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Friday, August 10, 2012

Goodbye, Austin Teacher

My last day at school was a couple days ago, which was bittersweet, to say the least. I was sad to say goodbye to my fellow teachers and students, who I have become very fond of over the past year. In addition, I am very excited to be on the brink of some amazing travels (to Hong Kong, Bali, Thailand, and India), as well as to be closing in on my final destination, after 15 months away: home. To commemorate my leaving, one of my fellow teachers had a couple of the classes draw/write goodbye-cards, some of which were too precious not to be shared:




#KikinitinKorea

Along the lines of Chincha?!, another must-check-out: #KikinitinKorea. Same idea as #whatshouldwecallme, but exclusively about the experience of foreigners in Korea. Hilarious, and uncannily accurate. In fact, Chincha?! published an interview with the maker of this site (A fellow, Californian, represent!).

Chincha?!

I had to give a shout-out to this awesome site, Chincha?!. Any foreigners living in South Korea, thinking about living in South Korea, or just curious about why anyone would possibly be interested in moving to South Korea, should check it out.

Here's the About:
"Chincha is a magazine-style blog created, written, and curated by expats living in South Korea. We show what life is really like in Korea by bringing you current information about people, music, gigs, and events. We give a positive point of view - with a wry spin -  on the weird and wonderful things that happen..."

Just as an FYI, "chincha?!" is a Korean word that translates to something like "really?!", and  is used VERY frequently among Koreans. It's one of my favorites. So much that I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to cut it out of my vocabulary once I return to the US.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mudfest!

A few weeks back I attended the  Boryeong Mud Festival, a.k.a Mudfest, which is held in an otherwise sleepy beach-town and basically involves coating your body in mud and frolicking on the beach, while drinking. Yes, it's as fun as it sounds.
According to the Korean Tourism website, Mudfest is the most popular international festival in Korea. "During the festival period, tourists flock to the area to experience the beneficial properties of the Boryeong mud, and alto to have lots of fun. Fully immersed in both the mud and the festival's great atmosphere, visitors enjoy mud wrestling, mud sliding and even swimming in the mud mega tub. Visitors feeling particularly energetic can try the marine mud-training course, whilst those looking for something more chilled can relax in the mud massage zone. In the evening, music and fireworks continue the party on the beach" (Official Site of Korean Tourism).

Some pictures of my friends and I at Mudfest:






Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peanut Butter Sushi in Seoul


One of the things that I was a little disappointed about when arriving to Korea is the lack of cheap, quality sushi. I know, I know, this is Korea, not Japan, two very different countries with very different culinary traditions. An abundance of cheap sushi must have been simply wishful thinking on my part.  It also just occurred to me that this is probably very typical, ignorant, American thinking. Woops.
Anyway, I haven’t eaten much sushi here. While there are sushi restaurants, they’re usually more expensive and less tasty than I’m used to eating in California. Sushi used to be one of my favorite foods to eat out. And, while Korean kimbap initially resembled sushi to me, and I do like it, it’s really very different. So, last night I went with a friend to this “American Sushi” restaurant in Gagnam, Seoul, called Raw. It was advertised on the Korean Tourism website, as well as described on a Seoul food website, SeoulGrub.com.
I was curious to see what Korea’s take on American sushi would be like. And, the blog claimed that this sushi restaurant had FORTY different kinds of California rolls. Being from California, I was obviously impressed, and also curios about how one could possible create forty variations on the California roll (imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado).
After some confusion over the directions (typical), my friend and I finally found the restaurant just a little bit off of the main street in Gagnam. I scanned the menu, and while I did see a couple different “California rolls,” I didn’t see forty. Maybe they realized that this was just plain excessive.
Most of the sushi I saw looked familiar; the caterpillar roll, volcano roll, various sashimi, etc. There were also some very strange, very “American” sounding rolls that I have definitely never heard of, and highly doubt that we would ever serve in America. For example, a couple contained nacho-cheese, and the “Charlie Brown” roll was topped with peanut butter and hot-sauce. I mean, what is more American than nacho cheese, peanut butter, and hot sauce?
We ordered the caterpillar roll, because there aren't many opportunities to eat avocado here, and the Charlie Brown roll, just so we could say we tried it. They were both good, even the Charlie Brown roll. The portion sizes were also very large. America, represent! Would I go back? Yes. Although, I’ve had much better in Japan Town, San Francisco. But, I’ll take what I can get. Moral of the story, living in Korea, one must learn to embrace the full spectrum of their country’s stereotypes, even if this involves eating peanut-butter sushi.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Namhae "Treasure" Island

A couple weekends back, I went with some friends to Namhae Island, also known as the “Treasure Island of Korea,” which is located about 5-hours away from Seoul. According to Official Site of Korean Tourism:
“A bridge that was constructed in 1973 now is connected to the mainland, which makes it no longer an island in the truest sense. This small yet beautiful island has picturesque sceneries harmoniously juxtaposing the mountains and the sea. The jagged 302-kilometer coastline reveals strange rock formations that create a fantastic view reminiscent of ancient Asian paintings."
We went with a group called Seoul Hiking Group, which is run by a good-humored Korean man named Warren. There are a few groups that offer trips to various spots in Korea. I’ve also gone with WINK (When IN Korea). I liked going with Seoul Hiking Group because it was a very active trip. At some points it even felt a bit like bootcamp. You’ll see why.
We got on the bus to Namhae late Friday night, after everyone had finished work. Five hours and next to no sleep later, we arrived at Geumsan Mountain, the tallest mountain on the island. The goal was to make it to the top by sunrise, but the busses left a little later than planned, in typical Korean fashion, so the sun was up by the time we reached the temple at the top, which was nonetheless extraordinarily beautiful.

mountain peaks

almost there

Geumsan Temple

view from the top

After the hike, we migrated to the beach for some R & R. We also needed to set up our tents. Most of the foreigners on our trip were staying in a hostel, but my friends and I had opted to stay in a 6-person tent on the beach. The Korean campers all seemed to have these extravagant multi-room tents with raised beds, patios, and grills. Ours was more like a collapsing teepee, but it did the trick.

Sangju Beach

not our tents

our tent

We hung out at the beach for a while, and ate some sausage sandwiches (ew), before taking a bus to another beach to go kayaking. We had a few kayak-options available; 1-person, 2-person, stand-up paddle-boards, and canoes. We rotated in and out of these various flotation devices while exploring Namhae’s beautiful coastline.
After three hours of hiking and two hours of kayaking in the hot sun on next to no sleep, we were all pretty worn out. We went to a restaurant for some much-deserved Korean barbecue and beer. Afterwards, we returned to the beach for a bonfire, where we lit sparklers and drank makkoli (Korean rice-wine).
The next day, after another breakfast of sausage sandwiches (still ew), we went on a bus-tour of Namhae. They took us to a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, and a garlic festival, where we sampled various garlic concoctions, including “black garlic” (a cooked, sweet, gelatinous version), and got our chi cleansed with incense cones.

the cliff

 
garlic statue

chi cleansing

must be some sort of incense cone

Then it was back to the beach to pack up our tents, and for some of us to take a much-needed nap on the sand. We left mid-day and I got home late Sunday night. Luckily, the next day was Buddha’s Birthday, so we didn’t have to work and could catch up on sleeping and showering. What a glorious weekend! What a treasure of an island indeed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Search of Doctor Fish


Today Jackie and I wandered around Hongdae, a district in Seoul is known for Hongik University (the most famous school of Fine Arts and Design in the country), and it’s nightclubs. Hongdae has a Brooklyn-like feel, with intimately tucked away shops, and trees lining the many small side streets. The design is one-of-a-kind, free and artsy, yet intentional, with every detail carefully considered. Our original intent was to go to a place called “Doctor Fish,” which offers a spa-like treatment where fish eat the dead skin off you feet. Some friends of ours had gone and recommended the experience.
With our out-of-date guidebook in hand, we wandered around in search Doctor Fish. It was chilly and rainy, but we were determined to get our feet fishily refreshed. We knew the subway exit that it was near, that it was on the second floor of some building, and it’s name in Korean. There aren’t really street names in Korea, so this information is usually what you have to go off of. Thankfully, a friendly Korean woman saw us looking at a map and took about 30 minutes out of her day to help us find it.
I’ve realized this magic trick if you are lost in Korea (which I often am)…Instead of going up to someone to ask for help, since many people can’t or don’t want to speak English, just stand on a heavily populated street holding a map and looking puzzled. Someone will come up and ask to help with surprising frequency. I’m not sure if this is a result of Korean culture, which dictates hospitality to foreigners, or perhaps many people just want the chance to practice their English. Either way, it’s helped me out on numerous occasions.
The woman eventually discovered via her iPhone that Doctor Fish no longer existed, so we thanked her graciously and parted ways. Perhaps a fish got a little too hungry? Since we were already in Hongdae, we decided to explore the clothing boutiques and cafes, which are numerous, and overwhelmingly adorable. Some shots of Hongdae:






Friday, April 13, 2012

New Camera

I just got a great new camera, a Canon EOS 600D. I've been having fun playing around with it. I like being able to do justice to some of the unique, eye-catching images I am privy to living in Korea. I'm also looking forward to using it while visiting other Asian countries in a few months. Here are some shots from last weekend:

the street in Gagnam 

into the subway

Ttukseom Resort Station

the sun going down and a train passing by

Jackie, William, Jeremy, and Audrey
at Rainbow, our favorite spot

neon lights, people trickling in

table=canvas

a rear-view of the reggae band



Thursday, April 12, 2012

They may be young, but they're not colorblind

Today, after teaching a math lesson involving flag stickers to my four and five-year-olds (Korean six), I was giving an impromptu lesson on flags of the world. “Where are we now?...What colors are the South Korean flag?” They could do that pretty well. “And, where is Austin Teacher from?” “AUSTRALIA!” “No…” “CANADA!!” “No…” “MIGUK!!!” “Yes...Miguk in English is AMERICA…what colors are the American flag?”…They seemed to get it. “Now, one more time…who is from America?” I asked, just to make sure we were clear. “AASHI!” one of the boys yelled, pointing to the only Indian child in the class. “Um, no, AUSTIN TEACHER is from America” I said, jabbing my finger at the flag. Way to make it awkward…and so much for trying to make my students globally aware. :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Voices in My Head

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the end of our last Kindergarten semester was marked by a musical production. My class did Peter Pan. Just imagine for a second what it would take to get a class of American kids to memorize a musical in Mandarin. Needless to say, it was a challenge. How do you get a bunch of seven-year-olds who barely speak English to memorize a 30-minute English musical? By doing a lot of yelling and threatening that we would not be allowed to do if we were teaching in America. And, by practicing over and over and over and over.
Towards the end, I would come home at night and find that the musical was playing, on repeat, in my head. Not just my lines, but all of the lines. Trust me, after practicing with the kids for hours on end the last thing I wanted on my mind was a steady stream of “Look out, it’s Captain Hook! He’s trying to shoot us with the cannon!…” Sometimes the songs would be playing in the background “Yo ho yo ho a pirates life for me…”


As mildly disturbed by this as I was (having uncontrollable voices in your head is usually not considered to be a good thing), I knew it was a passing phase. The semester would be over soon enough and my head would be free to return to the thoughts that normal people have; about friends, money, laundry, whatever, and if a song were stuck in my head, it would be one that I actually liked…or so I thought.
The kids I’m teaching are younger now, and I’m not sure if it’s their age or just my new Korean co-teacher’s personal teaching style, but my teaching these days seems to revolve in large part around teaching the kids songs, songs about playgrounds, animals, letters, fingers, etc. This can be cute (how could happily singing children not be cute?), and fun, a nice break from worksheets. But sometimes it can be a little too much.
We will practice the songs with the kids, and to reinforce their learning we will play them as background music during lunchtime, morning circle, and playtime. The same songs are on repeat throughout my morning, songs that I never liked to begin with. My co-teacher comes into my classroom carrying the CD player and I cringe. Please, just let me teach math, phonics, anything else. And, to top it all off, the voices in my head are back.


I wake up on a Saturday morning and what do I hear? “This little duck that I once new, a little yellow duck with a feather on his head, he leads the others with a quack quack quack…” I’m not sure what is worse, pirates or quacking.  All I know is that I’ve had enough of both of them to last me a lifetime.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spa Day in Korea


Last weekend, feeling under the weather (everyone at school has been sick) I decided to venture into the spa part of my gym. I use the gym, Bobos Sporex, frequently, but have only peeked into the shower part of the locker room (it takes me about five minutes to walk home from the gym, so I just shower there).
Inside the locker room at Bobos, there are glass doors leading to shower area. There are rows of showers, some requiring you to sit on a stool, as well as a hot pool of water, a cold pool of water, and a steam room.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but spas are very popular in Korea. There are many public “jimjilbangs,” which can be used for only a few thousand won, and even slept in. One of the first things that foreigners will tell you when describing jimjilbangs is how “very naked” they are. Koreans of all ages use the facilities completely unclothed. I don’t think they would let you wear a swimsuit if you tried.
The spa at my gym is no exception, which was fine with me, but I was very aware of the lingering glances of the older Korean woman that were sharing the facilities with me that Sunday afternoon. I’m sure they were just curious as to what a waygook (foreigner) looks like unclothed. They were all polite, however, as Korean woman tend to be.
I was instructed by one of the woman to shower upon entering, which I did, and then relaxed into the hot pool. Meanwhile, the other woman meandered throughout the steamy, cave-like corridors, hair wrapped in towels, chatting with one-another.
It took a little getting used to, but was a very pleasant experience. I can see why this is such a favorable past time in Korea. I mean, after working like a maniac in frigid weather all week, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple hours at a spa with friends, naked and engulfed in steam?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

White Day

          Happy White Day everyone! For those of you who don’t know what White Day is, it is a Korean holiday celebrated on March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. In Korea, it is traditional for girls to give their boyfriend chocolate, etc. on Valentine’s Day. Then, one month later, it’s the guys’ turns. I read somewhere that the guys are suppose to spend three times as much on their girlfriends as was spent on them.
          If you hadn’t already noticed, Korea is a very “couply” country. Relationships are very common, and couples like to celebrate their coupledom by taking an array of couple pictures, wearing matching outfits, etc. Here are some examples (the first couples' shirts say "falling in love, this is my boyfriend/girlfriend," in case you were wondering):




          In case you don’t happen to be in a relationship, never fear, because a month from now, on April 14th, there is “Black Day.” On this day, single people get together and celebrate their singledom by eating “jajangmyeon,” noodles with black bean sauce. I heard a rumor that this meal is suppose to help you attract members of the opposite sex, but don’t quote me on that.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The End of an Era


We are going through a transition time at school right now. The semester has ended, which was marked by the completion of our Kindergarten musicals, and a graduation ceremony. I was very sad to say goodbye to “my kids,” Salmon Class. I have been spent most of my mornings and early afternoons with them for the past six months. Some shots of them in their graduation gowns (taken in the classroom, with their parents in the background):

Lucy, Sophia, Julia

Eddie, Sonic, Chris

Salmon Class

They have made a lasting impression on me, and I hope that any influence that I’ve had on their young lives has been more positive than negative (which is all I can really hope for, right?). That being said, I’m also excited at the prospect of a new class, and having a fresh start now that I have a much firmer grasp on the art of controlling Korean kindergarteners.
Last week was Spring Break, which meant no Kindergarten, but the teachers still had to come in in the mornings to complete various mindless tasks. Mine was making conversation questions and answers for storybooks. The most challenging books to write ten questions about were the ones that were less than ten words. I just ended up getting a lot of my material from the pictures. (“What is Sally wearing?” “Sally is wearing jeans.”) etc, etc.
Next week, all the classes will be different. Some kids are leaving, new kids are coming, and the ones that are staying will change levels. This is true for both elementary and kindergarten. We have been given very little information about what will be happening text week, in terms of who will be teaching which classes and whatnot. Our school tends not to tell us what is going to happen until it is actually happening. This seems to be a general Korean tendency.
I do, however, know that I will be teaching Lobster Class for kindergarten, which will mainly consist of a class of kids that I taught once a week last semester, Blowfish Class. They are Korean six, which makes them four and five American age. My “sister class,” which I will teach once a day, will be Angelfish Class, the youngest class at EOS. They are two and three American age. They are SO cute, and SOOO small. I taught them once a week last semester and spent a good portion of the time baffling over the fact that these babies were in school, in uniform, sitting at the desk completing phonics worksheets.
Another change that is taking place is that about half of the teachers are leaving. All of the teachers are on a yearlong contract, and it is up to both you and the school whether or not you sign on for another year. There are four new Korean teachers and one new Native Teacher, Leanne, who is also from California. Represent. The new teachers have been observing these past few days and all seem very nice.
And so it goes…I have a little over five months left on my contract, and I’m feeling really positive about the rest of my time in Korea. I have formed some great friendships and have had some unforgettable experiences. With the end in sight, a lot of potential opportunities are presenting themselves and I look forward to seeing where this Asian adventure will take me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One Shot at the “Good Life”

An article I read last month in The Economist helped me to put my current job in perspective. “The One-Shot Society”* described the education system in South Korea, which places a huge emphasis on college entrance exams. This is because, in South Korea, a degree is required to do pretty much anything, and 100% of parents want their children to go to college. The single set of multiple-choice tests, taken at the end of high school, determine whether or not a student gets into a “good” university, a mediocre university, or any university at all.
In Korea, it is unlikely that one will change jobs, as this is frowned upon. Also, prestigious companies directly recruit from prestigious universities, and promote from within. Therefore, in Korea, one’s life and livelihood is basically determined by the series of tests taken at the end of high school. (Hence, you have parents paying to have native-English-speakers flown across the world to teach their four-year-old the difference between long and short vowels.)
As the article explains, there are benefits and drawbacks, of course, to this system. On one-hand, it is fair and efficient. The test-results are clear and non-negotiable. Also, while wealthy parents can offer their children an advantage with expensive private schooling, they will still have to prove themselves on exam-day, guaranteeing that a child’s success is based on ability instead of legacy. Also, poor yet intelligent and hard-working Koreans are able to rise up in the ranks.
This system has resulted in an extraordinarily high level of education in South Korea. Parents know how important it is to prepare their children for exam day, and go to great lengths to do so. Huge amounts of time and money (Seoul families spend an average of 16% of their income on private tuition) are devoted to a child’s education. Therefore, “The country is pretty much the leading nation in the scoring system run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2009 it came fourth after Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, but those are cities rather than full-sized countries” (p. 54).
This highly educated populace has in turn fueled a soaring economy. The country was only recently in poverty, and is developing at an astounding rate. “The country has risen from barefoot to broadband since 1960, and last year, despite the global slowdown, its economy grew by 6.2%. In the age of the knowledge economy, education is economic destiny. So the system has had far-reaching and beneficial consequences” (p. 54).
However, there is also a dark-side to the South-Korean miracle. The cons to the education system include a high youth suicide-rate, greater than America’s and twice that of China, which one can imagine to be due to the incredible amount of pressure placed on children by society and their families, 100% of which desire for their child to attend a university. “In one survey a fifth of Korean middle and high school students said they felt tempted to commit suicide. In 2009 a tragic 202 actually did so” (p. 55).
            In addition, due to the high cost of raising children in this society, South Korea is facing a dramatic decline in population. Korean children go an array of private academies, where they practice English, math, science, piano, art, Korean, taekwondo, Chinese, guitar, jump-rope, robotics, etc. Many of these academies cost around $1,000 a month, and some attend quite a few. When I’ve asked them, many of my students have listed five or six. “Parents engage in an educational arms race. Those with only one child can afford higher fees, so they bid up the price of the best hagwon” (p.55). This has resulted in families having much fewer children, in order to be able to devote more resources into the ones that they do have.
“Since 1960 the fertility rate in Korea has fallen faster than nearly anywhere on earth, from six children per woman to 1.15 in 2009” (p. 55). If each Korean woman continues to have only one baby, each generation will be half the size of the one before it. The dramatically shrinking population is a huge problem in Korea, one that has prompted many to rethink the system. While there is much to be said as to what South Korea has achieved as a result of it’s education system, it seems that a change will soon be necessary, so that it's citizens will be offered more than one shot at the "Good Life."

*I have only included some key points from this article. To read the rest of “The One-Shot Society,” published in the December 17th-30th edition of The Economist, click here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In the Land of Morning COLD

Rumor has it that this is the coldest winter that Korea has had in 55 year. I can believe it, it’s freaking cold. As soon as fall hit a few months ago, and I realized it was pretty comparable to winter in San Francisco (which I used to complain about), the feeling of dread set in. When I heard that it could get down to negative temperatures, I couldn’t fully wrap my head around what that would mean in terms of physical sensations, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Seoul Weather Forecast

I’d only ever experienced snow when I’d driven for five hours to ride down it on a pair of skis. Now I walk out my front door, and there it is. Everywhere. Pretty, yes, sometimes. But then it gets all gray and slushy, or turns into black ice-blocks of death. Or, I’ll be teaching, and happen to glance out the window, and BOOM, blizzard (not really). “Are we even going to be able to leave? What if we get snowed-in?”

First Snowfall, Yeongtong

I remember the first time, a month or two ago, while walking to catch the bus, when I thought to myself, “so this is what they mean by ‘biting cold.’” It literally bites you, and it hurts. Who knew that air could be so painful? Not I. I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is to go outside as little as possible. I’m hibernating.
Doing anything seems like such an ordeal. First, you have to pile on layer upon layer of insulation until you feel like a snowman. Once outside, I keep my hands jammed deep in my jacket pockets and my eyes towards the ground, to avoid the icy patches, where one can easily slip and break themselves. Once safely inside, sheltered from the elements, the layers must come off again; scarf, jacket, gloves, second pair of socks...Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s exhausting.
I realize that, coming from California, it’s probably good for me to experience real weather for the first time in my life. I mean, Santa Barbara barely even has seasons, and there is a something nice about watching your surroundings change every few months. But, can we move on to spring already??

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Power of Han

I just started re-reading Etiquette Guide to Korea, which I bought in the US right before my departure and read on the plane. While describing the character and personality of Koreans, the author described an element to their culture known as Han. I don’t remember being very interested in this concept the first time I read this book, but his time it caught my attention. Now that I’ve been here for almost six months, this phenomenon seems to explain some of my observations of Korean culture.
The direct translation of han is “unrequited resentments,” but there is much more to it that that. “Han can be understood to encompass all of the ambitions, emotions, desires, spirit, and intellectual impulses that were prohibited and oppressed from the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty in 1392 until the 1950s. When South Koreans were freed from political oppression, all of these repressed things were released and provided the energy, power, and passion they devoted to creating a modern economy. The power of han has not yet expended itself, and the ferocity, dedication, and diligence with which the people work must be seen to be believed” (De Mente, Etiquette Guide to Korea, p.24-25).
Han is attributed as being the driving force behind South Korea’s incredibly rapid advancement over the past 50 years. It is a powerful part of South Korean culture, resulting from the domination and suppression that they’ve been subjected to throughout their history. Koreans are known for their work ethic, and this work ethic can at least partially be attributed for their economic miracle. Living and working in South Korea, I witness the diligence and the dedication of South Koreans on a daily basis, and it is indeed astounding.
For example, while the native teachers at my school often times stay at work until 7pm, after starting a little after 9am, the Korean teachers almost always stay longer, and come in on Saturdays. My Kindergarteners, who just turned Korean eight, making them six or seven in “international” age, study English for four or five hours a day, five days a week. In addition, some of them have private tutors that come to their house, and many play an instrument or a sport.
While for the children this is, of course, not a voluntary lifestyle, it reflects the work ethic that is expected of them in this culture.  While perhaps not innate, it seems to become ingrained.  This is a work ethic that they must learn to adopt, especially in a collectivist society where your successes and failures are a reflection not only of you, but the people you are interconnected with; your family, friends, and country. A work ethic that could be a result of a sudden freedom, or release, after so many years of suppression, a result of han.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Other Side of the Rainbow

A couple weeks ago some friends and I discovered a one-of-a-kind hookah-lounge in Gagnam, Seoul called Rainbow (Rainbow Facebook page). It’s a dimly lit room filled with low tables, floor-cushions, a bar, and a DJ booth. If you get there early enough, you can sit in a nest-like loft against the wall. Shoes are removed at the door and placed in a bag, which you bring with you to your table. There are also small, worn lap-blankets available in case you need some extra warmth. Signs on the wall invite you to relax, but warn against getting so deeply relaxed that you fall asleep, which is not allowed.
I would describe the d├ęcor as Rasta-theme, but it is also a bit opium-den-like. One of my favorite paintings on the wall (there are many) is an alternative version of the Korean flag; the middle is a peace sign and it’s red, yellow, and green, in true Rasta fashion. There are many marijuana-leaves decorating the walls (and floor), but no marijuana to be smoked, obviously, because we are in Korea. Instead, there are many flavors of hookah, and buckets of alcohol. Well, they are called “buckets,” but they are more like square, glass vases, filled with various cocktail mixtures, and consumed with a straw. There is also a decent selection of wine, and you can get 10% off on Sundays. Needless to say (in true California fashion), this place is awesome!
A glimpse of Rainbow (these pictures are from my camera phone and don’t do it justice):

Madeline, Jacqueline, Rum Bucket

Good Band (forget the name)

Hookah

Towards the end of night on weekends, the music at Rainbow tends to get louder and clubbier, so the vibe becomes less relaxed. However, not to worry, for across the street, only a few steps away, there is another great bar, Woodstock. Woodstock, as the name suggests, is another foreigner-friendly gem in Seoul with good music, a laid-back atmosphere, and reasonably priced drinks. Hooray!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Daddy PTA


I’m behind on blogging, as usual. Time for a recap. Let’s start with Christmas…
My Christmas cheer was dampened by an event that we had at school the week before: Christmas PTA (also known as Daddy PTA). This is basically a Christmas-themed open house for the Kindergarten kids and their dads. Mommy PTA is held over summer. Why is it called PTA? Good question…it isn’t named after the school’s “Parent-Teacher Association,” because there is none…Parent-Teacher Activities? Adventure? Amusement?
We spent weeks leading up to the event teaching the kids Christmas songs and dances to be performed for their daddies. My class did “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and “Feliz Navidad.” There were to be two different nights (Wednesday and Thursday), for different classes.
On the nights of the event, the dads showed up with their kids, decked out in adorable Christmas outfits, around 7pm. In the classroom we made wreaths, shared food, and the kids gave their song and dance performances. There was also dancing and games in the auditorium (led by Gym Teacher), and the kids received presents from Santa (an American friend of one of the Native Teachers).
At these sorts of events, I always feel quite prop-like. We native teachers are told what to where (red or green with Santa hats, and antlers and a Rudolph nose to pose with the kids’ and Santa), where to stand, what to say (“introduce yourself…talk about the program for the evening…then talk about the meaning behind wreath-making” “um…which is…?”), and when to get up on stage and dance (yes, this happened).
Korean dads are for the most part quite shy and don’t speak a lot English. We mainly just tried to make everyone feel comfortable and force as much English out of the kids as possible, to prove to the dads that their money is being put to good use. “Daniel, what are you eating? Is it delicious? Julia, what color glitter would you like? How many beads?”
The event went until 10:30 both nights, and was quite exhausting, but went better than expected. Granted, my co-teacher and I weren’t expecting very good things from Salmon Class, since they tend to be a little crazed, to say the least. But they stayed under control, completed their songs, and spoke some English, so I was pleased.
My favorite part of the night was when Santa asked one of the boys, Eddie, “have you been a good boy this year?” We had practiced responding “Yes, I have been a good boy,” for about thirty minutes in class that morning. However, after thinking it over a bit, her responded “mmm…so-so.” You have to appreciate his honesty, and he still got the top (all the rage in Japan) that he’d been wanting.