Wednesday, July 28, 2010

속초... Sokcho (Part 2)

We were only in 속초 for two days, but it seems like it was longer with everything that we did!

The first night, we visited Sorak Waterpia -- a spa/water park/hot spring/sauna. My favorite part was the outdoor hot springs. Since we went at night, the air was slightly cool, so it felt amaaazing to step into those hot springs.

At the hot springs, we finally tried out the infamous "Doctor Fish." (Mica, we finally did it!) For those who are unaware, Doctor Fish are small fish that feed on dead skin. So basically, when you get into one of the tanks, you get an exfoliation treatment.

AP Fish Pedicures
::image via Photo Collection::

I tried to prepare myself, but was nowhere near ready for how much these little guys would tickle my feet. It was torture and at the beginning, despite how embarrassed I was, I couldn't stop jerking my feet and laughing out loud. But eventually I got myself used to it and was able to let them go to work.

Speaking of reactions to nature's creatures... SangKwun had his own little brush with danger this trip. Mark and I saw SangKwun sitting as still as a statue on a picnic bench. We started laughing and wondered what he was doing. But upon a closer look, we saw that he was surrounded by bees.

Apparently, the picnic bench he decided to sit at had this directly below the place he sat.


Luckily his calm reaction allowed him to escape without getting stung. I'm not sure I would've been able to handle it so well, pretty sure I would've run around panicking and screaming and gotten stung approximately 283 times. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

After SangKwun's brush with death, we went to 설악산 -- Seoraksan. There were some sculptures and a little park at the base of the mountain, so we took a short little nature walk.



After the walk, we took the lazy route and rode a cable car up to the top of this mountain. The views were spectacular!



Then, there was a pathway with a lot of stairs to reach a higher point on the mountain. Once we got there, this part brought out the fear of heights in both Mark and me!

Behind Mark, there is a cliff that drops directly down. Neither of us were brave enough to get close to the edge... though Birth Father seemed to have no problem. He walked right over to the edge and sort of leaned over to look down. Gak.


If you wanted, you could continue climbing to the summit.


Since we were both wearing flip flops and it was HOT, we decided to skip that.

After 설악산 we packed ourselves back in the car for the long haul back to Seoul. I'm really glad this time around we've gotten to explore more places in Korea. Where should we go for our next adventure???

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

속초... Sokcho

Since it's our summer break, we took a little weekend road trip with my birth family to 속초, a city on the northeastern coast of Korea. It's pretty close to the DMZ.

Little fun fact learned from Wikipedia: "Lying north of the 38th parallel, the city belonged to North Korea from 1945 until the end of the Korean War, when the dividing line between the two Korean states was officially altered. Consequently, many of the population have relatives in North Korea."

We clown car-ed it with 6 people smashed into a car designed for 5. Mark and Mr. Kim were in the front and there were 4 people in the back seat... SangKwun, Emily, her sister, and me. Luckily, we're all pretty small.... but it wasn't the most comfortable of situations.

Needless to say, I was pretty happy when the 3.5 hour drive was completed. Once we arrived, we relaxed in the hotel room for a little while, then had lunch.

We went to a grilled fish and soup restaurant. But what they really seemed to specialize in was side dishes. Check out all those 반찬!


After lunch, we set out for Sokcho beach. Actually, Mark and I weren't informed that we were going to the beach until we were there, so we didn't have our swimsuits. But it was still fun walking in the sand and putting our feet in the water.




After the beach, we boarded a little tourist boat for a cruise around the area.


There were a TON of seagulls waiting to be fed by the passengers. Some of them were even able to catch chips and snacks in mid-air. Mark took a couple videos that we will post later.



After the ride, we went to this old fashioned restaurant for dinner.


This light is so pretty isn't it?


속초 is famous for two types of food, both of which we got to try at dinner. We had 순두부 찌개, a tofu soup. I like it a lot in Seoul, but this was the best version I've ever had. It wasn't spicy, though you could add your own seasoning. We also had 오징아 순대, which according to the Korean Tourism Organization is: This “sausage” made from squid is cooked by taking the intestines out of the squid and filling it with a mixture of tofu, rice noodles, onions, carrots, and egg. The stuffed squid is then baked or sauteed and cut up into small edible pieces and is a very popular snack or side dish when drinking.

Unfortunately, I failed to take pics once the food arrived, and I couldn't find a pic of the 순두부 찌개 that was similar to what we ate. So I just leave you with a pic of the 오징아 순대. It was just okay for me. I still haven't fully jumped on the squid-eating train, but Mark looooved it.

::image via Wikipedia::

Wow, this is a looong post. Looking back we did a LOT on this trip! I think I'll stop now and add another post about Waterpia and Seorak Mountain soon.

Japanese ramen

If you're like me when you think of ramen, you picture those salty instant packages that cost about 25 cents a piece. Well, ramen in Asia is a whole different situation. Korean ramen is usually in the instant package, but Koreans crack an egg in it and it becomes kind of like a spicy egg drop soup. So good.

But nothing could have prepared me for the amazingness that is Japanese ramen. Our friends Kerry and Ryun saw this little hole-in-the-wall place in Hongdae featured on a television program for the authenticity of its ramen. So they took Mark and I and can I just say... obsessed.

Last week, I was telling my Japanese classmates about the place and we decided to go together.


I wish I had taken a close-up pic... but if you look closely at the bowls, you can see the ramen. It features noodles (duh), green onions, thinly sliced pork, eggs, and seaweed in a thick(ish) broth. You can also add crushed garlic if you want. Oh, and they also ordered Japanese dumplings and some sort of fish patties.

The restaurant got the seal of approval from my Japanese classmates. They said it's exactly like what they can get back home.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.... looks like Mark and I will be making another trip very, very soon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sav(ing) the Date!

Have I mentioned that this week is our school's vacation week? Then after this week, we'll go back to about 1.5 weeks of actual class, half a week of review, and finals. Hard to believe our first semester is already coming to a close. It really flew.

To celebrate our week of freedom from school, we went on an impromptu weekend trip to Sokcho, on the eastern coast of Korea with the birth fam. I've got some pics and stories to tell when I get around to uploading everything.

But in the meantime... it's official! Emily and SangKwun's wedding will be in Seoul at the Sheraton Walker-Hill on October 3rd. Then, there will be a Chinese ceremony in Emily's hometown... which is *somewhere* in China.

It's amazing how much different wedding planning here is compared to back home. I went with them when they planned their wedding, and it took less than an hour. We went to a conference room, watched a slide show of the menu, picked out invitations, got a price list and TA-DA... the wedding was planned. There are a few other little details like a photographer and Emily's dresses to plan, but I have a feeling those decisions won't be obsessed over like at home. Also, in Korea (and China) the boyfriend (or his family?) pays for the entire wedding, so it looks like SangKwun's gonna have to work some long days to cover this event. :o)

Oh and the BEST.PART.EVER. about this wedding is that Birth Father said that both Mark and I will wear hanboks to be introduced to family and clients. Honestly, seeing Mark strut about in a hanbok will most definitely be the highlight of my year.

Oh and for those of you who aren't familiar, hanboks are traditional Korean clothes. That hanbok maker is going to fall over when Mark arrives to be measured! That'll be a video-worthy event, for sure.

::image via JY Films::

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We've officially survived our first round of midterms. Got some grades back and we both did pretty well.

Today was the much-dreaded verbal midterm. The portion that entailed having a conversation with a classmate was pretty easy since we could practice and rehearse a ton. For me, the conversation with the teacher was definitely more difficult. Before the interview, we were given a list of about 30 questions to prepare to speak about. I went over and over the questions and walking into the interview, felt pretty well prepared.

However, I wasn't ready for our teacher (who normally tends to speak at the speed you'd use with either a child or mentally handicapped person), to talk so quickly. Then, on top of it, she went rogue... asking questions differently than I studied them and follow-up questions that weren't even on the sheet we were given. Eek!

I'm actually glad the interview played out the way it did since we won't be given a sheet of discussion topics when we interact with actual Koreans. And I was pumped that I was able to hold my own. And hey, I did a lot better than at my intial placement exam when I informed the interviewer that I like to eat my parents on the weekends. :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ego Boost...Delivered!

I have been feeling a little dejected lately because of all the criticism being thrown my way from Kim and her Korean counterparts (just joking, I really think it's kind of funny) but today I actually got a surprisingly uplifting email from a former student. The email came from Ryan, who I taught in Kindergarten at Poly last year. He is in the first grade now and is attending another school because his family moved away from Poly. He was always one of my favorite students in the class. He was extremely bright but he had a major stuttering problem so his speaking was not the best. Below is a picture of him and the message that he sent.

Hello! I'm Ryan! I'm glad to meet you soon.

I heard Anna teacher that you saw Brandon.

Sometimes, I miss you too much.

I will search for Gwank Poly on summer vacation because, I will study in Gwank Poly.

I want to meet you sooooo much.

I will go to Gwank Poly on 2010.7.15~2010.8.27

Sincerely, Ryan.

To those of you who have not taught English as a second language before, this message might not make sense but I understand everything he is saying. Unfortunately, he thinks that I still am a teacher at Poly so I guess I will have to send the bad news that he will not be seeing me when he goes back. I think that Kim and I will have to make a trip over there to see him sometime soon.

That is one HUGE...

Now may be the time to start sending Mark some encouraging emails. His ego has officially taken a major beat-down these past few days. First, being told he looks like he's 40, then the incident at today's lunch....

Mark and I have separate language exchange partners that we practice Korean with. We were supposed to have a "double lunch date" today, but my partner was too tired and bailed. So I tagged along with Mark and his partner, Erin.

Just to give a little background, she's this cute little Korean girl who can speak English fairly well. She is also obsessed with learning English slang. (She actually watches American movies to try to pick up as much slang as she can.)

We started out talking about how Korean food is healthier than Western food. Mark mentioned that he's lost quite a bit of weight since he first arrived in Korea and that he used to be a lot heavier a couple years ago. Without missing a beat, Erin said in her broken English, "Oh, so you were a fat ass?" I nearly spit my water all over the table. Uh...

After that we had to explain to Erin that it's really never appropriate to call someone a "fat ass." Especially to their face.

That brought us to another MAJOR cultural difference between Korea and the US. Apparently, in Korea, the best way to tease friends is to tell them they're fat or that they've gained a lot of weight. Erin was shocked that it is a major no-no to tell anyone (much less friends) that they're looking fatter lately.

All in all, it was a very successful language exchange. We got to practice for our interview this week, and Erin learned two important lessons that may prevent her from getting beat up should she ever visit the United States or Canada. :)
::Image courtesy of

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Grandpa Material

You know how Westerners tend to think Asians look younger than they really are? Well, we found out last night that the exact OPPOSITE is true when Koreans (at least the ones we know) see white people.

Our friends Kerry and Yuni were telling us that they can't judge how old white people are. So of course, we had to use Mark as our guinea pig. They admitted that when they first met him, they thought he was in his late 30s or early 40s. Our other friend, Ellen, thought he was the same age as her uncle! Ouch.

I must admit, I love that I can tease him about it, after listening to him go on and on about how he married an "older woman." I may be three months older than him, but according to Korean standards, he looks like he's more than ten years older than me! Ha~!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Helpful Shove off the Cliff

As I predicted here, our weeks have gone from relaxing to "I barely have time to breathe." Seriously. It's hard to remember what it was like to be sitting around saying we were bored. We've got an additional pronunciation class once a week, language exchange partners to meet with twice a week, and part time jobs to keep us busy before and after class. Throw in some homework and studying and you've got an idea how we're spending our days.

Not that I'm complaining... I know we're lucky to have the opportunity to take this time to learn another language. It's just that I'm really looking forward to vacation (방학대) in two weeks. I don't think we're going anywhere glamourous... and we're still going to be working... but the nerd in me is looking forward to having some time to catch my breath and master everything we've learned so far so I can finish the semester on a strong note. Woah, what have I turned into?

But that update isn't really why I'm writing. I'm writing to get some advice from those of you that have learned another language. My issue is this... I've only been studying for about a month, and I'm obviously nowhere near fluent. But I'm realizing I have a lot of the tools I need to communicate. And I can do it pretty well when I feel comfortable. But most of the time, I get nervous and forget words, or I speak ridiculously slowly trying to make sure every sentence is correct and every word pronounced perfectly. This doesn't really help with building fluency or communicating with actual Korean people. It's like my inner-perfectionist is holding me back big time.

Mark, on the other hand, is doing great. He's quick to speak and isn't really bothered when he makes mistakes. (Can you tell I'm a little jealous?) So he's been pushing me more and more lately both in class and in public to communicate, which I love/hate. But it just seems like this lack of confidence is going to be a big road block in learning the language for me.

Any advice how to deal with this? Will it just diminish as I get better? Any inspirational words of wisdom I can tell myself when I start to feel myself freeze up? Who or what can give me that final shove off the cliff, so to speak?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Drum Roll Please....

Got an email from InKAS and apparently the scholarships are offered on a first come, first served basis. (I thought they were based on the essay. Definitely wouldn't have spent so much time on it if I knew that... ah well.) So, the 100% scholarships were all taken... but I still qualified for a 50% Sogang tuition scholarship. That's about $750, so I'll definitely take it! :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cross your fingers...

Even though we have midterms this week (yikes), I spent the evening writing an essay for a scholarship to pay for my fall semester tuition. There are two organizations that offer language scholarships to adoptees, InKAS and GOAL. InKAS's scholarship pays 100% tuition, so that would be ideal. Apparently, the deadline is now and they'll announce the winners this week, so I'm running all my information over to their office tomorrow right after school.

GOAL's scholarship pays 50% tuition, but the deadline isn't until August 13th, so at least that application can wait until midterms are finito.

Geesh, I'm really hoping that one of these will come through for me. That would help us out in a massive way. Especially since we found out Mark will probably have to do ANOTHER visa run to secure a student visa for the next semester. (Stupidest rule ever to have to leave to country to get a visa, if you ask me.) Although, if he goes to Guam again, I'm stowing away in his suitcase if I have to. :)

So please say some prayers, cross your fingers for us, sprinkle fairy dust, do whatever you need to do so one of these scholarships works out.

Oh, and if anyone's interested... the essay I'm submitting is below....

Opening the Door to Korea

I’m a 29 year old Korean adoptee and at my wedding four years ago, besides marrying my husband, I met the man who gave me up for adoption over 20 years ago.

I suppose I should back up a bit. When I was two, my parents adopted me and I had a very happy life in the US. I knew very little about Korea or Korean culture, but never really felt like anything was missing. Then, in college, I received a mysterious letter written in Korean. It was from my Birth Father. He had been waiting years to be allowed to contact me and the minute he could, he sent a letter expressing the sorrow and guilt he felt for giving me up and wondering about my life now.

A few years later, on a whim, my Mom and I decided to send him an invitation to my wedding. And then we got a phone call informing us that he would be coming! Talk about some added stress to an already pressure-filled day! Fortunately, the reunion couldn’t have gone any better if it was scripted.

Our relationship continued through translators, until my husband and I decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Korea to really get to know the culture and my birth family. Our first year in Korea was pretty amazing. In addition to spending time with my Birth Father, I got to meet my 오빠 (who remained in Korea), and my Birth Mother.

However, being in Korea, it was like the door to understanding my country of birth was cracked open. Why wasn’t it fully ajar? As much as I could learn about the food, people, and holidays, as long as I didn’t know the language I would never truly understand Korea. Additionally, my Birth Father and Birth Mother cannot speak English, so before I began studying Korean, our relationship consisted of a lot of gestures, “밥을 먹어요?,” and silence. Standing there poking my nose in that slightly opened door to Korea has been incredibly frustrating to say the least.

So I decided I had to take the next step and learn Korean at Sogang University’s KLEC. I am in my first semester and working harder than I ever have in my life. But, seeing the look of elation in my family’s face when I can speak to them in Korean has made every second of studying worthwhile. In the few weeks I’ve spent studying Korean, I can already feel the door to Korea inching more and more open.

I hope to continue my studies until I can fluently communicate with my birth family. This will enable me to continue our relationship when I return back to the United States and to teach my future children so they can get to know their 할아버지, 한머니, and 외삼촌.

A scholarship from InKAS would be crucial in allowing me take time off work to study Korean. I look forward to the day I can confidently say that the door to Korea, its culture, the language, and my birth family is wide open to me.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Our Class

Here are some pics of our class. Everyone's extremely nice, which makes going to class and studying significantly easier every day.

We took a few field trips last year with our students at Poly, but not surprisingly, field trips are a lot more fun when they're for us and don't involve a bunch of screaming kids on a bus. Sogang sponsored a field trip a couple Fridays ago. We saw a brand new musical/comedy called Chef, by the same people who created Nanta. This show was about this magical bi bim bap and featured a lot of beat-boxing and dancing. Not quite as good as Nanta, but still a lot of fun. And the day away from class made it even better. :)

Anyway, here's a class picture. Everyone but one girl showed up, so this is a pretty complete pic.


From left to right...
  • The blonde next to me is Rachel. Her husband is a civilian who works on the military base. They committed to a 2 year stay in Korea, so she figured while she was here, she might as well learn the language.
  • Then on the other side of us in the white shirt is 신 성냉님, our speaking teacher. We spend the most time with her (2 hours!), so we probably know her the best of our teachers. She's so cute and bubbly, she's good at making those two hours fly.
  • Next to our teacher, in the pink shirt, is Khalia. She's French and is just studying here for the summer.
  • Next to Khalia in the white is Madoka, from Japan. I'm not sure how long Madoka plans to stay in Korea.
  • Then next to Madoka is Daniel. He's from Chile and has a Korean girlfriend, so he could be here indefinitely. :)
  • In the second row, are Hyae Young and Nina from Taiwan. They're both here for at least a couple semesters.
  • The guy in the front is Due. He's a Chinese American from the US (Pennsylvania area). He's officially the youngest in our class... 19. He'll be heading back to the States to start his junior year in the fall.
  • Last, but not least, in the front is the amazing Mitchiko. She's 63 years old, a grandmother to 6, and decided to learn Korean "for fun." (And kicking our butts in the process, seriously, she's probably one of the best in the class. Good thing she's so adorable. Haha.) Her husband stayed in Japan, while she came to Korea to live and study for the summer. Oh, and did I mention that she's an international marathon runner? I'm talking Canada, Hawaii, Australia, Istanbul, Korea, and Japan. 6 total and all in less than 5 hours. Impressive, right?
After the show we got lunch together, so here are a few shots of the group:





And lastly, Asians love to throw up the peace sign, but I was showing them what my friends and I used to do for pictures... it's called the "Look at my cute face" pose. Yeah, we're all pretty freaking cute. :)


Anyway, that's our class. Looking forward to the next 6 weeks with the group!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

This is off the topic of life in Korea, but I just have to post it. Did anyone read "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin?

*Image courtesy of CCF.

Just finished it tonight (yeah, I'm that cool staying in and reading on a Saturday night). Anyway, it is INCREDIBLE. Easily one of the best books I've ever read.

It tells the story of this guy, Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools (especially for girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan before and after 911. Greg overcame crazy obstacles to make this happen and I know it's cliche, but is a real life American hero. We hear so much in the news about terrorists and the war on terror, but following Greg's story and seeing the culture and people of the region come alive in this book puts all of that in a completely different perspective.

Anyway, I HIGHLY recommend this book... READ IT READ IT READ IT!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Out of the Comfort Zone

I knew coming back to Korea and learning the language would push me out of my comfort zone. But I never could've predicted just how much...

First of all, Mark and I agree that neither of us has ever studied this hard in our lives. Ever. Spending 3 hours or so drilling vocab, practicing new grammar, and memorizing phrases after class is over is the norm. On a daily basis, my brain just plain hurts. And I know I've said this before, but I can't say it enough. Sogang's program moves FAST.

To give you an example, this past week, we've learned:
  • the past tense,
  • the future tense,
  • how to say you can/can't do something,
  • how to say you want to do something,
  • how to give and understand directions,
  • how to use adjectives,
  • a whole new style of speaking (the polite formal style),
  • how to indicate the method in which something was done, and
  • how to ask someone to do/not to do something.
All of this... along with about 100 new vocabulary words.

But besides studying, I've been forced to sing by myself in front of a class and to go out with a sheet of paper and ask 5 random Koreans for directions to places in Seoul and to write down what they said. Both were nerve-wreckingly huge LEAPS out of my comfort zone.

Basically, to survive in class, you have to throw any self-consciousness out the window and do whatever is asked of of you. Here's Mark wearing a kitten sleeping mask and stumbling around the room trying to follow our directions to pin the hot pink tail on the elephant. (For the record, he succeeded in record time. :o) I credit our team's amazing direction giving skills.)


But so far, I'd say all of our work and bravery is paying off as I'm definitely seeing big jumps in what we can say. Midterms are quickly approaching, so we'll really find out then, right? Next week, we'll have a writing, reading, listening, and speaking midterms. Then the following week is an actual speaking midterm -- one-0n-one interview style. I think that's the one I'm the most freaked out about. Wish us luck!

Premium peaches

Fruit in Korea is amaaaazing. The apples, Korean pears, and Jeju oranges are better than anything I've tasted in the US.

However, as delicious as the fruit is, I hate the prices! Geesh, about $5 for 2 apples? $12 for a cantaloupe? But nothing has taken my breath away quite as much as the peach prices. We were grocery shopping with Birth Father and he threw these in the cart:


*Please note that they're all individually wrapped and in a hardcore plastic box so they don't bruise.

When I looked at the price I couldn't believe my eyes. I actually had to look twice. About $30 for 4 peaches?!??! Gak!

Birth Father didn't seem the least fazed about it... but I guess when you're used to paying a premium for fruit, it isn't as big of a deal after awhile.

At least I can honestly say they were the best peaches I've ever tasted...