Jump Rope

So I’m trying to get into the habit of writing something here every week while I’m still in Korea, and I’m going start with 줄넘기 (jump rope).

I found out that even in a seemingly uncommon sport like jump rope, some people are completely amazing and probably invested their life into it.


Mix of pity and admiration for him right??

I decided that since I haven’t been doing any team sports in Korea, I should start exercising more. And now that I have invested like $4 in a skipping rope, I guess I am committed. I tried four times now, and  its kind of cool because my timing was a lot better today, and I can do that thing where you cross your arms while swinging, and also swing the rope around twice in one jump. Impressed??

My ESL students vehemently told me those tricks are easy and they would like to show me up when they have a chance. Apparently Korean students jump rope all the time at school and at home, and they they can do triple jumps even, although I doubt that.

One 9 year old student excitedly told me: “Me jumprope 100 every morning, because I want to skinny.”

I think I tried to skip to 1000 when I was that age, but then gave up on it…until now.

Posted in Korean Culture, Teaching English, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Octopus 낙지

Haven’t written here in so long, so I’m just going to start posting some pictures or short posts hopefully. Only 3.5 months left in Korea, and winter is letting up, so time for more adventures.

Starting with the almost live octopus (straight from the water onto the frying pan). It goes down smoothly. No tentacles latching on to esophagus. Quite delicious. But I’m going to get a video next time to show you.Image

Posted in Food, Korean Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Korean Speech Contest

As I mentioned before, I was taking Korean classes at Dankook University here in Suji, Korea. At the end we had a speech contest, so I hope you will enjoy watching my submission if you click on the youtube link.


By the way, I added some subtitles so you can follow along a number of different ways. First, If you are a Korean or have learned 한글 you can see the actual Korean script. Second if you are learning Korean or want to get a glimpse of how different Korean grammar is, you can see the word-for-word translation. Third, there is a romanization of what I’m saying in Korean. And fourth there is a natural English equivalent, which is similar to how I originally wrote up the speech.

There’s also a slideshow that accompanied the speech, but I haven’t figured out if I can add pictures to the video yet, so currently you can’t really see the slides that go with the speech.

I have to thank some Korean friends that helped me with some editing and pronunciation. But still, I’m curious about what parts might sound natural or not to native Korean speakers? And what does it sound like to non-Korean speakers too?

Posted in Korean Culture, Korean Language, Uncategorized, University | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Teacher’s View

Hello out there. I haven’t written in a long time, I was really busy with taking intensive Korean classes and that’s finally finished up. I want to post some videos from that soon. But for this post, I have some pictures (which you can click to enlarge), and thoughts on teaching English that have been collecting over the past couple months. I hope you enjoy this update.

Pose Tracker: Peace signs (3) Cell Phone Cameras (1) Face Concealing (4) Partial Attention (4)

This is the first class I teach Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Although its the lowest level I teach, they are very invigorating to teach. Why? They have not yet reached the age of cynicism yet. My grade 6 students, on the other hand, have a firm conviction they know better than the teacher. When I begin explaining an activity, its interesting how they proclaim that it’s going to be boring, only to be laughing five minutes later. I used to get discouraged at this response, but the truth is all students love activities. Even adult students. Its just a matter of getting people to play silly games without being condescending and making them admit how childlike they are. Thus, middle school students can more easily enjoy a game, after they express their general doubt and angst about it. If I ask them what they would rather do, their either don’t know or suggest something not educational anyways. So usually I try to fight through the cynicism.

Pose Tracker: Peace Signs (1) Cell phone cameras (3) Face Concealing (2) Partial Attention (4) 

Admittedly, there’s some overlap between using cell phone cameras (to take a picture of their teacher taking a picture) and concealing their faces.

TOPIA Holidays: You all know Halloween can be an interesting experience for teachers. However, I preferred 빼빼로 (Peppero) Day. 

Halloween: One of my classes genuinely scared me. They turned out all the lights, and one girl with the most frightening make-up was standing there with a huge axe.

Peppero Day:  Its strange to have a Day named after a Brand Name Product. Imagine if they tried to do Pepsi Day or something in North America. People might recoil against the marketing scheme. But for whatever reason, Peppero Day is much loved in Korea as a time for exchanging Pepperos (chocolate covered sticks which resemble the shape of it’s date, November 11th, (11/11 ). So all day students were giving us snacks.

See you next time.

Posted in Korean Culture, Teaching English | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Books (Part 2)

In keeping with Part 1 of my the chronological book list, here are five more recent books that impacted by thinking. Although these may seem like unrelated themes, I hope you can find some connected strands between them, and to your own reading and thinking.

6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Annie Dillard
(21 years old) Dillard observes the natural world with such fresh, clear perspectives that when combined with her applications to theology and psychology, you want to see past the constant stream of distractions that attempt to guide our perceptions.

A similar thing comes up in a lot of university classes: letting go of a preconceived idea of something to see what’s actually there. For example, I’m a horrible artist, but in the one art class that I took, we had to draw without looking at the drawing, only at the object we were drawing. And although messy, I actually drew a very lifelike thumb once by this method. Similarly, in phonetics, we had to break down all the sounds that humans use as language into identifiable symbols. And basically the English alphabet disguises a lot of sounds or patterns that simply become second nature. Even the actual pronunciation of my last name Witten surprised me. There’s no T sound in the middle, only a little break in sound called the glottal stop.

“But there is another kind of seeing that involves letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera, I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.”

7. Learning to Think Korean: Robert Kohn
(22 years old) At this point I was interested in teaching English but I thought that I would go to Japan, because I had already been to Korea one time. I guess this book showed me that it might be wiser to understand one culture at a deeper level, than to simply skip along to the next culture. One thing that I find very interesting, yet also contradictory is the Korean idea of “saving face”. On the one hand the emphasis on being observant and concerned about preserving the dignity of others seems good, but the evasive or dishonest side of it seems unpredictable to me, especially since at other times Koreans are very comfortable being blunt.

“Indirectness and a concern for saving face—one’s own and that of others—continues to be a paramount feature of all Asian cultures. It can still cause difficulty for Americans, who are known for their directness, even bluntness, and who too often respond carelessly and impatiently to the subtleties of indirect behavior…. Americans, of course value their directness and openness and are proud of their honesty and their insistence on “telling it like it is.” In Korea, however, face-saving practices must be pursued….”

8. C.S. Lewis: Til We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
(23 years old) After reading most of C.S. Lewis’s works, I didn’t really expect to find another one that I liked, but this one, which is his list book and his own favorite, made a big impression. This book allows the reader to follow the indignation of the protagonist at the silence of the gods and the unfairness of friends and family until things unravel. Anyways, I think it teaches the wisdom of The Four Loves through a setting as imaginative as Narnia or The Space Trilogy.

“‘Are the gods not just?’
‘Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?'”

9. The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
(23 years old) I never studied Steinbeck at University, so it was actually in my fifth year I decided to start reading his books. I had bought Grapes of Wrath I bought for about $3 at a silent auction because I had heard of it so many times, and quickly proceeded to East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. This book portrays Great Depression era unemployment and dehumanization, which a few bright glimpses of a better life. Interestingly, this is a book that is frequently read as “safe” English literature in communist anti-American countries because it’s very critical of the American system.

“Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re dirty…scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”

10. The Inner Voice of Love: Henry Nouwen
(24 years old) Nouwen writes about his deepest spiritual struggles and questions. How does one get rid of the impulse to derive our value from people rather than God? How can we allow our our fears or loneliness to lead towards Christ, rather than driving us into other attempts at patching ourselves up? Its worth reading slowly and carefully.

“There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently…because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom….”

(actually from a different Nouwen book) “I am constantly struck by the fact that those who are most detached from life, those who have learned through living that there is nothing and nobody in this life to cling to, are…free to move constantly away from the familiar, safe places and can keep moving forward to new, unexplored areas of life….I am thinking primarily of a spiritual process by which we can live our lives more…open to God’s guidance and more willing to respond when he speaks to our innermost selves.”

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have liked these books or not. And please put down your own favorite book description or quote as well. I’m always on the hunt for the next read.


Posted in Books, Community, Exploring, Korean Culture, Uncategorized, University | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top Ten Books (Part 1)

Here is my list of top ten books, and this doesn’t have much to do with Korea, but I really find a chronological book list intriguing. What I am going for is not to try to determine what are the best ten books in the world, but ten books that struck me so significantly at the time that I can still remember the moment I sat down and started turning the pages. This list is in roughly chronological order and shows different stages of thinking in my life. Here are ten that I still retain the flashbulb memories for. And most of the pictures are exactly the same covers or images that I actually had.

1. Bob Books:

(5 years old) When I was about five years old, my Mom was teaching me to read and I had to struggle through all the memorization of sound and phonics. But then I encountered a real story. And my Dad offered to pay me for each book that I could read. I was engrossed in literature for the first time. “Sam had a cat.” The possibilities were endless.

2. Peace Child: By Don Richardson

(10 years old) At some point, my Mom started reading to my younger brother Derek and I in the evening, and this became a favorite custom for us and we would always beg for another chapter. The most vivid imagery I can remember is this missionary story that took place in the Jungles of Papau New Guinea. I was transported into a world where treachery, (especially that culminated in cannibalism), rather than virtues, was valued as the highest moral. After Don, this missionary, went through the laborious task of translating a gospel into their language, the tribal men thought that Judas Iscariot was a hero at first, until eventually Don made inroads by discovered there was a parallel deep in their rather frightening culture that was fulfilled by the message that Don was sharing.

3. Worldbook Encyclopedia 1986

(10-15 years old) Before the era of Wikipedia, I discovered this set of encyclopedias on the shelf and constantly used it to explore facts and understand the world. I think I looked up the information for almost every U.S. state and Canadian province at some point. These precise charts would give me the population across time, the biggest cities in any province. I have never gotten sick of a really good page of statistics or charts. Now those big books go completely unused, but can you imagine how many shelves Wikipedia would stretch across if you just put all the English documents into page format?

4. The Hobbit: By J.R.R. Tolkein

(17 years old) This was also one of the books my Mom read to me, but I read it again in 17 and realized a couple of things. Firstly, it showed me that rereading good books is worthwhile even though I always want to read new stuff. Secondly, I read it just before the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, and then I continued reading through each Lord of the Rings book each Christmas when the movie came out. I realized that I had been insane and stubborn as a child not to like Lord of the Rings when I first read it. I was trying to be unique and a critical thinker, but I’m glad I gave it another chance. And it’s upcoming movie’s title also contributed to the name of this blog.

5. Introduction to Psychology: By David Myers

(19 years old) It was this fat textbook that I was supposed to lend to my older brother from someone else or something. Then, I opened it one day to the Unit on Memory and was quite transfixed. I think some of the areas it touched on were how the average person can remember only 7 random numbers in a row. So if you read 473891329, and then look away how many numbers can you remember? And I think it talked about idiot savants, and mnemonics, and flashbulb memories, false memories (which you have to admit is pretty fascinating). It is probably one of the most well-written university textbooks I have ever seen, and was a step towards majoring in psychology although I submit that I’m not really into psychology these days.

Five more to come…

So If you liked these/didn’t like them so far, then let me know why and write your own examples too.

Posted in Books, Teaching English, University | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Korea Island

Part of the reason I wanted to come to South Korea for a year was a growing list of things I wanted to do and people that I wanted to see. And I was amazed at how easy it was to complete those objectives once I got here. Partly since, anything or anyone that is connected by the Seoul subway system can be reached in an hour or two of travel (that includes like 20 million people).

And although its always possible to keep moving to the next thing, I started realizing that the people and places I am returning to are more important. Although it’s hard not to just bolt to the next thing when the going gets rough. Actually, I have always imagined that getting stuck on an island with random people might produce great community (although now I remember that Lord of the Flies and Lost might beg to differ) Anyways, I think we should enjoy the literal or even quasi- ‘island’ experiences, because they can get us out of tourist mode.

There have been some great examples in my fourth month in Korea of these experiences and here are a few of them: I actually did go to an island with some of my coworkers for a weekend getaway, and suddenly a full-fledged cricket game erupted with some a bunch of Australians.

And I didn’t think that I would be invited to experience Chuseok Day (often explained as the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving) with a Korean family.

And at my church, I have been finding a family that is helping me see community in a new way. Sometimes church takes almost the whole day between bussing, the regular service at 1:30, the Bible study, and coffee afterwards, maybe dinner.

And in many of these situations, my initial reaction is, “what am I doing here?” but I’m glad I stuck around.

Come to think of it, South Korea itself is technically an island because you can’t go north and I’m under a teaching contract for a year, so I can look at the whole thing as being set on an island.

Posted in Community, Korean Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment