Monday, September 26, 2011

I want to catch you up on some pictures of the past month.

First, Chuseok at school:

I took this video as I walked into the classroom.  Like last year, everyone came to school dressed in their traditional hanbok.  The video continues until Thomas - the first one hiding under the table - jumped on me.

We gathered in the library.

They practiced their bows.
Then we went outside to play games.
This is Thomas.  As you can tell from the video and this picture, he doesn't like having his picture taken.  But then he got a hold of my camera and took a few pictures. They weren't bad.  Here are a couple.
I like the fuzziness of this one.

Then, for the Chuseok long weekend, a group of us went to Seoul.  We walked around the many different areas of Seoul and ate a lot of good food.

This was in Insadong

On Sunday, some of us went to the largest church in the world.

Inside.  They had a specific section for foreigners where you could listen to a translation of the sermon in seven different languages.  It was certainly a big building.  There are church buildings about as big as it in Grand Rapids, but what makes this the largest church in the world is the amount of services they have.  I'm not sure how many that is, but we attended one at around 2:00 and when we got there, there were large numbers of buses leaving from the service before us.  I think they probably run all day.
And we went to a coffee shop which had Dr. Fish - where you sit with your feet in a tub full of fish that eat your dead skin cells.  It was so ticklish that it was hardly bearable.

And we went to another strange coffee shop: The Cat Cafe.  It's a coffee shop with about 20 cats of different varieties just wandering around, walking over your tables and inside your bags.  It was kinda cool, but also kinda strange.

They even had one of those hairless Russian cats.
Then my friend Frank (on the left), who lives in Seoul, took us to the river where we found a playground with a merry-go-round.

And then to an island on the river with a relaxing park.
And that was our trip to Seoul.

Then this last weekend, we went to Boegyeongsa (the nearby temple and mountain that I like so much).

We hiked up quite a bit of the mountain this time - almost to the top.  It was a beautiful day.

That's me at the top.

 Let my finish with a short, romantic tragedy from my kindergarten class:  
 At the end of every month, we have a birthday party for the students who had birthdays in that month.   At one point in the birthday party, as a good photo opportunity, we ask each student to call someone up from their class (who isn’t also celebrating a birthday) to give them a birthday hug.  Sometimes the birthday hug also comes along with a birthday kiss!  Now, in my class I have three girls and eight boys.  And, maybe because there are fewer girls than boys, the children have already decided which boy each girl is going to marry.  Ruby and Andrew, Rachel and Robin, and Ellen and Alex.  My kindergarten tragedy occurs between the last of these couples: Ellen and Alex.  You see, whenever it’s one of these students’ birthdays they predictably call up their ‘assigned’ significant other for their birthday hug (and sometimes kiss)…  except in September… because Ellen’s and Alex’s birthdays are both in September…  so they can’t give each other a birthday hug/kiss because when it comes time for it, the other isn’t in the crowd of students who they can choose from...  Isn’t that so sad?

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Observations: Sounds, Smells, Tastes, and Feelings

Continuing with my sensory observations of Korea:

Sounds of Korea:
- Car horns: Koreans blow their horns a lot more often than in North America, but certainly not as incessantly as in Vietnam.  Something that is unique to Korean horns is the variety of horn sounds.  On top of your regular sounding 'honk honk', there's the 'fading foghorn' which is a three second horn that starts loud and then gets softer, as well as the 'ice-cream-truck' horn that blares a quick little diddy that can be heard by anyone within a kilometer.
- Roving truck vendors: A number of times in the past, on Saturday mornings, when I'm trying to sleep in, I'm awoken by an extra loud, loud speaker giving some sort of automated message in Korean. At first, it sounded to me like some sort of communist public announcement calling everyone to the city square for an important government message.  Later on I realized it was just someone selling something (usually fruits or vegetables) out the back of his or her truck and felt like everyone (including those still in bed) would like to hear about it.
- Construction: If these truck vendors don't wake me up, the construction at 6:00 a.m. usually does.
- K-Pop: Korean pop songs are everywhere.  It seems like every store plays the same K-Pop songs over and over.  And every Korean's ring tone is also one of those K-Pop songs.
- If a store or coffee shop isn't playing a K-Pop song, there's a chance that they are playing a very inappropriate American rap song .  One coffee shop downtown only plays these songs, and it plays them loud.  The funny part is, I'm sure the person responsible for such a horrible music choice has no idea what the words are.  And there we are sipping on our hot chocolates listening to songs we wouldn't even here on radio stations back home because the lyrics are so bad.
- Korean: Of course this is an obvious one, but to be living in a place where I don't speak or understand the language a strange reality, when you think about it.

Smells of Korea
- Jukto Market:  I've never been in a place with such a variety of strange smells.  I haven't lived on the coast before so the smells of the sea are new to me.  These smells are everywhere in this city, and are especially concentrated in Jukto Market.
- Scented Toilet Paper: strange eh?
- Cigarettes: Either Koreans smoke more than North Americans or a lot of the foreigners of Pohang smoke or both.  I'm pretty sure it's both.
- Barf: This past weekend, there was this one spot on this one road where someone must have puked out everything they had.  I know it has been there for a number of days because I scooted through it three times.
- Urine: Korean men have a tendency to just go wherever, whenever.  So every once in a while, you get an unpleasant whiff.

Tastes of Korea:
- There are a lot of new tastes which are a part of Korea food.  I won't dive into all of them now, but suffice it to say that most of them include either kimchi, red bean paste, or the red Korean spice that is in almost everything here.
- My favourite food in Korea has become Pizza Toast.  This one small road-side shop makes it for 2,000 won (2 bucks) and it's wonderful.
- Makkoli and Soju: Korean rice wines.  Makkoli is decent, and Soju is just rubbing alcohol in my opinion.
- Sweet potato chips: it's hard to find chips that are salty, not sweet.

Tastes Not In Korea:
- Cheese:  This isn't completely true; some foods do include cheese here, but they're usually foreign foods.  It is impossible to buy regular mozzarella or cheddar in Pohang.
- Spices: Almost all spices that I grew up with are not found in Korean foods or grocery stores.
- Good chocolate

Feelings of Korea:
(I realize that these feelings don't have anything to do with the sense of touch, but that's ok).
- Scooting!: such a great feeling.
- Confusion: when a person is talking to you in Korean and expects you to understand, but you just can't.
- Frustration: when my students don't understand the words that I'm saying, but I just keep rattling on oblivious to it.  (Hmm these last two are similar aren't they).
- Fatigue: I'm tired often.  I try to get enough sleep, but it just never seems enough.  Maybe it's because I can't sleep in on Saturdays.
- Contentment: when I'm spending time with friends and I realize how lucky I am for all I have here.
- Sadness: when I wish I could be back in Toronto or Grand Rapids or Gallup to be with those friends and family.
- Uncertainty: about what I'll do after Korea.  Excitement is a part of this too, because I have a lot of options.

Two weekends ago was Chuseok and I'd like to add some pictures from that, but our internet connection isn't working really well lately.  So maybe later.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Due to an extra busy Wednesday and a falty internet connection, I wasn't able to write this weeks blog. So I will take this week as a holiday. I will also be changing my scheduled blog writing day again. Instead of writing on Wednesday, I will be writing my blog on Mondays from now on.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Observations: Sights of Korea

In my kindergarten science class we are learning about observing things with our five senses.  This week, we observed a balloon, hand sanitizer, and gummy bears.  This gave me an idea for my blog.  There are still differences about Korea that I haven't written about.  So here is a list of some, not very scientific, observations about Korea.  Some of them will overlap with observations I've already written about, and I probably won't get through all five senses in this blog.

Sights of Korea:
- Buddhist temples: Toronto is pretty culturally and religiously diverse, but I've never had a temple in my neighbourhood or discovered one on a hiking trip through the forest before.  There are quite a few in and around Pohang and I find them pretty interesting.  They're certainly beautiful.
 - Fluorescent lights:  Alisa said that the red fluorescent church crosses were the first thing she noticed about Korea.  It seems like every church has one and there are a lot of churches.  Also, Pohang is known for its mega steel factory, Posco, not just because it's one of the biggest in the world, but also because the whole thing lights up at night with fluorescent lights.
- Squatter toilets: I try to avoid them.
- Old, run-down buildings: In most of the cities I've visited, there are areas of old buildings that look tired and worn-out.  They have a lot of character though.
- Extreme construction: This might be unique to Pohang, but there are buildings going up everywhere around here; tall cranes all over.
- Apartment building density: Korea loves apartment buildings.  In the big cities, they're everywhere, all packed together.
- Hunched older women: Often the older women that I see around town walk with quite a dramatic hunch.  I'm guessing this is a result of years of farm work.
- Couples clothing:
- Coffee shops: are booming business in Korea.  There are at least 5 within a 1 km radius at Bukbu beach.
- Hagwans: It seems like every busy corner has at least one academy of some kind.
- Roadside markets: I've come across a number of these markets on random streets in Pohang.  They're fun to walk through.
- Red light districts
- Marines: both American and Korean.  This is somewhat specific to Pohang because we have a big marine base nearby.  It's common to see guys around town, even at the beach, in full uniform.
(Sadly, I've read that these last two are closely related)
- Strange side dishes: Tiny little fish, or Beondegi (steamed silkworm pupae)
It tastes as bad as it looks and it smells even worse.
 Things you don't see in Korea:
- Stop signs: Most minor intersections don't have any signage.  So either people slow down for them or lay on the horn as they fly through them.  I've seen a couple of fender benders just in our neighbourhood.
- Public garbage cans: This bugs me to no end.
- Homelessness: I hadn't thought about it until someone brought it up, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of homeless in Korean cities.  Although, I haven't looked into this observation.
- 4th floors: In Korean, the number four is "Sa", which is similar to the word for death.  So most apartment buildings and hospitals don't include the 4th floor.  It's not unique to Korea though.  Tetraphobia, which it is officially called, is found in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan for the same reasons.  What these countries have in common is an influence of the Chinese language, from which this association originates.

I'll leave it at that for now.  Next week, I'll try to finish the rest of the senses.

Crab update: Our classroom crabs are still alive; the rice has sustained them thus far.  And today, one of them shed it's skin!  So now we have 2 live crabs and an exoskeleton in our small tank.  Apparently, their leftover skin has essential nutrients and the crabs eat it.  I hope you're eating right now.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

About a month ago, one of Alisa's kindergartners found a salamander-like lizard around the school.  They put it in a small plastic aquarium and kept it for a quite a while.  My student's favourite thing to do at recess was to go catch bugs to feed to Batman, it's name.  Batman has since died, quite dramatically according to Alisa, but since then my students have been wanting to have a class pet of their own.  Not long after, the parents got behind the idea and Chavie let me know that soon they would be buying us a class pet - a bird.  Hmm, a chirping bird in a kindergarten class: definitely not the smartest idea, we decided.  Chavie must have passed on our concerns to the parents because on Monday morning, when I walked into our classroom, there was, not a bird, but two, much quieter pets on my desk ... crabs!  To be honest, I don't think I'd ever seen a crab up close before.  Let me tell you, they are the strangest looking creators.  I'm pretty sure ours are fiddler crabs. They look a little like this.

It's fun to just watch them.  When they come up out of the water, they always blow bubbles for a couple minutes, and they always seem to be grooming themselves with their front claws.  They are quite bazaar.
But I'm not sure any of us know how to care for our new pet crabs exactly.  They're in a pretty small container and we've been feeding them rice, which just doesn't seem right to me.  I guess we'll see how long they last.

The other big news of the week is that the Track and Field World Championships are happening right now about an hour and a half away, in Daegu.  They're not the olympics, but I still think it's cool.  Some of my friends went to see Usain Bolt run on Sunday.  Unfortunately, he false started and was disqualified.  I'm thinking I might go this Sunday to catch the end of it.  As it is, I'm enjoying watching the highlights on TV every night.

These two stories are connected because my kids have named one of our crabs Usain Bolt.

On a sad note, Japan Dan has left Pohang and gone back to Japan.  I'm bummed to see him go, but we're planning a trip to Cambodia over Christmas and we'll see him then.  Also, Frank, the board game guy is leaving this week.  He's such a great guy, a lot of people will miss him.

Thanks for reading,