Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween.

It was a bitter-sweet Halloween weekend.  We had some good Halloween fun, but we also said some sad goodbyes.  On Friday, we had a Halloween themed open-mic night.  I got to play my djembe with some other musicians, which was great.  I didn't dress up though, because Saturday night was the real Halloween party.  And I was reminded, on Saturday when I didn't have a costume or any ideas, how much I dislike dressing up for Halloween - well, I dislike it before hand, but afterwards I'm glad I did dress up.  Anyway, there I was Saturday afternoon, in my apartment, with no costume.  Other friends were dressing up as Star Wars characters and I had wanted to be Yoda, but all I had for it was green face paint.  That wasn't enough, so I scratched that idea.  It was too late to go out and buy a costume, and that's not very creative.  So I decided to use what I had in my apartment.  I had a textbook.  An old Educational Psychology textbook that I picked up somewhere for free, but that I, let's be honest, wasn't ever going to read.  I decided it would work for my Halloween costume.  I went as a textbook.

I looked a little frumpy, but oh well.

Then Sunday was our farewell dinner to Dan and Natasha.  They are the awesome married couple who Alisa and I have gotten pretty close to and are very sad to see leave.  But they live in Ottawa, so we promised that we'd go camping together this next summer.  It was a very good dinner and a fitting goodbye full of Dan telling unbelievable stories about his terrible students who didn't learn anything because all they did in class was fight each other - which is how many evenings with Dan and Natasha ended up being.  We're going to miss them a lot.

This was our goodbye cinnamon-roll hug.  Dan and Natasha are the happy ones in the middle.

But Halloween wasn't over yet because today our school had our Halloween party, which meant that I had to dress up, again.  It turned out pretty well actually.  I decided the textbook idea was a little dull for kindergarteners, so with face paint, Alisa, our co-teacher Roman, and I decided to be puppy dogs.  We looked pretty good, I'd say.

It was a fun day.  Our students looked very cute.  And that's the end of another Halloween.

Mentioning the open-mic night earlier reminded me of last weekend when I had another chance to play my djembe with some others.  A friend had somehow gotten a gig playing downtown, on a stage in the middle of the walking road (if you're not from around here, let me just say, that's a big deal - to me at least).  We played Saturday and Sunday and both nights we came on stage after a group of middle school dancers who were a little more high energy than us (but who also were dancing to some terribly vulgar music).  Unfortunately, when we got on, most of the crowd had dispersed and we had a hard time drawing them back.  But I don't think we sounded too bad.  And it was fun playing my djembe.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'm an uncle!  Peter and Celina had a baby boy last week.  His name is Mateo.  Mateo V. Varela.  The anticipation leading up to his birth and now the reality of him being born has made me think about life in new ways, which I'm sure is all the more true for Peter and Celina.  First of all, I'm struck by how truely amazing the birth of a child is.  To have a completely new life grow inside of someone and then be born as a uniquely independent being is surely one of God's greatest gifts to mammals.  And being related to that new being is pretty special, I'd say.  Reproduction is pretty awesome.
The second thing is something Peter brought up in an email he sent before Mateo was born.  I think it'll be ok with him if I include his quote here.  He said:
Despite the doom and gloom of our unmanaged relationship to creation, the world is a beautiful place. The newly yellow leaves are glowing wet after the rain. Seems like a scary future though.  May our baby grow to be a person of peace amid the inevitable conflict.  I think about the future so much more now that our baby is on the way. Lots of unknown but God is faithful. (Peter Varela)
I told him that I appreciate his optimism because I often find it difficult to see past the despair, suffering, and ruin of the earth, the animals, and humans at the hands of us humans.  In these times I find it hard to be hopeful.  I think hope is a fundamental part of a person's outlook on the future, and something I usually miss or forget is how much it comes down to the question, where do you place your hope?  Peter has reminded me, not just in this situation, that I want to more and more place my hope in a faithful, loving God.  Also, I think the birth of a nephew is a very hopeful event.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anna and Acupuncture

I have a sixth grade student who's name is Anna.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, her class is the last one that I teach and she's the only one in it, so lately, instead of doing book work, which is what I do all day, we talk to each other.  I figure, the ability to have a conversation in English is more important than anything she'll learn in a book, and she does need to work on this ability, so it's ok.  I also really enjoy talking to her.  She's taught me quite a bit about Korean culture just by telling me about her family and friends and public school life.
As I've mentioned, I haven't been feeling great lately.  With the help of a co-teacher I made it to a doctor who told me I have bronchitis and gave me some midications for it.   Around that time, Anna told me about a traditional medicine clinic that she goes to pretty often.  She didn't know the terms for it, but she explained that they treat people by using acupuncture and herbs (I, of course, taught her the terms... see, she's learning).  And by her description, the doctor at this place sounded like a miracle worker.  She said that he could identify a person's ailment just by taking their pulse.  Moreover, she claims that, with acupuncture, this doctor cured her pink eye overnight!  I was flabbergasted.  But I also knew that Anna can be somewhat dramatic, as middle school girls tend to be. Still, I'd always been a little bit interested in acupuncture, so I decided I needed to check this place out for myself. 
Saturday I got myself out of bed and scooted off to Kim's Traditional Medicine Clinic (or something like that).  The first thing I noticed coming in the door, as Anna had said I would, was the smell.  This place had a great herby-earthy smell.  It confirmed that I was actually in the right place since I hadn't seen the sign on my way in.  The receptionists, after I explained, with actions, that I wanted to have the acupuncture treatment, directed me to the doctor's office.  The doctor, who was very nice and spoke English quite well, asked me what I wanted treatment for (unfortunately not proving Anna's first claim to be true), but then did also take my pulse, and explained that if I were to do the acupuncture and take the taditionaly medicine that he'd give me, I wasn't allowed to also take the 'western medication' that I had gotten from the other doctor.  I said that was fine with me, so they brought me to another room, sat me on a table, and put eight small needles in me.  I hardly felt them go in.  I sat there for ten minutes, they took the needles out, handed me a packet of herbs and I was on my way.  It all took 30 minutes and only cost me five bucks!  How did I feel? Well, I know the placebo effect is pretty powerful, and I might have just been feeling happy about how cheap it was, but either way, I felt pretty good afterwards.  And now, two days later, I feel like I'm just about back to 100%.  Whether it was the acupuncture and herbs or not, I'm glad I did it.

Now two quick stories that either show that Koreans are really nice, or that foreigners get away with a lot here.  After the acupuncture place on Saturday, I joined Alisa and our co-teacher Roman at an indoor rock climbing wall downtown that they had been to before.  The wall is small and only meant for bouldering (climbing low enough that you don't need a harness), but still a cool find for Pohang.  We introduced ourselves to the korean guy who was there and after asking us a couple of questions asked us if we wanted to join him and his friend at the very large outdoor rock wall down the road by the river.  We did of course, so we drove down there, they set up the ropes for us (which requires climbing up without a top rope but instead clipping the rope in as you go up), they let us climb for a good long time, and they didn't charge us a thing.  They just seemed happy to do it for us.  Pretty cool.
The other story is about my fridge.  Last week I decided that the ice in my freezer was getting to be too much.  So I started chipping away at it with a small knife when, accidentally, the sharp end of my knife punctured the flimsy wall of the freezer as well as one of the freon tubes.  Before I knew it, potentially dangerous gas was leaking into my fridge. (I've looked it up online and some sites say that freon is dangerous to breath while others dissagree. But they all agree that it's bad for the ozone layer. I'm not feeling any ill side effects.)  I didn't really know what to do so I left my fridge closed and opened my windows.  At school I told my director about my situation.  He called my apartment host who took my fridge that night and gave me a better one the next day for no cost.  (Moral of the story: If you're teaching in Korea and don't like something in your apartment, break it and ask your director for a new one.  Just joking.  Moral of the story: don't use a pointy object to clear the ice out of your freezer.)

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two things Koreans love: their cell phones and their rice wine.
I'm convinced that cell phone companies run this country - or at least this country's economy.  Cell phones are huge business here.  It seems like every second T.V. commercial is advertising some type of smart phone.  And the stores are everywhere.  I've mentioned this earlier, but in case you've forgotten I'll say it again, there's a place in town where you can stand on one corner and see 11 cell phone stores, no kidding.  And everyone has one, even my kindergarteners.  Heck, my kindergarteners have i-pads!  Albeit, Poly school seems to attract the wealthiest of Pohang.
Rice Wine: On Saturday we went to GyeungJu where the annual Traditional Wine and Rice Cake Festival is happening.  It was another lovely autumn day - we've been having a lot of them lately - and we had a great time.  When we got there, we bought a small, one-dollar, traditional looking cup and then we walked through the 40ish stands filling up our cup with all varieties of soju and mokali (Korean rice wines).  The best was the bamboo soju.  This is another big difference that I see between Korean and North American culture: alcohol isn't regulated in Korea.  All this wine was given out freely to whoever offered their cup, children included.  Toward the end of it we really did run into a middle school boy who was much happier than he should have been.  There certainly are less regulations (or at least enforced regulations) in Korea.

In other news, I recently bought a bicycle.  This makes me happy.  I don't need it for transportation, but I missed riding a bike.  Getting back on one made me realize this.  It's not an amazing bike, but I'm happy with it.
Another purchase that I've made, which might be even cooler, is a biker vest... a real leather biker vest with awesome patches.

pretty sweet

Those of you thinking, "that's not something I would have thought Mike would buy."  It's true, it's not something I normally would buy.  But there's a story... not a long one.  So a lot of the foreigners here have scooters or some sort of moterbike, and one day, Teddy (who's great and who is the type of person who'd own a leather biker vest) had the idea that we should make a biker gang, with leather jackets, and biker names.  My biker name is 'Yoda'.  I really like the vest and I'm excited for our first biker gang bike trip.

Crab update: Sadly, my kindergarten class's two pet crabs has become one pet crab.  Here's the story: one of the crabs (Usain Bolt) was bigger than the other (Usain Boldia - the female version of Usain Bolt apperantly).  My kids thought they were male and female, but I'm pretty sure they were both females.  Anyway, crabs molt and shed their outer layer once in a while.  And you're told to leave the skin in the aquarium with the crabs because they eat it - it's good for them.  So these crabs eat parts of themselves.  And, at times, our crabs would fight with each other, or at least the bigger one with fight with the other.  It often happened right in the middle of class, which was quite distracting for me as I was teaching - science class: "So the scource of energy is the sun.  Plants need the sun's energy to... to... to...  um... plants need... the sun's energy to grow... [something like that]).  This past weekend Chavie took the crabs home and she came back with only one.  In her somewhat broken English she told me how it happened.  From what I gathered, Usain Bolt had gotten hungry - not surprising to me considering they pretty much eat only rice - and he/she got a hold of Usain Boldia's leg and started chomping on it.  Chavie said Usain Boldia didn't put up much a fight...  I'm not sure how the rest of it happened, but Usain Boldia is no more.  I'm actually surprised how long they've lasted.

Sorry for ending on a bit of a depressing note.
Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This late posting is just to say that my next post will be next week Monday.  Yesterday was a holiday in Korea: "The Opening of the Sky Day", or "Foundation Day", or something like that.  It was nice to have an extra day off as many people have come down with some sort of sickness.  I have a persistent chest cold that I'm trying to get rid of.  So I tried to catch up on sleep this weekend.  We also went paintballing yesterday.  It was good to get out of the city on such a nice day.