Friday, April 27, 2007

Off to China! Back in a week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kitchen Trials: I have acute counter space envy syndrome.

(My kitchen in its entirety!)

A group of us get together every Wednesday to watch a couple of movies after work. We also indulge in various American dishes, thanks to the generosity and cooking ingenuity of someone in the group. I never thought I'd have such good dining experiences centered on the mighty toaster oven! Since Ryan, Ben and I don't get out of work until 11pm, we are usually just on consumption end of things. But this week we have a bunch of cancelled classes because our students have midterm exams for their real schools. I stepped up to the plate and offered to make dessert. Without an oven (or toaster oven) of my own, my options were limited from the start. I decided to make a caramel sauce to go with sauteed apples and ice cream. After two months of being in Korea, this was actually the first time I used a stove for purposes other than heating water for tea.

I piled up tonight's dishes in the sink along with the dishes from the past couple of days (I'm living alone, don't judge me!) and got organized to wash dishes. I started to put the soapy silverware in a bowl on the counter to create more space in the sink. The bowl wasn't deep enough and flipped over with a knife in it. I quickly stepped away from the flying silverware and put my foot down right into the box of strawberries that I had purchased earlier. Smush.

This white sock ruining experience provides another reason why kitchen life is better with more counter space and a normal size refrigerator for the proper storage of fruit or a squishy reminder that I should be more careful. To defend myself a little- strawberries here are delicious and relatively cheap. I've been buying large styrofoam boxes of strawberries and am freezing bags of them for fall and winter. The box won't fit into my refrigerator and when I'm doing dishes I don't have anywhere else to put it but on the floor...

At least the caramel sauce is delicious.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech

There is a lot of concern in Korea about the Virginia Tech shootings, given that the shooter was Korean. The other teachers and I have addressed the situation in a few of our classes. In general, our students say they are ashamed about what has happened. Some students expressed concern that Bush would want to attack Korea and that there would be negative political consequences. Others were worried that Koreans in America would face discrimination and would need to leave Korea. We tried to reassure them that the American public and the press are not angry with Koreans or with South Korea...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Kids Write the Darnedest Things

My greatest source of insight into the lives and mentality of Koreans comes from my students' essays. I admittedly get tired of grading essays all week long but I value the opportunity to learn more about my students. Most of them are pretty shy in class and so I'm often surprised how they are in their essays. Since my life is not all that exciting at the moment, I've decided to start posting excerpts from my favorite essays.

Beating kids is acceptable in Korea, not only by parents but by teachers as well. Stress positions are also used when students act up. One of my students told me that last week his entire class had to hold their chairs above their heads for 30 minutes because they had all misbehaved. For an essay on why is love important, one student wrote, "When a teacher hits a student, that teacher has love for the student." When asked if physically punishing children is acceptable, 7 kids in a class of 10 assented. Here is part of one of their essays: "If the parents just talk to make their children to know their mistake, it is good way to make them spoiled. They might listen to their parents at that time but they will not realize the seriousness of their fault and do not regret. That is the reason why we should punish the kids physically so that they can look over their everyday lives and they can know the real emotion of parents that they are very angry and disappointed about what their children have done. Hitting method is great way to make the kids to realize that they have misbehaved... Kids have to know that their parents are not scolding them to make them feel angry or frowning, but they only want their little babies to be more successful than any other children from different families." Although I'm generally one for accepting and accommodating cultural differences, I have difficulty with the idea of parents beating their kids. I doubt this will change.

One boy said that family is the most important thing to him because they're the only ones he can truly trust. He wrote that everyone else is just his competition (including friends).

On the importance of rules and laws: "If we don't have laws, we will be free. But we are not safe because people can do something dangerous. O.J. Simpson is a person who killed his wife and his wife's friend If there was no law the world will be filled with people like O.J. Simpson. It will be dangerous for innocent people. Even though we might have done nothing wrong, we might die."

On the changing role of women in Korean society: "Korean women's desires have changed through the years. In the past, their hopes were to have a well grown healthy son and their family's honor. But in the modern society of Korea our hopes have stretched out further and higher, like being successful ourselves, going to a good college and having a satisfying job."

I'll post more excerpts at the end of the week!

Monday, April 09, 2007

I had a loosely formed plan to get out of Cheongju over the weekend. I didn't have to teach on Saturday and wanted to take the opportunity to go away for two days. I was looking forward to seeing the "eight wonders" of Danyang, which are supposedly very lovely. I say "supposedly" because I was unable to verify this for myself. I didn't get up until noonish on Saturday and by the time we got to the bus station at 2, the next bus to Danyang didn't leave until 4:30. So much for my superior planning skills.

We ended up going to Wonju instead to visit one of Jason's friends. Wonju looks exactly like Cheongju. Not exactly what I had in mind. I tried to convince myself that the weekend could still be redeemed if we did something on Sunday. After waking up at noon again on Sunday and having a leisurely (but delicious) breakfast, we didn't get moving until 2. Jason's friend Chris has a car and he was willing to drive us to Chungju to see some sites. The maps we had were poorly labelled and Chris preferred to take random turns instead of stopping to figure out where we were. We made it to the top of some mountain before we stopped to get our bearings. A Korean gentleman came over to help us and he did no more than tell us to go down the hill and ask someone else for directions.

We eventually found our way to the grouping of sites that I wanted to see. The first one we found was the "Placenta Chamber of King Gyeongjong". No joke- this was the chamber for the placenta and umbilical cord of a Joseon King. The chamber was first established on the site in 1689. Here's more information from the marker: "During the Japanese colonial days, however, the Governor-General of Korea destroyed the royal placenta chambers throughout Korea, removing only the emptied eathenware pots to the Changgyeong palace. The Japanese ulterior motive was to obliterate the spirit and energy of the Korean race. King Gyeongjong's placenta chamber was not an exception. The relics that had been scattered far and wide were recovered and returned to their original sites in 1976. A royal placenta chamber restored to its original state like this is a very rare case: hence, it is a valuable cultural material."

Next up: Monument of Daejiguksa in Eokjeongsa Temple. This is the monument for Daejiguksa, a Buddhist priest of high virtue who lived at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, erected in 1393.

This house was just down the driveway from the temple:

I was most excited for the 3 story stone pagoda and this is what it turned out to be:

If it looks like it's 8 feet tall, that's because it is! As you can tell, it's also in the middle of someone's field. This is the house just next to the pagoda:

Although not exactly what I envisioned for a sightseeing trip, this weekend still provided good exposure to a different Korea than what I've seen so far. It was refreshing to see that many people in this country still live very simple lives.

Monday, April 02, 2007

At some point I will own up to being lazy about posting. I'd much rather this flaw be the reason I haven't written anything for awhile. But since this blog is about documenting my experiences- and not just the "glamorous" ones- I'll admit that it has been an emotionally tiring week. A week that has inspired me to wonder why the hell I'm in Korea and so far away from my family and friends. I have a couple of people here that I can talk to so at least I'm not totally alone. Going to Seoul for the weekend was a good distraction and things are looking up this week.

In order to celebrate the departure of one of our friends, a group of us went to Seoul for the weekend. After teaching until 6 on Saturday, I took the 75 minute bus ride up to Seoul. An hour on the subway brought me to the love motel where we were staying. How much explaining does the "love motel" require? Rooms can also be rented by the hour and various accessories are available for purchase. In this one, the bathroom door was a glass panel with an etching of a naked woman. Slightly sketchy, yes, but also the cheapest accommodation option in a very expensive city.

We're not that deprived living in Cheongju, but there's something about going to Seoul that inspires carefree spending and indulging in anything foreign. Some people have to get their Starbucks and Thai food, others need T.G.I. Fridays and a good haircut. Whatever it is, and accounting for drinks, covers and cabs, the Sunday regrouping encourages the counting of leftover Won and the nursing of big bottles of water. And of course, we come to the conclusion that it's all worth it.