Say What?

It's been a long time since I've posted, and there's nothing earth-shattering going on at the moment, so I thought I'd post something I've been meaning to post for quite some time. From the moment I arrived in Korea, one thing has been quite obvious: Koreans don't have English-speaking foreigners proofread their signs before they translate them into English! I laugh myself silly nearly every day when I see something so absurdly written that it surely couldn't have been the original intent. Or Korean words that are translated into English letters and take on a brand new meaning. Here's just a few that I've found. Enjoy! (I'll explain a little when necessary.)

In case you can't see it, it says. "The Bird. If I am cautious like the flap of the small bird which sat down on the branch of the tree..." And...? Can't really picture a tough guy in chaps and tattoos on this thing!

Probably not the message they were trying to send. Humanitarianism, maybe?

First of all, "information" is both singular and plural, but it gets better. Apparently, there are many different types of heritages here on the grounds of the royal palace! And the list of what you can't bring in just cracks me up!

This is actually the cover of a blank notebook I bought at the stationary store. Maybe it was to encourage all those kids that are forced into academies by their parents.

This is written on the outside of my stationary. Not printed anywhere inside, just the wrapper. Could be a suggestion for what they should write inside! "Please always know that I love you more than anything else in the world. Ever since I met you, things are looking 'preety' good. Being with you makes me feel so happy."

Can we say "knock-off?" (This one's for you, Tamla!)

At Kraze Burger (pronounced krah-shey by Koreans). "Please, Remove the color fork before taste the menu. It might cause the safe problem." Get's me every time!

At a ritzy hotel's ritzy buffet. I can't tell you how excited I was when I saw the sign...and how disappointed I was when I opened the lid. Obviously, I didn't read the explanation.

The teacher in me is twitching.

That's all for now, folks, but there's plenty more where those come from! Stay tuned for part two!


Days like these...

It's days like these that make me love Korea. This week has been extremely busy, but absolutely wonderful. It's times like these that make me realize just how blessed I am to be living this lifestyle at this point in my journey. I think sometimes God throws weeks like this at us just to remind us that we're living in His will. He's a pretty great God! For those of you who don't know, my love-language is time. I just LOVE to spend quality time with people, and I feel loved when they want to spend time with me. Of course, God knows this, and this week I felt very loved.

Monday - After school, I went to teach my North Korean students. Normally, after the lesson, we go for a quick bite to eat upstairs. This day was different. The director was there and decided that everyone, every student at the school that night, would all go out for sam-gyap-sal, which is strips of pork cooked on a grill with a bunch of other things that are flavored by the juices of the pork. The director kept ordering more and more, and we sat and talked for hours.

Tuesday - A free night turned into visiting my Korean friend at my favorite coffee shop. I hadn't seen him in a while and we sat and talked for a couple hours. Then he drove me home (a whole block and a half!) in his brand new car. Haha!

Wednesday - I went to dinner with a dear friend from work (a Korean homeroom teacher), his wife, and his brother. We went to On the Border, the Mexican restaurant from the States. Koreans usually eat quick and go, so I was expecting an hour tops. But THREE HOURS later, after more laughing than I've done in a long time, we reluctantly decided it was time to go.

Thursday - Another free night, turned into an evening helping a Korean friend prepare for the ACT so he can go to university in the States. I got to spend time with my coffee shop friend again, and had a wonderful meal of Japanese noodles with a side of great conversation.

Friday - Had a lovely dinner of Japanese noodles, again, with friends from work. Best part, besides the people...it was literally steps from my apartment. My ACT friend showed me how to order there last week. Then afterward, one of the friends came with me to my coffee shop (I know, again). On the way, I told her it was like my Cheers, and boy, was it ever! She and I sat and talked for a while over lattes and a fabulous brownie. Then we were joined by my new Korean friend, Brown, who I helped a few weeks ago with an English job application. Then my friend, Min, joined in, and Brown was replaced by Min's friend who was dying to speak with us in English but was SO shy. Added in was a little sprinkle of the shy hello's from the other worker. And not only that, but my work friend came back to my place and we sat and continued our lovely chat. PLUS, she showed me how to work my rice cooker!

A week of friends and laughter and quality time. God's blessing manifest though people.

This, my friends. This is why I love Korea. I have officially finished my first month of my second contract. It's had its share of drama, but days like these put it all into perspective.



In Korea, Christmas is not a huge holiday and people don't get much time off work for it. This came as quite a shock to my teaching mentality of having at least two weeks off at Christmas time. My students actually had to attend school on Christmas Eve! It was only a half-day, but still! Well, I only got a week off, which was absolutely not enough to go home for Christmas. What is one to do when they are without family for the holidays? They travel! I was lucky enough to travel to Thailand with my wonderful friend, Tamra. We spent four days on the island of Phuket (pronounced poo-ket), and four-ish days in Bangkok. Here's a photo log of the amazing journey.
My computer is having formatting issues, so I apologize if the pictures seem to be in a strange order. Also, this is only a fraction of the pics. If you want to see the rest, you can check my Facebook account.
This yummy goodness is nothing but ice and watermelon. It costs about a dollar, and I drank my fair share of them.

This is Karon Beach, and in the distance, in the trees, is Karon Cliff, a hidden oasis of quaint bungalows far enough away from downtown to be relaxing, but close enough to walk there for dinner or a Magnum bar.

Sunset on the beach.

At the hotel, this is where we sat every morning for breakfast. Seriously, it was like a dream.

Though Thai food is at the top of my list of cuisine that I like, the culinary highlight of the trip was at our hotel. Every Sunday night, they have an open-grill buffett. Ribs, chicken, fish, hamburgers, potatoes, garlic bread, Thai dishes, and salad for about nine dollars.

The first adventure was elephant trekking through the jungle. Our elephant was Sadah. She was four years old. It was a great time. Something I never thought I'd do. It was followed by a visit to the Big Buddha at the top of the mountain. Visiting those types of monuments always makes me a little sad.

I have family friends who loved to get things tailor-made in Thailand because it's so cheap. Well, I can't really buy clothes in Korea and I didn't have a cute coat to wear with dress clothes, so I figured I'd just go for it. It was strange being fitted for a winter coat when it was 95 outside, but I loved the outcome (This is not a final photo. It actually turned out to be about two inches shorter. Doesn't sound like much, but it makes a huge difference.)

Thai massages on the beach. One hour for nine dollars. This is the life!

Next adventure. A three island tour (no, not a three-hour tour). First was Maya Bay where the movie "The Beach" was filmed.

Next: Phi-Phi Island (yes, pronounced with two p's, not two f's, and no one giggled). This inlet is called Monkey Beach for obvious reasons. Each time we disembarked, we had to wade through knee-deep water to get back to the boat. This time, going back, the mixture of rocks and the currents caused me to lose my balance and my camera went into the water for a fraction of a second. It's ruined. This is the last picture I took. But Tamra is a good friend to me, and let me take whatever pics I wanted with her camera.

The third island was Kai (which means egg) where we ate a great lunch and relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day.

Next stop: Bangkok. New Years Eve began with a ride in a water taxi. It was interesting, but a bit of a let down with the smell of diesel and the murky water.

The reason for the water taxi was to visit the royal palace and temple. This was one of my favorite parts of Bangkok. Quite beautiful. This pic is the temple...

...and this is the palace.

New Years Eve night was spent with some people from Seoul. Tamra met them at orientation a year ago. I thought it was pretty amazing to be with other Seoul people in Bangkok.

New Years day was spend shopping, shopping, shopping. I'm not a huge fan of shopping, but I LOVE haggling for a good price. It's my drug of choice.

Magnum Bars = heaven. I found these with Dad and Anneli in Finland, then again in Spain. They aren't sold in the States, and are, in my opinion, much better than a Dove bar. I bought one nearly every day.

Next adventure: The Floating Market. This is literaly a market place on water. We were taken in by boat to buy goods from other people on boats. Amazing. This is also where I saw a kamodo dragon in the water! Holy cow!

A stop to see the bridge where the Japanese transferred it's POW's from coutries all over Asia and some from the US.

Final adventure: Tiger Temple. Tigers everywhere! Not sure if they were drugged or actually sleeping on their own. I'm hoping the latter. This is reportedly where monks take in abandonded or injured tigers in order to restore them back to their natural habitat. They make a pretty penny while the tigers are there. It was really cool to touch one, though.

At the airport, not so ready to go back to freezing cold Korea. But the trip ended the way it should...with ice cream. And from Dairy Queen, no less! It was truly an adventure. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to see this amazing country and with such an amazing friend!


I'm a Journalist!

Recently, I was asked to write an article for my school's semester magazine. Well, I guess it's not so much a magazine as a really thick collection of essay's by students and teachers. But I got to write the English Teacher article, so I felt pretty honored. I thought maybe y'all would like to read it, so here it is.
Oh, and just to clarify, there are two Korean words in my essay. The first is "mi-guk-in" and it means American. The second is "ah-jum-ma" and it means married woman, but the connotation is old, cranky, pushy woman.
And once again, I'll throw in a few random Korea photos.
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It’s All About Who You Know
Korea is a country with a vast and rich history which, in comparison to that of my own country, makes the United States seem like a mere infant in the history of the world. It is a country steeped in tradition while on the cutting edge of technology, design, fashion, and medicine. It is a land littered with the remains of war and broken monuments that stand as a testament to Korea's ability to rise above. A land covered in high-rises, seeking to share in the glory of the mountainous landscape. Korea is a country sitting at the edge of a wall of communism while remaining one of the most peaceful places in the world. This list may stand to reason why a 미국인 like me, who did not previously have any interest in Asia, would so quickly have fallen in love with this country. One may think this is why, but it is not. What makes Korea so great is its people.

I can recall with perfect clarity the first day I spent on my own in Seoul. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was desperately seeking out a place to use the Internet and make a connection with home. Most everything was closed, and I reluctantly entered a fifth coffee shop, expecting the owner to yet again give me the symbol of the “X” to indicate there was none available. After a brief game of charades, the shop-worker figured out what I needed and moved quickly to make sure I was taken care of. He sat me down, connected me to the Internet, and then went to get my drink. He came over periodically to check on me and even brought me a free cookie. I now have a strong friendship with everyone who works there, with some of the frequent customers, and even the owner. But it was that initial encounter which made me first realize that Koreans are not run-of-the-mill people.

It never ceases to amaze me that Koreans seem to be the busiest people in the world, but they always seem to have the time to help someone. And the fact that they would go out of their way to help someone from another country, well, that just amazes me even more. That one connection in that little coffee shop has turned out to be the slow construction of my Korean family. That one act of kindness has provided me with close friends that I call brother and sister, a Korean “fill-in” dad, and many young high school students who look up to me as an older sister.

But the kindness doesn't stop there. Here at Gyeseong, I have met some of the warmest people that I have known in Korean. People who drop everything to help me when I lock myself out of my apartment, people who take the time to get to know me, and my dear friend (one of the smartest people I know), who not only educates me on the history of Korea, but on the history of my own country as well! And let’s not forget the students! Ah, the students! This is my fourth year teaching English, and I have been around students from all different countries, but I have never met any students that impress me more than my 2nd and 5th graders. They are geniuses with incredible senses of humor and imaginations that will take them anywhere they want to go.

Then there are the people that I meet just walking down the street. The ones who catch on to the fact that I look a little lost and they stop to ask if I need help. Not only do they do their best to tell me the directions, but more often than not, they take me by the arm and walk me there themselves, even if it’s in the opposite direction to where they are headed.

Korea is not without its creepy people, like the occasional person standing behind me in the subway line who tries to start a conversation with, “Where are you from? Do you like me?” Or the occasional 아줌마 who pushes me onto or off of the subway and then engages me in a staring contest. But the United States is also not void of its colorful personalities, so I do not, in any way, judge Korea by these strange people. They are few and far between, and the good far outweighs the bad. Rather, I choose to see Korea through the eyes of a kind coffee-shop worker, a hopeful student, a knowledgeable friend and co-worker, or the new friendship that is waiting just around the corner.


Ah, Korea...Part 3. The finale...maybe.

Someone should give me a job as a people watcher! I think I'm pretty good at it, considering this is my third blog on social observations. But, I also have to thank my great Korean friends who graciously supply answers to my never-ending plethora of questions. And once again, enjoy the random and totally unrelated pictures. Let's begin, shall we?

Age Matters:
This is a society that honors and cares for the elderly. Respect for the elderly is taught and expected.
-As age is a major determining factor in the level of respect you receive, it is not a rude thing to ask a person their age as soon as you meet them so you know where you stand with them.
-Older brothers and sisters have special titles. The same title is used with close friends that are older. But there is no term for the older sibling addressing the younger; they only use the person's name.
-When eating as a group, no one takes a bite until the eldest at the table has started.
-The youngest pours the beverage, beginning with the eldest down to the youngest. Usually no one pours for themselves because you should anticipate the needs of others.
-On the subway and bus, young people immediately give up their seats for the elderly.
-This being said, I have met some great old people, but man, most of them are cranky! But really, given the history of the country, they've been through a lot!
-Young people have fantastic posture. Some old people are hunched over like the letter r.

-The spoken language is extremely difficult for me to understand. There are pronunciations that I am just plain not used to hearing. There are silent letters at the end of syllables. OK, so they're not silent, but they have a glottal stop that I can't hear. Think about the word "bike." When you say the word, you release a little tiny breath after the k. This doesn't happen in Korean. Try it again with no air, and you can start to understand the problem with hearing Korean.
-There are three letters that look like and sound like a mixture of b and p. I can't seem to hear the difference, no matter how hard I try.
-My pronunciation will always be wrong. I am always being corrected after thinking I have said something perfectly.
-I understand this issue because, unlike many Americans, Koreans are such a homogeneous society that they are not accustomed to hearing their language with any accent other than their own. I'll learn to deal.
-Hangul, on the other hand, is magic. It is the written language and it is fantastic! It's so easy to learn and makes so much sense. I was able to learn it quickly because of great teachers, and it has opened a whole new world to me. It has helped me immensely in my classroom. I have also gained more sympathy for those in the States who are illiterate, and a better understanding of my students both here and in the States who can read a word just fine, but don't have the foggiest what it means.

General Societal Observations
-"Have you eaten dinner?" is the equivalent of "Are you doing OK?"
-I have yet to see a junky car. There are many junky delivery trucks, but not cars. Probably due to the area I live in.
-Walking paths have random exercise equipment placed here and there along the path. You'll see men and suits and women in heels stopping for a quick chin-up or calf-raise.
-Girls hold hands, boys hold hands, drunk men hold each other, no one seems to mind. I think it's quite sweet that the men don't have to be all macho and scared of each other. People in general seem to walk with their arms touching each other. Very sweet.
-Koreans are not short. They are the tallest of all the Asian people groups. Most of my Korean friends are my height or taller than me. Major misconception.
-Men carry women's purses for them. This is a strange phenomenon.
-Kids go to school 210 days a year. Over twelve years of schooling, this equates to one extra year longer than American kids. No wonder!

More Random Observations: Just wanted to break it up a little.
-Shop-workers greet you, then hover behind you fixing everything you touch. I don't know why they do this, but it makes me feel like I am a nuisance and I end up not buying anything! It's so aggravating!
-Our 9-5 is their 7-ish a.m. - 8-ish p.m. The general rule is get there before the boss, you had better greet the boss, and then stay until the boss leaves. I can't imagine how annoying this must be for the people at home cooking a nice dinner waiting for their spouse!
-I asked for a smoothie once that was half mango, half yuja. I was looked at as though I was crazy! This seemed to be a trend everywhere. I found out that mixed food is seen as lower class. The king ate all his food separated, and this tradition has been subtly carried on.
-You should remove your shoes when you enter a home because the heat comes from the floor. If you wear your shoes, you are walking where people eat and sleep, and this is very rude.
-The answer to every food question: It's good for your health. Koreans are big into healing through diet, which is great, but sometimes a bit excessive. EVERYTHING is labeled "for the well-being life" or the equivalent. I just can't bring myself to believe that a waffle filled with fluffy, sugary stuff is for my health!

Well, there you have it, folks. I have come to the end of my notes! Thank you for indulging me. Now, I am off to find new and exciting topics for your reading pleasure. Annyeong!



1943 - The U.S., China, and Great Britain forcefully remove Japan from Korea and divide it into two sections along the 38th parallel. The South to be ruled by the US and the North be ruled by the USSR until they were strong enough to be independent.
1949 - At the request of the Korean people, the US withdraws.
1950 - North Korea attacks the south. The US and 15 other countries join forces with South Korea to push back the communistic aggressors. Seoul was recaptured in September, but by October, China joined the fight for North Korea and the war was renewed.
1951 - After the UN and US rejoined the fight, North Korea was pushed back to the 38th parallel. North Korea suggested truce talks.
1953 - The Korean Armistice was signed and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was created.

This is the historical backdrop for my trip to the most dangerous place in all of Korea...the DMZ. It is a four-kilometer-wide border between North and South Korea. And since the two countries are still at war, this is the most hostile and heavily-guarded border in the world...

My friend, Tamra, and I were fortunate enough to go on a USO tour with my friends, Joe and Delaine Albert. We began at 6:15 in the morning and had to stop at another base to pick up more people. We weren't permitted on the second base because Tamra and I didn't sign out. Instead, we stood outside and waited in the cold for the bus to return.

After a lengthy journey north, we made it to Camp Boniface and the JSA (Joint Security Area) The JSA used to be an area where North and South armies could move about and interact freely until 1976, when two American officers were brutally axed to death by the KP (North) guards for attempting to trim a tree that was on the southern side of the JSA. One of the men was Captain Boniface. After the incident, the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) was created to keep the two sides absolutely separate.

At Camp Boniface, we were transferred to another bus and taken to a room for a debriefing, to pick up our guest badge, and to sign a form that basically said we understand that we could possibly die. It was a little strange. The officer gave us a quick background of the area, and then told us all the things that we could and could not do. Basically, everything to keep us from getting shot! Just so you know, smiling in these pictures was a very strange feeling.

Next, the military transport took us across the southern border of the DMZ. The first stop was Freedom Hall. This is an American/Korean shared building situated just feet from the MDL. We stood on the steps, listening to the officer tell us that in the two towers just behind him, in North Korea, guards were at this moment taking our pictures. For what purpose, he didn't know. But it would be a good idea not to point. Behind him, and in this picture, was the MDL, the little white strip of cement that separates North from South, Communism from Democracy. And behind that, North Korea. It was so surreal. If you look at the spot halfway between the front and the back of the blue buildings, you can see the small MDL strip.

The building on the left is where he took us next. It was a small room with overtly nothing special. Me and a few other people went to the far side of a large table in the middle to create more room. The officer then told us that those on the far side of the table were currently standing in North Korea. What?! He said it was the only time that would ever happen without us getting shot. We were standing in a room where daily joint meetings are conducted between the North and South. The microphones on the table were recording twenty-four hours a day, so we should watch what we say. We were then told that we had freedom to move about the room, even to take pictures with the guards, but we were strongly advised not to touch them.

Me just realizing that I'm standing in North Korea!

Joe and I nervously standing with one of the guards.

Tamra trying out for the ROK army.

The table where joint meetings are held. The left is the South and the right is the North. You can see the microphones I mentioned in the middle.

My left foot is in South Korea and my right foot is in the North. How amazing!

After a brief stop for bulgogi, we went to a look out area called OP Dora. It's a point at which we can see 17 kilometers into North Korea. A box was drawn on the ground to limit the area where we were permitted to take pictures. It was a strange concept, but everything is extremely protected here. From the lookout point, after paying the 500 won to use the binoculars, I could see Freedom Village and Propaganda Village at the same time. Freedom Village is where select South Korean families who have a long-standing residence in this area are able to live a farming life in relative safety, and are also able to make a pretty substantial income. Propaganda Village is situated just north of the border and truly lives up to its name. There is a 150 meter tower with the world's largest flag that is so large it has a drag wind of 300 pounds. There are hotels and homes, but they are all hollow. No one lives in them. They are only there to show the South Koreans what a "good life" they would have if they crossed over. Up until a few years ago, there was a loud speaker that would broadcast wonderful things across the border everyday, trying to get Koreans from the south to defect to the north. Currently, 30 KPR troops are there for the sole purpose of raising and lowering the flag.

The final stop on the tour was aptly named the Third Tunnel. This was the third tunnel discovered being dug by the North Korean army south of the MDL and in the direction of Seoul. It is estimated that, had an invasion taken place, 30,000 troops could have passed through in one hour. It was about 1,200 meters in length, two meters high, and two meters wide. The sides of the tunnel were painted black so that the North Koreans could say that they were simply mining, but seeing as there wasn't even a trace of coal or ore in the tunnel, it was not a well-thought-out lie. We were only able to traverse 230 meters or so, but it was still pretty amazing. Again, no pictures allowed.

This was a monument built to symbolize the hopeful reunification of the two Koreas. I have to admit that it wasn't until this point that I even contemplated whether this was something the Korean people wanted. I grew up knowing only the separation, so the thought of bringing them together never occurred to me. I started asking my Korean friends and even my students, and heard the same from all of them, that it's a controversial issue. One person in their 20's told me that the older generation hopes for reunification, and the younger generation does not. Some students want it because they feel bad for the separated families, and some students said they know there will be a civil war and too many people will die. One even said that it's not a good idea because the North is so poor, and the South will become poor trying to build them up.

On Sunday, I went in search for the human side to this issue, and what I saw disturbed me. Currently, millions of families remain separated. Many long for the day where they can bow in respect to their father, or kiss the grandchild they've never met. Many will die before ever getting the chance. Those in the North are so brainwashed that they have no idea what they are missing. If you do a GoogleEarth search, you will see the city of Seoul lit up with life at night, and the city of Pyongyang completely dark. The North is forced to worship a father who is dead (though they are told he was just carried away by cranes) and a son who robs them of their health and their minds. The South is free to worship as they wish. In the North, a man can be shot if it is rumored that he ate an onion from the field he works (I almost said "his own field," but everything belongs to the Dear Leader). I don't know what to feel about this issue, but recently I started teaching English to adults who have escaped from North Korea. One of my students wears a bracelet that sums it all up. It says, "God Loves North Korea." The reunification I hope for is the one between God and His people. He created them, He loves them, and He wants to see them reunited to Himself.

If you want to learn more about this topic, here are a few good videos.
Welcome to North Korea. At about the 30 minute mark, you can see some of the places I visited.
The Real North Korea
Famine In North Korea
Korean Families Reunite
Korean Families Reunite
One more reunion video. Get a kleenex.

What an amazing experience. Though I live in a country that is still officially at war, I feel very safe at every moment of the day. And those from the States that are reading this, I hope you once again remember what a great country you live in! And for those of you with opinions on the current war, maybe the situation here will provide a different perspective.