Happy new year! I have so many little antidotes to share about the kids, but first we must take a detour and discuss Bangkok.

My best friend, Michelle, and I flew to Thailand to celebrate the incoming 2010 in its tourist-filled capital, Bangkok. It was hot. It was balmy. It was tropical heaven and a relief from the teen-degree weather we’ve been having in Korea. I can sum up Bangkok in 2 words – shopper’s paradise. The city bustles with hot pink taxis and men cycling mini taxis (they look like a modernized rickshaw) transporting international tourists to outdoor markets that sandwich the sidewalks – cramped and crowded – men and women sell Rolex watches (very good look-alikes I might add), Viagra, scarves, T-shirts, porn, numb-chucks (sp?), and because prostitution is legal, women line up trying to catch the eye of a male passerby.

outdoor market in Sukhumvit

I can also understand why people have visited Bangkok and ended up staying there for a few years. It is cheap! To give you an idea of just how cheap Bangkok was, here’s a sampling of items we purchased:

  • cab fare from airport to hotel (40 miles) = $6
  • lunch for 2 (pad thai, chicken curry, beer, pineapple juice, spring rolls) = $10-12
  • cold medicine (10 tablets) = $2
  • 1 Singha beer = $1.25
  • toiletries at 7-Eleven (toothpaste, lotion, hair conditioner, hair gel, gum, cough drops) = $4
  • fresh pineapple and watermelon off the street = $2

We didn’t have a chance to see the Emerald Buddha or Reclining Buddha, but we did go on a dinner cruise on our last night and could see the temples in the distance, all lit up and serene looking.

temple along the river

And for new year’s, we cheered for 2010 on the 59th floor of the Banyan Hotel, having danced our hearts out to the eclectic music the DJ pumped through the stereo. Mind you, Michelle and I were the only ones dancing, but we didn’t care. The view was breathtaking:

Bangkok at night

A very happy new year to everyone! Next…more stories about Korea…:)


christmas tree in suwon

Christmas is umm…different in Korea. At least to an American so used to overabundance – of Christmas tunes blaring in every grocery, department and convenience store, of Christmas lights decorating house after house, of advertisements to “buy now” – the energy is different here. The stores aren’t packed with last-minute shoppers. The only place where I can tell it is a special holiday is at the train station. It is packed with people with suitcases, on route to visit family members for the weekend.

One of the Korean-American teachers told me that Christmas in Korea isn’t a big deal. It’s a holiday that excites children, with hopes of Santa Clause leaving presents for their good behavior during the year, as well as couples who apparently give each other tokens of love through gift-giving. But the holiday isn’t one about presents; the kids only open 1 or 2 gifts and that’s it (this would make every American kid cry). For everyone else, it’s just another day.

An interesting side note – there are 4 different holidays in Korea dedicated to couples, a type of Valentine’s Day that we celebrate in the states (some begrudgingly). There is even a holiday dedicated to single people, where they eat a certain type of meal, and gather together with a slight anticipation of meeting someone date-worthy.

But, the Koreans do try to scatter the Christmas spirit. Some trees are lit; the department stores and restaurants humbly display Christmas decorations, not at all to the excessive degree that is oh-so-American. And the funny thing is that you can hear Christmas songs – all in American. It makes me wonder if Korea even has their own Christmas songs.

Christmas this year was an usually warm 45 degree day, but it was a good one with even a little surprise at night – fresh snowfall.

I have survived my first full week of teaching at Bandi. “Survived” may be an overstatement. “Stayed awake” is probably a more accurate description. The amount of energy and attentiveness necessary to be a teacher is amazing and I have immense appreciation for kindergarten and elementary teachers worldwide. To be a foreign English teacher requires a special amount of attentiveness, however. After a whole week of broken English and very strong Korean accents, I realize how important it is for me to be alert to the children’s chatter and questions and interjections because it is work to figure out what they are saying sometimes.

My mornings consist of 4 classes – storytelling (and finding various ways to tell the same story over and over – one story is read for a whole month) and arts & crafts on Fridays (except for my 4 year olds – in American age – who I do arts & crafts with twice a week). Then there is lunch – which, by the way, is provided by the school for all teachers. (Again, I think I lucked out with this position!)

Lunch consists of rice. There is always, always rice – sometimes plain and sometimes with red beans mixed in. There is also always soup – often bits of fish are mixed in, sometimes with bean sprouts or cabbage. Then there is some type of protein. One day we had an omelette type of “entree.” Another day we had fish cooked in some red spice that wasn’t very spicy (everything is pretty bland since it’s for children). There is also some type of side dish. Side dishes, called “banchan” are standard in Korean cuisine. And finally, there is always, always kimchi.¬†Kimchi is a side dish consisting of cabbage fermented in garlic, scallions, ginger, spicy red peppers, and sometimes other ingredients like tiny fish for flavor. You either love or hate kimchi.

After lunch, I teach 2-4 more classes depending on the day. They are considered kindergarten classes even though one of my classes consists of one girl, aged 10 I think. The children in these classes have been learning English for a short period of time so they are learning the basics such as names of places (the library, zoo, park, and museum) and practicing writing in English.

For the most part, the kids are eager to speak (or yell) in English. So far I have found which objects they love by the amount of enthusiasm and they use to repeat words to me and how loudly they say them. When I ask them what the weather is like outside, it is always “sunny” and “windy.” It takes more encouragement for them to say “cold.” (Which, by the way, it is freezing in Korea!! This week has been a steady -4 degrees Celsius which is like 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it is even colder at night.)

Somewhere in between the afternoon classes, all the teachers partake in the afternoon snack, also provided to us by the school. The snacks are chewy rice things that I love because of their super starchiness and pineapple chunks, or dumpling cakes with some sort of vegetable and meat substance in them, or some other Korean snack food.

Watching the children’s behavior has been interesting for me because I can pick up some Korean habits through them. For example, every child finishes all of their lunch without complaint. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like something, they are expected to finish everything they are served that day. It was amazing for me to see them eat every grain of rice from their stainless steel food trays (the foreign teachers eat with one of the classes and then rotate every week or month, I don’t remember which). When I say every grain of rice, I mean every single grain. Their treat when they are finished is a small cup of milk.

One of the few memories I have of being at the orphanage was looking forward to having milk. I remember being given a small carton of milk and relishing its creamy deliciousness. The funny thing is that now that I’m back in Korea, I still find the milk here to be very delicious. I haven’t found too many variations of milk here – not like the skim, 1%, and 2% or ultra-pasteurized, etc. – that you can select from in the U.S. Also, I can’t read what’s on the milk cartons here so whose to know what type of milk it is. Anyway, the milk is delicious. I don’t know if it’s pasteurized differently or if it is customary for Koreans to drink whole milk (that’s what it tastes like because it’s extra creamy and yummy), but yes it is that delicious. So delicious in fact that I have just dedicated a whole paragraph to Korean milk. :o)

I have never realized how much I love ¬†the sound of spoken English, be it broken English or semi-broken English or even single-word English. It can be frustrating to be denied milk in coffee simply because someone can’t understand me and nerve-wracking when a cab driver drives around in circles trying to find the address of the school (which I have written in Korean to make it easier for me to point to rather than try to wrestle with giving instructions to someone who doesn’t know English) and all I can do is sit silently hoping I will make it there and that the driver who is now earnestly talking in Korean isn’t, in fact, cursing me out.


::skype: minikristen




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