Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 10/31/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Happy Halloween!  Halloween is not celebrated in Korea, and my co-teacher told me she doesn't understand why we celebrate a holiday with no real purpose/meaning.  Sure, it has a history, but the main purpose today is just to have fun or be scared.  I don't think we should stop celebrating it by any means, it was just difficult to answer my co-teacher's "but why?" question.  

Anyway, since the holiday isn't celebrated in Korea it didn't even cross my mind to buy candy or anything, even though I had a special Halloween class for the fourth graders that day.  When I walked into the school yard this morning, the first kids to see me said "Candy? Candy?" while holding out their hands.  Whoops.  Fail.  But my co-teacher was on top of it and bought some candy for our fourth graders!

Then later this afternoon while I was in the hall on my way back to the English room, a younger boy gave me this cookie:

It wasn't a student that I recognized, so I'm not sure what grade he's even in (3rd?), but I was so surprised (and delighted) that he gave me one of these pumpkin cookies!  Thank you, student, for sharing your Halloween treat with your English teacher!
• • •

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Opening the mind, one animal noise at a time

Today in my third grade classes, the kids learned their song for the current unit.  Every unit in the textbook comes with a song that they learn on the second day of the unit.  It gets played on the TV at the start of class for the remainder of the unit.  The songs are catchy, and I often find myself humming or singing them later in the day.

The lyrics to this unit's song include, "I'm a frog. Ribbit, ribbit." and "I'm a zebra. Neigh, neigh."

When we got to that line, my co-teacher paused the song and had me teach the class what a frog and horse say in my country.  Until this moment, I had forgotten that animal sounds are different in different countries/languages.  I hadn't yet wondered what animal sounds are like in Korean.

When I first learned that different countries have different animal sounds, it really blew my mind.  I don't remember if it was in a Spanish class or not until I studied abroad in Spain, but I remember being surprised.  There's nothing novel about the concept; it makes perfect sense when you think about it.  Different languages have different sounds, thus people would mimic animal noises using sounds from their language.  But growing up in Wisconsin without much exposure to other cultures, this notion had never even occurred to me.  So the day I first learned about Spanish animal noises, my mind cracked open a sliver.

While living in a foreign culture you experience many small moments like this one.  The accumulation of these moments over time transforms your mind, creating a new reality.  What were once minor facts have now amounted to a notable shift in your perspective.  Your mind is much more open, yet looking back it's hard to pinpoint exactly when the change happened, let alone describe it.  That's because this change is gradual.  If you're not aware and paying attention, the transformation could be easy to miss.

I have no idea what my thoughts will be like after ten more months here in Korea, but I do know that today my mind was opened another sliver.

And when I got home after school, I googled Korean animal sounds to settle my curiosity.  I bet you're all wondering what a frog sounds like in Korean.  I'll give you a hint: it's nothing close to "ribbit".

Give up?  It's gaykul gaykul!  Check out the short movie clips below to hear a few more.  The Korean dog sound was also surprising to me - it's the first animal sound they make in the first video.

Start the first clip at :55 (the first minute is small talk).

 I like this video because there's a native Korean doing the animal sounds with his girlfriend from the Philippines, so you get to hear animal noises in two foreign countries.  I also like that they include the written word of each animal sound.


And here's the video from Eat Your Kimchi about Korean animal sounds.  Extra small talk in this one for entertainment value, so if you're in a time crunch just watch the first video.

Update 12/18/13: I just found this great animal sounds interactive on  Click the button below to hear animal sounds in different languages by clicking on that country's flag:
 Animal Sounds – Badge
• • •

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Proof that fall is here

I can finally say with certainty that fall is here in Korea:

Trees in the schoolyard as I leave for the day

Looking up, towards the University

View of the stream, looking away from the University

A few seconds after I took these last two pictures, an older Korean woman said "Hello" to me as our paths crossed on the sidewalk.  I was so shocked to hear English, especially from an older person, so we stopped and chatted for a while.  She mentioned that I should walk up to the University every day now to see the yellow leaves, because in a few short days they'll all be gone. 

The woman used to be a high school English teacher in Seoul, but is now retired.  She was a very kind lady, and gave me her email and cell phone number in case I need help with anything.  She wrote her information on a little booklet, saying she now spends her time volunteering for this organization.  She also said the group's website has lots of good articles I could use for English class.  Cool, thanks! (Though probably too hard for my elementary students...)  

While walking home, I examined the booklet a bit closer.  It's an "Awake!" booklet made and published by Jehovah's Witnesses.  It is an interesting little booklet.  On one page there's a completely secular feature on Panama, and on the next there's a two-page spread about the Bible's viewpoint on Satan, affirming that Satan is a real person, not merely a personification of evil.  And the previous page is about how to control your spending, and why people buy things they don't need.

What really caught my eye, though, is the section on the back side of the magazine/booklet: Was it designed?

I do find it interesting that the article ends with the "What do you think?" question (above), rather than the church's conclusion - regardless of the rest of the article's contents.  Is the "correct" answer to the question supposed to be obvious, or are they really open for discussion?
• • •

Monday, October 28, 2013

Convenient Korea: Chicken and soda

My Tuesday/Wednesday English teacher bought chicken and soda for the fifth graders that she had an "open class" with (a class with observers.  Could be the Vice Principal, teachers from neighboring districts, etc.).  She also had two of these treats delivered to both my co-teacher and I!

I thought it was interesting how the chicken and soda is packaged: The cup is extra tall so that the chicken can sit on the top.  A straw comes up along the side so you can drink the soda that's underneath while eating your chicken, keeping it all in one cup.  Convenient Korea!

Chicken and soda in one cup, Korea
• • •

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sookmyung Saturday #8: Playing hooky

Yup, you read that right.  I did not go to Korean class this Saturday.

Why not?

This Saturday was the last class of Level 1, the 8-week course I started during week 5.  The plan for class today was to spend one hour reviewing, and one hour taking a test in order to move up to level 2.

My Hangul class TTG friends and I are going to take the level 1 class again (but this time starting with the first class instead of the fifth) when it starts over next week.  Hence, there was no reason to subject ourselves to the pains of an impossible Korean test far above our levels.

We had also decided to book a hostel in Seoul this weekend, to get more out of our trip into the city.  The last time I had stayed over in Seoul was during Chuseok.  Unfortunately like last time, I also was at the beginning stages of a cold when I woke up on Saturday.  I tried to get some more sleep that morning, but with no luck.

So I didn't get to Seoul until later that afternoon.  I checked into the hostel, then met up with Lauren and Anne who were in Itaewon at the same Guinness bar we'd been to over a month earlier.  This time, it was decorated for Halloween.

After a drink there, we met up with some others for a little shopping and sushi dinner to celebrate a TTG's birthday!  I'm not a raw-fish person, but I really liked the restaurant we ended up in.  Food came by on a conveyer belt, so you grabbed what you wanted and paid based on the color and number of plates you had at the end.

Each table also had a touch-screen (in English too!) for ordering any menu items.  We put in an order, and in only a minute or two, there it was coming towards us on the conveyor belt!  

Pictured above: Top - egg sushi, conveyor belt, Bottom - mashed potato and beef, hash brown sushi, touch screen to order

On Sunday morning, three of us had some tea and breakfast in the cutest café below our hostel.  I like the atmosphere of the place.  The walls have pictures of a couple (I'm assuming they're the owners) in all sorts of countries.  There's a big world map on one of the walls, drawn on with sharpie to mark their travels.

My honey and lemon tea was delightful, as was the chocolate that came with it.  My cold was taking over my body, so I didn't feel the greatest when we left.  Rather than do anything else in Seoul, I headed for my bus stop to return home.  I got in a little nap, did laundry, and all sorts of other good Sunday afternoon activities.
• • •

Friday, October 25, 2013

You say tomato, I say...

Most days at school there's a fruit served with lunch.  I like apple days best, and am always a little bit disappointed on grape days.  

(Note: Korean grapes are not like grapes in the states.  The skin is softer and is not eaten.  Thus, you have to pick up each grape with your chopsticks, put it in your mouth, break open the side of the grape with your teeth to uncover the inside, then grab the skin with your chopsticks and remove it from your mouth back to your tray.  But you're not done yet -- you've got seeds to deal with.  My co-teacher just eats them, but I don't like swallowing those whole.  So it's either a lot of crunching and chewing to break them down, or you take them out of your mouth one at a time.  Point being, it takes a long time to eat grapes!  The other teachers eat fast enough as it is, so it's extra hard for me to keep up on grape days.)

Okay so today I get to the lunchroom and see what looks like a tomato on each students' tray.  Now, tomato soup and tomato sauce?  Love it.  Tomato slices on a sub?  I'll eat the it, but would never specifically request that tomatoes be added.  A whole tomato?  Nope, have not done it and would rather not.

As I get in line I start to wonder, how do I eat that?  Just pick it up and take a bite, like an apple?  Am I really going to eat a whole tomato during lunch today?  Then I get to the front of the line and the lunch ladies start serving my food.  When I get to the end, I'm given not one but two of these tomatoes.  I'd forgotten that teachers get bigger servings than the students.  Sometimes it works to my advantage (the day we got a chocolate brownie type thing -- well, us teachers got two!), other times I see it as a disadvantage (grape days, these tomatoes)

So I've got two huge tomatoes on my plate.  That's a lot of fruit! (Tomatoes are a fruit here in Korea, not just officially but in the public eye as well)

And then I sit down at the teacher table and realize I'm not exactly sure anymore if they even are tomatoes.  I wait for someone else to eat theirs because I have no idea how to.

It took a while before I saw one being eaten.  Finally a teacher down a few spots ate both of hers.  She had cut the fruit in half (with her spoon, I'm assuming -- I missed that part), and was eating out of it with her spoon, like a kiwi.  She ate everything but the skin.  

This was no tomato.

When the teacher directly across from me started to eat hers, I observed more closely and then tried it myself.  The inside is not what I expected.  It reminded me of pumpkin insides with the stringy texture, and it felt juicy and sloppy to eat.  Sloppy in the sense that it didn't stay together like orange slices or bananas or apples - or even kiwi.  So you didn't have to chew that much, the fruit felt mashed already when it reached my mouth.

Persimmon Korea
Mystery fruit at lunch today.  I ate one at school and took this one home.

On the walk back to the classroom with my co-teacher, before I could even ask her about the fruit she started to ask me what I thought of it.  So then I asked her what it was.  She was surprised that I didn't know what it was called, and that I'd never eaten one before.

Turns out the fruit is called persimmon in English.  That's a link to its wiki so you can read up.  Persimmons are native to China, and were later introduced to southern Europe and California in the 1800s.

Cut persimmon

I didn't have the most varied diet growing up, so I'm not sure if this is a fruit most Americans from the midwest have heard of before or not.  Have you ever eaten a persimmon?  Have you heard of it?
• • •

Ganechon Rail Park

My co-teacher told me on Monday that there was a rail bike trip for teachers on Thursday afternoon, did I want to go?  I didn't know any details, but said sure!

I guess in the fall and spring semester my school has an event for the teachers.  I've been told that normally it's a 2-day trip, but this fall everyone's been so busy that they could only plan an evening trip.

We left school around 14:50 on Thursday afternoon in a nice coach bus, with about 25 teachers on the bus (and our vice principal!).  They gave us mandarins, water bottles, and kimbap once we took off. Nom nom.

When we got to Gangchon Rail Park (about an hour and 10 minutes later), we had a half an hour to walk around before it was our turn to ride.  This area was the birthplace of the famous Korean author Kim You-Jeong (1908-1937), so we visited his home near the rail park.

This sign was outside one of the rooms; I found the English funny:

Don't get in!

Then we walked down the street to the actual Rail Park.  There was a wall of giant books, all works of Kim You-Jeong, to decorate the park.

When the clock struck 17:00 it was our turn to ride.  The teachers split up into groups of four, leaving 6 of us at the end.  For the first part of the ride I was with a group of four, and we were followed by just two teachers in a 4-person "bike".  

I was in the second row, so most of my photos have the backs of two heads in them!

It felt strange to pedal without holding on to handlebars.  At the start, you pedal for a few seconds and then there's a long downhill streak.  We glided along the railway tracks; it felt like a tame roller coaster.  That momentum lasted a long time, and when we finally had to pedal again you really didn't have to pedal hard nor for very long.  (I almost would have preferred to have needed to pedal more during the ride...)

You couldn't go very fast, so once you're going faster than a crawl, pedaling wouldn't make you go any faster.  At that point your feet didn't meet any resistance, like when you try to pedal on a real bike while going down a hill.  Except we weren't going down a hill and we weren't going fast.  You just wait until you needed to pedal again.

Korea's land is 70% mountains, so we had some nice scenic views along the ride.  We went through a couple tunnels too, which had disco lights and music in them.

There was a stop partway through where everyone had to get off the rail bikes.  There were also some food stands at the stop.  Many teachers bought cups of fish cakes in a hot broth.  They would feed each other, poking fish pieces with a skewer and holding it up to someone's mouth.

I forgot to take a picture of the cups, but the fish cakes looked something like this, only smaller pieces:

Update 2016: This tasty snack is actually called odeng (오뎅), and earned a spot in the street food chapter of my "Beginner's Guide to Korean Food and Restaurants." Yum!

After the break when we got back on our rail bikes they had me move to the last bike of teachers, the one that only had two teachers in it for the first part of the ride.  I sat in the front left, and the other two teachers were on the right side, front and back.  I could definitely tell a difference now that no one was pedaling behind me, but I really enjoyed feeling the pedaling in my legs.

There had been a "camera point" near the beginning of the ride.  As we approached the camera, I saw the other teachers' hands rise up out of the corner of my eye, so I threw my hand up for a wave just as we passed the camera.

After the ride, one of the teachers bought the picture for me!  I thought it was such a kind gesture, and I love having the photo memory.  It's a funny photo too, because the other teachers are all making the peace sign with their hands, and there I am waving!  Haha!  I only had a few seconds to pose, so my mind couldn't think that fast.  Bah, ok, here it is:

The coach bus picked us up at the end point.  We were on the bus for all of two minutes when it stopped; we'd arrived at the restaurant for dinner!  This was my first time eating out with the teachers, but luckily I'd had some practice at a Korean restaurant with the badminton teachers back in September.

I knew that as the youngest, I was supposed to pass out spoons and chopsticks to everyone at my end of the table.  I think most of the other teachers were quite impressed when I did this, so it was nice to make a good impression with these teachers that I don't interact with day-to-day.

The food was delicious.  Above you can see the cabbage, chicken, and rice cakes just as the fire was turned on to cook them.  Once it was cooked we ate out of that big bowl in the middle, sticking our chopsticks directly in - which is normal here.  There were three cooking pot/bowls per table, so it was four people for one of the bowls pictured above.

Here are some side dishes:

I could say more about the dinner and the drinking culture here, but I'll save that for another post -- or perhaps my next email update.  It was nice to talk with some of the other teachers, who opened up and used whatever English they knew after some drinks of soju!  I really appreciate their efforts to speak some English to me.

The bus made two stops on the way home: at the first stop someone bought ice cream for everyone on the bus, as well as two more bottles of soju (I ate so much food today, by the way! We were constantly fed on this trip).  We got back to school around 10pm and I was absolutely exhausted.  Thankfully there was only Friday left in the work week, but I did not feel rested when I had to get up this morning.
• • •

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Missent to Malaysia

My mom sends all of us four kids a letter every week, and has done so for many years now.  After moving to South Korea in September, her letters now take between 2-3 weeks to arrive.  So, it takes some time, but they still get here.

Except for one.  

There was a letter from mid-September that never arrived...

...until today.  It left Wisconsin on September 18.  The delay was explained by this stamp on my letter:

Missent to Malaysia stamp

"Missent to Malaysia".  Aha!  That'll do it.

I never even knew such a stamp existed, so it got me thinking and now I have plenty of questions: Where exactly was the envelope stamped? In Malaysia, by a Malaysian postal worker?  Was the mistake caught right when it got off the plane for the  initial sort?  Does every country have a "Missent to ___" stamp in English?  Was the letter then grouped with mail from Malaysia headed to South Korea, and needed to be sent on Malaysia's dime?

I've sent lots of international mail since I first left the states in 2009, but I've never thought about the nitty gritty details of its journey.  And now I want to know!

Thoughts from the peanut gallery?  Any postal workers lurking out there that want to share some inside information?  I'm off to do some googling.
• • •

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sunday afternoon in Bundang

Not only did I find a Korean textbook -- what I was looking for when I went to Bundang yesterday, but being out in a new "district" was refreshing in and of itself.  My eyes happened upon many delights:

Inside of AK Plaza there were many drawings/paintings on display.

This art was so impressive!  I took photos of many works:

Outside the plaza there was some sort of Green Market going on.  This boy pictured below was pedaling the bike in order to power that blender on the table to make his drink.

On my way back to the bus stop after my trip to Kyoro Books, I saw this cute little girl who kept running over the air vents outside so her dress would blow up.  She was wearing white leggings/tights so her mom let her go at it for a while; it was so funny and too cute!

Some band had set up outside the plaza and was playing as I headed out.  I stopped and listened to a song (while watching the little girl pictured above).

And finally, there was a guy on stilts blowing balloons for kids out in the square too.

It was a good Sunday outing, and now I know Bundang is a good place to go exploring on the weekends when I don't want to make the longer trip into Seoul.
• • •

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Buying a Korean textbook

I took the bus (about 50 minutes) into Bundang today.  The first time I went to Bundang was with my co-teacher during my first week here.  I needed to have some medical tests done at a doctor's office in order to apply for my Alien Residency Card.  And for whatever reason, I hadn't been back since.

But fueled by my new mission of obtaining a Korean textbook/workbook, I went to Bundang to avoid an even longer trip back into Seoul (two days in a row, no way!).

I went to the Kyobo Bookstore near AK Plaza (Seohyeon Station).  I'm reposting directions here in case someone else is wondering how to get to the Kyobo Bookstore in Bundang.

Straight ahead: AK Plaza, Bundang

From inside of AK Plaza, exit out of doors (gate?) 6, next to Gucci.  When you exit, you'll see "Mad Garlic" on the left.  Keep walking straight down the pedestrian area (past many shops and restaurants) until you get to a street.

Cross this street, and then to your left you should see the words "First Tower" on a tall building, with this café/deli on the ground-level floor.

Outside of the café there are stairs going down (where the girls are leaving from in the photo below) underneath a Kyobo sign.  Take the stairs down and you've made it!

I spent the longest time looking at the various Korean textbooks.  I wanted something with written exercises, as well as a CD for audio.  

In the end I bought two different textbooks.  The first, Practical Korean 1 - Basic (Cho Hang-rok, Lee Jee-young) is a set with a textbook, workbook, and CD.  It cost W 20,000.

Each unit in the textbook has the following 11 pages: Vocabulary Builder, Dialogue, Grammar 1, Grammar 2, Grammar 3, Listening, Speaking & Writing, Writing, Pronunciation, Window on Korean Culture, and Self Study.  And then I get even more practice (both writing and listening) in the workbook.  The first 45 pages are an introduction to Hangul in 4 parts, so I've started there even though I've already learned the alphabet.  More practice never hurts, and this book is introducing vocabulary in this first section that I want to learn.  So far I'm halfway through the Introduction to Hangul.  I'm optimistic about my self-study with this book; expect a review once I make it further.

The second book I got is for younger learners, and it's called Yes, You Can Speak Korean! Book 2 (Daniel Y. Jang & Jacob S. Jang).  It cost W 15,000.

Each 4-page "chapter" starts with a short paragraph entirely in Korean.  New vocabulary is presented below, and on the following two pages there are grammar notes, comprehension questions, and some other short fill-in-the-blank or translation activity.  It comes with a CD, so I'm assuming I can listen to these readings on there.  I'm not sure when I'll start with this book, but I figured two different approaches might help me out.  A review will follow once I've dipped into this book, as well.


What: Kyobo Bookstore (Bundang)
Where: First Tower, 266-1 Seohyeon-dong, Bundang-gu, Sungnam-si, Gyeonggi-do.
Metro: Seohyeon Station (Bundang line, exit 3)
Hours: 9:30 - 22:00, Monday - Sunday
• • •

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sookmyung Saturday #7: Feeling frustrated

I didn't make it into Seoul early enough to do much of anything today.  My bus drops me off at Seoul Station, and I usually take the metro one stop to Sookmyung University.  Since I did have some time though, today I walked from Seoul Station to the University.  I happened upon a bookstore and browsed a small shelf of Korean textbooks (for English speakers), but didn't find one I liked.

I bought two long sleeved black shirts in the metro (there are often clothes shops and other stores down in metros) that I can wear under sweaters this fall and winter.  I found a stationery shop nearby and bought some fine-point pens for studying and notes.  They were all cheap purchases, I just don't like the spending!  And then I got take-out from a noodle place and ate outside at the University while reading my current read The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future for about an hour.  It's a good book, just very very long.  My kindle tells me how much time until the next chapter, based on my speed, and for this book it usually says something like "1 hour 42 minutes to next chapter"!

Next I went to class.  I got quite frustrated during class today; maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night.  But I need to take into consideration the situation: We jumped from learning the alphabet to the fifth week of level 1, so I had lots of gaps that haven't been filled.  The structure of class is also not the best for how I need to learn (but it's a free class, so I'll take what I can get?).  The teacher will give us the English translation for at least 12 new Korean words each unit.  So we hear them said once, and then we usually have to go around the room and each say a word of the list.  Or read all of them out loud, as I had to do last class.  That doesn't help me at all -- to struggle through reading them, or to hear people pronounce them wrong.  I wish the teacher would use the same time to simply read the words slowly and have us repeat each word a couple of times each.  Repetition is your friend.  We don't do enough repetition in class, and it's all so new and foreign.

Anyway, then she reads that unit's dialogue very quickly.  Afterwards she says what each line means, but that part's always too fast and I'm too busy writing and circling to comprehend what she's saying.  Then she reads and we repeat, but I can usually only repeat the first word or two, because the sentences are so long and there's only so much your brain can remember when you listen to a really long thing once and are supposed to repeat it.  Again, I wish she would break it down to just a word or two and slowly build up to the whole phrase.  So after repeating the dialogue once (or twice), she picks two students to read it.  Thankfully, she hasn't made us Hangul students (the ones who moved up to level 1 halfway through the course) read the dialogue in class yet, because that would be a nightmare for me.

(Side note: Rather than just being frustrated, I have been learning from these classes what not to do while teaching.  I've learned that more repetition is never a bad thing.  Interaction and varied practice are key.  I will keep asking for volunteers when I teach in my classes (no idea why our teacher has not tried that yet... I would like it a lot more than her randomly calling on me).  I appreciate even more my French TA in college -- she was so great!  Had us speaking in French from day 1 with lots of class/partner activities and speaking practice.  Point being that I am trying to gain something from these classes, apart from the Korean.  End side note.)

So I was feeling stupid and hopeless after class, but that will not stop one from going to the kimbap place!

Seeing that bookstore before class coupled with my frustrating time at Korean class today gave me a new goal: I need to buy a Korean textbook and workbook to work through myself.  I have been using various websites and things to try to study on my own during the week, but that format is not the best for me.  I've convinced myself that a good old fashioned textbook will whip my Korean into shape.

When I got to the bus stop to return home, my bus wasn't going to arrive for 67 more minutes.  I decided to explore the nearby Lotte Mart at Seoul Station, which I had never been in.  Picture something like a huge super Target (two floors with a grocery store) and tons of people.  I found disposable razors, which I'd been looking for (they are not at the grocery stores in my little town), as well as a bottle of red wine from Spain on sale for W 4,000.  I'd been told there might be a bookstore in Lotte Mart, but I didn't see one.  Before I knew it, it was time to check out and head back to the bus stop.  I didn't have a textbook yet, but crossing those razors of my list felt good (as did purchasing the wine and chocolate I'd found at Lotte Mart)!

I've decided that the Korean textbook hunt will continue tomorrow...
• • •

Getting a cell phone in Korea: Part 2

[Here is part 1 of my quest to get cell phone service here in Korea.]

If you don't feel like reading the first half of this journey, I'll catch you up.  At this point in the story I have an iPhone 4 that I bought from a coworker, as well as a sim card for pre-paid service.  The guy at the phone store that Friday couldn't get my phone to work, so I actually put in the card myself and got it to work at home.  Hence, I have a pre-paid card with no money on it.

It was about 6pm on Friday when I decided to fiddle with my phone and got it to work (by turning it off, putting in the new card, and plugging it into my computer via USB).  Unfortunately I couldn't use any apps or make calls because I had no money on the card.  My company is olleh, and my town has two cell phone stores right across the street from each other, and I know I've seen "olleh" on the side of these shops.  I wasn't sure if they'd still be open, but I grabbed my phone and walked that way.

They were open!  I walked in and opened my notebook to where I'd had the guy at the original store write "add credit" or "recharge" or something in Korean, followed by "500 MB - W 11,000" to show that I wanted to put 500 MB of data on the phone.  The guy at this store said a bunch of stuff to me in Korean and I just stared at him blankly.  Although I've been in Korea for just over a month, this was the first time that someone had spoken a ton of Korean to me.  Everyone else just assumes I don't know it, probably based on my white skin, blond hair, confused looks, and terrible accent when I say hello.  Also, hello is all I say to store people. And thank you.  Ok, but anyways, I didn't say anything -- not even in English -- because the guy was saying so much Korean at me and I was taken aback.  I understood that he was telling me he couldn't do it, but I had no idea why.  Why not?  I'm so close!  Somehow, through gestures and pointing, he was able to communicate to me that I was in an SK Telecom store.  I bought my prepaid card at a KT store.  From his motions, it looked like the closest KT was in a neighboring town (ugg) but at least I knew not all hope was lost.

I confused the two because both SK Telecom and KT are associated with olleh, which is a cell phone provider.  Well actually, I'm not sure how they're all related.  All I know is my network is olleh, but I bought my card at a KT.  SK Telecom also has olleh service, but I can't recharge my phone there.  I don't understand how that all works.  Also, SK and KT are both two letters, one of which is K.  Easy to confuse, no?  A further side note: There are SK Telecom stores everywhere!  In my little town there are four within a one-block area.  I don't understand the need for so many, or how they all stay in business.  I also don't understand why there aren't more KT stores around!

So the next day was Saturday, when I'd be going into Seoul for Korean class.  This was good, because I could go to another KT Global store (in Itaewon) before class.  I didn't go to the same one that I went to on Friday because this one was closer to class.  My hopes are high.  I metro to Itaewon.  I find the store.  I go inside.  There's only one man working, and he's talking with a couple.  I think they had to talk some things out, because when I walked in he asked how he could help.

I first explained why I had a new pre-paid card with no money on it, and then said I'd like to put some money on there.  Then he said, "You can only add money Monday through Friday."

What?!!!  Are you kidding me?!

I was in disbelief so I asked again, seriously?

I cannot do that today.  You can only do that Monday through Friday.

What sense does that make?  Once again, I wondered if I was being fooled or taken advantage of because he didn't want to deal with a foreigner and a pre-paid plan.  The rule just seemed too absurd.  He was the only guy working (this store was smaller than the one I went to the previous day) so I couldn't try asking another employee.

I thought about going back to the store I was at on Friday and trying there, but I didn't have time before class -- they were very far apart.  I was frustrated that again, I had made a huge trip for a mere 10 seconds in the store before being turned away.  And then I started to worry.  If there were no KT stores in my town, and I could only add money Monday through Friday, how was I ever going to get credit on my phone?

On Sunday morning I did some more research online.  I did not want to show up to school on Monday without a working phone; my co-teacher had instructed me that this was a top priority.  And I was so close!  Then I discovered a twitter page called "olleh KT in English!" (@ollehexpats).  Whoever worked the twitter account responded quite often to questions (in English!) about olleh KT's phone services.  So I tweeted at the account.

Then, I found online that you can call a number to put money on your prepaid number.  So I called and put W 20,000 on my number (which must be used by February), by punching in my debit card number on the phone and such.  So that worked, but the money didn't go towards the 500 MB prepaid data plan that I had wanted to have.  There was no such option on the phone menu when I added money.  Thus minutes, texts, and data all cost a certain amount each, so using data would eat up that money fast.

Two days later I had a response from @ollehexpats on twitter, which contained a phone number to call (free from my phone) in order to speak with a live person in English.  So later that week I called that number, spoke with a native English speaker, and was able to pay for  the prepaid data plan over the phone.  Success!  The phone's been working great ever since.  And I know when the data is up at the end of the month (you can't carry over any unused data, it expires after 30 days), I can simply call and add more for the next month really easily!

I was impressed with the quick response on twitter, as well as the service when I called the Foreign Language Customer Service Center.  I guess my prior experience with customer service in a foreign country was all in Spain where customer service is practically nonexistent.  So that's about what I was expecting here.  In case anyone needs it, I'll post the contact information below:

olleh KT
Foreign Language Customer Service Center
1583 (toll free from any olleh KT phone)

So, although there were a few bumps and hiccups at the start, I'm now very pleased with my pre-paid phone.  I'll see how much data I use this month.  If I don't need all 500 MB, I can always do 300 MB next month for W 8,800.  Either way, I won't be spending more than $15/month for my phone plan, and that's the kind of plan that fits into Reca's budget!
• • •

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 10/17/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

I'm actually writing and posting this on Friday because I'm in a great mood -- thankful for all of the small treasures I found in the day.  A teacher gave my co-teacher some mini apples while I was teaching my daycare class.  I wouldn't have even known about them, but my co-teacher shared and gave two of them to me.  They were the cutest apples I'd ever seen -- and tasty, too!  

To welcome the weekend, I walked straight to Pizza School after work and ordered a take out pizza.  The man who works there is so nice, even though I can only say about four things to him: Hello, pepperoni pizza please, thank you, and goodbye.  He smiles and is patient with me, so for that I keep going back!  While walking home I was enjoying the afternoon sunshine, pizza in hand.  When I got to my building I found a letter in my mailbox!  I had an even wider smile on my face as I walked up the stairs inside.

Not pictured: Pizza

Happy weekend to all!
• • •

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Getting a cell phone in Korea: Part 1

I've had a working cell phone for just over a week now.  To be honest, it doesn't feel much different from my first month here that I spent without a phone.  I rarely look at it, and still do nearly all of my communication from a computer after work or on the weekends.

Why didn't I get cell phone service earlier?  Well, you must have a Korean Alien Residency Card (ARC) to do things like get cell phone service, have a regular bank account, get internet, and all that jazz.  I lucked out because my apartment's internet isn't in my name (the cost is actually included in my rent -- the rent that my school pays), so I had internet from day 1.  On the Friday afternoon of my first week here (back in September) I went with my co-teacher to apply for my ARC.

During that first or second week of school I bought a used iPhone 4 from one of the 6th grade teachers.  He had recently gotten the new iPhone 5 and happened to be selling his old one for a very good price when I arrived.  I have never owned a smart phone, but as I've mentioned in earlier posts, everyone has one in Korea.  Thus, this will be my year with a smart phone.

Contracts here are for two years like in the states, so I wanted to avoid that if possible.  I'd like to note though that many native English teachers will still get 2-year contracts here.  They just find a new arrival to take over their contract at the end of their year, or take over the second year of someone's contract.  In Spain I had a pre-paid phone, so I could only use however much money I put onto my phone

It had become clear to me though, that whenever my ARC did arrive in the mail, I would need to get phone service by myself.  As in, without my Korean-speaking co-teacher.  That's another reason why I didn't want to be tied to a 2-year contract: it was likely that I wouldn't understand all of the details and fine print to the contract (I don't speak Korean!).

I was actually enjoying the weeks without my ARC, because without my ARC the task of getting cell phone service was not weighing on my shoulders.  And then my ARC arrived on October 2, a Wednesday.  Although I now had to figure out how to get phone service, my ARC actually couldn't have come at a better time.  There was a national holiday on Thursday, October 3, but my school had that Thursday and Friday off.  Having Friday off was a unique situation because it wasn't a national holiday, so stores would still be open!

I did some googling and found this 2012 Guide to Getting a Cell Phone in South Korea blog post. BINGO!  The guide was more for people getting contracts, but I looked on KT Direct's global website to see what pre-paid options they had.  Looked good to me. You could get a Prepaid Data Plus package if you wanted data: 500 MB for 11,000 W (that's around $10/month).  Other possible increments are 100 MB, 300 MB, 1 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB.

Their global website also had nice directions to the KT Direct store in Gangnam.  So that Friday I took the bus into Seoul and then took the metro to Gangnam.  They found the employee with the best English and had him talk with me.  I was going to buy a chip for the prepaid plan, and start with 500 MB of data the first month and see how much I used.  I had given the guy some of my information, my foreign residency number, what type of prepaid plan I wanted, etc.  He typed lots of things into his computer and waited for screens to load.  He told me he was going to San Francisco later that year, but he was afraid of getting shot.  Some more small talk like that.  Then he got out the sim card to put into my phone.  He wrote down my new phone number on a sticky note and handed it to me.  Wow, was I really going to be walking away with a working phone? It felt too easy!

I gave the guy my new (used) iPhone 4 so he could put in the card.  He asked what kind of iPhone it was, and when I said it was an iPhone 4 (not 4S or 5), his first words were: Why didn't you get the newest?  I explained to him that I bought it from a teacher at school and he took that as an ok reason.

At this point in my life, owning an iPhone 4 --regardless of it being used-- feels lucrative and unreal.  I could never afford one in the states, and no one in my immediate family has a smart phone.  So the U.S. me was a bit shocked by his question, but knowing I was in Korea and what the technology is like here, it made sense for him to ask.  Koreans have top technology, people!

Ok so I hand over my iPhone 4.  He pops out the small part on the side and takes out an old sim card, then puts my new one in.  He pops it back in, and looks at the screen.  Some words show up on the screen, saying that the sim card could not be read (or something to that extent -- I don't remember the wording at all).  There was mention of connecting the iPhone to iTunes via cord in the second sentence, but that's all I remember.

The guy made a face.  He took the card out and put it back in again.  Same thing, those words appeared on the screen and you couldn't do anything on the phone.  So he asks me where this phone came from: Where did the previous owner buy it from?  Uhhh I have no idea.  Then he told (and showed) me that when the old chip is in the phone, it works (and shows me the main screen with all the apps, etc.  "But when I put in the new chip, phone doesn't work," and we stare at the blank screen with text.

Uhh okay, so why? How can you fix this?

He gave me two options: You can buy this sim card (~$9) and you solve the problem, or you don't buy the sim card.

Ahhhh! What?!  You really can't do anything else to make it work?  Seriously? I don't work for a cell phone company! I just want a working cell phone today!

I told him, "I wouldn't know how to fix it." And he said, well you can ask the guy where he got the phone.

What could that information possibly help?  I was frustrated with the whole situation and felt helpless.  Was he not helping me more because I was foreign?  Was he not helping me more because I only wanted a pre-paid and not a contract?  What if he knows this card won't ever work on my phone, but he's trying to get a sale anyway?  Did I really just spend 2 hours coming into the city (and would spend 2 more going home) for this?  For a few moments I wished I were the type of person who could make things happen.  You know, the I'm-not-leaving-until-this-phone-works-so-I-demand-to-speak-to-your-supervisor-now type of person.

But I'm not and wasn't sure what else I could say or do.  For whatever reason, I bought the card anyway.  I guess I didn't want the day's journey to be completely worthless.  I made sure I was given a receipt, since he told me I could return the card if I came back within 14 days.  I did a few other errands before my 2-hour trip back home.  I was not pleased and I was exhausted.

I got home and googled some stuff about phones not accepting new sim cards.  My phone wasn't locked because it's a Korean iPhone.  I read that you must turn off the phone when you put in the sim card, and couldn't remember if the guy had actually turned it off or not when he put in the new card.  (Wouldn't a guy who works at a phone store know that needed to be done, though?)  I also remembered the message about plugging the phone into a computer.

So I found a paperclip, popped out the old sim card, and put in the one I had purchased.  I hooked the phone up to iTunes and.... it worked!  That message didn't pop up anymore; rather, I could see the regular home screen with all of the apps.  Is that seriously all that needed to be done?  Why didn't the guy at the store try connecting my phone to a computer?  Do I really have a working phone now?

Yes, it seemed to work, but I had no credit on the card.  So I couldn't make calls, send texts, or use data.  I'm over halfway there.

To be continued...
• • •

Monday, October 14, 2013

Korean convenience store finds: Chocolate covered sticks with almond

A few weeks ago I bought some sticks covered in chocolate with crushed almonds.  (Is there a more proper name for this type of dessert?)

I liked the back of the box, since it looked like a vertical postcard.

When I opened the box I found a plastic wrapper, which really shouldn't have surprised me, but I rolled my eyes when I saw it.

The chocolate end of the sticks were all stuck together. This made for a mess when I'd try to break them apart; little pieces of chocolate went everywhere!  There weren't very many sticks either, definitely less than 10 in the pack.  That made it dangerously tempting to eat them all in one go, but don't worry, I resisted.

Their taste satisfied my chocolate craving, but it wasn't anything noteworthy.  Then again, I don't think we'll find noteworthy in a convenience store...

Rating: 2/5
Would I buy them again? Perhaps, but probably not.
• • •

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everland: Korean theme park

Today I went to the Korean family theme park Everland with three UW-TTG friends.  The theme park has five main sections: American Adventure, European Adventure, Zoo Topia, Roller Coasters, and Magic Land.  It also has Caribbean Bay (a water park), Global Fair,  a racing track, a safari, gardens, and so much more!

I've never been to anything like this, just Noah's Ark once or twice, and 6 flags one time for physics class in high school.  I was blown away by the size and number of attractions inside.  We could have spent the entire day just in the Zoo Topia section, had we wanted to!  Needless to say, we didn't see everything, but we've got lots of time to go again.  

I'm going to rely on pictures to help retell the story.  The whole park was decorated with Halloween stuff: 

There were beautiful flower displays, with some interestingly-shaped flowers I've never seen before:

In Zoo Topia we went through an Africa exhibit, complete with "African music" playing in the background.  Our favorite was the fox!

Zoo Topia also had a monkey exhibit.  Oh, and Anne arm wrestled a chimpanzee.

We were entertained for 80 minutes while waiting in line for the Lost Valley, an "ultra-large safari where you can ride in amphibious car [sic], to meet the white lion and rare animals in the world".  The resort did a nice job with the line though; they disguised it, made it curl so we would walk more often, and distracted us with fun things like newborn baby lions and crazy looking birds.

At last, we made it to our amphibious car!  These are the "rare animals in the world" that we saw: 

My favorite part was probably when they fed the giraffe some leaves from the bus, so its head came through the windows.  I've only ever seen a giraffe from ground-level, never at its height.  Giraffes have got big heads!

My friends went on the T Express, the world's second steepest wooden roller coaster.  

I watched from the ground, my heart pounding as they neared the drop -- it was so steep!  I could never.  I can't believe they went on that.  They were all fans -- riding the T Express is apparently a must-do if you go to Everland.

While they were waiting in line for a different roller coaster, I took the peaceful Skyway down the hill and saw some great views.

One of the last areas we visited was American Adventure, which looked like the 60s/70s.  The Double Rock Spin (pictured twice below, on the right) was absolutely terrifying to watch.  None of us went on it.  I don't think you could have paid me to go on that one.

On our way out we walked through some of the shops (of which there are many).  I didn't think they'd get me, but they had a stationery shop.  I only made two purchases!  A journal (with a map of Korea on the front and back covers), and a set of 18 postcards with pictures of old maps on one side.  The postcard set was less than $2 -- a steal!  I should have bought two...


What: Everland Resort
Where: 199, Everland-ro, Pogok-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do 경기도 용인시 처인구 포곡읍 에버랜드로 199 (포곡읍)
Buses: From Gangnam - 5002, from Jamsil - 5700, from Gangbyeon - 5800, from Suwon Station - 66, from Sadang Station - 1500-2.  More bus information can be found here on Everland's site.
Hours: 10:00 - 22:00
Website (In English!): Everland Resort website
Tips: Bring along your passport or ARC (Alien Residency Card) for the foreigner's discount (coupon not needed, just the ID).  Also, pay with your Korean Mastercard if you have one.  My NH Mastercard gave me a 50% discount, so I paid 22,000 W, a welcome surprise!
There are lockers available to store things: 1,000 W per small locker.  You can bring in food and drinks or buy snacks/meals there.
• • •