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!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Just Because You've Never Tried It...

I've been promising to post about my trip around South Korea with Megan and Roni (it was really fun!), but I've been procrastinating. So, for now, we're going to skip it. ^^ I promise, I'll get to it later!

Yesterday at breakfast, my host brother asked me what I eat for dinner in America. (They're still really confused by this vegetarian thing) So, I told him that I eat veggie burgers. My host mom said she wanted to make it for me, but I told her that the burger part was too difficult. But, however, I do enjoy a hamburger without the burger (bun, cheese, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, etc). I also told her that I like spinach salad with strawberries (currently in season in Korea) and tofu. I left breakfast rather excited to see if my two recommendations would pan out.

Today at breakfast, the table was set with a lot of bread, peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, mustard, mayo, apple slices (sliced thin, like for baking), eel (leftovers from yesterday's breakfast) and a plate of greens. I didn't really look hard at the greens, because I assumed it was Bossam, a popular dish of steamed pork and spicy red sauce wrapped in sesame leaves.

Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I barely noticed my mom putting two slices of bread on everyone's plate, or Jae Jaen - the older brother - looking at me with big, round eyes. I, like always, was waiting for someone to start so my "strange" eating habits wouldn't be noticed, but Jae Jaen said, "Show me how to make a sandwich."

Bingo. 1 + 1 = 2. This was Amy's Cultural Breakfast Day. I realized the greens were lettuce and spinach, not sesame leaves. And the hamburger buns? Slices of bread. The hamburger? Eel. Ho-oh boy.

So here are the sandwich combinations that were created at breakfast today, with a rating of 1-5 (5 being delicious).

1) Bread, lettuce, apple, ketchup (3)
2) Bread, peanut butter, apple (5)
3) Bread, peanut butter, lettuce, ketchup (1)
4) Bread, jam, apples, lettuce (4)
5) Lettuce, apple, ketchup (2)
6) Bread, ketchup, cheese, mustard, lettuce, apple, eel (4 according to the brothers)
7) Cheese, jam, bread (5)
8) Bread, lettuce, ketchup, mustard (4)

I explained that I usually eat spinach in a salad, raw. My host mom's eyes sparked to life and she said, "Ahhh, spinach, strawberry, tofu and mayonnaise!" To which I made an "X" with my arms (my universal sign to communicate "No.") and said, "Nooo mayonnaise!" Somehow, salad dressing skipped this country, so all salads (which are usually cabbage-based, not lettuce) are soaked in mayonnaise. I'm amazed that Koreans like it. In fact, I'm often worried that, if they eat it, they'll be turned off from American food forever. But, I guess it's probably the same when someone from Mexico walks into a Taco Bell. It's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different. Just because it's not the way you'd eat it, doesn't mean it doesn't taste good.

I repeated that to myself a lot at breakfast as I tried a bite of #1 and winced as my brothers took a bite of #6. Who knows? Maybe eel burgers are going to be the next big things... In the mean time, I found a simple recipe for veggie burgers.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I know, I know. You've probably forgotten that I even went there (nearly a month ago, gosh how time flies).

I arrived in Siem Reap February 6th (see!? a month ago!) to meet up with my friends, Rob and Jeane, who also teach (taught) English in Gurye. Siem Reap is home of Angkor, an ancient ruins city that, at one time, was the cradle of civilization in Cambodia, if not Southeast Asia as a whole. Inside Angkor, there are thousands of temples. Literally.

The most famous temple is Angkor Wat, which is the largest single-religion temple in the world. Don't worry. You'll see pictures.

Jeane, Rob and I took a tuk tuk (a sort of small carriage pulled by a motorcycle) to the Angkor silk worm farm. There, we saw how farmers take the cocoon of a silk worm and turn it into clothing. Just so you're all aware, a lot of silk worms died for your silk shirt. We were lucky enough to be behind a large group of Korean tourists. You just can't get away sometimes.

We hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us around Angkor park. Although the temples were outstanding, the highlight of the day was definitely the Land Mine Museum. Basically, this man was recruited at the age of 10 to plant land mines for the Cambodian army. In 8 years, he laid over 1,000 mines. He defected from the Cambodian resistance in 1987 and has been clearing land mines ever since. Sometimes with an organization, sometimes by himself. He's recognized as the best in the field of clearing land mines. So, 300,000 land mine clearings later, he opened a museum with his findings.

Walking through the museum was devastating. Maybe I didn't pay enough attention in high school history, but I had never heard of this terrible war that tore apart this country (The war officially ended in 1992...only 18 years ago). I was shocked and disgusted to see the destruction caused by this war; the loss of life due to land mines. Even worse, loss of life and limbs today as children playing in a field near their home accidentally trip an old mine. There was a land mine from just about every developed country I could think of, the majority of them being from Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam and the U.S.

We finished the night by going to a traditional Khmer (native ethnicity of the Angkor region; the Khmer's built Angkor) puppet show. The performers all participate in the show to maintain their cultural heritage and to keep them off the streets.

We all took bikes to Angkor and spent the day riding between the temples. We biked from 6am-3pm and were spent for the day. It was perfect, though. We arrived at Angkor Wat (the big temple) right at Sunrise. I've seen a lot of beautiful things, but that's definitely going to remain in the top-5 until the day I die. There's something about Angkor Wat - especially at sunrise - that makes it hard to remember to breathe. It just seems impossible that anything could be that beautiful. And even more impossible: that you deserve to see it.

We traveled to Pheonm Pehn by bus. We crossed some gorgeous countryside. The ride ate up most of the day (roads are still pretty bad there).

Rob and Jeane left for another part of Cambodia, and I headed to the airport. I had some time between when they left and my flight, so I decided to visit a genocide museum (why? Why would I ever think that a genocide museum is a good last impression of any country?)

In the mid-1970's, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot decided to press the reset button in a plan called "Year Zero." The idea was to eliminate anyone with a brain and have a country of only equally wealthy farmers. So, the KR hunted down intellectuals and threw them into a school-turned-torture-camp where they were systematically tortured and killed. (The killing fields are actually outside of the city)

Today, the school is a museum. There are just rooms and rooms and rooms full of pictures of the victims, including pictures of victims right after torture. The KR admired Hitler's way of doing things, and really prided themselves on complete documentation (pictures of people upon entering, pictures upon leaving, pictures of the "facilities," etc.).

Once a classroom, individuals were chained to beds and tortured

1 of 7 boards of children that were detained (and probably killed) here

If you can, read the text
(I think you can click on the picture to make it bigger)

So, yeah. A little bit of a Debby Downer to end the trip, but I'm glad I went. Like it or not, it happened. You can ignore it and go on living, or you can take it in and let it shape the way you view life.

Okay, let's end with a happy note, shall we? Video of Cambodia below, enjoy!