Tuesday, 29 September 2009


With watermelon season fading away, grape season is in full swing in Korea. Every bushel looks perfect and delicious, with large round purple grapes. The first time I tried them, I thought looks were deceiving. They skin was impossible to chew, and the way the inside held together like a slippery mass was enough to make me think I had the misfortune of finding only rancid grapes.

But then we started eating them at school, which is where all of my eating epiphanies happen. I was instructed that for these grapes, you're not supposed to eat the skins. Instead, you squeeze the inside out into your mouth and suck the juice out.

There are two main varieties of grapes, both purple. One is very dark and smaller with seeds, and the inside if slightly more difficult to chew through, but the juice is incredibly sweet and quite often tastes like a very sweet wine. The other kind is a little lighter that the first, and is virtually seedless. They taste a more like the grapes I'm used to, only much larger and juicier. These are a little more expensive, but worth it.

Friday, 25 September 2009

KPOP Concert!

KPOP (Korean Pop music) is the most popular musical genre in Korea, and on Wednesday we caught wind that there would be a concert coming to Andong. Even though I hear the songs a million times a day I have found that they have grown wildly addicting, so I was absolutely giddy at the chance of seeing a concert. Plus, it was free.

The concert came as day one of the Rainbow festival, and the whole thing appeared to be sponsored by the venue- Andong Science College. A large stage was set up in the middle of an oval dirt sports field, ringed with permanent cement risers, where we chose to sit, though rows of chairs were arranged in front of the stage. Most of us Andong EPIK teachers went together, including a couple that drove in from nearby small towns.

On the way in there was a medical checkpoint to take everyone's temperature and an automatic hand washing machine. As we were early, Andrew and I used the time and his new video camera to give impromptu interviews to Koreans about American trivia and their feelings about the concert, with some embarrassing but mild successes.

The festival website said the official start was 6:30, but for that first hour and a half it was mostly local or random musical entertainment. University student performers, Elementary school girls dressed as sparkling cheerleaders dancing to Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," and perhaps the most curious, belly dancers.

It was unlike any free concert I have attended; all of the headline groups (except perhaps one) had at least one song currently popular on the radio. And there were 8 of them scheduled. The groups that performed were 2NE1, 애프터스쿨 (After School), 원투 (One Two), FT아일랜드 (FT Island), LPG (Long Pretty Girls), 소리 (Sorry), 제니스 (Zenith), and XING (but not in that order). 2NE1 were the clear favorites, however, because they are one of the hottest pop groups in the country right now.

The format was different also. I am used to concerts where there is a main headliner and one to two openers, and all play for quite awhile. I was wondering how the whole thing was going to work, because the official lineup didn't start until about 8 o'clock; leaving 2 hours for all of the groups. The solution was that every group only played 3-4 songs each, which astounded me. Although this method kept the atmosphere charged up, because the bands played the top songs that everyone knew. 2NE1, who we assumed would be the last group since they were the biggest, was the 6th on, followed by After School and FT Island.

It was a ton of fun. We bought kim bap and packs of large flat crunchy rice cakes that melt in your mouth and stick to your lips from walking vendors, much like those that sell popcorn and hot dogs at sporting events. And even though we don't speak Korean most of the songs have a catchy English phrase here and there or in the chorus, which I know all the cues for, so it was no trouble singing along and dancing to the beat. There were also a few covers, including "Lady Marmalade" and Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff"- which Katie confused at first for a KPop song and announced "Oh, I've heard this one." This anomaly happens a lot after living here for awhile.

Here are a few links to the songs from the evening that I found the most exciting to hear:

2NE1: Fire (music video)

2NE1:I Don't Care (music video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MgAxMO1KD0 Or, an upload I found on youtube from this concert (fun, but a little shaky): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyhEejIQ2FA

After School: DIVA (concert video, but not from this concert)

One Two: Starry Night (music video)

FT Island: I Hope (music video)

At the end of the night, me, Scott, Alice, Andrew, and Katie piled into the car of Alice's friend Casey who drove in from out of town. It was all to familiar a situation after our recent return from Daegu, but after watching the line of buses with a crushing number of passengers try to inch out of the Science College behind a line of cars, I think Casey and his car was a Godsend. We turned on his mp3 player, rolled down the windows, and played 2NE1's "Fire," dancing as a single mass in the little car. Everyone we passed got into the groove and started dancing with us from the sidewalks and cars, and even the middle aged traffic director bobbed his head and waved his orange baton to the beat. It was the perfect exit.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I Think I'm Turning Japanese?

A kindergartner pointed at me and shouted to his homeroom teacher that I was Japanese.

Well I suppose...

Saturday in Daegu

On Saturday it was decided that we should spend some actual time in Daegu. Scott and I have only been down there to go to Costco, so we teamed up with Andrew, Katie, and Alice who also haven't spent much time there.

Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Market

The guidebook described this street as a place to go for all sorts of strange old remedies, to find antlers, magic mushrooms, and lizard tails. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but I think we all had it in our mind that it would be some dusty backstreet with cauldrons and witches. It was surprising, then, to find that it was a very well organized road with regular store fronts and regular people. There were also traditional clinics on this street, for herbal treatments as well as acupuncture.

Although that's not to say there wasn't oddities to be found for sale. Deer antlers, seahorses, turtle shells, and dried frogs. Andrew tried to ask one shop owner if he had any "secret" items that can't be sold on the regular market, but I think both the translation and the joke were lost on him.

And the smells leaping out of these shops and following us down the street were intoxicating; so many that I couldn't possibly figure them all out. Ginseng, certainly, but also a number of fragrant herbs and wood smells; they all blended together to become something unique and distinctive to the street as a whole.


We were a little lost out in the street. Apart from the obvious language barrier, I'm not even sure the average Korean would know what all of this stuff was. However, we did find a museum at one end of the street. It appeared to be recently built, with the latest in technology and fresh, clean carpet. It spanned over two floors, the top being for dioramas and videos, mostly, with a few display cases.

Although I'm still not sure what instruction on medicinal properties some of the items on display might offer.

The videos had four language options, and were actually very well done. The latest animation, and perfect English- I was surprised by them. They mostly detailed life and the process of diagnoses in the past, when this was the standard of medical treatment. A lot of the practice is still alive today, with the health benefits in Korean food. They are still using many of the same herbs for cooking; where they originated to prevent and treat ailments, they also happened to be tasty supplements.

The next floor offered a more hands-on experience, ending with a room where we could check our blood pressure and BMI. This floor was devoted to learning about the body from a traditional perspective. I learned the hours of the day that each organ is at its strongest, and what should be done. For example, between 5-7am it is the time for the colon, so that is the best time to have a bowel movement.

In one station, we could figure out which of the four typologies we were (they use Sasang typology, classifying you by elements of your mind and body). I came out as a Soyang type, but I'm not sure how accurate my answers to the questions were because I'm not really sure if I have a "strong waist." It was interesting all the same, and I learned that by being Soyang, beer is very beneficial to my health.

Most of the rest of the day was spent walking around downtown Daegu. We checked out the Kyobo bookstore, which actually has a pretty big English book section: everything from bestsellers, to teen, to a case devoted to Penguin classics. The most interesting perhaps was a screenplay section, where English movie and TV show screenplays were sold as books with both an English and Korean translation on the opposite page.

Free Hugs.

Just when I was starting to get disheartened by the whole H1N1-makes-me-look-suspect-and-untouchable issue, something amazing happened on the streets of Daegu. A small group of university students stood in the middle of downtown with signs reading "FREE HUG." They even grabbed us and pulled us over, we didn't have to go to them. I almost melted with joy; they weren't even wearing surgical masks.

But not all of the hugs of the day were found on the streets...

Dinner and Hookah

There is a restaurant called the "Holy Grill" with a picture of the Holy Grail on the sign, and in going it did indeed feel like coming to the end of a great quest. It is owned by two Canadian guys, and I'm convinced has the best burritos in Korea. Not that I've had many burritos in Korea. The whole place is devoted to the food expats miss so much, and all for a very reasonable price inside a classy place.

After dinner, we went in search of a a hookah bar we'd caught wind of, located next to a bar made from an old bus.

Inside was very dim, but set a relaxing mood by the flickers of lanterns and candlelight. We were seated in a small raised alcove set apart from the main room, cozy and perfect for the five of us.

We ordered a bottle of red wine, which seemed to be the main draw to the place, as I think we were the only people there with a hookah. It was the perfect way to end our time in the city.

Taxi Ride Home

We were slightly mistaken, however, in our methods of returning to Andong. We called a number to get information on the bus times, and a woman speaking perfect English told us that the last bus to Andong was at 9:50. At 9:50 the bus station was very closed, and it seemed a little suspicious when a taxi driver parked outside looked at us and said "Andong?" After some time, it was decided that it was the cheaper option at 80,000 won (plus at 3,000 toll) than all of us finding lodging and morning bus fair.

When we finally piled into a taxi, all five of us, we expected it to be a long hour back home being crushed together as we were. In the end, it took 40 minutes. We hadn't the opportunity of movement until we got home, but as soon as we emerged gasping for air and thankful for the gift of life, we translated on our phones what 140-160km translated to in mph. We knew it was fast, as the speed limit was posted at 100, and his GPS speedometer would give protesting beeps every time he crossed 160. The man had been going 90-99 miles per hour the entire way home.

But, since my mother is probably reading this in horror, I'll leave off with a photo of relaxing ginseng.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Rabbit Mallet

This is the infamous rabbit mallet of which I've spoke, for those of you who wanted a visual.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Priceless Language Moments 6

Another one so soon! A group of six 6th graders walked up to me in the office a moment ago, with one girl holding a piece of paper. After much coaxing into speaking English by Taebun and a lot of giggling, the girl decides to talk to me.

Girl: Can I *pause* interview you?
Me: Sure!
Girl: He *points to Taebun* says he...uh...thinks he is Ge-Genus.
Taebun: Genus?
Girl: Ah! No no...uh...Jesus! He thinks he is Jesus!
Taebun: I'm Jesus?
Girl: What do you think?
Me: Do I think that he's Jesus?
Girl: Ah! Uh...no. Gee- *takes out cell phone to check the dictionary* Genius!
*Taebun is laughing*
Me: Ah, he think's he's a genius. Do I agree? Well hmm...
Girl: No what do you think...about...his think...he is genius?
Me: Do I think he thinks he's a genius? *looking at Taebun* Do you think you're a genius?
Taebun: I don't know, maybe.
Girl: No, his think. *she speaks rapidly in Korean to Taebun*
Taebun: Sorry, I don't speak Korean. Speak English.
Girl: Ah! *after a few moments* Why did Korea-..no...why. did. you. come. Korea?
Me: Why did I come to Korea? Because I like teaching and I like Korea. It was a good match.
Girl: OK. Thank you.
*The group moves to the other side of the office to speak with Taebun, then calls to me again*
Girl: OK. What about his...pronunciation?
Me: It's very good.
Girl: Why?
Me: Maybe because he's a genius?
Girl: Ah!
Taebun: *after all the students have left* They asked me why my pronunciation was better than other teachers, and I told them "because I'm a genius!" but I was joking. So what they were trying to ask was "My teacher thinks he's a genius, what do you think about that?"

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Priceless Language Moments 5

Taebun: What do you think when I say "Answer the call of nature?"
Me: I think you need to go to the bathroom. You can also say "Nature calls!" and leave the room.
Taebun: What about when I say "Number 2?"
Me: You need to poo.
Taebun: Is it common to say?
Me: Yes.
Taebun: Really?
Me: Haha, yes.
Taebun: You could say it to your friend?
Me: Yes, if you want to.
Taebun: Could you say it to your grandmother?
Me: If I want my grandmother to know what I'm doing in the bathroom, then sure.
Mrs. Im: How about "number 1?"

Friday, 11 September 2009

Brittle Teeth or Kimchi of Steel?

Today during lunch, I had a piece of one of my back teeth suddenly break off. A small but sizeable wedge- so now I can say that I've quite literally had a cavity in my tooth. Now, I'll be honest here, once the discovery of the detachment had been made, I wasn't sure if I felt more concerned about needing to go to the dentist, or delighted that I wouldn't have to eat the octopus soup and little minnows side dish. Although maybe it's an unfair comparison, because I've spent so much time getting fillings growing up; the hovering eyes of the dentist is much less of a concern than the beady eyes of dead dried fish.

Once the dentist was assured that I was not infected with the H1N1 virus because I've lived here for 6 months, we got down to business. Sitting there figuring out what was wrong with my teeth was a little frightening. The dentist took a look at my teeth, and while he was explaining the problem to Taebun he kept playing with a little model set of teeth in his hands. He kept pulling out one of the teeth from the model and putting it back, and Taebun kept saying "ohh" in a manner most foreboding. After 3 minutes I had worked up quite a sweat thinking he was going to need to pull the whole thing out. But really I just needed a filling because I had a pretty bad spot of decay.

The process was the same that I was used to, minus the happy gas. Quick and painless, except that I waved off the Novacane shot. The dentist was trying to get me to put in a gold crown, which would have been 250,000 won because it's uncovered by insurance, so I opted for the regular silver filling which was a much nicer price. The whole unscheduled visit cost me 8,600 won, about $7.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Korea Sparkling Competition

I want to thank everyone who's been supporting my blog and keeping up with it. I love all of your comments. I was just told that I won in the Korea Sparkling blog contest for being in the top 100 blogs about Korea. I'm mostly pleased by the recognition; I love writing but I sometimes, many of you that are close to me know, fall victim to procrastination without the proper motivation. I love Korea, and am delighted to share my experiences with all of you.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Swine Flu Results in One Small Victory

Of course I'm not going to start praising Swine flu, or H1N1, but in the middle of all of the fear I did want to report one positive outcome. I suppose you hope the fallout from any war will result in something positive to make the suffering mean something.

When I came to South Korea, in the middle of the joy and perfection I found there was one problem: soap. For almost five months, my school almost never had soap in the bathrooms. There was soap in the lunch room, but not the bathrooms. Not just my school, but all schools seemed to feel the same way. The students simply didn't wash their hands. Which presented a problem for the foreign teacher- with students always wanting a hello and a handshake. This was the same issue for public bathrooms. I never left the house without my own hand sanitizer. I found this odd in a country where the biggest concern is personal health, which you can see in their healthy diets, motivation to exercise daily, and practically flawless system of health care.

However, since H1N1 became an issue I don't think I've gone anywhere without seeing soap. Once a bar runs out in my school bathrooms, a new one replaces it. Teachers have stocked up on hand sanitizer. I can dole out handshakes and high fives to my students with extra gusto. Dunkin Donuts now has an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser at the checkout counter. Even the bars I frequent, with bathrooms to rival American truck stops, have adopted the new soap policy. It's a delightful utopia of sanitation.

Now, now, I can say South Korea is perfect for me.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

My New Toy

Korea really has awesome electronics. It's called a Samsung "Pebble."

My iPod finally gave out after a good long run, so I needed to find a replacement MP3 player. I was drawn in to the Pebble among a sea of rectangular MP3 players at one of our electronics stores, as a lifelong collector of stones and oddities. Although they come in a variety of shiny colors, most of which are chrome-like, I chose the one that looked like polished marble.
At 2GB, it only cost me 63,000 won- about $50. It charges completely through a small USB attachment that hooks into the headphone jack, so there's no cords to worry about. They told me the charge lasts about 13 hours. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it's not synced to any program, like itunes. It's simply a drag and drop folder, and its ready to go. It's very simple, but very unique. And if this one ever stops working down the road, it would make a great skipping stone.