Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blog Sabbatical

Later today, I'll be traveling to Seoul. Tomorrow, I fly out with California Matt (Refer to Hogye Boys' Club), heading for Taiwan! Yay, Spring Break!

[Sidebar, Cali Matt re-signed his contract, so we're out of the mourning period! Yay!]

Anyway, I'm going to Taiwan for nine days and, as such, will be unable to post on my blog. When I come back, I'll hopefully have many Taiwanese adventures (Sweep Panorama photos) to relate (post). I'll be back in school shortly after my return, which means plenty of time to update the ol' blog. Then it's my birthday (March 2nd), Micki and Colie will be in the ROK, Kacie "J.Lo"Stewart will be in the Eastern hemisphere with a high probability of visitation, and my amazing sister also has a plan to visit in the works. It'll be a great way to reboot my senses as I start the second half of my tenure.

March is the best.


Would I Be Friends With You Back Home?

As an English teacher in Korea, I'm part of this unique enclave. Sure, I try to make Korean friends, but let's be honest, most of my friends here are native English-speakers.

There's this phenomenon wherein the minute you meet anyone who speaks English, you're automatically friends. It's something we cling to here. Forget any preferences or preconceived notions, you must scrabble toward the familiar. 

The thing about all the "just add water" friends is that you start to wonder, "Would I be friends with you back home?" You forge all these connections so easily here that you forget what kind of people you deliberately phased out back home. It's all about identity, really. It's said that you can judge a person by who they keep as friends. Living abroad, however, is a special case. When you get here, even if you want to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, it's easiest to fall back upon a system of people who understand you. In a country where they speak a completely foreign language, that means anyone who speaks English.

In any group of friends here, it's natural to come to the discussion of "Would I be friends with you back home?" Initially, this seems such a shallow consideration, but really, how much of our self-constructions are based on who we spend the most time with? I know that many of my own personality quirks originated from people I admired and grew to love. So what happens when I start to make friends with people I never would have considered in a normal setting?

At first, you get along just fine. Everyone speaks English, we can share experiences on similar levels, but ever so slowly, the differences start to present themselves. You categorize the people you know and then you see signs of the things you never liked about "those" kinds of people. "I never liked these kinds of people because they display characteristics of arrogance," etc. 

In my circle(s) of friends, the question of "would we friends back home" has certainly come up. There is a wide range in the responses to this. Sometimes, it's a celar and certain "yes," sometimes, an absolute "no." Then there are all the answers in between.

Okay, so I've made friends with new people, that's cool. But it's been about six months now, and I feel like my old standards are kicking back in. I decided to be a certain person long ago and I can only suspend that for so long. I never liked x kind of person because of y. I guess I now have the chance to change that perception if I so choose, but I feel like that person I decided to be has finally arrived in Korea with me. I could have been Reedy X a long time ago, but I diverged from that path. I may not be the same Reedy Y that I was before, but Reedy Y is much closer to what I want than anything that came before. I'm not sure I'm entering a new phase, or even if I want to be, but my previous criteria are reasserting themselves.

What does that mean? I think I'm unconsciously fading out people here that I wouldn't have been friends with before. It's kind of a sick, sad shame, but I'm also ridiculously satisfied with my friends back home. Why wouldn't I use my old standards in considering new friends? It's a difficult decision. Also, weird. There are people I'm friends with here who I would brush off if they approached me in America. I don't know exactly how to approach this realization. Am I too picky back home, or am I desperate here? Food for thought.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Arbitrary Musings

Fun Fact: In my head, I refer to all Korean children as "buttons," (ie "What an adorable little button," or "I will destroy the next button that speaks to me.").


Anatomy of the Dream Center

Okay, I've posted pictures of my English room and the spectacular view just beyond the fifth-floor windows, but I haven't brought them to you in panorama... until now. Are you ready for this?


This'll probably be more impressive if you click on it for full-size.

and Out:

I've mentioned the Sweep Panorama function, right?

Not too shabby from a visual persuasion. 


Portrait of a Little Lady

I talk a lot about Devil, I know. Sometimes, I think I should give my proper respect to some of my other favorites. There's Jenny, a tiny fourth grader with the Minnie Mouse voice who makes me smile delightedly every time I look at her. She's featured in some videos. Keith and Nick, who try so desperately to be cool boys and pretend they don't like me, but they'll climb on my lap and poke their heads in my room when they get the chance. Even Kevin, reluctant to learn, with his sheepish smile when I put him in the spotlight. Jim, of course, I've mentioned. Jenna and Sally, a little skittish, but trying to figure themselves out. Bright and quirky Na Min Jeung, Mouthy little Beckham, sassy Stephani, pretentious Sallome, and Nicky, adorable, nerdy Nicky with the chubby cheeks. There are any number of memorable children at my school (all the above are former seodang students, who I got to know best in the school), but Devil surpasses them all. Not just in her brightness, but in consideration.

The other day, Devil walks up to me and hands me a cut-out photograph. It's a picture of herself at age six. She's drawn gold devil horns and a tail into the photo. "There was my boy-friend in the picture. I cut him out so it is just me." I gush unexpectedly over the picture. "It is for you."  

What resulted was my greatest quandry since entering this country. What do I do with this? Should I put it in my wallet? I don't want to bend it. I could put it on my refrigerator back home, but I want Devil to know I did something important with it. So she knows it really matters to me. I should display it somehow. I can tape it to the side of my computer monitor at work! But what if other kids mess with it? But if I DO tape it up at work, she can see that I put it somewhere prominent, instead of just tucking it away someplace. Still, I don't want it to get ruined and kids are apt to wreck nice things. They don't normally mess with my computer, though. Ah, forget it, I'm taping it up on the monitor. I'll just keep a close eye. I can put it in my wallet when I leave Korea.

An intelligent guise for the Prince of Lies.

Tape it to my monitor I did. Is that a blatant show of favoritism? Whatever, she's earned it.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Three Small Words

  1. Annyeonghaseyo (안영하세요)
  2. Kamsahabnida (감사합니다)
  3. Annyeonghigyeseyo (안영히계세요)
Honorable mention:
  - Ne (네)
  - Aniyo (아니요)

When I first came to Korea, I had every intention of learning the Korean language (Hangeul). Before leaving the United States, I could already read most of the Hangeul alphabet. During orientation, we practiced a little bit of Korean and I seemed to be adept with the language. I expected to be using functional Korean in no time.

It's been nearly six months now and my Korean is barely any better than when I first got here. My progress has gotten me to the point where I can place most of a restaurant order in Korean or direct a cabby to my apartment. True, I know the occasional useful phrase like "seawater is salty," and "I love you," but my working knowledge is generally atrocious.

Okay, I thought I wanted to learn Korean, but things just got in the way. I never wanted to study after a full day of work and even though I went so far as to buy some easy workbooks, I rarely found myself wanting to crack them open. When the weekends came, all my energy went into letting loose, unwinding after the long workweek.

That being said, there are at least three words I use on a daily basis. They pop out of my mouth without a thought. General, polite words to make everyday living just a touch more pleasant. Trust me, when you throw out the tiniest bit of Hanguel, Koreans eat it up. Jinja (진짜).

(1) This means "hello." It tends to sound a little more like 'nyonghaseyo in daily use. Arrested Development fans may be familiar with "Annyeong" (안녕), which is technically correct, but used less often. The longer version is more formal and more polite. You'd only ever use "annyeong" when speaking to close friends or subordinates. If someone is your peer, but not a friend, and uses "annyeong," it's a bit of a slight. What I'm really saying is that Annyong shouldn't have been using that terminology with any of the Bluths. It's a little rude. This word is often accompanied by a slight bow of the head, especially when greeting fellow teachers, or the principal. I basically use this word everywhere. 

(2) "Thank you-" sounds a bit more like "camsamnida." I especially love to tack on the Korean whine. Foreigners think I sound obnoxious, but Koreans think my pronunciation is great. Suck it, foreigners.

(3) "Goodbye-" this form of goodbye is used when you are the person leaving the room. I find that I'm normally the person leaving, as I say these three words to cashiers, cabbies, bartenders, waiters, etc and they usually stay at their posts while I weave in and out of their lives.

Honorable mentions- "yes" and "no," respectively. 

Other than that, I tend to get by with dumbed-down Englishee. Or pantomime. On one occasion, I was shopping in an unfamiliar store, which resembled a giant labyrinth. My greatest desire was just to make it to the register, but I had no clear way of expressing this to the employee I had flagged down. "Register?" "Cash out?" "Counter?" Nothing. I finally mimed the motion of scanning a grocery item while saying "BOOP, BOOP." Something clicked, and before I knew it, the employee had grabbed my cart and was directing me to the check-out counters. (I thank both Penn State and McLanahan's for my marvelous insights on humanity and the cashiering world.) 

I might not have Korean down, but damn am I spectacular at basic communication.


Potent Quotables

In another segment detailing why Devil (김채령- Kim Che Ryeong) is my favorite child in this country, we have a series of text messages she sent me during the Lunar New Year. When I first found out that my cell phone number had been mysteriously leaked to the students, I was a little concerned. Turns out, Devil's the only one who uses my number and I'm fully fine with it.

Part 1: "I want to say the happynew year for you again."
Part 2: "I hope you can do anything, how much you want."
Part 3: "Teacher the health is very important in your life. you must be care the health."
Part 4: "-from.Devil-"

Too adorable.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Design Feature!

This just in: I added a stat tracker to my blog, as per Shane's request. It's in the sidebar to the right, underneath my profile, archive, and followers. Shane said he'd be interested to see what kind of traffic the blog gets and I figured some of you might be as well. So, uh, there ya go.


Lunar New Year, Part Two

Kyu had a birthday celebration in Busan  to commemorate turning 24. Clearly, I joined in. First, we had some delightful Korean barbecue, followed up by touring around the world's largest department store, Shinsegae.

That's how I knew.

The place was chock full o' expensive things. And food. Oh yeah, and an ice skating rink. There was some talk of ice skating, but it was a bit busy and there were too many kids. I'm a hot mess on skates, anyway. 

I got to creep up on this action, too. Awesome.

At the top of the department store, there was an area to check out a beautiful bird's eye view of Busan. 

I may or may not be drunk on Sweep Panorama Power.

Later, we had a pre-gaming session at Chad's place. We toasted, ate cake, watched Miss Congeniality, and played some King's Cup...

The only way I can tell I'm not still in college is the
presence of a wine glass in the center of the ring.

... for like, ten minutes. Then we all decided to put on makeup instead. Yes, even the boys. Actually, especially the boys. Later we went and had a typical night of dancing, drinking, irrational behavior, and men taking off their shirts. I love Korean weekends.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Another New Year

I'll keep the writing brief. For Lunar New Year, I hopped a train to Seoul with train. Since nothing in my life can occur without event, I ate it hard on the walk to the train station, injuring my right ankle and left knee. Surprise. I got to the station and realized the area of legging around my knee was kind of wet. Rolled the fabric up, yeah, my knee is bleeding. A lot. Do I have a band-aid? Eh, nooooo. I wiped it off, no biggie, right? A decent way into the train trip, I feel my legging being uncomfortably stiff. The cut had healed to the legging and the cloth was kind of fused to my leg. Perfect.

See that red circle? Not a design flaw.
It took several minutes of active effort to coax the fabric off my wound and in the attempt, I reopened the scrape. Fatefully, I had bought some makgeolli (rice wine) for the trip. Shane pulled in an amazing assist when he realized the caps of the makgeolli had some kind of gauzy material, which he scraped free and gave me a little round to use as a bandage.

Boom, bandag'd.
It's cool. After the blood sacrifice, I got to see Chad, Conrad, Mike, and Val, and some other randoms. We drank a bit, chatted, had a merry old time. Then I went to my very first Jjimjilbang, a Korean public bath house/sauna. You have to get fully naked. It has gender-specific areas, Mom, don't worry. It was surprisingly not weird. A handful of ladies, just hanging out in hot tubs. There's another area for sleeping. It was warm, but I was sore the next morning. Hard floors.

The next day we gathered for food, then went our separate ways. Dylan, Shane, and I headed to LotteWorld. Think a condensed version of DisneyWorld, Korean style. It was intense. Here are pictures!





The park is partly indoors, which is pretty interesting. We saw a couple shows, which were pretty weird. Oh yeah, and we had some typical park fare, like corn on a stick...?

Shane and I tapped out of the vacation early and took the train home today. As for tomorrow, there's some talk of a trip to Busan for Kyu's birthday. We'll see what develops.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Case: Closed

The disappearance of my camera goes yet unsolved, but the void it left has finally been filled by an exact replica of the original. I'll say one last thing on the matter: shopping from Sony direct is a much better experience than shopping at HomePlus. They sat me down, setup my camera, switched it to English, inserted by 4 GB memory card and gave me a fully- charged battery, making my camera ready for immediate use. The customer service rep even told me about Sony's Product Repair and Service Center, right upstairs. Fantastic.

I know you kids were over my camera debacle, but now everything's as it should be and I am back in the game!


Hot Child in the City

Did I ever tell you about that time I played Spin the Bottle at the bar? Sure did. I kissed so many men. Of course, it would have been a lot more interesting if any of them had been straight. I played Spin the Bottle at a tucked-away gay bar in Korea. That's right, my friends. Americans and Koreans.

The thing about homosexuality in Korea is that it doesn't officially exist. As a collective, the Korean people are in denial about the whole affair. As a result, the Korean gay community has gone underground, so to speak. Here's an article that discusses homosexuality in Korea:

The gay bar I went to was a men's club. I don't know how the lesbian community fares. That would be interesting to see. Women are already a bit repressed, what would it be like to be a homosexual Korean woman?


The Gods Must Be Crazy

Today was not the day. To be brief, the camera could not be replaced with an exact replica. I tried HomePlus, where I even bought a similar model, but it didn't feel right, so I returned it immediately. Afterward, the journey continued all the way over to LotteMart, where they surely would have more options. They didn't even carry Sony. Oy. Quickly indulged in a mini-pity party and looked up cameras on the English Sony website. Blah.blah.blah, eventually realized there had to be a Sony outlet in Samsan. In fact, there sure is. Enlisted Shane to accompany me downtown. Stopped by Beat Bar and W Garden just one last time. Nothing doing. So, we sought out the Sony store.

At 8:06 PM, we found the Sony shop. Closed. At 8. Of course. I figured I could come back early in the morning before my Seoul trip. But will it even be open? It's Lunar New Year's holiday. Hmm. No worries, I asked Han Solo if he thought the store'd be open. He called and confirmed they would be. I love my Korean friends.

Big trip to Samsan chock full of failure, Shane and I decided to salvage the night by seeing if we could catch a timely film. Luckily, timing was perfect for a showing of Ben Affleck's The Town. It was pretty good. Best moment of the night, for sure.

Tomorrow: Camera, Take Two?