Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Holiday

This child gets himself 'pretend' stuck in his coat almost every lesson. He's pretty awesome.

This class is one of the best at English. Some of the 3rd graders are extremely intelligent.

Christmas is a National Public Korean Holiday; and thus there have been many decorations around the city. The class rooms have slight decorations to them that make it feel a bit festive. From the adult perspective Christmas in Korea is looked at as more of a couple and friend holiday than a family holiday. Koreans will spend a lot of time with their significant other or friends rather than travel long distances to be with their families. (They have other family centric holidays for that.)

I'll be spending my Christmas with other English teachers. Should be a great time!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Movie Protesters

In the middle of the city I came across what I thought were a bunch of protesters, but once I walked closer I realized that people were cuing and filming them. Also another note of interest is how well lit their faces were; this is because of the reflectors that they placed at their feet to insure proper lighting. I'm curious what they were protesting though; protesting is larger part of the culture here. This was a small production; but interesting to walk by none the less.

Also in the middle of Seoul runs a nice stream. Many people jog and walk through this every day as it goes for miles; it's also well lit at night. This area of Seoul is a bit of a subway ride from my location, but its fun to visit from time to time. There is an abundance of western food (and international food in general) selection located around this area, as it is a big tourist attraction. There are western style restaurant that are completely Korean owned, even though many Koreans might not be aware of it. (Although its kind of obvious to the foreigner, because I've never seen a shrimp tofu burger in any fast food restaurant in the West.) But its kind of like in America when you go to an Asian restaurant franchise your not completely sure who its owned by. And in America the Asian food might be Americanized, but your not really sure how... It's also fascinating that forks here are as much a novelty as chop sticks are in the West. They only use forks if they were at a nice western restaurant for the most part; as we would at an Asian restaurant. After living in Korea you become quite used to using chopsticks; and its just as natural as a knife and fork. (well at least most of the time.) It's amazing how much skill goes into using a knife and fork properly that we forget about. It's as hard as using chopsticks, if not harder, for a new learner.

Each Asian country uses different types of chopsticks. In Korea they are long, thin, and made of metal. Also in Korea you always use a spoon along with your chop sticks, because soup is always served with every meal. So if you don't feel like picking up tiny pieces of rice with your long narrow chopsticks, no problem, just use a spoon. :)

I got sick all last week with a pretty bad cold. But I'm starting to feel better. I think it was that -11C weather... My body is starting to get used to the colder weather; and I imagine by January I'll be fine.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter is Near

It continues to get colder. Today it snowed for a few hours. Last night the low was -11 C. Went to the market to buy some more warm clothes and tea.

Men in South Korea are required to give at least two years of service. So this means they can either serve in the military or do some other type of social service. Thus, it is not uncommon to see about 20 young police men with gear standing post outside a mall.

Public transportation is wonderful in Seoul; and is one of the most impressive features of the city. Seoul has an extensive bus system, which you can tell from the picture. (How many buses can you count?) There are also free transfers from bus to subway; which can be convenient. And taxi's are relatively cheap when compared to a NYC taxi; it costs about maybe 4,000 won to go around 9 miles, and about 25,000 won if you needed to get across city in hurry. And there of course is no tipping in Korea; it would be considered rude if you tried to tip in most cases.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Last week got rather cold, down to -10 C, and it even snowed a bit. I appreciated all of the warm clothes I recently acquired while walking to school in the mornings. My apartment room is heated through the floor which I find to be interesting; but is very effective in keeping my small place warm. Koreans have been using underfloor heating for several hundred years, so its quite common here. I'm fortunate to have an apartment room that is easily kept warm. In the school they will only heat certain rooms, so it is either very hot or cold. The hallways are not heated at all, so one must keep multiple layers available. In bigger places, such as a school, they use heated air ventilation that is common in the western world. It snows about 27 days a year on average in Seoul; so that is about 25 days more than I am currently used to.

I taught my children about the popular American holiday Thanksgiving; and all the small customs associated with it. Including that many families will together watch parades and college football games. Some of the students seemed very concerned about all the football players missing their Thanksgiving dinner with their families. This concern was alleviated when I expressed that Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday creating a four day weekend for many; thus allowing ample time for the football players to be able to spend time with their family.

Korea's education is on an alternating six day work week. So students have to come in on every other Saturday, along with the teachers. This does not include native English teachers , since they are aware that Western teachers are used to the five day work week.

The picture on the top is of an upscale department store, one that I did not bother going into. In the vicinity around it though there are many good shops that have decent priced clothing; so there are plenty of options. Because of the large variety and pricing people from other Asian countries will travel here just for the shopping.

The end of the semester is coming up quick; which means the six graders will graduate to middle school and everyone else will move up a grade. Over the winter break I will be giving a three week English camp, so that the younger students in the school can work on developing their basic English. Winter break is longer than summer break since the school year begins in the Winter/Spring; opposed to starting in the Fall. Students will have about a two month break before starting the new school year, but much of this time might be spent at a hagwon or a private academy for learning.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Han River

The Han River runs directly through the middle of Seoul. I still have not spent a lot of time exploring the Han, but I would like to. The other day a couple of my friends walked out of our way to check it out a little more.

Friday, November 7, 2008


The other day my friends and I went to N Seoul Tower, the main tower of Seoul. It's a big tourist attraction, much like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. You might think that the "N" stands for 'North', but it actually stands for south. The tower is also known as Namsan Tower and 'namsan' means 'south mountain'. Around the tower there were a whole lot of fun touristy things to do and see, including a random laser show accompanied by music. To say the least my friends and I were completely entertained; especially since this laser show suddenly appeared with no warning in the middle of a standing area.

It was a cloudy night; so the view was not at its best. But that is more the reason to visit again.

On another note: I have been still enjoying the Korean food, but it is nice living in a big city where western food is also available. Today I was able to have a burrito that was so good it challenged some burritos I've had back in the states; and that's impressive. I still love the bibimbap though.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mountain, here I am.

Yesterday all of the teachers at my school, about 40 of them, went hiking on a mountain. I thought this would be nice leisure time for a peaceful walk; I was wrong. A healthy middle aged teacher suggested that I and some other younger teachers reach the summit of the mountain. I thought this sounded like a good idea at the bottom of the mountain; but after the first hour and a half of hiking I began to get rather tired. Hiking in Korea is a really popular sport for the older generations, and thus I happened to be the youngest person on the mountain that I saw. So while I am having trouble hiking this mountain there are 50-65 year olds climbing the mountain with no problem. Once we got to the top it became really steep and slippery with a long drop; thus I did not get any good picture from the very top of the mountain due to personal safety constraints. The pictures I posted of the cityscape was about maybe 3/4th up the mountain. And by the time I actually got down from the mountain I was extremely exhausted. Although I would like to go hiking in Korea again at some point, I feel like I should probably work my way back up to that level of a hike. Next time I plan to start with something a little less extreme, where I'm not climbing up a slippery rock 750 meters above the ground after being already exhausted from a steep and hard hike. All in all, it was a great adventure, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do it. I needed a good work out, and that's what I got. Plus there was a great meal waiting for us by the time we got back to the bottom of the mountain.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It is starting to get colder here in Seoul. Living in the South East of America all my life has left me inexperienced to deal with a real winter. So on one hand I am really excited about living through a real winter, and on the other hand, I'm kind of scared about catching colds etc. So I'm trying to be more conscious about eating more fruit. My co-teachers laughed when I told them in Georgia schools close if it snows more than a couple of centimeters or if there is icing on the roads.

The first picture is the view from the top of my apartment building, and the second is from inside an underground mall. This week I will be going hiking with all the teachers at my school, so I'm looking forward to that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Teacher, Teacher

I've been continuing to enjoy teaching. It's been a fun and rewarding job teaching English at an elementary level while still having time to discover a new city and country.

The lesson planning is a serious part of the job, and its nice to have my co-teachers help out on that. We will usually put our ideas together and create the lesson plans as a team. As for the students; there are so many different unique personalities that the children have. It's been great getting to know them all as best as I can. There is a third grade class that will always follow me back to my office and just hang around saying 'goodbye, goodbye'; its too cute. And one fourth grader will always tell me how smart she in a very funny and light manner. "I'm very smart, don't you think so, don't you?" Of course I just kindly laugh and agree.

The sixth graders are about to graduate elementary school in December; they will move on to middle school in January. I asked one sixth grader if he was excited about moving on and he told me he was not looking forward to the extra homework. Anyways, they are not as excited about English as the third graders are, needless to say. But Korea is a country who places an extremely high value on quality education, so many students will spend many hours after public school in private institutions studying various subjects. One third grader I know is taking about 5 different after school classes. Korea has one of the strongest economies in the world despite its relatively small size and population because of their focus on finding quality education.

So the moral: study hard.
On my free time I am starting to pick up some of my older hobbies along with making some new ones. I've been spending some time at Seoul's biggest electronic market, Yongsan, trying to find cheap, but quality, parts to upgrade my computer along with trying to make some music. Also, I plan by late March to have a website of my own up, but I will still have a link to this blog on it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pusan: Film and Art

This last weekend we had Friday off; so some of my friends and I traveled to Pusan. One of the main reasons why we did this is because Pusan was hosting its 13th international film festival: aka PIFF. PIFF is becoming one of the strongest film festivals in Asia, so there was alot excitement surrounding the city. It was hard to buy tickets to the movies, as they sold out extremely quickly, yet I still managed to watch about 3 films.

Pusan is a port city and has a much different vibe than Seoul. Pusan maintains the more laid back vibe while Seoul is the city that never sleeps. You could try and compare NYC to ATL to give yourself a ruff comparison of the two cities: also the population of Pusan is relative to Atlanta and Pusan still maintains some of its 'southern/country' culture in a big city environment. When my friends and I asked directions to an art museum an elder man walked about a 1/2 mile to show us it was just around the corner instead of just pointing where to go. The museum we saw was for modern art and it was rather impressive, there were many large and innovative installations from artist around the world.

On another random note the food was noticeably different which was fun; it would just be a little ingredient here and there that made a subtle difference in each dish. For example the kimchi had a little more kick to it and the bibimbap had different ingredients in it, such as cucumbers, etc.

Although there were many movies to watch I only saw a few, I saw an interesting German film called "Northface" and a dreamy Japanese animation movie called "Skycrawlers". Most of the Korean films sold out the fastest as you might expect.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This week included "Sports Day", which is a very large event here at my elementary school. It is put on every other year since it is such a big production. There was a full rehearsal day early in the week and then the real "Sports Day" that all of the parents come out to watch for the entire school day. Each grade puts on a choreographed Korean dance, either traditional or modern; some really neat stuff. And then there are a whole bunch of other competitions and games. Some teachers think that "Sports Day" takes too much time away from the students studies, and that it can be rather stressful for everyone to put on such a large event. I thought it was very impressive and I am sure the children learned a lot about practical team work, etc. But either way, I was glad that I was able to participate in it; I even ended up becoming a participant in an event or two. But for most of the day I helped with the score board and other odd jobs. I had a really good time, then after the day all of the teachers went out for Korean BBQ and drinks. It was fun to be able to socialize with all of the teachers and a few of the parents.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

treasure hunt (for sandals) and movies

Seoul has many many markets that one can get lost in. Last weekend my friend and I spent hours getting lost in different markets and shopping areas. There is everything to extremely fancy and expensive shopping malls to night street markets where you are expected to haggle for a good price. There are still quite a few markets that I have yet to check out. I'm usually not one for spending time shopping, but in Seoul it's a fun excuse to just wonder around the city and explore. It's very hard to find shoes and sandals that fit me here, so it took many days to be able to finally find a pair of work sandals; at my school you have to wear slippers/sandals once inside the building. I ended up finding a pair of nice and good priced sandals in a small store underground that was in the process of closing for the night. The rather old lady that was running the small shop pushed the deal by discounting the sandals to a very affordable and reasonable price. Usually to find western sized shoes you have to spend a pretty penny, or in this case won.

Also the food here continues to please my appetite. I feel that it is almost cheaper to eat out than to cook, which works out in my favor. (That is Korean food is a good deal, western food here is fairly expensive)

Here are my top 3 food options for a typical dinner:
1. bibimbap-
2. tuna kimbap w/ soup-
3. any type of noodels

There are many small kimbap or noodle shops that sell these dishes at a reasonable price. Oh, and kimchi is served with basically every meal in Korea. It tastes great; especially with rice (which is also served at almost every meal). Kimchi might taste a little hot if your not used to spicy foods; Koreans in general enjoy the hot flavors. There is always red pepper paste around if any particular dish is not spicy enough for their individual taste. But it is not too hard to find non-spicy dishes if that is not your thing. You will just need someone to translate for you.

Also, I found an art cinema in Seoul that was showing late eighties and early nineties Korean movies, which was part of a retrospective. Supposedly there are a few more art cinemas around; although the one I went to I think was the 'official' one of Seoul. And since Seoul is an international city, it is not too hard to find English subtitles. It is amazing to see older Korean cinema compared to their contemporary cinema; there is a vast difference in production quality. Although the movies I saw might have had bad lighting and sound production, the stories were solid and entertaining. Contemporary Korean movies have a very polished, almost Hollywood aesthetic to them. Hollywood actually has remade a few Korean movies.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


My friends and I spent Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) at an island beach. We had to hop around on different islands to get to the one we were going to. We ended up getting a little lost here and there, but that made it more fun in the end; there was even a small mountain that we accidentally hiked over. Finally we met with the other teachers that were already on the island and we all watched the sunset then had a Korean BBQ of our own.

The tides around the island were pretty dramatic. Once the tide went down you could walk over to another smaller island. Also locals, and maybe a tourist or two, would go out into the mud and go shellfish hunting. And there is an abundance of shellfish to be had around these islands. Before crossing over to the islands a couple of my friends and I found a little restaurant in a small seaport town that served us shellfish soup. I don't remember being given a menu or a choice of what to order, but I had no complaints as it tasted great and the price was right.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008


This week has been the real introduction to me being a teacher. It's been fun, and I am starting to feel more comfortable teaching the more I do it. The students English levels are at such a wide range it will be hard to balance the classroom material so people are not too bored or frustrated. I always teach with a Korean co-teacher, and they have been a huge help. It truly is a team effort, and it's always nice to have them to be able to translate/clarify for me when need be. With two teachers in the classroom the more advanced students can ask me questions in English while the others can ask the Korean teacher for help.

The pictures above are from when I applied for my Alien Registration Card. The ARC is my ID card while in Korea. It allows me to be able to do basic things; like get a cell phone. So after I applied for the ARC my co-teacher and I walked around the city for a few miles, or more.

This weekend is a big family holiday, similar to the American Thanksgiving, so I will have Monday and Tuesday off from school; I'll try to see more of Seoul and beyond with some of my friends. Look for more pictures on Tuesday. The name of the holiday is Chuseok (추석)

Sunday, September 7, 2008


This last week has been really great. Everyone I work with is very kind and all of the children are very excited to have a new native speaking English teacher. When I walk through the halls all of the kids will say "Hello" and wave; my name to the children is "Steven Teacher." When I walk into the classroom they start asking all sorts of questions. Also I have been enjoying the lunches at school. They are simple, yet tasty. The other teachers are always very encouraging of my chopstick use. I am not horrible, yet there is a fine skill to using the chopsticks. Many of the Korean dishes still have the bones on/in the meat/fish; so advanced use of the chopsticks are required. But the food taste great, and I feel like I am getting an abundance of good veggies in my diet now.

This first week of living on my own has been nice, it already feels like home. It is great to be able to take the subway into town, but I always enjoy coming back to my smaller part of town. I have learned so much about Korean culture in such a short amount of time, its great. I enjoy checking out all of the different styles of restaurants around my area; by the time I come back I will be loving spicy food. At a small restraunt it is possible to get a huge meal with meat/veggies/rice/etc for under 4 US dollars or 4000 Won. There are many Korean BBQ joints where food becomes especially social because you grill your own meat and veggies. It is still hard to order food on my own, although I am starting to be able to read and write the Korean alphabet. The Korean alphabet is a rather logical and is a phonetically accurate alphabet, so people can pick it up relatively quickly. Although mastering pronunciation is a whole other ball game. There are lots of vowel sounds that are hard for a westerner to pronounce; but I have a year to practice. It's nice to have a few friends who speak Korean when I go out.

On Friday the other teachers surprised me with a birthday cake, and on Saturday I went out with some of the other teachers, whom I became friends with at orientation, to a neat part of town. It is near a large university so it has a cool vibe to it, lots of small music venues, cafes, and restaurants.

Earlier this evening I found another walking/running trail that is nice. (Thats where I took the picture above) Along the trail there are many mini parks to be found that have pull up bars or badminton courts. I still need to find a movie theater; when American movies play they use subtitles so I will be able to watch some of the bigger movies. Also I am interested in finding an art house cinema in Seoul; so I will keep you posted with that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Area

Well my first day of school went well! Everyone was very nice, and it was great to finally meet my co-workers. Although I did not teach today, I will start teaching next week. This week I will prepare and observe, which will be nice.

Here are some pictures I took yesterday:

This is of the small street my apartment is off of.

I can jog, run, or ride a bike next to the 'stream'.