Teacher Life

This is my third and final year here at my elementary school and in Korea as a whole. Since that decision, I’ve found myself looking at my students with a renewed sense of awe and pride. My older kids especially seem to blow me away more and more each day. Their achievements in speaking, writing, listening and reading have continued to impress me over the last three years. As our first semester of  2015 begins to wind down, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite moments with my kids thus far.

Below are some springtime decorations my grade 3 students have made to brighten up our class. The big black screen is a dead TV monitor so instead of staring into a black hole, I’ve turned it into an art display!


I’ve taught my grade 5 students since they were first exposed to a foreign teacher in the 3rd grade. They’re made up of 6 classes of 30, adding up to around 180 students. I’ve gotta say, my fivers were little psychos back in 2013. Back then they were mostly waist-high little wankers, lacking discipline and interest in studying English. They often argued and tore up worksheets. Team games were exhausting and usually resulted in classes loosing their points for bad behaviour. Now, I look forward to my grade 5 kids on Thursdays as all 6 classes are engaged and passionate. I can have real conversations with some of them and they often come to class early to chat and hang out.

I really enjoy doing role plays with my kids. It’s a fun way to get them reading and also gets them used to public speaking. We have role plays every 2 units in our textbooks, but sometimes that’s not enough. I think the reading component in our grade 3 and 4 textbooks is a little lacking, so I like to step it up by making my own role play scripts based on the key sentences we’re studying. Below are some pictures of this year’s grade 4 students doing their rendition of “Little Red Riding Hood” from their textbook.


My grade 6 students are my oldest kids and I’ve taught them since they were in grade 4. They’re also made up of 6 classes, around 180 senior students. They have always been closest to my heart and their enthusiasm for English has a lot to do with that. Even back in 2013 they were diligent, good listeners and quite advanced for their age.  Now that I’m teaching their third and final year (they’ll be off to middle school next March) I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with them. Below are some photos of this year’s grade 6 students doing their first role play of the year: A radio talk show interview.

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This job is powerfully rewarding every day and I’m so proud of all of my little people. This article is not to pat myself on the back, because I am just a humble go-between to make our textbooks come to life. This is more of a high-five to my students who have excelled well beyond my (and others) expectations.


Some grade 4 boys practice improv with their robot masks from lesson 4.


My grade 3 students do their first role play! Look at them reading :)

Teachers can be many things to many people, but ultimately the will to learn, absorb, retain and apply lies in the hearts and minds of the individual. Watching students who didn’t care about English begin to participate warms my heart. To see the well-rounded ones continue to thrive in the classroom makes me want to run up and hug them all, but that would be weird. It will be a painful goodbye for me this year and I hope to chronicle as much as I can to remember all of my babies.

Some cards I got for Teacher's Day this year.

Some cards I got for Teacher’s Day this year.

Exploring Samcheok: Haesindang Park

Sit back and let me tell you the legend of Haesindang. A long time ago there was a beautiful young lady who was engaged to the man of her dreams. Her fiancee took her out in his boat and dropped her off at Aebawi rock, a large rock in the middle of the water were lots of rich seaweed grew. She would collect her daily seaweed to sell and he would return to shore to work as well.

Posing with Haesindang.

Posing with Haesindang.


He promised to pick her up as he always did, but that evening a terrible storm hit the coast and her betrothed could not reach her. A powerful wave swept over Aebawi rock and poor Haesindang drowned.

The waters where Haesindang perished.

The waters where Haesindang perished.

Soon after she died, her village’s fishing industry went sour. No fish could be caught and many people lost their jobs and went hungry. Locals thought it was the angry spirit of Haesindang, bitter of her sudden end and a life without her love. One day, a fisherman answered the call of nature and peed into the water near where he was fishing. That day the fisherman caught his best catch since Haesindang’s death and the locals deduced that seeing his male parts had somehow appeased the angry spirit who never got her wedding night.


A reenactment of urination that fateful day.

The fishermen appealed to local artists and carpenters to create some phallic pieces to erect (I had to) along the coastline. The offerings consoled the bitter Haesindang, who never knew her beloved as intimately as she wanted. The folk village enjoyed a prosperous fishing industry once again and the people of Samcheok made an entire park in her honour, called Haesindang Park. It is also known as Penis Park. 

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Sarah and I study our maps diligently.  Photo courtesy of Jon Collins.

Sarah and I study our maps diligently.
Photo courtesy of Jon Collins.

Once I learned of this legend and researched the park, I had to see it with my own eyes. So this place, along with the Hwanseon Cave (read cave story here), was my main purpose for visiting Samcheok city. I’ll let the pictures tell the tale from here.


All vulgarities aside, it really is a beautiful park. The Samcheok locals still give monthly phallic offerings to the spirit of Haesindang during a monthly festival in her honour. If you plan your trip right, you may be able to attend one of these festivals.


A Korean tourist takes a picture while his wife giggles in the background.


Yours truly taking photos in the garden of genitalia.  Photo courtesy of Jon Collins.

Yours truly taking photos in the garden of genitalia.
Photo courtesy of Jon Collins.

Admission to the park is only 3,000 won (approx. $3.25 CAD) and the walk through takes about an hour. There is also the Fishing Village Folk Museum you can experience just inside the main entrance to the park. There is no additional fee to enter the museum.


The boat shaped building on the left is the entrance to the museum.


Posing with my Chinese zodiac animal. I am the rooster.

Transportation: The park is about 40 minutes from Samcheok Intercity Bus Terminal. Look for the bus heading to Hosan or Imwon and get off at Haesindang Park station. Bus fare will probably be around $2. We were pressed for time and took a taxi which cost around 30,000 won (approx. $33 CAD) but the ride had a beautiful view of the mountains and coastlines. 

That’s it for now Dear Readers! I hope you’re enjoying spring in your corner of the world as I am here in Korea.

Exploring Korea’s Largest Cave!

We recently had a long weekend here in Korea so I took the opportunity to head back to Gangwon province for more ocean air. This time I travelled farther down the eastern coastline to the southern city of Samcheok.


One of the main attractions of Samcheok city is Hwanseon Gul (“gul” means cave). Ever since visiting the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, I’ve fallen in love with caves and the ancient secrets that line their cool stone walls.


Hwanseon Cave is famous because of its age and size. It’s the largest limestone cave in Korea and one of the largest caves in all of Asia. It’s 6.5km long but many believe there is an added 1.5km of uncharted territory further in. Hwanseon Gul is said to be 530 million years old so you can imagine the scope of critters this cave has housed. 

It holds the usual cave features such as stalagmites and stalactites but it also has waterfalls and little lakes running through it which adds to the beauty of this cavern.

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The tourist path is only 1.6km of the cave as other parts are too narrow or unsafe for civilian passage. The walking path is made of steel bridges and stairs instead of a path on the stone floor which I think is great for the cave’s ecosystem preservation. You can see in the photo below how long the cave is and how much is actually open to the public (the area in blue).

My lovely assistant Jon presents the trail we talked inside the cave.

My lovely assistant Jon presents the trail we walked inside the cave.

Tickets to the cave cost 4,000 won (approx. $4.40 CAD) for one adult and 2,000 won (approx. $2.20 CAD) for children. Once tickets are obtained you can walk up the steep mountainside for a 30 minute hike to the cave entrance, or take the monorail instead. The monorail fee is another 4,000 won one way and 7,000 for round-trip. The ride itself only takes about 5 minutes but the line to get on the monorail is the killer.

The ticket booth entrance.

The ticket booth entrance, shaped like a bat.

Our hike begins. The hooded doorway to the left is the entrance to the other cave.

Our hike begins. The hooded doorway to the left is the entrance to the other cave, Daegeum Gul. As old, but smaller than Hwanseon.

We decided to hoof it and dang what a hike! We were sweaty and tired by the time we reached the top so the cool cavern air was a welcome relief.

Our hike begins.

Our hike begins.


Farther up the mountainside.

Once at the cave’s entrance we descended into darkness on our steel footpath. Most pictures didn’t turn out as it was too dark in the depths of cave, but I will share with you the few that did.


Despite the quality of this shot, it shows the height of the steel walkways. The little black shapes at the bottom are people walking on the lower half of the path.


Sarah, Jon and I take a moment in the Palace of Dreams section of the cave.


Dripping water creates beautiful patterns over time.


Hell Bridge was particularly terrifying, considering the bridge swung to and fro with every step we took. We had barely regained composure from the first little bridge and were tackling the second half actually called “Hell Bridge” when Sarah said quietly from behind, “Don’t look down.” Of course we did exactly that and immediately wished we hadn’t. The bridge was suspended above a terribly high and narrow drop. It looked like a knife-cut split between two enormous slabs of mountain wall, joined at the bottom by a crystal pool of water far, far below.  I managed to get a picture on the first bridge and you can see by my expression that I was ready to die at any moment.


Hell Bridge in all its terrifying glory.

Hell Bridge in all its terrifying glory.

Once safely outside and back on solid ground, we began our descent back down the mountain trail.


A restaurant near the bottom of the mountain.


Myself and Sarah on our victory lap back down the trail.

After waiting for the bus to take us back to the downtown area, it was off to find nourishment then hit the showers. We had an amazing 5-course meal at a place called Steak88 in the neighbouring town of Donghae, which was were we stayed. 20150503_172203

If you’re heading to Samcheok or Donghae and would like to know more, please leave a comment in the comment section below. If you live in Korea, try downloading the “kobus” application on your phone to book bus tickets. You’ll need to read Korean for this so you may need a hand. Online, go here for bus information in English. You can check schedules and fares, but booking will take you to a Korean page so again, you may need some translation help. If it’s not a busy travel time or you get to the Express Bus Terminal (Seoul Metro line 3, 7 or 9) early enough, you can always just buy bus tickets at the station.

Next week I’ll be talking about Haesingdang Park in Samcheok, a park like no other in the world! Stay tuned.