Tag Archives: Zingara Travels

Workspace Revision: What to do with old journals

Waiting for the new bookshelves.

With July coming to a close and a new semester hot on its heels, this weekend seemed like a good time to “revise” my workspace. This has involved: 1) moving my meditation and yoga accoutrements from my office to the bedroom, where there is more space for such activities, 2) ordering a couple of new bookshelves, and 3) boxing up the stacks of books that were lining the baseboard under the printer table.

Though I’ll have to step around boxes of books until the new bookshelves arrive, I am happy with the shape this little project is taking, and particularly like having a meditation space that is separate from my work space. Once the books make their final migration to the living room, where the new bookshelves will be placed, I will have a reasonably clutter-free, dedicated workspace for freelance work and writing.

I also went through a stack of notebooks stashed in the closet to see what was important enough to keep and what could possibly be recycled or re-purposed. There were a couple of half-filled notebooks whose pages were occupied with lists andIMG_0585[1] musings that I was willing to tear out and toss for the sake of using the last of the notebook paper. Other notebooks were filled with lesson plans and agendas from classes I’ve taught in the past, most of which have also found their way to the recycling bin. This leaves one and one-half smaller notebooks filled with favorite poems that I copied from various sources over the years that I will continue to use, and two daily planners marked with copious notes, task lists, and the names and phone numbers for people I barely remember. I’m pretty sure these are headed for the shredder.

What remains are journals spanning the years from 2017 to the present which were written during the years I spent living in New Mexico, Korea, Kansas City, and, in the case of the the latest addition, Charleston.

IMG_0586[1]The year 2008 is especially well represented with over two spiral-bound college-ruled notebooks dedicated to, well, mostly morning pages. That was the year I dedicated myself to the ideas in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and was writing three pages worth of thoughts every day. I was all about process over product and writing through the superficial stuff to get to the good stuff those days. The problem was that by the time I finished my morning pages, I had to get to work, so didn’t have time to work on the creative stuff. The other issue that I kept coming up against was that I was pretty much writing about the same crap every day, so much so that I felt like I was beginning to affirm the things in my character that I didn’t particularly want reaffirmed. I thought that writing about what worried me would help me get past them, but instead it seemed just to compound them. So, after about six months of devoting my early morning hours to morning pages, I revised my practice and started writing about other things, like ideas, images and poems. There is still plenty of complaining and fretting going on in these later notebooks, but at least a few of their entries are interesting. The rest, well, the rest was necessary, even if it doesn’t exactly show my best, most intelligent self. They were the crap I needed to write though to get to the good stuff.

The most interesting notebooks are probably the ones I kept while living in Korea, a year in which the value of a journal became most obvious to me. I was very careful about documenting everything that happened to me and every activity I tried because I knew I would only be there for twelve months. Some of those entries spilled over into a scrapbook, which I am still putting together, and others developed into blog posts, like this one about Building 63. Still others served as inspiration for a number of poems written and will probably serve to inspire poems yet born. Of all the journals in my closet, these are probably the ones I most enjoy rereading.

Journals I’ve kept since returning from Korea contain a lot of projects and plans. Their pages are filled with notes on how to IMG_0588[1]develop ZingaraPoet.net in 2011 and how to organize 200 New Mexico Poems posts and readings in 2012. Their pages are where I discuss the poems of poets I admire as well as the progress (or lack thereof) I experienced in the writing of my own poetry. Still peppered with concerns about my career, complaints about my environment, and commentary about my current mood, these journals were invaluable tools for deepening my relationship with self, leading me to understand that I could, and can, depend on my own inner resources rather than on externals.

The most recent journal, added to the collection just this week, is mostly concerned with my transition to Charleston, and, having spent most of my life west of the Mississippi, this transition has been considerable. The despair, confusion, and hope for better days expressed in its early pages are still fresh, allowing me to bring only a small degree of perspective to these past two years. But, like the journal I kept in Korea, this one represents intense growth of the kind only available when living far outside one’s comfort zone. The kind of growth experienced when a person is determined to move from survival to efficacy.

IMG_0589[1]So what will I do with this stack of water-stained, yellow-paged, dog-eared spiral notebooks and bound journals from the past? Well, appreciating these well-documented years is a worthy activity. I suppose, too, so is the sense of posterity I get in seeing the stack expand and grow.

David Sedaris once said in an interview that he indexes his journals, a practice that I sort of tried — only I used multi-colored tabs to indicate which entries were poems and which entries had potential to become essays or memoirs.

For now I am content reading through my notebooks and journal with no particular purpose or plan in mind – just an opportunity to cultivate a healthy relationship with myself and a way to spend my time —

waiting for the new bookshelves to arrive.

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.


  • 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.


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.


  • 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.

From Korea to Missour-ah: More Thoughts on Transition

Two months have passed since my return from South Korea and I suppose my transition is well underway. I’ve been busy with volunteer work at The Writers Place and as a manuscript reader and occasional proof-reader at New Letters Literary Magazine at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I attend every reading I can, every community writing class and workshop that holds interest for me, and a remarkable number of live performances. I’ve already seen two operas, a ballet, two modern dance productions, a performance by Quixotic, a piano recital and a play at the Unicorn theater.  I even wrote a 50,000 word novel.  To top it off, I will start teaching at the Blue River Campus, Metropolitan Community College in January.

But as my feet become  firmly planted in Missouri, my loyalties are still disconnected. Being busy is merely a coping mechanism, and while it may belie my inner restlessness, it only hides my lingering sense of dislocation. I had grown accustomed to always having people with which to do interesting things or discuss intense work and life experiences. People who knew the implications and share the humor inherent in such expressions as “really?’,  “teacher, why?” or “not delicious!”

I knew while living it that my life in Korea would pass very quickly, so I made it a point to pay careful attention to every possible detail while there. Now my memories are filled with details that cannot be captured with words or digital images but can be re-experienced through daydreaming and reminiscing with friends. They are not easily shared with strangers.

Time will inevitably lessen my loneliness and disconnection and soften the acute edges of my remembered truths, though I do not wholly welcome it; for with time comes distance between myself and a difficult adventure I want always to remember in vivid detail.

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

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

Why Korean ESL Students Ask “Why?”

Many new Korean ESL instructors are sure to notice that their students have a peculiar way of asking the question “why?’ They will notice, for example, that from the mouths of a Korean ESL student, the question “why” has the kind of emphasized lilt which illustrates, without a doubt, that the student clearly understands how a question mark influences the inflection of a word. Instructors may also notice that their students will add an extra syllable to the word, thus “why” ends up sounding something like “why-ee?”

I’m no linguist, but I believe that at least part of the reason students exaggerate the long “e” in “why” has a little something to do with the fact that the English word for why sounds somewhat similar to the Hangul word of the same meaning, which sounds something like “whea.”

Now consider for a moment that Korean ESL students are expected to speak English exclusively during class time and, further, that the penalty for speaking Hangul during class includes anything from a lower participation grade (and Korean students DO take their participation grade seriously) to a two-minute speech on a subject of the teacher’s choosing – in English. It logically follows then that students want to make sure there is no confusion over which language they are speaking, thus the emphasis on the difference in vowel sounds.

This does not necessarily explain, however, why they drag out the long “e” when their teachers announce it is time to take the weekly review test or in-class quiz. In those instances they are clearly just trying to annoy their teachers.

New instructors are also sure to  notice that Korean students use the question “why” as a kind of catch all for all “wh” questions. For example, say Yoojin’s friend comes by her classroom during break to talk to her and calls her name from the doorway to get her attention. While  most American kids would answer “what?” a Korean kid will respond “why-ee?” Students respond similarly when called on by a teacher to answer a question or read aloud.

Important for new instructors to remember is that since “why” is not always used literally, it is wise to take a moment to consider the context in which the student is using it. Honestly, the sooner this technique can be mastered the sooner instructors can minimize the amount of class time taken up by asking students, in a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, why?”

Again, I am no professional and can only base my theories on classroom observations, which probably hold about as much water as a mother’s intuition over, say, the educated diagnosis of a trained pediatrician. Still, I believe that English teachers themselves encourage the improper usage of the word “why.”

Instructors are encouraged to use the Socratic Method to guide students through essays; that is, they ask leading questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves and respond verbally, which arguably encourages participation. While I always figured that the Socratic Method was meant to encourage students to think more deeply about philosophical questions and not merely for skimming passages, it does have some practical application. Unfortunately, and this is especially true when working with reticent youth, it becomes very necessary to ask absurdly pointed questions to get the students to respond appropriately. As a result, the Socratic Method comes off sounding a little something like this:

“OK Jimmy, according to paragraph two, line three,  aerobic exercise is beneficial becauuuussse….why?

Obviously, the proper way to ask questions like this is to front-load it with whatever “wh” question is appropriate. But, since most instructors have little to no experience with or training in pedagogy, much less child development, and are merely trying to do their job, which is to get Jimmy to say the right thing,  the application of the Socratic Method becomes a kind of  fill-in-the-blank word game.

Finally, ESL instructors contribute to the “why” phenomenon when trying to induce topical conversation in the classroom. For example, while trying to break up the monotony of the repetitive main-idea-and-supporting-detail-outlines teachers must illustrate on the board throughout class, they may stop periodically to ask simple content questions, usually something along the lines of:

“So, do you think deforestation is good or bad?”

Regardless of a student’s response, however blatant that response may be, instructors, in an attempt to encourage discussion (for which there is not time) will reply with the now infamous question “why?” i.e. why do you think deforestation is bad? This is generally followed by a thirty second discussion of little to no consequence before the teacher must move on to stay on schedule, no one being the wiser.

New instructors will also discover, and this is the best part, that teaching is as much about being influenced by students as it is about influencing them. I mean, I could obnoxiously insist that my fellow instructors amend their teaching ways and preach the proper pathways to good grammar (as if I knew), probably causing new instructors all kinds of unnecessary paranoia in the process. Instead, I rather encourage teachers to view the “why” phenomenon the same way I have come to view all Konglish; as a kind of in-between language that captures something that neither language can capture without the other. So, if you are, or will soon become, a new ESL instructor in Korea, I say let yourself be influenced by your students and, most of all, let yourself be influenced by Konglish. Learn to respond to a moment of confusion or the call of a friend the same way students do and the same way I and my fellow instructors have learned to do as well. Learn to just ask “why-ee?”

Leaving South Korea:Last Weeks At Chung Dahm

Seven is the number of the month in which I was born, and the number of the month in which we find ourselves in now, this 2010th year AD. But the significance of this number today has to do with the number of weeks left in my contract with Chung Dahm; the number of weeks in which I still have gainful employment.

It means only seven more weeks of Closed Circuit Television and working 4:00 to 10:00 PM with only one or two five-minute breaks and never sitting more than a couple of minutes at at time. Only seven more weeks of lesson planning and grading online essays with their strange and arbitrary set of parameters, e.g. you must make exactly seven comments, each comment must contain 250-350 characters,  include the student’s name, an example and make reference to the in-class lesson.

It also means only seven more weeks to spend time with some pretty amazing students who bring me a great deal of joy and laughter and who have exponentially increased my enjoyment of Korea and the quality of my life’s experiences. Only seven more weeks to interact with these kids and appreciate their unique perspective of the English language and American culture. Only seven more weeks to spend time with awesome co-workers turned friends and fellow writers whose insight and experience will no doubt continue to inspire me long into the future, wherever we may find ourselves.

As in past experiences, as I prepare to move from one geographical area and way of life to another, my experience of and interactions with the objects and inhabitants of this world are more vivid than in months previous. The lines that frame objects and people are sharper, their colors, if not always brighter or identifiable, more noticeable. Even the moisture that sticks to my skin as I move through the humid Korean air is weightier.

I began my countdown the first week I started working for CDI, when I was culture shocked and slightly traumatized by a week-long training session that was quite different from my expectations, despite my efforts to suspend those expectations. I kept counting down through the first awkward, stressful weeks of my first term teaching children who I could barely understand and who arguably didn’t understand me – wondering all the while how anything could be taught or learned in an environment in which the language barrier was so pronounced. And when homesickness pierced my liver and shot through my heart after every American holiday, I counted even more carefully the weeks left in my contract.

Now the acute awareness over every awkward mistake of my early weeks in Korea has begun to give way to acute awareness of momentary perfections, often manifesting in the beautiful faces of my students. My relief over surviving another day now daily metamorphoses into confidence that comes from  perseverance.  I am not longer timid to tell a student he or she is not doing well nor do I refrain from taking their cell phones. I no longer fret over Korean people staring at me on the subway, or the lack of friendly acknowledgments from fellow foreigners on the street. Today, I move through the streets with confidence and teach like an expert. Today, I know these days, at least for me, are coming to an end.

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.

Photo Journal: Building 63, Seoul S. Korea

Yook-Sam Buidling 63

Yook-Sam Buidling 63

In March, 2010, my friend Cereba and I spent a day at Building 63, also known as the Yook Sam building. It would be our last “girls day out” before her return home to the states. While it was windy, cool, and as you can tell from the photo, cloudy, we found plenty of fun things to do inside.

Building 63 is a landmark skyscraper in the Seoul area built in 1988 for the Olympics and has, as you may have guessed, 63 stories. These 63 stories distinguished Yook-Sam as the tallest building in Seoul until 2003, when the Hyperion Tower was built. Then, in 2009, the Northeast Asian Trade Tower was “topped-off” and is currently considered the tallest building in Seoul.

Building 63 features “The World’s Tallest Art Gallery” on its 60th floor, an aquarium, wax museum, Imax theater, and myriad shopping opportunities. On a clear day, you can see this golden tower from as far away as Incheon (though, there aren’t many clear days in Seoul).  According to wikipedia, “The 63 Building is an iconic landmark of the Miracle on the Han River, symbolizing the nation’s rapid economic achievement in the late 20th century. 63 refers to the building’s 63 official stories, of which 60 are above ground level and 3 are basement floors.

After grabbing a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the building’s food court, Cereba and I bought a “three-attraction pass” and headed for the aquarium. Being that is was a Saturday, the place was packed with families and children. In Korea, if you linger in any spot for more than a minute, a crowd will gather – so we tried to keep moving. I joked with Cereba that we should stand near something we did not really want to see, then as soon as a crowd gathered, dash over to whatever exhibit we were really interested in – at least until another crowd gathered.

Aquariums are fascinating and seem fairly harmless to their inhabitants. I mean, fish don’t seem to care where they swim, and, I’ve hear, forget where they’ve been only seconds after being there. I was a little surprised, though, to find that the Building 63 aquarium features penguins, sea otters, and miscellaneous reptiles in addition to all forms of fish. The fellow pictured here is one of the featured exhibits. You can get a sense of how he feels about the whole situation.

The penguins were cute, and seemed content to preen and groom themselves, and were particularly cute and had a pretty interesting set-up, including a number of glassed-in areas between which were suspended transparent tunnels in which they could scurry from one area to another – very entertaining for spectators. There was also a small cut-out in the barrier of the central exhibit where one could feed the otters small minnow-like fish from a nearby freshwater tank. The otters’ antics sometimes humorous, sometimes desperate.

My favorite exhibits were the jellyfish and octopi, whose liquid movements are mesmerizing.

After getting our fill of observing watery creatures, Cereba and I headed for the Sky Gallery on the 60th floor. We had to stand in line and take turns to ride the elevator in small groups. The elevator features an outward facing glass wall allowing passengers to enjoy the view while making their way upward.

While there is a gallery on the 60th floor, it is the view from the 60th floor that is the most impressive thing about visiting. You can see all of Seoul from there and in every direction. While it wasn’t the clearest of days, the distant horizon was still discernible. As is always the case whenever I get a panoramic glance of Seoul, I was impressed and humbled by the size and density of the city.

Pictured here are various apartment buildings, officetels, skyscrapers, office buildings, and different shots of the Hahn River. Very domino-esque.

Cereba and I decided to take a rest at the coffee shop on the 60th floor and to enjoy the view in a leisurely fashion. I had a hot tea with milk and a bit of sugar while Cereba has a smoothie and a container of dippin’ dots. All around us there milled tourists, most of them Korean, but a few European and westerners too. And like at the aquarium, there were a lot of families. One little Korean girl, dressed cute as a play- doll (as all Korean children are) ordered some dippin’ dots too, but just after reaching her chair, she’d dropped the container. Little balls of dry-frozen vanilla and chocolate ice cream scattered all over the black marble floor and began melting almost immediately. The little girl’s eyes grew wide with astonishment, for it was quite a site to see, all those little balls rolling around on the shiny floor.  But she knew she had made a mistake too, so seemed unsure of how to react.  Fortunately,  the coffee counter clerk saw what had happened and came quickly with a pile of paper napkins to clean up the mess, and all was well.

Cereba and I finished our beverages and decided to move on to the next attraction. We made sure to give our table to a group of three senior-aged eastern Europeans who were casting about for a place to sit. They were very gracious in accepting and we felt pretty good about offering.

Last on our itinerary was the Wax Museum. Truly, wax museums are kind of cheesy, but they are a fun kind of cheesy and a good way to spend the afternoon with a good friend, and everything you do with a good friend is fun and interesting.

Meeting Obama in Korea

Meeting Obama in Korea

When standing up close to a wax figure, it’s pretty obviously fake, but they are great for snapshots like this one. Except for the awkward hand gesture, this is a pretty convincing image of Obama – right?

Anyway, we saw all kinds of campy portrayals of famous, semi-famous and downright obscure historical figures. One thing Cereba and I noticed about most of the figures, particularly those of western icons, is that their heads are a bit too large for their frames, and we wondered if this was intentional, or simply how Koreans see westerners.

The highlight of our visit to the wax museum, however, was the “scary, haunted house” exhibit. We were eager enough to accept the invitation to see “scary exhibit” from the young Korean man promoting the attraction and thought it would be a real hoot.

We entered the darkened area and immediately I commented on the fact that this is the kind of situation that begins many horror films – here we are, a couple of confident spectators underestimating the danger of the situation we have just entered.

After a couple of mildly gruesome displays of wax figures being tortured and coming round a few dark corners, we came upon an exhibit that was an obvious set up. Upon the floor and lying across the path was a wax “corpse.” Near its feet a dummy sat in an electric chair. I came to a complete stop and pointed out the obvious set-up to Cereba. If we tried to jump over the corpse, I felt, the corpse would jump up and grab us. If, on the other hand, we walked around the corpse’s feet and near the dummy in the electric chair, the dummy, who I began to doubt was really a dummy at all and figured to be a real person, would be the one to grab us.  I didn’t like my choices, and in a flash had made the decision to run ahead without looking back – consequently leaving Cereba behind.

What Cereba experienced, but I did not look back to see, was the dummy jolting briefly out of its electric chair to the accompaniment of a series of loud pops and bangs. I guess now we truly know the answer to the hypothetical question of what Lisa would do in the event of a zombie invasion (she would run like hell and not look back). Poor Cereba had been abandoned and had no idea where I had gone – and I had GONE.

We both had a good laugh over the incident at the time, but got to laughing  even harder when we realized later that we were probably being watched from CCTV. The operators must have had a good laugh at us while choosing the exact right moment to trigger the dummy in the electric chair.  I wish we had a copy of that tape!

So that was my last “girls day out” with my friend Cereba. Now she is back home in the states and I miss her very much and feel lonely without her. But, we will meet again when I get back home, and for that day I cannot wait!!

Anyang Library: Pyeongchon Branch (South Korea)

Recently I decided to explore the Peyongchon library. It’s only a block away, so an easy walk. It has five stories, including the basement level, where there is  a cafeteria with standard snack bar type food, an outdoor “lounge” on the second floor, which will be a great place to hang out and read when the weather gets a little warmer, and five reading rooms for adults (not including the reading room for children and parents on the ground level). There is also a “wireless internet corner,” a periodicals sections and what looked like a computer classroom (it was empty so I assumed it wasn’t for public use).

As it was Saturday afternoon, the library was very busy and all of the reading rooms were pretty full. Really, they are more like study rooms equipped with cubby-like desks. I took my time browsing around and found a room that was less full than the others. I went in and found a desk to sit at and began reading. About ten minutes later a young Korean girl came down my aisle – I assumed she was going to sit at the empty cubby-desk next to mine. She approached me with a piece of paper. She had her thumb on it and wanted to show me something…I looked closer…everything was in Korean, but I recognized the number ten just above the spot where tip of her thumb was pressed. I looked at her in question and she pointed to the top of my cubby, which had the number ten on it. “ooohhhhhhhh” I said, and got my things together. I told her “sorry,” laughed a little, and made my way out of the room. I was a little embarrassed, could feel my cheeks blushing, but I was not daunted.

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I left the library and headed to the Acro-Towers Starbucks, where at least I know the rules: buy a chai, wait for a seat, race to acquire it. Under no circumstances be polite and allow others who were there first get the next available seat. It just doesn’t work that way here.

On my way to Starbucks I reflected on my library visit. I thought, “I have no idea of how one goes about reserving a cubby in a study room at the library.” I had noticed an information desk at the front entrance, but the man sitting there looked more like a security officer than someone who would arrange for reservations, and since I really don’t know any Korean, I don’t know how I would even begin to ask him where I could get more information. How does one gesture the words “reservations,” and “cubby?” I didn’t even have the phone with me, which has a dictionary in it. And of course, the signs are primarily in Korean.  I did recall, however, one reading room that had large tables in it rather than cubbies and wondered if that isn’t a general reading room for which one does not need “reservations” to sit and read in. In any event, now that I have collected myself and thought it over, I will have to go back and investigate further.

Funny, every time I mention the library to other foreigners, they all seem surprised and state they did not even know there was a library in the ‘hood, even from those who have lived here for a couple of years. Unfortunate for me because that means they don’t know how it works either and can’t explain it to me. Well, I guess I will have to figure it out myself and be the one to inform them.

Third Term Masters Class, Chung Dahm (South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that I have teaching for Chung Dahm for six months now. I am much busier than expected and have barely enough time keep up with my blog. Everyone I ever talked to before coming to Korea who had taught here said they had a lot of extra time on their hands. All I can say is that they must not have worked for Chung Dahm. Either that, or they were here before the Hogwong industry really took off and became so competitive and high pressure.

With that said, I have to say that my second term here has been considerably less stressful than the first. For one thing, I am more settled  and established now than before, am no longer a newbie, and  feel like I am hitting my stride in terms of teaching. Track “B” is also a considerably more manageable curriculum than Track “A.” It didn’t hurt that I had a great schedule – half-days on Mondays and Fridays. I will miss that.

In other news, next week is the beginning of the new term (no break between terms here) and I will have a new schedule. Though I’ve not received confirmation yet, its about 99% certain that I will be teaching a Saturday class this term from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. But, it is a Master’s Reading class, so I will get to teach literature to high-level reading students, and I look forward to the opportunity. So far, there are only five students enrolled, so I really think it’s going to be worth the trade off. It also means I will get a day off during the week, and it’s so much easier to get to places like Itaewon on the weekdays. Saturdays on the subway is always mayhem. The image of sardines always comes to mind when I consider riding the subway during the weekends, because that’s usually what I feel like when standing in a cram-packed metal subway car.

The Master’s Reading class is in addition to the Master’s Writing class I was asked to teach earlier, so I will need to go through some additional training. Master’s Classes instructor training is scheduled for this Wednesday in Gangnam, which means getting up early to travel on the a fore mentioned sardine container. After training, I will  need to rush back to my branch by 3:00 PM, then teach until 10:00 PM. In other words, it will be a long day.  Since Gary has to attend the first training session with me (he will be teaching a Master’s Writing class next term), and doesn’t teach until 7:00 PM Wednesday, he said he’d wait for me to finish the second training session so we can take the subway back together, as sardines (yea!).

In any event, as I will be teaching what I have know how best to teach, writing and literature, I am very excited about teaching Master’s Level classes this term.

I am thinking of everyone back home and unfortunately blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch at the moment, and even that (I know) is spotty. Please keep checking in whenever you have a minute and always feel free to leave a comment.

The Unexpected in South Korea

1. Dunkin’ Donuts: There’s one on just about every block, and while the donuts look like the ones in America, they are not as sweet. The chocolate frosting is closer to semi-sweet than fudge-y. On Christmas Eve, the Dunkin’ Donuts near Chung Dahm was having a promotion – free hat with purchase of a cake (eating cake is how Christmas is observed here – seriously). I couldn’t resist and bought a strawberry cake (a very delicious strawberry cake, I might add) and got a free, pink fuzzy hat. It has a huge, white pom-pom on top and the ear-flaps feature polar bear faces. As it was extremely cold that night, I wore the thing home.

2. Smoking: People can smoke almost anywhere here, though it is somewhat expected that smokers do so outside. This does not mean people don’t smoke inside, however, and it is not at all uncommon for people to light up in restaurants in the booth or table right next to yours. (Cigarettes are very inexpensive – less than $2.00 USD a pack). I have noticed “no-smoking” signs in public restrooms (which are largely ignored), some non-food businesses, the movie theater, academies and the subway.

3. Easy access to alcohol: Seriously, a person can walk into a convenience store, by a bottle of beer, soju (rice wine) or wine, sit outside sit at the tables and chairs that are in front of most convenience stores here, open the bottle and drink it right out in the open. A person can even do this on his/her lunch hour and return to work. I’ve never, ever, never once been carded.  Further, you can by alcohol any day of the week at any time of day. If the store is open, it’s for sale (and if you there to buy something, the store is be open).

4. No business zones: What I mean is, many different types of businesses inhabit the same city block or even the same building. And when I say different, I mean drastically. For example, in the building where I teach,  several floors are occupied by academies, but there is also a restaurant on second floor, a PC room on the ground floor, and a bar (“Modern Zen Bar”) in the basement. There are “barber” poles advertising “massages” on the same street as all the academies (do not go into a place that has a barber pole and expect a haircut – and if you want a ” normal massage,” make sure to go to a place that advertises SPORTS massage). In the building where we received our training, there was a maternity ward on the fourth floor. The clinic down the street from our office-tel is in the same building as a cell-phone store. Conversely, sometimes identical businesses are located right next to each other. Seriously, there may be a “Buy the Way” convenience store next to a “Family Mart” convenience store,  and both will carry nearly the same merchandise.

5. Speaking of business zones, even though prostitution is illegal, it is highly tolerated. In our small neighborhood alone there are a number barber poles, live bars and hostess bars. In Yongsung, just across the street from  the I-park mall, there is a “red-light district” where one can find several blocks of women standing in glass cases, many wearing provocative clothing – though I saw one woman in a bath robe, slipper and curlers in her hair. From the right angle, you can see bedrooms behind the back walls. I hear that in Iteawon, a district populated largely by foreigners, there is a place called “hooker hill.”

6. Chicken. Yes, chicken. The Colonel has nothing on Korea when it comes to fried chicken – or barbecue chicken or roast chicken, or any other kind of chicken you might think of. Favorite chicken places in our neighborhood include “Chicken and Beer,” where they have the crispest, most delicious fried chicken in the world – and several different flavors – at that. My favorite is “teri-que,” which tastes like they found some way to turn teryaki sauce into a batter to dip chicken in and fry. Their golden fried chicken has just the right amount of curry flavoring and their barbecue is sweet and spicy all at once.

Hot Barbecue

Best Chicken in PC

Another favorite is a place called “Hof and barbecue,” (Hof is German for beer) though we call it “hot barbecue” Their barbecue chicken is savory and spicy and is served with a pan-baked macaroni and cheese. Who’d have thought macaroni would taste so yummy with barbecue sauce? Finally, there’s a place down the road called “Half and” we like to go to when we want chicken to go. It’s a little cheaper than our other two favorite places and a little faster too. We think it’s called “Half and” because each order is one-half of a whole chicken. Another interesting thing about the chicken here is that it is cut into many more pieces than in the states. On average in the states, you get 10 pieces out of a whole chicken (two legs, two thighs, two wings, two halves of the breast, the back and bony piece). Here, chicken is cut into maybe 15 or 20 pieces. And while this might seem like the ideal size for finger food, here in Korea, chicken is served with two forks (and a bucket for the bones). While I am getting better at eating chicken with two forks, I almost always wind up using my fingers before I’ve finished my meal. Still, with all that, there is a KFC in our neighborhood too.

7. Another interesting phenomenon about businesses is that they are apt to change overnight. There will be no “going out of business” sales or even any signs posted to suggest that a business might be closing. Rather it is there one day and gone the next – quite literally. There used to be a place called “Western Hot Dog” a few doors down from Chung Dahm. It was a great place to grab a meal on the go, either on your way to work or home. I tried it one Friday. It’s rather amazing how tasty a run-of-the-mill hot-dog tastes when you haven’t had access to one in a while. The following Monday, on our way to work, Gary and I noticed that “Western Hot-Dog” was emptied and some Korean men were putting up a new sign, “Victory Food.” It was open for business by Wednesday that week and has been busy ever since (busier that Western Hot Dog ever was). We were astounded at how quickly the turn-around was, and a little disappointed to lose something we had just discovered. Anytime I notice a new sign on a building, I can never be sure if it is a sign I have simply overlooked or if a new business has moved in.

8. Street Vendors: Most of the street vendors in our neighborhood(s) (Peyongchon and Beomgye) sell a variety of food from the back of their small-sized pick-ups or wheeled carts.  Available cuisine from street vendors include fruit that is in season, myriads of popped corn and rice snacks, pancakes filled with red bean sauce, waffles, fried squid and octopi, fish and rice cakes, ears of roasted corn, ice cream, milk, peanuts and, if you are at the park during the flea market, cotton candy.  Sometimes vendors set up tables near the public school and along the walkways of the residential areas to sell toys, earrings, socks, brand name knock-off clothing and shoes and other miscellaneous non-food items. In addition to these portable food stands, most restaurants on ground level have a walk up window or table where they sell food to go. In our area we can buy mandoo (dumplings) fried potatoes, squid, octopus and sweet potatoes, rice noodle in red chili sauce and waffles.

Tenacious is a word often used to describe Korean people, and this especially true when describing street vendors. Portable vendors get out there and sell their wares no matter the temperature, no matter the time of day. While the recent record snows did seem to force many away, the walk-up windows were still open and ready for business. Now that the snow is beginning to melt, many vendors are returning to their favorite corners and neighborhoods.

9. LG: I recognize L.G. as a manufacturer of electronics such as televisions and cell phones, and I am aware that they are headquartered in Korea. But what I am surprised by is that there are many other kinds of items with the LG label, like furniture. Take my couch as an example. If you look closely, you can see the LG logo imprinted in its simulated leather-like texture.

10. CCTV is everywhere. The only place it’s not is inside our office-tel, but I can’t be 100% certain about that. There is CCTV in the hallways of our office-tel building, CCTV on the path that cuts through the residential area that we take to get to Chung Dahm, there is CCTV in the building where we work, in the hallways of our floor and in our classrooms. At Chung Dahm, CCTV is monitored closely to gauge how teachers are doing. Until recently, instructors were shown their tapes during meetings with head instructors. CCTV tapes are also used in cases where students have misbehaved. Many teachers threaten to show these tapes to parents as a way to get students to behave in the classroom. CCTV is also in the classrooms of public schools, only they are live, and parents can tune in anytime to see how their child is doing in class. Parents can also tune into the CCTV that are present in the play areas around residential areas.

Record Snowfall In South Korea – Chung Dahm Classes Cancelled!

Gary standing in the snow in PC Central Part

Seoul and surrounding areas received a 70 year record accumulation of snow earlier this week, causing many traffic jams and accidents. The government departments responsible for snow clearing were grossly unprepared for the event. Military personnel and local police were called upon to clear roads and sidewalks, using plastic snow shovels. Apparently local governments do not own snow plows.There was even a group of Korean men shoveling the croquet court at Pyeonchong central park yesterday.

In response to the heavy snowfall and resulting traffic problems, Chung Dahm actually canceled classes Monday. Most of the instructors were already at the building or well on their way by the time they received the text message. Still,  everyone was very excited to have an unexpected evening off. Several instructors went to PC central park to play touch football in the snow (it was a dry snow and perfect for such an activity), while others of us found warmer, drier ways to enjoy the extra few hours of free time (Gary and I went to a coffee shop to read and write).

Unfortunately, because Chung Dahm is a corporation first and an educational institution second, Monday’s canceled classes (which parents have paid for) must be made up. As a result, all instructors and staff  are expected to work this Sunday from 12:00 pm to 6:00 PM to make up the missing classes. This, of course, is not something foreigners are used to doing, and it is a hard reality; Chungdahm is a a company that insists people work weekends and on a Sunday to make up classes canceled for a snow day. Even those branches that took Friday off for New Year’s day had to make up for it by having classes on Saturday.

Loosing a Sunday is rather brutal, especially at this time of the year. Christmas and New Year’s are over, the winter cold is paralyzing, and the last two weekends were lost to nasty head-colds; Spring can not get here soon enough.

Trip to Dongdaemun Fabric Market (South Korea)

City Gate

A couple of weeks ago I went up to Dongdaemun (pronounced dong-day-moon) to visit the Dongdaemun fabric markets; a five-story fabric, yarn and craft mall. I’d heard about this place through the Soul Stitch and Bitch group and have been trying to get out there since I arrived.

Anyway, it was late on a Saturday, and unlike most places in Korea, the Fabric Market has relatively “normal” business hours that run from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday, so though many of the shops were disappointingly beginning to close, there were enough shops open for browsing pleasure.

There are probably thousands of individual vendors set up in small “shops” that are anywhere between a 10×10 to 20×20 square feet. There is every kind of fabric imaginable and the prices are amazing. The pathways are very narrow and I can imagine that in the middle of the business day it is probably louder and crazier than the stock market.

I was there to find fabric to make a curtain of sorts to hang in the opening between our “bedroom” and “kitchen” areas (to help keep out the light when one of us is sleeping and the other is up late working). I found a beautiful gold-colored fabric with a deep red leaf

“Hanbuk,” Korean Traditional Clothing

pattern that I think will be lovely, though wish I’d purchased twice as much. I wonder if I’ll ever find the same vendor again.

Besides every kind of fabric imaginable, we saw literally miles of buttons, and I am NOT exaggerating. If ever you needed a button, I’m positive you could find an exact match among these vendors. There were also amazing quantities of tassels and other embellishments, not to mention bulk tread at a pittance for what one would pay in the states, and in every color.

Fabric Market

Miles of buttons!

I was also there to find yarn with which to make an afghan and found an overwhelming supply of same. Very nice wool yarn can be had for 5000 won a skein – that’s about 5 bucks for something as nice as merino wool. I only wish I could have found a wool/silk blend. Anyway, I found what I needed and bought eight skeins. The woman threw in two pair of circular knitting needles (part of the service).

I can’t wait to back again!