Monday, March 28, 2011

Important Changes at my Work Placement

It has been a while since I have talked about the work that I have been doing here, but that doesn't mean that my life has been ALL fun and games! I actually work 6 days a week now, and there have been some pretty big changes in what I do since the last time I posted. Let me catch you up to date:

I am still at Seomna Center five days a week (Sunday-Thursday). During the week, I have a revised teaching schedule, so I no longer teach ALL grade levels at the Center. The elementary students are so busy with drum lessons, dance lessons, homework tutoring, piano, violin, art therapy and tons of other activities, that I could never seem to fit in an English class with them (which is just fine with me, as I feel these other activities are more important for them!). Now, I focus my teaching energies on the middle school students, working with them before dinner primarily on reading and pronunciation. Today we sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles and "Country Roads" by John Denver. That's my kind of teaching. Once a week I also have first and second graders and I still do soccer with all the kids on Wednesdays. I also spend a lot of time playing (ping pong, legos, origami) and trying to find ways to be useful.

Three days a week I spend a significant amount of time at Seomna with the foreign immigrant women. We take Korean language classes for three hours a day, eat lunch together, take arts and crafts class, go on outings, and I also teach them English once a week. The women usually bring their young children to class, so I have made several new friends who are all under the age of two. I love this part of my life, even though it is definitely "being" and not really "helping" the center, as I have gained some glimpses into the lives of these women. They talk about returning to their homelands for visits with friends and family, and one woman from China hopes to be able, this year, to have her mother meet her one-year old baby. They talk about wanting to find employment, and a few women have gone on interviews, while one woman from Nepal was just hired by an office in the community. I will miss having her in class! We cheered when one woman from Cambodia announced she was pregnant. The women, many are from Vietnam, consult each other about child care and make jokes about being married to Korean men. This past week we even went to a Korean wedding together to watch a woman from Vietnam celebrate her wedding to a Korean man (they got married last year but didn't have a ceremony, so the Lion's Club sponsored a group wedding for 5 multicultural couples to have a nice ceremony at a wedding hall).
Our group with the married family in traditional Hanbok.
The couples lining up to walk down the aisle.

Mmmm wedding food.

Today we made pottery together at a local university. Some of the women were very talented and creative.
Two of my classmates hard at work on their pottery.

My cup in the process of being sculpted.

My good buddy at the center.

One day a week (Fridays) I now volunteer at Sanaru Community. The two aspects of this center that I am privy to are a feeding center for people experiencing homeless or homebound-ness, and an after-school center for youth in a poor neighborhood. I am still finding out how I can fit into this community, but they have been wonderful about letting me experience their work, even when I sometimes feel I am messing up their established routine. I help pack food boxes and deliver them to 8 homes in the neighborhood where people are homebound. I help serve food to about 180 homeless individuals who come there every night for dinner (a nearby Catholic church is in charge of lunch, and a nearby Lutheran church is in charge of breakfast). I also do A LOT of dishes, before heading upstairs to help out with an elementary school class, then lead two classes of my own, one for middle schoolers and one for high schoolers. We work on reading and conversational English in ways that I try to make fun and low-pressure. I like the chance to get to work with some older kids, and everyone has been so kind and welcoming of me.

On Sundays, I rotate with Becky, Katie, and Simon to lead the youth group at the Hannam University Church before heading to Seomna Center to accompany other volunteers as we visit foreign migrant men in the community. It's a very busy schedule, but I am enjoying it!

Some Fun Outings

When most people come to Korea, they tend to focus their energies on Seoul, perhaps venturing down to Busan or the honeymoon island of Jeju. But, there are plenty of other gems scattered around the peninsula that are quite interesting, and in these places, one can enjoy the quietness of rural Korea sans Japanese tourists and karaoke rooms at every turn. This blog chronicles two recent outings to far-flung corners of South Korea, as well as some recent activity in my city of Daejeon, which also doesn't get a lot of recognition from tourists and brochures.

1. Boeun
Boeun, smack in the center of South Korea, is an area known for it's long-living people. I went with the Khim family and Katie, as we set off to discover "what makes [our] mind and body happy." First stop was to see Jeongyipumsong, a pine tree, which is supposedly pretty ancient. Legend has it that when King Sejo was traveling through his kingdom, a branch of this tree was blocking his path. He asked the branch to move, and it did, so the king bestowed a royal title on the tree (basically made the tree a cabinet minister).

Our next stop was to Beopjusa Temple, which was built in 553 AD. The two most distinctive features of this temple are this giant golden Buddha statue and Palsangjeon Hall.

There were also some great carvings on the rocks surrounding the temple.

Another ancient relic was the Samnyeonsanseong Fortress. This was built in the late 5th century, and although it is small compared to some other mountain fortresses in the country, it is very well preserved.

2. Buan
Hapgu Village in Buan County was advertised as being "the" place in Korea to dig up and eat hard clams. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was cold and windy and too early in the season for the clams. But, with the help of some amazingly helpful and patient folks and a genial taxi driver, we found many other things to keep us entertained in this rural area on Korea's western coast.

I had never REALLY wondered about how silk was made, but now I know! We had a super enlightening tour of the Silkworm Town where we learned all about the stages of a silkworm's life, notice all the larvae, and got to try our hand at extracting the silk (below).

We also stopped by a coast-side manor and traditional village that actually turned out to be a movie and TV set! Here I am hanging in a traditional house with my friend Luka.

And we DID get to go to the coast for some great views and refreshing sea air. The tide was coming in, and the whole coast had a rugged, ancient feel to it. In summer this area has popular beaches and people coming to drive on the Saemangeum Sea Wall, which is the longest sea wall in the world, but on this blustery day we got to have the coast almost all to ourselves.

And no trip to Buan would be complete without a giant, steaming bowl of their famous hard clam porridge in a ramshackle restaurant perched on a cliff above the coast. Perfect ending to the day.

3. Daejeon has some things to offer too! Here I am at the Daejeon currency museum. During the war, the money printing capabilities were moved out of the capital city and down here, where (I am pretty sure) money is still being minted.

I also recently biked through the heart of town to the government complex. Along the way, I was delighted by all the little parks and pieces of nature that the city has tried to preserve and promote. In the midst of 360 degrees urban landscapes, Daejeon has pockets of parks and green space. Here are two examples.

When I reached the government complex, below, they were a little flummoxed that I would be there just to sight-see. But I don't know why it was so shocking; I discovered some truly awesome things! Among the more mundane-sounding offices and departments, the government complex houses the "air-conditioning machinery examination department," and "the ubiquitous examination team," as well as being home to the Korean Inventors Hall of Fame and the Statistics Exhibition Center. Talk about exciting!

In the Statistics Exhibition Center I learned that KOSTAT, the premier statistics bureau in Korea which is located right here in Daejeon, is "promoting a higher standard of happiness" for all Koreans. That is a responsibility that must be taken very seriously. And in the Korean Inventors Hall of Fame I was thrilled to learn that, among more trivial things like paper, metal printing type, the satellite, the compass, and Dolly the Sheep, Koreans are also proud to have invented bagels and Choco Pies! Hats off to you, Korean inventors!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Update from the Sports Desk

Hey there sports fans! Here's what's been going on sports-wise in the "McArdle Does Korea" experience:

1. I went ice skating with the middle schoolers from Seomna Center. For hours we skated in circles, and it was fun to see the progress that some of the students made in that time, some of whom had never skated before. While we were skating recreationally, other skaters were practicing, pretty seriously, either speed skating or figure skating. It's obvious that skating is very popular here.

2. I joined a gym! It's pretty lousy compared to high-tech American gyms, but I enjoy it. They provide smelly outfits for us to wear while working out, and I am DEFINITELY the sweatiest person in the gym.
That yellow banner on the 3rd floor says Hannam Health, my gym!

3. A great professor at Hannam University lent us a bike! Traffic makes biking on the streets rather life-endangering, but there are some great bike paths along the multiple rivers in town that are a treat to be on during the nice-ish weather we've been having.

4. The BLUE FANGS!!! This is the professional (men's) volleyball team for Daejeon, and they are pretty good! I have been to two of their games, and they are super entertaining! The games are interesting in and of themselves, but the crowd is simply astonishing. They are the best fans you can dream of. Every single point, win or lose, gets a song and clapping accompaniment. There are choreographed cheers. The official cheering section has super dances.
The newest Blue Fans fan.
The official cheering section.

Team introductions. (By the way, in Korean, "Fangs" is pronounced "Pongs."

5. I am still playing soccer every week with the kids at Seomna Center. Most of the time they make me play goalie, but it's still fun to get out there and run around for a little bit. To call it "soccer" is a bit of a stretch, but still. They have to start somewhere. We also play a LOT of "ping-pong."

6. I I bought some new running shoes, but my old running shoes were filthy. Luckily there is a thing here called a shoe laundry mat! I dropped off my horrible, stinky shoes, and picked them up the next day. They looked brand-spanking-new and even smelled fresh! For under $3. This is something that should definitely be imported to the States.
You would never believe I trained for and ran a half-marathon in these babies a year ago.

7. My friend Sue showed me her golf driving range. Golf, like ice skating, is very popular. Golf courses themselves cost hundreds of dollars to play a round, but there are these fun golf driving ranges dotted around the urban landscape like giant green cages. The shortest amount of time that you can purchase is an hour, and there are automatic tees that conveniently load the balls for you!

8. Every Monday I am still doing Taekwondo. Still a white belt. Still the dunce of the class. Still several feet taller than my classmates. Still a blast!!

9. The Khims, Sue, Katie and I went out for an outing at the ballpark! We watched the Daejeon Hanhwa Eagles take on the Busan Lotte Giants on a beautiful day for baseball. The stadium and game were much like you would find in the States, but the refreshments were an entirely different story. EVERYBODY (literally) gets a box of (spicy!) fried chicken to eat at the game--this is so important that half of the stadium has tables in front of the seats. Also sold in the concession stand: roasted silk worm larvae, cup ramen, beer, Pringles, and caramel corn.
Kai-Li showing off her fried chicken.
Me at the ballgame in (Kai-Li's) Eagles hat.

Our motley crew. While the stands are empty now, they definitely filled up throughout the game.