Wednesday, June 26, 2013

고양이 두마리 - Two Cats

A beautiful traditional paper fan at the Fan Culture Gallery (부채문화관) in Jeonju's Hanok Village. There is a tiger (호랑이) on the design.
In other news, my homestay family has temporarily adopted a kitten (새끼 고양이) that some students rescued from a gutter. It's so adorable. Tonight, it was play-fighting with the two small dogs who think they own this place, and I was just like, "아 귀여워, 귀여워!" I wish I weren't allergic to cats; then, I'd be able to cuddle with this tiny furball and plot to take it back to the States with me.
In other other news, I'm really happy to hear about DOMA and Prop 8. History has been made in the US, folks! Hooray for equality -- 결혼평등화 만세!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reading Comprehension

The bells were quiet today because the second-years were taking a national aptitude test of some sort. My co-teacher explained that it was not a practice 수능, or Korean SAT, but something both similar and much, much worse. The reason this test is the bane of many teachers' existences is that students' scores on it affect much more than their personal academic records. The Ministry of Education compiles the scores from every school and crunches the numbers to determine which schools are succeeding and which are falling short of certain standards. This in turn directs the flow of money and other resources to schools.

What's wrong with this? In short, setting stakes on national standardized testing is good in theory but doesn't work well in practice, because not every school is the same. Not every school should even be the same. Even high schools of the same size and in the same city could have very different student demographics, and thus might have different goals for their students. Vocational high schools, for example, should not have their funding dry up because the majority of their students will perform extremely poorly on the English section of a national aptitude test. Rich students in Seoul whose parents have the resources to send them to private academies for extra tutoring are taking the same test as kids from the Korean boonies; which student actually needs more financial support?

My co-teacher also told me gravely that in the past, teachers who have protested the implementation of the national aptitude tests have been unceremoniously fired. It seems as if those who actually understand the complexities of education are not the ones in charge of how it is run, and that is a travesty.

어쨌든... Anyway, I went off on a tangent there. I actually wanted to write a short, goofy post about the 수능 itself and my random involvement.

Some of my co-teachers have an interesting side job: creating practice reading comprehension questions for the English section of the Korean SAT. The passages they write and the questions they come up with are put through a rigorous editing and selection process and end up in yet another SAT prep book for Korean students to read cover-to-cover. During a particularly hectic few weeks, I was asked to help out and write about a half dozen questions of my own. I did so warily at first, not knowing if I would regret what I'd signed up for, but as it turns out, creating the reading passages was tons of fun. I spent an entire Saturday browsing the Internet for great articles and lectures (from TED talks, journals, news sites, and more) and adapting them for the exam. I covered environmentalism, psychology, language, technology, history, and, yes, even education:

"The problem with many educational systems today is that they fail to accurately measure aptitude. We can collect all the raw data we want: hours spent in school, average scores on the college entrance examination, percentage of graduates with a certain degree. Yet to use these statistics as the only benchmark for educational achievement is a misguided notion at best and a serious flaw in the educational system at worst. One need look no further than the ever-increasing numbers of unemployed college graduates listlessly roaming the streets while potential employers wring their hands over the complete lack of skilled workers to hire. This indicates that higher test scores and better degrees don’t always translate to better jobs, better lives, or better societies. Perhaps we should consider testing our students on their ability to use what they have learned from their textbooks in a real-life situation that mimics an actual workplace. That way, we could better understand if they are __________ and ready for the world outside of the classroom." (Adapted from “Use data to build better schools”, by Andreas Schleicher, TEDTalks)

Give that passage a read and then choose the best word from five choices for the tiny blank at the very end. This is what the English section of the Korean SAT is like, and yes, it's pretty brutal. My co-teacher was impressed with the questions that I had come up with. (To think reading comprehension was always my worst section in the aptitude tests I took in high school...) He was also really grateful that I'd lightened his load a bit: he'd had a quota of fifty questions. Whew.

That notwithstanding, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed creating these test questions. I mean, I would do it again. I think this adequately proves that I am an incorrigible nerd. Among other things, maybe.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Tournament

As I had predicted, I won something without having to win anything! Aren't I lucky?
Me, my taekgyeon master, and another trainee at the Taekgyeon Training Center in Chungju (near where our tournament was held)
What I did have to do, however, was muster up as much patience as I could for what turned out to be two extremely long days. This taekgyeon tournament was a long, drawn-out affair, and it wasn't even due to inefficiency. It's just that there were many teams (from Daegu, Chungju, Busan, and more) and tons of events to get through, and I spent many hours simply waiting.

I had mis-estimated the tournament schedule. Although our team (the biggest one in attendance, at forty-five strong) arrived at the 호암체육관 (Hoam Sports Center) in Chungju by 9:30am, none of the adults had any events until the mid-afternoon. The entire morning, then, was dedicated to the children's events. I had a great time watching kindergarteners attempt to spar. They mostly ended up running at each other, hugging fiercely, and toppling over.

By noon, most of the youngest kids and elementary school events were over, and we had lunch. Then, there was an opening ceremony of sorts (개업식) that included a fantastic taekgyeon dance performance that was as captivating as a ballet and lots of excruciatingly boring speeches by men in suits. After that, middle and high schoolers began their events, and things became a bit more interesting to watch. Unfortunately, I also fell victim to a massive wave of fatigue, having slept for only three hours the prior evening, plus three bumpy hours on the bus. So, I napped. I also babysat the kids who had finished their events. They're really adorable, and I wish I had taken pictures, but I had unwisely left my camera at home over the weekend!

Around 5pm, it was finally time for the adult tournament to begin. I had been waiting restlessly around for about seven hours. Unluckily, I was also last in my section, being one of the lightest athletes and only one of three competitors in my weight class, 태백. The other two competitors started off in the semi-finals, and I "won" my semi-final by default, having no opponent, so at around 6:20pm on Saturday evening, after an entire day of doing nothing, I found myself in the finals against a tall, friendly-looking guy who I was sure was going to knock me flat on my face in a matter of seconds.

A fellow athlete at my dojang took a video of my 시합 (shihap, or... fight? battle? Oh: match). If I get ahold of it, I will post it here. For now, here's another video he took of another athlete from my dojang. He's blue, and he won this round!

So, yes, this is what taekgyeon should look like. As for my match, well, it didn't look like this...

I had been told again and again by 사범님 and 관장님 that I should focus on defense, since my kicking isn't yet up to anyone's standards. So, I didn't attack at all, and only waited for attacks to come my way so that I could block and maybe trip, as I'd been practicing. What I wasn't prepared for was the variety of kicks my opponent (반대자) had in his arsenal: attacks that I'd never practiced defending before. So, within thirty seconds, I was kicked in the face -- in the chin, actually, and it knocked my teeth together so hard that I swore in surprise. One point for blue.

In the next round, I stayed close and didn't let him kick. This forced him to try a grapple of sorts, but because I absolutely refuse to be taken down that way, I fidgeted my way out of the hold and somehow flipped him over. He fell, and I landed on top of him quite gracelessly. But hey, one point for red! Thirty seconds later, he kicked me in the chin again. Game over, blue won.

My opponent was really gracious; he tried to shake my hand at the beginning of our match, but I was confused at the gesture -- dumb American -- and didn't take it. At the end of our match, we successfully shook hands, and he said thanks (for being such an easy opponent, I guess?) really smilingly and apologetically; my chin was slightly bleeding... Anyway, he won the gold, and because our match was technically a final round, I took silver. That's how I won without winning! At least I didn't get seriously hurt, and everyone in my dojang, including the kids and my taekgyeon masters, watched my first match ever. They were very encouraging all the way through, and I felt good, like I had actually done well and not simply refrained from doing horrendously.

That evening, we had a quick dinner, and then we watched some more taekgyeon dance performances. (If I find any more videos online, I'll share them.) Then, a really cool band took the stage for a musical performance of rock and traditional Korean fusion. I can't really describe how awesome it was, but it was loud and unlike anything I've ever heard before. I really enjoyed that. It helped me realize that this Hanmadang (한마당) was not just an athletic competition but also a cultural festival in its own right, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

The adults from my dojang ended the night with fried chicken and beer. Day two of the tournament, Sunday, was the same as day one, only I didn't participate in any events, because the sparring was more freestyle this time around, and 관장님 didn't want me to get injured. So, in a nutshell, I napped, babysat, and watched kids fight each other for five or six hours. It was actually a pretty restful Sabbath, if I may say so myself. Finally, the tournament was over; we collected our medals and trophies (second place in the elementary team sparring event, and several dozen assorted medals!) and napped all the way back to Changwon.

I feel very good about having participated in my first martial arts tournament. I have only been learning taekgyeon since March, but I've mastered enough not to make a complete fool of myself in public. In fact, it's the realization that I've improved at something that was a complete mystery a mere three months ago that really made me happy, moreso even than winning a medal. Case in point, tonight, there was a new member at our dojang. He appears never to have studied taekgyeon before, so we had to go through all the warmups and kicking exercises slowly. As we did so, I had a flashback to my first taekgyeon class, and I remembered being completely lost and rather amused by my general incompetence.

But now, I'm a legitimate fellow athlete; I'm not worried about slowing down the others who have been training far longer, and I know exactly how I need to improve and what steps to take to get there. There are just a handful of things that I am proud at having accomplished in one year in Korea, but learning taekgyeon is, without a doubt, one of them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Just don't get hurt, okay?"

Yesterday, during taekgyeon training, 관장님 pulled me aside to go over some logistics.

"Do you have health insurance?" he asked. I replied that I did, though hesitatingly, because I'm not actually sure how much it covers. I haven't gone to the hospital for any treatment in nine years, so I've kind of forgotten how health insurance actually works. (I should probably look into it...)

In any case, 관장님 was concerned that whatever coverage I had might not be enough or not convenient to use -- he mentioned something about phoning the United States, although he was speaking quickly in Korean, so I couldn't catch it all -- so in the end, he just looked at me and said, "Just make sure you don't get hurt, okay?"

I grinned. Sure, that'll be easy enough. Tomorrow, I'm going to spar against a taekkyeon black belt and the only surefire way I can avoid getting hurt is to run out of the ring as soon as our match begins.

Yes, the taekgyeon competition that I've mentioned before, is finally here. Tomorrow, I will travel to Chungju (충주) with both kids and adult trainees from my dojang, and we will all participate in the 11th National Taekgyeon Hanmadang (제11회 송암배 전국택견한마당). I'm not sure what a "hanmadang" is, but it appears to be the name for a national or international martial arts meet.

Am I nervous? Not really. This isn't because I'm confident in my ability. The exact opposite is true, in fact: because I already know how outmatched I am, I know that it'll be over quick and that I will successfully not fall short of my non-existent expectations.

Here's what I think is going to happen tomorrow: I will wake up at 5am, be out the door by 5:30. The bus leaves for Chungju at 6am. After a three-and-a-half-hour nap, I'll arrive at the competition site. Kids will be running around everywhere, and I will be lost and confused and tail my dojang masters, hoping they tell me where to go and what to do. After about an hour of wandering, I will have my one and only sparring match. My opponent will be some third- or fourth-degree blackbelt who is shorter than me but possesses twice as much muscle. We'll start our match. Within thirty seconds, he will kick me in the face, and I'll be out. I will still win a silver medal, however, because there are only three competitors in our weight class. Lunch will be served at noon, and for the rest of the day, I will alternate between watching the black belts from my dojang compete and baby-sitting the flock of kids from my dojang.

Sounds like fun, right? I think I only signed up for this because I'm intrigued by the opportunity to participate in an event like this (I'll probably be the only foreigner). The last time I went to a taekgyeon competition, I was only observing. This time, I'll have my own thirty seconds of... firsthand experience.

Well, at the very least, I'll make sure I don't get hurt.

- - -

P.S. Happy summer solstice, everyone! In Korean, the longest day of the year is called 하지 (haji).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Body Language

Host mother, who is always willing to let me know when I do something wrong, politely informed me this morning why placing one's elbows on the table are a cultural faux-pas in Korea. It's not like this comes as a surprise to me: the same etiquette is supposed to be observed in the U.S. I will freely admit, however, that I don't concern myself with that particular mealtime convention. It was never stressed in my own family, and I don't find it rude in the least -- it's more comfortable, even.

Yet I had been operating under the assumption that elbows should remain off the table when eating with my homestay until I noticed my host father's arms propped up in just that fashion a few times. Does that make it okay? Well, not exactly. As it turns out, host mother explained, eating with one's elbows on the table -- especially when at a restaurant -- signals to the cook that you're less than satisfied with the quality of the food. It's a bit of body language as clear as grimacing when you take a bite.

(It may also indicate that you are very tired, which, as of late, I indeed have been. I blame the doubling of my workload at school due to end-of-semester speaking tests.)

Obviously, I didn't mean to convey that particular sentiment. In fact, this morning's chicken porridge was delicious. But I have to be more careful. Learning body language the hard way is never fun, but it's still useful. As much as I despise being corrected for something I did not know was wrong, this is all part of my cultural education. Besides, I'm only going to stay with my host family for about three more weeks before summer vacation and moving out. Here's to making the most of it while I still can!

P.S. Here's a cute and informative video from Seoulistic on some differences between American and Korean gestures. I ought to turn this into a lesson for my students next semester.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Steadfast Paper Soldier

Soldiers and horses in ancient Korean garb -- these are paper figurines done in the style of 한지 (hanji). At the Royal Portrait Museum (어진 박물관) in Jeonju's Hanok Village.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Best Patbingsu in Korea

옛날팥빙수 from 외할머니솜씨 in 전주한옥마을
According to Kelly, the best place to get 팥빙수 (patbingsu, a wonderful Korean dessert) in Jeonju is at "Grandmother's Best" (외할머니 솜씨). I'd wager that it's the best place to get 팥빙수 in all of Korea, period.

Weh-halmeoni Som-shi roughly translates to "Grandmother's Skills". 외할머니 is your mother's mother, and 솜씨 is a tough-to-translate word that refers to the manual skills required to cook and craft things well. It's like dexterity, but mostly for food and art.

In any case, Grandma works in a tiny shop wedged in between many traditional buildings of the same ancient architectural style in Jeonju's traditional Hanok Village -- 전주한옥마을, a popular spot for tourists and local Korean families alike. The many Hanok Villages scattered throughout Korea are known for being neighborhoods absent of the breakneck busyness for which Korea is increasingly becoming known but, on the other hand, full of cultural treasures in the realms of food, art, and history.

Jeonju's Hanok Village in particular has some excellent food, and this 옛날팥빙수 is a prime example: a medium-sized bowl filled with condensed milk and shaved ice, topped with some of the sweetest red bean paste I've ever had, delicious, chewy homemade rice cakes, and black sesame powder was enough for three, but I tell you I could have finished it all on my own, it was that good. The dessert really satisfied the sweet tooth I've had for the past few days. All of it is homemade, too -- Grandma doesn't use nothin' from a can.

What a great treat for an extremely hot day! Kelly and Katelyn also enjoyed it, as you can probably tell from the photo below. The former is not even ashamed to admit that she once came here alone just to have a bowl all by herself. It's summer; this is a reasonable thing.
Kelly and Katelyn with our 옛날팥빙수 (traditional patbingsu).
"Grandma's Best" (외할머니솜씨/Weh-halmeoni Som-shi) is located in the Jeonju Hanok Village. The address is: 113-4 Gyo-dong, Wansan-gu, Jeonju City. A bowl of the best patbingsu ever is just ₩6,000. If the lines are as long as they are in the photo below, you can also get take-out!
Super-long lines outside of the shop after we left. We beat the rush!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ox Bone Soup

설렁탕, or Seolleongtang, is ox bone noodle soup.
곰국, or Gomguk, is ox bone soup (also 곰탕).

I had it for breakfast, I didn't like it. It was bland and there were bits of collagen and chewy not-meat floating around. I stuck to my rice and kimchi jjigae and hoped my host mother wouldn't notice. But she did, of course, and I had to tell her it was "별로...". I immediately felt like a jerk, because the first thing she said was that gomguk is expensive. My first thought was, "Great, guilt trip. I'm a bad cultural ambassador." But then I thought, "Well, I'm not obligated to enjoy everything, am I?"

Ox bone soup also exists in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine, so I've had it before, and I daresay I've never liked it much. But it is indeed expensive and requires lots of work to make. The bones must be simmered or slow-cooked for several hours, sometimes an entire day. In fact, I remember getting a whiff of the smell from the kitchen the night before (and no, it was not exactly the most savory aroma).

My co-teachers tell me that gomguk is a good dish for "weak" people in order to make them strong like a bear (gom), particularly because it's a good source of calcium. I decided that I could give it another try.

So a few days later, I had 곰국 again, and you know what? It wasn't as bad this time around. Still not my favorite Korean dish. (In fact, I'm slowly growing tired of Korean cuisine... Hate to admit it, but all I want these days is a good salad...) But it goes to show that first impressions don't always have to dictate the final verdict.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


In my taekgyeon class, we have switched from the weekly rotation of wrestling-tumbling-kicking-soccer-weight training to the slightly more grueling schedule of sparring practice five days out of five. I was not too pleased with the idea when it was first announced, but I understand why: we have a competition in one week.

There are only a few adult members of the dojang where I train, so in order to get a large enough group to attend the competition, I was roped in to the sparring team. This does not bode well for my team's prospects, since everyone at this competition will be a super-hardcore black belt but for me, a puny little no-belt who only stumbled upon the existence of taekgyeon all of three months ago.

Speaking of puny, I'm in the lowest weight class for this tournament. In taekgyeon (택견) and ssireum (씨름, traditional Korean wrestling), weight classes are cleverly named after the highest peaks on the Korean peninsula. The largest competitors, 75kg or heavier, are 백두 (Baekdusan, in North Korea), followed by those in the 한라 (Hallasan, on Jeju Island) class, and then 금강 and 태백. I'm in this last class, for 65kg or lighter. I discovered that there are only two other competitors in this class for Saturday's events, and one of them is barely pushing the upper weight limit. I don't fancy sparring him at all.

Yes, I'm going to a martial arts competition next week to get my ass kicked, quite literally. I'm sure they'll hand it to me with two hands to be polite, but I'm also sure that I am going to come home with a black eye or worse.

In a sure-to-be fruitless attempt to prevent this from happening, it's been all sparring practice, all the time lately. But matseogi (맞서기) is not easy. It requires speed, flexibility, and good reflexes, none of which I possess. Even as I spar and try in vain to dodge or block my partner's impossibly-fast legs, 관장님 yells advice at me, but I don't always understand. Actually, all I hear is, "Andrew, good!" when I land a kick, "Andrew, no!" when I miss a kick, and "Andrew, 집중! (pay attention!)" when I get kicked. It'd be hilarious if I weren't also in so much pain.

While being beat up by black belts every night hasn't been all that fun, it's still invigorating to be getting so much exercise. Also, after class I've been practicing random gymnastic stuff like handstands and front hand springs. I'm actually seeing improvement, too, which is what keeps me going, even though I've been perpetually physically and mentally exhausted lately. I'm going to continue at it diligently, at least until the tournament. Then I'll let myself pass out for a few days...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Should've seen this coming

Long story short, my students have found my blog!

It was bound to happen. But I have to admit that it never occurred to me that it would. I definitely underestimated my wonderful, tech-savvy, Internet-addicted students. I guess they're not too busy studying to Google their English teacher, after all.

What started off as surprise when a student or two casually mentioned that they'd found my blog quickly turned into embarrassment when I learned that another student had shared it on his Facebook page, and then mortification when I remembered that I've attempted to write in Korean several times since I first started posting. And now they can all read it and will probably laugh at me the same way I laugh when I read some of the things they write for their speech tests. Awkward! I mean, today, a first-year student stopped me in the hall to tell me that she loved reading my blog, and added, "Your Korean is better than me!" Totally not true! Also not grammatically correct, but I didn't mention that. In fact, there are now quite a few things I should refrain from mentioning from this point forward...

So, here's the plan of action:
1. No more essays in Korean on this blog. I'm relocating my Korean writing practice to lang-8, which I should have done months ago, actually. You write short posts in your target language, and native speakers correct them for you! If you use lang-8 (and I highly recommend that you do), look me up!
2. I'm going to filter what I write in here from now on. While I have nothing to hide from my students or anyone, it's better to be safe than sorry! Also, I think just the knowledge that this certain population may now be counted among my readers will affect what I write regardless of how I feel about it, know what I mean?
3. CSHS STUDENTS: Hi. If you are reading this, you now have a new homework assignment. Practice your English by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Musical Theater

So maybe it wasn't such a great idea to start watching all the performances from this year's Tony Awards at midnight yesterday.

The consequence of my late-night musical theater binge was that I found myself running on four hours of sleep and two cups of coffee (I never drink coffee) through the single busiest day of my semester. Today was a veritable 짬뽕 of six classes (twice my usual Tuesday load), three of which consisted of speech tests, interspersed with nearly fifty students dropping by my office all day to ask me to edit drafts three, four, or five of their speeches. Throwing those onto the "OUT" pile along with the 150 or so that I had just finished correcting this past weekend, I wondered how long it'd be before I either cracked and scribbled nonsensically all over a student's paper or just passed out right at my desk.

On the bright side, having loaded my subconscious with such wonderful Broadway gems, I found myself humming show tunes all day. Not only that, but I also snatched the opportunity to show my students Neil Patrick Harris' legendary opening number during the extra time at the end of each class. I don't know what they thought of it -- they were probably bewildered -- but at least everyone's eyes were glued to the screen. If nothing else, Broadway is a mesmerizing spectacle. Watch below: the 67th Tony Awards Ceremony opening number!

Similarly, during today's work periods for my third years, I treated them to a playlist of the songs from Hitlist, the musical-within-a-musical from Smash. I'm actually really pleased that I got to expose my students to a bit of American musical theater. I can't say much for the pop music that my students are invariably familiar with, but there's an entire microcosm of culture that I'm sure some of my students would fall in love with just as I have. I can't wait to show them more -- maybe come up with a lesson about it.

Watch below: "Broadway, Here I Come" from the season finale of Smash. The a cappella is fantastic!

Excellent music can only do so much for you, though. Because I've been so overworked lately, I haven't been able to go to the gym at all. Missing a day is no big deal, but two in a row has screwed with my routine, and I've been feeling restless. So, I definitely took it out at taekgyeon tonight. We were just playing indoor soccer, but I wanted to get some exercise in, dangit. I didn't play very nice, and even 관장님 was like, "Yo, take it down a notch."

Only two more days of speech tests left! (And then another week, but hey, I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.) 화이팅!

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I'm sitting at home, spending a quiet afternoon correcting student essays (forty down, forty left to go!) and listening to Sungha Jung's gorgeous acoustic guitar playing on his YouTube channel. It's great working music, so I'm sharing it here:

This kid is only sixteen years old! He started on YouTube when he was around eleven, got super-famous, and developed from a child prodigy to a musical genius. And still, he regularly uploads simple videos of him playing the guitar on the couch.
He doesn't just do covers of pop songs, though. He also composes his own music, and it's just as good, if not better. Listen to this one. And this one. And this one, too.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Haeundae Sand Festival Hooray"

At the 해운대모래축제, in front of a big sculpture featuring PSY! The word I'm blocking is "만세", which means "Hooray".
After a last-minute change of plans, I took a day trip to Busan today for the Haeundae Sand Festival (해운대 모래축제). I woke up at 7am and met up with friends from Changwon, and then we drove straight to Haeundae Beach, one of the most popular and well-known beaches in Korea. By some standards, it's not the best beach (and this is partly because it is one of the most popular -- and consequently the most crowded and most polluted during peak season), but it's still a great spot to spend a nice, summery day.

My friends and I wandered up and down the beach, admiring the large sand sculptures that were the main attraction of the festival. This year's theme is movies, so we saw Marilyn Monroe, E.T., Superman, Iron Man, and a host of other superheroes, and the iconic scene from Titanic. The sculptures were great, but I admit feeling a bit let down because I had imagined them to be flat-out amazing. I mean, just Google "sand sculpture", and then Google "Haeundae Sand Festival", and you'll see what I mean. Nonetheless, I enjoyed strolling along the beach and admiring the sights, and I was also glad that we were there early in the morning so that we could take photos in relative peace. Later on in the afternoon, the beach became insanely crowded.
One of my favorite sculptures was this one, based on Le Petit Prince.
We then settled down to play in the sand and water until noon. I got to work building a castle with a moat, trying only to use my feet since I don't like getting my hands dirty. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy building sandcastles. It's funny; I'm not really into creating a beautiful structure or even finishing the project. It's not about the end result. What I enjoy about sandcastles is the mindlessness of the endeavor, it seems. I dig and dig, and every so often a large wave rushes in and sweeps away half of my work. Well, no matter. Just keep digging. It's simple, meditative, and admittedly fruitless, but as long as I don't physically tire myself out, I could continue for hours. The castle was a purposeless project: water kept demolishing the walls, and eventually my friend's five-year-old came and rampaged all over the tower itself. But I quite enjoyed it all the same.

I will only mention in passing how this may or may not be a metaphor for life.
Andrew, Ben, and Ashley made a giant sea turtle with a volcano on its back as part of the amateur sand sculpture competition.
When Fulbrighters began to arrive on the scene starting at noon, we walked around the beach and enjoyed the sculptures, made one of our own, and watched beautiful people walking by. I also got some blueberry 빙수 at a cafe and watched bits of an airshow by the Black Eagles. Mostly, though, we just chilled under a beach umbrella. There were attempts to sunbathe, but Korea is generally conservative when it comes to beach attire, so I would have felt awkward about taking off my shirt. The beach became extremely crowded in the afternoon, yet ninety percent of the beachgoers were completely covered up, even if they were sleeping in the sun or dunking themselves completely underwater.

The thing about Korea and its no-shoulders, no-midriffs rule is that it's unspoken, enforced passively or subconsciously. An 아줌마 might give you a death glare or even some comments about your exposed shoulders, but nothing's really stopping you, unless you have an aversion to sticking out like a sore thumb. It's partly about modesty and partly about avoiding a tan at any cost, since fairer skin is generally considered more beautiful here. That doesn't mean there weren't some Korean women in bikinis or some Korean men so dark they looked Cambodian -- this is Busan, after all -- but for the most part, any person you saw less than fully clothed was a foreigner. And there were plenty roaming around the festival today, including my friends and me!
Fulbrighters at the beach! (Side note: I'm getting pretty good at this dSLR selfie (or 셀카/selca, as they say in Konglish) thing.
After lazing on the beach for a good few hours, it began to get colder and windier, so we headed inland to get dinner at a barbecue place. (I forget the name, but it was a forgettable restaurant, so no matter.) For dessert, we joined a very long line for 2,000₩ 32cm ice cream cones! That's $1.75 for an ice cream cone over one foot tall. They were great, although they began to melt very quickly, so we had to eat them quickly, so we all got brain freeze because it was cold and we were eating ice cream quickly. Ha! Good job, guys.

After dessert, I took a bus back to Changwon (the bus actually departs from the neighborhood, so I don't have to cross town to get to the main bus terminal first) -- for future reference, the ticket is 5,900₩ -- and arrived home at around 10pm. All in all, a great day. It really ushered in summer!
Anna, Ben, Katelyn, and Lizzie with giant ice cream cones!
Some vocabulary:
모래 (moleh) means "sand".
모래상을 쌓는게 명상적인 활동일 수 있어요. Building a sand castle can be a meditative activity.

바닷가 (padatga) means "beach" or "coast".
오늘 바닷가는 매우 복잡했어요. Today, the beach was very busy and crowded.

일광욕을 하다 (ilgwang-yogeul hada) means "to sunbathe".
제가 반나체에 대해서 많이 자의식이 강하지 않고 일광욕을 하면 좋겠어요. It would be great if I could sunbathe without being self-conscious about being half-naked.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

현충일 - Memorial Day

Korean Memorial Day is June 6th. Everyone is on holiday, so I didn't have to go to school. Instead, I went on a hike with tutors and students from the community center Korean class that I've been attending once a week for the past year. It was my first time in Jinhae, one of the three older cities that makes up the incorporated city of Changwon.

Three awesome things: the weather was great; hot, but not too uncomfortable, which means that summer's really here. Second, the food that people packed for a picnic was also great -- I had 떡만두 (rice cake dumplings) and rice balls for the first time. Also, the really nice Chinese couple invited everyone over to their apartment afterward for watermelon and beer.
Canada, China, England, United States, Korea. Hiking in Jinhae!
The last awesome thing was the language exchange that happened. There was a very diverse group of hikers today: about half were Korean, but there were also representatives of Canada, England, the US (that's me), China, Taiwan, and Russia. I communicated in English, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean, and it was excellent practice. Although the state of my spoken Chinese is pretty dismal after two years of almost no practice, I was able to stumble through extended conversations with the Chinese couple and the Taiwanese exchange students (who, when they discovered that I can also speak Taiwanese, albeit with an overbearing American accent, proceeded to switch to that instead).

As for Korean, I realized today when I struck up a conversation with one of the Korean tutors whom I hadn't met before that my Korean skills have improved vastly since I arrived in this country. I couldn't say much more than my name and "I love you" before, but the immersion has truly helped. I'm grateful for the amazing opportunity I've had this past year to learn an almost-completely new language, and I'm still determined to become fluent before I leave.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

성소수자 자긍심 행진

지난 주말에 저는 서울 홍대에 갔다왔습니다. 평소에는 친구만 만나려고 서울에 가는데 이번에는 제14회 "퀴어문화축제"에 가려고 갔습니다. 6월1일에 행진을 했습니다. 제 생각보다 많은 사람이 모였습니다. 한국사람과 외국인들이 같이 축하했습니다. 우리는 행진을 하고 "멈춰라, 동성애혐오"를 주장을 하면서 걸었습니다. 시끄러운편이지만 정말 신기했습니다. 매우 많은 일반인도(ㅋㅋ) 보고 있었습니다. 경찰들은 교통정리만 하고 행사를 간섭하지 않았습니다. 굉장히 재미있었습니다! (경남 사투리로는: 억수로 재미있다예!)

퀴어문화축제에서 행진 외에도 동성애 행동주의자 조직은 일반 사람들에게 동성에의 대한 잘 못된 정보를 바르게 알리고자 했습니다. 저는 서울에 살고 이런 행동주의자 조직에 참여하면 좋겠십니다. 저는 서울에 4시간 거리에 창원에서 사는게 참 안타깝습니다.

결론은, 지난 주말에 저는 퀴어문화축제를 진짜 즐거웠습니다. 하루밖에 없는데, 한국 사회가 성소수자의 평등에 천천히 첫발 내디딘것 같십니다. 그래서 희망을 아직 갖고 있습니다. 

하리수는 제14회 퀴어문화축제에서 공연 했다.
행진을 하는 무지개 살무노리이다.
"퀴어한 기독교인 여기 있다"라는 배너를 들고 있었다. 밑에는 "차별없는 새상을 위한 기독인연대"라고 했다.
몇 천 명 모였다. 저는 상당히 놀랐다.
홍대의 야화로에서도 행진을 했다.
P.S. Hey, Miyuki! Obviously this is not quite what you were expecting, but I promise I'll translate this, add some more thoughts, and get it to you soon.

P.P.S. Any native Korean speakers are welcome to advise/correct my Korean. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Food and Friends

Recently, I found myself trying to recall the lyrics of a silly song I heard from Spongebob Squarepants. It goes, "F is for Friends who do stuff together, U is for U and me, N is for aNytime and anywhere at all, down here in the deep blue sea." In the next verse, Plankton sings, "F is for Fire that burns down the whole down, U is for Uranium bombs! N is for No survivors --" But then, Spongebob interrupts him, and at a later point, both sing of happy things once more: "F is for Frolic through all the flowers, U is for Ukulele, N is for Nose-picking..."

And that's where I drew a blank. I couldn't bring up the very end of the song, and it bothered me so much that I Googled it to find out.

Anyway, I'd like to propose my own verse. Here goes: "F is for Food with Friends from Fulbright and Faraway homes, U is for the Urban culinary landscape, N is for No regrets whatsoever, after a fun weekend in Seoul!"

I'm really creative, can't you tell?

T is for Tacos. V is for Vatos.
Ashley and Kelly and our mouthwatering Nutella nachos with ice cream.
My first stop when I arrived in Seoul on Saturday (having departed Changwon at 7:00am sharp and sleeping the entire way through a four-hour bus ride) was a famous Mexican restaurant in Itaewon called Vatos Urban Tacos. The super-hip eatery was begun in 2011 by two Korean-Americans from California. They brought their love and knowledge of Mexican cuisine to Seoul, where it is still not as popular as you might hope. But Vatos is paving the way for Koreans to embrace the deliciousness of concoctions like galbi short rib tacos, kimchi carnitas fries, and carne asada quesadillas.

I'd heard nothing but good things about the restaurant, so I was psyched to visit it with Fulbright friends Ashley and Kelly, along with Justin, a friend from Fremont. When we walked in, I was taken aback. I think I was expecting a sort of hole-in-the-wall place, like Tacos Amigos, which is also in Itaewon. But this restaurant is huge, spacious, and bustling with activity. Tons of chefs work busily in the open kitchen, and waiters and bartenders try to keep up with a steady flow of customers both Korean and international. It felt very much like an American restaurant; even our waiter was American, and he was just as friendly and persuasive as a guy at your local Chili's.

Justin and me at Vatos. I had a bit of a glow going on, I'll admit.
The menu was tantalizing: nachos, tacos, burritos, quesadillas: everything you'd want in a Mexican restaurant, with the sad exception of guacamole since they had run out. The only disappointment -- though it was not a surprise -- was the portion sizes. For ₩11,000, those are three minuscule tacos. Yes, they were delicious. Filling, even. But still shockingly small. All of us gave in to ordering more appetizers even after we'd finished our main courses. We also got dessert, at our waiter's insistence: cinnamon nachos drizzled in Nutella, topped with ice cream. It was a good call.

So the five of us enjoyed our meal and our drinks (Giant frozen margaritas at noon? Sure, why not!), gritted our teeth when the bill came, and paid our compliments to one of the manager-owners, who was working the register. Vatos Urban Tacos was a success! I won't strain my wallet with frequent trips to the restaurant, but I would certainly go again. Here is their contact information/website.
Patbingsu with watermelon, ice cream, sliced almonds, and Corn Flakes
P is for Patbingsu. J is for Joenill.
It was great to see Jenny again!
Patbingsu (팥빙수) is a Korean dessert made of shaved ice topped with sweet red bean and a ton of other delicious things, including fruits, ice cream, nuts, rice cake, and sometimes chocolate. On Saturday evening, my friends and I replaced dinner with giant bowls of patbingsu from Cafe Joenill. There were six of us, and we wanted to order three, but the barista told us that two would actually be enough, and he was right. They were huge, and well worth ₩8,000.

Catching up with old friends and making new ones is a wonderful thing to do on a warm summery day, especially if you have a shaved ice dessert to dig into while doing so. Come July, I will probably want to eat one of these a day. And when I go to Taiwan this summer, you bet I'll have my fair share of 挫冰.

B is for Burrito. G is for Grill5.
Grill5 galbi burrito with guacamole! Note clever use of foreshortening...
It was a tiny burrito, so could I call it a burrito-ito? Burrititico? Just like at Vatos, the serving sizes at Grill5 Tacos were much smaller than I am used to. (I kind of grew up on Chipotle, just so you have a frame of reference.) Despite its smallness, however, this burrito was made with love, and it was incredible. I got a galbi burrito and splurged on guacamole and shoestring fries, neither of which I have even seen for months. It was a great way to start Sunday morning: more Mexican food, plus conversation and catching up with Jake, Di-hoa, and Stephanie. A burrito set costs ₩10,000. It was great, but I can't deny it also made me miss Chipotle and some of the more authentic Mexican food places around the Bay Area. Grill5 even matched the Chipotle aesthetic 
in its decor: corrugated steel, cement, wood, lots of light and space. Once again, a Korean-owned
Jake at Grill5.
establishment succeeded in making me forget that I was in Korea.

Grill5 Tacos is located in Hongdae (another branch is in Gangnam), but it's a part of the neighborhood that I've never been to. It's actually closer to Sangsu Station than either Hongdae or Hapjeong Station, and the area is overflowing with interesting bars, small restaurants, and art gallery cafes. I must go back to visit. On another note, apparently Grill5 is also apparently a food truck. I wonder which came first? Here are a ton of photos of Grill5 from someone else's Naver blog review.

I is for Ice Cream. F is for Fell+Cole.
The last wonderful new food experience I had last weekend was at a small "gastronomic ice cream" shop, also located in this cute area near Sangsu Station in Hongdae, named Fell+Cole after two streets in San Francisco. It's artisanal ice cream: all the flavors are handmade and homemade, organic when possible, with a different lineup every single day. They're quite creative, too, with flavors like blue cheese, Guinness chocolate milk, olive oil, blueberry makgeolli, and burnt caramel with sea salt. Wild. I tried a cup of agave sweetened chocolate, which just tasted like plain old chocolate, because my taste buds are naive. My friends got milkflower, blueberry cream cheese, and "Just Boring Vanilla". We all shared.
A scoop of agave chocolate ice cream from Fell + Cole.
One scoop was ₩5-6,000, which I think would have been more worth it if I'd tried something more adventurous. But I know I'll be back, because I got a stamp card already half-filled from just that afternoon. Also, the owner's a nice guy and fun to talk to. I wonder if/when he lived in San Francisco. I miss the Bay.

Yup, this weekend I certainly splurged on food. But N is for No regrets, right? It was just as much about spending time with my friends as it was about discovering new great places to eat in Seoul. I just wrote a lot about food in particular here, because to recount everything my friends and I talked about (fantasy novels, Arrested Development, LGBTQ rights, classroom horror stories, movies, future plans -- the end of the grant year is so terrifyingly close) would be nowhere near as satisfying as pictures of food. This is the Internet, after all.

Anyway, despite how awed I am at my capacity to blow through hundreds in two days whenever I visit the capital, I'd do it all again. It's just that I'm only going to be in Seoul two more times before summer vacation, so the seconds are ticking!
Di-hoa and Stephanie taking on summer heat with ice cream from Fell+Cole.
Oh, by the way: "N is for Nose-picking, chewing gum, and sand-licking, here with my best buddy!"

- - -
tl;dr contact information

Vatos Urban Tacos (Itaewon)
181-8 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu
(T) 02-797-8226

Hours: 10:30AM ~ 10/11PM

Cafe Joenill (Hongdae)
169-11 Donggyodong, Mapogu
(T) 02-326-3476
Hours: open 24 hours

Grill5 Taco (Hongdae)
409-8 Seogyodong, Mapogu
(T) 02-3144-2549
Hours: 11AM ~ midnight

Fell+Cole (Hongdae)
310-11 Sangsudong, Mapogu
(T) 070-4411-1434
Hours: 12PM ~ 10PM

Sunday, June 2, 2013


멈춰라! 동성애혐오 "Stop homophobia!"
The 14th Korea Queer Festival (퀴어문화축제) kicked off with a parade around Hongdae on Saturday, June 1st, 2013. It was quite fun. I'll write more about it later -- too many papers to grade before tomorrow!