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As an English teacher in Korea, I’ve hit a milestone (maybe?).  First of all, I’ve been here for 10 months now (Woo! Two digits) and second of all, I just celebrated Chuseok (추석).  Chuseok is kind of like American Thanksgiving, celebrating the harvest (in the old days), visiting your family and such. I didn’t really do any of that, since there was no harvest to speak of in Yeongtong Suwon and my family is in another country.

But I got three days off from work (WOOOOOO!), from Tuesday to Thursday, and I was going to make use of it some how! Unfortunately, three days in the middle of the week meant I couldn’t easily go to another country (although some teachers still did), and a trip to Jeju that a bunch of us were looking forward to never manifested because the ball was dropped big time. No one actually bothered to book a flight or hotel.

So instead, I spent the holiday/vacation in Seoul and Suwon, celebrating with my Korean family.

Tuesday saw a crazy rainstorm sweep through the area and it just so happened that was the day Quinn and I went into Seoul to visit a cat cafe in Hongdae. Unfortunately, we got stuck in Gangnam, which was practically flooded from the 12-ish inches of rain that was coming down! However, once we eventually got to the cat cafe, we were pleasantly surprised.

It costs ₩ 8,000 to get in, so it’s not something I’d do regularly, but the atmosphere is nice and, unlike at the dog cafe where the animals have ADD, the cats are pretty content to sit there and let you pet them. And sometimes, they pet back.

(Pictures to come)

Wednesday, which happened to be Chuseok, was a much more casual day and a much deserved day to sleep in very late. But after sleeping in very late, I went to a DVD room with Quinn and Linda, one of the new April teachers. What is a DVD room you might ask? Well it’s a room where  you can go and watch DVDs! It’s a bit expensive – ₩15,000 for the three of us. But the atmosphere is nice. You get a big screen, comfortable couches and surround sound, at least at this one, so it’s nicer than watching a movie on one’s laptop.

Thursday saw an adventure into Seoul and fun times on the bus system. I’ve slowly been trying to learn the buses in Seoul since they’re way more convenient and usually faster and nicer than the subway system. As of right now, bus 420 is my good friend since it travels between Gangnam, Itaewon and Dongdaemun, three common haunts of yours truly.

Anyway, on Thursday, Quinn and I introduced Linda to the bus system. From Gangnam we had wanted to go to Itaewon and check out the Namsan Botanical Gardens, which is near Itaewon. Now, we did go to Itaewon but unfortunately he ended up exploring in every direction EXCEPT the one direction where the gardens were. And apparently everyone in Itaewon (or at least everyone we asked) had never heard of the Namsan Botanical Gardens before. What a shame, it was such a nice day for garden-watching. But it wasn’t a complete fail. I finally got to sample the Taco Bell cuisine that opened there a few months ago.

After that, we met Derrika, Kevin and Allison in Myeongdong. Derrika is going home on vacation this Friday and she wanted to buy souvenirs for her family before she left. We didn’t by an souvenirs but we did a have a good time in Myeongdong, our little make-shift CDI family. And at the end of the day, we headed back to Itaewon to eat a delicious Chuseok feast at La Tavola, which FYI has the best lasagna (and only real, authentic lasagna ) I’ve been able to find in Korea.

All in all, a very casual and relaxing Chuseok.

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Yesterday was Independence Day, when South Korea celebrates it independence from Japan. The March First, or Sam-il (literally, 3-1) Movement (삼일 운동) started on March 1st, 1919, when independence fighters declared their independence… and were then captured, tortured and killed by Japanese forces.  But eventually Korea did get their independence and hopefully one day, Korea will be united again!

Suwon celebrated the holiday by hanging flags through the city on Saturday. And I had my Korean Flag hanging up on my classroom wall next to my American flag. There were however now fireworks, as far as I could tell, like American Independence Day.

Yesterday was also the day that I got my Spring 2010 term schedule, but I’ll have a separate post for that. The reason I bring it up is that the lessons I was teaching for my Monday classes (Bridge Reading) was about flags and I had every intention of bringing up the holiday in class to get them thinking about what flags mean and why did the city hang them up to celebrate… but I forgot. However, we were still able to have a pretty good class without me mentioning that.

Today, I woke up at the early hour of 10 am (early considering today is possibly my only day off of this year – which meant I’d have to take advantage of it) and set out for the 5100 bus to Gangnam. I decided to go to Namsangol Hanok Village because that had specific activities for the New Year, whereas the Korean Folk Village, as far as I could tell, did not.

I was suppose to go with Quinn, who spent Saturday night in Seoul and came back Sunday night, but he didn’t answer his phone. Half-way to Gangnam, I got a call from Quinn. Apparently, he ended up staying Sunday night in Seoul too so we decided to meet up at the Village.

Namsangol Hanok Village is just outside the Chungmuro subway station (that’s the cool subway station – although not literally; it’s well heated). Before the Village were a bunch of street stalls selling kites and food and Quinn and I finally bought some street food: meat-on-a-stick. Verdict: delicious.

The Village was definitely a worth while trip. At the entrance there’s a little village made up of buildings that used to be elsewhere in Seoul but have been moved to the Village for preservation. In one of the buildings, you can make a reservation to learn how to wear a hanbok, but it was far too cold for that today. For Lunar New Year, they had musical performances in the Court and arts and crafts projects around it.

Before I get to the arts and crafts, let me also touch on the Time Capsule. Towards the back of the Village, there’s an area that houses the Time Capsule that Seoul buried in 1994. They plan to open it again in 2394 and when I read that I thought “Oh cool, I’ll come back to see that – oh wait… No… I won’t…”. There was a display talking about the different things they put in the Time Capsule(600 items! miniatures and CDs!), which included a plan for what they hope the future will be like. Pretty cool.

Also, the stone that covered the Time Capsule had quotes from different heads of states. However, the representative from the United States was not the president but… the governor of Honolulu. Whaaa?

And back to the arts and crafts! We bought tickets to make a traditional Korean kite (or as the Engrish sign said ‘a traditional kit’) and eat the traditional Korean ‘party’ food. I’m not entirely sure what they meant by ‘party’ food but I think they may have meant ‘festival’ food. The kite making was fun but it was extremely cold by the time we got a spot on the crafts table to make ours and I had to glue everything together with my (freezing cold to the point of numbness) bare hands. BUT! My kite came out magnificently. Then we ate.

The food ticket got us what I thought would be sweet porridge and a Korean pancake. It was not sweet porridge; it was Makgeolli (막걸리 – rice wine), and even though its a Korean tradition, neither Quinn nor I cared for it. The pancake was a seafood (해물파전 –haemul pajeon) complete with tentacles but I was too hungry and cold to really care about how I don’t like seafood, let alone tentacles.

After eating, we watched a really cool drumming and dance performance but sadly I still can’t get WordPress to accept my videos so we’ll just have to wait on that for a little while.

All in all, it was a very nice trip. Now sit back and enjoy some pictures!

Behold the entrance!

I don't know what this says or what it's for. But Koreans were taking pictures of it so I thought that I should too.

I like to think my rabbits will do this if a tiger ever breaks into my apartment.

Makegeolli and Haemuel Pajeon

Unfortunately you couldn't walk into this building, but you could take pictures. At least... as far as I knew you could.

My hand-made, traditional Korean kit(e)! It hasn't yet been flown but on its maiden flight I have ever intention of getting it up in the air to the tune of 'Highway to the Danger Zone'.

Woo! Two holidays in one!

First of all, the holiday you’re all probably familiar with: Valentine’s Day (밸런타인데이 – literally ‘Valentine’s Day’). They do celebrate Valentine’s Day here in South Korea – and in fact some of my students asked me if I would be giving them chocolate in celebration… Oops. I actually would have given them chocolate and maybe even made them little cards but… it did not occur to me… But the last week of term is coming up so I might be buying mygood classes pizza. You read that right: my GOOD classes. The students in my 4pm Thursday Bridge Listening class said that on week 13 we’ll have a pizza party (as if it was mandatory, which it’s not); they are not getting pizza, but that’s another story.

To get back to Valentine’s Day, the holiday works a little differently here than in the US. On Valentine’s Day, girls give guys chocolates, present, etc. On March 14th, Koreans (as well as the Japanese and Taiwanese) celebrate White Day (화 이 트 데 이 – literally pronounced ‘white day’), when its the guys turn to give girls chocolates, presents, etc. White Day was started in Japan as an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s Day, with men expected to give nicer gifts to the girls who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

Holiday number two, in our holiday double-feature, is Lunar New Year (음력설날 – eum-nyeok seol-lal). Lunar New Year is supposed to be one of the big holidays in Korea, lasting three days, and people spend it visiting their families. On Friday my students asked me if I would be going home to the United States. Nope, kiddos. Teacher doesn’t have that kind of time or money (even though Friday was also Pay Day). Instead I spent the first day of Lunar New Year having out with the Training Gang in Seoul because two of us were celebrating birthdays this week. Here’s  are the two main things we did that day:

  1. First thing, we visited Bau House, a dog cafe, and got delicious chocolate milk shakes. Now you’re probably wondering, what’s a dog cafe? No, it is not where people eat dogs (although they do eat dog soup here). It is where people dine with dogs. Yes. Dogs. Once you get used to the smell, it’s delightful. Basically the owners’ dogs run around the tables/on the tables/under the tables and chill out with you. People can also board their dogs there for the day. And foreign English teachers can visit when they miss their dogs and want something to cuddle with.

AAR LAND-LUBBER, I be Captain Jack. If ye gots issue with the Bau House, ye be takin' it up with Captain Jack.

Most. Chill. Dog. Ever.

  1. After getting dinner and chilling out for a while, we went salsa dancing. Except it turn out it was line dancing. Except that turned out to be swing dancing. But there was dancing. The problem was… we didn’t really know how to swing dance. Some of us did, but for the most part we were all rookies. But it was still a lot of fun. And I got a bunch of free oranges from the place.

(Eventually a video of sweet, sweet swing dancing will go here, but I have to figure out how to get the video into a blog appropriate format first…)

Although Saturday was fun, I am a little bummed that the stuff I had been looking into doing (going to Jeju island for the Fire Festival or actually doing something festive for Lunar New Year) didn’t pan out… I was really interested in going to see the Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, which is supposed to put on traditional performances for the holiday but I couldn’t convince the others to go. Unfortunately the performances are only the 14th and 15th, but cultural activities continue until the 16th.

Tomorrow I plan to either go to the Namsangol Hanok Village and check it out or go to the Korean Folk Village outside of Suwon. Either way, I’m doing something traditional tomorrow!

Oh I almost forgot, Mr. Yun who runs the Suwon Yeongtong (where I worked) and Hwaseong Dongtan (where I was supposed to work) branches of Chung Dahm Learning bought all the teachers gift sets for Lunar New Year. A lot of the teachers were hoping that inside the boxes would be food but there was no food to be found. Instead, there was soap, toothpaste and shampoo (… what is Mr. Yun trying to tell us?). I was actually happy about that and since one of the other teachers didn’t need to supplies and gave me his gift set, I now have eight 180g bottles of shampoo, six bars of soap (avocado, tea tree oil and rose soap) and 12 tubes of toothpaste (various mint flavors). Which basically means I won’t have to go shopping for those things for a really long time. 감 사 합 니 다, Mr. Yun!

Here's the outside of the box (that is now gracing my wall as a decoration)!

Behold! Glorious hygiene products!

I had such glorious plans for last weekend! I was supposed to finally get internet in my apartment! I was suppose to go to Yongsan, Seoul’s electronic’s district! I was supposed to get a cell phone. I even accounted for the fact that I had to make up one of my classes from Monday! It was going to be fantastic!

Sadly only one of those plans panned out – I made up my 4pm Monday class on Saturday at 4pm. I didn’t mind coming in to teach on the weekend because I like the students in that class. They’re a lot of fun.

However, I did mind waiting around Saturday morning for someone to come and set up internet in my apartment, as I  was told would happen on Friday, only to find out on Sunday that this weekend was *in fact* a holiday, which meant that not only would no one be coming to set up internet until Monday but Alex, Quinn and I could also not buy cell phones over the weekend.

The plans to visit Yongsan also had to be scraped, unfortunately. It was a little disappointing but it was probably for the best because we wouldn’t have been able to by cell phones as we had planned and it wouldn’t have been fun to go by myself, what with Quinn being sick. And I did get something out of it – free books and a dresser. Someone had tossed them into the street so when I was coming back from lunch on Sunday, I claimed them. Which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were in Yongsan. The books are in Korea so I can’t read them but they fill up my otherwise empty bookshelf. And a (free, in working-condition) dresser (that happens to match my apartment) is actually just what I needed, so yay!

So last weekend: not so adventerous. But it looks like today I might ACTUALLY FOR SURE be getting internet. They’re setting it up today while I’m at work, which is a little unsettling, but whatever. It’s something I need. The class I’m teaching today I really needed internet access to prepare for (I’m playing a Youtube clip!). Luckily I was able to get all my internet stuff done before class but it would have been nice to do the stuff at home.

I almost forgot to post about December holidays in Korea.

It looks like the only national holiday this month is Christmas Day (성탄절), Seongtanjeol, which is on December 25th. Apparently Seongtanjeol is just the common name, especially among Christians, but the official name under Korean law is Gidoktansinil. And in a few short weeks, I’ll be able to post about Seongtanjeol/Gidotansinil with my own first hand experiences!

The other big day is Dongji, or the Winter Solstice. It occurs around December 22. One of the traditions in Korea is to dispel bad spirits. I wonder how wide spread this is, or if its like the Winter Solstice here and only celebrated by small groups. Again, in a few short weeks, I’ll be able to find out for myself.

It’s Hangul Day in South Korea! And in celebration, I’ve been practicing my hangul writing abilities. Which I haven’t really been practicing. Reading, yes. Typing via Rosetta Stone, yes. Writing with pen and paper, no. I have to say, I kinda suck at it. Hopefully I’ll get better with practice because even if I won’t need to write in Korean when I’m there (which I might – I don’t know), I still want to be able to do it.

Also, I’ve pretty much decided that my favorite letter (자모) isㅎ, which is ‘h’ in Korean. It was the first Korean letter I fully mastered and I just think it looks happy, like a little person wearing a hat that’s just happy to see you’re reading it.

In other news, I’ve started lesson 4  (the last lesson of Unit 1, woo-hoo!) of Rosetta Stone, which focuses on learning numbers. Wow. I knew I was going to have trouble learning numbers because in Korean there are two set of numbers, one native Korean and one that’s taken from Chinese, which they use in different situations. Each lesson is a little tricky at first but after running through it once or twice (twice for the colors) I usually have it mostly down and then I just have to wait a day or two for it to full sink in. I’m definitely going to have to go over the numbers many times before I fully master it because it’s not clicking for me.

Okay, so this requires a teenie, weenie bit of back story so indulge me for a moment. When I was first hired as an English teacher, they gave me a list of websites on Korean language and culture to check out and one of them was a really cool map of Korean festivals. And I then proceeded to loose that website.

Then the day I started this blog, I found another blog for Korea Sparkling, Korea’s tourism campaign. On the blog they had a way to post a little Korea Sparkling box on your blog that could be programed to show the news, weather or something else from South Korea. I lost that website too. Literally. It’s gone from my little version of the web.

So today I was trying to find the Korea Sparkling blog. Instead I found the Korea Sparkling website. Imagine my surprise when, after surfing around on that page, I found the ORIGINAL FESTIVAL PAGE! WOO-HOO! So I put in on the Korean Sites page. I very much suggest checking it out.

It’s a post full of holidays! The Korean holidays are one of the major things I’m excited to learn about when I’m there. But like learning the language, it doesn’t hurt to brush up before hand.

Yesdterday (October 2) in South Korea was Chuseok (추석), the Full Moon Harvest holiday, which similar to Thanksgiving. Korea.net has a cute display of it and I definitely recommend people read it if they want to know more. They give a history of the holiday as well as old and modern Chuseok. And, oh yeah, adorable pictures. It’s a major holiday in Korea and I’m looking forward to eventually being over there and celebrating it myself (next year, of course).

Today (October 3rd) is National Foundation Day, known as Gaecheonjeol (개천절),  in South Korea. It celebrates the founding of the first Korean state, Gojoseon (고조선). The name Gaecheonjeol , I have read, means “Heaven-opened Day”.

Another holiday coming up in South Korea is Korean Day (October 5th). It was started in 2007 as a way for Koreans at home and abroad to better understand each other. A very nice sentiment for a holiday to have.

Finally, the last holiday in October (that I’m aware of)  is Hangul Day, called Han-geullal (한글날), on October 9th. This day commemorates the invention and proclamation of hangul, the Korean alphabet. Hangul was invented by King Sejong the Great.

PS. In case you read the post after this all the way to the very bottom, after writing it I went back and put the hangul in this post after their romanized counter-parts. Yay, editing!