Thursday, September 28, 2006

You gotta be...

September 29th

Look at those kids!

They are my adorable students. I'm really lucky because this semester my kids and I have an amazing connection; I love them, they love me, I understand them, they understand me, I make them laugh, they make me laugh.

On this picture you can see Max trying to sush Benjamin. We were playing the celebrity game and Ben kept giving obvious clues so Max took the matter in his own hands. We all had a really good laugh about it, including Ben (who is a hilarious and very smart boy)!

Kids do that. They play, sometimes hard. They fight, they hurt each other, and it's ok. They're young and they need to get it out of their system.

But here's the thing I don't get: even though they can sometimes be a handful, why on earth do Korean parents and teachers still use corporal punishment so often?!

I was shocked to learn that one of our Korean grammar teachers at school hits her students on the head with a book.

Laughing to see me so astonished, my students explained that this is really nothing compared to what they endure.

At school, torture techniques include having them in the sitting position without a chair, their arms in front of them. Imagine the thighs.

Or sitting on the table, holding a chair over their head for about an hour. Pain and humiliation.

Sometimes they get down on their knees and teachers hit them. The ruler is a very popular tool - on the head, knuckles, arms, or even legs! The chair is also nice to hit kids on their back.

The most impressive technique is when a teacher pulls a kid by the hair. The teacher being much taller, the child's feet don't even touch the ground anymore. Headache???

Apparently this is called "love punishment". The stick they use to hit the kids is called "love stick".

Although things are now changing, a lot of people here still use corporal punishment. Parents approve what teachers do.

As it turns out, one of my students got 63% on a test and I asked for her mom's signature. She got me her mom's signature all right, along with what I expected the least.

It was a hot day, yet the student was wearing jeans. It didn't take long before she showed me her legs. Huge bruises were covering her shine bone. Yup, her mom had hit her with Korean's national musical instrument - the danzo! And since it's made out of bamboo, she could hit as hard as she wanted and it wouldn't break.

Another kid couldn't make it to school because his father hit him so hard that he couldn't walk!

Tonight when I got home, the neighbour’s boy was gently knocking on his door. After a while, I went out and asked if he was ok. I offered my cell phone so he could call his mom. The kid got all nervous and told me to go back into my apartment. After about 15 minutes, the mom opened the door and beat the hell out of her son.

He'd probably done something bad and she punished him by letting him out for a couple of minutes. Then she hit him.

I just can't believe this. I know, my parents suffered some physical punishment. And it's not so long ago that it was banned in France. And in many countries it is still going on. But how can humans do such a horrible thing? Just hearing the poor kid crying and yelling, I couldn't stand the brutality.

Look at them... I don’t think that Korean children are more disciplined or clever than Americans. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me like corporal punishment is just a quick fix that may leave everlasting scars.

Fuck people, what's wrong with this world? Can't we all live in peace?!

Steppin’ out with my baby

September 28th

The same night I went hiking and met Jang Ho, he texted me to say that he already missed me. The next day, he called to ask me out for dinner on Friday night. Today he wrote me a quick note – "rain is romantic" ;)

So there you go: tomorrow’s my first date with a Korean!

We’re also going out dancing and this is gonna feel good! I a little sick right now, but I need to go nuts!

It’s Chuseok holiday next week, I still haven’t figured out what to do. I’m thinking about hiking near the west sea, or going to an island.

By the way thanks ya’ll for your emails, feeling much better now! Love ya

Sunday, September 24, 2006

City of angels

September 24

My grand-mother believes in "earth angels" - people that cross our path and help us without even knowing it.

I'm not religious - although I am very thankful to whoever created such a wonderful world filled with so much beauty.

On several occasions I have met people in the most curious way and they have turned out to be my guardian angels. I really owe them. But I also believe that "what goes around comes around"... karma! It's important to be nice, open-minded, spontaneous, helpful and positive and, without noticing, we may be giving much more than a smile or a helping hand. Later on, life will thank us by saving our ass.

So today, after having felt quite down for the past couple of days, I decided to do something with myself. Last night we stayed up late so I was pretty tired. Nonetheless, I made it to Bukhansan mountain around 3pm.

Those of you who know me probably expect the worst. Indeed, everytime I decide to climb a new moutain this late in the afternoon, something happens - usually involving me escaping near death.

Bukhansan is an AMAZING mountain! Whatsmore, it is located in Seoul and it is huuuuuuge!!!

I enjoyed a nice (but rather sportive) hike for about 3 hours. See for yourself; the views are awesome. It's crazy to think that you are right in the middle of a big phat polluted city.

I saw many castles, tombs, Buddhist temples. One interesting thing I noticed is that they have set up some natural water sources - communal cups provided. This country is one big family!!! And the water tasted really good!

Anyway, as I was sitting on top of a huge wall at the peak of one of the mountains, the sun came down and I witnessed one of the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. It felt incredibly nice and peaceful.

As I was thinking of going down (wondering how the hell i'd do that without sunlight), I heard "Hello!!" Two Korean guys had appeared out of nowhere. I politely replied (had literally felt like a zoo animal all day) and we had a nice conversation.

Jang Ho, the least shy of the two, speaks really good English. He asked if I wanted to go down with them. I refused, pretending that I wanted to get another glimpse of the sunset. Honnestly, I was a little on my guards because you never know what could happen, lost in a forest at night with two guys.

But they stuck around and I finally agreed.

Probably one of the best moves in my life.

After 15 minutes the sun was gone and it was hard to see in the dark. The path we took was very stiff and my damn shoes were too slippery (never buy those orange Nike shoes). Whatsmore, I had no flashlight and no idea where on earth we were going.

Jang Ho was the perfect gentleman. His friend was ahead, looking for directions, and Jang Ho offered me his hand (so many times), I kept falling on him because of the gravel.

After a while, we had no choice but to realize that we were lost. It was dark but fortunately, I was not scared.

Then we saw another light in the dark, coming our way.

It was an "ajashi", old man going for his night walk I guess, 3 hours away from the bottom of the mountain. I was amazed. He showed us the way and I saw the most breathtaking night sceneries of my life. Seoul, the city, the lights, the mountains, and a fresh breeze. It felt really nice.

It took us about 3 hours to finally come down. We talked a lot. Jang Ho is amazing! He runs the marathon, wants to be a lawyer and he even knows French singers such as Jean Ferrat, Edith Piaf. He's got a GREAT body too (I could feel his muscles when he was "rescuing me" ;)

They bought me beer and dinner.

I'm trying to imagine how on earth I would have gotten out of this moutain without him and his friend. With my shoes I could have injured myself really bad. No light, I could have been lost. Cold, hungry, thirsty, scared. I wonder if I would have been able to get out of there. I seriously doubt it.

It's not the first time that I meet an angel in Seoul. Or in any city... in France, in Spain, in Mexico, in Canada, in Thailand, in China... yes I really think that we're all little angels. And I am forever thankful. Life really is wonderful!

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stop staring at me!

To be honnest, I don't see myself as a pretty girl - despite what my friends, family and even total strangers may say. They just say it to be nice.

Here in Korea, anything that's not Asian is beautiful. I've been told so many time "oooooh! beautiful, beautiful!!" - mostly by strangers, students and their parents. I've been stared at so many times. Touched by old ladies, some of them even grabbed my butt.

But here's the thing. Today I felt crappy and didn't feel like being the center of attention.
I went to the park, took a sunbath and read Kundera ("la lenteur", great book!) Then I went to Carrefour to run some errands.

Of course you can never expect to get right in this department store, quickly get your stuff and get out. Oh no! You're in for AT LEAST 20 minutes - they have this whole marketing thing where you HAVE TO go through the whole store, the whole 3 floors, to finally get to the food section.

Then when you want to get out, you must be patient. The store is filled with lazed Korean families who just stand there in the way, on the moving walkway, and you can't shift them. There are no stairways so you're stuck and must wait.

Today when I got to that part I was going out of my mind. Look at this lady. It's a bad picture but the point is that she totally freaked me out.

She's smiling. No, she's laughing.

As I was quietly looking at some cds in the music section, I noticed a woman staring at me. I didn't look right away, hoping that she's get over it and move on. But she didn't. So I looked. And I felt like an alien.

She was totally staring at me from head to toe, and didn't move when I looked at her in the eyes. I looked away, focusing on the cds. But she moved, just enough to block my sight. By that time, she'd turned around and I was facing her back and she was facing the music. She'd look over her shoulder, and when I tried to move around, she'd take a quick step so I couldn't see.

Tired of this game, I put my hand on her back and pushed a little. But she resisted, still smiling. It was so weird. Not funny at all, kinda creepy. On and all it probably lasted 3 minutes. So I made as if I was leaving and when she saw that, she left. I was stunned. So I followed her, cell phone in my hand, just to get a picture. And to see what kind of freak she was.

I guess she didn't notice me, but at some point she kinda turned around and saw me. She burst into laugh and that's when I took the picture. I smiled, and left.

As if that wasn't enough, outside the store I was stared at by a Black dude. There are very few Blacks in Mok-Dong, yet he was staring at me. Totally hot guy, but I couldn't smile. I always feel like people look at me because there's something wrong with me.

In Carrefour it was the big Chuseok pre-celebration. The national holiday is coming soon and that's when families get together so they have huge sales. And plenty of people to let you know about those very sales.

Some of them were wearing the Korean traditional costume.

Others still wore the typical Carrefour "come to my stand and taste my juice" costume.

Finally I'm home. Gonna cook some Thai food and watch movies with the gals tonight.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Low tide

September 22

Been feeling quite down lately. Those who know me of course understand that it always happens to me after I've spent a certain amount of time in a specific place.

Right now i'm sick of seeing the same people everyday, of doing the same job. I should change the routine, but how?

I live 5 mins walk from school so changing the path is difficult.

I get off work late, so I'm starving and I can't go to bed right after I eat. Since I sleep late, I get up late... that's just common sense.

I'm always exhausted and it's getting worst since I've been sick.

Single and not lovin' it. I think Actually, I think i'm in love but it's the impossible type so hope is killing me.

My friends are simply awesome but it's always like that - I meet new people, we do everything together, spend a lot of time talking, going out, doing stuff, and then after a couple of months I get an overdose of them and just need to be alone.

But when that happens, people see this as rejection. It's not. It's just me. I have issues. I gota be careful. We're supposed to meet tonight but I'm so not in the mood. Am I a bad person for not wanting to see my friends? Sometimes I just really need to isolate myself, nothing personal.

At work my co-workers are cool but I just can't stand being around them. Lately, every day seems the same. Like in that movie with Bill Murray, "Groundhog day"... I might as well just kill myself and yet I'll wake up the next morning and it'll be the same day again.

Fortunaly Chuseok is coming soon and I'll have about a week or so to get out of my rot. I'm thinking of going to a Buddhist monastery, hiking in the south and going to a spa. Sounds pretty nice, but reality might hit pretty hard when I come back.

I guess i'm just not the type of person who can stay put for more than 3 months. The same happened in France last year. And before that too. I was used to boarding school, rez in cegep... even when I was at McGill, I spent 2 years in the same apartment and I was going nuts. Why do I need change so bad??

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I love Korea!

September 10th

It suddenly occured to me how much I love this country.

At school I was teaching a private - this housewive who one day decided that she wants to teach kindergarten. She's going back to school in September even though she has a husband and two sons to take care of. She took private English lessons to level up.

We had the greatest time together! She is hilarious and so spontaneous!!

She called the school to invite me for lunch on Sunday. I agreed.

When I saw the car, I knew this was going to be a fun day. Her whole family was in the car, including her sister!

They took me everywhere and we had a lot of fun!! One place in particular is awesome - a huge park in the center of Seoul, it's called SamcheongGak. Check it out

The funny thing though is that the husband was treated as if he didn't exist. When he said something they's almost ignored him. He was more of a driver/money resource...

I was thrown right in the middle of a Korean family and their dynamics were amazing. Moreover, they took me to real Korean places where I was the only foreigner. It was really great!

When I got home, I couldn't help but smile.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

We clubbin'

September 8th

Friday night, of course we had to go dancing! We all met at my place after work to have dinner (kimchi jiggae miam!) and have a few drinks. The girls even gave Kelly a total make over, she was so cute!

Unfortunately, we were all drunk when we finally decided to go out. We went in Hongdae, first to "Harlem" but it was soooo crowded that we didn't mind wasting the 15$ cover and we headed to "Tinpan" (a classic for foreigners)

The night was awesome! We danced like crazy and there were some cute guys to entertain us ;) Going out in Korea is pretty much the same as in Quebec but it's more fun because... well you don't know the people so you're not as self conscious as you would back home. Moreover, Koreans really love foreigners so everything that you do is cute. And finally, Koreans know how to have a good time!!!

I thought it would be weird but it turned out to be great!! Until.... well we kept drinking over there too so the situation was looking pretty bad. T was crying and then she threw up in front of a Korean girl - which I tried to talk to so she'd forget all about it. K left early. V was soooo drunk that she kept falling on the floor and she let guys be a little too inappropriate. A wasn't drunk but she ended with this actor guy who, after kissing her, grabbed HER hand to put it down HIS pants. As for me, I was doing okay (although overly enthusiastic). C was the most responsible that night. V kept falling even after the cab ride, right in front of my place (see for yourself)

We finally got everyone together and headed back to my place. V passed out on my couch, T went home while C, A and I enjoyed a bowl of cereal before going to bed. A and I were in the same bed so we stayed up late talking. Aroun 6am V woke up and started explaining to us everything that has happened to her over the past year. Dude, 6am?!

The next day we woke up in the afternoon, had some coffee while talking about last night and trying to remember everything. Then we met T at McDonald's (I know...) and spent around 3 hours over there, eating and talking and laughing. Was pretty great.

Right now my legs hurt like hell. I need to shape up, I've been so lazy lately.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Palace and sad old people

September 5th

Today I had an early dentist appointment to get my stitches out so I decided to visit the Changdeokgung palace before stopping to an outdoor cafe to grade and finally go to work at 5pm.

This palace is really nice and is from the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in the early 1400s and had to be rebuilt several times because of war (Japanese invasion, political revolts, etc.) The last King to live there was King Sunjung, who died in 1926.

It is actually now part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Btw the pics were taken with my phone so sorry for the bad quality. Still, visual aid always helps ;)

The main areas in the palace are the work offices, the private rooms (throne, bedroom, etc.) and the gardens.

We visited the Secret Garden, which is incredibly gorgeous!! Apparently it's even more beautiful in the summer, with all the flowers.

Funny story. One king actually requested to have one "noble man" house - in which he stayed once or twice a year to remind himself of the living conditions of his people.

Oh and as I was waiting for the subway, I saw this ajashi (old man) cleaning the floor. Then two ajumas (old women) started sweeping with the energy of superwomen. They really amazed me! And it's not the first time I see something like that. One night we were at a supermarket at 10pm and there were ajumas cleaning the place.

It really bothers me because old people should have the rest and peace they deserve. But, ironically in Korea, where older people are supposed to be at the top of the social hierarchy, the money allowed by the government is quite ridiculous.

So old people have to get a job in order to survive.In most cases the older son takes care of his parents but sometimes he just can't afford it. It's a pretty sad reality.

I remember when we were in Jejudo I felt terrible. We were in this red convertible Volks, having a blast with Marvin Gaye making our day. The sun was beautiful, the wind felt nice on my face and I felt so damn free!

And then we passed by a rice field and this old woman was wearing long sleeves, working her ass off. I didn't get it. I still don't. What's wrong with this world? I'm really into karma these days but no matter how bad people have been in previous lives.... everyone deserves happiness and freedom. A friend told me that maybe they are happier than me. I truly hope so.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The King and the clown... in Insadong!

September 4th

Has anyone ever seen "The King and the clown" (Wang-ui namja)? It's a relatively new Korean movie and I actually really liked it.

It's about two clowns living in the Chosun Dynasty and they get arrested for making fun of the King. But then they are given a chance to be free if they can make the King laugh. The rest of the story I won't tell, but it is both very funny and tragic. I cried at the end.

Anyway, my point is that in the movie, of course, we see traditional Korean costumes, masks, custums, etc. Ironically enough, I saw a skit of the same epoch last Sunday in Insadong!

They had a Korean guy act drunk on the public place while a procession was taking place. The guy had an argument with some of the soldiers (??) and they put him in jail. Then they carried on, carrying the guy behind the wooden bars. It was fun.

I met Erika there because she wanted to buy a guitar and she needed my help (i'm getting really good at those barred chords now! YHou'll be impressed Dave!) It was my first time in that neighborhood but i'm definitely going back! The streets are closed on Sunday afternoon and you have artists exposing along with small shops. You can find anything there, especially art stuff but also buddhist objects and many other things. Restaurants in small alleys are the best!

Apparently the people were much nicer a couple of years ago though. Now it's quite touristic. I tried to bargain something and the lady said "Sorry, not China"

I didn't get it at first, but then I realized how rude she had been!!! She meant that you may be able to bargain in China because it's such a poor country dying for money but that SHE is living in Korea, this great and advanced country and SHE doesn't care about you. She's gonna sell her stuff and if you can't pay, too bad for you.

Sorry i'm still worked up but... man did it bother me! Then I wondered if it's because I think that we shouldn' bargain things anyway? Or because I don't like people acting all superior? Arrrrg whatever!!

Today at school I had a blast! My kids are just LOVELY! And, unlike my previous advanced level classes, these kids love to talk and discuss current issues! I was told that Billy, one of my kid, is a trouble boy that made most kids' parents want to take them out of his class but as it turns out, he's just adorable.

And I have the funniest story that came from one of them.

Me: "What do you want to be when you're older?"
Him: "I want to be a doctor!"
Me: "Wow! Why?"
Him: "It's a secret. I can't say"
Me: "Oh come on!!"
Him: "Well... I want to give my parents Botox!"

This actually says a lot about how most Koreans put a lot of emphasis on their body and looks.

And today again, he made me laugh so hard. One girl in class was actually really slown and she didn't pay attention so as a joke I said "Wake up!!" Well the same boy said "her brain is like... uh..." then pointing at my necklace and bracelet he said "her brain is an accessory!!!"

He is 10 years old!!!!! Of course I couldn't laugh outloud and I had to lecture him on being nice to other but he is just incredible!!

Kibun and Nunchi

September 3rd

Already September! Been here for over 3 months, wow!

Saturday I rode my bike around Mok Dong and ended up in a very nice park where ajashis (old men) and ajumas (old women) were having their ritual weekly meeting. There were many families too, kids running around, people exercising (every park in Seoul has workout equipment that everyone can use! It's awesome!), etc.

This park is great and pretty big - it has a soccer field and I even found what I assume to be graves. They had Chinese characters on them though.

Anyway, I finally found a quiet spot where I sat for 2 hours, sunbathing and reading about Korea. I learned many things but one in particular impressed me a lot. It's called "nunchi" - which basically means "guessing other people's state of mind"

I actually discussed it with Scott and he said that it is indeed a work of art. It's all about knowing when to ask for something, when to deliver bad news, when to give something, just when it's the right moment. And you know it but observing people, by noticing their mood swings, etc. It seems to me quite wise.

Kibun is just how people feel and Nunchi is knowing when to do what. Nunchi is like having an antenna, a sixth sense to sense another's feelings.

Knowing how to read the Kibun can lead to many abuses though, but overall there are some clever ground rules related to that concept - for instance delivering bad news only at the end of the day so the person has the night to recover. The only problem is that Kibun reduces efficiency, especially at work since one must always wait for the right time.

Koreans also behave in order NOT to disturb social harmony so those two concepts are very important. But as new generations arrive (and my kids are the perfect example of this), people get really tired of this "read between the lines" philosophy. They believe that things would be much easier if people were honnest and direct. Being quite spontaneous myself, I think it would be less frustrating than having to guess all the time (although if you're mastering the nunchi then you're not guessing since you're interpretation is the right one :)

At the beginning, I had a hard time with body language - which I learned to translate later on. For instance when a Korean does something wrong (like breaking an object), they look down. To us Occidentals this is so not okay - they must look at us in the eyes! But for Koreans, looking down is a sign of shame whereas looking in the eyes is just plain arrogance.

Moreover, if you are angry at a student, he/she will smile. At first I thought they didn't take it seriously but as it turns out the smile is a sign of shame too.

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All that jazz

September 1st

Last Friday me and my friends went to a really nice jazz lounge in Itaewon, "All that jazz".

For jazz lovers I
really recommend - 5 000 won for the show, alcohol isn't that expensive and the food is delicious! As for the musicians, they were awesome! It's actually the owner of Paganini who took us there.

I was of course feeling down because of my(teeth) medication and the fact that i'm feeling really homesick right now. The irony being that I don't want to go home, but I don't feel at home here either. Don't get me wrong, this country is awesome, people are so nice, there are so many things to see and experience and my friends are simply amazing!! But like any 23 year old living 16 hours from home, not knowing what's next and not being in a relationship, i'm kinda feeling down. Plus I can't fall asleep at night so I'm exhausted right now.