Wednesday, 28 April 2010


My kids are in exams for the next three days, so I get some well-deserved time off.

Here was my schedule today:

9:00: Arrived at school

9:30 -10:45 : Hid in the English room and talked with mom and dad on Skype

10:45 -12:30: Wrote on our blog

12:30-1:30: Lunch “break”

1:30: Left school (the kids were done their exams)

Midterms used to be a time of panic, fear, and headaches.  Now, it has proven to be the most relaxing time of the year.

Oh, how the tables have turned…

- Ken

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Mold! Mold! Mold!

Since we weren’t using the guest room all winter, we kept the door shut the whole time. Today we decided to do some spring cleaning, so I ventured inside to have a look.

Oh. My. God.

The back wall was completely covered in a combination of fuzzy mold and swarms of tiny bugs. It was straight out of a horror movie!

I almost vomited…

Jess immediately called Aunt Kimchi, and she came over right away. As soon as she arrived, she walked straight into the room to inspect the damage. She then tried to tell us that it was our fault for not keeping the heat on all winter (our gas already cost us $400 per month, so we kept the heating off in the unused room to save energy and money), but that it was completely harmless. She asked for a towel, and started scrubbing the walls as Jess and I watched in terror. Yes, she was able to take off most of the fuzzy mold, but in doing so she subsequently caused a “rainstorm” of tiny black bugs that fell to the floor. We stood in the doorway with shocked expressions plastered on our faces and watched the hoards of bugs scurrying around the room in a chaotic frenzy.

Jess almost vomited…

After what seemed like an eternity, Aunt Kimchi finally brought the mold-filled towel outside (dropping little bugs along the way) and walked home.

It was a tad difficult to sleep after all of that…

- Ken

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


All of our seeds have been planted in plastic containers and any extra cups that we could find around the house. We have to keep them in the sun room for now (we’re still getting the odd cold spells), but once they start sprouting, we’ll transfer them over to the garden.

Now all we can do is wait…

- Ken

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Seed Mix-Up

This morning I got in a bit of a “scuffle” with Aunt Kimchi about buying seeds. Jess called her after school, and cleared up what turned out to be just a big misunderstanding. I thought she was angry because I was going to use my seeds in her garden, but as it turns out, she was just angry because she already had seeds at her house and she didn’t want me to waste my money.

I’ll have to go bring her a carrot or something as a peace offering.

- Ken

Buying Seeds

I know that Aunt Kimchi is just trying to help us out, but Jess and I really want to do some gardening ourselves. I just don’t think she understands the concept of “recreational gardening.” Either way, I headed off to the market today before school to pick up some seeds (for the other garden that she prepared for us). I found a “seed vendor” (a tiny old woman sitting next to a box filled with open seed packets) and used my phone to translate the scribbled labels. I picked out a few that I wanted (regular tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrots, broccoli, and watermelon), and she individually selected out seeds from the packets and folded them into tiny envelopes made from newspaper. As I paid for my seeds, I heard a loud, “Sunsaengnim!!!” from behind me. It was Aunt Kimchi. She ran up to me, and once again blasted her rapid-fire Korean in my face. I could tell she was really angry that I was buying seeds as she yelled at the seed lady to give me my money back. I kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay!” and she eventually calmed down. I then told her that my bus was coming, so she took me by the arm and we walked together to the bus stop. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long before the bus arrived. I’ll get Jess to call her when I get home.

- Ken

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Aunt Kimchi’s Garden

When we showed up in August, there were two small gardens in front of our house. One of them had a few flower bushes, and the other was overgrown with patches of sesame leaves. Now that spring had arrived, Jess and I thought it would be fun to grow a few plants of our own. We called up Aunt Kimchi to ask if it was okay for us to use it, and she said, “Of course you can grow vegetables! If you don’t, what are you going to eat?”

The gardens weren’t exactly in the best shape for gardening (they were filled with weeds, garbage, and old bush stumps), so we went out and bought some gloves for the cleanup. We were both pretty excited about spending time working outside together, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating with us. Clouds moved in and the temperature dropped, so we decided to postpone our gardening until next weekend.

The rest of our day was spent isolated in our house with snacks and movies.

Later that evening, I left the house to pick up a few groceries. I immediately noticed something different about our garden. The stumps had been ripped out, the weeds had all been removed, and the soil had even been turned. It’s as if an army of gardeners had snuck onto our property and prepared the garden for us while we were watching movies. I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about the whole thing. One side of me was uncomfortable with the thought of a bunch of people working in our yard without us knowing about it, but the other side of me was grateful that we wouldn’t have to do the “dirty work” of getting the garden ready. As with most other oddities that have happened here in Korea, I just shrugged it off and continued to the store.

At around nine o’ clock at night, we heard shuffling noises from our front yard, followed by loud banging on our door. Dressed only in PJ pants and a hoodie, I answered. It was Aunt Kimchi, and she immediately started yelling in her rapid-fire-Korean, demanding a knife. She pushed her way into our entrance, and I beckoned her to stay there while I got one for her. I quickly ran to our kitchen and returned with a large butcher knife. She took it, turned back outside, and disappeared into the night.

Confused, I immediately turned on the outside lights, slipped on my shoes, and went after her. I found her at the far garden busily digging holes for the collection of plants she brought over from her house. Jess and I watched as she planted one of the gardens for us, and as much as we tried to tell her that we could do it ourselves, she insisted on doing all of the work on her own. When she was done, she said her goodbyes and disappeared into the night as quickly as she had arrived.

Well, I guess we have a garden now.

- Ken

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Hyeonseo School English Camp

Today I had my first school-run English camp. I wasn’t looking forward to spending a Saturday at school, but hey, the other teachers do it on a regular basis every other Saturday, so I can bear sacrificing a few of my weekends…right?


For the camp, I made a points system to give this Saturday some worth. I made twenty fashionable paper wristbands for the students so that they could record the points I gave them for each activity or game they participated in throughout the day. The student with the most accumulated points would win a fantabulous prize. I also had a bag of a hundred or so mini chocolate bars to hand out throughout the day.

I planned a bunch of outdoor activities as a starter to the day (to tire them out, of course)… I had my students playing ‘Waiter!’ for which they would have to take orders of food from their friends (in English), and double-check them with me. Once all the items on the menu were requested, the team with the most ordered items won. It was quite the speed game.

(It’s amazing how much focus and effort most of my Korean students will put into a game…all for a few pieces of candy.)

Next on the agenda, I had my students running again, in a game of ‘English Nouns Capture the Flag’. The students were divided into teams and had to sprint across the field in search of the opposing team’s flag. If members of one team were caught by members of the opposing team, the captives had to say five different English nouns to be released. My Korean co-teacher and I walked around the field, acting as monitors to make sure the students weren’t cheating. After 45 minutes of the game, the students still had enough energy to run a marathon. Go figure. Three-thirty in the afternoon on a Saturday? I should’ve known that they could keep going and going and going…

The following item on my list for today was my favourite. All of the students were going to make pizzas and no-bake chocolate cookies. “Where was the English in all of this?” you might ask. Well, the recipes were in English and the students had to ask all of their questions in English as well. My responses were also in English. Picture yourself baking with a bunch of young teenagers…they asked me A LOT of questions.

The best part about this activity was that everything was made from scratch. So I’m sure you can imagine all of the flour fights I had to stop and how closely I had to keep my eye on the students while they were cooking the dough on the stovetops. The final product from the activity – six perfectly round, perfectly dressed pizzas with rich, garlicky spaghetti sauce, stringy mozzarella cheese, juicy, savoury ham, and crunchy red bell peppers, and six plates of flaky-chocolaty cookies, ready to be consumed. Total preparation and cooking time: one hour and fifteen minutes.

The final event for the afternoon consisted of eating our kitchen concoctions while watching the movie Bruce Almighty, and since this was a school camp, they had to complete a multiple choice quiz on the movie. I promised delectable prizes to the top three ranking students.

Overall, not a bad experience at all. Sure, it was exhausting to keep up with twenty energy-packed teenagers, but I had a fantastic time running with them, laughing with them, cooking with them, and having some quality downtime with them.

- Jess

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Mrs. Jeon’s Birthday!

Mrs. Jeon, my primary co-teacher, signed up for Facebook about six months ago. She had no idea what do with it, but she was curious about what it was for and decided to give it a try. Six months later, she has yet to use the website for anything, but it has proven to be useful for one reason: her birthday.

In Korea, a birthday isn’t nearly as big of a deal as back home. They have a couple big ones (the first and the hundredth), but for the most part, they remain fairly small; even more so for women. One of my coworkers once told me, “In Korea, husbands don’t celebrate birthdays. I’ve never celebrated my wife’s birthday.” When I asked him why not, he simply responded, “We just don’t.”

Last week, I signed onto Facebook and saw a notification that it was her birthday on the following Thursday. I marked it on my calendar, and waited…

On the Wednesday night, Jess decided that she was going to make her a cake from scratch. Keep in mind; we don’t have extensive ingredients, cooking utensils, or even an oven. Yet the double-decker, strawberry jam-filled, milk chocolate-coated vanilla cake that emerged from the kitchen was a true masterpiece. Yes, Jess is just that good…

I carried it to school on Thursday in an inconspicuous box, and set it down on the corner of my desk to tease Mrs. Jeon’s curiosity throughout our morning classes.

Lunch time rolled around, and I followed her to the cafeteria with my box in-hand. I brought up small talk to pull her attention away from the box while we were in-transit and once in the cafeteria, I casually set it down at the end of one table and proceeded to the lunch line.

About three or four minutes into lunch, with the entire school staff in attendance, I stood up and walked to the end of the table. I cleared my throat, and announced, “Excuse me everyone. Can I have your attention for one minute?” Everyone stopped eating and stared at me in confusion. I smiled and continued, “Today is a very special day. It’s Mrs. Jeon’s birthday!” The room immediately erupted into a mixture of chatter and laughter as one by one they understood what was going on. A few of the teachers started clapping, and one shouted, “Song!” I looked at Mrs. Jeon (who had the cutest embarrassed face I’ve ever seen) and started singing “Happy Birthday” for her to the cheers of all our coworkers. At the end of the song, everyone applauded, and one of the teachers got up and gave her a candy from his pocket.

At last, I revealed Jessica’s masterpiece. I had to explain that it wasn’t store-bought, and that it had been made just the night before. Needless to say, it stole the show away from Mrs. Jeon’s red face, and happily lived the rest of its life being snatched up and shared by the Bunam Middle School staff…

I love surprise parties!

- Ken

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Worm in Our Bathroom

I had planned to take a pleasant shower this morning. I turned the boiler on, waited ten minutes for the shower water to heat up…and then I saw it - a squiggly little worm with a flat hammer-like head, inching its way along our bathroom wall underneath the window. Not knowing if it was poisonous or not, I debated squishing it with little bits of toilet paper, so I took some baking soda cleaning spray, and doused it with about 20 sprays of the stuff. It slowly curled, and moved as if it was in excruciating pain, and all I could do was debate as to whether I should touch it or not.

My problem was solved with about 3 tissues I folded over (just so I wouldn’t come into contact with it at all), and I slowly squished it into the tissue and disposed of it in the bathroom garbage. Done and done.

Later on in the day, while at school, I curiously searched the internet for the worm that had ruined my morning shower. I found it almost immediately. The worm that was in our bathroom…that little worm…was a hammerhead flatworm – one of the most indestructible worms in the world. You cut it half, and it regenerates…you cut it into ten pieces, and it regenerates into ten worms… Even if you squish it, it’ll regenerate into the number of pieces into which you happened to break it…Ken mentioned to me that a scientist in Europe had managed to divide one worm into 271 pieces…gross. The only way to destroy one of these pests is to dissolve it in some kind of acid.

I’ve decided to burn it. Burn the entire lot of worms…or whatever comes creeping out of our garbage can. That’ll work, right?

Ken’s so fascinated that he wants to keep one as a pet…

- Jess

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Conjoined Twins Lesson

Still excited about the success of my round table discussion with my middle school kids, I decided to give in a try with the high school kids.

It was a disaster…

Let me just point out that there’s a HUGE difference between the middle and high school kids at my main school. First of all, the middle school kids actually want to be in school. They are there to study, and they need high grades to get into university. My high school kids however are in an entirely different “stream.” Bunam High School is a technical high school which tends to be geared towards the middle school kids who either didn’t have high enough grades to get into high school, or who have no intention of going to University. There are a select few who clearly have a passion for their trade, but for the most part, they are seen as being the “bottom of the barrel” when it comes to academia. I’ve been told on several different occasions that they have “bad brains,” and as a result, aren’t treated with very much respect. But in my classroom, everyone is treated equally.

I decided to try and promote a healthy discussion by showing a short video clip about conjoined twins living in America.

As soon as the video started, the class erupted in laughter. Some of the students shouted, “Monster!” which made the other students laugh even more. I was completely speechless. Needless to say, I stopped the video after about a minute, and had to spend several minutes trying to calm everyone back down again.

Attempting to have a post-video discussion proved to be impossible, so I was forced to resort to my backup lesson (a Mr. Bean video).

And this ladies and gentlemen, is why handicapped people have such a difficult time in Korea.

When I asked one of the teachers about handicapped Koreans, he responded with the following:

“Handicapped people don’t have an easy life in Korea. If they live in the country, they usually don’t go to school, so they end up working on farms. Nowadays, you can find them in some schools in the cities, but this is something very new. If you want a good education for your handicapped child, you have to leave the country.”

An ignorant country is blissful one, right? Oh no wait, that’s North Korea.

It wasn’t a good day today…

- Ken

Sunday, 11 April 2010

School English Camps

The Cheongsong Office of Education provides money for schools to run their own middle school English camps. Thinking that it was mandatory (it is not), I signed on for three Saturdays (they’ll only allow the camp to be held outside of school hours) at Hyeondong Middle School. Unable to run them after school (due to supplementary classes), I have no choice but to run them on the weekend. So that’s six hours each Saturday totaling eighteen hours…just for one school. I also have two other middle schools and my Hyeonseo Middle School co-teacher is asking me to run two more camps! That totals five Saturdays (so far…) and thirty hours of lessons that I have to create.

Oh goodness, I still have one more middle school to go…

- Jess

Friday, 9 April 2010

Double Date in Andong – The Sequel

We had been putting our double date off for weeks now. Corey, Ilana, Ken and I had been sick (thanks to our hoarsely coughing students) on the weekends leading up to this one. There was absolutely nothing that could possibly stand in our way this weekend – Ken and I were going to travel to Andong no matter what infectious diseases would happen to stand in our way.

We started off our evening with a classic American blockbuster Clash of the Titans. We comfortably sat back in our seats for two hours, eating our sticky caramel popcorn and drinking our brown swamp water, laughing at…I mean with the overly stern characters of the movie.

With the adrenaline high we built up during the movie, we decided that the night wasn’t over. Meeting up with some more of Andong’s finest EPIK English teachers, we drank our conscience away with sips of blueberry flavoured macgueli (South Korea’s rice wine) and strawberry, kiwi, and pineapple flavoured soju. Dangerous stuff. It went down like water.

Luckily the next morning, the four of us weren’t plagued with headaches or migraines. In fact, we enjoyed our alcohol-induced state so much, that we planned a spur of the moment picnic at the Andong Dam, complete with two bottles of red wine, one bottle of sparkling wine, two types of real cheeses, and a full box of succulent, ripe, ruby strawberries. Needless to say, our walk back to the downtown area was more like a blissful stumble, I mean stroll along the Andong river. The feathery breeze was soothing and the warm sun was shining brightly, almost blindingly, down upon us. Thank-goodness the sidewalk was wide enough for the four of us, as we supported each other to look as composed as any normal person should be out in public. It was a delightful afternoon.

I guess we couldn’t get enough of each other, because once we reached the bustling streets of the downtown area, we invited them over to our home in Andeok for a relaxing night in the countryside.

I was antsy all night. It was too bad for me that the boys had been building up this night for months. It began when Ken and I were both having a string of hauntings all around us…in our home and even in motel rooms…and they escalated after we watched the movie Paranormal Activity. Despite my warnings, Ken was so excited to show Corey and Ilana the film that he even got Corey excited about having a séance to bring forth the disturbed spirit that was haunting me and Ken. Ilana and I agreed to protect ourselves in a circle of salt.

After many bottles of mind-numbing Hite (a Korean beer) and two bags of salty, spicy chips, we all agreed to skip out on the séance…the movie had scared us into a heightened sense of fear and anxiousness and some of us were kept up all night under the covers with our eyes wide open. Needless to say, it was a long night.

We never know what to expect when we’re all together. I’m antsy to see what’ll happen on our next double-date.

- Jess

Controversial Topics

I’d like to consider myself fortunate for having had the chance to grow up in a society where free speech in was not only allowed, but encouraged in school. I remember having incredible debates with my classmates on a huge range of topics ranging from corporal punishment, to the death penalty, to abortion. We debated everything under the sun, and I always had the most fun when I debated the side that I didn’t agree on. It made me look deeper into the facts, and forced me to keep my cool and analyze everything that was being said, scouting for any weakness in his or her argument. Debates of this nature are non-existent in Korean middle and high schools, therefore the students lack the knowledge of how to express their views in a round table setting.

Before running a round table class, I asked my co-teacher what she thought of the idea. As one of the most open-minded and culturally aware Koreans that I’ve met, I knew that she would allow me to give it a try. She was excited for the change of pace from our regular classes, but warned, “The students are not used to being in a two-way conversation with a teacher. They’re used to the “sponge” method of classes, where their only job is to absorb everything that the teacher says without question.”

This was going to be fun…

I walked into class, and asked everyone to move their desks to the sides of the room and form a circle of chairs in the center. I could tell right away that they were both excited and nervous about what was happening, but no one questioned what was going on.

I started them off lightly. Each student had to introduce him/herself and state their favourite food, sport, and hobby. Once everyone had the chance to speak in front of their peers, I dropped the first bombshell:

“In some countries, it’s acceptable to have multiple wives. Would you want this in Korea?”

Their initial reactions were completely expected. They all turned and stared at the co-teacher, looking for guidance about how to respond. She just smiled, translated my question (in case a couple of them didn’t understand what I was asking), and sat back, waiting for an answer. In an effort to get the discussion rolling, I prodded the student sitting beside me to break the ice.

After a few moments of silence, he quietly responded, “It’s bad.”

Each student in turn repeated the same answer until we reached the “confident one” on the other side of the circle. He answered, “Yes, I would want.”

And just like that, the floodgates of debate were open. The girls in the class certainly had some things to say about his, so I just sat back and let them say what they wanted to say. The debate was held in a mix of Korean and English, but I didn’t care. As long as they were cross-talking, I was happy.

After the initial wave of debate, I then asked the “confident one” a slightly altered question:

“If YOUR wife had multiple husbands, how would you feel?”

He simply answered, “No.” He didn’t explain why, but he didn’t have to. With one word, he had once again started another wave of discussion.

The class ran without a hitch. The kids opened up and discussed some really controversial topics that may otherwise have just remained bottled up. We had a healthy discussion about North Korea (the dangers of an unstable country), handicapped people in Korea (why they feel like “outcasts” in Korea but can live a normal life in other countries), and the infamous Dokdo Island (why the island belongs to Korea rather than Japan).

As the students filed out of the classroom at the end of class, my co-teacher turned to me and said, “We should do this again.”

I completely agree.

- Ken

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A Korean Funeral

I had never been to a funeral before. It’s not because I purposely avoided them, rather, I have been fortunate enough not to have lost a close friend or family member. Today marked the breaking of my “funeral-less” life.

I walked into school today to find everyone dressed in black and donning tiny ribbons. The founder of Bunam Middle School had passed away the night before, ending his lengthy battle with liver cancer. He was the founder of our school, and worked as the school Principal for many years before handing the position over to his son (our current Principal). Without him, I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to work in this community and experience the unique culture of rural Korea.

After class, Mrs. Jeon and I drove to Cheongsong to attend the funeral. It was held in a small community hall directly beside the hospital where he had passed away. His position within the community meant that his funeral attracted more than just family and friends. People from all parts of the community, from the store-owners to laborers, were in attendance to pay their respects.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the food. I should’ve expected it now that I’m familiar with Korean customs, but it still took me by surprise. There were tables upon tables of food being waited upon by several busy workers. The funeral had a “revolving door” type feel to it, with people coming and going as they pleased. Across the dining area was a small room with his coffin placed against the wall under his picture. Groups of ten to fifteen people took turns entering the room, facing his coffin for a brief moment of silence, then bowing in unison. Two family members remained in the room at all times to exchange a few words with people before the next group entered. Immediately outside of the small room was our school administrator who was put in charge of handling the donations for the family. I donated 30 000 Won (~ $ 25.00 CAD), and was handed a small envelope containing a 10 000 Won bill (~ $8.00 CAD) as a token of thanks.

Following the prayers and the donations, Mrs. Jeon and I sat down at one of the tables for dinner, and she explained to me the sequence of events for the funeral. There had been a “wake” the night before, but only close friends and relatives were allowed to attend and help with the grieving process. Today was the community “banquet,” which is held for the purpose of celebrating his life. The celebration is to help uplift the spirits of the grieving family using the pleasantries of food, drinks, laughter, and friends. Tomorrow, his coffin will be driven to the gates of Bunam Middle school, and his picture will be carried around the playground in front of the school population. The staff and students will then say their final goodbyes, and the coffin will be driven to the site of his tomb (accompanied only by family members), down the street from the school.

All in all, the whole funeral process wasn’t as depressing as I thought to would be. The energy of the banquet was definitely uplifting, and aside from a few tearful family members, everyone who attended maintained very positive demeanors throughout the entire event. I really enjoyed the “celebrate life” mentality over the “mourn death” mentality, and I can only hope that my funeral will be as uplifting for my family and friends.

- Ken

Training for the Daegu Marathon

I’m setting no limits. I’m going to push myself until my knees give out.

That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking ever since my first run three days ago. Ten kilometers of running in a day, out of the blue, is taking a major toll on my body, which is exactly what I’m experiencing now. My knees lock every time I stand up from sitting down. It pains me to crouch down in order to put a plug into an outlet...but it’s all worth it, just to run into the middle of nowhere, and come sprinting back feeling alive.

Of course I wouldn’t have started running if it weren’t for the Daegu International Marathon. It’s quite a goal to have begun training for it, considering that I was walking from the living room into the kitchen everyday for three five months, and now I’ve progressed to run ten kilometers outdoors.

Ken was able to map out a 9.8-kilometer run through several of Andeok’s villages. Jogging along one stretch of open road, I could see the ivory and lavender cherry blossoms coming into bloom, smell the earthy tones from freshly cut logs, watch the farmers fertilizing their land, avoid the tiny countryside dogs nipping at my feet, and be weary of the larger dogs eyeing me, merely tied to a post by a simple rope.

Aside from the farmers burning their crops and garbage on my first run, it was incomparable to the splendid sun, melting into the horizon, and the refreshing wind, swooping down from the mountainside.

I can’t wait to go out for another run. I just have to wait for my body to heal…

…another week should do it.

- Jess

Bird in Hyeondong Middle School

Just minutes before my Grade 8 lesson was about to begin, I heard some commotion at the end of my classroom.

One of my Grade 8 students had caught a bird and brought it into class. He was delicately, but firmly cupping it in his hands and the other students were hesitantly petting it on its frightened little head. Suddenly the bird began to fiercely peck at the student’s hand and that’s when he decided to let it go…in the classroom.

The following two minutes were filled with a whirlwind of screams from the girls and students running amuck all over the classroom. I ran towards the sliding doors, just in time to shut them before the bird could enter the hallway. The boys were frantically trying to catch the bird, flitting about all over the ceiling, and the girls were shouting and covering their heads for fear that the tiny brown birdie would poop on their heads.

The student finally caught it again (I don’t know how he was so swift) and the rest of the students were swarming him, taking photos with their cell phones and probably giving the bird a major panic attack. I tried to take a photo with my camera, but the unwelcoming “Change Battery Pack” notification popped up on my screen.

I ordered the student to release the bird out the window, so I could get my lesson going.

Let’s just say that it took me a few minutes to get my frazzled students back into a calm, sensible state of mind.

As if this semester couldn’t get any more random…

- Jess

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The “Business Trip” to the Cheongsong Office of Education

All English teachers of the Cheongsong region were in for a surprise today. We were all to go on a business trip to the Cheongsong Office of Education. The foreign English teachers and all Korean English teachers were to attend the unexpected meeting held by the Cheongsong English Department.

Upon arrival at the office, everyone was confused. No one knew exactly what was going on, so we all filed into the room where the meeting was to be held and waited. Finally, the head of the Cheongsong English Department greeted us with an exaggerated smile, and went on with the introductions in Korean. Then the meeting went on to the topic at hand, which had many of the Korean English teachers arguing. With all foreign English teachers confused and staring blankly into space, my high school co-teacher from Andeok School scurried over and began explaining the agenda of the meeting.

It turned out that the meeting had nothing to do with the foreign English teachers but was set for all of the Korean English teachers. We (the foreign teachers) were just invited along to have a chance to meet each other (but by that time, five out of the six of us had already met). After forty-five minutes into the meeting, the six of us were politely shooed out of the room (after everyone realized that we had no place in the meeting) and we waited in another room for forty-five minutes, discussing how ‘dynamic’ Korea was. We had plenty of stories to share…all of the ups and downs that we had had for the past seven months...and what we were looking forward to for the next five in our teaching contract.

At 5:30pm, the Korean English teachers concluded their meeting. What had taken an hour and a half to discuss was all about forming an unnecessary English teachers’ council, through which the English teachers could discuss and improve the English program. A valiant effort on the side of the Cheongsong English Department for trying to improve the English program, however, all of the Korean English teachers were spread out across more than an hour’s drive of schools, and none of them had the time to meet once a week due to supplementary classes after school. Unfortunately, this did not go well with the Cheongsong head, and the teachers had to nominate one person to organize such meetings. Mrs. Na, my main co-teacher last year, was in charge of the English teacher’s council last year, but since having circulated to another school due to their 5-year-limit policy, the spot was open. The teachers automatically chose Ken’s co-teacher who had the most teaching experience out of all teachers present. Now she has another ordeal to manage every week on top of her hectic schedule.

I think we should get paid overtime for those one and a half hours :).

- Jess

April Fool’s Day at Hyeondong School

A few days ago, I was completely unprepared for the special event that happens every year and is celebrated by the young and old. Thank goodness my students didn’t take that day seriously.


It was right before second period. I was about to have my Grade 8 class and was preparing my lessons for the day. A few minutes later, one of my Grade 7 students came running into the room with a huge grin spread from cheek to cheek. He said, breathlessly, “Teacher…umm…” He was trying to search for the right words in his head.

“…Do you know this day?...”

I shook my head. I thought this was going to be another special day, like Pepero day (when people give each other chocolate sticks because they look like 11/11, depicting November 11th). However this time, I couldn’t stretch my imagination that far.

His face was scrunching up. He continued, “Lie…”

“Lie?” I asked, “You told a lie?”

“No, no, teacher…not me... It is…Lie…Day! Lie Day! Lie Day!”

My numb brain suddenly clicked and I realized that today was the dreaded ‘April Fool’s Day’. Oh no. I was the one most vulnerable to a prank attack. A teacher with 65 rambunctious energetic teenagers? I was a sitting duck. Were my students going to undo me this day? They had the entire morning and afternoon to do so. Why not?

I bless the heavens for having 65 angelic students at Hyeondong School. I didn’t receive one prank the entire day, although I still heard some shrill screams and mocking laughs outside my classroom window. The students must’ve turned on each other.

The next day, however, at Hyeonseo High School, I heard some interesting stories…drawings all over the white boards, entire classrooms of chairs gone missing, students mysteriously falling into deep slumbers during lessons…

I guess some students take that day a lot more seriously than others. Thank-goodness I wasn’t around to experience it…although it would’ve been nice to witness :).

- Jess

Joy Ride

A few weeks ago I heard about an accident that happened on campus. I held off writing about it until I knew all of the details…

As you may know, my high school is a technical school. The kids can choose one of two streams of study (cars or computers) and live on campus in school dorms throughout the year. This can have both positive and negative consequences.

On the plus side, they have the opportunity to work on their school projects around the clock. It’s not uncommon for groups of students to work on their engines or computers well into the night, so the school must grant them a certain degree of trust with their equipment.

This brings me to the negative side… How easily the trust can be abused.

Late at night a few weeks ago, one of the students thought it would be a fun idea to take the school’s “shop car” out for a test drive around the school. Without even a driver’s license, he “borrowed” the car and drove around the campus and surrounding area (probably to the cheers of his classmates). Needless to say, things didn’t end very well.

The details aren’t exactly clear, but somehow he managed to smash into the brick flower garden, flip the car over, and land in the teacher’s parking lot. Amazingly, he crawled out of the overturned car without any major injuries.

Because of the HIGHLY illegal nature of the event, and the fact that it happened on school property, the police were not involved. Instead, the Principal called in a crew (tow truck?) to flip the car back over to store it behind the school. The student could’ve easily been expelled for this, but the Principal decided against it for two reasons:

Firstly, the student has one of the highest grades in the school. Expelling him would’ve completely destroyed his career.

Secondly, the winter months were unforgiving on our dirt schoolyard and the entire thing needed to be leveled. Luckily for the Principal, he now had a new slave…

- Ken

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


There are some days when I’m pretty darn close to going insane. There are some times when I want ten minutes to breathe and not have teachers swarming me, left and right, asking me questions about almost nothing at all. Although I do like to encourage all of them in speaking English, every second now has become an opportune moment for them to get a chance to talk about their day.

There are some moments when I want to slow down and actually be able to chew my lunch. I like spicy foods, there is Korean food in Canada and I can use chopsticks like a master, but for some teachers, that hasn’t sunk in yet…even after the hundredth time, they still go on to say, “Too spicy?” They still marvel at my technique and stare while I eat. Never mind that I’m as clumsy as a fool while eating at home, and I fear everyday that I’ll accidently fling a piece of kimchi onto my co-teacher’s lap. Ask Ken…I’m really that clumsy.

There are those few times where I catch some teachers talking behind my back in Korean…Why can’t they just talk to me?? It’s always, ‘I think Jessica can do this’…or…’No, she doesn’t want to do that’. I’d sure like to be a part of the conversation when I’m the main topic!

Thank-goodness for my students. 98% of them are absolute darlings…ready to soak up the lesson of the day, and they – believe it or not – keep me sane on these kinds of days.

- Jess

The Fight

I walked out of my English classroom today to find two policemen waiting at the entrance of the building. Recognizing that I probably didn’t know a word of Korean, they waited for Mrs. Jeon to arrive before speaking. She answered a few of their questions, and they were promptly handed over to another teacher who was walking by. I’m very much used to “being in the dark” by now, but when I saw that police were involved I naturally wanted to know what happened.

As it turned out, one of the teachers caught a group of students smoking behind a building. He blew up at them, and began handing out his “discipline” (the stick). One of the students protested, saying that he hadn’t been smoking at all. He said he was just “hanging out” with his friends and therefore didn’t deserve to be punished for something he didn’t do. The teacher didn’t want to hear any of it, but the student didn’t back down. He stood up for what he had said and challenged the teacher’s authority (apparently he gave the teacher a “look”). Immediately, the teacher slapped the student and a short scuffle ensued. I don’t know if punches were thrown, but what I do know is that one of the other students called the police.

So what were the consequences for all of this? The police made the student “reflect” on why the teacher had to hit him, and the teacher continued on with his workday.


- Ken

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Andeok First Moon Festival

Only a few weeks have passed since Ken and I returned from the ‘land of the rising sun’, and ever since then, I’ve been meaning to take note of what had happened that day…


Exhausted and in need of a 24-hour siesta, Ken and I finally arrived back in Andeok - our lovely, quaint little village which was night-and-day, compared to the fast-paced society of Tokyo, Japan.

We stumbled into our only convenience store, careful not to knock over any items with our red and blue, bulging packsacks. We were met with more than a hello from the store’s owners, who were beaming at the sight of us. They immediately informed us of a festival going on in just a couple hours, right in front of the police station. They told us that the festival was to celebrate the first new moon of the New Year (according to the moon calendar). “7:00pm!” they reminded us as we left their store.

As soon as we stepped into our house for the first time in two weeks, we soaked our dirt- and sweat-laden clothes in laundry detergent and settled back in.

A couple hours later, a massive explosion rocked our frail house…followed by another one, and an even louder one. Our house was almost reduced to ruins.

We found bursts of colour, setting ablaze the eerie black sky, and knew that this was the biggest event to hit our little town of Andeok thus far. The fireworks were magnificent and both Ken and I were in awe of the spectacular show the Andeok community was putting on tonight.

We grabbed what we could to shield ourselves from the freezing temperature (~ 0oC). Ken wore a light spring jacket and I put on his only remaining sweater. All of our winter clothes were soaked in soapy water by the time we decided to go.


We ran into the night toward the mysterious cloud of smoke, looming in the distance. Feeding into it was a huge bonfire of 20 trees which had been cut from the mountain. Surrounding the hill of fire was a crowd of more than a few hundred people – some were happily (or drunkenly) chatting with each other, some were dancing wildly around each other, moving to the singer and his background music, and others were eating and drinking away at the free food and alcohol that was being offered under a tent. It was the time to celebrate – a fresh start to the New Year.

Here’s the festival in a whirlwind: Ken and I caught up with one of the convenience store owners and he introduced us to the Mayor of Andeok (who has memorized both my name and Ken’s), the organizer of the event, a bee house keeper, one of my student’s parents, Aunt Kimchi’s younger brother, and some of their children. We all ate, drank, and chatted merrily and watched the night come to a close with a final town lottery. Our local shopkeeper had been anxiously watching his tickets the entire night (he ended up winning a prize…but then gave it away to a pushy ajumma).

Oh…but the townsfolk weren’t finished with us yet. Ken and I were literally pulled to our village’s main bar by our local convenience store owner and my student’s father. Suffice to say, we consumed enough beer, soju, and food for over three families…and their relatives. With a full night of charades, the convenience store owner established that he was our father in Korea, and that we (his Western children) would be giving him the grand tour of Canada once his family could afford to go.

After drinking down one final beer in his store, we walked back to our home…completely inebriated…but happy :).

Oh dynamic Korea…how we missed you!

- Jess

A Visit From the Cheongsong Inspector

Today was a stressful day. It was one of those days that fully embodied the popular phrase ‘Dynamic Korea’.

When I arrived at Andeok School, I was immediately informed that I would have to have an English class with all of my Korean co-teachers. All five of them. Never mind that I already had 5 classes throughout the day with my normal students… I had to prepare a 3-hour lesson for my three middle school co-teachers and my two high school co-teachers…aaand the head of the Cheongsong Board of Education (the school board for our region) was going to be present for the class. This was the information I was told.

Everyone was so antsy preparing for the arrival of the Cheongsong “Inspector” – the title they dubbed him. I was just happy that I had managed to prepare my three-hour lesson, complete with videos, news articles, discussion questions, etc.


It was 4:00pm. It was time for the teachers to gather. As I waited at my desk in the teacher’s lounge, my co-teachers slowly collected into the room, one by one. The five of them were shaking hands, three of them never having met, quietly conversed to get familiar with each other. Then it was time for the class.

The “Inspector” and the head of the Cheongsong English Department had arrived and we all headed upstairs to the English Classroom. There was an eerie silence as my Andeok co-teachers poured some juice for the two guests of honour and for one long, grueling minute, it seemed like everyone in the room was eyeing each other.

The Cheongsong head finally stood up and gave an introduction – all in Korean, of course. Actually, all of the introductions from co-teacher to co-teacher were in Korean, except for mine.

I explained that my teacher’s classes mostly consisted of discussions, since my co-teachers were at the highest level of English. The Cheongsong head nodded and pleasantly smiled…and I was about to start my class. That’s when he and his partner stood up, thanked all of us for allowing them to observe my class.

My co-teachers ended up staying for 30 minutes after the departure of our main guests. We watched videos, and discussed one news article. 30 minutes. That’s all it took. Two and a half hours of lessons that I had planned suddenly ceased to exist. I was exhausted from the day, never taking a break, except to eat my lunch.

I wish Korea weren’t so dynamic. It’s going to finish me…

- Jess

Farming Land Behind Andeok Middle and High School

Two weeks ago, my Principal at Andeok School tacitly slinked his way into the teachers lounge and suddenly, without any notice, poked his head in between my computer, and my face. Thank-goodness I’m now used to his soundless entrances. Sometimes my eyes widen and bulge from his surprises, but I now only scream in my head.

That day, he was trying to ask me if Ken and I could farm some land behind the school. He said that we should think about it, and when I asked him what would happen to the crops, he said, “Just think about it...”

Ken and I agreed to do it…although I have my suspicions. I don’t want to find my tender cherry tomatoes handpicked one morning and see the Principal, out in the market the next day, making a lovely profit out of them…

With all the teachers working hard behind the school, the Principal could do very well selling vegetables at the Andeok market :).

- Jess

The Flea

As I sat on the bus minding my own business, an old woman walked by reeking of body odor and rotten kimchi. I had my head turned slightly to make use of the fresh(er) air beside me, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a tiny black speck fall onto my beige pants. I looked down, tried to poke it, and it immediately jumped to my other leg. It happily jumped from one limb to the next until I finally managed to grab it and get a closer look. As I suspected, it was a flea. The old woman behind me was covered in fleas. What a perfect start to the week…

Happy Monday everyone!

- Ken

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Catching Up...

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written something for the blog. When we returned from Japan, things were pretty hectic for a while, so the blog was bumped down my priority list. Then once it made its way back to the top, I had to work for weeks on end to finish and publish all of the videos. Now that those are all done, I can finally catch up on what happened since then…


As you may have noticed, my videos have changed in format (several times) since my first one. There are a few reasons for the changes.

First of all, space. When we travel, it takes up a hell of a lot of memory to constantly record in HD. As much as I’d like to capture my life in HD, it’s just not feasible right now. And every time we return home from a trip, all of the videos get dumped onto Jess’ shrinking hard drive. We still have 5 months out here, so we’re starting to ration out our remaining memory…

Second of all, I’ve been experimenting quite a bit with the new Sanyo Xacti HD camera that Jess bought me to find the BEST way to show our videos on the blog. I spent a lot of time playing with different recording settings and rendering qualities to find the “sweet spot” of quality vs. performance.

If I record at full HD, I can’t edit it in full HD (Jess’ computer doesn’t have s strong enough graphics card). Since I can’t edit in HD, my videos become skewed (making us look really fat or really thin depending on which axis the video is skewed) during the editing process, so I’m forced to render the videos in a format that opposes the skewing process. For example: If the video is stretched vertically during editing, I have to render it in such a way to stretch it horizontally again to restore the “widescreen” look. It’s a little complicated, but sufficed to say, I’m trying really hard to make them look good for you guys…


The new school year is well underway. My new kids at my main school are severely lacking in the discipline department, but it’s nothing that a nice bamboo stick can’t take care of (refer to my post: “Corporal Punishment”).

On a positive note, it’s nice to be tuned into the “groove” of things. I know how to make my lessons, I know how to run my classes, and I know how to efficiently use my school time. As a result, I now have a lot more free time on my hands to do whatever I want. In the beginning, this free time was wasted on unnecessary things (surfing the internet until my eyes glazed over), but now I’m finding it a lot more fun to use that extra time for the school. I recently decorated my classroom with useful worksheets (common greetings, expressing emotion, basic vocabulary etc.). I also spent quite a bit of time reading through the instructions for most of the board games that were ordered for my English Hub so that we could actually use them (rather than just letting them sit there and collect dust). Yup, life’s all good on the school front…

My Laptop:

Dead. Jessica killed it.

She tripped over the power cord and it took a flying leap off the table onto the floor.

And just like magic, I inherited Jessica’s HP Pavilion!


Sweet, beautiful, and perfect as ever.


Well, that’s about it. We have some big events coming up so be sure to keep checking back!

Signing off for now,

- Ken

New Pages Added!

New Pages Added:

- Adventure Maps

- Upcoming Adventures