Thursday, May 31, 2007

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

In Seoul, much like in New York City, there are things going on all the time. This past weekend Rachel and I were lucky enough to attend one of those things that actually turned out to be cool, a "Lotus Lantern Festival".

Sunday morning we met a teacher of ours downtown so she could show us around, and tell us what the festival was all about. We got there and saw a very famous temple with the largest Buddhist statues I have ever seen. Lanterns were hanging everywhere. Parishioners of the temple pay to hang lanterns in their name, and families names, as to appease Buddha. They also hang white lanterns for the souls of family members that have passed on. Mrs. Lee explained it to me as "It's a good business move too." I really liked walking around at the festival because there was such an eclectic group of people there. First off, there were plenty of white people there, which was nice for a change, but there were also Russians, Europeans, Hindu's, Monks, and I'm sure many others. I saw two monks video taping the festival. Who thought there were "tourist monks"? Everything I know about monks, which isn't much, tells me that they don't have video camera's or go on vacations, but I guess I was wrong. After enjoying the different atmosphere we had other other things scheduled which we had to get to.

Mrs. Lee was also nice enough to make reservations for Rachel and I to join in the lotus lantern making competition. At first we just thought it was fun, but then when we heard there were going to be prizes, both of our competitive sides came out. They took almost 2 hours to complete, although Rachel did hers in much less time because she was anti-social during her creation process, but I was trying to meet people, so I took a little longer. But in the end we were both pretty happy with how ours turned out. But then something pretty crazy happened, a news crew came up, and out of all the people there, they interviewed Rachel. She thinks it was because her lantern was so good, I think it was because she was white, and finished while everyone else was still working. But whatever the reason that they chose her, it was pretty funny. Tons of people came over to take pictures, and a few days later she was on the 5 o'clock news...her and her lantern. My lantern was definitely not the best thing I've ever made, but after a rough start, I think it turned out pretty well. Neither of us won any awards, but making the 5 o'clock news has to be the best consolation prize possible.

A few days later Rachel recorded the news at my place. Here it is, enjoy her 5 seconds of fame, and do take notice that I am in the background of the first shot of her. Plus, get a look at the cool festivities from the festival:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Three Class Week

Believe it or not this week concluded my second month here in Korea.

I was all excited for this week because we had known in advance that Thursday was a holiday, Buddha's Birthday, and we didn't have school. Initially I was disappointed that the holiday wasn't on a Friday (who doesn't want long weekends), but I got over it quickly after arriving at school on Monday morning and hearing some more good news. I was told that on Tuesday there would be no classes for "Sports Day", and Wednesday there would be no classes for "Music Day". That's right, the four day work week turned into a 2 day party(or a three class week for me) in just a few, short, glorious, moments of casual conversation with another teacher.

Tuesday was a beautiful day spent watching kids play the "wave game", soccer, basketball, foot-volley ball, "snatch the hat Game", and "nonsense quiz game". What does all that mean? Well, it means I came to school, put on mesh shorts, and then went outside in the sun all day doing nothing but eating, drinking, and laughing. Oh yeah, and there was also a "teachers vs students" basketball game that I was recruited for. That was quite interesting because every time I touched the ball the entire school was screaming "DUNK IT!!!". Sadly, I only furthered along the stereotype that, in fact, white man can not jump. But I didn't even play my best either because I was so confused. I figured we would murder the students because some days I stay after school and play with them, and there has never been a close game, but playing with other teachers really threw off my game.
Why, you might ask? Well can you picture little children around the age of 5 playing soccer? What do you see? All of them following the ball, from one spot to the next, well that's how the teachers team plays defense during basketball. It was like I was surrounded by four chickens with their heads cut off. The long and short of it was that we ended up winning, despite my lackluster performance, by one basket...which just happened to be my basket in the final seconds. Haha, so lame, but so true.

Wednesday wasn't even a full day. I got to school and went into the gym to watch kids perform Karaoke for a couple hours, and then I went home. It was that easy. In at 8 and out at 11 with some good singing, bad singing, hilarious singing, stand up comedy and magic in the middle. I'm not sure I've ever felt more like I was in the middle of a tv sitcom, but it was definitely something I enjoyed seeing. I really need to get some video of this for you in the future. It was a definite MUST SEE!

And all of these cool events were basically a surprise to me. I never really know about anything in advance here. It's as if everyone just expects us to know things, but we don't, and then at the last second they say things like "yeah, there is a tv studio on the fifth floor. Didn't you know that?". No one did say that to me because no one has a high enough level of English to put a sentence like that together, but I thought it to myself on Wednesday after the Karaoke. The Karaoke performances were being recorded by students, so when it was over I followed them to see who got the tapes. They led me to the "Internet Broadcasting Room". It is basically a small tv studio; lights, cameras, computers, tape decks, tripods, and even a blue screen. A FRICKEN BLUE SCREEN. This is a perfect example of people not sharing things with us foreigners. Everyone knows I was a film major, but no one mentioned the fact that the school has film supplies gathering dust. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this new found discovery, but I hope to take advantage of it during my time here, and hopefully my faithful readers (you) will get a few more video's to watch because of it.
I'm sorry I slacked off a little on my posting. I was sick for about a week, but now I'm as happy to be healthy as this kid was happy the race was over. Rejoice.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Field Trip Friday

This past Friday our school had its first field trip of the year. Rachel, myself, Mr. Jong, and Miss Son were all put on the same bus. We had about an hour and a half ride to where we were going, but of course we got stuck with Rachel's worst class. We left Seoul and entered Incheon, which is directly west of Seoul. We were destined for an island in Incheon. To be completely honest it was another one of those times where we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into. Some people told me there were temples on the island, some said there was a fortress, some said there was mud, and others said there was absolutely nothing of interest, and we got shafted. But the bus ride wasn't so bad, I sat next to Miss Son, who I thought didn't speak much English. Well, it turns out she's just quiet because we talked almost the entire ride there. But where were we going? Some teachers told me they were going to Han River, some to mountains, and others to see Spiderman 3, but I hadn't gotten a clear answer as to what was on our island. Ironically enough, our first stop was at an army fortress memorial from a war between America and Korea. I walked around hundreds of Koreans in a place sacred because America attacked it, or as the memorial put it "America instigated the war". I don't know why we ever thought we should be fighting this far from home, but it almost seemed surreal. The good thing was that "ironic", usually a hard word to grasp, was able to be understood by almost every teacher there within moments. Yup, I'm always working.

We did not spend too much time at the fortress though; our second stop was not too far away, at some Buddhist temples. It's always neat to see these types of things but it was nothing too special. What I liked about it most was that there were high school kids everywhere, drawing. I just thought that was kind of cool. Not my high school kids or course, but others, from an art school. That was nice, oh yeah, and our awesome lunch, that was pretty sweet too. We just found a nice spot in the woods and all the students carried the food to it.

Our third stop of the day was by far the best, and most eventful. We went to the beach, but not just any beach, the "Mud Flats". Yeah, I didn't know what to think of it either, but it was really pretty cool. In this area of the shoreline, during low tide ,the water retreats, but instead of leaving sand behind, it leaves mud. I'm not too sure as to why that is, but it's pretty cool. It's pretty amazing how far the water retreats, some teachers told me that it can be dangerous when the high tide starts coming in; if your out in the mud too far you can drowned. When you're not drownding though, the mud is supposed to be very good for your skin. And our students made sure to test out that theory.

After an interesting game on the shore, that I'm sure would not be legal in America (that you can see above), our students started getting interested in the mud. And when I say interested I mean, they started throwing kids in it, or throwing it at each other. None of the teachers seem to care at all. It was as if we were all just watching it on TV. There were kids being dragged into the mud kicking and screaming, but we just watched and laughed. We definitely did a lot of laughing. Mud throwing, mud wrestling, mud sliding, and whatever other things you can imagine you could do with mud, our students were doing it.

A quality field trip, I hope you enjoyed it too...more pics in my picasa photo album (as always).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

First Fun Fact

So I've realized that I can't type something long everyday, but I don't want to keep having big breaks in my posts. So, I've decided to do a "fun fact" type of thing.
Fun Fact #1:
I wear shoes to school, but then when I get there I put on sandals. All teachers where sandals at school, during school, and not necessarily nice ones either. I bought simple shower sandals, and three other Korean teachers also have the same pair.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Exams Week

Last week of school was the type of week you dream of as a teacher. It was exams week. On exams week there is no EBS (English Broadcast System) period, so I got to go in 45 minutes later too school (or more importantly, sleep 45 minutes longer). Then during school there are no classes to teach (YAHOOOOOOOO!). There are only 3 periods of test taking. Usually I had to proctor about one test a day. All that intailed was standing around looking at kids take tests. But I like to walk around to make them nervous, and mess up. Haha, just kidding, but I do. Then after the three periods you eat lunch, and the rest of the day is yours to do as you please. And yes, I pleased to do a lot.
Okay, Monday was the badminton tournament. I had been looking forward to it for over a week, I had big plans. But the head of the English department planned a special lunch with the foreign teachers after school, so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it to the tourney. After airing my greivences with my badminton club (it helps to have friends in high places), they told me they would push off my games, and it would all work out. So "Big" Paul, Rachel and I went out to eat with the head of the English departement around noon on Monday. Up until that point I thought this man was just a normal quiet guy. After he slammed two bottles of Soju, smoked a cigaret, cigar, and pipe at the tabe in about an hours time, lets just say my view of him changed, just slightly. And anyone who knows someone who likes to drink, you know they make sure they're not drinking alone, so I had to join. A few beers later I was off to the Badminton tourney. Being a little tipsy made me nervous that I would make a fool of myself in front of all my new badminton friends. Well, that fear was quickly dissolved when I walked into the gym full of flying shuttle-cocks and saw the table of food, and yes, DRINKS. Since I was late I was thrown right into the action. 5 games later I was the undefeated champion. I'd like to say I'm proud of that, but it was in group B. Due to some scheduling problems I was not placed in group A. The problem being that there were only 6 people in group A, that makes three teams. 7 people doesn't work, and I think if I was going to take someone's place in group A it might have been the principals spot, and NO ONE is going to do that. So it was awesome plowing through group B, but everyone agreed that next time I would be a group A player. That was Monday.
Tuesday was my second mountain climbing experience. We went to Boo-kan-san mountain, one of the most famous mountains in South Korea. It was a much bigger mountiain then the one we hiked on our first trip, and much harder too. There was no Snickers break on this hike, no Soju on the backside of the mountain, no easy way out. It was a good tiring hike up, but to be honest, the hike down that kicked my butt. It was like an hour straight of stepping down at a 45 degree angle, onto large, sharp, rocks. And while everyone else there is wearing big thick hiking shoes, of course, I am wearing an old worn out pare of Addidas. It was an hour of thinking "don't get hurt", "don't fall", "don't die", or something of that sort with every step. But I made it down, and I'm happy I did it (yet, also glad it's behind me though too). Wednesday was spent allowing my feet to recover from the climb.
Thrusday, I took my first trip to Cosco. It was amazing. It was like a western culture oasis in the middle of Seoul. There were muffins, ground beef, steak, forks, large towels, and much more. My head was spinning, it was like I wanted everything. Inside people even said "excuse me" to me when they wanted to get by (usually because I was druling over some food). Can you believe that? Well, I bought plenty of stuff, but I will be back again sometime soon.
The trip to Cosco on Thursday was needed because Friday I threw a housewarming party. An event I think all teachers were secretly looking forward too. I had pleny of food and drinks for everyone. In all I think around 15 teachers came, although there were never 15 people there at one time. But it is a Korean custom to bring a gift to someone's house when they invite you, so take a look at this gift list: A large knife, a cutting board, a pot, a pan, plates, cups, spices, a trash can, chocolate, tissues, toilet paper, and a stand-alone clothes hanger, with hangers. Besides all of the gifts, it was a huge success as a party. I think everyone had a really good time. It was a great ending to Exams week.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Road Trippin'

After a fun filled night with some new friends, the next morning I woke up at 7 AM on a SUNDAY to meet up with my friend Stella. I would have put up a huge fuss about the meeting time, if she spoke English, but phone conversations with here are short and to the point. Where and when, then yes or no, not much room for debate. She wanted me to join her on a road trip to some Buddhist temples in Deajong, about a 2 hour car ride away. I didn't totally know what I was agreeing to at the time, but it is much more of an adventure that way. Basically I was meeting with her, and we could have been going to a junk yard, but thank goodness, we weren't. It was a beautiful day, and it made me realize how much I missed being behind the wheel of a car. There is something about listening to music while driving that I find so enjoyable, but sadly I no longer own a car, or even have a Korean drivers liscense for that matter, so it will be some time before I experience that pleasure again. If you could put the peddel to the metal while blaring some Journey for me the next time you get behind the wheel, it would bring a smile to my face. Okay, so Stella and I were enjoying the open road when we finally saw the mountain we were heading too. I still had no idea what was coming, but when we pulled up there was a female monk waiting for us. As a joke Stella told me it was her mother, but jokes from people who know don't speak how good english well, really just mess with your head. Then we walked into an apartment building, or what looked like an apartment building, went up to the second floor, and wham! We were right in the middle of a Buddhist ceremony. We sat down on pads laid on the floor, and there we would stay for what seemed like an eternity. I thought it was too rude to look at my watch, so I can't give you exact times, but I felt like I sat there, Indian style, for 2 months.
For the rest of the time Monks chanted, beat drums, threw rice, people prayed, lit candles, bowed, stood, and bowed again. I didn't know what the heck was going on. The entire time we were just faced towards these walls of paper, until the time of the ceremony where they tear the paper down to expose one huge golden statue of the Buddha, and like a million little golden statues of some other icon. Besides being uncomfortable some of the cool parts of the ceremony were when they brought this string around, having everyone hold a peace. Then they wrapped the end of it around the statue before cutting the string you were holding. Stella told me the string is like an Angel, that's a simple translation, but I'm sure it's something like that. Also, after the ceremony we ate dinner right there on the floor we were just praying on. It was a good meal, and all the food was just blessed, so I think it had to be healthy. After the meal was over everyone helped clean up, and then Stella and I went to the mountain to see some famous temples. Overall it was a really interesting day. I certainly felt out of place at times, but I'm starting to think that isn't such a bad thing. If you don't put yourself in different situations every once in a while, everything you do will seem the same.

That should be the end of the story but sadly I was introduced to another very common occurence in Korea...the car accident. Korean drivers are well, lets just say I don't hear anyone calling them the best in the world. I think Stella seems like a pretty good driver too (despite all the driving stereotypes that work against here: Asain, woman, etc..), but with that being said, we did get into a fender-bender on the ride home. Everyone was okay, but I thought you might all want to rubberneck at the damage.
Their Damage.

Our Damage

Friends of a Friends Friend

Thanks to a friend I made back at Penn State, Karen, I have been emailing with another English teacher out here in Korea for about two months now, Amanda. She seemed like an extremely nice girl in here emails. You know, the type of girl who writes novels when all you ask is "how's the food?". She'd give you a detailed breackdown of the Korean food pyramid, serving size, price, and last but not least, taste. Well, we finally got to meet when she visited Seoul a little over a week ago. She brought another friend, and her Korean cousin. It is always a nice little treat to be able to talk freely in English with people, without repeating yourself, or having to dumb down your speach like you're talking to a 5 year old. Especially new, fun people, and it doesn't hurt that they were girls either. We met in downtown Seoul and I think it was pretty much fun at first sight. It only took minutes for us to be making fun of each other. Them making fun of New Jersey, and me making fun of wherever they were from, they are places not worth mention on a classy blog site like this. We walked around a little, shared some laughs, saw some sights, went to dinner, got ice cream, and then went out for drinks. Thats basically the night in a nutshell. The highlights were pretty good though:
-Cold Stone Creamery: Yes, after dinner we didn't get just any ice cream, we got Birthday Cake remix's, Berry Berry Good's, and Korea's favorite, Green-Tea Bagger's. First off, you have to understand that Korean food is not sweet, I'm not sure they even knew what sugar was before the white man came. All of there "desserts" taste more like flavorless gum, that was dropped in the dirt, then actual desserts. So visiting the most overly indulgent ice cream chain on the planet over here, was not so much a "kid in a candy store" type scenario for me, but more like a "fat kid who has been starved down to skin and bones allowed into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory" type of scenario. Their ice cream concoctions are so delectable I actaully felt like I had gotten the golden ticket. In the words of Ferris Beuller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."
While ordering Amanda tried to be a "friendly American" (I want to say ignorant, but I like her) by leaning over the counter and saying "In America they sing for us when we leave a tip" (but there is no tipping in Korea, so she didn't know what to do). The eyes of the high school aged girl lit up behind the counter, "Sing? Song!" Then her and her coworkers bursted into song (Amazingly in English) about Cold Stone Cremery sung to the tune of "Meet the Flinstones". Because we all started laughing so hard I didn't catch too much of it but for the final line, instead of "We're a modern stone-age familyyy" it was "While you eat we sing in harmonyyy". We were the only people there who could understand it, but we got a big enough kick out of it for the entire line of Korean people there. Only later did we realize we could laugh even harder while still eating our ice cream.
We sat on a bench, on the piano street when a group of college aged girls sat on a bench across from us. Well there was one too many for the bench and the one that got stuck squating showed her crack to roughly 1000 passer-bye's in the 10 minutes she didn't hear us laughing at her. Our stomachs hurt by the end of the night, and not from the ice-cream. Who knew half of a Korean butt, shown in an extremely public place, could have been so funny. I joked about taking a picture at the time, but now I really wish I would have.
This was a nice day with some good old American fun.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A Lazy Sunday

It's just a lazy Sunday and I had planned to do a lot of blogging today, but my good friend Karl ruined all that for me. He sent me a link, but not just any link, a link that will forever change my life, and yours. Instead of reading my blog today check out this sight: With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility
Thanks to this little site I watched an entire season of Entourage, and because Rachel was over, the final episode of Sex in the City. But it also has the whole first season of Saved by the Bell, 24, lost, and Extras just to name a few. Please take a look at it for yourself, and then thank the lord that you know me; a person that has a friend who will scavenge the internet for anything instead of studying.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish!

To anyone who actually reads this drivel of mine I like to call a Blog, I am sincerely sorry for being out of touch for a week or so. If I had any readers I'm sure the numbers have plummeted to a lonely 1 or 2 of you. But for those lucky few of you that are still out there, I have some entertaining stories for you. So enough apologies and lets get down to business.
This past week or so has been a wonderful one. I need to start back on last Thursday. Some teachers were getting together to go out for a special dinner. It was only teachers that have desks in a certain area of the school; them and Me of course. My desk is not with theirs, but my presence seems to be wanted in every group, club, or social gathering at the school, and you will not hear one single complaint about that from me :) Well, with hindsight being 20-20, maybe I can find a tiny little grievance in there somewhere.
It all started out with an innocent little invitation, "Would you like to join us for dinner?" Who turns down dinner? Not me, not you, no one in there right mind. So of course I said "yes". Later I was told we were going to a wonderful "fresh fish" restaurant. Instantly my mind was filled with beautiful pictures of finely cooked salmon, lobster, and shrimp. All nicely cooked, seasoned, and presented. Well, that's what was in my mind up until the walk there. "Fresh fish" what does that mean to you? It's one of those moments where you hear what you want to hear. I heard "fresh fish" and thought about unrealistic western meals, when reality hit me on the walk to the restaurant... I wasn't surrounded by westerners who like what I like, I was walking with a bunch of Koreans who, day in and day out, eat things off our school lunch trays that I don't even allow the lunch ladies to place on mine. "Fresh Fish" all of a sudden sounded a lot more like "Raw Fish". If you are reading this thinking "Of course fresh fish meant raw fish, how could he have been so stupid" well then you are just sooooo smart. Pat yourself on the back, but when you eat from meal to meal not knowing if you're going to like what you get, you jump at the chance for a nice meal out (especially on someone else's bill), and it was that excitement that clouded my judgment. Silly me, maybe, but I think you might have made the same mistake.
So we arrive at the restaurant, and they bring out two huge plates of nicely cut raw fish. It actually looked quite delicious. The presentation was beautiful (sorry no pics though, my mind wasn't with me at the moment). It was small strips of three different kinds of fish all laid out together over a mound of clear noodles. I was almost eager to try it when Rachel dug in first. From her response I was able to figure out two things quickly: 1. The "clear noodles" are not clear noodles at all, but clear plastic that only look like noodles, and were just there for decoration, not digestion. And 2. This wasn't going to be an easy meal to swallow. I ended up wrapping the fish in lettuce, and gulping it down with only minor discomfort. I kept telling myself how much my brother and Jimmy would love this meal, and pay out the wazzoo for it in New York, and that I can like it too. But it had only just begun. After we had picked away at most of the pile of fish, they brought out some special dishes, or as I like to call them "vomit inducing" dishes. It was more raw fish, but with some extra gross added in. Me and Rachel tried some at the same time and nearly vomited in unison. The final portion of the meal was then ushered out and I was more then a little excited when I saw steam; steam meaning something had to be cooked. But then upon closer inspection I was grossed out for the third time. While the first two courses of the meal could not have been cut with a finer knife, or presented in a more appetizing way, this course appeared to have been prepared by a bear who mauled the fish to death before dropping them in a pot. I'm indebted to the bear for at least dropping them in the pot, but seriously, why can't they put the two together? Nicely cut fish, with boiling hot water...Wham! Cooked fish without bones, eyes, or scales. Nope, they had to go the other way, it has to be pretty and raw, or ugly and cooked, you can't have your cake and eat it too. (You can check out more pics on the Picasa Photo Album) But really, I'm one for making the best of a bad situation. I gathered up all of the uneaten fish from the first course and dunked it in the boiling hot soup. After only seconds me and Rachel were at long last able to enjoy our own wonderful little dinner of nicely cut, and cooked "Fresh Fish".