Friday, July 9, 2010

Letters to a Teacher

My days at Gurye High School are numbered. Literally. We're down to 3. ><>
I wrote all of the 2nd graders goodbye notes. For one of my most "challenging" students, I wrote in Korean, "Sometimes you give me a headache, but it's okay because I can joke around with you." Yep. he liked that. Whatdoya know? Giving me a headache was probably his daily goal.

Anyways, here are some excerpts from letters my students wrote to me:

"I think you was in hard time during teaching students for about 1 year because I know our school students are ... very... childish." haha

"I joined Facebook! I will leave message for you in everyday! I can promise with you."

Youngmee, this one was particularly touching/sad:
많이 이야기를 하진 못했지만 그래도 쌤 가니까 너무 아쉽고 슬퍼요 나름 정들었어요! 안가면...안돼겠죠? :(

Also this week, I made two huge posters with pictures of my students from the year. It's been a good year.

That's all on my end. I'm busy as heck with Camp Fulbright and trying to tie up loose ends. But, keep pushing through. In exactly one month, I'll be home. :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jeju Half Marathon!

Haha, sorry! I forgot!

The half marathon went well. My time was 1 hour 39 minutes. It's a good time, but I was shooting for 1:37:00. Oh well, maybe next time! ^^ I finished 6th in women overall. Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fashion Week

20 Days of living in Gurye remain.

My how time flies. I am currently writing notes to all 120 2nd graders and select 1st and 3rd graders. (1st graders are the devil, I don't teach 3rd grade, but taught them last semester as 2nd graders) I've gotten pretty close to some of the kids, and some of the notes are pretty hard to write; I get pretty sad. I was really surprised. I guess friendship is kind of like just sneaks up on you.

I have 3/5 classes done. Only 2 more! (50 students!)

News flash: I live in a farming community. AKA, the middle of a rice field. Saturday was the first day of rainy season. Result? Monster mosquitos. I've never seen any as big as these. They're, like, Amazonian! Thankfully, the fat suckers are slow. But the bites are painful! I sleep in pants, a long sleeve shirt, socks, gloves and a shirt wrapped around my face. My host mom gave me insect killing spray, so tonight I chased a mosquito around my room, spraying the death-spray all around my room until the thing dropped to smacking height. Needless to say, there is a cloud of poison lingering as I type this.

And the bug-killing-spray trucks make daily rounds in the evening. The residents here like the poison fog. As the truck passes, kids run to play in the fog and the older people go for walks in it. My co-teacher (an older gentleman) said, "Of course. It is a great place for walks because there are no bugs."

of course. duh.

Anyway, here's what I've been doing to contribute to the conversational English growth at Gurye High School. I taught "Fashion" words (such as pants, shirt, suit, leotard, heels, hat, etc.). Students had to then make two outfits: for men and for women.

I did this project with 3/5 2nd grade classes. My first graders don't deserve to have fun. The tall, skinny boy - In-ho - is dressed up as "Lady Gaga." You'll know when you see him. He was so funny. I've never seen any boy so excited to dress up like Lady Gaga.

I'm always amazed how into it they get.

Aren't the cute!? See why it's hard to say goodbye!?

This weekend is the Fulbright ETA final dinner, so I'll be going to Seoul for that. It's the last time we'll all be together. Officially. Wow. Sorry, it's just a little surreal (and painful?) for me.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Oh My, What' you've missed!

I've been very busy and haven't updated in a while. So here's a little summary of everything that's been going on!

City Officials Elections
June 2nd was election day for smaller city positions. Thank god. I can't imagine what it would be like for a major election. Two weeks before the election, I was finishing up a run on a quiet Wednesday morning. Then, suddenly!! "oldies" Korean pop music blaring from the street! It's probably the worst "pop" music I've ever heard. Turns out, the most common method of campaigning in Korea is for (a) the candidate to make a propaganda song and (b) have the song play 13-14 hours per day from speaker-rigged trucks.

Me on a damn music truck.

It was hell on Earth. For 13-14 hours a day these stupid trucks blared terrible, annoying music and blocked roads. Sometimes, two or three different candidates would compete on the same corner, so you had THREE stupid trucks blaring terrible, annoying music at the same time and place.

It's over. And for this, I'm grateful.

My Birthday
It went really well! Thank you everyone who called and sorry for everyone who tried but didn't get hold of me. ><>

Mad for Ads Lesson
I taught ads to my Juniors. I gave them weird inventions to which they had to make an advertisement. (Goodbye, American magazines!) Here were some of the best.

Invention: "Portable Pet Potty"

Invention: Mouth Mask

Saying Goodbye
My time in Gurye/Korea is running out. I'm starting to realize that I'll have to say goodbye to everyone. Oddly enough, I think it'll be especially tough with my 2nd graders (Juniors). This past Wednesday, I was walking with two 2nd graders in the hall when one of them started tearing up and said, "Teacher! I don't want you to go!"

Gosh. Don't make this any harder than it already is.

Salac Waterfalls
This Friday (11 June), I came to school and barely had my computer on before a non-English-speaking teacher said, "KBS [Korean TV NBC] come Gurye! You, Students, TV show!"

Oh boy.

Turns out, the show features off-the-beaten-trail things to do in Korea. And, sure enough, Gurye was next on the list of features. There's a waterfall just outside of Gurye that's a popular swimming place in the summer. So, KBS wanted to film some students playing in the water. Oh. And me.

It was really fun! Here's a short, ROUGH, video summary!

Jeju Half Marathon
Not sure if I mentioned this, but I'm running another half marathon in Korea.... tomorrow. ^^ Sunday (13 June) morning I'll be running 13.1 miles in Jeju (the island off the coast of the mainland) with a few other Fulbright friends. Wish me luck! I'll let you know how it goes!

Anyways, thanks for reading! Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Buddha

For those that missed it, Friday was Buddha's birthday! Yay! That means, no school. Three-day weekend! Double yay!

A lot of my friends were planning on going to Seoul for a fun, laid-back weekend. I was about to go... but...
Me: Buddha's birthday is next weekend...
Host mom: Yes. You we will go to chicken farm?
Me: [pause, choosing my words carefully] Okay.... Um. Why?
Host mom: Ah! We will look at chickens and take the eggs.

So, not knowing much more than that, I climbed into the car around noon on Friday with my mom, bros and Jae-gyeong (younger bro)'s friend - Ji-hwan.

Well, we drive 10 miles into the sticks of the sticks, the last 2km being up a mountain road. Very windy and steep. (It also smelled like farm animal ... uh ... waste, which Jae-jin labeled as "nature smell.")

Finally, we get to the "chicken farm" ("산하산장" ... I don't know what it means, but I know 산 means mountain...which is repeated, and 장 means "place" or "point")

Well, initially, there weren't any chickens. Just a completely stunning view. We were up pretty high, and kind of in the elbow crook of a mountain. The sky was big and blue, and off in the not-so-distant-distance, I heard the babble of a small waterfall. Don't worry, the "nature smell" was gone now.

To the right of the picture, is a patio-like dining area, where I had kimbab while my family had Korean BBQ. There were three women about my mom's age also eating with us. I think one of them owned the place, which turned out to be a restaurant and hotel.

After lunch, I found the chickens! They were down the mountain a little way. Host mom said that "chickens too not-tall to eat." Thank god. We also didn't take any of their eggs.

Isn't he adorable? He made faces at me and my big, scary blue eyes all throughout lunch.

Now, in real life (AKA: my life in America) I've never had a brother, even though Kristin comes pretty close. ;) In Korea, I've had four. Boys are weird. It's like, if there's a rule, they have to break it. It's an unsaid challenge. After lunch, mom gave us permission to walk up to our knees in the river. Me and the bros (Ji-hwan spends so much time at our house that he's like my third brother) went down to the river. Like I thought, there was a small water fall. The water was the cleanest water I've ever seen. And ice cold! "Mountain spring water" has new, definite meaning for me now. How many places in the world can you still drink straight from the stream? Sitting there on that rock in the middle of the beautiful mountain river, overlooking a stunning valley, and skipping the occasional stone, I realized that this is perfect.

Then boys become boys. One dare led to another. Before you know it, all of their pants were off (they held onto their underwear, thank god) and they were dunking each other. I made it very clear that their lives would become a living hell if they dunked me.

Mom was "nor so happy" about my wet bros. So, we kicked around the soccer ball and I taught them the game "500" until they dried off. I also reached deep and brought out my inner brother and kicked the ball down the hill, where all three boys ran after it. While they were down the hill, I grabbed one of Jae-gyeong's shoes and hid it behind a bush.

Everyone thought it was funny except for Jae-gyeong. He, too, was "nor so happy."

So, that's how I spent my afternoon on Buddha's birthday. Meditating and thinking about life in a slice of paradise.
Jae-jin, Mom, Jae-gyeong, me

Ji-hwan, me, Jae-gyeong

On the way home, we stopped at an eco-museum. It just had fish and stuff. I'm not sure what the point of these bikes were, but my brothers took joy in getting each other wet....again.

That night, host mom brought me to Hwaeom Temple to pay our respects to The Buddha. The temple is beautiful during the day, but even more beautiful at night on Buddha's birthday. There were hundreds and hundreds of lanterns lit throughout the temple.

Level 1

Level 2


Host mom and I did our bows to Buddha. Afterwards:
HM: What did you ask for?
Me: [oops, I just bowed and meditated, I didn't really "ask for" anything...] Oh. Um. World peace.
HM: Oh! [laughing] You are so good! I asked for Amy to find good husband and have good job and many money.

Damn. If I knew it was wish day, I would have been more prepared!

I asked mom if I could buy one of the lanterns (they were so pretty!) to which she replied, "Oh. No. But, tomorrow, I will call king monk and take one for you." Sometimes the language barrier provides the greatest small joys in the world. So, we'll see if my mom has as much pull with the "king monk" as she says.

That was a busy day, huh? But really, an awesome day. Anyways, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cebu City, Philippines

It's been one week since my return from beautiful Cebu City. Oh, how I wish I was still there. I loved it. It was probably my second favorite trip of this year (behind kayaking in Thailand).

My co-worker, Mi-young, and I arrived in Cebu City late Saturday night. Mi-young actually studied English in Cebu City for two months, so her friends - Gail and Elsie - met us at the airport and helped us find a hotel for the night.

Sunday, Gail, Elsie and another friend - Kathy - showed Mi-young and me around the big attractions of Cebu City.

1) Bascilia del Santo Nino: Oldest cathedral in Philippines. It's over 400 years old and was burned down twice.

We actually came right as mass was ending.

Mass exit.

2) Magellan's Cross. Cebu City is famous of being the landing spot of Magellan, who brought with him European influence and Christianity. True to Westerner's nature, he claimed the land to be his, introduce "the right" way to do things and planted a huge cross. Culturally sensitive, huh?

Anyways, here's Magellan's Cross. The actual cross is supposedly encased within this one to prevent further damage. Many think that there's actually nothing left of the original cross. Whatever, it gives people hope and comfort. That's all that any physical icon can do.

3) Fort San Pedro. The fort is shaped like a triangle, with two sides facing the ocean and one facing land. (The ocean use to be right up against the fort, but, for some reason or another, this is no longer true.) It was used first as a Spanish fort to defend against "the Muslims" but later became a stronghold for native Philippines during their revolution and emancipation. haha.


4) "Tops." Basically, a sunset lookout point.

Monday was the Philippines national Presidential Elections, so everything was closed. Mi-young and I hung out at a pool all day. At night, we went to the Casino!

The best part? We won! About $150!

What to do with the money? ... ^^

5) We decided to think about it at the major Taoist Temple in Cebu City.

Tuesday night, we knew. We were going to go snorkeling off the coast of a remote island followed by para-sailing followed by a spa followed by our plane home.


We went to an island called Nalusuan for snorkeling. It was awesome! Mi-young had a water-proof camera, so there are some good snorkeling pictures on Facebook. Check it out!

So, that was my trip! Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Children's Day!

Wednesday was one of very few national holidays in Korea: Children's Day!

Elementary and middle schools were out Wednesday-Friday. High school only gets off on Wednesday. Don't feel too sorry for me; they have midterms next week, so I get that off. yippee.

Anyways, for Children's day, I met my friend, Emily, in Yeosu. Yeosu is just a coastal city with lots of little islands scattered around it. It's famous for cliffs. There's also a running joke about the "2012 Yeosu Expo." In 2002, it was announced that Yeosu would hold the World Expo. Almost immediately after the announcement, they started promoting it. Hang in there, guys! Two more years!

Yeosu was holding a "Turtle Ship" festival.

This is a turtle ship. It's the "traditional Korean war boat." It kind of looks like a turtle. Hence the name.

Like all festivals in Korea, it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. There were only two turtle boats (apparently the Turtle Ship day was Friday and Saturday...not Wednesday). One pictured above and another made out of aluminum cans. Womp womp.

But we got the idea.

Since the boats weren't ready, the festival had a lot of "traditional Korean culture" stuff. Kids could dress up in "traditional wedding clothes," make "traditional rice cakes," "traditional pottery" and a whole heap of other "traditional" stuff. (btw: the phrase "Traditional Korean..." is probably in the top-5 first English phrases learned)

Some girls in "traditional Korean wedding gowns" sitting inside a "traditional Korean wedding cart for women."

Yeosu is really rocky and cliff-like. So we walked around a tiny cliff-island. I'm standing in front of "Cave of Dragon" according to all of the signs. Dragon must have been one cool guy. ^^
It was a nice day, but I caught myself thinking a lot, "Jeeze, this would be 100 times better if these kids weren't here." :) Then I remembered that this is their day.

Thursday and Friday are parent's day, but I don't think my bros did anything special for my mom other than sleep more. Oh kids.

I leave for the Philippines tomorrow. Yay! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jiri Mountain

Just a little reminder, Gurye is located at the base of Jiri Mountain, the tallest mountain on the mainland. I've been living here for going on 9 months now and have yet to hike the sucker.

So, my friend Rob and I set out to hike it this past Saturday. There's a 45km / 3 day trail. Yeah. We're not ready for that. So we choose to hike from Hwaeomsa Temple (the very beginning of the trail...about 5 miles from my house) to Nogodan Shelter. A 5.7km/2.5 hour route. Much better, right? Anyways, there are a lot of different trails from Nogodan, so there's actually a bus up there. Our plan was to hike up and bus down.

The start of the trail (nice sidewalk!)

What about 4km of the trail looked like. Boulders. Lots and lots of boulders. Oh yeah, and very poor trail markings. Good thing I was there, or else Rob would have gotten lost at least 5 times.

The river that runs along the trail is straight from the top of the mountain. And since snow is melting, the river was moving pretty fast. A really cool thing: you could drink straight from the river. That's how fresh it is.

It would be a complete lie if I said the course was easy. It was anything but. It was quite steep and the path was very boulder-y. I felt like we were scampering up the mountain rather than hiking it. There was a point where Rob and I sat down after a particularly strenuous stretch of boulder. Neither of us said it, but we both were beginning to doubt our ability to finish the climb. But, we dragged ourselves up and started walking. It was a very bleak time.


We saw the top! It was 10 meters away (around a bend) from our "doubt" rock! Thank goodness...

From the top
yeah, we're not going back down the way we came. We would die.

There was often a small stream running down the path, making the boulders real slippery. Going up is okay, but going down is very dangerous.

There was snow up there, despite being 75-degrees in Gurye

The view! (Not Gurye... Gurye is on the other side)

Another View

Yay! We made it!

Facts for the curious: Gurye is at 115m elevation. Nogodan is 1,507m. The highest peak is just over 1,900 meters. So, yeah. Our portion of the hike was quite steep.

So, that was my Saturday (and became my Sunday, as my legs were pooped). It was fun!

Next Saturday, May 8-May 13 I will be traveling to Cebu, Philippines with another English teacher at my school, Mee-young. The trip was kind of last minute, so it still hasn't really sunk in yet. :) Yet another country stamped into the pages of my already weathered passport.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy 70th, Ex-Host-Grandfather!

After my classes on Friday, I made my way to Goheung, a really small town famous for being the "Kennedy Space Center" of Korea. Saturday was my first homestay's grandfather's (host-dad's dad) 70th birthday. In Korea, birthdays 61 and 70 are the important years. On your 61st birthday, you've lived through an entire zodiac cycle. 70 is special because, honestly, people didn't use to live that long.

It was good to see everyone again. I was meeting most of them for the second time. Friday we had dinner, watched the ball game (Kia Tigers are having a rough spring training) and went to bed. There. was. food. everywhere.

22 people slept in a four-room (5 if you include the bathroom) house. It was the worst sleep of my life. I started next to ex-Mom but somehow got wedged between two linebacker-like ahjummah's (60+ year old women). The one on the left (who wore a zebra-print outfit) snored like a bear and had probably the worst breath I've ever smelled. The one on the right could probably be a kicker on a professional football team. So, I woke up to Zebra's terrible breath and moved closer to Kicker. Right as I was falling asleep, Kicker gave me a good whack back to consciousness, leaving her leg draped over my body. Somewhere, one of the ankle-biters was whimpering about something. I laid there, huddled next to Zebra, just out of reach of Kicker thinking, "It's good to be back." Fun night. I seriously woke up a couple times (usually because of a good, hard kick) and would find myself giggling at the situation. Am I going crazy??

The party was great! It was a little awkward for me during the setup, because I didn't know (a) how to ask to help out and (b) how to actually help out. Grandpa and Grandma were dressed in hanboks (traditional Korean dress). Grandpa's four sons were in suits and their wives were in hanboks as well. The front of the house was decorated with colorful flower arrangements and food. Everyone looked great.

To kick things off, there was a traditional insa ceremony (basically, a lot of bowing and pouring of tea), followed by family pictures (yes, I was in it), followed by lunch! There was a DJ and camera man. It was just like a wedding. Over 400 people came to the party between 11am and 7pm (but for the record, I saw the first opened bottle of alcohol at 9:47). After lunch was noraebang (karaoke) and dancing.

I don't know how it happened, but I soon found myself in the very center of the ahjummah dancing group. Even more of a mystery, I found myself being told to karaoke to "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. How they found that particular song and thought it appropriate for me to sing is beyond me. After every song, Friz (another Ahjummah I named for after her hair) would drag me away, make me drink a glass of beer and eat a cherry tomato before sending me back with a butt love tap.


Frank (nickname for an unknown old man) insisted I slow dance with him (never mind the fast song). Thank goodness ex-Mom was watching. She called me over and stalled a little (before Friz found me and dragged me away for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap).

One thing I realized during the day was that, no matter what, family is pervasive. Mannerisms, attitudes, demeanors and even looks reminded me of my own family. One quiet, intelligent older man was exactly like Grandpa Benes. Another level-headed diva with her quiet and funny husband were a dead match of Aunt Sue and Uncle George. I could go on and on. If you're reading this, I probably found a Korean match for you. In many ways it made me miss home. But, at the same time, it was comforting. Family is pervasive.

Grandma, Me, Grandpa, Oh-Nee
(What you can't see is Friz behind the camerawoman - Kicker - beckoning me over for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap combo)

Fighting a cold and fatigue (*ahem* Zebra and Kicker) I ducked out a little early for home. Where I sit, writing this for you to read. Lesson learned: everything was different (different food, traditions, idea of 'cake,' [rice cake cake? eugh.] idea of 'dessert,' [cherry tomatos are not dessert], country, etc.) but everything was the same.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's been a while...

So, here's the skinny with what's new in my life:

April 2-5: Fulbright ETA conference in Seogwipo (sounds like soggy-po) on Jeju island.
Jeju is kind of the "Hawaii" of Korea. It's famous for Mt. Halla, the tallest mountain in South Korea. It's a big, inactive volcano. Jeju is also famous for oranges. They produce enough to feed the entire country full of oranges and tangerines for the entire year. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries, so I had very few shots.

We climbed "Sunset Peak," meaning the rim of an inactive volcano that looks out over the western ocean. Here I am at the top!

April 8: Teacher's Half-Day
Basically, classes were shortened so that class ended at 3pm (which is usually ends at 10pm) and all but a few teachers got to go look at cherry blossoms. Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain.

Gurye is covered in two types of plants: cherry blossom trees and sansu-you bushes. Both produce this sour berry used for both kid and adult juice. And, what a coincidence! They both bloom at the same time. So, for a window of about 10 days, I looked out my window at home to see a sea of pink and yellow set against endless mountains and blue skies.

That said, April 8th was about day 5 of blooming; the height of the blooming season. So, all the teachers (except for the unlucky few...) piled into cars to seek out the most scenic views.

My homegirls: They make working in Gurye bearable. They are Gee-Hae (ethics), Eun-Jang (Chinese language), me (English!) and Mi-Young (English language). They made me bend over so I wouldn't be taller than them. ^^

Cherry blossoms take #2 (again, I had to bend my knees)

Ever wonder what an ahjummah looks like? I mean, I mention them in my posts a lot...

Making acorn jello (it's as gross as it sounds) in her spring outfit. See? How can you look at her an NOT smile??

April 14: 2nd Grade Field Trip to Gwangju

Gwangju is that big city near me (about 90 minutes west). "Gwang" is Chinese for "Light" and "Ju" means city. Therefore, Gwangju is the "City of Lights." Which is very symbolic, given that Gwangju is the birthplace of democracy in South Korea. In the spring of 1980, students and civilians protested the current government of Korea. (There was a great government cover-up of civilian murders [also in Gwangju] to suppress political resistance). The result of the coup was a massive massacre of unarmed civilian protesters by a fully-armed military. From this tragedy emerged democracy and modern government in Korea.

Anyways, I'm getting passionate. Our first stop was the massacre memorial museum, where over 600 civilians are buried.

We watched a video of the massacre. When the movie ended and the lights came on, I was surprised to see everyone crying. Even the "bad boys" were less-rowdy than usual. I was quickly reminded of the exact young age of this country. This happened 30 years ago. Some of my teachers were living in Gwangju! Some parents of my students attended the university where the massacre occurred. Korea as I know it is still a baby.

Don't worry, the trip wasn't a total downer. After the museum, we went to the Gwangju light festival! It was really cold, but fun. They had a bunch of tents that had sciency and techy stuff about lights. Cooler than it sounds, I promise.

Me, Gee-Hae, In-ho and "Jae" in front of the entrance to the light festival.

Gee-Hae and Mi-Young playing some Wii baseball

April ???: Bowling!

My Gurye friends, Matt and Rob, and I often go bowling. Well. Matt usually bowls about 150, Rob about 130. I average 100 on good days. Anyways, this one time Matt and I both bowled terrible games and, for the first (and probably last) time ever, I beat him without a handicap. So, I had to take a picture. (note my first frame....yikes!)

So, that's my life. Exciting as always! Next weekend is my first homestay's grandfather's 70th birthday party (70 is a big 50 is for us).

Also, I accepted a job as activity director for Camp Fulbright - a two-week English camp in July. Which means, I will be coming home August 1 or 2. Mark you calendars! ;)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Little things

I realize that I've been kind of inactive on the blog front this past month or two, so I'm trying to get back in the swing of it with little entries.

So, here's a little story for you.

Being a vegetarian in Korea is hard. But, I'm really lucky that I have host families that, for the most part, get it. My school, well, that's another story.

Yesterday, I went to lunch: fish, sesame leaf kimchi (my all-time least favorite Korean food period), radish kimchi, squid and octopus kimchi, shredded chicken/some-kind-of-mammal soup. With an almost-empty tray of rice and radish kimchi, I sat down and stared at my terrible lunch.

"Amy! You're lunch is terrible." For once, my co-teacher correctly read my mind.

"I know," was the only thing I could think of to answer.

Don't worry, this has a point.

So, while I was eating my rice and radishes, I thought, "Why do such little things make such a big difference?" I mean, think about it. I was struggling to not let some seafood and sesame leaves be the ruin of an entire day! 10 minutes (10 seconds if you only count me going through the buffet line) can dictate the overall mood of 24 hours! That's stupid! It's just food!

So, I finished my rice and radishes and spent the remainder of my lunch period scolding myself for being so childish.

But today. Oh, boy. Today. Today is the brightest, happiest, perfect-ist day ever in the history of the world. Why?

Because lunch was awesome.

Vegetable bibimbap! Bibimbap is a dish of bean sprouts, spinach, zucchini/cucumber, blacken fern stems (the best part! never would I ever thought that I'd love eating stems...), dried seaweed, rice and red pepper paste and beautifully mashed and mixed into a perfect consistency. Usually, at school, they ruin it by adding shredded pork, so I spend the first five minutes of lunch picking it out. (The dish comes unmixed, so it's not that hard to pick stuff out that you don't want. But, I will say, shredded meat is a pain in the butt no matter what).

But today there was no pork! No pork, beef, chicken, fish or anything else! And we had sweet-potato-rice donuts for dessert! I was in heaven!

So, do I let these 10 minutes define 24 hours? I mean, it's positive, not negative, right? But isn't that hypocritical? If I'm allowed to be happy because of this lunch, then aren't I allowed to be unhappy because of other lunches?

So I defer to the words from the book, The Princess Bride (yes, the novel that made the movie): "Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it's never going to be." Since life's not fair, I don't have to be either. So, I'm not going to let bad lunches bother me, but I'm going to dance in the street if I get another good lunch like today's again (the chances of which are so small that I don't hesitate to make this promise).

Hooray for bibimbap and good moods!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Next week's lesson: April Fools' Day

So, I'm making a lesson on April Fools' Day for this next week. Here's a funny video I ran across in the process that I thought you would all enjoy. :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sansu-you Flower Festival

This weekend, Gurye had a flower festival!

Now, "festivals" in Korea always sound a lot cooler than they actually are. This is just a warning.

I figured that the flower festival would be the perfect time for my friends to see my fair city at it's finest. So, Rachael, Lauren and Jen ("Lajal," "Rauran" and "Jenn-ee-pah" according to my host family) made their ways from Mokpo, Hwasun (near Gwangju) and Gwangju, respectively, to Gurye.

Rachael and Lauren stayed with my Friday night. Their first impression of my host family? My brother jumping out from behind the apartment door and yelling, "Boo!" in his underwear. Yeah, I don't think he was expecting my two friends.

We went to the festival on Saturday (Jen came in Saturday morning). Honestly, I was expecting a tent with a potted plant to be the festival, but, it turns out, it was actually quite a spread. Lots of food and random vendors (leggings, fanny packs, sharp knives, tea) surrounded a large stage, where people performed, largely, traditional musical pieces (samulnori [drums], traditional string instruments, etc). I've never seen so many 아줌마's = old women - in such a concentrated area.

There were also horses, which, naturally, I was drawn to. They were giving rides to kids and doing equestrian performances. They were really good!

Oddly enough, the only thing lacking from the festival were actual flowers. We didn't really see any. I think the festival is more of a "spring is coming" festival rather than an actual exhibit of flowers. While I did not go, I know that they had a children's art competition/exhibit on Sunday that was flower-related. You could also make little lotus lanterns.

After an hour or so of walking around, we decided to end on a good note and head for home. Here are some pictures of our adventures.

Lauren/Rauren sporting an edgy new hat "유행" look for all of those young ladies over 70 still farming

Lauren and Jen on an exercise "machine." The circle plates spin, so you kind of spin your lower body while keeping your torso straight (Lauren = correct, Jen = incorrect). We're all pretty sure that the machine does nothing in terms of muscular fitness, but it does stretch (a little), and it's pretty fun. These kind of machines are everywhere in Korea. I like to play on them, but there's usually a long line of seniors.

A samulnori performance (not on the stage, obviously). They were performing "The Time for Flowers." It was really pretty. Their hats are suppose to be flowers.

Actually, a few weeks ago, I was walking home from school and nearly got run over by a parade of these people running into a convenience store. They were in full costume (with those silly flower hats and everything). And me, not knowing (like always) what the hell was going on, just kind of sighed, shrugged my shoulders and tried to tell myself that Koreans living in America are probably just as confused and scared when walking past a Wal-Mart.

Lauren and Jen left a little later to meet people in different cities, but Rachael stayed the night. (Jae-gyeong, the younger brother, was also having a sleepover! Three 10-year olds that kept saying, "I love you, Amy," and pronounced Rachael's name as "Lazer.") We decided to bake!

For those that don't know, I discovered this past week that my family has a toaster oven. I did a trial bake of chocolate chip cookies with complete success (24 cookies disappeared into the bellies of (essentially) 3 people in a matter of 2 hours). So, using peanut butter cookie and brownie mixes sent from home, Rachael and I baked.

We learned that brownies cannot be cooked in a toaster oven. Oh well, better to have tried and failed than to have never known.

We salvaged what we could of the brownies (burned on the top, uncooked on the bottom). We both thought they tasted fine...but, then again, we haven't had a real brownie in 8 months.

Naturally, my host mom served the cookies and brownies at breakfast the next morning, where she told me the family thought that the brownies looked like "dung."

Oh well, more for me!! :)

So, that was my wild weekend in Gurye. It was actually pretty fun. I'm glad that some ETAs were brave enough to venture into my little farm village.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jae Gyeong!

A few weeks ago, my younger host brother (6th grade), told me at breakfast that his birthday was March 14. He was really excited because March 14 is, besides Pi day, a Korean 'holiday' called 'White Day.' White Day is a response to Valentines Day.

Valentine's Day (Feb 14): Girls give chocolates to boys
White Day (Mar. 14): Boy's give chocolate/cookies/cake to girls
Black Day (April 14): Single people eat Jajangmyeon (a fatty (but delish) noodle dish) together to 'celebrate' being single.

So, Saturday morning I rolled out of my floor blankets and made my way to the floor table for breakfast. My mom intercepted me mid-way and said, "Shower first." I just assumed that breakfast wasn't ready yet.

Fast forward to breakfast (as much as the details of my shower are super interesting), I kept hearing "ice cream." Now, as you know from the last entry, we eat some weird stuff at breakfast, so I just kept thinking, "Please. For the love of everything American, no ice cream for breakfast." The chatter died down and the translation began. Jae Gyeong's birthday party was today at an ice rink (not ice cream, which sound very similar in rapid Korean) in Suncheon. They were leaving in an hour. There would be 20 friends there.

Okay, sounds fun.

The phone rang constantly all morning.

At 9am, Jae Gyeong, Jae Gyeong's friend, my mom and I pile into the 5-passenger SUV. We start driving away from the highway, I assume, to pick up more people.

At 9:35am, nine 6th-grade boys, my mom and I, crammed in that same 5-passenger SUV, begin our trip to Suncheon. There were 19 other 6th-graders jammed into another van-like-thing. Everyone was screaming. Everyone was looking at me. But I feel that I really blended. I mean, never mind the blond hair, or the fact that I towered over everyone.

At 10am, we arrive at the ice rink. This particular ice rink was about 2/3 the size of a normal ice rink, with low ceilings and 3 pillars in the middle of the room. There were also 100 unsupervised kids skating in all directions. But don't worry, everyone had to wear helmets.

The rink (about 50 more kids poured in about 3 minutes after this picture was taken)

There were 6 girls at the birthday party, and they never left my side. At any point of the day, I had at least a girl in both hands (and probably a third of forth holding onto one of the girls and/or my waist). Here's one of them (forgot her name)...

There were also two boys with very serious crushes on me. They expressed their feelings of me, naturally, by throwing snowballs, shoving snow/ice down the back of my neck, or simply by trying to get me to fall. As sweet as their advances were, I had to turn down both of their marriage proposals.

By 12pm, everyone had had lunch of cup ramen (no pizza and cake at Korean birthday parties). My host mom and the other supervising adult left the rink to go nap at a friends apartment.

So, there I was. The only person over the age of 20 at an ice rink of 100 kids. There I was, dragging three to six girls while being pelted with snowballs and love advances by two very ambitious 10-year olds.

1-o'clock came. No host mom.

2-o'clock came. No host mom.

At 2:30, my girls were a ball of whiny, empty stomachs. Of course I had no money. But, my host mom said that the party was from 9-3pm, so it couldn't be that much longer.

At 2:50, my host mom returned! I threw some ice cream cones at the girls, returned my ice skates, walked outside and promised God that I would join the nunnery if he would only make a tall, stiff drink appear at my feet.

But God must work in mysterious ways, because he didn't give me a drink. We piled back into the vehicles. Luckily, I had made plans to meet Rob, a new friend from Gurye, in Suncheon that night to meet some of his friends. So, I was dropped off at the bus station, waving goodbye to the 9 hellions in the car (and ignoring the two urgent marriage proposals).

I met up with Rob at the bus terminal, where we went to meet his friends in a city near Suncheon called Gwangyang (nice little place). We had a relaxing, quiet dinner and night on the town. Gwangyang is a major steel-production city and is also set to become a Free Economic Zone in 2011. That's all I could figure out about it. The next day we saw the city, spent some time at the batting cages (batting cages line the streets in Korea. You just go, put in $0.50 and start hitting. They're pretty fun and a nice way to spend a good-weather day).

Quite the weekend, huh? I'm home now. We're having cake for Jae Gyeong's actual birthday when Jae Jaen get's home from studying (about 10pm. On a Sunday.). Not gonna lie, this birthday makes me a little apprehensive about mine. I think I'll keep it a super secret. Okay, thanks for reading!