The soloist Hyuna debuted back in 2006 with a short stint in the Wonder Girls before moving to the girl-crush group 4Minute, which sadly disbanded back in 2016. Her solo tracks have been really popular and she hasn’t shied away from expressing her sexuality and showing off her body, something that has scandalized the more conservative Korean culture.
In 2018, however, she went on to scandalize even further: admitting to being in a two-year relationship with E’Dawn, a boy-group member (Pentagon) and her co-member in the trio Triple H. Her entertainment company was none too pleased and both members were basically forced to leave the company.
“I’m Not Cool” is her first extended play with her new label, P Nation, headed by none other than Psy. (You know, the Gangnam Style guy.) In the song, she sings, “I love early mornings, Dawn, Dawn, Dawn; I’m not solo, that’s the way I like it,” clearly referencing her now-renamed partner who also signed with P Nation (and you can view his latest video here, and check out his “Bubble Pop Senorita” line, referencing one of Hyuna’s other solos from back in 2011).
We stan a confident queen who makes the best of what life hands her.
Where does a barista go for good coffee? Well, technically I go to Starbucks by my work most mornings and get a grande iced blonde roast latte with an extra shot (whew!) unless there’s an interesting seasonal drink. It’s not my fault, really: café culture here tends to start at 11am and end pretty late, much different than the 7am starts and 7pm closes I’m accustomed to!
On the weekends, you can find me at Coffee Class, a bright and inviting coffee shop not too far from where I live. They have your usual fare: lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, green tea lattes, and they also have manual hand drip (pour-over) coffee.
I have enjoyed their Costa Rican Asoporaaa Valverde Abarca Natural (notes of dark chocolate and lime), a Nicaragua whose information I didn’t catch but tasted of milk chocolate and raspberry, and an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Lalissa Natural GI that was like a green grape explosion in my mouth. My only issue is that they do their pour-overs a little differently than how I was trained, and stir the coffee after it blooms. The average coffee drinker is not going to notice the difference, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t either.
Today I had their tiramisu and it was lovely. They offer waffles and some other light fare and pastries which they bake in-house. The aesthetic is bright and airy with fun cat silhouette pillows and in the center of the café are several small round tables on small pebbles, almost giving it a café-on-the-beach vibe.
They get bonus points for always having beautiful latte art.
Back in October (my gosh, has it been that long??), my friend Ola and I visited Nari Park in Yangju (양주나리공원). It’s a little off the beaten path (don’t plan on being able to pop into any cafes or restaurants in the area) but absolutely worth it for the amazing views of fields full of flowers. When we went in the mid-morning there weren’t too many people there yet, so everyone was able to maintain a safe distance from others. I can’t say much else so here’s the photos.
For the last week and a half, my hagwon has been holding online classes via Zoom. While the director was initially against this (due to logistics and whatnot), with the 2.5 lockdown being extended past the first three weeks, he decided to go ahead with online classes.
Each teacher has a classroom to themselves, a computer with a dual monitor system, two webcams (one on top of the monitor and another on an extendable arm which we can use to show students books or write on a small whiteboard), and a stand microphone.
Prior to holding online classes, we prepped two weeks in advance and had the bus drivers drop off the files that we prepared for our students. As an afternoon teacher, much of my work is already in their books so I mostly just prepped blank vocabulary quizzes and updated lesson plans. The teachers who teach kindergarten had to prep a ton of material, whereas I spent most of my time prepping my assignments for the two weeks (whereas normally I prep for each day when I arrive to school).
All of our books have been scanned and uploaded to Dropbox, and some of them are also on an interactive website. Rather than reading the script for mp3 files or fiddling around with an mp3 player, I can simply share the screen and play the files, which has been incredibly convenient and helpful. I’m hoping to take this aspect of my work and continue using the files in in-person class if I can.
Read on to find out more about my individual classes:
Class A is an intermediate class where some students are more advanced than others, e.g. one student always scores perfectly on vocabulary quizzes and another misses the majority of the words. They are bright and funny and sometimes will teach me a Korean phrase or two off-the-cuff. For example, once I had to tell my student who always gets excited and stands up to “sit down” and he sat down and proceeded to tell me what “sit down” was in Korean and made me repeat it a few times. I enjoy teaching this class a lot. One student did have his mother tattle on him and call the hagwon to let us know that he was watching YouTube videos during the class and she would make sure that he didn’t do it again. It’s unfortunate because he is at the lowest level in the class and would benefit the most by paying attention.
Class B has several 8-year-olds and they are usually ready for class as soon as the bell rings, cameras facing them and microphones on. One student in particular has used this time to shine, volunteering to read and trying his best to talk to me in English. He is not the most advanced in the class, but his eagerness is appreciated. Only one student is not attending this class and he is fairly good at English so I don’t think he will have too many problems catching up once in-person classes resume. For this class, I like the ability to easily show videos to them, as they are the right age for many beginner ESL videos. (Normally, to show videos I have to first stand on a chair to turn on the computer sitting on a ledge close to the ceiling and then turn on the projector, all of which takes a lot of time.)
Class C is an interesting one because there are only two students: a teenage boy and a teenage girl. Naturally, they tend to joke around with each other to the point I would consider it flirting. They can be a bit uncontrollable at times, but they are smart kids who have a lot of potential. I just wish they would apply themselves a little more, as sometimes certain areas (such as vocabulary) are really lacking.
Class D is my chattiest class. They are 11-years-old and their level is really low, despite working with intermediate material. They struggle with basic things like writing complete sentences and knowing what tenses to use. My Korean co-teacher and I managed to level down two students, both of whom have unfortunately left the hagwon (one went to a winter camp and the other did not mesh well socially with her new class and I think this is one of the reasons why she left). We have broken down each lesson into two classes, so we can review the homework and work on anything else they struggle with (usually grammar, but sometimes vocabulary). This class also has their cameras facing them and microphones on, but they frequently break into Korean during my class.
Class E is my quietest class. They’re at that awkward stage of puberty, 12-years-old, so most of them try to get away with not showing their faces. Two girls actually wear their masks during online class, another focuses her camera on her open books, and a boy focuses his camera on his shoulder and side of his face. All of them turn their microphones off so I have to ask them to turn them on. I’m not worried that this class is doing things like watching YouTube videos while I’m teaching, but I have used the online class to force individual students to read entire paragraphs, since doing round-robin sentence-each isn’t feasible. (I’ve been keeping a list of students who have read so I can make sure everyone gets a chance to read.) I’ve been experimenting with this class and allowing them to write their answers on my shared screen—basically, I’ll pull up the practice book page or vocabulary homework and let them type in the answers. This is particularly helpful for the activity where a passage is written with numerous errors and students have to find and correct them. One student might stamp an X on the mistake and another will write the answer. This class I worry about, as their speaking skills are lackluster and it’s hard to coax them to speak.
Class F is my most advanced class, and they’re the ages of 14-15. All but one student are quiet, and they’re filled with curiosity. One thing I’ve noticed that I didn’t notice before is the tone of voice used when students at different levels say “Teacher…” In this class, they’re looking for answers, whereas my younger students want my attention and want to give me the answers. This class is working on an intermediate TOEFL book and they don’t like doing it because they find it tedious. I would rather them work on speaking as their writing skills are already pretty advanced.
Class G has one student. I feel bad for him because originally there were two other students but they left to go to different elementary schools (I think?) and now he is alone. It’s been an interesting experience learning how to go from teaching classes of 6-12 students to tutoring just one, but he makes the class enjoyable. He’s goofy and intelligent and I can’t say enough nice things about him. He’s a joy to teach. We do one in-person class once a week and the rest through Zoom. (The restrictions say that there can be in-person classes so long as the number of students is less than nine, so he is able to go to his math academy one day a week and come to my hagwon afterwards.)
Class H used to be one of my chattiest classes until everyone dropped out. There are only two boys left, around the ages of 13-14, and they’re goofy. Sometimes I will come into the room and one of them will have their coat on backwards. Zoom class is difficult with them as they tend to be a little distracted and this class features a lot of writing. They also almost never do their homework so I have to find time during class to let them do it verbally, or have them stay late to catch up.
Class J is my “false-beginner” English class. It grew from five students to ten, and they are all very vocal and boisterous. The youngest, at 9-years-old, is the loudest, whereas the others are 10-12. I admit I struggled with this class because they already knew the alphabet and random English words coming into the class and they were very bored the first few months while we reviewed that. Zoom has enabled me to play English-speaking videos and have them repeat what was said, so we have been talking a lot. I hope to instill fearlessness in them, as our hagwon is very focused on reading and writing and not speaking, which is the area most of my students struggle in.
Class K is comprised of three teenage girls around the ages of 13-14. They are one of my classes where the students code-switch a lot, speaking a mixture of Korean and English (and not Konglish). They are an absolute blast to teach as they are very interactive and the material I’m teaching them is a lot of fun to teach. I love these girls. They all have their cameras and microphones turned on but with filters applied to “touch up [their] appearance.”
Overall, I’ve been pleased with the results of teaching class over Zoom. I’m glad that my hagwon finally decided to do it, as it not only means income for myself and the other teachers, but the kids can continue their education. As I’m finding out while learning Korean, if you don’t use it everyday, you really do lose your momentum.
That being said, I can’t wait until we can hold in-person classes and I can see my students again. Now I know what everyone looks like under their masks!
SM girl group f(x) was the definition of the “girl crush” concept in Kpop: girls so cool, you wanted to be their best friends. f(x) is also the definition of a group condemned to the dungeon of their entertainment industry, having been created in 2009 and gone inactive in 2016.
While the group never officially disbanded, all but one of the remaining members have gone on not to renew their contract with SM while continuing to make music. Unfortunately, one of the members (and the first to officially leave the group in 2015), Sulli, took her own life October 14th, 2019.
One of the first things you might notice about the group is the “tomboy” member, Amber, who breaks the stereotypical kpop girl group member mold: short hair instead of long, “masculine” clothing instead of skirts and skin-tight clothing. Sulli also broke the mold by being outspoken about such topics as feminism, Korean comfort women, and even the “no bra” movement. Unfortunately, she was met with intense cyberbullying that continued even after her death.
f(x) remains a group that popularized the “girl crush” concept and continues to be influential. It’s sad that they were unable to continue making music.
While explaining a lesson that involved the story of two students running for class president, one only having a motto and the other having actual policies, I asked my students to think of policies that they would want to implement in their schools. I gave the example of free lunch.
“Isn’t lunch free in the US?”
It’s in these moments that I realize how backwards my lovely home country can be. What’s even worse is how we view stories of good samaritans paying off school lunch debt as “proof that there’s still some kindess in the world” instead of “proof that our country isn’t doing enough to provide for its children.”
At the hagwon where I teach, lunch is served each day for the kindergarten students. It’s a separate lunch to the teachers’, which usually features some spicy things. The lunch is provided by a catering business but we make our own rice and food for snack. When I taught English to Tibetan refugees in India, we had simple lunches that usually featured a Tibetan bread called tingmo, and dinner was almost always rice and dal. Fruit was provided once a week and if you happened to get to lunch late, you were left trying to find the least rotten piece of fruit. As to be expected, the lunches served at my school in Korea are much different.
Tibetan college food pictures below, left to right: a bowl of steamed green vegetables and two pieces of tingmo; a bowl of rice and dal with some spinach and tomato; the special Losar (Tibetan New Year) breakfast of a large circular slice of Tibetan bread, a hardboiled egg, and a mug of traditional butter tea (with added tsampa I had).
Below are some photos of the school lunch here in Korea. In the first picture, there’s tofu and mushroom soup, white rice, chicken nuggets, bean sprout salad, macaroni, lotus root, and spicy slaw. In the other photos, there’s various foods such as steamed green vegetables, sliced potato, spicy pork belly, acorn jelly, burdock root, anchovies, cubed radish kimchi, cabbage kimchi, omelet, fish with tartar sauce, spicy cucumber, tuna salad, apple salad, fried wonton, and tteokbokki.
Here is an example of what the kids eat for lunch. They each have their own lunch tray with chopsticks and a spoon, and this kid has a chopstick training kit (which she’s now graduated from yay). There’s rice and some bulgogi with cabbage, bean sprout salad, not-spicy cabbage kimchi, and quail eggs.
I give lunch twice a week, which entails putting food in their tray, helping them pray (a very unbiased “pray, pray, thank you for the food”) for all the food, watching over them while they eat, and scraping leftovers into the empty soup bowl to be disposed of by the kitchen teacher. Usually I will take my tray to the kitchen to get spicy kimchi and anything that was delivered just for the teachers, such as spicy beef or fish filet.
Below is a view of our kitchen at school. In the first picture is the lunch set-up for teachers. If the kids ask for more food and we run out in the class, we send them to the kitchen to see if there’s any leftover. Usually it’s sausage, meat or seaweed. Once a student came into the teachers’ room to ask if anyone had any leftover sausage because the kitchen had run out!
Our kitchen is equipped with a stove, microwave, kettle, and a large rice cooker. There is a kitchen teacher in the kitchen getting everything ready and washing the empty teachers’ plates and the containers; the kids pack up their lunch trays when they’re done and take them home for their parents to wash.
Once a month, we have a birthday party for any students whose birthdays fall in that month. In this day, we have a special lunch, which includes several types of fried chicken, pizza, fresh fruit, and cheesecake.
Sometimes a student’s parent will order us food, such as a couple of pizzas. We also have leftover chicken from Class of the Month chicken parties. We also get pastries, and sometimes iced americanos.
Our school closed for three days at the end of August, and were forced to close by the government the weeks of August 31st and September 7th. We reopened September 14th. We were closed because we were under a level 2.5 out of a 3-point system.
Under a 2.5, all chain cafes must do take-out only, and restaurants and bars must close after 9pm. I didn’t wander around Uijeongbu past 9pm during the 2.5, but I imagine downtown was completely empty. For the most part, people stayed home during the semi-lockdown and ordered take-away or only ventured out to buy groceries. (I was the former. I prefer calling it “supporting the local economy” not “sheer laziness.”)
Some examples of more permanent changes include checking your temperature whenever you enter a building and either writing down your name and phone number or checking in with a QR code connected to your KaKaoTalk account. KaKaoTalk is a messaging app, first and foremost, but functions like an all-in-one app for almost everything else. This level of contact tracing would be fought against by your average American, but I will gladly give up my information because, let’s be real, my phone is already tracking my movement and at least this kind of tracing is for the greater good.
There are also hand sanitizers everywhere. Including ziptied to a tree along a nature trail and to a lamp pole, as seen below.
Several weeks ago, my school closed for two days because a child was a confirmed case that had Taekwondo with two of our students. Everyone at the Taekwondo academy tested negative, but we closed out of an abundance of caution, and the two students are quarantining for two weeks and not attending classes. We were sitting at a level 2 in the greater Seoul region, but with strict measures implemented: for example, no cafes (including small mom-and-pop) are allowing dine-in and all restaurants and bars must close at 9pm.
And now, as I write this on the 17th of December, we have been without work since the 8th. We are at a level 2.5 with rumors that we may eventually hit level 3, as cases have been creeping up on 1,000 new cases each day. We will hopefully go back to school on December 29th, but if they raise the level to 3, then we may be out of work even longer. Going online is not an option; only two parents have requested it, while a number have confessed that they would be unable to have their students be taught online, so our hagwon loses less money just closing rather than trying to figure out a new system for virtual learning.
For the most part, people here are wearing masks and taking precautions. I feel safe, which I can’t guarantee I’d feel back in the States. Wear your masks, people. Stay at home as much as possible. Don’t be stupid.
Is it as simple as pop music created by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this idea with the knowledge that many Korean pop songs were originally written by non-Koreans and then purchased and tailored for a Korean audience?)
Is it as simple as pop music that has been tailored for a Korean audience and sung in Korean? (How would you reconcile this with BTS’ latest track, “Dynamite,” a song written entirely in English?)
Is it as simple as pop music sung by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this with the fact that many K-pop groups feature members who are non-Korean, but almost always Asian, e.g. Thai, Japanese, Chinese?)
It’s time we talk about KAACHI.
KAACHI labels itself as the “UK’s first Kpop group” but only one member is Korean. This was their debut song.
The quality is pretty poor. The vocals are lacking, the dancing is lackluster, and it’s all just a bit too cringey for my taste.
And the girls weren’t upset, because they went on to give him a cameo in their comeback single, as seen below:
So… is KAACHI K-pop? I don’t think so. K-pop is a machine, and they’ve not been through the trials and tribulations that K-pop trainees go through that produces idols. It isn’t about singing in Korean, or having a Korean in the group, or making upbeat pop music, or wearing Korean brands–it’s about being part of the soul-eating machine that makes a group “K-pop.”
As someone who doesn’t like the fact that the music she’s been listening to for over ten years is produced on the backs of young teenagers and is known to break them down and eat them alive, maybe, just maybe, K-pop can learn from KAACHI to be a little more easy-going; to let their idols live a little more instead of always fighting tooth and nail for YouTube views and award show wins. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be flawed. We love our idols because they’re flawed, one of the most ironic things of all.
Tucked away in a building just off a side street in Uijeongbu is Ob-La-Di café. My friend Nora and I had no idea what we were in store for when we popped in one Saturday, and were excited to find out that not only does the café serve coffee but also….
Wait for it…
Cereal. Breakfast cereal. And not just Frosted Flakes and Oreo O’s (readily available in Korea) but many American flavors, including a no-name-brand Fruity Pebbles and French Toast Crunch. (!)
Empty cereal boxes are glued to the ceiling and the walls are full of shelves featuring Disney toys, some of which are for sale. There’s a neon sign of Peter Pan’s silhouette reading “Never Grow Up” and all of the tables and chairs are bright and colorful.
I ordered an iced americano which was excellent, and the aforementioned French Toast Crunch. For “service,” one of the two baristas stopped by our table with stickers and a sample of Frosted Wheaties. “Service” is a Konglish term that means being given something outside of what you ordered. In English we would say something like “it’s on the house.”
It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re feeling like a nostalgic afternoon snack.
They are open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 9pm.
When I noticed that the director, putting my bags into his car, was a little careless in tossing my backpack on top of the purple pet carrier that Merlin was hiding in, I realized something was off.
As it turned out, the director was never informed that I would be bringing a cat with me to Korea.
I learned early on in my interviewing for teaching positions not to ask if it was okay that I would be bringing a cat with me. Recruiting companies are looking for red flags, and asking if the school-provided housing will allow pets is considered a red flag because it’s one more thing they have to worry about on their end.
I didn’t mention my cat to the recruiter I worked with until I had a job offer on the table. The person in Korea that my recruiter was working with took a few days and got back to me, saying that as long as I am responsible for any damage that Merlin does, that it’s okay I bring him. Merlin is a very well-mannered cat and doesn’t damage anything. The worst is that his fur sticks to the textured wallpaper when he rubs his face on corners, so I have to wipe that down occasionally.
My director wasn’t informed that I was bringing a cat and the reason for concern is that the other new teacher would be living with me for our week of training. I moved into a male teacher’s apartment while he moved in with the other male teacher who was leaving, and the other new female teacher would stay with me for a week before taking over the other male teacher’s apartment. If she happened to be allergic to cats, there would have been a problem, and had the director known, he would have had to plan around it.
Luckily, she wasn’t allergic and Merlin just hid under the bed from her for that week. I’m also lucky in that it turns out the director has two cats of his own and we sometimes trade cute cat photos through KakaoTalk.
When I was figuring out how to take my cat with me to Korea, some people on the internet told me I was an idiot. I knew I was probably going to be staying longer than a year and knew that I would never regret taking him with me, but I would forever regret leaving him with someone. Merlin has been through a lot of shitty situations, having been a rescue from the streets when he didn’t even weigh a pound, to spending days in the hospital with some kind of infection, to living through a hoarding situation that he needed to be rescued from. He’s my fat cuddly buddy and I can’t imagine life without him.
All this said, I would not recommend bringing your cat if you only plan on staying a year, or if your cat is older. The flight is hard on even the toughest of cats. Merlin didn’t meow at all, just kept looking up at me with sad eyes, and threw up the little food that he had been given before we left. The girls beside me thought I was crazy until I told them I wasn’t just whispering into the void underneath the seat in front of me but that there was an actual animal there.
So what do you need to do to travel with your cat? Well, first off: your cat needs a microchip and a rabies vaccination. The rabies vaccination was $40 at my vet and he waived the health check-up that would have been $32. You need a rabies titer test, which ran me $200 with a sedation and overnight stay costing $50. You also need a full health check-up within ten days of travel that has to be apostilled by the USDA. The vet initially thought he could turn in the health check-up results online on a Saturday, but when he realized he couldn’t, he had to mail the results in and wait for them to get back to us. There was a Monday holiday that week that pushed everything back, so it wasn’t until 9am the day before my flight that I got back that piece of paperwork. (And you may have read that I was so reluctant to let go of it, the customs officer had to tell me that it would only be valid for thirty days and I’d need a new one for travel again.)
At the airport, he cost me a one-way $200 fee. So a breakdown would be:
rabies vaccination: $40
health check-up: $32
rabies titer test: $200
overnight stay and sedation: $50
one-way in-cabin flight fee: $200
cost of mailing the health check-up to and from New York: $??
That’s roughly $600 to have Merlin travel in the cabin with me. If someone told me that it would cost that much, I would have probably cried and wondered where I’d get the money. I’m glad it was spread out over a few months, and no matter the cost: you make things work for the ones you love.
As far as how Merlin has adapted, he’s pretty resilient and adapted right away. I tried to switch him to tofu-based litter but that smelled bad, so I found a brand comparable to what he was using in the States. Although he was initially a touch fussy with the new Korean brand food, he still ate it, just more slowly than usual. He doesn’t like the Korean cat treats that come in a little squeeze pouch for them to lick, but several of my local marts stock Temptations brand and Friskies brand treats. (And my mom sends me Greenies brand treats for him, spoiled cat.) He usually sleeps with me in my bed or on the second-hand chair I have in my room, which is something that he scratches at occasionally even though he has a scratching post. He is probably looking forward to winter, when I turn on the floor heating, because last winter he loved sprawling on the heated floor and sleeping.
I have no regrets taking butthead to Korea with me. I hope he’s my kitty forever.