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Archive for the 'Austin's Orphanage' Category

Not about the orphans but…

Friday has come around again, and that usually means a story about the orphan children I work with. However, today I want to take the opportunity to tell you about something I got to do last weekend.

There are a lot of foreigners in Korea. Many are English teachers. But there are also lots of migrant workers and students from all over the world. When Koreans meet a foreigner who can speak Korean, even something as elementary as 안녕하세요?, they are really impressed. Part of the reason in that the westerners who stick out the most here don’t often bother to learn a lot of Korean. If you come to Korea, and start a conversation with a taxi driver, a shop clerk, or a waitress, you are bound to get complimented with “와! 우리말 되게 잘 하시네요!” (Wow! You really speak Korean so well!)

Korean-speaking foreigners are something of a novelty here, so there are some TV shows that feature foreigners doing all kinds of things in Korean . The Lunar New Year is approaching, and apparently every year, they have a game show for foreigners - played entirely in Korean. This year, I managed to get a space on the show!

Now, among English teachers, I am pretty proud of my Korean level. But I was up against a completely different league in this game show. Out of 100 competitors there were perhaps 6 from English speaking countries. Everyone else was here as a full time studen from China, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia.. They are really really good.

Anyway, the game show was “도전 걸든벨,” Golden Bell is a quiz show. Each contestant has a whiteboard, and they write an answer to the question. If you get it wrong, you’re out. The last person surviving has to answer a few additional questions. If they get that far, the will “ring the golden bell” and in our case, come home with about $4,000.

The whole experience was really loads of fun. I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t win - and I’m not even sure I’ll make it on the broadcast. The game took several hours, and only 50 minutes will be shown on TV, so…you do the math. When you get a question wrong, the announcer might come over and interview you. I’d love the chance to do the interview over again, cause I really made a lot of mistakes… but see if you can pick up something from a recent KClass lesson.

When they asked the question, the showed a picture on the screen, and asked us to write the name of the animation. Now, I really don’t know anything about Korean animation, so I knew I was cooked. I just wrote down the silliest answer I could think of: 마시마로. The picture was actually more like this.

Anyway, he came over to me, and asked what I wrote and why. I responded with “저는 한국 애니메이션대하서 아무 것도 모라요.” (Check Intermediate lesson 4) Then I fumbled through the rest of the interview, even managing to sing this song!

After lunch we got to play a second round, but I got out on the first question! Too bad.. cause those questions were a bit easier than the first round! All in all, I think I could have answered about 60-70% of them right, had I not been eliminated so early!

It was a great day, and I really had to practice my listening skills, because no one was giving directions in English!

A lazy month and not much to say.

These days, Korean students are in the middle of 겨울방학 (winter vacation) so things are pretty quiet around the orphanage.  Kids go home (remember that some of them still have parents) and a few are away on some sort of school trip.  I also haven’t been around there as often as I usually am since my own schedule is a bit different right now.

It must be pretty boring for them.  Since they aren’t in school, they stay home all day.  It’s too cold/dangerous to play outside, so they are stuck watching TV, or maybe going to the computer lab.  For many of them, that is their day!

I’m sorry there isn’t much else to report.  I hope to get a new video made with some of them this week, and have it up for the next post.  I could get them to make a video that would tie into one of the recent KClass lessons.  Anything in particular you’d like the kids to help you with?  Let me know!

In their own words…

I spent my Christmas traversing around Korea, so I’m sorry I can’t tell you what happened on Christmas Day. Perhaps I’ll have some things to report after my next visit. Today I want to share about something I got from them just before my vacation. On Friday that kicked off the winter holiday, my friend Josh and I had a little Christmas party with the elementary boys. We went to Costco, bought some snacks, and rented Harry Potter.

That evening, after dinner, I couldn’t find any of the official orphanage staff. The kids were a little rowdy, and they don’t really listen to us well, so I was looking for a Korean adult. One of the boys told me that 오마 was out “buying clothes.” Seems like a strange errand for 7PM on a Friday, doesn’t it? Anyway, the 6th graders were in charge. That happens a lot actually, and seems to work most of the time, but that is a different topic. Anyway, I soon found out that she had gone to buy sweatshirts for me and Josh! A cool gift. But the really neat part is that each of the boys had written a little card to go with it. Almost each card is identical, they say things like:

안녕하세요? 같이 놀아주었던 것 감사합나다….감기 조심하세요…옷 따듯하게 입으세요

Thanks for playing with me…be careful of colds…dress warmly!

Here’s a great winter phrase to use with your Korean friends. You’ll score big points with it, I promise: “감기 조심하세요” Be careful of colds!

Santa Comes

These children have precious few possessions. Most of what they have is shared. They wear whatever fits, and often it fits several kids. Seems like an unfortunate way to live. But the alternative isn’t really any better is it? Simply having lots of stuff doesn’t bring happiness or stability to your life either. But it is a real honor to bless the kids with something even if it’s just a new pair of awesome Spiderman shoes.

 Giving the presents was a real treat.  It was a lot of fun, as you saw in the video from last week’s post.  The children were overjoyed, and surprisingly grateful.  They usually don’t have the best of manners, so it was refreshing to see them say thank you! 

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Can you get a discount if you say “It’s for an orphan!”?

Christmas is not quite the same in Korea. Christmas Day is a recognized holiday, but many schools aren’t closed during the week that follows. Gifts are exchanged, but not to the degree that some of you might be familiar with in Western, Judeo-Christian environments.

Christmas at the orphanage is somewhat special though. Several different organizations and companies donate gifts to the kids. My church arranges funds to buy some new clothes for the pre-schoolers. Today was the shopping day.

Each volunteer was given an envelope with 100,000원 (roughly $100) to spend on the kids. $100 goes a long way, and if you go shopping at the right places, like 동대문 (where 현우 and I went a couple weeks ago), you can REALLY stretch it.

In 동대문 there are about a dozen buildings stuffed to the gills with clothes. It is truly remarkable. Armed with my cash, I set off to buy some clothes for 2 of the children from the orphanage. We were supposed to buy clothes, shoes, and jackets. Some other things had been prepared separately. So what can you get for $100? I managed to get a nice winter coat, a pair of shoes, a pair of jeans, some underwear, pajamas, gloves, and 3 shirts for each kid.

And yeah, I did manage to get a lot of discounts when I told the vendors I was buying clothes to give to an orphan. Sometimes it worked like a charm. One lady even gave me 10 fleece hats for free! But, some people weren’t so interested in cutting their prices! Other times, things were cheap enough, that I didn’t bother asking for any sort of discount.

Those sort of situations are sink or swim when it comes to using Korean. The vendors don’t speak much English. Sometimes they know how to quote a price, but that’s about it. And that’s when you realize just exactly how much you can communicate! I had to do all of the shopping and negotiating in Korean. While I get it wrong a lot, I am always amazed when something works out just the way I hope it will!

I wish I had a video of the shopping. That would have been fun. You’ll have to settle for Part 1 of the gift giving. I did my best to subtitle it in English and Korean. What I said is in orange, and the kids speech is in white. Enjoy, and part 2 should be out next week.

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맛있는 짜장면!! (Delicious Jjajangmyeon)

여러분 짜장면을 먹은 적이 있나요? 없으면 바로 먹어 봐야해요! 고아원에 매월 마지막 수요일에 어린이들이 저녁으로 짜장면을 먹어요. 까가운 중화요리집이 짜장면고 탕수육을 만들러 와요.

Have you ever eaten jjajangmyeon? If you haven’t you really should try it! At the orphanage, the children eat jjajangmyeon on the last Wednesday of every month. A Chinese food shop from nearby comes to make jjajangmyeon and sweet & sour pork.

짜장명 is sort of like the macaroni & cheese of Korea. It is dirt cheap, and an absolute favorite of kids everywhere. Of course, adults like it too! It can be found just about everywhere, but unless you live in LA or NY, I wonder if you can find it at a restaurant in the States. ㅠ.ㅠ Basically it is a noodle dish with a black bean sauce, onions, and pork bits. I know, I know, that description doesn’t sound so delicious, but trust me. I’d eat it 2 times a week if I thought it was really healthy!

I’m not sure about the origin of this dish, you can usually only find it at a “중화요리 집,” or Chinese restaurant, but those are all “Koreanized” so don’t expect to see it on the menu at your local Western Chinese carry-out!


Anyway, the kids at the orphanage rarely get to eat so well. Don’t get me wrong, they are fed each and every day, but it’s not always so appetizing. So 짜장면 Wednesdays are a real treat. A local Chinese food restaurant loads up their gear and hauls it over the orphanage once a month to serve noodles and sweet & sour pork. There is a picture below of the noodle slicing machine. Fresh noodles do taste so much better!



I usually go to the orphanage two days a week. Saturday and Monday. On Saturdays several friends from my church go to work with the pre-school aged children. Typically we try to teach them some stories from the Bible. (It is a Christian orphanage, and my church has been working there for the past several years.) Sometimes those regular plans get changed.

Living in Korea has challenged me in several ways. But perhaps the most difficult to overcome is how schedules can be changed so suddenly. And many times, decisions aren’t made until very late - something that makes Westerners really nervous. As an example, the day I write this is about 5 weeks before the Winter English Camp that I will have to teach. However, no final decisions have been made about location, content, schedule, which students…etc. And until it actually starts, nothing is set in stone.

So sometimes we experience this with the orphanage too. Today I showed up with my friend at about 10:45. But along the road, I kept seeing all these kids filing out carrying boxes full of stuff. I asked them where they were going, and it took me a while to figure out that they were going to have some sort of “sidewalk sale.” We thought it might just involve the older kids, but soon, all the adults workers were bringing EVERYONE outside. So, we just turned around and went to this street corner. Sure enough, the kids were selling tings. Old comic books, candy, notebooks, pancakes, roasted squid, etc. It was really bizarre. Initially we thought that maybe they were doing some more fundraising for the new building, but that just didn’t seem right. Every kid had a little chart where they wrote down each transaction, and had my sign my name. 100원 for candy, 500원 for a chocolate-covered banana, 1,000원 to through water balloons at a high-schooler’s head… strange.

So I asked one of the 5th graders: “오늘은 왜 많은 물건을 판매해?” (Why are you selling so many things today?)

-”경제 공부” (Economics study)

-”경제 공부 대회?” (is it an economics study contest?)

-”네” (yes)
-”1등 사람이 어떤 상품을 받을거야?” (What prize does the 1st place person get?)

-”50,000원” ($50)

Sorry there are no pictures of this event! I wasn’t prepared for it!

공사중 (Construction)

There is a major construction project underway right now. Recently two buildings were torn down to make way for one larger multi-purpose building. All of the girls from elementary-high school moved out of their building and are now cramped into even tighter quarters for the next 8 months or so. The chapel was also torn down. Here is a picture of the current progress. I don’t have good information about what is being built, but I sure hope it will be an improvement. The kids tell me that the new building will have a “gym” which really would be awesome. There isn’t really any good place nearby for the kids to play. And when it is as cold at it is right now, being inside is really the best option. The new building will also house some of the kids. But in the meantime, things are pretty tight. I’ll be posting periodic updates so you can see how the construction is coming along.

With Christmas around the corner, you can expect some stories about what the holiday is like for these kids.

In fact, Christmastime marks my one year anniversary of working at the orphanage.

construction at orphanage


Every year the orphanage sets up a bazaar to raise money. It is usually at the end of October. I wasn’t volunteering there last fall, so this was my first one. Preparations started a few weeks before. Josh warned me that the staff would be pouncing on us to buy some tickets for the event. Each ticket cost 10,000원 and then could be spent on various things at the bazaar.

Each staff member is charged with selling 10 tickets. So, one called me up and asked if I would buy some tickets. I agreed to buy 2. Then, I decided I could afford to invest a little more in the event, so I gave her enough money for 5. But I should have been more discreet. Another worker (the one Josh and I call “Mean 오마” overheard our conversation. She cornered me and begged me to buy tickets from her too. She was practically screaming about how I bought 5 from the other lady, and how I should have spread it around instead. I could only look at her sheepishly and say how I bought 5 already, and I didn’t need any more. Then really started twisting my arm (literally). She grabbed my hand, starred intently into my face and made me promise to buy 3. She was unrelenting! I tried to tell her how I didn’t have any more cash..but that wasn’t good enough. She was happy to take the money later, in exchange for my promise to bring the money next time! Phew!

The day of the bazaar finally approached. The plan was for all the foreigners who volunteer at the orphanage (there are about 4 of us) to sell some cookies and brownies. Josh also bought an ice cream machine so we could sell “home-made ice cream.” We set up our table. It was a great opportunity to practice some more Korean in a setting I never have before. If you’ve spent any time in Korea, you are familiar with the salesmen on the subways. They wheel their carts on the train and very politely introduce their product, going through this whole spiel about how wonderful it is and how great the value is. But that wasn’t my model. I was going more for the street salesmen in a market. These guys scream, and basically just repeat the same thing over and over again. So I started bellowing:

“맛있는 크키이에요. 천원이에요”
“Delicious cookies…just one dollar!”

That is my best guess as to what the guys on the street say. Its probably not all that correct, because the Koreans kept looking at me and laughing (although that’s also because it is so rare to see foreigners making fools out of themselves in Korean). But, we did manage to sell all of our cookies, muffins, and ice cream! I did have to make some deals when we got to the end. Some people really scored with 1/2 price or 1/4 price discounts!

Working at the orphanage always provides me with some great language experiences. Sometimes I get caught off guard that I am understanding the conversation. It seems when I TRY to listen I have a harder time getting it. However when I just participate, subconsciously expecting to understand, I find my comprehension is much higher. That day I was able to translate for a friend and answer a lady’s question without missing a beat. She wanted to know “why foreigners were selling things at the bazaar.” The tone in her voice was not so pleasant actually. But I just told her that “우리 보유관에서 봉사해요.” “We volunteer at the orphanage.”

This picture is of 성태 helping crank the ice cream machine.


도독놈들! (Theives!)

Something really serious happened when I was home for vacation. My friend Josh, who also volunteers at the orphanage told me that some of the older boys were caught with stolen money! Apparently each kid is given 5,000원 (about $5) each month as “allowance.” I’m sure it gets spent immediately on 컵라면 and other unhealthy snacks. But sometime during the summer break, a few of the older stole 500,000원 (about $500) from a man in the neighborhood. You might think that they would have tried to hide it really well, but money really burns holes in these kids’ pockets. So four kids split the money amongst themselves, the older ones threating the younger ones within an inch of their lives to keep silent. It wasn’t long before the staff got really curious about how these kids kept having money to buy things. The older boys wouldn’t talk. But one of the younger ones fessed up, and finally the truth came out. They now have to forgo their allowance until the debt is paid.It really represents a larger problem there. Things get stolen quite frequently. But usually, they steal from EACH OTHER. In Korean society, being a little bit older comes with some real tangible benefits. And the kids at the home squeeze everything they can get out of it. There are middle school and high school students on the second floor, above the elementary kids. They often exploit their seniority. Here is one conversation I witnessed about a cell phone. Remember that I said some kids have parents. Some parents have bought cell phones for their kids.

고등 학생: 전기 줘! Give me your cell phone battery! (they have the same model)
4학년 학생: 왜? Why?
고등 학생: 형! Because I am your big brother! (no blood relation, but since he’s older, he is 형)

So the kid gave up battery. And he might not have seen it again. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Last weekend a 5th grader told me how he used to have a Nintendo DS. I have no idea how he managed to have one of those, but he did. Once the older boys found out about it, it was gone. They stole it, and probably sold it online! The same thing happened last year with someone’s Playstation Portable. The older boys throw down the age card, and there is nothing the younger kids can do about it!