Friday, July 30, 2004

So I finished The DaVinci one sitting. It was an easy read but it kept me turning the pages. I am not sure how much of it is based on fact and how much on the crazy rantings of conspiracy theorists but it was interesting nonetheless. It's based on the 80's bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and basically deals with the persistent rumours of a secret society dedicated to protecting documents that would rock Christianity to it's core. (Bring it on I say!) The documents are said to prove that the divinity of Christ was invented 300 years after he died and that he was married with a child. The ramifications of these claims are of course, obvious. The book is well written and fairly convincing, although some of it is too far fetched. Not as far fetched as a prophesied virgin-birth, walking on water and a reincarnation, but whatever.

Since we are on the subject of religion and it's one that I love so much, I have learned some cool things lately. I am reading a book on geography and I am really enjoying it. I have learned some really interesting things, such as the history of the story of Atlantis (mythological of course but first introduced by Plato of all people! Thought to be the fanciful re-telling of the Island of Thera) and that Christopher Columbus never actually reached the shores of the United States of America and that he died thinking he had reached China. I mean, I never really believed he had discovered America or anything (after all, it's difficult to discover something if more than 40 million people are already living there!) but I have to admit that I did think he had actually reached America. Just goes to show you...anyways, I digress. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, good 'ol religion...

After reading about St.Augustine and early Roman history I learned that St. Augustine really struggled with the idea that there may be more than three continents. The Bible names only three continents (one for each of Noah's descendants) and the idea that a new continent had been discovered set up a huge contradiction between scripture and science (surely not the last!) that he could not comprehend. This made me happy. Obviously we, as a society, have globally accepted the existence of more than three continents. We have relied on evidence and proof and the rational has prevailed! This means that, given enough time, we can do that again. Creationism will eventually be abandoned and evolution (or a better, more unifying theory yet) will be adopted...universally. The human condition marches on...

Brian and I have been on vacation for the last two days and have accomplished nothing. We both have this weird stomach bug that makes us a little reluctant to leave our apartment. Let's just say that finding a public washroom in Daegu seems to be a difficult feat. We have slept a lot and read a lot and eaten very little. It sucks because it's not very often that we get days off work, but what can you do? We are hoping to do more tomorrow and maybe go to the museum or at least downtown.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Happy Birthday Gina! I miss you...I hope you are having a wonderful time...

I am so sick today...again. I guess I got what Brian had. Grrr...

For any Vonnegut fans out there, check this out. Pure genius.

Oh you remember that cute little pillow that I bought at E-Mart a couple of days ago? It broke. In the middle of the night. In the bed, under the covers. And it was full of billions of tiny polystyrene beads. They are everywhere...and I mean everywhere. At least it was easy to "roll" out of bed in the morning.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Today we went downtown and finally found the map that Brian has desperately been wanting. Apparently he needs a visual map of where we are. I don't really care where we all looks the same to me. Just another difference between men and women I think. Anyway, after downtown we caught a cab to E-Mart, Korea's equivalent of Wal-Mart. It was pretty much what I expected - huge, full of lots of goodies and teeming with people. The escalators were the ramp kind with no stairs. I felt so much like herded cattle that I was nervous someone was going to whip out a stun-gun on the sporting goods level. No such luck.

 It was actually pretty cool. They had a section of massage chairs/beds and it was full of people test driving the products. It was mostly old people in the chairs and some of them looked like they may have died at some point between massage cycles. One man's head was being shaken so hard I was afraid he was going to have some kind of frontal lobe damage when he eventually did get up. It might have been better had he died in the chair.

I bought some house slippers, a pillow and some other small odds and ends. Korean houses have an underfloor heating system and so people always take off their shoes inside. It used to consist of a fire and heating ducts but now it relies on the hotwater pipes running under the floor. It's a neat idea but I don't really understand why it requires different footware. I'll just keep playing along. It does help explain the whole "sandal with socks phenomenon"...but not entirely.

We got into the cab today and I asked the driver to take us to E-Mart. Nothing. I asked again, nothing. Brian tried "E-Mart-uh". Instant recognition. Turns out that in the Korean language, certain sounds cannot finish a syllable or word. This is why my students (and many of the Korean teachers) change page to "pagey" and English to "Englishey" (
Engrishey to be exact). The other sound they add is "uh"...thus, E-Martuh. The things you learn.

The car horns here have a built in fade to them. It's weird because it kind of mimics the Doppler effect and it trips me out every time. You push the horn once and it gradually fades over a few seconds. No explanation yet to accompany the observation.

So everyone here are wearing sunvisors to protect them from the sun. Mostly the women, but I have seen some men wearing them too. Some go so far as to wear gloves, visors and use parasols (I never thought I would use that word in a sentence beyond my 8th birthday...I wanted a parasol for my birthday. I didn't get it) but I have yet to see a pair of sunglasses. I have so much to learn.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Korea is a very secular nation, which makes me very happy. As a secular humanist it is good to know that those who choose to practice their religion are allowed to do so in a benign way and that those who choose not to are treated fairly. So unlike so many other places. Athiests are one of the last remaining vestiges of acceptable discrimination in the modern world. In a recent survey, 46% of Americans said they would never vote for an athiest as President. So much for the separation of church and state. We have so much work to do.

Cicadas. The trees on the way to work are full of them and they are loud. SO loud. They chirp/screech at the most horrible frequency and Brian and I can't even hear each other over the cacophony. But it got me do they know when to start and when to stop? There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of them and all of a sudden the singing (and I use that term loosely) will just cease. It's a little eerie. It's like applause I suppose (bear with me here). You are at a performance and it ends, everyone starts clapping. Who claps first? How do you know how long to clap? It can't always be directly proportional to your appreciation, because surely not everyone will enjoy a performance to the same degree. Who claps last? Who is the brave soul who determines, that's enough. This clapping should end now. Who notices and then decides that he/she should also stop clapping because that guy did? Who is the last to clap and why? Makes you wonder doesn't it?

My Dad will be happy to know that I think of him every time I see a Hyundai Santa Fe (for those of you who don't know, Ed owns one and loves it. He even calls it by it's full name, "I'm going to go and wash the Hyundai Santa Fe.") and I am thinking about him a lot. They are every where. The manufacturing plant is in Ulsan, on the South East coast, and it is apparently very prolific. They are ubiquitous. Maybe if North and South Korea ever reunify they will put the Santa Fe on the new flag. "The New Korea. Rugged, stylish and oh so spiffy."

Brian is sick as a dog today. He has a bad cold and just needs to get lots of rest and drink know the deal. The Koreans apparently don't look at things the same way we do. They wanted him to go to the hospital! Last week I had a stomach bug and they wanted me to go to the hospital and take medicine. What kind of medicine you ask? That's not the just need to take some kind of medicine. They have tonics and pills for everything, it's unbelievable. I finally explained to the Korean teachers that Brian would not be going to the hospital. They said he is very strong and brave. Yeesh. It's very difficult for Brian and I to handle since we are both skeptics and fully aware of the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics etc. Reiki, reflexology, you name it. It drives me bonkers and this country eats it up. This place is a skeptics nightmare.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

We went downtown today in search of an English map of Daegu. We found downtown but no map. The city centre is not too far from where we live...about a 10 minute cab ride (so that's about three bucks!) It was quite busy down there today and full of sights and sounds to remind you that you are still in Asia. I went to try and buy some clothes and found that I am fitting into a large for the first time in my life! Simple things like asking how much something costs become a series of grunts and gestures (despite our ever-present Korean phrasebook) and the smells...oh the smells. I don't know if it's sewage or dead animals but every once and awhile you will catch a sniff of something so horrid that it makes your head spin. It doesn't last too long but it's incredibly powerful for the few moments it lasts. (Brian swears up and down that this country reeks - permanently, but I don't find it that bad.) There are street vendors selling fruit drinks and bondagi (fried silkworm larvae), and knock-off Fendi bags and oodles and oodles of cellphone accessories. It's crowded and colourful (they may be able to make me drop the ou in school but this is Caroline's blog. This is my world, and the ou and re stay) and you get bumped, jostled and plain knocked-around. There are mopeds and cars driving on the sidewalks and nobody knows English. It's fantastic.

Every once and awhile we will encounter some young kids who will proceed to elbow each other and giggle as soon as they see us. This is usually followed up with a giggled "Hello" to which we respond equally. This response is met with guffaws (more giggles in the case of the girls) and maybe a "Good-bye" as they flee the scene. We usually just laugh and play along like we get the joke. The only problem is I think we might be the joke.

We are much taller than everyone in this country. There are some tall Koreans but Brian is still a head taller than them. Yesterday I saw a tall man and got quite excited that I had found my first tall Korean...the guy turned out to be white. Whoops.

We went to Kyobo today and bumped into some other whities in the book store. They were both from Vancouver. You gotta love Canadians - they're every where! We chatted in the English section for awhile and they seemed pretty cool. I bought The DaVinci Code while I was there. I usually don't buy the bestsellers but I read the book that led to this one being written (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail) and I am interested in Brown's interpretation. Will let you know what I think.

I always knew that tomatoes were fruit. People always get a real kick out of informing you, "Did you know that tomatoes are actually a fruit"? Uh, yah. I also know that the brazil nut is not truly a nut - it's a seed. (I know - sign me up for Jeopardy. Hee.) Anyway, here, the tomato is truly treated as an equal to it's more recognized fruity counterparts. We went to Baskin Robbins today for an iced coffee and they have this wonderful invention called an "ice cream fondue" (again, ingenious). It has little balls of ice-cream, pieces of sponge cake and fresh fruit that you dip in melted chocolate. The fruit looked delicious...bananas, kiwi, stawberries and...tomatoes? What the hell? Yup, tomatoes.

Friday, July 23, 2004

So, I wouldn't say we have been lied to so much as misled. We kind of misled ourselves I guess. When we signed on for this job in Korea, we were promised 10 days holiday and every national holiday, of which there are 20+. Great! That's like a month off in total right? Wrong. Holidays in Korea happen on the weekend. Oh the misery! Since this country consists entirely of workaholics hell-bent on defeating the Japanese, the work week is six-days long. So that means that any holidays that fall on a Saturday are holidays for the Koreans but not for us. It's also different from at home in that if it falls on a Sunday that does not mean you get Monday off work. No way. So as it turns out, this year New Year's falls on a Friday. No day off! Christmas? Saturday. I swear this is some kind of sick joke.

It has been so hot here...above 35 degrees Celsius every day. Our apartment has AC though and so does work. Thank goodness.

I have a confession to make. I have done some internal "tssking" in my life at people who have made fun of the way Asian people talk. The whole L and R thing - I thought it was exaggerated if not false. It's neither. We have a reading book at school and one of the character's names is Larry. If I hear "Rarry" one more time I am going to scream! Rarry and "peesh" for fish. They have a hard time with R, L, F, P and W. I stand corrected...and amused.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

My kids at school were so bad today. They actually made me cry (which admittedly isn't all that difficult, but still...) and what makes it worse is that my partner teacher went and told the class they made me cry. Oh good.

Other than that things are going fairly well. I am having a hard time getting to a computer. I can check my email but as far as posting on the blog goes, it takes too much time. There are two computers at work and about 10 people wanting to use them at any one time. I have started "blogging" at home on my laptop and figure I can just post them when I get a chance. It's not perfect but it's going to have to do. I think Brian and I are going to end up getting internet at the house pretty soon. We'll see...

I ate octopus for lunch today. It didn't taste too bad (like rubber really) but the suckers on the tentacles sort of stuck to my throat. They eat live octopus here in Korea (mine was dead, thankfully) and apparently every year one or two people die from the octopus' suckers attaching to their wind pipe. What a way to go! For the octopus and the wind pipe..."The Octopus and the Wind pipe" that sounds like a good name for a story. Heh.

Brian is having a harder time adapting to things here than I am. Could be the one ice-cold beer I drink everyday after work that is making the difference. The beer isn't that good but it goes down smooth and bubbly. Just the way I like it! I look forward to that beer (I have limited myself to just far) everyday as it has come to signify the end of the day and a retreat back into normality. Oh God, I sound like an alcoholic. Here's a quick side note: normality. It's such a good word. It sufficiently describes what it is intended do and so, fulfills the purpose of a word. Why, in 1956, did some dude invent normalcy? I don't know but it bugs me. It doesn't bug me as much as the more recent trend towards blending the two words into "normalacy". Just one of my little grammatical pet peeves.


We have been noticing that a lot of the cars around here have little cross-stitched pillows in the windows. Most of them have a phone number and "I'm Sorry" or "I love you". At first we thought people left them on car windows after a parking lot collision or something, but it turns out they are for parking. It is illegal to park on the street here and so, if you have to nip into a store quickly, you can put the pillow on your window so they can call you on your cellphone. Not a bad idea! They have a lot of good ideas in this country, (they have some bad ones too but I am trying to stay positive and culturally respectful) like handles on their watermelons. When you buy a watermelon it comes in a rope "basket" with a handle. Ingenious.

I got my alien card today. I am now officially a legal alien. Very cool.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Today is supposedly the first day of the three hottest days of the year in Korea. It is no coincidence that it is also the day set aside to eat sacholt'ang - or dog soup. It is believed to be very healthy and is also thought to provide stamina in the bedroom. Move over Viagra, here comes Poochie.
Let's talk about squat toilets for a moment shall we? It's not that I have a problem with them because I don't. I am a squatter from way back. It makes as much sense anatomically as western-style toilets and they aren't difficult to use. I am able and willing to admit that I did encounter some backsplash problems during the first couple of days, but the problem has since been fixed. Facing the right way has made a world of difference. My problem is that the plumbing here cannot handle toilet paper (or so they claim). This means that at a school with 600 hundred students, there is a huge amount of discarded and used toilet paper in the garbage can. It smells okay at about 11 in the morning, but by late afternoon the stench is overwhelming. The fact that I can conveniently flush the toilet with my foot doesn't outpower the smell...ugh.
YAK. Have you heard of it? It's awesome. I know this probably sounds like an advertisement but, what the heck...if you like a product, endorse it! All you have to do is dial 10-15-945 from any phone in Canada and it is SO cheap! It goes right on your home telephone bill and there is no need to sign up! Ha! Ha! You can call the US for about 5 cents a minute and I think it's only about 9 cents to call here. Yak away people, Yak away.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

I am feeling pretty sick. New bugs, new immune forces are weakened. We are being attacked from behind. We have crossed enemy lines and the enemy is winning...
Ah, sorry. I spent all day yesterday in bed. If I have learned anything in life it's that lying in bed and thinking is not good for me. My brain gets away from me and I feel like I'm on a runaway train with no driver. But as the infamous Cliff Lonsdale once said (a thousand times) I digress...
I made up a joke the other day:
What do you call an epileptic covered in croutons?
A seizure salad.
Oh god.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A kid in my class today was wearing a white outfit with the words "Gay Land" written all over it. His name was Leo...or maybe it was Roy. I teach 91 kids and there are probably only 15-20 names between them. Each child is assigned an English name when they enroll at the school and the teachers who have been doling out the names are either very lazy or extremely unimaginative. Sally. Annie. Max. Justin. Sam. Molly. Juliet. Mat. Gina. Oh and I also have a Hans and a Hoya. One day someone got creative.
We went to the immigration office today to register with the local "authorities". It involved a taxi cab ride from one end of the city to the other and back again. It was a great chance to see Daegu. It's a huge city (pop. 2.7 million) and we haven't really learned our way around yet. The taxi ride only cost us $10 for the roundtrip and about about five years from my life. The driving here is insane. There are no lanes, no rules and no seatbelts. Just a blur of cars and a string of near misses.
I am sitting here writing in a PC bang ("bang" seems to mean room. There are DVD bangs where you can rent a DVD and watch it in your own private screening room) with about 100 other people. All I can hear is shooting noises and groaning. The kids here are really into PC games and it's kind of eerie sitting in a room with so many people and everyone glued to their screen. Ah well... 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I burned my hair today and had to cut it off. Apparently a Canadian curling iron plugged into a 220v electrical system just gets twice as hot. Who knew? The sizzling sound that occurred as soon as the barrel touched my hair was accompanied by large amounts of smoke. I am sad to say that the frizzled mess that remained could not be saved.
Here is something I learned today: Koreans don't count their age the same way we do. When they are born they are 1 year old. I couldn't figure it out, because all of my kids look younger than they say they are. Eventually someone explained to me that they are actually one year younger by North American standards. See, this is why traveling is so great. I had no idea that Asians did that! Now I do. Such is life.
Things at the school are progressing quickly. I am getting used to teaching, although the pace still blows me away. We have about 90 students each and between six and eight classes a day. Each class is 40 minutes. We are expected to cover about four or five contents in each call and so we teach at break-neck speed. The Korean teachers (who for the first week are observing our classes and acting as translators) do the most annoying things, like counting 5-4-3-2-1 for every little thing I ask the kids to do. The weird part is, there is no consequence if the the teacher gets to one and nothing has happened, she just starts again. Weird. There is a lot of chanting and repetition going on but I can't shake the feeling that the kids are not learning much English. If you ask them "How are you?" they will rattle off, "I am well thank you, and you?" like they have been speaking English all their lives. Ask them "How are you today?" and they stare at you with blank looks on their faces. It is going to be hard not get frustrated because the school doesn't want us to stop and make sure everyone understands, they want the kids to memorize the words and spit them out again in a passable accent. I guess it's not that different from public school back home.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

They had us start teaching today. Yesterday we observed the classes and today we taught...these Koreans don't mess around. I think it went okay. I don't really know, I have never done this before. They asked us at the end of the day which class went the best/worst and I couldn't even dissociate between any of my classes! They were all just one big blur of kids. We are working from 11 until 9 for the first week and I can see already I how tired I am going to be by Friday. After two solid months of unemployment and the lax schedule of j-school, the Korean work schedule is going to kick my ass.
I have good news and bad news. Good news is, we have a television. In my former life this wouldn't have been a good thing, but here it provides me with a soft place to fall at the end of the day. The bad news? One of the only English stations is the American Forces Network. The military presence here is still quite strong given that S. and N. Korea are still technically at war (although this most be the longest cease-fire in the history of man kind) and I am being forced to watch the military propaganda between shows. "Ally McBeal" - report human trafficking - "Who Wants to Marry my Dad?" - Don't sell or buy on the black market - "The Simple Life" - Don't point your guns at Civilians. It's a schizophrenic experience to say the least.
Our bedroom window faces the main street (and by street I mean alley) and I have been sitting and watching the streets below like it's my own private soap opera. Ay home, we live our lives behind closed doors. Here, everything is public. Mr.Lee and his friends drink outside the shop every night and their laughter, even though it makes no sense to me, makes me smile. The kids ride bikes in circles in the streets, often narrowly escaping being hit by a car. They fight and scream at each other. Last night I heard a sole voice singing as he walked into the darkness. There is a crazy lady who hobbles up and down the streets calling for someone who never answers. It's real. I find it fascinating to watch and it makes me feel connected to my neighbourhood and to the people around me, even though I cannot understand what they are saying.

Monday, July 12, 2004

So many screaming children. So loud. So tired.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

We finally arrived in Korea after a two day delay. Our passports which, according to the Korean Embassy in Vancouver, were sent on Friday arrived at the house Tuesday with a stamp saying they had been mailed on Monday. Hmmm...
Either way, we are here now. We got in on Friday night after a grueling five hour bus ride. Brian and I got off the plane in Seoul quite chuffed with ourselves. Thinking ourselves to be seasoned travelers we remarked on how easy the trip was. (Asides from the fact that people were smoking in the airplane washroom...let me say that smelling smoke at 30,000 feet is NOT a pleasant feeling.) What we didn't know was that it wasn't even close to being over! We arrived in Korea at 3:30 in the afternoon and got to Daegu at 1:00 on Saturday morning. Ugh.
This morning I awoke to what I thought was the police yelling for someone to come out of their house. It was loud and insistent. It was blaring in my window and it was more than a little annoying. When I finally mustered up the energy sit up and look out my window I saw that it was actually a guy selling watermelons out of the back of his truck. How quaint. The parade of speaker-bearing salesmen continued through the morning. Onions. Garlic. Televisions. The list of items one can purchase of the back of a moving truck appears to be endless. I wonder if any of them sell earplugs?
Our little apartment is above a corner store owned by a Mr.Lee. (Of course it is!) It sells beer and milk and a lot of other things that I cannot yet identify. Mr. Lee appears to be friendly enough but there are sordid rumours circling around the neighbourhood about Mr.Lee and his dog. Apparently he really loves his dog. Nuff' said.

We went downtown today with Andrea and Ryan, two teachers from New Brunswick, who were kind enough to show us around. We went downtown and ate galbi at a small restaurant off a side road. It was delicious! Galbi consists of marinated pork (I abandoned vegetarianism until I can learn how to order and what's what) that you cook on a grill at your table. It was so good and came with at least a dozen side-dishes. Kimchi being one of them, of course. Kimchi is a Korean staple and probably best described  as this country's french fry. It comes with everything and there is always lots of it. It's a spicy dish made of fermented cabbage and hot chili paste. It's pretty good actually.
We start school tomorrow at Ding Ding Dang. If this is my last entry, I guess it means I was swallowed alive by the Korean education system...or by the kids themselves.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Ha! Joke's on me. We are still in Edmonton and it is definitely more than a week since I last posted. Damn Korean Embassy lost our passports. We are leaving tomorrow though - I'll believe it when I land in Incheon.

Read J Unrau's blog today. Unbelievably well done and very interesting. Exactly what I would expect from him.

I went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday. I wasn't sure if I was going to like it but I did. I have heard all the complaints but I can't say that any of them were really convincing. Were there some factual errors? Probably, but none of them was major enough to affect the integrity of the film. I left the theatre feeling upset - primarily because it left me disheartened about the situation in the middle east and secondly because I felt so frustrated that George W. Bush has at least a chance at getting re-elected. Wasn't once enough? Moore used some really effective cinematic devices such as letting the screen go black as the audio from September 11th played on. We have seen those images so many times that (dare I say it) we have become somewhat immune to them. Sitting in that dark theatre, hearing the sounds of planes hitting concrete and the was horrific.
I have to say though that nothing in the film really surprised me. I already knew Bush was crooked and I suspected there were connections with the Carlyle group. What continues to frustrate me is that so many people just don't see it.