Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Theater of the Land

“Your dad is an artist?  What kind of art does he do?” 

The question seems simple enough, but when I’ve been asked this over the years, the answer isn't always easy.  How do you tell a relative stranger or even a close friend that your dad’s artwork involves pigs, cacti, nuts and bolts?  That the work often features drunk rabbits, pencils, rulers and rainbows?

For the duration of my life (and for years before) my dad has been producing unique, creative and incredible artwork.  He has touched the lives of hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers and students alike, with his amazing work as an artist in residence.  Invaluable information has been shared in the two books he has authored.  He owns and runs a successful business that he created.  Around the art community, he is a friend and an inspiration to his colleagues.

April 1st, 2010 marks the official First Thursday opening of his fourth one-man show in the Pearl, titled “The Theater of the Land.”  The show runs through May 1st and can be viewed in person at the Augen gallery in NW Portland.  Look here for a preview.  Below is dad in his studio.  The background is one of the pieces being shown at the gallery, as well as the sketches that precede his finished work.
We are so happy for him.  It’s a great accomplishment and we are very proud.

Dad, we hope tonight and the following month you are honored the way you deserve to be.  Enjoy the spotlight you have earned.

Monday, March 29, 2010

To Market, to Market

Among the many places to see in Busan, two of the foreign teachers from our school had told us about Nampo-dong.  Last weekend we tagged along with them on a visit there.  Nampo-dong is home to a large outdoor shopping area and an enormous fresh fish market.  After a thirty-minute trip nearing the end of our subway line, we had reached our destination.

Upon arrival, Starbucks was the first stop.  After a quick caffeine and bagel fix we were ready for the shopping to begin.

We meandered up and down row after endless row of small shops and kiosks.  There were vendors selling everything from “designer” clothes, hats, shoes and purses, to handmade artwork, office supplies and household items.  

Our first bargaining/haggling experience over the prices was largely successful despite the language barrier. 

After we had tired of shopping, (and Ryan had started protesting) our next stop was the fish market.  It was a couple blocks over from the shops and bordered the ocean.  

To get there, we walked through streets lined with tanks of octopus, eel and various other types of seafood for sale.  

We quickly found the items on the street were only a preview of what was to come.  As soon as we entered the large building we were instantly overwhelmed.  Huge displays of live crab, octopus and lobster surrounded us on all sides.  

 Eels were getting skinned right before our eyes, then tossed into a bowl and still wriggling.  I wish I was exaggerating.  
Since we were getting hungry and it was past lunchtime, we decided to partake in some of the fresh seafood that was everywhere in sight.  We pointed at the items we wanted and they were bagged for us.  Then the people working in the booths pointed upstairs.  They were offering to cook up our findings right then and there.  We were escorted up the stairs and led to a table by a window overlooking the outdoor market.
We anxiously awaited our food, and soon the first entrĂ©e arrived.  Here we are picking it out… 
and here we are eating it…
After some persuading I gave in…
I chewed quickly so the tentacles wouldn’t stick to the side of my mouth.  Ryan was intentionally waiting to see if they would stick to his.
Along with our octopus, we had some yummy fresh prawns. 
To go with them, we also had kimchi, veggies, garlic and peanuts, which were served as side dishes.
Once we had eaten, we took a quick trip out the back door to see where our lunch had hailed from.
We finished the day with a trip to the biggest and best Dollar Store we’ve ever been.  Pure heaven for a scrappy shopper like myself.
All in all, a successful, weird and adventurous day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What we miss most

Although we have been ex-pats a mere month, there are definitely things about home we're already beginning to miss.  There are the cravings for Mexican food, a nice spicy Bloody Mary, and home baked cookies.  Of course we sometimes wish we had the ability to go fishing (lay on the dock while Ryan fishes), sit on our old balcony in the sun, walk to happy hour or a festival at the waterfront, and experience the beauty that is summertime in Oregon.

The opportunities we are having in Korea are amazing.  We are tremendously happy and glad we are having this adventure.

That being said, (and I’m trying hard not to sound too corny) we really miss our people.  We’ll be absent at four weddings over the next five months, countless birthdays, and my dad's one man art show next week.  That is extremely difficult. 

The reality of what we are missing hit home recently.  Last weekend Ryan's best friend and his longtime girlfriend got engaged, and last night, my best friend got engaged as well!  We are so, so happy for them and their new fiances.  Spending time with all of them over the last few years has been wonderful.  We wish we were home to help celebrate such a joyful time in their lives.  Both Dana and Brian were such an important part of our wedding, and we can't wait to see their own beautiful weddings in 2011.

Congratulations Dana and Chris!

Congratulations Brian and Ally!

We love you :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

A typical work day.... Finally!

So by now you might be wondering about our job… the actual reason that we are in Busan.  This is long overdue, but we have been busy settling in and getting into our daily routine.  I know excuses, excuses.  Here goes…

There are two types of English schools in South Korea, public and private.  Private schools are called hagwons.  We are teaching at a hagwon located in a central area of Busan.  Our apartment is about three blocks from the school, a chain of hogwons called COREM (Culture Oriented Real English Mentors).  It’s very convenient that our walk to and from school is less than five minutes.

Disguised well amongst the large buildings, here is the entrance. 

Inside, the school is very new and clean.  Each classroom is stocked with brand new books, furniture and supplies.  There are nine classrooms over two floors. A small gym downstairs, and an open area upstairs allow the kids to play during recess (shown here). 

At our school, there are three other foreign teachers.  Two are Canadian and one is from the US.  There are also five native Korean teachers.  All the teachers share the same students, teaching them different classes at different times throughout the day.  We have our desks, books and supplies in an office with the other teachers.  We shuffle around to our scheduled classes so the kids remain in one room.  Here are our desks in the break/prep area.

Ryan and I each have kindergarten classes in the morning.  The kinder classes are named based on the students’ ages and years taking English.  For example, I have three first year classes, 5-1, 6-1 and 7-1.  The first number is the children’s age and this being their first year taking English classes, they are called 1’s.  I also have a 7-3 class.  In this class the children are seven, and in their third year taking English classes.  Ryan has the same 7-3 students (class picture below) that I have, but we teach them different things at different times.  

Rather than the 7-1 class I have, Ryan has a class of 7-2’s.  These students are seven years old and in their second year of taking English.  Confused yet?  It gets even more complicated. 

In Korea, when a child is born, they are pronounced one year old.  No matter when they were born, on the following January 1st they are two.   People do still celebrate their individual birthdays the way we do.  The school also has a monthly birthday party to honor all the students born that month.

To put this into perspective here is an example using Ryan and me.   In Ryan’s case, being born in January, he turned one on his actual birthday, then two on January first the following year.  Not really a change, but technically he is one year older than he would be in the US (27 rather than 26).  For me on the other hand, being born in August, I turned one the day I was born, then turned two on January first, a mere four months later.  So in Korea I am 27 too!
One of my classes asked me how old I was and I had to say 27, Korean age.  It hurt gaining two years in two weeks.

So basically the children we teach are all one or two years younger than their Korean age.  Teaching four and five year olds who are in school for the first time has its challenges.  Throw in the fact that they can’t understand you and it gets even harder.  But look how cute they are!  (5-1 class).
That makes it easier.  Also for all the first year classes, there is a native Korean teacher in the classroom to help with translating and management if necessary. Our 6-1 students have already gained a lot of new vocabulary and information.  I have to admit, they are my favorite class :)  Here they are.
 The 5-1 children have more room to grow but they will get there.  It’s only been a month!

After the kinder classes, we teach elementary students in the afternoon.  These students have already gone to a Korean school in the morning, and then go on to English.  It’s a long day for them!  The classes and ages vary.  Most students are between eight and thirteen Korean age.  Ryan and I each have a PK (post-kindergarten) class, made up of students who have completed the kinder program at Corem.  Their English is very good, but they do have trouble with more unusual vocabulary.  Here is my class.

We also have “Hop”, “Skip” and/or “Jump” classes, for students who are a bit older and are just now learning English.  Their material is listening and speaking based.  Finally, we teach “Elite” classes which are more discussion based. Most students speak English very well and have been studying it for at least five years.  Right now my class is reading and analyzing Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

We have a busy day with between seven and ten classes that are forty minutes each. However we do have many breaks built in.  For most classes, we are told what we should be teaching the students and when.  We have to make some supplemental work for them and our other classes, but a good portion of it is pretty laid out.  Much easier than most teachers have it!  Plus our classes can have no more than twelve students.   Ryan has one class of twelve.  The largest one I have has nine and my others are five or fewer students.  It’s really nice to have small groups to get to know the kids’ personalities and where they are in the process of learning English.  All in all we are really enjoying the kids, co-workers and school.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Simple Beauty

As we were out and about this weekend, (more on that later) we saw these words on the side of a building.  We both really liked them.  Ryan says I can be a pessimist at times.  I don’t agree with that term, but I will admit that sometimes I don't always see the positive in things.  I’m trying hard to be more of an optimist.  Especially when working with children, it is so important to try and be positive.  I thought these words embodied looking on the bright side of things and I wanted to share them.

Also a beautiful picture Ryan took of the lone blossoming cherry tree in our neighborhood.  

Spring is here!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Korea is part of a very small world

When I was three or four, my parents sent me to a Hindu daycare center.  I don’t remember much about it, besides the day they couldn’t find my blankie, but I did meet an important person there.  Petra and I became instant best friends.  We ended up at different elementary schools, and reunited when we ended up at the same middle school.  Again we were separated in high school, reuniting a second time in college.

I had lost touch with her, and then ran into a mutual friend of ours over the summer.  She told me Petra was teaching in Korea.  It turns out she was here in Busan.  Once Ryan and I decided we were going to come here, I sent her MANY messages on face book.  She was very patient and helpful in answering questions about our plans.  She told me what to bring and not to bring, where we would probably want to live and not live.  What was reasonable for a school’s contract. 

Last night we finally met Petra and her boyfriend for dinner, drinks and a few rounds of darts. Here we are over twenty years from the time we met. 
Although I didn’t bring any to Korea, I’d love to compare this picture to one from our four-year old days.  What a small world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Temple By the Sea and a traditional Korean meal

A couple of weeks ago, we met a woman through one of the Korean teachers.  She invited us to lunch and a day of exploration in Busan.  We gladly accepted the invite for last Saturday.  After a bus ride and quick trip on the subway, we were picked up in a car!  Sounds pretty mundane to you I’m sure, but most people (at least those that we know) don’t have cars.  I don’t blame them.  The driving here is scary.  I mean SCARY.  It’s not rare for drivers to go through red lights, and pedestrians who value their lives shouldn’t assume they have the right of way at any time.

The taxi rides we've had so far have not been the most pleasant.  Taxi drivers here seem to specialize in what my dad calls “barf driving.”   The term refers to stop-and-go traffic, where a driver pulls up as close as he can to the car in front of his.  Then (as he has nowhere to go) he's inevitably forced to slam on his brakes.  This repeats again and again, thus making the passengers want to barf.  Anyway, I always seem to get off topic!  Back to our day…

We took our first trip on the freeway, then a windy journey into the countryside of Busan.  The landscape was green, hilly and beautiful.  Finally we arrived at Hurgsiru, a traditional Korean restaurant and Bonsai tree farm.  Once we parked, we took in groups of Bonsai trees, large pots used for fermenting kimchi, and a museum and gift shop.

We were then led to the restaurant itself.  To our surprise, we had our very own clay hut.  We removed our shoes at the door and went inside.  The room consisted of a long table, heated floor mat, small window and greenery at our feet.

The two Korean women debated a bit, and ordered our food.  We were brought hot water, rice juice (very sweet and delicious), and lots and lots of food.  I have already mentioned the side dishes that come with the main dishes here, but this was unlike any other place.  The bowls of soup, sauce, vegetables, meat, noodles and rice just kept coming.

The only thing that we actually ordered was the pumpkin on the left.  It had roasted duck inside.  Every other item on the table was a “side dish.”  We were meant to wrap a lettuce leaf around the endless dishes of noodles, meats, vegetables, kimchi and garlic.  I thought the wraps were delicious and loved the baked pumpkin.  Ryan enjoyed the duck a lot as well.  We were told this style and type of food was traditional for Korea.

Once we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we were on to sightseeing.  A short drive soon revealed our first glimpse of one of the main beaches in Busan, Hauendae.  
We hear the summers in Busan are phenomenal.  Can’t wait!

We arrived at Haedong Yonggung Temple (also known as Temple by the sea), parked and walked down a narrow pathway.  It was marked on both sides with small vendors selling food, crafts and artwork.  The waffles were delicious but I couldn't muster the courage to try the mystery seafood below.

At the end of the pathway was an explanation of each of the twelve Asian Zodiac symbols, complete with a caricature of each.  Ryan was born the year of the boar, I was born the year of the rat.  

The rest of our exploration down the hill (and back up another) included at least three beautiful Buddha statues, multiple prayer rooms, and traditional Buddhist monks burning prayers.   
 Not to mention the beautiful oceanside that was the backdrop for it all.

Amongst the beauty, Ryan even saw a boat of fisherman. This was undoubtedly his favorite part of the day.  The sighting further fueled his current mission: get out on the water and catch some local fish.  We will keep you posted on that of course.

Monday, March 15, 2010

White Day

Yesterday, March 14th, was White Day in South Korea.  It is a holiday where men who are in a relationship are supposed to give chocolate to women.  It is similar to the Valentine’s Day we celebrate in the states.  On Valentine’s Day here, the women give candy and presents to the men in their lives, so White Day (exactly one month later) is the men’s turn to give the gifts, usually chocolate.  We have heard there are different types of chocolate for the seriousness of the relationship.  Mainly the gift giving signifies that the man or woman is “the only one” for the gift giver.
Apparently there is also Black day, observed another month later on April 14th, where singles that didn’t celebrate Valentine’s day or White day have their turn.  They dress up in all black, and eat Jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with black sauce.  This is done in groups, and celebrates being single.

Here I am anticipating White day Saturday night.  We saw signs and candy everywhere.

I wish my White Day gift was one of the adorable bunnies a man was selling in the subway Friday night, but I’ll settle for some chocolate for now.   

Maybe Ryan will consider a bunny for St. Patrick’s Day?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clothes that fit, MAC make-up and a shower curtain at last

  Imagine my horror when I realized that up until this point in my life, I hadn’t been to the world’s largest mall.  It’s called Shinsegae (Shin-say-ge), and just happens to be located in our new city. 

When I heard that two of the teachers at my school planned to go to this undoubtedly wonderful place, I asked if I could tag along.  The cab ride was only a few minutes and then there we were.  Not one, but actually two malls next door to each other.  

We went to the smaller one first, where the other teachers got some (MAC) make-up.  A bit more spendy than at home, but at least available.  The other stores on the bottom floor were Gucci, Louis Viutton, Burberry, Chanel, etc. You get the idea. Unlike most malls, Shinsegae is basically one big department store, with different sections for stores.  There is no common hallway area, you just walk through one big store but smaller ones are inside.

On the next floor, there were a few more upscale stores and many Western brands mixed in with Korean brands.  Here, there is still Adidas and Nike, Puma, North Face, and Fila appears to have made a comeback as well.  Most Korean sizes are very small, probably because overweight people are very few.  I found a store with western sizes and bought my first two shirts here.

There was a beautiful spa on the first floor of the bigger mall, which I’d love to go to soon.  (Let’s get paid first!)  The top floors of both neighboring malls are movie theaters, which is apparently, the only place you have to wait in Busan.  I say that because here, there is no concept of a line.  They just don’t use lines.  Ryan and I were shocked when we were waiting behind someone to pay for groceries, and an innocent looking elderly man stepped right in front of our cart with his items. 
“Did he just cut us?” Ryan quietly asked me. 
It was pretty funny.  Then we started noticing more people not obeying the “rules of the line”, that we so strictly abide by in the US.  One more thing we will have to get used to.

Anyway, back to the movie theater…
Since no one would actually wait in line unless forced to do so, you take a number and once it’s called you go to the desk.  Then you pick your seats on a computer screen, and are printed out tickets specifically for those seats.  Pretty cool actually, because then one person doesn’t have to rush in and save seats, and everyone knows exactly where they will be sitting.
The movies were all recent, American movies, which have Korean subtitles.  We want to see Johnny Depp in "Alice in Wonderland" there soon.

After I was given a lesson on the movie theater, we went to the basement level of the second mall, which had a huge store.  It was comparable to a Target, but with more food.  (YES!)  They also had home goods, electronics and even clothes.  Of course they had lots of kimchi.
 I got us a few pillows for the couch, a small rug, and some other random items to make our apartment more like home.  (Pictures soon!)  This included a shower curtain.   In Korea, shower curtains are not used, so water gets everywhere.  Many apartments don’t even have bathtubs, but luckily ours does.  Most just have a removable shower head, often over the sink.  There is a drain in the floor and slippers at the door to avoid slipping.   I had pretty much accepted my bathroom the way it was, until a co-worker who had just switched apartments told me she planned on getting one for her new place.  We found rods and curtains at the store there.  So nice!  Who knew that a shower curtain could make someone so happy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kimbap, Spine Soup, Daelkgobi, Bondegi and Samgyeopsal (aka our adventures with Korean food)

  Outside of Costco pizza, and although there is a McDonald’s within walking distance of our school and apartment, (and it just so happens to be open 24 hours and also delivers!) we have been trying to be adventurous and embrace the local food.  There is lots of it.  On every corner there are little restaurants and shops bustling with couples and families enjoying a bite to eat. 
Kimbap restaurants are quite prevalent, and one right around the corner from the school has been frequented on five or six occasions now.  Each time we go, Ryan tries to pick out something more adventurous and unique than the last time.  Meanwhile, I point to the Korean letters and tell the woman, “gawgee anio” which means, “no meat.”  Then I just hope that whatever arrives for me is filled with squid and not beef.  Squid being something by the way, I never thought I would have hoped for.  The Kimbap place we have been going to also happens to have cheez-eee ram-e-yon (cheese ramen), which is basically the spiciest ramen soup I’ve ever had, with a slice of processed American cheese dropped into it.  In my opinion, not quite worthy of all the hype it had been given, but at least satisfying and worth the 2,500 won (around $2.00) I paid for it.  They also have su-pa-ghetti, which I just can’t bring myself to try.  The picture they have on the wall of the plate looks like canned tomato paste on overcooked spaghetti but we’ll see if I get desperate enough for pasta.
Here I am with a spicy tofu and seafood soup called sundu bujjigae, often eaten after a meal and is served with rice, which you put into the soup once there is room in the bowl.
Spine Soup
Last Friday, to celebrate the two of us and the other new teacher beginning at the school, and also to send off the three teachers we replaced, all the staff from school went to dinner.  Here we are sitting on the floor at a long table, as it is custom do to in many restaurants here.
To start dinner, there was lots of Soju, Korean beer, and side dishes.  Luckily the side dishes here are largely vegetarian which helps.  There are cabbage salads, usually with a 1000 Island or sweet creamy kiwi dressing, radishes or melon soup to cut the inevitable heat of most dishes, dried fish or fish cakes, and always, kimchi. 
Then there was the stew.  Made of pork spine, spices, and vegetables.
The waiters let the meat and broth simmer in a pot atop a burner on the table for awhile and brought out many veggies, some noodles and chiles that we could put in at our discretion.

At the school director’s request, they made me my own vegetarian stew, how sweet!  It was really good too.
After dinner one of the Korean teachers came back with an ice cream cone for everyone!  My kind of dessert.  The night was filled with many new foods and tastes, and lots of Soju.  We later went across the street to a bar and had some more drinks.  We also tried a cold fruit salad with some yogurt.  It was really good.  If only I could figure out how to order that for us when we went out…

Close to Mexican in Korea (daelkgobi)
There seems to a shortage of Mexican food here, or if it does exist, we don’t know where to find it.  There is a place near our apartment claiming to have Mexican food, but the pictures in the window resemble chicken wings with some white rice.  Hmmmm.

Our first week here we went to Seomyeon, a busy area with many restaurants, bars and shops, and were taken to a chicken and rice joint (different from the imitation Mexican place) serving daelkgobi.  Again there were large burners in the middle of the tables, and the waiters brought out steaming pots filled with meat, veggies, rice, and rice patties.  You could even add cheese, which of course, we did!  After trying with no success to order the rice dish with chicken on the side, I said to just forget it and decided I’d eat around the chicken.  We went back a week later and were able to get it just fine with no chicken.  Better late than never right?  We also added extra cheese and it was delicious!  Very spicy but extremely good. 
We (mainly Ryan) also had the opportunity to try another traditional Korean food, Samgyeopsal.  It is thinly sliced meat, comparable to bacon.  There is a grill in the middle of the table where you place the meat and some veggies (even kimchi if you wish to do so).  

There are many dipping sauces and a variety of salads and accompaniments.  Since all I ate the night we went was rice (bap) my share was 1,000 won (less than $1.00).  Ryan owed less than 7,000 (about $6.00) won and he was sufficiently stuffed.  Here is the (almost) finished product.  Once the meat is cooked you wrap it up with lettuce leaves and vegetables.
After hitting a few bars last Saturday, and on our way to another, we noticed a food stand lined with large pots.  The teachers we were out with explained that it was Bondegi, silk  worm larvae.  The silk is spun out the silk worm cocoons, and the bug that’s left inside is served up in a paper cup.
For some reason that I’m still not sure of, Ryan decided to try them out.  I think you will agree this was his most adventurous bout with food yet.  

Since we both love to eat, there will be much more talk of food I’m sure.  Another foreign teacher recommended a Korean restaurant which is completely vegetarian which we hope to try soon!