Tag Archives: taekwondo

The fall is sweet, cool, and has a holiday feel.

It’s now Chuseok break again. Last year for Chuseok, I went to Gonju to see the old Baekje capital. This year I’m staying in my apartment, packing, cleaning, and just relaxing. I leave for India in eleven days.

It’s raining now, and it was raining yesterday morning too. I like waking up to the quiet rain, with the windows open and a slightly melancholy, yet calm feeling in the air. You feel insulated and safe in your house, just next to the pitter patter of the rain.

So I’ve accomplished most of the things that I wrote about accomplishing. I went to Haeinsa, and it was fun. It was kind of an ordeal, since I made the stupid mistake of getting on the wrong train, and thus going halfway to Seoul before switching. (Only in Korea can a simple mistake get you half way across the country in under an hour.) When we finally arrived, the serenity of the mountain, and the absolute isolation of the temple was really welcoming. The temple was much more isolated than most temples I’ve been to, either because it was Sunday and nobody was there, or just because it really is not a popular place–despite its place on the UNESCO list. We didn’t get to see the actual Triptikana, because we arrived too late to go in, but we saw the building where it was housed. (Kind of a disappointment, but two awkward Korean guys had the same reaction, and we took several stiff pictures with them and their request.)

At sunset, the monks came out of their rooms and started an impromptu playing of the temple instruments, in a small pavilion at the bottom of the complex. They played the drums, and rang the huge bell, and gorgeous, calm sounds reverberated over the whole mountain. It was surreally calm and wonderful.

In other recent news, I had my Taekwondo Test on Sunday. It was VERY Korean. We arrived about five minutes after the test began. The judges filed out of the room, nobody payed attention, and then I was rushed by my teachers around the gym, until they found my spot. I was number 46. The last of the adults to test, and also the last one to arrive. It seems as though this test is very rarely undertaken by adults. For the thousands of kids that were there, I was the last of the group of adults–only 46 of us. I was also the only foreigner I saw. Kristen was there, and saw that there was a school with a foreign student, but that he was younger. (Also, the astute observation that–like me–he did not wear the same clothes as the rest of his school. His taekwondo bok said “KAIST” and mine says “Taekwondo”, as opposed to the name of my school.)

We sat in lines and waited. When our line was next, we stood up and did jumping jacks. Then we stretched. Then we walked out onto the floor. There were a million other things happening, but it didn’t seem too chaotic. I was shaking, I was so scared–I was sure that because I was different all eyes were on me, and I was the last one, the only one in the line in the back. (The test is administered in groups of ten.) We started our first form, form number 8, and I completed it well. Then we had to do number 6, which was the arbitrarily chosen form. (In the test, you don’t know what the second form is until you arrived. I was very lucky because 6 was a good one for me.) I did the forms well, according to my teacher. Then we bowed to the judges and walked over to the fighting stage. I was put in a head pad and a chest guard, and then I spared with someone about my age. She kicked hard, and I was too nervous to really lash out. I don’t think I did very well at that part, but watching Kristen’s video, I see that the two men in front of me were mostly just standing there, so I guess I did alright. Fighting has never been my strong point. I’m too afraid to inflict damage on anyone.

Anyway, then that was it. My kwangjangnim (taekwondo teacher) was suddenly there, took off my pads, and said “Good job! Good job!” and whisked me away. Then we watched his wife do her second black belt test, and that was it!

It was VERY surreal, and nothing like a black belt test at home. I’m not sure if I passed the test or not. They say I’ll know soon, but I have no way of knowing either way. Nobody will give me a straight answer, so I have the feeling that it’s probably a no go. But maybe they just don’t want to say yes or no and then lose face by that being the wrong answer.

That’s been my life the past few weeks. I’m relaxing these next few days and packing, cleaning, drawing, and just chilling. It’s going to be great. Oh, and probably will go up to a local temple for a while so I can buy some gifts and enjoy the temple atmosphere.

It’s getting a little warmer, and I just keep hoping that it’ll stay that way.

The ice on the streets is melting, so I might take my bike to work tomorrow. I’ve been down with a pretty miserable cold the past five days or so. I actually was teaching some classes on Thursday and Friday with no voice. That was real bad. Now I’m just coughing up my life every time somebody makes me laugh.

Thus, because of the sick, this weekend was really uneventful. But I’ve been practicing some Korean vocabulary, conjugation as best I can, and watching my favorite shows–Private Practice, Greys Anatomy, Castle. They’re back from the long grave that is the “Holidays”, which drives me nuts. The last thing everybody wants on the Holidays is to have their favorite shows disappear. Boo!

Anyway, now I’m eating Campbells Chicken Noodle and whistfully thinking about green, dancing trees on Minnehaha Avenue. I’ve been trying not to think about the relaxing summer days in my apartment, right after graduation, when the most I had to do was wander over to the park and read a book–and then occasionally go into work. I really miss the flowy green trees. Sigh. Then again I miss them every winter. Little home things just get to me every once and a while. Little things that you don’t think about. Like trees, and the sound of the wind in them.

On a different note, today my Taekwondo teachers gave me food with a completely new twist. It was a creamy white soup, and I asked what it was. She replied “It is… ah, Cow Spawn soup!” …. I took this statement in stride, because I KNEW that it couldn’t be true. There’s no way. So I just tried to memorize the word she gave me in Korean, which was something like kong-guk, but I don’t remember too well. They put some salt and pepper and onions in it…. and then we ate it with rice and it was pretty bland. (So I stuffed tons of kimchi in it.)

At work I asked a teacher friend if she understood what it was, and I asked her “this is what I thought she said…” and she replied “Yeah I have no idea, because we don’t eat that…” Anyway it was one of the weirder things that has happened to me here so far. But now I’m going to be trying to figure out how anyone mistranslated something into COW SPAWN. (Especially when the soup itself tasted nothing like any kind of meat.) I was thinking it was some kind of milk soup.

Anyway. Who knows. Weird story for the day/week.

Welcome to 2010!

Wow. A whole decade. It makes you feel kind of old. I mean, since this is the first time that I’ve been old enough to remember the turn of the last decade. (And I do remember hoping–just a little–that Y2K would hit and I would suddenly become the heroine of a young adult post-apocalyptic novel.)

I had an excellent New Years, and spent the evening with my friend Maddie and her family, who were very kind and just took me in as a surrogate daughter for the holiday. We went to see “Jump!” a comedy martial arts and acrobat show, which had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. (Partially because it was really good, and partially because the man in front of me had an enormous head.) Seeing stuff like that, even in a comedic way, inspires me to get more flexible and work harder at my Taekwondo–though I did notice that most of their flashy stuff was Kung Fu. It was interesting–they kicked like Taekwondo, but all of their weapons work was very Kung Fu–to the point where I actually started to recognize forms that I’d worked on in high school.

After the show we went to a bar that was VERY Korea (underground, tiny, shoved away in a nitche that could easily have been the size of a bathroom in the States) in the area where the New Years festivities were to take place. There were walls of police, which you don’t really see too often in Korea, but I soon realized that they were there not to intimidate us, but to keep us away from the setting up of the stage, where some terribly famous performers were about to engage in K-Pop madness.

The New Years Tradition, as I said before, is the ringing of the Bosingak bell 33 times. The Bosingak Bell is located in Jongno in Seoul, and originally constructed by the Joseon dynasty in 1396 (but has, of course, been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times). These days it is only rung on New Years Eve. When we arrived there were parties of dancers preforming traditional Korean music, and this is the first time I’ve seen such excitement in Korea. They were dressed up and dancing in a circle, pounding on drums, and it was a great beat. We had to dance a little just to keep warm, but we tried not to make absolute fools out of ourselves (of course.)


Then, the countdown happened, and I believe we skipped about 5 seconds, because the clock and the crowd were not on the same plane of existence. And then the cheers went up, and people started to shoot off fireworks in the crowd. (A totally acceptable past time, it seems, because they were selling fireworks to the average folks, with long tubes that you could point up in the air. Only in Korea would this work, because honestly nobody shot each other with them, or even made any mistakes.) The best thing, though, was the sound of the bell. Things were rather quiet, except for the hissing of the fireworks, and the sound of that enormous bell. It had a rather eerie toll, and so we rung in the New Year with something more solemn. I liked that. It fit Korea well–everything so modern and excited and happy, but the pervasive, comforting sound of this ancient Buddhist bell.


Another thing you might find interesting about the ceremony is the Korea Times report on who was chosen to ring the bell. Sixteen people were chosen, of which there appear to be a few naturalized citizens. Five city officials (including the Mayor) are selected by default, but the populous chooses by survey who the other 11 are. (Though I don’t know if it is consistently 16 each year.) Everyone was recognized for service to the poor, or educational prowess, or one Mongolian woman, who was chosen because she recieved a “filial piety award” for serving her sick father in law. Intriguing.


It’s nice to see people accepted into Korean society. A lot of foreign teachers complain that they will remain “foreign teachers” forever, and that the Korean world has no place for them, and that this is “the most racist country in the world”. After seeing things like this, though, I don’t think it’s necessarily the “foreign-ness” of us, but our status in a complicated social and economic structure that puts us in the “foreign teacher” box, which may be much more difficult to assimilate than the mere “foreigner” box.


Anyway, I know I promised a post about Jeju, but I am slacking considerably. Maybe tomorrow.

So I’m off to Jeju tomorrow!

Tonight is going to be an adventure! I discovered all these great ways to get to Seoul, but there was no way that I could have exchanged my KTX ticket, so I am riding the train anyhow. I guess that’s okay, really, since the train has these lovely things called bathrooms.

I plan to get into Seoul around 12:30 and find a jimjilbang somewhere around the Seoul Station. I might be able to find a bus to Gimpo… I hope so, because people say that it’s more likely to find a good jimjilbang around the airport. I dont’ really know. All I need is for it to have a big locker, a nice bath, and a big hot sauna. I’m really looking forward to those few hours that I spend there, because I haven’t been to the jimjilbang in a couple weeks. (Gasp!)

Anyway, Jeju is going to be a lot of fun. Jeju is the Hawaii of Korea. It is the big vacation and honeymoon place for Koreans, and last generation, it was the ONLY place, since most people weren’t issued passports. It is a world heritage site, because of the awesome lava tubes that were made by erupting Mt. Halla. I won’t be climbing Hallasan, because I don’t feel like getting cleats and ice pikes, but I will be visiting the lava tubes, and I’m super excited to take pictures for you all!

In my school’s education program, we teach the story of Ebenezer Scrooge to the 5-6th graders. This is really very ironic because we are teaching the students until 9pm on Christmas Eve. And I intend to show that story to my 8pm class, and just all around party like it’s 1999. But unfortunately I don’t really have anything to party with… hm. My 8pm class yesterday watched the classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie off of YouTube, haha.

I’m also supposed to be testing for my Taekwondo advancement today. Ack! It’s been three weeks! So not prepared. But I go to class every day, and they have deemed me ready, but I don’t think I can do everything alone. I hope that I don’t need to. But maybe next time you see me, I’ll be a yellow belt!

I also watched this documentary on YouTube last night about North Korea. I feel like it’s a little overblown. But it’s really intriguing, especially when they start talking about KimJungIl’s cult of personality. I think it’s possible to draw parallels between that cult of personality, and the radical explosion of pentecostal Christianity in South Korea. But I really just wanted to know–how do people get this information? If it is the most secretive country in the world, how do you get this information? How do you get the statistics that say these children are “22cm shorter than the average in South Korea”? Like really? With a country that supposedly has no medical equipment, no this, no that, how did you find out that the average child is 22cm shorter? How do you even know anything about the average anything?

Not that one little thing like that would change the credibility of the program. But you do wonder how sensationalist they are being. They also said something like “North Korea is the Hermit Kingdom” but a hundred or so years ago, I believe ALL of Korea was called the Hermit Kingdom. But I’m not sure. Look that one up on Wikipedia.

It fascinates me because you can see just how drastically different the two Koreas are–but you can also see where the same cultural traits have been used. The oneness and the togetherness of Koreans have made South Korea an economic powerhouse, with the freedom to be different, but the desire to be the same, and one unified love for achieving the same life goals–education, success, marriage, a trip to Jeju, haha. But you can see, from the images in the video, that in North Korea that same trait has pushed them in a very different direction.

Anyway, I should probably get out of bed and start packing for my trip! How exciting!!

"Teacher! This book Made in China!"

Proclaimed one of my students yesterday. He was explaining to me that the monster in the story was furry, but the monster in the picture was not. Then he said: “Made in China!” Apparently it is synonymous with “Error, teacher!”

So I’ve been taking Taekwondo. And Ohhhh man does it hurt. I pulled a neck muscle at some point and now I can’t look to one side. My stomach also hurts because of sit ups, and my shoulders hurt because of push ups. I go every day of the week, too, which is a lot more than I went to Kung Fu–ever! In addition, it’s a private class, basically, so I’m never out of focus. Ohhh man. But I am learning a lot of Korean, and I know I am going to have a lot of fun. But right now my whole freakin body hurts. Owwww. 😀