September 30, 2010

same same... just korea (IV)

I’d like to explain a part of my absence from the blogging scene. Last week was Chuseok. Chuseok is a three day festival that the Koreans celebrate on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the lunar calendar. This year those days happened to fall in the middle of last week September 21-23. I spent my Chuseok holiday in Sokcho and Samchuk. I am planning on writing a short blab about those places in an upcoming blog.

For now however I’m gonna delve into some Same Same. Chuseok is a major Korean holiday. It is a festival celebrating the end of the harvest. Does that sound familiar? For any Canadians reading October 9th is basically the same holiday, for any yanks the date is November 22nd.

I found it pretty interesting that the Koreans celebrate a similar holiday as we do. Well at least they historically celebrate a similar holiday. Yes they celebrate Christmas and New Years, although they aren’t rooted into history. Christmas is a major commercial holiday (surprise!), and the Koreans seem to prefer to celebrate Lunar New Years over our calendar New Years.

I’ve spent my entire life on the N/A continent and I’ve always been under the impression that thanksgiving is a truly North American phenom. For some reason I was ignorant in this belief, I’m sure you could blame a lot of things for this misguided truth; I’d like to blame TV. I literally just thought Chuseok was only described as a thanksgiving type holiday because it was in the fall. I was shocked to discover the roots of Chuseok, both Thanksgiving and Chuseok are worship holidays (I think I just find anything religion related kind of shocking). The objects of worship are obviously different, but both cultures decided to worship their deity after the harvest. In N/A families usually all gather together and give thanks, in Korea families also all gather and are thankfull for the harvest. Although the Koreans go one step further, Koreans visit their ancestor’s gravesites and make them tidy.

Food is also an important element of the celebration, although both serve different animals. Most Koreans have never seen a turkey, let alone eaten it. I have a couple students that dream of tasting the giant bird, and I told them the many splendors. Koreans don’t have one animal over any other that they serve; I’d assume their tables are covered with a million side dishes (like most meals).

The special item for Korean feasts is a little honey and seed filled rice cake. A Korean rice cake is not the dried up Frisbee you are probably thinking of, a Korean rice cake is a little moist dumpling. I’m not the biggest fan of them; I find them quite doughy and tasteless despite the honey and seeds. I would much prefer to look at the dumplings that I would eat them. They are highly moldable, and come in all sorts of shapes. Traditionally they are crescent moon shaped, but things change, Turducken is hardly tradition yet it caught for ‘trendy’ southerners (I don’t know if you could ever call whoever came up with Turducken trendy, but what the hey).

I didn’t really use the holiday for its specified purpose, I used the time to act like a tourist. I arrived in Seoul on the actual Chuseok holiday (September 22) and it appeared that most of the city wasn’t celebrating or playing tourist, it was business as usual. For some reason I found this to be a comforting thought, perhaps I was happy that people weren’t celebrating with their families, I couldn’t.

September 15, 2010

umbrella situation...

Last Christmas I got a Canada flag umbrella from my parents, I can’t remember if it was a wrapped present or it was in my stocking. Either or, it really seemed like a strange present, before that point I’d never owned an umbrella. Sure, I’d borrowed them on occasion but I mostly ran through storms without the protection offered by one. I don’t know if that makes me some sort of rebel, does it?

A month and change later while I was packing in preparation for my adventure I made sure the maple leaf umbrella was nicely packed in my suitcase. Once I completed packing I weighed my suitcases to ensure I wouldn’t be embarrassed at the airport and have to sort through things there. Well, I’m sure you know where this story is going. My bag was too heavy, and one of the first items I took out of my bags was that umbrella. It’s not like it weighed enough to sway the scales, but that six ounce umbrella really didn’t dawn on me as a necessity. The three pairs of jeans I hadn’t worn in six months were much more important.

I now regret that decision, I still have not worn those jeans, and I have purchased 5 umbrellas since arriving in Seoul. The first umbrella I bought in Korea was stolen the same day I got it. I had another trampled on during a Korea World Cup game, I’ve also forgotten two in bars. It would appear that umbrellas and I have a troubled relationship rivaled only by my sandal affair in Thailand (4 pairs in a month).

The rainy season in Korea hasn't been that bad, until the last few weeks. All of my unfortunate losses have occured when i didn't really need an umbrella. This creates an umbrella situation for me. The rain here is so heavy that you would be soaked, head to toe, within 5 seconds. Although I've had a blast watching these storms. I fear my unfortunate luck will catch up with me and I will be left without an umbrella during a major storm. Not cool, I've had to walk through a couple storms without an umbrella here, and it's just sad. I look like a wet dog. I'm sure the Koreans who are walking around me laugh at me, (or salivating at the giant dog, I'm not sure). One thing is for sure though, they are always prepared. I can't imagine a Korean without an umbrella, I'll explain why.

If it was sunny a Korean would need to bring out their umbrella, they seem to hate the tanning effects of the sun (yes, they sell whittening cream here).  If it's snowing, or raining a Korean would also hold up their trusty umbrella. I think the later makes sense, precipitation is precipitation, I personally don't understand the sun need, but hey, different culture. The only type of weather Korean's don't have their umbrellas propped above their heads is cloudy weather. Cloudy weather however, presents its own problem. It depends what kind of cloud is in the sky. If they are think clouds that might produce rain or snow? an umbrella should be ready for an emergency. If they are thin clouds or clouds with gaps that allow the sun to break through, a Korean would have their umbrella prepared as evil gamma rays might rain down from the sky. In a nutshell Koreans ALWAYS have their umbrellas with them. If a Korean didn't didn't have their umbrella with them it would not be a situation, it would be an event.

September 06, 2010

history according a 9yr old...

Here are two stories my kids wrote about history. First up is Sandy’s version of Queen Elizabeth.

I will write about Elizabeth. She was a Queen. She was born in June 24th in 1532. (It’s real!) She was very pretty girl. But her dad hate her Because she was a girl. When she was three, her dad killed her mom because she didn’t make boy. And Dad don’t remember Beth. He don’t want to remember her. And sister Merry hate her and want to kill Beth, but, new Mom come. She was kind. She let Beth be a good princess. Beth was happy. And Later, King died and next King Ed died. Merry be Queen and want to kill Beth but she couldn’t. And one day Merry died. So Elizabeth Tudor be the Queen.

Next up is Christine’s sci-fi tale of why the moon is made of cheese.

Her name is Pukrin. She born 5000 years before this time, but her face is cute because Pukrin doesn’t age. She was very cute, and not smart, one day a rock hit her head, and Pukrin became very smart and bad. Pukrin felt the rock is very terrible, so she broke the rock, so the rock is now dead. Next day, Pukrin knew that her planet, moon is rock, so she broke it, so the moon is now dead, so her son Pukrin Pukrin made with one with cheese.

little Nixons...

The other day while I was teaching something strange happened. I kept having the strangest sense of deju vu while I was teaching my youngest class. I couldn’t peg it down though, it just kept happening and I have no idea why. It wasn’t until I was already teaching my next class that I had my ‘aha’ moment. My grade 2s were tiny adorable politicians, okay politicians aren’t adorable, but my kids were acting very similar to them. I pegged a couple reasons why.

English is their second language. Politicians never seem to speak the same language as most people, sure they get elected but they always seem to be talking down. Although better politicians, as well as the better kids, have a better grasp on the language and seem to relate this ability better than others. These kids that relate better to others are my favourites, like little Obamas they are great orators. The kids don’t possess this vocal ability still attempt to act like mini JFKs, most of the time they fail. Instead they come off like little Nixons flashing the V sign in the face of troubled English. Danny (right) is the epitomy of this example, he flashes V numerous times during class. These kids are cute, and more often than not it works.

Canned phrases or responses. This is the MOST important tool for any politician. Politicians have their canned responses to certain hot topic issues. My kids (as trained by your truly) have perfected canned responses to test questions, and other key topics outlined by the trusty curriculum. Although my kids are not dealing with issues such as denuclearization, key topics such as Where is the mother in the house? The mother is in the kitchen (actual example from my textbook, I’m not being sexist), represents an equally challenging topic for the kids. I find it most rewarding when the kids stitch together several canned responses and you get an answer that makes no sense, ie…the mother is in the..the chicken is red.

Answering questions with questions. Politicians are great at this; kids in general are great at this. Politicians will politely ask for questions to be rephrased, until he/she understands and then they will often rattle off a canned response. My kids haven’t learned the same etiquette rules so they scream “what? WHat? I DON’t know”. I’m left rephrasing questions again and again and again, until I ask it exactly they way they recognize it. Only then will I get an eagerly generated canned response. In both cases I’m left frustrated, for two reasons, first it was probably the answer I wanted 5 minutes ago, or second it wasn’t the answer I wanted at all (segway to my next point).

Answering questions with the wrong answers (deliberately). When faced with a question you don’t want to answer there is this classic political maneuver. Don’t answer it, and give a different response. This is often a question that you really want the answer to (unlike frivolous what is your name type questions), most of the time politicians and my little nixons know what you want, and aren’t willing to give it to you. My kids love doing this, especially Matt (right: blue shirt)
Sean: Matt what colour is it?
Sean: No Matt, what COLOUR is it?
Matt: the.. colour... is... WINDOOWW!
My only reprieve happens when I answer the question for them, then they have all the plausible deniability in the world.

No response to key issues. This is similar to a previous point although instead of screaming “I DON’t know”, my kids look like baseball pitchers and try to shake off the question. Politicians have mastered this skill; one resigned from office, others provide great sound bytes for the Daily Show. Politicians can usually do this while keeping a straight face; my kids attempt one, they usually epically fail and stare at you like a deer in the headlights. I hate it the most when I know my kids know what I’m asking them. This usually happens when I asked them why they did something bad. My little Nixons pretend not to have the faintest idea what I’m saying; the only response is a whimpered ‘huh’ accompanied by doe eyes.

In the end I love this class, canned responses or not. I was their introduction to the alphabet. Cat and mat were alien words six months ago. In fact they still are, those words don’t usually fit into the canned responses I’ve programmed into their little minds. I guess there is also a great analogy that these kids are simply robots, is it strange that the same analogy is used for politicians?

September 01, 2010

you must have been very lonely potato mandu...

This is an update i meant to publish over a month ago. I was finally able to complete my search for perogies just before i left for Jeju Island. I forgot about my conquest because Jeju was such a shining point of my trip so far. Anywho...

My first attempt was foiled by shitty luck. My second attempt was dislodged by my wonky knee. My third attempt.... wait... there is no drama, you are already aware. I FINALLY ate the elusive perogies, and ismply put they were amazing.

These weren't just any perogies, although really any would have been miraculous, these perogies were hand made. Eating them instantly brought back memories of my 'perogie power' breakfasts. For those of you not in the know (probably most of you). My aunt used to make perogies, and it became sort of a tradition of sorts that I would carbo load before I played hockey. I swore these perogies made me play better, I dont have any evidence to support this fact. I'm fairly sure I knew they made no difference, they probably made me play worse, I just wanted more. I had a childhood phase similar to Monica from friends.

I was not alone basking in the dimly lit bar with perogies. I was with Corwin, who had never tried perogies before. I was able to watch the look on Corwin's face as she ate perogies for the first time. I was really glad that all my hype was in essence rewarded with the marvelous cheesy doughy dumplings we were served. We ended up getting two orders of the perogies. I'm not currentlly in my fat phase, most people would say that I should have gotten more, and that I need to pad out.

As I sat nursing my perogie baby, I thought that I'd been recently seeking out a lot of non-Korean food. It was a thought that at first alarmed me. I was scared that it was an indicator that I'm bored with Korea. Like I  no longer wanted to be here because I'm getting tired of the food. As I thought about the situation a little more, I thought about what I ate back home. I quickly had a revelation, it was by no means earth shattering, but it calmed me instantly. My revelation was simple, I eat a variety of ethnic foods, I've never really stuck to eating one on a continuous basis. In one week back home I would eat a little Indian, Mexican, Italian, and some American food. I once considered that normal, so why should I solely eat Korean food while I'm here. I feel that I should enjoy it, and perhaps eat it more often than I would back home. But I shouldn't feel bad about limiting myself to one type of cuisine, it doesn't fit with the way I like to enjoy food.

With that thought in mind I will continue to seek out ethnic food in Korea. I also feel that I should write a post about the Korean food I've ingested. Consider that something to look forward to.