Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pretending to be Irish in South Korea

St. Patrick's Day has always been an interesting holiday for me. In college it usually fell during spring break, and who wants to stay in the cold Northeast when there's warmer climates waiting? Even though Syracuse supposedly holds the 2nd biggest St. Patrick's Day parade in the northeast - and only 2nd to Scranton, PA (for some odd reason) I never attended. And usually I had to work during St. Patrick's Day when in NYC.

So, words cannot even explain the insanity that was St. Patrick's Day celebrations in South Korea. It was my best one to date, and I believe that to be so because of 3 reasons - 1) It was an absolute gorgeous spring day 2) I have surrounded myself with excellent humorous alcoholics and 3) Seoul has a very large authentic Irish population that know how to do it right.

The Koreans got into the spirit of the day and held a parade near the Cheoggye Stream in downtown Seoul. Started at 2pm, and went until about 3:15 followed directly afterwards by various performers including b-boys and bands until about 6. It seemed like nearly every Foreigner I knew was in this 5 block radius, and it was an incredible day of happy go lucky drunkeness.

Pictures can only explain the fun:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

White Day?

We all remember Valentine's Day right? That day of giving people flowers and candy, and girlfriends get to berate their boyfriends if they forget? Well Koreans love it so much they made up another day just like it - White Day.

I knew it was in March sometime, but apparently it was Friday. I walked into Dunkin Donuts as I do most mornings and a coworker happen to wish me a Happy White Day. From that point on I was showered in candy the whole day.

Valentine's Day here is meant for the girls to shower the boys in chocolate, but White Day here is the exact opposite with the boys showering girls with candy. I'd say its pretty fair to both on both days, but its cute to see the boys try on White Day. One of my friends even got into the spirit and brought me a lollipop to our local bar Friday night. The bar, Exit, even got into the spirit and handed out sparklers to everyone in attendance and it was pretty cool to see everyone indoors waving around tiny fireworks.

Not a significant holiday by any means, but it was cute nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ferry Riding and Spelunking!

Ok, well not completely spelunking, but I did spend some time in some caves.

This past weekend I partook in another Adventure Korea trip - this time only for a day - and it was a blast. Got up at the ass crack of dawn, waited on the corner to meet up with a friend, and while I was waiting I got solicited by a Korean man; "You, Me, Money??" and he pointed to me to get into the van. Riiiiiiight buddy.

Anyway, grabbed some food at the McDonald's and headed on the bus, to the subway, to the AK bus and 3 hours later we were in Chungju. We took a ferry ride down a river for 2 hours and it was absolutely beautiful. My words won't do it justice so just notice some pictures:

After the boat there was some downtime and we of course, took more pictures of the scenery and took this is an opportunity to throw some rocks a very long way into the water. My first couple throws reminded me of something that my 8 year old self just wouldn't be proud of. BUT - after a couple practice throws it wasn't so bad.

The caves came afterwards, and it was pretty fascinating. I didn't see any bats, so that was disappointing BUT we did get to go a little off roading in the cave and walk over this tiny little bridge above people and jump ahead of the line. There weren't any signs in English or Korean so its always cool to be a little bad ass.

The caves were then followed by a little hike to Dodamsanbong Peak & the Stone Gate - a giant land bridge overlooking 3 rather large rocks in the water. According to the legend there lived a couple who loved each other, but had no child. They found a mistress because they wanted to have a baby, but once she had the baby, she began to mistreat and taunt the wife. The heavens saw them, and turned all of them into stones. And that's what those rocks are, and in an S shape. Gotta love Korean folklore.

After a gorgeous spring day, we hopped on the bus back to Seoul and spent the night hangin out with friends in Itaewon. It was an early one though - forgot how tiring fresh air is!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Just When You Think You've Got the Hang Of It....

I've been teaching for 6 solid months now, heading into the 7th. I look back on how I was as a teacher my first month, and even say up until my 3rd month, and realized what a crap show the kids were getting. I have basically found a stride in my teaching methods, and gotten to know the kids pretty well for the most part. It hasn't felt new in awhile, and I appreciated that.

Well, then everything came to a screeching halt and life got turned upside down this week. Some time ago I went in and told my director that I really liked teaching my preschool kids, and that I'd like to keep them when they moved up another level. I also told her I hated teaching activities (science, art, etc) because I loved having that time to do my planning for the day. And last but not least, I told her I found I hated teaching our Hi Kids! curriculum (English beginners) because I just can't keep everything straight and I hate not being able to talk to my kids (I'm a fast talker from NY... its tough to slow down sometimes). She said she understood and everything would work itself out in the new schedule and that she'd try to accommodate everything I said.

Gotta love that language barrier because not only did I only keep half of my preschool kids, I gained activities 5 days a week, AND now have something like 4 Hi Kids! courses. Honestly though, I didn't complain. Life has a funny way of fixing things though...

Today was the first day of the new classes and it felt like my first day of teaching all over again. Didn't have the right books, didn't know the kids names, had no idea where they were in their levels, it was just awkward. Everyone else on the staff agreed.

However two things happened today that really fed my ego. The first being those two preschool classes I loved. Well, apparently the parents were not so pleased that the kids got split up into two different levels of English and wanted to be put back the way they were. AND also on their list of demands was to re-instate me as the teacher for both classes. Which, as sweet as that is, they just effectively took away my 11:30am start time. Oh well - I get one week of sleeping in. And the second, was in my highest level afternoon class, one student dropped and I couldn't figure out why. So when my head teacher spoke to his mother she said it was just because he was going to middle school next year and needed a break from some studies. But she made a point to say that he was too shy to tell me on Friday that he loved having me as a teacher and wanted to say thank you and if he finds time to study English again, he'll come back and want to be in my class. As English teachers its really easy to bitch about the obnoxious kids, but when something like this happens, it honestly does make you feel like you're doing something right.

Anyway, schedules often change from month to month, but I think this one will stick for awhile. Can't really complain.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

FC Seoul vs. LA Galaxy!

My first sporting event in Korea, and man did it feel good. I forgot how much I missed being in an arena - be it for a concert or sport. This was also my first soccer game ever (and I have to point out, that I actually hate calling it soccer now after being around so many internationals who call it Football).

I found out about the game two weeks ago via the Facebook event page. The LA Galaxy are on an Asian tour and playing the teams in friendly pre-season games. Tickets for FC Seoul during their regular season are 8,000won, but because the Galaxy are an American team sporting the likes of David Beckham on their roster this special game was a nice hefty 30,000W.

They played at the World Cup Stadium in Seoul which was a hike to get to from my neck of the woods (hour bus ride to central Seoul and then a 20 minute cab ride). Tickets are always interesting to come by here in Korea for almost anything:

The language barrier usually poses a problem and you cannot buy anything on line like you can at home. You can reserve spaces and wire the money from an atm, but we didn't do that. Since there's a rather large foreigner contingent here we decided to just try our luck and go in a group and buy game day tickets. We were afraid that the game would sell out, but shortly upon getting there we realized that was almost an impossibility. The stadium holds somewhere around 72,000 people and I think, I THINK, maybe 10,000 showed up.

Either way, the game was a lot of fun in the cold weather, but cheap hot chocolate and beer makes it all worthwhile. FC Seoul was no where near a great team, and neither was the Galaxy, but they seemed equally matched. The Galaxy scored the only gametime goal, but FC Seoul tied it up with a penalty shot, and then when the game went into overtime penalty shots where FC Seoul took home the win.

There were oddities of course that I found as a foreign spectator. First being there are no replays. None. They have giant flat screen tvs with all sorts of bells and whistles,but there are no replays of anything - AND barely any announcements. Although when they did tell you they were subbing someone or something, they were in English - that was impressive. Another odd thing that struck me as an incredibly nice thing Koreans do was the returning of the confiscated goods you aren't allowed t bring in. At home, you're basically supporting the gate guard's drinking habit if they take away whatever you're trying to sneak in. Oh those Koreans... so nice:

Next up... baseball season opening day March 15! Doosan Bears all the way... GO BEARS!!!