Tag Archives: Tales of South Korea

Cotton-balls in Seoul: What to Pack for South Korea

I am beginning to appreciate just how many Americans travel to South Korea each year for employment. Take Chung Dahm for example. They hire approximately 300 teachers every quarter. Multiply that by hundreds of academies and hogwons across the country and the number of ESL teachers coming into the country each year climbs into the thousands. Add to that the thousands of enlisted soldiers coming to live on various military branches and the hundreds of businessmen and women working for big corporations who regularly spend weeks, months, or even years living in Seoul and you come up with a population comprised of about 2% foreigners – a significant number when considering the population in South Korea is somewhere in the 50 million range. It’s none too surprising, then, that the big question among people headed to the ROK is: What do I pack?

So, for today’s post, I put together a list of items to consider packing for a long stay in Korea with a little discussion of each. I hope future expats find here a useful anecdote or two.

WHAT TO PACK:

  • Deodorant: Unless you have easy access to a commissary, deodorant is difficult to find and expensive when it is. If you get stuck in a lurch, you can purchase deodorant for a high-markup price at several of the foreign markets in Itaewon, but it’s much easier just to go to the Dollar General Store before leaving the states and stocking up on a year’s supply to throw in your luggage.  It’s well worth the extra weight and luggage space. Also, it will save you from having to beg friends and family to send more when July rolls around and you’re sick of your own stench.  Seriously, Koreans do not use deodorant and you will not find it on the shelves at E-mart or any other retailer.
  • Toothpaste: While there is plenty of toothpaste to be had in S. Korea, it is quite dissimilar to American brands, so if you have a favorite brand, I recommend packing  a year’s supply of that, too. Next to deodorant, it is the American product highest in demand among American expats.
  • Clothes and Shoes: This may seem obvious, but unless you are petite and thin (or of Asian descent), it will be difficult to find clothes that fit properly. There are several fundamental differences in body shapes between Korean and American people and most clothes available for sale in Korea are not going to accommodate the size, shape, or length of the average Western body frame, even in extra-large sizes. If you can’t fit a full year’s supply of clothing into your suitcases, I recommend packing clothes for the season you will arrive and for the season that follows. Next, arrange to have a friend send you a box of clothes in six month’s time. It may be expensive, but not any more so than buying specialty clothes in Korea. Besides, that’s an infinitely better option than wearing clothes that feel awkward or which are inappropriate for the season. If you find yourself in a lurch on this one, try scouring foreign clothing stores in Itaewon, though even here the selection will be limited to an odd array of knock-off t-shirts and baggy jeans.
    • If you are up for an adventure, find a tailor or seamstress in the Dongdaemun Fabric Market who is willing to work with you. If you are a little savvy, open-minded, and willing to try speaking Korean, you could get a really wonderful deal on custom-made clothing – Western style OR Korean, for they regularly make traditional Hanbok for weddings and family photos.
  • Cosmetics for Your Skin Tone: Clinique, Este’ Lauder and Channel are just some of the major high-end brands that ARE available in the malls in and around Seoul, but keep in mind that foundation, make-up, and powder shades are suitable for the Asian complexion.

DON’T BOTHER PACKING:

Korean Language Books and Guides: Not only are there myriad language books and guides in used book stores around Itaewon and the foreign book sections of large bookstores like Bandi & Luni’s, you will also likely inherit books from fellow expats, teachers, or co-workers who no longer need them.

  • Shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and other every-day toiletries: There is an abundance of these types of products in stores all over South Korea. Besides E-mart, these products are available Watson’s, Homeplus, Costco, and most pharmacies. Also, there are millions of Body Shop, Olive, The Face Shop, and similar outlets in every neighborhood.
  • Accessories like sunglasses, socks, ties, hats, scarves, Jewelry: Name brand knock-offs of these products can be purchased from the thousands of street vendors that line the streets of nearly any district in S. Korea, not to mention in the subway stations and sidewalks of most neighborhoods. If you don’t want to buy the cheap stuff from a street vendor, there are something like two million stores and malls in S. Korea, many of them high-end, where you can buy high-quality items. You won’t be sorry.
  • Office, Art, and School supplies: S. Korea is a virtual heaven for the office and art supply aficionado, most of it exceeding anything you can find in America in terms of quality and variety. My very favorite place to shop in the entire country is Dream Depot. In fact, I’ve filled boxes and bags of stuff from Dream Depot to send back home.

Recommended:

  • Favorite accessories, books you feel you can’t live without, and your favorite teddy-bear: Even though there are many quality products in S. Korea, sometimes you just want your own stuff, so pack it. Living abroad for a year is a big challenge and it’s a good plan to have a few comfort items and mementos of home to get you through those less-than-stellar expat moments.

Post Script: One evening, a group of my fellow teachers and I were swapping stories about our first impressions of S. Korea – specifically, what we had and had not packed. One of the newer teacher said that for some reason she worried she wouldn’t be able to find cotton balls in Korea, so she’d packed way more than she could ever use in a year. Since cotton balls are not hard to find, she was giving a few of her packages away.

The perspectives we had acquired through experience allowed us to laugh at ourselves and the silly misconceptions we had before coming to South Korea. Still, preparing for a year of teaching abroad can be somewhat of a mystery fraught with anxiety for some. With any luck, this post will make the job a little easier a fellow angst-prone (but none-the-less adventurous), traveler.

Busan, South Korea: A Photo Journal

Gwangmyeong Station Korail:From Seoul to Busan in under three hours

Busan is a fantastic vacation spot, especially in September when most of August’s vacation goers have returned to their regular homes, a new school year or their regular work routine.

The pace in Busan is comparatively slower and the atmosphere more relaxed than Seoul. In September, the water is still warm and the beaches are less crowded. The swimming beach at Hundae is clean and has many restaurants nearby for every taste – lots of foreign food chains as well as local favorites and traditional Korean food. The Hundae area also has a shopping area, a movie theater and an aquarium right on the beach. There are hotels for every family type and all price ranges and all within walking distance of the beach.

Picture of the Korean Landscape (from train window)

Hundae Beach in Busan: World Record for Most Beach Umbrellas at One Time

September is a great time to visit because vacation season is over but the water is still warm

Resort Hotels on Hundae Beach

Lord Beach Hotel: Minutes from the Beach

Lovely Nearby Thai Restaurant

Tasty Appetizers!

Hundae Beach and Resort Area at Night

Out for a Ferry Ride!

Ferry Destination…

Going Under…

Turning Around…

and one last backward glance.

Folks Appreciating Electronic Art: Hundae Beach

The Banana Story: Procuring Produce in S. Korea

Purchasing bananas at the Pyeongchon E-mart in Anyang South Korea can be a little trickier than one might expect.

At first glance, the produce section of an E-mart grocery floor looks pretty much like any produce section in any American grocery or discount department store, except some of the varieties of produce may seem unusual to a foreigner. Persimmons, for example, will appear in produce bins in the autumn, as will arrays of pumpkins of a very different assortment than the large orange kinds we are used to in the United States. In the spring, large purple grapes with skins as thick as a plums and a more tart taste than table grapes typical in America appear beside the most delicious mangoes you’ve ever tasted in your life.

But bananas are as common and equally as loved in S. Korea as they are in the States, and abundantly available in the produce section –  as long as you are shopping several hours before the store closes. This is because produce is stocked once, I assume very early, every day and not replenished. In other words, produce is pretty much first come, first served. So, you can buy all the bananas you want (though buying only a few can prove a little more challenging) as long as there are bananas to buy.

Not being much of a culinary adventurist, and a big fan of bananas, I made sure to grab a generous bunch of them my very first shopping day at the Pyeongchon E-mart before browsing around for other interesting foods and odds an ends for the officetel. When my cart, which, by the way, had multi-directional wheels,  felt sufficiently full, I headed to the rows of cashiers on the ground level to purchase my goods.

There’s nothing unusual about the way E-mart cashiers operate. Just like at home, you wheel your cart into line, wait your turn, then unload your purchases onto the conveyor belt. The cashier then runs the bar code of each item across the scanner and the cash register keeps a running total. Everything was running just as smoothly as can be when suddenly the rhythmic flow of scanner-beeps came to a halt. This is usually indicative that the cashier has come across some bit of produce that needs weighed This is not, however, what occurred in this instance.

The bananas, by then somewhat near the top end of the grocery cart, had finally made their way down the conveyor belt amidst boxes of dry goods and dish towels and were now being held in the right hand of the somewhat confused looking cashier. She looked at me questioningly and I looked at her questioningly, and when that garnered no result or action on either part, I just shrugged my shoulders to convey my ignorance over the situation. She shook her head and put the bananas away, and I did not get to buy any bananas that day.

Walking home with my self-boxed groceries on my recently purchased dolly I realized that one difference between the check-out counter at E-mart and those in American grocery store is the absence of produce scales. Since the other produce I had purchased was prepackaged, it was easily scanned and caused no problems. The bananas, however, were not so conveniently packaged, and since there is no scale at the check-out counters at E-mart, there was no way for the clerk to know how much to charge for the bananas, so she could not sell them to me.

Of course, this is probably what she was trying to say to me, but not knowing the language, I remained ignorant.

When I returned the following day to try my luck again at purchasing bananas, it was with a more observant attitude. I headed back to the banana bin in the produce section and scanned the area for a scale. Nothing. But there was a woman wearing the kind of hat one wears as an employee of a grocery store standing on the other side of the banana bin helping a customer with her bananas. I made my way around to the pair and watched their interaction. The customer handed the bananas to the woman with the hat who weighed them on a digital scale, pushed a button to produce a UPC sticker, bagged the bananas, placed the UPC sticker on the bag  and handed the bananas back to the customer. Voici! What an easy and civilized method, I thought, and promptly followed suit to purchase my very own bunch of bananas to enjoy in the comfort of my own home.

This may seem like a small success, but when you are living in a foreign country and simple communication suddenly becomes a daily issue, sometimes the small successes are your only successes and so are worthy of celebration.

But this is not the end of the banana story.

After work one night, around 10:30 PM, I went by E-mart to pick up a few things as my coffers were running low, and a bunch of bananas was on my list.  Knowing my chances of getting any produce so late a night were slim, I hoped for the best. When I got to the banana bin, it was nearly, but not completely, empty. There were a few bunches of bananas left.  I picked a bunch out and took it to the lady with the scale and handed them to her. She shook her head, crossed her fingers (the Korean sign for ‘no’) and took my bananas away from me and placed them on a table behind her (well out of my reach). I was astounded and quite confused. But one thing I’d learned about Korea is this: if someone tells you “no,” they mean NO. So, realizing I was standing there like a person struck dumb, I roused myself went about my other shopping business without protest. It took me a few shopping trips to get up enough courage to buy bananas at E-mart again, and I never had any problem again.

I’ve told my banana story to many people, including my Korean students, and while they all found it amusing, no one has offered a possible reason why the banana woman took my bananas away. I’ve decided I prefer to think she knew something about those bananas that I did not and was protecting me from making the grave mistake of purchasing them. Who knows, perhaps because of her wisdom, I have avoided some infamous banana plague that causes one to foam at the mouth and attack E-mart customers while hanging from the ceiling (or otherwise “go bananas”). In which case, let me just say, thank you banana lady at E-mart who runs the digital scale, thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Anecdotes and Advice Revisited: Deodorant Availability in South Korea

Among the many words of advice passed on to me when people learned I was moving to South Korea to teach was to “pack a year’s worth of deodorant.” Everyone said that deodorant would be difficult to find in South Korea, and even when found, it would would be expensive and/or ineffective.

I researched this point a little before leaving the states, mostly by cruising blogs of others living in South Korea (and documenting their experience) and expat advice sites on the internet and found among all these sources a consensus that, yes, indeed, deodorant is difficult to find in South Korea.

Eager to test the validity of this rumor once I had arrived in South Korea, I made it a point to check out the toiletries aisle at our neighborhood E-mart during our first shopping expedition. The aisle was well stocked with every imaginable health and beauty product available, from shampoo and conditioner to toothpaste to shaving cream and disposable razors. “Ah ha!” I thought smugly to myself. “Deodorant is surely among this plethora of products.” I walked confidently down the aisle expecting any moment to see Korean versions of recognizable brands like “Secret” and “Old Spice” or some other similarly branded Korean deodorant. But alas, there was no sign of deodorant of any kind. I tried a couple of other likely aisles thinking perhaps E-mart arranges their toiletries in a different manner than it’s American counterparts, but I never found deodorant at E-Mart that day, or any day since.

Several months had passed since that first search for deodorant when I went to Itaewon for the first time and consequently to the Foreign Food Market. There, on a high shelf behind the counter, safe from the hands of casual shoppers and possible shoplifters, I noticed a collection of “foreign” beauty products. There, sitting between a bottle of Nivea body lotion and a container of Noxzema was a row of various brands of American deodorants. Because I had taken the advice of all those many expat blogs and websites and stocked up on deodorant before I came (thank you Dollar General Store) , I had no need to inquire into the price of those sticks of deodorant, but considering Campbell’s Tomato Soup is over $3.00 a can, I’ve no doubt the those rolls and sticks of deodorant were over priced and comparatively expensive.

But perhaps the proliferation of deodorant on the shelves of E-Mart and like chain stores is not too far in South Korea’s future. South Koreans are very consumerist oriented and lately I’ve been noticing advertisements on the subway for prescription antiperspirant, and really deodorant is not a big leap from antiperspirant, is it? (I know I confuse the two all the time). I also know Korean people to be fastidious in the personal hygiene as well as avid consumers, two conditions which, combined, seem to me to make an auspicious market for deodorant companies.

Consider dairy products as an example. I assumed there would be few dairy products in S. Korea for a couple of reasons: One, where would dairy cows be kept? Secondly, as far as I know, folks of Asian persuasion have a difficult time digesting lactose. Imagine my surprise when I saw aisles and aisles of dairy products at E-mart. Milk of every flavor (chocolate, strawberry, banana, peach, mango), American branded yogurt, drinkable yogurt (delicious, by the way), pudding and all kinds of ice cream. The only dairy product that has not much caught on yet is cheese (still available, but expensive).

So why all the dairy products? Perhaps it has to do with marketing.

On sidewalks in front of schools and academies on any given day there are stationed well dressed representatives of myriad companies promoting milk products the best way possible – by giving away free samples to kids. Convenience store owners are also known to give away an extra carton of flavored milk as “service” to customers buying something from their store. Also, there is a lot of very positive advertising for dairy products on billboards in the city and 0n the

Be White

Be White

subway. The most memorable of these is an imperative from “Smoothie King” to “Be White.” A slogan successful because white skin is highly prized in this part of the world, though it certainly doesn’t hurt to have celebrity endorsement of the likes of Olympic Gold Medalist, Yuna Kim.

I believe it is the direct result of this heavy marketing that S. Korean folks have embraced dairy products as enthusiastically just as they have embraced eating meat for three meals a day (as opposed to hardly ever); further, it is no big stretch of the imagination that, should deodorant companies begin a marketing campaign as aggressive as that of dairy products, deodorant companies will easily convince S. Koreans that they need these products despite the likely fact that they do not. I mean, if marketing can convince people to drink a product that is arguably hard on their digestive system, why wouldn’t it work equally well to convince people that don’t sweat much from their armpits that they need a product to prevent or minimize the odor of such bodily function? No much at all, I fear.

At this writing, unless you have access to the army base, deodorant is still pretty difficult find in South Korea and expensive when it is found.  If you are headed to the R.O.K and deodorant is an important part of your personal hygiene, then I also recommend packing extra for the trip. If you are the sort of person who is overly concerned about such things as the availability of deodorant in a foreign country, then you may want to reconsider your trip all together.

I Survived Typhoon Kompasu and All I Got Was This Lousy Post

Wow. Well, I guess I can say that I have lived through a typhoon, and while the effects of Typhoon Kompasu were far worse in Incheon and other coastal areas than in Peyongchon, I found the experience quite frightening nonetheless.

I was awakened Thursday morning by the sound of wind at around 6:oo AM, which literally howled through the open windows on either end of the long hallway that runs outside our officetel, sounding much like freight train. Having been raised in the Midwest (in Kansas no less) my first thought was that we were experiencing a tornado, or at least tornadic weather, but then I remember that I am in Korea where there are no tornadoes. I really had no idea what was going on, only that the wind was stronger than anything I’d ever experienced and, unlike storms in the Midwest, it did not subside for hours.

I listened hard to hear if any of the neighbors were leaving their officetels to go to the basement (or rather, the lower five levels of our building), which is what living in the Midwest has conditioned me to do during a storm, or for any indication of how to behave. But, other than the sound of the wind, there was nothing to hear. So I laid in bed imagining the havoc the wind was causing and tried to fall back to sleep. I achieved some fitful dozing over the next couple of hours but no real sleep until the storm had passed.

We had plans to meet friends around 10:00 that morning and go to Dongdaemun, and as we walked to the coffee shop that was our designated meeting place, we noticed downed limbs and broken glass around our neighborhood. The further we walked, the more damage we noticed: vending machines on their sides, windows blown out, small trees uprooted. When we got to the coffee shop, we found they weren’t open yet. One of the owners was out front cleaning up the debris, and fortunately, because the coffee shop is located on the ground floor on the East side of a pretty sturdy building, it had not received any grave damage to its front. Only the owner with the key was late getting to work. We were told, in a quintessentially Korean manner by the owner who was present, to “stay.”

The second owner arrived in a matter of minutes and told us it would take 20 minutes to get the coffee/espresso machine going, so we said we’d come back for our beverages later in the day. But, as we begun discussing our plans to go to Dongdaemun, she mentioned that a couple of the subway lines were down. After some thought and discussion, we reasoned that even if our subway line was cleared for travel, Dondaemun was probably as late opening as was our local coffee shop. We decided to stay and order beverages while we mulled over our next move.

Our decision was to spend the morning somewhere more local, so we hailed a couple of cabs to to carry our five selves across the river to Anyang station, an area known for its shopping.  On our way we saw a lot more damage. Large trees uprooted, glass and metal signs of considerable size lying smashed on the streets, awnings shredded, their frames twisted and deformed on sidewalks, more limbs and broken glass everywhere. I was impressed and realized just how mild the damage I was witnessing must be compared to the coastal areas. I also felt fortunate to live as far inland as I do.

The thing about a typhoon is that its effects are  much more widespread than a tornado’s. Unlike a tornado, which will just take out a farmhouse here, a shopping mall there, topple a few cars and twist a few trees, a typhoon overwhelms an entire geographic area, like a peninsula, and effect all of it. It’s only the degree of damage that varies.

The coffee shop owners mentioned that Korea experiences a storm of such magnitude about once a year, a fact that has been corroborated by several other of our Korean acquaintances.

I suffered no real harm from the experience, only lost some sleep, which I do on a regular basis for much less interesting reasons all the time. But actually living in a place where typhoons exist and getting a sense of the kind of damage they can cause has certainly ignited my imagination and given me a new perspective about them. I really hope I never have to experience one any closer than I have.

Most of my friends, consequently, slept through the whole thing.

Related Articles

Pyeongchon Writers’ Group Final Reading a Success

While in Anyang, I’ve  had the opportunity and great joy to work with a small group of Expatriate writers who, from January to August 2010, met  bi-weekly in Pyeongchon coffee shops, office-tels and restaurants to share stories, frustrations, goals, and best of all, creative writings. Some of our work consisted of old stories and poems we hoped to revive while others were  inspired by our experiences in S. Korea. On August 22nd, we held a reading at the home of one of our members to share with the world a few of the more significant fruits of our labor. In addition to reading some of our work, we assembled collection of our pieces in a small chapbook to share with attendees and friends. Both the reading and the chapbook were well received.

Pyeongchon Writers' Group 2010

Pyeongchon Writers’ Group 2010

Author Bios (from left to right):

Gary Jackson is the winner of the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his first book Missing You, Metropolis. He was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of New Mexico in 2008.

Lisa M. Hase (back row) holds a Master’s Degree in English with an emphasis in writing from Kansas State University. Her poems have appeared in such literary magazines as Susquehanna Review, Midwest Quarter and Sub-scribe Online Magazine.

Derrika Hunt (back row) was born and raised in South Florida and much of her writing is inspired by the many challenges she faced growing up there. She writes for all of those voices that have been silenced.

Chau Nguyen was born in Stockton and raised in Pomona, CA, and educated by worldly travels and her folks. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.

Members not shown: Sonali Maulik and Cereba Barrios

Newest Abcedarian Story: “The Ant and The Bee” (as Written by Chung Dahm Students)

Thursday was the last night for my Comp. 100 class, and as is often my habit, I had my students write an “abcedarian” story (though abcedarian is usually a poetry exercise  rather than a short story exercise). Each student begins a story by writing a sentence beginning with the letter “a.” The paper is then passed to the next student, whose next, somewhat cohesive sentence, should begin with the letter “b,” and so forth until either time runs out or the letter “z” is reached. Sometimes a letter or two may get skipped until all the students get the hang of it, but generally they catch on pretty quick.  I also like to sit in on the circle and add a few sentences. Stories are titled after they are written.

It’s always interesting to see how students approach this exercise.  Last term’s Comp. 100 class really labored over each and every sentence and were  genuinely amused by the results. This term’s students, while no less serious, seemed to approach the exercise with efficiency. As a result, their stories were a little longer (we got to “v” this term while last term we only got to “t”), but no less amusing.

Here is this term’s winning story (based on student votes):

“The Ant and the Bee”

An ant is moving up a hill. But the ant wanted to fly to the sky when it went to the top of a hill. Carelessly, he jumped, flapping his arms. Directly, he jumped to another hill, where he found another ant trying to fly. Elephants could be seen in the distance.

“Failure isn’t in my dictionary!” he cried out before he fell into the middle of the forest.

Gorilla was searching for food in the forest, saw the ant flying toward him and shouted “flying ant!” Horrified, the gorilla ran away screaming “I’ve never seen a jumping ant…I must be crazy!”

I don’t know why that gorilla is running away”  the ant said. “Just because of little old me?” the ant wondered. Knowing that his energy was consumed, the ant decided to explore the jungle, but he heard people shouting about jelly and eggs.

Lovely…I want to taste them a little…should I?” the ant wondered. Mostly without thinking one more second about it, the ant followed the smell.

“No!” someone shouted  quickly, “it is trap of humans!”

On top of the flower, there was something small saying something.

“Please, please, someone help me!” a bee said.

Quite down so I can concentrate…how can I get up this flower?” the ant said.

Really easy! Fly!” the bee kept suggesting.

Something caught up in his mind. “To me to fly? No. I can’t, it was just a jump” the ant said honestly.Unless…what can I do?”

Vanity never gets you anywhere.

Last Weeks of My Last Term at ChungDahm

Summer in Korea

Summer in Korea

It hardly seems possible that it’s already the first week in August, though the weather outside certainly confirms the fact. I’ve never lived anywhere so humid and hot in my life. Even in the Midwest, the humidity never really goes above, say 70 percent, and even then, not for very long. Here, the humidity ranges between 75 and 100 percent every day while the temperatures are routinely in the 90s (Fahrenheit). It’ always about to rain, raining or just finished raining too, so things are always dripping wet. Rather than comparing the atmosphere to a sauna, a more apt analogy is a tropical rain forest. Often the moisture is so dense you can actually see it in the air, almost cut through it with your hand. It reminds me of the many misty photos of Asia I’ve seen in my life, though I can tell you walking through these landscapes is not nearly as romantic as they are to look at.

Things are changing rapidly at my branch. Both of our branch’s Faculty Managers have moved up to HQ and about half of the faculty are leaving. This is mostly due to the fact that, like Gary and I, most instructors’ one-year contracts are coming to an end. This was the last week for at least four “veteran” instructors and there are four new instructors haunting the halls, sitting in on classes and trying to learn the ropes. They don’t know just how lucky they are to get a week to observe and adjust, for certainly not all new instructors get that privilege. They have been asking questions about why so many people are leaving. We give them the standard explanation that contracts are expiring and people usually choose to leave at term’s end. It’s too difficult to explain fully why most instructors don’t renew. There are just too many nuances that a new instructor could not possible understand, and no one wants to terrify a new person. It’s better they see for themselves what it’s like to work for ChungDahm. Besides, it’s a different experience for everyone.

Most of my students are all doing pretty well, though they are a little more excitable than usual because they are on school break (yes, they still come to academy during school break).  I have built great rapport with many of my students and feel like I have become rather masterful at managing a classroom of elementary or middle school students. I have even made progress with one of my most difficult students, who I have had in my Wednesday 4:00 pm class for three terms in a row now.  On most days, he follows my instruction and does as I say with little resistance. Just the other day, for example, instead of choosing to act out in anger by kicking his desk, as is his habit, he simply stated that he felt angry. I was a little stunned that he chose to articulate his feelings rather than acting on them without thought. I also feel like my rapport with him had a little something to do with his choice. All in all, I view this change as progress.

Another one of my students recently won a prize for best webzine. Since I am his teacher, and he made the webzine for my class, I get a little recognition too. A staff member came around to my class and snapped a picture of me with the student, though I have no idea how the photo will be used. (Probably some promotional marketing pamphlet somewhere).

Right now I am in the middle of a bit of a time crunch. It’s enough to keep me on my toes and make me a little resentful that I don’t have more time to write this week, especially since taking on an extra class, but I also know it won’t last long and I have lots of great poems in the works.

Only three more weeks of gainful employment before Gary and I head south to Busan for a well deserved, and real, vacation by the sea, followed by an adventurous visit to Tokyo, Japan.  We’ll be back in the states by September 20th.

Gary and Lisa’s Travel and Photo Journal for Jeju Island, March 2010

Jeju Island is located south of the Korean peninsula about an hour’s flight away from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. Gary and I spent four days visiting the island during our vacation from Chungdahm the last week of March, 2010, and even though it was too cool for the beach, we found plenty of fun things to do around the resort area, all of it within walking distance of our hotel.

We stayed at the Jeju Hana Hotel (hana is Hangul for one) located in the Seogwipo-si resort area among a cluster of hotels, golf clubs, and tourist attractions. Our hotel was reasonably priced and had a bath tub, a luxury since most officetels do not have tubs, only showers.

Though the Hana Hotel has a nice restaurant, we were visiting during the off season and the restaurant closed in the evenings. This fact prompted us to explore the area for other dining options. We included in our search all nearby hotels and found Hyatt’s accommodations to be among our best. Of course, being open might have had something to do with that.

The Jeju Hyat is located down the road from the Hana Hotel and has a stunning view overlooking the ocean. Around its grounds are a number of scenic pathways built for strolling and enjoying the local plant life. Visitors can take advantage of these pathways as alternate routes to different parts of the resort compound.

The lobby of Jeju Hyatt also features and indoor koi and goldfish pond with a half-dozen small ducks waddling about. I’m not sure what kept those ducks from flying beyond the perimeter of the indoor pond (their wings did not appear to have been clipped), but they never did. Perhaps they intuited they would get cooked if they didn’t mind their territory.

Many of the other nearby restaurants were also closed for the season, but that didn’t stop us from walking around and snapping a few pictures. Many restaurants on the island offer horse meat and, of course, all types of seafood. Here are a few exterior shots of one traditional-style restaurant near our hotel.

Up the road in the opposite direction of the Hyatt are a number of tourist attractions. We visited the “Sound Island Museum,” which includes in its collection a number of  phonographs (circa Edison vintage), musical instruments from different regions of the world and a couple of rooms filled porcelain nick-knacks and dolls arranged in a kind of diorama. We never figured out exactly why these scenes were on display or their relation to sound and music but speculated that perhaps they are some kind of personal collection belonging to the museum the owners who have no better place to store or exhibit these things. Korean people are, after all, very efficient with space.

Photo courtesy of the Official Site of Korea Tourism

Later, we ambled over to Jeju-do Chocolate Factory, famous for being the only chocolate factory in Asia in the 10 top chocolate factories of the world list. It feature an impressive art gallery consisting of a number of miniatures and “paintings” rendered in chocolate.  It also features a ‘Bean to Bar’ showroom, which shows the entire process of chocolate beans’ transformation into chocolate. Finally, there is a showroom and gift shop where visitors can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. Since the area is also famous for it’s huge, delicious oranges (which adorn trees all across the island this time of year) visitors can also purchase orange flavored chocolate.

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Not far from the Sound Museum and Chocolate Museum is the Jeju Teddy Bear Museum. Korean people have the corner market on cute, and so it’s not terribly surprising that there exists a museum celebrating cuteness as encapsulated by the iconic teddy bear.

The Seogwipo-si area boasts a spectacular botanical garden and is perhaps the best attraction in the area. The indoor compound contains a number of greenhouse gardens that including a simulated desert, water gardens, and a tropical plant and exotic fruit bearing tree greenhouse.

Cacti and Succulents

Kimchi Pots

Kimchi Pots

Banana Tree

Banana Tree

Inside the top

Inside the top

View from the Top

View from the Top

European Gardens

European Gardens

Italian Gardens

Italian Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Korean Traditional Garden

Korean Traditional Garden

Not far from the Jeju Botanical gardens is a beautiful traditional style bridge with a view of a nearby waterfall.  There is also a lovely  Pagoda and fountain nearby, as pictured here.

Good Luck Fountain

Good Luck Fountain

Pagoda Palace

Pagoda Palace

View of Falls from Pagoda

View of Falls from Pagoda

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Falls

The Falls

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

Perhaps the best part of our vacation was hanging out with Korean tourists. We are used to living and working among Korean people and Korean children and in general doing all the normal daily stuff right along side them.  Our days are made up of the uninspiring stuff that make up daily living, like taking out the trash, getting groceries, taking public transportation and paying bills at the ATM. But we got another glimpse of Korean people while on vacation – Korean people as tourists- and they are a blast. Especially the older folks, who are definitely out to have a good time (the odor of soju on their breath confirms that fact). We were approached several times by folks wanting us to take pictures of their groups. They always offered to take our picture as a return favor. Sometimes people would come up and start a conversation, never mind that we can’t speak the language. They kept talking and explaining things to us even when we gestured  our incomprehension. Really, there may be nothing more endearing in this world to me now than a tour group of vacationing older Korean women dressed in matching pink out to have a good.

I spied one fellow in particular who was dressed elaborately, especially by Korean standards, hanging around the area offering to take pictures for tourists. Koreans are  quiet homogeneous and rather prefer things that way. I mean, they dress alike on purpose and stick together. However, this man was clearly an individual, and I tried several times to take his picture on the sly. None of them came out very well though. I’d given up when he came over and offered to take a photo of Gary and I – it’s the one at the heading of this blog post (it was his suggestion that we put our hands up in the air). After taking our picture, he voluntarily posed for a picture with Gary so even though my previous efforts at capturing his digital likeness was a failure, in the end I was granted the perfect opportunity. Here’s the pic:It’s Gary’s favorite pic of the batch.

The Earthquake Affair: Another Abecedarian Story by Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

Here is a story my Comp. 100 class and I composed using the exquisite corpse writing prompt our last night of class. Starting with the letter “A,” each new sentence must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. There must also be an attempt at cohesion in the story. All together, we composed four stories. This was voted as best. (Remember, these are middle school aged ESL students.) I’ve copied it verbatim here:

Again and again the children asked their mother to push them on the swings. But their mother, her belly holding yet another child, shook her head, her face white. Children started to find out where their father had gone. Dad was in restaurant with his secret girlfriend. Every other day, he met this secret girlfriend for lunch at this favorite restaurant.

Father!” the children cried in unison when they saw him – one with a shocked face. Girlfriend also stared at the children and asked father “Is they are your kids? Why are they calling you father?”

Ha ha ha,” they are not my kids, they are kids who live in my town.”

I am your son! I am your first son,” the boy cried, his tears streaking his cheeks and rushed home.

John, the first son, went home and surprised by strange man sit closely with mom.

Kelly, I really think you should tell your husband we’re dating. I mean, look at OUR baby!”

Listen to me, we can’t let anyone know about our love-child NOW!” Mom whispered and John the son hide behind the sofa, was so shocked that he cried

NO, it can’t be – Mom and dad BOTH can’t both be having an affair! “Oh my god, what did you mean that both me an your father having affair?” Mom shouted.

“Please tell me it isn’t so!” she wailed. “Quickly, hide Luke!” she said to her boyfriend when she saw her husband coming.

Really, I can’t believe this situation! I heard all things! How can you have affair” said father.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble.

To be continued…

——-

We ran out of time before we ran out of alphabet. But we didn’t run out of fun!

Children’s Day in South Korea (Auli Nal)

Today is Children’s Day in S. Korea, a national holiday, and judging by the two-million people in Pyeongchon Central park today, a big holiday for families. (The number quoted in the previous sentence is an exaggeration – there is no way that many people would fit in PC Central Park. It’s simply meant to connote my surprise over the quantity of people in the park today. Hundreds of people would be a more accurate estimation.) A great number of these people were children.

There where children in strollers, children on bicycles, children on roller blades, and children on skateboards. I guess you could say there were many children on wheels.

Children not on wheels were involved with familial activities such as flying kites, catching balls or playing chase; this despite the limited number of square footage (meter-age) available per individual. Still more families could be seen sitting on blankets on the grass eating picnic lunches or just relaxing with their shoes off. One family appeared to have ordered their picnic food from a restaurant as I saw a man on a scooter delivering them their food. I can just imagine the directions they must have given over the cell phone when ordering: “Ah, yes, we will be the Korean family of  four on the green blanket in front of the blue tent right next to the croquet court.” Made me wish I could speak better Korean.

I can’t imagine Americans celebrating children quite to this degree. In terms of scale and participation, today’s holiday  is more akin to the American Labor Day. Schools are closed for the week, parents take off from work and most acadamies and hagwons are closed, except of course, ChungDahm.

Though many students did not attend class this evening, the ever vigilant instructors of ChungDahm English and Critical Thinking were on the front lines ready to deliver a little edu-tainment to any child who appeared. I took the stance that providing education for chlidren on Children’s Day is the ultimate in celebrating children. The students didn’t really buy it though.

Fortunately, Kim ChungDahm, the fictional entity that makes all upopular rules and decisions at ChungDahm, allowed teachers to pass out candy suckers – a rare treat since we are normally strictly forbidden from giving students food. The irony of this gesture was not lost on the students. Nonthelsess, we were a little less hated as a result.

Letter from Anyang, South Korea: Missing America

Lately I’ve been missing small-town life. Oh, not the small-mindedness and lack of vision that is often characteristic of living in small communities, but the simpler pleasures. Things like tulip festivals and poetry readings attended by the same five or six people at the neighborhood coffee shop. Maybe it’s a reaction to the rash of recent Face Book postings and photos of families engaged in family-type activities that are particularly suited for spring; or maybe it’s from living in a city that is more densely populated than anywhere I have lived before. In any event, with only four-and-a-half months to go on my teaching contract I am looking ever forward to setting my feet on familiar ground and living among familiar people.

How Chung Dahm Students Get their English Names

Before my first day teaching at Chungdahm, I fully expected I would struggle with my students’ names, but as it turns out, most students use English names when attending English Academies. This was a relief  since Korean names can be really difficult to pronounce properly. In fact, all of my first term students used English monikers so I did not have to embarrass myself mispronouncing their names.

Still, I noticed that a lot of students had rather unusual English names. Elvis, for example. I figured the kid just saw the name in some name book and liked it enough to use it as his own. I also figured he probably didn’t know a thing about the famous Elvis Presley of America, who is always the first person that comes to my mind when I hear the name Elvis. It seemed very likely to me that the other kids in the class would make fun of him if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s. So,  I didn’t bother bringing it up.  I figured it didn’t really matter anyway, and certainly I didn’t want cause him any embarrassment. Besides, I further figured, what were the chances the matter would ever even come up in class?

Well I’ll be damned if the last unit of the terms wasn’t “The Roots of Rock and Roll” and who did we talk about but none other than the King himself. My god, the poor kid, who was often the subject of teasing anyway, was harassed practically to death. Turns out the odds I had bet against where greater than I suspected, I guess.

Other names that I have heard and wondered about include: Jelly, Chocolate, Cream, Drac,  Rooney, Jack Sparrow, June and some kid that names himself after a different letter of the alphabet each term.

Most kids choose their own names, but often enough they are given their names by English teachers who don’t want to try and pronounce their Korean names, so arbitrarily name them. Sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the kids were in a class together when they were named because you’ll see a group of kids with names like Peter, Thomas, and Paul. Or Christina 1 and Christina 2.  Other times, as in the examples above, naming just seems random and thoughtless. I don’t know which was the case with Elvis.

Since my first term, I have had several students who use their Korean names and I do my best to pronounce them correctly, with some success. The most difficult time I had with names was when I had Jung Huan and Yang Hawan in the same class. The pronunciation of their respective names have subtle, but important differences, which I was only able to appreciate after much tutoring from the students. Jung Huan sounds almost like John Juan, and Yang Hawan sounds similar to Young Ha – wan. I could just about pronounce them correctly by the end of the term.

I have a few more new Korean names to learn this term, and I will probably butcher the heck out of them before I get remotely close. Fortunately, most students are patient, at least in my sight. The most surprising name so far this term, surprising in that is was unexpected rather than odd, is a girl named Eugene. I guess this is a rather common English name for Korean girls to take.

So, If anyone out there ever finds themselves in a position of giving a student an English name, I implore you to do so with consideration.

I mean, it seemed very likely that the other kids in the class would make fun of his name if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s.

Teaching Masters Classes at Chung Dahm

Well, the first week of my third term is complete and I have met all my new students.  I am not teaching any Memory classes this term, rather all the classes I have been assigned are mid- to upper-level reading classes (Par and Eagle) and, this is most exciting, three different Master Level classes: Masters Comp. 100 & 105  and Lit. Project 100 (Wartime Literature).  This first week has been a real challenge since I am prepping for so many different levels (Par is the only class I have previous experience with) and I am scheduled to teach 27 hours a week (as opposed to the usual 24) this term. I feel confident one moment and completely incompetent the next. Ah, but such is usually the case when facing difficult but worthwhile challenges. I only wish I’d hadn’t had a head-cold all week; it’s the third one in six months! Everyone says it’s the poor air quality. Still other people tell me it’s due to the change in seasons.  I believe another contributing factor is the exposure to so many different people, mostly kids, in a week’s time. Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and am looking forward to a Sunday afternoon nap.

Comp. 100 is fundamentals and very similar to Expository Writing. Even though my students are Middle-school aged, they will be responding to college level texts. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure they are mature enough, intellectually or emotionally, to respond to some issues, but then they always surprise me. The students will be writing a variety of short essays and learning about different genres of writing.

Comp. 105 is all about argumentation and is taken only after a student has had experience with Comp. 100. Ethos, Logos and Pathos, here we come!

Lit. 100 involves Wartime Literature and includes the following on its book list: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park,  Hiroshima by John Hersey, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Book Thief by Marksu Zusak. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some of these books, some for the second or third time.

Did I mention our terms are thirteen weeks long? With all these books to cover, I think this third term (second to last one here) is sure to go quickly.

When I’m not prepping or teaching, I am writing. My current writing schedule (which was on a semi-hiatus this week) involves writing, free-writing and generating new work in the mornings from approximately 10:00 AM to noon Monday through Friday, with one “floater” day to be used for miscellaneous unexpected events that necessarily come up. I used to spend one hour on Monday and one hour on Friday nights, previously my evenings off, to work on revisions. However, since I no longer have Monday evening’s off, I plan to work on revisions for two hours on Friday nights this term, as I have all day Fridays off.

Sometimes I do a little writing on the weekends – usually blogging – if so moved or inspired, and have begun a writers group here in Pyeongchon, by request. We’ve only met once, but plans are underway for another meeting later in March. Since April is National Poetry Month, I am hoping to recruit a couple of fellow writers to participate in the Poem-a-Day challenge with me.

I’ve been reading voraciously since arriving in Korea, but this has lately been slowed as I try to work my way through Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, a read I admittedly am  undertaking more because it is an “important” work than for pure pleasure – though I find parts of it interesting enough. The political backdrop is actually more interesting to me than the interrelationships among the characters, surprisingly enough. It does inspire me, however, to make notes and observations of the various individuals I’ve met here which I believe will make great character profiles for some novel that could be written at some future date. The novel in my head is of a group ex-pats living and working in Korea and the tales of their travels, relationships and escapades.  Sort a modern Hemingway/Fitzgerald-esque novel with bared secrets and slightly dysfunctional ways of looking at the world. Of course, the novel in my head is interesting and great. Getting it onto paper is another thing all together, isn’t it? Character profiles will be enough for now, though.

Letter from Anyang, South Korea: February 8th, 2011

It’s gray outside, looks as if it could rain, but the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which feels positively balmy after the weeks of below freezing temperatures.  I hear chainsaws in the distance and know this to mean there are crews working in Pyeongchon Central Park at this hour, trimming trees around the perimeter. I will note their progress and compare it to yesterday’s as I walk through the park on my way to Hagwonga and Chung Dahm later today.

There have been two interruptions this morning: First, Fed-ex with package from home – a box of mail and  Valentines gifts from my mother. Second, the pesticide lady, who comes around about once a month or so and sprays something odorless around the nooks and crannies of our officetel.

Yesterday I held a small scale writers workshop for a few of the newly arrived instructors interested in same. We found a spot at the local Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery chain, near Holly’s coffee shop and spent about two hours working from writing prompts. I provided prompts for poetry, fiction and memoir. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and they are all eager for the next meeting. After our workshop, the six of us went out for dinner at “Chicken and Beer.” It was delicious.