Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A few more observations

Hello! A short update so everyone knows I am still safe, despite what you might have heard on the news. I keep a little notepad with me at all times so I can write down things I observe. I like to notice these little differences. It interests me, but it also makes me thankful for all the luxuries I have at home. Here are just a few more, continued from the last list.

-The holidays. I can't say for certain that Christmas is as commercialized as it is in the states, but I definitely think there are some companies making bank on this special day. I don't have cable and I don't watch TV, so I can't say whether or not television programs are flooded with commercials telling you to buy this toy or go to this sale. And there was certainly no Black Friday, obviously due to the fact that Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here. But a lot of stores do have giant Christmas trees put up already and Christmas decorations are readily available here. I asked my students if they celebrate Christmas, and I would say about 25% yes.

-Birthdays are different here as well. It's a little difficult to explain, and I know I'm going to probably give some wrong information, but here's how I understand it to work. Everyone still has their individual birthdays, but when you're born, you're already 1 year old. Then when the new years roles around, everyone has a birthday. So since I was born in 1988, everyone born in 1988 with me would turn 23 at the same time. You still celebrate your birthday on the day you were born, you just wouldn't say you turned older on that day. You're still 12 or 83 until the new year! And what I found most odd... If you were born on December 26, for example, you're 1. So then on January 1, you're 2. So when you're just a few days old, you're already considered 2 in Korea.

-I will often find myself speaking in Korean sentence structure. A student explained to me that Korean is very short, unlike English, where the sentences are very long. For example, and again this may be wrong, she told me that in English you could say "I have a lot of money." But in Korean, it would simply be "Money. I have." So students will often say to me, "Candy. Give me." or "Money. Give me." because that is how their sentences are structured. Since I spend a good deal of my day talking to little kids, I try to speak to them in a simple way. So forgive me if I come home and the first thing I say to you is, "Hug. Give me."

-The weather. Korea definitely has the extremes. When I first arrived in August, I remember getting off the plane and feeling mortified; how could it be so humid?! Apparently, July is the wet month, so I can only imagine the state my hair will be in. This winter has been brutally cold, as well. It doesn't snow which is nice, but it is windy. Having grown up in Illinois I would say that I'm accustomed to cold winters, but this cold has certainly tested my patience! I've heard that spring and autumn are quite pleasant, though it only lasts a short time.

-Food. Overall, I'm not very adventurous when it comes to new cuisine. I know what I like and I stick to it, which has proved to be troublesome during my travels. I would say the most curious I've ever gotten with food was eating snails and frog legs in Paris, which is really quite a shame. I accidently ate a little piece of squid here and thought I was going to absolutely lose it, but did my best to hold it all in. I've tried popular Korean dishes and I think they're quite delicious, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. I think it will take a lot more persuasion (and soju) to try the dog, bug larva, chicken anus or whale. Yes, certain restaurants here sell whale meat (or so I've been told). I think I would rather starve.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North and South Korea

A lot of people have expressed concern over the recent attacks from North Korea. I'll be honest, I don't know much about it. I don't have cable so I don't watch the news on television and I've only skimmed over a few news articles on CNN.com. But let me start off by showing you this picture.

I don't live anywhere near where the attack happened, but that doesn't mean people are not stirred up and anxious about it. Everywhere I went yesterday (restaurants, banks, stores, taxis) the news was on. I talked to many of my older students yesterday to see what they thought about the incident and it truly broke my heart to hear what they had to say.

I suppose I've been oblivious to the crisis these people are in. I have absolutely come to adore South Korea and its people. They are so kind and generous, seemingly unscathed by their neighbors to the north, primarily because we don't talk about the subject. It puts a pit in my stomach that these remarkable people may be in danger and they have to live in fear of what may happen.

Whenever I go into a class, I always ask "How are you today?" and I usually get the response "I am happy," or "so-so," but yesterday many students told me they were scared and angry because of what had happened. I have heard and read reports of South Korea being attacked but this is the first time I was in the country and got to see the reactions for myself. They cursed the north and their fear tactics, they told me their parents were angered and saddened, they told me they cried when they heard what had happened.

From what I've seen so far, South Koreans are very proud of their country. I think it angers them that their own citizens, even if it's a small number, are being killed and injured at the hands of North Korea. They explained to me that the rich in North Korea are very rich while the poor are very poor. They mourn, in a way, for the North Korean people. They talked to me about wanting the country to be reunited as a single Korea again, but that wouldn't be possible because of the corrupt leadership.

Because think about it. What if war broke out in America, for some reason or another, and every state west of the Mississippi River was one country and every state east was another. If you had family to the east and you lived on the west side, too bad. You can't see them again. No communication, no meetings, nothing. You become a victim of circumstance and you lose loved ones because of it. It's hard to believe that several families in South Korea have relatives north of the border and they might never be able to see them again. Could you imagine it? It makes you so grateful for all your freedoms.

So what's going to happen now? I have no idea. Will South Korea retaliate? Who knows. I'll continue to watch the news and be aware of any changes, but I don't necessarily feel fearful that I'm in any danger. Apparently attacks from North Korea are an annual event, it's something these people get used to. And that's what breaks my heart. The fact citizens living in South Korea know they are under possible attack at all times. One student told me that the Korean war is not finished, it's just stopped. No one won, no one lost. Perhaps the only way to "win" this war is with a reunited peninsula, but I'm not so sure that's ever going to happen. Families might be divided by one miniscule border for the rest of their lives.

If I'm in any real harm, I'm sure I'll be able to leave the country to return home, but I don't foresee that happening. I think perhaps the part that really upsets me is that even if I do return home, free of harm, what's going to happen to the Korean people living here? They don't have a safe haven to flee to. Where will they go? I told several students they and their families could come stay with me and they got the most ecstatic, hopeful looks on their faces (even if it was half way joking). But in all honesty, I would let each and every one of them stay if they needed to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day trippin'

Our school had the day off yesterday. I'm not sure if it had to do with the college entrance exams many students took (comparable to the ACTs or SATs) but I'm not one to complain about a day off. Took a trip to the city of Gyungju, the old capital of Korea. It was only about an hour away and was really cheap to get to by bus. I'm told this entire city is a world heritage site, or some of it at least. It was so pretty with the trees changing colors and provided a nice getaway from Busan, if only for a small time.

Those aren't hills, but tombs.

A lot of couples took bike rides during the afternoon.

The weather and the changing trees were beautiful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy pepero day!

Happy pepero day to you and yours! What is pepero? I didn't know before today, either. They're kind of like breadsticks dipped in chocolate. Today was sort of like Valentine's Day for teachers. The students are supposed to bring pepero for all their teachers. Apparently they chose 11/11 because the numbers look like the food. How clever.

There's also an international food festival going on in Busan, although it may be finished now. One of my students went and I asked her what America had to offer. She told me nachos. That makes sense...

Melissa and I went hiking last Saturday. I hadn't gone on any trails yet, which is unacceptable and disappointing. I made my way to her neighborhood for a small yet challenging hike. It was nice to get away from the concrete for a while.

Best wishes to all reading!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Alive and well

Not much to say, so I'll let the photos do the talking.

This was taken the Friday before Halloween so we had a little party. This class usually misbehaves, but I still adore them. Say hello to Ben, Kevin, Alice, Sophie and Stacy.

Like I've mentioned before, the kids really like to say people "died." They also like to play with guns and knives and they bring these fun little trinkets to class. No big deal. I couldn't see this going down very well in an American school.

And finally... Some friends and I went to a "Wii-room" last night. You just go and play Wii! It was a ton of fun to just sit around and play tennis and bowling for a few hours and it was so cheap. We had a great time and lots of laughs.