Being Polite

Being polite is very important to Sandy and I, being Canadian and all. Of course there are plenty of rude people who live in Canada but generally one aspect of our culture is politeness. From compulsively holding doors open for others to apologizing when someone bumps into you we have our conventions that emphasize consideration for others, even to the excess. Even so, interacting with the niceties of another culture can make you damn rude!

One piece of etiquette we have been trying to incorporate into our daily lives is using two hands. Giving and receiving drinks and food, handing money to a cashier, most things we pass to one another in our daily lives, we may do without much thought. Korea has asked us to reconsider. Using two hands or using one hand while placing the left to support the elbow of the right is how to make a very casual (perhaps too casual) gesture into a friendly and polite one. One Korean friend told us that it is not essential to use two hands when giving or receiving something from, say, a cashier at a store. They are supposed to be very polite to you as you are the customer, and you have some leeway as to how polite you are back. But, when giving gifts or dealing with people of higher rank/older age than yourself, you need to be cautious of your hands to avoid offence.

Check out this video from one of our favourite Canadian blogs. If you are interested in Korean food, places in the Seoul area, or all things KPop, make sure to browse their site.


Around Osan

You can find many of the same brands of food at the grocery store. Some look the same with just a bit of Korean added. Some, such as the product seen in the picture below, are doppelgangers.

Saturday in Seoul – Part II: Myeong-Dong Shopping District

Mid-afternoon, we took the subway into Myeong-dong district. It is a pretty big spot for tourism. There are many, many stores. Some from North America and Europe as well as Korean and Asia at large. There are some stores that have 2 or 3 locations in Myeong-dong.

It was busy with people but we were there in the late afternoon and I read that it doesn’t really get busy there until the evening. Next time, perhaps we go at night just to experience it all.

There are stores on either side of a walking street (though, some cars do squeeze their way through). There are stalls set up in the middle as well selling things like socks, cell phone cases and pants. Here and there women are making food on small stoves as well as larger food vendors. It smells good and there is so much to look at!

There are lots of different restaurants there as well, so we stopped for an early dinner at a German restaurant. Well, what we thought was German. It turned out to be a German-North American-Korean fusion place. It was interesting to have grilled dried cuttle fish on one side of the table and a Cajun chicken salad on the other.

After exploring a bit we took the train into Seoul station so that we could take the KTX (high speed train that runs the length of the country). Earlier in the day, we had had to stand on our subway trips as all the seats were taken. That and walking around Myeong-dong, we were interested in taking a train where our seats were assured.

Seoul Station feels a lot like an airport. It even looks like one. We found our way to the ticket counter and purchased two tickets for about $9 in total. It was a very nice surprise for the tickets to be so reasonable. While we had to wait about an hour (which we did at a place called “Chicken and Beer” btw) the seats were fantastically comfortable and it really cut down our trip to about 25 min. We decided that if/when we go to see Busan, which is in the South Eastern corner of Korea, we would take the KTX during the day and try to see what the country looks like from a train’s eye view. Much better than via airplane, I would think!

We took the train into Suwon, which is the closest stop to Osan, and then took the regular subway the rest of the way home. I think in total we didn’t spend even $20 on transportation, nor any money for entrance to the museum, walking around Myeong-dong was free and food prices were decent (though overpriced compared to Osan). Good day!

Oh, and I also bought a wonderfully bright pair of Purple shoes for $40 CAD. Good day, indeed!

Saturday in Seoul

We took our first trip into Seoul this Saturday. First off, we had never attempted the subway up until that morning and we were very aware of that fact. But, I had read a little about it and so we were hoping to be able to fake our way through it. We had a couple of hiccups – mainly it took us a very long time to figure out anything – but we always ended up on the right train and only once ended up in the wrong place (and there were a few other people from Osan who ran into the same problem so perhaps it’s a common one?). I think I will do a post about the subway sometime soon, so more information to come.

Our first stop was the Korean National Museum. It is one of the largest museums in the world so we knew that we wouldn’t be able to do it all in a day so we attempted just the first floor which is the paleolithic era up until around the 16th century. It was really cool seeing the tools they developed and used and how similar it was to the things I had seen from very early North American civilization. I didn’t think I had preconceptions about what early civilization would have been like in Asia, but apparently that was not the case. I found myself very surprised at how similar the hand tools, pottery and weaponry was. I guess I expected that early human development would have varied a bit more than museum artifacts can show. But yes, it was very similar stuff.

My favourite part was the exhibit on knife shaped coins.

I had never heard of coins being anything but small and round(ish). How interesting to have them sword shaped. I suppose that speaks to the importance of warfare and/or self-defence of that particular culture.

Sandy’s favourite part was the art found inside a burial chamber/tomb. We were unable to get any pictures as it was too dim in the room where the reproductions were kept, but they were very beautiful. It was so interesting to see that early Korean peoples share the phoenix icon with many other ancient and current cultures in Europe and other areas of the world. Something else that stood out was the dragon icon which is more prevalent solely in Asia (to my understanding). Sandy suggested that that may be because of the plethora of dinosaur fossils found in this area of the world that would have been discovered by early humans and thus would have inspired the creation of myths to explain such remains.

We didn’t even finish the entire first floor and hope to get back soon to see the pottery and painting/ink drawings that Korea is famous for. A nice surprise was that the museum’s permanent exhibit has free admission year round and only for special exhibits is there a charge. Great!

Next we were off to Myong-dong, a shopping district in Seoul! But that will wait until our next post!

Korean Words of (last) Week: Hogwan Survival

안녕하세요 an-nyeong-ha-se-yo:  Hello/how are you/good morning/afternoon/evening: needed for the hellos in the morning to the staff who do not speak a lot of English and for the parents you may meet.

감사합니다 gam-sa-hap-ni-da: Thank you: essential for thanking the woman who makes wonderful food for lunch and the women who help to clean up spilled milk (literally and figuratively).

화장실 hwa-jang-shil: Bathroom: good for knowing when the tiny ones need to go, though I missed the cue once and it got a little messy. I learned my lesson, I can say that!

Korean Hogwans

We work as teachers for an English Language 학원 Hogwan – or private after school education centre. Students are required to pay tuition and receive education in English from English speaking Koreans and Foreigners.  The work done at the Hogwan is supposed to supplement what the kids learn in public schools. My partner and I teach kids between the ages of 5 and 7 in the morning and early afternoon and then older kids, 8-12, in the afternoon/early evening.  The kids are at all sorts of levels of English and so they take screening tests to determine their placement.

The day in the life of the youngest kids, whom stay for the entirety of 9:00 am – 2:00 am, includes taking a variety of classes including grammar, reading etc. They also take less specific language focused classes like gym, art and science but which are all conducted in English allowing for better vocabulary development. The kids are provided with milk for a morning break, and lunch. There is a playroom for the 5 min breaks between classes and during lunch break. The classes are 45 min long.

The older kids don’t have quite as much fun, unfortunately (who doesn’t want to play in a room full of toys and climbing equipment every day?). These kids generally only come for 2 hours at a time and therefore take more focused classes on English and its logistics. Our hogwan has 4 teachers teaching the kids in the morning and 12 teaching in the evening. The classes are 55 min long .

We have long days and see approximately 50 students a day. Its nice that the classes have a fairly low number of students in each so we can work one on one.

If you have any questions about our job, let us know!

Around Osan

For another edition of Around Osan, I have a few pictures from over the weekend.

A man on stilts with a big sign advertising what I can only expect to be a big sale at an electronics store. There were three stores on one block having big sales and in addition to this particular stilted man, all had loud speakers out front and a person on mic saying the deals they had in store (I would think).

They often have people who announce what they are selling, even in the grocery store. Almost every single aisle has two people, one person standing at either end, to help you find and pick a product. Speaking of which, here are the two main grocery/department stores close to our apt. They are huge!!  I think I will do a post or two about these types of stores soon, so this is just a sneak preview.

I had a short video I wanted to post that went along with the pic I posted last week of the signs on the buildings in the core of Osan but I am having trouble getting it up. It is of the many moving and flashing signs seen at night. Even down side roads there is advertisement like this, so much so that even though our windows face a seldom driven road, the signs from the businesses light up our bedroom like it’s dusk. Definitely no need for a night light!

To end off, here are some of the flower arrangements that we have seen around the city. I think they are to commemorate an occasion as I saw these ones outside of a newly opening store. They have both artificial and live flowers. Very pretty!

Have a good week!

Language Gap: The Garbage Bag Hunt Down

Not knowing the local language means that sometimes misunderstandings occur. But what about when there is no understanding whatsoever? Today’s edition of how-can-the-foreigners-look-like-more-fools-than-normal? we have the garbage bag hunt down.

In Korea, you must buy specific garbage bags to your area. From what I have read online, this is because you are paying into the garbage collection system in your area when you purchase these bags and therefore only garbage in that community’s trash bags will be picked up on garbage day. Interestingly, garbage in these bags can be seen on the side of roads, just barely off the sidewalk, just piled up (the bags are really quite small) ready to be taken away instead of off to one side or kept in back alleys.

But back to my story; we needed to find these garbage bags but our searches in the grocery stores had thus far failed. We decided to do the when-in-doubt-ask-your-Korean-coworkers routine and get some suggestions. Turns out that these bags are sometimes kept behind the counter.

Okay, off to the Info desk at our local Lotte Mart to request some bags…well, we didn’t really find an Info desk as some big stores have, but there was an especially large cash desk that maybe would be big enough to fit some garbage bags behinds, so I went to ask. “Do you have garbage bags?” I said slow-ish and politely, but she spoke no English. Err…. How does one mime ‘garbage bags’? Well, luckily for her, I had just gotten off from working with my kindergarten students and had thus spent the day miming other English words. I proceed to mime: cutting up vegetables…. putting some in the trash bag….then tying up the bag… and throwing it aside… She looked at me, clearly concentrating and really giving it an honest try to understand. Then she burst out laughing and I started laughing along with her. She motioned for me to wait and called over a younger woman who was working nearby. I asked her where the garbage bags were. Darn, no English either. I think she thought she knew what I was talking about and search around pointing at things with me saying no… no… when a high school age girl saved us both. From what I understand, all Korean students learn English in school, but most people don’t use it much and therefore lose much of it. It makes sense, however, that a high school student would have more English than the average 30 year old. Anyways, she asked what I was looking for and then translated for me to the woman. “Ahhhh!” she said, and quickly walked to a different area of the store and showed us the bags. I gave a couple bows and thanked her in Korean. Both of us smiling at the ridiculousness of the situation, we went our separate ways.

Turns out, they keep the bags in specially locked plastic boxes, similar to what you may find some electronics in, at the front of the store where in Canada you will find the chocolate bars and magazines. For under $5 you can get about 20 bags. They, again, are quite small but they have very good recycling so not that much actually ends up going into them so 20 bags will last you a while!

Bounty Collected!

Around Osan

An interesting view that caught my eye.

It is not as busy with tall buildings covered in signs everywhere in Osan, but in the downtown core it is quite a sight. This is an area near our house where there are a lot of restaurants so it will be convient to take just a short walk and then have many options for dinner!

How things are really just the same –Korean pub food edition

The director of our hogwan had some real words of wisdom for us the first day we arrived in Osan. ‘At first, everything seems really different, but soon you will realise, everything is really just the same’. It is so true! Tonight we had some 안주 (anju) – Korean food served with alcohol. Some bars have the policy that if you want to drink, you must also buy some anju. Fine with me, I like snacking anyways!

What were the dishes? Essentially, chips, fried chicken, and poutine-ish dish (instead of fries, cheese and gravy there was potatoes, chicken and cheese with a thick somewhat spicy sauce)! All tasty too.

We saw these mini kegs that were excessively tall! Like, I am going to tip over if you bump the table tall – like 3 feet! Seriously, seems to me simply a tipping hazard.

Speaking of tipping, but in this case, the tipping your server kind, there is no tipping in Korea and taxes are always included in the posted price so what you see is what you pay. Nice and easy for those less inclined in math (I am thinking of you and me D!)