Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Subway

Now I must seem like a small town girl because the subway here is amazing and I always talk about how much I love the subway. True, I'm from Portland, which apparently is huge on public transportation (you can read more about that here), but I drove a car in Portland, and Portland's wonderful mass transit has been built from a wide puzzle of buses, one light rail line (that has recently evolved a little more), and a streetcar that is fairly recent as well. So, to me, the subway seems pretty awesome.

Here's a little background about the Seoul subway, and easy hints.

The Seoul subway system is made up, essentially, of 10 lines that connect all of Seoul and the outerlying suburbs to the South and West. This includes the international airport of Incheon, which is approximately an hour west of central Seoul by car. Many of the lines intersect and you can transfer at many stops.

So here are some things that are commonly involved in riding the subway.

Navigating the Subway System
1) Each subway station (or stop) has multiple exits that are on either side of the main vehicle road, and even on the same side of the road, may spit you out walking in a certain direction. You can enter at any of these exits.

2) Inside each subway station, and near each exit is a map of many things. You can usually find a map of the station (a layout of emergency exits, exits to the street, and how to get to the actually train).

3) The first level, usually known as B1, can have a variety of things, or nothing at all, it all depends on the station. Common sights are small stores and bakeries. One station closest to us only has maybe 4 stores, while the other one located in the other direction from our apartment has quite a few more, it being a transfer stop and a popular destination.

4) Buy your ticket. You can go up to the window and tell them your destination stop, and they will give you a ticket. However, speaking Korean very roughly as a foreigner, the best idea is to have a T-money card. You can continually put money on this card either by giving the card to the teller and giving them money, or buy putting it into a little sensor machine and feeding money to the machine (which I just learned about in the last month).

5) Turnstiles. You either feed the turnstile your ticket or slide your card (even in your wallet or purse) over the sensor on the top. I keep my T-Money card in my wallet and just scan my wallet and it works. Some stations have actual turnstiles, while most others you walk through, but if you don't scan or stick in a ticket, it senses that and it throws up barriers. I've also learned you can't walk too fast through it (throwing your card up there and moving at the same time) or it throws up those barriers and you're likely to fall over them.

6) make your way down to the subway platform (usually another story or two down) and wait for your train at the designated spots. Koreans are VERY uniform about how they enter and exit the train. You wait to board on the sides of the doors while those on board file off.

7) Once you reach your destination you either put your ticket in (and it keeps it), or you scan your card again (walking through turnstiles) and it adjusts for the amount you might owe. It originally deducts 800 won (80 cents), but if your destination is farther away, it might adjust another 100 or 200 won.

Riding the Train
1) Now I know some might have visions of overly crowded subway trains that are packed and people are smushed up together and all of that. The trains here are really not like that, save for a couple of situations we've had. It might be like that on a morning commute on a certain line, or the evening commute, but we usually try to avoid these times.

2)Open seats on the subway are like gold, and there's a certain sort of ritual to go about getting one. First, of course, is the idea that if you're first on the train you can find the empty spots of those who just left. But, of course, those who were already standing on the train might have taken those spots. My best course of action is to stand about a row of sitting ducks and hope one of those people leave the train soon. Then you just swoop down. No worries- there are designated spots on each train for the elderly, and most kind people give priority to the elderly when there are no seats left. It is also the fairly common rule that as long as you don't have to sit next to someone, you don't. If you are all squished on a bench, and the end seat becomes open, the person closest will ALWAYS scoot over to the coveted end seat.

3) My ipod and my books have given me enough to keep my mind busy on the train. I listen to my ipod constantly while I am on the subway, and I also take books with me. I've also been know to watch a few episodes of the Office from my ipod, while on the subway, but I've found this is probably not a good idea because I end up snickering and i probably annoy those around me.

4) There are usually people who are asking for money or trying to sell things on the trains. I have heard this is illegal, but people do it anyway. Stephanie and I enjoy watching these people try to sell things. Potholders, hooks on the wall that hold lots of weight, flashlight pens, belts, etc. Anything. They are always very nicely dressed (image means a lot in Korea), bow to the crowd on the train and start off with a nice "anyeong haseyo". They are fun to watch.

Whew. that's a lot of information. It's hard to believe that I've processed all of that (and more!) since being here.

For more on the subway system, look here. The line map at the top can be clicked on and opened. When you open it you can click on one subway stop, and then another subway stop, and it will show you how long it will take. The time doesn't account for transfers, or waiting for the next train, but really is helpful.

Now that's all you ever (or never) wanted to know about the Seoul subway system. You can wow your friends at the water cooler!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Korean skillz

Stephanie got something very important in the mail today, and had to pay some taxes on it. The postal service guy came and luckily our Korean friend, Kathy, was able to help us communicate. One of the older security guards has been friendly with us and always tries to have conversations with us, even though he doesn't know much English, and we obviously don't know much Korean.

While Kathy was with us, and we were standing in the lobby, the security guard was commenting to Kathy about how long Stephanie and I have lived here, and how little Korean we know. I began to list the Korean words/phrases I know.

anyong haseyo: hello
kamsa hamnida: thank you
chuseyo: give me
ne: yes
anio: no
choogale: do you want to die?

Of course, when I said the last one both our security guard and the postal man started laughing. We learned the last one from our co-workers, who told us that often girlfriends say it to boyfriends when the boyfriends are teasing them too much. Stephanie and I use it quite often with our Korean friends, just for a laugh.

Today we hung out with the middle schoolers at the orphanage and played Go, Fish (it makes them say "do you have a...." in English), and Spoons, which we taught them two weeks ago. These kids are pretty funny and I really enjoy spending time with them. When the Spoons game was down to four of us, and wacky Charlie was still in the game, I looked him in the eye and said "choogale?" and everybody said "oOHHHHHHHH". That was fun.

Tomorrow Stephanie and I start some informal Korean lessons with a lady from our church - for free! We are excited. Maybe I'll learn something besides "do you want to die?".

A Few Things

First, important things, first: I bought a rubix cube (is that how you spell it?) It was a whim, and we had just seen "the Pursuit of Happyness" (with Will Smith) and .. I wanted one. And they had cool ones at the Bandi and Luni's store at Coex. Yes, that is the real name of the store. Here it is, before I messed it all up:Of course, now it's all messed up. I play it for a few minutes and then get frustrated.

I tried to take pictures of my students, but they were not camera happy. They were camera shy. So, this is much as I got:
Rina and April

Chin (blurry) and Danny
Danny is always SO excited to be in class.

We went to the Noraebang again on Wednesday, with our friend Kathy. I took a picure of the inside:

We went to dinner the same night, and saw this lovely writing on the wall.

And, for the last thought of the evening, Warner Men's basketball has moved up to #3 nationally, and won against Southern Oregon on Friday. They remain undefeated in their conference. Hurrah! I'm jealous because my parents are in Portland and they get to go to the games this weekend!

Thursday, January 25, 2007


My students also know the word 'nuclear' and have worked it into their storytelling today. Charming. The storytelling included a cartoon picture of the character "Sam" holding a huge missile.


My students are preparing their introductions of each other right now, and they think 'siblings' is a very funny word. And when you think about it, it is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

language confusion

First: I want to say that I might be crossing some sort of roommate boundary line in telling her story on my blog.

Second: I want to forewarn you that the following topic might be offensive to some. But it has to be told, because it's so funny.

Our dear friend, Matt Nash, of St. Helens, Oregon, has a lovely saying. It goes like this: "you.. buttcheek". Now, this is mostly an affectionate term but is used with friends when they are acting stupid, or silly.

Stephanie and I share a cell phone here in Seoul. This is for two good reasons: cell phones are ridiculously expensive, and we need one even though we hardly ever use it. So we share one. The common practice is to take a picture of yourself and put it on your cell phone. Stephanie and I have a picture of the two of us, and I put the little saying "you buttcheek" on the phone to remind us of our funny friend, Mr. Matt Nash.

Well, Stephanie let a Korean friend borrow the phone today. He's still learning English, and was questioning what "you buttcheek" means. Stephanie had to tell him, being embarrassed, what it means.

ah. language. culture. fun.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Yesterday (Saturday) was a really great day. Stephanie and I met our Korean friend, Danny, for lunch at Costco. He had never heard of Costco and it was so fun to watch him be amazed. He was just surprised at everything - how cheap and big the pizza in the food court was, and how big everything was. It was really funny to watch him because he just had a huge smile on his face the whole time, and looked around in wonder.

Last night we had wanted to go ice skating with some friends, but we got to Lotte World (huge grocery store/department store/mall/amusement park), and the rink was closed. As were the bowling alley and the shooting range. And we couldn't decide on a movie to see. So, I suggested Noraebang... and off we went!

Now, Noraebang is karaoke. I don't believe I've ever karaoked in my life, save for one performance at campmeeting where April sang "Every Heartbeat" by Amy Grant and I kind of just danced around on stage. The thing about American karaoke is that you have to do it in front of everyone who's there, whether you know them or not. The thing about KOREAN karaoke is that you go to a private room with your friends!

So we found a place, and it cost 15,000Won for an hour (which is about 15 or 16 dollars), for the room. The private rooms have couches and a table, a couple tv screens (including the one where the words are, which is the main, large one), disco lights, echo-y microphones, and tambourines! Wow! So we just went all out, the five of us girls.

Noraebanging is really big here, but apparently a lot of asians take it really seriously. I say asians, because our Chinese-Canadian friend, Candice, said all of her friends take it seriously as well. They take it seriously because you get scored by the computer on how well you hit the notes. They said that most people sit back watch other people sing, and sing seriously. Now, I don't think that sounds like any fun. So for most of our hour or two we were up yelling and singing and dancing and it was a great time. We sang quality hits from artists like Eminem, Backstreet Boys, Madonna, Spice Girls, Nirvana, Outkast, etc. I now have a lot of respect for rappers. I don't know how they do it. Unfortunately we had not brought a camera with us, because we had originally only planned to go ice skating.

So that was a LOT of fun, it being the first time that Stephanie and I have done karaoke here. We had a blast and we promise that anyone that visits, we'll take them to a Noraebang. We're even going to try to find one in our neighborhood just so the two of us can go when we're bored.

To cap off the evening I had an embarrassing moment at a local store. E-Mart is our grocery store close to our house. We went there last night right after Noraebang. Candice had returned to me a dvd she had borrowed (Season 2 of the Office if you're curious... we're brainwashing her). I didn't take a purse, but the inside of my zip-up sweatshirt had a good place to put the dvd, so I stuffed it in there so I wouldn't have to carry it on the subway. We went straight to E-Mart from the subway.

Well, we went to walk through the detectors to go inside and it started beeping loudly. I didn't think anything of it because there were people going out at the same time. The E-Mart guy standing there didn't think it was me either, and then I suddenly realized I had the dvd inside my jacket. While he was checking the other people that were on their way out, I walked through it again and it beeped. My face turned red as I turned to the guy and took the dvd out from INSIDE my jacket. Now, this is where my potential Korean speaking skills would come in handy, but I do not possess those. I understood though, that he was asking if I was coming to return the dvd. I said "no, it's MINE" (I'm sure saying it louder would help him understand English).

Of course by now my face was completely red, but he said it was okay that I had the dvd. I started to walk away and he came after me again, and I realized through his motioning, and the fact that he was speaking all in Korean and then said "beep beep beep", that he wanted to de-beep my dvd by putting over the de-beeper at the register. He did it and we were on our way.

It was just so embarrassing, because not only are we the only white people, but I was making the detector go off AND I pulled the dvd out from inside my jacket. Wow. What an evening.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Korean bbq

Well, payday was yesterday, so after work Stephanie and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite Korean bbq places. I really like almost all of the sides they give us, and it's just a good place. Sometimes you go to bbq somewhere and the sides are only "so-so" (that is a word our kids use a lot), but this place is really good.

So here's the process of Korean bbq. The setup:
You grill your own meat, and you can put the little cloves of garlic on the grill as well. On the far right are some onions in a marinade, next to that is some oil and salt, my water glass, kimchi, and your dinner comes with a bowl of soup. In the back you can see a white bowl, and in that bowl are some green onions with spices and sauce on them. There are other things that aren't in the picture, such as the slab that the raw meat comes on, the salad mixture, a potato salad-esque dish, and of course the leaves. Everything on the table is shared, including the soup. Stephanie and I have our own rituals. She likes radishes, and I generally do not. I eat the kimchi, and she doesn't.

So you grill your own meat at your own pace, and this is how you make it. You choose your meat wisely, and rub it in some oil and salt:

Then you take a leaf in your hand, add the meat piece in the middle, along with some onions, some garlic, and some bean paste:

Also, you can add anything at the table, really, into your little baby wrap. Sometimes we get rice, and you can put some rice in there, or some of the green onions, etc.

Then you roll that baby up any way you want to, and stuff it in your mouth. Like my cousin Scott, the king of wraps, said: "Just like a mini wrap!" And yes, it is indeed.

Stephanie and I both love the bbq here, and I know when I go home it will be something I crave. I need to do some research on whether Portland has any good Korean bbq places.

Now, I told some of my family that I like kimchi and the response I got was "you mean that rotten cabbage?" and i responded "yes". I feel as if I am not believed. I actually do like it. I can't eat too much at a time, but I enjoy it. So, here's further proof.

Here's the kimchi in all its glory:
There are many types of kimchi, and I think the most common is cabbage. Kimchi is really, i think, the process and flavorings, as many kinds of foods have been kimchi-ized.

So here we go:

There. That has been your lesson in Korean bbq.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Culture Clash!

I just finished my Friday morning class. It's a great group of kids, and I enjoy being with them. Last week's class's focus was "point of view" which was not very exciting, but today's topic was "culture shock". Now, I'm not sure I would assign this topic for a bunch of elementary students who are learning English, but whatever. The topic was introduced by a few clips from the Disney masterpiece Pocahontas II . Insert sarcasm where needed.

First clip: John whoever greet Pocahontas and her dad, and brings her a horse. Clip 2: Pocahontas and her father go to England to meet the King. They are dressed up and meet the propriety that is England. Clip 3: Pocahontas has a culture shock or culture "clash" when she sees the English torturing a bear for fun.

I also got to tell my students about my own culture clashes, such as people shoving and pushing in the city. Or, about how at any store here you are shadowed by a salesperson, when at home nobody does that. I told my students that sometimes I want to tell those salespeople to go away!

So, our class was talking about differences between cultures. We kept to more mundane things, however, like greetings. Four different pictures, of different cultures greeting each other. Apparently the Eskmos greet each other with a nose rub? Okay. I asked about how they greet everyone. Then I told them that I didn't know much about when to bow.

Me: When I was first a teacher here my student bows to me. I didn't know what to do! Do I bow?
Students: No, Teacher!!
Me: Why?
Belle: Because you are older!!

Okay, so I learned that lesson. Then i told them about how I accidentally did not bow to one of my student's parent. yikes. They laughed with me. I also told them about how in Mexico friends greet each other with a small cheek kiss. I told them that I am not used to that in America, but that when I am in Mexico, I do that with my friends. At this point, Michael, a 5th grade boy, freaked out. He was quite disturbed by this idea. I told him he could now go kiss his friends and tell them he was being Mexican. He not-so-quietly declined that offer.

Moving on to greetings, we had a column of different ways people greet each other, and the kids had to decide if they were American, Korean, both, or neither. When we got to our first bowing one, I told the students: "Let's just say... Americans never bow."

My little, precious, front-toothless Julie says "whyyy?"

I didn't know how to answer that. "Because.. we just don't."

So the kids then had to put together a little presentation about some sort of situation where Korean and Americans could clash. They all chose holidays and I got to tell my kids a lot about American holidays. I had to explain stockings for Christmas, and how on Thanksgiving we eat a lot of food and the men watch tv. I know, it's generalistic, but that's what you have to do.

At the end my kids were assigned to write haikus (they'd never done it before), and so I had to simply tell them what syllables were, and then set them off to write haikus about Korea, to introduce a new person to Korea. I gave them an example of my own, about America:

America is
about people old and new
the same and different

(give me a break, i wrote it in two minutes)

So here are some gems from Rick and Michael:

Korea is a
very small country but it's
a funny country

Korea is a
very popular country
it is very good

All in all, a good morning, and a not so bad reason to get out of bed in the morning.

During a break I asked Julie about what you do when you lose teeth as a child in Korea. Apparently you throw the tooth from your rooftop, a swallow comes to take the tooth, and then the swallow will then give you new teeth. Keep in mind that that's probably the right answer, but this is all explained with the kids piecing together sentences, words, and motions.

Because we were all being silly with each other, my 9th grade student, Nicole, asked me "In America.. in school... do they permit... color hair?" I told her that yes, they do. Rules here in Korea are very strict for school children. No makeup, uniforms, no perming or coloring hair. She asked "what do they say no for?" I told her that schools in America are very easy and that really what they care about are clothes that are not distracting, such as too short skirts.

ah. culture.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

White hair

Today I decided to wear my hair pinned back, something I haven't done much of here in Korea, because of my new haircut. So, of course, when anybody sees me with this hair style (and those of you at home will remember it), there's my big streak of white/grey hair that is so obvious.

I've always gotten a lot of questions about my hair, but the hardest conversation about it is when I have to have the conversation with someone in a different language or culture. I had the conversation before, in Mexico, my first time there, with the teachers. And tonight my students asked me about it.

"Teacher... you hair is white?"

I tried to tell them I am old, but they didn't buy that (thank you!). I told them I started getting it in high school. They immediately came up with their own conclusion to the matter. They talked a little bit in Korean and then pronounced "ahhh. Stress-uh*". They all nodded and went back to the work, and left me standing there puzzled.

"No, not stress-uh," I replied. I tried to explain to them that my dad got gray hair early, and so I got gray hair early. I then told them that I don't go to the "hair shop" (as they called it) because I actually kind of like it, and I think it's cool. Unfortunately I ended the last sentence in a "right?" asking for an affirmation. I received no affirmation, just kids trying to avoid my question. Ha! So I said, "well at least I like it".

*(Most Koreans have a hard time ended their words with a solid consonant because they don't do that in Korean, so most words that kids say, when they end in a consonant, have an extra vowel at the end. "Finish" becomes "finish-ee", English becomes "English-ee", "E-Mart" becomes "E-Mart-uh", etc.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Giving and Receiving

The hardest thing to do is become accustomed to another culture's traditions. I don't mean holidays or traditional food and dress, but the every day things that are much different from what is ingrained in our heads. You never think about it, until you are trying to change your ways.

In Korea it is customary, and polite, to give and receive items with two hands. I notice it with my students who often take and give back their test papers with two hands. At any store a clerk will take the money with two hands, and give back change with two hands. There are also variations on it. Some people go the lazy, or not-so-formal route of motioning as if they were going to give with both hands. This means giving/receiving with one hand while letting the other hand (usually the left) motion toward the other arm, and perhaps touch it around the elbow area. Of course this is all done very quickly. One thing I've tried to pick up is being able to master this in a quick and not-so-strange fashion.

I think I am coming down with something, but hopefully the stash of Emergen-C will cure it. Last night we went out to see some of our friends near Gimpo, which is on the other side of Seoul and out quite a way. We took the subway, then got on the wrong bus, found another subway stop, came back, and got on the right bus (phew!). The ride out to their place on the bus is interesting-- probably the first open space of fields and freeways I've seen in quite a few months. It was refreshing. It had snowed earlier in the day so everything had a light coating of white powder. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures.

We have extra winter session classes right now, as all public school kids are out of school for all of January, and of course that means we offer extra classes. Stephanie is working more than me, as I just have one extra Friday morning class. I had such a great time on Friday - I have a "communication and motivation class", which is literally just a fun class. We talked about Point of View and watched some clips from Finding Nemo. We talked about what different point of views means and played I Spy. They had a group project and talked about a Shel Silverstein poem. It was amazing because I was just given an outline and the handouts and went on a whim and did everything else myself - I felt like I was student teaching again and it felt so good. I'm actually really excited for next Friday's class - even if that means I have to set my alarm clock. My class seems like a great group. They are mostly upper elementary, though I have one 9th grader and one 1st grader. The 1st grader is incredibly cute and is so good with her English. I was her partner for introductions and she said really said, in her cute English, "My partner is Meghan and she don't have a grade". Aw.. I love her.

Last week I had a cute conversation with one of my girls from my normal classes, Betty. It went something like this:

Betty: Teacher, you go to Costco?
Me: Huh? (I couldn't understand her saying "costco")
Betty: Costco. You go Costco?
Me: Oh! Costco. Yes! I do. I love Costco. Did you see me at Costco?
Betty: no, no.
Me: Oh. we have Costcos at my home, in America, so I like Costco. I like Costco pizza. Do you eat Costco pizza?
Betty, nodding: Yes! Very good pizza.
We discovered we both went to the same Costco and stated that we might see each other there sometime.
Me: Betty, do you see a lot of Americans at Costco?
Betty: Yes....
Me: Is that why you asked me?
Betty, laughing: ummmm... no....

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Security Guards

I think I've talked about our security guards before. They are men who wear security guard jackets (much like bomber jackets). They are older, probably 60-70. They do a number of things, such as:

a) sit at the front desk and watch people come in and out.
b) sit at the parking garage booth and watch people go in and out.
c) lock the back door at midnight
d) keep and distribute packages that come in the mail.
e) one guard who speaks some English sometimes calls our apartment phone to say "package" to get us to come downstairs and retrieve it.

They are so cute to us. Often when we come in or out of the building they will see us and say our apartment number very loud. This usually means we have a package. So we sign on the paper and write the time, and follow them to the back closet. They give us our package and we bow a little and say "Kamsa hamnida!" It's fun that they know us and know our apartment number. This is probably due to the fact that we got quite a few packages over the holidays (thanks!!)

Last night we came home from work and we were waiting for the elevator. It came down to the bottom level. A large group piled out, with one of the last people being one of the guards. He came out, bowed his head a little, threw out his hands and said "Welcome to Korea!!" It was so cute!! We laughed really loud, and I think he was proud of himself for making us laugh. Stephanie said that earlier in the morning she left for work and he said "Have a happy every day!!"

Someday I'm gonna get a picture of these guys.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Go Knights!

This last weekend our Men's basketball team beat a previously undefeated OIT, and went on to beat Southern Oregon as well. So now the team is the only undefeated team in its conference, and ranked #8.

Coincidentally Stephanie and I both wore our Warner t-shirts here, on Saturday, while Warner was beating those stinking Owls down in Klamath Falls on Friday night. My grandma sent me this new shirt for Christmas. Thanks Grams!