Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Juwangsan National Park with the Andeok Teachers

Today was just like yesterday. The Andeok students had their midterm exams, so both the students and the teachers could take an early leave after lunch. However, this glorious day, all of us Andeok teachers would set forth towards Juwangsan National Park to hike around the splendiferous Cheongsong mountains.

When I entered the teacher’s lounge this morning, all of the teachers were decked out in sweatpants, plaid-patterned clothing, and North Face gear. I guess my work clothes – my grey dress pants, crimson dress shirt, and black high-heeled shoes – weren’t appropriate for the workplace today. I quickly got permission during my break to sprint home and change into some more suitable clothes.

The 2:00pm ‘the period is over!’ tune rang throughout the bare hallways. The energy-drained students suddenly shot out of their classrooms with enough adrenaline to revive the dead. It was the implicit signal for the Andeok teachers - it was time to leave.

All of the teachers split into five organized groups to carpool. Of course, organized meaning ‘according to age’. I was put into the young female teachers’ car, and we headed out to Cheongsong. The following forty-five minutes were wholly filled with questions about Ken, school gossip, and a short teachers’ English lesson.

Once we arrived at the park, the male and female teachers immediately split up. The male teachers set off before the female teachers, speed-walking on one of the dirt paths. Within a few minutes, they were out of sight.

Us female teachers, however, took a much slower, snail-paced approach to our “hike”, stopping to take over a hundred photos of us posing in modelesque lines with hands over our hips (I guess the stereotype of Asian tourists taking a billion photos is partly true :)). I felt like I was thirteen, giddily laughing and making jokes with the other teachers. Candids were extremely popular, as three-quarters of the photos had us talking in mid-sentence, curled over laughing, or making some ridiculous juvenile face.


At the third waterfall (there are three of them), we finally met up with the brawny male teachers. The Vice Principal, alongside the Principal, and other male teachers at his side, were relaxing on the lookout of the third waterfall. It had rained the day before, and the water wasn’t trickling this time around, but it was gushing crystalline water over the small edge of the mossy rocky cliff.

Once we took a fair amount of teacher photos, the male teachers decided that it was time to eat dinner. Dynamic Korea…I had only learned right then of the dinner, and had to call Ken to tell him to fend for supper all by himself (thank-goodness he’s an excellent cook :)).


(At the restaurant)

We arrived at one of Cheongsong’s famous restaurants, where the food was made with the natural mineral spring water pumped from the mountain scenically backdropping it. The teachers and I exited the car and hungrily went into the restaurant. I apprehensively entered the dining room…unsure of how much soju awaited me… Right away, the Vice Principal handed me a glass and said, “You must be thirsty! Take this, and be refreshed!”

I didn’t drink it right away, because all of a sudden, the room became eerily silent. All of the teachers were looking at me as if I was just offered poison, and the Vice Principal had a sly smile on his face. Oh well…bottoms up.

What went in my mouth tasted like liquid iron. “Mmmm….” I said, trying to sound like I enjoyed it. The Vice Principal laughed huskily and then, all of the teachers laughed furiously. This must’ve been a precontrived joke he had set up. Young-hee (my co-teacher) said, “You know, even though he is the Vice Principal, you don’t have to do everything he says.

Turns out that the unknown tonic I had voluntarily drunk was the mineral spring water that was so famous around here, claimed to be ‘good for your health’. I think I’ll pass next time.

Before we received our first bit of food, the Vice Principal and other male teachers, once again, offered me soju. I guess my composure while drinking gave them a challenge, so they kept on pouring the clear, vile liquid.

What we had next was spectacular. It was another of Cheongsong’s famous foods, which was a plate of little pieces of chicken, fried in a spiced, red-hot glaze that was so delicious. We ate that with the numerous side dishes, sesame leaves, and leaves of lettuce. What came after that was, again, another of Cheongsong’s favourites. The ginseng-chicken stew. It was glutenous white rice and dried jujubes, stuffed into a chicken and cooked into a broth with vegetables and ginger. Quite amazing, but I was stuffed, and so were the other teachers.


Again, I rode in the car, designated, ‘the young teachers’ car’. It was pretty dark…almost like a midnight dark, and our driver, a young teacher herself, sped around the roads wrapping the mountains, only turning on her headlights seconds before turning a corner. I feared for my life amidst the cheerful talk and laughter given off by the teachers. My fear evolved into terror after hearing, “Hey, she’s doing pretty well after only two months with her license!”

I arrived safely home, making sure to double-check that all my body parts were intact. Despite drinking down metal, and almost being killed on the road, it was simply another divine experience with the Andeok teachers.

- Jess

Getting Kidnapped

Each day brings a new adventure. Today, I got kidnapped.

The students were in exams, so all afternoon classes were cancelled. After lunch, I set myself up to try and plow through as many blog entries as I could with my 4 hours of free time. I had barely written the title before all of the teachers stood up and beckoned me to follow. I was really getting used to expecting the unexpected, so I just gave in and aimlessly followed them outside towards the elementary school.

We arrived at the healthcare room and the school nurse greeted us at the door. We went in, sat down on one of her many sofas, and she served us coffee as the teachers engaged in a conversation about anything and everything. I couldn’t follow their entire conversation, but it sounded like they were talking about weekend plans (I heard them mentioning family, hiking, shopping etc.). We had barely finished our cups of coffee when they all stood up again, and walked to the door. I got up to follow, and the nurse insisted that I sit back down. She poured me another coffee, pulled out some crackers, and said her farewells to the “gang” of teachers who hustled back to the middle school without me.

When everyone was gone, she picked up the phone and made a quick call. A minute later, another elementary school teacher showed up with some more snacks and sat down beside me. I had no idea what was going on, but I was alone in the school clinic with one young female nurse and one young female teacher. I didn’t need to remind myself about Korean culture (men and women DON’T mix) to realize that something fishy was going on.

We talked about my life back in Canada for about ten minutes before I got the “vibe” that I was free to go. I thanked them for the coffee and snacks, and briskly walked back to the middle school.

It was completely empty.

They tricked me into staying with the ladies while they packed their things and left.

I heard a little giggle, turned around, and lo’ and behold! The two ladies were at the door, keys in hand, waiting for me.

I got in the nurse’s car (thinking that they were going to drive me to the station), and they took off in the complete opposite direction. I received a short explanation that we were making a brief detour to somebody’s house. My spidy senses were tingling.

We arrived at a small worn down house in the middle of nowhere, and were greeted by an elderly woman bathing a baby in a bucket of water. They got out, walked into her house, and immediately got attacked by a small boy with a plastic sword. They chased him around, caught him, and sat him down on the floor. As you could imagine, I was confused beyond all belief as to what was going n. The nurse took me aside and tried to clarify the situation for me.

As it turns out, this family had recently immigrated from the Philippines. The two staff members from my school acted as “helpers” for the transition into Korea (they helped the family with bills, shopping, transportation etc.), and I was “kidnapped” to act as an English tutor for an hour.

We sat down, and the tutoring began. The little boy, six years old at the most, impressed the hell out of me with his language skills. He was able to recite English flashcards, argue with the teachers in Korean, and yell at his mom in Filipino for a glass of juice. We played a few games, he showed me around their garden (as the nurse and Korean teacher talked with the parents), and we left shortly thereafter.

Who knew getting kidnapped could be so fun?

- Ken

The Mystery English Teacher Is Revealed!

Two weeks ago, I found out that Gucheon Elementary School has a foreign English Teacher (like ME!) who comes in on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s (I teach Wednesday’s and Friday’s at the middle school next door) every week. A week later, I had an encounter with an overly-excited bus driver who seemed obsessed with getting me to meet a guy named “David.” Well, I guess I should’ve put two and two together earlier, but… are you ready for this?... The mystery teacher IS David!

Ok, now that I know who it is, the identity of the mystery teacher seems pretty obvious, but when I found out it felt like a huge light bulb going on in my head. So what did I do with my new information? Well, I wasted no time. I stealthily infiltrated the elementary school…

During my afternoon break, I tip-toed over to the front doors of the elementary school and let myself in. The kids always leave at 3:15PM, so the place was deserted. I snuck through the hallways, found David’s English classroom, and broke in (ok the door was already open, but it sounds cooler if I say that I broke in). I stole his whiteboard marker (ok, I borrowed it for a minute), vandalized his board (I wrote, “Hey David! Send me an e-mail sometime. I’d love to meet up!”), and concluded my shenanigans with some graffiti (my e-mail address). Afterwards, I ran back to my school (and stopped along the way to have a chat and a coffee with one of the elementary school teachers), and resumed my lesson plans as if nothing happened.

Boy, am I good.

- Ken

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


If you’ve never experienced a norebang, there will forever be a tiny void in your soul.

I’ll try my best to paint the scene in your mind:

Picture a western karaoke bar. Now divide it up so that there are several small rooms rather than one communal room. In each small room there is a wall of TVs, several microphones, an array of small musical instruments, platters of fruits and nuts, and way too much alcohol. Koreans sure do know how to set the stage for a good night…

I’ll be honest. I was a little nervous when Mrs. Jeon told me that we were going to a norebang as a “teachers meeting”. I envisioned a standard karaoke bar with one uncomfortable singer in front of a room full of scrutinizing eyeballs. I was curious about the “norebang scene”, but I had hoped that my first experience wouldn’t be with a group of my co-workers.

I didn’t even have the chance to sit down before two teachers started singing. As it turns out, every norebang “vet” has what’s called a “number 18 song”. I don’t know why the number 18 was chosen, but for us Westerners this simply translates to “number 1 song”. Most norebangs have the exact same songs (with only one or two “top singles” pages that change), so the teachers already have their song codes memorized (which they enter into the machine to create a playlist). Once a song starts playing, everyone joins in. Some people grab instruments (the most popular is the tambourine), others grab the extra microphones, and others simply stand up and dance with the singers at the front of the room.

I was really surprised to see how many English songs they knew. The Korean teachers who I previously thought could only say “hi” and “thank you” in English flew through songs such as “Dancing Queen” and “My Heart Will Go On”. They also joined in as Jess and I sang “Hey Jude”, “The Sound of Music”, and “We Are The Champions”. 

Having everyone involved in the songs, whether it be through beating the tambourine, attempting to sing along, or dancing, all made for an extremely fun environment to let loose and have some fun. This was our first, and definitely not our last, norebang experience.

- Ken

Badminton – Up Close and Personal

“Jessica. You. Me. Badminton. Today.”


Today, I didn’t have any classes due to midterm exams (Yay!), so I sat, unmoving like a statue, in my seat, at my desk, writing up new and exciting lesson plans (Yay?). The exams were to finish after lunch, and students and teachers were allowed to leave soon after. I was eager to do some more productive work with the many comforts at home.

One-hour before lunch, I was approached by the Principal. It was scary, because he seemed to float, unnoticed, over to my corner desk and abruptly said, “Jessica. You. Me. Badminton. Today.”

“What time?” I innocently asked.

“2:15. I’m going to teach you some new badminton skills.”

Well, I thought, I might as well if I’m going to get some free lessons…(plus the fact that he was making me shrink in my chair as he was standing over me). “I need to get my running shoes,” I said.

“You can play in those shoes,” he replied, pointing to my high-heeled dress shoes.

Young-hee (my co-teacher) looked over at me from her desk. “She can’t possibly play in those shoes. She could hurt herself.”

“Okay, fine,” the Principal regressed. “Go and get your shoes after lunch.”


At home, I quickly pulled my hair back, put on my jogging pants, and pulled over me my Xtra-Large EPIK polo (they didn’t have any smaller sizes left). I looked much like a sky-blue hot-air balloon, attached to a thick black rope.

I pulled on my running shoes and headed back towards the gymnasium.

When I entered, there were two other teachers there, plus the Principal. They were gingerly playing a match, showing off years of badminton skills. They all spotted me and called me over to the court. I was partnered with the male teacher. “Ready?” the Principal called.

“Sure!” (I had to be enthusiastic about this… Clearly, the Principal merely wanted to play against me, rather than teach me). I grabbed a racquet and one of the teachers served me a birdie. A perfect toss in the air…I planned to smash it. I swung and snapped my wrist down to smash...what a nice shot. I lifted my racquet to prep for a return, when I saw the head of it completely bent back. What are these school racquets made of again?

We played four doubles matches, altogether lasting about two and a half hours. Not all of it was dedicated to playing, however. Half-an-hour was filled with the Principal and the two teachers squabbling over boundaries, serves, etc.

At the end of the last game, one of the teachers opened up a box, and handed me snacks and drinks. “Thank-you,” he said. “If you had initially said no to the Principal, we wouldn’t have been able to find another fourth player. None of the other female teachers ever want to play.”

Oh Principal…you are ever so sneaky…

- Jess

Hospital with Mrs. Jeon

The stomach pains hit me so quickly that I almost had to leave class.

I had felt some minor grumbling all morning, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Luckily, I had just assigned my students some group work for the last ten minutes of class, so I had the chance to sit down and recover.

When class ended, I approached Mrs. Jeon and explained that I may need her to take over if I had to leave unexpectedly. She sat me down, pulled out a notepad, and asked me to list out all of my symptoms in as much detail as possible. With the list in hand, she beckoned me to follow her to her car (I tried to tell her that I would be fine, but she insisted), and we drove off to the hospital in Bunam together.

Luckily, the receptionist was one of her old students. She made sure that within minutes, we were sitting in an office speaking to a doctor.

The whole process in his office took no more than five minutes. He wrote me a prescription for some medication (one was to help me digest food, one was for the stomach pains, and one was an anti-spasmodic to help slow down intestinal processes), which we brought to the receptionist, and she handed us the meds from a drawer beside her desk. The total cost: $3.50.

Every country has its ups and downs. In Canada, we have free healthcare (although the wait times can drive people a little nuts), our neighbors to the south have access to the best technology (but it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg to use it), and Korea spoils its populous with cheap medication. If you really want to debate which system is best, feel free to post your opinion as a reply…

- Ken

Monday, 28 September 2009

Badminton with Andeok School

I challenge YOU.


The students at Andeok School meet every other week to let out some steam playing badminton. Stupidly enough, I had challenged some of my students to a game of badminton after hearing how good they were at the sport. I might have said a little too much about badminton and myself. Actually, all I said to the students was, “I played on the badminton team in high school,” and they all went, “Wwwaaaahhhh (the Korean version of whoa).

The gym teacher, after hearing me boast about my badminton skills from the students, casually invited me during one of my teachers’ classes to play every other week. Of course, all of the female teachers giggled when he did. Even in the teacher’s lounge, my co-teacher, Young-hee, kindly let me know, “You don’t have to do this…you really don’t have to do this.”

The week that I was supposed to face the students I had so foolishly challenged, Ken and I were so tired from the week that we weren’t able to make the practice. I didn’t expect very many consequences from skipping, but the next day, the gym teacher quietly mentioned to me from his desk that all of the students were waiting for me (they were probably waiting to pulverize me).

So, I made it my top priority to attend the death matches that were set up for me. Every single day throughout the week, I was biding my time until the students mercilessly embarrassed me.


Today, Ken and I made it to the badminton practice. There were more students on the school grounds this day, because it was their day to tie-dye all of their hundreds of washcloths (the smell of dye was atrocious…think of rotting eggs and sewage rolled into one wafting essence of garbage).

As we entered the gym, I could see only a room full of sweating male students, casually hitting the cream-coloured birdie from one end of the court to another. The gym teacher greeted me with a slight bow, and immediately gestured to the racquet box. Ken and I timidly pulled out racquets from the wire-mesh box.

Since there were only two nets set up, Ken and I had to make do with half the width of a court, playing a fiercer, but casual match of badminton. While we were smashing and sneakily dropping the birdie along the net, I eyed the Principal, who was pacing around the gym, observing his pack.

That’s when he boldly stepped into our game. He marched towards me and told me he was challenging Ken to a badminton match. As if, I thought. He’s no match for Ken…but of course I quickly remembered that he probably had about forty-five years on Ken and that he spent much of his life as a military training officer. Good luck…Ken.

The Principal effortlessly took off his suit-jacket, rolled up his ivory-white pressed sleeves, and swung his sparkling tie over his shoulder. God, he looks like he’s in shape…

He checked out the silver school racquet I had passed onto him and huffed, disapprovingly. “This will not do,” he said as he shook his head stiffly, “Give me yours,” he ordered, as he held out his hand for the gym teacher’s personal racquet. He inspected it carefully, caressing the glowing red frame and feeling the bounce of the racquet’s sweet spot. “Okay,” he said to Ken. “Let’s go.”

The two warily walked onto the court: eyes, brains and muscles on high alert. The match began.

The match was a test of brute strength and meticulous skill. Both Ken and the Principal hit the birdie with all the power they could muster, from one corner of the court to another, sometimes out of the court, sometimes in.

After half an hour or so, age started to beat out skill, as the principal began to slow down his swift swings and remained in the center of his half of the court. Ken looked tired, but I’m sure he still had another ten minutes on him. “Let’s call it a match,” the Principal said, and that was that. The match was over. Now it was my turn.

The gym teacher called me over to the court, and humbly asked, “Let us play?”

I agreed, and we played for what seemed forever. He would get me with his lightning-fast smashes, and I would combat his moves with my strategically-placed drops and swings. Within minutes there was a group of male students lining the edge of the court. One hit…Waaaahh, one drop over the net…Waaaahhhh, one smash…Waaaaaahhhhh….

Of course, they were only Wah-ing whenever I hit the birdie…and also whenever I would pick up the birdie (I only found out later from Ken that they probably had many chances to see down my shirt :().

When the match was over, Ken and I were pooped. With one tiring ‘goodbye’, we set out, back for home. I can’t wait to hear the Waaahhhs and (hopefully) applause as I enter my classroom tomorrow.

- Jess

Froggie in the House

This morning, I finished my shower and came out of the bathroom…only to see Ken standing frozen in the kitchen, with a pink dishcloth in his hand. I couldn’t decipher his looks of horror, wonder, curiosity, and confusion, so I asked, “Ken, what is it?”

He only pointed at wall across from himself – so I took a look. What I saw melted my heart. A little green frog (the most perfect frog you could ever see) was struggling to get up our living room wall, in a manner of such spirit…jumping and sticking for a moment, then falling onto its back…then jumping and sticking for a moment……then falling onto its back. How did it get into our humble abode? The frog was so cute, our concern that there was a massive hole somewhere in our house, vanished. I couldn’t help but blind the frog with twenty camera shots and follow its sporadic hopping for three minutes (for a video). A perfect little frog…desperately and hopelessly trying to escape our perfect little house.

- Jess

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sunday In-House Service

We thought we had made it clear…attending the Sunday Church Service was not going to be a part of our weekly schedule. This didn’t stop Aunt Kimchi.


Guess who came knocking on our side window this morning, yelling “Sungsaeneem (teacher)

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness…  We should’ve left the sunroom doors closed. Dang it. Why did it have to be such a perfect sunlit day outside?

Aunt Kimchi had seen us with her glimmering, innocent eyes. Sigh…we had to welcome her inside.

“Church today?” she offered.

“No, I’m sorry, we can’t. We’re both very busy…we have a lot of work to do,” I replied.

“What about at two o’clock?” she pushed.

“Umm…two o’clock isn’t a good time for us…”

“C’mon, I’m sure you have one-hour to spare…” she insisted.

I didn’t know how to say what Ken and I wanted to say (that we wouldn’t be attending any of the services). Ken and I enjoyed the beautiful church service the previous Sunday, but Ken is an atheist and I was uncomfortable being the designated translator for the sermon (especially since I only knew select words from the church vocabulary). Actually, I guess I knew exactly what to say, but if you’d looked into Aunt Kimchi’s sweet, almond-shaped eyes, it’d have been difficult for you to say, too.

I finally convinced Aunt Kimchi that we absolutely couldn’t attend any service today. She understood (in utter defeat) and went to the morning service.


(…five hours later…)


I picked up my phone.

“Heeellllooo teacher.”

“Oh, hello [Aunt Kimchi]. What can I do for you this afternoon?”

“Well, I explained to the pastor that you couldn’t make it to the services today, and he’s decided to visit your home…just to say hello.”

“Oh, I see. Ooookay (I had no choice). What time?”


“Four-thirty?” That was in half-an hour.

“Yes. I’ll be over there soon, don’t worry.”


Within ten minutes, Aunt Kimchi was at our home, inspecting our rooms, making sure that it was suitable for the pastor’s arrival.

“Good, good, it’s nice and clean,” she approved. “Now, I’ve brought some ddeok for you two, but half of it will be served for our guests.”

“Guests?” I repeated.

“Oh yes. The pastor, his wife, and a couple of elders are coming to see you.”


So we prepared some grapes, apples and apple cider for our guests, and waited…and waited…for one hour.

Finally at five-thirty, they arrived. Ken and I saw them walk into our concrete front yard…the pastor, his wife, two church elders…and then five more people. This was unexpected. Ken and I were throwing a house-warming party that we hadn’t even known about.

We warmly welcomed our guests and they sat in a circle on our wooden floor. After a small introduction from the pastor, he continued on with the service…the service??

It turns out that our visit from the church members was actually a make-up service for the ones we had missed this morning and afternoon. As the pastor and the church elders sang through the hymns in Korean, Aunt Kimchi urged us to sing too, pointing at the English translations under the Korean words. I mouthed along, but I could tell that Ken was getting uneasy. Next came the sermon, which was again, in Korean, and even though the pastor explained the same message to us that the elders had heard this morning, they listened intently. The pastor kept looking to me to translate his words, but I could barely absorb anything that he was saying. I was still trying to collect my thoughts. I knew that they were just doing what they thought was right, but this was a little too much to handle.

After an hour of staring at different spots on the floor and shifting my weight, the pastor concluded his message and we snacked on the food that was prepared beforehand. The church members were gracious that we had invited them to our home, and urged us to go visit some of their homes, just down the street. After some last final reminders to go to the church service every Sunday, they handed us house-warming gifts of candy, hand-towels, and juice. If this wasn’t peer pressure, I didn’t know what was.

We waved goodbye to Aunt Kimchi and her guests as they left our home, and were finally able to take a breath of relief.

Ken and I set our thoughts in order. They were very kind people and I’m sure that they had the best intentions for us, but it was time to set things straight. I would tell her. I would tell Aunt Kimchi all of the real reasons why we couldn’t attend the service. Gosh, if her eyes start to tear, my heart will break :(.

- Jess

The Kerosene Man

~…(bum, bum, bum, bum……)

~…Mr. Gas-man, bring me Kerosene (bum, bum, bum, bum)

~…Make me oh so warm again, so I can sleep (bum, bum, bum, bum)

~…Give me my showers back, so I can be clean (bum, bum, bum, bum)

~…Then tell me that my nights of freezing are over.

~…Gas-man, I’m oh so cold,

~…I cannot heat those pipes on my own,

~…Please Mr. Gas-man, bring me Kerosene

(**Adapted from the lyrics of ‘Mr. Sandman’)


It was a dreary, rainy, Sunday morning. I got up to take my usual shower, and some pellets of ice-cold water drenched my body. Oie, my showers were getting a little too cold for comfort…

That’s when Ken and I decided to call the Kerosene Man. For 200,000 won (that’s right, 200 dollars), we could get one canister of kerosene to provide us with 1-2 months of heat and hot water. Expensive, eh?


Traditionally in Korea, most people would slumber on an ondol – a heated stone floor. However, these days, they have pipes running underneath their home’s floors, which circulate hot water to heat the floors and rooms.

(Our spacious Korean home here in Andeok has no insulation, so it’ll be a little difficult trying to live comfortably every day in the winter :( )


So, we waited for him. It was a little difficult to explain where we were located in Myungdang-ri (even though our little village was only a 5-minute walk from one end to the other). I had to position our house relative to the Andeok School, to the main road, and to the convenience store near our house. Even then, he had some difficulty finding our house. We only found out that he had arrived when we heard the clunking of the truck engine on the street behind our house, and a bunch of confused and angry sentences being thrown back and forth from our neighbours and the Kerosene man.

I quickly took my umbrella, ran down our driveway and turned around to the street behind our house. The gray darkness created by the clouds shadows didn’t help my vision, but I saw the outline of an empty truck, still running, parked on the street. I stood near the truck for a few minutes and waited, hearing nothing but the rain dancing atop my umbrella. As I turned to head back home, I heard a man shout in Korean, “Hey, you!”

I turned around and asked, “Keerum Ajushee?” (literally, “Oil Man?”).

He nodded and I led him to our house. He nervously drove through our deathtrap for automobiles (our narrow driveway), maneuvering his truck between our rice field and jujube trees. After a minute or so, he finally made it to the front of our house without a scratch.

He brought his kerosene hose over to our tank, and started to fill it up. Ken bet that the man wouldn’t be able to reach 200,000 on the dot. I had to remind him that we were in Korea – the land of where nothing is as it seems. As the meter ran closer and closer to 200,000 won, the man let go of the hose handle, and what do you know, the meter stopped exactly at 200,000!

After we paid Kerosene Man the 200,000 won, he went into his truck, and pulled out a dozen eggs, handing them to us. “They were just laid yesterday,” he said.

Ah, the beauties of Andeok.

Thank-you, Mr. Kerosene Man, for the unexpected eggs…and your lovely Kerosene :).

- Jess

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Juwangsan National Park (Cheongsong Mountains)

I had just met Casey about a week ago and of course since then, we had made plans to go out. His friend, Leylanie, was coming to Andeok to visit him and we all decided to take a nice trip over to the ever-famous Juwangsan National Park (in the infamous Cheongsong……apples…remember?). Ken and I had never been, but we had heard all the rave from the teachers that this park was famous for its mountains and especially popular to visit for its fall scenery during the changing of the tree’s colours.

We met Casey and Leylanie in Casey’s sportin’ crimson car (yes, he bought a car for one year in Korea :)) and drove through the winding road for 35 minutes to Juwangsan National Park.

Before the entrance to the park, there was a little tourist village, enclosing tons of restaurants and food stands. They were selling dried and fresh jujubes, boocheemgae (Korean vegetable and meat pancakes), and plenty of other specialty foods. The restaurant owners kept eyeing us, calling out to us, and gesturing us to come into their restaurants. “Have lunch in my restaurant!” they’d say, already preparing our tables as we refused. Ken bought a bag of jujubes for us to snack-on (obviously he needed snacks for the hike), and we only noticed later on, that there was some fresh green mold on some of them.

We hiked on the trails in the park, viewing the many famous Juwangsan mountains (all of which had striking facial features), only making it to the three drizzling waterfalls and one of the caves (containing a mossy-rocky corridor through which Casey and Ken daringly climbed up, and disappeared…they say they built a good-fortune tower of rocks, but who knows…). The waterfalls didn’t quite compare to the Niagara Falls (probably a million times smaller in comparison…), but the scenery, greenery, and lack of safety-rails around the cliff-edges made the hike quite exciting.

As we were making our way back to the entrance, we met another Native English teacher, also enjoying the park’s trails and sounds. Apparently, there was much, much more to the park passed the three waterfalls, where the hikes would’ve been especially beautiful and fulfilling, and would’ve made us sweat after that point. Oh darn it.

Once again, we came across the vibrant, colourful strip of restaurants and food stands. As the ajummas and ajushees rushed towards us, beckoning us inside, other more strange and appealing items caught our eyes.

We almost walked past one stand, turned our heads, and noticed something that looked like a white peanut brittle (the old ajumma was smashing it to pieces with her hammer). This is Korea. Of course it wasn’t peanut brittle. The brick of what appeared to be solid white clay was in fact, a chunk of sesame-nut taffy. It was about an inch-and-a-half thick, and broke to pieces when struck with the hammer. We peered over the counter, and the teacher who had previously joined us, pointed out of curiousity at broken brick laying on the countertop. The ajumma quickly picked up the taffy and handed it to the teacher. Lesson learned. Never point to anything, just for curiousity’s sake.

Continuing on our walk back to the park’s entrance, we saw the same rice-popping-cracker-machine Ken held dear to his heart. The ajumma immediately saw that we were interested in her product (even though we weren’t) and handed us some sample rice cracker discs. As we happily enjoyed our free samples, she held out her hand to me. “Two thousand won,” she asked. Well, I guess nothing’s free. I picked out W2,000 from my wallet and handed it to her. Miscommunication. She handed me the bag of rice cracker discs that I had unintentionally purchased.

So, we walked, snacking on the massive bag of popped rice. There must’ve been only a teaspoon of rice in each cracker, and a cup of rice making up the entire bag (rice is so versatile, isn’t it?). Then, we pinpointed our lunch – not boocheemgae like everyone had recommended, but a heavenly stand full of golden double-battered corn dogs, chicken popcorn, and sugary coke-flavoured slushies. While we devoured our traditional Korean lunch (just joking), we rested our legs over a tiny dam just outside of the park.

What a great experience. Thanks to Casey, we got a chance to see what was special to our area (other than the apples), and it was definitely worth the trip, just to eat those sweet and savoury and not to mention delectable, corndogs and chicken popcorn.

- Jess

Friday, 25 September 2009

Swine Flu

*Note: This entry is based on personal experience. It’s an “Adventure Blog”, not a Wikipedia entry. As a Cell Biology Major, I can talk about the H1N1 virus all day, but for your sake, I’m leaving out all of the “boring stuff”. Yes, I do understand the dangers of a virulent strain that we don’t have immunity to (trust me when I say that my intentions are not to undermine the hazards), but if you want to find out why I’m able to sleep soundly at night, take a quick peek at some of the millions of web pages dedicated to the H1N1 virus.

Swine flu, swine flu, swine flu…

It’s nearly impossible to go through a full day without hearing a mention of it.

Every morning at Bunam Middle School, two teachers armed with masks and thermometers greet students. It’s a “swine flu checkpoint” as they call it, and if a student registers a slightly elevated temperature, they’re immediately sent back home.

Schools all across Korea are shutting down due to student infection (there are several English Teachers that I know of who have tested positive), numerous festivals and concerts have being cancelled, and air travel procedures have never been stricter.

The Asian countries are definitely professionals when it comes to infectious controls (they have quite a bit of experience with their long history of epidemics), but from what I’ve seen, some people take it more seriously than others.

Let me first point out that the Beijing Airport had the stringiest controls I’ve ever seen (papers, stamps, sanitizing stations, particle detectors, thermal cameras etc…), but since then, precautionary measures have been really hit or miss; for example, the use of gloves and masks.

On our way to Pohang, everybody at the bus stop had gloves and masks. The bus door opened, and the bus driver was also wearing gloves. Nearly 50% of all occupants on the bus had masks (all ages), and roughly 25% had gloves. In the major cities, the use of gloves and masks are much less. This is slightly counter-intuitive if you think about where the highest risk of an outbreak would be, but at least some measure of control is in place. On the outside, standards seem quite good, but the big problem lies within the fabric of the culture.

Koreans are very well known for their communal eating practices (a single main dish is served with many side dishes that everyone eats from), and this also applies to public food vendors. I’ve seen several different vendors serving food-on-a-stick (usually chicken or pressed fish) with a communal dipping bowl of soy sauce. Westerners who are grossed out by “that one double-dipper at a party” would absolutely flip if they saw this. At the Pohang central station, I watched as several strangers fished out sticks of meat from a pot of boiling water and dipped them into a communal bowl of soy sauce after every bite. One man even took off his mask to join in. After enjoying the bacterial swamp from the hundreds of people who dipped into the same bowl before him, he casually licked his fingers (as he handled the money to pay the vendor), placed his facemask back on, and walked away. This type of “double-standard” is everywhere. I find it easier to sleep if I pretend it doesn’t exist.

I’ve yet to see one person cover their mouth in a sneeze. It’s not uncommon to see someone lower his or her mask and blast the sneeze right into the air (even in a bustling bus terminal). Following the sneeze, he or she will remove their gloves, wipe their nose with the palm of their hand, and continue touching anything and everything around them as if nothing happened. On the counter next to them, a bottle of hand-sanitizer will remain untouched.

Hand-sanitizers are everywhere, but most people don’t use them. My school was sent a shipment of hand-sanitizers a few weeks ago and the bottles still have the seals on them. I guess this is why they’ve hired staff at grocery stores to stand at the entrances and squirt everyone’s hands as they enter. If someone doesn’t force the sanitation, it won’t be done. I’m not saying Korea is dirty by any means (it’s obvious everywhere you look how much time and money goes into the upkeep of this beautiful country), but some people still abide by the “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” philosophy.

On the surface, it seems like the population is quite infectious control savvy, but there are some things that you just can’t change about a culture… even with the threat of a super-bug.

- Ken

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Ken and His Korean Snackies

(Ken – right before we’re going to watch a movie…)

“I eat so healthy, morning, lunch and dinner, so I’m entitled to eat #@*%ing snackies!”

We ate a family pack of snacks that night.

- Jess

David, Are You Out There?

The Gucheon bus pulled up five minutes early today. I got on (it was completely empty as usual), sat down, and waited. I looked up, and the bus driver was staring at me in his rear-view mirror with a huge smile on his face. I probably should’ve been a little creeped out, but I was too tired to care so I resumed by gaze out the window at the empty bus stop. Out of nowhere, he jumped to his feet, sprung over to my seat (ok, now I was creeped out) and began stammering broken English, “YOU! English teacher? Yes? English. Um. Korean. No. Um. DAVID! YES DAVID! You know?”

I assumed he had met another English teacher named David, so I told him that I didn’t know any David’s in our area.

He continued, “David. Yes! David. Me. David. SOJU! Juwangsan. Me. David. You. Uh. David. Me. Soju YES???”

“Yes, yes, me, you, David, soju, Mount Juwangsan” I replied.

He laughed, nodded repeatedly, and returned to his seat.

We drove off towards Gucheon together, and every 30 seconds or so he’d burst into laughter and say, “Yes! Oh, um. Friend? David! Yes. You! Juwangsan! Hahahahahaha! Soju yes? Hahahahahaha! You very handsome!” 

David, if you’re out there somewhere, apparently you had some soju with a guy at Mount Juwangsan and he really wants us to go out and drink together.

Call me.

- Ken

Stranded in the Mountains

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Today, I got on the wrong bus.

How did this happen? I blame the old ladies at the bus stop.

As with every Wednesday and Friday morning, my transfer at the Bunam bus station began in the exact same way. I got off the bus from Andeok, thanked the bus driver as I handed him my ticket, walked to the ticket booth, wished the friendly ticket lady a good morning, wished the store clerk next door a good morning, sat down my laptop case on the bench, and spent the next fifteen minutes pacing around. Most of the time, my conversations are very limited. A simple “hello” to the kids walking by just makes them stare, giggle, wave, and run away. But sometimes I’ll be approached by curious locals who rapid-fire Korean questions at me in the odd chance that I could understand. By now I’ve realized that the questions are almost always the same, so I have a fairly good set of responses for them (in Korean of course):

“Canada. Andeok. English teacher. Bunam Middle School and Gucheon Middle School. Yes. Yes. Sorry, my Korean is not very good. Ok. Thank you. Nice to meet you. Goodbye!”

90% of the time, this will result in a polite bow and a huge smile.

My understanding of Korean has tripled since I’ve been here, but if I let on that I understand (at least partially) what they’re saying, I’ve opened the floodgates of conversation. I do love practicing my Korean, but at 8:20 in the morning my computer hasn’t fully booted up yet.

Typically, the old ladies who “hang out” at or near the bus stop will say a small greeting and then continue to chat amongst themselves. But for some unknown reason, they swarmed me this morning. I don’t know if it was the colour of my shirt, the alignment of the planets, or if they just had too many cups of coffee with breakfast, but they wouldn’t let up with the rapid-fire Korean. They had every tactical advantage over me. I was outnumbered, outflanked, and hugely outgunned (I didn’t even have my phrasebook with me). I desperately tried to explain that I didn’t understand what they were saying, but they ignored me.

A bus pulled up, so I immediately said my goodbyes and got on.

I pulled out my phone, busied myself with deleting spam messages (yes, in Korea there are tones of spam texts), when out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar building: Bunam Middle School. Today, I was supposed to be heading to Gucheon Middle School.

Ah crap.

By the time I stood up and walked to the front of the bus, we were already ascending into the mountains (going back towards Andeok). I tried to explain to the bus driver that I had gotten on the wrong bus, but he just kept staring straight ahead. I pulled out my ticket to Gucheon, handed it to him, and he immediately applied the breaks. He turned to face me, blasted me in Korean, and opened the door. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding. We’re in the mountains, and you want me to walk?”

I didn’t have a choice.

I got off the bus and pulled out my cellphone to call Mrs. Jeon. I didn’t have a signal. It was going to be a long morning…

Luckily, barely five minutes into my walk, a car honked and pulled over. The window opened and I saw the friendly face of one of the Bunam administrators. She beckoned me to jump in, and I happily obliged.

The entire trip back to the bus station was spent explaining to her how I got there. The conversation went a little something like this:

Administrator: “Why you are walking from Andeok?”

Me: “I wasn’t. I got on the wrong bus and the bus driver left me in the mountains.”

Administrator: “You must be tired yes?”

Me: “No. I only walked 5 minutes.”

Administrator: … Confused look on her face …. “Andeok is very far.”

Me: “I didn’t walk from Andeok. I got on the wrong bus at Bunam.”

Administrator: “Why you no take bus?”

Me (realizing I had to simplify the situation, I lowered my English level, mimed out the scenerio, and added extra long pauses): “Today…Bus Andeok to Bunam…Good… Bunam station…Bus Bunam to Andeok…Bad…Bus driver open door…I walk.”

Administrator (nodding her head in understanding): “Ahhhh yes. But why you are walking from Andeok?”


You can’t say I didn’t try.

- Ken

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sprained Ankle

Yesterday, I was in the bedroom, changing my clothes, when Ken came home. I immediately jumped up from the bed to see him and tripped on one of my pant legs. (Remember the “Spaghetti Incident...Yes, I am that clumsy). I was so excited to see him, that the energy from my fall was enough to sprain my ankle. When I told Ken what had happened, he just laughed. I guess that spurred my ‘I’ll show you!’ attitude. Overcoming the pain, I decided to continue with my evening duties…writing blogs, updating my computer, and cleaning.


The next day, I realized that the pain had gotten worse. I could slowly hobble around the house, but teaching that day would be excruciating. I would have to walk at a snail-pace to get ANYWHERE at all. As I was leaving the house and walking down the driveway, I bowed to the people passing-by, one of whom, was this old ajumma. She had many questions for me and was too stubborn to listen to me say in Korean, “I really need to catch the bus to get to Hyeonseo School.”

She responded, “But the school is just around your house. You don’t need to walk this way.” Of course, she was referring to Andeok School.

Luckily, for the five minutes I had to talk to her, I had a little relief, because she was walking at a turtle-pace while pushing an empty shopping cart. She asked more questions… “Are you living alone? You shouldn’t live alone.”

“No, I’m living with my nam-pyun (Ken).”

“You shouldn’t live alone.”

Geez…. I kept on saying, “I’m sorry, but I really need to go catch the bus.”

She finally let me go, and I had to run – yes run – on my sprained ankle. It’s funny, because I saw the bus slowly cross the end of the street (which made me run faster), and I waved my arms frantically, hoping the driver would see me in the mirror. He did (whew!), waited for me, and I boarded the bus.

I hobbled to Hyeonseo school which took me 3 times as long as usual, but thanks to my Korean blood, I made it. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger…am I right?

Oh dear.

- Jess

Monday, 21 September 2009

Welcoming Dinner from Bunam Middle School

It was 5:30PM, my last class had just ended, and I was preparing to go home.

On most days, Mrs. Jeon packs up, comes over to my desk, waits for me to pack, then drives me to the bus station. But today, she walked over to my desk and promptly advised me that we were going to a restaurant for my “welcoming party.” So much for advanced notice…

I called Jess to let her know that I wasn’t coming home for dinner and to invite her to join us (all of the teachers were begging me to persuade her to come). She said yes, and 30 minutes later showed up at the school ready for show-and-tell (she was the main event of the night).

There were two main differences between my first welcoming dinner (with Gucheon Middle School teachers) and this one:

First: I knew what to expect. This dinner was no less of an escapade than the last one, but this time I was mentally prepared.

Second: I had a side-kick. Actually, let me re-phrase that. Jess was the focus of conversation, and I was the side-kick. This allowed me to focus more on eating, drinking, and the occasional conversation. Jess, thank you thank you thank you!

The night went extremely well with lots of drinks, laughter, and of course, copious amounts of flirting (directed mostly at Jess, but I did get a few side remarks from some of the male teachers).

Once all of the bottles were empty, we said our good-byes and caught the last bus from Bunam station towards home.

Back in Andeok, we walked over to the ticket counter to buy bus tickets for the week. We looked through the window and saw the salesman and his family sitting in a circle on the living room floor eating dinner (we felt really bad for interrupting them). They talked with us for a few minutes (mostly about where we were from and why we were in Andeok) before handing us our bus tickets and a bag of… Yup, you guessed it… Apples.

- Ken

Friday, 18 September 2009

The OTHER Andeok English Teacher

Ever since the first week I started teaching, I’ve been asked the same question, time and time again by all of my Andeok co-workers. “Have you seen Casey?”

“Casey?” I would always question.

“Yes, Casey.” They would answer back. “He teachers over at Andeok Elementary School.”

I didn’t even know that Andeok had an elementary school. So after hearing the startling news that there was more to see in Andeok, Ken and I took a walk through the 50-meter vicinity of Myungdang-ri that we hadn’t yet explored. Much to our surprise, just east of our home stood Andeok Elementary, identical to the appearance of the Middle and High School.

You know how in movies, you commonly see two people just missing each other on the street – that’s how I felt about Casey.

Many of the Andeok teachers had apparently seen him walking around, and were very surprised that I hadn’t seen him once. I was surprised too. But then it happened.

I went to the post office to deliver a letter. It seemed like another simple, beautiful day. I was walking back home…and then I saw him. A Westerner! He was casually walking out of the local convenience store, happily eating an ice cream. I knew that there were only a few possibilities as to who he was. I headed straight for him. I walked faster and faster, not wanting to miss him. I was so close…just ten meters ahead of him…

…and then he veered diagonally off-course, across the street. Duh. Of course. I must’ve looked like just another Korean…probably a little bit like a stalker too.

I shouted, “Casey? From Andeok Elementary?”

He looked confused. “Yes?”

I explained to him that I was the new English teacher over at Andeok Middle and High School, and he immediately said, “Oh, I heard about you..”

As we caught up on our experiences in Andeok, I learned that Casey had been in Andeok for seven months up until this moment. The past Native English teacher had moved on from our cozy little haven, to a more populated area. As we were talking, one of Casey’s students – just the cutest little girl (set up in high pigtails, with chubby cheeks and a look of deep curiosity) – rode up in her bicycle and asked me, “Ajumma (I don’t think I’m that old), why are you talking to the English teacher?”

My reply, “Because I’m an English teacher, too.” just made her tilt her head.

So there it was. After three long weeks of complete curiosity and no action, I met Casey at one of the most random moments in time. That’s what Andeok is all about – waiting for (intentionally, of course) and appreciating those random moments.

- Jess

The Spaghetti Incident

I had about fifteen seconds to gather all of my energy and stand up on my feet. I could see the bus rolling to a stop ahead of me, and I knew that it would cruise by me if I didn’t wave it down. Hopefully the driver would have enough sense not to steamroll over me.

Here’s how it all happened.

After finishing up my classes in Hyeonseo, I decided to go to the only convenience store within thirty minutes of the area that sold more than rice, chili pepper paste, and sesame oil. I had a good thirty-five minutes until the bus arrived, so I thought time was on my side.

Never mind the time I took to verbally tease this absolutely cutesy dog, or the time I spent talking with the woman who was unfathomably curious about me.

At the convenience store (called a ma-teu or mart), I scanned the aisles for something out of the ordinary. Jajangmyun, Korean curry, red chili pepper paste… and then I saw it. Gloriously stacked on the bottom of one of the shelves was a row of thick, velvety, spaghetti sauce.

I grabbed it right away and was en route towards the cash register, snatching up vegetables along the way. I couldn’t wait to show Ken. It’d been a while since we had had anything other than Korean food. I glanced at my watch – one minute. Oh my gosh, I had been so excited about the spaghetti sauce that I forgot about the time. I ended up running out of the store in the direction of the bus stop.

It was a beautiful day outside, and yet, I didn’t have enough grace to keep myself from tripping over my feet. Half-inch heels…that’s all it took…and some uneven pavement. I dove chest first into the ground, skidding on my knees, and finally bracing myself with my hands. It was quite I sight (I think). I painfully rolled over onto my back and rested on the dusty, left-hand side of the street. The sun burned my eyes, and I tried to cover them. At once, I smelled the stimulating odours of pepper, herbs, garlic and onion. The glass bottle containing the rich sauce had smashed against the ground, torn through the fragile black grocery bag, and left me dressed in much more than my normal school attire. I could feel a burning sensation on my hands, but also my knees. I looked down to see that the rough pavement had shredded my pants, my knees, and had doused them in the pungent, garlicy sauce.

It looked like I was bleeding out bits of garlic and onion. The thick sauce smelled strongly of the two, and it was all over me, in my cuts, my shredded pants, and all over the street.

Everyone stared for a good long minute. My incident was probably the highlight of their day, so they decided to take a mental video - no one helped.


I lifted my chin. Still laying, stupefied and helpless on my back, I saw the front of the bus. It was coming my way, and getting clearer and clearer within my sight. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no…

I didn’t want to have to wait another hour looking like I had been ransacked and smelling like decomposing tomatoes, so I called-up my Korean super strength and slowly got up. I limped towards the bus and waved my arms (slowly) up and down in an attempt to catch the eye of the bus driver. I must’ve looked like a deranged bird, with my frizzled hair, torn book bag, and bleeding grocery bag. He pulled up to where I was on the road, and merely stared at me for a few seconds. Then, he asked, “You okay?”

I huffed, and sighed, “Yes…” I was just relieved to have caught the bus. I sat down in the farthest seat back as possible (to be courteous to other passengers), and started to wipe myself off with my small packet of white Kleenexes.

Ah well… It’s just another day living in Korea…

- Jess

Bus Tickets and Gifts

For the first couple of weeks, my co-teachers were really helpful with the purchasing of bus tickets. They even showed me where to stand, occasionally waited with me until the bus arrived, and showed me how to read the directional city names displayed on front of the buses. But lately, I’ve insisted that they don’t wait with me (they are incredibly busy), and that they let me buy my own tickets.

Today, I walked over to the ticket counter, alone, and asked for 10 tickets to Andeok. The lady smiled at me, nodded in understanding, and began counting them out. I then asked how much it was, and before she could write it down, I pulled out my wallet and handed her the exact change. She just stared at me, smiled even wider, and beckoned me to sit down on the bench and wait. She disappeared into the ticket building (which I assume is her house), and returned a few minutes later with a bag. Before I could say anything, she opened it up and placed it on my lap. It was filled to the top with apples and yams. I thanked her repeatedly, boarded the bus, and brought the fruits of my labour home.

- Ken

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Our Banana Bread Escapade

NO OVEN IN OUR HOUSE??? The news was so horrendous…that I almost headed straight back to Canada


Of course, being the avid baker that I am, I thought that having no oven here in Korea was going to undo me – seriously finish me. In our beloved little region (by that I mean a district with a radius of a 30-minute bus ride), there wasn’t even one bakery where I could even purchase any precious buns of sweet bread, cheese croissants, or palatable baked goods. I couldn’t imagine not being able to bake my delectable raspberry coffee cheesecake, perfect Anna Olson chocolate chip cookies, or three-tier Swiss chocolate-drenched fudge cake.

Obviously, Ken came to my rescue. He was able to find me a release using a recipe that we could bake in the microwave…and so our banana bread frenzy began.

For all of our schools, we were able to bake the most perfect banana bread you could ever imagine. We quickly produced five rich, fragrant caramel-coloured loaves – one for each of our cherished schools (our kitchen had the most delicious, ambrosial smell). What a hit. Every teacher from each of our schools gave us looks of awe (they had never heard of baking in the microwave!), and we were swamped with questions about the recipe for our savoury golden piece of heaven. Thank-goodness we had baked more than five loaves in the span of a week!

Our famous banana bread is now our gift of choice. We have already given some to our friendly bus ticket salesman and our landlord… we should probably make some for the convenience store owners (who helped Ken with the baking powder incident), the local bank employees (who helped us with a ridiculous situation lasting an hour and a half), and every single person who has ever given us apples.... Actually, I don’t think I will ever have the stamina to bake that many loaves.

I’m lying of course. I do have the energy. As I said, I’m a baker. But I’m not to be blamed if half of what I bake somehow ends up in my satiated belly.

- Jess

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Kuncussion Kid

My walks home from the bus stop never cease to amuse me.

Today, I almost killed a kid.

I was walking down the main street towards home when I spotted a kid on a bike speeding towards me. When he was about twenty feet away, I gave him a quick bow and a “hello!” His eyes immediately sprung open wide, and he violently shot his head down with an unnecessarily powerful bow. He smashed his forehead on the little bell between his handlebars, producing an odd yet somewhat amusing synchronized “WAAAABAM” and “DING” sound. He swerved violently left and right in series of fiercely uncontrolled movements, and jetted towards the open doorway of a shop. At the last second, he swerved back onto the road, and with tears in his eyes, sped past me. I turned to watch him bike away, and he yelled out, “I’m fine thank you and you!”

That’s the last time I’ll ever bow to a kid on a bike.

- Ken

Mystery English Teacher at Gucheon Elementary School

I’m not alone in this town!

My co-teacher told me today that another English teacher teaches at the elementary school next to my middle school on Tuesdays and Thursdays (I teach on Wednesdays and Fridays). In a remote area such as this, news of another foreigner is HUGE! I have no idea who he/she is, but I think I’m going to sneak over to the English room in the elementary school to leave a note on his/her desk…

- Ken

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday Service

It was a magnificent Sunday morning. The sun’s rays were beaming through our frosted windows, welcoming us to another day in Andeok. Ken and I planned this exquisite day to do our daily chores: laundry, vacuuming, and planning our lessons for the coming week.

Ken was talking with his family on Skype and I was typing my lesson plans, when I heard him yelp. Aunt Kimchi, our captivating landlord, was staring right at us, through our sun room’s glass windows. She had a bright smile on her face and waved me over to the front door of our house. I put on an equally cheery smile and walked outside.

She asked the usual questions, “How are you? Have you had breakfast? Are there any problems with the house? What are you doing today?"

Our landlord thought that we would be bored - staying in the house all day, with nothing to do. Even though I tried to explain to her, many times, that we had plenty to do, that this day was reserved for our many chores, she wouldn’t listen.

“Come to the church. There are many people who want to meet you English teachers.”

“Oh, I see.” I replied, dryly. I could see a problem slowly emerging… I tried to clarify again, “I’m sorry, but we’ve reserved this day for our chores. We have much work to do on our computers, and this is the prime time to talk with both our families.”

“Oh, you mean on the phone? Internet chatting?” she questioned.

“Not really… It’s more than that.” I tried to make things clear. “We don’t get to speak with our families very often, and this is the best time for everyone to get in touch.”

“But if you’re phoning your families, it must only take about fifteen minutes to talk to them,” said Aunt Kimchi.

For ten minutes, I tried to explain the situation to her, but when it finally came down to it, she beat me with, “The entire community is going to be at the service, and I told them that you were coming today. They’ll be sooo disappointed if you don’t go. I’ll wait for you. The service starts at 11:00am.” I checked the time. It was 10:00am.

If the entire town was going to be there, I figured that both Ken and I had to go. I feared that if we refused, we would be shunned for one year by everyone we had just met in the past couple of weeks.

So, I walked back into the house, and gravely looked at Ken.

“We’re going to church,” I stated.

“Oh no we’re not,” he protested.

“The entire town is going to be there, and they’re waiting for us. Aunt Kimchi already told them that we going. I can’t do anything about that.”

So for forty-five hectic minutes, Ken and I took our showers, quickly ate, and prepared ourselves for the unknown.

At 10:50am, Aunt Kimchi came knocking on our door and led us to her church (which was across our rice field). We immediately caught the attention of everyone outside the distinctly marked building. We were presented to the pastor outside of the church, and were then shuffled inside.

Other than the group of singers standing at the front of the white curtain-laden hall, we could see no one else even remotely close to our age. It was as if every member of the retirement home had decided to change venues for the day.

The entire eleven o’clock service was in Korean, but I couldn’t understand it. I managed to translate some words for Ken, but I was pretty much as lost in translation as he was. For an hour and a half, we sat through the service, looking around at the Korean Bibles before us, the retired community spread out around us, and at the streams of sun, peering through the cracks between the curtains. There was even a photographer who was taking photos of us randomly throughout the entire service. Towards the end, the pastor called out our names (the first bit of the service we had understood) and told us he would buy us Bibles and English hymn books for the next week. It looked like we were suddenly being committed to attend every Sunday.

After the announcements were over, Aunt Kimchi led us to the small room connected to the church. There, we ate lunch – kalgooksoo (noodles in broth) and kimchi – and were greeted by a young couple who knew a little English. For half an hour, we made conversation and ate our appetizing meal.

As soon as we finished, we were brought outside by Aunt Kimchi. We were saying our goodbyes, when she replied, “So, we’ll see you again at 2:00pm?” I almost jumped back, startled.

“T-two?” I stuttered.

“Oh yes,” she said happily. “The service continues at two o’clock.”

I looked at Ken and we both wearily sighed (in our heads).

“Take a break,” she added. “Go home, rest, and come back.”

Ken and I both knew that if we weren’t there at 2:00pm, she would come and fetch us. So, we “rested” for an hour, and walked, jaded, back to the church.

The hour service mirrored the first one, with Ken and I sitting like mannequin being displayed in the church hall. After the service completed, we exited the building, and were held back by the photographer. Aunt Kimchi joyfully said, “They want to take your photos – portraits.” So we took glamour shots with each other, individually, and with Aunt Kimchi.

We once again, said our goodbyes, but the day-long event wasn’t over. Aunt Kimchi invited us back to her temporary home, which was next to the apple farm she owned. Once we were there, she treated us to apples and apple cider, and she and I had the best Korean conversation I had had since I arrived in Andeok. She said that I reminded her of her daughter in Daegu, and that we were to become very close, her and I…

As Ken and I were about to leave, Aunt Kimchi held us back for a few minutes. She stocked us with her very own kimchi, seaweed, fifty packets of apple cider, and Andeok rice (which might have come from a nearby rice field!).

After a day-long series of tiring events, Ken and I were pooped. We walked outside and for a brief moment, enjoyed the sunset enveloping the apple orchards with its crimson-yellow glow. Before we reached the road, Aunt Kimchi called out to us, “See you next Sunday!”

Oh boy.

- Jess

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Andeok (Home Sweet Home)

Everyday Living in Andeok



Good morning, sweet Andeok. Your shrill rooster crows and deafening tractor drive-bys are the perfect combination to wake us up at six o’clock in the morning. Who needs ten shots of impeccable, soothing Maxim coffee, when we can get an equivalent rush from your rural wake-up call?

Myungdang-ri, Andeok, really is a fascinating and beautiful place. The quiet, serene environment is really what allows me to listen to the crickets singing in the sheer ebony blanket of the night. The vast openness of the blushing apple orchards and feathery

rice fields allow me to smell the seasonal deliveries of juicy, sugary perfumes and sweet starches. Just as gratifying, if not more, I am lulled to a satisfying slumber by the wind caressing the date trees and sesame leaves in front of the house.

Where else can I cross the distance of a town, in the span of four minutes? Where else can I find a local marketplace, bustling with four times the town’s usual population? Where else can I recognize every charming individual, every single day? In Myungdang-ri, Ken and I are treated like immediate family, and it’s more than we could ever ask for.

I can usually spot some of my cheeky, blushing students from Andeok School, waiving frantically from inside the convenience store as I walk past. I can strike up a Konglish (a mix of Korean and English) conversation with some of my bubbling students, as I wait for the Hyenseo or Hyendong bus to arrive or depart from Andeok. I can see groups of my students, walking through the streets late at night – their young, hyper voices echoing through the empty streets.

The closeness I feel with everyone around me and the comfort and safety I feel as I saunter through the dimly lit streets, leaves me wishing for nothing more, than to bask in Andeok’s comfortable ambiance, for three-hundred and fifty-two more satisfying days.

- Jess

Friday, 11 September 2009

Baking Powdah Kids

I was walking home from the bus stop, and I spotted a group of kids in the distance. As I approached, they slowed down, grabbed onto each others arms, and began giggling. I turned to face them, gave a little bow, and said, “Hello!” That just about killed them. They erupted in laughter, and a few of them broke away from the pack to hide behind a wall. The brave one in the front returned the bow, and said, “Hello! Hi you baking powdah!” I immediately recognized her as the one who ran from one store to the next in search of my baking powder. I laughed, waved, and they ran off screaming, “Hi baking powdah!!!”

I guess I just earned myself a new name.

Well, it could be worse. I could’ve been searching for yeast…

- Ken

The Chicken Man and His Canine Companion

“Jess. Jess!” You’ve got to come with me, right now!

I thought, “Whatever Ken’s experiencing it has got to be important.” Ken took my hand and we sped-walked out of our home, down the side street, towards the downtown area.

“Jess, I need you to translate something for me.”

“Okay…what is it?”

As we turned the corner of the street, there it was. About sixty boggled eyes were staring at both Ken and I. Their sixty feet were grasping onto the thin metal bars of their deteriorating cages.


“Yes, Jess. Chickens. Can you please ask the man what he is doing with them.”

I sighed. There was a man standing on the back of his truck, with a large carving knife, cleaning off the tainted lily-white feathers of a lifeless chicken. I asked the man, curiously, “Sir, excuse me. Are you selling those chickens?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied in Korean. “I drive from town to town, selling them. I kill, clean, and cut them. Then you buy. Three for ten-thousand won ($10).”

“Ten thousand won?” I was surprised. What a bargain (something to look forward to for supper).

As Ken and I were about to leave, something caught our attention. In one of the rust-ridden cages was one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen. His perfect fluffy head was beautiful amidst the backdrop of the sporadic head movements of the chickens. His spotless curly-haired coat was gleaming against the dirt-stained feathers of the clucking birds. He was so happy to see both Ken and I, and he pressed his button-black nose and stuffed-animal like paw against his confines.

I had to ask the man, “Sir…are you selling that dog for eeeeating purposes?” I almost choked on those words. I had mental images going through my mind of the dog…the butcher’s knife…ugh.

“Of course not,” he replied, laughing. Don’t worry, I’m selling it as a pet. A pet. Oh you Westerners.”

Relieved, Ken and I dollied back to the side of the truck.

“Bye bye, doggie. Oh, you’re too cute!” I couldn’t help but almost put my finger between those cage bars. Ken instinctively took my hand. “Oh alright. Bye, dog.”

And chickens? Don’t go anywhere. I’ll see you soon…very soon (muah ha ha).

- Jess

Everybody Poops...

*Warning: The following entry may be disturbing to some people.

Just remember: everybody poops. The only difference is that in some countries it’s a little trickier to accomplish.

Where should I begin for this entry? Once upon a time… It was a bright and beautiful day… There once was a man from Canada…

I’ll just lay it all out for you, sparing the unnecessary graphic details.

My routine is usually like clockwork. No unexpected surprises, no worries. But for about a month now I’ve had some pretty bad stomach aches, and my schedule has been slightly off. I was told that the dramatic diet change could induce stomach aches for up to a month, so I stocked up on meds and tried my best to limit diet extremes (such as a full meal of insanely spicy food, things that are still wiggling, and anything called a “Korean delicacy”). Up until today, I’ve been able to save my bathroom sessions for when I am safely at home.

Time: 11:00AM

Status: Urgent.

I opened my laptop case and pulled out a pack of bathroom tissues (bathrooms in Korea rarely have any available, so they must be carried with you at all times). I walked to the bathroom, opened the stall, and to my horror found an oval shaped porcelain hole in the floor. At first I stood and stared at it, thinking that it kind of looked like a western toilet that a steam roller had run over. But my amusement didn’t last long. I had to go. Now. But the important question was: how?

This may seem like a pretty stupid question, but it really didn’t have an obvious answer. They didn’t have diagrams on the walls, I’m pretty sure the details weren’t given in any Lonely Planet books, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to go and ask one of the teachers. I was on my own for this one.

First problem: Which way do you face? The squatter is a symmetrical oval shape on the floor with a little “lip” on one side. I assumed (correctly) that I had to face the lip.

Second problem: How the hell are you supposed to squat properly? In reality, everyone should be able to squat, but doing it properly is something entirely different. Go ahead and try it at home. Take off your pants, squat, and observe where everything would naturally go. I guarantee you, 98% of it would hit material that you wouldn’t want it to hit. I solved this problem by using my left hand to pull everything forward to clear the way.

Third Problem: How the hell do you balance? I tried leaning forward (which was the correct thing to do), but without side railings, this balancing act seemed nearly impossible. And I knew no matter what, falling wasn’t an option…

Fourth Problem: Anxiety. I never anticipated this one, but the squatter doors are all open at the bottom. This means that anyone and everyone who walks by can see you doing your business. In some countries, there are no doors at all (everyone “squats n’ talks” to the people around them), so I was at least grateful for the limited privacy.

Fifth Problem: Wiping. I won’t go into any details on this one, but I’m sure you can imagine the difficulties I went through. One thing I will mention is that in Korea, toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet. You wipe, fold, and then drop into the garbage. I later found out that on a daily basis, a little kid (I don’t know how he/she is chosen) goes into the bathroom with huge gloves and salad tongs to empty the bins into a single garbage bag. It’s not exactly the most prestigious job in the school, but someone has to do it…

Sixth Problem: Leg lock. The squatting position was painful and hugely uncomfortable for my legs, but once I was down, the problem quickly changed to how to get back up. Try squatting for a few minutes until the muscles in your legs relax, then try and get back up without using your hands or moving your feet (you have a giant hole on the ground, so movement is limited). It’s not an easy task.

Well, I went home that day feeling great about myself. I had conquered the squatter.

- Ken

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Welcoming Dinner with Andeok Teachers

You and I are partners. No, no. Closer. We are companions?


I had just arrived back to Andeok on the bus from Hyeonseo School, and I had mentally prepared myself for what was about to come.

The Andeok teachers had prepared a welcoming party for me and the new principal of the school (principals have to change schools every few years and usually don’t have a choice in the matter), and as Young-hee (my Andeok co-teacher) put it bluntly, “There will be a lot of soju involved…for you.”

With those words, I waited. I sat outside in the courtyard of the school, admiring the flourishing green canopy above me, and striking up conversations about the latest breaking news in Andeok.

Ten minutes later, Young-hee briskly walked out of the school’s glass doors and motioned me to follow after her.

“Ready?” She called back.

“Uh…huh…” I shakily replied.

We drove about thirty seconds (the restaurant was in Andeok) and we were there. Stepping onto the familiar wood-patterned mat, glued to the ground, both Young-hee and I entered the largest room, and greeted the teachers who had already arrived. On the left side of the room, I saw him. Normally, I saw and respected the principal like a retired military training officer (which he actually was), but there he was, on my left, sitting as humbly as any monk would. His perfect, impeccably-pressed suit was exchanged for a windbreaker and casual pants.

Young-hee and I were about to sit down with the rest of the ladies, when we heard the principal speak (in Korean, of course).

“Na teacher. Have her sit beside me,” requested the principal.

I had no choice but to sit beside the Alpha One. I actually had no problem doing it, but as I meekly sat down, I could see all of the female teachers’ eyes on me.

Young-hee sat down beside me. “I’m not letting you go through this alone,” she said.

I nodded. I really didn’t have a problem with what should have been a terrifying experience (according to the female teachers).

So, the evening began. The rainbow of side dishes came out first, along with many, many bottles of soju and beer…(I wish I had had more to eat for lunch). As soon as I put the first piece of mushroom in my mouth, a shot glass slowly inched its way towards me. The principal looked at me with eyes that belonged to a newfound friend, and he merrily said, “You and I are partners. No, no. Closer. We are companions? You. Me. New. We have connection.”

“Yes. Yes we do,” I said with a smile. Now I was best friends with the principal. He slowly poured me the colourless liquid of death, while I graciously accepted with two hands on my glass. I wanted to slowly sip on my drink (like most ladies do), so I put it down on the crowded table and picked up the green bottle of soju to pour him a shot as well. He grabbed it from me.

“No, no, no.” he said. “You have to finish your soju first. Then, pour me a drink in the same shot glass,” he instructed.


So I embraced all of the drinking skills I had learned in Montreal, opened my gullet, and tried not to choke. I managed to smile as the soju was burning its way down my throat. I took the soju bottle, poured my companion a drink, and we were about three shots in (each), when the samgyeopsal (Korean bacon) arrived. It was at that time, I got chummy with the vice principal and other male teachers. They joked first about me being a gyopo (second generation Korean-Westerner), and then made it their mission to raise enough money to visit Canada in ten years.

As the evening went on, I managed to eat as much as I could to soak up all of the soju I was receiving from the teachers (about a half a shot per teacher). They were thoroughly impressed with how much soju I could drink, so they made it a competition to get me as wasted as I could possibly get. There were about twenty teachers and five admin, so I had well over a bottle and a half of soju that evening. As soon as we had emptied every side dish, rice bowl and barbecue pan (for the samgyeopsal), everyone decided to call it a night. Good thing too. My vision was blurry, my depth perception was off, but I managed to stay composed enough to receive ‘wows’ and ‘nice one!’ from my co-workers as we walked out of the restaurant.

I was about to head home, when the young female Andeok teachers called me over to their circle. They were about to walk to the mart to get some ice cream and wanted me to come with them. In their buzzed state, they reminded me of schoolgirls, gossiping to one another, fussing over which ice cream they should get. I loved it. What a fresh new atmosphere from the formal ambiance of the busy workplace.

With our ice creams, we sauntered toward the direction of my home and the teachers’ dorm. Giggling and discussing some serious and girly topics, they asked me my opinion on everything girly they could think of – from Ken to issues facing Korean women today.

Completely satisfied, we reached our separating streets, exchanged hugs, said our goodbyes, and retreated for the night, ready to take on the next day at Andeok Middle and High School.

- Jess

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Our Landlord, the Apples, and the Ant Highway…

It was like telepathy. We stared at the woman sitting across from us, the ajumma with blinking eyes and a bright smile


Ken and I were both happily eating our supper last evening, when we heard a knock at our door. We both suspected that we were being too noisy. We didn’t think any of the Myungdang-ri residents were awake at this hour (7:30pm), but we thought that the sound from our movie (playing from our wee USB speakers) drifted across our rice field into some of the neighbouring houses.

So I prepared myself. As I was walking towards the front door, I rehearsed my speech. I’m sorry, we’re new here. We’ll keep it down. Do you want an apple?

I opened the door. Standing outside in the lamplight was an old ajumma, smiling with such intent. Beside her – a very handsome Korean man, towering over six feet tall, with a kind of shyness about him. Before I could even say, “An nyoung hasaeyo” the ajumma stepped into our home, with her male companion, slowly creeping in behind her.

As I offered her a chair, still confused, she shook her head, helped herself to our floor, and invited us to join her. I sharply turned my head to look at Ken and mouthed shirt. He was still in shock, sitting at our dining table (half-naked), with the movie still playing, and his food getting cold in front of him. He cleverly stood up, and with cunning movement, slid his arms into his shirt sleeves and buttoned up while sitting down.

For many, many excruciatingly awkward seconds, no one said anything. The ajumma merely smiled and turned her head back and forth, between me and Ken.

After about a minute of stillness and noiselessness, the ajumma finally broke the silence – with rapid-fire Korean. Her Gyeongsangbuk-do Korean dialect was throwing me off, so I really couldn’t decipher what message she was trying to tell us. Glancing over at Ken, his eyes told me everything – Oh God, what in the world is happening…you’ve got to tell me something…anything.

Something switched on in my brain. Immediately, all of my inhibitions went away and 23 years of learning Korean passively came to the surface. I started speaking Korean the way I had learned it, and it worked. I started to tell her our story, where we were from, when we arrived in Andeok, what schools we were teaching in… She understood perfectly.

I found out that the man sitting next to her was her son (in his late twenties and unmarried, she told me) and that the two of them were apple farmers. She had decided to move-in with her son for one year to allow the new English teachers to have a home in Andeok (isn’t she so sweet?). The house in which Ken and I were living was actually the house that her son had bought for her – meaning that she was our LANDLORD. What a great first impression we had made.

Remember I mentioned that they were apple farmers? I hadn’t even noticed the vibrant yellow basket behind our landlord, but it immediately caught my attention as soon as pushed it towards me. Oh goodness – a full bushel of apples. It looked like there were about forty-five apples from what I could count…and they were all ours – both Ken and mine. She informed us that they had to be refrigerated. We didn’t know if we had enough room in the fridge to fit even three-quarters of the apples. So, we told her that we would do it after she left. She also gave us a bag of apple cider packets. The freshly pressed juice in each of them was pleasantly warming my hands.

Our landlord let herself up from her wooden seat and decided to see what we had changed in her house. She laughed as she commented, “You haven’t done a thing to it. Why? You don’t have enough space?” (as her voice echoed in our living room). As she double-checked our boiler, gas stove, washroom and kitchen, she asked, “Do you have any problems or questions for me?” (We decided to momentarily forget about the switch we found for the blue orgy living room lights). As we shook our heads, our landlord’s son was urging his mother to “leave us alone” as she hit his hand away. Finally, she gave in, and handed me her business card, decorated with apples, her name, and her phone number. She reminded us to put the apples in the refrigerator and kindly told us that she would be seeing us soon :S .

We still hadn’t recovered through that entire episode, and were exhausted from our initial shock. We were so tired, that we quickly finished our cold dinner, watched the rest of our movie, and retired to bed.

We forgot about the apples.


The next beautiful morning, Ken had to leave early for the bus to Gucheon School. I was lazily getting ready to go to Hyeonseo School – a bus ride for me as well. As I walked slowly towards the kitchen, I noticed something. I thought, “Hey… Why is there a black line on the floor from the bathroom to the kitchen?”

I honestly wish I didn’t have an innate sense for spotting bugs, but I can’t deny it. I do have one. And I wish I hadn’t seen what I had seen this morning. I really wish I hadn’t. I wished for my dear life that Ken was around, but he wasn’t. I couldn’t call him and ask him to take a bus ride back to Andeok…and I had to quickly get ready for my bus to Hyeonseo.

The dotted black line across the floor wasn’t some stupid prank Ken had drawn on our home’s floor. There was no logic to it (but I figured, hey, he’s a guy…maybe that’s just one of the things that guys do). The shifting dark line was a carefully and strategically planned trail of ants, leading from one corner of the bathroom door to the gift our landlord had given us. We hadn’t put the sugary apples in the fridge and now I was suffering the consequences.

For the first minute, I freaked out in my head. Then I composed myself, and planned my attack on the ants. Instinctually, I had grabbed our baking soda spray (that Ken had told me killed the ants very well) while I was panicking. Better not waste the spray I thought. So for half of the three hundred tiny soldiers that were marching their way back and forth, and around the basket of apples, I placed my thumb of death upon them, squishing their stupid little bodies with all of the energy that I could muster.

Next, I started to spray.

It should have been a sickening experience, but I put all of my personal feelings aside, and unleashed the power of baking soda on their scurrying bodies (they had started to panic when many of their companions had unexpectedly disappeared). I then focused on their point of origin – the corner of the bathroom door. I made a semicircular barrier around the bottom of the door’s frame and flooded their hole with the milky baking soda solution. The ants within the semicircular barrier were too disoriented to see their impending doom…the shadow from my thumb was growing bigger and bigger each second.

I had to catch the bus, and I was afraid the ants would return. So, I crazily opened both of our front doors, grabbed the basket full of apples, and dropped it outside, on our concrete front yard. I put it as far from the house as possible, making sure that the sunlight wouldn’t touch it.


When Ken came home after school, I knew what he about to ask…

“Jess…” he started.

“I know, I know,” I finished. “Why is the basket of apples in the middle of our front yard?” I sighed…and told him all about my morning adventure.

That evening, we spent hours happily peeling, dicing, and cooking down over forty apples (because they wouldn’t fit in our fridge).


Ken and I decided to give our gracious landlord a name – Aunt Kimchi (I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty about her – very, very soon).

So thank-you, Aunt Kimchi, for our lovely house-warming gift. Thank-you for the apples, the ant highway, and yet another memorable installment in our Andeok adventures :).

- Jess

Welcoming Dinner from Gucheon Middle School

The teachers at Gucheon Middle School were anxious to leave school today. I could see them glancing at the clock every few minutes, and when 4:30 came around, they all stood up and beckoned me to follow. This is yet another example of a very common Korean belief: foreigners never have plans.

I still wasn’t feeling 100% yet, so my original plans for the night were to have a nice dinner with Jess, work on the blog, and watch a movie. But within the span of ten seconds it all changed; I was going to have dinner with them whether I wanted to or not.

We piled into two cars and drove off towards Bunam. One of the teachers was eager for me to try his favourite restaurant, but when we arrived, we found out that they didn’t have enough room for the ten of us. We left, walked down the street, and managed to find a bigger one (this one could hold twelve people!).

Within seconds of sitting down, the teachers proceeded to order copious amounts of meat and soju. Despite only having a sip of water before any alcohol was brought to the table, some of the teachers started acting considerably less sober. The volume increased, ties were loosened, and I was subjected to countless pats on the back as they “officially integrated” me onto their teaching staff. If this is what it was like before the soju, I couldn’t wait to see them after a few rounds.

They handed out shot-glasses and jumpstarted the night with a huge “weehayo!”

Down went the first drink.

It didn’t take very long to figure out that they each wanted to have a drink with me, so I apologized to my liver and dove headfirst into their slurry of hugs, Korean jokes that I didn’t understand, more drinks, tighter hugs, more jokes, butt grabbing (yup, one of the teachers grabbed my butt), even more drinks, and lots and lots of squeezing (my cheeks, arms, legs, or whatever else I didn’t guard with my life). After what seemed like an eternity of “integration”, the meat showed up.

They fired up the grills in the center of the tables, scraped huge pieces of lard over the whole surface, and grilled pounds and pounds of meat. Surprisingly, the dinner itself was rather quiet, but one quick look around explained everything; there was so much food packed into their mouths that no sounds could possibly escape! They shoveled, nay, they vacuumed every scrap of food in sight, and when one of the teachers did try and break the silence, his or her voice was preceded by a generous heap of pre-chewed dinner. Yummy...

The internet is packed with resources for Korean dining etiquette, but I thought I’d take a moment to clarify a few of them based on my personal experience:

Rule #1: Never pour your own drink. A Korean would rather leave his or her glass dry the entire night than pour his or her own drink.

Rule #2: After a few drinks, Rule #1 no longer applies.

Rule #3: Everything must be received with two hands (bowls, cups, drinks, money etc.).

Rule #4: After a few drinks, Rule #3 no longer applies.

Rule #5: Every Korean will try and teach you something. 

Rule #6: After a few drinks, you will be applauded for everything you have learned.

Rule #7: Don’t eat from your rice bowl with chopsticks. Always use your spoon.

Rule #8: After a few drinks, you will lose your spoon so you will have no choice.

Rule #9: Never touch food with your fingers.

Rule #10: After a few drinks, touch everything with your fingers.

Rule #11: Never slurp.

Rule #12: After a few drinks, always slurp.

Rule #13: Don’t talk about anything controversial.

Rule #14: After a few drinks, you will be asked your opinion on every controversial subject they can think of.

Rule #15: Keep personal comments to yourself.

Rule #16: After a few drinks, you will hear a lot of personal comments being thrown around (cheap, fat, skinny, ugly, old etc.) in “good fun”.

Rule #17: Racism and sexism are “faux-pas” at the dinner table.

Rule #18: After a few drinks, racism and sexism are hot topics at the dinner table.

Rule #19: Always chew with your mouth closed.

Rule #20: After a few drinks, show everyone what you are currently chewing, and if asked a question, kindly send a small parcel of your dinner into their rice bowl in mid-sentence.

Rule #21: All Korean food is good for you in some way.

Rule #22: Koreans love to act as nutritionists. All Korean food is good for you in some way, but no two Koreans will have the same “facts” about which tissue, organ, or disease it is good for.

Rule #23: Korean delicacies are the best in the world.

Rule #24: Stay away from Korean delicacies.

Rule #25: A full mouth makes for a happy host.

Rule #26: If even the tiniest bit of air can escape through your mouth while you are chewing, you will be questioned if you enjoy it or not.

Rule #27: If it can fit, it can be swallowed (that’s what she said).

Rule #28: If you know any First Aid whatsoever, turn off your “spidy-senses”. Everyone seems like they are on the verge of needing the Heimlich, so it’s better to just ignore it.

The night ended with a final “weehayo!”

We left the restaurant and said our goodbyes with far too many deep bows, sloppy handshakes, and pats on the back.

I was “officially integrated” onto their team…

- Ken