Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Let It Be

At school, Chavie, my co-teacher, has been playing songs by the Beatles and teaching my kindergarteners about the Beatles during the breaks lately.  I think the song "Let It Be" must be Chavie's favorite Beatles song because my kids have picked it up pretty quickly.  Also, now when one of my students is angry or frustrated about something, my class has become quick to tell them to "let it be", like this:  (Thomas, sulkingly) "You never give me the new eraser."  (Danny and Luby, directly) "Let it be."  And that's the end of it.  It works pretty well and it cracks me up every time.

Lately I've been feeling homesick because of page numbers.  When we get to pg. 131 in a book at school, it reminds me of highway 131 in Grand Rapids and then I miss all my friends and the good times from Calvin.  And when we come to pg. 66, it reminds me of rout 66 through Gallup and then I miss my friends and the red rocks of Gallup.  And if any of our books had 401 pages, it would make me miss Toronto.  But none of them do, so I don't miss Toronto.  Just joking.

Kids are sponges.  Earlier, I wrote about one of my students, Ellen, who went to New Zealand for a few months.  Well, she's back, and she has a pretty strong kiwi accent.  I think it's amazing how she picked up such an accent in a short amount of time.  No adult could do that.  But I don't know what the rest of my kindergartens think.  I haven't brought it up and they haven't said anything about it, but I'm sure they have noticed because it's hard to understand her sometimes.  So funny.

This past weekend brought two new experiences for me.  First, on Friday, a group of us went to a restaurant none of us had been to before.  That's because this restaurant serves dog meat.  If I haven't mentioned it yet, Koreans, a lot of them at least, eat dog meat.  I didn't know this until I had gotten to Korea, and when I found out about it, I didn't really think much of it.  Personally, I'm not opposed to it.  I don't see much difference between dog meat and cow, pig, or sheep meat.  But I also didn't have a pet dog as a kid.  I know people here who are strongly against it and they all seem to be people who have been close to a pet dog before; so I understandable their position..
Last Friday, when I heard that others were going out to eat dog meat, I said, "well, why not?" and I joined them.  Turns out, its quite good!  It was tender and didn't taste much different than beef.  I liked it.  We ate it in a soup, which is more common, and by itself, barbecue style. 
The second novel experience of the weekend was the Chilpo International Jazz Festival (  Chilpo is a beach about 20 minutes north of Pohang.  A couple of us went early to relax on the beach for a while.  We brought along badminton rackets and I ended up playing some pretty awesome badminton with a Korean woman who was at least in her 50s.  It was pretty cool.
As for the Jazz music, we saw two groups play.  The first was led by a Brazilian percussionist who plays a mean tambourine.  I was impressed.  But I loved the second group.  It was a trio - three French guys - one on the piano, one on the bass, and one on the drums.  I was blown away.  I even bought the CD.  They're called the Remi Panossian Trio.  They've become my new Frank Mills.
Here's a video:

Here's us with the band. I got their autograph. (shrug) no big deal.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Kimchi is Korea's national side dish and something that's purely Korean.  So when I discovered that kimchi doesn't tickle my taste buds like it does for most koreans, I was a little bummed out.  While I'm in Korea, I'd like to eat it's food, but kimchi just isn't good in my opinion.  A student even gave me some homemade kimchi and it's just smelling up my fridge right now.  (aside: there are lots of types of kimchi and some of them I do like.  But here I'm talking about the fermented cabbage kimchi).  I was always aware that there were all sorts of kimchi varieties, depending on the region, but I had sort of given up hope that I'd ever truly appreciate kimchi.
BUT... this was all before I went to Jeju.   I tried the kimchi in Jeju and it was decent, even pretty good.  It wasn't as fishy as the kimchi in Pohang.  It had flavour and I liked it a little bit.  And that made me happy.  So there Korea... I do like kimchi - just not Pohang kimchi.

Let me tell you about Jeju.  Jeju is a volcanic island south of the mainland of Korea.  It is a province of Korea but has a history somewhat unique to itself.  There are two sizable cities on the island, but it has also become a very popular vacation spot for Koreans and a tourist destination for Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese (and foreign teachers).  Jeju's geography is dominated by Halla-san, the inactive volcano at the center of the island, and Korea's tallest mountain.
Monday was Korea's Independence day, so Jane, Alisa, and I had planned on going together over the long weekend.  But, due to unforeseen circumstances involving a scooter and a telephone pole, Alisa was not able to join us.  So it was up to Jane and I.
We flew out of Busan on Saturday morning and after a short 40 minute trip, landed in Jeju.  We had not done any planning prior to our trip and so our only plan was to decide what to do as we went along.  This made for a bit of an overwhelming experience at the airport when we realized just how many things there were to do on the island.
We didn't have a lot of time left in the day so we decided to go see Jeju's semi-famous Love Land.  Love Land is an artistic and humourous sex park.  If you haven't heard about it, which, if you're not a foreign teacher in Korea, you probably haven't, don't worry too much - it's mostly tame.  What I thought was the most interesting thing about it was that I find Korean culture to be much less 'sex-infused' as western culture.  But then here's this park dedicated to the subject - seemingly counterculturaly.
The next day, with a rough plan in our heads, we took a bus east along the coast.  The first place we went to was the Manjanggul lava tubes.  Lava tubes are long cave-like channels made by once-flowing lava under the earth's surface.  And they're awesome.  So we walked down into the cave and immediately noticed the temperature change and become much colder.  In the part of the cave that tourists are able to walk through, there are dim lights, information about the lava tube you're in, and quite a few people.  From the entrance to the end of the public area, it was about a 40 minute walk one way - and that's only the part people are able to see.  In all, the caves are a few kilometers long!  They were cool.

A rock fall inside the lava tube

A lava spire

Outside the lava tubes.  There was this lady sleeping and it looked so peacful.  Also, something that makes Jeju unique is all these volcanic rock piled up into stone walls surrounding fields.  They are everywhere in Jeju.
The entrance to the cave
After the caves. we went to another impressive natural volcanic 'wonder'.  On the east coast of Jeju is a place called Seongsan Ilchulbong. This is a 'lava cone' with a large crater on the top that jumps out of the ocean and could be said to resemble a giant crown or a rock castle.  It's beautiful.

We climbed up the side of it (a pretty good hike) and then took a short boat ride halfway around it.  We were quite impressed.  To me it looks almost other-worldly because it's so round.  There are lots of myths and legends surrounding it.

looking back at the way we came.

the inside of the crater

Afterwards, tired from walking so much, we took a beautiful bus ride through the countryside back to the city.  And the next morning we were on our way back to Pohang.

Seeing the lava tubes and Seongsan Ilchulbong were amazing, but for me, the highlight of the trip was going from one to the other.  After the lave tubes, we got back to the bus stop and hoped to jump on a bus that would take us where we wanted to go.  We didn't really know if and when there would be such a bus, but that was seemingly our only option.  After waiting a little while, somewhat jokingly, Jane suggested that we try to hitchhike our way to Seongsan Ilchulbong.  I was hesitant at first, but worked up the courage to stick out my thumb at the passing traffic.  Wouldn't you know it, soon after, two guys in a van pull up and tell us to jump in (well they were Korean, so they didn't actually say "jump in" but we understood from their smiles and gestures that that is what they meant).  They were nice guys.  The driver was even sipping a beer as he drove us, possibly a little inebriatedly, to the next town.  There, with the help of more very kind people, we caught a bus that took us to our destination.  Koreans are nice people.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I went home... to Ontario at least - which is home for me, but in a way Pohang has become home too.  I've decided that a person can have more than one home.  There's certainly more to say about this idea of home, but I'll leave it at that for now.
The trip was good.  I got to see all of my family members and spend quality time with them despite it being a short trip.  I'm returning to Pohang with the fresh reminder that I am loved - what more could you want from a trip home.
But in this blog I want to tell you about two experiences I had in airports while travelling.  First of all, I really like airports, and always have.  It has been said that you can learn a lot about someone just by looking at them.  In an airport, you can look at a whole host of different people.  That's why I like airports.
The first experience happened on my way to Canada, in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  I had some time to walk around the airport and pretty quickly I started to recognize that I had been there before.  I thought about it and remembered that I had been to this airport with a group of Calvin students on our way to Belize for a January interim class in 2007.  That was an awesome trip with awesome people and I remember distinctly where our group had sat down in the airport to wait for our flight.   Remembering this trip is always fun for me and being in a place where our group had once been made it even cooler.  I couldn't help but march over to the place where our group had sat over four years ago, half expecting some of our group members to still be sitting there waiting, just like we had been.  Isn't it interesting how we associate memory with place.
The second experience came on my trip back to Korea, in the Chicago O'Hare airport.  As I was walking to the food court to buy something to eat, I passed a woman sitting at a table skyping with someone on her ipad, right in the middle of a busy airport.  This probably shouldn't have been such a surprising experience for me, given the age that we live in, but it was.  The ability to see and talk in present time to a person who is somewhere completely different has always astounded me somewhat, and this woman was doing it with a 20-by-15cm, hand-held slab of plastic, glass and wires!  What's more is that, in complete contrast to this experience, I am still reading essays by Wendell Berry in What Are People For? and in one of his essays, which I read on this trip, he writes about why he doesn't own a computer.  To be true, Berry wrote this essay in 1987 (I wonder if he still doesn't own a computer), but I appreciate his argument against the continuing 'advancement' of technology none the less.  It makes me wonder if having the ability to see and talk to someone almost anywhere at almost any time is actually progress.  Do iphones, ipads, Kindles, and, essentially, computers make us into better people?  I realize that these questions open up a big can of worms, but I think our society needs to open this can and to ask those worms these sorts of questions.  If you have any knowledge on the topic let me know.

Thanks for reading,