Read From the Beginning

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Today is Pepero Day. This means that everyone is Korea gives each other boxes of Chocolate dipped sticks (called Pepero). The origins of the holiday are misty (as are most) although Wikipedia says, "Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero"; but the teacher who sits next to me says it was started by Lotte (the makers of Pepero). It's celebrated today because it's 11/11 (which looks like sticks of Pepero).

Pepero is like Pocky if you know about Pocky, but is made in Korea, not Japan.


Today I received a few boxes of Pepero, a giant Pepero stick, a twix bar, a milk candy and 2 vitamin C tablets. Jordan has received, I believe, nothing. Although we are going to go out for dinner because the holiday is something like Valentine's Day.

All I can say is, "long live Pepero day."

ha ha!

12 Nov 2008
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So I was walking back from lunch with Ms Park and she starts talking about bowing.  She says that some of the foreigners she's known have found bowing to be difficult.  I told her when I moved to Bolivia we had to kiss everyone hello.  Complete shock followed, then nervous laughter (is she serious? could such a place exist?), and agreement that bowing really couldn't be all the bad, could it? 

Beautiful Gunsan

13 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

For any of you who believed all of Matthew's rhetoric about how ugly Gunsan is, here is proof to the contrary: this photo was taken a ten minute walk from our front door. Click on the image to see more pictures. 

Marisa and Jordan at Lakeside

Tour of the 'Hood

13 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

A couple of weeks ago we video-taped a little tour of our neighborhood here in Gunsan. It kind of went on the backburner, but here it is in all of its low-resolution glory (I appologize for the video quality: I didn't really know what I was doing with the camera settings at the time). I hope you enjoy the K-Pop.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So we had a half day at school yesterday.  I was pretty excited to go home and do nothing for a while, but around second period Ms Park told me that the teachers were going to climb a mountain that afternoon and I was invited to go along.  Invited meaning I was going along.  I was a little annoyed at the short notice, since I was dressed for school in tights, a skirt and inappropriate footwear, while all the other teachers who were going were dressed in jeans and sneakers.  I guess they were given more than a few hours notice of the trip. 

So at one o'clock I found myself on bus with about 30 teachers (there are about 50 at the school, so a little over half).  We pulled out promptly (or at least I assume it was promptly because we left at 1, although perhaps we were supposed to leave at 12:30, I don't know, no one tells me anything).  Soon after we pull out people start passing around the snacks: a bottle of water, some tangerines, dried squid and beer.  Dried squid is in fact one of my least favorite things on the planet, but I tried to it be sociable.  And I drank my dixie cup full of beer.  After about a half hour ride we pull off the highway and Miss Kim (I think maybe no one told me about the trip because Ms Park couldn't go, and I think she was worried about me going without her) informs me that we are stopping at a high school.  Although Miss Kim is an English teacher, she speaks practically no English, although I believe she can understand a decent amount (at least she is always translating what I say in class), so what we're doing at the high school (and where the mountain is) remain a mystery.  We meet the principal at this high school, and so there are some speeches amongst the two principals.   Then we walk to this big building which turns out to be a large auto-mechanics classroom, with lots of engines and cars and stuff.  So, I guess we were there to tour this pretty fancy technical high school.  We also clapped for the auto-mechanic teachers.  Then it was back on the bus and on to the mountain.

The mountains weren't too far from the high school and soon we were blissfully wandering amongst the fall colored leaves next to a peaceful brook, while vendors tried to sell us various strange foods.  And it became apparent that "hiking the mountain" was really "stroll along at the bottom of the mountain and take lots of pictures and maybe have a snack."  Since Ms Park didn't come with, I got to hang out with all the teachers under 30, as they frolicked from pretty tree to pretty tree taking pictures.  The group of teachers who came on this outing, as far as I could tell, was comprised of unmarried, young women, older women whose children were gone, and various men.

As we neared the end of the path (paved for our convenience), the teachers I was with spotted the older teachers (including the principal) sitting at a table drinking and having snacks.  At this point there seemed to be hesitation and an effort to turn around without being seen by this snacking group, but I fear there was no hope for them since they had me and no one was going to let me miss out on group bonding.  I felt a bit bad because I didn't want to repay their kindness in letting me hang out with them by dragging them to the table with the bosses, but what could I do? 

We found the principal, vice principal and various other teachers snacking on a salad and a quiche thing, with bowls of rice wine on the side.  Of all the things I had to drink on this outing of fun, the rice wine was the best.  There was a big discussion about my name, what the last part of it was, how to say it, then it was back on the trail to head back to the bus.

At this point, it's 4:30 and I think, "maybe it's time to go home." So I happily get on the bus and wait.  Miss Kim comes and says, "now we go to dinner."  Food is generally a good thing in my book, and I know both Jordan and Matthew have had very tasty meals with their teachers, so I was hopeful.  The large, obscene statue outside the restaurant, however, should have made me wary.  We walk into the restaurant and Miss Kim says, "Eel."  "Eel?" I say back, somewhat worried.  "Eel, do you like?"  Well, I've never had eel, I tell her.  Then she informs me that there is a small table where I can have meat instead.  Sighing to myself, I say, "no, I will eat the eel." She looks at me dubiously and sits down.  I think she was hoping to avoid the eel herself, but the principal was there and I was sure he would have been very disappointed if I didn't eat the eel.  So I ate the eel.  I suppose I can say that it wasn't terrible, I managed to eat a few pieces without the threat of gagging, so it's ranked above a few foods I've eaten.  You know it's bad when the vegetables start looking good. 

At dinner we also had blackberry wine.  I'm not sure wine is the right word though because it seemed to be quite a bit more potent that wine. We had little glasses, smaller than a shot glass even.  I tasted it and decided it would be better if I just ignored it and focused on eating the eel.  But then, someone wanted to display their desire to be my friend and shared their glass with me.  So, unless I don't want to be their friend, I have to take the glass and drink the wine.  Not too tasty, but better than eel in any case.  Then a few minutes later, someone else comes to be my friend.  So we go on like this.  Eventually Miss Kim and the other woman sitting near me intervene on my behalf and make them give me Coke instead.  However, my triumphant moment was when, after taking a shot of Cola and listening to a speech about how he hoped I would learn Korean customs because they are "beautiful," as he was making to leave, I offered him my empty glass.  "Ho ho!" everyone says, "Return!" And the man gladly takes my cup and I pour him some wine. 

After dinner, everyone wanders back to the bus, and I'm ready for a little snoozing on the bus.  However, apparently the party was just getting stared because the entire way back we were entertained with what I can only assume were jokes (everyone was laughing) and singing.  Various teachers took the microphone and sang songs to make help make the time pass as we drove back to Gunsan. 

Finally, we arrive back at 7pm and I bow goodbye to the principal and I'm given four cans of beer ("for your husband!") and I make my way home.  Not quite the mountain climbing trip I expected, but then, this is Korea.

Canoe Victorious

14 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So I was teaching about modes of transportation in class today at Napo, and we had all kinds of fun. At the end of the class I decided to have a showdown between all the types of transport we'd discussed; we lined all of the modes up in brackets, and for each bracket the students had to vote on their preferred way to get around. It was a basic bracket style tournament, where you'd have, say, walking vs. train, and if trains wins, then it goes on to meet the winner of car vs. rowboat.

Now what you have to realize here is that we had brainstormed up basically every kind of transportation imaginable, from jet ski to hot air balloon to hand glider--so there were a lot of choices, and a number of rounds. Well, needless to say the tournament was tense to the very end, with emotions soaring in all directions, some wild thrashing, a couple of students who had to be physically restrained, and no end of close and unexpected upsets. The long and the short of it is that Canoe--yes, you read that right, Canoe--emerged victorious, soundly defeating the previously unbeatable Jet. I tried for the life of me to understand why Canoe was so popular, but all I really got in the end was that it had something to do with "human power." I'm sure there's a valuable bit of insight into the Korean middle school psyche here, but I'm not sure what it is. Cast your own vote via the poll in the sidebar.

Dinner With Landlords

16 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Last night our landlords took us out to eat; a very nice family with two boys aged five and seven. They took us to Mr. Pizza in the new downtown area of Gunsan. The food was delicious: we had Kimchi and Seafood spaghetti, all-you-can-eat salad bar (which included crab), and a deluxe seafood pizza with crab and other goodies overflowing the crust.. All the waiters at Mr. Pizza wore headbands with crabs bouncing around on little springs, and the place's motto was interestingly "Love For Women"... we never figured out why. After the dinner we took a walk down Gunsan's beautifully-lit pedestrian bridge (crosses over the lake that is near our house). Check out the pictures of the bridge in our photo album.

Bridge Night Lights 01

PS: One of the interesting things in Korea is that you are expected to share, even at restaurants, which means that they've got no problem with two people sharing one all-you-can-eat salad bar dish, or a free-refills glass of Cola (they'll bring you two straws!). I'm sure my dad would think this was great; if he were here I could see him ordering one dish and one glass of Coke for our family of six to share.

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So I thought I might run you all through a typical day in my life.  Despite today being my slacker day, as well as juice day, I think it bears enough resemblance to regular life to warrant the title "a day in the life."

Generally I wake up at 6:40 am.  I'm supposed to be at school at 8:10.  Why I'm supposed to be there at this time is a mystery to me.  School doesn't start until 8:50 and I don't really have a whole lot to do before school.  Every other English teacher I know (including all the teachers at Jordan's two schools) don't have to be at school until 8:30.  And even when I come "late" at 8:20 or so, most of the teachers aren't here.  I'm starting to suspect that Ms Park comes at 8:10 and for some reason thinks I should to.  I have plans to casually come later and later every day.

After breakfast of cinnamon toast and PG tips (the only tea I like, carried to Korea all the way from England in a giant box), I get on the  bus at 7:37.  I then sit on the bus for about 40 minutes.  I take this bus, not because it' fast (there are much faster ones) but because it takes me right from my door to the school door (although it took me several weeks to realize that the bus went down the school street and I used to walk a few blocks).  And it's the bus they told me take and gets me to school late; I figure it's nicer to sit on the bus then sit at my desk (on the bus I can iPod it up).

I get to school at the aforementioned time of 8:20 and then sit around for a while, checking me email, doing some stalking on facebook, maybe updating my status so that everyone can know what I'm up to that morning.  I generally always have class first period (although it's true that at least twice a week my classes happen at different times than it says on my schedule, unfortunately they aren't often canceled they just happen at later times.  I think this might be because the teachers are going on outings and need to rearrange their classes so all the free time is in a chunk.)  In class I often work right out of the (extremley dull) textbook.  Mostly we are doing listen and repeat excercises so that all the students can learn to talk like me.  Generally these are so dull that I fall asleep and start randomly changing the words, much to everyone's confusion (like when I called Jane a he, or read 'student' instead of 'earthquake').  I always claim that I am testing them (apparently people really do this, so I guess I'm okay).  Sometimes I try and make the lesson more exciting by saying 'shampoo' as ridiculously as possible, or trying to get the students to say "I can't believe it" like they really mean it.  Sometimes if I can make a connection I show a movie from youtube or do a crossword puzzle.

On Monday's and Tuesday's I work with Miss Doo and the first years.  This week Miss Doo wanted to play a game, so we played "My Hopes and Dreams" Bingo. Everyone was very excited about it, so much so that they didn't want class to end.  I gave out candy prizes, which I think is what the big excitment was all about.  I think my students are some of the best behaved middle schoolers in the country.  They don't seem particularily well behaved, but from the stories I've heard from others, I think they must be impressive.  Although I was a  bit annoyed with one boy who thought copying words off a list was too difficult and tried to copy his neighbor's sheet.  He was then annoyed with me when I told him he had to copy off the other sheet, not his neighbor's.

This afternoon's class was topped off by the arrival of a small snow flurry, which I think out manuvered bingo for most-exciting-thing-to-be-happening-at-that-moment.  While I'm sitting here we are still enjoying a small falling of snow.

When I'm not in class, I'm generally sitting at my desk "working" on things.  Sometimes I do actually work making plans for next class.  I generally do most of my school planning on Tuesday (today) because I have about a four hour break in the middle of the day.  I have to plan about 3.75 activities.  Some of the classes are in somewhat the same place, so I do something of the same thing.  For one of my classes I still haven't found where my co-teacher's office is, so I just wing that one (meaning I show up and ask the kids what page in the book they're on, then we play some hangman).

I also have cafeteria lunch everyday, and I get to sit at the special teacher's table.  We even have our own place to get food.  I prefer to go before the actual lunch hour since it's seriously loud when the students are there, but none of the teachers really talk during lunch anyway (although I have a few fans who get excited when I come in for lunch and ask me lots of questions and try and get me to hold my chopsticks the right way).  Today, however, I didn't eat lunch as I'm just drinking my juice in an effort to let my digestive system rest.  However, in the afternoon we are often given tasty treats and today is no different.  I have sitting next to me a tasty rice cake, the best kind of rice cake Miss Doo says, and I'm determining if it counts as juice.  I fear that I will have to take it home for Jordan.

I leave school at exactly 4:30 everyday, if it's getting close to 4:30 (like 4:27) and I haven't left yet, Miss Kim who sits next to me tells me I should go.  Today I'll probably sneak out a few minutes early so I can catch an earlier bus home.

Once home I generally make juice and have dinner, we go out frequently because there are lots of tasty and cheap restaurants around.  Tonight though I will just have juice.  At that point any kind of entertainment might proceed, knitting, movies, Harry Potter, the Sims...And then around 9:30 it's time for bed.

So as you can see, I really do lead a thrilling life.

Snowy Day!

19 Nov 2008
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Yesterday afternoon everyone was really excited about the few snow flakes that fell from the sky.  But this morning we were shocked to wake up to about 6 inches of snow.  And it kept snowing all day.  Apparently the snow only lasts for a few days, so we'll see what happens.   click here to see more  photos

Marisa and Snow

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

When living in Korea (or really anywhere, if we're going to be honest) one comes across many absurdities in day to day life. Here are the ones I experienced today.

So we're not going to dwell too much on this because I'm in the middle of dealing with it (so is Jordan) and it's best not to think too hard about it. But the province we are in has created a contest for all the foreign English teachers. We are supposed to create a star lesson plan, video it, and send it in to a panel who might award us about $500 (although it's not clear if we get the money, or the school, I'm guessing it's not likely to be us). So, my co-teacher Ms Park says my Halloween lesson was a good one, why don't I do that. I type it up, making it look much fancier than it is and then this morning we video it in class (keep in mind the class has already had this class, back when it was actually Halloween). So we watch all the same video clips, do the same crossword puzzle and then, to top it all off, I give them fake homework (because the directions are that I assign homework, but in actuality I do not assign homework). I did draw a nice princess on the board, though. We finished a bit early (I wonder why, could it be that everyone is bored out of their minds and knows the answers?) so I improvised, quite well I might add, about Thanksgiving (since it's next week, unlike Halloween which was a month ago).

So we finish the class, the bell rings, and I think Hallelujah! no more of that nonsense (unless by some strange act of God my lesson enters the semifinals and then we have to do it again in front of judges), but then Ms Park comes and says, "I think we will have to do it again, the camera wasn't working." I smile, everyone knows I am very diplomatic, and say, "sure, no problem, I love this lesson, let's do it everyday forever." I was somewhat prepared for this eventuality because the same thing happened to Jordan, but I think to myself, at least we'll be taping again with a different class so it's not so boring that the students will likely jump out the window. But later I discover, for reasons unknown to me, we are filming with the same class on the same day during last period (to happen in about an hour). And then I begin to suspect that the camera was working fine, Ms Park just didn't like my ad lib about Thanksgiving (the only part during which the students acknowledged my presence) because she came down and gave me some pointers. "Talk slowly, make it go longer until the bell rings." Sure, right after I jump out the window with the students.

In the midst of this drama I've also been trying to discover the dates for my winter break. I knew the school was on vacation from December 25 until February 2, but sometime in there I am supposed to have vacation school. When exactly no one seems to know, although we're trying to make plans so I go and ask Ms Park if she can please find out so I can buy a ferry ticket to Japan. In the course of this discussion I discover that when we come back to school on February 2 we only have school for one week and then we have "spring vacation" which is the rest of February. At this knew piece of knowledge I stare at Ms Park like she has three heads and try and contemplate what good one week in the middle of a two month vacation could possibly do. I still don't know, it boggles the mind.

Although perhaps the most absurd part of the day was when I asked Jordan if absurd started with a 'U' or an 'O.' Why anyone thinks we should all learn English is beyond me.