Sunday, February 26, 2006


She's a crazy lil girl and I love her! Not only is Dahnbi one of my students, she's also the daughter of a foreign teacher I work with. Her mom, Taunya, is from Kansas (back in "the states") and been teaching in Korea for 8 years. Dahnbi is 6 years old and adorable! She hangs out with us a lot and comes out with the funniest things.

For instance, we all went to eat & have some drinks at a restaurant for a staff party. Our friend Mike joined us, even though he teaches at another school. He's my friend who dressed up as Santa Claus for our kids. Well Mike, Taunya, Greer, Dan, and I were walking down the street together and Dahnbi thought we weren't walking fast enough. She kept saying, "Come on!!! Let's go!" Finally she got assertive and said, "Mommy, Dan teacher, Greer teacher, Nicole teacher, Santa, LET's GO!" Mike was practically rollin on the sidewalk.

Then we all went to Cosco recently, Taunya's kind enough to let us use her membership card so we go as a group. We were squashed in an elevator with a cart full of food and a Korean couple. Dahnbi was kinda squashed against the wall so I asked if she was ok. She said, "Yes, but I can't move." Dan said, "You don't have to move, you're in an elevator." And she broke out with, "I like to move it move it. I like to move it move it!" That's a true sign that I'm her teacher.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blame Canada

I have a student I named "Susie" after my childhood doll. She's precious. I sent home progress reports and she came to me asking, "Teacher, what does 'amazing' mean?" One of the Korean teachers at my school had also questioned the word, "Is 'amazing' good or bad?" I explained how 'amazing' describes something which amazes you. Can be good or bad. Well I've met a lot of amazing people here in South Korea. Most Korean citizens amaze me with their kindness. But most foreign teachers I've come across are complete WACK JOBS! Most foreign teachers in this country are Canadian. You do the math.
I'm baffled over the animosity I've witnessed from our neighbors up north. What did America ever do to their country? I could understand a loathing for President Bush, he's a dolt, but to call all Americans ignorant is .... well that's just ignorant! Sure, I'm not educated on Canada - I know Quebec wants to be it's own country, that French is the official language for a high percentage of Canadians, that hockey's big there, & that the beautiful side of Niagra Falls falls on the Canadian side of the border .... lucky for them, 'cause it brings in a lot of our American money, eh?
Well the popular claim here seems to be that Koreans prefer Canadians over Americans. That's why my school is called "Little America" and people I meet every day tell me they LOVE America and want to go there. I've yet to hear anyone say they want to move to Canada. It's too damn cold! I sure as hell don't, and therefore don't feel the need to educate myself on Canada.
Why is it that Koreans don't like us? (according to Canadians) Because we're "boastful". Actually, I've never mentioned anything about the U.S. being wonderful or expressed the slightest ethnocentrism. But now that they're mentioning it, we ARE the #1 Nation in the WORLD. Not bad, eh? I've never been proud or ashamed of the decisions of my government. Politicians make the decisions, not I. And they don't give us great options to vote from. But I am happy that I was born in a land that's got so much to offer. "The land of opportunity" has given me a great deal and I appreciate it. Wish we didn't live in a world with wars and hatred, but we do and I'm fortunate to be protected by the strongest military out there. Most importantly, it's democracy they're fighting for and if it weren't for us stupid Americans, women everywhere may be walking around in Burkas (women's dress in Islamic culture). I'm sure the benefits of oil trade provoke our intervention more than human rights, but there are a lot of people who are very grateful for our "butting in". People want us to mind our business, until they need our help. I'm sure if anyone ever felt like invading Canada, they'd be happy we're their neighbors. But I don't foresee that happening any time soon. The only thing they've got to offer is spring water and trees. Yeah, I did a little research on Canada... in attempts to de-ignorantize myself... and found that Canada is the "origin of bottled water" and has a rich ecosystem. That's nice.
So I can honestly say, until recently, I was never "proud to be an American". But ya know what, Canadians? YOU MAKE ME PROUD!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Service with a smile

They have this thing called "service" here in South Korea. Nearly every time you buy something from a store, they throw something in for free. Whether it be a kind traditional custom, their way of getting you to come again, or simply "thank you for shopping with us". I used to try to refuse "service" but I was told that's offensive. So now I just say, "comme somme ne da" (thank you) and take it with both hands (to show I am taking with 'everything I've got') It seems as though foreigners get EXTRA service, often making the free gifts' value equal to what we're buying. I went to buy an undershirt once off a street vendor for $3.00 (U.S.) and while he was getting a bag I picked up a winter hat I really liked. He took it out of my hands and threw it in the bag, yelling "SERVICE!" It was $7.00. This happens with food all the time too, especially at my little family-owned restaurant I frequent. I went in one time to order kimbop (veggies & rice wrapped in seaweed, for $1.00) and they made me sit down, set up silverwear and gave me a 3 course meal. Well I've gotten used to this kind of behavior, which makes me smile every time, knowing full well you'll never see something like that in NY. But today someone brought this Service to a new level.... and brought a new meaning to the word kindness.
Once a week we go across the street for pizza (the 3 foreign teachers and I). We need something that tastes like home and "Pizza 2001" makes a mean pineapple pizza. Today the other teachers wanted to try oven baked spaghetti. I've had it before & I'm not a fan, so I just got garlic bread. Whenever the 4 of us go out to eat, it really throws them off if we don't order exactly 4 meals. If we get an extra one they usually won't give it to us, which is strange b/c it's custom in Asia to share off the same plates. Well today the waitress got really flustered when I didn't order a proper meal. Upset almost. I was really only there for the conversation. Then I was heading out the doors to make the post office when the lady said, "Chakamon!" (wait a minute) She asked why I didn't eat and I was fumbling for an explanation when a pineapple pizza came out of the oven. The man packaged 2 slices, she carefully put scotch tape on them and handed them to me w/condiment packets (gotta put hot sauce on pizza!) .
She said, "service."
I was SO touched! I didn't know what to say.... other than "comme somme ne da". Then they packaged up the rest of the pie for my co-workers. Unbelievable.

Oh, and this past weekend I bought a computer down in Busan. It's a heavy desktop and very difficult to carry by myself. The guy I bought it from was incredibly sweet and helped me bring it all the way to the train station and on to the train. The attendant showed me a special place to put it and when I got off the train, everyone was grabbing onto the larger box and trying to help. Complete strangers, helping. Go figure. I was walking from the station to the cab line up when an Ajuma (older woman) grabbed onto the self-made tape strap and started dragging along. She kept saying "please help me, please help me, ju-say-yo" She really got into putting it into the cab too. We had to load it into the trunk and she was still saying "please help me" I thought perhaps she wanted money ... or some kind of help from me.... until her husband came up and told her to "let's go." She smiled and walked away waving. She was just telling me that I should ask for help. Then the female taxi driver unloaded the huge box at my apt., despite my protests. I wish they would take tips here. SO SWEET!!!!!!!!

Why did I put a photo of my niece VIOLET on this blog? because she's cute as hell.... and smiling.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More good photos from Mike. He even got a good shot of STARBUCKS.

Orients of Red

It seemed as if every historic edifice we saw in Beijing was the same: red with a "traditional" roof. I love traditional roofs, and lofts, and if I ever own a home it'll have oriental features... but there are only so many similar sights I can get enthused about in 3 days. I don't know the name of the president, or if he's even a president. (head of communist party?) but this guy's gotta be important, cause his face is plastered on all the money and here at Tiananmen Square.

Tiananmen Square ( An extensive open area in central Beijing, China, the world's largest public square. Adjacent to the Forbidden City, it has long been the site of festivals, rallies, and demonstrations. In 1989 Chinese troops fired on student demonstrators, killing an estimated 2,000 or more.

Here we are entering the Forbidden City. I'm always doing what I'm told not to. I swear it's not forbidden any more. However, back in the day, the Emperor had 100 wives who bore his children and were "forbidden" to leave the confines of these walls... even after the Emperor died! No one was allowed in, no one was allowed out (except the Emperor). One Emperor supposedly had 40,000 wives and died in his mid twenties. What do you think about that? And what do you think about these sacred grounds in the capital of a Communist country that opposes capitalism sporting a STARBUCKS in the middle of everything. INSIDE the Forbidden City. Uh huh. What a disgrace! I've never been a "boycotter", just don't go because their hot chocolate sucks! But don't worry... it's red and has a traditional roof!

Sorry I couldn't make this shot bigger, it was borrowed off a fellow tourist (seen in shot below) Kelly and Julianne captured some better angles and I borrowed theirs for this blog.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm not the most orderly person, well in my own unique way. I posted THE WALL 1st because it was the main reason I went to China. Then the factories altogether... to show you the beauty. Now I'd like to share a few of the moments I enjoyed the most. Then I'll continue with the rest of the trip.

This lake at the Summer Palace was frozen.... because it's NOT SUMMER! We had a fun tour group... so we ventured out onto the ice and started a game of ice ball. We copied this game, actually, off a group of older Chinese people who seemed to be having a BLAST! You kick the chunk of ice to someone else in the circle, trying not to fall on your ass. Those are the rules. The ice is coming to me in the 1st shot... it's either one of the times I MISSED the ball or hurt my foot. Don't remember which. Remember the pearl couple I told you about? Steph & Josh were my favorite among the many cool people I met on this trip!!!

Guess who these people are. More cool people I met on the trip! I will never do a tour group again, there's nothing fun about wake up calls at 4:15 am or being "cattle prodded" from place to place, or listening to people gripe because life just wouldn't be complete without complaining. However, unexpected circumstances occasionally lead you to good things. Like interesting conversations with interesting people. Don't know the 2 random Chinese guys in this shot, but the guy in the back is Denis (who took our picture 10 thousand times as we all shoved digital cameras in his hand) and the next 2 closest guys are Mike and Kelly (open jackets) who I sat in the back of the bus with for most of the trip (as the outcasted Americans). And the 2 in front (bald guy & girl) are Zachary and Emily. Also American, HEY we really ARE hated by Canadians! They were the only 2 die-hards who pulled off an all-nighter the last night of our trip. Everyone else squeezed in an hour of sleep. What good is that, really?

How do you stay awake all night? Beer of course. Nina and I ran a few blocks to a little Chinese restaurant and negotiated a case off them. I waved 100 yuan at the guy (approx $12.50 U.S.) and he seemed more than happy to let us walk away with his plastic crate. We got a few funny looks for being 2 white girls running down the streets of Beijing at 12:30 in the morning with all this beer.... but that and ice ball were 2 of my favorite moments! Laughing is good for your health.

This was our tour guide.

Jason was SO COOL!

15 of us got drunk in my room. Way to end a trip.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

These are some of the amazing jade carvings we saw. Turns out jade doesn't only come in green.... that's just the most popular. I enjoyed the jade factory most b/c nothing was killed in the making. The demonstrator explained how they cut through rock & polish til they reach a certain color. You really don't appreciate some things til you've seen them made. Got my mom a little gemstone, because she loves jade but couldn't afford any large items.

Pottery factory

I don't believe there are any animals hurt in the making of pottery, though I felt kinda bad taking pictures of the people creating these beautiful pieces. According to the dictionary, a sweat shop is: A shop or factory in which employees work long hours at low wages under poor conditions., but all people displayed on the tourist trip were adults. I didn't see any NIKE shops on the trip. Look at all the vibrant colors!! I wanted to sit and paint with them, but I don't think that would've went over well.

Pearl Factory

Ok, the oyster didn't survive this one. But the lady was a hoot and joked so much, my tears were more from laughter than anything else. These oysters aren't edible, each one has about
20 pearls. Stephanie and Josh were an awesome couple I met on the trip. She was the closest guesser as to how many pearls were inside so she got 2 pearls from this picture. The lady told her that meant she was gonna have 2 healthy children. You should've seen the looks on the couple's faces!

silk factory
Feels so good, and costs so much. (like the pearls & jade). I assume silk worms are killed to make silk... but people eat them as a snack here. Watched Dan & Greer eat them once. Yuck! My friends bought covers for their comforters and I'm so jealous. I saw a print that I loved but I think I'm gonna wait til I'm an adult ... I mean an older, wiser woman... to decorate with silk.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The not-so-great-wall

Well if I were making a list of "been there, done that" the wall would have been a great achievement. And though I must admit it's
one of the most impressive structures ever built, I could appreciate the effort put into it without the effort of walking up it. The area we visited wasn't flat, but VERY steep steps, appoximately 3 people wide, and it was stone. That was the wall. Been there, done that.

Partners for life

Okay, I'm not in love, but he's really cute and the best cuddler in the world! I think I'll keep him. Demsi is getting bigger and fluffier each passing day. He's so well-behaved and nearly house trained, thanks to some finishing touches of the book my friend sent me. She works with animals. She hurts monkeys actually, but I love her none-the-less. Kogi is cute too, and really attached to us... so if I don't find a home for either, it won't be the worst thing in the world. Not quite the Bull Mastiffs I was planning on, but I'll get a big guy later in life.

The after-party

We needed this many shots of whisky after the musical. The show was great, but as I've mentioned... it was a loooong day! The waiter set the shots on top of all these glasses of beer. Here Taunya's trying to blow them; they just fall like dominos right into the glasses! Then you drink.... and be merry. Look at all the side dishes they serve in Korea! Kimchi is everywhere.... you can't escape it. My students eat it with EVERY meal. I often ask what they've had for breakfast, hoping they've tried pancakes, waffles, french toast, cereal, ANYTHING but kimchi and rice. But no. Kimchi is a cure-all that everyone LOVES. Somehow I ended up flipping the meat. How does the vegetarian end up cooking? I'll tell you how, you have a waitress slap a dead animal in front of me. Last week I had my 10 year old class singing a song about food. The words were something like, "I like strawberries, I like grapes, I like bananas, ....fruit" When it got to the meat part Jeff improvised with "I don't like hamburgers, don't like ham, don't like hot dogs... meat" while he pointed at me. Greer and I love when the kids change words to be funny... as long as they do it properly. Shows they've really grasped the English language.
Nanta: these are my little drummer boys. Yes, Jana is a boy too, at heart. Dan says she beats em all in arm wrestling! That's my girl! She's also amazing at sign language. All the students did a song at the end of our musical which they sang in English and did in sign language.

Some girls LOOK so sweet ...
and some really are.
Costumes help

Ned and Nick showing some of that male affection

Amy again, cute as a dickens... they put a head set on her with a microphone, she's THAT good! I miss her. And Chris was one of my slowest learners for a while. Look at him NOW! Peter Pan. The leading role. He ROCKED! He was so confident and really enjoyed himself up there. Chris did a great job in his green tights and has been passing everyone in class. I was SO proud of him.