Friday, 31 July 2009

Kilju English Camp

I have made it to summer vacation.

The final stretch was English camp at my school this past week, which had me a little worried at first. Not only would my mother arrive in the country the weekend before so I'd have to prepare early, but I would have to plan to teach a mix of third and fourth grade students in three rotating groups of twenty at a time for 50 minutes each. I'd never taught the third grade before, and only see the fourth grade on Fridays (half of the fourth grade classes, alternating every other week). After asking about what to expect from the third grade, I was warned ahead of time that they were in the beginning stages of English- in fact only just learning the write the alphabet. Oh dear. Mrs. Shim was set to be there on Monday and Tuesday, Mrs. Im for the other days, so at least I wouldn't be without assistance. And my mom would be there to sit in for a couple of days which was really cool. The worrying went away after I got there and saw everyone all together.

It was great to finally be able to interact with the third grade (my English room shares their hallway but we only talk in passing) and spend more time with fourth. The younger kids seems more willing to speak up around their peers and play without being embarrassed. Plus, with two students writing "Voldemort" and "Barack Obama" on their name tags, the tone for the week was set to be very fun.

(Above: "Barack Obama")

This is the topic breakdown I settled on for the camp:

Day 1: Body parts.
Day 2: Letter games.
Day 3: Animals.
Day 4: Colors, Shapes, Numbers.
Day 5: Likes and dislikes.

On day one, I learned that they already seemed to know most of the basic body parts. Though a few of them still needed to be taught that we have two feet and not two foot. Mrs. Shim encouraged me to teach additional words upon pointing and asking me what things were, and I'm not sure which was more funny, having twenty little kids chanting "belly button" or "butt."

On day two, I found that the third grade had been misjudged. Not only could they write the alphabet, they could write several words and, on a worksheet I challenged them with, the letters that came before and after after other letters. I played two games that went over very well. For the first, I put magnetic letters on the whiteboard and made them form two lines. When I called out a letter (uppercase or lowercase- I had both sets up there), the pair at the front of the lines would have to find and circle the letter on the board. Each team had a different colored marker, and the winning team had the most circles in the end. For the second game they formed three lines. I showed the student in the back of each line a letter, and they had to draw the letter on the back of the student in front of them, which was then passed forward until the person at the front of a line could say the correct letter. The first game required more speed and quick thinking, while in the second the team that went the fastest seemed to make the most mistakes during the letter transfer.

Animals for day three started with a focus on plurals and basic articles since I found out quickly that many students had a vast animal vocabulary already. It can't just be "dog" in a sentence- drilling vocab is great until they start saying "I have dog" or "dog is pretty." We also talked about how animals move and put them into the categories: walk, run, fly, swim, hop, and climb. for the final activity, I made them choose three animals, mix them together, and make them into a new animal. Then they had to circle Yes/No questions (Can it climb? can it fly? etc).

Day four was my favorite. After counting to twenty and reviewing what they already knew about colors and shapes, I put all three things together. I brought a bunch of cut up shapes from various colors of poster paper. I told all the students to scatter them throughout the room, then when I called out a color (blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, and pink), they had to race around the room and find them, then place them around the corresponding color name card on the ground around the room. One student chose to put a blue triangle in Mrs. Im's hand, so she had to stand there in the same place holding it up until I called out blue- which of course I held out on for a few rounds. Once all of the shapes were found, I made them tell me the number of pink shapes, blue shapes, squares, triangles, animal shapes, etc.

Afterwards, they returned all of the shapes to me, and I called out other colors or shapes for them to find in classroom objects. The door was a rectangle, the computer a square, the clock a circle. My favorite was oval- one girl pointed to my face, another boy found a paper cup and squished the top of it down a bit.

Day five was shorter than the rest, because the start of the day was spent on surveys and the end on a quiz game and distribution of gifts to all of the students. The class was only thirty minutes, so I spent the time talking about likes and dislikes and what our favorite things are. I ended with a game where everyone sat on chairs in a big circle with one person in the middle to start by asking the question "Do you like _____?" If the seated students liked whatever they chose to say, they had to shout "yes I do!" and quickly run to a new chair. The person left standing without a seat left had to ask the next question. It wasn't a game of winners and losers, though in one class they deemed me the loser because I was the one left without a chair, well, "teacher, six times!"

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Rabbits and Rice Cakes

The moon is fantastic. In America, we believe that there's a man in the moon. I stared for years up at the moon and never saw the man. But then, I never quite saw Taurus in the stars either. I thought the whole business was left up to astrological hopefuls. And then I came to Korea. I have now learned that it might not be a man up there at all. In fact, it might be a rabbit making rice cakes.
(Pictures from a google image search)

Now that I can see.

Monday, 27 July 2009


That is when I plan to post again. My mother flew in this weekend, so I was up in Seoul hanging with her, and now I'm back in Andong enjoying her company and planning English camp this week. Thanks for checking back!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Solar Eclipse

On Wednesday, I got to witness the longest running eclipse this century. Although it was a total solar eclipse over China, it moved just south of South Korea as it got to us, so in Andong we were able to see it as a near-80% eclipse.

I was teaching English camp at Scott's school when it was set to peak around 11 am, and happily the school was enthusiastic about letting everyone out during its six minute span.

The school passed out strips of red filtered paper, as well as strips of film that were taped triple thick to look through. Scott also brought out the crafty shoebox eclipse viewer, which was a clever way to get the students to stop staring at the sun for so long. Anyway, better than my English lecture to please stop staring at it or you'll get permanent retinal damage children.

I just feel very lucky to have miraculously ended up on the other side of the world so I'd be able to witness a historic solar eclipse. It was absolutely incredible- the last time I remember one, I was in Elementary school in the western hemisphere. This time I was teaching Elementary school in the eastern hemisphere, so it all comes full circle.

Here are a few other pictures I took of it:

(Through a dark purple strip of film- a little macabre.)

(Through the orange strip of film- kinda sci-fi.)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Juwang-San National Park

This past weekend, Scott and I went to one of the most beautiful places in Korea, Juwang-San National Park. Since our two year anniversary was last Thursday, Scott surprised me with the journey- and no where could have been more perfect.

We hopped a bus on Saturday to Cheong-song, a small town south of Andong, and wandered around until we found the Hill Motel- a brand new 5 story hotel that only cost us 40,000 won (about $35). It's one of the nicest places we've seen so far, and it was conveniently located right next to the most fabulous pizza place, a bakery for breakfast, and across the street from the bus stop for Juwang-san so we could get an early start on Sunday.

It also had a fascinating Fire escape system- in case of fire, jump out the window and repel down the side of the building. Sweet.

When we woke up on Sunday, the clouds were heavy and dark, but we had armed ourselves with umbrellas and bunkered down at the bus stop early enough, so we were optimistic that the bad weather would pass. After arriving at the park, we found ourselves in the middle of a sea of bold North Face outfits and hiking equipment. In our jeans and T-Shirts, we maybe stuck out a little extra.

After passing by a long line of small shops and restaurants and paying the 2,000 won to get in (about $1.50), the first thing inside of the park was a temple, resting under the watchful eye of the mountain peak. This is also an active temple, with monks going about their daily business despite the crowds of people passing through. The buildings were fairly spread out, with a large central courtyard.

Large basins full of water were arranged in circles and rows, with wide lily pads and stunning lotuses in varying shades of pink and white.

Juwang-San is named for King Ju of China, who hid in the mountains and caves from revolutionaries (who unfortunately did catch up with him eventually). The first glimpses of the park were of dense valleys, with the footpath winding beside and over small creeks. Our first English informational sign inside the park was to watch out for famous purple flowers known to the area, that make "visitors feel mysterious." Alas, I think they were past their bloom and I felt rather plain. All of the thick green was a good consolation, so every season is stunning. I'd love to come back again in autumn.

Once the main path led us sufficiently far into the park, it branched, and branched again. We discovered that the whole place is a labyrinth of paths leading to various peaks, waterfalls, and caves (with signs marked in both Korean and English). Although it's not necessary to follow the main pathways through the park, many areas are fenced or blocked off. To maintain perfect preservation of the park, sections of it are restricted for 20 year periods so it can be unaffected by humans. Once the period is up, they are opened to visitors and different areas are blocked. I think this a perfect way to balance our human desire to explore everything, yet still leave nature alone.

We decided to prioritize our time to first visit the caves and the waterfalls. The caves were tucked away deep in the woods or through streams and up cliff faces. They were both blocked by large rocks from venturing too far in, because they weren't lit and the tunnels got narrow pretty early in. In each one there was also a shrine with candles.

At some points, the paths intersect rest areas that are non-intrusive to the environment. The restrooms are updated, and are the only buildings in the park other than the occasional gazebo. And, of course, if you wanted to take a break and lift some weights between the restroom and the river...

(The brand name on the pad reads "Family")

The gazebos were a nice touch for the option of resting away from the rain, which despite our former hopes kept coming down at random. It really wasn't a bother though, because it enhanced all of the colors and sounds, and added a misty glow around the mountains above us.

We preferred to hang out next to the large rock walls as it rained, or just walk on through it.

(Leaves through my umbrella)

The park features three main waterfalls. Although there are countess other smaller ones scattered throughout. They can all be accessed from one main route, which we finally caught up with after a couple hours of wandering about on our own.

This far in, large rock formations became more frequent and rose straight up instead of gradual and hilly.

With so many towering rocks, the park mascot (Smokey?) was more focused on protecting children from rock slides than preventing fires.
Because of all the cliffs, sometimes the only pathway between was for a waterway, so walking bridges were fixed above the water- hugging the side of the cliff.

The first waterfall also wrapped around the rock wall, a spiral staircase of watery ledges that was impossible to take in all at once.

The route to the second waterfall also required following the trail of water, though it detoured away a bit to where the rocks met the deeper forest.
A clearing opened up into a shallow pond, which was fed by the two-tiered waterfall. The location of this one was more calming. Like the stream we followed up to it, the water in the pond was only a few inches deep and made a large circle, like a rippling reflecting pool.

The third waterfall was more of a hike to get to, further up the mountain. It proved to be a blend of the first two waterfalls, only much larger. Surrounded by towering rocks, but also feeding into a shallow pool that dropped off again further downstream.

Next to the waterfall, we were stopped by a small group of picnicking Koreans who offered us something akin to a pancake with flour, green onion stalks, leaves (sometimes with squid or various other veggies). They also gave us glasses of Soju and Dong Dong Ju, a delicious rice wine. After hours of walking, we couldn't have been more hungry and grateful. You can't top Koreans for random hospitality. Although maybe it was because I looked like an unfortunate heathen in my mud soaked jeans.

On our way out of park, passing through the row of restaurants, I was waved over by an elderly woman bent over a large bowl of water. We couldn't speak a word to each other, but she immediately started scooping water from and pouring it on my legs to wash the mud out of my jeans. After thanking her many times in Korean, she rolled up my pant legs and we both had a good laugh at how they flopped around as I started walking away.

To explore the whole park in one visit would be close to impossible. The day was fading before we could get a chance to climb up to the mountain peaks.

The park is only about an hour bus ride from Andong (and although we had to take a second bus from Cheong-song to get there, there was a direct bus from the park to Andong going back), so I plan on going back again to explore the rest of it. And even if I explored it all, I could still come back in 20 years and find there was more to see.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Korean Dining Experience

I now have a whole new perspective on eating. Everywhere you eat in Korea, there will be something on the table that is not exclusively for you. This is very different from America, because we are used to having our own plates and often frown upon sharing.

A very popular style of restaurant has a table with a circular grill in the center. Depending on the restaurant, they may specialize in chicken, pork, or beef (the most expensive because of particular import regulation, but very good). You get the number of servings for everyone at your table, brought to your table raw, but it's a free-for-all around the table with chopsticks as you eat off the grill. For pork and beef, you'll also get a basket/plate of leaves to put your meat on with a little soybean paste and wrap it up to eat.

If you're at a restaurant where main dishes are ordered individually, they will still give you a number of side dishes in little bowls to be shared around the table. There is always at least one type of Kimchi, and a number of other things depending on the restaurant (fish, bean sprouts, potatoes, peanuts, anchovies, pickled turnip, corn, black beans, etc). There's so many different flavors on the table- it never gets boring. You never select the sides, they just come with any order. If your meal comes with soup, you will get one bowl of soup for everyone to eat from (When I was out with my school they were giving me a separate bowl at first, to be polite, but I prefer the sharing now).

Even at non-traditional restaurants you'll usually find that you are given something to share. Scott and I went to a restaurant called "New York in New York" and ordered steak and pasta, but we still got the dish of Kimchi. The salad bars at Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza are priced only for two to share. The idea is that mealtime is a shared experience. It's liberating. It feels good. You also stop noticing how much you eat. You're not always worried about finishing a giant portion, because everyone is eating the same meal. And if there's something questionable that you're afraid to eat, you can always choose to leave it for someone else. But I never do that...

Sunday, 5 July 2009


It occurred to me that I never really said anything yet about our apartment. It's a rather large studio, but not square so it feels like two rooms. It was built in February, and has a keypad entry for both the front and apartment doors. The stairway and halls are very nice, with marble tile floors and trendy wallpaper panels on the ceilings. The lights are motion censored in the hallways and at the keypad out front.

This is the first thing you see when you walk in our front door, although the cabinets are usually closed. You can see all of the room we left for our guests' shoes if they come over...

This is our room as you see it when you step up from the entryway into the main room. It's changed a bit since I took these pictures about a month ago, but it's kind of in a constant state of change at the moment. We now have a desk for the computer (pictured here on our small dining table next to the bed), and that table is in the center of the room with two brown suede chairs (no legs, floor seating style).

Here's another angle. Outside of those doors is a room for the water heater and a tiled floor with a drain so we can hang clothes to dry. It has also become the storage room for our laundry hamper, suitcases, various boxes, and the basil we've been growing (thanks to our friend Erin here for the seeds). It may be cluttered, but it smells like bruschetta so that's alright with me.

Flipping around now, you can see the other side of the apartment. The two big white doors mark our closet, which is heavenly. Inside, in addition to the hanging room there are two long drawers at the bottom for storage. And then you see our kitchen to the right of it.

It's a pretty standard kitchen- a wonderful size. And then you notice the washing machine.

It's in the kitchen, under the stove top; right where you would expect to see a stove. It's a large drum, without an agitator, which is very nice. The only problem we faced when we first used it was figuring out the settings. This is what came out after trying the dictionary, under the column translated to be Spin Dry (from top to bottom):

- river
- Buddhist monk
- medicine
- spin dry + (unknown)
- drainage + (unknown) + dance

We stopped trying to translate at this point, and have switched instead to random trial. It all tends to come out pretty much the same.

Through the kitchen is the door to the bathroom. Yes- the whole room is our shower. It's very space efficient and you get used to working around the sink and toilet pretty fast.

Perhaps one of the best features of the apartment is the roof. The stairs go up one more floor and lead to a door to the roof. It's like an outdoor room. Nobody goes up there, and it's walled with the same marble tiles in the hallway interior covering the ledges. The floor of it has been painted green, which was fun at first because the sun baked it to make little bubbles that popped like bubble wrap wherever you walked. It offers some great views.

To the right...

...and left. This was when we first moved in and the cherry blossoms and those yellow flowery bushes were in bloom. It's all very green now. To the left of the road is a long strip of exercise/sports park, just beyond that is the river that leads down through the mountains and to the dam.

I love our apartment.