Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Days Are Packed

Along with spring have come the rains.  Yesterday night I heard thunder for the first time in Korea - I'd missed it.  And the forecast for the rest of the week is more rain.  I don't mind the rain except when I'm getting soaked, driving my scooter to and from school with Alisa on the back so that she doesn't have to walk on her sore foot (did I mention she hurt her foot?  Pohang seems to have a negative effect on the health of foreign teachers.  My broken thumb is only one of many other recent injuries among the foreigner group.).

Along with spring has come Easter.  And, though it had the potential of going by without very much recognition on my part, it turned out to be a memorable one, thanks to some good friends and my new toaster oven.  A couple of weeks ago Teagan decided to buy a toaster oven off of G-market, the popular online store in Korea.  He said I could also get one for only fifty bucks, so I thought, why not?  But that was around the time that Alisa had just arrived and was living in my apartment, so it sat in it's box for a good week and a half, until this last weekend.

Jane is a very cool person from Sydney, Australia, and when she found out I had an oven, she was quite a bit more excited than I was.  She loves to cook, so it didn't take long until she found the chance to show me the capabilities of my new appliance - an Easter dinner in my apartment.  So, Saturday afternoon, Jane shows up with Sara, Gayle, a salad, a mac-and-cheese casserole, wine, and 2 small chickens.  An hour later, along with Alisa of course, we were eating the best home cooked meal I've had in months - on my small, uncomfortable, apartment floor of all places. To top it off, after dinner we played card games, which I think is the perfect thing to do after an Easter dinner.  It was surely the best time I've had in my apartment yet.

(Notice the wonderful curtains that mom made for me)
Early the next morning, the same group of us, along with Jonas, Sara's husband (who got me my djembe), drove out to Handong University for church.  Handong is a Christian university just outside of Pohang, that, even for the short time I was there, reminded me a little bit of Calvin.  There seems to be a good community there.  I enjoyed the service a lot.  Alisa and I even met a guy who went to our high school, HDCH, though much earlier than us.  Small world.

Then, in the afternoon, I joined my soccer team on a bus to Busan for our game.  We had been told that the team we were playing had had trouble finding a field to play on, and the one that they'd booked was up in the hills a little bit, which turned out to be exactly right.
Korea is hilly - rugged, it's been called - and something I've been amazed about in Busan is that the city just continues right up the slopes like waves hitting the rocks; reminiscent of cities in Central America I find. 

Somewhat like this.
So our bus got us as close to the field as it could, grinding it's gears up a pretty steep, yet still very populated, hill.  And then we had to hoof it the rest of the way, up one of the steepest slopes I've climbed, passing apartment buildings the whole way. And I'm wondering "how do people live on this?" and "how is there a soccer field up there?".  But there was a soccer field up there - a small one, but a soccer field.  Except, despite it's size, and despite being located on a steep hill, the fences around the field weren't that high.  This resulted in at least three lost balls during the game just from wayward kicks.  We lost the game as well.  But it was close, and more fun than other games we've had this season.

Outside of my good weekend, I've become very busy.  I should admit that my obligations are all commitments that I've chosen to take on, but I'm finding that I have very little free time just to relax.

But enough about me.  I promise that next week, I'll bring back another instalment of "Crazy Korean Culture with Mike".

Thanks for reading,

Bonus: extra pictures from a field trip that our school took a couple of weeks ago to a nice place in Pohang:

Monday, April 18, 2011

The period of having my sister here with me has begun.  And it started with quite a bang, I'd say.  On Friday some good friends helped me welcome her properly with a good dinner of 'galbi' (beef), hang-out time on the beach, and Tilt afterwards, where we danced until the wee hours.  But that was only the beginning.  Saturday morning, well, not too early, we joined five others and scooted to GyeungJu!  GyeungJu isn't really far away, actually it's as close as it gets when it comes to cities nearby, but by scooter it took us almost an hour I'd say - which is a long time to be going 80 km/hr on a 125cc scooter.  We mostly took the highway on the way there because we missed the turn-off.  It was fun to be in a small biker gang, buzzin' down the highway.

Our biker gang: 2 scooters, 2 speed bikes, 1 moter bike, and a dirt bike. 
And there on the side of the road was a Petro-Can sign of all things... Don't ask me why.

When we got to GyeungJu we found it to be quite busy - full of people catching the last bit of the cherry blossoms.  But it was ok because the road we were going down was lined with cherry blossom trees.  We ended up at a popular lake surrounded by cherry trees and picture-happy Koreans.

We didn't take advantage of the opportunity to peddle around on duck boats.  Bummer.  Next time. 

Cherry blossoms - as promised.

Only in Korea would you find those old shopping mall kid rides just sitting outside the restaurant - they worked too.

We walked around for a bit, had dinner, and then headed back. But the trip home was the highlight.  This time we did take the back roads, which meandered through small towns, rice farms, and mountains.  It was a wonderful moment - scooting through the Korean countryside.  And it made me realize that though the cities often tend to be the attraction in Korea, the real beauty is in its rugged country.  I'm going to have to experience it as much of it as I can this summer.  So in the end, it was an awesome trip, and a great introduction for Alisa.

Of note: Saturday night, I was a part of a very intense soccer practice.  The background to this story is that our soccer team mostly sucks - we're 0 and 5.  So a couple of our better players are taking it upon themselves to get us all to practice more often.  So I was free and we were invited to join another group for a soccer practice - and it turned out to be quite the training session.  I think by the end of this season, I'll be a better soccer player than I've ever been, which is kinda cool.

Then, on Monday, Alisa started teaching.  She has a bit of a tough kindergarten class because they are all relatively new students to Poly school, so they just don't have the school mentality.  This is challenging Alisa to become more of a disciplinarian - a good lesson to learn.

Yesterday we went to the newly opened New York Cafe - a great little American food restaurant just down the street from Poly.  It's owned and operated by John Schneekloth, a good guy.  It was really good to eat a well made hamburger again.

Overall, I've found that having Alisa here has been much more stressful for me than I thought it'd be.  I never thought of myself to be too protective of her, but I find myself worrying about her whenever we're not together.  I'm also finding it hard to share her with others.  Selfishly, I want her to only be my friend.  And at school, I really want her to succeed and feel confident in her teaching, so I worry about her when she has difficult students.  And this is making me realize that, just like her, I'm learning a lot from her being here.  Don't misunderstand me though, I'm very happy she's here, it's going to be great to have a good friend here with me.  But it has made for a very tiring week.
And now it's late, and I need to get to bed.  So goodnight.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


(Sorry for the delay.  Sometimes the internet decides not to work in our apartment.)

Spring has sprung, and in Korea that means that the cherry blossoms have arrived. To me, it seemed like it happened over night. On Friday, nothing was noticeably different around town, but on Saturday morning it was like the colour of the whole place had changed. White blossoms are almost everywhere - with the exception of our neighbourhood (bummer) - and it has really transformed the city, and many peoples attitudes along with it (the grumbling about the length of the winter had been going on for a while). I haven't taken any pictures yet, but I promise to get some by next week. Though I've heard that the blossoms won't stay around much past then - a short, two-week beauty exhibit.
So last week I had mentioned that Alisa, my sister, is moving here, but I didn't mention that she's arriving this week Wednesday! I actually didn't know that she would be getting here so soon until late last week. And I also didn't mention that she'll be teaching at the very same school as me! We're going to be co-workers! The idea of her being here with me still hasn't sunk in, and won't, probably, until she gets here. When I came to Korea I never dreamt that a family member would follow. I'm really excited about showing her around Pohang and the places I've been, introducing her to my friends, and teaching her how to survive Poly School. I think she'll like it here.
I'm not sure, but I don't think that I have written yet about my experience eating live octopus. A while ago I joined some friends who were going to a seafood restaurant. There, we ordered and were served a plate of wriggling, juicy pieces of live octopus. It turns out that octopus tentacles continue moving well after they're severed from the rest of the body. Part of the fun was trying to pull them off of the plate - quite the suction they have. The advice is to chew them thoroughly so that they're all the way dead while they're sliding down your throat and can't hang on for dear life somewhere in the middle. It's truly a weird feeling to have something moving inside your mouth - and if you let it sit in your mouth without chewing it, it'll grab your tongue, and that's a crazy weird feeling. It turned out that I didn't think they tasted too great. And, I might be imagining it, but I thought I felt one of them grab my esophagus. So I only had a couple. More recently, I went to another place where we ate eel... dead eel. It was a lot more meaty than I'd imagined, and I liked the taste of it. I couldn't eat too much of it though because it was pretty filling, but I think I'd try it again given the chance.
For an interesting Korean culture fact, I'd like to mention a Korean superstition. In Korea, to write someone's name in red ink is to sentence them to death. I'm not sure what this superstition stems from (as with all superstitions pretty much), but it's possible that somewhere along Korean history they would write the names of the dead in red ink. But this is a hard one for foreign teachers in Korea because often, in North America, a teacher will use a red pen for marking, and writing short messages to students. Which is what I've done here, forgetting that, as I'm addressing my message to her, I'm unconsciously sending sweet little Ellen to her untimely death. Or, when one of my students is acting up in class I'll write their name on the board with one 'x' - three 'x's means I talk to the director. But if, in a moment of forgetfulness - which usually happens when I'm frustrated with a kid who's just not listening - I use a red board marker to write their name, it is met with giggles, gasps, and "teacher.. red.. death". And I have to apologize for condemning them to death instead of simply giving them a warning, and now I'm frustrated and flustered.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, April 4, 2011

I Have a Drum!

Jonas is a Ghanaian who lives down the road and is married to Sarah - they're both great people.  Jonas has just returned from Ghana, where he was for a while with his business, and guess what he brought back for me?!  A djembe!  I had asked him if he'd be able to get one for me, but I wasn't sure if he would.  But he did!  It's super cool.  I've wanted one for a while but never thought I'd be able to get a 'real' djembe, made in West Africa, from where they originate.  It's beautiful.  As djembes should be, it's carved from a single tree trunk (I wish I knew what kind of tree), with one end covered with a shaved and tightly-stretched animal skin (I'm guessing goat).  Then it has cool artistic carvings in the side.

I'm very excited about it.  Africa, in a way, has been in my mind recently.  I just finished reading the novel "What is the What" - a powerful story about a Sudanese 'lost boy' (if you haven't yet read it, you should sometime); Also, a couple days ago I watched "Blood Diamond" - a good, albeit holleywoodized, movie about the diamond trade in West Africa; I've been following the events of the North African revolutions; and I've talked to and heard stories from friends in Pohang who are from South Africa - but holding and playing this drum is surely the closest I've ever been to Africa.  I can almost smell the Ghana in it.

And, for another instalment of "Korean Culture with Michael" I'd like to talk about Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Rock-Paper-Scissors is booming in Korea - it's a big deal.  Except, in Korea, instead of rock-paper-scissors, it's "Kai-bai-bo".  My students use it multiple times a day: to decide who gets the best pencil, who should read first, or who gets the ball first in a soccer game, for example.  It's awesome as a teacher because whenever my students have a disagreement over something, I just tell them to rock-paper-scissors for it, and then there's no argument; rock-paper-scissors is the ultimate authority for them.  And it's not just a two-man game in Korea.  My students play with 4 people or more often, at the same time; then they have a couple of rounds to decide the winner (to be honest, I haven't completely figured out how it works).  What's more, Korea has even invented it's own variation of the game, called Muk-chi-ba.  I could try to explain it, but I also could just let wikipedia do it:

 - "This game starts with the usual game of gawi-bawi-bo. Once both parties have presented their hands, the hands are kept presented and the person who wins the gawi-bawi-bo match plays the offense for the first round. The player in the offense either changes or maintains his hand while simultaneously saying the corresponding name of the new hand. The opponent also changes or maintains his hand at the same time. The goal of the offense is to get the opponent's hand to be the same as his/her own. After one round, if the offensive player didn't succeed, the offense/defense is redetermined from the hands resulting from the previous round and the next round begins.  In real play, each round proceeds very fast, often one or two rounds a second."

It's confusing, but it makes sense to me because I've seen it in action.  It's pretty cool.  Who would've thunk it, rock-paper-scissors in Korea.

And for the promised answer to last week's secret (which many of you probably know already)..  My sister, Alisa, is moving to Pohang !!!

Thanks for reading,