Monday, January 30, 2012

3 Things Better than the Natural History Museum Store

When I visited the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County this Saturday, the museum shop displayed a black tshirt emblazoned with "Science is Sexy". Do you agree? I'll answer with maybe.

I'd say "Science is fun, scary and sometimes cute."

What was fun at the Natural History Museum?
Gawking at the hundred pound gem-quality jade. Hey, what can I say, I grew up admiring jade jewelry. Plus it's Chinese New Year. My friend also pointed out a mineral and gemstone that looked just like a snowman hugging a column. The three others in the group agreed. So cute! Besides all that cuteness, magnificent and mysterious shards of tourmaline shone. Some of the minerals created shapes like brain coral.

What was scary?
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Oarfish
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Megamouth
The preserved oarfish and megamouth found near Catalina Island in 1984 and 2006, respectively, were frightening to me. I would not like to encounter either during an open water swim. The oarfish looked like a sea serpent over 9 feet long with antennae-looking parts like a creature from very deep waters. The megamouth was shorter but it's head was 3 feet by 3 feet. Like it's namesake, it's mouth looked uncommonly large. The fact that these creatures are modern day freaks me out. They look like they are from a time long past.

What was cute?
Photo Credit: Flickr Geograph Org UK Peccary
The Fossil Huntress play was witty, educational and humorous. One actress with a Mary Poppins-accent presented a story to the audience. Her character lived near cliffs in England that were speckled with fossils. Her family sold these thinking these were common seashells until a palentologist came to her booth one day to explain their value to science. Other actors dressed in prehistoric sea serpent and teen triceratops costumes performed for the audience. The audience could watch the sea animal's terrible jaws when consuming a fish and the gait of the triceratops. This was important because 10 years ago, scientists believed that triceratops walked closer to the ground like lizards.

In addition to the play, the taxidermy North American and African Mammals were a sight. The young coyotes, baby Kudu and mountain sheep were heart-meltingly cute. My favorite exhibit was of the Peccaries, a family of mammals that looked like bristly boars but belonged to something other than the pig family. The "piglet" was the same size as a chihuahua and it's eyes were fierce-looking. Mighty adorable!

I'd recommend this museum as a great date trip or just a family outing.

Happy Museum Hopping!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Apgujeong, the Beverly Hills of Korea

My sister teaches English overseas at a public elementary school rather than at an Hagwon, a private school afterschool program. When she isn't lesson-planning she explores Korean culture.

Where did she travel this week? She uses Norbert Paxton's The Rough Guide to Korea for some of her travel plans. This guide called Apgujeong the Beverly Hills of Korea. Why? Because everywhere you look you find advertisements for plastic surgery and valet parking.

Photo Credit: Flickr CesarFotos Pasta
Did she go anywhere where Korean dramas were filmed? She traveled to Gangnam too but fans of "Pasta" can recognize landmarks in Apgujeong.

Did you notice anything different about Korean versus American dating customs? My sister observed that guys in Korea that she exchanged numbers with texted her within 3 hours to ask her out. This is different from in America where she usually expected a 3-day waiting period. She explains that in Korea, the custom is for Korean men to be very persistent. The ritual is that they obtain the girl's phone number and text the same day. The girl can ignore the text, not reply and the guy knows he has no chance with her.

Can you give me an example of how guys in Korea make their approach? My sister toured the city of Seoul with three of her co-teacher girlfriends: a Scot, a Chinese-Canadian, and a Londoner. Korean men would subtly hover around the group, then invite themselves into the conversation. The men would express interest through the best Korean speaker in the group. This means my sister heard a "date-me" pitch from a Korean guy who claimed he worked for Hyundai of the American South (i.e. Alabama), through her "interpreter" girlfriend. My sister nodded politely said she wasn't interested and told him to leave but have a nice day. He stayed. "Korean men persist," says my sister. Only after the third "goodbye", did he give up.

Photo Credit: Flickr Foodistablog Sweet Potato Pie
Photo Credit: Flicker  TubeDogg Cheddar Cheese
How did you use your Korean-speaking skills this week? My sister is very proud of herself that she ordered delivery in Korean this week. She ordered a noodle dinner on one night. On another day, she ordered a pizza. No, not the blueberry one I mentioned in a previous post. This pizza had shrimp, cheddar cheese, sausage, bacon and sweet potato mousse. She said it took her several days to finish the leftovers for that one pizza, mostly because the mousse was so filling. She won't order that pizza again. If you want to try a Korean-style pizza like this one in the States, Los Angeles has a Mr. Pizza that serves up a pie with this mousse. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Building Homes in Nicaragua

My friend and hero, Erica, just returned from volunteering for Habitat for Humanity for three weeks in Nicaragua.

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Lifting Bricks for Habitat for Humanity
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler and Habitat for Humanity Team
What did she do there? She mixed cement and lugged bricks that were 30 pounds each to create homes for families living near natural waterfalls but in abject poverty.
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Habitat for Humanity

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Habitat for Humanity
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Habitat for Humanity 
Before Erica and her team of 12 arrived, the families lived in tin shanties without windows with one room living spaces with kitchens that blanketed everything in soot.

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Crushed Beans for Chocolate
What were the physical demands?  Erica, a marathon runner, worked from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M. doing heavy labor so that the families could have homes with brick rather than dirt floors and better ventilation. I am in awe of her. She describes her heavy toil with such a positive spirit and hope for the citizens of the area.

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Pestle and Chocolate
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Cacao Beans
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Nicaragua Trip
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler at Apooyu Lagoon
How poverty-stricken are the locals? Children from walking age to 12-years-old beg or sell trinkets on the street. Homeless dogs wander the streets for scraps. Erica talks about the gentleness of the culture and the natural beauty that still exists despite the areas wounded by civil war and earthquakes. Horses, pigs, and cows roam the streets. Animals are not fenced in.

How did she prepare for the trip? She volunteered every month with her coworker in her neighborhood in the States to build homes using power tools. She stayed fit by doing her running training and kickboxing. This prepared her well because in Nicaragua, only hand tools such as machetes were available.

What is a tip she'd share with other first-time visitors? Manugua is not a safe place. Spend more time in Granada when you are on your free time after you've completed your service project.

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Fried Cheese, Plantains and Beans
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Chocolate Drink
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Chocolate Bar
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler in Granada
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler Travel to Nicaragua
Photo Credit: Erica Tyler in Masachapa
What were her lodging, transportation and meal arrangements? The team stayed in a decent hotel by the beach, slept in hammocks and rode together to the construction site. The hotel delivered food to the volunteers during the day. On a free day, she took a chocolate making class, in Granada,  from bean roasting to adding sweetener.

Photo Credit: Erica Tyler's Trip to Nicaragua
Tell me your story of doing a service project outside the United States.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Concerts, Donuts and Teaching in Korea

I spent part of this evening celebrating the second day of Chinese New Year with my sister, who is teaching English overseas in Korea over Skype. She gave me entertainment news about the concert that she'll go to next week, food reviews during this snowy week and five tips for others who might want to teach in Korea.

First, entertainment news. She will watch Beast in concert next weekend. When she was stateside, she watched the Wonder Girls and 2 P.M. in San Francisco.

Second, food tidbits. Three noteworthy desserts. Two main dishes. And one oddity.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Green Donut
Dessert: Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts in Korea offer Bavarian cream, pistachio glaze and cafe hazelnut pastries. I am especially interested in the Bismark bar as described by my sister. Chocolate candy coating, filled with Bavarian cream on one end and chocolate filling on the other. She also likes the green pistachio glazed raised donut. Yum!
 Though restaurants are closed right now during Korean New Year's, donut shops are open for business.
Main Dishes: Korean Chicken with Onions and Cold Buckwheat noodles. More detail next time.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Bavarian Cream Donut

Oddity: Blueberry pizza with walnuts, mozzarella cheese, raisins and wedges of savory potato.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Blueberries
Lastly, practical tips. Five tips from my sister, the EPIK Program kindergarten teacher.
1. Earn your Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate before you apply to
Why? You are eligible for a higher salary than other candidates without such certification.

2. Gain classroom experience 12 months before you apply to a program teaching English overseas. She taught Math and English at a Korean school in California for a year before she applied to the program managed by the Korean government.

3. Ace the interview by answering honestly during your Skype interview why you want to teach in Korea. Is it for the cultural experience? Are you already interested in the pop culture, music and entertainment? Do you want to grow as a teacher? Do you already know the language?
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Korean New Year

4. Confirm expectations with your employer. In exchange for teaching, your employer may provide a salary and housing for you during your contract. For instance, my sister's employer arranged for an apartment for her with a full kitchen that she does not have to share with a roommate.

Your obligations may include teaching during the regular school year in addition to summer and winter camps. You will spend a great deal of time lesson planning and adapting for your audience. For example, during a typical day my, sister may be expected to teach nearly 60 kindergartners in one classroom with only two teaching assistants for classroom management.

5. Enjoy coworker friendships. Who are some of the other teachers selected by the program? My sister has made friends with fellow teachers from South Africa, Australia, London and America. It's a 50/50 split between male and female teachers, predominantly in their 20s.

If you are curious about my sister's adventures in teaching, read future lenses and check out images of Korea on her Pinterest board.

Happy Traveling!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Korean Music Winter 2012

My sister has returned to Korea after a visit with the family in December. So of course I Skyped her recently to ask her about music trends she likes in the new year. For fellow Americans who are following Korean bands such as 2 P.M. and Infinite, you might be interested in MBLAQ.

Here are two boy bands and three girl groups that appeal to me this winter:

My favorite song by this R&B/pop band is "I belong to you". Who can resist a song that begins with "I'm sorry, girl" like the formula of great American MoTown? You can find this song on Grooveshark.

2. Infinite
"Nothing's over" reminds me of the guilty pleasure of listening to American boy bands of the 1990s. Sunny music about young love.

3. Afterschool
"Ah" is just so cute as a video. It's also a study of coy poses that are distinct to Korea. 

4. WonderGirls
Their song "Nobody" reminds me of the flirty beats of Debbie Gibson and hand clapping of Prince music of the 1980s. In other words, I dig it.

5.  Son Dambi
Son Dambi's "Crazy" video will remind you of Liza Minelli's slinky moves in cabaret.