Friday, August 25, 2006

Birthday Bonanza

Today, we celebrated four birthdays at our school. Three from today, and one from Sunday. Quite a convergence for a school with only 25 students. The best part was seeing Korean culture in action.

First, Korean age must be explained. As in China (I believe), a child is born and assumes the age of one. At the Lunar New Year, they again age another year. So a child born at the end of the lunar year would end up being 2 years old pretty quickly. So like horses, all people age a year at the same time - on the Lunar New Year. So while we celebrated their western birthday, they actually don't age according to their Korean age. But on to the celebrations.

The first birthday celebration was for two of our pre-schoolers. Actually one pre-schooler and one kindergartner. But Koreans don't start public school until the first grade. The crucial point came when presents were passed out. It's considered rude (at least by some Koreans) to open presents in front of the giver. So while presents were passed out, none were opened. Just passed out and saved for later. After lunch, we went back to class, where I gave my (unwrapped) presents to my kids. I bought a bunch of stickers when I was in Taiwan, and I figured this was as good as time as any to pass them out. So I let the birthday boy and girl pick out a sheet of stickers. As I somewhat expected, the boy, who is 6 in Korean years (turning 5 in western age), picked a sheet of dinosaur stickers. Originally he thought he just got one sticker, so he was quite happy to get the whole sheet of them. And the first thing he did with them was to let the three other 6 years olds pick out a sticker for themselves. He's such a sweet little boy, and it was nice to see him sharing so well. I struggle with him daily to pay attention to the lesson, and with two new students coming next week, I'm pretty much resigned to letting him plug away at his coloring. At least he can keep himself occupied and doesn't cause problems for the other students.

The second celebration was for a couple of soon-to-be fourth graders. I've eaten with Koreans numerous times, but it's usually Korean food. When you delve into eating Western food with Koreans, it's like entering a whole new world.

First, they don't use knives. They use scissors. It's strange enough when they cut the meat at a Korean restaurant with scissors. It's down right freaky when they cut chicken or pizza with a pair of scissors.

Second, is the pickles. Next to the cabbage kimchi, the pickle is the most frequently appearing side dish. I detest both. I like cabbage. I like pickles. I like spicy food. But the Koreans somehow decided to make spicy cabbage and pickles which leave something to be desired. So while the pizza places always include pickles with my pizzas, I've never felt the need to add them to my pizza. Koreans feel otherwise. They love the side pickle, and make good use of it. Maybe I should bring all of my left over side pickle packets into school for the kids.

And finally, the all important chopsticks. Most Korean utensil sets include a pair of chopsticks and a spoon (for the omnipresent soup side dish). Again, it's not unexpected to see people eating Korean food with chopsticks. I use chopsicks whenever I eat Korean food. But to see kids using chopsticks to eat fried chicken is, well, just unsettling. At least they ate the pizza with their hands.

As the sites and sounds become mundane to me, I'm hoping to post more about Korean culture. Next up - Korean names, and why Americans get them all wrong.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


2 for $6

Monday, August 21, 2006

Around the World

This weekend, I saw the following...

Sacre Couer

Notre Dame de Paris

St. Peter's

The Colosseum

The Great Wall of China

No, not some crazy around the world jaunt. But Aiins World, a land of miniature landmark recreations. Just how miniature? Here's how miniature.

(And no, you aren't allowed to climb on them. Those are workers.)

Monday, August 14, 2006


1593 Won for 1 liter.

3.78 liters to the gallon.

965 Won to the dollar.

$6.23 a gallon

Saturday, August 5, 2006

A Cool Coin

The Taiwan $50 (around US$1.50) coin:

From head on, a normal looking coin.

From one angle, it says 50

From another angle, it says 50 in Chinese characters

The bills are pretty impressive too (especially the $1000) but I didn't want to take any pictures and violate counterfeiting laws.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006


The final stop on my trip was Taipei. I reversed my trip from Lugang to Chunghua, which was a little confusing due to the lack of any noticeable bus station in Lugang. After finding my disembarkment point, I waited for a bus and fortunately it looped back around to Chunghua. From there, it was back onto the train for another couple of hours.

Taipei has a few interesting sights, but not quite the range of attractions that a city like Beijing has. There are the standard array of temples. The National Palace Museum houses a lot of Chinese art, which includes plates, bowls, vases, some jade carvings, bronze casts, and the occasional scroll. The best thing on display was a half room exhibit of ancient texts. The Chinese actually invented movable type in the 11th century, over 400 years before Gutenberg, who is given western credit for the invention.

Shopping is plentiful, with numerous malls and underground shopping centers. One of the most interesting markets is actually outdoors. That is the Dihau market, which is a suitable replacement to the Lugang experience. You can buy pretty much anything you've never wanted to buy there. Big bags of dried flowers, herbs, roots, spices, and whatever else goes into the traditional Chinese medicine doctor's bag. I couldn't even recognize most of the stuff they were selling, which makes for quality cultural enrichment.

Probably the most interesting thing are the night markets. Considering the daytime heat, it's easy to see why night markets would be so popular. And the night markets in Taipei can approach a carnival like atmosphere. And the most carnivalistic, or carnivoristic one, as the case may be, is Snake Alley. There, you can find almost anything your heart desires. Of course there are snakes, which are charmed in front of restaurants as an attention getter. Handlers poke and prod the snakes to perform, and hopefully consume a rabbit or rat for the crowd. The snakes, for their part, seem to be content to rest. You can also find the expected rows of food carts and vendors hawking everything imaginable. As a bonus, they do in fact have carnival games available. Shooting games, throwing games, some mah jong based game that I couldn't figure out, fortune tellers, and a quite a few arcades that are filled with the everything from crane games, pop-a-shots, drumming games, to the latest Mortal Combat type games.

The last, and most modern of Taipei's experiences is Taipei 101. For now, at least, it is the world's tallest building. The draw is enhanced by the haute couture mall, an impressive food court, and a small, foreign goods filled grocery store that would be a welcomed addition to Korea. Going to the top costs NT350, which is about US$11. Which is the same amount as I was paying for my hostel room. Since I was trying to budget my expenses, I passed on the venture up. Instead, I had to content myself with making a small purchase to take home - tortilla shells and some pesto sauce packets. Besides, Taipei doesn't exactly have an impressive skyline to ogle. Taipei 101 is the only building that stands out from more than a few blocks away.

On Sunday, I caught the bus to the airport and made the 2 1/2 flight back to Incheon. And then spent 3 hours getting back to my apartment in Incheon. Let's just say I, and probably everyone in town, except the bus companies and taxi drivers, look forward to the extension of the subway out to the airport.

Overall, I found Taiwan a nice diversion from Korea. It, along with Korea and Japan, are considered the high pay teaching opportunities. So I'm keeping it as a possibility for sometime in the future. I'd prefer going to Japan, but I fear my expenses there would overwhelm me. At least for now, I'm happy with my situation in Korea. There are some aspects which are more enticing, and some that are less enticing. Chinese food a little more varied and palatable to me than Korean food (please, no more kimchi!), but I was sorely disappointed by their inability to make Kung Pao chicken (no pow to the Kung Pao). The language and characters are a definite downer, but I've discovered how quickly you can pick up the characters that you need. By the end of my trip, I was able to recognize the Chinese characters for Kung Pao chicken as well as fried rice.

This will probably, actually hopefully, be my last trip for a while. At least until winter break. In the meantime, I'll try to gather some interesting stories and pictures here in Korea.

Another view of Taipei 101.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006


I next hopped on the train from Tainan to Changhua, which is about half way between Tainan and Taipei. Trains leave almost every half hour and go up and down the coast at varying levels of urgency. The cost is quite reasonable - about US$10 for the two hour trip, while people under 115cm (just under 4 feet) get to ride for free. After getting off of the train in Changhua, I crossed the street and transferred to a rickety old bus that took me to the little town of Lugang.

Lugang, or Lukang, depending on how you want to romanize it, has a history similar to that of Bruges, Belgium. Once an important port, the river silted up. Meanwhile, they prevented the railroad from passing through, leaving the town to age graceful into a rustic little historic anomaly. While Bruges has an overwhelming charm and character to it, Lugang is much less of an historic artifact. There are a few interesting old alleys, with quaint little houses and shops lining the walk. There are a couple of interesting temples. But after seeing the temples in Tainan, there's not much new left to see in the way of temple architecture. There are also numerous craft and art shops which line several old style streets. The wafting aroma of saw dust and lacquer and the handicrafts do provide some semblance of atmosphere, but crafts are not really my interest.

Even though the Taiwanese like to flock there, it's not really a must see destination for the foreign tourist. The narrow alleys of Taipei are just as interesting, albeit a little more congested and urban. Temples are everywhere in Taiwan. And if you're seriously into acquiring Chinese objets d'art, you'll go to mainland China, where the price would be a fraction of the cost that they are in Taiwan.

A small memorial in one of the old alleys

Ghost money - in addition to food, they also leave small plates of dried flower petals and ghost money. The ghost money is burned and used by the dear departed ancestors in the afterlife.