Thursday, February 27, 2014

Busan: Railway stroll and an aggressive dog

After hiking from about 11:00 - 15:30 last Sunday in Busan, I actually decided to walk back towards Haeundae instead of taking the metro. It was my last day in the city, so I wanted to be near the coast again and soak it in.

Dalmaji Road, Busan Korea
Dalmaji Road, Busan
Off of Dalmaji Road, there were stairs leading down towards the railroad tracks along the coast. Many people were walking along the tracks, so I thought that would be a nice way to enjoy this last sunset.

I walked down the long staircase, as a Korean family with two little girls passed me going up, back to Dalmaji Road. Then near the bottom I turned, just had to walk down one last smaller set of stairs, turn the corner, and I would be at the railroad tracks.

There was a bigger Korean woman sitting to the side on one of these steps, and her dirty little white dog was walking around, dragging behind a short rope that was tied to his collar.

As I started down the stairs, the little dog approached me, but I'm not afraid of dogs so I just kept walking normally. And then he let out a bark and nipped me in the leg. It was only a pinch, barely felt it, but it caught me off guard since dogs haven't tried to bite me before. He kept barking and ran up again. This time he really bit me. Holy cow that hurt!

The lady was saying something to her dog as it barked and attacked me, but she stayed seated so for all I know she could have been telling it "Good boy".  I moved quicker now, reaching the bottom of the steps and I turned the corner as I heard the dog barking after me. But I lost him.  Man, my leg hurt a lot more than I thought it would - especially considering the fact that I was wearing leggings under jeans.

Before starting on the railroad tracks, I pushed up my jeans and leggings to take a look at where I could feel the bite. Yup, sure enough, I could see a light pink half-circle from the dog's teeth.  No blood or anything, it really wasn't bad and the pain wasn't an issue. I was more pissed at the dog for having bit me, and at that woman for letting her dog bite me and not trying to grab its rope. It was also frustrating that I couldn't have said anything while it happened ("Oh my gosh, your dog just bit me, lady!"), due to the language barrier. So I had kept silent the whole time the dog barked and nipped at me.

Here's what it looked like the next day, some nice bruising going on:


It has since mellowed out to a nice yellow bruise.

So with my freshly bitten leg, I arrived at the railroad tracks for a stroll along the coast.




Then I walked to Haeundae Beach and sat for a while, watching some parents fly their kids' kites for them.


It was early (the clock had just struck 5, I think), but I was hungry and utterly exhausted. I picked up kebap to bring back with me to the hostel (I needed a break from Korean food - it's been a while), and stayed in the rest of the night.

On Monday morning I had breakfast, packed up, checked out, and off I went. To the metro, to the train station, KTX to Seoul, and then caught a bus back to my town. I got home around 6 that evening.

In the KTX train, leaving Busan headed to Seoul

There is so much more to do and see in Busan; the two full days I spent there felt especially short, but I'm glad I was able to visit for any amount of time.
• • •

Busan: Hiking Jangsan Mountain

[I spent this past weekend in Busan, Korea. On Friday evening I took a walk along Moontan Road. On Saturday I checked out the Jagalchi fish market and the Centum City area.]

Lately I've been playing with the idea of getting a haircut, but it wasn't until Saturday night in Busan that I thought of looking for a place to get it cut there. I found one with a Korean hairdresser who had worked in Canada for many years, and the website said they were open every day.  I was doubtful, but went to Jangsan (only 2 metro stops from my hostel) on Sunday morning to try to walk-in at this salon.  There was really cool artwork in the metro on the way to my exit:


I was right to have doubted the website, because the sign outside the closed salon said "Monday - Saturday".  Now what to do?  I remembered reading online that there was a mountain nearby with good hiking, Jangsan Mountain.  So I went back in the metro to go out a different exit, and bought a few snacks while walking through. There were lots of other hikers headed to the mountain, too, easily recognizable by their hiking attire and gear.

^^That's Jangsan Mountain ahead, a 10-15 minute walk from the metro stop

Since something like 70% of the country is covered in mountains, hiking is a huge past time here in Korea. Almost all had collapsable walking poles, nice hiking shoes, and hiking/sporty clothes.  So not only did I feel out of place for being a westerner (only saw two others all day), but I knew I looked ridiculous in my everyday shoes, jeans, big long black winter coat, and drawstring backpack bag.  It made the hike all the more entertaining, as I could constantly laugh at myself and my poor attire as I came across each new obstacle, while imagining what the Korean hikers thought of me.

There was a really gorgeous view at the start, with water falling over large rocks into a small pond:

Jangsan Mountain in Busan, hiking

The view was accompanied by a continuous incline, and I was sweating so much!  I took off my big black coat and was carrying it for a while while continuing to sweat profusely through all my other layers.  At some point I got the idea of tying it around my waist (high up, so it wouldn't drag), and did that for the next hour or so.

As I got higher, more and more snow started to appear in the woods, until the path was completely covered in snow.  This means there was plenty of mud and slush on the way, too.

Jangsan Mountain in Busan, hiking through snow

My thin, non water-proof shoes were so happy I was wearing them on this hike... haha.

After maybe an hour and a half of hiking, I came to the first mine warning sign. Apparently part of this mountain used to be a mine zone, so it's just fenced off and you'd better not stray from the path!


 The path towards the peak got pretty intense/crazy soon after this point. The black coat went back on because I had cooled off some, but mostly because it was getting in the way of the climb.  I have no photos to document this part because it would have been impossible to take a photo without sliding down the mountain.

It was completely snow-covered, and quite packed down from others' footprints, which made it really slippery (especially with my shoes). And a big incline. I was so glad there weren't others around to watch me for most of this part of the trek, as it must have been a funny sight to watch. I'd grab onto a tree and hold on, so as not to slide down, and try to figure out where the heck my next step was going to be, because there wasn't another tree to grab onto within reach. If I took a step without holding on to anything, I would have slid right down to the bottom.  I seriously cannot believe I never slipped down the hill nor fell in mud during this part through the woods. I was really close numerous times. Slipping and sliding. A walking stick would have been so incredibly useful.

While going up an especially steep incline, the thought first came to me: How the heck am I going to get back down? It was a legitimate concern. Climbing up was difficult enough, but I made it work by jabbing holes for my toes in the snow and quickly pushing myself up so I could get to another tree or shrub which I'd then grab on to while my feet slipped on steep, packed snow. I wondered if I shouldn't turn around, as I had no idea how much farther until the peak, and it was going to take a long time to get back down this hill.

But I kept going up this nearly vertical side of the mountain, hoping the peak wasn't much farther. And then I got to the top of this hillside. I could not believe my eyes: A road!  Some people had hiked to the top via this road, whereas I appeared out of the snow-covered forest from a path that hardly looked like a path at all.

I walked a little ways along up road, and then through this muddy path...


To the peak! Where you could see the city of Busan, which was out of view during the entire hike.


Absolutely none of my pictures can do this view justice. It spanned over 180 degrees: The city scape, the coast, the mountains. So, you'll just have to go to Busan and climb to the top of Jangsan Mountain if you want to see what I saw.  Until then, here are a few glances:




And then it was time to head down the mountain... which was another adventure in itself. I did not go down the way that I came up (I couldn't even see where I'd come out as I walked back down the road). The road soon ended and split into two paths through the woods (in areas not so completely snow covered).

Hikers were going down both, neither were marked, so I picked the second one and started walking. There were some tricky spots over big rocks and mud from the start, but this time there were other hikers around to watch me as I worked my way through without a walking stick or good shoes to help. I stopped to let a group of 4 pass, as I figured out how I was going to take my next step. The older Korean man pointed to his shoes with his walking stick when he passed me and said something to me in Korean (I'm guessing: You need hiking shoes!).  Yes, I said.  I know.

So I kept going along this muddy muddy path for a while. Except it wasn't really going down. And at this point, I just wanted to get back down the mountain. No more dilly-dallying; it was going on my third hour, and I didn't want to get lost up in this mountain's various paths.

The path got more difficult and muddy, and I grew more unsure if I was even going the right way. So I stopped and just started walking back where I came from. Twenty seconds into that decision, and another older Korean man saw me and said something - I think I'd seen he and his wife earlier on my hike. I pointed my finger down, to show that I wanted to get down the mountain, and then pointed to where I'd come from and where I was going, to ask which way I should go. The man pointed towards where I'd just come from - the way I was originally going, and the way they were going too.

He asked me something else in Korean, and then the English word "house"?  What? I hadn't been to any houses on this mountain, so I said "park" because at the bottom of the mountain where I'd begun the hike was a big park, though I couldn't remember its name at the time (Daecheon Park).  Maybe he would know the English word "park".  I'm not sure if he understood, but I was now walking behind them, awkwardly following for the rest of the hike (am I walking with them, or on my own?).

Then we got to an open area that branched out into three different paths. Again, he and his wife tried to communicate with me, and I just kept saying "park" and pointing down. So they pointed towards the middle path that they were also going down. I followed behind them. At one point while going through an especially muddy part (after over a half hour of walking "with" them), the man offered one of his two walking sticks to me, but I declined.

A few minutes later and he was talking on his orange flip phone -- only the second flip phone I've seen in this country thus far (everyone else has a smart phone).  Next thing I know, he's handing me the phone!

"Hello?" I say.  "You are lost?" the woman on the other end asks.  "I don't think so anymore." I say, since we had just finally passed a sign with the park's name and an arrow pointing towards the way we were going.

"Where you going?" the woman asks, "Your house?  You lost from your house?"

What? No I didn't get lost going to my house on this mountain... I just want to get down! "No, I'm trying to go to the park at the bottom of the mountain."

"What mountain? There are many mountains."

Shoot, I couldn't remember the name of the mountain I was on. Jang / Jung / Jeng something. But does that matter?  "I want to go down the mountain, to the park."

"What mountain you want to go to?" Uhh it appeared she didn't know the situation, that we were on a mountain right now! But wouldn't that be what the Korean man had told her when he first called?

"No, we're on a mountain. We are hiking now. I want to go down the mountain."

"What city you want to go to?"  she said. No, I'm not trying to get to another city! How do I explain myself. Before I could say anything else, she said again:

"What city you want to go to?  What city you want to go to?"

Uhh I made eyes with the Korean man and shrugged. He stuck his hand out so I gave him back the phone, while the woman was still talking mid-sentence. I also made the sign with my hand and said "OK", so he would know I knew where I was going.  He talked briefly with the lady on the phone, and then hung up.

"Thank you" I told them in Korean. I was so grateful for their concern and efforts to communicate with me.

I knew we were going the right way. I kept walking a few steps behind them the rest of the hike. When we were 10 minutes from the starting point, the man stopped to readjust something, and I kept walking past him. His wife was in front, already at the bottom of the steps we were going down. So I told her "thank you" again, and went on ahead by myself.  I wanted to show them how appreciative I was, but had no other Korean words I could offer.  It wasn't as if we'd been talking together during the hike down the mountain; I had merely been awkwardly following them, tagging along in the rear.

So alone I turned at the bottom of the stairs and kept along the main path, it was easily recognizable from my way up. And 10-15 minutes later I was back in the park where I'd started, only with mud-covered shoes this time around, and about 5% of the energy I'd started with.

I'm so glad that's how I spent most of my Sunday in Busan; it was great to be outside, doing some type of exercise, and surrounded by nature.

IF YOU GO...

What: Jangsan Mountain (Busan, Korea)
Metro: Jangsan Station, Exit 10
Directions: Take Exit 10 and keep walking straight along the sidewalk, towards the mountain in view. After 10-15 minutes you'll reach Daecheon Park. Keep following the road/path up, and you'll soon see signs for the mountain.
Tips: I'm sure conditions are different in other times of the year, but in February it would have been nice to have a walking stick and shoes that I didn't mind getting dirty. There are bathrooms (and restaurants/snacks) both in the park and a few minutes into the walk (at the exercise park). Bring some water and snacks with you!
• • •

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Busan: Jagalchi Market and Centum City

Jagalchi Market

After a scrambled egg sandwich at the hostel on Saturday morning, I headed off to the Jagalchi fish market, which had been recommended to me by various teachers at school.

I was actually walking through stands outside near the market for most of my visit, not realizing that there was an actual building called the "Jagalchi Market" until I wound up outside of it.  Since I've never lived in an ocean-side city, I'm not very familiar with all the different sea creatures that people catch and eat. So it was interesting to see them at all of the stands outside of the market.


(See that red circular tub in the top right photo? An octopus crawled out and fell onto the ground as I was approaching, so the lady working the stand just picked it up and threw it back in. Didn't even blink.)

I was way outnumbered in terms of tourists to locals; I only saw one other westerner during my whole time walking around outside. So it felt strange to stop and take pictures of these peoples' food stands, when they're just busy working and cutting fish, and everyone around me is trying to do their shopping, but I made myself take some.


This market is right near the port, so I enjoyed the coastal view of all the fishing boats with the city and mountains in the background.

Port near Jagalchi market in Busan

Port in Busan near Jagalchi Market

Port in Busan near Jagalchi Market

And then I finally discovered the actual Jagalchi Market, a building of about six floors.  There were restaurants on the second floor of the market, so I figured I should eat there as long as I was, well, right there.  Everything on the menu looked quite expensive and for more than one person, so I got a W15,000 rice porridge with abalone. Wikipedia now tells me that abalone is a common name for edible sea snails, and considered a delicacy here in Korea.  That explains a lot!


It didn't taste like anything special to me.  In fact, I thought I was eating some kind of fish - had no idea it was a snail  - because it was just really small pieces interspersed in the rice porridge.

(Update, 2016: And that very porridge now has a place in my Beginner's Guide to Korean Food and Restaurants, which'll help you comfortably order and eat tasty meals in Korea!)

And then I took the metro back towards Haeundae, but got off at the Centum City stop.

Olympic Sculpture Park

One of the maps I picked up at the hostel had a short blurb about this Olympic Park, a nice place to walk through and see sculptures along the way.  It was only a block or two from the metro station, so I headed there first.

Olympic Sculpture Park in Busan, Korea

This next sculpture caught my eye, and I had to take pictures after I saw the title was "Life of Excrement":

Life of Excrement, sculpture in Olympic Park, Busan

I didn't get to see all of the sculptures and was actually quite distracted from them, as there was competition for my attention.  Turns out there was some kind of anime (probably the completely wrong word to use) convention or something going on, because this park was filled with Koreans dressed up as various characters. Many were having photo shoots in the park (they each seemed to have their own photographer), so I walked around and took pictures of the statues while keeping my eye on all of these people. Why do I keep stumbling upon these sorts of events when I'm traveling?!

Exhibit A: Sevilla, Spain (2010)

[Ah! I've searched through my old photos and apparently I didn't take a single picture of the anime/goth fest I ran into during one of the two days I was visiting Sevilla. Silly young me!  You'll just have to take my word on this one, it happened.] 


Exhibit C: Busan, Korea (2014)


I think it's clear that in 2016 I'll be in a foreign country, and just happen to end up where another anime convention is taking place! You just wait.

That park in Busan was on the smaller side, and I felt rushed by the costumed crowd using it as scenery for their photo shoots, so I made it a relatively short trip. I grabbed a cup of tea to take with me as I walked a few blocks to the very nearby APEC Naru Park.

APEC Naru Park

This park lies along the Suyeong River, and I really enjoyed walking through it.  Again, lots of neat art sculptures dotted throughout. Wonderful public bathrooms. Great paths for walking and biking. You can watch fish jump at the river, and I also watched some skateboarders skating and dogs playing.


It's not as much of an escape from the city as Moontang Road -- you can clearly see the city scape all around you -- but it was still really wonderful to walk through the park.

Along the road while leaving the park, I noticed these unique flowers that somewhat reminded me of bergs of lettuce. Anyone know the name? I noticed them around the city throughout the rest of my time in Busan.


Centum City

Since I was so close to it, I next went inside Centum City's main attraction: the world's largest department store, Shinsege. Inside is an ice skating rink, the huge department store, a movie theater, art gallery, and a spa. I spent some time in the book store, then got dinner in the food court and watched some ice skaters.


I liked the ordering system in the food court. There are two counters where you place your order and pay - no matter which restaurant you're ordering from. Then they give you a buzzer with your number. You wait near the restaurant you ordered from and keep an eye on the TV screens. The screens display each restaurant, and the order numbers that are ready. When your number's on the screen, you go over to the counter and pick up your food. What also made this great was that at the ordering counter there was a menu in Korean and English with pictures for every restaurant in the food court!

After dinner I made my way up to the top floor, walked through a small art gallery, wrote, and then returned to my hostel.  I showered, read, wrote, and then blogged for a little bit. I was wiped out by 9 o'clock, and bed came soon after.
• • •

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Busan: Haeundae Beach and Moontan Road

I don't think I announced it yet on the blog, but I took two more vacation days last weekend (Friday and Monday) to visit Busan, a city on the southeast coast of Korea.  Here's a map of Korea with Busan marked with a red dot:

Map of Korea showing Busan and Seoul
Source

I left home at 9 a.m. on Friday to bus into Seoul for my 12 p.m. KTX (fast train) to Busan.  I arrived at the Busan train station around quarter to three, then took a metro to my hostel, arriving sometime after 4 p.m.

Haeundae Beach

After checking in, I walked down to the Haeundae Beach (two blocks from my hostel) to check it out. Though warmer than Seoul, it's still cold in Busan. I wore my winter coat and leggings under pants throughout my whole stay.

No one was in the water, though I didn't expect to see anyone in there. It's cold! Lots of seagulls milling about and photos being taken.

Busan's Haeundae beach in February

I walked the length of the beach, and then kept walking into the nearby neighborhood, when I happened upon Dalmagi Road.  I had seen the name before when skimming wiki travel's Busan page the night before. I turned and started following the uphill path.

Moontan Road  

Not too far in, there was a spot to go down some stairs, into a forest, and take the Moontan Road path. So I followed the stairs down and liked what I saw. Completely alone in the forested path just above the shore, all you could hear were waves of the sea, and all you could see were pieces of nature.  Out on Dalmaji Road, however, you hear the cars that you're walking beside, and you see the forest and shops - no ocean view. So this was a nice surprise along my walk.

Moontan Road in Busan, Korea

I hadn't expected to stay out so long when I originally left the hostel, but when I read that Moontan Road is a path many couples take under the moonlight, I knew it was okay to be there past dark. And sure enough, there were lights along the dirt path that did turn on when the sun went down. It was a really relaxing walk, and I didn't run into too many others. I went 2 - 3 km before my growling stomach made me turn around and head back.

I walked back on Dalmaji-gil Road, back across the beach, and to my hostel's neighborhood. I got bibimbap at a nearby Korean restaurant, but it wasn't very appetizing.  Then I retired to the hostel, exhausted, so I wrote a little and read until I passed out around 10 o'clock.
• • •

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: 2/20/14

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

I haven't been feeling very great this week; the mood has been lower than I'll let on here.  After almost missing the graduation ceremony on Monday, and becoming increasingly frustrated with the language barrier, this dispirited, glum haze continued to envelop me yesterday.  In a teacher's meeting, positions were announced for the next school year. My head co-teacher was assigned to teach music, not English, so she moved offices at the end of the day. The electric heater and electric kettle were hers, so they went with.  Goodbye heat!

I was an afterthought when going to lunch with my new head co-teacher and other teachers yesterday (I had brought a lunch to school that day, like I had done every day of the winter break, because nobody told me otherwise). She was leaving with others and saw me still in my office, remembering that I'm now her responsibility. I felt like a burden, and was despising the amount that I have to rely on others to do most things at school. I'd say the majority of my worry here in general comes from lack of knowledge, but I can't seek out that knowledge on my own to cease the worry (as I normally like to do), because it was undoubtedly spoken in Korean at some point and I was oblivious to it.

This morning I still woke up in my grey cloud. Lunch today was with my new head co-teacher and a third grade teacher, just the three of us. Although all three of us can speak English, they mostly talked with each other in Korean during lunch. I enjoyed the food (as quickly as it was eaten), and understood that there was lots for them to talk about with new teaching assignments and other school politics that I'm also oblivious to. I was content just listening and eating.

After lunch the third grade teacher (who drove us) turned right instead of left when we pulled out of the restaurant's parking lot. I figured he was waiting for a better place to turn around and go in the direction of the school. About two blocks later we saw a sign for Everland (the big theme park not too far from my town), and the 3rd grade teacher made a joke in English "Everland! Let's go to Everland!"  I laughed, "Yeah, Everland!"

My (new) head co-teacher said playfully "Oh sorry, we can't. I have to go back to school. I'm sorry, I have to work." It was funny. But you see, then we didn't turn around. We were clearly not headed in the direction of school. The two had switched back to Korean, so I had no idea what they were discussing. I could have asked, "Where are we going?" or something, but I rather enjoyed the mystery of it all. Because seriously, where the heck were we going?! He had been driving the wrong way for six minutes now.

My head co-teacher did have lots of work to get back to at school. She's had a really busy year, with some extra administrative job on top of her teaching that has always had her staying late. She told me before lunch that she would be busy until the end of the month finishing that job before the new school year started (so we probably won't get to talk about the first week of school as early or as much as I'd like to next week...).

Okay now we've been driving for over ten minutes, and we are going in the direction of Everland. What was going on? My mind was racing with scenarios. And he kept driving and they chatted (in Korean).

And then we were there - at Everland! Whaaa?! Why are we at Everland? I thought it had been a joke. I mean, it had clearly been a joke. We all laughed at the idea, because we would never just go to Everland when we were supposed to be at school. I was getting really anxious and a little nervous. But we did not pull into any parking lots as we drove past the huge theme park. Phew.

We kept driving; there's a big pond (small lake?) behind it, a conference center, and some museum I think. The 3rd grade teacher tried to continue down the road, but we had to pay some admission fee to keep driving onto this certain part of the road. So he pulled over to the side of the road just in front of that point and parked.

They got out of the car, so I got out. We looked at the scenery for a bit. And then we started to walk. Okay, so this is what we're doing.

We walked along the lake shore for about ten minutes. It was so great. I had no idea we were coming here to walk; I thought we had to get back to school right away. I've been getting close to 0 hours of sunlight during the week this winter, so it was really great to be outside and to do something non-routine.


I took a quick picture on my phone to remember the afternoon. It was exactly what I needed to start working my way up, out of the dark haze. I know that feelings and moods are temporary, but they just dragged on all week with no signs of light.  I'm so thankful that those two took me to lunch today, that the 3rd grade teacher drove to Everland for the walk, and lastly I'm continually grateful for my (new) head co-teacher's smile and laugh.

---
Anyone else been having some some winter blues lately? After focusing on some gratitude, I highly recommend reading Marc and Angel's latest post: 15 Powerful Beliefs That Will Free You From Negativity.
• • •

Unexpected inspiration to overcome my IBS

While writing my health history post, I looked through old emails and blog posts to piece my story together with as much accuracy as possible. I never expected that digging through old journals and blogs would give me hope and encouragement, which is what happened when I re-read this post concerning my IBS that I wrote on May 29, 2011:
The probiotics I started two weeks ago are working wonders on my IBS issues.  They aren't the sole factor, however; cutting out dairy and other IBS-no-no's has made a huge difference.  The other day I picked up some rice protein powder and glutamine at Whole Foods to take daily as well. I have been thinking seriously about writing a letter to my gastroenterologist I saw twice before I canceled my third appointment.  The Dr. that put me on meds right after her IBS diagnosis, without even mentioning diet change or probiotics.  Meds that do not address the cause of my IBS in the first place, but rather, unsuccessfully attempt to cover up the symptoms.  And meds that are addictive. I stopped taking the pills after a week or two of no change.  And online research.  Then I read about 6 books from the library about IBS.  That's the best thing I could have done for my health.  Never underestimate the value of a public library!  If your doctors won't tell you anything, you must learn for yourself. Research. Read. Ask.  Be your own advocate. Anyway, the letter would express my astonishment and disappointment that GI-specialist-Dr. didn't explain the cause of IBS to me, nor inform me of trigger foods to avoid or supplements that help rebuild a healthy digestive system. I would spin it to have a positive tone.  Your meds didn't work, but look what is working for me.  I hope you share these known dietary changes and supplements with your IBS patients...
I never did write that letter to my former gastroenterologist. But this old post was great to revisit.  I'd completely forgotten about the progress I clearly had made that summer.  Things fell back to "normal" because I moved back to Spain a few months later. The glutamine, protein powder, and probiotics did not make their way into my suitcase, and my diet completely changed when I moved. 

It's been nearly three years without signs of improvement, so this gives me hope that with more research and experimentation I can distance myself from this IBS once again. But this time for good.


This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a blog of mine active from 2013-14, which no longer exists.
• • •

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

School updates: 6th grade graduation and language barrier

6th Grade Graduation

The sixth graders had their graduation ceremony on Monday, and I almost missed the whole thing. I knew they were graduating on Monday, but I didn't know any details apart from that. The talkative, funny 3rd grade teacher had made a joke last week, asking me if I had a suit to wear for the graduation ceremony, and then telling me to buy a Korean suit to wear. So I knew we were supposed to dress up, but my co-teacher didn't say anything about this to me on Friday.  

I still dressed up in not-so-warm nice clothes, even though I was getting a cold and was not told by anyone that I needed to dress up. I had seen a message from the school's messenger program with the time 14:30 in it, so I thought the graduation ceremony would be in the afternoon. My co-teacher and I were up in the office working all morning. She left a few times, and when she came back in around 10:45, she said "The ceremony started about 15 minutes ago," to make small talk.

What?! It was going on right now?!  "I didn't realize it was right now," I said. My co-teacher said that she told me it was today, thinking I had accused her of not telling me about the ceremony at all. "No, I knew it was today, I just didn't realize it was in the morning. I thought it would be in the afternoon."

"Oh, are your 6th grade graduation ceremonies in the afternoon in the USA?" she wondered. No, we don't have 6th grade graduation ceremonies...

And then I left to take a peek, while she stayed working in the office. The ceremony was in our cafeteria, so I went in the open doors in the back and stood against the back wall behind some parents. I was surprised how much talking there was in the back and along the seated family side section; some parents were even on phone calls in the cafeteria.

Left side of the cafeteria with sitting families

The kids all wore black graduation gowns and caps.

6th grade graduation in Korea

At the end, all the students left the building and just like that they were gone. Poof. I will never see them again, and I don't have pictures of them either. I hadn't realized that our one class in February was the very last time I would see all of the 6th graders. So it was sudden and I felt unimportant for not needing to be involved in any part of the ceremony, whereas all the other teachers wore name tags and were either sitting up front or walking around monitoring in back. (My co-teacher had come back down again near the end of the ceremony to help with something else.)  Not how I expected graduation day to go down.

I went back to the office after the ceremony was done, and then at 11:30 my co-teacher said all the teachers/staff were going out for Shabu-shabu lunch since the lunchroom was closed. I really like shabu-shabu and I think the school (principal or VP) paid for it, so that was a nice surprise.

At the end of the day, my co-teacher said that not many teachers would be in tomorrow, so I could take vacation if I wanted and stay home. I didn't want to use a vacation day that I'm saving for the summer, so I said I'd still come in.

Tuesday's Lunch

On Tuesday morning a teacher (preschool, I think?) came in my office a few times to put some new textbooks in here. (Before my co-teacher and I moved our desks to this room, it was only storage for the younger grades: textbooks and project supplies. Now it's both storage and our office.)  She doesn't speak English, but said "sorry" when she left one time, and then "finished!" when she left after dropping off the last set of books. So she knew I was in the building.

She came back around 11:40 and asked me something in Korean, then said the word "lunch"?  I had brought a lunch with me today, like I did during the entire winter break, but if she was going somewhere or ordering with others, I would do that. I understood from her hand signals that they were going to eat downstairs. Then I heard bibimbap, which is a Korean dish. We were going to eat bibimbap? Where was the food coming from? I just said "nay" (yes) a few times.

Then I realized she had proposed a question, to choose between x and bibimbap - so my "yes" wasn't cutting it! I obviously didn't recognize x from the first time she said it, so I answered "bibimbap".  Then it looked like she was about to head out, but I had so many unanswered questions, one of which was when.

So I asked "When?" and pointed to my wrist as if I wore a watch. She said "call" or "phone", which I think meant she would call my office when it was time. And then she left. So she'd call when it was time for what, I wasn't sure. Were we walking somewhere like on Monday? Would I need to change into my shoes before going down? Or were they calling in an order, and we'd eat downstairs somewhere?

I realized that since she'd needed to know what I wanted ahead of time, it was logical that they were calling in an order. Normally lunch time is at 12:10, so when the clock struck 12:17 and still nothing, I was wondering if I'd made the whole thing up. I just kept waiting for the phone to ring.

And then I heard footsteps down the hall. Someone knocked on my door. It was a 6th grade teacher. He said "Let's eat" or "Let's go" or something, so I quickly got up and followed him down the hall. He seemed to be in a rush, and when we got to the stairs he practically ran down them, leaving me behind. He saw something when we got downstairs and he dashed down the hall and around the corner. Was I supposed to run too? I took a few faster strides, then slowed down when I turned the corner and could see what was going on.

A delivery man had just arrived, and the 6th grade teacher wanted to pay before the others got to it. So I walked down the hall, then into the office where they all were and watched as he tried and tried to pay, but the preschool teacher who had been in my office earlier was successful in paying the whole thing.

They told me to sit down, and set out the food. And then it was my usual silence during an all-Korean speaking lunch, but I enjoyed the meal, despite the usual quick speed of eating. Then at the end, I guess they were talking about me, but I wasn't sure what they were saying.  I thought they said I'm always here, every day, making a comment about how I'm here during the school breaks or something (these four teachers were the only others that had come that day).

Meanwhile I was prepping to offer to pay for my meal (even though I knew they would decline), so I took out my wallet and didn't realize they were already trying to tell me something. So I asked "How much?" in Korean, and apparently the preschool teacher thought I asked "when?" whatever they were talking about would happen. She said 4:30. You downstairs. And then she made a driving motion with her hands. Wait, was she offering to drive me home? I live too close, that's silly, so my first words were "No, that's ok." which would be a normal response in an English-speaking location. I should have chosen better words though, because she heard "OK", and nodded and smiled, and I think she thought she was driving me home after work or something.

Later I remembered the goodbye dinner was tonight for the teachers changing schools (teachers in Korea change schools every 2 - 5 years).  I told my co-teacher I wasn't going to go when she asked late last week, since it was somewhere in a nearby city and I didn't want to mess with trying to get there via public transport or finding a ride. I'm glad I'd said no, as I didn't know I'd be fighting off a cold that day. So it clicked that maybe the preschool teacher was offering to give me a ride from school to the dinner? I'll never know.

I had some letters to mail after school, so I stopped by the post office before making my way home as normal.

If there's any point to this lunch story apart from school updates, it would be this: Communication can happen when two people speak different languages, and miscommunication can also easily take place. Picture a regular lunch with coworkers in your home country. You wouldn't think twice about it. Now picture it through the eyes of a foreigner who doesn't speak your language. They may be silent, but I bet their mind is racing with thoughts and observations - at least mine always is. Lately the language barrier has become increasingly frustrating at work, and this is a tiny, tiny example of how it comes into play even at lunch - not even teaching/work. I feel like I'm jumping around with thoughts here, maybe I'll revisit the topic later.
• • •

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Korea list

As my halfway point is quickly approaching, I wanted to post the things I'd like to do during my Korean year. My reasons for identifying and publicizing my Korea list (which previously existed partly on a scratch piece of paper and partly in my head) are twofold.

Firstly, to motivate myself to do more on the weekends (aka not stay in my town both Saturday and Sunday, which has been far too easy for me to do this winter). Secondly, to appreciate these next six months and make the most of my remaining time in this country (as opposed to wishing it away. We must never wish time away, I continually remind myself!). That means learning more, seeing more, and tasting more.  I mean, when will I ever find myself living in Korea again?

My Korea List


Am I missing something you think I should add to my list? Is there something you want to do with me one of these weekends?
• • •

Memory card mishap in Bangkok

Where I last left off in the retelling of my Bangkok trip, I had just found out that my camera's memory card had no more space because I was unable to photograph Anne as she was getting interviewed by a small group of Thai students after our Chatuchak Market visit.

A little while after the interviews, we left the park and went back to the hostel. A block away we stopped at the 7/11 for some waters, as we did every day. I looked around and a shelf of gadgets caught my eye. Then I saw a flashdrive with the words "64 GB" on the box. Woah! It also appeared to be a memory card reader, according to the only other English words on the box and the memory card slots I could clearly see along the side of the flashdrive.

I could put my memory card into the flashdrive, and then move the pictures to the flashdrive itself. Perfect! It was nearly 150 baht, but that came out to under $5 USD which I was totally willing to spend. Almost sounded too good to be true! Hint, hint.

Anxious to revolve my issue at hand, I brought my new purchase back to the hostel and sat down at the shared computer. After some experimenting, I disappointingly realized that the flashdrive couldn't store 64 GB of data, but rather it could read a memory card of up to 64 GB of data. I probably would have known that if I could read Thai, but that was not the case. So I couldn't store anything on the flashdrive, I could only use it to read the memory card.

I put the memory card back into the flashdrive and started to copy the entire folder from my digital camera onto the computer desktop, just to have a copy of it somewhere other than the memory card. Someone else needed to use the computer, so I minimized the copying and let them at it, taking a seat three feet away with my book.

When I went back ten minutes later, the copying had stopped because the memory card was empty. What?! My camera's memory card was completely empty, wiped clean. I took the memory card out of the flash drive and put it back into my camera, hoping for the best.  Empty, my camera told me when I then tried to view the pictures.  I was upset but realized it could have been worse - I might not have copied part of the folder onto the desktop and have lost the entirety of my photos.

So I spent the next few hours monitoring the computer as I uploaded the photos I did have from the computer's desktop to Google Drive. I still could not believe all the photos I lost, memories and views that are only imprinted in my mind until they vanish, which many have already done. Although it seems most of the photos I lost were on the same two days, I still lost random photos from other points in the trip.

The other positive spin was that Anne had joined me for those two days, so she at least had some pictures and is nice and would share them with me.

We went to dinner that night with some guys from the hostel who had looked up a place online with cheap curry. We could get delicious, cheap curry just down the road on the food street as I'd had the night before, but these guys were on a mission. So we took the SkyTrain a few stops and found the restaurant. Ultimately no one was pleased with their small serving that did not come with rice, and some were bummed that we could not get any drinks, as it was Sunday night and there was an alcohol ban because of the elections.  Luckily I wasn't hungry to begin with, so I didn't have to go out for a second dinner as many of the others did.

I was exhausted, especially after skipping out on an afternoon nap to deal with the memory card issue, only to somehow delete over half of my pictures. So I went to bed around 11 knowing that we couldn't sleep in the following day; we had a Monday morning Thai cooking class to attend!
• • •

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ben's Cookies in Itaewon

During dinner in Itaewon (an area of Seoul) with some friends on Saturday evening, one of the girls mentioned that she'd read about a Ben's Cookies - a place that sold big, soft, delicious cookies.

Now soft, chewy cookies are rare in this corner of the world, so when we heard that Ben's Cookies was just a few minutes down the road, our after-dinner plans were made.

The small red shop was easy to spot since we were looking for it, but I probably would have walked right past if not.  You see the cookies in the window were hidden from view by a line of people waiting to buy some cookies inside the tiny shop when we got there.  (Only 1-2 people can really fit inside at once).

Ben's Cookies Itaewon Seoul

So how much are these melty treats? They're sold by weight! 370 won per 10 grams.  I got two cookies (one for Sunday) and the total was 6,000 some won. So one cookie will set you back about 3,000 won, which was just fine with me given my location and the number of times I'd bought cookies here in the past six months: zero.

We stood around and quickly devoured our fresh purchases right outside the shop, and there was a constant line throughout.

So if you ever find yourself suffering oven-withdrawal in your Korean apartment and craving some big, soft cookies, fear not. Head to Ben's Cookies in Itaewon!

IF YOU GO...

What: Ben's Cookies
Where: 1F, 124-9 Itaewon, 1-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Varies by season and day of the week (details on website, below), but is always open by noon until at least 9 p.m.
Metro: Itaewon, Exit 2
Directions: Go out exit 2 of the Itaewon station and keep walking straight when you get to street level. (I hate it when people say "go to such and such a metro and walk straight" but that's seriously all you need to do.  Just keep walking on that side of the street for about five minutes and keep an eye out for the red shop on your left.
Website: Ben's Cookies View all the delicious flavors there.
• • •

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bangkok: Day 6 - Getting interviewed on camera at the Chatuchak Weekend Market

[At the end of January I spent 10 days in Bangkok, Thailand. Here are the retellings of Day 1 - Getting There, Day 2 - Wander Walking and a Thai MassageDay 3 - Wat PhoDay 4 - Saranrom Park, and Day 5 - Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.] 

On Sunday Anne and I headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand.  It's so big! Anne got some great souvenirs for family and friends, and I found spirographs!

Spirograph at the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, Thailand
Spirograph! Purchased at Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market
I was so excited to see them, and even more excited to use them now on envelopes and such!  We had lunch at the market; there were plenty of places to eat. Once we sat down at a table, we had only been looking at the menu for approximately 15 seconds when the man came over to see what we wanted to order. Anne was set on Pad Thai, but I wasn't sure what to get yet - it all looked so good. Ok, so I'm looking at the options trying to decide. 

Only thirty seconds pass and the man is back again to take our order. I tell him I don't know yet, so get this: He turns around (oh good he's leaving, I think), grabs a stool, turns back around and puts it at our table. And sits down. 

No. Way.

Yeah, I kid you not. So now I can't think at all about what I'm reading on the menu. All I can think about is: Did he really just do that? Is he really going to sit here until I decide? Ah! So you need to pick something. Pick something to order because the man is sitting right here at your table waiting for you to order! Order something! Pick something!

Which of course didn't help me order because I couldn't concentrate on the menu. So finally I just pointed to something so he would go away. Phew, what stress! We laughed about it once he went away to make the food.

Pad Thai, Bangkok Thailand
Anne's Pad Thai
There was a park right next to the market that we walked through after lunch. Then we found a spot in the grass to sit down and read for a little bit. All of a sudden a group of 5 Thai college-aged gals came up to us in a group. Now, after living in Madrid for two years, my first instinct was to hold onto my bag. I thought it was some scheme to rob us. (In Madrid oftentimes children will go up to you with clipboards to sign a petition, but it's a ploy while someone else pickpockets you).

Getting interviewed by Thai students

One of them nervously asked Anne in broken English if they could interview her for a class. Sure, she says. So one of the girls sat down next to Anne with her phone in her hand to record audio. Another girl stood in front of them to record the interview on video (with a cell phone). A third girl was sitting to the side, off-screen, holding up signs for the interviewer to read. So it seemed to be an assignment for the girls to practice English.

Everyone's set up and the interview starts:

What's your name?

(Girl with cards quickly sets that first paper down after the question is read so that the interviewer can read the next question.)

Where are you from?

(Cue card gets set down)

How long have you been in Thailand?

(I'm thinking: This is great! Let me get some photos of this!)

Where have you been in Thailand?

(I pull out my camera and take a picture of Anne getting interviewed.)

What do you like about Thailand?

(I take another. Then my camera says "Memory card is full"!!)

What do you dislike about Thailand?

(What?! How is my memory card full? I haven't taken that many pictures already, have I?)

Do you like sports? What sports?

... and maybe ten more questions like that. The first half were about traveling in Thailand, and the rest were just random questions about yourself. And throughout Anne's entire interview I'm still nervous, keeping a close eye on my bag (which is on Anne's other side) while I'm now trying to delete some pictures to make a little room on the memory card.  Slowly I convinced myself that if the girls had wanted to rob us, they would have done so already. And they probably wouldn't have made all those cue cards for the interview. Nor given Anne the packet of information she was now filling out.

It was a packet with their University's logo at top, and then all of the interview questions she had just been asked. She was to write all the answers she had just spoken.

Meanwhile I'm mildly freaking out about my camera being full; it was only the afternoon, and we still had five more days in Bangkok. I thought I had bought a second memory card at some point and brought it with me to Korea, but I didn't look for it before the trip - so I only had the one with me at the moment in Bangkok. How easy would it be to find another memory card here in the city? Might there be one at the market?

But my thoughts got interrupted when the girls now asked to interview me. I thought I was off the hook! So the same thing happened, one girl was next to me interviewing and recording audio. Another girl recorded the video with her cell phone, and the cue card girl did a great job holding up the signs for the interviewer to read. I asked Anne to snap a picture on her iPhone of my moment of fame:


And then I filled out their packet of questions with my answers. Then the interviewer wanted a picture with me. And then we took a group photo of all the girls and Anne and I. They were really grateful that we did their interview, so they thanked us once again, and then headed off to find their next foreigner to interview.

We only spent a little more time in the park before heading back to the hostel to take a rest. Although I was tired too, while Anne took a nap I was determined to figure out a solution to my memory card problem. But that's a story for another post!
• • •

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The 4-Hour Body

Last month I finished reading Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman.  I should note that I only decided to read it after enjoying his The 4-Hour Workweek and learning that he's written two other books: this one and The 4-Hour Chef.

The 4-Hour Body spans so many topics, I'd almost say it was too lengthy.  However, Ferriss does say at the start that the book is not meant to be read cover to cover; skip around and read what interests you.

Here's a sample of chapter topics so you can see the variety: How to lose weight without exercising, six-minute abs, the 15-minute female orgasm, creating the perfect night's sleep, and jumping higher.  Although I'm not interested in weight loss or amazing muscle gain, I wanted to give the book a read anyway, and any information that I could apply to my life would be a bonus.

My Takeaways from "The 4-Hour Body"

There were many of these bonuses as I made my way through the book, things I never expected to learn while reading:

Photo food journal

The concept of a "food journal" is nothing new, and I have tried to keep one before when searching for my IBS triggers. I didn't always write immediately after eating; I usually found myself at the end of the day trying to recall what I'd eaten earlier.

Ferriss writes about keeping a photo food journal, something I had never thought about before.  That's probably due to the fact that I never owned a smartphone until I moved to Korea this past fall, so it wouldn't have been easy to photograph everything I ate. But if you do have a smartphone, taking a picture of everything you eat for a few consecutive days would really help you make better eating choices.  I'll probably make this an action item for myself this month or next.

Healthytoes toe stretchers

In one chapter Ferriss briefly mentions toe stretchers.  I never even knew such a thing existed! Over time, constricting shoes have changed the shape of our toes so that the two outside toes point inwards. I've always said that if there was one thing I could change about my appearance it would be my toes.  I have a hammertoe on each foot, which causes the surrounding toes to be a bit crooked as well.  And I always thought this is how I am, nothing can be changed.

But toe straighteners exist! And toe stretchers too, which put a little space between the toes.  If this could bring my feet back to their natural state, before 25 years of socks and shoes, how incredible.  So I bought a pair of "happy feet" socks (toe stretcher) and two toe straighteners.  They just arrived in the mail this week, so I'll post an update in a month or so.

Active Release Technique (ART)

Using Wikipedia's current definition, Active Release Technique (ART) is "a soft tissue system/movement-based technique developed and patented by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP. It is used to treat problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves."

After Ferriss had one short ART session, he regained so much internal shoulder rotation movement (the before and after pictures show just how much - it's incredible). It would take just three or four more sessions to completely restore both shoulders. ART prevents many surgeries, and fixes problems that folks have had for years. I hope I won't ever need to seek out an ART practitioner myself, but I'm glad to be aware that this option exists for muscle problems.

Total Immersion Swimming

I have never been good at swimming.  At this point in my life, if I needed to get from point A to point B (and the two points weren't too far apart), I could swim there. I would like to improve my swimming ability, but it has never been a priority, nor did I know how to go about doing so. Ferris talks about his experience learning the "Total Immersion Swimming" method, which sounds perfect for me.

By learning this method (watching the DVD and then reading the book), in 10 days he went from being able to swim a maximum of 40 yards (2 pool lengths) to over 40 lengths. And when I do pursue this swimming method, apparently Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggles are the best goggles out there, so I made note of the name.

Eggs

I've been eating so many more eggs during the month after reading this book. I don't dislike eggs, I would just never buy them.  And if I would happen to buy them I wouldn't eat them, so I usually just didn't buy them.  (I bought a dozen eggs earlier this fall and they sat in my fridge untouched for so long I had to throw them out.  I wasn't purposefully avoiding them, I just ate other things and never had the desire to make eggs.)

Ferriss includes eggs or egg whites in many of his muscle-gain or weight-loss diets.  Reading about eggs so often caused me to buy a dozen when I walked past them the next week in the grocery store.  And I added some scrambled eggs to many of my rice/pasta creations, and now I've been dropping some into soups -- delicious!

Comprehensive stool analysis and parasitology

The more reading that I do, I know a stool analysis would probably provide me with valuable information.  Ferriss recommends the "Comprehensive Stool Analysis and Parasitology" from MetaMetrix (Doctor's Data, Genova), which costs $245. Again, I copied the information down for when I'm back in the states next fall.

The other test Ferriss recommends that I jotted down was "SpectraCell Nutrient Testing," which for $364 it pinpoints vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies, something else I've been curious about.


Quotes from The 4-Hour Body

Here are some quotes I highlighted while reading:
It's up to you -not your doctor, not the newspaper- to learn what you best respond to.   
The benefits go far beyond the physical. 
The decent method you follow is better than the perfect method you quit. 
The fastest way to correct behavior is to be aware of it in real time, not after-the-fact. 
Seeing progress in changing numbers makes the repetitive fascinating and creates a positive feedback loop.   
Once again, the act of measuring is often more important than what you measure.

Self-Experimentation

And finally the most important message I took away from this book is the importance of experimenting on yourself.  Ferriss constantly takes matters into his own hands, experimenting, and sharing the results with the world.

To find out what will work best for you and your body, you've got to test out various methods and track results yourself. Dr. Seth Roberts, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University of California Berkeley, writes in the book's final chapter:
The accumulated knowledge of our time is more accessible than ever before. Self-experimenters, with total freedom, plenty of time, and easy access to empirical tests, are in a great position to take advantage of it.


This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a blog of mine active from 2013-14, which no longer exists.
• • •

Friday, February 14, 2014

5 great ESL games for the elementary classroom


If you're brand new to the elementary world with no formal training, I think it's hard to find quality elementary activities and games for the ESL/EFL classroom.  For that reason, I want to share five elementary ESL/EFL games that have become my favorites during the first half of my teaching experience in Korea.  Why are these games/activities so great?

  • They're not specific to material, so you can use them with any unit
  • They're engaging
  • Students get speaking practice
  • Little to no set-up / prep involved

The grade levels I list below each game/activity are the grade levels I have successfully done these activities with. The games could very well work with older/younger grades, but I can't say so from personal experience.

Tic-Tac-Toe

Grades: 5/6

I've used Tic-Tac-Toe as a quick warm-up in both sixth and fifth grade classes now.  Students were not familiar with Tic-Tac-Toe, but it's quite similar to O-mok, a Korean game where you must get five in a row.  To play as a class, I split everyone into two teams (front three groups are X, back three groups are O).  One student from each group stands up and they play rock, paper, scissors to see which group goes first.

My Tic-Tac-Toe board is on powerpoint.  I have a picture in each of the squares, relating to their current unit.  When it's a team's turn, two students must stand up and make a dialog about the square they want.  Then, using power point's pen, I can draw an X or O right on the slide while the powerpoint is in presentation mode.

Tic Tac Toe ESL review game

The target language used in 6th grade for the Tic-Tac-Toe board above was:
S1: What do you want to be?
S2: I want to be a teacher.

The powerpoint doesn't take long to make, the students are way more engaged in Tic-Tac-Toe than in a quick flashcard review, and it's a great way to refresh before you start the day's lesson and learn new material.

Note: My co-teacher helped tell the kids that different students must volunteer each turn to say the dialogue (if you've gone once, you can't go again).  The last time I used this with the 6th graders, we had trouble getting volunteers.  We would have to wait until someone finally stood up, and then wait for a second person.

I've only played this with my 5th graders one time (different co-teacher).  When the first team was slow to have volunteers she began to quickly count "Five, four, three, two, one, zero!" (no pause between them!).  One time no one stood up before she got to zero, so that team lost their turn and the other team got to go again.  We always had volunteers after that.

Hidden Star

Grades: 3/4

I have only ever played this game with my third and fourth graders, and they like it.  I don't think it would necessarily hold the 5th/6th graders' attention, but then again I never know.  All you need are six picture flashcards and six magnet clips (or tape).  The fourth graders' textbook comes with a set of big flash cards for the teachers, so that's what we use.

Put all six flashcards on the board using the magnets (or whatever you have).  Everyone "goes to sleep" (heads down, eyes closed) while I draw a star on the chalkboard under one of the pictures.  My co-teacher watches for peeking students while I do this.  (Note: Many students try to peek, so I usually fake draw a star under one picture before I actually draw the star. It's funny then when most groups just so happen to pick the picture that you used to fake it.  There's upset chattering when it's revealed that no star lies under that picture, but they can't say why because they would have to admit peeking!).


Then everyone can "wake up".  I start with group number one.  All of the other groups ask them the target question (eg: What do you want?).  The group tells me their answer together, choosing one of the six pictures (eg: I want a black vest).  You could then write the group number next to the picture, but we have small, yellow magnetic numbers that work really well for this game.  Then everyone asks the target question to group number two.  After all six groups have chosen their picture (it's okay if multiple groups choose the same picture), begin to reveal what's behind the pictures.  I try to make this exciting for them, pausing before I reveal a picture that many groups have chosen, for example. The kids get really into it and are super bummed when there's no star beneath the picture, and likewise are overjoyed when they're right.

White Line Game

Grades: 4/5

My students' textbooks sometimes have flashcards in the back of their books for a particular unit.  This game was actually in the teacher's book for 5th grade, and I used it again with fourth graders because it's so simple and gets the kids speaking.

Students put their flashcards face up in a line on their desk, in any order.  All together the students ask me a question, using target language.  I give a response that corresponds to one of the flashcards, using a target expression.  If this card is on either end of their line, they can flip it over.  If it's somewhere in the middle of the line, they cannot turn it over.  The first person to have turned over all of their cards (aka made a white line) is the winner.

ESL elementary white line card game

After playing once or twice as a class, you can then have the students play in their small groups (the desks in our English room are set up in "pods" of 6 desks, with 4 - 6 students sitting at each group).  The small group then asks the target question to one student.  That student gives the target response (they can choose a card that's advantageous to them), and then it's the next student's turn.  This gives everyone a lot more talking time.

If it's their first time playing, the explanation, big group play, and small group play will take at least 15 minutes.

Around the World

Grades: 5/6

I've written about this game once before on this Elementary games and activities for English class post, but think it's worth including again here.  All you need to play are either a stack of flashcards or a powerpoint with a single vocabulary picture or word on each slide (depending on level and what skill you want to practice).  I've only used powerpoints so far for ESL/EFL Around The World (with a pointer, so I can walk around the room without being stuck clicking at the computer).

Everyone sits at their desks. The game begins on one end of the classroom when two students sitting next to each other stand up. The teacher then shows a slide (or flashcard) and the two students try to say the vocabulary word first. The "loser" would sit down and the "winner" stays standing and advances to the next desk. The student at the next desk stands up and the two students compete with another picture/flashcard. It's supposed to be a fast game. To win, you must have moved from your original seat, all the way around the classroom (world), back to your seat.

If a student has advanced halfway around the room and loses, he or she should sit down in the seat where they lost (not walk back to his/her original seat.)  I think it's a good review to use during a spare 10 minutes at the end of class every now and then.

Go Fish

Grades: 4-6

Although it's a common game in the USA, Go Fish is unknown here in Korea.  I'll only plan to play this game when there are sufficient flashcards included in the back of the students' textbook for that specific unit.  Creating, copying, and cutting out our own flashcards would be way too laborious, since so many are needed for Go Fish.  I choose the number of cards that each student begins with in their hands based on the number of flashcards in the book for that unit.

Rather than saying "Do you have ~?" we use the unit's target question. For example, "How do you say ~ in English?" was a sixth grade target phrase one unit that was used in Go Fish.  If the student has the requested card, they say "Here you are" as they hand it over.  If not, they say "I'm sorry, go fish."

It keeps the students' attention and makes everyone speak comfortably in small groups (not in front of the whole class).

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Unfortunately I can't use these five games every day next school year, so if you know of other quality elementary ESL games/activities, please share in the comments!
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