Tag Archives: Jeonju

Little things that make me happy…like China

I’ll bet you never thought of a country with 1.3 billion people as a little thing, but it’s all about context. I’m one of those people who loves the accomplishment of collecting things and checking things off a list. That’s why I really like the WordPress map feature, which shows you which countries viewers come from. I have gotten some pretty obscure ones, like the Palestinian territories, or Reunion island, etc. However, never any from China. Obviously, WordPress is blocked there, especially since I’ve had lots from Hong Kong.

But then, a few days ago, I saw that I had one view from China. One single view, but it was enough to color the whole country in on the map. That made me really happy. I kind of wonder who it was who saw my blog, whether it was someone high up in the government checking up on me or something. Probably nothing that cool, but it still has me wondering. Here are some other small things that make me really happy.

If you know any bloggers in Greenland, I want to be their friend.

If you know any bloggers in Greenland, I want to be their friend.

Seeing the 121 bus: There are five buses that go past my house. I ride the bus almost every day and most of them I take pretty regularly, except the 121 bus. It only runs a dozen times a day, so it’s pretty rare to see it. I’ve only ridden it once in five years. I was really happy that day.

I've read many a book on buses like this.

I’ve read many a book on buses like this.

Finding out Minecraft Steve is the same height as me: For those of you who don’t play Minecraft, the basic guy you play is called Steve. Some people did a calculation based on various things, and found out that he was 185cm or 6’1″, which is how tall I am. I like that fact.

We're basically twins, is what I'm saying.

We’re basically twins, is what I’m saying. (Source: http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f81/xilefian/360steve.png)

Are there any little things that make you unreasonably happy? Let me know.

 


The “Now” of a Foggy Ride to Work

First of all, apologies for not producing as many long stories these days. I have a few in the works, but I just don’t have much time these days. I’ll post them as they are finished. This post is a true account, something I was thinking of as I rode to work today on my motorbike.

Taken in Wanju, South Korea

not taken today, but similar

I rode my motorbike out along a small highway going out of the city this morning. I passed the Ajung reservoir and Kirin peak beyond, the tops dissolving into the nebulous grey of the fog. All this was reflected perfectly on the still surface of the reservoir. Besides the hum of my engine and the other cars, the world was silent.

I thought, “This would make a great picture. Maybe I should stop and take one.”

Then I thought, “But pictures are all about later–about the Then. And they can never compare to the Now.”

So I didn’t stop. I continued on, over the mountain pass and down into the next valley where my school was, soaking in the wondrous beauty all around me and enjoying the sublime Now.


4 Reasons I Don’t Like the First Week of School

I think I’m a pretty positive guy. I try to look on the bright side of things. I only say that because I don’t anything to think of this as a gripe. It is merely a chance to share my unique work situation.

Here in Korea, the school year starts at the beginning of March, so I have just finished the first couple weeks of school. And I am very glad about that. I know a lot of people don’t like going back to school (students especially), but there are several unique factors for a foreign English teacher in my position that makes the first week of school a lot less fun.

1. Getting to school

I don’t have a car. If I did, this would not be an issue. I do have a motorbike and the bus system here is very good, but still, it takes a while to get everything straightened out.

I live in a city of about 600,000, but I work in the countryside around the city, which means I can’t walk to my schools. In times past, some of the teachers would pick us foreigners up, but they usually don’t like doing that anymore, and honestly, I don’t like getting picked up. Even if I have to take a bus, I like to be independent. I can ride my motorbike to two of my schools (I work at four different schools) because they’re relatively close, unless of course it’s pouring rain or a blizzard or the bike’s broken. In other words I have to know how to get to all my schools by bus.

Unfortunately, all of my schools are in different directions and I have to transfer buses to all of them, so I have to coordinate two bus schedules to make sure I get to the transfer stop before the second bus gets there. All this for four different schools which start at different times. I ended up being to late to one school and having to take a taxi to another one the first day in order not to be late.

Wanju work map

2. People assuming I don’t know anything

I’ve lived in Korea for nine years and have taught public school here for five years so I pretty much know what’s going on. I speak the language, can use chopsticks, know the bus system, and everything else you need to survive. But I’m not Korean, so everyone naturally (or not) assumes I got off the plane yesterday. I don’t necessarily blame them, since there is a high turnover rate for foreign English teachers and so a lot of us are fresh off the plane. Still, the first day or two at a new school is invariably the same.

“Can you use chopsticks?” “Oh, I think that food is too spicy for you.” “Oh wow, you can speak Korean!” “Do you know how to take the bus? You do? Wow, how do you know?”

And so on. Again, I’m not trying to criticize the Korean teachers, but it does get tiring when you go through the same routine again and again and again.

3. Not knowing anything

Even though I know a lot about Korea and public schools in general, every new school I go to has its own idiosyncrasies, for one reason or another. One of my schools is built like someone found the plans to the Labyrinth, thought that looked too straightforward and kicked it up a notch. Schools all start at different times, one has lunch after three periods instead of four. Some have English classes in an English room; others in the classrooms. In other words, I do some wandering around sometimes, asking people a lot of questions like where the bathrooms are and what the password to the class computer is.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it's best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it’s best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

4. Introduction class

In elementary schools in Korea, there are no classes on the first day. The homeroom teachers are getting to know their students and getting them to color name tags or doing other icebreaker activities, so I don’t have to teach. In middle school, there are classes on the first day, but the teachers don’t want to start the textbook, so they say some variation of, “Just introduce yourself today.”

How long does it take to introduce yourself? Not the whole 45-minutes of class, that’s for sure. Even if I show them the Introduction to my Hometown powerpoint that I have, it only takes five minutes. Now I have been teaching long enough that I come prepared to get the kids talking and fill up the period but it tends to be awkward and I do the same lesson over and over again. I’m not complaining, but I’m always happy when the first week is over so I can get into real teaching.


You Have to Follow the Rules

You have to follow the rules, even when those rules are unwritten social rules, and even when they inconvenience everyone involved. This is a true story that happened to me one Friday last fall.

I go to four schools over the course of a week, so there are several schools I only taught at once a week. One week, my second Wednesday school principal (who was a sweet, grandmotherly type of woman) invited me to a barbecue the school was having that Friday. My Friday school was far away, but I told her I would try to make it, since it was possible to get there if I rode my scooter.

She told me to get there by 3pm and since my classes at the other school finished at 2:30, that was perfect. I rode my scooter along back roads in the mountains and got to the school just before three.

They were packing everything up.

Here was my first dilemma. I could have just taken off, but I didn’t want the principal to think I hadn’t come. That might make her feel bad. So I went through the crowds and found her to say hello.

I was planning to just say hi and leave but of course, as a good host who had invited me there, she couldn’t let that happen. So she told some of the women to get out a grill and cook up some meat for me (samgyeopsal, for those who know Korean food). I tried to refuse, but like all grandmotherly-type women, she didn’t know the meaning of the word “no”. I could have just left, but that would have been rude.

samgyeopsal

So there I was, sitting at a table while a woman cooked meat for just me, while most other people were sitting around talking or cleaning up. The principal, because she was hospitable, sat next to me to keep me company. She didn’t eat anything, since they had all eaten before. However, she did make up food for other people.

In Korea, when you eat barbecued meat, you take a lettuce leaf, then put a piece of meat on it, with whatever other vegetables or sauces you want, then wrap it up like a little package and eat it in one bite. The principal kept making these up for other people, who had to take them even though they were full, since you can’t say no to the principal.

Like this

Like this

After a while, most everyone else wandered off to deal with other stuff and a few women sat talking, while I kept eating. They had made a ton of meat and while it was delicious, I was getting full and felt uncomfortable sitting by myself. I kept asking others to come eat with me, but they all said they were full. I apologized to the women cooking, since they were only waiting there for me to finish. Of course, they said it was fine, since it was have been rude to say anything else. I hope it really was fine.

They had made a lot of meat and I felt obligated to eat it all or at least make a big dent in it. I didn’t eat it all and finally left, very full.

I don’t regret going, since it really was delicious meat, but thinking back it is amazing to see how the iron rails of social etiquette predestined this scenario. It could not have played out any other way without offending someone or at least breaking unwritten rules. Every culture has its own social etiquette rules, some more strict than others, but they’re there so that everything runs smoothly. Whether you like it or not, you have to follow the rules.

…Or do you? What do you think? Are there some social etiquette rules you break?


Straw Shoes and Fish Heads

Jeonju’s Nambu Market, in the southwest of Korea, is the largest traditional market in the city. Across the main road is Hanok Village, where all the tourists go, but Nambu Market is mostly for the locals.

Nambu market

It is located in the south of the city, in a series of covered streets. They sell a lot of things there. For instance:

Nambu Marketwooden wares and kitchen supplies. These include these things:

straw shoesThese are called jipshin, or literally, straw shoes. They were used by farmers and apparently still are, since you can buy them at the market.

There is also a lot of food at the market. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms, but also:

Dried fish heads. I'm not sure how you eat them, or if they're just fertilizer, but you can buy them by the bagful. The sign says they come from Russia.

Dried fish heads. I’m not sure how you eat them, or if they’re just fertilizer, but you can buy them by the bagful. The sign says they come from Russia.

Live octopus. You're allowed to cook them before you eat them though.

Live octopus. You’re allowed to cook them before you eat them though.

Blocks of fresh tofu. The brown blocks to the left are acorn jelly and the round things behind are fermented soy bean paste.

Blocks of fresh tofu. The brown blocks to the left are acorn jelly and the round things behind are fermented soy bean paste.

These are bags of dried hot peppers. Koreans love their hot peppers.

These are bags of dried hot peppers. Koreans love their hot peppers.

This shop sells a bunch of everything. The signs advertise dried persimmons, buckwheat, deer antler, green tea, etc.

This shop sells a bunch of everything. The signs advertise dried persimmons, buckwheat, deer antler, green tea, etc.

One of the main reasons I go to the market is to go to a famous restaurant there, called Nammun Pisundae (which means South Gate Blood Sausage). It only serves one thing, which is blood sausage, either in soup or by itself. It’s really good and there is always a huge line out the door around meal times (although it’s open 24 hours). They cook the food by the door, so you can see them making it as you walk in.

nammun pisundae

Not everything in the market is food though. It is also a famous area for hanbok, which is the traditional Korean dress. There are many hanbok shops in the area. All of the dresses are custom-made. You see a lot of women wearing them at special events like weddings or on major holidays.

Nambu Market

I don’t know if you’ll ever come to Jeonju, but if you do, go to Nambu Market. It’s a great place to wander around in and see a lot of new, interesting things.

 

 

 

 


The Sky in Korea in Fall

I should be posting a story here, but it’s not ready. So, inspired by fellow blogger and new friend Nia’s post, I decided to share some photos I’ve taken this fall in my comings and goings. All these were taken with my phone and the nice thing about having a camera on you at all times is you can grab those perfect scenes, and then weed out all the ones that didn’t turn out as well as they look in real life. As you may know, I really like the sky and clouds. So that’s the theme of this post.

In the city in Korea, it's hard to get away from the outline of highrise apartments.

In the city in Korea, it’s hard to get away from the outline of high-rise apartments.

Sunrise, from my kitchen window.

Sunrise, from my kitchen window.

20131128_160328

20131128_161347

A man on a scooter stopped me to ask why I was taking this picture. I thought it was obvious.

A man on a scooter stopped me to ask why I was taking this picture. I thought it was obvious.

20131203_074727

My beautiful little Ajung stream, near our house.

My beautiful little Ajung stream, near our house.

 

 

 


Fall Streets in Korea

In Korea, there are several indications that it is fall, besides the leaves and temperatures changing. One is that roadside pungeo-bbang (붕어빵 or taiyaki in Japanese) stands start popping up again. Literally, “fish bread”, they are pancake-like cakes shaped like fish, with red beans inside them. They are perfect when you’re walking home in the cold and want a quick snack.

pungeobbangBecause they are hot food, a lot of them close down during the summer (when people would rather eat patbingsu anyway). They are often surrounded by a sheet of clear plastic to keep in some heat for the poor person working there and for the people who stop to buy things.

pungeobbang stand

Another change in the roads are the things that are spread out to dry on them. This is more common in the countryside, where farmers spread out rice to dry on tarps, but in the city too you can see hot peppers and other things spread out wherever there is room.

rice dryingAs you see, rice often takes over the sidewalk or a lane of the road. The farmers rake it to get it evenly dried, then go along with a machine to scoop it into bags. This shows the communal nature of Korean society: although I’m sure some crime exists in this area, people don’t go out at night and steal all this rice.

rice drying in Jeonju

Here is several thousand dollars worth of rice spread out overnight in the provincial capital.

There are other foods too that are spread out to dry. Like melons,which I saw a few days ago.

melons drying

When we were on Jeju, the semi-tropical island south of mainland Korea, there were lemon peels laid out to dry by the road, I guess to make lemon tea out of.

lemon peel drying in Jeju

Don’t you love fall? I realize that in a country with only one or two seasons, there might not be fall like this, but if there is, what other little touches do you see in your area that show that the seasons are changing?


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