Saturday, October 27, 2007

Chusok Parade Pictures

Wow, 3 posts in one day! These are pictures from Chusok, about a month ago. The elementary kids had a little parade through the school and while I didn't get to see it, I heard about it. The girls are wearing hanbak, the traditional dress. I don't know what you call the outfits the boys wear. I think most of these kids are first graders and they're all cute! At some point, I'd like to go price hanbaks for myself...I'd have a halloween costume for the next few years!
In the picture with the little boy in red, you can see all the shoes on the little shelf by him. The little kids have slippers that they wear inside the classroom, so they keep their outside shoes outside the room in these little cubbies.


How's this for a store's name! And the clothes aren't even that lovely!

This store is in Itaewon.

Autumnal Pictures

Here are some pictures from a walk I took today on the hill behind my neighborhood up to the Buddhist temple. The leaves are starting to turn and it's really pretty! Three of the pictures are from the temple and the picture with the tiger statue is from the school.


One of the interesting things about living abroad is figuring out how to pay bills and get money! Most of my bills are taken out of my pay check directly, but I get my gas bill and phone bill in the mail, so I have to figure out how to pay those, which is tricky since the bills are in Korean! We have an ATM at school and the bills can be paid through the ATM. But wouldn't you know it, while it's in English when I need to get cash out, when I need to pay a bill, it only does it in Korean. Some folks have written out a flow chart with all the various steps (press the top right button, then press the middle green button, etc), but it seems like they missed a step or two, so it's tricker than I think it should be. When I got my first bill in September, I had to basically tackle another teacher to get some help! But this month I managed to figure out how to pay my gas bill...but I don't remember exactly what buttons I pushed! So hopefully I can figure it out again next time! This time I really couldn't figure out how to pay my phone bill, but I heard from another teacher that I could go to my local mini-mart to pay that. So I went down today to try it out. With my limited Korean, I set it on the counter, said "Hello", and smiled. And lo and behold, my bill got paid! It had a barcode on it, so the mini-mart lady just scanned it and I paid it.

Another interesting thing they do here is that you can transfer money into other people's accounts at the ATM. All you need is their bank name and account number, and then you just enter that info. and you can transfer money in. When I paid for a plane ticket a few weeks ago, I was able to just put the money into the travel agent's's pretty slick! Another teacher was telling me that last year she was at Costco right before payday and so wanted to charge her stuff to her credit card since she didn't really have any money in her account. But of course, Costco doesn't take credit cards, but she didn't realize that until she had done all her shopping and was at the cashier. So they had to call the manager over to explain what was going on to her, so she said, then I'll just put my stuff back and come back after pay day. Well, the manager said, no no no, I'll just give you the money and then when you get paid, you can just tranfer the money you owe me in to my bank account. Can you imagine that happening at home?!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How my students see Americans

Hi all,

I've had some revealing glimpses into how Korean teenagers see America and Americans recently. In my 9th grade class, they were taking a test on the play 12 Angry Men and were given quotes that they had to identify who said the quote, the context of the quote, and what the author was trying to say was right and/or wrong with America through the character. One of the characters in the play, Juror #11, is an immigrant from Europe who moved to the US in 1941 to escape persecution. The quote I had on the test from #11 that they had to identify was "This is the reason I came here. I wanted to have the right to disagree.” One of my students said, "This is wrong to American society because people have the right to speak, but it makes the US look bad to other foreigners, because they think that its natural and okay to always have unpopular opinions." I thought this was a really interesting take on freedom of speech. At first I thought, "wait a minute, how in the world can she say freedom of speech is bad?" But then when I got to the end of the sentence, I could see where she was coming from, especially given Bush, the Iraq War, etc. I don't agree with her 100% (well, I do agree with her on Bush and Iraq!), but it is curious how something that I think most Americans consider super important can be seen as a huge negative to others.

Then, the other day I was using this new technique I learned called Chalk Talk (for you teachers out there, here's how it works. You put an open-ended question on the board. Give the kids a few minutes to think about it [I used the same question as their warm-up question] and then they start Chalk Talk. Basically, for 10 minutes, kids respond to the question only through writing on the board. The room should be silent during this because everyone is "talking" through writing. I put 4 markers up there so only 4 kids could come up at a time and let them go. It was awesome! At times, there was literally a line of kids waiting to come up and write. You end up with this multi-colored web of thoughts, opinions, questions, responses, etc up there. And, when I saw there were holes or things I really wanted to make sure were pointed out, I just went up and started jotting stuff down. The teacher who taught me Chalk Talk said that she has one student who will not speak in class ever, but she'll do Chalk Talk!). Anywho, the question was, "Besides someone who lives in America, what is an American?" Some of the responses were really interesting. One kid said that an American is someone who believes in freedom, but will not die for it. I asked him about that and he said that during WWII, Americans were willing to die for their country, but not now, which he's totally right about. Then another kid had just written "manners" on the board, so I asked him what he meant...were those good manners and bad manners? A bunch of kids ended up answering at the same time and some said Americans have good manners and some said they have bad manners! I asked them what kinds of things were good and they said that if you bump into someone in the US, the person you bumbed into will apologize to you. That's really different from here where you get bumped and shoved and pushed and knocked into all the time (rarely on purpose though) and there's hardly ever any sort of acknowledgment or apology or anything...there are just so many people here! So that got us on a conversation about bubbles and how Americans like their space! I didn't hear too many specifics about Americans' bad manners (maybe that were worried they'd offend me?), but loudness came up.

Speaking of being seen as rude, a few weeks ago I was riding the subway with another SIS teacher and we were talking, but not loudly, and this woman was so disgusted with us that she scolded us in front of everyone, looked at us like we were the most digusting thing she'd ever seen, and told us that she was going to have to change subway cars because we were so disruptive! As I've told a few other people, I try to be really conscious of not being the ugly American when I travel, but in this case, she was so obviously prejudiced against us because we were white and speaking English, that I didn't even feel guilty. There is some definite racism against Westerners here, especially Americans. I've noticed it mostly among the older people. It's not uncommon for there to be an empty seat next to me on the subway and have it be the absolute last one taken, I'm assuming because people don't want to sit next to someone who's white/foreign. I've heard from other teachers that they've been yelled at by bus and taxi drivers for speaking English. So far I haven't been too offended by it though. Korea is a country that's been taken over time and again by outside forces, so it makes some sense that they'd have negative views towards foreigners. It is interesting though... But then, I've also had Koreans be absolutely wonderful to me as well. When we first got here, a group of us went to a restaurant/bar with a band and the table next to us had a woman's who was celebrating her birthday. The band sang her happy birthday, so we sang along and then when her little cake came out, she gave our table 2/3 of it and thanked us profusely for helping her celebrate her birthday! And last week when I went hiking on the mountain, a Korean man and his father-in-law made sure that we were having a good time, seeing good stuff, etc. So, just like anywhere, you have your good and your bad!

All right, I'm off to the vegetable market. Have a great week!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Inwangsan Shamanist Hillside Walk

Pictures, top to bottom: 1) Shamanist shrine (notice the swastika on top. That symbol has been part of Asian cultures for centuries, way before the Nazis got a hold of it).
2) An offering of rice left in front of a statue.
3) Some of the rocks on the hill.
4) A view of Seoul and the Blue House, where the President lives.
5) A bronze bell that is rung with that log on the side.
Last weekend, I went with Heather, the elementary school librarian, on a walk we found in the Lonely Planet book. We got to see Seoul's most famous shamanist shrine and part of the old Seoul Fortress Wall. We had to ride the subway for about an hour from our neighborhood in the southeast part of Seoul to the northwest part. Then we walked up through a neighborhood and lots of construction to the shamanist neighborhood. There were all these little shrines sprinkled in amongst more traditional homes. Unfortunately the directions in the guidebook were not so clear, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be, after dodging a snarling guard dog and a dead kitten on the road (it probably got hit by a car. There are a lot of stray animals here in Seoul and probably all over Korea. I don't think they're so into spaying and neutering animals here).

It was a beautiful day...really sunny, but not overly hot. So we wandered around and saw some of the shrines. I don't know a ton about Shamanism except that they're very into spirits and nature. A lot of Koreans are both Buddhist and/or Confucionist and/or Shamanist. The neighborhood is up on a hill with lots of cool rocks, so we wandered around a little bit and then ran into a Korean man and his father-in-law who helped us scamper up a hill and then we joined a hiking trail up Inwang Mountain. So we ended up in this cluster of Koreans out for a hike for the day and they all had their walking sticks and fancy backpacks and high-tech fabric shirts (we were in t-shirts and jeans, thinking we were just going to go on a neighborhood jaunt). The views were beautiful and the Korean man and his father-in-law both spoke some English and were very nice. They kept watching out for us and making sure we were keeping up with everyone. Then we walked down the hill along the fortress wall. The wall has been around for a long time, but was torn down over the years, including during the Japanese occupation. They started to rebuild it in the 1970s.

We ended up coming out of the park in a totally different spot than we had gone in, but found our subway stop, so it all worked out!

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Last Monday, the 1st, was my 30th birthday! It was a little weird to celebrate my birthday half-way around the world from my family and friends, but it was a good birthday. I got packages from friends and family that I was able to open the day of and I think there's at least 1 more coming, so my birthday will be spread out for the next couple of weeks! I also got taken out to dinner twice, once for Vietnamese and once for Mexican. I found out about an actually good Mexican restaurant called Dos Tacos here in Seoul. The guy who started it apparently lived in LA for years, so he knows Mexican food. I had a potato burrito and a side of sliced avocado with a Corona and it was pretty good!

Here's a picture of me with a present from Abby, a Junior Mints lunch box filled with 30 little boxes of Junior Mints!