Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon was constructed between 1794 and 1796 and is deserving of its status as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Except for the south gate, which is in the middle of a traffic circle, the fortress walls are continuous for about 5 km.

Paldalmun: the South Gate

Bell of Filial Piety: 3 rings for a dollar. The first ring shows gratitude to one's parents. The second ring wishes good health to one's family. The third ring is for the realization of one's dreams. Approximately 12.5 tons

Hwaseomun: one of the four principle gates

Boksumun: floodgate

Bonus picture: cute Korean kid

We also got to try traditional Korean archery with a bunch of kids ($1/5 shots). Michael and I were the only ones in our group to successfully hit the target.

We ended our day trip with galbi (Korean bbq) since Suwon is famous for its seasoned galbi.

Galbi: cooked over charcoals at the table. Normally, someone at the table takes charge of turning and cutting the meat (with kitchen scissors), but one of the servers did that for us here.

Pajeon: Korean pancake with carrots, spring onions and squid, normally served with a soy dipping sauce.

Tofu (very creamy texture)

We go out for galbi regularly in Cheongju and it's 7,000 Won per person (~$7). At this restaurant (recommended by our guidebook), the galbi was 28,000 Won per person- yikes! We were able to order just two portions and that was more than sufficient for the three of us. The meat was a higher quality than what we normally get and it was quite good. We were served a nice array of side dishes, including three different kinds of salad and a tofu seafood soup. After we finished eating, the server brought us chilled sweet fruit tea which was a nice way to finish the meal.

After our successful and enjoyable outing, we're more motivated and excited about our upcoming trips. I'm feeling pleasantly optimistic about all this domestic travel!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Performance Review

In my year’s reflection, I neglected to mention a not so small detail about my life in Korea: I have a job as an English teacher! Despite having no formal teacher training, I’m comfortable enough identifying myself as an English teacher here, but I probably won’t go flaunt that label to veteran teachers back home. At least I don’t have to coerce my kids into thinking that I’m some kind of authority; they identify me more often as “teacher” or “teacher Haley” than just “Haley”.

Calling what I do “teaching” may be a bit of stretch most of the time, but I do have moments of actual teaching. In general, I see class as structured practice time and me as the facilitator and resource for proper pronunciation, correct grammar, appropriate words and cultural insight about America. Of course, when I actually teach, I can evaluate how well I’ve done. I feel accomplished and satisfied when students demonstrate greater competency. When students don’t seem to learn anything, feelings of discouragement and frustration can lead to mild annoyance, especially when students repeat the same mistakes and make seemingly little effort to follow my instruction. Before essay time with the core students, I generally talk about writing rules, like not beginning sentences with “And” or “Because’. They nod their heads like they’re tired of hearing me say the same thing over and over and yet some of them forget my writing wisdom three sentences into their essays. I repeatedly talk to my advanced students about proper essay format and on using specific details to support their ideas. Some have improved their writing dramatically and consistently use the proper five-paragraph essay structure. The others…well, at least they look slightly less baffled when I talk about the necessity of thesis statements. All in all, it’s hard to gauge how much I have to do with a student’s improvement. I’d like to think I make a difference…

I’ve gotten better at explaining words and ideas. My drawing ability is still pitiful, but it’s improved slightly. I try to give precise definitions of words, but often resort to using the words in sentences so kids can guess the meaning from context. I never found this technique all that helpful when I was learning a language, but it’s hard to give good definitions. My advanced kids get their 30 weekly vocabulary words from a set of 2000 alphabetized TOEFL words. We had “eq” words last week. Try explaining the differences between equivalent and equation or equitable and equality. It’s tough!

I’m teaching 22 hours a week this semester and maybe do 4 outside hours of work. The work itself is not particularly challenging. How am I not totally bored with this after a year? The students. Based on the grouping of students, each class has its own personality. A certain group of students can consistently make a class enjoyable. Granted, there are those classes that drain me of energy and force me to exercise my vocal chords more than I’d like. I would obviously prefer a schedule filled with classes of smart, engaging students, but at least the variety of classes keeps things interesting and staves off boredom. When I started, I was very aware that I’d be going through the same motions for three different classes per night and time passed slowly. Gradually, I began to accept the routine and focused on enjoying my time with the students. That shift in attitude helped a lot, but admittedly there are still days when I get a deflated feeling from knowing I’m stuck in my classroom, smiling, for another few hours.

Of course, my job is more than just the teaching and the students. My current group of coworkers contributes to the positive and fun work environment. I would have been reluctant to stay longer if I didn’t like them all so much. As a demonstration of our camaraderie, we’re ordering matching Cornerstone jerseys. Woot!

I’m enjoying my experience in the classroom, but I haven’t been inspired to change career paths. I’m not a social enough person to enjoy the constant interactions with others. If I’m in a bad mood, it’s a challenge to stand in front of students with a smile plastered on my face for the duration of class. I’d like a better balance of working with people and working alone. Also, my personality isn’t perfectly suited to working with kids. I’m too serious! I’m fine with leading discussions but I’m not as good as the other teachers at relaxing and joking with the students.

Overall, working with students has been a highlight of my time in Korea. I’m looking forward to teaching for the next 6 months!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Series of Flowers

I'm only teaching 22 hours a week this semester and have lots of time to waste or alternately put to good use. In between research camel safaris in India and tea fields in Korea, I've been fiddling with some pictures on iPhoto and LiveQuartz. Here's what I've done so far:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward: One Year in Korea

As of today, I’ve been living in Cheongju, South Korea for one year. Let me share some of my reflections about my experience so far and my plans for the upcoming months.

This is the longest I’ve lived abroad and the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family. The holidays were distinct low points for me. Christmas in particular was challenging because of some unpleasantness with a Korean neighbor; this had the unfortunate effect of not only enhancing homesickness, but also of diminishing goodwill towards Korea. In addition, some family members have dealt with significant heath issues in the past year. These times have caused me to acutely feel the enormity of the distance between me and the people I love most. For the most part, however, the distance doesn’t bother me, thanks to Skype, Facebook and email.

I’ve gotten used to living here- I’m used to the food, the clusters of 20 story apartment buildings, and the heated floors in my room- but being used to life in Korea doesn’t indicate my level of satisfaction with it. I’m used to sticking out in a crowd and being unable to communicate with people. I’ve accepted these two conditions as part of the non-Seoul territory, but ultimately I find it dissatisfying to live so far outside the broader community. I don’t always feel great kinship with Americans, but at least I have the capacity to bridge divides and foster connections through a common language.

My biggest complaint relating to day-to-day life remains Korean food. Though there are some exceptions, I haven’t been impressed by Korean food and am disappointed with the range of foods and restaurants available. This situation is obviously far from ideal and is the main reason why I would never consider living in Korea long-term. Traveling has helped me distinguish my priorities; it turns out that the variety and quality of food is more important to me than I would have admitted before moving here.

I’ve accepted the fact that there are things about Korea and Koreans that will annoy me. For instance, my gym played Christmas music until the end of January. Did they not know what music they were playing? Or did someone really think it was a good idea to play Christmas music at the end of January? After a year here, I'm only slightly better at not dwelling on things that make no sense to me than when I arrived, like why our group of three is given only one bowl for the unlimited salad bar at Pizza Hut. (Upon request for additional bowls, we got one more). As quick as I am to utter a deep sigh about some aspects of life here, I recognize that these frustrations are a natural part of communal life and that I wouldn’t escape these trials just by living in a different place. Like any other country, Korea offers its unique set of challenges. Honestly though, I wouldn’t mind living somewhere where it is not socially acceptable to spit so freely or to clear one’s nasal passages in the gym showers.

As much as I grumble about Korea, I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had because of living here. I’ve had four weeks of vacation and enjoyed my trips to China, Taiwan and Japan. I’ve been to Seoul many times and have done some other domestic traveling. I practiced Taekwondo regularly for three months and earned a green belt. I’ve made some great friends. I live in a rent-free apartment and have been able to save money. Put into perspective, the overall balance of living here has been positive.

Originally, I signed a contract for 14 months, even though the standard contract is for 12. Sitting at home in Princeton, I didn’t think an extra two months was all that significant. However, I had serious thoughts about leaving early after my first few months here. Even though I’ve gotten used to living here, it should be pretty clear that I have not thoroughly warmed to Korea. And so, it may come as a surprise that I signed a contract to stay an extra 3 months at my job. Why would I do this? Excellent question. I may be asking myself the very same one next week. Though there are some secondary reasons, the main reason is simple: money. I know, I know. What happened to those romantic ideas of following my heart, my gut, my instincts, etc. etc.? I still have them- they're just being delayed for a few months. I'm in the early stages of planning a 6-7 month trip through India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China. After I finish with my job at the end of July, I'll go home for a few months and then will leave again after Thanksgiving. An extra three months in Korea will cover a significant portion of my trip, so the decision to stay longer is a practical one. That being said, I don't dread the next six months. Actually, I’m quite excited about having the extra time.

I plan to travel domestically as much as I can before I leave. I’ve found a few festivals that sound interesting, namely a bullfighting festival in March, a mime festival in May, and a firefly festival in June. I’d like to do a Buddhist templestay and hike the sacred mountains. I want to visit Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, and try traditional archery in Suwon. For my May vacation, I’ll go to Jeju, the subtropical island off the southern coast, explore the green tea fields in Boseong and walk through the bamboo forests in Damyang.

I want to see the best of Korea before I leave and I’m quickly realizing that I have a lot more to do!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tokyo: Tsukiji Market

If anything, one should be going to sleep at 4am in Tokyo, not waking up at such a time. However, I found myself doing just that on Friday, the last day of my trip. I woke up early in order to watch the tuna auction at the famed Tsukiji Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. I went with two Australian women I met at my hostel and unfortunately we didn't arrive until after the auction excitement had died down. We still saw the huge tuna set out on wooden slats on the warehouse floor and buyers hauling off their purchases with big hooks. After checking out the tuna, we wandered around the market before enjoying the freshest sushi I'll probably ever have.

A satisfying breakfast and end to the Tsukiji Market experience
Tokyo: Cat Cafe Calico

You can eat dog in Korea, so perhaps a cat cafe in Japan serves cats? No! While planning my trip for Tokyo I came across an article about the Cat Cafe Calico. It's a cafe (serving tea and coffee) where you can go to enjoy the company of well-groomed, well-behaved cats. Many people in Tokyo aren't allowed to have pets because they live in apartment buildings, so this cafe caters to a specific cat-loving, cat-deprived niche. A trip to the Cat Cafe was an embarrassingly high priority for me. I miss my cats and was more than willing to pay the 800 Yen (~$7.50) entrance fee to play with cats for an hour. There were at least 10 cats and they were all different breeds. Check out the cute cats!

Look at the munchkin kitty's stubby legs!

A Japanese woman from the hostel informed me that it is now a "fad" in Japan for cats to curl up in bowls. No joke- check out youtube. She had heard of the Cat Cafe before and wanted a full report on my visit.


Cat Cafe Calico has a website (you can check out short videos on the cats) but nothing was in English, so I e-mailed them for directions. They replied promptly and said they would have information in English prepared for me. When I arrived the attendants looked a bit shocked, but they quickly found the notebook with the rules written in Japanese and English. My favorite rule: If cat be hating, let it go.

Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tokyo: February 2-8, 2008

I enjoyed my September trip to Kyoto so thoroughly that I wanted to return to Japan and check out Tokyo. My academy was closed for this past week due to the Lunar New Year so I took off to Tokyo for a week. It was refreshing being in a big city and having a sense of possibility again. There wasn't enough time to do, see and eat all that I wanted to in Tokyo, but I felt satisfied by what I did experience.

I've grouped the photos by categories.

Traditional Images from Tokyo

Woman in kimono leaving the Tokyo National Museum

Gate at entrance to the Meiji Temple

Boy playing with snow at Meiji Temple

Couple having pictures taken at the Meiji Temple on their wedding day

Decorated barrels that used to hold rice wine, along path to Meiji Temple

Incense burner in front of small shrine

Modern Images from Tokyo

Night view of Asahi building

The chef head marks the beginning of a street dedicated to cooking supply stores

Shibuya street crossing

Creative teen fashion statement

Japanese school girls in their short skirts

City street in Roppongi

Back alley in Shibuya

If you want to eat it, you can find it. There are exclusive French restaurants, cheap ramen and yakitori shops and everything in between. To be tried on another trip to Japan: puffer fish.
100 yen=

Apricot chocolate Belgian waffle. I wasn't the only one who couldn't resist; I waited in line for ten minutes along with eager ladies-who-lunch and businessmen. 186 Yen

Pork ramen; I copied the Japanese blue collar workers and businessmen I sat next to and added sesame seeds and pickled ginger. 700 Yen

Tempura (fish, shrimp, lotus root and some other leafy green) at Tenya, a popular chain restaurant that specializes in tempura. 980 Yen, including the beer

Sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market. I'm not a big sushi eater, but this sushi was incredible. The tuna was so fresh and smooth. 5 pieces for 600 Yen

Whale meat. I was curious! It tasted like steak. Lunch set for 1200 Yen

Department Store Food Basements
The bottom floor(s) of the big department stores is dedicated to food. There are lots of different vendors and it's possible to buy anything from sushi, bento boxes, tempura, salads, and European cheeses to Belgian chocolates and French-style desserts. It's a great place for picking up reasonably priced dinner on the way home after a long day of shopping and sightseeing.

Imagine half a floor of a department store with display cases filled with desserts like these and beautifully wrapped boxes of chocolates. This is the visual delight of the food basements! The Japanese are excellent at copying and their chefs are masters at the Western cuisines. These desserts are as beautiful as any I've seen in Paris or Vienna. Individual desserts ranged from 3 to 6 dollars apiece.

Vending Machines
I've heard you can find pornographic comics, but I didn't see any of those machines. I also saw vending machines for newspapers and hot coffee.



Power drink!



Posted on the doors in the subway cars

In a bathroom stall

Shopping in Tokyo is enjoyable simply because there is a huge diversity of stores that cater to all tastes and levels of purchasing power. I found some international and specialty grocery stores in several different neighborhoods. I bought things that are difficult to find in Korea and impossible to find in Cheongju- wheat germ, Thai curry paste, fish oil, specialty jam, Ritter Sport chocolate bars, Haribo, Swiss muesli, Mound bars, Chai, and Twinings Earl Grey tea. I also bought clothing, two woodblock prints, a canvas bag, a pencil case, and assorted other little things.

I love the Japanese stationery stores and bought lots of cards like these:

The Japanese deserve to be recognized for their creative packaging. "Burger" cookies:

Figures made from handmade paper:

Things I did not buy:
One of the top floors of upscale department stores is usually dedicated to traditional Japanese items, such as lacquer ware, ceramics and kimonos. This kimono cost over $10,000 and it wasn't the most expensive one available.

Replica sushi magnets

Packages of instant ramen

Pillows found at Don Quixote, a somewhat trashy store selling anything and everything

Uniqlo, a popular Japanese chain with stores all over Tokyo, specializes in the basics. You can try on the t-shirts from the rack and then select the corresponding bottle from the wall if you want to purchase the shirt.

to be continued....