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.

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