Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Park Ji-sung poll

Park Ji-sung is the Korean soccer (or football depending one what area of the world you live in) player who plays for Manchester United making avid fans of this particular English team of just about every Korean. However, in the World Cup Park Ji-sung plays proudly for his native Korea. He is, in the minds of just about every Korean, a hero or maybe a god. He and Kim Yuna could take over Korea in a military coup and rule as King and Queen without a hiccup they are worshiped so spiritedly. Koreans speak their names either in reverence barely allowing the names of the beloveds to touch their lips, the sound is as light as a feather hitting the floor or in an all out scream once a goal has been scored. While watching the World Cup game #1 against Greece, his name was chanted for nearly five minutes like a battle call.

But despite this apotheosis, Park Ji-sung is considered ugly by nearly all Koreans. Were it not for his magnificent talent, his looks might get him in trouble. Shockingly I have heard these phrases and others like them uttered many times, "if it weren't for his looks," or "He is just so ugly." I look at Park Ji-sung and see an average looking Korean guy. I wouldn't necessarily describe him as a modern day Fabio (not that I find him attractive either) but I don't think he looks like the scum floating on a stagnant pond on whih Koreans seem to concur whole-heartedly.

Unfortunately the World Cup is finished for Korea as it is for the United States, and there will be few chances that you will see pictures of him flashing across your TV set unless you are an avid Manchester United fan. Therefore, I have decided to take a poll. I want to know if Koreans standard of beauty/handsomeness is comparable to ours, or if they have drastic differences like I hypothesis. Please, (if you wish to participate) look to the right of the screen and take the short poll.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Disaster not avoided (at all!)

Walking out of the auditorium with 10 waggling Russian children high from the spirit of theater practice on an actual stage, I stagger towards the sunlight blinded by it's ferocity. The spirals of radiant light penetrate my bat-adjusted eyes so much more mercilessly after being enclosed in a cave like space I couldn't be sure of what my eyes were transmitting.
A crowd of Russian students hovered around the fountain like seagulls going in for the steal of breadcrumbs. I wanted to avert my eyes and avoid what looked like what might be a scene brewing as I was tired from yelling at my students to stop acting like monkeys while practicing their play. All I desired was my ten minute break. Just ten minutes. But then I saw it. I couldn’t tell if what I was seeing was an illusion from the sudden brightness of light or reality. One of the girls in the group we call “the glam girls” (nicknamed such for the way they dress and are constantly modeling as if anyone of us might take out our camera and start snapping away) stood in what appeared from a distance, her bathing suite next to the pond surrounding our miniature version of the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the courtyard. As if repelled by an opposing end magnet my exhaustion told me to run; run far far away and not look back, but my conscious dragged me kicking and screaming towards the scene.

It turned out that she was not in her bathing suite, but in her bra and underwear holding her dress in front of her. Her hair dripping with fountain water, her face hard, stoic even.

Baffled at this unexpected soap opera, I asked what happened.
"He pushed me in!" she exclaimed tears, whether true or no poured down her face. I followed her index finger pointing to a blond headed boy lounging smugly on the bank of the pond. (I don't really know what to call the water surrounding the statue as it stagnant so isn't actually a fountain, but it isn't a natural enclosure so it really isn't a pond either.) I took my sweater off, put it around her shoulders and walked her back towards the dorms.

The truth (or what we could gather): The two are in the high level class. They either love each other ardently and don't know any other way of expressing love except through vicious fighting, or they hate each other with the vehemence of a cobra and a mongoose and want to see each other die a long painful death, preferably by the other's hand. Simply said, they haven't stopped bickering and battling since they arrived in Korea. This particular feud ended with a punch in the face to the boy, and a splash in the statue of liberty pond. How her dress came completely off, I don't know, nor will I probably ever know. What I do know is that their punishment was to help clean dishes in the cafeteria. And despite the girl's insistence that she didn't deserve this kind of treatment for only a punch, the dishes were clean the next day and there wasn't anyone standing naked in the middle of the courtyard for all to gawk at. We shall see what tomorrow holds. One thing is for sure, these Russians sure are entertaining.

Pictures as promised!
(disclaimer: non of the girls in the pictures are in the story above)

This girl is what I imagine Russians looking like. (The girl in white in the back is in my class. She is very cute and enthusiastic)

These two lovely ladies are calm collected, but always participate. It is an interesting mix for I normally don't find all of those qualities in my students at the same time.

My boys who are always laughing.

My Peter Pan in the play. Look at the length of her hair.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More on my Russian program

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am teaching a two week Russian program. It has been very intensive and a bit stress inducing, but on the whole, I am thoroughly enjoying my class. Here is what my daily schedule looks like.

An intensive schedule:
9:00-11:00 We have basic learning with a focus on vocabulary practice. For example, today we learned about hobbies. We played a game where we all stood in a circle and passed a ball around. If you got passed the ball you had a few seconds to think of a hobby that hasn't already been said. My kids, desperate not to get out thought up some pretty crazy hobbies.

  • collecting doors
  • collecting windows
  • walking your snake
  • walking your cat
  • walking your parrot
  • collecting shoes
Yesterday we played restaurant. Kyle gave me the suggestion of allowing some of the customers and waiters to be rude while others were told to be polite, to liven things up. And boy did it liven the activity up. One boy rolled a paper and pretended to smoke even though he was told it was a non-smoking area. Security (me) was called several times insisting I escort the guest out. The boys wanted me to allow pretend guns and weapons to be used but I thought that would be taking the activity in the wrong direction. Never-the-less, it was a success, and they even used English almost entirely to express all of these ideas., but a welcome reprieve from active teaching.
11:00- 12:00 Reading and comprehension... Not very interesting
Lunch (seriously lacking in veggies)
1:30- Listening activities. The first day we listened to "You are my sunshine" which my Russian students had never heard before, but they requested to hear again and again, singing along with the music. Yesterday we listened to Lemon Tree by Fool's Garden (a German band) which is an extremely well known and popular song in Korea. I had never heard it in America, but we may be the only ones, as the Russians all knew the song as well. Interesting what we don't know about in our little isolated corner in the world.

2:30-3:30 Theme class. They love theme class because there is always some type of fun activity such as making and flying paper airplanes, making key chains, learning how to draw, etc.

3:30-4:30 Drama practice. The play they have picked is called "Pirates of English Village" written by an ex-teacher here. Characters include Captain Hook, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, crocodile, and Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" and another Captain. Tinkerbell marries Jack Sparrow and Wendy marries the captain of the ship. Peter pan and the crocodile become allies to win Wendy back. It is a very silly play and the kids are so into it. I love that they are self-motivated and willing to be silly. I don't know if all Russian kids are like this, but if it weren't a massive icicle for 10 months of the year, I would consider working there.

4:30-5:00 time with the teacher. We are watching Kung Fu Panda- which they love!!

Interesting tidbits about the Russians:
  • They have a very different fashion sense. Koreans besides wearing extremely short skirts (outside of school) are very conservative dressers. The style in fact is what you might see on a baby doll, loose, flowing, and showing very little chest. Russians on the other hand, have a very liberal sense of clothing. One little girl has worn swimsuit shorts for two days. One girl wore a tube top dress. Clothing that would be considered inappropriate in any school in the US, but typical summer wear. Maybe it is because they never see the sun or maybe it is because it just much more accepted in their culture to wear this type of clothing in school. Either way, it is an interesting hodgepodge considering that the Koreans and Russians are going to school side by side.
  • The girls almost all have long hair. Really, they have some of the longest hair of girls I have seen in a long time.
p.s. I took pics of my kids today, but didn't have time to upload them. They will come soon, so I don't want to hear any gripping :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Russians are coming!!

Oh wait, they are already here. You read that correctly, I wrote Russians, as in the people originating from the largest country in the world. That icicle country that is both part of Europe and Asia. We have Russian students ranging from ten years old to 15 years old this week and next week. They have come to South Korea to learn English. Makes since right? When you think of South Korea, one naturally thinks of the hot spot of the world to learn English!

Last week was preparation week. You would think that less than a week to plan for two weeks of classes would be sufficient, but I assure you, my brain did somersaults attempting to organize and file away all that needed to be printed, copied, created etc for this upcoming group. The Russian program is very different than the normal weekly program. In a normal week, we have our classes basically prepared. There is still prep work to be done, but the difference is that this program had to be created basically from the ground up. I am thankful at least we had books available, and the internet is the best thing since butter as far as I am concerned. Most English teachers are familiar with this site but for those who are not; Dave's esl cafe is a LIFE saver. This site's entire purpose in life is to assist those who teach English with games, lesson plans, advice and those who want to find an English teaching job.

When I teach students, one of my main goals is to help them find the fun in learning English. According to the zombie students, sometimes actually having fun while learning seems less like actual fun and more like having open heart surgery. But I still try, regardless of the protests and their unwillingness to be moved by anything but a bulldozer. While preparing for the students, we weren't given a clear picture as to what their levels would be and although I was told to prepare low-intermediate, I couldn't be positive that these kids even knew how to read English.

When they arrived this morning, my jaw bounced a few times like a bouncy ball on the linoleum floor. It has been a while since I have seen so many Westerners, but not only that, they were all blond-haired, blue eye beauties. No joke! You could probably enter 80% of our students into "Russia's next top model" reality TV series (if they have a show like ours.) Who knew Russians were so breath-taking?

In Korea, Russian is synonomis with prostitute. For some reason, there are many Russian prostitutes here. I don't know why. But I do know, that if you are asked "Are you Russian?" by a Korean, they are basically asking if you are a prostitute, and yes, I have been asked that question. There are even t-shirts people wear that have printed in the Korean language, "No, I am not Russian," to keep people from asking.

And the way my students interact, I can never tell if they are yelling at each other or just speaking Russian the way Russians speak. The language which sounds to my unqualified ears to be a mixture of German and French, is spoken with such passion, it is difficult to distinguish the anger from typical speech pattern.

So far I like my class. We have had a short afternoon together and already we have had events:
  • Daniel is pronounced differently in Russian. Daniel (my student) does not, I repeat, DOES NOT like the English pronunciation of Daniel. So he chose the English name Parker after yelling at me for my ignorance and mispronunciation.
  • I thought I was going to have to break up a fight between Korean students and my Russian students, but when I reached the circle, I found the Korean students and Russian students trying unsuccessfully to communicate in English. The Russian students wanted to teach the Korean students some Russian words. Kind of sweet actually.
  • Russian students have hobbies. It's amazing. If you ask a Korean student what their hobbies are, you are 99.99% likely to hear either or all of the following; computer games, sleeping and TV. Occasionally soccer is tossed in there for good measure. The Russians hobbies ranged from graffiti art, to scuba diving to stamp collecting. Amazing! Children with time to have hobbies outside of studying.
I don't have pictures of my class yet, but I will post some as soon as I do.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dragon Hill in Yongsan

The jimjilbang in Korea is a unique experience not to be missed. A jimjilbang is a public bathhouse in which women and men separate into their respective bath-rooms to soak in a variety of pools and rooms ranging from cool to HOT. It is comparable to a sauna or a spa, offering a variety of services and a variety of options for washing/relaxing except that instead of wearing a bathing suite, the only attire required or allowed really is your birthday suite. And Koreans, unlike Westerners have no rule in the official unwritten handbook of rules guidelines about staring. Koreans like to stare, and for them, it is absolutely acceptable. "Yes, I am from America, and no I don't have three breasts. Please stop staring!" is what I want to say when they stare at me like a purple alien with horns and a tail. It is already shocking enough to be stark naked in front of strangers, but to have them blatantly stare at you inch by inch is another story. For the most part is the older generation who behaves this way. The younger generations are less obvious. The nakedness shock wears away after ten minutes, and once it does, it is a wonderfully relaxing atomosphere.

It is strange to think of bathing together as a familial event, but in Korea, it is a regular family outing. Koreans use the jimjilbang to clean and scrub enthusiasticly every inch of their body until every organism, bacteria, or speck of dirt on their bodies has either abandoned ship or been bludgeoned to death. I use it mostly as a means to relax. Recently, however, we went to a jimjilbang for the sole purpose of sleeping. Jimjilbangs are not hotels, but they do allow guests to sleep the night away if they so choose for cheap. There are rooms set aside with mats lining the floor and square, rock like pillows for sleeping. The heat is kept at such a temperature, that even I, who ALWAYS eternally must have a blanket, even in the death-throws of summer, didn't want for any extra material, be it as thin as a butterfly's wing, to touch my sweat speckled body.

The first time we tried to sleep at a jimjilbang, we weren't sure how it worked. We thought maybe we could drop off our bags and come back but they kept insisting that we couldn't leave so we didn't stay there. But a few weekends ago, we went on our deserted island beach trip, and we had planned on meeting the group at a jimjilbang near the ferry that we were to take at the crack of dawn, but because of a series of unfortunate events that will be discussed at a later time, we didn't make it, and had to find an alternative. We landed in Yongsan station and were directed to Dragon Hill, the mecca of all jimjilbangs. This jimjilbang is like Schlitterban (the largest water park in Texas) to the baby pool at your local neighborhood pool. In fact, it is so unlike other jimjilbang, it is almost on par with a mini-amusement park. Boasting 7 floors, this jimjilbang offers entertainment, food, spa treatment, and snuggle room for those couples who have no where else to be "alone" all in one. We were handed clothes, informed of which floors were designated for males, females and mixed floors and instructed to change into our hideous uniforms.
( I didn't take any of these pictures. I found them all online, but this is the ballroom like room I was talking about. This angle isn't very ballroom-esque but it was very grand and gold.)

The first floor was a playground/ arcade/ PC room. I am not joking. I am still referring to the sauna. Also attached, in case you got hungry, a restaurant with fried, processed, greasy, calorie maniacal goodness all waiting to be devoured. I don't know about you, but that's not exactly the image I conjur up when I imagine a spa. The next room looked like at one time it might have been an Asian ballroom, except for the big screen TV and the people lounging on the floor watching the movie dance across it's screen. I lost track of what was on what floor and I am doubtful that I saw the entirity of the mamoth-like sauna, but of what I saw, there were also several swimming pools, a fitness center, and a roof-top terrace with another restaurant serving $6 french fries (a steal of a price in Korea). We cut into our sleep time just exploring each floor, but not partaking in the funess to be had. Already, we only would be able to sleep five hours, and although we were enticed we decided the responsible thing to do would be sleep. If you get the chance, visit this jimjilbang. We definitely have plans to return!

(I have never been in a jimjilbang so crowded before, but this picture is a great example of how they use these outings as recreational)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup FEVER

(The horns are for the RED DEVILS, the Korean mascot)

It has taken over like a furious insupressible virus. Its contagious factor is nearly 100% and all that is required to contract this dangerous virus is to be near a television. It has leaked into every pore and each blood line of this country. That's right, I am talking about the World Cup Fever. And I am as sick as pup with a gimp leg and a lazy eye with the sickness.

I've never really been one for sports. In high school, I attended football games, but never really understood the rules. I might have been able to comprehend the rules had I actually kept my eyes on the field instead of socializing like a fluttering butterfly. I might have learned the dynamics of that barbaric sport had I had an inkling of a care. I could tell you the shape of the ball and that there were two goal posts and a touch down was 7 points, but other than that, football was like an uninteresting puzzle that I didn't plan on untangling.

Leading up to the Korean game, all anyone could talk about was the World cup. Specifically the Korean game and where they planned on watching it. Every inch of Korea with a population over 10 had something planned for the opening game. For our part, we debated on what to do and where to go, finally deciding to head into Seoul for the ultimate Korean experience. Walking into the crowd of red, devil horned, rain soaked Koreans, the electricity jumping off of one person's horns to the next created streets upon streets full of pure ecstatic energy. It was enough electricity to enliven the dead to rise from their graves to see what all the ruckus was about.

We met up with some friends who had painted their faces not only for the Korean game, but also for the USA vs. England game. An exciting night indeed. We would have loved to stay and watch that game at 3:30 am Korea time, however we had to head home, as Kyle had overtime work the following morning. One great thing about the World Cup is that it instills a sense of national pride only paralleled by the Olympics. In spite of the fact that the number of tickets purchased this year by Americans was second only to South Africa, Americans still don't cherish soccer like the rest of the world does. Cherish really isn't the correct word. It is a mania bordering on religious for many countries. I had an English friend once tell me that soccer was a basic necessity for him next to food, water and shelter and without soccer his body would shrivel into a pile of decaying sadness. America has many sports that it cherishes- football, baseball, basketball, and in the north at least, hockey. Soccer just doesn't have a lot of leeway room to squeeze into the hearts of anyone but children looking to burn some energy on league teams.

I still don't really like sports and to be honest I don't really WATCH watch the game. I mean, I pay attention if I hear cue noises from the crowd, but the rules once again allude me. We plan on watching as many games as we can however because the excitement grows as the Argentina/Korea game nears. For anyone interested in results of the games:
  • Korea beat Greece 2:0 (They were evenly matched so a 2:0 score was more than the Koreans could hope for)
  • USA and England by some miracle tied 1:1 (yes, they have ties in soccer. I know what is up with that?)
  • North Korea scored once on Brazil. Brazil which is one of the best teams in the tournament should have spanked those sheltered crazies in the butt, but somehow, the score was close. 1:2
  • Mexico and South Africa tied. I know this because I was surrounded by South Africans this weekend.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beach trip video

We went on a beach trip a couple of weekends ago. I will be adding the story later, but for now, enjoy the video.
Click here

Friday, June 11, 2010

When Korean kids have a camera

This is what happens when you give Korean children a camera and tell them to create their own story using a photos.

Here is Cinderella sweeping with the props she has, a pencil and paper.
Cinderella is now being bit by the zombie dog.

Poor Cinderella.

Enters Prince Charming on a horse.

Prince Charming meets Cinderella.

But Cinderella has turned into a zombie and tries to attack the Prince.

Then the Prince turns into a zombie as well.

The zombie Prince and zombie Cinderella get married. (this picture refused to rotate. Don't ask me why???!!!)

And everyone lives happily ever after as zombies.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Our super fun but kinda lame and a little scary Paintball Adventure!

The other weekend Vanessa and I joined some of our new Meetup friends here in S.K. for a day of paintball. Now as many of you know, I have been in love with guns, shooter games, and just about every form of projectile you can imagine from slingshots to sniper rifles. I can't really explain the reason for my obsession, except to say that I think it has something to do with the incredible science behind it. There's something about it that I just find fascinating. Now I'm not going to lie. When it comes to paintball and airsoft too for that matter, I also love the ability to inflict a little friendly pain. Call me a sadist but there isn't a single person who's played the game that can deny the satisfaction that comes from landing that perfect shot right on the knuckle. That little yelp of pain just puts a huge smile on your face and the adrenaline is intoxicating. It's just so stinkin fun!

Anyways, I was a little timid about the whole event when William posted the description on Meetup. I've known for a while that Korea doesn't really have much of a gun culture and while paintball and airsoft are gaining popularity, they still aren't the most experienced gun handlers. Shooter safety is just as important with fake guns as it is with real ones and paintball is no exception. They aren't generally life threatening but under the right circumstances they certainly can be. Our friend Ros who came with us ended up taking a paintball right behind the ear at pointblank because one of the girls didn't have her safety on. Now if you ask me, that's just as much the instructor's fault as it was hers. Generally speaking, our instructor was mediocre at best. During his demonstration on how to safely handle the gun, he kept pointing the barrel at us. Shooter safety 101, never point the barrel of any gun, loaded or not, at anything you don't want to shoot, i.e. people.The other thing that concerned me was the equipment. The guns themselves weren't bad. They were well maintained and easy to operate but the masks we were given would never have been allowed at any legitimate paintball field. Faceplates that don't cover the ears are not good protection. They did add a new level of fun to the game however as you could see pretty clearly who you were shooting at. Not that I was gunning for anyone in particular and certainly not for my wife. ;)The field wasn't half bad. A little small for my taste but it had good cover and a nice hill to climb with lots of trenches and ravines to go diving for cover into. The only thing that kinda stank about it was the fact that the ground was covered in burs and pine needles that dug into your knees as you knelt for cover. No pain, no glory though.
I was a little bummed that we only got 50 rounds per game but in the end it just made you shoot more conservatively. The last game we played was kind of a Showdown where we had 3 people per team standing about 30 yards apart, each armed with 15 rounds. One team went first and took their 15 shots at their friends, then the other team took theirs. I won't lie about it, this was my favorite part! I hit Van 8 out of 15 which in paintball ain't half bad. Van hit me once, but she sure made it count. Somehow she got me smack square in the chin, under my mask. Stung like hell but I think I deserved it. I also probably deserved the whacks with her hairbrush I got over the next few days as well.

All in all, it was a super fun but kinda lame and a little scary day!
P.S. Ros was just fine. She took it like a man and got back in the next game. Had a nice welt to show for it though. Must be that tough South African blood that kept her from crying ;)
Our janitor, one size fits all outfits were extremely fashionable. As you can see the inseam area hung nearly a foot below where it should have been for Van.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cute kid

I just saw this on my friends blog and I just had to share it. It is so cute! And that is exactly how I sing songs when I don't know the words either, but unfortunately, I can't play a ukelele or any other instrument for that matter so already this kid who should be on the next reality TV show "The world's most adorable children" is way cooler than me. It is rumored that he is Japanese, but the Korean kids look just like him. This video might help to explain if I happen to smuggle adorable little Korean children home with me, why they are occasionally too cute not to kidnap.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Oido lighthouse adventure!

I have been a little busy as of late which is why my postings have been fewer than normal. I have taken on an overtime position teaching for two extra hours a day, however, recently the administration decided that teachers had entirely too many preparation hours and decided to cut them. Obviously we are dealing with long-term planners, and education experts! To hell with preparing! Who needs to prepare for a class? The result has been that my head has twisted a full 180 degrees to face the wrong direction, I now gallop like a gorilla, if that's what gorillas do and woot like an owl. Well maybe it hasn't gotten that bad, but I do actually have a twitch in my eye and if things don't improve, I might turn into a crazed gorilla monstrosity.

So the entire intention of this intro was explain why this post about an experience last March is being written at the begining of June. And really, it isn't an excuse because it is months late and not just a week late. But if I can get you to feel sorry for poor little nessa having to deal with the crazies in Korea, then maybe no one will notice how late this post really is. Hows my plan working?

Onto the story: Except that there isn't too much of a story...

One day Kyle and Vanessa woke up very very early on a Saturday. They were taking a photography class and had to catch a taxi to the subway, switch trains three times before arriving at their destination three hours later. Vanessa and Kyle, not being morning people were non too pleased about this arrangement, but for photography lessons, they were willing to give up sleeping in for a few Saturdays in March.

I warned you it wasn't much of a story...

So one Saturday, we had made plans to meet up with a meetup group and some friends in Ansan to visit the *FAMOUS* Oido light house. (It isn't really famous, I'm being ironical ;) ) We met up with the folks, got on a bus to a random, and honestly pretty crappy museum, wandered around this sad attempt at a gathering of art and then headed out towards the light house.

We wanted to make it before sunset because it was supposed to be the best time of day to see it. We timed it perfectly, except for the transportation. You see, I knew what bus to get on, but we got on this local bus in the wrong location and ended up traveling around half the city. It was so past dusk when we finally arrived at the lighthouse, I could hardly see my hands in front of my face. Roman candles were for sale at the lighthouse, but unfortunatly the light house itself, which we had traveled litterally hours to see was closed.

For dinner, there were tons of restraunts along the beach front and as far as I could tell, they all served the exact same overly expensive clam bake. After paying what I consider outrageous prices for these slimy critters to sizzle and pop on an open flame, I have decided, I ain't a fan. Nope, I don't like the texture, or the bits of sand that are sometimes still ingrained. And to be perfectly honest, the flavor pretty much doesn't agree with my tongue either.

We had fun though, which is what counts. Despite the failed attempt at seeing the lighthouse, while open and at sunset, and besides what I considered a not so great meal, we had fun seeing friends and hanging out. All in all, it was a successful trip!