Archive for the ‘by Ashley’ Category

These Korean Days



Mashed potatoes, carrots, chicken wings, stuffing, deviled eggs…

On Thursday, November 26th, we had our fourth annual International Thanksgiving Potluck in Gwangcheon, South Korea. This was the second time for us to host the gathering at our apartment. Fifteen guests from six different countries attended (from Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea and the US). It was great to have everyone over and sample the different dishes. Brian prepared his famous stuffing, which was a hit, as usual. I made baked chicken wings, which I assume people liked–there were no left-overs. We played a game where everyone wrote down what they  were thankful for on a small sheet of paper, mixed the papers up, and then everyone had to guess who had written what, which was more fun than I had hoped.

Take a look through the slideshow below to see what our last few days have been like.

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The following posts are in memory of my grandfather, Don Greathouse, who passed away January 7th, 2015. He was a big motivation for this blog and he is greatly missed.


Cebu from above


This was our first taste of The Philippines. Unfortunately, from the moment we left the airport we were met with uncomfortable scenes of dilapidation and grime. We had only planned to be in Cebu for four days, but I wanted to turn around and get out of there almost immediately. As the sun rose over a scene that left much to be desired, we crossed the bridge from the airport island to Cebu City. The city was not beautiful. As each we passed each group of buildings, I thought, “This looks sketchy.”

And then my heart was broken by a glimpse of half-naked children barefoot on a curb, beside the disturbing skeleton of a building that was either abandoned or under construction. There was no question in my mind that these kids were homeless. I’m not sure if I saw any adults with them. The taxi passed, again, through streets where I would not feel comfortable walking. I wondered nervously about the condition of our hotel. “Get me out of here,” I thought.

When the taxi turned the corner into the inclined driveway of our hotel, I breathed a sigh of relief. It looked safe. More than that, it looked clean! Wedged between the ruined crumbles of the building next door and a dinky shop, it looked FANTASTIC!

I breathed a sigh of relief as I waited for Brian to pay the taxi driver. He had a bit of trouble because—having just come from the airport—we only had large bills.


Not the most spectacular view…

The room was small, comfortable, and clean. It had all the necessities and the air conditioning functioned properly. It became a sort of haven for me while we were in Cebu. It was my first experience staying in a hotel where you are provided with only a thin bed sheet. There’s really no need for a comforter in year-round warm weather after all.

The next day we decided to walk to the mall that was located a few minutes from our hotel. The road was a main road and it was a straight shot to where we planned to go, so we thought it would be fine. For a while it was fine, but then suddenly, not.

Women with babies on one-hip and outstretched hands begged for money, saying simply, “Christmas. Christmas…” There were entire rows of these women asking again and again for us to consider their plight. Barefoot children also begged for money, following us as we walked. We had no small bills, and even if we had had a little something, there were JUST. SO. MANY. I had never seen so many people begging in my life. I wanted to help them, but I didn’t know how. It was like being slammed in the face with a brick every time.

When we got to the mall, I was shocked, again, to see security search points at every entrance. I felt uncomfortable and unsafe. The food court was full of delicious-looking food, but I had no desire to eat. I drank a fruit smoothie and we made our way back to the hotel. I spent my time searching the internet for information about the poverty in Cebu City. I found a charity that helps impoverished families in the city with education, food, child care and more: http://riseabove-cebu.org/

After that, I did not go out for walks for any reason.

We took a taxi up to the Mountain View Nature Park, and for the first time I was glad to be in Cebu. From that distance, the city looked beautiful. We had been told that the night view was beautiful, but I preferred seeing the city and the ocean and the mountains as they looked during the day. We took the overpriced shuttle back down and were let out at a mall. There were few food options and it was night, so we had dinner there and caught a taxi back to the hotel.


Outdoor courtyard of Ayala Mall

We took a taxi to Ayala Mall. Like the malls we had visited earlier, it had security and a search at the entrances, but, once inside, it felt like a mall back home; one that just happened to be ridiculously large. It had a beautiful courtyard area and a variety of restaurants to choose from. We relaxed in a coffee shop. We took our time people watching and talking. We looked at the well-manicured shrubbery and the fountains. Later, we ate dinner at a restaurant called La Mesa. After dinner we waited for a taxi at the taxi queue outside the mall.

Then we waited and waited some more. The strange thing about taxis that I noticed in the time we were in Cebu City had to do with how much of a hassle it was to catch one. Even though we were standing in the clearly designated taxi area with an attendant, and dozens of people were lined up and waiting, there was no line of taxis waiting for us. Not even one or two. It even seemed that the unoccupied taxis seemed reluctant to stop and pick anyone up! The attendant would energetically try to catch a driver’s attention—the driver might even look him straight in the face and pass right on by more often than not! Some people grumbled and left the line in disgust, but we stayed put. This was not the first time we had had to wait for a taxi, and I did not care to try going it alone again. And slowly but surely the people ahead of us in the queue were climbing into cars and heading to wherever they needed to go. After waiting in line for about an hour, we were able to do the same.

On the day we left Cebu City, I felt a huge sense of relief to be getting out of there. It was like Christmas. And, conveniently enough, it was actually Christmas Day. The flight attendants sang popular Christmas songs and I slept. Cebu hadn’t really been one of the places we’d wanted to see. It was just a stopover that somehow worked to help lower the price of our plane tickets. It hadn’t been one of the places on our list at all, but I was glad to have seen it. Otherwise I might have remained a little bit more blissfully ignorant. The Philippines is a breathtakingly beautiful country, but I will never forget the poverty I saw there.

Puerto Princesa


I woke up just before our plane landed in Puerto Princesa. My first impression upon arrival was something like, “This is more like it.”

My favorite thing to do while staying at the Blue Lagoon in Puerto Princesa was to sit on the porch in front of our bungalow and relax. The room was nothing special, but the hotel had a decent restaurant and I can never get enough of green, flowering surroundings. The forest was beautiful. The weather was perfect and there was often a breeze that reduced the overall effect of the humidity. We explored very leisurely for the first few days after we got there. It was easy to catch a trike to the downtown area.

I really enjoyed riding the trikes everywhere. I loved the slow pace of traffic and the courtesy of the drivers. One driver, Mr. Bong, ended up taking us on a half-day city tour for a better price than our hotel would have offered. We went to the crocodile farm and saw crocs of all sizes. We went to a park called Baker’s Hill where there was a talking bird for me to try to communicate with. (It meowed at me and I meowed back.) We also went to the butterfly museum before rounding everything off with a stop at a souvenir shop.

The weirdest thing on Palawan for me was the butterfly museum because it also included a tribal village where the indigenous people of Palawan seem to be put on display. It was an awkward sort of exhibit that would not be considered acceptable in the United States. I hadn’t been keen on visiting the tribal village exhibit, but our guide insisted. She opened a wooden door and led us away from the butterflies into a little mock village where two young men in red plaid loincloths seemed to be waiting around with nothing to do. We saw men explain some of their traditional instruments, religious beliefs, weapons and products via a translator. We learned that the people come down from the highlands and stay in the tribal village for a few months before returning to their home. Their demonstration was interesting, but I did not feel comfortable visiting people in such a zoo-like environment.

The most exciting thing we did was go island hopping. I tried snorkeling for the first time ever and I really enjoyed it. I think that it was only after the experience of snorkeling in the sun that my stress level finally realized I was on vacation.


We have a candle-lit dinner by the bay walk.



The secret to our success. Brian budgeting on the beach.

It wasn’t until we got to Boracay that I realized how spotless Puerto Princesa had been or how comfortable it was to walk along the streets there. Boracay is great, but it’s also crawling with noisy tourists. The beaches are beautiful but constantly overcrowded.

Brian and I had just planned to relax and only participate in a few tourist activities. Our plan was to walk along the beach visiting coffee shops and restaurants, taking some time to dip into the ocean or doze in the sand. The problem was that every ten feet there was someone trying to sell us something, whether it be sailboat rides, scuba diving adventures, snorkeling trips or selfie sticks. In Boracay we practiced the necessary art of saying “No,” or “No, thank you, we did that yesterday,” along with my personal favorite, “No selfie stick.”

What I learned while in Boracay was that everybody wants to get their hair did. Signs for hair braiding (‘reggae hair’ it read in Korean) were all over and tourists could get their hair braided in any style by local women. The most popular style was cornrows adorned with colorful rubber bands. People of various ages, ethnicities, and genders sat in chairs patiently getting cornrows done. Little White and Asian children played in the waves with hairstyles I used to sport as a kid. It was interesting and fun to see.

What I enjoyed a lot about Boracay beside the view was the locals’ positive reaction to my hair. Yes, it’s all about me. They liked it and they told me so, or talked to me about when they had worn locks too. It was a little friendly conversation starter. That was not a complete surprise to me because from Kalibo to Cataclan (where we caught the ferry to Boracay) our airport driver had been listening to reggae music non-stop. Once we got to Boracay I realized that it wasn’t just him. Reggae music was pumping from restaurants and shops, Bob Marley memorabilia was everywhere, and I saw several locals sporting long dreadlocks (while surfing, shopping or painting).


Relaxing in a shady spot on the beach.

The best reaction by far was on our last day in The Philippines. We were walking up to the check in desk at the Kalibo airport. Brian gave them our passports and documents when the guys working behind the counter spontaneously broke into a Bob Marley song. They didn’t stop until we left. I just smiled and laughed.

One of the best parts of Boracay was our accommodations. Amihan-Home was just peaceful, tastefully decorated and extremely comfortable. It was a bed and breakfast type place with four or five rooms, two friendly dogs, and beautiful grounds. We weren’t on the beach, but it only took a few minutes to walk there. Because the house was on a somewhat steep hill, we always had a cool breeze flowing through. Out on the front patio, a dreadlocked artist in the process of painting an oversized portrait of our hostess added to the ambiance. After staying the first night on the ground floor in a suite adjacent to the lobby area, the owner suggested that we move to a quieter room upstairs. I was glad of the move since we could see more from higher up.I really enjoyed spending time on the balcony just watching the colorful kites of the kite boarders and dreaming.

The breakfast that was included was simple but delicious. We usually opted for the Filipino breakfast, which included seasoned beef, garlic rice, an egg and fresh fruit (usually mango). Coffee or tea was also provided. The way it worked was that each evening the staff would take our order and note the time we would be having breakfast. Then in the morning we would head downstairs at the appointed time and sit down in the dining room or outside on the back patio. I don’t know if the woman who cooked our meals spoke much English, but she seemed very kind. When our breakfast was ready, the staff would serve us our food and drinks. Sometimes there were other guests at the table with us, but often we were the only people on the patio enjoying a romantic breakfast (haha). On our last day in Boracay one of the resident dogs of Amihan-Home joined me and Brian for breakfast. It was a master of the pitiful puppy dog begging techniques, but, since I did not know the policy on feeding the dogs, I did not give in.

Visiting The Philippines was a great experience, and I hope to be able to return there in the future. There is so much more that I could share about this vacation, but it’s just not going to happen. I have to leave some things for Brian to write about after all.


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Preparing to eat my first Thai curry

Now that we’ve returned to our more-or-less normal lives in Korea, I find myself thinking back lovingly to the gorgeous flavors we’ve left behind. Last week during a short trip to Seoul, we decided to try out a Thai restaurant here in Korea to re-experience the delight. Of course I was a bit disappointed. It fell short of what I’d experienced before.

Anyone who knows me well enough should know that Thai food is my favorite. So, as we crossed the border into Thailand, Brian was stressed about immigration but I was anticipating the deliciousness to come. I had had Thai curries and teas in the United States, but I had not yet had “authentic” Thai food in Thailand. Let me just say that it was everything I expected, and much more flavorful and spicy! I loved it.

We only stayed four days in Thailand so it was a whirlwind tour. We were in Hua Hin, Thailand, and so we were able to visit a few sights near that area. We walked on the beach, rode an elephant, saw a pineapple plantation, watched a reptile show, visited a floating market, did some shopping, and ate food at seaside restaurants. It was fantastic. I only wish we had planned to stay longer so that I could have tried a wider range of Thai dishes! Here is a slideshow of some of our other adventures.

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Note: We took several pictures of our visit to the temple ruins. I’m just going to put them all in a slide show at the bottom of this page. Also, this is written by Ashley.


I have so much that I could say about our visit to the ruins, but I hope to keep this readably brief.

The ruins were fantastic. If you ever have occasion to be in Cambodia, you should see them all. There is so much more to see than Angkor Wat, which is a Hindu temple that was refashioned into a Buddhist temple, or Wat, before it began to crumble into ruin. Thanks to the Khmer kings—who each felt it was his duty to build magnificent stone temples—it seems ruined temples are everywhere in Cambodia.

We bought three-day passes that allowed us access to the ruins. The passes were non-transferrable, and were made official by our mugshots printed on them. We had read that one day would not be enough to see all there was to see and that a three day pass was better, but now, after the allotted time is up, I feel that three days was not enough. The passes allowed us to visit ruins not only in Siem Reap but also Phnom Kulen National Park, with a nice hike and a waterfall that tumbles over broken ruins, a botanical garden, and temple ruins over an hour away by tuk tuk.  (Riding in the tuk tuk was one of my favorite things about Cambodia.)

Concerned about cost, we toured the temples without hiring a guide. Although we did catch tidbits of what other tourists’ guides were telling them, which helped us to unravel some mysteries. It also helped that we had first visited the Angkor National Museum, which gave us some insight into the history of the culture and religion of the Angkor period. Apparently, much of the information from this empire was lost. No written records, beyond those etched in stone, survived in Cambodia. If it weren’t for Chinese diplomats who visited and wrote about the golden cities, there would be nothing written to help people understand what the Khmer empire was like in its day.

I had never before seen something over a thousand years old and so far removed from my Western cultural context. It was a fascinating experience that submerged me in history. I kept dreaming that the halls were filled with monks, and the buildings new, even though I could see the gaping holes in the ceiling and tumbled stone. I kept thinking about how much devotion and effort it must have taken to build and sculpt the intricate designs that cover the pillars, entryways, and window frames. On the walls of Angkor Wat, and other ruins, mythology and history are carved in bas-relief. Who carved these works of art? What were they thinking about as they worked? The faces and bodies of women dancing are etched into the rock. Many of the faces seem unique rather than duplicates. Did women the artists knew inspire them?

I kept thinking, too, about the significance of the sites we were treading, many of them had only been open to monks and kings. If the empire hadn’t crumbled, we would never have been allowed to see any of these places. What would the kings of the great Khmer empire have thought about foreigners and the uninitiated trampling over the ruins of their most sacred places? How would they have felt about the children of their descendants begging and hawking their wares on the steps?

We spent almost five hours visiting Angkor Wat itself. It is an impressive temple, and amidst the signs of decay—decapitated Buddha images, carvings with faces that have been lopped off and stolen, and colonies of bats—people still worship, offering incense to the images. It is mind-boggling that the temple, though it is toppling and ruined, is still so beautiful. It stands out against the jungle, commanding attention. To me it said: “Look what grandeur humans have built, and see how time has destroyed it.”

We toured many temples and sites: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som (with invading tree), East Mebon (with elephant statues), Pre Rup, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (ancient capital city, full of faces), Bayon, and Banteay Srei (ornate red sandstone). We missed out on several more of the temples including the famous Ta Prohm that has wonderful intertwining trees. There just wasn’t enough time to see everything. I hope that we will have a chance to visit the ruins again. If so, I think we’ll get a week long pass and hire guides to lead us through some of the historical complexity.

And now, for the pictures.

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Many of you may have been wondering, “what do Brian and Ashley do all day over there in Korea?” While I can’t answer for Brian, as I haven’t memorized his schedule, I hope that this brief post will help you conceptualize the structure of my working day. (note that our working hours are from 8:20-4:30, but actual school ends around 2:40. You never can tell in Korea, since the students all stay at school after normal classes are over)

Here’s my weekly schedule:

~My weekly schedule. Mondays are the busiest!

You can see that I’ve highlighted each class with a different color to keep everything orderly in my mind. When I first looked at my schedule it was overwhelming, but now I realize how good I’ve got it compared to some of the other teachers!

Here are some important features of my schedule:

  • I have 1st periods free Monday-Thursdays! (on Mondays everyone has 1st period free)
  • I have no classes after lunch on Fridays! (Also we go home at 2:30)
  •  The number after the class name denotes grade level. Social Studies 1 is  first grade Social Studies. Con 2,3 is a conversation class for second and third graders.
  • Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald are the students’ English levels. Ruby is low and Emerald is high.  I teach a lot of low level. It can be brutal at times!
  • The title that appears after the  gem levels belongs to the the course text book. Sixth grade Language Arts  is reading Shining Star A right now.
  • The room number lets me know where I  have to go to teach the class. Room 1 is the first grade homeroom, room 2 is the second grade homeroom etc. E1 means English classroom 1. Instead of meeting with the students in their home room, we have class on the “English side” of the school, closer to our office. Generally we meet with low levels in their homeroom (where the Korean teacher can assist with translation if necessary) and higher levels in the English rooms.

My last teaching hour of each day is ASP, which stands for After School Program. Some of the parents pay extra to have their kids stay for this extra “class.” We do have a textbook, but this class is generally considered glorified babysitting by some.

My class, however, consists of ten high-level first grade students. So, although the schedule says I should be teaching them in the homeroom, I actually use E1. The other ASP 1 teacher has lower-level 1st grade ASP and she was having a hard time without the Korean teacher’s help, so we switched. My class tends to speed through the easy workbook–and once they finish they want to be out the door–so I have to come up with extra activities and songs to keep them occupied for the full 40 mins.Hhaha. (The parents complain if they see their kids get out of ASP early).

Yesterday, since it was the last Thursday of the month, my ASP class had a snack party and watched Tom and Jerry. In Korea, kids bring their own snacks for parties. They even bring snacks for the teacher! I received an orange juice, an assortment of chips and a candy bar.

Songs aren’t just useful for ASP, though. With first grade, I use the Please Be Quiet song almost daily. Sometimes I try to play the air guitar (lamely). It doesn’t make them be quiet, but it helps them practice using those cherubic singing voices of theirs. Also, they love imitating the characters on the screen, or answering “NO” in response to the song’s request to “please be quiet.”

“Teacher, please be quiet!” the first graders shout, but they’re only asking for me to play the song.

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In the spring of 2008, I took a contemporary poetry course at Andrews University taught by Dr. Scott Moncrieff. During the class we sampled different forms of poetry and read works from several poets. We also experimented with and shared our own poetry. That spring was when I wrote my first villanelle (I think it ended up being published in a poetry textbook somewhere).

Now–though I’m constantly scribbling snippets of (awful) free verse poetry–whenever I sit down to write a formal poem, I find myself trying to compose a villanelle. It’s a form that’s both challenging and fun, and writing helps to clear the head sometimes. Especially if you’re like me.

This particular poem expresses some of my thoughts about our new (tiny) home in small-town South Korea. I hope you enjoy reading it.


The things I like about this place:

4 white plates and 1 kitchen sink–

There’s less to clean in a smaller space.


Two sets of sliding doors bring grace

and wooden floors add charm, I think.

The things I like about this place


must not exclude the slower pace

of towns that lack sour sewer-stink.

(There’s less to clean in a smaller space).


Fat clouds in a fresh sky replace

tall, jumbled buildings that would shrink

the things I like about this place.


Inside it’s cozy, in any case,

a few cute mugs for our hot drinks…

There’s less to clean in a smaller space,


which brings a half-smile to my face–

I must be idler than I think;

The thing I like about this place:

There’s less to clean in a smaller space.

On the rooftop of our building, nothing blocks the view. Our small living-space is almost directly below my feet.

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Brian and I had to go up to Gwangcheon to get all the immigration stuff sorted (Yay! Now, our work visas are all in order!). We had to go up separately since Brian had Thursday off, and I didn’t. I wasn’t too keen on making the whole 7 hour round trip alone, so Brian stayed in Gwangcheon after signing his contract and completing the visa process, and I took Friday off and made my way to Gwangcheon after work on Thursday afternoon. I planned to do all the paperwork on Friday morning and then Brian and I would head back to Busan together.

To make things easier, we spent a night in our soon-to-be apartment. We took some pictures to show you what the new place looks like:

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It’s smaller than the apartment we’ve had for the past year, but that’s fine. We have a small extra room in the apartment here in Busan, but we don’t go in there enough to even bother to heat it in the winter.

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