Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks For Traditions, Both Old and New

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has meant making pies with my mom in the morning, followed by a two hour drive to Eugene in the company of both parents.  In the late afternoon we’d reach my aunt’s cozy home, already bustling with the sounds and smells of food and family.  Together we’d celebrate the holiday over a delicious gourmet spread.  There would be conversation, laughter, and the exchange of updates from the year's events.  We'd spend the extended evening sipping Martinelli’s (and later in my life wine) and enjoying each other’s company.

In recent years, Thanksgivings have been split between Ryan’s family and mine, with the morning and early afternoon spent with Ryan’s folks and sister (also in Eugene) snacking and talking while relaxing in their comfy family room.  We'd head to my family’s dinner in the evening, just in time to join the large group of relatives and close friends.

We’ve come to love the tradition of getting together with everyone on the long weekend, and last Friday (Thursday in Oregon), when everyone we knew on the other side of the world was sitting down to dinner with family, we really felt the absence of the holiday.  I have to admit that on the actually day, Thursday here, I forgot it was Thanksgiving.  Korea obviously doesn’t recognize the day, and we didn’t give much thought to having a weeknight celebration.  Our actual Thanksgiving dinner consisted of pizza and curry from Costco, so….  Before you feel too sorry for us, you should know that it was delicious!  Not to mention that the real celebration was still to come on Saturday.

Ryan organized football on the beach in the morning, introducing some British friends to "American Football" for the first time, and kicking off the holiday in true Yankee fashion.

I stayed home to cook, clean and ready the apartment.  What a good wife!

That evening, we were joined by co-workers and friends for our Thanksgiving potluck dinner.  Ironically the only thing missing from our feast (besides of course our families) was the obvious turkey.  I didn’t mind.  We chatted over delicious roasted red pepper and cheese dips, followed by a full spread of all the traditional items, complete with one domestic friend’s homemade Asian pear butter, mini cornbread muffins and candied walnuts.  There were even pumpkin, apple and walnut pies for dessert.  Delish.

We sat Korean style (on the floor) at low tables borrowed from school in our crowded apartment.  We simultaneously enjoyed the company of our new friends (and one's pet bunny), and the familiarity and comfort of our favorite holiday foods.  We also drank lots and lots of wine.  The Macy’s Day Parade played in the background (recorded from its earlier broadcast) thanks to Ryan’s dad’s Slingbox, with a hilarious episode of Saturday Night Live later in the evening.  It was a wonderful holiday.

There are so many things we’re thankful for this year, but most of all we appreciate the health and happiness of our families and friends, and the opportunity life has given us to be here on this adventure together.  Happy (belated) Thanksgiving from our small family to yours!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Armistice Ceased

On Monday I gave my middle school writing class a routine journal assignment.  I asked them to write for ten minutes on a topic of their choice.  I never thought two days later one student’s writing would begin with this:
“Today North Korea bombed us in Yeon Pyong-do.”

The attack occurred yesterday, while South Korea was performing regular military drills off the peninsula’s shared coast.  North Korea sent a message ordering them to stop, and when the South didn’t follow those commands, the South Korean island of Yeon Pyong was attacked by North Korean artillery.  Claiming it was in self-defense (from a routine drill which was in no way harming them) the North broke the armistice agreement that has been in place since the Korean War’s end in 1953.

With North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il in ailing health, his son is set to become his successor.  It’s rumored that the son is attempting to prove himself to existing North Korean officials by exerting military power.  For now Ryan and I are watching the news closely and are on alert for any developments in the situation.  CNN's latest article is here.

As for our own discussions, our co-workers didn't mention it.  I talked the event over with some of my older students who all agreed the North is "crazy" and needs to stop these acts.  The same insightful student who wrote about the attack in his journal had this to say in class:  
“If they (North Korean leaders) have a brain they will stop.” 

His writing's closing also struck me: (Forgive the grammar).
“Maybe it can become a war and it’s going to be really big.  So we are so scared right now.  I wish we will stop fight and go back to peace again.”

If only it were that simple.  

We can hope, can’t we?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Korean Cooking (sort of)

Although we’ve been fairly adventurous with Korean food in restaurants, we’ve cooked it very little at home.

After being invited to a co-worker’s friend’s house recently and trying Yubuchobap, we decided to make it ourselves.  The delicious appetizer/light meal consists of dried and flavored tofu skins filled with seasoned rice.  Once we went looking for it, the ridiculously cheap and easy do-it-yourself kit turned out to be available at every grocery store in town.

We made the rice, tossed it with the provided apple cider vinegar and spices, and stuffed it into the edible envelopes.

Paired with the some fresh tofu, dipping sauces and seaweed, it made a quick and delicious dinner.

While we won't necessarily be making our own kimchi anytime soon, there may be more Korean cooking in our future.  Especially if it's as easy as Yubuchobap!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Movie Day

Is it the 14th again?  That means November's couple holiday is upon us.  
Today is Movie Day, where couples relax indoors to escape the autumn chill, snuggling together to watch a movie.   

My research indicates that couples sip orange juice together (not sure why) as they indulge in their movies.  Since I finally seem to be rid of my cold/sinusitis/whatever it was, I'm going to pass on the orange juice and drink wine instead for two reasons:
1. I didn't get to properly celebrate the official Wine Day of October.
2. Wine and popcorn happen to be some of my favorite things.

Happy Movie Day to you.  And more importantly, CHEERS!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pepero Day

 Today is a holiday.  Not only is it Veteran’s Day, but November 11th also happens to be another (far less important) holiday in Korea.

I’m referring to Pepero Day.  The craze began sixteen years ago in Busan, when two teenage girls exchanged Pepero sticks (long, thin chocolate covered biscuits) in hopes that they would grow tall and slim.  Seems rather counterproductive to their goal, does it not?  Why would you give someone a sugar filled snack to promote slenderness?

However odd, stemming from that original exchange, Pepero sticks are presently given to loved ones on what is now Pepero Day.   The holiday has become so commercialized that it’s comparable to Valentine’s Day in the US.  I remember my students mentioning it all the way back in March when we first began teaching.  Many South Korean teachers allow students to offer Pepero boxes to their classmates at exactly 11:11 am on November 11th, the day the holiday is celebrated.

Care to venture a guess as to why Pepero Day falls on November 11th

Give up?  Imagine four of the long thin sticks lined up in a row…

Still not seeing it?  Each candy resembles the number one, so four of them together resemble 11/11.  It’s all become strangely and perfectly clear right?

The sweet sticks, manufactured by Lotte, an enormous South Korean company may or not be Korea’s imitation of Japan’s “Pocky.”   The popular Japanese candy has similar characteristics to Pepero, not to mention nearly identical packaging…

According to some sources, it’s Japan who wants to imitate Korea by trying (and so far failing) to recognize a local “Pocky Day.”

Imitation or not, let the kids (and adults) have their fun with Pepero Day.  Ryan and I especially enjoyed it since we coincidentally had the day off from school!  While out and about we saw massive displays for the occasion.

Happy Pepero Day, and of course Happy Veteran’s Day to all. :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Celebration and Sunshine

Over the weekend we had the privilege of attending a co-worker’s wedding. 

We made our way to “The Queen’s Hall” located in the fancy and elaborate basement of Busan’s massive convention center by 10:45 am, with fifteen minutes to spare before the morning ceremony was set to begin.  We found our co-worker in the appropriately titled “Princess Room.”  Her petite frame was delicately positioned in a velvet chair, a long veil cascading behind her.  A gorgeous pastel colored floral bouquet rested in her arms, and a sparkling tiara was placed atop her glamorous up-do, making her truly resemble a princess.  We waited in line and posed for a photo with her, offering our congratulations in advance. 

Shortly after finding our seats in the sea of people gathered in the wedding hall, the ceremony began. 

We were unable to understand the words but we could feel how beautiful and meaningful they were.  Although there wasn’t a wedding party, the parents of the bride and groom sat in armchairs at their children’s respective sides, viewing the romantic exchange from the best seats in the house.  A slideshow played a montage of the couple’s previously taken wedding photos.  In each one, the couple looked gorgeous together. 

Before walking down the aisle for the first time as husband and wife, the newlyweds turned to face their guests, threw their hands in the air and in turn exclaimed the Korean version of “Hurray!”  Colorful strings of confetti filled the air and off the couple went.

Family photos were taken.

Then the bride threw the bouquet in a toss unlike any we've seen.  Rather than being flung into a sea of single women, the coveted floral gem went directly into the arms of one woman, poised and patiently awaiting its guaranteed arrival.  Our supervisor explained that the woman had been chosen to marry next, and if she didn't marry within six months then she never would.  No pressure there!

 The more traditional part of the wedding followed, where the bride and groom changed from their western wedding attire into traditional Korean hanboks.  In the small “Family Room,” the now married couple faced each set of their parents separately and bowed to them, simultaneously receiving monetary gifts. 

Nearby we found a set of small rooms for wedding photo shoots, which we took advantage of, a year and three months after our own big day.

Among the props were these platform wedding shoes for shorter brides needing to gain a few inches (or rather, centimeters).

An immense buffet waited for the wedding’s attendees in a large dining hall.  The spread consisted of various seafood and meat dishes, fresh sushi, rice, green salads, fruits, vegetables and petite desserts.   

Fresh kiwi and mango juices, as well as the Korean rice drink Sikhye were on tap.  Beer and Soju lined the tables for mixing and consuming at the guests’ discretion.

The bride and groom stopped by each table to accept well wishes from family and friends in their traditional attire.

Adorable children showed off their own hanboks.

The day could not have been more gorgeous, with a nearly cloudless blue sky and the warm sun off-setting autumn's chill.

Ryan and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach, where he played volleyball and I read and wrote at Starbucks while sipping a Toffee Nut Latte out of a cheerful Christmas cup.

Although our day wasn’t nearly as exciting as this man’s, spotted coming down for a landing from my outdoor seat…

…it was definitely a perfect autumn Sunday.

Babies Makin' Butter

Last week my four year olds made butter.  Or at least they attempted to. 

Following the guidelines of our curriculum, the smallest students in our school learned these action words: sleep, dance, sing, and count.  As an extension of the completed unit, the teacher's book suggested making butter (I’m not exactly sure why).  So we did.

First we “read” and colored little books explaining the process through pictures. 

The steps were as follows:
1. Pour whipping cream into a jar.
2. Put on the lid.
3. Shake, shake, shake!
4. Spread the butter on a cracker and enjoy.

We followed each step, with the kids getting a real kick out of step three, especially since the book’s CD provided a "Shake, shake, shake" song to go along with the action.   

Since their shakes were rather timid, instead of butter the result was more of a thin, creamy spread.  The kids and their little tummies didn’t seem to mind.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eight months and counting….

Growing up my mom must have told me a thousand times, “Enjoy being a kid, because once you’re an adult, you’ll be an adult for the rest of your life.” 

It might be simply that we are getting older, (gulp) but time seems to be flying by.  As children we only want to be adults, often for superficial reasons.  We can’t wait to have a driver’s license, get into rated-R movies, and drink alcohol legally. 

For as long as I can remember older people have always said that life goes by fast.  At some point Ryan and I must have become “older people,” (gulp again) because we couldn’t agree with them more. 

It’s been eight months since we arrived in Busan, wide-eyed and na├»ve to all that was in store for us.  It’s been said before, but even now as we’re searching city-wide for tortillas, hovering over the small two-burner stove in our kitchen, or trying desperately to find a website streaming the live (#1!) Ducks’ game, it will hit us: We live in Korea.  Even eight months after the fact it’s still hard to believe. 

By now we’ve adjusted to most of the local customs and the existing differences between Korean culture and our own.  We use two hands to give and receive anything as a way to demonstrate respect (a tradition which offends many if not followed) and aren’t surprised or agitated if we’re cut in line (lines don’t seem to exist here). We are well acquainted with the city and its public transportation and can easily get where we need to go.  Our tolerances for spicy food, kimchi, sweet pickles, the chance of a sugar dusting on all pastries (even garlic bread) and corn being unavoidable as a pizza topping have gone up considerably.

Our Korean continues to be very limited and we’ve mostly given up.  We’re able to get by between the little vocabulary we know, universal body language, helpful co-workers, and a city big enough to have many businesses with English speakers.  Although for reasons like that it often feels as though we’ve been here just a few months, when we look back over our time in Korea with all the places we’ve been and things we’ve done, it makes sense that it's been over an eight month span.  Even with that in mind it still feels that time is going by extremely quickly.  

Each week we go to school on Monday and somehow the next day is already Thursday.  We always wonder, how did that happen?  We are two thirds of the way done with a yearlong contract, and are happy to feel settled and comfortable in our temporary home.  One fear we had was that our year away would drag on.  So far it’s proven the opposite, with time moving at quite a fast pace.  Whether this fact is good or bad is hard to say.  There are definite pros about living here considering the freedom and adventure the opportunity has given us.  But of course we miss our home and all the people that make it.

We anticipate that the holidays will be hard.  Maybe the stretch of winter before we head home will be difficult as well.  But until then we’re here to enjoy our remaining time overseas, give our best to the most adorable students we’ve ever known, and continue to deepen our bond with each other.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bizarre Beef Bonanza

On November 1st an unusual holiday is celebrated in South Korea.  Today is “Eat Korean Beef Day.”  The holiday is meant to familiarize people with one of the foods that Korea is most proud of.  Korean beef refers to beef manufactured from cows native to the country.  Many people in Korea regularly enjoy galbi, a type of barbecue beef.  In galbi restaurants the meat is brought to your table where you cook it yourself on a built-in grill.

After a co-worker brought the celebration to my attention this morning, I found a news story about this pop singer turned “Korean beef ambassador” promoting the holiday earlier today.  

How bizarre, right?!

As a vegetarian I won’t be partaking in the festivities, but I’m sure many others will be. 

Happy Eat Korean Beef Day... I guess.