Life in South Korea


It’s Canada Day!!  Today I’m missing summer stuff a little bit extra.  Here’s to BBQs, cottages, fireworks, patios etc., all that good stuff that just doesn’t exist or isn’t the same here in Korea.

I taught all my classes about Canada today, told them about poutine and played some of them the national anthem.  Here are the top 3 funniest answers I got to the question “What is the capital city of Canada?” (from one of my 6th grade classes)

3.  “New York”

2.  “Luxembourg”

1.  “Octopus”

Have a Keiths for me today everybody.  Cheers.


There’s a very good reason why I haven’t posted anything in about a month…  I don’t really have all that much interesting (?) stuff to say lately.  Korea isn’t really all that  new and exciting for me anymore.  I don’t mean that in a negative way; I’m still enjoying my time here, it’s just that I guess I’ve sort of become used to daily life. 

My routine at school is pretty set by now, the kids know me and what to expect every day and I in turn have realized and accepted that I will never get all of them to shut up for more than 5 minutes at a time.   I’ve gotten to know my city really well also and have a pretty good handle on where to go, what to eat etc.  The crazy drivers, funny English signs, drunken 75 year olds etc don’t seem to amaze me like they did a few months ago.  It’s all part of “living in Korea” that seems to have gone from “exotic and exciting” to “routine.” 

When i think about the fact that I’ve been here for over 8 months I find it hard to believe.  Time is still flying by and I know the last few months will go ever quicker.   I’ve only got about 1 month left in the spring semester then I’ve got 10 days of vacation, a 3 week summer camp (read: hell), 2 weeks vacation then I’m essentially done. 

I’m going to try to use my vacation time to travel around Korea a bit, and I’m trying to plan for about a week in Beijing at some point as well, so look for this blog to have some interesting pictures/anecdotes later in the summer, but until then…well, there’s a reason I never had a blog before coming to Korea and it’s because average, daily life is pretty boring.  And who wants to read that?

Anyway I hope everyone is having a good summer.  I’ll leave you with some interesting answers/quotes I’ve heard from some of my students in the past few weeks.   Cheers.


Me:  How are you today?

6th grader:  It’s rainy! (said on a sunny day)


Me:  How are you?

2nd grader:  I’m Pineapple!


Me:  How old am I?

4th grader:  11!!

Me (pointing to myself):  11?

4th grader:  no no no no. 

Me:  How old?

4th grader:  12!!


Me: What’s your favourite food?

5th grade student:  Kitchen!  (can only assume this kid meant ‘chicken’)


Me:  Tell me something that’s “cheap.”

6th grader:  My body!

Me:  I wouldn’t advertise that.

6th grader:  What?

Me:  Nevermind.


Me:  What are some things we can do in the summer?

6th grader:  Ice hockey!


Me:  Hello!

Kindergarten student at start of class:  See you tomorrow!


Me:  Tell me a delicious American or Canadian food.

6th grader:  Kimchi.

My English Room

My English Room

Some of you have probably heard me mention the awesome new English Room my school built during the winter vacation (actually the direct translation of the sign over the door is “English Experience Having Room”).  Anyway I thought I’d give you a look at it just to prove I wasn’t exaggerating.  The school dropped about 40 grand hooking this room up with things like Surround Sound, a Big Screen LCD TV, a reading section, a new desk/computer etc.  They even put in tables on wheels so I can adjust group sizes, change the room layout, or even clear the entire floor for a big game of Musical Chairs or Simon Says.

The reading area

The reading area

While all that stuff is great, my favourite thing about this room is that I get to stay here all day.  Last semester they had me running from class to class to teach.  This semester, the kids come to me.  Not only does this make my life about 100x easier, but there is also the chance that a class will just randomly not show up, which gives me a couple extra break periods a week!

Some artwork by the kids

Some artwork by the kids

These last few pictures are of my very own brainchild.  This is what happens when a big College Basketball fan is deprived March Madness….I made my own!  That’s right, four classes and 77  sixth graders facing off in a head to head, single-elimination, rapid-spelling tournament.  I’m even having a trophy made up for the winner.   Just goes to show that you can make anything into a competition if you try hard enough.  (For the record, we’re into the 2nd round and the kids freakin’ love this game.)

The Bracket

The Bracket


The kids have to use magnets to spell the words as fast as they can.  There are some pretty funny results at times. (April)

The kids have to use magnets to spell the words as fast as they can. There are some pretty funny results at times. (April)


Here’s the thing about Korean music.   It’s all pop and it’s all horrible.  The worst part about it is that you can’t escape it.  Every where you go, you hear the same songs over and over again.  Cell phone stores, coffee places, bars, clubs, restaurants… it makes no difference.  No matter where you go, crappy Korean pop music will follow.   (The one below is even featured in cell phone commercials ).  To a certain extent you can get used to it, and after awhile it’s just like white noise.    But every once in awhile a song comes around that is beyond annoying.   This is one of those songs.  (check out the English subtitles if you want a laugh).  I thought I’d share my pain.


I walked  downtown today to pick up a couple things because it was a beautiful day and  figured I would take my camera along.  These might only be interesting to me, but I thought I’d throw a few of the more bizarre/funny things I saw.   At very least these should help you understand a little bit about the Korean mindset/Korean life.

("Buy now and sove tan percent").  A simple example of how common it is to see incorrect English around Jeonju.  Unless of course they meant to combine "shop" and "sharp" into a superword.  But somehow I doubt that.

("Buy now and sove tan percent"). A simple example of how common it is to see incorrect English around Jeonju. Unless of course they meant to combine "shop" and "sharp" into a superword. But somehow I doubt that.

And here I was looking for the bad restaurant...

And here I was looking for the bad restaurant...


Classic Korean parking maneuver.  When in doubt, just throw it on the ground.

Classic Korean parking maneuver. When in doubt, just throw it on the ground.

This photo doesn't show it too well but these 2 goofs were walking down the street sharing headphones.  If you ever see me do that please end my life immediately.

This photo doesn't show it too well but these 2 goofs were walking down the street sharing headphones. If you ever see me do that please end my life immediately.



First let me say I don’t agree with hitting children.   I’ve never (intentionally) hit a kid and I don’t plan to.  There are times when I want to, sure.  There may even be times when I envision my kids flying out of windows etc.  But, like most people back home, I won’t hit a kid simply because it’s just plain wrong.  Koreans, however, do not share this feeling.  Not only is hitting kids acceptable here, it’s common practice.  Hell I think it’d be the national pasttime if Koreans weren’t so awesome at badminton.

It was a 60 year old male teacher’s particularly brutal forearm to the back of a 3rd grade girl’s head the other day in my class that inspired me to write this actually.  I’m pretty sure that’s not even allowd in UFC.  She was talking so he walked up behind her and absolutely clocked her.  He’ s not alone either.  Most of the teachers that accomany their classes to the English Room will smack a kid if he or she is acting up.  At first I thought it was an older generation of teachers that did it and it was being phased out.  Nope.  I’ve since seen lots of younger teachers do it pretty regularly. 

Now don’t get me wrong here.  Most of the time it’s a relatively light smack to the back of the head or the shoulder that doesn’t do much damage.   But there are definitely times when a kid is going home with a bruise.  Every teacher has a “beating stick” as I like to call them, which is essentially a this wooden stick about 2 feet long that they smash against tables and chairs (at times even kids) to scare their kids into silence.  This thing works like you wouldn’t believe.  One time when I was new here I picked up the stick thinking it was a pointer and the kids cowered.  I asked one kid what the problem was and she pointed at the stick (still cowering) and said “ouch.”   All I did was pick it up for 10 seconds and the class was silent for the next 15 minutes. 

Another time I was in the nurse’s office, having a cup of coffee when a teacher comes in towing a 5th grader who is bawling her eyes out.  He had smashed her on the hand with the beating stick for not doing her homework and they were afraid she had broken it.   The nurse confirmed it might be broken and sent the kid to the hospital for x-rays.  When they left I asked “won’t he get in trouble for that?”  The nurse just shrugged it off.  Business as usual I guess.

The problem with hitting kids being so common here (aside from the obvious), is that after a while the kids realize that you, their foreign teacher, won’t hit them no matter what they do.  This makes them much harder to control.  So when their teacher looks up from the other side of the English room where he/she is taking a nap, realizes that his/her class is being bad, comes over quietly and nails a few of them, it’s hard to  keep from feeling at least a little happy.  That’s why you don’t talk when Andrew-teacher is talking kid, cause your teacher will bring the pain on my behalf.



It’s a field trip day at my school today, so all the kids are gone on picnics and I still have to be here for some reason.  I can’t really think of anything interesting to write at the moment, so I thought I’d bring this to people’s attention instead.  This is one of the funniest thing I’ve heard of in a long time… 

There is a woman from my city who has failed the WRITTEN driving test here over 770 times.  No, that’s not a typo.  770 times.  The estimate is that she’s dropped over 4 grand just for application/test fees etc. 

Anyway, check out the article here.

God help us all (especially me, who lives in her city) if she ever passes the test and is allowed behind the wheel of a car.  I find Korean drivers scary enough as it is.

The most ironic part of this whole story?  Her last name is “Cha” which is Korean for, you guessed it, ‘car.’


Hey all,

Having lived in Korea for over 6 months now, I think it’s finally time I write something about the food here.  I’ve grown fond of a lot of different Korean foods that I had never tasted much less heard of before I came here. In Toronto, as most of you know, the only Korean food you really get is Korean BBQ unless you’re prepared to wade through Korea town and order by pointing.  Korean BBQ is good of course, but Korea definitely has more to offer.  

While Korean food is definitely good, living here for this long has also made me realize how good I had it in Toronto, where you can get any kind of food you want, pretty much at any time.  There are some foods I am really missing here, and when I think that it’s going to be 6 more months before I can have them, it makes me a little frustrated.   So I thought it would be an interesting idea to contrast my top 5 favourite Korean foods with the 5 foods I miss the most from back home.  I’m sure the latter half will be significantly less interesting, but hey if writing about the food I want is going to make me feel better then I’m doing it.  So here, we go.   Leading off my with my favourite Korean food.  (all these pictures are stolen from people using google)

1.  Dak Kalbi

Dak Kalbi is spicy chicken pieces cooked at your table with healthy doses of cabbage, rice cakes and hot sauce.  You take a piece of lettuce in your palm, add chicken, rice cake, cabbage, maybe a hot pepper or piece of garlic, a little red pepper sauce and eat.  Delicious.  Sounds spicy and it is, but it’s also amazing.  This is a staple of Korean cuisine and it’s almost criminal not to drink copious amounts of Soju and beer when having this.

2.  Kim Bap

Kim bab is basically Korean sushi.  They’re like “california rolls” i guess.  Except they rarely have any seafood in them and usually have things like ham, egg, cucumber etc.  Really delicious.  By far the best kind in my opinion is called “Chamchi Kim bap” and has tuna mixed up in it.  Kim Bap is definitely the post bar food of choice for Koreans and the little restaurants and stands that serve them are usually open pretty late.



3.  Beef Bulgogi

I’ve had homemade beef bulgogi a few times here, and when it’s made well it’s amazing.  Tangy beef that’s a little bit spicy.  You can put it in lettuce like Dak Kalbi or just eat it on its own.  It’s awesome.



4.  Sam Gyup Sal

Sam Gyup Sal is similar to Dak Kalbi in that you make your own little lettuce taco, except instead of spicy chicken Sam Yeop Sul is pretty much fatty bacon.   Excellent when eaten with cooked onion and mushrooms which you throw in the lettuce wrap as well.  The only thing about Sam Yeop Sul is that I’ve had really, really good Sam Gyup Sal (homemade, cooked on a farm probably my best meal in Korea), and really bad Sam Gyup  Sal, so it depends a lot where you get it from.  Luckilly, Koreans usually know where you should and shouldn’t go to get this.


5.  Kim

Kim is dried, usually toasted in some kind of salty oil, seaweed.   It’s awesome by itself as a snack, and even better wrapped around some rice.  A lot of bars give you this free with a spicy soya sauce for free when you drink.  Tastes a lot better than it sounds.  Trust me.



So those are 5 Korean foods I’ve grown to love while living here.  Do they make up for not being able to have these 5?  ….Not sure.   Ask me in about 5 months.    As good as the above foods are, I haven’t gone 6 months without having #1 on the below list in a very, very long time.  So here are the 5 foods I miss from home the most.  If you’re in Toronto and planning a long term trip, I recommend hitting these places one last time before you go, cause trust me, you’ll miss them when you’re gone.  (NB this list does not include anything made by my mother cause we’d be here all day)

1.  Duff’s Wing

What else do I really need to say about these.  Hands down the best wings ever and if you disagree, well, you suck.  With every Tuesday that passes that I don’t get Duffs it makes me that much sadder.  I don’t miss ‘wings,’  I miss Duffs.



2.  Johnny’s

From the best wings in Toronto to the best burger.  Eating the crap that passes for a burger here (McDonalds or a McDonalds rip off called Lotteria) gets harder and tastes worse each time (I usually reserve it for post bar and it still tastes like crap).  I’d do horrible things for  Johnny burger right now.



3.   GOOD subs.

We have subs here.  Sort of.  They’re O.K., but they’re a far cry from anything like Subway, Quiznos or Bellys.  You definitely can’t get a real Italian BMT or anything even close.


4.  Keg steaks

We have Outback here.  I went once and paid 40$ for a bloody, subpar steak.  I ordered medium and it looked like they almost forgot to kill the cow.   There’s “steak” like that then there is real steak.  Keg steaks.  Or Costco steaks cooked at home.  Either way a good steak is impossible to get in Jeonju, despite paying a lot.



5.  It’s hard to pick just one thing to round out the top 5 but I’m going to have to go with good Indian food.  I had some in Japan and it made me remember how much I’ve missed it.  No such thing in Jeonju.



Well now I’m starving.  Until next time folks.  I’ll leave you with one that’s not technically food, but something  that I just might miss more than any of the above foods.  Cheers,



My school has a “test day” today so basically I have no classes but still have to sit here like a jackass in an empty room for the whole day.  Beats working I guess, but not sleeping.  Anyway I figured I’d use this time to answer some questions I hear a lot from people back home about various different things.  So here we go, starting with one inspired from Hugo’s last comment:

Q: “since you’ll have been in Korea for a while does this mean that anytime people are gonna take pictures of you in them are you gonna do the “peace” thing Asians do?”

A:  As Joanna mentioned in a comment, yeah, I have already done this a lot.  In fact, it is impossible to avoid doing this.  About 95% of the time someone wants to take a picture with you, they make you do the weird Asian “peace” thing.  I tried to hold out and not do the peace thing, but I realized about a week into being here that trying to avoid this for the next year would be much more of a hassle than just doing it.  For the record though, I still feel stupid whenever I do it.  I don’t think any amout of time in Korea could help that.  (For anybody who doesn’t know what I’m talking about here, I’ll throw a picture of me doing this up when I get back home.  And also, how is it possible you’ve never seen Asians taking pictures before, where do you live?  )


The "peace" thing. (Also interesting side note: Koreans don't say "cheese" when taking a picture. They say "kimchi." Go figure.


Q:  “When are you coming home?”

A: Depending on how much travelling I do after my contract finishes at the end of September, I’ll probably be home in late October.  Let’s go out for a (many) beer(s).


Q:  Can you speak Korean?

A:  안녕  나는 앤드류 입니다.  (‘Hello, my name is Andrew”).  I can speak a little Korean, usually enough to get by with the help of hand signals and my handy phone dictionary.  I am constantly learning though, and I have just started taking lessons in which I exchange Korean lessons for English lessons twice a week so that should help a lot.   Luckily, the Korean alphabet is extremely easy to learn and I learned to read and write about 6 weeks after being here.


Q:  1) What are Korean girls like?  2) Japanese or Korean girls?

A:  1) Just like Korean girls at home except there are way more of them, they dress better and speak worse English.  A lot of them are pretty good looking.  2) Japanese.


Q:  1) What’s the food like?  2) Do they really eat Dog?  3) Have you eaten dog?  4)  Are you sure? Maybe you’ve eaten dog without knowing it.  5)  Yeah, I bet you’ve eaten dog.

A:  1)  The food is actually really good.  All of it is really spicy, so if that’s your thing then Korea it’s great.  My neighbour’s got some good info on Korean food in his blog.   I’m actually planning on doing a whole thing about food with pictures etc. when I work up the energy to do it, so I won’t say too much on Korean food now other than it’s for the most part delicious and very healthy.         

      2) Yes, some Koreans eat dog.  However, most Koreans do not.  Dog is available here, but only at speciality restaurants that are required to have a licence to serve it.   Some Koreans are embarassed by the fact that their country eats Dogs, others are proud of the culinary history behind it.   When you think about it, it’s not really all that weird.  I mean we eat baby cows and cute little lambs etc.   I told some of my kids that some Canadians eat Elk and they looked like they wanted to yack on the spot.    Oh and it’s important to understand that Koreans do not just snatch up dogs of the street an throw them on the grill.  The dogs they eat are specially born and raised to be eaten (just like any other livestock).

       3)  No I have not eaten dog.  I was considering trying it before I got here, but then during my first week I saw a truckload of the special “yellowy brown” dogs that they eat go past and they reminded of Molly (my dog) so… no dog for  me.

        4)  Yes I’m sure I haven’t eaten dog.  No Korean would be so rude as to serve dog to a foreigner without first warning them (trust me). 

       5)  That’s not a question jerk.  And shut up I haven’t eaten dog.


Q:  Isn’t teaching Korean kids hard?  How do they understand you?  How do you not get frustrated etc.?

A:  Teaching Korean kids can be hard at times, especially with no co-teacher (lots of foreigners get co-teachers.  I didn’t), and yes I do get frustrated sometimes obviously like when I tell my 3rd graders to open their books and it takes them 10 minutes.  But hey, that’s part of the job right?  For the most part, the kids want to understand, and that really helps.   Most of the kids have a very basic understanding of English so I can usually express O.K. what I want them to do.  Also “listen and repeat” is magic.


Q: 1) Is there lots of baseball there?  2) Are you playing baseball?  3) Are you dominating in the Korean Baseball League (I have actually been asked this several times)? 

A)  1)  Yeah baseball is pretty big here (Korea just finished second in the World Baseball Classic).  It’s on T.V. a lot, but the sport of choice, especially with kids is definitely soccer.  Park Ji Sung plays for the famous soccer team Manchester United, so everybody here loves him, loves them, and loves soccer.

      2)  No, I am not playing baseball here.  I do play volleyball every wednesday though (but I’m not very good).  Although I have stepped onto the playground to dominate the 6th graders at stickball every once in a while.  (“Canada, Canada, homerun homerun!”)

      3)  No of course not.  While the Korean baseball league is definitely a lower caliber of ball than in America, the mere fact that I’m white and an O.K. at baseball does not grant me instant walk-on status.  There’s no way I could make their teams.


Q:  Do you miss home yet?

A:  Yeah, sometimes.   Mostly  just family/friends, and a lot of the food (more on that later).  But this experience is still great, and I’m definitely glad I came.  I can’t believe I’m more than half way done, the time has flown by.


Well that’s all for now, I’m going to waste time some other way.  Hopefully I answered some questions.  I Hope everyone is doing well, and those in school are surviving the home stretch.  Cheers.

Jo finding her inner Nori during her visit

Jo finding her inner Nori during her visit

I think it’s  time I finally posted about Korea’s favourite past-time: Nori Bong.   First of all,  I should say that to fully understand Nori Bong you have to participate.  I’ll do my best to describe it for you here, but it’s  really something you have to experience, with Koreans present, to really understand.    Nori Bong translates literally into English as  ‘Singing Room.’  It’s basically Karaoke, but instead of a bar, you sing in private rooms with only your group.   So instead of one person/group making an ass of themselves in front of a bar, you get to make an ass of yourself in front of your friends from the luxury of a room with a few leather couches, a mini-stage and usually some kind of coloured-disco ball/light effects.

Some Nori Bongs are decorated with Alien themes including life size replicas.  (This just might be my favourite picture of me ever)

Some Nori Bongs are decorated with Alien themes including life size replicas. (This just might be my favourite picture of me ever)

As you can probably guess from that description, Nori Bong usually takes place towards the end of a long night of drinking,  because really,  most people wouldn’t do this sober.   Before you ask, yes, they have a lot of English songs in their catalogue.  Although their collection is pretty random but I guess that’s to be expected.   

There are Nori Bong places all over, especially near universities etc.  It seems to be very popular with students, but people of all ages love to get their Nori on.  It’s pretty much the national past time here.  My first Nori Bong experience was with the nurse at my school and her 3/4 deaf friend.  Now believe me when I tell you: you have not heard “Hey Jude” until you’ve heard a  mostly deaf Korean sing it in broken English.    The great thing is she had a blast the whole time, and that’s the best part about Nori Bong, Koreans don’t care how bad they sound, they’re just there to burn off some steam and have some fun.   Nori Bong  is a huge part of the Korean night life scene and to be honest… it’s pretty fun.