Monday, 30 November 2009

Aunt Kimchi’s Kimchi

I just had to buy bus tickets today…

After finishing another fulfilling workday at Andeok School, I decided to take a stroll out to the bus station to get a pack of bus tickets. As I was heading back home, I saw a familiar face and panicked a little. It’s become a natural reaction, because she always seems to appear out of nowhere. “Don’t look into her eyes… Just look away and she won’t notice you..”

But Aunt Kimchi spotted me.

An nyeong hasaeyo, sungsaeneem.” (Hello teacher). There was only one road I could take, so I stopped.

“Oh, hello.” I said in Korean, with a widespread smile. “How are you doing today?”

“Where are you headed off to today?” she asked.

I answered, “Oh, nowhere really, I’m just walking home.” I bit my tongue.

She jumped at what apparently was a silent invitation to my home. “I’ll come with you!”

“Ookay…” I said.

So she walked with me, excitedly, back to the house.


As she made herself at home on the floor, she pulled out a large black plastic bag that was large enough to carry several heads. I was right…almost. As she undid the knot on top of the bag, she carefully lifted up several heads…of kimchi.

Remember when I mentioned our first weekend in Daegu city as the prime time to make kimchi? Well, the heads of red-pepper-speckled pickled cabbage that Aunt Kimchi had pulled out in front of me, were examples of the garlicky bounty that that weekend had produced. Our next-door neighbour (Aunt Kimchi’s best friend) had spent all weekend drenching all of her nappa cabbages in vinegar, salt, garlic, and ruby-red chili flakes.

She asked, “Do you have a container?”

“Umm…sure,” I replied. I pulled out a litre-capacity Ziploc container.

“I’ll need something larger…enough for these heads. She held up three heads of dripping, vinegary kimchi. “Here, I’ll just give you the bag.”

Mmm…thank-goodness Ken’s taken a liking to kimchi.

I thanked her for her wonderful gift and she headed out for her home.

Aunt Kimchi’s not so bad. And her kimchi certainly isn’t either :).

- Jess

Sunday, 29 November 2009

First Trip to Daegu City


I was on the computer in the living room, typing away in my red, penguin, pajama-bottoms and my knitted, cream-coloured, hooded sweatshirt. It was a Friday, and I was ready for comfort, relaxation, and some blissful SLEEP.

Little did I know, my plans to sip tea, write blogs, and watch a movie were about to change. Ken walked in through the front door.

“How was your day?” I asked.

“Really good…do you want to go to Daegu tonight?” he responded.

Well, that caught me off guard. We were supposed to head out to Daegu, tomorrow.

“I thought we were going tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah, I know…but why not go today? I already bought the bus tickets.”

So that was that. Within half an hour, we were packed and ready to set out for our first official trip to Daegu City.

The beginning of our trip didn’t start off quite as planned. As Ken and I sped towards the bus stop, he asked, “Did you pack your papers?”

By papers, he meant the thirty-or-so pages that I had printed, neatly listing several tourist hotspots, restaurants, and shopping centers around downtown Daegu.

I hated myself.

Where were the papers? They were stacked neatly on top of the dining table in the living room. I had forgotten them. That’s what happens when I don’t have my packing list prepared (as Ken very well knows).

It was either forget the papers or miss the bus. We rushed. We made it to the bus.


The bus ride was about an hour and forty-five minutes long. The travel time included the traffic that was coming in and out of the city due to the fact that this weekend was the make-as-much-kimchi-as-you-can weekend. People from all over were travelling to their relatives’ to make a heck of a lot of kimchi (I’m talkin’ about hundreds and hundreds of heads of kimchi).


After arriving in East Daegu, we took the subway to City Hall (you know it’s a big city when they have a subway system). Following the map that Ken had printed out, we moseyed around, looking for the first motel on which Ken had set his sights for our trip. His internal GPS system led us to the motel.

I think it’s pretty reasonable to ask to see a room before taking it. When we arrived at the motel, we asked the manager if we could see a room. With a huff of bitter annoyance, he mumbled the number of the room attached to his office. The room wasn’t so great. When we asked to see another room, he was quick to reply in Korean, “I won’t accept you.” When we asked why, he shook his hands, saying again, “I won’t accept you.” He shut his sliding window.

Aghast and appalled, I knocked on the window. The manager opened it, letting it bang loudly against its frame.

“Well, can you tell us where we can find another motel?” I asked in Korean.

The manager just shook his hands and shut his window, again.

That’s when we started to wander around, aimlessly, looking for a motel. As we headed up and down the side streets, something caught Ken’s eye. It was the figure of Super Mario, stretched over some person’s muscular frame. It was Temu’s vibrant, red, Super Mario sweatshirt.

“Temu?” Ken called out.

Temu turned around, and we were surprised to find the Pohang English Teachers, bunched up against a small open window, sipping on some drinks in plastic Ziploc baggies. What a small world (actually, what a small country…) that we would randomly find the Pohang teachers, huddling around in a narrow side street.

This little bar with its window open to the street was called Vinroo, and the place was attracting a lot of customers (mainly foreigners). The Ziploc-baggies of mixed drinks intrigued both Ken and I, and we got some of our own baggies, with the question on the side, “Do you want more alcohol with that?” What place would offer you more alcohol, free of charge, just to gain customer satisfaction? Vinroo.

Our thirst was quenched, but our tummies were grumbling to no end. Temu and Asena (two of the Pohang English Teachers) had been to Daegu once before and recommended The Holy Grill for supper. Man, did we stuff ourselves. This was the first time Ken and I had a taste of Mexican food in Korea (actually, any ethnic food for that matter), and we took advantage of the restaurant. The restaurant was owned by Korean-Canadians, so portion-control was just like home (Canada). Heaps of food arrived on massive dishes, making the evening’s supper very satisfying. Ken had creamy salad, topped with succulent chicken, stuffed into a large, crispy-golden taco bowl, and I had a saucy beef burrito, with tender refried beans, a fresh salad, and mixed rice. This place was heaven.

After eating off every bit of food on our plates, Ken and I decided to retire early, while the Pohang teachers went to dip into the Daegu nightlife. We headed out toward the motel that Temu had recommended to us. When we couldn’t find the motel with his description, “It has red lettering on its glass doors, with a cutesy chime playing at the entrance…and the alley looks like a place where you’d want to die,” Ken and I stumbled upon the Park Motel. For 30,000 won a room, the place was definitely a gem. It could’ve been a hotel (We absolutely recommend it to anyone out there traveling to Daegu).



Today, we were refreshed. With a full day of walking, we headed out toward the famous Seomun Market – the place that my Hyeonseo co-teacher had warned me about. She said to be weary of pick-pocketers and getting lost (Ken laughed when I told him that). However, the place was big. Of the many things we bought (and Ken bargained), the three most special were our velvety-smooth, fuchsia, winter blanket, our mini-Christmas tree (with silver bulbs, ribbons, and lights!), and a full-out, cotton-trimmed, Santa suit. There were three Christmas shops in the market, and when I spotted the suit, hanging at the top of one of them, Ken forwardly said, “I’m buying it.”

Next on our agenda was to attend the dinner that a Bunam teacher was hosting for us.

Ken was buying a cake for the dinner – a fluffy, cream-covered, castella cake, sprinkled with strawberry bits and topped with candied fruits. It was beautiful.

As the employee went to put a plastic knife under the cake, she accidentally pierced the white icing with it. Her hands froze. She freaked out. “Oh no!” she cried, “Do you want another cake?”

Ken laughed, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and tried to calm her down. The cake was going to be eaten within a couple of hours, anyways.


Wow, the Bunam teacher’s home was amazing. Looking like it had been crafted out of a home décor magazine, the place didn’t disappoint, being the penthouse suite and all. We ate a glorious meal of Korean barbecue, and topped it off with Ken’s magnificent cake.


The final ‘to do’ on our list for today – we had to explore the nightlife. As we took a stroll through Daegu’s downtown streets, we browsed in all of the stores that were still open. Who did we bump into, once again? The Pohang teachers. Where? At Vinroo. After sipping down several bags of the delicious cocktails, we all headed toward a sports bar, which had pool-bowling and electronic darts. It was a grand place.

Ken and I immediately headed toward the electronic darts. He challenged me. Honing in the skills I had absorbed from my father, I focused all of my energy on beating Ken. We played four games. In all four, I beat him. I wish I could’ve shown you my scores right there and then. Luckily, I documented the night with my camera. To be honest, I think that Ken’s vision and judgment dramatically worsened throughout the night, thus affecting his dart-throwing skills.

Finding our motel at the end of the night was a little difficult. No one could respond to Ken’s efforts as he tried to find our motel, shaking our room key at couples and asking, “Do you know where this is?” Unfortunately, the name of our motel wasn’t on the keychain, and people must’ve been confused and a little scared. Using a skyscraper as a landmark, we eventually took a taxi to the nearest recognizable place near our motel, and finally found it.



It always seems like we set ourselves up for consequences when we head to a big city

At our motel, our brains and stomachs just couldn’t catch up with real time. We had to take the next bus back to Andeok. It was such a nice release though, to have walked through the streets of a big city, to have smelled all of the tantalizing and horrible smells that it had to offer, to have accessed the lively outdoor market, instead of our tiny little convenience store in Andeok (we still love it)…

Big cities. They’ve done us in again.

What a great weekend.

- Jess

Friday, 27 November 2009

My New English Room A.K.A The “English Hub”

Sunny greeted me with a big smile today. She pulled her chair up to mine and said, “The administration loved your ideas and they want to thank you for helping with the decision.”

“No problem at all!” I told her. “What name did they end up choosing?”

“They loved the title English Hub. It reminded them of the central Internet router for the school, so in a way, it’s like the heart of English for the school,” she said.

“They didn’t like English Command Center?” I asked with a laugh.

She smiled and said, “They loved all of your ideas, but we only had a small space. English Hub fit perfectly over the door.”

She reached over and pulled out a huge catalogue from beside her computer. We have some big decisions to make today.

“We?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded, “the administration needs to order in the furniture by the end of the day.”

So we got right to work, and browsed through the catalogue.

First, we picked out our desks (we selected matching wood desks that are slightly darker in colour from the light paneling of the walls). I told her about the layout of the English room at my other school, and she agreed that the layout would work really well in this one as well.

Next, we searched for the perfect desks for our students. We opted for desks that seated multiple students and could be placed together to form small groups, or detached for individual work. As for the colour of the desks, we both agreed on a colour scheme matching the popular “Cosmos” flower that grows all over Korea. We ordered two white desks, two light violet desks, and two mauve desks.

The chairs were an easy decision. Everyone at my other school loves the chairs we have in my English room, so we ordered a matching set (sturdy metal legs, comfortable plastic seats, and a flexible plastic back support).

Since the English Hub took over the old music room, the administration also decided to cut costs by combining the two (rather than building another room for music classes). In the back of the classroom, we will have all of the instruments from the old music room, and a set of equipment that we could use for both music and English classes. I think it’s the perfect compromise…

We couldn’t order any fancy bookshelves or high tech toys (we have a much smaller budget than my other school), but I’m still really excited to see what it’s all going to look like. I’ll post up a video once it’s all done!

- Ken

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It’s All About Poo…

Today, all of the Andeok Middle High students and teachers got a little show. Well…it was more than just any other show, it was a fantastical performance about poo.


In the gymnasium, the musical was set up with drums and cymbals to stage left, and the actors stood at stage center.

The performance began, first with the drums and cymbals banging together in time, the noise (I mean, sound) getting louder and louder.

I looked to my left to see the title of the play. Mmhmm, mmhmm…I read some Korean words that I couldn’t understand…and then…poo?

Since Young-hee (my Korean co-teacher) was on a business trip today, one of the other teachers tried to explain the plot to me:

“A king and his poor servant each had land. The kind had bad land and the servant had mahnie, mahnie crops (many, many crops). The king stole his servant’s crops. The poo monster then helped the servant grow more crops by adding poo to the ground. (That’s exactly how she said it.)

The Andeok Elementary School students also attended the musical, and they were participating to their fullest capabilities, pointing and shouting at the poo monster, who was dressed in a chocolate-crimson-tan-and-green-coloured rag costume (…very appealing).

Some highlights from the show: the acrobatics (the servant was able to do gymanstic-like flips all over the place, receiving a loud roar of applause, every time), the poker that the king stuck in his servant’s bottom-hole (which stayed fully upright for about three minutes straight), and finally, the basketball-sized smear of diarrhea that the servant had made on a newspaper (which he openly showed to the audience).

What the students learned: (1) poo is very important for growing food; (2) your bottom-hole is capable of holding long, poker-like sticks in it for long-periods of time, and; (3) anything remotely disgusting will rouse an audience of elementary, middle, and high school students.

What I learned: (1) poo is very important for growing food…maybe not our poo (like the servant used), but poo, nevertheless; (2) your bottom-hole is capable of holding long, poker-like sticks in it for long-periods of time, and; (3) even fake poo, in the form of diarrhea, is visually disgusting and traumatizing, and I wish I hadn’t eaten lunch just an hour before the show. 

What a wonderful performance for a Wednesday afternoon :).

- Jess

Monday, 23 November 2009

Save It For Class…

It was another freezing morning at Andeok School, and I met one of my co-workers at the shoe cabinet beside the school’s main front doors. I happily greeted her on this nippy Monday morning.

“Hello! How are you doing today?”

“I…” she hesitated and then spoke again. “I mean…I am overwhelmed…and exhausted!”

She sounded out of breath, but overjoyed that she had used two vocabulary words she had learned from one of my teachers’ English classes.

I followed up the conversation with, “Why?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but froze as if the wind had chilled her body to death.

“I…I...can’t tell you right now. I am saving it for English class on Wednesday… Is that okay?”

“Of course,” I chuckled.

The Korean teachers are trying to save their stories of big events for my teachers’ English classes, to ensure that have material to answer my weekly question, “So, how was your weekend?”

It looks like our friendly, spontaneous conversations will be limited from now on.

- Jess

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Circle of Trust

It’s nice living in a small town. There are definitely some minor inconveniences of being so isolated, but overall, it’s been an awesome experience so far.

Just the other day, Jess and I were at the bus ticket counter to buy tickets to go to Andong. As the ticket lady was handing the tickets to Jess, the bus pulled up. She told us to run and catch it, so I sprinted ahead to get the bus driver to wait. Jess trailed behind, but when we were both seated on the bus, she told me that she hadn’t paid for the tickets. The ticket lady didn’t want us to miss the bus, so she had told Jess to simply pay for the tickets whenever we got back.

When we returned from Andong, we knocked on the ticket window and her husband answered. He greeted us with a smile, and we explained to him that we owed them some money. He checked a little post-in note on the counter, and nodded in understanding. We paid for the tickets, said our goodbyes, and walked home.

Faith is a key player in small towns, and it’s a good feeling to be within the circle of trust.

- Ken

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Day Trip to Cheongsong

Mr. Young, one of my coworkers at Bunam Middle School, picked Jess and I up at the Cheongsong bus terminal. His apartment is in Cheongsong, so when he heard that we were interested in visiting the town, he quickly offered to show us around.

He drove us through the city, and pulled into an absolutely beautiful restaurant, perched on a hilltop in the northern outskirts. The architecture was obviously designed to mimic a patch of giant mushrooms, with huge mushroom-cap rooftops and curved walls. The whole building was painted earth tone colours, and the dining area had huge windows overlooking the beautiful scenery of the region.

His wife and son greeted us at the front door, and we headed inside. A huge lunch, still steaming, had only moments before been served in anticipation of our arrival. We sat down and enjoyed a mouth-watering meal of steamed-chicken, rice porridge soup (made with mineral water from one of the natural springs in the area), Korean pancakes (an assortment of vegetables mixed in with a dough) dipped in soy sauce, and a wide variety of traditional side dishes.

After our meal, we drove out to a small traditional village (which at one time, housed the richest family in the area), and spent hours walking around and talking about Korean life then and now. We knew that it was going to be one of the last beautiful weekends, so we spent as much time as we could just walking around and enjoying the sites.

At the end of the day, he drove us back to the bus terminal, and we headed back home.

Our visit may have been short, but it was the perfect way to spend a nice quiet Saturday…

- Ken

Friday, 20 November 2009

Construction of My New English Room

There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to leave a positive footprint in life.

Today started like any other day.

I got off the bus across the playground from Gucheon Middle School, adjusted the strap on my laptop bag, and walked towards the front door. Jake (my grade 7 student) was sitting in the windowsill of his homeroom on the second floor, and he waved at me and yelled, “Good morning Ken teacher!” as I approached. 

I set myself up at my computer in the teachers lounge, and I saw Kim (my other grade 7 student) shyly peeking at the door. I beckoned her to come in, and she walked in and stood beside me with her “thinking face” on. A lot of my kids come and join me in the teachers lounge to ask questions, or browse through Facebook pictures (they especially love any of me camping, skiing, or sightseeing in Canada), and I have no problem with it as long as they stay quiet and don’t disturb the other teachers (who are either working, playing solitaire, or sleeping). I saw Kim’s face change as she remembered the English word she was searching for as she said, “Ken…uhhh…penpal…letters?...where?”

Earlier in the semester, I began the “Canadian PenPal Project” at both of my schools, matching each one of my middle school students with a Canadian student of the same age. With the help of my sister (who is currently in grade 10) and one of the high school teachers at my old high school, letters have been successfully going back on forth all semester. Some of my students live by these letters. They’ve included photos, e-mail addresses, questions, and just about anything at all just to have a Canadian contact. Kim’s PenPal is my younger sister Krystal, and she’s one of the many students who frequently asks me about the letters.

“I will send out the letters on Monday. I don’t know how long it will take for you to get a reply.” I said. “Did you write down your e-mail address?”

“Yes” she replied.

“Good. Check your e-mail. Maybe she will send you a message when she gets your letter.” I said.

She thanked me, bowed, and left the teachers lounge.

Later that day, I was teaching my grade 8 class when all of a sudden I heard a series of loud bangs, scrapes, and screeches coming from the adjacent room. I had to raise my voice to be heard over all of the noise, but I couldn’t leave to find out what it was. The noises continued for the rest of my class.

When the bell rang, I left the room and immediately went to take a look next door. I was absolutely shocked with what I found. The music room had vanished. Every piece of furniture was gone, and a group of workers were in the process of ripping down the walls. I turned to Sunny (my co-teacher) with a confused look on my face, and she told me that the school had decided to build an English room.

At Bunam Middle School (my primary school), I have a state-of-the-art English room that all of my students come to for their classes. At Gucheon Middle School, I have to rotate between my 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classrooms (which are right beside each other) to teach my classes. It’s not an inconvenience for me in any way, but the school decided to invest in the construction of an English room in an effort to compete with the other schools in the region and (hopefully) attract more students.

I returned to the teachers lounge, set myself up on my computer, and prepared to relax for the rest of the afternoon. Twenty minutes before the end of the day, Sunny came running into the lounge and said, “Ken. I need your help. I have somebody on the phone.”

“What?” I responded. “What do you need my help for?” I asked.

“I have the designers on the phone for the English room, and they need to know what the room name will be for the plaque above the door.” She replied.

“The school wants me to pick the name for the English room?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said “and they need it by 4:30.”

She ran back out of the room and I began to brainstorm some ideas. Here’s what I came up with:

English Room

English Lab

English Center

English World

English Lounge

English Café

English Space

English Hub

And just for fun I threw in these suggestions for the kids:

English Headquarters

English H.Q

English Command Center

Sunny brought my ideas to the administration office, and I left for home feeling pretty good about my small (but nonetheless important) contribution to my school.

- Ken

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Welfare Troubles…

My eighth grade class at Bunam Middle school (with only three students) began as it always did; a warm-up activity, a short discussion, and an introduction of the new material. One of the benefits of teaching in such small schools is that I know all of my students. I know their names, I know where most of them live, I know what most of their parents do, I know their usual grades, their attendance, etc… I can also tell when something is wrong.

When I reached the main content of my lesson, I sat down with my students and we began a group discussion about the topic. Right away I noticed one of the girls avoiding eye contact. I asked her a question, and she looked up at me with tears in her eyes. I glanced over at Mrs. Jeon who immediately went over to find out what was wrong (her English level is far too low to explain anything to me). Within seconds, tears were pouring down her face as she attempted to explain herself (through the sobs) to Mrs. Jeon. I sat for a moment, desperately trying to understand anything from the conversation, but I couldn’t. I was asked to continue the lesson with the boy, so for the last twenty minutes of class I sat and tutored him one-on-one.

After class, Mrs. Jeon explained everything to me.

First, I’ll give you a brief history of what I already knew about her. I knew that her family wasn’t well off financially (I was informed of this a couple of weeks into my contract), and that occasionally the teachers had to go out of their way to help the family (on one occasion, Mrs. Jeon had to drive her to the hospital because her family didn’t have the money for a taxi and the buses were no longer running at that time). I also knew that she had a history of being disruptive, rude, and an overall “bad student.” But what I can tell you from first hand experience is that in the almost three months I’ve been teaching her, she’s been extremely quiet, polite, and a contributor to class discussions when prompted. This was the first time I had seen her in this state.

What I didn’t realize was that she had a lot more on her shoulders than I had previously imagined.

As the eldest child, and without a father, she was obligated to raise her entire family by herself. She lives in a one bedroom house (it was described to me as being more like a “shack”) with her older cousin (who helps pay for groceries) and her mentally handicapped mother. Her only income is from government welfare (approximately $300/month) and the occasional “temp” job that her mother can get as a farm aid. Their monthly income is generally spent on bills within days of receiving the money; therefore she is entirely dependent on her cousins “donations” to buy food.

Yesterday, her cousin came home with a girl. Despite having just met her, he introduced her to the family, and she stayed the night. When he woke up in the morning, she was gone…and so was all their money…

They went to the police, but with no name, address, or photo, they had no way of tracking her down. The girl simply vanished, leaving the family with absolutely nothing.

I noticed a little bit of apprehension in Mrs. Jeon’s voice as she told me the story, so I prodded a bit further.

I asked her, “Is the school able to help her family at least until the next welfare payment arrives?”

“No,” she responded “but we can collect donations from the staff to help. The only problem is…” and then her voice trailed off.

Confused, I asked her, “I’m sure a small donation from each teacher would be a reasonable thing to ask?”

She shifted uncomfortably and continued, “Yes, yes. $10 per teacher is not a problem. The problem is with, well, her type of people… They, um, expect this. When help is given, it is expected, not appreciated.”

Her family is more than capable of cutting down monthly expenses (both her and her mother own cell phones, she always has nice clothes, they have cable TV etc…), but they rely on outside funding instead of cutting internal costs. Welfare money is seen as easy money, and little or no effort is made to rectify the situation. For all of you Canadian and American readers, does this sound at all familiar?…

It’s really frustrating to see people in this type of situation. You want to help, but you don’t want to be taken advantage of. We’re in no position to tell her family what to do with their money, so all we can do is make sure she has the basic necessities to make it to the next payday (take our donations and go grocery shopping with her), and hope that her cousin doesn’t bring any more sketchy girls back to their home.

- Ken

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

H1N1 Injections

I was halfway through my class, when all of a sudden I heard a few short words mumbled over the intercom. A wave of terror immediately flooded over my students, and I knew it was finally time for all of them to get their H1N1 injections. I couldn’t help but smile (yes, I know I’m evil) as they obediently stood up, and walked in single file (shaking the whole way) to the library.

All of the teachers in the school had come to watch. They lined the walls of the library and silently observed as the students were “herded” by nurses with sharp needles. There were no lines, no seats, and no reassurance…just pure chaos.

Three nurses were in charge of vaccinating my entire school (twenty-three students), and they did so in the most traumatic way I’ve ever seen. The kids, terrified, huddled together in the center of the room, while the nurses walked around with exposed needles. They checked the kids’ arms for puncture marks, and if they didn’t have one… WAHBAM! They’d slam the injection into their arm, squeeze the plunger, pull out, put a small piece of gauze on the wound, throw out the needle, open a new one, and resume their hunt for their next “victim”.

Some of my kids attempted to escape the injections by staying on the opposite side of the mass of students, but they were quickly snatched up by watchful teachers and held until the nurses made their way over.

I have a feeling that some of them are going to have some pretty horrible nightmares tonight…

- Ken

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Bunam Goat

I was walking to Bunam Middle School from the bus terminal, when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw a large black figure rustling behind a bush. My Canadian instincts took over (where’s the mother bear?!?) and I froze in my tracks. My heart started pounding, and I stared for at least a solid minute before deciding to walk up a bit further to see what it was. When I was about twenty feet away, its head quickly jutted out of the top of the bush, and I found myself staring straight into the eyes of… a goat. He looked at me, snorted, and resumed his delicious meal of weeds on the side of the highway…

I didn’t need my morning coffee today…

- Ken

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Double Date in Andong City

It was a balmy, beautiful Saturday night.

Actually, it was a freezing, see-your-breath-outside kind of night. I was pretty excited, because Ken was planning on taking me to dinner and a movie.

What could possibly be better? It was going to be a double date with the best-est teachers in the world, Corey and Ilana!

Only a 40-minute bus ride away, both Ken and I didn’t know why we hadn’t gone to Andong City sooner. We could’ve conveniently hitched a ride with one of my Andong co-teachers (hiding in the vehicle’s trunk) every Friday evening since we’d arrived in Korea. In truth, they had offered several times – almost every week, to be more precise.

Deciding to spend only one night in Andong, we waited at the bus stop in the dead of the night, listening merely to the sound of nothingness in the air. It was a Saturday night, and the only party that went on probably included the village’s chocolate-coloured cows and two calico stray cats (who usually play hide-and-seek in the rice fields).

Finally, we heard the crumble crumble crumble, and deafening BEEP BEEP!! that broke our peaceful moment of solitude. Our carriage to Andong had arrived.


The bright, streetlights almost singed my eyes. The vibrant, beaming signs of the convenience stores, multiplexes, and buildings that lined the street nearly gave me a seizure. I had to avert my eyes to the ground every other painful minute, just to get the teensiest bit of relief.

We finally recognized it – the Andong Bus Terminal. The bus came to a halt, and we stepped off.

Inside the terminal, we immediately saw Corey and Ilana. It wasn’t too hard to pick out the Westerners in the mass of Koreans. It was like a real life couple’s Where’s Waldo. Exchanging several warm, bear hugs, all four of us were ready to begin our double-date ^.^!

For dinner, we ate in a tiny room at the end of a narrow corridor (not sketchy, I swear!)  in the Old Andong Market. Despite its size, the room was comfortably cozy, with an ondol heating our icy bottoms. Around us, the walls and the ceiling cried out messages from lovestruck couples and phone numbers from desperate, lonely singles. Above an abused soju poster (displaying a model with her hair and eyes scratched out), Ken and Corey managed to etch Ken+Jess Corey+Ilana 2009 with my dying black pen.

We ate an insanely large plate of jjimdak (soy chicken with clear noodles, sweet carrot, starchy potato, and spicy red and green peppers). This savory-sweet dish, representative of Andong, made one of Ken’s top Korean meals (that’s saying a lot). It was goooood.

Next, what was our double date without the movie? We had our choice of two English movies that were playing at that time – The Time Traveler’s Wife or 2012. Luckily, they weren’t voiced-over, so I didn’t have to be the half-wit translator for the night (I would’ve turned the movie into a nightmare!). 2012 was the obvious choice (because of the boys), and the suspense and maxed-out volume blasting out of the speakers didn’t leave them disappointed. With sugary caramel popcorn (which seemed to be the only kind they were selling) and delicious peanut-buttered, dried squid (mmm…), we enjoyed the movie that kept us clinging to the edge of our seats.

After the three-hour-long movie, we made it to Corey and Ilana’s to get some nappy time (it was past midnight…hey, we’re not that old!). After watching some typical, oddball Korean programs (which was kind of nice, since Ken and I don’t have cable), Ken and I slept on the soothingly-heated ondol floor and dozed off for the night.

T’was a fulfilling double-date for our first night in Andong. We’ll be looking forward to more of them :)!

- Jess

Friday, 13 November 2009

White Hair Removal Service

I was sitting peacefully in the teacher’s room working on a new lesson, when all of a sudden a “flock” of my middle school girls barged in and swarmed their homeroom teacher. He didn’t even flinch as they surrounded him and began to wildly brush their fingers through his hair and giggle. They did this for about a full minute, when out of nowhere, he let out a tiny yelp. This just made them giggle even louder. They resumed their hair grooming service, and he let out another yelp, then another. I stood up to get a better look at what was going on, and was surprised to see the teary eyed homeroom teacher smiling and unmoving. One of the girls was the “seeker”, intensely studying his mane to locate white hairs. Another girl was the extractor, viciously trained to remove the hairs quickly and (relatively) painlessly. And the third girl seemed to just be there to watch the show and laugh. As one of the younger teachers, it only took the girls three or four minutes to clear his head of every single strand of white hair.

It seems that I’ve finally found the secret of Asian youthfulness…

- Ken

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Pepero (“BbehBbehro”) Day in Korea

I’ll have to work these chocolate-covered wafers off tonight, the next night, and the night after that


Although today is Remembrance Day in Canada, in Korea it is Peppero Day (Bbehbbehro Day). This day is another one of those little significant days, which tends to brighten everyone’s mood. Bbehbbehro Day is meant to signify the giving of chocolate-covered, wafer-like sticks, resembling the 11-11 represented by November 11th.

Today, in Andeok School, all of the teachers got boxes of these chocolate sticks put on their desks from the school’s head of administration. There was even one teacher, who got a 50-pack of these boxes of Lotte chocolate-sticks, stacked in the shape of a heart, fixed around containers of Ferro Rocher chocolates.

While I was working in the English lab, three of my bright, Grade 9 students anxiously came into the classroom and gave me three boxes of Bbehbbehro sticks – my second dose of snacks for the day. When I thanked them and asked what they were for, they said happily, “Bbehbbehro Day…mahn-nie chocolate (a lot of chocolate)!”

I laughed, and as the bell rang, they scurried away like cutesy mice.

In each of my other classes, I received more Pepero boxes and handmade chocolate-covered sticks from my students (in white and dark chocolate, dusted lightly with pink and red sprinkles…mmm…). I wish I had known about this day in advance. It would have given me an excuse to bake something extra delectable for my students

The more snacks, the merrier. That’s the way I see it. Unfortunately, the Principal snagged some of my boxes from my desk while I was teaching (the teachers tattled on him).

What a great day.

- Jess

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

That’s Funny, Mr. Vice Principal

Today during lunch, the Vice Principal sat right across from me. He asked a lot of questions about the food I ate in Canada and if my parents ate Korean food for breakfast. I told him, of course they did. Then he asked me what I ate for breakfast in Korea: rice or bread (he thinks it’s funny if a Westerner eats bread for breakfast in Korea…it’s like we can’t handle the rice or are incapable of making it). I told him that I ate nothing for breakfast and all of the teachers around me gasped. Then I told all of the teachers, “Just today. I didn’t have breakfast this morning,” to make them feel at ease.

Then he noticed that I had a lot of rice left on my plate and proceeded to ask me why I didn’t eat as much as I should. “Are you on a diet?” he asked.

“No,” my co-teacher quickly replied, “She likes to eat all of the side dishes first. I’ve noticed that.”

The Vice Principal laughed. “So eat the side dishes first and eat the rice later at home (because it’s easier to make)?”

Young-hee turned to me. “He was making a joke. I hope you understand,” she apologetically said.

I laughed, and then the Vice Principal laughed again.


After lunch, I was working at my desk in the teacher’s lounge, and the Vice Principal shouted in Korean from his desk. “Hey Jessica, you should eat yoot (a Korean rice taffy).” I looked around at the snacks the Principal had left on the center table (a tradition carried out before university entrance exams begin). One of the teachers was holding up yoot. All of the teachers laughed. Young-hee quickly translated, “Do you know what that means?”

“To eat yoot?” I answered back.

“No, it’s an innocent way of saying f***you,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, “Great…”

“Of course he was joking,” she said.

I laughed, and the Vice Principal laughed.

Oh, Mr. Vice Principaleat yoot.

Just kidding!

- Jess

Haircuts for the Boys at Andeok Middle High…

Yesterday, I was in the Andeok School English Lab, when all of a sudden, two boys and two girls sped into the room. They stared out of the classroom window and laughed at what they saw below.

I curiously walked over to them and noticed that there was a group of about 30 boys standing in front of the school’s main doors.

I asked the giggling students beside me why the boys were standing and waiting outside.

After one caught her breath, she replied. “Hair too long. Need to cut short.”

Too long? I learned from Young-hee later on that there was a teacher in charge of the students’ well-being at the school. Thinking that many of the boys’ moptops had grown too long, he decided that all of them needed to have haircuts. Long, stylish hairdos (a fad throughout Korea) weren’t going to cut it under his watch...

Fortunately for the students, not one glossy hair was touched on those boys’ heads.

At the beginning of my Grade 1 High School class, I asked all of the boys how they felt about the situation. One of them shouted, “We want freedom!”

I suspected a rebellion in the making.

Today, however, was a different story. This morning, as the sliding door of the teacher’s lounge kept opening and closing, I spotted plenty of unhappy boys with their locks of hair cut, right up above their adolescent ears. The rebellion crumbled.

- Jess

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Lost in Translation

Referring back to my last post No White Vinegar, I should have realized that I was saying to all of the Andeok School teachers. “White” vinegar must’ve been pretty confusing to hear compared to clear, distilled vinegar. I thought that there was no white vinegar here in Korea, but again, it was my fault for not translating what I wanted verbatim. Next time I’ll know better.

- Jess

Friday, 6 November 2009

Persimmons and Sesame Leaves

I was working on the blog alone in the living room, when all of a sudden I heard a “thud” from our roof. I immediately stopped writing and sat in silence, listening intently for any clues as to what the sound could’ve been. After a few seconds, I started to relax a bit, and right on cue I heard another “thud” followed by shuffling feet. The footsteps traversed the rooftop, resonating through our empty house.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck as my body initiated “Operation Fight or Flight.”

A second set of footsteps joined in, and they seemed to be patrolling back and forth, occasionally stopping to make a “thud” sound. I heard the tree behind our house rustling, followed by chatter, more patrolling, and more thuds. I couldn’t stand the feeling of being alone in a house surrounded by unknown assailants, so I quietly opened the front door and tip-toed up the stairs to the roof to investigate.

As I peered over the wall, I saw two men in knee high rubber boots, farmers clothes, and 2 cardboard boxes looking over the back of our house and chattering amongst themselves.

I stepped out onto the roof and yelled out a greeting. The two men jumped, spun around, and stared at me in shock. Ok, so now I had lost the element of surprise, but if they charged me, I was still in a really good position to get away at full speed. The younger of the two stammered a quiet “hi” as he reached down into one of the boxes. I tensed my legs, ready to spring away in a nanosecond if need be. He grabbed whatever was in the box, slowly pulled it out, and with one outstretched arm, showed me a single ripe persimmon.

I almost laughed. These two men had come over to steal all the persimmons from our tree (it was easier to reach them from our rooftop), and now that I had caught them in the act, they didn’t know what to do. Completely frozen in fear, they didn’t move a muscle as I walked over to the tree, picked a persimmon, and put it in their box. They looked at me, smiled, bowed, and returned back to their “work.”

I later found out that they had previously crossed paths with Jessica and had asked for her permission to come over and take our unpicked persimmons. She gladly agreed (we weren’t planning on eating them anyway), but forgot to tell me that they were coming over…

Later that evening (I was still in the living room working on the blog), I was startled once again by more sounds coming from outside. This time, it was from our front yard and it sounded like a small animal rustling through the garden. I stood up, walked over to the window, and saw an old woman (no younger than 140 years old) hunched over in our sesame plants. She clawed her way through the plants, grunting at the wilted leaves, and stopping only to pick the greenest and ripest of the bunch. She stopped, pulled out her cell phone, yelled a few sentences, and resumed her “harvest.” Moments later, a much younger woman (approximately 105 years old) sped up our driveway on an electric scooter and parked beside the garden. I stood in the window and watched in amusement as they filled up an entire basket (a full bushel) with sesame leaves. Once the basket was full, it was loaded onto the scooter and the driver sped away (forcing her very angry side-kick to hobble with all her might to try and catch up).

Who knew it could be so much fun to be robbed twice in the same day.

- Ken

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Mask

This morning at Hyeondong School, my co-teacher, Mr. Yu, performed our morning ritual. He greeted me with a friendly ‘Hello’, unlocked the door to the English lab, turned on the main computer and printer, and opened all of the windows to give some circulation to the newly-built English room. Then he followed with some morning announcements. Today, he informed me that one third of all of the Hyeondong students were ill with the swine flu, and that all of the students were obliged to wear masks to cover their noses and mouths.

He asked me if there were any cases of H1N1 influenza at Andeok Middle High, and I informed him that there hadn’t been a single case yet. He stressed that I should wear a mask, especially in Hyeondong. When I shook my head in response to, “You don’t own a mask?” he fetched one for me from one of the other teachers. I had to put it on right away.

It actually kept me pretty warm (I’m usually freezing at this school because of the open windows), as hot air came up through my mask with every breath. I took a liking to the covering that made me look like one of the characters from Street Fighter (an arcade game).


Minutes before my first class today, two students were innocently taunting a girl who was feeling a little ill, and eventually it was enough to make her request to go home.

After my first class, I was feeling a little stuffy with my mask, and the blazing gas heater that my co-teacher had newly set up in the classroom didn’t help. Not to mention seeing floods of students in the hallways all wearing white masks.

The swine flu’s getting a little scary over here...

- Jess


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tutoring Job Offers

Finding work as an English teacher here in Korea couldn’t be easier. Jess and I decided to go through a recruiting agency (they made our transition into this country MUCH easier), but for those interested in finding private employment, job openings are everywhere. Our contracts clearly state that we’re not allowed to accept any additional work, but in the two months I’ve been here, I alone have had three separate (very high paying) job offers as an English tutor. The offers have been tempting, but I’ve always refused them for one very important reason; Jess and I are not here for the money. We’re here for the culture. We’re here for the experience. We’re here for the adventure. It’s not worth the risk of having our Visas revoked. But for any of you readers out there considering a year abroad, Korea’s definitely the place to be...

- Ken

No White Vinegar

Korea apparently doesn’t have white vinegar. A few days ago, after finishing classes at Hyeonseo Middle High, I was propelled to buy some white vinegar to combat any mold problems that could arise in the bathroom at home. I did some good ol’ internet research and found that distilled white vinegar was the best to use.

Unfortunately, at both of the large markets in Hyeonseo, the employees drew a blank after bring asked about white vinegar. Apparently, the only three types of vinegar that exist around here are apple cider, rice, and persimmon vinegar. Great. I’m sure they contain some nice sugars and starches to feed hungry mold spores.

Even when asking the Andeok teachers about it, they had never heard about white vinegar, either.

I figured it was a safer method than using hazardous bleach, but oh well…I guess it will have to suffice…maybe I can make a multimillion dollar business on white distilled vinegar over here in Korea.

- Jess

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Our Boiler’s Fixed!

This morning, Ken was fed up. Our boiler had been broken for two days, and the only thing our house was protecting us from was the chilly wind sliding down from our backyard mountain. We could’ve enjoyed breakfast outside on our roof with the temperature as it was, for we could see our breath both indoors in our kitchen, and outdoors on our front, concrete lawn.

I decided to call Aunt Kimchi’s son to get things straightened out. I didn’t want to force my little hand upon anyone, but enough was enough. Teachers in Andeok School couldn’t fix our problem, two repairman (specializing in the brand of our boiler) couldn’t fix our problem, Aunt Kimchi couldn’t fix our problem (she was certain that we ‘Westerners’ had fiddled with too many of the boiler’s buttons)…

After I finished teaching my classes at Hyeonseo School, I called Aunt Kimchi’s son, and Young-hee (my Andeok co-teacher), who then called Jung-won (a fellow teacher at Andeok School), who decided to come and supervise the repairing of our boiler.


At 5:00pm, Jung-won came to the front door of the house and we talked about many things, from favourite movies and music to the H1N1 influenza in Korea. About forty-five minutes later, Ken arrived from Bunam, finding Jung-won and me sitting in our empty living room. Soon after, we heard a slinky voice slip in from outside the door… “Sungsaengneem…” Aunt Kimchi was here.

Aunt Kimchi had come first, hearing about our boiler situation from her son. I uncomfortably conversed with her while Ken talked to Jung-won. Fifteen long minutes later, Aunt Kimchi’s son arrived with the man who first installed our boiler.

It took two grueling hours to determine what was wrong. Our two front doors were kept open the entire time to allow for the repairman to move back and forth between the boiler and its control box. Our house had become an icebox. Finally the source of the problem was identified. Our new boiler’s motor had somehow been “locked” this entire time.

With a simple turn of the wrench, the boiler’s motor started to run, and the two-month-long problem that plagued Ken and I since we moved in was magically fixed! Within thirty minutes, we could feel traces of heat scattered around our wooden floor.

I should’ve gone mad, especially since our heating was fixed with a simple turn of the wrist, but I’m just glad that I don’t have to thaw myself with a shower every morning, after becoming a meat popsicle from the night before.

- Jess

Are You Korean??

Korean elementary school students are SO adorable. I can’t help but say “Aww” when I see them riding their bicycles, some with springy pigtails, and others with bouncing mushroom cuts.


Today, I was walking back home from the bus stop, and there were two little girls coming towards me, one slowly riding her bike, and the other, jogging and panting beside her. “AWWW!” I thought, and I smiled at them and they both said “An nyeong hasaeyo!”

I replied, “Hello!” and kept on walking.

As I continued on my way back home, I heard them whisper loudly and confusingly…

“Oh…she must be the middle-high school teacher…”

“I thought she was Korean… “

“But she can’t be Korean…she speaks English!”

“Do you think she’s friends with Casey (the Andeok elementary school teacher)?”

“Oh, why didn’t we say ‘hello’?”

“Maybe we should say  ‘hello’ to her again. ”

“I’m too scared!”

As soon as I heard that, I turned my head while walking, gave them a smile, and waved my hand.

After shedding the surprised looks on their faces, they giggled as they rode and walked away.

Oh, the minds of Korean kiddies… :).

- Jess

Mini-Concert at Hyeonseo School

I miss music…I miss playing the flute, performing in orchestras...and almost passing out from hours of practicing…


It was going to be a regular school day at Hyeonseo Middle-High. I was eagerly looking forward to teaching my kiddies, but was caught by surprise when my co-teacher, Ms. Lee, pushed back my fourth class by an hour. The next bit of news I was told had me tingling in my toes…

Members from the Gyeongbuk Provincial Symphony Orchestra were going to perform a mini-concert at Hyeonseo School, to give the students some exposure to music played by professionals.

First came the performers of wind instruments. I melted with the sound of the French Horn, was stunned with the melodies of the ebony clarinet, and was mesmerized by the slinky oboe, but most of all, I wanted to grab the flute out of the flautist’s hand and join them in their performance. I longed to touch that flute…any flute… I missed playing in orchestras and performing concertos. I even missed the long hours practicing for them. As I watched the concert, I was a little jealous, but as I listened to the following performances, I relaxed and just took in what I needed the most – critical as I am when it comes to music, this unexpected concert was a dose of good medicine that I needed to cure my ailing desire to play.

- Jess

Monday, 2 November 2009

Korean Children

Did you know pregnant Korean women tend to dream about their children’s futures? Today, in one of my teachers’ classes, Young-hee (my Andeok School co-teacher) mentioned that Korean mothers- or fathers-to-be will dream about small fruits or small animals for girls, and large vegetables or large animals for boys. The grander the fruit or animal, the brighter the future looks for their child. All of the female Andeok teachers apparently had that dream. Young-hee said that she dreamt of a large, round, orange pumpkin, and lo and behold, she had a son!

I’ll be surrounded by cream-coloured orange pumpkins, fiery red-hot chilies, and thousands and thousands of Cheongsong apples for one whole year. I think my future children are set.

Oh, and last night Ken had a dream about a T-Rex…

- Jess

Sunday, 1 November 2009

More to Andeok…

Did you know that there is more to Andeok than the 5 minute walk down its single main road?


It was Corey and Ilana’s last morning in Andeok, and after a manly breakfast inside the house (eggs, toast, and ham and sausage drenched in caramelized maple syrup) and a nice coffee out on the roof, we set out in search of a mysterious path up the mountain that Young-hee (my Korean co-teacher) had talked about. It was actually a tractor path, but worth walking on. We walked behind Andeok School, passing the cows, overturned rice fields, and harvested apple orchards, right into the woods.

Not far from the school, we immediately saw a sign which had lots of Korean writing on it. Rough translation: Do not go up if you’re exercising!! Were we exercising? Kind of. I saw the uneven pattern of rocks making up a pathway of some sort up the steep mountain, branching off to the side rather than heading straightforward.

We climbed it. I could see why there was a warning sign at the very bottom. The fiery tree leaves had fallen, it had rained a little bit, and the stone steps were more than a little loose. Not to mention the light rain that had fallen during the night, making the leaves slippery over the damp ground.

Up at the very top was a clearing of trees. The grass had just recently been cut, and the area well-maintained. At the center were two hilly mounds, encircled by stone bricks, and in the center of the two, a tombstone with a flower carving at the top. There was even a concrete area (on which to put an offering of rice wine, rice cakes, and fruits) set up for ancestral thanksgiving services. After appreciating the view from the top, we set out to continue along the tractor path that was leading to another village of Andeok. That’s right, there is more to Andeok than meets the eye.

We kept on walking, but the pathway curved around the tree-covered mountain, surrounded by more apple orchards, cabbage patches, and harvested rice fields. The mountain landscape around the other village was captivating, seemingly touching the edges of the village.

Just then, a large dog came running out from the end of the path. We hadn’t noticed that our walk was coming close to an end, until the massive dog (quite like a horror movie), came speeding towards us, barking madly. Ken had instinctively pushed me back, putting his arm out in front of me, protecting me. Luckily, the unleashed dog (literally unleashed) stopped at the edge of the property and just kept on barking. It was a frightening moment.

We turned back, following the path back to our village of Myungdang-ri. After spending a few moments of rest at the house, Corey and Ilana left on the bus, back to Andong City.

Thank-you for such an enjoyable and fulfilling weekend, guys. We’ll see you soon in Andong!

- Jess