A history lesson, Korean koffee and other random observations

Whit here.

I hope you enjoyed the video. Lindsay sure has. I plan on returning the favor once I can catch her in the middle of a lesson. But I have to ask, “ARE YOU HAPPY??” Thank goodness for all of those years as a camp counselor. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Anyways, we survived our first week of school. We somehow learned from the other “Engrish” teachers what we were suppose to do, survived the mobbings of children in the hallways of Songwon, lived to tell about our vice-principal coming to our home to tell us what we can and cannot do in our freetime(I thought the very independent-minded Lindsay was going to stroke out), AND got all of our information turned in at immigration. We did this all the while smiling and saying “Annyong haseyo” (hello) and many “Cumsa Haminidas” (thank you). It wasn’t always easy to keep smiling, but we did. I daresay that after only a week, we are feeling at home in this very strange place.

Alright quick history lesson:

In May of 1980 our city of Gwangju erupted in violence. Many Koreans here felt that the government was becoming less democratic. Long-time president Park Chung Hee had been assassinated in October of 1979 by a an angry aide. This left the country in a lurch. Since 1961, Park had ruled over South Korea. Toward the end of his final term he changed the Constitution to read that there were no-term limits for a South Korean president. The people, for better or worse, kept reelecting him.
But once he was suddenly gone no one seemed to know what to do. Martial law was declared. No one stepped forward as president successfully and by May 1980 the entire country was under martial law. All over the country the people expressed their anger of the army’s rule in protest.

In Gwangju, however, these protests become very bloody. For ten days students and the South Korean army faced off. The students fought for democracy, the army for control. The United States never intervened on behalf of the students and democracy, causing many in the city to feel some anti-American feelings.

The army eventually retook the city, but not until almost 200 people died and over 800 were injured. In the immediate aftermath, General Chun Doo Hwan began his regime, the Fifth Republic. In the late 1980s Chun eventually stepped down as president and made way for the first democratic election in South Korea. So as many say, the Gwangju Uprising was not in vain.

With all that said though, the coffee is still absolute crap. The Uprising did nothing for my favorite drink in the whole world. My sister-in-law Kathryn says that coffee, even good coffee, “tastes like sticks.” Until my first cup of coffee two days ago I never knew what she was talking about. As in Thailand, real coffee is fairly elusive in Korea. Instead you are served an Americano. The one served to me the other day did in fact taste like sticks. Never again. So I am doomed to drink instant coffee like my mother drinks at home. It is sweet, almost tasting like hot chocolate. As a coffee connoisseur and snob, this is like being damned to hell for an entire year. Hopefully, I will survive the wait. Until then, I will have to dream about my favorite coffeehouse and former employer, the Dripolator in Black Mountain. If any of you are reading, PLEASE air mail me some of that sweet stuff!

Though they haven’t quite mastered coffee. They have us beat in the pizza department. Our co-workers today claimed they bought two large pizzas for our welcoming party, but by the way they attacked the pizzas when they arrived—if it was for us it sure didn’t seem like it. I am serious. I left the room for 2 minutes and one large pizza was gone when I came back. But, after I ate a slice and a half, I quickly realized why. It was that good and very different. One was a seafood pizza complete with shrimp. Instead of marinara sauce on the side, it comes with garlic sauce and pickles. Go figure. Then on top of it all it is drizzled with some type of dressing. Oh, and it is from Dominos.

But then there are other aspects of Korean life we are running into that seem far from what we know at home. But I feel it is too early to speculate. We are going to have to write about all of that later when we have been here for longer than a week. Don’t worry though, you will hear about it.
Let me also say that we aren’t trying to be judgemental. We love Korea. If we sound surprised by the differences it is only because we are surprised. We don’t think life here is necessarily better or worse. We are just observers, reporting back to you what we see.
Hope you enjoy.


  1. Wow Whit and Lindsay…it’s really cool to read your blog to prepare ourselves. We’re still here in Florida (at my parents’ house) waiting for our visas. I have one very important question for Lindsay…exactly how conservitave will I need to dress to teach??? I have tons of skirts that are knee or just above knee length…is this going to be too risque? Tell me the truth, I can take it. I’m imagining I will be able to wear pants. Is this true? I’m having trouble finding the answer online, but you, my friend are an expert! It will be great to see you soon!Maria


  2. Maria, good question! It was something I wondered about too. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the women here don’t dress as conservatively as it sounds in the research I had read before coming. I was thinking they were practically going to be wearing burquas. At my school, I got lucky. It is a private school where the teachers can wear pretty much whatever they want, “As long as you don’t look like you are going to a club,” they explained. I would avoid sleeveless shirts, though shortsleeves with the little sleeves are accepted and quite popular with the women. We can even wear blue jeans at my school. But I’m sure every school is different. I would stick to nothing shorter than a knee-length skirt (I think a little bit shorter is fine) for teaching. But on the weekends in downtown Gwangju, anything goes. I have seen lots of girls with minis. As for tops, make sure they are not low-cut. V-neck is fine, as long as it doesn’t go too low. It is the style to wear the cute little tanks we wear in America with a white shirt sleeve tee underneath. Bring a little white tee. It will be your best friend. Pants are fine, I wear them every day to school, as well as capris. I think dressing for school here is like dressing for work in the US. Just remember you will be standing in front of a group of kids who will be STARING at you, taking in every centimeter of you!We can’t wait for you guys to arrive and hang out! We are soo excited to have friends!


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