Chuseok

Today begins a three-day harvest festival in Korea known as Chuseok. Or, if you’re a foreigner, it means you have a five-day weekend(!!!) It’s essentially the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving- you go home to see your family and eat special food. Instead of going shopping on Black Friday, though, they visit the graves of family members to pay their respects. So, a little bit different. We had a Chuseok celebration with the kindergartners yesterday, and I wanted to share some of the photos with you.

Almost all of the kids came to school dressed in hanbok, or traditional Korean dress. This is worn for special occasions, such as Chuseok. Some of the kids’ hanbok were really ornate. Too bad they were so hyper and excited that it was hard to pin down a clear picture of any of them.

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ImageDavid’s interpretation of “Please stand nicely so Tara Teacher can take a picture of you.”

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I loved Jun’s vest!

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It was Amy’s birthday, so she got to trade her hanbok for a princess dress. Still not thrilled to be photographed…Image

…though I did manage to get a smile out of Lucy, under duress.

One of the day’s activities was making seonpyeon, or rice cakes. When I think of a rice cake, I think of those cardboard-esque Quaker Oats rice cakes. These, however, were much different. Made with rice flour dough, and then stuffed with honey, chestnuts and sesame seeds, they look like little dumplings. We made them in the morning, and then enjoyed them at snack time.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageThe next Chuseok activity was learning all about Chuseok…in Korean. Unfortunately, there is not much to blog about there because I missed most of what was discussed (okay, all of it). However, I did get some pictures of the kids learning how to bow. It’s different for boys and girls, which is what I would have guessed.

ImageImageImageImageOverall, it was a really fun day. I loved seeing the kids dressed up…and having the next five days off from work isn’t too bad either. I asked one of my older kids what he was doing for Chuseok: “Making songpyeon.” “Anything else, Steven?” “I will also play computer games.”

Happy Chuseok, everyone!

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My News + Gamcheon Art Village

This post is coming a little late, but I was waiting until things were a bit more finalized before posting it for all the world to see. It’s officially official: I’m returning to NY on October 12th! If you know me in real life, you probably already know this. However, it seemed in poor blogging form to abandon the name “Tara in Korea” without explanation.

There are a few reasons for this decision. First and foremost, I could not bear the thought of missing my cousin’s wedding, in which I will most proudly serve as Maid-of-Honor. I’ll save the sap for my speech, but suffice to say that it is extremely important to me that I’m there. Second, I have some potential plans to jet off somewhere new with Alex come the beginning of next year. Nothing is set in stone yet, but suffice to say that I hope to provide you with another exciting travel blog to read. The plan for now is to spend some time at home with my family during the holidays while I get my act together.

So, Alex and I depart Korea on October 3rd (after a brief stay in Seoul), and head to San Francisco for a week. Why San Francisco? Well, flying into CA and booking a hotel for a week was almost cheaper than coming straight to NY. It was the fiscally responsible thing to do!

I have mixed feelings about leaving Korea- there are things that I love, and things that I loathe. Moreover, there are still so many things in Busan that I want to see and do before I leave. We knocked one of those things, the Gamcheon Art Village, off our list a couple weeks ago.

Located near Nampo-dong, Gamcheon Art Village looks like a collection of colorful houses that you might expect to find somewhere in South America. Indeed, it strongly resembles La Boca in Argentina. While people actually live in the homes on this picturesque hill, there are also several art galleries and plenty of street art within the village.

Upon entering, you go to the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map of Gamcheon. Inside the map are 8 spaces, meant to be stamped during your tour of the many art galleries. Once you collect all 8 stamps, you get some free postcards. Which is awesome, because finding postcards in Busan is freaking impossible, for whatever reason.Image

Personally, I found the galleries only mildly interesting. What I liked the most, aside from the spectacular views from the top of the hill…

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…were the random street art and exhibitions. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Even though there were quite a few people, there were so many alleyways that was easy to escape the crowd. It didn’t feel like everyone was flocking to the few, majorly popular sites (as you might see in some museums), but were rather finding their own favorites among the twists and bends of the village.

I’m glad we finally made it, and hope we get a chance to return before heading out. I could always use more postcards…

A Teachable Moment

In one of my classes today, we were reading a passage about families. In the textbook was a picture of a family, with each person labeled as mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc. As soon as the kids (ages 8-9) saw this picture, they erupted into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Teacher, they are all very ugly!” giggled Sue, one of my best students. 

“Why are they ugly?” More laughing. “I’m curious, guys. Why is this family ugly?”

“They all have brown skin!” shouted Tom, rubbing his face.

I was appalled. After taking away all of their points, abandoning my lesson to make them write about how they would feel if someone mocked them for their skin color*, and sitting in silence for the rest of class, I still didn’t get the feeling that they understood why their comments were so hurtful. Yes, they knew that Tara Teacher got very angry with them for what they said. I don’t, however, think they understood the implications of it.

The episode was further explained when I told my Korean co-teacher what had happened.

She laughed too. “I think they are just very young, and they act like babies,” was her response.

She’s right: they are young. This is partially why I was so disturbed by it. They are too young to come up with such ideas on their own, which means they are being taught these racist ideas, tacitly or otherwise, from adults. 

I understand that Korea is a homogenous society, and I’ve touched on their disdain for the different. Maybe I hold our students (and their parents) to a higher standard, though. Many of our students visit, or even move to, the US and other countries. Sue, my student from today, is spending next year in New York City. It seems strange to me that the same parents who send their children to an academy to learn English, presumably to open their minds and prepare them to see the rest of the world, would teach their children such blatant Othering. Even if it isn’t them who is personally promoting these ideas (they are quite popular in the media, as well), I would hope they are at least discouraging them.

This is not the first instance of racism I’ve heard about, or seen here. The difference is that today it happened in my classroom, while I was teaching. I’d like to think I made them reconsider, or at least examine, what they said. Ultimately, though, they leave my classroom and enter back into a society that is accepting of such casual racism. 

*I feel this exercise was lost on Tom, who wrote about how he thought that black skin is dirty, and can rub off on white people’s skin. Where the f*** are they learning this!?