Friday, September 28, 2007


On Saturday, 9/22 I went on a USO tour of the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. I had been there once before, in 2000, and had really enjoyed it, so I was excited to go back.

The DMZ is about 1 1/2 hours north of Seoul. It's so easy to forget how close I am to North Korea when I'm in the middle of Seoul! There are a few different companies that do tours up there, but I think the USO may be the only one that actually goes onto the base that's there, Camp Bonifas. It's illegal for South Koreans to go to the actual DMZ, so there are some tours that go to other places along the border, but not the camp.

We caught the bus to the DMZ at 7 AM, so it was an early start. The tour at the camp was almost identical to the one I'd taken before. It started out with a presentation of the history of the DMZ and then we hopped on buses and went to Conference Row, which is a series of 4 or 5 small buildings built right along the border. So when you're in the buildings, you can walk between North and South Korea. There's a big gray building that belongs to the North Koreans and sometimes the N. Korean soldiers come down to the conference buildings when Western tourists are in there to take pictures through the windows. Unfortunately that's never happened when I was there. The tour groups can go into one building and wander around. On the N. Korean side of the building, there's a door that leads to N. Korea. Apparently there's always a N. Korean guard posted on the other side of the door. It used to be that a S. Korean guard (Republic of Korea guard, or ROK) would go in and lock the door by himself, but then one day, the N. Korean soldier on the other side opened the door and tried to pull the ROK soldier into N. Korea! So now 2 ROK soldiers go in to lock the door, one with a gun drawn, so if that happens again, it will probably result in some sort of international incident! Also, in that building, there's a little plaque with plastic flags in it. Apparently there used to be little cloth flags there, but when G.W. Bush came for a visit a few years ago, some N. Korean soldiers came into the building and pulled down the US and ROK flags and blew their noses into them! (Apparently they like GWB about as much as I do!). So now they have the plastic ones.

After that building, we got back on the bus and drove to Checkpoint 5, which overlooks N. Korea and the Bridge of No Return. The bridge is called that becuase it's where prisoners of war were repatriated at the end of the Korean War. All the POWs got to choose which side they ended up on, but that was it...they couldn't go back. It also looks over the Checkpoint 3, which is at the S. Korean side of the bridge. That post used to be manned, but in 1976, there was this big poplar tree that had grown so big that it was blocking the view of Checkpoint 3. So a group of 10 S. Korean and US solders went to cut it down. They were chopping it down, when all of a sudden the 30 N. Korean soldiers standing around grabbed the axes that had been used to cut down the trees and killed 2 Americans and injured the other 8 soldiers. The US and ROK soldiers retreated, but then they really needed to cut down the rest of the tree, so 3 days later, Operation Paul Bunyan was underway, that involved all sorts of troops all over Asia being on high alert in case the war started up again (since the Korean War is still technically going on). This time the N. Koreans didn't bug them, so it was finally cut down totally. For a while the stump was left, but now there's a plaque there that shows how big the trunk of the tree was. Over on the N. Korean side, there's a "Peace Museum" that apparently has the 2 axes used to kill the American soldiers.

After that, we went and and some Korean food for lunch (after a stop at the gift store, of course!). Then we went to an observation tower that looks over N. Korea. We couldn't really take pictures there, but there were telescopes you could use to look into N. Korea. There's a town right across the border called Kijong-dong. In English it's called Propaganda Village because no one actually lives there. Instead, it's a bunch of empty buildings, a huge flag on top of a huge flagpole, and giant speakers that broadcast N. Korean propaganda across the border throughout most of the night. There are some N. Koreans who come and are caretakers of the buildings, but they don't live there. It was really weird to look through the telescope into what could be a bustling town and see basically no one. There were a very few people wandering around...I saw probably about 5 workers over there.

On the S. Korean side, there's a town called Taesong-dong, that just so happens to be inside the demilitarized zone. The people who live there have pretty strict rules. They have to stay in the village for 240 consecutive days and nights, they have to be in their homes by 11 pm and have their doors and windows locked and be accounted for. They also have to listen to the broadcasts from Propaganda Village all through the night. But, there are some benefits. It's a farming village and the people that live there have 14-17 acres of land, compared to the average of 2-4 acres in the rest of S. Korea. They live tax free and make about $80,000/year. The men are also exempt from the mandatory military service. The men in the village can marry women from outside the village and bring them in, but the women can only marry men from the village so that there aren't more men who are exempt from military service (which is totally unfair! What if there's no one a woman likes in the village?!).

After the observation place, we went to a tunnel that the N. Koreans secretly dug to try to get to Seoul. It was found in 1978 and was the third one of these tunnels to be found. It wasn't completed, but if it had been, it would have been big enough for about 30,000 armed troops to move through in an hour and they would come out just 44 km from Seoul. Today tourists can go down in it, but no camera are allowed. When it was found and the N. Koreans were confronted, they said, "oh, we were looking for coal," and they had even painted the walls of the tunnel black so it would look like long as you didn't touch it, because then you end up with black stuff all over your fingers, and you can see the rock underneath the paint!

After that, we headed on back to Seoul. Another technique the ROK soldiers use to detect if N. Koreans are trying to get into S. Korea is that they stick rectangular rocks into the chainlink fences all along the border. Then everyday they inspect the fences and if rocks have fallen out, they know something's going on there. I couldn' believe how close to Seoul these chainlink fences were....I was looking at rocks almost the whole way back!

So, if you ever come to S. Korea, I totally recommend going to the DMZ. It's just so dang interesting!
Pictures, top to bottom:
1) An ROK soldier standing on the N. Korean side of the building on Conf. Row we went into. The door he's standing in front of is the one with the N. Korean soldier posted on the outside, where the ROK soldier was almost pulled in.
2) The small blue buildings are the ones along Conf. Row. the big gray building in the background is a N. Korean building.
3) N. Korea's Propaganda Village, with its giant flagpole. The flagpole is about 160 meters high and the flag is about 30 meters long.
4) The plaque where the tree in the Axe Murderer incident stood. The beige ring is the circumference of the tree trunk.
5) Looking across the Bridge of No Return.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Terry Fox Pictures

OK, now I can upload pictures. The first picture is, from right to left, Heather, Francie, me, and Aaron before the race (we got there about 2 hours early, so we had a lot of time to hang out and take pictures). The next picture is the start of the race. The last picture is me taking a break from the oh-so-grueling walk in front of a lovely field of flowers.
One of the funniest things about the race was how many people were smoking before they got going! I didn't get any good pictures of them, but there were all sorts of men in full running gear, stretching with a cigarette in their hand! I'll see the same thing when I go down to the river trail by my dong; all sorts of folks in spandex and bike helmets, enjoying a cigarette before they take off on a ride!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Terry Fox Run

Hi all,

On the weekend of September 16th, I got to pretend like I was Canadian for the day! (I wish I was Canadian!). I participated in the Terry Fox 5K run or walk (I did the walk). I had heard a little bit of the Terry Fox story before, but he was this young Canadian guy who got bone cancer in his 20s and decided to run across Canada to raise awareness of cancer, even after he had a leg amputated due to the cancer. He died in 1981 without having made it across the country, so now Terry Fox runs are held to help raise money for cancer research.

The run was in an area of Seoul kind of far away from where I live near the Han River (that's about all I can tell you about it!). It was kind of weird to be around all those Westerners at once, although there were plenty of Koreans there as well. It seems like everytime I see a Westerner, I automatically assume I know who they are, since in my little neighborhood, that's just about the case! Even if I know right away I don't know them, there's always that little smile that passes between Westerners...except at Costco, because then it's all Westerners and we're all too busy shoppin' to smile at each other! Shopping at Costco is great because all the signs have English on them, so I can actually tell what I'm buying. Of course, there are a lot of things I'd love to try, but I don't want to have to buy 17 pounds of, but at least I can sort of recognize it if I see a smaller amount in the regular store.

For some reason, blogger isn't letting me upload any pictures right now, but I'll try again later.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


It's the first weekend of my week-long Chusok holiday! Chusok is apparently like the Korean thanksgiving. Most people go spend the day (this year, the actual Chusok day is Tuesday the 25th) with their families, so traffic is pretty bad that day, I guess. A lot of the SIS teachers use this week to travel, but I decided to stay in Seoul, mostly because it cost so much to ship my stuff over. But it's nice to have some time to relax and see Seoul.

It's traditional to give presents to family and people who work for you on Chusok, so at Costco and GS Mart, there are all sorts of Chusok gifts you can give. It's amazing what kinds of things are available to give! They have gift packs of almost anything you can think of: alcohol, socks, handtowels, tuna, oil (canola, grapeseed), tuna, Spam, soap, toothbrushes, etc. My boss, Mr. Kim, got presents for all the teachers, which was very nice...12 gigantic Asian pears! So every teachers has got pears coming out of their ears. We're all bringing a pear to lunch, eating them for breakfast, etc. I just have one left (I gave 6 of mine away and 2 of them went bad before I ate it), but it's been a struggle! Then, a few days after we got the pears, someone (I'm assuming a parent) got 10 pounds of sweet potatoes to give to all the teachers! Luckily I found someone else to take mine right away...I'm not a big sweet potato eater!

It's also pretty common to give Chusok presents to teachers, especially elementary teachers. I didn't get anything this year, but a couple of years ago the school had to put a limit on how much teachers were getting. One of the teachers I work with has a husband who teaches 1st grade at SIS and apparently he would get a TON of stuff. So much that she and he would have to make a couple of trips to get it all home! Not anymore though.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


My 10th graders had this group project to do on Colonial Americans which included a paper that they needed to write. SIS subscribes to this service called, which checks papers for plagiarism, so they had to upload it to that website as well as turn in a hard copy to me. A couple days after the paper was due, one student came in to see me because she was concerned that her partner had plagiarized part of her paper and she wanted to let me know so that she didn't get in trouble. This student had printed out the part of the paper her partner had copied as well as the original source she had copied it from, which turnitin hadn't caught. I took a look at it and realized that the student who wrote that page had taken the first 2 sentences of her page from this website, but had changed the language just enough that turnitin wouldn't catch it.

So the next day, I talked to the student who had plagiarized. Of course it's not OK that she did that, but I decided I'd let her have a chance to rewrite that section and turn it back in and not take any points off since it was her first offense. I had her stay after class and told her all that. I also told her that I wasn't mad, just disappointed in her choice and that she was perfectly capable of doing a great job of writing without needing to plagiarize. The next day, when I came in, I had the e-mail below from the student:

Dear Ms. Jones,

When you informed me that I had plagiarized , I was so much in shock that I did not find the time to apologize, and also to say thank you.
I am very sorry for the mistake that I have made.
We are currently studying plagiarism in journalism class, and as I listened to the teacher's lecture, guilt weighed me down so much that I wanted to burst out crying.
After my partner submitted our paper, she said that she saw a pretty high percentage turnout, and pointed to the exact same sentence that you did today.
She also mentioned that we did not include the site containing this information in our bibliography, which was completely unintentional.
I thought that it would "be okay," so we did not take any further action to prevent this problem from occuring. That was one crucial mistake I made.
The second mistake I made was, well, plagiarizing.
Before going on any further, I hope that you will understand that I had no bad intentions while writing this assignment.
In fact, I was only trying to convey the same ideas just using different words. But there were simply too many good phrases and words that I was eager to include.
Those two sentences are a mistake that I regret very much, and I have learned my lesson to be more cautious, and to never do it again in the future.
I never had the chance to say thank you.
Ms. Jones, you can not possibly comprehend how much this means to me.
This second chance that you have kindly offered allows me to repair my mistake and also to learn a profound lesson.
I feel so much remorse for my mistake, but I am simultaneously glad that this happened because I have learned so much from it.
Thank you so much, and I hope you have a nice evening.

Can you believe that?! And the crazy thing is that she's totally sincere too! This just cracked me up!

I think kids in Korea, and at private schools especially, are under so much pressure that even really good kids find themselves taking the easy way out, so all the teachers are on high alert for cheating. I guess it's a good thing that we have kids on the lookout too!

Friday, September 14, 2007

One more camping picture

Here's another cute camping picture of us all, which I just found.

From left to right, it's me, Heather, Francie, Coleen, and Alana.


The weekend of September 7-9 was my first Korean camping trip! A group of 6 women from SIS all decided to rent a school van, borrow some camping gear, and head off to the beach after school on Friday! We lucked out with the weather...after raining all week, it got sunny and warm and it was a lot of fun!

We went to Taean Seashore National Park, which is about 2 hours southwest of Seoul. If you look on a map, you may see the town of Mallipo, which is in the park. It's on the Yellow Sea and has quite a bit of camping in the summer. We left on Friday and got to Mallipo just in time for sunset, which was beautiful. When you don't know Korean it's pretty hard to find a camp ground in the dark, so we ended up finding an empty lot owned by a family that owns a minbak in the area. A minbak is a guesthouse. I've not stayed in one, but I've seen the insides of a couple. Basically you get a room with no furniture except a TV. You get a bedroll-type thing, called a yo to sleep on and that's about it. We could have stayed in the minbak, but since we had our tents and it was a beautiful night, we went for the empty lot. It was fantastic to be able to see some stars for basically the first time since I got here (light pollution and clouds), and go to sleep with the sound of the waves in the background.

The next morning, we got up and it was HOT! After breakfast, we headed down to the beach for a couple of hours. It was beautiful and I can now say I've swam in the Yellow Sea. The other good thing about going down there was that we found an actual camping spot, so we moved our stuff down there. The only bummer was that garbage cans are not all that plentiful in Korea and there was all sorts of garbage all over, which was gross. But other than that, it was fantastic.

That day some of us went to a nearby restaurant and had some crab. We picked out our live crabs and then the woman made a soup out of them. It was good, but very spicy (Koreans love their spicy food and I don't like spicy food, so that's been a bit of an issue so far). Luckily she had only quartered the crabs, so the meat wasn't that spicy at all.

On Sunday, we got up pretty early and headed back to Seoul. Traffic on Sundays can apparently be pretty bad because so many people go home to their small towns and villages on the weekends and then all head back to Seoul on Sunday. We hit the road early enough to miss most of the traffic, but still got stopped a few times.

One of the great things about the camping trip was that I had gone to the Korean version of Target, GS Mart, and bought a tent and it ended up being a fantastic tent! It's a nice 3-4 person tent that's easy to put up and was only 90,000 won, which is about $100. I'm excited about having this great tent for future camping trips!
The pictures, from top to bottom:
* A Korean sunset from Mallipo beach...beautiful!
* Heading out for a morning of relaxing on the beach.
* Coleen, Heather, and I making dinner on Saturday night
* The same Korean sunset, a few minutes earlier (the sunsets don't look this good in Seoul!)
* Alana, Heather, Coleen, and Francie enjoying our crab soup

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More School Thoughts

It's now been almost a month of having my new students. One thing I've noticed about them is that they swear so much out in the hallways! It's not a problem in the classroom, but I've heard some language in the hallways that would make a sailor blush! I think it's because most of them don't speak English at home, so the swear words don't really mean anything to them. They just hear them in the movies and toss an F-word into their vocab every so often when talking with their friends. Most of these students are going to go to college in the US or Canada, so I think they're going to have to figure out that most college students don't constantly swear just for the heck of it!
I've added some pictures of my itty-bitty little classroom. I actually don't mind its small size because my class sizes are so small. I've realized that it's not the number of students as much as the number of students in relation to the size of the classroom. I hate it when my students and I can barely move because there are so many of us squished into a classroom, but there's plenty of room in my current room, even with my biggest class of 13! I finally got my shipment last week, so I finally have my classroom decorated. Unfortunately I can't tape things to the walls because it will take the tape off and nails or pins don't work on the walls because they're concrete, so I can only put things on my bulletin board. But I got a wire installed along the back wall, so now I can hang things from that as well (it got installed after I took these pictures).