Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My students...

I realized that I had not written in any detail about school or the kids. This one is going to be about my kindergarten students. I teach two different classes in the morning (four 40 minute classes, plus lunch): "Bear" class and "Raptor" class. Each class is given animal names, so deal with it...

I teach Raptor first. I enjoy these kids a lot. They are all 7 years old and they act just like kids at home do.

Victor is the most outgoing and wildest in the class. He is constantly laughing, cracking jokes and making friends. He also happens to be the smartest in the class. He has a well developed vocabulary, great pronunciation and he never gets flustered. I teach him Science as well, so we have become close. One day I drew a mustache on his face and ever since then, "Teacher! Teacher! I want a mustache!" It's funny when he has one, but I try to resist the urge. Ji-eung is next. He is the only kindergartener who uses his Korean name. He is the shadow of Victor. He is not as smart, but tries very hard. I also teach him science, but he tends to loose concentration easily which makes me a little mad. He has horrible teeth, like most Korean children, but he's fun. Jason is the third and final boy in my first class. He is quiet, looks very Korean and doesn't get in my way too much. I will not be able to write much about many of these kids.

Jessica is a large girl who is not very popular. It has nothing to do with her weight, she just has no confidence. She sits by herself, speaks at a volume that I can't ever hear, let alone understand. She is not smart, she cheats and she is constantly claiming that her stomach hurts. I try my best to include her or put her on the cool kids' team, but nothing works. We're actually trying to keep her from going on to the next level, but her mother would never let that happen. Jessie is a happy girl. She is missing her front two teeth. She's nice. Sally is a very little girl who just started English a month ago. She was very shy at first, but now she is opening up and having a ball. She is behind, but not nearly as behind as Jessica who has been studying for one year! Sally has this skin condition and I can't figure out what it is. Needless to say, I do not get too close. Kellie is a pain. Jennie tries to be cute, but she is also a pain. Alice is the cutest little girl in the world. She is not the smartest and she's very uncoordinated, but she is just so funny. Since none of the morning kids know much, they pick up little bits and pieces just like any child does. I can't think of a specific example right now, but I am always laughing when she is around. Then there's Lucy. She is the chubbiest little thing and I love her personality. She tries, she laughs, she makes friends and she, like Alice, is just fun to be around. She can play the piano very well too. I'm not talking Mary Had A Little Lamb either. She can play Mozart...well.

That's my first class. Here's my second:

Eric is the cool guy in the class. He's smart, he's athletic, he's a ladies man, and he's funny. Of course, he has a few behavioral issues. He is too cool, so sometimes he's too cool for school. I put him in his place though. He is a very bad sport. He cries when he loses and rubs it in when he wins. I like him, but I wish he would calm down. Helena is also a chubby little girl who takes school very seriously. One day she asked me if she could stay in the room and study. I asked why and she said it was because she doesn't like to play. What?! A child who doesn't like to play? She has a lot of friends, but I imagine she has a very, very overbearing mother. Judy has the second worse teeth I've ever seen. Danny is fun and loves Spiderman. Jim is a wierd little boy, but he tries. Andy has blonde highlights in his hair. Jeny is very quiet, but an increasingly fun girl to teach. Then we have Louis. This guy is a real asshole. He looks Chinese and has the worst attitude ever. He is mean, destructive, deceptive and hurts his classmates. I am always having to discipline him and I hate doing it, but he goes too far.

Those are my two morning classes. Obviously I like the first one more. The kids are great in both classes, but I have more fun in the first.

I'd like to tell a little about the school now that I've been there for a little while. The managment is very poor, which puts a lot of pressure on Rhett and the rest of us. He is constantly having to assume things that could be easily told to us, but apparently (from what I'm told) this is how Korean businesses are. They lack communication and involve very little tact. With that said, I do think the kids are provided with wonderful educations and I'm impressed with the results I've seen thus far.

The biggest problem I see with a hogwan is that mothers have too much control. They do not control the curriculum or anything, but they can complain. When they complain, Mr. Won worries. He worries that if does not appease these fanatical mothers then they will pull their kids out and Wonderland loses 800 dollars a month. The problem with this is that most parents complain when the teachers tell them that their child is not ready for the next level. Therefore, we are allowing some kids to advance and they will only continue to fall behind. This helps no one. It does not make our job easier because extra attention needs to be given to these kids, while the other kids who deserve to our extra time get left out. It does not help the kid because they won't be able to speak well. And it will eventually reflect poorly on our school.

So why do the mothers complain? They complain because each mother uses her childs skill level as a bragging right. They brag to each other all the time. Of course parents will brag if their child is bright. -that's expected. However, bragging because they raised hell to get their child into advanced classes is absurd. They are living a lie and they all know it.

Besides the mothers, I really enjoy it here. It's hard work, but it's all worth it...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Interesting article...

This article does not make me feel great, but again and as I've said before, there is a large disconnect between the government and the people. Good thing too...

A Korean meeting of the minds

By Sung-Yoon Lee

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il both believe that the Republic of Korea "is a country that should not have been born" on August 15, 1948. Therefore, to both Roh and Kim, Syngman Rhee, the first president of the ROK, is a traitor and a pawn of US imperialists.

Note that in Roh's address to the nation on Liberation Day, August 15, he made no mention of who did the actual liberating or who the founding father of the republic was. Roh and Kim both believe that the Korean War initiated by Kim Il-sung on June 25, 1950, was a just and noble war of unification, spoiled by the United States just as the North Korean liberating forces were on the cusp of victory. Both detest General Douglas MacArthur and his Inchon Landing. Roh remarked last September, on the controversy over the dismantling of a statue of General MacArthur: "We have to accept the good with the bad."

Both believe that North Korea has a right to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense, as it faces "external threats". As a corollary, both believe that the seven-rocket salute on July 5 (July 4 in the US - Independence Day) was a mere "political gesture" or a "routine military exercise of a sovereign nation". Both believe that US forces in the South are an unwelcome occupying force. Consequently, both desire South Korea to "wrest away from the US" wartime operational control. Their next step is the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of the US-ROK Combined Forces Command. Both dream the ultimate dream of the withdrawal of US forces. Both get a kick out of bashing Japan; however, to both men, the United States is the ultimate enemy, although they both love the US dollar. Both fear and loathe President George W Bush (the sentiments are requited by the US president). Both Roh and Kim support violent anti-US protests in South Korea. Further, they both love China.

Neither admits to the ghastly conditions of life in North Korea and the state's systematic and pervasive oppression of the most basic human rights of the majority of its people. To both men, public criticism of North Korea's human-rights violations is anathema. Neither wishes for the collapse of the North Korean state. Each does his best to prevent it - Kim, with the instruments of fear, isolation and collective pauperization of his people; Roh, with unprincipled and unconditional provision of economic aid, in addition to frequent rhetorical defenses of the Kim regime. Neither has any qualms about state-directed criminal activity, such as abducting civilians, development and sales of nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction despite pledges to the contrary, counterfeiting, money-laundering and the production and sales of illicit drugs. In fact, both blame Bush for raising such issues.

Neither wishes the victory of a candidate from the Grand National Party in South Korea's presidential election in December 2007. Each will do his best to prevent it - Roh, with the time-tested politics of anti-Americanism, and Kim, with his own time-tested method of creating strategic instability, including terrorism. Both men are failed leaders, reviled by the vast majority of their own respective population, and loved mostly by communists, pro-communists, and solipsistic ethnic nationalists. Each fears for his own well-being and legacy once removed from power.

Notable differences between Roh and Kim:

Roh loves Kim, but Kim doesn't love Roh. Kim loves himself and no one else. Roh's days are numbered, while Kim's are not. Consequently, Roh is desperate for a summit embrace, while Kim can sit back and dictate a pricey admission fee. Roh genuinely wishes not to visit the United States, but he must. Kim genuinely wishes to visit the US, but he cannot. Kim wishes to speak with Bush but cannot, whereas Roh wishes not to speak with Bush, but must. Roh loves to travel abroad at government expense and act presidential; Kim prefers to party at home and act like a general before his own men, as he is plagued by fears for his own safety abroad.

World leaders itch for an opportunity to visit Kim in his mythical kingdom, while major world leaders shy away from visiting Roh in Seoul. Since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Pusan last November, not a single leader of repute has visited Roh. Kim welcomes South Korean as well as other defectors to the North; Roh assiduously shuns North Korean defectors to the South. To date, Roh has not met a single North Korean defector among the more than 8,000 who have made their way into South Korea. Kim loves movies and opera; evidence of Roh's affinity for culture remains as yet thin. Kim knows how to hold a champagne glass properly, as he demonstrated when he cozied up to former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright during her visit in October 2000. Roh does not know how to hold a Korean teacup, as he demonstrated when he cozied up to Korean-American football star Hines Ward during his visit this April (Roh gulped his tea down as if he were taking a shot).

By now you see that I am really struggling to come with differences between the Roh and Kim, which raises the all-important question: With so many more compelling similarities than differences between Roh and Kim, can we be assured that Bush, when he greets Roh at the White House on September 14, will not confuse the two Koreans at some point in his conversation with the South Korean?

Sung Yoon-lee is Kim Koo associate in research at the Korea Institute, Harvard University. The opinions expressed here in no way represent the official views of the Kim Koo Foundation or the Korea Institute. (Copyright 2006 Sung-Yoon Lee.)

Tell me what you think?

One Month update

So I've been here just over a month and I'm trying my best to keep up with the blog so I can give you guys a real sense of what and how I am doing. I feel that I've done a fairly good job and will continue to do so for the next eleven months. I am going to write a monthly update on how I feel, what I want to do while I'm here, what I miss and so on and so forth.

It has been a real neat experience so far. Living in Korea has really been good for me and I know it will only get better. I am discovering things about myself and my world that I never knew. I am getting different perspectives from my friends, my bosses, my solo ventures and even when I go to the bars. I have a deep appreciaition for Asian culture and although you can not apply one culture to all of them, there is a common thread. They treasure different ideals. They treat foreigners with great respect. They are always genuine and loyal. However, they are not the same. There's a huge difference even in the cultures in Seoul versus Pusan (a southern city).

I am hanging out with people who have lived in the Middle East, Southest Asia, China, Mongolia, Brazil, Guatemala, France, The Netherlands, The Northern Territory's of Canada, Germany, Wales, Ireland, India, Taiwan, Russia and just about everywhere in between. They are all world travelers and with that comes a certain personality. It's a very realistic approach to life. They have taken their knowledge of the world and with each new place they go to a little more understanding is gained. And when we all go home, it is our family who benefits from our experience. It is our friends who benefit. It is our country that benefits. If we can all understand a little bit about each other, this would be an a very peaceful world. Understanding comes from experience. You do not have to accept differences in culture. You do not have to agree with these differences, but you must understand why they exsist.

What do I miss? I miss family and friends the most of course. I really miss having a bond with an animal. I have been very lucky to have an animal around me for the last 23 years. This is the first time I have been away from that bond. I had my pets growing up. I had Amos Dog, Snipes and the guinea pig in college and I had Esther and Sadie last year. Now I have none. It's sad, but I know I'll see them all soon. (Rest in peace Snipes and Lakota. I miss you two a lot.) I miss sitting in the grass, climbing trees, driving, Cheerios, drinkable faucet water and a dryer. I miss my comfortable queen-sized bed, PBS, NPR, watching Cincinnati sports with Kristin and Trey. I miss dancing with my friends, live music, festivals and everything that goes along with them. I miss going deeper, the back deck, going to the creek with Sadie, my kids from last year, talking to Jennifer, staying with Byrns, and camping with my friends. I miss drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, Steele Reserve, Tennessee, appreciation for American football, tye-dye shirts, carpet, American cheese and microwaves. I miss all that, but I can live without them for a year.

I do not miss TV news, the President and his supporters, gas prices, the heat, television or southern accents. Honestly, I had to struggle to come up with that list. So what does that mean? You know what it means...

All in all, I love Korea and am happy that I made to hard decision to come here. Who knows where it will take me?

Norabang Fun

The work week was over and our director, Mr. Won, wanted to take the teachers out for dinner and drinks. He often does this to show his appreciation for all of our hard work. And trust me, teaching a language is hard. Props to you Uncle John. Won originally wanted to take us out on Thursday night, but we told him we'd prefer to do it on Friday. He said okay, but wasn't sure if he could make it because he would be tired from playing golf all day. I guess working all day is easier than playing 18 holes. He didn't show up. We didn't care though.

Mike, Dave and I were the first to show up. The hof was called One Shot. I had been there before and had a great time, so I was happy to hear that's where we were going. At Hof's you're usually forced or pressured to order food. We were all going to eat anyways so we looked over the menu. I can't read Korean at this point so I quickly defaulted my opinion to the wisdom of Mike and Dave. After we decided what to order we pushed the button. The button is on the edge of the table and it sends the signal to the waitress who will quickly be at the table to take your order. Seconds after pushing the button I saw the waitress literally running to the table. We ordered a few pitchers of beer and two Soju pitchers. Minutes later Rhett, Aaron, Gina and Liam made their way down the steps and into our sight. They were pleased to see the drinks we'd ordered and wasted no time pushing the button to get more mugs and shot glasses.

We ate squid, chicken, kimchee (spicy onions), french fries, and all sorts of vegetables. Finally Terry, Mr. Won's assistant and also our boss, came there to join in the fun and ultimately pay for the evening. We milked the free night; ordering as many things as possible so we did not have to spend much after we left there. After a couple hours there we were all pretty loose and started getting into the typical stuff. Aaron, Joel and I argued for awhile about which humanity or social science was more important in the analyzation of the post-modern world. I argued for Anthropology; Joel for History and Aaron for Philosophy. In the end it was decided that all three of them play off of eachother and that you can't have one without the others. I still think Anthro is the best. Then Dave and I got caught up in another nose-off. This was the second annual nose-off and I was poised to win. We took more profile pictures of the noses and even had a new challenger, Liam. He was eliminated right away. His Welsh nose didn't stand a chance againt our German noses. We showed the pictures and our noses to unbiased strangers and once again, I lost. Dave's nostril size gives him the upper hand, but he's on vacation for the month, so I guess I hold the prestigious position now.

Midnight rolled around and we decided it was time for the norabang. A norabang is karaoke. When this idea was first mentioned I was not keen on the idea. I have an awful singing voice and I'm very aware that I can not sing, but I'm in Korea for such a short time so I figured I'd give it a go. We left One Shot and were greeted with a light rain. When it rains here, which is almost daily, it rains for a few minutes and then stops just as fast as it started. However, while we were in the bar we picked up a Korean couple who wanted to tag along. That was fine and they were nice, but recently I have been hesitant about letting people tag along. This is because wherever I go I am told two things. One, that I am handsome and the second is that I have a very nice voice. It's a nice compliment, but when people are looking at me and then come over to tell me I am handsome, I am almost embarrassed. They pass over all the other teachers and come to me. At work the other day, one of the mothers made a point to tell a Korean teacher that I was the most handsome teacher there. Then I realized why they are doing this and why the pass over the other teachers, who are all good looking people. I have blonde hair and I have blue eyes. They don't. Now, at home this would never happen. First of all people don't act like that at home. They don't single people out and tell them they are attractive. It's more subtle. Also, I am a lot more average at home. There are tons of people with blonde hair and blue eyes. I know I'm not ugly, but this is too much. I have never thought of myself by my looks and even writing this makes uncomfortable, but I'm trying to convey to you guys ALL of my experiences here; good or bad. This particular couple kept calling me Tom Cruise. This one made me a little mad. I said he has brown hair and I'm not a scientologist. It must have been our similar large noses. I am getting tired of this, but hopefully it will end soon. Do they have to be so overt!? Don't worry, I will not let this get to my head or use my "unique" features to take advantage of anyone.

We located a norabang and went inside. Without thinking, we forgot to hide the Soju and the owner said we could not bring it in. We understood and left to find another one. All of sudden, the Korea guy who was with us started yelling at the owner. They pushed eachother, they yelled at eachother and before we knew it they were about to fight and all of us were in between the two of them trying to break it up. It only escalated from there and it was getting serious. The owner threw the Korean guy to the ground, stepped back and removed his shirt. He was ready to fight. They both walked down the stairs and into the rainy street. We still tried to separate the two, but we risking getting too involved. How did this happen? Why was the Korean guy so mad at the owner who had a legitimate reason to ask us to leave? It was silly to me and the rest of us.

They continue pushing and yelling and soon the guys girlfriend, who we were talking to while her worse half was being an idiot, ran off...literally. She ran away and we had no idea where she went. Finally the owner went back upstairs and this left the still fuming Korean guy for us to deal with. He starts talking and tells us in broken English that the owner was racist and did not want foreigners in his norabang. This was a lie. Dave heard what the owner had said and it was not anywhere close. Then the guy started saying,

"America good." and he gave a thumbs up.

"Korea bad." and he gave a thumbs down.

I was very suprised. Why would this guy say that?

"No, no, no. America is good and Korea is good. They are both good" I told him.

He insisted that Korea was very bad and America was very good. He then ran up the stairs and went to yell at this guy some more. We used this time to leave him behind and venture to the next norabang.

We got there and hid our Soju until we were in our room. When you arrive at these places, you pay 15 dollars for an hour. They show you to your room and leave you alone. In the room, which I have one picture of on webshots, there are couches, a table in the center of the room, and a large flatscreen TV. The mics are sitting there and you look at the list and make your selection. The words appear on the screen along with a background of your choice. You can pick nature scenes, city life or pornography. I'm still not sure why porno is an option. Who would want to sing and watch porno at the same time? We chose the nature scenes, I promise.

We sang for an hour and then decided we need to sing some more. Then, Mike's Korean friend Jayce, met us there. He selected some songs and started singing. We all listened in amazement. He had a phenomenal voice. He could sing everything so well. His best was Skid Row though. If you haven't listened to Skid Row imagine AC/DC. If you're lucky you have listed to the greatest band of the 20th century: Ezra. If you haven't heard them I suggest you call my brother-in-law and he'll send you an album and video of them playing live. Crossover! He might even throw in Big Slam.

So we sang, laughed and had a great evening in the norabang. I can't wait to go again. When we left it was light outside. I looked at the time. It was 6:00am. The others continued on. Those guys are wild. I am so glad that I came here and met this group. They are all so much fun, so loyal, so smart and I will stay in touch with them for years to come.

I wanted to continue on, but I had to get home. Kristin was calling at 9:00am.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Meet me at the...Family Mart?

In Seoul there are millions of things a man of my age can do during the evening, but I'm only here for the year, so I must choose wisely. If I were to go to over 100 bars a night, I still would not see them all. If I went to well over 200 restaurants a day, I still would not see them all. If I went to over 7 sauna's a day, I still would not see them all. My point is that there are so many things to do here and so little time. So what have I done more than anything?

I have been going to the Family Mart. What is it? It's a convenience store. It has beer, snacks, ice cream, cigarettes, maps and everything else that you would see in the States and probably all over the world. There is one major difference: You can drink there. They have tables outside with chairs and you purchase your poison inside and then drink it outside. Korea has tons of cafe's, but these are not cafe's. Cafe's usually serve food and they usually have someone waiting on you. The Family Mart does not have those things. I has tables on the sidewalk and that's it. We go there for a host of reasons, but the biggest reason is that it's cheap. Bars are cheaper here than at home, but not by much. I enjoyed going to bars when I was at home, but usually preferred staying in with friends and drinking there. Since we all live in small apartments here, there are very few options besides the bars. That is why we go to the Family Mart.

In Korea there is a drink that is very popular. It's a drink that you see everyone drinking all the time. In my pictures on webshots you can see it. It's in a green bottle and it's called Soju. People drink it all over the world, but I had not ever seen it before. Ben said he saw it in Wales a few times, but it was certainly not consumed there like it is here. It's a potato liquor that tastes like vodka with a hint of rum. It's good and costs less than a dollar a pint. Yeah, it's that cheap.

So we'll meet there after work or dinner and sit at the tables for hours. We'll drink, laugh, talk and play drinking games while the busy Seoul streets bustle less than eight feet away. When people walk by they'll usually glare over at us and wonder why we are there and having so much fun. They do this because foreigners usually don't spend their evenings this way. The typical foreigners are mostly at the bars or hofs. Not us though, we join in with the older Korean population who chooses to sit and watch the city go by. We choose to play drinking games and wrestle in the streets. We choose the Family Mart.

By the way, while I was writing this Dave called.

"You want to meet at the Family Mart?"

So, I'm off...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Teach Your Children Well

I was teaching one of my literature classes the other day and Japan came up in the conversation. One of the girls raised her hand. I called on her.

"Teacher, I don't like Japan." she stated.

I looked at her, not in disbelief because this is Korea and that is prevelant, but rather I just wasn't sure why she volunteered that information.

The other kids started joining the girl with similar hateful slogans and attitudes. I do not like it when people are xenophopic, racist, prejudice or anything else that is based on ignorance. Again, this is Korea and their wounds still seem to be very fresh and I did not want to step on any toes. So, I approached the topic a bit more objectively than I normally would have.

"Why? Why do you not like Japan?" I asked them knowing what automatic response I would get.

Her response is the same that her parents would give and that's the same response that her parents' parents would give.

"The Japanese are bad because they invaded Korea." one of the boys said.

His response was met with nods from the entire class. It was hard for me to not lecture them on how dangerous misdirected hate can be. I didn't lecture them because I know they are too young to truly understand the full implications of what they are saying, believing and propagating. I had to say something though. I did not want them to think that I agree or even condone that attitude in my class or in my life.

"You mean you hate the Japanese governments and militaries that invaded Korea, don't you?" I asked them slowly to ensure they could take it all in.

I paused for a moment.

"You don't hate Japanese people though. They did not have a choice then (the invasion) and those alive now certainly don't want to hurt Korea."

They sat there and I could see their bright minds trying to comprehend what I said. They are familiar with the notion that a government can be evil and the people can still be good. That is their take on North Korea and if they refuse to swallow that bitter pill and admit that it is the same thing, then I fear for the hate these people and their children will be exposed to.

The kids knew what I was saying, but they also knew that this way of thinking was probably in direct contrast to their parents' views. As we all know, when children are still young, their parents are always right. After all (Is that a compound word?), it is the parent's responsibility to instill strong morals in their children. It is the parent's job to make sure that their child is accepting, or at least tolerant, of people of all walks of life. It is the parents' job to teach their children well...

Teach Your Children by CNSY

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye

Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

And you of tender years
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by
And so please help them with your youth
They seek the truth before they can die

Teach your parents well
Their children's hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick's the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

So, in closing, we as people need to remember the past and its grandeur, but we also need to recognize that it does include war, hate, death and so much more. This world has seen so much human suffering and it will continue to see the same. Still, we can't let it guide our futures. We don't have to participate. There will never be the war that ends all war because war is not the way to settle differences. Simply put, war kills people who have very little to do with the actual conflict. It was true in the Crusades, the Inquisition, all revolutionary wars, all civil wars, all world wars, all religious wars, all resource wars and every other war that will sadly, but surely arise in the years to come. The boomers have seen war their whole life and I'm sure my generation will see the same.

Memory will always be used as a political tool to accomplish someone's agenda. They will pander on the emotions and the fears and the scars from a dark past, but we can navigate through this sometimes overly complicated world using the past, the present and the future. It's called wisdom my friends and it has always been there...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

News Coverage

The news here is different. You don't have the talking heads, you don't have conservative versus liberal reporting and punditry and you don't have bad news. What you have is oblivious news. What do I mean by 'oblivious news'? I'll tell you...

According to Seoul papers and news, everything is alright... all the time. Sure, they'll report AP acticles if Seoul or Korea wasn't mentioned negatively, but any mention of the won falling in value, rise in poverty, decline in property value or any other domestic problem will not be seen. They cable news here is for positive stories and the printed news is for the same. I thought that sounded like we were living under a propaganda machine, only spitting out great things that Seoul has to offer, but there's a difference.

The people know that there are problems, they do, but they never think things can ever get as bad as they have been in the past. They never think that Japan will occupy them again and they never think another economic crisis, like the 1997 one, will occur again. Yeah, you can pick up the Korean Times or the Korean Herald and get some dirt on the government. I did when I first got here and read the cover story. It was reporting that the Minister of Education was being investigated for stealing the dissertations of his students and passing them off as his own. He was and therefore, forced to resign. The Korean papers did not report that. The Herald covered the missile launch issue very well. The Korean papers made mention of it in passing. Instead the headlines were about the World Cup and where Korea went wrong. I'm not saying the Koreans didn't know about it, but they were not interested in reading about it. Their mind's are already made up about what to do with the North, so they rather be entertained by soccerl. Sound familiar?

You ask yourself, how could they get away with that? How can the papers in a major city not report huge things like that? The only answer I can come up with is this: The people don't want it. There is no audience for that here. They do not want to be bothered by problems. I know more about what is going on in Korea than all of the Korean teachers at my school combined.

This is a topic I'll continue to write about in the months to come, so if I didn't give you enough in this very short post, just give me some more time and I'll try and figure this oddity out. Have a nice day guys.

Protest in the streets!

As you know, yesterday, August 15th was Korea's Independence Day from Japan. As usual, there were protests at a lot of the universities and on a lot of steets. They were protesting the Japanese Prime Minister's visit to the Yasukuni war shrine. The shrine was built after South Korea gained independence from Japan in 1945. I've talked to a few Koreans about this shrine and they said it is not only a shrine for their indepedence, but a shrine to honor all of their fallen soldiers from all wars.

The wounds are still very fresh here, as they should be. People, even some of my older students, openly discuss their severe distaste for the Japanese goverment. I'm not saying Koreans should hate the Japanese, but the memory of the gruesome horrors that were committed upon these people should never be lost. This does not mean that they wish the Japanese harm because they don't. According to the Japanese Prime Minister, he does it to prove that is a thing of the past. Of course it is, but when he is told by everyone "Please don't visit the shrine" and then does it, it is seen as disrespectful to the dead. So, as promised, the Koreans and Chinese protested. Here, there were hundreds of protests just like there were in Bejing. People of all ages were out there, waving the Korean flag, chanting and holding placards. I only saw people going to the protests, I did not see the actual marches, vigils and speeches. I wish I did.

The passion against Japan does not simply stem from their militarized oppression. Sure that is a huge part of it, but from what I've heard here, it's also about Tokyo's treatment of Seoul. I'm told that they undermine Seoul and reduce Seoul's importance as an international power whenever given the chance. Now, I don't know if that's true. All I know is that Japan and the US (to name a couple) demonized Korea and China for not agreeing with pursuing U.N. sactions after Pyongyang's July 5th missle launches. The South Korean and North Korean governments hate each other. That's no secret. However, the people here love the people there. They are all Koreans, no matter what a gaurded parallel may claim. Seoul knows that if they attacked or supported an attack on the North, the people in the South would erupt in protest. So they won't do it. Stability here would collapse and I would be put on a plane and forced to return home. If Japan or the United States bombed North Korea, it would be mass protest.

The people have a unique trait here that I feel is missing from the debate on whether or not to bomb or invade another nations. This trait, I feel, dictates how Seoul operates their foreign policy. It's compassion. The people here sincerly hate the idea that the North Koreans (although they would never call them that) would be hurt for the idiocy of their evil government. They suffer enough, so instead of hurting them more with sanctions and bombs, we should work together and find a better solution. They know that if Seoul tried to militarily take out Kim, Kim would murder more people that we could count. Violence begets violence and that mentality is very strong among Koreans.

Koreans know that Pyongyang has chemical weapons and warheads pointed at them from the North. They know that, but this doesn't stop them. They want peace with their northern brothers and sisters and now that I live here and have fallen in love with it, I'm scared. Not of the threat of bombs or anything, but that an outside force could have an impact on whether they succeed in their dream of unification. This is not Risk and this is not chess. These are people's lives, their dreams, their future and their country. Do not take that away from them.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Who's a Canadian pop star?

Work had ended and the evening was young. We had been planning to go to the sauna and relax for a couple hours before we went out, but since we all seem to get off work at different times we never got it together. Don't worry, I'll go soon and report back to you. Since the sauna was not happening, I left work and went home in hopes of napping for awhile. The night before was Liam's first night, so we were out all night. He's another new teacher from Wales. Unfortunetly, I did not get to nap and, shortly after arriving home, Mike called. He and Joel were getting a drink down the road from me and wanted to know if I wanted to come out. So I grabbed my things and started the short walk.

The night was really pleasant with a cool summers end breeze that always reminds me of football season at UT. The smell of fish was in the air as usual, but it was not as potent. We met on the sidewalk and weren't sure what to do. The rest of the group was not answering their phones, so it was going to be the three of us. Joel suggested we go to Gangnam. Gangnam is a wild place with way too much going on much like everywhere in Seoul. We flagged down a cab and piled in. Joel had bought a few beers while they were waiting for me to arrive, so we drank them in the cab. That's right, in the cab. People do that all the time here. The ride was short but neat. It was a new part of Seoul for me so I was wide-eyed. We arrived at our stop, paid the driver and started our walk to the bar.

This area is different than mine. My area is more geared toward older wealthy people with kids. This area was more like a college town. The woman wore some pretty racey clothes and all the men were trying to look pretty sleek. We manuevered our way through the masses and arrived at our destination. The bar was on the third floor. We marched up the three flights of stairs. Joel and Mike walked right in, but I was amazed as I looked out the open window. There were bars and hofs and restaurants and clubs everywhere. They were on all floors and all of them were swinging. It was quite a site to see people eating on one floor, people drinking in a bar on the next and then people dancing in the club on the top floor. Imagine a doll house with an opened face displaying each room. That's what it was like, except there were balconies and open doors and windows. I turned to walk in the bar, but foolishly pumped into a young Korean girl with the acne of a typical fourteen year old. I apologized and she laughed and walked in the door. The bar was called Woodstock. It was a small dark bar with very loud music playing. The walls were lined with records and cds. Dave Matthews Band was playing when I entered. The song was Don't Drink the Water. Not a bad song, but I really do not like Dave Matthews. The neat thing was that they had all Western music in stock and you could write down a song and if they had it, they'd play it for you. The three of us sat down and ordered a pitcher. Next to us were these two older Korean men. They were 36 and 41 and very friendly. They, too, were ready for a night of fun.

They introduced themselves with a round of drinks on them and that started our evening with these guys. One of the guys was talking to Mike a lot since Mike can speak Korean. He was telling Mike what he did, what his friend did and all the small talk basics. At one point, he looked over at me and then went back to talking to Mike. I asked Mike what that was all about.

"He thinks you're very hansome and is wondering if you have a girlfriend" Mike translated.

I looked at Mike with a disgusted look on my face.

"What!? Why would he say that to me?"

"I think he wants to set you up with his daughter" Mike replied.

I was relieved that was his intention, but still thought it to be a bit odd of an interaction. Now, the man switched seats with Mike and came over to discuss things further.

"Where are you from?" he started to say, but stopped.

He sat there for a second just looking at me. I didn't know what to do except smile and drink my beer to ease the akwardness.

Then he shouted, "You look like a famous Canadian pop star! Are you from Canada?"

I told him I wasn't from Canada, but thanked him for the apparent compliment. So the night continued. We requested awful songs and had a great time there, but soon the older Korean guys wanted to go eat and offered to pay for us, so we left the music behind, walked down the steps and followed them to the next watering hole.

We walked around for awhile. The streets were packed. There were huge screens on the buildings that were playing music videos. There was this one great one. It was this popular Korean pop-star and he was doing this odd dance on the beach, waving his arms around with these young girls throwing food products at him. It was a serious video too. I haven't grasped the apeall of K-Pop yet. I hope I never do. So we made it to the restaurant and I noticed it was one of the places with the small tables. That meant I got to take my shoes off. So we ate, drank and carried on until about two or so. I have put their pictures up on webshots.

I went home before the other guys did and was excited about the possiblity of good nights sleep.
I got in the cab, got out at Hanti station and on my walk home I asked a guy for a lighter. What happened next will be the next post. Nothing violent or anything, so don't worry.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A day in the park...

I'm going to the park by my place this aftertoon to observe and eventually write about. Don't worry, I'll finish the "Walkin Man" post too. Sleep well...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Walkin' man...(final)

When I started getting ideas for this post I did not realize how much it would entail. Upon further thought, I realized that I will have to address a few major points: the demographic makeup of Korea, the layout of the city and the overall more discreet culture of Koreans. I'm sure I will hit on all sorts of other subjects, so this might be a long one. Also, it might take several nights to write. I will start with the more scientific aspect of this subject and then I will delve into my own experiences walking through these streets.

First, I will talk about the population of both Seoul and Korea as a whole. Korea has a population of over 48,000,000, half of which reside here in Seoul. Of that population, less than one percent of that is non-Korean. If I compare that to the States where immigrants, minorities and other aliens account for over half of the population, a major difference is already obvious. Does that mean that a multi-cultural society means crime rates rise? Maybe, but I don't think that is the reason why I feel safe to walk down dark alleys here. We all know that racially motivated crimes in the States are not the norm. If that was the case, then "hate crimes" would be occurring at an alarming rate and they're not. They do happen, but most crimes, in my opinion, are committed within a certain proximity from the criminals' home or neighborhood and since, geographically, America is still very segregated, this is why so many crimes happen to the people they do. So, without going into criminological theory, I believe that the homogeneous characteristic of Korea does not have to do with why I feel safe. If it were that, then I would stick out like a sore thumb and be the target for many crimes. However, maybe this aspect of Korean life is the answer to my query. Maybe Koreans are so accustomed to having "their own" people here that it is instilled in them not to hurt each other criminally. Korea has not had the easiest path to get where they are today. They had to really unite for the many wars, invasions, occupations, dictatorships and economic crisises this country has suffered through in the very recent past. It could be that, but I say again, I do not think think the population has anything to do with this. By the way, Itaewon has the highest crime rate in Seoul and if you remember, that is where the highest number of foreigners, specifically Americans, work, live and play.

The layout of the city here is interesting. We all know when in New York City not to go into some areas that are more poverty stricken or that have a reputation of being rough. I live in a very nice area of Seoul luckily, but this city is so huge. It's over 630 square miles. Imagine that for a second. That is huge. I won't see way over half of this city this year and even if I was here for ten years, I doubt I would see half of it. So, with that in mind, there might be some areas that have a higher rate of crime, but that still doesn't really provide a reason. I don't think I'll ever really know. Even in my numerous criminology courses in college I never got the feeling that anyone really knew what makes a person devious. Sure, we can study theory, but a theory can be applied to so many things and if you look at a crime or a community with a specific theory in mind, chances are that it will make sense. Still, one could apply another theory to the same crime and come up with a whole new set of causes. This is the challenge that plagues social science. I said I would write about the culture as I did with the two other topics, but culture is not numbers. It's experience and only by immersing yourself in a culture can one get a true and possibly accurate idea of why it operates the way it does. I have not been here long enough to be able to characterize these beautiful people in a way that makes sense and I am not sure one year will not be enough. Sure, I'll pick up the basics, but culture is ingrained in people, it's not learned that easily. So I will stray now from shallow theorization and tell you how I experience these unique people when I walk on their streets.

Walking here is a real treat. I've walked on all sorts of streets and in all sorts of cities. I've walked in all sorts of climates and on all sorts of terrains, but walking here is different. To experience life on foot is the most natural thing a human can do. An interesting perspective was brought to my attention by Rory Stewart in his wonderful book, The Places in Between. Humans evovled from a lesser species to a bipedal species. This, obviously, is one of the reasons we were so successful as an animal and ultimately why we are still here and in this form. The world was conquered over and over again on foot. The greatest terrestrial explorers in history first experienced their new discovery one step at a time. It is the natural speed for humans, the speed at which we were designed for, the speed that allows us to truly experience all of this amazing world. I must admit, I used to love walking, but as time passed I forgot how nice of a feeling it was to walk. Now, I insist on walking everywhere.

As I mentioned before, I've walked in a lot of places, but there is something about the streets of Asia that captures my soul and bonds me with this place. It is hard to describe, but if any of you have the oppurtunity to travel to Asia, do yourself a favor and buy that plane ticket. I'm going to detail a couple walks I have been on while here. My favorite time to walk here is at night. There are people everywhere just like during the day, but at night, people are out for themselves, not for work or school. I hope you enjoy.

My phone rang, it was Aaron. He was telling me that we are grilling out on the roof and that the meeting time was 8:30pm. I glanced at my battery operated bedside clock that I purchased before I came here. It was 7:25pm. I gathered my camera, Ipod, put on a shirt and slipped into my sandals and with a big gulp of bottled water, I was out the door. I walk down the stairs slowly as I noticed that the marble floors had just been mopped. The floor shined like new and I hated to leave my print on it, but what can you do? Outside my apartment building were two Korean men smoking a cigarette and arguing. I knew it would be better if I avoided this, so I swiflty walked past them and one to my little road. My road is very small (see webshots) and is lined with apartment buildings. The one across from mine is very nice, a lot nicer than mine, but then again they all drive Saab's, so I guess they earned it. An old woman with a wrinkly face and liver spots came into sight. She was carrying her groceries and, by the looks of her posture, had been carrying them for some time. I gave the customary smile and bow. She returned the bow and the smile. Her grin would cheer up anybody. In the near distance I could hear children laughing and playing on the playground at the park. I stopped for a second when I reached the park to see what was going on there. It was a bit late for that many kids to playing there. It was birthday party. I was happy to see it too. If you remember an earlier post, I mentioned that Koreans usually don't celebrate their birthday. Well, this little boy of maybe nine years certainly did. I quickly spotted him. He was wearing nice clothes and the traditional birthday hat. He was having a great time with his friends. They were playing what I guessed to be freeze tag and he was unfreezing everyone. I mean this kid was fast. I gave him a "happy birthday" to myself and walked down the road.

In front of me stood the infamous watermelon truck. Luckily his recording wasn't playing, so I didn't resent him too much this time. A horn beeped behind me. I turned around to see the source. It was an old KIA truck. Behind the wheel was the fattest Korean person I have ever seen. He had double chins and a mean furrow. His fat arm darted out the window, not to yell or anything, but to knock the cherry off his cigarette. Koreans do not throw their butts on the ground. Instead they do what should be done, they flick the cherry off and place the butt in a trashcan. Wouldn't that be nice if smokers everywhere did this rather than treating the earth as their own personal ashtray. The truck passed and I continue on. A mother with her two young children walked in front of me. The younger one decided to walk into the middle of the street. Of course, my first instict was to grab the child and pull it out of harms way, but I'm not Korean, so I figured it would be best if stayed back and didn't grab this child. I would have felt bad if something happened but nothing did. The mother casually strolled on as if nothing was wrong and the child continued on his quest to the center of the busy street. All the cars did was slow down and carefully manuever around the child. I crossed the street and waited to see what reaction, if any, the mother would have. Finally realizing that her child was not next to here side she reacted.

"Yeogi." she calmy said as she turned back around and continued walking away from the child.

The child galloped ahead and finally caught up. I told you this story not because of the danger the child was in, which was not any really. I told you this because here, everyone walks in the middle of these smaller roads. Everyone walks without any thought or regard for oncoming traffic or anything. My first few days here I would often stop and allow the car, taxi or scooter to pass. Now, I act just as that boy did.

I pressed on. It was a hot evening as it has been every day. I could feel a bead of sweat gathering momentum on my forehead. I wiped it away. I saw a very cosmopolitan looking couple who looked like they just returned from work, exit their nice car. Koreans work a lot. For instance, at my school, they arrive at work close to 7:30am and will not be done until 8:00pm. Yeah, they have more work, but a twelve hour day is hard, but they take it in stride. The mentality is different here. In class today we were discussing our book, Treasure Island. I was talking about wealth and how people become wealthy.

"How do people become wealthy?" I asked the class expecting an answer besides the one I got.

A boy named Rob raised his hand immediatley. I called on him.

"They work very, very hard and save their money." he said with a serious tone in his voice.

Of course you and I know that this is correct, but an eight year old? This is what I'm talking about, they work all the time and whether they like it or not, they will do it. Props to Koreans.

I turned onto a different street. One block ahead of me was an open-air market. The umbrellas and little stands always give them away. They sell all sorts of things there: meat, fish, vegetables, juices, fruits and so many other that I'll just have to write a post on what one can get at a Korean market. They're wild. I left the apartment district of the area with my last turn and now I was heading into the restaurant and bar district. The vertical and colorful signs on the highrises dominated my view. Hundreds of signs, all saying things that I'm slowly learning how to read were attached to every business. Usually when I walk I look forward or down, but this time I was looking up a the beauty of this city. How are signs beautiful? I don't know, but there's something majestic about them. Maybe it's because I still can't believe that I actually moved to Korea. This was a hard thing for me. I had to say bye to family and friends for a year. I had to leave knowing that I wouldn't be there with flowers for Kristin when my niece is born. I had say good bye to a sister who has been so great to me my whole life. She has always been right there with me on everything and I am so lucky that she is my sister. To all of you reading, if you do not have a sister, I am sorry. You are missing out on bond that nothing can compare to. If you do have a sister, call her, tell her that she's great. Love ya sis...

Back to it. While I was looking up in amazment at these signs I kicked something. I looked down and there was an old woman with all of her crops laid out on a small legless table. I felt really bad. How did I not see her? In fact, there was a row of old women selling their crops. I felt stupid and pretty bad. I looked at her tired sun-withered face and knew I had to do something for her. I pointed to some vegetable that I'm still not sure of its identity.

"Igeoseul eolmamnikka (How much is that)?" I said in embarassingly broken Korean.

She said something I couldn't begin to understand. I panicked for a second and then just handed her 2000 won. She smiled and handed a vegetable to me. I smiled back and accepted it with two hands (that's proper in Korea). I later threw it away. Nothing against the unknown vegetable, but my mother always taught me not to buy unidentifed food from old Korean women on the sidewalk. I continued my trek.

I looked in the windows of the restaurants as I passed by them. I didn't slow down from my increasing pace, which was being fueled by my craving for chicken and Korean beer, or anything. I just caught little glimpses of what was going on inside. Some of the places had the shoe holder thing that you must put your shoes in when you enter. A lot of places require the shoe thing, but those are only the places that have the short tables and are more traditional. I have not gone to one yet, but hope to very soon. I saw bars with the televisions playing movies. The two that I could identify were Good Morning Vietnam and some Jackie Chan movie. I laughed to myself when I saw both of those. What choices for an Asian bar. I turned off the main road and with that turn I was a Rhett's.

We had a fun night, but it was coming to an end and it was time for me to walk home. Dave and Ben opted for the cab ride home.

"You riding George?" they asked.

"No way man, I'm walkin' it." I reponded.

I turned away and headed down the hill. On one side of the steep road there was a group of men and women that were very raucus. They were wrestling around and laughing and carrying on just like anybody does, but again, this was a Tuesday at 3:00am. I walked passed them. I approached the mainroad and was greeted by the familiar site of several taxi's waiting for a customer. On the side of the grey taxi read: FREE TRANSLATION. This means that you can get in there and say "Free Translation" and they will give you a phone that connects you to a translator who will be able to understand where you need to go. They will then tell the driver and you're on your way. It's convient, but I have not yet used it. The drivers here are always dressed very nicely. In fact, the picture they have of themselves in the taxi that tells the passengers the drivers' credentials is very formal. They are wearing nice suits and have a very dignified look on their face. It's classic. I guessed the site of a foreigner suggested to the driver that I would be in need of a ride. He looked at me and then rushed from the relaxed position he was sitting in outside of the car to the front seat. I turned down the road. He got back out of the car, lit a cigarette and resumed waiting.

The road was lined with ginko trees that were well above forty feet. They're beautiful trees. Most of the stores had closed by now, but it looked like they kept their lights on all night. I passed a sunglass store, shoe stores, designer clothing stores and a pet store sporting two kittens. It reminded me of my old college cat, Snipes. Aunt Snipes would love Korea, but then again she was a refined alley cat, so she'd like it anywhere. She was a great cat. Ahead of me I saw a couple of cafe's that were still open. They had their doors open and old orange tables on the sidewalk. I could see two older men sitting and drinking outside. They were were wearing suits too. I wondered what they did for a living that allows them to dress like this and go out drinking all night. The increasingly familiar smell of a Korean cigarette crept into my nose. It smelled like burning trash.

I was listening to my Ipod as I frequently do when I walk. The song was Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. I decided that it was time to play a little air guitar. I rocked it pretty hard. I then decided that singing would also be a good idea. I laughed at the image of myself. I laughed because there were Koreans seeing me do this. I knew that I would eventually write about it and the thought of you guys trying to picture it made me laugh again. Never did I think that I would be in Seoul, peacefully walking down the ginko and highrise lined road playing air guitar and blissfully singing Peter Gabriel.

I had to cross the major road and there were only two ways to do this since there was no crosswalk at this street. I could walk all the way up another street and then cut back or I could walk down the steep stairs to the subway and walk under the busy street. Without hesitation, I decended to the subway. The subway stops running at 1:00 am and after that you have to take a taxi. There were two older women mopping the floor. They looked at me and with a puzzled look on their face said something I couldn't understand. They started waving their hands around and I knew they were being friendly, I just couldn't figure out what they were trying to convey to me. I just looked at them as I walked past and kept pointing in the direction I was going. I was almost out when the freshly mopped floor got the best of me. I fell, but it was more like I was doing the splits and when I split too far, I tipped over and landed on my side. The older women saw this and, without hesitation, ran over to me while risking the same fate. They were pro's and glided over the slick floor. I had made it to my feet by then, but they still gave me a pat on the back and a handful of smiles.

"Floor is very slippery" one of them said.

"Yeah, I guess so." I said with a snicker.

They waved me on and made sure I was on the steps and on my way out of danger before they got back to their task. I assumed they were telling me that the floor was slippery the whole time. It was worth it though. I got to see the kindess of these people first hand. You might be saying to yourself that any decent person would help in that situation. That might be true, but how true is it in a big city subway terminal at 3:00am? I climbed up the stairs and decided it was time for a new song.

I searched through my Ipod library. I cruised through AC/DC, Ah ha, Al Green, Allman Brothers, America, Beach Boys, Beatles, Big Brother and the Holding company, Billy Joel, Billy Ocean, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and then I spotted my selection: Bob Seger. I knew what song I needed. It's a song that I hold so dear to my heart. It is probably the song that my college friends and I listened to more than any other. I selected it and the guitar started playing. I sat there for a second and waited for the lyrics to start.

I was a little too tall, could've used a few pounds
Tight pants, points, hardly renowned
She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

The drums picked up and I walked to the beat. The guitar in hand. The song is Night Moves by the way.

Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my '60 Chevy
Workin' on mysteries without any clues

Workin' on our night moves
Tryin' to make some front page drive-in news
Workin' on our night moves
In the summertime, in the sweet summertime

I sang along with it, bellowing out the the lyrics like I had a decent voice.

"In the summetime, in the sweet summertime" I sang.

We weren't in love, oh no, far from it
We weren't searching for some pie in the sky summit
We were just young and restless and bored
Living by the sword

And we'd steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, the alley, the trusty woods
I used her she used me, but neither one cared
We were getting our share

Workin' on our night moves
Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues
Workin' on our night moves

And it was summer time, sweet summer time summer time

And oh, the wonder
Felt the lightning
And we waited on the thunder
Waited on the thunder

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off, I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in.

The song continued and I didn't miss a beat. I wasn't walking alone during that song. I was walking with a wealth of memories of some of the greatest people I have ever met. I was walking with them and they were walking right along side of me, singing, playing, dancing and reminding me what is important and truly priceless in this world.

The song ended and I realized that I had a small audience. They didn't follow me or anything, I'm no Pied Piper, but the people I walked by would smile, laugh, and one guy even humored me with a series of clapping. It was really interesting that they were that amused to see a foreigner singing on the sidewalk. Don't think that I was acting like a wine-o either. I wasn't staggering, just loving life. I usually don't do that sort thing in public, but the moment was there and I felt like it was the best thing to do. That reasoning of course sounds like the reasoning of a wine-o, so let's just get back to the walk.

I turned from the mainroad and chuckled a little when I realized I was in the same spot that the vegetable incident occured. What was that vegetable anyways? From here it was a straight shot. I past the dog resaurant (that's right... dog), past the Starbucks, past the CCR bar, and while walking past a local elementary school, I saw a bunch of flashlights that were moving in all directions on the soccer field. I moved closer to the fence to get a better look. There was about eight or so people playing soccer. It was 3:15am on a weekday and these guys were playing soccer. I watched for a couple minutes and wanted to take a picture, but decided that the flash probably wouldn't win me any friends. I walked on and arrived at the park near my place. There were three groups of older men playing some sort of card game. They were laughing and having a grand old time. I watched them as I walked to my building, but didn't want to stop. After all, it was three in the morning...


I'm not sure how describe what this post is about. I want to somehow express myself and how I am feeling here through songs of the past. There is no need for me to analzye each song, for I feel that each song has defined me in a way. Bare with me on this one guys...

Beatles: "Across the Universe"

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting thorough my open mind
Possessing and caressing me

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing through my open ears
inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Jai guru deva

Depeche Mode "World in My Eyes"

Let me take you on a trip
Around the world and back
And you won't have to move
You just sit still

Now let your mind do the walking
And let my body do the talking
Let me show you the world in my eyes

I'll take you to the highest mountain
To the depths of the deepest sea
And we won't need a map
Believe me

Now let my body do the moving
And let my hands do the soothing
Let me show you the world in my eyes

That's all there is
Nothing more than you can feel now
That's all there is

Let me put you on a ship
On a long, long trip
Your lips close to my lips

All the islands in the ocean
All the heaven's in motion
Let me show you the world in my eyes

That's all there is
Nothing more than you can touch now
That's all there is
Let me show you the world in my eyes

Ekoostik Hookah "Loner"

Out on the road for the first time. A virgin running to the sun.
Thinkin' 'bout my folks in a world so far from mine,
Worrying about the eldest son.
And they're asking me, "How will you survive boy?"
And i say that I'll get by.
And they say to me, "Don't forget to write boy."
And I say, "When i have the time you know I'll try."
'cause I'm a loner. I'm a loner. I'm a loner.
Won't you please leave me alone.

As time went by I finally had a chance to visit. I almost
wished i hadn't come
When we sat down to eat the questions started coming.
Interrogation had begun.
They started asking me, "Where'd you get that tan boy?"
And I say, "Out on the beaches of life."
And they say to me, "Why don't you get hitched boy?"
And I say, " The last thing I need is a wife."
And they say to me, "You better go to school boy."

And I say, "When it's my time I'll know."
And they're asking me, "What if you get drafted?"
And I say, "If that's the case, then I won't go!"
'cause I'm a loner. I'm a loner. I'm a loner.
Won't you please leave me alone.

And they say to me, "You don't need three dogs boy."
And I say we all need a friend.
And they're asking me, "Don't they give you hard times?"
And I say, " Yeah, but they'll be there in the end."
And they're asking me, "Who you look like Jesus?"
And i say, "It ain't because I try."
But when they're asking me, " How much do you party?"
I say, "I just like to get high, and high, and high, and higher!"
'cause I'm a loner. I'm a loner.
And I'm a loner. Won't you please leave me alone?

Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World"

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?"
They're really saying "I love you"

I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world Oh yeah

Michael Franti "Bomb The World"

Please tell me the reason
behind the colours that you fly
please tell me the reason
you want us to unify
you say you're sorry
you say there is no other choice
but how can you feel sorry
when you kill people with no voice

You can chase down all your enemies
bring them to their knees
you can bomb the world to pieces
but you can't bomb it into peace

You may even find the solution to hunger and disease
you can bomb the world to pieces
but you can't bomb it into peace

The earthquake of anger
simply brings more of the same military madness
the smell of flesh and burning pain
so I sing out to the masses stand up if you're still sane
to all of us gone crazy I sing this one refrain

I say, power to the people
power to the peaceful


I've been busy taking pictures for you guys and trying to get this webshots thing going. Right now there are only a few pictures up from my walk to and from the roof last night. Some might be a bit blurry, but most of them are not. I think I've discovered a way to put pictures on here, but it doesn't allow for an album. So, I will put the pictures that coincide with the story on here and the others will be found at:

It's very easy to navigate that site, so I don't think you'll have a problem viewing the pictures. As a disclaimer, I have not done much work with it yet so it's pretty simplistic at this point. Have a nice day!

Thanks for reading too guys! I gives me a real reason to keep them coming. The detailed description isn't coming from me, but from you're desire to know how I'm doing. I love you all and will post as soon as I can.

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's great to be teaching again...

Vacation was winding down and the rest of the teachers were preparing themselves mentally and physically for the return to school. Traveling in Asia is pretty cheap, so that is usually what they opt for during their time off. Aaron and Gina traveled down to Southeast Korea to a beach town called Busan (or Pusan). They had fun, but were upset that they couldn't swim because it's still monsoon season. Suzanna, another teacher who I will write about on the "Fellow Teachers" post, went to Bejing. Pat and Dina, a slightly older couple who live together here, went to Guam for the week. I anticipate that I'll be doing a lot of traveling as well.

My last day of vacation was spent reading, writing and sleeping. I wanted to make sure that I was well rested and prepared to make a good impression the next morning. I set my alarm for 8:30 am and drifted to sleep early. I'm finally getting over jet-lag and the time difference, so I probably didn't need to go to bed that early, but I didn't care. I woke up at 5:30 the next morning. I was mad at myself, but knew I wouldn't be able to fall back asleep, so I decided to read the news. I still read the news very often as I did there, but realized that since I am not bombarded with the 24 cable news cycle, I am starting to see things a little different. Don't get me wrong, I will not ever change from the bleeding-heart that I am, but being away from television and radio punditry is nice break. I don't have to hear what Rush, Hannity and O'Reilly think. I don't have to get mad at FOX News or Pat Robertson anymore. In a way, I'm beating them. I have escaped their tiring and repetitive opinions and it's great. Of course, it goes both ways and when the mid-term elections near I'd get just as tired of both sides of the aisle, but for now, it's great to be away from that.

I watched the small time display in corner of the computer screen change from six to seven and then to eight. I thought it was time for breakfast and then a shower. 9:00 am rolled around and my telephone rang. It was Rhett making sure I was up and ready for work. I was, and with that push, I was out the door. School doesn't actually start until 9:45, but it's always good to get there early on your first day. I walked out of the apartment and headed up the small street that I live on. I turned my IPOD on, put in the headphones and I was ready to roll. The volume wasn't loud and I could here what sounded like a man yelling over the song I was listening to. The song was Christopher Cross' "Caught Between" (theme from the movie Arthur). I immediately assumed that the yelling that interrupted me was a result of something I had done. I removed my headphones and turned around to examine what it might have been. I have not done anything to make anyone mad yet, but you never know. And there, about twenty feet behind me, was a truck full of watermelons. There were people all around the truck too. Why would this many people buy watermelon from this guy? There are literally hundreds of markets within one mile of here. I waited for a minute to see if I heard the noise again. There it was again in broken English.

"Watermelon cheap, watermelon good, watermelon from farm!" said the voice.

I had no intention of buying a watermelon, but wanted to see what was so special about this guy's watermelons. I headed towards the truck and away from school.

The voice repeated, "Watermelon cheap, watermelon good, watermelon from farm!"

It sounded just the same as before. It even had the same pause between words. By the time I got there some of the people had gotten over the hysteria of his watermelons and had walked on. The man was outside the truck helping people with their purchase when the sales pitch repeated itself. I quickly learned that he had an audio recording of a man's voice in his truck that he would play over a PA. Then I realized that it was this guy who wakes me up several times in the morning with his obnoxious watermelon truck. This made me mad, so I decided not to support this guys business in my neighborhood and I turned around and walked back towards school. I sure stuck it to him.

Let me give you a very brief history of my school. It called The Wonderland Junior English School. It is the second most expensive English School in Seoul and it's been voted The Best by the Korean Times for Kindergarten education. The school recently moved to a new location, and believe me, it's very nice. I was only hired here because I taught last year. Who knew?

Waiting for the traffic light to tell me to cross the street, I was thinking about my students from last year. (By the way, a voice literally tells you to cross the street.) Where are they right now? How was their summer? Will I ever know how they turn out? I miss them, and I think that is a very hard part of teaching. You are put into a room with twenty kids and told to teach them. You are told to be the first to show them the world. I love this feeling, but it's sad you don't know how much you really meant to them. I guess that come the territory. So I crossed the wide street that has two crosswalks, so that pedestrians don't run into each other when walking in the opposite directions. I look up at the modern looking building that said in bold letters, WONDERLAND JUNIOR ENGLISH SCHOOL. There I was, at my new school, where I would be for one full year. I wasn't standing there but a minute when a chubby little Korean girl tapped me on my leg. I looked down at her with a smile.

"George Teacher?" she asked.

I knew teachers had told the kids that a new teacher was coming soon, but I couldn't believe she picked me out.

"Yes, I am George Teacher. What is your name?"

I spoke slowly and just assumed that they put a "teacher" after their teachers name.

"My... name... is... Grace."

I could tell she was happy with nailing that introduction. She did too. I guessed she was about five years old, but I'm still having a hard time gauging age here. Actually, I am twenty-five years old here. In Asia, they do not start at zero, like we do. They start at one. That gives them one of their extra years. The other one comes from the Chinese lunar new year which if it falls on a certain day and you are this old blah, blah, blah, you get the point. People usually don't celebrate their birthday either. They recognize it, but on New Years Day, everyone becomes one year older. I'll be 26 in October (my birthday). Watch out Kristin, here I come.

So little Grace scurries inside and I, not knowing where to go, follow her. The school has four floors. The bottom floor is where Mr. Won, the director, and other Korean teachers park and have their offices. I slowly walked up the first flight on stairs, acknowledging how modern the school was. The steps alternated between colors: three red steps, three yellow steps, three blue steps, three green steps. It does that all the way up to the roof.

On the walls, there is wallpaper with classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters saying different things in English. It actually looks nice. I'll try to put a few pictures of the inside of the school on webshots. The second floor is the main floor. This is where all the action is.

I walked up to the very nice glass doors that separated the stairwell from the classrooms and teachers offices.

"Here we go." I thought.

I was greeted by Annie, who is the Korean equivalent to an assistant principal. She smiled at me with her big shiny braces that, judging by the shape of her teeth, were just put on recently. She introduced herself and led me to the offices. We walked past the front desk where three women diligently answered phones. We came to a door that read: Teacher's Offices. It swung open and there I saw Dave and Mike covered in kids. They were everywhere. I looked at Annie and noticed she was not too happy about this.

"Out, out, out!" she yelled.

The kids left right away and we pressed on. She showed me to my desk.

"You will be here."

She pointed to my new desk. I was happy with it. It was loaded with supplies, a computer, textbooks and a nice new chair. It was secluded too and, best of all, it was right next to the window. Annie walked off and I went to sit down. It was comfortable and the air conditioning vent was aimed right at me. I looked around my desk and after deciding that I was satisfied, I did a little three-sixty spin in my chair. This was going to be great.

Next to my little space was Rhett. This will be good, after all, he's been here for four years and he can kind of take me under his wing and show me the ropes.

Rhett leaned over towards me.

"You want to help with morning warm-up?"

I didn't have a clue what that was, but didn't want to be a pain on the first day, so I agreed.

I followed him out of the office, past the front desk and into this room that was surrounded by glass. It kind of looked like a racquet ball court, but without the high ceiling and this room was furnished with a huge screen for the kids to watch movies on a rainy day. In the room there were kids everywhere. They were jumping, running, screaming, playing and just being kids. I followed Rhett to the front of the room and, once there, the kids knew it was time to start and they all sat in rows with their own classmates. Rhett pointed to what would be my class. I eyed the kids with stern but playful look. The looked back and laughed. I returned the laughter. Rhett looked at me.

"Are you ready?" he asked with an odd smile on his face.

"What have I agreed to do?"I whispered back with a suspicious eye.

He just smiled and gave me his goofy chuckle. The music started and then, without any warning, all those kids started singing. The sound bounced off the wall making it even louder. I couldn't tell what the song was, but I pretended to know it. The first song ended and then they started "You are my Sunshine", which led to "Head, shoulders knees and toes" and to more English classics. Kay (the Korean teacher who was playing the piano), Rhett and I danced, played, sang and even acted out a couple of impromptu skits.

It was fun and when the twenty minute warm-up was over, Rhett smiled at me and said "You're doing this with me everyday." I said okay. School had officially started.

The bell rang and the kids ran off to find there classrooms. I found where I would be teaching and peaked inside. The classroom was small. It had only a felt board, a huge blackboard with the Wonderland logo on it, and a large table. The kids were all sitting around the table and quietly talking. I opened the door. The kids looked confused, but interested.

"Good morning guys!" I said clearly.

"Good morning George Teacher!"

I smiled and walked to the front of the classroom, their eye's glued on me the whole time.

"That's right. I'm George Teacher and I'm your new teacher."

Of course, I didn't know any names, so I had them tell me their names while I wrote them on the board. I asked each child their name and while I was writing their name, I would intentionally misspell it and look back at the kids. They loved it. The room would erupt in laughter when each name was spelled wrong. I would have them tell me the correct spelling, but the seed was planted. They liked me, knew I was fun, but understood, as all Korean children do, that school is for learning. I'll get into specific teaching methods and styles later as I learn more about each child's abilities and needs.

I taught that class for two forty minute periods and then they go to my Korea partner for an additional forty minutes. I originally thought that the Korean teacher was in the class with me, but she's not. Communication will not be a problem because they are not allowed to speak Korean in school. After that class, I went to my other Kindergarten class. I did the same thing with them and it went over just as well. I didn't know what was going to happen with lunch. In my contract, it says that I must serve lunch to the kids. I wasn't sure if that was going to be in a lunchroom, or like it was last year, right there is the classroom. I was in the middle of the class and all of a sudden, an older worn out Korean woman with wild grey hair and a mean look opened the door. That's right, lunch ladies are the same everywhere. She was carrying a tray with our lunch on it. She looked at me like I was supposed to be doing something, but soon realized I had no idea what she was looking at or what I was supposed to be doing. She sighed and put the tray down in the center of the table. The bell rang and the kids rushed out for their five minute break they get after every forty minute class.

I inspected the food. It was rice, boiled fish, fried tofu, a soup, some onion thing, a fruit and vegetable paste, bananas and water. It looked alright. The bell rang again and the kids rushed down the halls and returned to their rooms to eat. They all sat down very quickly, reached into their colorful Wonderland bags and pulled out their Wonderland trays, spoons and chopsticks. The kids had their own cups and some opted not to use the Wonderland chopsticks and had brought their own. Some had bunnies of their sticks, while other sported Sponge Bob Square Pants sticks. It was cute. I walked around the room serving the lunch to them and, when they had all they needed, I served myself. It was very good. When they finish lunch they are free to go play until the bell rings. This is when most of the teachers go get something else to eat, or go smoke, or do anything they have not had time to do.

I watched the kids run around. They are wild and very affectionate. The bell rang again. This was the bell for the final class. I was 1:00pm and their day was almost over. Class ended at 1:45 and after lining up, I said they could go.

"Thanks George Teacher!" they all said as they left the room.

"Have a nice afternoon kids!"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Who says you can't float the Han River?

The Han River is not a scenic river. It is not a river that people swim in and it is not a river that people float down, until now. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we're the first or that we'll be the last. All I'm saying is that it is not done... ever.

During the course of my first few days here I was trying to feel everyone out. You know, do you like to do this? Do you like to go here? Really, I was looking for a backpacking buddy. After all, I brought my gear in hopes of this, so I figured I should find out who is in and who is out. My list of potential packers was getting low and I was getting a bit frustrated when I overheard Rhett and Joel discussing a recent trip they had taken on a river. Being the nosey person I am, I butted in and demanded to know what they were talking about.

"Eh? Oh yeah, we're talking about floating down the Han River again." responded Rhett with his thick Canadian accent.

I couldn't have heard right.

"You mean a tributary don't you?" I chimed back.

He shook his head and explained to me what they had done on their previous trip. I was shocked. Why would anybody float down a river that is 1km wide and probably as dirty as the Tennessee, if not worse. We would float down the Harpeth River in Franklin in a canoe or tube the gulch in the Smokies, but this was insane. Knowing that there are limited options in a city this size, I decided I would do it.

So, that morning I rose early, as I often do, to discover that a heavy rain had descended upon Seoul. I called Rhett to see if we were still on. He laughed and dismissed the rain as if it were an early summer shower that would soon pass. I know it's monsoon season, or the end of it I should say, but getting on the Han in the rain does not sound safe. So I went against my better judgment and started the trek to his place. Joel had decided to sleep their the night before after a wild evening of Risk. Seriously, we played Risk and drank way too much. He drank the most, like always. So I got there and was greeted by Rhett getting out his rubber inflatable boat with camouflaged coloring and Joel passed out face down on the floor. Typical. At least he was face down.

After a few minutes of coaxing Joel to get a move on, we were off to Walmart to buy more boats. Each boat is equipped for one child. That's right, one child. Still, we were dedicated. After shuffling through an assortment of boats that had Barbie and My Little Mermaid decals all over them, we spotted ours: The Well Life 808. It had it all. Two paddles, a pump, a rope and its own handy carrying case. I was getting excited. We used to do this all the time and now I was getting the chance to do on the largest river in Korea. Now all we needed was beer and snacks.

The Walmart here is different. Remember, this city is built up, not out. So we found the escalator and made our way to the food section. Scanning over the Korean beers I realized that I had yet to find a preference. I defaulted the decision to the pro's, as I so often do here. They went with Cass, a cheap Korean beer that I'm told is the equivilant to Pabst Blue Ribbon. I asked if there was an equilavnt to Steele Reserve here. They laughed and made some hurtful comment abut my favorite American beer. I decided to let it go. After we had our chicken and beer, we headed to the subway for our day of fun.

This was to be my first subway ride in Seoul. I was excited as I always am and didn't know what to expect. We started walking down the long steps from the main road to the large underground train. It's a huge system. As we walked down, there was a common sight in large cities: a homeless man with a hat siiting in front of his slouched body. This has always been a weakness of mine and I reached into my pocket to fetch some won. Rhett saw me doing this.

"No, don't give him any money." he ordered.

I thought this was cold and somewhat odd too. A Canadian telling an American not to help the poor seemed a little backwards.

"Why?" I asked.

"Do you see his hands?"

I didn't quite understand what he was talking about, so I moved to the opposite side of the stairs to get a better look.

"Now do you see his hands?" he repeated.

The poor gentlemen did not have any hands. This made me feel awful. Why would I not want to help someone who has lost their hands? I was still perplexed why Rhett told me not to give him anything, but with all the people walking up and down the stairs I had walked past the man. It was too late to help him.

I asked Rhett what he thought happend. He told me that usually, in Korea and Japan, when people have no hands or fingers, it is a result of a debt that could not be paid back to the mob. Gruesome huh? He told me not to pay the guy because that money would go to the mob and not to better that man. I didn't care though. The poor guy has no hands. I made a promise to myself that if I saw him again, I'd drop some won into his hat.

I realized that I have yet to tell you about the currency. It's the won and it's about 1 USD to 1000 KRW. Easy as that.

So we arrived at the subway terminal, paid our 1000 won for the ticket and waited for the train to come. I looked around the station which is called Hanti-yeok or Hanti Station. It was so clean. Not any graffiti, trash, bad smells or homeless people. I noticed that the Koreans were becoming increasingly interested in what we were up to. They looked at us and saw four foreigners with shorts, sandals, beer, sunglasses and inlfatable boats. No one asked as it is rude to invade others' privacy here, but I know they wanted to. Our train came and on we went. The inside of the train was normal: Seats, windows and those things to hold on to. We had been moving for about three minutes when the train left the underground world and darted onto a large bridge which spanned the whole Han River. We all looked at the conditions of the water and the sky. It was starting to get sunny. The water was still a thick brown brackish color with a fast current, but the promise of a pretty day in Seoul seemed to override the water conditions. We reached our stop and exited the train.

This was my second time to be across the Han, the first being the Itaewon evening. We started looking for access to the river and were having trouble. We decided it would be best if we asked a local merchant. A 7-11 was spotted (yes, a real 7-11) and we headed that way. As we approached I heard loud music. When we got closer to the source I realized it was Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock". I laughed to myself. We reached the other side of the street and literally tripped over the large stereo that had been set up. In front of the stereo was another hat and another gentleman perched behind it. I looked at his hands and fingers. They were there. Then I looked at his face, he had down syndrome. A guilty feeling washed all over me again, and without hesitation I dropped 200 won in his hat. I joked to myself that the mob couldn't have done that, but realized quickly that that was pretty tasteless. Oh well.

After little luck with the 7-11 guy we decided to just get into a taxi and tell them to stop when we saw a good place to get out. We piled in the car and the driver, who was an older man with gray hair dismissively laughed and lit a Marlboro Red. I thought this to be odd, most Koreans smoke Korean cigarette's. Still, I've only been here a little while. We were dropped off at a huge park that was equipped with pools, soccer fields, baseball fields and basketball goals. It was right on the banks of the Han. In fact, while I was on the bus from the airport I noticed that all of these parks were flooded, some up to the backboard of the basketball goals. We were about three hundred yards from the river still and had to walk the rest of it.

There were people picnicking, practicing dances for school or some other performance, skateboarding on the small skate park and doing anything else people would do at a park. When I say park though forget American parks with grass and trees and instead imagine a mall parking lot with all the above amenities. We made it down to the water, but decided that the attention we were getting at the park was not a good thing, so we walked on. We walked for twenty minutes until Joel had to stop and use the restroom. The restroom was next to a bridge and under that bridge, like most large bridges here, were hundreds of older men drinking, gambling and socializing. Their bikes were parked in long rows next to them. At first I assumed these men were of low social status. In the States most people who hang out under the bridge didn't exactly just finish playing the back nine at the club. These guys might have. Since you can do anything you want in Korea, we figured it was time for a beer. We sat down, still waiting for Joel, and cracked a nice cool Cass beer. Joel finished only to be greeted by the three of us yelling at him and wondering what had taken so long. We chug the beers and I ran to use the restroom too. Luckily I did not have to relieve myself in the same way that Joel did. Upon entering the restroom I saw the toilet... or should I say lavish hole. I believe this is the Turkish bathroom that Uncle John referred to in an earlier comment. I held my breath and was in and out in record time.

After a quick survey, we decided the other side of the Han would be better to enter the current. We climbed up the stairs and walked the 1km to the other side. Of course, we couldn't get down to the river from there, so we cracked another beer in frustration and walked back to our original side. The men under the bridge snickered a bit, but who were they? They were drinking under the bridge, we were drinking on the bridge. Finally we reached our landing where we were to inflate the boats and start our voyage.

As we were inflating our boats with these awful pumps, about twenty kids approached us and started talking to us in broken English and very fast Korean. They thought that if they asked us enough in Korean that we would finally understand.

"Hi, hello, annyeong, hi, bye, hello." they said in what seemed to be in unison.

Still, we just made playful faces at them as we tried to get these boats up and running. Soon adults came to see what we were up to. They did not bother to speak to us, instead they just laughed and smiled. They might have been making fun on the four crazy foreigners, but laughter never makes me feel bad. The boats were ready and we were off.

Dave, Joel and I had no problem getting started. We were like De Soto on the Mississippi, navigating that river with authority and a keen eye. Rhett, on the other hand, is a bigger guy and soon realized that he was going to have a wet day. After a few frustrating attempts to get his boat moving, he too was off. Our day had started after three hours of preparation.

The river moved swiftly and we didn't really need our paddles for propulsion, but rather for steering. After reaching the center of the river, we could start relaxing. People still remained at the landing where we took off and a lot of the kids were riding their bikes along with us shouting and waving the whole time. Kids love foreigners here. Soon a large group of South Korean military men came into view. They were running and shouting as so many military companies do when exercising and just as quickly as they came, they were gone. Only faint shouts could be heard as they ran down the road. We'd hear them a lot that day, but unlike the other Koreans on the shore, they did not look at us. They knew better. I really got to take in the city on that boat. The high rise apartments reaching way up into the sky, the hundreds of beautiful churhes showing their crosses to the heavens, it was all so pretty. The city's architecture changed very little during the course of our day, but the landscape did a lot. There are hills, mountains and valley all over the place. Lush rolling hills ran into rigid and rocky mountains which would give away to the hills only to fall into the calm valleys. I love the scenery here.

We laughed, joked, talked and sang all the way down the river. We would switch between classic rock and great eighties music. "We Built this City on Rock and Roll" by Jefferson Starship, "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor, "Born on the Bayou" by CCR, "Winds of Change" by The Scorpions and "Where the Streets Have No Names" by U2 were all in the repetoire. I think those bands would have appreciated the effort. I know we did.

The sun started to set and we decided to call it a day. We saw an island ahead that had access to the road and we headed that way. A local fisherman with a tired, sun-dried face and brown teeth told us with a smile where the subway was and that concluded our trip. I thought it would be appropriate if I gave a cheers to end our day on the Han River...

"To new friends in Korea... Cheers!"