The Monsoons

It’s officially monsoon season here in Jeolla. When we got here we thought a monsoon was a big storm.  Turns out, we were wrong.  A monsoon is a season with a fairly specific, Wiki-accessible definition. Sometimes there are amazing storms (Typhoons) with 90mph winds and torrential downpours that knock out our neighbors windows and push me down.  Some times there are bright, hot, clear, sunny days where there is no escape from the sun.  Many days there is a constant foggy drizzle that saturates everything, bloats your books and frizzes your hair.  It is 100% humid all the time.

100% humidity, isn’t that rain? you ask.  Or fog? Not necessarily.  100% humidity is washing the dishes at night, sleeping 8 hours, and waking up to wet dishes.  100% humidity is having the dog nap on your bed while you’re at work and drool on your bedding.

2 Day old doggie drool

Then, the drool spot is still there when you get home, still there when you go to bed, still there when you go to work the next day (I’m calling Guiness soon.)  100% humidity means never straightening your hair, cause it will be a spring factory an hour later.

Generally speaking, Monsoon season is a soggy mess of heat and wet. The air stays misty and damp, the mist slowly getting heavier until you’re walking through huge mist droplets that begin slowly settling to the ground, then growing bigger until you realize they’re raindrops, which continue to get bigger, and heavier, until you’re trapped in a steady rain that will last all day. Or it will build into a huge gully-washer with thunder that makes the kids (and some teachers) scream in the halls of school.

It also has interesting side effects re: sweating. I (Mike) wore a nice orange shirt in to work the other day. By some miscommunication, my co-teacher had to leave a class unattended, and I was forced to fill in. This nervousness, combined with the humidity, left me with definite sweat-rings about the size of dinner plates under both arms. I was doing pretty well until I had to raise my arms to point at things, and noticed the kids were pointing at their armpits and laughing. They were also pointing at me. And laughing.

Here’s one lesson to take from this: if you ever want to amuse a room full of Korean third graders, try some sweaty armpits. Endlessly entertaining. It made discipline a challenge, though. I had to turn mean for a minute, giving them the meanest face I have, and when they’d settled down and when I resumed teaching I had to do it T-Rex style, elbows pinned to my waist. And nothing’s cooler, or classier, than that. And no, there are no photos.

Short haircut Remi

How does Remi like the monsoon season?  Well, last year we learned the hard way that heavy fur six inches long can carry an extra five pounds of monsoon water after a decent walk in the rain.  So this year, we’ve shaved him nearly bald.  He HATES gettting shaved, in fact when we approach the groomers he tries hard to go the other way. But he’s much more comfortable now, though he looks a bit like a pointer/dalmation.

When the monsoons end we will be enjoy the ripe juicy figs, pods bursting with sesame seeds, persimmons, pumpkins, rice, and gourds galore, and it will be good.

sesame plants growing crazy in the rain

There will be cool breezes and drier air, though we know the ‘death heat’ is also just around the corner.  But until then, bring on the moisture.

We don’t have air-conditioning, just 3 fans that push the air around and two awesome doors to create a pretty decent cross breeze.  Sometimes we go hide in air–conditioned restaurants, but mostly we just suck it up.  Put on a pair of galoshes, grab an umbrella, and go for a hike.

A bamboo grove on a stormy day
(between storms)

There is are two  summer foods that we just LOVE to beat the humidity.  Mul Neng Mien (ice water soup) and Pat Bing Su.  Mul Neneg Mien is the best cold soup ever! It is made

Mul Neng Mien (with green tea noodles and ham)

with soba noodles, juilianed cucumbers, Asian pears, and white radish.  The broth is made of kimchi juice.  It is frozen and half defrosted, then  the boiling hot soba noodles are tossed in, leaving little chopped icebergs floating.  It is served with half a hard boiled egg, mustard, and rice vinegar.  It is crisp, tart, filling, and refreshing.  Oh, and it is served in a metal bowl, so it cools your hands too.!  My other big favorite is Pat Bing Su.

Traditional Pat Bing Su is a big bowl filled with shaved ice, sweet red beans, little rice cakes, gummy candies, and a scoop of ice cream. Umm, yeah.  I’m not a big fan of the original.  But there are a million varieties. Choco banana Pat Bing Su has chocolate shaved ice, banana slices, chocolate ice cream and syrup, oreos, and fancy rolly cookies.

Chocobanana patbingsu

Most of your fruits have a Pat Bing Su. Blueberry Pat Bing Su, Mango Pat Bing Su and the mother of all Pat Bing Su: Mixed fruit Pat Bing Su has juice shaved ice, a medley of fresh and canned fruits, gummies, sweet rice cakes, berry syrup, and berry ice cream.  So good.  It’s like diabetes in a bowl!  If that doesn’t beat the heat it is time to move home.

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Cool stuff

So much is happening and it is all so lovely.

Thing 1:

The Rambergs are getting published.  As you all know, Mike is a writer and works diligently at living on his writing.  Back in February he self published a great novella about our stay here in Mokpo.  Just kidding, MZD, a novella of undead horror is a zombie novella that takes place in our host city.

Well, he is at it again.  Friday he was published in Cal Morgan’s Forty Stories, by Harper Perennial.  It is a great short story about  a ball of twine we all know and love, and its untimely demise.  (it’s on pages 17-28.) Love you, Smoochie. For far more information, check out Mike’s writing website:

Update: I posted this on Monday, but today (Thursday) Mike was published again! Way to go baby! My man is on a roll. This time a rock n’ roll piece. Read it for free online, or download the kindle edition of Prick of the Spindle for $1.75 at Amazon. I’m so proud of you, honey!

Remi reading “The Farm at Pony Gulch”

His mom, PTZ, has been editing her father’s memoirs for some time.  In April she published them with NDSU.  The Farm at Pony Gulch is a great read about the family’s emigration to North Dakota, her father’s life as a prairie school teacher, and the community of Germans from Russia which makes up the bulk of ND. Since publication she has been giving readings, gone on a book tour, and had a guest appearance on Prairie Public Radio.  Way to go, Patsy!

Thing 2:

Back in February, I found an amazing project to let the survivors of the Fukishma Tsunami/Reactor tragedy know we that are still thinking of them. A blogger in Japan, named Jojoebi,  started the Little Houses Project, which challenged makers around the world to make little houses for those still in temporary housing.  I made a little house as part of my Thing A Day 2012, but kept in contact with Jo after mailing mine in.

Now Jojoebi is at it again.  She has gotten bloggers from around the world to contribute to a blog series and picture book about neighborhoods around the world.  The series goes live today, starting with Jo’s neighborhood in Saitama, Japan.  We’ll be visiting neighborhoods in Korea, Slovenia, the States – oh, everywhere!  Take a look.  Our page will go up on the 1st of July!  Clock the “badge” to see today’s post.

Please take a peek at the other bloggers.

June 25 — Japan –
26 – California, USA
28 –  Canary islands,
29 – East Devon, UK,
30 – Michigan,  U.S.A.
July 1 – Mokpo, S0uth Korea,
3 – Falkirk in Scotland,
4 – Washington,  U.S.A. –
6 – South Africa –
7 – New York City, USA –
9 – Wellington, NZ –
10 – Berlin, Germany –
11 – UK (cambridge) –

FYI: International Drivers Permits

We were once told you can only get your American issued International Driver’s License (IDL) in the States, and can’t renew it if you’re already here. Like many things people say without proof, ‘they’ were wrong.  Here’s how we (legally) drive cars here in Korea without going home for the IDL:

Background information:
International Drivers Permits (IDP) are certificates of your holding a driver’s license in your home country. They are recognized by 70 countries worldwide, and provide you with the equivalent of that country’s license without the need to surrender yours or take tests to acquire a license in that country. This allows you to rent cars, buy cars, and take out insurance. More information on the treaty that created this recognition can be found at this Wikipedia page.

How to get one:

In the USA:
First, you need a driver’s license from your home state. If you’re in the US planning to move to or visit Korea, or any other member nation, you can get an IDP from any American Automobile Association (AAA) location. The cost is about 15 dollars, and all you need is your license and a couple of passport pictures. It took us 15 minutes to get ours.

Outside the USA:
If you’ve been living abroad for more than a year (as we have), your IDP has expired. How to get a new one without a long plane ride? Internet to the rescue! I renewed my permit using a form downloaded from the National Automobile Club, at this website: I downloaded the form, filled it out, and sent it back with passport pictures. They charge a large fee (70 dollars US) to ship it overseas, so to avoid this, put a friend’s name on the application and have them ship it to you.

You need to send a signed photocopy of your US license, two passport photos, and payment information (Check or credit card). To protect against fraud, they do not provide online applications. The envelope left Korea, was processed, the license was sent to my (Mike’s) dad’s house, he sent it to Korea regular shipping, and we had the license in hand 3 weeks later. Easy-peasy.

It was a really simple form that took a minute to fill out, and we had it back in 3 weeks.  It is really easy to get around in Korea with the bus/train service, but we can’t bring the dog on buses and it is a pain to bring him on the trains.  It is so much easier to go camping with a large dog when we rent a car.

There are other websites online that will provide IDP’s, as a simple Google search will return. However, there are only two organizations endorsed by the US Department of state to issue the IDP: AAA and the National Auto Club. Beware imitations.

Other options:
You can also get a Korean driver’s license.  You need to go to the embassy in Seoul or Busan in person and have your US issued license verified.  Then you can take the document and the license to a Korean DMV and take the driver’s exam. That would have required several days off of work for us to go to Seoul  for document A and to Naju for the test.  All in all, the IDL was faster and has the same effect. Plus, we’re not sure what effect that has on getting your driver’s license back when you return to the states. You’d probably need to call your home state’s DMV for that information.

Whichever license you choose, there are some major differences in driving here. The DMV has a list of road signs that will make it easier to get where you’re going. Many destinations are written in Korean and English, but a lot of the signs are just in Korean. Drivers are a bit insane. And there are also numerous camera speed traps, so keep your foot light on the pedal, Speed Racer!

side note: we live in a port town and it is really easy to bring Remi on the ferry and go camping on the islands. Oh, and since we aren’t gonna put up a pic of our license, enjoy a pic of Remi on the ferry. Can’t go wrong with a dog picture!

Update! Looks like the government will be issuing IDLs at police stations now.

Birthday time

It is almost time for my B-day, and our 6 month mark here.  I’m a little homesick for the bonfire and barbeque we would be having at home.  There’s no good place around here to have a fire, so I think we’ll just go out for Korean BBQ with a few friends. I hope that we stay here for a bit, but I can’t wait for my next backyard birthday BBQ with ya’ll again.  (pout)

In the mean time, there is nothing that we would love more than a birthday postcard and or bday Skype call.

I am excited for the Halloween party we’ll be having in Mokpo.  It’s a fundraiser for the orphanage I volunteer at and should be a great time.  In addition to a thriller dance-off, and a costume contest, there will be a bake-sale.  I’m trying to find the ingredeients necessary for a cookie-bar extravaganza!   Marshmallows go for $10 a bag here, dashing my krispy bar dreams, but I’ll whip something up.    Halloween is not a Korean thing, but it seems the foreigners know how to do it up right.

A few days in review

We have had a crazy first few days here. Here’s a brief review of the blur that was our arrival:

Day 1:
Travel day 1: We flew from Minneapolis to Chicago to Incheon to Gwangju.  The airport staff were very kind and patient in helping us with the animals.  The Korean Air staff at Chicago O’Hare was so very helpful, and quite enamored with Remi, Ching and Clark, who are nothing if not charming.  The animals traveled well.  We gave the cats Valium on the Chicago flight.  It didn’t work as well as we had hoped so we didn’t give them a second dose.  Clark resisted it so much that it frothed in his mouth, he was angry and terrified.  Ching on the other hand loved the Valium, she was rubbing against everything and chirping non-stop.  The Korean Air bathrooms are HUGE, they even have baby changing tables in them, and we used them as a cat exercise area every so often.  Otherwise, they stayed under the seats in front of us, or we snuck them onto our laps for some cuddling.

Clark in is usual mood.

We were able to walk Remi between each flight.  He did well, though when we landed we could hear him barking from his cargo class seating, under the plane. He only really barked during take off and landing.  Before the flight I told him to try to yawn to keep his ears from popping, but he never listens.

The food, seating, and customer service on Korean Air was WONDERFUL.  We had two delicious meals with glass wine glasses and metal silverware.  The flight attendants wore beautiful outfits with pretty fastenors in their hair and neck kerchiefs.  They clean the bathrooms between each use.  The bathrooms, in addition to being big for a plane, were stocked with everything: aftershave, drinkable water, lotion, nice tissues… Each seat came with a soft fluffy pillow, big warm blanket, tooth brush, tooth paste, and slippers. With all the amenities, there wasn’t much room for us, but we made do.

We traveled for a day and a half and were exhausted when we arrived.  We traveled west, the entire trip was daylight.  Straaaange.

Day 2:  We woke up, ate breakfast, and took the animals to the boarders.  Our hotel is very western, with full baths and patios on every room. The breakfast is a a buffet that has western food including bacon, eggs, toast, fruit, and yogurt and Korean foods like soup, rice, and kimchi.

Marker on the mountain path.

We are in training in the city of Gwangju for 10 days and we are happy that the animals are at the boarders. But the first night, we had to keep them in our room, which was stressful for everyone involved. As one of our Canadian handlers said, the hotel “wasn’t too keen on” having the animals stay in our room. In the end, we promised them we’d keep the pets in their cages, which we mostly did, though after two days in transit they were nervous and shedding all over. Clark sprayed his kennel, and the next day, sprayed Remi’s. Needless to say, there isn’t a litter box in our hotel room.

Our hosts provided us with the name of a boarder, and helped us greatly with booking a taxt across town, and then translating our pet needs to her.   It is run by a kind couple.  They sell very small dogs, groom, and board dogs.  They provided Ching and Clark a kitty castle with a monkey shaped pillow and litter box.  Remi stays in his kennel.  They walk him in the morning, we walk him after class.  He seems to like the couple a lot.  Every time we show up he is happy, not shaking or nervous.  The place is very very clean.  Today when we came in from the rain she gave us a towel to clean Remi off with and turned on a space heater to warm/ dry him before he returned to his kennel.

Downtown Gwangju

Later on day 2, we returned to the hotel for lunch, an opening ceremony, and a brief intro to Korea.  We all met up and went on a walking tour of the city center.  Then we went to WA Bar, in downtown Gwangju, for foreign beer.  Mike had 2 Guinness, I had 2 Weiss Braus, and we won’t be doing that again.  The Guinnesses were 18 dollars, the Weiss were $26.  Lots of cash for not a lot of beer. We learned on day 3 that Korean beer is $1-2 a glass, and tastes like PBR.  PBR is fine with me.

Day 3
We had a class on Korean customs and expectations, lunch, and another class on the basics of the Korean language.  They were okay, basically just repeats of what we had already read.  After class we piled into taxis to go to the baseball stadium to see the Gwangju Kia Tigers destroy the Hanwan Eagles 8-1.

Cheap beer and Kim Bap at the ballpark! Just like Home!

Baseball here is much more affordable than the Twins.  Tickets were $8 for general admission, and beer cost $2. We got a tray fo Kim Bap (rice rolls) for 2 $2, and a bag of Oreo knockoffs for $1.  There are vendors in front frying chicken to order as well as grilling squid.  We made friends with a Korean guy who helped translate the player names and the crowd  cheers. The game was well played, and the crowd cheered for each player, there are cheerleaders, and an event in the middle of the 6th inning.  The “event” was a race of guys in car suits, similar to the fan competitions at Gopher Hockey games.  Super cute.

Day 4
Today we went to the hospital to have a health evaluation, including blood and urine tests so that we can qualify for our Alien Resident Cards.  The hospital was quick, well organized, and painless.  No complaints.  After lunch we had a class on lesson planning.  eh, it was okay.  Mike and I took a nap between class and dinner, then we brought our clothes down to a laundry woman for washing.  Finally we went to the kennel to walk the dog and pet the kittens.  Everyone seems happy, clean, and well fed.  There is a river by the kennel so Remi has had some fun walks with new things to smell.

Things are going well in general.   The hotel is very nice, it is in a national park, in the mountains, in the city.  Mike and I often wake up and walk around the mountain before breakfast.

View from the Mountain

The trees and flowers are blooming everywhere and the weather is beautiful.  The Southerners and South Africans think that it is cold, but the Northerners and Canadians are all very happy.  There are 50 of us. We are from the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.  Our fellow teachers are very diverse, there are some fresh out of college, 5 teachers in our age group, and many in between.  The teachers are white, Black, and Asian (I had heard that they only hire whites, mainly Aryans, but this is not true.)  Our fellow teachers are very friendly, and many of them are in their third or fouth year of teaching, so people like it here a lot, and we think we will as well.

Well, that’s probably enough for now – more to come soon.

Where are we going?

Yes, it’s true – we’re planning to relocate. Where, you ask? Jeollanamdo province, Korea, we say. Oh, you answer. But that doesn’t help a bit! No, no it doesn’t.

So: Jeollanam-do province is on the southwestern coast of the Korean peninsula. The wikipedia entry is here. It’s the purple part in the image on the right. (The green dot is the city of Gwang-ju, which is its own autonomous province.) Jeollanamdo is primarily an agricultural region, dotted with islands, mountains, and forests.

We don’t know where in the province we’ll be yet – that’s part of the fun. The EPIK program, which places foreign teachers in all Korean public schools, won’t have a definite list of openings till the new year.