Archive | March, 2011

Busan and a New Frenemy

28 Mar


This past weekend I took a short trip down to Busan, the second largest city in South Korea.

Busan is a hilly metropolitan city (at least in comparison to Pohang) with beaches, a cafe at every corner(usually more than one) and most importantly, some attempt at a music scene; something seemingly unheard of in Pohang, so it is not surprising that this is where I ended up first.

The night is called Rad City and it happens around once a month. Along with a live performance, DJ’s were spinning oldies that made me hungry for home(but not ravenous, which is what I would have to be to ever considering heading back) and a table where locals sold art and crafts.

The live show was by a band called Surisuri Mahasuri. Rad City’s facebook invite used terms like ‘positive energy’ and ‘spirituality’ when describing them, all a tad too new age to strike  a cord with me. But I was pleasantly mistaken as a hodge-podge of instruments, from accordion to what appeared to be a PVC tube, overlay a beat that can be best described as infectious(so no I’ve made no literary leaps and bounds by describing a beat as infectious, but sometimes tried and true works best). What I was most taken by, hands down, was the accordion, despite the pseudo rasta(??) outfitting.

I don’t know him but he was really eager for me to take his picture so here we are:

Use that force!….or something(this is likely the extent of my Star Wars knowledge)

The rest of my stay was a mosaic of old staples from home including huffing down a giant bowl of pho, indulging in overpriced coffee, sifting though hoards of secondhand goods( though back home overly ornate ajumas- a term used to describe older korean women- aren’t there to tell you with …erm… the utmost politeness that you are picking from the wrong pile)  and having special moments with my Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Full moon look out

Busan bridge from afar

Nampodong Market

Oh, you’ve been missed

Effective, as we would have forgotten

All in all a 24(ish)hrs well spent.


Shortly prior to my departure, a fellow Canadian expat who is nearing the end of her Korean residency made me an interesting offer, as not only would she be soon leaving Korea behind but a pet hedgehog as well, and so was in search of a new owner. Ironically, I had fairly recently befriended another woman, who among many things, is a proud hog owner(and a literary hog at that…..her prickly antics can be followed here: The Pickle Jar ) and felt the situation too serendipitous to pass up.

Thus the main cause for the trip though was to pick up my new “friend”(I use the term with discretion as I feel that such relationships work best if one party is not in hate of/petrified of the other party-more on that later). And after what must have been the longest, most terrifying trip of his little life, Baji** arrived safe at my dark stale cave.. erm…I mean apartment.

Despite attempts to make my subpar living quarters as livable as the bright chic condo he previously resided  and feeding him disgusting… I mean dee-licious!(ala Tony the Tiger) dried maggots, he growls?(or at least thats what I feel he thinks he is doing; in reality he is too small and cute to do so with any conviction) and has has full blown anxiety attacks when I come within a 1 meter radius of him. And though I was initially contemplating giving him Valium or fashioning him a mini paper bag as both have been proven to diminish hyperventilation, I have discovered upon further reading found that such behaviour is normal and it will simply take some time for him to trust me.

In attempts to have Baji gain his bearings and to win brownie points I let him out of his cage. And though I thought I had restricted access to any hard-to-reach areas in my room, I was clearly mistaken, as he decided to furrow himself  under the furthest corner of my wardrobe, the same place he resides now. And despite the fact that he has access to food and water, which he has clearly indulged in while the giant was sleeping or working,  I myself am now experiencing bouts of anxiety. Will Baji ever emerge from his comfy corner?  Won’t he be lonely with only dust balls as friends? Will this traumatizing experience prove to be all too overwhelming, causing the little thing to dramatically commit hedgicide?

To further my anxiety this is hauntingly similar to when I first brought home my second cat at sixteen. At the time only a kitten, it playfully climbed up into the frame of my pullout couch, where it stayed for nearly a day. Reasonably convinced that the feline was tragically trapped in what was destined to be her tomb, I spent the day bawling and hollering through my sobs “by the time we get to her she will be dead!” while my family rolled on the floor with laughter. Surprisingly the story is a happy one as she came out on her own accord and continues to reside in my family home.

Thankfully, what we can deduce from my tales of animal rearing is that I will be a calm and reasonable mother someday….

For now its back to the fruitless task of coaxing Baji out of his hiding spot. Mama Shauna out.


**Baji in Korean means “pants”, or if mispronounced…… “lady parts”, thus I feel it may be necessary to rename him as I feel a tragic, albeit familiar, faux pas a-brewing, likely involving that very judgmental mother from my Hagwon.

UPDATE: HE’S OUT HE’S OUT! Oh man, has ever such a sigh of relief been released? Ah! First thing he does with his new found freedom? Run back and forth across a 1/2 foot track underneath my bed. What a weirdo! I am confident that we will get on just swimmingly…


Jump off the roof Maggie jump off….

24 Mar

As I just received news of Elizabeth Taylor’s passing I have decided to post a clip of her in what may be one of the most stylish outfits of all time. The movie clip also happens to feature the love of my life, Paul Newman, being charming as ever. May they both rest in peace.

Too Cool!

23 Mar

I came to Korea with fantastical views of insanely low prices for just about everything.( during pre-trip research I read tall tales of teachers coming over with $60 and the clothes on their back so what was I to expect?)  To my dismay, nearly everything beyond eating out and riding in taxi cabs(which are my two fave toronto past times to be honest), is at par with or more expensive than Toronto. Due to overwhelming interest (not that any has been explicitly expressed, I just know my audience)  I will be releasing an in depth empirical study of the price disparity between my old and new home in the form of a super exciting blog post in weeks to come.

This certainly made me regret my decision to wait until I reached Korea to buy a new ipod, as it turns out that Apple products are far more overpriced here than they are in North America. Apple’s sad sad pricing left me in a deep dark depression once again when a friend forwarded me this awesome video about their newest product. (no I am not some Apple patriot…just watch the video and then try to convince me you aren’t dazzled by Steve Jobs)

Alas, it is for the best as this pauper has no need for such pricey toys (despite its obvious utility in realizing my dreams of kpop stardom).

Taxi Driver

19 Mar

Yes, it may be mildly cretinous that the only way to get myself home at night is by shoving directions to my apartment, which my boss painstakingly typed into my phone, into the face of a taxi cab driver .(In my defense, when I asked for a nearest intersection or street name I was informed that the streets were unnamed until 5 to 10 years ago-cue U2. Thus most people are unaccustomed to using street names, making the process slightly more complicated) And yes, given that I am unable to provide simple directions such as “no not that way”, “left” or “straight ahead”, it would be unrealistic to have expectations of arriving exactly at my apartment.

HOWEVER, no matter what language barriers and cultural differences exist, I feel its safe to assume that logic should dictate that no, my apartment is not located in the dirty dark back alley dumpster of the local hospital, nor would I be visiting a sick friend at 5 am. Really, what good sense would incline you to drop a single female in the back alley of a hospital at that hour of day,  5 to 10 minutes off any road? And more importantly, are you not concerned that my Mc Donalds fries are getting cold? ***

***This being said, taxi service in Korea is awesome! It cost me about 4 dollars no tip to get me home from down town. For the same distance in Toronto it would cost around 16 dollars, plus a tip if you have a heart….

Shauna Teacher

14 Mar

As I enter into my second week of teaching perhaps I should briefly explain my position.

I’m teaching at what is know as Hagwon – a private institute where Korean students receive supplementary education to their regular studies. This can mean a twelve hour school day for many students. As a result, many tend to resent the extra class time. I am very lucky as my hagwon places an emphasis on students enjoying their education, making them eager to learn in my class. The class sizes in hagwons  tend to be much smaller than that of a public school, making for a much more personal and interactive learning experience.

Still, due to the some horrific experiences had at hagwons in the past, a smidgen of terror enters peoples eyes when they learn I work at a hagwon as opposed to a public school. The only real downfall to working in a hagwon is that the mothers peer in to my classroom from time to time (usually just as their child is acting up/making me look like a fool) with dagger eyes like no other, silently judging my (in)abilities as a teacher.

As my Korean level has achieved the impossible by worsening, I’ve decided to get super serious about my studies. Thus I walked on over to the only book store in the city that sells books in English in hopes of finding a korean text book. The only one available that was geared for english speaking absolute beginers was one recommended for those 6+.  Sold!  Easiest purchasing decision I’ve made in a while.

Already this book has motivated me to step up my game as Kory, the 8 year old boy seen on the cover, is super excited to “learn a new secret code called Korean together!”. I found this tidbit on the inside of the front cover-proof that I’ve actually opened the book.  I’m paring this along with video tutorial that has been recommended to me( I swear the video is intended for an audience who have past puberty)

And now, I leave you with some words of wisdom from a veteran expat(3 weeks!)

– when coming to Asia don’t bother using any hair appliances from home, even with the aid of a voltage transformer, as it will explode/transform in a flame thrower upon usage and leave your apartment smelling of burnt rubber. mmmmm

– though North American movie popcorn is salty and artery clogging, Korean movie popcorn is sweet and sad.

– Korean movie theaters are well ahead of those who have a penchant for double features(for those unfamiliar with the concept it is when teens and really mature adults…definitely not me…see one movie and then accidentally on purpose stumble into a second using the same ticket…oopsie!). Seats are reserved in advance, meaning you don’t actually have to show up to the theatre until just when the lights are dimming, making it mildly awkward for those who are continuously  sitting in a seat not reserved for them as they are clearly in a movie they are not meant to be in.(this of course is all conjecture as I have no first hand experience in such happenings)

– and last but not least: no matter where you are in the world the best and safest option at an Asian Buffet is always found at the soft serve ice cream machine

Shauna Teacher out!(Shauna Teacher is how the students address me as I would need more than a year to teach them how to properly pronounce my surname)


PS although I absolutely adore my students, the following three incidences were less than endearing. First, a boy called me mommy today(a downgrade from the initial grandma ) and then licked my hand later in the class (all done earnestly) . Next, a girl informed me that my outfit resembled that of a police lady’s. And last, as I was standing in clear view of a mother (who had her judging binoculars out and set to super sharp dagger vision), a 4 year old boy decided to use the already plunging collar of my blouse as a zip line and dangled there for a time that was just long enough to expose what I am certain was the entirety of my bra(he was including me in his game of spiderman – he was spiderman and I was the skyscraper). OK, truth be told  I find this all to be bizarrely endearing despite being framed as a frumpy old woman who flashes poor Korean mothers.

Washed Away

11 Mar

Every time I turn on the television I feel as if I’ve caught a bit of 2012 and eagerly wait for John Cusak to fumble his way onto the screen (so what if I was the movie’s #1 and only fan)

To my disbelief, the footage is of the recent disaster that struck my neighbors to the East. One can certainly understand my confusion after watching videos such as this:

What I find most frightening is the wall of waves dauntingly flowing towards land. My condolences to anyone who has any missing loved ones in the area.

I have been planning to teach abroad for about 3 years, and it wasn’t until late October of last year that I decided on South Korea vs Japan. Up until the fall I was certain I would be teaching in Japan, but decided to choose South Korea; a decision made mostly based on monetary constraints. Though it’s likely I would have been in Tokyo and out of any grave danger, I think it is safe to assume that exposure to an earthquake of this magnitude during the first few weeks of my new residency may have put a mild damper on the experience. Just maybe.


Yellow Dust Monster

7 Mar

I pride myself in being intuitively aware of current street style, an ability that led to to immediately take notice of the numerous surgical masks being worn around me on a daily basis. These aren’t your plain white or blue surgical masks, these masks come in every print imaginable and are adapted to all markets. For instance, this particular design has struck a note with the male 18-34 demographic:

Despite having a popularity that challenges that of Canada Goose this past winter, I personally felt the trend was too SARS epidemic 2003.

When I inquired about this baffling fashion accessory, the most straightforward answer I received was (said with distant eyes and an eerie tone) “the yellow dust is coming…..”, which may or not be a quote from LOST. Thus I presumed, with true western ignorance(not a proud moment), that this belief must have stemmed from some ancient Eastern folly(and an excessive amount of sci-fi television viewership).

I stood corrected when a fellow foreign teacher directed me here: Apparently the “yellow dust” I was warned of is a spring time meteorological event that originates in the desserts of China and Mongolia, is whisked over much of East  Asia, where it then proceeds to attack the lungs of unbeknownst, unmasked citizens. This along with the “sulphur emissions and resulting acid rain” has compelled me to shop around for a mask for myself, nay, a hazmat suit. I heard that the Sanrio 2011 spring collection is particularly impressive.

In all seriousness, this is mildly frightening. The fellow teacher previously mentioned also warned me that his first encounter yellow dust season made him a little sick ,  endorsing that I embarking upon mine with caution.  And according to the wikipedia page, it is recommended that outdoor physical activity be kept to a minimum during this period, which bodes well for my new marathon fitness regime.