Weird Conversations With Students

I found this draft from January 2007. I have no idea if I ever published it.

At Work Part One

All students are 9 Korean age, starting second grade in March, very good English speakers and pretty smart kids.

Girl One: Amanda Teacher, do you have to get married?

Me: No.

One: Good. I don’t want to get married. [Pause] If you don’t get married does that mean you don’t have kids?

Me, after thinking for a moment, this is Korea, not America: Yes, usually.

One: Good.

Boy: Unless you have sleepovers with boys.

Me: Right.

Boy: Kissing boys makes babies. [Makes kissy faces at One.]

Girl Two: Not kissing! More than that!

One, to Boy: I wouldn’t kiss you anyways!

Me: Good.

One, to Me: But I’ve had sleepovers with Two. And I’ve kissed her.

Me: …

At Work Part Two

Shy Boy: Amanda Teacher, what does ‘shut the **** up’ mean?

Me, hand flies over Shy’s mouth: Where did you learn that?

Shy, muffled: Television.

Invading Canada

“남편!” I yelled from the living room.

Good Man appeared, sipping coffee. “뭐?”

I read to him.

만일 십 년 이십년 이후 자신의 미래가 여전히
고통스럽고 지금보다 더 못할 걸 알게 되다면 어떻게


“So, does that basically mean ‘if you could know that ten or twenty years in the future your life would be miserable and worse than it is now, what would you do?'”

Good Man nodded, grunted “응,” and went back to his computer.


어제가 어제하곤 달라져. 어제 어제 어제······ 그렇지?

남자는 여자의 어제가 무엇이었을까가 궁금했다. 한번도
여자의 어제를 물어본 적이 없었다. 남자 역시도 남자의
어제를 말해준 적이 없었고 여자가 물어본적도 없었다. 두

사람 사이에는 어제라는 말이 없었다.


Good Man sipped his coffee and looked at me. “응?”

“Does that mean ‘the man was curious about what the woman did yesterday. But once again, he didn’t ask the woman. The man didn’t talk about what he did yesterday and the woman didn’t ask. In their relationship, they didn’t ask each other about yesterday.’ Is that what that means?”

Good Man nodded.

“Damn. 똑똑한 여자야!” I am a smart woman.

Good Man sipped his coffee and sighed heavily. “Your ego is so big it is invading Canada.”

Presidents, Saints, Agents


Yesterday was a planning day at work for my team. On planning days, I order out for lunch. I met the deli guy at the door.

“Is this that school President Obama came to?”

I nodded, “Yes, it is.”

“Did you get to meet him?”

“Yes, actually, I did.”

“What’s he like?” the man said, excitedly.

“He was taller than I expected. Firm handshake, well-spoken, friendly.”

“That’s so neat…wow.”


When we were in Minnesota, during our day trip to the North Shore, Mom pointed out the hospital I was born in. Saint Mary’s. Good Man said, “Saint Mary? I was born at 성모 카톨릭 병원—Saint Mary’s in Incheon.”

Well, if they ever ask that question at a USCIS (INS) interview, we’re good to go.


I had a flash realization about a minor point in Korean today. I asked Good Man what “murderer” was.

“살인자,” he said. Salinja. “murder person person.”

I thought for a moment. “[Good Man]. 인 and 자 both mean people.”


“But it seems like 인 is more like…a person who is an object, or who just is. But 자 is more like someone who does something, who acts.”

Good Man paused, “Hmmm, yes.”

There are some exceptions, of course but 인/人 is used for words like Korean, foreigner, black person, and blind person. (Also some words I would consider agent words, like criminal or soldier.) 자/者 is used more often for words like winner, scholar, reader, and geographer.

I felt slightly brilliant when I realized there’s a difference in the roots.

Awesome… and Naughty


I analyzed the books I’ve read so far this year using Yes24 and Kyobo.

빨간 머리 앤 (만화) [1-2학년]

내 이름은 삐삐 롱스타킹 [3-4학년]
꼬 마 백만 장자 삐삐 [3-4학년]
삐 삐는 어른이 되기 싫어 [3-4학년]

이솝 이야기 [2학년]
비밀의 화원 (만화) [3-4학년]
비밀의 화원 [5-6학년]
안데르센 동화 [3-4학년]

동생을 바꾸고 짚어 [5-6학년]

I’m a third-fourth grader in my Korean reading skills (fiction). I was pretty down about that, until Diana pointed out that fourth graders know a lot. She has a point. I have been studying Korean for three and a half years, this month. I’ve never taken a class. Most people would’ve given up three years ago, but I haven’t (even though I’ve had lulls in my progress and studies). That’s something to be proud of!

I ran the rest of my books through and almost all of them left are 5-6학년, so soon enough I’ll have to be a fifth-sixth grader.


One of my co-workers has a daughter my age. Her daughter volunteers at the library, and one day she thought a book looked like it might be Korean. She couldn’t identify the alphabet but found that the book was published in Korea. She passed it on to her mother, who passed it on to me.

Now she can identify Korean. Every Korean discard book she comes across ends up in my hands. I have children’s picture books, young adult novels, fiction and non-fiction. I have books on diverse subjects such growing plants, playing baduk, and exercising.

I show up to school and find books in my mailbox, books in plastic grocery bags hanging on my door, books on my desk. She’s filling up my bookshelf! I’m not complaining! I’ve written the daughter (whom I’ve never met) a thank you note, but soon I’ll have to buy her some sort of Korean treat (Peppero sticks, maybe?).

Last week I received a really fascinating-looking book called 어느 날 내가 죽었습니다, The Day I Died. I’ve been reading books in translation and I’d like to read a Korean-language book by a Korean author before the end of the year. This book is competing with 소나기 to be the first Korean-Korean book I read. (I’ll feel like I’ve really reached a point in the language when I can read a book written by a native speaker, for a native speaker.)

Yesterday I came home with a new stack. Good Man flipped through them. “Novel, novel, novel, novel, novel, horror novel… This,” he said, holding up a book with a somewhat abstract line drawing of a woman’s body, “this is naughty book!”

It’s my new indicator of fluency: being able to understand naughty books.

Dancing with Spoons

Several months ago, I bought measuring spoons made to fit into spice jars.

I promptly lost them somewhere in the house.

Last Sunday I finally bought another set. Good Man and I joked that as soon as I opened the measuring cup/spoon/knife/apple slicer/bottle opener drawer, we’d find the older, never-used set of spoons.

We didn’t.

But today, while trying to rig up some sort of salad tongs from the serving flatware we got as a wedding gift, I found the measuring spoons. Of course the measuring spoons belong with the serving flatware. That makes sense? (I actually remember putting them there. I just don’t remember why.)

Good Man grabbed both sets and started dancing. “But now you can make music!”


Ten Most Influential Books in My Life

Inspired by Diana, William, and everyone else

These books are loosely in order based on when I read them in my life.

Ten Most Influential Books in My Life

Little House on the Prairie (Series) Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read this series of books multiple times when I was younger. Travel has changed my world view more than anything else, and this series was responsible for my itchy feet.

Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank

I have read this book several times in several formats. I read it for the first time in fifth grade and then devoured every other book I could find about the Holocaust. This book made me serious about journal writing because it made me think that one person could influence the rest of the world through journal writing—even after death.

National Geographic Magazine
OK, so they’re not technically books, but they should be. These magazines expanded my travel dreams as well as my photography dreams.

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
The government, TV, and firemen can’t be trusted. Books are dangerous. Thinking is dangerous.

Children of the A-Bomb: Testament of the Boys and Girls of Hiroshima Dr. Arata Osada

My mother told me about this book when I was in high school and I had to track it down since it was long out of print (1959). Children witness the A-bomb and its aftermath. Amazing book. I was being taught in school that the A-bomb was necessary to end WWII. This book made me question the ethics of that “necessary” action.

Plato: Complete Works Ed. John M. Cooper
Crito and Apology? Plato is what made me major in philosophy in college. Socrates made his students think and he made the old guard nervous. I strive to be a teacher like Socrates. (Minus the naked gymnastics.)

Debt-Proof Living Mary Hunt

I have no idea how I stumbled upon a Christian-based financial book when I was in grad school (or so?) but I’m so glad I did. It’s because of this woman (and multiple books by other authors later) that I questioned the financial dance that so many Americans appear to be stuck in. I decided to quit using credit cards for credit. It’s because of this book that I paid off my student loan more than a dozen years early, and refuse to buy a house until I know I’m ready (despite the “great deal” that houses are right now according to everyone else).

1984 George Orwell
The government can’t be trusted. Newspapers, books, TV, and magazines can’t be trusted. Thinking is dangerous.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling John Taylor Gatto
I reread at least one of Gatto’s books every year. Reading his books grounds me. It reminds me of why I stay in education. It brings me back to the idealistic teacher I was my first year. It keeps me from drinking the “test scores are all that count” Kool-Aid.

From Freedom To Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America Gerry Spence
When I was in my first year of teaching, I decided I’d stick with teaching five years. After that, I go to law school and become a high-powered defense (yes, defense) attorney like Gerry Spence, who defended Imelda Marcos and took on the Randy Weaver/Ruby Ridge case. This book is a collection of essays and thoughts about life in America. The government can’t be trusted. Corporations and companies can’t be trusted. Typical schooling is life-sucking.


Kwanjangnim caught me after class and demanded to know why I’m not tip testing.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“$70 and you need five before you can test for sam dan.”

I nodded. “OK, maybe, but I usually have plans on Saturday.”

“At 7:00 am? Testing for black belt is 7-9 am.” Drats. I shook my head and he went on, “You should be third dan by now. You need to learn third dan form.”

I didn’t tell him Special Forces has been teaching me the third dan form, but I did do the math in my head. I’m supposed to be sam dan, and I’m already supposed to be learning the form. Yet he wants me to take five tip tests at the cost of $70 a test and then pay several hundred for the school third dan and then pay several hundred more for the Kukkiwon (official) third dan.

Hey. Crazy idea. If I’m supposed to be third dan in your eyes, how about you don’t bleed me dry with bullshit “tip tests” and “school belts” and just make me test straight away for third dan.


I asked Special Forces what was required. I have to know the first and second degree forms (got it) and the “kicking sequence.”

I asked to see this kicking sequence. Front kick, side kick, roundhouse kick, crescent kick, high spinning kick followed by a low spinning kick, another crescent, a jumping and turning roundhouse followed by a jumping spinning kick.


I have been at this school for more than a year and never seen that sequence in my life. We’ve practiced a low spinning kick (where your hands and knees are on the ground) once the whole time I’ve been there. If it’s so important, then how come in more than a year of training, nobody has taught it to me and I’ve never even seen it?

And the worst part—the worst part—is that my experience living in Korea has molded me. It’s so hard to say “no” to him because he cornered me, he’s older, and he’s the school head.

I’ll say it again. Goddanit.

Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream

Roasted Strawberries

I made two roasted vegetable dishes last week and was delighted with them. I decided that roasting strawberries before turning them into ice cream might work.

Boy, did it!

Roasting the strawberries made their flavor mellower (less tart) and richer (sweeter). My kitchen smelled like a fruit roll-up when I was done roasting. And this ice cream? Smooth, creamy, with the perfect silky strawberry taste.

Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream (modified from the recipe that came with my Cuisinart ice cream maker)

1 lb strawberries
1 C + 2 T sugar
I lemon, juiced
1 1/2 C whole milk
2 3/4 C heavy cream
2 t pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 425 F. Hull and quarter strawberries. Line a baking dish with parchment paper (if you have some), and put strawberries and 2 T sugar into the dish. Stir, let sit for about 15 minutes. Roast at 425 for about 35 mins, stirring occasionally. Cool completely in the refrigerator.

After strawberries are entirely cool, add the juice of one lemon to the strawberries. Mix and mash the strawberries.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix 1 C sugar and the whole milk. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cream, vanilla, and strawberry mixture.

Freeze in machine according to directions. Alternatively, freeze the mixture in a deep baking dish, breaking up the ice crystals every 30 minutes or so.


Try not to eat it all in one sitting.

Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream

The Allure of Reading in Korean

(Cross-posted on 한국어 공책.)

I’m not sure why I chose “Read 1,000,000 Jaso” as a new year’s goal this year, but I am happy that it gave me a push to really read in Korean.

I have studied, to varying degrees, Swedish and Spanish. Although I am apparently competent in Spanish due to my college studies (ha!), I have never read a book in Spanish. I tried reading a few books in Swedish, but I got caught up in all of the words I didn’t know. I would stop at every unknown word and look it up in a dictionary. Bad idea. It was time consuming, discouraging, and boring. I subscribed to the idea (probably influenced by the never-ending intensive reading done in Spanish class!) that I had to understand every word.

Of course, this was untrue.

When we planned to go to Korea, I decided to ramp up my study efforts, primarily by building my vocabulary base and writing. The studying improved my Korean (or perhaps just my confidence?), but a side effect that I wasn’t expecting was that not studying Korean at least a little bit every day felt…strange. Now doing something in Korean daily is a habit.

Around the beginning of the year I read about a project to read one million words in a foreign language over on Language Fixation. I thought, ‘Well, I can do that. It’ll be a challenge though.’ I had been reading a bit and my speed was slowly picking up. I knew that committing to that much Korean reading was meant excluding most fun reading in English for the year, but I wanted to try it. I hoped that reading would increase my vocabulary, my comfort with Korean, and my understanding of Korean grammar.

I immediately realized that Koreans are loosey-goosey with spacing and I wasn’t sure how to count a word. Good Man told me in Korean each character is counted rather than each word. I decided it was fair to go for 1,000,000 characters.

Learning to Read so I Can Read to Learn?

Part of taking on the challenge of reading 1,000,000 characters in a year was to see if the old saws I rattle off to my students are true. “The best way to improve your reading is to read at home daily for at least thirty minutes.” “You should be making pictures in your head as you read.” My grad school profs told me that, and Fountas and Pinnell said it, so it must be true, right? Another teacher line? “We learn to read so we can read to learn.”

When I started reading extensively in Korean, I carried my intensive-reading habits with me. I would get frustrated when I couldn’t understand a sentence or paragraph perfectly. Finally, I realized that I had to relax and just read.

Practicing reading near-daily led to a cascading series of events.

  • Fluency. When I first started reading more (before I started the challenge), I read so slowly. I was embarrassed by how often I was reading syllable by syllable. (I do remember when I was reading Korean letter-by-letter, so I’ll give myself some credit!) But after some practice I start reading full words. And eventually phrases came.
  • Endurance. At first I could only read for 10 or 15 minutes at a time and then my brain would turn off. Now I can read for extended periods of time. More than thirty minutes, if I wish.
  • Self-Correcting. I started correcting misunderstandings. I’d read something, realize it made no sense, glance back and correct myself.
  • Visualization. At some point, pictures started forming in my head instead of English. I remember realizing I was making pictures in my head after reading Korean. I was so excited.
  • Predicting. Soon I started making predictions as I was reading. I could often figure out what word would come next. Pippi would 외치다. She always does, that Pippi!
  • Vocabulary. I am figuring out words from context. Words with multiple meanings? I used to run through the meanings in my head. Now I can usually predict or figure those out from context, too.
  • Grammar. I hated studying grammar in school and couldn’t tell the difference between a verb and a noun until I was a sophomore (seriously), but I usually knew what sounded right—probably because I read so much. I don’t enjoy memorizing grammar rules in Korean either, but I’m starting to get a better sense of what to say, when. I can more easily pick out the parts of speech in a Korean sentence. Using the topic/object/topic markers is getting easier.
  • Thinking in Korean. This one is coming along slowly. Sometimes my predictions or thoughts are in English, but sometimes they’re in Korean. With more and more practice, this will come, too!

And this is where the allure comes from. I don’t recall learning to read in English. I just recall devouring books. Now I am learning how to read all over again. And it’s fun!

There is a deep sense of excitement and joy that comes with understanding a passage immediately. I am excited when I figure out a word in context and then see it in other contexts that prove I was right. I love finding a word in a book I just picked up for the first time—a word that I just learned from my previously read book! Most of the books I picked up in Korea are favorites from my childhood. Even so, these books spark something some magic inside of me. Part of this could be rereading the books as an adult, but I think more of the magic comes from discovering a new word or way to phrase something in an old favorite. 아바마마 is so much more delightful than “my Father, the King!”

I have read seven books in Korean so far this year. Now I feel like I can continue to tell my students that reading books for fun daily improves your reading. It’s absolutely true.