Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Curtis' Birthday

This was a couple of weekends ago but I've been busy (and a little sick) so that's why I didn't write about it sooner. It was a two day extravaganza in Bundang. We started by having dinner at Outback and Curtis was serenaded by the lovely employees. I took a video that everyone should watch. Funny! Then we hung out at their house playing cards, other games and Wii.
We had a delicious ice cream cake and I supplied the authentic cherry whiskey that I have been saving for a special occasion. Well, I supplied half a bottle anyway. Hahah. It was nice to have cherry whiskey paralyzers for a change. Other Saturday night highlights included Dave's experiments with dry ice (from the ice cream cake- was keeping it cold on the way home), Curtis' crazy sheep pillow from Jinnie and Matt and Dave's limbo battle.
The next day we all went to Seoul Grand Park to check out the zoo. It was a surprise for Curtis and the weather was beautiful. The zoo was cool and excellent but again I am reminded how differently people view animals out here. They aren't really looked at as living creatures as much as tools- whether they are used for work or entertainment purposes. My friend Eddie commented that he often feels like he's stepped back in time a few decades when he's in Korea and I think this is a situation where that's a really accurate assessment. The way the monkeys, in particular, were treated made me feel a bit ill. The inside cages were pretty filthy and children and adults were throwing them all sorts of crap from straws, to cookies, to hard candy.

It wasn't all depressing though. I had a temporary bout of insanity and decided to be brave and face my snake fears. This was a ridiculous idea. There is a reason why snakes are scary- they are creepy and evil. Maybe I don't look scared in that picture but trust me, I am barely holding it together. Moments before that the snake handler smacked me in the face with the snake wrapping it around my neck. After he removed it I had a mini panic attack for the next several minutes. I don't plan on doing that again.
Other things were just amusing, like seeing coyotes, foxes, beavers and raccoons on display at the zoo. Or being able to buy beer and walk around drinking it at the zoo.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the day was when a group of small girls stopped dead in their tracks, tiny Korean mouths agape, and pointed directly at me and shouted "Waegukin!!!!". That's means foreigner in case you don't speak Korean. I reacted without thinking and immediately pointed and shouted "KOREAN!" at them. I mean, come on, we're in a ZOO and I'm the most astounding and interesting thing you've seen?

Anyway, it was a fantastic weekend, spent with lots of great friends. Blogger is being a pain with pictures so I really recommend you go here and look at the rest of them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fashion Trend Sweeping Seoul...

I'm a bit out of touch with things in North America but PLEASE tell me that the state of fashion over there isn't the same. Right now Korea has been infected with early 90s PLAID!?! (><) I can't escape it! It's everywhere. Look at this little shop! I like plaid in small doses but right now there is way too much ugly plaid everywhere. It's giving me flashbacks to when Jacquie studied Highland dance and kept replaying that horrifying bagpipe music in order to practice. Bagpipe music makes my ears bleed and plaid makes my eyes bleed. It's like I'm living in a horror movie where someone has vomited plaid. Who do these Koreans think they are? Lumberjacks? Gah. I am definitely not going to miss all the plaid when we leave.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Me and My Moms

Unfortunately there were a few regular students absent the day we took these. Aren't they cute? The mom I have the "couple" picture with is the one who provided the camera. Every time I bring up leaving they all tell me I should stay. Hahaha. I say they can come visit me in Canada.


This week a lot of my students were asking about Halloween. They don't celebrate it in Korea but they all know about it and most kids that go to an English hagwon have experienced a Halloween party of sorts. Unfortunately for my students, our school is more serious than the average hagwon so there will be no party, just regular classes. I am going to sort of dress up and probably will buy some candy to pass out. I had an interesting conversation with one of my A1 classes on Friday.

Nick: Teacher, it's Halloween day soon! You must give me candy!
Other kids: Yeah!!!!! CANDY!
Me: Oh? You think so, eh?
Nick: Wait! No, I want MEAT!!!
Me: Whaaaa? Meat? Nick, are you a crazy boy?
Nick: Meat, meat, MEAT, meat, MEAT!!!
Other kids: [laughter] No!! Candy, candy Teacher! Not meat! Nick is crazy!!
Me: Maybe you guys should give me candy.
Nick: Okay! I give you candy and you give me MEAT.

Matt thinks I should bring a sausage or something just for Nick on Friday. Hahah.

This is what sanity looks like...

Maybe this doesn't seem very special or exciting to you but I jumped for joy and almost tackle hugged the homework teacher when she dropped these off in my classroom last week. I've been teaching the same DVDs in my Screen English class for about 8 months now. I have seen the same Magic School Bus and Super Dave Osborne cartoons more times than I can count. No one should be subjected to Super Dave that much. Trust me. I'm a changed person because of it. Starting in November I have new movies!!! Cinderella, Snow White, Shrek and one other that I can't remember right now. I am elated. Who knew the price of my sanity was a few bootlegged Disney movies?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conversations with Students

So today I had 3 out of 4 of my Screen English students come to class with no homework. Since Screen Class doesn't have Jae-si (aka Detention) I have created my own detention system. So those 3 students sat on the floor outside of my classroom until they finished their homework. Meanwhile, the solitary good student managed to get 100% on her pop quiz, besides being finished all her homework. The policy I have in this class is if someone gets 100% on the quiz, they get a prize (it's really difficult to get a perfect score). Since I'd been given 2 chocolate bars by admirers today I gave one of them to her as a prize. Then we watched a fun movie until the other students finished up so we could start the regular class work. When the other kids returned this conversation took place.

Me: Wow, Amy got 100% on her quiz today so she got a prize.
Other Students: WHAT?!!? Really?! What is the prize?
Me: A chocolate bar.
One Boy: You gave her cigarettes?!
Me: WTF?!?!

I have no idea how he interpreted 'chocolate bar' as cigarettes but just thinking about that kept me giggling for the rest of the day. The absurdity. I totally crack up every time I think about me giving away cigarettes as a prize. That boy really needs to work on his listening comprehension.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Love "Service"!

Anytime you get something for free they call it "service" here. There is a cheapie samgyupsal restaurant right by our apartment that we frequent. I suspect we are the only foreigners that eat there and as a result, we are known by all the staff. There is a new waiter and the last time I ate there (with Mi Eun and Kyeong) he was really interested in me. He's older and was wearing a wedding ring, so it wasn't anything romantic. Basically he is trying to learn English and is interested in Canada AND he thinks I'm cute (he didn't say that part but it's pretty obvious, plus, who doesn't think I'm cute? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.).

Last night Matt and I had dinner at that restaurant and my fan waiter was working. We ordered delicious cheesy rice after our main meal and at this point he came over to prepare it and gave us a service jjigae (spicy soup) and pineapple Fanta. Ahssa! I love free stuff! Then he turned our cheesy rice into a heart. This is one of the reasons why I love Korea. ^^ (By the way, the cheesy rice wasn't ready to eat at this point- you have to wait until the cheese melts. Trust me, it's delicious.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

I forgot to mention...

...how the Parents Class went on Tuesday. You may remember that I gave some "homework" (their words, not mine) and asked the moms to bring a couple pictures or a souvenir and tell the class a little about their best/favorite vacation. Well, even though only 3 moms showed up I think it was a success. The moms took this task really seriously- one wrote a speech and another made a Power Point presentation! Whoa! They were all really cute. After each person shared about their vacation and showed the pictures I let the other people ask questions. Here was my favorite conversation of the class:

Mom 1: So where did you stay while you were on your vacation?
Mom 2: Oh, uhhh, just at a local hotel (says the name in Korean).
M1: Ahhh, did you make a baby?
M2: No, because my husband, uh, (Korean phrases), ummmm, surgery. [gestures at her lap]
M1: I understand. I want my husband to get that but he is a lazy boy.
Me: Tell him to stop being lazy! Say that I told him he needs to get a vasectomy!
M1: [laughing] Okay, I will text message him right now.
M2: Ahh! "Get a vasectomy"! [frantically starts writing this in her notebook.]

Cue to me laughing wildly. And then I taught them the word 'vasectomy' and had to answer a number of vasectomy related questions while they furiously copied the new vocabulary in their notebooks. This class is so different from any other class I've ever taught. When it ended Mom 2 pulled out her camera and we all took pictures together. She's supposed to email them to me and print hard copies too. Hehehe.

I'm so sorry, but I love you (다 거짓말)

This is one of my newest students and today he wore the most wicked hat ever. Now that is style! I told him he looked like a member of Big Bang or something and he giggled and high fived me. At the end of class I told him I wanted to take his picture. At first he tried to hide, then he asked "Really?" (then I took the first picture) and then he posed like a good K-Popper in training. Love it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canadian Thanksgiving in Korea

Last time we spent Thanksgiving in Korea (back in 2006) it wasn't much to write home about. Considering we were really new to the country (only two months in) and didn't really know many people, let alone any Canadians... Last Thanksgiving we happened to be in Canada so we got to experience glorious gluttony at its finest. I hadn't thought much about Thanksgiving this year (I'd actually forgotten that it was coming up) until I talked to lovely Dana and she mentioned she was having a full blown dinner and invited us to come.
Unfortunately Shawna had to make her way back to Gimpo and wasn't able to make it for the dinner. She was there in spirit though. I hadn't really thought much about the logistics of the meal and had mistakenly assumed that it wouldn't be that authentic. Maybe that sounds mean but there were a lot of odds stacked against a decent Thanksgiving. For example, no one has an oven and if they did, it wouldn't be big enough to cook a turkey. Of course, that's assuming that you could find a turkey for sale in this country. Plus things like stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie aren't exactly available in any regular store out here. You can see why I was prepared to value the occasion for the company rather than the food. The company was awesome, by the way, and we all had a great time hanging out, laughing, playing Guitar Hero and other games.
Happily, I was proven wrong and had clearly underestimated the awesomeness of the people I know. Dana, Kate and Katrina prepared the most authentic, amazing traditional Thanksgiving meal imaginable. They went to multiple foreign food markets and made a trip to Cost-co in order to find all the necessary supplies for this mouth-watering meal. We didn't get turkey but we did had a huge rotissary chicken that was so juicy and succulent! That was the only "variation" from the traditional menu. We all gourged on rotissary chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, fruit salad, stuffing, cranberry sauce, buns, green bean casserole and dill pickles. Yep, we ate actual dill pickles in Korea, the land where only sweet pickles are welcome.
Even though they had planned the meal for about 13 people (and there were only 10 of us) we managed to polish off an impressive amount of food and drink. A couple of Dana/Curtis/Kate/Dave's Korean coworkers came to celebrate the holiday with all us waegooks. You know it's a good meal when the Koreans are attacking the dessert table (besides pumpkin pie we had Dunkin Donuts and Teri's amazing homemade shortbread) and when Dave is drinking gravy.
We ended up staying a bit later than planned and therefore ended up having to spend the night in Bundang. As luck would have it, Monday morning was the Oiler's season opener so we got to truly indulge in all things Canadian. Who isn't thankful for hockey? Curtis signed up for some sort of subscription where he can watch hockey online and he is able to hook his computer up to the TV. You can watch archived games as well as live broadcasts.
This was a really exciting game (although you wouldn't think so judging by Matt)- we were playing Colorado, which meant that Ryan Smith was back in town. (This paragraph is going to be a bit boring for anyone that doesn't follow hockey.) They actually had him as the Colorado representative for the honorary face off. I didn't notice any booing though. We played a solid game and Curtis filled me in on some of the new members of the Oilers. I've fallen behind a lot since moving to Korea but hopefully I can get back up to speed this season. The Oilers led for most of the game and it looked like we were going to go into overtime but then Penner scored a goal for us in the last six seconds!! Ahssa! So we won!!! What a great start to the week. ^^ Plus, it meant that the Oilers have won their season opener the last five years in a row. I hope we do better this season.

So there you have it- Canadian Thanksgiving Korean style. I miss my family and friends back home but I think we managed to do the holiday justice here. To see all the pictures you can venture over here. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We miss you and love you all!

Seodaemun Prison

On Saturday we met up with a new friend, Shawna, who is living in Gimpo and teaching at a public school. We decided to visit Seodaemun Prison which was a prison built by the Japanese while they attempted to colonize Korea in the early 20th century. It was a strange experience and I tumbled across someone else's blog about their visit to Seodaemun and it summed things up much better than I can.

I don't think a museum like this could exist in modern day North America. The main purpose of the museum wasn't to educate about this period in Korean history but to cultivate and encourage anti-Japanese sentiments. All of the exhibits here were going for shock value and even though I know that many of the torture scenes depicted were accurate, I know that Korea isn't full of innocent puppies and kittens either. I guess for me it's hard to take something seriously when it's obviously not objective or balanced.

The musuem was filled with different lifesize manniquins covered in fake blood and accompanied by haunting audio tracks of people screaming and crying. Most of the signs were translated into semi-decent English but they may have been better off not including some of the information because it revealed how incredibly biased the writers were. Also I felt a bit uncomfortable since most of the other people at the prison were families with young children. I imagine that these parents were probably taking their children to each exhibit to point out how barbaric and horrible Japanese people are. Nothing like a nice Saturday trip with the purpose to teach your children to hate. Especially since the Dok-do debacle resurfaced, anti-Japanese sentiments have been out in full force. To digress a bit, I'm pretty sick of hearing about or being asked about this stupid island that is basically made entirely of rock and how awful the Japanese are for trying to "steal it".
In one section of the prison museum you can sit on a bench in front of a jury and a recording will play sentencing you to death (in Korean) before the bench drops a bit. Despite the sign prohibiting children (and pregnant women) the main people I saw sitting on the bench were children. Usually hoisted up by their parent(s). I took a little video of Matt awaiting his fate. Sorry about the low quality, but you get the idea. If you want to see more pictures from Seodaemun Prison you should go here.
Anyway, it was fun hanging out with Shawna and afterwards we we to CO-EX for awhile. I introduced her to Art Box and took some pictures of some hilarious pajama pants that I wish I could fit into. Trust me, it's worth it to click on the pictures and read the text. Do it.

While Shawna was visiting we discovered a couple of strange and interesting things. One was the new "Straight" Tea and the other was a giant bathtub outside of Lush that the employees filled with water and bubbles. I'm not sure what the hell they were doing but it was weird. Maybe some sort of promotional thing so you could see how the product worked/smelled? Not too appealing after all the mosquitoes drown in it but whatever...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Late Night Dinner

On Friday night we had a late, late dinner with some coworkers. You may recognize Anna (who looks menacing with the rice scoop) from the Spris Let's Rock Festival we went to.
Diana, our newest coworker, organized the meal. She's from Australia (in the striped shirt) and is really sweet. I feel bad because our schedules don't match and so I have barely seen her since she started. This was a good opportunity to spend some time together and hopefully we can hang out more in the future.
We ate at a restaurant that specialized in tofu and everyone ordered a different type of tofu filled stew. Mine was the tofu and mandu (dumpling) stew and everyone got a healthy portion of rice in a hot stone bowl. Yum! We all cracked an egg into the stew when it arrived. The eggs were in a little basket on the table and at first Diana and I thought they were fake decorations!

Of course the meal came with numerous side dishes. Actually it came with a couple whole fish, which isn't uncommon here. It reminded me of the days in the lunch room at Little Brown. Diana and I both dislike eating things with eyes so we covered our fish's eyes with cucumber. Then we thought that Matt and Seobom's fish looked cold so we gave it a gim (seaweed) blanket. Hehe.

I've come a long way in my eating habits since moving to Korea. Now I can tolerate really spicy dishes and actually look forward to eating gimchi! Canadian on the outside but Korean to the core. Here are a few more pictures from Friday night.

Sure beats those annoying decals where Calvin is peeing on something...

I discovered this masterpiece on my way to work last week. It says, "I keep on drive that's the reason for I exist". No truer words have ever been spoken (or written).

What You Can Buy for $2.50

The world's tallest celery. Unfortunately there were a bunch of bug damaged bits so we didn't actually end up with that much celery after all. Probably for the best.

Long Weekend (October 3-5): Part 2

On Saturday we spent a large portion of our day lamenting about our lack of purpose in life and what we are going to do post-Korea. We were both depressed looking at the job prospects in Canada right now (how DO people live on those pathetic salaries?!). After we stopped sobbing into our pillows we decided to get out of the house and see the fireworks festival near Yeouido. First we stopped by a shop in Lotte World area and bought the world's most expensive gummy candies. Guess how much we paid for those 2 little bags? About $15. Yeah. Frick. But they were glorious and completely worth it so I could have coke bottles, fuzzy peaches, cherry blasters and a number of other sugary treats.

We hopped on the subway and made our way out to Yeouido. This was a stupid idea. There were atleast a million other people with the same stupid idea and I am not exaggerating at all. In fact, if anything I am underestimating how many people showed up to see the fireworks in Hangang Park. When we finally managed to emerge from the subway station they were already starting some fireworks, which didn't last that long. At this point I wanted to punch someone. We had barely seen anything because of all the trees and other people in our way!!

So we did what any self respecting adult would do in a situation like this. We scowled and sulked alot and ate a bunch of candy to ease our pain.

And this totally worked! The fireworks starting up again and while we still couldn't see that well we could see so all wasn't lost. The show was okay but we would have been better off staying home, if you ask me. The fireworks we saw at the Mud Festival last year and when we visited Busan were WAY better. Plus when we tried to go home it was almost impossible. I think it took us almost 3 hours to get back to our apartment. They had closed the subway station closest to the park and so we had to walk to the next one. And the police were only allowing people to enter through one of that station's exits and all the trains were packed. It was pure transportation hell.

Sunday was a better though because we met up with Andy. I'd been talking to him online for quite awhile but hadn't met him in person since he lives really far away. He's leaving Korea this week and returning home to Australia so it was nice to meet him before he left. We ate fabulous burritoes at Dos Tacos and then perused the English section at Kyobo books. We had deep conversations about things like flame throwers (everyone needs one!), hover boards and making clothing out of bacon. Excellent times!

If you want to see all the pictures from the long weekend then you should pop over here.

Long Weekend (October 3-5): Part 1

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself but I was really excited about the new computer in my room so I skipped writing about the long weekend. October 3rd was a national holiday in Korea, Foundation Day. We've been working hard lately so we really needed a break.

After work on Thursday night we went out for shabu shabu with Min Jeong and then ended up at a fun bar called The Wild Bunch where we were pampered with free nachoes AND a free fruit platter! Also there was an awesome show put on by the bartenders which included fire and the creation of 2 fancy drinks (and I was given one of them for free- it was delicious). It was a fun night and a good way to unwind after the work week.

This month there is a huge Autumn Hi Seoul Festival going on so we wanted to check out some of the festivities. On Friday we tried to go out for the opening ceremonies but we missed a large portion of it because we were at the wrong pavilion. Apparently there were two different festivals going on at the exact same time within a few blocks of eachother. D'oh.
As a result of the mix up we spent a bunch of time at the Salvation Army 100th anniversary celebration festival. It was not as fun as it sounds. Yeah.

We ended up finding the festival we wanted to see which included performances by a symphoney orchestra, the Korean National Ballet company, a concert pianist and an opera singer. It was a bit hard to see but was a nice time. We randomly bumped into some other teachers that live and teach closeby to us. Small world! It was bizarre to see a horse drawn carriage amidst the traffic in Seoul too.