Two Big Steps Towards Normal

Monday was a really long day. I found out Lawrence was coming in, but only to teach for the first hour because there are so many first grade classes. Other than that he spends his mornings at the school trying to sort out everything for his contract. It looks like he’ll probably be working in the mornings and I’ll be working in the afternoons. That means I’ll be pulling double duty. Until now, I’d generally only teach half an hour every hour. The other half I’d spend resting while Michele taught. Now that I’m the only foreign teacher in the afternoons, I spend the first half hour on the fourth floor, then the second half of the the hour on the third floor teaching. My day doesn’t technically get any longer, but I’m jut spending more time actively working and teaching.

Monday was also the first day that felt like spring had officially sprung in South Korea. It’d been a little rainy and cold the week before, but now it’s low to mid-sixties in the day and sunny and clear. However, the most telling sign was suddenly several kids in each class show up in Girl Scout or Cub Scout uniforms. I guess that means that it’s finally been deemed pleasant enough for prolonged outdoor activities. They look pretty much exactly the same as the uniforms in America, but I may take my camera and take a picture of some of them if they still are wearing them tomorrow. Also, for some reason, a lot of kids have been absent Monday and Tuesday, and I think it’s related to the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts.

After work Monday Mr. Lee took me to Yawoori to get a phone. Well, first he took me to his house and we snacked a little, then we drove his wife to the hospital. For the past week and a half his oldest son has been in the hospital with some kind of lung difficulties. His English isn’t quite good enough to really explain, but he got out of the hospital Tuesday morning, so hopefully everything is okay. After dropping off his wife, we went to Yawoori and got a phone for me. It’s a pretty bitchin’ phone, I must say. Especially for the price of free. I got the phone, an extra battery, some headphones to go with it, and a charger all free. I just signed up for a year long contract with the basic 30,000 won ($26.55) per month plan. It includes 200 minutes, and texts are 20 won (1.8 cents) each. Also, in South Korea, one is not charged for being called or texted, unlike America, so if you want to call or text me, it’s totally free of charge to me. You might want to contact your provider about international rates, but if you’re interested I will give my number to whoever wants it. I found out today in class that one of my first grade girls has the exact same phone as me. This does not lessen the phone in my eyes by any means. This girl just happens to have fabulous taste.

I found out that I couldn’t actually activate and use my phone without providing a Korean bank account information, so Tuesday morning I made a bank account. It only took about 20 minutes, and they gave me my card activated and ready to use on the spot. Jieun was amazed when I said that getting a bank card takes like 7-10 days by mail. Then I went back to Yawoori, they faxed some shit back and forth, and my phone sprang to life with about ten “Welcome to SK Telecom!” texts entirely in Korean.

Back track to Monday night. After leaving the cell phone shop, Mr. Lee bought me some Kim Bap, then left me to my own devices to get home. Luckily, I knew the language exchange was meeting at a coffee shop nearby in Yawoori, so I walked on over and showed up late. There were a ton of people I’d never seen there before. Four new Americans and a couple new Koreans. I showed off my new phone despite its lack of functionality. Chang-ki was there and asked me to come over and sit with him. I didn’t spend much time trying to learn Korean or teach English. I felt like I showed up towards the end and just spent time introducing myself to the other Americans and making conversation.

One of the more amusing subjects of our conversation was a particularly unique Korean superstition called Fan Death. It even has it’s own Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death) Put shortly, it is an odd Korean superstition that states if one sleeps in a closed room with an electric fan running, that one will die. I don’t know the number or percentage of people that actually believe this, but it’s a commonly known superstition, much like our broken mirrors, black cats, and walking under ladders. One of the Americans who has been here a year, was almost militantly trying to talk about how there’s simply no physical way that Fan Death could occur. Chang-ki started playfully suggesting how it could be possible, and I picked it up. I don’t think the guy knew we were being sarcastic and fucking with him.

Another interesting Korean superstition involves drinking. I’m fairly certain this means particularly drinking alcohol. In Korea, it’s general etiquette for someone to fill another person’s glass if they see it’s empty (particularly if the person is older than you, in which social norms demand you fill their glass for them). It’s a common superstition that if a person is forced to fill a glass for themselves because of the other person’s lack of attention or discourtesy that the other person will have back luck for three years. So make sure you pour that drink for your friend.

The last thing of note from the meet-up was the fact that one of the Americans I met was younger than me. I had mentioned to Chang-ki on Sunday that everyone I meet here is always at least like five years older than me. In Korea, age plays a gigantic role in the social hierarchy. Being the youngest always demands a certain level of respect and courtesy to everyone around you, which can be a little tiring. People older than you can pretty much tell you do to anything, and you’re expected to do it without complaining or questioning them. This may seem bad, but it’s also the older person’s responsibility to care for and teach the younger people. This generally includes paying for their dinner if you all eat out together, which I would never argue against. Anyway, in South Korea, when a younger male addresses an older male friend, they call them hyung. So when Chang-ki told me that he found someone my age, I asked when his birthday was. Sure enough, he was born about five weeks after me. I finally found someone younger than me. So I told the guy that he could call me hyung. This put all the Koreans into hysterics. Technically hyungs have to be at least a year older, but they said that he could still call me that. After the meet up, Chang-ki drove me home and gave me a quick lesson on the names of the weekdays. That was all I had really wanted to learn at the meet up anyway, so I was glad I could accomplish it in about five minutes in the car.

Today was much less tiring, even though I had to get up at 8:30 AM to get the bank and phone stuff done. Classes were fun. The candy is a good motivator, but actually the points themselves are even better. Several times I went to give a kid candy because I made a mistake in counting and they would correct me. Could you ever imagine an American kid turning down candy? South Korea is an extremely competitive country. It’s a big reason why kids have so much work that’s expected of them. There’s a big fear of being inferior, so they’re constantly pushing themselves in school and then in hagwons. Part of it is the parents who don’t want their children to be seen as dim-witted, and a big part of it is the kids themselves feeling pressured into having to keep up with their classmates. Even without candy, introducing a points system is a great way to motivate them because you can say “You are winning. You are losing.”

The system is also good for getting me to learn all the kids’ names. Particularly in the classes I’m picking up from Lawrence. Some of the notables are June (a boy whose birthday is in June), Jahee (a painfully awkward and shy girl – I’m unsure if the name is just Romanticized Korean or an invention of her own), Mosesjo (he claims it’s a Biblical name, but it isn’t one I’ve heard of), Ace (another painfully shy little girl, and I was imagining some kind of fighter pilot when I looked at the attendance sheet), and Nana (the one who flipped me off on Friday – she was actually pretty friendly today).

After work I got galbi with Lawrence. Galbi is roasted meat of any kind, tonight it was beef, cooked at your table over hot coals. Not even on one of the little in-table stoves. Actual red hot pieces of wood. It comes with an ass ton of banchan. Once the meat is cooked, you wrap it in a piece of lettuce, load it up with banchan, like kimchi, rice, pepper paste, roasted garlic, etc… and then you try your best to eat it in one bite without making a terrible mess. It’s absolutely delicious. I took some pictures on my phone, so as soon as I figure out how to get them from my phone to the computer I’ll post them. Or perhaps I return for another dinner with my camera. After that I worked on my class syllabi for the month and actually finished all five in one sitting. Wasn’t as bad as thought. Plus I don’t actually plan on sticking very closely to it anyway.

Gladly tomorrow I don’t have anything to get up early for, so I can sleep in. The Pacific and Breaking Bad are both done downloading, so I’m about to go watch those.

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