Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We got down with some seoul music this weekend and visited our nation's capital.  We put the soul in Seoul.  James Brown kind of soul.
Actually, I didn't know who James Brown was until this weekend, and we didn't do too much dancing, but we made sure to keep the the soul in Seoul joke going the whole time.

After taking the night bus which brought us to Seoul Station at 3:30 a.m., we discovered how bad 'love motels' can be.  The only one that would take us put us in these super small cubical rooms with paper thin walls, down in the basement.  I didn't get much sleep.  Thankfully we found a much nicer one for the next night.

The highlight of our trip was Saturday night when we decided to climb up to the Namsung Tower, which is at the top of a pretty big hill.  Despite not knowing the way and getting lost once, we found the staircase leading to the top and all made it up in one piece.  We would have had to wait an extra 50 minutes to go up the actual tower, so we decided against it and just hung out at the top for a while.  The view was nice and the company was great.  Then we took the cable car down.

The next day, we had some afternoon hours to walk around Hongdae, a cool area of Seoul.  There, we found the coolest coffee shop ever.  It's called "Thanks Nature Cafe".  It was cozy... it had great hot chocolate... it had cool little sheep figurines on the table...

... it had a really nice sheep painting on the wall...

... and it had REAL SHEEP outside, just chillin in a small pen! Sheep in a city, who'd'a thunk it?

So that was our trip to Seoul.  It was fun.

Back at school, things aren't as exciting.  Some parents have been complaining more lately for some reason or other, and as it always seems, the teachers are the ones who get talked to.  So again, I feel like more like a puppet of the parents, and less of a teacher.  So that's frustrating, but we'll get over it.

On a happier note, Alisa and I and a couple of others have just bought flight tickets to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year holiday in January!  Can't wait!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm making a change.  I'm getting rid of my computer.  I realized that I don't really need it.  I realized this because my computer broke down a little over a month ago.  I brought it to a local computer guy who speaks a little bit of English, and he told me, that I needed a new hard drive.  So, after a week, I picked it up from him thinking my computer problems were solved.  But when I turned it on, up pops a nice new Windows 7 Ultimate operating system... all in Korean.  "Unfortunately the computer guy didn't pick up that I don't speak Korean when I didn't speak Korean to him" I thought grumpily.  So I brought it back to him and he was apologetic and said he'd fix it.  But three weeks later, he hadn't fixed it.  With the help a co-teacher I found out he doesn't have an English Windows and he couldn't find one (to his credit, I think he did try to find one - I just wish he would have told me after the 2nd week).  So I took my computer back and looked up how hard it would be to download an English Service pack.  It looks like it wouldn't be too hard.  But being without a computer for a month caused me to realize that I don't really need one. I wasn't using it for anything productive anyway.  We have computers at school that I use, and I have a kind sister downstairs who'll let me use hers when I need it.  So I decided not to have one.  Hopefully that computer guy will buy back his hard drive and take my computer with it.  Though I do feel sorry to my dad who got this computer and brought it over here for me.  Sorry dad.
This change will likely bring some change to my blog as well.  I'm pretty sure I'll be able to keep up the weekly blog schedule, but they might not be finished on the same day every week.

Friday was a special day.  Why? Because it was 11/11/11 of course.  But, while this was a special day for the world, it was an extra special day for Yale Class.  You see, I have a student named Danny who is very interesting.  He usually doesn't play with the other students during break time, but that isn't a problem for him; he'd just rather play by himself.  And everyone likes him because he's so good natured.  He's Thomas' best friend (mostly because he's the only one who doesn't get mad at Thomas for being a bad friend).  But Danny is also brilliant.  He was the first one in the class to start reading Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series.  Now half my class reads them.  But Danny is the only one who remembers the jokes so that he can tell me at school every morning - "What is invisible and smells like bananas?...  monkey farts."  He cracks me up.
So a couple months ago, Danny discovered that the time 11:11:11 was considered to be a wish second by some.  He told us all about it and then consistently grabbed my arm during the day to make sure he hadn't missed it.  Soon, everyone wanted to know when the wish second was going to happen.  Well, just for fun, and to reclaim my students' attention, I set my watch alarm to 11:11 so they wouldn't have to check the clock all the time.  So for a while now we've been celebrating wish second every morning during our second class.  Then along came November 11.  I was going to be 11:11:11, 11:11:11 !  Danny couldn't wait.
But there was a problem.  November 11 is special in Korea for another, similar reason.  It is Peppero day.  Pepperos are stick-like crackers made by the huge food distributing conglomerate in Korean and Japan, Lotte.  Someone at Lotte had the great idea to market pepperos by making 11/11 Peppero Day, since pepperos look like the number one.  It's kind of fun, but this turned out to be a distraction to Danny's big day.  And not the only distraction.  Friday was also a special day for Poly school for another reason.  It was our field day.  I love field day, and the kids do too, but this meant that at 11:11:11, instead of being in our classroom amonst people who know about and appreciate wish second, we were outside in the middle of an intense kindergarten soccer game.  Despite the distractions, I told Danny and my class that I'd let them know when the big moment was going to happen so that we could all give a big "whoopee!" and then get back to the game.  But that was before I found out I was the coach of the red team, which meant that I was busy substituting players and cheering on my team...  and I wasn't checking my watch...  and Danny was also distracted by the game so he couldn't remind me...  and by the time I remembered, it was too late.. it was 11:20!  Alisa and I tried to pretend like we hadn't missed it and gave a big "whoopee! It's 11:11:11!"  But Danny had to see it on my watch, and when he did, he saw that I had missed the big moment, that I had let him down.  Sad.  But nothing dampens Danny's spirit - "We'll just wait until 12:12:12, December 12, 2012," he said, and went on playing.  What a good kid.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, November 7, 2011

This weekend I had the chance to observe and participate in another different and new (to me) event in Korean culture: The 1st birthday.  Through church, Jane and myself had gotten to know a very kind and welcoming Korean couple, June and Sara.  One year ago they had their first baby, a girl named Hanna.  I remember seeing them shortly after their baby was born and I remember how happy they were.  Lucky for Jane and I, they invited us to their babies first birthday, which was on Saturday night.  When I first heard about the invitation, I remember thinking it a bit strange for them to invite us, who they don't know really well, to their child's birthday.  But that was before I realized how big of a deal first birthdays are here.  First Birthday's are such a big deal that they have their own name: Dol.
So on Saturday, another friendly couple picked us up and drove us to a large, special events hall in a remote place overlooking the bay and right away I knew I was underdressed.  I wore my corduroy pants and a nice sweater, thinking I'd look nice for the occasion.  But people at the party were decked out in full suits and wedding dresses.  June and Sara were wearing a very fancy matching outfits, which also matched their baby's attire, who hereself was in a fancy white dress. (She later was changed into a Hanbok, which I think is traditional for Korean babies on their first birthday).

- You have to realize that the last 1st birthday party I've been to was Ruth and Andrew Ippel's Henry's birthday in the living room of Harambee House in GR. Andrew and Ruth certainly weren't wearing a white dress, vest and bowtie, and Henry was probably mostly naked. (It was a great party though).
We were also treated to a wonderful buffet, lovely music, and all the guests were given a gift of their own (which just seemed backwards to my western way of thinking).
One part of the party, which I hear is traditional for Dols, was when the baby, Hanna, decided her future, or at least what she will become when she grows up.  A tray of toys was placed before her and she chose one.  Some of the toys were: a plastic stethoscope (doctor), a microphone (kpop star), a pencil (teacher), and a judges gavle (judge).  She chose the gavle.  (I wondered - where do you find a toy gavle? But I'm sure there are stores here which sell these kinds of toys just for 1st birthdays).  I find the whole idea of having your one-year-old decide her future by picking a toy very Korean - they start them early here.
I was also surprised by how quickly it went.  We were all in and out of there in 2 hours.  It seemed like so much planning went into such a short event.  But I guess 2 hours beats the 1 hour weddings that they have.
Overall, it was very cool to go to a Korean 1st birthday.  I'm happy and lucky to have Korean friends who invite me to such special events.
During the party, I was wondering about the reason 1st birthdays are such big events in Korea.  I thought that it must have something to do with the past, when, during tougher times, when Korea had less medicinal knowledge, many newborns would die from childhood diseases or because of Korea's seasonal temperature differences.  I looked it up later and I was right... exactly... word for word on Wikipedia... I'm genius.
It turns out, according to Wikipedia, Dols used to be even more extravegant and complex.

I also want to quickly mention something that seemingly has taken Korea by storm: Angry Birds.  You may know about it, but for the benefit of my parents and grandparents, who probably haven't heard about it, I'll explain. It's a video game for smart phones where you sling wingless birds at structures and evil green pigs to knock them down and retrieve the stolen eggs.  I don't know about North America, but it's huge here.  In some of my classes, I have to collect cell phones so my students don't play Angry Birds during class.  But it makes sense to me that anything having to do with cell phones is going to take off here.

Thanks for reading,