Friday, May 29, 2009

Mourning in Class

I know you may be tired of hearing about Roh's tragedy. But today is the grand funeral for him. My coteacher has been watching it live via her computer in class today. We played it for the 6th grade.

I feel like I am witnessing history as it happens.

I asked her why Koreans didn't have the day off, and she said the President (Lee) didn't allow for it.


Looking around you can tell on the faces of people that they are at a lost for this event.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Friend's Direct Experience with this Swine Flu Mania

My pal Kristen works at one of the hagwons currently under the fire from the swine flu mania. I am not going to name which one she works at, but I will say it is one of the bigger establishments.

I met her last Monday just as her school was being shut down and she was told to stay at home or nearby for 7 days.

Well I am not going to reword her experience, for I think it is best you go take a glimpse of it over at her blog. You can really get the sense of how it feels to be the "other" here.

Goodluck Kristen!

Roh's Local Memorial

I have mentioned how some people set up a make-shift memorial for ex-president Roh in my area. Well since then it has grown to quite an establishment. It is located in the center of my town so you really can't miss it on your way to places like Emart.

There is usually a line where people wait to give their respects. A part of me wishes I could feel what they feel and mourn with them. But I can't help but feel disconnected. However I do feel sorry for the way he died and hope Koreans can handle this as part of their history.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Know Your Korea

Today I went to my Korean class and when class got out I had dinner with some other teachers. At the table one of the teachers asked us all a question:

Does Korea have a constitution?
No one gave an answer and we all admitted we didn't exactly know. I felt really like a dumbass for not knowing considering I have been living here one year and studied Korean art when I was in college. But I had the feeling the answer was yes.

So when I got home I did a quick Wikipedia search and found the answer. They indeed have a constitution.

The South Korean government's structure is determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This document has been revised several times since its first promulgation in 1948
Now when someone out of the blue asks me that again I have an answer, and hopefully you will too. This also makes me feel like I should stop being such a passive person and get into the history, politics and social structure of the place I am living in. First I should stop reading so many blogs all the time, unless of course they are blogs that can teach me something. ;)

It's Still Fun to Live Here

Despite all the news, paranoia and your usual everyday-Korean-crazy stuff it is still fun to live on this peninsula.

Where else can you find yourself wondering how to console your teary eyed coteacher after she had spent all of the planning time reading news about the deceased ex-president?

I have been here for a year now and I am still trying my darnedest to understand all that goes on here. I think the day is going to come when I just accept it all as the way it is and learn to let it all go.

I really want to write about my 1 whole year experience here and provide a great video montage, but I have yet to get around to it. Don't worry I will, just don't know when..haha.

So life is still fun here, you know?! Last weekend, on Saturday, I went to Insadong to buy some art supplies and meet up with JH. While there I contacted Roboseyo and met up with him and his friend Evan.

We went over to Kyobo bookstore because the guys were looking for Korean study books. While we were there we ran into Jennifer from Fat Man Seoul and it became an instant meet up. JH was nervous meeting a lot of foreigners at once but I think he had himself a real memorable time.
JH and I were hungry so we split from the group to catch a bite of Korean chicken soup or samgyetang 삼계탕. It involved a lot of bones, which I have a fear of so it was interesting to eat. I would say if it were a freezing winter day and I felt a cold coming on I would have enjoyed it more. Supposedly you are to eat it 3 times during the summer.

After that we met up with the rest of the gang and went to Jennifer's new smashing great house. The place has more than 1 room and a balcony of all things! My one room hovel compared nothing to this place. To top it off her home is located in a cutesy area with lovely cafes. Someday...someday.

Sunday, sunday, sunday! On Sunday JH and I went back to the Anyang Art Park for some relaxation. We sat near that water-spouting sculpture. I did some sketching and we played around and took some pictures.

He is camera shy!

Lunch was another Korean "pizza" or as I call it a pancake. This one was pretty good since it had a nice crispiness to it.

We tried some of that milky rice wine, which I found a bit distasteful.
There you have it folks. Hopefully we can all keep our heads screwed on correctly and get through these various crisis occurring across kimchi land.

I am somewhat idealistically thinking how wonderful it would be if during these events that we as expats somehow bonded more and finally ended up creating some kind of functioning community. Here's to hope! Cheers!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Register Yourself

It seems you can't really live life with rose-colored glasses on all the time. You never know when some virus might catch up to you or a missile may land in your back yard.

Therefore it may be wise to let your country's embassy know you are living next door.

Today I registered online at the US Embassy so that if something were to happen or there was a crisis situation I wouldn't be an "unknown" in the statistics.

Here for you is the link:
Travel Registration US Embassy

If you belong to a different country then I suggest finding how to register and getting that taken care of before it is too late.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Swine Flu Hunt

Something tells me that the Swine Flu or H1N1 virus is starting to have an affect on native teachers out here as news of quarantined teachers starts to show up.

Not only that but just today my coteacher got a call in the middle of class.

Her: "Joy! Do you have the H1?"
Me: "What are you talking about?"
Her: "The pig virus, do you have any symptoms?"
Me: "No." (serious and confused look)
Me: "Why?"
Her: "Somebody is asking, there are some cases."
And she proceeded to tell them something on the phone and then we continued class.

I don't know about you but I think local governments are on a hunt now to check for any teacher showing "signs". Sure I can understand the concern for the safety of the children, but I know this search is going on in the typical frenzied way.

My real concern is that I am going to America on my summer vacation and am now wondering if I will be quarantined after my return. I am going to do some reading up on quarantine procedures so that if I end up in that situation I know what my rights are.

Good luck to those who are quarantined, especially if you are new to Korea and this is part of your first few months experience here.

**Update: 5/26
School nurse called our classroom and inquired whether I had been to America in the past month. Um no. You have seen me here everyday. Sometimes you gotta wonder.

Ken's Response

Ken a "Korean who lives in Seoul" responded to my last post "The News Today" via email. I thought it was post worthy so here for you are his 2 cents.

Hi Joy. I'm a Korean who lives in Seoul. Below are my opinions regarding your post. (Your comment functions are closed to me unless I sign up for some blog, so I decided to e-mail.)

I now know how Americans felt when they first heard the news that John F. Kennedy was shot.

Never thought I'd cry for someone I didn't even vote for. Roh was a decent man, a statesman who truly cared for his people regardless of their origin----an absolute anomaly if you know the modern history of Korea. 6 years ago, Many Koreans saw an incredible hope through him. Even though he was far from perfect, it was the IDEA, not the personage, of such a leader that led many Koreans to support him. Many of them subsequently retracted their support over the years due to disappointments in his policies, but the idea lives on.


I see some expatriate bloggers who made unforgivably nasty comments (to my Korean mind) regarding Roh's death. I wonder if most of them are Americans who were offended by Roh's so-called anti-American stance, feeling their easy life in Korea is threatened by his left-wing policies? Or are they merely 'patriotic' in a neocon sort of way? Or are they offended by what they regard as typically "unthinking" characteristics of some Koreans who flock to the city plaza holding candles? I'm not bitter. I'm just curious about the way they feel.

Yet I fail to understand their vehemence, unless they have their loved ones killed or abducted by North Koreans during the last war or something. They seem....Koreanized, you know, for some of their unsavory comments are quite indistinguishable from equally unsavory ones you can find in Korean portals. It could be that some of them are Korean Americans who got their political opinions straight from their parents, whose opinions in turn had a tendency to get "frozen" at the point when they departed Korea in the 70s for greener pastures. A curious, but not wholly unknown, social phenomenon, I hear.

Thanks for reading.

Dear Ken,

Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. I know that it may be difficult to understand why some expats respond in a way that is not sensitive to the situation. Understand that for the most part a good chunk of us aren't familiar with Korean politics or history. Therefore it is ignorance that guides some of us.

What is fascinating about this event is that it is causing many people to talk to each other and cross borders never thought of before.

I would love to hear further about your opinions so please feel free to email me any time.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

The News Today

So I am sure most of you know about Korea's ex-president Roh Moo Hyun's tragedy. As I learned of this event I couldn't help but realize how much I don't really know about this country's government. Along with how easily I pass through life here without paying much attention to the inner side of Korea.

My first site of this event came yesterday when I was taking the train to Seoul. Sitting next to me was an ahjumma reading a newspaper. The front page had the picture of the ex-president and then text all around it. But the only thing I really noticed was how the ahjumma was spreading her arms out to read the newspaper. I didn't know what all the fuss was about on the front page. After reading it she gave it to the ahjumma next to her to read.

Not until later that day when I met up with Roboseyo that he told me about what had happened, and I made the connection with the newspaper. Elbow-shoving was immediately forgiven.

Now it is the buzz on the TV and the Internet. Walking to the bank this morning a group of older folks were setting up a shrine in honor of the ex-president. Under the tent was a table with flowers, incense and an honorary picture. I wanted to capture the moment with my camera but felt I would have looked like I was making a rude act.

I feel this incident, once again, exposes how corrupt and complicated politics and government can be.

What I really want to know is how Korean citizens truly feel about this and what effects it will have on the psyche of the people here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rice Cooker Obtained

I posted a while back about how I pushed my coteacher to honor my contract and provide me with an functioning rice cooker. Well this week she pulled through and I have for you my new rice cooker. Although it is technically the school's property it will serve me well.

And because I think there are still some curious minds out there who wonder what us expats eat, here are some pictures of recent groceries I bought. Keep in mind I have other stuff besides this so here is just a sample.

Various grain puffs... great as cereal!

Emart had a sale of utensils going on so I picked up a few necessities. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find these things sometimes.

Pre-packaged salad... I know I could make it myself by buying lettuce.

Fruit gummies which are probably mostly sugar.

Orange juice and apple juice.

Apple jam. I go through jam like crazy. The stores mostly stock strawberry jam but I like a different flavor each time.
Well there is that slice of life. Wonder if my first pot of rice will come out good today.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Best Pancake in Korea

Whatever our theories on relationships may be you gotta have other loves in your life. I am talking about pancakes!

Sunday morning I woke up with a craving for Butterfinger Pancakes. If you don't know by now this is the hot spot to go for Western style breakfast / brunch. I have been there 3 times already.

There are actually a number of locations. The one I usually visited was in Apgujeong but because I have some memories there I decided to go to the one in Gangnam. It is near exit 6 down one of the side streets of the main road.

Whenever you go to Butterfinger Pancakes you end up waiting for a table. I think there is nothing wrong with this as it builds up your appetite and anticipation. For JH (that is the new guy's initials) it was going to be his first time having an complete western breakfast.

After about 20 minutes we were seated..

Enjoying the condiments at the table...

I ordered a specialty item on the menu, which were the Pecan Gingerbread Pancakes. Let me tell you this picture does not give you the full thing. The lovely scent that came from these pancakes was heavenly. The taste was fantastic too!!

JH had the waffle combination...

After picture....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Korean Equation

I am going to go out on a limb here and be ambitious. You see after the break up with BK and hitting the dating scene here in Korea I came up with this formula in my head for dating Koreans. Now I am no expert and I still don't really have a good sample rate to validate my findings. But after talking to some seasoned expats and some coteachers (women) I got the feel for this equation.

What I will do is present to you my idea of the American (western) dating equation coinciding with the Korean dating equation. Keep in mind that this is probably not true for every American (Westerner) or every Korean.

Let's begin..

The American (Western) dating equation(s):
(likes the same things) (loves / likes each other) (man) + (woman) (likes the same things) (loves / likes each other)
(likes the same things) (loves / likes each other) (man) + (man) (likes the same things) (loves / likes each other)
(likes the same things) (loves / likes each other) (woman) + (woman) (likes the same things) (loves / likes each other)

The Korean dating equation:
(Family matches) (Age is not too high or too low) (Job is honorable) (Body type is desirable) (Education background is honorable) (Blood type compatibility) (loves / likes each other)(man) + (woman) (Family matches) (Age is not too high or too low) (Job is honorable) (Body type is desirable) (Education background is honorable) (Blood type compatibility) (loves / likes each other)

And although I am positive that there are gay / lesbian Korean couples I am not going to include that equation because it isn't considered a standard here.

As you can see, from my point of view, there are some fundamental differences between the Korean equation and the American one. Most importantly that the Korean equation is based upon certain requirements instead of simple platonic love.

When you think about these two equations, as I did, you have to wonder where you fit into it. I realized that I didn't fit into BK's equation or that he couldn't fit me into his. As a western person with no real moral checklist I feel free to include anyone into my equation as long as they aren't creeps or a**holes.

But there are many expat women out there who have managed to get themselves inside the Korean equation and successfully. (Although there are some who have gotten on the inside but still it ends badly, so it varies.) I believe this was done because the individual they found put aside most of the stuff attached to that equation and matched it with the American or (western) equation.

In the end, these ideas of mine are just .... ideas. Whether Korean or Western we are human and looking for companionship. But this is how I see myself as a woman embracing the dating scene here in Korea. I feel my competition is not with Korean women but with this equation. However, my theories may just be pudding one day...who knows?

What do you think? Am I completely bonkers here? Is this too bias, obscene, obtuse...? Lemme know~

Pre-Decision Making Time

It is getting closer to the time when my school will review my work performance and decide whether they want me to re-sign for another year. Basically my current contract will end in October and three months before they need to determine whether they should be looking for a new teacher or not.

Every week the thought of what to do after this contract crosses my mind. The most important thing I think about is my housing. I am already set on continuing another year here in Korea, but it isn't going to be inside a shoebox sized house.

So if my current school wants to keep me they are going to have to offer me better housing. I won't sign the contract until I get a guarantee and start seeing action by the administration that they will move me. But I have to wait till July to start the negotiations. If that doesn't work out or they don't even want me for a second year I will take my chances at another school, being patient this time before I make a choice.

I thought I would write about this because I was wondering if anyone else has experiences with negotiating their second year contract at a public school. Already the feel I have for my school's administration is that you have to point out the words in the contract and remind them over and over what it means.

All in all though I have a set of choices to ponder over till it is true decision time. Let's take a look:

My Choices:
  1. Re-sign for a second year: As I said I would demand better housing before I sign. Plus: know the schedule, kids and administration. Also the area is nice. Minus: Could become bored with area and school.
  2. Finish current contract: This would leave me with no job for November onwards. It is difficult to get a 'choice' school during this season. I could move to temporary accommodations and look for a job. Or I could take the free flight home and chill out in America then come back.
  3. Extend current contract to end of January: The prime public school hiring season is for February and March. So if I chose to leave my current school behind then I would ideally like to wait till the end of January to pick a new school. I want to stay in Gyeonggi-do to make my way up the GEPIK ladder. So far I am not really sure which area to pick, but I do like my current area and Bundang. Another option is to get on the Seoul Public School system.
Well that is the way I see it. Of course I could just throw in the towel all together and return to America and form a life there.

But I am more interested in life here. For now I am strongly going for choice #1, but I am not looking forward to negotiating with them for a new house. The fact that I even have to convince them that I need a better house is annoying. It reminds me how most Koreans don't understand what it is like to live alone. Meaning I am still bitter from how my first coteacher handled the housing. Something I should let go of...but she doesn't have to live in it... I do.

All right well stay tuned to see what happens.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Okay so I guess I have been dancing around this new development in my life where I have met someone new and I haven't introduced them yet. And well you are right to think that I have met someone new. However, I am still going to be a bit shy in revealing this person. So in the meantime you will get some posts like today's where I tell you about what we did but still keep his identity in the dark. If this is driving you crazy....sorrry.
So Saturday we met up in my neighborhood and went to MOCA, which stands for the Museum of Contemporary Art. I think when I end up going to a museum that the Art History nerd inside of me wakes up and I become this kind of "know-it-all and I am going to tell you" type person. But still it was really nice to get inside a museum again.

This museum is not far from my area, located in Gwacheon near Seoul Land. It was a rainy cool day so going inside to view some art fit well.

Multiple / Dialogue Exhibition:
When you first enter the museum you walk into an area where there is a spiral ramp which leads upwards to a skylight. In the center is Nam June Paik's "The more, the better."

Visitors are greeted with “The more, the better” by artist Nam June Paik, which was installed at the center of the Ramp Core in 1988. 1,003 TVs, a number that was chosen to represent Korea’s National Foundation Day, October 3, are installed in a round tower 18.5m high and 7.5m in diameter. This vast cone-shaped video tower is the first work of art that visitors see in the main entrance hall, and each monitor can be individually appreciated by walking up and down the slope of the Ramp Core.
When seeing Paik's works I am usually first set into a daze as the flickering images on the screens go in and out. After waking up a bit I usually look around the whole piece and take in the breadth of the size and scale. This particular work of his reminded me of pagodas, especially with the long rod like construction on top. Certainly you can make a lot of parallels between his media and technology saturated imagery and the way in which Buddhist temples, pagodas and statues have that gargantuan feeling.

But there is more at play here than Paik's centerpiece. Alongside the spiraling ramp is a coinciding exhibit of Ik Koong Jang's retrospective works.

Kang’s Samramansang, which features around his 60,000 ‘3×3 inches’ works, will be installed on the 200-meter long spiral wall that ascends around the stately video tower of The More The Better, together with his other works in the forms of object, video, sound and interactive media art.
Covering every inch of the wall leading up the ramp were tiles, paintings, found objects and displays. The breadth of the work is overwhelming as you not only take in the delicately painted tiles which feature Hangeul, but also tiny video screens and boxes emitting sound. Definitely I felt saturated in this installation piece while Paik's piece in the center kept me going up and up to see more.

There were some parts to the spiral ramp that had showcases, this one displaying typical restaurant food one usually finds outside a storefront here. But this time the food was dressed up with toys. It was a very fanciful transliteration of the everyday kitsch objects that are found outside storefronts.
The theme or concept of the artist was to create an interactive and not passive part of this installation.

Viewers are invited to participate in the dialogue between the two artists as they experience constantly blinking Paik’s video images on one hand and on the other the endless flow of Kang’s ‘3×3 inches’ pieces. And they will find themselves climbing up to the summit which possesses infinite dialogues and encounters.
The interaction I saw consisted of viewers photographing each other as the walked up the ramp. There were some spots where live video was showing you walking upwards.

I think though the most interaction was visual as your eyes went from Paik's work to Jang's pieces on the wall.

Chalo! India - Special Exhibit:
Currently at the museum they are featuring a special exhibit of contemporary Indian art. First of all, I was excited to see art from India inside Korea. Why? Indian contemporary art is a rare site to see in America unless you live near major museums. Even still it is known that large scale exhibits of art from India don't usually travel to America. This is coming from my own opinion and may not be factual, but I think it is well known.

This exhibit comes to Korea from the Mori Art Museum in Japan and within it is packaged the idea to show people a different view of India.

To be honest this exhibit is a lot to take in not just visually but also mentally. I know art is meant to evoke emotions and thinking, but to truly grasp this exhibits concepts one must try harder than acknowledging what was on the surface.

My museum partner (the new guy) seemed to have his own stance on art. For instance, I know he wasn't coming from an artistic background where he was taught post-modern art and the whole kit-and-caboodle that comes with it. So I had to distill my reactions to the work to evoke a response from him. Yet he has a really creative mind and also was willing to argue with me about the artworks. By the way, yes he is Korean.

However, contemporary art is still an area of the art world that is not an easy pill to swallow no matter your artistic or cultural background. Contemporary art, as you should know, goes beyond just 'creating something that is beautiful.'

What I am trying to say is that I allowed the new guy to tell me what he thought about the artworks without giving him a lecture in response. Instead I took his physical responses to the artwork (sight and sound) and worked with him to elicit the meaning behind it.

As for the exhibit itself the layout was broken up into a kind path. Meant to lead you through the curator's concepts.
The exhibition guides the viewers to 'India Now' through the five sections of 'Prologue: journeys,' 'Creation and Destruction: Urban Landscape,' 'Reflections: Between Extremes,' 'Fertile Chaos,' and 'Epilogue: Individuality and Collectivity / Memory and Future'. There are revealed in a state of disorder the questions of the individual and society, identity, the city, civilization, memory and so forth. We may be embarrassed by our own unfamiliarity with the coexistence and chaos of diverse voices. Then, India will ask us - Can you endure the tense energy of chaos?
At one point I read that in the brochure, looked at the new guy and tried to transcribe it to him. But I think all that came out was a muttering sound. He read the Korean part and got the gist of it.

One piece he did like was the following:

I liked this following one because of its use of a rotating light which emitted this really fantastic mechanical sound.

Hmm well I think I talked enough about art for a while. I would recommend getting out to see this exhibit of Indian art. For the simple reason that it is a great collection of contemporary Indian art which is hard to find in one place. Also there were some good conversational pieces, as well.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rose Day

Usually the 14th of every month is a special day. This particular month's 14th day was Rose Day... and would you know someone .... well.. I ended up with some Roses.

Here's to a belated Rose day...

Proof of Residency

Last week as I was about to start my Advanced class when my coteacher quickly showed a document to me. Asking "Do you know anything about this?"

I wasn't in the mood to look at and decipher one of those GEPIK documents that are usually vague. Often times I have to read these things a few times just to get the idea of what they are talking about.

So I told her to show it to me later, which she did.

Basically the GEPIK Coordinator is requesting that we obtain Proof of Residency from our home country.

Due to the request from the Korean National Tax Service, regardless whether one is object to or exempt from. ALL Foreign Language Assistance Teachers in Korea must submit their Proof of Residency (PS) for all administration related to tax purposes.
When she first brought it to me she asked me if I had taken care of this already when I first came to Korea. But I have no clue, due to that the Hagwon did all the paperwork junk for me.

The rest of the letter suggests I can get the form from the IRS and gives a link to the National Tax Service here in Korea.

So I went to that website and looked around for an answer, but got lost. So I just went straight to the part where you can ask them a question. Yet so far I haven't gotten a response.

Today I did a google search of this and came up with an IRS website.

Hopefully I can get this figured out before too long. If any of you know about this and what to do lemme know. Thanks!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Goyang City Mini Trip

Last Sunday I ended up in Ilsan at the Goyang International Horticulture Festival. Although I didn't really walk around the displays I did enjoy a stroll around the man-made lake and fountain.

Basically this area was really just one long and large park. The day was overcast with a chance of rain.

A pagoda structure amongst the park..

A rainbow sculpture...

There was a mini-zoo with a crane and another set up with chickens and peacocks.

Hmmm I wonder who has been taking all these pictures of me?? Well, that is a secret for now. ;)

The water fountain area. There area lot of fountains here in Korea where water spouts out from the ground allowing for playful activity from children.

Later on.... dinner.
Hehehe well it was a good day and pretty too.
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