Friday, August 28, 2009

Some of my Favourite Konglish Fails:

If you're a foreigner living in Korea, chances are you have enjoyed the Asian phenomena known as "Effed Up English". Am I right? I know I have...

As my time in Korea gets shorter and shorter, this blog has turned from a "gotta inform newcomers" kind of thing, to a "gotta make sure I don't forget this" kind of thing. Sorry, I'm being selfish. I'll make it up to you all later... maybe. If I feel like it.

One of my favourite things about Korea is the hilarious tee shirts you randomly find with botched English written all over it. Some are grammatically incorrect, but cute all the same, while some are just plain offensive. The best part of this whole genre is, usually, that the wearer has *no idea* what their tee shirts say. English is just plain sexy- does it even matter?

I have a few shirts myself, that I just couldn't resist buying. One has a picture of an angel and a cat holding hands- very cutesy- on top, and on the bottom it has explicit gangsta rap lyrics. Very explicit. Another has a picture of doughnuts on the front with the words "Who am very delicious" written on it. On the back it says "dognut poisoning".

This phenomena is not just limited to tee shirts, though- oh no. If you've read some of my earliest posts (back when I was sent into giggling fits by any kind of broken English) you'll see restaurant signs, bar signs, even boxes full of "cacktail napkins". It never stops being funny.

My favourite these days, though, is something I've noticed my entire time in Korea, but never blogged about it or even said anything until recently. It's so perfect, so fitting, so obviously true, I can't believe the Korean people have gone through with it. Of course, I'm talking about the names of their gas stations.

There are one or two with regular names- like SK or GS or whatever- but I'm not interested in those. The gas stations I'm talking about are called "EnClean" (unclean) and S-Oil (soil). Who thought of these names? Did someone from Greenpeace infiltrate the Korean gas companies and name them as some lame act of revenge? Like, "the joke's on you guys, your gas stations are dirty", etc. etc.?

I'm just not sure how they could have knowingly given themselves such names. It's hilarious. I chuckle every time I pass a gas station. It's actually one of the first things I noticed when I was driving to Suwon from the airport on my first day in Korea. "Why would they make themselves sound like dirt?", I remember thinking...

Maybe they just aren't in denial about what they're doing to the environment...

That's my weekly rant. Thanks for reading! Here's one of the worst tee shirts found yet. My friend Michelle found this guy at a palace in Seoul and he had no idea what it meant. Could a shirt possibly be more inherently racist? I think not.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The girls at Yeongbok are always up to something, and my coworkers are always kept busy judging pieces of art or their school work (competitiveness is a huge asset in this country). This week the girls put homemade dolls on display! They will go to disadvantaged girls in poverty stricken countries, via UNICEF. Pretty nice of them, huh? Well, that's just how my students are...

I'm beginning to notice a trend here: students work and work, and I always end up reaping the benefits. They clean my coffee cup, empty my garbage basket, erase and wash my blackboards, set up the AV stuff for my computer... and make cute dolls for me to play with on my break. Hmmm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Retirement Parties in Korea; I didn't get the "formal" memo.

Yesterday was the final day of work for the Principal of Yeongbok Girl's High School. A man who I have said "hello" to once, "nice to meet you" once and, now, I can add "congratulations" to that very short list of personal exchanges.

I was told there would be a dinner, but didn't think much of it. I thought it would be like every other staff party: held at a restaurant with lots of soju, speeches and noraebang, but I wasn't told exactly how important retirements in Korea are (depending on how important you are, of course).

First of all, it was not just the retirement party for our Principal, but also for our head librarian. The two men had worked together at Yeongbok for thirty years, but they had also gone to university together, so are quite close after all this time. The party was a joint party, held at a fancy wedding hall, and their wives were dressed to the nines in their hanbok. I was wearing what I wore to school, my hair was a mess, I wasn't wearing any make up... I basically looked a disaster. This didn't stop the Principal from wanting to be seen with me, though, and I stood, smile frozen on my lips, as the photographers snapped photo after photo.

I stayed for several speeches and then left early as I had prior engagements- again, I didn't think it was such a big deal...

In any case, thirty years of committed work in one school is something worth celebrating, right?

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Pretty Nice Little Saturday

Let me start by saying how much I enjoy Korean food. When I first arrived in Korea over two years ago, it took me longer than the average person to get used to Korean food. Maybe this is because I'm a country girl who comes from a place where the most exotic food you can get is Canadian Chinese buffet. Maybe because I had yet to wrap my mind around the concept of eating seaweed as a snack, or marinated roots (aside from the obvious root of choice in Canada, the potato). Or maybe, it's because I had never travelled abroad before coming to Korea. In any case, I think it took about six months for me to really begin to enjoy and look forward to eating Korean food- even galbi (a foreigner's lifeblood in Korea). You know what I really think it was? Sesame oil. We never use sesame oil in our food back home, so it took me awhile to get used to the strong aroma and flavour.

Anyway, what's past is past. I love Korean food. But that doesn't mean I don't miss food from home immensely. I missed lobster season for nearly the third time this year, which is a special time of year for any Cape Bretoner. My Mom's pizza has been calling my name for months now (I just can't get my dough to taste like hers, even though I use the same recipe), and during the summer I can't help but miss the nightly beer and BBQ on the deck with my Dad. Maybe I just miss my family...

I like to go to Itaewon to eat, sometimes, is the point I'm trying to get at. Sorry for going so off topic. Usually it's a Mexican food fix that needs delivering, but sometimes I like to go for some Italian or the fare at Wolfhound's Irish Pub. I knew that there was a Greek restaurant somewhere, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out exactly where it was. We tried to find it last year for my birthday dinner but never thought to venture out behind the Hamilton Hotel (where, duh, all the great restaurants are located) and it wasn't until I ventured out to Scrooge's Pub with the rugby people that I finally found it. Santorini's!

Alternately, I could have just gone to Seoul Eats and read their review. It would have told me exactly where to go. Such a great website; why am I always forgetting to check it out for restaurant reviews?

This tiny place can easily be missed, except for the massive sign and it's excellent reputation among foreigners and Koreans alike for fantastic and authentic Greek fare (did I mention Greek is my second favourite ethnic food? Right after Indian...). The prices are a bit high, with the average entree coming in at around 19,000 won, but the house wine is nice and they give you extremely large portions. You definitely get what you pay for. The souvlaki is pretty much heaven on a plate. And the tzatziki! Ohhhh, the tzatziki.

That was my Saturday, and it was bliss. After dinner we went to the Bungalow where we drank the equivalent of six drinks each... for free! They were having a bit of an anniversary, I think. After enjoying the cocktails we went home, full and happy. I could probably eat at Santorini's seven days a week and never tire of the place. The next time I go, I'm splurging for dessert, and I suggest you do the same...

Friday, August 21, 2009

If you don't like feminist rants, avoid this post.

There's something that's been burning away in my mind for ages now, and I think if I don't write about it I'll soon explode. There's been a lot of talk lately in the Korean expat blogosphere about the popular Korean TV show "Chatting with the Beauties". In this show, foreign women from all over the world converse in Korean with Korean men. They tend to talk about cultural differences between foreigners and Koreans and what it's like being a foreigner in Korea.

One episode in particular, where the girls were talking about their opinions of the way foreign men in Korea behave, has been blogged about by some male expats in Korea, who have complained about the unfairness of their accusations and the stereotypical views people have of foreign men living in Korea.

Some of the girls made comments referring to how men who aren't especially popular back home come to Korea and, suddenly being surrounded by beautiful Korean women, act like they're cock of the walk. Another few women discussed how tall foreign men, in Korea, were equivalent to gods in the eyes of Korean women.

Perhaps this is due to my feminist inclinations, and perhaps I'm just sad that the foreign expat blogoshpere in Korea in generally male dominated, but, while I don't necessarily feel that the women on this show need backing up, I do have a few things to say on the matter.

1. People have this view of foriegn men for a reason. It doesn't matter if you're the nicest guy in the world, or if you treat your Korean girlfriend like you would any girlfriend in your home country. The fact of the matter is, your predecessors (and a large portion of your peers) are the reason this stereotype exists, no matter how unfair you feel it is. I understand that the media has had a large hand in creating this stereotype. All I can say to this is, welcome to a woman's world. And buck up.

2. I know (not speculating- I know these people and hear them talk) so many guys who date Korean women like it's a sport. Guys think that Western women may simply be "jealous" that men from their own countries go for Korean women, but in general we simply feel bad for them. I have a great boyfriend. He's supportive and smart. I'm not jealous of a Korean woman who, usually unkowingly (either because of cultural differences or because they haven't- and won't- be dating for long), is dating a complete asshole. Again, this DOES NOT AT ALL MEAN that I think all Western men behave this way. I know plenty amazing guys who I've become close with- some of them have great Korean girlfriends or wives, some are single and some are dating other foreigners.

3. I think some men believe that they treat women equally, but just don't realize that they are still stereotyping women and generalizing them in the same way that they are complaining about being generalized themselves. It's very easy to say "I treat my girlfriend with respect" and "I treat my girlfriend much better than a Korean guy would", but even that doesn't change the fact that you're STILL grouping all Korean women (and all Western women, if you're listening to the likes of "Chatting with the Beauties") together.

4. In complete truth, I've experienced every stereotype that these women talked about on TV. They were asked for their opinion, and they gave it. Maybe my own answers wouldn't have been very different. Some of the blog posts I've read have been very hypocritical in the respect that they said very similar things about Western women when critiquing the episode. In truth, it all sounded chauvnistic to me.

5. Get over it, guys. It's no walk in the park being a foriegn woman in Korea, either. When you start getting asked if you're a Russian prostitute every time you get in a cab, or get dragged to a love motel by a Korean man you were chatting with at a club (because, to many Korean men, no really means yes), or you have dealt with rape or being assaulted (as several of my female friends were last year) then maybe I'll take your complaints seriously.

I know this is a touchy subject, but you brought it up first. Let's keep the criticisms tasteful, ok? My Mom reads this blog.

Love, Janine

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's Raining

And thundering... and today is my first day back at regular work hours (read: getting up at 6:30 AM instead of 9 AM). I don't like today. I don't like my students today or anybody, for that matter. I'm in a very bad mood (read: tired).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hazy Summer Days...

I'm so happy it's Friday!

Sometimes I forget how close Suwon is to the ocean. On certain Spring, Summer and Autumn days, when I'm walking down the street or up the hill to get to school, I get the faintest whiff of the ocean on the breeze. I love it.

The city feels inland, and it is, but it isn't more than a 30 minute drive to the ocean and there are few mountains between us and the coast. It's easy to forget things when you live in a bubble, I guess.

It's also that time of year: monsoon season is over, giving way to hot and extremely humid weather. At least it's sunny almost every day! The big kicker is that it's also the time of year that those godforsaken cicadas come out of the ground and start partying in the trees.

I first arrived in Korea two years ago, at the end of July. When I heard these bugs for the first time I was frightened, thinking something was wrong with the power lines. The bugs make a very electrical sound- and it's so loud, so unnatural!

Now I'm used to them and even welcome their singing. When I climb the hill to my school every morning it feels like I'm walking through the jungle (heat and noise wise). It helps that the founder of Yeongbok was a great nature lover and made sure the school was completely surrounded by gardens and trees- we even have squash and lettuce growing in the flower gardens!

Hope you all have a lovely weekend- I'm headed to the beach! No Great Whites, please.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Holidays in Sunny Jeju-do!

Sometimes monsoon season gets the best of you. You're tired and grumpy because, let's face it, no one wants to get out of bed when it's grey and dreary outside. Your tan that you've been able to maintain since your trip to Southeast Asia is now fading to a dull beige. You want to enjoy the outdoors but you simply can't. and you're getting cabin fever from being inside all day.

Enter summer vacation and the beautiful island of Jeju-do!

Note* "Do" in Korean, means both island and province. Jeju-do is an island (Jeju-do) annnd a province (Jejudo). Maybe it's the other way around... help me out here, people.

Anyways, it doesn't matter. The point is, I was feeling dreadful for weeks and needed a beach holiday *pronto*. So did some of my friends, although Patrick thought he would have to go to Japan and didn't accompany me.

I hate airplanes... like, a lot. It's a phobia of mine. So I didn't even consider taking the much easier and not-too-expensive option of simply flying to Jeju, which you should all probably do. I took the bus at some ungodly hour to the port city of Mokpo, and then took the ferry to Jeju, which took an entire day of travelling- made much worse by a monsoon which hit the path of the ship on the way and resulted in everyone around me (minus myself) puking ramyeon into little paper bags. Yuck!

On a sunny day, I assure you, the boat is a lot of fun!

The next day I met two of my friends at the airport and we spend our first day enjoying the scenery (the monsoon had been replaced with beautiful, glorious sunshine). We went to Udo (Cow) Island off the East coast of Jeju and rented some bikes. We did a little sight seeing and hung out on the beach, but we didn't go swimming because the water on that side of the island was freeeeeeeezing.

We found a nice motel near Hamdeok Beach and we spent the next few days using this area as our home base. There was a great little restaurant run by a Korean family, and the mother used to live in the States. She spoke excellent English and she made us "American" breakfasts every morning- bless her. She also made great cheeseburgers.

We used a taxi to get around, since it wasn't very expensive between the three and then four, and five of us (our friend, Elaine, arrived the next morning and our friend, Jeff, arrived later that evening) to share. Generally speaking, if you're going to Jeju alone, you're best bet is to a) rent a scooter (fun!) or, b) use to bus system, which isn't hard to figure out. There's basically one route around the whole island.

Hamdeok beach was amazing- full of people, sure, but it was surrounded by beautiful, green hillsides and the water was nice and shallow a long way out. Very wavey, as well, so it was fun to play in the water.

We got some sunburns, ate some "doongdedji", otherwise known as the famous Jeju specialty, poop pig (they weren't cooked with poop, of course, but historically the pigs in Jeju would live under the outhouses and... well... eat shit). Putting the poop thing aside, the pork was very high quality and some of the most delicious samgyupsal (and other mysterious pig pieces) I have ever eaten. We also spent a lot of time sitting outside convenience stores, drinking beer and having a laugh.

Vacations are necessary, aren't they? And I think teachers, above all other professions, need a nice, long holiday to de-stress. Not that I'm a real teacher, I'm thinking more about my Mom. Imagine doing this for 30 years... I don't think so!

Beautiful Hamdeok!

Palm trees galore...

The very crowded beach...

Enjoying some conversation, beer and ramyeon with Jeff... and fireworks...

Night out with the girls in Jeju-si (Jeju City).

Sara and Sophie, agonizingly waiting for their cheeseburgers to arrive. We were so hungry.

Checking out our pics from Udo.

Being silly, waiting for my dinner.

Our gorgeous boat ride back from Udo.

Sophie and Sara on the ferry- we were watching some giant jellyfish in the water. They were fricken huge!

I love my pink bike!

Udo Island Beach

Biking around Udo...

Our awesome, retro bikes.

Udo Beach, from the ferry.

Sara and Songsan Ilchulbong, the famous extinct volcano crater.

Sophie et Moi

Songsan Ferry Terminal

Touch Rugby in Seoul

Well, the Suwon Stormers are happily making their way through their second season of Touch Rugby in Korea. Two weekends ago, they played their second tournament of the season and came away with the Plate once again!

Note* If you're dumb about rugby, like me, then you should know that the Plate is for the team that wins the losers round... or something. In any case, they won some cash that bought many beers later that night at Scrooge's in Itaewon.

Next weekend the boys (and Sara) should be hosting their own tournament in Suwon! Hopefully they get a good turnout, but I know that even if they don't everyone will have a good time.

Over the past year I've looked on as bonds were formed between the different teams from different regions (mostly expat, but some Korean!). Touch rugby has been a great way to bring the international community together, and while the Stormers and their posse are all, mostly, young and largely unattached, it's really great to see the other team's out with their families- even watching the little expat kids play tough rugby with each other. Hell- even the Mom's are learning how to play (one gave me a black eye last year during my one and only attempt at playing )

In a way, I look forward to these tournies as much as the team, just because I know some good, old fashioned rowdy fun is going to occur at any time. And the BBQ is always welcome- and the kebabs!

Hope to see you all during the rest of this season!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Itaewon: Getting Classier by the Day

A few Saturdays ago (after the rugby team won another plate... more on that later...) we went to Itaewon for food and foreign comforts. Because even though I've always said that Itaewon is dingy and creepy and full of the worst kind of foriegners, you can't beat this area for international (authentic) food and drinks. The jjimjilbang is ok, too.

So the rugby team were fairly muddy and needed a wash before we watched the match between New Zealand and South Africa at Scrooge's (again, more on that later...), so we went to the jjimjilbang where the guys (and Sara) soaked their weary bones and Sophie and I napped in the common room. Then we went to Pancho's, an Itaewon staple, for some Mexican food (personally, I prefer Taco Amigo for authentic and delicious Mexican food in Itaewon). After Pancho's, realizing we still had hours before the game started, we went in search of a place with good ambiance and a large selection of cocktails.

If you head to the backstreet behind the Hamilton Hotel, a new world will be opened up before your eyes. No longer seedy, this Itaewon backstreet boasts world class international wine and cuisine and it's all reasonably priced... for world class cuisine, that is.

We settled in at an interesting and cozy spot known as the Bungalow. They are known here for having a sandy floor, making your stay much like an evening on the beach. They are also well known for their cocktails, so it was the perfect place for us.

I will say this: they make a great cosmopolitan. You should go.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Janine Teacher's New Class

I say all the time how cool my students are, and how much work they have to do every day, right?

Well, right now it's "summer vacation".

During "summer vacation", which lasts from July 22nd to August 20th, the students continue to attend classes. Usually, they have to stay at the school until around 10PM, but during "summer vacation" they get to leave around 9 PM- amazing!

During "summer vacation" the girls take classes with their regular teachers for extra help or to make up for a bad grade. They also take part in special classes, like the one I'm teaching right now about essay writing.

While I feel bad for the girls and their lack of a real summer vacation, I'm really enjoying this class. They picked 30 of the smartest girls to take it, they had to write an application form in order to be admitted and then they split them up into two 15 student classes. I teach them about different kinds of essays and how to appropriately express themselves in English (without using the ubiquitous electronic pocket dictionary).

Yesterday, I split the girls up into five groups of three. I gave them a random newspaper headline and told them to write me a story, as a group, about the headline and then present it to the class. Some of their stories were quite funny, and I don't think they would mind if I shared them with you!

Headline: Mother Goose, a Fixture at London's Public Gardens, Dies of Old Age:


Once upon a time, there one goose couple in the London. This couple was famous for sincere loving each other. One day, this lovely couple bore a female goose. She was named after "Mother Goose" because she did a great job. What do you think the great job was?

When she (Mother Goose) was two years old, she fell in love with a handsome goose which was known for F4 (Janine's note* F4 is a famous group of handsome Korean men on TV- the girl's are all crazy about them). They were married and, after a year, Mother Goose couple stood on their own feet.

They laid seven eggs on the tree, which was symbol at London. One day, the cute goslings were hatched, Mother Goose couple went out to find food for their babies. Suddenly, a fire broke out near their nest and their seven eggs were in risk. The people, hearing this situation, came out the nest. They tried to put down the fire, but they couldn't. At the moment, Mother Goose couple came out and spout water in their mouths.

The fire put out. The people clapped and applauded them.

(Janine's note* at this point in the class I told them they had one minute to finish- these girls were just getting started! They could have written this story into a novel.)

By the way, the wonderful goose died yesterday. We won't forget her love for babies.

The End

This one was my favourite, but there were four other strong efforts- including a story about a girl named Janine who went to Harvard but, even though Harvard guaranteed their grads jobs once they graduated, she couldn't get a job so she sued Harvard for $70,000.00.

Another was about a famous fish who was a popular TV personality in Britain. He died.

Meet Crumbly Biscuits!

You might think I'm pretty much a cat person, but this is simply not true.

I love dogs. Big, cuddly, playful dogs. I don't really like small dogs. I like cats, which are small animals. Why would I need a small dog when I can have a cat that's a lot more quiet, clean and soft?

Crumbles has changed my life a little. He's a poodle, but he's not just any poodle. He belongs to my friends Elaine and Patrick. He has been with them since he was a puppy, and you can tell he's been raised by Westerners!

Almost every Korean dog lover will tell you that Maltese or Poodles are the best breeds for a pet. If you live in an apartment, as most Koreans do, you simply don't have room for a big Golden Retriever (although I've met one in Yeongtong- his owners must have a very big place). And Koreans generally hate cats- they are considered evil theives in Korean culture and folklore, so it's uncommon to find a cat in a Korean home.

When you go to the puppy shop (or the Animal Shelter in Cheonan- where everyone should go!) you don't see too many big dogs, either. It's just a Korean thing. So of course. when they went dog shopping, Crumbles was the obvious choice. I had to admit, the first time I saw him, he is very cute... much cuter than other poodles, which chocolate brown fur and a devil-may-care attitude.

Over the past few months, Crumbles has proven himself as an excellent dog. An awesome dog. Ok, I friggin love Crumbles. Everyone loves Crumbles. When we go to the park, he terroroizes the other dogs (generally forced into submission by their owners and therefore timid) and runs around in what his parents call his "happy circles". He's pretty great, and I thought I'd share him with the world. Go Crumbles!

My friend Sophie loves him too. We like to steal him from his parents every now and then.

Here he is with Elaine (mom) and Patrick (dad) on Canada Day.

Cute, cuddly and playful- what more can a dog lover want?