Monday, January 22, 2007

A Massive Video Post

Friday we had another theme day at school and this time the teachers were not required to participate. This was a lucky break since I completely forgot my Hanbok (traditional Korean costume) in Canada. All the children looked amazing and super extra cute and I managed to take a few videos of my Lion boys and their madness. The first one was cut short because Elly came into the classroom and needed something so this is why the second was created. The last one is just Brian since he was singing to himself and being all cute. Unfortunately the sound and video are out of sync despite all my efforts. Oh well.

If videos aren't your cup of tea you can always take a look at the pictures here. I haven't got them all uploaded yet so you may have to check back later to get the full meal deal. This was definitely my favorite theme day to date because the kids were really cute, we got to participate in a bit of culture and it required no effort on my part (hence why I look like I climbed out of the gutter in all the pictures I make an appearance in). We were supposed to teach the kids how to bow traditionally but mostly I took pictures while Paige and Jon instructed. Afterwards the kids had to bow and say "Happy New Year" and us elders awarded them with 500 won (roughly 50 cents, yeah, it's a tough world). Enjoy!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We don't do it like this in Canada.

On Wednesday (the 17th) we had another field trip at Little Brown. This time we took the kids sledding. Considering there is no snow to be seen and there hasn't been snow for a few weeks you'd think this would have been the world's most boring and impossible field trip. Luckily, we are in Korea. Now, when I was growing up I went sledding (or tobagganing as we called it) a number of times. Usually this would entail getting bundled up and driving out to a friend's field somewhere in the country and finding an appropriate hill. Then we would have to work our butts off to pack the snow down so that we could slide more than a metre before getting stuck. At the bottom we would trudge up through snowbanks that were higher than our little knees and basically we'd be completely exhausted after about an hour of this (and we'd probably only successfully gone down the hill twice).

Here things are done a bit differently. First we drove out to an actual commercialized sledding hill. We paid admission and got to sit down for some important safety instructions (which lasted almost 10 minutes and were completely in Korean- when I asked my coworkers to translate all I got was "be careful") and then each child was handed their own little plastic sled. They got to walk up the conveniently placed rubber mat path to the top of the hill where they stood in line in an organized fashion at designated sledding spots. Then when they reached the front the hill attendants would signal (they all had whistles and matching orange toques) when it was safe to go. It was the most organized and regemented sledding I have ever experienced in my life. I imagine this is how the Nazis went sledding at their Christmas parties.

Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty good system, especially since we weren't the only people there. And it was wonderful that they had a plough to pack down the artificial snow for us. Despite all of their organization they still were not able to prevent accidents so I guess you can't completely sanitize sledding after all. The kids all had a good time (although alot of kids didn't show up for the field trip- some had exams somewhere else and others were afraid/not allowed to come). When I was walking Steven up to the top I asked him if he was afraid and he shook his head emphatically "NO!". I asked him if he wanted me to go down with him and again he gave a very confident "NO!". Well he reached the front of the sledding line, looked down and then grabbed my arm and squeaked, "Amber Teacher, come" in the tiniest little voice. So we went down the hill together and then he decided he'd had enough for the day. Awww! Brian and Daniel (Max and Ben didn't come) were not intimidated so I got to go down with Daniel a few more times (one of the times a kid from another school proceeded to swerve right in front of us and wipe out and we creamed him). Brian stayed with Kelly all day (since Lewis was gone on his honeymoon Kelly had been coteaching with Joi for the week).

Oh, another kind of funny thing happened when we first arrived at the hill. It was a bit foggy and as a result our sledding was delayed because it was apparently too dangerous to be sledding in the fog. So our poor kids had to wait until it lifted a bit. We tried to have a snow fight but this proved tricky considering all the snow was packed down like cement. Mr. Rhie did get Elly pretty good though (in her words "he attacked her"). It was a pretty good day though and if you want to see all the pictures you can look here.

The kids are not impressed about the delay regardless of how perilious the fog was.

(L) Elly is defiled. (R) Snow fights abound!

(L) Amber Teacher and Daniel prepare for take off.
(R) Steven's jacket pretty much sums everything up.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Most Important Entry to Date

So I am finally getting around to post about the most important day of the year (so be sure to mark it on your calendars)- my birthday. January 15th isn't all about Martin Luther King Day, you know, it's also about me and no one should forget this. This year I turned 25 and although I don't feel any different that age seems to hold a lot more weight and importance than 24 ever did. My birthday was nice but I did miss my family and Canadian friends a fair bit. So here's a recap of all the birthday related events for those of you who weren't able to fly to Korea to be with me (i.e. everyone).

On Friday the 12th we went out for dinner (unfortunately minus Joi since she was sitting on an airplane and wouldn't land until dinner was over) at a galbi place I like (although they changed some of the side dishes and I was disappointed by that). There was cake, there was a party hat and afterwards there was an outing to a little bar where I had a drink. Nothing very wild or crazy though considering we'd all worked until 7:30pm.

The next day Matt and I decided to venture deep into Seoul to fulfill my ice skating desires. We thought this plan was a sure thing since we were going to Lotte World, which is supposed to be open 365 days a year. Silly waygooks. We get there and everything (except the department store and the food court) is closed down and there is no one around to explain to us why. With my fancy new cell phone (my gift from Matt) I texted some friends and learned that apparently it didn't pass some government safety check (I am assuming one of the amusement park rides) and therefore is closed until repairs are finished. Oh, and this had happened on the 8th. Awesome luck. No one explained to me why they closed all sectors of Lotte World, you know, like the extremely hazardous skating rink and bowling alley and movie theatre. So basically we had travelled a great distance for no reason. Slightly depressing. We bummed around and went out for dinner at Bennigan's (in nearby CO-EX Mall) and then ended up doing norae bang near Songjeong Station before going home.

I think the Lotte World Zamboni driver was mocking my pain.

My consolation prize: amusing Engrish.

Monday was my actual birthday which I basically spent at work. This was okay since I'd done enough pre-birthday advertising so that many adorable Korean children were aware of the day's significance. As a result I received a lot of birthday wishes, heard 'Happy Birthday' on more than one occasion and ended up with a lot of cards. The cards are quite cute and most of them looked something like this:
Note- the card on the left was made by a girl named Rina and the one on the right was created by a little boy named Sam. These are fairly typical representations (by gender) of the cards I received. Some had more cars or more airplanes or more hearts and flowers but they were all fairly similar in nature.

However, there was one card that was particularly noteworthy (made by a boy named Charles- not to be confused with crazy Charlie).

Is it just me or are there 2 knives and a severed arm?

He's a really sweet kid (or maybe I am being manipulated and lulled into a false sense of security???) but perhaps I tease him a bit more than I should. Maybe he was having a bad day or had just watched an inappropriate movie or maybe one day I'll be able to say I got a birthday card from South Korea's most notorious serial killer. I could probably sell it on eBay then.

The best part of my day was when I went to teach my last class (from 6:40- 7:23pm). I went downstairs and the boys (there are 3 girls and 3 boys in the class and they are all about 11 years old) cleverly stalled me by blocking the hallway and yelling "Teacher STOP!" while waving their hands in a menacing fashion. Then Katherin came out with a party hat and put it on my head, made me close my eyes and lead me to our classroom. They had made a small pyramid out of Choco Pies (a popular snack here- they are kind of like Wagon Wheels) and surrounded it by Jelly Bellies and had placed a candle in the top. They had also pinned a Happy Birthday banner across the white board and brought chips, yogurt drinks and mandarin oranges for everyone to eat. It was really, really sweet and I was quite touched. There's a reason they are my favorite elementary class.

So that basically sums up my Birthday Extravaganza 2007. And yes, I wore the party hat home from school. (And the rest of the pictures).

My nifty new cell phone (complete with a silly complimentary phone charm I got when I bought a bottle of wine) that takes pictures and can hold music, etc. Also, my birthday present from the lovely Donna (in case it's not obvious to you, I can put those little button things in my Crocs).

Sunday, January 14, 2007


So in my efforts to have the blog [almost] up-to-date I was going to post some pictures from last weekend when Matt and I went to the Seoul Museum of Art. Unfortunately my computer ate all the cute ones of us in the snowy weather (one of me in my newest toque- a Christmas gift from a friend) and only left a couple subpar ones of some of the art we saw. I curse you computer! It also ate the funny Engrish ones I took of the menu printed on the door of the museum's cafe. Let's just say I could have enjoyed a sendwich with a delicious smoody to wash it down for a reasonable price.

Anyway, we had a good time at the museum and got to see some interesting and lovely work by Rene Magritte and Robert Combas. I recommend.

Saipan; an overdue entry.

Many appologies for the length of time it took me to post about this but things have been fairly frantic over here. So as many of you know, from Dec. 26-30th we travelled to the lovely island of Saipan (which is east of the Phillippines and is a Commonwealth of the USA). The flight wasn't my favorite of all the flights I've been on lately- mostly because every 5 seconds they were doing some sort of passenger announcement (and translating it into 3 different languages). It was getting pretty ridiculous when they updated us 4 times that we were approaching Saipan in ___ minutes. I mean, if we're that interested we can turn the little TV screens to the setting where it shows the flight path, etc, etc.

We landed after midnight and promptly found our tour guide who looked slightly terrified of us. You see, since we came from Korea and booked through a Korean travel company, our guide was Korean. His English was pretty decent but he appologized constantly for his communication skills. Turns out that we weren't with a big group, as I had predicted, but that it was just us and this other family that our guide was responsible for. He drove us to our hotel and got us settled which is when we discovered that our room and the hotel resort was gorgeous and filled with super fun things that were included in our Gold Card status (like free windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling, scuba lessons, archery, mini golf, a driving range, a 24 hour game room) besides 3 delicious meals a day at our choice of 3 different restaurants at the resort. There were also numerous pools, a white sandy beach and the ocean at our disposal. And water slides. And a body boarding simulation thing. All and all, lots of excellent fun for us.

The first day in Saipan our trusty tour guide drove/drug us to all the "sights". Which were interesting and pretty but really not the reason why we chose to travel to Saipan. It was incredibly strange and really illustrated to me how different my idea of travel is from stereotypical "Asian" travellers. Our tour guide insisted on taking about a billion pictures of Matt and I together, generally in the same place. He also seemed perplexed that we couldn't work out how to pose and as a result we have a shocking number of quasi-bewildered and awkward pictures of us. I felt a bit like we had the paparazzi following us or that we were doing an E True Hollywood story or something. It was interesting and beautiful but I think that we all were a bit relieved when he dropped us off at the hotel again and we got to go and have lunch.

The next day with our guide was much more successful and was the highlight of the trip for me. We took a short ferry ride to the Managaha Island to go snorkelling. I kinda wish we'd bought one of those cheesey underwater cameras because it was the most amazing experience. We learned a few important things- 1. snorkelling gear, while necessary, is kind of a pain in the ass 2. tropical fish love vienna sausage 3. I am slightly terrified of coral reef and being cut by it. There were so many fish (types and numbers of) and they were so colorful and amazing. We got to snorkel for a couple hours and it wasn't boring even for a moment. Obviously Saipan is the place to snorkel.

After we returned from Managaha Island we decided to venture into downtown Saipan since they supply free taxis and buses to and from our resort. It was clear that Saipan relies on the tourism industry quite heavily as there was designer everything. We did manage to find some neat souveniers once we wandered a bit off the beaten path. Then we had another delicious meal and later on played some ping pong in the game room (Matt also played chess with this young Korean boy and basically crushed him twice while his family watched), enjoyed happy hour and jammed to an excellent synth bass cover band.

Our last day we just chilled out at the hotel and did all the fun things that they offered. Matt took a windsurfing lesson, we did archery and mini golf and went out in a bananaboat. We also spent a little extra money in order to get the lobster dinner (to have lobster you had to pay extra- our Gold Cards apparently weren't that good). So the weather was warm, the scenery was lovely, the food and atmosphere was really fun and relaxing. Nice holiday. I'd never done the resort package type of thing before and it was pretty good. I doubt I will have another type of holiday like this for a long time so it was neat to try it.

For all the pictures you can go here. Yes, there is a lot of them.

A couple highlights:

I took pictures of some things that I thought were amusing but I didn't want to buy. Like the scented clocks and this t-shirt.

This was the best picture I could get of Matt bodyboarding because he really, really sucked and could only stay on for about 5 seconds.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We're not dead and an overview of SAIPAN.

I appologize for the lack of updates but since we've returned to work we've been pretty busy. Joi is still in America due to some unfortunate circumstances but we have received word that she shall return on Friday night and therefore will be back to work on Monday. This is great news since Lewis will be gone on his honeymoon and it would have been true hell to be down 2 teachers for a week. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon though. Just a reminder- MY BIRTHDAY IS ON MONDAY!!!

Oh and I know you must all be dying to hear about Saipan so I'll give you the super short version (with a more detailed account to come once I am not so exhausted and busy).
We had a great time, it was very sunny and beautiful and every day held new and interesting experiences.

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

They might want to consider a label revamp...

Hard to believe there was any more of this tasty gem left on the shelf. Mmmmmmm... Nothing is tastier on a cold winter day than a cup of gruel.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ho Ho Ho-ly crap it's hot under this suit!

So I was Santa Claus. That's actually me under than polyester Santa suit, and you can tell it too if you look really closely. And I guess that in the background is "Neverland" or "Fantasy Island" or some crap from the children's coked out Musical English performance.
One thing that Amber didn't mention in her post was how goddamn hot it was under there. Seriously. I got changed upstairs in the Teacher's Lounge, but in able to make me look anything like a bowl full of jelly I put on Lewis's puffy ski jacket underneath, but the wasn't enough, so I stuffed two blankets under that. As it was I still turned out more like a bowl full of cotton.

And I sweated so much! I think Lewis had to wring out his jacket from all the sweat that soaked in. The kids ate it up though. After a minute of "Matthew Teacher" pant pant "Santa" pant pant "Matthew Teacher! Santaaaaa!!!" everything was good. I read names off my nice list, gave out presents. Pretty soon the heat started to get to me. I got paranoid that Ryan (from my Bear Class) was going to yank my beard, and I had trouble reading names from all the sweat dripping in my eyes.

The kids still point and say "Matthew Teacher Santa". Emily is the worst. Originally I tried to play it off and be like "no, no, no kids. Matthew Teacher hates Christmas. Happy Kwanza." But now it's gotten so that I just correct their English "Matthew Teacher pretended to be Santa".

The weirdest thing happened after the Christmas open house too. I was taken into a room with all my students' mommies and Michelle Teacher (who was my co-teacher) and they said their goodbyes to Michelle, which was fine. Then they started asking me if I had anything to say, which is different than asking actual questions. That's the thing with the mommies. They always seem to want to know more about how their kids are, but never ask anything specific. I did my best to answer. They made it expressly clear that they are all hoping for a professional teacher that will stick around for a long long time. They wanted to know my teaching background. And I thought it was hot in the Santa suit!!!

To cap off the little meeting they handed Michelle an envelope of money. They gave Michelle and I 150,000 won (about $150 US) to go to dinner together. Michelle isn't that fond of me - or else she's too busy - whichever... so we just split the money. I was shocked, honestly, but then I got over it and graciously enjoyed the money. It has been explained to us that it is culturally acceptable and quite the norm to have parents give money as a gift to teachers. In Public Schools this has been made illegal, but it still happens. And isn't this better if you think about it?

Just remember, hard work DOES pay off.

Remember when I promised everyone a glimpse of the talent and extreme musical prowess of my Lion class? Well I always follow through with my promises, especially those that involve young children singing Christmas carols. Here they are singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". A few things to keep in mind: we'd only practiced this song a million times; probably atleast 10 times every day for almost a month. The fruits of my labor: oh how sweet! They're cute though, even in their freaky little Christmas concert costumes. I know I've posted a lot of videos lately but I think this will be the last one for a long time. I have nothing else interesting to record. Alas. You'll have to settle for pictures once I get around to blogging our excellent vacation in Saipan.

Lion Class- future Korean Idols! (left to right: Max, Steven, Ben, Daniel, Brian)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

So here in the future it's already 2007 and we're all recovering from a late night in Seoul. We took some pictures but they really weren't doing the chaos justice so we took a short video at the stroke of midnight. I've never been so close to fireworks in my life and I've never seen so many roman candles ever. The noise was almost deafening and the air was so clouded with sulfur it looked like we were sitting in a dirt storm. It was like being inside a giant, black popcorn maker with a million of my closest Asian friends. We set some roman candles off ourselves and it was the scariest thing ever. I was just covered in bits of fireworks and sulfur and had to shower before I could go to bed. There were tons of people and police. At midnight they have a tradition where they strike a giant bell (the Bosingak Bell) 33 times to ring in the New Year and you can sort of hear this happening in the background of the video. After the countdown we wandered the streets for awhile dancing, cheering and dodging fireworks. A bunch of Koreans took our picture while we were dancing with the traditional drummers. It was a lot of fun and truly a unique experience. For the pictures, go here. Hope everyone had a great night, where ever you are in the world. Much love.