Sunday, April 26, 2015


So cat cafes are pretty common in Korea and other parts of East Asia. Heck, it looks like the US of A is jumping on the kitty-wagon.

But did you know that Seoul also has a dog cafe? It's true! The layout is similar to that of a cat cafe (minus the cats). You pay a fee, get something to drink, and meet the locals.

Location: Hapjeong in Seoul

"Lady, we do what we want."


The big ol' malamute and me.

"When are you people leaving?"

Lani joins the fun.


This Irish Setter was just a good old dog. He plopped down beside me and we spent time swapping life stories, and then he complimented me on my choice of socks.

It sounds like Seoul has a plethora of animal cafes, and not just for dogs and cats...I've heard about a sheep cafe and even a raccoon cafe. Maybe one day someone will open a rat cafe, though I don't imagine that going over well...

Monday, April 20, 2015

[A Belated] Farewell to Keondae Yeok SDA Institute

In March, I celebrated a few things. I had a significant birthday in that I bid my twenties adieu and invited my thirties to come in and listen to my Outfield and *Bastille Pandora stations (the thirties accepted). I celebrated my year mark of teaching in Korea. I also started a new job in a new city, and my former director was kind enough to drive me, and my belongings, to my new place. The conversation we had on the way included gems like this.

Me: "Pastor Kim, I really appreciate you taking me all this way. It's over an hour of driving!"

Pastor Kim: "No problem. I have to do it. School policy."

Oh P. Kitty. You won't soon be forgotten.

Speaking of not wanting to forget people, I want to use this post to talk about some of the people I got to work with, mostly so that I can refer to this post in the future.

When I worked at the institute, I taught kids and adults. I'll focus on the kids in this post. I worked with most of these lovable terrors (not and large, they were pleasant children) for between two and six months, and darn it, I miss them more than I thought I would.

I sense that it's my duty to define some vernacular and other stuff that will follow:
  • Phonics - 1st/2nd grade students
  • Sponge - 3rd/4th grade students
  • Trampoline - 5th/6th grade students
  • Ace Maker - Middle school students
  • Note that most of the names I write are the kids' English names, not their given names.
*Let it be known that I occasionally listen to music that is not from the 80s.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was my Sponge class. Let's start from the top row going from left to right. In addition to (hopefully) making it easier to identify who's who, it also allows us to start with a bang. And start we shall.
  • Leo - I mean, look at him. He could blast off into space at any moment. If that doesn't work, he'll just run out of the class, hoping you'll chase him (but he comes back). Leo was a smart kid. Really smart. And really loud. I'll always remember him with pizza (he called it pizza bread) in his hand while he screamed, "TEACHER BREAD-EUH I AM EATING YOU!!" Hopefully I'll forget the times he tried to dong shim me. If you don't know what that is, I wouldn't go through the trouble of looking it up.
  • Fabian - Also really smart, quiet, just a good kid. But what was the inspiration for his English name?
  • Jerry - Friendly, smart kid. One of the taller students in the class. That's all I got.
  • Della - She was a shy girl, but she seemed pretty happy.
  • Anna - Also really smart. The reason that she isn't looking at the camera is that she's probably pondering about the long-term effects of urbanization...or maybe she just didn't know that the picture was being taken.
  • Emily - The same girl with the veggie straws in her mouth is the same girl who brought a skateboard to class. A bit aloof at times, but still a cool girl.
  • Dennis - He'd always answer questions with a hopeful grin on his face, and it was always awesome.
  • Peter - Okay. These students are memorable, but Peter was my favorite. He was constantly happy and excited in class and always willing to participate. His enthusiasm was contagious.
  • Taylor - Or Tyler? I was never quite sure.

Here is the ever-energetic Phonics class. These seven balls of energy are:
  • Captain - He wore that taekwondo belt every single day, and I think he was always ready to spring out of his seat and fight. He never did, but he was an energetic character for sure.
  • Kan - This guy brightened my day, and I'm not sure he necessarily meant to. He'd constantly raise his hand and scream,"I KNOW!" in a high voice, and I never grew tired of it.
  • Top - Funny kid, awesome name and shirt.
  • Alex - Alex was a wild card. Some days, he was really energetic to a polar extreme. Other days, he was exhausted to the other end of the spectrum. But I liked him.
  • Ghost - Seriously. These names. Ghost was just a good, smart kid.
  • Hunter - Hunter was an awesome character and I really enjoyed being around him. I think his pose says it all.

One of the Trampoline classes.
  • Potter - This kid was why this class has two photos posted instead of one. He was one of my favorites and there are so, so many stories to share about him. He was hilarious, smart, and really friendly.
  • Andy - Andy was just a good kid who I was glad to have in class. No drama, and he seemed happy to be in class.
  • Chan - Really shy kid. Whenever he raised his hand to answer a question, it was monumental.
  • Jun - A nice kid, mellow and a bit goofy.
  • Brenda - She started off as being too cool for class, but I think she calmed down as the term went on. Partner in crime with Elly.
  • Elly - Quite a bit like Brenda. They were basically Thelma and Louise.
  • David - He was a good kid, very smart. He was a new kid in a very dynamic class, so I'd imagine that he had quite a few "where the heck am I" moments.
  • James - Incredibly smart and really well-behaved. Ideal student and just an all-around pleasant human being.
  • Harry - Clever kid, though he looks a bit sullen here. Sometimes he tagged along with Thelma and Louise (Brenda and Elly).

Another Trampoline class.
  • Alex - Clever, smart, sometimes too cool. A few students called him "Panda" earlier in the year...what do you think? Resemblance?
  • Tom - Tom was the strong, silent type most of the time, but he could also be pretty fun.
  • Ryan - Ryan was a really smart kid. He was a newer student. Hopefully he can make some good friends in class.
  • Julia - Julia was also a really smart kid, and she was just a delight to have in class.
  • Rachel - She was really shy, and English wasn't her favorite subject, but her confidence rose a bit between the beginning and end of the term.
  • Clara - Rachel's sister! And her story is about the same.

For some reason, there was only one student in this Trampoline class who wanted to take a picture. Perhaps she was immune to my BO. (Jokes. I use deodorant. Old Spice, in fact.)
  • Judish - Does anyone know any Judish's? I checked the Googles, and the only people with that name come from India. Granted, India is a huge country with over a billion people, so maybe you do know a Judish. Point is: I'm not sure how this student chose this name...anyway, Judish was a very smart, often outspoken student.

Yet another Trampoline class. This one was by far my favorite, and yes, I know teachers shouldn't have favorites, but I've mentioned the word "favorite" a few times here and I'm not about to go back and delete them. #laziness
  • Simon - Hilarious, and so unashamedly full of personality. Just awesome.
  • Andy - Cool and really smart, but still nice. Just a really confident kid.
  • Jessica - A diva in the best way. She would break out into song at different times in class, and it was always endearing.

One of my evening Ace Maker classes.
  • Kaylee (standing in the back) - She was so sulky about being in class, it was comical. But she's a teenager, so let's cut her a break.
  • Jane (sitting in the back) - Nice and shy, she was a good friend to Kaylee and helped her feel not as destitute in my horrible class. 
  • Judy (double peace signs) - Great student. I also discovered that she's a fantastic artist during an activity when the students could draw.
  • Christopher - Awesome student. Smart, confident, funny. Judy and he had constant back-and-forth banter, but it was all in fun. I think,
  • Jack - He used to have more of a Bieber sweep in his hair...although I guess the Biebs doesn't really sport that sweep anymore. Anyhow, Jack was pretty quiet but he started to open up towards the end of the term,

Another Ace Maker class. These guys did not fit the mold of punk-teenage-I'm-over-this-ness. They were so much fun.
  • Dennis - When I first met Dennis, he was really shy. He hit a growth spurt early, so I think he felt a bit out of place (I feel ya, dude). Around the time I took this picture, he was one of the most confident students. Very impressive.
  • Ricky - A smart, fun, mellow kid. Just a consistent pleasure to work with.
  • Simon - He'd celebrate when he got answers right, and he'd go into this hilarious mini-meltdown otherwise.
  • Brian - Confident, always seemed to be positive and excited, which made the class positive and exciting.
And in case you needed to see some of these kids in action...

Power-lifting with Potter: If you can't think of the word, act it out.

Have you heard about Korean salt? Jessica and Andy can tell you all about it as Simon looks on. (Cameo from a former student, Benjamin)

Turn your volume down a bit for this one. Some of these students can get a bit competitive.

Of course, it wasn't all awesome all the time. Nothing is. But I'm glad I got a chance to work with these kids. I was genuinely impressed by them, and I loved seeing their different personalities.

안녕히 계세요 for now!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Philippines - Chapter Eight - Videoke, Bayside Breakfast, and the Author Who Finally Finished this Installment

Holy Toledo.

Initially, spreading my experience in the Philippines into different "chapters" seemed like a really good idea. After all, if I would have tried to document it in one blog entry, I either (a.) would have skimped out on many important...well, important to me at least...details, or (b) would have written the longest blog entry in human history (well, maybe not, but it would have been in the runnings). Perhaps this was the only way to do it, but for one reason or another (I was moving/tired/generally lazy), it took a long time. But, all's well that ends well, so let's finish this up!

There I am. I've just been dropped off at the Sofitel Manila. It's only because of a very nice friend with connections that I'm able to be here, otherwise, I wouldn't have been anywhere close to this luxurious biz. After checking in, I head up to my room and, for the first time in almost a week, I take a long, hot shower. I remember thinking beforehand that it was going to be blissful. And you know something? It was really nice.

But at that moment, I realized that it was also a luxury that I hadn't missed all that much during the week. For one thing, it was warm outside anyway. But the other, and to me, the more important, thing was that I'd spent so much time in the past week with enjoyable, giving, laid back people. I had such a good time with them that a weak lukewarm shower or a bucket shower didn't present that much of an inconvenience.

Good people > Luxury

Again, the shower was nice. And so was the view.

In fact, the sunset looked so epic, I thought that I'd better run down and grab a picture down by the water. I figured that I had some time before I needed to meet another friend.

On the way down, lo and behold, my friend was already there! I met Ricky Dela Cruz in 2012, when he came to the US as part of an ACYPL group along with others from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Marshall Islands, and Samoa. Ricky was hilarious and he told me I was welcome in Manila any time (are we seeing a theme with hospitality here?).

Anyhow, Ricky was there with a bunch of other friends. The group, including Ricky, were part of an organization for young elected officials called the National Movement of Young Legislators. As you'll see, there were a LOT of people from this group in attendance that night.

But first, sunset.

Then, dinner.

And what a dinner. This place had a buffet that was above and beyond amazing. Sushi, Indian food, a cheese room...I remember walking through and thinking, "Holy crap. I wish I were more hungry." But what I ate was awesome (Malaysian stew and maybe some curry and I think some sushi and's been too long).

Did I mention that there were a lot of people?

Not the whole group, but a good chunk of them. Ricky is to the left of the woman with the yellow scarf. Also, on the front row, third from the right, is Fritzie Aguado. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have been connected with such great people. Salamat po, Fritzie!

I should mention that many of these people brought gifts...I mentioned Filipino hospitality, did I not?

After wrapping up dinner, it was time for a little something the Filipinos call "Videoke". It's basically the same thing as karaoke in the US (instrumental music with the lyrics displayed on video). Like Korea, groups of people reserve a room and sing to their hearts' content. In keeping with this tradition, we went into a huge room and did not leave for four hours.

Other things I learned about Filipino videoke:
  • Not only are there tambourines like there are in Korea, but there are afro wigs.
  • People can smoke in these rooms. The smoke will stink up your clothes after more than three hours.
  • Sometimes people drink to the point of screaming into the microphone...perhaps that's an international thing.
It was a blast. Also, the collage below is from Fritzie.

Serious talent here.

Eventually (as in well past midnight), we returned to the hotel and I bid Ricky farewell. Ricky did a lot to make this trip amazing, and I'm truly grateful for that.

After a few hours of shuteye, it was time for some express laundry service for my smoky clothes, and then it was time to meet one more friend before heading back to the cold realm of Korea.

Carla May Bautista was a part of the same 2012 group I mentioned earlier. She is so full of character and drive...there's no other way to describe her than an absolute delight, in my opinion. She reminds me of many friends I had in high school.

We ate breakfast, told stories, and laughed for two hours. It made a beautiful morning even better!

After catching up, it was time for me to make my way to the airport. To my disbelief, the road to the airport was completely clear of traffic...definitely a first!

As I sat in the terminal, I pondered the past week. It was a perfect trip. Not too long, not too short. It made me appreciate so much of the convenience of Korea, but it also made me realize that, as I mentioned before, relationships are much more important than things.

Also, the beach...the sunsets...the underground pool...the fireworks...the roast pig...the singing...the warmth...what's not to love? One of the country's slogans is, "It's More Fun in the Philippines!" People, I whole-heartedly agree.

Ingat (take care) till next time!