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Archive for the 'Steve's House' Category

Stephanie goes to Korea

This has been an interesting week. Last week we sent Michael home. He was ready to go. As soon as he got home he was headed for a week long field trip to 제주도. We Skyped with his mother before he left. She missed him a lot but it looks like she had to wait another week before she got to see him.

We, on the otherhand, just sent our oldest daughter to Korea. She will be there for the next seven weeks. She is doing a “service project” for school credit here where she will be volunteer teaching at an elemetary school, helping out with English instruction. Her first day will be tomorrow.

She is feeling a bit overwhelmed with the lack of English interaction already. Not understanding anything that is said around you can be headache inducing, especially combined with jet-lag. Typical for her though, she has commented at how fashionable everyone is, especially their shoes!

Hopefully, I will be able to post updates about her stay in Korea on a weekly basis. I am sure that her Korean will improve. It will have to. I should have a full update next week!

Going Home

Our exchange student, Michael, goes home this week. We spent this weekend in Yosemite. For an 11 year-old I was surprised at how impressed he was with the sights. The typical response we have gotten from children and adults alike has been something along the lines of, “that is nice and all but we have rocks and trees in Korea too…”

Yosemite Falls

We asked him what he enjoyed or found different about his time in the United States and here are some of his thoughts:

He was surprised that younger children needed a babysitter, that they couldn’t stay at home alone for extended amounts of time. In Korea this is no big deal.

He was also surprised that we don’t have any 학원 here to speak of whereas in Korea everyone takes some kind of after school class. The schools here are broken up into separate, single story buildings, whereas in Korea, his school is one multi-story building. He liked his teacher here and made some good friends.

While he was here he enjoyed several holidays: President’s day, Valentine’s day, St. Patrick’s day, Mother’s day, Easter. Easter was his favorite. He also liked “pajama day” at school (but I don’t think he wore his pajamas to school).

Generally, he liked American food but there were some things that he didn’t like. He didn’t like artichokes or pears. He said that we (as a society) eat too much meat. He doesn’t like tri-tip; it’s too rich. He really liked clam chowder and stew.

My daughter got a guinea pig for Christmas. At first Michael was scared of it but now he really likes it. He says that he wants one when he goes home. We have noticed, especially with the Korean orchestra last summer, that Korean children are very apprehensive around pets. Most of them warmed up to them though. Michael was no different in that regard.

On Friday there was a rattle snake (방울뱀) sitting next to my back door when I got home from work. I readily dispatched it with a shovel. Michael thought that was really cool. I just reinforced the spring-time rule of not going outside without shoes on…

Rattle snake

Unfortunately, you can’t see the tail. It had two ‘buttons’.

So, that is Michael’s impression of his time in the United States. I think he had a fairly well rounded experience. For only being here for four months his English speaking ability has improved a lot, mostly because he was forced to interact in English. Now let’s interact in Korean!

Stranger in a Strange Land

My wife and I were recently driving through a typical suburban neighborhood when we saw a blond woman pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. My wife was captivated by her to the point that our conversation stopped. Before I could ask her what she was looking at, she said something like, “우와, 여기 미국 사람 있네.” And then she laughed because she realized that obviously 미국 사람 should be here as this is 미국! 

When we travelled to Korea last year we had a similar experience. We were at a museum and it was full of middle school and elementary school children visiting on a field trip. I think we were in 경주; that seems to be the place to go for extended school field trips. While my dad was enjoying saying hello to all of the students and his new found celebrity status my wife and I were commenting to each other that it was amazing to see so many Korean students visiting America! That bit of insanity only lasted a second before we both realized that we were the visitors.

But even here in America sometimes it is easy to forget my native culture and feel completely at ease in the grocery store when the bus of Japanese or Korean tourists take over on their way to Yosemite. When I lived in Korea I could spot a foreigner a mile away. They were pretty hard to miss and then I would realize with a bit of unease that, “hey, that is me.”

The diversity of America is such that people who do not know that my wife is not an American by birth assume that she has always lived here. A foreigner in Korea does not typically enjoy that kind of anonymity. Even so, I was happy to know that a Korean in America (or Korea) can feel the same cultural disconnect as I have experienced. Is it universal? Has anyone else had a similar experience? 

Disneyland…

We spent last weekend at Disneyland. Amazingly, my younger two children did not want to go. My youngest feels clastrophobic in the lines (I don’t blame him.) and Alexia would rather hang out with the girls. So it turned out that I went to Disneyland with only Michael and my son. It actually made the park easier to navigate but that is another story.

We stayed with some Korean friends while we were in L.A. They live quite close to Disneyland and would have been offended if we came all that way and didn’t stay with them. (My sister lives down there too but she was probably relieved that she didn’t have to entertain seven extra people!) They have a daughter, five, who didn’t speak any English a year ago but now naturally switches between Korean and English depending on who she is talking to. As I only spoke Korean to her she was very comfortable speaking Korean to me and not at all surprised that I spoke Korean. Her mother, on the other hand, can’t speak English at all. The five year old very easily translates from English to Korean and back again if necessary. I thought she did very well for her age.

They also have two daughters who are in high school. Their English is not as good as their younger sister’s. In fact, their mother turns to the youngest whenever she needs help understanding what is going on. Regardless, the high schoolers are getting straight A’s in school. Their plan is to use their high school experience to get into an American college and then take that credential back to Korea. My feeling is that they will probably end up staying here in the states.

Their mother is very comfortable living in L.A. While I was having fun standing in line at Disneyland (a record breaking day for heat by the way) everyone else was… shopping, of course. The Korean area of Los Angeles is very big and, as it turns out, very close to Disneyland. Our friend literally has no reason or opportunity to speak English if she doesn’t actively seek it out. Restaurants, supermarkets, clothing stores, you name it and you can find it run by a Korean. Interestingly, I didn’t see even one Korean while at Disneyland.

Of course, with so much shopping to be done you can guess that “the girls” did not pass up the opportunity. My wife stocked up on Korean groceries while my oldest took advantage of some excellent prices on clothes. It turns out that if you know where to go you can get some great bargains on Korean stuff without the plane trip. Then again, I may have actually saved money if everyone came with me to Disneyland instead of shopping.

Pier 39, Robot Man, Smoking…

We went to Pier 39 last weekend, mainly to see the Aquarium of the Bay but also to see San Francisco. As a teenager I spent a lot of time in San Francisco either just hanging out or working. It is fun to visit every once in a while, and our visitor (I’ll call him ‘Michael’ from now on) wanted to see the city. When he first came to the states he flew into San Francisco but he really doesn’t remeber seeing any of the city or the bay.

Pier 39 was fun. They have some interesting shops and a whole lot of touristy stuff. The aquarium was a bit of a disappointment in that I was expecting more, something on par with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were expecting to spend much more time there than we actually did. So we spent more time wandering the pier and Embarcadero, the road in front of the pier.

Along the Embarcadero you can find many street performers of various levels of ability. There was the every popular “take a picture with a punk: $2″ guy with foot long spiked mohawk and all, the bongo drum dude, the steel drum guys, the acrobats, and the robot guy. The robot guy was painted all in silver and just standing there with a cup in his hands. If you paid him any attention he bagan to move and make odd noises. All of these things were very new and jaw-dropping for Michael.

We went to eat at the pier at Chowders. As you may guess, it sells as its specialty clam chowder. Michael, being Korean, thinks that every Asian person that he sees might also be Korean. The person that took our order in Chowders was Asian, but come to think of it, everyone working there was Asian. Anyway, he wanted to know if she was Korean. She wasn’t.

Chowders is unique in that they serve their soup in a bowl made out of a round loaf of sourdough bread. I was hungry and ate my bowl…

On the way out of the restaurant the woman who waited on us was heading quickly out the door with a cigarette in her mouth. Michael was very shocked and surprised to see a probably college aged woman smoking. In Korea, it is very unusual to see college age women smoking. Perhaps society has changed some, but I would say that there is a definite negative stigma attached to women who smoke. The exception to that would be the 할머니 crowd. They can smoke without any problem.

I asked Michael if he would smoke when he got older. He said that he didn’t want to but that he probably would. There seems to be a social obligation to smoke if you are a man. Michael seems to understand this and most likely will not try to oppose it, whether he wants to smoke or not.

All in all it was a very interesting day. Everyone got an interesting view of the world beyond the country. Nobody started smoking, yet.

Easter (부활절)

This past week has been a busy one on more than a few levels. Last sunday was Easter and we spent the day at my brother’s house. He lives in the central valley of California on farm land. We got home late and the blog didn’t happen. It is happening right now, however.

Easter (부활절) is not really celebrated in Korea. Unless things have changed dramatically since I lived in Korea, Easter is only celebrated by a special Sunday service in christian denominations. There is no Easter bunny or egg hunt or any of the other commercial entrapments that exist here in America.

When we get together as a family for Easter we usually have an Easter egg hunt. My brother’s house is ideally suited for an egg hunt because he has a large, grassy yard around his house. We bring about a dozen eggs per child but this year we had quite a few more than that. We usually don’t do any egg dying but stick to plastic eggs and candy instead. (Hard boiled eggs get old fast… the eating and the sitting in the sun̷ ;) This year we decided to dye some eggs.

We decided to not do the grocery store dying kits that are so popular. We did some natural dyes using berries and onion skins. Everyone had a great time wrapping the eggs with various flowers and onion skins to make some cool patterns.

Here is an onion skin dyed egg waiting to be found:

 

We did a pot-luck style dinner in that each individual family brought a side dish and my brother provided the main dish. The concept of a “pot-luck” isn’t really practiced in Korea either as far a s I know, maybe only in a church setting. Our house guest was introduced to a few uniquely American traditions as well as some that may only be unique to my family. For example, we like to make homemade ice cream. My brother does a great job on that. He is also into photography but in an antiquated way. Instead of embracing the wonders of the digital revolution in photography, my brother has gone retro; his latest thing is large format. Yes, everyone and their brother (not mine) is a budding digital photojournalist. Here is my brother, all covered up:

 

I think Easter was an interesting cultural experience for our guest. He had a great time hunting eggs with all the other children. But that may be just because he loves American candy…

Korean Instruments

Wow, I just uploaded this post and it disappeared! Gone! So here it goes again in a shortened version.

I posted about the Korean Children’s Orchedstra coming to town a while back but I didn’t get much feedback on it. I said I would post some instrument pictures to the forum but I am still in that going to mode…

Here are some pictures from the performance rehearsal.

The show opened with drums:

Here is Stephanie practicing the 해금:

The 태평소 soloist:

Here is an interesting variation on the traditional 가야금. It has 25 strings instead of 12. The North Korean version has 24 strings.

I will get these into the forum too. Soon.

House size

We recently had a discussion about house size with our homestay guest. He indicated that he lives in a 32 평 apartment but his best friend lives in a 100 평 주택 (house). One 평 equals about 3.3 square meters or 35.5 square feet. Therefore, his apartment is about 1,100 square feet and his friends house is 3,550 square feet! He says his friend’s house is three stories and that his friends family is rich. I would think that having a house of that size in Korea would qualify as being rich.

A 32 평 apartment in Korea is above average in size, even though by American standards it is small. We just moved out of a 1400 sq. ft.  house and it felt very small. Perhaps that is because there were six of us living there (we have four children). While Korean families typically don’t have that many children, usually several generations live under one roof.

The conversation about house size came up because our house guest’s family is considering moving out of their apartment and into a regular house (주택). He said that he likes our house but that it is scary because it is bigger than what he is used to. He also was a little worried about moving away from the community atmosphere of the apartment complex. In Korea there is not much privacy in life in a typical apartment but moving into a house can be very expensive and one would have to give up many of the convenieces of group/pubilc life in a the apartment. Many apartments are gated communities, they have people who maitain the grounds as well as the apartment itself, they also have common area facilities not unlike apartment complexes everywhere. Despite the appeal of apartment living, however, the desire for ones own land exists in Korea too.  

We live in the country and that has been a concern of several children that have stayed here. There seems to be this idea that bandits live out in the country and since we do too then we are liable to get attacked by these bandits. Even here in the United States there are concerns and preconceived ideas about what life in the country is like. The Korean children that stay with us are certainly getting a unique and hopefully good impression of life in America. It is definitely different than life in an apartment complex.

Radiant Heat

Winters in Korea are cold. When I lived in Korea the one thing that kept the winters bearable was the warm floors. Korea uses, I think universally, radiant heat as its primary heat source. The comfort of having warmfloors heating the house without the noise and discomfort of having forced air is really nice. The one thing that I did not like about radiant heat in Korea was having to rotate the 연탄 (coal briquettes). I don’t think 얀탄 are very popular in Korea right now though. I think it used to be that every year there were news reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from 얀탄. Nowadays the floors are heated primarily from a gas boiler.

We finished building our house last year and we decided that our primary source of heat would also be radiant. Unfortunately, here in the United States the radiant heat market is left to some very high dollar specialists, especially here in sunny California. So, after getting some very outrageous bids for the job, we decided to do it ourselves.

A friend of mine builds greenhouses and most commercial greenhouses have a radiant heat system built in. So he was very helpful to us in getting the job done. We literally did all of the work ourselves. I spent a lot of time on the phone with manufacturers and suppliers who were more than happy to help create a system that suited my needs and then sell me the materials to build that system. Here is a photo of the pex tubing once we have zip-tied it to the rebar, before pouring the concrete slab:

PEX ziptied to rebar

The system is powered by a boiler that pumps hot water through all of the tubing in the floor to warm the house. The boiler also does the same thing through a water tank for hot water. It is very efficient. Here is the boiler plumbing setup. It looks more complicated than it is:

plumbing 

The boiler can be seen on the left. Not shown is the indirect water heater to the left of the boiler. 

This has been our first full winter living in our new house. While our radiant system is not perfect, we have really enjoyed having 온돌방 in our house. By doing it ourselves we saved a lot of money (really, a lot) and learned a lot too.

Communicating

First, I apologize for not getting a post out last week. It was a holiday/long weekend here and well, time just got away from me. I know, no excuses…

Our house guest/extra child has been adapting to life in the Unites States quite well, sometimes too well. He is a very good follower so he is susceptible to peer pressure more than most. He recently got in trouble for booing at a school assembly. Hey, he was just having fun with his friends and he says those friends are more fun. Right. I am sure they are. He is, on the other hand, the best soccer player among kids his age. 

As far as Korean goes, I am finding it interesting the holes that I have in my vocabulary as well as in our “exchange student’s”. This past week we were able to witness the lunar eclipse. We all had the opportunity to learn new words: 월식(月蝕) and 일식. I expected that a sixth grader would know that word. There have been other words as well. When he first arrived here I was surprised that he did not know 시차. Of course, maybe only someone who travels a lot would know that word. My wife keeps reminding me that he is only a grade schooler and that he doesn’t have a large/specialized vocabulary. That describes me pretty well most of the time. If you only speak to kids you will learn to speak like a kid. My children are communicating by using a mixture of English and Korean together so it is a win/win situation as far as Korean goes. English is another story. My younger two children spit out a hodge-podge of words sometimes that don’t really make sense, kind of like our resident English learner.

He tends to do a fair amount of communicating using descriptive sounds like ‘확-’ ㅅ슈 -ㄱㄱ ’ ‘very very’ ‘many many’ ‘봉’ and lots of other sounds that are hard to write down but I am sure you can imagine that my arms are flying around while I am making these sounds right now. It is kind of like having a comic book acted out in front of you. So he is doing a great job of combining comic book-like sounds with pantomime to get his point across. But, after being here about a month he is starting to get some complete sentences out too, which is good.

Sometimes we hear things in Korean or English and it doesn’t really matter because everyone involved understood what was being said. Then, we have to think about what language we just heard.