Monday, February 22, 2010

Concerning wwwooooaaa we're half way there woooAA living on a prayer

Never make a point yourself when Bon Jovi can make it for you. Well kids, today is my six month anniversary. Things are going strong between Korea and me (yes that's grammatically correct). I think that at this point, the best way to describe my situation here is as follows. If England was my first love, Korea is my marriage of convenience. We were sort of thrown together...didn't entirely know what we were getting into...not quite a match made in heaven...but, an affection born of shared experience. We're not merely staying together for the kids (though it's a huge huge factor...), we've reached an understanding. Aaaand... metaphor ending now.

Rewinding from the big day, last week was just fine. Friday I had another good time at English club and met some more very nice Koreans. We had the same yummy yummy mandu afterword and went to a few bars. I had a really nice time talking to some of them and met a great guy who lived in Canada for a year. I realized I kind of miss that North American boistrous energy. He was more animated than most Koreans (though their quiet solicitousness has wormed its way into my heart and affections) and it felt like meeting someone from home. The next day I spent so so so so so long cleaning my apartment. It was bad. Seriously, even by my standards. So, I scoured from top to bottom in time for a lovely visit from Ella unni. I cooked more salmon and couscous and we had a nice little riesling I picked up. Most of the talk centered around the boys...that seems to be a universal mental pastime of women the world over. After sharing our particular gripes, she did my nails a la 12 year old slumber-party (and I loved it) and we went to get a piece of chocolate cake at the local Paris Baguette. I introduced her to "Pushing Daisies" and we talked and talked and talked some more. She also got me a faux Burberry headband, very sweet.

The next day I did have plans with a coworker but as they fell through, I was lazy lazy lazy. Woke up late. Ate pancakes and bacon. Talked to my family all gathered in Wisconsin. Watched Moulin Rouge. Then watched the entirety of North and South. Did my toes in an exciting salmon pink to combat the lingering vestiges of winter drear. Ate some ramen. It was good times. I think this was a good thing- this week is a little on the crazy side as G-Day (WHY didn't I think of that before?) is in 48 hours and a few days after that comes the grand changing of the students. Nice to rest up a bit.

I do have my new schedule and am fairly ambivalent about it- most days I get off at 5:30, that's good, Wednesdays I get off at 7, that's bad, I teach some of my Columbia 6 years as 7 years next year in UCLA, that's good, I lose some of the cutest, that's bad, I teach NYU (my 7 year old kindie) 5 days a week in the afternoon, that's good, I lose one of my afternoon classes that I've taught the whole 6 months including a fellow HP geek, that's bad. So, pretty much cancels each other out in a great big "meh." It could be a lot worse, I think I'm just going to have to wait and see and take my new students as they come. Worse comes to worst, I'll be able to furnish this blog with many a colorful story.

Actually, I am definitely more excited than not about the next 6 months. I came exactly half way through the school year so it then changes at my half way point. From March on, my new primary kindie (replacing NYU whom I adore and love) will be 8 7 year olds in UCLA. Of those 8 students, I currently teach Jaden, Emily, Natalie, and Daniel in Columbia. I'm sad to lose the rest of my kids but I'll still see them all the time so no point in acting too terribly bereft. Especially as my class is shaping up to be the smart one...woohoo! Haha. My other kindie class, replacing Columbia, is 6 6 year olds who speak precisely zero English in Brown. Well, they'll be darn cute regardless. I'm looking forward to seeing how their skills progress from scratch.

I feel like I should say something deep and meaningful seeing as this is the pivot of my Korean year. Here goes. When I went to England, I had such expectations of soul searching and horizon widening and people meeting and I was so beyond lucky to have them fulfilled. However, I tend to forget rather frequently how much that fulfillment was retrospective. When embroiled in an experience it's nearly impossible to keep hold of clarity so I think I have to trust that will play out in a similar manner this time around. All I can say is I'm happy. I take simple delight in my job and the unexpected personalities that I've sparked with. I am also unabashedly proud of myself for taking and sticking to an impulsive, out of character, and risky decision such as this. I do keep close count of the days and I will be ecstatic to click back into home. But, though I don't have the details nailed down yet, I know I'll be the better for having finished out the year.

I'm going to go celebrate my half way point with a big, juicy "Women Tell All" episode of The Bachelor. I guess wherever I go, I'm never that far from home and all the trashy American culture that goes with it, haha. Love you all! Look forward to waaaaaaay too many pictures and videos of my kids next week.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Concerning child herding, annoyances, a really big, fantastic wall, and being sick

Despite the title, this was a really great week, if a bit out of the norm. Thursday was our first full on rehearsal for graduation and The school is laid out like a rectangular doughnut, with classes on the outside and the teacher's room on the inside. The kids were all lined up in a circle through the hallway with our impromptu "stage" at the front where it is a little more open. NYU and Columbia did pretty well all told. BUT...with the ambient noise of 40 children filtering through, it was understandably a little hard to hear them at all, much less concentrate perfectly. So, we've got work to do if we're to roll out some sort of miracle of volume projection in two weeks. There are some freaking adorable acts though- all of the 6 year olds are doing this dance (dressed as some sort of bare midriff poofy Christmas elves...even for the boys...) with metallic gold pom poms which just makes everything better. The 5 year olds are singing "I Love You" from Barney and they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. I can't wait to see how it all goes down for real. Whenever my two classes weren't on, I was constantly circling the hall muttering "Sssh!" "Quiet time, OK?" "Zip your lips!" "DO YOU WANT ME TO TAKE A STICKER? No? All right then." It was a losing battle for some sort of respectful silence so the poor kids on stage could have a fighting chance of peace and quiet to perform. We'll just see what happens that fateful Thursday evening.

Aaaanyway that left me drained of any and all social grace for the rest of the day but I did end up having a really interesting conversation with one of my Korean friends. She's cute, fun, intelligent, and has a great job, but because she's in her 30s and single, she completely
views herself as a failure. Korea has a spinster syndrome gone mad, I've heard men say that women completely exist to be beautiful and get married and so if they don't, their entire life feels like time borrowed against money they don't have. I have to say I hate that mentality because I know more than one woman here who feels like that and it pervades their entire way of thinking, like there's no escape from the social and personal pressures they put on themselves to go past the mile-markers of life in perfect time. To be fair, though I do think that Korea is a bit sexist so women have it harder, I've also heard women say that men exist to pay the bills. So unfair expectations go both ways to an extent.

Now. As I've said before, I've truly made my peace with Korea and have spent a good 20 or 30 odd posts exploring what I like about it. But today, in the spirit of that conversation, I want to air some of the exceptions to that
satisfaction here: Public spitting. Absolutely NO regard whatsoever for ever. The sacrifice of childhood for education. Completely unpredictable hours in restaurants. "Oriental style" toilets, ie. troughs. National hypochondria.

Phew OK that's done. Most of Korea I really really like, I promise. On that note, on Saturday, Chad and I went to Suwon which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's basically a giant fortress wall that circles the old part of a city that has turned into a suburb of Seoul. It was amazing. We spent about 2 and a half hours walking the whole of the wall and about every 200 ft. there was a sentry tower or an armory or a pagoda or pavilion or niche or something. It was recently renovated (along with almost everything else in Korea including the WHOLE of Daejeon- why there are no old buildings in my city- it was flattened during the Korean war) so 90% of the wall is walkable. That last little 10% briefly dipped us down into the city's downtown and through a market with a ton of heaped up vegetables and hanging raw meat. I even saw cow and pig heads. When we found the wall again, it was an up up up trek to the top of a hill smack dab in the middle of the current city which was the crescendo of the wall. When we got to the top, there was a leg off to the left that jutted out and was a really peaceful stroll in the snow, guarded by pines until the trees fell off and at the end, with this mini-temple, you saw all the ramshackle buildings of the city. It was absolutely lovely and Chad made me close my eyes to feel the winter sun for a bit and listen to the icicles melting in drops onto the snow. We went back and continued the circle around. This was absolutely my favorite stretch of the wall because the city fell away and we were just in the middle of a park and I actually smelled NATURE for the first time in almost six months. Chad and I literally inhaled the hill. We walked a bit and came to "The Bell of Filial Piety" which is the centerpiece of the wall. One of the kings of Korea built it to honor his father, who had been buried alive in a rice box by his father because he was afraid of being overthrown by his own son (as you do...). Hence the bell. On the hour, it tolls three times- once to honor your parents, twice to honor your family, three times to realize your dreams. I would have liked to see it ring, I only heard it faintly before we saw it. Then, we came to a gorgeous temple on the very very top. It was in the middle of this open space and huge yellow banners rolling with the wind. It was a stunning view of all the multicolored chaotic rooftops and the domineering omnipresent Korean apartment buildings and very very peaceful. We clambered down from the hill, closed out the circuit, and started wandering around for lunch. Suwon is famous for galbi, but after seeing that it is SO famous that it charges 40,000 won a person (about 35 bucks) for something for which in Daejeon, 10,000 won is considered expensive, we opted for fast food. After that, we went in search of this huge golden Buddha we'd seen from the wall and found it in this little tucked away temple. It's about 30 ft. tall and very pretty. Then, we wandered to a museum of the Hwaseong Fortress (the wall) that we found on our way to lunch. That was fun because we had just gotten in (for all of 1,000 won- I must say I do love Korean admission prices) when a docent came over to tell us, "You've been asking about the tree, right?" We hadn't but were game to find out what exactly we were meant to have been curious about. He lead us over to the ticket desk, gave us special paper and markers, and told us to write a wish. He then leaned over to Chad and said, "If I might make a recommendation, I'd wish to get married to your beautiful girl friend..." which was made all the more funny because not only are we NOT in a relationship, but Chad's gay. But, we went along with it and played happy couple while we tied our wishes to this bundle of brush kind of resembling a tree. Yesterday, Lunar New Year, they burned it and sent our wishes to the sky, to be fulfilled by the new moon. I really liked that!

I hopped a bus back home and made some shrimp pesto pasta for dinner and then went to bed early because I was feeling sick. This got steadily worse through the night and all through the next day because, despite a nap, lots of liquids, and babying myself with Disney movies, I felt terrible and came down with a fever. Channeling my mother, a mere trifle of a fever and headache and chills did not stop me from making salmon, mashed potatoes, stuffing and salad for Chad and my Valentine/ Lunar New Year Dinner. Oh, no. However, after dinner we both felt so terrible that all we could manage to do was lie on the floor of my apartment for an hour. I do have a strange attachment to my floor. Somehow, I miraculously slept last night and after a well-timed Ibuprofen, my fever's gone and I am only dealing with some lingering sniffles and that hot husky man voice that comes with congestion.

The good news is that despite the fact that it is Monday, I still have one more day off! Woohoo! We had a little 4 day break for Lunar New Year. This and Chuseok are the biggest traditional holidays of the year so I was surprised we didn't do anything at school. But, I did get two random hand towels, chocolate, and Khiel's face cream from various students and of course, the requisite toothpaste and soap bars from ECC. Enjoy the end of winter everyone!! Love!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Concerning mokkoli, tarot, and horror, oh my!

The beginning of the week was boring. I'll spare you. Thursday night some of my Korean friends took me out to dinner which was so so much fun. They know I love jajang myeong and despite making a complete fool of myself with the chopstics (chopstick status upate: I can reliably get pretty much anything to my mouth but it's. not. pretty.), I enjoyed myself. The chopstick incident was serious though, I ended up with so much of my dinner adorning my shirt that one of the guys said I was riiight on par with his 6 year old. Thanks. (Although I actually do consider that as kind of a compliment- I was guessing I was right around the 3 year mark with my chopstick skill). Then, they took me to this fantastic old old bar. It looked historic- there was a pot-bellied stove in the middle and all of these wooden tables and benches vying for space in the middle like a mosh pit. We were shown to a private room at the side of the building, enclosed by rice paper with these old Korean hangol characters on it. Obviously, we took off our shoes (any traditional place has you do this) and settled down on the floor around a little table to talk about colleges and education and celebrities. I also tried some new food- some spicy pork type thing and what I thought was spring onion pancakes but was more seafoody than expected. I was also introduced to makkoli. Makkoli is traditional Korean rice wine and it is delicious. You drink it in shallow bowls (which totally made me think of the ancient Mayans in Chocolat- interesting how memory links all things foreign in your mind) and it tastes milky, sweet, tangy and fantastic. It was an entirely new taste for me but I quite enjoyed it.

Friday I was kind of feeling antisocial so in lieu of Level Eks I went to the gym, got a veritable army of takeout Chinese food and watched Sex and the City. Perfect. The next day I met Ella (unni) for a really nice afternoon of shopping and superstition. We got some fruit juice while perusing the different shops in an underground mall very near Daejeon's old downtown. I ended up getting a big gym bag that is a chanel knock off...and then a Louis Vuitton knock off that I thought looked real but my coworker kindly informed me otherwise. Whatever, I still like it haha. She treated me to lunch at this cafeteria style place where we had meat spaggeti (kind of like the kid's version that you'd get at a Mexican restaunt) and an omelet which here meant sort of sculpted scrambled eggs with sausage and hot sauce on top of rice. Not bad. Then, we went to get a tarot reading because I've never done it and why not? It was pretty interesting. My prognosis was that I protect myself too much from getting hurt and as a result, I judge people and push away romance. The first card was this scary lightning struck tower and apparently that's me haha. I need to focus on the positive and open myself up to possibility. Hmmm. Gave me a thought or two to chew on and for 3 dollars, I consider it money well spent. It was interesting though, the guy told Ella (who was translating it all for me) that he had to sort of recalibrate the cards to tell western fortune and that because he was Korean, he could look into another Korean's eyes and know more about them so I was a little more of a challenge. I thought that was kind of funny- he had this essentialist bond with someone because they look the same.

Aaaaaanyway, sunday I watched a scary movie with my friend from Whitman and only jumped about 4 times. We watched "The Descent" about these women who go caving and get beset by Gollum-like creatures, as you do. I hate it when that happens. He's slated "Paranormal Activity" as the next movie on our list...we'll see.

That's what's going on in ye olde Koreae. Love you all! And by the way, Uncle CJ gets the award of the week for sending me an email as "payment" for the blog, haha. Let him be an example to you all! Love to hear from you!

Ahn yung keseyo!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Concerning a fabulous start to February

OK. So it's time to move on from that last post....all I can say is that I can't vouch for what weird thoughts move through my head in the late night hours and I refuse to erase it as, for better or worse, it's part of my record of Korea. As for this week, not too shabby. The best development by far is my schedule- no more toiling away until 7 pm mondays, wednesdays and fridays for me and an extra class in the morning. No, my friend, intensives are done and its glorious sunset has ushered in a new era of 5:30 finishes. Aaaaaah, the bliss. The other night, I got home, washed the mountain of dishes in my sink, cooked dinner (ramen with tofu, egg, and vegetables- one of my staples here), ate, watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp (loved his expressions but didn't think it looked as lucsious and edible as the old version), took a bath, read AND went to bed early. Yay down time. I also had a great weekend- Level Eks went to my favorite mandu shop and I am now finally adept at ordering. Kogi jin mandu ju seyo! (Not to be confused with kogi yaki mandu ju seyo which, though the result is fried instead of steamed, is also delicious if procured form the 24 hr Chinese place 4 blocks from my appt). Spelling very well may be wrong on that but whatever, Korean and I have a rather phonetic relationship. Woohoo. I was pretty sleepy during the discussion but I made plans to go shopping for a true Asian LV fake with my unni Ella next weekend.

Saturday, I went to the gym and lounged for way too long after my shower watching bad TV but it was delicious. I met my Whitman friend Reese again for what turned to be a pretty epic night. 7 pm galbi in Yuseong by Choongnam University (maybe 15 or 20 minute taxi ride from my place) where he introduced me to somec (soju and mecju) which is basically Korea's version of a sake/jaegger/Irish car bomb. Pretty good. 8:30ish we decided we were really in the mood for a walk, or rather I did and Reese gamely tagged along. We walked and walked and walked and walked and walked up the river to Expo Bridge (past the turn off for my apartment). On the way, we stopped at a random cafe with gingersnapish cookies and had hot chocolate and beer and then finally went to tackle the bridge....which was not lit. The first time I walked over it, it was waay too early to see the pretty lights as it was day. The second time I did it, it was too late but to be fair, it was only maybe 11:30. We still walked over and enjoyed. 12:00 we wandered around this random, giant, cement park behind the Art Center which is one of the huge open spaces that disconcerts me in its sheer size (same as the whole apartment scale issue- it's impossible to not feel dwarfed). It was really cold and really quiet except for the ambient rush of the surrounding city, I liked seeing it entirely deserted. 12:30 we hung out in my apartment and discussed random things including which eye you look at when talking with another person and Reese's complete inability to throw a gummy teddy bear against a mirror. 3:30 I threw in the towel.

Sunday I went grocery shopping and then met Chad to venture into Yuseong in search of Subway...only to find it was moving to a new location and not repoening until March. There went all of my fantasies of turkey, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, onion, lettuce, good bread, light mayo and mustard. Thwarted, we went back to our dong (neighborhood. Yes, I still laugh like a 12 year old boy every time I say it) and had to try FOUR fried chicken places before one was open. Come on Korea! 2 pm on a sunday! You can do this! We got delivery and eventually dined on some questionable chicken (as much as I love meat I can be a total snob about it), cheese sticks and fries. The delivery guy returned about an hour later with sunglasses that I'd left in the store. Let me remind you, tipping is practically forbidden here, this was just entirely to be nice and because he remembered my address. Korean cheong (see last post), I love you. While eating, we feasted our eyes on about 5 episodes of Glee. Over the course of the afternoon, I also tried my hand at chicken noodle soup. Flavor? Delicious. Carrots? Perfectly cooked. Meat? Juicy, if slightly too shredded. Consistency? Casserole. I unfortunately picked a really greedy brand of pasta that completely stole the broth right from under my nose. Well, it still tasted good. I went to bed very full and very happy.