Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orphanage visit

Mark joined this volunteer organization, Bean, here in Seoul. They do a lot of great things, one of which is volunteering every few weeks at an orphanage. Mark went the first time by himself, and convinced me to go with him the second time.

It was a really different feel than the orphanage we visited in Busan. At Sung Ae Won Orphanage, the kids lived there all the time so it just felt sadder. But at this orphanage, all the kids live with foster families during the week and just live at this orphanage on the weekends. These kids seemed a lot more well-adjusted and less attention-starved. It was nice (and definitely better for the kids). But being there, it felt less important that we were there playing with them.

There were kids of all ages -- ranging from 3 to 16. Bean had some arts and crafts set up, but there were too many volunteers for the number of kids, so we opted to hang out with the littlest ones.

We had some Christmas worksheets for them to color.



Look at this little one with the big thick glasses!!!! TOO cute.


Then, we just kind of played with them and chased them (endlessly). There was one little boy who was like 5 or 6 who loved to be chased. He was definitely my favorite of the day because anytime you'd give him attention or go near him he'd smile from ear to ear.

Afterwards, BEAN provided pizza, cookies, and drinks for the kids. We served them and hung out with them. Then we all went outside and played. It was cold, but the kids managed to have fun.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowy seasons greetings!

Today Mark and I went to Coex Mall to buy each other Christmas gifts. And walking into the mall, we finally got our (albeit somewhat belated) white Christmas.

Snowy seasons greetings

Big, fat, fluffy flakes... loved it. Since this is Seoul, it'll all be melted/gray slush by tomorrow, but definitely enjoyed the beauty today!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Korea, Round 2

Though we missed our family and friends back home, Mark and I had a really nice second Christmas in Korea.

Our last day of class before the holidays was on Thursday. After that, we get a week and a day off for the holidays. So we won't be back in class until a week from today! To celebrate, we brought Dunkin Donuts to class.


Then, since we were off for Christmas eve, we set out early in the day for some 떡복이 (spicy Korean rice cakes). I had read about a place that serves the best ones in Korea online, so since we had the time, we decided to make the trip. Totally worth it, plus the little old lady there is really adorable. It was SO cold, so when we arrived, she had us sit on a heated seat and pointed her little space heater directly at us. And then she went out in the cold to make our lunch.


I mean, seriously look at it. Obviously the red ones are spicy and the other ones are glazed with soy sauce. The green things are tofu wrapped in green leaves and pan fried. Amaaazing.


The 떡복이 restaurant is actually located off the the 경복궁 exit, and there was a big tree in the station. So I made Mark stand in front of it totally against his will. (Can you tell by his body language that he is not happy with me at all? Haha.)


After our lunch, we went to a "sweet cafe." Basically it is a private room where you can watch movies, listen to music, play Wii (if you pay a little extra--we didn't), and drink coffee. I am convinced that teenagers go there to hook up, but Mark and I being almost 30 (wah!~) instead opted to rent a movie. We watched Salt and (again proving that we're officially an old married couple) dozed off halfway through it. :)

Then later that night we met our good friends, Kerry, Ryun, and Ellen at Noryangin for some sashimi, shrimp, scallops, and soju. Then we headed out for some 막걸리 (Korean rice wine) and more.


On Christmas morning when we finally woke up, we opened some gifts from our parents. It's so much fun having packages to open! In these pretty packages were clothes, a pretty toiletry organizer, books, gym memberships, and key chains.


We also got some home-made Christmas cookies!


Hope your Christmas was such as wonderful as ours!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!


즐거운 성탄절 보내세요!
새해복 많이 받으세요!
Merry Christmas and may you have lots of good fortune in the new year!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now THAT'll put you in the Christmas spirit

S. Korea Stands Guard Over Christmas Tree at the DMZ

By Seonjin Cha

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A 30 meter (100 foot) tower that’s been hung with lights in the shape of a Christmas tree will be defended against possible attack from the North, Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers in Seoul today.

“We’ll retaliate decisively to take out the source of any shelling,” Kim said at a National Assembly defense committee meeting.

A South Korean church turned on Christmas lights covering the metal tower, near the border between the two Koreas, before 6 p.m. local time, Kim Han Soo, a pastor and spokesman for Yoido Full Gospel Church, which organized tonight’s ceremony, said when contacted by telephone. About 400 people were watching the event, guarded by about 80 soldiers, he said, with an ambulance and fire engine also present.

“Those soldiers seemed to remain on alert,” said Kim. “By the time we left the site, those soldiers were still there. I didn’t notice any unusual move on the other side.”

The lighting of the tower near the border is part of “psychological warfare” between the two countries, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported on Dec. 15. Kim said the significance of the tree, which was decorated by a South Korean church, is religious, not political.

The tower hasn’t been lit up since 2004, according to the Korean-language newspaper report. North Korea, which suffers from energy shortages and relies on outside handouts to feed its 24 million people, had demanded the tower be demolished, JoongAng said at the time.

Religious Move

The church requested South Korea’s military authority to carry out today’s event after a seven-year suspension, said Kim. “We decided to resume this ceremony to spread God’s love and peace to brothers and sisters in North Korea,” Kim said.

The annual ceremony began in 1954, though it was discontinued when the South and North Koreas agreed to halt acts of “propaganda” in 2004, according to Kim reading the Church’s statement.

South Korea in May began radio broadcasts that can be heard in North Korea, ending a six-year moratorium on propaganda, after an international panel concluded the North torpedoed the warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea yesterday held back from acting on a threat to retaliate against South Korea artillery drills held on an island in disputed waters along the two nation’s western sea border.

International snacks

Some of our friends from Level 2 at Sogang brought us some treats from their respective countries.

From our Japanese friends...


Haven't opened any of it yet, but we're told the stuff in foil is to be eaten with rice. And in the plastic bag are some sort of cucumbers. And then there's Japanese style ramen. Excited to try it.

And then from our friend from Taiwan...


Uh, these little cake-like pastries were amaaaazing. Especially the big round one on the top left. It was kind of flaky with caramel in the middle. I'm told it's called a sun snack (or something like that in Chinese) because the shape resembles a sun. I want to travel to Taiwan for the snacks... and the bubble tea. Someday...

I want to put together some sort of American snack pack for these friends, but have no clue what to put in it. These countries have such unique foods that aren't found anywhere else. Anyone have any suggestions of special little "American" snacks I can share with these friends? I don't have an oven, so baked goods are next to impossible...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Next stop... Russia

I kid, I kid.

But seriously, in class today were were talking about major holidays with our classmates. Our Korean-Russian classmate was telling us that in Russia the major holiday is the new year. Basically, for 12 whopping days (Dec. 31~January 11) everyone takes off work and parties. And since it's Russia, I'm sure you can imagine the amount of vodka that is consumed. :)

And then I had to follow that with a description of Christmas that included getting together with family, eating, and exchanging presents for one day only. Lame. Maybe we should do it Russian-style and start extending Christmas over a week at least....

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Linguistic Peephole

"Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see out own society."
Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch, chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage
(retired in 1994), member of the Arctic Research Commission

We've successfully started Level 3 Korean. Woop woop! This level means we are officially "intermediate" speakers.

As we're getting further into the language it's becoming more apparent to me how truly impossible it is to understand Korea and its people without an understanding of the language. So many things that seemed strange or frustrating in our interactions with Koreans make so much more sense now that we're seeing how their language is set up.

At lunch we were laughing because today's lesson was just SO Korean. When we first arrived here, one area of frustration (with my birth family especially) was the vagueness and inability to fully commit. It was always "maybe this" or "maybe that." Of course, as Americans, we're used to the straight facts. But today in class, we learned an entire grammar structure based around that exact vagueness. For example, "I can eat kimchi, sort of." Or, "I am kind of tall."

And then the second part of the lesson once again emphasized how important saving face and not directly disagreeing with someone is here. (Once again, totally explains how put off the Korean staff would get last year at Poly when we'd straight up tell them they were doing something inefficiently, or we didn't like how something was done.) Basically, this grammar structure is agreeing with what someone said so as not to hurt their feelings, then turning around with a big BUT. For example:

Q: Wow, it's a really nice day today, isn't it?
A: Yes, it's a nice today, BUT it's actually really cold.

This linguistic peephole into Korea's culture has definitely made this year in Korea infinitely more rewarding than our first. When I applied for the language scholarship, I think I made an analogy comparing learning Korean to opening a door. Before I knew the language, I was truly an outsider looking in. I'm proud to say that while I'm not where I need to be yet, the door is halfway open. My birth father is talking to me more with every visit and I'm finally able to respond somewhat intelligently when people ask me questions in restaurants, in the subway, and on the street. And best of all, learning the language is providing me with some insight into the country I was born.

Though we had to veer from the original 1 year game plan to make this experience happen, I can't even express how glad I am we made that choice.