Sunday, March 31, 2013


Ever wonder about Easter in Korea?  Well, as it turns out, Korean Christians celebrate it on the same day as Americans; it's just hard to tell.  The hoopla and recognizable traditions we expect, like jelly beans, plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies, are difficult, if not impossible, to find.  
Traditional Easter music is also missing.

So, I'm going to ask some family members to buy up plastic eggs and jelly beans for at least 300 people, when they go on clearance tomorrow, to use next year and make sure some favorite hymns are lined up for Easter Sunday!  This week, I ended up with several classes who were changing books, so the lesson plan was up to me, and decided to address the holiday of Easter.  I explained that while they're all aware of Christmas, they know very little about Easter,
which is as important, in many countries, as Christmas.  
Lacking jelly beans and plastic eggs (and 200+ eggs are too many to boil),  I resorted to what I know best: coloring.  Just colored in a previous drawing, laminated and then handed out photocopied  B&W "cards" w/ Easter dialoguing on back.  We discussed the symbols of Easter and read the dialogue together.  Then, in pairs, they practiced and took turns reciting it.  With successful completion of the speaking part, they could color their cards, eat bbeong tui gi, and play hang man with Easter related terms.  These are mostly middle schoolers, so coloring was only a desirable activity to some of them; Here's a most original and detailed interpretation by "John:"
If you look closely, you'll see quite an imaginative story.  There's rain coming down from a blue cloud (I had cut it to show the bottom), an Asiatic red sun, egg sack on the bunny, and freshly hatched chicks are after worms!  LOVE it!
The most unexpected interpretation is "Kevin's" rocker bunny w/multiple piercings.  If you saw this bright, articulate, polite guy w/glasses, you'd be surprised too!  But I'd told them they could color it however they wanted.  When I looked amused and pleased, he added the electric guitar.  Kevin expressed concern early in the lesson over not being Christian, so I explained this was basically a cultural/history lesson.  Since all my students know about Christmas, and we study so many country's traditions, it didn't make sense to ignore a holiday that's so important to such a large part of the world.  I also explained that not only was I not trying to convert him, I had no right to tell him what to think or believe--no one does.  After that he really perked up and joined in, asking the most insightful questions, like why is Easter celebrated when it is, and so forth.  I am seriously impressed with this young man!  
"Lala's" bunny and egg look like her name, don't you think?  Several girls and some of the boys, did some really pretty and fun coloring, but I pressed them into taking the Easter cards home, and only kept those from students who refused, but offered them to me instead. :-)  Naturally, several 30 second coloring jobs were left behind, and subsequently filed in the ever handy recycling file.
But, today's the big day.  Since it's so low key, after church we had our first "Relief Society enrichment activity. " All 5 of the women in our little congregation decorated brown eggs with markers, Q-tips and white paint.  Above, just below my orange bouncy chick (purchased in Gwangyang yesterday--I'll blog about that next time), you'll see Cambodian writing.  Angkheng has to work below her potential at a fish factory to help support her family.  She speaks English and Korean as well as Cambodian, and we've all just discovered she's quite an artist! 
Take a good look at the cherry blossom tree she painted.   
Our tiny congregation is led by artist and teacher, Branch President Lee Jin Man.  He and his wife run an art school in Namhae.   Here's Eum Sung Hwa, as she creates a little piece art.
Check out her cherry blossom rendering, and the sunflower above it--Angkheng's!  
Most noteworthy is the fact that none of them had done this before--painting and drawing on eggs. 
Sherry from Texas, who sings, cooks (everyone misses her cooking when she's in the states) and is a terrific friend, was as creative as everyone else, despite all her efforts
to disclaim any such aptitude.  
 This turned out to be one of the most delightfully simple and satisfying 
events I've ever organized and participated in.  It allowed all of us to communicate 
and laugh in our internationally clumsy, but effective way!  
The youngest, 18 yr. old Lee He Bom, bishop's daughter, can not only sing and play multiple instruments, including piano for our meetings,  she can paint 
the cutest pigs, characters, and stripes on eggs! 
Happy Easter everyone, from the Relief Society sisters of Sacheon!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring's Sprung in Sacheon

YES--it rhymes, so now you know how to say the name of my little city!  Like any self-respecting month of March, the temperatures vacillate dramatically, from 20's over night (Fahrenheit) to upper 50's, even close to 70 during the day.  So, I bought a jump rope to celebrate 
in between reciting lines in English class. 
These kids can JUMP!!  The highest score was over 300, inside a class room with far from perfect conditions.  Of course, this couldn't last--too much jumping, not enough speaking, but the students loved it while it lasted. 
Also, I have students who come in early to hang out and play dodgeball. Using the squishy, stretchy ball my brother sent for Christmas is perfect, because no one gets hurt.  It's fun--the class that comes in early the most regularly has all boys and one girl.  She's become "one of the guys" in the past few weeks.  I love these kids--they come in and turn my room into a playground while I continue to prep for class, but as soon as the bell rings, they sit down and open their books--
a real dream team!
Meanwhile, outside the Cherry blossoms are bursting forth everywhere.   
Parks, fields, ancient roof tops, and the city scape are 
laced over with fresh pale greens, pink, yellow and white.
While bare tree limbs still dominate Sacheon's loveliest park, evergreens, tile roofs and ponds take my breath away with their added luster of Spring.
I hear this doesn't last.  Soon it'll be hot and muggy, so Mr. Lee has planned a "picnic" (aka: day trip) for our school's staff this coming Saturday.  We'll be visiting an old city, famous for its blossoms, among other things.  We have fun together and I'm glad to be healthy and ready to go!  Mr. Lee has embraced the season further, by adding new tables and chairs, 
along with this tree to our school's foyer!
Jordan and I saw a tree like this in a darling little restaurant next to the bus terminal this past Christmas. It's constructed with a real tree trunk and branches, with silk leaves and stems attached so skillfully it's difficult to discern where real ends and artificial begins.  
The lights you see are reflected recessed lighting on the ceiling, not the tree.  
Fittingly, we planned our picnic on these tables and around this tree. 

I'm taking longer walks more regularly again; and we had a lesson on "Doga."  New to me, it combines classic Yoga with exercising one's dog; and I found myself missing Gideon again.  A neighbor in Maryland decided he was the most beautiful dog she'd ever seen and gave me this composite of great photos of the best dog that ever lived.  I was lucky enough to have him around for 12 years...

However, one class of middle-school boys reminds me an awful lot of over-grown pups.
Well--I waited unsuccessfully for the little video to finish processing and had to give up again. 
Too bad.  I'll post it on Facebook instead.

Here's some other eggheads to fill the gap.

With Easter next week and a school outing on Saturday, I used glitter glue, sharpies, lace (thanks, Marji) and paint to liven up these brown, hard boiled dears.  Happy Easter in advance, in case I can't get to this!  Eat a dark-chocolate bunny and some jelly beans for us over here!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Old and New, Yum and Yuck...

Thanks Jack, now I know how to spell this:  뻥튀기  (bbeong tui gi).  Happily, I had the first part almost right!  
I've been sick again--having a hard time adjusting to teaching full-time, with all it's built in germs, and living in a foreign country.  Plus I'm not exactly a health nut, so keeping a positive attitude isn't coming easily right now.

But, while I'm in Korea I want to really experience this area and culture. Going to places like Seoul, or travelling around a lot doesn't really hold any appeal.  The old stone walls and gnarled trees...

...winding alleyways, ancient canals and unexpected passages, like this stone-covered walk way,

watching the season's change and vendors come and go, tasting everything that "calls" out to be tried right here appeals to me.  I love how Sacheon's old village homes, farms and tiny gardens
are tucked around and amidst high rise apartments and businesses, 
always, always flanked by those awesome mountains!
Many newer homes and Buddhist temples are built after the same, or similar, patterns of old, so it's difficult to discern the old from the new, sometimes, preserving classic architectural patterns, as found in this detail from Jinju's ancient castle.

It's all so delightfully eclectic!  

A friend asked me recently what I really think of Korea and I told him.  I'd had some annoying experiences teaching and, like the title of this blog, not everything about life in Korea is sweet.  

As I think I mentioned in an earlier blog, after years and years of being torn apart by wars, there appears to be a struggle going on for a strong, Korean cultural identity and presence in the world.  How that is achieved varies.  At work, my co-workers and employer are generous, classy, respectful, and hold all the best qualities Americans have come to expect from Asian cultures; plus they can be really, really fun and funny!  Many of the students are being raised with, and exhibit those same qualities.  

But, out in the streets trash is thrown everywhere; and one has to dodge traffic, as well as most fellow pedestrians who seem oblivious to your presence.  I've learned to capitalize on being tall and have adopted the habit of looking directly at oncoming motorists w/an "I'm an American and I will sue you," look when I got into the intersection first, or a car drives straight toward me as it pulls over.  Further, and this really surprised me at first, if someone can possibly cut in front of you in the market, or even while waiting for a bathroom stall, they will.  Once I picked up the equivalent of a $1 bill on the parking lot, and looked around to see if someone had dropped it.  3-4 middle-aged men, held out their hands with big grins. I gave it to the one who came up to me.  They all laughed like they'd really pulled one over on me and I just walked away, throwing up my hands.  While visiting Busan and waiting for a lighted fountain show in an expensive mall to begin, I pulled out a new-to-me chocolate candy to try.  I'd planned on sharing with my friend, Erin; but an old woman stared, so I offered her a piece.  She accepted with alacrity, and then all the other elderly women turned toward me--I ended up eating only one piece.  

There are students at school who exhibit these behaviors as well.  I'm trying to explain that holding out your hands and saying "Give me candy," isn't going to win friends or make a positive impression on anyone.  They're attending a private school.  They are not starving.

This behavior, I believe, stems back to when just surviving meant doing whatever it took to get the necessary means of survival. It was explained to me that it's common in Korea to be asked not only if you've eaten that day, but what you've eaten, because not so long ago, many, if not most, were starving.  So if you had food, you asked and then shared.  

But everyplace and every group of people have less-than-desirable qualities.  Every American knows there are things about Americans that each of us hates, along with all that we love.  

Both candy corn and spiders are part of one of my favorite holidays--Halloween. 
I avoid the spiders (except when photographing this beasty, late last summer), but love candy, and that's what I share with friends and family--not spiders.  So, I'll continue to blog about what I love, 
because there's plenty of "spiders" on line already.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bbang tigi

In Japan their rice snacks are called せんべい and I was an instant addict.  Most people go to Asian stores in the U.S. to find ingredients to actually cook stuff.  Me, I always look for the best selections of authentic senbei. Made of rice and soy, it tastes like it should be healthy. 
Oh, how I wish it was!  
Here, in Korea, we eat 빵 티기 or bbang tigi (I hope those characters are right!). 
This display I found on line is a fair representation of how the snacks come in large bags, piled up on top of each other.  I first noticed the stuff in Sacheon's nearby Open Market. Fascinated, I decided to take a few bags home.  It's cheap, lightweight, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has a lot fewer calories than a bag of potato chips of the same size.  Plus, I teach all of the other Korean teachers' students once a week.  They love snacks and together they have 240 mouths.
The far left, yellow stuff feels a lot like a big, crunchy Cheetos cheese snack in your mouth, but tastes more like a very slightly sweetened puffed corn.  I really like it for its crunchy/chewy texture and mild flavor.  The brown ones look like those softer cheese puffs, and feel like that in your mouth too.  Here are some more colors of this type I found on line:  

They're sweetened with a sugary coating and I've tried these coated in chocolate too--yummy!  The 2 white colored bags I haven't tried, because I'm pretty sure they'll be tasteless, like these:
To my taste buds, they're nothing more than starch.  Thankfully, a lot of my students liked them so the purchase was far from a waste!  No doubt, you noticed the giant bags of super-sized Trix cereal-looking variety in the display. Close up they look more like this photo below, but many are perfectly round, like Trix, only 5-10 times bigger:
Naturally, I'm a kid at heart, so I HAD to try these.  Nothing like Trix cereal, of-course, they have some grainy "so-so" flavor, to quote a favorite American expression used by my Korean students.  My youngest kids adore them because they're so fun to look at, I think!  Since so many of these kids' parents work FT and they only shop at regular grocery stores, many of them have never tried this.  It took an American English teacher to introduce them to a very old-styled, traditional Korean snack!  
Pictured above is the machine that makes the stuff right in front of your eyes.  These big, flat white ones are the size of small plates.  I want to try them out in place of a hard tortilla or something.  If you find one of the street vendors with a truck full of a gazillion varieties, you'll pay extra, but you can watch him making all different kinds and bagging them up; so I imagine they're fresher.  Haven't tried any yet, but I'm sure I will--just too cool not to!  
Check out the SIZE of the bag leaning up against the truck!  It's like buying edible packaging popcorn, so no wonder...Ok, this last image is my own photo of 2 of the best, yet still cheap varieties.   (I'll probably write again and display the pricier kind--I just disappeared a whole bag of rice-crispy treats styled bbang-tigi--deadly delicious, with a caramelized sugary glue & nuts instead of marshmallows.

Second to last share for today are these.  The one on the left is full of my students' favorites--they're rolled in a brown sugar--a big hit every time I bring them to school.  These others, on the right, have a very mild flavor which I can't really describe.  I love that they're hollow & intend to bring enough string to let the students make edible bbang tigi bracelets sometime.  Stay tuned for more on this  delightful and uniquely Korean snack in the future, and...Oh!  They're not always made of rice.  I just finished off a Sunday walk w/a new Korean friend.  She brought these.  They're made of wheat, but still called bbang tigi.  They taste just like puffed wheat cereal melded together...I wonder which came first?
What a fun twist on an old familiar American-to-me flavor!  Happy snacking to you from Sacheon~~