Follow by Email - get notifications of new posts. :)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moving out of the dorm: Handong U Style

Students moved out last week, and we have enjoyed exploring what they have left behind. Before getting to our findings, a moment to describe the unusual student moving process here, based on our observations.

#1: Students buy boxes and labels from a tent.
(2) Students pack the boxes, affix the labels, and pile the boxes in designated locations in each residence hall.  The six residence halls are 4-6 floors high; only 2 have elevators.  Students with access to elevators take their boxes to the lobby; students without elevator access either carry their things to the lobby (floors 1 & 2) or to designated rooms on the other floors. Of course, if they live in Pohang or have a car, they move their own things out of the dorms.

#3: A group of men comes to each dorm with a roller-rack and truck, loading up lobby boxes.  Note that clothing colors have no associated gender - men wearing pink or lavender is no big deal.

#4: Elisabeth foregrounds the conveyor/crane contraption brought to the dorms that don't have elevators.
#5: A man-team loads boxes onto the platform, which travels down to other guys for loading onto a pallet.

#6: Forklifts take the loaded pallets away.

#7:The forklifted pallets are taken to semis and unloaded there.
#8: The loaded semis are driven to Seoul (about 4 hours away). The university provides free bus transportation for students to any city/town in the country, and shipping their belongings to Seoul either for pick-up or mailing saves students a ton of hassle and money; the campus post office couldn't handle this volume.


Confidence as fashion statement.
The boys and I have been here 4 weeks and 4 days now.  Here are some updates and general notes about family life:

(1) Nick completed all his final grading Saturday - HOORAY!  I can't wait to clean his office - apparently the cleaning ajeemas only enter offices to wax the floors once a year, and the office has seen some better days.
(2) Elisabeth will be done with school in 2 weeks on July 12 (remember, her semester started in early March).  Hooray!  She is amazingly self-sufficient - gets herself up and ready, goes the boys' room to pack a snack or lunch, and rides her bike - all on her own if I've overslept.  : )

Help wanted - including delivery (note the scooter)!
(3) Because Nick has been so busy with teaching and grading, we are still eating pretty much like the boys and I did in Sioux Center - lots of packaged or easy food (fruit, sandwiches, chips - have you tried the Hot Spicy flavor of Sun Chips?  I'm addicted); Nick has made a few meals, but not a lot of fancy stuff - it's amazing how much of his cooking relied on an oven, a big kettle, and more than 2 (small) burners.  We have a few pots and dishes and such, but nothing fancy - we plan to buy a counter-top convection oven (basically a super-sized toaster oven) from a woman who's moving. 

Happy bagels! (pronounced bah-ee-gahls here)
(4) The campus has at least 16 places for food - not bad for campus the size of Dordt's!  The cafeteria is called 12 Baskets and has, well, 12 little restaurants, similar to a food court.  I have fallen in love with a couple of them:  Apple in the Tree only serves bagels, cheesecake slices, cheese pretzels, and packaged sushi.  You enter what you want into a computer, then hand the lady your money (or scan your credit card) and she gets what you want.  It cracks me up that they do NOT wear gloves to prep our bagels - everything else but medicine and food service seem to require gloves in Korea.  There is also a little coffee shop ("His Beans")  that sells WAFFLES TO DIE FOR - about $2.50 each, with either chocolate, caramel, or real maple syrup and sliced almonds, each packaged in a little paper envelope (no plates or forks or chopsticks needed to happily munch this tasty snack/meal).   

(5) Our new apartment building?  We've heard that we'll get moved in mid-July.  We've also heard early August.  I would be happy to move before the snow flies, which might be in January.  

(6) Our stuff from Sioux Center was shipped from Omaha to LA, put into a shipping container, and has left on its 50-60-day trip to Korea.  I would rather it wait to arrive until we move to the new apartment, as we have nowhere to put it amid our 3 studio apartments. 
(7) It is officially monsoon season now, but I have yet to see it.  It rains a bit each night and early morning, and we had some wind one day (maybe 15 mph).  It's warm (70s or 80s) and steamy (75% humidity) during the day, then down into the 60s at night - our windows are open most of the time...

(8) ... except that we must close the windows because of the DRUMMING.  About 20 students are learning traditional Korean drumming/dancing - and they practice 2 or 5 or 12 hours a day behind the student center - which is roughly a football field away from my window.   And it echoes nicely from all the brick buildings.  I could live with the drums themselves - but it's the two pot-lid-bangers that just about drive me to drink. This is what it sounds like: (our practicing students are not this graceful yet and sure aren't wearing the lovely dresses).  Fortunately, 2 of our 3 studio apartments have air conditioning.  Unfortunately, neither of those have reliable internet access. 

(9) The boys and I got our alien registration cards yesterday - hooray!  Now we are allowed to legally get cell phones and get driver's licenses (for a fee, we can just transfer our Iowa licenses), and open a bank account.  We were afraid we'd need to go to Japan to apply for a Korean visa before our alien cards could be obtained, but for some complicated reason we didn't have to do the trip to Japan.  Which is good in a lot of ways, such as the apparent Korean hatred of Japan (it's not even called the Sea of Japan here - it's called the East Sea) and the lack of people to help us translate (Korea students take English classes from 1st-12th grade and start Chinese classes in 8th grade - I haven't found anyone from Japan here or who speaks Japanese, though there are some North Korean students here as well as folks from Nepal, Kenya, the US, etc.).  

(10) The students have moved out so we have done a bunch of "dumpster" diving - though it doesn't involve dumpsters OR diving.  More on a separate post. 

That is surely enough news for now.  Let me know if you'd like to hear more about any particular topics.  : )

On the entrance to 12 Baskets.  : )

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Beach Picnics (or, Have Your Cake but Don't Try 4WD)

We went to the beach twice this week - once in the city (Bukbu Beach along the city's lakefront and feels like Chicago) and once north of the city (Chilpo Beach is in a rural area and feels like Muskegon or Ludington beaches on Lake Michigan but without the dunes or grasses).  Both times we borrowed cars to get there.

After Elisabeth's violin lesson on Monday, we took a lovely white chocolate cake (Tours le Jours purchase) to the beach to celebrate Father's Day.  We had a lovely time eating, watching the city life (including the incessant ant-line of ajeemas walking the beach path), and burying the kids in the sand.  A small child was fascinated and came over to help bury David.  Lovely pictures follow, but then an Epic Fail story shall also be told, so stay tuned.

Beach trip #2: On Saturday, we declared that Nick should finish his grading for the day by 5pm and arrange to borrow a car.  Then, we would take a lovely picnic dinner to Chilpo Beach (about 15 minutes north) for a lovely family time.  Let us cut to the chase by noting that the picnic was packed by 5:10; by 6:15, Nick had a arranged for a vehicle, I had accidentally dropped a soccer ball on the head of the lender's 15-month-old daughter, and we were all hungry.  For David and I, hungry = quiet, withdrawn, and irritable.  For Nick, Sam, and Elisabeth, hungry = hyperactive and chatty.  This was thus a tense ride for some of us. 

Upon arriving at the beach, what we SHOULD have done was drive the narrow cement road parallel to the beach and find parking.  What HAPPENED was Nick's desire to test the borrowed vehicle's 4 wheel-drive abilities off road, on the sand, to get us closer to the oceanside. I do not know his reason, as I was unmotivated to ask at the time (recall my hunger-grouchies) and I have refused to speak of this incident since it happened. 

The 4WD did not perform as anticipated.  Once we got stuck to the axles, I climbed out, along with David and Elisabeth, and we went to the beach.  I walked; the kids played.  About 30 minutes later, I returned to find Nick and Sam sweating hard and still trying to extract the vehicle.  I got out the picnic things, set up our blanket about 25 feet away, and ate with the kids while we watched The Scene.  I know this seems cold and horrible, but I did not dare speak. Those of you who know Nick well may remember other incidents where poor judgment hath prevented planned delightful times with friends and family.  I shall only mention the scenario of Chevy Rabbit meets Giant Puddle (Sept 1988); the watery medical emergency when Crack the Whip became Rip Off the Bicep (July 1987); and Quick Sail with Rick became Coast Guard Incident #4909 (August 2001). 

Anyway, also true to God's grace on him, Nick is finally rescued by concerned onlookers.  Four men from Uzbekistan (north of Afghanistan) come over to help.  After some time, Nick recruits another 10 Korean young men, who turn out to be students from Nick's university (and knew him by reputation).

I ate.  And took pictures. This will be funny to me...eventually.

Nick.  Digging.
Uzbeki guy.  Digging and positioning wood.
Sam and 3 Uzbekis push; Nick drives in reverse; 1 Uzbeki yells directions.

Koreans consult.  Sam watches.  Uzbekis went to get an abandoned mattress to provide friction.

Koreans and Sam push.  Nick drives.  Uzbeki's scramble to get the too-late, sodden mattress out of the path. The sun sets moments later.
I went for another walk.

Ajeemas: Lawn Care

You will recall my fear of the ajeemas (though the correct pronunciation is more like ah-jew-mah).  A google search shows a number of (hilarious) definitions, usually referring to a married woman with short permed hair, an oversized visor, crocs, and an aggressive attitude.  Technically, it just means a married woman, but it's used more to describe the particular mindset of a tired, middle-aged woman who doesn't have the time or patience for anyone.

We have identified at least 3 jobs associated with ajeemas: the open-air produce and fish vendors; the cleaning ladies; and the lawn maintenance women. Today we saw the lawn maintenance women en masse, with their (male) supervisor, working in a rough line to weed the campus lawn.  More on that in a minute.  First, the dress code.

Lawn Ajeemas, still roughly in line
It is fairly hot and sticky here today - 78 degrees, 77% humidity, mostly sunny.  But that makes to difference to the Lawn Ajeema dress code.  Long sleeve shirt, blue cotten jacket.  Long black pants, socks, tennis shoes or crocs.  Gloves.  Very large visor, scarf over face (either for presumed health reasons or to block the sun), and scarf over head.  Only their eyes are showing, and only if you're close enough to see under the visor. (Getting away with a crime would be super easy as an ajeema - no one could pick you out of a police line-up.)  Now get out your round orange cushion and strap it to your butt.  Then get your hand-hoe (which has an evil point on it instead of a flat blade), a white garbage bag (there are no other colors), and meet your 15 look-alike friends for work.  
Could you identify these women in a line-up?  And given the nasty hook/hoe they each have, would you want to?

Supervisor Guy keeps the ladies in line.

Sam estimates that this lawn (upon which no one may ever walk - it's hard to grow grass in the clay "soil" so grass is reserved for the eyes only) is about the size of a professional soccer field.  A man in a straw hat (he also has the basic uniform, but not the visor/scarves or cushion/hoe/bag) puts a small cardboard sign about 50 feet from the edge of the lawn to keep the women from wandering, and off they go in a rough line across the lawn, squatting to dig out any weeds in their path.  The women tend to group up, chattering constantly; women who stray from the man's mental line are scolded or even yanked back to their correct position.

Is it worth it?  What would take 1 person perhaps 60 minutes (to gas up a lawn mower, fill up a pull-behind sprayer with feed-and-weed, apply product across the lawn and put the stuff back away) takes 17 people all morning.  But the ladies seemed cheerful, no one got skin cancer or set anyone else up for cancer from the chemicals, and there was no noise pollution from a mower.   And 17 people have jobs instead of 1.  Hard to say whether it's worth it...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lost in Translation

Nearly every day, as we continue to explore the campus and the city, we find English that has been translated from Korean and comes really, really close... but just misses.  Here are a few recent ones - I'll post more in future blogs.  : )

On the floor of a fancy restaurant - the picture doesn't cut off any words or letters except the "en" in oven.  :)

We're not sure what the point was here...

A package of batting for quilters, displayed in the window of a fabric store. 

No idea what the right translation would have been, but Dr. You might have needed a few more English classes before putting this on the shelves.

Not sure what this one's trying to say, but it makes me giggle every time.

Want a bath towel?  They come in packages, with Arnold Palmer embroidered on them, and assurance of proper paperwork. 

We would not want students to get the wrong idea about what the dorms are for, so we trick them out of having affairs.  Affaris's are much better.


How does someone come up with this name for a hot plate?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Burial Mounds

Before we came to Korea, I had read somewhere that Americans hiking through the hills may be surprised to come across burial mounds, which are regularly tended by obedient oldest sons.  Yup - weird, unlikely for me to need to worry about, forget about it.

On my second day here, Nick took me for my first hike behind campus. The area is like a cross between the rolling hills and farmland by Oak Grove (near Sioux Center) and the pine trees and larger hills of Black Hills (South Dakota).  About 20 minutes in, I notice a small clearing and a circular bump on the ground about 8' in diameter.  Oh, I say, joking around, I supposed that's a "burial mound"?  

Yes, he responds, and keeps hiking, like this is NORMAL to bury your parents in the woods somewhere and come pull the weeds and have a picnic there a couple times a year.

The more I've hiked, the more of these tombs I've seen.  Some are very plain - just the mound - and some are fancy - cement surrounding the mound, name markers, bench, pillars.  Some are alone, and some are in small groups; some are hidden in the woods and some are along the highway.  I finally found a map in English which points out some tombs as a landmark - and I love how they distinguish tomb from Very Nice Tomb.  : )

 I didn't realize the degree to which I assumed that people "should" be buried in a set-apart piece of land, cared for by hired workers, rather than remembered and cared for after death by family members.  Interesting.

3 tombs; marker with family name in Chinese characters
Fancy mound, guarded by 2 pillars with squirrels and acorns. 

the largest burial area I've seen; along the main highway - 8 older tombs and 1 newer one in the front.

Eating in Korea

Some of you have asked what we eat.

Nick the Adventurous might say "We try all kinds of Korean and fusion foods."

Elisabeth the Bold might say "I like trying all kinds of things except for really spicy stuff which makes me feel kind of sick so I try not to eat the really spicy stuff but I have tried lots..." (and so on).

Sam the Willing might say "I have tried some things and would like to try more."

Sherri the Hesitant might say "I have noticed a variety of foods in the grocery store."

David the Reluctant might say "I ate 4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch today."

We usually eat American-type food at home (spaghetti, pancakes, grilled cheese), but all of these have slightly different flavors than we're used to.  We've been to McDonald's once (very similar to the US, except no free refills, drinks are served in re-usable cups, and trash must be separated).  We also went to a nice restaurant (Black' Smith), where Elisabeth and I shared a gorgonzola pizza with a side of honey; David had a cranberry cheese pizza with a side of lemon; Sam had pasta carbonara; Nick had steak with tomato and mozzarela (see picture).

In plain language, this is string cheese.

Cheese - especially hard cheese - is very hard to find. We were delighted to find string cheese, though its name makes no sense to me (see picture), and it's not cheap (about $10 for 10 pieces).  We can get mozzarella, grated Parmesan, brie, and Camembert in the stores, but to get cheddar, we need to go to another town about 90 minutes away.... A man recently asked me for a favor and I agreed as long as he paid me in cheese.  : )

We went to a marshmallow roast in honor of an ex-pat girl's 11th birthday. Most of the kids had never had marshmallows or roasted stuff over a fire, which made this a special occasion.

Necessary items for a marshmallow roast.

So, a marshmallow roast requires 3 things.  (1) Marshmallows (an ex-pat had a contact at the local Marine base who could get her marshmallows for the occasion); (2) fire (nicely contained in a Weber grill); (3) sticks (plucked from the forest or crafted from taped-together wooden chopsticks).

Oh, and pale stringy things (see picture). Those are dried squid bits.  Because OF COURSE you'd bring a dried squid to an 11-year-old's birthday campfire, roast it on a stick along with the marshmallows, then rip it apart and share it around.  One kid loves this as a snack and she suggested I eat a tentacle (they're the best part, she claimed).  So I did.  It was chewy, like beef jerky in texture, but with 10x the salt and a strong fish flavor.  It must be an acquired taste.

Sam and I were the only ones who thought the squid-at-a-birthday-marshmallow-roast was both horrifying and incredibly funny.
A dried squid, just picked up from your local grocer's snack section.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Driving in Korea

Korean driving and traffic laws are much like the US: drive on the right, steering wheel on the left side of the car; streets have yellow and white lines; same traffic lights, etc.  Korea even has an agreement with 11 US states, including Iowa, where you don't even need a written or driving test here - just exchange your US driver's license for a Korean one, which Nick has already done.

However, there are at least 3 differences we've observed.

First, traffic signs and lights are ... guidelines rather than rules.  If you're at a red light and traffic is light, go for it.  No problem.  If you're a bus and you're approaching a red light, just honk and go through it.   Some taxis do the same.  I find the ride much more relaxing if I just look out the side windows.

Second, many intersections have designated U-turn areas - watch for the dashed white line and inverted arrow on the road.  Again, these are suggested places for good U-turns, but you could do this wherever you'd like.

U-turn sign.  Note David and Sam hiding in embarrassment at the bus stop while I get a picture
Third, securing a child in a safety seat appears to be far less important than spending quality time together.   Seeing a child bouncing on a parent's lap is not unusual, but I have to admit great surprise to seeing a DRIVER do this with her (adorable) daughter.  I tried to sneak some pictures as our car pulled alongside such a driver, embarrassed when she saw me, but then she SMILED and HELD HER BABY UP so I could take more pictures.  Makes you wonder about the American emphasis on safety (a concern for one aspect of quality of life) vs. the Korean emphasis on connecting to their children (a concern for a different aspect of quality of life).  Very interesting.

Boys and the Ajeemas

You've read that I fear the ajeemas, but the boys both had interesting  interactions with some this week that made me laugh.  While Nick and Elisabeth went to her violin lesson in the city, the boys and I rode along then wandered the neighborhood for an hour.  Along the way, David (in his Charles Dickens-era streetboy cap and grey tie-dye shirt) stopped along the sidewalk for a big yawn and stretch.  I noticed two ajeemas approaching us, clearly talking about David and smiling.  As they came up to us, one reached out, rubbed his chest, laughed, and kept walking.  They thought he was adorable.  He was mortified.  : )

We kept wandering and decided to visit a grocery store we'd not seen before.  In the front lot (hardly a parking lot - really just an enlarged sidewalk) was a small tent sale for men's clothing.  Sam has been looking for the cool shorts men wear here (I call them "man capris" just to irritate him) and stopped to take a look, since the prices seemed much more reasonable than he'd seen elsewhere.  The ajeema running the booth was very smiley; she quickly found some XL and XXL sizes for him, then gestured for Sam to come to the corner of the tent, behind a low display table.  She opened a newspaper on the ground and pantomimed squatting and trying on the shorts.  In an open-fronted sidewalk sale tent next to the  store entrance.  The ajeema was so eager to please, and I just can't pass up funny situations, so I strongly encouraged Sam to try on the shorts. Very reluctantly, he went to stand on the newspapers, but unable to change while squatting (these ladies must have amazing knees) and too tall for the display table to cover his important parts, he stuck one leg in while wearing his own shorts, quickly declared "too small!" and tore out of there.  David and I tried hard to look calm and natural, but kept erupting in giggles. Sam has vowed revenge.