Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's been quite awhile since I've written on this site. The last time, I was in South Korea. After that, I went to Caserta, Italy. Now I'm the principal/head teacher of Hawaii Palms English School in beautiful Waikiki.

This is a picture of my latest graduating class.

The majority of our students are from Japan, but we also have students from Denmark, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and South Korea, among other nationalities.

Many of them stay with us for 3 months and we get to be like family. I just hate it when they leave!

Hanauma Bay on Oahu.
One of the most gorgeous places in the world! Best place ever for snorkeling.

Look for the parrot fish and my favorite, the humuhumunukunukuapua`a.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Korean Magic Straight

When I was growing up, straight hair was 'in.' I tried everything to straighten out my curls, from using a curling iron and hot rollers to products such as 'Curl Free.' I even laid my hair out on an ironing board and pressed it with a steam iron. It took coming to Korea to get it straight and guess what? I like the curls best.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Preconceived Notions

How a person of one culture perceives people of another culture continuously astounds me. Travelling alone as I do, I meet many men. Guys of all shapes and sizes, nationalities, colours and creeds. Friends and family members of mine routinely warn and advise me against the collective male species every time I go to a new country.

For instance, as I left for France a few years ago, quite a few people warned, "Watch out for those Frenchmen! You know how they are." (In my experience, any man from anywhere, including the U.S., if he's heterosexual, will 'hit on' a lone woman.) As a point of fact, I found the Frenchmen I met to be absolutely charming and refined. I was followed once, however, as I roamed from museum to museum in Paris. Patrice finally introduced himself and took me out for coffee. He held my hand and we talked for hours. I kept waiting for the dreaded moment when he would show his true 'Frenchman' colours and accost me. That moment never materialised. We had a lovely time and I was sorry to see it end. We exchanged addresses, before he kissed me on each cheek and left me at my door. To this day, we still communicate.

It was the same routine when I left for Italy. "Be careful with those Italian men! They're dangerous!" This time I didn't readily accept the dire predictions. Italians, men and women, are very romantic, yes, but rarely persistent, and generous to a fault. Case in point, my second day in Florence I got lost. Typical for me, I'm afraid. Fortunately, an absolutely gorgeous human being offered to show me the way to the Ponte Vecchio, which led to my house. He threw his arm companionably around my shoulders and asked, "Do you have a husband or a boyfriend?" Now I'm not that naive, so I said, "Si." He just smiled and said, "Do you want another one?" I had to laugh as I answered, "No thanks. Not just now." Roberto was very good natured about it. (I've rarely found an American man who was so congenial when denied.) He taught me some basic Italian as we continued to the bridge, where he kissed my hand (molto romantico!) and bade me, "Ciao!"

American women, on the other hand, are generally perceived around the globe as being 'easy.' I've run across this concept in all of my travels. For example, after arriving in Greece, I chose to take a taxi into Athens instead of the airport bus. The driver could have been the model for a statue of Apollo! Andreii had travelled the world extensivally and was knowledgable about a variety of things (not necessarily American, as you'll see.) He drove me around the city, pointed out items of interest, and took me to the Acropolis before taking me to my hotel. He was a magnificent guide. As he dropped me off, however, he informed me that he would come to my room after he got off work. When I said, "No, I don't think so. Thanks anyway," he responded, "You mean...you don't want to? But...you're American!" Total shock and amazement. I just had to giggle at his look of astonishment.

In Arabic countries, an American woman isn't necessarily seen as 'easy.' She is more likely to be perceived as someone who 'will do it for love.' If you want to have an affair with an Arabic woman, you must buy her jewels, cars, a condo, etc. Very pragmatic. Not so the American. She's a romantic. Just 'woo' her and she is yours.

I get such a kick out of disabusing people of their preconceived notions. There is no such thing as a 'typical' this or a 'quintessential' that. People are just 'people' the world over. Stereotyping people is a disservice to us all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Kimchi is the Korean national food and they eat it at nearly every meal. There 180 different types, made from cabbage or radishes. Not the little red radishes common in the states. These are white and about the size of my head. The most common I've tasted is quite spicey, with lots of red pepper. These are kimchi pots. Women get together in the fall and early winter, make buckets of the stuff and store it in these containers, which keep it fresh all winter. They even have kimchi refrigerators.

Korean food has a plethora of side dishes ranging from seafood, noodles, and rice to the ubiquitous kimchi.

These are photos of 2 Korean traditional dances. The traditional clothing is beautiful and the dancers are graceful.

I just love the Korean people I've met. Such politeness and generosity. Even the children. I was sitting at the counter at Lotteria (the Korean version of McDonalds) eating my bulgogi burger, when this cute little boy sat down next to me. He was about 1 1/2 years old and eating a vanilla ice cream cone. He just sat there and stared at me a few moments, then he smiled and bobbed his head in greeting. Just absolutely adorable!

The first time I went into a nearby restaurant to order sweet and sour pork 'to go,' we were all in for a surprise. I ordered it all in Korean. I hadn't realized the entire restaurant had stopped eating to listen to me until thunderous applause erupted. I was a little embarrassed, but mostly pretty proud of myself. I smiled and did the ubiquitous bow.

I've found that even if your accent is horrendous, the simple fact that you're attempting to speak a few words of the native language is met with delight and astonishment.

Another case in point.
I had taken the subway to Seohyeon (Soy-yun) subway station to browse at a bookstore. I stopped into the 'ladies.' No matter what part of the world you're in, the ladies restroom is always a busy place. While waiting in line, I noticed 2 elderly ladies were watching me intently. I'm just a novelty, I know, and their intent was not to be rude. So, being me, I gave my most brilliant smile and said annyeong haseyo (ahn-yahng hah-seh-yoh, hello.) I must admit, their reaction startled me a bit. Their faces wreathed in smiles, they burst out in a flood of Korean. Laughing at my apparently bemused expressions, one started patting me on the back. The other one was only about 4 1/2 feet tall. The closest place for her to pat was my derriere. The rest of the ladies in the room joined in the laughing, talking, and touching my hair and skin. I felt special.

In my opinion, everyone should travel abroad alone. Be in the minority for a change. It gives a person an entirely different perspective on life, on people, on what's important and definitely what's not.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Dubai, U.A.E., June 2005

Teaching in Dubai is a fascinating experience. Everyone I know was terrified for me when they first found out I was coming here. It is an Islamic country, after all, and somewhat close to Iraq. In actuality, Dubai is one of the safest places I've ever been. It's especially safe for women. For example, if a man looks at you too long, you can have him arrested. It's not a low tolerance place, it's a no tolerance place.

Most of my students are Iranians. Parents in Iran send their teenagers to Dubai before they turn 18 to keep them from being drafted. To be able to go to university, these students have to pass the English proficiency test known as the TOEFL. Classes are intensive (3 hours/4 days a week) or super-intensive (5 hours/5 days a week), and each session lasts a month. Of course, there are Arabic people, as well as Russians, Morrocans, Koreans ... let's face it, Dubai is more of a melting pot than the U.S.

Everyone I meet is extremely nice and generous. I'd stay here if it wasn't for the heat. It has gotten up to 140F (60C) in the sun. I only live 3 blocks from the school, but I was only able to walk to work during the month of May. One of my students bought me an umbrella to guard against the sun the other day. Fortunately, taxis are very inexpensive.

My coworkers are from the U.S. (of course,it's an American school), Canada, and England. My roommate is from New Zealand. I have a great rapport with them all. They are all extremely intelligent and sophisticated people with a great sense of humour.

I've learned so much from the different cultures and ideas. People are just people no matter where they're from. They are all trying to live and prosper; to make a difference. The one point I cannnot emphasize strongly enough is the fact that the "terrorists" we've all heard so much about, are not students of Islam. I have met true muslim people who follow the teachings of Islam daily. They talk to me quite a bit about Islam (for my education, not conversion.) Islam is all about love and acceptance, not death and destruction. They are distressed beyond words that these people who propagate terror and hate should call themselves Muslim.

The Jumeirah Mosque is a gorgeous structure. In order to demystify Islam and to promote good will, the sheik (shake, not sheek) has opened it up for non-muslim tours. No one has endeavored to convert me to Islam, I am just given information on the history and belief system.

Gold is very inexpensive in Dubai. The Gold Souk (market) is beyond belief. This is just one shop window out of hundreds. The gold looks almost fake, because the color is so yellow. Usually, jewelry is sold in 'sets' of a ring, bracelet, necklace, and earrings. I also saw dishware and figures crafted out of solid gold.

Camels roam freely. The majority belong to the sheik. Camel racing is a popular sport in winter and spring, but it is much too hot in the summer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Yongin-Shi. 40 miles south of Seoul at Joy Academy. October, 2005.

I'm working on reorganizing the school curriculum right now. For those who don't already know, Asian English schools rely on translation, instead of learning the actual English. All the textbooks written for Koreans by Koreans have more Korean in them than English. So...I'm researching and restructuring. I hope to make a difference in my little corner, at least. This is my beginner class. They are adorable. Many Korean children go to an English kindergarten, so some know quite a bit before they come to us.

When eating in Korea, be prepared to find squid (which tastes pretty good depending on what dish you find it in), sweet pickles as a side dish, and corn in everything (even on pizza!) I'd always thought Koreans were mainly vegetarians because the ubiquitous side dishes are mostly veggies of some sort. But they like meat more than any place I've ever been. I had some sweet and sour pork the other night to absolutely die for. Barbecue (not at all like American BBQ) and fried chicken restaurants are rampant.

The people I've met here are wonderful. Thoughtful and generous. I received a present from one of my students called a 'pooneh' mask. It's supposed to bring women good luck. Someone is always trying to feed me, so it's a good thing I've joined the gym at my apartment (a whopping $140/year!)

I'm afraid I'm something of a novelty here. You see many Americans up in Seoul due to the American military base being situated there. Even though Yongin isn't really very far away, it's an entirely different world. Non-Asians are not so prevalent here. Adults try not to stare. Children, however, stare, point and laugh. When I try to talk to them, they scream and run away. It's hilarious. I was at Wal-Mart (the cheapest place to buy groceries, I'm afraid) the other day and caused a cart collision. I guess you can't guide your cart and stare at the same time.

Most people know a word or two (or more) of English and want to try them out on me. They get really tickled with my few words (I'm learning more every day) of Korean and my pronunciation. Many of their consonants are hard to imitate. "B" is somewhere between "B" and "P," similarly are "T" and "D," "S" and "Sh," and they have no "F" or "Z." "L" and "R" in Korean are sounded differently depending on the following vowel, so we have to practice them a lot. My biggest problem is the fact that most Korean words end in a vowel, so they add a vowel to the end of a lot of English words; ie. lunchee, essa (for "S"), etc. We get quite a giggle out of it in class. Posted by Picasa

Firenze in February

Posted by Picasa Oh, the beauty of Firenze!

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