Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoughts on Language and Other Stuff

I recently had it pointed out to me that Korean focuses on verbs, while English focuses on nouns.

If I say "You bike road." You basically understand what I mean... try it... speak using only nouns. You'll be amazed how much can be communicated.

"You basketball me."
"Shark food fish."

However, in many Korean sentences or expressions, there are no nouns at all.
For example...
Literally, it means "like?"
Translate it into English and you get...
"Do you like it?" or "Do you like this?"

Of course this is a very basic example.

But this little observation explains a lot about the various difficulties Koreans experience with English... and vice-versa.

Meanwhile... my class was recently discussing fruits and vegetables. Jake asked what a watermelon was. I told him, "Some people say it's a fruit, and others say it's a vegetable. So, Jake, maybe it's both." He immediately requested internet verification of my answer. We quickly looked it up and... guess what? Apparently watermelons are called "fregetables". Isn't that awesome? Jake was as amazed as I, and it became his new word for the day.

Meanwhile again... Have you ever followed someone, just for the fun of it? Well, I did. I was walking with a friend through a touristy section of Seoul, when I spotted a girl who was obviously Japanese, and obviously a tourist.

I was amazed... she was just... too movie-like. Too stereotypical. It was classic... She had a map in hand, she was pulling a cute little luggage carry-on, and she was wearing a stylish white woven cap. I immediately started searching for hidden cameras. I just couldn't believe she was real. She stopped a group of college students and asked directions. At this point, my friend and I inconspicuously wandered our way closer... to see if we could learn more. We caught a few words of Japanese and then the little group headed off.

We decided to follow. Eventually the group of college students guided the girl to her destination, spoke to her briefly, and then headed off. It was a restaurant. My friend told me that it was famous for "mandu". Once again, I thought, this is impossible. People don't really dress like that and wander around at night with luggage, looking for famous food shops.

It was a fun little distraction. I still think there must have been movie cameras somewhere...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lots of pictures together = Video

Playing with the new camera and the simple windows movie maker.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Camera OCD

I have this strange OCD that demands I bring my camera with me everywhere. I walk out the door thinking... I need my camera... what if something totally awesome happens, or I see something amazingly beautiful and I don't have my camera?

So today, I bought a small point and shoot and now I don't have to always lug my DSLR around. It's also a great stealth camera... not as obvious as my huge lens and obvious clicking noises.

In America it's called the Canon Powershot 1100. In Europe and Asia the same camera is called the Canon Ixus 80 IS. I don't know why they have to change the name, but whatever. It's a smart little camera.

Here are a few quick "snapshots" on a subway trial run of the new "stealth cam". Beginning with a test of the macro capabilities.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Here's the basic farewell letter I plan to give to my students' parents.

Dear Green Island Parents,

It’s hard to believe that the Green Island class has been learning together for nearly twelve months. The time has gone by quickly. During that time, each student has learned and grown academically, socially, and personally.

They were an exciting class to teach, full of energy and creativity. Each one of them has a strong personality. And none of them are shy. I’ve seen them read more fluently, write more productively, and speak more confidently. They studied and learned subjects I never thought seven-year-olds could understand. This class loved difficult vocabulary words (they surprised me by remembering the words and using them correctly). They loved science that was messy and involved making something. And they were all great story tellers.

They have learned how to be friends and how to work as a team. They have learned, and will continue to learn, how to handle conflict and how to encourage. They created imaginary games about being doctors in hospitals, working in stores, and living as dinosaurs. They invited friends to play their games or quickly joined others.

Teaching them for a year has also allowed me to watch them all grow physically and mentally. I’ve seen them get taller and stronger. I’ve smiled when they proudly showed me their missing teeth. I’ve observed them when they solved problems and acted creatively. I spoke with them when they were sad and happy. I’ve listened to their silly questions, and their serious questions.

Their learning process is not complete and it will continue all their lives. I’m happy and proud that I could be a small part of this time in their life. I hope that I’ve taught them patience, kindness, and the joy of learning, through my words as well as my actions. I have truly come to love each one of them.

Thank you for your constructive feedback. Thank you for your gifts. And especially thank you for trusting me with your children. May they continue to bless your lives.

Respectfully yours,
Ryan Daniel Mortinson

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I went to a William Blake gallery last weekend.


I've been so busy, I haven't had a chance to take photos. Makes me kind of sad. Makes me want to go take pictures.

The time is ticking down. I've only got my kids for 5 more days. It's weird. This group is so different from the last school I taught at. Because I've taught these kids for a solid 12 months, 5 days a week, 5 hours a day.

I've definitely crossed the boundary of teacher and friend/uncle. They climb on my shoulders, they hang on my legs, they hug me in the morning when they come in and sit on my knee, they love to wrestle, roughhouse, and tickle. I will miss them. They were/are a super high energy class. I'm not really sure how I survived. But I'd have it no other way.

And then it all starts again. I've decided to sign for another year and I begin teaching my new class almost instantly.

I'll have to learn new personalities. I'll need to refine and adjust my teaching techniques. And frankly, I'm not sure I have the energy right now. I'm feeling ready for a vacation home (that sounds weird). I'd like to do nothing but ride a motorcycle for about a month. Instead, I'll be heading back to the states for about 2 weeks at the end of April. I'm already looking forward to it.

So here's to "good-byes".

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Friday Night on the Town

Photos taken while shopping... there's some interesting stuff hiding out there.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Student Essay's

The school sprung a surprise writing test on my kids. I think they did pretty well though.

If you have a chance to meet your favorite person, who would you like to meet? And why?

I whent to meet my mom's dad because I don't see him. - Jake

If I can meet my favourite person, I will meet my maternal grandfa. Because he is funny, nice, kind, and handsome. And I can meet him in Yeosu. - Daniel

If I have a chance to meet my favorite person, I would meet Jihan, because he likes me and I like him. He also plays with me. - Jimmy

I would like to meet Jimmy Because he is my best friend. I will meet him at a bridge. Because we can see fishes. - James

If you have an American friend who wants to know about Korea. How would you explain about Korea?

Korea is a small land. In Korea there are a lot of apartments and even the pizzas are yummy. A lot of people like kimchi. - James

It is a small island. There are many apartments, but there are no houses. I think there are many trees, many roads and I think sometimes there are traffic jams, and there are also restaurants too. I think there are some English people. In Korea, I can play piano. Yesterday, I think I did Nintendo wii. I think today's weather is a little bit dark. I think in Korea there is a god. - Jihan

Korea is small, but strong. And kimchi is best delicious. Because long time ago, Sars virus pushed all continents and countries. But, korea tried to escape of Sars Virus. So, one scientist made kimchi. They ate kimchi and they were safe. - Daniel

In Korea der is maps and cars, Bulldozers, der is tape and we need to talk moch. Der is some wer we can eat outside. We have meny cake. Der is TRANSFORmer muvy and waly the robot der is meny. This. - Jake

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Swimming Party

The fitness center where I swim had a "swimming party". Everyone from the 7am swim time that wanted to, could meet for dinner this Tuesday.

I decided I'd go (well, basically our instructor ordered us to go). It was good because I was able to meet some of the people in my swimming class. And Hyeon-hun translated for me.

It was a bit awkward though. One of the older gentleman really wanted me to drink with him. He tried every angle... He told me I needed to experience the culture, I needed to prove I was a real man, He was older than me and I had to do what he said.

I was able to refuse using the fact that I had to drive a motorcycle home (which he replied to with an offer to pay for someone to drive it home for me).

I really didn't like the pressure (but it's also part of Korean culture, and interestingly enough, many Koreans feel the same way I do). It created a bad feeling in me. I was polite, but at that point, I was ready to get out of there before the real drinking started.

There was also a 34 year old Korean woman who is an English teacher and she looked out for me. She translated what he was saying and then basically encouraged me not to listen to him.

And I think I accidentally flirted with her... there was another gentleman there who when he learned my name was "Lyan", he told me his name was "tiger". He started teasing the Korean English teacher that she was old. He told me to watch out for her because she was the classic old woman. She quickly asked me what he had told me... and I thought I'd be clever and have a little joke so I quipped, "He said you're beautiful."

Anyway, at the end of the night, I somehow ended up with her business card, several comments about being handsome, a request to ride the motorcycle, several subtle (or not so subtle) hints about dating older women, and a promise of help any time I needed it.

Run, Ryan, run.

It was a bit weird for me to analyze the night's experience and my actions afterward. I carried on conversation with multiple people. I smiled gently. I made eye-contact. I initiated conversation using the basic Korean I could recall. I raised my eyebrows and nodded to show I was listening, even when I didn't understand a word they were saying. I got the expected "You're handsome" a couple times. How do you respond to that? I just do a little head bow and say thank you. I really feel like it doesn't mean anything because it's said so casually.

Hyeon-hun said they really liked me. And I replied, "How can they like me? They don't even know me."

I think the fact that I'm polite and listen more than I talk, has a lot to do with it. It's amazing how such a simple thing can endear you to people.

If only they knew how draining it is for me. How I wish I could speak Korean. How I wish we could all be drinking coffee instead of beer. How I get tired of answering the questions "why don't you have a girlfriend?" and "why don't you drink?"

I have a feeling I won't be seeing some of them tomorrow morning for the swimming class due to hangovers.

Sigh... I wish there was some way to instantly learn a language.

And a parting thought... who is the real "Lyan" behind the smiling blue eyes? Do I even know?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Return to Graffiti Tunnel and some Sleuthing

I couldn't resist the tunnel... and I'll probably go back again. It just provides such a unique background and color.

Also, a few shots from when I was in the subway. One is a "spy" shot and another is investigating a curious ink stain on the floor... taking that one was a bit awkward, since it looked like I was taking a pic of the lady's feet.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It takes a whole kindergarten class to raise a town

So for art, I taught the kids how to make origami houses and then we created a town together. We brainstormed the various kinds of buildings we would need. I think the "Dog Motel" and the "Tank Shop" were two of my favorites.

The city's name was a compilation of all our names...
Dajamchaysolhaekeun City

Jake immediately asked me how to make an origami tank (I mean, what's a town without a tank, right?) I told him I didn't know how, so he suggested we use the internet. I quickly found a fairly simple, yet cool, tank design and spent the rest of art class making about a dozen tanks.

It's always interesting to see what kind of pictures kids will take. The following are some that were taken by the kids in my class. They wandered around taking turns with my DSLR.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Let's Go for a Swim

As I mentioned before, I recently started swimming lessons. I'm set to go three times a week for a month.

Some people might think... "Ryan, why are you taking swimming lessons? Weren't you a lifeguard at a lake?" Well, yes, I was... and I took the lifeguard training... but it didn't include "proper technique". As long as I could swim strongly, pass the endurance tests, and hold my breath, they didn't care how I did it.

So I decided to learn how to swim the scientific way... since I'd already learned the survival way.

I'll walk you through my first morning of swim class. First you get a locker key from the front desk. Then you walk down to the men's showers. Before you go in, you place your shoes in a small locked cubby. Then you walk in to the lockers where you put the rest of your stuff. After stripping down (naked, good thing I played basketball in the states and experienced the locker room shower, or the nudity might have been a shocker for me), you head into the showers where you rinse yourself off and put on your swimsuit and cap. After walking out to the pool, an instructor leads everyone in warm-up stretches. Then everyone splits up into their different skill levels. I'm with four others. An older guy and two women in their late 20s early 30s.

Once in the pool, we warm up by walking backwards in circles. Then we practice proper breathing, followed by proper kicking. We do a number of drills while holding onto the side of the pool. The instructor sets the speed by counting "hana, duel, hana duel" (one, two, one, two). After practicing each separately, we combine them and practice breathing while kicking. We do several laps around the pool for each skill. The instructor grabs our feet or moves our head if we aren't doing it properly. It's quite a workout. Much of it is simply conditioning so our kicks and breathing get stronger.

Our little group is slowly bonding... we smile at each other and whisper "this is hard" (in Korean of course).

I really appreciate the instructor because she doesn't treat me any differently, even though it's obvious I don't speak Korean and I'm the only white guy in the entire fitness facility. She is patient and does a lot of demonstrations so I can visually see what she's talking about. I also watch the other swimmers for cues when to start or stop.

It's a challenge. And sometimes I say to myself, "What the heck are you doing, Ryan?" But I like it. And I can tell that I'm slowly becoming a better swimmer already.

For the final 5 minutes, we join everyone else in the deep pool (5 feet) for cool down exercises and stretches. During part of it, you had to massage the person in front of you. I heard all this giggling as the girl behind me tried to decide if she would be brave and massage (punch really) the white guy. And when the Korean man in front of me turned around, he exclaimed, "It's a foreigner!" I think he was surprised because I gave him a pretty solid massage.

I think what I experienced was a lot like what a deaf man experiences. I watched out of the corners of my eyes for movement and hand gestures that could provide me with information.

It's an experience that's hard to explain. Something that not many people in the US can understand. Usually, there is at least one person who can speak your language, but in this situation there was no one (and no cell phone to call someone to translate). Maybe it's teaching me empathy... maybe it's teaching me the value of non-verbal language. I'm not certain, but I do know, deep down, I'm learning something... something that will change the way I think and interact with the world (and with water).

Can't wait for the lesson tomorrow.

I took class pictures for a fellow teacher. She's going to print them out and give them to her kids as a graduation good-bye. I included a few here of the teacher and her co-teacher, as well as one student/teacher picture. I still love the extreme contrast look.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Temple And a Pool

I had a wild weekend. I felt like I was back in college.

Friday night Christina texted me that she was bored. I couldn't let a friend be bored. So I stayed up until 2am throwing rocks into a lake (my idea. I love throwing rocks) and taking awesome night pictures (I also love taking pictures).

Saturday morning I woke up at 4:30am, quickly packed my bag and met my friend Hyeon-hoon(현훈). We then took a taxi to the Yongsan train station where we met up with two other friends, Hu-yong (허용) and Dau-wua. Then we caught the train to Guangju. I think it took us about 4-5 hours to get there by slow train. During that time, we played games of chance and talked. At one point, Dau-wua received a penalty that required her to exit the train, do a push up, and then return to the train. She requested a "Black Knight". This is a person that will take the penalty for her, and may ask a favor of her in return. I volunteered. So at the next station, I jumped out the door and did push-ups, while Koreans gawked, and then I quickly hopped back on the train.

In Guangju we met up with two more friends Deok-hyeon (덕현) and his girlfriend Ji-yeong (지영). Then we hopped on a bus... The driver was a funny guy. He kept yelling at people for standing up too early for their stops. Then he quickly volunteered advice to us about how to reach the temple... while driving with one hand and looking over his shoulder as he talked.

After disembarking from the bus, we talked a taxi driver into letting us pack 6 people into his car (slightly illegal, but we were in the countryside). We followed a winding road beside a small river. Finally, we reached the temple, which was at the base of a mountain.

First thing we did when we got to the temple was greet the Buddha. Hyeon-hoon's aunt was actually the temple master and he had been to this temple before, so he led the way. We bowed three times to 3 different Buddha entities. Two walls were Buddha paintings and in front were three Buddha statues with a painting behind them. We then had lunch (vegetarian and very tasty. the various flavors were amazing.) I was the loser at a counting game we played, so I had to do the dishes. Everyone else went and got our two rooms set up. One room for the guys and one for the girls.

Next we met the temple master (Hyeon-hoon's aunt). She served us tea and snacks. We brought some traditional ginger cookies for her. The process of making tea was interesting to watch... it involved pouring the tea into various containers and filters and finally into very tiny tea cups. She chatted away while she worked. I didn't really understand much of what she said. At one point, I do know she started to tell some kind of childhood story about Hyeon-hoon that he got embarrassed about. The temple was for women monks (which are apparently called nuns, though I tend to associate that word with Catholic nuns).

The temple master then led us on a short hike. We talked and played word games while we walked. Upon returning we had dinner. Then we went to the temple and did "baek-pal baek"(108 bows). I couldn't read the Korean mantra fast enough (and I didn't know what it meant) so I didn't do the chanting. But I did do the 108 bows. These were not simple bows from the waste... these were full body squats... you go from a standing position down to your knees, then put your face down (still sitting on knees), palms go up, then down, then folded (classic prayer style), then you rock back on your heels to a standing postion again... repeat... 108 times. By the time we finished, all of us were sweating and our quads were burning.

After returning to our room, we played more games of chance. We created the classic children's origami paper mouth with four corners. Penalties were written inside the paper. A person would choose a number and a direction (north, east, south, or west). They would then have to do the penalty that came up. A number of other games were used to choose the person who would get the random penalty. They were:
[1]Baskin Robbins 31 - Each person can count 1,2, or 3 numbers... the person that is forced to count the number 31 loses.
[2]Game of Death - on the count of three, everyone points at someone. A leader calls out a random number. The number counts follow the directions people are pointing. The person the final number lands on is the loser.
[3]3, 6, 9 - the group begins counting up by ones. If the number contains a 3, 6, or 9 then you must clap instead of saying the number. The one who fails to do so, or says the wrong number is the loser.
[4]6 count - we had to count to 6. You simply shout out the next number in random order... if you say the number at the same time as someone else, then you both are losers. And if you count the number 6 (because there were 6 of us) then you are the loser.
[5]image game - a question is asked. For example:"Who do you think is the best dresser?" Then everyone points at their choice. The person with the most votes is the loser.

The loser then chose a random number and direction and the origami mouth was used to choose a random penalty.

Some of the penalties: everyone splashes you in the face with water, you must switch sleeping rooms, everyone flicks you in the head with their finger, the people on either side of you must kiss you, you must tell the group a problem you have and listen to the advice they give, everyone must compliment you.

It was really great fun. As for me... I played it smart, and was careful when playing the random games (there is some strategy involved.) I managed to only get two penalties. I was flicked in the head by everyone and had to kiss someone (on the cheek).

After the game we talked. Talked about life, about religion, about beliefs, about our struggles, about our dreams. We went to bed around midnight... and woke up at 2:30am for another 108.

Following our second 108 (which only took us about 30minutes, opposed to the 40 minutes the first time) we had breakfast and made a picnic lunch for ourselves. I did dishes again, others cleaned our rooms, and others made lunch. Then we started up the mountain.

I think it took us about 3 hours to reach the peak. It was a tough climb, but enjoyable. The weather was beautiful. At the top we hit a large patch of ice, but eventually we made it. We took pictures and ate lunch. On the way down, Ji-yeong slipped and slid down the hill and off the trail. As she flew over the side into the bushes, she grabbed onto Deok-hyeon and pulled him off the trail with her. They were laughing so much... and of course the photojournalist in me came out... and I snapped some quick shots. On the way down, we began to pass regular hikers in full gear... ski poles, hiking boots, hats, thermal wear, huge backpacks... so much of it is unnecessary, but it's part of the culture. Koreans don't do things by halves.

On a previous hike, I got chewed out by an old Korean man because I was hiking in Converse and not the standard hiking boots (I couldn't communicate the fact that I felt they gave me better traction and wouldn't cause blisters.)

After we got back, we rested for a few minutes. We said good-bye to the Buddhas (3 bows again)... and tried to catch the bus... we missed it by about 2 minutes. We ended up getting a ride with one of Hyeon-hoon's relatives. We decided to take a bus back instead of the train because it would be faster and cheaper. Tired and a little hungry, we made it safely back to Seoul.

I then drove my motorcycle to Itaewon to meet with some friends. Then brought one of them home and ended up having tea and a nice talk until midnight. Rode home and then got to sleep... only to wake up at 6am for swimming lessons (which were awesome).

Needless to say, I was pretty much a zombie at school. Over 4 days I got probably 10 hours of sleep max. And it was completely worth it. I'll save my swimming adventures for another day... this has got to be a record length post.

Long Story

I've gotta get some sleep. It's been a busy last couple of days. Visit to a Buddhist temple, climbed a mountain, and just started swimming lessons.

I plan to write more about my recent adventures... but wanted to post a few pics.