Archive for the 'Culture' Category



It’s Election Day!

It’s Wednesday, June 2nd. No school because it’s Election Day!  Woo hoo!  It’s a non-presidential voting year, but it’s an important day nonetheless (hey, we aren’t gonna argue with a day off).  🙂

For the past few weeks, there has been non-stop campaigning.  I haven’t a clue what the different positions are though.  But it’s been fun (and annoying) to see campaigning – Korean style!

SAM_1913 Trucks like these are all over the city.  They always prominently feature the candidate and a number.  Most of them are blaring some sort of pop music with the candidates names as part of the lyrics.  These trucks are loud and they have no problem driving in circles around the schools – while school is in session.  My kids go crazy when they hear the trucks passing by.

    

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Many of the trucks carry their faithful campaign helpers.  They always wear matching uniforms (with white gloves).  If the truck is in motion, many times you’ll see them in the back waving and bowing to everyone.  Otherwise, the trucks will park at a busy intersection and they get out and perform a dance routine. 

     

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I saw these ladies on my way to school.  This is a very busy intersection – and in fact, every corner of the intersection had somebody’s campaign people setting up camp.  These ladies bowed to oncoming traffic – about every 15 to 20 seconds.  That’s some dedication.

“Take me out to the ballgame…

…buy me some dried squid and fried chicken.”

Ah…finally…our first baseball game in Korea!  Last week, the P.E. teacher at my school invited Micah and I to join him and a few other of my elementary school teachers to go to a Samsung Lions game (they are the baseball team in Daegu). 

Side note: There are 8 professional baseball teams in Korea – the biggest cities have a team.  Compare that to the 30 teams in Major League Baseball.

And each Korean team is named after a major Korean company.  See the following (with the city in parenthesis)

  • Doosan Bears (Seoul)
  • LG Twins (Seoul)
  • Nexen Heroes (Seoul)
  • Lotte Giants (Busan)
  • Samsung Lions (Daegu)
  • Hanwha Eagles (Daejon)
  • SK Wyverns (Inchon)
  • Kia Tigers (Gwangju)

I’m used to knowing sports teams by their city name and mascot, but in Korea the city is not referenced.  Instead of the Seattle Mariners it might be the “Microsoft Mariners.”   🙂

We went after school on a Tuesday night – and my teacher brought beer, sodas, and mixed nuts (with dried shrimp) for us to snack onYou can bring in anything you want. 

We got to the stadium and got the tickets (which only cost about $6).  The tickets are not assigned seats.  You can sit anywhere you want! 

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This is the boy Samsung Lion mascot.  There’s a girl version too. 

Surrounding the stadium there are numerous fried chicken vendors.  You have a choice of 1) buying outside the stadium and carrying it with you inside or 2) calling them once you are seated and they will deliver it to you!  Seriously, how cool is that?! :-)  And of course, there are numerous places inside to buy ramen noodles, kimbab, mandu, and of course dried squid. 

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Fried chicken!!!!  I even saw Kyochon Chicken, but we didn’t end up ordering from them. 😦

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Not exactly hotdogs and peanuts at Korean baseball games.

We got to our seats (there was hardly anyone sitting out there – actually hardly anyone at the game in general) and started eating and waiting for the game to start.  We were playing the SK Wyverns that night – currently the best team in Korea.  My teacher was worried about choosing this game for us to watch because the Samsung Lions are only in third place. 

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The stadium is small compared to any baseball stadiums in America.  But it allows you to be close to the action.

My teacher was worrying over nothing.  Even though we were playing the best team and apparently facing off against the best pitcher in Korea, we killed them.  Final score 14-1.  We even left early at the end of the 7th inning because the game was such a blowout. 

We had a great time watching the game, eating and drinking, and just socializing with my Korean teachers.  A couple of the teachers I don’t know very well and they seem to be afraid of me in school.  But once at the game, they loosened up and we had a fun time chatting about baseball, school, life, etc.

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That’s Eun Mi and my co-teacher, Sun Gyung.

Oh, in Korea there is no 7th inning stretch – instead there is a “kissing inning.”  The camera zooms around the crowds and if it lands on a couple – they kiss.  The other funny thing was the baseball cheerleaders.  They dance around to the music and get the crowd chanting.  (Sorry, no pics. We weren’t sitting near them).

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Yay…our first baseball game!  And it was a blowout success!  Go Samsung Lions!

Happy birthday Buddha!

After school today, we are off to the port city of Yeosu.  The city is located on a peninsula and includes 317 islands (the majority of them uninhabited).  Apparently it’s famous for its seafood and beaches – in particular Manseongri Black Sand Beach (the only black sand beach in Korea).

  yeosu map

We are headed there with our friends Gabe & Charissa (aka GNC) and Courtney & Sydney.  We’ll get in late Thursday night (4-hour bus ride) and head home on Sunday. 

We have no school on Friday (yay!) because of Buddha’s Birthday – a public holiday here in Korea.  And Micah and my school also have no school MondayA four day weekend here we come!

For our little road trip (er…bus trip) we are all bringing some snacks to share.  I made these – PB&J Strawberry Cookie Bars.  They are super easy to make (the hardest part is figuring out how long to cook them and knowing if the bottom crust is done).

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Ready to go into the oven toaster oven.

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Ready for the road!

In hindsight, given the holiday – perhaps I should have made cupcakes instead :-)  Happy birthday Buddha!

Another interesting Korean wedding

This past Sunday, we had another chance to see a Korean wedding.  This time it was Seunghui (Sing-hee), my co-teacher from last semester.  And having experienced our first Korean wedding back in October, we knew what to expect…sort of. 

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This is their framed wedding picture (taken about a month ago) and displayed at the wedding hall.

In Korea, unless you decide to get married in a church, your other choice is a wedding hall.  That is where Seunghui was getting married.  She had about 30 minutes to get in, get married, and get out before the next bride/groom and their guests arrived. 

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A big difference with this wedding was that she was marrying a foreigner from Canada.  His jet-lagged parents and brother had just arrived to Korea and looked pretty clueless as to what the heck was going on (I don’t blame them). 

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The beautiful bride.  She hides away in a small room where she sits on this couch and people take pictures of her (like I did). 

Although there were about eight of us English speakers at the wedding, the entire ceremony was in Korean.  And true to proper Korean form, the whole 15 minute ceremony was filled with people on cell phones, people loudly talking, and getting up from their seats. 

A few nice touches to this wedding:

  • Pink smoke aisle runner:

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The lights flash on and off – and – suddenly there is pink smoke rising from the aisle way. 

  • Music:  Although the couple had requested no music to be played during the ceremony – well, that just wasn’t going to happen.  The theme from Star Wars got all our attentions and alerted us that the wedding was starting.  Then, throw in some classic “Because you loved me” by Celine Dion and the song from the movie Ghost at random times throughout the ceremony.
  • Streamers!  The couple were walking back down the aisle and BAM! – cue streamer bomb.  It scared the sh*t out of me it was so loud.  Mike, (the groom) told us it was completely unexpected for him too.

SAM_1856  I think they are leaning in close – not for a kiss – but because they can’t hear each other talk due to the deafening streamer attack. 🙂

Much of the wedding was similar to what we had seen before.  They cut the cake with a big sword-like knife…to only just have the cake wheeled away without taking a bite.  And all the guests flooded the buffet line with ticket in hand (many were eating before the wedding was even over.  Remember, no gift = no ticket; no ticket = no buffet for you!). 

From the start of the wedding to the time we left after eating our meal, it was exactly one hour.  How’s that for a wedding and reception? 

Who needs grapes when you have persimmons?

Last weekend, a big group of us foreigner teacher friends headed to a city south of Daegu called Cheongdo  (about 30 minutes by train).  All we knew prior to leaving was that they had a wine tunnel.  Hmm…ok.  Why not?

cheongdo map

We got off at the Cheongdo train station and then took a 10 minute taxi ride to the actual tunnel.  And we soon found out that it really is a wine tunnel.  It’s an old (108 years old) converted train tunnel that now stores countless barrels of wine, has a small wine shop, and lots of seating for visitors to sit down and drink some wine and eat some cheese. 

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It was a beautiful and hot day – a perfect day to go into a dark, musty tunnel and sample some wine. :-)  

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When we got inside, we found out that this wine tunnel only sells three types of wine – and they are all wines made from persimmons (aka gam in Korea).  Apparently this place sells the “only persimmon wine in the world!!!!” And we were only able to sample two of the three wines.  Bummer.  But I’ve never had persimmon wine before and it was pretty tasty.  It was light and sweet, but surprisingly not too sweet. 

No grapes?  Just use persimmons!

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The two wines we tasted: Gam Regular and Gam Special.  We preferred the Regular over the Special.  They also had an ice wine, but it’s very expensive and limited – so they don’t let customers sample that for free.

     We walked to the other end of the tunnel, but it was gated (where they store the barrels).  But they did have some fancy dancy light sculptures.  SAM_1553 Micah wants this for our wedding.  🙂

And lots of nice seating areas.  If it wasn’t so dark, musty, and dripping water randomly on our heads from above – it would be a great place for a party!

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It wasn’t quite the “winery” experience we envisioned and/or are used to, but we made the most of it.  We bought ourselves some wine and some cheese – and had a great time chatting it up.  About two glasses of persimmon wine was my limit – it started getting really sicky sweet tasting after that. 

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Sports Day aka The Most Important (not academically-related) Day of the Korean School Year

Earlier this week my school (as well as hundreds thousands of other public schools around Korea) celebrated their Sports Day.  It’s a big HUGE deal.  My teachers really did tell me that Sports Day is the “most important day of the year.”  Personally – I think they meant to say it more like how my blog post title is written above.  :-)  We see students walking home from school at 11pm – we know how it is.

All Korean public schools have Sports Day – unless of course there’s a swine flu “epidemic” going on at the time and your school cancels it (e.g. me and my school last October).  But for some reason, the once-a-year Sports Day went from a Fall activity in 2009, to a Spring activity for 2010.  Yay!

What is Sports Day?

Hmm…I can best equate it to what many schools in America called Field Day.  Where students compete in random activities that take place outside.  Think tug-of-war, relay racing, sack race, jump rope competition, etc. 

In Korea – Sports Day is like Field Day…on crack.

Here’s a brief rundown of my school’s Sports Day – which is basically identical to any other Korean elementary school’s day:

One thing to keep in mind: It was hot this day – like 84 degrees (F).  We were outside for the majority of the day (9am-3pm).  And Koreans (especially women) don’t like to expose their skin – any skin – to the sun.  So nearly every female teacher wore a full track suit (pants and jacket), huge sun visor, gloves, and bandana to cover the bottom part of their face.  They HAD to be dying of heat – but to see them in shorts and t-shirt would actually be more shocking.

Before school starts:

Parents of the students are setting up camp on school ground.  Food vendors too.  Sports Day is not just about students – it’s there for the parents (who are included in some of the day’s activities), and to impress other schools (principals of the area schools visit each other on Sports Day).

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Pizza, chicken, candy, ice cream – waiting for you.

The warm-up:

All students (1st to 6th grade) plus all the homeroom teachers and P.E. teachers line up on the dirt field and do a choreographed warm-up/stretching routine.  The students have been practicing this warm-up for at least a couple weeks.  They even cancel regular classes (like English) in the week leading up to this day – to practice.

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Hana, dul, set, net, tasot (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…)

  

The dances:

Each grade performed a dance out in the middle of the field.  This too was choreographed and the difficulty level (and embarrassment level) seemed to increase with each grade. 

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5th graders (above)

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1st graders – I think

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3rd graders – hula hooping AND doing the Macarena at the same time.  Mad skills.  Side note: Koreans are unbelievably good at hula hoop.

The Games:

Each grade is divided into two teams – blue vs white.  And each grade competes in some type of non-race related competition.  Whoever wins gets X points. 

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Part of my duties: keep score.  Not easy to do when you aren’t really sure what they are doing, when the game is over, and who the winner is. 🙂

The Races:

The students seemed to have the most fun with the races.  Again, each grade had their own races.  But there were also mixed-grade relay races.  Some of the races were as simple as a 100 yard dash.  And some required running to a certain part of the track, doing some obstacle, and then finishing. 

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One of the obstacles for the 6th grade girls was to find a particular person in the crowd and run to the finish line with him/her. 

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Eun Jin had to find “Lisa Teacher” to run with

And just like any activity involving kids and competition – there were LOTS of tears.  Of course, most of them flowing after someone finished last – or didn’t finish at all. 🙂

The Parents:

Throughout the day there were several activities for the parents.  (Many parents help in the planning).  Some were just for moms, some for dads – or in this case – parents plus teachers.  TUG!!!!!!!!

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I also realized that when it comes to “athletics” – parents in Korea can be just as intense as parents in the States.  Part of my job during the race events was to yell out who finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd (I know that much in Korean at least) for each heat.  Those students got a stamp on the hand indicating their place.  That’s it – no team points were based off your place – just personal satisfaction and bragging rights. 

Parents were constantly coming up to me with their little one’s hand sticking out – arguing that their son/daughter should have a stamp.  I’m confident I got the stamping order correct (at least 99% correct), but the moms were adamant I was wrong.  No use fighting it (as if they’d even understand me) – Ok…your son finished last? 1st place stamp for him! 🙂

The Cool Down:

Just as the day’s festivities started, it ended the same way.  Cue choreographed cool down and stretching.  But by this time, the students were super hot and super tired – and most parents weren’t paying attention anymore.  It lacked the luster of the warm-up.

Concluding this long post:

It was a really fun day for the students and for me too.  It was great to see my students outside of the classroom and just having fun.  Many of my students tried to converse with me and would introduce me to their parents (which usually resulted in very confused-looking parents). 

An added bonus – I had the next two days off from school!

Micah’s school has its Sports Day next week. 

Field trip day!!

Last week I was invited to join the 6th graders on an all day field trip to Andong (about an hour and a half north of Daegu).  We loaded up on the bus at 8:30am and off we went.

The students were surprised/happy/couldn’t care less that I was coming along.  But it was fun for me to see them out of their normal classroom element and try to have somewhat of a conversation small fragmented talk with some of them.

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1st stop:  Rest stop.  The rest stops in Korea are massive – and always filled with lots of other tour buses and people.  As soon as the buses parked, WHOOSH! – the kids were racing to the convenient store to fill up on ice cream, candy, and Korean snacks. 

2nd stop: In the city of Andong – to a Korean paper factory.  There is a special type of Korean paper called hanji.  It’s very versatile.  Not only is there beautiful hanji paper, but also hanji lamps, hanji fans, even hanji clothes! 

The students quickly learned about the process of making hanji.  However, since everything was spoken in Korean – I basically observed – but got the gist of it.

hanji making

Making hanji paper:

  1. Collect the wood (bark, perhaps) from these special trees and soak them in really hot water.  It stunk in this room.
  2. Dry them out.  They sort of look like noodles.   Yum, noodles. 
  3. (I think I missed a step) – these men then took wooden frames and basically collected the small broken down pieces of this wood (like pulp) and pressed it into big sheets.
  4. The big sheets of almost paper
  5. Then these women would take each individual sheet and attach them to what was essentially one huge, hot iron.  This dried the paper super fast.

Students then got a chance to make their own hanji paper.  Basically a very scaled down version of step 3 only.  So, of course I got in on the action as well.

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Shake it back and forth and you’ve got some hanji my friend.  Perfect technique!

3rd stop: Hahoe Folk Village – it’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s a village that has preserved the architecture and original structures from back when it was constructed in the Joseon Dynasty.  Think old…very very old.

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Students from many schools around Korea were visiting the village this same day.  And it was an unusually HOT day.  All of the students were complaining (even in English) that they were hot/bored/hungry/tired. 

We walked around to many of the different buildings and learned a bit about the history of the rulers at the time and the way of life.  It was a little difficult for me to understand and keep all the names/dates straight.  Honestly, the students were SUPER bored and could care less about the history.

Finally (even for me, I was getting hot and hungry too) – it was time for lunch!  Each student brought their own lunch.  I was told I didn’t need to bring a lunch.  Apparently, for such a school outing like this, the students’ parents make food for the teachers to eat.  Nice! 

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Yummy lunch.  But limited variety.  Five different rice-foods, fruit, kimchi, and waffles?

The best part of this leg of the trip were the cherry blossoms!  You might recall that I recently went on an all-day trip to check out a cherry blossom festival…and there were no cherry blossoms.  But at Hahoe, check this out!

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Last stop: Back to Jincheon Elementary School.

The funniest moment of the trip:  The large buses we took were equipped with a flat screen TV and satellite cable.  The teacher on my bus decided to flip around and find something the kids would want to watch.  She accidentally flipped to the Korean “erotic” channel.  It was hilarious!  The kids were screaming and giggling.  Fortunately, it was pretty tame (a man and woman under the covers laying next to each other).  But, as she was trying to change the channel…she had to flip through about 10 more “erotic” channels before getting to something 6th grade appropriate.  


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