinda expected to be weird, so no one seemed to react when I was taking these photos.
Take a walk with me: strappy, flashy, leopard, colorful, you name it! (When you see prices, it’s about 1,000 won to US$1. So, a price of 29,000 = $29). Click on the photo and see the slideshow.
You wouldn’t go in a car without wearing a seatbelt? Well, if you’re a woman in South Korea, that’s great, but maybe you should be concerned about something else.
Women in South Korea are now more likely to die of suicide, than they are of auto accidents. Suicide is the third most likely cause of death for women.
The rates for men are also high, and rising rapidly.
Family conflict was the biggest factor behind suicides, followed by financial difficulties, divorce or separation, and disease, according to researchers at Samsung Seoul Hospital and Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital, Thursday.
I underestimated how tough it would be to function here.
I thought of myself as a savvy traveler, adept language learner, with a positive mindset. But I realize now that I’ve never tried this combination before:
- working fulltime, at a career I’ve never worked at fulltime
- can’t read the language
- can’t speak the language
- don’t understand the food
- working a split shift
- little time to address these problems
As a result, I have to compromise in areas I don’t feel comfortable compromising in.
On regular weekdays, I am teaching at 6:50 am so I get up at 5:30 and leave around 6:15. I teach until 1 pm, again from 8 pm to 10 pm. On my break, I get in a meal or two, walk home and back, and sleep. I also do some lesson planning. That leaves about 40 minutes on most days for ‘free time’.
Should I check my email, try to write something on my blog or upload photos, study Korean language, figure out how to function in my neighborhood, go on a walk?
I don’t like the feeling of not being able to communicate, and not having time to learn. And at the same time being barely prepared for my classes. Just-in-time class prep isn’t a comfortable pace, but I just have to accept it and do my best within the set parameters.
My Korean coworker and I headed up to visit Samkwanga Buddhist Temple, and had an appointment to meet her monk friend at 2:30 pm. We found him walking past dozens of kids that were visiting that day. The kids were from a Buddhist school near us. On their backs, their shirts said: I <heart> Buddha (with the heart icon!). ha ha cute!
We took off our shoes, walked into an office, past the receptionists and sat on big couches and talked to the monk. Found out that he went through school studying Mechanical Engineering. Loved physics, but felt it failed to explain the universe. Found Buddhism, and felt that explanation to be valid and real!
His Korean name sounds great, but translated it’s “Love Dragon”. With his English, which is pretty good, and my friend helping translate sometimes, he talked to us for awhile about general stuff. Then gave us instruction on meditating. I’ll try to convey what he said, but maybe not perfectly…
In this Buddhist order, they use a phrase “Gwa-sa-um-bo-sa”. So, you sit on the ground. Open your palms. Then touch your thumb to the base of your palm and where your fourth (ring) finger starts, then close your hand lightly into a fist. Place hands on knees with fists facing upward (a bit of your palm showing facing upward). Then close your eyes and chant, “Gwa-sa-um-bo-sa.” Try to say it about seven times or more per breath. Sing it anyway you want. And expect the universe to speak to you …telling you what you need to know to understand the human mind. For best results, he recommends meditating at 3 am or 10 pm, when the world is quiet and can most easily communicate with you.
From there, we headed into the big hall. Here maybe 1000 10″ high Buddha statues line the front and side areas. Quite a sight! They were preparing for the monthly service (which happens on the 1st and 2nd day of the month), so there was quite a bit of decorating activity and many ‘ajuumas’ (older ladies), sitting on the floor, talking or praying, and many others sleeping. The monk led us to the front of the hall seating area and we sat on the floor and meditated for about 15 minutes.
It was a cool experience! Then we rushed out, taking the small bus back down the hill in time for me to rest for awhile before teaching at 8 pm.