Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I put up the pictures in the "Kitty" post again. I hope that works now.

Not much new news around here. Seoul is getting warmer, up into the 50s during the day. Yesterday I walked to work in a short sleeve shirt, in the afternoon. I was surprised to see many Koreans still wearing their winter coats. I was WARM after walking to work! My director said, however, that sometimes the cold comes back for a little bit, so we might get surprised.

We have been warned of the "yellow dust" that comes into Korea in the Spring. Apparently there are bad storms that make it hard to see and/or breathe. We'll see what happens!

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I've lived in Seoul for 5 months and I don't know how to take out the recycling.

The garbage system in Korea, I think, is wonderful. Your neighborhood has designated bag colors and you buy bags as you need them. Then the pick up is free. We have green bags for food waste and white bags for other waste. We place the white bag out toward the back of our building with the other white bags, and put the green bags in one of two large garbage cans.

However, we have no idea what to do with our recycling, like pop cans, water bottles, and milk containers. They don't sell milk in gallons here, nor anything equivalent, so we buy a LOT of milk in about quart sizes. We go through a lot of these in a week. Which equals a lot of milk cartons. And then add those together with our other recycling.

Well, by the back door of our building, on the first floor, there is a garbage/recycling can for daily use of people who are in that area (there is a beauty shop, PC Room, etc. on this floor for the general public). So what do we do? We put all of our recycling in this can. Except it's kind of embarrassing to do this during the day when there are people around. We found a solution to that as well - we go at night after work, when nobody is around. We sneak down there with our arms full and one by one put our recyclables in whilst looking over our shoulders.

It's an exciting life we live, I can tell you that much.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


This weekend was the Lunar New Year weekend. The tradition is to spend it with family. I began to ask my students what they do for the weekend, and Leila proceeded to ask me "Teacher, you go see cousins?" I looked at her with a strange look on my face. Leila is probably about 5th grade age, and here she was, asking if I was going to go see Korean cousins. I replied "Leila, do I look like I have Korean cousins?" and she said "no". I thought the conversation was over, but then she said "You go fly home?" I started laughing and said, "No, Leila. I will not fly home." Then I told my class that in America really only Chinese or Korean people celebrate Lunar New Year, and my family does not. They seemed to understand that. I just thought it was so funny that Leila thought I might fly all the way to America just for the weekend.

Stephanie and I had no plans, but had a very great invitation. We take our Korean lessons on Sunday before church, and one of our teachers, Kitty, invited us to her house for dinner! We gladly accepted the offer, and I am so glad we did. Before going to her house I didn't know much about her, but we walked away understanding that Kitty is a very, very special lady. Another lady, (her English name is Esther), from church came along, too, so there were four of us.

When we got to Kitty's house we discovered, through conversation that she was an artist, and when looking around the house, we realized that. Art everywhere, along with many sewn and handmade items. Esther told us that Kitty teaches art to a group of women from the church. While Kitty started making dinner Stephanie and I sat down with a book, and soon Kitty said "oh! you must look at my book." Stephanie and I looked at each other, like "what?" and sure enough, Kitty came back into the room with a very large, professionally made book of all of her artwork! We began to read the introduction and found that we were not just sitting in an published artist's home, but Choung Za Kim, the first professor at Seoul National University who not only was the first woman professor, but also the first American educated art professor there. The introduction went on to tell that she was the first to bring and introduce the American styles to the Korean art world, and to insist on refining the labels of certain techniques. Wow!

Well, of course, I wanted to know more about her life, and there was some in the book, and some that I asked her after dinner. She was born and raised in Japan. Her father (her parents both Korean) studied there and liked living there. So, her first language is Japanese. They came back and lived in North Korea. Her family was from the North. At that time the communists were attacking and invading and took many of her family's belongings since they were Japanese items. They lived through bombings and fires, and she told about one fire in Japan that happened.

She eventually came to the Southern part of Korea and wanted to study, but could not because she didn't know Korean. She learned it by going to church and singing hymns. She began work as a typist (had to teach herself how to type) for the American forces during the Korean war, where the high-ups in the Army arranged it so that she and the other 12 young Korean workers would receive scholarships to study in America. Of all places, Kitty ended up in Oklahoma. I asked her if it was very strange or weird to go into that different culture, and she said the only thing that puzzled her was that in that time (early 50s) there was still white and colored spots everywhere and she had no idea which section to be in. She said on the first train she saw, she said to herself "well, I am not white", so she sat in the colored side until a train employee came and told her to move.

She studied art in Oklahoma, came back to Seoul, and taught at Seoul National U. for 30 years, all the while creating her own art, having it displayed numerous places, and becoming a very well known and respected artist. Wow! She is a very, very neat lady who shared a lot with us last night and I am so glad we had the chance to talk and visit with her. She has a wonderful testimony of God's faithfulness to her family through war and personal trials.

So! We had a good time at her house last night. She said it did not feel like a holiday unless she cooked, so we had a meat/vegtable stew, cold noodles with vegetables, little cakes, mandu and rice cake soup, kimchi, rice puffies, apple, etc. She wouldn't stop feeding us!

Here is a spread of the table:

The small bowl of kimchi. She said North Koreans make it less spicier.

Upon entering any Korean home, you take off your shoes. Kitty gave us slippers to wear.

This is Kitty!

Kitty insisted on taking a picture of us as well.

The vegetable stew, and the mandu/duk soup.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The land of the gift sets

Korea has been dubbed (or has dubbed itself) "The Land of the Morning Calm". While this is very nice and peaceful sounding, I have decided, just today, to give it a new name, and that is "Land of the Gift Sets". Gift giving is a very large production here, and is taken fairly seriously (from what I hear), and you cannot bypass a store without seeing gift sets, especially around the holidays.

There are juice gift sets, food gift sets, and hygiene gift sets. These aren't little baskets that have been wrapped in cellophane, but always come in boxes. I think the most popular item is the hygiene gift set- multiple bars of soap, bottles of shampoo, toothbrushes, and so on and so forth.

This weekend is the Lunar New Year. While I have no idea how one goes about celebrating this holiday, nor have I ever honored this holiday before, I'm okay with the fact that I have a three day weekend. I'm also okay with the fact that our director decided to give us presents. Now, the gift was given to us today and has solidified in my mind notion that Korea is most definitely "The Land of the Gift Sets". Why? Because every teacher at our school (six of us) received a Spam gift set today. I am not even joking. Not only did we receive gift sets, but that means that since Stephanie and I live together we had the great opportunity to bring TWO gift sets home. Well, our director told us we could take our gifts back to E-Mart and exchange them, and that sounded good to us. These sets are fairly expensive (in my opinion), so we ended up with a little pocket cash for the both of us and still have one gift set, so that means a big supply of the pink stuff.

Now, I have never knowingly eaten Spam before, and I definitely have not ever bought it for myself, so this was a big day. I captured the moment in a lot of pictures for you. Another picture will be forthcoming from our coworker who took a camera phone picture with us and our gift sets.

Here we go.

I love my gift. See how it even comes in a Spam bag so you can carry it? That's awesome.
Stephanie loves the Spam gift set also! She's amazed.
This is the box that was inside the bag.
Ooo!! Inside the box. I know you are jealous that we now own that much Spam.
Stephanie holds the Spam to show you the relative size of the cans.
I am happy about the Spam.
I am showing you the Spam.
Stephanie cooked her first Spam meal tonight: Spam and eggs.
Opening the spam.
It smells like cat food.
The other side of the can says Spam in Korean. That's pronounced: "Suh-pam"

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


It actually rained last night. For all of you Oregonians, the weather season here is just about the opposite of ours at home. The winter months have the least amount of rain, while the summer months have the most (accompanied, obviously, by a whole lot of hot and humid weather). So, it hasn't rained much while I've been here. But it did rain last night.

As Stephanie and I got ready to leave school last night a coworker asked "Do you have an umbrella?" and I said "no." and he said "really?" and I said "Yeah, but we'll be okay. We don't really use umbrellas in Portland". He replied again with "really?" and I said "yeah... we just put our head down and walk really fast."

And last night it felt really good to walk in the rain. I love the rain, but unfortunately Seoul rain does not smell like Portland rain.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Buffalo and Bull

In one of my classes we're reading Swiss Family Robinson. There is a part of the story where the family, on their way to get bamboo, come across a group of buffalo (this must be a very large island... weird that there is buffalo on an island). Well, the book said "buffaloes", and I'm picturing western United States-Native American-Dances-With-Wolves type of buffalo. We had a discussion about buffalo that went like this.

me: do you know what buffalo are?
simon: horse!
me: no, but a large animal like a horse
sam: like cow
me: Kind of... ohhh look on page 7! There's a drawing of a buffalo!
(the kids ooh and ahh and talk amongst themselves)
me: Do you have buffalo in South Korea?
simon: Yes!!
betty (looking at Simon condescendingly): noo.... nooooo.
me: I don't think you do. Where do buffalo live?
jason: magazine!
me: very funny, jason.
betty: America.
me: right. maybe you have seen buffalo on tv or in a movie.
betty: do people america eat buffalo?
me: well.... i don't. maybe some people. I think it is expensive. I don't eat it, and I don't know people who do.
betty: why expensive?
me: there are not very many buffalo.

And so on and so forth. Then we come to a picture in the text that does NOT look like buffalo. In fact, they look like bulls. Leila points this out and says, while pointing both of her hands out to her left and waving them, "Red!! Teacher... red!! red!!"
me: yes, I understand, Leila. I'm not sure. I do not think these are buffalo in the picture. I will find a picture online.

It has now become common practice for me to find pictures of items I cannot describe, or that they don't understand, by looking up the item up on google images. I did this when we first talked about what a treehouse is (to which one of my students said "my cousin live america. she has treehouse").

So I found this wonderful picture on the internet:
I showed the kids, half of whom were incredibly excited about it, saying it looked so strange. Leila asked what that was on its back, and I told her it was its hair. She said "why teacher?" and I said "I don't know, Leila".

Of course, then at break time I mentioned it to some of the other teachers and they informed me that the buffaloes in the story were water buffaloes. Thanks a lot, scholastic reader.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Learning Korean.

Well, learning Korean is certainly interesting. Learning any new language is difficult, yet rewarding. Sometimes your brain hurts. But sometimes it feels really good. Yesterday Stephanie and I had our third official Korean lesson with two ladies at church. They have been giving free Korean lessons to whoever wants to take them, but people have been cycling through. First it was a friend of ours who went home, and now we heard the other two people (a couple) who were taking the lessons are headed home in a couple weeks, too. That means our teacher:student ratio is 2:2!

Kitty is Korean, older, and speaks very fluent English. She learned English as a student, but then also during the Korean war when she and friend begged and pleaded for a missionary to teach it to them. She does most of the translating. Myeong (i always forget her other name) is younger, and does a lot of the pronunciation and teaching. The most fun is when Myeong wants Kitty to explain something to us, and then get into discussions about things in Korean. It's fun to watch them discuss and interact.

Learning a new language is a very humbling thing. Whenever I am trying to learn a new language (Spanish or Korean) I am always reminded at how impressed I should be with those who are trying to learn English. We don't have a place to church to meet officially and so we are always in one room, people come in, we get shuffled out. In all of this we end up trying to pronounce Korean letters in front of many Koreans. This is most definitely humbling, yet I was reassured when one guy in the computer room had listened to us for a while, and on our way out of the room, he smiled at Stephanie and I said and said "ahh, learn Korean" and we said "yes". He had a nice big smile on his face.

We have only been working on the alphabet so far, and perfecting our recognition. Consonants, vowels, final consonants, combined vowels, etc. The Korean language is REALLY cool, and I'm not just saying that because I'm learning it and am here in Korea. The written alphabet was created some hundred odd years ago by a group of people who wrote the consonants as they appeared inside the mouth. For instance, the open "o" at the beginning of a syllable is only a placeholder and produces no sound, so they made it an "o" shape to simulate the open mouth with no sound. However, the first "o", with special marks, in this syllable "화" is an "o" with marks over it, making a "huh" h-sound. Similarly, other consonant sounds are made to represent the movement within the mouth. Very cool.

Korean is formed with an alphabet, much like English, where a certain symbol stands for a particular sound, whereas in a language like Chinese many symbols stand for a whole word, and you, therefore, must learn a ton of symbols and their meaning. However, where English is written each letter left to right, Korean is written in syllables, so that one block of letters is a syllable in the word. The characters are written left to right and then top to bottom.

Example: 영= "Yeong" (pronounced Yung or the English Young) the first o is a placeholder and makes no sound. The line with two lines out the side is a "yeo" or "yuh" sound, and the last o is the "ng" when it comes at the end of a syllable. Oh wow, I bet this is boring the stuffing out of you all. But anyway, I think it's pretty fascinating. The best part is that wherever I go, I can practice reading Korean! Now I just have to work on my vocabulary.

Here are some fun things for you. I actually had to input these here from our school's computer, which has Korean and English, and I might try to input some more tomorrow. You can try to read the corresponding characters. I'll break the syllables up. Pretty soon you'll be learning how to read Korean!

화영= Hwa Young. It's the Korean name I've jokingly given myself. We learned in Korean class that "hwa" means fire OR flower, and I figure that's a pretty good name for myself. And Young is often the second part of a first name for a girl.

나무= Na-mu. Tree.

감사 함니다 =kam-sa ham-ni-da. Thank you.

So there you go! There's your Korean lesson! Yesterday in class we finished reading alphabet stuff and started on greetings and it started making my head spin. We'll see.

Also, we got these super cute, really great self-learning books to help us out as well. Here are some pictures with more words. You can see why we picked it out - it's a lot of fun.

Left to right, top to bottom, pronounced: No-Ray (song, as in "noraebang". "bang" means room. "Noraebang" means "song room"), ah-nay, kah-gay, ah-chay, see-kyay, yay-kee.

And, for your enjoyment:
Yes. America is Korean is "mee-gook". And, just because it's there and you can see it, man is "nam-chay"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Week In the Life

Last Saturday we went bowling and to Noraebang with the 20s group from church. It resulted in these photos:
Soo, Aekyung, me, Bo Ram, Candice, Will, Brian, and Mark. Please don't ask me what I'm doing with my eyes.
Brian, Kendall, Stephanie, Soo, Candice, me, Aekyung. That was photoshopped by Aekyung.

Candice is going to kill me for putting this picture up. Ha!

Of course then we went to the Super Bowl party on Monday.

Tuesday night a student in my class cried. I have 3 hour classes, all separated by little 5 minute breaks between the hours. I always try to remember, after the first hour and before we start reading in the second hour, if my kids have their storybooks. If they don't, I have to make copies during break. Well, I usually tend to forget to ask. So in the middle of the second hour I ask "okay, get your storybooks out, who doesn't have your storybook? Did everybody bring your storybook?" (English teachers tend to say things many times and in many different ways).

Of course, one of my students, one of the more forgetful ones, Rick, forgot his storybook. I begin chastising him. I don't yell, but I say things like "Rick!! You have to bring your storybook. You NEED it for class. How could you forget it? Please tell me before breaktime. You know that. NOW I have to go make a copy". I huff and puff and make a big show and pretend-stomp out of the room to show that I am not happy with having to make a copy. But, really, it's no big deal, I march back in quickly, smiling, and my kids are laughing because it was done so quickly.

I start reading the title of the chapter and asking questions, and one of my new students says "teacher... she..." and points behind her, where I see my little Violet, who is all of about 3rd or 4th grade, crying. Not just a tear, but head in her hands crying. I got a little flustered, went over to her and started saying "Violet, Violet, why are you crying? It's okay. Violet.. " and then I realize that she must have forgotten her storybook, and she doesn't want to ask for a copy. I asked "Violet, you forgot your storybook?" and she only nodded her head at me, and wouldn't raise her head.

I smile at the other students (who, most are a little older than her, and are smiling because... well, it's kinda cute that she's crying), and run out the door to make another copy. I come back, hand it to her nonchalantly (her head is still in her hands) and continue on.

At break time I call her over to my desk and say "Violet... it's okay. Did you cry because you were scared?" (she said yes). "Violet, you don't have to cry or be scared. I won't be angry, just tell me. I will yell at Rick, but not at you". Which, is true. Rick gets yelled at all the time because he forgets things, but he can take it. He just smiles and he knows he has been wrong, so it's not a big deal to him. Violet is a whole different person altogether. Anyway - that was the first time Meghan Teacher made someone cry.

Last night we went to meet Candice and Soo Young, and we ate Popeye's for dinner, which was kind of weird. And then we went to see the Woody Allen film "Scoop", which was entertaining and cute. We also stopped along the way and got an interactive workbook called "Korean Made Easy for Beginners", mostly because it has cute drawings inside.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Monday!

I know that doesn't sound right to you at home, but it sounds just about right to me! I had thought that I wouldn't have a chance of seeing the Super Bowl. I was sure it wasn't showing here, and although some places in town were saying they'd be open in the morning to cater to foreigners who wanted to watch the game, I didn't think going to a bar full of people I don't know at 8am sounded like too much fun. So I didn't think it would happen.

But! We got a surprise on Saturday when our friend Kendall invited us to stay Sunday night at her house, and wake up and watch the game Monday morning with her. This was feasible because Kendall lives on the U.S. Army base here in Seoul with her family. I was so incredibly excited!! I just have really fun memories of hanging out with family friends, or church friends and watching the Super Bowl, so I was eager to be with a crowd to watch it this year.

We spent the night at Kendall's (which is just like an American house.. and actually her stepmom decorates a lot like my mom!), and got up in the morning to go to the main post on base where there is a big bar-style family restaurant and a big basement downstairs for events. The game started here at 8:25am, but we got there after 9am sometime, and actually the place opened at 5am for people to go watch stuff! Kendall's dad has a very high rank in the army and places are always reserved for him and his family so we got to march up to the front and sit at the front table. Wow.

So it was pretty fun to be in that atmosphere, with Americans from all over and people who were rooting for their team. I didn't follow any NFL or any playoffs, so I didn't really have any team I cared about, but I really admired a LOT of the Colts' playing... they pulled some amazing things. It was fun to watch football for 3 hours.

It was ALSO fun to watch Prince on the halftime show. I really like Prince, so this was the big Super Bowl draw for me. Unfortunately during halftime they were doing drawings and announcements and all sorts of giveaways. Prince was starting and some ladies were saying "prince is on! turn the sound on!" but the emcees were saying "sorry, we're doing our own halftime.. if you want to watch Prince you have to go upstairs", so we bolted and ran upstairs. Only problem with that was that the guy doing the announcements downstairs was being telecast upstairs, and so that was a bummer. BUT! It was cool anyway and everything's online these days.

So, after that we had to go back to Kendall's, pack our stuff quickly and make our way home on the subway, getting home in time to do a few things, change clothes, and head off to work - busy day! But definitely worth it.