A Collection of Thoughts

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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