Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coex Aquarium

Anyone who knows me knows what a sucker I am for a good aquarium. I practically become a 6 year old around fish. SO when we weren't able to go to our Korean Play-Off baseball game due to its sold-outness we decided to fill the time going into Gongnam to the Coex Aquarium and in some respects I think it was the better decision.

It was unlike any aquarium I've been in, solely for the exhibit that featured fish in various aquariums that weren't exactly aquariums as much as they were modern art or random appliances or well, toilets.

Yes, there is a fish in there.

It was 15,500W to get in, and took about 2-3 hours to get all the way through. There are various themed areas of the whole place consisting of the random art/aquarium section, the Rainforest, and my personal favorite - the gigantic shark tank which had a walk through overhead tunnel that they would swim over you as you stood on a very slow moving sidewalk.

One of the most interesting things I saw there was a tank in the ceiling where you would have to lay down on a circular bench in order to see it:

Also, let's not forget about the area of the rainforest that featured a two-headed turtle:

And it of course had its Asian flair:

Overall I was really impressed and would actually go back there eventually. At some point I'll edit this blog and stick the video I have up with the sharks, but now you'll have to settle for pictures of fish in refridgerators, showers, and computers:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Awesome Asian Cell Phone Technology? Not Quite.

I've been here for two months and successfully lived without a cell phone.

That is a statement I never expected to utter. One of the things I couldn't wait to get when I came to Korea was a cool new tricked out Asian phone. I expected to have to pay like 40 or 50 bucks to buy a phone and be on my way. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that my school offered free phones to the staff, and all we had to do was put $10 worth of minutes on a phone per month in order to use it.

Perhaps 'pleasantly' is a word that shouldn't be used so liberally here. The phone that I received was a Samsung AnyCall something or other:

I say something or other, because I spent a good 15-20 minutes today trying to find any type of specs on line, but to no avail. Anycall is the brand of Samsung for its Chinese, Korean, and Russian phones. Some of their products look pretty snazzy but I believe my phone to be easily 5 years old (which is a dinosaur for how far cell phone technology has come in the last few years) so its got no flair.

The screen has color, but very basic graphics, and its menu is not user friendly. It takes the phone 3-4 minutes to even turn on, and when it does some stupid dancing fairy has to go through its routine before you can get to the main menu. The phone is set to English, yet whenever I attempt to add in a contact or write a text message, the script will still come out in Hangul (Korean writing). Also, to get to the phonebook you have to go through 4 different menu options to even get there. There is no scrolling option to be found anywhere. Not to mention the battery doesn't last longer than 10-12 hours and takes about 10-15 to charge on its base. Yes, it has a base, not just a plug in option.

As far as the $10 a month option, it operates as almost a pay as you go. You're not on a contract once you register the phone but you have to put a minimum of 10,000W down. I have no idea how many minutes this gets you, but incoming calls are free. Supposedly if you do not use all of your minutes, by the end of the month you lose whatever money you have left, as it will not carry over to the next month. This is still up for debate. The Koreans are an extremely helpful people, but they also like to leave out a lot of important details on purpose if they think you won't be happy with it.

I could just go out and buy a phone and get on a contract somehow (apparently its pretty difficult for foreigners to get a contract in Korea), but since I barely use this thing as it is, paying $10 a month when I need to use it isn't a bad option. We'll see how it goes...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Field Trip: Speed Demons on Bikes

It was a pretty exciting week around SLP. Full of fun activities for all the kiddies, and lots of work for the English Teachers. A 5 day week full of the usual teaching funness, but Thursday was a special treat for the kids. Field trip!

We took the kids to Yuldong Park near Bundang for some Bike Riding and outdoor fun. The park even had a fully functional Bungee Jumping Tower over this gorgeous little lake, that at some point I will take advantage of. However we went past this tower and onto the park. We got there, let the kids have snack time - which is my favorite time because they share all of their goodies with each other and with us. And the parents usually give all sorts of things to the kids to give to us. One parent made hot dogs soaked in ketchup, mustard, and the most amazing sweet pickle relish I've ever had, and another parent cut up Korean Pears (much different than pears at home) and peaches:

I also got cookies and Krispy Creme donuts from another parent. But after snacktime we had 30 minutes of play in the field time where we were given a ball and told "Be Creative", and then 30 minutes of bike riding. I consider the day a success because the weather was absolutely beautiful, my kids only cried maybe 3-4 times, and only 1 of them wound up bleeding. Victory! Anyway, I'll let you get the idea through pictures:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Candy Candy Candy Candy"

"Halloween is not like those other stupid holidays.... ... there's just candy. Boom, you go out and you get candy. Simple. That's me" - Garfield's Halloween special.

October is the month of Ghosts, Goblins, My Birthday, Garfield and candy. I recently downloaded Garfield's 1985 Halloween Special - one of my all time favorite cartoons. It made me think about the random stuff I've been eating here as far as sweets are concerned. Now while I AM trying to be a bit more mindful of my health here, there are just something things a girl cannot say no to - one of those things being chocolate. My first week I happened to find a treat that I used to have as a kid, but they were really hard to come by: pepero

They're about 700W usually ($.50) and are bread sticks covered in chocolate and almond. So small, and yet so addictive - I get them at least 3-4 times a week.

The next thing that I have every now and again also remind me of a type of deliciousness I had as a child - moonpies:

Now these aren't actually moonpies, but they're the next closest thing, and in some cases I think these are better. Not as dry. But for 1,850W (About $1.50) you can get a box of 6 like this.

There's one type of candy bar that I've only had once, but I only picked it up because of the name:

Crunky Chocolate! Ha. It's basically just Korea's version of a Nestle Crunch bar, but I don't find it to be as good. Although you can get it for about 500W (like 35 cents).

Next are the sodas. You can find Pepsi/Coke here pretty easily but that's about it. They have a version of 7up/Sprite called Chilsing Cider which tastes exactly the same and I'm a pretty big fan of that:

The one thing I love about the sodas and juices here are the portion sizes. They come in these 250ml cans which is the perfect amount of liquid. They're half the size of the cans at home, and I never finished them as it was.

So those are just some of the things I have come to enjoy around here. I've seen random things at festivals like Fried Silk Worms, and they give off a smell that is so putrid I have yet to get near one of the little stands to see what it even looks like. The odds of me actually trying these things are slim to none, but the Koreans seem to enjoy them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Meet the [Korean] Parents

Remember that funny movie a few years ago? Meet the Parents? And then the follow up Meet the Fockers that in my opinion was a better movie than the original? Those were good movies, weren't they?

Well this post's subject matter isn't as entertaining as those movies were, and it doesn't involve meeting a significant other's parents - it's worse. I had to meet with the parents of one of my classes on Thursday afternoon and it was nothing short of nerve wracking.

I have a class - Frog SR-3 (I'll explain the levels in another post)- every Tuesday/Thursday from 3:20-4pm. It consists of 6 kids - Sally, Dabin, Elmo, Jennifer, Alice, Will, Harry. They're good kids overall, but they're also a handful. I think they're all about 8 or 9 (about 7 or 8 normal age) and have been coming to SLP for quite some time now. They speak pretty fluenty, but definitely need some help in the grammar areas and their writing isn't where it should be really. Our focus for this class is public speaking, and story reading. Dabin's the trouble maker... this round little kid who's got the sweetest face, but has the worst case of ADD I've ever seen. The kid cannot sit still and disrupts everyone else.

Anyway, everyone's parents show up except for Dabin's. I'm in the classroom next to my head teacher, and in front of all these moms... and to be honest, this school isn't cheap, so these are some pretty rich, well put together, gorgeous Korean women, and they all care about their children's education very intently. The entire 40 minutes is in Korean. They ask a question (in Korean) and Sally (my boss) translates and vice versa. I'm terrified to say something negative, because as this isn't a school that prioritizes education over the business revenue it gets from these kids, I want to make sure what I say will benefit the kid as well as not anger the mom and make them take their child to another Hagwon (Korean private school).

Now I've been here for two months officially, and I've picked up a fair amount of Korean. Can I make sentences? absolutely not. But I know some words, and I heard them ask where I was from, and it sounded like they were starting to criticize me - "ah stupid new yorker, how does she know how to teach kids??" Afterall, this class is easily one of my least favorite, and I don't find it very fun so how could the kids? Turns out it was quite the opposite. The parents loved me. They said my class was very fun and the kids were learning a lot and to keep it up.

Since I'm working on a staff where they will fire a teacher at random and for no apparent reason, getting a good review like that from parents is a way to stay useful and keep your job for another day. Beyond stressful though, that's for sure.

Now, next month we have open classes where the parents come in and watch us teach their pre-school kids for an hour. Man I can't wait... I think I'd rather cut off an appendage than go through this, and I have to go through it twice! yay!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Age is Just a Number - Until it Involves Math.

Well I turned 25. It was inevitable really... it does come after 24 and it had no where else to go. Usually I just use my birthday as an excuse to get everyone I know together for some randomness. BUT this year being in a brand new country with brand new friends I did it a bit differently. Not to mention the math is just all screwy.

Being on the otherside of the International Date Line has its pros & cons. This year, when the clock struck 12 on October 8, I became 25 years of age. However, instead of 24 hours of birthday fun, this year I wound up with 37. Why? Because being 13 hours ahead, they got tacked on for the people at home to send their wishes. If only that could have been the case for my 21st birthday...

Ah, and the math fun doesn't end there. There's always a korean twist to things these days... Koreans do age differently. They count the first 9 months you spend in the womb as your first year. So the day you're born you're 1, and then the following year everyone turns another year older on the same day in January (or maybe February, I'm a little fuzzy on that detail). So in essence, I am now 26, and will turn 27 in January. So at this point I never know what to answer as far as age goes.

Other than that it was a good way to spend a crazy amount of time. Amazing birthday cake from the people at work:

And then a really great dinner at the Patio Place for some Korean BBQ with 12 or so other English Teachers from our little nook of Suji:

So here's to another quarter century... may it be as entertaining and story ridden as the first one was.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hitman & Mafia

It's been an interesting week around SoKo. The last few days have been shrouded in secrecy, paranoia, guns, lies, & death. What am I talking about? I'm talking about English teachers that generally have too much time on their hands and have figured out ways to entertain ourselves.

First things first. Mafia just got us all hyped up for the start of hitman. It's a card game where each person takes a card, gets assigned the position of Mafia, Sherriff, Doctor, or Townsperson. And each round someone dies, and each round the town has to figure out who dunnit. We've played multiple times, and it never loses its fun. There's nothing better than trying to figure out who's the best liar in a group. OR who's after you for no reason.

Mafia was completely a random thing that demonstrated who has the ability to be sneaky, and who knows how to play others against themselves - which is exactly what Hitman is all about. A few weeks ago, one of us came up with the idea to play Hitman - a game where a number of people buy toy guns (pellet, airsoft, bb - which ever you'd like to call it), draw names, aim for their target, and try to be the last one standing. On Wednesday night at our weekly BBQ 10 of us drew chips out of a bag with names on it and the games began.

Day 1 - Thursday - two casualties. Everyone was extremely paranoid... finding alternate ways to leave their apartment, traveling in packs, watching their backs, finding safe havens. It was exciting.

Day 2 - Friday - three casualties. We were safe at Family Mart, but the second people dispersed it was fair game. People hid, people came out of no where, people were shot in the back. Truces were made. And then a 5am shootout happened at exit amongst the 9 people that were left in the bar - korean - british - american - it was one of the most fun events at a late night bar outing in a really long time.

Day 3 - Saturday - five people left standing - I'm one of them. We meet at family mart to rendevous for an all night bonfire in the woods on a mountain... as soon as we disperse - the first kill of the night is made. Now there's 4. I'm one of them still. I know who has me as their target so I have my gun ready - I see him reach for his, I cock mine - and at the exact same moment he shoots his gun, I pulled my trigger. There was a split second difference, but in the end, I was out. My death was swift, and I made a stand for it, but that's how the game rolls. I did receive vindication though... 10 minutes later as we were walking, the person who had made the initial kill of the evening had become a rogue agent (ability to kill anyone) and killed my hitman in the back.

So now, there are two people left standing, and I'm personally voting for the rogue agent. Until the next round that is...

A Shave & A Haircut...

...two bits.

Well, maybe not so much the shave, but I definitely got a haircut today and was terrified of the idea going in. The last one I got was in early August, and it wasn't what I wanted, but it was a cut nonetheless. SO I figured if I couldn't get what I wanted to an english speaking stylist in New York, how in the world was I going to get what I wanted from a Korean Salon?

Getting my haircut here was nothing short of amazing. I walked into Lotte Mart as I had been told there was a salon there, and the english speaking manager asked if it was my first time there, I said yes, and she took care of me the whole time - and basically had a team of stylists working on me. She led me over to the chair, then a woman washed my hair as traditionally expected, and I was brought back to the chair, had a rather large block put on my lap, and given a Korean issue of Cosmo. The manager came back, asked what I wanted to have done. I tried to explain the type of layers I wanted, but as it wasn't even really making sense to me, I just asked if she had a picture book. Of course it was all asian, but honestly, looking through the book I found about 8 different styles I wanted. They were young, and trendy, and as the kids say - hip. All of the books at home are for children's haircuts OR for moms. So I picked one out and we were on our way.

I was offered coffee, tea, or water while I waited for my stylist to come over. The manager explained in korean to the man that was going to cut my hair, and for the next 15 minutes he just went to town. And all of the things I usually have to ask for (a razor, thinning shears) he just automatically used. When it was over, the same woman from earlier washed my hair again which surprised me. A second hair washing?? wow.

Then I came back to the chair, and my guy started blow drying my hair. Then another woman came over to help. Two blow dryers? Either my hair is extremely tough to do, or I was being treated like a princess (I prefer the latter).

When it was over the manager gave me my bag back (they took it to put away for me in the beginning), and gave me the card of my guy. I was expecting to pay about what I would pay at home... anywhere from $25-$40 depending on what I have done. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me it was 16,000W, AND on top of that there's a 30% discount for being a foreigner! So 11,000W later, I walked out of the salon feeling pretty darn good.

So if you're in Suji, and you're looking for a great hair-cutting experience - go to Lotte.