Thursday, March 25, 2010

so what if i can't eat noodles with your silly chopsticks...

On a completely odd note to start this off with, the more I look at Korean all of the time, even if I can’t read it very well, the more English is starting to feel weirder and weirder to read for some reason. The other night I stared at the word Tuesday for a good ten minutes wondering why the hell it looked like I spelled it wrong. It was right, I knew it was right, spell check even TOLD ME it was right, but the hell if my mind could think it was right. English looks weird, and I don’t know why!

It has been a busy busy week this week. It took me a while to get over the flu I was plagued with last weekend, but by Wednesday I was good as new, thank goodness. Monday and Tuesday were pretty straightforward, school and not much else. Every Monday we have a school meeting, and I have no idea why I have to go… they talk in Korean for an hour and I just fidget in my seat for an hour. Not particularly enjoyable. Though, it was revealed to me earlier this week what my part will be in the boring meetings starting on march 29… I get to have the pleasure of teaching all of the teachers in the school English for a half an hour by myself every week in the meetings. Joy. Not terrifying at all… oh, and on top of it all, I then get to have another fifty minute class on Tuesdays after my other fifty minute class, both, which I have to teach alone… the first being my conversation class with the kids, the second now being a class where I teach English to the teachers in the school who want to learn more English than we learn in the half hour class on Mondays. I teach 23 classes a week, four of them by myself. And teaching teachers is probably the most terrifying thing ever. Also the fact that I have to make my own curriculum and lesson plans for the four classes I teach by myself… it’s a tonne of work. Oi.

Oh! Tuesday’s lunch at school was interesting… I thought that one of the dishes we were being served was some sort of sprout and for some reason it had hot dog chunks in it. So, excited for the sprouts, I took a generous portion of them. When I got to the table, I looked down at my delicious sprouts… and noticed that they had eyes. They were tiny fishes! Poor, tiny dried fishes! Needless to say, I didn’t eat them… Oh, and the hot dug chunks weren’t hot dog, I don’t know what they were. It was not my favourite dish that I’ve been served.

Wednesdays at school are team building days after classes. Usually we play volleyball (which I am terrible at and all of the guys make fun of me for being so bad at it… one of them yells “Miss Tara!!” and pretends to hide behind his hands from the ball and then laughs hysterically every time I miss the ball). Koreans take volleyball as seriously as Canadians take hockey. Luckily, I’m not the only person there that’s bad at volleyball. This week, thankfully, we didn’t have volleyball though, so there was no making an ass of myself involved. This week, we were to drive to Hadong (pretty sure that was the name of the little town) to go to the Maehwon festival. Maehwon are apricots, and the festival celebrates the blooming of the Maehwon trees. They’re similar to cherry blossoms or apple blossoms, but most are a creamy peach color, though some can be a creamy pink, and an even rarer beautiful hot pink (those ones were my favourite, but we didn’t get close to any of them, unfortunately). The Maehwon were everywhere! It was crazy, they were all along the roadsides, up the mountains, just miles and miles of Maehwon. We drove for an hour and a half to get to Hadong, which is up past Suncheon (not that that really means anything to you unless you look at a map… hell, it hardly means much to me, I’m lucky if I can take a bus in Yeosu and not get lost), but, once we got there, there were SO many people that we had drive for miles and miles out of town way past the festival to even find a place to park! We were clearly not going to be going to the festival… two of the teachers we had with us were pregnant, one of them being eight and a half months pregnant and ready to burst at any minute! So, we parked by a Maehwon orchard, and took some pictures in the orchard, and then decided that we were going to keep driving. And driving. And driving… and then there was some more driving! In total, we drove for about six hours round trip. Luckily, Korea is insanely BEAUTIFUL! My goodness, I was in awe, it was amazing! The mountains, the rivers, the waterfalls… it’s fantastic, I love it! Oh! And there’s bamboo everywhere! Bamboo forests, insanely tall bamboo forests, it’s amazing! We stopped in a town that has a really famous outdoor market (ask me the name of it and I have no idea), and we wandered around for a while, it was really cool, it was like a really Asian farmer’s market, haha. There was this one stand that sold these puffy round snacks, they’re really sweet and I think they’re made of corn, though my co-teacher was convinced they were made of rice. They make them right in the market, though, and the machine that makes them was the craziest thing ever. It puts the corn (I’m sticking with corn, it was too yellow to be rice) on this disk and then presses it really hard and applies heat and then there’s this insanely loud POP! And the discs come flying out of the machine in a puff of smoke. I’ve never seen anything like it. it was crazy and loud, and a bunch of the people around laughed at me because the first time I walked up to the machine, I didn’t know what it did, and the pop is so loud that it scared me and I let out a really startled noise and jumped back. I’m used to being laughed at by the Koreans around me though; I think foreign teachers are somewhat of a novelty to them… understandably, we do some weird things. The market was really cool, anyways, and I wish the teachers weren’t in such a hurry to walk through it; there were so many beautiful textures and colors I wish I could have taken pictures of.

Eventually we headed back to Yeosu, and my co-teacher and I had a really long conversation about graves, which was slightly odd. Koreans bury people in plots all up and down the sides of mountains and in the forest and wherever they think their relatives would like to be buried, so we had a whole conversation for like an hour about the differences between what you do with your dead in Canada and Korea. Morbid but interesting? Haha.

We went for dinner at the same restaurant as the week before, it’s owned by one of the teacher’s mom. The food there is great, so I’m not going to complain. We had duck, which is the most delicious food in the world. I could eat duck every day for the rest of my life. We cooked it on these little gas grills in the middle of the table. Duck is not fun to cook. It splashes everywhere. And it hurts a lot when it splashes on –you–. Oi. But it was super yummy and garlicky, so aside from the grease burns, I wasn’t complaining. That’s one great thing about Korean food; they love garlic as much as I do!

After eating dinner, we all piled into the street (I think of it more as an alley, but I guess Koreans like narrow winding roads), and tried to figure out who was going home with who. As we were standing in a group and talking, all of a sudden one of my co-teachers noticed another white person walking up the road and she started yelling what I believe was chingu, which means friend. Anyways she started yelling chingu over and over and pointing at him and then a few of the other started yelling and pointing, and then they looked at me and tried to tell me to go run up to him and talk to him “you be friends!! You be friends!! Another white person! You be friends!” it was probably one of the most embarrassing things to ever happen. Of course, I turned beet red and pulled the good ol’ Korean ‘cover your cheeks when you’re embarrassed’ move and they luckily stopped. I took a cab home with the new drama teacher, she knows enough English that we can communicate fairly effectively. She just moved to Yeosu from Seoul a week after I did, and when we got out of the cab at the school and said goodbye, she turned to me as we were walking away and asked “friends?” It was so sweet. Of course I answered “yes, friends for sure.” I love Koreans; most of them are incredibly kind and sweet, even if they don’t have to be.

My background check arrived on Thursday, thank goodness. So, after lunch, my co-teacher and I drove to the immigration office, and we dropped it off. She thought that I should be able to get my card that day, because she was pretty sure that that’s what the office told her last time, but, I guess I still have to wait another five days or so. So, hopefully, I will have a cell phone and internet and bank account, and be getting paid by next week. Yay! On the car ride to the bank, I found out why the ladies I work with have a tendency to keep forcing me to eat more every time we eat together… my co-teacher asked me if I was finding the school lunches okay, and when I assured her that I found the food to be delicious she informed me that her and the ladies that I work with were worried that I wasn’t liking the food or able to eat it because I don't eat as much as them and they don’t think I eat enough. I thought I was eating a lot! I had to explain to her that I usually don’t eat a lot at meals, and that I really do like the food a lot, and that they have nothing to worry about. The food is ridiculously filling, especially with all of the rice; it’s sweet, but unwarranted, that they worry though, haha. We went to four or five different banks looking for an ATM that we could use to withdraw the money from my Canadian account, it was a rather unpleasant game. But, at least we finally found an ATM that worked for foreign cards! Laater on that night I was informed that in every Mini Stop convenience store, there’s an ATM that accepts foreign cards –and– works in English. Joy. I wish I had known that before, there are two mini stops across the street from each other down the road from my house.

On Thursday there was some sort of air raid siren that went off. I think they need to start warning the foreigners about this stuff ahead of time, because I jumped up as soon as I heard it, and then everyone I work with looked at me like what the hell is she doing? My co-teacher assured me that every fifteen days or something like that the air raid siren goes off as a practice for a natural disaster or an attack and no one is supposed to go outside for fifteen minutes, but, apparently, no one really actually abides by that rule anymore. They probably should have told me about this before it happened and I freaked out because I had no idea what was going on!

Thursday night I met up with Casey. I took a Korean bus (by myself!) down to Yeosou-dong, and even managed to get off at the right stop! Go me, haha. The busses are a little different, you have to press a button to get the driver to stop at the stop, and there’s only six or so of these buttons placed around the bus. I had to watch a few people to figure out how to get the driver to stop at the stops, I’m used to pulling a string, not searching for a button. Casey and I walked around Yeosou-Dong and he showed me a bunch of places where some of the foreign teachers hang out, and then we went for dinner at some random restaurant that we walked by. I managed to order chicken, what I originally wanted on the menu wasn’t available anymore for some reason, but the waitress pointed to some other kind of chicken, which turned out to be chicken wings speared on sticks for some reason. Luckily they weren’t too spicy. Casey thought he ordered pork… but it turned out to be a spicy mystery food that was like chewing on rubber with bits of plastic smushered in it. We eventually figured out that it was snails. Really spicy mystery snails. He’s more of a trooper than I am; he ate the whole plate, I only tried one, haha. I had to take a cab home because the busses weren’t running when I left, and I was completely nervous to take a cab by myself because my Korean is laughable and it was dark and I didn’t want to end up lost. Luckily, my Korean is a little better than I give myself credit for… and the fact that I had the directions written down on a piece of paper definitely helped too!

Friday was a pretty normal day. Apparently I’m the only person in Korea that doesn’t have an umbrella because I keep forgetting to buy one, and it had been raining pretty hard earlier in the week, and when I got to school my hair was soaked because my hood had been resting against my bangs on the walk to school and I didn’t notice, so one of my co-teachers brought me an umbrella, which was really nice and unexpected. I got to try Korean pizza today. Similar to Canadian pizza, but also insanely different. The crust was stuffed with some sort of sweet potato stuff, and there was corn on the pizza. We had four different kinds in one box, one was pretty normal (aside from the potato stuffing and corn), it was onions and shrimp; then there was one that had mounds of crab on it; another one had slices of potatoes on it and bacon and then upon closer inspection, it also had smushered up tortilla chips on it; I can’t remember what the other kind was, but I’m sure it was equally as odd. For as weird as it was, it was actually surprisingly good.  Oh, and the sauce was really really different, not thick and tomatoey.

We had noodle soup for lunch, with these really really long really skinny noodles… and it proved to be a huge challenge. I had to ask my co-teacher if there was some sort of trick to eating the noodles, because it was impossible to pick them up with the chopsticks, and she showed me how to twist them around the chopsticks, the method worked for a while, but I essentially only succeeded in tying the noodles into knots in my bowl. I guess some of the other teachers noticed me struggling, and after laughing for a bit (I thought they were talking about something else, I didn’t realize they were watching me struggle with the noodles), one of the teachers eventually told my co-teacher that I was having trouble. Apparently I looked like I was concentrating really hard on what I was trying to do, which, essentially I was, but she showed me how to use the chopsticks to twirl the noodles around the side of the bowl, which wraps them around the chopsticks. It worked a lot better after that.

There was yet another moment where everyone decided to “awwww” at me later in the day. I was marking tests from my after school class, and I had brought a bunch of stickers with me from Canada that have English sayings on them, and I also brought some butterfly ones and star ones and smiley face ones. Well, one of my co-teachers saw me putting stickers on the sheets and all I heard was “Oh my god, awwww!!!” and then the rest of the ladies came running over and they were all awwwwing over me giving my students stickers. I swear, I am such a novelty here, it’s insane. But, I suppose in a way, they have a novelty factor to me too, and to everyone who reads this. I guess there’s always just novelty in new experiences.

Befor my last grade four class was starting, a bunch of the boys were gathered around one of my co-teachers and I, and asking me questions. The grade fours this week discovered my tattoos and nose piercings and they are an object of great interest to them. They were showing me their cell phones (kids start getting cell phones here in grade 3!!!) and asking all sorts of question when, all of a sudden, one of the little boys asked us if we were sisters! My co-teacher and I laughed so hard, and the kid kept asking us if we were! It was too funny.

I was going to go to the beach today (Saturday), but the weather kind of took a nose dive after I left the PC bang. I found out later that the weather anomaly is actually called yellow wind or yellow dust. The sandstorms in Mongolia whip a bunch if sand up into the air, which gets carried by really strong winds through China, North Korea, and South Korea picking up pollution and moisture along the way and settling in the mountains and along the coast causing the city ot be blanketed in this thick, humid, gross, yellow haze. Definitely not beach weather.

I found out that the water here is actually drinkable and that some Koreans are just really paranoid about water quality for some reason. I’ll probably still buy bottled water anyways, it’s cheap enough and if there is something wrong with the water I’ll still be covered.

Today (Sunday) was a pretty chill day, I just decided to wander around for a bit and then try and figure out how to buy garbage bags. The color of garbage bags are specific to certain areas of Korea, so they don’t sell them the same way you can buy them in Canada. The thing is, no one told me exactly –how– they sell them. I literally wandered around the J Mart by my house for over half an hour trying to find garbage bags and not having a real clue what I was looking for. I eventually found them. They sell them in tiny little rolls and keep them in bundles in baskets by the till on the floor.

I will hopefully be getting my residence card on Monday or Tuesday, and then after that I can get my bank account, a cell phone, and internet. And then I can get paid!!! Yay!!!

Sooooo, today (Monday) was a good day, my co-teacher called the immigration office and they had my card ready, so we went to grab my alien registration card and then we went down to Shinae to KEB bank and set up a bank account, I even got a debit/credit card combo type of thingy and everything! We went to go get a cellphone, but, apparently, in order to get a pay as you go type of dealy, you need to have an old phone first, so we had to try and figure out where to get an old phone from. Luckily, one of my co-teachers had just got a new phone today, so my other co-teacher asked her if I could have her old phone, and she said of course!  So, problem solved! I should have a cell phone by tomorrow! And I should be getting internet set up within the next few days as well, and I will be getting paid on Thursday, hurray! There’s still a whole huge mess involved with the settlement allowance, though. I have no idea what the hell is going on. I was told that, upon arriving in Korea, I would be given the 300 000 won, and then I was told that I needed to have a bank account first (though, nowhere in my contract does it say that), now that I have my bank account set up, they’re trying to tell me that I have to wait until the end of April, after the school council meeting for some reason. It’s honestly bullshit, and it needs to get sorted out pronto, because everyone else got their bloody money. So, we’ll see what’s going on with that in the next few days. I’m going to bring in my contract tomorrow and show my co-teacher where it says that I’m entitled to the money upon the start of my contract, not two months in. Bah.

you mean we have to speak english in english class...

What a crazy week it has been, my first day of classes felt like they were going fine, until the last class with the girl puking and getting flipped off. The kid totally knew what it meant when he flipped me off, he started laughing each time he did it, and then I saw him doing it later on the playground. He was like 10 years old, so I’m sure it’s just a novelty, I guess. Either way, I don’t think my co-teacher saw, and I didn’t want to yell at him because, ironically enough, he was doing in right in the middle of her yelling at them about being polite. Kids… haha.

Tuesday was different than it will usually be, the kids all had country wide aptitude tests, so there were no classes, but, I had my first conversation class. It was terrifying because I was told they wouldn’t be starting until next week, and then, as I was leaving on Monday to go home, my co-teacher told me that Tuesday would be my first conversation class. Surprise! So, I had to work my ass off overnight to plan an entire course that I thought I had a week to plan. Not only that, but I had the task of also preparing my first lesson. Oi. Needless to say, not much sleep was had.

Of course, the lesson was a COMPLETE disaster. Only four kids of the eleven showed up, and when I told them that we would be speaking in English only in the class they all gasped loudly and started muttering things in Korean. I don’t have a co-teacher, and the school wants the class to be in English only… the kids knew what they were signing up for. Luckily, the class I had today (Thursday) went a little more smoothly. Nine of the kids showed up… which is a hell of a lot better than four. It was also better because we were doing a real class instead of just introducing the program.

It just bothers me that they don’t take the class seriously. They don’t listen, they mock me, they don’t pay attention, and it seems like only three of them actually care. If I ring the bell enough times I can get them to snap back to class though. Maybe they’ll start paying attention after I give them the first quiz. I hope. They’re pretty good for like a few minutes at a time.

I think it’s because a lot of their English education is actually taught in Korean, so even though they've been learning English for 1-3 years already, most of that English has been in Korean. It’s hard to explain, but there are no real set English teachers here, it’s mostly a position that female teachers who are pregnant get put into. It’s a temporary gig, really.

All of the students are really cute though, and sweet for the most part. In my conversation class, we made name cards and a bunch of them put “I love you!” and “I love Tara” on the backs of their cards, and after one of my grade 5 classes, a couple of the girls came up to me and were like “Tara, you are the most beautiful” and told me that they loved me, it was so cute.

The classes I teach with my co-teachers are going really well. The kids are adorable and sweet, they call me Tara teacher, and run up to me in the hallway to say hello, and approach me on the street, even on weekends, to say hello and ask “how are you today” and tell me that “it’s nice to see you again.” Their English is really formulaic, which is understandable. Anytime you learn a new language, you learn certain things at a time.

Yesterday (Wednesday), one of the girls from my grade 5 class came up to me in the cafeteria and gave me a watermelon sucker, it was so cute. I said thank you in Korean (Kam-saham-ni-da) and she giggled and ran away. The students are always giving the teachers here sweets. And the students are responsible for keeping the school clean. There’s janitors as well, but the students do most of the cleaning and mopping and sweeping and taking out garbage. I think that’s really the biggest difference between Canadian and Korean students, Korean students are so much more respectful not only of the teachers, but of the school as well. And, oh my goodness, the kindergarten and grade one students! They are the cutest kids ever! They’re so tiny and adorable! The run around the school at recess just SCREAMING at the top of their lungs and laughing like crazy, and then they just stare wide eyed at all of the teachers, it’s so cute. They’re so cute.

The girls in my classes are usually the bravest and the most willing to ask me questions in English. I think as time goes on, the students will become more comfortable with me and be less nervous about speaking English. Although, there’s a little boy named Eonsu (Pronounce Oonsoo) from my conversation class that has taken a real shine to me. The first time I had my grade 4 class with him in it after the conversation class he ran up to me yelling my name and he was so excited to see me.

I found out why the kids always look so amazed when they find out I have a degree and that I’m only 22 years old… I’m actually 24 in Korea. I don’t know exactly how it works, but age starts at ovulation or something. I have no idea. Either way, I’m 24, not 22, and the kids don’t think I’m some sort of freak prodigy anymore.

On Wednesday, all of the teachers in the school went out for the most amazing dinner ever! I completely forget what it was called, I think it was Kalbi, but it was basically Korean pork barbeque, and it was so good. It wasn’t spicy, but it was savoury and kind of sweet, it was so yummy. And, of course, we had a million side dishes.

I was supposed to go to the beach this weekend with some of the other foreign teachers in the city, so that I could get to meet them, but I started feeling kind of sick on Friday when I woke up, and by the time I got home on Friday after work I could barely move, and I spent all night Friday and all day Saturday throwing up. It was magical. Except not. You never really realize how alone you feel somewhere until the first time you get really really sick. It was terrible. And I was so pissed off that I missed the beach hunt, I wanted to go and meet everyone so badly. Oh well, there will be other times, I’m sure of it.

It got cold enough here that on Tuesday it actually snowed a little! The snow didn’t make it to the ground, but still… snow! Ew!

I figured out how to make toast in a frying pan on Saturday, and it turned out half decent. I don’t have butter or margarine or anything so I brushed a tiny bit on canola oil on each side of the bread. I was surprised that it wasn’t positively awful and that I didn’t burn it. I asked my co-teacher what a typical breakfast is in Korea, and she told me that for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert, Koreans typically eat rice… I’ll stick to my jam and bread… Not even joking about eating rice for desert either, when the teachers and I went out for dinner on Wednesday, we ate a whole bunch of food, and then after dinner they brought out even more Kimchi and rice for desert. I think Koreans and Canadians have a very different view of what desert is or should be. I miss cheese already though, there has to be somewhere here that I can buy it. And after trying three different types of milk I have come to the conclusion that Koreans only drink whole milk. It’s going to be hard to get used to using whole milk for my cereal. It’s fine in my tea, but it’s weird in cereal.

Going to the PC bang on Sunday was interesting. The guy that worked there was probably about my age, and actually quite accommodating to my lack of Korean. I think they get a lot of English people who only know a few phrases in Korean in places like that. He showed me how to set up my card and then showed me how to use the internet on the computer, it was quite nice. And then he gave me a glass of juice! I’m just glad I know how to say thank you in Korean. It was actually surprisingly cheap to use the internet in the PC Pang, I was there for an hour and a half, and it only cost me 1500 Won, so it’s 1000 Won an hour, or, about a dollar Canadian. I was worried I was going to be paying a tonne of money. I was the only person there not playing computer games, it was kind of funny.

My mission after talking on the internet for a bit was to figure out how to do my laundry. Joy of joys. I found some laundry detergent, which, I am 95% sure is actually Tide… the logo looks very similar. The worst part was figuring out the washing machine. It’s not just one or two knobs like the other washing machines I’ve used, no, you get to choose like 6 different settings. I must have figured it out because my clothes came out clean and the washing machine didn’t explode… thankfully! I miss having a dryer though. Air drying my clothes sucks, especially because I don’t have a clothes rack, so I just sort of have them all hanging around my house right now. Note to self: when you get paid, buy a clothes rack and an umbrella!

i've been in korea for two weeks and have learned that speed racer is a terrible movie...

I would just like to start this off by saying that Speed Racer is a terrible movie that gets played at least once every two days here… usually when there isn’t any other English programming on.

Things are okay here, I’m a bit homesick, I miss everyone a lot, and I just wish I had internet so that I could talk to you all. The last few days have been kind of hectic. Today we had to go to the immigration office to apply for my alien residence card, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get it because of the stupid criminal record check. The lady told my co-teacher that if she doesn’t get it by the 12th, they won’t be able to issue my card, and then I’m screwed, so I have no idea what’s going to happen. And, to top it all off, the pictures that I sent with my original application were apparently not good enough, so we had to scramble to try and remedy that problem as well. They managed to find some picture paper at the school, and they had taken a picture of me a few days earlier, so they printed off ten copies onto a piece of picture paper. Hopefully the office will accept that. Really frustrating things keep happening, it’s really disheartening.

The kids here keep reminding me why I’m doing this, though. Korean kids are amazing. Like, really amazing. Wednesday night I was walking home from school, and as I was walking out of the school yard, a little boy ran up to me and yelled “Hello teacher! Nice to meet you! See you tomorrow!” and after I said hello back to him and told him that it was nice to meet him too, as we were walking away, he turned back around and yelled “Oh! Vancouver!!” it was adorable. The most common thing people talk to me about is Vancouver. Even if they don’t know how to speak English, they know how to say at least something about Vancouver.

The thing that made me really realize why I’m here happened after the problems at the immigration office today was, my co-teacher needed to go to a school out in the countryside because Yangji is renovating their English rooms, and the school that we went to had recently renovated their English room.  We were essentially poaching for ideas.. The room was amazing and so technologically advanced; it was so far removed from anything you would ever find in a Canadian classroom, it was beautiful really. The principal of the school spoke little English, but we chatted a little bit, and he told my co-teacher that he thought I was very polite and kind. He kept saying “Canada number one!” and giving me the thumbs up. The kids, though, the kids were amazing and made me so excited to start teaching next week. As soon as we walked into the classroom, the students took an immediate interest in me. They were kind of quiet at first and whispering amongst themselves, and then I heard one of the girls whisper “what is your name?” and then it just went from there. It was amazing, they were so excited and so sweet, they pulled out their textbooks so that they could ask me questions that they had learned and it really felt like we connected. They got me to draw on the board for them, and as soon as they saw my tattoos and my nose piercings they were amazed. All of them crowded around me, and my co-teacher practically had to pry me away from them. Even as I was walking down the hallway to leave the school they all crowded into the hallway and were yelling “Goodbye! Nice to meet you! Have a nice day!” it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I’m so excited to start teaching on Monday.

I’ll be teaching grades 4-6, from 9 to 12:30 each day, except Friday, when I only teach until 11:30, and, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I will be teaching an after school conversation class from 3:10-4 for some extra cash. I teach 6 sections of grade 5, 7 sections of grade 6, and 6 sections of grade 4, and each class has about 35 students in it, so I will be teaching around 650 students... which is pure insanity. I’m really hoping I misunderstood my co-teacher when she explained it all to me, and I'm not really teaching that many students.

I’m really looking forward to the conversation class because I get to set the curriculum and run it however I like and teach it by myself, which will be fantastic, especially since the curriculum for the actual classes seems almost set in stone.

Being a pedestrian here is terrifying. Drivers don’t even stop at red lights half the time. You really just have to run and pray, that’s about it. Oi. Not enjoyable.

It gets a little lonely here, all of the other foreign teachers have all met each other already through orientation, and they all have an idea of how Yeosu is laid out and where things are, but I feel totally lost. I really just don’t even know where I live. I know how to find my way home from school and from the market, and I kind of know my way around some of the area that I live in, but most of the stuff the other teachers do is at bar in Yeochon, and I don’t even know where that is. I just wish I had the internet and a cellphone so that I could actually get in contact with some of the other teachers and so that I could look up bus schedules and stuff. Until I get my alien residence card I can’t do anything, and it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m running out of money because the bank won’t let me set up an account until I have a residence card, and the school won’t give me the settlement allowance or reimburse me for any of the house stuff I bought until I have a bank account. And my co-teacher told me that she can’t get internet set up until I have a residence card. I just feel so frustrated and lost and alone sometimes.

I went wandering around Mipyeong-Dong today (Saturday), and it is really huge! I didn’t go down too many side streets because I forgot to get my co-teacher to write down my address in case I get lost, so I still don’t know where I live exactly. There was a little old lady trying to drag some cardboard into her yard, and I tried to help her… but I think the language barrier made her think I was trying to steal her cardboard and she started yelling at me. Maybe the elderly here are more “do it yourself” type of people as opposed to the elderly in Canada who welcome help? I have no idea. It’s been raining here a lot, I think I need to invest in an umbrella when I get paid… I shouldn’t complain though, it could be snowing. Also, I love instant coffee, just thought you would all like to know that. They have instant coffee packets here that have the milk and sugar in them already and you just add water, and they are DELICIOUS! Way better and cheaper than Tim Horton’s (yeah, you heard me, kippy, haha). The vice-principal of my school invited me to something tomorrow, and I’m not sure what. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow at 10:30 when she picks me up.

So, the big surprise today (Sunday) was church. Hahaha. It was a little awkward, I’m not gonna lie. It was held at the English Language Institute, a private academy that the vice principal's children go to after school. Almost all Korean children go to an after school English academy of some sort. The principal of the English academy was also the elder in charge of the church ceremony thingy… whatever it’s called. Anyways, it was all in English and rather short, and the elder got me to read some of the stuff out loud so that the people there could hear a native speaker’s pronunciation of the words. After the ceremony? Sermon? Session? I got to talk to him about the school and Korea and stuff like that, and he asked me if I had been keeping in contact with my mom and dad, and I told him that I had e-mailed them, but that it was hard to actually speak to them because it’s so expensive to call Canada, and I don’t have internet because I don’t have a residence card. So, he told me that he uses Skype to call people, and he asked me if I would like to make a quick call to them after lunch. I was incredibly grateful, and apparently it is quite inexpensive to make calls on Skype.  It was so nice to hear their voices. Being able to talk to them just lifted up my spirit and made me so happy, I was beginning to feel really homesick and kind of lost, and it was such a relief to get to talk to them. I feel a lot better now.

We had rice and a spicy chicken and potato stew for lunch, which was delicious. I’m so glad Korean food is so yummy! Last week we had duck for lunch on one of the days at school and it was so good, holy wow. We had it cooked in a spicy potato stew like I had with the chicken today, but it was sweet and delicious and just melted in your mouth. Anyways, after lunch, the elder let me call my parents on Skype, which was so nice of him, and then afterwards, he drives all of the church kids home, so he showed me around Yeosu for a couple of hours. We drove to the 2012 Expo grounds, and to a mountain overlooking the grounds, which we then walked up, and I was totally not prepared for it and almost died. But there was a beautiful park at the top, and you could see Dolsan bridge, and the new bridge they’re building and the Expo grounds that they’re developing. Then he took me to the coast to ocean park and I got to walk along the ocean, and see people fishing, and a kid catching starfish and crabs and putting them in a Mr. Noodles bowl, haha. It was amazing. Yeosu is way smaller than Edmonton but it feels so much bigger and like there’s so much more stuff, it’s weird. There was a guy fishing at Ocean Park that attracted quite a crowd. He was using like seven rods all by himself, it was insane. The only sad thing is, when they reel in starfish they don’t toss them back in the water, they just leave them on the walk to die. I tossed a few that I could reach back into the ocean, and I’m pretty sure people thought I was crazy.

Apparently there is another orientation in July, which I will be obligated to attend to make up for the orientation that I missed before I came here. Oh well, maybe I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t already learned by then? Who knows. I decided to man up and buy a bag of chips today. I took a picture of the bag because it’s kind of funny, it’s this guy wearing a muscle shirt and he has very stylized hair, and then the chips are called “Nacho: crazy for nacho,” and they look like they would be similar to corn chips. Well, when I opened them, they definitely were not nacho cheese flavour. They smelled really strongly of vinegar, but I can’t quite peg the flavour. The writing on the bag when I translate it and try and look it up in the dictionary doesn’t really give me more information either, so they’re mystery chips for now. Just like the pork peace of mind. 

Everyone here is still amazed at how well I can use chopsticks, one of the teachers at school that I hadn’t sat with before spent the whole lunch watching me eat (which, as we all know, makes me ridiculously uncomfortable), because she had never seen a foreigner use chopsticks so well. It helps that Korean chopsticks are metal and more oblong as opposed to round, so you can grip food a lot easier. It’s still kind of funny how amazed they are, though. If you guys get a chance to eat mandoo at any point in time, jump on it, it is so good and I could eat it all day long. They’re like little dumplings in a rice pasta and they can be served either in soup or alone, and they are the tastiest things in the whole entire world, they’re like little pieces of heaven in your mouth. Mandoo and duck day at school was a happy day.

I love Korean versions of American and Canadian brands. When I buy some Tide I’ll take a picture of the box. It looks exactly like Tide if you kind of unfocus your eyes. That’s how I know what I’m buying half the time, I don’t have to be able to read what it says to be able to know what it is, I just recognize the packaging. Though, my being able to read Hangul is coming along quite well, it’s just a matter of being able to know what the words mean afterwards.

Have a look at the information for the 2012 World Expo here, it sounds like it’s going to be amazing, and I totally want to come back for it. They’re redeveloping a whole section of the city for it, and it’s all about ocean sustainability and redevelopment and advancement, and the areas they’re developing for the Expo are absolutely incredible. The Expo information centre was insane… and the craziest part about it: the bathrooms! The bathrooms were amazing. I so wish I had my camera, haha… not that it wouldn’t be awkward taking pictures of a bathroom. The walls were beautiful tile murals, and the sinks… the sinks probably cost more than my university education. And the toilets were crazy! The seats were heated, and there were buttons for things that I had no idea what they did! I have never seen a bathroom like it in my life.

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching, I’m nervous, but I know that as soon as the first class is over, everything will go smoothly. I’m teaching the same lesson six times in the next day and a half… so it better go smoothly after the first class or two.

So, my first four classes today (Monday) were really good, the kids were attentive and excited and happy and had a lot of questions and were really into the lesson, and then, the fifth class... never have I seen things go downhill so fast in my entire life. A little boy in class kept flipping me off, and one of the little girls kept sleeping and my co-teacher went to talk to her, and she said she had a stomach ache... and then twenty minutes later she got up and puked all over the floor in front of the door. Hurray, ew. Either way, the kids, for the most part are adorable and great, one of the little girls already follows me around when she sees me.

Turns out that my conversation class is going to be starting tomorrow, not next week, and that at least 11 kids have signed up so far.  I’m totally not prepared though, so I’m a little worried. At least there aren’t any classes tomorrow because of a countrywide aptitude test, so I’ll have some prep time.

We went to the immigration office today, and the lady finally agreed to take the pictures we had printed off as a good enough picture for my alien registration card. I think they lost my passport, to be honest. She was supposed to attach the picture to my application, which has my passport, and she searched high and low and couldn’t find it... then told my co-teacher that she would do it later. Comforting.

Oh, if you want a really annoying experience, move into a place where the shower is run through the sink, and see how many times a week you forget to switch it back to tap from shower after you finish taking a shower. So far I have forgotten three times, and have soaked myself from head to toe after getting fully dressed for work when I go to wash my hands after eating breakfast. Lovely. Who doesn’t love getting ready for work twice each day?

Friday, March 19, 2010

my first week in korea...

What a relief it was to finally get here, I friggin’ hate flying. Gah. Maybe it’s not so bad when you’re not flying alone. They served Korean food on the flight from Vancouver to Incheon. The first meal was this beef bulgogi type of thing, it was pretty decent for airplane food, I suppose, haha. The second meal was described as “chicken and rice”... it would have been more accurately described as “chicken that will burn your mouth so bad because of all of the peppers that the flavour of it hardly matters.” Thanks for the warning old British air steward. Gah. Aside from the horrendous pile of peppers they strategically hid in the middle of the chicken, it was pretty good.

There must be a school in Seoul called the Acorn School because there was forty kids on that flight, all wearing hoodies that said Acorn School on them. They had to round them all up in Vancouver airport... they had airport stewards driving around in carts stopping little Korean kids and asking if they were from the Acorn School, it was mildly entertaining. I saw a lady that had a bunch of kids all tied together... maybe the Acorn School should have employed that tactic.

I got scolded on the flight by a stewardess for looking out my window. Apparently on flights that long you’re only allowed to have your window open at certain times. I didn’t even have it all the way open, it was just opened enough that I could see down and my head was in front of it. I doubt there was much light getting in.
I believe we flew up through Alaska, because we flew over the pointy islands that pop out at the bottom of Alaska. And there were random other islands that we flew over as well.

I didn’t get to see any of Korea until we had already started our descent. Seoul is friggin’ crazy! Everything is a high-rise, the ground looks like a porcupine, everything is a bunch of islands all connected by bridges! It’s beautiful. And when the plane lands, it looks like you’re landing in water. Incheon airport is insanely huge, and slightly confusing. I’m glad I didn’t know that before I left, or I probably would have panicked. Luckily, almost all (or, at least most) of the important signs here are written in Korean and English (thank god!).

I wish I could have taken pictures out of the airplane, but this place is foggy as hell! Really humid too, even my hair is kind of frizzy! And, unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures in Incheon airport because I had to hurry as fast as I could to find my recruiter so that we could make our bus to Gimpo and the flight to Yeosu.

In order to get from the arrival gate to the baggage pick up and customs and immigration you have to take a train! The airport is so big that you need a train to get places! The baggage pickup was so confusing, you get out of the immigration line up and then you have to figure out what gate to go through to find your luggage, and everything is Korean and it doesn’t say anywhere what plane is unloading where. Luckily, I went down the right escalator. Customs consisted of having to fill out a piece of paper on the plane that tricks you into saying whether you’re bringing in items worthy of quarantine or police involvement. I mean really, if you’re bringing heroin into the country I doubt you’re going to check off on the form that you are. 

The bus drivers drive so fast, and if you’re not careful, they’ll run you over at the bus stop. Everyone here is always in a hurry. My first experience with Korean TV was on the bus... there were people doing martial arts or tai chi or something while they were being smacked with bamboo fans. It was even weirder to see than to hear about. We passed by a sign that had a kangaroo in the circle with a line through it (reference point, the circle from the no parking sign). It was either trying to say that kangaroos were not allowed at that particular crosswalk, or that you are not allowed to hop across the crosswalk... it’s hard to say. Maybe kangaroos have some weird significance in Korea.

The vice principal of the school, one of the teachers from the school, and one of my co-teachers all met me at the airport, and we all crammed into the one teacher’s car and drove to my apartment. I couldn’t believe there were so many people there to meet me! Yeosu is beautiful, even at night. Everything here is so bright, and cute. All of the signs are cartoony and adorable; it’s like living in Hello Kitty. My landlord met us upstairs when we got here, he’s a little old Korean dude who doesn’t speak English, but he’s super nice and funny (maybe unintentionally, but it’s an adorable kind of funny, haha). The principal of the school also met us here, he’s a little old Korean guy who doesn’t speak English either, but he was really nice, and, of course, tonnes of bowing ensued.  I’m not sure what the rule is for who to bow to here, so I pretty much just bow to everyone.

My apartment is really tiny, but not bad. There’s no mold and the doors lock, that’s all I ask for. The bed is a queen size, which I couldn’t believe, and the bedding they gave me is really bright and cute. I have a kitchen table and chairs, and, a hot plate as opposed to a stove; so, definitely no oven. My bathroom is pink. Pink pink. As if Pepto Bismol exploded in there. The shower is the bathroom. It’s just a detachable shower head in between the sink and the toilet. The first shower was really odd, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, haha. At least I remembered to take the garbage can, my towel, and the toilet paper out first. There has to be some way to not get the toilet soaked though... There was nothing in terms of household stuff when I got here, so we went shopping today and my co-teacher told me that I would be reimbursed for what I’ve spent on household stuff as soon as she and I open my bank account. I have a TV though, and it has cable... the landlord was super excited when he showed me that, it was really cute. And the floors are heated! My god I love heated floors!

Oddly enough, there’s at least one English show on every time I’ve flipped through the channels, though, Korean television can be really entertaining, even though I have no idea what they’re saying. I watched people race to see who could wash hedgehogs really clean the fastest (the hedgehogs did NOT enjoy it), and there was an hour long spoof of project runway that was incredibly hilarious. There was one show, though, every time I flicked past it, it was the same two women crying and crying and crying... it think the show was just about those two women crying all day. Korean commercials are really funny though. They make songs and dances for everything, and Korean pop stars and pop bands sell just about everything.  There’s a commercial for face cream where the music for it is just someone counting to twenty in German in a dreamy voice with mystical sort of background music... it was random. I swear Korean TV doesn’t follow the start and end shows on the half hour/hour rule... shows seem to start and stop whenever, and have insanely long commercial breaks between each show. When they do commercials for American shows they make them into movie trailers, it’s the coolest thing, it makes the shows seem way more epic than they really are, haha. And there’s this one commercial for a money lending type of institution or a credit card where these businessmen are friends with a turnip and for some reason the turnip decides to get a haircut, and half of his leaves get trimmed off with clippers, and then him and the businessmen are in a business meeting and all of a sudden they start laughing at him and he gets embarrassed because of his hair and then all of a sudden the businessmen are posing with him for pictures and then he does a little dance. So random. Why a turnip, that’s what I want to know.

We went out for dinner last night (Sunday) at a Bulgogi restaurant down the road from my apartment. You take off your shoes when you come in the door and you sit on cushions on the floor to eat.  It was incredibly delicious, and nothing like the Bulgogi we had in Canada. They bring a hot plate to your table and put a big pot with these spore type mushrooms, huge long strips of beef, some sort of leaves, rice noodles, and a yummy broth, and you cook it yourself. And then! The side dishes! You always get at least six different types of side dishes... it’s insane. Kimchi and then a whole bunch of different things. There was this one, it was egg and some red stuff, and it was so delicious! The food here is spectacular, even though almost everything is in a broth, haha.  My co-teacher and I went out for lunch today (Monday) and I had mandoo (I am only 67% sure that that is the way you spell it). It’s like wonton soup, but it was pork dumplings and rice cakes in a broth. It wasn’t the rice cakes you immediately think of... I wish I could remember their name, but they’re a really dense and thick rice based pasta, I guess, cut into round chunks... it was really delicious. 

Fruit juice here is insanely sweet. I bought a bottle of Minute Made orange juice last night. It said 100% pure on it, but it was more like orange punch than orange juice. It was still good though, it just surprised me. And milk! Holy crap, go to another country and buy milk and see how well you fare. My co-teacher asked me if I wanted just regular milk... figuring regular milk would be like 2% I said yes. I went to put some in my tea today, and regular milk here is pretty much cream. Unexpected.

Even the food here is cute. The cereal mascots are even more cartoony, and the box of tea I bought has the most adorable instructions, it tells you to let the tea steep for 2-3 minutes, sit on a chair and do some leg exercises while you wait, dunk the tea bag 5 times, and then enjoy... and it has adorable diagrams for each step! Oh! And try finding black tea here, holy shit... my co-teacher and the store clerk went on a wild goose chase, and the only black tea we could find was a box of 100 tea bags by Liptons.

My co-teacher and I went to the Korean Wal-Mart, called E-Mart, today (Monday), to get some house stuff. It is crazy. It’s four floors, each floor being ginormous, and you can buy bloody well anything there. I couldn’t believe it. It's like four Wal-Marts stacked on top of each other!

We went to the school today... it’s really huge but quite nice. The school is about a five minute walk from my house, up a giant hill... because EVERYTHING here is a giant hill. Yeosu is literally nestled in a bunch of mountains. It’s beautiful! There’s palm trees! Right behind the school is the university, and the campus looks spectacular; I will definitely need to go wandering around it. Tomorrow’s my first day, but, apparently, English classes do not start until next week. Thank god. I have no idea what I would be teaching tomorrow if they did start tomorrow. I guess I will meet my other co-teachers tomorrow.

The water here is definitely not drinkable unless you boil it first. My co-teacher took me grocery shopping last night, and she asked me if I wanted to buy some water. Knowing me, and how I’m against paying for things that are a fundamental human right, especially water, I asked her if the tap water was drinkable. I may as well have asked her if I could drink out of the toilet with the look that she gave me! All in all, I’m glad I asked, otherwise I wouldn’t have any water for tea. At least bottled water is cheap here; about 750 won for two litres, and if you buy it at E Mart it’s even less.

Today is Tuesday, and it was my first day at work. The first week is all administration stuff. All of the teachers are really nice, though not many of them really speak English. Koreans like coffee the way I do, I found that out today... too much sugar and lots of milk. I thought I was the only one that drank coffee like that! The teachers and I went for gimsap (I’m pretty sure that’s what it was called) for lunch today. It’s basically mackerel and kimchi baked together, and you put the fish, some rice, and red bean sauce on some lettuce leaves and eat it like a wrap. Holy wow it was delicious. It was really cute when we were sitting down, the other teachers kept asking my co-teacher if I could use chopsticks, and whether they should ask for a fork for me, and they didn’t really believe her when she told them I could use chopsticks. That was, until they saw me using them. They told her to tell me how impressed they were.

The ladies I work with are really lovely, and all quite young. On the walk back from lunch they told my co-teacher to tell me that they want to be friends with me and that we will try and communicate with each other as best as we can; I’m trying to establish some phrases so that I can talk to them at least a little. My co-teacher said she would help me.

We had a teacher’s meeting at the end of the day to introduce all of the new teachers, there’s at least ten or twelve new teachers, including me. When they went to introduce me, I have no idea what the principal said, but there were two tables full of younger teachers and they all “awwwed” when he said it... and then started giggling.  I'm going to have to get used to being "awww"ed and giggled at, I think

I had to go for my medical exam today. Talk about efficiency, we were in the hospital for less than twenty minutes, and I had to get seven tests done! At least the lady doing the blood test was nice enough, she didn’t just jam the needle in my arm and dig. I think my co-teacher told her I was afraid of needles though, so that’s probably why.

I went grocery shopping all by myself tonight! I was so proud, I finally built up the courage to go after school. Grocery shopping in a foreign language is slightly intimidating. I bought some kind of pork to cook up for dinner. I recognized the word pork, but had to look up the other word when I got home, and it wasn’t any more helpful even knowing what it was. Peace of mind. Pork peace of mind. What the hell is pork peace of mind?? And I know it wasn’t brains because it didn’t look like brains. It was just a chopped up cut of pork, it cooked up nicely though and was inexpensive. I think my dictionary may be off on some things.

This morning all of the new teachers were introduced to the school over the morning announcements, which are done on a TV... so I had to be on TV... everyone giggles when I do things, I don’t know if I’m doing things wrong and people think I’m silly or if they just find it funny to see foreign people doing things. There was a celebration this morning as well for the arrival of all of the new grade 1 students, we all stood out in the courtyard and wrote messages on post it notes and attached them to helium balloons, and on the principal's count we released them into the sky. There were at least two hundred balloons, it was crazy, and it looked so awesome, watching all of the balloons float off over the high rise apartments by the school... though, I’m pretty sure they all ended up as litter throughout the city.

Today was Wednesday, and, great news, I never have to worry about having to get up early enough to make lunch, the school provides a hot lunch every day! How awesome is that?! Lunch today was great, we had a spicy squid dish (I didn’t know it was squid until my co-teacher told me once I had started eating it... it was so delicious though!), rice (of course), another kind of kimchi that I hadn’t tried yet (I think they have a million types of Kimchi), seaweed soup (which was suspiciously delicious, despite the fact that it was just seaweed and chicken broth), and huge delicious strawberries. I can definitely get used to this, haha.

I haven’t been doing much because I’m not really even sure what grades I will be teaching, but I’ve been going through the first three chapters of the teaching books that I have been given, and studying up on them so I know what they’re all about, just in case.

The teachers here are really nice even though there’s a huge language barrier. One of the older teachers started reading out loud to me from the teacher’s guide I was working from and asked me if he was reading okay, haha. He later offered me his shoes... but it was because, every Wednesday all of the teachers play a volleyball game, and I didn’t know, so I didn’t have shoes. I’ll be ready to make an ass of myself next Wednesday though.

When I left school today one of the other teachers ran after me yelling “Tara Smith! Tara Smith!” at the top of his lungs; he could speak English and he wanted to say hello, and introduce himself. It was pretty cute.

One thing that I have trouble understanding is that, the English teachers here don’t really speak English. I am unsure how they manage to teach English without speaking it. A few of them do speak English, but many do not, or very minimal English... maybe they just speak enough to get by in class and that’s it.  I guess I'll see when classes start.