favourite things

Belgrade Does Art Right

Not content with simple black and white stripes, there's a crosswalk in the Dorcol quarter of Belgrade that is a literal zebra crossing, (I crossed this street about a dozen times, much to the confusion of the Belgraders in the area, I'm sure.) To visit, simply head to the Dorcol neighbourhood, located near the Danube River and Kalemegdan Fortress, and wander around...

Cleaning House

There was a period where I was moving around quite a bit. In nine years, I had eight different addresses that spanned five cities on three continents. The logistics of all of that, of course, meant I couldn't possibly keep a mass of possessions. 

With each move, I would evaluate which things I needed to...

Postcards: So Korean

Postcards: So Korean

It's been over six years since I left Korea and moved back to Canada, and yet, somehow, I'm still sorting through my two years' worth of photos. 

These are a few of my favourite things from Korea. Looking back, these are the things that, when I see them, I think "that's so Korean."

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!...

Gratitude for Being Canadian

Earlier this month, Henley & Partners, a firm specializing in residence and citizenship planning, released its annual Visa Restrictions Index. Of 219 destinations, Canada is tied for fourth place. With my Canadian passport, I am free to visit 170 countries without a visa—or at least pick up a visa upon arrival. That’s something I’m thankful for.

There are 13 other countries above us. Eleven of those are European; Germany and the United Kingdom are at the top with 173 easy-to-visit...

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.

Seoul Opens Subway Line 9

After many delays, Seoul finally opened its newest subway line, Line 9, on Friday. As a big fan of Seoul's subway system, I have been impatiently checking the news in an effort to ride the line on its opening day---heck, I would have been at the opening ceremony if I could!---but sadly, I missed it by two days.

After finally walking down into the station I've walked past (longingly, I might add) for the past several months, I discovered just how nice this new underground tunnel was for myself. It sure is pretty. Everything is grey or silver coloured, even vending machines, despite the "Gold Line" designation it's been given. Everything looks shiny, clean, and new.

seoul subway gold line 9

But there are a few things I noticed were lacking. I was disappointed to see that the trademark coloured stripe on the wall is missing. The station could use a splash of colour---and it would be helpful for the transfer stations on other lines, too. I'll let it pass for now, seeing as it's still a new line, but that gold stripe better get itself on those walls soon. And I also noticed that all subway stations on this line look exactly the same. Something I've loved about other lines is that most stations are uniquely designed---for example, Gangnam Station (Line 2) has its black and white circular tiles; Chungmuro Station (Lines 3 and 4) looks like a cave with its grey, rocky walls; Samgakji Station (Lines 4 and 6) has a war mural---giving each station its own character, and allowing subway users to quickly know what station they're at. Here, they all blend together.

The station also has some amazing map additions (okay, probably something not many people would get excited about, but I love it). Each station in the entire system comes equipped with lots of neighbourhood maps so users can find their way to attractions outside the stations, but at all stations on the gold line, they have two kinds of maps: one regular drawn map and one real-view aerial map. Aerial maps are awesome.

seoul subway station gold line 9

The train cars themselves are different too. First, trains only have four cars---half or less than half of other lines. Inside, the yellow handle bars alternate height for easier access. The seats are very comfortable, I'm told it's because they're a little wider, and the space underneath seats has been left open, which as far as I can remember doesn't happen with other lines. And there are no doors in between the cars, making it easier for users with wheelchairs.

Line 9 has an express line, too, meaning some trains skip stations and only hit the main ones. I thought it might be confusing, but it seems organized and well posted. Lots of volunteers are on hand now to help people figure it all out.

My first ride on the newest subway line was exciting. Now I'm looking for more reasons to go to Gangnam so I can ride it again.

How to Pose for Pictures in Asia

When taking pictures of Koreans, I've found there are two options for poses: 1) grumpy, unsmiling, and serious, or 2) cutey-patootey with curious hand gestures and facial expressions. The former is popular in formal situations, such as school portraits, taxi registration cards, or business photos, while the latter is usually reserved for informal, casual situations, like hanging out with friends, sel-ka (cell phone camera self-portraits, the oh-so-popular Korean hobby), and nights out.

I recently found a website of these so-called "Asian poses" including tears/teasing, horns, heart shape and giant heart, fighting fists, claws, and other favourites. While my students would be horrified (italics and bold necessary) if I ever posted pictures of them here, I can say that photos I've taken in my classroom have a large number of these creative poses.

The V-sign (uncorrectly called the "peace sign" by Westerners, including myself) is by far the most popular of all the poses; it's even one that I've adopted for my own photos. But it's not limited to the static (and dare I say, uncreative) hand-up-beside-you-with-the-V-and-smile; my students can strike a dozen different poses with this simple gesture, including the sideways-V-sign-around-an-eye, the V-sign-around-the-mouth, and the double-V-signs-covering-my-cheeks-to-make-it-look-like-I-have-a-small-face.

Me posing at Gyeongbok Palace

Me posing at Gyeongbok Palace

The desire to have a small face poses (ha!) a problem when taking pictures. Many of my students become shy when I point my camera at them, immediate reacting to over up their face, either entirely or in portions. Another popular pose, which has yet to be included in the website, is the I'm-covering-my-entire-lower-face-with-my-hand-so-that-you-can-only-see-my-eyes-because-I-think-this-makes-me-look-like-I-have-a-small-face. (I personally think it looks like they're being suffocated. Not cute.) Other variations of this pose include using fists to cover the lower half of the face, covering one cheek, or covering both cheeks with the palms in a V to make the face look more heart-shaped.

After reviewing this list of Asian poses, I've realized that I must take boring pictures. I usually like to smile, maybe throw up the V/peace sign, orif I'm feeling boldrest my hand on my hip. I have some work to do if I want to get these poses down before I leave Korea in six weeks.

Note: Updated 15 November 2015 to fix the broken link.

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.

BoA Sings "I'll Eat You Up"

Of all the K-pop songs I've heard in the past 22 months, this one is still my favourite. Kwon Boa was born just outside of Seoul in 1986 and was discovered by the head of SM Entertainment at the age of 13. Since then, as BoA ("Beat of Angel"), she's had success as a singer/dancer/model in both Korea and Japan. This year she went to the good ol' US of A in search of success there, as well.

I found out about BoA not through my students, like usual, but throughYouTube Live concert in Tokyo (yes, I am a huge nerd).  And the first time I saw this video, I became a fan. This girl can dance. I can imagine trying to break into the American music scene is tough for an Asian pop star (it's hard enough for Canadians, for goodness sake), but I hope she makes it.