Sunday, December 27, 2009

Concerning X-Mas

I made it! Yay! Christmas is checked off of my list of potential emotionally difficult hurdles. It was quite the busy few days. The festivities started off two weeks ago on Thursday with the somewhat feeble company Christmas party at Ashley's "An American Buffet" Restaurant. That label shall I say...quite an interpretation. It was decent enough, I had some leche fruit which I enjoyed (kind of like a grape with a spiny nut like peel and a more citrus-y flavor) and some nice little office gossip. Friday night, my English club had their Christmas party which was a really really nice Korean dinner at a restaurant down town (marinated beef BBQ with pok em bop which is another kind of spicy rice) before going to a bar which had some really tasty snacks, the best of which was a species of rolled scrambled egg with vegetable that was mysteriously amazing with ketchup and mustard. The Koreans tried to teach us some drinking games in vain but we had fun trying. Next, we went to a noribong (yep, agaaaaaain...I think I'm done for a bit) and had fun trying to belt out some carols and random other songs.

The next morning, two friends and I made our way to Icheon which is the pottery capital of Korea, which is globally known for its ceramics. After my own ambitious semester of trying my hand at throwing pots and bowls, the best souvenir I retain is a healthy respect for anyone who can actually do it properly. Basically, there is a whole little street full of pottery shops, usually with the government accredited master's wife eyeing her husband's wares from the back of the shop, if not the master himself. The pottery was absolutely LOVELY. My favorite shop was unfortunately too expensive for the lowly likes of me to patronize but it was so cold that he told us to be silent and listen to the glaze cracking. It was the prettiest little "ping," it sounded like the clink of an English tea party or dozens of ricocheting bells. His detail work, as in most of the shops, was also amazing- lots of Korean masters specialize in this technique where they make a two layered pot- a solid one inside, and the outer shell a delicate foam of latticework. Goooorgeous. However, the most famous type of pot that Korea is known for is covered with a very distinctive green glaze. I think the only way to describe it is olive green with some jade mixed in to brighten it up. I got a set of two pots in this color, a popular man/woman pair in which the man pot is broad at the top before tapering down and the woman pot is narrow at the top before flaring out. They are both also decorated with cranes, who apparently mate for life and put together with the echoing shapes, I thought that was a really nice back story to some pieces that were stunning to begin with. I also got (what? I like pottery...) a short, squat little vase finished in a crackled white glaze with a blue painting of two birds and cherry blossoms. I fell in love at first sight. On a slightly less artistic plane (or not depending on the person), there was also an entire tub of ceramic penises, but surprisingly, we decided not to settle on that particular option. We did toy with the idea of buying some as presents (solely in the name of art of course) but spared our loved ones, so feel grateful. Hahaha. After perusing all of that street, we went to pizza hut for lunch and I made my way back home with heavy bags, a lighter wallet, and a smile on my consumerist face.

That evening, I joined my coworker for a production of "The Nutcracker" at the huge and daunting (I have even used the word sublime to describe the scale of this building...and if you don't know the proper definition of this term contact the Whitman College lit department) art center. Bar two creepy life sized dolls perched at the extremes of the stage, I thought it was lovely. I had only seen the ballet once maybe 8 years ago but I enjoyed it even more the second time through. In my opinion, the dancing ability was incredibly high. It was put on by the Bolshoi Ballet from Belarus, apparently the Moscow division of the same company gave rise to Michael Baryshnikov, the most famous ballet dancer of the 20th century. Anywho, it was good and I talked about sugarplums and dancing toys with NYU for the next few days because of it.

Sunday, I slept in and then met another coworker at the same art center to go see La Boheme. I liked the acting and the singing and the staging better than Carmen but I was disappointed not to recognize any songs...I did in Carmen and I know this to be a similarly renowned opera so I guess I need to get more cultured. Hahaha, guess that's what I'm doing. So, I also enjoyed that.

This week was the usual end of month flurry. Tests, evaluations, reports, topped off with a surprisingly fun Christmas Eve party (yes I had to work that day). The school actually went all out for this. They had all the parents send presents "from Santa" for their child so that John, a former teacher at my academy, could come back as Santa and hand each student their gift. We colored Santa pictures, sang jingle bells, sewed felt stockings and read both "T'was the Night Before Christmas" and a Christmas story about NYU that I wrote and illustrated for them before it was Show Time. Even at 7, while some were beginning to be skeptics, when Saint Nick actually showed up they could barely contain themselves. They even took him to the wall to show him the pictures they had drawn of Santa. To top it off, one of my kids got a live gerbil in a cage, completely wrapped, taken out of the Santa bag. I kid you not. Oh, Korea.

That night, another one of my coworkers made chile for all of the foreigners at my appt (because it's the only one big enough) and we all listened to Christmas music and watched Love Actually. One of my friends spent the night and Christmas day with me. We slept in, had breakfast, opened presents (thanks mom and dad and Cait and Aunt Sara and Grandma and Gretchen and Kels once yours gets here!!) and settled in for the great sloth marathon. I got lots of DVDs and books so my leisure time is set for months to come. We stayed in our PJs and littered my appt floor with chocolate wrappers, DVD cases and empty chip bags and 3 movies later, decided it was time to move, so we met our friends for a Christmas drink. I hurried home for a skype date with mom and dad and had one with Kels and Cait the next morning on their Christmas day. All in all, not bad. I feel proud of myself that I made the most of it because done wrong, Christmas could have been one big fat pity party but it was actually a nice day. That doesn't mean that I'm not looking forward to next year with my family but all in all, not bad.

Yesterday was a really nice day as well. I met a Korean friend at a nearby mall and we had a yummy lunch of shabu shabu (a pot full of broth in which you cook: vegetables, then meat, then noodles) which was yummy. Then, we walked around for hours waiting for our movie but in the meantime, I got some MAC makeup. Good to know it's there. Finally, we saw Sherlock Holmes, which I enjoyed. Due to my unfortunate obsession with Victorian England, I was bound to like it but I thought that it was pretty entertaining in and of itself. I probably won't get it on DVD but a good use of two hours. The one funny thing about the day, which is a cultural thing that I need to get used to, is physical contact. Between the same sex, both girls and boys touch each other all the time. Now, I'm all for hugs, and linking arms and all that, but it took some fortitude and determination not to laugh through 7 hours of holding a 27 year old girl's hand. Yep.

So, there's my belated update! Hope everyone is having the happiest of holidays! (See? 7 months out of Whitman and I can still alliterate...hahaha).



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Concerning the kiddies

It's been a while since I blogged solely about work so I feel I'm due for an update. I sent out this long looong Christmas email a few days ago where I said that my kids have been one of the more constant joys of my time here. Well, that's still as true as ever. Their quirks and bizarre species of logic keep me on my toes and affix a permasmile on my face. Columbia has gotten crazy hyper as of late...we got a new student, which brings our number back up to 12. This is the biggest class in our kindie program and the second lowest grade which makes for a busy busy Becky Teacher. Since they have gotten better at reading and are sloooooowwwly getting a smidge of fluency, we've started upholding a strict "No Korean" rule. The funny thing is that the kids have taken it up with something approaching fanaticism to the point where my class has become the McCarthy Era run mad: "Kevin speak Korean!!" "Jaden no English!" "Angela said KIMCHI!!" "BECKY TEEEEACHER!" It's a constant witch hunt which has become pretty darn amusing. Besides that, they've developed an endearing habit of breaking out in "Jingle Bells" in any down moment in class. They know about this far "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the waaaaay" before it basically becomes "oh wafun islide one horse waaaaaaaay." When they are not making me pull out my hair I adore them. Today, the littlest, sweetest, cutest, girl was absolutely in tears "because Kevin wouldn't play with me" so I had such a mom moment of picking her up and calming her down. It's enough to convince me that I do theoretically want kids...but the other thirty nine minutes of class are enough to convince me that it won't be for a bloody long time.

NYU is also doing great. They are progressing really well. I had a really really proud moment where they broke through the dreaded adverb barrier. I quote: "OK so Becky teacher, we read the sentences, pick the wrong ones and rewrite them correctly?" YEAH correct grammar! My mind exploded with mental confetti and streamers, it was palpable progress. I am also being a total stickler for saying "finishED" and not "finish" and making them pronounce every single s at the end of a word because of late, they've been falling to the wayside. In other news, I am also running furious Santa interference and have been for the last two weeks. They are just at the age where most still believe in Santa (but are discerning enough to demand "real" details) while there are maybe one or two who are very vocally think the opposite. There have been a good three or four times when I have just had to awkwardly blunder my way in the conversation "So who likes SOCKS??" to manhandle it to safer territory. Given how important Christmas is to me (and my traumatic unveiling of Santa-as-an-idea through that tragic turtleneck incident) I am absolutely bound and determined I will not be the Becky Teacher who stole Santa. The big guy stays, at least within the bounds of my classroom.

My afternoon kids have not been bad, and even managed a few endearing moments of their own. I've made snowflakes with a few groups and blasted some Bing at them (best Christmas music of all time, I have a soft spot for the classics) which made for fun times. One of my students has been plying me with boon ah pang for a couple of weeks now which is essentially a Korean street doughnut friend in the shape of a fish with red bean paste inside. Very Korean and increasingly yummy to me, I'm acquiring a taste for them. Today I got one of my kids who is sporting some very prominent holes in his mouth to sing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..." which was fantastic. It's also kind of sweet how respectful some of them are. Especially among the older kids, it is very rare that a student will ever give something to me with only one hand and they usually bow when they see me in the hall. They also never address me as anything but "Becky Teacher" as a kind of status thing whereas my kindies sometimes just revert to "Becky" which is fine with me but less formal. One student in my last class always makes sure that I have a seat perfectly situated in the back of the class when I have them practice their dialogues as a movie, even if it is his own. It is sweet though and it always gives me this weird flattered feeling like I'm growing up but don't quite deserve it yet.

All in all, I have had my share of frustrations but I can also see progress that I myself have contributed to which is satisfying. Next week I will have been here 4 months.... (WHAT???).... and it is nice to feel like I know what I am doing, at least in the littlest increment. I still have miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep (Columbia even finds it challenging to sit down at the moment and my post kindies would much rather hit each other and crawl under the table than answer reading comp questions) but we're going in the right direction.

In other news, I still feel like time is running quickly through a sieve out of which I only catch the occasional grain, it is going so so quickly. My days are pleasantly packed (though I've been really tired lately because of it and having the MOST bizarre dreams- I've been married twice and a princess in a musical) and the holidays haven't been unbearable so far. This week, I have a social engagement literally 6 days out of 7, this is my one cherished down day. Sunday, I had coffee with another Whitman grad in Daejeon (small world) before watching Charlie Brown Christmas and Nightmare Before Christmas with Chad, monday I had pizza and beer with Chad while watching the Grinch, Tuesday we all met some of the foreign teachers from the other ECC for drinks, Thursday ECC is taking us out for dinner as a Christmas party, Friday is the English Club Christmas extravaganza and Saturday I'm going to Icheon with a friend to see the famous Korean pottery. Sunday, blessed blessed Sunday, will be a much needed respite. Anyway, for now love you all! Still going strong!



PS- I said this in the email but just in case, my Christmas request from EVERYONE (if you are reading this blog it means YOU) is an email letting me know how you are to help keep up my connections back home over the holidays. You all mean so much to me and it keeps me strong and happy over here feeling secure in those relationships.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Concerning baby it's COLD outside!

The holidays are here! It's official folks, December 21st my foot- winter starts riiiiiiiight now. Hmm....last week. Not much happened actually which is really odd because somehow I feel frantically busy. In a good way. The weekend was another great one. At English club, I was up for a 3 minute speech so in true Becky nerd form, I totally gave an academic lecture on how the gothic functions in society and how it is recurring in the latest vampire mania in western culture. Can you tell I saw New Moon the night before? Yep. For my part, I thought it was incredibly entertaining though Kristen Stewart is still incapable of anything save biting her lip and looking constipated. After, we went to this great tiny hole in the wall dumpling shop. I've had mandu before but it has always been frozen and fried. Here, I saw the ahjimas (respectful way to say old woman) on this table in the corner with a mound of stuffing, putting it into hand rolled dough that was almost transluscent it was so thin. Then, no hot oil for these suckers- they were steamed which made them sticky and much much easier to eat with chopsticks. Yummy.

Saturday, I had a lie in, talked to some friends on skype, and then felt a tiny bit restless. So, I went to Seoul. As you do. I still love that I can do that on a whim, it reminds me how much of an adventure this can be. I hopped a bus, spent a good 45 minutes in the sadistic wind trying to find a jewelry market (Dongdaemun) but I eventually got there, got some last Christmas gifts and the makings for a fantastic new headband for moi. After, I shlepped on over to Forever 21, drawn by the internal western compulsion for shopping around Christmas. I wasn't disappointed, the walkway was glaring with lights and the inside blared with Mariah Carey. I got a dress, belt, earrings, and BOOTS (QUITE a feat I'll have you know as I am convinced I found the only normal sized pair of shoes in Asia). I got home, ordered pizza, and tucked into a Korean drama that I have recently become hopelessly addicted to. I think it aired about 5 years ago, it's name is "Coffee Prince" and it's about a girl who pretends to be a guy to get a job to support her family and how her and her boss end up falling in love with eachother. Very complicated, very melodramatic, very fabulous. It's the first one I've watched and I've got it bad- I have lost sleep in the last week due to this show.

Anyway, sunday I got myself to the gym and grocieries and watched more TV. So far, this week has been pretty standard work-wise. I have gone into Christmas craft frenzy though to decorate my kindy rooms- we've made presents complete with bows, colored Santa pictures, and made slowflakes up the wazzu. I love that I don't have to be politically correct here- we're celebrating Christmas gosh darn it because I can justify it as "cultural education." They do celebrate it here but not to the same extent. The other adorable thing about this week is that Columbia just learned "I Love You" and I've been serenaded with about five "I love you Becky Teacher!"s every morning. It's really hard to be in a bad mood after that.

Hopefully, I'm in for another great weekend coming up. We have tomorrow (thurs) off so a coworker and I are having a Christmas day with more shopping at the local department store mall which is so decked out with Yuletide Splendor that it intimidates even me. Imagine all the commonplace lights of Asia. Then imagine all the lights of Asia...around Christmas. Scary indeed, especially when considering the electricity bill.

Anyways, still merry and marvelous here in SoKo. Enjoy the holidays everyone!!