Sunday, November 28, 2010


As you all know, tensions are high between the two Koreas. The North claims the South provoked them by continuing military exercises, the South claims the North are a bunch of insane and unpredictable crazies. Meanwhile, the U.S. is currently sending an aircraft carrier to the region, and China is continuing to sit on it's ass doing nothing.

But on this particular day, I could care less about the situation going on between the two Koreas. I bought a puppy!

Meet Kimchi!

Admittedly, buying Kimchi was one of the more spontaneous decisions of my life (aside from, say, moving to Korea). I had no idea when I woke up yesterday morning that I would be a puppy momma by the end of the day, but I have no regrets about the new addition to my life.

Let me provide some background. Dogs in Korea are tiny. Really, really small. I suppose it only makes sense, given that the majority of the population lives in fairly small apartments, so why wouldn't they sell pets sized appropriately for the living situations, right? I can't tell you the number of dogs I've seen in purses, with little outfits, and my personal favorite, dyed fur (Poor things! Can you imagine a poodle with a purple tail? How humiliating!). While I'd had my phase in high school of thinking I wanted a tiny ankle-biter of a dog, maybe a Pappillon or Poodle, I later realized that I wanted a bigger dog, more along the lines of a Collie or Sheepdog. Thus, I spent the past four months glancing past the tiny Korean puppies I met, knowing that I would wait and rescue one from a shelter in the States like any responsible, sensitive, patient person would do...

And then I met Kimchi. I was walking through Emart with Alex just looking for a bottle of wine. As we walked past the pet store in the front of the store, we couldn't help but notice a particularly cute little baby puppy in the window, tearing apart a toy stuffed Pooh. Having time to kill and nothing better to do, we walked into the store and started playing with her. She was so excited to see us, jumping up and down in her cage wanting us to hold her. We even made a little game out of it, jumping together. She was just so unreasonably adorable! She looked like a Kimchi.

We made our rounds in the store, looking at all the calmer puppies and imagining them in my life, but we kept coming back to the feisty baby Kimchi in the window. I contemplated buying her right then and there, and then we translated the price tag, and I decided to pass. I liked her a lot, but maybe not that much. As she watched us start to talk quieter and edge towards the door, she got offended and quiet and walked to the furthest corner of her cage and started ripping apart a flower pillow twice the size of her. We walked out empty handed.

We continued downstairs to the wine department. As we roamed around the store, debating between the Syrah and Pinot Noir, we kept thinking about the baby Kimchi upstairs and the ridiculousness of me getting a puppy in Korea. What would I do when I was at work? How would I train her? How would I get her back to the States? So many questions! We decided on a Syrah and headed back to my apartment.

But when I walked in my front door, my whole apartment seemed so empty. I haven't decorated it much, and have assumed for the past four months that that emptiness came from my lack of posters and Christmas lights. But I realized then that it was empty because of my lack of Kimchi. A little puppy trying to jump up my stairs, waddling around under my coffee table. The thought was just too irresistible. Kimchi and I were meant to be. I went straight back to the pet store and bought her.

She's a sweetheart, still in the exploratory phase of her new life in my apartment. She can't get up my stairs, she can't get up on my coffee table, she can't even jump on my mattress lying on the floor in my upstairs loft. It was the easiest apartment puppy-proofing process in the world, I swiffered the floor and made sure the internet cable was propped up 10 inches off the floor (She's definitely a chewer, and I would rather she not accidentally electrocute herself in my absence). She's so excited to have space and someone to play with for the first time in her life. Kimchi is feisty and hilariously tiny, but perfect for me.

So there you go. I am now the proud mama of a baby Yorkie, who I guess you could call my first real Korean souvenir. Who knows, next week I might start buying couple's outfits and wearing a visor. We'll see... I'm pretty overwhelmed with this one part of Korean culture for now, so I might wait a while for the rest...

- Christine -

ps. Puppy advice would be GREATLY appreciated :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This post is uncharacteristically sappy. Let me apologize in advance.

I never really thought much of Thanksgiving. I mean, I enjoyed having a couple of days off, spending time with my family, and stuffing myself with, well, stuffing. But I never really gave it any more thought than that. This year, in particular though, I guess I have a lot to be thankful for...

First of all, I’m so thankful to have been born in an era where it’s possible for a 22-year old single woman Miguk like me to be able to pack up and move to the opposite side of the world and take up a job there. I’m thankful for the technology that has made such globalization possible, including the means with which I have managed to (kind of) keep in touch with my family and friends at home. Really, stop right now and think about it. From technology to feminism, when else in history could such an experience have been possible for me!?!

Of course I'm thankful for my wonderful friends here. Zooms, for practically adopting me. My coworkers, My Miami alumni who convinced me to move here in the first place, my 남자친구, etc, etc.

I’m thankful for all the just plain kind Korean people I meet out and about who go out of their way to help out the hopeless Miguk... And remind me incessantly that my exit is only 5… now 4…. now 3…. now 2…. stops away. As much as it annoys me and my sense of independence and autonomy, it really is much appreciated. Korea as a whole has been so welcoming, and I truly am thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time exploring such a wonderful culture.

And most, Most, MOST of all, I’m thankful for my loving family and friends who supported me in my admittedly spontaneous decision to move to the ROK, despite all their well-reasoned and completely valid (especially now!) concerns about me and my well-being. Thank you for forgiving my chronically broken internet and busy schedule to make time for me in your life thousands of miles away!

Lots and lots of love! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

- Christine -

ps. Be thankful for the day off and presence of turkey in your country! I'll be missing such things...


I had every intention of writing yesterday, reassuring you all that I was still doing fine in the ROK after the shelling attack on the island of Yeonpyeong 90 miles off the western coast of the country.

Here you go. I’m still fine.

From what I can gather, yesterday's attack was the culmination of a number of internal issues going on in North Korea currently. At the center of these issues you have the priming of Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, for the impeding regime change. Add to that the newfound presence of advanced uranium enrichment facilities over the weekend which suggest the North Koreans possess stronger nuclear capabilities than what we had previously thought. Then combine these recent developments with the long standing and increasing poverty within the nation, the general tensions between North Korea and the conservative policies of South Korea's president Lee Myung-Bak, and of course, the March sinking of the Cheonan, and you're bound to have conflict. Though the island of Yeonpyeong has been the target of North Korean hostilities before, both in 1999 and 2002 as a result of a disagreement about the UN drawn NLL, the current situation has truly raised tensions and made people nervous.

It’s a delicate situation, and I would be lying to say otherwise.

One of the coolest things about Koreans, however, is their resilience against the ongoing war. The two Koreas have technically been at war since the signing of the Armistice Agreement (read: not a formal peace treaty) in 1953, but you’d never know it walking around the streets of Seoul.

Today felt like any other day at work. My students still whined and moaned about the same things, pretending to have hiccups in a futile attempt to trick teacher into letting them get water, begging for a few extra minutes for the “picture game”, and the like. A few had devised elaborate plans for killing Kim Jong Il since yesterday, my personal favorite being sneaking a 1/1,000,000,000th sized bomb into his favorite food, but for the most part, they seemed calm about the whole situation. At one point in the day, however, one of my classes briefly deviated to the topic of war. Still struggling to understand the critical difference between “fun” and “funny” (Me: “Dan, what did you do this weekend?” Dan: “I played soccer. It was funny.”), one of my more outspoken students proclaimed suddenly “War is funny.”

War is anything but funny (or even fun, for that matter) especially on the Korean peninsula. South Korea has made incomprehensibly huge strides in the past sixty years, becoming one of the most thriving economies in Asia, if not the world. Looking back at pictures of Korea from before the war, South Korea’s development from the poorer and less industrial of the two Korea’s is nothing less than awesome. Where once lay rice fields and small villages now lay thriving cities and complexes of apartment buildings. The striking economic achievement, the rise of Korea to being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world added to the rich historical and cultural environment here would be just devastated by war. To be sure, the same can be said of any nation plagued by war, but I suppose I feel particularly strongly about this country I’ve learned to call home and believe adamantly that we should do everything possible to avoid war with the North.

Like an adolescent lashing out against its parents, North Korea’s actions are a form of garnering attention from the international community. We need to resume talks, acknowledging the very legitimate problems going on in the rogue nation, and work to come to some kind of agreement. Does that sound wussy, less macho than going on the offensive and seeking revenge for the lives lost and billions of won spent on repairs from their lashing out over the years? Maybe, but in this case restraint is imperative in preventing the escalation of a potential war of an unimaginable magnitude on the continent. At present, no one is firing at anyone, and with a little restraint and a whole lot of talking, things will hopefully remain that way.

(In the meantime China needs to get off its ass and start talking some sense into it’s ally, like a Korean hagwon teacher who can just with words terrify a student in a way a foreign teacher like me simply cannot.)

In summary, I’m fine and hoping things here remain calm. I really like Korea, and I’m not ready to fly back to Ohio just yet. So no panicking, please :)

- Christine -

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Blarg. I’ve been sick for going on two weeks now, which has inspired me to write my first (of hopefully many to come) “Korea lists”.

Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Products (hereafter UDKP).

I never thought of myself as much of a badass, but apparently growing up amid the grizzly American spirit in the bitter cold of the rugged Midwest has made me a lot tougher than I ever realized. The following UDKP’s demonstrate how much of a badass I have thus far in Korea proven to be:

UDKP #1. Medicine.

Since I’ve been sick for a while now, it seems natural to start off my list with this particular UDKP. Medicine in Korea is cheap and easy to come by. Last Tuesday, realizing I felt horrible, I decided to go to the clinic around the corner from my apartment and get checked out. The whole visit took 8 minutes, tops. I walked in, they looked at my passport, and sent me into the doctor’s office. The doctor, never leaving her chair, asked me in broken English maybe 5 questions and wrote down just as many medicines for me on a prescription form. I thanked her, and walked back out to the lobby. The bill was ten thousand won. About nine U.S. dollars.

I headed two flights down to the pharmacy. I handed the man behind the counter my prescription slip, and five minutes and seven thousand won later, I walked out with nine individually packaged sets of pills. The convenience is striking. Too bad the meds didn’t really do much. I guess in the world of Korean medicine, you get what you pay for, and you’re not paying much at all. Where are the real antibiotics? Penicillin? Dayquil? Nyquil? Even real Advil? I promise I can handle the real thing, Korea! I don’t care about loopy side effects and the potential for addiction. I just want medicines that make me better!

For this reason, Korean medicines are definitely an Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Product.

UDKP #2. Toothpaste.

Brushing your teeth in the U.S. is not supposed to be a particularly pleasant experience. Take Listerine, for instance. Listerine burns. Swooshing Listerine for the full thirty seconds should instill a sense of accomplishment. The stinging, caustic pepperminty flavor is overpowering, and it’s that overpowering-ness that lets you know the Listerine is doing its job. Many a toothpaste has followed in Listerine’s footsteps, too. (Also altoids…) No pain no gain, right?

I understand toning down overpowering tooth-cleaning products for little children by making them a little sweeter and less intimidating. I’m talking the kind in the Spongebob-shaped bottles, where the toothpaste is blue and has sparkles. Regular toothpaste for adults, however, should not contain sugar. In fact, that seems to me to be one of the worst possible ingredients to put in toothpaste. The whole point of brushing your teeth is to get the sugar off. Nevertheless, Korean toothpaste tastes like straight mint-flavored sugar. I understand it’s less painful, probably less corrosive, whatever, but I have yet to feel like my teeth are fully clean using Korean toothpaste. Furthermore, so many of my kids have dental problems, cavities, and so on, that I can’t help but wonder if it’s because they’re brushing their teeth too much… with sugar… Oh Unnecessarily Delicate Korean toothpaste…

UDKP #3. Face wash.

As a loyal St. Ives Apricot Scrub user since middle school, I expect to feel tiny abrasive apricot bits rubbing against my skin when I wash my face. Sloughing off dead skin should feel exactly as rough as that word sounds. You know your skin is truly clean when it starts to feel numb, right?

Of course there is no such product in Korea. Face washes and skin care products in general are mild and nonabrasive. They leave your skin feeling soft but not raw and (in my book) fully clean as I have come to understand clean for the past eight or so years. And loofahs or any other such body-exfoliating means have proven hard to come by as well. Is it too much to ask for a satisfyingly abrasive cleaning product? Just another Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Product, I suppose.

UDKP #4. Dryers.

I lucked out with my apartment. It’s roomy, modern, has a loft, and is in a great location. Imagine my excitement that in addition, my apartment also had a washing machine with a (gasp!) dryer, I was told, a rarity in this country.

Too bad “dryer” in Korea is code for “spin faster.” You put your clothing in the dryer and they come out stretched out. And still wet. False advertising coming from a device called a “dryer.” Heat is what dries things, or at least I’m assuming that was the rationale behind putting hand driers in every bathroom in the country instead of paper towels...

Dryers. Definitely an Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Product.

UDKP #5. Badminton.

I don’t understand badminton. For goodness sakes, I didn’t even know how to spell the word until recently. In all actuality, it’s one of those “sports” I considered a “game” prior to moving here, lumped in with the likes of darts, pool, and bowling. Yet I can’t even tell you how many of my kids claim that badminton is one of their favorite sports?

Where’s the contact and potential for serious injury? The 300 pound men slamming into each over and over again just to throw a dinky little un-ball shaped ball to one another? Where’s the strategy and sheer endurance it takes to run back and forth on a court for 45 minutes straight? Where’s the speed and energy it takes for a tiny piece of rubber to shatter a pane of glass? Certainly not in a game of badminton. Not so much a product, per se, but certainly unnecessarily delicate and Korean.

UDKP #6. Chocolate.

No surprise here, that chocolate would make my list of Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Products. I take my chocolate very seriously, and thus far, Korean chocolate has not impressed me. For one, I like my chocolate so dark it’s considered a vegetable, yet I have a hard time finding even regular 55% dark chocolate here. They try to make milk chocolate, but their ratios are all off, more milk than chocolate. And even more excessively sugared than the toothpaste. Probably the Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Product that disappoints me the most.

So take that Unnecessarily Delicate Korean Products. I like powerful medicines that work and toothpaste that burns. I like exfoliating products that feel like I’m sanding my face, and dryers that use heat. I like sports that involve injury, and real dark chocolate. If that makes me a total American badass, then so be it.

To be fair, Korea has its share of admittedly non-delicate products as well. Food, for one (Especially Kimchi which is non-delicate for a variety of reasons). Nevertheless, there are lots of watered-down, wussy, and well, delicate products here that drive me crazy! And by drive me crazy I mean I think they’re hilarious.


-Christine -

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Koala Taste"

Every semester we have to administer and grade term tests to all our students which determine what level the kiddies will be in next semester. Although these tests are obnoxious and I end up with 120+ papers to grade in about a week, it always comes with a boatload of funny student quotes. My students have such fantastic ideas, they really do, it's just that they sometimes don't have the English yet for what it is they're trying to say. Here are just a few of my personal favorites from this semester…

“Sorry teacher… I don’t know koala taste…”

“Ramyeon sauce taste is very spicy and salty. I eat and eat it every day – finally I will have a bad cancer.”

“I am describe a chicken. It is kind of female and kind of male. Also it has two eyes and four legs.”

“Bad people eat dog.”

“I don’t like Japan and Japanish.”

“If cake (chocolate cake) falls down, it sound like “fuk!” or “puk!””
(Remarkably similar to the noise I make when I see a cake fall down...)

“The taste I can’t explain because people is poisoning that food.”

“Constructing the chicken bone it’s a real chicken. And look pitiable so much because the chicken is dead and the people are eating.”

“Male chicken has a head feather. It’s color is red. Only male chicken has. Why? Because male chicken must tempt female chicken. If male chicken is not beautiful, it is always solo. In chicken world, female chicken is not more beautiful than the male chicken.”

“Incubator is same as mommy chicken.”

“I will go to the future. Because I don’t know who marry me and what is my future job. And my height and kg is what?”

“But many people don’t know a baseball. So we are have public relations.”

“Have many score team is win final season fourth grade team fight a third great team the winner fight in a second team the winner is fight a first grade time match is over winner get a money and a trophy.”

Good thing they're cute :)

- Christine -

Friday, November 5, 2010


You know what game I’m going to be absolutely phenomenal at by the time I’m back in the states? Charades.

We’re doing term testing this week, which basically determines what level the students are going to be placed in next semester. In my class period, we do the writing and speaking portions of the test. A lot of the kids get really nervous about term testing and try really hard to impress me with their lofty ideas. But since sometimes they just don’t know the vocabulary yet for what it is they’re trying to say, we find ourselves playing charades quite often on such testing days.

Here are a couple of my personal favorites from the day. These are taken from my lowest level elementary class, so imagine them with lots of silly gestures and arguably more noises than actual words…

Judy: Teacher, what’s the word. It’s a rectangle, and whooooooooosh and it looks like this but when there’s no wind it falls down and Olympics and it’s a rectangle and whooooosh


A Flag. Obviously...

Next one:

Me: Crystal, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Crystal: Australia, because they have the same time.
Me: Same time?
Crystal: Yeah... (*Starts making a vertical line gesture) They uh… (*Gestures more frantically) … uh… same time!

Aha. A time zone of course.

And my personal favorite:

Lily: You know the cardboard thing on eggs (Me: A carton??) when they cut it up and there’s a clock and you push buttons on the clock boop boop boop boop and put the egg in and it’s a cardboard thing and boop boop boop and you wait until the clock rings brrrrrringringring and there’s a chicken!

Give up?

An incubator. (Now there's a word I guarantee you haven't thought about in years!)

Consider yourself warned. I will kick your ass at charades.
- Christine -

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


After my admittedly discouraging post yesterday, I wanted to up the positivity level in my blog and write about one of my favorite experiences thus far in Korea.

Zombie pictures.

Let me explain. About a month ago, I found myself spending a weekend in Busan. Somehow we started talking about Murphy the Gnome, the infamous garden gnome who was stolen from his home in some English woman’s front yard and taken on a prolonged trip around the world, the abductor taking 48 pictures of Murphy in such exotic locations as South Africa, New Zealand, Thailand, and Vietnam before returning Murphy safe and sound to his home in England with the photographic evidence of his world travels. I think it’s just hilarious and wish I would have thought of it first.

We eventually started questioning what would be even cooler than pictures of a gnome traveling around the world, and came to the conclusion that zombies are the next best thing. Obviously. Thus began our weekend of taking zombie pictures in Busan. Ps. Thanks to Kevin, Liz, and Mary for the inspiration :)

Our zombie pictures started out pretty mild, but we gradually started trying more to incorporate our surroundings into our pictures. Like I said, these are from about a month ago, but they are pretty silly…

And this is how I spent my weekend at the Pusan International Film Festival. Note: These better have made you at least smile and/or laugh audibly...

I suppose Alex is arguably a better zombie than me... oh well. I suppose there are worse things in the world. Regardless, it was one of the funniest weekends I've had in Korea, and who knows, maybe you'll be lucky enough to see some more zombie pictures in the near future. Enjoy the positivity.


- Christine -

Tuesday, November 2, 2010



I always try to stay upbeat and mainly post here about things in Korea that make me happy and that I love about my new life in Asia. However, it’s been just over three months since I moved here, the weather’s getting colder, and I’m falling into a routine both in and outside of work. Same thing every day – I wake up around 8:30 am, go for a run, come back to my apartment, go grocery shopping, make brunch, hop in the shower around 1:30 and arrive at work by 2:29 pm. I work for exactly 8 hours, teaching the same classes I’ve taught for the past 11 weeks, getting frustrated at the same kids for not doing homework for the umpteenth time. I go back to my apartment, make dinner, watch a movie, read a couple pages of whatever book I happen to be in the middle of, and go to bed. My life’s not bad by any means, but I’m at the point where everything’s a whole lot less exciting than it was when I first got here.

As my kiddies would say, I’m feeling so-so.

For one, I’ve started noticing more all the reasons my job annoys me. The very being that it a business first and a school second, in particular has become really frustrating for me as of late. I have some students who are way way waaaay behind everyone else in their level, but because turning away paying customers is one of the worst business strategies imaginable, there these students are, sitting horribly lost in a system that cares more about money than whether the kid can answer me in English when I ask them, “How are you today, Jenny?” It’s so sad! It just makes me angry that I don’t have the time in a room full of rambunctious children prone to shouting at people outside the window, turning off the lights, and throwing things at each other to help catch up my poorly level-matched children! Even worse, I got two brand new students today in one of my elementary classes, literally 11 weeks into the semester. We don’t even have books for them it’s so late in the semester to be taking in new students! But of course, why would my school turn away perfectly good money whenever it’s willing to start coming in regardless of what’s good for the kids…

End rant.

Moral of the story, I need to suck it up, stop feeling sorry for myself and the routine I’ve fallen into and strive to make every day worthwhile. After all, I’m not going to live in Korea forever, I need to squeeze this experience for everything it’s worth in the next few hundred days I’m here.

- Christine -