2 Canadians in Korea

Welcome to our blog. It's designed to give people back home an idea of what it's like living in South Korea and to allow you to follow us on our journey.

I've been blogging a lot of facts and I feel I should say that some of it is copy pasted from books, the internet and the signs that I took pictures of at the tourist site itself.

Click here to view my videos on my You Tube Channel

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Norebong Superstars!

Gloria Estefan was right...the rhythm will get you! And get us it did! On Saturday, we experienced our first Norebong (pronounced No-ray-bong). A Norebong is a Korean karaoke room that you rent for the hour with just your friends. You get your own private room (bathroom included - although it only had a urinal...), beer, food, and all necessary karoake equipment. Some rooms come quite elaborately equipped with a glass-floor stage, lights and a disco ball. Others come with props such as hats and accessories, and then some are less extravagant and only have a couple of tambourines, like ours did.

Regardless of the level of accessories, a good time is surely to be had by all! We sang our hearts out for over two hours for the low price of $40 CDN (roughly $20 an hour). We belted out some of the world's greatest hits, like Ricki Martin's 'Livin' La Vida Loca', Eagles' 'Hotel California', Roxette's 'She's Got The Look', Blur's 'Song 2', Neil Diamond's 'I'm A Believer', and A-Ha's 'Take On Me', just to name a few.

When you book the room, it comes with a huge three-ring binder of all the available songs, and you simply punch them into a wireless keyboard, pick up the mic, grab a beer, and let 'er rip! Before going into the room, we were a little hesitant about singing in front of others and doing karaoke. However, it wasn't intimidating at all. As a matter of fact, it's much more fun because everyone sings together. It was never just one poor chap standing at the front of the room, akwardly singing out of tune, and swaying to a song for which he barely knows the words. Instead, we were all horribly massacring the songs together. Angèle actually sang until she could barely speak!

Koreans love Norebongs! Even the super shy Koreans that speak just above a whisper have been known to hit some high notes in the privacy of a Norebong room. Our students also write about them quite frequently in their weekly diary assignements - and now we know why! We had an awesome time and we'll definitely be doing it again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teaching English in South Korea

I figured since we've been here for over 2 months we are due for a blog on teaching since that is what brought us here.
We work for a school called a "hagwon" which is a private school. There are countless numbers of hagwons in South Korea and several franchise chains, the people who own our hagwon owns 3 of them within 30 mins of each other. Any parent who can afford to send their kids to hagwons do in the hopes of giving their kids the extra edge on the competition. The hagwons are located in business buildings across the city and feel more like an office than a school. Some hagwons are very well organized and some aren't but most franchises probably have a curriculum to follow which makes teaching way easier since you don't have to research your material, but just go to the next lesson in the book.

I have 10 classes that I see during the week and there is a well organized rotation between them. Monday, Wednesday, Friday I have the same 7 classes and Tuesday, Thursday I have the same 3 classes with 4 free periods to do some correction and prepare for my next classes. Each class is 45-50 minutes depending on the class and I have anywhere from 5-10 students but most classes are under 8 students.

We are 3 foreign teachers and 5 Korean teachers at my school and this is my work space in the teachers lounge. I have a Korean partner teacher for each class, so if I teach them on Monday the Korean teacher teaches them on Tuesday and so on. If a student is absent, the Korean teacher calls their home to let them know what they missed and so they can do their homework to not fall behind. That phone on my desk is mostly used by Jade, the Korean teacher who sits next to me, and she calls most of my kids when they are sick. Sometimes the phone rings and I want to answer it as force of habit with my previous job (I tried to get the phone on 2 rings max) but then I remember that I won't be able to speak to the person calling anyway.

Since most of our students come from rich families we do get the spoiled kids that won't listen and do what they are told, which ruins it for the rest of them. When they are bad or they don't do their homework, they get detention like this group did, although they still look like they are having fun. These kids are 13-15 years old and have regular school starting at 8 am, they go to various hagwons throughout the afternoon and end up at our school from 7:15 pm until 8:50 pm. Then they had detention, which was probably until 9:45 pm. They then had to go home, do their homework, sleep and be ready for school at 8 am the next day, just to do it all over again.

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Favorite Students

These are some of my favorite students for various reasons, mostly because they are nice and quiet in class and they do their homework, which tends to be the smarter students who do well. One of my newer students made my "favorite student list" because his mom told me in front of everyone during parent teacher day that her son loves my class. He said he likes it because the teacher is nice and he gets to learn and have fun at the same time. I don't want to brag about "all" the compliments I got, but this one was worth mentioning.

The first picture is of Raphael, the student I just talked about.

The second picture is of Ben, the cutest little guy who loves to do good in school, but has way too much energey for his own good. I think he might be drinking some energy drinks before coming to school!

Then I have Kelly, a very smart, quiet girl, stuck in a class of 4 attention seekers. She always does her homework and when we do correction, if I'm not sure what the answer is, I will ask her to answer first and go with that.

Next is Rooni, who named this kid? He is in the newest class I have and they are very new to the English language. Rooni seems to understand better than the others. I have a hard time explaining what they need to do for homework and such, but Rooni usually understands first and when I see that he just got it, I ask him to explain to the others for me and he gladly does. I also got 3 new students since the class started in March and Rooni has helped me get them up to speed.

Last but not least, there's Susan. I actually really like every student in her class and you will see her class picture in my other teaching blog, but she is the cutest. She is very shy and every day she has a cute outfit. One day, she looked like little red riding hood. She is very smart, but because she is so shy, she has weak speaking skills for her level of written English.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Changwon Sports Complex

There is a strech of road in Changwon that has 4-5 "stadium" buildings in a row. There is an olympic size swimming pool, a cycle racing dome track, an international racing track, an archery field, a gymnasian, a soccer field and a basketball stadium. We plan to go watch something at some point, but we haven't been able to find out when everything is playing yet.

This blog isn't really about the sports they play at these stadiums, but more about what they do with the parking lots when there is no event. No wasted space here in South Korea! The parking lot is used by hundreds of kids, teenagers and families as a place to rollerblade, bike around and whatever other toy they have that runs on wheels. You could rent everything you need and we were surprised at the variety of things they had. You could rent a morotorized kid size car, a go-cart for young kids, a full size pedal car for a family, roller blades, bikes, funny-looking skateboards and scooters to name a few.

For a country that spends so much time on education, we are surprised to see how many parks and other places there are for kids to play and have fun, considering the kids in Canada have so much time to play but they barely have the space to do it in, in comparison to here. This is why kids end up skateboarding in mall parking lots or churches or anywhere else they find the proper pavement and rails, which are mostly places they aren't wanted.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Main Market

We thought we had been to the market until we found out that every 4th and 9th day (14th, 19th, 24th...) there is a huge market in downtown Changwon. We have since been there just about every opportunity we had and it's not that hard since I work less than a 1 minute walk from this market.

"The Market" is a big 3 floor building that has lots of no frills shops and on market day tons of local farmers and others surround this building with their little booths. There are so many booths that the sidewalks for 1-2 blocks from the market centre are filled with more vendors. Inside the building they mostly sell the following: what looks like knock off clothes, homemade pillows and blankets, some bulk food, frozen and dried fish/seafood, shoes, bags, flowers, knick knacks and a strange kind of grocery store in the basement where we managed to finally find some familiar spices like basil, parsley and oregano.

The first time we went to "The Market" we were so excited that we spent $60 Cnd on produce and eggs. What would have been 1 month or more worth of produce back home lasted us 7-8 days here. We bought 10 English cucumbers for $4 Cnd, 30 eggs for $5 Cnd and 8 big Asian pears for $5 Cnd among other things. Some of the deals seemed like it was the same price as we would have seen back home, however for here it was a good deal.

A side note, whenever we walk around this market we think of John. All the good products at the best prices available and if you speak Korean you could haggle a little. This place had John written all over it.

Kimchi is the most consumed product in South Korea. Koreans eat kimchi (pickled cabbage) at just about every meal so it would only make sense to be able to find some kimchi at "The Market" and we did. There are several stands that sold kimchi but we have yet to buy any and I don't think we will since we always get kimchi as a side dish with whatever we order at any restaurant. This booth had kimchi of all flavours and several other pickled items like whole garlics.

Some of the vendors yell out their deals like you see this fish guy doing. He was quite entertaining and when someone would buy his long scary looking fish he would clean them 3 at a time, chop them in into 3 big pieces each, salt them and bag them for sale all in under 20 seconds. It's not that he had "the mad skills" but all fish guys would do this at that speed. We also found a shop on the side of the building that had hanging pork. There were 3 butchers chopping away yelling their deals, which kind of felt like I was at the Korean version of"Licks". (the hamburger place that the employees sing songs while you wait in line...)

I know the prices look confusing but we just take off one "0" and add a $ sign and it's pretty close to the conversion. (5000 won = $5.00 cdn) So far we bought a pillow the size of Angèle for $17 Cnd and a new pair of no name shoes for Pierre at $17 Cnd. We haven't found any good priced electronics yet, which is what we were hoping to find.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Seongjusa Temple, Changwon

We have visited our first temple and let me say that it's nothing shot of breathtaking. The amount of detail that goes into the construction of these temples is amazing. Most of the fancy designs are made out of carved wood and painted with a great amount of detail. Each building has it's purpose, one was clearly a place to eat and read as there was a library and a kitchen on each side of the room. Another building was blocked off to the public which tells me it's where they live and the one we went in was where they had their ceremonies. Every inch of that interior was covered with art and meticulous detailed paintings and wood carvings. The front of the room was covered in Buddhas and other relics.

The grounds around the temples are covered in little Buddhas of all shapes and sizes that were left by visitors, I thought of taking one as a souvenir but my consciense kicked in and I didn't. There was one relic Buddha that was about 4'5" tall and was enclosed in a secured structure and this is it's story:

Standing gwaneumbosal statue in Seongjusa, Changwon

The Gwaneumbosal, representative of Buddha’s compassion, is believed to appear in various forms according to the wishes of human beings to bring them salvation. Thus, this Buddha was greatly worshipped as mentioned throughout all the sutras of Mahayana Buddhism.

Made from granite, this statue is carved with a nimbus and lotus flower pattern pedestal. The head is bare and the round face has a tender expression. The hands position represents a Bodhisattva lecturing on Buddhist sutras; thus, the thumb and index finger of the right hand are touching and raised up toward the stomach. The shoulders are rounded and both feet can be seen stepping on the lotus flower patterns. The clothing is draped upon both shoulders in the shape of a thick U and falls down to the feet. Compared to the upper torso, the lower torso is shorter and less detailed, and considering its rather two-dimensionality, this figure probably dates to the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392). This statue of Gwaneumbosal was unearthed at the present location, and at this very spot Yonghwajeon was built around it as a protective structure for this statue.

Website with more Seongjusa info. http://eng.changwon.go.kr/sub02/sub_01_10.jsp

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Here is a video that I made from all our pictures and the music is a Buddhist medetation song from a CD we bought at the "Seongjusa Temple Gift Shop". They have to make money somewhere since it's free to visit their temple.
Seongjusa Temple Video

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tongue Tied - South Korea

Here is an interesting video from YouTube about the English situation in South Korea. Keep in mind that it's from 2005.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Crossing Guard

We were out shopping this weekend and we saw the coolest crossing guard ever. He reminded me of Micheal Jackson with his outfit and of Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 3 when he's directing traffic at the start of the movie. This guy had some major moves to tell cars which way to go and although he was talkng non-stop and he was definitely dancing. This would have been way better shown if I had a camcorder but the rapid shots I got with my camera will have to do. There was so much movement that I had a hard time knowing who's turn it was, but the cars all understood him. At the end of each traffic direction change, he would finish with a bow as you see in the picture. It was kind of like a nice thank you, as is the norm in Korean culture.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tastes Like Korea

I recently had a post that briefly explained our "tastes like Korea" saying and I felt I could elaborate on it. On most street corners you could find a vendor that is set up to have some parts of what you see these vendors selling. They have 3-5 things cooking or boiling and most of it smells like boiling fish water. Sounds delicious doesn't it?

We have tried some things and the one that we like is a chicken kebob that is grilled and constantly sauced to perfection. It's pretty good but it's very spicy, John would love this. We have also tried the silk worm larvas (see picture) which is "boon-day-guie" in Korean and it wasn't the worst thing we ate since we've been here but it's close and we won't be eating it again. Also, we think "boon-day-guie" is one of the leading causes of the wonderful aroma in the air near these markets that we have come to call "tastes like Korea".

We have seen a lot of dried fish or jerky style fish. We have no idea what kind of fish this is and I don't think we will ever get to know what it tastes like. We have also seen huge bags full of dried up minnows and we can't figure out what they do with them.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Beverly Hills of South Korea

We found the Beverly Hills of Changwon and it's about 10 minutes away on foot from our apartment. The houses were awesome and there were some very interesting designs. Most houses had solar panels on them and every inch of property was covered with what I call clutter. I don't think anyone in South Korea owns a lawn mower.

They have these signs posted everywhere and I thought it meant no private investigators but I was later informed that it meant neighbourhood watch in effect, "if you see any suspicious charactors please contact..." no one called to report me.

Angèle says: "I had the opportunity to go into one of these massive houses to attend my first official meeting of the International Housewives Club. In this club, a different woman hosts a meeting in their house every last Friday of the month. Everyone brings something to eat, and they share stories and chat over a potluck lunch.

The whole experience was a little surreal, as most of the women were much older and living in Korea because their husbands were Engineers working on huge bridge projects, or the construction of new ports in Busan. We were only English teachers, making a little money and living in tiny old apartments.

The inside of the house was quite nice, although I only saw the sunroom/livingroom, a second living room, the kitchen and a small bathroom. Security was tight considering the extremely low crime rate, to enter the yard, you have to ring and look into a camera, and then they buzz you in through the gate. The rooms are large and very bright. The floors were marble and heated. They had cathedral ceilings, very modern style furniture and the kitchen was enormous, especially by Korean standards. I can only imagine what the rest of the house looked like!"

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