Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meghan World Tour 2007!!

I figured it out that I'll be in five countries within the space of 5 weeks, which is pretty exciting. North Korea-->South Korea-->Japan--->America--->Mexico.

I'm currently in Tokyo, Japan. I'm staying with a friend from college, Alina. She has been so wonderful to me, showing me around and taking me places. It's been a great little vacation on the way back from Korea. I feel like a tourist!

So far we've been to a Buddhist shrine, walked around an area with a lot of young people (some of them being very interesting to look at), Alina's English classes, a popular shopping area, a concert in Shibuya, etc. Tomorrow I get on the bus to go to the airport.

I don't want to write all about Tokyo without pictures, and so I'll do it when I get home. It has been really fun and I can't wait to talk all about it.

This blog was originally for people at home to inform them of what I was up to while I was out of town. When leaving Korea, I realized that my friends in Korea might want to keep up to date with where I am at and what I am up to. So, for you friends at home, the pictures I post in the next couple weeks might not be very exciting, but I want to share them with those that I know in Korea. So be prepared!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Amazing Race- Seoul!

As mentioned before we had a little race from church to our farewell party. Our team took it pretty seriously. Stephanie was the camerawoman and did all of the editing and making of the video. She did SUCH an awesome job.

Here it is! I hope you enjoy it! (Check out my crazy elbow at the end):

Facts about Korea!

Here's a little Korean trivia for you. I, for one, did not know much about Korea until I came here. In fact, I think I had even look to make sure I knew where it was on a map!

1. The official language for Korea is... (tada!) Korean, which is "Hanguk mal", I believe, in Korean. The language is made up of its own letters, created by a King long ago, who was tired of using Chinese characters for his people to use their own Korean expressions. Smart man! I think Korean is one of the most logical languages in the world- its characters are meant to express the shape the mouth makes while making the sound. For example- the "m" sound is represented by the ㅁ, which really does look like what your mouth does!

2- "Korea" is called "Hangook", or 한국" in Korea. "gook" means land. America is "meegook" or "미국"

3. Korea is only about the size of Indiana. It takes about 5 hours to travel from the top of South Korea to the bottom by car, or a little over 2 hours on the KTX (express) train.

4. The size of the country is small, but its population is big, at about 49 million. Seoul, the capital and biggest city in South Korea. The estimates of its population range anywhere from 10 million to 22 million depending on which parts of the suburbs you include in its estimate.

5. Okay, so this isn't a fact, but the public transportation in Seoul is awesome. The only thing I would change would be to have it be 24 hours, but.. eh, it's really pretty good.

6. Korea is officially called the Republic of Korea, which means its initials are RoK, which gets people calling it "the ROK". ie "How long have you been on the ROK?"

If I can think of more fun Korea facts, I'll write them here!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Busy Weekend

Saturday we went down to Suwon, to visit the Korean Folk Village. It was really nice. We've been to some stuff before that was kind of disappointing, but this had a lot of displays and performances, and I really enjoyed it. We had to go through kind of quickly, but it was really nice to see all of it.

Korean wedding performance:
Me standing in front of.. uhh.. some things....

Horse riding performance:

Will and Stephanie try the traditional teeter-totter? They didn't quite get it down, but they had fun trying.

Our friend, Kendall, is also leaving soon- going back to the States to get married! She had a wedding shower in the afternoon, and then we headed over to our friend Mark's performance. He is in a show called "Girls and BBoys", which is a super modern re-telling of Guys and Dolls, complete with a LOT of dance numbers. Mark was the cop, and was doing tricks on his inline skates! He wowed us. Here's Kendall, Stephanie, Mark, and Rebecca.

Sunday after church Candice and Brian planned an awesome farewell party for Kendall, our friend Carolina, and myself. We are all heading back to the States in the next few weeks. It was such a great time with friends, relaxing and talking and having fun. We left from the church and tried to do Amazing Race from the church to Brian's place. Of course, our team (consisting of Stephanie, Will, Erin, and myself) won, and Stephanie is going to piece together our videos of that. Unfortunately, although I'm pretty sure we won because we were better, the other teams weren't quite into it. But, we did win.

Anyway- it was a really bittersweet night, with lots of pictures being taken. Me, Candice, Steph, Yunsun:

Eddy and me:

Brian (trying to act cool), me, and Candice:


Thursday, May 17, 2007


I use a whiteboard in my classroom and I personally like to choose the blue and black markers. Well, my black markers were running out of ink, but when I went to replace them, there were only red markers left. So, I had to take the red marker.

I was having a lot of fun with my young, advanced class, and after break time we were doing a sentence activity on the board. I said "okay! I have a new pen!!" The entire class actually said "ooooohhh". I said "who wants to use the new pen!" and quite a few raised their hands. I said "Okay- Jaina! Your turn, come work on our sentence on the board!" Ha! She didn't realize she was actually going to have to do the sentence. It was quite funny.

There is some sort of "rule" or law of living here in Korea that you do not write peoples' names in red. I asked my students about this. I said "So, it would be bad if I wrote your name on the board in red?" and they all agreed "yes, yes!". I asked "why?". They all kind of looked deep in thought for a minute, and then Louise said "I think... blood." But, Hannah disagreed and said she wasn't sure. Someone mentioned Japan (seems to be Japan's color), and even Jaina said that it was a North Korean color, which makes sense.

In my next class I started the same discussion and jokingly (I'm bad) wrote someone's name on the board. The kids said "oh!", but I quickly erased it. Then I wrote my name on the board in red. I said "it's okay. I'm American... I don't care." Andy said "Why?" And I replied "umm. In America this is not bad." A few of the kids looked puzzled. It is always fun and interesting to get kids thinking about how different countries and cultures believe different things.

I moved the conversation along by saying "in America we also never do this..." and I bowed. Minsu said "what is..that?" and I bowed again, saying "Annyeong haseyo" (hello). Andy asked "why!?" and I said "umm. I don't know. why DO you bow?" and of course I got no answer :)

Andy quickly asked "what about... father?" He was asking what about when I meet my father? I don't bow? I asked "You BOW when you meet your father?" the kids responded "YES!! YES YES YES!!". I said "wow.... that's so nice. Remember- in America no bowing. So when I see my dad I say "HI DAD!"" and I waved my hands.

They were some fun conversations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Few More

A few more things about North Korea:

We were told that the resort only accepted payment in U.S. dollars, which seems quite strange because North Korea hates America. After arriving there, it also seemed strange because everything is seemingly run by South Koreans- so why do they want dollars. Why couldn't we use Korean won? Very strange. Even the North Koreans that we bought snacks or souvenirs from took U.S. dollars. Hmmm.

Also, while we were driving back from a walking tour, we saw some North Koreans right by the road in the middle of planting rice in a field. The only thing that seemed odd was that the workers were all women and the men were standing by, watching! Our tour guide said this was the norm.

A train crossed the DMZ on a test run. I mentioned to my mom on the phone how set everyone is about the reunification of North and South Korea. They do not talk about "if" it will happen, but "when". The way they talk about it, it seems inevitable. Here is an article on the train crossing- it's interesting, and a good read to understand a bit of the Unification process.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I couldn't believe my eyes when....

Sentence making last night resulted in Kate saying "I couldn't believe my eyes when Meghan is play with man". I laughed and she changed it to what made a little more sense: "I couldn't believe my eyes when Meghan has boyfriend". I laughed REALLY hard and said "Yeah, I wouldn't believe it either".

Yesterday was Teacher's Day! I swear they celebrate everything here in Korea, but I'm not complaining because I got some gifts! I got a "foaming cleanser" set, a picture frame that also has a mirror, a chocolate bar, AND this awesome bird:

You put its beak on anything and it just floats! I think you want to see another angle:

And to further illustrate the point, here's yet another picture:

I think Belle realized how much I liked it when I was freaking out about it, ran downstairs to show Stephanie, and then came back to tell her I would be teaching the rest of the class with the bird perched on my finger.

One of the best gifts a teacher can get though, is a handwritten note from a student. Louise gave me the cleanser, but the best part was her great notecard (click it to make it bigger):
Louise is so cool.

Another exciting thing happened on Teacher's Day- a war drill! Stephanie and I were out during the day, before teaching, and came out of the subway station to find all of the cars on our very busy street stopped. There were men and women in yellow jackets and hats standing in the street stopping traffic. We walked back to our apartment, and everyone just sat in the cars, and people were not crossing the street.

We found out later that this was a practice drill for when and if North Korea should have ever attack. Apparently they have these drills to make all of the cars stop and civilians should not leave buildings or walk around. We didn't know, and couldn't have known- because all of the civilians on the streets were walking around. We went up to our apartment, and then the traffic started again.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What'd you do this weekend?

Question: What kind of music do you listen to when you're on your way to visit a communist country?

Stephanie's answer: Angry music.

I went to North Korea this weekend! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that Stephanie and I just couldn't pass up. It also happened to fit in perfectly with our work schedule (which really doesn't allow for both of us to have vacation time at the same time). It was a weekend trip that started after we got out of work at 10pm on Friday, so it was perfect.

The organized trip we went on is for foreigners in Seoul. We went to Mt. Kumsang in North Korea, which is only about 20 minutes past the North/South border, along the East Sea (which is the Sea of Japan by Japanese name). We drove through the night in a big tour bus (which meant we didn't get much sleep), and then on to the border in the morning. Our bus was joined by a large number of other buses, all organized tours.

We had a great number of restrictions on what we could and couldn't do. We went through South Korean customs first, where they checked us out of the country. We went through the DMZ and then into North Korea. We sat in line for a while and just took in our surroundings, which included some bunkers built into the hills, complete with tanks. There were North Korean soldiers in their olive green uniforms and hat, all of it look entirely too big for their smaller bodies. We weren't allowed to take pictures while we were in the bus, and were told to not even point or gesture. North Korean soldiers were standing at intervals (mostly to other roadways) with red flags in their hands, at their side, ready to raise should we cause problems.

We went through customs where we showed our passports and papers with our pictures on it, went through metal detectors, and were on our way from customs to the resort. We spent just about 20 minutes on the bus, passing by rice fields. At each small dirt road that met the two lane asphalt, there was a North Korean soldier standing with his red flag at his side. We got to see a couple of villages, but both set back from the road just far enough so that we couldn't really see the villagers well enough, but could tell what they were doing. Again, we couldn't take any pictures. One thing that really struck me were the cows that were being used to plow the fields. They were incredibly skinny, and as I watched one being worked, I just felt sad for it. Our tour guide told us that even though we saw tractors, to not be impressed with what they have. The South Korean companies have given quite a bit to this area of North Korea, and so a thing like a tractor is not normal for other North Koreans. We saw some trucks that our tour guide said were burning wood for fuel, which explained the smoke billowing out of the back.

Mt. Kumsang is a huge tourist attraction because of its huge peaks and beautiful, wonderful scenery. Its name "Kumgangsan" translates into "Diamond Mountain". The area, obviously, was closed off to outsiders, but in the late 1990s some South Korean companies were allowed to build this attraction for visitors. Quite a few South Koreans now come here (in the thousands), and a small number of visitors are foreigners. It doesn't really feel like North Korea because they have built a few resort-like hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, etc., and the area is closed off to normal North Koreans. There were some North Koreans working at the resort, and you could distinguish them by the red pin they were wearing on their outer garment. If the worker was not wearing this, our tour guide told us they were most likely Korean-Chinese, meaning that they are Koreans who were born and raised in China.

So there is some background information for you! After driving through the night on a crowded bus, and going through multiple immigration lines, we arrived at the resort to go on our morning hike! As exciting and crazy as it seemed to just BE in North Korea, what I really loved about the trip was the chance to get away from Seoul and be in the mountains! What a refreshing time. Dense trees and rivers and wildlife! I can't explain how nice that was, after being stuck in the city for so long. (Reminder: Any picture you can click on and enlarge.)

Here are some pictures of our morning hike, which was gorgeous:

One thing that really impressed me (and impresses me in Seoul) is the strength and willingness of the ajummas and ajosshis (old women and old men). Here we are on this hike that wasn't TOO difficult, but definitely put some sweat on my back. The ground was really uneven (a mix of big rocks, small rocks, and sometimes concrete), there were many uneven stairs, etc, but these elderly people don't care! They're hiking to the top whether you want them to or not! They grab a walking stick and off they go!

We climbed to reach the waterfall at the top. I hate to be a downer, but I'm from Oregon and having seen Multnomah Falls all my life, this wasn't that spectacular, but it was a really nice reward at the end:This is my "North Korea, baby!" picture:
After that hike there was the option to go on another hike, but Stephanie and I were so tired from no sleep and hiking already that we opted to take a quick nap/rest in our room. Our resort room was SO nice and comfortable. We even had CNN to watch!

After our rest it was time for a North Korean acrobatic show, which involved quite a few stunts that made me nervous. We weren't allowed to take photos, so I don't have any of that- sorry! It was very interesting, though. All of the performers looked healthy and strong, except that I'm sure that is to put a good face on things. One thing Stephanie and I did notice, however (since we were sitting in the first row) was that so many of them were missing teeth. Also, I noticed that while they looked very put together, their costumes and props seemed really outdated.

After the acrobatic show we had the rest of the evening to ourselves. We ate dinner and then went back to our room to relax and go to bed early! I don't think I've gone to bed that early since I've been in Korea, but we got a full night of sleep, which was good, because we had to be up really early the next morning. To lure us to sleep the One of the North Korean songs played continuously over the loudspeaker. I was so tired that it didn't keep me awake, but a girl on our bus said it played all night. It is ingrained in my mind, however, and now Stephanie and I sing it to each other.

The next day we got up, had breakfast, and then we went off to the "easy course" of a lake and beach. On the way there our tour guide pointed out a painted announcement that read "Repel the enemy- America!" We traveled close to some small buildings and saw the soldiers standing inside the doorways, staring at us. They certainly like to creep us out.

Here are some pictures of the beach and lake:

On all of our hikes and walks there were a handful of North Koreans. You could always tell who they were by the red pin on their chest (a pin with the picture of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il's father, the original communist leader of North Korea). They were there to make sure we didn't do anything forbidden. At one point we weren't supposed to take picture in a certain direction because of bunkers and tanks hidden inside. Well, we weren't exactly informed of that, and Stephanie took a picture and nobody caught her! So here it is. You have to zoom in quite a ways to see the tanks.

Koreans rowing past on their boat:

The lake:

There were a handful of people selling some things at each stop, and I happily bought some paintings for myself. I haven't bought myself a lot of souvenirs while I've been in Korea, mostly because I don't ever see anything I feel like I really want. But I really wanted this, and happily bought it from the North Korean who painted it.

One of the best parts of the hike was watching a North Korean lady talk to a group of South Koreans who surrounded her. One South Korean man wanted to sing a song, and kept trying to start one. I couldn't understand everything, but eventually the North Korean woman began singing a song. Afterward all of the South Koreans cheered for her. It was really moving. It's hard to believe such a country that has been divided for so long. These people (North and South) have the same history, much of the same culture, and the same lineage, yet are so different now. Even as we were at the resort they were hosting groups of reunions for North Korean people to meet their relatives from South Korea. After 50+ years!! Amazing. Here is the video of the North Korean woman singing:

Here are some pictures of the mountains and scenery back by the resort:

From our hotel room I zoomed in on the North Korean village by our resort. This as close of a shot as I could get:
The last part of our trip included meeting the Kims. Well, you know, taking a picture with them. Their picture must not be cut off or taken badly, so the bellmen from the hotel (North Koreans) came to take the pictures to insure quality.

One our way walking from the resort to the painting (at another hotel) we passed by a place where North Korean soldiers were marching (about 10-12 of them). Stephanie and I were by ourselves and it was quite eery. We also passed by some unfinished/abandoned small buildings and Stephanie said she could see a soldier standing inside. Another group from our traveling group said they were taking a picture under a sign, since they saw no one around, but apparently soldiers appeared from out of the trees and whistled at them. On our way to other hotel I tried to nonchalantly make a turn (we weren't quite sure which way to turn), but a soldier stepped forward, whistled at me loudly, and waved his red flag at me. Oops!

It was an interesting time, and I am so glad I spent the money and the time to go on the trip. If you are interested in more about North Korea, you can do a google search on the internet. Diane Sawyer did a huge piece about visiting North Korea (something not very many people can do), and you can find some of that stuff here. Some friends of mine have read the book THe Aquariums of PyongYang and they highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Where have I been?

I had to get some money exchanged today. The reason behind this will be forthcoming at later date, but let's just talk about how I went to my neighborhood branch of my bank and came home with some fresh, new American bills.

Let's also talk about how I got new 10 dollar bills that I can't remember seeing before. When were these issued into circulation? I don't know that I've seen them before, but I'll have to do some research. Looking at my American money actually makes it feel like REAL money, instead of these Korean bills, which seem like play monopoly money.
On a sidenote: Stephanie and I both noticed that large pile of American money that included a yet-to-be-open stack of 2 dollar bills. We don't use 2 dollar bills in the States! Why does my random neighborhood branch of the bank have a stack of new 2 dollar bills? It seems quite odd.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


First of all, it's warming up a lot in Korea these days. It was in the upper 70s on Saturday and it was forecasted to be 80 on Sunday. Sounds good, but it's a little on the humid side, so it's a little uncomfortable, but not horribly bad. It does make for some nice nights, however, and it feels really nice to be out after the sun goes down.

Saturday was a holiday here in Korea: Children's Day. Yes, they have a day that celebrates children. My students said that they often go to their grandparents' house and receive gifts, but my middle schoolers said that they were too old to receive gifts now. As a result, there were a lot of families on the subway on Saturday, and quite a bit of traffic around the usual hot spots around town (The Children's Grand park, Yoeuido Island).

We spent the day with Kendall and her friend Megan, who was visiting from teaching in China. We went to the Han River by Yeouido and rode bikes along the the path, which was nice. We sat around the park resting and then headed over to Nanta, a non-verbal performance (ala Stomp!) set in a kitchen, and using kitchen themes. I don't have any pictures from this weekend, but here's a stock photo from the Nanta website:
Don't they look happy and energetic? It was an interesting show. Fun, and the audience was involved. but, it was also interesting because there was quite a bit of the trademark Korean drama and humor that made me roll my eyes a little bit. But, it was a good experience and I'm really glad we went to see it.

After Nanta we went out to dinner and then to the famous Noraebang to show Megan how we butcher such classic songs as "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls and "Bye bye bye" by N'Sync. Needless to say, it was a long day, and we were sufficiently tired when we finally got home.

It's hard to believe, but I have exactly 3 weeks left here in Korea. All of our weekends are filling up fast with parties, a bridal shower, and extra things I am trying to pack in before I leave. Next weekend will be really fun, but you'll have to wait and see what that is.

The beginning of this week has our students taking placement tests, which basically means it's an easy day for being a teacher!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The land of no news

Well, I haven't written anything on here in a while because not much has been happening. Last weekend we bypassed any sightseeing or performances and actually spent the whole day on the U.S. Army base with our friend, who lives there. She was really great to host us. The army base feels like a small American town and it seemed like we had an all-American day. We slept in, ate Taco Bell for lunch (the only Taco Bell in Korea), went to the base's putt-putt golf course, played some board games, went for a bike ride, and it was all topped by a HUGE bbq that her dad and mom made for their family. It was quite the day! Even better, the weather was great- warm and sunny, but not too hot. So, beyond that, it's just work and life. Something exciting will happen in the next week or so and I'll be all over this blog like you wouldn't believe.

But, to tide you over until then (because I know you depend on this blog for entertainment- ha!), here are some excerpts from some of my students' writing. Again, this is my younger (5th-6th grade) higher level class. I believe their question was what would they do with some large amount of money.

If I could buy ine very expensive thing for myself, I would buy an island. Because, I have a little bit of the world and I can have the land. So , I can ask out the people and rule the island with mine.- Rina

If I have lots of money, I´m gonna buy a nice house. Because my dream was I want to live in a nice and giant house. And also because a little bit times later, it will be expensiver than when I bought first time. So I'll sell them. -Daniel (smart boy!)

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself, I would a seaside villa. Because when I´m in summer vacation, I can go travel sea and do not pay money for condominium or villa.- April

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself. I could buy Luxury camping car. First, I always want buy a camping car. because, it is so nice and expensive.- Belle (that's an RV to all you Americans)

First, I want to buy a puppy, because all the time I anvy my friend who has puppies. However my mother and I have allergy for fur , so I can´t buy one, and my mom always says she is so tired to bring up me and my brother so she can´t feed any more animals . - Amy

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself, then I buy sung-la-mon to be my house. Because I can feel that I get at the top of high power in korean. Why? it is very important cultural properties, so I will get very high power very easy! - Jaina (Sung-la-Mon is the big gate in Korea... my students told me that the other name is Namdaemun)

Also, if we go to the space, a scene is very beautiful.So , I like space. Second,go to space is very fun and fantastic experience. I can take a lot of pictures, and if we are very lucky,we can meet an Aliens.- David

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself is the very expensive computer because, my computer has been broken many time so it is difficult to fix it.- Mark

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself, I will buy an island. Because I can offer the good scene for people. I will not offer only scene also I will offer clear water, beautiful fish and coral and fine weather. Oh! I will make the hotel because people can live in the hotel and everyday they can play!- Cruise

If I had enough money, I would buy all guns of the whole world. Guns are so dangerous that I want to use them in good ways. Maybe, you want to say like this ″What does it mean?″. Then, here I go! First, I would buy all guns as soon as they are made for clearing accidents of guns. A few days ago, a matter in Virginia college made many people sad. If civilian didn´t have guns, unhappy matters like this wouldn´t occur.- Hannah (Hannah's a thinker)

If I could buy one very expensive thing for myself, I want to buy other expensive things but I want to buy the biggest house in the world. First reason is because, if I have the biggest house , I can live with all my family in a house. I am not worrying about loneliness because I can live with all my family in a house and talk with them.-YoonJi