Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I had a great time with Young-Sook, Steven, and Claire in Seoul. They were so incredibly sweet and hospitable. We went to Namdeamun and Insadong markets and to some really upscale mall. We had odeng in the market, Starbucks coffee (with Young-Sook), a really nice lunch of this beef stew with seafood and the dish that looks like an omelet with oysters, and a red-sauce other seafood dish, and dongdongju (rice drink). Everything was so delicious. I had great talks with Young-Sook about ESL teaching and learning and with both of them on every other thing that came up. Their vivacious 6-year old was a real trooper. We hung out until 9:00PM! I took the bus back, which stops near the KTX train station. The bus trip was not bad at all, and the luxury bus was half the price of the KTX. I’m not sure if it was just closer from where we were or if I would have been too late for the last KTX train, but I was up for the adventure. In some ways the bus was nicer because the luxury seat leans back and a leg rest pops up, so you can sleep. The trip is about an hour and a half longer, but I had the latest Steven Pinker book (The Stuff of Thought) that I am borrowing from my neighbor, Paeder. Taking the bus reminded me of taking the bus anywhere. It's all the same; I was really glad for the one rest stop for a bathroom break. Steven said that the bus terminal was near the train station, so all I had to do was follow the people getting off, no chance of getting lost or ending up in Timbuktu. I planned to take a taxi from there to Kyungpook, but the bus stopped somewhere else first, and some people got off, so I asked a young man/boy to be sure where I had to get off. He said that that stop was West Daegu, and that I needed the East Daegu, the last stop at the terminal. When we arrived, he waited for me and asked if I wanted a ride to Kyungpook, that he lived nearby. His dad had come to pick him up. Wasn't that nice?! I accepted. The boy's name is Jeong-Eun (sp?). He graduated from HS last week is going to Seoul National in March. He wants to be an earth scientist. I gave him my card in case he ever came to Austin.

Home in six days! Love to everyone.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Friday night, and I am alone and cold. The heat broke in the faculty dorms. If the fix is minor, it will be fixed by Monday. If not, it will take a week. I'll be on a plane by then! The cold inside is not too bad, not really colder than our house in Austin. That's one of the perks here. Regardless of how cold it is outside, the indoor rooms (not halls) are always warm and toasty. In my dorm room I often wore shorts and a sleeveless top I brought with me. Toasty indoors makes the cold a lot more bearable because every time you go out, your bones and blood are all warmed up and ready to face the cold.

Speaking of cold, it got cold this week. It's been really cold this week--this after a week of temperatures in the 50's. It will be even colder in Seoul, where I am going tomorrow, but I am ready for it with my long underwear and by blanket wool coat.

I am going to Seoul to visit my old classmate from UT and Drew's old lawyer colleague and their cute 6-year old daughter. I'm leaving at 7:30. My new young friend and acupuncture buddy, Eunae, is going to accompany me to the train station. She is so incredibly sweet and helpful to me. I'll be back on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, I'll go to a movie and dinner with some students.

I'll tell you what really sks here (in the dorm at least) is TV! I just saw an episode of the Biggest Loser (not straight through, some BBC from time to time), but now Survivor is on, so I am back on BBC for some Israel bashing. We get Aljazeera here, too, fun!

I’ll be home on the 28th! My dad’s 80th birthday is tomorrow!

Hasta la próxima,


Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'm a bad blogger. It's just that so much happens, and I don't have time to sit and write it all down. The main part of the course is over, and now I'm teaching a two-week Internet-Based TOEFL (iBT) mini-prep course. This is the do or die test for many students--even those who have no immediate plans to study in an English-speaking country. A TOEFL test score (preferably high) is required for university admission, graduate-school admission, law school, many jobs in Korea, and probably gym memberships, also.

I love my students! They are sweet, friendly, considerate, fun, and studious. We have gone to lunch, dinner, hikes, and even an overnight outing with them. I wish I could do more for each one individually.

The two main adventures we had were a trip to Palgong Mountain with one group and to the traditional city of Gyeongju with another group. (I will try to post the pictures on this blog after I finish writing. If I manage, enjoy them.) There are lots of mountains in Korea, and Koreans climb them as sport, but you’ll see many older Koreans climbing than you will younger ones. Many Buddhist temples are located in the valleys of the mountains. Some of my students explain in one of the short movies I’ll post. Gyeongju was the capital of Korea during the Silla period (see or or send me a better link. We spent the night in a traditional-style Korean home with an under floor heating system (for Ami and other interested friends: I could say a lot more about these places, but I have no time. I have to listen to my students TOEFL speaking practice.

There are other pictures I’m going to try to post—from when I arrived, the trip to Seoul, some student dinners, in and around Daegu and Kyungpook National University, and odds and ends.



Friday, January 23, 2009

Today is the beginning of the Lunar Holiday vacation. Katherine and I are off to Seoul and then Pusan (sometimes spelled Busan). I'll write more from the trip.

Katherine and the students SURPRISED me with a birthday party today! I'm 51 mañana! I'll post pictures as soon as Maya tells me how. Just in case, here is Katherine's cell again: 52-2-01-8355.

Call me on Skype.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catching up blog: Two weeks in Korea

Please be so kind as to overlook tyops and such erroneouses as have been gracious to make. Thank you for kind generous.

Okay, I am going to try to blogar, finally. Just to keep things straight –I left the U.S. on Saturday, January 3 at 9:00 AM and arrived in Seoul on Sunday, January 4 at 3PM.

Today is January 17, 10:00 AM in Korea (15 hours ahead of Austin time)

Old news:

My i-Phone alarm was on silent, so I woke up 10 minutes before we had to leave for the airport. We left on time, but I forgot the really warm down-feather coat Suzanne gave me to bring here. Katherine brought three coats, so I didn’t have to buy something right away.

Korean Airlines are excellent. The impression you first get (or I did) was the perfect grooming of the airline stewardesses, color matching, hair-clip matching, shoes matching, and sweet smiles and lots of bows from all of them. Out in the lobby they had high heels on and on the plane they wore more comfortable shoes, so the heels are only for airport walking.

The flight was fast and relatively easy. Time flew (ha). My introduction (other than Korea House in Austin) to Korean food was on this flight. I had bibim-bap, which is mixed veggies on rice, which you sort of prepare (we had instructions). There is hot sauce that you also add; it comes in a little tube that looks like toothpaste. I watched a couple of movies on this flight: “Vicky Christina Barcelona” with Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall (who the heck is that?), and Penelope Cruz, directed by Woody Allen. As far as I am concerned, it’s Woody Allen gone stupid; whatever he was trying to do, he didn’t. The other movie was “Ghost Town” with Rick Gervais (the really funny guy from the British “The Office”). It was good. Rent it. I saw a Mark Twain documentary—interesting.

We arrived in Seoul in the afternoon. I hadn’t slept much on the plane, so by the time we got to the hotel, I was super exhausted. I slept for about two hours and got up later to go to dinner with the UT ESL Services gang: Mike (our boss), Tony (a teacher with lots of experience in Korea), Wanda (teacher with experience in Korea), and Katherine (my co-teacher/colleague here). I had my first meal in Korea that night, but I don’t remember much of it. I think I was still out of it. The next morning Katherine and I went for a walk. Seoul was freezing cold. Katherine is amazing. She remembers places and details and doesn’t get lost! She pays attention. I’ve got to start doing that. I only pay attention to things I’m interested in.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed out for the train station to go to Daegu, sometimes spelled Taegu (see map of Korea).

So, here I am in Daegu at Kyungpook University. We arrived on Monday, January 5th. These first days in Korea were a little stressful—there was a lot to take in, a new place, new people, new unintelligible sounds, new food, and even new work (new in that the setting, the duties, and even the course were new to me). I was worried about not being super prepared for the course I was going to teach, a listening and speaking course, which I had not taught before. That evening we had dinner with our hosts (professors, directors, coordinators of the program). The next day, Tuesday, was placement day. I helped with the oral interviews of the students, which was also “new” for me because I hadn’t done any since my days at The British Council in Tel Aviv! It was a lot, and by Thursday, my second day of classes, I was sick. The newness, the zillion activities, the changes in diet, and probably the jetlag all contributed. On Friday I went to teach feeling pretty lousy, but I survived and by evening I was fine.

Impressions and New Stuff:

I have just completed a full week of teaching. I feel pretty good except for some lingering stomach issues. The students are awesome—their English not so much. I am still trying to figure out the mismatch between Korean studiousness and their level of English. Everyone has an opinion: the test-oriented nature of the educational system, the fact that they are not required to speak in class, the level of their teachers’ English, the differences between Korean and English—it’s probably a little of all of the above.

I’ve started trying to study some Korean online. The only course we could have attended conflicts with our teaching, so it’s us on our own with learning Korean. As far as I can tell, Katherine can get by in survival Korean. This is her third time here, and although she hasn’t formally studied Korean, she is the type of language learner that just jumps in and starts using the language. I can’t do that. I need to understand the parts, the grammar, the logic, the system before even trying to say something. I’m afraid I’ll mispronounce and say something inappropriate—like “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” I admire Katherine, and it’s kind of cool to be around someone who is such a different language learner from me.

Fun Speaking Activity

Extending a conversation through questions and practicing question intonation was the purpose of the activity. I asked the students to adopt an identity, to research him/her or it (it could be animate or inanimate), and to be ready to answer questions from their peers in class. They were incredible! I had an eraser, a chair, a computer, Diego Maradona, Andrew Wise, Casanova! And many more! The eraser was asked if he didn’t feel abused, and he said, “No, it’s my job. And when I feel the friction I get excited.” Casanova explained that people think that he is just a playboy, but that he isn’t, that he is an artist—a pick-up artist. I wish I had videotaped them. The identities that got the most questions were George W. Bush, Lee Myung-bak, the president of South Korea, and a homeless person. Interesting.


Katherine had told me that Korea was super cheap. It is and it isn’t. Electronics and cars are super expensive, even those produced by Korean companies. Clothes and shoes are expensive, too. Koreans seem to be much more fashion conscious than Americans. There are even matching underwear for couples. Any requests? We went to the market once and downtown another time, so this is what I can say about Korean buying culture based on this vast experience. First, there seem to be as many shops/stores/buying places (booths, stands, etc.) as there are people in the country! It’s like there is a store for every person! I’m not kidding. Zillions of places to buy the same things! How do they stay in business? I think it’s because Koreans buy. It’s that simple, I think. How can Samsung or Kia get away with selling products to Koreans at a higher price than we pay? How can Korean merchants sell Korean and Chinese products sometimes cheaper in the U.S. than in Korea? I think it’s because Koreans will pay more than Americans. One person told me that that it was because Koreans want what they want now, especially electronics. I haven’t figured out the bargaining system here either (which I’m told you can do at the market). My experience is you offer less (and not a lot less); they say no, and it’s over. Are they worried about losing a sale? Probably not—someone else will come along and buy it. Overall, the system must work for them, but I want deals, and I don’t see that many. Vivi, maybe you can ask one of your Korean economics students about all this. And, Steve, Eve’s Korean friend was also right.

The Coat Saga

So, my coat, all this time I had been trying to find a coat. I thought I’d find something reasonable for a reasonable price at the market, Costco, or at place called Home Plus (like Wal-Mart) but I didn’t. The cheapest were knock-off products, often from China, but the quality and the prices didn’t match. In the States you can find a cheap coat at Burlington Coat Factory for $30-$50, and it’s worth $30-50, not $15-$20 like it might be here. I was feeling so bad about using Katherine’s coat for so long that I almost had Maya mail me Suzanne’s coat. In the end I decided that I’d be willing to spend a good sum of money on a good coat, so I decided I’d buy a good Korean wool coat. On Saturday we went downtown to do just that, but I found that “reasonable quality” costs a whole lot…$100, $200, $250, and “really nice” costs in the $300 to $500 range ($1000 for a cashmere coat). (Keep in mind that they specialize in these wool coats.) I found a few coats that were discounted but still pricey (around $100-$150) but like at the cheap end, not worth the money; the cut was not right or the shoulders were off or maybe it was just my body that was off. As far as I could tell, Elsa-fitting coats were over $250. Although I wasn’t finding the perfect coat for the right price, I was getting closer. I figured I’d find it on our next trip. So, we headed home, and wouldn’t you know it, Vivian, I found the Korean thrift stores! I bought a fancy designer black wool coat from Japan (an Izuka Toshio original) for $24. I didn’t bargain. It’s not new, but it’s soft, nice, very warm, and a darn good fit.

Food is cheap in the street and in many restaurants—you can eat gimbap (like a California roll but in one long burrito shape) for less than a dollar. A restaurant meal is can cost between $2.50 (soup) to $6.00—not bad. This is not a good restaurant-eating place for vegetarians, and there is little available cheese, breads, or cream cheese but squid and octopus—all you want!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Welcome To My Blog

Hi Everyone,

This is my first blog!! It will eventually bore my first readers (my friends and family) because if I blog at all later on, it will probably be about education malpractice, etc. For now, I'll write about my Korean adventure (which begins tomorrow) and about personal stuff.

Ami is safe and sound in Israel (ha).  

I'll write more later.