August 29, 2010

Gyeong Ju

Gyeong Ju Adventure! The first step was not being lost, thank goodness for Corinne and Jessica. They were very prepared tourists. I brought a hangover and sunglasses, they brought maps, guidebooks, experience, and talent.

First we went to a Lotus Garden. Gyeong Ju is famous for being the ancient capital of the Silla Empire, and is known as the "museum without walls." The city's motto or slogan is "Beautiful Gyeong Ju (fun fact: I live in Colorful Daegu). From what I understand, the whole city is basically temples and beautiful gardens. I was more than impressed.

The garden had a traditional irrigation system.

Lotus Flower Ponds

This may help give some perspective on just how big the area really is. There were tourists, but a lot of Korean couples posing for photo shoots - it is my understanding they often have engagement photos taken here.

Next we went to Anapji Pond, which was part of the Silla empire's palace. Of course, it has since been destroyed, but they have dug up archeological sites and found artifacts and remains from the buildings. They have restored some of the more simple buildings, and have models of the most complex ones. I've heard it is especially beautiful at night, and intend to come back at least once more before I leave Korea.

This is a restored building. The architecture is beautiful, the painting exquisite. I love it.

This pond is actually artificial, but beautiful and full of huge koi fish. I've heard rumors that the small island in the middle was used to display exotic animals during outdoor parties.

The Silla emperors are buried in these huge burial mounds. From a distance, like in this photo, they look rather small, but that is deceiving, I cannot remember the exact measurement, but heard that they are about half the height of great pyramids, and are multiple stories high.

This is the Cheomseongdae Astronomical Observatory, which seems ancient and simple.. but further research proves that wrong. According to their tourist guide, it is made up of 27 stories of stone pads that are 30 cm high, all carved to look like the same Chinese character, and totaling in 361 stones - for the number of days in a lunar year. It is an elegant structure with mathematical significance, which is highly impressive to me.

This is another garden, which had random characters designed to look like kings and queens in the Silla Empire, just dropped there for a photo opportunity.

Really, I can't say enough good things about Gyeong Ju. It is absolutely beautiful.

More gardens we walked through. We ended the evening with duck galbi, which is actually chicken and the first Korean food that I absolutely love. I think I am getting it again this week, it was that good!

I have barely even scratched the surface of all there is to do in Gyeong Ju. It has over a thousand years of history, and there are temples, gardens, parks, museums, and so much more I have not even seen. I need to go back, and soon. I heard it is beautiful in the fall with the leaves changing, so possibly returning in a month?

Seseong Lake

I am ridiculously behind in uploading pictures of the adventures I have gone on. This is Suseong Lake (a stock image of it from the internet), which I went to after my first week of work (August 8th, to be exact). Corinne took me out with her friends the night before, then we wandered around this beautiful park right in Daegu.

Of course we had to ride the swan boats. Jesse and Corinne were the best friends ever, because they sat in the front and therefore had to pedal.

Jessie and I are free riding in the back. All of us are pro's at boating safety. Jessie actually took all of these pictures, as I did not bring my camera. They turned out great, and she was nice enough to let me put them on here so you could all see them :].

Look at this hallowed out swan boat. A little creepy, but I like it.

On the lake there is also a little mini amusement park. Its full of 100 won rides, which are shaky old machines that are almost scary they are so rickety.. but there is also a newer section...

This is a rickshaw-style ride - they are animatronic teddy bears that walk in a set loop around the park. Creepy really, but there were tons of kids riding around in them.

Also, there were more traditional "amusement park" rides, which were more expensive but fun.

I am very behind in updating, so in the next day or two I should be posting pictures from a day trip to Gyeong Ju, the International Body Painting Festival, and downtown Daegu.

August 18, 2010

Apartment pictures!

** I am getting the internet at my house tomorrow! So, we can schedule skype times now! Please message/email/comment me if you want to skype and what times you would be available for that. Post in your time zone or mine - just tell me which one you are using!

In response to Alec's repeated asking, I hastily took pictures of my apartment and uploaded them. This entry will walk you through some interesting parts of their apartments, and show you were I actually stay. This is the entry way to my apartment - the first thing you see when you open the door. Directly infront of the door is a closet, which has shelves, and I dressed up with little baskets for socks and undies. I actually like my closet a lot, but decided not to post that online.

I have the couch and chairs covered with blankets because the furniture is really falling apart, and is pretty gross. I don't mind though, because the blankets are prettier and will be easier to clean. I have a TV; it doesn't work. Maybe when my internet is installed they will turn on the cable, though.

I really like my desk. I use it to get ready at, since my bathroom doesn't have plugs in it (which you will find out about later). The little bottles are vitamins, and yes I got the pretty earring tree in Korea. They really have the cutest things here.

My wallpaper is very... pink. But I don't mind too much, because it has some tan and grey in it, which seem to balance it out a bit. Also, my bedding is blues and purples, so it isn't overwhleming. I am really lucky to have matching sheets, as I had no idea what color the bedding was when my mom bought me the sheets :] I have a "hanging closet" also - but really it is just a rack that connects to the ceiling and floor by pressure. I have a mobile hanging from my light fixture, it spins constantly as my bed is right in line with the air conditioning and a fan. Also, I have really typical Asian style sliding doors for my bedroom, that I completely love.

My kitchen is small. I do not have an oven, just two stovetop burners, and a rice cooker. Honestly, I just eat grilled cheese or out every day, so it hasn't made me too sad yet. My kitchen also has a map of Michigan and pretty flowers.

Ahh, the bathroom, this is really interesting. In Korea most apartments do not have full showers, instead they have a shower head mounted from the sink. There is a bottom or lever you switch and bam! Your shower is on. When it is not in use, I face the shower head towards the wall, just in case I forget to flip the switch. This is also where the air conditioning drains into, so the bathroom can be damp all of the time if you leave the AC running. This is why there are not electric plugs in the bathroom. Also, hot water must be turned on. So, you click a bottom or two on this box and water turns on, one is for the shower/sink, the other is for the laundry, and the last one is for the floor - in Korea apartments are heated from hot water being piped through the floors. You can see the box in the picture shown earlier with the TV.

August 15, 2010

Swimming field trip, cat, and Daegu National Museum

Its been a little bit since my last update, which I apologize for, but now I actually have some friends (!) so I have had things to do, and also writing September's lesson plans, which has had me a little overwhelmed/less interested in sitting around after work to type.

It has been a fun week though, because we went on a field trip! We took the kindergarten classes to a pool on Thursday, and it was probably the cutest thing in the world. This is me with most of my "homeroom" class, looking incredibly adorable. All the kids wear swimcaps, most brought huge tubes and squirt guns. The next picture is my co-worker and friend Corinne and her class, you will hear more about Corinne later in the post, though (also, the Korean woman in the middle is Michelle, the director of my school). I'm really glad I brought a one piece swimsuit, most women in Korea wear them, from what I've gathered. Also, a bikini wouldn't have been very effective when I was running through the water dodging kids splashing and spraying water at me while dragging two tubes of screaming kids behing me. It was a great time. Since the trip some of the more shy students seemed to warm up to me, and the kids I don't have a class with now run up to me and say hello. I feel lucky to start with a field trip, it has for sure helped the kids and I to get to know each other better.

After swimming the Korean staff (the teachers with the girls, and even the bus drivers with the boys), took the kids to shower and dry off. Yes, I did say that the bus drivers helped the boys shower, which would never, ever happen in America - the parents wouldn't allow it, the bus drivers would charge extra by the minute. In Korea, its just accepted as normal, which is nice. I haven't lived in a place were it is assumed that people are intristically good and trustworthy. Then we all had a picnic, the close up is me with Suzie, one of the students from my first class of the day. She is one of the sweetest kids I have ever met.

Back to what I was saying though, friends. I have some. Corinne for one, she's been here for 9 months, and is really supportive and inclusive with me. Inviting me out with her friends and helping me get around the city. It is really nice to feel like someone understands what I am going through, as she did it nine months ago, and since she lives in my building and works at my school, she knows the area well. She is someone I feel like if I met her back home I would be her friend - which is saying something, really.

Corinne put me in touch with her friend who was leaving Korea this month, and gave me my cat! My cats a girl, and is starting to get more friendly with me, I've had her less than 24 hours so far, but she seems darling. She is very "vocal" as in, she meows all of the time. I am debating naming her Trenton, which is kind of a masculine name, but am not sure yet. Suggestions?

Another friend I've made is Chris, who is a Korean guy living semi close to me in Daegu. This is us at Burham's Burgers with Western style burgers and beer. We met because he followed me at midnight down the side street to my house and asked me to get a drink with him so he could practice his English. I said yes, and laughingly informed him that to befriend Americans he should be aware that if I was in the US I would have called the police, because you just don't follow women around at night! He's learning English for his job, which is something with designing phones. Chris is smart, and his English is actually pretty good considering how recently he started learning. There are times when I will say something and he won't understand, then its a short game of charades, miming, drawing, Chinese writing (some Korean words are still based off of Mandarian), and dictionary searching. He doesn't get frustrated and give up when he struggles to find the words for what he is trying to express. This weekend we went to the Daegu National Musuem together. It was a lot of fun, he helped me, since the captions were mostly in Korean, and we went to the kids' area and did traditional Korean printing.

This is wet printing. He was okay at it, I was kind of terrible, but basically you take thin handmade paper, lay it on the metal plate, wet it down, use a cloth and then a bristle brush to press it down, then take the stamp pad in the top left to imprint the image. I was much more interested in the (much easier) dry printing. This you had a metal plate that you rubbed ink on, then set a sheet of regular paper on, and rubbed the paper to print the image. We spent about an hour doing a ton to send back to some lucky people in the states. I was hoping I could just buy some in the gift store, since mine were flawed, but alas, we could not, so we did our best. Luckily Chris was a sport and helped me make a bunch. Interestingly, the museum was free to get into, and two slices each of thin and regular paper were just 500 won, so it was a steal.

There was also whole room full of clothing from around Asia that was just beautiful. Most of the pictures didn't turn out, but here is one of a traditional Japanese wedding dress and the Confucian monk's traditional robes.

Alright, that is all for now. I will update on Daegu's night life soon, but its monsoon season, and I haven't bothered taking pictures downtown in the rain. I got my ARC Friday, soI should have the internet in my house on Thursday, which means Skype soon!

Also, packages. People who mail me things get things in the mail back, because they are special. This is related to the fact that I did not bring my address book to Korea. If you do not know my address, you can email me, and get it from me. I am most interested in handmade art and things that would remind me of you. You don't need to ship frames or anything of that nature, just something small and light. I am also interested in packages containing Kraft shape mac and cheese and Reese's cups. There is no need to mail me books, as there is a huge English bookstore here. There is good snack food here, and the chocolate is different but not bad. They have lots of American candy bars, even Mr Big, my favorite Canadian candy bar that I couldn't even find in the US! Bye for now!

August 7, 2010

Teaching English

This is the post about what I "actually do" in Korea, my job. I work at a hagwon, or private school, from 10 to 6 or so Monday to Friday. It is an English-only school, meaning all of the subjects are taught in English, and the students cannot speak in Korean at all in the classroom. I teach language arts, conversation, reading, writing, science, math, and gym. During the typical "school day" our youngest students come, who are from 3 to 4 years-old. They are probably the most impressive to me, some have only been learning English a few months, and they are speaking in full sentences. The older students attend a different public or private school during the day, and come to my school afterwards. They are 5 to about 10 years-old, seperated by age and skill. I only teach about 5 hours a day, actually, and the class sizes are from one to nine students. Classes are 30 to 35 minutes. I get frequent breaks to prepare for the lesson, grade homework, and relax. Pretty easy gig, really. This months lesson plans are done for me, too, which has made my life much less stressful.

I feel very lucky, after reading horror stories online about some hagwons being corrupt, unfair, or just not very nice. My school has five foreign (read: American) teachers, and about ten Koeran teachers. We all work together. Every class has a Korean and foreign homeroom teacher, and if any teacher has an issue with a student, they talk to both the foreign and Korean teacher. We record our experiences that day in a record book, noting issues or impressive student efforts. Its nice to communicate so effectively with my coworkers, I can write something like "if student A shy or just behind her peers?" and though I may forget to ask that student's teacher, writing it down she is sure to see it and let me know. The system seems to embody the idea of a village raising a child, which is very effective. I never feel alone or isolated when dealing with a student or class that challenges me. It is ideal for someone, like myself, with little experience in the culture or even in this type of classroom setting.

As for the students, a lot of people have asked me if they are very different from American kids, and I have to say yes and no. The students and much more respectful than some Americans, and therefore the expectations for classroom behavior is higher. As a rule, Korean kids are more competitive, students who might not be interested in reviewing something they have learned will give you their full attention if you turn it into a contest. They are still kids though, they want to be told they are smart, that their work is correct, they get excited when you turn anything into a game, and reading a story in a bit of a sing-song will get you smiles and giggles all around. They want hugs and high fives and love when you say "good morning!" to them with a big smile. Really, they are just miniature people, who want to be cared for and made to feel special. It isn't hard to convince me that they are special, their language skills already have me impressed.

It is a big change from Upward Bound, but I am already really happy here. It may not feel like home when I am wandering the streets of Daegu and not seeing anyone I know or hearing a language I understand, but in my school, with my student's familiar faces and excitement, I am already feeling at home.

August 3, 2010

Kindness is the most important thing.

Life in a strange land is hard, the language barrier and cultural differences make it difficult to be friendly, or even polite. A few people have impressed me and really overcome those to be truly kind to me. One is a young women working in the PC room I frequent, who used an online translator to write me messages, explaining prices and how becoming a member was free but would save me 200 won an hour, and always -always- said hello, thank you, and goodbye to me... in ENGLISH. To me, that is just above and beyond what I would expect from anyone. All of the computers are, of course, set to Korean, and when I can't understand the messages it displays she is more than happy to come over and help me grasp meaning, even through the language barriers. Today, I struggled to log on (since I couldn't actually read the labels for my new member's username and password), and she helped me, then brought me a cup of coffee and told me it was free. After my hour was up, I rushed back home, grabbed a box of chocolates, and hurried back to hand it to her (with both hands, as the Korean custom). She asked me why (in English), and I told her, "you've been the nicest person to me in Korea, it is the least I can do." She was taken back, but processed my hour purchase and waited until I was seated to open the chocolates (once again, Korean custom), some time later she brought me a Lipton can - a flavored iced tea? - and thanked me, because the chocolates were delicious. I waited for her to leave before opening her gift to me, the drink, out of respect for her customs.

I couldn't ask for a better night in Daegu.

August 1, 2010

Officially moved!

Wow, I am really in Korea! The plane ride really wasn't that bad. Korean Airlines has reasonable seat sizes, and every seat has an individual touch screen tv with games, radio, American and foriegn TV and movies. I am glad I stayed up all night before I flew out, it helped get me on the right sleep schedule pretty quickly. When I landed my coworker, Alex, met me and took the bus with me, which was even nicer than the plane, actually. The seats were comparable to buisness class plane seats, and they stowed all of my luggage. Then we took a taxi to the house, and Michael, another coworker, helped us carry everything upstairs. The three of us live in the same building, 15 minutes walking away from the school. Its got a key code entry, and security cameras, which is overkill in its fairly nice neighborhood. We walked into my apartment to find my boss and her husband cleaning my apartment, thinking I came in later, so Michael was nice enough to take me to get food and to E-Mart while they finished up.

I've been here three days? I think? I am finally getting settled in, my apartment was disgusting when I moved in, so much of my time (twelve plus hours) has been devoted to making that spotless. But, regardless, it is clean now. And the apartment isn't bad- its pretty big, and the bed is really comfortable. I am even getting used to the shower - which is just a bathroom with all tile walls and an angled floor, a shower head in the middle of the room. I will try to post pictures when I can, but it will be a while since I am using PC rooms.

There isn't any crime here. Everyone is really honest and trustworthy.. stealing isn't really a thing - when I first got here I didn't get the currency system, and when buying things I just fanned out my money, they took what they needed and gave me change. I would never do that in America, obviously. One vice Koreans appear to have is littering. Everyone seems to just throw trash on the street without a second thought. Granted, trashbags are 650 won, so it might be an issue of cost, but really thats only 50 cents USD.

Communication is hard. I have learned thank you, and overuse it, I'm sure. The numbers are pronounced the same way, though, luckily - so I can order numbered meals and food, and understand how much things cost now. I am working at learning the writing system, since a lot of words are just english words in their letters. Slowly picking up some directional words which will be useful in taxis, which are crazy cheap. Its hard to get around here, since they don't really post street names or anything. Everything is done by landmark, and none of the roads are straight. Its hard to come up with landmarks because all of the places are covered in korean letters, which I can't read yet. I am learning slowly though, and can walk to work with a coworker, so I will be able to survive at the very least.

The food will probably be a daily struggle for a while. I got some basics that are fine, but the protein will be the hardest. Its a 10 or 15 minute walk from the EMart, where I grocery shop (there are closer, more expensive places with less variety and less English), and that is assuming I dont get lost.. so I am not really looking to carry heavy, temperature sensitive meat. I did buy some tuna, which I generally don't like, but am dealing with eating, because I don't want to get sick.

The hardest part is how lonely it is here. Everyone stares at me, but when I notice them and smile at them they just keep staring. Its awkward. I went grocery shopping alone and a family followed me around pointing and saying "teacher!" and "english!" at me for 20 minutes yesterday. I tried to humor them, to be friendly, saying yes, American, and such, but they just kept repeating themselves and pointing. I miss hearing the English languge, debating, discussing, sharing opinions in an eloquent way. I feel like this will get easier when I start working (tomorrow), though, I will be busier and will meet more people.

Anyway, I am going to get going, its hard for me to promise to be online at a certain time, but I will always be checking comments and emails!