Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Korean Dream.

Gangnam, Seoul

Inspired by the brainstormed ideas of my adult class:

The Korean dream? No, not a rose garden, black lab, a boy and a girl strapped into in an SUV, kayak on top. Korean land is small. A nice apartment and lucrative career is the dream.

Seoul is hot in the world real estate market. The cost of living is comparatively high. Although I'm tempted to disagree, stats peg Seoul as the 2nd most expensive city to live in, topped only by New York. Tokyo has fallen to 3rd place.

Location is important, and Seoul's hot spot is Gangnam. The 2 floor penthouses sometimes have a garden terrace, but generally speaking the 7 and 8th floors of apartment buildings are coveted for their view.

Like a good brand of jeans, there are names attached to Korean apartment complexes. The chains are backed by marketing schemes and famous spokespersons. New names pop up like toast.

My young students pitied me when I pointed out my 2nd floor walk-up. They worried it could be targeted by buglers. Apartment buildings in Seoul, especially luxury ones, have heightened security systems. Entrances are concealed from the street, and ID must be flashed to the doorman.

I asked my students why Koreans work so much overtime, and they explained that it's the competitive job market. Workers are constantly reviewed, and forced to prove their worth if they want a raise, let alone job security.

Korean men accept the fact that they will work long hours for success, and they secretly fear idleness. There is usually a social network at work. Men/women socialize with their coworkers.

People are having less and less children, due to the cost of child rearing, and filial duty is weakening. Many Mothers prefer not to be a burden to their eldest son, choosing to live alone or in a nursing home.

Koreans have less hobbies than North Americans. The Korean war was devastating and the country had to rebuild itself. This may have something to do with the limited leisure activities. Koreans have had to work hard to gain economic strength, and rediscover their culture.

Adoption/Babies in Korea

Korea is a developed nation, but is traditional in many ways. There's social stigma attached to single mothers, and adoption is shrouded in secrecy. Blood lines are important, not just among the wealthy. For this reason, most Korean orphans are adopted by Western families.

My student told me about a priest, a friend of his family, who found a baby in a basket at his doorstep. He and his wife felt a vocational duty to raise the child. Adoptive fathers usually seek a child with the same blood type. Luckily for him, the baby's type was the same.

The priest and his wife moved to a new neighborhood to present the child as their own own. It is common to move, especially when the adopted child is already 2 or 3 years old. Some women who adopt a newborn or use a surrogate will go as far as faking pregnancy for 9 months.

Although increasingly accepted, unwed mothers are isolated in Korea. They cannot be proud of the sweat and tears that go into raising a child alone.

Interesting Fact: As I've mentioned, there is a 100 Day celebration in Korea. Babies weren't exposed for fear of infection so, on this day, the baby was introduced to extended family for the first time.

Only the boys are photographed nude. Families take pride in their son's little winky. One woman in my class, the 3rd girl in her family, wasn't photographed because her Mother was ashamed not to give birth to a boy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Photos, in the time being!

My little man showing off:

Mom, Dad, I'm adopting him. Don't be shocked when I show up at the airport, holding his hand. I'm madly in love. Aren't you?

Girls drinking cream soda outside my door:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Inside the Ear is Love

My adult students respond to my ear- cleaning article.

One young woman describes the act in detail: "About twice a month, I lie my head down on my sister's lap, under a light. She peers into my ear, small spoon in hand. It's an act of affection and I can't see into my own ears to clean them.

When she finds a big piece of earwax, she gets excited, ohh, I found something good!" The other students shake their heads in amusement. They've experienced this. One guy says his ex girlfriend used to do a thorough cleaning of his belly button.

Many use the spoon after a bath, and claim using something as ineffective as a Q-tip would leave them feeling unclean. I guess when you've had the spoon, you don't go back.

One woman says she now uses a Q-tip, because the spoon presents a possible danger, but the others stay loyal. When I admit I've only ever used a cotton swab, concern washes over the classroom! They must think I have a small colony of Western plants growing in there.

They say if I date a Korean guy, he can clean my ears for me. I tell them that's quite alright.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Feet Feedback

Shocker. Asking my adult students to explain Korean culture is more fruitful than questioning 7 year olds who have just discovered their belly buttons.

I brought in my 'Culture of Feet' article this morning and got interesting feedback:

1. "Nice shoes are important in the business world. If a Korean man wears sneakers, people assume he's between jobs."
2. "It's important not to wear shoes in the home because the floor is where we eat and sleep."
3. "Most Koreans have separate bathroom, balcony and living room slippers."
4. "My friend's mother has a pair of high-heel shoes that she only wears inside. She's short, so I assume the extra bit of height helps her self esteem. The new invention is high heel socks."
5. "Korea is famous for its knock-off brands. You can buy nice-looking shoes for cheap, so they're available to everyone."
6. "Shined shoes present an image of diligence."

My students on Adoption in Korea: To be continued.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Adult Classes

The story is one of my colleagues got caught private tutoring and was sent back to America. I took over his morning classes.

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received from Martin Watts:

"It's a shame about your colleagues getting caught doing private lessons - but then, I thought the vast majority of people did that? I have heard that the only time it is ever an issue is when someone, be it a school or a pupil or whatever, develops a vendetta against a teacher and informs on them to Immigration - which is just so unfair! Korea is so determined, it alleges, to become an advanced nation, but it has such restrictive immigration rules - and not just restrictive, but arbitrary as well."

He's right. There are numerous reasons why Immigration was informed. The guy was chronically late and invested little in his classes. He was also rather friendly with the girls. Suwon is so desperate for foreign English teachers that it isn't easy to get shipped home.

Teaching adults has been fun. I have a class of 12 and they're all over the map. One is an architect who's moving to Chigago. One has plans to open his own hagwan business, "so he'll make lots of money and have free time." One is a masters student majoring in tourism, and one is a housewife looking to start a career late in life.

Their English is advanced so we discuss heavier topics: law, politics, divorce etc. I've also brought in material from my blog so they could say, "no, no, no you're misinformed here," or, "let me help you better understand this custom." They've applauded my curiosity. We laugh and have a good time.

Here are some funny/interesting things my students have said in class:

"Koreans often hang up without saying goodbye, like on soap operas. Sometimes Westerners are insulted, but it's the norm. Only in business dealings should you stay on the phone until the other party hangs up."

"In the beginning, I spent a lot of money on my girlfriend- hundreds of dollars on clothes and jewelry, but now the tables have turned and she buys me lots of stuff, so I'd say it was a good investment."

"Water is set out for ancestors on Lunar New Years because it suggests a pure spirit."

"The day before we do traditional bowing at the graves of our ancestors, we mow the grass because the site is considered their home."

"Usually wives control the finances, in Korea. My wife pays the bills and gives me an allowance from my own paycheck."

"Parents in Korea feel great affection towards their children, but invest too much. We want them to enter a prestigious school. We'd do anything to make that happen. Many Mothers are consumed by their children and have no life apart from parenting."

"It's true- most women nowadays don't know how to make their own kimchi. We buy it from the store. But we recall our Mother's kimchi with nostalgia. We helped her make it, and bury jars of it in soil to ferment, for two weeks, along with bean paste."

"I don't agree that friendship is usually the bud of romance in Korea. That has never been the case with me. Blind dates are very popular here, among youth. Friends constantly introduce friends. Friendship is what develops if there's no chemistry."

"Koreans don't bow anymore- only to elders. And only the very traditional would be insulted by a wave."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Suwon Spring-like Day

Street food
(All 2USD or less)

Odang: doughy processed fish (on a stick).
Dokbokkie: rice cakes in red pepper sauce: gochujang.
Soondae: Traditional Korean sausage made of chitterlings stuffed with a mixture of boiled rice, oxen or pig's blood, potato noodle, mung bean sprouts and green onion.

Women wearing traditional Hanbok, to a wedding.

A war memorial near the Gyeonggi Arts Center.

Modern art in the grounds. The sculpture is of a mouse who stole the cat's whisker.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Suwon 2002 World Cup Stadium

Busan l Park players warming up

If you're in Suwon, it's worth your while to check out the World Cup Stadium. I mean come on- Suwon is Korea's leading soccer town. The stadium has a seating capacity of 43,288, and was built over the span of 4 years, completed in 2001 at a cost of $190 million US.

Thanks to a friend's season tickets, I caught the Suwon Samsung Bluewings Vs. Busan game this afternoon. He was right. The Bluewings players are fierce! They are 3 time champions of the K-league and feature Ann Jung-Hwan who is the David Beckham of Korea. The team was greeted by thousands of screaming fans.

Suwon scraped by with a final score of 1-0. The wind was biting cold and we didn't wear enough clothes, but it was a good game; there were a lot of close calls and foul plays met by angry booing. One entire wing was packed with Bluewings supporters waving flags, chanting and setting off firecrackers:

What, no popcorn? Where are the hot dogs? Kimbap, hard-boiled eggs, and dry soup to mix are healthier options, but I yearned for greasy stadium food.

One standard? The price of food was inflated: 5 USD each, for a Cass beer and roll of kimbap--

Captain of the Bluewings:

Gyeonggi Arts Center

For residents of Suwon looking to experience traditional and contemporary performing arts, stop by Gyeonggi Arts Center (Bus 82-1) to book tickets to a musical, play or concert. Currently there are no exhibitions, but there's visual art pending in the spring.

The building and grounds are lovely, home to a massive garden with sculptures and, to my surprise, exercise equipment! I think it's a fantastic way to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Suwon, invaded by robots with good cardiovascular health?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mixed Tastes

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Inside the Mind of Korean Students

If you have a few minutes, I'd love an analysis of my Korean students' teacher centered art-- preferably before report card time so I know which ones are exemplary students ; )

1. This hideous monster was drawn on the board by a little boy named Justin. Apparently the monster is campaigning for me. That's, "I like Eva," not "I am like Eva."

2. The boy drew himself as... Hulk Hogan? He's doing some kind of muscle-dance. The 'E' is cut off, but I'm at the left, with a ponytail, bawling my eyes out. I think the proportions are interesting. He's statuesque and I'm so very, very small.

3. Dawn drew me with Rapunzel-like hair, on a stage. Today is White Day in Korea (Korea's Valentine's Day for women), so the boy in the picture must be handing me flowers.

4. This one has nothing to do with 'teacher' but it made me laugh. It's "dinosaur jiggae."

Monday, March 12, 2007

What NOT to do in Korea...

1. Greet people like the French (a kiss on either cheek) or slap their back, like the Greek. The customary Korean greeting is a slight bow of the head and, in some cases, a handshake: right hand in one or both hands.

In Canada last year, Hwan had Korean friends over for dinner and I made the mistake of hugging them hello. They approached him to clarify- what was the deal.. was I romantically interested? Oops.

Don't wave hello. It's acceptable among close friends but not elders. There are many formalities in Korea, and if you're saying anyoasayo: the formal hello, waving undermines the respect.

2. Eat rice or stew: jiggae with chopsticks. You'll look like an amateur. Even Koreans use spoons. Also, refrain from sticking chopsticks straight up in your rice, like you're honoring the dead, and eat your kimbap in one bite! Read my post on restaurant/bar etiquette here.

3. Casually link arms with someone of the opposite sex. Girls often link arms with girlfriends but but co-ed arm linking is likened to holding hands; it's an intimate act.

4. Resist sharing or accepting food. Even children, the uber selfish, break a chocolate bar into 10 pieces so everybody can have some.

When invited to someones house for dinner, never fish in your kimchi jiggae for a rice cake or chunk of beef. Just eat. Also, try to clean your plate and always act appreciative.

5. Wear a tank top. Girls- there's a double standard in Korea. You can show thigh in a mid-winter miniskirt but, for some reason, you aren't supposed to reveal too much arm. I learned this at my work Christmas party! It was boiling hot and my coworkers kept asking if I was cold and should put a sweater on.

6. Forget to reply to a text message. Koreans never leave the house without their phone, and they slide it open about once ever 5 minutes, to see if they missed a message. An exaggeration? Maybe, but if it takes you longer than an hour to reply to a msg., you better have a damn good excuse.

7. Dye your hair a crazy color. It ain't Japan!

8. Write a student's name in red (inferring death), call them a "bad boy" or "bad girl," call them crazy, which translates to "psychopathic," wave them over like you would livestock; wave with your palm down, curling your fingers towards yourself, instead.

9. Rush romance. Koreans are friends for months before feelings develop. There isn't a 'love at first sight' mentality- lust at first sight, maybe. Friendship in Korea is the bud of love, and that bud takes a long time to develop.

Many of my Korean friends (couples) dated for 4 months+ before they held hands for the first time. And no canoodling at the park! Public displays of affection: anything more than a hug on the subway or linked arms on the street, are frowned upon.

10. Women- Profess your feelings first. Korean men are always the first to ask a girl on a date, and later if she wants to "be a couple". Women should never, ever say, "I love you,' first.
It's still a male dominated society, and Korean men expect to be the pursuers.

11. (Bonus) Praise Kim Jong ll's love of luxury items. Talk about what great taste he has in cars, clothing, electronics...

Brought to you from the streets of Suwon:

My Photographs of Korea

Suwon Ladies

Suwon- stormy night

Suwon- side street

Suwon- pedestrians


Seoul- City Hall area

Traditional Folk Village


Traditional Folk Village

A palace in Seoul


Friday, March 09, 2007

Korean nightlife, Suwon

I've played it safe in Korea. I'm not a big nightlife girl and have yet to dance at a mafia-owned bar in Youngsan-dong, or visit Hongdae on "club day"- where one buys a 10$ pass to a number of clubs so packed you can't push your way to the bathroom.

The nightlife I've experienced is a tame one- certainly a watered down version of the fun I had in Montreal. My Korean nights usually fit the same mould: dinner, then to a bar where I sit at a booth with friends, nursing beer and talking. Norebang is sometimes part of the equation.

There is a darker side of Korea. Some women are here on 'Entertainment Visas', and if they don't work as prostitutes, they're employed at Juicy clubs, where men pay 10 times the regular cost of drinks for the company of attractive women. Suwon's Hotel Castle has a club with martinis (and girls) on the menu.

Last night I wanted live music in Suwon. There's no such thing. Tae Hun was driving and didn't want to brave Seoul traffic to go out in Hongdae, so we started our night off at 'Live Cafe' in Yongin:

I've been consistently disappointed by Western food in Korea, and the pizza Kyle and I shared tasted like a piece of cardboard. I would have preferred a good galbi soup.

The music was a one man band. He played a good Simon and Garfunkel tune, but the Korean ballads made a small impact on me:

We headed back to Suwon and settled at KING Luxury karaoke club, near Ajou University. Most places charge 12-15$ for an hour of karaoke, but this "luxury" establishment cost us an extra 8-. We smuggled in a bottle of wine, and drank as we sang. Is the chandelier worth the hiked-up price? You decide:

Next, we went to the Cass bar near Ajou:

I said it and I'll say it again. Even if you've just had dinner and you go to a bar, you'll be ordering more food. It's a social norm. Just look at our greasy platter of drink house food!

The bar was nothing special. Generally I'd say the nightlife near SUWON STATION is more exciting. The bars are more populated, and although there aren't many foreigners in Suwon, you're more likely to run into them there.

The cherry on top of our night was a smoky P.C. room where we played computer games. It was my first time ever, and I went as a social experiment more than anything. The room was packed with nearly 100 young men, staring at their screens. 'Bad guys' were shot at with with machetes, blood splattered onto the boys' Saturday night. They took breaks to light up a new cigarette or answer a text message.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Eye on Traditional Korean Games.

No, not computer games, although that's the passion among youth nowadays. A guide to Bull Fighting, Korean chess, Paduk, and other traditional games/sports, like taekwondo, here.

I'm going to focus on three games I've experienced: Korean seesaw, "Stick in hole," and Yut.

If you visit the Traditional Korean Folk Village, which faithfully recreates the lifestyle of the Chosun era (1392-1910), you can try games like Korean seesaw-- more fun than our seated version at the local park.

Koreans stand on either side and jump down hard, propelling each other into the air! Sounds like a young boy's dream, but the game was most popular among females.

My student told me the above game translates to "stick in hole"- pretty self explanatory, I'd say! Chung and I gave it a go, but didn't follow the rules. If you find a good resource, I'll post more details.

On Lunar New New Years, I played the traditional board game, Yut Nori, with Tae Hun's family. I was wearing a skirt so his grandmother made it her job to keep my lap covered. Anytime I sat down, she placed a pillow over my knees. How risky of me not to use one!

Above are the Yut Nori pieces. We put a modern spin on the game; the losing team took the winners out for Baskin Robbins ice cream!

Strategy and skill are involved but it's primarily luck based, and was at one time used in fortune telling. The origin is interesting. Depending on how the wooden pieces land, you call out the Korean equivalent of 'pig', 'dog', 'sheep', 'cow' and 'horse,' originally a bet by villagers to raise 5 different kinds of livestock.

What I liked best is the spectacle-nature of this traditional game. Tae Hun's family stood around cheering like it was a football match! Enthusiasm is a must. Learn how to play in the Wikipedia 'How to Play' section.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Inside a Bowl of Bipimbap

Before I stirred the contents with chopsticks, my bipimbap was a work of art, ingredients in their respective provinces, topped with a sunny egg, jiggly yellow belly in the middle.

This dish, apparently a favorite of Gweneth Paltrow, is most famous in the rice growing valleys of South Korea. Each region has cuisine unique to its climate. For instance, mushrooms and other wild plants are cultivated in the mountains, so North Eastern Korea has staple food with wild ferns and native roots.

What's in bipimbap, you ask? You can easily make it at home. Bipimbap is rice topped with dried seaweed, kimchi, lettuce, cucumber, sprouts (or alternative vegetables), and egg!

It's delicious and frankly less of a commitment than a boiling cauldron of kimchi jiggae. Kimchi jiggae takes time to prepare, then needs to sit and cool. Bits of red pepper cling to your teeth-- you find out who your true friends are, afterwards! Who needs that hassle?

If you're on the run, order bipimbap, served in less than 5 minutes. It's flavored by gochujang: red chili paste, healthy and cheap: 3,000 W.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Korean Students

A class leaning over my desk as I mark their tests. Are they not happy with the grades? The boy on the right looks like he's about to start a petition!

We change classes every 3 months, and I got a lively new bunch on Monday. Here are some questions they asked me:

1. Are you Australian?
2. How much money do you make- your salary?
3. Where your Mom live? Do you miss her a lot?
4. Can you eat Korean food, or only bread and stuff?
5. If you have a boyfriend, can I see a picture?
6. Are you human?

Monday, March 05, 2007

My recent photos of KOREA

Nightlife in Insadong, near Jeon station.

South Gate, Suwon

City Hall area, Seoul