Welcome to our neighborhood! Mike and I have been living here for a little over a year. Back home we were a systems administrator and an ESL teacher. Here we are both elementary EFL teachers. We live in Mokpo, a small port city in South-Western Korea.
Remi, our 12 year old English Springer Spaniel would love to show you around the town. See if you can spot him in each photo.
1. a post box Not much more to say.
A postal box
2. a local store/corner shop
(its name in Korean is “Neighborhood Mart.”) It is where we buy almost everything. We love these guys.
The neighborhood mart
3. a manhole cover
If you look in the middle you’ll see our city’s emblem, 1 blue and 2 green boats.
A manhole cover
4. a park/play area
A mixture of modern and postmodern. That is actually a wedge of cement kids climb up/ scramble down. Dangerous by US standards/ Fun by Korean standards.
5. a view of a typical street
Most people live in apartment buildings, many of them 15 story ones like ours.
(There are 4 buildings in this picture)
Cherry blossoms in our neighborhood
6. local form of transport (ferry terminal) There are 1,004 islands off the coast of Mokpo. They have beautiful beaches and many farms. We live by the small ferry terminal used mainly by farmers to transport crops. There are two big ferry terminals down the road, but we live by the cute North Ferry Terminal. The terminal itself is a cute booth. We’ve only seen 5 boats at a time at here. We’ve taken the boats here and they seem to be used mainly by island farmers. We prefer our small terminal to the big one in downtown.
The small ferry terminal
7. Mike’s school
It is a pretty average elementary school. They have a nice turf yard. My school covets their turf. We have a dirt yard.
Mike’s elementary school with soccer field and track
8. fish restaurants at the port
Hungry? Let’s stop in for the catch of the day. Abalone, octopus, and skate are very popular in Mokpo. Octopus is often eaten alive, or raw. I’ve tried the raw, still moving, octopus. Surprisingly, it is really tasty.
A fresh fish restaurant
9. a jumpy gym
These are also all over our neighborhood. They are often with Tae-kwon-do schools. They cost 50 cents (US) a visit and are awesome. I really wish I could go jump too.
A bounce gym- 50 cents!
10. the beach
Remi loves to go to the beach. We cheated, this beach is actually a little drive away. Mokpo is a port town, there is no beach. But the beaches in neighboring Muan are fabulous. You can see some of the Shinan islands in the distance.
Remi at the beach
11. exercise everywhere.
This is an awesome phenomena. Every set of apartment buildings and every park have these great exercise machines. They are used by people of all ages and abilities.
exercise machines in the park
12. agriculture everywhere. This is pretty cool too. Every open piece of land no matter how small gets turned into a garden. Some people grow a bit for themselves, but usually they grow quick crops like lettuce and sell it on the street. It is awesome.
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: http://www.grebmar.net.
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!
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.
We’ve been in Korea for a year now, and I’d say we’re settled in, but Korea doesn’t like to keep things settled. Things change a lot here, and pretty fast. So to commemorate our one year anniversary, I thought I’d go through a list, in no particular order, of a bunch of things that have changed around us as we’ve remained steadfastly (ha ha) the same. They are mostly little things, but put together they give you a sense of what goes on around us all the time.
The new paint scheme - very smart!
Our apartment complex got a paint job. They went from a dingy, faded beige and pastel to a crisp white and brown. Well, except for our building and the one next to it, and I’m sure Korea’s getting to us soon.
My (Mike’s) Principal, Vice Principal, and school Administrator have all been replaced. In fact, Korean public schools have a policy that no staff member can stay in a school more than four years. A typical teacher can expect to teach in four or five different cities, in six to eight schools, over the course of their career. So, in fact, about a quarter of the teachers at school have left for other schools, and been replaced. Most of the other teachers have been reassigned. Fourth grade teachers now teach sixth grade. The gym teacher now teaches sixth grade. They seem to like the change, but it would probably be a “challenge” for American teachers to put up with so much change.
My (Mike’s) main co-teacher remains the same. However, I am now on my third and fourth secondary co-teachers. One left to spend more time with her children. Her replacement was at Seohae for six months, and then moved to a middle school. One of my current co-teachers taught fifth grade last year, and she plans to move to Seoul in a few months. My other co-teacher, who deserves a blog entry all to himself, is also the head teacher at Seohae, so he’s very busy and often does not show up to class at all.
Likewise, the foreigners come and go. The main ‘intakes’ are April and August. No sooner had we settled in last year than a bunch of friends left. A similar exodus is taking place at the end of the month, and we will miss our friends a lot. But they’re moving on to bigger things – hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, for instance. I’m sure some nice people will come in and take their teaching posts, but they can’t be replaced.
The gap closing...
The big bridge that’s been under construction is nearly done. When we arrived, there was a gap of a few hundred feet in the suspension itself, and the decking leading to the far shore was completely absent. Now when we look out, the span is complete, and we expect traffic to be flowing on it any day now. In preparation for the extra traffic they’ve been digging up the parkway by the beach, adding strange underground tunnels that I can’t quite figure out the purpose of.
The building next to us got renovated over the winter. One day the Jugong Mart, the tiny market with the orange sign, where we bought our juice and beer and other daily needs, shut down. We were heartbroken because the family that ran it was so sweet to us. During our early months when we didn’t know how Korea worked, they were patient, showing us where things like light bulbs and band-aids were. They had let us borrow a truck to pick up some furniture last summer. (We also got a new couch and chair. Very pleathery.) So we didn’t know what was going to happen.
Then, the Jugong Mart shop was shut down. The worn floors and homely shelving were gutted for a bright, florescent space. We wondered what would go there, but construction started right away, and eventually a new green sign went up, a new floor went down, and it’s still the Jugong Mart, but it’s pretty much all new. It’s bright and shiny, and the new people are nice but they haven’t warmed up to us quite the same way.
Other stores open and close quickly. In the same building as Jugong Mart, a store that specialized in ginseng products – pickled ginseng, ginseng candy, ginseng by the pound, you get the idea – shut down and was replaced by a honey chicken stand. A ladies clothing store next to the 7-Eleven also shut down one day and three days later was another honey chicken place. Our favorite hamburger place – one of the only hamburger places – Kraze Burger – shut down without warning one day, promising to re-open in the neighbor city of Namak, though this has not happened yet. However, a new place opened last month on Rose Street, and they have some decent burgers on the menu, one of which, the Volcano Burger, is spicy and tasty; a new favorite. But there’s still nothing to compare to a good Jucy Lucy from Matt’s on Cedar.
Well there are other changes as well, but that should give you an idea of what it’s like here. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss something.
When October comes to Korea, elementary school students all over the country start practicing their special skills. Homeroom teachers become variety show producers, thinking of new skits and songs and dance routines for their students to produce. The halls are filled with the sounds of recorders playing folk songs ranging from old Korean standby Arirang to the more modern Edelweiss, from the Sound of Music.
My school, Soehae, was no exception. I’d heard the rumors from other schools whose festivals had gone before, but nothing could quite prepare me for the over-arching three-hour bacchanalia of cute and clever talents of kids aged five to thirteen performing on a gymnasium stage.
Kids in Hanbok
I went down to the gym around nine-fifteen, a few minutes before the festival was due to begin. The gymnasium had been converted to a theater, with folding chairs down both sides of a central aisle, and in the middle towards the back a platform held a camera on a tripod, and a fifth grade camera-boy, to record the whole show.
The parents were just starting to file in. As is the custom, you are not supposed to wear shoes inside a school, even if it is a gymnasium that has been worn smooth by thousands of sneakers. The parents hadn’t brought the indoor shoes, so they did the alternative: The stuck their feet in plastic baggies and tied them shut at the ankles. Imagine if you will a room full of parents shuffling around with their feet in plastic baggies. It was even odder than you’re imagining.
The show started, as it must, with a cute couple of kids welcoming the parents to the show. Then, a group of school-kids came out to play arirang on the recorder. Then, first-graders in traditional Korean outfits called Hanboks came out. They danced, and lip-synced to a Korean popular song whose lyrics were a complete mystery to me. Then, every five minutes, there was another show: third graders sat on the stage holding soda bottles containing beads; they shook them and pounded the floor in a percussion show. Then came some more third graders, all in yellow shirts and wearing faux American Indian headbands. They knocked together wooden sticks to the beat of a song I can’t remember.
For many acts, the parents moved up front, crowding the pit in front of the stage, and thrusting their cameras up to film the action. I though at some point there were more photographers than performers. I suspect the scene is familiar to anyone with kids in America.
There were no solo or duet acts. Korea isn’t big on the idea of individuals showing off, at least not at the public school level. The smallest group of kids was about six, who came out in berets and played their accordions in unison.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the classes lined up for their turn on the stage and frazzled teachers tried to keep the show together. It went on for about four hours, until finally, the crowd thinned out to the final sets of parents, the show closed and we all returned to our classrooms exhausted and ready to go home.
School festivals are awesome, so different from MN school festivals. (One day I’ll do a US/ ROK elementary compare and contrast entry) My schedule was rearranged for a month as each class rehearsed during 6th period for the month.) Classes were cancelled the day before the big show for dress rehearsal. All students sat in the gym and watched the dress rehearsal. It was the noisiest, most rambunctious “watching” I’ve ever seen. During the actual production the teachers were busy watching/ helping the show. Classes that weren’t on stage or in que were supervised by one teacher per floor, a 1/120 adult/ student ratio!
Kindergartners exiting performance #2
Most of the performances were very similar to Mike’s school festival. The big difference and most memorable was the “play” the 6th graders performed. It went from birth to death. It covered being born, first day of school, first day of middle school, studying for national exams, graduations, fun with friends, going to college (Harvard), compulsory military service, falling in love, graduation, getting married, having babies, a soju rage (professional men binge drinking and questioning the life, very existential and ugly, usually around age 60) getting old, and dying. It was awesome and the one the kids really paid attention to. Super fun, if not a little depressing.
The performances were spotless. The parents seemed pleased, and the kids had fun. None of this would have happened back home, it was strange and wonderful.
South Korea is a country on the move. When we arrived they were laying the foundation for a building on my walk to school. 3 months later they were holding church services in that location. I wrote in an earlier post that I walk past two abandoned houses on my way to work each day. They have since been razed and begun laying the foundation for something.
I thought I would it would be interesting for you to see what it is along with me, so every few weeks I’ll try to update it. It will give you a glimpse into the same/different game that Mike and I play everyday.
It is an approximately 6 feet wide and 100 feet long L shaped foot print. They dug down about 6 feet and layed a rebar frame that they have filled about 4 feet deep with concrete so far. The concrete was left to set for a day.
You’ll see in the pictures that they stopped exactly where the neighbor woman’s garden begins. I think that is awesome, but it leaves questions on what the permitting process is for gardening and for construction. And notice that I am walking alongside the site. There are no safety signs or fences. You’ll also notice that the construction workers are a bit older than back home. In general, manual labor is done by older people. Our sidewalk was recently repaired by a group of 60+ year old women.
I am loving our daily life here in Mokpo, South Korea. One of my favorite things is the agriculture all around us. We live in the northwestern most corner of the city, and most people live in 15 story tall “officetels.” In between the officetels, schools, and other buildings are small plot farms that grow a large variety of crops. In addition, the “green space” surrounding the building, where there would normally be grass and decorative shrubs, has small gardens where families grow lettuce, peas, peppers, and other veggies.
Hey figgy figgy. I want to eat you.
On my walk to school I pass a lettuce field, onion garlic, and leek field, a fig orchard, more lettuce, corn, canola, tomatoes, peppers, millet, wheat, and a few other crops that I don’t recognize. Many of the fields are mixed use. For example: In the fig orchard there is corn, lettuce, and squash. Most of the work is done by older women using hand tools. They carry sprayers on their backs and use a hand pump to spray the fields, I assume with pesticide and fertilizer. I have seen men with scyths turning over old crops and burning them. I’ve also seen them loading the bags of onions that the women filled onto trucks.
They are delicous
There is one family that grows black raspberries amongst their figs and I’ve been sneaking a few at a time the last few days.
On some days it smells delicious, like fresh snap pea flowers. On other days, well it smells like manure.
It makes the walk to work a little treacherous in pumps, but so beautiful. I kinda wish there were chickens and goats to go with it all, but that’s just me.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at our ‘hood.’ We love to read your comments, it lets us know your still in touch, so don’t be shy. Also, I know it is expensive to send packages here, but we love letters with pictures of our friends doing stuff, it makes us feel like your here. We’ve gotten a few pictures and I’ll be putting up a photo wall soon in the house. Please keep sending them. Makes us feel “at home” having you around.