Read From the Beginning

Korean Pizza and More

20 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So Domino's is an international chain, right? Well, courtesy of Matthew Fisher you can see what they call "pizza" on his side of Korea (don't forget to look up Coq au vin, if you don't know what it is); of course, perhaps that's what one should expect from a website that's titled "Creative Domino's Pizza" ( The image is the motto and mission statement of Jeonju National University, which we see on buses all the time; personally, I think Bethel should maybe steal both the motto and mission statement outright.


Jeonju motto

Weather Update

21 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

It's back over 50 degrees and sunny: not an ounce of snow to be seen anywhere. You'd think those pictures we took were a joke. In Gunsan, on the sea, this is apparently how it goes: cold air will blow through, followed by warm air, etc., and though it snows a lot here (apparently more than anywhere else in Korea), the locals say it usually melts within a day.

Posted by Jordan
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An email we got today from Matthew:

Forgot to say this before... I guess that this is mostly for Marisa, since I couldn't dissuade Jordan, but here goes anyway:

Don't eat jellyfish.

(In my case, I had no idea what it was---it was whitish, translucent, stringy, and sort of viscous-looking, but that description applied to half of the things on the table, and I assumed that like the others it was some kind of plant starch or obscure vegetable or fruit or even ginseng with something funny done to it. But it was actually jellyfish.)

Um. In Korea it's only considered good if it still stings.


So don't eat it.

(Intentionally burning yourself with spicy foods is odd enough to me, but intentionally stinging yourself with jellyfish poison? No matter how mild the poison is, this seems weird.)


PS: The Koreans told me that it was a Japanese dish. That's true, but I have never ever heard of the Japanese leaving bits of the tentacles in so that it stings you... they just spice it with miso and stuff.

I'm not kidding here. In Korea, don't eat jellyfish.

Visiting Chungju

26 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

This last weekend we decided to go visit Matthew Fisher in Chungju, instead of cleaning our apartment, or buying bookshelves for our apartment... or setting up picture frames in our apartment. Or crafting floral arrangements for our apartment. The trip started out a bit, well, painfully, as the stomach issues which I had been dealing with the night before (I'm not sure my system agrees with any amount of Soju, as both times I've had it I've felt ill the next day) cropped up as soon as we got on the bus, but all things ended well.

Chungju Visit

As you can see on the map we traveled northeast, traversing about half of the width of Korea, and roughly a third of the length. The bus trip took about 5 hours total, which included many stops and a short layover; a straight shot by car would probably be under two hours if you didn't hit traffic in the cities. We returned by train in about 4 hours, with two layovers. Both trips were about 18,000 Won a person, which, with the currency doing so poorly at the moment, translates into $12.50 USD.

Photos from our trip can be seen in the slide show below, or by visiting our flickr album.

We got in Saturday afternoon and spent the night at Matthew's, on our camping mats. Chungju is beautiful (nestled by mountains on all sides), so we had a nice walk around the place. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to play board games and drink gingerale with a couple of Matthew's expatriot friends (one of whom is of course named Matt); I had been on boardgame withdrawal for several weeks.

Anyway, here's a little video from our walk. The free exercise equipment appears to be a standard Korea lakeside feature.

Posted by Marisa
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My students this week were excited and thrilled to study "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson. This made for much amusement all around, whether from the enthusiastic whoops from the pop singer (imitated by the more daring in the class) or for me when I asked "who is the man in the mirror?" and received answers such as, "Michael Jackson!" or "poor people!" ("when you look in the mirror, do you see poor people?") When I was planning this lesson I didn't stop and spend much time on the choice of song, not fully realizing at the time that I would have to listen to the song about 300 times this week. The decision came mostly from a song that related to "how to change the world" and since everyone here knows Michael Jackson, I figured this was a good bonus (I don't think here in Korea they know much about his crazy side). Luckily for me, I have actually grown more fond of the song as I've listened to it. I hope to be so lucky next time I pick a song, as fill in the blank lyrics seems to be a big hit with the students. Even when the computer is broken and I must recite the lyrics, the class is still mesmerized into silence (in fact they are quieter when I read than when we listen). Perhaps I have a voice like my Intro to Bible prof, who no matter what he was talking about always put me to sleep instantly. I'm convinced it was the tone and cadence of his speaking, and the fact that is was at 8 in the morning. In any case, I felt a bit like the musician who tamed the wild beast when I read aloud, as the previously rowdy, obnoxious class became so quiet you could hear a pin drop (aside from my recitation).

The only other excitement of my week has been deciding that Gunsan must be the aberration of Korea because I believe we only have nice old people here. We have heard from various sources that the old women in Korea are something to be feared and avoided. Apparently they have no thought for the people around them and are quite ruthless when it comes to standing in line, walking on the street, or doing just about anything else. This being said, I have not experienced any of this mean old lady business. In fact I have only experienced very nice old ladies on the bus. One I met was quite worried that I get a seat on the bus and kept tugging on my shirt until I obliged and sat in a recently opened seat. And yesterday as I was standing at the bus stop in a little drizzle with only my raincoat, an old lady came up and shared her umbrella with me as we waited for the bus. There was also an old man on the bus who was determined to give me his seat, despite my deferrence (the buses in Korea are quite wild and it's all I can do to keep my balance as the bus jerks around, and I didn't want to be responsible for an old man falling over), he prevailed (and I think was more steady on his feet than I am) and proceeded to have a conversation with me in English. I'm not sure if a conversation is a good trade for a seat on the bus, but we both seemed pleased at the arrangement, so I guess in this case everyone was a winner. So I sit in wait of meeting my first mean old lady, but strongly believe that Gunsan is the land of nice old people.

Lao-Tzu Knows Best

28 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So you all know that Marisa goes to school and works hard and has lots of fun with her crazy students. But what do I do during that time? Do I really go to school at all? Or do I secretly head off to the singing rooms and karaoke all day? All shall be revealed in this thrilling new blog entry!

Let's see... I get up at 6:40am the same as Marisa (I originally tried sleeping a bit longer, but found that this didn't really work out so well), make toast (I am the official toast maker of our family, and make no mistake about the ease of making toast in a Korean mini-oven: it is difficult--but I am skilled, and swift with a timer and oven mit), we eat, I do a bit of reading, yada yada...

I get to Jayang (previously "Chayan," but Jayang is the preffered romanization) about 8:30, and currently teach two classes a day there Monday through Wednesday; there's some other stuff on my schedule which I think will kick into effect once the new year starts in March (the first schoolastic semester fall in the Spring, rather than the Fall in Korea), but for the moment I have it quite light. In the last couple of weeks all three of my classes at Jayang (grades 1, 2 and 3 as they say, which are equivalent to the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in America) have completed their textbooks, so we now play games every day (which is nice, because the textbooks were pretty boring, despite my attempts to link in relevant videos, music, historical and cultural information, StarCraft, etc.).

There are some great TESL forums out there (specifically Dave's ESL Cafe) where I've found all kinds of ideas for games and such. Some popular choices so far have been Team Hangman, Constantinople, and various variations on 20 Questions, Charades, bracket tournaments and Bingo that place an emphasis on language aquisition. I decided to bring some candy for prizes one day but as I was going in to class I had second thoughts... the candies were pretty small, and how much of an incentive could a small piece of candy really be for a 14-year-old?

The answer is: Korean middle schoolers will grovel at your feet for a piece of candy. They will hop up and down and spin in circles while pocking themselves in the eyes for a piece of candy. They will abandon their families and crawl on their hands and knees up Mt. Everest for a piece of candy, content to freeze to death at the top as long as they can suck on a sweet ball of sugar. They will even be almost quiet for a piece of candy!

And so it is as master Lao-Tzu once said: at all times look as though you may have candies in your pocket, and your students will respect you; for such is the way of wisdom.

At Napo middle school I have a similarly rough schedule of two playtimes a day. The students at Napo are generally much better behaved, however, and with the exceptionally small class sizes things are more pleasant all around (I have less of the "I'm standing in a zoo and I think I'm the odd one out" sort of feeling). We've made name cards and I'm starting to get everyone down... especially "Monkey," "Chicken," and "Adidas" (nick names are really big in Korea -- everyone has a name that their friends call them, and some people, like Monkey and Chicken, go by their nicknames all the time. When I told my principal that I don't really have a nickname he looked shocked and horiffied, but then regained composure and said, "No worry no worry! I call you... Tall Joe!" Me: "Tall Joe?" Him: "Okay." Koreans use "okay" to mean many things, including "yes.").

Yesterday I taught about Thanksgiving; some of the students knew "turkey!" (or at least "chicken!") but not much else. I showed some video clips, and was surprised to find that everyone really liked the NFL highlights clip--wow, it's 3:55 and I have to head for the bus. Anyway, hopefully that gives you a bit of a taste of (and for) the craziness.

Party in Jeonju

30 Nov 2008
Posted by Marisa
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Yesterday, Jordan and I had the pleasure of being invited by my co-teacher Ms Park to her home in Jeonju. We met her and her carpool at my school around 12:30 (since all the Korean have school on Saturday for some reason, apparently they just have clubs on Saturday). Jeonju is about an hour drive from Gunsan and there are three teachers, including Ms Park, who share the commute everyday. We got dropped off at Ms Park's new apartment (very large) and then left with her daughter for lunch. Her daughter is currently in the midst of applying to Seoul National University (the Harvard of Korea) and if she gets in, Ms Park is going to have a big party. I have it on good authority that the daughter (her name was never disclosed) is very smart, always at the top of her class, so I guess she has a good shot.

We went to lunch in the downtown at a Vietnamese restaurant. At first we thought she was taking us to a "vitamin house," but eventually figured out that she meant Vietnamese. I guess foreigners like Vietnamese food (we like it quite a lot) so she took us there. Jeonju is about twice the size of Gunsan, and so has luxuries like Vietnamese food. We had some very tasty noodles and dim sum (although dim sum is Chinese....) and then took a little walk around the downtown. We have become very curious since visiting Matthew and now Jeonju to find our downtown because everywhere we have visited has had very nice pedestrian only shopping districts with lots of exciting things. So one of these days we must venture out and see if we can find the Gunsan downtown.

Eating Out

The day was completely freezing despite having started out as a warm day, so we hustled through our next tour of the traditional village in Jeonju. It was a very cute place with lots of traditional houses filled with shops, restaurants and museums, as well as some really old buildings that were once the spiritual capital of the Joseon dynasty. The first king of this dynasty came from Jeonju, so it has a bit of fame. It was really cold though, so we hurried back after a little tour to Ms Park's house.

Jeonju 20

She had just moved apartments about a week ago, but her home looked remarkably organized, and she gave us a pleased tour of her very large apartment. It makes our apartment look like tiny place. I also saw the kimchi fridge, where the family keeps their year's supply of kimchi. Apparently all Koreans have a kimchi fridge, I don't know where ours is, and since it's kimchi making time, they are all full to bursting. At dinner we were able to taste both fresh kimchi and fermented kimchi made by Ms Park's mother, which was much better than the stuff we're served at school. Apparently over 20 seasonings go into the kimchi when it's being prepared, so there's a big range in taste. Since Jordan liked the kimchi so much, we were sent home with a large quantity of our own to put in our normal fridge, since we don't have a kimchi fridge. The phenomena of kimchi is quite amazing. Who would think that there would be a whole race of people completely addicted to eating at every single meal spicy, fermented cabbage. If you told me I had to eat spicy, fermented cabbage at every meal for the rest of my life I would think it was a severe punishment. But to the Koreans, a day without kimchi is like a day without air, unthinkable.

Ms Park had determined that she would teach me how to cook like a Korean, so I helped her with dinner. Although many of the things seemed to have been premade by her mother and we just dumped them into a pot. So, I guess I have to convince my mom to come over and start making things so that I can cook like a Korean. We made a tasty chicken stew, and some beef bulgogi (which I think is a mushroom sauce). I also made a salad and we roasted some hot dogs (which I think were just there for me and Jordan, but there was so much food we could hardly eat it). The highlights of the dinner were probably either when I started flinging food around with my chopsticks (despite my normal ability to eat like a normal person with them) or when Jordan thought the teapot full of Soju (watered down vodka) was water. Jordan also proved his manliness to everyone at the table by eating the hot peppers that Mr Park was eating (we call him Mr Park because he was never introduced to us beyond being Ms Park's husband, and I don't actually think women change their name upon marriage here, but for want of something to call him we call him Mr Park). After eating the first spicy pepper, Ms Park had to find the even hotter peppers in the freezer, to give Jordan the ultimate test. Luckily for me, I think being a girl keeps me from having to partake in such manly contests, as no one but Jordan thought I should taste the pepper. And since Jordan puts on such a good show with his pepper eating, I didn't want to ruin it by having a panic when I ate one.

Ms Park had invited over her English teacher friend as well, so we passed a very pleasant evening discussing many different things, from Michael Jackson and Obama, to the phrase "who cut the cheese" (which apparently Jordan has never heard, please tell him this is weird). All the English teachers here like talking to us because we are very easy to understand (thanks to our Midwest upbringing I always tell them) unlike the newscasters on CNN whom they can't understand. It was a very nice, relaxing evening, aside from my flying food, and Ms Park has determined that next time we come we will spend the night in her extra bedroom and we will teach her to make pizza.

This is a secret video that Jordan took of the cooking excitement while loafing on the couch.

To see more picture from the trip, visit the album at flickr.

Turkey at the Haven

01 Dec 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Yesterday we went to the Haven Baptist Church, a small church started in the late 1960's to minister to the Gunsan Air Base personnel (currently numbering around 5000, though the number has shrunk continuously since the war); somewhere along the line English Teachers found out about the church, and the congregation seems to be dominated by them now.

The church has no website, but they've got "hit men," so they don't really need one: one day while Marisa was standing at her bus stop waiting for the bus home a Korean man stepped up and gave her a business card for the Church. We called the number, spoke to pastor Stewart (who has been in Korea for over 30 years), and bam! on Sunday a van came by and picked us up.

The church seemed surprisingly small considering the size of the base (somewhere around 50 people I would estimate), but a nice size considering that everyone was quite friendly. We met the air base chief, as well as a number of English teachers around our age (most of them teaching at private hagwans, rather than public schools), and were invited to an English teacher Christmas party this Friday.

One of the best things about our visit was the food: aparently the congregation eats together every Sunday, and they eat stuff besides Kimchi! Don't get me wrong: I like Korean food quite a bit, but considering that it's all we eat at school, and all we can make at home due to what's available at the supermarkets, a little change is nice. This Sunday we ate "left overs" from their Thanksgiving diner; I'm not sure how much food they had originally at the diner, but if they hadn't told us we were eating left overs I never would have guessed: turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with brown sugar... the works. After a month of kimchi, it was a bit like heaven.

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Today I realized that I knew a Korean word. I was in class with Miss Doo having big excitement with some listen and repeat exercises when I heard her say, "chumbi." "Chumbi" I think to myself, I know that word, and I am transported to the days when I was in karate. A vague memory floats back to me of how all the words we used were Korean, and "chumbi" is the only one I still remember. And I'm glad to say that my American karate teachers did not lie to me, and it does mean exactly what they said: ready. (Erica used to be a superstar at chumbi, be sure to ask her to demonstrate next time you see her.)

The school is in a frenzy getting ready for exams next week. This means for me that while everyone else is working really hard and getting stressed, I am sitting around with nothing to do. They don't really test the kids on what I do, I'm just here for entertainment. So when things are serious, like at exam time, I just sit at my desk and play computer Mah Jong. My Thursday and Friday classes have been canceled, since the kids have to prepare for next week's tests, so I'm looking at an empty week before a week half days. I knew I always liked exams. The only bummer is that my desk is right in the main doorway of the main office, so everyone and their brother walks by and checks out what I'm up to (playing Mah Jong, watching "How I Met Your Mother" or something else equally useless, listening to audio books on the iPod, typing up blog entries (which I tell myself looks useful because at least I'm typing something)). (I can put a parenthesis in a parenthesis because my high school English teacher told me that once you learn to write, you can break all the rules, so I like to think that at some point I reached the pinnacle and can now do whatever I want.) And the students seems to think that my space is their space and stick their faces right up to my screen to see what I'm up to. So I've had to stop watching "Dawson's Creek" at school because sometimes it's a little sketchy.

After exams we have about a week and half of school. I asked Ms Park what we do with this time, since the semester is kind of over as the kids will have had their final exams, and she said that we will teach them things, but with a worried look on her face said, "sometimes they are hard to control." "Really?" I say with mock disbelief, and think to myself, my mom has a certain phrase she uses in a situation like this, but I have not progressed enough to use it, and if I did I would get an email from my Dad saying it wasn't appropriate. So I'll just think it to myself and you can wonder on your own about the mystery phrase.

On a side note, the students here a geniuses. They can spell 'hundred.' I couldn't spell hundred until I went to college. And Miss Doo can spell exercise. I didn't learn that one until class today.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So today I played Constantinople with my 1st graders (i.e. 7th graders) at Napo using Matthew's suggested word: antidisestablishmentarianism. We had a short and decidedly un-profound discussion on the topic... the students seemed oddly uninterested in either the disestablishment of a state church, or being opposed to such disestablishment, despite the historical significance of the word. The middle schoolers were not at all against using the word for the forth round of the game, however, and it led to an intense, epic, race-the-bell finish, where team Puma just barely beat out team Nike (can you believe those creative names?).

In fact, the ending was a bit loud... how to control such noisy outburts? Well, Matthew had found the answer to that as well at Dave's ESL Cafe:

I teach 4th graders in a Danish school (10-11-year-olds) and as kids are everywhere, the noise level tends to rise. We don't believe in mindless discipline acts, which tend to degrade students, create unhealthy competition and, worse, damage their self esteem. Instead, we bought and placed a big ear-shaped electronic device, which measures decibel. A green light means the noise level is acceptable, yellow means it's getting up there and red is of course unacceptable. By talking with the children about how noise can be disrupting for everyone, not just the teachers, we have now reached a noise agreement. Of course, in the beginning it was fun to see how quickly the ear became red, but gradually, the children turned to respect the ear on the wall and administer the noise level themselves. Try it out and see for yourselves!

I'm sure they're common in Denmark, but in Korea I'm just not quite sure where to start looking for a large decibel-sensing ear...