5 tips to save you money/ time when arriving in South Korea

1. Get your Alien Card early. You should ask your co-teacher to bring you to immigration on your first or second day in your city. The earlier you get this card, the easier life will be. You can’t open a bank account or get a cell phone without this card.

2. Ask if any of your teachers has a spare cell phone. These days, people change cell phones like they do socks. Chances are someone in your school has an extra phone lying around. If they let you borrow it, you can then take it to a cell phone store to get a pre-paid plan, which is the most economical (unless you want a smart phone or use your phone incessantly). I got my plan through a place called NRC in Daegu. They have an office near Banwaldong. Super cheap.

3. Set up a KEB (NOT KB!) bank account. This is the best bank account for a waygookin: cheap fees for sending money back home; online banking that also allows you to transfer money overseas, which no other bank has; mostly English-speaking staff; and a check card that you can use overseas when you have your vacation in Thailand or China.

4. Check your ondol. When your teacher first shows your apartment, make sure you ask about the ondol (heater). Find out what buttons control the water heater and what buttons control the floor heater. Find out how to turn it off correctly and set the temperature correctly. Too many friends of mine didn’t figure these things out early and had very large gas bills.

5. Treat your teachers to pizza or chicken on your first payday. Not only is this polite, but trust me, if you do this one kindness, it will be repaid 10-fold throughout the year and you will always have food on your desk.

2011 Hi Seoul Festival highlights

When I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, my favorite time of year was early summer (and this is not only because winter was long gone). Every June, New Haven hosts the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

The Festival of Arts and Ideas is a two-week event bringing world class performances to the small city: dance, theater, concerts, art installations, circus acts and lectures on current events.

Best of all, most of the events were free.

To top it all off, New Haven’s hipster and counter-culture scene put on their own festival, Ideat Village, featuring local music, burlesque shows and the weirder aspects of the Elm City.

On those June days, I would stop by my favorite coffeeshop, grab an ice coffee and bagel, and walk the transformed streets.

I haven’t seen anything like it since … until last month when I visited the annual Hi Seoul Festival in South Korea’s capital city.

The Hi Seoul Festival is held in the spring and fall of every year. It’s a cultural event bringing together hundreds of artists in many different stripes for (mostly free) performances throughout the city. For the 2011 May Hi Seoul Festival, there was modern dance, puppetry, miming, theater, music from around the world, art installations and some very strange performance art.

There’s no better way to share the event with you than through videos and pictures so here we go:

Mimes in Korea? Who would’ve thought?! But there was Ko Jae Kyung, perhaps the best known mimist in Korea, performing a free show.

Pretty women, bouncy balls, a midget: I’m no fan of modern dance, but this performance by USD Modern Dance company held my interest.

A headless old man, killer fish, skeletons — you have to check out this performance by Theatre Nomad.

The Gwangalli Eobang Festival in Busan, South Korea

It was the best damn fish I ever had.

I don’t know what kind of fish. Or what all the spices were that the lady cook rubbed in. Frankly, the whole operation looked rather rustic. But for the next several years, the taste of that whole, sizzling fish will follow me. The juicy, flaky white meat falling from my chopsticks in one hand. The cold beer in my left. The heat, tang and salt mixing together in perfect harmony.

Now this was the fresh fish experience I was looking for in Busan, South Korea’s famous port city. Forget Jalgalchi Market. The best fish in Busan was in a small stand on one of Busan’s sandy beaches.

Chickpea and I were at the Gwangalli Eobang Festival — a three-day event celebrating Korea’s fishing heritage. Eobang means spirit of the fishermen in the coastal areas, so along with the normal trappings of a Korean festival — mascots, food tents, arts and crafts — there is also several ritual-like performances about fishing in the old days.

If you’re around Busan in the spring, I highly recommend it: if only for the food.

Here’s a look at the Gwangalli Eobang Festival:

Walking dogs in Daegu with the Korean Animal Protection Society

It would’ve been a bizarre sight anywhere, but watching 50 waygookins walking as many dogs through a park in the middle of a Korean city was downright freakish.

This was a dog walk organized by the Korean Animal Protection Society, or KAPS, one of the few animal advocates in Korea. The 20-year-old organization operates shelters in Daegu, taking in small dogs, big dogs and cats.

When Chickpea and I arrived at the shelter, just off the red line subway stop at Daemyeong station, there was already a crowd of foreigners looking to give these small dogs a much needed walk on a sunny spring day. The shelter itself is not impressive by any means — it’s dirty and reeks of urine — but it shows the nature of animal rights in Korea. The volunteers at KAPS are battling more than a shortage of funding and volunteers; they are up against old attitudes in Korea regarding animals and dogs in particular.

It’s no secret some Koreans still eat dog and the way some merchants butcher dogs is pretty distasteful by Western standards. But there is a general apathy toward animal welfare, too, mostly held by the older generation. One of the KAPS volunteers warned the group to stay away from older Koreans, who in past dog walks, showed verbal and physical aggression toward the dogs.

Happily, there were no issues during our walk around Duryu Park. Children and the elderly alike came up and patted the matted-haired mutts. Women squealed in delight at the site of pint-sized pooches. Men stopped their bicycles and asked questions about the dogs in broken English.

It was a good day to be a dog in Daegu.

For more info on the walks, check out the KAPS Facebook page.

Shilla Memorial Park: Korean version of a Renaissance Fair [video]

In late March, Chickpea and I visited the capital of Korea’s ancient Silla empire, Gyeongju.

Tucked between the Taebaek mountain range and the East Sea, Gyeongju is a small city that has married its ancient past with modern Korea surprisingly well. Unlike Andong, which delegates its historical sites to certain areas of town, Gyeongju has put office buildings next to antiquated tombs, temples near hotels. The whole city is ringed by three national parks and dozens of other historical sites.

It has been called a “museum without walls.” That makes it one of the best tourist spots in Korea. Unlike many other small cities in Korea, you can spend a weekend here and not see everything.

This time, we only had a day so we focused on Shilla Memorial Park. This attraction is basically a theme park based around the history of the Silla empire (57 BC – 935 AD). The park offers recreations of royal Silla villages, crafts, a hot spring spa area (which was closed when we visited) and a grand finale performance of an ancient battle. There’s also puppet shows and an interesting martial arts and horse-riding show.

It all seems interesting, but in reality, the park fell a little flat. Shilla Memorial Park isn’t the worse way to spend a day, but it seems like it would be more entertaining for children and their parents than some young waygooks. When you factor in the entrance fee of 18,000 won, it’s probably best to skip it and explore the actual historic sites in Gyeongju.

If you go: From Dongdaegu station in Daegu, hop on a bus leaving from a terminal directly across the street from the Dongdaegu subway entrance (4,200 won). From the Gyeongju bus terminal, catch a city bus to Shilla Memorial Park. The park fee is 18,000 won.

Teaching English is fun, or How I got my students to sing They Might Be Giants

I’m not always happy about living in Korea.

I’ll admit that on some days I roll out of bed and begin my day like a very grumpy zombie. On my walk to school, I curse the sun and the garbage piles and the construction crews destroying the stream near my apartment. Every time a Korean driver speeds up toward the intersection while I’m walking across, I inch closer to having an all-out conniption fit in the middle of the street. As the days get colder and my patience with winter thins, I wonder why I left my sunny city on the beach.

But as soon as I step foot on the schoolhouse grounds, my melancholy lifts. Little children in bright blues, pinks, greens and reds run around, giggling, hugging their friends and sending some very exuberant “Hello teacher!” words my way.

Of all the things that could make an English teacher in Korea hate their job, it shouldn’t be the students. (At least not elementary school students.)

Just the other day, one of my 5th grade classes did something that gave me that same “I’m-s0-glad-I-decided-to-leave-my-life-behind-and-come-teach-English-to-a-bunch-of-kids-in-a-strange-country” feeling. The previous week, they learned the days of the week and so I downloaded a song that would let them use their new English skills. I was a little worried, because they didn’t know all the vocabulary in the song’s lyrics, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

This is what happened:

Japan Benefit Concert in Daegu [video]

This weekend, Chickpea and I headed to downtown Daegu for some live music and drinks to help out the folks in Japan. DIY Daegu Live, Guerilla League, and URBAN organized eight bands, a DJ and some craft vendors for an awesome benefit show. Here’s some video of the bands from that night, including the first Korean death metal band I have ever seen (check it out, it’s at the 4 minute mark). I apologize in advance for the bad sound quality of the louder acts.

A look at the Daegu Orions Basketball team [video]

As the basketball season comes to a close here in South Korea, I wanted to post a montage of two games we attended. I’ve even included footage of our home team, the Daegu Orions, winning one of those games — a rare sight indeed! The video also features my favorite parts of basketball in Korea: the strange mascots, generous audience contests and always entertaining cheerleaders.

If you want to learn more about the Daegu Orions, check out this post by the team’s biggest fan. (Hint: She writes for this blog.)

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Cambodia takes a turn for the weird on the trip from Poipet to Siem Reap

Getting to Cambodia was only the beginning. After clearing customs, we walked out of the minuscule, un-airconditioned visa office into the dusty heat. Looking through the lazily-guarded fence, we could see the Thai bank where we had just changed our baht for dollars. (Cambodia has two officially accepted currencies: the riel and the more desirable US dollar. )

Our initial relief at a successful border crossing deflated almost immediately. With no real direction beyond few tips gleaned from travel blogs, we started wandering toward what we hoped was the shuttle service. Fewer than 20 feet from the visa office, we saw a naked baby, dirt-streaked and screaming on the sidewalk. He was alone. Someone had put an empty soda cup in his hand to collect money.

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Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Bussing it from Bangkok, Thailand to Poipet, Cambodia

When Alex and I reluctantly re-packed our backpacks to exchange Bangkok for the countryside of Cambodia, we weren’t prepared. Here in Korea, we usually know what to expect. Sure, there’s toilet paper at the dinner table, pocket-less billiards, and McDonald’s delivers, but outside of the obvious, I find day-to-day life fairly straightforward. Not so in Southeast Asia.

This became all too clear when we arrived at the Morchit (Northern) Bus Terminal for the first of our many bus trips across the region. We were there early — ungodly early — because Alex read that crossing the border after noon means long lines and lots of waiting. We bought our tickets for Poipet, handed over around $20 worth of baht, and went in search of our bus. That’s where it got interesting.

In Florida, land of suburbs and sprawl, driving is the only efficient way to get around. I’ve never used my hometown bus system, although I do ride the bus in my new Korean city of Daegu a few times a week. It’s fast, efficient and easy. It’s the polar opposite of our Southeast Asian bus experiences.

After finding our gate and walking cautiously out into the parking lot, we found that none of the buses were numbered. There were several marked as heading for Poipet — which one was ours was anybody’s guess. We soon learned that this is when folks lacking official uniforms approach and urge you to get into the nearest unmarked, unofficial van or bus, sometimes without even bothering to look at your ticket to check your intended destination. Learning when to trust strangers was more valuable than all the treasures we picked up a Chutachak Market.

Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, we settled in for the four-hour-long ride. Watching the skyscraper-studded cityscape fade into fields proved too exciting to fall asleep, even though it was still only 6 a.m.

Right on schedule, we saw casinos cropping up — the telltale sign that we were nearing a border town. It was only after the bus dropped us off in a parking lot — which held little more than a few fruit vendors, aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, and a pay-to-use bathroom carefully guarded by a few local women — that we began to realize we weren’t in the comfort zone of Thailand anymore. This was Cambodia, the sometimes-rival, sometimes-friend of neighboring countries. It’s unpredictable, it’s at once devastating and heartwarming, and red dust covers the glossy-safe sheen of everything we’d seen before.

I wasn’t ready.

Isn’t South Korea close to Japan?

Yesterday, Chickpea and I were talking about the tragedy in Japan and speculating about  our friends’ and family’s geography skills. Do they know that just a few hundred miles of water separates us from the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster that is Japan?

I can’t help feeling like we dodged a bullet here in South Korea. Sendai, the hardest hit city in Japan, is about 700 miles from us in Daegu – about the same distance from south Florida to North Carolina or San Diego to Mendocino in California. There’s still some worry about possible effects from the explosions at Japan’s nuclear reactors, but we probably won’t be affected. The winds and distance are in our favor, for now. (This has not stopped the English teacher community from speculating.)

UPDATE: The New York Times has an interactive map showing where the radioactive plume is headed.

Luckily, South Korea does not have to worry about its own earthquakes. They’re possible, but rare and not powerful. This is a good thing, because roughly 80 percent of all buildings in South Korea are vulnerable to quakes. That includes about 9 out of 10 schools. Not what I want to think about while writing this post at my elementary school desk.

Japan, on the other hand, was prepared. Looking at photos of the devastation, it’s hard to believe that Japan was possibly the most prepared nation for an earthquake/tsunami disaster. They’ve had early warning systems in place years before the 2004 Christmas Day tsunami. After all, tsunami is a Japanese word. If this quake had hit another country, we might see a catastrophe two or three times as deadly.

Still, it’s been tough to get the images of this tragedy out of my head. That might not seem like a feat, since the media is awash in pictures of the tsunami carrying away cars, homes and people, but with a new school semester I actually haven’t read one article about it before this post. Just a few clips on CNN were enough for me. It’s painful to watch these clips, knowing that dead bodies are beneath the water rushing through those streets. You can’t see them, but you know they are there.

It makes that 700 miles just a little too close for comfort.

On a more positive note: If you’re near Daegu next weekend, there is a benefit concert at URBAN in downtown Daegu. All the info is on the DIY Daegu Live Facebook page. It sounds like a great way to help out and cheer yourself up at the same time.

Korean Spring Festival Series: The Jindo Sea Parting fest

Korea is still clinging to the last vestiges of winter, but spring is (finally) almost upon us. That means it’s festival season in the Land of the Morning Calm. (See a handy and comprehensive festival guide here). Beginning in March, there’s a new fest nearly every weekend. Themes run from the beautiful (cherry blossoms!) to the bizarre (anchovies?), and it seems that there’s a tribute to satisfy the most eclectic of tastes.

One of the more popular and impressive fests is in honor of the Jindo Sea Parting. In two weeks, Alex and I are going to play Moses when a changing of the tides causes the sea between Jindo and Modo islands to mysteriously part, leaving nearly three kilometers of dry land. Fest-goers can walk the path, collecting abalone and marveling at the natural phenomenon, all the while hoping that global warming hasn’t caused some cataclysmic shift that will cause the seas to come rushing down ahead of schedule.

We’ve read varying accounts of the fest, with some semi-reliable sources saying that this year’s celebrations are canceled to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (darn that pesky virus!). But even if there aren’t any official activities, you can still get biblical with it and tackle the 40-meter-wide path on your own. We’ll be taking a bus directly from Daegu, but there are buses scheduled to travel to Jindo from several cities: here’s a bus schedule.

If you’d rather do a group thing (especially if you’re already in or near Seoul), check out this Facebook group. If you can spare the extra won for the sake of convenience, it includes the bus fare to Jindo, sleeping accommodations, insurance (they won’t be liable if you’re suddenly swallowed up by the sea) and an “entrance fee” (not really sure what this refers to).

And if you’re ready to start planning the rest of your Korean festival season, check out this list of events.

Photo courtesy of Contact Korea

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Thai Trippin’ – 13 things to do in Bangkok

We’re back in Korea and back to the grind. It’s the first day of the spring semester. Unfortunately, it doesn’t much feel like spring. I’m still dreaming of the warm weather, tropical fruit, green spaces and the impressive architecture of Bangkok, Thailand. We did too damn much while we were there to cover it all, but here are the highlights (and some suggestions if you find your way to this cosmopolitan Asian city):

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Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Breakdancing B-Boys in Bangkok [video]

Our first night in Bangkok, Chickpea and I decided to check out infamous Khao San Road. For those of you who didn’t see “The Beach,” Khao San Road is the main hub of backpackers and young tourists in Bangkok. Not surprisingly, this has also made it the epicenter of Thai kitsch and a kind-of counter culture-themed tourist trap. Fortune tellers, palm readers, beggars, scammers, tattoo artists, and a diaspora of people hawking college humor T-shirts, hippie accouterments and roasted scorpions, line every inch of this 4-block-long road.

Luckily, we escaped to a little mall hosting, of all things, a breakdancing tournament. Dozens of Thai b-boy bands battled each other for dance supremacy. Here’s a video montage of some of the best performances:

 

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Cambodia in photos

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Ten years of watching travel channel shows could have never prepared me for Cambodia.

It’s a beautifully sad country. Beautiful rice paddy and palm tree vistas. Sad, slumped wooden shacks in the distance. Beautiful, bright-faced children, their sad voices pleading for dollars. Amazing stone temples seemingly created by the gods. Broken arms and decapitated Buddha statues sad reminders of looting and the descrution of the Khmer Rouge.

It might be cliché, but it really is a beautifully sad country.

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: The quest for the elusive Vietnam visa

As I’ve mentioned before, the winter vacation for English teachers in South Korea is one of the most important times of the year. After nearly six months of cultural assimilation and the onset of winter blues, a few weeks on a beach in Thailand is just the rejuvenation many teachers need to continue their contract. For many teachers, this is the closest they will be to many of the Asian countries they’ve only read about and they take full advantage of the opportunity.

We’re no different, the only exception being we wanted to visit ALL the countries. So, in addition to Thailand and Cambodia, we planned a trip to Vietnam.

Planning the trip was the easy part; getting the visa was a different issue.

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Flying the ‘Greyhound of the Skies’: Adventures with Air Asia

Since noon the previous day, I’d been traveling. First by taxi, then by train, then by subway and bus for a failed Vietnam visa attempt, then another train, a plane and soon another plane.

At the 20-hour mark, I was in Kuala Lumpur; specifically, I was inside the Air Asia transfer terminal, which gave me that first feeling of being in another part of the world. And yet, it was also vaguely familiar. It wasn’t until the blown-out speakers woke me from my failed attempt at sleeping that I figured it out. It was just like a Greyhound bus terminal: dirty glass windows; blown-out intercoms that were too loud but still unintelligible; a mass of people moving at once to clear out to the gate; second- and third-rate eateries with dubious menus and even more dubious prices; uncomfortable seats filled with travelers contorting themselves in an attempt to sleep somewhat comfortably; an entire world mix of ethnicities brought together by cheap seats.

It would not have been so bad if the previous seven hours on my Air Asia flight from Incheon, South Korea to Kuala Lumpur wasn’t so uncomfortable. Dirty plane. Small seats. No free meal. . Confused flight attendants. Horrible music that came on every time I managed to sleep for a few minutes. Not even free water. Air Asia is truly the “Greyhound of the Skies.” In fact, some flights are actually cheaper than a Greyhound bus ticket, so I guess you get what you pay for.

That is, if you can figure out how to pay for the ticket. Air Asia has some major problems with accepting major credit cards on its website. Some people contend these are intentional, others insist it is just bad programming on their website. Either way, when you’re trying to pay for your vacation and only have one or two credit cards, it’s maddening.

A few more hours in this terminal, then a few more thanks to a flight delay, and I’m off to Bangkok. Luckily, the next time I board a plane (about two weeks later), it isn’t Air Asia.

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: A street food lunch in Bangkok, Thailand [video]

Yes, you finally made it to Bangkok after several hours on a sub-par Air Asia flight without a meal. But before embarking on your first tuk-tuk ride, or strolling through a golden wat, or catching your first Muay Thai fight, you must eat.

Luckily, no matter where you’ve ended up in the city, there’s a cart full of food on the corner. It smells good, it looks even better and it’s cheap.

Foodies have written whole books and filmed entire TV shows on the joys of street food in Thailand, so we won’t delve too deep here. This is a video of just one lunch — dare I say the best of our trip — easily and inexpensively collected near the U.S. Embassy. Enjoy!

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Muay Thai fights in Bangkok [video]

Experiencing a Muay Thai fight is one of the must-dos when visiting Bangkok. Muay Thai is called the “Art of Eight Limbs” and limbs were certainly flying in this shortened series of matches at Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. This video also features the traditional Wai Kru pre-fight dance, something you won’t find at a MMA event.

A few tips if you want to catch a boxing match in Bangkok:

1) Buy your tickets from the ticket booth. The Muay Thai fights are one of the more expensive entertainment options in Bangkok. We paid the equivalent of $30US a ticket for seats on a concrete slab behind a fence. The better seats can go up to $60US. So don’t take chances. Ignore the ladies in red or green vests in front of the building; they may look official, but they’re not.

2) Bring some snacks and beer. A series of matches typically run about 3-4 hours, and sometimes consists of lots of yelling, so you’re bound to get hungry and/or thirsty. Not surprisingly, the small concessions stand at the stadium is overpriced and not conveniently located near the cheap seats. But you are allowed to bring in outside snacks and drinks.

3) Don’t talk too much smack. The vast majority of Muay Thai fighters are teenagers and often weigh under 120 lbs. They look a little laughably skinny to be boxing, but don’t be mistaken: They are pure muscle. The last match I saw pit a white guy from the U.S. against a younger, skinnier Thai. The match lasted about 20 seconds, with the U.S. fighter knocked out cold.

Alex and Chickpea Do Southeast Asia: Vietnam is NOT my Facebook friend

Once you land in Vietnam, you realize fairly quickly that you are in a communist country. In the main cities, red flags line the streets. On corners, propaganda-laden billboards and the face of Ho Chi Minh stare down at you. Yet, after a little while, you just view these as just another part of the curious scenes that unfold daily.

For us, the full realization of what it means to live in a communist country didn’t come until we tried to log in to Facebook:

Denied.

It’s true. Without a fake IP address or some other workaround, you can’t access Facebook from within Vietnam.

It wasn’t always this way, which added to our confusion (some businesses proudly displayed Facebook websites). But in 2009, Vietnam began to crack down on Facebook, supposedly because some news events — easily controlled in the state media — began to run viral and, of course, unmanageable.

According to a recent Economist article, the Vietnamese government began another crackdown in late 2010 — just in time for the 11th Communist Party Congress, a five-year meeting among leaders to decide the country’s policy for the next 5 years.

Of course, we didn’t come to Vietnam to spend a day on the computer, stalking our friends back home. I would’ve liked to send a few messages to friends with birthdays and Chickpea had some addresses for postcards in her inbox, but it wasn’t anything major. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese aren’t so lackadaisical:

Internet-savvy Vietnamese quickly Googled solutions, shared them, and then used their blocked Facebook profiles to voice their annoyance at the Facebook block. One English-speaking city-dweller phrased their collective spirit succinctly: “FUCK YOU GOVERNMENT DON’T YOU HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO THAN BLOCK FACEBOOK”.

North Korea upset over ‘birthday’ balloons

Earlier this month, I posted an item about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s birthday and the “birthday balloons” sent up north by member of the South Korean government and activist groups.

Well, as it turns out, Mr. Kim doesn’t like balloons. At least not those with propaganda pamphlets and instant noodles attached.

From the Korea Times:

“The ongoing psychological warfare … is a treacherous deed and a wanton challenge to the demand of the times and desire of all the fellow countrymen to bring about a new phase … through all-round dialogue and negotiations,” a North Korean military official told the regime’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

A defense official said the North warned of firing on South Korean facilities involved in “psychological warfare” in a “self-defense action,” unless the South suspends its propaganda campaign.

This talk probably won’t deter South Korea, which is set on releasing another round of balloons soon, containing information about the revolts spreading across the Middle East.

 

Welcome to Korea, again: SHINee, ddukbokki and diary decoration in this edition of Letters from Korean Students

We’re back from our travels — and what travels they were. Southeast Asia was good to us (especially Thailand), but it was oddly comforting to be back in the land of anyeong haseyo, norae bang and Big Bang. That’s why I thought I’d share these sentiments from my students before launching into the tale of our myriad misadventures.

One of my winter camp lessons was on e-mail and letter writing. My kids were thrilled about the prospect of writing to my best friend Kalynn, once I convinced them that yes, she would really be reading their letters all the way in Florida.

So, without further ado, here are the burning questions my middle schoolers had for the world’s best biffle (entirely unedited, except for names):

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Welcome to Korea: Should I give my principal a gift?

In the few months before Chickpea and I arrived in South Korea for our new teaching gig, one of the things we stressed over was what kind of gift to give to our co-teachers, principal and vice principal. According to blogs and advice of former native English teachers, gift-giving is a large part of Korean culture and new teachers often give several gifts to the important people at their school. And when you consider how much your Korean co-teacher(s) help you acclimate to a new country, a token of thanks seems reasonable, no matter where you’re from.

But Chickpea and I didn’t want to just bring some oranges or beach sand in a glass bottle. We wanted to make an impact! We wanted to bring something so unique, that when our principal went out for drinks with the other principals around Daegu, he could brag with pride and make all the other principals lower their heads in shame.

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