Thursday 15 December 2011

My pet!

Ringo and my first meeting....
          I have a pet... no I'm not talking about one of my students. I mean a living, breathing, moving pet that I keep in my house. Now I've had my pet for quite a while by now but I have only just got around to writing a post now... and I think he deserves it.
         Any guesses as to what it is? Nope, not a dog. No, not a cat. Rabbit? No. Hamster? Wrong again. It's a .......... wait for it........ Beetle (with two ees not the ea musical variety)! Yep, a beetle. A rhinoceros beetle to be precise or at least he will be...
The three stages of Ringo (he is still number 1).
         Ok, so on one of our Friday field trips a few weeks ago we went to an insect farm (museum). It was another very Korean cultural experience and despite a few squeamish moments I enjoyed it. We all held silk-worms in our hand and then spun real silk by hand from their cocoons etc. as well as seeing many more animals and insects. One of the final parts of the tour though was to look at rhinoceros beetles and their larvae. They are renowned for their long lifespan in the insect world. Reaching 3years in age before they even change from larvae to a beetle and this is where the story gets interesting. So after looking at them and staring in amazement we were all told that each person on the tour, including the teachers, would be given a free rhinoceros beetle as a pet. They are apparently very popular pets all over Asia. Now you can imagine my first thoughts... but then my curiosity got the better of me and I followed the kids as they each filled a specialised plastic jar three quarters fill with compost and then lined up to be given their larvae. Don't fool yourself into imagining a little caterpillar. This thing was much thicker and also longer than a thumb. It had a creepy black "face" and little hairs all over its body. They don't enjoy light so it was quickly worming it's way deep into the compost. Now luckily the instructions were easy. 1. Keep it in dark places. 2. Keep the soil moist (Not wet, we were wanred NOT to water it). 3. When it changes to a beetle feed it fruit jellys etc. All our larvae are approx. 3yrs old so close to morphing apparently. After one look at my new housemate I knew his name... "Ringo"! (Get it??)
Ringo a few weeks ago
          So Ringo and I have happily shared an apartment since... I admit I occasional check to make sure he is still in his container but he is a very easy flatmate to have indeed. Now soon after our trip Vanessa's beetle,  named George Harrison (she liked my beetle's name), began to darken in colour and then cocooned and last week emerged as a big, sturdy, 'don't mess with me' rhinoceros beetle. Jannel's beetle has also emerged. Not Ringo though.... in fact he is still white and worming around and munching through the compost he lives in. It seems that Ringo and I might just have to part ways never having met beetle to face if he doesn't get cocooning fast.
         So having a pet, soon-to-be, beetle is another 'only in Korea' experience which has slightly creeped me out and yet woken my curiosity.

Ringo today!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Dog cafe

A collection of photos from the dog cafe.

          Now before anyone gets confused yes Koreans do eat dog meat but that is not the kind of dog cafe I am about to write about. This cafe was inhabited by living, breathing dogs of different ages and breeds.

The dogs just climb into your lap.
          Sounds unusual right? Well welcome to Korea were unusual is usual. Unlike Ireland and many other countries pet dogs are not that common in Korea, maybe it is due to so many people living in apartments with no space for dogs, or maybe it is because dogs are were viewed as a source of food by many during and after the Korean war (the Korean war left the Korean people with nothing to eat and Koreans resorted to eating anything  at all edible in those years, from animals typically viewed as pets to roots dug out of the ground). Regardless of the cause many people do not keep pet dogs but do like dogs, therefore the dog cafes.
          Dog cafes are as the sound a cafe serving hot drinks such as teas and coffees which you can sit and drink as dogs run around your feet and jump on the couches beside you. Entrance into the dog cafe we visited cost 8,000won (5euro) with our drink included. There were dogs everywhere, bulldogs, shitzhus, dalmatians, jack russells, pugs, Scottish terriers, labradors, etc. They all just walked around happily until the found a person who they liked and then maybe settled down for a rub and a cuddle.
         We quickly abandoned our drinks on our table as our real reason for being there was of course the dogs and we realised that sitting on the floor was the best place to get their attention. We sat crossed legged on the floor and within seconds Vanessa, Kyle, Helena and I all had little dogs come over walk onto our laps and curl up as if they did this every day. Vanessa, Helena and I all had small dogs who cosily fit in the space on our laps. Kyle, hilariously, was approached by the fat bull dog who tried his best to curl up on Kyle which resulted with the front half of his body on Kyle's lap as his back legs dangles over onto the floor. We all sat happily there as other dogs came to say hello or our ones decided to move off and new ones came along. We basked in the happy feeling of being around dogs which none of us had felt since leaving our home countries.
My boldie little Jack Russell..
          Now after a while a little Jack Russell came and curled into my lap and I rubbed him as he fell asleep. I had been watching him every now and again during our visit up until then and as he was not the cutest dog to put it gentle he was largely ignored by the customers. Well it seems that the little guy wasn't used to so much attention and didn't want to give it up because after a few minutes of resting in my lap while being rubbed another dog walked by me and my little Jack Russell started to growl at it. I laughed and passed it off. Until shortly after another dog came close to me and he had the same reaction. I told Helena who was sitting beside me and we both listened to him growl as soon as any other dog approached me. It was funny because if I gave out to him for it he would stop and look up at me with the saddest "I'm sorry, please don't stop rubbing me!" eyes!
          We spent over an hour in the cafe and it was so nice being surrounded by dogs. It was a very strange experience at the same time making it so typically Korean. All in all something I would recommend though on a whole.

The very bold pugs...

Ding Dong Dang

          So back a while ago our school was selected to be part of the audience for the filming of an episode of Ding Dong Dang, a Korean children's tv programme. Needless to say our kids were very excited and spent a few days before telling us all repeatedly that they would be going to see Ding Dong Dang. Well the day eventually arrived and most of the parents decided to bring the kids themselves so they collected their kids and and the teachers travelled with the few kids whose parents couldn't attend.
          Ding Dong Dang was being filmed outdoors on a local soccer pitch and there were children everywhere along with numerous sales carts of candyfloss, balloons, toys, etc. We found our seats and I settled in for what I assumed would be an hour or so of me sitting in silence listening to people on stage speak Korean..I was right for the first 40 minutes or so! Then came the dancing!!
          Now, I will shamefully admit that after a year my Korean is still pitiful so I tend to just follow the crowd at big events and at Ding Dong Dang all of the parents stood up so I stood up too. They started dancing so I started dancing too along with the other foreign teachers. This is when it gets interesting... next thing we knew our director Sarah was shouting at Vanessa and me telling us to go to the stage. Apparently the guy on stage had called us up. I squeezed out along the row of seats with Vanessa and walked to the side of the stage only to be told they wanted us ON the stage. With a quick look at each other with a "what's going on?" expression we climbed the steps and were joined on stage by maybe 4 other women from the audience. Luckily the presenter could speak some English and approached us explaining we were going to have a dance-off on stage against the other women. Oh-Oh!! No way to back out now.
          In keeping with the amazement we are often greeted with in Korea the presenter proceeded to ask us our names, where we were from, etc. Naming our school was greeted by a huge cheer from our kids and their parents scattered throughout the audience. A large group of my kids and their parents were seated near the front of the stage and I could hear shouts of "Teacher Lisa, Teacher Lisa" amidst mad waving and jumping to catch my attention.
          At this stage we were made to line up and the dance-off began. Dance styles among the mothers on stage with us ranged from hip-hop to ballet and all I kept thinking was how can I dance on stage in front of my kids parents without embarrassing myself TOO much! I decided to play it safe and go for simple silly dance moves. (Which Jannel our colleague recorded on her camera and is attached below). All the while being cheered on by my students as loud as they could.
           Next the presenter asked if we were married Vanessa of course replied "yes" and I without thinking answered truthfully "No" to the presenters response of "Oh I know a guy" before pulling one of the stage hands on to the main stage from the back. Now at this point the audience were very amused as I was greeted by this Korean guy. We were made stand back to back as we played some Korean compatibility test game. The presenter counted to three and we had to turn our heads in one direction. If we both turned our heads the same direction we were compatible. One, two, three... opposite directions! Again, one, two, three...opposite directions. At this stage everyone was laughing and they decided one last attempt. One, two, three... opposite directions. After three tries and fails they eventually accepted that we clearly weren't compatible and sent the poor guy backstage once more.
 Now needless to say neither Vanessa nor I won the dance-off and the presenter joked that we would go home with nothing but after a few sad faces we were given a Crayola art set and some body lotions. We walked off the stage and back through the crowd like minor celebrities as kids we don't even teach reached out to give us high-5's.
          Yet another Korean experience to cross off the list..

Friday 2 December 2011

Our kindergarten advertisement.

          Kindergarten here at English Village is based on total (or as close as you can get while still living in Korea) immersion into the English language. From the moment they arrive until the moment they leave the kids do not speak Korean. They talk to all teachers in English, they study through English they even play through English and it works. Kids are like sponges and they pick up and use new words at an amazing speed. It is very rarely now that I have to put on my teacher voice and say "Don't speak Korean". Ok, they forget at times or don't know a word so use the Korean but apart from that, English.
         To be able to speak English for Koreans is a major advantage. Most, if not all, major companies have English proficiency tests as mandatory requirements during the hiring process. With this in mind it is no wonder that English language teaching jobs are so readily available in Korea. English Village is a popular choice as it is not just an hour or so of English classes a day but all classes being taught through English, but because of this it's expensive. Most of my students have parents who are doctors or own their own businesses, etc. The downside to the exclusiveness of our school is that many people from the area just wouldn't be able to afford it and thus we have to advertise a lot.
          The enrolment for next term is beginning shortly and so once again the advertising is in full blast. This term they decided an online "preview" of our school would be a cute idea too so we all had the pleasure of a camera filming our classes while we taught one day a few weeks ago and here is the final product:

Thursday 1 December 2011

House of Sharing

          I can say I have many memories from Korea, many fantastic memories. It has been an amazing year so far. Unfortunately not many of those memories revolve around "cultural" activities. Arriving here 11months ago I had the very best of intentions. I was going to go on Temple stays, go hiking in the famous mountains, learn korean cookery etc. but none of those plans materialized and I am sorry to say that now I just don't have the time left to do them. One item on my "cultural" list was to visit the 'House of Sharing' and I managed to finally go about 3 weeks ago. 
          Dee, Helena and I had all signed up to go on Saturday the 12th of November. Unfortunately that was the morning after our Irish dinner and it wouldn't have been a real "Irish dinner" without some alcoholic beverages so the girls didn't feel very much like getting out of bed the next morning and therefore I made the trip myself. I'll admit I was hesitant when I got the note slid under my door saying not to wake them as to whether I should go or just crawl back into my warm bed too but I decided to give it a chance and I am glad.I had heard things about the House before my visit but nothing could have prepared me.
          The House of Sharing is a home and museum for survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945).  From 1932 until the end of WWII, the Japanese military forcefully conscripted - by means of kidnapping, deception and colonial authority - an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 women and girls from all over Asia, mostly from Korea, to serve as sexual slaves in their brothel system. Many of these girls and young women died and were murdered and massacred. Of those that survived they were abandoned in countries far from there homes with no means of income after the war. Few ever returned home. 
           After decades of silence, the issue was brought to the public in 1992 and since then a number of "comfort women" have come forward. These women's lives were devastated by what happened to them yet with great strength they spoke out. Every Wednesday since January 1992, survivors have gathered outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest the Japanese government's denial of its role in military sexual slavery and its refusal to meet the demands of the victims. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Japanese government continues to refuse to accept its role. However, due to deteriorating health the "Halmoni" are being forced to discontinue their protests with their 1000th and final protest being held on December 14th of this year.
        On arrival at the house we were given a brief talk and shown a video of one of the women who had first fought for the cause.The women living in the house are known internationally as the "comfort women" but more affectionately known by the volunteers at the house as the "Halmoni", Korean for grandmother. 
         After the video we were shown through the museum where we were told shocking facts and listened to disturbing testimonies. One of the testimonies read to us was of one of the 8 women who currently live in the home. In her 80's now she was 13 when she was abducted by Japanese soldiers while fetching water for her parents in her local village. From Korea she was taken to China to a "comfort station". These "comfort stations" were dotted all throughout Japanese territories in Asia as it was believed that the soldiers fought better if the had their sexual desires filled. On arriving the other women asked her age and finding out how young she was one woman objected to the guards. To show their authority the soldiers rolled that woman over a bed of nails until pieces of her flesh began embedding onto the spikes and tearing off and then beat her before finally beheading her in front of all of the other women. 
          Another testimony read to us was about a woman who became pregnant due to one of the many rapes. She was of no use to them pregnant so to deal with her pregnancy the soldiers put a red hot poker into her vagina. The women also spoke of having to eat while being raped at times as the had no time in between one soldier and the next. The Japanese military often inflicted torture on the women if they tried to refuse, such as by putting blades into their flesh and twisting them so the wound would not heal for longer. It was hard not to feel disgusted and heartbroken by the accounts and many people, myself included, were holding back tears. 
          Following the museum tour we were given a chance to ask any questions we still had before we got to meet the Halmoni (the women who were abused). The language barrier would have caused difficulties but volunteers translated for us and the meeting was amazing. Obviously the events were very traumatic for them so for the most part we just talked in general and one of the old women who loved singing asked us as a group to sing for her but occasionally they would mention something about their experiences. One of the women showed us the scars left all over her body from the torture she received. Another told us how the rapes and chemical abortions she was given had made her infertile (this happened to a great many of the survivors). Eight women currently reside at the 'House of Sharing', the youngest in their 80's. As we left and I was saying goodbye to the woman one of them held my hand for a minute as others past by making it seem even more shocking how these women who should have been somebodies grandmother's had their futures taken.
          The halmoni are very happy at the "House of Sharing" which is completely funded by public donations and say that they are treated better their than most state nursing homes. The have a wonderful art gallery of paintings by the women as part of a therapy. They halomoni told us how much they enjoyed meeting the tour groups that came and were grateful that their stories were not being forgotten.
         . Talking to the women that day and hearing the sadness in their voices of not being able to continue their protests and the fear that their sufferings will never be truly acknowledged was an extremely emotional experience and one which I will not forget easily but also an experience which I would recommend to anyone. You can find more information on online testimonies at