Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Winter, enough is enough!

Dear Winter,
I know that I am an inexperienced winter-onian or a winter-aficionado what ever you may call those Northern people so accustomed to winter, so I am not exactly qualified, but we are shockingly advancing on April, and you have not let up. I am exaggerating a bit, I admit. I can walk outside without a hat and a scarf, at least some of the time, a feat indeed, but every time it seems that you are breaking into spring, dispersing with the coldness, you throw a curve ball, usually in the form of white snowflakes. Monday morning was warmer, maybe in the 50's. I was ecstatic. By 2pm, it was snowing. It wasn't like we didn't have enough chaos as it was, with being in the midst of a new program at the school, that had great ideas except that no one seemed to have thought them out completely or made a competent plan. So on top of the fact that the teachers had no idea where to be at what time, let alone the students, you decided to snow on us, when we had a school of only boys. Snowballs being hurled inside my classroom was not my idea of a good time. I'm not one to break up a snowball fight, unless of course it is in my classroom. So, if you would be so kind winter, can you give it up already? Spring is ready at the doorstep, skipping around with cooped up anxiety at the anticipation at being set free once again. And no offense at you and your snow, but we are officially done this year. Seriously, all the ohhhhs and ahhhs are spent and we are no longer mesmerized by your "beautiful" snow. We'll cross paths next year, but not a minute sooner. What do you say? Take a break, you deserve it. You had a very busy year.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Birthday mi amor!

Kyle hit a milestone yesterday, he is now officially 26 years old, he is over the hump and sliding the downward slope towards 30. Of course, we don't talk about how I am technically a year older and that my birthday is very rapidly galloping towards us, even as we type/speak. We are just going to ignore that huge looming 7. Nope, if I just don't acknowledge it, then it doesn't happen right? At least that is the school's philosophy, and it is doing them wonders!

What did we do for Kyle's birthday? What did we do to celebrate this great event, the acclamation of the day of his screaming entrance into this little ole world? Next to nothing, and it was glorious! Friday night (the night before the actual blessed day), we did actually go out on the town, and by "town" I mean Yangpyeong which is technically a town, but still in the boonies. We chose Friday night because originally, we had planned on doing a big hoopla in Seoul on Saturday night. We were going to celebrate with friends from English Village on Friday night, and friends in Seoul on Saturday night and have an entire weekend of unending celebration, because let's face it, Kyle is magnificent, if I do say so myself. However, after a month of consecutive weekends lacking of sleep and full of unending fun, we decided that what we really needed was rest. What we really needed was a sane house that wasn't turned inside out. What we really needed was some quality Kyle and Vanessa husband and wife time and going out for Kyle's birthday was only going to continue the current streak of exhaustion.

So what did we do?
Friday we went out for some duc-galbi (a Korean chicken dish which Kyle hadn't yet tried and is probably my favorite Korean meal) and we went bowling. Yes bowling, which is surprisingly nearly identical to bowling at home.
-slept in till 12 pm. We didn't even stay up that late. I am guessing we got a little over 10 hours of sleep.
-made breakfast tacos (with ingredients from Costco! Thank God for Costco, cheese and tortillas come to mama!)
-watched a movie
-did laundry (our house now feels like a tropical island with the amount of humidity since we have three loads of laundry hanging around drying)
-went out for sushi and Baskin Robins ice cream
-watched another movie
-went to bed

-slept in again
-worked out
-ate lunch
-watched an unfinished movie from Saturday
-worked on the "to do" list

This weekend was marvelous, and if that makes me old, so be it. We had a weekend to catch up on sleep, chores and each other- nothing short of perfection. Happy birthday darling! I am so thankful that you were born.

*Note* neither of these pictures is from his actual birthday. We forgot the camera :(

Friday, March 26, 2010

Closing ceremony

(The pictures of the school were taken on a particularly cold and foggy day)

A continuation to Pillars and Foundations..
So although the entire week of "teacher training" (aka: discussions of how communication or lack there of, works at English village) was full of absurdity, the final day, the closing ceremony, in my opinion took the cake.
At 9:00 am I was informed that I had to teach a class I had never taught before, in exactly one hour. "I'm glad we are still on the one hour notice system." I thought to myself. "What do I need with prep time!"

From 10 am- 11am we issued nervous little ones, and indifferent middle-schoolers through a process we call immigration. Basically, this is where we attempt to simulate an airport "immigration" experience. In actuality, we ask them questions a true immigration officer wouldn't bother with, or care about, but the purpose of the process is to start the day off answering questions in English.
A typical exchange might look like this:
"Good morning, how are you?"
"My name is Lee Eu-gin"
"Oh, that is a nice name, but how are you?"
Looking around nervously, whistling noisily in the Korean fashion, the young boy cocks his head in confusion.
"How are you? I'm fine, I'm happy, I'm hungry" I prompt him
"I'm fine thank you."
"Good job. Where are you from?"
The whistling of the spital noise again, which is uniquely Korean.
"Where are you from? Are you from China? Are you from Japan? Where are you from?" I ask with an outward sigh of languor. I am mentally and physically fatigued from having to ask and answer each of my questions for the last half hour.

Luckily with this group, the teachers stood around also prompting the children in how to answer. Typically we want the kids to be able to think on their own, but earnestly, it was a relief to have the help. I preferred their assistance to blank faces feigning thought which is also part of Korean culture. Evidently it is better to pretend to be in thought, not responding nor planning on responding than to admit not understanding. Sometimes I will wait for minutes, watching and waiting, not trying to push too hard before I realize this child has no intention of answering and I don't even remember the question anymore.

Our first class was a class of elementary school children, eager and willing to participate in any activity the foreigners put in front of them. We played many vocabulary games centering around dance moves. My co-teacher, a very experienced Korean teacher, taught the class, as I stood by occasionally being used for pronunciation purposes. The Virgina reel, a fast paced line dance was the dance of choice for these little ones who squealed with excitement when going through the human archway. Of course, the dosey-doe became a problem when it meant touching a member of the opposite sex, but other than that, it was a success. However our second class, the middle schoolers, although centered around an entirely different line dance without partners, refused to dance.

This refusal to dance is unusual in Korea, where learning pop dances is the most common past time next to computer games. Everyone knows the dance moves to every popular song, even the boys who have no shyness or cultural inhibitions not to dance in an effort to not look gay such as in the United States. Boys and men alike see dancing in an entirely different light here than their western counterparts. Dancing has become an ingrained part of their culture with the emergence and popularity of K-pop (Korean pop), and everyone participates.

My opinion of the failure of the class centered around two girls whom I nick-named "too cool for school." Their behavior was that of typical "popular girls." Their actions and attitude communicated, "I'm not doing that stupid dance, I am way too cool for that." This nonverbal communication domino-ed to the entire female section of the class. Not one girl willingly danced to the song. Later, I was informed by her teacher that the reason for the main girl's refusal was that she had a crush on one of the boys in her class, and was embarrassed by her faulty dancing so instead chose not to dance at all. As much as I understand this feeling and empathize with her, I also loathed the pulling of teeth during this class which seemingly lasted forever.

When I returned to the group discussion in the seminar room, heavy, oppressive silence crushed any happiness in the room. The teachers watched Ronny closely as he sat in deep troubled thought.
"What's happening?" I whispered to Kyle
"He is really getting the gravity of the situation here. I don't know if he didn't believe us until now or just didn't hear what we were saying, but he seems to understand now that when we say that there is a MAJOR break down in communication here, we mean that everyone seriously runs around with their head cut off never knowing whats really going on and it creates an environment of indifference and resigned teachers, which in turn doesn't provide a good climate of learning and growing."

I watched Ronny as Kyle spoke. His eyes were heavy with weariness and melancholy.

He rose from the table without his usual liveliness but in a laborious, somber manner. "Let me think on this, and what we should do. We will have our closing statements in about ten minutes."

The formality in Korea still remains, despite their non-professionalism. I am continuously boggled by Korean culture.

The closing ceremony which I mentioned at the start of this post, and I also consider the center piece, was an experience I will never forget.

Peter, a Korean whose title is unclear to me, but I believe is higher than lower in the totem pole of the hierarchy here, stood up at the podium with the intention of giving a didatic and inspirational speech. The speech began with an attempted reference to "A silver lining"even without proper knowledge of how to express this phrase.
We were encouraged to forget the negative and focus on the positive. He read out a list of the reasons he enjoyed this school and encouraged us all to also make our own lists.
He then outlined three American individuals who overcame hardship, including Eleanor Roosevelt upon loosing a child. All of these examples had difficult situations, but they succeeded in the face of adversity. The ironic part of these examples are that our adversary in this situation is the school. I am sure he didn't mean to make this his metaphor, but it stared the native English speakers straight in the face as obvious as the sky is blue.
There were many problems with his speech in my opinion, the least of which his message: "we should ignore any hardships and complaining only causes negativity and creates a depressed environment. Look on the bright side and don't worry about the problems."
I agree with the latter part of this statement. Negativity is a nagging destructive demon which feeds on inaction. But the teachers here are surprisingly not negative, but rather resigned. Anytime I hear a complaint, a solution is given. But the teachers have stopped complaining between themselves. They see that it has no purpose but to wake the sleeping dragon of anger at being ignored time and time again. In my opinion this resignation is an even more dangerous adversary than negativity. If we believe in earnest that nothing will ever get better, and that our suggestions will never be implemented, change will never transform this school into what it could be. And what it could be is nothing short of amazing. The facilities are fabulous, the teachers passionate. There are so many benefits to this school, but management, at least in our eyes, has moved away from their mission statement: to create global leaders and amazing teachers.
Rather than discouraging negativity, creating an environment of solution-oriented attitudes would be a better solution. And maybe that was what he meant to say. If he did, I didn't hear it. I heard, "ignore the bad and stop complaining." Yet another ironic part of this speech was that all of the people mentioned faced adversity and dealt with it. But the solution I have seen with this school is to hide from it and blame it on someone nearby- possibly the teachers.
The speech in many ways was nonsensical and circled around in an oblique, undirected fashion. In actuality most of his speech was rambling, reaching for sincere moral motivation, but falling far short of the finish line.

However what made this closing ceremony memorable wasn't this speech, although it was remarkable enough in itself. What made this closing ceremony an image burned into my memory forever was the finale. In the end, it was requested that we all stand, say something we liked about this school and what we were committed to. Internally rolling my eyes, the start of the music jolted my cynical voice to laugh with an intensity it had never experienced before. Koreans thrive on the dramatic. Every music video created for the karaoke machines has a cheesy love story ending in tragedy or pure true love. This ending to our week was no exception to the cheesiness rule. Soft lolling music, like what you might hear at the end of a "Full House" episode to wrap up the moral lesson of the day played in the background as each teacher stood to say their positive piece. It literally took all of my efforts not to roll on the floor with laughter at the ludicrousness of the situation. Several people requested that the music be turned off as it made this farce even more absurd, but it remained in the background reminding us all of the travesty of the situation. Despite these events, I am remaining optimistic and fighting resignation off at the helm. On guard resignation, here we come transformation!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pillars and Foundations

About a month ago, we had a very interesting experience. Our Education Director “Ronny” informed us a few days in advance that we would be having a teacher training day to explain the new system we will be using here at Yangpyeong English Village. What we got was more than I think any of us expected.

The morning started off with Ronny asking us why we were all here. At first we thought that this was just a rhetorical question, but then he asked each of us to give a brief statement that could be written on the board. The end result was a list of about 10 reasons ranging from “Job Opportunity i.e. money” to “New Experiences”, to “Making English Fun!” and even “Self Development.” Hokey, I know but I have to admit that I found some value in what he was doing. I’m not entirely sure that the rest of the foreign teachers felt the same way. The point he was trying to make was that these are the things we should keep in mind as we go through our challenges here at EV.

The next order of business was to discuss the future format for the 5 day Power Speaking program. I believe this part went relatively smoothly. Really the only complaint that was raised was that there was too little focus on education and too much focus on the having fun part of the lessons.

Now this is the part were things got interesting. The President of YEV, who happens to be a pastor, gave a rather long winded speech. I’m going to attempt to sum up his 40 minute speech in about 4 sentences.
The best teachers are the ones who are entirely self motivated, never complain, and selflessly make any and all sacrifices possible for the sake of even the worst of students.
These are the kinds of teachers we want to create here at YEV and if you will strive to be this kind of teacher, it will bring you so much happiness.
The students you’re teaching are the pillars and foundations of this country and you never know which one might be the next CEO of Samsung or the next President.
So let’s not bicker over how much money who should be paying who, because what really matters is how much we are all striving to be the best human beings we can be.

It was actually pretty motivating to be honest and at points it was even inspirational. The problem is this; I don’t doubt that he genuinely wants YEV to be a “beacon of light” but their actions seem to tell an entirely different story. They don’t seem to understand that it’s not ok to ask teachers to take half their pay this month, or to say that for weeks we are paid and there are no students, we owe the company hours to be worked at later dates.

Now, it should be said that 90% of the administrative staff are part of a religious organization that has been given the responsibility of managing the English Village and of them I would guess that less than 10% are actually qualified for their positions or even have ANY experience running a business or teaching for that matter. So much of their inefficiency and shortcomings are simply the result of inexperience. However, it’s pretty hard to believe that SO much inefficiency is the result of ignorance. Perhaps it’s a cultural differences thing.

Whatever the cause, poor Ronny was caught in a maelstrom of months worth of pent up frustration and resentment that had finally found an outlet. I have to say I’m quite proud of the guy for handling it the way he did. He was patient, calm and receptive. But what came next was probably the most surprising and somewhat disheartening thing I have seen yet.

After el presidente gave us his motivational speech, he headed off back to his office. I swear he knew what was coming and didn’t want to have to be a part of it. Poor Ronny was left to bear the message.

Essentially what he said was this; The school is loosing money. The foreign teachers are expensive. The solution proposed is that when the school has no students, teachers will get paid but we will owe the school hours to be worked later without pay. Essentially it would be an indentured servant system. If the school couldn’t get more students, then it only makes sense that the teachers would have to make up for the money the company was loosing by keeping us employed.

All Hell broke out and although it didn’t exactly take Ronny by surprise, he did seem a little confused as to why we weren’t agreeing to it. So he proceeded to tell us just how much money the school was making and how much it was spending on everything. I’m not sure if he was honestly showing the rundown or if he was just using numbers to make his point but either way, it was a rather depressing moment. It dawned on us then just how desperate things are getting here at YEV. When the administration is having to show their teachers the financial status of the school because they don’t have a clue as to how a business can work, things ain’t lookin good. We spent the next half hour trying to explain how we the teachers should not be held responsible for the schools inability to get more students. Furthermore, our “expense” is so high because of the huge turnover resulting from unhappy teachers. Ronny’s response was that they would then need to change our contracts as the company would not be able to afford them the way they are. Another resounding no. Finally Ronny asked us what we thought should be done then. First response, get a professional business person to write out a new business plan! Stop asking teachers to keep the school afloat. Second response, hire an efficiency manager to cut down the insane expenses that this place incurs. Right now the company is stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Third response, figure out how to get more butts in the chairs. The facilities here are huge and fantastic. There is only one reason why there aren’t more people coming out here and it’s the quality of the experience or more directly the lack there of.

Even though Ronny politely responded with “I’ll certainly think about all that” I’m pretty sure that he had every intention of ignoring all of those ideas. They all cost money in the short term and that’s just not how this group likes to do things. To be honest, I’m starting to think that this mind set of cut costs at all costs in fact plagues most of the english institutes here in Korea. None of them seem to understand that the only ones that make it are the ones that let go of the illusion that you can make money without spending money and not have to worry about the quality of your product. If our students are the “pillars and foundations” of the future South Korea, then I’m seriously concerned about the “stability” of this country. If they really want us to be cranking out Global leaders then they really need to start treating this place like a global institution. The simple fact is, the only way this place is going to stay afloat is for the administration to completely renovate the system from the ground up. Bust out the mental dynamite guys and let’s get to blowing these archaic ideas up! Teacher’s on debtors systems. Honestly.

Monday, March 22, 2010

10 things that make me happy...continued

6. Love- I love LOVE. Don't we all though? I love loving. I love being loved. Love makes me happy. Love gives me purpose and fuels me when my happiness-o-meter is low. Friendship love, family love and husband love all fall under this category. Hearing from friends and family at home is a joy that is unparalleled when living a world away from those important to us in our lives. It is easy to feel isolated and alone, when in a completely distinct culture with all new people and surrounded by a strange language. Knowing that I am missed, appreciated and loved is an invigorating life force. So thank you to all of you who continually support and love us, even when we are far far away.
The love I recieve from my husband also falls under this heading. I am one happily married wifey. My hubby is the love of my life and his love is a shining beacon in my life. I don't know what I would do without him.

7. Attention- So this is my attempt at being earnest. Not that it's a secret, but attention makes me happy. From the time I was two when I broke my foot and collarbone on two separate occasions jumping on a chair, when my mom dared to divert her attention from her darling daughter to cook a dinner. It has always been a part of my personality to like attention. It was something Kyle had to learn quickly when he first started dating me. His girlfriend (at the time), now wife likes attention and if she doesn't have it, you can be sure she will get it one way or another. Luckily, I haven't broken any limbs trying to get Kyle's attention. I have moved to more sophisticated methods such as following him around, poking him or giving him puppy dog eyes when I feel neglected. And my definition of neglected and normal people's definition are quite different.

8. Learning- If I could make a living being a professional student, I think that would probably be my career of choice. Knowledge expands our minds, and I am forever thirsty for more knowledge.

I admit however, I also adhere to the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy as well, which might seem like a paradox, but at least in my mind, I can still hold both statements as true: I love learning and ignorance is bliss. When I say that I subscribe to the philosophy above, I mean to say that I don't particularly enjoy learning about the hardships of humanity. I don't enjoy learning about the poverty of the world and the diseases. In fact, this type of learning doesn't make me feel happy at all. It just makes me feel wounded and helpless. The learning I enjoy is the kind that gives you power, the power to change and contribute, new ideas that expand my mind to think deeper with a different perspective than I previously held.

Wow, who would have thought I would have to work so hard at explaining a love of learning.

9. Home- I love traveling. I love seeing the world. I feel like traveling is almost more of an education than one can ever experience from a textbook. I thrive on traveling the world, meeting interesting new people and experiencing so many new enterprises. However, there is no contest, home is home and there is nothing quite like being home.

Home: San Antonio, Texas, that wonderfully colorful city where my family lives. It is the place I grew up, where all of my childhood memories reside. And although many of my friends have scattered across the world, it is where I met many of my closest friends and where most of them come home to, at least for special occasions.

Home: The US of A, our stupendous country where cheese doesn't cost me my entire paycheck, where I understand everything that is being spoken, and where I feel like I belong. One thing I have discovered on my travels is my appreciation of where I have come from. I come from an unconditionally loving and supportive family (in-laws included). I come from amazing friendships as close to family as non-blood relatives can come. I come from a country of opportunity, a country of diversity and a country of hope. The US has it's problems, but so does the rest of the world. We are not a singularly messed up country, we are not alone in corruption, the rest of the world doesn't have it all figured out either. And despite our so many problems, I would rather be from the US, from Texas, from my family and friends than anywhere else in the world.

10. Being creative- Have I mentioned that we are taking photography lessons? Creativity is a life force locked away behind bolted doors within the stone tower of my brain pounding to be let out, calling for it's prince charming to come release it. I have found many cracks in the aging wood to allow it's release in small doses, but it remains a prisoner, unsure of how to destroy its barriers. Recently, one of the things I have discovered about myself is that creating is what makes me truly happy. I want to create, I need to create to feel alive. I want to let that creativity stream out of me like rays off the sun. Creating is what life is about, without it, the world is leaden. We create our destinies, we are the author of our lives, we will create what future generations will stand upon and I want to be a contributor to that.

Writing has become an important creative outlet for me. It used to be, in high school, an activity that I abhorred as vehemently as pea soup, as it was always a difficult task, time consuming and a brain sucking strain. But from the start of my first blogging, while on our Italian study abroad program way back when in 2005, I discovered an enjoyment in the wielding of words, the interweaving of sentences to create a world I couldn't produce with speech. It has been my creative outlet for years now. It is still difficult, I was never a natural with words, but it is rewarding as it is the act of creating. I think, no, I know, there is more locked away waiting for it's prince.

Other ways I free it is through cooking with my hubby and now I am trying my hand at photography. One of these days, when I find that key, I will be as brilliantly bright as the sun for when we, as people, find our calling, we shine and sparkle with radiance.

Now for my awards... Some of my favorite blogs :)
Leslie and Peter
Living life on the Road less traveled
Houston Central
20 days/ Australia
A shelter from the storm
Kim is in Japan
Beautiful Mess
The Johnson Jingle
Eat your Veggies
Country Mouse

Sunday, March 21, 2010

YAY! Award time!

I got an award, I got an award! Someone in the bloggersworld likes my blog enough to give me an award. More specifically Smocha over at Cats on a British Counter likes my blog enough to award it the Happy 101 award. I am not sure what that means, but who cares, I got an award!

I love awards, can you tell? I guess, I just like the recognition. It feels good to know that when I am writing, it is not just floating off into cyberspace for no one but stupid spammers to find.

Here are the rules:

1. When you have received this award you must thank the person that awarded you in a new post.

2. Name 10 things that make you happy.

3. Pass this award onto 10 other bloggers and inform the winners.

I find #2 super ironic, because right at this very moment, I am tired and cranky. We had a bit of a wild night last night celebrating a friend's b-day in Seoul and I had dreamed of a nap in my own bed for the two hours I sat zombie like on a subway when I couldn't hold my eyes open, only to be alluded by sleep for over an hour and a half once actually under the covers in my own bed. Why does that happen, I ask you? Why can you not sleep when you want to, and can't stay awake the rest of the time? So if any of these sentences don't happen to make sense, don't blame me, just blame my sleep deprivation.

10 Things that make me Happy
1. I bet you can guess what number one will be... Naps. Oh how a lazy afternoon nap can be so refreshing. Naps make me happy. Not napping makes me cranky, almost t-rex cranky.

2. Lots of things make me happy, but right now all I can think about is sleep. Stupid sleep. Okay, think, think, what else makes me happy. We are only on number two for goodness sakes!
Chocolate- yes, milk chocolate makes me happy. Right now my current addiction is Tim Tams. My australian friend introduced me to this little delight, heaven in a cookie. It is a chocolate cookie with chocolate icing, but what makes this sweet special is how you eat it. As everyone knows, the proper way to eat an Oreo is to dip it in milk. Tim Tams are rectangular, so the proper way to eat them are to bite off each corner, dip it into milk or hot chocolate and use it as a straw. Hot chocolate is better in my opinion because it melts the chocolate inside making this crunchy cookie melted chocolate goodness. When I first experienced this, I dreamed of it for days. I'm not joking. I dreamed of eating the melted goodness. Yes, chocolate makes me happy.

3. A good book- I'm on a roll now. It didn't take me long to come up with that one. Maybe just thinking of things that make me happy erases the crankiness.

A thought-provoking book, a love story or a well written novel are all examples of words on paper that bring me joy. I love holding a book. If a book is particularly lovely, I find myself hugging the inanimate object wishing that it had arms that could wrap around my body and squeeze all of those words so close to me that I would never forget them.

Books bring me joy. If you want to see the books I am reading, you can check out my shelfari on the side panel.

4. Nature- I love nature. I love the warmth of the sun on my skin, and the freshness of the air when I escape the city (not that we live in a city currently as our school is in the stix). I love feeling humbled by nature's awe-inspiring beauty. No matter how many times I go hiking or walk in a park, or swimming in the ocean, I am always blown away by the magnificence of the Earth. God was the ultimate artist when he put this little blue planet together. I just hope that more people appreciate it's majesty before we destroy it in our dollar-driven path of greed.

5.Kindness- As I travel, I am always humbled by strangers' kindness, stopping to help us when we are lost or confused. It is something they don't have to do, especially for a foreigner, but so often we have been greeted by such humanity. We, humans, often think of ourselves as Americans or Koreans or what ever nationality we are, but in actuality we are all human beings. Each and everyone of us share the same planet. And even though sometimes it feels as if we are all against one another listening to the news about wars and disputes, we all humans, and if we remember that, if we could consciously keep it in the forfront of our minds, in my opinion we would have much less war and unhappiness.

Our first experience abroad, we experienced this numerous times while in Italy. Here is our old Italian blog from 2005, my first attempt at blogging, if you are interested in reading about the kindness of Italians. The particular post I am referring to is called "A rough day", and is towards the bottom of the page.

This entry is getting longer than I intended so I am am going to continue it in the following post. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mah first ski trip (by kyle)

Two weekends ago, Vanessa and I did our first official Meet Up trip. V already told you guys all about it so you know what a blast we had. But I wanted to take a moment to recap one of the highlights of our magic little weekend; my first ski lesson. Scratch that. My first ski experience.

It started marvelously. Our organizer/leader extraordinare, William, got us a killer deal on the rental equipment. The shop even drove the gear out to the resort for us so we didn’t have to try to lug it all on the bus. We got pants, coats, boots, skis, poles and gloves, all for around 30$ which apparently is super cheap. The ski pass was 30$ for around 6 hrs. Again, insanely good prices. So we get there, and have a few issues with the lockers but we get straightened out with help from our new meet up buddies and we got bundled up and we were ready to “hit the slopes.”

The snow was pretty good apparently. Not a fresh powder but not too icy either. Just right for a beginner. Now I should say that I am extremely grateful to our new friends who helped teach me how to ski and I don’t mean any disrespect by what follows. I truly had a fantastic time and in practice, all the advice that I was given was spot on and very helpful. But in the interest of posterity, I’m going to try my best to convey my side of the story as biased as possible just so you all get a good sense of what it was like.

Kyle: (Thinking to myself; ok, boots feel snug, the snow seems nice and cushy for my tushy. Can’t get hurt that bad, it’s SNOW after all. Ok, so...where’d my instructor go? Aha, there they are over by the lift.) plop, plop, plop.
“Hey. Ok so now what?”
Michelle: “Ok, so put on your skis and we’ll take the lift up to the green slope and get started.”
Kyle: (Oh hell no!) “Wait, what? Aren’t we gonna start down here with the rest of the beginners?”
Michelle: “You need some incline to get going. It’s too flat down here.”
Kyle: (I don’t wanna get going, I wanna learn first.) “But I don’t even know how to put these on, let alone get on the lift. Can’t we just practice down here first before we go UP the hill?”
Michelle: “It’s your decision. Do whatever you want.”
Kyle: (I want someone to TEACH me dammit!) “Look, I’m just really nervous about going up there without a clue as to what to do. How do I get going? Once I do, how do I stop? What do I do when I fall? I know nothing!”

So then I get a basic run down of how to ski. Key points; 1. Snow plow to slow down. 2. Shift your weight from one leg to the other. 3. When you fall, keep your skis perpendicular to the slope. That’s about all you I needed to know. For those of you who have skied before, you know that this only SOUNDS simple. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated.

Kyle: (Ok, I’m feeling more prepared. I get it in principle. Let’s put in into practice!) “Ok, let’s do it.”
So Vanessa, Michelle, Lynn and Amy range from some experience to very experienced skiers. Erin, Kathy and myself are all newbies. We hop on the lift pretty smoothly and up we go.

Kyle: (Ok nice. That was pretty easy. The chair does all the work really. Look at those stinkin Korean kids zipping around. Show off brats. Wow, we’re getting pretty high up! Wait...) “Hey did that sign we just passed say Beginner Slope? Were we supposed to be on that side!?”
Vanessa: What!? Wait, what!? !$@% I think we were supposed to be over there!”
Kyle: (I’m gonna die.)
Vanessa: “Ok, it’s ok. It’s just a blue. You’re just getting a bit of a crash course for your first run.”
Kyle: (There’s no way I’m getting off this lift.) “Seriously!? There’s no other way down? I do not want to start off on this!”
Vanessa: “It’s either that or walk down.”

In reality, you can always take the lift back down, but as I looked and saw no one doing this, I thought she must be right. So long story short, I turned my skis perpendicular to the mountain and slowly pulled my way closer to the slope. Then, after the other newbies got going, I turned into the slant and off I went. Now I understood in principle how it was supposed to go. You shift your weight to the side you want to turn to and push with the other foot to sort of dig your way into the snow bank as you go. For the first 30 seconds you would have thought I had done it all my life. I actually made a good 4 full out, parallel skiing style switches from one leg to the other in very quick succession. The problem was that I picked up quite a bit of speed in the process and didn’t have a clue as to how to stop. The result was a face full of snow but all in all, not bad for a first run. Scary as hell, but not bad. It did nothing for my confidence however. This simple fact alone that I didn’t know how to stop was enough to give me a sense of discomfort but now that I had pretty much plummeted down the mountain side at what felt like break-neck speeds gave me a sense of unease that really didn’t go away until my 3rd trip down.

In all honesty, I was less concerned about falling in the cold yet cushy snow and more concerned about barreling into one of the many 6 year old korean’s that were all over the place. Again, to be fair, the instructions I got from those helping me were spot on, but in my state of petrification, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was supposed to do.

Anyways, by my third trip down the green slope I had definitely gotten the hang of it and the rest of the day was extremely fun. My only complaint is that skiing is far too costly. I can certainly see the attraction to it but my lord is it an expensive hobby. Even with the 50% discount, I wasn’t willing to fork over the 60$ to go another day. So even though my first taste of skiing was a bit of a trial by fire, I have to say it was a fantastic day that I won’t soon forget and I recommend it to everyone who gets the chance...and a discount...and maybe some beginner lessons ;)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Three day weekend video

This video is of our three day weekend, but really only captures part of our hike and the snow on the following morning. I'm sorry this video is a little shaky. It is hard to hold a camera still while hiking. Here is the link- in case it cuts off half of the screen like it does on my computer.

*** Update: Who are you People***

Since my post on spammers and their strange comments. I have received some even stranger ones I thought I might share with you. We can laugh together at the absurdity!

Comment : I confirm. I agree with told all above. Let's discuss this question. Here or in PM. - this was once again made on the guille suit post.

Answer: I am not sure what you agree with but I am glad that you are so agreeable. However since you are probably a computer, I don't know how well our conversation will go.

Comment on on my post about stupid spammers (irony anyone?): Nice fill someone in on and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information. (I have received this comment several times on random posts that aren't informative at all and it is always anonymous. Unless someone who doesn't speak English well is really using non-informative posts to write their college essays, I am pretty sure they are spammers.)

Answer: Interesting choice for a college assignment. What part of my ranting about stupid spammers was helpful to you?

Comment on the three day weekend post:

can anyone tell me which is the best counter strike guide ? :)...i found this one :


What do you believe wits it ?

Thanx in advance

Sorry for my bad english :s

Answer: Dear bad English:s,
I don't know what counter strike guide is? What is your question about it? What is "wits it"? Can I counter strike you? Who are you people!!??? Why do you even exist?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who are you people??!

You may have noticed, if you are a commenter on the blog, that I have recently made the switch from open comments for everyone, to moderation. I resisted this switch mostly because I want everyone to feel welcome to comment, however my friendliness was taken advantage of and unfortunately comment moderation, unless something changes will be the wave of the future. A few months back I began to notice an increase of comments, something that greatly excited my comment loving heart, but my excitement soon transformed into disappointment and disgust. Rather than comments from my friends, family and other bloggers, spam comments were overtaking regular comments two to one. At first they were innocent enough, not advertising anything, just strange and foreign sounding:

It was rather interesting for me to read that article. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.


I got several like this, almost identical, sometimes a few words were different. What threw me off about these comments were that they were made on posts where this comment seemed inappropriate. This particular one was found on the post about my grandmother being ill in the hospital. But it didn't try and sell anything, it didn't link back to another website, so I didn't really have any reason not to allow it be seen.

But lately the comments have moved from peculiar to creepy or just beyond weird:

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to (link) Enjoy!

This is a comment that has been increasing in frequency in my comment box along with another comments that doesn't even pretend to be a real person, instead it just lists links to different Viagra and other such websites. The blog posts with the most comment spam frequency are "Want a Guille Suit? I'm your man!" and The woebegone story of the gingerbread house, which as far as I can tell, don't receive more traffic than other posts. Why these posts? What is it about these posts that attract spammers. Is it the sexuality of the gingerbread house because we all know that there is nothing mores sensual than the family Christmas activity of making houses with icing and graham crackers. And of course the guile suit that looks like a furry gorilla could be likened to lingerie.

So this is my question, why do spammers think that leaving bizarre messages in my comment box will bring traffic to their sites? How can they think this method would be effective in the least? As far as I can tell, people don't go looking through my comments clicking on any link they see, especially considering the audience I cater to and that these posts are old and are no longer on the main page.

Who are you people?
And why are you wasting my time and yours?

And if you are going to fill my comments with spam, can't you at least get an effective advertising campaign? Being a communication major, seeing such ineffective marketing irks me even if it's just nonsense porn spam. If your going to be an annoying bloodsucker of all that is whole and good in this world, can't you at least go about it in an intelligent way? Or is that too much to ask?

If you know me, you know that I am generally a positive person, and hate leaving a post on a negative thought. So I will leave with a thank you. Thank you to all of my readers, and thank you to all of my commentors who counterbalance the absurdity of the spammers. It is always nice to hear your thoughts and encouragements, they really make our day.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The importance of K-pop

I talked about K pop last year (Korean popular music) some, but I recently found a hilarious video on a blog called Eat your Kimchi written by a Canadian couple living in Korea that really grasps the heart of the k-pop market in Korea.

In America, we have top 40 channels which play the same music over and over and over and over and over again. But Korea takes this trend to an entirely new level. Rather than top 40, it is more like top 10 and a song is played until each person in Korea, even the foreigners, know each and every word and probably the dance moves as well.

Koreans LOVE their K-pop, but in honesty, they have good reason, even Japanese audiences enjoy it better than their own version- J-pop. It has a good beat, but the most important aspect is not the singing, but the dancing. These dances are learned by all Korean children of all ages. Watch the video below to really understand the culture of K-pop.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Three day weekend in Yongpyeong

We had our second meetup event this past weekend, and I must say it was a raging success! The beginning was rocky as we had several mis-communications with our school about time off, but eventually they got solved. The trip was planned around the premise of a three day weekend. March 1st is March movement day or the beginnings of the Korean Independence from Japanese rule. It is a holiday that most schools have off as it is a special day for Koreans. While we were at Ansan, I was told we would have the day off. We RSVPed and put down our deposit. However, once we arrived in Yangpyeong, we were told that we were in fact working that holiday. So we requested that day off.

The response: "Impossible"

We tried again, this day, for a half day. "We will see." was the answer we received.

By Wednesday they granted us a half day.

Thursday, in the morning meeting our scheduler asked, "Do you want the whole day off?"

Do we want the whole day off? Of course we do! Three day weekend, here we come!
Friday evening we stayed the night with Amy once again so as to cut down on the travel time in the morning. However this time, we slept not on the floor but on her new blue couch.
The bus left at 9 am, but rather than getting sleep as I had hoped, we spent the time "meeting up" if you will, getting to know new faces and peeps.

The chartered bus was the most amazing bus I have seen in Korea. And by that, I don't mean it was the most comfortable bus I have been on, nor the most technologically advanced with TV's on the back of each seat. What made this bus special was the Korean hippie bus driver and his hippified van. One thing to know about Korea, is that it is very uniform. People wear the same style clothing, have the same hair cuts and generally are more about conforming to the norm than being an individual. It is rare to see an emo Korean, a gothic Korean, or a hippie Korean. They just do Korean for the most part. So seeing a Korean man with long died hair was a novelty in itself as was his decked out bus with fringe, dangling Buddhist trinkets, thirty to forty stickers of all shapes and sizes such as stars and butterflies, commemorative towels from soccer games, paintings of Buddha, and the virgin Mary, random statues and miniature furniture made for a doll house. The three hours on the bus to our destination was not enough time to notice and appreciate each minute and careful detail this man had put into his work of art.

We arrived around 1 pm and were immediately dropped off at the ski store to gear up. Unprepared to be ready to ski immediately we searched fruitlessly to find my ski gloves that we purposely remembered to bring forcing me to purchase a new pair, a duplicate pair. It was only an extra $10, but it was the principle of the matter. I HATE RE-purchasing something that I already own. It is just so wasteful. But I did re-purchase gloves with quite a bit of grumbling. We got fitted for our boots and skis and we were off to the slopes.

The great majority of people on our trip were snowboarding however, and the few of us that were skiing were intermediate to very beginners at best. Several people agreed to give instructions, and we decided it would be less crowded at the top of the bunny slope (the beginner slope) than at the bottom where we could be hit by incoming skiers. Because of the unclear signage we made our doomful first mistake. We ended up on the top of a level three slope with three beginners and low intermediates. A level three slope is quite steep and the look on Kyle's face was one of terror. He had a right to pee in his pants, however as he didn't have many options: roll down the hill, walk down the hill, or ski, he gritted his teeth and skied, not without a few tumbles, but he survived. Kyle intends to write an entire post on his first ski trip so I will leave it to that. I do apologize however for the lack of photos in this area. I regret that because our cameras are a bit larger than your average point and shoot, and tumbling in the wet snow was an inevitable part of our day, we decided not to risk taking the camera up the slopes. We did manage to get a photo on our phone, but I haven't figured out how to transfer it to the computer.

The next day we decided against hiking mostly because we are CHEAP and skiing is not. Skiing with a big group brings benefits because we were discounted half off of our lift pass, however it was still $60 a person including our rentals. Seoraksan, the third highest mountain was located relatively nearby and was the ultimate hiking area. Unfortunately, half of Korea also thought hiking Seoraksan was a fantastic idea for their three day holiday. Waiting in a line of cars for over thirty minutes gave us an idea of how crowded the park was before it was decided that walking would make faster progress than driving at snail speed.

Lunch was first.

Then visiting the giant bronze Buddha.

A short hike, cut shorter from the amount of tourists moving slowly.

A cable car to the top of the mountain (yes we took a cable car instead of hiking. You may call us lazy, or wimps, but considering our time, it was the only sure fire way of getting a glimpse of the summit.) Once atop the mountain, dangerously powerful gales attempted to knock us off. I seriously had to tie my hat on to prevent it from flying up into the clouds. It was difficult to stand without falling over. It was magnificent all the same. The view was breath taking.

You can see how windy it was by her hair. Mine was tucked securely under my hat.

Burritos for dinner. Everyone had their own way of cooking Mexican and we were limited with ingredients. Avocados run about $4 a piece in Korea when they are found. Cilantro as far as I know is not be found, nor are pinto beans. So instead we had black beans and red beans, mushed and slightly re-fried. Needless to say it was a wild cooking experience with 20 experienced taco makers all with their own ideas and concepts on the best way to make a burrito. But they turned out delicious, and everyone had a happy and full tummy in the end.

Monday, we woke up to a blizzard. Well, it wasn't really a blizzard, but as it snowed the whole day long, it was as close to a blizzard as I have ever come. It was also the day we went to the waterpark. Somehow, I didn't make it to Korea with a swimsuit but they had some for rent. It is also a requirement in Korea that everyone wears a swimcap. Not that it is required to keep all of your hair inside the swimcap, just that you have it on your head. Sometimes I wonder if anything in Korea makes sense.

The water park was honestly a little lame by Texas standards. Of course Texas standards are high as three fourths of our seasons are warm enough to go to a waterpark, they are nearly as an essential part of living in the South as Bluebell ice cream. This Korean park however only had two rides. One was a body tube and one for gliding down in yellow tubes. Both were thrilling including sections of pure darkness and others with rainbow lights, but riding the same rides over and over again starts to get boring after the fifth ride. A lazy river was also included in the park, which wasn't lazy at all but sloshed agonizingly almost like a wave pool. A four foot wave pool which required life jackets was a huge thrill for the little ones, but not older people as the life jackets were a deterrent. (once again, why does nothing in Korea make sense?)

But the best parts were the outdoor saunas with scented heated pools. Some of the scents included citrus (the water looked like pee), ginsing (it was poopy brown), and sometype of purple flower pool with a lovely smell. To get to these hot pools however, one had to run through a plastic maze completely exposed to the outside world which at the time was below freezing. Screaming was common while traveling down the icy mazes as the shock of cold blasts of wind against the bare skin could not be endured without a shrill cry. Once inside the saunas however, the cold and the snow was almost soothing. When I lifted my upper half outside of the water, the sensation of small cold snowflakes speckling my skin and face while at the same time feeling completely blanketed in the warm water on my bottom half, it was electrifying . We spent over an hour outside, occasionally having snow-fights between the different pools. I'm not sure when the next time will be that I get to have such an unique experience as this, but it was one to remember, and one I will never forget.

Regardless of the amount of money we spent, which was altogether too much, and the amount of sleep lost, also too much, it was a fantastic weekend. A trip worth a thousand memories, and we can't wait till the next one (that is when our bank account replenishes).

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Flying bird tea house

I meant to include these pictures in the Valentine's Day post but, there were so many pictures taken that weekend, these got voted out of that post. But there are some very cool pictures taken at this incredibly unique tea house that I all bird lovers and photographers can appreciate.

This is the poop tree we sat near. The birds seemed to be trained to poop only on this tree and no where else in the tea house.

Kyle had a cinnamon punch tea which is a traditional Korean winter tea. Oddly enough it is served cold. I plan to try my hand at making this one day. Click here for the recipe. Amy got a plum tea which is delicious and also very traditional. And my tea had an odd name that I can't recall.

Here are the birdies just hanging out, enjoying the humdrum of the live of a tea house bird.

Sitting in front of the poop tree.

The birds had eaten through this decoration and liked to sit behind it peeking out. The bird version of peek-a-boo.

Me and my lovely Amy :)

"How do ya do? Wanna share any of those nice snacks that look like bird food?"

"That's right, I'm lookin at you!"

This bird was really so curious. He kept checking us out so intently.

Looking at the big wide world he's missing out on. It was really really cold that day. We're talking frost bite cold. He was one of the lucky birds in my book. I don't know if he appreciated the heaters in his prison as much as I did though.