This one is no exception.
That’s right, followers! Today marks my 3-month anniversary of living in Korea. As tradition goes, I will post things that I am currently missing from the western world. Additionally, I have been receiving quite a few requests for Birthday present ideas, so for anyone who has inquired I hope this list is helpful :)
I’m in need of a travel backpack to take along on weekend trips. I’m not looking for anything big or fancy, just a simple canvas backpack will do.
Jansport: (any color, just nothing too weird) http://www.jansport.com/js_product_detail.php?cid=&pid=TDN7
I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but oh my gosh I just want it so much. You can never use enough moisturizer, right?
Like I’ve mentioned before, it is quite difficult to find face makeup here, since my skin is (proudly) about 10x darker than all Koreans. I know it’s only a matter of time before I run out of my makeup and will be SOL. I currently use but cannot find:
Maybelline Powder: (Shade 355: Coconut Dark) http://www.maybelline.com/Products/Face-Makeup/Powder/Fit-Me-Pressed-Powder.aspx#shadedetails
Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse: (Shade Medium 2.5: Natural Beige) http://www.maybelline.com/Products/Face-Makeup/Foundation/Dream-Matte-Mousse.aspx#shadedetails
Maybelline Coverall Stick: (Shade 2: Light Beige) http://www.maybelline.com/Products/Face-Makeup/Concealer/Cover-Stick-Corrector-Concealer.aspx
Amazon Gift Cards
For Christmas this year, my parents bought me a Kindle (thanks mom and dad!), which I am in love with. And since I at least buy one book a month for Ryan and my book club, I am always in need of Amazon bucks.
Amazon: www.amazon.com (I didn’t need to post this link, right?)
I realize this request is unrealistic, but if anyone can figure out how to get one of these into my mouth I think I’d die of happiness. I don’t even care what’s inside: oyster, shrimp, roast beef, I want ‘em all!
That’s still about all I can come up with at the moment. OR if you want to give me the ultimate Birthday present, you can buy a ticket and come visit me like my awesome little brother is doing next month! He’s setting the bar pretty high for all you other guys out there…
*It’s totally obnoxious and self-centered to post your birthday list on your own blog, right? Oh well, too late. It’s my birthday and I’ll post what I want to.
Every year, May 15th is National Teacher’s Day in Korea!
The way it’s celebrated here is similar to how it is celebrated in the states in that students and parents acknowledge the hard work that teachers do, while not giving them the day off.*
However, the celebration is different from the in USA, because Korean parents go all out with their presents. This is probably for a number of reasons:
(1) Koreans have a big gift giving society. It is standard protocol to give someone a gift the first time you meet them or whenever you are a guest in their house. On any given day, it is normal for a student to bring in food or stickers for the entire class, just because they wanted to share a present. It’s really nice, actually.
(2) Education is HUGE in Korea. How a student studies effects how well they perform on their standardized tests, and that effects where they get into college - which is the 100% focus of every child in Korea. It’s actually a bit ridiculous, way too stressful on the kids, and often results in crazy things happening.** However, it does result in teachers being well-respected in Korea and making fairly impressive salaries. This also explains why there is such a huge demand for native English speaking teachers to come to the country.
(3) Korean parents (and kids, for that matter) are competitive. Look, I’m a competitive person myself, and even I find myself sometimes thinking, “OK guys, let’s all just calm down.” Usually for me, this competitiveness means students constantly trying to compare tests and homework to see who got the highest score. However, on Teacher’s Day, it means having the parents compete to see who could buy the teacher the nicest present. Suddenly, I feel as if their competitive nature isn’t so bad after all.
Here is what I ended up getting in my loot:
From Right to Left: assorted Korean candy, fancy rice cakes, a cupcake flower, fancy coffee mix, flowers, 2 homemade flower pens, and face-whitening cream (I think this one might be an insult, but it came with a gift receipt, so we’re cool)
Notes from the kids. Dying from cuteness!
Also, not pictured: a $20 gift certificate to Starbucks and $200 worth of gift certificates from a department store. Ahhhhhhhh, I love my kids! (Not just for their money, but it doesn’t hurt)
*I never realized how backwards this was before.
**Example: Recently due to cheating scandals, the SAT was cancelled for the entirety of South Korea. While SAT times have been cancelled before, this is the first time ever that the SAT was cancelled for an entire country. Apparently, different private schools have been illegally acquiring the test answers for the SAT ahead of time and helping their students cheat. It’s pretty nuts, but it really doesn’t surprise me from what I’ve learned in Korea. To read more on the subject, here is a link: http://news.msn.com/world/cheating-scandal-sat-canceled-for-all-of-south-korea
This upcoming Friday is Buddha’s Birthday. Like most festivals I’m familiar with, the party usually starts a week or two before the actual day. Think Mardi Gras celebrations, except Buddhist. And with less beads.
In Buddhism, lanterns symbolize wisdom as they bring light into the world. So about a month before Buddha’s Birthday, the entire city starts covering itself in paper lanterns: lining the roads, leading to temples, decorating the subway, they’re everywhere!
This past Saturday was the Lotus Lantern Festival. At the parade, there were floats, school bands, local community groups, and even flambeaux! It basically had all of the same elements of a Mardi Gras parade, except the floats were made to look like giant paper lanters, the school bands used more drums and less horns, and the flambeaux carried poles with paper lanterns attached. There were even “throws”, but instead of beads or doubloons, they gave out paper lanterns to the crowd when the parade was over. I don’t know why I found these similarities so striking, or what else I was expecting to find in a Korean parade, but they made me feel right at home.
Paper Lantern Flambeaux
Paper Lantern Floats
Elephant Paper Lantern Float
A Group of Singers Posing with their Lanterns during a Performance
At the end of the parade, the floats lined the road leading up to Jogyesa Temple. The temple itself was completed surrounded by and covered with paper lanterns. There must have been thousands upon thousands of paper lanterns lighting up the temple. It was incredibly beautiful.
Top of the Lantern Tree Outside of the Temple
Bottom of the Lantern Tree Outside of the Temple
Lantern Lined Sky Outside of the Temple
Giant Buddhas Inside of the Temple
Alyssa and I with a Buddha Mascot - Normal?
I even got interviewed in the temple at the festival! There is a picture of it happening somewhere that I’ll try to find and upload later. I’ll probably end up being featured on a Korean documentary about things that white people like; hopefully I didn’t look too dumb.
This Friday, we have off of work for Buddha’s Birthday. Alyssa, Allison, and I are using the long weekend to go on an island getaway! I’m very excited to be on a beach and soak in a little sun. Why can’t we have a day off to celebrate Buddha every month?? I’m going to start a petition.
Happy Birthday Buddha!
This month, our class fieldtrip was to park in Paju for an outdoor picnic. This was really exciting because since our school is on the 5th floor of a building in a city, I never get to see my kids playing outside. We loaded up the buses, drove to Paju, and arrived at the park. From the moment we got off of the bus, I could see my kids itching to run and play. When I released them onto the playground it was the cutest thing ever. I say, “released” because sometimes these kids do act like little animals and the way they behaved as they ran across the park, it seemed as if they had been kept in prison for two weeks prior.
I wish I had taken more pictures of this day, but I did capture one adorable moment. Our school director brought a giant bubble wand and the kids went nuts over it. Here are a few pictures:
After the playground, we played games in the field and ate lunch at the park. Afterwards, we packed the little sweaty babies up and headed back to school. Oh, how I love fieldtrip days!
So, I decided to brave the movies again. I went to the theatre and poked around on the Korean screen again until the movie times popped up and I found that “Iron Man 3” had just started about 5 minutes before I had got there.
I thought this was perfect because (1) I liked “Iron Man” and kind of liked “Iron Man 2” and (2) “Iron Man 3” was released 2 weeks earlier in Korea than in America and it made me feel kind of cool.
I bought my ticket, chose my seat, checked my ticket for the theatre, and walked on in. However, when I got there the movie had already started and was in the middle of a big action scene. I knew I was a few minutes late to the theatre, but it seemed strange that the previews would have already run and the movie would already be in the midst of the plotline. Plus, I had bought tickets to a 3D movie and this was not in 3D. Confused, I stepped outside, looked at my ticket again, and found the only number on the ticket just like I did the last time I went to the theatre – yup, theatre 3. Still confused, I looked around for help, but there wasn’t an employee in sight. I didn’t know what to do, so I went back into the theatre and decided that it would be too hard to find my assigned seat, so I just chose the first one I saw.
My suspicions were confirmed when the movie ended about 45 minutes before it was supposed to (meaning I missed the first 45 minutes – womp). I looked at my ticket again and saw that underneath the “3” I saw earlier there was a second smaller number. It only occurred to me then that the “3” I thought meant “Theatre 3” actually meant “Iron Man 3”. Man, I really gotta learn how to read Korean. Full disclosure: I’m not even 100% confident that the writing on the movie poster I posted above is even Hangul (Korea’s alphabet). #foreignerproblems
So, visit number 2 to the movie theatre was another huge fail. Oh well, at least this time the movie was in English, even if I did miss the first 45 minutes (spoiler alert: Tony Stark is still Iron Man).
Here’s to hoping visit #3 will be better!
Going to the movie theatre could very possibly be my favorite thing to do in the entire world. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I moved into my apartment in Korea and found out that a brand new Mega Box theatre complex had just been built right next door.
It may surprise many of you that after 2 months, I still hadn’t found time to stop in. This can mainly be credited to two reasons: (1) as you may guess from reading my blog, I’ve been keeping pretty busy over here and (2) none of my friends seemed to have the same interest in movie-going as me and frankly, I was a little intimidated to go to the theatre alone. This may sound weird, not afraid to move to a different country solo but too nervous to go to a foreign theatre alone? Yea, yea, I agree with you. That’s why the other day, I finally bucked up and decided to go.
I have to admit, I was feeling a bit homesick that day. I decided that the perfect remedy for my sadness was to do something familiar and listen to some actors speak English for a few hours. Since I cannot read Korean, accessing the Mega Box’s website would have been unfruitful, so I just walked over and resolved to see whatever movie happened to be playing next*.
When I got up to the theatre, I walked up to the purchasing screen and poked around trying to figure out how to navigate the options in Korean (I later found out that there was a stand where you could also buy tickets, I was just too dumb to see it). I found my way to the movie times and saw that Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” was about to play.
I bought my ticket, found my theatre (hint: find the only number on the ticket and go to that theatre), and sat down in my assigned seat. Oh yea, that’s another weird thing about Korea: you choose the exact seat you’re going to seat in, as if you’re going on a plane. Seems a little redundant, but I hear some people like it.
The previews played like they normally would at a movie and I sat back and waited for the movie to start.
The movie was only about 45 seconds in when I realized I had made a huge error. The English-speaking movie I had just paid to hear was actually half in Italian :( . I guess the title “From ROME with Love” should have tipped me off, but I did not see that one coming. Also, the subtitles that normally would have been in English in America play in Korean in Korea. OK, so I missed a few crucial plots in the movie, but at least I figured out how to go to the movies alone. Yay me!
*This is a favorite activity of mine in the states, too. Try it someday! You end up seeing a lot of bad movies, but it’s still pretty fun.
The other day in class we read the book The Blind Men and the Elephant, which as you may guess, is about some blind men and an elephant. To make sure the kids got the point, I decided to have them play “pin the tail on the elephant” (obvious variation of “pin the tail on the donkey”). I posted a picture of an elephant on my cork board, tied my scarf around their eyes, put a paper tail in their hand, spun them around a few times, and let ‘em loose. The first class I did this was a bit of a trial run and one of my students got a little rambunctious and tried to do “ninja moves” all of the way to the board. Naturally, this caused him to miss the elephant picture completely and slam his head into the wall.
So the next class I taught, I made sure to specify, “No ninja moves on the way to the board”. I also made sure the students put their arms straight out in front of them while walking to the elephant. As the first student followed my directions and started making their way to the board, the other students started screaming, “Zombie! Zombie!”
I really had to take second on this one. Zombie?! I’m not saying they were wrong, quite the opposite actually; the kids really did look like little baby Asian zombies (a genre not yet explored on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”). But how is it possible that my students know the word “zombie”, but don’t know what “thirsty” means? How to do they know the word for a mythical and recently popularized half-dead being, but not words that would be easily applicable in everyday conversation?
I wish I could say that this led me to some sort of epiphany; that somehow my students screaming “Zombie!” at each other resulted in a brilliant idea that could revolutionize my approach to teaching, my school’s curriculum, and, who knows, maybe even the world! Alas, there was no such revelation.
Perhaps we should start covering all of the student’s vocab words in fake blood and send them wobbling around the classroom? I don’t know; it worked for zombie.
This week for craft day, the kid’s made bells! I accidentally made them look a little Christmas themed; maybe my mind is confused because it’s still freezing here. (OK, OK, it’s not literally freezing, it’s been in the 50’s and 60’s lately. But I am still very cold!)
Oh, and just in case I hadn’t clarified this before, I design the crafts to go with the school assigned books, I don’t just come up with them out of nowhere. This week’s inspiration came from the book, Paul Revere and the Bell Ringers, which is a little story about Paul Revere starting a bell-ringing club as a child.
Two observations here:
(1) I always knew Paul must have been a super nerd. Bell-ringing club? Comeonnnn Paullllll, is that the best you can do?
(2) Why in the world are poor, confused Korean children learning about a debatably folkloric, relatively obscure, Revolutionary American’s childhood club? No one can be sure; I just make the crafts.
A few weekends ago, a big group of our friends from Ilsan decided to go on another WINK group trip together to Gyeongju to see the cherry blossoms. Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom and is now known as “The Museum Without Walls” because it is filled with culture, history, and landmarks. We took the group bus into the city and went straight to the bike shop where we got our rentals then started on our trek.
The first stop was in the city park, where we saw the ancient observatory tower, tombs, and an ancient refrigerator.
Group shot in front of the Observatory Tower
Flower field and Ernie. Remember the guy who I met my first night in Korea who showed up to the bar in his underwear? Well, here he is again dressed in a gold spandex bodysuit because “he was our group leader”. You never disappoint me, Ernie!
Tombs: Yes, those hills are tombs; they don’t always come in pyramid form!
No pic of the ancient refrigerator, but spoiler alert: it looked exactly like the tombs.
After the park, we biked on through the city through what should have been beautiful cherry blossom tree lined streets. Unfortunately, the weekend before there had been an unexpected freeze that came through and knocked all of the blossoms off of the trees, so we were left with bare branches :( . Luckily, the scenery was beautiful enough without the blossoms.
See the dead cherry blossoms on the right :(
We found a live one!
After a few hours of biking, we stopped for lunch on the bike trail where my Korean friend Jihoon helped me order my food.
Here she is trying her best to pretend my Korean is coherent.
After we finished lunch, the real biking began. Up until this point, I was thinking I was a pretty athletic and a relatively brilliant cyclist, a prodigy if you will. And then we hit the hills. We biked up and up little hills through rice paddies. Needless to say, my surroundings were beautiful, but I looked like a damn fool by the end of it. After about 2 hours of this I thought my legs were going to fall off, and then the most amazing thing happened: we started going down. Now, I’m the kind of person who thinks biking down a hill for 5 seconds is pretty exhilarating, but this, my friends, was no 5-second ride. For literally 5-10 minutes, I was sailing down the side of a mountain on winding back roads without pedaling once. It was like a one person, manual roller coaster. It was so incredible, I briefly considered paying a passing truck to put my bike and me into his bed and carry me back up the mountain so I could do it again. My only regret is that I didn’t attach a camera to my head to really capture the moment. It was so amazing!
After the roller coaster, we biked up another big hill (death) until we got to the top and checked into our hostel. Our hostel, by the way, was just a room with a bathroom attached. I’m talking no bed, no chair, no nothin’: just a floor and a stack of blankets and pillows. Korea, you’re so funny.
After we checked in and got changed, we went to a cute BBQ place in the city and then to Anapji Pond. The pond was stunning because the temples are lit up at night and they reflect perfectly into the surrounding water. Check them out:
The next morning we woke up and took a bus trip to two surrounding attractions. First, we went to Bulguksa Temple, an all female monastery originally built in 528.
Can you even believe these colors are real?
Next, we went to Seokgulam Grotto, a long path along the side of Mount Tohamsan that leads to a temple that was built inside of a cave and carved using the original rock inside in 751. Amazingly beautiful does not even begin to describe this setting. To make things even better, the temple had begun preparations for Buddha’s Birthday, so everything was covered in paper lanterns.
Trail up the mountain
When the bus tour was over, we went back to our hostel and loaded our luggage onto our bus. Then, we got back on our bikes and began a much flatter trek through rice paddies.
It was a lovely day, so my friends and I were casually biking down the road. Then, out of nowhere, the skies turned gray, rain started pouring, and hurricane strength gusts started blowing us around. We parked on the side of the road to try to figure out where we were, and the wind knocked our bikes over and turned our paper map into a giant paper ball. Half laughing/half scared, we got back on our bikes and pedaled to the nearest building we could find.
Obviously not taken at the time of the storm, but pretty symbolic of how we felt - which way do we go????
The place we found was an adorable little restaurant that only had two things on the menu, roughly translated: a “squid pancake” or a “rice and root dish”. We were informed that the root dish was a specialty of the area and is only served in that specific location in all of Korea! Sold.
No pictures of the rare root - ate it too quickly. Yummmmm!
By the time we were done eating, the whether was clear and sunny again (crazy Korea!), so we got back on our bikes and pedaled on. We went through some more rice paddies, back through the city, and returned to the bike shop where we relinquished our trusty companions. We made it back in time to try out some “famous” Gyeongju bread, or Hwangnam bread, which is a small pastry filled with red bean paste. I can’t say it was my favorite thing I’ve had so far in Korea, but hey, it’s famous! I had to try it.
After we finished our bread, we were full, happy, and ready to get onto the bus to head back home. Despite my aching thighs and painful awareness of my lack of biking skills, I have to say it was a really wonderful weekend.
*Quick disclaimer: If you’re my good friend, you may be wondering, “How in the hell did Bri suddenly learn how to take a decent picture? That girl has been screwing up pictures I’ve asked her to take of me for years!” Well, as much as I’d like to take credit, the following pictures are not my own. These, as well as many others I’ve posted, were taken by my friend Paige who is an amazing, actual photographer. I use her’s because (1) none of them have my finger covering the lens, (2) she actually knows what her flash options mean on her camera, and (3) seriously, if you had a photographer following you around all of the time, wouldn’t you take advantage of it, too? Anyway, thank you Paige for documenting my trips much more beautifully than I could ever do! If anyone in the Goyang, South Korea area is looking for a photographer, please contact Paige Stewart @ https://twitter.com/pajfish !
**Also, sorry this is the longest post ever and that I went a little picture-crazy. But comeon, the trip does look pretty awesome, right??
The other day we went to a clothing store that was filled with clothing with “English” captions. Here are a few gems I found:
No idea on this one.
“Wear your invisible crown” - I get a feeling Marissa would like this one.
I also feel like there’s clearly a demand for English speakers in Korea who can write coherent captions. Job opportunity!