It tastes just like chicken… except not really.

On Sunday, I went to a soccer game at the World Cup Stadium (Seoul hosted the World Cup back in 2002 and apparently, they’ve got big plans to make a bid for 2022– watch out world.) South Korea and Ecuador squared off for a pre-World Cup “friendly”. For the record, there weren’t many (if any) Ecuadorians there.

During half time, someone in my group went to the concession stand for snacks and shared the wealth, passing various bits and pieces down the row. I ended up with a chunk of this:

I’ve made a pact with my more adventurous self to try everything at least once. Sometimes, the only way to accomplish this is by not asking questions. I chomped away, immediately regretting my decision. Now I was stuck. I had a relatively large amount of only God knows what that I had to make vanish so that I appeared appreciative. I decided to rip it into smaller pieces, pretend I was eating it, and then slip it into my purse for disposal at a later time. Childish, I know, but effective– and now there’s a very happy trash can somewhere along Line 6.

Now let’s fast forward to Monday. I’m at my desk, lesson planning away. Every once in a while, I get a whiff of something foul but I just can’t place it. Finally, at the end of the day, I grab my purse to dump in a few more contents and there it is, heavily concentrated– the smell. The inside of my purse could be confused for a fish market. I had missed a piece.

It turns out that’s dried squid, which tastes nothing like the fresh stuff I so thoroughly enjoy. Tell me, what ever happened to nachos and hotdogs as the stadium food of choice?


May 18, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

I teach here.

You are cordially invited to join me on a “tour” of my school.  By tour, I mean look at some photos I took during my planning period. The video didn’t come out well. Maybe next time I’ll look for a Korean film kid  on Elance.

This is half of my school. It services about 1,000 kids, all of which live in the overly prevalent concrete monstrosities you see in the background. They surround the school (and Seoul in general). South Korea, a country about the size of Indiana, has a population of around 48 million people. Indiana, on the other hand, registers at about 6.5 million.  Land is a hot commodity around here.

The school is divided into two buildings: one for 1-3 grade, one for 4-6 grade. The Korean government does not require kindergarten so if a child attends a kindergarten program (which they will), it’s through a private company.

The  entrance way to the 4-6 side of the building (the administrative offices reside here as well, including the principal). I once made the mistake of asking if the flowers were real. They are. Notice that lovely full length mirror prominently displayed as you first walk in. Who says looks aren’t important?

Cubbies for all of the teachers’ shoes. Shoes aren’t worn in houses here and school is your home away from home…. I have my own cubby (bottom left hand corner) that holds my ugly and frumpy but free slippers.

This is the English hallway- all two classrooms. I’m all the way at the end. English education begins in the 3rd grade. The Native English Teaching Program varies from school to school. (Each school is autonomous under a loose school district. For example, there’s no uniform school year. Schools follow a similar schedule but the calendars are determined by the principal.) I teach 5th and 6th grade.

This is my desk and all of the appropriate things on it that make me look productive and professional. I work 9-5 Monday through Friday which is important to note because Korean kids go to school twice a month on Saturdays. I’m contracted to teach 22 hours per week. In addition, I have an advanced level “special class” that meets after school twice a week. That’s 25 hours of teaching and 15 hours of planning. But wait!  22 hours really means 22 classes and each class is only 40 minutes long. If you do the math, I’m actually teaching less than 17 hours per week. 23 hours of planning– that’s almost 4 hours per 40 minute lesson plan. Let’s just say there’s a lot of down time…

These are my fifth graders. They’re clearly thrilled to be learning English. Like any good elementary school, we’ve got inspirational messages on our walls reminding our students that “Dreams come true!”– especially if they involve one day working for LG or Samsung.

And this is what they’re staring at. Or not staring at. My school’s behind on the times. We’re an older school with a smaller budget. A lot of the schools are now furnished with flat screen TVs and touch screen white boards. I’ve heard rumors they’re coming over summer break…

May 13, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

It’s lunchtime!

My original intentions were to show you a week’s worth of lunches at my elementary school but that idea was a fail. Wednesday was Children’s Day, a national holiday, which meant no school. On Friday, when the lunch was extra spectacular, my camera battery died. This post will give you an idea of the types of food we eat but I might have to recreate it at a later date when it’s a normal week. I think they were doing a little spring cleaning in the kitchen.

My descriptions of the foods below begin with rice and move clockwise around the tray, culminating with the soup. I also should add the disclaimer that I put everything on my plate for the sake of a picture. And lastly, if one of my co-workers had made up the plates, there’d be a lot more rice. It’s to the point where I’m thinking about renaming the blog “365 days of rice: My transformation into a rice grain.” I’ve already got the white part down.


This is our lunch tray. There is always rice, soup, and 3-4 smaller dishes. Don’t try to go all left brain-right brain on the lunch tray. Rice always goes on the left, soup always on the right. I think there’s an order for the side dishes (kimchi’s usually on the left) but the Koreans seem to be more flexible with my positionings. Either that or they’ve just learned to chalk it up to ignorance. Moving clockwise from the rice you’ll find kimchi, the dish that all Koreans swear by for its health benefits. It’s fermented cabbage slathered in a spicy red sauce that attempts to mask the acidity of the dish. It’s served at every meal in every restaurant here, regardless of the type of meal you’re eating (kimchi with your lasagna anyone?). Next, we’ve got a nice little Thai banana and then anchovies with slivered almonds. To your right you’ll find fried kimchi, a type of food recycling that fries up old kimchi with some beef bits, onions, and peppers. Let me tell you, it tastes a lot better than the original. Lastly, the soup of the day consists of seaweed, potatoes, and fish.


Rice, kimchi, the stems of some type of green with a grilled, smaller member of the shrimp family, fried chicken pieces with sweet and sour sauce, and a soup of fish, greens, bean sprouts, potatoes and probably some beef bits thrown in for good measure. They really like their beef around here, just as long as it’s not coming from the US.


Rice, turnip kimchi (just like the cabbage kimchi except with turnip leaves), sauteed turnips slathered in garlic, pork bits and rice patty balls in a sauce, and a soup of seaweed, potato, and fish. I know, the soups all sound the same but they vary the broths so it has a different taste.

Yesterday, one of our side dishes was fish. Whole fish. Fried and boned. Fresh out of swimming in a vat of oil. Try serving that on the styrofoam plates in America.

I really enjoy eating the lunches. It’s a good opportunity to try Korean food and I’m surrounded by people that can explain what I’m eating (although sometimes it’s better not knowing– like with fish cakes. They were really tasty until I found out how they were made.) I was warned before I arrived that it was incredibly difficult to be a vegetarian in Korea from multiple parties- Korean-American friends, former tourists or foreign English teachers, blogs, and even Lonely Planet. Consequently, I started introducing a little bit of meat into my diet about two weeks before I arrived in Korea. It was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. There is meat in everything here and although I’m learning how to minimize my meat consumption, it’s still taken me three weeks to figure out and it’s mainly in vain- all of the soup broths are either meat or fish based. Being a vegetarian would mean making my own meals everyday, which is feasible but not practical as far as my mental health is concerned. It would completely isolate me from a culture that places such an importance on communal eating. Token white girl’s about as much isolation as I can take right now.

May 8, 2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.