Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I've been through Korea on a turtle with no name...

The turtle I got for Christmas needs your help!

He still has no name!

Can you save him from a life with no identity?

Just look how cute he is, eating his breakfast this morning with his favourite turtle friend -- his reflection in the glass!
Please put names to be considered in the comments section!

Thank you from your friendly neighbourhood turtle-mama, and perhaps turtle-mama-to-be-when-I-leave...
Laura and Amanda

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kickin' It Old Skool!

The past few weeks here in Seoul have been pretty fun and interesting in a lot of ways, so I thought I'd write a quick note to tell you a little about it.

In my last post about my daily events I ending off with telling you about upcoming White Day. I most recently posted saying what White Day is and now I'll take you a minute to tell you about my White Day! As you know Randy and I decided to reverse traditional Korean Valentine's and White Day rules so he planned Valentine's Day and I planned White Day. As luck would have it, Randy completely forgot about White Day's existence, and I could have gotten off Scott-free if I had wanted! Instead I used it to his advantage. He probably won't appreciate me putting this on the Internet, but while he didn't know that it was White Day I convinced him clean his apartment until it was spic and span. Heehee, I'm so clever. Then, when I announced the occasion his first gift was a nice clean apartment! The rest of the day's festivities included Mexican food, some time at the driving range and a little scrabble to finish it all off. Wonderbar.

White Day was closely followed by St. Patrick's Day which I of course had to celebrate, having Irish blood running through my veins. My friends and I all went to an Irish pub not too far away from where we live called Maddigan's where we had a pleasant but quiet evening having a little celebration of our Irish heritage. Not everyone there was of Irish descent mind you, those who weren't were just a little jealous and decided to tag along.

The weekend was fairly uneventful with the exception of what inspired the title of this post, Kickin' It Old Skool! On Sunday we went to see the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. It was pretty neat! There were a lot of traditional Korean houses and people wearing traditional Korean clothing and making traditional Korean food. I had heard people say that there wasn't much to see there and that you could do the whole thing in 1/2 an hour, so I was surprised when I arrived to find a $13 entrance fee. At this point we had travelled around 2 hours to get there and had a two hour train ride to get back home though, so there was no way we weren't going inside. I was pleasantly surprised to find that (perhaps in part due to my geeky nature) I could have stayed there all day and not really gotten my fill. There were so many things to read and explore! There were different houses and structures used by everyone from the lowest pesant to the richest nobleman, shows, old style markets, livestock, traditional games to play and food to eat... wow! We didn't get to see it that day because we were a little late but they even hold traditional Korean weddings for tourists to see! You could make pottery, ride horses and pretty much waste an entire day, I thought. There was also an amusement park for kids next door, which I thought was pretty neat.

Perhaps one of my favourite things that I saw in the Folk Village that I think that you'd enjoy was a sort of "Magic Show", or so it was called by the people preforming it. They were making Dragon Beard Candy, which is a really neat thing to watch. I've uploaded two videos for you to watch and see how neat it is, although neither is as cool as seeing it in person. The first one is the exact one I saw at the folk village in Suwon, but the second one I think is a better video for seeing exactly what is happening. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

White Day and Interesting Cultural Beliefs

As if one wasn't enough, there are three Valentine's Days in Seoul.

1) February 14th : Valentine's Day
Similar to what we know and love, but with a twist! Instead of being a day for men to romance women, in Korea, its the women who buy chocolate and presents for the men!

2) March 14th: White Day
Valentine's Day, in reverse. One month later Korean men must answer for what they received from their sweethearts one month previously. It is generally accepted that the man's gift will cost approximately 2 to 3 times more than the Valentine's gift he received from his lady.

3) April 14th: Black Day
Let's not forget all the single ladies! (and gentlemen) Black Day in Korea is a day to celebrate singleness together with other single people. I think its a little ironic that its black day, because black seems like a depressing colour for what for many people is a depressing situation, but I'm just reporting the facts. On black day single people get together and eat Jajangmyeon, noodles with black bean sauce.

As I mentioned to you before Randy and I switched up Valentine's Day and White Day this year, and neither of will celebrate Black Day (hopefully!), but I thought that you might like to hear about some of the interesting cultural things that I've learned here.

Other interesting cultural beliefs here include:

  1. Personality is affected by your blood type. Here is a quick chart:
    Type A
    Best traits
    Earnest, creative, sensible
    Worst traits
    Fastidious, overearnest
    Type B
    Best traits
    Wild, active, doer
    Worst traits
    Selfish, irresponsible
    Type AB
    Best traits
    Cool, controlled, rational
    Worst traits
    Critical, indecisive
    Type O
    Best traits
    Agreeable, sociable, optimistic
    Worst traits
    Vain, rude
  2. Fan Death: A Korean belief that if you leave your fan on overnight with the windows close that you will most certainly die. I think they believe that without new air to circulate that your fan will suck away all your oxygen and you won't be able to breathe. You'd think this one would be a myth by now, but many Koreans are shocked or upset if you tell them you don't believe this one.
  3. Red Names: This one is more of a myth now like walking under a ladder or crossing a black cat, but just like we don't particularly like doing those things even though we know they are not real, Koreans will be very unhappy with you if you write your name, or theirs in red ink. This will also most surely cause your death. I made a few small children cry without knowing why when I got here first through writing their names on the board in red marker, or on their work in red pen. It's scary stuff. Consider yourself warned.
  4. The 4th floor. Doesn't exist in many Korean buildings, just as the 13th doesn't in some North American buildings. My building has a 4th floor, but I have been in many buildings that in the elevator you see, 1, 2, 3, F, 5, 6 etc. Amazing! They have no qualms with 13 in general though, or even Friday 13th!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Apartment and a Walk to School

A little upgrading has been happening from time to time in my apartment, and I thought I would show you some of the latest improvements.

The one I am happiest about is the new bed that I inherited from one of the departing teachers at the end of February. Let me show you!

Isn't it all kinds of awesome! Having a regular sized bed really helps me feel more at home in this place. For some reason, although the twin bed was fine, it really felt so temporary. Also, now that I have a queen sized bed, and a mattress for the floor I can entertain guests! **hint**hint** Don't miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Asia! As an added bonus the dollar is really strong here, so you'll find everything soo cheap! Whoo hoo! Book your spaces now, they're filling up quick! :) hehehe...

Aside from the bed other noteworthy (but not quite as big) changes include the plants that I bought from HomePlus and potted myself, and a wall hanging that Andrew Bown brought me back from Australia, that is currently my only decoration that is not Christmas themed. My mother says that I must be related to Aunt Shelia. Hopefully she reads this!

Although the route I take to get to school everyday seems a little mundane to me these days, I remember finding it fascinating when I got here first, but was too shy to take pictures, already standing out as much as I do. I thought I might put up a few for you so you can get an idea of the area of Seoul that I live in. Gangseo-gu is the name of the district of Seoul that I live in, and although it is pretty much the suburbs you will see that there's not much that you and I would consider suburban about it. I'm not sure how far outside of Seoul you would have to go to see single family homes like we are so used to, but I haven't seen it yet.

Ricki has been asking for months to see the view outside the window in my apartment, so I am going to start with that. Here are a few pictures that I took for her the other day.

That's the view out the left and right sides of the window respectively and then a view of the street below. Even though the street is a dead end just past the left side of this picture, it is always sooo busy!

Next, here's what my apartment looks like from the hallway. Followed by a thrilling view of the elevator! Hooray!

Living in a house my whole life I was pretty amused to find myself living in a place where not only did I take an elevator to get to and from my apartment, but I was also living on the 7th floor! There aren't even that many buildings at home with that many floors, but here tall buildings are much more common than short ones. I guess they have so many people to cram into such a small space one can hardly blame them.

The rest of my walk to school can actually be quite interesting at times. Selling things on the side of the road is very common here, and I walk past soo many street vendors on my ten minute walk to school. That is pretty neat in and of itself, but amazing considering I live in one of the slower and more boring parts of Seoul. There are people here selling anything you can imagine on the side of the road. Food, to electronics, to household supplies and even a mobile dollar store with everything lined up in baskets on the side of the road.

The first thing I see when I walk out of my building and head towards school is HomePlus, a huge department store right next to my apartment building. You can get almost everything there, although you'll pay a little more than if you shop around. It's pretty much gigantic, a lot bigger than any single store in St. John's I would think. Perhaps not bigger than department stores in other place.

I guess with everything said and done, it makes sense that the department stores here would be so big, with such a high concentration of people in such a small place. There are so many apartment buildings here, and where they are they are very concentrated. If I hadn't been so dazed on my way into the city from the airport I would have taken more pictures, because the horizon here is very interesting. It looks like a normal city for the most part with average sized buildings, but then all along the horizon there are pockets of a dozen or more high-rise apartment buildings. I'll take a picture when I see a good example for you some time soon. I have a few good pictures of apartment buildings, but none that really show the horizon the way that I would like to.

The next thing I saw on the particular day that I went out to take pictures was convenient, because it was the bus I take on rainy days, or when I'm feeling lazy. I take this bus pretty often, so I thought it deserved a picture and a spot on my blog. Here it is.

Isn't she a beaut!

As you can see there's a little bit of construction going on around where I live. They're putting in a new subway line right next to my house which I am finding pretty exciting. It is due to open in May, and will take us from where we live, pretty much right into the centre of the city. That will make doing summer time touristy things all the more easy!

Here are a few intersections and a few apartment buildings, so you can see this concrete city that I'm up against here! There are some parts of the city that aren't so bad and also, nothing living is turning green quite yet, so the whole thing is looking pretty bleak. I'll have to take a few more pictures once summer is here!

Everywhere you look in this place there are people, buildings, cars, apartments... its amazing!

The last part of the journey is of course the destination, which for me is school! Aside from the classrooms and the kids that I have already showed you the school also has a staffroom which is my first destination of the day. Its pretty crowded, and here's what it looks like!

That concludes another fascinating insight into the life of Laura in Korea! Stay tuned for more fabulous updates to come! :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A New School Year!

March 1st started a brand new school year in Korea -- the same as September at home -- and that means a whole new batch of classes, and approximately one million new kiddies. I am no where close to beginning to know all of their names.

** As an interesting side note: One of the classes I inherited from another teacher is full of Disney Princesses -- Ariel, Jasmine, Belle ... **

Its been a lot easier to start fresh with a new batch of kids, knowing what I'm doing, compared with when I started in November, not really having a clue. I know so much more about teaching Korean children now than I did then. I know the mistakes they're likely to make, the shenanigans they're likely to get up to, what programs I'm teaching, acceptable discipline methods and best off all how to understand their English speaking through sometimes very thick Korean accents. When I got here first I found them so difficult to understand, even when they were using proper vocabulary and grammar. Of course, the goal of being a foreign teacher here is largely to reduce just that, but its a work in progress and being able to understand the kids in the mean time is very valuable.

Also, my hours have been condensed, which is great news! I'm teaching the same number of hours, but I am spending 1.5 hours less at the school three times a week than I was before, which I'm really happy about! I'm not soo keen on teaching in the evenings like I do, but I'm sure that I'll get used to it. I had really been hoping for a preschool schedule, but there are definitely perks to working only in the afternoons as well.

Aside from the new school year there's been much more of the same so far this month. Working, hanging out with friends... we've been playing a lot of games recently which is quite fun. Jenga, Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit... you'd never think I'd come all the way to Korea to spend my time playing board games with the people I work with, but its true!

Some of the the more notable games include this monster Jenga tower:

And this game of scrabble:

Also not to be forgotten from February of course are the kids, and some good friends!

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