Monday, August 24, 2009

Silver Birch and Maple Syrup

Well, we did it. We packed up our home in the land of the morning calm, and said our tearful good byes. It was much harder than we thought it would be. I knew I would be sad to go. But when it came time to start the goodbyes- I realized I was going to be a mess.

We ended our time at Yale with a night at the noray-bang (singing room). I wish everyone could experience a noray bang. It is soooooo much fun. And it's infectious. As soon as the music starts, and someone starts singing, then soon everyone is up singing, dancing, shaking the tamborine, and jumping around. It is just such a good time. We loved every second of it, but it was heart breaking to think that this would be the last time we would experience this kind of fun.

On our last day in Korea, we went to our favourite coffee shop for one last visit. The shop is called At Home, and really, it has been like a second home. We have sat in there for hours, drinking the best coffee we have ever had, talking about our jobs, life, and future, watching Seo Young (the 5 year old daughter of the owner) sing and dance around the shop, and communicating with the sweet girl who owns the shop using what little Korean we know, the little English she knows, and a lot of sign language. We told her we were leaving the next day. She started to cry, so did her friend (who we had never met by the way)....this led to us crying as well. We took a photo, hugged and started to go. Suddenly she produced two presents from behind the counter. She had heard we were leaving and had prepared gifts for us. This touched us so much.

In the afternoon, we squeezed in a swim/wade in the river near our apartment. It was such a nice way to spend our last afternoon. We watched the kids splashing each other and trying their best to catch the small fish. The cool water was very refreshing!

Later that evening, we joined our friend and manager, Eun Ju for some smoothies and muffins. She has been a life saver for us. Numerous times she has redirected taxis, given advice, and shown us around. Korea would not have been the same without her and we were happy to have had that last chance to spend some time with her. Our coworkers and friends joined in later on, and we all moved on to one of those hidden wacky bars that Korea is famous for. We have spent a whole year in this neighbourhood, yet never knew about the bar we visited that night. This is typical of Korea! So many hidden gems, you will never find them all.....and you have to remember to look up. Anyway, this bar specialized in beer served in humongous glasses. This was the perfect ending to the most unique year of our lives. Wacky beer in a wacky bar, served by an even wackier man....all enjoyed with friends and many laughs.

At 5 am we lugged our bags down our road, found a taxi and began the long journey back home. One bus ride, and two plane rides later, we arrived in Toronto airport, feeling like zombies and not smelling so fresh, but happy to start a new adventure.

Our first few days here have been filled with family, friends, settling into a new life, and trying to ease the heartache for the life we left behind. We miss Korea terribly. But its not going anywhere, and there is always the opportunity to visit or teach there again in the future, so that makes us feel better.

It's been wonderful to see our friends and family again. We look forward to a year of adventures and misadventures in the land of the silverbirch.......but does anyone know where we can find some kimchi??

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Farewell Korea

It is now 4:54am. We have not been to sleep. In the next hour we will leave the apartment that has been our home for the last year. We will take a taxi to the bus terminal. We will take a 1 hour bus to the airport.... And then, we will say goodbye to Korea.

It has been an indescribable year. A life changing journey, full of challenges and celebrations. We have met so many truly amazing people and experienced things that we had never before dreamed of.

This is not the end, we still have many stories to tell. Stay tuned! Maybe once the smoke settles after we have returned home, we will find the time to relive some of the adventures that we have had over the last few weeks while we have been too busy to write!

Thank you Korea! We love you! And, we will miss you!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Hey, this is Brett.

As a teacher every now and then you have the pleasure of teaching a class that is all those things that you wish for, respectful, humorous, hard working and friendly.

There is one class at Yale whom I have had the privilege of teaching since I arrived in Korea. They are called Admire, and are a third grade middle school class which makes them about 15 years old. They are also among the top level students at Yale.

When I began teaching them they were a class of lifeless, soul destroyed teenagers. They were overcome by the pressures of the Korean education system and the fact that it was 9pm, they had been in school all day and were now expected to read and answer comprehension questions on American history. The material they were working on was equivalent to what a grade ten student would be studying back home. For fun they got to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which although amusing to English speakers, contains so many nonsensical words, that it was almost impossible for them to comprehend.

I knew I had to do something. My first goal was to get rid of their current text books, and then to introduce some more interactive activities and conversations. It did not take long for these students to start to come out of their shells. I started to see their hidden personalities that were laying below the surface. Week by week they became more open, happier and more talkative.

As a reward for finishing our absolutely horrible reading comprehension book we held a Monopoly party. Completely against school policy, this turned out to be the most successful lesson I have ever taught. I modified the rules so that if they spoke Korean I could fine them! For 45 minutes these students were actively speaking English in a real life context, and enjoyed every minute of it.

These days, I laugh more during their class than at any other time throughout the week. These kids make me laugh more than anything. They tell jokes and banter with each other in English. They tease me and I give it back to them. Their wit is quick and clever and they are not too proud to joke about themselves if it means getting a laugh from the rest of us.

I cannot take credit for their ability, they have done that on their own, and they are amazing. They are who they are, and who they are is awesome! I am proud that I was able see past their tired eyes and create an environment in which they could be themselves and enjoy learning.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lifting King Kong

You may remember that way back in March we were involved with the filming of a Korean movie. We spent a fun filled day as extras in a movie portraying the story of a Korean weightlifting champion and his prodigies. Well, the epic tale has now been released and after months of anticipation we were looking forward to finally seeing ourselves on the silver screen.

We knew that the movie would be in Korean. We didn't mind. We haven't had any clue what people have been saying to us all year, why should this be any different? The lady at the ticket counter tried to make it very clear that the movie was in Korean. The young guy who took our tickets was also adamant that we should know that it was a Korean film. I wanted to say "Look man, don't you know who we are? We're the stars of the bloody show!" I knew it would just be lost in translation, so I did what I always do, nodded my head and said "nae" (Yes, in Korean).

So we took our seats and as the movie started we realized we were the only people in the theater. We had the whole place to ourselves which made it easy to analyze/criticize the movie out loud.

The opening credits began to roll and we watched intently. We thought we got a glimpse of ourselves but we couldn't be sure. Anyway, we sat through the movie knowing that our big part was in the climax of the film. The tension was building. Finally, it was our time to shine. There we were, in full digital colour, on the big screen, for everyone to see.... for exactly 7/8 of a second. We were so proud. And, I can honestly say, we did a great job!

We may not have left our mark on the Korean film industry, but we are treated like movies stars by the locals in our neighbourhood anyway, so that is good enough for us.

Here is the trailer. If you look to the left of the screen at about the12-13 second mark, you may catch a glimpse of one of your favourite Canaussie Karaoke characters. (Glasses or contact lenses may be required)

Monday, August 10, 2009


If there is one thing that I will miss more than anything else when we leave Korea it will be the Orange store. An Orange store is any store with an Orange sign. Obviously, that is not their real name but if you simple say "Orange" people know what you are talking about. These stores are different restaurants but all basically sell the same food. Cheap, quick Korean food. I guess you could say it is Korean fast food! These stores have been a saviour in times of need, a lifeline, a hangover cure and institution for us and most foreigners here in Korea.

The menu includes most standard Korean dishes, bibimbop, kimchi jiggae, bulgogi dup bop, mool nang myung, ramyeon, dukbokki, dongkass and kimbob. Prices range from about $1 for a kimbob (seaweed/rice roll) to $3.50 for beef stir-fry and rice. Generally we can both eat for a total bill of between $5 and $6. All meals come with complimentary sides of soup, kimchi, pickled radish and various other unidentifiable delicacies ranging from nuts to small fish.

Orange stores are everywhere!! There are three (that I know of) within walking distance from our school and they are open 24 hours a day! This makes them a great place to fill you belly at 4am after a heavy night of drinking!

For our first few months in Korea we were packing food to take to work. We soon discovered that it was cheaper, more delicious and easier to just eat at Orange. So that it is pretty much what we have done 3-4 times a week ever since!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Favourite Thing About Korea

Hey all! Cindy here.

Something that is noticeably different between Canada and Korea is the physical affection that people show towards each other. This was something that caught our attention right away, and has lead to many long discussions about how we wish we could convince our own countries to behave this way. In Korea, it is not uncommon to see men holding on to each other as they walk down the street. Teenage boys often have their arms around each other as they wait at crosswalks or slowly walk the streets downtown. Mothers and son's of all ages hang on to each other in the grocery store line. Girls not only hold hands, but also buy "couple rings" or matching outfits. I have had my hand held and my arm caressed by an older lady at a store, who simply wanted to say hello. This is a very different culture. And I love it.

When I teach primary children in Canada, I often see them cuddling together as they read a book, or holding hands while I am trying to teach a math lesson. But by the time these same children reach the age of 10, this has disappeared. They make fun of anyone who dares to hold hands. They cannot even share a pack of crayons without negative teasing from the children around them. This has always made me very sad.

Last Saturday, as Brett and I stood in the hallway of our school between classes, we watched four of the big 16 year old boys from his class happily find places on a bench in the hallway. The first boy then linked his arm through the second boy's arm. AND THEN the third boy put his arm around the fourth, and started playing with his hair and patting his head. The fourth boy rested his head on the shoulder of the third. These boys are 16!!!! And they are not afraid to show friendly affection to each other. They sat there cuddling, and studying for the entire ten minute break. I imagined the chaos that would result from such a scene in Canada. It would be quite a big deal. But here in Korea, this sort of thing happens all the time. It is completely acceptable.

When I return home to Canada, it is going to actually be strange to see people walking down the road together without holding hands. It is something I am really going to miss. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in the world could hold hands, or hug each other without it becoming something negative? Think of how different things would be if we could teach our boys that they can be kind and affectionate, without it being a sign of weakness. I think it would change everything.