Saturday, May 31, 2014

Things My Students Say

This evening, I've thought about a few of the things my students have said that have surprised and/or entertained me. Here's a sampling.


- Bob, an older man who works every day (except for holidays) once said, when we were talking about regrets: "My biggest regret in life is that I got married."

- Steven, a younger man (in his 20s, maybe 30s, it's really hard to tell with people here) has mentioned, at various times, the following: "I got married because I thought that's what people did when they got to my age. I didn't realize they had a choice! So now I tell single people: DON'T GET MARRIED!"

Plastic surgery:
- Isabel, a very sweet, older woman with a contagious laugh, once mentioned this when we were discussing physical appearances: "Both of my daughters had plastic surgery. They used to be ugly, and now they're both so-so."

Mr. Bean:
- One of my students last term, Potter, is a happy, portly ten-year-old. He's very energetic and knows what he wants. One day, I showed a Mr. Bean clip in class to introduce the topic for the day. Potter, almost every day afterwards, would request that we watch a Mr. Bean clip. Here's an example of one of those conversations; if you dare, you can listen along by clicking here:

Potter (at the beginning of class): "Teach-ah, Mist-ah Bean please."
Me: "Potter, we can't watch Mr. Bean every day."
Potter: "Ah, teach-ah, every day Potter want Mist-ah Bean and every day teach-ah nooooo."

At this point, he covered his head with his jacket and leaned helplessly back into his chair. Poor little diva fella.


Don't get me wrong, I have plenty challenging moments here, but I love gems like these.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How to Break a Rule in Korea and Get Away with It

I've discovered the secret, folks.

Basically, if an ajumma says you can do it, it's okay.

Ajumma: An older Korean woman. Typically travels in packs with other ajummas (I suspect there are ajumma gangs that have turf wars with competing ajumma gangs...we'll save that discussion for another time). Likely has brightly colored clothing, a smart perm, and a fashionable visor.

I can't take credit for this, but can.
So there I was on the subway, sitting down. The train had gone two stops from my point of origin, and there were very few seats left. The train doors open, and four ajummas rush in. One sits in jumps into an empty seat by me. "YUH-GI!!!" she shouted. I suspect that she was the pack leader, because one of the ajummas immediately and obediently sat down.

Yuh-gi (여기): Over here, over there, come here.

Two ajummas remained standing on the train, so I stood up to offer my my seat. "YUH-GI!!!!" the permed gang leader shouted. Seconds later, my seat was taken. One of the gang members (I have a feeling she's the sweetheart of the bunch) said "thank you" (in English, I should note) to me. I looked around to see several glances of approval for my noble action of standing up. If only they knew that, in the US, what I did was considered basic gentlemanly behavior...but I liked the positive attention, so I went with it.

As I stood, I glanced over to my left to see that a different ajumma was beckoning me to sit by her. This would not be blog worthy if this woman wasn't in THE SENIOR SECTION. At either end of any train car are six seats that have a different color from the other seats. It's obvious that there is something different about them.

And there is. If you sit in one of these seats without being:
  1. Over the age of 55
  2. Pregnant
  3. Mobbed by your five children
You will, on your best day, get a month's worth of stink-eye from the train passengers. You may even get scolded.

I found myself in a dilemma. Do I sit in the forbidden seats or risk offending the ajumma? I went with the former.

Guys, this is so stupid, but I felt like I was in a limo.

The ajumma, at one point, excitedly said, "I go! Spelling?" So I spelled it out on my hand, with my finger, several times, until I felt fairly sure that she either I had misheard her question or that she wasn't really listening. It was still amusing. And did I mention I was in the senior seating?

It's the little things.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Teacher's Day and the Cascade that Almost Wasn't

Last Thursday, I experienced a phenomenon known as Teacher's Day. On this holiday, students bring gifts for their teachers.

I wasn't aware of this holiday, so it came as a surprise to me when my students brought me these:

Two boxes of chocolate, two carnations, and a peppermint bark bar
These chocolates are crazy.

It was very kind. I felt undeserving of the gifts but devoured them nonetheless.

Also on Thursday, I went with my coworkers to a place called Yongmasan to see an artificial waterfall. Yongma Falls is said to be the tallest artificial waterfall in Asia. Well, it turns out that it's also only open for business during certain hours...otherwise the mountain is completely dry. We happened to come by when the falls were off. Not to worry, we managed to get jumped by these children:

We went the following day, and behold, the waterfall was on. I can't say it blew me away, but it was worth the visit.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


This past weekend was the Golden Week here in Korea, meaning that the weekend was extended by not one, but TWO national holidays: Children's Day (May 5) and Buddha's Birthday (May 6). I took advantage of the time off by taking a train from Seoul to Busan.

Busan and Seoul are in opposite corners of South Korea.
The trip was a grand adventure from the start. I had somehow convinced myself that the train that my friend Eugenia and I were taking was departing at 1:45pm. It was actually scheduled to leave at 1:15pm. Had I been more attentive of this, I wouldn't have eaten lunch at such a leisurely pace...

I discovered my mistake at 12:30 (yep, 45 minutes before the train left) while I was walking back home to finish packing. Yes. I was not yet all packed. Guys. I'm the person who's at the airport 2 hours before take off. I'm the dude who spent 3+ years corralling large groups of people, rushing them to the airport, and checking them in so we could make it to our destinations on time...WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?!

Anyhow, I got to the station JUST in time to see the train pull away. KTX (the Korean high speed train) waits for no one, so I met Eugenia, apologized profusely, found out the only tickets left were more expensive tickets on the next train out (otherwise we wouldn't have been able to go to Busan), apologized even more profusely, got the ticket, and waited for the next train. Eugenia works at a different location is Seoul from me, so it was nice to have some extra time so that we could catch up.

First class on a high speed train wasn't too bad either.

Busan is about 280 miles (450 kilometers) from Seoul, and the trip took about 2.5 hours.

When we arrived, we were met by Cierra, a friend from school orientation who works in Busan; Sahil, another orientation friend who works in Daejeon; Leona, Cierra's roommate; and Melody, Leona's friend who came to visit.

Most of Friday night was spent at the Trick Eye Museum, an optical illusion museum in Busan. This place gets five stars for cleverness.

Cue picture overload.

Whatever. I was tired of bumping my head anyway...

...On second thought, who needs a head when a head can be eaten?

One thing I noticed about Busan is that people are not as hesitant about approaching people as they are in Seoul. Take, for example, this waitress, who told us that she wanted more foreign friends.

Swapping phone info with Cierra...apparently, they've already gone to a noraebang together.
On Saturday, after chowing down at a church lunch, we headed for Yongkung Temple. Yep, another Buddhist temple. If you thought the last picture blitz was crazy, just you wait.

Chinese zodiac statues

The Ox and me

Buddha's Birthday lanterns

Temple by the ocean. Amazing.

Good luck nose rub

Basically the same as the last picture, except I'm in it, just in case proof is needed.

I'm not sure what the story is with those domes, but they look amazing, and that's all I need to know.

The trip back from the temple was daunting. A lot of people were waiting for a bus back to town (the nearest subway station was about a 30 minute drive away). We waited for 15 minutes, saw a jam-packed bus pass us by, and decided that we were better off walking closer to civilization to hail a cab...this walk ended up being a mile plus journey, and we'd already walked quite a bit. On the way, we ended up meeting this great Korean family that spoke some English. They were super friendly and changed the experience from an inconvenient ordeal to a pleasant time.

On Sunday, I went to church, met a very excited (and flighty) person, evaded a drunk, and joined my friends for the day's activities. We heard about a fortress called Geumjeongsangseong. Located up in the mountains, we heard that the fortress loop trail took 3.5 hours to hike, so we decided to check it out.

It turns out that the 3.5 hour time can be applied to horses, but not people. We made it a quarter of the way around the fortress in that time.

Still, there were some pretty great views:

East Gate

We saw this wall, and about 10 minutes later, we lost sight of it. We felt sure that we must have taken a wrong turn until we saw...
Ladies and gentlemen, Busan.

We met some random folks from Uzbekistan and one of them had an idea to take a picture with all of us. "Memories!" he said.

North Gate
Alright, the views were spectacular.

We went down the trail to Beomeosa Buddhist Temple.

We found several amazing lanterns; I'm guessing they were there for Buddha's Birthday.

There comes a point in life wherein a person realizes that his blog post is going on for a LONG time. At that point, the person becomes fairly basic in his descriptions of what happened over Golden Weekend. Such will be the case here.

Later that night, we went to look at Gwangan Bridge.

Onward to Monday - we made our way to Haeundae Beach. I really enjoyed this day. The weather was perfect, and I ended up joining in a few games. I played catch with a kid, tossed a frisbee around with a few guys, and played netless volleyball with a group of exchange students. I find that I enjoy playing sports more if it happens sporadically.

Oops, forgot. Basic descriptions.

First, beach.

Then, Dongbaekseom Island, where the 2005 APEC Summit was held.

APEC Summit room

Next, seafood.

Seasoned eel. A bit expensive, but tasty.
Finally, Mr. Cho.

This man approached us and talked with us for about 45 minutes about the same number of topics. It was awesome!
Monday was pretty relaxing, which is what we needed after the prior two days.

Tuesday, I packed, made it to the train station (with plenty of time), and went back to Seoul, but not before ordering up some seafood bibimbap.

This trip definitely gave me a desire to see more of Korea. What an amazing place!