Cute in Korea

Shopping in Korea is a hoot.  Cuteness abounds, the English language is mangled and contorted, and function is abandoned in the quest for form.  If you have received one of our packages you know what I’m talking about.  If not, brace yourselves.

The cuteness:
I finally indulged myself in an awesome teddy bear hat/scarf/mitten piece.  Mike says that my “I don’t need that button” is in a storage locker in Minnesota.  He would appreciate it if someone would send it to me.

Winner winner!

I’ve been sporting this awesome “Winner, winner chicken dinner” hoodie with built in mittens for a month now.  It is in the dictionary, under awesome.

I’ve considered buying these pj’s/Halloween costumes…  Mike is getting very uncomfortable.

But don’t think it is just a girl thing here.  Men are much cuter than women here.  The glitter and rhinestones are all over men’s clothing. The male teachers at my school alll wear glittery ties, shiny suits and shirts.

Nails are awesome here.  I got a gel mani-pedicure today with a three color gradation and glitter for less than $40 USD.  So fabulous.  Remi helped me to model it.

cute paws and cuter hands

The English:
If you can call it that.  They use our alphabet, our phonemes, but often abandon the little things like spelling, meaning, and word order.  A hodge podge of sounds and words swims before your eyes.

Oh, and the cutest kids can wear some of the vulgarest things. I have a student that wears the cutest sweater.  It has a bunny on it.  It is quilted with rhinestones.  It says “Let’s do it like the bunnies do all day long.”  Another 6th grade boy wears a sweatshirt that says “Bastard.” Then there is the shirt that has become famous on the internet that has all the big dirty words on in huge print.

The intensity of a hip hop lady Mac Beth

The form:
Sweatshirts have zippers everywhere, especially if it could look like a mouth.  Gloves have been repurposed as puppets.  They are super cute.  Your middle finger has a head on it, like a lion, or bear.  Your thumb and other fingers are legs.  They look cute.  They aren’t great for daily wear, but they are fun.  Cell phone covers and fobs are the best example of form over function.  Cell phone covers might cover the phone and add bounce protection, but the most popular ones out right now have 3 inch long bunny ears on them.  The cell phone fobs are often larger than the phones themselves.  We were gifted two cute fobs, a boy doll and a girl doll, in our birthstone colors.  They have micro fiber heart shaped pillows to clean the phone screen.  Cute, but my phone wouldn’t fit in my purse.  Oh!  And all of this is made for couples.

Couples:
Couples have much more matchy-matchy choices in Korea.  You can by couple clothes from head to toe, including t-shirts that connect.  You can wear couple mittens with connecting strings so that you walk together.  There are couples cell phones, with couple plans and couple ring tones.  We’ve also heard about couples underwear, and that the men’s piece has a special ‘pocket’ Mike’s not eager to know more about. I’m sure we’ll learn more about this during the Valentine’s Day extravaganza that is V-Day, White day, and Singles Day….

The poop:
Poop is a big deal here.  There is a lot of it.  The Korean word for poop is ddung.  Yup.  Ddung.  Ddung is lucky.  If you dream of ddung it is lucky.  If you dream of golden ddung you’ll have a prosperous year.

Dung cookie jars: golf bag, oven, grenade

Ddung is on everything.  There are ddung paper weights, ddung dolls (her hair looks like a DQ poo), ddung doll clothes,  ddung cookie jars, ddung apps. One of Mike’s classrooms has a progress meter that is ddung themed. There’s a row of squatting boys across the top, and teams earn ddung stickers that descend down the poster till they reach a row of squatter toilets. First team whose ddung reaches the toilet wins a prize. How is this not popular in America? And, Wow! I just found these great Ddung cartoons!

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Our winter vacation began today.  We are heading to Seoul/ Busan for a few days then a week in Kyoto and Osaka, Japan.  I am afraid I may experience a cute aneurism after our brief trip to Fukuoka, Japan this summer.

Good News- Bad News

This has been a week of ups and downs.

A few weeks ago Mike and I re-signed to teach the 2012- 2013 school year at our current schools.  We like our schools, we like our apartment, we love our neighborhood. We were content.

Last Tuesday I saw a post the JETI was hiring Korean English teacher trainers.  (boy that’s a lot of modifiers.)  I submitted my resume and cover letter on a whim and received a phone call an hour later.  I went out for an interview the next day.  JETI is in Damyang,  a tourist spot famous for its bamboo forest. The drive out there was romantic.  Snow covered mountains, pine trees, farms, a beautiful lake.  Awesome.  Like Misery without the yuckiness.

I digress.  So, it turns out that this is my dream job.  I like my school.  I love my school.  But, overall, the English teachers here are stuck on the Grammar Translation method and the Audio -Lingual method.  They have been told to use Communicative Language Teaching, but have been trained in the methods.  So you end up with the G-T/ A-L cycle repeating endlessly.   The job would  be a step in ending that cycle,  I would be training Korean teachers to teach English to Korean elementary students in 6 month intensive seminars.  The teachers would then go abroad and take their TEOFL certificate.  I would be a cog in the system that would shift the teaching paridigm.  Cool.

They called and offered me the job last Thursday. I was so excited.  I chattered endlessly at the director.  (you know, the more excited I am the more I chatter.) There was a hang-up.  I am under contract until April 23rd and the new position starts on February 1st.

For the past week we have been trying to convince my principal to let me go.  She won’t.  It’s just been made official. I am here.  Here I am.

On the good side, I love my school.  My principal has a good attitude, my school has a good tone and I like the teachers.  We love our neighborhood.  We are between two mountains, two blocks from the ocean, surrounded by fabulous restaurants, and we like our neighbors.  We like our apartment.  We have a romantic view of the sunset, we don’t look straight on at another 15 story building, as often happens in Korea, and it has a cute porch.  The “other” job would have had us separated for  3 months, living in a city of 5 million people, Mike would have had to find a new job, and I would have a 45 minute commute each way.

I am thankful to have the best sweetie in the world.  He tolerates all of my whimseys.  When they offered me the job I knew he’d be up for the adventure. It doesn’t get much better than Mike.  We are sad to lose this opportunity. I dreamed about it all week.  Last night he caught me sleep walking.

Thankfully the process is over.  We are starting our winter vacation.  We leave for a few days in Seoul, then it is off for a week in Japan.  This time we are exploring the Osaka- Kyoto region.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it when we get back.

Or maybe I can show you picture as we eat food-on-a- stick and walk to the dairy barn…

Eek! It’s skatefish!

Skatefish, or hong-uh in Korean, is a traditional delicacy with a great deal of notariety among the foreinger community of Mokpo. I (Mike) have eaten skatefish twice now; the first time by accident, the second time more or less by design. I can’t account for this lack of proper judgement, but the story may prove amusing, and a warning to those of you planning a culinary tour of Korea.

Skatefish has a lot of things going against it. First of all, like most flat fish, it’s a bottom feeding scavenger, most comfortable lying around in the muck of the ocean, away from all the cool fish. Second, the skatefish has no kidneys. You’d think this would doom it to blood poisoning, but it’s adapted itself in a clever way: All urine gets processed within the muscles of its ‘wings.’

The wings, not coincidentally, are the parts of the skatefish people eat. And, because they are soaked in urine, and the skate is fermented from 2 to 10 days, the flesh gets a pungent, out-housey scent that sends most people running for the exit. This, oddly, doesn’t keep skate from being eaten in the west. Western cookbooks simply advise that if the skate has not been processed properly, the meat will smell strongly of ammonia, and should be discarded. I suspect Korean cookbooks have the opposite warning.

I can’t really justify my eating something that smells of ammonia except by saying, that 1) I did not order the skatefish either time and 2) I don’t smell very well.

At the teahouse. It was quite lovely, actually.

The first eating was at a teahouse that recently opened near Akasha’s school. We wandered in, and the jovial hospitality of the owners made me excessively polite, and I ate whatever was offered. (Akasha does not succumb to this kind of pressure. She is smart enough to avoid skatefish at all costs.)

The second time, I was at a teacher’s dinner, another situation where politeness is important. It was a restaurant where they specialized in raw seafood, such as the Hong-uh, and a raw blue crab that was soaked in soy sauce and garlic, hacked to pieces and set out on a ceramic tray. So it seemed only polite to give the skatefish another try.

You may be wondering why I put something that smelled so bad anywhere near my mouth. But I was wondering the opposite, how something that I had eaten didn’t smell so bad at all. So it was here at the teacher’s dinner that I finally held a piece up to my nose, and learned, once again, that my nose is pretty much useless for long-range smelling. An inch from my nose, the smell hit me. I teared up, my eyes watering, and I nearly ran from the restaurant.

My co-teacher showed me a trick, though. It’s an ancient method of coping with the ammonia smell. You eat the hong-uh in layers, with sliced pork and kim chi on either side. This provides a nice ‘sandwiching’ effect, where the sweetness of the pork and spice of the kimchi can contain the smell until it reaches your mouth. And, finally, you sense a paradox of skatefish: It doesn’t taste that bad. It’s kind of sweet and delicate. It’s almost a shame the smell turns people off.

Or is it? Because there’s one last problem that even buffering cannot solve. Skates are related to sharks, so they have no true bones. They do have cartilage, however, and the cartilage is not removed before serving. This means the skatefish is like chewing on, say, fingernails, or velcro tabs, or fish-flavored bubble wrap.

I tried to chew the skate for several minutes, but it did not yield to my weak, western jaws. Finally, because politeness only goes so far, I spit the skatefish discretely into a napkin and set it near my plate for disposal. I felt a bit like when I was eight years old, hiding the peas under the edge of my plate so I could leave the table. So, my adventures with skatefish have ended. I won’t be trying it again.

How to clean a skatefish.

Another tale of skatefish (with pictures)