Thursday, September 10, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Sincere apologies for the lack of wordage on the ole’ blog! We have been on the “Intensive” schedule since the end of July. This basically means twelve-hour workdays, which basically means I will not be sitting in front of a computer to type when I get home. One more week of this schedule and we’ll be back to our regular eight-hour days! So, we have gotten pretty well into a routine here. The routine consists of early AM wakeup, 25-45 minute bus ride to work depending on the heinous-ity (yes, I just made that word up) of traffic. Let me just say it gets pretty damn heinous and I am incredibly glad that I don’t have to drive here. I do believe that Korean drivers are some of the worse in the world, statistically! Anyway, we get to work and do our final prep work before class begins. I am teaching seven classes a day (which means overtime pay for me), five with the beginner/intermediates and two with the highest-level kids (lots of reading and discussion. I love it), while Justin is working with the newest beginner kids and has a couple classes with advanced intermediate. Overall, the kids like us both: little girls bring me candy and cookies and carry my papers to class for me; Justin often has little boys hanging off his arms or jumping as high as they can to high five him. There is a delicious little Korean restaurant around the corner and the front desk orders food for us on the days we don’t bring our lunch. We’ve had some seriously successful lunches come out of this game of blind choosing game: lots of kim bap (the best way I can describe it is Korean sushi with fresh and pickled crunchy vegetables instead of fish), ramen (of course), pork pot sticker soups, pork and rice, kim chi, lots of pickled vegetables, spicy salads, bibimbap, etc. We try to bring our lunch several times a week (especially since we found salami at Costco!), but the food is so fresh and delicious and cheap that ordering lunch must occur at least a couple of times a week. After lunch, we both have four more classes, each of which the children are frantic to escape. Some of the especially wild boys will attempt climbing under desks to get out the door first. As my friend and co-worker mentioned to me the other day “I probably want to leave worse than they do, they should let me leave first. I’ve been here since 8 this morning!” So we finish our attendance, take a 45 minute bus ride home (usually packed, so we stand and listen to the iPods-I’m on a David Byrne and Chris Thile kick, Justin is into Dr. Dog and Sam Cooke). Then home for some dinner and a movie action. Pretty thrilling, eh? Well, now you know what a normal day is like for us. The weekends are when we really get to have some fun. Right now weekends have been consisting of some pretty fun activities. Last weekend we had a big staff dinner in a little restaurant up on a mountain in northeastern Busan. It was basically just a long, hall-like shack nestled in some trees where there were long tables filled with beautiful food and bottles of soju. We ate duck bulgogi (barbecued duck) and boy, was it delicious! We would eat the duck, wrapped in sesame leaves and topped with whatever else we could grab with our chopsticks: kimchi, hot peppers, bean paste, chives, sprouts, more leaves of unspecified plants… all washed down with some nice soju (rice liquor) and Sprite. Then they brought more duck, then they brough bean curd soup and rice, then they brought dessert. You almost feel guilty turning away the food, but there just comes a point when no more food may be stuffed down the gullet. We sat across from the big time manager of all of the hogwans (private institute) for which we work. He was really cool and seemed to like Justin and me. There was another guy who really liked Justin and wasn’t interested in meeting me. It was rather hilarious. He stared and smiled at Justin a lot, told him that he was very handsome, poured cup after cup of soju into Justin’s glass, and then asked him if he wanted to play basketball with him. Justin got a little worried, but I reassured him that the guy just wanted to be his friend. I think. I actually really like the aspect of the culture that it’s okay for men to be comfortable with each other and not overly macho. I have little boys who act real tough in class, but you’ll see them hugging their little buddies after class. It’s pretty cute. Anyway, after everyone was nice and full of soju came the karaoke. Koreans do not take that stuff lightly. In the States karaoke generally consists of drunk people who can’t sing, here it consists of drunk people who CAN sing and WILL impress you with their amazing voices and considerable dancing skills. And if a love song is performed by your boss, you WILL all hold hands and sway together as he sings. Needless to say, we had an absolute blast at the teacher dinner!
We’ve gotten to take one trip out of town so far. We visited Gyeongju with some of our friends a few weeks ago and had an incredible time. The town itself is really wonderful. The roofs of most buildings are the old fashioned Korean style (even on gas stations!) and there are giant mounds where dead kings of the past are buried. Gyeongju was the old capital of SK during the Silla Dynasty. It’s a fascinating place and while there we visited the Bulguksa Temple, which was built in 751 AD (absolutely beautiful and on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list) and then hiked up to a stunning grotto that has a great statue of Buddha carved directly into the side of the mountain. There was a monk meditating there when we went to visit. No pictures, obviously. Also in Gyeongju, we rambled through ridiculously large fields of orange cosmos, a several-acre lotus pond (Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!), and strolled around Anapji Pond (hundreds of artifacts from the Silla Dynasty were found at the bottom of the pond). It was a great trip. Amazing sights, great food, and made some new friends along the way.
We have a three-day weekend next week so we are hoping to visit Jeju-do Island. It looks gorgeous and our guidebook compares it to Fiji and Hawaii as far as beauty and lushness are concerned. Sign me up! Then we’ll be back to a schedule where we’ll have mornings to do as we please and not be absolutely exhausted all the time! I’m looking forward to mornings on the beach, yoga, reading, painting, and hopefully some climbing (if we can find a gym that doesn’t take an hour to get to). Oh, and updating the blog more frequently, of course.
Well, it is an absolutely glorious and sunny Saturday morning. Today we’ll be spent on the beach, I do believe. Our friend is leaving in a few days so tonight will be a large dinner of seafood galbi (you have a little grill on your table, they bring you raw fish, and you cook it and eat it! Genius!) to send her off in style. You know there will be pictures soon. Oh, another genius food concept here in the SOUTHEASTERN part of Korea is the good ole’ combination of fried chicken and beer. Justin and I apparently just can’t escape the Southeast no matter where in the world we are…
Much love from here to there.
P.S. – From Justin,
I would just like to say that everything Susie wrote above is in fact true. Instead of retelling everything, I would just like to mention a few new things that have come into my life in the past six weeks.
- A 50cc scooter, it’s named ‘dirtbag’. I was told that you don’t need a license or registration (therefore no insurance) to ride a bike 50cc or under, and so far no police officer has told me otherwise. I bought it off a Canadian who we met on the beach and she gave me quite a deal. Upon purchasing it, I discovered it doesn’t have a clutch like motorcycles. I said to myself, “Oh, it must be an automatic” – in fact, it only has one gear and maxes out at about 35mph. It can’t hang on the faster roads, and honestly a six foot two white guy wearing a red helmet (think hard hat) has no business on those roads anyway. Susie is thinking of picking up a scooter when we get paid, that way we can have “his and hers.”
- Korean food – it’s good. We’ve had a nice variety so far, I think there is quite a bit more to explore. The liberal use of red chili paste is nice. It burns and makes your face shiny, but is worth it. Koreans are pretty adventurous eaters. I was playing a joke on a kid in class by using “Ted eats jellyfish” as the answer to hangman, then a student informed me “Teacher, lots of Koreans eat jellyfish.”
- 50 ten year old kids. I’ve got to take my hat off to every teacher I’ve ever had or known. I thought waiting tables was the job you could say, “I think everyone needs to wait tables for at least a week so you’ll understand how to treat people”, but it is tenfold to teachers. I will forever support smaller classes and the three month summer vacation. My job is easy – hanging out in a room with 13 ten year olds can get stressful, especially when they decide to play a classroom wide game of ‘testicle punch’ or stick pencils in my butt. I cannot imagine what it’s like to have 25 kids or more in a class.
- Korean Baseball – love it, love it, love it. The team here is the Lotte Giants – Korea’s ‘perennial bottom feeders’ – but I think they’re getting better. We’ve been to two games in the last two weeks. The first one was very serendipitous. It was sold out and we scalped some tickets (very interesting endeavor when you don’t speak Korean). I’m not sure where our real seats were, but we ended up sitting behind home plate at a TABLE surrounded by the most jovial folks you could imagine. You can bring anything in the game you want, therefore no jacked up stadium prices – imagine that. We had a dinner of fried chicken and beer, then a neighbor gave us a plate of sweet rice dough balls for his his wedding anniversary – he wanted us to share in the celebration. Around the eighth inning, the staff passed out orange plastic bags (the size of grocery bags) which everyone blew up and tied on their heads. 30,000+ folks with orange plastic bags on their heads is an amusing sight. The Giants won, lots of fireworks, then you filled your pumpkin head plastic bag with your trash and carried it out yourself. ------ The second game we attended was last night, they lost but it was still a lot of fun.
I’m sure there is more but I’m ready to go outside on our Saturday. Much love, Justin
Pictures of all of this are here, http://www.flickr.com/photos/susieandjustindubois/
Monday, July 27, 2009
The language is tricky, to say the least. For starters, everything is written in the Korean alphabet, which is called Hangeul. Hangeul is a phonetic alphabet, so we should be able to learn the symbols and sound things out eventually. The next challenge is to figure out what the Hangeul word is in English. Also, there are sounds that we don’t have in English and English sounds that we use that don’t exist here. This makes for some rather wonderful and hilarious phrases used by Koreans speaking English to us. For example, a couple of Fridays ago I asked my students to tell me what they would be doing over the weekend. One student said, “Teachah! This weekend I go movie!” I asked what movie she would go to see (most were going to Harry Potter, of course) and she told me the name, which was in Korean. I couldn’t understand the word so I asked the class what the movie was about. Kids started screaming and pantomiming zombies or something. I shouted over them, “Wait, what kind of movie???” And one girl said, “Teachah! Teachah! Peoper eating Peoper!!!” That is, of course, people eating people.
I’d say that probably 98% of people that we pass on the street or in the subway don’t acknowledge us more than giving a look. When you try to make eye contact with someone, you hardly ever receive a smile in return. Usually people just look away. However, that 2% of Koreans that grin and/or wave and/or say “Hello!” or “Hi!” are so charming and endearing! Yesterday on the bus, a guy actually got up from his seat and said “You! Sit! Yo wercome!” as he gestured for us to sit. He and his friends were almost grinning as big as Justin and I were. We were all pretty thrilled with the situation.
We were hoping to have a trip to Japan to visit our friends Ben and Chrystal, but our passports are in the possession of the Korea Government as they work on getting our Alien Registration in order. Alas, no Japan trips in the near future. So we’ve been keeping ourselves very happy with local excursions. Last weekend we walked to Haeundae Beach. It’s one of the most popular beaches in South Korea and is a ten or fifteen minute walk from our apartment. There are cute little grannies that rent umbrellas for you to sit under for about five bucks. We also noticed men who walk around hand delivering chicken in a box. Haven’t indulged ourselves with that little treat yet, but oh, do we both eagerly await the chicken and beer on the beach experience! We walked around Dongbaek Park and got nice and sunburned. This beautiful weather came just days after a record-breaking monsoon downpour flooded the streets (and some schools) of Busan. Other adventures we have gone on include the huge stores with magnetized, slanted walkways one rides from floor to floor. They are magnetized so that you can take your cart (with magnetized wheels) from floor to floor with no runaway rolling buggies. These stores are pretty fascinating. There are the ever-present greeters who bow to each and every person who enters or exits the store. Those poor kids are going to have serious back problems when they get older. There are the cute young women who take their job very seriously and really want to help you find the correct item. Even if helping you find said item is done through gestures, smiles, and bows. You just be sure to gesture, smile, and bow back! There are the yelling men who really want you to buy their stir fry, not the competition’s (the competition really being a buddy and they just try to yell louder than each other and make one another laugh. Which makes Justin laugh a lot). There are many wonderful items for you to buy: huge boxes of dried sardines, 30 kg bags of rice, dried squid cakes, fresh squid cakes, quail eggs, 5 lb containers of red chili paste, seaweed in all shapes and sizes, more ramen than you could ever imagine, a
plethora of sea creatures (living and dead), and of course, hot dogs on a stick. These are to name a very select few. The foreign food sections are fun too: Pace salsa for six bucks a jar, crappy American cheese for five bucks a package (or Brie or Camembert for eleven), chocolate syrup for seven dollars, a can of black beans for four! The list could go one. That eight dollar package of two teeny avocadoes? We’ll probably wait for Cinco de Mayo. Until then we be eatin’ some rice and ramen! And potatoes too; they’re cheap.
This past weekend we ventured up to Geumjeongsanseong. There are fortress ruins and paths running for miles. There are also breathtaking views of huge granite slabs as well as almost the entire city of Busan. I have never, ever in my life seen anything like when I stepped out of the trees and saw this giant city laid out in the valley. I attempted to capture it on film, but of course failed to quite portray the grandeur. Ah well. We were hoping to find some climbing areas and had some moderate success. Most rocks were for route climbs (we don’t have a rope) and the few bouldering problems were wet and slippery from the recent rain. We’ll go back again, hopefully with some newfound climbing buddies who brought their gear with them. We still enjoyed the meandering trails and gorgeous 360 degree views. It’s a lovely place.
The fashion here is, well, amazing. There are of course some true slaves to fashion, parading around in their Dolce and Gabbana jeans and Chuck Taylors or chunky, gladiator heels. Even men carry Louis Vuitton bags here. But there are folks who view fashion, er, differently. Who would have thought that cream-colored (not white, cream) sandals would be such a hit? They kind of remind me of those Easter Sundays when you would run to Payless to buy some horrid pointy-toed creations, just to match your special Easter dress. Apparently those shoes are a must-have here. Also, with women who are a little bit older, perms with huge visors, short pants, and ankle stockings to go with their open-toed sandals is a prevalent look on the scene. I am a pretty big fan of this I have to say. Neon is huge. Pristine white sneakers with Capri pants are big for young men are huge. And everybody loves socks and sandals. Keeping those feet clean, I would imagine! Oh, and how could I forget? There is a wonderful little phenomena called “Couple-Look.” This is a proclamation of loved saved for weekends and their special outings. Couples dress like twins in order to let the world know of their devotion. Most just go for a matching top and shorts. Yesterday I saw a couple with the same Converse sneaks and the exact same ankle tattoo in the exact same spot. Whoa. Also yesterday, I saw a man with a shirt on that said MA His girlfriend’s shirt said KE
As you may see, He has to stand on the correct side of his girlfriend, so that you can read the words MAKE LOVE. If he’s on the wrong side, the message is Kema Velo. Not nearly as adorable. “Couple-Look” Jamey and Liv, when you two come for a visit, you must bring your green Chris Thile shirts and Liv, you can finally have your own special “Couple Look” day.
Well, there are of course many, many more things to tell you all about. We’ll keep them coming of course. But we want to keep you coming back too, so I’ll maybe keep these a little shorter than the European versions (Maybe. Sometimes). It’s our Monday night, which means some good fresh Hite or Max beer, or perhaps Cass or OB. They are all reminiscent of Natural Light, in case you were wondering. Thankfully, the store down the street from us has a five dollar bottle of decent Tempranillo. Carlo Rossi, on the other hand, is eleven dollars a bottle. Whaaaa??? There’s also always the option of Soju, which is most easily compared to vodka, and at a price cheaper than a bottle of water you can always get a decent buzz. Maybe that’s why I think our taxi driver was a little giddy the other night. Thankfully we rarely take taxis. Yikes. Anyway, some exciting meal of sorts (we’ll tell more about food once we can learn enough to actually order from restaurants, or find one with nice and clear pics we can point to)… We’re sending lots of love from this part of the world to yours. Feedback is always welcome, but more than anything just hearing about what you are all up to is so important to us. We’ve now got a few pictures up on our Flickr site.
Peace and love.
Oh yeah! Almost forgot. If you ever want or need to send anything... we don't get mail at our home address, but rather our school address:
Susie (and/or) Justin Dubois
2-4F, Enhakgore Building, #152-11
Busan, South Korea
The phone number there is 051-582-8205 (in case of emergency).
Our home address (just so you know) is
Acrotel Apartment #1116
Busan, South Korea