Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Every summer Daecheon beach holds a Mud Festival, to which thousands of fun people flock. Like most foreign teachers in Korea, I said, “Get drunk & muddy? I’m there!” So a bunch of us met in Daecheon, some by bus, some by train, some by car. I thought we were really lucky Jenny’s friend offered to drive us in his SUV, even though we got lost on the way there and had a flat tire on the way back. Men never listen to me when it comes to auto mechanics… so as usual, I sat back and waited for the inevitable, “You’re right.” It also rained the entire 2 days we were there. Many people didn’t come because of it. I don’t understand; you’re COVERED in mud. What is mud made of? Dirt and WATER.
Despite these trivial things that bother most ‘normal’ people, I had a grand time. I met up with a friend who had a large bottle of soju. This bottle encouraged us to
tag-team U.S. military soldiers in the mud pit. I only wrestled the girls and Korean men, b/c I was in a bikini and I know American men. I won most of the time. Jeff did too, and I’m glad he was on my team, b/c he fights dirty. Hee hee… dirty.
After the mud pit, we raced in a bouncy-room style relay and I nearly broke my neck. So we decided to wash off, by swimming in the ocean. I love the Ocean. The guards kicked us out 3 times for swimming out too far. They don’t like to get wet, so they simply turn on some sirens and wave red flashing wands at us. That evening we skipped the squid & octopus dinner with the group and got fake tattoos instead.
The next morning we all had Ramien noodles for breakfast. Yes, I’m in Korea. There were about 15 of us in this one huge room called an “Ondel”: Just a wood floor with blankets and sliding doors. The hotel owners LOVED me. The woman said something to Jenny as we were leaving and Jenny said, “She says you have a good character.” I was SO incredibly touched. I wished so badly at that moment I could speak fluent Korean, but I used the universal hug instead. Awwww!!

Before we left, we hit this huge Sauna (hot tubs, mud tubs, cold tubs, sea water tubs, steam room...and lots of naked women scrubbing eachother clean.) I was so modest before I came to Korea I didn't like getting naked to shower by MYSELF. I didn't realize til half-way through this sauna experience, that I'd been AJUMIZED. (Ajuma = korean woman, usually married) I had no problem walking around nakie in front of my friends. So girls back in New York... prepare to be ajumized. We'll eat Ramien noodles and get nakie.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Daejeon Hanwha Eagles
(an amazing day with my favorite students)
We talk about everything in class and one day we started talking about baseball.
" I play baseball."
" I like playING baseball."
Turns out Denny is MVP at his elementary school (the big guy) and we started talking about how my brother was when he was younger too. They're both pitchers, etc.... a little bonding chat. Well it turned out he had never been to a REAL baseball game. None of his classmates had either. I was SHOCKED! It's $1.00 a child for admission. $5.00 for adults... and a cheap cab ride away. Why not? The kids LOVE baseball too.
Bruce and Paul, big pimpin'
So I took some kids to a game this past weekend and we had a remarkable time!
First, I took them to a restaurant; they're so cute, they asked if they had to use Forks. Awww. Of course I said they could use chopsticks. They spoke English the ENTIRE time. They are very comfortable with the language and I have conversations with them as if they were friends from home.
Here you see the boys practicing their moves in the back of the taxi. Both these boys caught balls to take home. Well, one was thrown over the fence by the Foreigner player "Jay Davis" who's a friend of a friend.... and thinks he's hot shit. Fortunately, the boys thought he was hot shit too, and were SO impressed that I knew him. Paul kept yelling out, "Jay Davis! Nicole is your friend?" And they were instantly the coolest kids in the stadium after Jay waved to me. It rained a little off and on, but the game went on - nothin' umbrellas couldnt handle. Most of the fans sat together behind first base - rowdy crowd.
Denny caught a ball too - a toy rubber ball for a contest. They threw 3 out into the stands and the fans had to SHOOT for a prize. Denny was the only one who made it (knew he would) and he won a ticket to Kumdoriland! It's an impressive amusement park nearby, the first place I went to when I arrived in Korea. Our group was on the big screen much of the time. That happens a lot though, camera men LOVE the foreigners. Attention is always drawn to us.

A good example? Well Mike (my good friend who joined us at the game and DOUBLED the spoiling of my students)
was pulled out of the crowd to dance with the cheerleaders. What? He was crazy up on stage, and for a big guy... the man can MOVE!!! Watch out girls, he just might be at the next try-outs.
What else happened? Well the game was close and very exciting. We were winning most of the time until the very end (ho hum) but the kids still said they had a blast. Alice understood most of the game, but I had to explain some things to her. Smart girl. The game went much longer than
anticipated. 11pm - ouch! So I made them call their parents & get permission to stay. They were very well fed though b/c Mike bought them some kind of burgers and drinks, then the cheerleaders came out dancing with Domino's pizzas... and of course, gave one to us. I got them souvenirs and thanked them for being so well behaved. I'd take them out again ANY day.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Jeju-do (also spelled Chejudo) is Korea's largest Island, located well south of the western side of the peninsula. The whole island is one gigantic volcano, dormant since 1007 CE, with one main cone / crater and over 350 smaller ones. Some 20 beaches encircle Jeju-do. The main island is 1,810 square kilometers, half of which is still naturally forested. Green tea and semi-tropical fruits are widely grown.

I know this guys it tall, and I seem to be grabbing him in an inappropriate display of affection.... but he's not my new boyfriend. His personality was stone cold. (yes it IS funny) Ok, he's one of many Tolharubang Statues on the island. No one knows what they represent, people only guess it was a god or something. Because people who came to the island found them there. Interesting.

Look, Zach found a drinking buddy.

Back in May, Zach took a new teaching job on this beautiful island & invited me out. At the end of June, I flew out for 3 days & it was a wonderful vacation!!! He lives on the southern part, a beautiful area called Seogwipo. There are less than 200 foreign teachers on the island, so I told him I'd help him plunge into the social scene and meet new people. So we made friends with statues... and some of the coolest people I've met the entire year I've been here!

There was an international surfing competition on a beach near his house, so we went to check it out and there was a big group of people sitting around drinking beer and playing volley ball. They were warm & welcoming and we stayed with them for a bit. They'd camped out the night before and I wish SO badly we'd met them for that! Zach played with his new friends on the beach while I went swimming in the ocean. For those of you who don't know..... I looooove the Ocean.

I also love waterfalls. Jeongbang falls is "the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the sea." And it was a short walk from Zach's apartment. The water was chilly, but I couldn't help but to dive in - in all my clothes. SO invigorating. It felt incredible even after I was out of the water. Zach's a chicken, more into rock-climbing and stuff that requires physical stamina... so I just swam and giggled by myself!

Also, we picked up some oranges at a stand near the falls. Jeju-do is called the "Island of Love and Oranges". These oranges, grown on the southern slopes of Hallasan, were absolutely savory! Marta, I brought one back for you, but haven't seen you in weeks. So I had to eat it. Yummy! I brought you back some of the love too, but I'll hold onto that til I see you again.
"Every Korean feels he should visit Jeju-do at least once in his life and most do for their honeymoon." I saw a bunch of honeymooners out and about that weekend; surprisingly, none sportin' the 'couple shirts'.
Jeju-do was once listed by Newsweek magazine as one of the world's top ten undiscovered paradises. "do" is the Korean for island.

Jeju-shi means Jeju city and it is the main city on Jeju-do. That's where Zach and I went to meet the foreign teachers at night. The only real Western bar on the island - Blue Agave. Everyone seemed to know eachother and everyone seemed familiar with a guitar. The 3 man band, who plays there every weekend, was remarkable: 3 teachers who've been friends for years and travel together. I got the ladies to take off their shoes and dance the night away. I'm meeting them up in Seoul next weekend for a photography exhibit, in which 2 of the girls have photos in.

A bunch of the teachers have invited me back to the island, and I'll be sure to visit because there's so much I've yet to see:

- Udo, or Cow Island, is to the east and can be reached by ferry. Some say it's more beautiful than Jeju.
- I'd like to actually look into a volcano pit.
- Goseong Dinosaur prints (though I don't believe in dinosaurs)

- And then there are the Manjang-gul caves, which we didn't have time to visit.
" you can pretend to be Indiana Jones and explore one of the longest lava tunnels in the world. Of course, there's no rolling boulder inside. What you'll find instead is a deep, damp cave that was created by molten lava from Hallasan years ago ."

* Many geological wonders have been working their way into my year & I'm putting together quite the photo album!*

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"A black boy killed my hamster."
"No... no Max. I'm pretty sure a black boy didn't kill your hamster."

Today I was teaching a unit on PETS, which is always an interesting lesson with my students. NO ONE has pets here! EVERY single class is the same. "Who has a pet? No one, okay." Then little Sarah raises her hand and says she HAD a pet, but it died. Then Adam raises his hand and says he's had 2 pets, but they've both died.... and so on. Why do they die? The kids never know. Max told me today how the mommy and daddy hamster went to the mountain.... then a black boy killed his hamster. After some discourse, I think the black hamster (who was a male) killed the other hamster. Is the black hamster alive, you ask? No. The awkward moment always comes when we reach the page we have to list everyone in the class and ask that person "Do you have a pet? What kind?" So today I had 11 names waiting for a 'NO' next to them and the kids looked at me like, "Are you really gonna make us ask eachother?" If people DO have pets in Korea, they're small.......... especially dogs.

I wasn't gonna write about this, because I didn't want to think about it. But there was a horrific image branded in my memory that nearly caused a breakdown a few weeks ago. I was getting ready for school when my dogs started whining. I didn't know what they were whining about b/c they had eaten and gone out. Then I thought I heard a dog growl. I knew it wasn't my neighbor's little yapper, this was a BIG dog. I heard the growling a few more times, but dismissed it, because you do see the occasional Husky around. For some reason, that breed is acceptable as a pet here. Think it's the blue eyes. Well as I walked out of my apartment, in my nice little floral, linen skirt.... thinking only of the innocent things in this world and how much I love Korea...... I heard another growl. I turned to see a white pick-up truck parked in front of my house. There were 4 cages in the back, which only took up half of the truck's bed in total, and were gruesomly PACKED with large, beautiful dogs. Beautiful, beautiful dogs looking at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen. They were smashed in so tightly they couldn't budge, faces pressed up against the cage, legs distorted around other dogs. Some were whining, some growling, some numb in shock. I was numb in shock. I couldn't move. My first thought was, "Who would do such a thing? Why do they treat animals so badly here?" Then I realized. There's a plethora of restaurants around my apartment. I've heard you can go into "any" restaurant and ask for dog, which is slightly more expensive than beef and "very healthy in summer to keep you cool.". They only eat cats when a person's "very sick". Because westerners frown on this particular kind of meat, they don't advertise it openly.... I don't understand why it's any different than a cow, pig, or chicken... just taught. Buddhists in India will drive a busload of people off the road rather than kill a sacred cow. I prefer not to kill any animal, especially for FOOD this day in age.
... So I was standing there in shock. Couldn't move, felt it was physically impossible. Then I thought, people leave their keys in the ignition all the time here in Korea. If anything's worth getting deported over, this is. But where do you bring over 50 traumatized dogs who are large & don't know how to survive in the wilderness? They were probably chained and abused their entire lives. They were obviously "bred" for eating b/c they all looked exactly the same. Not sure which breed. Gorgeous, brown hair. Agh. I didn't even know HOW to get to a mountain by car.
Suddenly, 2 'ajumas' (older women) came out of a small restaurant, laughing and talking, with their permed hair, high-heels, and red lipstick. I looked at them with utter disdain. They walked up to the driver's side door and finally stopped talking when they realized I was staring. There was nothing I could do. I walked away. I could only walk away. THEN... the other night a woman invited me up to a pool hall (which turned out to be similar to pool, but the tables had no pockets... b/c the kind with pockets is "for girls".) Her English wasn't that good, but she said, "Do you like dog meat?" I said, "WHAT?!" and she quickly repeated, "Do you like pork? Do you like pork?" Reminds me of the time my parents tried to get me to eat squirrel by telling me it was chicken. ..... I don't eat animals, period.
I suppose dog meat is MUCH more popular in the summer, because I hadn't actually been exposed to this aspect of their culture until recently. Today, after Max told me about his hamster, I told him about my 2 dogs. He said, "My cousin has MANY dogs. BIG dogs!"