Archive for June, 2010

Jews of Korea (?! really)

@ Yongsan Army Base

With shabboes starting later and later, Chaplain Shulman finally got around to taking a group picture of the Friday night crew. This is pretty much the Jewish community of Korea that I know – English teachers, Korean natives, US army, reform to orthodox. People come for an hour or two outside of Seoul to get together at the US YongSang Army Base for services and dinner. It’s not Ann Arbor, but it’s not bad.

8 or so of my friends are in the picture, including Linda (to my right), who’s not jewish and was suckered by me into going. This week was Sheva Brachot for Neil and Tobi, who just got married, and a huge going away party for everyone leaving Seoul in the next month. I thought there would be some serious partying, and dragged her along…. well, at least I think she enjoyed the food.

๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, it’s a good time – I’m happy to be part of it.
Be sure to click for larger picture!


About two weeks ago, I lost my internet at home.

What I mean to say is that the wireless network that I had been leaching off of for my 10 months here in Seoul suddenly disappeared. I suspect that the owners moved out of their apartment. This reactivated a renewed conviction in me that I was being smited by Gd for my thievery โ€“ an eye for an eye, if you will.

However, Iโ€™m not so good at suffering, and so after a week of no net I asked my co workers for help. Hopefully, I should have net at home (net that I pay for on a monthly basis) and cable tv by tonight. Now, having TV does seem to be dangerous (picture it: a slack jawed Naomi blissed out on cartoons for hours on endโ€ฆ) but Iโ€™m super excited.

The challenge in this no-net time has been what to do with my free time. While I didnโ€™t go to the gym more often, I did read. A lot. I plowed through A.J. Jacobโ€™s book on living biblically for a year. I spent hours laying in my bed, studying Korean. I started writing a collection of vignettes.

And I cleaned my apartment.

I hope that I can keep the intellectual momentum going after the cable guy comes by today.

4 weddings and a funeral

World Cup fever!!! Korea just won the game against Greece, and I yelled with the best of them (much to the chagrin of my Korean friend) at the Hongdae Jazz bar where we found ourselves.
It was there that I told my friend, Hyung, about what on did on Friday.

On Friday, all of the teachers at my school on an email message that a mother-in-law of one of the teachers had passed away, and anyone who wanted to could some to the funeral service.

I’ve been to 4 weddings in Korea, all of varying size and religion, but a funeral? That’s a very different experience. With some help from Seolah, (the art teacher) it was arranged that I would go with my ‘district’ head (Mr. Kim, who is in charge of the area where I sit in the office) and Jess, one of my fellow English co-teachers — after I went home to change. My outfit of the day (think watermelon: a neon pink shirt, black dress slacks, and neon green sneakers) would only just barely fly as appropriate, even on a foreigner.

Just like one of the weddings were the same, I don’t think one funeral is representative of Korean funerals as a whole. ‘Funeral’ is maybe not even the right word- in all intents and purpose, it was quite similar to the Jewish Shiva ceremony.

Mr. Kim, Jess and I filled into a small room and removed our shoes. The closest family members to the deceased stood at attention, receiving guests. At one end of the room there was a framed picture and some flowers. Jess nudged me, and told me to take a flower from the big vase and lay it in front of the picture. Then the guys bowed in respect.

Okay — I feel like I’m writing this out too detailed. This ain’t no anthro study – I’m just another waygookin (foreigner) in Seoul. Point is, we showed our respects.

Then comes the Shiva part: we headed into a different room and had a meal of stew, cookies, sweet drinks and beer, rice and other light snacks. The family members mingled with guests, laughing and talking about their memories. It wasn’t sad, and it wasn’t exuberant; a celebration of a life more than anything else.

And that’s it. We ate a bit and headed out our separate ways.

I guess in some ways I feel lucky to have been allowed in that space as an outsider. Most of the time, I feel very welcome in Korea (despite that pubic opinion of America may be) but I can’t ignore that I am not family/community/etc. And that’s cool.

As I drank makkgoli tonight and cheered Korea on to victory, shooting fast texts to my coworkers about the game highlights, people joked that I’ve become Korean. Maybe a better of of saying that is that between weddings and a funeral, Korea has let me fit myself in.

I just spent my WHOLE weekend working on ONE lesson plan. Now, I know I’m slow, but this is ridiculous. My last three weeks of teaching have been pretty strong, so in some ways I feel this equal obligation to ‘Bring It’: the most fun, the most awesome, the most speaking activities, equal parts entertainer and educator. And this lesson mostly delivers that, all in preparation for parent’s observation week.

But I don’t feel like I had a weekend. I don’t feel relaxed. I didn’t even have time to go to the gym or kick back with a choice beverage.
When I was a senior in university, a professor told one of my friends that he was too good of a student. “Be a bad student, just for a bit.” I feel like I should take next week easy – pick up a lesson plan and secondary material from online, and enjoy my weekend. Live my life. Is that fair to feel as an educator? Probably not. . .

There’s about three more weeks till the kids take finals and the semester winds down into sumer vacation. I’m sure all of my fellow english teachers are waiting for it as eagerly as the kids. ๐Ÿ˜‰

best email ever

I sent one of my hike girls some pictures of her, and I got this message back-

“Thank you Naeohmi
You are the best
Pretty cute, sexy and charming and lovely kkamjjikhago bourgeois women and the teachers love the chic (students’ name)
I am writing now to English Google Translator
Naeohmiui ppogeulppogeulhan naeohmiui good head voice is the best”

Ah… ppogeulppogeul means “curly” ๐Ÿ˜‰ Made me grin.
I wrote back to her nothing but “ใ…‹ใ…‹ใ…‹ใ…‹ใ…‹”
(The Korean laugh sound~ haha I feel like my typing is getting konglish-ized.)

Hiking in Seoul

Last week one of my co-teachers asked me if I wanted to go hiking on the weekend.
After my disastrous attempts on the teachers retreat, I figured I’d never have to encounter another ‘san’ in Korea, besides my daily climb up the Hyewon Hill.
(SIDE NOTE: My kids hate it more than I do. Why? They’ve built monster calf muscles, haha.)

Turns out this optional weekend climb is on one of the easiest mountains in Seoul. But what me say yes was who else was going: The Bad Girls. Oh yes.
The way that school works here is that each grade is broken up into 8 or 9 homerooms. The homeroom teacher acts as kind of a parental figure. If a class of girls is especially awesome, tell their homeroom teacher – if a class is especially horrific one week, I tell their homeroom teacher. In every homeroom class, there are about 3 ‘bad’ girls. This isn’t an arbitrary number, the school evenly divided these students up.

What is ‘bad’ in Korea? I guess about the same as in the States – these are the kids who have been caught stealing, who get into fights, who have the worst attendance, who are disruptive in class and who have some of the lowest grade averages. The funny thing is, MOST of them behave decently in my class. Most. Well, no more worse than their peers. Anyway, in an effort to bond these girls with their homeroom teachers, Hyewon Girls’ Middle School presents: hiking.

Now, I ain’t no homeroom teacher. But I each every 3rd year class and every 1st year class, so out of the 25-ish girls that where chosen for the trip, a lot of them were my kids. A good chunk at least. So, strapping on some sneakers, I found myself on yet another hike in Korea.

SangAe is actually her class president~ She just wanted to go hiking!

You can't even imagine how much I was sweating. . .

The hike was promised to be easy. While there’s a difference between the Korean idea of an “easy hike” and MY idea of an easy hike (my idea involves walking around an air-conditioned mall) this was easily my most enjoyable hike ever. I didn’t trial behind everyone, I didn’t get hurt, and even though I was leaking tons and tons of h20, I still had fun. It was great to get to know some of the girls better – like that one of the toughest ones is afraid of dogs. And having them share their candy with me. And having them trying out their english skills outside of the classroom.

So yeah. All kinds of awesomeness being had here! ๐Ÿ˜€
In other news, I bought a plane ticket to go back to the states for vacation. Two weeks of Ben n Jerry’s ice cream, driving and forgetting all of the korean I have creamed into my head —- hopefully not on that last one! It’ll be nice to be back, for a little bit at least.

a million n one vids