Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Carving In Korea

Of all the holidays, Halloween is my favorite. It holds an even more special place in my heart because I arrived here just a couple months before it in 2008, and even make a trip into Hongdae in Seoul to celebrate.

So this will be my third year of heading into Hongdae to have Halloween fun. I'm not a huge fan of going to Seoul ... at all. But to celebrate Halloween the right way, you have to be where the westerners are. That's just science.

So to prepare for my third Halloween in Korea -- and Jeong Mi's first official Halloween -- she and I carved pumpkins last weekend.

It was a lot of fun. She had never carved pumpkins before, and I haven't done it in two years, so it was awesome.

We found a big orange one and a small green one at Lotte Mart. The big one was about 12,000 won ($10.62 right now). That's not a bad price. The little one was only about 4,000 won, so that's a good deal.

The pumpkins here are a bit different than what we carved at home. I'd just refer to these as big gourds, really. But a pumpkin is a gourd, and there did the trick.

We spent about an hour doing the whole thing. We checked out some pics of other cool jack-o-lanterns, then got to work on ours. Afterwards, I cleaned off the seeds and baked them for a nice little treat.

Jeong Mi definitely has a good time with the pumpkins. Of course, I did too. The only problem is we have no porch to set them on or window where we can point them out towards the world. And with Halloween this weekend, my apartment is starting to get that unmistakable squishy pumpkin smell. Haha.

But we took a ton of pics, and we made some nice memories for sure. As long as I'm in Korea, I'm sure this will become a tradition for us.

Check out all the pics here!!!

Principal's Daughter's Wedding

The English Center crew, along with most of the teachers, headed to nearby Juan on Saturday to attend the principal's daughter's wedding.

We gave our cash envelope with $100 from the Center, and Ridia and Sunny immediately headed to the buffet. I learned something new again. Ridia said that if you're not that close to the person, it's common to just give the cash and go eat and drink and whatnot.

Our newest teacher Dorian, her husband Andrew and Geoff have never seen a Korean wedding, so we took in 20 minutes of it.

The odd thing about it is that it was at the exact same wedding hall as the only other wedding I've been to in Korea. I went to that wedding two years ago. And it's the EXACT SAME PLACE.

I understand that this might be a popular hall, but of the thousands of halls in Korea, what are the odds? Well, I guess they're pretty good.

Anyway, the food was as good as before, and they even added grilled meat on their deck. It was a step up from what was already a good meal.

The wedding was at 5 p.m. and we stayed until they kicked us out around 7 p.m. That was plenty of time for us to get our money's worth and drink a few drinks.

After that, we headed back to Yeonsu-dong and met up with the crew. Everyone was able to make it out that night. A group of us even went to a noraebang, which I love. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm for going didn't match their desire to sing. I took off after 12 minutes even though I paid for it, haha. I need to just hit those personal booths for a few times when I want a noraebang. If Jeong Mi isn't there, it just isn't as much fun.

Check out some pics from the wedding here.

Unsure Times Continue

They already started interviewing new secretaries for our English Center. That was a good sign. It sucks that Sunny has to leave, but it was comforting knowing we weren't going to be flapping in the wind while they dragged their feet.

But when it rains it pours. The principal told Ridia that the November Market Day would be our last one. He thinks it's a waste of money. But he's retiring in February. What stops us from bringing it back. Let's hope this new person is cool, whenever he or she arrives.

Ridia also said that, in general, she thinks the principal isn't happy with the English Center. I don't understand that at all. What we're finding out is the principal's outward attitude and inward emotions can differ wildly. That means that even though he's smiling on the outside, he could be stewing deep down.

That puts us all in a precarious position. I don't want Sunny to leave. That's obvious. But Ridia is the absolute key to how successful we've been. If she's not there, I'm afraid of what might happen to the atmosphere at the center. Keep your fingers crossed, please, because we might be facing some rocky roads ahead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sad News From Hambak

Keeping with standards and traditions, South Korea once again set out to rain in everybody's parade. It's kind of like ... well ... that one guy we know who always rains on everybody's parade.

Anyway, I posted a note recently about how great things are going here. My new contract, my fat bonus and my time with Jeong Mi are just the tip of the really-good-stuff iceberg.

But South Korea sucked me in with its ups, and is now laughing at my face during the downs.

We found out yesterday that our English Center secretary, Sunny, will not be re-hired. They told her this yesterday, as well. Her contract ends on Saturday. Thats right. They told her and us that her contract would not be renewed with only 4 days to spare.

This is bad for many reasons:

1. Sunny is awesome. She is super fun, and we could always count on having someone cool around when we do work-related activities.

2. She's a good employee. They give her way too much work to do, including stuff that she shouldn't be doing (sending out invitations for the principal's daughter's wedding) and she did it without raising a stink.

3. We are short a person in the English Center. That means Sunny's responsibilities will fall to Ridia until they hire someone new. Knowing the system, that means we could be short one person for while. And realistically, we could have used another person as it was.

There was no reason given for her not being re-hired. There are a few ideas floating around. One is that because the principal is retiring in February, the administrators thought the new person would want someone fresh. A second is that this is the end of Sunny's second year. That means that after this renewal, she would leave yearly contract status and become an official employee. The thought is that the administrators want someone who they can get rid of in the short term if need be.

Regardless of any hairbrained theories, this is bad all around for us. We like working with Sunny and don't want to see her go. Even if the new person they hire is just as good, no one can compare to Sunny for her personality and the hard work she put in here.

We'll miss you, Sunny. Sorry that even at a good school, people can become victims of a bad cultural system.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seongnam In Champions League Final

K-League's Seongnam Ilwha reached the final of the Asian Champions League by getting 1-0 win over a Saudi Arabian team. After two legs, the aggregate was 4-4, but Seongnam won thanks to their three away goals in the first leg.

They'll either play a Saudi Arabian team or n Iranian team in the final. Let's face it, those countries are lame.

Check out the recap here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life Has Been Good

I love writing negative things about South Korea. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but in my first year here, I regularly vented my frustrations and came off like a whiny baby who needed a diaper change.

But thanks to my current school and co-teacher -- Hambak Elementary School and Ridia, respectively -- this year has been pretty much wonderful. So here's a recap on recent events taking place. This is basically everything that's been going on since we headed to Jeju Island. It's been busy, but fun.

The first thing to get out there is that I've signed on again with my current school. This is a great place to work. The teachers and administrators are all very friendly, and Ridia has put together a great program which has skyrocketed in popularity. It's a very low-stress environment, and the head of our English dept. and I even had a little talk and worked out our differences. It feels great.

My eye seems to be all healed up. I went through a pretty terrible time with the eye cut and subsequent use of glasses for the next 6 weeks. That was no fun. But everything feels okay now and I'm back to wearing contacts. Of course, that's right in time for my winter allergies to start kicking in. So now I'm concerned of hurting my eye(s) again. Let's just hope that's not the case.

All is going very well with Jeong Mi and me. We both are still on our 'time off' from Bamboo Dance Academy, but that only applies to classes. We've become regulars at the Saturday open dance now that we don't go to classes during the week. I want to learn some new moves, but I'm really starting to enjoy open dance now that I don't practice all week.

Halloween is right around the corner. This will be my third Halloween here. Even though I basically avoid partying in Seoul at all costs, one tradition will hold true. We will, once again, go to Hongdae to celebrate Halloween. This will be Jeong Mi's first official Halloween. We're both really excited. All our friends are, too. Only going to Hongdae once a year actually makes it fun.

Back to Hambak, I started going to the cafeteria again for lunch. I took about 8 months off and that was pretty awesome. But I was forced to withstand a barrage of questions from a lot of teachers about why they never saw me at lunch. I figured that since I'm getting a raise this year, I can handle the cafeteria food. The good news is that the school switched to a new food company this semester. I've only gone one day where I only ate rice and salad, because the food has been pretty decent so far.

Our students have been practicing for a singing competition in November for about 6 weeks now. We're singing 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Summer Nights.' Of course, the kids are getting pretty sick of the songs, haha. But they're doing a good job with it. The competition is right around the corner, and I'm excited for the students.

We don't really have a break here for awhile. Thanks to Christmas falling on a weekend this year, we'll get no days off for that. I don't think we get any time off until the lunar new year celebration in February. That's a long time with no extra days for rest. But we don't have a ton of planning to do right now, so it's not too bad. We have some extra stuff to do for government inspectors, but we can handle it. Ridia is really busy as usual, but we're doing our best to help her out as much as we can.

That's all there is for now. As always, people are leaving and new people are coming in. Some of that is good and some is bad. But that's life.

And right now, life is good. Let's hope this feeling continues.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nobody Parties Like The North Koreans Party

Everybody celebrate!

North Korea is celebrating the 65th anniversary of their ruling Workers' Party of Korea in style. There's singing and dancing and even an appearance by Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong-il's son and eventual successor to the throne.

As my life over here becomes more routine, I can find a little comfort in the fact that posting North Korea news is still interesting. And if it's not interesting to anyone else, it is at least to me.

Knowing I live in a country where the people go about their every day lives under the shadow of one of the most bitter and itchy-trigger-fingered regimes in the world still fascinates me. It's incredible that the people of South Korea are at a point where they barely discuss the guy anymore.

Of course, the North gets play on the news here, but you won't find people discussing it or worrying about it in bars, unless of course their western friends bring it up. I've been dating my girlfriend for 8 months now, and we've only had lengthy discussions about the North a few times.

How many years do people have to live under an ongoing threat before it becomes mundane to them? Anyway, check out the video and pics in the article above. The people seem pretty happy, right? For all we know, maybe they are. We can argue all we want about them being treated poorly, but if you didn't know what a cell phone was, would you be mad that you didn't have one?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

South Koreans Are Good At Indoorsy Things

South Koreans whipped the rest of the world once again at the World Cyber Games, held over the weekend in Los Angeles. Not far behind the Koreans -- who won four gold medals -- were the world's other favorite indoor kids: The USA won three gold medals at the games.

Check out the story here.