8 Interesting Facts You Didn't Know About Halloween

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

1. Did you know that Halloween is actually an Irish holiday? It comes from an ancient festival called Samhain that marks the day when the undead are thought to walk among the living. It also marks the end of long, sunny days and the beginning of the darker half of the year. The holiday was brought to North America by Irish immigrants in the 1840s. 

2. According to Celtic legend, the colours of Halloween — orange and black — are the colours of death and decay.  

3. Carving pumpkins into Jack-o'-lanterns only started in North America where they are native to the land. In Ireland turnips, beets, and potatoes were carved into ghoulish faces. 

4. The word "witch" comes from an Old English word meaning "wise woman." Witches were actually highly respected at the time of the original festival and usually held their main meetings on Halloween night. 

5. By medieval times, witches became something to fear, and owls — a popular Halloween image — were thought to be witches in disguise. Hearing an owl's hoot on Halloween night would mean that someone was going to die. 

6. Trick-or-treating evolved from the Celtic tradition of putting out treats to placate the undead that wandered the streets during Samhain. 

7. Bobbing for apples used to be a fertility game. Celts believed that the pentagram represented fertility and when an apple is cut in half, the seeds form a pentagram-like shape. Couples would bob for apples together on Halloween night and if they caught one, it was thought that they would soon have a child. 

8. One of the most famous and mysterious men in the world — Harry Houdini — died in 1926 on Halloween night. 

Source articles: 
Ten Interesting Irish Facts About Halloween You May Not Know
8 Super Weird Things You Didn't Know About Halloween
40 Spooky Facts About Halloween

Why Learning (and Teaching) English as a Second Language Isn't as Easy as You Think

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

1 bow
verb 1 to submit or yield to something or somebody. 2 (also + down) to bend the head, body or knee in respect, submission, or greeting.

Teaching Notes: Explain to the class that when they greet their teacher or someone older than them they ‘bow’ to say hello or to show respect.

2 bow
noun 1 a weapon for shooting arrows, consisting of a strip of wood, fiberglass, or other flexible material held bent by a strong cord connecting the two ends. 2  a knot that can be pulled undone, tied with two loops and two free ends, used for shoelaces etc. 3 an implement for playing a violin, etc consisting of a resilient wooden rod with horsehairs stretched from end to end.

Teaching Notes: Do the action of holding a ‘bow’ to shoot an arrow, draw a picture if necessary, and mention Legolas from Lord of the Rings. Point to someone’s tied shoelaces and explain that anything that looks like that is a ‘bow’, be it on a dress, in your hair or on a gift. Mimic the action of playing a violin and explain that the long skinny piece you use to play the strings is the ‘bow’.

A school yard in Ansan, South Korea

Despite the fact that my sole purpose for going to South Korea was to teach, I hadn’t really ever thought of myself as being a real teacher. I had my Bachelor of Arts in English and so was more qualified than some (you just needed a degree, any degree, to teach English in South Korea at the time), but I had never been professionally trained in the teaching trade. Taking over a high-level vocabulary course in my first month, I realized that teaching English was going to be a lot more real than I had ever imagined.

Never needing to speak anything but English, I didn’t have an appreciation of how challenging learning it as a second language could be until I spent half of a vocabulary class filling up three chalk boards with notes. My blocky writing and sketchy pictures were scrawled across the three walls in an attempt to explain the multiple definitions, uses, and examples of a single three-letter word.

*   *   *   *   *

3 bow
verb 1a to bend or curve, or cause to bend into a curve b (also + down) to weigh down or oppress.

Teaching Notes: Explain that where I live, we get a lot of snow in the winter and it sits on the roofs of our houses. If the snow is too wet, it gets heavy and if the roof is not strong, it will start to sink and bend in the middle. This is called a ’bow’ in the roof. Draw a picture of a ‘bowed’ roof to further illustrate this definition.

4 bow  
noun 1 the forward part of a ship

Teaching Notes: Draw a picture of a ship and point to the front. Clarify that all sides of the ship have names, but they do not need to know the names at this time.

*   *   *   *   *

One of the biggest challenges that came with teaching vocabulary was having to carefully pick and choose the words that I used in my explanations to ensure that my students would understand them. I didn’t want to have to spend valuable time explaining the meaning of a word that I was using to explain the meaning of a word. I had also been warned not to use idioms when teaching my Korean students because they would not understand me. 

I often found myself holding my breath after writing an especially long or difficult definition, hoping that instead of looks of confusion, I would turn from the whiteboard and see their eyes light up and their heads nodding, uttering, “Ahhhhh…ok, ok” in understanding.

The Hangul Revolution: How The Creation of A New Written Language Changed South Korea Forever

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Poo-doon-mao oh don gee yo was my (phonetic) address when I lived in South Korea, and one of the first things that I learned to say (once it had been written out for me of course) in Korean. I was told that it meant something like, “the brownish-orange buildings with numbers in the 500s on them.” All I knew for sure was that when I got in a cab and said it to the driver, I would end up in the right spot. 

The fact that I didn’t know a single word of Korean had nudged at the back of my mind more than a few times while I was preparing to travel to South Korea. I tried to study as much as I could using a phrasebook on the flight over, but I forgot everything that I thought I knew the minute I was faced with actually having to speak the foreign language. 

Luckily, my desk at work ( I was an English Teacher for just over a year) was located next to Wendy, an extremely kind Korean teacher who, in my first week, wrote some basic greeting and direction words out phonetically for me to use as a cheat sheet. She also gave me her phone number and told me to call her whenever I was in need of a translator. With her help, and the fact that most South Korean’s did not speak English so I was completely immersed, it didn’t take long for me to pick up enough of the language so that I could order food, direct a cab and exchange greetings. If I ever found myself in a situation where I just wasn’t being understood, I would shrug my shoulders, say “No Korean…English”, and hope for the best.

The written form of the language, called hangul, at first glance looked like hieroglyphs to me (and I was without a Rosetta Stone) but I soon learned that it looked a lot more complicated than it really was.

It was created in 1443 by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great, to replace the Chinese characters, or hanja, that had been used exclusively up to that point. Hanja characters were fundamentally different from the spoken Korean language, and were not accurately conveying its sounds. At the time, thousands of symbols had to be memorized just to be able to write a simple document. To put it in perspective, today’s modern Chinese writing dictionaries contain over 60,000 symbols and knowledge of at least 3,000 of them would be needed just to read an every-day newspaper. In the 1400s, a time when education for the common classes was not a priority, the use of hanja characters resulted in aristocrats, usually male, being the only people who could read and write fluently, leaving the majority of Koreans illiterate.

Influenced by the teachings of Confucius, and the importance of education present in his philosophy, Sejong the Great designed hangul so that it was simple and easy to learn, giving even a commoner the opportunity to learn to read and write. 

Built more like modern English (or Latin), the modern hangul alphabet is made up of 24 symbols, or 10 vowels and 14 consonants, representing phonetic sounds that in combination create words.


ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ  ㅅ  ㅇ ㅈ  ㅊ 

\ k,g \   \ n \   \ t,d \   \ r,l \   \ m \   \ p,b \   \ s,sh \   \ ng \   \ ch,j \   \ ch’ \   

kiyok   niun   tikut     riul   mium   piup      siot      iung     chiut    ch’iut


ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ 

\ k’ \    \ t’ \    \ p’,f \   \ h \

k’iuk   t’iut     p’iup   hiut


ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ  ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ

 \ a \    \ ya \   \ eo \   \ yeo \    \ o \    \ yo \  \ u \    \ yu \   \ eu \   \ ee \


When first introduced, this more accessible form of writing faced opposition by the literary elite, more specifically aristocratic scholars, who saw it as a threat to their status. Turning a country of illiterate commoners into an educated population would have turned the rules of hierarchy on their head. Not surprisingly, because of this, the use of Chinese symbols was not completely eradicated from the country by the hangul revolution, and hanguel itself was not generally used until 1945 (North Koreans have used hangul exclusively since 1948). 

Though no longer widely used, Chinese writing has stayed ingrained in South Korean society. I had students who attended hanja hagwons to learn how to read and write with the complex characters, and I even experienced old superstitions that stemmed from their use. After observing that the fourth floor was omitted from a lot of buildings, but the thirteenth was ever present, I learned that this was because the Chinese symbol for death looks like the number 4, and so was treated by Koreans like North Americans treat the number 13.

Now the main written language of the South Korean people, hangul gives everyone in the country (no matter what class they come from) a fair start in the constant battle for intellectual supremacy.

What I'm Reading: The Social Life of Ink

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I don't know about you, but I am one of those people who always has at least one pen rolling around in the bottom of my bag. Even though I rarely take notes during interviews anymore (thinks voice recorder), and use the note function on my phone when needing to jot things down quickly, I still hold out hope that I'm going to have time to actually sit down, pull out a notebook, and put pen to paper.

Despite the fact that I don't use it that often, the pen in my bag seems to change regularly depending on where I am when I've thrown it in the bag, who I've lent it to, where I've picked up a new one, and where I've left the old one behind. It is a cheap, simple tool that I don't really think about much.

That is, I didn't think about it much until I started reading Ted Bishop's The Social Life of Ink

An English and Film Studies Professor at the University of Alberta (I was lucky enough to have him as a teacher when I attended the University as an undergrad), Bishop became inspired to write this ink explainer when he went in search of a comprehensive history on the subject and found that none existed. What was meant to be a dry, academic work that laid out the facts, turned into a love affair with the medium that took Bishop on adventures across the globe, and made him an self-proclaimed obsessed expert on the subject. (I have attended one of his book readings, and to say he is passionate about ink would be an understatement.) 

But how can ink be so fascinating, you ask? 

Think about it this way. The development of ink and the tools we use to write with it is why we have histories, great works of art, literature, the ends of wars, the beginning of them, and more. So much of the development of human civilization is based on this seemingly simple substance that now exists in disposable pens that roll around in the bottom of our bags. 

Ink binds us. We are surrounded by ink, immersed in ink, a substance so common it is invisible. From cave walls to quill pens to laser printers, ink has traced the line of our culture.
— page ix of the Introduction to "The Social Life of Ink"

In his book, Bishop takes readers from the historic cutthroat world of pen patents to the social rankings of ink stones in China to bloodstained texts in the Middle East. It is a fascinating read that is as much a travel memoir as it is educational. 

And trust me, you will never look at a pen the same way again. 

What I'm Reading: Mental Floss

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

On top of trying to read as many books as possible (there are just so many good ones out there!), I also love reading magazines. They are sources of inspiration for my day job and can be found in stacks all over my house, car, and office. (I'm not a hoarder, I swear.) 

Top of the stack right now is Mental Floss — I absolutely love this magazine. The one pictured above is the May/June 2016 issue and, well newer versions have crossed the newsstand, this one hasn't lost relevance. That is actually one of the best things about this magazine. It is full of short bite-sized pieces offering fun facts, quirky bits of culture, and fascinating stories about history — not timely information that must be ingested before the newest issue comes out and makes it irrelevant. This makes it the perfect companion for quick reads at the beach, a coffee shop, or a bus ride.

Just to give you an idea of the types of stories you will encounter, so far I've read about why you should have your appendix removed before moving to Antarctica, that the suffragettes were actually secret ninjas, and that teddy bears can go on a travel adventure without their owners! 

10 Ways To Be Like A New Yorker On The Streets Of NYC

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

1. Buy A Coffee, Then Buy Another One
You can't walk more than half a block in any direction without coming across a coffee shop. And, I'm not just talking about chains. There are specialty cafes all over the city, and you will rarely see a New Yorker without a coffee in hand.

2. Walk Everywhere
Traffic in Manhattan is basically never-ending gridlock, which means that it is usually faster to walk, well, pretty much everywhere. Plus, it gives you a chance to scope out restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and get in some great people watching. 

3. Don't Wait At Crosswalks
Better yet, unless you are on a main road, don't even use them. In NYC, it seems that the red hand telling you not to walk is more of a suggestion than anything else, and, unless a car is speeding through an intersection right at you, someone will be walking across it. 

4. Invest in Flats or Comfortable Shoes
Since you are going to be walking everywhere, there is no point in wearing high heels or shoes that pinch. So take them off and throw them in your bag to change into at your destination, or forgo them altogether and invest in some stylish, comfortable flats.

5. Wear Headphones With A Microphone
Drown out the noise of the city with your favourite tunes, while also being ready to answer your phone on your morning commute. With space on the sidewalks limited during peak hours, there is actually a huge benefit to being able to keep your arms by your side rather then having to hold a phone near your ear. 

6. Carry An Umbrella
Being so close to the ocean means that weather changes fast in Manhattan, so making sure you have an umbrella with you will save you from having to jump in a cab or spend time in a cafe to wait out a storm.

7. Don't Be Startled By Noise
Drivers seem to talk to each other through the use of incessant honking, there is construction every few blocks, and throngs of people chatting on their phones surround you. There is no escaping it, so embrace it and get used to it. (And try not to jump every time someone honks their horn.)

8. Wear What You Want
Don't let fashion blogs or past episodes of Sex and The City trick you (I got tricked), the streets of NYC aren't swarming with incredibly fashionable people that look like they stepped out of the pages of Vogue and will make you feel like an ugly troll. They are actually filled with people wearing what they want, whether it's a velour tracksuit, a vintage dress, or a power suit (though, there did seem to be a disproportionate amount of business men wearing blue shirts the last time I was there).

9. Take Advantage of Every Inch of Outside Space
Coffee carts set up shop on medians running in the middle of the road, the smallest of spaces are turned into parks, people perch on the edges of fountains, and tiny patios appear outside of restaurants in the warmer months. On an island where space is at a premium, every inch of it is used, which means that there are some pretty cool spots for you to stumble upon while walking around the city. 

10. Give Zero F#$ks
Now let me clarify. This doesn't mean that New Yorkers are rude and don't care about anyone. What this means is that they don't seem to take anything personally or be too judgemental of the people around them. You're walking down the street and someone bumps into you? Who cares. Is a cab honking when you're in a cross walk? Don't speed up, feel insulted, or get annoyed, just keep walking like you heard nothing. Wear what you want, be who you want, walk where you want — as long as it directly preventing anyone from living their lives, no one cares!

An App That Allows You To Get A Tattoo Without Getting A Tattoo!

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Ever wonder what a lotus flower on your foot, a star on your neck, or a tree growing up the side of your body would look like? Well, before you take the plunge into getting permanent ink, try out this super cool tattoo testing app! 

Ink Hunter allows you to try out any black and white design — words, images, your own sketches, or drawings that are included in the app — anywhere on your body, before making a real commitment. You can then save the images to hum-and-haw over before making your final decision. 

And, it couldn't be easier to use! You draw a square face on your body (I used eyeliner as you can see above), open the app, choose your design and then hold the camera over your arm until it recognizes the face and applies the image over top. You can then change out the design as many times as you want. How cool is that?! 

The app can be downloaded for free on the app store.