Monday, May 31, 2010

Late Spring Blooms

It's that cozy time of the year where spring lingers on for a bit and before you know it the humid hot summer will soon be here. Recently, on a walk to work, I took the high-road path and shot some pictures of some late bloomers.
It was great seeing the morning dew on the flowers. 
I don't know what this type of flower is but the fragrance has been very lovely.

Luggage Storage

Thought I would follow up with that investigation I was making into whether I could store luggage at the SFO airport while I travel to Florida and back. The reason being is that I am stuck with the dilemma of whether to take one or two suitcases.

These days you have to worry about checked-baggage fees, and overweight charges. I don't truly plan on buying a ton of stuff, like I did last time. However, I know that I will want to buy things if I see it and need it, like jeans or shoes. Something tells me it would just be safe to bring an extra suitcase.

The airline carrier I am taking to Florida and back charges for checked baggage. Twenty-five dollars a piece, to be exact. That means that by the time I get back to California I will have spent $100 on my luggage. I know I won't need both pieces of luggage when I am in Florida and it is going to be a pain-in-the-ass to lug both of them around while I am there. This leads into why I am checking whether I can leave one behind at SFO while I travel.

A good old google search has proved helpful. At the SFO website:
Baggage storage is exclusively available at the Airport Travel Agency, located on the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal, near the entrance to Gates G91-G102. The Airport Travel Agency is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. No reservations are required for baggage storage. All baggage is x-rayed prior to storage.
Rates are assessed per each 24 hour period that an article is in storage (articles in storage for less than 24 hours will be subject to the 24 hour rate), and vary according to the size of the object.
Please contact the Airport Travel Agency at 650.877.0422 or for additional information.

But how much??? I found this website that provides a good estimate.
It offers storage for $7 to $15 per day depending on the size of items you are storing.  There is no limit on how long you can leave them there and odd-shaped items, such as guitars, are accepted.

Let's do the math:
  • Take both to Florida and back: $100
  • Leave one Behind in storage: $50 (taking on plane) + $105 (7 days storage at max price) = $155
 Wow~ Looks like hauling both of them around for the whole trip will be the cheapest option. So much for that idea! I guess I should really think about the size of the suitcases I take and whether I really need two large-sized pieces.  

Reflection Room

I am planning my summer vacation travels. Booking airplane flights and reserving car rentals has me in a dizzy. But I can manage it! Certainly I hope my wallet will end up okay.

Today as I was trying to find out whether the San Francisco airport has a service where you can store your luggage in between traveling I found something quite peculiar.

It is a reflection room:

Berman Reflection Room

The Berman Reflection Room provides a center for quiet self-reflection and meditation. 
International Terminal, Main Hall, pre-security
hours: daily, 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
With the hustle and bustle of traveling this kind of space makes sense to have at an airport. I wonder if people know about it and use it. But maybe it is more of a memorial than a place to zone out.

This reflection room is dedicated to
President of the San Francisco Airport Commission
For his vision of the airport, his love of San Francisco, and his dedication to public service having served over 25 years on City and County of San Francisco boards and commissions.
I found this tweet:
at sfo berman reflection room. it's a super quiet room with a great view. awesome! #sfo
Doesn't seem like it is too hard to get to after you arrive, so I might try and check it out.
Location note: The GPS location is for the BART San Francisco International Airport Station. The reflection room is immediately inside the airport from the station on the left hand side.

Speaking of reflecting I thought I would take the time to give a little update on work. Things have finally petered down into a workable situation. Meaning I am not being attacked left and right anymore. Since those last disasters (back in late March - April) things have been steady. I have noticed that I am most vulnerable right before my period. PMS does a number on my ability to keep calm and collected. So when this time comes around I try extra hard to control myself and wear the "I like everyone" costume. Speaking of which, I am encountering that struggle today! Already I had a hiccup this morning with Mrs. K, which I thought was allright. Just spoke in a kind of direct tone to her. Then after lunch, out of no-where, the Princess (youngest coteacher) said to me:

Princes: "Joy today I think you made Mrs. K sad. I saw her face this morning and she looked upset. I care a lot about her and you should try not to make her upset."
Me: "Really, I didn't know she was upset."
Princess: "Yes she looks that way. And now she is not in the room. Maybe she is uncomfortable here."
Me: "No, she left the room because her computer has a virus (true) and I think she is looking for help." 
Priya: (other Foreign teacher) "Yea she has been upset lately about her computer."
Princess: "Really, hmmmm" (She makes a high-pitched hmm sound. Have you ever seen the Dark Crystal? Remember the bad characters that sucked the life outta the gelphlings. She sounds like them.
Me: "Well ok. I will do that and try to not make her upset. Maybe you should talk to her." 

And she went back to doing something else. Meanwhile I grabbed my stuff and headed to the next class I had to teach. I made sure to catch up with Mrs. K and apologize for this morning and tell her I "really care about her." Turns out she didn't even know why I was doing that and so I explained that the Princess seemed concerned about her. We hugged and all was right with the world.

Coming back from class I wanted to tell the Princess that things are okay between me and Mrs.K. But she was not here. I sent a lovely little text message to her computer citing that things are okay and that anytime she has a "problem" she can come and talk with me.

Let's just say I am glad I put this out before it blew up. 

Besides that crap I have been dealing with a little junk from "#2" coteacher. This is the middle aged one that is between the oldest and the youngest. I teach with her once a week. She coteaches with me so differently from Mrs.K that things were starting to bother me. 

For example, when #2 and I teach together she usually just stands in the back and paces around giving Korean translation now and then. But with Mrs. K she is always in the front or middle of the class giving lot's of translation (almost too much) and helps with the computer. Basically more real "coteaching". I probably should of handled this more gently, but last week I spilled the beans like this.
Walking to class
Me: Do you always stand in the back of class in Priya's classes? (The other foreign teacher ...they teach 3rd grade.)
#2: No....the 3rd graders have some song or role-play we do. (That sounded puzzling since the 4th graders do the same crap)
Me: Oh, I was just wondering. 
#2: If you want me to come up to the front I can.
Me: No I am fine, really. If I need you I will call you.

And of course I thought everything was fine after that conversation but I was wrong. It turned out she took that comment personally. I found this out after lunch when we were sitting around the table for tea-time. I mentioned stuff about North Korea to start a conversation but she didn't seem interested. Then I mentioned how it's okay if she is in the back of the classroom. She said, "You just think I do nothing back there. But I am helping the students...." I said: "No, no that is not what I meant. I know you do stuff back there. Just your coteaching style is different from Mrs. K." But she didn't really get it, got up and went back to her desk. 

I didn't dig into it anymore with her and let the powers of time take care of things. Once again they are so sensitive that work-related issues such as coteaching-styles can't really be brought up without someone's feelings on the line. However, if I were approached about my teaching style and took it personally I would be called out for overreacting. 

And so this leads me back to reflection. I do a lot of time reflecting on all this trying to figure out why and what I can do to make things better or at least tolerable. I end up worrying about what will happen when it is contract review time, and my mind spirals off. 

I know I am not perfect and make little mistakes along the way, so all I am trying to do is not make them blow-up like before. It is a fact that I cannot change their opinion of me by defending myself or talking to them about these issues. 

In a perfect world we would have monthly meetings to talk about these things and share our ideas on teaching and coteaching. But that has never happened here, and yes I have suggested it. 

After the summer break and when the new semester starts Mrs. K will be gone. Also the Princess may be whisked away by taking a missionary trip somewhere. The replacements have already been called (a male teacher and an ahjumma at the school). Both who are pretty cool. But #2 is going to be here the longest and so I know that despite how crazy she makes me I gotta play like everything is cool. 

That is work for you in a nut-shell. Thankfully planning for summer camp and my vacation has kept me busy. Still, I hope to get through this teaching year with no more craziness despite that all the crap that is happening around me makes me feel nuts.

Reflection room where are you?!!?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Exercise Equipment in the Park

When you walk into a park or along an exercise path, here in Korea, you encounter equipment. At first you kind of wonder how it works but then you see older folks using them and you go "ah-ha."

Their kind of fun and silly to use. I made the following video of a recent experience with these machines.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Umbrellas: A Guide

When the rain came down the last few days I couldn't help but reflect on the wonder of my umbrella. Actually it had broke in several places and so I needed a new one.

If you think about, umbrellas are quite a great invention. But sometimes they can be a real pain in the butt. For example when they don't open on time, or when you do get it open you realize that it's broken in a few places.

When I first came to Korea I entered into the rainy season and bought my first umbrella here. It was a whopping 15,000 Won, but had a button to release it. That umbrella lasted about one and a half years before I realized it had holes on the top. Since then I haven't really found a sturdy and affordable umbrella. As I keep searching for one I figured why not share my analysis of umbrellas with you.

Types of Umbrellas:
After doing some umbrella shopping I have come across different types. Here for you are examples.

First you can break them down into the type of handle. Hook or Stick.
The hook umbrella is called that because the handle is in the shape of a hook. Typically these umbrellas are pretty long in length. I have never really used a hook umbrella before, but I can say I avoid buying them because it looks inconvenient to carry and tote away. As a city dweller one ends up taking buses and getting crammed inside subway cars. I don't want to have to worry about where to fit my wet umbrella when this happens. However, I have noticed that the hood-span is very wide and seems very sturdy.

The stick umbrella, in my opinion, is more favorable. I go for more of the kind in the second picture. These usually have a button that engages the umbrella to open, although it doesn't really help when closing it. Also the size of stick umbrellas come in usually small-to-medium sizes. Sometimes you can find them as long as the hook type. They are good at stowing away in a backpack, or are small enough to fit in your large-sized purse. 

Then I found this one in my search, which I suppose is a compromise between a hook and a stick umbrella.

Sturdy Expensive Umbrellas vs. Cheap:
You might think that an umbrella can work in any weather. But if you have been in a rainstorm where the wind is blowing hard and the rain is coming in sideways then you know that an umbrella is pretty much moot. 

But there are umbrellas on the market that advertise themselves as built tough. Take this New York Magazine review that checks out the designer end of umbrellas vs. the ones you can pick up on the street corner.

 You might think this London Fog umbrella, for about $15 would hold up but...

Conveniently fits in a medium-size purse and has a comfy gel handle that gives good grip. But it’s flimsy: Be prepared for the dreaded inside-out flip.
Let's go a little higher with this umbrella at $45, which came out to be a good review. 
The handle doubles as a clip, so this sturdy umbrella hooks onto anything. Quick release increases the probability of knocking someone out.
Something tells me that when it comes to umbrella shopping the more expensive and better built, is the way to go. Definitely you want your umbrella to last a long time, and not end up breaking at a bad time. (Exiting a bus and trying to pop it open.)

Should your umbrella match your personality?
So far you can decide between a hook or a stick umbrella and one that is either expensive or affordable. But what about the color or print on the umbrella hood? 

If you are a young 20 something and you have a beige colored umbrella does that make you look old-fashioned? 

Certainly when I go to pick out an umbrella I put its structure and price first, but sometimes I find myself interested in the hood designs.

  • Pattern
  • Solid color
  • Picture
  • Clear 
  • Clear w/ pattern
Some examples:

Buying Umbrellas in Korea:
Don't worry Korea stocks all varieties and prices of umbrellas. And you can find ones with fun and wacky prints on them too. I find a good place to buy an umbrella is at the big grocery stores, such as Lotte Mart, Emart or Homeplus. Another store to try is a stationary store in your local area. Also, you can find umbrellas for sale inside subway stations. If you are really in a pinch you can sometimes find a peddler selling them inside the trains. 

I have to say, though, that going the cheap route here does mean you end up getting what you paid for. 

Using Umbrellas in Korea:
From experience I can tell you that using an umbrella on the streets of Korea is a tricky thing. It is not like I have never used an umbrella before, or never used one in a busy city. But let me tell you there appears to be an "anything goes" kind of attitude here. For one people often hold very large umbrellas. What ends up happening is you have an "umbrella-war" with the other people on the sidewalk. You would think that folks would move out of the way when approaching each other. Most of the time I get side swiped by other people's umbrellas. Either their umbrella hits the side of mine or the side of my body. 

Even when I walk to school and walk with the children as they enter the school grounds, they too just plow into each other like it's no big deal. I have made it a point to skip walking on the sidewalk with them (when it is a rainy day) and walk on the street so to avoid their waste-level umbrellas soaking me. 

Of course, umbrella attacks don't happen all the time and certainly lots of folks either move themselves or their umbrellas out of the way. However, that is usually the case when it is just you and them on the sidewalk and not within a crowd of people. 

My advice when using your umbrella here in Korea, or anywhere in the world and facing this issue, is to use your umbrella like a shield. I tend to lean in with my umbrella as I face another person so that it ends up acting like a shield. A more friendly approach I take is to (and normal) is to step out of the way or lower my umbrella so that it is at a level that won't bump into the other person's umbrella. That last part is often seen done by other people too. 

Umbrella Storage:
When you walk into a restaurant or other such stay-in establishment here in Korea there is quite often an umbrella stand at the front door. It is custom here to shove your umbrella in one of these things and either shop or stay to eat. Sometimes I have had experiences where the shopkeeper comes to me and takes my umbrella then puts it in the stand. I am sure they don't want my dripping umbrella getting their floor wet. 

Although this stand makes it convenient to shop and keep the store's floor dry, I think it aids in helping your umbrella break. I have noticed that the tips of the spokes of my umbrella have broken off a few times when the storekeeper Ahjumma shoves my umbrella into the stand. But what can you do?

Umbrella Bags
Another option you find here, when entering an establishment such as large retail stores or malls, is the umbrella plastic bag wrap-stand. What you do is stick your umbrella into the bag-hole and pull it out. Like magic your umbrella is completely covered in the plastic bag. This is a convenient option as you can hold on to your umbrella and even store it if the rain has stopped. But definitely it is not an environment saver!

Well I hope that this post taught you something new about umbrellas or what umbrella culture is like here in Korea. I am still on the hunt for an affordable yet sturdy umbrella (possibly stylish), and I might just switch over to the hook variety.

What is your favorite kind of umbrella? Do you have any umbrella-culture stories?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Attack the Gas Station 2

Looking for something fun to watch? Want it to be Korean? Well then look no further because I have a movie recommendation just for you!

It is called, "Attack the Gas Station 2", which is a sequel to the 1999 hit movie of the same name (주유소 습격사건). 

First of all let me give you some advice on how to rent movies in Korea. What you need to do is find your local DVD/Book rental shop in your neighborhood. Usually these are small places with a sign in front "DVD" "Rental". Actually, that might not be the best advice since you could end up walking into a DVD Bang, which is a completely different thing. Sorry I should take a picture of the one near my area.

Anyways, what you do is sign up at front giving them your phone number and alien-card number. Then you deposit about 10,000 Won. You rent based on a debit system.

Okay back to the movie!

This is a comedy movie that will deliver not only laughs but cultural benefits. For one it takes a look into the mundane yet odd business of Korean gas stations. If you have never been to Korea then you are probably wondering what could be so interesting about a gas station.

Let me tell you something they definitely have their quirks. For starters very rarely do the drivers pump their own gas. Instead you just pull into the station and a "gas-boy" comes up to you and asks how much then pumps in the gas for you. They take your payment and return with a freebie or a receipt. It's quirky because the whole process is different from the west, where we park our cars get out and pump our own gas and go inside the mini-mart to pay or buy something. Also these "gas-boys" work when it is freezing cold outside. The freebies are usually a pack of tissues or some water. But now and then you can get a bonus item like laundry soap or gum.

In the movie they take the setting of a gas-station and turn it upside down as the movie develops.

Ah yes the story!

This is a sequel, but I didn't see the first movie. However, you don't have to because it pretty much follows its own path.

It’s been 10 years since Mr. Park’s gas station was attacked by the No Mark motorcycle gangs. To get his revenge, Park (Park Yeoung-gyoo) hires a quartet of dodgy boys: ... But these employees turn out to be more dangerous when they demand their overdue salaries.
That's the synopsis from this site, but I can tell you there is a heck of a lot more. First what you have is a young group of kids trying to smash apart the gas station, but then they encounter the "gas-boy" thugs.
The "gas-boys" wrangle up the kids and put them upstairs in the managers office. The young gang know about a larger gang that has been reeking havoc on the manager's gas station, and so the manager comes up with a plot to ploy the larger gang into a trap.

But wait there's more! They set the young gang to work at the station, which ends up for some comical scenes. In one incident they accidently fill up a bus with gasoline instead of diesel. The bus is full of convicts, who end up seeking revenge on the gas station.

What you get are several fight scenes to an ending which was worth all the slapstick comedy and typical comic-relief from a Korean movie. Also this movie comes complete with gas-station girl dancers.

But don't take my word for it, check out this trailer.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Buddhist Street Festival

As you know, last Saturday I attended the festivities for the Lotus Lantern Festival in Jongno, Seoul. I arrived with JH and first we headed into Insadong street and Tapgol park.
Actually, before I even got into Insadong I was stopped first by Arirang TV. This is an English TV and radio station here in Korea. They asked me to do an interview and I complied. However, I found myself giving answers they didn't really like. For example, they asked me whether or not China's actions of testing pregnant women for AIDS was humane. I told them that whatever China wants to do is non of my business. The interviewer frowned. I remembered later on that Arirang tends to just edit what you say anyways.

Moving on...

The area was packed of course with visitors, however the park seemed pretty light on foot traffic.
When it is this time of year here in Korea, Buddha's birthday, you see around Seoul and town stringed lanterns. Actually, I am a little confused because in my area (Suji) I haven't seen any stringed lanterns. This makes me wonder if my area is anti-Buddhist or something. Hmmm

The lanterns represent:
The lantern has the meaning of brightening and praying for the world. You can experience the making of a eight-sided lantern and pray for your wishes. Lotus lantern making will be held right next to the Buddhist Street Festival that will offer many, many more cultural experiences.
 We moved on out of the park and back into Insadong street on our way to the festivities in front of the Jogyesa Temple.
One thing I noticed was how the commercial shops were starting to creep in more and more into the traditional street of Insadong. (Above a well-known cosmetic shop.) Below are some crafts made by a street-cart vendor.
Above, those are lanterns that are lit by electric bulbs. I really had the feeling of buying them but moved on.
On the large street in front of the Jogyesa Temple were set up tents for one to experience different types of Buddhism or create Buddhist crafts.

One of the favorites among international visitors is the hands-on experience program where visitors can participate in making lotus-shaped lanterns or paint a Buddhist picture.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, despite what some may think of as a commercial-Buddhist happening. I think it is important for Korea to share their culture in this way because it allowed people to get involved and learn something. There was plenty of English on the signs and English speaking helpers.
We found one area where you could make a lotus flower or lotus flower lantern.
I decided upon the flower, because to make the lantern you needed 21 petals and I didn't want JH to wait around for me.
It was a lot of fun to make, while more people came up and tried it out.
We then walked around the tents, first checking out a tight-rope performance.
Here were Tibetan monks making a sand mandala.
Many sand mandala contain a specific outer locality which is clearly identified as a charnel ground. The colors for the painting are usually made with naturally colored sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Mixing red and black can make brown, red and white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark.
 Nepalese Organic Coffee anyone?
I was thoroughly impressed with the representation of different Buddhist nations at this festival. It really made you understand how this religion has spread and shaped different cultures around the Asian world.
Then I found myself trying on the Korean traditional costume the hanbok. Although, it was just a simple one that was easy to put on.

I wanted JH to wear one but he had none of it citing that he was Korean and didn't need to.
Around the center of the festival was a ceremony taking place, with a choir singing. (see video from previous post)

 We then headed into the Jogyesa Temple where there was a grand lantern display and concert of dancing children.
It was fun watching the kids dance, but we were really hungry so we headed back into Insadong street for a bite to eat.
The place where we found lunch had a water fountain nearby that a group of children liked to play with.
We went home after lunch and so didn't catch the nighttime festivities of the lantern parade. However, I hope to see it next year. I believe there are still some festivities to happen this weekend so there is still time if you want to catch it. I would highly recommend coming out next year and taking part in the crafts and celebrations.
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