1 May Movies and Economic Status
5-6 May Ramie Festival
11 May The Buddha's Birthday
14 May A Korean Wedding
17 May Moving Day
19-27 May A Visitor
4 June Health Concerns, Tano Festival
5-10 June Tano Festival Reports
11 June Karaoke and Squid
14 June A Major Change
17 June Korean Homes; Kyong po again
18 June Sogumgang
19 June Strawberries and Proverbs
20 June Conversions
22 June Korea's Educational System
24 June Strawberry Shortcake
25 June TJ's Visit & Missing Home
27 June Doctors' Strike, New Student
28 June More on Korean Schools; Divorce
29 June Superstitions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
1 May:

I went to see a movie Saturday -- Galaxy Quest. I'd read a review of it and it sounded like fun. I thought John would go with me, but he didn't want to see it, so I went alone.

I was right -- it was a fun movie, and as I'd hoped, it was in English with Korean subtitles, rather than being dubbed. Unfortunately, the sound quality was terrible, so I missed some of the dialogue. I guess if you're reading the subtitles, the sound doesn't matter.

I think the film was cut in a few places, too. I saw a television review of it later, and there was at least one scene that I didn't remember seeing, and parts where it just seemed like I missed something.

Movie theaters here aren't like ours -- at least this one wasn't. Like many other things here, it's just stuck into an existing building. Galaxy Quest was on the third floor; I assume each film has its own floor.

We had an interesting discussion in the 8:00 class one night. Each chapter in the book has a different topic, and you're supposed to spend some time discussing the topic. This chapter's was "How good is your neighborhood," in terms of crime, traffic, pollution, and employment.

We were talking about employment. Jack, who came from a smaller town to go to the university here, said that employment must be good because everyone in Kangnung is rich compared to his home. Kelly said that unemployment wasn't a problem because most people in Kangnung have a piece of land, so even if they have no job, they can grow food and still eat. I wondered about all the people in apartments, who have no land, but didn't say anything. Apartments do seem to outnumber houses by a large margin.

But I also see all sorts of odd bits of land being gardened, so it may be that anyone who wants to can clear a piece of land and grow food.

Mrs. Kim's parents' house must have a fair bit of land. She goes over there every now and again to help them plant something. Last month it was potatoes; yesterday, it was hot peppers. I asked how many they planted (thinking 12, maybe 24) -- it was 460. She said that was for 4 households, her parents', her older brother's, her younger brother's, and hers. But that's still 115 hot pepper plants per household!

I think that Korea was poor for so long that they have a low threshold for "rich." Anyone with more than you is rich. You and I by Korean standards are filthy rich. [Actually, Korea is rapidly joining the ranks of wealthier nations. Their GDP is 13th in the world, and growing at 13% per year. -ed]

5-6 May:

The 5th was a holiday, Children's Day, so I went to the Ramie Festival on the 5th and 6th.

They really treated me like gold. They had someone pick me up at the bus station and drive me to the festival -- good thing, too, because it was far enough away that a taxi would have cost a fortune. Then she guided me around all day. They bought me dinner, my guide helped me check into a motel for the night, and met me the next morning to show me around some more. Her boss bought us lunch, there was a special gift for foreigners, and one of her colleagues drove me to the train station.

The festival was very nice. Of course I thoroughly enjoyed the demonstrations of how to make the ramie cloth.

There were lots of other things to see, too. A potter was set up and had two wheels, and festival attendees could try to make things. I tried, but I never could manage clay on a wheel, and I blew it every time. But the potter rescued my piece and made it look like something. After it's fired, she's going to mail it to me. There was supposed to be a 5,000 won (about US$4.50) charge for the mailing, but because I'm a foreigner, she didn't charge me.

I could get really spoiled here. It'll be a letdown when I go home and I'm not special any more.

There were some older men demonstrating making shoes out of straw. Carrie, my guide, was surprised when I said I'd like to try it, but she asked the men, and they were thrilled. I'm sure it was an absolute hoot for them, seeing a western woman kick off her shoes to join them and try it out. There was lots of laughing and cheering, especially when I really did spit on my hands the way they showed me, and we all had a really good time.

So, I have about half of a straw shoe done. I'd like to get a hold of some more straw to practice, but since I only know how to do the front half of a shoe, I'd have a hard time finishing it. There's at least one person in Kangnung who makes straw shoes; maybe he'd be willing to show me.

There were traditional Korean games to try, some nice displays of ramie items, and a really good fashion show at the end of the night, with modern and traditional hanbok all made of ramie. The designer for the fashion show, Lee Young-hee, has a shop in Paris. She's also doing a fashion show at Carnegie Hall on the 30th of June.

The second day I was at the festival (the 6th), I saw a demonstration of the Korean version of a "sheep to shawl" [an event in which participants shear a sheep, spin the wool, and weave it into a shawl -- often in competition with other teams. -ed], with ramie of course. It normally takes one woman 5 days to prepare and weave one length of ramie fabric, so they use a team of five and it takes one day. It was a popular pastime 'way back when, and for purposes of the festival, it was presented more as a procession and dance, and lasted 45 minutes or so.

The last thing I saw before I left was a clown show. I really could have skipped it, but Carrie seemed to enjoy it. For everyone else there, it was a perfectly normal sort of thing -- clowns dancing to taped music, bringing little kids on stage, and making ballon animals for them. Unfortunately, the music they'd chosen was an American rap song about gangbanging and oral sex, with very graphic lyrics. So where everyone else saw clowns, I saw perverts and child molesters. One guy reminded me of the pimp in Miss Saigon. It was both sad and funny.

The trip home was an adventure. The guy who took over for Carrie swore up and down that I'd be much better off going home by way of Suwon instead of Chonan, the way I came. On top of that, he said the train would be much better than the bus.

I could see several potential pitfalls to this plan. Getting from the train station to the bus stop was one, and the possibility that there might not be a bus from Suwon to Kangnung was another. It seemed to me that if Suwon was really better, that's the way the people at the Tourist Office would have suggested in the first place. But since this guy was also offering to drive me to Kangnung (all the way across the country) if I would stay one more day, I took him up on his suggestion. I figured the whole year is an adventure, so why not?

I'll admit, the train ride was much nicer than the bus ride had been. The seats were more comfortable, the view was better, there was a restroom available, and vendors roamed the aisles, selling food and drink.

The bus station in Suwan wasn't all that far from the train station, once I managed to find someone who understood what I was asking. If I had understood the answer better, it would have been even closer, and I wouldn't have had to walk through what I assume was the red light district (scantily-clad women hanging out in doorways).

I made it to the bus station. I found my way inside after 3 tries, only to be told that I needed the outside terminal for a ticket to Kangnung. So I went with plan B and took a bus to Seoul.

I got into Seoul just after the ticket offices closed.

That was something I hadn't anticipated -- I thought they'd be open until 11 or 12. So after considering various possibilities, I asked an official-looking person if there were any buses yet to Kangnung. He told me to ask another person, who went back and asked the first person, and then told me to sit and wait. Then he took me to a different set of seats and again told me to sit and wait. Then he took me outside where the buses were, and told me to sit and wait.

Finally he called me onto a bus, and I paid my fare and took the last seat. I hoped it was going to Kangnung (I seem to pronounce it wrong a lot of the time). Sure enough, a few hours later, I was home.

Boy, I've written 5 pages on the ramie festival -- and that was the Reader's Digest condensed version!

11 May:

May 11th was a holiday, The Buddha's Birthday. Annie and her parents took me to 3 different temples that day. There were lots of paper lanterns hung in the temple yards, as symbols of the Buddhist's quest for enlightenment, and a small gold Buddha statue surrounded with flowers. People that were having bad luck could make an offering and pour a ladleful of water over the statue -- "washing the baby Buddha," Annie called it.

On The Buddha's Birthday the temples serve lunch to all who come, and we ate at the first and third temples. At the first one we stood in line, were handed a bowl of food, and then had to find a place in the yard to sit down (and cushions to sit on). We were brought lots of delicious items -- noodles, rice cakes, and fresh fruit. The temples had food on the altars, presumably for Buddha. One temple even had a birthday cake for him.

That evening, Annie and her mother and I went out to dinner. Her father stayed home with a headache. It was a good dinner, and Annie's mother kept telling me to eat more because I'm too thin. (They all do this, even when they're as thin as I am.) I missed the parade, which was a bummer, but had a nice visit.

Annie's parents are 74 and 79, but you'd never know it to watch them. They hiked up those hills to the temples like it was nothing.

14 May:

Christina's wedding was Sunday. Because it was about an hour north of here (it's traditional to get married in the groom's hometown), her parents hired two buses to take the guests up there.

As we started the trip, Christina's father made an announcement over the bus's sound system -- something about "we hope you'll be comfortable, and if you need anything, let us know." A couple of women came around handing out food and drink -- cookies, an orange, a can of soda (called "cider" in Korea), and a bottle of stuff called "Wombi-D." (I tried that later -- it's nasty.) There was music blaring and people talking -- so the ride up was loud but pleasant.

Weddings are held in commercial wedding halls instead of churches or temples. Apparently they aren't religious at all. My friend TJ said once that it was because there are both Buddhists and Christians in Korea, and if a Buddhist married a Christian what would you do? So I guess they're not too fussy about crossing religons.

The wedding hall had its own beauty salon for the bride. Christina's hair was all done up, with I think some kind of fake hair added. Her face was all made up, and she had these huge false eyelashes. We hardly recognized her.

The bride's dressing room was huge and ornate, with carpeting and crystal chandeliers. Christina was in the chair in front of an array of mirrors, getting her veil arranged and proper earrings chosen. Thus prepared, she moved to the bride's room, which was tiny. She sat at the end of the room facing out, under a canopy, and looked just like a princess waiting to receive her court. The whole wedding hall was set up that way -- as a little girl's fairy tale fantasy.

After we paid our respects to Christina, we went into the actual wedding room to sit. It looked like a knock-off of Versailles, with pseudo-medieval European murals on one wall and a white and gold brocade carpet rolled out down the center aisle. There were colored spotlights on the wall, and they had cutouts with words rotating in front of them -- "best wishes," and the name of the hall, something-or-other Palace. There was a flower-covered arch at the back of the hall. Before the ceremony started, two girls in 18th century-ish military style uniforms came out and practiced raising and lowering their swords.

Finally it was time. First the mother of the bride and mother of the groom walked under the flower arch and down the aisle hand in hand. At the altar they went to opposite sides, lit candles, and sat down. Then dry ice fog started to appear in one corner of the room, and a glass box came out of the wall with Christine and her fiance in it, and floated along the wall to the back of the room. The groom marched under the arch and down the aisle to a military fanfare as the girls held their swords at attention. Then came "Here Comes the Bride," and Christina and her father came down the aisle. He left her at the altar and went to sit with her mother.

Then the service started. It was all in Korean, of course, so I couldn't tell what was being said. At one point they bowed to each other, and at another they bowed first to her parents and then to his. More talking, and they turned and came up the aisle, and POP! Streamers flew everywhere, more dry ice fog, and as they neared the arch, the wedding hall attendants sprayed them with some kind of white foam-in-a-can. It was all quite remarkable.

We went downstairs for the reception. It wasn't like a western reception at all -- just eat and run. The bride and groom didn't even appear. It didn't take us all that long to get there, but many of the places had already been used and abandoned by that time. Apparently some people just skipped the ceremony and went straight to the food.

Then we all got back on the buses for the trip home. Christina and her new husband boarded the bus long enough to say goodbye, then took off for their Singapore honeymoon. When the buses were well underway, Christina's mother came around with soju, and some friends brought snacks to go with it -- dried squid and peanuts. There was music blaring, and one man sang along to a few of the songs (karaoke is very popular here), and then the dancing started. There wasn't much room in the aisle of the bus, but quite a few people got up and danced. Someone asked me to dance, and I figured it would be rude to refuse (and besides there wasn't enough room to make a fool of myself), so I danced for a little bit too. All in all, it was the wildest bus ride I've ever had.

17 May:

Margaret's apartment building.
Exterior (2004 photo)
Margaret's kitchen.
Kitchen
Margaret's bathroom
Bathroom (note shower)
Margaret's bedroom / sitting room.
Bedroom
I moved to my new apartment a few days after the wedding. It's literally a 5-minute walk from the hagwan.

It's very nice, much larger than I expected. It has a good-sized kitchen (no counters, though), a sunroom off the kitchen with an oil tank and a combined ondol boiler and water heater, a bathroom off the kitchen, a sliding wood and frosted glass door (which I never close) into the bedroom (a good-sized room which also serves as a living room), and another sunporch off the bedroom with a washer hookup.

It came with a stove, two burners and a tiny fish broiler (no oven). Mrs. Kim loaned me a refrigerator, washer, a pot, a pan, and some dishes and silverware. She also lent me the bed and wardrobe that I'd been using at her apartment, and a big easy chair that I've found I don't use very much. I was very surprised -- I wasn't expecting all of that.

The hagwan pays for the apartment, but I pay for oil for the heat, gas for the stove, and electricity for everything else. Mrs. Lee took me to arrange for the telephone. I had to put down a deposit of over $200! The monthly base rate is cheap, about $2, but you pay by the minute even for local calls.

19-27 May:

My boyfriend from the States arrived for a visit. He flew into Seoul and I met him there. We spent the weekend in Seoul, visited the tourist (or rather foreigner) district, which was pretty boring, and went to a show of traditional music and dance at Chongdong Theatre. That was wonderful, and I bought the video tape.

Mr. Sim and Margaret. We really wasted most of our time in Kangnung. It was so nice to just be together, drinking tea and hanging out, that most days we didn't get our acts together early enough to do anything before I had to leave for work. We did get to Kyongpo beach one time, and on Sunday went to Odaesan (very pretty) and saw a couple of temples there (also very pretty). Saturday (the 27th) we went to lunch with a friend he made, a Mr. Sim. He was very nice, and we enjoyed his company.

4 June:

I've finally read that stack of Korea Heralds and found some articles for the 8:00 class to read. Some of the articles remind me that I'm not just in an eastern version of the US (I need to be reminded of that sometimes). For example, there's a malaria outbreak in the far north of Kangwon Do, and dysentery in the southern part of the country, near Pusan. I'm saving the articles so I know where I need to be extra cautious if I travel there. Bottled water I can handle, if I travel south. I'm less sure what to do if I travel north -- Lots of mosquito repellent?

I walked through the Tano Festival grounds today. It officially opens at 6:00 tonight, but a lot of the vendors were up and selling already. It's huge. I walked for ages and only went through one row of booths. There's a sort of overflow onto the nearby streets, too, giving the town a more festive atmosphere than usual.

I saw the cutest dog last night. The dog itself wasn't particularly cute, but it acted cute. Its person, a woman, was talking to someone, and the dog wanted some attention, so it got up on its hind legs, balancing perfectly, and danced! Pirouettes, and back and forth -- it was amazing. And the woman was totally oblivious to it. I don't see how she could have not picked it up and cuddled it (it couldn't have weighed more than a pound, if that). But not only did she not cuddle it, after her conversation ended, she scolded it! That really bummed me out.

Mrs. Kim went to Seoul this weekend, so I guess the boyfriend is back on [Mrs. Kim had suggested in conversation not long ago that the relationship had ended -ed].

I went over to visit her son John today. We went out, and he stopped in at a game room and played two games at 200 won each (pretty cheap games).

We went to a park, and to the Tano grounds, and then back to his house and played a couple more games before I came home. He kept saying that he wanted to go to a PC room, But I told him I wasn't interested in doing that, and if he wanted to go he didn't need me along.

It was good to see him in the park (200 steps leading up to it -- shades of Italy [there are many steep hills in Perugia, Italy, where Margaret spent 3 weeks in 1998 -ed]). He actually got to run around and work off some of his energy, something he doesn't get much opportunity to do. Mrs. Kim makes him stay inside quite often.

5 June:

For a full report on the Tano Festival, complete with photos and sound, see the Tano Diary page.

11 June:

Annie called up this evening, and we went to Hyundai Hotel for coffee and tea. It's about the most expensive hotel in Kangnung, and is indeed very nice. Annie goes there fairly often, and they know her, so she got her coffee tonight as service. [Koreans use the term "service" differently from the way we do. Sometimes service is an action, but equally often it refers to a bonus item given as a purchase incentive. -ed]

My tea was only slightly more expensive than at one of the coffee shops downtown. So it wasn't impossibly costly, but not something I'd want to pay for too often (about $5 for one cup of ginseng tea).

They had "live" music there. Apparently this is a regular feature. I put live in quotation marks because the instrumentals are on tape, and the singers read the words as they sing. Professional karaoke would be my guess, based on what I've heard of karaoke (since I've never witnessed it). It was old Carpenters tunes mostly, and things along the same lines. I think I've heard more late 60's and early 70's American pop music in the 4 months I've been here than in the last 5 years, and that includes when I've gotten out my Carpenters tapes at home and played them. Good thing I like that music.

The singers were from the Phillipines, and have been in Korea for about the past three years, give or take a few months here or there for vacations back home. They were a man and a woman, Lido and Aimee. Apparently they were gone for a couple of months, and Annie was very pleased and surprised to see them again. She said that they can make 5 times as much in Korea as in the Phillipines doing their singing.

Lido came over to talk to Annie during his break. He speaks Korean and English as well as his native language (Filipino). Apparently they have English as a required second language in the schools there too. I think they do a better job of teaching it though; he spoke very well. Annie says the reason he speaks Korean so well is that he had (or has) a Korean girlfriend. She says you learn faster that way. Think it'd work for me? [Sure, go for it -- get a Korean girlfriend. -ed]

The cafe (Cafe Seagull) was very nice, and is in the enviable position of being up on a mountain looking down on the ocean -- the best of both worlds. Looking out the window I felt like I was on the top floor, but actually we had gone into the basement to get there. Since it was night, it took me a few minutes to recognize what I was seeing, and really it was only after Annie commented about the squid ships that I realized it was the ocean out there.

Once I did, I could see the whitecaps and the sand on the beach. There were some people on the beach very kindly setting off fireworks for us to enjoy. And there was a row of bright white lights off in the distance -- the squid ships. I keep wanting to call them squid boats, but Annie said they're very large and therefore ships, and in the interest of not confusing my student, ships it is.

Now there's squid all over the place here, in tanks in front of the raw fish resturants, drying all around the beach, in large bagfuls in dozens of shops around the beach, for sale fresh or dried in the markets. There's probably a few hundred thousand of them in Kangnung at any time. So I assumed that the East Sea was just teeming with squid in the millions.

Wrong! There are no squid in the East Sea. The squid ships head out about 7 or 8:00pm and sail to Japanese waters to fish for the squid, and come back to Kangnung about 5:00am. Must be a rather rough life, especially in bad weather, and really makes me wonder how squid got to be as important as it is here. Probably it happened during the Japanese occupation, and there's no one left alive who remembers squidless life from before (such a person would have to be over 100 years old). That does explain why squid is so expensive, though.

We were probably there about two hours, and it never even looked as if the boats moved. I expect that's an indication of how far away they already were.

14 June:

Sigh! Just when I'm really getting the hang of this teaching thing and am starting to see some progress, Mrs. Kim wants me to completely change the way I've been teaching. Not only will this confuse me, it'll also confuse the kids, who have kind of gotten to know what to expect from me.

What she wants is for me to focus more on conversation and free talk, which just isn't going to work with the little ones. And with some of the older classes, I'm the only one who ever uses the book, so now I guess no one will use it. Well, she's the boss, and I'll do things her way, but boy I'm bummed.

One of the things that she's upset about is that when she asks the kindergarteners a question in English, they don't answer her in English (simple things like Hello, or how old are you?) They can do it in the classroom, but I don't know how to make them do it outside. Personally I think it's because they already distinguish between work time and non-work time. They consider speaking English to be work, and don't want to do it outside of class.

Oh well, like I said, I'll do it her way. It's just going to be hard to basically start over in learning how to teach.

17 June:

Carol, from my 8:00 class, invited me to her place for dinner tonight. She has a very nice apartment, not unlike Mrs.Kim's, but a little smaller. She went to America a few years ago, and I asked if she got to go inside any Americans' houses. She said yes, she did get invited into a couple, and agreed with my comment that they must have seemed awfully cluttered.

Her place is fairly typically Korean. She has a desk for her computer, and a chair to sit at the desk, and a small table holding the TV. That's about it for furniture. She has a low table to eat at, and we sat on small pads on the floor.

Mostly what you notice going in is bare floor, something that American homes have very little of. Most homes don't even have carpeting -- I think it doesn't agree with the ondol heating system (once it turns cold, I'll have to turn the floor on). It gives a nice impression of spaciousness even in a small apartment.

After dinner Carol showed me the pictures from her trip. She saw Hollywood, LA, and San Francisco, Yosemite Park and the Grand Canyon, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Toronto, and Morgantown (WV). We both thought it was pretty neat that she visited the place, Morgantown, where I was born. She was at the university there for a convention of English teachers.

After that we went to Kyongpo Beach to hang around for a bit. Carol says it's open all night in the summer. It was very nice. There was some fog over the ocean, a clear sky with a full moon, the waves breaking on shore, and a fair number of people, several of whom were setting off fireworks. Most of the stores there sell fireworks, some sidewalk vendors sell fireworks, and in case you ran out, there was a lady walking the beach selling fireworks. So it was very celebratory.

Besides the fireworks, there were people with candles or small fires going, people fishing, groups of young people, young couples sitting close together in the dark ... It was very nice. I might have to go out there more often in the evening. After class would be good. It's a nice change from hanging out at home or wandering around downtown. I expect I won't like it nearly so much in the height of summer season when it's jampacked with people, so I should get as much of it as I can now.

Carol and I are going hiking in Sogumgang mountains tomorrow. I've been told that they're the prettiest mountains around. Since all I've seen is Odaesan so far, it'll be interesting to see if I even notice a difference.

18 June:

Today Carol and I went hiking in Sogumgang, which is Sogum Mountain. It's kind of odd, though. Gang means mountain, just like san means mountain, but normally gang means river.

So anyhow, we went to Sogumgang, which she said was in part of Odaesan Park. Not only was it in Odaesan Park, but it turned out to be the same part of Odaesan Park that I've been to twice already! I didn't mind though. It's a nice hike, we went further than I've gone before, and it's a little different with each different person I go with, because they tell me different things.

We stopped at the temple, where Annie and Mr. Lee and I turned back the first time, went past the waterfall where we all turned back last weekend, then went on to the big rock (called Manmulsang). It's very impressive. I tried to get a picture of it, but it wouldn't all fit in the camera.

A little beyond the big rock we found some nice rocks in the shade in the river by a quiet pool and had a picnic lunch of kimbab. Along with the shade there was a nice breeze, and we took off our shoes and cooled our feet in the pool of water before we ate. The pool had lots of big fat tadpoles and some baby fish, and a few underwater bugs that looked exactly like sticks. I didn't realize they were bugs until they started walking. After lunch I tried to feed some puffed rice cake to the fish, but they wouldn't eat it. I could just hear the comments: "What's this, styrofoam? How about feeding us something good, like bread, or worms!"

But the tadpoles and I had a field day. They were the friendliest little things! We could catch them in our hands and look at them closely (no legs yet, but we did see one that had graduated into a frog), and I had about 8 or 10 of them nibbling on my feet. Boy, did that tickle! Most of them seemed to be eating algae off the rocks or fallen leaves, and I don't know what it was they were finding on my feet, but they sure were industrious.

After we finished playing with the tadpoles, we headed back. I still haven't made it to the peak, but it's probably just as well. Carol said it's very hard to get there, and we still had over 5 kilometers to go. Now, 5 km doesn't sound like all that much to me, but when we got back to the car she said we had walked 3 1/2 km today, and it took us five hours. It felt like a lot more than 3 1/2 km, too. In spite of the trails, steps and bridges, it can be pretty rough walking, and it got rougher past the waterfall. Carol says it's much more difficult up to the peak. But since I seem to go a little further every time I go there, I might make it by the end of the summer.

We both decided we needed a nap when we got home.

19 June:

Cheers! I found baking powder in the market! And since it's strawberry season, I decided to get all the ingredients to make strawberry shortcake. The only thing missing so far is whipping cream (and beaters to whip it with, and a bowl to whip it in, and a mixing bowl to mix the biscuits, and a lid for my frying pan so I can bake the biscuits). Butter is $4 a pound!

Technically, I only went to the market for sugar, so I could do pickled watermelon rind. But then I found the baking powder, so I had to get flour and butter for biscuits, so I decided to go all out and get milk for the biscuits too, and then I decided to make the strawberry shortcake. But I got stalled. There's lots of little dairy cartons that might be whipping cream, but I don't know for sure. I'm going to call Mrs. Lee and see if she'll go shopping with me, so she can translate the cartons. And I want to get the strawberries from one of the strawberry farms near Kyongpo, which means taking the bus if Mrs. Lee can't go.

Some Korean proverbs from one of my classes:

  • Don't spit while lying down.
  • It's like reading a book to a cow's ear.
  • After someone loses a cow, then they fix the cow's house.

And a couple they couldn't translate well, and I never did figure out:

  • Someone is found out in well.
  • Night talk is listen to mouse.
Any ideas on those? [Not a clue. -ed]

20 June:

It's been hot. Yesterday it got up to 35.6 [Celsius]. Using a conversion chart, that was about 97 [Fahrenheit].

Speaking of conversions, poor Gilbert [another teacher at the hagwan] got stuck with teaching a lesson on packaging -- what comes in boxes, bags, cartons, containers, and such in the grocery store. He especially has trouble with quarts and such-like. So he came to me for help.

I don't particularly care for that textbook. Mrs. Lee and Christina liked it because it has lots of pictures, but the whole thing is geared towards getting by in your new life in America. That's just not the priority here. The odds are against most of these students even visiting America, much less moving there.

Anyhow, Gilbert kept complaining about how difficult and useless our system is, and I kept saying it's a fine system if you just use it by itself, but it is difficult to convert. [I agree with Gilbert, at least on the first adjective. Our system of measurements is more difficult than the metric system to learn and use. -ed]

I've managed to make my biscuits, but haven't found any strawberries to go with them. Mrs. Kim says the season is over, and I'm afraid she may be right. I checked 6 or 7 fruit stands yesterday and didn't see a one. I don't know if they have any other berries or not. Might have to wait until the peaches get good, but it won't be the same.

I couldn't find just a lid for my pan, so I had to buy a set of frying pans with lid for $10. Mrs. Lee is planning to get her own apartment soon, so she said she'd give me $5 for the pans. It's a good deal for her, saves me some money, and saves me taking them home afterwards. It may not seem like it, but I do think in terms of feasibility in carrying.

22 June:

As I've said before, there's really not much by way of fiber art around here. Some women crochet beaded purses (nothing all that exciting), and a lot of stores sell western cross stitch kits (again, nothing exciting), but I haven't actually met anyone who does these things.

They must not have beaded embroidery at all. My friend Emma sent me a beautiful beadwork Easter egg pin this spring, and it got a lot of comment because they had never seen anything like it. So I had my boyfriend David send me some beaded embroidery kits from home, to have on hand for gifts.

Small gifts are pretty standard for times when you get invited to someone's house, and the usual is some fruit or pastry (all called generically bread). But I thought something from America might be more fun, so I have the embroideries, and little packets of Twinings tea.

My 8:00 class consists of teachers. One teaches English in a middle school, and one teaches English in a high school. So I've gotten to learn a fair bit about the Korean School system. Of course, people complain about the school system all the time, just like in America. What's funny is that they say the American system is better, at the same time that Americans are saying that the Asian system is better. I'll stay out of that argument, and just describe some of the differences.

Public school is free through elementary school, and I believe through middle school. You have to pay tuition to go to high school, and pass an entrance exam.This may be why Asian students' test scores are higher than American students. The poorer students aren't factored in.

There are several high schools in Kangnung, but one is considered by far the best, so everyone wants their kids to go to that one. If you go to that school, even if you graduate at the bottom of the class, you can still get into one of the top universities in Korea. But even if you graduate at the top of the class in any other high school, you still can't get into the best universities. And companies looking to hire people only care what university you went to. As long as you graduated from a top university, even if your gpa stinks, you're more likely to get hired than someone from a school of the caliber of, say, a typical American state university, with a 4.0 gpa. The kids are under great pressure even in elementary school to do well on the tests so they get into the good high schools, which is why hagwons are so popular.

Middle school and high school students have to wear uniforms, which are amazingly similar to the uniforms worn at Catholic schools at home. They periodically have inspections of the students, and they get written up and yelled at (and maybe spanked -- they still have corporal punishment here in the schools; usually the students get hit with some kind of stick or rod) if their hair is too long, if they are wearing jewelry, if the teacher doesn't like their shoes, etc.

In middle and high school, students stay in one classroom, their homeroom, and the teachers move from room to room. The homeroom teacher is responsible for her kids, even while other teachers are in the room. So the kids, along with getting hit by the teacher at the time of whatever infraction occurs, also get punished later by the homeroom teacher. The teachers don't send kids to the principal, the principal sends kids to their teacher.

Teachers don't stay in one school for their careers. Every 5 years they get rotated to another school. This is supposed to keep it fair, so everyone spends some time in more desirable schools, and some time in less desirable schools. Carol is at the end of her 5 years, and doesn't know yet what school she'll end up in. It probably won't be in Kangnung, but rather in some small town in the area. So she'll be giving up her apartment and moving. It would certainly make it difficult to own a house and settle down.

Apparently parents provide food to the schools to serve school lunches, and also have to pay for the lunches. Some schools don't provide lunches at all. I remember shortly after I got here, Mrs. Lee commented that she had to take a bag of onions to her daughter's school. And we're talking a 50 pound bag (give or take a little -- they use kilograms).

Students are required to study English in school, and I think they're required to take a second foreign language. If it's not required, it's at least highly recommended. But the whole focus of school is to pass the test, not to learn to learn, or to think critically. It's mostly memorization.

Mrs. Lee teaches part time at a small college. Like teaching in a hagwon, you don't need a degree in English to teach English there. As long as you have a degree in something, that's all that matters. She teaches English and accounting (which was her major in school.)

I've read that university professors (or teachers, I guess, since they don't necessarily have MA's or PHD's) have to give 10% of their salary back to the university to help poor students pay their tuition. Sort of a job security thing. If the students all leave for lack of money, the profs have no job.

I've heard that some universities are private and a few are public. The top universities are located in Seoul. If you don't get into a top university, not only do the best jobs pass you by, but also no matchmaker will match you with someone from a significantly better university, so you and your children are stuck in a lower income level unless they go to a good university. It's much worse if you don't go to the university at all.

Miscellaneous things: teachers and parents are expected to do cleaning at the school -- I guess they have no janitors. Teachers rotate turns for who will go in at 6:00am to unlock the school and turn things on. If a teacher sees one of her students outside of school, and that student is misbehaving somehow, the teacher still disciplines the student.

Mrs. Lee and I were grading the exams from her English classes the past couple of nights. Some of the wrong answers came out really funny. There was one section in which the students were to match the sentences with others which have the same meaning.

Let's see:

  • I am broke -- I spent all my money.
  • I am having people for dinner -- I am having friends over.
  • I went to a party -- I had a really good time.
  • I took a day off -- I didn't go to work.
  • I didn't do laundry -- I didn't wash my clothes.
  • I worked around the house -- I did housework.
A lot of students were broke because they had friends over, or spent all their money because they had people for dinner. Some were broke because they took the day off, or didn't do laundry because they spent all their money. Some didn't go to work because they did housework. I hated not to give them credit for it, because the sentences actually made sense, and probably reflected college life fairly accurately, but I still had to mark them wrong.

Family relationships came out even funnier: My name is Mary. I am my father's wife. My cousin's father is my mother. My son's father is my father. My son's father is my son. My son's father is my mother.

Mrs. Lee and I were kidding around and decided that these students' families must be full of incest and transgender surgery.

I guess the rainy season has finally started. It's been raining for two days all over the country. I'm trying to decide what to do this weekend. Might be a good time to hit up museums.

24 June:

I was all set to go to Seoul this weekend. There's a really neat ballet showing until the 29th, and I wanted to go see it. And since I was going to Seoul, I called my friend TJ to see if she wanted to get together once I got there. Well, she was keen on getting together, but she was in Kangnung! Handphones can be wonderful things.

So instead of going to Seoul, we went out to lunch, and then saw a movie. We went to see Gladiator, which turned out to be surprisingly good in spite of the guts and gore.

As an added bonus, while we were downtown I saw someone selling strawberries, and bought 2 baskets (I would guess about 4 pounds). So after the movie, TJ had to go home to her baby, and I came home to make shortcake.

The strawberry shortcake turned out very well. Since TJ and her husband couldn't stay, I put together a couple of shortcakes for them to take along. So I don't know yet what their reactions were. TJ thought the whole thing looked pretty amazing. Especially the fact that I made my own biscuits and whipped my own cream.

The cream seems thicker than American whipping cream somehow. Mrs. Lee read the ingredients for me when we bought it, and she said it was just cream. It seems like it might have some sort of thickener in it though. Or maybe it is just thicker. Different breed of cow, fewer or no hormones, different diet, there are lots of potential reasons. Of course, unless I go into a study of Korean dairy practices, I'll never know for sure.

The rain stopped yesterday, although the sky is still gray. They said it was supposed to be a short monsoon season this year. So far it's been rather a disappointment. I was expecting major storms and winds, sort of a 2 or 3 week low level hurricane; the word monsoon just has that sort of feel to it. Monsoon season is supposed to be over the end of this month, so there's only about a week left.

Boy, it's amazing how the vehicle population has changed here in just 4 months. When I got here, the most common vehicle by far was the little Daewoo Tico, a very cute, tiny thing. Most of them were maroon in color. Now Ticos are so rare I feel like I need to take a picture of one before they're gone. It's all vans and SUVs now. I used to wonder how people could find their cars, because they all looked alike. That's not a problem now.

I asked Mrs. Lee about the outdoor kimchi pots one evening, because I wanted to know how they kept the kimchi from freezing. You know traditionally they buried the pots in the ground. She says that the pots outside have soy sauce, soybean paste and red pepper paste in them. Nowadays most Korean families have a special refrigerator to keep their kimchi in. I guess it's kind of the equivalent of the American deep freeze.

25 June:

When TJ came over last night, as a gift she brought me some steamed bread and a traditional Korean drink made of apricots. She didn't tell me the name of the drink, but it's very good. Quite sweet and syrupy, and I think it'd be great over vanilla ice cream. I e-mailed her to see if she can tell me the name and maybe give me the recipe.

TJ is keeping very busy these days. Along with revising that book I told you about ages ago, she's teaching English at an elementary school, and teaching a class on TOIC. TOIC is a big English test that large businesses require potential employees to pass. So of course everyone wants to do well on it, and they take classes like this. The book she's revising is also about passing TOIC.

I went downtown to buy some of those little silver fish like I got before (still 5 for a dollar), and I saw a lady selling raspberries. They're very quick to notice even the slightest bit of interest, so she immediately waved me over, and of course I bought some. They're about the same price as the US, about $2 for about a cup or so. Haven't tried them yet, so I can't comment on the quality. They do seem slightly bigger than what we can buy at home. They might end up being one special shortcake just for me, or maybe just raspberries and cream. Apricots and plums are in season too, and I have to be careful not to buy more fruit than I can eat before it goes bad.

I finally put up the pictures that my boyfriend mailed me, and it's very nice being able to just look up and see home. Last night I sat and knitted and listened to folk music on my computer, while I kept an emailed picture of our backyard garden up on the screen. Then all night I dreamed I was home. I've been having these dreams fairly often lately, which makes me think that even though I don't feel homesick, deep down I must be. They're really pretty funny dreams. There's always some good reason why I had to go home before the end of my year in Korea, although I can never remember it, but I feel guilty all through the dream for not finishing out my contract. In last night's dream, where I went back to my old job, I was planning to go back to Korea to finish out my time.

27 June:

The doctors of Korea have just finished a strike over the government medical reform plan. Doctors' fees are regulated by the government, and until now, they've been able to make up for it by selling their patients prescription drugs at immense profits. This has, of course, led to doctors massively over-prescribing drugs, and the government quite sensibly realized that this is a problem and took measures to stop it. So they passed a law saying that only doctors could write prescriptions, and only pharmacists could fill them. This makes perfect sense to us as Americans -- we've been living with it all our lives.

The law was supposed to take effect July 1 of 1999, but the doctors all complained about it, so it was postponed until July 1 2000. Well, the doctors still complained, saying it wasn't enough time to prepare, and they would lose too much money, even though they've already had an extra year to prepare.

The government caved in on the money issue, and raised doctors' fees, but that wasn't good enough. So they went on strike. Almost every doctor in the country joined the strike, as did residents and interns. They harassed the few doctors who chose to remain open. The government had all of its military doctors and medical school professors fill in, but it wasn't enough; some people died for lack of treatment. The doctors figured they had covered themselves by telling people not to get in accidents or get sick, since there would be no one to treat them; but all this did was make people mad at the doctors, and I don't blame them a bit.

Now a doctor's base income isn't huge, but it's double to triple what most people make, so complaining about how much money they're going to lose isn't getting them much sympathy. Mrs. Lee is on the doctors' side, because she doesn't want her costs going up, which they will. The fact that she's always been given more drugs than is healthy doesn't seem to concern her.

We discussed it in free talk in the 8:00 class, and Carol and Mary both agree with me, that the doctors are being greedy, and don't care about the public health at all. It's a shame Dr. Mool wasn't there. It would be nice to have gotten his perspective on it. He's a military doctor, so he's been having to work a lot extra the past few days. When we discussed the reform plan a week or two ago, he said he was in favor of it in theory, but that the country wasn't in a position to implement it yet, and needed more time. I still say they've had the time, and if they didn't spend it getting ready it's their own fault.

It makes me rather inclined to stay away from Korean doctors in general. I think if I get sick I'll go to a traditional Chinese doctor. I don't think they were involved in any of this.

My AET1 class that I used to have 3 times a week, and now only have 2 times, that I was teaching to read -- it's only been 2 or 3 weeks since I stopped working on reading with them, and obviously now no one even has them look at the words. Not only can they no longer sound out words, they don't recognize words they used to know, and don't even recognize the letters any more!

There is one new little boy in that class though, and is he ever smart. He seems very young, maybe 6, and he can read like it's nothing. Yesterday Gilbert taught them the Happy Birthday song (it was in the book). They all sang it for me today, and this little boy had written it down in his notebook -- perfectly, I might add. I wish I were as smart as he is. Or maybe I just need to be as diligent as he is.

28 June:

I only had one student in my 8:00 class tonight, so we just had free talk, and I learned some more about Korean schools.

It was Mary, and she teaches high school. They have the same grades as we do, but they count them a little differently. You have grades 1 through 6 in elementary school, then it's middle school grades 1 through 3, then high school grades 1 through 4.

Mary teaches high school grade 1. Her school day is 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and 8 to 12 on Saturdays. She considers herself lucky: The high school third grade teacher stays until 10:00 pm. She usually has 42 students in a class.

Divorce is fairly uncommon here, but Mary does have one student whose parents got divorced and moved away. They both left, leaving her and her younger sister and brother behind. The girl was 13 at the time, her sister about 11 and her brother about 7 or 8. The city supports them in an apartment. No adults -- she has to take care of herself and her siblings. She's 17 now, and apparently turning out quite well.

That's so different from the United States, where both parents would probably be thrown into jail, and the kids placed in one or several foster homes. And I have to confess, I'm not entirely sure which system is better.

29 June:

I was reading about Korean superstitions recently. So I asked around about fan death [the belief is that if one leaves a fan running in a closed room while sleeping, death is certain -ed], and sure enough, everyone believes it. Mrs. Lee says it's because if you're sleeping, you don't notice how cold you're getting, and you freeze to death. Everyone else believes that the fans suck the oxygen out of the room. No one could tell me where the oxygen goes, except for one girl who speculated that with you sleeping on the floor, the fan blows all the oxygen up to the ceiling. That could explain why westerners aren't affected. But she was careful to point out that this was just her theory, and she didn't know for sure. From my point of view, if it's that hot, I want the window open too, to get fresh air in. I don't really see the point of running the fan with the windows closed. So I guess I'm safe regardless.

Another superstition mentioned there was about staying warm after a miscarriage. Funny, Mrs. Lee and I were talking about that just a little bit ago. It's not just miscarriage, it's when you give birth, too. Mrs. Lee gave birth to her first two daughters in American hospitals in the usual American way. Her third daughter was born in Korea at the end of June, and a very hot June at that. She had to keep the windows closed and couldn't run a fan. And they made her wear long johns and heavy socks, and keep blankets on, and they even turned on the heat. She said she had horrible heat rashes, but they insisted that if she didn't do this she'd get sick. On top of all that, she wasn't allowed to take a bath or a shower for a month. Well, she spent 4 days arguing with everyone, and on the 4th day they were silly enough to leave her alone, so she stripped off all the hot clothes, took a shower, and put on shorts and a light shirt, opened the window and turned on the fan. Needless to say, everyone was shocked, but she's still alive.

I've read about their aversion to the number 4 [the Korean word for 4 sounds like the word for death], but haven't noticed much about it. I'll start looking at sets of dishes to see if I can find any sets of 4. Mrs. Kim's apartment had a 4th floor; I haven't really noticed in other buildings.

I was warned not to write people's names in red by Mrs. Lee, who apparently made that mistake not too long after coming back to Korea from the US.

I've heard about the crows [which portend death] and magpies [which predict a visit from a friend], but it was told to me as a superstition ("some people believe ...").

Two of my classes are learning right and left, so I taught them the Hokey Pokey. They had a good time with that. They laughed when I showed them "You put your right hip in," and really rolled when I shook it all about. The girls wouldn't do it, but the boys loved it.

My meals have turned into a pretty funny cultural mix. I start with good Korean rice, kimchi, water kimchi, kim, maybe some soup or fish, and then add Southern pickled watermelon rind and Indian or Irish tea. It's a good combination.

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