Tuesday, November 30, 2010

...Wednesday, Break My Heart

Wednesday night was a teacher's dinner. At my school there are homeroom teachers and subject teachers. I'm one of eight subject teachers. The rest of them share a break room/office between classes, where I'm also welcome. Once a month, the subject teachers go out for dinner and drinks. Always on a school night. The following account is a typical example of what these nights are like. Keep in mind that of us has to go to work tomorrow at 8.30 AM.

Myself and one other teacher, Jaehong, had Seodang classes on Wednesday, meaning we couldn't go out until 7. At this point, the other teachers have already eaten dinner and started drinking. So all of us meet up somewhere new for Jaehong and I to eat. And drink. We have a pretty good time. They speak mostly in Korean the whole time, so it can be difficult for me, but I was just going along with it that night. Jaehong breaks in at one point, indicating one of the other women, and says "She's sinking in the sea of love." Worth it. The woman in question is an attractive 32-year-old, somehow still single. Being single at that age is like a critical breaking point. She's been getting a lot of grief from her family- enough that she's started going to counselling to figure out what's wrong with her. Wow, Korea.

We all swap some more stories, and drinks, and the other subject teachers get a suspicious delight in making me call the waitress over (Yogiyo!) as well as ordering the food (hammul-cheejuh-dok-jim, ju-sayo). But they also tell me that I have a natural talent for picking up accents and that my pronunciation is good. I guess I can forgive them. It's not like I have shame, anyway. Later, I look over at Seulgi and she looks profoundly sad. No known reason. I rub her arm affectionately and before I know it, she falls into my arms and is weeping. It might have been related to the conversation she was having, but as far as I know, there was no reason for her to be upset. Yeah. She's basically an Asian version of me. Once she calms down, we all file out.

Oh no, the story doesn't stop there. We file out of that place only to head out to a nearby Nore Bang. I christen the room with Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You." I scored a 98. That's right. Oh yeah, we also order more drinks. And they have those addictive prawn puffs. Mmm. This is how the night felt and looked:

Jaehong. Really good singer.

There are many pictures from this night.
The rest will show up on Facebook.

My absolute favorite moment during Nore Bang was when I was crooning along to The Fugees "Killin' Me Softly," and Jaehong, on the other mic and without missing a beat, fills in the "one time/one time, two times/two times." I responded with sheer joy.

Sadly, Nore Bang (노래 방) can only last so long. Eventually, we had to find our way out... and head to a chicken place. With, you guessed it, more alcohol. It's funny- all of them get drunk pretty fast, but they will keep trucking on through the night. It's pretty impressive. Around 2 AM, one of the teachers and I call it a night. Presumably, the rest of them went home shortly after, but I can't guarantee that. 

But, uh, Advantage: Me. I was the only person who was downright perky the next day. Yeah, that's right. My 23 year-old liver can recover faster than yours. Count it.


Tuesday Review

This is a shorter post, one with no pictures. Regardless, worthy of a mention. Let me start with a little background story.

I was surfing around on Facebook, as any weary Foreign Teacher is wont to do between classes, when I came across an interesting tidbit. My newsfeed showed that Nadia had friended someone new and the name tugged at me. He was listed as a character from a long-beloved fantasy series that I've been reading for over a decade. Wheel of Time. I double-checked to make sure I wasn't crazy. Then I clicked on his profile, seeing that, yes, he is a fan of the series. I took it upon myself to message this guy to talk about how I also love those books and we should discuss it. I mean, I rarely find people who like these books in America, and if there's one in Korea, we have to be friends.

After sending the message, I start looking through this guy's profile pictures and that's when I realized- I totally already know this guy. He's this guy, Chad, that I'd met in Busan about a week earlier. I quickly sent a second message with a "Holy shit- WE ALREADY KNOW EACH OTHER," theme.

Okay, what's super.epic about this encounter is that the most recent WoT book came out November 2nd. I knew about it, but I don't know how to go about trying to order stuff from Korea, so I just bummed out about it. But then. Chance of chances, Chad had the latest book. And he came to Ulsan last Tuesday, facilitating a fortuitous book exchange. There was also delicious Indian food, good conversation, and then he showed me where he used to hang out when he lived in Ulsan (a couple years ago).

Not only am I nearly finished with the newest tome, I have someone with whom I can talk excitedly about it (in person). So. Happy.


Monday: In Review

I've never seen a more perfect composite of
 two other people.
Sylar's parents came into town. My first interaction with them is when he, Nadia, Labeccs, and I drunk-Skyped them. Clearly, I already thought well of them. They're good people- very fun.

We took them to the cheesy rice place in Seong Nam-Dong, one of our regular eateries. We had some sojus and some mekjus (Korea's idea of beer- I'd almost rather a Miller Lite). They're friendly, open, like to talk, and like to listen to offbeat, twentysomething convos.

The photo doesn't do it justice.

I'm going to take a small break to talk about the cheesy rice place. We order this dish that's got rice and cheese, obviously, with either beef, chicken, or pork (we're never sure that we've even ordered the same thing twice), various veggies, and a nice kick to it. Not very spicy, but just enough to feel the heat. It's so good. This is one of the dishes I crave when we haven't had it in... several days.

Back to the Sylars. We actually saw them again later that week, too. It was on Thursday, so a real Thanksgiving. At our favorite Indian place. Naturally. I'd make an "Indian/Thanksgiving" joke here, but it really doesn't lend itself to my caliber of humor. You know? There were a bunch of us and we even went around the table saying the things we were thankful for. Having surrogate parents in attendance really added something to the experience. Then we took them to Open Mic night at Bar Somewhere. Sadly, the main act was not in attendance. The live music was a little lackluster that night. Oh well. I amused myself by trying to convince Sylar to let me do shots with his mom. He wouldn't allow it before midnight. Apparently, she's a Gremlin. She was totally down for it, but I respected my friend's wishes, blah.blah.blah. As it turned out, the Hogye crew decided to roll out before the midnight hour even struck. I missed a lifetime opportunity there, but what can you do?

There's some talk of the Sylars visited again later in the year. Even if it stifles the Beacon a little, I fully want them to come back. Good times.



I have so much stuff in the backlog, I can't even begin to tell you. Except. I can. And I will. Starting now.

First things first, last week I received two more packages.

I need to find a new background.
The first was from my mother and it contained... Thanksgiving. The whole holiday. It was pregnant with awesome. The contents of this box came in handy later in the week, which I'll detail later. 

Package two came from the ever-faithful J.Lo (Kacie, to some).

It wins for cutest package ever.
This one had a couple of Cosmopoliton mags and a People magazine, along with some lightbulb window jellies and a Thanksgiving card. I never realized how much I relish the tackiness of Cosmo. It fulfilled a lot of my needs. How am I ever to find a boyfriend if I can't learn their newest, groundbreaking secrets? (They like compliments, too! Who knew?) Seriously. These rags are like my programs.

Anyhow, that brings my package total up to five, all in three months. You guys are doing an outstanding job of making me feel adored. Keep up the good work. <3


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


On a lighter note, check out this website dedicated to the Korean enthusiasm for drinking!


You Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man

There's this girl named Carrie that started working in Ulsan the same time as me. She was at a different orientation, but I'd met her a couple times and she was a sweet, grounded kind of girl. Monday of this week, she didn't show up at work. Her coteachers went to her apartment, found it unlocked with the keys inside. None of her belongings appeared to be missing, but she was gone. 

The coteachers had called some of her close friends to see if they'd heard from her. Nothing. Word got around to all the other foreign teachers fast (Facebook does have useful purposes). We were all very concerned, posted things up on forums, tried to alert everyone so we could all be on the lookout for Carrie. Some people, I've heard, even broke into tears.

A rash of unfortunate events have broken out many times just since I've been here. There have been a few assaults, sexual and physical, as well as a few break-ins. One particularly harrowing story involved a man, dressed all in black and wearing white gloves, who had broken into one guy's apartment in the middle of the night. The trespasser had gained access from the balcony. On the second floor. The foreigner whose apartment it was managed to scare the guy off without a scuffle, but things could have been much worse. The previous occupant of that apartment was a pretty female and there's some speculation that she may have been the intended target. I've never felt at serious risk like that, but, like anywhere else in the world, these kinds of crimes do happen. You have to be careful.

That in mind, everyone was pretty concerned about the fate of Carrie. But then, someone heard some news. I don't know who figured this out or how, but someone found out that Carrie had pulled a Midnight Run.

You can probably guess what Midnight Run means, but I'll explain it a little anyway. The Midnight Run is when someone decides to skip out on their contract and go back home under the cover of night. If you want to bail on your contract without dealing with any fiscal ramifications, you just leave before anyone can find out. I guess their are fines that can be imposed if you decide to pull out of your contract early. That makes leaving before they can catch you a compelling option. Here's the catch- you literally can't tell ANYONE.

Remember those rumored tears from above? The worried friends, who assumed the worst, get pretty pissed off. I personally don't know why she left. I don't know if anyone does, but the fact that she left isn't the issue. Sometimes, you have to leave. Her motivations may be legitimate and defensible, but the least you could do is send a last-minute message or something. Leave a note. You run the risk of getting caught that way, but then at least people know you're okay. Since this incident, I've heard of past stories of people who did the Midnight Run. Most left notes or sent text messages or emails from the plane right before it took off. 

I shouldn't judge, though. I have no idea of her circumstances and I didn't even know her well on a personal level. From my vantage point, what she did seems inconsiderate, at best. 

My coteacher, Seulgi, got wind of this occurrence and made me promise not to do anything like it. I told her if, for any reason, I did have to leave before my contract was up, I'd talk about it with her. But, we all know I'm a talker. 


The Armed Forces

In consideration of recent events, a coworker (Jaehong- PE Teacher and Seodang English Teacher) and I were talking about the Korean Army. He told me that if things got aggressive between North and South Korea, he would have to re-enlist in the Army and I wouldn't see him anymore. I told him that if things got aggressive, I'd have to leave Korea entirely and he wouldn't see me anymore. So uplifting.

I want to reinforce that no one here really knows what's going to happen next. Most people don't think any military action will break out, but it is a possibility. But I digress.

Joining the Army is compulsory in Korea. All men serve an obligatory two years, starting around the (American) age of 22. Jaehong served for 28 months, as he was a first lieutenant. I don't know much about military rankings, you'd have to talk to my sister about that one, but I gather it's a bit of a step up. After two years of "active" duty, the men go on retainer. The active duty hasn't been much of a big deal in the past, since Korea hasn't seen any war in a while. Still, there are your conscientious objectors and, you know, rich guys that just don't feel like it. You can apparently pay your way out, but Jaehong didn't know at what price. For most people, skipping out on service is illegal and results in jail time. Some men defect to other countries to avoid serving, but most just give their two years.

Women can join the military service, but it is completely optional. Also, women can only serve as officers, none are allowed to be soldiers. Kinda progressive? Baby steps.

Jaehong actually showed me some great pictures of when he was stationed at the DMZ, but I don't know if it's proper to ask him to send me one so that I can post it. Thus, no picture. Wait. I Googled "DMZ" and found this compelling frame. But it's not mine. Nor does it belong to anyone I know. It makes me feel a little cheap, but. Whatever.


North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

This week has been eventful and busy. Many posts are on backlog, thanks to some book-reading and an unusually full schedule. Instead of talking about this things chronologically, I'll start with the most pressing issue on people's minds: Korean views of marriage.

Just kidding.

On Tuesday, North Korea took some aggressive action against South Korea. Two civilians and two soldiers died as a result. This marks the first time, in a very long time, that North Korea has attacked South Korean civilians.

What does this mean for me and my tenure in Korea? Well, for starters:

Okay, that one arrow's pointing at Busan,
I live about a centimeter above that.

I don't mean to be flip, this is just an ice-breaker. In reality, there are mixed emotions about the whole situation, as it pertains to Ulsan. The kids are in a bit of a panic, especially when they first heard about it on Tuesday. My coworkers don't seem to be concerned, but they do talk about it. 

Reasons Not to Be Worried:
  • Ulsan is pretty far from North Korea.
  • 6 other cities are larger than Ulsan, possibly more strategic to attack those.
  • The USA has a strong presence in Korea, with many troops stationed throughout. 
Reasons to Be Worried:
  • North Korea (Kim Jong Il) is nothing to be trifled with.
  • Ulsan is South Korea's largest industrial city, including Hyundai's shipyard, making it a potential target.
It's difficult to say what will happen next. I really have no idea. Right now, things don't appear to be serious, but these things can change so quickly. No one expected North Korea to open fire on civilians. There will be some kind of reaction, but I can't know what it'll be. EPIK hasn't sent out an email regarding this incident yet. I would hope they'd let us foreign teachers know if danger was imminent and we needed to ship out. That being said, I'll also try to gauge things to the best of my ability. If things do get too serious, I'll come back home. I'm not going to risk my life on a teaching job. Things are calm right now, but we'll see how things go. If I hear anything, I'll be sure to post it, to keep you guys informed from this end.

P.S. I am registered with the US Embassy. If that helps. 

<3 xx


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up

The weekend came and passed again, and again it was blissfully low key. Friday was Hogye dinner, followed by a long stay at some coffee shop where we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing personal histories with orthodontic/dental work. Like you do.

Saturday, a few of us took the train to Busan to go Christmas shopping. Kinda. I didn't find anything worthwhile, but there was a lot of gratis dried seaweed. Don't ask me. Oh yeah, I got shushed on the train ride to Busan. We also got shushed on the way back. This will be about the 79th time I've been shushed in Korea. It rankles every time.

Sunday was devoted to reading and sleeping. I've just about run through the medicine that came in my latest box and I'm still sick. Of course. I'm very low energy and keep losing my voice, but it's not like either of those things are essential for my job...


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Emo Apocalypse

I haven't had much opportunity to post about Korean fashion, but that's because it isn't so wildly different. They do tend to strive for "cute" instead of "sexy," but that's not all-inclusive. From slouchy to slutty, their usual styles are highly informed by Western trends. Even the bad ones. I'm not even talking about leggings right now. Take a minute. Breathe. Remember that the following picture displays a wayward, 4th Grade Korean boy.

Love, love will tear us apart. Again.

That's right, my friends, the Emo Slice has infected even the lowest rungs of Korean society. It's slightly amended and asymmetrical. From the other side, that kid looks totally normal. As I'm typing this, he is in my room. It's detention time, as led by Jenny. I guess you can't do English with all that... sideburn? It pains me to attempt to determine what that is. Kids.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Potent Quotables

These two come from Jenny, both regarding the same topic, but different days.

Jenny: (referring to her beverage) "Oh, it's so bitter."
Me: "What are you drinking?"
Jenny: "Oh, how can I say? Vinegar?"
Me: (skeptical) "You're drinking vinegar?"
Jenny: "Oh, yeah. You should try."
Me: "Ehh, nooo."
Jenny: "It's good!"

Jenny: "You will be prettier tomorrow than today."
Me: "What? Why?"
Jenny: "Because you drank this." (she got me to try the drinking vinegar)
Me: "Ahh. I should get more."
Jenny: "No really. Believe me!"
Me "I do believe you!"
Jenny: "Your face, smile, don't believe me."

Drinking vinegar is something you mix with hot or cold water and then drink. I've had pomegranate and blackberry vinegars. They're actually pretty good. On a related note, I've also been pushed into drinking orange marmalade mixed with hot water. It's good, but so weird. If you ask Koreans about any aspect of their diet, from drinking vinegar to kimchi, they'll tell you it's good for your health. All of it. Okay, Korea.


Things I Don't Quite Get

The Korean preference for wearing their winter coats while teaching instead of leaving on the heat. This is closely paired with their insistence upon opening the windows in the classroom. When it's freezing out. I can only speculate that these things tie in to the Korean fear of Fan Death. Yeah, that's actually a thing. They believe that keeping a fan or heater running for an extended period of time can kill whoever's in the room.

This is a perfect time for the "Oh, Korea" sigh.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Take Back Your Time

Thursday already and I've barely posted anything this week. This is due, in part, to my sketchy health and also laziness. There are things I'd like to write about, but I haven't gotten to them this week. Maybe next week.

Lately, I've had difficulty staying centered and maintaining a healthy perspective. It may be time to unplug and readjust. In short, I plan on executing a limited Speed Abstinence program. Readers back home will remember this as Amish Week. You totally loved it.

Speed Abstinence is about removing technologies of speed from one's life and slowing down for a little. This means that I'll be eschewing television, my cell phone, my Ipod, the Internet, et cetera. If I wanted to fully immerse myself, I'd even neglect elevators, microwaves, my bank card, clocks, and non-walking means of transportation. The last is particularly unlikely considering my location and the season.

Basically, I'm feeling stressed out and addicted to constant connection. It came to my attention recently that throughout my entire day, I am always connected to some kind of technology. I listen to my ipod on the way to school, then I'm on Facebook any minute that I'm not teaching, then I get home and turn on the tv (not even to watch, just to have the noise), and if I turn off the tv I'm on my computer at home, surfing the Internet or listening to music. Before I know it, it's time to go to sleep. When my days are like this, I barely feel present in them. I'm coasting through my days on autopilot, lulled into a zombie-like trance. When I realize what's going on, it disturbs me. I need some time to drift aimlessly, which means I have to cut myself off a little.

Now, attempting to participate in Speed Abstinence can be tricky if you have certain obligations like work. When I went through Speed Abstinence in college, I lived in a small college town and all my friends knew where/when I worked and could reach me that way. This isn't exactly the case here in Ulsan. I have no intention of cutting myself off from society, only the time-consuming technology which has wormed its way into every moment of our lives. Therefore, I'm planning on a limited Speed Abstinence. Any work-related Internet use shall be excused. Also, I'm giving myself a 5-minute daily window for Facebook and/or email. These five minutes can be used in one shot, or dispersed throughout the day. I'm leaving my cell phone at home and I only plan on minimal response to its demands. The blog is still up for debate. It's a form of writing, which I'd like to keep, but does rely on computers and the Internet. I may excuse it as it pertains to a way of de-stressing and unwinding, and that's essentially the point of this venture. Anyhow, my Ipod has been tucked away, my TV unplugged, and I want to try and shy away from other electronics as much as possible.

My experience with Speed Abstinence in college was really freeing. I thought I'd hold onto the basic tenets for the rest of my life, but things slip away so easily. At least I can remember what it was like and reinstate it whenever I feel the need.

Friends-- Speed Abstinence has nothing to do with distancing myself from you. Please don't assume this or get offended. It may be one of the side effects, but that is not at all my intent. I am giving some leeway in order to stay in touch with you. I still want to get together for dinners, open mic nights, and things like that. I may seem unresponsive or short, but this is only about distancing myself from a dependence on technologies of speed, not from you.

This post was longer than I meant it to be. And likely not as well-stated as I'd hope. Oh, well.

Dedicated to: Samar Farage, the kind of woman I aspire to be someday.

Also, check this out:


Monday, November 15, 2010

An unassuming little box
It was a lovely day indeed when a young woman, far from home, received a box from her mother.

The young woman picked up her parcels quite far from her home, so she oft encountered the decision on whether or not to open her packages immediately upon receipt. If too many objects were found inside, she would have to carry them back home without the benefit of the tidy box.

Today's new package looked quite small and seemed to have limited capacity. Therefore, the woman delightedly tore into it to see what she'd been sent.

No, no, no- cut AWAY from the body

Silly Rabbit
That unassuming little box was unexpectedly filled to the brim with many delights.

can't all fit in the frame
The inventory included:

  1. pretzels
  2. several kitkat bars
  3. pack of plastic frogs
  4. pack of plastic lizards
  5. silly bandz
  6. goldfish case
  7. zebra shower poof
  8. construction paper
  9. book of stickers
  10. s'mores flavored goldfish
  11. four (4) microwaveable meals
  12. allergy medicine
  13. cold medicine
  14. daily multivitamins
  15. pain killers
  16. tampons
  17. toothpaste
  18. Hershey's Real Estate chocolate bar
  19. clinique foundation
  20. clinique concealer
  21. clinique moisturizer
  22. Penn State pasta and the woman's favorite
  23. Penn State sweatshirt
Providence was clearly on the young woman's side as the weather had turned nasty and she had left her jacket at the inne during the weekend. She put on the sweatshirt and vowed ne'er to take it off. She was also thankful for the trinkets provided that she could give to the common children of the village. 'Twas a happy day and the young woman rejoiced accordingly.


I don't need to vocalize my adoration for PSU anymore, just show by wearing the sweatshirt. Of course, I'll do both. Grazie, Momsey!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Weekends Come and Go So Quickly

-- FRIDAY --

Dinner in Hogye followed by the world's longest round of Uno. Yeah. Uno. With African concept art and Spanish words. Don't ask me. In the background, Mike and Shane were having an acoustic jam session. I provided the occasional vocal track because I can't help myself. Hogye bogarts the talent.


Indian food, birthday party, birthday post-party. Had a shot or two of tequila. Left my coat at the bar, but saved my irrational tears (unrelated to coat. Probably), until after I was safely in bed.

-- SUNDAY --

Uneventful. Mostly revolved around lounging in bed and avoiding my phone.

I'll try to drum up a story next weekend. For the sake of entertainment.


Friday, November 12, 2010

And In Beauty, There is Truth

I don't have a lot of time to get out and explore the Korean scenery as the seasons change, but what I do get to see is gorgeous. This is a view of some field and mountain as seen through the windows of my school.

The streets are actually quite lovely.


Riding the Bus to School

Okay, I want you to examine this photo for a second. You should notice a couple things:

  1. The bus is clearly in the middle of traffic.
  2. There are many occupants visible in the rearview mirror.
  3. Two separate mirrors are pointed at the driver's seat, but is the driver visible? Hm. Sure isn't.
On the way to school this morning, there was a bit of traffic backup and the bus driver decided that his angry honking was not effective enough. Therefore, he parks the bus, opens the door, and storms out. Um. Okay. The natural response is to take as detailed a photographed as possible to help show what has happened. 

Getting to school: Always an adventure.


The Unthinkable

Yes, friends, I'll admit it. I not only purchased leggings, but I wore them in a non-theme party setting.

Only myself to blame.
I figured I had to confess. My only defense is that I really wanted to wear that dress, but it's getting pretty cold out, so I needed the extra barrier. To be fair, this outfit is fully functional and legal in all 50 states when worn without leggings.

Leggings are so in here. The Korean ladies tend not to wear them as pants- their saving grace- and all i can say is that I'm not wearing them as pants, so it's okay. It pains me a little that I caved after all this time. Sigh.


Just Keep it on the Down Low

I'm a creep, is my point. I keep taking unnecessary pictures of the kids being adorable. It can't be helped. Fridays are dominated by fourth graders. The adorable measure is pretty close to the third graders, but these guys tend to be a little smarter. In English. Speaking of, Korean students start English classes in third grade. Can you imagine? They really want that leg up. Anyway, fourth graders have usually had English for a year and have some basic knowledge. Some of them, like Devil from Seodang, are ridiculously smart and are above and beyond.

What's with the pirate in the back right?

This picture is from some game we were playing. They get so into it. I love every detail of this photo. Fourth grade is a pretty good way to end the week.
Not over it.

When they lose, they fall over. Cute, right? 


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Potent Quotables

Seodang Student on: My Love Life

Devil: "Teacher, you have boyfriend?"
Me: "No."
Devil: "Why not?"
Me: "I don't know."
Devil: "You're very pretty."
Me: "Aw, thank you!"
Devil: "Boys don't know you're pretty?"
Me: "I guess not."

I think I've had this exact conversation with my mother.


Potent Quotables

Jenny: "I want the students to arrive on time, not before. This our break time. Why their teacher let them out?"

She then shooed the kids out of the room.


Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

A: Because I live in Hogye.

What? You don't encounter chickens on your way to the bus stop?


Drinking Games in the Classroom... Again

This time, I converted the game of Quarters into an ESL- friendly activity. I used a 100 won piece instead of a quarter (comparable in size, weight, and color), and some plastic mini cups instead of shotglasses (also comparable.) I had the students read target sentences from a slip of paper before they could bounce the coin. Instead of trying to explain the Redemption Shot, any player who got the second glass placed in front of them before they successfully completed a shot was out for the round.

Sure, the kids cheated a bit and had to be reminded over and over to read their sentences, but they really enjoyed the game, as evidenced by squeeling, shouting, and yes,jumping for joy. Plus, Teacher Reedy was highly amused. Isn't that what it's all about?

This video shows Class A from Seodang. They're lower-lever learners and it's a relief when I can get them to understand half of what I'm saying. Even though they didn't all quite grasp the concept of bouncing the coin in, I was happy that they got some idea of the game at all. And they legitimately seemed to enjoy it. The girl in the purple vest, Jenny, squeels in the cutest way possible.

Sidenote- you can hear some of the kids saying "Assa!" when they do well- it's basically the Korean equivalent of "Awesome."

Here we have Class B, higher-level learners. They sometimes get a little too into games. Things got heated, words were shouted, and tears were shed. Part of me was glad that they were so into it, but it can get out of hand fast. I made them meditate for a minute, then we did some classic Head Down, Thumbs Up for the rest of the period.

In summation, Quarters in the Korean ESL classroom totally played. Assa!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Skinny on Peppero Day

Delightful Peppero

November 11th is known as Peppero Day in Korea. Peppero is a kind of cookie stick, dipped in chocolate. Their are many variations of the peppero stick, like M&M's. The peppero pictured has been rolled in crushed almonds. A ridiculous, light treat. Very addicting.

Anyway, the Peppero Stick is celebrated on November 11th. Reason being that the date, 11/11, looks like four peppero sticks in a row. The Koreans kind of equate Peppero Day with Valentine's Day, since it's common for couples to give each other gift boxes of chocolate sticks on this day. It certainly looks like Valentine's Day in the stores. Apparently, the sentiment behind the peppero stick is a well-wishing for the receiver to be long and slender. A little counterintuitive, if you ask me.

Happy (early) Peppero Day!


La Dolce Vita

I gripe about the Seodang classes a lot. Well, maybe only a little on the blog, but I moan about it a TON in person. Sure, you're thinking, How could you possibly have any complaints about working in the Cheongok Dream Center?

You weren't thinking that, but you are now.
Allow me to pictorially demonstrate what Seodang is like. Every day.

At least one of them is looking at the board.
Too cool for class.

These things all happen while I'm actively trying to teach. I should note that this doesn't happen during my regular classes. During those classes, the ones where I have an able-bodied co-teacher, the kids only get a little talkative at times. I see my Seodang students dispersed throughout my regular classes and they are completely normal. I don't know what happens before they come to Seodang. I don't think I want to know. I do actually like these kids. They can be really entertaining, but attempting to teach them a regimented lesson is utterly fruitless. Which is why I've generally stopped doing so. I start them on games that are tailored to their lesson's target vocab and sentences, then watch as it slowly unravels.

This was occurring during gameplay, which Ronaldo
decided he wanted no part of.
A rather heated game of Hangman.

Now, I try to understand these kids' perspectives. It's nearing the end of the semester for them, so they are rapidly losing any apathy they may have once had. They're also pretty smart and probably don't need the extra classes, but their parents are paying, so they attend. At the start of any lesson or game, they usually all participate, but once one student loses focus, they all start to waver. And it's not that the games are dragging on too long- I generally try to do three or four activities per 50-minute lesson. You'd think it'd be enough. Sometimes, sometimes, I have a successful lesson where they're with me from start to finish. It's rare. Seulgi calls them "enthusiastic, but unfocused." That's probably the nicest way to accurately describe it.

They are kinda cute...
The girls really like me and stay after class to chat a little. They love to touch my nose. Straight fascination. It makes me feel self-conscious, but they like that it's long and that the bridge has height. Their noses don't naturally do either, and, like many cultures, they're very into the "white" look. I let the girls ride in the elevator with me, thus earning even more of their love.

Really, I shouldn't complain so much. It's just tiring. I try to find ways to stimulate their little brains, but from 5-7, they're as over school as I am, hungry, and want to go home. I get it. Also, I'm allowed to do anything I want. Here's where I report on what I've done daily:

The green is me, the black is the other Seodang teacher.
In case you thought maybe I should be writing more-
Check out how much he writes.

Today I have Telephone Race (like the Telephone Whisper Game, but turned into a relay race), the Clapping Game (a chanting, call & response kind of game), and Flip Cup planned. I usually do the same activities on the same day for the two different Seodang classes, I just change up the vocab and key sentences used in each game. It makes my life that much easier. I've done two out of three of these activities with them before, and those have gone over really well, so hopefully history will repeat itself. Shockingly, this will only be the second time I've done Flip Cup with them. I'm also thinking up ways to convert Quarters and King's Cup for the classroom. I have the ideas all framed out, it's the getting the materials I'm slow on. As always, a work in progress.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Home, Sweet Hogye

It only took forever, but I finally took pictures of my apartment. I was going to do a video tour, but I'm an awful video personality. So. Pictures. And, in my defense, it took me these few months to finally make the place my own and, you know, clean it for audience's sake. Without further ado.

It's all one room, so starting at my door
and going clockwise.

Laundry Room/Balcony
Close-Up of Laundry Room. Things don't
dry so well in here.
That would be the showerhead in the back corner.
Attached to my faucet.
There's no shower stall.
The flow of water hits directly where the towel rack is.
It's a Kitchen. Not a chicken.
That's about it. It's not too exciting, but pretty nice. The heating comes by way of the floor, which rocks. Even more so now that I asked Seulgi how to work the controls. You'd think it'd be pretty straightforward. You'd be wrong. Not pictured are my electric teakettle, toaster, and rice cooker. Also, I have a numbered keypad to get into my door instead of a lock & key. I like not having to worry about losing a key. And it plays a long, obnoxious song when the batteries are running low, so I've got fair warning.

That concludes the tour of 301 Hajin Villa, Hogye-Dong. I hope you liked it. In the very least, please be impressed that I cleaned my apartment once. (Kinda).


The Korean Toilet

It's a squatter.

The typical Korean toilet requires some serious dexterity of the thigh. I won't go into too much detail about some of the difficulties one can face, but I think you can follow my meaning.

This is a picture of one of the stalls at my school. Thankfully, they do also have one or two Western-style toilets per floor. Most public restrooms either have at least one Western toilet, or they're all Western-style. It's a catching trend, to the detriment of the Korean thigh/ glute.

Sidebar- that role of toilet paper is an anomaly. Frequently, there will be no toilet paper present in the stall. Korean or Western. Too much fun, especially considering how often I forget that tidbit. It's best to always carry some kind of tissue. Just in case.

Tangentially, They're not into flushing toilet paper in Korea. After wiping, one should dispose of soiled tissue in the stall's wastebasket. You think your public restroom smells bad? Pfft. I mostly ignore this rule. Considering some of the movements the plumbing has to endure, I think a little bit of paper can't possibly be worse.

You were interested in hearing about all the aspects of life in Korea, right?


Bad News Bears

Last week I got some terrible news. Seulgi passed a super.important test.

This test was an entrance exam for a very competitive program at some university. Only 2 people in Ulsan passed and were granted admission. Great for Seulgi, but terrible for me. In Korea, the beginning of the scholastic year is in March, which means that, as of March, Seulgi will no longer be my coteacher. =(

I don't know if one of my other coteachers will take over her classes or if they'll replace her entirely. Either way, I'm pretty despondent. She told me I'd be fine, that I'm settling in well and won't need her support much longer. I facially expressed my belief that this statement was bullshit. Then she tried to tell me she'd probably be replaced by someone better. I re-faced her.

This brought about an interesting conversation with Jenny. She asked me if I would be working here another year. I told her I wasn't sure yet, it's way too soon to make that decision. Then she surprised me by saying that she'd like to work with me another year and that I should stay. Despite my recent efforts, I've admittedly not been approaching this opportunity with the best attitude, but I guess I've been making friends regardless.

This got me to considering Jenny's point of view (all the Korean teachers, really). She has this foreigner come in to help her with her job. The foreigner has a turbulent adjustment period, but then settles into some kind of rhythm. Jenny forms a working bond and negotiates a system for paired teaching. Once things seem settled an certain, the new teacher up and leaves, forcing Jenny to start the process all over again. It's even worse if she actually liked the native teacher on a personal level.

As difficult as this whole ordeal seems to me now, it's a much crappier system for the Korean teachers.

Food for thought.


A Wrinkle in Time

A note for the curious.

Korea doesn't do Daylight Savings, so I'm now 14 hours ahead of Eastern time. Meaning my psychic abilities just got one hour stronger. I'm pretty sure that's how that works.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Daily Saga

So I don't know if I told you guys, but I'm kinda a rockstar. Everyone knows my name and shouts it in the hallways, just trying to get my attention. They all say hi to me all the time and grab my hand if I haven't said hi back. The kids tell me they want to get their noses to look like mine- I'm very popular. This is how people react when they see me:

That kid leaped to get into the frame

It's very gratifying. Basically all I've ever wanted. Hopefully, this doesn't wear off. On bad days, having to say "Hello," to about every other child I see is grating. On good days, it makes me feel like a god.


Potent Quotables

With today's selected quotes, I'd like to demonstrate the Korean matter-of-factness, even when delivering shocking news.

Vice Principal: "How are you?"
Me: "I'm great. Having a good day, meeting with friends for dinner. Very happy."
Vice Principal: "Oh, good. good."
Me "How are you?"
Vice principal: "Oh, I? Not so good. Younger brother missing. One week. Cry."

She told me this in the same tone she'd use to talk about kimchi. Granted, they use their tones a little differently here, but she was surprisingly calm. They did end up finding her brother in some hospital in Seoul. She couldn't really explain what had happened (beyond her level of English), but she could tell me that much.


Seulgi: "Jaehong's grandmother die on Friday and then his grandfather die Sunday, so he won't come into work today."
Me: "Oh my god, is he okay?"
Seulgi: "Sure."

Said quite casually during lunch.


School Lunch

Here I will diagram a typical school lunch.

  1. Rice- Usually white, sometimes they'll thrown in a red bean or a couple grains of black rice.
  2. Soup- typically either fishy or seaweedy
  3. Main (?) course- sometimes involving a kind of meat (fish or pork, maaaybe chicken)
  4. Side #1- miscellaneous something, usually involving something fermented
  5. Side #2- Kimchi. Except, there's been some kind of kimchi famine, and they have to import their kimchi from China, at a very high cost, so my school has been serving fermented radish instead.

Korean meals are all about the sides. And rice. I never know what I'm going to like and what I'm not. It's difficult to say by looks or smell alone. For this reason, I tend to load up on everything and then only eat the stuff that ends up appealing. The weird-looking stuff in the top center did it for me today. Pork (maybe) with carrots and sweet potatoes. The acorn jelly (top left) was not my favorite, the soup (bean sprouts and fish scales) was okay, and then kimchi. Everyone says kimchi grows on you, but I haven't yet found this to be true. I keep trying, though.

In general, the food is pretty good. Some things I love, others are highly suspect, but it's a grab bag every time. Luckily, I'm not trying to follow a strict, regulated diet. I often don;t know what I'm eating. Sometimes, I can't even tell if its animal or vegetable. Seriously. If I really like something, I'll ask what it is, but I usually don't bother. It's Korea, man.

A note on chopsticks- you can never go wrong with using the chopsticks. Sometimes, Koreans will pick things out of their soup with chopsticks. They are highly skilled with those utensils. They grab, stab, and even cut with chopsticks. Cut. They don't use knives here and don't really need to. If, for some reason they can't cut something with their chopsticking dexterity, they use scissors. Truth be told, though, sometimes even Koreans find chopsticks tricky. In such cases, they'll resort to the stabbing method. Like less-effective forks.

My own ability to use chopsticks has shot way up. That'll happen if you use them everyday. I still have moments of utter utensil failure, but I'm usually pretty good and can eat whole meals without a mishap. Yay, progress!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monday Non-Blues

Preface: Waking up on Monday in s bummer. Always was, always will be.

That being said, Mondays are my most relaxed days, work-wise. I only have three regular classes during the day, two of which are third graders.

Ridiculously cute
The third graders remind me of my college friend, Caleb. By that, I mean they love everything I do, barring nothing. It's smiles and giggles every time I look at them. This makes me feel amazing. Especially awesome is the class pictured. They are so enthusiastic and smiley. They're even enthralled with when I go through the vocab flash cards. Admittedly, I add some kind of weird movement to every word, which makes them happy. Their responses inspire a lot of pep out of me. I even did the robot for them last week ("robot" was a key word) and I'm terrible at the robot. Still, they adored it, thus I adored them. These kids are my two favorites in the class:

The boy and the girl, both wearing glasses.
I have a weakness for nerds.
They're really smart and happy. My second set of third graders are a little less exciting, but they have the period right before lunch and are always hungry/tired. I forgive them because they're still so cute.

The fifth grade class I have during third period is okay. Once the kids hit fifth grade, they start acting out more and can be unbearable. Today:

Coteacher Seulgi: "These kids suck."

Sometimes, they really do. The third graders, though. Solid gold.


Post Script

Ever since I blogly admitted that I have absolutely no control and have no idea what I'm doing, things have gone unexpectedly smoother. Like the Universe was just waiting for me to admit reality and then it'd let me fall into a better flow.

The kids are still crazy, but now I get that I can only do so much about it. Most of my attempts are ineffective, so I just have to pick my battles and redouble my efforts when it really matters. Expect Chaos, don't try to control it.

I'm also forgiving myself for not being an amazing teacher. This is my first time teaching, I shouldn't be good at it. I'm learning on-the-job and it's difficult, but I'm doing what I can. No one is expecting perfection, so I shouldn't stress over the fact that I'm far from it. It'll get easier when I get the hang of it.

^^It's a start. (Excuse the mantra moment, it seemed important to share.)


Another Weekend Down

You know the drill.

-- FRIDAY --

Did not have dinner in Hogye. I was told to always assume there would be dinner in Hogye on Fridays. So I did. And then there was no dinner that day. DUN DUN DUN. Whatever, I totally found the Lush in Ulsan aaaaaand, as a result of finding Lush, also found a Turkish kebab place. Count it.

Then there was a kind of Ladies Night Out. It took an hour for me to get into the right part of town- Mugeodong, near Ulsan University. Stupid, long, bus ride. Still sick and hungry, I meet up with Nadia, Yellow.Fever, and some ladies to be mentioned later. We tried to go to some bar, then a salsa club, then back to that bar. We even tried to be girly and gossip about each other or whatever. What we discovered is that we suck at Ladies Night Out. We got bored and called the guys. Who were having a Guys Night Out. In the same town. We're so interdependent. The guys showed up at the bar and then much merriment was made.


Took a fairly spontaneous dash to Busan with Sylar. While struggling with the hassle of Ulsan buses, we came across this delightful fare:

It was stored with the ice cream/popsicle treats. We didn't buy it for investigation's sake, but Sylar said he could feel a cob of kernels through the bag. Is it ice cream, or just frozen corn? The Western world may never know...

Anyway, our friend Dylan was in a comedy sketch show, so we decided to meet him up. We also met his friend Chad, then had some Indian cuisine where the tikka masala wasn't really tikka masala (it was yellow and had corn in it. Excuse me, hi. Not tikka masala. Also not typical of Korean Indian restaurants. I've had good masala here.) Sigh. Still good, but not what I wanted.

We walked around Busan for a bit, then hit up a hof. A hof is a place where you can get beer and other various drinks, but it's required to purchase a certain amount of food with it. This is pretty smart an can be cool, but it's really inconvenient if you've already eaten. Chad sweet-talked our waitress with some of his Hangul and we got out drinks sans-food.

It was then that we met up with Nadia and Yellow.Fever and headed over to the club. Pretty laid back place with a big ol' stage. The club was constructed with 100+ year old bricks imported from Japan. Everyone kept telling us. Even after we'd read the literature on it.

The show was pretty good. SNL stylized skits collectively called Busan Night Live. Had a few laughs, had a rum&coke, learned that the solid perfume I bought from Lush glows under a blacklight. Fun fact.

The best part was after the show, when they were playing various songs and there was dancing on the stage. Of course I went up there. Someone even told me that she was in charge of the spotlight and was trying to get it to turn on and highlight me because I was so... me. A gratifying moment. One of performers even let me take her complimentary shot. Love.

I was content to act a fool there all night, but around 2 am, people decided that we had to move the party. Oh yes. 2 am and we're just relocating. We go to this club that I'd actually gone to the last time I was in Busan. It's one of those places all the foreigners go. Meh. Lots of dancing, people attempting to make me take tequila shots. I've had one too many nights of unreasonable tears ("I'm so unmemorable!!/whine.cry.snot" J.Lo and the wifey know what I'm talking about--), due to tequila. Never again. Yellow.Fever full-on passed out at the table, and well, we never actually went to sleep. At all. around 5 am we thought about trying to find a DVD 방 in which to take a nap, but we didn't. We figured the metro was starting up again soon and the intercity buses would start after that, so we'd just wait it out.

Soooo, we go to the metro, waiting around until we could hear trains, and at this moment, we decide that the five of us should totally squeeze into the tiny photobooth for a classic moment. We did all fit into the booth, miraculously, but we couldn't make the sonofabitch work. We took three pictures (?) and eventually just ended up losing Dylan's 7,000 won. I blame our lack of language ken. We caught the subway train shortly after and then hopped a bus back to Ulsan around 6.30 am. Got back to Ulsan around 7.30, took a cab to my and Yellow.Fever's apartments respectively-- in summation, I didn't go to sleep until 8 am Sunday morning.

-- SUNDAY --

I slept.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Do I Do at Work?, Part 5 (Last Installment)

Seodang. I've mentioned it before. This is a complete freestyle. I work with Two seodang classes a day, completely alone. There are workbooks to go with their lessons, but they are slim.

On one hand, I have total creative freedom. I can do literally whatever I want. No one checks up on these classes. I have an inch of space on a daily sheet to detail what I've done with the classes that day. All anyone expects to see is "Review Unit." I could put that and only that, and I have, and it's completely fine. They really don't care what's happening in those two 50-minute timeslots as far as I can tell. I do a lot of powerpoints, videos, youtube clips, chants, snatch game, hangman, charades, pictionary, relay races, wordsearch races, writing practice- whatever I think will take a sizeable chunk out of the lesson planning. I usually plan lessons day-of. I try to use as few materials as possible and that usually works.

So, that other hand. I am completely alone. The kids do not respect these classes or the teacher as they would normal classes with a normal teacher. Sometimes, shit hits the fan and there's not a goddamned thing you can do about it. There are times when the kids run wild, and all I can do is let them. Control is very difficult to enforce and maintain. Attempts to do so wear me down fast. My new strategy is to tr less. If they're not going to pay attention, there's no real way I can make them. When that happens, I tend to just sit there and watch. If I have a worksheet for them to do, I'll pass it out, but if they don't want to do them, I can't make them. They don't get grades, or homework, or tests in seodang. Really, I don't know what the purpose of seodang is, or it it's even useful, but I guess that's not really my problem.

Basically, serodang has its awesome days, when I get the kids doing something they actually like (rare), and its awful days, when the kids literally run amok- screaming, fighting, running (typical). The kids' behavior is a toss-up and I've come to realize that it's not worth running myself into the ground for a class that is, quite possibly, utterly useless. One of my coteachers even told me she thinks I'm doing a good job with the seodang, despite not knowing anything about what happens during those time periods. Hmm.

FYI- Seulgi is the coteacher who offered to take over the seodang twice a week. My savior.


What Do I Do at Work?, Part 4

The Teachers Class.

This is my most difficult class. There are about 8 or so teachers who want me to help them with their English. They say they want to do conversations, but then they refuse to speak. I never know what to do with them. The book I have that's meant to supplement their lessons is based on a radio show that's half in Korean. So, there's not much in the book, assuming that the readers are using it with the radio show. And whats on the book is, you guessed it, half in Korean. This is not easy to plan.

I have this class once a week and I always end up winging it. Much of the time, they don't even show up. That's fine by me because I can't get them to respond. I've shown videos in hopes to spark discussion, played murder mystery games, flip cup, etc- none of it is really scoring. I may never get the hang of this one.


What Do I Do at Work?, Part 3

My third coteacher is Jenny.

The kids love how much taller I am than Jenny.
Jenny and I teach 4th graders. My classes with Jenny are probably the most interactive between the teachers. We're both up at the same time, asking questions to the class. Jenny likes to direct some of the questions at me, though expecting the kids to answer.

Jenny also likes to have me leading the class, though it's a little different. It's a little less "you go/ i go," than Seulgi's. It's like this:

  1. I open class.
  2. We go through the dialogues, I ask most of the questions, but she supplements
  3. I teach them some phonetic pronunciations.
  4. Game/Activity
You know, give or take. She's also a fan of the review games. *Note: The review games are usually Bomb Games, a kind of PPT review game that gets students to practice the language and then has an arbitrary system of points or "bombs" that destroy points. I initially thought kids would rebel against the indiscriminate and unfair nature of the rewards/punishments, but no. The kids LOVE bomb games. Little sadists.

Anyway, the teaching styles are all really different and it's up to me to just go with the flow. This was weird for me at first, but I'm getting the hang of it. 

I can go a little into what kind of games and activities we do, but there are so many. We'll see.


What Do I Do at Work?, Part 2

Another coteacher of mine is Hee Won.

Hee Won is very nice, but I think she's still a little unsure as to what she should be doing with a Foreign Teacher. I teach 3rd and 6th grade classes with her. In her classes, I'm effectively an assistant. I help pass out papers, pull up websites, click through the CD-ROM, and when she says my name, I basically need to pop up and start doing some speaking. I usually just chant and repeat with the classes through flash cards or worksheets. 

She doesn't do this in a strict or intimidating way, it's just how she teaches. Throughout the majority of each lesson, she speaks in Korean with the class. I pften have no idea what's going on. Occasionally, she'll give me a heads up before class as to the basic structure of the day's lesson, but that's rare. I just have to adapt and be ready at all times.

Sometimes, Hee Won will request a review game. She really liked the ones I've presented so far and wants more of the same. The classes usually go like this:

  1. She does some vocab chanting and repeating with flash cards.
  2. Then I do te exact same thing. (My part is to reinforce correct pronunciation.)
  3. We do some of the CD-ROM dialogues- I ask questions.
  4. I help her pass out  worksheet, which she goes over in Korean with the class, then they get to work.
  5. If there's time, they'll do some kind of activity. Explained in Korean. Go!