Monday, September 19, 2011

Becoming Korean

What does it mean to become Korean?  How does it happen for a very American, blond girl from Seattle?

I think I realized it was happening when just a few months into this gig I would get annoyed if the bus driver was NOT being a total maniac, zooming all over the road, and generally endangering the safety of all around and inside the bus.  I mean, I have places to be!  Mr. Bus Driver, when I got on this bus I expected you to drive like a crazy person so I could get to my appointment on time!

My wonderful co-teachers! (except Mr. No on the Left, but his English is still fantastic)

Or, on my brief trip home to Seattle, finding myself in American restaurants wishing there were chopsticks, no tips, water towels, and the "chogio! (help!  I need a waiter please!)" buttons that make so much sense!

Or, preferring floor heating to the average heater in Seattle because having warm feet, and laying on a toasty warm floor surrounded by icy air is the best way to survive a frigid winter.  

Maybe its when I crash into people on the street on accident and the relief I feel that in this culture it is acceptable to continue walking as if nothing has happened, often, in fact, to not even acknowledge the collision.   

Also, I have found that I prefer sharing my meals with others as opposed to ordering my own plate and sticking to it..  How un-steak-and-potatoes-bred style American is that?

At the train station
Of course, Korea hasn't converted me to all its ways, but pretty darn close.  With my return home just around the corner I am aware that I may have to tweak my style again, and I'm not sure I'll enjoy giving up some of my new cultural traits.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My grandpa and the Korean War

"Wynne, is that you?"
"Hey grandpa!"
"Are you in Korea?!  You are calling me from Korea?"
"Yup!  I'm calling you on my computer, can you believe it?"
"Well by golly, isn't that something..  Clear as a bell, and all the way in Korea.  All we had was the post when I was there, and we'd be lucky to get something in the mail once a month!"

War Memorial Museum in Seoul

My grandfather on my mom's side was here in South Korea during the Korean War.  I can't begin to imagine the differences in how I'm living here now and the experience he had just 60 years ago.

"Now tell me, Wynne, what are some cities in Korea, I wanna see if I recognize anything.."
"Well, there's Seoul and Busan, and then Incheon which is where the International airport is.."
"Of course I know Seoul and Busan, yeah I went there. Incheon?  Well we landed the ships at Incheon and there certainly wasn't any airport... Are there other airports?"
"Yeah, there's Gimpo airport that does domestic flights, but it used to be international.  Other than that, there is probably a small one in Busan, but I'm not really sure.."
"Hmmm is that it?  I recognize Incheon and Busan, but I don't know the other one you said.  Hmm, let me think here.. now, if I remember it right I spent a lot of time near an airport called, uhhh... Kimpo airport.."
"Grandpa!  That's what I said, that's..."
"I'd get off work early and meet my buddy up there by that airport and we'd get in his little motor vehicle and oh boy we'd whip all around that place.  Gosh we had a great time.."
"Grandpa, I'm right where you were, every time I want to go into Seoul I go right past..."
"It was mostly gravel roads and we'd drive past all these army planes.  There were the ...."

War Memorial Museum in Seoul

I'm sure he doesn't hear me as he relives his past and I just listen as he rattles off the names of all these old army fighter planes that he would drive by on his swirls around the airport and his buddies he knew here.  Also the Korea kid, who he and his friends nicknamed Chi Chi, a boy who wanted to be sponsored to come to the US but my grandpa couldn't afford it at the time, and he wonders with a twinge of regret what ever happened to him, if he's still alive..

"Well now Grandpa, I live in Gimpo, and I go past that airport all the time" I tell him at the end of his story.
"Is that right?  Well now, I bet it looks quite a bit different from when I was there.  Ah well, we did have some fun sometimes.."

It's hard to imagine my grandpa with a shock of blond hair, 60 years younger, with his heavy Ohio accent running around the same streets as me so very far from home.  I guess since I never spent more than a few days each year with him as I was growing up, in a way its one thing we really do have in common.

Larissa at the War Memorial Museum

Sixty years after he was here fighting with the UN troops I'm living comfortably as an English teacher, but still near a controversial border that separates two brother nations.  What an interesting thing is war and life, I wonder from where and with what technology my grandchildren will hopefully be contacting me in the future.

Seattle to Kauai

Going home for two weeks just two months before planning to come home permanently seems a little unnecessary, but it was very much worth seeing so many people I love while they were still hanging out in one place.  It was one hurried week of driving a lot, shopping, cleaning, eating, negotiating living at home again, etc.

I love these guys and gals

Then it was a family trip to Kauai, which I was expecting to be great, I mean when I think generic holiday destination of the USA and East Asia I think  Hawaii..

However, there is a very real reason it is the holiday destination of the world.  Everything about Kauai is absolutely stunning.  Especially the sea cave tours, the endless view of ocean, and the fresh produce.  The family learned to snorkel and let some guy (a very certified guy) run us around the island and back his boat into caves while the waves unreservedly pushed us eagerly towards the scary rock walls..   I would most definitely go again.

Summer Camp madness in Korea

So six months came and went in a flash.  Happily, I am a huge fan of camp time and we had plenty of things to do to keep busy.

First week was Harry Potter with the third and fourth graders.  While a bit rambunctious they were still fun and I was never alone thanks to my wonderful co-teacher Mr. Eom.    Here is "Pig" making a bubble (because wizards do that?).   I wanted them to give me their English names if they had one and this kid looks me straight in the eye and says Pig, and it stuck..  although he may have regretted his decision... I'm not entirely sure.

After my vacation I did Pirates of the Caribbean with 4th and 5th graders and they were fantastic.  I could put them to work on a project and then would have to turn on the movie sound track because it was just so dang quiet.  Here is a few of us after we made pirate hats and eye patches.  I think there are a few swords in there as well.

They liked the movie but I had to keep cutting it up because Mr. Eom and I deemed parts of it too scary..  They protested at first but were good sports about it.  Half way through the week I had an epiphany though-  Meet the Robinsons.   It would be so perfect for a camp.  Almost tempts me to stay another year just so I can try it out~

Monday, August 8, 2011

Breakfast by Bus

Sorry for the longer than usual pause, but my computer is back up and running thanks to dad and Demetrios from the Apple Store :)

Here is the latest addition to my breakfast provided by my bus 52 driver buddy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

It's raining, it's pouring

So far, my experience with Korean weather has been 5 months of frigid cold, 2 months of bliss, half a month of hot weather...
We were graced with some unexpected roses for a few weeks.

And now?  Monsoon season.  A blast of cold water and wind to put a stop to the quickly rising summer temperatures.
What Gimpo looks like with the summer sun.

I have no doubt that the sun will return shortly but I was not at all dressed warmly enough for the rain today, with sandals and perpetually wet feet.. and its still an exercise to remember my umbrella.

3rd graders!  Being quizzed on their fruits and vegetables

For now though, warm in my apartment, I am really enjoying the drumroll of the rain.  Makes me miss Seattle.    I am looking forward to a trip home in July :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unwritten Rules

There are a few unwritten rules here that make life easier if followed.
  • Throw toilet paper away.  Don't put it in the toilet.
  • Do a quick head bob to anyone you make eye contact with.  
  • Wear tiny socks that cover your toes while teaching (for women)
  • Go get your own water at the water station in the food courts of  most large shopping malls.
  • Avoid touching anything unless you are willing/planning to buy.
  • Don't eat while walking/on the bus.
I feel like I have mastered the middle section, but I have difficulty with the first and last..  Too much information?  Yeah, probably and while I think my reasons for struggling with the first are habitual, I have to blame my hesitation with the last on my super efficient use of time...

Despite my vigorous efforts to change my morning habits, I always tend to wake up just about 1 hour before I have to dash out the door, running for bus 52, shoes falling off, hair springing in strange directions, all while clinging desperately to one lone piece of bread.  Breakfast!  Then I clamber onto the bus and settle in for a scenic 5 minute ride to school enjoying my fancy meal as secretly as possible to avoid any glares regarding my breaking of rule number 6.

This was the case on Monday.  Flying out the door, I barely made the bus, clambered in, then noticed the only spot left was directly behind the driver.  For a second I questioned whether I should continue to ignore rule #6, but decided I was too hungry so as discreetly as possible I started nibbling away.  Suddenly a box of soybean milk was being waved awkwardly at me by the bus driver trying to twist around and give me this thing accompanied by a wave of Korean (the only thing I caught was "a-cheem" = breakfast).  The man, maybe 60 some years old, and a big smile, dropped the juice box in my lap, reoriented himself and we drove off.

Then, Wednesday, I happened to catch his bus again, and was greeted with these two items (more soybean milk and a choco pie, yum!).  I guess maybe I was wrong about rule #6.  Or maybe this man is just a sweetheart.

Another unwritten rule..  don't steal the Millers or Coronas that are left, unsupervised, outside of Home Plus Express.