Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cake Decorating

Your birthday comes once a year, as we all know. In my opinion if my birthday isn't on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday then I don't expect it to be a big occasion. But no matter what one is doing I believe it is important to have a cake and blow out candles.

JH is away in Italy on a business trip so he can not join me on my actual birthday (Sept. 30th). I knew about a cake decorating place in my neighborhood and so decided we should go there. It was our first time at such a place. I recall seeing something about it on my TV and thought it would be a lot of fun.
Entering you are greeted with tables set up for cake decorating. There were a few people working on their cakes and I couldn't help but wonder what special person they were making it for.
What you do is order a basic cake, either a small or a large sized one. They frost it up for you first so to make the base for your decoration. Next you choose your piping cone that you will use for the piped icing around the cake. After you have all these items you can go over to a fridge where you can choose any topping, plus extra colorful icing.

We got to work first putting down a ring around the bottom of the cake.

They supply lots of pictures of people's decorations for you to get inspiration from. But I wanted to do my own thing. Mainly I didn't want to overcrowd the cake with too much decoration, but JH didn't have this concept. He really liked the fruity cakes with the fruit on top.
So I started out making this circle, but I think next time I will opt out of this design.
We both started to argue over where to put things, while at the same time JH made a mistake and accidentally punctured the cake. I fixed this boo-boo by putting a mandarin orange inside.
At this point the cake was a mixture of both our ideas.

We added kiwi fruit and more candy.

I have to say it certainly looks creative and overall the experience was a lot of fun. I have been trying to get my local pals into this place but they seem nonchalant about it.
Tomorrow I don't know whether to share the cake with my after-school class (and watch a movie) or share it with my friends for dinner. So far I am leaning towards sharing it with the kids since it would be a lot of fun, and would be a kind of mix of birthday / going away party.

Job Hunt Update: It's a ghost town out there folks, and mostly because I am being picky. One of the Yongin positions went to an F4 visa holder. I am still waiting to hear back on the other Yongin position. As for any new jobs popping up it seems the pickins' are slim. I have a feeling though that as the days ease into October more offers will come up.

In the meantime, I am making preparations for if I don't have a job which includes extending my visa and looking for a place to stay.

Every now and then as I read the job boards I see hagwon positions that look enticing. But I immediately get a bad feeling inside and realize that no matter how "good" they advertise the hagwon I don't know if I could go back to teaching kindy kids.

This whole darn thing has me kind of anxious, but thankfully JH has been supporting my effort to find a decent job. Once again.....we will see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

1st Birthdays in Korea

It is story time now here at Foreign/er Joy. Last Saturday, as you know, I attended the Mass Freeze at COEX, which was a lot of fun. Afterward my friends and I went to On The Border for lunch. JH was on his way from work.

Sitting at the table I felt a little alone and left out. I was at the far end of the table with my friends sitting further away. Lately, I have been contemplating a lot about my friendships here and how I wish I had just one friend that is dear to me. Since, I am moving soon all these pals that I have met locally will soon become long-distance pals.

JH arrived at COEX but was lost for a little bit and I helped him find his way. We ate and watched everyone play together at the table. I am sure if I made the effort I could have been included, but sometimes I like to see if I will 'naturally' be a part of the group. I think that there was a really large group of us and once it gets past 4 people it's hard to keep track of what's going on.

We had to leave the fun times early because JH was invited to one of his long time friend's daughter's birthday. This was going to be one of those "First" birthday's in Korea. Actually I am not sure since the message I got from JH was kind of mixed. I am pretty sure it wasn't the 100 day bday thing because the baby didn't appear 100 days old.

But I think it was her actual 2nd birthday. Here is some information on traditional birthday celebrations in Korea:

Tol has two meanings in Korean. The most common meaning is a child's first birthday. It can also be used as a generic description for birthdays: Chut-tol (first birthday), Du-tol (second birthday), Seo-tol (third birthday), etc.
In my mind I was expecting some kind of party with me being the only-foreigner-type-situation. So on our way I felt the dread of having to encounter this situation. I had to transition from being with a group of foreigners to going back to being with a group of all Koreans.

We picked up one of his friends along the way who kept quiet on the car ride to a place outside the area of Guri. (Northeast of Seoul)

Arriving, we went up an elevator to a catering hall. There were tables with white tablecloths and plates on top. At the front of the room was a ceremonial table set up with balloons, ttoek (Korean rice cakes) and gifts. This was meant for the ceremonies performed during the event.

But first it was chow time, which was carried out by a buffet. Unfortunately, since I had eaten my lunch at On the Border I wasn't too hungry. But that's okay the fair of food was mostly Korean stuff. So I picked up desserts and fruit. However, I had one of those foreigner-dining-with-Koreans moment where the people sitting next to us commented on what I chose to eat.

"No rice?" I heard.

This caused my blood pressure to rise as I was not in the mood to deal with this situation. But I know these are JH's close friends so I didn't want to cause unpleasantness. I tried to stay warm and friendly despite feeling like the "elephant" in the room.

Not much was going on as people ate and talked, so I snuck out for a few minutes and got a cup of tea at a coffee shop outside. JH called me and I came back to the dining hall.

It was time for the ceremonial toljabee:
In this event, the birthday child goes around the table and picks up items that attract him or her. The child's future is predicted according to the what he or she grabs. After placing the child in front of the table, the child's father becomes the guide for the child to go around the table and grab whatever he or she wants. The first and second items the child grabs are considered the most important. Usually Korean parents place the items that they want the child to choose near to the edge of the table. The child's future is predicted according to the items:

-bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior
-needle and thread: the child will live long
-jujube: the child will have many descendants
-book, pencil, or related items: the child will become a successful scholar
-rice or rice cake: the child will become rich (some resources say choosing a rice cake means the child is not smart)
-ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands
-knife: the child will be a good cook
- Money
I was excited to see this in person, since I had only heard about it before then. As the family prepared this and spoke some words I asked JH what he grabbed when he had this ceremony. He didn't know so he called his mom. She told him he grabbed the thread (long life). I thought that was a good sign.

They placed the baby on the table and displayed the tokens to everyone. The MC asked the parents what they wish their daughter would pick. The father said "money" and the mother said "stethoscope". Actually, the selection for the baby didn't include all those items listed about but did include a stethoscope which means the kid would become a doctor. Guess which one the baby picked?

The stethoscope, which I feel was due to that it was a toy stethoscope and was brightly colored. But who knows maybe it is fate.

After this event there was a raffle prize give away. The MC was talking and the parents were enjoying the show. The next thing I know the MC was calling out "wai Guk in" (foreigner). And I suddenly became the center of attention.

Apparently, they were giving out gifts to those who came the farthest distance to see their baby's birthday. Since coming overseas trumps any Koreans national travels I got the prize. However I didn't really know this was going on and instead went along with it. I was called up to the front to answer where I was from and receive the gift.

JH told me I was blushing so much, indeed I was embarrassed and overwhelmed. But in a good way, for this really helped me warm up to being with all Koreans. After that I felt a little ashamed for my attitude earlier and determined that next time I should engage more and make the most of these situations.

Guess what was the gift? Ramyeon! haha

We left shortly after this and going home I couldn't help but feel as if my spirits were lifted for life in Korea. Thank you JH for including me in this special occasion.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mass Freeze in COEX

Facebook is living up to its name of being a social networking guru. Because of it I got word of a Mass Freeze happening at COEX.

I remember a few years ago seeing these videos on youtube of participants freezing in place in New York City. The idea caught on out here and someone managed to organize Seoul's first "freeze."

I went to this event but didn't plan on "freezing" myself and instead documented it with my camera.

I have to say that this envisions my idea of a "community engagement" with Korean society. Anyways, check out my video montage I made of Seoul's first ever frozen event.

For more information check out Kimchi-Icecream's compilation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

H1N1 Common Sense

Koreans do not stay home when they are sick. It is a fact of life here. Practically every foreign teacher deals with this on some level.

Nowadays because of the H1N1 scare I am hoping that Korean people will take on a new trend of staying home when feeling sick with a fever and other symptoms. But I know from experience that I will believe it when I see it.

CNN has a lovely article about how washing your hands does little to protect you from the virus and it more comes from breathing those airborne particles.

Kids love to sneeze and cough freely. In one of my classes you have some kids wearing masks. The unmasked kids are coughing. It seems the proportion is not balanced.

Anyways I like this last bit of common sense written in the CNN article:

This brings me back to my experience at my daughters' school. The e-mails from the principal said some of the sick children reported to the school nurse that they'd woken up ill, but their parents sent them to school anyway.

What's up with that? If your child is sick, keep her at home. If you're sick, don't go to work. Using that particular tool in the toolbox will go a long way toward stemming the spread of H1N1 flu -- probably more than washing your hands.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chuseok Movie Marathon

Hello dear readers.

If you reside in South Korea near Seoul or Anyang then consider this idea I have for the Chuseok holiday. Depending on where you work you should have Friday October 2nd off.

JH is going to Italy on a business trip so I am left to figure out what to do during this time.

My idea is to do something fun and relaxing. So I have thought of a movie marathon at somebodies house or fairly large-sized officetell. Heck if just a few of you respond we could do it in my officetell if you don't mind the size.

I have a lot of Akira Kurasawa Samurai movies to make for a great marathon, but we could rent anything.

Lord of the Rings marathon anyone?

If you have other ideas or know of some other event to go to let me know.

And if you want to join in on this then let's get it together! Heck I will even break out some wine to enjoy this holiday ^^

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Quick Conversation

Leaving the open class today (this is where I visit another school and observe) I related to my teacher:

Me: I just feel like I don't have as much creative ideas for the normal classes as the other teachers.
Coteacher: I know, you had to spend all your time on the special class, it was so heavy for you.
Me: You're right.
Coteacher: That is why I wish for the special class to be canceled next year.

Me: Did you know the Principal asked me to stay?
Coteacher: Yes and when I found out I was so upset.
Me: Oh yes, I was surprised. You know I said 'No' right?
Coteacher: Yes...

Then I went into talking about how I told him I couldn't continue taking the job because I know our relationship has some problems. As I talked her expression changed and so I tried to wrap my words around that I just felt like saying "no" was the right thing.

Coteacher: I was so shocked he went behind my back and asked you.
Me: Yes, I think he was dumb to not include you. If he included you I might have said yes, because we could have talked about our differences.

We got in the car and she related more to me how she can't believe his character to do something like that. But I told her how I wasn't surprised because he does stuff like that all the time. Then we went back to the topic of the special class causing me to lose focus on the normal classes. And I related how I don't know what the new teacher will do.

She told me that today they finally picked a new teacher, some British guy.

But she also told me about how the Gunpo city runs their English departments and because they cause so much paperwork she doesn't want to teach English anymore.

It is true, at my school they have made her do a lot of paperwork for our English program. There is no administrative team to do it so she does it all. Even if I had time to plan for the normal classes we wouldn't have had time to plan it together. She is always busy with paperwork.

So basically you have a situation at the school that made it hard for both of us.

Reflecting on this I now understand why it was difficult in the beginning. Both of us were in situations that were difficult to manage.

I teach the special after school class three times a week. If you walk into a classroom full of 20 kids without a plan you will get chaos. So I spent a lot of time planning everything, besides they asked for a yearly plan anyways.

On the other hand, my coteacher was always given paperwork to do. In addition it was her duty to take over a position in the administration office when the Vice Principal goes out. So she was always busy down there too.

In some regards I feel I could have stayed at this school now that I have gone through all this crap and understand it all. But alas it is too late and they have a new teacher. Plus I really feel my relationship with my coteacher is broken beyond repair. Funny thing is that come next February she might have moved on anyways and I would have had a new coteacher.

But still the Principal asked me to keep the job behind her back and of course she would have known about it. So how was I to say yes and have her know?

Anyways, in a few months all of this drama will be peanuts.

I guess I can just try to have more fun at this school and go out on a good note.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your Green Card will Expire

I got a lovely little letter in the mail today telling me when my visa will expire and to get out of the country when it does.

This caused me to panic a little, even though I know it's what will happen.

So to make sure I don't end up violating visa regulations I researched what to do if you don't want to leave the day your visa goes "poof".

I found out that you can get an extension for 30 days on your visa. All you need to do is register for it early enough and provide proof of a plane ticket out of the country.

It states specifically that this is for staying in Korea for travel and pleasure after your original business is finished. That sounds exactly like what I want to do.

Of course this is for the scenario if I have no job lined up for November and need to wing it on a tourist visa. In which case, I would first get the extension, move my stuff and settle into a temporary housing situation, and then go to Japan to return on a tourist visa while I search for a new job. FUN!

Since as of right now I don't have anything lined up for November I am itching to buy a refundable ticket to Japan and get this extension just to be safe. Thankfully tickets are cheap because apparently November in Japan is not high tourist season, although it is a great time to see the leaves change color over there.

Well I am hoping one of those Yongin positions will pull through, but nowadays I am waiting it out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

KIAF 2009

Art has always been a major part of my life. Despite that my work hours are consumed with teaching children English in my mind I am often thinking about art. In my home I bought a little table that I keep as my "studio." It houses my drawing materials and watercolor supplies. Now and then I put everything that distracts me aside and draw or paint something.

I subscribe to ArtAsiaPacific magazine, which I find to be a good primer on current and historical Asian Art. In addition, as you probably well know by now, I like to frequent art museums and galleries around Seoul and elsewhere.

Then it should come as no surprise that I anticipated participating in the KIAF (Korean International Art Fair) this year. I went last year and it felt like I was a young girl in a candy store.

This year's show was just as great as last year's event. Indeed, I engaged more with the gallery owners and exhibits. I dragged JH out to this and rattled his brain about why some artworks are "art" or not.

Come with me as we walk through contemporary Asian art.

I showed up fairly early to meet JH, around 12 pm. I was early so I waited outside for him near the COEX convention hall building.

We entered and bought our tickets.

As I entered my art brain switched on to hyper drive as I started to see the works. JH innocently entered and made some comical jokes about the first works we saw. But my art brain wasn't having any of it and I started to tell him that the artworks have meaning and historical context. What a good sport! He went a long with it and we had meaningful artsy conversations about the works. I think it taught me a lesson that anyone can feel something from art and that they don't have to have an art background.

Song Myung Jin

Oh Byung Wook "Sea of my mind"

Kim Jeong Geol (I appreciated this piece because of the skill in rendering the nude body. Click on the picture to see the detail.)

Do you see that metal sculpture there? Well there was a man asking the gallery assistant some questions but she only knew English and Japanese. So I helped out a little and helped the guy get some answers. Then I started explaining to JH how it was made and how difficult working with steel is. Another gallery assistant overheard me and talked to me about it too.

You would not believe how refreshing those 15 minutes were. To be able to talk about art and have receptive ears is something I am so grateful for. Makes me think that it would be worthwhile to get together more with artists out here.

Naoko Kadokura

Chun Kwang Young Mixed media with Korean mulberry paper

Lee U Fan "Correspondence"
Here is where JH and I had a little disagreement on what qualifies a work a piece of "art". For him this work makes him feel that anyone could do that. So I asked him how was it made and he looked at it closer and determined its basic elements. But I told him that Lee U Fan is a very famous Korean artist and is well known. Also that his works reflect an aesthetic that is unique. JH kind of just thought about this and I could tell that he was grasping these concepts.

We walked around more in this space and the gallery owner came by and overheard our conversation and so joined in. It was again another great moment where I talked about art and theory.

Lee Eun "Catch Me if You Can." This is a painting and I told JH about how it is part of the genre of photo-realistic. He seemed pleased with this one and I was too.

We moved on, had some lunch and then got back into looking around. At this point an hour had passed and the pace of visitors picked up. I felt a bit relieved to have shown up before the crowds, because after more people came in it was harder to have conversations.

A lot of the works on display were very whimsical and playful. I have to wonder why many Asian artists go this route.

Byon Kyung Soo "The Afro Thinker" Kids loved this one...

Park Won Yung (I liked this piece because it reminded of traditional chekkori paintings, which I don't know if you know what I am talking about.)
Every year the International Art Exhibit has a host country and gives a special exhibition of their works. This year the host country was India, and I think the selected pieces were well represented. However I felt there should have been more reading material on the artists and their statements. In general through out the whole fair I thought there could be more English material next to the artworks for one to read. I know there were tables at each booth where you could read books on the artist but I would have rather liked something readily available near the artworks.

Anyways, the Indian Art exhibit was very interesting and it seemed focused on contemporary issues.

After checking out the Indian exhibit we moved on to some more around the other galleries. Check out this piece it has samples from well known artists on it.

I liked this picture because of the people sitting and talking next to the gallery wall.

Takashi Murakami (One of my favorites and hopefully someday I will see a whole show of his works.)

Kim Kira (We had fun with this one. The lights blinked to different colors.)

Lee Jo Heum (This one I feel speaks to Korean life, where for example if you notice there is a human head in there amongst all the cartoon ones. Walking down the crowded streets of Seoul you often feel this sort of feeling.)
Well did you make it this far? This show closes tomorrow so if you got the time try and make it out there. I want to note that the art world is also feeling the pinch of the global crisis, and this show is not just meant to display art but also sell it. Many galleries around the world are having trouble selling their art. Contemporary Asian Art is part of a recent phenomenon of being widely commercially available in galleries around the globe. I think it is important for these artists' work to get out there because with them they show their countries rich history in art.

It is also important to note who politically sponsors art. Unfortunately in Korea right now the conservative party is controlling what kinds of art goes on display. They also have their hands in Universities and are making some Professors and their classes vanish, because their courses are too thought provoking. In other words, a class that examines culture and theory is deemed unnecessary by the conservative Korean government.

Hyungjin Kim wrote a great peice about this current affair in this Month's issue of Art Asia Pacific.

He wrote:
The conservative government's plan to remake the cultural field extends to Korea's art academies. ... Yoo is attempting to close down the recently established interdisciplinary department of art...at Korean National University of Arts.

Yoo claims that K-Art's theoretical department was designed by left-leaning intellectuals and that the school is neglecting its original mission to focus on studio practice...

...students objected (to closed classes) saying, "Studying technical training without theoretical study makes us technicians not artists."

I was shocked after reading this article, and mostly because I had no clue this was going on. But it is no surprise to find the government reacting and behaving in this way. Art that addresses social and theoretical parts of life often times tends to hold a mirror up to those in charge.

I just hope that this isn't the permemant path for future Korean artists studying here in Korea.

So that was my journey through KIAF 2009, and I hope you weren't too bothered with my artsy lessons and chit-chat. Till next year KIAF!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


The hospital I frequent to renew my prescription for my Crohn's disease has for the past 5 months not really impressed me with their care. I come in and sit down, the doctor says something to my boyfriend in Korean and they have a conversation, but not much questioning goes on about my health. Instead, the Doc just renews my prescription and sends me on my way.

That is why we decided it was time to find a new Doc and one that spoke English. So JH did a lot of research to find out which hospital can help a foreigner out and in my specialty department. He found Yonsei Severance Hospital which is located near Yonsei University and the Ewha area.

Meeting a new Doctor meant I had to bring along my documents and be prepared to retell the story of my illness. When we arrived at Yonsei hospital the building was huge (sorry no pics). Indeed, walking inside through the check in area felt like I was walking through an airport. But I have to say this was one well planned hospital. My comparison of hospitals comes from the free health care received due to being a poor student when I was sick. Let's just say that San Francisco General Hospital looks like a hell-hole compared to Yonsei. For there weren't any vagrants or screaming crack addicts to be found. I saw a few sleeping business men, but they looked harmless.

At Yonsei they have a special section just for foreigners. A whole other office where the staff speak English. I went there first to check in for my appointment. I was met by an intern who took me to the GI department, where I waited just 30 minutes before seeing the specialist doctor.

The visit went great and his English was all right. I will be returning there next month for a routine blood test and doctor-patient consultation.

The whole thing cost 12,500 Won because they give a discount to patients with my disease. The cost of this visit is what amazes me. In America just to consult with the Doc would have cost $300, even though it was paid by the city of San Francisco.

After our time in the hospital we contemplated going to COEX for KIAF. But I was feeling a bit too tired to see art and just wanted to kick it around Ewha. So we parked at the Ewha University parking garage and took a stroll around Ewha.

The campus...

I spotted this sign and wondered if in this building someone was selling Ikea furniture products.
Ewha is a great area to buy some fashionable goods. I wanted to buy these socks but JH insisted they are meant for children.

Some flats~

We agreed on lunch at Quiznos. I couldn't pass up having a sandwich for lunch.

After lunch we browsed around some more. An Ahjumma went past us carrying somebody's lunch on her head. She did it as if it were her 1,000th time.

We went into a gift and stationary store.

While we were in the store we spotted a coupon to the show Gamarjobat. I had heard about these guys through the K-blogging interwebs and knew they would be a smash hit. (Ha ~ I just said "smash hit.") "Gamarjobat" means hello in Georgian, in case you didn't know. source
These guys were great and their performance was lovable and whimsical. They take their inspiration from street theater. What they do is essentially put on an act where they don't speak. Yet they did make sounds during their first act.

To warm up the crowd in their first act they gave us slapstick kind of magic tricks. They engaged the audience and kept everyone laughing. They played off of each other and created a competitive relationship. After they finished their first act the audience was ready to accept a performance where the characters do not speak, and subtle comic references are to be seen in facial gestures and bodily movement.

The rest of the acts were little short stories, one including a dancing teapot. Certainly you could get taken away by these guys due to their sheer brilliance at wacky imagery. I am not sure if it is something JH had ever seen before, but he had a great time. I even saw some Grandma's and Grandpa's in the show and wondered how they took it.

These guys have been doing their act for a while so I would catch them before they retire. Their show completes their Korean tour on the 26th so go ahead and catch them at the Mapo Arts Center.

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