Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zombify yourself!

Happy Halloween!!
At least it is Halloween over here in Korea. Not that Korea actually celebrates this North American tradition, but that doesn't stop us from sharing it across cultures.
I have some bad news guys. This year, Halloween got super crazy. So crazy that Kyle and I have turned into zombies. I know, I know, how could this have happened? Well, it turns out that our schools' children weren't just acting like zombies in class, they actually were zombies and somehow, it must have worn off on us. I mean, just look at us?

No matter how much make-up I apply, I can't get the greenish tint, nor the gaping head would to look normal.

Just kidding. We're not zombies... or are we...??

I will soon post pictures of our Halloween day at school, but for now, I thought I would share a pretty cool website I just came across. It's called "Zombieland" after the hilarious zombie movie that came out last year. Anyways, this website allows you to take a photo of yourself, and make it zombie-esque. Here is what we came up with. Go ahead and try it out for yourself. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

When Korean babies have their 1st birthday...

Dad, mom and baby all dressed in Korean traditional clothing.

It wasn't that long ago, when Korea's economy was in drastic dire. They were a small country torn apart by the Japanese colonists and a civil war that never truly ended. It is hard to imagine this technologically advanced, highly ranked economic power desperate and in the midst of famine. Korea sprinted its way to the forefront of the world and has been battling it's way past superpowers. It is ranked 15th in the world economies. For this reason, Korea has been struggling with the delicate obligation of weaving it's past and present into a modern afghan with reflections of the past that don't seem too antiquated, while staying up with the times and/or ahead of the curve but without losing their heritage. It's been a difficult task, the knitting of a complicated and at times a bizarre project that doesn't have a clear pattern. The materials change, the colors don't always flow and sometimes the tug-a-war just tears it up all together. Occasionally it is thrown in the trash, but its eventually picked back up again and attempted again. It doesn't always seem to work out or mesh the way some think it should, but it is what makes Korea, Korea.

One of these traditions that is still celebrated today, which in today's modern Korea seems outdated and yet an important part of Korean heritage is the celebration of both the 100th day of a baby's birth and it's one year birthday celebration. In the past infant mortality rate was steep. So when a baby hit the 100th day of life, it's chances of survival were greatly increased demanding a need for a celebration. A party would ensue, that is if the infant wasn't sick, in which case no one would mention the 100th day for fear of relaying bad luck onto the child. Even though the infant mortality rate in Korea has decreased significantly thanks to advanced health care, mothers and families aren't in actuality concerned for each child's survival but still carry on the tradition of celebrating 100 days of life. I'm not sure if 100 has a significant meaning in Korea, because they also celebrate 100 days of dating for new couples.

Recently, Kyle, the other teachers of our school, and I were all invited to a birthday party. A 1st year birthday party, which is also a momentous marker in a person's life. The 100th day celebration is a small scale event with family and close friends, while the 1st year birthday party is an extraveganza on a scale similiar to a wedding. I'm not joking. There were at least 150 people at this child's birthday party with a delectable buffet fit for a Caesar and his armies. I asked my Korean friends, who were swooning at the thought of the day when they could also have their very own 1st birthday party for the little crumpet that they one day too would bring into the world, if this was a normal scale or if this was over the top. I was assured that this was quite normal.

"How much would something like this cost?" I asked in disbelief. I wondered how any parent could afford to have more than one child.
"It costs a lot of money, but it is payed for basically by the guests." one Korean teachers said.
Another chimed in, "Sometimes they even make money from these events. I know some who have not only not had to pay for anything, but went home with a profit."

Each person who attends a wedding or a 1st birthday party is expected to give a gift like we do in the states, except the gifts are normally not material goods, but in the form of cash. Beacoups of cash. Basically you are just paying for the meal and silly entertainment. Many of the Koreans gave the equivalent to $50 per person and that is average.

The set up was elaborate. They had photos probably of everyday of this child's life. I thought the picture tree was very cute. There was even a video shown at the end of the evening of the baby being dressed up for a full days shooting session. She was a star in the making.

Stuffing our faces. Soju was at every turn. It isn't a Korean party if there isn't soju.

All of the teachers who attended the party.

Isn't the cake beautiful. I don't think I ever tasted it. I am not sure in fact it was real.

There was of course a DJ and entertainment. Volunteers (our teachers) even the president were told to stand, and dance or bob their head. Each person wore a pedometer to record how much dancing and/or bobbing was done. The president stood their awkwardly before sitting down refusing to be silly while everyone else competed for the prize.
No rice cake on this plate. But there are mashed potatoes which I mistakenly though was a dessert. It's the one with chocolate syrup and sprinkles. Why would I think that was a dessert. How silly of me.

I don't have a picture of this, but one of the important aspects of a birthday party is the picking of the child's future career. A tray is presented to the baby and they are given a choice of objects. Depending on what they pick will determines what they become as adults. So the objects she was given were a microphone, money, pencil, string, book etc. They all have meaning; the mic-entertainer, pencil-scholar, string- long life, money- rich, book- writer etc. She choose two items. She choose money and the pencil which means she will be rich and a scholar. Unlikely, I would think.

Needless to say the event was a learning experience. We had fun, and went home with full tummies. One of my favorite aspects of living abroad is learning about other countries cultures. Its enlightening and makes one reflect on our own country and traditions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hiking in Yongmun

A couple of weekend ago, we went hiking at a local mountain near our school. Yongmun means Dragon's Gate. It was a huge touristy thing. It was just down the road and we had no idea! I wasn't expecting to take so many pictures so I wore my frumpy sweatshirt which I now regret looking back at the pictures, but one can't always wear heels :) (like I ever wear heels)

The dragon gate.

One of the most treasured aspects of Yongmun mountain is it's Ginkgo tree. They have the largest in Asia. It didn't look so spectacularly grandiose to me, but maybe they just don't get very large in general. The way you can tell a ginkgo tree from any other tree is the shape of their leaves look like fans. Very Asian. The stereotypical image I get in my head when thinking of Asians are geishas fanning themselves. How ironic that this tree choose to imitate my stereotypical, and ignorant image of them.

The boys walking up to the temple.

On this hike was also a Buddhist temple. I had no idea! But look at these guys enthusiasm. They are ecstatic about the discovery of a Buddhist temple!

One of the most popular snacks in Korea are something they call rice cakes. Everything in Korea, (and my guess is that this is true of all of Asia), everything stems from rice. Rice is life. Seriously, I had no clue that rice was so easily melded into other treats. Not that I particularly love any of them but in case you don't have enough rice with rice being the main portion of every meal, feel free to also add the rice noodles, rice cakes etc.
Rice cake? Cake made from rice? "Chincha" (translation: really) They are often vibrant colors and adorned with nuts and other sprinkles that look delicious. When I was first introduced, I thought they looked like an Asian crumpet of sorts. My mouth watered as I inspected this Korean delicacy. However my taste buds were in for an unpleasant surprise. The rice cake tasted like rice and air. Really, the taste of nothingness, which seems to be a common complaint of mine in Korea. On occasion, you can find a sweet rice cake, but they are rare.
The picture above is an example of how it is made. It was incredibly sticky, and very fun to bang.

It took me about 15 tries to get a picture of this tree. Sometimes using a SLR camera is incredibly frustrating. The camera absolutely refuses to read my mind. No matter how many telepathy classes we attend, that camera is just dense.

There seem to always be statues to pose with in Korea.

Don't be deceived by these rock piles. They are built my aliens, just like the mammoth rocks at Easter Island, and the Pyramids in Egypt. These rock mounds take just as much patience to construct as the Eiffel tower. Or maybe I just have depleted my patience so thoroughly that I don't even have the patience to finish this sente...

But these rock piles were everywhere. I think they have something to do with meditation and/or prayer in Buddhism, but I don't know for sure because there were no markers near them. Even if for some reason, Korea decided to pay money to place markers near them, it wouldn't be in my language. So I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine. If you do know, my ears are wide open.

Did you know that there are Fall flowers? Because I come from a city lacking in seasons other than Severely Hot/ and moderately hot, I have never really experienced true seasons. The fall colors are a sight, but for me, the red leaves signify a warning. "Beware, cold weather awaits. Begin hibernation procedures." So I have a little more difficulty enjoying fall being a paranoid mongoose always on the look out for its archenemy.
Look, a bee. I'm so easily amused!

We found a bridge to play on. It didn't really go anywhere though.
We love taking pictures of the dragonflies. They are our friends. They eat mosquitoes!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Where did fall go?

Remember that post not to long ago named paranoia? It was about my irrational fear of winter in Korea. Well, it turns out I wasn't so irrational after all. The day we came back from the Philippines, someday at the end of September, summer faded away into a fog of wintery icicle land! So there isn't really ice, but the temperatures did drop a good 30 degrees. It went from mid 80's one day to 50 degrees the next. I busted out those moldy winter clothes and currently shiver anytime I see a picture of myself where skimpy clothing.

It's true last weekend was nothing short of fabulous in terms of temperature. At one point, I even wore a skirt WITHOUT leggings, but alas, it looks like those warm days are gone. Gone, gone gone. They vanished into the night and now can be seen among the stars in the twinkling sky. My summer clothes packed in bags, I have accepted the oncoming cold months as a reality.

The one benefit of fall are the bright colors embellishing the trees, but even that is just a sign of death (or hibernation).

Here are some Korea fall pictures.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's happened this week

- I was REALLY REALLY good and starting writing again on my "project." I haven't written since my computer died and I was nervous I wouldn't remember anything without my notes, but I did. REally it was just an excuse.
- I worked overtime in the evening.
- We made Salmon corn chowder and it was DELICIOUS!!
- I didn't blog. I just forgot.
- Didn't work out enough and my stomach is showing it after this weekend of gluttony.
- Found an outlet mall in Korea. We felt like we were walking into America except for the excessive amount of Asians walking around. It was surreal. I felt like we could just get in the car and drive back home. It was a little sad when reality hit that we would have to drive over an ocean or two to get home home.
- Didn't make our traditional Saturday breakfast of either breakfast tacos or pancakes. I love BREAKFAST! We were in too much of a rush.
- Went to Seoul and celebrated our friends birthday. It was lots of fun.
- Made a birthday cake. It turned out OKAY, not great, but man it was nice to have cake!
-Came home and watched an old episode of the Daily Show because they are off air preparing for the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear".
-Checked my bank account and realized that the money I sent home hadn't reached my bank a week and a half later. I had a little freak out. It was a lot of money.
- Kyle called the bank and figured out, that there was sometime of number error. The money hasn't disappeared into someone else's account. Thank GOD!
-It was a good week. Saturday and Sunday were warm and beautiful. Today is sweater weather, and tomorrow will freeze. Have I mentioned that I hate winter?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My scuba experience (by Vanessa)

about to go down

My first thoughts about our entrance into the scuba world was worry that Kyle would have ear problems again. He has had ear issues not only snorkeling but in at least one airplane ride when he felt he had busted his ear drum, the pain was so overpowering and intense. As for me, I wasn't too worried. I had always kinda thought that I might have the opposite fear of claustrophobia, but the fear of wide open spaces such as space or the ocean, where the space seemingly never ended. But I wasn't actually worried, just excited.

The initial foreboding doggy-paddled it's way into my subconscious as we watched the informational video required for the introduction dive. "Sudden lung expansion, ear drum bursting and drowning can occur during scuba diving." "Deep breaths" I told myself. "Plenty of people scuba dive and don't kill themselves. You can too. Nothing is going to happen."

My motivational speech going on within my head seemed to calm my nerves. Kyle was the star pupil in our sessions. I fumbled through some practices such as the removing water from our masks and replacing the oxygen hose if it were to fall out of my mouth. Kyle shined. I glared.

Nerves mounted as we rode on our boat out to our location. Butterflies, frogs, what-have-you hopped, fluttered and jousted in my stomach as we slowed over our dive point.

Mask defogged and fitted- check
weightbelt on- check
huge, bulky oxygen tank secured- check
insanity- check

They instructed us to fall backwards into the water. Insanity- yep. This method is easier than climbing down a ladder, but like Kyle said, "heavy=sink and sink=drowning." Falling backwards wasn't too bad, but once I landed, my flippered feet flailed helpless around in the air as I mimicked a flipped over junebug getting off it's back, or at least vertical in the water. It was probably a laughable affair. Good thing Kyle was on the other side of the boat so he couldn't laugh at my silliness.

Next step... going down.
"Put your face in the water" we were told, as our buoyancy vests were deflated so that we would sink slowly to the ocean floor.
"Here we go!" I thought anxiously.
We were led down on an old rope that looked like it had been pulled from a shipwreck, it had so much algae covering it. Surprisingly however, the moss gave it a soft, smooth feel that I actually enjoyed our descent. Our speed was slower than turtle speed, probably sloth speed so that we could properly equalize our eardrums every meter.
No problems there.
The problems began once we hit the ocean floor and I looked up. It was kind of like how people at tall heights say not to look down, but instead this time, I probably shouldn't have looked up. We weren't actually very far from the surface, 12 meters or 30 ft, but my immediate thought was, "If something were to happen, I couldn't just rush to the surface without expanding and thus destroying my lungs." And suddenly, I couldn't remember how to breath. Breathing through a tank is like having a cold and loosing complete access to your nostrils. It is uncomfortable and takes some getting used to. My breaths became shallow and unfulfilled. My heart pounded uncontrollably in my chest. I felt out of control, uncomfortable and completely out of my element. I wasn't a fish, what was I trying to do, breath underwater?

I didn't want to be a nuisance but we had learned the sign for pounding heart. When he was teaching us the scuba sign language, I laughed at the heart beating sign in class, thinking why would someone really use that? And of course that was the first sign I used once under water. My instructor was wonderful. Really wonderful. He rushed to me, pressed some type of valve, I don't really know what he was doing, but it allowed me to take my first deep breath since the panic attack began. Breathing deeply helped. It's amazing what a little oxygen can do for someones nerves. Immediately my heart took a chillax pill and drummed to a more even tempered tune. Oxygen rushed through my body and I sighed relief. Kyle took my hand as soon as Peter, our instructor made sure I was better, and didn't let go of it the entire rest of the time we were under water. And that hand, I am pretty positive is what got me through the remainder of our time underwater.

The panic attack, although quickly alleviated, threw my whole attitude off kilter and set the mood for the rest of our swim down under. Nerves, all though significantly more calm than at the beginning never really stopped squirming. My wetsuit which was cut at the sleeves and legs to be less oppressive didn't fit perfectly and although the water was truly the perfect temperature for swimming, my body temperature continued to drop, until my lips had had adopted a blue lipstick fashion and I began shivering. For someone with my size and frame, spending thirty minutes underwater of any temperature, unless it's in a Jacuzzi, needs a warmer wetsuit.

Our first plan of action, besides intercepting a panic attack was to feed fish. They like stale bread it turns out. Who would have thought that fish of all sizes and shapes would herd like begging pups. I swear if they had the ability to make facial expressions, they would have given the sad puppy dog eyes. We didn't need to reach out and touch them, they brushed every part of our body crowding the food. It was amazing being surrounded by so many fish. Surreal really.

feeding the fishies

We were then pushed by our instructor, as we hadn't been taught the proper procedures for swimming with tanks, through reefs and other underwater cathedrals to view other life forms. We didn't see anything too spectacular and what I mean by spectacular is relative. I am referring to creatures such as whales, dolphins, manta-rays, sharks, mermaids etc. What we saw was breathtakingly stunning and magical in it's own right and perfect for beginners such as ourselves, but wasn't anything too out of the ordinary in ocean terms. I had a hard time appreciating it however as all I kept thinking was, "Is this almost over? We're going close to the boat. Why are we passing the boat? We aren't finished yet? When can I breath like humans were intended?"

Before we re-surfaced we posed for a photo-shoot. We took some pictures looking at the camera and then they told us to kiss. "KISS!" I thought horrified, "I have to take out my mouth piece and put it back in!" This was one of the first skills we had learned, but I didn't like it. I was scared. I didn't want to kiss Kyle. I didn't care about a stupid photo. (probably the first time I have ever said that) but of course you can't speak under water, they counted, I did as they said and kissed my husband unwillingly.Another kiss

Once we finally surfaced, I was beyond thrilled to be above again, but Kyle was asking "When can we go down again?"

He did go down the next day, while I sat out. My stomach was upset from something I ate the night before. I took pictures from the boat.
The warmer wetsuit I wore on the second dive

The next time we went down together, I was much more comfortable, smiling even. My wetsuit fit, I wasn't shivering, and I was figuring out to take deep controlled breaths. I continued to struggle with controlling my body. If someone wasn't holding me up, I just fell to the floor like a toddler first learning to walk. It is a skill you learn with time, but probably small people are more prone to currents than the larger people. And I found holding the mouth piece in my mouth tiring, but at the end of it, I was thrilled that I got back on the wagon.

One last interesting note on scuba diving before I bore you to death is everything is magnified underwater. We came across some other divers, and my first reaction was fear. They literally were like gigantic monsters. Their distorted dimensions were completely thrown off by the water giving the illusion of a truly massive creature. No wonder we are frightening to other animals.

We didn't get certified, but plan on doing that some time in the near future. Marine life, here we come.

Another type of star fish

Friday, October 15, 2010

Scuba Rocks! by Kyle

I LOVE the ocean. I love the color of the water, the feel of sand under my feet, I love the incredible organisms that live in it and the sheer vastness of the deep blue but from the get go, I was apprehensive about scuba diving. I am definitely an adventurous person but when it comes to "thrill seeking" activities, I'm a bit of a wuss. I wouldn't call Scuba diving a thrilling activity Per Se but there is a certain level of risk involved and for the inexperienced, it can certainly be dangerous. Knowing this, Vanessa and I decided that our trip to the Philippines was a perfect time to "test the waters" and see if we took to being Under the Sea.

Our hotel in Boracay, the Blue Mango Inn has a dive shop owned and operated by the sons of the owner and they give some of the best rates on the beach. Couple that with a very knowledgeable and super friendly staff and you've got a fantastic place to not only get your first dive in but your 10th, 50th and so on. We were both very glad to have a staff we could understand well and liked.

Dante was our first instructor. After watching the mandatory "Discover Diving" PADI video, Dante talked us through each part of our Scuba gear describing in detail what it does and how to use it. He even explained the parts that beginners don't really need to know about, just to give us a bit more peace of mind. I really appreciated that. Once he had quizzed us on what the parts do and how to use them, it was into the water we went!

We started off in very shallow water, just about chest height so we could get familiar with actually using the equipment. This gave me a bit of a false sense of security. It's one thing to be a foot below the water, knowing that if anything were to go wrong you can just stand up and breath. It's a totally different thing to be 40 feet below and have that fear of not being able to get to the surface to get the air you need. To be honest, it hadn't even crossed my mind at that point. I was too busy thinking about how cool it was going to be swimming around the amazing reefs not having to worry about resurfacing. The only thing I was honestly feeling timid about was my ears. For my senior year of highschool my parents paid for me to do a cruise with a bunch of my friends to Cozumel. While snorkeling, I made the mistake of diving down a bit too deep without equalizing my ear pressure and busted an eardrum. Hands down one of the most painful and scary experiences of my life. Needless to say, I've been a bit apprehensive about going too deep underwater since then. However, Dante showed us several different ways to equalize and insisted that as we went down the dive line, if we couldn't feel that release, we should go up a bit and try again. This helped me feel quite a bit more confident and as we got on the boat, my nerves were in far less of a mess than normal. We had a few other newbies going down with us that day and 3 instructors that would be diving with us. Our guide for the first actual dive was Peter, a very short, dark and cool as a cucumber Philippino who we both liked alot from the get go. He was very friendly, very helpful and very, very patient. As we reached our sight, the butterflies started fluttering and as we geared up I kept thinking to myself, "you know what to do. Ain't nothin to it but to do it!" Now I've seen the "roll out" scuba entry a thousand times on TV, but nothing quite prepares you for that first free fall plunge. First of all, it's only maybe 6 feet from the edge of the boat to the water but from where you sit it looks like 20. Second of all, you've got a 10 pound weight belt on, a 30 pound Scuba tank and a general knowledge of physics that tells you heavy things sink fast in water. I'd say it's quite logical to want to poop your pants a little. But as all Scuba divers will tell you, weight doesn't count nearly as much in water as buoyancy. And a functioning flotation vest is really all you need to keep your head above water no matter how weighed down you are. So I made sure Van went first in case I wet my pants and then sucked it up, squeezed the butt cheeks and "rolled out."

Once I hit the water, a mild wave of panic passed for just a split second and then up I bobbed to the surface without any effort. A few flip of the fins and I was holding on to the slimy yet soft dive line, ready to start our decent.

Down we went, one meter at a time, pinching our noses and popping our ears. At first, I couldn't get them to go for the life of me. Then I tried one of the other techniques they showed us, kept pushing air into my closed nose and eventually, Viola! So further and further down we went till finally we were on the sea floor. My first thought was "huh, it's warmer down here than I thought it would be. Then I looked at Van and realized she was having a bit of a hard time. I held her hand while Peter got her focused and helped her breath. I really have no idea why I took to it so well so quickly. I guess for me, knowing that there were plenty of other airtanks around gave me enough confidence that I could get air if I needed it to feel comfortable. There is certainly a level of trust in the equipment needed to know that it works and you don't need to be at the surface to breath. Once you get that and you get used to taking deep breaths in and out of your mouth, then you can enjoy the world around you.

We fed tons of beautiful but pesky fish and Peter dragged us along on a tour of the reef. We saw starfish,
blowfish, parrotfish, a HUGE sea cucumber, a ton of sea urchins which kinda freaked me out a bit and some giant clams. In a word, it was WONDERFUL!

Maybe not for V so much, who later said she kept thinking, "I can see all this on TV where I'm safe on my couch." although I think she really liked it, but it was definitely a dream come true for me!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Egg drop madness again!

About a year ago, I posted about our camp project, egg drop madness.

The project goal: protect your egg, aka: what I tell the kids " your baby, don't let your baby break" (Sometimes they crack the egg before it even gets up in the air)

Protect the egg from what? gravity. We dropped the eggs from three stories high to their possible doom.

How to protect the eggs? designated materials.

Really when we started this project, no one really knew what they were doing. We were kind of like ostriches trying to teach chickens how to fly.

To begin with, we split the students into groups of four or five. We gave them designated materials. Originally we weren't set on what the materials should be so we began with ziplock bags. Turns out, ziplock bags don't make awesome parachutes. So the next time you are jumping out of a plane for skydiving, right before you make the plunge, you should double check that your parachute isn't a flimsy ziplock bag.

After multiple bullet-like eggs, screaming obscenities at the stupidness of their instructors on their way down to their inevitable doom, smashed into what can only be referred to as scramble smithereens, we came up with a new idea; Trash bags.

Really great idea, except that we gave each group their own trash bag. It worked a little too well in fact. NO EGGS died in this experiment. Now, it isn't like I wanted my kids to fail. But who feels good after they aced a test by cheating. Not many people. Well... not many people with self respect. And basically they couldn't fail.

So we moved on to newspaper. Newspaper was really a perfect alternative. It works well when used correctly, but allows for more of a challenge.

Other materials we provided:
balloons (for confusion)
paper cups
paper clips

Balloons can actually help but they don't cause air resistance like the kids think it will.

It was really a great class. We did a little bit of teaching and a LOT of observing the kids try and make their contraptions to protect their egg. I like the observing part. My voice especially is extremely grateful. Dropping the eggs off the roof was a blast and everyone enjoyed it regardless of whether their egg lived through the traumatic ordeal or not.

So when we were given the chance to give suggestions for this years camp at my newest school, I of course offered up the option of egg drop, but with added challenges. We offer a larger selection of goods to make their egg drop, except this time, they can only pick ten things.

The materials we use now:
paper cup
rubber bands
tape (4-5 inches per piece)
paper plates
trash bag (cut into 8ths)
paper clips

I have even toyed with the idea of giving them monopoly money and making them pay for each item, making the better materials more expensive. Either way, they have to think harder about the design before making it, and they are never allowed to exchange. The best inventions are made out of resourcefulness.

Its a super class and any teachers and/or esl teachers out there, I recommend this to everyone.

Here is the video I made for the kids to see some examples of egg drops. It isn't great filming, but it does the job and is a little entertaining. Enjoy!