Soccer, Again and Yarn, Again

Tae kwon do consisted of soccer for one hour (for one month classes are only 1 hr long). I didn’t score and at one point one of the kids on my team said, “No think, Amanda.” I don’t know if he was saying I wasn’t thinking or needed to quit thinking or what, but Master seemed amused. I just nodded very seriously and then we played 가위바위보 (gawi
bawi bo or scissors, rock, paper) while watching the other teams play.

Before class I managed to make myself understood when I asked Master what the belt test cost. I had to say it two different ways. I tried “Test [Eng.] alma imnikka?” He shook his head. So I pointed to where the belt would be and said, “Taeguek sam jang alma imnikka?” He understood me and that was exciting. I’ll get my new belt on Monday. I was wrong. It’s not green; it’s purple. Oooh, purple.

He also taught me what I’m supposed to be doing when I press my knees to the wall, so that should help with my front kicks.

I had to pick up more yarn for the baby jackets I’m designing right now. The woman I dealt with on Thursday wasn’t there, but I managed to make myself understood to the gentleman who was working there. I should’ve brought the yarn because I don’t know my colors yet and had to dig around to find another navy yarn to show him. He really had to dig around to find the yarn I needed and I am grateful for that. I have a feeling that dye lots mean nothing here, but oh well! I needed the extra yarn!

I also managed to buy pizza WITHOUT corn, peppers, ham, and all that other junk they’ve been putting on there. I know, my life is really exciting, eh?

Quizás, Quizás, Quizás

After my Korean class yesterday (where we learned to talk about hobbies, sports, and food), I met Michael and Leslie for dinner. We met Michael’s friend Xiandong (completely guessing on the spelling), a guy from China who’s here for business. We had some dinner together and then went to the strangest bar I’ve ever been in. It’s called Moo (무) and for some reason it was decorated with a mushroom theme. An
exciting thing happened at Moo: we found out that I knew a Korean word that neither Michael nor Xiandong knew. 석류 (pomegranate)! So we had pomegranate soju, which tasted much like Kool Aid…

We’re at Moo

We went to a noribang afterwards, which was made more interesting by the fact that Leslie is a trained operatic singer. At one point Michael handed me the second mic and made me sing a song with him—in Spanish. He said, “You studied Spanish, didn’t you?” So we sang “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” together. A very abbreviated list of songs sung include Leslie and Michael doing a very exciting version of
Copacabana, Xiandong and Michael singing some Korean song called “Ha Ha Ha,” and me singing Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” which actually has verses, not just Dylan Mumblin’.

The Four of Us in Sinchon.

Leslie and I will probably be getting together one weeknight this week sans Michael. She’s a good egg.

This afternoon Ali and I met one of our students and her family at Outback Steakhouse for the student’s birthday. Somehow this ended up with all of us wearing goofy hats (that the staff gave us, mine was a pumpkin) while the staff sang a song for her and took our picture for her to take home. I was also asked my blood type. I have no idea what my blood type is. O? At any rate, very nice family, and very kind of them to invite us out for lunch.

I’m not ready for the weekend to be over. I’ve been working on a new knitting pattern and want to keep working on it…

Belt Test and Korean Yarn Stores

I had the belt test tonight. The testing environment was more formal than I’m used to. Master sat behind a desk that was draped in velvety material. There was a big sign behind him (I was too nervous to even try to read it) and he marked up all these papers. Before he showed up, at the very beginning of class, everyone was lifting their knees
up against the wall. They showed me what to do but I don’t know quite what the purpose was…

I think the test went well. I was the only one testing in my belt. I was taught to do front kicks with my non-kicking leg facing forward (the direction of the kick) but now I’m being told to rotate that foot 90 degrees. Also, I was taught to keep my foot fairly neutral when kicking, but now I’m being told to point the foot and pull the toes back. It’s hard to overcome 2 years of training. I was also told to go 천천히 (slowly) on the form. Again, the speed that I was trained at for years is hard to overcome. I am not complaining, all studios are slightly different and this is good training for when I train with my third consecutive studio when I get back to the States. Also, he seems to understand. (Of course, I will retract this statement if I didn’t pass the test.)

After everyone test and we bowed out, I was told that I could change and leave. I waited a bit, but Pyeong Ju didn’t come out (nobody did) so I guess he was doing a lot of talking in Korean.

I stopped by the really local yarn store in the market near the studio. A much longer post is on my primarily knitting website, but here’s a picture of it.

LYS in Korea

Tae Kwon Do, Oh No….

Today I had my first real “I want to cry (about Korea)” day.

It is summer here in Korea, which means everything changes. Kids are out of school and thus all of the private schools (hogwans) have “summer camps.” So there was no tae kwon do on Monday and the schedule is weird for one month. I thought tae kwon do was from 6 to 8 pm. It’s really from 6 to 7 pm or 5:30 to 7 pm, I’m not sure which.

I work until 5:30 and have to take the shuttle home with the kids, which means I don’t get home until 6:45 or so. So today I was late (although only a half hour late since kids were missing from the shuttle) to tae kwon do. Master told me I was late and I told him I had work and eventually he called Jason (translator extraordinaire) and we three chatted back and forth and Master decided to change the
whole schedule so that class starts at 6:30.

Oh no, no, no. I asked Jason to please tell him not to do that. I told him I didn’t want to be the random 미국 (American) who messed up 24 other schedules just because I have work. He talked to Master.

At the end of class…it got changed.

Of course, the shuttle still isn’t getting me home until 6:45. So I called Jason and asked him to talk to my big boss at the admin meeting tomorrow, because the whole schedule got changed and yet…I’m still going to be late. Jason pointed out that it’s Master’s studio and he can change things, but I know it was changed for me. Jason said he’d talk to everyone else at school. Hey, if I’m going to get special treatment one place, I guess I’ll ask for it elsewhere… I’m already getting permission to take a taxi home tomorrow rather than riding with the kids because I have a belt test tomorrow. Oh, and normally belt tests are on Fridays but since I don’t come Fridays, mine is tomorrow.

Pyeong Ju and I walked home together and I told her I was horrified that everything had been changed for me and she reassured me that it was OK. We stopped by the grocery store and we got these fabulous pomegranate ice cream bars (석류) for 250 won each! No nutrition labels on them. After destroying Michael’s life by reading the nutrition label on the 돼지 bar (lit. “pig”), I don’t even want to know…

I really am trying to be gracious, but I would hate for the other students to resent me. What was it I learned in anthro class? No matter how hard you try to be an observer, your very presence changes the situation.

Day Trip to Ganghwa-do and Seongmo-do

Yesterday I took a day trip to some islands, Gangwha-do and
Seongmo-do, in the northern part of South Korea in the West Sea. Michael’s friend Leslie is visiting for several weeks, and they invited me to go with them. We were less than 15 miles from North Korea for much of the trip.

We visited a Buddhist temple, Bomun-sa, on the island of Seongmo-do. The temple site is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. The site was very pretty, surrounded by juniper trees and set in the mountains. We climbed more than 400 steps to get to a bas-relief sculpture/carving called Eyebrow-rock Buddha. We also went to the beach where we peered across the water to North Korea.

We then visited the Goryeo palace site on the island of Seongmo-do. The palace was quite small but had some interesting history, as it was used as a place of exile twice by the royal family when Korea was under the control of the Mongols and Manchus. Most of it didn’t look like it had been restored recently, which I liked.

Photos can be found in the gallery; here is one of my favorites.

Bomun-sa Dragon

When we got back to Seoul, we chowed on some great Indian food and Michael graciously offered to let me crash at his place.

Today we went to two foreign food markets and I grabbed two boxes of unknown-name Mac and Cheese. I don’t normally do fake-cheese Mac and Cheese, but for 900 won each, I couldn’t pass them up. I also bought 2 lbs of pepperjack cheese for 10,000 won. Ouch. At least now I know where to find some foreign markets…

Wooden Floors, Bruises, Soccer

I had tae kwon do last night.

To make a long story very short:
I got hit on the head with a soccer ball,
I fell on the wooden floors, but they’re old and polished and it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would,
but I have a nice bruise on my knee today,
I scored the only goal in four games for my team (each game was sudden death) but it was a total accident, so it shouldn’t’ve counted,
the other woman in class and I were each captains of teams with 4 children on them (lump me with the kids all you like, because most of the teenage boys are very cocky),
since I was a captain, my name was written on the white board in Korean and that was disorienting for a moment,
I sounded out a few kids’ names from their belts and they in turn practiced their English with me,
the other woman in class, Pyeong Ju, walked me home and in doing so asked my age and made me realize I’m the oldest one in class.*

I have been meaning to take a picture of this “song room” right next to my apartment building for a while. It’s the Julie Anna Noribang. See how the “ng” sound (shown with a circle ㅇ in Korean) is a heart? Yeah…that means it’s a noribang I won’t be setting foot in…

Julie Anna Noribang

Today my Korean co-teacher and I stopped by a large park to take pictures of street signs. Some kids were playing “horse” and I got a picture of them. They started yelling, “Where are you from?” I got the picture, they got to show they knew English.

Kids Playing Horse

*As a side note, most of the people in my school are children and teenagers. I am, as far as I can tell, the oldest person in my class (27 Korean age, Pyeong Ju is 20). This is normal in Korea for a variety of reasons. I was warned by my Master and another friend (who taught in Korea for a year) that training here would be very different
than back home. It’s mostly for children and it’s less serious here. Belts are handed out like candy. These are the things I was told.

I can see aspects of that here (soccer for half of class?) but I also like that the kids, who are shuttled from hogwan to hogwan after school, get some physical release and get to have fun. There are aspects that are more competitive than at my studio in the States like freesparring for points. And soccer! Other things seem to not be emphasized as much as back in the States. I trained with two different
studios in the States and they were different from each other, as well.

Very often serious students in America are very upset when they get here and see “the state” of tae kwon do here. Ignoring that very romanticized fantasy (and aren’t we so often upset when our fantasies don’t jive with reality?), I am not such a serious student.

Breaking Templates and Freesparring

I completely broke my template somehow and although I could SEE in the source what was wrong, I couldn’t get it to work. So. I had to recopy every post and comment. Rather than make a profile for anyone who’s commented, I put them all under my name. Hopefully, I will not break the template again.

Went to tae kwon do tonight and we freesparred. On wooden floors. And he made me remove my glasses. So I was focusing, oh, 10 cm in front of my eyes. We DID have gear on for the pointed-freesparring, but otherwise we were gearless. Yes! Blind freesparring on wooden floors!
And before I have my Alien Residency Card and therefore lack health insurance!

겨루기 (kyeo-ru-ki) in Korean means both a contest of physical strength and a duel of wits. I think that’s fantastic. I sparred against the other woman but she scored the point so I let my team down. Sigh. And after they yelled, “아만다” (Amanda) and everything. Darn.

I have to learn how to spar for points. It’s a lot more dancing around each other and taking very few shots. I’m used to freesparring with James yelling, “Come on, Amanda, come on! Hit me, hit me! Pow!” If you didn’t let loose first, he did. So you learned to just make as many strikes as possible.

We had green tea cake for a snack at work today.

Green Tea Cake

And I finally got photos of the live seafood in the market. I pass this tank on the way to and from tae kwon do class.

40,000 won and you can have this!


Yesterday was a national holiday, so there was no school and no tae kwon do. I ran to the stationery store and got to practice asking for things and numbers. I also went by the market and the question “how much is this” tumbled out of my mouth in Korean so quickly that I surprised myself. Of course, I still can’t hear quickly enough to understand half of the number returned to me, but that’s OK.

Today one of the gardeners at our school brought some silkworms inside. I love that I teach at a school with a small zoo and silkworms. So I learned the Korean word for silkworm: 누에고치. (Pronounced like “new-eh-ko-chi.”)


After work I went to the market again and got to practice asking for things and using numbers. One the way there, at the stoplight, an old man just stared at me. It’s one thing when it’s kids, another when it’s adults. Later, a few teenagers yelled, “foreigner, foreigner.” Come on, if you’re going to say something obvious, at least add some
adjectives to it! On the way home some little kids yelled, “Hello! Hello! Where are you from?” For some reason, that didn’t bother me.

I thought I had some idea of what it was like to be a minority, having taught where I did back home. I was wrong. I may have been a minority in my school building and in that area of the city, but I was always the majority socially. Here I am a minority in every sense of the

So when I get “foreigner, foreigner” yelled at me, I breathe deeply and cling to other moments. Like walking back into the beauty shop and greeting the tea-serving owner and being greeted by her. Walking by the pizza joint and seeing the woman who makes my pizzas nod her head
at me with a smile, then getting a response when I ask how she’s doing. Yes, I know they are shop owners, they are not friends. But being treated like I would back home—that feels good.

And other times, too, are exciting. I learned how to say “See you later” today. It’s one little phrase, and of course I could make due with the more formal goodbye, but it was so neat to use it.

I thanked my Korean coteacher for some coffee, in Korean, without thinking about it. She froze and gave me a high five.

It was neat to talk to the shuttle driver and figure out what time he’s coming to pick us up tomorrow. In Korean. Yes, I messed up the first time, saying “9-10-minute-hour.” But I shook my head and started over. “9-hour-10-minute, 9-hour-15-minute.” He smiled, looked very excited, and said, “Ahop shi ship bun!” I called, “Doe mahn na yo”
(see you later) and he called back at me and nodded and smiled. Every other day it’s been “thank you” and “goodbye” and today it was different. Something so minor…

And tomorrow I have tae kwon do again. I’m looking forward to it.

Drugs, Green Goo, Books, Tea and “Hockey”

The doctors in the States that say you can’t really take drugs to cure a cold are wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t know what I’ve been taking, but the low-grade constant headache and painful throat/cold thing I had in both Atlanta and Minnesota is gone, gone, gone. It went *poof* after the first two doses of my miracle drug. Someone tell the
Westerners, stat!

Thursday’s tae kwon do class was fun. I found out Brave One’s name.

During the first hour of class, Master worked on my form with me, and then another black belt helped me. I kick wrong, I punch incorrectly, and I bow too Japanese-like. (My old Master was in Korea during the Japanese occupation, which probably explains that!) Then we broke into groups of four and rotated stations. We sprinted back and forth across
the floor 10 times (OK), did 50 squats (OK), 60 burpees/cherry pickers (um, yeah, no….) and 60 half-then-full jumping jacks (OK).

Then we had recreation time. We broke into teams by playing rock, paper, scissors. It’s amazing how small changes in something so classic can confuse me. I throw scissors with my pointer and middle finger. The Koreans use their thumb and pointer finger. I throw paper flat (palm to palm) but they throw paper with the edge of the hand hitting the other palm. I was thrown by that. I tied the kid I threw
against until I won.

I chose to join Brave’s team and we played the funniest version of floor hockey I have ever seen in my entire life.

We were using focus targets as sticks, a small beach ball as the puck, and two cardboard boxes for goal boxes. The boys would bobble the ball on their targets, kick with their feet, and hit the ball like they were swinging tennis raquets. Master kept yellow carding people and telling them to keep the ball below the waist, but it didn’t work. It
became this sort of tennis-baseball-hockey game.

I was cracking up. However, I did score for my team. YAY!

Then we played soccer. And by we, I mean not me.

I think I’m really going to enjoy tae kwon do here.

Today I went to Kyobo Books, this overwhelmingly large bookstore. The ceilings are mirrored, there’s a stationery store, a music store, an electronics store, a cosmetics store and more in this area. This picture doesn’t even begin to demonstrate the scope and size of this store, but it does highlight the sheer population that was there

[Kyobo Books]

I saw this book and thought of Trish. The spine you can see on the left side belongs to a book called Good Morning, Kimchi! Kimchi is the last thing I want to wake up to in the morning, personally.

[Trish Loves Kimchi]

After Kyobo I went to some Korean classes. They’re nearly free (1,000 won or $1.08 donation requested but not required) and you can start at any time. The teachers are friendly, too. We worked on numbers and after 90 minutes my brain was shot. But I think the classes will be good, especially combined with the book that Michael suggested and my tae kwon do classes.

At the subway station I grabbed this snack. I don’t know what the green goo is. It wasn’t very good.

[Kiwi, perhaps?]

Before coming home I went to the market near my house and managed to remember one phrase from class. I asked a woman how much nail polish remover cost. Somehow that question ended up with me sitting on the couch in her store while she gave me some green tea and practiced my dialogue sheet with me! She also asked me how old I was and told me how old she was, so I got to practice my numbers more. Who knew that adding one Korean phrase could wind up with tea and conversation?

Welcome to Korea…

Tae Kwon Do, Part II

I have been so sore all day that it’s actually been physically difficult to move.

But I HAD to go to tae kwon do again since a) it was only my second class, b) I would so obviously not be there, c) I know that the best thing to do after a really intense workout is very often another workout and d) I know it will get better.

I am so glad I went to class. I came home and I was dripping—literally—in sweat.

It was a little different than the last class. We did no punching and no forms but spent a lot of time practicing our kicks.

At one point we were on the floor, legs outstretched, bringing the right knee to chest-hold-up and out-hold-back at chest-hold-floor. We did that several times, then sped it up a bit. We also did it standing up, walking across the floor, at various speeds.

Then we did sprints again. I HATE sprints. We did one where you started on your back on the floor, then jumped up and ran. On your stomach with hands behind your back, then jump up and run. Oh, and then we combine them! Back, then switch to front, then run! Yippie! With the ladders, I was so slow. The slowest. I kept trying, but hey, what can you do? I’m the lowest belt in class, I’m new, I’m The Foreigner.

During the break this young man, maybe mid-late teens (not sure, he had the adult dobok on, but who knows at what point they’re “adults” here) very shyly asked where I was from. A small crowd (not just little kids, either) formed around him as he asked me. He asked how I was and I answered and asked how he was.

Then he wandered away, sort of red-faced and two of the other students teased him. He came back to ask how long I had been in Korea and what I thought of it. He asked me if I’d tasted kimchi and what I thought about it. He said, “It is very hot?” I said, “Yes, it’s hot. Spicy.”

He smiled and said, “Kimchi, good for you.”

Then he wandered off again. I saw him muttering in the corner, practicing his questions. He sidled up to me with his head still low, in a rather round about way, and asked me how long I was going to be in Korea.

He was so shy but so brave—nobody else would ask me but man did a lot of them listen and then ask each other. And after the break I heard some saying, “teacher, she’s teacher.” The last time he sidled up to me I said, “Your English is good. I only know…” and I prattled off some Korean. He said, “No! No! Good Korean!”

Speaking of Korean, I am so glad I learned my numbers! I kept hearing them in class (although I still don’t get when pure Korean vs Sino-Korean numbers are used). I am going to gather what little resources I have, maybe use Linguist Google a bit, and study a list of basic body parts. I’ll hear those in class again. Really, the best thing about class is that it’s making me actually listen to the
Korean. It is starting to sound like more than white noise.

A bunch of kids were dismissed after the first hour and then we all sat down and everyone groaned at something Master said. Master took a big box down from storage and everyone groaned again.

He dumped the box on the floor and plastic balls rolled all over the place. A small group had to run and pick up (one ball at a time) the green balls and throw them in the box. Sometimes he threw them back out. When all the green balls were off of the floor, the person who threw the least in (honor system, you count your own) had to do oship (50) squats. If there was a tie, they threw rock/paper/scissors.
Everyone had to run for the balls twice, with a break in between.

The first time I ran into, oh, four kids, but Master said it was OK. The wood floor was starting to get wet and slippery and the room (and my glasses) were fogging from the rain and heat of 24 or so sweating bodies. The second time was much worse, the floor was slickslickslick, the windows were fully fogged and my glasses were driving me crazy.

At least I didn’t have to do squats.

Tomorrow we have TKD for one hour then recreation. He asked something about soccer. I said I liked ice hockey. He told the other people that we could use the targets as some modified form of hockey sticks. Shoot! I didn’t mean I played hockey!

I am so glad I went despite my pain. It was very good. I was feeling a little worried/lonely at the start of class that nobody would speak to me, and my Korean sure isn’t good enough yet to speak to them, but that nerdy, nervous little guy was so cool.

And I was soaked in sweat, dripping, feeling good.