Hong Kong

I know it has been almost two months since our last post, so I apologize for that. The good news is that we have started a new Page for our trip to Hong Kong. We will have a lot of information posted so we decided to make a new page for it. Right below the picture on the main page you can see tabs for 4 different pages (Home, Hong Kong, Map, and About Us). If you want to read some really good stories and reviews about Hong Kong, then please check out that page. Not all of the pages on the Hong Kong page are finished, so please check back often as we finish writing. We will also be adding picture slideshows so you don’t want to miss those.

So, why no other posts the past 2 months you ask? Well, we have been much busier in the summer than we were in the winter and spring. Now that the weather is nicer we try to travel just about every weekend (mostly day trips on Saturday). Plus our school has added many students the past 3 months and that has opened up more classes and given us more work to do. So overall, the weeks between our trip to Busan and our trip to Hong Kong were not all that exciting. The month of August has actually been less busy as many of our students are on break.

I am not sure how busy things will be going forward, but we are hoping to get many more posts up on our blog.

Busan

A few weekends ago we had a three-day weekend, and we had planned on going to Busan, but we didn’t make any concrete plans in advance. So the week of we were looking for train/bus tickets. We wanted to take the train because it is faster, but it was sold out! We looked for hotels/motels but we didn’t find anything reasonably priced online. So by Friday we had decided just to go somewhere closer. After school on Friday around 5:30 I was talking to our boss’s wife and she was saying that they were going to her mother-in-law’s house that is near Busan. I told her that Peter and I wanted to go to Busan, so we ended up riding down to Chilseo in the yellow school van. In the morning our boss’s wife showed us around her in law’s orchard. Around 11:30am our boss drove us to the nearest bus terminal in Masan. It took about 30 minutes to get to Masan and 40 minutes to get to Busan. Once we got to Busan we started looking for a place to stay. We tried 3 hotels with no luck. The 3rd hotel was Lotte Hotel, and it looked amazing and expensive. Their concierge called another hotel to see if they had any rooms, and thankfully they did. We headed over to the other hotel and dropped off our stuff.

First we went to Haeundae Beach. That weekend a sand festival was going on so there were many sand sculptures. There was a music festival going on too. The first day we walked along the beach and stuck our feet in the cold water. We walked along a pathway along the water to a lighthouse, and then stumbled upon the APEC building. We went inside and looked around, but there wasn’t anything too special. For dinner we went to an international seafood buffet that was down the street from our hotel, and afterwards we went shopping nearby.

The next day we ate breakfast at our hotel and then checked out because there were no open rooms for Sunday night. The breakfast was more traditional Korean style, so we only ate toast and eggs that were filled something that reminded me of the inside of dumplings. After leaving our bags at our new hotel we went to the Aquarium. It’s near Haeundae Beach, and it’s underground. It was only 18,000 won per person, and we had a coupon from our hotel too. They didn’t have any unusual fish, but they did have a shark feeding show. The show was very lively, and most people were pretty excited about it. They had two glass tunnels, which are always fun. After lunch at Outback Steakhouse (because Bennigan’s was closed…), we went on a cruise. It lasted about 2 hours. We went out to four islands, circled them, and then went back. On the way to the islands we stood at the back of the boat and had a great view of the beach and the city. After the cruise we took the subway to the train station to see if there were any tickets available. There weren’t so Peter called our boss and arranged to ride back with them. We saw a sign that said there was a foreigner’s market nearby so we checked it out. It was kind of creepy, and there weren’t many open shops. After that we went to Busan Tower, and after looking around a little we headed back to our hotel.

On Monday morning we had to check out and take our bags with us. We eventually found lockers for our bags in one of the subway stations, and then we headed to the bus station to buy a bus ticket early so we wouldn’t be stuck in Busan. After buying bus tickets we headed up to Geumjeongsan Mountain to see part of the fortress. We didn’t spend much time there because we wanted to get to the beach, but next time we would probably wear hiking shoes! The beach was relaxing. We were only there for about an hour, but it was nice to be able to get a little sun.

A Tribute to Korean Fathers

Since Father’s Day came and went on the 3rd Sunday of June in the US (and over 70 other countries), I thought I would be kind enough to write about Korean fathers. And since I wrote a tribute to Korean mothers I guess it is only fair to do the same for fathers.

Unfortunately I have not met or spoken with many Korean fathers, so most of the information I have is just from watching them through a language barrier and from what Koreans and foreigners say about Korean fathers. In America where you would see a father and mother sitting on bleachers watching their child play baseball, here in Korea you would see the child at an institute, or hagwon, and the parents out working. Maybe the mother would get home early in the evening but most often the father goes out with his coworkers after work to get dinner and drink. We have had Korean fathers tell us that they work from 7am to 9pm, but most of the time they get done early but either by choice or pressure they go out with their coworkers. It almost seems that they’d rather just hang out with their coworkers instead of go home and be with their family.

Now I know that parenting in America leaves a lot to be desired in general. But I both grew up with good fatherly example and this post is written as much to praise him as it is to call out Korean fathers. And I’ve grown up in circles where the parents have been genuinely good in general. I guess the images I had of Asian fathers before coming to Korea were those martial art action films where the son keeps training trying to impress his father but the father just stands there with a blank stare–no concern and never impressed. Sadly I think that image has only been reinforced since being here. Except instead of the father standing there watching he is off working or hanging out with friends. And then when he comes home his expression is similar to the aforementioned image.

They can also snap really easily. We’ve heard that Korean men can be all calm and relaxed and all a sudden go off on something seemingly insignificant. I imagine it would be like walking on eggshells all the time being scared of that moment when he might snaps.

Certainly not all Korean fathers are that way. Our director, who is one of only two or three Korean fathers I have actually spoken too, seems to be a very good father. But you can tell from watching them at restaurants or public venues such as the beach or baseball game, that Korean fathers lack interest. The most telling aspect is how much the students are attached to me. They have told the Korean teachers before that their parents don’t play with them. So it’s fun to occasionally sacrifice my body as a jungle gym or wrestle with the students. I remember growing up how much fun it was to be tickled and thrown around. I guess its a universal aspect, kids all over the world want a dad that will play with them instead of just provide for them. They want to be loved and even thrown around a bit. Even if they hit their head, they bounce right back up.

As a teacher I am really glad they love me and I love playing with them. But it also saddens me that the students are depressed when they have a day off because they know they will just sit at home and be bored instead of having someone to play with. And as a potential parent, it scares me to think what type of summary someone would write about me. Would I prioritize my time well enough to be there for my kids? Thanks Dad for being a good example for me. And a late Happy Father’s Day to all reading this.

Starting to Grow

Over the past month we have about a 50% increase in attendance. When you start with a low number than it’s not too impressive to add that percentage, but we are happy to be adding students. Seems like everyday we are changing the schedule and adding new students. We have started a new afternoon class as well which I get to teach. And Rachel is now tutoring a girl 2 days a week in the evening.

Unfortunately with growth comes more responsibilities. Seeing the school get established and get it’s feet on the ground is incredible. It’s fun to be a part of. It will be fun to see how big KCIS Dangjin is 5 years from now and know that God let us be a part of starting that. But for right now, we are definitely struggling to not get worn out. When we first started, handling only a few students was manageable. But now being at school from 8:45 am to 7:00pm seems a bit stressful (we do get about 2 hours in total of breaks). Hopefully we are close to hiring more teachers. We continue adding students and the general vibe is that the increase will continue. So who knows, maybe we will get more help soon. On Monday I finished a 6-day on-and-off fever that never quite reached 103. We’ve had teacher’s sick quite a bit this year and even in the hospital. Didn’t realize helping to start a business was so physically demanding.

On Tuesday I did start teaching a Mom’s English Class. Don’t ask me how I got elected to teach the class. Believe me, I was terrified of the idea when I was first told. The class only runs for 50 minutes 2 times a week. It actually should be fun since I will be able to do cooking classes and art classes with the class. I will be teaching them basic English conversations they can have with the children as they do different activities together (i.e. cooking, cleaning, shopping). My afternoon elementary class also got pushed back to 5:30-7:00 because it worked better for the students and our school can open up more time slots for new classes. Sounds like we will be having an afternoon Kindergarten class that would bring in about 8 more students.

Lots of fun happening as the summer starts here. We now have 16 enrolled in Kindergarten and 19 in Elementary classes. All of us are definitely staying busy and trying to stay healthy.

3rd Continental Sports Game

On Saturday Rachel and I attended our first professional sports game in Asia. That now marks the 3rd different continent that each of us has seen a sports game on. In North America we both watch many different games. Rachel watched AC Milan play in Europe. I watched a Rugby game in Australia.

We went to Jamsil Stadium in Seoul to watch the Hanwha Eagles play the Doosan Bears. Before leaving on the bus to Seoul we were doing some shopping and an older Korean gentlemen asked us where we were from in good English. We told him America and he said we looked like we from “European.” Then he said we looked like we were from Switzerland. I am not sure whether to take that as a compliment or not. I’ll accept that as a good sign and hopefully prophetic. We ate lunch at a cute hamburger place in Dangjin before leaving. The cashier did not know much English but she asked us something about tomato, kiwi, and something else. I figured she was asking if we wanted anything else on our sandwich and did not want kiwi, so I said tomato. Turns out she was asking about drinks so we both ended up with Tomato Juice drinks. Certainly not the best drink I’ve had before.

A lot of people go to Seoul on the weekend so it is a good idea to get a ticket ahead of time. We bought our return ticket once we got to Seoul. After some shopping we went to the stadium. I had heard that getting off at Olympic Park stadium is faster than going to the Jamsil stop. But I figured the stadium is name Jamsil so we should get off there. Well, the stadium is directly outside the Olympic Park subway stop which we found out after going back to that stop. We bought some thunder sticks in the subway station before buying our tickets. We decided to cheer for the Hanwha Eagles because they are from Daejeon (instead of Seoul–going for the underdogs) and because they had orange uniforms. Doosan was ranked 6th and Hanwha 7th out of 8 teams in the league so we weren’t expecting too much.

Buying tickets was really easy. Usually you can just walk up at any time and buy tickets for anywhere. We got there about 40 minutes early and the infield was already sold out. So we ended up with outfield seats. When we bought tickets the lady asked which team we were cheering for. They actually divided the stadium up based on the team you cheer for. They do not have seat numbers for the outfield, so we just found some seats and waited for the game to start. By time the game started the stadium was completely packed! There were even people sitting on the stairs. The game was a ton of fun too. The fans get into the game more than in America. They have a guy that leads the fans in different chants. I tried to follow along, but it was in Korean so I was a little confused.

The game was really good too. The Eagles ended up winning 6-0! It lasted as long as an American game would but the tickets were much cheaper. I think we only paid 8,000 won ($8) each for our tickets. Getting on the subway was really easy afterwards as well. I figured we were going to have to wait a while, but we just hopped on and left. Apparently going to a baseball game in Korea is the thing to do if you are foreigner. We saw a ton of foreigners at the game. I hope we can go to another game before the summer is done because it was a lot of fun.

Good Surprises!

Dinner, chocolate, flowers, cake, fruit, presents, jelly beans, and letters. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we had some awesome surprises. The Korean habit of waiting until the last second to tell us anything actually turned out great!

On Thursday night I had a somewhat stressful meeting with the parents of one of my classes to explain some of the changes we were thinking of making. Rachel had gone back to the apartment and right after the meeting was over I got a call from one of our coworkers wondering where we were. One of the mother’s of our students had invited us over for dinner, but our director had forgotten to tell us. And the mother and other coworker were waiting for us outside our apartment. So I quickly walked home and Rachel and I heading over to their house for dinner.

The food was really good and they had a really nice apartment. We even got to watch a Korean drama show. Before we had even left the dinner table we had already counted 5 people crying. Pretty epic. While they were driving us home the mother invited us to go over to her parent’s place to go fishing. They either own a hotel or a country home that is right next to the Sea or a lake! That will be pretty sweet.

When the students got to school on Friday they started giving us gifts. Our director told us that Teacher’s Day is on Sunday so the students bring in gifts on Friday for their teachers. We ended up doing pretty well too. One students’ parents sent in a huge cake, some fruit, and the student had written a note in Korean that said “I love you.” He got the student of the week award. 😉 We got a bouquet of flowers and a real plant. Plus Rachel got a whole perfume body care set. And another student brought in some chocolates for us.

We had also received a yellow slip of paper from the Korea Post but were not able to go to the Post Office until Friday evening. We were not expecting anything to arrive so we were sort of confused. It took us a little while to find where our package was, but when we saw a USPS box in the sorting room we figured we were in luck. My parents sent us a package for Rachel and I’s birthdays! We got a box of Wheat Thins and 3 different bags of Starburst Jelly Beans. Surprisingly only the wrapping on one of the bags was ripped. Plus they got Rachel a handbag from Coach and I got a Packers Super Bowl Champion t-shirt!

The surprises continued on Friday night when we heard fireworks outside. We quickly ran to get a good view of them. The whole show only lasted about 2 minutes but I was able to get a short video of it. Thursday and Friday were definitely some good days. We had had some not so good surprises recently, but these surprises were the kind that keep you going.

Out of all the surprises we had this past week none were more exciting or more important than the surprise we got when Sam told us that he asked Christi to marry him! 🙂 I am so excited for you guys! I cannot wait to see your wedding. We wish you guys the very best.

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A Tribute to Korean Mothers

In honor of the recent Mother’s Day holiday, I have decided to write a tribute to Korean Mothers. Koreans do not actually celebrate Mother’s Day. They have Parent’s Day on May 8th, Children’s Day on May 5th, and Buddha’s Birthday on the 8th day of the 4th month in the lunar year (which happens to be May 10th this year). So we have 3 major holidays within 6 days of each other. Parent’s Day is not celebrated very much but Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday are huge. We have both of those days off from school which is really nice.

It would be very difficult to understand what exactly we have to deal with as English teachers if you do not understand Korean mothers. Koreans are very competitive. Getting into a good middle school and high school are about as hard as getting into a good college in America. So the mothers push their children very aggressively to study and practice. Korean mothers brag a lot as well which makes life even more difficult. If one mother is bragging about how good their kid is, then the other mothers push their kids even harder. These poor children end up getting overworked because their mother does not want to look bad. From the mothers’ perspective, if their child does not turn out perfect than they are viewed poorly.

We have even had Koreans tell us that Korean mothers are insane, so I do not feel too bad about writing about them. Because the kids get pushed to study so much, they turn out to be pretty smart, well at least book smart (ranked 2nd in the world in education behind Norway of all countries). English is one of the 8 or 9 main subjects taught at Korean public schools so most children know some English. In fact, one of the test for determining how good of a high school they go to is an English test. So the parents push their kids to learn how to take that test. The only problem with that is that the students don’t actually learn how to communicate in English, only how to take a test. And the Korean government knows that is a problem, but they do not know how to change that.

Our hagwon is focused more on the conversation side of English than on the written side. The curriculum we use helps student listen to and speak English instead of just take a test in English. The curriculum works great if you can wait a little bit to see results. But Koreans want results immediately. So we have had the challenge of adapting the curriculum to fit the Korean’s craziness. So if you ever teach English in Korea than you can expect frequent visits from the mothers checking up on how their child is doing. It makes sense I suppose, but it can get frustrating.