Tag Archives: jeju

A taste of Japan

I am in Fukuoka (Foo-koo-OH-kah), Japan as I write this, sent here to get a new visa stamp. That’s a long, ugly story that I won’t go into here. I’m on what is fondly known among foreign teachers in Korea as a “visa run.” How it works: fly to Fukuoka, being the closest port from Jeju, drop off your passport and new visa application at the Korean embassy, shop and eat in lovely Fukuoka for a day, pick up your passport with the shiny new visa stamp the next day, fly back to Korea.

I got here Sunday afternoon and dropped off my application at 9 this morning (Monday), so I’ve had all day to look around. I gotta say, it’s pretty cool here. Compared to Jeju, the sidewalks are wider and in better repair, traffic is quieter, with almost no honking and I haven’t been nearly run over at all. On Jeju crossing the street is always a life-threatening experience. Also the people are prettier and trendier, with amazing clothes and hair. Korea is very conservative by comparison, and no one really looks “different.” That’s especially true in provincial Jeju. Japan even has gay people! (Korea denies their existence.)

Japanese version of a gargoyle atop one of Fukuoka's many temples.

Japanese version of a gargoyle atop one of Fukuoka's many temples.

I’m staying in Hakata, which has a lovely canal system running through it, that actually has water in it. Jeju has several large but dry canals, apparently reserved for storm runoff. I got here via a fast, clean and efficient subway system, right from the airport. Jeju, being one big volcanic rock, has no subway system, just crazy bus and taxi drivers. This area boasts some of the most impressive shrines in Fukuoka, including one a stone’s throw from my hotel, the JBB Hakata. Two blocks in the other direction is a shrine that houses the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. (see photo.) I managed to get one photo, sans flash, before I was told “no photo!” Oops. He is 16 meters tall, which is nearly 50 feet. For such an amazing statue he was in a very unamazing space, like a Buddha-in-a-box.

The largest wooden Buddha in Japan.

The largest wooden Buddha in Japan.

After dropping off my passport this morning I went exploring on foot. It was a beautiful spring day, with the cherry blossoms straining to burst into bloom. The massive Cherry Blossom Festival officially starts next weekend, so they’ve probably been put on notice not to bust out early. I first went to Ohori Park, a lovely green space surrounding a lake. There is a land bridge cutting across the middle of the lake, with quaint arched bridges, pagodas, weeping willows and sweeping views of the city skyline. At one million plus population, Fukuoka is a major city with amazing architecture. After crossing the lake I explored the adjacent “ruins of Fukuoka Castle” grounds. There is no castle at all, but some massive stone walls, topped by a viewing platform with a 360 degree view of the city and environs. Like so many things in Asia, the “great wall” was built to keep out the Mongol horde. While the vegetation in the park is pruned with manic Japanese precision, there were also many homeless encampments lodged under trees and against the stone fort walls. I’ve always wondered by Jeju doesn’t have a homeless population, but it is alive and well in Japan. OK, one point for Korea.

Bikes sans rack outside a subway station. Not a one wasa locked up.

Bikes sans rack outside a subway station. Not a one was locked up.

After basking in the sun at the top of the “fort,” I took the subway back to Hakata for lunch and shopping. I brought very little money with me, and was relying totally on cash – no credit cards!! – so I had to really watch my spending. Everyone says Japan is more expensive than Korea, but that depends on what you buy. I would have loved to check out some pricey Japanese restaurants, or bought lots of souvenirs, but I stuck to browsing and buying food at convenience stores and cafes. And Hakata has some amazing shopping ops!

I got out of the subway at the Nakasu-Kawabata stop, which is right at a huge designer label, multi-story shopping center called “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo.” Really. I don’t know why. As I stepped into the elevator I realized I didn’t have my leather jacket. I had shed it earlier, as it was very warm out. I figured I must have either left it at the first subway stop when I was waiting for the train, or on the train. Crap. I had a quick lunch first, then went back to the subway station. A very kind man at the ticket booth managed to piece together what I was saying, and made a few phone calls, but no luck. He gave me a number to call and said to check later. Darn.

Another random tourist in Japan.

Another random tourist in Japan.

I went back to my hotel, where I told the receptionist my problem. She, like the toll booth guy, apologized for not speaking English. I apologized for not speaking Japanese. Bows were exchanged all around. But hey, if I haven’t learned Korean in 6 months it’s unlikely I’m going to learn Japanese for a 2-day trip. She understood what I wanted though, and very kindly called the lost and found. Again, no luck. When I came back to the hotel several hours later, she immediately went into pouty face mode, shaking her head sadly. I think she was more upset than I was. I’m bummed, but what can you do? At least it wasn’t my passport, camera or wallet! Some homeless person is probably strutting the streets in it right now. Oh well.

Some things need no translation.

Some things need no translation.

But back to the shopping. From my hotel I strolled across the grounds of the Kushida Shrine and directly into the Kawabata arcade, a covered shopping area that stretches for several blocks. If one had money to spend, there is plenty to buy, from beautiful silk kimonos and pottery to incense and handmade Japanese folk dolls. But of course, as in Korea, none of the clothes or shoes would fit me anyway. The kawabata arcade is bookended by Eeny Meeny Miny Mo on one end and Canal City on the other. Canal City is a sprawling, multi-story covered mall, with a man-made canal running through it. I watched as the fountains in the middle of the canal spurted in time to Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Nearby a balloon clown entertained the crowd overlooking his canal-side platform.

She could be just a student...

She could be just a student...

After browsing through Canal City, I came out in what can only be called the red light district: blocks upon blocks of nothing but “gentlemen’s clubs,” with advertisements that left little to the imagination. I am very curious though, about the business labeled only with a British flag and “Diana.” What the??
I saw a lot of very pretty, skimpily dressed women in spike heels, but then, you see them everywhere. While in Korea there is a modesty code that is skirted (so to speak) by wearing black tights with hotpants, or a tank top under a plunging neckline, in Japan they let it all hang out. Not that there’s much to hang out….
I’ve heard about Japan all my life, as my parents lived there for several years while my dad was in the navy, and my middle brother was born there. It was kind of odd to finally be there, the last member of the Miller clan to do so, but it well worth the wait. I definitely want to come back and spend more time here.

It will be interesting to see how I feel about Jeju after seeing “the other side.”

Venice? Paris? Dublin? No, Fukuoka, Japan. A lovely city.

Venice? Paris? Dublin? No, Fukuoka, Japan. A lovely city.

Changes

It’s not enough that I moved to a foreign country and started a totally new career. Now, six months later, I’m starting another new job and moving again. Same country, and same career, but I hope a totally better situation. I will say this now that I am out of the range of EPIK retribution, but that program…leaves a lot to be desired. If you found this blog while searching for information about teaching English in Korea, particularly on Jeju Island (Jeju-do), be warned. It’s a crap shoot. Some people are very happy with their teaching gigs, others, like me, not so much. I can’t speak for how the program (English Program In Korea) is administered in other provinces, as Jeju is a “Self-Governing Province,” which means, they really are an island unto themselves. Jeju is the maverick of South Korea.

But frankly, I’m tired of fretting over the ineptitude and incompetence that are the hallmarks of Jeju EPIK, so let’s move one, as I intend to do. I am moving from being a talking parrot, clown and bad cop for classes of 30-plus kids, to being an actual teacher at a hagwon (after school private academy) for classes of less than 10 kids. Right now it looks like my biggest class is 6 kids. Since housing came with the EPIK job, changing jobs also means changing housing. I am the first foreign teacher my new school has had to find housing for, and I was trying to think positively, and visualize a nice, spacious apartment with a lovely view of beautiful Jeju Harbor, or maybe snow-covered Mt. Halla. At the very least, I was praying for something not on an alley with a view of the garbage cans. It’s an odd system here in that since the school is paying for your housing, they choose it; you don’t get a say in approving or rejecting. My school director said I could look on my own, but without being able to read the classified ads, that’s kind of difficult. There is no Craigslist! I had to be out of my EPIK apartment by Feb. 28th, and as the date approached I got increasingly nervous. Finally, last week he announced he had found my apartment. Oh joy!
Well….there are no garbage cans, but yeah, I am on the first floor, next to the front door and the driveway, of a really crappy ‘60s vintage apartment building. In a studio, with possibly the worst decorating scheme ever. The kitchen cabinets are dark turquoise, adjacent to a large wall covered with large, red poppy wallpaper. It brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s pronouncement as he lay dying in a cheap Parisian hotel: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” I can so relate to his dark humor.

While that is pulling your eyeballs out of your head in one direction, the bathroom is vying for attention in the other direction. All the fixtures are dark maroon. But worst of all, the ONLY windows in the place are in an enclosed patio. They have bars on them and are all frosted glass. Poor Sammy. Not only forced to be an indoor cat, but now denied even a daily view of the outdoors. The only way to see daylight at all is to open the windows; which don’t have screens. In another month I might as well hang out a sign saying “mosquito bloodfest this way!” Wait, how do you say that in Korean? Basically, it’s like a basement apartment on Capitol Hill, without the Bohemian factor and good coffeeshops.

I moved in last Saturday, and on my second day I had a visit from my upstairs neighbor, who apparently has some mental issues. When I answered the door I noted her blouse was held together with one large, jaunty safety pin. She barged in and gestured “sleep” and pointed at the ceiling. I took this to mean she lived upstairs. She prattled on, while I tried to convey that I don’t speak Korean. Undeterred, she then began inspecting the place. I grabbed my phone to call my director, to see if he could tell what she wanted. When she opened my closet doors my limited Korean kicked in and I yelled “ANYEO!!ANYEO!!” which means “NO!” I got her out without further incident. Nice welcoming committee.

It was supposed to be a 5-10 minute walk to my new school, but I tried walking it the first day and could not find a route that was less than 20 minutes, half of that steeply uphill. There is no direct route or shortcut, as the neighborhood runs helter skelter across the hillside. That may not sound like much, but the summers here are intensely hot and humid. And I already know how bitterly cold the winters are.

So, it’s not the apartment of my dreams, but I am doing what I can to make it “mine.” I bought an area rug to cover the hideous beige linoleum, and am putting up posters to cover the poppies. I’m going to send home for curtains, as Korean draperies would only add to the gaudiness. My director agreed to buy a double bed, so Sammy and I are enjoying that, after 6 months in a single bed. I do have internet, although it’s not always reliable. And maybe it’s a good thing to not get too comfortable here. Korea is not my home and it never will be. This is just another stop on my road of life. I signed a one year contract which I will do my best to honor. After that, who knows. I have a craving lately for baklava…

The yin and the yang of expat life in Korea

UPDATE: It’s been nearly a week since I wrote the following entry, but I didn’t have a chance to post it. This week I got a phone, am moving to a new apartment in town, and had another showdown about the intolerable third grade class situation. My new apartment comes with Internet so it will be much easier to keep you up to date.
Thanks for reading!

Last week saw the beginning of a new chapter in the riveting English class curriculum, with promising titles such as: “How Many Cows?,” “Is This Your Cap?,” (which I have already edited to read “Is This Your Crap?”), “Do You Want Some More?”, and “I’m Stronger Than You.”
Most of the foreign teachers agree these lessons are complete crap, and no way to learn English. Some teachers have even told their Korean co-teachers that they will not use the book, and are designing their own lessons, but I’m not sure that’s the wisest course. It’s a flimsy foundation, but it is what their entire English curriculum through grade 12 is based on. Besides, that sounds like a lot of work.
Also, I really don’t feel like the students are going to learn English by mass yelling and game playing sessions, no matter how you serve it. I have to clear my desk of sharp instruments before each class so that I don’t poke my eyes out with frustration or jam markers in my ears to block out the horrible, horrible song lyrics. I can’t help thinking, I am an award-winning journalist…what the hell am I doing here?
Then I remember, oh right, bills, bills, bills. Money is not the most altruistic reason for teaching overseas, but it is a driving force and a major reason many people choose Korea. I believe it’s the only country that does not require a TESL certificate. But I think I’ve already said that. Sorry.
We did finally get paid this week, which helped considerably to ease my anxieties about this decision. I also keep telling myself teaching is a means to an end: gaining the experience of living in another country while earning the income to make it possible, and possibly doing some traveling to neighboring countries during school holidays.
As sure as death, taxes and screaming Korean children, the weekend always comes.

This weekend held a variety of diversions, thanks to my new-found foreign teacher friends. Friday night we attended an amazing concert of traditional Korean music, which was held on the water of an inlet. Yes, ON the water. The concert is an annual reenactment of a concert that was held for the king of the Joen dynasty.
The concert-goers (standing in for the royal court I guess) are seated on small concrete piers that jut out into the narrow inlet, and the performers are floated out on rafts into the middle of the inlet. A high, suspension foot bridge serves as a backdrop, complete with fluorescent neon lights, which I’m sure they would have loved for the original show, had they been available.
The weather turned much cooler on Friday and it finally felt like fall. As night fell a wind picked up on the water and the concert was actually chilly. One performer was a beautiful opera singer, and we all felt sorry for her as she bravely gripped the mast on the small raft as it bucked on the incoming waves. She must have been freezing in her sleeveless evening gown, but her voice was amazing. Oarsmen fore and aft did their best to control the craft, which was also tethered to the shore by a long rope. Basically, the man in front pulled the raft along the rope while the one in the stern provided thrust. Another performer wore a beautiful traditional silk dress, with bamboo painted in broad strokes on the cloud-like outer layer. She was seated on the raft and played a bamboo flute. I managed to take this shot of her clutching the raft as it lurched back to shore. She didn’t look too happy.

Like a lotus blossom on a calm pond...or not

Like a lotus blossom on a calm pond...or not

Opposite us on the inlet wall was a full orchestra and a big screen TV, which was great for seeing what was going on when the rafts floated away from our view a bit.
The most dramatic moment came at the end when a male opera singer was riding the waves, so to speak, while the orchestra played dramatic music which seemed perfectly timed to the waves crashing against the raft. I thought it sounded like Wagner, and I was close – music major Karissa said it was another Germanic composer, Carl Orff. The composition was “Oh Fortuna,” from Carmina Burana if you want to look it up.
As the song reached its finale a hail of white fireworks rained down from the footbridge, lighting up the water and the sky. They probably did have those for the original performance.

The concert was the first time my fellow Foreign Language High School cellmates got to meet the teachers I have made friends with, through the Internet, who have been here more than six months. Since two of them have the luxury of owning cars, after the concert the seven of us went back to the City Hall area where we reconvened at a Korean restaurant that specializes in a drink called makali, which is a milky, alcoholic rice beverage served in a large pottery bowl. Individual portions are scooped out into smaller bowls with a wooden, hand-carved ladle. It was a fun evening and a great start to the weekend.

Saturday morning (well, noon-ish) Cindy, Karissa and I went in search of a fabled Belgian waffle brunch, back at City Hall. It was also the day of the first presidential debate, and while I was not able to find a TV with CNN at 10 a.m., when it would be live here, I was determined to watch it on a computer somewhere. We found the trifecta of waffles, coffee and free Internet at Ti-Amo, a newly opened “Italian” café. The waffles come served with two huge scoops of gelato, smothered in whipped cream and topped with a maraschino cherry. Yum! The café had a huge and mouthwatering assortment of gelato flavors – it was hard to pick just two! Karissa had pistachio and chocolate, Cindy had blueberry and tiramisu and I had pistachio and strawberry.

When Karissa got hers first, it came with three forks. While we waited for waffles number two and three to arrive, we realized that the waffle makers assumed that we would share one waffle, as that is probably what Koreans do. But no, greedy Americans that we are, we wanted our own INDIVIDUAL waffles. That’s the American way! We did share though, tasting each gelato flavor. They were all divine. So much for my plan of losing weight while I’m here. It would be easy to stop off on my way home for a gelato cone way too often. I was better off when all I knew about were fish soup and kimchi. (photo coming soon!)

We caught a few minutes of the debate video, before catching a bus up to the National University for a lecture on how to teach public speaking, sponsored by the Korean TOSEL organization (KoTESOL). It was not very productive, but once again we met up with our other teacher friends. Colleen, who is on her second year teaching here, loaned me a cell phone. Everyone here is cell phone obsessed and keeps saying, “you’ve got to get a cell phone!” But, getting a phone is another set of hurdles, requiring possession of an Alien Registration Card and having a Korean friend to go along to the store with you to make sure you don’t get screwed. Usually this is your Korean co-teacher, but mine have been pretty worthless about doing anything outside of school. Colleen and Sherrin said I could “borrow” their Korean friend.

Saturday concluded with more makali drinking with Colleen, plus blended kiwi and soju drinks at a Japanese restaurant, and a beer at Led Zepplin, a young expat bar, where I met up again with my FLHS mates. There is apparently no such thing as “closing time” in Korea. One girl said she knew a bar that stayed open until 6 a.m.!

I really am going to have to go back on the fish soup and kimchi diet after this weekend. Sunday Colleen drove me and three other folks down to Seogwipo (Soggy – poe), where we had lunch at an amazing Italian restaurant, or Korean-Italian I guess you could say. The setting was fabulous, with a big deck for al fresco dining with a view over the harbor. The weather was perfect, warm in the sun with a cool breeze in the shade.
I had “spaghetti del mare,” a pasta dish made with a very rich cream sauce and tons of clams and mussels. It was divine, and only about $13.

Served with a smile, Mokambo style.

Served with a smile, Mokambo style.

We planned on going to the Jeju United soccer game that afternoon, but we lingered so long at the restaurant, reluctant to leave, that by the time we got to the stadium the game was half over. Oh well, it’s island time.

The game was held in the Jeju World Cup Stadium, a 42,000 seat stadium built to host the World Cup game in 2002. It was a beautiful stadium, but seemed small for such an important event as the World Cup, you know, what the rest of the world considers the Super Bowl, but with “football” instead of football.

World Cup Soccer Stadium. Go Jeju U!

World Cup Soccer Stadium. Go Jeju U!

All in all it was a great weekend, relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time. However, Monday is still Monday, even when it’s pronounced “wo-ryo-il.”

Teacha, do you like Kimchi?

One week later…
It’s been a busy week with little time for anything but catching the bus in the morning, being at school all day, riding the bus, actually two, home again, slurping down a bowl of noodles and reading myself to sleep.
So to back up:
I was not able to take a hot shower when I moved into my apartment Sunday morning, nor for several days, as again, the gas had been turned off when the tenant moved out, and not turned back on. I ended up taking a shower at K’s, but it’s just not the same as your own! These dorms/apartments are big by Korean standards, about 450 square feet, with full-sized bathtubs. Although the building is on the grounds of the Foreign Language High School the residents are all foreign teachers, only two of whom work at the school.
This week has been so crammed full of experiences it’s hard to know where to begin.

Maybe with the schools: I have been assigned to teach at two schools, a small primary on Mondays and Thursdays and a larger one on the other days. At the smaller school I have just one class of about 25 students in each grade. I teach English to each grade once a week. At the bigger school I have three or four classes of about 40 students each in every grade. To get to the schools I have to take a bus into town, which takes a half hour, then transfer to another bus for another half hour ride. There is much grumbling among EPIK teachers about the fact that there is no attempt to give teachers housing near their schools. One administrator assigns the schools while another assigns the housing, and ne’er the twain shall meet. They offer the choices of either living in housing they provide, or taking a $300 a month housing allowance. However, it’s nearly impossible to secure your own rental housing from outside Korea, and they know that. Or they should.
While the teachers gave me detailed bus schedules, there is apparently no map of bus routes, so I didn’t know where to get off the bus once I got on. As the bus left the urban area and wound into ever more rural terrain, I worried that I would end up abandoned in some tangerine orchard in the hinterlands. At least I wouldn’t starve. The bus finally stopped at the end of the line, and after much hand gesturing and repeating of the school name on my part the driver finally figured out where I was going. Fortunately it was only two stops back down the road.
I still made it to school on time, and was ushered in by my co-teacher who gave me a pair of guest slippers and introduced me to the staff, none of whom spoke any English. Yes, I know I am in a foreign country, but with their mania for teaching English to the students, you would think the teachers would have picked up a few words. Not even a “good morning.” They were, however, very impressed by my attempts at Korean greetings.
After introducing myself to the staff we all went out to the dirt playfield where the students assembled in straight rows, arms stiffly at their sides. There was an ominous metal platform in front of the students, perfect for a lynching, I thought to myself. I was close. My co-teacher interpreted the principal’s gesturing toward me to mean that I was to climb the steps of the platform, take the microphone and introduce myself. How do you say “fear of public speaking” in Korean?
As I started to say my name a giggle rippled through the files of students. I’m going to assume they were just laughing at my “accent.” I spent the rest of the day repeating that introduction to individual classes.
The next day at  Big School I was again trotted out before the assembled students, on a vast and barren playfield which I couldn’t help but think looked like Tianemen Square, particularly from the high steps of the building. This address to the troops went so well that the principal decided I should give a speech EVERY Wednesday morning. “Just two or three minutes,” my co-teacher assured me. Great. Do you know how long two or three minutes is when speaking to a crowd that doesn’t understand anything beyond “How are you?” Maybe that’s a good thing, since it means I can say virtually anything to my captive audience.
The week at Big School was disappointing, as I spent the majority of it sitting in the office “lesson planning.” That meant sitting me down in front of a computer with a stack of the awful English curriculum books, and no guidance whatsoever. It was a futile exercise in spinning straw into gold. I tried to explain to my co-teacher – who was busy teaching her own classes all day – that I had NO teaching experience and that it was impossible to plan anything with no materials and no idea of the students’ skill levels. There seemed to be no materials left behind by the previous teacher. It was as if she had never been there for the past year.
But, as no one was monitoring me, I had lots of time to surf the broadband Internet and write emails home. The education department has put a ton of money into the schools, sparing no expense on technology. The classes are taught with high tech audio visual equipment and DVDs to complement every text book. (In a side note, while the country is crazy about technology, the sewer system is not designed to handle toilet paper. Used paper is supposed to be disposed of in wastebaskets next to the toilet – which is likely to be an electronically-controlled bidet.)
Finally, on Friday I was told I would be team-teaching in the English classroom on the fourth floor. The anxiety that had been gnawing at my gut all week subsided a bit, as there I discovered the mother lode of the previous teacher’s materials. Worksheets, games, flashcards, everything I had needed all week to plan lessons, but didn’t get!
The English curriculum is heavily based on a single set of books which all the native speakers (foreigners) agree are awful. The students spend a month on a single concept, such as possessives, with no more than 10 vocabulary words. The units have headings like, “Whose boat is this?” and “I like apples.” These sentences and their responses are repeated a million times in unison by the students, most of whom really have no idea what they are saying. Volume is also an important component. The teachers urge the students to repeat the lines at maximum volume, as if to better penetrate the cranium.
While every school uses the same insane, inane books, they all approach it differently. Some schools give the foreign co-teachers free rein to lead the classes, while others use them simply to parrot back the lines so the students can hear “real” English. We are supposed to be teaching conversational English, not grammar, but this is ridiculous. The principal at my big school was adamant that the Korean teacher was the lead teacher and I was to be the assistant. Meanwhile, the Korean teacher speaks almost entirely in Korean during class, so the students don’t even try to figure out the English. They just wait for her to explain it. Oh well.
Over the course of the week I have learned the top three questions students ask in the “getting to know you” interview of the foreign teacher are: Where are you from, do you have children and how old are you? My age is a constant source of amazement to students and adults alike. In Korea, to be 50 and traveling the globe, let alone even still alive, is a weird novelty. In the 6th grade class yesterday I asked them to guess my age, just to see what their perspective on age was, and they first guessed the impossibly old age of 30. Guess again. 40? Higher. 45??? Higher. 50?!?!?!?!? One child then piped up with “Do you have grandchildren?” There’s one in every crowd.

My social life
Yes, I do have one. Thanks to the Internet, before I even got the job I was able to hook into a message board expressly for foreigners living on Jeju, rhymeswithjeju on Yahoo. It offers a wealth of information, and I met several people on there that I have now met in person. There is even a subset of older foreign teachers that I have met and hope to do things with on a regular basis. Even though we come from disparate backgrounds and locales, teaching English in Korea gives us a unique commonality. One week and I already have more friends than after eight years in chilly Seattle! Plus I have K, the other teachers in this building, and random “waygooks” (foreigners) I’ve met on buses and in stores.
Last night I went to dinner with a group of women around my age, as one was celebrating her 47th birthday. I won’t name her here, but she is a local icon. She’s been here four years and knows every nook and cranny of Jeju, as well as how to get around culturally. One evening with her was worth a month of orientation. Her best advice: get a Korea friend to help navigate the bureaucracy, and learn to read Hangul, the Korean script. The language itself is very difficult to learn in its entirety, but I hope to learn enough to get around town. One of my new friends said Korean is supposed to be the most difficult language to learn, after Turkish. His take on that – Hey, it’s only the SECOND most difficult! Thanks, Tommy.

“Do you like kimchi?” This is another popular question, usually asked right after, “Do you like Korean food?” Um, sure, what’s not to like about chicken knuckles smothered in red pepper paste, stir fried, whole tiny fish, and limp, dead, pickled cold cabbage smothered in red pepper sauce, served with sticky white rice? That’s an actual menu from the school cafeteria. The staff at the big school has “generously” agreed to pay for my lunch every day, thereby obligating me to eat what is served. To refuse food or not eat it is insulting. Kimchi is not just a food, it’s a national source of pride. Foreigners politely say it’s an acquired taste.
Soju is another unique Korean item, but one I quickly became fond of. It’s a type of distilled rice (or sweet potato) liquor with about a 20 percent alcohol content. It’s clear like vodka, but the taste is very mild. It’s deceptively available in six packs, but drinking an entire bottle would be like drinking a six pack of beer. One bottle is about $1.50 and it’s available everywhere, including the convenience store on the way home from the bus stop. I can’t wait to experiment making “sojutinis.”

Here are a few photos of my apartment building from the road and the neighbor I see very morning weeding her patch.

Welcome to the pen

Welcome to the pen

This small farm is directly across from my apartment.

This small farm is directly across from my apartment.

I will post more photos soon, of my schools, the adorable students and the fascinating world that is my new home.