Follow by Email

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A Good Healthy Brunch

Every Friday when I go to our neighborhood market, I buy some fresh, raw tofu . . . I have come to love it and hope that I will always be able to eat it:

I store it in a tupperware-type container filled with water, and cut some off as I need it.

Tofu is so versatile: Sometimes I heat it up and put pasta sauce or pesto on it, or I put some in my salads, or I add it to soups.

This morning I am having a special treat, as I went into Seoul Thursday night to go to the foreign food store: tofu with hummus (and black pepper and sesame seeds)--delicious!

The Crosswalk

Walking to work yesterday, as happens everyday, I came to this intersection:

As you can see, I have to go across the intersection and under the elevated train tracks (just east of where I live the train ventures underground and becomes part of the Seoul subway system).  It's not a long walk, just 12 minutes or so.

Yesterday, as happens almost everyday, I was waiting on the little "island" in the picture for the light to change and the "green man" to pop up. Since I have walked this route hundreds of times, I know the lights,
and I know when the signals are about to change.

Just before they were due to change, the cars stopped flowing; there was no oncoming traffic.  The only cars around were a few stopped at the red light to the left, but I didn't even glance at them, since they wouldn't be able to move before the pedestrian signal had turned green, held, and then gone back to red.

So, no cars, the light was about to change, the green man was due to appear in a few seconds, and there were no other people around.

I stepped out onto the crosswalk and started to cross the street.

That's when I heard the police siren, flipped on for a second, just to get attention.

My heart flipped in response, and my head jerked to the left: one of the cars stopped at the light of the "empty" intersection was a police car.

I kept walking but thought, "Shit!  Busted!  Are they going to do something about it?", for I was the only pedestrian around and was clearly jaywalking (all rationalizations aside) directly in front of officers of the law (more about that in a minute).

I played it cool and kept going, and, in the end, nothing happened.

Upon relating the incident to my foreign co-workers, a short discussion of jaywalking ensued, and it brought back memories of being newly arrived in Korea and asking other expats about the crosswalking rules here in Korea.

What became noticeable to me shortly after arriving in a smallish city in Korea was that most people strictly obeyed crosswalk signals, to the point of  . . . well, let me give you an example.

A friend told me about an incident where he had to cross a street to get to a bank to use an ATM machine. There was a small group of Koreans waiting for the signal to change, but it happened that the street was under repair and so it was blocked off; the signals were working, yet there were no cars.  There could be no cars.  The street was blocked.

So my friend crossed with the red man flashing, went in to use the ATM, came back out, and recrossed with the red man still flashing.  The group of pedestrians were still waiting for the signal to change, and may have given him a few dirty looks.

He, on the other hand, was incredulous that they would demonstrate such blind obedience to the law.  He felt it was absurd that they would follow a signal meant to protect them from cars when there were no cars and could be no cars.

I have not seen that extreme of a situation, but I have been standing at an active intersection without traffic, and I have felt the need to make a decision about whether to follow the letter of the law or whether to follow common sense.

Where I live there seem to be primarily two groups of people: those who seem to be in a hurry and will jaywalk, and those who obey the signal.

If I am at a crosswalk and a mother is there with her young children, and they are waiting for the signal, then I will also wait as 1) I am a teacher and want to be a positive role model for kids, and 2) I don't want to give a bad impression of foreigners.

In other situations, however, it is silly to wait for the signal.  When I walk home, for example, there is a crosswalk signal that is improperly timed, and turns red when it is still safe to walk, as the perpendicular traffic has not ceased.  So I usually go ahead and cross, but, again, not if I think there might be some negative influences or perceptions.

I could go just down the street, however, to the bus stop, where there is no intersection and no crosswalk, and cross when other people due, using just good sense and eyesight; out of sight of a crosswalk different rules apply since there is no real "law" to follow.

At busy intersections clearly everyone waits.  At small sidestreets no one does.

The fact that many Koreans choose to--or are conditioned to--follow the law is overall a good thing, I think, and reflects what is, for the most part, a law-abiding society.  Korea is generally safe and clean, more so than most cities in America, and I respect that aspect of life here.

But sometimes jaywalking is ok, though I will look out for police cars in the future.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Soup Day

I don't really need to make more soup as my freezer is full of it, but I find it relaxing and it's nice to have fresh soup during the week.  Also, I expect that once it warms up for summer I won't be cooking as much, so now is the time to do it.

A co-worker asked me about how I make soup; I don't follow a recipe and can't really provide one, but here is my process:)

The steps.

1) Get everything out.  Make a mess.  Feel overwhelmed (when I make soup, I make a lot!).

2) Get the meat simmering, along with anything else that needs extra time (beans, mushrooms, etc.)

3) Chop the vegetables.

4) Put everything in the pot (or pots--I use 2 since I make so much: some to eat, some to give away, and some to freeze).

5) Get your spices ready.

6) Add the spices and let the soup cook/simmer for a while.  I think the whole cooking time should be at least 45 minutes..

7) This is the first week I have been able to find decent spinach, so I am going to add it as soon as I turn off the burners.  I am also going to add some tofu to help cool the soup down.

Eat and enjoy!:)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Things That Have Surprised Me Recently

A) I forgot to use positive motivation with a young girl in one of my classes.

In our teachers' meeting last week I asked for help with this girl, who has a problem with speaking Korean in our English class.  I have taught her before; when she first started she was something of an ADHD basket case, and drove me and my Korean co-teacher a bit crazy.

Since then she has calmed down a bit, but her mind still seems to run at a rather high speed, so when we aren't actively engaged in something she usually turns to another student and rattles away in Korean.  She's a nice girl and a smart girl, but that kind of behavior has to be controlled since it can result in an entire class of students not focusing on English language usage.

I tried using the "3 X" system, which we use quite a bit at our academy.  Students learn that when the class gets 3 X's for speaking Korean the entire class has to write something (such as the classroom rules) in their notebooks, and, of course, they don't like it.  Thus they tend to encourage each other to speak English.

Last night, for example, a middle school class (who know all about the 3 X's), started having problems with chatting in Korean.  I turned to the whiteboard, drew three boxes in black, and then drew one X in red.

Immediately there was peer pressure in English: "Shh . .  don't speak Korean, don't speak Korean . . ."

Such a system can be very effective.

But it wasn't working with this young girl (2nd grade), so I asked for help and got the suggestion to try using stars (thanks April!).

I took the girl aside before class and told her I would start giving stars for good English usage and that when she got so many stars she would get a prize (a sticker or candy, etc.).

The result was not electrifying, but it was much better than the X's I had been trying.

Two thoughts: 1) shame on me for forgetting about the potential in a reward system, and 2) that's one of the reasons I enjoy teaching: there is always something new to learn.

B) Outside the classroom I am surprised about the focus that the political battle in the U.S. is taking, namely the conservative vs. liberal aspect.

Perhaps it comes from living abroad, but I had expected--or perhaps hoped--that more attention would be paid to the huge amount of money the U.S. is spending on fighting foreign wars, on the negative perception of America that such wars are engendering, on the need to fix the huge problems with American infrastructure, etc.

Instead, I read about Rick Santorum winning some states, though he has said the U.S. government should not have a true separation of church and state--that thought is scary to me, given that there are enough problems in the world with religious wars, doctrines, divisions, genocides, etc.  Who would pick which religion governs the U.S.?

I also read about Democratic Congresswomen protesting the commonly held views of female contraception and abortion:

Interesting and, I think, about time someone challenged America's views that discriminate against women's rights to contraception and to thoughts about abortion.

C) I was surprised to hear that there are over 100 American universities charging $50,000 or more per year (when factoring in room and board, etc.).  However, my American co-workers told me that I was just out-of-touch with things (a nice way to say I am getting old).

New Friend

Not me.  My plant.

I've found that positive motivation often works well in the classroom, so I thought I'd apply that thought to cheering my plant up:  I bought it a friend.

Now, I have to admit there is a wee bit of selfishness involved (ok, more than a bit), since the plant is one I can possibly utilize in the kitchen . . .sigh . . . it always seems to get back to food.

It's a rosemary plant that I picked up for app. $5 at my neighborhood market yesterday, and I hope it will last longer than the first one I bought, which, come to think about it, was purchased at the same time as my sickly plant.  Hmmm . . . maybe that was a subconscious thought.

Anyway, I hope that the newly-come and quite vigorous plant will inspire the other to leaf out and thrive.

Now I just have to do some research on using fresh rosemary (vs. dried, which I love with chicken and/or potatoes) in my cooking.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

My Plant Hates Me

My one plant, which I have had for over two years--I bought it the week I moved here--has not been happy for a long time.

As you can see, it's down to one leaf.  Sniff.  I have been meaning to repot it, but I always forget to stop by a plant store when I'm out, which is ridiculous since there is one in our school building.

So, today, on the way back from shopping for a few things I needed to make my weekly batch of salmon/veggie soup (it's cooking now)

I happened to walk by a plant store and the owner, nice guy, gave me a larger plastic pot and some dirt for free.

It's not huge, but significantly bigger than the one my sickly plant has been in.

So I finally repotted my poor plant.  It probably needs plant food also, but I don't have any and am not sure if they have the equivalent of "Miracle Grow" here.  Call me crazy, but I stuck three multivitamin capsules down into the soil of the new pot and watered it.  I guess either it will die (which it was going to anyway), or it will turn into a "super" plant . . . I'll update in a few weeks when the outcome is certain, but for now, at least, my plant looks happier.

Korean Fast Food Restaurant

Lotteria: in sum, a bad McDonald's.  They precook most of their burgers, have them sitting on the rack when you order . . . at least they used to.  I haven't been inside a Lotteria in over a year (and when I did go I ordered chicken strips, which they had to cook in front of me).  Still, it's better than nothing for some people, especially since our local Micky D's bugged out.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Another Food Post

Veggies + fresh buckwheat noodles + a bit of flavoring = deliciousness:

And, for desert, there are the first kumquats of the year:

Saturday, 3 March 2012


Shabu-shabu is a Korean variation of a Japanese/Chinese meal that involves cooking vegetables/meat at the table in boiling water.

To begin, guests are served dishes of uncooked food, and a pot of water is placed over a burner located in the center of the table.  The guests have control over the amount and speed of cooking.

Common arrangements include vegetables and either meat or seafood.

The food is inserted into the pot and cooks in a matter of minutes.  Dumplings (만두) are sometimes cooked in the hot water, along with octopus.

The courses vary at different restaurants, but sometimes noodles are part of the set.

They are cooked after the meat/seafood is eaten.  Next, there is a dish of rice, vegetables, and egg that is added to the twice-cooked water (broth) to form a porridge.

The porridge, absorbing the vegetable/seafood (or meat) flavored broth, is a final treat, and guests are understandably full at this point.

Shabu-shabu is a meal well worth experiencing when in Asia!

Getting Ready for the New Semester

You may have seen this picture of our teacher's room that I recently posted.  The bookshelves in the background hold years' worth of accumulated textbooks and files, many of which are no longer used.

So, as part of our effort to get ready for the new Korean school spring semester--which officially began yesterday (Friday, March 2nd), but which begins for our academy on Monday--the other teachers and staff that I work with spent a good amount of time cleaning out the bookshelves.  Here is the "after" pic:

Much better, isn't it?  We are hoping to donate most of the old English education books and games to 1) a Korean orphanage and 2) a North Korean immigrant program.  Here's a pic of some of the stuff we had to sort through that we removed from the teachers' room:

The cassettes, as you might well think, are clearly outdated and needed to go.  The "Let's Go" book series, which we use a lot of, just came out with a new edition, so we are replacing all of those texts.

Yesterday our school also added two new video screens to two classrooms, as we are going to be using video segments for a new middle school textbook.  We will get two new laptop computers next week and hopefully will have the same easy-to-use internet/video connection that we have enjoyed in our large classroom:

We are all hoping for a smooth start to the new semester, especially with so many new things happening; we also have a new school van (#7; the vans pick up and deliver students), many new students, new books, a new part-time teacher, and, best of all, our former school director who has been out for most of a year battling cancer (successfully!) is back with us.  Yeah!