Monthly Archives: January 2014



Garak Market

A measly three subway stops from out apartment lies Garak Market, a food market sprawling across 543,451 square meters. It has been on our list of things to check out for a while, and we decided to head out on a sunny morning last Sunday.


I read that it would be packed and busy, but as we wandered into the fruit section at 11 AM many stalls were just getting set up and rather than crowds we just encountered a few families perusing the fruit and vegetable stands.

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We were quite mind-boggled by the huge amount of food ready to be sold at the market, but this made sense when considering about 130,000 people on average visit the market every day (at least, according to Exploring Korea).

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It was surprisingly beautiful with all the different colors and fruits piled high, and a great place to people-watch and wander.

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After leaving the fruit section, we headed toward the fish market. The fish market was much busier, and was full of seafood, dead and alive. We pushed through crowds as people pointed out choice fish, squid, lobster, and octopus. I looked away squeamishly as a man threw a flopping fish to the ground.

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Trying to avoid getting run over by forklifts, we walked around for a while longer. We missed a lot of the hustle-bustle of the market, and didn’t attend any of the auctions, but did have a nice morning stroll around Garak.

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Oh, and we said hello to these friendly guys:

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Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyongbokgung Palace (translated to The Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven) is a major landmark in terms of Korean history.  It served as the center of culture the king’s affairs for more than 500 years.  The palace was built in the late 14th century.

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On a Saturday, we decided to be tourists for a bit and ventured out to see the palace.  The palace grounds covered a very large area, and it made for a stark contrast against the background of downtown Seoul, where the forests and traditional Korean architecture have given way to sprawling office parks and busy roads.


The palace now serves only as a source of national pride (which Korea is not lacking in, with their hundreds of officially designated national treasures) and a reminder of an older brand of Korean culture, so people come and go to see the sights and admire the beautiful palace.

Like so much traditional Korean architecture, the woodwork, painting, and attention to detail are unparalleled and definitely worth admiring.

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Like so many of Korea’s favorite things, the palace was burned down by the Japanese (twice, in fact – once at the end of the 16th century and again in the early 20th century).  As the major symbol of Korean power and sovereignty, this was an obvious target, but you would be surprised at the number of temples that were burned as well.  This and the rumor that Japan is interested in stealing back what is presently the Korean island Dokdo make for some pretty strong resentment from Koreans toward the Japanese.


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However, as with basically all of their national treasures, Koreans salvaged what they could and rebuilt the rest as well as they could, serving as a monument to their country’s history.

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In addition to the incredibly beautiful main hall (pictured below), there were several surrounding buildings.  These served purposes from housing the king’s concubines to housing elderly parents to the king’s sleeping quarters (quite modest for a king) to my favorite, his pondering room, which was aptly translated from Sajeongjeon to “the room where the king should think deeply before deciding what is right and what is wrong.”  I bet those rooms have seen some great pondering sessions.

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Even though it was freezing, we had a great time wandering around and exploring all the beautiful details of the palace.

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A couple of palace handstands ^^

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December Flea Market

December Flea Market

Every December, our school holds a “flea market” to advertise the school in the community and reach new students. This flea market didn’t have too much to do with selling used items, but was a mixture of a festival, school store, and epic dance party.

Teachers chose different countries and activities for their classrooms. I thought we would match country to activity, but that ended with Mexico and Pinatas.

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In Russia, Ryan decorated with snowflakes and played bingo.

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Ryan set the award for winning Bingo a bit too high at first, giving 15 fake dollars to the winner. To contextualize our mini-economy, kids could generally purchase one piece of food for $1, and their buy-in for Bingo was $1. So Bingo was briefly popular. Kids love gambling. They would roll into my room after winning and buy pancakes for all of their friends. Big spenders.

One of the directors of our academy had to ask him to lower the limit, and after that there were usually only a few players at a time.

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The USA hosted a “K-Pop Star” dance party.

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Psy’s Gangnam Style and Exo’s Growl were repeated on and off throughout the night with wild dance competitions where kids could win fake money to go buy more food and candy. To get a good feel for the background music (and to enjoy a good throwback to music videos reminiscent of the N’Sync Days):

Japan served two traditional Korean dishes, and the kids helped decorate with adorable flowers and kittens throughout the room.

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In the front, a giant spread of topokki  (Korean rice cakes in a spicy sauce) and spaghetti were served by our school directors.

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In Spain, the kids went confetti-crazy while making masks.

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And my classroom was Belgium, decorated with windmills.

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I had a lot of the food in my room, serving cups of candy, tiny pieces of waffle, and pancakes.

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When I started to mix the pancakes, I asked Angela, our school director (who takes care of us like she’s our Korean mom), to help me translate the measurements. She proceeded to dump two bags of pancake mix in a bowl, crack a few eggs, pour random quantities of water and milk, crack a few more eggs, and mix. Something in this technique worked, because I made over 200 pancakes in a 5-hour span, and the teachers and students were raving about my pancake-making ability.

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I had a few helpers, but had to ban the kids after the loss of several pancakes due to poor flipping and my fear of sending a kid home with burns. Jenny was very serious about improving her pancake-making ability, and was sorely disappointed when I had to relieve her of her duty.

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The event was really fun, and we got to meet a few of our students’ parents and their friends from other schools. It was nice to see the kids running around and having fun, and having an afternoon off from their very serious studies.

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