Monday, December 28, 2009

Lucky Girl, Awesome City

I finally escaped the madness that is holidays in Gurye. Last Sunday I made the 4+hour trek to Seoul to begin my internship at the Fulbright office. Note, when I left Gurye, it was 50-degrees and sunny. When I surfaced from the subway (toting a huge bag) it was a blizzard.

Nevermind that. I was in Seoul. I moved into my apartment (located in the Fulbright building). It's beautiful. Coming from an apartment shared by 5 people to an apartment to myself was stunning. Here are some pictures.

Ah! A bed!

So, yeah. It's really nice. I just finished my first day in the office. I'm working here until January 15th. It's going to be BUSY. Wish me luck!

This is actually quite normal

This was taken at the teacher dinner after my school talent show. I post it because it really does accurately reflect what I deal with on a day to day basis. Maybe slightly extreme, but only slightly.


Biology teacher (BT): Ellie [previous female ETA from two years ago]
History teacher: mumbling my name
BT: You!
Me: Oh [you should stop now]
HT: Clarinet
Me: Clarinet?
HT: Clarinet.
Me: Did you like it
HT: No, that's not what I meant
Gym Teacher: [I have NO idea, but it's funny!]

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Merry Gurye Christmas

For 21 years, I have spent Christmas just about the same way. This Christmas was probably the most surreal Christmas I have ever had, and probably ever will have again. So, here's how it went down:

Christmas Eve
It all started at breakfast. I kept hearing my mom say "pancake." Now, there's a Korean 'pancake' made out of egg, vegetables and seafood - usually octopus and shrimp, so I was careful to keep my hopes down. When I got to the table, there were three, large, American pancakes waiting for me. And. And. A bottle of maple syrup from Canada. (don't ask.) I haven't seen syrup since the States. I almost cried out of joy.

From 2pm until 7:30 pm was our school talent show. There's a whole other post about the talent show, for it was quite an event. I was positively elated the whole time to see my students (1) not in uniforms and (2) doing something they actually enjoy. At the end of the talent show, they called me up to the stage and gave me my Christmas gift - (take a guess) a huge jar of honey. This one was bigger than the one I got from the marathon. And it was in an expensive celadon jar. I have now stuffed both host families full of honey.

After the talent show, the teachers went out for dinner. Since the school year is over, it was kind of our last hurrah together. I was really sad to say goodbye to my favorite co-teacher, Ms. Seo. She is transferring to another school next year. The next semester looks bleak.

From left to right: Ms. Seo, Mr. Jeong (AKA: hot chemistry teacher), Mr. Lee (physics), ?? father of a student, and Mr. History Teacher.

After dinner, I walked to meet my host parents, their Mongolian friends and some other friends at a bar. Along the way, I came across a quintet saxophone group playing Christmas music by the city Christmas tree. Had it been snowing, rather than 50-degrees, I would have thought I was home.

At the bar, my parents' friend bought a Christmas cake, so we had cake. They wanted me to sing a "traditional American Christmas song" before they blew out the candles. (I think they think that, whenever Americans have cake, we have to sing and blow out candles, no matter the occasion) Not really knowing what to do, I sang a shortened version of "We wish you a Merry Christmas" while they clapped and bounced. Nothing like a 'traditional American' Christmas cake ceremony.
Jaejin Pa + Ahn Oh-nee (Father and Mother)

Some Mongolian man... And Cake!

You-sung: The cutest 5-year ever
(son of good family friends, so we see a lot of him)

We slept in and had tofu kimchi for breakfast (one of my favorite Korean dishes). Family Kong - my first host family - picked me up around 11 to go to Suncheon for our last lunch. However, before going to lunch, we stopped at a light fixture store to buy lighting for their new apartment. Why did they bring me? Well, because I have blond hair, blue eyes, an all-American smile and an arsenal of cute Korean phrases sprinkled with a slight foreign accent. I earned them a $70 discount on a bill of $600. It was the least I could do. Merry Christmas. *^^*

We had lunch at Mr. Pizza - a Korean Pizza Hut-like place - before saying our goodbyes. My heart almost broke when, as I was leaving the car, Oh-chahn said, "Oh, Amy. My very sad," ran his finger in a tear-like fashion down his face, and then, without further ado, returned to his video game. That's my Oh-chahn.

I met up with Scott and Jason in Suncheon, where we hung out and went to see Avatar in 3D. I love movies because they make me forget that I'm halfway around the world. The movie was fantastic, by the way. Especially in 3D. Before booking it back to Gurye, we had dinner at an "Italian" restaurant. Never mind that they didn't have bread or wine or salad dressing. Or that I ate a rice dish. It was all good in our book. Back in Gurye we went to Noraebang (the Karaokee room) where we sang the night away. It was probably the last time I'll see Jason. In Korea, that is.

So that was my Christmas. Kind of different. Christmas is just so different here. It's more like Valentine's Day. It's a day where couples spend the entire day together, dressed up in the same clothes. Yep. Couples outfits.

So, while visions of sugar plums were dancing in your heads, I was fighting back the urge to laugh at every couple I saw, eating rice at an Italian restaurant and singing the night away. Merry Christmas, thanks for reading and I miss you all!

School Talent Show

Here are a few videos from the school talent show. It was a blast; my students are so talented (and adorable).

The end of one of my first grade classes. They are dancing to "Hot Issue" by 4Minute. The one in the middle wearing yellow tights is a dude, so the school went a little nuts when they saw him in a skirt and Minnie Mouse ears.

The "cool" clique of 1st grade boys performing a comedy act. (Reminder, 1st grade = sophomore in high school) This is absolutely ridiculous. Actually, the kid singing is a very talented singer. The one in the leotard (yeah, leotard) is one of my nicest students.

Watch the beginning again. The singer throws the flower out into the audience. What you don't see is that the judging panel (Principal, Vice Principal and 2 non-school guests) are sitting right there. Imagine. This prankster student throwing a flower that hits the stoic, frowning face of the principal, right before a lewd comedy act. Takes guts, I guess.

The "cool" 2nd grade boys dancing to "Heartbeat" by SHINee. One of the members of the actual band, SHINee, wears a pony tail on the top of his head...hence the recreation here.

My band - Elysian - performing "Last Christmas." The school thought that the John Deere sweatshirts were festive (because of the reindeer), so that's why we had those. Everyone's 2nd grade except the guitar on the right and the drummer. Oh. And me.

For those of you that know Megan, yes. I stole her screen name for the band name. One day, the band leaders begged me to name their band. They wanted a name that meant "free" (like a prisoner out of prison. that's what they said. I do not lie), and for some reason, elysian just popped into my head. So, elysian doesn't exactly mean "free," but they liked the idea of using a Greek word that not even the English teachers knew what it meant.

This took place on Christmas Eve, so, yeah. I'll let you continue on to the next post for more details on that fun night. ^^

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Address

Amy Benes
봉동리 289-1
혜미원 4 층
전남 구례군 구례읍

I don't have an English translation, but I would suspect that it is something like:

Amy Benes
Bongtong-ri 289-1
Hyeme-won 4 cheong
Guyre-eup Guyre-gun, Jeollonam-do

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My New Crib

Sorry for the delay in posts. I have been really busy preparing to move. I said my goodbyes to the Kong family. I was surprised, I was actually much more sad than I expected to be. It just kind of hit me, at the end, how much they were my protectors until this point in time. And being without them while not really knowing my new family made me feel a little alone.

My co-teacher recruited two of my smallest male students to help with the move. Somehow these tiny freshman were stuck lugging 50-pound bags up 4 flights of stairs. My new family, the Ahn family, is much different. On paper, I have a mom, dad and two brothers (ages 11 and 14). But Father Ahn is a CEO of some company in Mongolia, so he's only home December through half of March. Mother Ahn is an after-school tutor for elementary students. The 11-year old, Jae Gyeong (or Tyler), is in 4th grade but so was Oh-chahn. But Jae Gyeong looks like he could snap Oh-chahn in two just by looking at him. The 14-year old, Jae Jin, attends middle school in Gwangju - an hour and a half away. He commutes by bus there and back every day.

The apartment is much bigger, my room is easily twice as big, but there is not a single piece of sitting furniture in the house. No chairs, no couches, no beds.

My new room, including my sleeping mat - called a Yo.

I think it's funny that the house has two desks but no chairs. Still working on that one. In a very strange way, I kind of like the yo. It's like swank camping. The floors are heated (pretty standard in the Korean house), so curling up on the floor after a long, cold day is actually quite nice. I'm even getting use to the bean pillow (pillow stuffed with beans, not cotton/feathers).

Mother Ahn understands a lot of English (still working on the speaking part), so that's helpful. My new bros are at pretty high levels for their ages. They're actually really good for me, in terms of learning Korean. And Father Ahn...well, gosh. Half the time I'm not sure if he's talking in Korea, Mongolian, English or a mix.

The Ahn family is very vegetarian friendly. I've already had a heart-shaped fried egg at each meal. That's another thing. Since Mother Ahn works nights, dinner is on my own. I can either eat at school, eat out or make something at home. But she cooks a wonderful breakfast. Today's breakfast was French toast, my heart-egg, milk and, of course, mini-pecan quiche-looking pastries. Breakfast of champions. :)

My first night with my family, Mother Ahn took the earlier part of the night off to cook a first meal. While waiting for dinner, I busted out the Obama cards (it worked with my last 4th grade host-brother) and played a game of War. It was pretty quiet, pretty relaxed. Then the door opened and in came the cutest 5-year old in the world, complete with an animal hat (see picture) and fingerless gloves. He stared at me out of the biggest, brownest eyes I'd ever seen and flashed a toothless grin at me (he recently, and very proudly, lost he two front teeth).
Kristin - my real sister - in the animal hat I sent her for Christmas

The toddler was flanked by his parents (maybe family relations, maybe family friends, maybe mom's clients...lost in the translation). He joined our next war game. Mid-way through came in Father Ahn flanked by two Mongolian men. I paused from our war game and just absorbed the scene. What are the odds that I would end up in a small mountain farm village in South Korea with a host family, complete strangers and two Mongolian men? Never write off the impossible, I suppose.

Despite the chaos, it was very fun. Especially handling dinner for 10 around a 3ft long, 3ft wide, 1ft high table. It felt really good to be eating within inches of my new host brother. (literally, sometimes his mouth was an inch from my face) It felt like I was just accepted; I was one with the family. Safe, close, one. Hm. Maybe I'm becoming more Korean than I thought possible.

My wardrobe is coming tomorrow (apparently the one I used at the Kong's was owned by the school), so right now I'm still living out of my suitcases. That's a bummer, but we gotta take some bad with the good, right? I'm just very thankful to be in with a completely different, fun family, closer to school and actually living on Gurye's main "fun" street (complete with the grocery store, bus terminal, billiards hall, PC Room (a room with a lot of computers you can pay to use) and a handful of restaurants).

Very busy next couple of days. Tomorrow is dress rehearsal for my school talent show. I was somehow recruited into a student rock band. Me, on my clarinet, playing a Christmas pop song with two electric guitars, a drum set, keyboard and vocalist. Lordy. I am also playing a solo on my clarinet. The show is on Christmas Eve. Wish me luck! Christmas Eve me, the Mongolians, Father Ahn and some family friends are doing something. Once again, lost in the translation. Christmas will hopefully be with my Gurye friends. We'll see. Anyways, that's what's new with me. Thanks for taking time from the busy holidays to read!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Beijing Post

So I made it safely and happily to and from Beijing. The trip was a blast! It was enough to feel like I got away (6 days of traveling, 4.5 days actually in Beijing) but we were glad to arrive back on Korean soil when we did.

Because there is so much, I'm just going to summarize what we did by day.

5:20 a.m. bus from Gwangju to the airport
1:15 p.m. local time, we arrived in Beijing
That afternoon: We went to the Beijing zoo and saw the pandas! After the zoo, we made our way to the Olympic stadiums (water cube and bird's nest). Rachael and I were in awe of the smog. The weather forecast said clear skies, but because of the smog we could barely see the sun. It was really depressing. The weather was between 28 and 35 degrees. By the time we made it to Olympic park, it was night. The cube and nest were really cool at night.

7:00 a.m. Wake-up, get dressed, eat breakfast and go! The weather was slightly warmer than Wednesday, but still smoggy. Even though we did really tourist-y stuff, we didn't have to fight too many crowds. Most of the tourists we ran into were poor, rural Chinese farmers from the west/southwest of the country.
-Tienanmen: Tienanmen sits in front of the Forbidden city and next to China's People's Hall (similar to Capitol Hill). It is the largest "square" in the world. In the middle of the square is a memorial building for Chairmen Mao, the man that first introduced communism and the current political structure of today's China. Inside the memorial is Mao's preserved body. So we all saw his body. Pretty cool, huh?
-Forbidden City: The Forbidden City - across the street from Tienanmen - was once where Emperors and their families (and mistresses) lived. During this time, commoners were forbidden to even approach the 10-meter-tall walls. The full city only opened up to the public during the early 1900's.
-Temple of Heaven: This was pretty cool. The emperor used this temple to talk to God. Since the emperor was considered to be, essentially, a God, this was where he telephoned the big guy. Inside is a large, 3-story pagoda called the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This is the largest surviving wooden structure in China and was built without nails. In this hall, the emperor talked to God. Hall is surrounded by other smaller structures and a very extensive garden.
-Pearl Market: huge indoor shopping mall selling the normal fake stuff as well as deeply discounted pearls.
-Chinese Acrobats: we went and saw a semi-professional Chinese acrobat show. I saw semi-professional because they were to join the professional league next year. They were still outstanding. Walking on tight ropes, throwing each other across the stage and doing some incredible tricks with umbrellas, Chinese yo-yo's and bikes. It was awesome.

-The Great Wall: The hostel we stayed at offered a tour of the Wall. It is a 3-hour drive to the Wall. So, at 6:30, we loaded the bus with about 10 other tourists. We hiked the great wall for 4.5-5 hours and then returned home at around 5:30-6pm. It was incredible! For the first hour, farmers that live near the wall followed us along the wall, try to sell us post cards and other stuff. It was annoying, so we were glad when they left. At the end of our Wall trail, we have to walk 25 minutes to the bus...or, ZIP-LINE! So, we zip-lined from the great wall to a spot about 5 minutes from the bus. It was awesome.

7:30 a.m. breakfast/leave
-Summer Palace: The summer palace was built on the outskirts of Beijing as a place for the royal family to go during the hot months. The palace is located around 2 lakes and has very thick groves of trees for shade. There are three main areas of the palace: (1) the Buddhist temple that overlooks Beijing (2) Impress Cixi's (the most influential - and last - leader of China. Probably one of the most powerful women in world history) birthday village (yep, a private village for her birthday parties) and (3) some buildings on an island. I forget why it's important, but it was.
-Silk Market: huge indoor shopping mall, larger than the Pearl Market, selling the normal fake stuff, but specializing in silk products.
-Food Night Market: This is where you can eat anything fried and on a stick. Every insect, animal and sea creature you could imagine. I partook in eating a baby scorpion. I'll stick to being vegetarian, thank you very much. The video proof is on Facebook under "Videos of Me."

5:30 a.m. depart for the airport
6:30 p.m. arrived safely back in Gurye to eat, relax and unpack. Pff. What a trip!

So, overall, the trip was awesome. The hostel we stayed at - China Backpackers - was outstanding. It was clean, they gave us breakfast, spoke fluent English and were ready and willing to help us out (no matter how disorganized and crazy our requests were). If you ever go to Beijing, check out!

For pictures, check out my Facebook page as well as Rachael's. You can access her trip photo album by clicking on pictures of me, finding one Rachael uploaded and then clicking on the album from which the picture came. She also posted some great videos. Thanks, Rachael!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas in Gurye!

Sunday's in Gurye. Think about a sleep 1950's farming town in rural Iowa. Except minus the church obsession. People stay in. Businesses are closed. The stoplight operates on reduced hours.

Sunday's in Gurye are beyond boring. The first couple were really tough for me, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. I sleep in, go running, sit through 90 minutes of church where I practice Korean and write to-do lists. Honestly, I only go to church just for a change of scenery. My family either goes to church with their friends or go hiking. Whatever suits their mood. But that's all done by 12:30. Then, from 12:30 until bed time, they watch TV. I can only handle so much Korean TV before I start feeling a bit loopy. So, here I am. Counting down the hours until I can go to bed. I decided to get up and stretch my legs and noticed, to my utter excitement, that the church I go to, which is right outside my apartment, had Christmas lights up!

Christmas lights on the church roof
(Picture taken from balcony)

Sorry for the poor-quality. I figure this way you can see my room, too (reflection). So, yeah. That brightened my quiet Sunday. I'll definitely document any other Christmas decorations.

Now, some pictures from Seoul last weekend. Enjoy!

Road outside the Korean "White House" (called the Blue House)

Friends and me after a visit to Forever 21
The guy pictured...his parents are presidents of F21-Asia. He was also our orientation counselor. Now we're great friends. Especially because he gives us a 10% discount. :)

Opposite of the previous picture. Looking down into the throngs of people in Seoul's main shopping district.

I guess I should probably divulge more on my home stay situation. I don't really know much other than my family is moving on December 27th (Monday after Christmas). I start my internship on the 27th, so that works, I guess. They don't want to tell my brothers until after the older one's birthday (December 14), so it's been kind of hard to just pretend that things are fine.

Fulbright is not involved in the home stay stuff; that's left to the school. So my co-teacher, principal, vice principal and financial officer are upturning Gurye in search of another family. That seems easier said than done. My town is so poor that there are very few families that have the room to spare for me. Especially on such short notice. My Fulbright contract requires them to provide me with my own room, bed and dresser. Luxuries. So, as of now, I have no idea where I'm going to be. I pray pray pray that they'll find something. There's a lot more messy drama behind that, but that's the short of it all. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Nothing I can do by worrying about it.

So Tuesday night I begin my adventure to China with another Fulbright, Rachael. We're going to spend four days in Beijing (Wednesday morning-Sunday morning). I'm so excited! So, yeah. This will probably be the last post for a while. Also, my phone will not work in China, so you won't be able to call.

Believe me, it's so liberating to be out of reach.

I'm secretly hoping that I can find Oreos and M&Ms in China. Or, dare I even think to dream, granola bars. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading, and happy Sunday.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Address update


My host father got a job transfer to another city about 2 hours away, so it looks like I will be changing families. As of now, my school does not have another family lined up, so I don't know the new address.

But if you are planning to send something (not meaning to sound presumptuous) do so before December 14th. After that date, I'm not sure where I'll be. My current address is still

Amy Benes
Myeong-gi Apartment 101-607 Baengyeon-ri 575
Gurye-eup Gurye-gun, Jeollanam-do

Okay, that's all for now.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Man in the Subway

For Thanksgiving, all Fulbright ETAs were invited to have (American) thanksgiving dinner at the U.S. embassy. So, most of us, from all parts of Korea, packed our bags and met up for dinner.

I'm still trying to decide if the dinner was the best thing in my life or the worst. The food was excellent. Real vegetarian stuffing, green bean casserole, salad, fruit, bread (with real butter) and pumpkin, apple and cherry pies. For the meat-eaters, there was also real turkey and ham. I've never seen so many happy people in one room before.

On the bad side, it made me realize how much I wish I was home. But, what can you do? This is my home. This is my family. You can't spend your life wishing for something else. That just makes you sad.

Anyways. It was great to be united, once again. After dinner on Friday, we mostly hung out at the hostel, just catching up. Saturday morning I had a meeting for a winter camp my school will participate in, followed by lunch. After lunch I met up with one of my non-Fulbright friends from Gurye who happened to be in Seoul as well. The rest of Saturday was shopping.

After my friend went back to Gurye, I decided to catch back up with my Fulbright friends (to continue shopping...ugh. I'm SICK of shopping!) Transportation in Seoul is amazing. It has probably the best subway system I've ever been on. But it's also the primary means of transportation for most people, so it's always packed. Especially on Saturdays. Especially around Myeong-dong - the center of the shopping part of Seoul, which, of course, was where my friends were.

So I made my way to the nearest subway station, figured out where to go (happily, I didn't have to make any transfers!) and climbed on the next train that pulled up. It was packed, being only three stops away from Myeong-dong. I made my way onto the train car, gently pushing past people to allow the stream of people behind me to fit in. When I came to a point where I couldn't squeeze in anymore, I turned around to brace for the car's movement. Next to me, packed just as tightly, was a man towering at least four-and-a-half feet tall and not a day younger than 75, peering at me under his orange golfing hat through eye slits sunken into a wrinkly face.

Living in a very rural place, I see the best of the best when it comes to old people. And I'm pretty good at telling which of the oldies are harmlessly old and which are mentally unstable. This character had all the makings of a crazy, but his eyes were pretty alert. So I assumed that he was just another old man. Probably wondering why there are so many of these weird looking people in his city.

He didn't break his stare, which made me kind of uncomfortable (perhaps a tad irritated). So I did the only thing that I know how to do when it comes to strange people. I flashed him a little half smile and head bow. And then he did something surprising.

He somehow got even closer to me, reached into his pocket and took out a little scrap of hanji paper (brightly patterned paper with a little rougher consistency than normal paper) and started folding. By the next stop, he placed the smallest origami turtle in my hand. Completely shocked, I muttered my thank-you's and my beautiful's as I studied the turtle.

Now a few people were turned toward us (I mean, seriously, a foreigner just spoke their language!).

Delighted, the man reached, yet again, into his pocket and took out another scrap of hanji paper. With great care, he started folding. All eyes in the car were on this little man folding little paper for this single American. He then produced a tiny origami flower and placed it in my hand. I did my best to express my interest, gratitude, etc. But we came to my stop. I told my little friend that this is where we must part.

Well, back to reality. It's a crowded train (of which I was in the middle) and there's only a small amount of time that the doors open at each stop. My little origami friend moved for me, but the boys next to him did not. To make matters worse, another group of boys were pushing to get out, causing my exit route to be even more blocked. As I was getting nervous about getting out, my origami friend pushed past me and, with a deceptively strong arm, pushed both the standing boys and the fast-exiting boys out of the way, making a very clear way for me.

What can you do? Do you get down on your knees and bow? Do you stand there thanking the guy? Or do you just walk out? Here was this little man, who probably remembers a Seoul without the subway and remembers a time when there was a Seoul without the foreigners. How much has this man seen? He also probably remembers a time when young people were deeply respectful to the elderly rather than now, where most young people ignore them.

And here he was. Entertaining a foreigner who tossed him a smile. And making sure she didn't get lost in this huge city.

So what can I do? I started toward the door and gave him a little wave as I walked away (and gave a head-nod of acknowledgement toward the surprised boys). Still holding my turtle and flower in my open hand and feeling a renewed sense of faith in the world.

Even though I was in Seoul for three days, that's still the first thing I think about the trip. I'll try to post some pictures later. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The School Magazine

The school magazine came out today. There was an article about my life in Gurye (it was really cute) and a picture of me next to the top English student (senior who I do not teach). So that was kind of a nice little memento.

But, what really caught my eye was this comic activity. It had me laughing the entire afternoon. Every activity for baby is just hilarious. Hope you enjoy it, too!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Last Saturday! I can't believe I forgot!

I was so exhausted from the Suncheon half marathon update that I completely forgot to tell you about my Saturday! A week before Saturday, Oh-nee said that her and "her family" were going to take a tour around Gurye and that I was to invite my Gurye English teacher friends. Not really knowing more than that, I invited my buddies. The brave souls, Scott and Jason, agreed to do this tour. Honestly, we were all a little confused as to how someone could spend an entire day touring Gurye. And Scott's been here three years, so he was especially interested.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting my mom's family I met at Chuseok to come in, all of us to pile into a bus and go to temples and stuff. Maybe some light hiking.

Well, I climbed onto the bus Saturday morning and found it stuffed to the brim with elementary school kids, seven miserable-looking parents and my two fellow Americans looking unsure. Oh goodness.

Even after everything's said and done, I'm not exactly sure what the event was. It reminded me of my days in girl scouts when we went on some tour to earn a badge. But, obviously, there were boys there.

The day was actually really good for me. We went to Hwaeomsa, the largest/oldest Buddhist establishment in Korea (at the base of Jiri mountain), to a bear conservation center and a sea otter learning center. Since Scott's been to all those places, he explained things to me that my family never could. And Jason's a history teacher in the states, so he filled us in on the history sections. We were a dynamic team, we were.

Scott at Hwaeomsa Welcome Center
(Children? What children?)

Jason putting on a brave face at the welcome center
(Most of the kids were his students)

There's something I should probably tell you about Korea. Most wildlife - from the very little that was there to begin with - has been killed off between wars, population growth and industrialization. Now, Koreans are fascinated with anything that moves in the wild. Anything. You should have seen my co-teachers when we walked around Jiri mountain; they spent five minutes (honestly, 5 minutes) watching a chipmunk. (I gave up after 2 minutes)

So, as part of their wilderness conservation, they have been trying to reintroduce Korean black bears to Jiri mountain. Hence the bear conservation center. The center houses one bear that failed to be released in the mountains (she figured out that people feed her, so, of course, she just hung around people). It was cute to see the kids so excited over a bear in a small enclosure. It also made me wish I could pick them up and plant them in Brookfield Zoo. I'm pretty sure they'd never leave.

The otter education center is the same idea. There's an education center and an observation center. So, we didn't see any actual otters at the education center. We just listened to some guy talk about otters. By this point in the day, Jason was done. I mean, it was like another day at work for him; all the same students doing all the same things. So he was re-grouping outside while Scott and I pretended to (a) be interested in and (b) understand the man speaking in Korean about otters.

Well, next thing you know, the guide is passing out this dirt-like stuff and having the kids say "Dong." I haven't lived with two elementary school brothers for three months to not know what dong is. It's poop. So, when the guy handed a dirt clump to me, I buried my hands deep in my pocket and shook my head. But Scott wasn't so quick-moving with his hands. Next thing you know, he's holding petrified otter poop. With a forced smile plastered across his face.

Scott holding petrified poop

Needless to say, Scott was very thankful for my hand sanitizer. And Jason was the happiest person in the world to have missed that part of the educational seminar.

We ended the day by dying handkerchiefs in a special dye found in the mud around Jiri mountain. Yeah. 30 elementary school kids playing with orange dye around their English teachers. We were all a little nervous but came out unblemished.

By the end of the day, we were happy to see the end of the tour. But, while Scott and Jason went back to their quiet apartments, I returned to mine with two hyper brothers, an exhausted mom and a dad who didn't participate in the day's activities.

Honestly, I would not have it any other way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Suncheon Half


Immediately, I felt a stab of irritation. Here we were at kilometer 8 out of 21, and there was, no doubt, another runner anxious to slam me with all of the English that he knew. Jeesh. But, I plastered on that good 'ol foreign ambassador smile and turned to greet my new "friend."

Friend: You America?
Me: Yes.
Friend: Ah, why you run slow?
Me [with gritted teeth, trying to keep myself from pointing out he's barely keeping up with a woman]: Race long.
Friend: Because you wear this! [as he pinched a bit of my under armor and let it slap back against my skin]
Me: No. Because I want to run slow.
Friend: Because your body... [didn't catch what he was trying to say]
Me: Yes. Very fat. [I've given up adding in the sarcasm. It never translates]
Friend: Laughs and jogs to the side to get water.

At least he only stuck around for a few minutes, I thought. How on earth did I get involved in this on a cold, windy Sunday? Well, my friends, let's start from the beginning.

7:30 a.m. I arrive at a parking lot to meet with Gurye Marathon and the other three members of the Gurye Running Club. We pile into a car and make our way south of Gurye to Suncheon. Me and one other are running the half, the remaining three are running the full. I listened to them talk about times and race logistics on the way. And then argue about where to park, etc.

8:15 a.m. I climb out of the car and come face to face with hundreds of runners. The race begins and ends at a track stadium outside of Suncheon National University. SNU students, wearing very American letter jackets, were passing out water and hand sanitizer, directing people traffic and organizing the bag drop off. As we made our way through the crowd of men slathering each other in Vaseline (that's an attractive sight in the morning), the local politician shaking hands and the speakers blasting Korean pop music, I decided that this was going to be epic.

8:40 a.m. I met Red Jumpsuit. A woman running the 10-k that has some connection with Gurye Running and/or the running club, who took me by the arm and would not let go. We spent the next 20 minutes running across the field so she could introduce me to her husband, daughter, daughter's friend, husband's friend, friend from the office and about a dozen others. At 8:59, I decided to remind Red Jumpsuit that the race was about to start.

9:02 a.m. The half marathon lines up for take-off. I'm immediately pushed to the front by running club members. As a group, we count down from 10. Then the politician rings a gong and we're off. Everyone takes off at a sprint. Except for me. I'm like a rock when I run. I know exactly how fast I need to go. And so I went at my own pace as people dressed in shorts, racing tank tops and throw-away gloves zoomed around me. It was cold and the wind had a bite, so I was in under armor, shorts, top and gloves. I may as well have been in a snow suit.

The course was pleasantly flat, but rather dull. It was entirely on a closed highway through the country. I live in Gurye. I've seen enough farm fields and mountains to last a lifetime. But the water stations were well placed, and the SNU volunteers at these water stations screamed at the top of their lungs as we passed, so that was good. Of course, I had many awkward conversations along the way. One man from the running club was trying to get me to go faster. I politely told him "Goodbye" and played the stupid card.

But then I found my running angel. It's weird, but every major race I've ran, it seems that I find someone, somehow, who runs just a tad faster than me, who always shows up right before I start feeling defeated. And somehow, this someone, pushes me throughout the rest of the race. And even though we cross the finish at the same time, they're not to be found after the race. I'm not going to go into the whole fate/religion thing; let's just call it magic. By magic, I met White Hat just before the halfway/turn-around point.

White Hat didn't say much. Just the occasional straight/right/left ahead stuff. He even let me draft a bit. As I was turning around (at the halfway point, you just, literally, went through a chip timer and turned around), White Hat grabbed my arm and said, "Wait." as a race volunteer gave me a brown hair tie. "Uh, thanks." Not sure what to do with it (because my hair tie was working beautifully) I slipped it on my wrist. Maybe it's a little bonus for being in the top 10 women at the halfway point.

With the help of White Hat, my last half of the race was fast. Eventually we caught up to another woman. With my eyes locked on her broad back, I muttered 여자 (woman). White Hat understood. We crept up behind her and then blasted past. But the woman was a fighter and fought back, re-passing me. Then, in a very stealthy way, White Hat put his hand out and said, "Wait." We stalked her. Me, completely exhausted from the fast pace, started to falter. But White Hat would have none of that.

I think it was the fact that he was sacrificing his time for me that did it. For sure, he could have taken off, leaving me to finish the last 2km by myself. But he didn't. So, somehow, somewhere I found some more energy and tried desperately to hold on. Eyes still locked on Broad Back.

The race finish was back in the stadium. We had to run about 2/3's of a lap. Broad Back, with her coach next to her, sensed the danger in my position. (Taking people from behind is a lot easier than holding leads) He did a call-response thing (Coach: "Ya" Broad Back: "Geun"). Ya - Geun, Ya - Geun. Back and forth. Jeesh. This was getting ridiculous. If it's that important, you can have it.

But, at that moment, White Hat said, "Go." And Red Jumpsuit hopped out of the crowd and was urging me on. I couldn't let White Hat's time sacrifice be in vain! Somewhere, somehow, I found a gap, squeezed through and sprinted past Broad Back. I didn't stop once I passed her. I kept going. Fearful of her response. And I forced my exhausted legs to push and kept my depleted torso tall. And that's how I finished the Suncheon Half Marathon. Sprinting at "full" speed across the line. With the crowd in uproar at the intense finish.

Red Jumpsuit was there faster than I gave her credit. I gave Broad Back a hug and muttered 미안합니다 (I'm sorry!). But, when I looked around for White Hat, I couldn't find him. And Red Jumpsuit was tugging on my arm (no doubt anxious to introduce me to someone). I had to give up. That's just how my running angels work, I guess.

I finished 7th of 60 women, which earned me a jar of honey. I think 1st - 5th places got jars of kimchi. Darn. Missed that one. Oh Korea. My time was 1:37:40 according to the text message the race sent me. (Probably the most organized race I've ever been to) My goal had been 1:45:00, so I was very pleased.

Me with my Honey

My Honey Jar in a Box

Monday, November 9, 2009

Continued from Previous Post

**Note: This is the second entry. Don't miss this first below!**

Cue Monday.

I received my race packet for my half marathon next Sunday. The packet included my chip-activated bib number (#2860), the race booklet and, of course, two huge bags of special Suncheon Kimchi. I rolled my eyes on the inside, stuck the stuff in the fridge and went to class. Well, I thought I was going nuts, because I kept hearing the word for marathon. When the bell rang and I asked the students to quiet down, the class captain said, "Amy marathon kimchi?" Sigh. The entire school was talking about my kimchi delivery.

I brought the kimchi home, showed it to my mom who gave me a "really?-they-really-gave-you-kimchi?" look, laughed and thanked me for my donation. She then told me that we were going out for dinner with dad's "Gurye Marathon" friend. I love these kinds of events. It's like, the few strange words I am given are a riddle for something great.

Around dinner time, we picked up a man and drove to dinner. This man, Gurye Marathon, would be escorting me from my Gurye apartment to the Suncheon starting line next Sunday. I focused real hard in the car ride, trying to catch as much as I could (but, gosh, they talk so fast!). Gurye Marathon, it would seem, is president of the Gurye running club. There are currently three other members.

I heaved a big sigh of relief when he started asking me about my running times. Finally! A conversation that is the same across cultures! After questioning my 5k, 10k, marathon and half marathon times, he decided that I, too, could join Gurye running club. We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:50 pm at the stadium. He said that they run an hour in the stadium. I hope that that was a mis-translation. 60-minutes on a 400 meter track is one of my nightmares. Honestly. But, who knows.

Once home, I decided that maybe it would be best if I browsed the booklet they gave me. Here's what I found.

Of 3700 participants, 60 are females running the half.
There are four foreigners, including me, throughout all events.
The fastest expected pace for 1st-place finisher in the half is my goal time.

The picture from last year's start shows a group of runners. None of which are wearing t-shirts. They're all wearing high-performance sports wear. (typical. You should see these people hike. They have more money in their gear than I have in my bank account)

If there was any shred of doubt that this was going to be the race to remember, it's gone. I can picture it now: people pressed close together, everyone cramming to the front of the line no matter their distance or ability (or the fact that it's chip timing, so starting with the gun doesn't really matter). And me. In the middle of it all. In my cotton shorts, cotton T-shirt and bouncing blond pony tail, waiting patiently for the madness to cease before I do my thing.

I'll be sure to notice as much as I can so as to relay it to you when I finish. Wish me luck!

Awkward Teacher Outings, Pottery and More!

Last Wednesday I was told that today was teacher day! (Fantastic. Why are we still at school?) Well, teacher day in Korea means that school ends early (3pm instead of 10pm) and the school pays for a dinner out.

My co-teacher took me to Jiri Mountain (the mountain that gives Gurye a reason to exist). I thought we'd be hiking. Well, the hike lasted about three minutes. Then we stopped at a vendor and drank a lot Korean wine. I like teacher day.

Anyway, my co-teacher is awkward, so I took a lot of pictures of the damn mountain to avoid conversation. I only posted one here for practicality's sake. It is a tomb of some sort and Korea National Treasure 54. Most of old Korea was destroyed and the remaining artifacts are numbered in order of importance. There are currently 307 National Treasures, five of which are in Gurye.

After the hiking party, we went to dinner. For some reason unknown to me (probably just for the amusement of the entire staff at Gurye High School) I was placed at a table with three teachers I've never spoken to before. I was later informed that they are the three heaviest drinkers on staff. That means that I entertained three gently sloshed men while I had free reign over the food (the men were there to drink, not eat). It's a rarity that I don't have to fight for the non-meat and non-fish dishes at a table of hungry men. So dinner was good. I decided that I like teacher day.

On Thursday I received the most wonderful care package in the world: my clarinet! I nearly cried when I took it out. I never realized how much I would miss it. And Dad's note was the perfect cherry on top. [Hint: the random scribbles on top is "my name" according to Gordon Benes)

Ah. Love you, Dad.

This past weekend I went to Gangjin with another Gurye English teacher, Jason. Gangjin is known for being the birthplace of Celadon pottery. I didn't know what celadon was (I knew it was green), so here's a picture for those of you unsure.

80% of all Celadon pottery found in Korea came from Gangjin. Celadon pottery pieces make up a good chunk of the National Treasures list. We started in the museum.

Pretty standard pottery museum. Beautiful stuff. The detail was amazing. Then we walked around the grounds.

These suckers are how kimchi is made. The cabbage, once slathered in red pepper sauce, is placed in the pot to ferment. Yum.

Next stop: The traditional celadon kiln.
Jason heading into the kiln.
The Kiln
Pretty intense oven. Basically, there are mini doors on the side of the kiln. Some poor soul feeds the oven fire at the mouth (pictured), which heats the length of the oven. The stuff to be cooked is placed inside via the side doors, which are then sealed by bricks. Once the fire goes out and the place cools, another poor soul climbs inside of the oven via a back door/vent to claim the pottery.

We went shopping. Jason found a really cool bowl and I bought a place setting set (2 x rice bowl, lid, soup bowl) for my family. My mom loved it.

Good weekend. Continued with newer post.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gosh Darn it

I have a class that makes me want to be mean.

They're the most disobedient, loud, destructive students I teach. They're also one of the lower English levels in the school. At the end of every class with them, I tell myself they're not worth my effort. I swear that, from now on, I'm going to make them work silently on the most dull, worthless assignment of their lives.

But I don't. Because there is that one girl that stays behind every class to ask questions and keeps every worksheet I give in a pink Hello Kitty folder. I guess I do it for her.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Worst Day for the Books

Boy, have I got a day for you, my readers.

I'm still kind of in shock, looking back on it. I think I'm mostly in shock about how not-upset I am. I mean, this was a worst day that someone could make a movie on. It all started this weekend, when my scooter broke down.

I came back from Halloween in Gwangju on Sunday. I was ready to go home, relax and lesson plan. I hopped on my scooter, turned the key and hit the ignition. I made it about 10 feet before I knew something was wrong. It wouldn't accelerate. So, I brought it to my school (a very slow trip, but I made it), which is a mile closer than my apartment. I talked to the guard and explained that it was broken (after assuring him that, yes, there was gas in it and, no, I did not put gas in the oil tank and oil in the gas tank). No problem. Someone will look at it on Monday.

But that means I have to walk to school. No problem. Only a mile.

Cue Monday morning: unseasonably cold, windy weather and rain. The second day of rain since my arrival to Gurye. Perfect. Of course. But, with my happy yellow umbrella, I walked to school. Braving the cold, the wet and the flocks of students.

I sit down at my desk and realize that I left my PowerPoints at home. Not really wanting to devote 40 minutes to walking back, I told my co-teacher I would just take a taxi (probably $5 round-trip) to which he said that he would take me after 1st period. But I had 2nd period class...

So, I was late to my 2nd period class. My lessons were fun but all fell short about 10 minutes. Entertaining students on the fly when lessons run short is the most anxious experience of my life. But I did it. Three times.

A group of six boys in my second class (which is always a nightmare) were being uncooperative and disrespectful. I'm usually not a fan on physical punishment, but perhaps the cold rain walk, my scooter woes and my first class lateness put me a little on edge. I made the boys stand for the rest of the 15 minutes of class in the back holding their chairs over their heads. And I punched the back of another student who was causing mayhem in the class. Both punishments are (a) standard and (b) not that bad.

Lunch was meat, fish, meat soup, fish kimchee, rice and seaweed (I LOVE rice and seaweed, so I was okay with that). Due to organizational problems, I was late to lunch and missed out on a glass of wine.

My co-teacher told me after my last class that I would need to bring the scooter to a special mechanic (who was cheap). I told him that I'm pretty sure the scooter wouldn't make it there (the mechanic is on top of a hill on the other side of town). But he didn't quite get it. So, I hopped on the scooter, revved it up and started out.

The scooter made it 10 feet before dying completely. Excellent.

So I pushed the scooter the mile to the mechanic. I pushed the scooter around honking cars, screaming children, mocking old men and up up up some steep steep steep hills. Not really knowing where this mechanic was (the directions were: between your apartment and the Tae Kwon Doe center a quarter mile away), I took a wrong turn and found myself pushing this heavy, resistant scooter up the steepest hill I've ever seen. Finally, I crashed.

But instead of doing the kicking and screaming thing, I just broke down laughing. I laughed so hard that I lost control of the scooter and just let it slide to the ground on it's side. I kept laughing, unable to breathe until tears were streaming down my face (where the icy wind dried them raw). I laughed and laughed and laughed, sitting on the broken heap of my scooter until a nice farmer in his Korean pick-up pulled over and asked me what I imagine was something along the lines of, "What the hell are you doing laughing like a crazy person with a dead motorcycle on the steepest hill in Gurye?"

The nicest man ever called a mechanic who came and replaced a bulb of some sort from my scooter. The nicest man ever talked to my co-teacher and explained what was going on. The nicest man ever wouldn't let me pay for the mechanic. The nicest man ever is the reason why I'm not still insanely laughing on the steepest hill in Gurye and the reason why my scooter (knock on wood) works for now.

I made my way back home, ran 10 miles in the icy wind and finally felt ready to relax.

I think it's terrifying that, despite everything that happened today, I never felt like I was having a bad day. I think I realized it on Steepest Hill Ever; that's when everything came together. But before that, it was just an ordinary day. I would even say that I thought it was an unusually happy day for me. (One of my favorite students demonstrated that he could shoot his gum into the air and catch it upon landing, which entertained me and my class for a solid 5 minutes. Another student told me he liked my pants and another student told me she liked my shirt.) As far as I'm concerned, my bad day wasn't that bad at all.

I guess it just goes to show that some days, you feel like fighting. Other days, you don't. So you take what you can get and let life happen accordingly.

Okay, here are some pictures from Gwangju.

Where's Waldo!?

Lauren went as an Ahjummah (old woman). Her costume was perfect. $5 pants that looked like they were probably once curtains, two tacky sweaters, an e-mart bag carrying random items and, the cherry on top, a glittery visor.

Posing like an ahjummah

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pictures from Pumpkin Carving

Here are some pictures from pumpkin carving. Enjoy!

The Most Exciting Pumpkin Carving Ever

I promised my English Conversation Club class yesterday (Tuesday) that we would carve pumpkins today (Wednesday). Well, I hadn't really been planning it, but they were so excited! How could I refuse!? "Teacher, I've only seen pictures! I've never done!" Well, damn. I think I have an obligation as a Fulbright to change that.

So, I ran around like a mad woman today (Wednesday) digging up cooking gloves (they were horrified at the idea of actually touching the pumpkin innards), knives, spoons and, of course, pumpkins. Well, balancing four pumpkins on my scooter was going to be practically impossible, so I had my co-teacher drive me to the market where we found a vendor selling pumpkins. I bought four of the tallest ones I could find.

Korean pumpkins are lighter than American pumpkins. And shorter/more flat. Which makes it really hard to carve a cool face. So I searched high and low around the market, from crazy ahjumma vendor to crazy ahjumma vendor to find the tallest pumpkins.

My class was so excited. Their friends were peering jealously from the door before their teacher yelled at them for being late to class. My students were anxiously opening their pumpkins and scooping out the seeds.

I heard, "Ah! Teacher! Teacher! Bugs!"

I turned around, as if in slow motion, to see tiny yellow maggots leaping from the pumpkin seed pile across the cluster of desks while their female liberators shrieked and jumped back. One girl was slashing away at them with the knife. Oh boy, this was going to be fun.

By some grace of God, I got the pumpkin, the seed pile and the maggots all into a garbage bag with a bunch of high school sophomores shrieking around me. All in a days work, I suppose.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween - More fun for me

Did I mention that I was doing Halloween this week?

Well, here is the result of Day 1 of costume making. The students have 15 minutes to create a costume from newspaper, tape, 1 piece of computer paper and crayons. Some also used their jack-o-lanterns we made earlier in class.

The first class I did this in, I was a little nervous. I got this lesson plan from an elementary school teacher. And my kids can be bad. So giving them tape, scissors and free time is not what I usually do.

Anyways, one of my more...shall we say... colorful students was dressing his group model (the second "witch" in the video). The hat wasn't staying on and they were down to 30-seconds. So, thinking fast, he taped a cone to the kids head (so the cone would keep the hat from falling off), wrapping the tape several times from the kid's head to his jaw to his head. When it came time to undress, the poor model had a good chunk of his hair stuck to tape. He was yelling at his dresser, carefully trying to separate his hair from the tape when the dresser, with the exact exasperated of a designer listening to a whiny model, turned around, grabbed the cone and ripped the tape from the model's head in one quick, fluid motion.

I expected the model to show some sign of pain, but instead he had a look of happy surprise at being freed from his bondage. The dresser turned slowly toward me (holding the hairy ball of tape), gave me a he's-such-a-drama-queen look and tossed the tape ball into the garbage bag I was holding. The model was behind the dresser holding the top of his head and talking excitedly. Korean brotherhood at it's finest.

It was all I could do to keep myself from peeing in my pants.

So, yeah. This week holds fun times ahead. :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meet me in Mokpo

As it would turn out, the Gurye music festival was actually very well done. It was performed by a music group from Seoul. You could tell. It seemed that, suddenly, people in Gurye dressed in high-fashion and actually spoke English. My friends and I knew that something had rolled in from out of town.

Despite being well done, it was still Gurye...and I needed to get out. So I left my quaint little city on Saturday for Mokpo, a large seaport city directly west of me. In the past, it has been known for it's high crimes due to high levels of sailors. BUT. Don't worry. It was very delightful.

Five ETAs live in Mokpo, but one was out of town. Two more ETAs came down from Naju (30 minutes north of Mokpo) as well, so it was great to see everyone. I had pizza for dinner. It was quite possibly the most delicious pizza I've had in Korea.

I spent the night with Rachael at her home stay. I walked into the apartment and the first thing my eyes hit was a piano. My heart skipped a beat, my fingers itched and I almost forgot to insa to my host host mom. My excitement betrayed me (and perhaps Rachael's mom's noonchi was in full swing) because she followed my locked eyes to the dusty piano and eagerly invited me to play. Rachael's family is very musical (to Rachael's dismay...because she is not. But they really want her to be), so her mom was thrilled that I wanted to play. She even dug up some music for me. Despite being horrendously out of tune, it felt so good to make music again. It was also fun to see this little Korean woman (who must be way better at piano than me) so excited. She just bounced all over the place.

Rachael and I spent Sunday touring Mokpo together. We went to the most famous rock formation (the name escapes me... perhaps Gong Sah...?) in Mokpo.

Famous rock formation in Mokpo

It's the first thing you see as you enter the city by boat. There are two legends surrounding the rock formation, but the most famous one is that two monks climbed the cliff to pray. They were so taken with Mokpo that they died and were buried there. The rock formation is the two of them watching and guarding Mokpo. The other story is pretty sad. It's about a son who loses his father to illness and then drops the coffin (and body) into the ocean on his way to bury it. Mortified for dishonoring his father, the son climbed to this ledge where he spends eternity thinking about his father and the great disgrace he made to him.

After that, we walked along the boardwalk and stumbled upon - wouldn't you know it - a kickboxing tournament. Of course there would be a kickboxing tournament on the boardwalk of Mokpo. What else would there be?

It was pretty fun to watch. We watched for about an hour as stick-thin and iron-strong Korean boys pummeled each other. (I say boys, but I really mean early 20-somethings) It was actually really representative of Korean culture. The two opponents would fight like it was their lives on the line. But as soon as the match was over, they would hug - tears in their eyes - like brothers, wiping the blood and tears off of each others' faces and inspecting areas where the other took a particularly hard hit. Brotherhood in Korea is as pure, simple and natural as water.

The Match

How could I not take this picture? So cute. Just riding around the boxing ring with nothing on his mind other than what's for lunch.

So, I was sad to leave Mokpo. But I had to get home. This week I am teaching Halloween! Yay! I'm teaching the game Clue for 1st and 2nd graders and Jack-o-Lanterns, Costumes and Michael Jackson's Thriller to my 1st graders (I see them twice a week but only see 2nd graders once a week). Not sure if I explained it, but instead of saying "Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior" Korean's just say 1st, 2nd, 3rd graders (there's 3 grades in Middle school and 3 grades in High school). I also picked up supplies to make caramel apples with my host family. I will keep you posted on that!

Planning on meeting a lot of ETAs in Gwangju for Halloween weekend. The only requirement for going is that you have to travel to Gwangju (no matter where you're from) wearing your costume. Not sure what I'm going to be'll come to me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gurye Traditional Music Festival

While most major cities have canceled their festivals this year do to swine flu concerns, Gurye's Traditional Music Festival - Pansori - will go on! I suppose they figure there just aren't enough people to warrant concern.

Anyways, the math teacher at my school (soon to be vice principal at either my school - replacing the current one - or at another school. It is unclear to me), I was told, is a very good singer who will be participating in the event.

So, after my last class, I was finishing up some notes, alone in the teacher's lounge, when he suddenly began practicing. It frightened me at first, but then I kind of grew fond of it.

The dancing teacher in the video is the gym teacher.

My other Gurye friends and I might go to the festival tonight (Friday), but word on the street is that it's not as fun as it could possibly sound. So, we'll see where we end up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Phone Issues

My phone is back in working order! Sorry I didn't fix it sooner!

Also, you can leave voice messages now. Yay!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Running in Gurye

I've talked a lot about my little mountain town, but a little review couldn't hurt:
  • I've confirmed that Gurye is the second smallest city in South Korea
  • Gurye county is the smallest county in Korea in terms of population, but not in terms of square kilometers
  • Gurye county is the poorest county in South Korea
  • Gurye now has three stop lights (they've added two since I've arrived), but the lights only function between 6 am and 11 pm
Learning that Gurye is the second smallest city in Korea has really allowed me to embrace it's smallness. Instead of thinking of Gurye as a failed city, I think of it as a charming snapshot of 50-years ago. You know, the times when kids played outside after school. The time before people were afraid to walk alone at night. The time before a pat on the back for a job well done was considered sexual harassment. Sure, there's not much to do. And the people are frustratingly slow and old. But now I can blame it all on the small-town charm. I'm okay with that.

Well, this whole small-town business has had an interesting effect on my running. For those that don't know, I am training to run a half marathon on November 15th in Suncheon.

I'm amazed at the reaction I get to running. I mean, besides the gaping stares from ahjummahs and the blank gazes of old men. Those are a given. People are actually interested - dare I say fascinated - by my running. I went for a 12-mile run on Sunday. I started the run with 2 miles around an outdoor park path and finished with the same 2 miles. Well, there was this little man walking the path when I started and was still there when I came back (10 miles later). To my surprise, he started jogging next to me.

Man (in Korean): How long have you been running? More than an hour at least!
Me: Yes, 1 hour 15 minutes
Man: Ahh, shee. (pretty common phrase for "jeeze")

We ran together for a little while. He told me to follow him and, to my surprise, he took me to a new smaller path (but still very pretty). We talked as best as my limited Korean would allow. I was really thankful that he spoke slow. Most older men speak loud, slurred and fast when someone says, "What?" He was a nice running partner, I was sad to say goodbye.

I also run in the mornings before school. On multiple occasions, people have cheered me on. People I've never even met will say, "Go, Amyyyyy. Marathon, yippee!" This is at 6 in the morning! Once I made the mistake of running right as school got out. Yeah. My students were everywhere. One student even tried giving me his juice.

And my host dad is a huge supporter. Everyday he asks where I ran and then sits in awe thinking about how far it is. He reminds me constantly that the abandoned roads of early-morning Gurye are, in fact, very dangerous. I know, man. You have to watch out for those parked cars; they're killers. And on days where I'm lazy and decide to run in the afternoon as opposed to the morning, he spends a good chunk of breakfast asking me why I didn't go jogging this morning. And because of the language barrier, I can't even make up excuses. He's the best keeping-me-honest buddy I could ask for. He's also convinced that I'm going to win the half marathon. Oy.

Did I mention the grand prize for finishing first in the half? A plate of Kimchee. Mmmm. That's the very last thing I want to see and/or smell after finishing a half.

So, I've been chased by men, children, dogs (yes, the woof-woof kinds) and eyes. I know every little street, alley, road and rice field in my little town. I've been there when someone turned the stoplight on. I've raced and passed tractors, "cyclists" (traveling at a wobbly 2 or 3 miles per hour), time and sunlight. Running is my rock. Running is my constant. And here, running is my fame. Holla.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wacky Wednesdays & Slacker Thursdays

Written Wednesday

School is usually pretty crazy. I mean, I never quite know what to expect. Well, today was more special than most days.

First, I decided to make cookies for the teachers in my office. America mom sent me one of those just-add-water-and-oil packets for peanut butter cookies and the school has a beautiful home ec room. So the cookies were quite successful. I feel like I will be baking a lot in the future. Yes!

The students just finished their national exams and I've never seen them so exhausted. One of my favorite students came into the home ec room while I was baking to say hello. He looked like he was going to fall asleep talking to me. I fed him some cookie dough (I wish I could have fed him some shut eye) and he seemed a little happier.

Dear Korea Educational Board: just because you keep students in school for 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week doesn't mean they learn more.

Anyways. The exams meant that I had my morning free. Which is why I baked cookies.

Well, after the cookies, I got an inter-office instant message. The messages are usually in Korean, and for fun I use Google Translator to figure out what they're talking about. They're usually pretty boring and not very useful. But today the first one was a gold mine:

"Yes, my finger is broken. Yesterday pay seokjyeon condolences today at 2 pm exactly. We will go to the morgue together. Volleyball will be at 4 pm."

I noticed that people were collecting money (which Fulbright told us was customary for deaths). Well, with my noonchi roaring, I asked my co-teacher if I could contribute to the death money pot. She seemed really surprised but handed me an envelop. The lady who sits across from me in the office lost her father-in-law.

Cool. Here's $20.

Nope. Not that easy. Next thing I know, my co-teacher is leading me to a car. We squeeze four tiny teachers in the back of a tiny Kia and drive to the ::gulp:: morgue. Oh God. Really? Are we really going to the morgue?

But, my fair readers, I did it for you.

We drove to the back of the hospital, parked illegally in a handicap spot (pretty common practice around these parts) and headed down a side alley toward a dark back entrance. I walked into the morgue expecting to come face to face with sheet-covered bodies and pungent odors. But instead I met a dozen somber-looking women in black hanboks (I'd never seen them before) and half a dozen men in black suits. The women were cooking.

There was an alter, exactly the same as the ones from my death day celebration and Chuseok with a picture (thankfully NOT an open casket) of the deceased. The teachers and I stood in front of the alter and performed the formal bow twice facing the alter and once for the three men in suits next to the alter.

I'm pretty sure that the man just passed. The men all had red, puffy eyes. And the woman I work with was trying very hard to keep her composure.

It really surprised me, the whole culture of paying respects. I feel that, in the states, you generally give people you know professionally room to grieve on their own. You know? And since Koreans try so hard to remain even-faced, I would have thought that entertaining guests so near to a death would not really be the norm.

But, on the other hand, Korea is all about community. After all, this country survived some of the most difficult history in the world. The only way they survived, recovered, moved-on and prospered was through the complete cooperation and support of each other. So, driving back to school I thought about just how communal this culture is: sharing of food, sharing of drinks, sharing of space, sharing of clothes, sharing of stuff. Of course they would share grief. That's just the way you move on here. So I decided. Yep. The death procedure here is pretty cool.

Well, back at school the last sentence of the e-mail made itself clear. There would, in fact, be teacher volleyball at 4pm. And I was, in fact, encouraged to join in. So, at 4pm I joined the faculty volleyball team in the gym. Yep. I was the only female. Awesome. Did I mention that I don't really do ball sports?

But, thankfully, I had an easy crowd. Every time I touched the ball, everyone let out a whirl of "ooo's" and "woooowwww's." Yep, girls play ball sports, too.

After the game (my team won thanks to the ridiculous effort of the chain-smoking P.E. teacher with a very mean spike) I was heading back to my building (the gym is separate from where I teach) when my co-teacher said, "Amy, will you share with us?" I looked over and realized that they had pulled out 12 cans of beer and a small bottle of un-opened Gatorade. Ho boy. So I enjoyed a nice glass of beer with my fellow cohorts.

I felt that the beer was pretty much the perfect ending of my wacky Wednesday. From cookies to funerals to volleyball, this is just how it is. Well, at least I'm never bored. :)


I felt really rebellious. I could not believe I was doing this. I could not believe that I was actually doing this. I was walking into work 20 minutes before my first class (10:30 a.m.). Thursday's and Friday's I don't have class until 10:50, but I still usually show up around 9:15 or so when school starts. I don't know why I do that, especially because I just sit blogging or on Facebook wishing I was home talking on Skype. Typical Gen-Y, I know. So today I decided to blame it on the contract (which says that I only need to be at school when I teach).

I did my three classes and walked out the door (thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm actually doing it.") a little before 4pm. Ah, yes. What a nice day.

Well, karma catches up to you. I decided to change the oil of my scooter before I went up to the apartment. So, I drove home, parked my scooter and changed my oil. Well, the oil-access is inside the seat chamber, where I also store my helmet. I finished with the oil and was putting my helmet in the chamber when a series of terrible things happened in slow motion in ways that I continue to replay in my mind.

My hands were kind of full; I was juggling the bulky helmet, sunglasses, keys and had a purse slung over my shoulder. Well, as I was rearranging the things in my hand the wind picked up behind me, which blew my purse off of my shoulder. I went to grab it (because heaven forbid if it fell) and dropped my keys into the chamber. As soon as the keys hit the chamber floor, my wildly flying bag hit the upright seat (the seat folds out and up so you can access the chamber), slamming it shut before I could react.

So there I was, outside of my apartment, staring at my scooter and trying really hard not to imagine how funny this entire situation might have looked had I been sitting on a lounge chair 30 feet away.

Of course the school does not have a spare key. So, here comes the locksmith. I was told repeatedly by my co-teacher (who arranged the locksmith) that I shouldn't put my keys in the chamber and I should be more careful next time. I really wanted to say, "Well, I really like keeping my keys in a safe place such as the seat chamber," but my co-teacher's limited English would not adequately transfer the sarcasm (and perhaps shred of irritation at being treated like a child).

Then, the locksmith made me, not one, but two spare keys. One for school and one for home. Yeah, yeah. I get it. You two loons think I walk around throwing my keys into terrible places. But, realizing that this was a huge annoyance for my co-teacher and cost my school some money, I expressed nothing but the most sincere gratitude for their outstanding efforts.

Pfsh. Two keys. Really.

Ahem. I've already lost one of the spares. ... *Gulp* I guess I have 200-some days to find it...

Also, Wednesday was my 100th day in Korea. Happy First Hundred!