Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's in a Name?

The students at our school get to choose their own English name. Although we don't condone it, these are some of the more interesting/ridiculous that they have come up with...

Mohammad Ali
James Bond
Mr. Egg
Miss Money Penny
Mr. Hamburger
Captain Hook

As you can imagine, saying "Mr. Egg, sit down and stop being silly!", feels a little insane to say the least.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Hey there! Cindy here.

Here is a funny story for you: Do you remember Tom? The student who brought his hamster to school? Well, this week his homework assignment was to send me an email about his family. Most assignments are done on paper, but I was trying to do something a little different. Yesterday (the last day to submit the homework), I received an email from Tom saying "Teacher I can't do my homework because I do not know your email address".

Another thing that made me smile yesterday- I understood my first Korean sentence! The miracle happened at the grocery store. An employee was explaining to Brett that one of the things he was looking at cost 3000 won, while the other thing he was looking at was two for 3000 won. I nearly did a happy dance right there as I told Brett what the lady was saying. The fact that I understood the sentence has nothing to do with the many hours we have spent at Korean lessons. All the words the employee used I had learned from my students at school. Maybe we should have the students run a class for the teachers!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stairway to NOWHERE

Hello! Cindy, here.

Last Sunday we decided we would conquer a local mountain known to be a challenging hike. Palgongsan Mountain attracts both people looking for a good hike, and those wanting to pray to the large Buddhist statue at the top. Like any other destination, going to Palgongsan Mountain took some planning. Some research revealed that we would need to take two subways and a bus.

Our early morning start reminded us of what it was like to have to get up before the sun. It felt very familiar! It was that same sluggish feeling I had felt every morning as I headed to my classroom in Canada. Oh it hurt! I have been spoiled by many mornings of sleeping in until whenever I wake up. I don't have to be at work until 4pm in Korea. 6am felt horrible.

We know the subway system very well, so taking two subway trains was no problem. However, we have never taken a local city bus. We emerged from the subway and began to search for the bus stop listed on the internet and in Lonely Planet. No luck! We looked on both sides of the street, wandered for blocks. We saw many buses, but there was no sign of the bus we needed or the bus stop. Unfortunately, in Korea we cannot simply ask someone for directions. Out of desperation we hopped onto the Daegu City Tour Bus. This is a bus that takes tourists to local hot spots. Palgongsan Mountain is one of them, and we are even though this cost more, we figured it was better than continuing our “Where's Waldo” like hunt for the city bus. The comfy seats, English speaking tour guide, virtually empty bus, and free nifty pen soon made us feel like we had made the right decision.

A short 45 minute nap later, we were at Palgongsan Mountain. As we climbed off our bus we watched the city bus pull up. It really did exist.....and apparently everyone in Korea had found it. The city bus was more than packed. A swarm of people burst out of the bus and immediately headed up the mountain. Oh oh. We had no choice but to join the swarm.

Climbing Palgongsan Mountain was like facing the mall at Christmas time. Except make the shopping isles very narrow, with stairs, and a steep incline. Oh, and give the very aggressive granny a walking stick to use as a weapon. There were small stalls tucked away on the mountainside with elderly people selling food or religious beads and candles. Some of these stalls were a fair way up, which means these elderly people climb the mountain daily, while carrying their wares! It took us one hour of climbing, pushing, dodging, and sweating to reach the top. We were surprised to see that all the aggressive grannies made it to the top as well....and so did hundreds of others. Everyone was there to pray to the large statue, Gatbawi (except us). Many people were on the floor crouched in prayer. We had to do some leapfrogging over them to reach the lookout on the other side.

After a walk down that was very similar to the climb up, we were happy to hop onto our comfy city tour bus. We decided to take advantage of the city tour and visit Dongwasa, the next stop. It is an area with some temples, statues and......there was a Maple Festival going on that day! We were very excited. Due to the many people heading in for the Maple Festival, our bus was stuck in traffic for 45 minutes. This gave us more time to nap.

We hopped off at the temples. They were fairly empty that day because all the action was down the road at the Maple Festival. After a quick walk around the temples and religious statues, we decided to join the crowd at Maple Fest.

We could not believe what we saw. Nothing! Nothing!!! That is what we saw! The Maple Festival consisted of ten tents selling the same things we see at the markets down the road from our apartment....socks, umbrellas, dollar store items, cheap toys. We were stunned. All the people were waiting in traffic for this? We are still baffled.

The five dollars we spent on the City Tour bus was the best five dollars we have ever spent. As we waited for our tour bus to come back, we watched as hundreds of people waited in two lines for the city buses that came about ever 15 minutes. No matter how many people crammed onto the city buses, it seemed like the line up was still just as long. The people at the end would have to wait for hours. Our City Tour bus stop was right beside the two lines waiting for the city bus. We were too scared to wait in the crowd, so we watched from across the road. When our bus approached, we quickly ran across the road, jumped to the front of the masses, and hopped onto our bus, while the hoards of people waiting looked at each other in confusion. It looked like we had our own private bus. We were two of four people that got on, laughing at the hundreds left behind. Suckers. Sometimes it pays to be a tourist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Waah... Not Waah"

Anneong Hasayo, Brett-ssi here.

Prior to arriving in Korea we were very keen to start learning the language. We purchased an array of Korean books, dictionaries and CD's and began partaking in the "do it yourself" coursework.

We have now begun Korean lessons at the YMCA in Daegu every Saturday morning. The 2 hour lessons remind us how hard it is to sit in a class and focus on a teacher rambling on and if nothing else, we are learning a lot about teaching through our experience as students.

After about an hour and a half I throw my hands up in the air in defeat. It makes me sympathetic of the students that I am teaching who have been at school all day and then come to English academy for another four hours at night. When I get them at nine O'clock they have been in school for between 8 and ten hours! Not to mention that they also go to school on Saturdays. No wonder they look at me blankly and fall asleep in class.

Anyway, back to Korean class. We each had to choose our own Korean name. My name in Gun Ho (which means enthusiastic and over zealous) and Cindy's is Min Sun. The class is made up of about 20 foreign English teachers from Scotland, England, Spain, U.S.A, New Zealand, Canada and Australia.

The Korean's prefer a very old-fashioned, wrote-style learning in their schools and our language class is no different. The teacher points to the Korean letters on the board, says the name, and then we repeat as a chorus of strange accents.

Typically it goes like this. Teacher says "Waah" and we say "Waah", then she will say "NO! not waah.... waah!" and then we say "Waah..... stupid language" and so on.

We can now quite comfortably say "hello, goodbye and thankyou", it is surprising how far you can get on those three words.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

First Impressions

We have now been in Korea for just over a month. We both love our apartment and our settling into our jobs and the Korean way of life. Our main impression of Korea so far is that it is a land of Paradox. A world of opposites and of strange goings on.

People: The reactions that we get form the locals varies a great deal. Most people just look us up and down with a look of disapproval while others will go out of their way to say “Hello”, take our picture and sometimes even bow to us.

There does not seem to be much individualism and most people have the same haircuts and dress exactly the same. Koreans come across as being fashion conscious although I am starting to wonder if it is more a case of they purely wear what everyone else is wearing.

One of the most fascinating paradoxes is to do with manners, respect and honor, 3 things that are meant to mean everything in Korea. You must take your shoes off when entering a restaurant, temple or home, ensuring that you are wearing socks so as not too show your toes but it is perfectly alright to make a very loud HOARKing noise and spit anywhere you want (even small girls do it). Although you must always address someone by the appropriate title, it is acceptable to elbow a grandma in the head while pushing your way onto the train to get a seat. Don’t worry, the grandma will be fighting just as hard and will elbow you in the head if she can. Girls must cover their mouths when laughing, but there is no need to cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing (which is why Cindy has a cold).

Food: Groceries are similarly priced to Australia and Canada although eating out is significantly cheaper. We can order a traditional Korean meal for two with complimentary soup and kimchi for between four and five dollars. There are many Korean barbecue type places where eating is somewhat of an adventure and you eat for between 7 and 12 dollars each. We are starting to realize that it is actually cheaper to eat out! And as beer is cheaper than orange juice, I guess we will have to drink more of that as well...

Location: We live in a the third largest city in South Korea called Daegu. We live in the area of Siji which is the 2nd last subway stop out of town. Siji is one of the nicer areas of Daegu and is home to a variety of restaurants, cafes and Hogwans (Private English School). Daegu is situated within a basin of mountains. We only have to cross one road before we are at the base of the mountains and an array of hiking trails.

Transport: Public transport in Korean is excellent! The subway system can take you most places that you would need to go. It is cheap (around $1), simple and there is a train approximately every three or four minutes.

There is a fast train that goes to most major locations in Korea. It is comfortable, affordable and leaves about every 20 minutes. The buses are equally as good, a little cheaper, not as fast, but just as comfortable.

I doubt that you would be able to stand on any corner for more than 30 seconds and not see a taxi. You can pretty much walk out to the street and hail a taxi instantly.

The only transportation issues are that crosswalks mean diddlysquat (nothing) and you need to watch for motorbikes, scooters, and bicycles on the sidewalk (all of which will be carrying up to five people). Grandma will not hesitate to run you down either, so be ready to jump aside.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Japan and Back in 48hrs

Konichiwa, Brett here.

Most of you would be aware that I have had more than my fair share of problems trying to get a work visa to teach in South Korea. The process started in March and after months and months of torturous waiting, multiple e-mails, numerous phone calls and hours of research, within two hours of receiving conformation form Korean immigration, I was on my way to Japan to collect my visa.

Around 6:30pm Wednesday night I received a phone call from our school saying that my E-2 number was ready and that they were looking into getting me on the ferry to Japan the next day. “Great”, I thought. Half an hour later the school called back and said “You should pack your bag, it would be better if you left tonight!”

At 9:00pm I was driven by the Korean foreigner assistant, Hong-Jae to the Daegu train station and at 10:20pm caught an express train to the port city of Busan. When I arrived at 11:30pm the two hotels that had been recommended were both full. I managed to find a dodgy looking establishment called the Seoul Motel, which wasn’t actually too bad, for 25,000won (about $25).

At 8:30 the next morning I caught the 3 hour Hydrofoil ferry to Fukuoka (Foo-co-ka), Japan. Upon arrival, I made my way to the Korean Consulate and handed over my passport to be processed. Fukuoka is a beautiful and serene city. The people are friendly, funky and well dressed. The streets are clean and there seems to be a peacefulness in the air.

The next day I returned to the consulate to collect my visa. At last! It was a lot of heartache for a little sticker!

After 48 hours, 6 trains, 4 buses and 2 ferries I returned home around 9:00pm Friday night, Visa in hand. It was a long time coming. I feel as though a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now I can begin to do what I do best.... shaping the young minds of Korean school children.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One Strange Day!

12:45am- go to bed

12:50am- complain to Brett about the mosquitos in the bedroom

12:51am to 6:29am- bbbbbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......swat at mosquitos, roll over, swat mosquitos, hide under covers, covers are too hot, take off covers, swat at mosquitos.....repeat.

6:30am-decide to give up and just get up. Note the four mosquito bites on/close to rear end. Think about how it is weird that mosquito bites are not itchy here.

6:31 eat healthy breakfast......feel proud of healthy breakfast

7:00-9:00- prepare for new class I am teaching today. I have to teach the Korean teachers how to teach writing. I was given no guidelines or book to follow. I was told to just get ideas from my brain. Realize I have no brain. Mosquitos must have sucked it out.

9:00- get really sick. Curse healthy breakfast.

9:05-11:05- accidentally fall asleep for two hours.

11:06- PANIC over missed time due to nap. Wake up Brett. Make fun of him for swearing he would be up by 8am.

11:07-1:00 Lunch, get ready for school, feel sick......curse healthy breakfast.

1:01 walk to school. Need coffee, coffee coffee...coffeeeeeeee. Have coffee. Feel sick. Curse coffee and healthy breakfast.

2:00 teach new class. They are VERY quite. Only one teacher talks. No participation. PANIC over no participation. Sweat through my shirt. Talk really fast. Explain how to make a lesson plan. Have nothing on my plan left to teach...look at clock, still 15 minutes of class left. PANIC! ummmmmmmmm.

2:45 go for tea with Brett......but restaurant has only korean writing. Take 15 minutes to figure out how to tell employee what drink I would like.....she says back "Oh yes a green tea mochaccino". Sigh.

4:10 teach class. A student tells me my hair is fluffy. Another one asks me why I am so tall. A boy named Harry tells me he never eats poo. No idea what to say to that.

5:50 teach class. Confiscate notes with drawings of guns on them. Teach adjectives. Confiscate eraser. Teach adjectives again. Confiscate shoe. Rearrange seating plan. Threaten detentions. Bell rings. Boy named Doughnut says "Teach-ah, I hav-uh da dentis right now" and smiles his braces at me. I say "Oh does the dentist hurt?" He gives me strange look and says "no-ah???"

5:51 see Doughnut go into the detention room. Realize he said he had detention, not the dentist.

7:00 Brett calls to say his visa papers are finally ready and he can go to Japan tomorrow to get his visa.

7:30 Brett calls to say that he is actually leaving tonight.

8:00 get home, help Brett organize. Korean helper comes over to help him do the application form and take him to the train station.

8:45 Brett leaves. Feel weird about being alone for first time in months. Sit on couch and feel sad.

9:20 Brett calls to see if he can borrow my alarm clock. Huh?? When asked how he would get my alarm clock, he reports he is still downstairs. Why? He doesn't really say. No longer feel sad. Think boys are strange.

10:00 dance to new Pink song.
10:02 dance to new Pink song.
10:04 dance to new Pink song.
10:06 dance to new pink song.

10:08 sing loudly
10:10 sing loudly
10:12 sing loudly and dance

10:14 body reminds me I have been feeling sick all day. Curse healthy breakfast.

10:16 watch Korean television. Curse our stolen internet connection for not working.

11:00 need to eat but feel sick. SOMEHOW I manage to eat 3 Tim Tams. Poor me.

11:02 feel disgusted by old man clearing his throat and spitting over and over again somewhere near our window.

12:18 talk to Brett on phone. Miss Brett. But then remember I will have the WHOLE bed to myself. Think about how only my bottom will be there to get bitten by mosquitos. Feel annoyed.

12:19 internet is working! Yay! Write blog. Remember that tomorrow is market day and will need to get up early. Better go to bed. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Let the mosquito hunt begin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When it all gets too much...

When I get tired of looking at my food and trying to work out what it is, there is always..

When I can no longer deal with the day to day hustle and bustle of Korean life, Costco sells them by the 6 pack..

But when it all really gets too much, I can always go to the local supermarket and pick up some home grown liquid gold...

Or I can just head on down to my local Western Australia bar!

All I need now is Vegemite!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back to the Future

Hello everyone! Cindy here.

After a long lazy 4 day weekend of reading and wandering (oh and a butt kicking hike up the mountain in our backyard...but that is a different blog) I decided it was time to join a gym. The running thing is great, but I looooove going to the gym, and have really been missing it. There is a very flash gym just behind us. We had been in once before to have a look around. The lady at the front desk spoke enough english to give us prices and permission to look around. One of the personal trainers spoke english very well and explained the classes (they have yoga and dance weeeehooo) and answered our questions. So today when I headed off on my own to join the gym for a month and give it a try, I was a bit nervous but felt I could probably charades my way through the process.

Well, my little bit of nervousness increased when I entered the gym to find a different lady at the front desk. Ok, maybe she will speak english. NOPE. Not a word of it. So I gave my best shot at saying "one month" in Korean. She stared at me. I pointed at the one month price on the posted price list. She got what I was saying and handed me a form to fill in. I looked at the form and laughed and looked at the lady. It was all in Korean. The poor lady. She was checking in other guests, handing out towels, dealing with people wanting to use the spa, and at the same time she would now have to help me fill out this acting out the labels for me. She pointed at me and then the place for name, she pretended to talk on the phone and pointed to the place for my phone number, and then drew a house in the air and pointed to where my address goes. The rest of the form (the other 3/4) she did not even bother with. She then tried to indicate that my card would not be ready until tomorrow by pointing to a membership card and then tomorrow on the calendar. Ok, phew, I thought the hard part was over. I knew how to get up to the fourth floor to work out........BUT...... no, it just got worse.

The very nice desk lady then handed me a workout outfit. What? I shook my head and pointed to the clothes I had on. She again handed me an outfit. It looked like a school gym uniform. Again I said no and pointed to my own clothes. She then directed me into the door beside the desk. Hmmm. I knew this was not the way up to the gym. Oh no! But I had no choice. The lady insisted that i needed to go through those doors. So in I went. And what did I see? Many naked Korean women. This was the spa room that lead to the sauna and hot tubs. And apparently Korean women are not shy. I decided it was time to just try to blend in. So I took off my shoes and wandered towards the lockers. A different employee started yelling at me and ran after me. Apparently I had done something wrong. I braced for the awkward confrontation. But she just handed me a key for a locker. I jammed everything in the locker, grabbed my gym shoes and socks, and then tried to find the way to the fourth floor. A lady started yelling "yogi yogi" at me.........I have heard that one before, it means "here", and she pointed at a hidden elevator. Success! I was finally going to get to the gym.

Walking into a room full of Koreans is always the same. They all stare. Some point. And I always have the feeling that the conversation is about me. The gym is no different. I do stand out. They all have the same colouring, the same hair, the same skinny frame. I am a jungle woman with curly hair who towers above them and is about twice as wide. However, this time there was something else that made me stand out. I was not wearing a stunning outfit fit for a Jane Fonda video. Seriously. About 70 percent of the women in there were wearing tight shiny nylons, a bathingsuit type work out bodysuit and legwarmers. I think I stared at them as much as they stared at me. Usually I am jealous of the fashions worn by the Korean women here. They are very stylish and inspire me to dress better. However, this time I was not jealous. I was in shock.

I picked a treadmill next to a woman dressed in regular shorts and a tanktop. I did this on purpose because I know I get distracted easily and working out next to a Korean Jane Fonda would just lead to me thinking about her outfit the whole time. This plan failed as I could still see some Fonda wannabes in the mirror facing my treadmill. One lady looked like she was ready to be in a skating show. I tried my best to keep running while observing the fashion show. I could see in the mirror that the ladies were talking about me, but I didn't mind so much this time. Maybe they were saying that I needed some nylons and legwarmers to complete my ensemble. Perhaps I'll return to Canada in a year with a whole wardrobe of Jane Fonda workout clothes. ;)