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Posts Tagged ‘Dynamic Korea’

Not really. I had such a great year teaching, traveling and having fun in Korea. I didn’t leave my heart behind completely, but it feels like something’s been missing since I left. Unlike many of my friends who went straight home after finishing their contracts, I decided to extend my time abroad and stay in the Philippines. I haven’t been home in over a year now, but I don’t feel ready to go back quite yet.

I’ve been thinking about Korea a lot lately – wondering at odd hours of the day what my friends must be doing (deskwarming, hanging out downtown, or drinking in any combination). Wondering if my students miss me or if their beloved Maria Teacher has been replaced ㅠ_ㅠ (I hope not!). Wondering what new cosmetics must be out. I could go on. Instead, I’ll make a list of things I miss from my life in the 대한민국.

Korea Miss List:

  • 제 친구들 – My friends!! I met so many great people and I miss seeing their goofy, drunken faces. Just kidding, we weren’t always drunk, right?
  • My co-teacher – She is such a great person. I miss her! Seriously, I was crying on the bus ride to the airport after she dropped me off ㅜ_ㅜ.
  • My students – I loved being a teacher. Not trying to gloss over the stress and frustration I often felt while teaching in Korea. But, my experience was overwhelmingly positive and most of that is thanks to my students.
  • Foods – Let me make a brief list: kimchi, samgyeopsal, samgyetang, kimchi jjiggae, doenjang jjiggae, Korean wings and fried chicken, bibimbap, freakin banchan, kimbap, rice cakes, ddoekbokki, street snacks
  • Egg Tarts – Not what Korea is famous for, but I always used to hang out at the egg tarts place with my pals after dinner.
  • Shopping – Because let’s face it, where did half of my salary go every month.
  • Cosmetics – There are so many and they’re so cheap! I’m also obsessed with cosmetics and Korea just made it worse.
  • K-pop – The soundtrack of my life in Korea. What’s new nowadays??
  • K-dramas – DUDE what’s new nowadays??
  • Nature – Never thought I’d say it. I kind of like nature now thanks to Korea.
  • 4 Seasons – I think it’s a nice concept.
  • Internet – I miss the high-speed internet!
  • Mobility – It’s pretty easy to travel in Korea. I can’t travel as easily here in the Philippines so I feel very limited.
  • Hair salons – I need a trim! I miss Ji-won at Serrano!
  • Korean – I miss hearing Korean! I feel like following around the Korean students I see here. I know, that is just creepy. I won’t do it 😛
  • Traveling – There was always somewhere new to see or return trips to Seoul or Busan. I felt like I could do anything I wanted at any moment.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things. I’m so glad that I took a chance and went to Korea. I learned so much and I have lots of great memories and stories to share with everyone when I finally return home.

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At War

On my way out of work yesterday, I read some news headlines about a North Korean attack on South Korea. To be honest my first thought was, “Again?” I don’t mean that to be insensitive, but since I arrived in the ROK, I’ve realized that there’s a tangible tension between North and South after the alleged North Korean attack on the Cheonan-Ham back in March and the subsequent school drills we had to conduct in the months following the attack/accident.

The shelling began around 2:30 p.m. local time, according to South Korean military officials. The North fired about 200 rounds, and the South returned fire with about 80 rounds of artillery and scrambled fighter jets in an exchange that reportedly lasted an hour. It is considered one of the most serious exchanges in years between the two nations.

NPR

On my way home, I bumped into a few of my 3rd grade boys. They greeted me with, “Teacher, war!!” And I told them well, we are not at war, but soldiers on both sides fired some shots. Technically, they are right. The war has never officially ended. They seemed pretty riled up about what had happened. Then I said, “stay safe, boys” and went on my way. And I meant that. The reality is that all of my male students will serve in the Korean military. It’s possible that they would have to fight if the conflict were to escalate further in the future. I just hope North Korean and South Korean relations don’t continue to deteriorate in the years to come.

The internets was a-buzz with reports of the firing. People posted links to news articles and all the major and even smaller news agencies had already written reports within a couple of hours. But, I didn’t notice much of a difference in anyone’s behavior around here. Local shop owners tuned into the news instead of their usual dramas, but that was about it. Not that I expected people to be up in arms or anything. I’m just not sure how I should act or react in this kind of situation. It seems ‘business as usual’ is the common approach.

Another thing that has concerned me is how this incident will affect aid to North Korea. South Korea has always provided a significant amount of humanitarian aid to the North, such as flood aid after the heavy rains this past year. According to some reports, South Korea has suspended aid as a response to North Korea’s military aggression. I can understand why they made this decision, but I don’t think it will be very effective. Kim Jong-Il will still be able to eat while the rest of the people suffer. Sounds like the kind of policy he would go for anyway.

And I also wonder, what role will China play in all of this? They expected North Korea to maintain peace, but what do they think about this incident? What does this mean for Kim Jong-Il’s successor, his son, Kim Jong-Un? Some reports say it’s a way to draw attention to the future North Korean leader and his awesome power. Next time, they should consider sending out ‘Save the Date’ announcements.

And an even more pressing concern (sarcasm), how will this affect K-Pop? Don’t worry, music programs have also been put on ‘high alert.’

For those of you who want to find out more, a quick google search will turn up hundreds of articles. Check your trusted news agency for more information. For those of you here in Korea, do you hear jets all of a sudden? I didn’t notice at first since I’m so used to hearing them back home. What do you think?

UPDATE: Here’s a collection of photographs from the events of this past week.

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Thanks to my fellow English teacher friends for sharing your honest perspectives. Cheers to our own unique blend of Korea! This post is for all of you English teachers out there!

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There’s a special kind of tea called omija cha, or five flavor tea, that is known for its unique blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent flavors. I really like omija because of its sweetness, sourness, bitterness and tart-ness. It’s almost like pomegranate juice, except all the flavors kind of hit you at the same time. And that’s actually what makes the tea so special.

oh me jaw

Why am I writing about omija tea? I think it’s a good way to describe what Korea has been like for many of us English teachers. A strange mixture of sweet, sour, bitter, and even pungent experiences that come at us all at once. This is something I’ll to refer to as the Five Flavors of Korea. I know there are a myriad of “flavors” (good and bad) in Korea, but just go with my little omija metaphor! I asked some of my English teacher friends to describe their experiences in Korea. Everyone had a different response. Many described their experiences as sweet or bitter, some sour and some even said pungent.

  • Sweet
    Most of my blog posts are about the sweet side of living in Korea. I was fortunate to have been served a sweet blend of omija tea in Korea. I love my school and my co-teacher. My administrator is very generous and all my co-teachers are very good. Even my landlord and landlady are very nice. I don’t have much to complain about to be honest and I feel a bit guilty sometimes when I know some people have worse situations.
    A fellow teacher said, “I was prepared for the culture, as I grew up around it. Moreover, I can describe it as sweet, because after overcoming the many obstacles here, I really feel a sense of strong satisfaction”
  • Bitter
    As one of my friends describes his/her experience, “It’s like experiencing the good and the bad, but having the bad things outweigh the good. Although bitter is something not so horrible, it stills leave this bad taste in your mouth.” Not palatable at all.
  • Pungent
    Another friend describes the transition as very sharp and drastic, like a “crash landing.” “Korea is in the far east! Meaning its friggin far from home!!!! Not only distance wise but also cultural wise! I think I had major culture shock in the beginning! I think my advice would be not to do too much research. I over researched and thus had expectations and thought I knew what I was going to get! Nothing panned out as I had imagined it! Whereas when I worked and traveled in England for a year I had very few expectations thus fewer disappointments! Korea is like a crash landing. It’s rough and wild and completely disorientating, but if you can make it through the impact and find your way through the rubble I think you will be fine! And last, there is a lingering odor of sewage in some parts of town.” How pungent!
  • Sweet-n-Sour
    “Everyday there is something that goes wrong. Or something that is a pain in the ass. Or something that I don’t like. Some days I want to cry and call my mommy.”
    “Then there are days where I literally want to skip to work. Where everything is exciting and new. Where I just want to dance through the streets and smile at every ajumma and ajosshi”
    “Anyway, the experience has been an overall pleasant one with some bumps. I think what it is, is that if you keep an open mind, you’ll have fun. If you’re set in your ways and want the world to change for you, then you’re going to experience problems.”
  • Bittersweet
    “Things are getting easier, but living in a country like Korea is never easy”
    “I love it here! I love challenging myself! And I am having such a great time being here and experiencing everything new! Even teaching, it’s much better than I imagined it would be! I love it here, but the bitter sweet part is that I miss my family and friends so much! On one hand I am sooo happy, if it wasn’t for the missing everyone factor! that’s the hardest part!”

Living in Korea is like drinking omija cha, it’s hard to put a finger on its “flavor”. Is it sweet? Bitter? Good or bad? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell! So we often find ourselves frustrated and confused. Or sometimes it’s hard to decipher our feelings because they change so fast. One moment everything’s as sweet as pie and the next, sour lemons. Wae, omija/Korea??

Or maybe it’s because the flavors seem to blend together. Things aren’t simply sweet, sour or bitter just like things aren’t simply good or bad. It’s everything at the same time! Good and bad and “so-so”. With some input from my English teacher friends, here are five things we’ve learned and observed about living in Korea:

  1. Things will not always be clear-cut. There are times you’ll feel unsure and uncertain. At some point, you’ll feel like that all the time.
  2. Things will not be what you expect. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Definitely keeps you on your toes.
  3. You’re not alone! Use your seonsaengnim network – foreigners and locals. Help each other out.
  4. No matter what people tell you about their experiences, you really won’t know until you get here.
  5. And, every day is a different day. To put a little spin on a classic quote, “Korea is like omija cha; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

We all get served a different mix of this blend. Some have it more bitter and some have it more sweet, but it’s all the same Korea. That’s the good and the dark side of it all. In the end, all I can say is…

Korea is definitely a unique blend

This post is my way of coping with the different facets of living and working in Korea. It was originally a post about how grateful I am to be at my school but how unfair it is that some people are placed in really bad situations. But, it slowly transitioned into a different kind of post. During the process of writing, I realized how much we have in common as English teachers despite how different our experiences have been. We’re all in it together – swirling in the cup of omija cha that is Korea.

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Yesterday my class was interrupted by a strange noise. The WWII-style bomb siren! We’ve had a couple of drills before, around elections time. This time, the drill was a response to the South Korean ship that was allegedly attacked by a North Korean submarine. Pretty serious. But, I didn’t have to do anything. Just sat in the office and went on facebook. Imagine, if it were the real thing (knock on wood)… I would perish in the middle of updating my fb status.

This time the drill went on for 20 minutes. I was in the middle of teaching an important lesson!!!!! I was teaching my class how to give directions because they’re terrible at it. I asked them, “How do I get to EMART?” and what did they say?

Get in the taxi!

Yeah.. they desperately needed to learn Lesson 5. But the drill went on forever. So I had to come in to school early today to continue my class. But our class was interrupted again by another drill!!!! I tend to go by the saying “better to be safe than sorry”, but this is getting on my nerves. No one seems to know when the drills will happen so I can’t schedule my classes around them.

Last night it was like 85 degrees (farenheit) and we had our first summer storm in Daegu. As a Californian, I’m surprised to see rain, especially when it is accompanied by thunder and lightning. We have about 2-3 weeks of rain during the winter and the rest of year we’re in the middle of a drought. Part of the reason why we have a bad brush fire season. I’m glad I stayed home last night since it suddenly started to rain and flash lightning.  I turned off the lights and enjoyed my first thunderstorm in Korea. (I bet I’ll hate the rest of them)

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I was in the middle of showing a video in class when this woman in a white lab coat walked in holding up white stips of paper. I seemed to be the only person surprised by her appearance.  I stopped the video and tried to figure out what was happening. At first, I thought she came in to take everyone’s temperature. But then she handed out the white stips of paper to everyone and the entire class stood up and left…

Turns out, they went to the bathroom to uh… test their urine. It took about 5 minutes, which is a lot faster than I expected and would never be possible in a middle school back home. A class of American middle schoolers would take an entire period just to pee on a strip of paper. Then they all came back and sat down. I was joking with them and said, “I hope you washed your hands!” But some of the boys looked at me like “Wash my hands? What are you talking about, Teacher?” Yikes, I hope they used soap!

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ROKetship

ROKetship has hilarious cartoons that are pretty spot on when it comes to describing Korea. Next time someone asks me what it’s like here, I’ll send them the link to this site! Thanks Amanda for sharing the link on your blog! That reminds me… I miss posting on tumblr! Anyway, here are some of my favorites:

aniyooo!

I really hope this doesn’t happen to me when I get a haircut!! EVERY girl at my middle school has these bluntly cropped bangs!

Claw game from hell

What is it with this game? This has pretty much happened to all of my guy friends. These claw games are seriously everywhere!

붕어빵 is my drug of choice

Seriously… I need to stop eating these! Why is the 붕어빵 stand right next to my bank… every time I withdraw money it’s right there and I have no excuse because I just got money!

X means No!

I find myself doing this already. Aniyooo!

Sidewalks are just as hazardous as the streets

The delivery scooters come out of nowhere! At least now I can sense them lurking behind me and move out of the way in time.

Public trash cans are a rare sight in Korea

Forreals. I feel like I hit the jackpot any time I find a trash can! I keep all my trash in my purse then dump it on the table at the restaurant before I leave o_o;;

Couples outfits - taking it to the next level

LMFAO I wonder if couples really buy these!!! I’m so very tempted to buy a set. But I don’t find matching couples undies sexy at all.

"Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." - Pres. GWB

You know this has happened to you once or twice!

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Stepped outside my apartment and saw everything covered in snow :D! But my elation soon faded as I slipped down the stairs…I hate the snow.

Slushy streets

I’ve been told that it typically doesn’t snow in Daegu. So far, I can’t believe it doesn’t because it definitely has been cold enough to snow during the time I’ve been here. My co-teacher heard on the news that Daegu hasn’t seen snow in March in over 50 years. I guess it’s just a cold winter this year. I can’t wait for spring. “Colorful Daegu” better live up to its name!

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