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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's an ajuma day...

An "ajuma" is technically a married woman in Korean. Most ajumas are classified with the following:

  • The color purple
  • Permed hair
  • Visor and other various types of ridiculous head gear
  • Hiking gear
  • Bedazzled everything
Ajumas rule Korea. What the ajuma says, goes. That's pretty much besides the point but this post is to reinforce the hilarity of every day life in Korea. 

The story starts when my friend Jenn and I were walking to a little park about  five minutes from our apartment building. We were going to do some exercises and stuff. Almost to our destination, I have to pee... I don't want to go back (because that would take all of 10 minutes...) so Jenn says, "There are bushes at the park. Just squat. I've peed in a rice field before... It'll be fine." 

Eh... Why not... Minor detail, but there are no bushes at the park. And there are residential buildings surrounding it. Hmmm... While contemplating what to do, Jenn shouts, "Ohhhh there's an ajuma peeing."

Yes, ajumas can even pee (and poo) wherever they feel like it. There was no bush or anything to hide behind. Well there was a car but she didn't deem in necessary to shelter herself while urinating. (Yes, I peed outside, during the daytime, behind a bench, at a park with a playground. Jenn and I acted like we were doing exercises. It was fine.)

After our exercises at the kid park we moved to the ajuma park where there are machines that ajumas "work out" with that do almost absolutely nothing.

Just for fun, I'll tell you a story from my friend Chad about ajumas and bodily functions... According to him, he's outside his school smoking and looks over to see an ajuma look directly at him, drop her drawers, pop a squat and take a poop. While Chad is still watching. No big deal. 

(1) GROSS
(2) I want to be an ajuma when I grow up.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gyeongju Picture Post




Thank you, Korean man who stood there for 10 minutes 
while I waited to get a picture without you in it.






A fun swing! (Not really...)


At Buddhist temples, you can write messages to... send to Buddah as prayers, on slates. I saw this one in German and was thrilled I could read it!

"Lucky and healthy times for my children, Alexander and Maximilian."
MN from Austria

Gyeongju and Dirt Tea

Saturday a group of friends and I went to Gyeongju for the day. Gyeongju is a city smaller than Pohang but famous for the historical treasures and the Gyeongju National Museum. It's a 45 minute bus ride from Pohang. For whatever reason I thought we were going hiking (this was after several beers), even though I had already been told that there was no hiking at the temple we were going to. I dressed for hiking. There was no hiking. So basically I froze my butt off...

The temple was... a temple. In Korea, once you've seen one temple, you've pretty much seen them all. After the Korean War, a lot of temples were damaged. So now most of them look mass produced. It was nice to walk around and take pictures anyways, even though there are no leaves on trees yet (mostly because it won't warm up here!)

After the temple we went to a different part of the city for some Chinese food. The food was delicious and a Chinese woman came to our table and did a little tea-pouring performance. It was really cool.




I'm not sure exactly what kind of tea it was. My friends described it as weeds and flower tea... It was literately whole green leaves, flowers and orange peel in hot water. 


Everyone else at the table who tasted it agreed that it tasted like dirt. I quite enjoyed it. I think it was chamomile. The tea was a service for our table and I felt bad that no one else was drinking their service. So I finished everyone's Dirt Tea. And got the weeds stuck to my lips while I was sipping...


Tea = Dominated

I woke up super sick in the middle of the night. I can only think the Dirt Tea was to blame...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Free Hugs

After... almost a year of blogging, I just figured out how you can see how many people take a look. Here I've been thinking it's only my ten followers plus my facebook friends who have told me they regularly read (and my mom... she claims she couldn't figure out how to be a follower.) I was wrong. My blog has been viewed in 16 countries! I'm quite proud of my nearly 2,000 views! Keep it up, kiddos. Please continue to feed my ego.

To say thanks, here's a Free Hug!


(I'm a sucker for hugging and having my picture taken with Koreans - or anyone for that matter - dressed up as large obnoxious animals.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Boss

My boss is a wonderful man. He's the most awkward person I've ever talked to on the phone, bless his heart. but he tries... In order to renew my visa and stay in the country past the end of June, I have to go through some new processes the Korean government came up with, including an FBI background check. Before I send the paperwork to America to be processed I have to be fingerprinted. In America, that's no big deal. You go to a police station and they have a special card and will fingerprint you. In Korea, it's not quite as easy but I hear from friends that you can still get it done at the local station.

I told my boss that I need to do this. He said he has a friend who is a cop so he would talk to him. Yesterday my boss asks me (again) why I need fingerprints. You try to explain background check to a Korean. I'm sure they have some kind of equivalent here but it seemed like he had no idea what I was talking about... At one point he suggested he buy a stamp pad and I can do it myself... Not going to work. Nevertheless, he tells me he will pick me up in front of my apartment at 10:30 a.m.

At 9:30 a.m. he calls and asks to change the time - in 15 minutes. That in itself is funny to me. Then we're in a taxi and an English song comes on. This is how the next conversation goes:

Boss: Heather, do you know this song?
Me: Yes, I do.
Boss: (completely surprised) Ohhhh you do? You know Michael Bolton?
Me: Yes, I know Michael Bolton.
Boss: Tears in heaven... *sings a little diddy*
Me: Tears in heaven? You mean Eric Clapton?
Boss: Yes! Yes! Eric Clapton! Tears in heaven! [Korean with the taxi driver]...Hotel California...[more Korean] Heather, you know Hotel California? Eagles!
Me: Yes, I know the Eagles. They were in Korea two weeks ago!
Boss: Oh. (Not interested whatsoever...)

The fingerprinting process was... awkward... but it got taken care of. Hopefully the guy who printed me was a cop. I don't even know. He wasn't wearing a uniform. We did a "tester print" then the first print on the official paper. He gives it to me to examine and asks if it's ok. I obviously don't deal with fingerprints on a daily basis so I grab the FBI paper to make sure it's ok. He snatches it out of my hands and said it's good, he's a cop. (Then why did you ask my opinion...??)

Fingerprints are done and we're walking out and I realize I forgot to have the cop sign the paper. My boss insists I stay outside and he sprints to the building and sprints back out with my signed paper. I thank him profusely (I could have gone back up the six flights of stairs myself to get the signature) and he says with excitement, "Noooo! My pleasure!!" as he's panting because he just sprinted a good 200 meters. Next week we have a work dinner. I can't wait to see that man drunk!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Dirty Thirty

Six words: You get what you pay for.

That phrase couldn't have meant more this weekend. In spirit of St. Patrick's Day, some friends and I went to Busan, a city on the southern coast, for the weekend. There's a popular Irish pub there and we all needed to get out of Pohang for minute.Busan is a pretty big city and it's only an hour and a half from us. So Saturday morning we hop on a bus (then another bus then a subway) and get to where we need to be. We had a great American lunch then enjoyed some beverages on the beach.

Once it started getting chilly we decided to find a hotel.

In Korea "love motels" are in abundance. They are inexpensive hotels that get their name because it's where Korean men (and couples, too, I suppose) go to...umm... have relations... with their mistresses. For us (and most in the foreign community), they're a place to sleep.

We find an area with a lot of hotels and split up to compare prices. My friends Frances and Lauren meet back up and announce their hotel just said "NO" when they asked how much... And Palan and I say ours is 30,000 won per night (about $30). Not bad... So we get two rooms.

Lauren and I go into our room and it's...minimal. It's terribly old and outdated but it has a bed and a bathroom. We quickly find out it doesn't have a working bathroom. The toilet was broken (coincidentally when both of us had to pee after consuming out beverages...). We had to find the old lady to try to fix it. She used this plunger "contraption" a few times and said "OK" and Lauren told her to try to flush. She said no. So Lauren helped her. What a surprise...it still didn't work. Then Lauren asked her in Konglish to just give us a new room. She said no. Then Lauren, in Konglish again, insisted she give us a new room. She did.

Our new room had a working toilet at least. And stained walls and flooring. Our wooden door had I think five types of wallpaper on it to cover the holes. There was no heat. But there was a (broken) condom dispenser...

Need I say more...?

I nicknamed the place "The Dirty 30." And it fit quite well. The night was great. Everyone had a lot of fun. I don't think I lot of sleep was gotten at The Dirty 30 but it provided a good story to pass along. Our friends stayed at a hotel close to us. We thought they only paid 40 for their room. We should have splurged the extra 10. We found out they actually paid 60 so we were fine with our rooms then. You just couldn't wipe your face with the towel after washing it (there were nasty Korean hairs all over it) or walk around barefoot. We got what we paid for. And a funny story to tell to our friends and family.

I can't wait to go back to Busan again. Maybe next time I'll camp on the beach instead. It will be cleaner.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Diary entry - unedited

This is the type of "writing" I have to decipher...


Sater  day   12th   March/sun

To day I went to the mauntin. Because We at a sheep meet wee go and we played at water and we catch the pish and we eat cheicken and we see the dog and chicken we play agin and we caught the     but i wat my caught the cell bug we didn't eat we threw the water and I go to my home but I didn't do my homework and I play the cards with my friend with evan's brother and I sleep It was sooooooo happy day.

(By Ricky)

Longest run-on sentence EVER. I don't know what you did today but at least it was sooooo happy day....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Safety First

It's around noon on a Saturday. I'm hungover from the long night before. I met my girls for coffee (well I was too late for coffee but we met AT a coffee shop...). Frances brought me some sweatpants and a t-shirt, as I was still in my dress and tights from the night before. Basically, I'm trying to insinuate that I look rough.

I'm walking downtown with Lauren and hear, "Hello." Most children "try" to speak English with white people, but they only say 'Hello' or 'Where are you from?'

We generically say, "Hello," back but then I hear, "Heather Teacher?" Well, hello, Helen, my student... And let me add that I live a good 35 minute bus ride from the downtown area. My friends who live and work nearby frequently see their students. I do not.

I asked Helen what she was doing. She was downtown shopping with her friends. (She's probably 11 years old...) I asked if her parents were here or if they rode the bus. They rode the bus. By themselves. Four 11 year olds rode the bus by themselves on a busy day to go shopping and get ice cream. In the States that's unheard of.  A child can't go a few blocks from their house without their parents fearful that they'll be abducted. In Korea it's not an issue!

My grandma especially is always worried about my safety. I've stopped telling her I walk places alone at night. Too many of those stories would give her a heart attack. The truth is, though, I've never once felt threatened since I've been here. I've walked in the sketchiest of sketch alleys during all hours of the day and night and would never worry about getting mugged or raped or murdered.

I remember my junior year in college. My roommates and I lived in an apartment above a comic book store basically in the ghetto. While we lived there a girl got her purse stolen and pistol whipped (smacked in the face with a gun). It was barely safe enough to walk through a parking lot to get to campus by yourself at night.

In conclusion, I'm very thankful to be living in such a safe place. South Korea would be a great place to raise children as far as safety goes. (But not for me...!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Love/Hate

I, and I probably speak for almost all foreigners too, generally have a love/hate relationship with Korea. And these feelings usually change daily. When you're having a bad day at home (as in America for me) you don't say, "Ahhhhh I hate America." Living away from home lets me blame something for bad days.

This post probably would be petter placed either at my six month mark or one year. But I'm doing it now because it's been on my mind lately. 

First I'll note the things I dislike about Korea (I don't actually HATE anything...)

  • Lack of communication: I've become quite proficient in Konglish (Korean and English mixed) but sometimes I encounter individuals who speak absolutely NO English at all. Even Konglish can't help me then. 
  • Open windows: Even if it's freezing cold inside, chances are, a window is open somewhere. Why? I don't know.
  • Coats inside: Rather than turn on the heat, God forbid..., Koreans would rather just wear five layers, a coat, scarf and gloves inside.
  • Dirt: Korea. Is. Dirty. There's no way to sugar coat it. Most places in Europe I visited, the streets and sidewalks were immaculate (for the most part) compared to here. Trash receptacles? Not necessary. Just throw your trash in the pile of trash over there. Oddly enough, though, all the trash does go away. I suppose the old, retired folk need something to do and some way to make money...
  • Wallpaper: Both apartments I've lived in and I'm sure every other apartment in the country has at least one wall covered in bright, printed, gaudy wallpaper. Enough said. Korea, wallpaper left with the 90s. (Maybe early '00s...)
  • Shower situation: Some larger apartments have real bathtub/shower combos but in most smaller places you'll find a toilet/sink/shower combo. My bathroom is all tile. I have a toilet with a sink next to it, and a shower head (the removable kind) above it. There's a little knob on the sink faucet that you turn to switch between sink and shower. And basically everything in the bathroom gets wet while you bathe. And if you forget to turn the shower function back to sink? SURPRISE!
  • Driving: If you're not from California you might think Californians drive crazy. Cali, you got nothin' on Korea. Stop lights? Optional. No parking spot? Just stop where you are. Yes, that's right. Whether you're in the middle of the road, side or on the sidewalk, just park right there. Speed limit? Pshhhh what speed limit. Ease on your breaks before a red light if the guy in front of you actually stopped? Not necessary. Just slam on your breaks 10 feet before that stopped car. AND... little known secret (not true at all), if you're at a stop light you can put your car in neutral and put on your parking break and turn off your headlights to save gas/energy. 
  • Crosswalks: Yes, crosswalks are a necessary feature for busy intersections. There are some times, however, when you can simply look both ways and decide it's safe to cross. Koreans haven't figured that out yet, and they look genuinely surprised if I or any other foreigner crosses before we get the green walk sign. It's like watching a dog in a yard with an electric fence. He'll go so far but STOP. Don't want to get shocked. STOP don't want to get hit by the car that isn't coming...
  • The "Korean Way": I can't count the number of times I was incredibly fed up with my previous employer. The way my start date was moved around, a meeting would be sprung on me at the last minute but the boss wouldn't show, and the list continues... I am expected to remain flexible and open-minded during all of these situations because it's either the "Korean way" or a miscommunication. But if the miscommunication is on my end, well let's just say it doesn't work to my advantage. 

WHEW... Done with the bad. Now for the things I love about Korea.

  • My salary: I don't think a grown gal with a big girl job should discuss the specifics of her salary (yes, I make a salary!) but just know it's sweet.
  • Cell phone bill: I pay roughly $10/month for my cell phone. Sure it's a crappy pay as you go phone, but it's all I need. It lets me text the 27 contacts I have and make an occasional phone call.
  • Electricity bill: Mine averages around $14/month.
  • Cost of food: It's cheap. Most Korean meals average at $9 per person - with alcohol! Even simple things like bottles of water are cheap. There are so many things in Korea you can buy for under $1 (and even things that are $1 Korean equivalent are cheaper than 1 USD because of the exchange rate). Can't really say the same for America. It gets harder and harder to find things under a buck. 
  • Taxis: They're everywhere. And they're cheap, too. A ride from one of the city to the other costs about $15. In America that ride would be at least like $35. 
  • Floor heating: The heat goes through the floor and heats the rooms that way. It's quite ingenious. The heat stays in for the most part and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than central heating. 
  • No keys: I don't have a car here so no car key. And I don't even have a key to my apartment! Hello key-less entry! It's much easier to keep up with a 4-digit code than a silly key. Downside, when you are too inebriated to punch in the door code, you might think your landlord changed the code so you can't get in. (Not that that was me on my birthday last year or anything...)
  • Chopsticks: They're the tool of all tools. I can eat anything with chopsticks. Pasta? Check. Cake? Check. Fried chicken? Check.
  • Delivery: Everything can be delivered here. On scooters. It doesn't matter what kind of food you want, it will come to you, no matter where you are. You're in a PC-bang and you want some pizza? No problem. Ten minutes. You're at home and you want McDonalds? Of course. Would you like fries with that? If only I knew how to order stuff on the phone... Sadly I can't even order pizza by myself! Haha. It's nice in theory though. 
  • Close proximity: You can travel Korea North to South in seven hours by bus, two by train. East to West is five hours. Pohang is within a two hour bus ride from about five larger, more popular cities. This makes day or weekend trips a definitely possibility all the time, even if it's just for a manicure and yummy American food. 
  • Asia: Korea is in Asia. Did you know that?!?! It makes traveling to other Asian countries much easier and cheaper. I can travel to China just as cheap as I could travel to the other side of my own country. That's awesome! So far I have trips planned/flights booked for Japan and China. During my Asian adventure I MUST see Cambodia as well. Maybe the Philippines and/or Thailand too. We'll see. 
  • Friends: I now have friends literately all over the world. All of whom say, "When you come to ______ you can stay with me! I'll show you around!" I just hope they're not joking. If so, they'll be surprised by my email saying Hey I'll be in ______ next month! See you then. I can still crash with you, right?!?! And some of the friendships I've made are definite lasting ones. Being away from our homes with no family, we have to rely on our friends to be our family. I'm a lucky girl. 
  • Great job: I love coming to work every day. Love it. I love seeing smiling Asian children every day, even when they tell me I'm fat because they don't know any other word for "not skinny." Although my first job still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the work was so rewarding. I know I've talked about him before, but my little Smile will always have a special place in my heart. I met the three year old on his first day of English kindergarten. He cried and slept on my shoulder. He didn't even know hello. The milestones I saw with that little boy were amazing. I almost cried the day he said in clear English, "Teacher, may I have some water please." He learned that from me! I taught him that! Or the day Princess Sally had an impromptu shape quiz from my supervisor. She never knew what an oval was during class but remarkably, she finally remembered. She LEARNED. From me! This is one of the reasons teaching will most likely be in my future. I don't know in what capacity. But I'm a teacher now. 
In conclusion, I love Korea and love my life. Most days. 

Beautiful Busan

Here's a picture post of the highlights from my trip to Busan.



Pretty fish at the aquarium. 


I'm going to go diving with this little guy. Not sure when, but I'm going. Watch.


Coral.


I had to wait in line with children to have my picture taken.


A little girl and her grandfather flying a kite for New Year.


View of the temple from afar.





Praying to Buddha.


There were several shelves of these Buddhist figurines. This was my favorite shot. 


Temple again.


This is why it's called the Temple by the Sea.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time on Tuesdays

My Tuesday work schedule is super easy. I'm done with my lesson planning and still have a big chunk of break left. So I might as well share some random stories...

Story 1: My new computer came today! As I walked into my office, it sat there, waiting to be unwrapped like a child's Christmas present. Only on Christmas, kids generally get to tear into the pretty packaging and tough-to-open plastic casing (sometimes to find out mom forgot to buy batteries. Woops.). They don't have to watch the clock as the second hand tics on and on and on. Just waiting for that time to go home.

I admit, I did rip it open and take it out, but only admire it's beauty and show off my new toy to my friends (coworkers). Now I'm just waiting for 6:30 to roll around so I can go play!

Story 2: At Kid's College it was a rare day that I didn't wipe tears from someone's face. I had babies every day. It was to be expected. But here at Jung Chul, my students are a bit older. If they cry, they better have a good reason to, basically... Well I made my first kid cry yesterday.

His name is Zeus (only he can't pronounce Zeus so we call him Juice) and he's the exact kind of student I'm always drawn to. Borderline BD little boy who drives everyone nuts. I have a soft spot on my heart for those children. I could tell Juice was having a bad day when I walked in. I tenderly patted him on the back and asked if he was ok. Fighting back tears, he said ok.

Midway through the lesson I see that he has his whole page of questions filled in. We were only on number two. So I asked him to erase his answers and copy the answers on the board. "No," he said, eyes welling up. (I don't take kindly to being told no - especially when I am the authority figure) We went back and forth for a minute. He refused to erase his answers so I told him to leave the classroom. Once again, he refused, and cried even harder. This, of course, makes me furious. I pretend to leave to call his mom and he panicked and agreed to erase. I let him know that he will be coming to my office to talk after class. More tears.

After class he begged and begged no. He really didn't want to come to my office. The principal saw. His Korean teacher saw. I'm sure it appeared like I was going to beat him if he came with me. I was nice... I let him know that he MUST listen to me always. I made sure he understood and let him go home, still crying. I felt awful because he's such an adorable kid.

Today after his class he came up to me and apologized in English with a big smile. Made my heart grin. AND I got a hug. Juice reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger - moody, emotional and always defying authority. Oh wait, that's still me!

Next up: (finally) Pictures that have been waiting to be posted.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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