eat cake


When the world is against you...just eat cake...chocolate cake!


It's been a rough week, but Jane and I funneled our frustrations into devouring half of this cake in one sitting. Feeling much better now!


my mama...

This babe...

...started blogging!!!

And she has some pretty great things to say. (she's full of wisdom!)
You should definitely check it out!
And leave her lots of nice, loving, and welcoming comments!


i can't back away from a challenge

Last night was a difficult night for me. Friday night's class is my biggest weekly challenge. The students are lazy, careless, and they are often caught cheating. Last night I caught 3 girls cheating on the review test. For the rest of the class, no one was paying attention, no one would listen...no one cared.
I slammed my book down. I told them they were wasting my time. I told them I put hours and hours of work into preparing class lecture and if they didn't want to learn then they could just leave the room. They sat expressionless.

Really though...I'm not mad at them. It's not even their fault. The textbook is horrendous. They are young students, not mature enough for a college level textbook. The material I am given for teaching makes me an immediate failure before I even try. But no matter how I complain, rant, rebel...in the end, I still have to teach this. So it's a challenge. How can I make this boring, difficult, repulsive subject matter even the slightest bit appealing to grade 4, 5, and 6? How can I keep their attention for 3 hours and see improvement in their second language reading comprehension? How? I'm realizing these days just how much I love challenges. At the same time, I'm realizing how much pressure I let myself bear.

It's the weekend now. Today I'm going shopping and I'm going to watch the Cirque du Soleil. I'm not letting myself be stressed by the work week. This is my time. I'm not "April Teacher" on the weekends.

So to help lift my spirits, I am posting pictures of my favorite students. These students remind me why I love my job. They remind me that I am indeed changing the world one little bright amazing student at a time.

God bless these kids!

You have to notice the succession of these pictures.
First: Okay kids, smile for the camera!

Then: April Teacher makes a really funny noise!
Notice the girls on the left looking at me, "April Teacher WHAT was that?"
And the girl on the bottom left is laughing so hard.
And the boy on the far right is laughing too.
And the girl behind me with her hands over her mouth in shock:)

Finally: Oh okay, we know how to be goofy!

These kids are my sunshine here. They are amazing.




I am a moderately picky eater. But I suppose I'd have to alter that statement depending on where I am eating. In America, I don't eat seafood, and I don't eat mushrooms. In Korea, I don't eat bugs, or live octopus, or dried squid jerky, or spongy fish cakes, or other questionable food items.

But...I did eat dog!

Yes, I did.

But it was only because Brad dared me!
And usually I'm not up for those sorts of challenges, but I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure Brad and Lynn an ideal Korean adventure. And...well, there is no way I'm eating some of the other things they serve here. This is about as adventurous as I'll go.

My friend Jane did some research and found a reputable place for our adventure. We found our way (after getting a little lost) to this basement restaurant in Nowon. The smell walking in was potent and I thought right away that this was going to be an interesting experience. I'm not sure I can even explain the smell. It was sort of sour, but like stew, and not a smell I'd ever associate with food.

We three sat around the table a little nervous for our dinner. Lynn is a vegetarian so she just laughed at us (supportively of course) and thought of really bad jokes in her head.

Boshintang is what the soup is called. It arrived bubbling hot. Brad and I ate, sort of. It was pretty gross. The meat itself was dark and stringy much like roast beef. It didn't really taste like beef though. It tasted...well...sorry, but "doggy". Like, if you close your eyes and think of your dog and how it smells when it's wet, and combine that smell with the smell of dog food, and mix that with a little ginger and garlic...that's sort of how it tasted.
boshintang meat

We did our best to eat enough to respect the restaurant but it was a difficult task. In between laughter, I'd shove another spoonful in my mouth. The worst part about the soup were the chunks of "mysterious blubbery possible body part" things. Brad tried to eat one but couldn't get it down his throat. We were guessing it was part of the heart, or liver, or something else.
I asked a student the next day "Jimmy, what do they put in this soup?" He told me that sometimes they take the intestine, clean it out, and stuff it with potatoes, and then cook it in the stew. Woof!....I mean Bark... I mean, Barf!!!!

Well, it was an experience, and one I will remember with laughter, and one I'm so glad I was able to share with fun people. Thanks Brad for your daring suggestion. And thanks Lynn for your support.

(the owner/cook in the front. her daughter is in the back middle.)

Before we left, the owner/cook wanted to take a picture with us. She was so delighted to have us visit. I don't think they get many foreign customers. She asked us to leave a note to hang on the wall. Brad did a swell job on this artistic masterpiece!
My favorite words of the night...

"Honey, wait, there's a dog hair in your soup!"

"Oh, gross, I just burped up some dogmeat..."

After dinner, we went to a little Korean place and ate some normal and yummy Korean food. Lynn tried bibimbop, and I had some mandu. I love mandu.

lynn and bibimbap


North and South

I had the opportunity (which I consider a privilege) to visit the Korean DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)--the North and South Korean border.

I don't know much about Korean war history, and the little I do understand, I've learned since being here. I've learned that in 1953, during the Korean War, the North and South called a cease fire. After this, each side pulled their troops back and created a buffer zone (2.5 miles thick), in a line that stretches across the peninsula and divides the North from the South. Inside that line, is called the DMZ. (See the picture above. The thick pink line is the DMZ, dividing the two sides.)
I learned that the DMZ is the most heavily armed border in the world.
While the DMZ line is 2.5 miles thick, I was able to visit an area called the Panmunjeom, which is the only area where the two sides connect. This area is called the Joint Security Area (JSA) and is where all their meetings and negotiations are held.
I don't mean to bore you with historical details but I figured that since I was posting a bazillion pictures, I'd try to help you understand them.

Here is a picture of my tour ticket. It was fun being "Mr. April" for the day.
mr. april
The first stop was to see the Freedom Bridge (or in Korean-English--the Freedom Bridgee).
This is a major connecting line between the sides and after the cease fire, it brought many people back home to freedom.
the freedom bridge
Many Koreans visit this bridge to pray for their loved ones in North Korea. There are memorials and ribbons and prayers written all over. I was told that during the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, this area is packed with people praying and weeping for their friends and family from whom they are separated. It seems to be the most tangible way for them to connect with the other side. It has been since 1953, or longer, since they have been together.


For me, I was particularly moved by watching the older men. They came in their wheelchairs and sat gazing painfully across the land. I imagined these men walking that same bridge more than 50 years ago. I imagined these men being held as prisoners in North Korea, and being given that chance to return home...walking that bridge to freedom. I also imagined some of them as North Koreans, privileged to be free here in South Korea, but longing sadly for their families living in the terrible conditions of the North. Either story is mixed with joy and tears.
I think any moment in history is best learned by looking into the eyes of those who experienced it. For me, watching these men was more meaningful than anything else on the tour.

We were brought to Camp Boniface for a quick briefing/history before we were taken into the JSA. This is also where I signed my name taking responsibility for my own possible death. That was sort of freaky.
This is our tour bus, and a few quick pictures.


And here I am, standing with North Korea behind me.
We had to walk in a single file line. We were not allowed to point in any direction because the North Korean guards might mistake us for pointing a gun.
We were told when and where we could take pictures.
I am smiling in this picture and the smile almost seems out of place.
But notice my fancy shmancy guest badge! Maybe that's why I'm smiling. Who doesn't like wearing a badge?
This is the JSA-the Joint Security Area. As I told you before, this is where all negotiations happen. There's a strange feel to the place. Everything is in perfect order, perfectly manicured. There is no sign of any life, except for the stiff guards watching in every direction.

This white building belongs to the North. There is one guard standing at the entrance. He watches everything. When we walked around, he stood with binoculars the entire time.
Here's a close up of that North Korean guard.
Like I said, they watching EVERYTHING.
There were quite a few South Korean Soldiers. They call them ROK Soldiers. ROK stands for Republic of Korea.

Then we were taken into the main negotiation room. Not much to see. Just two more guards, and a conference table.


And here I am again smiling. I really shouldn't have smiled in this picture. I look so dumb.
North Korea is on the left, South Korea is on the right. So if you look carefully, you'll see that I'm actually standing in North Korea! WooHoo!!!! I can check one more country off of my list!
north on the left, south on the right
Off in the distance you can see North Korea's "Peace Village" which South Koreans call "Propaganda Village". It was a city constructed only to give the image that they were thriving and successful. It was like a theater set, fake, and empty. With binoculars, people noticed that there was no glass in the windows, and no one lived there. Now, I guess a small population lives there.
They have the tallest flagpole in the world.
First, South Korea put up a flag pole. The North wanted to seem bigger and better so they put up their own flag, but made it taller and bigger than the South.
Then the South started blaring propaganda over loud speakers across the border. So the North responded by blaring their own propaganda.
It all seems so childish, like when you were younger and would draw the line across the car seat and say to your siblings "This is the line, don't cross it!" and then you'd whine "Mom...she's looking at me!!!!"
In 2004, by mutual agreement, they stopped blaring the propaganda over loudspeakers.
propoganda village in the distance


I saw many things but had restricted photography opportunities. But some things are just better experienced than recorded.
It really was an honor to peek into this country's history, and to gain a slightly stronger understanding of the struggles they are facing. It makes me pray for peace for them, and hope for their reunification. And it makes my heart ache for the people who have been separated from their loved ones.
Thanks for reading, and for looking at my pictures.


weekend with the winklers--hiking in the hills, singing, and a sandrich stop

Korean English (aka Konglish) always makes me smile.

Brad and Lynn, some friends from back home, stopped through Seoul on their 4 month Asia trip. It was such a special weekend. Rather than being a tour-guide, I was able to enjoy some new things myself, and it was a great treat to have company for a change.

We started the weekend with a hillside walk in a Shamanist community called Inwangsan.

We watched some ceremonial dancing.
Dancing, chanting, and drumming is the Shamanist's way of invoking the spirits.

There was also a sacrifice buffet. I'm not sure what you'd actually call it. It was quite a spread! Notice the pig carcass. Supposedly the spirits/gods get hungry too. So you want to keep them fed and happy.

Further along the path were some intriguing rocks. They call them the Dali Rocks because they look like a Salvador Dali painting. Women come to these rocks to pray for a son. I didn't do any praying here :)

We met this guy Sam (from London). He's the guy sitting on top of the big rock. He was quite a friendly guy and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with Brad and Lynn. I had to go to work. It's always so cool to meet other foreigners. There is a special bond between travelers, even though you are only acquinted for short moments.

And here we are (Lynn, Me, Brad) on the top of some hill.

After work, we went to Noraebang (Kareoke) with a few of my work friends.
We had heaps of fun!

Ami, singing her heart out. What's great is that she sings joyfully pretty much anywhere she is...I love that about her.
And this concludes Part 1 of my weekend with the Winklers.
Check back for some more great pictures and stories.
Note: Some of these pictures were taken by Brad. It was nice to have 2 cameras this weekend because I could relax and let someone else take a few of the pictures. So...great credit to Brad! Also, check their blog for pictures and stories of their big trip, which will include their stop here in Seoul.