Monday, November 30, 2009

Shopping in Korea

Korea really has some things figured out. Fact one: Most of the apartments have heated floors. When my feet are warm, I am warm. Also, heat rises. Thus, Korean builders are super smart. Fact two: flavored milk. I can find milk in chocolate, strawberry, banana, coffee, and other assorted flavors I haven't been able to decipher yet. I used to hate milk and think it made my stomach upset, but now I cannot resist it. Dairy farmers know how to market. Fact three: SHOPPING CART ESCALATORS.

Here Chin-Hwa and I were, shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Shopping on Black Friday in Korea is nothing like shopping on Black Friday in the U.S. For one thing, Koreans don't know they are supposed to be shopping like mad. (You would be surprised at how much this changes the shopping experience.) Anyhoo, we found a bus that took us straight to E-Mart. It was here I made my fateful discovery: an escalator that would carry my cart. This escalator was magical: I could not roll the cart back or forth while on the escalator, but the moment the wheels hit normal shopping ground again, I was free to roll. My mind was blown. I found this picture on the web to help give you all a visual. I have no idea who this man is, but I can tell that he and I share a certain fascination with the magical cart escalators. He even seems to say, "Look! No hands!"

What is also important in this story is that E-Mart had multiple floors, thus explaining the need for an escalator. Let's just say I walked away with some wonderful Christmas presents. And a renewed faith in the creative capabilities of humankind.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


We have had our first snow here in Dongducheon, and it was beautiful. Every snow gets me excited for Christmas, but first I have to deal with Thanksgiving...

Now, first, I need to get one thing straight: Thanksgiving is an American holiday. This should make sense once you stop to think about it, but you might be surprised at how often this question is asked. Thanksgiving is as American as Black Friday shopping and the 4th of July.

What this means for me this year is that I have to teach on Thanksgiving. This isn't all bad, as it will give me a chance to tell the kids about the holiday. I figure there are two very different ways I could go about teaching Thanksgiving traditions: first, I could go with the typical grade school style story and tell them that Christopher Columbus was a savior who discovered America. Then, years later, the grateful Native Americans helped the nearly starved Pilgrims through a difficult winter by providing them with food. However, I could also go with the more interesting post-colonial take on Thanksgiving. I could tell the kids that Christopher Columbus was a pretty big jerk who brought the Native Americans smallpox, alcohol, and some story about how he had discovered the place which they had been inhabiting for centuries. This would be a more difficult story to get across with their limited English, but I do feel it is the more accurate tale.

Neither of these options answer the questions that my boss and the kids really want to know: Why do you eat turkey? (Um, it tastes good? Maybe because the Pilgrims could hunt it? Benjamin Franklin couldn't make it the national bird so we decided to consume it in mass quantities?) What's with caramel apples? (They taste good? Seriously, I have no other answers here. I might make up a fable about the naughty apple who fell to her sticky death, much to the joy of nearby human onlookers.) What's with pumpkin pie? (Again, it tastes good. However, the kids were able to try some pumpkin pie last year and they thought it was horrible. I can't get past that. I think they must not have smeared enough whipped cream on it.)

Tomorrow is the big day and I'll let you know how the teaching moment turns out. I'm also going to google caramel apples to see if I can find anything on their history.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Obama and Kimchi

I apologize to all of my eager readers who probably wake up every day, wondering why their favorite blog has not been updated. No, no, it's okay. I know I'm important.

Many things have happened on this end, ranging from events that are completely American to events that are completely Korean.

First, and most importantly, Barack Obama came to visit South Korea. His Korean leg of the trip was more of a glorified layover from his time in other countries in Asia, but we'll take it. What is even more impressive is that someone in the Army must have seen Chin-Hwa's famous Sesame Street appearance because Chin-Hwa was asked to represent Camp Casey by being one of the 40 or so soldiers who get to stand behind Obama. We don't have a camera and I was not present (wah wahhhhh), so the best picture I have is pathetic to say the least. If you look at this picture you can see Chin-Hwa in the upper left hand corner. (He's the Korean guy) I can only laugh at how we have this one lame picture to commemorate this momentous occasion, and I can also assure you that we have since purchased a new digital camera from Ebay so this will never happen again. The picture is also online.

While Chin-Hwa was hobnobbing with famous American people, I have been spending time with non-famous Koreans. My boss, Jae, invited me along to her mother-in-law's house to make kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean dish with a very distinct taste and smell. It is difficult to describe, but it is basically cabbage that is pickled in a spicy red sauce. One might compare it to spicy sauerkraut. You can also make cucumber kimchi or various other vegetables, but cabbage kimchi is perhaps the most famous. The kimchi process was amazing to watch. When Jae and I arrived, her mother-in-law and mother-in-law's two friends had already begun making the pickling sauce. They had dumped shredded turnips into the largest bowl I have ever seen (really. I could have bathed in this bowl if I had felt so inclined, which I rarely do upon first meetings). They were adding various sauces and spice. All Jae and I had to do was sit at nearby smaller bowls and put the sauce on the cabbage. We wore gloves so as not to stain our hands with the sauce (it stains like crazy. Even Hints from Heloise would find it difficult to get out these stains) and proceeded to turn 30 heads of cabbage into kimchi. The women spent their time gossiping in Korean, which was entertaining even though I had no idea what they were saying. By the end, they told me I was a wonderful kimchi maker (oh, stop, really) and I felt like I had participated in a true part of Korean culture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Immaturity is all inclusive

Although I've realized that there is no upper age limit for immaturity (I've never seen my dad laugh as hard as he did when he watched Ace Ventura being birthed out of the rhino's butt hole in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls), I had assumed that there was a lower age limit. I HAD assumed there was a lower limit. Past tense. Sweet Wendy, my innocent looking eight year old student who is missing so many teeth she has to eat from the side, has blown that theory out of the water (she's the same insightful little girl that hypothesized that poop is a solid in an earlier science class).

Here I was, teaching diligently as ever, when Wendy, Jasmine, and I reached an inconspicuous page in their new reading comprehension books. It was about a day on the beach. How picturesque. I had Wendy read out loud and I couldn't stop giggling because her pronunciation of the word "beach" sounded like another closely related word (I never said I wasn't immature myself) when we reached the matching section of the lesson. And there it was. A visual that would be the source of so much giggling that Jasmine had to place her forehead on the table. A visual that would send the girls rolling in the classroom. A visual which I would have to pretend was not hilarious.

A shirtless man.

Keep in mind this picture was a man throwing a net into the water. His swim trunks reached well past his knees, which is a strong contrast to the speedo epidemic that has hit Korea. His hair was unkempt, but not in an overtly sensual way. His measly stick arm covered half of his chest. The drawing was nothing more than a man enjoying a day at the beach in his sensible, middle-age appropriate swimwear. Unfortunately, the artist had included a slight line on his chest to insinuate chest muscles. I thought nothing of the man's near nudity until Wendy pointed to it and said, "He's got ... um .... " She either edited herself or she hasn't learned the word for boobs yet. My innocent take on the illustration washed away like a sand castle too close to the water.
Wendy then proceeded to accentuate the "chest muscles / breasts" in her book while Jasmine looked on and laughed appreciatively. Their laughter got louder until, finally, I couldn't resist. We laughed until I caught my breath and got my wits about me, told the girls that the picture was of "chest muscles," and asked them if they liked starfish. After all, eight year old girls are easy to distract.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Today I have been reflecting on some of the ways life has changed since I've moved to Korea. Some changes are large, while others are small. Here are a few that came to mind:

1. There is a man in my bed, and sometimes he's not wearing pajamas. TMI? Perhaps. But a large change nonetheless.

2. I have to care about the metric system now. When I was in grade school, a few of my teachers told me we would be using the metric system in the U.S. by the year 2000. ("Ooh!" I thought, "The future! How exotic...") By the time 2000 rolled around, I was relieved when the metric system didn't come to pass because I had forgotten all of my conversions. Now, my past has come to haunt me as I have to convert the temperature to metric each time I want to cook something. I also have to remind myself that 20 degrees Celsius is a nice day, not a freezing day.

3. I can't eavesdrop. I never realized how much I love drama from strangers until I could no longer understand what they were saying. Eavesdropping is now my primary motivation behind learning Korean. However, I am comforted by the fact that there have been times I've been able to eavesdrop based on body language alone, like the time on the subway when a woman was hitting a man repeatedly with her purse. He seemed apologetic; she wasn't having it; I loved every minute and stared openly.

4. I live in the future. Yes. I am fifteen hours ahead of the central time zone now that daylight savings time is over. The future is good, friends. No flying cars yet, but there are really cool cell phones.

5. I am really, really tall. I'm used to being taller than Nickie (hahaha thank you late blooming growth spurt!) but not the tallest woman around. I think it makes me more intimidating to my students, which is always a plus. However, it means chances of finding pants that fit are smaller than ever.

6. I am surrounded by Koreans. No, really. Surrounded.