Tuesday, October 26, 2010


When you move half way across the world, you find that there are some possessions you own that just don't end up fitting into your 100 pounds plus two carry-ons worth of luggage. Unfortunately, my baby car was one of them.

If you've ever spoken to me in person, you know how I feel about my baby car. On the one hand I really miss her terribly. Natalie, my 2008 silver 5-door Subaru Impreza. Gave me the independence I needed to survive college in a small town and the ability to get where I needed to go on a whim. Like Maryland for a friend's wedding over a two-day weekend. Or Chicago for the lamest job interview of my life. Or even just Walmart at 4 am for $35 worth of Post It Notes for an April Fool's Day prank. I really do miss my car.

At the same time, however, my not having a car has made me much more comfortable with the idea of public transportation. In a lot of ways, Korea is much much more eco-friendly than the U.S. (although that's a hippie rant for another day...), and I'm actually enjoying the fact that I'm getting so used to relying completely on subways, trains, and my own two legs to get me from point A to point B on a regular basis.

In particular, I'm learning to love the KTX trains. The more I think about it, the cooler they really are. For all of 43,000 won, I can hop on a train at Gwangmyeong station and it will take me to Busan at the opposite end of the country in a little over two and a half hours at speeds of about 305 km/hour. Which is crazy fast. Why they haven't started working on such a high-speed rail system in the states is still beyond me? I know they work fantastic for a country the size of Indiana, just imagine how wonderful they would be for getting around a country as large as the U.S! What's more, by taking the scenic routes through both the most rural and industrial parts of the country, you get to see the landscape from a vantage point you would never see by just driving along the major freeways. I think it's really kinda cool anyways...

This past weekend, I went down to Busan for an International fireworks festival and found myself with some time to kill waiting for my train at Gwangmyeong station. And since I know there are certain people who read this blog back in the states that share and in some cases even trump my enjoyment of trains, I decided to take some pictures of the station. And the trains. You're welcome, Dad.


- Christine -

Sunday, October 17, 2010


(This post has nothing to do with living in Korea.)

Over the past week I’ve found myself surprisingly touched emotionally by the rescue of the trapped Chilean mine workers. Before last Tuesday, I’d read about the situation in passing, recognized unconsciously that something was going on, but never really given it a second thought. To be honest, most of the news I encounter has to do with death, destruction, and negativity (train crashes, bomb threats, hurricanes, land slides, and toxic sludge), so I suppose I just filed the Chilean mine story in with all the other disaster stories I’m exposed to daily. It’s not like I’d never read about a mine disaster story before. Mine collapses, rescue attempts take place, and more often than not, the trapped miners end up not getting rescued. Maybe a couple days worth of follow-up articles on the terribly poor conditions mine workers have to endure around the world. Return to news as normal.

It was not until last week, when I’d heard that the first miners had been freed from their underground entrapment that I really started to look any further into the situation at all. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Chilean mine situation, because as you’ve just read, I was only merely aware that such a Chilean mine situation existed until maybe six days ago. But for the past week, I’ve been doing my research, looking retrospectively into the entire situation, and I just can’t get over the incredible strength and ingenuity of the human spirit on so many levels.

Let’s review:

On August 5, a section of a mine shaft in the San Jose Copper-Gold Mine collapsed, trapping 33 miners about 2,257 feet below ground. Some of the miners were there completely by chance. One was on the eve of his retirement, another few were driving a truck on their way out of the mine when the shaft collapsed merely a few feet in front of them. Somehow, no one died on that first day and the 33 of them managed to convene in a 165 square foot shelter at the base of the mine. They were then able to survive for 17 days on nothing but a few cans of tuna, eating about a bottle cap sized portion a day each, before finding a way to attach a message to a drill probe piercing their shelter and send a message over 2000 feet up to the surface, where, the people who had not yet given up on rescuing them, found it.

I’ve had my doubts about humanity, but everything about the survival and rescue of these 33 men has culminated to renew my faith in human kind...

How amazing that, despite the frequency of mining disasters in the world, governments vowed together to get these particular 33 men out.

How amazing that rescue workers on the surface were able to mathematically pinpoint the exact location in which the 33 miners were trapped and send a probe into their shelter.

How amazing that humans have created a tool that can drill a hole over 2000 feet straight into the ground.

How amazing that experts from all different fields collaborated to help them survive physically, emotionally, and psychologically in their underground camp.

How amazing that the 33 men all brought together in this disaster found a way to maintain civility throughout the whole ordeal without regressing to human savagery (a la Lord of the Flies).

How amazing that these men somehow retained their personalities and livelihood throughout the 69 day ordeal. The second miner to come out passed out souvenir rocks to the crowd greeting him at the top… How amazing that he could maintain a sense of humor after 69 days living in such conditions!

And how incredibly amazing that not one of the 33 men trapped in the mine died.

I’ve heard people calling this a miracle, attributing their phenomenal rescue to the will of some higher power. As a humanist, however, I think their rescue is the perfect example of what human kind working together can accomplish. The determination, strength, and ingenuity of every person involved in the Chilean mine rescue is just so inspirational, and reifies my beliefs in the capability and goodness of the human race. I’ve never been more confident that the human spirit is alive and well, and I’ve never been more in awe of what humans together can accomplish.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Good Day

You know how every once in a while you have a really good day at work? The kind of day where you just know you’re doing well, you feel successful at your job and realize that you’re actually pretty good at what it is you do, despite having had only 3 days of “training” before diving headfirst into instructing the next generation of Koreans on not only the entire English language, but also on what it’s like to interact with Americans on a daily basis, etc… Add on to that the fact that the girl I replaced here was an absolute natural in the classroom and was so wonderful and relatable and all her kids just loved her, it really is a lot of pressure if you stop to think about it…

Regardless, every once in a while you have a really good day at work. And for me, that day was last Friday.

I went into work nervous for the day, actually. For whatever reason, my books designed for Elementary aged children still grappling with, you know, subject/verb agreement and correct usage of articles, decided that Victimless Crime would be an interesting topic to spend a unit on. Awesome. I of course knew zilch about victimless crime, which the frustratingly dense language in their books did nothing to assuage. It talked about different types of victimless crimes, why some crimes were considered victimless as opposed to others, and contained an entire paragraph on assisted suicide. Even better, not only is my topic dull, poorly matched to my students’ interests, and written for a much higher reading level than they currently possess, it also forces me to talk about controversial issues like suicide and euthanasia to a group of 12 year olds in a country with one of the highest adolescent suicide rates in the world. Oh, and did I mention it was written from the perspective of American law, (aka, who knows what the laws are in Korea… certainly not me, considering all the legal documents I could find online were written in, you guessed it, Korean). I hope you catch my drift. I love my kids and my school, and for the most part I’m pretty adaptable to the curriculum I’ve been given… but WOW this one was a toughie!

After spending my entire morning looking up everything I could find on victimless crime and asking all my coworkers how I should even go about teaching this ridiculous topic of mine, the bell rang and off to class I went……….. and I actually got my kids pretty excited about it? We started by brainstorming about crimes, another word I had to teach them first, but once they realized it was all about killing people and beating them up, they really got into it. After all, my kids are generally fairly violent I suppose…

Example 1.
Me: “David, what is your favorite food?”
David: “Teacher’s brain!”
(**Followed by my futile explanation of why cannibalism is bad)

Example 2.
(**Taking attendance)
Me: “Where’s Jack today?”
Students: “I killed him!”
Me: “Oh no you killed him! Why? How?”
Five minute explanation of all the ways they could have killed Jack… poor Jack!

My guess is that they probably got into my lesson on victimless crime because it gave them the opportunity to devise ways of killing and beating each other up without there technically being a victim. Regardless, do you know how amazing it feels to have an entire class so engaged in a lesson you were so skeptical and nervous about teaching even 30 seconds before you started teaching it? Pretty amazing!

Additionally, I got my kids excited about a homework assignment? For Halloween, we’re allowed to spend some class time talking about the holiday, its traditions, all that. Even though they took writing out of our curriculum this semester, I think writing is pretty useful and consider myself fairly good at working the English language into my own writing, so I saw this as a perfect opportunity to mix my inkling towards writing with my favorite holiday, Halloween. For their assignment, I gave them a list of possible first lines (It was a dark and stormy night, etc…) and asked them to write me a scary story. I don’t know if it was the way I presented the assignment in class or the fact that scary movies are just a big thing here, but they got really excited about it! 12 year olds excited about homework… such a thing might never happen again, but I’m glad I made it happen at least this one time :)

Further, I have another class that I’m just falling more and more in love with every day! This class and I started off on really shaky terms because they’re at a pretty low English level and were really reluctant to speak English to me at the beginning of the semester, but they’ve become one of my favorite classes to teach! Every single kid has so much personality, which makes the class tough to keep moving at times, but they’re so adorable and I can see their English improving drastically from where they were at the beginning of the semester! Plus, not only do I like the kids, but they seem to like me too! One student’s mom called in to his Korean teacher for the class to tell her how wonderful his foreign teacher is and how excited he is to be in class. Another student has been meeting me at the door to my teacher’s office before class so she can carry my basket of materials to class for me. They’re just so sweet! And adorable! And make me just wrinkle up my entire face, tilt my head to the right, and say “Awwwwwwwww!”

Moral of the story, for one single work day, Friday was filled with all sorts of things that made me feel successful at my job, like I really do have what it takes to be a good teacher. And it felt amazing. Big yay!

- Christine -

Monday, October 4, 2010


In Korea, there are lots of places you can go to rent out a private room for a couple of hours for entertainment purposes. And I, for once in my life, don't mean that in a strictly "That's what she said" kind of way...

Prior to this weekend, I knew of DVD bongs and Norabongs. DVD bongs are where you rent out a little room with a huge couch and pick out a dvd to watch in your little room. Almost like a private movie theater, except with more snuggle-friendly chairs. I think last time I went, we crammed 9 of us into a room to watch Iron Man... Good times! Norabongs, on the other hand, are private karaoke rooms where you can go to sing karaoke with your friends without a mess of bar patrons you don't know hearing you. Fantastic for people who are either a) shy about their own singing voice, or b) have no desire to hear drunk people butchering Don't Stop Believing over and over and over (and over) again.

However, this weekend I discovered another option for non-sketch private room entertainment -- Virtual golf.

To begin with, I've never played golf before in my life. I've played putt putt a bazillion times, but even on my best days I'm only decent. We decided to try virtual golf, however, when we found ourselves stuck on a rainy day on the opposite side of Seoul with not a whole lot to do. And it was a blast!

We spent the first half hour trying to teach me how to swing a golf club correctly, you know, learning the correct form and all that...

Yes, I'd obviously never even held a real golf club before...

My golf stance

My swing, and...

follow through.

We discovered a couple very important things throughout the game.
1. The machine measures your hit somehow using light, so it you maybe happen to take a picture with a flash when you should be swinging, you can trick the machine into thinking you just swung (albeit, really poorly), even though you didn't. We maybe spent a good ten minutes at one point playing around with this discovery.
2. When the machine tells you exactly which club to use, you should probably follow its advice...
3. I can hit a ball 84 meters! I guess according to a machine where the ball goes all of 15 feet before slamming into a wall.

Even though we stopped trying at hole 15, neither of us having gotten a single hole, it was such a fun time, and I'm really looking forward to playing a real game of golf someday, probably when I'm back in the states.


Even though it was another really fun weekend, it definitely had its sad undertones. Our whole reason for being up in Seoul was for Kevin, Liz, and Chris's going away weekend. It's strange in Korea how ephemeral friend groups are (For those of you studying for the GRE, you're welcome). Almost everyone comes out here with the intention of staying in Korea for a year, maybe two tops, and then moving back home to tackle finding a REAL job, going back to grad school, and facing responsibility again. I met Kevin, Liz, and Chris near the end of their contracts and I'm still very much at the beginning of mine, so I got to know them for all of two months before they left. If I stay for a second year, which I'm increasingly tempted to do, almost every single foreigner I've met out here so far will have moved back home and left me here. And by the time I do end up leaving, I'm sure I'll be leaving a new, yet-to-be-met group of friends as well. It's the nature of living in Korea, as soon as you've met people, they leave. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does keep you on your toes and always meeting new people. Regardless, it was a kind of sad weekend, and I hope I have the chance to visit them all again in the States and England :)

I guess such is life. Also, if anyone has any advice about my golf swing, please please let me know!

- Christine -