Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to move in Korea

We just moved out of our apartment this morning, and although we were sad to say good-bye to our first home, we rather enjoyed watching the Korean movers do their thing.

Over the past week, we spent more than 20 hours going through our things, throwing things away, deciding what to put in our suitcases and what to send on. It was torturous, and I had many moments of near despair that were narrowly avoided due to the help of Girl Scout cookies. I was certain the movers would take forever to move our precious belongings the next day, but I was wrong. The movers spent no more than two hours boxing everything, taping it up, making an inventory sheet, and sending it out the window. Really! No, no elevator or stairs. The window. Check it out.

The movers sent a ladder up to our fifth floor apartment. Here was the truck at the bottom. See Chin-Hwa's guitar? It's like Where's Waldo, but with more brown packing paper and more Koreans.

This mover was out on the precarious platform. He had no safety equipment and seemed to be completely at ease.

The platform had no barricades or anything! An American moving company would be facing a lawsuit. This Korean moving company just got their job done way faster. When the platform was full, he would honk a horn to signal to the truck driver to take down the ladder.

Teamwork in action. Maybe it wouldn't have taken us so long to pack if we had had eight friends, yes?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fear the meme!

Have an unruly child? Need a little extra help? Read on!

Most Korean children have at least one thing in common. What, you might ask? They are adorable? Although that's true 99% of the time, I can't confirm it to be 100%, so that's more a theory, albeit a very good theory. This one common trait is a fact:

Korean children fear the MEME (say "mehm meh"). DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNNN

***A note: The writing on the meme translates roughly to, "I do this for love." So the meme can also be considered a stick-y guilt tripper. It's so versatile!***

***Additional note: Although the meme appears to have lost its fearsome hold on Chin-Hwa in the above picture, he still screams out "MEME!!!" at night while shaking his fist in fury. It's really quite irritating.***

What is this mysterious fear monger? It appears to be but a mere stick. What's so scary about a stick? Well, apparently you've never been poked in the eye by an errant twig. Or tripped by a log. Or tried to cross a river over a fallen tree. Or seen a tornado throw sticks around willy nilly.

The meme is like a switch. Older Korean people use the meme on naughty children. They might use it to swat the wrist, or the behind, or the back of the legs. . . you get the idea. Chin-Hwa's mom is a fan of saying, "You want the meme?" to her adult children in order to intimidate them during card games. (It works!) Even the word strikes fear into countless childrens' eyes . . . . mehhh mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Korean Royalty

Well, it has finally happened. I have done one of the most stereotypically white things I could do in Korea, short of actually buying this outfit. But don't put that past me. . . I've still got some time here.

We wanted a Korean wedding photo, but we couldn't do it due to my short hair. (wah wahhh) So we settled for being pictured as Korean Royalty. I am completely satisfied with that compromise. Sure, lots of people get married, but how many become kings and queens? Huh? It's rare. Jealous much?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Just a couple of tourists

Today Chin-Hwa and I were lucky enough to have a whole day to explore Seoul. It's crazy that we don't do it that often, and I thought we would be able to site see every weekend if we so desired, seeing as we live about an hour's train ride away, but once you live somewhere, one might feel less incentive to look like a tourist.

Not this girl. I went to the cable cars weekly in San Francisco, camera in hand. I posed with the hippies in Berkeley on numerous occasions and would have worn a fanny pack had I been better prepared. I loved Oakland's Lake Merritt and I thought about buying the t-shirt. I am committed to looking like a tourist whenever possible, and today, Chin-Hwa was nice enough to humor me. Here are a few pictures from our visit to Gyeongbok Palace, a large 14th century palace in the middle of Seoul:
Chin-Hwa and I posing as the Korean husband and wife.
Me with one of the "authentic" palace guards. I tried to get him to strike a pose or at least crack a smile (I'm so stereotypical) but no dice. His facial hair was painted on in places.
Chin-Hwa in front of a palace gate. Doesn't he look thrilled?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My purchasing bucket list

Time is running out here in Korea, and it's time for me to make my last minute purchases in this land of milk and honey!

Things I have to buy before I leave Korea:

1. One thousand stationary pieces that look hilarious. Like this:
2. Enough banana flavored milk to make me sick of it so I won't miss it in the U.S.
3. Matching underwear set for Chin-Hwa and I. Don't worry, I won't post pictures.
4. Cheesy souvenirs for the family. . . I mean, expensive souvenirs for the family! Haha, yes!

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Last Day

Well, it is hard to believe, but today was my last day teaching. It may seem surprising to all of you millions of readers, but I actually knew it was coming since the fall. My boss had decided to close her school and waited until January to make the announcement. Today made it official.

Although I am sad to say good-bye to the kids, I am not very sad to be done teaching. Teaching is hard work! And I won't miss having to explain things like why "Did" is past tense but "eat" is not in the following sentence, "Did you eat your meat?" I will also not miss teaching prepositions. They are second nature to most English speakers, but if you really think about it, why do we say, "I go pee in the toilet" instead of "I go pee on the toilet"? ***There is an added difficulty when you take into account that almost all of my male students did pee both on and in the toilet.*** Explain yourself. And if I have to spell "bought" one more time, I will get upset. And not in a cute, oh she's so easy to ignore, type way.

It was strange to say good-bye to my students because I seemed to take it a lot more seriously than they did. I looked at them deeply and said such yearbook-y things like, "Keep it up!" or "I'll miss you!" They just looked at me and said, "OK."

We spent the day eating donuts and playing games, and it was quite enjoyable. Here are some pictures:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Who's in charge of proofreading around these parts?

This was spotted in a cafe in Seoul. It was painted onto the wall of the entrance.

I demand an explanation, at least after I stop laughing. Who thought of this? The sad thing is that "panties" is the same word in Korean, so there's really no excuse. And what kind of creature is that anyways?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The life and times of an unprepared teacher...

My innocent student, we'll call her "Shirley" to protect her identity, had told me she wanted to learn about tigers. I found an article slightly above her reading level (gotta keep it interesting, right, folks?) and made a copy.

The article seemed innocent enough. The title? "The Secret Life of a Tiger" or something vaguely mysterious. The content? Tiger facts. What could go wrong? (In retrospect, everything. That's why this story is so funny. You'll see.)

A normal teacher would read the article, take notes, make a worksheet, plan a field trip to India, do some fundraising involving red pens and "You Did It!" stickers, and then begin teaching after meditating on the entire process for at least a week. I, however, decided to wing it.

The article started simply enough. It was enthrallingly guilt-trippy. . . "Did you know tigers are endangered? It's probably your fault. Atone!" (this is not a direct quote, but I hope the feeling is clear) "Tigers only eat meat. They aren't good with spinach. But humans have killed all their meat sources. Great job, humans." "Tigers have paws the size of baseball mitts. They could hit you and injure you badly, if they only had a chance against your gun and superior intellect." I felt like Shirley was both learning and enjoying herself. The perfect combo.

And then came the tricky part. "Tigers mark their territory by lifting up their tails, backing up close to a tree, planting their feet firmly, and spraying their pungent urine." (quote may have been exaggerated for comedic reasons.) How was I, a mere teacher, going to explain this to my innocent, eight-year-old ESL student?

Like an idiot.

"Um, ok," I started meekly. "Do you have any questions about these words?"

"What's urine?" Shirley asked. I knew she would go straight for the gold!

"Well. . . urine is not a, uh, nice word. But I need to tell you about it," I responded, stalling so as to steel myself mentally. "OK, so, when you, uh, go to the bathroom (gesture to bathroom mime-style) and sit down and relax, yellow water comes out. This is waste. It's from our kidneys, which are organs. Organs are a team that work together in our bodies. It's urine," I answered. I knew immediately that I had used way too much detail. (I inherited that trait from my dad.) I didn't need to go into kidney functionality, but it seemed so pertinent, you know?

"Oh, you mean pee," she said, without showing any hint of embarrassment.

"Yes. Pee. I, um, didn't realize you knew that word. Urine is pee. A tiger's urine is very stinky, but not to humans. Only to other tigers. They have good noses and they like to sniff trees. They think it's fun. And they like to spray trees with urine, too! This is so they can mark their territory. With pee. . . Any other questions?"

"Nope," she replied.

Another student's life changed. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Disney High Horse

***Check out those innocent doe eyes and her meek expression. She's trying to pull you in. . . resist!***

I just finished watching a documentary, and you know what happens after that. . . thoughts. And thoughts lead to. . . my high horse.

The documentary was regarding Disney and the messages in its media. I have loved Disney forever, ever since I received the Beauty and the Beast VHS tape for Christmas and made everyone at both Christmases watch it. I can sing Little Mermaid from front to back, and Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin never ceases to make me giggle. However, after seeing the documentary and really thinking about those films, particularly their portrayals of women as helpless, I am starting to become incensed. Stop and reflect for a second. Ariel "gets" Eric only after she loses her voice. Beauty "fixes" the Beast so he no longer treats her like trash. And these are happy endings.

Disney's most recent animated film was Tangled. I watched this movie with my students, and its sexism was flagrant. Rapunzel literally wouldn't leave her house without first finding protection from a man, and even though the only man she could find was a dishonest thief, she allowed him to lead her/provide her security on her journey anyways. Sure, she showed strength, if you can count hitting somone with a frying pan multiple times, but in the end, she fell in love, just like countless female leads in Disney movies before. (Spoiler alert! She also changed from blonde to brunette, which was the big surprise twist in the finale.) How original. And here I was, showing this movie to kids?! Ahhhhh! Even Mulan fell in love at the end of her movie! What's a modern, feminist-leaning, anti-chivalry girl to do here?

So perhaps I won't be forcing any hypothetical eventual offspring to enjoy a Disney marathon with me. I wouldn't want to mess with their heads.

P.S.-Chin-Hwa is a self-described "fun-hater" meaning he can't turn off his philosophy to enjoy things. This post is in honor of his ability to hate fun at all times and in all situations.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I want whatever they are selling...

Commercials in Korea are mesmorizing. I can't look away. Marketing in Korea is all about fun fun fun! Even though I can't understand the words in the commercials, I end up wanting whatever they are selling. Case in point:

If you've ever tried Soju, a Korean rice liquor that they are selling in this ad, you would know that it's harsh, rubbing alcohol like taste is hard to stomach. However, after watching this commercial, your mind will change! It might taste like unicorns! It doesn't matter! Just buy some!

A note: Almost all Korean commercials feature actors and actresses who are already really famous. Therefore, you can start to recognize the same faces everywhere you go. Hyori Lee, the main woman in this commercial, can be seen on posters, in coffee shops, and on countless other television ads.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Driving in Korea

I've been driving here in Korea since last September. It took me a while to adjust to the new driving etiquette. To the faint of heart, driving in Korea may feel like a random mix of speeding and ignoring lights. However, there are subtle rules...

1. If a light is red, it is merely a suggestion. This is particularly true if you are a taxi, it's early in the morning, or you are rushing to pick up some ice cream from the store. Also, if you're a taxi, you can just flash your brights to signal that you've got places to go and thus won't be stopping or slowing for the light.

2. If you cut someone off, which all drivers in Korea are wont to do, you may choose to flash your hazards for a few seconds. This is like saying, "Oopsie. Sorry I'm a jerk. Please accept my lame apology as I slow down in front of you after cutting you off."

3. If you are upset at another driver, either for something they did to you or for no specific reason at all, you may choose to flash your brights. Why? To frustrate the other driver. It works.

4. All cars, even the nicest of the newest import vehicles, have little cushions on the outside of their doors. These cushions look cheesy, but they serve the all important purpose of protecting your door from the various obstacles which may get in your way in tiny parking lots. ***For help understanding this idea which I find extremely difficult to describe at this particular moment, see the edited photo below:

5. No parking? No problem! Just pull into the right hand lane, intended originally for thru traffic, and park! Don't forget to turn on your hazards so all the people forced to change lanes so you might run in for a quick errand will feel happy that you at least feel some small semblance of remorse.

6. Should you see a police car, drive in your normal way. There's no need to slow down or follow any rules more closely than before. Why? Because the police have better things to do!

7. Never ever go into the pedestrian walk way during their green light. This may sound logical, but it feels slightly counterintuitive. Pedestrians only have about ten seconds of freedom near the roadways, during which they can be assured that they need not fear for their lives. The rest of the time, pedestrians must be ever vigilant because cars will NOT stop for them, even if the pedestrians are wielding a double stroller or riding in a wheelchair.

8. It is customary to back into your parking spots. This is so you can show off your mad skills. However, after a long empirical study (involving one failed attempt to back into a space), I have decided that backing in takes longer than just pulling into the spot and backing out later.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

House Pants

Today, a harrowing look into the life and times of my house pants. The inspiration for this post came during a recent feverish sickness, so that might explain the strangeness...

What are house pants, a.k.a. cookie pants? They are the kind of pants you only wear in the house. They usually have some major flaw which forces your sense of decency to prevent you from wearing them anywhere but in the comfort of your own home. But their comfort level is irresistible when one's only plan is to lounge about. In rare instances, house pants have been allowed outdoors: early college classes, short late night errands, any all girls school dress down days, and the like. House pants are never allowed outside if you are a Korean woman, who must
have a much higher threshold for fashion than me. Here is a sampling of house pants found in my own drawers.

1. Yellow Scrub pants. Pros: Scrubs are super comfortable. Cons: Yellow color means they are see through at times. Be careful.

2. Flower pants. Pros: Actually cute. Cons: So thin that they seem to make my legs even colder than they were before said pants.

3. Stripes. Pros: A shorter cut for those terrible days you don't know whether you want to wear shorts or pants. The perfect compromise. Cons: The only thing that can make house pants more ridiculous are stripes.

4. Gray fleece. Pros: Perfect for the winter. I was wearing them at the time of the house pants photo shoot. I didn't photograph my head so as not to scare anyone with my morning hair. Cons: Major flood pants.

I once attempted to wear house pants as actual pants. The only thing that stopped me was Chin-Hwa, who lovingly asked me why I was wearing those house pants outside. Thanks to him, I avoided that fashion nightmare.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas Festivities!

Here are some pictures from our second Christmas in Korea. Click on the slideshow to see bigger copies of the pictures and to see the captions, which are hilarious, if I do say so myself.