Jeju Motorcycle Diaries

By Marion Gregory

jeju motorcycle editedWhile looking into travel options for summer vacation, some friends and I were keen on sticking around Korea to see more of the local culture.

One destination we’d heard nothing but good things about was Jeju Island. Also known as Cheju, “Home of Hallasan”, “Island of the Gods”, and “Korea’s Hawaii,” this little jewel is a mere four hour ferry ride from Mokpo in the Korea Strait.

The options to get there are varied (and cheap!) and with all of the information we found on the internet about places to stay, things to see and pictures to be had, there didn’t seem to be a better place to go for some sun and pre-second semester relaxation.

Four Canadians, two travel packs, camping gear, and two motorcycles later we drove southwest to Mokpo on the number one highway to meet our ferry.

Ferries leave regularly to Jeju from Mokpo, Incheon, Busan, and Wando. It is also possible to take a flight from most major cities for a comparable price.

Booking our tickets was easy, thanks to the help of a Korean friend, but there are English speakers working at the ferry terminals who can help book tickets.

Prices vary depending on what kind of accommodation you’d like while aboard (anything from a space on the floor to a double bed with a picture window).

We chose seats for 39,500 won each and paid 14,000 won for each motorcycle. The ferry staff was organized, helpful, and spoke excellent English, making our 9 AM departure painless.

Once we hit Jeju City’s port, it became obvious that this was a place very much concerned with ensuring every visitor has a good time. We’d had the option to pre-book tours on the ferry, with the promise of a full refund on any tickets we didn’t use, but we decided to search out a tourist information booth instead. Jeju Port has a well-stocked information booth, complete with maps and pamphlets in English or any of Asia’s major languages.

Our bible for the trip became the Welcome to Jeju pamphlet, which had information, pictures and phone numbers for every major site, along with a listing of accommodations and an island map that also included Jeju City and Seogwipo-si roadmaps.

All we had to do was pick a place, point the bikes, and ride.

As any Korean will tell you, a trip to Jeju is incomplete without a visit to Halla Mountain. Sitting directly in the centre of the island, this now dormant volcano is also Korea’s tallest peak at 1950 m.

The trailheads are a twenty minute drive from Jeju city or, for those who are interested, there’s a campground at the base of Gwaneumsa Trail. Hallasan

Only three routes are available on the mountain as it is a protected environment. Two of those trails (Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak) will take you all the way up to the sulphur lake at the peak. An early start is definitely recommended as a round trip takes about nine hours and getting down can be a bit tricky in the dark.

There are also signs along the trail to let you know how much farther you have to get by a certain time before you are supposed to be turned back by park staff.

If you’re heading that way, make sure that you also check the weather. We took Gwaneumsa trail up to the peak, but the lake was hidden by a very nasty and windy cloud, making our descent down Seongpanak a bit hastier than we would have liked.

Jeju is not without its tourist traps, the most popular of these being Loveland, Mini Mini Land and the Trick Art Museum. Loveland is a sex culture park that was created by twenty artists from Hongik University in 2002. It boasts the most liberal sculptures you’ll see in Korea and is only open to those 18 and over. Mini Mini Land is an outdoor, slightly run-down display of miniature world landmarks, such as the Forbidden City and the Eiffel Tower, giving your short trip to Jeju an international feel. The Trick Art Museum has famous paintings on display in such a way that you can stand near them and become part of the picture. These places are great for an afternoon of fun and each costs around 7,000 won for entry.

Try to get there very early or toward closing time as the crowds get feisty when everyone is trying to take pictures.

The best parts of Jeju, though, are the natural sights you don’t see too often on the mainland. Because Jeju is a volcanic island, the soil is rich and the vegetation is a great mix of tropical plants and coniferous forest.
There is also an abundance of waterfalls, lava tubes, caves, trails, beaches, and off-shore islands to explore. Jungmun Beach is a popular spot on the south coast and has a resort town nearby. The beach itself is impressive as the sea bed drops off very near the shore, creating powerful waves that are as much fun to watch as they are to swim in. You can also partake in many marine sports, such as parasailing, jetskiing, scuba diving, and fishing. Further east, past the resort, you can find impressive rock formations and waterfalls, including Jeongang Waterfall, which falls directly into the sea.

If, by this point of your trip, you are all Jeju-ed out and want to head back to the city, hang on for one more day. Just off the northeast coast is an island called Udo which, I have to say, was my favourite place on the trip.

There is a cheap ferry (about 7,000 won one way) near Seongsan to this little island that has a lot to offer. You can take your own transportation to the island or rent anything from a golfcart to an ATV once you’re there. Watch out when driving, as the roads are narrower and curvier here than on the main island and, with so many honeymooning couples, it can get a bit tricky.

A major facet of Jeju’s culture resides on Udo: the haenyo or women divers. These women are known for being able to dive up to twenty metres near rocky outcroppings and can hold their breath for nearly two minutes while in search of shellfish. There are many places to see these divers, including the shooting location for the movie “My Mother the Mermaid”, which focuses on the family of a haenyo diver.

Alongside the rocky outcroppings are white sand beaches with crystal-clear water. You may want to stay away from the “famous” Hongjodangoe coral beach, as it is comprised mainly of large chunks of coral that have washed up on shore. Go instead to Hagosudong Beach on the east coast or, better yet, keep your eyes peeled for hidden beaches along the way.

If you are interested in visiting Jeju, taking or renting your own transportation is highly recommended. Although the island has a great highway system and buses can be found anywhere, the schedules are not as tourist
friendly as having your own wheels can be; taxis are also expensive. If you don’t have a scooter or motorbike of your own, there are plenty of rental places around the island, usually found on the main roads and near tourist sites. It is also possible to bike around the island on your own power, pedalling on the bike path that runs alongside the highway. Don’t be too worried about trying to keep up with traffic: the path is divided from the highway by a curb.

Camping is also a great option if you’re looking to keep the budget to a minimum. A listing of campsites is available at any information centre and most have bathroom and shower facilities.

It is also possible to find a nice piece of field off the main road to throw a tent on if you’re not near a government campsite. If camping’s not your thing, minbaks or pensions are available along the coast and in most towns. We were able to find rooms for 40,000 won or less, including bedding, towels, hot water and air conditioning or a fan.

Jeju has become one of my favourite places in Korea and I would gladly write another hundred pages about everything we did and wanted to do while we were there.

It’s easy to measure the enjoyment you get out of a place by how willing you are to leave it at the end of your time there. On our last day, we were all brainstorming excuses for skipping work to live on Jeju instead.
It is a welcoming, easy-to-navigate, gorgeous place and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t see it at least once while you’re here. Who needs to go to Thailand or the Philippines to get their bronze on?

Jeju may be just a short distance away but it will leave you wondering what took you so long to get there.

If you’d like more information on travelling Jeju, visit: for information on getting to and around the island. Jeju’s official tourist site.

Marion Gregory
Marion is an English teacher in Gwangju from Rosetown, Saskatchewan, Canada. E-mail her at [email protected]

ALL ABOARD: Korea’s Wine Train

wine train1

Think wine and Asia don’t mix? Think again!

There’s a new train in town, and it’s full of vino. It’s a train ride where you can sit back and relax and drink as much delectable wine as you could possibly want.

It’s hard to believe, but that’s exactly what the Wine Train offers its passengers as it runs from Seoul to Yeongdong, Chungcheongbuk-do and back.

Hop aboard the Wine Train, and you will enjoy all-you-can-drink Korean Wine made of grapes grown in the Yeongdong region.

After sampling wines throughout your journey, your arrival at Yeongdong will bring you one step further into the world of wine. Visit the Wine Korea facilities, a wine foot spa, and have a chance to make your own natural soap using grapes and wine.

The Wine Gallery is the perfect opportunity to learn how the grape becomes the savory drink we know and love. wine train

On display are a variety of wines produced by Wine Korea (each with their specially-designed label), as well as a number of displays that helps visitors better understand this fascinating industry.

Wine Korea staff members provide detailed information on the wine-making process and explain the functions of the various visual displays. You can even visit the underground oak ripening cellar where wine stays briefly before it is bottled.

The train will also introduce you to ginseng (another product of the region) as well as take you around to some tourist attractions in the nearby area.

To take a little break from the wine portion of the tour, you’ll then be bused to Geumsan (40 minutes away from Wine Korea) to Geumsan Ginseng Exhibition Hall.

Learn to wrap four medicinal herbs packets to take home (such as Baekji (백지, Bai Zhi) / Gyepi (계피, Cinnamon) / Danggwi (당귀, Giant Angelica) / Bakha (박하, Peppermint)) and let the fresh smell of the herbs fill your senses. Even those who have never done this type of activity will be sure to be wrapping like a pro in no time!

At Geumsan Ginseng & Medicinal Herb Market, the final tour stop of the day, you’re sure to be enthralled by the myriad of medicinal herbs and products dangling in front of store windows and proudly displayed around each vendor. Don’t forget to try the fried ginseng served with starch syrup; just one bite and you’ll see why this sweet and crispy treat is one of the marketplace’s mouthwatering specialties.

At 6:00p.m. it’s time to head back to Seoul Station. Snack on sandwiches, gimbap (김밥), and other free snacks. Of course, the ride back to Seoul Station is also the perfect time to have your final glasses of wine and bid adieu to the new friends you’ve made during your journey.
As the train rolls into the station at 9:10p.m. it’s time to disembark and go home, full of wine and pleasant memories of your day touring the countryside.

Walking the Plank: Sky Jumping in Daegu

By Finbarr Berminghamwoobang

SEE VIDEO! My Sky Jump from Woobang Tower, Daegu from Finbarr Bermingham on Vimeo.

I’ve always been a bit of a coward, yet paradoxically, always been pretty keen on scaring the crap out of myself. I think I forget the first part until right before I’m about to do the second. Last week I had a couple of days off work, so I decided I’d go to Daegu to jump off a building. Daegu is Korea’s third city (if, like many, you consider Incheon to be part of Seoul) and home to Woobang Tower, the tallest tower in Asia. They’ve built an amusement park around it, Woobang Tower Land, which seems similar in scale to Gwangju’s own Family Land: pretty small, but not bad for an afternoon if you’re at a loose end.

Woobang Tower is 202m high (312m in altitude) and is similar in structure to the CN Tower in Toronto, formerly the world’s tallest free-standing structure (553m) and one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. At the top of Woobang Tower is a revolving restaurant. There’s a 360° observation deck which gives you stunning, panoramic views of the city below which, incidentally, is huge. Coming from a small Irish town, Gwangju seemed sprawling to me (especially from the top of Mudeung Mountain), but Daegu is a massive step up in terms of scale. From the top of Woobang Tower, you really get an idea of how big it is.

We set off from Gwangju early in the morning and arrived around lunchtime. There were three of us, two jumpers and a photographer, and we met another friend in Daegu who jumped with us. We were all excited; laughing and joking without giving a moment’s consideration to what we were about to do. That was until the Tower became visible in the distance on the taxi ride to Woobang Land. It dominates the horizon. The closer we got, the taller it seemed and when we were within a few hundred metres of it, we saw a little gangway protruding from near the top. This was where we would fall from.

Feeling a little sheepish (and not a little sick) we made our way around the perimeter of the park until we reached the foot of the Tower. We paid (for three people, it was 100,000W, very reasonable) and got on the elevator for the 76th floor. The laughing stopped. Suddenly, it wasn’t funny anymore. Looking at each other for some sort of comfort was futile; the others were either praying or holding their hands over their faces. Yikes. There was a teenage girl ahead of us in the queue so we could see exactly what we had let ourselves in for and as she shimmied closer to the edge of the “plank”, white as a ghost, I felt nothing but sympathy!

The jump itself is not a bungee, which I initially thought, but a sky-jump. It’s like base jumping, except you have a cable attached to your back. Kitted out in the finest race suits this size of Talladega Nights, we decided on which order we would jump in (I was second) and then waited. As with most adrenaline-based activities, this is by far the worst part. Every sort of eventuality runs through your head until eventually, you’ve thought of all of the worst things that can happen and an accepting calm descends over you; at least for a minute. When my turn came I was led out to walk the plank. They strapped a harness onto me and explained a few things to me about what was going to happen. The problem is, I don’t speak Korean. I just smiled and nodded, such has become my custom in this fine nation.

I stood at the edge of the gangway for about a minute, getting properly strapped in. Then, I leaned forward, looking at the ground beneath me… it seemed like miles away! The attendant told me to let go and just like that, I was in suspended animation, 132 metres above a sprawling Korean metropolis. Hanging there, horizontally, was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. I was trying to squeeze out a smile, as the Korean guy is taking pictures of me (as part of the package, you get some photos and a certificate). And after what seemed like minutes (maximum hang time: 30 seconds), I was falling. This part is not frightening. You drop at a leisurely speed to a target at the bottom, where you’re released from your harness and left to ponder your “achievement”. Breathless and a little befuddled, I was greeted at the bottom by my friends. What a rush!

For only 33,000W, the Woobang Tower Sky Jump is highly recommended.

Traveling this Chuseok? Asia Travel Tips

By Whit Altizer

With Chuseok just around the corner, many expats in Korea are busy planning their next holiday. Some lucky expats are even lucky enough to have up to nine days off this year.
If you’re planning a trip outside of Korea, remember to plan smart and travel smart. Traveling can bring up some roadblocks you haven’t thought about.

If you want to minimize your stress while traveling in Asia and Korea take a look at some of these tips.

1. Buy bus tickets to Incheon in advance– Traveling when school is out in Korea can make life difficult. Don’t assume that you can hop on a bus whenever you please, especially to the international airport in Incheon. Once we were flying to China and arrived at Gwangju Bus terminal just in time to hop on the next bus and get to Incheon for our flight, only to find the next bus wasn’t until the hour that we would be flying out! Luckily we could get on a bus to Seoul and take a bus to Incheon just in time for our flight. No matter what time you need to be on a bus to Incheon buy it one day in advance at the bus terminal.

2. Always carry your alien card–It may sound obvious(since immigration stresses this point) but people always forget to bring it. Like Lindsay and me. We almost didn’t make in to Jeju because the coast guard requires you have your card. On the way off the island we again caught flack for not having it. Just carry it. Whereever you go, especially when you are leaving the mainland. It might be required to get where you are going.

3. Don’t carry won outside of the country– We took a wad of won to Vietnam for backup purposes when we ran out of dong. When we ran out of dong and took the won to the bank to change it over the banker looked at it like it was Monopoly money. Instead carry an ATM card that can be used internationally. Not all Korean ATM cards can be used abroad. We take our Bank of America cards and use them at ATMs wherever we go. If there isn’t time to transfer money home take more of the country’s currency you are going to or transfer your won to US dollars in Korea.

4. Carry a credit card– I know, I know. You don’t have and don’t want a credit card, but it might bail you out when you least expect it. Western Unions are in some of the most remote towns in Asia and you can wire money from your card in case of an emergency of if you forgot you debit card. Also, if you have a health issue you haven’t budgeted for a credit card can help get you treatment. In some places in Asia you must pay before you receive any treatment in a hospital, before each procedure. A credit card handy just might save your life.

5. Respect the culture its rules– I don’t care how stupid you think something is, do your best to respect it. Don’t be outwardly disrespectful. Making a disgusted face at a local dish, talking loud in a mosque or wearing your shoes into a restaurant are enough to make people feel like “All people from *your country here* are douchebags!” Try to leave a good impression on the people.

6. Carry TP and learn to squat– In some countries you are out of luck if you need to use the toilet and need TP. Many Asian countries don’t use it or expect you to have your own. In some cases you should throw your toilet paper away in a trashcan, don’t flush it. You could end up overflowing someone’s toilet. Also many Asian toilets are just a hole in the ground. Learn to squat like a baseball catcher. I must admit that I have come to prefer these toilets.

7. Be a responsible tourist– If you want to give money to the locals try to do it in a more responsible way than just giving it to locals. There are organizations that use donations responsibly. Giving money to beggars just promotes begging. If you think it is sad to see children in the streets begging it is because it is a lucrative business. Maybe not giving in and giving to beggars will get these kids off the streets quicker. Give your money to an organization with a good reputation for helping poor locals.travel2

8. Don’t be more of a target than you already are– In some countries, like India, if you are foreign you might as well have a target drawn on your forehead. Try not to look lost and do what you can to not pull your Lonely Planet out of your bag. Consider doing your research before heading out or tearing pages from your guidebook. It might help prevent some hassle from those after your money!

Awesome Things about Korea: Cute Little Boutiques

By Heather Bucurel
Take a trip to downtown, or around any major university, and you’ll find them: cute little boutiques selling clothes, shoes, and accessories. Each store is unique in its storefront and decor, as well as content awaiting you inside. Koreans love to shop, and it shows! While some guys might find male fashion a little too metro and trendy for them, and some gals might find female fashion a little too cutesy or frilly, there’s bound to be a gem in the rough just waiting for you somewhere.

You can usually stock up on some great basics at bigger boutique stores like Vitamin, Time Zone, and the like. But the smaller stores are great for those one-of-a-kind pieces. I really like the jewelry stores that squeeze themselves between the coffee shop and pizza stand. Here you’ll find one long room; two walls filled with baubles of every color and imagination. The shiniest of these are what beckon you inside to explore. Looking for the perfect accessory for your weekend party outfit? Or perhaps the right accompaniment for casual, everyday wear? You can find it here.

Expat video: Island adventures in Korea

seonyudo web photo

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Gwangju Restaurant Review: Go Vegetarian

By Whit Altizer

David Byun spreads the vegetarian gospel.

“I am a bit of an evangelist,” Byun confessed while taking a short break to talk about his restaurant, Chayon Chuwe, which literally means “naturalism‟, and to discuss the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

Byun has been serving delightful vegetarian food in Pungam-dong for more than two years now, but has been a lifelong vegetarian.

“There is so much pollution in the food now,” Byun said. “I serve natural food; it is better for people.”

Chayon Chuwe is a great respite for anyone who has eaten too much galbi and bulgolgi in Korea. Byun offers as much of the all- natural food and non-meat eats you can eat for W10,000.

Byun uses no artificial flavors, eggs or margarine. He cooks the food in natural olive oil and only uses organic vegetables.

Most of their vegetables come from a farm he owns outside of Gwangju. veggie2

Chayon Chuwe is definitely worth the trip to Pungam- dong if you live downtown. As it says on one of its signs, “You are the very blessing” and Byun certainly makes you feel that way when you visit.. “I am just happy to supply healthy food to everyone,” he says with a sincere smile.

veggie coverSome highlights:

Spaghetti: Byun says that the sauce is made fresh daily from organic tomatoes. Unlike the cafeteria school, don’t expect to find Spam in this sauce. Just a great tomato sauce that rivals the Italian‟s version.

Pizza: This is the only dish here that has any dairy in it. Itisa very good vegetable pizza made from scratch.

Non-meat meat: It‟s made with gluten, sunflower and pumpkin types of nuts. If you just have to have something with a meaty taste, you can find its flavor in several dishes, but it never moos.

Smooth tofu: This is a smooth, silky alternative to firm tofu. A great side dish.

Rice cakes:
Byun says they serve about eight different types of rice cakes. These are my favorite in town. They are not too sweet and do not ooze with sugary goo, but definitely act as a great dessert.

Homemade salad dressings:
They have everything from cabbage, tofu, and kiwi to beet dressing for all of those “hard-to-eat” raw vegetables. I mixed grape tomatoes with the kiwi dressing and thought I was eating a fruit dessert. Fantastic.

A vegetarian grocery store:
Just inside the door you can stock up on plenty of vegetarian goods such as flaxseed and honey from Jeju Island. Byun‟s mom even makes an all-natural grape juice.

: Chayon Chuwe
Cost per person: W11,000
Location: Pungam-dong, Gwangju
Hours: 12-3 p.m., 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday—Thursday. 12 to 3 p.m. Fridays

Whit Altizer is an American living in Gwangju. E-mail him at [email protected]

A Grand Slam Experience. Baseball in Korea

By Brian Yaeck

One of the best sports to watch in Korea has to be baseball. Although Japan is better known in North America as the enthusiastic Asian embracer of America’s favourite past time, Korea certainly is an equal or greater match in terms of its excitement and skillful adaptation of the game.
After all, South Korea won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and narrowly lost to Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. According to the International Baseball Federation, the South Korea National Team is the 2nd best after Cuba as well.
When there isn’t some kind of international competition happening, the best place to watch a game is to see one of the 8 teams play in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the Korean version of Major League Baseball. Seoul has 3 teams, while Incheon, Daejon, Daeju, Busan, and Gwangju each respectively have a team. Each team plays 133 regular season games from March until September with a playoff round for the championship.

Besides the ability to field teams with world class athletes, the KBO offers a few other insights and advantages into the way Koreans roll. The first thing you notice is the name of the baseball organizations. While the team names are usually lifted straight from the Major League (Twins, Giants, and Tigers) or something similar, the organization names aren’t named after the city they play in, but the large Korean corporation that owns them, such as the Samsung Lions, based in Daegu. While it’s a little too corporate for my liking, I suppose it does cut right to the chase and is honest about the fact that some rich conglomerate owns the team. 7 or 8 corporations do seem to run a big chuck of the Korean economy as well I guess. Although, it would be strange if the Toronto Maple Leafs were rebranded as the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Maple Leafs (yes, a bunch of teachers own a majority stake in a NHL hockey team).

On the walk to the stadium you will also notice plenty of vendors selling fried chicken, kimbop, dried squid, beer, and other goodies. That’s right, buying stadium food and drinks is optional in Korea! It’s totally cool to bring your own stuff to the game, and even if you don’t, it’s not that expensive inside. The inexpensive cost of a ticket is also another bonus. The cheapest seats in the ballpark cost a trivial 6,000 won, while the most expensive seats (well, seats with tables behind home plate) cost 20,000 won. Compare that with the typical astronomical costs of a game back home!

Once you sit down in the stands with your inexpensive beer and fried chicken, you’ll see the other great advantage of a Korean baseball match, the fans. It goes without saying that Koreans tend to take a collectivist approach to most things, so it is perfectly reasonable that this mindset is applied to rooting for the home team.

During a game, the stands typically divide between the home team and the visitors. Each section has a stage of cheerleaders and a head cheerleader guy to lead the crowd in the next cheer. Usually a few fans bring some drums along as well. During the entire game, the fans will do coordinated cheers, sing songs, chant, and loudly bang their plastic thunder sticks together, or in the case of Giants fans, wave their pom poms made out of shredded newspapers. Once in a while the cheerleaders will of course dance to the latest K-Pop anthem as well. The non-stop coordinated cheers of thousands of baseball fans are almost more exciting to watch than the game itself. It’s kind of like the coordination during the intense opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The synchronized Korean fans certainly can beat that lame wave thing we all do.

Although there are only 8 teams in a league that is less than 30 years old, strong loyalties exist with the teams and are entrenched within regional identities. Whenever the Kia Tigers visit a Seoul team for example, you can be sure that the visitors section will outnumber the home section with the large Jeolla community still representing their home province while working in the big city. The playoffs are also an intense period within families as family members often have a different favourite going in. If there is one thing Koreans love to argue and talk about it, baseball is definitely one of those things. A Kia Tigers fan can no doubt be just as intense as a Detroit Tigers fan, perhaps even more so.

This summer, definitely try to attend a few games and take in the wonderful cultural spectacle of a game Koreans intensely love to watch.

Teams, Cities, and Stadiums:
Doosan Bears – Seoul, Jasmil Baseball Stadium
Hanwha Eagles – Daejon, Daejon Baseball Stadium
Kia Tigers – Gwangju, Moodeung Stadium
Lotte Giants – Sajik Baseball Stadium, Busan
LG Twins — Jasmil Baseball Stadium, Seoul
Samsung Lions — Daegu, Daegu Baseball Stadium
SK Wyverns —Incheon, Munhak Baseball Stadiu,
Seoul Heroes — Mokdong Baseball Stadium, Seoul

For complete game schedules and locations visit this site.

Day in the Life of a Summer School Teacher in Korea

By Whit Altizer

Act I, Scene 1

Student– Teacher! Come on!

Whit Teacher– Come here!

S- Teacher- Come here!

W.T.– Okay..Do you need help, Yoon Min?

S- (Yoon Min grabs Whit Teachers beard and pulls)- Teacher dirty.

The scene- Eight 8 year old students in brightly-colored summer clothes. Some are in their seats, some not. The student next to Yoon Min, the pig-tailed and chubby Ahn Woo, laughs almost to the point of hyperventilating at Yoon Min’s beard-pulling, revealing two missing front teeth. Ahn Woo files the act in her brain to use on the teacher several times over.

Behind the teacher Kyu Seok tiptoes toward the board in a secret mission to chalk another unearned point to his team’s score. But the teacher sees all movements and subtracts a point from Team B for the attempt. Team B groans and makes swiping motions toward Kyu Seok for his failed mission. Kyu Seok sinks in his seat in shame.

As the teacher continues to help the students with their vocabulary exercise he feels the strange but familiar feeling of tiny fingers being rammed up the rear of his pants. Team B’s Na Seol has landed a perfect and well-executed “dong chim” sending the foreign teacher nearly a foot into the air. The class erupts with laughter. The scene repeats itself.

Act II, 
Scene 2

The scene-The teacher arrives with kimchi stains and stray black marks on his pants revealing an active morning with 8-year-old students. He breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the calm and seated students at their desks.

The students range from 18 to 66. Some are shy, most are fluent, all are kind and none will attempt a ”dong chim” tonight or comment on the teacher’s beard. But with good Korean humor they will enjoy teasing their teacher.

After a discussion about countries and nationalities.

Student 1- What do you tell people your nationality is if you are from the United States?

Whit Teacher- American.

Student 1- But what about Canada and Mexico? They are in North America, but they are Canadian and Mexican. Why are you American?

Whit Teacher- (Teacher sighs almost wishing he only had to react to a “dong chim” at this point) Well, I am not sure why, but I guess it goes back to a moment in our history.

Student 2- Huh, you should know! (The class laughs)


This my life these hot summer days, but please don’t misinterpret the tone. Teaching children in the morning and adults in the evening, after a semester of teaching only college students, has actually been a welcome challenge and endlessly entertaining. As most foreign teachers know it pays to be well-prepared for your audience.

Here are some tips I have found useful in keeping the beard-pulling to a minimum.

For the Kids

1. Turn everything into a game. Foreign teachers have to make the classroom fun for young students. It is super effective in getting them to practice English in a fun and carefree environment. Often, out of desperation for fun and a restless class, I make up games on the spot with whatever resources I am using. Try to think like a kid. Remember those days where all you had was a pencil and an eraser, but in your mind they were a fighter jet and an aircraft carrier? Go with it. It also helps to Google “ESL Games” before class. There are endless supplies of games.

2. Check out MES English. My on-line Bible these days is Mes-English. It is a free site with flashcards, worksheets, coloring sheets, songs and many other resources that you could use over several class periods. There are few important words that this site doesn’t cover. For example, I have a theme everyday and print out a set of flashcards that relate to that theme. The first hour we learn the flashcards and learn how to spell each word. The second hour we play games with the flashcards. Either I call out a word and they rush to be the first team to tape it to the board, or I have them race to put the cards in a specific order. It’s simple and the kids love it.

3. Institute a point system. Korean children absolutely love competition. The prize doesn’t matter so much as the winning. Threatening to take a point away can get your students in their seat in a flash. A point given almost always results in high-fives and cheers. I am serious, they LOVE it. You can giveth or taketh away points depending on your rules, they will follow.

For the Adults

1. Debate. This depends on their level, but my upper-level students seem to enjoy this exercise. For homework, they are to prepare themselves for an informal debate on a topic such as, “Love is more important than money.” These topics sometimes just elicit opinions, but as the students get more comfortable with each other they are starting to actually disagree openly with each other. Not only is it good for them but I have found it very fascinating as an observer.

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2. Call on your students. Some people may debate this point, but I have found that calling on your students randomly applies just enough pressure on them to be prepared. I feel that my students come prepared to be called on because they don’t know when it might be their turn.

3. Give homework and have free talk time. One student actually told me that she like the pressure of homework (either written or preparing for a speech or debate) and then having a casual conversation at the beginning or end of class. One friend recommended discussing the latest entertainment news if the class is predominantly women.

Awesome things about Korea: Kindness

By Heather Bucurel

Random acts of kindness. They’re something that most of us don’t really think about until it happens to us. Maybe it’s someone holding a door for you, giving you the last seat on the bus or subway, letting you share their umbrella for the short walk to indoors, picking up something you dropped, etc.

In Korea, random acts of kindness could be something given for service, a discount as a repeat customer, or an English-speaking Korean who stops to help you.bus

I always appreciate these kind gestures, and try to return the favor as best as I can. A “kamsa hamnida” goes a long way here.

Yesterday on the bus ride home, an older Korean gentleman got on the bus a stop ahead of mine.

He only had a 5,000 won bill and the bus driver couldn’t make change for the 1,000 ride.

The man really wanted and needed to get on the bus, but the driver was unrelenting without the proper fare. In that moment, I walked up to the front and used my bus card to pay for the man’s fare, much to his and the driver’s surprise.

The man tried to give me the 5,000 won, but I smiled and said, “괜찮아요 (it’s okay).”

The bus proceeded to my stop, where the man and I exchanged bows and farewells.

I could feel the eyes of all the other passengers when I departed the bus, wondering about the waegookin who had helped one of their own.

And no lie, the next song that came on my IPod as I walked the rest of the way home?

This wonderful cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” sung by British artist James Morrison.

Heather Bucurel
Heather is the author of The Kimchi Chronicles and is a monthly contributor to Say Kimchi News.