Many people who have heard asian people speak will notice that often times they confuse the L and the R.  What was once Chicken and Rice suddenly changes to Chicken and Lice which is a much less appetizing meal possibility.  The person who was once called Ryan is now called Lion which is great for Ryan if he is the bookish type who has always been looking for a way to add a little more edge, but again bad for poor Latvia who after the translation will be believed to be infested with rats, as after all almost no one knows anything about Latvia, possibly not even those who live there.  So why the switch?  I just learned recently when trying to learn to read and write in Korean.  The answer shed a whole new light on the switching situation. In Korean there is one letter for both sounds.  L and R are the same as are: T and D, G and K and P and B and J and Z.  It leads to confusion in many other places when some people pronounce our city Gumi and others Kumi, when the city close to us is Daegu or Taegu and the second largest city is Busan or Pusan.  Mother’s are always telling their children, “Id’s colt oud dhere Michael.  Id’s Leally, Leally colt. I Ton’t wand you do cadch Bneumonia.  You pedder pud on a zacked,”  While it is still funny to me when some of the Korean english teachers are teaching the kids about “Lyming” and “Pazamas”.  I do now at least understand why.



March 29, 2010

I know Cassie already posted something about this but I wrote this a while ago and forgot to put it up.

Korea is a bit of a strange place.  The bathroom is just one big shower.  There is no stall, there is no curtain, the water just goes wherever it wants to go.  It sprays off the walls and the cabinets and the toilet then goes down a drain in the floor.  At first you might think, “my god but think of the toilet paper,” Well to this I say those Koreans are one step ahead of you.  On the top, just where the water would threaten to destroy the only thing keeping you from wiping with your hand, is a metal lid; fear not.  The only way the water could get to this precious commodity is if the shower head lifted itself off the wall, hung low near the floor and sprayed up and under this impenetrable steel barrier.  But, come on how could that possibly happen? No really  the only thing to fear is forgetting to turn off the knob which changes the water from coming out the sink to the shower head.  If one would forget this crucial step the next unsuspecting person who washed their hands after using the bathroom would be sprayed in the face.  That’s really not the right way to describe it, more like blasted off there feet into the wall and when they pull you from the rubble and debris your clothes will be dripping.  And I’m afraid that the shower head doesn’t care if you are wearing the proper swimming apparel or perhaps you are in your work clothes and running late.  It does however seem to be consistently cold water that comes out of it which makes me suspicious of foul play.  Am I suggesting that the shower is somehow a living entity?  You tell me how a non-living thing grows fresh hair everyday from it’s drain.  This makes the question of the toilet paper again a worrisome proposition.  If the shower head is a living entity than  I suppose I can only hope to appease the serpent king staring down at me from above or be forced to shake everyone’s hand with the right.


more of everyday life…

March 29, 2010

I’d thought I would post some more pictures of our everyday life.  Might be a bit boring…

Here’s the elementary school behind our apartment (this is the view from our bedroom window).

Here’s me waiting for the school bus outside of our apartment building.  There’s a bus that comes and picks us up in the morning to take us to the kindergarten.  I hope to post a picture of it soon…

This is a shot of what we walk by on the way to school.  This is a typical street in Gumi.

This is Scott walking to school…

Another shot of buildings.

And the guy who sells fruit on the corner next to our school.  He doesn’t have any prices posted and we’ve been told that he’s a barterer.   Once my Korean is a little better, I’m going to attempt to barter for some cheap fruit.

There’s a mountain near our apartment, and last weekend, we poked around until we found some hiking trails.  Near the base of the mountain, there was a park with various exercise mechanisms.  A lot of the parks in Gumi have these.

As we continued up the mountain, we came across a gazebo that overlooked our part of the city.

This is the part of town where we live….

March 7, 2010

We’ve been here a week, which is so hard to believe.  It feels like much longer and much shorter.

We really like our apartment.  It hadn’t been lived in for over a month when we moved in, and it hadn’t been cleaned very well when the last people left, so there was quite a bit of cleaning to do when we first arrived.  But, we’re very happy with it now.  We’ve already done quite a bit to fix it up and make it feel like home.  Here are some pictures:

You may have noticed that the bathroom doesn’t have a shower stall.  You also may have noticed the shower head in the corner of the room.  The whole bathroom is the shower…there is a drain in the middle of the floor. This is really common in Korea.  Sometimes they have stalls for the showers, but even then, there is a space under the shower stall for the water to run out into the drain in the middle of the floor.  Kind of weird, but it’s not as much of a pain as we thought it would be.

Obviously the main challenge so far has been the language.  Some things are in English, but the vast majority is not.  I didn’t realize how much our knowledge of Spanish (although it seemed limited at the time) really helped us in Central America .  Here the writing is all unfamiliar symbols, nothing recognizable.  So, it’s not like we can just use an online translator to find the words that we need, because when a word is translated into Korean, it’s translated into the symbols, which we don’t know how to read or pronounce.

Even our home appliances (microwave, washing machine, thermostat, ec.) are a challenge because they look like this….

We expected that people would stare at us, but it actually happens much less than I imagined it would.  What with Scott being a giant and my orange hair, I thought we would be freaks for sure.  And kids tend to stare a lot, but adults don’t pay us much attention.

I haven’t seen many Westerners in Gumi.  But there are three other teachers at our school from North America- a couple from Canada and one from America.  They have been so helpful to us, both in terms of training us for teaching, and also helping us figure out Gumi.  I’m not really sure what we would have done without them.

I’m also not sure what we would do without each other.  I have so much respect for people who come here alone to teach.  I think it would be very overwhelming to move here without a partner.

The food here is delicious (well, most of it).   They do eat a lot of weird seafood and seaweed and pickled cabbage and radishes…those are my least favorite things.  The food here can be really, really spicy, but I’ve managed to find plenty of things that are not.  They eat a lot of rice and noodles, and vegetables…all things that I love.  And, so far, we’ve found that they eat more meat than we expected, which Scott is very excited about.

We joined a gym that is a 2 minute walk from our apartment.  It is a really nice gym, and they have yoga classes that I can take at night after class.  Since we do not start work until 10:30, we’re able to go to the gym in the morning.  Scott joined a Tae-Kwon-Do studio, so he will take lessons a couple nights a week.

Going shopping is a very interesting experience.  We can’t read any of the labels, so we only buy things that look familiar (and there isn’t tons of stuff that looks familiar).  It’s relatively easy to find at least one or two western brands of toiletries, but there are hardly any western brands of food.  So, even if something looks familiar, we wait until we get home and taste it before we get our hopes up that it will taste like what we eat at home.  But, we are making do pretty well.  For example, the yogurt that we bought tastes pretty weird.  But, I’ve found that if I add a little honey, it tastes great.  Scott bought some ramen that made his breath smell like death, so now he just adds some soy sauce instead of the packet of seasoning.  I find it fun to experiment with food, but for whatever reason, I don’t do it much at home.   So (for now at least) it’s fun to be in a place that forces me to experiment.

Some things in the stores don’t have prices on them, and since we haven’t learned the Korean numbers yet, asking the price is pretty futile (unless there happens to be a calculator nearby and we can get the salesperson to type in the price for us).  Pricing here isn’t always compareable to pricing at home…some things are much cheaper, some things are much more expensive, and others are relatively the same.  So, if it’s something we need and it doesn’t have a price, we just cross our fingers and hope that it’s close to the same price as it would be at home, and wait for the price to show up on the cash register….there haven’t been too many terrible surprises yet….

It’s hard to find a lot of the ingredients that we use to cook meals at home, so (using the wonderful Korean cookbook that my friends Allie and Claire gave me for Christmas) we are embracing the Korean foods in the grocery store and trying to cook Korean meals.  The first attempt was somewhat successful.  It was a chicken and vegetable dish served with rice.  It had a really good flavor, but the sauce came out really really runny.  So, for leftovers, I left out the rice and just ate it as soup.  Scott has made a delicious stirfry.

Currency conversions are pretty simple, as 1,000 won is close to equal to $1.  So, something that is 5,000 won is $5. But it’s hard to get used to having the total on the grocery store cash register read 65,000….

We’re quickly learning when it is ok to wear shoes and when it is not.  Koreans take off their shoes when entering a home (either their own or someone else’s).  We also take off our shoes when we enter the school, and we wear slippers all day long (awesome for a cold footed person like myself)!  I learned the hard way that you also take off your shoes when going into the locker room at the gym.  I neglected to do so the first time…I was quickly and passionately reprimanded (in Korean) by a completely naked women.  I would have been sufficiently embarrassed had the woman been fully clothed….so you can imagine how the nakedness up-ed the embarrassment factor.

The kind of heat that they use to heat buildings comes from hot water pipes under the floor.  The hot air rises from the floor and fills the room.  It feels so wonderful to walk around on warm floors in the winter.

They use a lot of sensor lights here, which is not only very efficient, but also very fun.  The lights in the stairway to our apartment are on sensors, so they turn on as we walk up the stairs to our apartment.  It’s fun to run up the stairs and see how fast you can get the lights to turn on…

Now, a little about our jobs.  We work at two different schools:  a kindergarten (4-7 year olds) from 10:30am- 2:10pm  and then we take a bus to the elementary/middle school (8-15 year olds) and teach from 2:50-6:40 or 7:40 (our schedules are different each day).  We have breaks between some of our classes.  Sometimes we have breaks together, so we can walk outside and get a snack….there are tons of places to eat near our school.  So far our favorite snacks are : fruit from the fruit stand, kimpap (kind of like sushi…we still haven’t figured out what all is in it…we know it has carrot strips, radish strips, and rice, rolled in seaweed…whatever it is, it’s delicious and cheap), and corn dogs from a street vendor.  Other times, one of us has a break while the other teaches a class.  I hope to use this time to  do grading, write blog posts and catch up on email.

We’ve done lots of exploring and are glad we ended up in the part of town that we did.  We are in the city, so everything that we need is in walking distance.  But, we are close to the edge of the city (which is surrounded by mountains), so a fifteen minute walk takes us out of town and to a trail that winds up and through the mountains.  There are amazing views of the city from the mountain…we’ll post pictures of that soon.

In summation, we are really glad that we’re here.  We are working for a great school, we like the other teachers and we like teaching.  We like our town and we love the food here.  Gumi is in the middle of the country, so it will be easy to take weekend trips to see the rest of Korea.  I think it’s going to be a fun year.

More pictures of Gumi, our school and the kids to come….