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These Korean Days

 

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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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Our New Apartment

Our school gave us a new apartment this year. Actually, it’s an old apartment, old enough that one of the outlets fits the same kind of plugs used in the US and Canada. Apparently, as Brad told me when we were hooking up the washing machine in the utility room, where this particular outlet is located, Korea used to use Type A and B plugs a long time ago. (If you’re curious, they use C and F now, which have two round prongs instead of two flat prongs.)

But it’s new to us, and we like it. It started when Brad said, “Brian, Ashley, can I talk to you for a minute?” We didn’t know what he was going to say. We had just returned from winter vacation to work a few days before this. We all went to an empty classroom, where Brad said, “Because you’re renewing for another year, the school has decided to give you a bigger apartment.” Well, we’ve renewed for another year once before and didn’t get a bigger apartment, so I don’t know the full reason, or why this was chosen as the “reward” or “thank you,” but I’m not complaining.

“It’s a three-bedroom apartment,” Brad added.

What?! We couldn’t believe it. We’d been living in a one-room apartment for nearly two years and suddenly we have a three-bedroom apartment. We were given just over a week to pack up our stuff. In fact, English teachers usually only have to pack up their stuff when they leave Korea or move to a different town. The bed, TV, wardrobes, tables, chairs, dishes, utensils, and other things belong to the school. But we had to move all of that, too, because we’re staying at the same school.

Ashley and I felt bad for the movers. In Korea, movers often use a truck with an elevator ladder to take stuff directly through the large front window. Some movers, I learned, will even pack, move, and unpack for you. But the movers our school hired just had a truck. No elevator ladder. Also, there is no elevator at our new apartment, and our new place is on the sixth floor. One of the two movers was angry when he found out and yelled at the school administrator. He carried some of the stuff down to the truck from our old apartment on the third floor, and then he went home. The other mover, however, was up to the challenge. He needed help with some of it, though. It took four of us to carry the large wardrobe down the stairs. (The administrator, his son, and I helped the remaining mover carry it down.)

Then we went to the new apartment. Our school realized they should have hired a lift truck, so they did, and the mover didn’t have to carry anything up the 85 steps to our door. He loaded it on the platform, the platform operator sent it up, and we unloaded it in the room. It was fast and easy.

The problem was that there was a big pile of stuff in the middle of the living room. The previous tenant was supposed to come get it before we moved in, but I guess he didn’t. Allegedly, he said, “Oh, just store it there.” Sorry, sir, but no. Brad told the mover to take it down the platform and…they either threw it away or held it at the school for the man to claim it. Probably the former, though.

There were a few other problems, but most of them were solved. The light switches and doorknobs that needed repairs were repaired that day. The handy man even replaced a screen we hadn’t realized was broken when we were there the week before taking inventory of what needed to be done. We were supposed to get new floors, but in the end the school opted to put in new flooring for one room. We chose the bedroom, since it was to be our bedroom and the linoleum-like flooring common in Korea was warped and wrinkled in that room.

There are a few downsides to our apartment:

  • It takes about five more minutes to walk to school.
  • It’s on the sixth floor and has no elevator.
  • Not all of the floors were fixed, including one room where the floor was “fixed” by throwing another layer of linoleum on top.
  • The walls surrounding the balcony’s sliding doors/windows is visibly not square around the frame, so the doors have to be locked to get a seal, and one side doesn’t quite seal.
  • The utility room could use painting, but it’s only a cosmetic issue.
  • It’s bigger, so we use a lot more gas.
  • The lock on the door is barely set correctly. The door needs to be closed as tight as possible to lock or unlock it.

However, these downsides are usually mitigated:

  • More exercise getting to school. And five more minutes on top of five minutes is only ten minutes.
  • More exercise going up the stairs.
  • It’s closer to the grocery store and train station.
  • The windows are much better. (They were small and high up in our old apartment; we couldn’t really look outside and they didn’t let much light in.)
  • It may cost more to heat, but it’s so much more comfortable.
  • Despite its inconveniences, the door works.
  • The hot water works more consistently. In our old apartment, the water couldn’t decide whether to give hypothermia or third degree burns for about two minutes, and then the temperature would be stuck around just under lukewarm. Here, we have to wait a minute or so before we can make a reliable adjustment to the temperature, but once it’s set, it will stay like that, as far as we can tell, forever.
  • Three burners on the stove instead of the standard two.
  • A larger area to take off and put on shoes. And a cubby for the shoes, too.
  • Three rooms means we have room for our clothes, rather than having half of them in suitcases under the bed. Also, I have a room for playing my bass guitar and writing (since it’s hard for me to concentrate on reading or writing when around other people or noises).
  • More cupboards in our kitchen.
  • A nice, high view of Gwangcheon, including Oseosan (Mt. Oseo, pronounced “Oh-suh”).
  • Our bedroom isn’t cramped.
  • In fact, no space is cramped.
  • We can both prepare dinner at the same time instead of being in each other’s way in a narrow kitchen.
  • We can invite our friends over.
  • And more.

So this is a great, great place. We’re very thankful for it. When we first moved in, I would get out of bed and enter the living room and be confused. “Why aren’t I bumping into anything?” Sometimes we forget we’re in Korea because an apartment this big is just not common for English teachers in Korea. (For comparison, Brad and I estimated our old apartment, including the “balcony,” at around 300 square feet. I measured and calculated this one, and it’s just over 900. That’s about the size Ashley and I think would be good for our settle-down home. The living room itself is more than 400 square feet.)

Here are some pictures of our new place:

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More

Last week I posted about my birthday. I had meant to include a few more things in that post, but I forgot them. I was going to make a new post the next day, but this week was one of my most intense and stressful work weeks. I had no time for a post, and I’m quite glad it’s over. I’ll briefly tell you about the things I neglected here, and I’ll add a couple of other things.

One thing I meant to say in my post was that in addition to the students treating me so nicely for my birthday, some of my students even treated me well before and after that. With a few exceptions, in a class including some fourth-graders and some fifth-graders, I don’t teach fifth grade. I teach all of fourth grade. So the fourth-grade students I taught last year, for the most part, don’t have me as a teacher this year. A few weeks ago, while erasing the whiteboard at the end of a class, some of the fifth graders came into the classroom for their next English class with another teacher. One of the students groaned, “Teacherrr.” The tone suggested that he wants me for a teacher again. And he said as much, too. “Teacher, I like you. Come back.” Or something like that. Perhaps he doesn’t really think I’m a good teacher, but maybe in comparison to his new teacher, or his harder curriculum, he has fond memories.

And it’s not just him. I went into that classroom to retrieve my materials before a class started one day and some of the students said, “Teacher, come back!” I don’t think it’s the whole class at all, and again, maybe it’s because of the new subject (fifth-graders exchange their science class for social studies, but the books we have for “social studies” class are more like language arts books*) or a stricter teacher, but such things make me feel good anyway.

And now for those other things.

만두

Almost every civilization has some sort of dumpling. In Korea, it’s called 만두, or mandu [mahn-doo]. Everyone loves mandu. I love mandu, Ashley loves mandu, we all love mandu. The problem is that all mandu available at the store includes pork, which Ashley and I don’t like to eat. I remember how upset Ashley was when I learned the word for pork (돼지고기) and saw that the package of mandu in our freezer had that word on it. I went to the store and looked on various packages of mandu to find one without 돼지고기 in its ingredients. After I learned more Korean, I asked a store worker if there were any porkless mandu available. The answer was no.

This means we have two ways of eating mandu. One is to go to the noodle house in town, owned by a Seventh-day Adventist, which serves delicious pheasant mandu (and delicious cold noodles, one of my favorites). The other is to make our own mandu. So we learned how.

A couple of weeks ago some of the English teachers at my school organically decided to have a Korean-themed potluck-style dinner party. I thought that 참치찌개 (tuna kimchi stew) or mandu would be a good choice for us to make, but one of our friends, because of her love for cows, doesn’t eat beef. So I considered some kind of meatless mandu and found a good recipe for cheese mandu on YouTube. I’m pretty sure cheese mandu is a Westernization. But oh, is it a delicious Westernization.

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We made three big plates of it. That red stuff on the left is 떡볶이 (ddeokbokki), a somewhat spicy kind of chewy rice cake snack. The green bottle on the right is Milkis, a delicious milk soda. So it wasn’t exactly the healthiest of dinner parties.

We had a lot of fun making mandu with our friends. In fact, the next week we went to the store and bought more ingredients to make some, and we made a massive batch. So massive that we couldn’t even fry them all, but put them in bags and into the freezer for later cooking (which was the plan anyway).

Everyone in town must have decided to make mandu that weekend, because when we went to the store to get some 만두피 (mandu skins), there were only five packages left. We only used three or four, but we thought we would make more and bought all five. The next day I told my students that I made mandu and one of them said, “Teacher, did you buy at 농협 mart?” I said that I did. Had she seen me there and I didn’t say hello? My student sighed and said that she and her friend went to the store to find mandu skins, but there were none, and they went to another store, and another store, and another store, and they were all gone. And apparently at the store we went to, the clerk told her that some foreigners took the rest of the mandu skins. Uh-oh, did she think we cleared the whole town of 만두피? I said that there were only a handful of packages left when we got to the store, and that seemed to make her feel a bit better. I asked her the next day if she could find 만두피 yet and she said that Harmony Mart had some (which I thought it would, because Harmony Mart is one of the biggest supermarkets in town and she hadn’t mentioned it in her list of 만두피-less stores).

좀비

Ashley was teaching a class about the word “please.” The students had to make posters with “Please” or “Please don’t.” Of course they made things like, “Please don’t shout” and “Please don’t jump.” But here’s my favorite:

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Seriously, knock it off.

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*When we were considering different textbooks for a few of the classes this year, those of us who teach “social studies” (I don’t) lamented that the books were language arts books and that we couldn’t find any good social studies books. After we cemented all of the decisions and had made the orders, we discovered an actual social studies book, a sample copy, in one of the Korean teacher’s classrooms. It must have been sent to the wrong room and the teacher didn’t know what to do with it. Teacher Heather was quite sad when she saw that book. We looked through it and it looks awesome. And I think it’s part of a series, so there are books for each grade level. Perhaps next year there will actually be social studies at our school.

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A Few Days of Seoul

I would like to thank my Father in Heaven for some of the best days I’ve had in Korea this year. I am still elated by the joy I felt the first half of this week in Seoul.

Last week was the final week of the 2012 school year at our school. Next week and the week after we’ll go in to work in order to prepare for the 2013 school year, which will start the following week (March 4). But this week that is about to end we were given off as an unexpected and additional bonus to the three-week vacation we had at the end of December.

Ashley and I spent the first part of the week in Seoul. We met our friend Kristina on Sunday morning at COEX, which is a large underground shopping mall in the Gangnam district of Seoul (that famous district from PSY’s song “Gangnam Style”). We would have liked to hang out with both Kristina and Rodrigo, but Rodrigo is Korean, and Sunday was 설날 (Seollal, or Lunar New Year). Seollal and the harvest festival, Chuseok (추석), are the two most important holidays in Korea. They are observed for three days (the day of and the two days surrounding it), and everyone goes to spend these days with their families (or their husbands’ families). Therefore, Rodrigo was not available.

So we spent the day with Kristina at COEX. We’d been there once before, just to walk around and to eat dinner at the food court. We were there late in the evening on Christmas Day (the night before boarding a plane to Chicago), so the place was rather crowded and some places were closed (the aquarium, for example). This Sunday, though, the place was rather empty when we first arrived. We arrived in the later part of the morning, for one, and most people were still with their families. That would change later in the afternoon, though, because Korean holiday traditions and rituals are morning activities. In the afternoon and especially in the evenings, people will go out.

All three of us had eaten just before coming to Seoul, so we weren’t hungry, but we made a plan. We asked each other what we had wanted to eat, and Kristina suddenly said that she felt a craving for Mexican food. It was perfect. We hadn’t thought of it ourselves, but one of the places that had been crowded the last time we visited COEX was a Mexican restaurant called On the Border. Last time, we were told the wait would be around two hours.

So knowing that COEX had a Mexican restaurant and suspecting, by all appearances of the partial menu posted outside and the number of people (including foreigners) eating at this restaurant, that the food was worthy, we jumped at the idea. We told Kristina that we knew just the place. But as I said already, we weren’t ready to eat. Not yet.

So we walked around COEX awhile and then decided to check out the aquarium, which had been closed last time. There were quite a few families here, of course, because of the holiday, and also because aquariums are good places to take your children. If I end up back in Korea for some reason or other when I have children a few to several years old, I would like to take them to COEX Aquarium.

The aquarium looks small. There is an entrance and next to it you can see the exit. It’s among dozens of other establishments in the mall, so you don’t really expect it to have much. So we went up and saw that an adult ticket cost ₩19,500 (or, according to current currency conversion calculations, close to $18), which almost made me hesitant, considering the apparent size of the attraction. But we went and were delighted to find that foreigners get a discount. After looking it up, I found that international visitors received a 30% discount for the first 11 days of February in celebration of Seollal. So yay Seollal!

Then we were further delighted to find that the aquarium wove in and out and round and about and betwixt and between and in places unseen from outside. We spent a couple of hours looking at the various sea creatures in the aquarium. The animals were truly beautiful, and I just loved one section of the aquarium that turned various non-aquarium items into aquarium items. There was a telephone booth filled with water and goldfish. There was a post office box with fish. There were lamp posts and washing machines filled with water and sea creatures. There were fish tanks in the walls framed by picture frames, with paintings at the backs of the tanks, so that the fish inside were swimming in paintings. There was a harp-shaped fish tank with strings made of light, which made sounds whenever the fish swam through and broke the paths of light (an awesome concept, even if the resultant “music” is not so inspiring).

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Ashley looking at a manatee. Those things are so cool.

By the time we got out of the aquarium, it was well time for lunch. We went straight for On the Border. We only had to wait fifteen minutes. We sat down and were overwhelmed by the menu. What to do? There were so many delicious things. There were enchiladas, empanadas, tacos, fajitas, salads, and oh so many more. For me, I had but one solution, the final page of the menu which informed me that I could create my own combo of two, three, or four items.

So Ashley ordered a steak fajita salad. Kristina ordered a plate of enchiladas. I ordered a combo: a chicken empanada, a cheese and onion enchilada, a beef enchilada, and a chicken taco. It came with rice and refried beans (you can’t get them in Korea). We also ordered guacamole and some stuffed peppers as an appetizer. Those stuffed peppers…that empanada…those beans and the cheese enchilada…I nearly cried with joy. I’m serious. Ashley asked me if I was about to cry. The only disappointments were the guacamole (not so well seasoned, but other expats assure us to next time try the “Guacamole Live”) and the beef enchilada (a bit dry, but I’ve had dry enchiladas in the States, too).

Thus began a very food-centered mini-vacation. Our lunch was late and very filling, so we didn’t eat much for supper (other than a few “mooncakes” and some drinks at a coffee/tea shop in the evening). But for the following days, we indulged. On Monday we ate at Richard Copycat’s All-American Diner, a place we had visited once before in foreigner-heavy Itaewon. Ashley got a garlic butter steak. I ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. It was nothing short of delicious. For supper we tried Kervan, a traditional Turkish food restaurant, also in Itaewon. Ashley ordered lamb kebabs and I ate Turkish lamb chops. We had a lavash (balloon-like bread) with some hummus, which was amazing, and I braved to try ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink. Nothing disappointed.

Am I making you hungry yet? Me, too, but I’m not finished. Various people had told us to try Butterfinger Pancakes, so we went there for a late breakfast (essentially lunch) on Tuesday. You should know that Korea doesn’t really have breakfast food. They eat rice, soup, and kimchi for breakfast, just as at most other meals. Anything you can eat for lunch or dinner can be eaten for breakfast, it seems. But Butterfinger Panckes, in almost IHOP fashion, serves breakfast from 7 am to 3 am. The menu is massive: about two feet long, one foot wide, and double-sided. There were too many options, and it was a risk that I would take too long to decide even though we asked to look at a menu while we waited for a table. No problem, though. I have a breakfast weakness. One of the first items I noticed on the menu was a corned beef hash that came with pancakes. I browsed the rest of the menu, but my mind was essentially made up. For a moment I was tempted to try something called the French Spongebath, because I like to try new things, but it didn’t come with pancakes.

When we sat down at a table and the server came to take our order, Ashley asked for an omelette, which came with pancakes. She chose honey instead of syrup, and when the server brought our food, she brought a jar of honey with one of those old-fashioned honey sticks with the beehive at the end. I was impressed. However, when I ordered the corned beef hash, the server told me that they were sold out. “That’s fair,” I thought, “and shows that the customers before me know what’s good.” This might have been a cause for panic. But I thanked God that I had a back-up dish in mind. I ordered the French Spongebath.

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The French Spongebath (after a few bites, I admit). Toasted ciabatta bread and crackers with corned beef cream sauce and three different kinds of cheese. It wasn’t corned beef hash, but it was delicious.

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I also ordered a Butterfinger Blast, seen in this picture with beautiful Ashley. It’s a vanilla shake with crushed Oreos and also a mixture of ground sweets (Oreos, Skittles, butterscotch, and Choco Crunch, according to the menu, and some nuts, according to my eyes). No Butterfinger candy bar (I think the name of the restaurant is not based on the candy), but it was…I want another one.

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Ashley’s omelette. She exercised more pre-photo restraint than I did (she but cut the omelette in half). Fortunately for me, she wasn’t hungry enough to eat it all. I got to taste everything, including those delicious pancakes.

For supper that night, we ate at a place that serves 찜닭,  or “steamed chicken.” The English translation is wholly insufficient. I encourage you to click the link to see a picture of the food to better understand what it is that we ate. This restaurant serves only 찜닭, but they make it very well. Your menu options, other than for drinks, are to choose which kind of noodles you want (thick, thin, or a mixture of both), what size plate you want (small, medium, or large, with half a chicken, a whole chicken, or a half and whole chicken), and whether you want some seasoned overcooked rice to add to the remaining sauce once the chicken is gone. We ordered a whole chicken with thick noodles and hot pepper burnt rice. It was yum yum YUM. We remarked how it was the first time we’d eaten 찜닭 since leaving Busan (when we used to even order it by phone and have it delivered to our apartment).

So our vacation was very satisfying in terms of food. When I went to Korean class Thursday evening and one of my co-workers asked how my vacation was, I said, “I ate all the delicious food.”

But food wasn’t all. As I said, we spent some time with Kristina, a friend we haven’t seen in several months. After On the Border, we walked around some more in COEX. We browsed the large bookstore in the mall and, after we tired of that, we took the subway to 몽촌토성역 (Mongchontoseong Station), which was the station nearest our hotel, so that Ashley and I could check in. After that, we walked to a nearby coffee shop and spent a few hours there simply chatting. Eventually the time came when Kristina needed to go to Gangnam Station to catch a bus back home, and so we said our farewells and Ashley and I went back to the hotel.

The next day, after eating our steak and Philly cheesesteak sandwich, we went to What the Book?, which is an English bookstore in Itaewon. Usually we browse the whole store but this time, for whatever reason, we walked in, looked straight at the used section of science fiction books, and did not leave that spot until we were finished. There was a 3+1 deal on used books, so Ashley bought three and even I chose one (I say “even” because I’m usually hesitant to buy books, having already and shamefully a few unread books in my possession).

Since we were in Itaewon, where the big size clothes stores are, I decided to try going to one to see what they were like. I also wanted to get another sweater or two. I didn’t used to be a sweater kind of person. I would wear T-shirts year round and wear a jacket or coat outside. But my parents gave me some sweaters for Christmas and I really liked them. Plus, you can’t really get away with T-shirts indoors in Korea, not when they don’t insulate their buildings the same way Americans do, or when the hallways in the schools aren’t heated.

So I went to a store that looked approachable. (In Itaewon, many men will accost you and try to sell you a custom-made suit, or sports jerseys, or whatever, because Itaewon is the place for buying custom-made suits or sports jerseys or whatever. It is the more annoying aspect of this area.) It was a nice little shop. I found some nice sweaters and bought them, and the woman who worked there was very nice. On the way out the door, I said to her, because it was the third day of the Seollal holiday, 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (“Happy new year,” or, more literally, “Please receive much happiness in the new year”). She was very touched and quite shocked at my Korean. I think that even though Koreans are often shocked if a foreigner can speak a few words of Korean, this woman was especially shocked because we were in Itaewon. The first time I visited Itaewon I had culture shock from seeing so many non-Koreans.

After this, we went to a coffee shop, where Ashley ordered a black tea drink and I ordered a mint chocolate drink. And where we also sat for a few hours reading the books we had bought at What the Book? until it was time for supper (when we ate at Kervan). After supper we went back to the hotel and continued to read. I picked a good book. I finished it at home, after we came back to 광천 (Gwangcheon), and I think it was written very well. The book easily stands on its own, but I was delighted to find out from the Internet that it’s the first book in a trilogy. Normally I avoid series (remember, I have enough books on my waiting list already), but I’m glad that later, when I feel like devoting a day to reading again, I can resume reading about these characters and find out more about the world they live in. I won’t even have to wait, because all three books are already published. Sadly, when Ashley approached the final pages of her book, which she had thought was a single-volume story, she realized that the story was not anywhere near finished. The Internet told her that book two of her trilogy will be published next month (and who knows when book three will be out).

Finally, day three of our trip. Tuesday. (Okay, we left Wednesday, but that consisted of checking out of the hotel, going to Yongsan Station to catch our train back home, and eating lunch at the station before actually boarding the train.) This was museum day. After our Butterfinger Pancakes breakfast of awesome and joy, we went to 서울시립미술관 (the Seoul Museum of Art), where we saw a special exhibit based on the works of Tim Burton, including not only props and clips and designs from his movies, but also sketches and sculptures and artwork from his personal life. In fact, 85% of the exhibit was from his personal collection of unseen artwork (according to the pamphlet). There was even a page from his high school composition class and an encouraging rejection letter from Disney after he submitted a children’s book early in his life. No pictures allowed, of course, but here’s one of Ashley outside the building:

ImageThe exhibit was kind of creepy. You know what Tim Burton’s movies are like. His artwork is not much different. Some of it was, though. (And I have to say that I was surprised to learn that Burton directed Mars Attacks!, Batman, and a few other movies that seem completely different in style compared to movies like Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, or Alice in Wonderland.)

After the Seoul Museum of Art we journeyed to another area of Seoul popular with foreigners, Hongdae, to find the Trick Eye Museum. After that we ate the 찜닭. Here is now, to end this post, a series of pictures we took at the Trick Eye Museum.

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UPDATE: I somehow forgot to mention that after we went to the Trick Eye Museum, before we ate 찜닭 for dinner, Ashley and I went to 노래방  (singing room). It’s like karaoke, but you get a room for yourselves, so the only people watching you sing are your friends or co-workers, and not the entire establishment. We took turns singing, and since there were only two of us, we each sang more songs than usual (we’ve never gone by just ourselves). I started by singing “바람기억” by 나얼, which is one of my favorite Korean songs at the moment. It’s slow enough that I can actually sing along, and my score at the end was 98! I tried a few other Korean songs, with varying levels of success, until I gave up and crossed over to my native tongue. I’ll have to practice a few Korean songs before I go again. Ashley stuck to English-language songs, but she sang them, of course, with a much more beautiful voice than with the voice I used. Her only disappointment was that her selection was limited, since most songs she knows and likes to sing are hymns and gospel songs.

노래방 is a lot of fun, but usually one of us isn’t in the mood for it. On Tuesday night, we both happened to be in the mood for it, so we went. After we left, we said to each other that it was fun, that we should go more often.

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Rain & Grades

This will be just a quick update to keep the blog alive.

It’s raining here. Quite a bit. One of my coworkers, the one married to a Korean, said Korea was having its most severe drought in over a hundred years. That was less than two weeks ago. Within days we had a good rain. And we’ve had a few even better rains since. And this morning I woke up to probably the best rain ever. Any better and it probably would have been bad. I liked hearing the sound of it.

We’re working on grades now. Today the final exam grades are due. We have to have them entered on the network, but they already are there. We graded the tests quickly and even showed the results to the students. But now we have to make their report cards, which are due by 4:30 on Wednesday. It’s quite a bit of work, and I think it’s not much fun. For each class, we have thirteen total boxes of input. One box is for the exam. Another is for the combined scores of 4 quizzes throughout the semester. Ten more are for individual assessment criteria, things like “Can distinguish phonic sounds” for conversation class, and “Can explain weather and the seasons” for science. Finally we have one more box. We have to write three sentences for each student. Things like “She is a kind, friendly student,” “He has greatly improved his English speaking skills,” or “Demonstrates a need for improved social skills.” Nothing too negative, of course.

Anyway, so far I have input the 12 letter boxes for four of my six classes (the exam and quiz grades and the 10 individual assessment points are given letters, ranging from NI for Needs Improvement to E for Excellent). I haven’t yet made any of the full sentence comments in the last box. I’m not looking forward to it.

But who knows? Maybe, for some of the students (which does not necessarily mean either good or bad students), it will be fun. And after all, when they’re finished on Wednesday, we have seven more days of work. For three of those days, the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders will be on a field trip (Monday through Wednesday of the week after next). We have full classes on Thursday and then on Friday, from what I hear, we might not have any classes to teach.

Then it’ll be time to go home for a couple weeks.

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Sorry for the long interim. I suppose at times I could say that, following some blog-worthy events, we felt very tired or had been working much. At other times, though, it was either sheer laziness or neglected thought. I apologize.

So I’ll mention a few of the things we’ve been doing in the past few weeks. First, Ashley wanted to make sure I took a picture of the ramyeon (or ramen) aisle of a Korean grocery store so that you all understand how big ramyeon is in Korea.

Here’s the top shelf, where you can get the cup variety. Pour in hot water, stir it around, and you’ve got stoveless ramyeon (Ashley hates this kind in America, but it’s not bad in Korea).

And this is the rest.

There are so many varieties, and it’s very different from ramen in America. American ramen comes in flavors like beef, pork, chicken, mushroom, oriental, or creamy chicken. They cost about 20-50 cents a pack, including a small brick of noodles and a single packet of flavoring powder. Korean ramyeon usually comes in flavors based on different dishes, such as guksu (a kind of noodles one might eat in Korea), bibim noodles, yukgaejang (a kind of soup), and so on. Others might be known just for their primary taste, like “spicy” or “mild” or “seafood.” Some of them are very spicy. The cost of ramyeon in Korea is more than ramen in America, but the bricks of noodles are larger and most of them come with two packets, one containing the flavoring powder and one containing dehydrated vegetables or miniature pork meat balls (so we don’t eat that one).

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A few weeks ago our school had Sports Day. We went to work on Sunday and took Monday off, because the students’ parents had requested Sports Day be on Sunday (Sports Day is an event parents come to watch). We work at a school where parents pay money, so we went to work on Sunday. But it was okay, because Sports Day involved no classes and very little actual work for us.

Students lined up for the opening ceremony. There was a prayer and, well, it was in Korean so I’m not sure what else. But as you can see from the students in the background, it didn’t start quite yet.

The opening formalities have finished. Now the students are waiting to be split into their stations. And yes, that girl’s shirt says Andrew. They all wore shirts with the name of an apostle on the back.

Eventually, all the students were split into teams and then they went to various stations, competing against each other. To make things fair, every grade was split into two, so there wasn’t an issue of older students against younger students. Two teams, each made up of all six grade levels, broke into smaller groups, with each pair of opposing groups going to a different station. There were classic games like limbo…

…and jump rope…

…and bulls-eye games…

There were also unconventional games like “Try to eat a cracker”…

Run to the crackers, take a bite without touching it with your hands, then run back and tag another teammate. Yes, the women supervising this event did change the crackers every time a student bit one!)

…and “Yogurt drinking”…

(Yogurt in Korea is drinkable. They had to run to the table, open and drink one, throw the empty bottle in the trash bag, then run and tag another teammate.)

…and “Flip the cards”…

In the allotted time, each team tried to flip over the cards for their color. One team wanted as many blue cards as possible, while the other team wanted the cards facing white side up.

And there was one involving what I can only call a Korean version of piñata:

Here I am holding the pole.

Then the students threw hacky sack-like things at it to break the tape seal and open it up.

There was also tug-of-war. I don’t have a picture because we participated. And there was a 100-meter dash. Also no picture because we foreign teachers stood at the finish line and stamped the hands of the students to mark which place they came in. Four students ran at a time, and I had stamp #4. One girl was so upset about getting last in her group that she refused to be stamped. Her mom asked me to stamp her instead so that she could collect the prize for her daughter (4th place got a pencil, while 1st place got four pencils).

Eventually the day was over and we could go home. We were quite tired by then because it was a bright, hot, sunny day. We had also come in around 6:30 to help set up everything (two foreign teachers didn’t, though, having chosen instead to come in at the start of the competition and stay after to help dismantle everything). The results were close. I think the final scores of the two teams were about 10 points apart within the higher end of the 900 range. But even though half the students lost, it seemed that they all had fun.

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We went to Seoul the other weekend because Buddha’s Birthday, a national holiday, was on Monday. Thus we had a three-day weekend. Whenever there’s a three-day weekend, we don’t teach Sabbath school, so we went to Seoul to visit Dr. Closser and Dr. Greig, who are in the country for a month, and to meet Kristina, who came back to Korea.

It’s nothing really new. Last year we also went to Seoul to meet our former professors, and we’ve also seen Kristina in Korea. We didn’t meet with the professors until Sunday evening, as they had work on Sunday. So we spent the weekend alone. We took a Sabbath walk in Seoul’s Children’s Grand Park (which is much bigger than Busan’s Children’s Grand Park). We had purchased some foods (Korean pears, cherry tomatoes, grapes, bread) when we arrived in Seoul on Friday afternoon, so we enjoyed a little picnic on a bench in one corner of the park.

There was a zoo in the park, but it closed at a certain time and I forgot all about that while we took our break to eat (and to relax and talk thereafter). We were still able to see some birds and some of the animals which have windows in their night houses, though.

When you exit the subway station outside of the park, you see this.

Lots of beautiful birds!

People could buy bird feed to attract the birds. (This is a stranger’s hand, not mine.)

Ashley! In front of a nice little waterfall.

재미있겠다! (“That looks like fun!”)

여보와 장미 (Honey* and Roses)
*The pet name equivalent of “Honey,” rather than the food.

Look familiar?

Once dusk approached, Ashley and I went to VIPS! VIPS is a popular Korean restaurant, and we almost went when we were in Busan, but we never got around to it except for one time when there was a long wait. It’s kind of pricey, but we decided to go this time because did I mention that it weekend was our anniversary in two days? Well, it was, so we went.

And I would definitely go again. It’s probably the best buffet I’ve been to in Korea. It’s also a steakhouse, so Ashley and I ordered a steak to share. At first, when the steak came out, I was concerned. It looked hardly cooked at all. But then we realized that it was on a stone. It continued to cook, and we could take it off the stone once it reached our desired doneness. At VIPS, there was a section for making pho, or Vietnamese rice noodles. Somehow, I’ve lived my entire life without eating that. I went back for seconds. You know what else I went back for seconds to get? Salad. If I hadn’t wanted to eat the pho and some smoked salmon (okay, and some ice cream), I could have eaten nothing but that salad that evening. It was good.

Finally on Sunday we met our professors. We didn’t want to show up until we felt safe that they were back from work, so we went to Itaewon, which is probably the most popular place in Korea for foreigners. So popular, in fact, that I felt culture shock when I saw Koreans. I exaggerate, of course, but even the Koreans I saw spoke English. (It often consisted of “Sir, would you like a custom made suit? Very cheap. No? Take my card.”) We also ate lunch in Itaewon, where I had a massive cheeseburger. Look at this thing:

It was HEAVY.

Ashley’s meal was a Mexican omelette, which was also very good, except instead of pinto beans, they used 팥 (paht) beans. It’s a Korean red bean that tastes sweet. Not so good for the omelette.

And we went to a famous English bookstore called What the Book? because Ashley wanted to find a book for the book club she’s in, and also to find some books to use for her classes.

Eventually we met with the professors. We talked with them and caught up with what’s going on with us and with them and the school. And the next day we went with Dr. Closser to meet our friend Kristina (Dr. Greig stayed to do some work before heading downtown later in the day). Oh, did I mention we also met Kristina’s boyfriend? That was something different about this meet-up.

Here we are, taking a walk. (Well, minus me, as I took the photo.)

I took a few other pictures, but they aren’t so great. (I shouldn’t try to take pictures of people while they talk, or I should learn how to do it right!) It was nice to meet everyone again (and quite nice to meet Kristina’s boyfriend; I think he’s quite alright, and we plan to meet up with them again on occasion).

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Last section. I promise.

This past Wednesday was Korean Memorial Day, so we didn’t have to go to work. We went to a nearby city called Cheonan. We ate at a Western restaurant, Ashley did some shopping for clothes, and we went to Independence Hall of Korea, which is a very massive museum complex. In the picture above, Ashley is walking toward it from the parking lot where the taxi dropped us off. This broad sidewalk leads to those two pointy columns in the distance.

…Then it continues a considerable distance to that building which is also in the background.

…And once you pass that building, which is more or less a very stylized gate, you come upon a large courtyard with a semi-circle of buildings before you.

You go from one building to the next to see the history of Korea (starting in building 1), with an emphasis on the fight for independence during Korea’s subjugation under various invading forces, especially the most famous and recent invasion, the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945.

We only had a couple of hours, in order to catch our train back home, so we didn’t see even half of the buildings. But that’s okay, because we’ve already learned so much about the Japanese occupation. Although I must say I was quite impressed with the museums, inside and out.

I didn’t feel like taking too many pictures at this time, though, so I’m sorry about that. It was dimly lit in many places, and I wasn’t sure about flash photography, for one. For another, I wanted just to enjoy the museum. But here are some of the outside:

Here is that building which I call a stylized gate.

A ton of Korean flags. There were just as many on the other side of the sidewalk.

Okay, I lied. Here’s one from the inside. It’s a model of Dokdo, which is a very famous island. Actually it appears to be two islands. Anyway, people outside of Korea or Japan, I think, call them the Liancourt Rocks. In Korea, they are called Dokdo. In Japan, they are called Takeshima. Korea and Japan constantly argue which country these rocks belong to. You can’t really live on them, but I heard from one Korean that it’s not only a matter of nationalistic pride, but also because, well, if you own those rocks, you have that much more fishing space.

Well, that’s all for today. It was quite a bit. I hope that I’ll post again much sooner next time.

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Before we came back to Korea to live and work in Gwangcheon, we visited our new apartment and posted pictures of the shell of a place that we would call home. Now we live here and have settled in. We aren’t really decorators, although I think that this place is already slightly more decorated than our apartment in Busan. Anyway, now that we’ve settled in (and the apartment is clean), here is our apartment again.

First of all, the bed is bigger. That was a necessary upgrade.

In Busan, we only had that photo of the three nieces on our wall. Here, we also have Ashley’s work schedule, the calendar that came with the apartment, and the coloring page Ashley and Kaylee did together in March.

In order to get as much of the room as possible, I had to slide the wall next to the computer desk out of the way.

I think this is the first time that I moved that panel of the wall out of that spot. It was so weird.

Rice cooker and electric water kettle on the fridge. Pot of chamchi jjigae (tuna kimchi stew) on the stove.

Other side of the kitchen. We recently moved that pantry over to put the recycle bags between it and the sliding wall. Before that, they were right in front of the door and somewhat unsightly.

My bass amp is in the  outside corner of the apartment to be as far from other apartments as possible.

More of our stuff.

In case you forgot, here is our bathroom. That is indeed our shower. It’s not really that bad. It’s especially nice for when it’s time to clean the bathroom (after scrubbing, just hose everything down…everything).

Shower-toilet proximity.

We usually have a tray of cherry tomatoes on hand. They’re a good snack.

Suddenly, Ashley put up the Decalogue around our apartment door. When I saw her doing it, I smiled widely, because “You shall write [these words] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9 NASB).

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