Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's a prank here that is mostly performed by kids and apparently can be found throughout Asia.  It's infamous among foreign teachers because it's terrible.  It's called the dong chim and is roughly translated to 'poop needle'What happens is the child comes up behind his or her unsuspecting victim and, with hands clasped together and index fingers pointed out, will jab the person in the bum.  It's surely one of the most unpleasent experiences that anyone can have.  For the most part, our school had outlawed it before I had arrived, thankfully, but it still happends from time to time.  I mention it now only because it's a part of the foreign teaching experience - otherwise I don't like to think about it.

I had my parent observation last week.  So about 12 of my kids' parents huddled together in the back of the room and watched our science lesson.  I shouldn't have been worried about it - my kids are geniuses.  The lesson was a science lesson and we were talking about the earth.  At the point when we were comparing the earth to a globe, Apple, one of my super cute geniuses, asks, "If the earth is round, why can't we see that it is round when we look at it?" .. "Wow, great question Apple.  Well, it's because... oh Thomas [one of my mischievious geniuses], you think you know?"... "It's because the earth is big and we're small.  So we can't see that the earth is round." ... "Wow Thomas, great answer (high five)".  My kids are geniuses because they know when to pull out their genius questions and answers - right when their parents are watching.  So the parent observation went well.

This past Saturday was the Open-Mic Night that my jamming group had been anticipating for a while.  It was great!  A good group of people showed up, our group kept it together and did really well, I got to show off my cool djembe, and I was struck again by how much hidden talent there is among our community here.  I have some videos but I can't get them to upload - bummer.

Every once in a while, the realization strikes me - I'm living on the other side of the world from everything I've known, something I never thought I'd do growing up, and I have everything I could ask for.  I have a good job teaching wonderful kids, I'm experiencing and learning new things about the world, I can get my clothes dry cleaned for 3 bucks from the guy down the road, and most of all, I'm surrounded by awesome people who are my good friends and even my family.  This realization leads me to recognize God's love in my life and to realize how blessed I am.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mid-May List

Interesting fact; Did you know that in Australia, peppers (like the green, yellow, and red ones that you use for cooking) are called 'capsicum'?

Highlights of My Weekend: 1) On Friday night, Tilt had an 80's party.  I've never been one to dress up for themed parties, but I did for this one.  Unfortunately, or maybe not, I don't have a good picture of my get-up.  It was a great night though and I realized how great 80's music is.  2) On Sunday, Alisa, Jane and I went to a Pohang Steelers game.  I hadn't been to a game in a while and we picked the right one to go to.  The Steelers were the 2nd best team in the league and we were playing the best team - the Jeonbuk Motors.  It was an important game on a beautiful day and the stadium was packed.  By the end of the first half we were down 2 - 0 and it didn't look good.  Our cheering section had gone quiet while the small contingent from Jeonbuk were making most of the noise.  But then the tide turned.  A goal off of a corner kick and then another soon after that and we were back in it.  Then, with the crowd buzzing and time winding down, a handball was called in their box ... penalty kick ...  Goooaaal!  We won it 3 - 2, the Steelers are now the best team in the league, and I don't think I have been to a more exciting sporting event.

The celebrations after coming back to take the lead!
What I'm Looking Forward To: The Open-Mic Night at Live Story this weekend where our jam group will be performing for the first time.

What I'm Reading: What Are People For? by Wendell Berry.  The book is a group of essays of his. I'm enjoying them but also finding them quite 'thick' and hard to get through (thanks Frank).  I just finished What Good Is God by Philip Yancey, which I really enjoyed (thanks mom).  On deck: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (thanks Pete).

What I'm Eating:  A potato, ham, onion, and capsicum mixture that I'm pretty proud of.

What I'm Trying Not to Worry About: My parent observation tomorrow.

What I'm Looking At: The almost full moon that is directly outside my window as if someone is dangling it from the floor above me.  It's bright and beautiful, and it makes me miss the stars.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I have a kindergarten student who cracks me up.  Last school year he was in Teagan's class, and everyone knows Teagan likes to put on animated videos, such as "Peanuts", for his kids every so often.  Well, this boy, Alex, has somehow learned to imitate Snoopy (Charlie Brown's dog)'s laugh.  It's kind of like this:
It's a fake laugh, everyone knows he's not really laughing, and the other kids don't really notice anymore, but he does it all the time and it gets me every time. I can't help but chuckle.  I'm smiling to myself as I write this.  Ahh kids.

So, if foreign teachers were complaining about not getting enough vacations a week ago, we shouldn't be now.  We had last Thursday off, for Children's day - a wonderful, sunny day of paintballing - the weekend, and then Tuesday off as well.  Some teachers even got the Friday and/or Monday off to boot.
On Friday, after a very delicious dinner at the Indian restaurant, some of us went to the Jazz bar.  I've mentioned this place before because it's so cool to be able to sit and watch really good musicians play good music.  And this time I took a short video.

Then Saturday was a full day for me.  It started when I went to the wedding of a friend from church (she's actually more of an acquaintance - really, I don't know her that well - but she invited me, so I happily went).  It was the first Korean wedding I've been to here and they're a little different than American weddings - mostly not as long.  Not too far from where we live is a large, white, castle-like building designated to be a place where weddings can be performed.  It is appropriately dubbed (in English at least) 'the wedding castle' - it's sort of a landmark in our area.  A friend has been to a wedding at the wedding castle and she has said that weddings there are like an assembly line - you're in and you're out - one after the other.  She said that guests then have a 'reception' dinner amongst all the other guests from the weddings around that time.  Efficient weddings: only in Korea.
The wedding I attended on Saturday wasn't as quick as those at the wedding castle I'm sure, but it went pretty fast still.  There was a 'reception' meal after the ceremony, but the bride and groom didn't attend it, which seems strange to me.  The two things that I really liked about the wedding were, first, when the groom sang a song to the bride, Jane, my church acquaintance.  It was sung in Korean but judging by the reaction of those around me, it was a funny song.  The second thing was that after the ceremony and the family pictures, all the guests were invited to the front of the church for pictures with the bride, groom and their families.  I felt pretty honored as one who knew the bride very little and the groom not at all.
After the wedding, I scooted off to Idong, past the awesome temple to our weekly jam session/practice at Live Story.  Our group is hoping to have some songs ready for the open-mic night on the 21st, but our practices still tend to end up with us just free-jamming, which is great.  Then, after a quick burger for supper, I buzzed off to join Alisa downtown.  We shopped a little, I bought a shirt, and then I was off again to soccer practice.  Saturday night soccer practices are the ones where we join a Korean team and they tend to be much more of a workout than our own practices.  This one was like that.
And, though you might not think so, there was still time that evening for a haircut.  Earlier, I had mentioned that I thought I needed one soon.  Jane, who was there and who's great, offered to cut it for me.  So she did.  She did a really good job too.  I've come to see cutting a friend's hair as a service to them similar to that of washing their feet in the Bible times.  I've never given anyone a haircut but I've been very lucky to have my mom and other good friends cut mine.  Thank you.

Sunday morning I went with Jane on a hike.  I've talked about my special place - the forested hill nearby with a trail through it.  Well, it turns out that there are paths through the trees everywhere around here.  We went down a good long one near her apartment.  The path goes up and along a hill and there are quite a few trails branching off and heading off along other ridges, each marked nicely with a sign.  But the signs are written in Korean of course, so for us non-Koreans it was a bit difficult to navigate.  Despite our attempts to keep a trail of 'bread crumbs', we took the wrong turn a couple of times on the way home and had to build up the courage to ask fellow hikers how to get back.
Koreans are so kind though.  We met quite a few people along the way and had broken Korean/English conversations with them; one of which was with a couple who were working in this small, peaceful farm that we found.  We had bravely taken a path coming off of the main trail that led down into the valley.  Amazingly, just a couple meters down we could already notice changes in the types of tree growth.  On the top of the hill, only pine trees grew, with little undergrowth.  But a short way down the hill, it was all deciduous trees growing, and with a lot more shrubs and plants underneath.  Then, further down the trail, we found this beautiful farm.  With homemade fences made from branches, it had been divided up into smaller plots as if it were a community garden of some sort.  But what I really wondered about was how anyone would go out there regularly, possibly even daily, to work on their crops - there weren't any raods, only walking paths, and it was quite a ways from the city I thought.

I like the boots and the small terraced hill.

Then right beside the farm was this seemingly empty, very pretty, temple-like building, which we certainly didn't expect.

It was another very cool discovery.

At another point on our hike, a big gust of wind blew through and we got to experience a pretty amazing Asian phenomenon: 'yellow (or Asian) dust'.  Wikipedia describes it as:

"...a seasonal meteorological phenomenon which affects much of East Asia sporadically during the springtime months. The dust originates in the deserts of Mongolia, northern China and Kazakhstan where high-speed surface winds and intense dust storms kick up dense clouds of fine, dry soil particles."

It continues to say that lately it's been a problem because the dust pickes up pollutants on it's way and because of it's increase in frequency due to the intensified desertification of China and Kazakhstan.  As it was on the hill, when the wind blew we could see a yellow tinted cloud blow all around.  It's possible that more people are wearing masks these days because of the yellow dust, but in our situation on hill when it blew all around, it was almost impossible not to breathe the dust in.  Moslty I'm amazed by how the geography of a place so far away can effect us here so intimately.  It really displays the power of the wind.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Children's Day, New Discoveries, and My First Chicken

My new favourite day of the year: May 5th - Children's Day.  To have a day designated for the celebration of children - their joy, potential, and personality - what a great idea.  I looked it up on wikipedia, thinking Children's day was only a Korean invention, but it turns out to be a full blown holiday in many countries (not Canada, and not the U.S.  Why not, I wonder).  I'm glad to have the chance to celebrate it here.  To be honest, my celebrations will include shooting my friends in the head with paintballs, which isn't the most innocent of pastimes, but it's good friend bonding, and it's a Children's Day tradition here.
Our school celebrated this morning by going to a nearby playground and playing some games.  It was a beautiful day.

I have to tell you about a recent discovery.  On Saturdays, I have band practice/jam session in the afternoon.  I join a group of friends, all much better musicians, and we play music together.  It's a great chance for me to play my djembe.  We practice in a bar called Live Story in the neighbourhood of Idong, which is on the other side of the city.  I enjoy the the long scoot through the city in the middle of the day.  This past Saturday I gave Jane (who likes cooking and is excited about my oven) a ride to Idong because she needed to go to E-mart.  I usually take the main roads into Idong, but I had seen a back route during an earlier cab ride, so I decided to take this way instead.  And that's when we made the discovery... We turned a corner and right there in front of us was a large, colourful, beautiful building.  It was clearly a temple, but unlike the rebuilt temples that I've visited in the area, this one was about 5 stories high and much newer looking!  I was surprised to see it because I hadn't heard anything about any temples being right in the city.  We didn't stop right away, but on the way back to our side of town, after a great jam session, Jane and I decided to check it out.
  We parked off to the side and walked tentatively through a garden towards the building, not knowing if we were allowed there or not.  Surrounding the temple, on every floor, and hung up in the gardens around, were these very colourful, paper lanterns.  Buddha's Birthday is on Tuesday of next week (another holiday I'm looking forward to celebrating) and I've noticed these lanterns hung up all over the city.  It was gorgeous.  I still couldn't believe we'd stumbled upon such a great place.

  As beautiful as the outside of the temple was, the inside was possibly even more beautiful.  All the walls had paintings on them - all about a part of the Buddha's life (or many lives).

We snuck inside and quietly took a look around until our curiosity got the better of us and we had to ask someone about the building.  A very nice woman answered our questions and proceeded to give us a whole tour of the place.  She told us that it is indeed a Buddhist temple, open at all times, and that we were always welcome to come in.  She showed us two large rooms with Buddhas and told us about them and the symbols surrounding them.  In one of the large rooms a group of older women were sitting off to the side, on the floor.  Our guide showed us that they were making these small flowers out of coloured paper.  But we didn't realize what they were for until later.  After thanking the woman, as we were leaving, we walked by a large shed with the door open a little.  Inside, a couple of women were sticking the small paper flowers onto these large, extravagant parade floats.  And some of the floats were covered in these paper flowers - thousands of them! I can't imagine how much time it must have taken to hand-make each one!

   So that was our discovery.  I think it's awesome that there are places like that in Pohang that are there to be discovered.  I'll go back sometime.

  But Jane and I didn't go straight home.  On the way, we stopped off at Jukto market.  I hadn't been to Jukto in a long time and with my new oven, I needed to buy some food to cook.  So, among other things, I bought a whole chicken for six bucks - my first one.  I brought it home, oiled it down with salt and pepper, stuffed it with onion and garlic, and popped it in the oven.  An hour later, I was chowing down on my first cooked chicken.  I'd never felt more like a carnivore.  I was again reminded by how easy it is to forget where our food comes from - especially when it is prepared for us by others.  But, as I took my chicken out of the oven and started eating it's legs and wings, I couldn't help but realize that not too long ago little Chelsea Chicken was clucking around like all the others, oblivious that soon she'd be my dinner.  Wow, food!

Another cool experience, just a quick one, happened Sunday, after our soccer game.  I was scooting home, P.O.ed because we'd just lost our 6th straight, when I noticed people painting a wall.  Pohang surely isn't the nicest city in the world, but if there are people like these, who take the chance to beautify it, I think it's a pretty cool place to be.

To end, I want to mention an aspect of the English teacher in Korea's experience that became a reality for my coworkers and I just last week - The Midnight Run.  Last week Tuesday was a regular day.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened; all the teachers came to school, all the teachers left school.  But Wednesday morning was different.  Right around the time that the first bell rang, we realized that we were without one of our coworkers - Annalisa wasn't there.  We called to see if she had just overslept, but there was no answer.  Then we noticed that her desk had been cleaned out, and we realized that Annalisa wouldn't be coming back to Poly - that she had probably left sometime the evening before and was long gone by now.
I'm surprised that Annalisa decided to quit her job this way.  She hadn't been here very long, and it was clear that she didn't think too highly of the city or the school.  But to just leave one night must've taken some courage and a small amount of respect for her contract, the directors, and her co-teachers.
But we have a replacement teacher from Poly headquarters who'll be here until they can find a new teacher. His name is Paul and I think he's pretty cool.

Thanks for reading.
Happy Children's Day!