Friday, November 13, 2009

The Last Friday

I have a sad, sad announcement to make to you folks. This is my first suitcase. I'm not leaving until tomorrow, but here she is all packed up and ready to go...

... I'm not going to lie to you good folks, I find it a little depressing. My days left in Korea are so numbered that I barely need the entirety of a whole finger, let alone a hand to count the fingers on. It makes me sad. I've grown very attached to this place, and to all the wonderful people that I've met here.

One of those very people is sitting right here in this very picture, although I know you can't see her seeing as she is so cleverly hidden behind her hand. Or perhaps she is hiding because she can't bear to see my first suit case sitting there all lonely at the post office, waiting to be sent off into the wide, wide world to face an unknown fate.

The process of mailing a suitcase is actually much more interesting than I had initially given it credit for. I wasn't really sure what we would be facing when we arrive at the post office on this drizzly Friday morning to meet Danny, about to send one of my suitcases off into the world by itself, without me,

**gathers up courage to finish the rest of the post**

but it was actually pretty cool. I wish I had taken more pictures to document the event, because I'm a dork, and because I've never quite see anything like it before.

What looks very simple in this picture...

... was actually quite a complicated, and yet blinding fast, process of huge sheets of cardboard, folding, measuring and copious amount of packing tape. I was very impressed! I should have taken a picture of the end product to, but it seems like I've failed you in this instance. I'll do my best so that it never happens again! Pinky promise!

After out adventures in post-officing Meghan and I went on my last -- soo many lasts these days, too many -- trip to Insadong to get a few last minute souvenir items and to keep my mind of seeing my kids for the last time today. We wandered around for a good while, although the weather was not being cooperative, and happened to stumble upon these little creations.

Naturally, I adore them.

A model airplane made from a 7-up can! How cool is that!

Beer cans as well naturally...

Only the fact that I was already going to be leaving some thing behind stopped me from buying one of these little trinkets. In hindsight, its probably for the best.

You don't have to say it out loud, don't worry, I already know I'm a dork. :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Surprise! You can only have one suitcase!

This may come of no surprise to you readers who are regular travellers in the European union, but something took me quite by surprise today, and it wasn't the fact that my manager, Danny Kim, is a sweet heart, because I knew that already.

To make a long story short, I found out that I only get to check one bag on my way to Europe, and seeing that I'm leaving the day after tomorrow... was a little stressed, may have freaked out and started crying in the office, made a scene, was taken care of by my wonderful coworkers, and am now in the process of switching stuff around in my suitcases so that one can be mailed home tomorrow.


You know, its the kind of thing that wouldn't have been a big deal if it had happened with a little more time to spare, or even if I wasn't already about to crumble from the stress of leaving a place that I've really come to love over the past year, but as it was, I was a wreck. I'm so lucky to work for such a great school, and to have a guy like Danny save the day. I really owe that guy big!

~Thanks Danny!~

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Volunteer Teaching

Since August, Meghan and I have been teaching English classes at the local community centre on a volunteer basis. Every second Thursday we get up early, which can be a bit of a hardship after an active Wednesday evening, and walk over to the community centre about a 10-15 minute walk from where we live.

The folks at the community centre are a little older than our usual fare of elementary students, but we have a pretty interesting time teaching them. They are very motivated to learn English which helps them a lot, but at the same time struggle with shyness in a way that our younger students do not. We still manage to have a fair bit of fun with them of course.

They often bring us snacks to munch on during the class, which is pretty nice, because let's face it, I love food. This particular spread was to have a bit of a going away party, as it was my last day of class before I left Korea. It was kind of sad... a little bit of a preparatory session for leaving my younger students who I see more often, and have grown more attached to. Our class consists of mostly ladies, and a few men who are a little less consistent in their attendance.

What the men lack in attendance though, they often make up for in gusto. One particular student, Scott -- on the far right in the above picture-- is a lifelong bachelor who takes great delight in making others laugh. Although I didn't realise that student paradigms continue into adult learning to this same level, he is definitely the class clown.

This video really wraps up his personality in a nutshell. Although its not quite evident from the short clip (I wasn't quick enough with my camera) what is happening here is that not only did he show us his pop-dancing skills, he also repeated it a second time so I could capture this potentially embarrassing moment on camera. What a guy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

SLP Shopping Day

The reward system for good behaviour here at SLP, revolves around a system of what we call "stickers." The kids have a "sticker paper," a piece of paper with so many spaces, that when completed with either stickers, stamps or teacher initials, can be redeemed at the front desk for SLP Dollars.

Twice a year, at Children's Day in May, and at Halloween, at the end of October, the kids get the opportunity to go to the 'SLP store' which is set up in our multi-function room, to spend their dollars, and get some prizes for all their hard work, and diligent homework completion.

Needless to say, some kids have more bucks to burn than others.

Prizes range from the cheap, that any kid can afford, to the more expensive, that only the richest -- and therefor best behaved and most diligent students -- can afford to purchase.

The teachers are usually pretty lenient though, and the kids are encouraged to barter and ask for a discount.

First, the kids all come in and sit down while a teacher explains the most important phrases of the day, "How much is it?", "Can I please have a discount?" and, "Thank you for your help."

The kids tend to be pretty excited by this point, and are just barely hanging on to any explanations that you might give. It's time to let the feeding frenzy begin!

It's interesting to watch the kids shop, as it really shows their personalities, and probably to a certain extent their parents spending habits.

Some kids rush to the first table they see, buy the first thing that they can get their hands on, and then bemoan having spent all of their money so rashly, when they wander around to the other tables and see something that they wanted more.

Other kids, wander around to each table, see what there is to be had, make themselves a budget, and are finished shopping without making much of a fuss.

Still other children wander around with their dollars clutched tightly to their chest, and have a hard time parting with any of them, remembering how hard they worked to get them. Each child must spend every dollar they have, or forfeit its value, so this is a quite difficult task for these particular children.

The last stereotype of child spender is the one that amuses me the most. This is the kid that walks around with a mitt-full of cash, playing hard to get with the teachers about how much their willing to spend at each table. They take the bargaining advice to the fullest extent, and will barter and beg for discounts on the moderately priced items, even when they have enough cash to buy the most expensive items several times over.

As much of a hassle as it would be if every kid was so shrewd, these kids are the ones who tend to get the most out of Shopping Day, both in terms of items acquired, and English experience, as they are forced to talk a lot more, and must use more advanced vocabulary and grammar than the kids who just shuffle up to a table and pay the asking price with only a thank you.

It really amazes me that these, 'financial personalities' are expressing themselves in kids who are so young, many of them only in 2nd and 3rd grade.

Invariably, when we get back to class, I'll ask them what they thought of their trip to the SLP store.

"Oh, Teacher!," they'll lament, "Everything was soo expensive!"

If only they knew.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monster Mash vs. Mummy Rap

Mummy wrapping has always been one of my favourite Halloween activities.

I can't really put my finger on an exact reason, although I have some fairly good ideas.

I always loved being the wrapper of course, but being the wrapee was always my favourite.

Whatever way you sliced it, there was always something a little giddy and fun and forbidden about playing with toilet paper. Plus, really, who doesn't enjoy playing with toilet paper? It just comes off the roll so easily. I think it's basic human instinct. Or, animal instinct, as I've heard that household pets also find unrolling a good roll of toilet paper quite enjoyable.

Especially as a small kid, I relished in giving the toilet paper a nice firm tug; watching it spool off the roll. ( Please, don't tell my mother.) This was always quickly followed by a bout of guilt and a fear of being caught. If there was time, I would always try to, flustered and heart beating wildly, put it carefully back on the roll. If this was the case I felt clever for having escaped detection. I am sure my mother always noticed, although she never said anything about it.

If I was pressed for time, or felt that capture was imminent, panic invariably took over and the mass of toilet paper that I had just unfurled would quickly find itself dumped into the toilet, where I would frantically try to flush it all down in one go, pressing flush over and over again, and praying that the flush box would magically fill up, by the grace of God, more quickly than usual on this particular occasion -- solemnly vowing, of course, to never play with the toilet paper ever again.

I was so happy to discover, therefore, that Korean children were as excited about playing with toilet paper on Halloween day -- instead of studying-- as I was.

I think that they did a particularly fabulous job.

We made mummies as we wasted away the afternoon, and laid waste to rainforest somewhere.

Do you think this counts as part of my carbon footprint, or as part of theirs?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Namiseom: The Naminara Republic

Did you know that in Naminara, we are all Naminarians?

Neither did I, neither did I... that is until Amanda, Jen and I packed up our bags and headed out there on Sunday. Forever wanting to catch that early worm, we packed up our bags and started out. A subway ride, a train, a taxi and a ferry later we finally arrived at our destination. We were trying to play "How many forms of public transportation can you use in one trip?" I think we did quite well, don't you?

Leg one: Subway.

There were three possible ferries that you could take to the Naminara Republic. A boring, regular looking ferry that we were on, and that didn't merit a picture. This fancy looking ferry surrounded by flags...

... and this quaint looking ferry, also bedecked with flags. Why didn't our ferry have any flags? That's what I want to know?

As we had our entry visas checked before boarding the ferry -- have I mentioned that Naminara has its own passport, visa requirements and currency? -- it was all smooth sailing once we docked at our destination. Do be careful though, should you ever undertake this journey by yourself, to not fall off the wharf...

Although I cannot read Korean, something tells me that swimming in this water looks nicer than it would be in reality!

The island is quite small, only around 4 km in diameter, and is home to the grave of its namesake General Nami (남이장군) who died at the age of 28 after being falsely accused of treason.

It is a whimsical sort of amusement park with a focus on promoting the arts, and living in harmony with nature. Birch trees line the roads, and it is home to the location of filming of one of the most popular Korean dramas of all time, 'Winter Sonata.' It is for this reason that such a small island is flooded with and estimated 1.5 million visitor a year, many of whom are Japanese.

Schools make projects about environment conservation which are displayed in the park. Amanda, Jen and I took advantage of some of them for an amusing photo shoot. Although you can't tell very well from the angle of the photo, we are in fact sitting on a plane.

There were many parts of the island that were very beautiful. It was a very peaceful afternoon of wandering around and enjoying ourselves.

Although I think it could be fun for groups of people to take advantage of the cabins that are available for rent on the island, or the hotel, for most people I think a day trip is sufficient. Information on the island, and how to get there can be found here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The House of Sharing : Women's Rights = Human Rights

"We must record these things that were forced upon us." -Kim Hak Soon Halmoni

"Comfort Women" is a euphemism used to describe women who were kidnapped or sold by their families to be used as sexual slaves in Japanese brothels during WWII. Although the vast majority were from Korea, women were also used in the brothels from China, Japan and the rest of South East Asia. "Comfort stations" were found all over Japanese occupied Asia, and although the number of women involved in the network of comfort stations is debated by historians, some scholars believe that 410 000 women's lives were ruined by this barbaric system.

"Comfort women" had a very hard life while living in the brothels of Japanese occupied Asia, and life was no cake walk when the war finally ended for those who survived either. Only an estimated 25% of "comfort women" survived, and of those who did the majority were never able to have children. They were often seen as a source of shame for their families, and due to the young age at which many of them had been forced into service many of them spoke neither their mother tongue, nor the language of the country where they were found very well, nor could they say where they had come from.

The House of Sharing is a safe house for former Korean “Comfort Women.” It is located about an hour from Seoul and serves as both a place for the former "comfort women" -- who prefer to be called Halmoni (an affectionate and respectful term for "grandmother")-- to live out there days, and a museum, where people can go to learn about the Halmoni and their lives. As difficult as it is to remember the past, and also to face present day criticism from people who don't believe they are telling the truth, the Halmoni believe that their stories must be shared, to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

When you enter the house of sharing, you are greeted by two images on opposing walls. The first (above) represents the dreams of the Halmoni, many of which were stolen from them during their time in sexual slavery. Congruent with the time in which they were born, their greatest wishes revolved around fertility, health, a husband and a family. One of the greatest regrets of the Halmoni today, is that either through the shame of what they underwent, or barrenness caused by their daily torture and forced abortions, most were unable to have children. Its a regret they will carry with them to their graves.

The second image, which is to your right when you approach the House of Sharing, represents what they actually got, in lieu of fulfilled dreams. You can see how the woman cries and a tear falls as the bayonets of the soldiers' guns pierce her skin, and a bird drops dead from her left hand. The stark contrast between the two images, is a reflection of the loss that each of the Halmoni feel each day as they continue on living their lives, in spite of these atrocities that took away the things that many people live for.

The Halmoni today express themselves through painting. They paint the things that they saw, and they paint their feelings. Here a Japanese soldier has arrived at a house to demand the daughters of this house be handed over.

This picture was painted by one woman, to depict the first time she was raped and her innocence taken.

The surviving Halmoni of Korea, of whom eight currently live at the House of Sharing, demonstrate outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul every Wednesday to petition the Japanese government to accept responsibility for the warm crimes it committed against South Ease Asian women during WWII. They haven't missed a Wednesday since they started, and for them I have the greatest amount of respect. I'm not sure that I could survive what they have, live to tell about and then go on reliving those terrible memories for the benefit of others, but they do. They have that grit and determination, and I hope that they get what their looking for one by one they slip away into a better place, and there is no one left for the Japanese government to apologize to.
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