The First Bad Day

I’d have to say that today was a fairly bad day. It didn’t start out bad, but it got not so great by the end. I woke up way earlier than I needed to as usual, which is good since my phone is essentially dead. I’m still tryin to nail down a converter. Today Michele brought one in and it fit my plug, but it doesn’t fit into the wall sockets here, which completely baffled me. So another day goes by without a converter. I know I said there wouldn’t be another post until I got one, but I found a PC Bang about a block from my apartment.  More on that later.

The last blog was written this morning I think, from the Dunkin Donuts on the corner of my block. I finally found the name of my street out. Buldangchodeong-gil. Try saying that three times fast. If anyone is interested in an address for any reason, e.g. sending me shit in the mail, just contact me through the viable channels and I’ll get back to you. After I wrote the blog, I wasted a little more time by going back home to get some money. I allow myelf ten dollars a day, but honestly, it’s quite easy to live for less than that from day-to-day. Eating out is really cheap here. The bibimbap I had for dinner last night was only four dollars, and it came with the two sides and a bowl of  soup to drink. Pretty filling all considered. There’s tons of little shops like that one all over, and even some street vendors that serve from little cars or trailers or something.

After that I went to the school, Buldang Elementary School, a little early and met Michele and Tileun (I mis-remembered her name in the last one). Tileun’s English name is Jane, but I prefer Tileun. It’s more fun to say. Plus she doesn’t seem very much like a Jane. It’s probably because I associate the name with my grandmother. As usual they worked on whatever for awhile and only talked to me a little. I busied myself with just sweeping up floors and such. Now, Michele and Tileun have made it no secret to me that they have a bit of disliking for Mr. Lee. Coincidentally I learned he’s not actually the president of the school, but something else entirely. I think he tried to tell me that he is an architect today (his English is not particularly good), but he’s also somehow involved with the invention and/or the selling of the program that we use to teach English. Whatever.

The first class of the day was our first graders as usual. There’s actually 28 of them. Most of them are pretty well behaved, but it’s the couple that aren’t that make the class take so much out of you. The group of boys that sit nearest to the door have the greatest temptations to get up and move around, go out the door, play with the curtains, play with the light switches, mess with the thermostat, etc… so I ended up having to lock the door where they couldn’t reach it and stand right next to them to get them to settle down. Even then, one absolutely refused to stay in his seat no matter how many times I physically put him there. It wasn’t that bad though.

Anyway, Michele was pretty honest about how she feels about Mr. Lee. She thinks that he promises too many things to the parents, which causes them to get angry when he doesn’t follow through, and then they take it out on her. She thinks that what he asks of her is impossible. I try to be upbeat and tell her that things will get better, but when she gets depressed about it it’s hard for me not to, just because she looks so sad. Any time Mr. Lee is around she’s either really sad or visibly frustrated. Both Michele and Tileun have said that they are considering quitting, which really only makes me more stressed out about what will happen in the next couple days.

I had lunch at the school for free, which is certainly nice. This week the kids have a class during the time we eat, but I think generally we would be eating with the kids, once the schedule normalizes. It’s just set up as a buffet style lunch and you help yourself to rice, soup, a meat maybe, kimchi, fresh vegetables, spicy paste, and something like pineapple or cherry tomatoes or cookies for dessert. The soup today had octopus in it, which I’d never had before. It was pretty much what I expected. Little to no taste, but really chewy. Actually, the more you chew it the grosser it gets, so it’s best to just give it one or two and then swallow it essentially whole, which isn’t very hard. It’s not bad. Not great, but not bad. The meat today was some really good barbequed beef ribs. One of the cooks just came out and gave a big bowl of it to us to share. The other teachers, Michele, Tileun, and Soohyun (a teacher from Daejeon here for awhile, I think) were eating the ribs with their chopsticks, but I opted to just pop them in my mouth whole and spit the bones out. Worked pretty well.

We had some free time before what I thought would be the next class of the day, but it didn’t come when I expected it to. Mr. Lee came and spent awhile talking about god knows what to Michele, Tileun, and Soohyung, while I just sat there. The actual president of the school came in and he’s pretty intimidating. Not quite elderly, but getting there, and completely expressionless when he talks or looks at you. Impossible to read, which is intimidating enough, but only exacerbated when you only speak enough of their language to order food.

After awhile Soohyun said that she and I were going to another school with Mr. Lee. I’m really unsure of everything that’s going on right now, which made my day so bad. We walked into the school and went to a couple rooms that were being renovated to become English classrooms. Mr. Lee tried to impart to me that he had apparently designed them and was seeing over the finishing touches. He also made it sound like I would be working there when it opened next week, which made me completely uncomfortable. The thought of leaving Buldang really bothers me. I know I’ve only been there three days now, but I like Michele and Tileun and I’ve already become attached to the students, as I said earlier. I felt really bad that I wasn’t there today teaching because I told Arianna that would see her today. I was really looking forward to it.

Instead I spent the entire afternoon simply waiting around in the other school. Mr. Lee left for lunch and left Soohyun and I in the school to wait for him. We chatted a bit and she taught me a couple words and helped me figure out the thermostat in my apartment. I messed around with it on the first or second night I was there, and I think I turned my floor off (I honestly never thought that would be a sentence I would actually have to compose). Mr. Lee came back and there was a near constant stream of mothers coming or going while he talked about the program and pitched it to them. I have no idea how they received it. They would just get up and leave at random points and he would really not even pay that much heed to it. He just kept right on going. For awhile there was one young girl there that said she was 11 and that her name was Sandy that talked to me, but eventually he left with her mother. After that I just kind of stood in the corner and didn’t do much. I couldn’t even tell you for how long because I don’t have a goddamn phone to check the time.

The entire time all I could do was think about how much I would have rather been at Buldang with Michele and Tileun. The thought of having to switch schools was really distressing to me. I didn’t know if I’d be with another teacher or by myelf or what kind of kids I’d be teaching or anything. It was really stressful for me. Right now I only really know three, perhaps now four, people in Korea, so thinking that I’d be separated from them and forced to start all over again upset me. Now I’m not sure what to think. When Mr. Lee was done and Soohyun and I were in the car waiting for him to come out, she said that she thinks she’ll get an apartment nearby there. When she said she was from Daejon, I assumed that meant she was a teacher in Daejon, but I realized that she will be coming to Cheonan to teach, and apparently at the second school I went to today. I suppose if I was forced to switch schools then at least I would know Soohyun, and hopefully we’d be able to work together. Still, I would feel bad about leaving the students at Buldang. Plus the second school is pretty far away. It’s not unwalkable, but it’s not pleasant either.

That’s why I’m not sure about what the fuck I’m exactly going to be doing next week. It doesn’t make sense for them to give me an apartment literally 20 feet from one school, have me start to work there, then have me walk like three miles to another school the next week when the program opens at the second school. They may as well have just waited a week and had me start there. Also, Mr. Lee never explicitly said that I would be working there. He only asked how I thought it compared to Buldang.

What’s worse is that I found out that tomorrow I have to go to Seoul. It seems weird to say that’s “what’s worse” since I’d love to go to Seoul anyway, but it just seems like it’s going to make me way more uncomfortable. Particularly since when Mr. Lee, Soohyun, and I separated, Mr. Lee said that he would buy my ticket for the KTX to Seoul, and Soohyun would be leaving on an earlier train. I don’t know if Mr. Lee is coming with me, or Soohyun will wait for me, but I really don’t know how I’m supposed to know where I’m going otherwise. That makes me a little stressful too. I have to go to Seoul because Heather is coming back to Cheonan (despite the fact that she told me she’d neve do anything for Mr. Lee outside of class again — this is now four people I’ve met that don’t like Mr. Lee) to give a demonstration on the program, presumably to parents, to get them to sign up their children to learn English. So since Heather is coming to Cheonan, I will be going to Seoul to teach her classes for a day. Ugh.

I know I’ve only been here three days, but it would honestly just make a lot more sense to let me do the demonstration. It’s not like it’s particularly hard. Just go to the website and start up one of the stories, have kids repeat after you, ask them questions about what they see on the screen, define vocabulary, etc… And since the parents probably speak even less English than their 5-10 year old kids, I could get up there and pretty much do anything and it would seem impressive. But I guess that they want someone with more experience to do it, which I can’t particularly fault them for, since they are trying to make money. Gotta get paid.

Right after I left the company of Mr. Lee and Soohyun, I went home to change and walked back to the PC Bang, since I saw it on the way to the second school I went to today. Inside is pretty dark and there’s like at least sixty to seventy computers for people to use. I didn’t know how to get onto the computer and asked the guy next to me (when you come in you have to take a card which assigns you a cmoputer to use) and he didn’t understand, but another guy a couple seats down came over to help. He spoke English quite well, and I imagine he’s pretty well into high school. He helped me make an account and even used his own Korean social security number to help me out. When I had to choose a password he even turned away and shielded his eyes, so as not to see what I was typing, which I got a kick out of.  I’ve been here for just about an hour now, and the little ticker still only says 1,000 won, so it’s cheap as fuck to use the computers here. I guess this makes the converter less of an issue, but I do need it for my phone/alarm clock. I’ve been waking up around 6-8 AM every day now, and turning my phone on for just a moment to check the time to make sure I wasn’t going to be late, but I’m still really uncomfortable not having it as a safety net to make sure I will get up on time.

After this I’m not sure if I’ll walk around and explore more or just go eat and then go home. I saw a nice looking park close to the PC Bang that had a big hill. It would make for good pictures, but it’s already 7 PM here, so it’s getting dark and I don’t know if it’ll be worth it. Still, it’s not like I have much to do at home, and it’s much warmer today than yesterday. The snow has already melted for the most part. Part of me also doesn’t know if I want to just play it safe and get more bibimbap from the shop I went to yesterday or get squirrley and just order something I can pronounce and hope for the best. It’s cheap enough that it doesn’t matter a whole lot, but having a meal that isn’t something you like is just so wholly unsatisfying.

A note about Korean culture: Korean cities are completely vertical entities. A block away from my apartment is a large complex of buildings called HighVille, and they’re all apartment buildings that are at least 15 stories tall, though I’ve never stopped to count. On the way to the second school, which was only a ten minute drive, were at least two more such living communities. The entire time I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a building less than four stories tall. I guess it’s just what happens when you’ve got so many people in such a small area.

Also, their culture I think relies on textual advertising a lot more than we do. Everywhere I go the buildings are just covered with banners and signs and writing on windows. It’s overwhelming how much Korean is on every single building. I try to think of places in America that have similar amounts of writing, and I honestly can’t. The only thing that springs to mind is Times Square, but those are mostly pictorial advertisements. Just imagine Times Square covered in nothing but English writing, and now imagine that’s every building on every block. It’s insane.

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One Response to “The First Bad Day”

  1. hope it works out well in seoul. i like being able to read what’s going on. what a great experience you’re having.
    as for leaving favorites – yes, that is hard. but on the other hand, it gives you the opportunity to make new favorites. kids who will melt your heart because they’re so naughty or smart or excitable or have teeny little braces or glitter in their eyeglasses.
    kids are as cute as kittens…
    you’ll do well, and everything will work out fine!

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