A Travellerspoint blog

Zao 4 LIFE!

day 4-5: sapa

sunny 36 °C

Sapa has the most beautiful and breathtaking sceneries I have ever seen. Imagine if you will huge mountains, surrounded by the step-like rice paddies. Add a river in the valley and orange clay roads and there you have Sapa. Scattered here and there are small wooden houses, bamboo forests, and the occasional goat, pig, or cow.

Yes, my friends, this is truly paradise on Earth. It could not be any more different than Ha Noi.

I "slept" on the train Wednesday night, which was nearly impossible. Imagine you are being shaken awake by your mother or whoever. Then imagine they are shaking you during an earthquake. This is the train in Vietnam. Every once in awhile it would jerk to a stop sending you and your belongings flying. Good times.

So I arrived Thursday very early, exhausted, sweaty, and dirty. I was given a nice breakfast at the hotel and introduced to my guide, Vinh. I feared that I would be doing this trekking and homestay alone, but fortunately, two lovely people from Finland, Sini and Juki, were to come with us. It rained.

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Oh how it rained. Visibility was limited - we went down the narrow roads through the mountains and when you looked to the right for a nice mountain view, all you saw was white. And then I got wet. Really wet. Drenched, even through my cheap poncho. Two beautiful little girls tagged along with us, one whose name was Chi, and her friend. I believe they were Zao. Chi's English was beautiful; I'm sorry to say more beautiful than most of my students' in Korea, who pay a hefty price to have the same skills as this little girl. She would follow us all the way to her village of Ta Van where we would be spending the night.

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(Chi, right, and her friend)

We started our descent down maybe 3km of slippery yellow clay. You would look around you and see the different local people, with about 50 kilos of corn strapped to their back, looking at you strangely as you struggled not to fall. They would merely shrug and go around you, because they take this road nearly every day, rain or shine. We stopped for a nice lunch of cheese, boiled egg, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches on fresh baguettes. It sounds maybe a little strange, but it was definitely delicious.

We continued on, passing some of the local schools and many of the local women and little girls, all shouting, "You buy from me? You buy from me?" I didn't keep track of how much I spent, but I came away with numerous embroidered bracelets, a few silver ones, three pairs of earrings, and a red zao headscarf. If you bought from one, you could expect at least four more women to crowd around you. These women are relentless. Not mean-spirited, but definitely relentless. The women make all of these items and sell them while the men stay at home and raise the boy-children, if there are any. The smallest girls are carried on their mothers' backs, but around the age they learn to walk, they begin selling.

So we visited the villages of Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai, which I believe are both home to the Black H'Mong people. Thank you in their language is "O Cho." In Ta Van, where we spent the night, they say "Cho Bayoooooo!" in a very sing-song voice. We arrived around 2 or 3, cleaned up a bit, and generally relaxed. The house we stayed in was very nice, and as Sini said, very similar to a traditional home in her town of Lapland. They had a big living room/dining room area with a stone floor, a little area where they and other people from the village would watch their satellite TV, a nice big kitchen area, a bamboo outhouse complete with running rainwater through a bamboo pipe, and an upstairs with about 10 beds for their houseguests. It was a very lovely home, and it was amazing to see their ingenuity.

The man of the house is 31, and his wife is 27. They have been married for 10 years and have two sons, the oldest of which is 8 years old. They have guests such as us about 3-4 times a week. For dinner, they prepared us a veritable feast of pork, beef, tofu, egg, rice, spring rolls, and vegetables, all locally grown or otherwise acquired. It was DELICIOUS. The whole time Juki, Sini and I made yummy noises, which I think might have amused them. Then they broke out the rice liquor, which is very similar to vodka, and I believe is actually the same as the soju in Korea. To toast in Zao, you yell "ONE! TWO! THREE! ZOOOE!!!!" I didn't last very long with this liquor and quickly switched to shots of Tiger beer. The boys both seemed irritated that we were being so loud and they couldn't join in, especially when it was bedtime.

After a while of this, naturally came the portion of the evening where we sing. Sini actually enjoyed this bit and sang some beautiful Finnish songs. The husband sang one in Zao and Vinh, our guide, sang in both Vietnamese and French. When it came to my turn, for lack of a better typical "American" song, I sang the Penguin song, which I learned when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor. It's the most ridiculous of songs, complete with dancing like a penguin. As all of the different cultures I have taught this to, they enjoyed it as well. We stayed up talking, drinking, and singing until around 10pm. Sini, Juki and I went up to our beds upstairs and contented ourselves with the fact that all we could hear was the river nearby and crickets. It was also pitch black. If this experience was not authentically Sapa, then I don't know what is.

The next day we were given banana pancakes and coffee for breakfast, which we ate on the front porch facing the mountain. We headed out around 10:30, after saying goodbye to our Zao friends. We climbed up, then we climbed down. Repeat. Repeat some more. Slip a bit, fall a bit, get your shoes caked FULL of mud. Look around, sweat, breathe, and enjoy the experience. We went through a bamboo forest, then stopped to rest at a very nice waterfall. I was wearing my Red Zao headscarf, which was met by many a surprised Sapa face. We visited a Red Zao home, then we ate a lunch of the Vietnamese style ramen, which was very tasty. We hiked up some more to where the bus took us back to the town of Sapa. I have no idea how far we hiked, but in the tour booking it said something like 30 km.

So now I'm back in Ha Noi, waiting to pick up my friend Mikey from the airport. It's a completely different world, and I am again used to the sounds of honking horns and "Madam, cyclo?" "Madam, taxi?" "Madam, moto?" But for two days I lived in a clean, simple, and beautiful area of Vietnam, one that I will never forget.

  • *A personal note: when I got back to Sapa, I received an e-mail informing me that my cousin's husband lost his battle with cystic fibrosis on Sunday. Beppe was one of the sweetest, funniest men I have ever met, and he was Italian to boot. He leaves behind his wife, my cousin, Kristi, and their two twin daughters, Sofia and Asia. He will be greatly missed and it is with a heavy heart that I write this. Please keep the Parri family in your thoughts.

Posted by lrbergen 19:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Uncle Ho and His Peeps

day 1: ha noi

overcast 38 °C

Greetings all from Vietnam. Here has been my last day:

- Arrive in Ha Noi, take taxi 45 minutes for $10, my first introduction to Vietnamese traffic. Honestly, I thought Korean traffic was bad.

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- Learn that in order to cross the street, you must walk slowly and you can go at any time. Looking both ways does not help you here. If you wait for a break in traffic, you will be waiting all day. You must simply have faith that the bajillions of motos and bikes will not run you down. Follow a local when possible.

- Not many white people go to see Ho Chi Minh's (Uncle Ho's) remains in his mausoleum. I waited in line with about thousands of people and saw MAYBE 5 whities the whole time. What I also saw was everyone and they mama staring at me. One lady even took her daughter's hand and forced her to touch my arm. Another lady carried her baby up to me and forced him to say "hello." After a while, the people would tire of this until I had to get out of line to check a bag or camera, then I would be around a whole different crowd. I'm white. Man, am I white.

- Uncle Ho was pretty good looking for an old dead guy. He's pretty well-preserved. His corpse is taken to russia for 2-3 months out of the year for "restoration."

- The beer here is really cheap and REALLY GOOD. Ok, I don't know how it goes by Western standards, but I have had nothing to drink in the past year but Cass, Hite, OB, and Prime. These beers suck. And they're not that cheap. For a nice big bottle of Bia Ha Noi or Tiger, it's about 14,000d. The exchange rate to dollar is 16,100d = $1. hoo-de-hoo.

- The funnest thing in the whole wide world is sitting on the back of a moto taxi (xe om) going through the crazy traffic. Once you get past the initial shock and fear....and shakes that I had the first time (could have just been the engine). But it only costs 20,000d pretty much no matter where in the city you go. Let me tell you, that's my favorite part so far.

- White people sweat. A lot. I learned this in Korea, but it has been reinforced in Vietnam, where it is much hotter and there is no aircon to speak of. I brought two pairs of pants and three shirts. I am bitterly screwed.

- Vietnamese coffee is amazing. And it costs less than 50 cents. Dag!

Tomorrow evening I am taking the night train into Sapa, which is just south of the Chinese border in the mountains. I'll spend Thursday night with a host family and a guide, trek around Thursday and Friday during the day, and spend the night on a train Friday night. Meals included, train tickets included, only $70, which is really good for a single traveller. Tonight I think I'ma go to a water puppet show.

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Communist propaganda be damned, Vietnam is great!

(PS - There are so many Spanish people here! I can't get away from it! Which would be cool except I'm lame, and it's all old married couples anyway.)

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Posted by lrbergen 02:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (4)

I forgot about these

last pics of my kids!

I was just going through and I found some pics of students I forgot about. Just to pay homage to the crazy nuts.

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This is my favorite EB class.
L-R: Ellen, Emily, Jenny, Hally, Jane, Betty, me, Nancy, John, Terry, Andrew, Aragon (they get to choose their own English names), Andy, and Tom.

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My zoo class. Everyday was crowd control, but they were all so sweet and funny. Especially the twins, Aaron and Frank (who I called Puh-ranken-shtein).
L-R: Anna (Banana), Natalie, Justin the monkey boy, Kelly, To-To-Tony the Tiger, Robert (Robot), Andrew. Standing up on chairs are June and Puhrankenshtein. In the front is Ajumma Aaron.

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Another class that became a zoo after so long of silence and shyness.

I'm going to miss these guys.

Posted by lrbergen 22:39 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

More Engrish fun

finally, photographic proof of its existence

sunny 32 °C

I said no more blogs until I got to Vietnam, but Tuesday was Korea's Independence Day. For once I had my camera at the ready to take pictures of the copious amounts of engrish t-shirts, advertisements, and graffiti.

The following were taken in Hongdae, the funky area around Hongik University.

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"The Critics Loved Moby Dick the Typesetters Didn't."
I suppose that's true, but most Koreans are willing to buy a shirt without understanding a word that it says. I guess the reverse holds true in English-speaking countries.

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"Wild Style Lover's Rock Triple Fat"

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this makes no sense whatsoever...promoting environmentalism maybe?

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This is an advertisement for a bar. Boy, do I want to drink there...

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No Engrish, just a cool mural.

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One guess what this advertisement is for...

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To show you how terrible Korean fashion is...

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As opposed to the NORMAL world history.

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And to commemorate Korean Independence day...

So that's all for now. There have also been shirts that say "I have no potential." Or, "To be honest, I never liked you that much anyway." Etc., etc., etc. Bask in Engrish's glow.

Posted by lrbergen 09:20 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Alive and Kicking

yes, i still am

sunny 36 °C

I realize it has been almost two months since my last blog entry. To which I can only reply:
I'm sorry. Forgive me. Mea culpa.

This is basically because my life has been routine after boring routine. I work, I sleep. I watch TV shows on DVD. I complain about work (including, but not limited to, shuffling around of teachers and lack of air-conditioner in 95-degree weather). On Saturdays we go to Itaewon and stay out all night (for my grandmothers and other family that looks at this, I will spare details). I am either at work or out with my friends.

What I want to write about today is the future. But I will refrain from my theory that one day tiny robots will take over the world and we will be their servants, or that the Planet of the Apes movie will come back to haunt us with all of those nerds saying, "I told you so." No, no friends. I will be talking about what is in store for me. I realize that is selfish and maybe a bit boring, but it is my blog and I will do with it what I please. To the 10,000 + people that have visited this blog, well done.

Vacation Time:

My contract ends exactly two weeks from today. Exciting? Yes. A relief? Yes. Scary as anything? Yes. For one year my life has been secure and safe, and as I have mentioned, very routine. I stand by the theory that we are creatures of habit and want nothing more than a good old-fashioned routine. Staying in this routine for too long can be a bit alarming and irritating. So it is time to change it up, which is why I came to Korea in the first place.

On August 21, I will be heading off to Vietnam for one month. Alone. Very much alone. I know my family may be worried about me, and to be quite honest, I share in their sentiments. I haven't travelled alone for more than a week, and that was about 2 years ago. So one month is a huge step for me. I need it though. I want to experience the entire country. From the beaches on the east coast to the central highlands, I want it all. Now aren't you proud, Travellerspoint? And along the way, there will be loads more blogs (just check out my adventures in Spain, as posted in my diary. I wrote more than you could ever imagine, judging by my blog updates, or lack thereof).
I will be flying from Incheon in Seoul to Hanoi. I will spend 1-2 weeks around the north area, including Halong Bay which is rumored to be THE must-see in Vietnam. Hopefully Mikey will be with me at this time and we can drink a beer while sleeping on a boat under the stars. That's the plan anyway.
Then I will hop on a train and slowly but surely make my way to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City). On the way, I will be sure to do anything and everything that strikes my fancy. Hoorah. Then September 21, I will leave from Saigon back to Seoul. Which leads me to my next topic:

Career Opportunities:

This of course is where the vacation ends. Many of you have expressed worry and anxiety about my pending unemployment, but as I said in a recent e-mail, you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting an English-teaching job in Korea (supposing, of course, that you were so inclined to dead cat-swinging). I am currently seeking employment and if all else fails, I will re-enter Korea on a tourist visa and leech onto my friends' hospitalities and look for a job then, being able of course to start at the drop of a hat (again, assuming that you are inclined to hat-dropping).

Then it will begin another year of a new job with new students, new teachers, and new problems. No hagwon is perfect by any means, so of course negative Nancy that I am, there will be plenty of things to complain about.

Romance:

Dating in Korea gets a bit ridiculous at times. One minute you're swearing off men because of the lack of English-speaking, mature, good-looking ones, the next you're wondering if maybe this is it.

You all know about my (mis)adventures with the Libyan boy, Walid. That did not end well. There have been a slew of Korean men in the meantime, and even one Brazilian, that I have been on dates with, but have ended up disappointing all of my lowered expectations of men. Recently I have started dating a lovely Korean man, Jung Ho, who is definitely a diamond in the rough at the bar he works at. He has been extremely kind to me, and is ridiculously good-looking. We get along very well and have plenty of things to talk about. We make each other laugh. He's even taken to holding my hand in public (which to me seemed a scandal after all the stares we received).

So what is the problem?, you may ask. My Korean skills are nonexistent and his English skills could do with some improvement. The culture barrier is ALWAYS there, and with the language barrier, it's sometimes hard to get over. For example, I never EVER have problems buying things for my friends, such as dinners, drinks, movie tickets and the like. I would much rather have their company than not so it doesn't bother me in the least. However, it bothers Jung Ho. He has the idea that men should always pay for everything, and when I did something to the contrary, it was almost impossible to explain the difference. In fact, it ended in a big argument and now I don't know what's happening.

Again, the culture difference/language barrier makes life in another country difficult and frustrating, especially in dealing with matters of the heart. Um...I have no more transitions here up my sleeve, so here are some pictures.

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Tsingtao Beer, from China. This is the best beer I've had in Korea.

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Jung Ho.

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Market street in Sincheon. You can buy anything here, fruit, fish, bras, rice cakes, kimchi, spices, etc., etc., etc.

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Ducks.

These pictures were all taken with my camera phone because as we all know, I can't have nice things without breaking them and I broke my camera. So now I have to live, yet again, with knowing that I have to buy the exact same camera again. Boo. Boo-urns, even.

Ok, this blog is done. My next one will probably be from Vietnam, so enjoy!

Posted by lrbergen 19:26 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Gracious Losers

...damn those reds! damn them!

To say that Korea loves soccer is an understatement. According to one source, there were apparently 1.5 million people in the streets around Korea to watch today's game against Switzerland. And while soccer is not my favorite thing in the world, I will cheer and scream and jump and sing if in a huge crowd watching the game together.

Due to the crappy time difference between Korea and Germany, however, the last two games started at 4 am. Kids were coming into class exhausted because they a) stayed up all night or b) woke up just before the game.

Even though this game was at 4 am, it was on a weekend night so we finally made it to City Hall in Seoul for a World Cup viewing. Seven of us (me, Wayne, Scott, Matt, his gf, Mina and Eunice) piled into Matt's car to hang out in Seoul until 4 am when the game would start.

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Eunice and Mina squished together

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I had to sit on Wayne's lap. He is a dirty, dirty man.

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Here is the traffic going into Seoul. I don't even remember how long it took, that's how long it took.

We went to Dongdaemun Stadium, a major shopping area, first to buy red shirts and other assorted accessories. Then we had dinner in a tiny little booth. Street food is the best.

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Dongdaemun from the "restaurant."

Then we made our trek to Gwanghwamun, near city hall for the major celebration. After waiting in traffic for a long time and a few illegal maneuvers, we made it and got a parking space less than 50 yards from the Sejong Performing Arts Center.

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Wall of mini-Korean flags.

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The fancy flag on the Sejong PAC.

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We had to pass behind the big stage to get where we were going and this was the first performer to keep everyone awake...circa 1 am.

Then we came to the part that was definitely the most uncomfortable of the night: trying to find a place to sit among hundreds of thousands, according to one source 700,000 in Seoul alone, of screaming, tired, and many of them slightly drunken Korean soccer fans.
This is what we had to work with:

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This image is from Chosun Ilbo, but it's the only one I could find of an aerial view.

I WAS THERE!

So you can imagine how much elbowing, pardoning ourselves, trying to ignore dirty looks, and squeezing past policemen and security guards to get the good seats we finagled (deceitful, indeed).

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Statue of...that guy...completely surrounded by a sea of devil-worshippers. Er...Korean soccer fans.

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Looking the other way. All you see is red.

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Fireworks, not fire, to celebrate kickoff. Is that even what it's called? I don't know.

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Scott and I were the only white people as far as I could see.

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Since the game started at 4 am, of course around halftime the sun started coming up. You can see the mountain in the background.

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As you can see from many of the other pictures, there are lots of buildings with these huge soccer posters/advertisements. I don't know what Cheonggye Plaza is, but apparently it's straight ahead.

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See? More advertisements. There were also three huge TV screens to watch the game in this general vicinity, depending on which way you were facing.

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Statue of the one guy again in the morning.

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And thusly, the game was over. Notice that there is nobody jumping up and down and screaming? No fireworks? Neither pomp nor circumstance? No other such celebration?

Yes. You are not mistaken. There was none because..well. We lost. We lost pretty bad. To qualify for the next round, Korea had to win their game or France had to lose theirs.

Korea lost.
France won.

And so Korea's place in the 2006 World Cup is over.
I will say this though: Korea is full of the most gracious losers I have ever seen. Until about the last 10 minutes or so, energy was running high and no one really gave up hope. That last 10 minutes, people started lining up to get out of there.

And when everything was said and done, everyone bent down to pick up their trash, quietly, respectfully, put on their shoes, and left without another word. There were some general murmurings, yes, but had it been in America, and had it been any sport other than soccer, fires would have erupted, cars would have been tipped and the foreigners beaten down.

I had a good time, and it's a good thing I went because I will probably never do anything like that for the rest of my life.

Neat, eh?

Posted by lrbergen 00:02 Archived in South Korea Tagged events Comments (0)

More Essay Fun!

...i still love engrish

On Fridays I teach one high-level writing class. It's a refreshing break from the low-level, high-energy classes I normally teach (I am, above all, a clown for these children).

So while these kids are higher-level English, I seem to forget that they are still the same age as all the rest of my students. I guess I expect better essays from them. Some are really great and others? Well, let's just say at least they're amusing.

In a TOEFL essay about the Vikings vs. Columbus (who discovered America first?) here are some gems:

Many historians say Columbus was crazy wrong.

However, in itself, Vikings were ridiculous. Why didn't they observed the USA well? Today, of that reason, Columbus is the second who discovered USA for the second. There's one. An early bird catches the worm. However, there's sometime it's wrong, isn't it?

- Both from little Jennifer. At least she was paying attention when I talked about Native Americans being first.

We must really look up to Columbus even though he is already dead.
- Simon

I think Columbus is discovered the Americas, because Vikings was pirate.

Important thing is Columbus discovered most lands, so Columbus is 80% and other explorer is 20%.
(apparently some "ghost explorer" discovered it instead.)
-Jun Hyoung

I think he was afraid of die so he go to sail and comeback with no (hand?) and told a lye to king. So I think I don't reached to the america.
- Andy

At 1492, Columbus opened to the door for European settlement. (I bet they were happy.)
-Kyle, the one who says "I bet" a lot.

I wish, I wish to but, I'm a girl, and, and, I don't have braveness just like them.
-Joanah

The essay is pretty much laid out for them in the book. How to write an introduction, the pros and cons of each topic, etc. Where they got these crazy ideas, I have no idea.

Posted by lrbergen 23:51 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

World Cup Mania!

who cares about soccer?!

When I lived in America, I had never heard of the World Cup. Strange, seeing as how I lived in Spain for 5 months or so. Americans don't really seem to love their soccer. Ok, that's a generalization. Americans living in South Bend, Indiana don't really seem to love their soccer. Everyone has a high school team. But those are nowhere near as popular as the American football teams (heretofore known as "fake football").

People watch the SuperBowl like it's their job. With Notre Dame being a big source of the economic structure in South Bend, college football is also huge.

But soccer? Nope. There isn't even a blip on the radar.

I'll be honest. When excitement about the World Cup 2006 started rumbling around Korea, I was left in the dark. Apparently, the 2002 World Cup was held in Seoul and Korea went on to be the champions. [Editors note: another testament to how ignorant I am about World Cup soccer, Korea didn't even WIN the championship in 2002. They got to what...the quarterfinals? Semifinals? Thanks, Paul.] I own a "Be The Reds" shirt, but only because it struck me as funny that a democratic country would be promoting Communism, especially with the whole North Korea/Kim Jong Il thing looming as a problem. Apparently though, Korea promotes its soccer team as the Red Devils, so I was mistaken when I chuckled and shelled out the $10.

I didn't even know America HAD a national soccer team. Let alone that they were ranked 5th.

Yes, my friends. Seoul has a major case of World Cup fever. Nearly all restaurants have banners advertising a chance to view the games in their establishment (based on my powers of deduction). Kids come into school every day with some form of Korean paraphernalia (face paint, flags drawn on their hands, hats, shirts, shorts, notebooks, etc., etc., etc.). Buildings have huge advertisements including pictures of players and of course ever-present is "Dae Han Min Guk!" which is the formal name for the Republic of Korea.

Tuesday night Korea played Togo and our school had a party to watch. My friends and I ducked out about 5 minutes into the game to go celebrate in a different way. There is a big park between Sunae (where I live) and Seohyeon. They had a huge screen set up and thousands of people showed up to watch. Never have I cared about soccer more. You can't help it...the excitement seems to spread by osmosis. Here are some pictures, taken by Scott.

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We are so excited.

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Fireworks/sparklers EVERYWHERE. This nice young gentleman gave me a sparkler to play with.

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This is after Korea won 2-1.

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Yay. We won.

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Afterwards we went into Seohyeon. I cannot tell you how many pictures my friends and I are in because we are foreigners clearly supporting Korea, with our devils' horns and red t-shirts. We were famous, if only for 15 minutes and only in Seohyeon.

Hundreds of thousands more gathered in front of City Hall in Seoul. We were going to go for Monday's game but unfortunately because of the stupid time difference between Germany and Korea, the game doesn't start until 4am. Some of us have to work the next day. Stupid Germany.

Posted by lrbergen 21:11 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

Kids

...a relapsing dislike for children

[Note: this is more for personal reasons than anything. Also, it's mostly just pictures of students and me whining about how I miss my kids. So...there you have it.]

This week, we have started a new session at Avalon. Generally near the end of a session, you have HAD IT with the kids, the rambunctiousness, the utter hatred for learning. You just want to get the session over with and start new where you promise yourself, next time...next time will be different. Next time I am laying down the law and no matter what I'm keeping it that way.

But sometimes. SOMETIMES you have kids that grow on you...much like a fungus, or mold. No, no. Don't take that the wrong way.

I am by nature a sentimental shmuck and grow attached to everyone I come into contact with that I remotely like and spend any significant amount of time with. (Yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition, but I don't care. I'm writing about kids and prepositions won't stop me.) This is the reason why I was so incredibly homesick my first month here. Why I bawled my eyes out over friends that I have known in any sort of personal context for merely a month. Etc., etc., etc.

When I came to Korea to teach, having a general distaste for children seemed to be my defense against this. But then I started actually enjoying the kids' company. They were funny. I could be a total goofball and act as stupid as I wanted and the kids found it hilarious and even joined in. Classes became fun, and I even started looking forward to certain ones. My second session here was bliss. I loved every single class I taught. They all had their unique qualities that made them fun in their own way. I began to care about the kids and enjoyed learning their little quirks.

So by third session, I was pretty immersed. Head over heels for these kids. Granted, they could be little snots sometimes, but that's true for every single person on the face of this planet and I refuse to believe otherwise. I loved my third session kids (many of them repeats). I'm sure the fourth (and possibly my last session at Avalon) will be fine, but I miss my kids. I even had one student, Michelle, that I taught since I first arrived in Korea. When I see an old student in the hallway they still come and bug me and one girl's face even fell when she found out I wasn't her teacher anymore. I had one girl give me a huge hug while I was sitting on my chair and again when she passed me in the hall.

So now...I am nostalgiac for these kids and I miss them. So here are some of them:

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This is mostly Michelle. My EA class.

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A testament to how crazy this class was. Eliot, Gabriel, and Jinny.

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Eliot, me, Brenda Jang, Gabriel, Jinny, Selin, Joanah, Brenda Ahn (TWO BRENDAS!)

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Sophia. Every once in awhile she'd let out some energy and surprise me but mostly she just chilled.

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Jasmin and Ann. They were the only ones who actually paid attention to me in class.

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Madeline and Penny from a different class, RA3101. I loved this class because although they were young, they were fun. They were just silly and I could be silly with them.

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Justin is in contention for the cutest Korean child EVER. He was tiny and so silly/crazy in class. He would always walk up to my podium and put his head down. Or bang his hand on it. Or do anything else to elicit attention.

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Again with Ron. Such a goofy little kid, but really smart. In this picture I told him he looked like a little grandfather and this is his "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" reaction. With the two teeth missing. And the chocopie in his hand.

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My favorite EA class. They were so good and so smart and they improved so much and they were so sweet and so funny and geesh I just love them. The final day, which happened to be my birthday, I bought them a pizza party and they all wrote me little birthday notes about how much they loved me and would miss me. I think maybe the pizza was a factor.
L-R back: Louis, Bill, Simon, Sandy, Sally, Diana, Shane, Eunice.
L-R front..ish: Ashely (who told me how happy she was to be in my class), Rachel, Jennifer, Kevin (who is about as crazy as they come), me.

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My 3-day RA class that were HILARIOUS and smart and fun. Geesh I just love them too. L-R: Tony, Sung Hwan, Tae Joon, Kevin, Seung Hyun, Sharon, Jin Ho, Jane, me, Sue. Yerin was giving me bunny ears and John, the one of the exacto knife fame, is kneeling.

So far I'm pouty and I don't like my new kids as much as my old ones. Sigh.

Posted by lrbergen 20:09 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

Hey! You! 10-year-old!

here's a knife!

Clearly, living in Korea, one is subjected to major cultural differences between the West and the East. Many you grow accustomed to, many are just baffling.

For example, taking off your shoes when you enter an apartment, or a sit-on-the-floor kalbi restaurant. At first it seems strange, but after a short period, you get used to it. Like I was reading "A Death in the Family," and one of the characters was going to put on his shoes in his BEDROOM. Immediately the Korean part of my brain (I am not the slightest bit Korean, ethnically speaking, but I have reserved a part of my brain for Korean customs so that my head doesn't explode) thought, "Are you CRAZY?!"

Another one is giving or accepting things to/from Korean people. Generally, it's polite to use both hands, but it is acceptable to place your unused hand on the giving/receiving arm. And do a little bow. Now you're Korean! When I came home to America in February, I subconsciously did this all the time, the first time being at Wendy's with the Hispanic boy behind the counter. It was brought to my attention that I was doing it only by one of the Delta flight attendants who had lived in Korea for a time.

It is easy to adapt to these small differences that make Korea so charming. Other things include bowing, cute stationary and my newfound obsession with it, street food, terrible TERRIBLE Korean fashion, including but not limited to the men who wear nothing but suits, some of which are sharkskin in appearance (that's nice, but a nice suit is a wonderful thing on a man. It loses its notability when every single Korean man is wearing one), and sometimes stares (cute from children, rude from older people).

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A Korean teacher at my school, Matt, and what I like to call, his "party shirt."

Some things are annoying. The lack of trashcans, for example, which Paul commented on in his blog. There are no trashcans ANYWHERE, except sometimes you'll find the scattered blue trashbags here and there. There are NONE, however, in the subway. If you finish a drink in there, prepare to hold on to your bottle until you have reached your destination, have walked out of the subway station, and have walked at least 5 blocks before you can throw it away.

Also, the public restrooms range from the pristine to the raunchy, which is true in any culture. But good luck finding a) toilet paper and b) soap. None of the kids at my school wipe or wash their hands. And yet they refuse to enter an apartment without first removing their shoes.

_____________________________________________

All of this was a prelude to a story I have from yesterday that freaked me out. In America, if a student walked into a school with an exacto knife, the knife would be confiscated and the student would be all but expelled. Possibly incarcerated in juvenile detention. Here? No problem. In fact you can buy them at any stationary store, and they often have cute little cartoon characters. The students use them to sharpen their pencils or cut paper, or make cute little jokes about stabbing each other, themselves, or on occasion, you.

The Korean teachers, when confronted about the ridiculous and dangerous nature of this possession, wave us away with "You wouldn't understand. This is KOREA. You are AMERICAN. KOREAN culture is DIFFERENT than AMERICAN culture. (mumbled in Korean) Stupid foreigner."

Yeah, no, I got that. One of the reasons I came to Korea was to experience that said difference. However, I don't care what culture you come from, giving a 10-year-old an exacto knife is not a good idea. And here's why:
Yesterday, one of my students, John, was apparently sharpening his pencil. I did not notice this as it is fairly standard practice by now. The student behind him, Sung Hwan, was generally horsing around as was normal and accidentally bumped his desk into John's chair. Hard enough to really jostle John. Hard enough to make John slip and cut his hand. With the exacto knife, which was such a good idea in the first place. He starts howling and holding his hand so I couldn't see it. One of the students claimed "Oh! Blood!" so of course I hustled him to the front desk where the first aid kit was and also where they spoke Korean. Come to find out, it's actually a pretty nasty gash in poor little John's hand.

So I'm sorry, Korean teachers. This whole children with exacto knives thing isn't really a good idea, huh? You claim I can't understand because they don't really have school violence here so my fears are ungrounded. Nevertheless, I am not worried about kids hurting kids. I am worried about kids hurting themselves. Kids, by nature, are given to exploring. That's what they do, that's how they learn. It is our job as adults to make sure that they don't explore dangerous things, such as poisons, fire, and yes, exacto knives.

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Other precious 10-year-olds I try to protect from the exacto knife, Jenny Kim and Becky.

That's all I have to say about that.

Posted by lrbergen 19:49 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Spring in Korea

giving the people what they want...

Who'd have thought that Korea could be such a beautiful country? After seeing the ho-hum browns and the hum-drum grays of winter, not me. But I suppose it's like that everywhere. You get stuck in an ugly season for what seems like so long that you can hardly remember that this place, or any place, can actually be beautiful.

I think I was a little too scared out of my mind/homesick when I first got here to appreciate anything more than the sweltering heat (flashback: August). But spring has been good to me (aside from the aforementioned laryngitis, which can I just say, thank you for $4 antibiotics!) and to the landscape of Korea. It's really coming into its own. Rock on, Korea!

So this will be a purely photo-inspired blog.

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This is a sidewalk I walk down on my way to work.

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Fruit sellers enjoy the shade.

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Same sidewalk, further down.

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Yet another sidewalk, off the beaten path.

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This is the street I live on, from the overpass bridge.

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Advertisements everywhere you go.

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At the elementary school. Some kids doing their daily exercises.

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On the pedestrian bridge going to "Central Park."

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A lamppost on the pedestrian bridge.

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People moseying. If you had seen them in action, you would agree with the word choice.

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A bridge in the park. With some kindie-gartners!

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Fountain. Taken under the pagoda.

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Hey monkey!

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Hey dragon!

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What's up...bear? Anteater?

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Aaaand...a cow.

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Nothing is safe from urban sprawl. Don't try to resist.

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A nice little sitting area further in.

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Ok last one. The real street from the entrance of central park.

Kinda nice, eh? Central Park is about 10 minutes from my apartment and it's always full of people, mostly a) kindergartners on field trips playing games with their teachers or b) older folks "moseying." There are the occasional families with young children who aren't in school that are having picnics, mostly with just their mothers because their fathers work all day. It's a nice space to have. Kind of like the REAL "Central Park." Only much smaller.

(PS - I changed my template yet again to a simpler one. The guy on the rocks was cool and dramatic, but he kind of set too high a standard for my posts, leaving me feeling like I could never live up to his expectations.)

Posted by lrbergen 19:10 Archived in South Korea Tagged photography Comments (2)

Somewhere between D and F...

...you know...for effort.

Well I've been holding it down here at camp laryngitis for the past couple of days. I haven't eaten anything really substantial since...well...probably Saturday night. It is now Thursday. You do the math.

But that is neither here nor there. Our students had speaking tests and to accompany them, essay tests. Oh those are fun. We administer the speaking tests and grade the essay tests, native English speakers that we are. As I said in a previous post, imagine someone gave you a sheet of paper and said, "Here. Write an essay in Arabic." What if that same person said, "You have 30 minutes. Go." Imagine the pressure! The stress! And you're only 11 years old! And you've had a full day of school already! All you want to do is play computer games or watch TV!

Well...hopefully you'd come up with something better than this, when asked to summarize as much as you can on a unit you had read about Mars (mainly about how we've sent Pathfinder, and how we don't know if there is life or water).

[Note: question marks denote where I couldn't read what the student wrote]

Mars is 1990 years old start is mars is rianin(?) crop(?) too quick

inticre(?) and to do much mars is world out here

mars is sun relax is out herer to much

mars is world one is to bed is relax

mars is too to do much and did quite

saw much rain to rain saw too much to do

muching there cratin (?) more incre (?) to dict insiting

mars moon is mars as to many muching to did

inciting there to did quick to gary (?) They are to many exellent

mars in the is paridise and did very hansome marse

is hansome mars is very cold and hot add house

summarize mars is summarize as you can about

unit on mars as to much mars

much as you can about mars

mars is to big moon.

See? Hard.

Posted by lrbergen 20:12 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

1, 2, JUMP!

tales from a fat foreigner

Friday was Buddha's birthday/ Children's day, both national holidays and so we were given the day off. Chantal and Rebecca decided at the last minute that we should go whitewater rafting. So at 7am we all met and took the trek that included a bus, the subway, and another bus.

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Mikey on the bus to Seoul. Complain no more, woman!

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Me, Scottish Mike (Princess), Mikey, Heather on the bus to Gangwon-do.

We had had sunny days all week prior so of COURSE this day was overcast and it threatened to rain the whole day. Of course when we were out on the water, it did. But no matter. We arrived to the campsite shortly after 12 and were shown to our cabin.

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View from our cabin.

We met at around 1 to learn proper safety procedures and then get out on the water. They taught us the Korean for several important instructions which we didn't quite get. We only knew the danger signal and everybody row. "Hana! Dul!" (1! 2!) the whole time. I brought out my camera in a ziploc bag. Fortunately I took it out before we really shoved off and they noticed and made me leave it behind. We were all completely soaked by the end of the trip, so I got lucky.

Everything started out great. The water was a little bit calmer than I would have liked, which we later found out was due to the shallow waters. We went down small rapids surrounded by high cliffs with interesting rock formations. We passed a temple and some waterfalls that are used in many Korean movies. We saw lots of herons and cranes. The water was so fresh, our guide said, that he took a drink of it. We were a little bit more gunshy about that. When we approached our first big rapid, we saw a man fall out. That same man was taken to the side of the river with a big nasty cut on his leg. So we were delayed for about 20-30 minutes while we waited for EMS to figure out how to come get him.

The guides kept apologizing, but really it was ok. I wouldn't want to be left alone, either. We finally went on our way down some more small but fun rapids. We got stuck a couple of times. Then we stopped at a bank and while another raft packed up and left, we got to go swimming. It was cold of course, but for being May, it was not that bad. Just think of Lake Michigan, if you will, and how it is in June. The water was about 3 times as warm as that.

It was when we continued on that we hit the rough spots. And by rough I mean the water was so shallow that we could see the rocks we were trying to pass over. We all thought it would have been much easier if the 7 heavy foreigners had been able to get out and walk over these rocks, but to save the 3 Korean guides' dignities, we were forced to stay in the boat while we watched them struggle to pass over the rocks. Altogether, there was about 40 minutes of this. Just when we thought we were smooth sailing, we'd hit another rock and be stuck.

Hence the subject line in this blog. The only way they could get us to really go anywhere was by having us jump so they could push the raft from under us. "1, 2, JUMP!" Story of our rafting trip.

Then we went swimming again, and hit relatively calm waters. More beautiful rocks. Then games where we tried to knock the other "team" off the raft. Good times. We were out there for a little over 4 hours, and we went for about 9km. It was hard, but fun, and I'm just waiting for the next day off when we can go again.

Kind of a fun anecdote: no one expected for us to get as wet as we did. Which is why many of us neglected to bring how do you say...dry clothes or shoes. Mikey was wearing socks and shoes in the boat. Eventually they came off. So for the entire 4-hour duration of the trip we had two socks floating around in the boat, which was full ankle-deep with water. Great. Just great. Eventually I think we all got sick of it so he tied them around his ankles. Sporty!

Another fun anecdote: Our guide in the back, Hyuk Jin, reminded us that when we paddled, we should insert our ENTIRE paddle in the water. Chantal made reference to Scottish Mike, the most muscular one of all of us, and how he was doing virtually no work. Hyuk Jin said "Ah! Princess no!" So now we have Princess.

After we got back, we went and took hot showers and changed into dry clothes. We were bussed to a restaurant nearby for a kalbi dinner where we were gawked at by the vacationing Korean families. No matter. The food was delicious, and even moreso after being outside on the river all day.

Then we got back to the cabin and started drinking the beer that we had saved up. We saw the rafting guides out practicing and when they were finished, we enticed them to come join us for beer and singing. Really great people, so of course a really great time.

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I don't remember their names, except for Hyuk Jin in the black hat.

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Me, Heather and Rebecca with the rafting guides.

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Rebecca, Heather, Hyuk Jin, Scottish Mike, Chantal, and....?

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Watching Chad playing guitar.

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A candid shot...Mikey looks like he's really feeling the music.

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Welcome to the GUN SHOW! (I have no less than 4 pictures with Rebecca in this pose)

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Where is the foreigner? Hint: skin and eye color.

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Inae, the only female rafting guide, and Mikey rockin' out.

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This massage chain is popular in Korea. Well not this specific one, but you get the idea.

So one of us fell asleep around 9/930pm. And you remember at slumber parties how if you fell asleep early, something really terrible would happen to you? Well...we had no shaving cream nor any freezer in which to freeze underwear. And this might not have worked with anyone else except the person who could sleep through the end of the world.

Chantal had earlier bought a packet of razors, possibly for the sole purpose of what happened that night. The Koreans thought it was hilarious.

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Chantal and Chad shaving a racing stripe into Mikey's leg.

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Inae is surprised.

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I am horrified.

Let me just say that Mikey was the best sport about this that he possibly could have been. As he said, we could have beaten him with a baseball bat and he wouldn't have woken up.

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One of the guys giving me a foot massage.

Our new Korean friends left shortly after and we lingered awake for a short time more before all piling together in our tiny cabin on the floor and passing out after a long long fun-filled day.

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The stoop the next day. Kind of white trash-y, eh?

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The razor/hair/cup the next day. Yum!

All in all, a great time had by everyone.

For more pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31481968@N00/

Posted by lrbergen 18:10 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Oh, Engrish!

might as well do one more while i'm on a roll...

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

I Love Engrish.

The language barrier can be your best friend (funny stories, heckling without worrying that the people you are heckling actually know what you are talking about) or your worst enemy (you're seriously in trouble or you're dating someone who doesn't speak the language...which I guess are both one in the same).

Miscommunication is often a source of jokes in my classes, even in the more advanced levels.

The no-bajee (no pants) story, for example.
Or "panty-gone" or the strangely disturbing "red pen tea."

Or "Teacher I am detention."
"Hello detention."

I even had one girl who still says "son of a bitch!"...she knows it's bad, but her dad says it so so does she.

One of our friends, Chantal, had a tiny 7 or 8-year-old ask her,
"Teacher, what is pimpin and why so difficult?"
(A reference to Big Daddy Kane's "Pimpin Ain't E-Z"...oh what these children have to look up to...)

Also from Chantal...have you ever seen a 7 or 8-year-old wearing a shirt that proudly proclaims: "Sex Terrorist. Got the Skills to Pay the Bills"? I haven't either, but apparently he's out there.

Today I had a student yell for me to "TEACHER! Come! Here! Please!" Another kid piped in "Come on baby!"...apparently a reference to a Korean computer game.

We receive about 50-70 essays apiece every other week full of secret codes for English words such as "I'm get a love whip."

There is even a website dedicated to nothing but Engrish from all over the Orient (although Japan seems to have the most difficulty...). www.engrish.com

But yesterday, we noticed some graffiti scrawled all over the wall outside of Avalon, right by the doors.
I do not know who this "Kevin" person is...I actually have about 50 students named Kevin, not to mention the other 200 that go to Avalon (ok so that's an exaggeration...like saying eleventy billion).

So I'm not sure who this is talking about:

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I sincerely hope this is not true...none of our students are older than 13. And Korean children are MUCH more innocent than Americans. These kids love poopoo jokes. I've seen Korean comedy. You would think it was written by the same 10-year-olds that I teach every day.

Well...I thought it was funny anyway.

Posted by lrbergen 09:36 Archived in South Korea Comments (3)

More Tourist Stuff

this is a couple of weeks old. and yet...still fresh.

Ok, now that I've gotten over the shock of the yellow dust storm (which apparently, there is another one coming...more intense and as one of our Korean teachers says...YOU CAN DIE), I can finally write about the actual day that Scott and I spent in Seoul.

Mostly because nothing new has been happening.

So as I said before...wait, maybe I didn't say it on here before and I'm too lazy to go look it up so I'll just write it again...Scott and I took the bus to Gwanghwamun and then walked two blocks to Deoksugung, one of the many royal palaces scattered throughout Korea.

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This was a neat little statue made of metal parts. I thought it looked like a crazy Don Quixote. Scott thought it looked like "you know...that one guy...from that one movie."

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This is a statue of Yin...uh...I don't know. He helped defend against the Japanese invasion with some kind of boat.

I just realized I am probably the worst possible person to write about this stuff. I don't care and therefore I don't remember anything of historical significance.
But I digress.

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The outside of the gate.

We got there just in time to see the "changing of the guard," obviously a historical reenactment. (Funny story, not so obvious to me. Me: "Do you suppose this is just a reenactment, like one of those preservation of history things?" Scott: "No, Lyndsey. These guys are over 100 years old. Show some respect.") Lots of drum-banging and horn-playing and marching.

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I have video too, but I can't post it on here.

Then after the obligatory picture with the guard, we went inside. Some of the stuff was pretty cool, but once you've seen one building, you've pretty much seen them all. The palace served as a temporary palace after the Japanese Invasion of 1592 when all of the others had been burned down. Then there's some other stuff. Read about it here if you're really so interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deoksugung

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Walkway near the entrance.

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Sign on one of the buildings.

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This is apparently a very popular pattern in traditional Korean buildings. Still pretty though.

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Side of one of the biggest buildings.

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Wide...or long...shot of several of the buildings.

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King Sejong, the creator of the hangul alphabet.

When we were all palace-d out, we decided to go to yet another palace. Along the way we saw the only patch of grass in Seoul, heavily guarded against pets and high heels by people with clipboards and whistles. No kidding.
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Isn't it lush? Or doesn't it seem so surrounded by all those buildings?!

Then we happened upon this new walkway opened not too long ago along a stream. Apparently the stream was heavily used when it was a shantytown during the Japanese invasion? Or the Korean War. Some time during hardship, which seems to be most of Korean history.
To me it looks like the East Race in South Bend, only much cleaner and with many more people:
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Then we happened upon the American embassy, followed by a real live city yard sale. Complete with used wardrobes, crappy toys, and old camera equpipment sold next to bottles of soju and beer. I should have taken a picture, but it seemed rude (well...ruder than normal for me). It was too difficult to get to the next palace so we skipped it and walked on to Insadong, the most touristy part of Seoul with tons of shops and restaurants and fun happenings everywhere.

Along the way, through small side streets that Scott insisted he could navigate (and for the record Scott, no you didn't get us lost but you almost got me hit by a car...so I guess we broke even), I got to experience yet another part of Korean culture.

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A real live octopus in a real live tank in a real live restaurant. Delicious.

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The entrance to a bar. To be fair, I didn't notice this. Scott did. I give credit where credit is due.

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This is in the most unlikely place, right near a huge glass monstrosity of a building, right near the parking ramp which leads to the underground parking garage.

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When we finally made it to Insadong, we couldn't resist these delicious deep-fried, sugar filled, boiling-hot-ready-to-explode "pancakes." They have some sort of peanut/chestnut filling. So tasty.

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Ok. These are not so tasty. The vat farthest away is filled with bugs. The vat closest to you is ...snails I think? Either way, this whole stand smells like vomit. Literally. Hot vomit. Sorry, it's gross, but again, I'm just trying to give you a visual. Or a ...smell..sual. My favorite part is that this is the Korean version of "would you like fries with that." Bad joke. Sorry.

Scott and I were lamenting on how we missed the European cafes where you could sit outside and drink a beer. So we went to a place that he knows to get one.
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It was on the roof of this building, which was a market. This whole building was filled with artwork like this, just random off-the-wall stuff you wouldn't think could be art. For example, my friend Rose said this was a wall of road signs.

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And these were toilet seat covers.
[Note: for about two days, this picture was featured on Travellerspoint. WHOOP!]

And also a cocoon.
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And of course, what art gallery wouldn't be complete without blown-up red latex gloves covered in Korean writing!
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Then when we got to the top of the building, there just happened to be a hip-hop performance several stories below.
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And a shot of the main street of Insadong.
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And keep in mind, all the while Scott and I were unaware that we were blissfully inhaling cancer-rich yellow dust. Did you notice the yellow haze to all of my pictures?

That aside, it was a good day to be a tourist in Korea.

Come to think of it...this post probably should have been two, but now it's too late, isn't it?
Enjoy, people!

Posted by lrbergen 08:11 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

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