Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy 200th Post!

This isn't much of a post, since blogger won't let me upload any pictures lately, but I thought I'd brag a little bit.

Because today is Friday. It's a beautiful, sunny day, and my vacation starts tomorrow.

And my boss is letting me leave at 3:30.

Oh... and I didn't have to come into work until 10 AM.

Just another few reasons why working at a public school rocks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brain Malfunctioning

Blogger is being strange right now... I'll post later.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going to Cambodia anytime soon? Check this place out.

You won't regret it!

When Pat and I were in Southeast Asia, we had some great opportunities to meet new people and try new things. However, the social highlight of our trip had to be the orphanage we volunteered with while in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This orphanage is an interesting place. It's run by a man named Mr. Samith and his wife. The children here are not up for adoption- many still have at least one parent living- but their families cannot afford to take care of them, so they are sent to Mr. Samith.

He and Mrs. Samith treat the children like their own kids. The kids fight and squabble and cry, and are just like any other bunch of brothers and sisters. Their ages range from 2 to 18, and their main goals are education oriented.

Yes, for all it's faults, Cambodia is really putting a lot of emphasis on educating their children and these days, while it is quite common to see children out selling trinkets or begging for money, it is very much discouraged by the government and by the locals to buy from these children. Why? Easy. Because if the kids are making money, they won't go to school. And they need to go to school.

The kid's at Mr. Samith's orphanage want to learn. They're so eager. They're smart, and are fast learners. The orphanage is barely two years old, but in those two years, somehow, these kids have learned *a lot* of English. A lot.

It's not just the kids at the orphanage who benefit, though. The school that was specially built for the orphanage offers free English lessons to all of the children in the village (located just outside of Phnom Penh).

There are usually several volunteers teaching at the orphanage. Pat and I were pressed for time, but we managed a class with the kids and they were great! We had an excellent time! If you want to volunteer while you're travelling, you have some options:

You can stay at your guesthouse in Phnom Penh and hire a tuktuk every day (or rent a motorbike, if you know the way), or you can stay at the orphanage for as long as you like- for about 5 bucks a night you get accomodation plus all of your meals. Plus you get to play with the kids. Plus, when we were there, they had, like, five amazingly cute puppies to play with.

I think Mr. Samith is a pretty cool guy.

If you're interested in volunteering while you're travelling, or if you want to donate (the money goes directly to Mr. Samith and then goes toward the univeristy education for his oldest kids, as well as food and clothing costs) you can go to this website:

You should not donate clothes, non-food supplies or toys because it makes the kids fight with each other (you have a nicer shirt than me, wah wah wah, etc.). So many of the orphanages in Cambodia are gimmicks, but this one is legit, so you should support it if you have the time. If you are in Cambodia, a bag of rice is always appreciated as a gift, but is not necessary if you plan to teach. They want your knowledge more than anything.

Lee may be the reason I became so smitten by this place. He is just the best kid ever. Always smiling, always laughing- and he really loves his teachers. He isn't the best student in the class, but he is definitely the happiest and the sweetest! I just adore him. And I plan to sponser his university education someday.

Pat and our students for the day! The girls are so, so smart. They pick up on things very, very quickly.

Me, Mr. Samith and the youngest of the kids. What a great, generous guy he is!

A Sunny Day During Monsoon Season

And a field trip to boot!

Well... more like a camp for "1st Graders" (10th graders if you're a canuck). A few days ago the head of the language department at school asked me to prepare an hour long presentation for the girls about Canada. The only problem is, I have been teaching these girls for over a week now and they already know everything about Canada (what? they're fast learners). So what do I write about?

Well, ever since I started teaching here I have never been more aware of the differences between Canada and Korea. In a hagwon, you are slowly transitioned into Korean culture and mannerisms- it's almost like you don't even notice you're becoming acclimatized. In my new school, many of the students have never met a foreinger before. They're curious about what is normal in Canada- normal fashion, normal passtimes, normal behaviour... and the more I think about it, the more polar opposite the two countries appear! So strange how these things creep up on you.

Anyway, I made up a *very long* slide show describing the differences between Canada and Korea. Like Canada, Korea is automatically compared to the bigger countries surrounding it (Japan, China) by Westerners. Likewise, Canada is often considered the same as the US by Asians. It's been a great learning experience these past few weeks, let me tell you.

Here are a few of the materials I'm using in my presentation:

Korea's capital city- vibrant, crazy, awesome Seoul.

Laid back, chilled out, and, compared to Seoul, very tiny: Ottawa

Considered by many (but not by me) to be a national hero: Wayne Gretsky

Every girl in Korea looks up to figure skating champion Kim Yu Na. She's in a lot of commercials here. Like, all of them.

Korea's not-so-loveable president: Lee Myung Bak

Canada's not-so-loveable Prime Minister: Stevo Harper

Canada's "funny guy": Jim Carrey

Korea's "funny guy": No Hong Cheol (he's on every TV show known to man)

Canada's favourite (?) food: Poutine! Yum!

Korea's national food: Kimchi, obviously! Yum. Yummmmmmmm.

The Rockies in Canada...

And Bekdusan in Korea (note: although every Korean person considers Bekdusan the most beautiful and famous mountain in Korea, it is actually located in North Korea- therefore, the South Koreans cannot climb it. Although they would very much like to. Oh! Also, this is the famed mountain that the trickster himself, Kim Jong Il, told the people of North Korea he was born on. And there was an iceberg in the lake. And the night he was born, a bolt of lightning struck the iceberg and broke it in two. And that's why he's god. And the poor people of North Korea know better, but they have to agree with him. Gah!)

Ugh- we have Avril...

And Korea has Rain (비). Hey Korea... wanna switch? I love Rain.

Finally! Korea's badass national animal!

...And then there's Canada's beaver. *Cough, cough*

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

High School is Tough in Korea

It's funny how, after two years, I still find myself in new situations regarding Korean culture. I mean, when you get used to the place, you find yourself adapting to the culture here and you don't really notice that it's a different culture at all(except when baring your soul to another foriegner).

That's why I was surprised when, thinking I finally had it all figured out, I took a job at a Korean public high school. Let me tell you, friends, this is nothing like working at a hagwon. Hagwons are so westernized compared to public schools!

At a public school, you are expected to behave much more formally- especially around your boss and your senior teachers. You cannot refuse certain things, such as a shot of soju after having one shot too many or, in my case, agreeing to model the new school uniforms (how embarassing).

The students, too, have a harder time at school than Western students. Well, I knew that. What I didn't know was the extent to which these teenagers are worked. It's overwhelming! They stay at school until 10 PM- after the vast majority of teachers have gone home- to do something they call "self study". They have large amounts of homework every night and their exams are impossibly difficult (yesterday the senior classes had a provincial English exam, and the readings were so vague even I wasn't sure about some answers). The workload is equal or larger than an average university student's in Canada.

On top of all the work they do, the girl's here have to wear uniforms (they don't like their uniforms- they are always asking me what I think of them), which, really, I don't think is such a terrible thing. What I find strange is that, even though they are already wearing uniforms, they also have to have similar haircuts. This means that with the uniforms and haircuts it has been extremely easy for me to mix up names and faces... again; embarassing.

There are certain teachers at the school whose "extra cirricular" activity is to make sure the girl's are following appearance protocol at all times. They need to verbally abuse the girl's if their hair is an inch longer than it should be. The teacher's don't necessary like doing this, but rules are rules- and high school in Korea is nothing if not a rule oriented environment. If the rules were forsaken, education would be thrown out the window!

I shy away from the questions the girls have about high school students in Canada. It's too painful for them to hear about the freedom and "rights" that students enjoy (a little too liberally, if you ask me) in Canada. Instead, I tell them about the drugs many students ruin their lives with and the many students who have no dreams or ambitions in Canadian public schools. That makes the girls feel much better, because despite all the rules, regulations and the heavy workload they must endure during high school, every one of these girls has a dream. Every one of them is ambitious, and every girl in my school will go to university.

I was recently going over some application forms for a special writing class I will teach during summer vacation (indeed, the students don't even get vacation- they still come to school every day). Many girls applied for this class, and as a written submission they all wrote about their hopes and dreams for their future. I'll tell you this: not one girl wrote about hoping to be a houswife someday. There were several girls who wanted to be diplomats, there were several who wanted to be school teachers or university professors, there were several who wanted to be bureaucrats- I'm talking ambition here! Some of their applications brought tears to my eyes, and they are still so eager to learn more!

That's Korea for you. No one in this country can rest until they feel they have done their utmost in any given area. Hair dressers will spend hours on your hair until they have done it right. People working at McDonald's make the neatest burgers I have seen anywhere in the world. And my students work their butts off to acheive their goals.

I think they've got a heads up on Canada with this one. Let's all be a little more strict than necessary with our kids (but maybe leave their hair alone).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Bad Miss Kitteh.

Her mom looked after Somi and Ha Jin while Pat and I were travelling, and now we're returning the favour.

Miss Kitteh like tuna flavoured treats, hiding under the bed, and getting into fights with the other cats at approximately 5 AM, a mere hour before my normal wake up time. In her defense, the "other two" enjoy doing this just as much as she.

All in all, I like her. Once you have two cats a third just blends right into the woodwork. Plus, Miss Kitteh has a hilarious, high pitched meow.

I just realized that I've been posting a little too much about cats these days. This is the last one- promise.

Smoky Robinson bores Miss Kitteh to tears. The only time she perked up during the entire memorial (you know who's I'm talking about) was when Usher sang to the coffin.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Some are simply too pure for this world...

Last Sunday night, I heard a strange sound outside my apartment window.

I went outside to investigate, and found three Korean men in a driveway- one, holding a box. I wasn't sure where the sound was coming from as it seemed all around me. It was very loud.

"고 양 이? (Cat?)" I asked one of the men. He nodded and pointed to the box in the hands of his friend.

I peeked inside and saw the two smallest kittens I had ever seen. They were crying for their dead Mommy. I threw aside reason and took the box from the grateful men, who explained that nobody would care for them in their apartment building. I knew I couldn't take them to my apartment- my two, fully grown, very jealous cats were having a hard time adjusting to a new addition already (I am caring for a friend's cat while she is in America). They don't like new additions. They would probably kill the kittens if they had a chance.

As I was walking towards a friend's house, I ran into four of my girl friends. I showed them the precious little things and we all ooohed and ahhed for awhile. I explained my situation to them and my friend Sophie agreed to care for them for a few days, while I raced around to find someone more permanent.

Orphaned kittens, espcially brand new orphaned kittens, need very specific things when they are that young. They need specific replacement cat's milk, they need to be fed every two hours, they need to be weighed every day, they need to be kept warm... and the list goes on. Between the two of us, Sophie and I began nursing and nurturing the two little guys.

Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. I had taken them to the vet previously to find out their age and sex (boys, and 7-10 days old). I found a nice guy to take the kittens and keep them at a vet until they were strong enough to be adopted. The vet said they looked ok and to keep feeding them every two hours, letting them eat as much as they could. We dubbed them Oliver Twist and Harry Potter- our favourite male literary orphans.

Oliver loved feeding. He was an expert. Harry was not. When I found them, Harry was the stronger of the two. After a few days, we noticed he was very quiet. A little strange, since he could meow at the top of his lungs, and did it regularly. We thought it odd, but couldn't make sense of it. The next day, he passed away. We were so sad. Oliver was stressed out.

The next day with absolutely no warning sign, Oliver died, too. It was after he passed away that we found out about Fading Kitten Syndrome. If a kitten is lacking something (either from being orphaned or having a different blood type from his/her mother) they simply pass away. So sad.

RIP Harry and Ollie. We were getting so attached to you! You will enjoy cat heaven with your mom.

Oliver Twist June 30 (?)- July 8

Harry Potter June 30 (?)- July 8

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happy Canada Day! Like, a week ago...

Canada Day is one of those days in a Canadian expat's life that sting a little. It's like Christmas, only slightly downgraded. You want to celebrate, you want to be with your friends and family, drinking Kieth's and eating cake and barbeque- you want to be in your country, at the very least.

There are quite a few Canadian expats in Korea. If you listen to the statistics, you will believe that there are more Canadian ESL teachers than any other English speaking nationality in Korea (they apparently like the neutral accent). However, I recently heard that more Americans than ever are coming to Korea and Koreans are starting to hire them more than Canadians- they apparently work for less. I have no idea if this is true, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

But back to my nation's day of birth.

No Canada Day is complete without the following, in my mind: Canadian music, Canadian beer (or wine, whichever), a really big cake, BBQ and friends. Of all nationalities. Because Canada is so goshdarn multicultural.

At least, this year in Korea I managed 4 out of the 5 on the list. I was among good friends, we (sorta) had a BBQ, and I made the mother of all cakes (meaning: I made my biggest cake yet in Korea- not bad for a toaster oven) and we listened to some great Canadian musicians.

Friends from all over Yeongtong came to the park the Sunday before Canada's actual birthday. An Adjuma started screaming at us, saying we couldn't BBQ in the park. We took the meat to Sophie's house and cooked it, then brought it back to the park and ate. There was a lot of yummy food. There was Canadian trivia, and finally, there was a game of beer ball. Fun times.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reasons Why I Like Koreans:

Maybe this mostly applies to my new coworkers. Anyone wondering about the different between working for a public school or a private school? A public school is less work, more vacation and... this is a big one... you are the ONLY FOREIGNER working there! This may sound like a bad thing to some, but believe me, it has been nothing short of paradise- no clashing personalities, no stupid complaining about "how much work I have to do allllll the time" (you came here to work, dummy) and the Korean teachers at my new school have been nothing short of wonderful since I first arrived! I just love them.

So maybe that's what inspired me to write this post. I've been feeling the love of the Korean community for the past few weeks and it's got me thinking about exactly what I'm going to miss when I'm back in Canada- because when you're here, you take everything for granted. The grass is always greener, yadda yadda yadda.

Here are the top ten things I like most about the Korean people:

1. They tell you when you're looking good, and they're honest about how you can make yourself look better. This may sound shallow, but to Koreans, you have to talk the talk before you walk the walk. That means my Korean friends will truthfully answer questions like "Is this zit noticable?" or "Should I get contact lenses?" or "Are my legs too fat to get away with this skirt?"

I know, I know, that sounds really shallow. But these are things you're always wondering anyway, and Canadians are too damn polite, even with their closest friends, to tell the complete truth. With Koreans, no guesswork is necessary. You know when you're looking good, and you know when it's time to get magic straight one more time.

2. If older Korean women like you, they are not content until they're sure you are absolutely and completely full of food. They will tsk tsk at your breakfast of yoghurt and granola, they will fill your desk drawers with candy that you will never eat, they will fuss over you like you're their white daughter (and often will call you by that name... maybe not white, but definitely daughter...). And you know what? It's nice to be fussed over when you live in a country extremely far from the ones who would normally fuss over you. With no mommies or aunties around, a caring adjuma is a most welcome part of your life.

3. If older Korean men like you, they will also call you their daughter, but instead of food they will try to make you drink soju until you pass out. Like my vice principal. "Janine teacher, you are so very beautiful. Drink some soju.", and so on. Which leads me to my next point:

4. They tell you you're beautiful at every possible chance they get. They announce your beauty at teacher's meetings, your students want their picture taken with you (as do their mom's), they say "Oh, teacher. Your face is so small and your hair is golden." Seriously, my self esteem has never looked so good.

5. Your high school students have, more often than not, never met a foreigner before. When you walk into the classroom, they applaud you. They cheer. They give you dance recitals in class and say, "Teacher, I have a very important question. Who is the most beautiful girl in the class?" As if I would ever answer that! But these are just some of the common questions that Koreans ask every day. Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Korean? Do you think our uniforms are ugly? Who has the smallest face?

6. Koreans know how to eat. Like kings. And they do it at every possible chance, with as many people as possible. My visa was taking forever, but no worries: first we eat a magnificent lunch and THEN we get the visa. Clearly, I need to get my priorities straight. At staff parties, the soju flows freely, as does the meakju (beer), plum wine and makoli (carbonated rice wine). The food is unending. A feast to end all feasts. I love the way Koreans eat, whether as a family or just with their friends.

7. Koreans love all things luxurious. They shop at big department stores, drive nice cars and enjoy eating steak. They laugh at my frugality. And, more often than not, they are amazingly generous and make sure I want for nothing. Can't afford to go out this weekend? I'll buy the pitchers. And don't worry about taxi fare because I have a fancy car.

8. Koreans turn every sporting event into a high school musical. I hate sports, but I love the dance moves, different songs and cheers and, most of all, the colour coordination. This means I can enjoy baseball and soccer on a new level. Thanks, Korea.

9. I really love that my students are respectful and are hard workers. They don't even know about drugs, they don't drink til they're twenty and they know that if they don't get good grades they will fail at life (at least, that's what Korean adults tell them). My school is an all girls school and I love to see them taking on leadership roles and engaging in school politics. At the end of the day they clean my coffee cup for God sakes! They are go getters and they're going to be super successful. And they think I'm interesting. Aw.

10. When I was travelling through SE Asia, I kept thinking about the manners and ethics the Korean people hold dear. Theft is a nonissue, violent crime is rare, and people don't ever rip you off because you're a foreigner. I've lost my phone several times, my camera twice and my wallet once. On every occasion, someone has gone to great lengths to return my things to me.

These are just a FEW of the things I love about Koreans. Don't ever listen to disgruntled foreigners who say Koreans are bad people. Every country has bad people, but not every country has the amount of honest, hardworking people that Korea has.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My New Favourite Passtime

I like taking my kittehs to Yeongtong Park!

Actually, all of the foreigners around here love the park. On sunny days we gather, unannounced- we drink, eat and are merry. On Friday nights it becomes a makeshift bar with drinks from the Family Mart down the road. We love the park. And so do my kittehs (sometimes).

Friday, July 3, 2009