Tag Archives: South Korea

3 days left . . .

23 Feb

Wow!  I can’t believe that this is my final week in Korea!  What a blast it has been!  Tomorrow is my last day at my school en then on Saturday is goodbye Korea.  This past week I have had and still get many panic attacks about packing everything and seeing everyone!  It’s hectic!  But amidst all this craziness I still had time to reflect.  Coming to Korea was something that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time and I am still amazed at how quickly the time has flown by!  Korea is the third country I have lived in and by far the most challenging.  But all in all it was a fantastic year.

I was placed at a, how would the Koreans put it, ‘notorious’ school in a very poor area.  My area and middle school has been referred to as the Harlem of Daegu.  So yes teaching at one of the worst schools in Daegu was, let my put it this way, challenging.  I wanted to give up.  I wanted to pack my bags and go home.  But I didn’t.  I stuck through.  And that to me is a great accomplishment! Yes you might think how hard can it be to teach English to some of the most intelligent people on the planet, and in one of the best education systems in the world.  Well, I experienced another side that spectrum.  The majority of my students will not go to High school.  My school has one of the lowest academic ratings in the whole city and the kids’ behaviors attest to that!  My year started off pretty bad with the whole apartment saga, and then one of the students threatened another teacher with a knife.  Not the best introduction i’d say! I mention these things because I’m giving myself a pat on the shoulder.  Well done, you did great!  And I did.  I was a great teacher and the kids (well most of them) really loved me.  It was tough, really tough, but I made it through and now I am a stronger person.  I grew so much this year and that my friends, as MasterCard would say, is priceless.  I learned so much about myself and what I can accomplish.  I managed to live in a country where I don’t speak the language, am not to fond of the local cuisine and had my issues with the whole culture shock.  But I managed, no in fact I flourished.  Even so that I started to get really fond of Korea!  Not that I would want to live here permanently but Korea definitely has it’s up sides!  And there are so many things that I will miss dearly!

To my co-teacher I would like to say thank you.  She stuck by me and was always there when I needed her.  To all my new and amazing friends, damn, I’m gonna miss each and everyone of you so much.  It’s amazing how close you can get to someone when you are all experiencing the exact same thing.  If not for all my Epiker friends I would not have made it through this year!  And then to my school I would like to say, so long suckers!!!!!!!!!!  I will definitely be doing cartwheels in my heart tomorrow when I leave the Faksan behind!  But I will  wipe a hypothetical tear (i’m not much of a crier) when I board that Singapore Airlines flight on Saturday!

Korea, even with our love hate relationship I will never forget you or what I have learned this year.  It has truly been one of the greatest years of my life and I will cherish this experience forever.  To my fellow Epikers who decided to stay behind, good luck and enjoy every minute.  Before you know it your time here in Kimchiland will be over!  To the other Epikers returning to their ‘normal’ lives, the best of luck to you and I wish you all great success (Borat voice) upon all your future endeavours.

Korea, you made me laugh, you made me cry, you me scream and you made me jump!  I will never forget you!

Kimchi, to you I want to say, you can suck it!  I never want to see, smell or taste your ugly face ever again!

Cheers from Kimchiland!  It’s been good, real good!

Dokdo is Ours!!!

17 Feb

217 km of the east coast of Korea there are these two small islands, more like two big rocks.  At first glance these rocks might seem insignificant even unimposing!  But these two volcanic rock formations are far more impressive than you could ever imagine.  Without any real value these rocks can easily be a symbol and representation of the Korean culture.  The Koreans call these rocks Dokdo and claim it as theirs.  The Japanese call them Takashima and also claims the sovereignty of the rocks.  The rest of the world calls these two rocks the Laincourt Rocks and really can’t be bothered who they belong to.

There is an ongoing dispute (among many others) between South Korea and Japan over the sovereignty of the rocks.  Although for all practical reasons the rocks belong to South Korea as they have 2 Koreans who permanently live on the islands.  Also there is a rotation of about 40 people (police officers, light house operators and other random folks) who lives on the islands.  South Korea has set up 2 cell phone towers, a helicopter pad and a giant South Korean flag that can be seen from the sky!  So the island belongs to Korea, get over it.  But Japan does not want to retract their claims of the rocks and that infuriates Koreans even more.  I completely get this because Korea has a lot of anger in them for all the wrongdoings by the Japanese in the past.  Koreans really suffered under Japanese colonialism, so much so that it was forbidden to speak Korean on the streets.  So I completely get their frustration when Japan continues to claim soemthing (even if it is a pair insiginificant rocks in the middle of the ocean).  But instead of just accepting the fact that Dokdo belongs to Korea in their hearts and move on, Koreans get very obnoxious and heated up whenever the topic is raised.  Like I wrote in a earlier post, one of my students actually threw me with her pen after I joked about Dokdo belonging to Japan.  Pictures of Dokdo is everywhere.  If you are in Korea and you read this, start looking out for these idyllic rocks.  On cars and buses bumper stickers that read (in English) Dokdo is ours, Giant stickers on restaurant windows, giant framed pictures in the subway stations.  Dokdo is everywhere.  Almost like in a dictatorship where the face of the leader is absolutely everywhere.  In fact Dokdo dictates so much of Korean thinking.  They get so passionate about something so ridiculous.  They get offended so easily by these rocks that they turn to violence.  They lose all rational thinking capabilities when Dokdo is mentioned.  It’s frightening.

During my vacation in Malaysia I met the nicest Korean couple.  They are both from Seoul and work as tour guides (the guy is actually a Korean tour guide in Malaysia).  And as the conversation jumped from one thing to another it quickly ended up at Dokdo.  The girl soon told me that it is my task and responsibility to tell everyone I meet that Dokdo belongs to Korea.  Because people need to know this.  I didn’t know what to say.  So I just smiled and changed the topic.  But that’s how they think.  They think if the whole world agrees with them that these two useless rocks belongs to them and not Japan that it will make any difference.  I’m sure the starving children in Sudan and the political prisoners in Iran are really concerned about this.  The Koreans are so high on Dokdo juice, there are even ‘dokdo riders’.  People going around the world spreading the Dokdo message.  Yes Dokso is pivotal to our existence.

I read on Wikipedia that when Japan announced that one or other day will be known as Takashima day Koreans went nuts.  They protested in front of the japanese embassy.  They decapitated pheasants, one man lit himself on fire and a woman actually cut off her fingers.  This all for two volcanic rocks in the middle of the ocean.  To make matters worse, these people have probably never even been to Dokdo because it is ridiculously expensive to go there!  Another thing that can be seen during these protests are Koreans eating the Japanese flag.  In Korea it is illegal to burn a country’s flag, so here they eat the flags to show their disrespect.


But Dokdo is Korea and Korea is Dokdo.  Everything that those two rocks symbolizes is a perfect representation of the Korean way of thinking and their culture.  They have a very troubled history and it is a continuous fight to leave their mark!

Dokdo belongs to Korea!

Cheers from Dokdoland!

So we did the Amazing Race!

13 Dec

That’s right, this past Saturday I took part in an Amazing Race to raise money for an orphanage.  It truly was an amazing experience.  The race took place here in Daegu and we had to figure out clues about the different spots we should visit during the race.  17 teams of 4 participated.  My team had 5 people though.  We were dressed like Santa street workers and were named team Festive.  So here is what went down at the Amazing Race – Daegu Edition.

We all met up downtown at Daegu Station, the two organizers explained everything to us as we practised kicking a happy sack 7 times to each other.  At 1pm the whistle blew and we received our instructions.  The first task, the happy sack challenge, was soon made easier to only 5 times and once completed we were off.  The first thing we did was trying to figure out all the clues for our challenges.  We soon realized that we would have to break up the race in two parts.  We decided to first complete the tasks on the west side of downtown and then venture to the east side.  The tasks that were situated in downtown we left for last as the finish line was a bar downtown (perfect way to end a race).

Here are the Clues we received: (In brackets the order and number on the map we completed the tasks)

AMAZING RACE

Guidelines:

– Missions can be completed in any order.

-You must take a photograph or video of your entire team at each location.

 

1. Holy-Roller Mision: This has been a place of worship in Daegu since 1886.

2. Park Ji-Sung Mission: On June 6th, 2002 the Red Devils faced off against Uncle Sam’s Army at this location.

3. Ajumma Mecca Mission: This is the largest market in Daegu.

4. Food Mission: Find and eat either 순 대  (Soon Dae) or 동 집 (Dong Jeep).  Racist clause: You can not have a Korean member of your team eat this food.

5. Dancing mission: Record a choreographed dance at one of the following locations: Dong Daegu train station, the stage downtown near the McDonald’s an d Daebeq Department Store, or in a crowded subway car.

6. Viking Mission: Go to Soosung lake and ride the most unsafe amusement park ride you can find.  (Hint: it looks like a viking ship).  Take a video of your team doing this.

7. Speed game: Your team will receive a sealed letter at the beginning of the Amazing Race.  You must find a random Korean person to read this to you. The letter has a secret word written on it.  The Korean person will give you clues and you must guess what they are talking about within a minute.

8. If you live in daegu you might have been to this park at least once or perhaps did a sky jump close by.  Find an attractive Ajumma wearing a visor and get a picture with her.

9. Find Daegu’s premier skater boy doing tricks at his hang out downtown.

10. Do your best Abbey Road recreation.

GOOD LUCK!

We knew where almost all the places were except we weren’t too sure of number 1 and 2.  We decided to go to the furthest location west of Downtown and then work our way back.

Here is a map of Daegu and the order in which we the did the tasks.

1. We were off.  Racing down the stairs towards the Daegu station subway looking like a bunch of enraged lunatics.  The adrenalin was pumping and we were all very excited.  We jumped on the subway and headed for Duryu park.  We were on subway line 1 and needed to change to line 2.

 

Go team Festive Go!

2. At Duryu station we raced up the stairs and ran towards the park.  We were a bit confused by the clue that read “find an attractive ajumma wearing a visor” .  We were not sure if should just find a random one or if a specific one would be waiting for us at a certain location.  Duryu park is huge and it would take us forever to cover the whole park.  We chose to take a picture of a random Ajumma.  But finding one was the hard part.  We spent half an hour in the park scouting.  We were rejected 3 times.  They’re just not that willing to take a picture with a bunch of foreigners that look like Santa street cleaners.  We were about to stage the picture when a very willing and friendly Ajumma came waddling along.  We got the picture and raced back to the subway.  Along the way we passed our friends who were in another team!

 

A willing Ajumma

3. In the subway Nicola realized that she lost her transport card so she quickly bought a new one.  We raced down to the tracks and just missed the train.  Bummer!  So we had a few minutes before the next train would arrive so we worked out a little dance routine.  We got our moves worked out and when the train came we did not waste any time.  We got on, placed the Ipod and speaker on the floor, gave the camera to a random dude and we danced.  Some people looked utterly confused by what we were doing and others just plain annoyed.  But most of the people enjoyed it and took out their cellphones and took pictures of us.  At the end of the dance we got a well deserved round of applause from spectators.  And one lady even called for an encore.

4,5,6.  We arrived at Seomun Market and raced up the stairs.  By this time I was panting like a dog and sweating like a mine worker.  And we weren’t even half way through yet.  The way towards Seomun market was super crowded and it truly is an Ajumma Mecca.  Not the place you would want to go to during a race.  So we got to the main market area and quickly took a picture.  We found these three young girls and ask them where we could find the food that we were supposed to eat.  Obviously their lack of English and our lack of Korean caused great confusion so they just decided to take us to the food stand in the market.  Once there we decided that they seemed nice enough and willing to help us.  So we gave them the speed game letter.  They read the instructions in Korean and we started the guessing game.  We did it in 4 minutes but  the language barrier should be taken into consideration.  Most of the times we said the word but they did not hear it so we continued to guess.  But is was great fun!  After this we decided to do the food challenge.  We discovered that the one dish is pigs blood intestine.  Disgusting!  I am so glad only one of us had to do this challenge and well done to Shana because I could not have stomached it!  She took a few bites and we were off back to the subway.  All the challenges on the West side of Daegu were completed.

 

Seomun Market!

Mmmm . . .Yummy!

7,8. We got on the Subway and we were headed to the World Cup Stadium.  The Stadium is on the outskirts of Daegu and one of the last stops on the subway line.  so we had time to catch our breaths.   When we finally got to the subway stop for the stadium we found a deserted crossing a did our bestest Abbey Road impression.  After that we raced to find a cab and speed towards the Stadium.  Once there the cab driver was very nice to take a picture of us and drive us back to the subway.


9. This was our biggest mistake during the day.  We did not realize that Soosung lake was so close to the World Cup Stadium, and if we took a cab from the Stadium to the lake it would have saved us a lot of time.  But instead we traveled with the subway back to Bomeo station and from there took another cab to the lake.  This killed us!  Once we got to Soosung land/lake we discovered that the Viking ride was closed.  there was another team there and they said they have been waiting for a while but nothing.  So we reread the clue and it was pretty obvious that we had to do the viking ride, but what can you do.  So we went on another ride.  This ride was horrible as it shakes you around and you are not strapped in.  Shana actually fell.  Then it starts spinning.  It was horrible!!!!!  So after the ride and complaining about the injuries we gained from the it we were off again.  We got into a cab and we  headed downtown.

10. We discovered (with the help of Nicola’s Korean friend) that the Holy-roller task was a catholic church.  the cab driver immediately knew where we wanted to go and even though we asked him to go very fast the roads were so congested.  It’s really not a nice feeling to be in a race. anxious and stuck in traffic.  we finally got to the catholic church took a picture and were off again.

11. I saw a many familiar buildings on our way to the church and i knew were close to downtown.  We had no idea where the last challenge was but I had a feeling.  The task was the skater boy one and I thought it was at the park opposite the Novotel.  So we just started running in that direction from the cathedral.  It was a long run.  Nicola’s friend came through again and just as we got to the park she told us that the park we are looking for is just a bit further down.  We finally got to the skater took a picture and where off again.  We were done!  All the challenges completed.

We knew we did not win, but we still wanted to finish with a bang!  So we ran to the finish line.  We came 6th, which is fine by me!  It was great!  And to top things off we won the best dance video.  That’s right, our little number on the subways was a winner!

It was the most fun I’ve had in Daegu in all my 10 months here!  Our fiends who won the race are also so from our neck of the woods so all in all the Ghetto dwellers took almost 50% of the prizes!  Not bad!

 

Well done Team festive and thanks for an amazing race!!!!!!!

 

Cheers from Kimchiland!

 

 

Sounds of Korea

10 Dec

Korea – the land of the morning calm, where nothing can disturb this tranquility! …(crickets)…… uh yeah right.  As with any developed country, Korea is noisy.  No longer is this Asian a destination for calm and soothing vibes.  Nope Korea’s many bustling city’s and it’s neverending desire to develop and prosper chucked the morning calm.  Korea is very noisy.  The population density is very high so you can imagine.   Now these noises are fine, and being a city person myself the noise is not that bad!  But there are other noises that drive me insane.  seriously so much that I want to kill myself!

Chewing sounds.  Koreans chew with their mouths open.  I am yet to come across a Korean that eats with his/her mouth closed.  And they chew very loudly.  It’s quite disturbing.  In fact it nauseates me!  I literally want to puke.  I can not even count how many times we have left a restaurant because of this.  There is no way in heel I would ever be able to get used to this.  And don’t get me started on gum in the subway.  You would think that the loud subway noises and the announcements would drown out the chew sound, well guess again.  Koreans love rice cakes and these little delicacies are chewy as hell.  Combine that with the inability to silently and opening your mouth so wide I can see your tonsils and you will begin to understand my irritation level!  It’s bad!

Another sound that pollutes Korea is that of the cough!  Yes Koreans (men mostly) are chain smokers and they have a lot of phlegm.  It’s gross.  They spit everywhere.  The men.  The woman.  The children.  They all do it!  and apart from the fact that every single street in Korea looks like a spit factory it’s the sound that is the worse.  That sound that makes you realise that somewhere, someone is busy getting rid of a weeks worth of slime and guts.  It’s utterly gross and makes me cover my ears!

The other sound has also got to do with snot and its gross.  Koreans love to sniff.  The suck their noses dry and it just makes me want to puke on the snot sucker!

These sounds are enough to send me to a mental institution and have never in my life ben so thankful for my ipod.  If anyone ever asked me what is the most essential thing to bring to Kimchiland, I would say that it is your Ipod!  Because without covering your ears and blasting dangerously high decibels into your ears, there is no way that you would survive the sounds of Korea.

Cheers from (sniiiiifffff) Kimchiland!

Fighting back!

9 Dec

It’s getting colder and colder here in Kimchiland.  Last night as I walked home the first snow flurries fell.  It is absolutely freezing.  And to be honest if everything isn’t covered in white then this weather is just not worth it!  The whole open the windows and switching on the heater thing is still going on.  It is as if they have to either freeze to death or melt to death during the summer!  We are looking for a balance people.  An equilibrium!  Oh well, what can you do.

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So as month ten is almost over I am progressing in standing my ground here in Kimchiland.  Koreans (in general) are not too welcoming or accepting of foreigners, so for us to be treated with a little dignity over here can sometimes be a battle!  But nothing major to run home about.  It’s just different.  Get over it or get out.  Or get even!  I go for get even!  On Monday night we went out for dinner for a friends birthday and on our way to the restaurant (in my neighbourhood) all of a sudden an old woman (Ajuma) shoves me out of the way.  Now I know she cannot speak English and ask politely “excuse me” but there is no reason to shove me out of the way when there is more than enough room to pass.  It’s ridiculous.  So I retaliated and decided to through her with my gum!  Unfortunately it only hit her shoe but it was good enough for me.  Next time I’m aiming for the hair.  That’s right you evil Ajuma’s – I’m fighting back!!!!

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So this past week I have been reading in the Korean times and on an English teacher Forum that our jobs as Native English teachers might be in jeopardy here in Kimchiland.  Yes tha’s right the government has developed a multi-million dollar robot to replace all english teachers.  I guess it was only a matter of time before this happened in this high-tech asian country.  And if this is at all feasible then go ahead, because ultimately the government will save money.  Native English teachers are an expensive investment.  Our flights are paid, we do not pay tax for the fist two years, we get housing, we get severance pay and half our medical aid is covered by the school.  But can the robot really replace the person?  Especially in such a personable field susch as teaching.  But then again, the Korean English curriculum basically trains these kids as robots.  They memorize instead of practice.  And that is no way to learn a language.  Oh well Goodluck to robot 2154458-998!

 

That’s all for now, Cheers from Kimchiland!

 

Catching up!

2 Dec
The cover of a Pepero box

Image via Wikipedia

I really wanted to write about this but never got around to it.  So it seems quite redundant to make an entry about it now but I don’t care, so here goes.  The 11th of November was Veterans day in most parts of the world, but not here in South Korea.  Oh no!  The South Koreans spent their Thursday celebrating something completely different.  Chocolate sticks on fact.  Pepero’s.  The 11th of November is Pepero day here and is basically something like Valentines day but with one big difference.  It revolves around this one sweet called Pepero, made by one company named Lotte.   For about two weeks before this day all the shops start decorating with giant hearts and symbols of love.  If i can remember correctly I read somewhere that Lotte sells about 80% of all their Pepero’s in November.  School students go crazy with this day as they bring boxes and boxes of Pepero’s to school and give it to their friends.  Or boys to girls and vice versa.  I have one issue with this day and that is there is no historical significance for the 11th of November to be celebrated as Pepero day.   Nothing happened.  No Legend or Myth or anything.  Although Lotte denies that they forced this day into existence there is a rumor that two middle school girls exchanged Pepros on the 11th of November in Busan way back in 1994.  And from there on out Pepero day has taken the nation by storm.   As a teacher it’s a bonus tobe teaching on days like Pepero day because you will most defenitely be spoilt with one or two of these boxes.  Well not me!  Nope, when I got to school on the morning of the 11th almost the whole staff were outside the doors searching all the students.  That’s right folks they confiscated all the Pepero’s.  I have no idea why they did that, but my school took away their Pepero day.

Another thing that I failed to report about was the CSAT tests.  All third grade High School students took this University entrance Exam two weeks ago and the whole country came to a standstill once again.  Koreans value education more than any other country in the world I think.  And they have to because almost all high school graduates end up going to varsity finding a decent job has become very hard.  But it’s great!  So on the day of the exams everything starts later.  All schools start an hour later and some businesses start only at ten.  No flights are allowed to land in Korea during the exam and everything must be quiet.  Everyone goes to work later so that the roads won’t be crowded so that the students can get to their exam centers.  Police cars escort students to the centers.  It’s a national kerfuffel.

 

That’s it for now.  Cheers from Kimchiland.

Too long!

26 Nov

This whole North-South nonsense has gone on for way too long.  Before coming to South Korea I never really paid any attention to either one of the Korea’s.  I knew the UN secretary General came from South Korea and also LG, Samsung and Hyundai.  And that’s about it!  Now that I am here I must say that I have learned a lot about both these countries and how much of an impact they have on the international community.  The two richest (maybe strongest) countries in the world are battling it out by exploiting the North-South tensions!  China backs the North and the US the South.  North Korea easily and often claim that South Korea is the US’s puppet and they often forget that China is their puppet master.  Yes North Korea is dangerous and poses a threat to international security, but jeepers this has gone on for way too long.

It is kind of a sticky situation that we currently find ourselves in.  North Korea attacked South Korea and although they deny that they initiated the attack according to them and their ‘borders’,  South Korea did enter their maritime space.  I think the solution is to give all the water that surround both Koreas to the UN!  Now the US is sending a ship and they are going to have a circus right by the North Korean border and possibly aggregate crazy Kim Jong Il and his delinquent of a son even further.  So I don’t know!  I really do hope that everything will just kind of fade away!  I have too much to look forward to and I will not let stupid Kim Jong Il ruin my fun!

North and South should just settle their issues like two Korean middle-schoolers- Kai Bai Bo!  That is Rock Paper Scissors.  Although thoroughly annoying to a teacher this little wonder can solve any Korean obstacle.  And the speed at which they conduct their games is absolutely mind boggling.  These Koreans are professionals when it comes to the are of Rock-paper-scissoring.  So Lee Myung Bak and Kim Jong Il call each other on Skype and settle it once and for all.  Sudden death!  Seriously!

 

Cheers from Kimchiland!