A Serbian Wedding

A Serbian Wedding

On a small boat on the Danube and Sava rivers, on a warm July evening in front of a small audience of about twenty friends and family, my friends got married. We were docked for the short ceremony, which took place in both Serbian and English (required by law, as my friend suggested, so that foreigners wouldn't get duped into marrying a Serb). 

As kuma (Maid of Honour) I should have helped with a bit of the planning, like booking a band. But I was relinquished of those duties immediately after accepting the position, as it was clear I had no idea how I was supposed to do that from Canada. The groom put together a beautiful ceremony and reception that combined Canadian and Serbian wedding traditions.

Seoul Sonnet

How do I love Seoul? Let me count the ways.
I love the smell, the sight, the touch, the sound,
Of subways and shopping malls kept underground;
A fun way to spend time during commute delays.

Up above ground, under a clear blue sky,
I love the city parks in which to play,
Where Seoulites can relax and spend the day
In nature, away from traffic nearby.

A love the combination of old and new,
Aged palaces and temples sharing space
With modern high rises in the same place.
And I love the Han River flowing though.

I love the parties in the streets of Seoul,
The many festivals and fun celebrations
That unite people from different nations.
It's these occasions that make a city whole.

There's so much more that can't be counted in lists,
Like the joy in finding new places to explore,
Or the change in oneself that can't be ignored.
But perhaps what's most important is this:
No matter what I do or where I roam,
I love how this city always feels like home.

Start of Goodbyes

Today, my seventh-to-last day of teaching regular classes at Dongduk, I received a little going-away present from three of my students. All three are first year students (the equivalent of grade 7 in North America), and two of the three had been in a few of my after-school programs this year. None of them are strong students---at all---but they has never stopped them from coming to talk with me after class, which I've always loved. They presented me with a small envelope. Inside was a letter and some earrings. I was immediately impressed with the length of the letter; it was much longer than any composition they had written for me before. In the letter, they introduced themselves as "3 girls who received candies in 1-1 class." Apparently my prizes have made more of an impression on the students than I thought! They went on to tell me that they are sad to see me leave, and asked, "Will you be happy without us??" Knowing that I will miss them, they answered for me: "Maybe you won't HaHa~"

The pink, candy-shaped earrings, the girls wrote, were "composed of [their] minds," which, although I don't quite know what they meant by that, I appreciate the sentiment. Not my usual style, but I gladly put them on and am currently wearing them with pride.

The letter ends with a request to think of them often---something I'll have no problem fulfilling. How could I forget?

This has gotten me thinking about some of my old teachers. Some of them I remember for being great teachers, or for helping me learn about myself. I never would have gotten through math if I didn't have Ms Chalmers in high school for three years. Or, though I wasn't his biggest fan at the time, Mr Sardine pushed me hard in English, and I have to thank him for that. Keck, my drama teacher, supported me through my growing years in high school.

But there are also those I remember for telling us that they hated teaching. I never knew why a teacher would announce to their students that they hated being there with us day in and day out; it's not like we didn't know they were huge grumps, but to tell us straight up they didn't want to be there? That's harsh. Then why are you here? I would telepathically ask them from my seat.

Now, after being a teacher myself, I question their actions even more. WHY WERE YOU A TEACHER?? I want to scream at them. I have loved my job here since Day 1; I'm energized as soon as I get in the classroom, even if I was falling asleep on the bus on the way to school. I feel priviledged to be a teacher, to do my best to help these students grow as people as well as English speakers.

My students don't need to ask me to remember them. I always will.

N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower (known as Namsan Tower before its renovation a few years ago) is probably the most well-known landmark in Seoul. How could it not be when it's seen from just about anywhere in the city? It sits on top of Namsan, a small mountain in the middle of the city, just north of the Han River. I visited the tower once, for my 100th day in Korea celebration. The observatory has a view of the whole city. It's an amazing sight, especially at night.

Happy Teachers' Day to Me!

A note from a few of my students

A note from a few of my students

My students enjoyed parties in their homerooms this morning, complete with cakes and balloons. Teachers' Day in Korea is no small celebration---like always, Koreans celebrate thoroughly. But, having said that, it wasn't entirely different from a regular day. I'm greeted with expressions like "I love you, teacher" on a regular basis. Students often run up to me in the halls and hug me. Sometimes little presents are left on my desk, like snacks, pictures, or random trinkets. In fact, I get so many snacks that I keep a box on my desk to hold them all, so that whenever I'm hungry, I can easily find a little something to munch on.

Today, I got all of those, too: a slice of cake (complete with candles), a sweet letter, and a carnation. Just another day that's got me thinking, I love my job. The note left on my desk read:

Dear the most beautiful teacher

Hello, teacher. We really thank you for teaching us earnestly. We will also try harder to learn more even though there are some difficulties from every students to understand you. We really respect your courage to move to such a far country from Canada without family. We hope to learn your adventures personality. Teacher, Dong Duk students always love you!!

Sincerely, Dong Duk students

I don't think there could be anything sweeter than that!

On Teachers' Day in Korea, it's common for ex-students to visit their old teachers and give them a carnation flower. Some of my co-workers have plans to visit their old teachers this weekend. This holiday really shows how much teachers are valued here, and I'm so happy I get to be a part of it.

Jacques Barzun, a French-American cultural historian and author, once said, "In teaching, you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years." That couldn't be more true. And Teachers' Day is one way that Koreans show their appreciation for their teachers, even years later.

Hi Seoul Fest & Lotus Lantern Fest

This weekend was the beginning of the colourful Hi Seoul Festival, spring edition. As one of the biggest and best of all Seoul's festivals, organizers have decided to multiply the fun times four. This year, for the first time, the festival will be held once a season instead of just once a year. And because one huge festival is not enough for a city of 10 million residents, the Lotus Lantern Festival also commenced this weekend. This festival is a week-long celebration of Buddha's birthday.

Lotus Lantern Fest at Cheonggyecheon

Lotus Lantern Fest at Cheonggyecheon

Over the weekend, I managed to attend several events, including a couple of parades, an “Imagination Factory,” and a water gun fight. Sunday night was a big night of parades. For three and a half hours, some friends and I watched thousands of people march, dance, and sing their way down Jongno Street. Unfortunately, it was a little rainy---a big no-no with parades, especially those involving lanterns---but it actually was okay. The crowds were thinner than they would have been otherwise, so those of us who braved the drizzle were treated with better views.

Hi Seoul parade
Hi Seoul parade

On holiday Monday (Children’s Day), I spent the day wandering around City Hall and Cheonggyecheon Stream, photographing the adorable children participating in the fun events Hi Seoul organized for their special day. Seoul Plaza at City Hall offered lots of crafts (that I would have done myself if I thought I could get away with it) and physical activities like trampolining and tight-rope walking (again, things I would have liked to have done myself if I could pass for a child!).

water gun fight at Cheonggyecheon
water gun fight at Cheonggyecheon

Over at Cheonggyecheon, the warm and sunny weather provided the perfect day for the largest and funnest water gun fight I’ve ever been a part of. Organizers handed out water guns to the kids (and towels to their parents) and let the children loose. Anyone brave enough to be in the area was guaranteed to get wet, but no one was complaining. It was definitely the highlight of my weekend.

Since the Hi Seoul Festival continues until next weekend, I’m thinking of going back for a rematch...

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Coronation of King Sejong
Having Fun in the Streets of Seoul
Children's Day at Hi Seoul Festival

A Calendar of Love Days in Korea

Koreans love love. It's everywhere you look in this country. Before I moved here, I read that it's uncommon to see couples kissing on the street and that visitors should refrain from doing so themselves. I thought I would find a very conservative, private bunch of people who shied away from public displays of affection.

But I was wrong. Sure, I don't see couples kissing on the street very often, but believe me, they aren't shy about their displays of affection.

On the subways and on the streets, couples don't just hold hands, they embrace with their entire bodies. They may not lock lips, but they're attached everywhere else. And for in between those public displays of affection, couples indulge in "couple wear"---matching outfits---so that no passer-by misjudges them as "just friends."

With the desire to celebrate their love at every opportunity, couples have a selection of love-days throughout the year. The 14th of every month is some kind of celebration of love. As mentioned earlier, 14 January is Diary Day, when couples give diaries to each other so they can mark all their anniversaries and important "couple days" in preparation for the year ahead. Then, 14 February and 14 March are the two most popular love-days: Valentine's Day and White Day, respectively.

For those lacking a significant other, today's your day. It's called Black Day---the anti-couple and anti-love holiday. Today, singles all over the country will get together and eat Jjajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce) because, as my Korean friend put it, "they are sad." While Valentine's Day is celebrated all over the world and White Day actually originated in Japan, Black Day is proudly all Korean.

Here's the full list of monthly love-days (so get out those calendars!):

14 January: Diary Day
14 February: Valentine's Day
14 March: White Day
14 April: Black Day

14 May: Rose Day, on which lovers exchange roses, and lonely singles give yellow roses to their friends.
14 June: Kiss Day, a day for lovers to, well, kiss each other passionately.
14 July: Silver Day, when couples give silvery things to each other, ideally some silver rings "to make promises for their future" and, to top it off, couples also ask friends and family for money to pay for their date!
14 August: Green Day, for couples to picnic in parks, and singles to get drunk off soju, Korea's favourite green-bottled alcohol.
14 September: Photo Day, so couples can take pictures of their togetherness.
14 October: Wine Day, when lovers share a glass of wine and share their love.
14 November: Movie Day, a special holiday for couples to go out and watch a movie together (probably while wearing coordinating couple wear and holding each other close).
14 December: Hug Day, for couples to warm up for the cold winter months ahead (but those lonely singles are left shivering alone, I guess).

Couples also celebrate each other's birthdays, anniversaries, and hundred-day anniversaries, and there's also the popular Pepero Day (11 November) and, of course, Christmas... Maybe it's less about love and more about consumerism.

But I don't want to be negative. Koreans are caring, affectionate people, so a little celebration of love, whether it be friendship-love or romantic-love, is okay with me.

Happy White Day

Happy White Day

Just last month, on 14 February, couples all over the world celebrated Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day here in Korea, couples don't exchange presents. It's only the women who buy chocolates for their significant other. But in the spirit of equality, White Day was created for the fellas. Today, on White Day, men are expected to reciprocate with gifts for their special lady, of course more expensive gifts than they received. Men usually give candies, jewellery, dolls or stuffed animals, or flowers.

I just learned that there's a special holiday for couples on the 14th of every month. I missed the first one of the year, "Diary Day" on 14 January. On this quiet holiday, couples can exhange diaries marked with their anniversaries and other important dates so they're ready for the year ahead. Then, Valentine's Day and White Day in February and March are the two most important couple holidays of the year.

I'm counting down the days (only 31 to go!) until the next holiday...