A High-Schooler, Delivery Driver, and Hagwon Teacher Walk into a Vaccination Center…

On Saturday, the director picked up the foreign teachers at my hagwon and drove us to the vaccination center, which seemed like some sort of general meeting area that had been cordoned off into different sections for the vaccination process.

The vaccine roll-out did not go smoothly as planned, as many foreigners complained that “glitches” in the system didn’t allow them to register for the vaccine. Fortunately, our director handled our registering so we were all registered and given vaccination dates and times based around our ages. We were able to go all at once to get injected instead of going at various times throughout the week.

We got to the center around 8:30 and were out by 9:40. We were given disposable gloves and had our temperature taken by a machine that you put your hand under and it dispenses hand sanitizer as well as taking your temperature (we have the same one at school now). We filled out some forms and were given a number and sat down in some seats that were socially distanced from one another. I was number 51. There were a lot of high schoolers in the center, as well as delivery drivers, who had all parked their delivery trucks in the parking lot.

They called the numbers and you saw someone that went over the form with you and sent you into the next room, where you sat again and waited to see yet another person who went over your forms. From there, you moved a little further into the room and finally saw a nurse.

The injection itself is a piece of cake, and we were given a sticker with a time on it and sent to sit in another part of the conference room with a projected clock that must’ve been at least ten feet tall. At your designated time, you could take off your now sweaty gloves and leave the center.

I had some minor muscle pain later that day, but nothing since. We’ll go back sometime mid-August to get the second dose. We all received Pfizer which were part of a vaccine swap with Israel.

As far as everything else goes, South Korea has seen a huge jump in number of positive Covid-19 cases, and our level is now a 4. Under it, places must close at 10 pm and there can only be a gathering of two people after 6 pm. Oh, and gyms can’t play music with a bpm higher than 120. That’s a bit ridiculous, but oh well.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and continuing to wear masks and socially distancing!

Café Review: Geronimo Coffeehouse

Geronimo Coffeehouse in Yangju (Gyeonggi-do) is an absolute must-visit. They took what looks like an old warehouse and transformed it into a massive, two-floor coffeehouse with a full menu, lots of flowers, and a lot of charm.

Geronimo Coffeehouse exterior, a large red-brick building with lots of windows

What makes it an unique experience is that some of the seating in the café is shoes-off-sit-on-the-floor, but there are plenty of chairs around (even a few swinging ones) if you don’t want to take your shoes off.

I like to order the pancake breakfast set (15,000 won) which includes 3 pancakes, assorted fresh fruit, syrup and whipped cream, a mini salad, and an americano (although the americano can be subtracted). (I’ll take mine iced, thanks.)

The coffee menu is something different. Coffee snobs, listen up! You’ll want to take notes.

A simple Yirgacheffe Elris pour-over from Ethiopia will cost you 9,000 won (that’s roughly $9 US.)

It goes up from there:

  • Red Plum from Colombia–12k
  • Mocha Mattari from Yemen–15k
  • Hawaiian Kona–17k
  • Geisha Lake from Panama–18
  • Blue Mountain from Jamaica–20k
  • Loscabos Coffee Blend–22k
  • Geronimo Coffee Blend–25k

$25 for a cup of coffee? Did I do it?

You bet I did.

Sweet, glorious bean juice in a navy blue mug with gold detailing on the rims and handle

Was it worth it? I mean, it was a damn good cup of coffee but I’d probably recommend something else. I had the Mocha Mattari from Yemen twice (both iced*) and really enjoyed that, but I know that I like coffees from Yemen. (Previously, the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever bought was the Yemeni coffee Blue Bottle served for $16 + a complimentary sesame cookie for pairing purposes. I got the coffee half-off since I was a Blue Bottle employee.)

In addition to the great coffee, they’ve got a great pastry selection which is self-serve and self-pack-for-takeaway.

Even though the space is large, it fills up fast so I would recommend going as soon as they open to snag those cute instagram photos.

Follow them on Instagram: @geronimo_coffeehouse

Address: 경기 양주시 화합로1597번길 3 제로니모 커피하우스

*Some may come for me for this, but good coffee is going to be great both hot and iced. It is worth noting that the Geronimo Blend is only available hot, which means that you’re paying for a premium cup of coffee that they’ve tested and only want to serve to you in the parameters of what they’ve tested, which is, duh, a hot cup of coffee. Maybe you’re more likely to drink a cup of hot coffee black? All I know is: science and psychology, it’s there.

Café Review: Greem Café, aka Cartoon Café

My friend Nora took Mary and I on a super exciting trip for my birthday back in January. Up first was a stop at Greem Café, also known as that instagrammable cartoon café in Korea.

a four-layered tulip heart in a latte on a black and white table

We ordered breakfast and drinks and everything was lovely. We got two free mugs because we ordered a certain amount, but I was a little disappointed that they weren’t the mugs that were being used in the cafe. (I would have paid extra for one of those 2D mugs.)

My advice would be to go when they open, as once they get busy, your instagram shots are going to be harder to take since you can’t roam around the cafe.

Follow them on instagram: @greem_cafe

Address: Seoul, Mapo-gu, Yeonnam-dong, Seongmisan-ro, 161-10 카페 1.5층


Nari Park 양주나리공원

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.

School Lunch

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.

What’s your favorite school lunch?

Café Review: Ob-La-Di

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….

The outside of Ob-La-Di.

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. (!)

Many brightly-colored cereal boxes taped to the ceiling

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.

Neon green silhouette of Peter Pan’s side profile with “Never Grow Up” written in yellow neon inside

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.

Follow them on instagram: luv_obladi

Address: 경기 의정부시 호국로1310번길 8 1층 카페 오블라디

Café Review: Orange Elephant

Situated north of the downtown cluster of Uijeongbu cafés (of which there are enough to caffeinate a modestly-sized writing group), and next to a beautiful park, is the Orange Elephant café.

View of a corner café called Orange Elephant, which features several panes of large windows. You can see my friend Nora leaning out the front door waving a peace sign.
Two tall glasses of iced drinks, one being milky and having long dark streaks of sugar in the glass and the other being an ombre iced americano, with a diner mug of black coffee in the middle just behind a plate with a lemon scone with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some berry jam. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

When my friend and I visited, there were no other guests in the café. Our drinks came out promptly and the café staff were very accommodating, even though they mentioned that they did not have any available outlets to charge electronics. (So make sure you’re juiced before heading their way!) The sunlight filtered in the windows at just the right angle to warm the Saturday morning. There is a display of locally crafted goodies, from rings to notebooks.

Interior shot of Orange Elephant featuring several round tables and chairs in various hues, along with a big leafy plant in the background. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

If you’re planning on visiting, make sure to come Tuesday-Saturday, as they are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Follow them on Instagram: 5range.elephant

Address: 218-29, Uijeongbu-dong, Uijeongbu-si, Gyeonggi-do 1F 경기도 의정부시 태평로155번길 36 1F

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

“That’s what I am: gum someone spat out.”

In 2019, the film “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” swept Korean cinemas to mixed reviews. Not surprisingly, this tale of an ordinary woman in her 30s polarized audiences among gender lines: the women loved it, and the men hated it. But why?

I have yet to see the movie, but I did pick up the ebook as soon as it was released. One of my Korean co-teachers, when I told her that I was reading it, commented that “Jiyoung” was a popular name for those born in the early 80s, making it similar to calling a girl from my generation “Sarah” or “Brittany.”

Beyond the plot line, this book is interesting for the facts that it weaves into the story, such as “women working in Korea earn only 63 percent of what men earn; the OECD average percentage is 84.13.”

I find that this article from the BBC does a good job reviewing the book and its importance. I do wish that more had been explored concerning “molka,” or the practice of secretly filming women and posting the videos online, as it’s become a huge issue in the last few years as part of the Burning Sun scandal. Sadly, as time goes on, there will only be more and more issues that women in South Korea will have to endure.

“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t a joke or a prank. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.


Night Shots of Uijeongbu

I left my apartment for the first time in three days to go to the McDonald’s that’s a five minute walk away. I took these shots along the way. And yes, there are that many convenience shops within such a small radius.