Saturday, April 2, 2011

seating arrangements, ping pong and food

One of the small seaside villages here

The week that was ended well for me. In my classroom we switched to a new seating arrangement which has done wonders for student behavior. I had become increasingly frustrated with my 5th and 6th grade classes recently. I was spending more time disciplining the bad students than I was teaching the class. No teacher likes that. By splitting the desks into numbered pairs, the trouble-making groups were broken up and the overall environment is infinitely better. I was beginning to dread those classes, so the change has been a Godsend.

backhand SMASH

But nice as that was, it was topped by my first evening of tennis in 5 months. It felt so great to be back out there moving and playing. And the next night was almost as fun. Jason and I met my friend Erik at the National University for a couple hours of serious ping pong. I say serious because we ended up mixing with a big group of Koreans and Chinese who were also playing. So that you'll understand the significance of that, know that every olympic gold medal ever for ping pong (save one) has been won by either a chinese or korean man or woman. These guys were good. And I admit to being pretty proud of this; I beat them all. I beat everyone I played until the last Chinese guy of the night. He and I were dead even. We went back and forth seemingly alternating moments of brilliance. And we both loved it! I was especially proud when on the way out, Erik told me that guy is the best ping pong player at the University. I figure if i'm even with the best Chinese guy here, i'm doing pretty good :)

Erik playing his friend Oong

In my last post, I explained that Koreans like foreigners. This time i'm going to focus on another thing Koreans like and one of my favorite topics; FOOD! Like most of Asia, Korean food is predominately rice and noodle based. Since the country is almost completely surrounded by water, fish also figure prominently in the food here. A typical school meal consists of rice, soup (usually with seaweed), a small portion of some kind of meat and kimchi. Kimchi of course is the signature food of Korea. It's made from various mixtures of fermented vegetables and is adored by nearly everyone here. Unfortunately I am not one of them and that fact severely limits my school dining options.


Despite my dislike for their signature dish, there are many things about Korean food I like. I like that it's spicy, something I dearly missed in Europe. I really like duk galbi (a spicy chicken and veggie mix). And I especially like Korean barbecue. You get to cook and prepare the meat yourself at a firepit in the middle of your table. So you get to pick the ingredients you want to use, how to cook the meat and how much you want to eat. For me it's perfect and as an added bonus, this type of food is always selected for special school dinners.

As a final point on Korean food, it should be noted that even foreign food is generally Koreanized. Restaurants change international dishes to make them more like Korean food. Pizza, pasta, hotdogs, mexican, hamburgers, bread, chips and nearly everything else western is altered beyond recognition here. Again because Korea is a highly homogenous society most people agree on what flavors they like and outside food is adapted to fit those flavors. While this makes perfect sense for Koreans, it can be hard on a poor westerner looking for a taste of home. Fortunately, the taco seasoning and Dr. Pepper in my cabinet go a long way towards curing these infrequent bouts of food-homesickness. And the rest of the time I get to enjoy a unique culinary experience.

Micro-farming like this is the norm for Jeju

PS. I will add that the two craziest things I've eat here were probably A) the eyes of a fish that was served whole in my fish soup at lunch one day (I was tired of it staring at me as I ate it) and B) octopus tentacles that were still wriggling slightly as I ate them. Think about that during your next meal ;)

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