Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Friday, June 29, 2007

Please, have a plum

Mmm, sweet and juicy. Fruit can cost an arm and a leg in Korea, but a lady sold these from the back of a truck for only 2,000 Won today. Maybe I'll bring them to share with my adult class in the morning.

The whole "Oppa" Thing

Guys- Ever have a girl you loved say you were like a brother to her? Probably worse than being told she doesn't want to ruin your friendship.

This is not the case in Korea.
Girls call most boys, "older brother." In Korean, it sounds like, "oppa."
Older sisters are called, "luna."

I just got this comment on the blog: "Hmm you're cute but you look like my sister. which kinda cancels the attraction part out for me. hah." And isn't that the way it should be? As an only child, I'm no expert, but the whole "big brother" thing is a little creepy.

Many wives call their husbands oppa, as a term of endearment. Girlfriends call their boyfriends oppa, and the label seems to carry through to the couple's brother-sister dynamic.

I have been insulted so many times by Korean guys who try to carry my bags, tuck in my shirt, get me water and pay for my meal. As a budding independent, I used to think they were insinuating I wasn't capable of taking care of myself. I even had one guy roll up all of my 삼겹살 lettuce rolls, one by one.

But Korean ladies like to be taken care of. I was told by a student that if my friends weren't being paternal, or 'brotherly', I'd have reason to be insulted. So I guess I should just enjoy my oppas while I'm in Korea. Maybe they're the only brothers I'll ever have.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Korean Kids and the 'Mom' figure

"What are you afraid of?"

"Getting a bad grade on a test."
"Poisonous insects."
"My Mother."

This week, one student caused me a lot of stress. He ran around with scissors, he stood on the whiteboard and wiggled it. (For dramatic effect, the screws came out and it fell over, almost knocking out another student.) The class became unsafe. I heard the boy sees a therapist with his family, and has some form of ADD. He gets angry when I ask him a simple question; he whines or growls and scuffs his shoes against the floor.

I told my boss I couldn't take it. "Time out" didn't even work. I couldn't rationalize with him. The class became chaotic, and the other students fed off the energy.

My boss phoned his Mother and had a little chat. The next day, he was another person altogether. He came into class meek and lifeless. He forgot his book and sat silently, with a lowered head, not saying anything but, "yes teacher. No teacher." After class I told him I would be very sad if he left, but that he needed to show me respect. He wrapped his arms around me, with his head on my shoulder. He looked like he might cry. It was a sweet, unexpected moment.

But I don't want a fearful student who knows his Mother is eyeing him, at home, on the CGV camera. I just need to be able to manage him. I wonder what next class will hold. Any disciplinary advice, teachers?

Long Distance Relationships- How to "Make it Work"

One reason I deleted Facebook is, it's nice to think your significant other vanishes for the period of separation. They don't go to friends' weddings in Toronto, take a creative writing class, go bowling on Saturdays or move into a new apartment. They are just poof, gone, nothing changes and things remain the same. When I talk to Josh on the phone, we are usually in a fit of laughter like old times. You'd think I had only been gone for the weekend.
And as Josh says, "a year isn't a long time once it's over." Of course I'm entirely hypocritical. This blog must be killer for him. I post piles of photos of me mountain climbing with Min, having dinner with Hwan, playing pool with Tae Hun. Why I don't have more female Korean friends is beyond me. I want them! I have the strongest desire to sit on a patio across from a girlfriend, talking and people watching.
When Josh went to Israel last summer I was like, for heavens sakes, why does his closest travel companion have to be a girl in a little white tank top. She had a shaved head and was hot. It was horrible. She had a boyfriend but it was little consolation.
Tae Hun calls me "tomboy" and (casually pushing my lip gloss out of view) I guess I am, compared to most Korean girls. But it's no excuse, really.
This post was inspired by a recent e-mail. Western girls moving to Korea write to ask what they should pack, ie. bed sheets? deodorant? tampons? But this girl asked how I was maintaining my relationship! She's leaving a boyfriend behind and wants to know what the chances are of making it work.
I told her existing problems will surface. Long distance is no fun fair. But if it's meant to last, you'll develop a deep appreciation for them, and the ways they contribute to your life. Enough sap.

TOP 5 WAYS to "do long distance"
5. Talk on the phone regularly, but not too often- once or twice a week just so you don't have to do one of those big, annoying catch-ups.
4. Create a joint project like a website that allows you to work on/ discuss something unrelated to your separate lives.
3. Make sure you have something to look forward to. J and I are going on vacation somewhere hot and sunny, in November, when my contract is over.
2. Do sweet things for each other. I made him a slide show set to one of his favorite songs. He commissioned paintings from my Mom.
1. Confide in each other in an honest way that makes you feel close.
Lastly, don't sweat the small stuff. Enjoy life where you are because life's too short short. Josh says he's strangely confident when people ask him if we can last the year, and I feel the same way. After all we've been through, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I deactivated Facebook

because it is annoying.

Fashion Glasses for Man Won

This post is for my family. Remember the 3 years in a row I wore "reading glasses"? My yearbook, health card, library card and Christmas photos all showed me in cat frames. I searched high and low for affordable glasses without prescription, and got so accustomed to wearing them that I freaked and wouldn't leave the house if I couldn't find them in the morning!

I prayed my eyesight would deteriorate at the ripe age of 16 so I could justify an expensive pair. I was convinced they made me look smart. Mom couldn't understand it, and now I don't blame her. "You have beautiful eyes! You look like you're wearing those plastic glasses with a fake nose stuck to them. Not attractive."

But fashion glasses are popular in Korea. I was ahead of the times! Look at the selection above, for 10 USD: various styles in a rainbow of colors. 6 years ago, I would have been in glasses heaven. (Sigh. I was so sophisticated.) I nearly tried a pair on for old times sake.

Monday, June 25, 2007

My favorite Restaurant- a little gritty.

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A few times a week I grab lunch at a Kimbap Nara restaurant near home. For 3,000 Won (3USD) I can get kimchi jiggae, a plate of rabboggie or bowl of ice noodles.

This said, there are few frills. The bathroom looks like this:
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Most days I'm not at all concerned
about the lack of toilet paper or the general cleanliness...

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The coffee is dispensed from a machine for 10 cents. Coffee machines are very popular in Korean restaurants. You know, even hot water and powder can taste like a latte if you're desperate.

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View out the restaurant window, where I sat on a stool: a woman dressed in Hanbok, walking past construction on her way to a wedding.

A man and his little girl:

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The Korean Man's Story

I have two new men in my adult class. One is a Christian and the other an atheist but they are both traditionally Korean. I'm liberal and choose to discuss social problems. Topics like abortion, stay at home Dads, and (laughs) gay couple adoption can get a bit heated.

I'm a strong believer in equal rights. I think homosexuals are born gay, but my students are convinced it is learned behavior, inherently evil, and would be a negative influence on an adopted child. They insist the adoptee would acquire their fathers (or mothers) "perverse" behavior. I asked whether they thought it would be healthier for a child to grow up in an abusive home or a gay parent home, and they chose the abuse without blinking.

I guess a hot topic like that is absurd to bring up in a society steeped in Confucianist tradition, a society in which adopting a child, period, is frowned upon, and gays live lives of secrecy. For the most part, the middle aged demographic grew up under a wooden stick of discipline, in post war time.

The man I dined with last night grew up on a rice and sweet potato farm. His father refused to be a farmer and not only fled his family farm, but left his son in the valley, in the care of his elderly grandparents.

The boy was beaten times he showed weakness, and when he queried about his family (did he have a father and mother? Were they dead?) he was sternly informed the topic was off limits, he wasn't to ask about them.

On his 7th birthday, his Father and Mother showed up unexpectedly. He was overwhelmed with joy, having been reunited with a mother, father and younger brother he didn't know he had. He just thought he was different, growing up. He had no mother and father and there was no explanation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Oooh Fancy Fancy Fancy!

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I was treated like a princess tonight!
On the excruciatingly long plane ride from Canada to Korea, I sat beside a Korean man who lived in Calgary for 9 months. He is in pharmaceuticals with aspirations to be a politician;
he's so driven and successful that he's a bit intimidating,
but he's also playful in his own way.

There was some e-mail miscommunication but we finally got into contact and met tonight for the first time since we choked down plane food and watched 'The Notebook', high above the sea. His childhood story is facinating. He met his parents and younger brother for the first time at age 7. I'll tell you the story, in depth, sometime.

Anyway, here are some photos from our night. He picked me up in his car and gave me a traditional pouch that brings good luck. A luxury seafood restaurant awaited us, and afterwards we watched dancers in the park near the Suwon Arts Center:

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Oceans 13" Takes a Nosedive

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Sleepless? Have some white chocolate ice cream at CGV theater in Suwon:

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Or grab an iced green tea latte. Variations of these are available at nearly all coffee shops in Korea (even Dunkin Donuts). They taste strongly of green tea. I like them because they're pluralistic; the merging of American and Korean culture. They aren't cheap, running from 3-6$. Not quite my cup of tea, but my friend gladly drank it down:

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I didn't have time to eat lunch between teaching and my date so I grabbed a "relish" hot dog at the New York HotDog chain. It wasn't heated enough and cost 2.50USD, but it hit the spot.

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What, his pose doesn't look natural? That's how all Koreans bite into a hot dog... happily..

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We ordered popcorn before the movie. It was hot, salty and caramel-sweet.
BUT THE MOVIE? Oceans 13 took a nosedive, even for what it was (a predictable Hollywood action flick). I give it minus 100 stars. Okay, okay, it was stylish and amusing in parts;
I liked the Jew. The friends I was squished between chuckled more than I did-
maybe the Korean subtitles did it justice.

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In other news, I'm not so sure Tae Hun's pocket ball lessons paid off! He would have been very disappointed in his student (moi) because I played an embarrassing game today. Shhh.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Korean Gossip- Social Stories

Koreans have told me stories lately. Let me share a couple with you...

1. "I recently found out my ex boyfriend is telling people I'm dead. I have the password to his e-mail and occasionally check his outbox. He told his friends that I died tragically in a car accident."

2. A woman at my work, 40 and unmarried, said she forgot to bring an onion for her sandwich, and was randomly given one today. She said God helps her with the small things, through prayer, but not with the big picture. She wants a man to love her.

3. A Korean friend, whose girlfriend is now living in NYC, told me about the night they almost broke up. He is placid in character, but when his gf insisted their relationship was over and entered her apartment building, he punched a brick wall and drew blood.

He hadn't had a cigarette since the military service but he chain smoked a pack that night and paced as the sun came up. His girlfriend awoke at 7AM, and he was still waiting outside her apartment. She emerged in her work suit and said if he could wait the whole night, they could endure many things together.

Helen Keller in the Classroom

I don't have the game "Headbandz" in Korea, but today I made my own, and taped famous names to my students' hair. Below are Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise and Helen Keller:
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Tom Cruise: "Am I a woman?"
"No, not really."

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It's difficult to engage the middle school kids. There's insatiable eye rolling. These guys are pretty sweet, but I have a naughty class. They've come up with a saying: "No concept." Can somebody give me the answer to question B? "Sorry, no concept teacher."

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Advertising out my classroom window. In this heat, it has to be the worst job ever:

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Expect a Korean cooking post this weekend:
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Do you like the new "big picture" format?

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Work to Dinner

Holy flying dogs! I'm glad it's almost Friday!

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My students were amused by the drawing of my best friend (he only has 3 fingers) so they took camera photos:

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They like to "mock" read my books:

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I teach them important life skills like how to make a heart with their hands:

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I owed a fellow teacher dinner, so I took him to a Japanese restaurant tonight for rice and fish eggs in a stone bowl, oddang, egg, kimchi, etc. It was raining so, in line with the rainy day pancake tradition, we were served complimentary kimchi pancakes.

The restaurant looks deceivingly fancy. Dinner for two came to a total of man won, or $10USD.

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In other news, it's the beginning of rainy season in Korea, so for the next month, I won't be able to leave the house without my umbrella:

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Life as an Expatriate

Back home in Montreal, my boyfriend is moving into a new apartment. He is hoping a change of scenery will enable him to break bad habits. He has a new grocery store, bookstore and gym. He wants to be more disciplined.

My apartment building

That's what lifestyle is; habits we've acquired, good ones and bad. I think many people move to a new country, hoping to escape routine and change themselves for the better. I do think moving, be it down the street or to a new country, makes it easier to change, but not easy. You don't escape the tendencies.
Before I moved to Korea, I found little information about Suwon, and the outdated photos led me to believe the city was dirty, industrial and almost rural in parts. I thought I could live a simple life here for 12 months.
I was surprised when faced with the pressures of Korea- the competition, the superficiality, the high tech obsessions (small TVs on Taxi dashboards).
I did that silly post about assimilation, but I have changed and assimilated in many ways.
You may say, "so what. There's a 7-Eleven on every corner," and yes- Korea is a developed Nation; I have cable TV, running water and a flush toilet, but the customs and lifestyle are different. On a map, it seems I traveled as far away from home as I could go.
I have kimchi and red pepper paste in my fridge, I send about 10 text messages every day, I keep a neat appearance, I hang my clothing to dry and speak a little bit of Korean.
When I was at Everland on Sunday, I noted how strange it was to see so many foreigners- that they stood out in a crowd. Kyle reminded me that I am a foreigner.
My neighborhood in Suwon has a small town feel. My neighbors, especially the older generation, were initially leery or perversely curious about me. They held back smiles, but I now feel accepted. No one stares. Instead they nod and say hello in Korean, like I'm one of them:

There's a traditional market with the same vendors selling slabs of beef, brown eggs and kimchi.

I'll miss the man who owns a wine bar next to my building. He sits on his veranda all day long, lets his wife do the work, and waves to passersby like me. He has photos of his travels on the wall; green pictures of Thailand and Vietnam that he is eager to discuss.
There's a convenient store clerk perpetually unpacking boxes of inventory. The family run kimbap Heaven restaurant leaves the TV on a Korean drama channel so patrons can watch. The server at Coobuck Coffee flips through an Elle or Vogue magazine, ready to serve a latte in her pressed apron.
Everything is familiar- even the unpleasant things, like a cat I saw for the first time yesterday, after hearing its cries of agony for a month. It has only 3 legs, and fur in patches.
I made the decision to only have Korean friends this year. Sometimes I get frustrated when I have to repeat myself continuously or simplify my English, but I've had a more "authentic" stay in Korea because of my relationships.
I was telling Josh last night, I have it in my mind that I'm leaving Korea in 5 or 6 months, and I may never return- even for a vacation, so I can't get too attached to the people here. I hate to think I'll have to wave goodbye forever.