Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Ruminations

Here’s some random thoughts & some great Danish artists for you to hear on this lovely Sunday evening!

Thank god for Google Translate.

When you smile at people on the street in the U.S., they usually respond in turn. In Denmark, they a) think you are drunk b) think you are weird c) think you are foreign d) all of the above

The food in Denmark may be more fresh and contain less preservatives, but grocery stores here typically only have ten different ice cream flavors…. So a longer life, yes, but I would argue that something might be missing!

If I make it through a single day without being confused about something, I consider it a major accomplishment and celebrate accordingly with Toblerone.

Europeans really do not get Halloween. Case in point, when I brought home a pumpkin, my Italian roommate asked if we were “eating it for dinner tonight?”

Lighting candles everywhere in your apartment may be a fire hazard, but it is so cozy! Or ‘Hygge,’ as the Danes would say. Also helps distract from the fact that the sun now sets at 4:30 PM. I can’t tell whether I should be making dinner or going to sleep.

You don’t really need a top sheet on your bed.

Medina=Denmark’s less weird version of Lady Gaga.

Danish children may very well be the cutest children in the world.

Since no one here celebrates Thanksgiving, no one minds if I break out the Christmas jams before November 25th. Sing it loud, sing it proud, Mariah Carey. #alliwantforchristmasisyou?

Cobblestone streets make everyday life feel just a bit more like a fairytale.

Still struggling with measurements in European terms...

Roommate: "How warm is it outside?"

Me: “Oh, around 60 degrees maybe?”

Roommate: “That’s impossible!”

Me: “No….that’s Fahrenheit.”

Tune in next time for: Danish forests, oral exams, the low-down on my roomies, and an evening of jazz!

A Day in the Life

The typical (Tues)day as Teacha Gracie at Yang Talad Wittayakarn (as if such a thing ever existed.)

6:00 am

The alarm on my phone goes off. Briefly think about getting up but decided to hit the snooze button instead. Change mind. Decide not to hit the snooze button. Figure that roosters that live next door will get the same job done.

7:00 am

Rooster crows (They really do say cock-a-doodle-doo.) Actually roll out of bed. Begin the day by making important decisions like “What shoes am I going to wear?” or “What am I going to eat for breakfast?” or “Could I get away with not showering this morning?” (Probably the black heels, usually a banana and some oatmeal, and nope, gross, get in the shower.)

7:45 am

Leave my cute pink house and walk to school with my fabulous housemate and fellow English teacher, Ganaa. Make sure my hands are free so I can “wai” ( my fellow teachers as I pass them on my way to the main office. What a nice, polite farang!

8:00 am

Stop by the school’s morning ceremony for a bit. Realize I have no idea what’s going on because everything is in Thai. Wave to the school band. We speak the same language. They’re my peeps.

8:30 am

Eat breakfast in the English Department office with my fellow English teachers. Typical Thai greeting:

“Gin kaao roe young?” (Have you eaten yet?)

Proper response: “Young ka” (Not yet!)

9:00 am

Lesson planning! Who am I teaching? What are we going to learn about? How do I say that in Thai? Can I get away with making them play Pictionary again?

9:15 am

I’m hungry. Kanom break. (kanom = Thai snack. So, so many kanoms in so, so many different shapes and sizes)

10:20 am

Period 3 with class M2/10 (grade 8). They are sassy and wonderful. Teach a lesson on food. Decide to play Pictionary. I wish I had a kanom…

11:15 am

Period 4 with class M3/4 (grade 9). They are sassy and wonderful too. Have to give the “TEACHA IS ON TO YOU” face to boys who try to skip class by sitting on the benches outside of the classroom. Come on, really? Gotta love boys that age. They’re so cool…

12:00 pm

LUNCH TIME! Go with my awesome host teacher, Arjun Moo, and some other teachers to a restaurant nearby campus. Practice speaking Thai for everyone’s lunchtime enjoyment. Eat. A lot. Aroi mak mak!

1:00 pm

Double period with my M1/9 class (grade 7). They are sassy and wonderful and nicknamed “my little monsters” for good reason. So much energy! Entertain them with English for two hours.

2:50 pm

English Club! Play English games and listen to American music. Try to convince them that Justin Timberlake is my boyfriend. Students learn the word “delusional”.

3:45 pm

Arjun Moo takes me to the grocery store. Look for new kanom I haven’t tried before. Forget to buy important things like drinking water.

4:30 pm

Talk to some students still hanging out on campus. Eat kanom with them. Scare them with my English speaking and mesmerize them with my hair and big nose (In Thailand, I have “yellow” hair. Do blondes have more fun? Time will tell!). Make them laugh by unleashing some of my go-to Isaan phrases on them (Isaan is the local language. A sort of hybrid of Thai and Loa. Think of it as the Thai version of Scots or something. Hilarious!)

5:00 pm

Consider going for a run. Walk to 7/11 to buy a coconut or chaa yen instead.

6:00 pm

Dinner, maybe? Usually too full of kanom.

7:00 pm

Nighttime laundry doing. Only manage to get half of the detergent out.

8:00 pm

Kanom break and English/Thai exchange with Ganaa and her friend P’Oo. There is typically hulahooping involved.

9:00 pm

Lesson planning, Facebooking, e-mail catching up, reading, Thai studying, movie watching, etc.

10:00 pm

Consider going to bed. Continue lesson planning, facebooking, email catching up, reading, Thai studying, movie watching, etc.

11:30 pm

Go to bed finally. Dream of my favorite kanom.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Merry November?!

There have been many times in the past two and half months where I have begun blog entries only to get distracted and – to paraphrase Aldous Snow in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall – “just carried on living my life.” For a while, just a trip to the grocery store was a serious undertaking and an adventure of near-mythic proportions, so please forgive me for the serious delay. I have never, ever been good at keeping a record of my activities. In fact, I’m pretty sure that pink, sparkly scented gel pen was my writing tool of choice when I last kept a diary. But since I am living at least six hours ahead of just about everyone I know, I have finally realized that a blog is the best way of sharing my life with family and friends and am kicking my butt into gear.

I originally studied abroad in Copenhagen during fall 2009 at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), which typically has several Gettysburg College students attending each semester. I lived with a host family in small harbor town of Dragør, which is about an hour outside of the city center by bus. The friends I made during that semester became some of my best friends at college, and I wish I could have smuggled them back here with me in my suitcases. Long story short, I fell in love with Copenhagen, came back to the States, applied for a Fulbright, and to my great joy, was selected for a ten-month long grant to study land management at the University of Copenhagen. My project proposal focused on the still-undergoing development of the Danish national park system. I will say more about what I’ve learned so far in another post, as this one will already be pretty long. But now for some cultural exchange!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! Too soon? Not in Copenhagen, where the Christmas season officially began this past Friday at 8:59 PM, with the release of Carlsberg Brewery’s Tuborg Julebryg. Julebryg is a Christmas beer released on the first Friday in November each year and the entire city of Copenhagen gets in on the celebration. The first J-dag (or J-day) was held on a Wednesday in 1990, but as time went on, the powers that be began to notice that young people were not turning up to school and work the following morning! Thus, J-dag was moved to a Friday. Despite only being on the market for about six weeks, Julebryg is reportedly Denmark’s fourth best selling beer. Tuborg trucks drive around to various bars, opening to reveal workers with free beer, light-up hats, bells, and horns. I also learned the hard way that you must be careful when they dance past you – it can end up being a drive-by stamping! The next thing I knew, my arms and neck were all saying “Glædelig jul og godt tub' år, “ or “Merry Christmas and a good Tuborg!” Thanks, Tuborg man, but I would have preferred the free beer or maybe a hat.

As much as I miss being home for the fall, enthusiasm for Christmas more than makes up for missing Thanksgiving. Fake snow outside of bars, fake snow on the windows, even fake snow on the table centerpieces. Fake snow on you and me and even somehow in my festively wrapped beer bottle! Copenhagen takes on a wonderfully festive atmosphere during the holiday season. There's something magical about rounding a corner and seeing Gråbrødretorv all lit up, with everyone gathered outside the bars and restaurants. Singing “Jingle Bells” at the top of my lungs with a bunch of random Danes flinging fake snow is a memory I will never forget. And then it was time for a sweaty, crowded dance party upstairs in Den Glade Gris, AKA The Happy Pig, always a good way to end a night, even sans light-up Santa hat.

Every Day I'm Shuffling

I found out that one of my students could moonwalk.  I thought I was gonna watch him show off his moves but, instead, I got to see this during lunch...

Friday, November 4, 2011

October is for Festivals

Hi all,

Heo, the witch.

    While Heo (above) may be one of the few people in Korea who actually celebrates Halloween, October is definitely not lacking holidays and festivities in Korea.  October is famous for having multiple festivals.  Luckily, I have been able to check out several of these.  Early in the month, I went to the Simcheongga festival with one of the teachers at my school.  Simcheongga is a story about a girl, named Sim Cheong, who works hard to help her father overcome his blindness.  After going through several obstaclest (going to the Dragon of the Sea, the emperor, etc.) Sim Cheong is able to help her father.  The festival did not have a whole lot to do with the story, but there were plenty of cool performances and activities.  I watched traditional drumming and dancing.  Aditionally, a famous singer was at the festival who sung a famous song about the Sim Cheong story.
    About a week an a half later, I had several days off from school so, I headed to Daegu and Busan.  Daegu is one of the largest cities in Korea.  I visited a museum about Daegu's history and learned quite a bit about the city and its rapid development.  It is an important industrial area for Korea (Samsung was originally based in Daegu).  Recently, it is also a leader in fashion in Korea.  While in Daegu, Kyle, another ETA in Naju, and I met up with friends and explored many of Daegu's famous outdoor markets. The most famous in Yangnyongsi, which is known for herbs and medicine.  Seomun Market, by far the largest in the city, was mostly filled with fabrics and clothes.  This market consisted of vendors outside and underground.
   Following Daegu, the Naju ETAs and I met with about 30 other ETAs in Busan for the Busan International Film Festival.  BIFF is the largest film festival in Asia and it continues to grow.  This year was the first year in which a good portion of the event was housed in a brand new movie theater (this building was massive).  Many of the other films were screened at the Shinsegae Department Store across the street.  Shinsegae is comparable to Macys in Korea.  It is in just about every city in Korea.  The store in Busan is the largest department store in Korea and the world.  In addition to having a movie theater, the department store also has an ice-skating rink, a museum, and a massive spa/sauna.

Shinsegae Department Store

    While I loved Busan and thought it was beautiful, I did not really see much of the city because I was busy watching movies.  When I first got there, my friend, Aaron, and I went to watch several Korean short films.  While the production quality was high, the actual content of the movies was not so great.  The best film, Modern Family, was about a Korean family who, through a strange turn of events, end up killing their neighbors in order to protect their son (I shouldn't have bought popcorn).  I also saw and old Korean film called Buy My Fist.  It was a melodramatic film about a boxer who cares for the family of one of his opponents after he kills him.  The movie was a bit over the top, but it was interesting to see a very old Korean film that was extremely popular when it was released.
Busan Cinema Center
Aaron and Di-Hoa relaxing outside the Busan Cinema Center
Another view of the Busan Cinema Center
    My friends and I had bought tickets to see Marjan Satrapi's new film (she directed Persepolis).  Unfortunately, the screening was canceled.  Despite the disappointed, we ended up having a great time exploring Haeundae Beach, the most famous beach in Busan.  At the beach, several famous Korean directors were discussing their works.  I listened an then walked around and soaked up the atmosphere (reminded me a lot of Venice Beach).  Following the short break from the main center of the festival, we headed back in order to watch a concert by the Busan World Philharmonic Orchestra.  This performance was held in the outdoor section of the new movie theater.  Fireworks were launched in the middle and at the end.  Following the wonderful show, a French Ambassador came out to introduce the new film The Artist.  The Artist was a surprise hit at Cannes.  The film is about a silent film star in Hollywood who struggles once sound is introduced.  While the movie was charming, I think it should have been a comedy instead of a drama.  At the same time, it was great to sit outside and watch it on a massive screen.

Panel discussion on the beach with Korean directors
Haeundae Beach

Busan New World Orchestra
    While in Naju, I also had the chance to check out some festivals close to home.  Last Friday, I went to the Gwangju International Film Festival.  The festival has been going on for 11 years.  I saw a wonderful French film called Tomboy.  This movie was quite popular at Sundance.  It is about a young French girl who moves to a new town with her family and tells the kids in the neighborhood that she is a boy.  Lots of ambiguity and an interesting ending within this movie.

I am inside a presentation at the Biennale
     I also had a chance to check out the Gwangju Design Biennale.  This event was a special exhibit that was dedicated to design within Korea and the rest of the world.  "Design"was interpreted quite loosely.  It was applied to architecture, the human body, cars, and politics.  Exhibits focused on everything from the physique of atheletes and womens' headdresses to the rebuilding of Japan and sustainability.  I had a blast walking around and looking at al the ideas that were on display.   Afterwards, I certainly had a lot to ponder.