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The Offense Rests: a (Rather) Cross Examination of the Jehova’s Witnesses

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by John Bocskay

Some years ago, back when I was single, I had an affair with a woman I’ll call Jinhee. We met in Busan through a mutual friend and had a torrid couple of days together before she had to go back home to Incheon.

We kept in touch, and about a month later, I went to meet her in Seoul for a weekend. One steamy summer day found us strolling along Cheongyechon, the revitalized stream that winds through the center of Seoul. Once polluted and covered by concrete, it’s now a clean green refuge from the manic hustle of the big city.

As Jinhee and I walked hand-in-hand along the shaded path, a woman approached me and thrust a pamphlet into my hand.

Jehova’s Witness. I had seen this pamphlet before, around 8 a.m. on more than a few of Sundays, handed to me across my doorway when I would rather have been sleeping off Saturday night. The cover was hard to forget: a pastoral scene with smiling people carrying large baskets piled with fruit, while other people stroked the fur ofwitnessheaven wild animals, who calmly sit among them apparently for that very purpose.

Jehova’s Witnesses believe that God and exactly 144,000 of the uber-righteous will rule over the earth from heaven, while the great majority who didn’t make the cut inherit the consolation prize: an earthly paradise without sickness or death. The scene that they depict on their pamphlets is the latter, lowball offer, which in itself ought to straight away insult the dignity and intelligence of any potential convert. I suppose the faithful find that a pleasant enough reward, but I’ve always found this particular version of paradise to be wanting. With pent-up retribution for a dozen shattered Sunday mornings, I started pointing out the logical absurdities of this crudely imagined Eden to Jinhee.

“This shit makes no sense. If nobody dies, you don’t have to eat, but look, almost everyone in the picture is holding a mound of food. Maybe humans in the ‘peaceful new world’ eat for pleasure, but, in a world of no indigestion, heart disease, or gout – in other words, nothing holding you back – you’d expect to see a few fat people in the picture. Where are the gluttons?

“Maybe humans eat out of habit or some kind of vestigial craving, like zombies. Charming, right? Or maybe they really do need to eat after all, in which case you wonder what the consequences ofnot eating would be, if not death. A perpetual hunger like a vampire? That doesn’t sound like paradise to me. That sounds like bullshit.

“Don’t worry, though, because the peaceful new world is a land of plenty. Look at that pile of apples the boy is carrying, and the blueberry bush in the foreground. Food is just lying around for the taking, nobody has to work for it, and they’re all thin and healthy. It’s a magical, all-you-can eat soup kitchen.

“Still, if this is a place where there is no death and sickness, why bother with apples and berries? Why not Cinnabon and cheesecake and 64-ounce Cokes and all the shit that would normally kill you?”

The night before we’d had a few drinks and a lot of laughs, but our walk today was mostly quiet. With this hokey pamphlet as fodder, I felt myself getting on a roll again.

“I actually like that they include animals in the peaceful new world. And why not? Are they not also god’s creatures? The immediate question though is the same one that torpedoes Noah’s Ark: what do the lions eat? Must they kill the other animals, or, heaven forbid, that cute little Hispanic girl who is scratching his snout? That wouldn’t be very peaceful or new.


Vegetarian massacre

“Nope, no meat in paradise. That’s why they’re all apparently vegetarians. You’d better like fruit though, because harvesting vegetables usually requires the plant to die. Sorry, vegetables! No peaceful new world for you!”

Jinhee was walking slowly at my side, devouring every word, and at this last comment I felt her stir slightly. I paused to recall if we had eaten any meat. I have an uncanny habit of poking fun at vegetarianism in front of people who turn out to be vegetarians, with predictably awkward results. No, we had had bulgogi the last time we met. Fair game. I handed her the pamphlet and carried on.


Living the dream.

“Check out the boy wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. How were they manufactured? Are there Bangladeshi sweatshops in the peaceful new world? And how do they wash their clothes? Do they go old-school and beat them on rocks, which isn’t really the first activity that leaps to mind when I imagine the things I would want to do in paradise, or are they machine-washed with powerful detergents that pollute that pretty lake in the background? Seriously, apart from picking fruit, why is nobody working? This kind of leisure time you see here implies a lot of labor-saving machinery, but the most technologically complex device in the whole picture is a wicker basket.

“Think about it: if there’s no death, no new people could be born because it would lead to overpopulation, and the children in the picture will never grow up. How could they? Aging implies dying. They would have to be children forever, at least physically. Imagine being a billion years old, with all the wisdom and knowledge such a life would give you, and having to repeat the second grade. Forever. And what kind of idiot would be smiling about it – or is he just reallylooking forward to chowing down on his ten billionth apple?

As I spoke, I became progressively more animated while Jinhee listened in perfect attention. It was fun talking with someone so worldly (She had worked in Germany for many years) at such a high level of English about things I didn’t often get a chance to talk about and hadn’t even realized I cared about so much.

7-bored-with-sex-life“Look at the man and woman walking together. What is their relationship like? Do they have sex? If they do, why? Do they get bored and swap partners, or do they just stop having sex altogether? Who sleeps in the wet spot, and how does he or she feel about it? Sorry, but a peaceful new world would probably have to exclude sex. I mean, sex is fun and all, but it’s not generally conducive to peace in the world…”

Here I felt her stir again. Jinhee and I had slept together a few times, but had never really talked about sex, and I realized that my last comment could be badly construed, especially by someone with whom I was in a budding relationship. I’d been rambling for maybe ten minutes, so I paused again to gauge her reaction.

She looked from the pamphlet to me and said, very plainly but with gentle urgency, “That’s my religion.”

“That’s your what? Wow. Okay. Shit. I mean okay.”

I didn’t know what to say except to apologize profusely. Incredibly, she either wasn’t upset or didn’t show it. She explained that her mom was deeply involved in the church, but judging from the way she didn’t immediately tell me to go fuck myself, I gathered that her affiliation was somewhat less devout. I don’t know if she was trying to make me feel like less of a jackass, but she expressed a genuine interest in my opinions, and said that she’d never thought about those things in that way before. She talked a bit about her beliefs, but it’s hard to reconstruct that conversation now, because it was long time ago, and as she talked I was carrying on an internal monologue that went:

“You idiot. You stupid fucking idiot. I can’t believe you said that you fucking idiot….”

We continued our walk hand in hand, and even enjoyed the rest of the weekend, but as it turned out, that was the last time I saw her. Not long after that I met a charming lapsed Buddhist from down the street, who later became my wife, ’til death do us part.handinhand





3 Video Call Options for Travelers & Expats

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Back in the days before the internet became as widespread as it is now, traveling could be an overwhelmingly isolating experience. Living abroad could be even more so. Prior to the spread of internet connectivity, the best way to stay in touch with friends and family back home was with international calling cards. Before that, it was stamps, letters and post-cards. We’ve come a long way!

New ways to keep in touch

These days it’s pretty easy to find an internet connection when you’re traveling around the world. That makes staying touch with people at home much easier – but it also makes the communication much better. You no longer need to deal with a crackling, echo filled phone line. These days, we can talk with clear sound, and even see each other! Here is our list of the best ways to stay in touch with people back home while you’re traveling or living abroad.

The list

SkypeSkype. Skype was the original heavyweight of the internet video call world. For many people, it’s still the first thing that comes to mind when they think of video chatting with their computers. Skype has made a lot of progress in the past few years, and now you can find it anywhere – from it’s traditional icon on a PC desktop to physical phone, tablets, and more. Basic 1 on 1 video calls with Skype are free. You can also use Skype to talk with groups, or to call landline or cellphone numbers, but that costs money. The biggest benefit of using Skype is it’s robustness – not only can you use it to make video calls to home, but you can use it to send and receive files and numerous other little helpful things. Skype is also very well known. If you wander into an internet cafe in a small town in the middle of nowhere, there’s a good chance they’ve already got Skype installed and ready-to-go.

Google HangoutsGoogle Hangouts. Google Hangouts is the latest naming iteration of Google’s chatting service. Hangouts evolved from Google Video and Google Voice. Hangouts offers much of the same functionality that Skype does, but it does so from within the Google services ecosystem. If you have a GMail or a Google+ account, getting into Hangouts is super easy. Video calls to other users are free, just like Skype. Unlike Skype, though, Google Hangouts will also let you group video conference for free! That’s nice. While Hangouts is a spin-off of Google Voice, it did not inherit Google Voice’s ability to call actual phones. For that, you still have to use the Google Voice app. Calls within the U.S.A. are free, but anything involving another country costs a tiny amount. Call quality is as good as your connection. These days, even in remote areas, it should be very usable.

YouTubeYoutube. You know Evan and Rachel are gonna talk about YouTube as a communication method, right? That’s our thing! While YouTube is unlike the previous methods we mentioned in that it’s inherently one-way communication for video, it’s still a great way to keep in touch. You can upload anything you like, from anywhere, and your friends and family can watch it when they have time. A major benefit of this is that you don’t have to wake up your parents by calling them on Skype when it’s noon in Thailand, but midnight back home! YouTube can also expose a lot more people to your ideas than you’d ever considered. Why not start a channel?

Other ways

Of course, these aren’t the only ways to stay in touch with friends and family back home. All of those old methods still work, too – and who doesn’t love getting a post card or letter from an exotic destination, even in the age of the video call? Thanks for reading. Safe travels!



Doui-guksa – 도의 국사 (? – 825)

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Picture 118

A picture of Master Doui-guksa, who was the first monk to transmit Seon Buddhism throughout Korea.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In this third article, I thought I would talk about Doui-guksa, who was the first Korean monk to transmit patriarchal Seon Buddhism, which became an integral part of Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula.

Doui was born in Bukhan-gu, which is present day Seoul. His surname was Wang. Before Doui was born, and according to the “Doui Jeon” (Biography of Doui), in the 17th Volume of the Jodangjip (Records of the Ancestral Hall), Doui’s father and mother had a dream of his impending birth. While Doui’s father dreamt of a white rainbow across the sky which entered their room, his mother had a dream that she had slept with a monk. About a month and a half after this dream, Doui’s mom started showing signs that she was pregnant. Strangely, she didn’t give birth for another 39 months. Talk about a long pregnancy!

In 784, Doui made his way to Tang China by ship, which was pretty standard for Korean monks at that time. When he first arrived, he visited Mt. Wutai-shan. While there, he was ordained a monk at Baotan-si Temple in Guangfu. After becoming ordained, Doui headed south for Mt. Caoxi-shan (or Mt. Jogye in Korean). There, he paid his respects to the sixth patriarch of Seon Buddhism, Huineng, who is still enshrined there to the present day. According to legend, when he arrived at this temple, the temple doors mysteriously opened for him on their own accord. After his visit to Mt. Caoxi-shan, he traveled to Kaiyuan-si Temple next to help further his studies under Master Zhizang, who was a fourth generation disciple of Huineng. Doui attained enlightenment under Master Zhizang’s guidance.


Borimsa Temple in Jangheung, Jeollanam-do.

Eventually, Master Doui returned to the Korean peninsula in 821, where he established a small temple to teach. This temple was located in Jangheung, Jeollanam-do; and while there, he started to transmit the little known Seon doctrine of meditative Buddhism. Doui was also known as a strong critic of scholastic-driven Buddhist practices, which were prevalent during his lifetime.

Doui’s main disciple was Yeomgeo, whose main disciple was Chejing (804-880). Master Chejing was to later expand the little known temple that Doui had founded. This temple is still around today, and it’s known as Borimsa Temple. In doing this, Chejing founded the Gaji-sanmun (Buddhist Wisdom Sect), as the first of the nine Gusan-seonmun (Korean Seon’s Nine Original Sects). As a result of this lineage and his efforts, Master Doui is held in high regard as one of the key founders of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, which is the largest sect of Buddhism throughout South Korea.

In 825, after retiring to Jinjeonsa Temple in Mt. Seoraksan, Doui-guksa passed away. Master Chejing put it best when he wrote about Doui’s brand of Buddhism that it was “the tenant of unconditioned spontaneity,” which sums up the new brand of Seon Buddhism that he brought to the Korean peninsula. Doui-guksa’s budo, which houses his earthly remains, can be found at Seoknamsa Temple in Eonyang, Gyeongsangnam-do.


Doui-guksa’s budo from Seoknamsa Temple in Eonyang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

How To: Get Along With Your Korean Coworkers

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Before I write a single word, I want to preface this with my awareness that my advice is based only on my own experience- I am not, by a long shot, the expert on cross-cultural office relations. However, I do get along quite well with everyone in my office, so if that's proof enough for you, please read on!

Step 1: Eat delicious food together.

If you've spent any time at all on, you've probably run across plenty of posts about strained NET/CT relationships, chilly behavior of Korean teachers toward foreign teachers in the office, and all manner of difficulties arising out of everything from deep-seated cultural differences to simple miscommunication.

Seeing as I'm lucky enough to consider many of my coworkers (not just coteachers) to be friends, here are my personal tips for getting along with coworkers in Korean public school. As I've never worked in a hagwon, I'm can't say if the same rules apply.

note: this post is targeted more toward coworkers other than coteachers. I'll write a post about getting along with your coteachers next!

1. Your culture, their culture: know the difference!

So here you are, settling into your new job in lovely South Korea. You came from the US, from Ireland, from South Africa, Australia, wherever. Now, my first advice, and something that I admittedly tend to harp on about, is this: South Korea is not your native country. It's not the US, or Ireland, or South Africa, or even Australia. Really. I promise. The sooner you remember this, the happier you and everyone around you will be.

Not to rag on again, but the "What Do You Refuse To Do?" thread just illustrates my point so well, I can't avoid mentioning it. Some refusals are reasonable, such as "wear a surgical mask [while sick]" or "eat dog" or even "care about Dokdo." Some complaints, on the other hand, ramp up my crankiness level at a worrying rate. Refusals include "sitting on the floor in restaurants," "learning Korean," going to work dinners, and in another post that I can't find at this moment, a poster complained about students constantly greeting him in the hall and having to respond. Oh the horror. Friendliness. How will you ever survive?

As The Korean wrote in a post about ESL teachers in Korea:

Even when ESL teachers come to Korea with best intentions, they often come strikingly uneducated about Korean history and culture. Korea is a unique place; no other country in the world brought itself out of utter poverty to a leading economic power within a few decades while surviving two devastating wars under two different countries' occupation. Many things about Korea require a radically different mindset from any other country’s mindset to understand properly – which is really what being exposed to a different culture is all about.

This is exactly the point I am constantly trying to make. There is an arrogance that comes with speaking the global lingua franca. In the majority of the world, speaking English will be enough to get by on. Sure, that's fine if you're just vacationing (though personally I believe that even tourists should learn basic greetings in the native language), but living/work and visiting for a week or two are entirely different animals. In the one case, you're merely on the outside looking in- take a few pictures, try some food, then go home. However, living and working in a foreign country entails quite a lot more, as I like to call it, cultural I need to work on that one.

Guys am I Korean enough yet??

To circle back around to my point, try to understand the culture you're in. Greet your coworkers in the morning, and when you see them in the hall. Do a bit of research, try to understand where they're coming from. Before you take offense at a comment or action, stop and consider the intention. Plenty of things that would be considered incredibly rude in the US are completely normal in Korea; comments about physical appearance/weight come to mind first. This is not to say that explaining to someone that, in your own country, such and such thing is not done/done differently is a no go. Just remember, before you get all butthurt and rant your feelings on waygook, that not everyone has the same background as you.

On a related note...

2. Learn Korean!

I cannot stress enough how important this is. The amount you want to learn is up to you, but please, please, for the love of...something, learn some Korean.

Maybe it's just greetings. You'd be surprised how far a couple of 안녕하세요's will get you (for the as-of-yet uneducated, 'annyeonghaseyo basically means hello). Kick it up a notch with 잘 먹어습니다 (enjoy your meal) and 반갑습니다 (pleased to meet you) and you'll be in good graces for the rest of eternity, barring some horrible social faux pas.

Also, hangul (the Korean alphabet), is actually super easy to learn. I know, I know, it looks complicated and scary, but it's actually (according to some) one of the most linguistically perfect alphabets in the world. The shapes of the characters are modeled after the shape of your mouth when you say them! Maybe that's only exciting to a linguistics nerd like me, but I stand by my excitement. It's certainly very logical, once you get the hang of it, and believe me, being able to read the menu in a restaurant on the names of bus stops on a map is the most wonderful feeling.

The secrets of this manuscript could be yours for the taking!

It's also pretty fun to buck foreigner stereotypes. If I had a nickel for every time someone responded to my basic Korean with "Omg your Korean is so good! Most foreigners never learn Korean. It's so hard/they're lazy/etc", I could build my own school out of nickels! Maybe. Probably not. My Korean is not good enough to warrant this response, believe me, but it feels good all the same.

Now, learning even the most basic Korean phrases will help with my next piece of advice, which is...

3. Try to Be Involved

If you've read anything about having a job in Korea, it's likely that you've come across the famed work dinners, or 회식. These gatherings usually involve lots of food, drink, and most importantly, a relaxation of social boundaries and a chance to bond outside of the office environment.

Bulgogi marinated in peach sauce, all on the company card.
It may sound like a pain, having to attend a work event outside of normal hours that you don't get paid for, but unless your coworkers are actually straight up mean to you, these things can be pretty fun. Even if you don't drink, it's a great chance to talk to different people and see a more relaxed side of the people you share a stuffy office with every day. Plus, free food.

Beyond the company dinners, always offer to help out with events. Odds are, you'll be assured that no, they don't need any help, but the mere fact that you offered means a lot. For instance, at the end of the school year, right around Christmas, there was a big school festival, with everything from an art show to various dance and music performances by students and teachers. I'd mentioned earlier in the year that I played the violin, but thought nothing of that fact until the music teacher approached me one day with the idea of us playing a duet at the festival. I was flattered, and thanks to his charming smile, I agreed.

The whole experience was really great. Even though the ladies in my office refused to let me help them with the setup, possibly because explaining what needed to be done to the clumsy foreigner was more trouble than it was worth, I still had something that drew me in to the spirit of the event. We practiced constantly, well aware that we had an audience of roughly 900 bored middle school students to impress. Despite my fears, the whole thing went off without a hitch, and 5 months later people still bring up my performance in conversation at lunch.

Anyways, that whole long ramble was just to illustrate my point; get involved! It won't suck, I promise! In fact, it usually ends up being really fun, even if you don't always know exactly what you're agreeing to participate in.

4. Go the extra mile

My explanations are getting shorter as my list gets longer. This one is pretty basic, and probably applies to jobs in any country, but I wanted my list to have 5 points, don't judge me.

If you're working in public school, I'm going to assume you're on a contract like me, which means that technically you only have to be in school from 8:30-4:30, and anything extra is overtime. "That's great!" you think, right? That means I can leave at 4:30 every day and have glorious long evenings all to myself.

Technically, this is true. However, most of your coworkers are likely going to be coming in earlier and/or staying later (whether or not this is a good practice is a debate for another time), and while I don't have any evidence to back this up, I imagine that seeing the young foreigner constantly arriving last and leaving first would not sit well.

So, my advice? Come in early once in a while. Stay a little late on days when you have a bit more to do, organize your classroom, chat over a cup of coffee with the person you sit next to, anything that strikes your fancy. If you're magically on top of your lesson plans, bring your Korean homework and do it at work!

I know this is probably controversial, since this is technically working overtime without getting paid for overtime, but let's be honest, will the odd half hour once or twice a week really kill you?

This also applies to helping out with stuff beyond teaching your classes. I've helped the IT guy understand difficult metaphors in Jason Mraz songs. I once read a speech aloud for a teacher's husband while he recorded me, so he could practice his English pronunciation before a big speech at his company. On a memorable day during Winter break, I teamed up with my office mates to rearrange and clean our entire office, much to the surprise of everyone who came in the next day.

5. Bring Food

Look, this one is really easy. Everyone likes food. Except people on diets maybe? But I'm not counting them because they secretly like food, they're just pretending they don't for the sake of health or beauty whatever. There's a rumor that my office is cursed; stay here long, and you're bound to gain weight, thanks to all the snacks everyone brings in.

The irresistible charm of eggplants.
Guaranteed to make you fat: baked sweet potatoes and rice cakes.
Seeing as I neither own a farm nor have a real kitchen, I usually go for an easier route. Seasonal fruit is always a safe bet. When mandarin oranges were cheap, I would grab a bag of those once a week or so, mostly out of a selfish desire to eat lots of tiny oranges, but it also meant that I had an office of people beholden to me for my generous citrusy benevolence. Honestly, you'd be amazed how far a small gesture can get you.

Guess which one is me?

So there they are, my 5 suggestions for getting along happily with your Korean coworkers. As I said before, I'm not a cultural expert, an expert on how to make friends, an expert on Korean schools...can you see a trend?

What I do know is that I consider many of my fellow teachers to be friends, and some even feel like family, so I must be doing something right.

Do you work in a Korean school? Any more tips for happy office relations? Think my advice is dumb? I'd love to hear from you in the comments~!

Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

About   Teaching   Advice   Beauty   How-To   Food   Langauge   Tumblr

Dear Korea #120

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Look! A new update! Just like I promised! Also, thanks to everyone who came out to watch me stream this comic. Here’s hoping I can do it again next week!

Over the years, it seems like more and more western goodies have been making their way to South Korea. It’s kind of getting to the point where there’s no real reason for me to bring things from home anymore. Granted, there are still a large number of items that don’t exist here (more mac n cheese, please!), but it’s no longer impossible to find necessities and luxury items that I used to beg my friends and families from back home to send me.

The bad thing is that I now have to try a lot harder when purchasing gifts from home for my Korean friends and students. The promises of “cool American snacks” just doesn’t have the same draw when they can run out and get everything themselves.

Jen Lee's Dear Korea

This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.

Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.

You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!


10 Things About Korea…

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So I won’t be along here much longer, so I thought I’d give this a shot. There’s plenty about Korea that I’m going to miss, without a doubt, and then there’s a fair amount of things I won’t miss about Korea. It would be fair to say the same about anywhere, of course. So here […]

Bärenjäger: A Shot of Summer

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Summer in Seoul. 'Tis the season for afternoons spent poolside, road trips to Busan and rooftop parties. While some will be reaching for Cass and soju mixers to stock their social gatherings, other expats will be happy to know that there's a new liqueur on the Seoul spirits scene that is perfect for cooling down (and getting tipsy) during the hottest time of the year.

Bärenjäger, a German honey flavored liqueur with a vodka base, has been being imported to Korea by Big Shot Imports for about half a year now. It quickly garnered attention as a tasty winter beverage, as its thick consistency and sweet flavors are perfect for those chilly nights spent in hibernation. In fact, its name literally means "bear killer," as it was once fed to the animals by hunters to make them easier to kill.

Still, there are a number of tasty concoctions perfect for all of this year's outdoor barbecues and summer drinking sessions.  Currently, there are a number of Seoul watering holes serving up Bärenjäger for all those eager for a taste of something new. Phillies, ThunderHorse, Maloney's, Dillingers, 3 Alley Pub, Sam Ryan's, Sinbin and Chilli King will all happily serve you one of their signature honey cocktails, but you can also try making your own at home. Below are a few of my personal favorites.


Bärenjäger doesn't make for the best shot- it's a tad cough-syrupy when served straight up- but if you must, give this ultra-sweet shooter a try.

1 oz. Bärenjäger honey liqueur
1/2 oz. lemon liqueur
1/2 oz. orange juice

Layer the Bärenjäger and lemon liqueur in a shot glass and top with a splash of orange juice. Bottoms up!

Bee Tea

Nothing says summer like a tall glass of iced tea, especially when its got a bit of a kick. You can use just about any variety of tea, so don't be afraid to play around with the flavors. For a Korean twist, opt for maesil, or green plum, tea. (Photo)

2 oz. Bärenjäger honey liqueur
6 oz. fresh brewed tea
lemon juice, to taste
mint springs for garnish

Stir the liqueur with the tea in a glass over ice. Be sure to mix well. Add lemon juice to taste and garnish with a spring of mint.

Oso Loco

Whip up a "crazy bear" perfect for Mexican taco night or a day at the pool. In addition to the  Bärenjäger, the Allspice Dram is really what gives this drink depth. If you don't have any at home, you can make it. Click here to find out how.

1 1/2 oz. tequila
1 oz. Bärenjäger honey liqueur
3/4 oz. lime Juice (more Lime Juice drinks)
1/2 oz. pink grapefruit juice
St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
chipotle salt, to taste

Take a chilled cocktail glass and apply the chipotle salt on the rim. Spray the allspice dram inside. Put the rest of the ingredients into a mixing glass or shaker. Add large cubes of ice and shake vigorously for 6 seconds. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.

Bärenjäger may not be for everyone, especially for those not keen on sweet drinks. But it's a refreshing cocktail ingredient and a perfect fit for the summer. You bee the judge... give it a try!

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How to Talk to People in Korea

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AKA Slow Motion Teacher Talk.

It's a disease.

The first symptom, as you might guess from my subtitle, is slower speaking speed. Unsurprisingly, if you speak quickly to someone in a language they aren't super comfortable with, they won't understand you. It's the same for me with Korean. If someone mumbles or talks too fast, I can't catch anything, but if they slow down for me, suddenly a world of comprehension opens up for me.

When I first started teaching, I was nervous. When I'm nervous, I speak more quickly. I think a lot of people do this. In an ESL classroom, though, fast talking is not gonna fly (though it is great for saying things you don't want your students to hear). That was the first critique I got from my co-teacher: slow down. So I did. Suddenly, a classroom full of unresponsive glassy-eyed students began to understand me. Maybe not everything I said, but finally I was getting through to them on some level.

So began my descent into what I refer to as "teacher English". I find that the changes can be organized into three groups, starting with...


Slow Down

Like I said, the first change, for me at least, was speed. When I talk to non-Korean friends, I talk fast. I mean, I don't sound like a conversational auctioneer, but I also didn't inherit my dad's slow southern drawl. If I'm excited I can pass on a record amount of information with a single breath. But since I came to Korea? Well, it's like going from the autobahn to a school zone.

When I'm teaching, I always have to keep a little voice in the back of my head saying "slow down, relax". If you think you're speaking slow enough, try to go a bit slower. If your students start laughing at you, you've probably slowed down too much. Try to find that sweet spot where they can follow what you're saying but you don't sound like a tape player running low on battery power.

Another part of the big slowdown is a sort of...spacing of your sentences. For example, let's say I'm telling a story about my car stalling on a bridge. Normally, I would tell the story like this:

"Last year, I was driving on a bridge, and suddenly my car stopped, right in the middle of the bridge. It was really scary, and I don't know anything about cars, so in my panic I called my dad to help me instead of thinking to call a tow-truck or the police or something."

In class, it would go something like this. "Last year...I was driving on a bridge. In the car stopped. My car was broken. I don't know...about cars. It was really scary. But...I didn't call 911. I called my dad." (cue laughter)

As you can see, the longer more complex sentences get broken up into shorter statements, and sometimes I'll even take a pause in the middle of sentences to allow people to catch up. I try not to let this happen too much with my higher level students or my friends who are super good at English (gold stars for you all, seriously) because I don't want to teach them weird, unnatural sounding English, but for anyone at a lower level, it really seems to help.



This shows up in a few ways. Most obviously, it's helpful to cut out all your slang. "You got it?" becomes "Do you understand?" "Wanna grab a cup of coffee?" becomes "Do you want to drink some coffee?" "I'm not feeling up for it" becomes "I'm too tired." Notice the trend? It's gotten to the point where I'm so used to making this change that I had a hard time coming up with examples. If I stay here too long I'm going to lose all my slang and start talking like a textbook. True nightmare scenario right there.
Imagine this said with no inflection, 100 times a day.

It's also good to avoid idioms and cultural references, unless you're ready to explain them. Now, if you're working with students who are a high enough level, this kind of thing might be a piece of cake for them, but with lower levels you don't want to bite off more than you can chew. For example, with my co-teachers I can say "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse!" because I know they know the saying, or at least I can explain it easily, but if I said that to my students, I'd probably get blank looks. Things like "piece of cake" are even worse. There's no real logic to that one. Is cake inherently easier to eat than other food? Does deliciousness equal easiness? Inquiring minds want to know!

The other aspect of simplifying your language is harder to explain. It means building your sentences out of grammar that's easier to understand, that your students are more likely to know. For instance, I won't usually say that something is "harder" or "easier" or "simpler"; I'll say it's more hard, or more easy, or more simple, just because I know that will be easier for my students to figure out. Instead of saying "This weekend I'm going to study" I might say "This weekend I will study." The more you know about their level, the more you can tailor your langauge to incorporate what they already know, which helps to build confidence, and also helps when teaching new vocab, since you can sandwich it in with stuff that's already kicking around somewhere in their brains. Supposedly.

Sign Language

No matter who I'm talking to, I use my hands. I think it's pretty universal, though some people are more prone to gesticulation than others. However, the longer I spend in middle school classrooms and with my less than fluent Korean friends, the more my life begins to feel like the longest running game of charades in history.

 Sometimes I worry that this is becoming too much of a crutch. It also makes me feel a bit like a clown, but frankly, if it helps my students or friends or doctor to understand what I'm trying to say, I'll take it. It also works as a great way to elicit target language without giving too many hints. Want them to say baseball? Mime swinging a bat. Though I think I must suck at this one, because they always guess tennis. I've pretended to be a seal, I've faked a coughing fit, make my fist into the shape of my home state, all to get points across that otherwise would have been impossible.

The most common gestures are those in the classroom. Listen: touch my ear. Write: mime writing. Work together: mime pushing two students together. The list goes on and on. What I've found helps the most in regards to classroom hand gestures in consistency. Whatever you choose to mean listen, or write, or shut the eff up, make sure it's the same every time, because then even the lower level students will be able to follow along, and hopefully it will help them catch up on the basic classroom language.

The worst part about all this is that I can't stop. Now, no matter who I'm talking to, I sound like an English teacher. Fortunately it hasn't seeped into my writing yet, but I fear that day can't be too far off. The other thing I've noticed is that bits of more...shall we say...Korean phrasing have been sneaking into my lexicon. For example, I regularly find myself encouraging people to "Take a rest" if they seem sick or tired. There's nothing inherently wrong with the phrase, grammatically, but I don't recall ever putting those words in that particular order before I moved to Korea. Another common phrase is "Do you know (insert any noun here)?" Instead of asking "Have you heard of the Beatles?" I'd be more likely to ask "Do you know the Beatles?" It's a small change, but it comes directly from the way most people here communicate with me. I know there's more, but somehow they're all slipping out of my brain in this hot weather.

Do you teach ESL? Has it changed the way you talk? Any tips? The comment section is always open.

Memorial-Gate: A Tale of Cultural Yardsticks and the Paradox of Being Foreign

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A month or so ago we came into work to learn that our principal’s wife had passed away after a long illness. It was mentioned that we might like to give condolences. This was the extent of communication on the matter, until my boss arrived to say we’d be leaving in half an hour, and I looked up to see that everyone in my office had changed into black suits. In keeping with the arrival of Spring that morning, I was wearing a floral tea dress. When, panicked, I expressed that perhaps this wasn’t the most appropriate attire, the Japanese teacher piped up: ‘It’s OK – you’re not Korean.’

I feel like this situation neatly demonstrates a particularly thorny thorn in the side of foreigners in Korea. On some levels, we are expected to assimilate unquestioningly with the group. This explains what would, in the UK, be considered a phenomenally poor chain of communication: it was simply taken for granted that everyone would go and there was therefore no need for me to know such small details as the fact that ‘giving condolences’ meant ‘going to a memorial service’, that it was today, located an hour’s drive away, and required appropriate clothing as well as arrangements for transport home. Simultaneously, however, we are seen as entirely other to the group. So other, in fact, that it does not matter if we rock up to a memorial for our boss’ wife looking like we stopped in on the way to the Henley Regatta.

An extra strand to this is that it did not cross my colleagues’ minds that showing my respect in the appropriate manner would be a matter of personal importance: in a society where group opinion and surface appearances trump individual will and genuine intention hands down, they simply did not understand why my appearance causing a grieving family I had never met to think ‘she clearly doesn’t know how to dress but we’ll let her off cos of being foreign’ would not constitute enough reassurance to put my scruples to bed. It was also entirely normal that it was the Japanese teacher trying to reassure me: she and the Chinese teachers – also foreign, but crucially Korean-looking enough to draw criticism if inappropriately attired – had all got the memo.

At this point, I felt, there was no right thing to do. However, trusting that my colleagues were right and the family would only think I was horribly ignorant rather than utterly disrespectful, was, I decided, a marginally better option than not turning up at all. I went, paid my respects, had my tea dress and foreign-ness scrutinized, and came home to a dark room and an entire pack of Choco Pies.

My highly productive and measured initial reaction to all this was one of mortified frustration-rage. By every yardstick of my culture, I had been monumentally snubbed with nauseating consequences. The rational side of my brain railed valiantly against this, pointing out that the situation was the result of an extreme and unfortunate convergence of factors I had known about before I left home; that my reaction could have no positive outcome; that no-one, even utter baddies, goes about monumentally snubbing people in this kind of context for no good reason. What had living far from home for so long taught me, Rational Brain argued, if not that the experience essentially constitutes a series of leaps of blind faith that such snubbing is not occurring, in spite of the chorus of cultural yardsticks screaming otherwise? Trouble is, some of these cultural yardsticks are so deeply stuck into our minds that we don’t even know that’s what they are – we think of them as solid markers of fundamental truths rather than permeable ideas subject to interpretation. For this reason, it took a while to really process and understand Memorial-Gate. Even now, although it’s something I can understand academically, I feel it (and my reaction to it) has changed my working relationships fundamentally which has been sad at times. In the next few posts I’m going to try and share some of the results: please feel free to leave me your comments, and/or your experiences with such things.
Wanderings and Ramblings of an ESL teacher currently based in a tiny mountain town near the North Korean border.

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