Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Small World After All

Tonight I saw my old Canadian roommate: Hwan. He arrived in Korea after a year as a Montrealer. Actually, everyone who met in Seoul tonight was fresh from Canada.

They each journeyed to Canada alone, met fellow Koreans, and returned to their homeland as best friends. I'm glad my country could bring them together... *sigh*

Me and Hwan. I was so happy to see him I almost cried! Don't ask about the hair. Yes, it's frozen like that. Someone made a "Something about Mary" comment.

We're devouring Korean egg roll, seafood pancake, rice wine, Kimchi tofu, etc. Koreans don't hold back. I used to think of Asians as skinny, but now know Koreans to be skinny (with beer-bellies at different stages.)

Sausages, peanuts and beer. Uri's ripping apart the semi-dried seafood so we can dig in.

We were dining on the heated floor of a traditional Korean restaurant, and I decided to crawl over to the next table and say hello. They had chocolate, and I played my foreigner card to get some. Min said, "it would be something special for them to get their photo taken with a foreigner." Basically I'm an alien.

Kyle, who I met in Canada. Little did I know his hometown is Suwon! We rode the bus back together.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blogging the Presidential Election

Reading The Korea Times yesterday I came across an interesting article entitled, "Bloggers Beware."

South Korea is a-buzz surrounding the upcoming presidential election. The current government of president Roh Moo-Hyun is increasingly unpopular, and he's prevented by law from seeking re-election.

The article warned bloggers against "pre-electioneering" with user created content. Articles/ images reflecting a candidate could be seen as campaigning- and punished!

Individuals who run a site supporting a candidate could even face prosecution. Bloggers can only "campaign" during the campaigning period. So much for freedom of expression!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lost in Translation

Teacher: "You're crazy"
Students: "Ah-hahhaha!"

"Crazy" directly translates to "mentally deranged" or "psychopathic" in Hangul. But it's part of my vocabulary. I often say, "that's crazy," as a synonym for "unusual," "strange" or "silly." I never consciously apply it to be funny, but it's like laughing gas in the classroom.

I suppose a native English speaker calling people and things "psychopathic" could get a laugh.

The boys are especially fascinated by the word. Here's a story written by Bill and Perry:

One day a CRAZY man went to the mad hospital. The doctor was an alien and the nurse was a predator. It was a cloudy, rainy, scary day and the crazy man, who had a crazy girlfriend, wanted medicine. The alien-doctor was kind but the nurse predator was hungry. MMM. The nurse ate the girlfriend! Crazy man was very angry...

Point made.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hiking Gwanak Mountain

I was a busy girl this weekend between the Folk Village and... a leg-burning hike up a mountain! I am invigorated, rosy cheeked and ready for bed. Min, Young and I tied our hiking shoes and started the trek around noon today. Korea is mountainous so there's no lack for trails. As novice hikers, we started with Gwanak Mountain next to Seoul University.

The view was breathtaking and we met interesting people along the way, like a Polish woman and a man who offered oranges and invited me to his home. He has two boys; one's 24 and anticipating a trip to Canada, and the other is 11. He called his youngest on a cell, and the little boy was very quiuputa: Hangul for "cute." He's learning English and told me he's surprised and excited to meet me.

Min suggested they invite me to their home for Lunar New Years and the man seemed happy to oblige. I have yet to enter a Korean home, and it would be a real honour to observe their customs, since it's the biggest holiday here.

Min bought us all cups of hot, cinnamon-y apple cider from a street vendor.

The Koreans were decked out with some serious hiking gear, including walking sticks. I loved how many older couples I saw out walking.

It is a common practice in Asia to pray to phallic rock formations for a baby boy.

This must be what it's like to step into a postcard!

Splashes of red training clothes against the wilderness: stunning.

Young snapped this candid of a weathered Min and me half way up the Mountain. I took a couple of tumbles! Ever yanked yourself up icy rock by rope?

We were glad to have packed bottled water, sesame crackers and chamchi kimbap in our bag. It was a delicious reward:

Back in the insanity called Seoul...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Traditional Korean Folk Village: Photos

Chung and I had a nice day at the Korean Folk Village: a living museum located near Suwon. For 13,000W I learned about traditional Korean life and culture, petted a horse and tried an old fashioned seesaw. Enjoy the photos. The freshly fallen snow was beautiful:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Suwon: International Heath Care Centre

If you're living in Suwon and need an English speaking doctor, Ajou University has a clinic for foreigners. Get contact information here.

The International clinic is located behind Starbucks on the 1st floor of the hospital. I was well taken care of, though I shelled out 30,000W to see a doctor. That's with medical insurance. I've been told it may be cheaper to see a doctor at a smaller hospital.

A volunteer aiding foreigners escorted me around. It was strange to see so many Caucasians, most of them American soldiers. There was one horrid white guy in a nightgown, dragging an I.V. as he whined about the hospital keeping him, "for months and months!" I wished I was Korean!

There's something Universal about the sterilized hallways of a hospital, families huddled around coffees. It actually sort of felt like home.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kimbap Nara Eats

If you eat at Korea's famous "Kimbap Heaven" restaurants, known for their cheap staple-food, don't get stuck in a rut because you can't read the menu. There's help out there!

Food connoisseur Mary from Mary Eats took on the painstaking task of translating the Kimbap Nara menu. Now a world of Korean food is accessible. Upgrade your kimbap to chamchi kimbap or try Korean dumplings for the first time. The Menu.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Kids go bananas over octopus, but they're also pretty crazy about Lotteria: Asia's "McDonalds," owned by the Lotte conglomerate.

The Lotterias in South Korea have a unique menu including yogurt and corn salads, squid rings, Kimchi burgers, shrimp burgers, iced coffee, teriyaki burgers, burgers sandwiched by rice... you get the point:

While you wait, watch cartoons or dream about "American-ee" movie stars like Brad Pitt. He certainly looks happy to be in Korea!

Korean Manners at a Bar

(Fold the stiff complimentary paper to make a chop-stick holder.)

If you're at a restaurant or bar in Korea and it's some body's birthday, you know it! There is music, cheering, and most importantly: cake. Even though Koreans turn a year older on New Years, they do celebrate their date of birth.

At a bar last weekend, Min, Young and I were seated next to a booth of girls. I've had an easy time befriending guys, but Korean girls are hard nuts to crack. I haven't met many I want to spend hours talking to.

"What do Korean girls talk about?" I asked Min. "Movie stars, friends, clothes, personal problems. They aren't interested in politics." He gave a blanket response, but that was the nature of my question wasn't it. "Do you want to meet the girls at the table?" Min asked when he saw my sidewards glance. "I prefer handsome male friends. I don't have ugly ones." At first I wasn't sure if he was serious but he was.

Later, the girls left. On their table sat a half-finished cake. It must have been sparkling in my eyes because Young laughed. "You can't take their cake!" I hadn't given it serious thought but I humoured him: "why not? No one else is going to eat it."

"Somebody might see you!" "Who cares?" We were at a bar, not a ritzy cafe. The atmosphere of Korean and Canadian bars is radically different. Bars in big cities like Montreal are social breeding grounds. Strangers mingle and bold behavior is appreciated. Traditional Korean bars are civilized places where people remain at their respective tables, eating and drinking.

We watched the waitress clear the table. She got a little frosting on her thumb. When she wiped it on a napkin, Min said, "she didn't lick it off because she wouldn't want to be caught doing it. Koreans care what people think." She was on the job so it would be unprofessional. I get that. But Young continued:

"The reason you don't see many handicapped kids is the family wouldn't want people to see them and think, oh, they have a handicapped child. They would feel shame." I think my previous post, about the lack of status in Korea, was written through rosy glasses.

The SUV driving, Prada show off is everywhere; status is blatantly obvious in Korea. I even read that Korean women are encouraged to spend 35% of their incomes on physical appearance. But at the same time, manners are highly regarded and this gives the semblance of equality. Strong influences of Confucian thought still exist today, influencing the social relations between young and old.

You never pour your own drink in Korea. The eldest at the table is offered a drink first- one poured to the brim, that is, and to decline the first drink is poor etiquette. He pouring must use both hands in a courteous fashion- one hand on the bottle and he other held lightly under his right arm. Young explained that peoples' sleeves were flowing in the olden days, so this kept them out of food and drink.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Handy Sites for Foreigners:

1. No batteries for the alarm clock? Get a dependable wake up call @
2. Want to phone internationally for pennies? Mom's a microphone away with Skype Internet Calls.
3. Korean ballads aren't doing it for you? Listen to a live feed of your favorite stations back home like NPR: National Public Radio and CBC: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

- Cars don't pull over to the side of the road for ambulances or other emergency vehicles!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dating in Korea: Broken Conversations

When I hang out with Koreans doing shots of Baek Se Ju: literally "100 years wine", I demand to know about Korean relationships. Please spill all!

Everyone asks "what Canadians are like," too. Those who haven't traveled abroad often reject the idea of multiculturalism and its innate variation. I especially see this in my students, who fantasize about a country where the light-eyed citizens eat steak every meal in their 10 acre backyards. My youngest students study my eyes an inch from my face.

... "What's it like to date a Korean girl?"

On the bus home from Seoul one night, I sat beside a Korean with an Australian accent. He was in his 20's, with impeccable English. He had just returned to his parents' place in Korea after 4 years as an expatriate, without one visit home. Can you imagine? It made my year here seem trivial.

Hoping to incite a reaction, I said, "life's tough for Korean men- 2 years of obligatory military service, a childhood/ adolescence of academic hell, and Korean women, who... expect so much." His face lit up. "You know a lot," he laughed. Japanese guys tease their Korean counterparts by calling them 'Kimchi men', implying the hard life.

Although things are rapidly changing, the Korean relationship is still traditional in many ways. It's uncommon to live with a boyfriend/girlfriend before marriage- probably one reason Koreans marry earlier.

I have a class studying love relationships. The only student is a shy 16 year old so it's tough to get a response. An activity instructed him to list positives and negatives in a potential partner. His positives were: "homemaking ability" (not a career woman), "how much she loves me," and "beauty." Negatives: "a smoker" and the other? "A FOREIGNER!" "Why," I grinned. "Because my parents told me so." I said, "but what if you fall in love with a foreigner?" He looked at me like that would be impossible.

I asked him what Korean women look for in a man. "Ability," "money" and "pretty man," were his responses. Oh, and "not a drinker." My students know I left my boyfriend of 3 years behind when I moved here, and they're curious about him. The first thing they ask is if he's "pretty." The emphasis on fashion in Korea makes me think that men's physical attractiveness is more imporant than it is back home. Maybe I'm naive, but personality is definitely #1 on my list.

My Korean friends explained that the women here are a challenge but deep down they like it. Yes means no, no means yes. Many expect emotional fidelity, and get angry when their boyfriend speaks to another girl. Scan couples on the street and you'll notice Korean men carrying their girlfriends' shiny little purses, doting on them insatiably.

Men are the first to initiate dating and women never say, "I love you" first. It's a given that the man foots the bill. I'd say the etiquette in North America is bill-splitting.

I've been told that women here like to be protected, can't stand being single, or alone in general. The Koreans I've known all comment how brave it was for me to move to another country. Kiju said, "Korean girls have a real problem with loneliness. But you don't, do you." I told him I don't really, and blamed it on being an only child.

One of my students: a little boy, asked for my phone number today! He's about 9. He also wanted my address. I said, "why do you want to know?" "Only you live at your apartment, teacher?" "Yes." "And you're not lonely?" "No love, I'm not." He wanted to keep me company! How cute is that?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday at Suwon Station

1st stop: Books Libro on the 3rd floor. It's big like Chapters but not as nice, and with few English books. I picked up this text book for 17 USD. It includes an accompanying listening C.D. and was recommended to me by a salesclerk. It even comes in my favorite color! I've been studying online but there's something nice about a book in your hand.

I also checked out the magazines. A New Yorker? It'll dent your wallet at 12 USD:

The movie theatre on the 6th floor had a meagre selection of English films, and one of them was Adam Sandler's CLICK which got devastating reviews. The theatre usually shows 3 or 4 English movies at a time. None appealed to me, but I did try a strawberry smoothie at the ice cream place. It got my thumbs up!

My Classes Caught on Camera?

I have a soft spot for troubled kids and I like my student Neil a lot. He stops by my room between classes, begs me for stickers and causes mischief. But last class he was more aggressive than usual. He was late. I wandered into the lobby and found him staring at the TV.

I ordered him to get to class. He ran ahead of me, slammed shut the door and locked it. As I turned the knob and pushed, he unlocked the door and it swung open along with me! I stumbled into the room. When I asked him to get out his homework he threw his book on the floor.

He was obviously seeking attention and the thing about a hogwon is that you don't always feel like you have the permission to discipline because the kids are supposed to want to come to class- the school is a business. He refused to do the listening questions so I let him be and continued on with my lesson plan. About 15 minutes later I got a knock at my classroom door. It was my boss and a secretary. They asked me to join them in the hallway.

My boss said, "Neil's Mother is watching the class and she's angry that he isn't participating, so please get him involved. I know he causes you trouble, but try."

Was she observing from the hallway? How could she see the class? Then my boss explained. There's a hidden camera in my classroom that feeds a live picture onto an Internet site. Parents have access to the feed.

Not only that but the head of the school surveys the rooms on a regular basis. You see hidden cameras all over Korea so I'm not shocked but I should have been forewarned.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress & Kareoke

Learn the history of Hwaseong Fortress here.

We took a bus to North gate and walked along the West side of the fortress. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach South Gate.

A residential area. Any clue what the shack full of clothes is for?

Construction taking place at North gate.

Beautiful architecture. Invaders, beware.

Min pretending to ring the massive historical bell.

Flags with Chinese characters.

Half way through our trek, we were called to the ticket booth.
There's a 1,000 WON fee for non-residents of Suwon.

Korea's National flower.

Min and a layer of grey smog at the horizon.

Asian pine trees.

The colors were magnificent as the sun sank.

On our way back to civilization, we saw a dog meat restaurant.

We warmed up with hot chocolate and donuts at Dunkin Donuts.
We also exchanged Korean/English lessons and when Young met us there, I was able to say:

"Hi Young-a, long time no see! It's good to see you!"

Dinner: "egg rolls", seafood kimchi pancakes etc.

Young singing a Korean ballad.

A fun ending to a great day. THANK YOU for visiting me in Suwon, Min & Young! I was happy to have the company.