Archive for March, 2010

A Collection of Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 31, 2010 by kingcal

The first piece of news is good news. Today Mr. Lee told me that my ARC and passport came in the mail, so he’s bringing them to school tomorrow. He also knows a man from church (Mr. Lee attends the largest church in South Korea in Seoul every week. One of these days I’ll research and write about it) that owns a cell phone shop in Yawoori, so he’s going to hook me up. Hopefully for the price of free.

Second piece of news is less than great. Lawrence is having a lot of trouble with his contract, which is really stressing him out. He’s saying he may not stay.

Work itself isn’t bad. I get better at dealing with the kids every day. A girl named Jessica is one of my favorites. Monday I pissed her off. It was before class and she was mimicking all my words and facial expressions. At first it was funny, but then when I told her to sit down because it was time to start class and she didn’t stop I lost my patience. When she repeated “One more time and you stand” I didn’t even let her finish before I put her up against the wall. She wasn’t thrilled about that. After class I told her I wasn’t mad, but I’m a teacher so I demand a certain level of respect and obedience. Today though while I was on a break we hung out for like 20 minutes and she taught me some Korean games.

The first is Gawi, Bawi, Bo. Believe it or not, you know this game. It’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Though for scissors they use their thumb and forefinger, so it’s more like Rock, Paper, Gun. There’s also a variation of the game which involves using your feet instead of your hands. Feet spread out side to side is Paper, feet spread out one in front of the other is Scissors, and both feet together is Rock. I taught her and her friend the hand slapping game. I don’t know that there’s a name for it, but one person puts their hands out palm down and the other places theirs palm up, then tries to slap the other person’s hand before they move it. Jessica is one of my favorites. She’s a fourth grader in a class of fifth and sixth graders.

One of my other favorites is a boy named David in my second class of the day. Every day he surprises the shit out of me with his entire scope of knowledge, not even just his English. Yesterday, I was having kids tell me what made a good or bad friend (responses ranged from nice/mean to angel/Hitler/Japan [more on Japanese-Korean relations in another post]) and David said “Conan Doyle”.

Me: You mean Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Like Sherlock Holmes?

Him: Yeah… Why are you smiling at me?

Me: You’re very smart.

Him: Oh, I’m not as smart as Socrates.

Me: … The Greek?

Him: Yeah.

Jesus. I probably know people still in college that don’t know who Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Socrates are. And this kid is in 4th grade.

Today I was having kids spell words. The word was “exciting” and someone forgot the first I, so I corrected them.

Me: “-I-T-I”

David: Haiti.

Me: What?

David: Haiti. The country.

Me: Oh! Haiti! Yes. They just had a very bad earthquake there.

David: Chile, too.

Me: Yes, they did. Do you get earthquakes here?

David: No, but we’ve had 26 wars. The last was…

And then he proceeded to rattle off facts about the duration of the Korean War. I swear. This kid is something really incredible.

Today Arianna brought in what she called ‘fire eggs’ and gave me two. They were brown chicken eggs, and they felt hard-boiled, but they had kind of a funky smell to them. I opened one up and the egg white was brown, and instead of being the normal oval shape, it was flat on one end, like the egg wasn’t filled up all the way.Later Michele told me it was because they were grilled instead of boiled in water. So naturally all the liquid sat at the bottom of the egg. I guess this method is also what makes the egg white brown. It tasted pretty normal, aside from the funky smell.

When I took pictures of all my classes I neglected to snap a picture of one, and I haven’t really felt like taking my camera back to school. It’s another first grade class. I spend the first hour of teaching half an hour with one room of first graders, then the second half of the hour I go across the hall and switch out with Michele, just because there are so many first graders it’s how we have to do it. I think it’s worth getting a picture of them though. The class has a girl in it that reminds me of a five year-old, Asian Sarah Silverman. I can tell she’s bright and she does well in class, but if she almost never speaks English to me, and when I don’t understand what she’s saying in Korean she gets frustrated and starts saying something that I can tell is real negative about me. It also has quite the trouble maker in it. I got his name from Michele, so today when he was acting up I screamed “Sin Seung Bin!” He sat right down and had a “Oh Jesus fuck, he knows my name” look on his face. All the other kids got a kick out of it.

I don’t ever really talk Korean to or in front of the kids. The main problem is that if they think/know I speak Korean, they’ll abandon trying to use English to me. Also, if you speak Korean to them, their parents will find out and call and bitch at the Korean teachers, so I do it out of courtesy to them, too. But they all know I know some Korean. They just don’t know how much. I occasionally write something on the board in phonetic Korean, or I respond to really simple phrases. Plus sometimes they just teach me Korean words because they think it’s fun. I think it’s not bad. It keeps them from really letting loose with Korean in class because they’re unsure of how much I’ll understand. Especially since I’ve caught several of them for saying the mother of all Korean cuss words – shilba. It’s akin to our F-bomb.

Like I said, over the weekend I got some Korean lessons from Michele, I went to a study group on Sunday morning, and again to another one Monday night after work. My Korean has already gone up a ton from the three meetings. I also downloaded some Girls’ Generation, so while I’m making flashcards or practicing writing Korean sentences I’ll listen to that. I remember in high school my German got a lot better after I started listening to Rammstein.

Telling time in Korean is a sonofabitch. First of all, AM/PM goes before the time. Korean also has two number systems. Native Korean numbers are used for counting under 100, and a system based off of Chinese is for large numbers. The hour is in Native Korean (and I don’t know more than one through three since I haven’t really sat down and tried to learn them, but I have them written down), followed by the word for hour, then Sino-Korean number followed by the word for minute.

Also, unlike English, which relies on a strict system of word order for the language to make sense, Korean word order is very liberal. As long as the verb is at the end, there’s really no system for placing words. Instead, the particles at the end of a word tells you what is doing the actor in a sentence, what’s being acted on, when something is, where something is, etc… which is pretty radically different from most other languages. That’s the toughest part, but it’s also only really needed for complicated sentences, and I’m not there yet. For really small sentences when it’s obvious what you’re talking about, most of the time you can just say a verb and that’s it.

In other news, if you want to lose weight, come to Korea. I don’t know how much exactly, but I can tell I’ve lose a significant amount of weight in the last three and a half weeks. I’m on the last notch in my belt, and I can go a bit past it. A couple nights ago I was laying in bed trying to get to sleep, and I rubbed my side because it was a little sore. I was half asleep and actually woke myself up all the way. I could feel my ribs. Not just the ribcage, but individual ribs. It’s been a long time since I could say that. Sometimes when clothes fit different or people say that I look like I’ve lost weight I chalk it up to wishful thinking/politeness, but that’s about as solid proof as it gets.

That’s not to say I’m going hungry either. Almost every meal I eat, I eat until I’m stuffed to the rafters. It’s pretty common to almost feel like I’m going to throw up from eating too much. Not so much anymore, but I have the habit of feeling like I have to finish everything in front of me, so I’d always try to finish everything at dinner. Sometimes it’s literally just not possible, even with four people. The side dishes, or banchan, don’t look like much, but they definitely fill you up. And still I’m eating myself thin. It’s not hard when every meal consists of rice, vegetables, a little broth, and a little meat. I always thought that meals without a significant portion of meat couldn’t be satisfying (my main argument against vegetarian/veganism) but now I see that’s not the case. Of course, a big serving of meat is always great, and there are places to go here if that’s what you’re interested in, but the bulk of meals don’t really focus on it.

Also, today I’ve seen a shit ton of white people. I’m probably up to like 15 now. I usually only see one or two or a group of three. I don’t know where they’re all coming from. I’m not even sure if I like it. Sometimes I kind of like being the only white person around. It’s an interesting mechanic suddenly being turned into a minority. I wouldn’t ever be so gauche as to say that I know how minorities feel now, particularly since the cultural and racial climates in America and Korea are drastically different, but it’s interesting. I always feel like I have to represent myself well. I don’t necessarily try to prove that all white people aren’t what South Koreans expect. I’m sure there are a lot of Americans that are exactly what South Koreans expect. I just want to show that I’m not one of them.

This weekend might be a busy one. Mr. Lee insists on taking me to Seoul (probably the closest place we can find clothes in my size here) to buy a jacket for me.  Hopefully we’ll also get me a phone and a bank account, and perhaps start the ball rolling on getting Internet in my place. Michele has been really sick the past two days, so if she doesn’t get better we probably won’t meet on Saturday for a lesson. I’ve got the language exchange group on Sunday. I really like it. It’s a good group. One of the Koreans in the group is named Kim Chang Gi, but he also goes by the English name Vito (which is a brave choice since the V sound doesn’t exist in Korean). He also came to the Monday language group and I spent the entire time working with him and one other Korean (he told us just to call him Beom).

Both of them are married. Chang Gi is 30 and Beom is 25 years old. Koreans tend to get married pretty early. There’s a lot of pressure to get married, particularly for women, by the time you’re thirty. Michele isn’t seeing anyone currently, and she told me her parents are always trying to set her up with someone’s son. Her response is “If they’re 27-32 and aren’t already married and their parents are trying to get them to meet me, then what’s wrong with them?”

What’s wrong with them, indeed.

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Snug in Bed, While Visions of Korean Verb Conjugations Danced in His Head

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 28, 2010 by kingcal

Friday after work, Lawrence was in a drinking state of mind, and I’ve never been one to let someone drink alone, so we went to a Hof and had a couple bottles of soju with our meal. I don’t remember exactly the name of it, but it was pork and octopus. I really like octopus. Afterward, we stopped at a convenience store and I got some more soju and drank it straight out of the bottle. J came over to our place and more soju was bought and consumed. I thought I was okay and not too drunk, but then I went from standing on the street to waking up in bed. Oops. I guess it crept up on me.

Saturday morning I had my first bus adventure. I made plans to meet Michele for a Korean lesson. I accidentally got off a couple stops too early because everyone got off, so I thought the bus driver was kicking people off. I realized they were just ALL going to the train station, so I ended up waiting 20 minutes for another bus. Finally got the right place, met Michele and we had lunch, then stopped at a milkshake/smoothie place and she taught me Korean for like two hours. At first it was a little overwhelming, but when I got home I reviewed it and listened to some podcasts from talktomeinkorean.com, over the same stuff Michele had taught me and it got a lot more manageable. After Friday night and knowing I needed to be up early Sunday for the language group I didn’t go out Saturday night. I had a hard time getting to sleep because I kept thinking about how to conjugate verbs. Probably the single lamest reason to not be able to sleep.

Woke up late because I set my alarm for 8:30 PM. Oops. Still made it to the language group on time. There were only two Koreans there, but their English was better than I expected. I went with Lawrence, and J showed up a little late because he had to eat. The woman who is running the Sunday morning group’s name is Amy. She’s been in Korea for five years and she boxes professionally. She’s literally the only white female boxer in the entire country. It’s like knowing a real celebrity, haha. She’s married to a Korean boxer, too. Probably gave me the firmest handshake I’ve ever received from a lady. It was the first meeting, so it was just kind of a gathering to tell everyone what to expect from future meeting, but I already have homework. After this I’m probably going home and ironing my clothes and spending a couple hours practicing Korean. In the past 24 hours my Korean has already gone up by about a million percent. I can now speak in more than just standard phrases and can form simple sentences in present and past tense.

There’s another weekly meeting tomorrow night that J runs that’s a little less structured than Amy’s meetings, but I’ll probably be going with Lawrence. It looks like I might be going to three meetings for Korean a week: Saturday for a one-on-one with Michele, a structured meeting on Sunday morning, and a more informal open conversation and question time on Monday nights. Amy also hooked me up with some Korean textbooks that she said are really good, so I’ll look through those and then buy my own copies since she still needs hers. Anyway, I need to get started looking up words and practicing my writing so I’ll take off.

Pictures from Buldangdong

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 28, 2010 by kingcal

I’ll start by explaining a little bit about Buldangdong. I live in the city of Cheonan, but every couple blocks of the city have different names. I live in Buldangdong. It’s kind of like saying Buldang neighborhood. I learned today that Buldang is actually a pretty rich part of Cheonan because of all the development going on, which I’ll get to in a bit.

This is a little strip of shops about a minute walk from my apartment. The red and yellow sign with the awning that sticks out is a Kim Bap shop. I eat there almost every day. Cheap, fast and delicious. I don’t want to say it’s Korean fast food, since the quality is much higher than what we think of as fast food, but it’s a chain of restaurants. Each franchise is different. This one is run by one woman with a couple girls under her, so it’s closed on Sundays, but some are open 24 hours. It just depends on who runs it. Also in this block is a butcher shop, pharmacy, eye glasses shop, bank, and the Dunkin Donuts (heretoafter DnD) is on the corner.

My DnD that I stop at near daily.

The following pictures demonstrate the amount of development going on. All of them are on the three opposite corners around DnD.

You can imagine the sheer number of kids that live in these apartment buildings. Each apartment block takes up and entire square city block. All of them are 10-15 stories tall. Around 7:30 AM the corners around DnD are just a river of kids.

Cheonan Buldang Elementary School has over 2000 kids, which is large, even by Korean standards. Of course, there isn’t just one school in the area.

This is a middle school less than a block from Buldang Elementary.

The area’s high school directly next door to the middle school.

Cheonan Seodang Chodeung Hakgyo – Cheonan (city) Seodang (neighborhood/school name) Elementary School, right next to the high school. If you stand on the right corner you can literally see all four schools left to right. Two elementary schools, too.

Just behind the row of schools is the hill I mentioned, so let’s check it out.

If you don’t feel like reading all that, essentially the hill is a historical site where they excavated and restored a dwelling and burial site from the Bronze Age (800-400 BC).

This appears to be a burial site. There’s nothing to show the scale well, but these were definitely small people. Now Koreans are much bigger. I’ve seen Korean guys taller than I am. Old women are positively hobbit-esque in height. Until after the Korean War, South Korea was extremely poor, but it ha developed very quickly in the last 60 years. I think improved nutrition is a big reason for the discrepancy between the size of old Koreans and young Koreans.

Just a straw hut.

I can’t be quite sure, but I’m pretty sure this is the Bronze Age village toilet.

Bronze Age dwelling, or cock with lop-sided balls? You decide.

Last hut.

After I walked around the historical site I walked about three blocks in the opposite direction and came kind of to the edge of the developed part of Buldangdong. All of the following pictures were taken from the same corner:

Just to give an idea of the huge size of the area that’s completely under construction.

Way in the back the long building is the KTX/subway station from behind. While it’s technically finished in that trains are running, the area in front of the station is still under construction to finish the fancy sculptures and fountains and such. I didn’t want to spend half an hour walking over there to take a picture or two, but it’s going to look futuristic as hell when it’s done.

The first two in this block of three are just the beginnings of new apartment blocks. The last I’m not sure about, but it’s absolutely massive. Probably a shopping mall or some such. Also, closer to the train station there’s a place called Y City under construction. It’s half apartment buildings, half gigantic shopping mall. Again, though, didn’t feel like walking that far.

Lastly are some picture I took in Yawoori, the downtown shopping district of Cheonan. I was on the fifth floor of the Galleria Mall there and found a smoking patio that offered a really nice view of the strip.

The Cheonan Bus Terminal is right where all the taxis are in the first picture. When Lawrence called Mr. Lee to let him know where he was all he said was “In the bus station next to the mall” before the phone cut out. The problem is that the bus station is basically a basement under a mall that’s like three city blocks long.

I was in Yawoori early this morning to meet up with some people in a Korean-English language exchange group, but I’ll talk about that more in the next post.

Meet Me in the Morning, 56th and Wabashaw

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 25, 2010 by kingcal

I’ve finally learned more about the gigantic story that’s been in the news recently. South Korea’s relationship with the death penalty is a conflicted one. South Korea is the only country to have elected a president that had previously been condemned to death row. In 2000, the same man won the Nobel Peace Prize, and has been equated with Nelson Mandela. Last month Korea’s Constitutional Court (their U.S. Supreme Court) upheld the death penalty, which the previous president had overturned. As a result, the new breaking story in Korea is directly related. The man who I had previously mentioned that raped and killed a 13 year old girl happens to be a repeat sex offender that had been freed and unsupervised because of a loophole. Some groups oppose the move to re-instate the death penalty, but the news coverage gives me the intense feeling that the majority of South Koreans are all for it. I for one can’t blame them. While I do believe every person has the right to life, I think committing such a violent and senseless crime, which robs someone of their own right to life, voids one’s own. More specific information can be found at: http://speakingkorea.com/?p=1163

In lighter news, I too have found my vindictive side. I think anyone that knows me knows that I’m not one for yelling and arguing and confrontation. At first, this made it a little hard to find ways to discipline and punish kids when they crossed the line. Mr. Lee encourages me to hit/spank the kids, but I’m reluctant to raise my hand against a child. Not because there aren’t times when I don’t want to, but because I think it’s a quite thin line to walk. I think it’s terribly easy to think that you haven’t hit/spanked a child quite hard enough to make one’s point made, and in trying to find a more appropriate level a line is crossed. Then again, lots of times yelling just didn’t quite cut it. So what’s a guy to do?

Talking to someone online gave me a fantastic idea. A lot of times when I yell something, especially with the young kids, they just smile and repeat it, pretending they don’t understand when they know damn well that they shouldn’t be doing whatever it is that they’re doing. So whenever I’m in the punishing mood, I don’t get mad or yell. In fact, I get quite calm. I walk over to them, tap them on the shoulder and with a blank face just say “Up.” There are various degrees of cooperation, and it’s not uncommon for me to have to pick up a kid from their chair, but they get up. Then I walk them over to wall, put both my hands on my head and say, “Stand.” It’s almost like a prisoner of war stance. It’s really more about embarrassing them in front of everyone than anything else.

I have only really used it on the youngest kids for running around, yelling, fighting, etc… but I did use it on one fourth grader. The class was being particularly noisy, and I kept having to say “Be quiet!” One of the girls just blurted “be quiet!” back in a really snotty, mocking voice. Something inside me just snapped and I got really mad, but in a quiet, intense way. She was one of the ones that refused to get up, so I had to lift her from the chair. Oh, the look she gave me was just all the evil she could muster. And I liked it. All the kids immediately got very quiet, and one of them asked “You are mad?” My response was “Yes. I am mad. And if you don’t be quiet, you’ll stand, too.” Now most of the disciplining I do just consists of me saying “You do that one more time and you stand” while I lace my fingers over the top of my head. Gratifyingly effective.

I’m supposed to come up with a syllabus for each month now. I’ve never done anything like that, so I’m a little confused, but I’m going to have Mr. Lee e-mail me an example that I can work off of. It will definitely make it easier to have a plan instead of just walking in every day and being like “Well hell, what am I going to do today?” It’s particularly tough for the young ones.

Today two of the classes started a new story called Why The Birds’ Bills are Different.  So after listening to the story once, all we did was talk about different kinds of birds. I just asked them what kind of birds they knew, then spelled it out and had them come and draw it on the board. We recently had some cool motion-sensor stuff installed in the classrooms. It essentially means instead of using markers and having to turn to the computer to press the next button, etc… we can just use the special pointer things to simulate a mouse, draw on the board, etc… and the kids love it. Then once it was drawn I’d spend a couple minutes asking about where the birds lived, what they ate, etc… They don’t even know they’re learning.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend. I’m meeting Michele on Saturday afternoon to start getting some Korean learning down. Sunday I’ve also got some meeting planned with the group Lawrence’s friend J started for Korean-English learning. Looking to be a productive weekend. Next week all my classes should be on new books. Also, we’re moving to a story every two weeks instead of every month. There aren’t words for how great that makes me feel. They started a week before I got here, and three weeks alone of “What does the deer say? ‘Brr! It is cold!'” is enough to make me want to end my own life. The kids are also visibly bored with it. Half the time I go to open a story there’s a loud chorus of “nnnnoooooooooooooooooooooooo.”

Sunday I’m making a point of going out and taking pictures. There’s still the mysterious hill I mentioned climbing two weeks ago that I need to take pictures of. I think the easiest of my other projects to do would also be the construction going on around Cheonan. You may think you know, but prepare to have your socks blown off.

Living in ‘A Comfortable Place Under Heaven’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 23, 2010 by kingcal

Monday I learned that Cheonan means ‘a comfortable place under heaven’ and I couldn’t agree more with that. If you wonder how such a complicated idea can be expressed in such a short word, Korean seems to be fond of dropping unnecessary words and just giving the bullet points, so you have to fill in the obvious blanks. Cheon means ‘heaven’ and an means ‘comfortable’ according to Mr. Lee, so cheonan can mean ‘a comfortable place under heaven’.

Other interesting words:

Last week when I was traveling to Daejon for the first time Mr. Lee pointed out an on-going joke in Korean about the word ‘digital’. Apparently, this is quite close to the word dwejital, which means ‘pig hair’. So it’s common for ads to say something like “dwejital? NO! Digital!” I got a kick out of it.

Monday after my first class I went back to Daejon, quite thankfully for the last time. All of my ARC issues have been taken care of, and I should be getting it back in the mail with my passport this week. This was largely the source of my anxiety I mentioned in the last post. Mr. Lee said last Friday it would be solved “in a month”, which confused and worried me, but I think he simply misspoke. I was worried about whether I would be paid if I couldn’t work, how I’d send money back to my US bank account to pay bills, etc… but now it’s a non-issue. Also, them having my passport made me feel a little trapped, cornered, etc… but when J said they have his too it made me feel better. Not like they were holding onto it so I couldn’t skip the country or something, haha.

Mr. Lee was in such a particularly good mood after leaving the immigration office that he took me for dinner. We had sundaegukbap. Guk is the native Korean word for ‘soup’, bap is Korean for ‘rice’, and sundae is ‘pig intestine’. Throw it all together and you get ‘pig intestine soup with rice’. It’s actually quite good. I’ve had it twice now and they were both at the same restaurant in Daejon, so I think Mr. Lee really likes it. During dinner I realized the enormity of a mistake a made earlier in the day.

I had called Michele and Jieun my sunbae, and they thought I was trying to say sundae. When they said something about sausage I was really confused, but Lawrence explained that I meant seonbae. That little vowel change makes quite the difference. I went from calling someone a ‘pig intestine’ to using the proper respectful term for someone at work more experienced than you are.

A quick lesson on Korean vowels:

A – always like A in ‘father’

EO – sounds like AW in ‘saw’

E – as in E in ‘set’

AE – sounds like A in ‘cape’

I – always the -EE sound

O – always a long O, as in ‘rope’

U – the O sound as in ‘moon’

EU – This is hard to describe. It’s not quite O or U, but more of a sound made in the throat. Kind of grunt-y.

As far as vowels go, Korean letters never change sound, so it’s much easier than English. In rare cases consonants will have slightly different sounds spoken than written, commonly switching a B/P to an M sound. However, for the most part, Korean is completely phonetic, the only exception being the -NG letter. No Korean syllable can be written starting with a vowel, so the -NG letter acts as a silent placeholder. For instance, an is written ngan in Korean and the -NG is simply unpronounced.

Anyway, after dinner he drove to Gongju, his hometown and the former capital of ancient Korea, due to its proximity to a large river. He showed me an apartment building he used to live in, the local Buddhist temple, the ancient king’s castle, a mountain he climbed, the Gongju National University, and the church he went to. When we finally got back to Cheonan he took me to meet his family. I talked with his wife for awhile over oranges, hard-boiled duck eggs, and some pretty delicious homemade wild strawberry wine. I met his youngest daughter (second grade) and his youngest son briefly (high school junior). His oldest daughter just started her first year in Seoul National University (the best university in the country), and his oldest son is in his first year of law school, so they both live away from home.

After meeting his family we we met a friend of his who adds the online content to the website we use to teach. He’s getting his doctorate in Mobile Media English Learning, (podcasts and such), so he spoke quite well. We went to Jjokki Jjokki, a local hof and had some beer and beer food. It was pretty good overall. I just had to walk home, which took like 15 minutes, but it wasn’t bad. It was a good idea in my first week to walk around a lot and get my bearings, otherwise I would’ve been screwed because I didn’t have any cash on me. I didn’t spend a dime all day and got essentially three meals, some beer, and Mr. Lee gave me a wind-breaker of his so I wouldn’t have to wear my shitty maroon jacket to school.

Korean compliments are often double-sided. For instance, on Friday on the way back to Cheonan from Daejon, out of nowhere, Mr. Lee said “In your picture to look fatter.” He then sucked in his cheeks and made an in motion, to signify that now I seem skinner. Thanks, I guess? He also always offers to buy me a suit/suit jacket because I need to ‘look good’ to teach, which kind of implies I look like shit now, but it’s still a kind notion.

On the drive to Daejon Monday, Mr. Lee said that the principal likes me. I’m really relieved to hear that. To be honest, the principal intimidates the shit out of me. Mr. Lee said that the principal said I’m a ‘good man, look like a gentleman, pure, look handsome/European (this is the most confusing to me), kind man,” etc… and that he thinks I’m a good teacher. That really takes the pressure off.

Today was pretty normal. I did something new with the kids. The website we use always reads the sentence on the screen first, so sometimes I wonder how much of their reading is just regurgitating what they hear. Today I left the sound off and had each kid take turns reading the lines on the screen. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course each class had one or two students that either can’t read well or were refusing to, but most of them were quite good at reading.

There’s a ton of stuff I want to talk about all the time. I want to dedicate a post to Korean currency, once I’m a bit more able to research it and take pictures. I want to talk about the scale of construction in Cheonan. Being from Ohio, something is always under construction, but it pales in comparison to what’s going on here. I want to go to the Independence Movement Museum this weekend, but Michele says it’s hard to get to and that I’ll get lost on my own. I’m not quite sure what I’m doing this weekend. Mr. Lee said there may be the regular once a month teacher training Saturday morning, or perhaps next weekend. He also invited me to Busan (second largest city in South Korea, the extreme SE corner of Korea) for a conference. It’d mean a chance to travel and avoid probably all the cost, so I don’t know if I can turn it down, though other things are higher on my priority list right now. Michele also said she could meet with me on the weekends to tutor me in Korean, which would really speed up my learning.

Saturday Night in Seoul

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by kingcal

I don’t want to talk much about Friday. The day itself was really stressful. Now the problem seems a lot less overwhelming, but I don’t really want to talk about it either. Mr. Lee could tell I wasn’t happy, and kept assuring me that he’d make sure everything was taken care of, and I trust that it will be. To make matters worse, we ran late coming back from Daejon and ended up getting on the wrong train, which was non-stop to Seoul, so we passed right through Cheonan.We didn’t even buy a ticket, just ran on. But then in an unprecedented fashion, the one time I don’t have a ticket is the one time an usher is actually checking for them. Mr. Lee explained and bought tickets from him, then the necessary tickets from Seoul back to Cheonan, so it was essentially a non-issue, but it did give me quite the sinking feeling in my stomach, particularly after the day I had.

We picked up the new teacher at the bus station. It was another small adventure trying to find him. All he said was he was at the bus station next to the mall before the pay phone cut out on him. The problem is that the bus station is in a mall, so the directions weren’t particularly helpful. His name is Lawrence and he’s from Texas. First night we just went to a dinner with Mr. Lee. We had samgyeopsal, which is just slices of pork that you cook yourself on a little stove top built into the table. It comes with all manner of banchan, including raw garlic cloves, raw jalepenos, raw mild onions, kimchi, etc… Also with the meal came a very thick egg soup. It was basically just an egg whisked in a bowl with water and boiled with some vegetables in it. It was kind of like an omlette, but a little fluffier, and it came in a bowl.

Afterwards I took Lawrence to a PC Bang since it was late at night and he wanted to get in touch with his family, etc… Didn’t do much of anything after that since I was exhausted, but he explored on his own.

The next morning we got up and went to Dunkin Donuts and he got in touch with a friend he knew from Texas that actually only lives like two stops away on the subway, so after much confusion and discussion about which station should be gotten off at, we decided to meet up. Little did I know that this would lead to a night of clubbing in Seoul, so I only started with 20,000 won on me, which is approximately no money in Seoul clubs. The friend’s name is Jamarian, but people just call him J. Later in the night when I was a little buzzed I couldn’t help but tell him that he looked exactly like Mos Def with facial hair.

After like ten minutes of meeting we decided to catch the KTX to Seoul to meet another of Lawrence’s friends from home that lives in a northern Seoul district called Chandong. It only took half an hour by KTX to Seoul station and then another 20-30 minutes from the subway to her place, which is less than a block from the station, so it’s super convenient. Her name is Sid, and she’s had a rough go. She’s only been in Korea a month, but she’s already had some creepy drunk guy chase her and her friends around and her wallet stolen just two nights ago, so she was a little stressed. Obviously, the thing to do was to go clubbing and blow some steam off. Another teacher from her school, Mike joined us.

I felt awful not having any money on me, since I literally met the four people that day and they were already paying for food and drinks and my bar cover at the second place. I guess I’ll just have to treat them when they come to Cheonan. We spent a little time going to the clubs they had been to the night before to see if anyone had turned in her wallet, but no luck, so we jumped on the subway for a couple stops and went to the Hongdae district. Hongdae is the area right around Hongik University, so it’s a gigantic party scene in Seoul. It’s one of the places to go to party. Of course this makes it expensive as hell. I’m not one quickly or unnecessarily parted from my money, and particularly when it puts me into other people’s debt, so I didn’t have nearly enough to drink to get what I’d call anything close to drunk, but I still had a great time.

The first bar we went to was called The Ho Bar. I’m unsure of what exactly the owners intended with the name, but it is quiet easily lended to jokes. It was a Western bar (meaning American, not cowboys) so lots of white people. It was a decently chill place. Crowded, but not terribly so. Just stayed for a couple beers and shots before we left for a place called NB2 (Noise Basement is a bar that is apparently so popular it requires two locations to service its patrons).

We got separated from Mike on the way, and Sid ended up approaching a random group of five Korean girls who said hi to us as we passed to ask for directions. We left them, but Sid kept asking for more directions and they eventually caught up with us and went to NB2 with us. It was a 15,000 won cover to get in, which made me feel awful for J having to pay it for me. The club was absolutely insane. It was a hiphop club, which basically just meant what we would think of as a club where you go to dance. The place had three levels and was absolutely packed. Just wall to wall people going nuts. J and I stayed with the Korean girls for an hour and a half or so, while Sid went and did her own thing and Lawrence played the oppa role.

In Korea, they’re absolutely nuts for titles. Every person has a title that depends on a lot of factors. It depends on your age, their age,  work/personal relation, your gender, their gender, etc… Oppa is a term for a younger female to use towards an older male very informally. It’s generally reserved for older brothers and very close friends. Eoni is similarly the way to address an older female from a younger female very informally. Again, older sisters and close friends, generally. Sunbae is a general term for anyone more experienced than you in your work place that’s more polite than a friendly basis. Technically Michele, Jieun, Mr. Lee, etc… are all my sunbae. I don’t know the terms for male relations yet, since the only reason I know these is because Sid uses them a lot.

Anyway, as the night wore on, Lawrence decided things might be getting a little too PG-13 for him, so we decided to all leave NB2 and go home. Now, this didn’t mean Cheonan. Subways and trains stop running at midnight. Luckily clubs in South Korea don’t close until 7 AM, so it’s entirely routine for people to stay up until 5 AM drinking, if not later, until the train begin running again to go home. Taxis nearly double in price after midnight as a consequence, so the ride to Sid’s was like 30,000 won. Just another portion of money I have to pay back to J.

The ride was pretty hysterical, and it was almost all captured on camera, so we re-watched it this morning. Some of it was a little embarrassing, but nothing life changing. I actually only said two things in the half hour ride, one of them being “that’s what she said” so I luckily didn’t make any terrible faux pas with the new friends. We got home and to bed around 4 AM, and I slept on the floor since Korean apartments are generally small and bare for single people. I did eventually move to a bed mat once it was vacated in the early morning, but still ended up getting up at like 8 AM. We watched Zombieland (it’s quite easy to find pirated DVDs for like four for 10,000 won)  and chatted a little before I left.

I managed to find my way all the way from Chandong to Cheonan by myself. It was fairly simple, with only one transfer. I did run into a minor set back when three stops from home the train decided to reverse direction. An old Korean woman that came on to sweep up the train said something to me, but I didn’t understand. So I just went back one stop and got back on the same train going the direction I needed. Since I had spent my last 4,000 won on some soju at a Hof (place where one can drink, but ordering the Korean equivalent of bar food is required) I didn’t have any money for a taxi from the station. I’ve found my great sense of direction to be incredibly useful. It ended up being about a half hour walk from the station to my apartment.

I left Sid’s place around 10:20 AM, and got home just after 2 PM, so it was essentially a 3 hour 40 minute trip, all setbacks included. The upshot was that it only cost like three bucks to ride the train that long. Not a bad trade off. I took a quick shower since I was pretty gross after clubbing and sleeping on a floor, then headed to the Dunkin Donuts to write this and check up on my stuff. Lawrence said he had to meet some friend of the family, so he went and did that with J. J lives quite close, so they should come back nearly all the way together. I’m not terribly concerned about Lawrence being able to find his way home even though it is only like his first 36 hours here, haha.

One last thing. Here there are cards called T-money cards, which are essentially pre-paid credit cards you can use for subway trains (not KTX unfortunately), buses, some taxis, and at several convenience store trains. J showed Lawrence and I how to buy them at Seoul station on the way to see Sid. It only takes about three seconds and it’s crazy convenient.

Sorry about the gigantic pictures. I forgot to resize them and I don’t want to do it now since I’m kind of in a hurry to get dinner since it’s almost 5 PM and I haven’t eaten yet today. Also pictured is my entrance ticket from NB2. I didn’t realize until this morning that it doubles as a coupon for a free drink, otherwise I certainly would’ve used it.

I’m Sailing Away in the Morning, Is There Something I Can Send You from Across the Sea, From the Place I’ll Be Landing?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 18, 2010 by kingcal

If anyone is interested in reading more about Korea than just my daily going-ons, then check out these two blogs, they’re my favorites:

jasoninkorea.wordpress.com – He updates pretty much daily with some pictures of amusing Korean culture, and his muscle in brevity is much more handsomely maintained than my own.

speakingkorea.com – Two bloggers that have been here much longer than I have and deal with a bit more in-depth and lesser known aspects of Korean culture. A bit more serious in tone.

Yesterday I ended up teaching, though I was expecting to be traveling. Couldn’t get permission to leave. I was really not in the mood. Tuesday had blown me out. Really rough day. The irony of me bitching about not being able to teach, and then complaining about teaching and how tiring it is are not lost on me. It wasn’t too bad though. Nothing of real note to talk about.

This morning I woke up at 7:30 AM to drive to Daejon with Mr. Lee. It was a mostly good drive. He made me a little uncomfortable asking me if I believed in Jesus and if I’d go to church with him, but the rest of it was better. I told him the PC names we have for people of different races in America, talked about Obama and American politics, taught him the word ‘fart’ (he rather ungraciously lifted a cheek and let one rip in the car, I suppose that’s not a thing here). We got to the Immigration and after like half an hour of waiting and arguing found out I couldn’t get my ARC because technically foreigners aren’t allowed to work full-time. This means my contract is being revised and we’re going back tomorrow. This doesn’t mean I’ll be working any less, just that the contract they give the Immigration Office will say I work less. While not strictly legal, I don’t really care, because I don’t even work 40 hours and I receive a more than livable wage here. I may have to go to a hagwon a couple times a week though, which would have me working until 9 PM, instead of the 6:10 PM I’ve been finishing at so far. Though he did say that instead of coming in at 10 AM I could start coming in at 1 PM though, so it balances out. I’ll still probably come in a little early to chill with Michele and Jieun and get a free school lunch.

Got back to Cheonan just in time to start teaching. My first grade class was a bit better than usual. I’ve just got the one or two trouble makers, and the boys in back who like to push the benches together to make a bed, which makes not paying attention even easier, so I spend half of my time walking back there to straighten them out.

Rest of the day was pretty routine. I’m starting to really get used to the flow of things, and I think my teaching improves every day. That said, I can absolutely not wait for the weekend. I’m tired as hell. I stayed up too late Tuesday watching Korean movies, had to get up way too early today, and I’ll have to get up early again tomorrow. A chance to sleep in will be fantastic. I don’t have plans as of yet, but earlier in the week Michele offered to take me to the Korean Independence Museum in Cheonan and to karaoke, or norebong in Korean, with her friends sometime, so perhaps maybe that. Even if I don’t do anything but sit in bed all day though, I’d be satisfied. I’m ready to relax.

The new foreign teacher should be arriving in Cheonan around 6 PM tomorrow, so hopefully Mr. Lee will allow me to accompany him to meet the guy. I think it’s as much for the guy as it is for me. It would’ve been nice to have an American welcome me to Korea and just know that someone was there. Also, I do need someone to talk to. It’s not that I feel lonely. I just feel the need to communicate. Both Jieun and Michele speak nearly fluently, but it’s not the same. A lot of the idiosyncrasies of American English are lost on them. More than anything, I miss just being able to communicate complex and abstract thoughts to people. I imagine it’s hard for anyone in a new country, but being an English major, I feel like it hits me harder. I’m quite used to being a wordsmith, if you will, so constantly having to speak slowly and unidiomatically  (I may have perhaps just invented a word) is really draining sometimes.

That being said, it’s not like I never see other white people around. I see one or two a day. I just never talk to them. It seems odd to just approach someone and be like “Hey. I’m white, too. What’s up?” I saw some white woman in school today at a computer in an office, so I’m pretty sure she works there, which gives me an easy in. Unfortunately I was just getting a drink in the middle of class, so I couldn’t stop.

I have to cut it off here, since I didn’t charge my laptop after all my movie watching. I’ll do my best to cut down on the day-to-day crap and just hit the important bullet points. Sometimes I feel like my English degree just gave me a license for long-windedness.